Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Various ‎Palatine The Factory Story / 1979-1990

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Palatine: The Factory Story/1979-1990 is a box set that combines the four separately released discs that distill the history of Manchester, England's Factory Records. Thanks to a roster that included the likes of Joy Division, New Order, Cabaret Voltaire, the Durutti Column, and (later) the Happy Mondays, Factory is regarded along the same level as Rough Trade, Postcard, Mute, 4AD, and Creation as one of the most important indie labels -- U.K. or otherwise -- to have broken the mold of the large company-based music industry during the late '70s and early '80s. Aside from the aforementioned acts, Factory never really became much of a force on the charts, save for the occasional hit. However, these four discs are impressive in gathering a good percentage of quality music that varies from post-punk to synth pop to Madchester to just plain weird. Each of the discs holds a particular theme, whether it's the mood or the time period covered. (Beware: The title of the box is deviously similar to the third volume, titled Palatine: The Factory Story, Vol. 3/1979-1989). There aren't any major omissions throughout these 49 songs; a healthy amount of attention is paid to the label's biggest acts, and smaller notables like A Certain Ratio, ESG, and the Stockholm Monsters are thankfully represented. While it could be argued that Crispy Ambulance and the Names could have been included instead of the nth New Order inclusion or arguably lesser acts like Kalima or Quando Quango, there aren't any true gripes to be had with this package

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Happy Mondays Pills 'N' Thrills And Bellyaches Reissue

