Saturday, 29 August 2015

Big Audio Dynamite ‎ No. 10, Upping St

Big Audio Dynamite No. 10, Upping St

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NO. 10, UPPING ST. (a pun on 10 Downing St., the residence and office of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom), is the second album by Big Audio Dynamite, led by former Clash guitarist and songwriter Mick Jones. It was released in 1986. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the album is the pairing of Jones and his former Clash partner, Joe Strummer, who co-wrote five songs (one of them being the immigrant tale of "Beyond the Pale") and co-produced the entire album. Mick Jones virtually re-invented himself with Big Audio Dynamite. While he maintained some of the bristling punk energy of his former band, Jones turned a keen eye to the future. He began better sculpting his songs, draping them with sampled beats, movie dialogue, dense textures, found sounds, dance rhythms and elements of hip-hop more completely and effectively than those on the first record. The resulting sophomore effort in no small way upped the ante and broadly expanded on debut''s formula. Jones'' use of samples - check the Eddie Cochranesque "C''mon Every Beatbox," replete with James Brown''s electrifying squawks or the disturbing yet strangely humorous contract-killing fiasco in "Dial a Hitman." As the 1980''s progressed, Jones visionary tapestry of rock, techno, and dance served as a creative high-water mark and inspiration for the next generation of rappers, DJs, and rockers looking to expand their musical palettes. "C''mon Every Beatbox" and "V. Thirteen" made the U.K. singles chart. "Badrock City," added to the album after its initial release, made the U.S. R&B singles chart.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Pale Fountains Longshot For Your Love

The Pale Fountains Longshot For Your Love

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Collected and released when Head was on the verge of a new level of appreciation via Shack, Longshot for Your Love -- compiling radio sessions, unreleased tracks, and various other obscurities -- made for an appreciative peek back at his early-'80s days with the Pale Fountains. The opening liner notes in the booklet from Yasuharu Konishi of Pizzicato Five are perfectly appropriate. There's a clear sense throughout this enjoyable disc how Head's first outfit provided a bridge between swinging '60s pop and the efforts of a later generation, not merely with Pizzicato Five but Belle & Sebastian or any number of Burt Bacharach-loving acts of the '90s. Head's singing has a rich but clear resonance, calling to mind the exquisite team of Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, while his band's preference for non-feedback-producing guitars ("Love Situation" the notable exception!) and inventive percussion and string arrangements works wonderfully. About the only band remotely like it in the U.K. would have been the earliest incarnation of Pulp, but the Pale Fountains have a sunnier, fuller feeling to their songs, helped in large part by the inspired inclusion of trumpeter Diagram. Those who know him best from his work with James or Spaceheads will enjoy his delicate leads and gentle backing on songs like both takes of "Just a Girl" and a peppy cover of the James Bond movie theme "We Have All the Time in the World." The two BBC sessions presented -- the first a four-song John Peel effort, the second a three-song turn on The Old Grey Whistle Test -- are the heart of the album, and deservedly so, including wonderful takes on the title track, "Benoit's Christmas," and a cover of Deniece Williams' "Free." Detailed essays on the group and a slew of often amusing photographs fill out this excellent CD.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Various Scared To Get Happy (A Story Of Indie-Pop 1980-1989)

