The three-disc, one-DVD mini-box set Oscillons From the Anti-Sun is not part of Stereolab's ongoing Switched On series, which rounds up the stray singles, EPs, and B-sides, but it's easy to see how the casual observer might think it's the fourth installment in the series. Instead, this 35-track box set contains material previously released on British and European CD singles and EPs between 1993 and 2000. Oscillons is not limited to featuring only the B-sides: such familiar A-sides as "Jenny Ondioline," "The Noise of Carpet," "Ping Pong," and "Cybele's Reverie" are here next to such non-LP cuts as "Fluorescences," as well as a host of B-sides, some of which were featured on the 1998 Switched On comp,The three discs jump around from EP to single, from year to year, without regard to the band's ever-shifting lineups. Despite this, the sequencing of the music flows well, and it's an entertaining listen since this indeed covers the group's peak years. Nevertheless, it's hard to imagine that any fan who followed Stereolab with any regularity not having the great majority of this material, which surely is why the DVD was included with this set. It's a nice DVD, containing all of the promo videos from the mid- to late '90s -- "Jenny Ondioline" through "The Free Design" -- along with U.K. TV performances from the group's appearances on The Word and Later With Jools Holland. This DVD may be enough for serious fans to consider purchasing this set and getting rid of the original singles (even if the original artwork is nowhere to be found in this set, outside of a set of stickers included with the first pressing of the set; of course, there are no liner notes to speak of in the set at all). Of course, replacing singles with box sets runs contrary to the nature of Stereolab and their fans, who are positively enamored with rare pieces of vinyl and limited-edition CDs, but this is still a good way to get all of the music on those singles and EPs
Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Saturday, 27 August 2016
Debut albums don't come much more auspicious. Placebo's eponymous opener has all the hallmarks of a band destined for stardom - a style that successfully crosses the post-punk, indie and grunge genres, intelligent writing and one of the most marketable and enigmatic singers of his generation. And whilst the Placebo sound isn't yet fully developed, there is plenty for the listener to marvel at, as the androgynous Molko quickly hooks you into his own particular brand of tortured and twisted melancholy. Teenage Angst, 36 Degrees, Nancy Boy and Bruise Pristine were all destined to become singles and whilst the other tracks are not as punchy, they are equally deserved of a place here and give early notice of the band's impressive repertoire and range of ambition
Wednesday, 24 August 2016
The Flaming Lips At War With The Mystics
One of the few musical acts whose members continue to push the boundaries of their music thirty years into their band's tenure, the Flaming Lips have only started to realize the level of their rock stardom. The Lips' popularity has grown since 2002's Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, and their '02 tour opening for Beck and acting as his supporting band introduced them to a whole new audience that would've completely missed the depth of 1999's The Soft Bulletin (every hipster's favorite Lips album) and their previous releases. With so many more ears eagerly awaiting a taste of At War With the Mystics, Wayne Coyne, Michael Ivins and Steven Drozd know they probably could fart on record and still get hundreds to line up to hear it. Instead, they put out another solid album that represents their unadulterated ingenuity and continued pursuit of sonic experimentation. Sure, the production on At War With the Mystics isn't anything overly complex, but its attention to catchy funk rhythms ("The W.A.N.D.") and tweaked sounds ("Free Radicals") keeps each song fresh and interesting. The album's biggest fault is in its song order. It opens with two energetic and catchy songs ("The Year Yeah Yeah Song" and "Free Radicals") before going into nearly twenty minutes of mellow psychedelics on the next three songs. But like most Flaming Lips albums, At War With the Mystics takes a little time to truly appreciate and is probably best suited for headphones listens. Sonically, the album picks up exactly where the Lips left off with Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots: heavy on the pop psychedelics, occasionally odd without being inaccessible. Lyrically, it's the same game, too. Coyne pulls out all the stops with almost forcefully ironic lyrics ("Yeah Yeah Yeah Song") juxtaposed against stories of life and death ("Mr. Ambulance Driver"). With their more recent popularity, many have shoved the Flaming Lips aside as musicians willing to do anything for success. But the band continues to prove that it's more worthy than most at the top of the ladder. The Flaming Lips' music has been licensed everywhere from commercials to shows such as Charmed or Smallville, and that excessive commercialism has left a bad taste in the mouths of many. But this band isn't new to the world of cashing in; remember the Lips' appearance in '94 on Beverly Hills 90210? And when separated from all that baggage, this is a solid collection of musicians striving to make great music, and At War With the Mystics is a worthwhile token of their talents.
