Wednesday, 27 February 2013

February's Soundtrack

Another ups-and-downs-y month, another list of songs...

1. DPERD - Non É Il Ciello (from Kore, My Kingdom Music, 2013)

Early in the year for beautiful autumnal melancholy but this is a lovely song from the Italian duo's forthcoming and somewhat ravishing album.

2. Souls of Mischief - 93 'til Infinity (from 93 'til Infinity, BMG, 1993)

Classic laidback, jazz-inflected hip-hop, tuneful, articulate, funny and despite the title, not at all dated.

3. Kanon Wakeshima - Still Doll (single, 2008)

Gothic-Lolita Jpop Cellist made this atmospheric bit of creepy goth-pop for the Vampire Knight soundtrack; kind of like The Cure's Lullaby for the 21st century, only more fragile and nicer.

4. The Tempters - Tell Me More (from 5-1=0, 1969)

One of the great Japanese Group Sounds acts, The Tempters may have been less wild than some of their contemporaries, but they made up for it with some excellent self-written material, such as this gently funky, Zombies-flavoured classic.

5. Bessie Smith - Nobody's Blues But Mine (Columbia, 1925)

There was no such thing as 'production' in 1925 but the songs from this session featuring Elmer Snowdon on banjo and Bob Fuller on clarinet have a distinctively cold and echoey sound that has made them among Bessie Smith's least admired works; but here that sound is itself part of what makes this a unique and haunting piece of music.

6. Pixies - Here Comes Your Man (from Doolittle, 4AD, 1989)

The most commercial moment from probably the Pixies most good-yet-accessible album, this is simply a great pop song, albeit with somewhat seedy subject matter.

7. Sammi Smith - Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down (from Help Me Make It Through The Night, Mega 1970)

Country music is perhaps my least favourite of all musical genres, but Sammi Smith is simply a great soulful singer. This is cheesy but also mournful and just plain nice.

8. Tom Waits - Soldier's Things (from Swordfishtrombones, Island, 1983)

Basically a poignant list of mundane items, this is a beautiful piece of music from Tom Waits' reinvention as an experimental artist.

9. Pulp - I Want You (from Freaks, Fire, 1987)

Pulp's lack of success pre-1992 or so remains something of a mystery. Even though a morbid and unsettling album, Freaks is full of catchy melodies and clever lyrics; and just plain  miserable songs of unrequited longing like this one.

10. Hardingrock - Daugingen (from Grimen, Candlelight, 2007)

The folk-rock-metal project of experimental electro-pop artist Starofash (Heidi Tveitan), her husband (Norwegian black metal maestro) Ihsahn and legendary Hardanger fiddler Knut Buen is not all great, but when it gels, such as on this seamless mix of atmospheric electronica, rock and folk, it's unique and beautiful.

11. Morrissey - How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel? (from You Are The Quarry, Attack, 2004)

Even by Morrissey's standards, You Are The Quarry was a confrontational album, but as so often it's hard deny the logic of what he says.

12. Linda Alexandersson - De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (from Pure Fucking Mayhem OST, 2009)

The soundtrack to the documentary about the seminal black metal band Mayhem is an excellent selection of themes from the music of Mayhem and other BM bands played by pianist Linda Alexandersson; eerie, spectral, she somehow brings out the essence of extreme and heavy music using only bare, echo-laden piano.

13. Kiss - Got to Choose (from Hotter Than Hell, Casablanca, 1974)

Kiss' second album is blessed/cursed with a peculiar production that makes it sound much heavier than their debut, kind of muffled at low volumes but great (and 'live' sounding) when played loud. At this point the band were still interested in music and Got To Choose is, though at first not an obvious choice for an opening track, being too slow and draggy to be anthemic,  it is nevertheless gains in power with each listen, a Paul Stanley classic.

14. The House of Love - Hope (from The House of Love, Creation, 1988)

A somewhat neglected indie classic these days, The House of Love were completely 'post-Smiths' without sounding anything like The Smiths. Singer Guy Chadwick and guitarist Terry Bickers' partnership was shorter-lived than Morrissey/Marr but produced classic songs aplenty; this is perhaps one of the best.

15. The Velvet Underground - That's The Story of My Life (from The Velvet Underground, Verve, 1969)

The Velvet Underground's subdued third album is mellow, warm and packed with great songs. The production is non-existent but a notable advance on White Light/White Heat. This is just a very nice song sung by a weary sounding Lou Reed.

16. Dylan Thanh - Balanced Voice Song (from Hò! #1 - Roady Music from Vietnam 2000, Trikont, 2000)

This peculiar song mainly consists of an approximate cover of the Bee Gees' I Started a Joke with somewhat garbled lyrics and a strange semi-yodelled intro. Despite a lot of background noise (it sounds as though it was recorded live in some kind of cafe or canteen, which is possible) and an only nearly-in-tune acoustic guitar it's a strangely moving performance.

