Friday, 31 October 2014

Drugstore White Magic For Lovers Japan As Requested By Jbinjapan

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After a lengthy break that made some wonder if the band still existed, Drugstore returned with a new lineup, adding cellist Ian Burdge, and a great second album, White Magic for Lovers. The bulk of attention toward the release came due to the duet on lead single "El President," in that Monteiro's singing partner was Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke. With piano-tinged drama straight out of a Morricone-scored Western making for a great overall motif, Yorke and Monteiro combine wonderfully, the former's high, hurt approach astonishingly suitable for the acoustic guitar/strings drive of the song. As for the album in general, Yorke may well have been a touchstone, as White Magic has more of an upfront kick to it quite reminiscent of Radiohead's brilliant art rock dynamics. There's still the sense of dreamy psych/rock flow at many points -- "Song for Pessoa" is a grand voice/guitar (acoustic) highlight -- but everything's been spiked with quicker tempos, cutting arrangements, and greater overall variety. "Mondo Cane" begins with a brawling punk-level punch, for instance, while "Sober" could have appeared on The Bends without anyone blinking an eye -- and yet it sounds like a Drugstore song in the end instead of a simple cloning. It's a grand balance, and Monteiro's often-biting but equally empathetic lyrics are delivered with her usual panache and even more fire. Robinson, meanwhile, is revelatory on guitar, adding in strange, out-of-nowhere overdubs and turning into something of a new guitar god without showing off about it, even taking whispery lead vocals on the anthemic late-'60s punch "Never Come Down." The overall guest list on the album, meanwhile, ranges from a mariachi band on the anthem-for-the-dispossessed "Say Hello," a fierce and fine opener, to other string and horn players throughout, including drummer Chylinski's sister Kathleen on "Tips for Travelling." An underrated triumph, White Magic for Lovers shows Drugstore giving rock a well-deserved blast of new energy and passion.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Aliens Astronomy For Dogs As Requested By Barry

The Aliens Astronomy For Dogs

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The Aliens is 50% Beta Band, 25% Lone Pigeon, and the remainder a bubbling pot of wild invention and eccentric psychedelia. Over the 72 minute span of their debut “Astronomy For Dogs” the threesome encapsulate all the necessary highlights from left field music circa 1967 – 1992 in an album that highlights creative enthusiasm, genuine ebullience, and a hint of ironic humour. Following his well chronicled health issues, fully fit front man Gordon Anderson sounds reinvigorated by the project, and supported by former Beta Band Keyboardist John Maclean and drummer Robin Jones they weave imaginative trips through 60s West Coast melodies, 70s prog, and 90s indie dance. In theory the amalgam of all these influences leads one to think that such a vast sonic proposition shouldn’t work, and yet there’s something for everyone to dip into and enjoy. This is partly due to the fact that the band have simply filtered what’s good from each particular genre right down to the bones, and generated by top class song writing enhanced these basics to illuminating musical spontaneity. There’s hardly a glitch in the proceedings and right from the opening 60s psych/pop of “Setting Sun” to the sweeping stoned exploration of the closer (“Caravan”) the album is a joyous retro ride to the stars.For all its lyrical love lost narrative, “Setting Sun” swings via Jones’s powerful rhythms and MacLean’s stirring keyboard riff, subsiding at the fade out as the ethereal harmonies gently chant “We are The Aliens” in a humorous effort to hypnotise the listener. Playful fun is interlaced through much of the album, culminating in the lovingly bonkers pop jam “The Happy Song”, a song so unerringly simple, it sends all life’s traumas into astronomical orbit. I’ve heard that “Robot Man” was written in response to a particular incident where Anderson, bored, waiting in a line for a bus, decided on an instantaneous bout of bizarre robot dancing to entertain himself, and the song carries the funky 90s rhythms as he maintains his assertions that he is undoubtedly “the Robot Man”. “Caravan” is a tripped out Pink Floyd styled epic, full of experimental synth loops and massively multi tracked instrumentals serving up a complicated soundscape that requires your deepest concentration. The beautiful harmonies on the 70s styled ballad “She Don’t Love Me” fit perfectly to a long, meandering drive down narrow lanes through hazy summer sunshine. The clearest descendent to a direct musical strategy comes via “Rox”, which is a carbon copy of Primal Scream’s “Screamadelica” material, but hey, if you’re going to be derivative make sure you pick something hot? And it is.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Drugstore Drugstore Japan

Drugstore Drugstore

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After a slew of singles that won praise for their smoky and sweet feelings of Jesus and Mary Chain/Mazzy Star strung-out psych-and-bliss late-night atmosphere, Drugstore went ahead and created an album that lived up to those expectations. But that's a too simplistic comparison in some ways, thanks largely to the inspired singing from bassist Isabel Monteiro. A just-confrontational-enough character in interviews, that quality carries over to her recorded work as well, able to hit aggressive points more than Hope Sandoval ever could and unafraid of not always being cool like the Reid brothers. No trace of her Brazilian accent surfaces -- if anything she sounds like she could be a cross between Patsy Cline and Marianne Faithfull, with all the ability and control that implies. Consider "Alive" as a particularly fine example, her simple conclusion of "I am burning" suiting the circular feedback loop and hint of violin that concludes the track, or the low-key backing vocals overdubs on the hushed "Saturday Sunset." As a group, Drugstore clearly has its inspirations, but the result is thoroughly attractive while retaining a strong sense of individual drama. Guitarist/keyboardist Daron Robinson knows how to crank it up and keep it calm, and while it becomes something of a formula by the end of the disc, it still works very well. Call it a sense of loud/soft dynamics in a different setting, rather than repeating the obvious Pixies/Nirvana conclusions so many other '90s bands ground into the dust. "Favorite Sinner" is a fantastic example of same, with a soft sense of building threat as Chris Isaak-styled reverb twang turns into a slow burning feedback frazz and retreating again before an abrupt ending. "Solitary Party Groover" and the wonderful "Starcrossed" received the most attention due to their appearance as singles, but this whole album is an excellent, quietly enveloping treat.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Faith No More Angel Dust Japan

