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.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

R.E.M. Automatic For The People



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Turning away from the sweet pop of Out of Time, R.E.M. created a haunting, melancholy masterpiece with Automatic for the People. At its core, the album is a collection of folk songs about aging, death, and loss, but the music has a grand, epic sweep provided by layers of lush strings, interweaving acoustic instruments, and shimmering keyboards. Automatic for the People captures the group at a crossroads, as they moved from cult heroes to elder statesmen, and the album is a graceful transition into their new status. It is a reflective album, with frank discussions on mortality, but it is not a despairing record -- "Nightswimming," "Everybody Hurts," and "Sweetness Follows" have a comforting melancholy, while "Find the River" provides a positive sense of closure. R.E.M. have never been as emotionally direct as they are on Automatic for the People, nor have they ever created music quite as rich and timeless

Saturday, 11 November 2017

INXS ‎Kick Deluxe Edition 2004



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The Australian band INXS reached their absolute commercial peak with the well-crafted pop/rock/dance album Kick in 1997. This was the band’s sixth overall studio album since 1980 and marked a distinct migration from their New-Wave roots towards a more funk and soul oriented refinement of late eighties pop. It yielded four Top Ten hits, more than any other album in their career. The album’s sound was perfectly in sync with the visual media and the image forged by iconic front man Michael Hutchence which, in turn, also translated well into the non-visual radio and dance club formats. It ultimately transformed the band from the status of an alternative niche to that of a mainstream pop headliner, a status which they maintained well in the 1990s. Produced by Chris Thomas, the album was initially rejected by Atlantic records who felt the funk and dance elements would alienate INXS’s traditional rock following. They were reportedly offered $1 million to “go back to Australia and start again” but the band persisted in sticking with their plans and the label eventually relented. The result is amazingly accessible while still maintaining a level of originality from track to track, with each song possessing a different feel from the one previous. Still there are some common elements throughout, especially the simple, direct, and upfront drum beats of drummer John Farriss and the unambiguous guitar riffs forged by brothers Andrew Farriss and Tim Farris. This mixture proved to be a winning formula which the band soon rode to international stardom.The drum infused, monotone “Guns In the Sky” starts the album off, complete with opening grunts by Hutchence. The song barely leaves the repetitive, two-chord structure but sets up as a nice contrasting intro for the subsequent, more melodic pop song “New Sensation”. The first of several funk-infused rockers on Kick, “New Sensation” is a fun ride led by a twangy and flanged guitar riff and containing some direct, shouting vocals and well-timed breaks for effects. The album then moves to a dance oriented semi-suite which contains some of their most popular songs ever. “Devil Inside” is a cool and riff-driven tune with dynamic vocals in both range and style. The lyrics are sexually-fused and nicely complimented by the crisply distorted guitar riff, which cuts through the otherwise smooth sound scape. The song eventually builds towards a strong, climatic ending with building keyboard presence by Andrew Farriss. “Need You Tonight” continues the same general theme and feel, while adding a bit more funk in it’s constant, rotating riff. A well arranged song with overlapping elements, each catchy and memorable in its own right, which helped to make this the band’s top overall hit. “Mediate” is an interesting extension to “Need You Tonight” with a droning rap set over a constant beat and sunrise key pad, before finishing with a well-placed saxophone lead by Kirk Pengilly. Each of these songs contains strong video counterparts, with “Mediate” intentionally replicating the format of Bob Dylan’s classic video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues” right down to the point of apparently deliberate errors. The sides are bookmarked with strong but middle-of-the road tunes. “The Loved One” has elements of blue-eyed soul with a more modern 1980s arrangement and beat, which gives the impression it could have been a hit in its own right. “Wild Life” is another funky song with a good pop hook and an anthemic vocal hook.Never Tear Us Apart”. Driven by fast strings and accented by strategic rests, this song stands out from the band’s other radio hits as a brilliantly composed ballad, complete with counter-harmonized backing vocals and a Pengilly sax solo that doesn’t sound like it was put there just to satisfy some formula. This song proves that the band can, in fact, succeed by stretching the limits of their musical scope. The album concludes with a series of less popular yet very strong songs (there is no filler on this album). “Mystify” is an upbeat swing tune, which is held down to earth by the rock guitars and drums. The title song “Kick” features 1960s style, soul-rock with liberal use of horns throughout and a great driving bass by Garry Gary Beers. “Calling All Nations” returns to the funk formula driven by bright guitars and “Tiny Daggers” is pure 80s pop, keyboard led with slightly interesting vocals. In total, Kick did just about everything you can expect from a high-end pop/rock album of the 1980s. It forged incredibly catchy and modern sounding songs, while not giving way to the mind-numbing, formulaic trends on many contemporary artists of the time.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Shack Here's Tom With The Weather



