Monday, December 27, 2010

Stereolab - Transient Random Noise Bursts With Announcements

Behold, ladies and gentlemen, one of the greatest bands of the last two decades, no questions asked. Stereolab were formed in 1990 by like minded music enthusiasts Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier. Throughout their career, they've been called fiercely independent and creative, both of which would somehow still be understatements in comparison to what they've accomplished over their time. From their early jangle pop and c86 incarnations they transformed into children of the Velvet Underground and heirs to the krautrock scene, without losing their pop sensibility or the passion for experimentation on album, the evolution continuing over the course of their career (and all the way upto Mary Hansen's unfortunate death in 2002, no two albums had anything in common except for the fact that they were all masterpieces). Now with so many fucking good Stereolab albums and compilations (yeah they have about 5cds worth of non LP material which is just as good) I'm going to have to take some time to get through them all, so I'll just start with my favourite of theirs, their major label debut; Transient Random Noise Bursts with Announcements - and a top 5 album of the 90's for me.

Sometimes I have to be in the mood for this. But when I am, nothing else will even begin to suffice. Every single song on this is its own beast, whilst still retaining the signature Stereolab sound. Not a wasted note here, this album basically showed that the band is more than faithful to its name and were pioneers to the exact revolution they idealised in their songwriting. And oh yeah, Jenny motherfuckin' Ondioline. 'Nuff said. 

If there's been a way to build it, there'll be a way to destroy it

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sly & The Family Stone - There's a Riot Goin' On

Sly and the Family Stone were an American funk and soul band from San Fransico, California. Active from 1966 to 1983, the band was pivotal in the development of soul, funk, and psychedelia. Headed by singer, songwriter, record producer, and multi instrumentalist Sly Stone, and containing several of his family members and friends; as well as one of the first important groups to have a racially integrated, multi-gender lineup, something quite unheard of in the music scene in the late 60's. They released a whole bunch of albums; 2 of which were masterpieces that still hold up today. This is their best album in my opinion,  the 1971 behemoth 'There's a Riot Goin' On' 

Urban legends are cool. One says that where Marvin Gaye searched and pondered what exactly had come to be in his time with the aptly titled "What's Goin' On?", a slightly less known musician (but equally, if not more talented) called Sly Stone responded with this album. With the death of the 60's, came also the death of a lot of the expectations and ideals the 60's had envisioned. Political strife, police brutality, assassinations, the fall of the social rights movement and general social disillusionment brought forth by events of the era were the zeitgest of the day, and Sly Stone had been off the map  for nearly 2 years following the hugely optimistic and colourful 'Stand', the band's previous release. Prior to recording this album, Sly Stone more or less locked himself up in a studio, and fuelled by the aforementioned air of negativity, chooses to create a haunting conceptual album whilst spiralling under the heavy weight of substance abuse and worsening relationships between him and his band. The result is jaw dropping; a man left with his thoughts, employing a minimalistic, murky approach to his funk, lays down some of the bleakest soul music ever seen. Features some of the earliest and creative use of overdubs and rerecording, drum machines (on the lead single "Family Affair"), the drug induced euphoria of the opening "Luv n Haight", the satirical take on country on "Space Cowboy", the album is produced just as well as the material it contains - Sly's voice feels like a distant, disorienting lament of a man on the edge as opposed to a stagefront croon that he had trademarked on his previous albums. The album closer "Thank you for talkin' to me Africa" is essentially a slowed down version of a previous single of theirs "Thank you for lettin' me be mice elf again", is absolutely devastating in it's simplicity; a bluesy number on hedonism and self resignation that goes on for a good 7 minutes, but still feels exceedingly short. All in all, a fitting epitapth for the end of the last great decade of social optimism and upheavel - the darkest psychedelic funk/soul album put to record is also one of the most resonant and endlessly fascinating albums of all time; both in songwriting and scope. In my opinion, There's A Riot Goin' On sits comfortably as one of the ten best albums of the 1970's, and has stood the test of time as an all time great.

Thank you for lettin' me be myself again

Friday, December 17, 2010

The KLF - Chill Out

The KLF were a British band, pioneers of electronic and ambient music in the early 90's. Though they were predominantly working in the field of electronica, the control they maintained over their own art and their distaste for the corporate music business is probably unparalleled in music history. In 1990, they released Chill Out, one of the most influential and kickass ambient albums put to record. Check this out: 

Their first record sampled ABBA who promptly sued the band for unauthorised use. After confronting ABBA in their recording studio, the band burnt all the copies of the record in a field. They then went back to the drawing board and made an ambient album ‘Chill Out’ and then the house classic ‘The White Room’ before finally appearing at The Brit Awards violently firing blanks from an automatic rifle into the audience, causing mayhem in the area. Later in the evening the band dumped a dead sheep with the message "I died for ewe—bon appetit" tied around its waist at the entrance to one of the post-ceremony parties. Then they dropped out of the music business almost immediately, burning all of their back catalog (which remains unavailable and out of print to this day). Their statuette for "best british group" of 1992 was found buried in a field near Stonehenge. 

