Saturday, 28 July 2018

Eels ‎Electro-Shock Blues



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The Eels' second release, Electro-Shock Blues, is a much darker album than their underrated debut, 1996's Beautiful Freak, but just as rewarding. Singer/guitarist/songwriter E experienced many upheavals in his personal life between albums (the passing of several family members and close friends), and decided to work his way through life's tribulations via his music. The result is a spectacular epic work, easily on par with such classic albums cut from the same cloth -- Neil Young's Tonight's the Night, Lou Reed's Magic and Loss. For some of the most introspective and haunting tunes of recent times, look no further than the title track, "Last Stop: This Town," and "Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor." And although the lyrics deal almost entirely with mortality, the music for "Hospital Food," "Cancer for the Cure," and "Going to Your Funeral, Pt. 1" is comparable to Beck's funky noise, while "Efils' God," "The Medication Is Wearing Off," and "My Descent Into Madness" are all ethereal, soothing compositions. One of the finest and fully realized records of 1998, a must-hear.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

James ‎Seven UK Remastered Reissue



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Following the breakthrough success of the band's previous outing, James released Seven, a record that married the ambitious scope of the lyrics with a grand, anthemic feel. Horns give songs like the lead off "Born of Frustration" and the surging "Sound" a certain majestic grandeur, sweeping without being overblown. Lead singer Tim Booth is in fine form, lending passion to the proceedings, yet maintaining intimacy. They don't totally abandon the more jangly, folk elements of past albums; it's still noticeably there on tracks like the lovely "Don't Wait That Long" and the shimmering, sardonic "Next Lover." Other highlights include the dramatic "Ring the Bells" and the resolute title track, which is propelled by Andy Diagram's trumpet, Booth's assured vocals, and a thumping rhythm. Seven might not be completely embraced by older fans, but it's a confident, artistic step and a fine entry in the band's catalog

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Gomez ‎Bring It On 10th Anniversary Collector's Edition



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On their debut album, Bring It On, England's Gomez introduce their original take on bluesy roots rock. Unlike Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, this isn't amphetamine-fueled freak-out music but similar at times to Beck's acoustic-based work (One Foot in the Grave), with more going on vocally. The band has a total of three strong vocalists, who can switch from pretty harmonies to gutsy blues outpourings in the blink of an eye. The band manages to cover a lot of ground convincingly on Bring It On, which is unusual, since it commonly takes bands the course of a few releases to hone their sound. The three singles released from the album are definite highlights -- "Get Myself Arrested," "Whippin' Piccadilly," and "78 Stone Wobble," the latter containing a beautifully haunting acoustic guitar riff similar to Nirvana's unplugged version of the Meat Puppets' "Plateau." All the praise that Gomez's debut received is definitely not hype. The album is consistently great, as proven by such tracks as "Tijuana Lady," "Love Is Better Than a Warm Trombone," and "Get Myself Arrested." [In 2008 the album was reissued with a bonus disc comprised of two BBC Radio One sessions (equalling seven tracks) and nine B-Sides taken from the "78 Stone Wobble," "Get Myself Arrested" and "Whippin' Picadilly " singles.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

The Lilac Time ‎Paradise Circus


The Lilac TimeParadise Circus

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With bolder instrumentation, a brighter overall atmosphere, and a perfect glistening pop polish, Paradise Circus expands on the glorious promise of the Lilac Time's debut. Stephen Duffy might have later decried that the album was a more commercial affair than he would have liked, but its stunning melodies and sweet acoustic nature make for addictive listening. Duffy claims that studio execs forced the band back into the studio to cut singles and to Americanize their songs. Of course, such corporate tinkering stifles the creative process, but the insistence on catchy choruses does wonders for the band. Duffy and company seem to have looked to their peers for inspiration. Perhaps more here than on any other Lilac Time album, the band's influences are readily apparent. Channeling the Smiths, Nick Drake, and the Byrds, they package the mix into their own radio-friendly folk-pop style and create perhaps their most accessible album. Other than two brief instrumentals and the somber "She Still Loves You" and "Father Mother Wife and Child," the songs of Paradise Circus are happy etchings that immediately embed themselves in the catchy-tune section of a listener's brain. "The Beauty in Your Body" is musically about as close to Nick Drake as a song can be, though its melodramatic premise adds a chamber pop element. Throughout the album, Duffy's lyrics are as poetic and bittersweet as ever, but he delivers them with a bouncy step. Occasionally, horns and background vocals feel overly forced, for which one can blame the execs, but the album absolutely overflows with Johnny Marr-like jangling acoustic guitars and bluesy harmonica, pristine mandolins, and mesmerizing tempos that mingle to perfection with Duffy's elliptical, wry vocals. Ardent fans know that Duffy frequently crafts songs that suggest chugging trains, and Paradise Circus contains a plethora of selections that fit this bill: "The Lost Girl in the Midnight Sun," "The Days of the Week," "The Girl Who Waves at Trains," and "The Rollercoaster Song." Though its fine singles may not have become the hits they deserved to become, Paradise Circus as a whole is even stronger than its shiny, catchy highlights. As they would do throughout their career, the Lilac Time prove here that a great singles band can be simultaneously heady and masterful at crafting marvelous albums.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Duffy I Love My Friends



