Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Midnight Oil ‎Earth And Sun And Moon

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Earth and Sun and Moon opens with a chilling bass line and shimmering synths to create a feeling of intrigue. The song is "Feeding Frenzy," and to the introductory riffs are added guitars, drums, and fat-sounding vocals to make it a quintessentially great Midnight Oil song. Lyrically, we immediately get a dose of the Oils' trenchant observational wisdom, this time about the folly of basing our lives on sensory pleasure: "Ah, sweet sensation, the oldest temptation ... Truth and fiction must collide someday." The next song, "My Country" (which was a hit single), continues in much the same vein, adding a nice piano touch. "Renaissance Man" has a driving tempo with an excellent psychedelic effect applied in just the right amount. The title track to "Earth and Sun and Moon" uses a slightly different guitar sound than normal and a thickly chorused hook to elevate the song above its plodding bass and drum lines. The remaining songs all benefit from similar change-ups in tempo, instrumentation, and production effects to keep the material sounding familiar and fresh at the same time. We even get a rare acoustic-guitar treat from the Oils on the modern-folk-rock tune "In the Valley." The three-year break between the two albums seems to have done the band good—the songwriting is strong and the playing feels comfortable and assured. The album did not do as well as the band's previous two LP's at charting singles and garnering FM radio airplay, but lay the blame for that at the doorstep of changing times and the cluelessness of radio programming directors. Earth and Sun and Moon is as good as any album Midnight Oil ever did.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Various FAC. Dance Factory Records 12' Mixes & Rarities 1980-1987

Various FAC : Dance Factory Records 12'' Mixes & Rarities 1980-1987 CD1/CD2

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Strut and compiler Bill Brewster assembled this two-disc Factory compilation without Joy Division and New Order. They also excluded Happy Mondays, even though that band hit its stride just within the era, 1980-1987, the set documents. That's a little perverse. Then again, everything released by the Manchester, England label's marquee acts has been widely available, while numerous deep label highlights have been left underexposed, even in the wake of LTM's Cool as Ice/Twice as Nice anthologies of dancefloor productions from New Order's Bernard Sumner, A Certain Ratio's Donald Johnson, and U.S. counterparts Mark Kamins and Arthur Baker. Fac. Dance also fills several gaps left by Rhino U.K.'s fine Factory Records: Communications 1978-1992 box set without slipping into "mere curiosity" territory. All of this is relevant to Factory's story and translates to the present, while some selections -- 52nd Street's "Cool as Ice," Quando Quango's "Love Tempo," Section 25's "Looking from a Hilltop," Marcel King's "Reach for Love," Abecedarians' "Smiling Monarchs" -- deserve to be as known as New Order's "Blue Monday." The packaging is attractive, the track details are thorough, and Brewster's liner notes are, as usual, informative and illuminating. Even if you're a Factory obsessive who owns all the vinyl or has picked up all those '90s/2000s compilations, the set's pull is hard to resist

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The House Of Love The House Of Love (Butterfly)

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Following the combination of indie success and massive hype leading up to the band's first album proved to be too much for the original lineup, with Bickers leaving after a series of problems and pressures once the group signed to Fontana. Yet rarely has a fraught series of recording sessions resulted in something so flat-out stunning. The House of Love's second self-titled album in a row -- third counting the German singles comp -- remains something of a high-water mark in what can loosely be termed U.K. post-punk music, acting as an effective final statement before the onslaughts of Madchester, grunge, and Brit-pop. It's almost impossible to tell who is more responsible for what on the album, given its stitched-together nature, but whatever Bickers contributes matches Chadwick's cool but never cold performances note for note, and the result is deep blue rapture. Starting with the snaky crawl of "Hannah," sidling in over a series of echoed guitar notes, the 12-song collection does everything from revisiting past heights to scaling new ones. "Shine On" gets re-recorded in an arguably much more powerful performance, Evans' drums and Bickers pounding away out in front, while one early B-side, "Hedonist," is turned from a light acoustic number into a evocative modern blues. Another, "Blind," is changed very little, its simple fragility still holding a soft sway. Everything else is new and quite often stunning, building on the combination of power and emotion from the first album perfectly. "I Don't Know Why I Love You" remains the group's definitive single, three and a half minutes of romantic angst matched by a fiery, perfectly arranged performance. "Beatles and the Stones," meanwhile, far from being a nostalgia piece, refers to the bands in question as "[making] it good to be alone," with a rich, melancholic acoustic performance to boot. Add in the fiery performances on songs like "32nd Floor" or "In a Room" and the result is a true lost classic.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

