Wednesday, 30 May 2018

R.E.M. ‎New Adventures In Hi-Fi

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Recorded during and immediately following R.E.M.'s disaster-prone Monster tour, New Adventures in Hi-Fi feels like it was recorded on the road. Not only are all of Michael Stipe's lyrics on the album about moving or travel, the sound is ragged and varied, pieced together from tapes recorded at shows, soundtracks, and studios, giving it a loose, careening charm. New Adventures has the same spirit of much of R.E.M.'s IRS records, but don't take the title of New Adventures in Hi-Fi lightly -- R.E.M. tries different textures and new studio tricks. "How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us" opens the album with a rolling, vaguely hip-hop drum beat and slowly adds on jazzily dissonant piano. "E-Bow the Letter" starts out as an updated version of "Country Feedback," then it turns in on itself with layers of moaning guitar effects and Patti Smith's haunting backing vocals. Clocking in at seven minutes, "Leave" is the longest track R.E.M. has yet recorded and it's one of their strangest and best -- an affecting minor-key dirge with a howling, siren-like feedback loop that runs throughout the entire song. Elsewhere, R.E.M. tread standard territory: "Electrolite" is a lovely piano-based ballad, "Departure" rocks like a Document outtake, the chiming opening riff of "Bittersweet Me" sounds like it was written in 1985, "New Test Leper" is gently winding folk-rock, and "The Wake-Up Bomb" and "Undertow" rock like the Monster outtakes they are. New Adventures in Hi-Fi may run a little too long -- it clocks in at 62 minutes, by far the longest album R.E.M. has ever released -- yet in its multifaceted sprawl, they wound up with one of their best records of the '90s.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

John Peel ‎FabricLive. 07

John PeelFabricLive. 07

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DJ legend John Peel's regular appearances at London's Fabric nightclub have never been any more predictable than the last 35 years of his BBC radio show. On air or in person, Peel has pursued a musical eclecticism that defies boundaries even as it, so inadvertently, has defined the "underground" for great swathes of his audience. It is no surprise whatsoever, then, to discover that his contribution to the FabricLive series of mix CDs is essentially a template for everything that his radio show offers. For 73 minutes, FabricLive.07 takes listeners on a journey through punk, reggae, soul, hip-hop, blues, garage -- pretty much any genre you can name, in fact -- with diversions via the odd musical hybrids that Peel alone seems able to sniff out and which his patronage alone lifts out of the novelty bracket: the Kingswoods' country-billy version of the Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant" and the Bad Livers' bluegrass "Lust for Life" both subdue their innate absurdity with gravity-defying authenticity. Retaining another long-cherished Peel trademark, there are few tricks of the DJ trade on board -- beyond slapping some brutal echo onto the end of the Fall's "Mr Pharmacist" and the occasional inserted snatches of soccer commentary, he has made no attempt at remixing, preferring to allow the individual songs' own juxtapositions to speak for themselves. So, a Peel session cut of Culture's "Lion Rock" leads into the Northern soul classic "Tom the Peeper," which slips in turn into Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," and suddenly it's hard to imagine hearing them in any other way. With the music so firmly stamped with Peel's personality, longtime listeners could probably identify this collection's compiler without even glancing at the credits. Just in case there's any confusion, though, a handful of intrusions do confirm Peel's presence at the controls: the aforementioned soccer commentaries, of course; the roar of the Kop Choir, fellow supporters of his hometown Liverpool F.C club, bellowing out "You'll Never Walk Alone"; and, wrapping up the CD, the effervescent dynamism of the Undertones' "Teenage Kicks," a song that Peel himself has declared among the greatest ever made. One does wonder how he was able to decide, though.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The Cure ‎Disintegration Deluxe Edition

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Expanding the latent arena rock sensibilities that peppered Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me by slowing them down and stretching them to the breaking point, the Cure reached the peak of their popularity with the crawling, darkly seductive Disintegration. It's a hypnotic, mesmerizing record, comprised almost entirely of epics like the soaring, icy "Pictures of You." The handful of pop songs, like the concise and utterly charming "Love Song," don't alleviate the doom-laden atmosphere. The Cure's gloomy soundscapes have rarely sounded so alluring, however, and the songs -- from the pulsating, ominous "Fascination Street" to the eerie, string-laced "Lullaby" -- have rarely been so well-constructed and memorable. It's fitting that Disintegration was their commercial breakthrough, since, in many ways, the album is the culmination of all the musical directions the Cure were pursuing over the course of the '80s

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Pale Saints ‎The Comforts Of Madness