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Stephen Duffy (or Duffy, as he prefers to be known on this release) put together an almost perfect album with this one. Following a year of difficulty securing a record deal (the alternate title of this CD is Looking for a Deal), Duffy took his management into his own hands and recorded this CD with a few friends: XTC's Andy Partridge, Aimee Mann, Blur's Alex James, and Elastica's Justin Welch (Duffy formed a side project with James and Welch called Me Me Me). The result is everything good about Britpop. The CD begins with "Tune In," a short piece of a radio dial being tuned to various songs from Duffy's long, somewhat complicated career. This basically sets the tone for this seemingly autobiographical, almost confessional album. Musically, Duffy seems to be leaning toward his Lilac Time days, which means it is more folk than dance (in fact, "Twenty Three" sounds very similar to "Return to Yesterday"). Duffy's voice is in fine form, and lyrically it is in the same vein as Lennon's Plastic Ono Band, and Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. At times, a difficult CD to listen to ("Postcard" certainly brings a lump to the throat), but it is refreshing to hear an artist reflect on his life, both professionally and personally. There is not a weak track on the CD, and although it has a folky tinge to it, it still features some of the finest pop melodies to be written in the '90s. "What If I Fall In Love With You" and "You Are" have tunes that after just one listening stick in your memory. This is intelligent music, accessible to most, and it serves as an excellent introduction to Duffy. Expertly produced (by Duffy and Stephen Street, and Andy Partridge), and extremely well recorded, it has a warm sound while utilizing '90s technology. A well-crafted album which not only survives repeated listenings, but almost cries out for constant attention, which is well deserved.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Pulp ‎Different Class Reissue




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Universal UK reissued the three key '90s Pulp albums as double-disc deluxe editions in 2006. Thankfully, the deluxe edition of Pulp's 1995 masterpiece Different Class is not just a recycling of Second Class, the collection of B-sides that appeared as a bonus disc in a repackaging of the album in 1996. That's partially due to the fact that Second Class drew heavily from His 'n' Hers-era B-sides, which now appropriately appear on the concurrently released His 'n' Hers deluxe edition, so this 11-track collection of non-LP material and rarities feels quite different than the 1996 bonus disc. Completists should also be aware that this disc does not contain all the B-sides from the Different Class singles, but that's because the singles carried B-sides that were largely consisted of alternate mixes; a "Vocoda Mix" of "Common People" shows up here, but there are plenty of mixes that didn't carry over here, only two of which may be missed by collectors: an alternate, extended "Live Bed Show" and a 7" single mix of "Disco 2000," which is considerably different than the album mix thanks to added organ, synths, harmonies, and, yes, a prominent disco beat. These may be missed by certain trainspotters, but all the crucial non-LP material from the Different Class era is here, all worthy of the classic album they supported. There's the cutting, wickedly funny teacher-student sex tale "PTA"; there's "Mile End," their contribution to the Trainspotting soundtrack, a nimble evocation of slum living that's far catchier than its subject should be; there's "Whiskey in the Jar," a surprisingly sinewy cover of the Thin Lizzy version of the Irish anthem that was given to the Childline charity album; then, there's the heartbreaking "Ansaphone," a B-side for "Disco 2000" that's presented here in a slightly different demo version. "Ansaphone" is grouped together with four demos of unheard songs from the sessions, all very strong. For starters, there's "Paula," whose light, skipping music camouflages the cynicism of the friends-with-benefits celebration of the lyrics. It's followed by the tremendous "Catcliffe Shakedown," a six-minute epic that may be driven by a slightly dorky beat (which Jarvis Cocker calls "frankly ridiculous" in his great liner notes, which also feature full lyrics for all songs on these two discs), but it gains strength from its gangly rhythms, and it's distinguished by a great Jarvis lyric that, by his own admission, resembles "I Spy," but where that contained a barely veiled menace, this is pure riotous satire of a nasty down-class small town ("why not try our delicious lager-styled drink?"). The sleek, svelte "We Can Dance Again" pales a bit in comparison to this deliberately cinematic gem, but it's a great piece of knowing retro-disco, as is the fantastic "Don't Lose It," which is sensual and urgent in equal measures. Rounding out the rest of the deluxe edition is their transcendent version of "Common People" that closed their triumphant last-minute headlining slot at the 1995 Glastonbury Festival and Nick Cave's inspired "Pub Rock Version" of "Disco 2000," which sees its first release here. With the possible exception of the "Vocoda Mix," which finds a threadbare idea stretched a little too far, this is all great music, a fitting companion to a classic album, and makes this a truly deluxe deluxe edition.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Super Furry Animals ‎Fuzzy Logic US Album