An Emotional Fish An Emotional Fish

An Emotional Fish An Emotional Fish

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The disappearance of An Emotional Fish was one of the great disappointments of the 1990s. Released in September of 1990, An Emotional Fish likely was a victim of the Rattle and Hum era U2 backlash. Though released through Atlantic, the band's first singles were on U2's Mother Records label. That, and their Dublin roots, made the band an easy target for critics. But the album was filled with some wonderful melodic rock songs. "Blue," "Lace Virginia," "Celebrate," and "Julian" were strong songs. The CD version included one extra track, "Move On." Sadly, the band's music changed after their debut (possibly as a reaction to a critical backlash). A great debut album from a band that never again reached such heights. Perhaps a testament to its quality is how incredibly hard to find An Emotional Fish is, meaning fans are unwilling to part with it, even years later. Well worth the search

Thursday, 17 March 2016

The Fatima Mansions ‎Valhalla Avenue

The Fatima Mansions Valhalla Avenue

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Oddly never released in America when the later Lost in the Former West was, Valhalla Avenue upped the considerable ante of Viva Dead Ponies with another rampaging rip through hypocrisy and societal idiocy. Coughlan's inspired vocal mix of smooth croon and exploding street-corner crazy continues from the group's earlier work, as does the musical stew that has the band aiming for lounge music as much as brain-melting feedback. Sister Mary O Gruama's guitar work adds the pile-driving power as needed, but it's the keyboard work from Coughlan and Duke O Malaithe which actually takes the lead, even at the loudest moments. Clever sampling here and there -- sometimes of familiar melodies, others of strange news and movie-source snippets -- helps set the edgy atmosphere. It's not as chaotic as, say, Fear of a Black Planet, but it's still disorienting enough at points. Ralph and Victor Van Vugt again assist Coughlan with production and engineering; if sometimes the ambition of a truly full-bodied nuclear strength assault doesn't always play out, at its best Valhalla still blazes with acid fire. Lead-off single "Evil Man," captures the piss-and-vinegar spirit of the proceedings just so, with sudden tempo changes, curious percussion touches, and odd vocal arrangements further spiking the brew. "1000%" works even more effectively, with a seemingly friendly lead melody swiped from Wham's "Freedom" constantly undercut by gang shouts and other sudden musical cut-ups and treatments. As expected, while the mental-as-anything head-bang crushers have a thrilling momentum, it's the poison-pen ballads, sometimes calm and sometimes just fractured enough, which carry the best impact. "Greyhair" and the sweeping "North Atlantic Wind" balance cutting lyrics and almost nihilistic social criticism with soaring melodies and full-bodied performances, showing that there's a way beyond simple anger to make a point.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Beck Odelay Deluxe Edition

