Saturday, 30 November 2013

November's Soundtrack

Another month, more surprisingly beautiful weather as autumn becomes winter, more songs going into ears. Where else to begin than with....

1. Tom Waits - November (from The Black Rider, 1993)

Beautifully sparse, melancholy and atmospheric song from Waits' theatrical concept album. Don Neely's piercingly lovely saw-playing adds a unique flavour.

2. Simon & Garfunkel - The Only Living Boy in New York (from Bridge Over Troubled Water, 1970)

Strangely sad and enigmatic song about Art Garfunkel going to Mexico to act in Catch-22, apparently.

3. Beatrik - The Charon's Embrace (from Journey Through the End of Life, 2002)

Perfect post-Burzum black metal; technically (fairly) simple, but full of depressive power.

4. 10,000 Maniacs - Can't Ignore the Train (from The Wishing Chair, 1985)

Lovely jangly folk-rock from the band's breakthrough album (qualitatively at least)

5. The Mopes - Carly Simon (from Lookout! Freakout, 2000)

So Ramones-like that it's only when the vocal comes in that it becomes clear it isn't the Ramones; just a great pop-punk song, especially because of the title.

6. Broken Doll - Believe In Yourself (from Get Crunk, 2010)

Excellent positive-message themed squeak-punk-rock from Japan.

7. Celtic Frost - In the Chapel, In the Moonlight (from Parched With Thirst Am I And Dying, 1992)

Silly, growly but good-humoured cover of the 1936 standard

8. Chen Reiss - Tremo, Bell'idol Mio (from Liaisons, 2011)

Chen Reiss' beautiful soprano voice brings lots of feeling to Salieri's lovely aria

9. David Bowie - Eight Line Poem (from Hunky Dory, 1971)

Mick Ronson's ethereal lead guitar is the highlight of this very short song.

10. Dimmu Borgir - Antikrist (from Stormblåst, 1996)

The first step on the road to their much maligned (and much loved) commercial black metal style, the original version of Stormblåst is still a great collection of songs of which this is the most accessible.

11. Donovan - Celeste (from Donovan in Concert, 1968)

The stripped-down acoustic version of this lovely song from the acid rock masterpiece Sunshine Superman is just beautiful.

12. Eo Sinh & Nam Hao - VC Love Song (from Ho#1 Roady Music from Vietnam, 1998)

Otherworldly-yet-informal folky song with very evocative ambient noise.

13. Falkenbach - Mijn Laezt Wourd (from Asa, 2013)

Stunning return to form for one of the great pagan folk/metal bands, and this song has all the ingredients of a classic Falkenbach song, most notably Vratyas Vakyas' inimitable voice

14. The Ronettes - My Guiding Angel (from The Complete Colpix and Buddha Sessions, 1994)

A great song from the band's often-overlooked pre-Phil Spector period.

15. Teenage Fanclub - Neil Jung (from Grand Prix, 1995)

Laidback but full of feeling, one of the best songs from a great band.

16. Guster - The Sun Shines Down On Me (from The Late Great Daniel Johnston,2004)

Perfect cover of one of Daniel Johnston's most straightforwardly melodic songs.

17. Kimi Kärki - Red Rooster (from The Bone of My Bones, 2013)

Beautifully fragile folkish song from the Finnish guitarist/singer's first solo album

18. Nanette Scriba - The Cold Song (1989)

Imperious Germanic (in fact German) version of Purcell's creepy aria from King Arthur (c1691)

19. Sangre de Muerdago - Haunted Glow (from Deiaxademe Morrer no Bosque, 2013)

Haunting Galician folk song, beautiful but not necessarily tranquil.

20. My Bloody Valentine - No More Sorry (from Isn't Anything, 1988)

Catchy but tempestuous and disorientating tune from MBV's first and strangest album

21. Pizzicato Five - Twiggy Twiggy (from This Year's Girl, 1991)

Silly, camp, retro Shibuya-kei nonsense.

22. REM - Half a World Away (from Out of Time, 1991)

Out of Time is half masterpiece, half blah. This song is from the masterpiece half.

23. Ramones - The KKK Took My Baby Away (from Pleasant Dreams, 1981)

The Ramones' output became patchier post-End of the Century, but great songs like this popped up throughout the rest of their career; catchy, goofy, strangely moving.