Faith No More Angel Dust

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Mike Patton consistently stated that the stories he told on Angel Dust had little or nothing to do with him. In some ways that might be relieving (picturing Patton as the suave mastermind dealer in “Crack Hitler,” for one, is extremely unnerving to say the least), but instead of detracting from the personal feel of the record, Angel Dust instead gains a new sense of life. I always liked imagining Patton pulled up in his Honda at a diner in the middle of San Francisco, watching people run by in their everyday lives as he plotted the ideas for such narratives as “RV” and “Everything’s Ruined.” He may not sing the praises of giving men head in his normal life (check “Be Aggressive”), but when he takes the microphone his masterful storytelling takes front seat and for three minutes and forty-one seconds you’re pretty damn sure that Patton is homosexual. In less graphic terms, Faith No More’s frontman is a masterful storyteller, and each song on Angel Dust unwinds like a chapter, each as enthralling as the next. But putting it that way makes it sound all too neat. After the captivating (if slightly familiar) funk-metal attack of pseudo-debut The Real Thing, a story so reiterated that it’s become trite some eighteen years later began to unfurl. Patton’s avant-garde influences and distaste for mainstream success began to creep into Faith No More’s sound, and the results were at the very least surprising and at their most fully developed, brilliant. Chaos is often preferred to routine as numbers like the death metal-esque “Jizzlobber” prove. The melodies are viciously two-sided, often ranging from the tranquil and inviting to the harsh and brutal, sometimes in the course of a single song. Perhaps the bridge of “Malpractice” represents this most efficiently, as the song’s death march turmoil suddenly gives way to soft crooning and twinkling bells. Or maybe the disparity is best displayed when the aforementioned fierceness of “Jizzlobber” dissolves into a peaceful cover of the theme from Midnight Cowboy. In truth, keyboardist Roddy Bottum’s explanation of the album’s title puts it best--- “it's a really beautiful name for a really hideous drug and that should make people think.” In simpler terms, “balancing the beautiful with the sick.” If the dynamic shifts are the backbone of the album, Patton’s previously mentioned roleplaying is the heart and soul. Through somewhat nonsensical and vague lyricism, he successfully portrays his characters in ways that are both amusing (the super-serious delivery on “Kindergarten” is a highlight) and disturbing (“Malpractice” is nightmare-inducingly evil). His range is his most widely praised asset, but the sheer variety in his vocal delivery is astounding. From tribal chanting to screeching, Patton’s tortured and gritty performance throughout the course of the record is truly nothing short of phenomenal. The rest of the band is impressively up to par as well--- the rhythm section combo of Billy Gould and Mike Bordin are both at the top of their game on Angel Dust, sparking the record with their mastery of a flurry of genres. Gould is at his best providing the funk, most notably the opening bassline to “Land of Sunshine” in which Patton, in perfect tongue-in-cheek form, welcomes the listener to the record as he chastises an invisible figure with every maniacal laugh. Bordin completes the duo impressively, his shining moment the classic opening seconds of single “Midlife Crisis.” Bottum plays a more mysterious (if not most crucial) role in the quintet, as his shimmering chords and intros often add a haunting dimension to the band’s sound. To say it’s the simplest things that make Angel Dust what it is would be tremendously misleading. It’s the sheer amount of ground Faith No More covers on the album--- from genre to lyrical content to style to dynamics--- and the quality of every such path the band takes. Never once in Patton’s arsenal of tricks is his delivery forced, and never once does the band cease to be tasteful. As ugly as it is beautiful and as twisted as it is captivating, only one aspect of the record can be put simply--- few albums provide a listening experience as unique and enthralling as Angel Dust.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Violet Indiana Russian Doll

Violet Indiana Russian Doll

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The audio equivalent of film noir, Russian Doll pits mysterious, fog-bound landscapes against impossibly, unsettlingly beautiful female vocals. Imagine Grace Kelly in a seedy cafe on a rainy European street, veiled and mysterious, whispering tales of seduction and betrayal, then disappearing forever, and you've got the flavor, more or less. Russian Doll is the second full-length from Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie and Siobhan de Mare, once of Mono. As you'd expect, the two weave gossamer tapestries of disembodied sound, transparent and enveloping as Cocteau Twins' best-known work. Yet there's an edge here in the subject matter. "Quelque Jour", based loosely on a scene from Blue Velvet, perfectly captures the album's jaded gorgeousness; a shuffling beat and ye ye girl chorus underscore elliptic sketches of sexual depravity. "(My Baby Was) A Cheat" builds shimmering walls of ringing guitars around a plaintive, little-girl-lost voice that is as innocent as it is disillusioned. Not that there's no joy in Indiana, violet or otherwise. The album's high point is "New Girl", a swooning, mysterious hymn to love that soars on multi-tracked vocals and the simple, riveting chorus, "I'm his bluebell / I'm his new girl." It's as sunny as the rest of the album is misty and twilit, a rainbow in a drizzly day. Your main frame of reference for Violet Indiana will be late '80s/early '90s drone-pop -- Sundays, Mazzy Star, Lush and Cowboy Junkies -- yet there's more than a touch of '60s girl group here, particularly in the CD's second half. Tracks like "The Visit" and, especially, "You" have a sleepy, soulful vibe that sounds like a slower, trippier Supremes, all saturated sound and fragile voice. Russian Doll is defined by beautiful tones, imprecise boundaries, world-weary subject matter and a Phil Spectorian sheen that obscures as much as it illuminates. It's an indistinct kind of experience -- I found myself turning Russian Doll way up, because I couldn't quite make it out. It was no good -- the volume only made the fuzzy edges louder. You can't penetrate its mystery, and maybe you shouldn't try.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

