Saturday, 22 October 2016

Mercury Rev ‎Deserter's Songs Deluxe Edition

Mercury Rev Deserter's Songs

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Like their sister-band The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev took the scenic route to success. After a messy debut album and an equally messy follow-up they ditched their front man and took a gentler and much more interesting career path, with the jazzy, dreamy and startling See You on the Other Side being a charmingly rough and ready blueprint for what would come after a brief split and guitarist Grasshoper’s brief stray in a monastery. When Deserter’s Songs was released in 1998 nobody had any great expectations for it, but it touched a nerve and it found an audience that would remain entranced by its Americana lullabies to this day. After all the guitar and electronica heavy music that had dominated most of the 90s, the rock music world was exhausted, it needed a rest and a soothing balm to ease its troubles. That this balm was provided by Mercury Rev was a complete and total surprise. Deserter’s Songs, with it’s bowed saws, soothing keyboards, harps, gentle guitars, calm strings and all manner of other ghostly sounds was a world away from what the music press had spent the last eight years falling head-over-heels in love with and it was all the better for it. This was gentle, intelligent and introspective music and it had the added bonus of being exactly what a lot of people needed to hear at that time. “Holes” lays out Mercury Rev’s new modus operandi magnificently and is still one of my favourite tracks on the album, with its talk of moles, smoke-like streams and polished stones. The carefully created mood is maintained by the next two tracks is a nice change from all the bands who show their cards too early and then this is followed by a ghostly instrumental which prepares us nicely for a slight change in pace that arrives along with The Band’s Levon Helm playing drums on “Opus 40”, one of the albums more obvious attempts at a pop song that nevertheless remains ethereal and uplifting. Helm’s former band mate Garth Hudson also pitches in on the “Hudson Line”, a song which I have only recently discovered the joy of. Yet another concerted attempt at a pop song is “Goddess On A Hiway”, which again is strangely uplifting without appearing to break a sweat despite having one of the biggest choruses on the album. The beauty of Deserter’s Songs is that it works as a fully-formed cohesive whole, allowing the music to take you on a soothing journey through a dream like state, the soundscape changing in a seamless and gentle manner, that is until the music takes one final twist with the final track, when “Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp” takes you with bounding enthusiasm into anthemic territory and provides an enjoyable soundtrack to ride into the sunset to.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Orb ‎The Orb's Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld

