Friday, 25 December 2015

Saint Etienne ‎A Glimpse Of Stocking

Nollaig Shona Duit

Saint Etienne A Glimpse Of Stocking

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It’s Christmas time. There’s usually no need to be afraid. But let’s face it, it’s never really the most inspiring period for popular music. For every gem or two wrestled from each Christmas-themed release, there’s usually a sleigh-load of rubbish to wade through. So it’s a pleasure to report that those good folks Saint Etienne have decided to up the ante.Given the bitter weather, it’s nice of Sarah, Bob and Pete to provide something to keep you warm with a set that collects together previous fan club releases along with 1994’s I Was Born on Christmas Day smash, as well as recording a half-dozen new additions to complete proceedings. Alongside well-selected covers of Cliff Richard (21st Century Christmas), Chris Rea (Driving Home for Christmas), Billy Fury (My Christmas Prayer) and The Doors (Wintertime Love), there’s the tinsel techno rave-up of Gonna Have a Party, the sizzling glam of Come on Christmas, the icy OMDness of Through the Winter and the instrumental interludes of Snowbound on the South Bank and Fireside Favourite. They finish off with their version of Harry Nilsson’s Snow, from 2003’s fan club disc. There are no new takes on carols, nor any narky topical dialogues about the commercialisation of Christmas among this lot; instead, it’s a groovin’ assortment of magic and sparkle all the way. A frisky, marvellous delight from beginning to end, A Glimpse of Stocking finds itself high and firmly in the lineage of quality festive albums, to be filed beside similarly themed releases by the Carpenters, Ella, The Beach Boys, Low and Phil Spector. It is, albeit not quite literally (nobody wants a record exploding in their hands), a cracker

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Talking Heads ‎Stop Making Sense Special New Edition

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It starts with audience noise, David Byrne scrolls out and utters immortal opening lines. “Hi. I’ve got a tape I wanna play you.” A basic electronic drum pattern starts up, there’s a sharply strummed acoustic guitar and then the bare-bones live version of “Psycho Killer” blows the studio original clean out of the water. Just a drum machine, Byrne’s voice and an acoustic guitar. You already know that this is going to be one of the greatest live albums in the history of popular music. For the next song Tina Weymouth turns up on stage and they produce a stunning version of “Heaven”. For “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel” Chris Franz appears behind the drum kit and things are really starting to take shape now. “Found A Job” finds Jerry Harrison appear next to Byrne to add anther guitar and the original Talking Heads quartet is in place, playing their angular art rock and winning the audience over hand over fist. But it doesn’t stop there, as all manner of backing singers, synth players, percussionists and funky rhythm guitar players take to the stage one after the other, until by the time we get to “Burning Down The House” we get the funkiest punk band that ever walked the earth. Lets get one thing straight now, Stop Making Sense may very well be the best live album ever recorded, it’s certainly one of the best sounding, as its production picks up every polyrhythm, every guitar lick, everyone of Byrne’s vocal ticks. The majority of the sixteen tracks here are superior to their studio counterparts and given that Talking Heads were no slouches in the studio, that’s one hell of an achievement. Favourite numbers? Everyone has their own, but for me “Slippery People”, “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” and “Take Me To The River” are three that jump out at me every time (particularly that drum crack and vocal yelp near the end of “Slippery People” which sounds as if it’s going to blow your speaker out if you play it too loud). Only one track doesn’t quite measure up to the studio original and that’s the evergreen “Once In A Lifetime”, but the original version is so close to my heart that I doubt any other recording of it will ever measure up and the live version here is very, very good indeed. Of course no review of Stop Making Sense is complete without a reference to Byrne’s big suit worn during the storming “Girlfriend Is Better”. You can practically hear it expanding. On this expanded version you also get “Genius Of Love” played by the Tom Tom Club (on this occasion the entire Talking Heads line up except David Byrne), while Byrne takes the opportunity for a well-deserved breather. While some would argue that has no place on a Talking Heads release, I would argue until my last breath that it should remain, if only to hear Chris Franz yelling “Jaammmeesss Broowwwwnnn!!! Jaammmeesss Broowwwwnnn!!!”. It’s just one of many utterly brilliant moments on this album. This is one of the few occasions where a live album is an act’s definitive release. It starts with the most basic of rhythms and a sparse tune and it ends with some of the most complex polyrhythms in my music collection. It doesn’t really get much better than this.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Fall I Am Kurious Oranj

