Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Two Lone Swordsmen Stay Down


Two Lone Swordsmen Stay Down

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Two Lone Swordsmen is another project involving Andrew Weatherall, who has consistently proven himself equally talented with production and composition; Stay Down is not as rock-oriented as much of his work, taking its cues instead from dub and ambient soundscapes, but without abandoning Weatherall's C-86 and Manchester house roots. Stay Down's fusion of all four influences is nothing short of amazing, taking largely electronic sounds into areas far more composed than the typically repetitive club-oriented releases that dominate some areas of the genre -- rather than leading electronic sounds down the path of their own conventions, the album shapes them into compositions that could just as easily be performed on organic instruments, meaning that the use of intricate production and sound manipulation is really just the texture of the recording, rather than its raison d'etre. It's an approach that's not used as often as many listeners might wish -- and as Stay Down once again demonstrates, it's an approach that typically makes for excellent albums.

 

Saturday, 19 June 2021

Mcalmont & Butler The Sound Of McAlmont & Butler Deluxe Edition



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Some albums age well. Some age badly. Some become legendary. So let’s get this straight from the off. This is a sensational album that has not only aged extremely well but has become more powerful when listened to twenty years after the event. Now you could just go and listen to the album now or you could read on, the choice is your and frankly I couldn’t care less which one you choose as long as it means you listen to the thing again. If you’ve never heard this album before then lets give you some background. After leaving influential Britpop originators Suede during the recording of their second album, Dog Man Star, mercurial guitarist Bernard Butler reached out to other musicians to create something that stood out from the laddish culture that was prevalent during the year of 1994. What he didn’t know then was that by teaming up with the heavenly voice of David McAlmont, he would create a work that whilst retaining a core British sensibility would tap into a vein that bled USA touchstones. Music that encompassed soul, blues, gospel and good ol’ rock n roll. The fact that all of this was done without one second of the album sounding like a re-tread of old ideals is a remarkable feat in and of itself. First impressions last they say, and in the case of this album that saying has never been truer as the first taste we get of this new duo is the outstanding Yes, a song so perfect it is hard to put it into words the feelings you get when listening to it. Over four+ minutes we are sent soaring, on a bed of raw guitars and sweeping strings, with a thunderous drum sound that propels the song along at a rate of knots. A joyous “fuck you” to an ex, Yes is where our narrator breaks the shackles of heartbreak and resentment and blossoms into a confident new. Spector’s Wall of Sound is brought to 90s Britain and boy was it necessary. All of this is fine and dandy, but when you add McAlmont’s androgynous, three octave vocal you are witnessing alchemy. If you are not bursting into a smile and some spontaneous dancing three minutes in when he bursts into the “yeah yeah yeahs” then I feel you may need to see a doctor. Yes is as good as anything that came out of the Motown stable and that’s a fact. Now, you may worry that when sequencing the album, the duo made an error by placing Yes at the beginning. I mean, how do you follow that? Well, follow it they do and follow it well. What’s The Excuse This Time? slouches around on a bed of pure Purple-one pop, a sleazy yet romantic song that funks around squashing the myth that pop is just throwaway and not a subversive beast. The Right Thing then throws us into the world of voodoo blues and alt-indie with Mako Sakamoto’s drums (which are pivotal throughout the record) riding a pattern that harks back to our tribal origins and one which reminds of Stephen Morris in his Joy Division days, with the song slowly collapsing in on itself not unlike The Doors’ ode to death The End. It is on The Right Thing that we can first see a connection between this album and another and that album would be Jeff Buckley’s Grace. Grace also played with the idea of song structure and influence and was a record that allowed men to share a sensitivity and a desire for emotions to be revelead not contained. The quality continues as Although sways and sashays through do-wop whilst Don’t Call It Soul introduces an acoustic guitar as its base and allows McAlmont to gently reveal a lyric that plays like a letter to Marvin Gaye displaying his affection for the great singer but also not afraid to show that he was not wholly supporting the way Gaye led his life. A quick change of pace sees Disappointment + Interlude gather speed and intensity, riding faster and reminding of the medley section of Abbey Road before we are softly brought to land on an instrumental outro with electronic flourishes. These slight moments where we hear the use of electronics are a revelation on the reissue (remastered by Butler himself) as they let us know this was a modern record that was mixing the past and the future, unashamed to blend the organic with the synthetic. The Debitor also has a layer of electronics bubbling under the surface but above the waterline stands a raunchy blues rocker that talks of someone’s “alligator shoes” whilst How About You? slows things down to a pleasant crawl as we are immersed in a chilled world of acoustics. The penultimate, You’ll Lose A Good Thing is pure gospel with organs and keyboards and contains the killer kiss-off “You’ll lose a good thing, if you lose me” and then…. We reach our climax and what a climax it is as the album closes with second single, You Do. This is a pure kitchen sink affair as everything we have experienced before gets thrown in to make a song so epic in scope and feel but one that never loses the quality that an intimate and personal song can achieve. A stunning closer and with the intro to Yes heard as the song fades out, you instantly want to press play again, utilising a trick that Bowie used on The Rise And Fall…and Pink Floyd on Dark Side… The reissue treats us to a host of extras including two demos (one a four track demo) of Yes, single versions of Don’t Call It Soul and How About You?, live R1 session versions of You Do and Walk On and even a remix of Yes by Butler himself and Nigel Godrich (who engineered the original sessions). All of these are decent enough but it is the original album that is the true star of the show and rightly so.