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Here's Tom With the Weather reads the sleeve, and on Shack's fourth full-length album, the forecast calls for mostly delicate vocals, partly chiming guitars, and more-than-occasional ballads. With these twelve hushed songs, songwriter Michael Head has crafted the most relaxed album of his career. Song titles like the Lilac Time-esque "The Girl with the Long Brown Hair" and "Byrds Turn to Stone," which declares an obvious musical influence, are every bit indicative of the lilting, graceful songs they name. Head's tunes haven't felt this soft and bouncy since he fronted the the Pale Fountains, but that doesn't mean the album ever feels dull. Quite the contrary, Head's songwriting channels so many decades and genres, that all one can do is marvel at the subtle melodies, and hum along to his easy vibes. Tropical beats bounce in the air, harps reverberate romantically, and chiming, sometimes chugging guitars inspire easy moods. Spanish guitars paint texture, threatening to explode out of any given song, and finally do so on the album's most bombastic track, "Meant to Be," which throws in wonderful horns and strings to stir true passion. "Carousel" is, perhaps, the finest Nick Drake song that Drake didn't write, its stirring jazzy arrangement and yearning piano as bittersweet as can be. Here's Tom With the Weather feels like it could be the work of a super-group obsessed with the music of the Byrds and Love, made up of members of Aztec Camera, The Ocean Blue, Doves, Trembling Blue Stars, Echo and the Bunnymen, and the La's. That Head has been quietly creating music this strong in relative obscurity for so many years is remarkable. Maybe Shack just doesn't gel with the zeitgeist, and maybe that's part of what makes them a consistently compelling listen. No matter from which angle one approaches Here's Tom With the Weather, it's an excellent, timeless musical treat.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Spectrum Soul Kiss (Glide Divine)



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Spectrum's debut album -- and at the start, at least, it was something of a regular functioning group -- follows on readily from the end of Spacemen 3 and Sonic's own solo album Spectrum. It's the same lyric obsessions, combination of simplicity and overdrive in the music and the inexpressible spark which so often transforms Sonic's music from celebration of the past into its own boundless future. His partners on the record -- multi-instrumentalist Richard Formby and the Mike Stout/Geoff Donkin rhythm section -- readily kick up the right level of energy or drowsy passion needed. The hands-down pop winner comes right at the start -- "How You Satisfy Me," a near perfect garage-rocker ready for Nuggets combined with more tremolo and flanging than the world should readily be able to handle and a killer chorus. From there, Soul Kiss generally explores things on a much calmer note, with any number of audio clues pointing toward Sonic's next major effort, Mesmerised by EAR. Consider the slow drones and swirling sounds in "Neon Sigh," which while far more minimal than the early EAR material definitely follows the same general pattern of open-ended exploration, drifting in space. Concluding track "Phase Me Out (Gently)" takes this to an even more extreme level, a 15-minute overlay of wordless vocals and tones that lives up to its name in fine fashion. When Spectrum focuses on more traditional song structures, the results are engaging, Sonic's own brand of light gauze over gentle chords. "Waves Wash Over Me" has perhaps his highest singing ever, not so much a whisper as a breeze from above, while "Sweet Running Water" is as perfect a bliss-out as anyone could ask, a slow cascade of feedback and rhythm. Various guests, including regular collaborator the Jazz Butcher on sax and, also on that instrument, Kevin Martin, sometime EAR partner, contribute here and there to the proceedings.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

