Saturday, 31 March 2018

A Certain Ratio ‎Early

A Certain RatioEarly

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With the Creation reissues of A Certain Ratio's catalog becoming increasingly tough to track down and with the post-punk revival going on around the time of its release, Early arrived right on time. Despite an uneven discography and an inexplicably numerous string of Joy Division comparisons, ACR was an excellent -- if inconsistent -- post-punk band that exemplified a spectacular movement against the old rock guard. In reality, it only seems right to refer to the ACR captured here as a post-punk band for chronology's sake. They came after the punk explosion of 1977, yet they had hardly anything in common with that movement. At their best, they used rock instrumentation to sound little like a rock band, laying a combination of disco, funk, and Latin percussion as the foundation of their sound. They hardly took a cue from punk, evidenced as early on as their second single, a cover of Banbarra's "Shack Up." Early, an assemblage of key moments and rarities that ends with 1985, is one of those compilations that makes no overt commitment to the fanatic or the curious -- an issue that's probably exacerbated by the inclusion of five Peel Session selections. As a result, four songs are presented in two versions, eating up space that could have been taken up by other highlights. The only case where this overlap can be excused is "All Night Party," their first single; the studio version is a drumless din of Mancunian miserableness, while the Peel Session version is given the death disco treatment with drums from Donald Johnson, who wasn't on board at the time of the song's original recording. It would be a bit of a cop-out on the part of the Soul Jazz label to view the second disc -- the one with the B-sides, rarities, and Peel Session material -- merely as the icing on the cake, the bonus. Though Early goes for the price of a single disc, the space provided could have been used a bit better. The discs are far from maxed-out content-wise, and there are a handful of damnable exclusions. However, this bizarre restraint might have more to do with the future of the ACR catalog than a few boneheaded decisions. All things considered, there is no shortage of great material here, and the packaging is phenomenal. A short film documenting the band's first trip to New York City is also included.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Felt Stains On A Decade

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The wry, confrontational, occasionally morbid and meticulously arranged Stains on a Decade collects 15 of Felt's most immediate singles from both their Creation and Cherry Red releases. The perpetually below the radar post-punk/jangle pop pioneers were unashamed to wear their eccentricities on their sleeves, a notion that permeates each and every cut on this long overdue compilation. From the thin and chilly landscapes of their 1982 debut Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty to the melodic, evocative and intimate Me and a Monkey on the Moon, Felt always managed take the road you didn't even know existed, a tactic that fuses each one of these tracks together, despite the ten-year span in which they were created.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Teenage Fanclub ‎Thirteen

Teenage FanclubThirteen

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Unjustly savaged by fans and critics alike upon its initial release, with the benefit of hindsight Thirteen has revealed itself an eminently worthy follow-up to the classic Bandwagonesque; though not as consistent or refreshing as its predecessor, the album takes simultaneous steps backward and forward, retreating to a darker, sludgier guitar sound reminiscent of their debut effort A Catholic Education even as it blossoms to incorporate lilting string arrangements and glowing harmony vocals. Despite taking its title from Big Star's most gentle and optimistic moment, the record not only expands its horizons far beyond Alex Chilton-inspired pop but also maintains an emotional tenor that's largely bitter and disillusioned -- titles like "Song to the Cynic," "120 Mins," and, especially, "Commercial Alternative" reflect the band's disenchantment with both its former flavor-of-the-month status and the growing creative malaise rampant throughout the alt-rock community (then at its commercial zenith). Although Gerard Love and Raymond McGinley make memorable contributions, Thirteen is first and foremost a showcase for the peerless pop genius of Norman Blake -- the should-have-been hits "Norman 3" and "Ret Liv Dead" boast a crunchy, lumbering sound heavily indebted to Neil Young's records with Crazy Horse, while the soaring "Commercial Alternative" evokes vintage Byrds, a reference point further driven home by the epic closer "Gene Clark." [Original pressings of Thirteen included no fewer than six unlisted bonus cuts assembled from British singles -- the material is consistently excellent, highlighted by the McGinley original "Golden Glades" as well as reverent covers of Phil Ochs' "Chords of Fame" and the Flying Burrito Brothers' "Older Guys."]

