Saturday, 18 February 2017

Air Moon Safari 10th Anniversary Special Edition

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Although electronica had its fair share of chillout classics prior to the debut of Air, the lion's share were either stark techno (Warp) or sample-laden trip-hop (Mo' Wax). But while Air had certainly bought records and gear based on the artists that had influenced them, they didn't just regurgitate (or sample) them; they learned from them, digesting their lessons in a way that gave them new paths to follow. They were musicians in a producer's world, and while no one could ever accuse their music of being danceable, it delivered the emotional power of great dance music even while pushing the barriers of what "electronica" could or should sound like. (Never again would Saint Etienne be the only band of a certain age to reveal their fondness for Burt Bacharach.) The Modulor EP had displayed astonishing powers of mood and texture, but it was Air's full-length debut, Moon Safari, that proved they could also write accessible pop songs like "Sexy Boy" and "Kelly Watch the Stars." But it wasn't all pop. The opener, "La Femme d'Argent," was an otherworldly beginning, with a slinky bassline evoking Serge Gainsbourg's Histoire de Melody Nelson and a slow glide through seven minutes of growing bliss (plus a wonderful keyboard solo). The vocoderized "Remember" relaunched a wave of robot pop that hadn't been heard in almost 20 years, and the solos for harmonica and French horn on "Ce Matin La" made the Bacharach comparisons direct. Unlike most electronica producers, Air had musical ideas that stretched beyond samplers or keyboards, and Moon Safari found those ideas wrapped up in music that was engaging, warm, and irresistible.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Enigma The Cross Of Changes

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Cretu being no fool, he figured if it worked the first time, no need to change things much for the second. But he also knew not to simply go ahead and just rehash his debut for Cross of Changes, resulting in a just different enough effort along the same overall lines. The usual air of tasteful middle-of-the-road spirituality takes precedence, right down to the cover art and appropriately pantheistic quote from Persian mystic poet Rumi in the CD booklet. Needless to say, the music attempts to match the same throughout, and often succeeds. Things kick off with more of the synth-whale song noises and atmospherics from MCMXC, however there aren't any monks to be found this time around, but what sounds like the same whispering woman talking about "clearing the debts of many hundred years" and the like. From there, Cretu merrily takes the same plunge -- some of his sample choices this time around show he's got a decent record collection, including parts from Songs From the Victorious City, the striking fusion of Egyptian and Western musics from Anne Dudley and Jaz Coleman. His work with beats and loops noticeably shows a more developed edge -- while hardly an innovator, there's a bit more grime and loud in his rhythms, which in combination with extra electric guitar make a reasonable contrast to the smoother elements. Consider the rampaging conclusion to "I Love You...I'll Kill You," which while sharing some cheese with the title itself still works surprisingly well, right down to a clever Robert Plant vocal sample at the end. "Return to Innocence" was the big single from this one, not quite up there with "Sadeness" in the popular culture in the U.S. but almost inescapable elsewhere. There's another Led Zeppelin sample (this time John Bonham) and a haunting male vocal providing oomph under the fuzzy-headed greeting card philosophy of the main lyrics. It's an impressive effort, showing Cretu had a definite something in his own way.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Various ‎Just Say Yes... Sire's Winter CD Music Sampler

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Samplers are often throwaways, their contents quickly and mindlessly tossed together to promote a label's latest releases. Just Say Yes: Sire's Winter CD Music Sampler may have been produced to woo record buyers into purchasing albums by cult artists, but it offers a wealth of new wave rarities that significantly transcends its original purpose. Released in 1987, Just Say Yes: Sire CD Sampler has become a time machine delivering glimpses of cutting-edge artists before they became mainstream stars and young bands that should've but never fulfilled their commercial potential. Instead of lazily compiling singles, the CD opens with three 12" mixes, extended versions of Depeche Mode's pounding "Never Let Me Down Again," Echo & the Bunnymen's riff-heavy "Lips Like Sugar," and the Mighty Lemon Drops' toe-tapper "Out of Hand." If that wasn't enough, there are tracks like The Smiths' "Work Is a Four-Letter Word" and James' "Ya-Ho" that are probably missing from the collections of those groups' fans. Figures on a Beach's dreamy "No Stars" is a tale of unrequited love steered by jangling guitars and ethereal synths; if Simple Minds had recorded it, the song would've exploded on the charts. Although the uplifting "Young Manhood" isn't truly representative of the Wild Swans' majestic Bringing Home the Ashes LP, it is immediately catchy. Mix in Throwing Muses' otherworldly "A Feeling" and Aztec Camera's revealing confessional "How Men Are" and saying no to Just Say Yes becomes nearly impossible.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Various Artists Kats Karavan The History Of John Peel On The Radio