"We have been following a wild and wounded, glum and glorious, shit but shining path these past five years. The last two of which has [sic] led us up onto the commercial high ground—we are at a point where the path is about to take a sharp turn from these sunny uplands down into a netherworld of we know not what. For the foreseeable future there will be no further record releases from The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, The Timelords, The KLF and any other past, present and future name attached to our activities. As of now all our past releases are deleted.... If we meet further along be prepared...our disguise may be complete" 

With The KLF's profits, Drummond and Cauty established the K Foundation and sought to subvert the art world, staging an alternative art award for the worst artist of the year and burning one million pounds sterling..

An insight from a fellow rymer:

Taking cues from Brian Eno’s early ambient records, ‘Chill Out’ seems to simulate a night time road trip across southern USA highways while you have the radio on low because everyone else in the car is fast asleep; it’s enveloping bliss. Some of the tracks don’t even have any melody in them, but they all add to the dreamy ambiance of it all. You can hear train-crossings, birds, engines, even sheep; why some of them are in there is anyone’s guess, but like The Orb’s classic debut, ‘Chill Out’ has a great sense of humour bundled with it which means that there’s always something to take you by surprise. ‘Chill Out’ is also heavily indebted to sampling; the strains of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’ and Acker Bilk’s ‘Stranger On The Shore’ aren’t disguised in any way, but they don’t really steal their melodies; ‘Chill Out’ isn’t about melodies. It’s all about atmosphere and that’s exactly what the samples provide. As the ‘Albatross’ snippet fades in slowly, you can see yourself sipping coffee parked in a petrol station watching the traffic spin round in the pouring rain.

I strongly doubt there has ever been (or will ever be) a record like this. Though The Orb’s ‘U.F.Orb’ came close, ‘Chill Out’ still exceeds it in nearly every aspect. A transcendant, transporting highway wilderness. In a bizarre change of plan, the year after ‘Chill Out’ was released, The KLF had more UK hit singles than anyone else that year, then the year after that they withdrew one million pounds from their bank account, nailed it to a board of wood, then burnt it. That weird stunt may have shown their madness, but ‘Chill Out’ shows their genius.

Madrugada Eterna

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

dum de da

So I'm gonna step up my blog posting, probably include linkage to my favourite movies as well. Laziness and procrastionation is not a good mix. Can't remember what the fuck I was doing in November. Ah well.

For music, I'm going to post all my favourites/classics, then get to the more esoteric stuff. Stick around, whoever it is that may visit - I've got a lot of stuff I wanna share.

The Chameleons - Script of the Bridge

In an ideal world, The Chameleons are selling out stadia of fans, and are one of the most successful bands in the history of popular music; while U2 have slipped into obscurity because of their utter mediocrity. Basically, reality check isn't so pretty, and somehow this immensely talented band slipped through the cracks to become the quintessential 80's band you've never heard of. Here's their debut, Script of the Bridge - a post punk masterpiece disguised (blame the cover art) as a bargain bin piece. One of the finest albums of its time, and still sounds so damn good today. The guitar interplay is fantastic, the lyrics are poignant and the sound is, well, timeless; in many ways it serves as a sort of 80's Ok Computer; with its unique atmosphere and themes of alienation and disconnect. Bono+Edge, you guys are fucking hacks for ripping off and  watering down this sound. Another insight: 

Script Of The Bridge sets the stage perfectly for a record of broken dreams, trembling nostalgia, and a palatable yearning for the lost innocence of youth. The touchstones of human existence are all here, in glorious blood red. Joy and despair. Pleasure and pain. 

Marking an exact stylistic point between fellow Mancunians Joy Division and the Smiths, the Chameleons have somehow been criminally neglected by the history books. Whilst their peers Echo & The Bunnymen and U2 enjoyed critical acclaim and adoration, the Chameleons simply released three low key albums before breaking up after the untimely death of their manager in 1987. 