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Transforming from awkward underdogs to the biggest indie band in the country in the space of just two years, Happy Mondays’ third LP Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches encapsulates the short-lived media obsession with ‘Madchester’ at the start of the ‘90s more than any other album. While it brought the shenanigans of their colourful lead singer Shaun Ryder and maracas player / backup dancer / lucky mascot Bez to the attention of tabloids, its unexpected commercial success cannot be explained without its producer Paul Oakenfold. While he became a global superstar DJ and remixer by the end of the ‘90s, at end of the previous decade Oakenfold was a rising star, making his name through regular sets at clubs up and down Britain as the rave scene was booming. His production softened their jagged, sloppy funk rhythms and sharpened up the sound quality, making it sound much more expansive than anything they had done before. 1988’s Bummed, produced by Factory Records’ legendary in-house producer Martin Hannett, was well-received but sounds so much more claustrophobic and scratchy by comparison. However, while Hannett’s production had only hinted at the Mondays’ knack for spectacular rhythms, Oakenfold and his engineer Steve Osborne (who would go on to produce Doves, Elbow, Starsailor and many other indie acts at the start of the ‘00s) made it prominent, making it the primary building block of the music. They married the group’s shabby industrial funk with subtle, up-to-the-minute dance beats, and both aspects complimented and reinforced each other. Oakenfold was one of two people that had been commissioned in 1989 to remix Bummed highlight ‘Wrote For Luck’: Erasure’s Vince Clarke had made one, which was good, but Oakenfold’s was spectacular. Retitled ‘W.F.L. (Think About The Future mix)’, it was interspersed with elements of N.W.A.’s cleaned-up ‘Express Yourself’ remix and took things to another level. Ryder himself was most impressed, saying that Oakenfold “brought that sort of trance to it… all the right ingredients.” The iconic Madchester Rave On EP followed later in ‘89, and a creative partnership was forged for the Mondays’ upcoming third album. Kicking off with single ‘Kinky Afro’, one of the more rock-orientated moments on the album, the difference in atmosphere is palpable from its predecessor. A mellow, radio-friendly vibe, it showcases Ryder’s unusual lyrical style, a kind of deliberately absurd working-class poetry in the style of Mark E Smith – “Son, I’m thirty / I only went with your mother ‘cause she’s dirty” is an inspired opening line, mischievous and down-to-earth. It was also the first time that backup singer Rowetta had featured on a Mondays album, and her soulful vocals gave the package a wider appeal. The exceptional ‘God’s Cop’ follows it (for some reason, never released as a single despite its very obvious chart appeal), the first real display of virtuosity from Oakenfold. Featuring an irresistibly bendy and funky guitar riff welded to the producer’s jackhammering drum breaks, the title was a reference to the chief of police in Manchester, James Anderton, who was hellbent on smashing the city’s rave scene in the late ‘80s and who once claimed that he had a ‘hotline to God’. The album’s third single ‘Loose Fit’ was rather moodier, featuring a chiming guitar riff that glistens over a dark dub texture, it features some rather ambiguous lyrics from Ryder as he declares there “won’t be no misfit in my household today” – which could either be taken as a declaration of defiance from his own generation or an impersonation of the condemnation of that of his parents’. It’s probably the latter, as the chorus’s lyrics have Rowetta singing “go where you’re going / say what you’re saying / sounds good to me”. The sense that Ryder, deliberately or otherwise, is speaking on behalf of a new generation of ravers seeking to separate themselves from their parents’ music and values is a subtle undercurrent amid the psychedelic, sunshine-infused revelry of Pills ‘n’ Thrills, and demonstrates how underrated he was as a lyricist. It takes a slightly uglier form on ‘Grandbag’s Funeral’, a rather sneering piece of generational rebellion, but comes forward more entertainingly on the album’s singles and tracks like ‘Holiday’ and ‘Dennis And Lois’. The breezy, summery feel of the latter track is juxtaposed with the sinister ‘Bob’s Yer Uncle’, and that the Mondays could change moods so quickly without upsetting the pace of the album shows their versatility. The second half of Pills ‘n’ Thrills is kind of overshadowed by the presence of ‘Step On’, certainly the Mondays’ best-known hit and released in the summer before the album’s release. To all intents and purposes a remix of John Kongos’ ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’, it featuring a maddeningly addictive, immediately recognisable piano hook that provokes a kind of Pavlovian reaction in a generation of club-goers that were around to hear it at the time. The ludicrously happy riff of ‘Holiday’ is followed by the weird fugue of organs and distorted guitar of ‘Harmony’, a kind of psychedelic chillout that reflects the record’s artwork, a collage of sweet wrappers, logos and cultural detritus. Musically and rhythmically, Pills ‘n’ Thrills was dancefloor-bound, but Ryder’s personality and performance frames it as a recognisably rock experience, uniting the two genres and tribes of fans in the same way that The Stone Roses had done the previous year and Screamadelica would do the following year. It was an album of sheer, unadulterated hedonism that perfectly captured its time and place, the kind of which comes around once in a generation, for both artists and fans. A 2007 reissue courtesy of Rhino Records is a great introduction to the band in general, as it included all the accompanying B-sides, music videos and remixes. However, this kind of lightning rarely strikes in the same place twice, and the commercial success and national attention that Pills ‘n’ Thrills brought to its creators went to their heads, with the non-stop partying and industrial quantities of drugs they consumed draining their creativity and inspiration. With Shaun Ryder and his bassist brother Paul in the grip of heroin addiction, the choice was made to decamp to Barbados, at ruinous expense to Factory’s finances, to record their next album at Eddy Grant’s studio with Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth. The Caribbean island had no heroin, but plenty of crack cocaine, and the band ended up selling the studio’s furniture. Yes Please! took over two years to arrive and, when it did, it was a complete turkey, full of lumpen arrangements and flat song ideas. The band disintegrated slowly throughout 1993, with members departing in quick succession, and Happy Mondays was no more. Shaun Ryder formed the funk-influenced Black Grape in the mid ‘90s, enjoying a Mercury nomination for their 1995 debut It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah, before a brief Mondays reunion was attempted and abandoned in 2000. A new line-up did, however, come together to record Unkle Dysfunktional in 2007, and in 2012 the full original line-up reunited to announce some new material, and has been playing Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches on tour throughout 2015 in celebration of its 25th anniversary.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Manic Street Preachers ‎Gold Against The Soul Japan Reissue

