Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Eno Files: Part II

Roxy Music (1972) A wholly unique creation. The sound of old Motown records being melted and passed through Eno’s synthesiser.

Here Come the Warm Jets (1973) The debut solo album, equal parts daftness and genius.

June 1, 1974 (1974) Live album with Kevin Ayers, John Cale, and Nico.

Before and After Science (1977) I’ve always had a soft spot for this solo work.

Devo: Question: Are We Not Men? Answer: We Are Devo! (1978) He produced Devo as well. Got to like a bit of Devo.

Brian Eno & David Bryne: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981) One of his best.

Ambient 4 / On Land (1982) Yet another perfect album. Especially “Dunwich Beach, Autumn, 1960”.

Dune Soundtrack (1984) It’s got the ‘Prophecy Theme’ on it. Therefore worth owning you understand.

Passengers: Original Soundtracks (1995) Enjoyable collaboration with U2

Part III on the way soon.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Underrated: Part 2

Scott Walker: Climate Of Hunter (1984) After some time in the creative wilderness, Walker returned with this dark slab of eighties doom (fretless bass included). He even refused to name four of the tracks because it gave the listener a false preconception. Beat that Coldplay.

Miles Davis: In A Silent Way (1969) He was thinking ambient before anybody really thought about ambient……..and you can’t play it at dinner parties, which means I prefer it to ‘Kind Of Blue’ immediately.

Talk Talk: Spirit Of Eden (1988) More people need to recognise the genius of Mark Hollis. I mean honestly, how do you classify this album?

Rain Tree Crow (1991) People couldn’t get past the Japan tag, which is a shame because this is one of the best albums of the early nineties.

Radiohead: Amnesiac (2001) ‘When will they make another OK Computer?’ they asked, the rest of us were pretty enamoured with the new stuff ……

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Taste Of Eno: Part 1 – Oblique Strategies and More

Roxy Music: For Your Pleasure (1973) Unfortunately this is the last Roxy album with Eno on board, apparently Ferry was miffed at the number of females that gravitated towards him!

Fripp & Eno: (No Pussyfooting) (1973) You would think an ambient-prog masterpiece and you would be right to think ambient-prog masterpiece. Could be the first foray into ambient music by anyone ….ever.

Another Green World (1975) The third solo album is something else entirely, it’s got Eno singing, exotic instrumental excursions and Phil Collins on drums…..no joke, Phil Collins

Cluster & Eno (1977) Where did he find the time to do a krautrock album?

David Bowie: “Heroes” (1977) Eno had a massive effect on Bowie’s working methods through-out the Berlin trilogy, and he co-wrote the title track you know.

Ambient 1- Music for Airports (1978) First time the label ‘ambient’ was used on his work. Subsequently played in LaGuardia Airport.

Brian Eno & Harold Budd: Ambient 2- The Plateaux of Mirror (1980) Stupendous collaboration between ambient gods.

Brian Eno & Jon Hassell: Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics (1980) Stupendous collaboration between …… you get the idea.

Talking Heads: Remain in Light (1980) Production duties beyond compare and he co-wrote ‘Once in a Lifetime’ you know.

U2: The Unforgettable Fire (1984) Behind the desk again, he took the stadium rock band to strange new places. A hazy dreamlike creation, one of the bands best.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Underrated Albums: Part 1

Bob Dylan: Slow Train Coming (1979) The first album from his much maligned ‘christian’ period is a total winner. A classic album with Mark Knopfler on it, what gives ?

Prince: Around the World in a Day (1985) At the time it was known as the disappointing follow-up to ‘Purple Rain’, but the years have been kind to this experimental psychedelic masterpiece…….and yes it has ‘Raspberry Beret’ on it…….oh, you all love it now, of course.

Van Morrison: No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986) By the mid eighties the casual fans had turned away from Van because of his refusal to do another ‘Astral Weeks’. Then, when they weren’t looking, he produced his best work in donkeys years which would even rival the aforementioned untouchable album.

Metallica: Load (1996) It was a natural progression for the band to slow the tempos down after the success of ‘The Black Album’. Even though the hardcore refused to follow, you can’t deny the quality of songs like ‘Bleeding Me’ and ‘The Outlaw Torn’.

Led Zeppelin: Presence (1976) Led Zep had pleased their fans over and over again with their patented brand of heavy blues. By the mid seventies other influences started to creep in (Disco anyone ?) and the fans were none to pleased, which is probably why this was met with such a tepid response. Write it off at your peril.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Top 10: When Good Artists Go Bad

I listened to these albums so that you don’t have to ……

Neil Young: Everybody's Rockin' (1983) Geffen records pestered Young into make a ‘rock’ record. What they got was 25 minutes of rockabilly songs……..the eighties was a difficult period for Neil fans.

The Rolling Stones: Dirty Work (1986) Mick and Keith were barely speaking when this album was made……… it shows

David Bowie: Tonight (1984) On the plus side it has ‘Loving the Alien’, but that’s about it …… did I mention there’s a duet with Tina Turner on here, yes THAT Tina Turner.

Bob Dylan: Down in the Groove (1988) This is just completely pointless.

Lou Reed: Metal Machine Music (1975) A double album consisting of nothing but guitar feedback. Apparently not a joke.

Paul McCartney: Wings Wild Life (1971) Honestly, a five year old would be embarrassed by the melodies on this album.

The Clash: Cut The Crap (1985) Billed as a ‘Futuristic’ synth-punk album. In reality Joe Strummer having a very bad idea.

Roger Waters: The Wall-Live in Berlin (1990) A live ‘re-imagining’ of one of the greatest albums of all-time. It has Bryan Adams singing Pink Floyd, I don’t need to tell you anything else.

Eric Clapton: No Reason To Cry (1976) How can an album with Clapton, backed by The Band and a duet with Bob Dylan be this bad ? ……. more accurately described as ‘No Reason To Buy’ ….. ok that’s a bit cheap, but you get the idea.

Bruce Springsteen: Human Touch (1992) He ditched the E-Street Band and decided to release two albums on the same day. This is the lesser of the two. A record full of the worst kind of generic ‘rockers’ imaginable. Not good.

And there’s plenty others out there, I’ll come back to this topic again in the future.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Top 10: Essential Damon Albarn

With the surprise news that a Blur reformation is on the cards, with dates booked for next summer, this seems to be a good time to revue the eclectic career of songwriter Damon Albarn.

Albarn has proved himself to be the modern David Bowie-esque chameleon of rock/pop with some interesting forays into further left-field genres.

1. Blur, Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993): On the second album they ditched the baggy leanings and embraced 60’s pop to successful effect.