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So, how to shake things up, how to make life interesting? Why, record the music for a ballet of course. I mean, what else are you gonna do? One thing it did do was give The Fall an actual reason to record an album, other than out of habit. As a result, although not everything here works, a good half of it works magnificently, and the rest is never less than interesting. 'New Big Prinz' opens the whole shebang and The Fall sound more wired and alive than they had for a good couple of years, at least. A couple of years for The Fall being a long time, you understand. 'Big New Prinz' is stomping, storming, hand-clapping, the works. Mark E Smith sings and shouts, the guitar is catchy as the catchiest thing ever, and there you have it. A winner. The 'Overture' is a solo Brix tune, sung by her as well. It's a very pretty guitar tune, pretty of course not being a usual Fall descriptive word, but then, this isn't a usual Fall LP. 'Dog Is Life' marries William Blake and Mark E Smith in a seemingly bizarre coupling but it works fantastically well. First of all we have Mark E Smith spitting out the 'Dog Is Life' rant after which 'Jerusalem' announces itself with strong drums and deep bass notes. When the guitar comes in, when Mark E Smith starts singing, you realise this is a close cousin to the opening 'Big New Prinz'. In actual fact, together with 'Big New Prinz' and 'Wrong Place, Right Time', 'Jerusalem' was issued as part of a three song EP by the group. All three of these songs are great, but 'Jerusalem' is particularly entertaining for the lyrical content when Mark E Smith starts to get all political on us. 'Kurious Oranj' deserves a special mention. It's a song that's been known to disgust non Fall lovers I've played it to, though I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because the lyrics are completely daft and make no sense whatsoever. Perhaps it's because of the simplistic bass groove. It's an addictive bass groove though, once you get into it. It's a 'humorous' bass groove in line with the 'daft' nature of the song in the first place. Well, for all I know, the lyrics are dead meaningful. The end result is just sheer entertainment however, and that's alright by me. We have a number of softer, sweeter guitar songs on the second half of this record. 'Guide Me Soft' is a single exposed guitar with bare percussion and Mark E Smith half singing / half speaking. 'Yes O Yes' is the kind of song that wouldn't have sounded out of place on 'Bend Sinister' but it also shares the grinding, repetitive nature of certain songs from 'The Frenz Experiment'. 'Yes O Yes' isn't particular a highlight here but it works in context. 'Van Plague?' on the other hand just works, full stop. A greatly underrated Fall song, it's not often spoken of by fans but this is one of the sweetest Fall songs I can think of and also one of the best 'straight' Mark E Smith vocal performances. 'Bad News Girl' isn't particularly noteworthy being a tuneless dirge, 'Last Nacht' is a lively dance experiment and the closing 'Big New Priest' merely an alternative mix of the albums opening cut. I'll mention 'Cab It Up!' as well. 'Cab It Up!' isn't original, the melody is obvious and goes round and round. It's a lively track though, and Mark E Smith is particularly lively vocally. When he shouts out 'cabbing it uptown, UPTOWN!' it's a great Fall moment, for me at least. And, there you have it. 'I Am Kurious Oranj'. Difficult to come to a definite conclusion about the whole thing, other than it's entertaining. But, entertaining is good.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Hüsker Dü ‎Candy Apple Grey