James Laid Reissue

James Laid
Once dubbed the next Smiths, Manchester, England’s James – lead singer Tim Booth, bassist Jim Glennie, guitarist Larry Gott, drummer David Baynton-Power, and violinist Saul Davies – labored in something akin to musical obscurity until the release of its third album, Gold Mother, in 1990. Released at the height of “Madchester” indie rock, the album spawned the massive U.K. hit single “Sit Down”. But it wasn’t until the 1993 release of Laid (James’ fifth album) that the U.S. music industry and fans took notice. Perhaps it was the album cover artwork, which featured the band’s members sporting a variety of summer dresses, that initially drew attention. Or maybe it was the catchy, easy-to-sing-along-with title track (now a permanent fixture in many a bar jukebox). Whatever the reason, between the album’s release and the end of the band’s triumphant U.S. tour in 1994, the album became its biggest stateside hit. Even a cursory listen reveals why. On the heels of an acoustic tour with Neil Young, the band actively sought to steer their music into a quieter, more contemplative direction when they began the recording sessions for Laid. Working with uber-producer Brian Eno, they succeeded in creating an intimate collection of songs that both alluded to and expanded the indie-rock sound of their previous four releases. They refined their sound and sharpened their songwriting to create an album that is at turns folky (“One of the Three”), ambient (“Skindiving”), and anthemic (“Laid”, “Low Low Low”). The quick and dirty title track doesn’t hint at the album’s languid pace and emotional complexity. Laid takes its time unfolding, and throughout the album, the band marries stirring melodies to thoughtful, emotionally resonant lyrics. Haunting album opener “Out to Get You” begins with gently strummed guitars before swelling to the climax of Booth’s yearning cry, “The human touch is what I need.” Overall, the album hangs together on thematic threads of love, loss, hope, and spirituality. At one end of the spectrum are melancholy songs like “One of the Three” (a meditation on sacrificing oneself for others) and “Lullaby” (an eerie tale of physical abuse). Such poignant moments are contrasted with tracks like the joyous “Sometimes (Lester Piggot)” and its earnest, gospel-like chorus (“Sometimes, when I look deep in your eyes, I swear I can see your soul”). The bawdy title track – which got even more exposure from its use in the film American Pie – celebrates a lusty, if dysfunctional, romantic relationship. James doesn’t always take a sanguine view of love. Standout track “Five-O” at first seethes, then swells to a chorus that’s a stinging indictment of love (“If it lasts forever/hope I’m the first to die”). On “P.S.”, a sinister, loping guitar figure propels the song as it describes a disintegrating relationship (“You liar, you liar/You can’t live the dreams you’re spinning”). On the flip side, “Say Something” – the album’s second single and a minor hit on U.S. college radio – celebrates first love with synths and Britpop percussion. At the time of its release, reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic called Laid one of the best albums of the ’90s. Sixteen years later, it’s hard to disagree. From the opening strains of “Out To Get You” to the last haunting notes of the sprawling, ambient “Skindiving”, there isn’t a bad track in this collection. Moreover, the album sounds as vibrant today as the day of its release. A career peak for an underrated band, Laid proved that it was still possible to make intelligent, accessible pop music.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

