Saturday, 19 May 2018

Pale Saints ‎The Comforts Of Madness


Pale SaintsThe Comforts Of Madness

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When thinking of the finest dream pop records from the early '90s, The Comforts of Madness tends to get lost in the shuffle. Frequently and unfortunately, the Pale Saints were disregarded as just another part of the 4AD sound, lacking distinction and relying on the clichés of the time. Though they might have (arguably) fallen into those traps later in their brief career, their debut really does stick out from the remainder of the 4AD roster as well as the remainder of the then-current scene. The touchstones -- Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Galaxie 500 -- are somewhat apparent, but their debut is certifiably unique. Noise and melody duke it out, but in an arrestingly off-kilter fashion. Comforts is really as much of a "quirk-out" as it is a "bliss-out," experimental in many ways and apparently so from the beginning of "Way the World Is." The noisy rattling eventually gives way to wobbly bass and tunefully violent Wedding Present-like strumming, whipping up a tempestuous haze of frenzied pop. Throughout the record, the trio throws in countless tempo curveballs (with no sense of pomposity) and effectively balances the blasting chuggers with levitational banks of piled-on guitarscapes. The somewhat thin production lent by John Fryer and Gil Norton (on separate sessions) actually serves Comforts well, though it may take a few listens to settle in. The somewhat trebly, un-anchored production is properly suited for Ian Masters' boyish vocals, which sound like they're just on the brink of pubescence. His vocals are just as important to this record as Graeme Naysmith's guitars, not vanishing into the gobs of guitars like your typical shoegaze. "Sight of You" (retooled from their debut EP) is the centerpeice, a lovelorn gem that sounds vaguely like the lost track to Psychocandy. In whole, this debut remains a brilliant example of insular, adventurous, and charmingly flawed noise pop.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

The House Of Love ‎The House Of Love 1986 88 The Creation Recordings



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Guitar pop -- British or otherwise -- was nearing wasteland status when the House of Love debuted with "Shine On" in the spring of 1987. The Smiths and Hüsker Dü were months away from their respective breakups, Echo & the Bunnymen were about to issue their less-than-great self-titled album, and the Go-Betweens were flirting with yuppiedom. Aside from the short-lived, often-gutless C-86 scene and the then brilliant Jesus & Mary Chain, the House of Love really didn't have that much competition. It's almost as if the bands that influenced them subconsciously faded to give them the much-deserved spotlight. Now that over a decade has passed since the release of the material collected here -- everything they released on Creation, meaning 1988's self-titled debut and four singles racked with lithe greatness -- those who claimed the band's popularity had to do with their existence during a dry era can finally be silenced. Why, you ask? Because most everything here smacks violently of timelessness. "Christine," the penultimate combination of gorgeously spectral pop and noise, still sounds every bit spectacular, as if the eras of acid house, shoegaze, grunge, Brit-pop, post-rock, etc., have done nothing to erode its effect. That song alone should be as well-known as "Light My Fire" or, at the very least, "How Soon Is Now." Without a doubt, time has been extremely good to this era of the band, who, after 1988, was on the brink of leaving Creation for Fontana following a legendary bidding war. While Chadwick's boastfulness didn't help things, his band wasn't the group of underachievers many would like to say they were. Not a bit. If they were in fact underachievers, it was because not enough people bought their records when they were first released. Behold, for here is your penance.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

The Lemonheads ‎Come On Feel The Lemonheads


The LemonheadsCome On Feel The Lemonheads

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Come On Feel the Lemonheads should have been the album that propelled the trio and Evan Dando to stardom, it's the most interesting record that the Lemonheads have released, because it finds Dando confused about everything, particularly love, both for girls and drugs, and his burgeoning fame. There are moments of self-indulgence, whether it's the aimless piano instrumental "The Jello Fund" or two versions of the drug-obsessed "Style," yet they are as essential to the album's desperate tone as the heartbreaking acoustic ballad of "Favorite T." Between those two extremes is some of the finest power pop and country-rock Dando has ever written. He still has a tendency to be too cutesy, as on the otherwise winning country-rock of "Being Around" and "Big Gay Heart," but the hooky rush of "The Great Big No," the bright "I'll Do It Anyway," and the lovely simplicity of "Into Your Arms" is irresistible. Come On Feel may not be as consistent or immediate as It's a Shame About Ray, but finding its pleasures is quite rewarding.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