Manic Street Preachers Gold Against The Soul

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Most bands, whether they admit to it or not, have certain aims when they first start out, both long and short term. These tend to fall into two categories; critical acclaim - the more credible route - and commercial success. When Welsh quartet Manic Street Preachers were finding their feet, the focus was very much on the latter, with the band stating that they would like their debut, Generation Terrorists to outsell Guns ‘N Roses multi-platinum Appetite For Destruction, leading to a three-night residence at Wembley Stadium before disbanding – going out in a blaze of glory. However, things didn’t exactly go according to plan. The album, despite spawning six singles and receiving much promotion, failed to make a telling impact on the mainstream. It certainly wasn’t a bad record – it just fell at the worst time possible, a time when stripped back, grungy music was taking over from the glam image and sound that the band portrayed. Maybe it was a sense of dissapointment that prompted the band to carry on, but one thing’s for certain, they’ve never looked back since. Immediately after this relative failure, however, the band (or more accurately, their record company) concentrated more on breaking into the American market, their second full length, Gold Against The Soul representing this effort. Since its release, the band have somewhat criticised their (or their record companies) motives while making the album, and have gone as far as to call it their weakest work. But while the big rock sounds and chart friendly vibes that are so popular in the USA are there for all to hear, this album still represents a strong body of work when judged both within and without context. The albums production is the most obvious sign of its aims, and indeed the shiny, polished sound suits the band quite a lot. James Dean Bradfield’s voice certainly shines more than on the previous record, while the quartet as a unit sound far tighter, with each respective instrument on offer making important and very audible contributions. The songwriting was also altered slightly to accommodate for this new target audience, with Richey Edwards’ and Nicky Wire’s lyrics becoming far less politically charged, and many of the songs keeping to simpler, more accessible structures than previously. From that description, it may sound like the band had lost the edge that made it so intriguing in the first place. This, however, is not the case, a point which is proven as early as around ten seconds into the fantastic opening track, Sleepflower. After a brief intro, the band bursts into a furious riff, which displays both their improvement as a unit and the benefits of the big production given to it. More to the point, it’s easy to understand why this has become a real favourite among the band’s more committed fans, as it is a truly fantastic song, and a brilliant start to the record. Symphony Of Tourette is a song with similar qualities, being mostly based around a dirty Guns N Roses-esque riff, which alone sounds far edgier and more energetic than anything from their debut. It’s not just the all-out rockers that benefit from the new approach, however, as many of the album's slower moments also stack among its highlights. Roses In The Hospital is an entirely melody based glam moment, complete with heavily overdubbed vocals, a big chorus and stadium ready drums. Yes, it sounds a little over the top and cheesy, but with such a strong melody these traits can surely be forgiven. Far more understated is La Tristesse Durera, a true anthem that features one of Nicky Wire’s greatest basslines and remains one of the bands best ever songs. Not everything can live up to the terrific standards set by such highlights; Yourself, for instance, never truly delivers on it’s dark early potential, and Drug Drug Druggy takes the band glam influences a little too far, but overall, this record, quality-wise is a success, and an improvement on its predecessor. It didn’t receive huge acclaim, but it sold respectively (though not even close to their ambitions) and was a hit among the band's existing fanbase. They would go on to far greater critical acclaim (The Holy Bible) as well as commercial success (Everything Must Go, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours), but ultimately, Gold Against The Soul is an excellent album which more than deserves to be held in the same regards as their more popular works. The band themselves may not like it, but from the perspective of this fan at least, it is their most underrated, and quite possibly strongest body of work.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Various ‎There And Back Again Lane