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Bernard Butler Friends & Lovers


Bernard Butler Friends & Lovers

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For his second album, Friends & Lovers, Bernard Butler trimmed away the folkier elements of his debut -ironically, those were highlights on People Move On - returning to the sweeping, glam-inflected pop-rock that provided the impetus for Suede. He may have a grander vision and a larger palette, yet he has greater focus this time. Friends & Lovers opens majestically with its title track, surging forward with an anthemic, post-Bowie chorus and subdued psychedelic strings. Butler uses this template throughout the record, delivering songs that blend late-'60s and -'70s rock conventions and clichés in unpredictable ways, never once resorting to irony or pastiche. Butler is a craftsman, laboring on the structure of his songs, the flow of the arrangement, and the sonic texture of the production, resulting in an abundance of great guitar playing and some wonderful harmonies and keyboards, all woven together in a stylish, seamless sonic tapestry. This technique may be sonically resplendent, but it's not without pitfalls. Each track has dazzling moments, yet few stand apart from the pack, largely because, as a frontman, Butler doesn't sell them. His thin voice tends to fade into the mix, becoming part of the wall of sound; consequently, Friends & Lovers gracefully rolls in, then washes away without leaving a lasting impression. This may sound churlish, but this music is crying out for a larger-than-life personality, a vocalist on the level of Brett Anderson. Friends & Lovers must be enjoyed as the work of a meticulous, talented, craftsman, a musician who loves to slowly build his record, track by track, and there's a lot to enjoy on that level 

 

Saturday, 12 June 2021

Faithless Forever Faithless The Greatest Hits



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Having been making music for over ten years (their first single, "Salva Mea," hit British airwaves in 1995), English club superstars Faithless celebrated their longevity by issuing Forever Faithless, a greatest-hits compilation that contains nearly all of their singles ("Take the Long Way Home," "Crazy English Summer," and "If Lovin' You Is Wrong" are missing) as well as one brand new track, "Reasons (Saturday Night)" (the U.K. version has two more that aren't on here). And while most of the songs fall easily into the house realm, there are a few -- "Don't Leave," "Mass Destruction" -- that venture into pop and trip-hop (or perhaps trip-pop) and show off the band's versatility, or at least ability to appeal to a wider swatch of people. There aren't really any surprises on Forever Faithless, and the selections are pretty much spread out between all four of the group's full-length releases -- meaning that if you already own them there's not much of a reason to get this album except for the new track, which is good but not exceptional -- but it makes for a very successful overview of the band nonetheless.

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

The Prodigy Their Law - The Singles 1990-2005



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Even more so than the celebrated Chemical Brothers -- who began recording after Prodigy but received a hits compilation before -- Liam Howlett and co. were fantastic singles artists who also fashioned excellent full-lengths. As such, Their Law 1990-2005, the singles collection that could put the cap on their career, is a collection that will leave listeners breathless but also one that can't capture how special Prodigy were to the electronica and rave scenes. Their biggest single, "Firestarter," comes first, and its LP (The Fat of the Land) gets most of the early slots, although things right themselves by the end with no less than five singles -- all of them incredible -- from 1995's Music for the Jilted Generation and four from 1992's Experience. Although including three tracks from 2004's desultory Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned may help fans hear, for the first time, the best of a bad album, it's nearly criminal that it comes at the expense of solid material from Music for the Jilted Generation and Experience (like "Break & Enter" and "Wind It Up"). Although there are no new tracks (perhaps a good thing), included is an Audio Bullys remix of "Out of Space."