24. Slayer - South of Heaven (from South of Heaven, 1988)

Slowing down after the speedy excesses of Reign of Blood suited Slayer well, especially on dynamic and grimly powerful songs like this.

25. The Beach Boys - California Saga: Big Sur (from Holland, 1973)

Lovely mellow waltz-time twee-ness that makes Big Sur sound very appealing.

26. The Donnas - Hook It Up (from Get Skintight, 1999)

For some reason The Donnas never get the same credit as many all-girl rock bands do, despite being GREAT mostly.

27. Masahito Sako & the Soundbreakers - Amalgamation Pt. 1 (from Amalgamation, 1971)

Jazz/rock/whatever explosion; bizarrely great and fresh sounding 40+ years on.

28. Ozzy Osbourne - Secret Loser (from The Ultimate Sin, 1986)

The Ultimate Sin is underrated by those who think heaviness is a virtue & Ozzy's 'mad housewife' image laughable (that bit is fair enough), but  the Ozzy/Jake E Lee partnership (with a lot of input from the great Bob Daisley) made for perfect commercial 80s metal.

29. They Might Be Giants - Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head (from They Might Be Giants, 1986)

Strange, silly, Elvis-Costello-on-helium goodness from the two Johns' first album.

30. Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers - Important in Your Life (from Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, 1978)

Timeless whimsical romantic funny heartwarming nonsense.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Various "Various Artists"....

Like a good mix tape, the compilation album at its best is either a springboard for further exploration, or an encapsulation of a scene, genre or simply a label's output. At its worst it is The Ultimate Cheese Party. The following are worth hearing:
WIBG – 30 Big Goldens
Post Records, 1967(?) 2-LP

The charm of this top 40 compilation is that it was compiled by Philadelphia radio station WIBG as a promotional item and perfectly captures the US commercial radio of the flower power era. Despite the cover and 'free daisy decal' though, it's a resolutely non-countercultural item, with pop-psych confections (Incense & Peppermints), pure bubblegum (Yummy, Yummy, Yummy) and some oldies (Duke of Earl). There are pictures and biographical sketches of the stations DJs ("Happy Jack takes care of biz and gets it on every evening") which reinforce the atmosphere of 'Scooby Doo', rather than 'Woodstock' grooviness.

Tommy James & the Shondells - I think We're Alone Now
Strawberry Alarm Clock - Incense & Peppermints
James & Bobby Purify - I'm Your Puppet

Travellin' This Lonesome Road - An Anthology of the Victor/Bluebird Catalogues
RCA records, 1970

There are lots of excellent anthologies of pre-LP blues singers, this one focuses on the mid-20s - mid-30s output of Victor's Bluebird 'race record' imprint. Unlike many compilations collecting the solo, rural blues singers of the era this features appearances by the excellent Memphis Jug Band and Canon's Jug Stompers as well as various singers accompanied by other instrumentalists.

Luke Jordan's mournful-but-melodious Church Bell Blues/Pick Poor Robin Clean
Blind Willie McTell - Mr McTell's Got the Blues
Memphis Jug Band - She Stays Out All Night Long

Lookout! Freakout
Lookout! Records/Panic Button Records, 2000 

Label samplers necessarily rely on the quality of the roster being showcased, and though California's Lookout! Records isn't remembered as one of the best known US indies out there, in the latter half of the 90s they had a lineup of mainly punk bands of various types, several of whom went on to be well known (The Donnas, Green Day, Alkaline Trio, Rancid), the non-star studded lineup of this compilation is full of bands who are worth a listen.

American Steel's slightly ska-tinged meisterwerk Got A Backbeat
The Groovie Ghoulies  - Carly Simon
Moral Crux - Bomb For The Mainstream

Hò! #1 Roady Music From Vietnam
Trikont records, 1998

A highlight among this list, this unique album from Germany's superb Trikont label collects recordings of various buskers, impromptu gatherings, funeral processions and restaurant entertainers in modern day Vietnam. It's colourful, atmospheric, chaotic and strangely uplifting.

