Monday, January 21, 2013

What's New?: 1.21.2013

Been slackin' lately. . .
Siouxsie and the Banshees — The Scream (1978)

Siouxsie and the gang's obviously most punk-sounding album.  This is technically a reacquisition, but, focusing on their decidedly more new wave-y 80's records in the interim, I had forgotten just how raw and punk this one actually is.  The building, rollicking, eff-bomb dropping demolishing of 'Helter Skelter' makes good and goddamn sure you know these blokes are all for knocking the system of musical conformity down.  Standard punk numbers 'Nicotine Stain' and 'Jigsaw Feeling' are just abrasive enough to get by.  Still, there's those few numbers on the album that are a bit more spacious and hint at things to come.  Songs like 'Overground' and the towering closer 'Switch' are excellent and, even though they would have been highlights on any other Banshees album, they really stick out here because, not only are they fantastic numbers, they look past the scope of not only this album, but the whole punk scene at the time.  One of the most diverse and curious debut albums to come out of the entire punk and new wave thing.  Only wish the equally as great non-album single 'Hong Kong Garden' had been included as a bonus track.

Pink Floyd — Obscured by Clouds (1972)

Another reacquisition.  The second of Pink Floyd's soundtracks for otherwise totally obscure films.  The instrumentals on this album kick so much ass, I don't even know where to begin.  Seriously, have a listen to the album kickoff title track and try to tell me that that isn't badassery of the highest order.  Elsewhere, as the album right before Dark Side of the Moon, 'Burning Bridges' fills the space as the perfect pre-cursor (song's great too, by the way).  As an album, it kind of peters out after the great 'Mudmen' but that first two-thirds or so is just wonderful stuff.  Floaty and pretty and thoughtful and cerebral; there's a reason I've always gravitated towards this early 70's Floyd material.  It just asserts its influence more and more as the years pass, and subsequently manages to stay relevant and seemingly ageless all the while.  S'good.

Björk — Biophilia (2011)

It's a pretty sad day when Björk releases an album, I forget that she did so and then proceed a year more with my life before finally realizing what I've done to myself.  And further, when I actually do get that album, it's not even good (or bad) enough to really get any strong reactions out of me.  I think it's safe to say that the last Björk album I felt like I really understood and completely loved, despite not liking some of it, was Medúlla.  It was just exactly what I wanted from Björk: a beautiful challenge.  Volta was okay, but I never have loved it, which was a first for me and Björk albums.  And now, Biophilia just seems like Björk creating an album around a concept without having the tunes to back it up.  Instead, musical ideas from her last ten or fifteen years are just rehashed in lieu of anything new to make way for a broad, impenetrable concept about the beginning of time and the way everything is related to everything else (or something).  I'm no prude when it comes to big ideas in music, but if the concept is more important than the tunes, I'm out.  Tuneless essay/rants like 'Hollow' don't help when in the company of post-Homogenic duds like 'Sacrifice' or 'Crystalline' (that one comes complete with a totally not predictable drum'n'bass switch-up in the third act **rolls eyes**).  The seeming Medúlla outtake 'Virus' is passable, but a tad disappointing.  All that said, the very first and the very last songs on the proper album are absolutely gorgeous and sparse numbers (featuring Björk's by now saving grace, Zeena Parkins on harp).  Overall, I feel like I've heard this album done before, and better.  I guess when you've set the bar as high as Björk has, you're bound to hit a few dips.  Just never thought I'd get to a point where Björk's music wasn't exciting and/or emotive. 

Lorelei — Everyone Must Touch the Stove (1995)

Woefully moody and wonderfully artsy and noisy early post-rock from Virginia.  Have a listen to the restrained opener 'Today's Shrug' and its explosive follow up 'Quiet Staid Debt' to get an idea of what's going on here.  Sounds like bedroom rock obsessed with stargazing.  Not a whole lot to say about this one.  Just great tunes, great scope, great atmosphere and wonderfully weird indulgences every so often.  The whole thing's got a shifting nature where songs will end up sounding completely different from what they began as, so it makes the album a very complete work and a rewarding full listen every time.  Pretty fun when you can catch up to an album seventeen years later and it still sounds fresh.  Fantastic.  It's on Spotify in full; check it out.  

Caravan — In the Land of Grey and Pink (1971)

Fun Canterbury scene stuff.  I know, because their roots lie in the Wilde Flowers and they have very close ties to Soft Machine, that they are known as a primarily a prog band, but most of the songs on this album are much closer to a sort of poppy folk rock sound than they are prog.  The lead track 'Golf Girl' sounds a bit silly, in all honesty.  Catchy tune, sure.  But c'mon, boys!  'Winter Wine', on the other hand, is pretty convincing.  I have no idea what the tune is about, but darned if it doesn't create a wonderful little micro-world that exists for the song's duration.  There's an accent on dreamy keyboard chords here that I can't help but say reminds me very much of Yes.  The obligatory sidelong jam 'Nine Feet Underground' seems to only exist to satisfy the fact that the band could fill up the entire side of a record with one song.  This expanded edition nearly doubles the album's running time and features the superb outtake 'I Don't Know its Name (Alias The Word)' among its other ephemera.  As my first taste of Caravan properly, I'm intrigued.  As this was an impulse purchase, it reminded how few times I've actually seen their albums on shelves.

999 — self-titled (1977)

Time for a pint of lager!  As a long time Cure fan —and especially of the band's unique first albumthe leadoff track on this was quite a shock at first.  What follows is a lot more typically "punk" sounding, but there's a sense to Nick Cash's lyrics that he's a bit more of an introspective fellow than his peers, so something like 'Emergency' steps beyond its seemingly limited reach with relative ease to become an anthemic, glorious song of triumph.  'Titanic (My Over) Reaction' is the same, in a similar vein, and equally as outstanding.  This expanded edition gathers up the band's pre-album singles (all of which are very much punk songs — awesome) and generally does a good job of stating the case for 999's first album being one of the greats of British punk.

Dick Gaughan — Gaughan (1978)

This is actually the album Gaughan in compilation form.  It contains the entirety of the album Gaughan, but is supplemented with a few tracks a piece from the Bonnie Pit Laddie (released by the High Level Ranters) and Coppers and Brass (Dick's album of solo guitar instrumentals from 1977).  The album doesn't quite have the intensity that made Handful of Earth such a masterpiece, but it is a bit more of a warmer, intimate affair.  Still lots of that wonderful DADGAD tuning and even an electric instrument or two.  Have a listen to the first track to get an idea.  There's a handful of acapella songs that are very intense, but as a whole, it's a very nice album that, in this iteration, serves as a great companion piece to Handful of Earth.  It's also on Spotify and I definitely recommend it. 

T. Rex — Futuristic Dragon (1976)

Great two disc edition of this sort of forgotten Marc Bolan album.  It's a strangely enticing mix of sounds that ultimately ends up sounding like the proper fusion of glam and soul; the type at which David Bowie failed.  'All Alone' is just about as good as it gets for us T. Rex nerds, while 'Life's an Elevator' has got to be in the running for one of his best ever songs.  The album is a weird concept thing that I don't get, but the tunes are too funky and addictive to really get caught up in all the faux mysticism.  This two disc edition features the entire album in alternate recordings and while that's not necessarily interesting, the extra "solo recordings" versions of the songs at the end of the second disc are definitely worth the ride.  Not an album I knew going in, but as a big Marc Bolan fan for years previous, it's definitely one I will be listening to and taking in for a while.


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