2. Blur, Parklife (1994): The brit-pop monster. For good and bad.

3. Blur, Blur (1997): The one where they went to Iceland to ‘find’ themselves.

4. Blur, 13 (1999): The one where Graham Coxon made his presence felt.

5. Gorillaz, Gorillaz (2001): The side-project that threatened to eclipse his day job.

6. Mali Music (2002): Vital ‘world music’ project that has informed everything since.

7. Blur, Think Tank (2003): The one where Coxon left. Seriously good album though.

8. Gorillaz, Demon Days (2005): Who needs Blur anyway ?

9. The Good, The Bad & The Queen (2007): All-star project = classic album.

10. Monkey, Journey to the West (2008): Highly ambitious, hugely successful.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mötley Crüe: 'Kickstart My Heart'

Mötley Crüe tend to be dismissed as eighties lightweights, which is unsurprising when we consider that they are now known as much for their backstage antics as for their recordings. This is in no short way due to the band mythology they have created, propagated through literature and other means. But blatant self promotion is nothing new for Motley, combining the flamboyant image of glam rock with the power-chord musical stylings of heavy metal, they were born out of the vibrant Sunset Strip scene which consciously rebelled against the macho image of mainstream metal.

By 1984 hedonism had well and truly taken over, in the form of unprecedented alcohol and drug abuse, along with incomparable extracurricular debauchery. Decadence fed decadence and it wasn’t long before singer Vince Neil was involved in a head-on car collision, in which his passenger, Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas "Razzle" Dingley, was killed.

In December, 1987, songwriter Nikki Sixx suffered a fatal heroin overdose. He was declared legally dead on the way to the hospital, but received two shots of adrenaline to the heart, bringing him back to life……leading us to the present song.

Producer Bob Rock was drafted in to produce the massively successful album Dr. Feelgood, which found the band having turned over a new leaf in their personal lives, each member having beaten their own particular vice. The album proved to be a lush affair with a heavy rhythm section and Mick Mars’ guitar pushed well to the fore (the sound would influence Metallica’s weighty production on the Black album).

Mars opens the song with a heavily distorted guitar mimicking the roar of a car shifting gears, before he lets loose a frantic riff backed by Tommy Lee’s typically flashy drums. The chorus is classic glam metal, big and catchy. Reportedly, Bob Rock had to have the band record separately to avoid confrontation, which is ironic when you consider that this was the first time they had been truly clean since its inception. Somewhat predictably the band would not quite make it to the nineties intact, with Neil departing before the next album.

Dr. Feelgood (1989)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Jesus & Mary Chain: 'Just Like Honey'

Initially playing in front of small mystified audiences, the brothers Jim and William Reid earned their notoriety by playing very short gigs, some lasting no more than 10 minutes.

Infact the songwriting brothers drew unwanted tabloid attention, when incensed audiences, battered by the constant feedback and distortion emanating from the stage, began to riot vigorously. Many shows culminated with the Reids trashing their equipment and the rioting became something of a tradition, as the bandwagon moved from town to town, inviting comparisons with the equally turbulent Sex Pistols.

But the musical graveyard is full of acts who courted trivial notoriety, The Mary Chain were always much more than trivial. Combining sweet pop melodies, à la The Beach Boys or Motown, with searing guitar noise, they proved to be a unique combination which ushered in a whole generation of shoegazing disciples.

Their stunning debut album has the guttural sound of The Stooges and The Velvet Underground with a strong flavour of 60’s pop, Phil Spector being an obvious influence. Just Like Honey for example borrows Hal Blaine's famous drum intro from The Ronnettes 1963 classic, "Be My Baby", produced and co-written by Spector.

The seemingly simple melody is backed by the de rigeur wall of echo, to achieve the requisite period sound. The effect is blanketed across the mix, with liberal doses applied to the spacey drums (played by a youthful Bobby Gllespie) and the blissfully naïve vocals. The guitars are allowed plenty of room to breathe, being strummed lazily to create a vast cavernous whirlpool. Something akin to drifting through a cloud in freefall.

Psychocandy (1985)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Boards Of Canada: 'Telephasic Workshop'

Acclaimed IDM artists ‘Boards Of Canada’ consist of Scottish brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin Sandison, who have managed to operate under the radar of commercialism while generating a dedicated cult following from a broad fanbase.

Their sound is developed from a unique use of analog equipment and electronic and conventional instrumentation mixed with an elaborate layering of treated vocal samples and obscure ‘found’ sounds.

Their albums deal with recurring themes of childhood, nostalgia backed by an almost innocent melodic and harmonic structure, avoiding the coldness of modern electronica. The duo return again and again to visions of a retro-futuristic fifties America and an idyllic seventies childhood as portrayed by the mainstream media.

Though future releases would take this subject matter and add an unsettling, claustrophobic edge, 1998’s ‘Music has the right to children’ sounds like a long humid summer evening, shot through with psychedelic half-memories of experiences and conversations. The track ‘Telephasic Workshop’is a premier example of their jigsaw use of distorted samples and warm, evocative synth washes. A dizzying mix of vocal loops are cut together to create a vast cacophony of chattering voices emanating from a fractured radio. The brothers add a weighty beat which pulsates like a reassuring heartbeat.

The recording studio of the band, known as Hexagon Sun is said to be located somewhere in the Pentland Hills. Its existence has yet to be proven, which only deepens the mystique which surrounds the band and their music. Just as still waters run deep, their tranquil soundscapes contain bottomless complexities and subtle shadings.

Music has the right to children (1998)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Black Sabbath, 'Black Sabbath'

In August 1969 the band, who were then known as Earth, decided to change their name to Black Sabbath when they noticed a large crowd emerging from a showing of the 1963 Boris Karloff horror film of the same name.

The music that they would make would capture the zeitgeist of 1969, which was moving to darker places following the domination of psychedelic pop and folk. This was music for the landscape of distrust and fear which eventually broke hippie culture, manifesting in incidents such as The Rolling Stones infamous Altamont concert.

The recording process was the typically ad hoc experience we’ve come to expect from Sabbath. The songs were recorded "live" and the entire process including mixing took just three days, first takes being considered adequate. Their eponymous song has become something of a blueprint for all metal which has followed.

The shadowy, oppressive atmosphere is generated by Tony Iommi’s classic riff, a tritone interval played at slow tempo on an electric guitar with his trademark high-gain, heavily distorted tone and a modified treble-boosting effect-pedal. The tritone interval was frequently avoided in medieval ecclesiastical singing because of its dissonant quality, the name diabolus in musica ("the Devil in music") has been applied to the interval from at least the early 18th century.

The song's lyrics concern a "figure in black" which is initially unidentified but appears to be about the protagonist facing Satan during the Apocalypse. The protagonist is Satan's "chosen one," standing before him paralyzed with fear. The song was inspired by an experience bassist Geezer Butler had following an evening dabbling with the occult. He awoke during the night to find a mysterious figure in black standing over him. He recounted the event to a fascinated Ozzy, who wrote the faithful lyrics "What is this that stands before me? Figure in black which points at me".