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Scared To Get Happy takes on the daunting task of documenting the evolution of indie-pop in the 1980s. Given the diversity of styles that can fall under the indie-pop umbrella, a comprehensive study of all facets of the genre would be nearly impossible, especially in the span of five discs. But the compilation makes things more manageable by limiting its scope. Focusing exclusively on British artists and evoking a particular time and place in musical history, it endeavors to tell a story rather than be a definitive guide. Eclecticism ruled supreme in ’80s indie-pop, ranging from the a cappella simplicity of Jane’s “It’s a Fine Day” to the jazzy sophisti-pop of The Weekend to the raw energy of We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It!! Psychedelica was embraced in much of the Creation Records roster and in bands like Rosemary’s Children and The Telescopes, while proto-shoegaze, Brit-pop, and twee-pop were evident in bands like Whirl, The Claim, Talulah Gosh, and The Boy Hairdressers. But despite these seemingly disparate sounds, the common thread between the 130+ songs on Scared To Get Happy is a willingness to experiment and push the boundaries of traditional pop. Of course, the compilation takes from the best of the indie labels at the time, with healthy doses of music from Postcard, Sarah, Cherry Red, Rough Trade, Creation, NME’s mail-order C86 cassette series, etc. The artist lineup can at times feel like a roll call of familiar indie-pop touchstones: The La’s, Josef K, Prefab Sprout, Aztec Camera, Lloyd Cole & the Commotions, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Wedding Present, The House of Love, The Stone Roses, The Inspiral Carpets, The Boo Radleys. However, some familiar names like Black, Pulp, Pop Will Eat Itself, and The Shamen are presented in their early days, when their sounds were strikingly different. The best part of digging into these five discs, though, is discovering the less-familiar artists. Lost classics suddenly emerge, like the pure pop of The Brilliant Corners’ “Delilah Sands,” the sophisticated ’60s mod sounds of The Would-Be-Goods’ “Cecil Beaton’s Scrapbook,” or The Siddeleys’ haunting, chiming guitar pop. Little oddities also abound. Bad Dream Fancy Dress create “a mini psych-pop opera” in “Choirboys Gas (Hack The Cassock),” while the King of Luxembourg’s Simon Fisher Turner delivers a quirky cover of the Go-Betweens’ “Lee Remick.” Scared To Get Happy also allows the listener to trace the evolution of indie-pop, as bands splinter and intersect. The Marine Girls dissolve, but go on to spawn Everything But the Girl and Grab Grab the Haddock. Tim and Laetitia abandon McCarthy to form Stereolab. The Sun and the Moon emerge from the remnants of The Chameleons. Bradford opens for The Smiths and his “Skin Storm” is then later covered by Morrissey. It is a fascinating exercise in indie-pop connect-the-dots. Unsurprisingly, there are some glaring absences in the collection, mostly due to licensing issues. So, we are left without Orange Juice, Felt, The Smiths, and other seminal bands. The compilers are also occasionally a bit too clever for their own good, throwing in maybe too many obscurities and unknown bands. But ultimately, the story of Scared To Get Happy is a compelling and rewarding one.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Pop Will Eat Itself ‎Cure For Sanity Reissue As Requested By Blureu

Pop Will Eat Itself Cure For Sanity Reissue

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If This Is the Day...This Is the Hour...This Is This! was Pop Will Eat Itself's crowning moment -- an exciting, energetic, and very modern English response to the Beastie Boys' own culture-gobbling antics -- Cure for Sanity wasn't all that far off, mixing a couple of more serious efforts with a new slew of catchy, immediate singles and not-bad album cuts. If Clint Mansell and his partners will never be mistaken for the most godlike MCs ever, there's no question that they have their moments (and, in light of later Midlands characters like the Streets, their clear impact). Right from the start the band shows they know the score with "The Incredible PWEI Vs. the Moral Majority" (featuring a Jimmy Swaggart rant about the corrupting power of music) leading into the breakbeat/feedback/techno overload of "Dance of the Mad." Other standout moments include the warm and wistful "X Y & Zee," a scenario using everything from Buffalo Springfield to French movie samples, and the fear-of-flying rumbling bass paranoia of "Nightmare at 20,000 Ft." More obscure album cuts range from the jokey, Erik Satie-sampling sleaze of "Psychosexual" and the quick riff stomp "Very Metal Noise Pollution" to the politicized "City Zen Radio 1990/2000" (specifically ripping into the 1990 hot-button issue of U.K. poll taxes) and the guest MC appearance of "Dr. Nightmare's Medication Time." Another guest vocal turns up with Sylvia Tella's turn on "92 F (The Third Degree)," which is all right, if nothing to write home about. Flood once again provided the production while Alan Moulder's co-engineering work couldn't have hurt; that the team would do later efforts together like Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral and the Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness showed that someone was listening in. The one line from "X Y & Zee" says it best about the album and the Pop Will Eat Itself experience: "Let's get lost/In intergalactic punk rock hip-hop." Of all the albums in the reissue campaign, Cure for Sanity has the most alternate 12″ versions and remixes present as bonus material, appropriate enough in light of the thriving dance culture that birthed it. Unsurprisingly, most of the mixes drop the baleful texture of the originals, scattering it across a spectrum of techno and house genres that were still coalescing at the time of their release. Three marginally different versions of “Dance of the Mad Bastards” is probably too many for all but a dedicated completist (mea culpa) to justify, but the inclusion of gems like the glorious dub-techno version of “Cicciolina” by Renegade Soundwave and the full six minute house piano version of the of trotted out “92°F” are really nice to have, irrelevance to the casual fan be damned.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Shack H.M.S. Fable