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Sarah Records last hurrah and ultimate swansong, a compilation of 21 singles from various label artists – stands as an immensely important, immensely influential piece of work. Listening to it now, you’re amazed by its sheer prescience. Tastes in alt-rock may have changed considerably in the twenty years since, with many opting for warped laptop-pop soul and nostalgia-tinted psych these days, but something like Brooklyn label Captured Tracks owes its entire career to the success and influence of Sarah. By and large, the music is as bracing as the punk explosion about a decade earlier. In fact, the Sarah bands weren’t nearly as twee as you might have been led to believe. “I don’t have to be cute,” rails Heavenly’s Amelia Fletcher on Atta Girl, which might have disappointed listeners under the impression all the women affiliated with Sarah were adorable, bob-haired ingénues. “Can’t you concentrate on something other than me?” she protests; by the end of it, Fletcher is triumphantly yelling “Fuck you, no way.” The music behind it all is equally potent, a storming barrage of rollicking intensity, something like riot-grrrl’s British cousin. The lyrics on Blueboy’s impossibly beautiful The Joy of Living do their share in betraying the myth that the Sarah artists were anodyne romantics. It’s hard to say for certain but they appear to depict an awkward one-nighter: “We find a room, a chance to explore the things we both need”; “How did I get in this mess?”; “It’s not love, but I’m not choosy”; “Getting drunk with the public who think they know me but very few really do”; “I’ll never fall in love”; “I just want to kiss you in new places”. The rest of the song is magical, graced with the strains of a lone cello and a sparkling chorus. If you were still in any doubt that the Sarah bands were all anorak-wearing naïfs, there’s even a song entitled She Sleeps Around, the piano ballad from Sarah stalwart Harvey Williams. Sometimes, there are one or two moments when you might find yourself agreeing with the detractors. There are points on There and Back Again Lane  the songwriting here simply shines: formed from the ashes of the Field Mice, Northern Picture Library – another Sarah band with a twee, dubious moniker – are represented here by the lush Paris, boasting a gorgeous melody swept along by the sweetest of harmonies and a snaking bassline that shifts and ambles along to its own groove; it is perhaps the best tune on the entire compilation. Boyracer’s He Gets Me So Hard is a blast of provincial English grunge-punk that serves as a reminder that not all Sarah bands were aloof wallflowers. At its best, There and Back Again Lane offers a stunning display of wilfully idiosyncratic bands, fiercer than previously suggested. The Field Mice’s Sensitive rattles along with a distinct flavour of New Order albeit shrouded behind a curtain of fuzz not far off from twee shoegazers. Secret Shine’s Temporal sounds like it was recorded in a wind tunnel, its four minutes punctuated by crashing guitars and gushes of reverb-drenched ambience. Elsewhere, the album shows that Sarah could produce the odd curveball. Even As We Speak’s Drown is an unusual thump that knits together the flanging, raging guitar assault of harsher Sarah fare with weird wah-wah riffs, St. Christopher’s excellent, shimmering All Of a Tremble, an ebullient tune draped in the trappings of dreamy echo and tremolo guitars; the guitar solo on the Sea Urchins’ Pristine Christine could’ve been played on a Rickenbacker wafting into the Byrds’ Mr. Tambourine Man. There and Back Again Lane won’t get a commemorative twentieth anniversary release – that undoes the ethos of Sarah and their staunch belief in not ripping people off by selling them back something they may already have on a different format – even if it deserves to, but that unwillingness to concede to the capitalist practices of major labels shows the extent of Sarah’s integrity. And that’s the thing that’s usually forgotten when ink is spilt about Sarah. The greatest shame of all is that the hackneyed narrative tethered to the legacy of Sarah Records obscures the music the label produced. Thankfully, their musical legacy is sure to stand the test of time.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Prince Buster ‎FABulous Greatest Hits