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Marking pretty much the precise point at which dance music became epic, Alex Paterson turned an on-off DJing gig into a fully-fledged project with The Orb’s first studio album after years of EPs and singles.The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld certainly doesn’t short change on the promise of its title. A continuous, progressive composition of ten tracks over four sections (‘Earth Orbit’, ‘Lunar Orbit’, ‘Ultraworld Probe’ and ‘Ultraworld’), the album and its signature song ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ did an awful lot to change the concept of what dance music could sound like, particularly in terms of mainstream perceptions. The concepts of extended dancefloor remixes and sampling had of course been around for a long time, but there was something playfully subversive, eccentric and quintessentially English about what Paterson introduced with his music. The Orb started life in the rave scene, catering to ecstasy casualties in the chillout room at Paul Oakenfold’s ‘Land of Oz’ nights at Heaven in the late ‘80s. Quickly becoming celebrated for playing ambient, percussion-free sets that lasted for several hours, Paterson worked with partner-in-crime Jimmy Cauty, whom he met through a mutual friend in Killing Joke’s bassist Youth and who found fleeting superstardom with pop terrorists The KLF. Piling dozens of ‘found sounds’, field recordings and all manner of spoken-word samples on top of each other, and marrying those up with similarly researched visual materials projected on to the walls, The Orb’s sets threatened to overload the senses but, crucially, didn’t overstimulate those who came to hear them, wanting instead to lose themselves in a musical journey. This philosophy was carried over completely intact to Paterson’s first full studio effort – and truly, …Ultraworld is a journey like few others before or since. Kicking off with The Orb’s most famous track ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ which eventually became a UK Top 10 hit in 1993, nearly three years after its original release, it’s the closest to a commercial moment at under five minutes. The subject of litigation because of the uncleared central sample of pop star Rickie Lee Jones (with a noticeable cold!) talking about her childhood memories of the skies where she grew up in Arizona, it’s quirky disposition and rock-steady beat for many represents a kind of shorthand for the more ambient, comedown side of the rave scene. Following this, Paterson spreads his wings and shows what he’s really capable of with a bigger canvas. The lush, Dionysian ambience of ‘Earth (Gaia)’, featuring Bible readings; the totally spaced-out dub feel of ‘Perpetual Dawn’; the gentle, loping breaks and beats of ‘Supernova At The End Of The Universe’ and ‘Into The Fourth Dimension’… all liberally sprinkled with an arsenal of snatched samples that could only have been the result of an incorrigible music nerd given access to vast archives of records. Finally, after a full 90 minutes, the record arrives at its destination, a trip that began with cloud-gazing and meadows ending in the alien atmosphere of the 20-minute closer ‘A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld’. Many mixes exist of this track, but the one on the album is a live mix with the central sample of Minnie Riperton’s ‘Lovin’ You’ fading in and out very fleetingly as a wealth of samples from sci-fi radio plays and natural sounds dive and swoop about to create a musical equivalent of a sensory deprivation chamber. Whereas ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ summed up a wider scene, ‘A Huge Ever Growing…’ perhaps sums up Paterson’s sensibilities best. here’s something of the punk sensibility in Paterson’s approach to the arrangement, with the sense of a lot of things going on at the same time (multiple samples rubbing up against each other at the same time) but, paradoxically, a sparseness in terms of the deployment of those same samples so that it never feels as if he’s labouring the point. Consequently, though the arrangements often very lengthy (all but one of the tracks are over 8 minutes long) it always feels very accessible and easy to listen to, and how much pleasure one derives from Ultraworld – and, indeed, The Orb’s entire discography – is entirely up to the listener.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

The Smiths ‎The Sound Of The Smiths

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Depending on your count, The Sound of the Smiths is the third or fourth posthumous Smiths compilation -- a number that may be a bit excessive considering the group's rather concise catalog, containing just four studio albums and singles rounded up on three singles compilations (and two of those covered the same essential territory, too). That's a lot of repetition but whether it's taken in either its single-disc or double-disc deluxe editions, The Sound of the Smiths is the best of these posthumous overviews. The single-disc -- which is the first disc of the deluxe set -- is the hits disc, containing every cut from the 18-track 1995 compilation Singles and expanding it with five cuts all dating from the mid-'80s: "Still Ill," "Nowhere Fast," "Barbarism Begins at Home," "The Headmaster Ritual," and "You Just Haven't Earned It Yet Baby." As a Smiths-basics goes, it's first-rate, an introduction and summary that's compulsively listenable. The second disc on the deluxe The Sound of the Smiths splits the difference between a rarities compilation and a "more of the best" collection of album tracks, rounding up non-LP singles and B-sides like "Jeane," "Wonderful Woman," Money Changes Everything," and the New York Vocal version of "This Charming Man," live versions of "Handsome Devil," "Meat Is Murder," "What's the World?" and "London," the Troy Tate demo of "Pretty Girls Make Graves," and a bunch of great Smiths songs including a hefty chunk of The Queen Is Dead. It falls short of being the long-awaited collection of Smiths rarities, the absence of which remains a mystery, but it's the best stab at one to date and a pretty entertaining listen in its own right.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Ian McCulloch ‎Candleland Reissue