It begins with a doom-laden intro featuring a spooky downpour effect, through to the ominously throbbing bass and drums.Yet another Iommi riff pushes the track into second gear for Ozzy’s blood curdling 'Oh please, no !', a fitting coup-de-grace to the horror theatrics. Their trademark song is crammed with unassailable touches which would elevate Sabbath above the mere mortals that surrounded them.

Where to find: Black Sabbath (1970)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gene Clark: Lady Of The North

Former Byrd Gene Clark is responsible for one of the all-time great albums 'No Other', which until recently was considered one of the great ‘lost’ records of the seventies, along with Dennis Wilson’s equally magnum opus ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’.

How such a remarkable piece of work came to be lost in the first place is the usual seventies story of too much time, money and largesse. As recording costs had ballooned to over $100,000, Geffen basically disowned the album, refusing to do promotion and allowing it go out of print, until the much anticipated first CD pressing in 2003.

With a vast array of session musicians and backing singers, the album was an amalgam of country rock, folk, gospel and soul with poetic, visionary lyrics.

The process for creating the album started when Clark retreated to his coastal home in Mendocino, removing himself from the L.A. party scene. He took a full year in this serene surrounding to compose the eight songs which ended up on the album. Towards the end of writing, Clark set-up a home with old cohort Doug Dillard in the Hollywood Hills. Initially, his wife Carlie Clark and children relocated with him to Los Angeles in the hope that the family routine of Mendocino could be preserved, but Clark had settled back into his old ways of erratic behaviour and his family abandoned him.

The climax of album ‘Lady Of The North’ an ode to the departed Carla was written in this later frantic period . The track itself gets a production of the kitchen sink variety, eclipsing even Brian Wilson for obsessive detail and awe inspiring intricacy. Every second of the song allows for some other instrumental flavour to flourish brightly. This isn’t a case of ‘too many cooks’ though because Clark has the requisite genius to see the bigger picture and weave it all together. The song floats achingly across the American landscape, as Clark sings majestically “passing the shadows of our tears”, matching the epic lyrics with a bold major chord sequence of enormous ambition and hope.

The album met with a tepid critical response and reached a disappointing peak of #144 on the charts with Clark henceforth relegated to relative commercial obscurity. With the failure came bitterness, and he would die of alcoholism-related causes in 1991, sadly underappreciated in his lifetime.

No Other (1974)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Suede: 'The 2 Of Us'

The partnership of Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler produced some superior songs in their mid-nineties heyday, moulding their overt influences from glam rock and sixties pop into a couple of era defining albums.

By the time the band had settled on its definitive lineup they had already stepped into an alternative media frenzy, due in no small part to their fresh sound which proved to be a remedy to the dying Madchester scene and U.S. grunge overkill.

Their first album Suede became the fastest-selling debut since Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Welcome To the Pleasuredome, they picked up the mercury prize but couldn’t quite crack America.

By their second album Dog Man Star they had become unwilling participants in a scene they helped create, namely Brit-Pop. While Blur and Oasis were building their careers, the tensions within the band mounted. Anderson and Butler fought constantly; a major issue was the production direction of the album. Butler had enough and walked out, leaving the remainder of the guitar work on the album to be completed by studio musicians or Brett Anderson.

The album itself features a spacious sound that was fleshed out by strings and other effects, designed to take focus away from the lack of Butler’s guitar. A glamorous aura of death pervades much of Anderson’s lyrics, exploring darker territory at odds with Brit-Pop’s optimism. The band revels in the new gutter chic atmosphere.

‘The 2 Of Us’ features a grandiose piano over a lavish chord sequence with Anderson oscillating wildly between overwrought baritone and high Bowie-esque yodelling. Of course, copious histrionics abound, but when you listen to Suede you know what you’re getting into.

Following the demise of Suede in 2003, Butler and Anderson would finally patch things up for a single album reunion under the pseudonym ‘The Tears’ in 2005. The album was well received but sold zilch, leading to a hiatus. Anderson has released a couple of solo albums which haven’t been well received at all and Butler moved into the production side of things, working with ‘The Libertines’ amongst others.

Where to find: Dog Man Star (1994)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Scott Walker: 'Jesse'

Scott Walker, the man is all shadow and no body. He leaves you clasping at straws in vain attempts to predict or decipher his actions. In fact attempting to classify his work would do injustice to something in essence unclassifiable. We know the history, the Walker Brothers, pop stagnancy, the first classic four solo albums, the wilderness years punctuated by moments of infuriating brilliance. Trying to pin Walker down is an experience not unlike shovelling dust against the wind, but that could be part of the allure.

His incomparable return with ‘Tilt’ in 1995 set us up for what promised to be a series of new major works, but Walker yet again disappeared for a decade, before the surprise announcement of a new album in 2006. ‘The Drift’ is a deeply challenging album for the listener. In short, one must re tune their ears from the drudgery of mainstream audio mush to fully appreciate what is going on here. Walker knows the old trick that the things you can't see are the most frightening, so uses minutes of stealthy ambience before letting loose the violent outbursts. In an interview following the album’s release he stated that he doesn't do arrangements any more, just puts "blocks of sound" here and there, the bitter melodies and discordant vocals, assault the senses and leave you reeling.

Jesse is one of the few straightforward ‘songs’ on the album, in which Walker enters into the lonely, desolate mind of Elvis Presley in his final days, searching for the ghost of his still-born twin Jessie. Mixed in here somewhere is the nightmare vision of September 11th and when Walker intones “I’m the only one left alive”, you believe him. Musically we get a solitary plucked guitar over the colossal orchestral sweeps and bubbling darkness. Walker’s voice has lost none of the intensity that made him famous, even though he’s content to use it for different purposes then before. He reveals the overwhelming melancholy and jaded soul of Elvis, all through his painfully fragile vocals which are pushed to the front of the brutal uncompromising mix. A different level.

Where to find: The Drift (2006)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chuck Berry: 'Let It Rock'

He is the one of the first and one of the greatest early songwriters and guitarists of rock music, the main crafter of its instrumental voice and an electric live performer.

While no individual can be said to have invented rock and roll, Chuck Berry comes the closest of any single figure, by being the one who put all the essential pieces together by drawing the disparate elements of the jigsaw onto one piece of vinyl.

Although albums were not a concept taken seriously as an artistic vision in the era,
his 1960 album ‘Rockin' at the Hops’ shows that Berry never produced substandard or lazy material in his original golden period. Simply put, In a time where long players were a collection of contractual obligations, Chuck Berry made the first standalone albums.

Released the same year as the album it would figure on,“Let It Rock, was put out as the B-side of the ludicrously titled single “Too Pooped To Pop”. Though history has forgotten about that latter gem, the flipside has become something of a rock standard and has been covered by The Rolling Stones and Motörhead amongst others. Infact when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had their faithful reintroduction in the early sixties, Mick was carrying a copy of ‘Rockin' at the Hops’.