Super Furry AnimalsFuzzy Logic

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Super Furry Animals are eclectic, to say the least. Fusing together pop melodies, psychedelia, and art rock with an impish, punky fury, the band cover more ground on their debut album, Fuzzy Logic, than most indie bands do in their entire career. However, the album works better as a series of moments than as a collection, mainly due to their overreaching ambition. Each song floats by on irresistible, catchy vocal harmonies, while the music alternates between glitzy overdriven guitars and sighing, sweeping keyboard, guitar, and string backdrops. Over these lush sonic beds, lead vocalist Gruff sings lyrics that are either mystical, nonsensical, or bizarrely funny -- none of the songs make much literal sense, but that doesn't quite matter when the music is as free-spirited as this. The songs may start conventionally, but they'll be undercut by wild synthesizers and careening guitar solos, or off-kilter vocal melodies. Taken as individual moments -- as the singles "God! Show Me Magic" (relatively straight-ahead punk-pop), "Hometown Unicorn" (gorgeous psychedelia), and "Something 4 the Weekend" (which finds the middle ground between the first two singles) prove -- the music of Super Furry Animals is quite intoxicating, but when assembled together, they don't sustain momentum. However, the individual pleasures of each song become more apparent with each listen and Fuzzy Logic suggests that the group could blossom into something quite distinctive and utterly unique within a few albums. [The expanded 2005 reissue of Fuzzy Logic contains a bonus disc with five B-sides: "Organ Yn Dy Geg," "Crys Ti," "Lazy Life (Of No Fixed Identity)," "Death by Melody," and "Waiting to Happen." These are not all of the Fuzzy Logic-era B-sides -- such highlights as "Guacamole" and "Don't Be a Fool, Billy" only appear on the B-sides compilation Outspaced. So, the bonus disc here and those on the other 2005 Super Furry reissues act as clearing-houses for B-sides that did not appear on Outspaced and do not contain all of the album's B-sides or any rarities

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Ned's Atomic Dustbin ‎God Fodder


Ned's Atomic DustbinGod Fodder

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Ned's Atomic Dustbin may be one of Britain's most overlooked bands, which is surprising, considering that while their releases may not be groundbreaking, each one is certainly solid. The band emerged in the early '90s, and was quickly grouped (along with bands like Pop Will Eat Itself and Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine) into the English "grebo" scene: punk-influenced, electronica-informed, hyper, light-hearted rock. God Fodder, their first major release, is arguably their best. Featuring college radio hits like "Kill Your Television" and "Grey Cell Green," it's a consistently satisfying blend of frenzied, melodic rock, with the occasional touch of quirkiness; the band's use of two basses (one playing "normal" basslines, the other scratching out harmonic riffs) keeps their sound light and hooky enough to put quite a distance between their oeuvre and that of the average grebo or punk band.
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