Everyone knows that Mick Head’s Pale Fountains were cruelly ignored. Although there was nothing original about their brand of indie pop, the three albums they released in the early 80s were more than a match to more established acts like China Crisis, or The Colourfield. “Thank you” and “Jean’s Not Happening” were classic unsung singles of the era, critically approved, commercially forgotten. NME would suggest that Mick Head was “a lost genius and among the most gifted British songwriters of his generation”. The formation of Shack in 1986 promised a fresh slate, and a chance for the brothers to achieve the success they richly deserved. “HMS Fable”, their third long player, brings a subtle brand of pastoral English pop with a gentle hint of folk, and Arthur Lee’s breezy influence all resulting in some sparkling creations. “Comedy” and “Natalie’s Party” are beautifully crafted singles, but it’s when one ventures deeper that the real rewards begin to surface. References to the years wasted by de-habilitating drug use on “The Streets Of Kenny” show the desperate search for a hit. “I’m searching through the streets again, can’t get shit, get any. Can’t find Joe or Benny, I don’t want a bag, I want a big one”, as the music drifts from gently drifting fragility into a guitar led instrumental break that’s rousing, angry and tinged with an urgency that reflects the victim’s fruitless search. The jovial “Lend’s Some Dough” cheekily pulls on the heartstrings, as the bright musical landscape shrouds lyrics that capture the shadowy world of addiction. The classic sea shanty of “The Captain’s Table” is tender, imaginative and includes breathy harmony vocals that roll with the waves. “Since I Met You” delivers the most memorable descending chorus to a story of a store hold up where the plastic gun wielding perpetrator is shot in the knee caps One day, Mick and John Head will be rewarded for their creative ardour. Songs like these can’t possibly be overlooked. It would be one of the biggest musical travesties.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Pop Will Eat Itself ‎– This Is The Day... This Is The Hour... This Is This! As Requested By Blureu

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After the band's enthusiastic if somewhat stumbling transformation into a sort-of English Beastie Boys on Box Frenzy, Pop Will Eat Itself transformed itself into a much superior beast on the brilliant, underrated This Is the Day...This Is the Hour...This Is This! The secret ingredient was Flood, who brought his considerable production skills to the fore and helped shape an album that was its own sprawling but self-contained universe. While calling the bandmembers skilled MCs in a conventional sense would be pretty silly, their own particular mesh and mix of U.S. and, importantly, U.K. pop culture in with the metal riffs, disco backing, monster drum stomps, and more are their own reward. The band's sound has never been thicker and more detailed, and while the sampling and arranging are always clearly a product of their late-'80s times, like the Beasties did that year with Paul's Boutique, PWEI comes up with its own sharp synthesis. The brilliant, shuddering singles alone are worth the price of entry -- "Def. Con. One," a ridiculously goony but very catchy portrayal of Armageddon Judge Dredd style, the propulsive "Can U Dig It?" and its cataloging of everything the band loves from DJ Spinderella to Dirty Harry, and particularly the wonderful "Wise Up! Sucker," as perfect a frustrated love/hate song of the era as anything else, with a sharp, mocking backing vocal from the Wonder Stuff's Miles Hunt. Then there's the wickedly bizarre "Not Now James, We're Busy...," a sort of anti-tribute to the Godfather of Soul and his legal troubles of the time. But beyond those deserved highlights, there are all sorts of intriguing surprises throughout the album, including a fair dollop of moody goth/post-punk touches that inadvertently predicts where Massive Attack partially ended up. The murky beginning and breaks of "Inject Me" and the collapsing inward drones and feedback of "Wake Up! Time to Die..." certainly give the lie to the idea that PWEI was only ever a one-dimensional cartoon.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