Lyrically the song shows the beauty in the economical word usage that makes Berry such a unique songwriter. The first line “In The Heat Of The Day Down In Mobile Alabama”, immediately sets the scene. Berry knew that every second counted on these brief radio songs so he trots out every classic guitar figure he can cram into a song lasting under two minutes.

Elsewhere we get the usual bluesy railway working clichés (well they’ve become clichés anyway) ‘rolling them bones’ and ‘steel driving hammers’ etc. The sheer ease with which he throws out the liquid licks and ragged riffs prompts the question, has anybody really eclipsed Chuck Berry in the 2 minute masterpiece stakes ?

Where to find: Rockin' at the Hops (1960)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Fury: My Bloody Valentine, 'Soon'

Kevin Shields is one of those unique musicians that comes along every generation or so, equal parts genius and infuriating perfectionist. The bands zenith came with the release of ‘Loveless’ in 1991 an album made over the course of two painful years, worked on in 19 separate London studios with a laundry list of recording engineers. Shields dominated the record, agonising over the minutiae of every note. He later revealed that he played all the guitar and bass tracks on the album while the vast majority of the percussion came from cut up samples of Colm Ó Cíosóig’s drumming.

When Alan McGee of Creation records signed My Bloody Valentine he expected great things, but his patience was tried when the costs started to spiral out of control. Shields and vocalist Belinda Butcher became affected with tinnitus due to playing at obscenely high volumes, Shields insisted on using as little guitar effects as possible preferring elaborate routes to achieve what was essentially the same result and Butcher refused to let engineers hear her vocal takes, cutting off the sound to the booth and recording behind a curtain. Studio assistance was hired and fired with alarming regularity as Shields stove for immortality.

All of this meant that there was pressure to deliver something special and Loveless proved to be just that. With his furious tremolo bar wavering, Shields conjures a gargantuan wall of impressionistic feedback with gives the tracks an out of time floating quality. He reveals inner melodies within the melodies burying the muted dreamy vocals, which tend to run together into one vast cloud. The closing track ‘Soon’ first appeared on the Glider EP and was a conscious attempt to produce something more suited to the dancefloor. The sampled, almost baggy drumbeat propels the track forward with singular intensity while Shields continues to burn forcefully melting his guitar and mixing the remnants with Butchers punch drunk, almost inaudible vocals. An unforgettable woozy blur.

Where to find: Loveless (1991)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Monday Mystery: The Sonics, 'Strychnine'

Garage rock, that raw form of rock and roll that flourished in North America from about 1963 to 1967, gave birth to an aesthetic that would later be described as a punk attitude. A major contender for the title of “the first punk band”, are ‘The Sonics’, who were part of the Pacific Northwest American scene at this time.

The term Garage rock comes from the perception that many such performers were young and amateurish and that is exactly what The Sonics give you. The performances were often slapdash or naïve simple chord sequences, played hard and fast to cover up for any musical shortcomings. But don’t underestimate the ingenuity at work, the crudity was well studied, the band for example played their guitars through self customized amplifiers to achieve the harshest tones possible.

Their debut album ‘Here Are The Sonics’ was recorded very, very cheaply on a two track recorder with only one microphone to pick up the whole drum kit. The lyrics of The Sonics' original material dealt with early '60s teenage culture; cars, guitars, surfing, and girls but much more interesting was when they delved into darker and more subversive subject matter such as drinking strychnine for kicks, witches, psychopaths.

The track ‘Strychnine’ is a lesson in audio vérité, the vocals are bellowed and hollered with little attention to sound levels, the guitars are viciously overloaded, while the drums batter furiously to be heard above the din. It’s all here; microphone pops, fluffed notes and outrageous (for the time) lyrics.

You’ll be inclined to agree with Larry Parypa’s summation: “We were nasty. Everything you've heard people say about us is true."

Where to find: Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968

Friday, November 7, 2008

This Friday: Grinderman, 'Love Bomb'

In the decade prior to the release of the Grinderman album the music world had seen Nick Cave take the Bad Seeds on a major stylistic departure from their earlier raw sound. Starting with ‘The Boatman's Call’ in 1997 the seeds moved towards an intimate sound with Cave's solo voice accompanied by piano or a few other delicate instruments.

The intervening years had seen several acclaimed releases following the in same muted vein, but following a heavy touring schedule in 2005 Cave started to write on guitar, an instrument he had previously shown little interest in. His rudimentary riffing gave the new material a taste of unrefined energy which summoned up the ghosts of his early post-punk work with ‘The Birthday Party’.

Cave then made the decision to release the fruit of these sessions as a side project, Grinderman, consisting of several Seeds including his soundtrack composing partner Warren Ellis. Shedding the Bad Seeds tag, the participants were liberated from the shackles of expectation, which shows in spontaneity of the music, the sound of middle aged men behaving disgracefully and loving every minute of the illicit noise.

The final track on the album ‘Love Bomb’ is a sweltering gem, and features all the best elements found on the album, Cave’s guitar recorded upfront and jeering backed by a gutter rhythm and swells of awkward screeching feedback. Polished this is not.

Cave has recently said the next Grinderman album will feature a completely new direction, which proves that he is never one to dwell to long on any one subject, his busy mind dragging us to new places.

Where to find: Grinderman (2007)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My Tuesday: Neil Young, 'Long May You Run'

Neil Young and Stephen Stills have had something of a fractious on-off relationship since the mid sixties, crossing paths intermittently in the following decades, like magnets drawing together but more often than not ending with acrimonious recriminations. It seems that Young used the Stills collaborations as a means of recharging artistically, using his erstwhile partner as a point of reference to his own past.

The Stills-Young Band recorded an album and began a tour in 1976 prior to the album's release. The album stemmed from a desire by both Young and Stills to pick up where they left off with their Buffalo Springfield-era guitar explorations. CSNY cohorts David Crosby and Graham Nash got wind of the project, hoping to be added to the collaboration they provided backing vocals for the original version of the title song. Young and Stills decided to wipe Crosby and Nash's vocal harmonies from the track when they left the sessions. These harmonies are now present in their restored form on the ‘Decade’ album.

The tour following these sessions proved to be a massive anti-climax when Young dropped out having grown bored with the project and Stills’ behaviour, forcing Stills to complete the concert tour solo.

The title song itself is the most notable thing to arise out of the collaboration, supposedly a loving tribute to a black ‘48 Buick Roadmaster hearse he christened ‘Mort’, that Young had driven around early sixties Winnipeg. But a car is more than a car to Neil Young: “Mort was part of my identity, like a cowboy and horse”.
Musically the beach boys get a name check and ‘Caroline, No’ is given a few bars of melody. Emmylou Harris later commented “that’s an odd song”, “it’s about a car, but there’s other things in there too, I think Neil writes on other levels.”