All of it; seriously, most of the music here isn't like anything else, but these are great:
Dylan Thanh's wobbly acoustic version of the Bee Gee's I Started a Joke
Dan Bau Vietnam's weird, space-age twangy surf version of Ghost Rider in the Sky
Eo Sinh & Nahm Hao's unearthly VC Love Song, complete with loud traffic & street noise
Ferry Duo's mournful, alien FNL's Blues

New Wave
Vertigo, 1978

1977; a cover image of a leather jacketed punk, spitting and on the reverse  a lineup of anonymous youngsters in unconvincing versions of the punk uniform.   Yes, this is a zeitgeist-bandwagon-jumping cash-in by a mainly hard/prog rock label.
 Despite the title, some of the music to be found on the album pre-dates the punk boom proper and in fact, what we see here is that the accepted chronology of punk as we now know it was already settling into place.  Therefore the album covers the founders: New York Dolls, Ramones – the stars of the contemporary US scene; Dead Boys, Talking Heads, Richard Hell & the Voidoids – the architects of UK punk (represented by The Damned’s New Rose) and relative newcomers like The Boomtown Rats.  Better still though, are the anomalies; the Runaways,  Skyhooks,  Little Bob Story, demonstrating that any scene becomes more interesting when you look past its ‘greatest hits’.

The Flamin' Groovies immortal Shake Some Action
The Dead Boys sleaze-a-thon All This And More
Talking Heads' quirk-rock manifesto Love Comes to Building on Fire

Deep Overground Pop
Polydor, 1969 2-LP

Desperately hip (and in fact really good) double album showcasing some of the era's most popular 'cool' music (Hendrix, Cream, The Who) along with bands  Polydor were trying with limited success to push into the same league (Taste, Rare Amber, Second Hand). Nice sleeve too - in the gatefold there's a key as to who's who in the cover pic.

Jimi Hendrix's beautifully understated Little Wing
Second Hand's overwrought psych/prog epic Reality
Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & the Trinity's creepy/groovy Season of the Witch

Maggie, Maggie, Maggie; Out! Out! Out!
Anagram Records, 1987

The excellent cover suggests a slightly different compilation of protest punk; this one is indeed pretty great, but rather than being the viciously anti-thatcherite crustfest one might expect, it's actually a compilation of quality punk of many hues, not all UK-based and some by 1987 fairly elderly.

Dead Kennedy's all-time great Kill The Poor
The Expelled's almost melodic Government Policy
Action Pact's dynamic Open Your Eyes with George's great outraged vocals

Earache Presents - Grind Crusher
Earache Records, 1989

A great album, albeit not as singularly grindy as the title suggests; in fact it was a pretty good indication of the way the extreme scene was going in '89 with Morbid Angel's death metal meeting Godflesh's pioneering industrial nastiness and Repulsion and Intense Degree's by then olde worlde grind.

Morbid Angel's classic Chapel of Ghouls
Carcass' peerless Exhume to Consume
Bolt Thrower's crushing Through the Eye of Terror

Soul Direction
CBS/Direction, 1968

CBS had a range of excellent (mostly 'Northern'-ish) soul acts in the late 60s, but they didn't really know what to do with them; hence a compilation album with a fish on the front. Some great stuff here though,

Pretty Purdie's superb drum showcase Funky Donkey
Charlie & Inez Foxx's high energy, celebratory I Ain't Going For That
Johnny Johnson & the Bandwagon's silly but nice Stone Soul Picnic

Friday, 1 November 2013

October's Soundtrack

Some of the songs that I liked as the autumn got colder, wetter and darker...

 1.  Lou Reed - How Do You Think It Feels? (from Berlin, 1973)

Anguished, druggy, yet catchy but with kind of glitzy showbiz horns, no-one else could have recorded this song.

2. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Straight to You (from Henry’s Dream, 1990)

Big, overblown romantic ballad from one of the Bad Seeds' series of classic albums


3.  Cyndi Lauper – The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough (1985)  

Of Cyndi Lauper's handful of great songs this is the most nostalgia-inducing (if you're the right age)


4. The Beach Boys – Cuddle Up (from Carl & the Passions – So Tough, 1972)

Sad, comforting & lovely song from one of the band's less famous  early 70s albums

5. Tom Waits – Widow’s Grove (from Orphans, 2006)

epia-tinted wistfulness, as lovely as his voice is gravelly.
6. David Bowie - Lady Stardust (from Ziggy Stardust, 1972)

Beautifully produced, played and sung, an immaculate piece of atmospheric pop music.

7. Napalm Death - Siege of Power (from Scum, 1987)

Probably the most 'proper song' type track from one of the cornerstones of extreme music, but none the worse for that.

8. The Roches – Losing True (from Keep on Doing, 1982)

The usual unearthly Roche harmonies made even prettier by Robert Fripp's beautiful guitar solo

9. Eddie Lang – Eddie’s Twister (1927)

More pretty guitar playing, this time from a pioneer of jazz guitar.