_Script of the Bridge_, their 1983 debut, defies its relative obscurity by standing virtually unrivaled, not just in eighties post punk music, but in rock music at large; a thundering wall of melody, the band used the studio to create a textured sonic art that married a breath taking understanding of atmosphere and restraint with a palatable sense of emotional fury. The result is music that is somehow beyond mere words and adjectives, transcending any inevitable comparisons or praise. 

Song's like "Second Skin" and "Thursday's Child" are rooted between a nostalgic dreamscape and a profound and heartbreaking reality; in one corner the twin guitars of Reg and Dave fill the song's black voids with a kind of glacial sonic ecstasy. Meanwhile vocalist Mark Burgess delivers his words like a man on the edge; brooding and guttural, littered with references to an innocence lost and a desire unspeakable. Be it the dense foreboding of "Here Today" or the hammering distress of "A Person Isn't Safe Anywhere These Days", the band sound forever on the very edge of exploding into a sprawl of futile despair, but always come back with an angel dust melody to shine a light and heal the sadness, offering a sense of hope, empathy and brotherhood through catharsis. 

Futhermore, whilst Script of the Bridge feels entirely unified and cohesive, its relentlessly strong songs can actually distract one from the gently inventive arrangements and intricate playing on display, all of which is simply outstanding; the fade out coda tagged onto the end of the aforementioned "A Person Isn't Safe Anywhere These Days" is a mesmerising piece of ambient dub in itself, whilst "Paper Tigers" jumps between jangling guitar lines and unforgiving drum machine breaks. Elsewhere the band mine subtly Gothic influences but with none of the tiresome theatrics; you get the impression that whilst fledgling Goth bands stole the worst bits of Bauhaus and amplified them into a lame pantomime, the Chameleons simply took some of the energetic essence and purified it further. 

Relentlessly emotional yet ultimately cleansing, from the opening fury of "Don't Fall" to the reflective post-apocalyptic dream of "View From A Hill" The Chameleons simply don't let up on the perfectly executed intensity of their craft, and with Script of the Bridge touched upon something intangible and rarefied in guitar rock. 

For such astonishing music as this I reserve a rare piece of hyperbole. Script of the Bridge is quite simply one of the greatest records ever made.

"In his Autumn 'fore the Winter comes man's last mad surge of youth"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Prolapse - The Italian Flag

Ahh, to be a music fan is to come to terms with the fact that, while there is so much good stuff out there, most of it goes largely unnoticed, even by music enthusiasts themselves. Such is the case with Prolapse, a band that formed in Leicester in about 1992; and wearing their krautrock and post punk influences proudly on their sleeves - churned out 4 albums of near perfect music, and disappeared into nothingness. This is their best album, The Italian Flag; I could just keep praising it to high heaven but all I'll say is that this is one of the top 10 albums of the 90's. For a decade with so much fantastic music, it's a crime to let a band this unique and inventive go ignored. So without further adieu; here's an awesome piece on The Italian Flag from the now defunct Stylus Magazine.Rest assured that you will listen to this and realise exactly what I'm talking about.

Sometimes reference points aren’t much help, really. I’m really not sure if there’s any records out there quite like this. One day there might be. It’ll probably be successful. The NME’ll like it. The NME liked Prolapse, of course, but back in the dark, distant days of 1998 that didn’t cut much mustard with The British Record Buying Public. At least, not if you were Prolapse. Somehow the idea of a woman from the East Midlands and a big Scottish bloke talking, singing and shouting over, under and at each other while punk, post-punk and shoegaze came together and had an almighty row—somehow, Urban Hymns was more successful. Bizarre. 

Prolapse, from what I can gather, were a bunch of C86 kids who met while at university in Leicester and decided to make really depressing music together. The Italian Flag, their third album and the only one that got released on a major label, goes one fuck of a way beyond that. It’s immediate and yet a bit impenetrable at the same time. You could call it pop, but people would give you some very, very strange looks. 

One thing you can say with little fear of contradiction is that this is a very grown-up album, not because of the mature qualities of the musicianship or whatever people are saying about Doves this week but because of the darkness of the sound, not in the modern whining sarcasm that passes for wit too often nowadays, but the seriousness of the thing. Guitars are hefty, nervous, oppressive, edgy, scratchy. Linda Steelyard and Mick Derrick’s vocals are… it’s difficult to know what to say. She: clipped, hard East Midlands tones, sometimes lost in the mix, like being called to by ghosts, playing at girlyness, other times irritable, skulking shrugs, sometimes just plain fucked off. He: rasping Glasgae yelling, or low, threatening murmurs and whispers; sometimes he sounds drunk, sometimes he sounds fucking unhinged. 