(The London) Suede Dog Man Star US Album

(The London) Suede Dog Man Star

Also Available Dog Man Star Deluxe Edition 

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What exactly are you supposed to do when following up on one of the seminal albums of British music in the 1990s? Such was the conundrum facing Suede in 1994 as the critical acclaim of their out-of-nowhere debut and the subsequent burden of expectations regarding the sophomore record was taking its toll on the group. Relations between the wispy, effeminate, and at the time, unbearably egotistic vocalist Brett Anderson and lead guitarist Bernard Butler had soured to the point where Butler eventually left the band before completing the record. Anderson ended up recruiting the seventeen year-old Richard Oakes to replace him on the tour, and was forced to complete some of the guitar parts on his own. And, if things weren’t bad enough, Suede’s star was beginning to fall as a little-known band called Blur was running away with the Britpop crown with their smash 1994 record, Parklife. It was especially damaging as Anderson’s girlfriend, Justine Frischmann of Elastica fame had recently left him for Blur’s Damon Albarn. When the record was eventually released, it caused barely a ripple on the music scene; Blur and Oasis were already sharing the spotlight with Pulp. The only enthusiastic group seemed to be the critics, having found an excuse to write ‘sophomore slump’ on yet another review. And on its surface, that’s what it is. Where their self-titled 1993 debut was packed with hit singles celebrating working-class fantasies of decadent excess, the oddly named Dog Man Star was intensely cold and reclusive. Where 1993's Suede explored the seedy side of England’s drug-addled, sex-obsessed youth in the glam-rock tradition of Bowie and T. Rex, the follow-up lacked Anderson’s trademark androgynous swagger, and Butler’s infectious, hip-shaking, Smiths-influenced riffs. ‘Introducing the Band’ captures the new sound best; Within two-and-a-half minutes, they manage to stuff in Anderson’s new overdubbed, layered vocal style, the heavily reverbed, distant-sounding Eastern-tinged guitars, and the strange, almost hallucinatory lyrics: I want the style of a woman/ The kiss of a man/ Introducing the band. ‘Daddy’s Speeding’ is equally unsettling, with minimal guitar arrangements and a somber piano rhythm. Anderson’s voice, almost childlike here, give the song, ostensibly about James Dean, a powerful, impending sense of dread. Seemingly a million miles away, Butler’s guitar drones away in the background before a sudden, forceful strike of the piano keys ends the song abruptly, while keys plink quietly before fading out. ‘The Wild Ones’ presents far more accessible territory; the radio single. Though it’s far from the dance floor-ready effervescence of ‘Animal Nitrate’ or ‘Metal Mickey’ off their debut, it is a pitch-perfect ballad, where Butler’s trademark layered guitar work is toned down to a shimmering, mid-tempo, and supremely effective rhythm. Anderson’s extraordinary voice and lyrics add volumes to the song, making it wholly undeserving of the indifference it received upon release. All the more confusing when you consider the wealth of single-material songs on the record. ‘Heroine’ boasts remarkable guitar work and use of sly double-entendres on its otherwise sincere, and brilliant sing-along chorus. ‘New Generation’ finds Brett Anderson in the arms of drug-induced love, and its pounding drums, upbeat vocals make it perfect once again for broadcast audiences. It’s a shame that so much focus was placed on the darker material on the album, and a bigger shame that the scrutiny failed to uncover gems like the pounding ‘This Hollywood Life’, abrasive even when it isn’t preceded by Anderson screaming ‘***ing kick it! as it is in concert. The heartbreaking piano ballad ‘The 2 of Us’ may similarly have gone unnoticed as the album drew to a close. The baroque finale ‘The Still Life’ is heavy on strings, and gets better with repeated listens, though Anderson’s marvelous, soaring vocal work here certainly expedites the process. The American version of the record features the non-LP track ‘Modern Boys’ as the albums’ thirteenth song; it would show up again on the 1998 B-sides release Sci-Fi Lullabies. It’s an OK track, but seems out of place with the rest of the record. As difficult a listen as this album is purported to be, there are a couple of songs that few could have missed. The defiantly political ‘We are the Pigs’ trades the typical Britpop tales of bank holidays, slacker life, and low-rent love espoused by Blur and Pulp for the relatively less chirpy images of civil unrest, burning police vehicles, and Anderson mocking public announcements to ‘stay at home tonight’. Butler delivers a searing solo, after the chorus, as the song ends with Anderson’s cry of ‘We’ll watch them burn’, followed by a fading coda of children’s voices echoing his words. While not thematically parallel with the rest of the record, it’s possibly the most defining statement of Suede’s new style, and the most recognizable song on the record. The other exceptional track on Dog Man Star is its centerpiece; the massive, sprawling ‘The Asphalt World’. One of several songs on the record possibly about Justine Frischmann, it’s a far cry from the comparatively jovial poke at Frischmann/Albarn that was ‘Animal Lover’ off the first album. Written and recorded while Anderson had isolated himself in a Victorian mansion and in a state of drug-induced fear, loneliness and paranoia, it’s sincere, yet vitriolic, endearing yet unsettling. At nearly ten minutes long, it’s also Suede’s most carefully thought out, and brilliantly fleshed out accomplishment. Admittedly, DMS is not the ideal starting point for a listener new to Suede. It’s somewhat similar to how OK Computer might not be the right Radiohead album for people to start with. That said, if OK Computer was the first album you started out with, and liked it enough to listen to the band’s other material, then by all means, grab a copy of Dog Man Star.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

New Order Back To Mine

New Order Back To Mine

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Easily the most popular act to deliver a volume in the after-hours mix series Back to Mine, New Order have been much more than artists, but true tastemakers, over their two-decade history. Accordingly, instead of the narrow swath of downbeat usually found on this type of compilation, the quartet (minus Gillian Gilbert) selected tracks by 14 artists whose only clear connections are as iconoclasts. Rock experimentalists from the '60s and '70s like Captain Beefheart, Cat Stevens, Roxy Music, and Can stand next to a trio of classics from the acid house explosion of the late '80s: Derrick May's "The Dance," Joey Beltram's "Energy Flash," and Primal Scream's "Higher Than the Sun." The Velvet Underground follows on from Missy Elliott, and the end of Mantronix's electro-rap classic "Bassline" butts heads with the Groundhogs' roadhouse blues "Cherry Red." Obviously, this is leagues away from a Sasha mix album, or even a David Holmes Essential Collection for that matter. It's an informed mixtape, the type you get from one of your hipper friends; and, depending on how much you care about music history (or how much you follow New Order), this is either downright essential or slightly conceited. It's perfectly in line with New Order's history of quality control, though, which is a high recommendation in and of itself.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