The most hilarious part of this Stills-Young episode was Young’s telegram sent to Stills to end the tour, “funny how things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach. Neil”

Where to Find: Long may You Run (1976)
Decade (1977)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Other Tuesday: This Mortal Coil, 'Song to the Siren'

This Mortal coil started life as the brainchild of 4AD Records founder Ivo Watts-Russell. A studio entity only, the group was something of a 4AD all-star unit, but evolved into a way for Watts-Russell to collaborate with new artists and other musicians not signed to his label.

With the power to wield the artists at his beck and call, the pedigree of talent collaborating on the debut album “It’ll End In Tears” is nothing short of stellar. We get; The Cocteau Twins, Howard Devoto, Dead Can Dance and Colourbox among others.

Mixed with some original compositions are a selection of songs by Watts-Russell’s favourite artists, covering such diverse ground as Tim Buckley, Roy Harper, Colin Newman and Big Star, all given the ethereal/ dream pop, bordering on Gothic ambient touch, which is associated with the 4AD label. Knowing the origins of the music one could be forgiven for thinking that the album goes to indulgent places but this is an unadulterated success, distilling the best of each artist.

With waves of lush, swirling arrangements drenched in echo and reverb this is luxurious music for the ears. The bands take on Buckley’s ‘Song to the Siren’ is perhaps their best known work, a barren, out of phase guitar line ushers in Liz Fraser’s impossibly wonderful vocal, spiralling into the heavens bathed in vast echo, shot through with sorrow, not so much vocals as her usual mysterious vocalisations. The track records undoubtedly her best performance, eclipsing even her vocal on Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’, or the Cocteau’s own ‘Heaven or Las Vegas’. A good indicator of the mood of the track is that David Lynch wanted to use it on ‘Blue Velvet’ but couldn’t afford the cost, eventually getting clearance for use on one of his most cryptic films: ‘Lost Highway’.

Where to Find: It’ll End In Tears (1984)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Floorfiller: The Sisters Of Mercy, 'Dominion/ Mother Russia'

After achieving early underground fame in UK, the band reached their commercial
peak in the mid eighties lead by singer and songwriter Andrew Eldritch and a drum machine he christened Doktor Avalanche, who were the only points of continuity in the ever changing line-up.

Despite Eldritch's rather insistent objections to the designation “goth”, their second album Floodland has been lauded as a classic album of the genre, what with Eldritch's emaciated vampire vibe and the theatrically gloomy nature of the music. The album marked a change of direction from guitar-oriented rock towards synthesizer-based soundscapes, a obvious attempt at something more commercial.

Jim Steinman of ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ fame, took on duties behind the desk leading rather inevitably to massed ranks of choirs, a 40-piece orchestra and a production so large it makes the term bombastic redundant. The driving dance-floor hit "Dominion/ Mother Russia", with its thudding bassline and blatant proto-house beat courtesy of Doktor Avalanche, is representative of the new appealing sound.

Eldritch hopes that the song is as epic in scope as ‘War And Peace’ and almost succeeds in giving the impression of him standing in the Siberian tundra belting out the chorus while being buffeted by icy gales. Lyrically we get such diverse tastes as Shelley's ‘Ozymandias’ and Dylan’s ‘Stuck inside of Memphis with the Mobile Blues’ which shows you where we are, bordering in that grey area between the ridiculous and the ridiculously sublime. Thankfully it manages to achieve the latter…..for the most part.

Where to find: Floodland (1987)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Random Wednesday: Iggy Pop, 'Sister Midnight'

At some undefined point after the ‘Station to Station’ tour David Bowie decided it was time to get himself and his friend Iggy Pop cleaned up, go to Europe and enter back into normality. It’s ironic that everything about the resulting album suggested that they had gone completely off the deep end without any hope of redemption. Following the end of the tour, Bowie and Pop holed up in Château d'Hérouville, with the intention of writing and recording an album for Pop thus giving Bowie ample room to experiment. In fact purists have criticised the work as unrepresentative of Iggy Pop’s repertoire and simply a blueprint for Bowie’s subsequent work, something he later admitted to: “Poor Jim, in a way, became a guinea pig for what I wanted to do.”

But to denigrate such a startling and unique work in this way is to do it a supreme injustice, ‘The Idiot’ is perhaps the greatest of Pop’s career, a spectral brew of industrial, gothic, funk and krautrock (a mix that would inform post –punk later in the decade).

The opener ‘Sister Midnight’ is without doubt something special. With the automated squelching drum beat and bass it has an anxious walking dead quality, this is not so much James Brown as it is zombie-funk. The track starts with Carlos Alomar’s mesmerizing tumbling guitar figure built around the stark layers of bass and drums. The drum beat has a synthetic feel, creating a big ball of sound more like an electronic variant of what a drum should sound like and less anything organic. Pop’s voice is put upfront, to get as close to the listener as possible, no way to escape the menace. The lyrics are as devastating as the music, laced with Pop’s frank oedipal dream imagery and rabid crooning. No. 1 on the apocalypse jukebox.

Where to find: The Idiot (1977)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Punk on Monday: Black Flag, 'Nervous Breakdown'

When John Lydon sang about being the Antichrist in 1977 he was sowing the seeds for the legions of punk followers in Britain but also gave birth to a new sub genre of punk rock unique to North America. Heavier and faster than its British cousin, Hardcore Punk seemed to owe as much to metal as anything else blending the raw simplicity of the Ramones with atonal and microtonal guitar solos and frequent tempo shifts.

Steven Blush’s documentary film American Hardcore describes three bands - Black Flag, Bad Brains, and Minor Threat - as the most important and influential in the genre. California’s Black Flag are perhaps the most influential of all, primarily due to their tireless promotion of a DIY ethic and a herculean touring schedule which never seemed to end. Greg Ginn was primary songwriter and sole continuous member through multiple personnel changes, he cited ‘Black Sabbath’ as one of his favourite bands and his lyrics dabbled in the mixture of isolation, neurosis, poverty, and paranoia.

Nervous Breakdown was their first 7" EP, released in 1978, and remains one of the salient points of the genre. All the best bits about punk are present and correct, the singer barking like a rabid dog, a ramshackle frantic rhythm and a ludicrously cheap guitar sound.

Black Flag add their own particular stamp with the addition of needle point bass and
and the ever intensely physical presence in the drum department. The main guitar riff is an experience like undertaking a big sweaty stage dive into a heaving mosh and being tossed around unmercifully for the tracks two minute duration.

