Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Various ‎Chantons Noël Ghosts Of Christmas Past LP

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Aztec Camera's Hot Club of Christ is a busy, Django-esque run through a few well-known Christmas ditties, while Michael Nyman's Cream or Christians is a silly but loveable fragmented organ collage in a typical English eccentric tradition. Elsewhere, A Certain Ratio's Simon Topping contributes a beaty, bongo-brassy little thing, which would have sounded a lot less formal had the likes of Rip Rig been let lose on it, Tuxedomoon are in playful Residential mood, while The Durutti Column's One Christmas For Your Thoughts is exactly what you'd expect, an exquisite, gentle instrumental operating on a level where factors of 'interest' and 'boredom' don't figure

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Shed Seven ‎The Singles Collection

Shed SevenThe Singles Collection

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Never the most fashionable of outfits, York four-piece Shed Seven nevertheless were one of the few Brit-pop bands to sustain a career once the whole scene had eaten itself. They may have lacked the swagger of Oasis, the raw energy of Elastica, and the critical success of Pulp, but their solid brand of anthemic indie rock, backed by frontman Rick Witter's distinctive vocals, spawned an impressive 15 Top 40 hit singles over a nine-year period, before they disbanded in 2003. Now, following the lead of other '90s mid-table indie bands Cast, Dodgy, and Echobelly, they have re-formed for what has turned out to be their biggest-ever U.K. tour, hence the release of their second greatest-hits package, The Singles Collection. This extensive two-CD, 38-track compilation includes all but one of the 15 tracks that appeared on 1999's Going for Gold (only "High Hopes" is omitted), alongside a bonus disc which features 12 B-sides handpicked by the band, and eight previously unreleased songs and demos. Listed in chronological order, the album proves that despite their formulaic reputation, each of Shed Seven's four studio albums showed a steady progression. The likes of early singles, mobile phone ad jingle "Speakeasy," and the plodding "Ocean Pie" are pretty standard indie fare which sounded utterly pedestrian when compared to the colorful output of their more illustrious counterparts. But their breakthrough album, A Maximum High, considerably upped the ante, with its ultra-confident, Smiths-esque sound responsible for five anthemic arena singalong Top 20 hits, including the storming brass band-heavy "Getting Better," and their jangly guitar-led signature tune "Going for Gold," surprisingly the band's only Top Tenner. However, it was "Chasing Rainbows" which belatedly appeared on third album, Let It Ride, that provided the band's career high point, a heart-wrenching melancholic ballad which sounds uncannily like the Killers' more Anglo-centric early material. Although they never reached the same heights again, they were still capable of producing the odd killer single. The shouty terrace anthem-style "She Left Me on Friday" echoes the punchy mod-pop of Parklife-era Blur, "Disco Down," like its title suggests, is an indie disco number full of swirling strings and Superstition-esque funky basslines, while the Franz Ferdinand-style swan song "Why Can't I Be You?" suggested the band's decreasing chart positions weren't the result of a lack of trying. The re-recorded and remixed versions of several tracks and the second disc of rarities means The Singles Collection is more likely to appeal to their loyal following rather than the casual fan who may have picked up their previous compilation. But while they've perhaps unfairly remained a minor footnote in the success of the Cool Britannia era, The Singles Collection proves that when it came to creating admirably catchy guitar pop tunes, not many bands did it better.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

The Brilliant Corners ‎Heart On Your Sleeve (A Decade In Pop 1983-1993)

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Singles comps are interesting things; if the programmer presents the songs in chronological order, one can hear the maturity of a band. In the case of Bristol-based indiepop band The Brilliant Corners, one hears a band that started out fabulous only grow more amazing and more, ahem, brilliant. Their first single, “She’s Got Fever,” is a quick burst of something new; it’s part punk, part rockabilly, the genre made more confusing by the addition of a muted trumpet! B-side “Black Water” is a funk number with a rolling bass line that reminds of Gang of Four. In other words, for a debut single, it’s confusing, because they deftly do not define their sound; the only thing that links them is the distinctive singing of Davey Woodward. The diversity didn’t stop, either; the 48 songs on this collection never sit still, presenting a healthy amalgam of punk, rock, rockabilly, and pop. As prolific as they were—eleven singles and EP’s and five albums over a ten year period is a lot of music, Surprisingly, quality control was never an issue, nothing feels like filler, and it’s always a promising sign when a band’s unreleased material leaves the listener wondering why those songs were shelved. It wasn’t until 1988’s single “Teenage” that one starts to see a distinctive signature sound begin to form; after that, their sound was more in tune with the British indie-pop sound, and even though later singles don’t vary as much, that doesn’t decrease the overall quality of the material. For those familiar with this lovely band, you’ll want this to complete your collection. For those unfamiliar—as I most certainly was—this is a superb and excellent compilation of a band that deserves to be rediscovered.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Richard Hawley ‎Lowedges