New Order Republic Japan Album

New Order Republic

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Review Summary: Often overlooked, occasionally dismissed, rarely appreciated. Republic is a band rising from the ashes of the home they knew and loved/hated for just a little over a decade. Before their first real breakup, 4 years was a long time to wait for a New Order album. Just 3 years before Technique, Brotherhood followed its predecessor Low-Life by only a year, and before that the waiting periods between N.O. releases weren't exactly excruciating either. At least, not by today's standards, seeing as when it comes to New Order in particular, the wait is just much as much on whether or not they're even continuing as a band as it is for any hope of new material getting a release. Even last year's Lost Sirens was a full 8 years after the one before it, and that was basically just an outtakes compilation. But 4 years was the space between them in 1993, Technique had come out in '89 setting a whole new standard for the band - with the most common descriptor seeming to be "Ibiza," since that's where they had been vacationing during the initial sessions for this album, though really what set it apart was the unified sound and execution of it all. The Cure had Disintegration, Depeche Mode had Violator, and being the questionable third in that trilogy of 80s "sad rock" were New Order with their classic album Technique. The difference with Technique in comparison with those other two records, however, is that the fan consensus, even the casual listener consensus doesn't necessarily seem to err as drastically toward it in terms of classic status or even being the definitive album for the band. It is a great record that came out within the same year/year-and-a-half span of the other two and being a concise and focused effort it makes sense to include it as New Order's representative classic, but in reality if you go around any amount of New Order fans, casual or hardcore, you'll more than likely get a pretty fair ratio between at least the Factory-era albums in terms of which are the favorites. Brotherhood splitting the rock and dance sides to an extent, showing various facets of the band on a song-by-song basis, Low-Life being a real early era classic with the first inclusion of actual singles on the record, and Power Corruption and Lies being the album that even Joy-Division-fans-slash-New-Order-detractors admit to loving. Technique was just the "right place right time" record that nevertheless does deserve its heaping of respect and veneration. While this may seem like a lot of information about the status and reception of an album that is not even the subject of this review, it's part of what sets up its successor Republic on both a musical level, and a level of response from both fans and critics. What fans may have expected from the follow-up to Technique is questionable, though after "World in Motion," it may have just been an upgraded Technique; but between the albums, something happened that would become a big part of Republic's subject matter. As of 1992 Tony Wilson's Factory Records, the home of not only New Order, but their initial incarnation of Joy Division, as well a host of other bands for the past decade-plus, had ceased to be a functioning label. Years of funding the Hacienda, Factory's resident nightclub, had kept New Order’s collective band bank account draining, and inevitable frustration toward the workings of this particular label finally came to a head, and it was all over. Songs like "Liar," "Ruined in a Day," and, debatably, "Times Change" had lyrics revolving around the demise, along with a sense of bitterness that the group, as well as others who had been involved in funding Factory and keeping it afloat had been victim to false promise and, put simply, lies from Wilson. How much of it is justified is debatable, since with any conflict there are often if not always valid justifications for both sides, but in the case of Republic, we’re getting the full-force anti-Wilson argument. New Order are pissed off, but that isn’t all they are. The band’s first album in the four years following Technique has Bernard re-introducing himself with a track about having nothing he regrets, whether or not the line is fully or even a little bit dry is debatable, but as 1993’s lead single “Regret” goes, it sure doesn’t sound like it. As breezy as the Baywatch beach the band recorded the video on, “Regret” opens with airy synth chords and a brighter-than-the-sun guitar line, Hooky’s iconic bass work following not too far behind; a song considered by some to be the “only good one” on the album, it’s the most obviously New Order track on here. Down to the charmingly naïve and lyrics, this was a practically instant classic among fans and casual listeners alike, with even Peter Hook saying it was their “last good song.” This is where the divisiveness, begins however, because after this track is where the “love it or hate it” majority of the album takes off. Jumping right in with an uncompromising breakbeat/bassline combination is “World,” another single from the album that, in my own opinion, is better than the lead single; in retrospect, it really isn’t that “standard” a New Order track in any sense, but damn is it good. The track, along with remaining singles “Ruined in a Day” and “Spooky,” does a good job in not only being a definitive track on the album, but also highlighting what people seem to love and hate about the record. The aforementioned breakbeat and bassline combination – oh my god, those aren’t Steve Morris and Peter Hook! What is this, a Bernard solo album? The same thoughts were more than likely on Hooks mind in the weeks/months/years before he left the group, having voiced his opinion several times (the recording of “True Faith,” for instance) on his basswork being slowly but surely pushed out of the mix as the group continued to release and pursue a more dance-oriented direction. By this point in the game, Hook’s bass was being thrown in almost as a gimmick, to assure people “Yes, this is New Order! The players are all still here, hear them!” Yet it does still go beyond that, the basslines played by Hook do still lend a necessary element to these songs that bring them out of what might have been a bit more anonymous dance numbers in some cases. However, this argument of “who’s doing what” or “who’s NOT doing what” is irrelevant when you look at the simple fact that New Order were a unit who did not even print their individual names in the liner notes. They were supposed to function as a unit, one who’s respective parts played/programmed/whatever on an album were really nobody’s business but their own. This was just about equally true for the dance-centric tracks on Technique, but Republic really takes it all to another level. Barring “Regret,” there really aren’t ANY traditional “New Order rock songs” on here; the energetic numbers such as “Spooky” and “Young Offender” are propelled by something other than traditional rock instrumentation, while earlier N.O. “electronica” may have been a bit more brooding, these tracks thrust forward with an urgency that actually rivals some of their earlier rock material. “Young Offender” being in particular a hidden and lost gem that may have never even been played live. Technique may have been N.O.’s most dance-infused album to date upon its own release, but Republic is the band, or at least the part of it making the decisions by this point (understandably, Hooky never seemed as enthusiastic about “going dance” as the other three) being absolutely CONSUMED by contemporary electronic and dance music. The album is just soaked in a culture of breakbeats, synth stabs, and pulsating electronic basslines, just another dividing factor, but one that really ups the ante for those who love it. It is the conclusion of everything they were working toward in the Factory years, no longer are they a band making “rock tracks” and “dance tracks,” seemingly at war with themselves during certain parts of the conflicted yet undoubtedly interesting and rewarding journey they’d had in the past decade, this is New Order doing New Order in ’93. There are dynamic changes, no doubt, but the abrupt (though admittedly enjoyable) shift from say “Fine Time” to “All the Way” aren’t exactly present here. It has the consistency and unification of an album that would have been made by a solo artist or even perhaps a duo, and though this aesthetic is probably a large part of why we wouldn’t hear from the group for another five years, it still pays off as a hugely accessible but exciting and involving listen. The front-loaded nature of all singles being right upfront, tracks 1-4, may be a detracting factor on the album as a whole, but with detours such as the semi-rapped “Times Change” and “Chemical” to seek out later on, it’s really not that negative a factor. Other sleeper hits include “Everyone/Everywhere” and “Special,” though admittedly the former seems to have been mainly dropped from the band’s set because of Bernard’s alleged wrist-issues playing it live (the “chords were strange” apparently.) The whole of the record is generally accused of riding on its production, and while the electronic-heavy instrumentation and beat programming is a big part of what makes the album, honestly, when you really sit down and imagine some of these as being played in a more stripped-back setting, or even just hearing someone play them in such a way/doing it yourself, you can see that that’s not really true at all. Even the final track, “Avalanche,” is brought to life by its sparse but ethereal vocals and arpeggiated guitar lines, all backed by a pounding, tribal drum section. Considering the fact that even Low-Life was a stretch for listeners who were giving this band previously known as Joy Division a shot, New Order had become practically the polar opposite of their Ian-Curtis-fronted selves by the time of Republic. Whether it was the possible revelations and/or epiphanies come across during the recording of their immediately preceding work, the effect of everyone going out and doing some things on their own between releases (after all, Bernard had done some things with Johnny Marr as Electronic, Peter Hook worked in Revenge, and Steven Morris and Gillian Gilbert both tried their hand at the side-project game with The Other Two by this point,) Republic marks the point in which the band had truly hit a 180 degree turn. Though, when you consider that it’s not exactly sunshine and dance tunes all the way through