Where to find: The First Four Years (1983)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

New Sounds: Trivium, 'Like Callisto to a Star in Heaven'

Mention Trivium and you tend to polarise opinion rapidly. Are they metalcore? Have they evolved into a thrash/power metal hybrid? Or do they sound like Metallica junior, as many of their critics have protested? Most of the basis for comment on Trivium’s previous work has centred around the contentious issue of Matt Heafy’s vocal style.
When he screamed the critics liked it but the riffs were deemed immature, when he sang cleanly on ‘The Crusade’ in 2006, he was roundly criticised for so-called James Hetfield-esque singing.

Well, to whom it may concern, the screaming is back and Shogun finds Trivium in rude health, a band finally finding themselves as a unit and producing the album we knew was within their capabilities.
It’s easy to forget that band leader and front man Heafy was just 17 years old when the album 'Ember to Inferno' was written and recorded back in 2003, now they’ve grown up, happy to make a racket completely of their own creation and despite the odd fumble (the album isn’t perfect), they excel and prove themselves worthy.

Travis Smith’s drumming has always been the lead sail that has kept the Trivium boat afloat, and he doesn’t disappoint on 'Like Callisto to a Star in Heaven', showing the metal community why he is one of the most underrated young drummers around, whipping a nice controlled storm with a flurry of precision hitting. Heafy goes through the full gamut of his talents from death-grunt to midrange snarl to clean tenor, all the while shredding away like a demon with a barrage of false climax riffing and a sophisticated chorus that brings the band to new heights. A major contender.

Where to Find: Shogun (2008)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lesser Spotted Tuesday: Neu!, 'Seeland'

Neu! were formed when drummer Klaus Dinger and guitarist Michael Rother split from an early, less synthetic version of Kraftwerk in early 1970s Düsseldorf. Though they were basically ignored commercially during their existence, Neu! is now considered one of the formative Krautrock artists but more importantly progenitors of a lost genre, obsessively minimalistic pop music.

The band dealt in ‘Motorik’, a term coined to describe the single minimalist 4/4 beat, which Dinger repeats continuously throughout most tracks. Although on paper this might seem a recipe for head scratching monotony, Dinger's virtuosity as a drummer generates a free-flowing groove, with a great sense of continuous forward motion designed to replicate the feeling of Autobahn driving.By the time of Neu! '75, Rother and bandmate Dinger had somewhat diverged in their musical intentions for the band, Dinger preferring a more aggressive, rock-influenced style, something akin to early punk music, while Rother quested after his own ambient predilections.

‘Seeland’ is the perfect example of the more ambient style of playing, the song is notable for its uses of samples, using natural sounds to create a futuristic headspace. Rother really shines, weaving intricate layers of delicate guitar and bass with the odd burst of soothing feedback. The band plays on, though it seems they’ve half forgotten the melody, the whole experience feels like being sucked through a black hole backwards. The enormity of the track is frankly immense, producer Conny Plank proves himself to be a master of texture, allowing his charges to blossom in the vast chasms of space.

Where to find: Neu!'75 (1975)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Atmospheric Sunday: Nine Inch Nails, 'A Warm Place'

Trent Reznor is no stranger to having praise heaped upon him, the Los Angeles Times considers him one of the most acclaimed creative figures of his generation and Spin magazine described him as “the most vital artist in music”, he’s had people like David Bowie clamouring to work with him, taken on the record industry (now technically an unsigned artist) and managed to transcend genre barriers to become something of a hero for groups as diverse as indie kids and industrial metallers.

In other words he’s sickeningly talented.

To record his third album “The Downward Spiral”, Reznor rented the house actress Sharon Tate was murdered in by members of the Manson Family in 1969, this should give you an inclination as to the the despair and often nihilistic visions found in the music.

It seems as though Reznor can write the perfect melody, deconstruct it and put it back together to make something new, something ugly, but Reznor finds beauty in the slaughterhouse vibe. Every thing on the album is designed for aural abrasion, clouds of static coloured by low-tech futurism producing a thrilling, synthetic version of hard rock. One track stands alone amid all the chaos, ‘A Warm Place’ is like a little bubble of calm in the middle of an apocalyptic riot.

On closer inspection the track lacks none of the unsettling qualities of its more brutal neighbours, if one listens closely, you can hear muted lyrics: “The best thing about life is knowing you put it all together” a document of Reznors conscious descent into oblivion(he became something of a recluse after the following tour). This makes the drifting ambience all the more disturbing, Reznor has found a womb of inevitability amidst the carnage. Menacing stuff.

Where to find: The Downward Spiral (1994)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Fun: Primal Scream, 'Loaded'

You know, I remember reading somewhere that the whole pre-millennium tension thing burst a decade too early in ’89-’90, what with the fall of the Berlin Wall and Communism and in culture the whole acid-house fad that had every band worth their fashionable salt going dancey on us all of a sudden.

Primal Scream were a fair to middling rock band who oscillatated between C86 jingle-jangle guitars and stonesy riffs before they started messing around with synthesisers and employing house DJs Andrew Weatherall and Terry Farley for production duties.Now the primals can never be accused of doing anything by half, so when they went dance they made sure to include the female soul vocalist, the drum loop and the extensive remix, on their watershed album ‘Screamadelica’.

Just one of the albums many (and it has to be said varied) delights, is that shambling baggy anthem ‘Loaded’. The track started life when Andrew Weatherall began remixing ‘I'm Losing More than I'll Ever Have’, from their previous album, with the result of stripping the song back to its skeleton, adding a wicked percussion line from an Italian bootleg mix of Edie Brickell's ‘What I Am’ and a sample of Gillespie singing a line from Robert Johnson's ‘Terraplane Blues’. Now you would think that too many disparate elements would spoil the broth, but added to the already heady brew is an audio sample from the Peter Fonda film The Wild Angels that gives the track its intro and some would say notoriety.

So we get an impossibly floaty bass, a classic guitar figure cutting through the audio fog and barmy samples all over the place… never too much of a good thing apparently.

Where to find: Screamadelica (1991)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My Random Wednesday: Genesis, 'In the Cage'

When we think of prog rock the first reaction is to shudder and think of all cringe inducing stage theatrics and the interminable instrumental noodling designed to showcase alleged virtuosity.

So when we get a prog tendency, the best thing is to go for the pinnacle of the genre and Peter Gabriel era genesis can argue to be just that. ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ is a curious album, in which Gabriel wove a intricate tapestry partly about the quest of the protagonist ‘Rael’ to find his brother, but with individual songs making satirical allusions to everything from mythology, the sexual revolution, advertising and consumerism. It’s a concept album so it’s wildly ambitous, bombastic (delightfully so) and more than a touch indulgent.

‘In the Cage’ is simply perfect prog , it’s one of the few songs from the album to remain in Genesis’ live repertoire to this day. Musically we get a chugging synth/ drum rhythm representing the clausterphobia that Rael experiences in his mental prison, before the track bursts open with Tony Bank’s infamous synth solo (remember them?), which provides a genuine shot of adrenaline into the prog body taking us onto some celestial plateau.