Pale SaintsThe Comforts Of Madness

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When thinking of the finest dream pop records from the early '90s, The Comforts of Madness tends to get lost in the shuffle. Frequently and unfortunately, the Pale Saints were disregarded as just another part of the 4AD sound, lacking distinction and relying on the clichés of the time. Though they might have (arguably) fallen into those traps later in their brief career, their debut really does stick out from the remainder of the 4AD roster as well as the remainder of the then-current scene. The touchstones -- Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Galaxie 500 -- are somewhat apparent, but their debut is certifiably unique. Noise and melody duke it out, but in an arrestingly off-kilter fashion. Comforts is really as much of a "quirk-out" as it is a "bliss-out," experimental in many ways and apparently so from the beginning of "Way the World Is." The noisy rattling eventually gives way to wobbly bass and tunefully violent Wedding Present-like strumming, whipping up a tempestuous haze of frenzied pop. Throughout the record, the trio throws in countless tempo curveballs (with no sense of pomposity) and effectively balances the blasting chuggers with levitational banks of piled-on guitarscapes. The somewhat thin production lent by John Fryer and Gil Norton (on separate sessions) actually serves Comforts well, though it may take a few listens to settle in. The somewhat trebly, un-anchored production is properly suited for Ian Masters' boyish vocals, which sound like they're just on the brink of pubescence. His vocals are just as important to this record as Graeme Naysmith's guitars, not vanishing into the gobs of guitars like your typical shoegaze. "Sight of You" (retooled from their debut EP) is the centerpeice, a lovelorn gem that sounds vaguely like the lost track to Psychocandy. In whole, this debut remains a brilliant example of insular, adventurous, and charmingly flawed noise pop.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

The House Of Love ‎The House Of Love 1986 88 The Creation Recordings

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Guitar pop -- British or otherwise -- was nearing wasteland status when the House of Love debuted with "Shine On" in the spring of 1987. The Smiths and Hüsker Dü were months away from their respective breakups, Echo & the Bunnymen were about to issue their less-than-great self-titled album, and the Go-Betweens were flirting with yuppiedom. Aside from the short-lived, often-gutless C-86 scene and the then brilliant Jesus & Mary Chain, the House of Love really didn't have that much competition. It's almost as if the bands that influenced them subconsciously faded to give them the much-deserved spotlight. Now that over a decade has passed since the release of the material collected here -- everything they released on Creation, meaning 1988's self-titled debut and four singles racked with lithe greatness -- those who claimed the band's popularity had to do with their existence during a dry era can finally be silenced. Why, you ask? Because most everything here smacks violently of timelessness. "Christine," the penultimate combination of gorgeously spectral pop and noise, still sounds every bit spectacular, as if the eras of acid house, shoegaze, grunge, Brit-pop, post-rock, etc., have done nothing to erode its effect. That song alone should be as well-known as "Light My Fire" or, at the very least, "How Soon Is Now." Without a doubt, time has been extremely good to this era of the band, who, after 1988, was on the brink of leaving Creation for Fontana following a legendary bidding war. While Chadwick's boastfulness didn't help things, his band wasn't the group of underachievers many would like to say they were. Not a bit. If they were in fact underachievers, it was because not enough people bought their records when they were first released. Behold, for here is your penance.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

The Lemonheads ‎Come On Feel The Lemonheads

The LemonheadsCome On Feel The Lemonheads

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Come On Feel the Lemonheads should have been the album that propelled the trio and Evan Dando to stardom, it's the most interesting record that the Lemonheads have released, because it finds Dando confused about everything, particularly love, both for girls and drugs, and his burgeoning fame. There are moments of self-indulgence, whether it's the aimless piano instrumental "The Jello Fund" or two versions of the drug-obsessed "Style," yet they are as essential to the album's desperate tone as the heartbreaking acoustic ballad of "Favorite T." Between those two extremes is some of the finest power pop and country-rock Dando has ever written. He still has a tendency to be too cutesy, as on the otherwise winning country-rock of "Being Around" and "Big Gay Heart," but the hooky rush of "The Great Big No," the bright "I'll Do It Anyway," and the lovely simplicity of "Into Your Arms" is irresistible. Come On Feel may not be as consistent or immediate as It's a Shame About Ray, but finding its pleasures is quite rewarding.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

The Wedding Present ‎Bizarro Camden Deluxe

The Wedding PresentBizarro Camden Deluxe

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The Wedding Present's second proper studio album, Bizarro cut down a bit on the frenetic jangle the band was known for in its early days and replaced it with healthy doses of darkness and power. Adding some fuzzy, crunchy distortion to give the guitars some hefty impact, slowing the tempos down to speeds that allow vocalist David Gedge to squeeze more heartbroken despair and bleak sarcasm out of every line, and generally upping their game in every way, the album is the fullest realization of the Wedding Present's sound yet. Leading off with the unstoppably hooky "Brassneck," which features a brilliant Gedge reading of lines that rhyme "grow up" and "throw up," the album plays like a collection of thematically related singles. The most single-y among them is "Kennedy," which has some brilliant singalong lyrics and an intensely dramatic guitar strum buildup that crescendos into a maelstrom of sound. The rest of the record isn't far behind; whether it's the sparse "What Have I Said Now?" or the slowly grinding "Bewitched," one could extract any song and it would feel like a highlight -- even the epic-length "Take Me!," which closes the album in a fury of strums, drum fills, and chugging bass that builds and builds until it seems like the song is going to levitate and take the listener right along with it. The Wedding Present didn't necessarily need to improve their already winning template, but they did and it pays off big time on Bizarro.
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