New Order Technique

New Order Technique

Also Available Technique Collector's Edition

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Following Ian Curtis’ suicide in 1980, Joy Division renamed themselves New Order with the addition of Gillian Gilbert on keyboards. Although they were the ultimate alternative indie band with plaintive, vulnerable lyrics, all four band members were multi-instrumentalists and were soon coating their basic guitar sound in swathes of synthesizers and bass (played almost as a lead guitar), backed up with expansive drum patterns and sequenced beats. They played a prominent role in most of the music movements of the 80s, ranging from the synth pop of the New Romantics to the dance rock of Madchester Rave, from the ground-breaking dance electro of Blue Monday to the acid house of Fine Time. The recording of this album coincided with Bernard Sumner undergoing a divorce from his first wife and this is reflected in many of the bitter lyrics: "I worked hard to give you all the things that you need, and almost everything that you see, I spent a lifetime working for you, and you won’t even talk to me" (Love Less). Drug problems with heroin and ecstacy also played their part to create a band that was falling apart at the seams: "You work your way to the top of the world, and then you break your life in two. What the hell is happening? I can’t think of everything. I don’t know what day it is or who I’m talking to" (Run). Compared to the all-knowing doom and pretend lyrics of Ian Curtis, what makes the record is Sumner’s searing honesty as he gropes for half-truths in his emotional confusion. Moments of epiphany "it takes years to find the nerve to be apart from what you’ve done, to find the truth inside yourself, not depend on anyone" (All The Way) rub shoulders with those of despair "I can’t find my piece of mind, ‘cos I need you with me all the time, used to think about you night and day, didn’t care what other people would say. I’ve tried but I can’t find you, tell me now, what do I do?" (Mr Disco). If Ian Curtis’ personal problems were part of the attraction of Joy Division, then the same could be said of Bernard Sumner’s own issues. With father unknown and his mother suffering from cerebral palsy, calling himself at various junctures Bernard Sumner, Bernard Dickin and Bernard Albrecht, this is a man desperately searching for his own identity: "The picture you see is no portrait of me, it’s too real to be shown to someone I don’t know" (Round & Round). He also hints darkly at child abuse in the song Vanishing Point (as he had done in the previous album in All Day Long). If this all sounds a bit grim, then there is also an ever-present sense of humour here as well. You could never imagine Joy Division calling a song Mr Disco, impersonating the soul singer Barry White’s bass profondo with a ridiculous lyric such as "you know, I’ve met a lot of chicks, but I’ve never met a girl with all her own teeth", opening a song with a fit of coughing or closing out with the sound of bleating sheep. Technique was New Order’s first UK no.1 album and they followed it up in the summer with their first UK no.1 single World in Motion. It was the last of a quartet of outstanding studio albums, with the various musical components competing for supremacy: the bass and drums of Power, Corruption and Lies, the synthesizers of Lowlife, the guitars of Brotherhood and the dance beats of Technique. However, the tensions that helped to fuel the creativity of the album, spawning perhaps their strongest collection of songs with lyrics to match, inevitably entailed the band’s implosion. They have re-formed to make three further (unfortunately fairly average) albums over the last fifteen years, undoubtedly tarnishing their reputation by doing so, but nothing can take away the legacy they left behind throughout the 80s.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Spaceman 3 Recurring