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Kats Karavan is a splendid 4-CD set charting the history of John Peel’s iconoclastic shows spanning 5 decades from the late 1960s until his sad and untimely death in 2004. Champion of the obscure and unheard, he introduced whole Generations of teenagers to new music and gave hundreds of bands their first mainstream broadcasts. Incredibly, 5 years have already passed since John’s death and a whole new generation is already growing up without knowing what it’s like to listen to a DJ who would play Bloc Party, followed by Ivor Cutler, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, then Bong-Ra, Linton Kwesi Johnson followed by The Misunderstood. Universal Music, with the full approval of John’s family, has undertaken the unenviable task of trying to recreate one of John’s shows on this 4 cd Box set. It has been a mammoth and difficult challenge. How could anyone fit generations of listeners’ favourite sessions, singles or anecdotes onto 4 discs? There is no Undertones, no Joy Division, no Chameleons, to name but three Peel favourites who don’t appear here but all have already appeared extensively on previous Peel compilations. So wide-reaching and eclectic was John’s passion for music that this compilation could have been made ten times over without even touching the sides of his shows. Drawing material right up until John’s last ever Festive Fifty, Kats Karavan includes big players, one-hit wonders, chart toppers and those who stayed at the lower reaches. It includes tracks from the likes of Small Faces, Thin Lizzy, Aswad, The Damned, Medicine Head, The Jam, The Slits, Funboy Five, The Cure, Linton Kwesi Johnson, That Petrol Emotion, Extreme Noise Terror, Ivor Cutler, Mercury Rev, Milo, Bloc Party and many, many more. The set also includes some rarities and curiosities. The Free track, Walk In My Shadow, was considered ‘lost’ by the BBC until it was recently discovered on some old reel to reel tapes. This is the first time it has ever been available and the first time it’s been heard since the original broadcast. There is also track from The Misunderstood, the only band that John ever managed and who performed one of John’s all-time favourite gigs: “If I had to list the ten great performances I’ve seen in my life, one would be The Misunderstood at Pandora’s Box, Hollywood, 1966. My god, they were a great band!” (John Peel) John supplies backing vocals on the Altered Images track, their cover of Neil Diamond’s Song Sung Blue, his only appearance on record. [This is slightly incorrect, as I've let them know. It's almost certainly Peelie's only singing performance on record, mind.] To further recreate the spirit and mood of one of John’s shows, some clips of John’s own links appear from time to time. None of his ‘chat’ has been kept by the BBC so the record label used extracts of the best of what they were able to find on old cassette tapes, cleaning them up for the CD set, where they work to great effect. Kats Karavan comes complete with artwork featuring rare and unseen photographs alongside personal recollections from many of the featured artists, who were only too delighted to contribute and be involved in this homage to the late, great John Peel.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Various ‎Retro:Active (Rare & Remixed)

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Retroactive: Rare & Remixed, features tracks from Camouflage, Erasure, Vis-a-vis, Screaming Blue Messiahs, The Spoons, INXS, Dream Academy, The Other Two, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Cure, The Beloved and Book of Love. This CD is brimming with great tracks, but favorites included on it are Camouflage's 'Great Commandment', INXS 'Burn For You' The Other Two's 'Tasty Fish', The Spoons 'Symmetry', Echo & the Bunnymen's 'Bring On The Dancing Horses' and the ultra-rare remix of The Cure's 'Boys Don't Cry'

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Various ‎Trainspotting #2 (Music From The Motion Picture Vol #2)