Richard HawleyLowedges

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Richard Hawley's second album, Lowedges, retains all the virtues that made his debut long-player, Late Night Final, such an out-of-left-field stunner: the late-night atmosphere, the subtle yet dramatic arrangements, Hawley's deep and expressive vocals, and, above all, the low-key and catchy songs that will have you remembering past loves, glory days, and autumn nights. It is nothing but very sentimental and emotional stuff from beginning to end without any traces of mawkishness. Hawley sings with tender resignation and, unlike most singers these days, absolutely never sings two notes where one will do. The arrangements are even more sophisticated on Lowedges, with loads of subtle strings, standup bass, twangy guitars, and more judicious use of reverb. Throughout, Hawley is fond of using swooping slide and pedal-steel guitars to provide atmosphere: on "Darlin'," the slides whisper in the background like star-crossed lovers and on "The Only Road" they hover like specters in the distance. This album features a little more dynamic range than Late Night Final. A couple songs dial the volume up a bit: "Oh My Love" has a power ballad feel with the chorus amped up with distorted guitars and massed backing vocals and "Run From Me" has an epic wall of sound and sounds like the best Bad Seeds song in many a year. A couple tunes (the chiming closer "The Nights Are Made for Us" and "I'm on Nights," which has some haunting guitar lines) bop along like weird '50s doo wop ballads. All the tunes are first-rate. Hawley is a compelling mix of the pastoral beauty of English folk rockers like Nick Drake and the urban cool of balladeers like Scott Walker with a dash of the otherworldliness of Julee Cruise. He doesn't make a false step on this album. Most likely it will be overlooked by the masses, but that's OK. They don't deserve to be hip to such a wonderfully intimate and, well, wonderful artist and record. Let's keep it a secret -- a wonderful secret

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Cinerama ‎Va Va Voom Japan Album

CineramaVa Va Voom

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"I did get your message...I can't believe you're doing this." So goes the line from the answering machine comment used to start off "Maniac," Va Va Voom's first track, and as an initial reaction from longtime Wedding Present fans, it probably works just as well. However, David Gedge approaches his new project with neither false bravado nor, it must be said, all that much of a change from the past in many respects. The key difference is the music, which the band name captures perfectly -- classic, often theatrical pop that refreshingly escapes self-consciousness just by being itself, while retaining a strummed guitar at the center of things. Gedge and Sally Murrell make for a fine core duo, with wistful but not weedy duets and performances throughout; Gedge's singing is certainly much less rough than it has ever been. What hasn't altered in the least is Gedge's lyrical focus on love, emotional betrayals, twists and turns in relationships, and so forth; those who have always found a connection to his work there won't be disappointed at all. At the heart of things, most of the songs could easily have been calmer Wedding Present tracks, so what it comes down to are the arrangements, with a compact string section, along with flute, oboe, and trumpet adding to the gentle layers of keyboards, vibes, and warm atmosphere throughout. It's at once very '60s without sounding totally nostalgic -- a hard balance to maintain but one which Cinerama pulls off. While names like Burt Bacharach/Hal David and John Barry are often invoked in discussing the band, there are other connections as well, such as "Comedienne," with the breezy feeling of the Cure's lighter pop moments in its sound. The full guest list of performers is a neat mix, including Church singer/guitarist Marty Willson-Piper as one of the key players, while Delgados leader Emma Pollock duets on the bitter "Ears

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan ‎Ballad Of The Broken Seas

Isobel Campbell & Mark LaneganBallad Of The Broken Seas

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It's tempting to say something facile like "beauty meets the beast" in writing about this collaboration between former Belle & Sebastian member Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, best known for his work with Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age. After all, Campbell's voice is all sweet angelic whisper while Lanegan's whisky-and-nicotine rasp sounds like the product of ten thousand nights in a barroom, but somehow these sweet and sour elements come together with striking and impressive results on Ballad of the Broken Seas. It helps that musically these two are not far away from the same page; the ghostly blues-based structures of Lanegan's Whiskey for the Holy Ghost and The Winding Sheet may be starker than Campbell's stuff with Belle & Sebastian or her solo set Amorino, but they both appear to revel in the sort of glorious sadness that draws beauty from melancholy, and they find a dark and lovely common ground on this set of songs. Campbell produced the album and wrote the bulk of the material (though Lanegan wrote one song, the moody and satisfying "Revolver"), and while it's no great surprise that she comes up with superb material for herself, she also knows what to make of Lanegan's expressive rasp ("The Circus Is Leaving Town" is as good a performance as he's ever recorded), and their numbers together (especially "The False Husband" and the cover of Hank Williams' "Ramblin' Man") recall what one hoped Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue's duets on Murder Ballads would sound like. Ballad of the Broken Seas is a superbly crafted bit of late-night introspection that brings out the best in both Lanegan and Campbell and adds new and unexpected facets to their impressive repertoires.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Robert Palmer ‎Woke Up Laughing