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Candy Apple Grey from 1986 marks Hüsker Dü's "sellout" to the big nasty major label Warner Bros. So, naturally, this album is supposed to be a terrible album. Well... sorry to disappoint you guys, but it ain't. It really ain't. Do you know how bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden ever could wind up at respectively Geffen and A&M? Because of this very album here. This album album proves that it is possible for a punk band to go from the diy indie ethics of releasing the albums yourself, or on small indie labels - to a huge major label, without making a fool out of yourself! Actually, in quite a few's opinion - they do the exact opposite! You'll find emocore fans stating Zen Arcade as Hüsker Dü's best album. You'll find hardcore fans stating Everything Falls Apart as their best album. As for the "rest" - it's New Day Rising, Flip Your Wig and perhaps most commonly - Candy Apple Grey that matters. Candy Apple Grey is without a doubt the most radio-friendly album to derive from Hüsker Dü. That sentence alone might just be enough to make some of the hardcore fans' stomachs turn. But have no fear, it's only a temporarily stomach-turn. Once you've put the record on the gramophone - you'll find that: "Hey! This ain't altogether that bad!". No, it isn't. It's actually quite impressing, I must say. It begins with you getting pushed into a wail. Then punched in the face by a tremendous force, that is Bob Mould's distinct way of playing the guitar. And then it explodes. For a trio, they sound huge. And the sound is broader than ever. It's all still there. the basics I mean; there's still the thumpy drums being played slightly behind the beat, the malicious basslines that cooperate perfectly with the trashing guitar-riffs. But there's something more to it, this time. It's broader and more melodic, than ever. It's sort of a total change of genre. It's a transition from hardcore/emocore to what is later to be known as alternative rock. It sounds as frenetic, as passionate and as upset as ever... but it's also introverted, cold, and at times toned-down. There's even an acoustic guitar in the picture, as well as a piano. The songs "No Promise Have I Made", "Hardly Getting Over It" and "Too Far Down" are particularly... blue. And cold. And just downright sad. The acoustic guitar and piano makes a welcome change of sound, from the upbeat tracks on the record, who - by the way, are catchier and more passionate than ever. There is some very strong songwriting present on this record. Bob Mould and Grant Hart both outdo themselves. The lyrics on this album is concerned with everything from breaking up in "Don't Want to Know If You Are Lonely", to trying to sell ice cream in a theater (I have no idea if that's a metaphor, and in which case - what it's supposed to mean) in "Eiffel Tower High". In general it's all kind of blue and melancholic. But still damn catchy. You'll have yourself singing along to both "I Don't Know for Sure" and "Sorry Somehow" by the end of the tracks. The production is also better, now that they're on Warner Bros. But it all sounds a little dirty, and not as commercialized as one would expect. Who's produced this album? None other than Bob Mould and Grant Hart themselves. So this is still diy and indie, up to a certain point. They're still in full artistic control, thanks to Warner Bros. who put their money where their mouth was - supporting a band they're not very likely to make any money on, but is admired in the musical industry. And for that I really respect Warner Bros. for being a label that is more engaged in MUSIC than in MONEY. This "full artistic control" contract is considered being a model for future alternative rock acts that signed with major labels (e.g. Sonic Youth and Soul Asylum). All in all, this is a great album. With a lot of amazing tracks. Maybe especially "Don't Want to Know If You Are Lonely" - the album's natural highlight. It's probably the most catchy Hüsker Dü song ever. If not the best Hüsker Dü song ever. Such an amazing track. But with that being said, no tracks are really skipable. They're all actually surprisingly good. You know, for a major label act.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Bob Mould Bob Mould (Hubcap)

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As he was promoting the last Sugar album, File Under: Easy Listening, Bob Mould hinted that he was tired of working with a band and was fascinated by the simple, four-track recordings of Sebadoh and Guided by Voices. So, it didn't come as a complete surprise when he disbanded Sugar a year after the release of FU:EL and began working on a record by himself. Bob Mould, his third solo album, was recorded entirely by Mould, but it doesn't sound like a lo-fi project -- it doesn't have the professional production of Sugar's records, but it has all their sonic detail. What has changed is the details themselves. Bob Mould may not surge on waves of loud guitars like Hüsker Dü or Sugar, but Mould is reaching into new territory, using distortion as a coloring device and exploring trancier melodies. And Mould sounds revitalized throughout the album -- although it is clear that this isn't a collection of first-takes, his obsession with making the album entirely on his own makes the music fierce and alive. Mould may be heading further into singer/songwriter territory with each album he releases, but he keeps his music away from stodginess by continually changing his approach and delving into new sonic territories. It also doesn't hurt that his increasingly bitter lyrics are gut-wrenchingly provocative and his melodies are consistently engaging