 

Saturday, 5 June 2021

Mega City Four Magic Bullets


Mega City Four Magic Bullets

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Though not as strong as that previous stylistic breakthrough, this LP nevertheless continues the terrific thread of its predecessor in material, sound, and words. Still a mix of sweet-sounding pop with sneak-attack post-punk guitar power (best compared to Paul Westerberg's scope and knack for an angry hook), the prolific Mega City Four know a song when they've finished arranging yet another one, and leader Wiz's writing shows no sign of wear and tear even as he's begun to plumb similar themes and characteristics LP to LP. Just as "Ticket Collector" started things off with a bang last time around, "Perfect Circle" jump-starts this one off, then it goes through the bends, peaks, and unpredictable swerves all over again. "Iron Sky" is a lacerating, fresh pop gem -- the obvious choice for the single. "Drown" pulses low and hard. The glorious "Enemy Skies" recalls the whomp and whack of Who Cares Wins' "Me Not You." "Speck" ends things on a somber and quiet note, much as "Stupid Way to Die" ended the debut, Tranzophobia four years previously. This kind of range, added to Wiz's keen, imploring voice and (still) prescient lyrics, has made them into a pop institution in England, where they've enjoyed a few Top 40 singles. Yet on every album they go back to their roots as a scruffy, poppy, rockin' punk group (best documented on the singles LP Terribly Sorry Bob), and on these outings they still can batter one happy, as they simultaneously wield vicious melodies that stick to you like a dog in a thunderstorm. Here it's "Rainman," a song so fast, slick, and smacking it almost seems rote until its punches land solidly on the second or third play. Likewise, "Greener" is another gleeful torcher. Hot stuff. Again, if not as amazing a collection as the previous LP, this is still another special LP from a band America should have known better than to ignore. Get the import or lose out.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Beth Orton Pass In Time (The Definitive Collection)



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BMG UK gathered nearly all of Beth Orton's brightest moments for Pass in Time: The Definitive Collection. This double-disc set does a decent job presenting Orton's undeniable gift as an artist, and those who are introduced to her for the first time here will be thoroughly impressed. Those longtime fans who already own her first three albums and the Best Bit EP might be puzzled at Pass in Time's unfashionably early arrival; however, the 24-song compilation merits the same consideration given to Orton's previous work. The second disc of B-sides, rarities, and remixes is more than enough to warrant attention, for the ten-song selection includes her stunning collaborations with the Chemical Brothers ("Where Do I Begin"), Terry Callier ("Dolphins"), and William Orbit ("Water from a Vine Leaf"). The original B-side to "She Cries Your Name," "It's Not the Spotlight" was exclusively reworked for Pass in Time, but the biggest surprise lies in the inclusion of two tracks from her Superpinkymandy album. With a little nudge from Orbit, Orton first introduced herself with this experimental-dance effort, which was only available in Japan and is now out of print. The glittering electronic twist of John Martyn's "Don't Wanna Know 'Bout Evil" and the gentle humming of "Where Do You Go?" give a glimpse of Orton's pre-commercial solo days. Pass in Time is a worthwhile collection,

Saturday, 29 May 2021

Dot Allison We Are Science


Dot Allison We Are Science

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Feeling that she had perfected dreamy swirling pop with Afterglow, Dot Allison edges toward electro dance territory and beyond on her sophomore album, We Are Science, and the results are nothing short of brilliant. Working the production boards herself, with some help from Two Lone Swordsmen's Keith Tenniswood, and contributors Mercury Rev and Death in Vegas, Allison looks back to Factory Records, Kraftwerk, and house music for inspiration. Alternately lush and lo-fi, the album seeks the trance-y dirges of Afterglow, but adds huge pockets of exhilarating grooves, weird throbbing beats, analog synthesizers, sweeping strings, and echoing, twinkling pianos. What's truly remarkable is that Allison is able to touch upon so many influences and skirt so many genres, but there's not a single element that feels out of place. It's not just expert sequencing that holds the album together; it's Allison's fearless experimentation, genius sense of melody, urgent lyrics, and commanding vocals that make for such a winning opus. The retro touches of "Make It Happen," "Strung Out," and "I Think I Love You" honor influences from Wire to New Order to the Human League to Depeche Mode, but Allison makes the sound her own again and again. "Strung Out" sounds like Curve produced by Martin Hannett. When things turn cinematic on "Performance" and "Wishing Stone," Allison proves herself a master of atmosphere. Poetic, melodic, and pulsing with enormous amounts of energy, the album sees Allison virtually creating new genres in the process of exploring her own musical heroes. We Are Science sees Dot Allison going beyond even the highs of One Dove and crafting an accessible, evocative masterpiece that consistently surprises and thrills

 
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