Saturday, 14 May 2022

Various Pillows & Prayers (Cherry Red Records 1981 - 1984)



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Originally released in 1982 on the U.K. Cherry Red label, this compilation was initially sold for 99 pence, a marketing ploy that caused it to stay on the U.K. indie charts at number one for almost five months. Focusing on the famed post-punk/new wave label's earliest recordings from artists like Everything But the Girl ("On My Mind"), Eyeless in Gaza ("No Noise"), Felt ("My Face Is on Fire"), Monochrome Set ("Eine Symphonie des Grauens"), and Marine Girls ("Lazy Ways"), it opens a vivid and eclectic window into the dawn of alternative rock and the death of the U.K. punk scene.

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Various Madchester - The Manchester Story '88 - '91



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The Beechwood label's 16-track Manchester Story '88-'91: Madchester presents a pretty faithful re-telling of the Factory-led Brit-pop explosion that consumed college radio in the late '80s early '90s. Usually relegated to late-night appearances on MTV's 120 Minutes, bands like New Fast Automatic Daffodils, Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, Charlatans UK, 808 State, and New Order nevertheless found a way to break out internationally, influencing the myriad of shapes that alternative rock would assume in the coming years. Though there are many holes in the story (where are Blur, Ride, Primal Scream or the Manic Street Preachers?) presented here, the inclusion of various remixes, original 12" versions, and extended mixes keeps things interesting, and the songs themselves are all top-notch, resulting in a formidable gateway drug for anybody looking to immerse themselves in genre.

Saturday, 7 May 2022

Dreadzone Second Light Reissue



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This remastered reissue takes us back to the mid-nineties, when the festivals exploded and dance acts headlined the outdoor stages. Dreadzone housed three ex-members of Big Audio Dynamite, the band around Mick Jones that had been very modernist in the mid-eighties. Punk and reggae legend Don Letts was also involved in Dreadzone, so we could speak of a seasoned group. Second Light was Dreadzone's second album after 360° – which was released on Creation. Even after 17 years it remains a wonderful record that combines ambient and dub with trance and playful dance. “This is Britain”, we hear in the beautiful, deep opening track Life, Love & Unity , a title that immediately brings to mind the cheerful and hedonistic club and festival culture of the nineties. Leftfield opened their classic Leftism in 1995 with a similar track, also sung by Earl Sixteen. Dreadzone took a different approach on the rest of the album, however. The band filled its music with references to English cultural history: atmospheric samples from British films and references to literary works such asThe Lark Ascending en The Canterbury Tales. Dreadzone shared Orbital's ability to produce successful dance tracks with the use of folky instrumentation. The hit song Little Britain , with its violins and piano, is playful and is known as a club and festival classic of the nineties. Captain Dread , that other well-known single, leans on clever samples and country fiddles. “What The Grid can do with their banjo track Swamp Thing , we should also be able to do with violins”, Dreadzone must have thought. Second Light is not so poppy and catchy everywhere: the single Zion Youth is heavy, dubby and has wonderful deep basses, nice percussion and the voice of Earl Sixteen. Cave Of Angels is a somewhat dark, languid trip. One Way , with its short-lived trance peak, is one of those tracks that fits in well with the work of Massive Attack and Leftfield and is therefore far removed from the aforementioned hits. Out Of Heaven , with its deep house atmospheres, fine piano motif and serene vocals, Second Light ends in a pleasant way. However, this reissue offers another live CD with recordings from 1994 and 1995. We hear a track from a Peel session: Maximum . The song stands out because of the trance influences that get more and more grip on the music after a few minutes. Furthermore, we are treated to the performance of Dreadzone on the NME stage of Glastonbury 95, where the band was able to draw on two well-received albums. This was the pinnacle of the band's career (in their own words “our last moment in the Garden of Eden”). The band announces the track Fight The Power with the news of that day: “John Major has resigned!”

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Meat Beat Manifesto Satyricon


Meat Beat Manifesto Satyricon

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A Meat Beat Manifesto album is a special thing, since it usually manages to encompass the styles of other acts while still having a distinct voice of its own. Satyricon features the sample-trippy goofiness of the Orb, the sharp, rock-flavored house of the Chemical Brothers, the streamlined trance of Orbital, and the well-oiled angst of Nine Inch Nails, and that's just for starters. Long-term frontman Jack Dangers truly has a producer's ear, which gives his blend of dance music a considerable advantage: he takes a musician's approach into a programmer's territory, and his use of vocals actually upgrades a song's impact rather than diminishes it. There's more song structure here than in any of the aforementioned acts, making this something like a pop group for sworn enemies of the genre. The infectious electronica and obscure samples create an almost constant (and successful) tension between groove and anxiety, between clubber's abandon and confused introspection. Musical partner Jonny Stephens takes on an almost equal workload as producer/engineer/mixer and multi-instrumentalist, and his lap steel guitar contributions add a wonderfully bizarre layer to the album (comparable to the pairing of Luke Vibert and BJ Cole). Songs like "Mindstream" and "Edge of No Control Pt. 1" add just the right amount of Stephens' Hawaiian space cowboy to the mix -- kind of like a warmer alternative to Theremin. Several other high points along the way in this stuffed-to-the-gills album include: "Your Mind Belongs to the State," a nightmare funky channel-surf through the fractured minds of mental patients and social outcasts, and "Original Control (Version 2)," a wicked laboratory of robots gone amuck, rave/house sirens, and acid-soaked sequencer riffs, making the whole thing sound like an ugly (and wonderful) catfight between Moby and Squarepusher. Again, with all the soundbites, Dangers must shop flea markets and bad video stores two days a week; his vast arsenal of obscure samples range from failed sci-fi to closed-door psychoanalysis to British TV commercials. There are only a few times his "sample cup" runneth over in excess ("Brainwashed This Way/Zombie/That Shirt," "Untold Stories"), but even these diversions are fascinating. This album still sounded good ten years later, and it's probably why they were still respected then. One for the books.