The Wedding Present ‎Bizarro Camden Deluxe


The Wedding PresentBizarro Camden Deluxe

Get It At Discogs
The Wedding Present's second proper studio album, Bizarro cut down a bit on the frenetic jangle the band was known for in its early days and replaced it with healthy doses of darkness and power. Adding some fuzzy, crunchy distortion to give the guitars some hefty impact, slowing the tempos down to speeds that allow vocalist David Gedge to squeeze more heartbroken despair and bleak sarcasm out of every line, and generally upping their game in every way, the album is the fullest realization of the Wedding Present's sound yet. Leading off with the unstoppably hooky "Brassneck," which features a brilliant Gedge reading of lines that rhyme "grow up" and "throw up," the album plays like a collection of thematically related singles. The most single-y among them is "Kennedy," which has some brilliant singalong lyrics and an intensely dramatic guitar strum buildup that crescendos into a maelstrom of sound. The rest of the record isn't far behind; whether it's the sparse "What Have I Said Now?" or the slowly grinding "Bewitched," one could extract any song and it would feel like a highlight -- even the epic-length "Take Me!," which closes the album in a fury of strums, drum fills, and chugging bass that builds and builds until it seems like the song is going to levitate and take the listener right along with it. The Wedding Present didn't necessarily need to improve their already winning template, but they did and it pays off big time on Bizarro.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Various No Thanks! The '70s Punk Rebellion



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Like all the great rock revolutions, punk was fueled by singles. Sure, there were a lot of tremendous albums, but all the artists that cut great LPs also had great 7"s -- and in the case of Television and Patti Smith, they had independent singles released prior to their first albums that never appeared on their debuts. Since rock criticism tends to be album-driven, singles tend to get slightly overlooked, and since punk is a rock critic's favorite, some revisionist historians paint the era as fueled by albums, not singles. Rhino's excellent four-disc No Thanks! The '70s Punk Rebellion corrects that error by focusing on the singles, winding up with a one-stop introduction and summary of the era that is as good as Loud, Fast & Out of Control, their similar set on early rock & roll. The compilers have bent the rules of punk slightly, deciding to include proto-punkers like New York Dolls, The Stooges, the Dictators, and Jonathan Richman, and then to not present the cuts in a strictly chronological order. This benefits the album, since these artists are in the same spirit of the bands they inspired, and the sequencing plays like a great mixtape. Rhino has also evenly balanced the set between American and British punk, including both early hardcore punkers The Dead Kennedys and British pub rock renegades like Nick Lowe and Ian Dury in equal measure. Though there's a bit of difference between "California Über Alles" and "Heart of the City," they deserve to be paired on this set because they both were genuinely independent, exciting 45s that crackled with energy and captured the spirit of punk, albeit in different ways. And that's what makes No Thanks! work so well -- it illustrates how diverse punk and new wave were in the late '70s, but it places a premium on adventure and excitement, which means even artier bands like Pere Ubu and Suicide come across as pure rock & roll. If there is any flaw to the box, it's that most record collectors will already own the lion's share of these songs -- in fact, if they own Rhino's previous 1993 multi-disc punk retrospective D.I.Y., they'll own no less than 53 of these songs (an additional 14 songs have appeared on other Rhino titles, making for a grand total of 67 of 100 songs already released by Rhino). While this is undoubtedly a problem for some collectors, it is also true that it functions more as an overview for fans that don't already own a bunch of this on CD, and on that level it can't be faulted. True, this may contain no tracks from The Sex Pistols, since John Lydon refused them permission (allegedly because Rhino chose not to release the 2002 Sex Pistols box set in the States), but every other major player is here, and the music here is so good they're not missed at all. Finally, if a collector is wondering whether it's worth the expense to buy this box, there are three rare singles that make their debut here: the aforementioned Television and Patti Smith singles, "Little Johnny Jewel" and "Hey Joe [version]," plus an early single version of the Pretenders' "The Wait." (Note: "Little Johnny Jewel" was released nearly simultaneously on an expanded reissue of Television's Marquee Moon.) For those that can afford it, that's reason enough to pick up the set.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Various A Life Less Lived (The Gothic Box)