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Supergrass ‎Supergrass Is 10 The Best Of 94-04

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Since they had a lower profile than their peers and came across as a bunch of mates instead of serious musicians, Supergrass tended to be the most overlooked of all the major Britpop bands. They never defined the culture like Oasis or Blur, never had a following of serious-minded, clever misfits like Pulp, they weren't as sexy as Elastica, and they surely lacked the grandiose, doomed romanticism of Suede. What they were, though, was a bloody brilliant pop band. Their 1995 debut, I Should Coco, kicked harder than any record that year, and it had a bigger stylistic sprawl than any album this side of The Great Escape, which it trumped with a deliriously infectious enthusiasm -- and it was all the more impressive when the fact that Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey were still in their teens when the cut the album. They matured at a rapid rate, refining their musicality with each of their next three records, but they never had center stage again like they did with I Should Coco. As they worked outside of the spotlight, they developed into a remarkably consistent singles band, as the generous 21 track 2004 collection Supergrass Is 10: The Best of 94-04 proves. Even their muddled eponymous third album sounds brilliant when distilled to the sweetly gorgeous "Moving" and the ridiculously intoxicating "Pumping on Your Stereo." These tunes are thrown together in a nonchronological order that contains all the A-sides apart from the U.S. radio single "Cheapskate" and the movie soundtrack selection "We Still Need More (Than Anyone Can Give)." Instead of being infuriating, this nonchronological sequencing reveals just how consistent Supergrass had been over the decade, since it forces the listener to concentrate on each individual song. Like Green Day's hits compilation International Superhits!, Supergrass Is 10 is a revelation for anybody who hasn't been paying attention, since it showcases a band that is one of best, most satisfying guitar pop groups of the last 15 years. If you haven't checked them out before, you need to get this immediately.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

My Bloody Valentine ‎Loveless

My Bloody ValentineLoveless

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Isn't Anything was good enough to inspire an entire scene of My Bloody Valentine soundalikes, but Loveless' greatness proved that the band was inimitable. After two painstaking years in the studio and nearly bankrupting their label Creation in the process, the group emerged with their masterpiece, which fulfilled all of the promise of their previous albums. If Isn't Anything was the Valentines' sonic blueprint, then Loveless saw those plans fleshed out, in the most literal sense: "Loomer," "What You Want," and "To Here Knows When"'s arrangements are so lush, they're practically tangible. With its voluptuous yet ethereal melodies and arrangements, Loveless intimates sensuality and sexuality instead of stating them explicitly; Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher's vocals meld perfectly with the trippy sonics around them, suggesting druggy sex or sexy drugs. From the commanding "Only Shallow" and "Come in Alone" to breathy reflections like "Sometimes" and "Blown a Wish," the album balances complexity and immediately memorable pop melodies with remarkable self-assurance, given its difficult creation. But Loveless doesn't just perfect the group's approach, it also hints at their continuing growth: "Soon" fuses the Valentines' roaring guitars with a dance-inspired beat, while the symphonic interlude "Touched" suggests an updated take on Fripp and Eno's pioneering guitar/electronics experiments. These glimpses into the band's evolution make Shields' difficulty in delivering a follow-up to Loveless even more frustrating, but completely understandable -- the album's perfection sounded shoegazing's death-knell and raised expectations for the next My Bloody Valentine album to unreasonably high levels. Though Shields' collaborations with Yo La Tengo, Primal Scream, J Mascis, and others were often rewarding, they were no match for Loveless. However, as My Bloody Valentine fans -- and, apparently, Shields himself -- will attest, nothing is.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

A House ‎The Way We Were: The Best Of A House 04.85-02.97

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Irish rock history is littered with hard luck stories, of bands who really should have made it but were denied by a philistine music industry and the cruel hand of fate. Most of the time it's self-pitying nonsense - but in the case of A House it actually happens to be true. Dave Couse and co. really did have it all, grace, style and a talent for sparky guitar pop that showed up most of their contemporaries as the bunch of chancers they were. Now, comes this beautifully packaged retrospective - and happily, it's the perfect way to remember them. Released on the back of the adoption of 'Here Come The Good Times' as the official Irish World Cup song, its 19 tracks represent a neat summary of the band's entire career, with a bonus disc of rarities thrown in to keep diehard fans happy. Like the Irish team itself, it's hard not to dream about what might have been instead of celebrating what was actually achieved. But every underdog has its day - and this is undoubtedly theirs.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Associates Popera The Singles Collection