17. Sonic Youth - (I Got A) Catholic Block (from Sister, SST, 1987)

On Sister, Sonic Youth created the perfect blend of chaotic experimental noise and catchy rock and Catholic Block is the perfect example; funny, clever, noisy but concise.

18. Black Sabbath - Hand of Doom (from Paranoid, NEMS, 1970)

Minimalist, groove-laden and (of course) doomy, Black Sabbath simply do this kind of music better than anyone else.

19. Archers of Loaf - South Carolina (single, Stay Free, 1992)

Almost a parody of grunge in its absolute derivativeness, this is still a great, messy rock song.

20. Yukari Fresh - For Mary Kathleen (from Grrl, Summer Cape Kid etc, 2008)

Sometimes lazily described as a female Cornelius, Yukari Fresh does share an interest in quirky electronica and pop music and has a fairly extensive but always interesting back catalogue to explore.

21. Klaus Nomi - Cold Song (from Klaus Nomi, RCA, 1981)

Who wouldn't want a song by 18th Century composer Purcell with lyrics by his contemporary Dryden to be sung by a robotic German new wave counter tenor with mime-ish tendencies?

22. Badly Drawn Boy - Degrees of Separation (from Born in the UK, Twisted Nerve, 2006)

A beautiful and moving song from one of Damon Gough's not-quite-classic albums.

23. The Cure - Accuracy (from Three Imaginary Boys, Fiction, 1979)

An atmospheric, catchy new wave/punk pop classic from The Cure's pre-goth era.

24. Smoking Popes - Days Just Wave Goodbye (from Get Fired, Johann's Face, 1993)

Despite their awful name, Smoking Popes were probably the only US alternative band to be significantly influenced by The Smiths without sucking all the time. An almost-anthemic Morrissey-esque indie rock song basically.

25. The Marshallettes Trio with Linda Bratton - Heaven Came Down (from The Marshallettes Trio with Linda Bratton, Pilgrim, 1966)

Three choir girls and their music teacher singing about Jesus makes for a surprisingly affecting album; it does grate after a while though. This is the first and maybe best song on the record.

26. Half Japanese - Put Some Sugar On It (from The Band That Would Be King, 50 Skidillion Watts, 1989)

"Put some sugar on it honey/put some honey on it sugar" etc etc: genius.

27. Funeral In Heaven - The Winds of Uva (Wellasse Satana) (live) (from Shaanthikarma, self-release, 2010)

Sri Lanka's Funeral in Heaven are one of the more interesting black metal bands of nowadays and The Winds of Uva is an old-school classic, less influenced by Sri Lankan folk music than much of their output, but excellent nonetheless.

28. The Beatles - Sexy Sadie (from The Beatles, Apple, 1968)

One of the many reasons that the White Album is their best. A bit silly, but how much sillier would it have sounded if they had just sung it as 'Maharishi' as originally intended?

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Strange Bedfellows Part 2

One of the interesting things about arranging a record collection in alphabetical order (yep :/ ) is the jarring clashes that can happen between artists. Here are MORE fun examples:

The Sugarhill Gang: The Sugarhill Gang (Sugarhill, 1979)

One of the landmarks of rap, this patchy LP actually features lots of wishy-washy disco type stuff, though 'Rapper's Delight' remains one of the all-time great rap songs. The tone of the whole album is worlds apart from the gritty, tough sound pioneered by Run DMC shortly thereafter. In fact, the whole thing couldn't be much more different from...

Suicidal Tendencies: How Will I Laugh Tomorrow... When I Can't Even Smile Today? (Virgin, 1988)

A classic more-or-less thrash album from the hardcore/crossover legends, Suicidal Tendencies brought angst into metal long before it was a standard genre trait/cliche. And they did it well.

Lee Perry: The Upsetter (Trojan, 1969)

Classic ska with strong R&B tendencies, Lee Perry was still some years away from his eccentric deconstructions of music and at this point based in the 3-minute pop song tradition; no bad thing, but not as overtly 'fun' as...

Louis Prima & Keely Smith: Louis & Keely! (Dot, 1960?)

Louis Prima had been both a serious (but fun) jazz/swing bandleader and was later to be The Jungle Book's 'King of the Swingers'. Between times he released several excellent LPs with Keely Smith; light, sometimes jazzy swing, featuring timeless and funny duets juxtaposing Prima's 'wild' style with Keely's icy coolness.

The Runaways: Queens of Noise (Mercury, 1977)

The Runaways are somewhat misrepresented these days as being somehow connected to the punk explosion; in reality they had more in common with the heavy glam pop-rock of bands like Kiss or Angel and Queens of Noise is probably their strongest album. Equally accomplished in a completely different way is....

The Rutles: The Rutles (Warner Bros, 1978)

Eric Idle and Neil Innes' excelllent Beatles parody is not only funny and accomplished, it is also for the most part a pretty good listen; songs like 'I Must Be In Love' and 'With a Girl Like You' are good in the same way that early Beatles songs are good; and even overtly silly ones like 'Cheese and Onions' have enough authenticity to make them work as songs as well as they do as jokes.