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Kitchens Of Distinction ‎Love Is Hell

Kitchens Of Distinction Love Is Hell

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The Kitchens of Distinction's early comparisons ran the gamut from Echo and the Bunnymen and the Chameleons to older fret-benders like Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix. What the comparisons were all aiming to describe was the band's secret weapon -- Swales' awesome abilities on guitar, which created tenderness and overdriven power. On Love Is Hell, the band's debut, the Kitchens sound like they're feeling their way around a studio, with rougher, punkier edges on some numbers (notably the thrashy rant against the workday grind, "Mainly Mornings"). More impressive still is how well Fitzgerald's thoughtful, passionate lyrics and singing match Swales' work in so many different ways throughout the record -- tenderly evocative on "In a Cave," increasingly agitated during the bitter "Prize," and downright soaring on "The 3rd Time We Opened the Capsule." This last song has a perfect Kitchens moment, with a rushing, joyful guitar break followed by Fitzgerald's forceful delivery of "I want the light to shine/Right in my eyes!" "Her Last Day in Bed" starkly visits a deathbed scene with a sheer, frightening feel heightened by violin, while the climactic "Hammer" views a pick-up gone terribly wrong with increasingly distraught lyrics and music. Intelligent, intricate, and unafraid to rock and caress equally, Love Is Hell is an incredible first effort. Later editions of the record add the Elephantine EP (including the biological/political ruminating title track), a delicious death-to-Thatcher fantasy titled "Margaret's Injection," and the bittersweet end-of-a-relationship portrayal "1001st Fault.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

James Whiplash

James Whiplash

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Fourteen years down the line from Stutter, Whiplash is far from a consolidation of past success. It’s the sound of a band fighting out of a corner, rising to their own challenge and proving themselves once again. That isn’t to say the record doesn’t take it’s cues from previous efforts. The same thread of intimacy that drew together Laid is pitched with the experimental dance dynamic so prevalent in Wah Wah. Tim Booth’s crystal tone weaves typically potent tales of despair, but more pressingly of rejuvenation. "Got to keep faith that your luck will change", he intones on the charged gem of an opener, ‘Tomorrow’. It’s that track that sets the agenda for the revival, its punching melody and glorious chorus pushing the bands focus away from their recent introversion. Though the single, ‘She’s A Star’ treads the same, successful vein it’s the tracks that follow which constitute a real progression. The sceptical broadside ‘Greenpeace’ serves as a bridge between the crafted pop of the first half and the unwavering dance of the second. Booth’s wistful vocal punctuated by bursts of drum and bass. Perhaps it’s a risk for an established band to take on a new sound without looking desperate, but more often than not they manage to pull it off. What Goldie and Ed Rush would make of it though, is another story. What makes it credible is that it isn’t a token effort, the rest of the album follows in this modernist trend. The hard house sound of ‘Go To The Bank’ and ‘Play Dead’ may seem to eager to push the band’s dance credentials, but this is countered by the melodic techno strains of ‘Avalanche’ and ‘Watering Hole’. It’s on these tracks that the new sound is most effective, as it is combined with the traditional songwriting we’ve come to expect of James. ‘Avalanche’ in particular gives Booth chance to soar like a distant deity over its strong melody and sparse beats. With a new future forged, the band allow themselves one indulgence. The foray into the past that is ‘Blue Pastures’; an intimate , acoustic track that harks back to ‘Laid's’ claustrophobic ballads. It may be that this album doesn’t please the fans. It’s likely it won’t please the critics. But then, this record is primarily about the band themselves. It’s an album that had to be made to prove they have a future and that they can be part of the future. After all, if you stand still to long all you can do is sit down.
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