Prince Buster FABulous Greatest Hits

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The mighty Prince Buster shot his way into the U.K. chart for the first time with "Al Capone" in 1967, and it would take 21 years to follow up that success, when a recut of his rude reggae fave "Whine & Grine" finally pushed the Jamaican legend back into the Top 50 in 1988. Obviously, this paltry chart showing in no way mirrored the true impact that the Prince had on the island, but does accurately reflect the prejudice that Jamaican artists and their records faced, a criminal negligence ensuring that their singles went unspun on radio and uncounted at specialty shops. Regardless, Jamaican music continued to spread, slowly seeping out of England's West Indian immigrant communities and into the British mainstream. Buster's Fabulous Greatest Hits collection arrived in the wake of "Al Capone"'s chart massacre, a phenomenal showcase of the Prince's oeuvre. The album's phenomenal influence can be easily judged by the songs covered within. "Madness" gave a group of East End nutty boys their moniker and the flip of their first single. The checkerboard heroes paid tribute to Buster himself on "The Prince," of course, wherein they name-checked two more songs found on this set -- "Earthquake" and "Ghost Dance." Up in Coventry, "Al Capone" would inspire the Specials' own debut single, "Gangsters." "Too Hot" fired up the group's live set, as did "Rough Rider" for the Beat. But long before 2 Tone brought Buster back into fashion, the draconian "Judge Dread" gave a brawny British bouncer a new name, while "Big Five" provided the impetus to record a retort, 1972's "Big Six," the first of ten hits the English magistrate would send down into the U.K. Top 50. Nearly 25 years later and an ocean away, "Hard Man fe Dead" would title an album by the Toasters, an American band fronted by an English expat as indebted to the Prince as to 2 Tone. Seminal ska, ferocious instrumentals, musical slap-downs, haunting rocksteady, rude reggae, political commentary, and even the odd romance, Fabulous Greatest Hits had it all and then some. No wonder its songs are still shaking up the music scene to this day. In its own time, the set defined Jamaican music for most white Britons -- and to a large extent, it still does.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Various ‎C86 Deluxe Edition

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The NME had released 22 promotional cassettes in the years leading up to 1986; the tape they released that year eclipsed what came before, and helped to define a sound and an era in British pop. The C86 cassette featured 22 bands ranging from the candied drug pop of Primal Scream with their classic "Velocity Girl" to the damaged art pop of Stump, the clattering noise of Big Flame, and the jangling indie pop that made up the majority of the tape (the Bodines, the Servants, the Soup Dragons). Even though the tape is quite diverse, this last sound is what people think of when they reference the C-86 style for better or for worse. The original tape is a thrilling, often transcendent (as on the Pastels' "Breaking Lines" or the Wedding Present's "This Boy Can Wait [A Little Longer!]") look at a very interesting moment in the U.K. pop timeline. Cherry Red's reissue adds two discs' worth of additional material to the original tape, sticking to the idea of showcasing a variety of sounds and styles. There is plenty of off-kilter noise and weirdo pop to go along with the tuneful jangle and wistful melancholy. The two discs add many familiar suspects from the era who weren't on the tape, such as the Primitives, the Weather Prophets, Razorcuts, Talulah Gosh, the Membranes, and the Jesus and Mary Chain. Picking less obvious songs from them, like JAMC's "Inside Me" and the Primitives' "Lazy," was a good move, as was digging deep to find bands that were second string at the time, but have stood the test of time quite well. Any comp that showcases tracks by bands like the Dentists, Jesse Garon & the Desperadoes, St. Christopher, the Claim, the Chesterf!elds, and Biff Bang Pow! is a comp worth checking out if you're interested in indie pop even a little bit, and the selections are uniformly excellent. It's also nice that the set includes a large number of tracks by bands that were beyond obscure at the time and are completely forgotten now. Hearing them, it's easy to see why they were below the radar, since their contributions pale next to the better-known groups. Still, many of them are interesting finds; Kilgore Trout's "The Peacock Nose" is a bracing slap of aggro-pop noise, the McTells' "Virginia M.C." sounds like Billy Childish's take on indie pop, North of Cornwallis' "Billy Liar" should have been released by Sarah Records, and the Love Act's bouncy "Hep Clothes" is loads of goofy fun. The original C86 tape was an unquestionable classic and worthy of purchase all on its own, and while the extra two discs don't quite hit classic status, they add some additional depth and dimension to the original set to help give a clearer, more expansive look at a pretty incredible year.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