Saturday, 30 April 2022

Jah Wobble's Invaders Of The Heart Take Me To God


Jah Wobble's Invaders Of The Heart Take Me To God

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After he'd been a fixture of the British new wave/punk/underground/alternative scene since the late '70s, 1994's Take Me to God marked Jah Wobble's first major commercial success as a solo artist, reaching number 13 in the U.K. The use of numerous guest musicians (including Can drummer Jaki Leibezeit) gives this a feel of a rotating collective, with Wobble (who plays several instruments here in addition to the one he's most known for, bass) the constant. Quite a few singers contribute, giving this more of a song-oriented feel than some of his other work, some of the more celebrated including Gavin Friday, Dolores O'Riordan of the Cranberries, Senegalese vocalist Baaba Maal, and top world music artist Najma Akhtar. The 66-minute length of these sprawling excursions almost inevitably means the program will drag at times, according to your musical inclinations. Lyrically, too, it's so varied as to make it difficult to connect with a pronounced attitude or viewpoint, the concerns ranging from the almost indecipherably frivolous ("Yoga of the Nightclub") to the numerous references to God that pepper the song titles. But it's an interesting assortment of tracks combining currents flowing through mid-'90s alternative rock, world music, reggae, club beats, dub, and African pop, adding up to an extremely heterogeneous whole.

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

The Sisters Of Mercy Floodland


The Sisters Of Mercy Floodland

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While the goth scene in England was picking up commercial steam in the mid-'80s, the Sisters of Mercy may have seemed quiet, but they roared back with 1987's Floodland. Opening with the driving two-part hymn "Dominion/Mother Russia," Sisters leader Andrew Eldritch (along with bassist Patricia Morrison) creates a black soundscape that is majestic and vast. While the earlier Sisters releases were noisy, sometimes harsh affairs, Floodland is filled with lush production (thanks to Meat Loaf writer/producer Jim Steinman and the New York Choral Society) and lyric imagery that is both scary and glorious. The slower tracks, like "Flood" and "1959," are some of the best ethereal sounds goth has to offer, and the downright regal "This Corrosion" is one of the best songs of the genre. A definite milestone.

Saturday, 23 April 2022

Love And Rockets Seventh Dream Of Teenage Heaven



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Though the years have deadened its impact somewhat, there is still a visceral thrill to be drawn from replaying the first Love and Rockets album, a sense of the first step taken towards a brave new world, and a miasmic whirl of psychedelic intent that masks intents even darker than the preceding Bauhaus ever envisioned. Recorded and released in 1985, riding to club acclaim on the back of the "Ball of Confusion" remake, and aligning its makers with a destiny and fame that no one could ever have predicted, Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven ranks among the most deceptive debut albums of the 1980s. The keys to the album remain the same, of course -- the churning guitar soup of "The Dog-End of a Day Gone By," the sibilant glam sexuality of the title track, the chilling nursery rhyme pendulum of "The Game." But the opiate atmosphere that chokes the wide open spaces leavened within every song only thickens by the time you hit the closing acoustics of "Saudade," and Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven emerges as profound an experience as any of the lauded trips of the original psychedelic era. It rounds out the experience with dramatic flair, pinpointing the sheer creativity that was sparking around Love and Rockets at the dawn of their decade-long career -- and reminding you that that decade was over all too quickly. 

 

Wednesday, 20 April 2022

Transglobal Underground Run Devils And Demons: The Best Of




Transglobal Underground Run Devils And Demons: The Best Of


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A barnstorming compilation of greatest hits, live favourites, rare cuts and two exclusive tracks, Run Devils and Demons starts at the beginning with 1991's anthemic 'Temple head' and comes bang up to date with new Moonshout-derived single Dancehall Operator, and a belting live glow lighters-in-the-air account of Drums of Navaron' from last year's Châlons-en-Champagne festival. There isn't a single weak song on this intelligently programmed 26-track survey. The decade-old vinyl version of 70s' disco homage, Scorc', still bewitches; the earlier collision of Rajastani and Indian influences in Ali Mullah, complete with the awesome vocals of Natacha Atlas, continues to exert its own parched pull on the senses; 2003's 'Kingsland Meltdown' remains a magnificent aural portrait of London's Dalston Junction; and the much sought-after Lionrock kick da flavour remix of International Times, previously only available on a Spanish import, is here in all its seriously funky glory. It's impossible not to get caught up in the swirling blend of Bengali and Big Beat in the thumping Body Machine or to resist the scorched intoxications of the sitar-saturated The Khaleegi Stomp. And from very early TGU days, The Army Of Forgotten Souls still sways, swoons and sweats its way through a Moroccan train journey to skin-prickling effect. It's all, of course, a touch nostalgic, with the unlikely combining of evaporating ambient soundscapes and dark, dream-like mid-nineties trip-hop in Ancient Dreams Of The Sky, and the blues-inflected Nile Delta Disco no less evocative than the magnificently drum-laden Sky Giant or, for that matter, much else here.
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