Spaceman Recurring

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Recurring is really a Spacemen 3 album in name only. Once the 90's had rolled around, Sonic Boom and Jason Pierce's relationship had become so acrimonious that the two wouldn't even enter the studio together. In fact, I don't think they both appear on any of the album's tracks. Thus, we get sort of a weird double EP with Boom's tracks on side one and Pierce's tracks on side two. Even the backing is different as Boom uses some friends and a few folk that would follow him on to his next project, Spectrum. Pierce's backing is in fact the first line-up of Spiritualized. I guess Spacemen 3 simply had a contract to finish. Let's look at this as two separate collections. I thought Sonic Boom supplied the better tracks on Playing With Fire (although only by a hair or two), but he sounds positively wasted here. Tracks like the opening "Big City," "I Love You," and "Why Couldn't I See" include some lame automated-sounding backing and a half baked 'Madchester' influence. Unfortunately, that influence comes through like a second-rate Inspirial Carpets. To add insult to injury, his vocals are a big cut below previous performances and he comes across as drug-addled bored rather than surreal and altered. With some different arranging and performances, these would've been a lot better. Maybe that's where Boom needed Pierce. I can't really say that for "Just To See You Smile," which appears in a vocal and instrumental version. Actually, it's a fine song with great production, but it was also a fine song with great production on Playing With Fire, where it was called "Honey" and sounded EXACTLY THE SAME. Fortunately for this album, Pierce came in with his game face on. His tracks with the soon-to-be Spiritualized take the gospel vibe of Pierce's Playing With Fire tracks and amp up the production and dreaminess. With Boom out of the picture, Pierce goes for an airy, atmospheric drone rather than Spacemen 3's previous pulsing drone (not that there's anything wrong with a pulsing drone). Blessed with some great organic performances, this side of the album seriously contrasts with side a's badly programmed beats. The tracks on this side are uniformly great and serve as the not-so-missing link between Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized. If you're new to this album, it would probably be in your best interest to skip to track 8 in case you have trouble stomaching Boom's songs. Or you might try the Mudhoney cover of "When Tomorrow Hits" on track 7 which harkens back to the Sound Of Confusion-era style. Mr. Boom manages to come through ok on that one.

The Other Two The Other Two & You

The Other Two The Other Two & You

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Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert's debut album outside of New Order was seen to be a bit of catch-up to the debut efforts of Electronic and Revenge -- openly acknowledged in their band name -- while its delay in release due to the collapse of Factory Records made it seem more of a late response than it really was. But the Other Two had already worked on a variety of projects beforehand, most notably for various film and TV soundtracks (something especially audible here on the instrumental "Ninth Configuration"), and this engaging listen arguably sounds better at a distance than it did at the time. The inevitable focus is on Gilbert's vocals, only rarely heard in New Order -- her smooth but gently passionate singing here simply suits the material perfectly, perhaps most beautifully on the gorgeous synth/guitar break on "The Greatest Thing." Morris' interest in the possibilities of electronic percussion as well as acoustic also comes to the fore -- the shuffling beats on "Moving On," matched with a rhythmic acoustic guitar part for further drive, and the murky, slow rumble of the brief "Night Voice" are good contrasts to the crisper punch of songs like the sparkling lead single "Tasty Fish" and "Innocence." More than once The Other Two & You sounds like a full companion piece to New Order's Republic, but unlike that off- and on-again effort by the full band, the crisp electronic dramatics here work as a whole -- it could be that simply by not having to be "New Order," with attendant expectations, Morris and Gilbert found a way to make their own sound work more strongly. Meantime, given the keyboard/vocalist duos of a new century that followed, while it's a stretch to call the Other Two a direct inspiration for acts like the Knife (they're definitely nowhere near as unsettlingly strange as said Swedish act), they definitely showed that there was nothing wrong with the approach. LTM's 2010 reissue of the album, besides containing the expected detailed history of the group, includes a raft of remixes from the attendant singles -- Terry Farley and Pete Heller's "That Pop Mix" for "Selfish" is the standout.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Monaco Music For Pleasure US Album