The Primitives ‎Buzz Buzz Buzz The Complete Lazy Recordings

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For a band that only managed three studio albums in its five-year career, there have been a surprising number of compilations devoted to the Primitives, largely due to the ageless wonder of the group's still-astonishing 1988 single "Crash," which seems to be revived every four or five years as a new generation of guitar pop fans discovers its breathless charms. However, 2006's Buzz Buzz Buzz: The Complete Lazy Recordings is the first comprehensive anthology collecting all of the Coventry foursome's pre-RCA recordings. Too unapologetically pop-oriented to fit entirely comfortably next to the more shambolic, C86-approved likes of the Flatmates, Shop Assistants, and Talulah Gosh, the Primitives were the first of that wave of female-led, Ramones-influenced naïve pop bands to sign to a major label, in direct opposition to the prevailing D.I.Y. ethos of their time and place. These 1986-1987 recordings, released on their own Lazy Recordings label, are far more in keeping with the sound of fellow U.K. indies like The Subway Organisation and the early days of the Sarah label than the comparatively glossy re-recordings on the major-label albums Pure and Lovely: the drums are flat and thudding, songwriter P.J. Court's single-note guitar solos are largely flattened to blurts of feedbacky noise, and singer Tracy Tracy (aka Tracy Cattell) usually sounds as if her pertly deadpan vocals are coming from either the next room or the bottom of a nearby well. So they're their own kind of indie pop perfection, then; add in that Court was from the get-go a minor genius of a songwriter, with a higher hit-to-miss ratio than any of his contemporaries (even non-single deep tracks like "Don't Want Anything to Change" and "Dreamwalk Baby" leave in the dust anything by, say, Transvision Vamp) and the 15 studio recordings here are flat-out essential for fans of the style. As for the remaining 30 tracks, just over half are BBC sessions from 1986 and 1987, including early versions of "Crash" (notably slower and driven by a surprisingly up-front, Peter Hook-like bass part, and lacking the immortal "na-na-na" chorus), "Stop Killing Me" (friggin' awesome), and the hazily neo-psychedelic "Ocean Blue" (here stripped down and making plain Court's admitted devotion to the "Femme Fatale" side of the Velvet Underground), and the rest is a 1987 gig at London's ICA that's surprisingly worthwhile. One wouldn't expect this, but the Primitives were actually a fairly tight live act, with Tracy's vocals sounding both stronger and less emotionally detached than they often did on the records. Even Primitives fans who have one of the earlier compilations of the group's indie singles will find much of interest here.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Various ‎Dark Side Of The 80's

Various Dark Side Of The 80'S CD1/CD2

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Highlights: Robert Smith's unhinged vocals in 'Lullaby' is one of The Cure's finest moments. Not that accessible on the first listen. but a richly layered song which will reward on repeated playing. The Cult's 'She Sells Sanctuary' benefits from the all time greatest guitar riffs which you will recognise, but probably not have been able to place before listening to this. Killing Joke's 'Love Like Blood' does what it says on the tin, dark and depraved with a creepy and unsettling turn from Jaz Coleman, who was one of the most frightening looking men in music in the eighties. On disc two, Depeche Mode's 'Personal Jesus' is part industrial, part new wave, part pop. It is bleak, stirring and has some wonderful synth work which will sweep over you. A little further down the album, out of place totally is 'There She Goes' by The La's. This chirpy little number which seems far too happy to be sitting alongside such dark songs. Maybe they were running out of depressing songs by this point. As the album closes, the jovial and ever reliable Billy Bragg turns in his cheeky 'Sexuality' with some knowing lyrics. Bragg, on fine form, delivers his usual array of socially aware lyrics with the right amount of tongue and cheek.
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