Beck Odelay Deluxe Edition CD1/CD2

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Alt-alt singer/songwriter Beck’s 1996 breakthrough release, Odelay, gets the deluxe treatment – and hold up very well. While Beck first came to people’s ears thanks to 1994’s Mellow Gold hit single, “Loser”, more than a few folks were calling him a one-hit wonder – until he followed Gold up with the double-platinum, double-Grammy-winning Odelay. Now, over a decade later, Odelay is re-released as a double-disc with a grab-bag of nineteen extra outtakes, unreleaseds, foreign b-sides, and remixes, but it’s how well Odelay still plays that steals the show. The lo-fi alt-rap Beck employed on Odelay was shocking and original in its day, but instead of feeling like old hat now, it just comes across as more flowing, catchier. That’s certainly true with singles “Devil’s Haircut”, “The New Pollution”, and hit “Where It’s At”, which is the perfect combo of indie-cool and indie-irony, having fun and making fun at the same time. Other indie-cool tracks that hold up well include the backwoods-y “Hotwax” and single “Sissyneck”, and the re-release lets the sadder Beck we’d come to know later on shine through, minus some of the weirdness, on “Lord Only Knows”, “Readymade”, “Ramshackle”, and single “Jack-Ass”. However, most of the really fuzzed-up techno-rock pieces, like “Derelict”, “Novacane”, and “Minus”, still feel kind of clunky – but “High 5 (Rock The Catskills)” still stands out. Disc one still contains three more tracks from the Odelay sessions, “Deadweight”, “Inferno”, and “Gold Chains”. “Deadweight” was a single in its own right in 1997, off the A Life Less Ordinary soundtrack, and it’s certainly more memorable than that Ewan McGregor/Cameron Diaz flop. Tropical like how Beck’s next record, Mutations, would be, “Deadweight” might have fit better there, but gets more of a chance to stand out here. “Inferno” and “Gold Chains” are previously unreleased outtakes from Beck’s time with Odelay producers, the Dust Brothers: a good-but-meandering funky techno-fuzz rap, and a good-but-meandering lo-tech folk-rap. Disc two is sixteen tracks that, unsurprisingly for the unusual Beck, vary in style, length, quality – you name it. Things start off with three remixes, a twelve-minute drum & bass remix of “Where It’s At” by UNKLE, a sped-up remix of “Devil’s Haircut” by Aphex Twin (dubbed “Richard’s Hairpiece), and another “Haircut” remix, by Mickey P., done like a live punk song (called “American Wasteland”). There’s also an alternate, improved, lo-fi garage-rock version of Stereopathic Soulmanure’s “Thunder Peel”, and the disc ends with two new versions of “Jack-Ass” – a better, more orchestral version, thanks to adding strings (called “Strange Invitation”), and a Spanish language version with a mariachi band (“Burro”). Lo-fi and techno-fuzz get the biggest play on the rest of the tracks, mixing them all up a bit too much. However, there are some key standouts, such as the early-on cool, laid-back, techno-fuzz rap of “Clock”. Meanwhile, the sad and restrained Beck comes out orchestral with his guitars on “Brother” near the end, to be followed by disc two’s top track, “Devil Got My Woman”. Beck recorded this cover of a Skip James classic at the world-renowned Sun Studios in Memphis, just before the doors on the place closed forever, and this ‘Beck blues’ is unlike anything this wide and prolific artist has done before. Like any expanded double-disc re-release of a classic (such as Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation (Deluxe Edition) – QRO review, or U2’s The Joshua Tree: Remastered – QRO review), two questions must be asked: is the original material as good as it was, and are all the extras worth my time? For Beck’s Odelay – Deluxe Edition, the original holds up and then some, and there are definitely some special pieces among the extras.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Flowered Up ‎A Life With Brian