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Perhaps the most mocked, maligned, and misunderstood of rock subgenres, goth's gloomy aesthetic encompasses a host of different styles: glam, punk, metal, disco, New Wave, industrial, psychedelia, murder ballads, classical, and endless permutations thereof. Stranger still, it has thrived outside the mainstream for nearly 30 years even as many of its major artists have experienced some degree of pop success: The Cure, Siouxsie Sioux, Ian Astbury, Nick Cave, and the Bauhaus family have all emerged from their coffins into the Top 40 at some point. Others, such as Echo & the Bunnymen, Jesus & Mary Chain, and Ministry, aren't expressly goth but share enough affinity for the theatrical and/or macabre to merit inclusion on Rhino's A Life Less Lived. Notwithstanding the leatherette packaging, this 3-CD/1-DVD set is as comprehensive a survey as possible for a label that applies equally to the Misfits' horror-punk, Einstürzende Neubauten's sturm and clang, and Dead Can Dance's wispy arcana. Save godfather-of-goth Alice Cooper, all the figureheads are well-represented, including their work before, after, and between their best-known bands: The Birthday Party, Tones on Tail, Creatures, Dali's Car, Southern Death Cult. Either by influence or simply their ever-changing lineup, the Sisters of Mercy alone seem responsible for every third song. The few American groups to dent the scene – Christian Death, 45 Grave, Kommunity FK – get their due, while floridly named forgotten heroes like Alien Sex Fiend and Lords of the New Church are resurrected in all their eldritch glory. The DVD is predictably top-notch: "Lullaby," "Bela Lugosi's Dead," "Cities in Dust," etc. These days, goth may mean a Hot Topic fashion victim to most or a convenient tag to hang on angsty bands like Evanescence, AFI, and My Chemical Romance, but even that demonstrates its pervasive influence and undead staying power. Release the bats.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

The Electric Soft Parade ‎Holes In The Wall


The Electric Soft ParadeHoles In The Wall

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The idea of two English late-teenage brothers in a band together may conjure up thoughts of Oasis via Silverchair, but Holes in the Wall, Alex and Tom White's debut album as the Electric Soft Parade, is a surprisingly assured album. Like Oasis and Silverchair, the Electric Soft Parade proudly wear their musical influences on their sleeves, as Holes in the Wall reveals intimations of bands like Ash, Grandaddy, and Teenage Fanclub. While Holes in the Wall veers more toward indie and psychedelic rock as opposed to the more straightforward power pop of contemporaries Weezer and Sloan, one of the album's greatest virtues is its memorable melodies, as exemplified in the catchy choruses of songs like "Empty at the End" and "Silent to the Dark." The White brothers also have ear-catching production on their side, giving their album true flavor by infusing it with splashes of electronics and keyboards, psychedelic swirl, and the occasional irregular time signature. The ESP have certainly proved that they can rock (embodied by "There's a Silence"), The Electric Soft Parade have produced a fine debut that should place them firmly in the midst of the post-Brit-pop musical landscape, a scene that they have the potential to shape as they mature.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

The Wonder Stuff ‎If The Beatles Had Read Hunter... The Singles



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A posthumous collection of all of the Wonder Stuff's singles from 1987 to 1993, plus a cover of Slade's "Coz I Love You" from a charity compilation, If the Beatles had Read Hunter...the Singles is both a fine starting point and, for most, all the Wonder Stuff they'll ever actually need. Albums one and three, 1988's The Eight-Legged Groove Machine and 1991's Never Loved Elvis, are solidly entertaining (in wildly differing styles) throughout,  However, in the classic Brit-pop tradition pretty much all of the band's very best material, from the Kinks-like, music hall-style tune "The Size of a Cow" to the manic buzz of "Give Give Give Me More More More," was released as singles. This is a solid, completely representative overview. Those whose curiosity is stoked would do well to buy The Eight-Legged Groove Machine next.
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