Run DMC: Raising Hell (London, 1986)

A breakthrough album for Run DMC, if not their best. A solid, tough, if somewhat slickly produced slab of overgroud rap. In stark contrast to...

Rush: 2112 (Mercury, 1976)

One of the classics of 70s hard rock, 2112, is a powerful and at times ludicrous conceptual piece by the Canadian trio. worth having (if you like such things) for 'Temples of Syrinx' alone.


The Supremes: A' Go Go (Motown, 1966)

This was the first album by an all-female (apart from the anonymous musicians presumably) group to reach number one on the Billboard chart, and it was pretty much a surefire hit, comprising as it does of classic tailor-made Holland-Dozier-Holland songs ('You Can't Hurry Love') alongside interpretations of hit songs well suited to The Supremes' oddly soulless brand of pop-soul ('These Boots', 'Hang on Sloopy'). Traditionally, the 'manufactured' pop act founders when going its own way, which is true to some degree of...

The Sweet: Desolation Boulevard (RCA, 1974)

Although resoundingly not an albums band, The Sweet managed a not-band hard rock LP before blanding out completely. This has only one Chinn/Chapman glam anthem ('The Six Teens') but makes up for it with some fairly decent self-written material, most notably (by a mile) the classic 'Fox on the Run'. It's hard to say how far The Sweet's decline can be attributed to the band's often uninspired songwriting or just changing fashion, but after this they were never the same.





Sunday, 10 February 2013

How do you follow up a masterpiece?

Bands occasionally record a classic album and then split up, but more often they don't; so what do they do next? Often they release another great album that doesn’t get quite  the same kind of recognition. Some:
The Smiths
The Classic: The Queen Is Dead (Rough Trade, 1986)
The Follow-up: Strangeways, Here We Come (Rough Trade, 1987)
The greatness of The Queen Is Dead has perhaps been overstated; each of The Smiths’ studio albums is a unique entity with a feel of its own. And this, their last, is stranger, funnier and darker than any of its predecessors, but no less great.
The Rolling Stones
The Classic: Exile on Main St.(Rolling Stones, 1972)
The Follow-up: Goats Head Soup (Rolling Stones, 1973)
Okay, there is a definite sense of anticlimax following the trilogy of Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St., but Goat’s Head Soup still has some of the band’s least acknowledged but greatest songs, such as ‘Winter’.
The Classic:  A Night At The Opera (EMI, 1975)
The Follow-up: A Day At The Races (EMI, 1976)

Although people and lists will tell you otherwise, A Day at the Races is in every way superior to its predecessor, the iconic A Night at the Opera. Okay, no ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, but unlike ‘Night...’ with its plethora of silly, pastichey music hall songs and the interminable ‘Prophet’s Song’, ‘A Day...’s sillier songs (as well as it’s contributions from the other vocalists in the group) works far better as a whole. Plus the sleeve is black.
Miles Davis
The Classic: Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970)
The Follow-up: A Tribute to Jack Johnson (Columbia, 1971)
Bitches Brew is the great moment of jazz/rock fusion; sprawling, intense, eclectic. But Jack Johnson is harder edged, more focussed and arguably the better album. That’s what I’m arguing anyway.

The Jesus And Mary Chain

The Classic: Psychocandy (Blanco Y Negro, 1985)

The Follow-up: Darklands (Blanco Y Negro, 1987)

Psychocandy is doubtless a masterpiece of noise-pop, but the more reflective follow-up should not be overlooked. At the time the band were criticised for the lack of chaos and feedback but to be fair how many Psychocandys do you need in your collection? Instead, this collection emphasises the Reid brothers’ formidable songwriting skills.
Led Zeppelin
The Classic: Led Zeppelin IV/4 Symbols (Atlantic, 1971)
The Follow-up: Houses of the Holy (Atlantic, 1973)
Led Zeppelin IV has ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and a multitude of mostly lesser songs; follow-up Houses of the Holy is not only the first Led Zeppelin album with a ‘proper’ title, it’s also the first on which the band stretches beyond heavy blues/rock and gentle folk-ish acoustic songs to something more eclectic.
Pink Floyd
The Classic: Dark Side of the Moon (EMI, 1973)
The Follow-up: Wish You Were Here (EMI, 1975)
Okay, so this album is in no way neglected or overlooked. But it followed Dark Side of the Moon, one of the few records (and even fewer good records) to sell over 50 million copies. Wish You Were Here was comparatively less successful but may even be better, songs like ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ pointing towards the more anguished Floyd of the later 70s.
Marvin Gaye
The Classic: What's Going On (Tamla, 1971)
The Follow-up: Trouble Man soundtrack  (Tamla, 1972)
What's Going On is a socio-political soul masterpiece, an almost faultless classic. Trouble Man is, by contrast, the soundtrack to a not-great semi-blaxploitation movie. The former is perhaps over-familiar; the latter less so, showing that Marvin Gaye, if not quite in the Isaac Hayes/Curtis Mayfield league soundtrackwise was pretty great.