Ian McCulloch Candleland Reissue

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Ian McCulloch's first solo LP represents his most accomplished work since the 1984 Echo and the Bunnymen masterpiece Ocean Rain; haunted by the recent deaths of the singer's father as well as Bunnymen drummer Pete DeFreitas, Candleland is a poignant yet ultimately triumphant album which probes not only themes of loss but also rebirth. Atmospherically produced by Ray Shulman, tracks like "The Flickering Wall" and "Proud to Fall" tread familiar musical territory, yet are delivered with a renewed sense of purpose; McCulloch's expressive vocals and impassioned lyrics recall past glories, but also tap newfound reserves of maturity and introspection. Equally compelling are the record's more unexpected departures, which include the waltz-like "I Know You Well," the New Order-esque "Faith and Healing," and the glistening title track, a fairytale music box with backing vocals courtesy of the Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser. A stunning and unexpected return to form

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Various ‎Left Of The Dial: Dispatches From The 80s Underground

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Alternative rock of the 1980s was such a large and diverse scene that any box set documenting the genre is bound to be the cause of debate as to what is and isn't included, even a four-CD, 82-track production such as this one. Despite the inevitable exclusions, Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the '80s Underground does a decent job of collecting representative cuts from all spectrums of the style, even if it does tilt toward the more mainstream of such acts. Of course, artists like R.E.M., the Cure, Aztec Camera, the Pretenders, Ultravox, Lone Justice, the Smithereens, Concrete Blonde, Echo & the Bunnymen, and the Church (all sampled on this box) were "mainstream" only by the standards of the more left-leaning college radio programmers; by the measurements of the actual mainstream, they were still pretty "alternative," even "underground" in some cases. And the set doesn't neglect the edgier side of '80s underground rock, with tracks by the Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, Throbbing Gristle, the Minutemen, Black Flag, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Gun Club, the Butthole Surfers, the Raincoats, and Beat Happening as well. Between the poles are numerous slices of music of different shades of anti-mainstreamdom, from the paisley underground (the Three O'Clock, the Rain Parade, the Dream Syndicate) and an iconoclastic singer/songwriter (Billy Bragg) to British guitar-grounded sounds (the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Stone Roses, XTC), goth (Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus), folk-punk (the Violent Femmes), retro-garage (the Lyres), ska (the English Beat), and even punk novelty (the Dead Milkmen). There are few real surprises or underexposed gems: the Passions' 1981 single "I'm in Love With a German Film Star" is about the only item by a group that hasn't been canonized in the '80s alternative rock pantheon, though actually that song was a British hit. On the other hand, the astute and eclectic programming makes for a better listen than other attempts that have been made to compile '80s alternative rock. It's sort of like listening to an actual '80s college radio station, but one that's more listenable than any college radio stations actually were, both because of the catholic stylistic assortment and the selection of some of these artists' very best songs. If you did listen to this sort of music devotedly back in the '80s, in fact, much of this will be like revisiting familiar hits and standards, even if few of them actually made the charts as actual hits (and then usually in the U.K.): R.E.M.'s "Radio Free Europe," the Dead Kennedys' "Holiday in Cambodia," the Jesus and Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey," Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun," XTC's "Senses Working Overtime," the Sugarcubes' "Birthday," Faith No More's "We Care a Lot," the Church's "Under the Milky Way," Siouxsie & the Banshees' "Christine," Gun Club's "Sex Beat," and Suicidal Tendencies' "Institutionalized," for instance, all fall into that category. And if you didn't experience the music directly during the era, this box set still gives you a pretty good idea of what was going on, and what paths to travel down for further investigation.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Eels ‎Beautiful Freak