Flowered Up A Life With Brian

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Flowered Up shone briefly but brightly for a few years. Led by vocalist, Liam Maher, keyboardist Tim Dorney, guitarist Joe Maher, Andy Jackson on bass and drummer John Tovey . But let’s not forget their answer – of sorts – to Bez , the remarkable Barry Mooncult whose job description included taking to the stage with a giant plastic flower round his neck. This was, in some quarters, not entirely unfairly dismissed as gimmicky. But gimmicky or not it saw them achieve successive top 40 singles in the shape of the popular, but only okay to my ears, It’s On and the intriguing Phobia during 1990. Their one and only album, “A Life with Brian” was arguably released too late, appearing in 1991 when baggy was beginning to already collapse under its own weight and the sounds had lost some of their initial freshness. But despite being neither a commercial nor critical success it has always struck me as one of the finest and most coherent artefacts from that period. The sound? Maher’s style was more spoken than sung and an unpredictable and truculent presence. Sarcastic while simultaneously world weary and buzzed up. Curiously one J. Strummer was involved in some lyrics for the band. Overall the music rested on strong beats, typical Madchester piano motifs [Take It has the almost platonic absolute in that regard, Crackerjack – a lovely cascading chord progression, Phobia rests upon an equally fine structure] and sometimes unexpectedly muscular guitar work from the other Maher brother – which in places tipped into near metallic territory. Add in washes of keyboards and some nicely understated touches of electronica – as with the excellent minor classic Egg Rush, a less prominent bass than many of their peers, and in its totality it works near perfectly. Which isn’t to say that “A Life with Brian” is flawless. It could have done with some pruning and sags a little in the middle. Nor is Maher’s voice an unequivocally good thing across the length of an entire album – on Egg Rush it comes as something of a relief to hear him playing off a female vocal. But those quibbles aside it works remarkably well. Their swansong, the 13 minute Weekender which took a cynical look at rave’s mainstreaming, is a remarkable piece of work. If “Screamadelica” is all bright colours Weekender by contrast is edgy and contingent shades of grey. The message seems to be that while this may be fun it’s not necessarily going to end well particularly for those dipping in and out of the scene. ‘We’re going to have a good time… Weekender’ isn’t so much a statement as a query. So, could they have taken it further? Hard to say. Perhaps not with baggy as such. But given the inventiveness [and competence] on display here it’s not difficult to sketch out alternative paths for them. Liam Maher tragically died of an heroin overdose some years back. Dorney went on to achieve a real measure of success with Republica and nowt more was heard of the others. Yet even if their output rested on an handful of singles and an album and even if only of their time they were in their own way, gimmicks and all, an oddly great band.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

The Heart Throbs ‎Cleopatra Grip

The Heart Throbs Cleopatra Grip

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The debut album by Liverpool's Heart Throbs (led by the twin sisters of late Echo & the Bunnymen drummer Pete DeFrietas) slots neatly into the overriding musical styles of U.K. indie pop circa 1990, mixing the post-punk directness of the Primitives, the swirling, dreamlike textures of the shoegazers, and the flirtations with dance rhythms introduced by the previous summer's Madchester explosion. However, the Heart Throbs definitely had their own unique style; for one thing, singer Rose Carlotti's lyrics, from the suggestive album title on down, are forthrightly female-centric in the manner of the Au Pairs' Lesley Woods or early PJ Harvey. It can be difficult to hear Carlotti behind Martin Hannett's echoey, hollow production, which shifts the guitars to the forefront, but the intent of songs like "She's in a Trance" and the searing, My Bloody Valentine-like "Kiss Me When I'm Starving" remains clear regardless. The slightly poppier singles "Tossed Away" and "Dreamtime" are the album's highlights but, while a couple of the songs coast by simply on atmosphere, Cleopatra Grip is a luxurious and compelling listen.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Various ‎Brand Neu!

Various Brand Neu! 

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It may be 35 since NEU! became the godfathers of Krautrock, but their influence is still going strong – at least that's what a new compilation hopes to prove. A plethora of stars have stepped up to the plate for a disc not of covers, but of songs influenced by the German legends – and that distinction is precisely what saves BRAND NEU! from being just another generic celebration. These days every granny and her goldfish are dabbling in electro, but it wasn't so back in the 70s, when Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger split from Kraftwerk and started making some of the most exciting stuff to come out of Germany, well… ever. In doing so, they influenced Bowie, Radiohead and a lot of people in between. So it's not surprising a star-studded multi-national array of artists have queued up to contribute to this disc. Old boys Oasis, Primal Scream, LCD Soundsystem and Kasabian sit well alongside newbies Foals, Fujiya & Miyagi and School Of Seven Bells. Tracks from Dinger and Rother themselves top it off – with everyone bringing their own vibe to the party. Top marks go to Kasabian, Foals, Hook & The Twin and one of the less famous (and thus more humble) contributors, School Of Seven Bells. Benjamin Curtis from SOSB describes everyone in music as 'living in the individual shadows' of NEU! Maybe that's the reason why their track – the only, err…, brand new one on the album – shines so brightly above the rest.This is the first release from Feraltone Records – a new imprint from Grönland (home of NEU! as well as Fujiya & Miyagi). Crammed with rare tracks, unreleased material and even the now late Dinger’s last ever recording, this is a gem for fans and a great introduction for newcomers.
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