Every thing about this is epic, and it won't let you forget that. Lyrically it’s vintage, eccentric Gabriel, “drowning in this liquid fear” and so on. Three popular songs are referenced in the lyrics, “My Girl”, Del Shannon’s “Runaway” and “Raindrops keep falling on my head”, which only adds to the postmodern mystery.

Where to find: The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (1974)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Metal Monday: Pantera, 'I'm Broken'

Starting life as glam metal also-rans, Pantera played a major role in shaping post-thrash metal with ‘Vulgar Display of Power’ in 1992. By slowing down the tempos and incorporating a harder-edged vocal style they pioneered a new era of groove metal. 2 years later Pantera returned to much hype and fanfare, becoming the defining metal band of their generation. Dubbed the most extreme album to ever get to number one, ‘Far Beyond Driven’ was devoid of nearly all the Thrash Metal influences Pantera had on their previous three albums, settling for a driller-killer mid tempo groove throughout the album.

Much of the shift was due to Dimebag Darrell's more down-tuned and heavier, sludgy playing in the style of Tony Iommi from metal behemouths Black Sabbath. Anselmo's lyrics were also showing a new found maturity, far more personal than on the previous albums. Don’t be lulled into thinking that the band had shed the metallic mayhem with their new found popularity, this is the sound of raging young men spewing forth blatant raw aggression atop jackhammer drums and industrial guitars.

‘I’m Broken’, is archatypal of pantera’s classic sound, the song features one of guitarist Dimebag Darrell's most famous riffs (later echoed in Audioslave’s ‘Cochise’) and Phil Anselmo’s razor blade vocal style. Pantera officially disbanded in 2003 amid a war of accusations and in late 2004, Dimebag was murdered onstage during a Damageplan performance. Although Phil Anselmo has garnered much acclaim fronting Louisiana bayou metallers Down, he is destined to live in the shadow of Pantera's peerless canon.

Where to find: Far Beyond Driven (1994)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Classic Rock: Van Morrison, 'You don't pull no punches, but you don't push the river'

Following the dissolution of his marriage to Janet Planet, Morrison quit the California life and took an extended trip back to Ireland in search of a new source of artistic energy and purpose. The following album Veedon Fleece, was written quickly in a three-week blitz of creative activity that saw a shift in tone from his previous run of albums. The album itself is his most preoccupied with Ireland, as if he was consciously attempting to invoke the memory of ‘Astral Weeks’ and achieve the type of divine transcendence which made that album live in immortality.

‘Veedon Fleece’ contains some of the most ambitious and challenging work of Morrison’s career. He puts himself at the heart of it all, the weary traveller trying to immerse himself back amongst the “real people”. ‘You Don’t Pull No Punches’, is the gargantuan centrepiece of the album, which appears as a form of escapist fantasy among the other grounded songs.

As with all of his best work, the song sounds like the lonely troubadour standing in front of the microphone, entering a trance like state, and allowing the supporting musicians to follow his lead. They enter almost tentatively, one by one, but building, eventually giving life to a swirling, dreamlike choir of strings and woodwinds. The whole thing is delicately supported by Morrison’s voice, lying above it all manipulating from the heavens.

Lyrically the song takes us to exhilarating new places. He creates a new Celtic mythology, with the fleece as the Irish equivalent of the Holy Grail, a religious relic that would answer his questions if he could track it down, on his quest around the west coast of Ireland. William Blake and the Eternals and the Sisters of Mercy are added to the already bewildering mix, a symbol of everything yearned for in the preceding songs on the album; spiritual enlightenment, wisdom and artistic vision. Somewhat surprisingly, he subsequently revealed that the song owed a considerable debt to his readings in Gestalt therapy.

Morrison took a three year break coming back with the relatively lightweight ‘A Period Of Transition’ a man absolutely cleansed by the experience of ‘Veedon Fleece’.

Where to find: Veedon Fleece (1974)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Floorfiller: Cabaret Voltaire, 'Sensoria'

Born out of the proto-electronica scene of seventies Sheffield, Cabaret Voltaire were essentially a punk band who ditched the guitars and replaced them with rudimentary synthesisers creating a delightful variety of experimental electronic music, losing none of the aggression through the cold technology. Nowadays it’s easy to look back and hail the groups of this era as prescient visionaries shaping the techno landscape of the following decade but this is essentially industrial music, primeval and raw.

It wasn’t until micro-phonies in 1984 that they went all commercial on us and started turning all that punk energy into something to demolish your dancefloor, even getting some airtime on MTV in the process.

The original 'Sensoria' had meat put on its bones with a retooled 12-inch mix in 2001, something to really get excited by. It starts with a series of thudding beats, you know that familiar eighties ‘massive drum in a warehouse’ sound like the reverb’s been pushed into the stratosphere. The addition of a wickedly primitive bassline envelopes the sonic environment livening up proceedings nicely, the stuttering attack comes across as an experience not unlike being beaten repeatedly by a mallet. Acidic electronic licks, the catchy sample and upfront vocals build the track into a colossal exercise in rhythm.

Not so much something to rock the foundations as uproot them and steamroll anything foolish enough to cross the path.

Where to find: The Original Sound of Sheffield '83/'87

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Modern Sounds: Fleet Foxes, 'Ragged Wood'

Following a couple of well received EP’s, the five-piece seattle based folk-rockers released their eponymous debut album in June. The close harmonies are likely to invite comparisons with post ‘Pet Sounds’ era Beach Boys or Crosby Stills and Nash, but if you’re looking for a pithy comparison, a more likely fit would be to dub them this years Arcade Fire. They fit the mould as an off-kilter eccentric band who’ve taken the mainstream by storm, now hopefully they avoid the ubiquitous radio overkill.

The track bursts open like a window pouring refreshing sunlight on the dusty rooms inside. With a ramshackle rhythm it goes off on a brisk cantor flowing with the aroma of woozy acoustic guitar and arcane instrumentation creating a vast kaleidoscopic wash. There’s a real purpose here, like the music is trying to free its shackles to float off into the divine ether. Don’t be fooled by the dizzy atmosphere, there’s a serious intelligence at work amongst all the play The stop chord technique and celestial outro reveal a more subtle hand at work, one of pure pop craftsmanship.

Where to find: Fleet Foxes (2008)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Random Wednesday: Time Zone, 'World Destruction'

Afrika Bambaataa is generally regarded as the "Grandfather" or "Godfather" among the early pioneers of Hip-Hop, as well as the prime innovator of the electro funk sound. His third single ‘Planet Rock’ laid waste to the vapid nature of popular disco, introducing a colder futuristic vision, that borrowed heavily from Kraftwerk’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ and ‘Numbers’. The latter in particular provided the perfect template for the breakbeat architecture that would become synonomous with hip-hop.