Saturday, 20 August 2016
LCD Soundsystem Sound Of Sliver
During the recording of Sound of Silver, LCD Soundsystem‘s sophomore full-length, James Murphy supposedly draped the studio in tinfoil and silver fabric, to keep him focused on making the album sound “silver.” Now, for anyone other than Murphy, himself, understanding how, exactly, that sounds might prove difficult. To want to make it louder, faster, even bigger, these are easy to understand concepts in music, but once you start using metallic hues as a benchmark, that’s when it gets a little abstract. That is, until you hear the album, and it all begins to make sense. Having noted that LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled first album was more of a “beige,” Murphy has given Sound of Silver a glimmering, reflective quality. It’s streamlined, polished and pristine. Where the first album’s cover depicted a grainy, obscured mirror ball, this is that same disco orb and gleaming in all its glory. Much as its namesake has the highest electrical and thermal conductivity of any metal, Sound of Silver is, likewise, hot. Brilliantly burning, flickering, dancing, sweaty and seductively hot. Just as LCD’s debut wowed with a fresh, human and mega fun dance sound, Silver takes it great strides forward. The general sound is familiar, but with a stronger focus and a more coherent vision—apparently that tinfoil did the trick. First single “North American Scum” rocks like “Daft Punk is Playing At My House,” but with a recurrent shout-along refrain, a bossa nova intro, and a humorous take on being American and outsider views on us Yanks (“you see I love this place that I have grown to know…and yeah, I know you wouldn’t touch us with a ten foot pole“). Similarly, “Watch the Tapes” is a shorter, dancepunk jam that breaks up some of the longer material with LCD in high-octane rock mode. From here, silver only gleams brighter. Opening track “Get Innocuous” sets a steady disco strut, a repetitive Kraftwerk-inspired bassline throbbing at its core while Murphy affects his best Bowie. It builds and it builds, synth layering on top of synth, club banger morphing into epic. Only LCD Soundsystem can bridge the gap between mesmerizing pop songwriting and hypnotic danceability so well. Murphy pulls a similar trick on the comparatively brief “Time to Get Away,” which crafts genius from one note basslines and funky clavinet riffs, recalling Talking Heads at their most groove-heavy peak. “Us v. Them” goes Spring Break wild and overdoses on cowbell. But there’s no such thing as too much cowbell, so this sweaty, sexy jam just exudes that much more energy, beaming from its silvery core with the climactic refrain “block, block out the sun/ over me, over me.” The title track declares “Sound of Silver talks to you/ makes you want to feel like a teenager/ until you remember the feelings of/ a real, live emotional teenager/ then you think again,” which is a claim that seems to reflect that of the album itself. Its energy is enough to make you feel 17 again, but way too sophisticated to ever resemble that awkward, blemished goof you once were. And the album’s two best songs, “Someone Great” and “All My Friends,” are in fact LCD Soundsystem’s most grown up as well. The former, borrowing a groove from last year’s 45:33 single/mini-album, copes with a sort of loss through minor details adding up a greater, emotional blow (“nothing can prepare you for it/the voice, on the other end“). Coupled with the most gorgeous melody on the album, it’s a captivatingly cathartic release. Yet “All My Friends” achieves a similar feat through nostalgia, a krautrock-inspired piano pounding laying the foundation for Murphy’s bittersweet ruminations on youth, his wisdom imparting the conclusion “I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision/ for another five years of life.” “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down” closes the album, a piano-based ballad with a fair dose of guitar flash, sounding something like Murphy’s own “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.” An endearing and lovable ’70s inspired denouement, it’s more of a brown than a silver, but it’s the album’s rare exception. Given that Murphy’s objective was to sound like the reflective material that surrounded him, he succeeded; it’s an invigorating, brilliant and warm record. And, you know, silvery.