10. Scott Walker - The Escape (from The Drift, 2006)

Guaranteed to cause unease when played through headphones in a shuffle, Scott Walker's dark side is pretty dark, no matter what music it is compared to.

11. Jimi Hendrix - Bold as Love (from Axis: Bold as Love  1967)

Just on the right side of self-indulgent, Axis: Bold As Love is as good as any album Hendrix ever released.

12. The Velvet Underground - I'll Be Your Mirror (from The Velvet Underground & Nico, 1967)

Just a lovely song, with Nico's least glacial, most fragile vocal performance.

13. The Cure - Six Different Ways (from The Head on the Door, 1985)

The Head on the Door may have been the Cure's first confident nearly-mainstream album but this strange and lovely little song sounds like a refugee from '84's highly eccentric The Top.

14. They Might Be Giants - We Want A Rock (from Flood, 1990)

Possibly completely nonsensical song that seems almost to be saying something deep. With a nice tune.

15. Morrissey - You Have Killed Me (from Ringleader of the Tormentors, 2005)

An excellent Morrissey single; enigmatic lyrics, great tune.

16. Miles Davis - Iris (from ESP, 1965)

The key to this beautifully understated atmospheric piece is the ensemble playing of the whole band; Tony Williams & Wayne Shorter shine every bit as much as Miles himself.

17. Kiss - Anything For My Baby (from Dressed to Kill, 1975)

Silly, rattly, fun rock song with a sense of humour and a lot of heart.

18 Scott Walker - Jean the Machine (from 'Til the Band Comes In, 1970)

Almost the polar opposite of The Escape, this is a silly, playful, camp Cold War music hall ditty.

19. The Beatles - Baby, You're A Rich Man (from Magical Mystery Tour, 1967)

Whimsical, if slightly barbed semi-psychedelic nonsense with a nice tune.

20. Iron Maiden - Flight of Icarus (from Piece of Mind, 1983)

One of Iron Maiden's many strengths is the way they can (often) make a very descriptive narrative into a song without any awkwardness. This classic has all of the great Maiden elements in one concise package.

21. The Smiths - I Won't Share You (from Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987)

This beautifully delicate song benefits from the broader texture of The Smiths' final album, with Johnny Marr apparently playing some kind of antique zither or autoharp.

22. Blue Oyster Cult - Cities On Flame With Rock & Roll (from Blue Oyster Cult, 1972)

A blatant ripoff of Black Sabbath's The Wizard, but it has its own charm

23. The Beach Boys - He Gives Speeches (from The SMiLE Sessions, 1967)

One of many very strange little snippets from the notoriously chaotic sessions for the psychedelic masterpiece that was never finished; typically, it has a very nice tune.

24. Teenage Fanclub - Neil Jung (from Grand Prix, 1995)

One of many lovely, sad songs on possibly TFCs greatest album.

25. Vangelis - Memories of Green (from Blade Runner 1982)

From almost Aphex Twin-like minimalism to romantic, melancholy atmosphere, this song captures the essence of the whole Blade Runner score in just over 5 minutes.

26. Gorgoroth - Gorgoroth (from Antichrist 1996)

Gorgoroths come and go, but this lineup was the best and this is their best song; the absolute epitome of Norwegian black metal.

27. Queen - Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy (from A Day At the Races 1976)

Virtuoso rock campness; no-one could make this kind of music better than Queen.

28. Public Enemy - Rebel Without a Pause (from It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, 1988)

Typically intense and multi-layered song from P.E.'s masterful and seminal second album.

29. John Lennon - Instant Karma !(1970)

None of The Beatles' post-Beatles careers were or have been entirely satisfactory, but they all had their moments and this is one of John Lennon's best. Phil Spector's excellent production (much the same as for the mostly great Plastic Ono Band album) gives the song at least half of its atmosphere.

30. An Autumn for Crippled Children - In February (from Only the Ocean Knows, 2012)

Limpid melancholy and harsh dissonance are inseparable on the Dutch post-black metallists 2012 opus, this song is one of its highlights.

31. Joy Division - New Dawn Fades (from Unknown Pleasures, 1979)

The almost tangible gloom that permeates almost every Joy Division song is here augmented by Bernard Sumner's strangely Black Sabbath-like guitar riff.