Robert PalmerWoke Up Laughing

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Here's a new approach to a compilation. Robert Palmer has looked back at his catalog and plucked a set of album tracks, which he has in some cases remixed or partially re-recorded. A great many of his stylistic borrowings from around the world, especially Africa and the Caribbean, are featured, and since the songs deliberately are not his hit singles or even better-known album cuts, the result sounds like a lost album from early in his career, and a good one, too

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Mercury Rev ‎The Essential Mercury Rev Stillness Breathes 1991-2006

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Mercury Rev are a band of two halves. Their early albums, Yerself is Steam and Boces, were chaotic noise experiments encouraged by their mentor Tony Conrad, a contemporary of John Cale and La Monte Young, and their leftfield peers The Flaming Lips, with whom lead guitarist and eventual frontman Jonathan Donahue originally led a double life (Rev’s David Fridmann also produced The Lips’ 1990 album Priest Driven Ambulance). Championed by Rough Trade, the New Yorkers enjoyed an early UK tour that gained – and maintained – them greater popularity here than in their own country but rock’n’roll partying got in the way and at the end of their equally against-the-rules second album Boces, the band parted company with unpredictable lead singer David Baker. Their first album without him, the prophetically-titled See You on the Other Side, experimented as much with harmonies as feedback and marked the beginning of a new direction for the band, which would be fully realised with Deserter’s Songs, a stunning album of intelligent art rock with enough tunes and choruses to bring them critical acclaim and commercial success in equal measure. Having upped the ante, they have kept it there through follow-ups All Is Dream and The Secret Migration, taking their rightful place amongst too-cathcy-for-indie, too-clever-for-the-mainstream soulmates such as the Lips and REM. Considering their history, the obvious split in a two-disc set might have been between the pre- and post- See You… albums, but we’ve got an even bigger treat in store. The Essential Mercury Rev divides instead into greatest hits (or as close to it as they’ve got) plus an odds and sods of covers, Peel Sessions, remixes and more, which makes for a very pleasing package indeed. Disc One is hardly brimming over with chart botherers but it is none the less peppered with a good few radio friendly sing-alongs that should have crawled higher up the top 40 than they did, from their earliest near-hit, 1998’s Goddess On A Hiway, to their most recent, 2005’s In A Funny Way. The Rev aren’t always easy listening – take Chasing a Bee as a prime example -but in many ways their less commercial works from the early albums sit more comfortably amid the Deserter’s Songs-and-after tunes than they do alone. This could have allowed the tracks from the transitional See You on the Other Side to bridge the gap between the two phases of their career beautifully but instead the ones that have been chosen as its representatives here – Everlasting Arm and Empire State (Son House in Excelsis) – are the two that most recall the earlier material. Incongruously, the sole representative of second album Boces, recorded at a time when the band was both imploding and being thrown off stage at Lollapalooza for being too noisy, is the gentle and almost whimsical Something for Joey. They have since declared the Boces period as one they would rather forget, remembered as sparsely in concert as it is on this compilation. Whether they’re offering up playfully gentle pop, ambitious orchestral pomp The Flaming Lips would be proud of or Velvet Underground-style feedback harmonies, Mercury Rev rarely disappoint. The transition from original vocalist David Baker to Jonathan Donahue doesn’t jar, partly because the songs are structured into a coherent whole rather than presented in chronological order and partly because they’re just so unbearably good. Mixing together songs from all six albums works remarkably well, toning down the more indulgent excesses of the noisefests while reminding the poppier numbers of their music’s darker edge. Disc Two is filled with B-sides and rarities and, as this is Mercury Rev, they are of course exceedingly good B-sides and rarities, including everything from Deadman, on which the band provide backing music to Suicide‘s Alan Vega as he reads from his novel Cripple Nation, to covers of songs by The Beatles, Bowie, Nico, Dylan and others, to interpretations of traditional folk songs such as Streets of Laredo. There are tracks only previously available on a Secret Migrations bonus disc, rare Peel Sessions (1991’s Coney Island Cyclone) and the Chemical Brothers’ Remix of Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp, which sadly leaves no place on Disc One for the original.
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