World Party ‎Arkeology Diary & Music Collection

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The first thing to say about this 5 CD Arkeology 'diary and music collection', a set that that serves up 70 new and rare studio recordings including covers and live material spanning 25 years, is that presentationally it certainly has the 'wow' factor. Like the rest of us who grew up on the wonders of the gatefold album sleeve, Karl Wallinger is fed up with CD packaging that needs a magnifying glass to decipher the lyrics / credits. So Arkeology is delivered in a much more user friendly, and useful, almanac format - a 142 page, any year (although it includes calendars through to 2015), large paperback sized, ring bound, diary. In many ways Arkeology doubles as both the 6th World Party album, and a wonderful, previously unheard, reflective 'behind the scenes' trawl through the previous 25 year history of World Party. The thing that strikes you most is the consistency and quality of the song writing, musicianship and the recordings - whether they be songs finished as recently 2011, unreleased rare studio gems, live sessions, concert recordings or b-sides and demos. Wallinger's love of the sixties - The Stones, Dylan, Neil Young, The Beach Boys and of course, the Beatles is never far below the surface, as evidenced by the inclusion of covers such as Dear Prudence, Happiness Is A Warm Gun, Cry Baby and Fixing A Hole (The Beatles), Like A Rolling Stone and Sweetheart Like You (Dylan) and Man Was We Lonely (McCartney). He would have fitted like a glove into The Travelling Wilburys line-up: probably Wallinger's idea of dying and going to heaven. Naturally, the more obvious World Party 'hits' are included - live versions of Put The Message In The Box recorded in the USA in '93 and 2006, live versions of Ship Of Fools from the Kilburn Empire in 1990 and the States in 1998, and the Robbie Williams covered She's The One from the same concert. But over the whopping 5 hours running time of Arkeolgy there's something for everyone, whether it be Wallinger's impressive reinventions of his heroes, his dabbling with Prince style funk, or excursions in to soul and even, opera. For World Party aficionados the decision to purchase Arkeology is a 'no brainer'. And for those less familiar with Karl Wallinger's work it serves as an ideal jumping off point for exploring the 5 studio albums. It really is a lovely artefact, and while Karl claims the packaging is designed to be as useful as it is informative, it would be sacrilegious to deface it. The only criticism I can level is that it simply isn't going to fit onto your cd shelves next to your World Party collection.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Dinosaur Jr Where You Been