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Although it is officially the debut of the rock trio Eels, the 1996 album Beautiful Freak is in reality the third album by composer and performer Mark Oliver Everett, who goes by stage the name “E”. The collaboration of four studio producers (including Everett), this album is filled with simple tracks of moderate tempo which employ exquisite arrangements and production methods to deliver a unique listening experience. A native of Virginia, Everett migrated to Southern California in pursuit of a music career. In the early 1990s, he released two solo albums (under the name ‘E’) on Polydor Records, A Man Called E and Broken Toy Shop. Released in 1993, this latter solo album included drummer Jonathan “Butch” Norton. However, with limited commercial success, E was in search of a new record deal and identity. Along with Norton and bassist Tommy Walter, the group “Eels” was formed, with the name chosen in part so group records would be placed Next to E solo albums in record stores. Eels were one of the first groups to sign with the New DreamWorks Records and they spent the early part of 1996 in the studio recording Beautiful Freak with producers Jon Brion, Mark Goldenberg and Michael Simpson. Throughout the duration of Beautiful Freak, there are original and eccentric pop-oriented tunes with contrasting lyrical themes of melancholy and despair. “Susan’s House” features spoken vocals and Everett’s observations of human misery as he walks towards the home of an ex-girlfriend and musically features a sampled piano from an older recording by Gladys Knight & the Pips. The song is followed by grunge-oriented “Rags to Rags”, which features an interesting drum pattern by Norton as well as a strong overall rock arrangement during the choruses. The album opener was also the first single released by Eels, “Novocaine for the Soul”. Co-written by Everett and producer Mark Goldenberg, this track features a pleasant and steady rock arrangement with good melody which helped make it a International hit “Beautiful Freak”, the album’s title song, features Elcetric piano and very somber vocals by Everett, While the lyrics are a little weak on this track, the surreal and sad mood makes up for this deficiency. Co-written by guest guitarist Jon Brion, “Not Ready Yet” is a sad tune about recovering from disaster and feeling the isolation of that situation. The longest track on the album, this song leaves plenty of room for musical grooves as it is bass and rhythm-driven with several guitar overdubs. “My Beloved Monster” with a very slight banjo before the electric guitar-driven song proper begins and, during the second verse and beyond a bouncy bass and feedback effects add a real edge to the sonic qualities of this song. Co-written by Keyboardist Jim Jacobsen who provides a cool synthesized choir, “Flower” may be the highlight of the entire album. Melodically and lyrically this track works Very well as a sad slacker creed with the clever refrain; “everyone is trying to bum me out…” The later part of the album has more solid tracks which remain within the spirit of the overall album while also introducing some nice new methods. “Guest List” is built on funky, descending bass while “Mental” features an upbeat bass/key riff by Walter and some hard rock chording in the choruses. “Spunky” has a lyrical sense of Reserved enthusiasm which matches the song’s title as “Your Lucky Day in Hell” is soulful with cool rhythms, effects and high-registered vocals. The album wraps “Manchild”, the most traditional, “lover’s lament” ballad on the album, co-written by Jill Sobule, with a long, surreal fade-out with sound effects to usher out the album. Following the release of Beautiful Freak, Eels toured extensively throughout the United States and Europe. Although Walter departed from the band in September 1997, Eels would go on to release ten further studio albums (to date) and have had a long and distinguished career.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Echo & The Bunnymen ‎Ocean Rain Reissue