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The sequel to the original Trainspotting compilation includes additional tracks used in the film plus several tracks director Danny Boyle and producer Andrew MacDonald wished to use in the film, but for which they didn't have time. Beginning with the Ewan McGregor-sampling "Choose Life" by PF Project, the album includes tracks by many artists also on the original (David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Underworld, Leftfield, Primal Scream) plus new additions like Heaven 17, Joy Division, Fun Boy Three and Goldie. There are also two remixes of tracks from the original: Darren Price's version of Underworld's "Born Slippy/NUXX" and Baby Doc's reworking of Iggy Pop's "Nightclubbing." The result is an album quite distanced from what had become the usual practice -- soundtrack sequels based mainly on the big cash-in. Any fans of the original Trainspotting will likely enjoy the follow-up as well.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Various ‎Trainspotting (Music From The Motion Picture)

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Trainspotting concerns the adventures of a group of young, nearly criminal, drug-addicted Scottish friends. The novel, written by Irvine Welsh, became one of the most popular books in the British indie scene in the early '90s and was adapted to film in 1996 by the makers of Shallow Grave. Appropriately, an all-star collection of British pop and techno stars -- everyone from Blur, Pulp, and Elastica to Leftfield, Primal Scream, and Underworld -- contributed to the soundtrack, which also features a couple of oldies by veteran punk godfathers like Lou Reed ("Perfect Day") and Iggy Pop ("Lust for Life," "Nightclubbing"). The entire soundtrack holds together surprisingly well, as the techno tracks balance with the pop singles. Every song, whether it's Pulp's deceptively bouncy "Mile End" or Brian Eno's lush "Deep Blue Day," is quite melancholy, creating an effectively bleak, but Oddly romantic, atmosphere for the entire record. With the exception of the oldies, every song is rare or especially recorded for the soundtrack, and nearly every one is superb. Primal Scream's title track sees them returning to the dub/dance experiments of Screamadelica with grace, while Damon Albarn's first solo song, "Closet Romantic," is as good as any of Blur's waltzes. But the finest new song is Pulp's "Mile End," with its jaunty, neo-dancehall melody and rhythms and Jarvis Cocker's evocative, haunting lyrics. That song, more than anything else on the soundtrack, captures the feeling of the film.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Echo & The Bunnymen ‎Porcupine Reissue

Echo & The BunnymenPorcupine Reissue

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Did Echo & the Bunnymen ever make a classic album? Not just a good album – because almost all of their releases were good – but a stone cold classic. Maybe not. Most fans would state that Ocean Rain is their magnum opus, but is it possible that Porcupine, their third album, is equally as strong and was simply overshadowed by the work that followed? Firstly, very few albums have ever started with a two-song salvo as strong as ‘The Cutter’ and ‘The Back of Love’ – two post-punk classics that demonstrate The Bunnymen’s ability to be as playful as they are introspective, where the band drift between the two moods seamlessly within the songs. The rest of the album, while not containing any more timeless hits, finds a satisfying level of emotional depth without ever coming across as over-bearing or pretentious. A clever technique employed on Porcupine is the way that Ian McCulloch’s vocals are treated. On ‘Clay’ they sound like another Instrument, reverberating almost as much as Will Sergeant’s guitar – something that often nearly single-handedly lifts the Bunnymen above many of their peers. He has an unrivalled ability to add the perfect amount of guitar at any point, whether it’s the provocative chords in ‘Porcupine’ or those iconic jabs at the start of ‘The Back of Love’. However, that isn’t to say that Les Pattinson’s elastic bass-playing or Pete De Freitas’ tight drumming aren’t just as vital to the band’s sound. Having all the members of a band play damn close to their full potential without sounding self-absorbed is a pretty rare thing but it’s hard to deny that it happens here. On the 2003 remaster of the album, the final track is ‘Never Stop (Discotheque)’ – one of the greatest dance-rock tracks of the decade. It’s definitely the edition to pick up if you can. Although arguing about which edition to choose is splitting hairs; the fundamental point is that Porcupine is definitely the album to pick up.
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