The songs are monsterpieces of repetition and freeform clashing together, not ‘uncomfortable’, not ‘awkward’, just intensely brilliant. The energy is immense. ‘Slash/Oblique’ lunges in early. Steelyard coos “You, will, ne, ver, un, der, stand, me,” then babbles “IknowIneedmyheadexaminedIknowIneedmyheadexamined,” and Derrick throws himself in, yelling incomprehensibly wherever he can. The drums charge throughout, fit to burst, going so fast they’ve forgotten who’s meant to be keeping up with who. ‘Deanshanger’ is slower. Nearly more conventional, a bassline driving it along neatly—there’s some verses, and a chorus… it could almost be normal, were it not for the fact that Derrick is still making Aidan Moffat sound like Stephen Fry, there’s bagpipes that sound like they’re hurling invective at a cabinet minister and the chorus is actually just Steelyard singing some words that sound vaguely French but don’t actually make any sense. Still, she gets to be the shouty one on ‘Day At Death Seaside’, yelling “HAD TO LEAVE! BOUND TO LOSE! HAD TO LEAVE! BOUND TO LOSE!” amid horrible fairground organs and her yelling at someone about Oprah Winfrey and clearing the fucking mantelpiece. ‘Autocade’, on the other hand, sounds like Lush (that’s a very good thing) and doesn’t feature Derrick, because he thought it wasn’t very good. It really is depressing how little influence Prolapse have had on the British music industry. 

It’s intense, serious, grown-up, and incredible fun. ‘Killing The Bland’ (“I might have to kill you, which wouldn’t be fair. On me.”) could legitimately have been a proper hit single, We All Shout Together as the backing goes all psycho-punka and decides to race Derrick and Steelyard to see who can finish theirs first. ‘Visa For Violet And Van’ is the sort of song that swallows you completely whole, the pace militaristic and unrelenting for six minutes, a pounding, punishing rhythm destroying everything in its path without blinking. The guitar wanders and wails all over, lost and wounded. Steelyard sounds calm, detached. “My floor, kitchenware, underwear, haircare!” Derrick is on top form, screaming his verses, sneering his chorus (“Ah wis always wan point wan point wan point wan point wan ae thim!”), sounding like he’s making wanker signs right up in your face and could not give a shite what you’re thinking about that. A minute and a half from the end it dissolves into feedback and crashing. You barely notice. 

There’s really nothing quite like Prolapse—too complex and hefty for punk, too bold and fast (and, to be honest, fun) for shoegaze, too fucking odd for pop. ‘Indie’ feels like a whole can of worms that doesn’t merit touching, but maybe that’s just what Prolapse were, a properly independent band who didn’t appear to give the slightest fuck for what other people thought of them (as opposed to the kind of band who repeatedly declare that they don’t give a fuck what other people think of them) because they were rather too busy being themselves. It’s annoying that they completely vanished in 1999 after their final album, Ghosts Of Dead Aeroplanes, and that nowadays they seem to exist solely in the memories of music journalists. Despite the fact that Prolapse ran almost directly parallel with my teenage years, I didn’t actually know they’d existed till just before they split up, and I only started getting into them in about 2001, which is fucking stupid. You look at the raft of mediocre British guitar bands around today, all trying to do something new and different, and you realise that only five or six years ago this lot were everything they could never be. And it pisses you off ever so slightly. 

I know I need my head examined

Television - Marquee Moon

Television were a band formed in 1973and were active in NYC during the nascent of the punk and the new wave scene. A regular at the now defunct CBGB's scene, they never really achieved much fame but were to be immensely influential in the canon of alternative music with the release of 1977 album, Marquee Moon. Together, Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd would form a guitar team that would define their sound and pave the way for a lot of great alternative music that was made in the 80's (and of course subsequently, in the nineties and noughties). Very few things done by two guitars in a band comes close to this. An insight from a fellow rymer, unearth.

 Having not aged an iota in its thirty years of existence, Marquee Moon's futurist impact is still reverberating through the music world. It is as if Television took Brian Eno's sound, reinterpretted it for guitars, and added existential poetry on top of it, but that description falls far short of the magic contained in this music. These songs ring true to my personal sensibilites, from the embrace of all experience (See No Evil), to the vitalistic desire for perpetual change (Venus), to the dispassionate, uncommited observer of the title track, there is a strong philosophical (particularly Nietzschean) bent running through the proceedings. Yet, even taken as a purely aural/visceral experience, Marquee Moon is as thrilling and vital as music gets.