Dinosaur Jr Where You Been

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Following the legendarily acrimonious bust-up between singer/guitarist J Mascis and bassist/singer Lou Barlow, Dinosaur Jr. were a different band altogether. Their first three albums had stirred hardcore, psychedelia, noise, country and metal into a blurry and glorious mess of sludge-pop, switching from melody to noise with the stomp of a pedal. Barlow’s exit, to form lo-fi bards Sebadoh, was followed by a contract with major label imprint Blanco Y Negro, and a fourth album (1991’s Green Mind) that sired an unlikely underground hit in The Wagon. But the group seemed adrift, enough so that Mascis seriously considering quitting to play drums with an unknown Seattle group called Nirvana. He didn’t, of course, and after Nirvana’s Nevermind went supernova, many looked to Dinosaur Jr. to follow them into the big-time; after all, their 1988 single Freak Scene coined the quiet/loud dynamic Smells Like Teen Spirit would later ride to phenomenal success. Released as grunge was at its height, 1993’s Where You Been hazily evaded any Nirvana-esque commercial crossover (it peaked at number 50 in the Billboard charts), but was a ragged masterpiece that found a fine new voice for the band. There was something unabashedly classic about Where You Been’s rock, deriving not least from Mascis’s copious guitar heroics, layering multiple tracks of scree and howl so the entire album feels like one epic, sky-scraping solo. Out There opened the album with enough overdriven squalling and riffing to excite the teens in the Pearl Jam t-shirts, but Where You Been’s charms lay more in the lazy melodic drawl of Mascis’ songcraft: the lilting Start Choppin’, the breezy What Else Is New?, the winsomely aching Goin’ Home. With his fondness for extended guitar-play, his country-soaked rock crunch, his cracked and sweet vocals, Where You Been identified Mascis as hewn from the same stone as Neil Young before him. There were still moments of punked-up fury to set the moshpit alight: On the Way a slamdance immolated by howling, roaring guitar, Hide a desperate dash illuminated by passages of Sonic Youth-esque skronk. But Where You Been’s best moments were more considered: Not the Same – all windswept mourn, strings and tympani and Mascis’ affecting whine achieving a moving drama Billy Corgan would later imitate with The Smashing Pumpkins’ Disarm – and Get Me, the album’s standout, a simple but perfect country strum sent into the heavens by wave after wave of wracked, ecstatic guitar soloing that lent grand emotional erudition to Mascis’ mush-mouthed mumbling. The second chapter of Dinosaur Jr.’s career was decidedly back on track.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

XTC ‎Coat Of Many Cupboards

XTC Coat Of Many Cupboards CD1/CD2/CD3/CD4

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XTC fans are a dedicated lot. There may not be many of them, but nearly all of them need to hear everything the group ever recorded. They'll happily spend hundreds of  on rare singles and bootlegs, or buy official releases of demos, even when they sound nearly identical to the official release, so a four-disc box set of rarities, demos, alternate takes, and live versions like Coat of Many Cupboards is essentially manna from heaven. If there's any problem with the set, it's that Virgin and XTC didn't go far enough and dedicate the set entirely to unreleased material; they hedged their bets, devoting 41 of 60 tracks to previously unreleased cuts, with the lion's share of the rest -- a full 14, actually -- being album tracks any XTC fan already has. No matter how good these songs are -- and they include such masterpieces as "Chalkhills and Children" and the Dukes of Stratosphear's "Vanishing Girl" -- their presence on a lovingly assembled rarities set is a fairly major irritant (even if the band is reportedly working on an even larger archival release, provisionally titled Fuzzy Warbles, that may span as many as eight volumes). Still, if this set had just one disc of rarities, XTC fans would have purchased it anyway, and they'll overjoy in the sheer volume of unheard music here. And rightly so, since even if there aren't that many demos and alternate takes that are radically different from the finished product -- there's an acoustic run-through of "Senses Working Overtime" and an embryonic version of "Mayor of Simpleton" that are fascinating rough drafts, while an early version of "Life Begins at the Hop" is appealingly awkward -- this is still rich listening, filled with such delights as three White Music outtakes showcasing Barry Andrews (who would leave not long afterward), Colin Moulding's Nonsuch reject "Didn't Hurt a Bit" (which should have been on the album), and the live "Atom Medley," one of several in-concert performances that illustrate how good the band was on-stage, no matter Andy Partridge's stage fright. These moments and the uniform high quality of music, along with the track-by-track annotation by Partridge and Moulding, make the repetition of album tracks easy to forgive, since this is as close to a perfect gift for fans as imaginable. Although fans would have settled for anything rare, XTC has returned their affection with a box that shows as much love as the fans have shown over the years. It doesn't get much better than that.
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