Echo & The Bunnymen Ocean Rain Reissue

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Ocean Rain was the Bunnymen’s 4th album in five years and marked a change in direction for the band. Echoes of the bands’ previous work are still present, from Les Pattinson’s circular bass riffs, Will Sergeant’s off-kilter guitar patterns, Pete de Freitas’ intricate drumming and Ian McCulloch’s huge voice and doggerel lyrical voice. It’s just that on this album it all coalesced into something a little more classic, a little softer and melodic. The huge sweeping nature of songs like “The Cutter” and “Back of Love” from their previous album, Porcupine, had been replaced by something a little more lush, a little more planned. Previous Ocean Rain albums were often the result of jam sessions in the studio rather than meticulously demoed records. Ocean Rain feels more thought out with some more light and romance sneaking into the soundscape. Whether the recording of the songs in Paris has leaked through into the sound or not, it is a fuller sounding record than anything they had recorded before. Strings are more prominent, xylophones and glockenspiels are featured, and acoustic guitars are used instead of electrics. The album centers around the song that has almost become the Bunnymen calling card, “The Killing Moon,” apparently something that came to McCulloch in a dream. It was the first track to be recorded for the album and was actually all recorded in the UK. It’s been featured in the Donnie Darko soundtrack, covered by Pavement and still it survives. It’s a beautiful piece of work, a consummate bit of songwriting from the low rumbling bass, the brushed drums and the riff that runs through it, all with McCulloch’s soaring vocals over the top as he sings about lips being “magic whirls, and the sky over hung with jewels.” This is one of those songs that a band records and will just know that they will have to Play it at every performance. It’s a rare classic song that can even stand the Nouvelle Vague treatment. The album Starts brightly with a strummed guitar and the epic strings of “Silver,” as McCulloch sings, ”Swung from a chandelier.” That pretty much sets the scene for the album, and it’s a classy affair that soars and swoops from the get go. Everybody involved is at the top of their game. Sergeant’s guitar lines ring clear and cleanly through this song, and the multi-tracked lah-lahs that run throughout fit the bill perfectly. This is an album that sets its stall out early and Continues to deliver for each of its nine tracks. These can be divided into two types of songs; the melody-rich and poppier songs like “Silver” and “Seven Seas,” and the slower, epic tracks like “The Killing Moon,” and “Nocturnal Me.” In between these songs are tracks like the freak out, skittering drums of “Thorn of Crowns,” originally known as “Cucumber” (you know they made imaginative demos). This is possibly the only song to ever make a good chorus out of the phrase “C-c-c-c-Cucumber, cauliflower, cabbage” and should therefore mark this out as special in its own right. The album closes on the majestic title track. It starts with low, simple bass and Sergeant’s guitar appearing through the fog, as McCulloch sings “All at sea again, and now my hurricanes have brought down this ocean rain to bathe me again.” in a lugubrious croak worthy of a whale. Slowly but surely, other instruments arrive on the waves of this magnificent song – the strings, the brushed drums, an insistent riff as it builds to a crescendo that you know is coming for a good minute or two before it arrives. McCulloch’s voice cuts loose and you are swept along on the crest of a wave, a tidal swell, and perfect storm all rolled into one artistic rare beauty. Many bands would be lucky to record a single song as good as this. The Bunnymen managed to fit nine pearls onto one record without appearing to break a sweat. It’s hard to pick out highlights here. Ocean Rain is an album of nine Winners. Each song is in exactly the right place; not a note is out of place, not a line feels forced or awkward. It’s a rare thing for this to happen, but the Bunnymen achieved it on Ocean Rain, and perhaps that made what followed so depressing. This is an album that has been remastered and re-issued once or twice (quite worthy), so it’s unlikely that Gil Norton’s production will be improved on any further, and to be fair why would you want to mess around with a man that produced the Pixies, James, Throwing Muses and Foo Fighters amongst others?

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Various ‎Palatine The Factory Story / 1979-1990

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Palatine: The Factory Story/1979-1990 is a box set that combines the four separately released discs that distill the history of Manchester, England's Factory Records. Thanks to a roster that included the likes of Joy Division, New Order, Cabaret Voltaire, the Durutti Column, and (later) the Happy Mondays, Factory is regarded along the same level as Rough Trade, Postcard, Mute, 4AD, and Creation as one of the most important indie labels -- U.K. or otherwise -- to have broken the mold of the large company-based music industry during the late '70s and early '80s. Aside from the aforementioned acts, Factory never really became much of a force on the charts, save for the occasional hit. However, these four discs are impressive in gathering a good percentage of quality music that varies from post-punk to synth pop to Madchester to just plain weird. Each of the discs holds a particular theme, whether it's the mood or the time period covered. (Beware: The title of the box is deviously similar to the third volume, titled Palatine: The Factory Story, Vol. 3/1979-1989). There aren't any major omissions throughout these 49 songs; a healthy amount of attention is paid to the label's biggest acts, and smaller notables like A Certain Ratio, ESG, and the Stockholm Monsters are thankfully represented. While it could be argued that Crispy Ambulance and the Names could have been included instead of the nth New Order inclusion or arguably lesser acts like Kalima or Quando Quango, there aren't any true gripes to be had with this package
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