The Beloved ‎Sweet Harmony The Very Best Of The Beloved



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Controversial dance outfit the Beloved became the chilled-out advocators of the early-'90s rave scene with their blissful brand of dreamy synth pop, which provided the perfect comedown soundtrack for many a hardcore clubber, but they actually started out half-a-decade earlier as a new wave rock band influenced by the less-likely dancefloor favorites Nick Cave and Joy Division. Not that you'd know it from Sweet Harmony: The Very Best of the Beloved -- their third compilation after 1997's Single File and 2005's The Sun Rising -- which, like its predecessors, ignores their guitar-heavy 1989 debut Where It Is, and instead focuses on their three more successful, electronica-based albums. All but one of Happiness' ten songs are included (only closing track "Found" is omitted) with the most recognizable being the gorgeous "The Sun Rising," based on a sample of the haunting choral piece "O Euchari," which first introduced us to the seductive whispering tones of frontman Jon Marsh and their unique fusion of Balearic beats and ethereal acid-house synths. Elsewhere, the gothic undertones of the Depeche Mode-influenced opener "Hello" perfectly bridged the gap between their indie beginnings and their new-found loved-up sound; the skeletal guitars and languid piano chords of "Don't You Worry" echoed the Hacienda house of New Order; while more poppier, Erasure-ish influences crept in on the hi-NRG electro of "Scarlet Beautiful" and "Up, Up and Away." Only two tracks fail to make the cut from 1993's number two commercial breakthrough Conscience ("Lose Yourself in Me" and "1000 Years from Today"), their first release since Marsh's wife Helena replaced founding member Steve Waddington. Famed for its risque naked video, signature tune "Sweet Harmony," a glorious slice of ice-cool synth pop which manages to be both brooding and euphoric at the same time, is unsurprisingly the album's highlight. But the gospel-fused trip-hoppy "Spirit," the new age trance leanings of "Dream On," and the psychedelic techno of "Outerspace Girl" shows that Conscience had more than one trick up its sleeve. But by the time of 1996's swan song X, the whole illegal warehouse rave scene was all but a distant memory, and although the lush ambient soundscapes of "Spaceman," the Underworld-esque techno of the nine-minute "Crystal Wave," and the anthemic Italo house-inspired "Satellite," were valiant attempts at a more experimental sound, the rest of the album failed to transcend their club roots in the same way as its predecessor did. Hardcore fans will be delighted at the inclusion of "Loving Feeling," a previously unreleased song from their early days, but for a band so synonymous with the dance scene, it's surprising that not one of the tracks from their 1991 remix album Blissed Out makes the grade. Besides their two big hit singles, the Beloved aren't really treated with the same respect as other early-'90s dance luminaries like the KLF and Saint Etienne, but this comprehensive two-CD collection suggests they deserve far more credit than they're given.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Pere Ubu ‎Cloudland Reissue