Wednesday, 17 August 2016
Julian Cope The Followers Of Saint Julian
The cleverly titled Followers is a boon for hardcore Cope fanatics, collecting a wide range of B-sides, rarities, and random tracks from his early Island Records days. Nearly everything has something to do with the Saint Julian album and the accompanying tours, thus its title. While more casual Cope followers won't need it, those especially interested in Cope's completely gone side of his music will consider this manna. In contrast to the sometimes too clean parts of Saint Julian itself, Cope here goes all out in several different directions at once, foreshadowing the wide range of approaches that would define his work in the '90s. Opening cut "Transporting," a "World Shut Your Mouth" B-side, is as chaotic as one could hope for, with squalling noises, a completely weird mix that keeps changing, and general production goofiness abounding. "Transporting" reappears in another version later, with a variety of interview snippets scattered throughout the mix -- there are a couple of wonderfully awkward moments preserved. The calmer demo tracks "Mock Turtle" and the weirdly stentorian "Warwick the Kingmaker" show him in gently ruminative mode, creating winsome music without sounding overly precious. Another demo-level track, or so it sounds -- "Almost Beautiful Child (I & II)" -- has him flexing instrumental muscles with a piano-led number accompanied by the odd moan or two. A few remixes surface on Followers -- while some are fairly anonymous, "World Shut Your Mouth" gets a work-over courtesy of D.C. go-go legends Trouble Funk. They leave a fair chunk of the song exactly as is, but have some fun stripping things down to bass and drums here and there. Two covers -- solid run-throughs of the 13th Floor Elevators' "Levitation" and Pere Ubu's "Non-Alignment Pact" -- and good live versions of Saint Julian's "Pulsar" and "Shot Down" help to fill out the corners.
Saturday, 13 August 2016
Sugar Copper Blue
You reap what you sow!!! You reap what you sow!!! You reap what you sow!!! I imagine Bob Mould had this inspirational line screaming in his head during moments of discouragement. Mould is, of course, the musical icon who was a member of Husker Du and Sugar as well as author of many solo endeavors. You reap what you sow!!! Having disbanded Husker Du in the late 80s Bob had already left a significant musical impact alongside fellow bands like the Minutemen and Replacements who had created a new musical scene that was forging its own identity and connecting with a different audience. However that popularity hadn’t turned into much coin and after the tumultuous break up of the Du, Bob had to be wondering if or when he would ever see the fruits of his labor. As the pulse of culture is ever changing it wasn’t long until the early 90s rolled around and the sound that Mould had helped pioneer had taken over the radio. So after recruiting a rhythm section Bob formed the band Sugar and released the most successful album of his career and finally received the recognition and success he had been working for. Even receiving NME’s ‘album of the year’ for 1992. Sugar sounds like a fine tuned Husker Du. Bob keeps the punk attitude but updates the rest. The production is now phenomenal, songs have more structure and the tones have changed. Mould might be punk at heart but he admits after hearing Loveless by MBV he recognized the need to expand his sound and to incorporate more majestic playing into his music. As a result Copper Blue is filled with solid anthem after anthem. No one would accuse this album as being as groundbreaking as Mould’s previous work but it is almost as gratifying an experience. Musically most of this is not very complex. The drumming however is incredible. I love that even in the studio you can tell how hard the drummer is smashing the drum heads. Furthermore he is constantly changing beats and patterns to drive the music perfectly. The bass playing on the record is almost too simple in a Pixies sort of way, especially on the track A Good Idea. Side note; is that a bong hit in the background at the start of the song? As usual Bob’s guitar playing is simple yet powerful and his husky vocals honestly carry the whole album. There’s a general positive vibe contained in this record that was a surprising change of pace for its creator. Lyrics often deal with uncertainty but embrace contentment and aspiration. Especially tracks like Hoover Dam which also features a rare keyboard cameo. Nonetheless songs like The Slim, where Mould sings as if out of breath, deal with the growing epidemic and effects of HIV and give this record an edge to keep it interesting. 3rd single Change Your Mind is the only time this record steps too far away from its punk origin and suffers for it. Yet unsurprisingly its catchiness and repetition made it perfect for radio play meaning the track is largely responsible for the album selling so many copies. These days its not all glamorous living for Mould. He does more that just guest spot on Foo Fighters records and swim in cash from his Daily Show theme song royalties. Bob still puts out fantastic solo releases from time to time and tours with a career spanning setlist. He freely admits Copper Blue is his favorite achievement and it set him up for success yet he is still constantly working hard on new projects. The reason for his relentless drive seems so apparent. You reap what you sow!!!