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With the status of England's New Order on an indefinite hiatus, and band members taking up other side projects such as Electronic and The Other Two, it's no shock that Peter Hook has pursued his own fortunes and formed the group Monaco. What may pleasantly surprise fans is that the Monaco debut disc, Music For Pleasure, could comfortably slide next to any established New Order on the shelf - and compete favorably for play in the disc changer. On the leadoff single, "What Do You Want From Me", fans of New Order will instantly recognize the hook as that of bassist Peter - pun intended. Surprisingly, Hook's vocals aren't too far removed from those of N.O.'s lead vocalist, Bernard Sumner. The "sha la la" backing chorus comes off as an updated male counterpart of Motown, vintage 1960s, while the bassline is vintage New Order, played to absolute perfection. Monaco is Peter Hook and David Potts; Hook found Potts while recording the Gun World Porn EP for Revenge, on which Potts contributed some guitar work. The seeds of a successful relationship were born, and the pair started to work together after New Order's Republic album was complete. Despite New Order's success, however, Hook was unable to parlay that quality work into his side project. "My last thing (Ed. note: Revenge - two non-descript albums with one good single, "Pineapple Face") played down the New Order and bass elements because I felt I should get away from them. I was very self-conscious, and the album suffered for that. I feel much happier and more comfortable doing this than I was before." And 'this', as he dubs Monaco, isn't too far removed from his New Order past. "Shine" and "Happy Jack" could have emanated from any New Order album, while "Tender" has a riff which seemingly comes straight out of "Love Vigilantes" - but unlike John Fogerty, Hook won't get sued for taking a peek at his past. And "Under The Stars" could easily become a football (soccer, for the American fans) anthem for some F.A. team - possibly Manchester United? - just as New Order paired up with a nation of football players for "World In Motion". Hook has perfected the pop trails he blazed in New Order, but he has a few tricks up his sleeve to show this isn't a one trick pony. "Buzz Gum" is a holy alliance incorporating the influences of the Beatles, circa Magical Mystery Tour (or Oasis with a horn intermission, if sick of every band being comparead to the Fab Four), and Ian Broudie (Lightning Seeds) and the alterna-techno dance enticement of the off-titled "Junk", already coming in at a DJ-ready mix 9 minutes long, shows Monaco could easily take their music away from the chic clubs and bring it to the underground - if Hook and Potts desired. The second UK single, "Sweet Lips" delves deeper and mixes the 70's disco scene, down the street from Gloria Gaynor, with the 80's digs which Hook frequented. Fulfulling the promise that was left untapped after Electronic's self-titled debut, Monaco's Music For Pleasure delivers a knockout punch as Peter Hook proves that the compelling force in a band isn't always *only* the lead vocalist.

Electronic Electronic

Electronic Electronic

Also Available Electronic Reissue CD1/CD2

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Both more and less than what a partnership of Sumner and Marr would promise, Electronic's debut has weathered time much better than might have been thought upon its release, but ultimately only half works. When it does, though, it's fantastic, sometimes shifting from okay to fantastic within the same song. Opening number "Idiot Country" is a bit like that -- the beginning sounds a little too rushed, Marr's heavy wah-wah riff OK enough but Sumner's semi-rap/semi-sung vocals a bit ham-handed. By the time the full combination of gentle keyboards, crisp rhythms, and the gentle, reflective chorus comes to bear, though, everything feels just great. Perhaps understandably Electronic leans much more toward New Order than the Smiths -- Marr had already proven his desire to work in dance-crossover since his previous band's breakup, while Sumner's immediately recognizable, melancholic vocals call to mind New Order's rich history. With synth bass and Rolands standing in for Peter Hook's own unique way around the low end, though, Electronic stands out more on its own. Marr's guitar work throughout tends towards the subtle via soft, brisk strums or the occasional repeated key riff; as he's credited for keyboards as well, it's likely much of his work ended up creating the pleasant synth melodies. There's nothing bad per se on Electronic, merely mediocre or a touch forced time to time -- "Gangster," for instance, has a great, cinematic tension undercut by Sumner's attempt at social relevance. The three singles from the album remain the highlights: the delicate, acoustic guitar-led slow groove of "Get the Message," "Feel Every Beat" and its appropriately slamming rhythms, and, in America, the group's brilliant debut effort "Getting Away with It." Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, who memorably guested on that last number, brings bandmate Chris Lowe along to help on his excellent, sly duet with Sumner -- "Patience of a Saint," another standout.

Revenge One True Passion

Also Available One True Passion V2.0 CD1/CD2

You've got to feel slightly sympathetic towards Peter Hook. After tasting success with both Joy Division and New Order any attempt to branch out elsewhere is guaranteed to draw comparisons and backward glances – and most will be accompanied by a curled lip. However the one saving grace has always been Hook's distinctive bass. Pounding out melodies in addition to rhythms with Hook playing spread-legged like an arthritic contortionist, bass almost scraping the floor, he alone can carry a song. The short-lived Monaco may have been New Order derivatives but, such was Hook's thudding presence, they became the tolerable relations. Now imagine New Order without Peter Hook, or with Hook playing while locked in the room next door or with mufflers fitted to his bass-strings. Now you're beginning to get an understanding of what Revenge is all about. Borne out of one of those periods when Hook, Sumner and The Other Two couldn't be in the same room together without tearing each other a new one, Revenge was supposedly a concerted effort to forge something different. Instead it's a band with a vital ingredient missing. The situation is amplified by the fact Hook himself sounds not unlike Bernard Sumner – although he can hold a note for longer than a single beat of a gnat's wing. Reading between the lines of the cover notes in which Hook recalls his time with Revenge it wasn't exactly a bed of roses. Whether it be trying to get the band motivated enough to rehearse or arguments around who was the best vocalist or who was playing what instrument, Revenge sounds more trouble than it was worth. And that sense of unruliness carries over to the music itself. If you listen very carefully I'm almost positive you can hear the sound of a drumstick hitting porcelain. That'll be the kitchen sink. So intent was Hook on ensuring Revenge could never be confused with New Order he obviously lost sight of the stop button. Some of the tracks are so busy it's virtually impossible to grasp and retain a hold of the tune. Hook himself admits the music became so complicated it was impossible to play live without recruiting further band members. Surely that alone should have been warning enough. One True Passion V2.0 is a double album consisting of the original release complete with a couple of extra tracks all of which have been tinkered with in an attempt to remaster and resuscitate the corpse. Inevitably there are a bunch of remixes and instrumentals, together with other tracks which may or may not have seen the light of day before, which are, surprise, surprise, superior to the original album. Why? Because we actually get to hear Hook's bass!
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