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While it would be more accurate to call it "The '80s Singles Collection," given the continuing Associates and Billy Mackenzie story through much of the '90s, Popera does contain the major hits of the band's curious and wonderful career, along with many should-have-been chart toppers and some fine early obscurities. The result is the best single disc to start with for newcomers, though more hardcore fans will likely miss many of the fascinating tangents and album tracks that could not be included. That minor gripe aside, though, Popera lives up to its punnish name in spades. The first four tracks are unsurprisingly the big early-'80s U.K. hits, as much controversial landmarks on the charts and via live TV performances as Soft Cell's similarly genre-busting smashes. "Partyfearstwo," elegant, romantic, and the biggest single of them all, "Club Country" and its barbed nightlife paranoia, the sparkling "18 Carat Love Affair," and the remake of Diana Ross' disco hit "Love Hangover" each burst forth with a unique energy and life. The tracks that follow never achieved those chart heights but came close at points, while artistically each was its own lovely universe, ranging from the cabaret morning blues of "Breakfast" and the sweet "Take Me to the Girl" to the giddy "Waiting for the Love Boat," included in two versions. The remake of Blondie's "Heart of Glass" is a touch perfunctory, but Mackenzie's swooning vocals as always save the day. Oddly, the earliest songs appear at the end, five independently released singles that serve to underscore the Associates' uniqueness in post-punk days, scratchy and dark guitar slamming up against bizarre melodies and keyboards. Through it all and all the lineup changes, Mackenzie's soaring, theatrical voice rings out like the unique gift it was, one of the most underrated instruments in modern pop of any stripe.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Pet Shop Boys ‎Behaviour / Further Listening 1990–1991

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Behaviour is arguably Pet Shop Boys' best album -- rivaled by the one that followed it, Very -- so it's appropriate that it's paired with the best "further listening" component available in the reissue series. This is certainly a byproduct of the duo's high creativity between 1990-1991, but it's also a smartly selected, sharply assembled album in its own merit, containing several of the group's very best non-LP songs -- "It Must Be Obvious," "Miserablism," "Bet She's Not Your Girlfriend," and the anthemic "DJ Culture" -- which are sequenced between many fine extended mixes, including one of "Where the Streets Have No Name"/"I Can't Take My Eyes Off You." Several of these mixes are for songs not on the album as well ("We All Feel Better in the Dark," "Was It Worth It?," and "Music for Boys"), which give the record additional value, since these are different versions than those on Alternative. But even if you have that record, the richness and very flow of this installment of "further listening" makes this expanded edition perhaps the most essential of all the 2001 PSB reissues.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

The Bees Sunshine Hit Me

The Bees Sunshine Hit Me

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This album was The Bees first album, and was released in 2002. Two close friends, Paul Butler and Aaron Fletcher performed and produced the album in their shed full of home recording equipment somewhere on the Isle Of Wight... The album is generally laid back and chilled, but definatly manages to grab your attention. Each track flows well into the next and the whole album has a brilliant summery vibe to it. After first listening to the whole thing the whole way through it made me want to get down the beach, lie in the sun and listen to it all day. It really does make you feel good, a good album to play when you get up and can see the sun shining through your curtains. One thing the bees like to include in their music is strange percussion. They use things like cowbells often but if you listen to the background in songs you will hear tons of odd sounds, some of which sound like pots and pans and someone tapping along on a kitchen sink. The whole record is a blend of styles. These include pop, jazz, funk, reggae, folk, indie etc. They draw ideas from everything while still managing to keep it original sounding. The music also sounds very relaxed and honest and is catchy and lively. In most of the songs on the album there is always a lot of layers and different melodies however they still manage to create space for the record to breathe. The production of the album does have an old 60s vibe to it which definatly aids the music because it does sound very 60s in some places. Think beach-boys and the beatles stylee. This record even includes a cover; A Minha Menina(originally by Os Mutantes, a brazilian band from the 60s).Overall, Sunshine Hit Me is a brilliant slice of pop waiting to be discovered. Its not just another easy listening album as it may seem, this record grabs your attention from start to finish and will keep you mesmerized many plays later.
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