Wednesday, 10 August 2016
The Sundays Reading, Writing And Arithmetic
Nearly 26 years ago, with Madchester at the height of its popular appeal, a band about as far removed from The Happy Mondays as it was possible to be briefly rivalled Bez, Shaun and friends as the new darlings of the independent music scene. With the release of their debut album Reading, Writing And Arithmetic, The Sundays received a flurry of euphoric reviews comparing the London quartet to The Smiths, and it's fair to say that David Gavurin builds his songs around the same peculiarly British melancholy yet achingly pretty guitar jangle immortalised by Johnny Marr. But the most distinctive ingredient about the Sundays was always Harriet Wheeler's voice, which positions the group as a kind of missing link between the ethereal soundscapes of the Cocteau Twins and the more chart-friendly indie-pop of The Cranberries. Like Liz Fraser and Dolores O'Riordan, Wheeler's vocals transfer effortlessly from a fragile whisper to a passionate shriek, taking often simple melodies and leading them on a merry dance across her whole impressive range. The two best known tracks on Reading, Writing And Arithmetic are the singles Can't Be Sure and Here's Where The Story Ends, and two decades later these remain the best examples of The Sundays' appeal with their instant, breezy hooks and delicate, shuffling rhythms. The rest of the album is a little less immediate, but gradually tracks like Hideous Towns and I Kicked A Boy work their way insidiously inside your head, with Wheeler's angelic, almost hypnotic voice leading the charm offensive. The Sundays never again recaptured the heights of their debut record, fading slowly into obscurity as the world they inhabited gave way to the brash, confident swagger of Britpop. While Reading, Writing And Arithmetic is perhaps a little too fey and lightweight to warrant true classic status, it is nevertheless a sweet, beguiling piece of work that is utterly of its time, yet still fresh and enjoyable today.
Saturday, 6 August 2016
Cocteau Twins Heaven Or Las Vegas
When an album connects with a listener so flawlessly and personally, it can be quite the challenge for said listener to sum up the album in an objective manner, as in many cases, any attempt at reviewing the record will undoubtedly lead to biased conclusions. Reviews can be personal to an extent though, as much of the aesthetic appeal of music in general equates to the personal tastes and sensibilities of the listener, especially when it comes to a genre that relies so heavily on the atmosphere, texture, and emotion as opposed to technicality or musical virtuosity. Cocteau Twins are, in my humble (and personal) opinion, one of the most underappreciated and unrecognized groups of both the 80’s and the early 90’s. They managed to maintain a gorgeously lush and icy sound throughout the majority of their career and were practically without peer in the genre of dream pop. The impeccable mix of guitars and synths always managed to create an otherworldly and inviting atmosphere, and Elizabeth Fraser’s wonderfully unique, quirky, and downright angelic voice carried the groups sound to astoundingly beautiful heights. This was truly heavenly music, and practically none of their albums displayed this mastery better than Heaven or Las Vegas. The first aspect to address about this album is the incredibly uplifting and comforting vibe that radiates off of each and every track. The general mood here is one of blissed-out fascination and joy, and it can be quite easy to zone out or doze off to many of these songs. Said mood is perpetuated by the intuitive instrumentation. The layers of guitars provide both a glowing rhythmic drive and a beautifully textured accompaniment to the simplistic, yet effective bass line. The percussion is basic and likely programmed in most cases, but this basic nature succeeds in leaving the focus on guitars and vocals unimpeded, as well as holding a steady, and at times, quite groovy beat. Finally, Elizabeth Fraser’s voice serves as arguably the most important aspect of the album, let-alone the sound of Cocteau Twins’ entire catalog. The group would never be elevated to such an artistic height where it not for the