Pere UbuCloudland Reissue

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In a press handout that accompanied the original release of Pere Ubu's Cloudland, David Thomas quipped "We'd never been asked to write a pop record before. I guess it never occurred to anyone." Given the sonic Dadaism of much of Pere Ubu's work, what's most startling is not that it took so long for someone to suggest they make a pop record but that they were able to comply so successfully. Stephen Hague, who had previously worked with the Pet Shop Boys, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and New Order, produced these sessions, and Cloudland boasts a glossy surface that was unprecedented for Pere Ubu's work; the drums sounded crisp and tight, the songs included traditional melodies and melodic keyboard lines, Allen Ravenstine's noisy punctuations were pushed to the back of the mix, and the harmonies sounded as if they were performed by actual professionals. However, beneath the hipster friendly production, Cloudland remained a Pere Ubu record -- David Thomas' yelping vocal style was as unrestrained as ever, and while the tunes here lack the sharp angles of Pere Ubu's first era, the lateral sway of the melodies is still cheerfully off kilter. Lyrically, Cloudland finds Ubu moving cautiously from their passionate defense of the Midwest's industrial wastelands to a look at the broad plains that lurked elsewhere, as if they were looking for sunnier climes like many other denizens of the Rust Belt and finding many strange, troubling and wonderful things in their new surroundings. Ultimately, Cloudland showed that however much you dressed up Pere Ubu's music, their heart and soul would show through, and that is a very good thing. In 2007, Mercury Records reissued Cloudland in a new remastered edition created with the input of the band. The new disc includes two non-LP B-sides, "Wine Dark Sparks" and "Bang the Drum," as well as a live BBC recording of "Bus Called Happiness" and alternate mixes of "Breath" and "Love Love Love." David Stubbs' liner notes describe the circumstances behind the making of the album as well as Thomas' lyrical themes on this material

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Beck ‎Midnite Vultures



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Midnite Vultures is flourishing with a deranged sense of psychedelia that disorient the senses, while mesmerizing the mind with surrealistic melodies. Surrealism has often been defined as an artistic movement that deviates from the conscious laws of reason and convention. It is a philosophy dedicated to exploring the most obscure realms of the human imagination. Surrealism originally began as an expressionistic approach to visual art, but the ideology of imaginative indulgence transcended into other art-forms such as film and music. Beck has once been described as a composer whose music spontaneously transcends through genres, while simultaneously reinventing them. Beck's pervious albums, like Mellow Gold and Odelay!, displayed a distinctively eccentric and innovative musical style. Amalgamating different genres such as Folk, Hip-hop, Rock and Electronica to create an unusual listening experience that is directly inspired by the unconventional nature of surrealism. Beck's prior albums have constantly exposed us to his experimental tendencies, but none of those experiences even come close to the utter abnormality of Midnite Vultures. This is Beck showing absolutely no restrain, as he takes us on a metaphysical journey to the most abstract dimensions of his mind. "Nicotine & Gravy" is perhaps the essence of what Midnite Vultures is all about. The song is composed by an excessive barrage of psychedelic effects flowing along a mellow arrangement of bass and drums. But as we descend further and further into "Nicotine & Gravy", we find the song being constructed by a diverse musical landscape that arrives to an eruptive medley of kaleidoscopic sounds. Midnite Vultures introduces an eccentric style of ambient music. "Peaches & Cream" displays the typical musical approach of the album, exhibiting condensed layers of sounds comprised from the rhythmic groove of Funk music and trancing instrumental elements. As I said before, this album is flourishing with a deranged sense of psychedelia that disorient the senses, while mesmerizing the mind with surrealistic melodies. We can really see Beck's growth as a songwriter in this album. The lyrical content still contains Beck's usual delivery of nonsensical comedic witticism, but the instrumental sections demonstrate innovative orchestral techniques that we hadn't really seen in his past albums. In songs like "Hollywood Freaks" and "Get Real Paid", we find Beck returning to some of his past tendencies as he revisits his Hip-Hop and Electronic roots. We have seen Beck incorporate both electronic and sampling effects in his music before, but they were always an occasional decorative arrangement. In Midnite Vultures, electronic sequences serve to play a prominent role in the musical structure of almost every song on the album, adding a higher level of spontaneity to the music. "Milk & Honey" and "Mixed Bizness" perfectly display all of the different approaches Beck uses with electronic effects, from eruptive discharges of cosmic sounds to inducing a more melodious dancing atmosphere. In the end, Midnite Vultures proves to be highly entertaining because it's simply Beck doing what he does best- altering the norms of musical orchestration while blending several different musical elements to create a truly captivating musical experience
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