fragile, articulate vocalizations of Frazer, and her performance here is arguably her best since Treasure, or even her entire career. Songs certainly vary in intensity and style as well. Tracks such as “Iceblink Luck” and “Fotzepolitic” seem very anthemic and celebratory in nature with the slightly higher emphasis on higher ranged sounds, whereas others songs like “Heaven or Las Vegas” and “Wolf in the Breast” are more relaxed and blissful, in part due to the considerably lower tempo and deeply drawn-out chords. Then there are masterpieces like “Fifty-Fifty Clown” and “Frou-Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires” that basically floor the listener with overwhelmingly dense, melodious progressions and outstanding layered vocals by Fraser, ultimately equating to tear-jerkingly gorgeous songs. The main criticisms against this album generally lean toward a relative lack of complexity or originality, and while these can be sound arguments, they don’t hold much weight with me in this case because of the practically flawless execution and passionate performance. The sound is one that has always clicked with me, all the way since my first listen to “Cherry-Coloured Funk”, and I personally can hardly find any relevant flaws as a result. To me, this album represents a celebration of the personal, individual experience of music as an entity, with nothing but sheer emotion and feeling given the center stage, and when music is this pure and elegant, and evokes such positive emotions upon every listen, any and all doubts of this being a classic to me are erased. This is simply some of the most beautiful music to ever be released in any medium, and I urge all to give this a listen at least once. You may have just as pleasant and personal an experience with this album as I’ve had.
Wednesday, 3 August 2016
Having explored lush, arty electronica on Polydistortion and eclectic pop on This Is Normal, the ever-changing Icelandic collective Gus Gus morph once again on their third album, Attention, stripping their ranks and songs down to the bare minimum. Now a quartet of DJs instead of a nine-piece project spanning actors, filmmakers, designers, and musicians, the group's musical vision is correspondingly more focused, concentrating on spare, simple rhythms; ironically cheesy synths; and sexy vocals. Along with their own Gus Gus Vs. T-World EP, Attention's chilly grooves have roots in old-school house, acid techno and synth pop; in particular, the tinny, mechanical beats; linear synth melodies; and breathy vocals on "Unnecessary" and "Dance You Down" recall the spare, icy sound of early-'80s groups like Bronski Beat. The album's harder edge and simpler arrangements make a good foil to the sexy voice of new member Urdur Hakonardottir (aka DJ Earth); while she's neither as ethereal nor versatile a singer as the group's former diva, Hafdis Huld, Earth sounds right at home with the group's new sound, singing such suggestive lyrics as "David"'s "I still have last night in my body." Daniel Agust, the group's other former vocalist, makes a special guest appearance on "Desire," a smoky, low-key track that mixes the squelchy, organic sound of Polydistortion with Gus Gus' newer, leaner approach. Despite the newfound focus the group displays on this album, nothing on Attention is as immediately accessible or pop-oriented as their previous albums; however, the extended, repetitive rhythms, knob-twiddling, and minimal lyrics on songs such as the title track, "Dance You Down," and "Call of the Wild" mark the album as Gus Gus' most dancefloor-oriented material yet. That doesn't necessarily mean that the group has sacrificed all of their eclecticism -- the fuzzed-out synths and pounding house rhythm of "IIE"; "Detention"'s dreamy synth-scapes; and "Don't Hide What You Feel"'s Latin-inspired percussion certainly show a range of expression within their new style -- but it does feel like the album is a reaction to all the genre-hopping that Gus Gus did in the past. Occasionally, the album's spare, simple approach feels chilly and monotonous, but when it all comes together, as on the percolating, insistent "Your Moves Are Mine," Attention reveals itself as a stylish, strangely romantic collection of club music.