Bambaataa worked with different musicians for his experimental Time Zone project, which he would continue off and on into the nineties. Impressed by John Lydon’s
rabid delivery style, he had dub pioneer Bill Laswell arrange a collaborative session, the fruits of which produced the present track.

‘World Destruction’ is the first real rapcore song; predating Run-DMC and Aerosmith's ‘Walk This Way’, with its insiduous guitar line and a majestic synth figure. Lydon, fresh from his own experimentation with p.i.l., contributes a note perfect performance capturing the clausterphobic sense of impending doom perfectly. He shows us that punk and rap are two-sides of the same coin, both essentially aggressive, visceral genres.

Laswell contributed bass to the track, but the two main protagonists are clearly the stars of the show, brewing a storm with furious vocalisations backed by the ominous thud of the mechanised beat. One of those rare occasions in music when two genre leaders get together and make something at least equal to the sum of it’s parts, a little gem to cherish.

Where to Find: World Destruction Single (1984) &
The Best of British £1 Notes (2005)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Avant Tuesday: Miles Davis, 'Black Satin'

Jazz purists had reluctantly followed Davis from be-bop to hard-bop on his seminal album ‘Bitches Brew’, but with the onset of the Seventies the jazz fraternity
would have to endure another painful shift in a new direction. This era saw Davis attempt to incorporate the funk grooves of Sly Stone and James Brown with jazz, the kind of thing Herbie Hancock would do so effectively the following year on ‘Head Hunters’.

Needless to say the quality of personnel on board are a testament to the respect Davis commanded; Chick Corea, Hancock and John Mclaughlin all happy to play minor supporting roles. For the underlying rhythm tracks Davis used repetitive bass riffing and robotic precision drumming mixed with a heavy dose of Indian Tabla to produce the requisite dense jungle sound he was searching for.

These tracks were then surgically grafted to several hours of jams by Davis and his producer Teo Macero. This subsequent cut ’n’ paste technique is perhaps the first instance of a remix. The similarities with early hip-hop or drum ‘n’ bass are clear but comparisons with the extraterrestrial Krautrock sounds coming out of Germany at the time are more apt. This is raucous street music, unmistakably New York in a sweltering blurry heat haze. 'Black Satin' is essentially a microcosm of what Davis was trying to achieve on the album.

The track employs an early synthesiser colouring with the de rigeur layers of Fender Rhodes and Davis’ squealing wah-wah trumpet licks. He produced two more albums before exhaustion led him into self imposed exile and his underwhelming eighties return. The album was poorly received at the time but the passage of years has revealed its embryonic genius.

Where to find: On The Corner (1972)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Metal Mondays: Megadeth, 'Holy Wars...The Punishment Due'

Since the ‘Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying’ album in 1986, the band had endured several years of chaotic upheaval, surviving amongst other things, substance abuse problems and a revolving door band membership. Though this would have shattered a lesser figure, Dave Mustaine has proven himself to be one of the great survivors of metal.

After his bitter ousting from Metallica, he ploughed his own thrash metal furrow, achieving nothing less than excellence but never coming close to knocking his erstwhile partners from the top of the mountain. He convened the latest aggregation of the band for his next album ‘Rust In Peace', armed with a stupendously talented new lead guitarist, Marty Friedman. Friedman was cast into the spotlight and rises to the occasion with aplomb adding a third dimension to the rampaging landscapes. Friedman’s neoclassical textures singlehandedly broke the stranglehold of the Randy Rhoads/ Eddie Van Halen cluster style which had dominated much of eighties metal.

‘Holy Wars... The Punishment Due’, is a two-part song, ‘Holy Wars’ which threads a familiar Mustaine theme of apocalyptic jihad is something that only he can do with a semblence of credibilty. ‘The Punishment Due’, on the other hand, is about the Marvel comics character ‘The Punisher', and is classic revenge fantasy stuff. Adding his usual abrasive rhythm guitar to conjure up fury, Mustaine leads his mercenaries with wild vigour, like a man having exorcised his past demons, creating a masterpiece to rival anything in the genre. Now it was time for the competition to play catch-up.

Where to find: Rust In Peace (1990)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ambient Sundays: Burial, 'Ghost Hardware'

Although Burial is strictly classified as a dubstep artist, his dark heart occasionally slips into the ambient genre. Adding a mixture of atypical pop music samples and video game soundtracks to his own atmospherics and beats, he has written the first great ode to London of the 21st Century. Prior to a few months ago Burial was just another anonymous bedroom producer gaining notoriety within dubstep circles before his most recent album started to open new avenues, leading to the obligatory tabloid hunt for the man behind the music and lazy comparisons with the similarly mysterious artist Banksy.

Now, for what its’s worth we know that Burial is in fact William Bevan who produces music on his computer using Soundforge. Putting that into some perspective, creating an album of this calibre with Soundforge is the equivalent of Radiohead making Kid A with a cassette recorder and a banjo.

‘Ghost Hardware’ drags us down to the London underground, subsonic bass seems to suggest a passing train on a distant platform Every inch of the track feels like it’s in imminent danger of being consumed by the darkness, but this is not the hustle of rush-hour, this is the loneliness of the big city. A sample of Christina Aguilera’s ‘Beautiful’ is twisted out of shape into some obscure Arabic instrument, coming and going like a half-heard melody spilling out of the earphones of a passer-by, while the trains continue to growl in an uneasy manner. Bevan shunned the limelight again at the recent Mercury Prize awards, "I'm a lowkey person and I just want to make some tunes, nothing else", whatever it takes to make a haunting vision like this.

Where to find: Untrue (2007)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Saturday Classic Rock: Steely Dan, 'Babylon Sisters'

Throughout the Seventies Walter Becker and Donald Fagen wove a elaborate fabric of jazz-inflected breezy rock with wry, and sometimes acidly cynical lyrics that had the tendency to illuminate dark corners not usually delved into by mainstream songwriters. The obsessive detail of their work habits has become legendary, for every musical shading an army of session musicians were traipsed through the studio in the quest for some sort of audio ambrosia.

The music could so easily have descended into an aural mush but thankfully the pair had the requisite nous to make every record exude spontaneity like the sound of musicians playing a relaxed jam at a Californian pool-side. The album ‘Gaucho’ sounds like a world-weary band teetering on the brink of collapse but achieves a peerless burned out elegance. Becker was literally on the edge of physical and mental collapse after the exertions of the previous decade, while Fagan comes across as a man who is in imminent danger of having his soul devoured by L.A., all the while feeling compelled to document the episodes of moral decay.

It’s one of those great contradictions the band was capable of, that the instrumentation on ‘Babylon Sisters’ is so polished while the lyrics are so tarnished. The intro is a thing of rare beauty, a sun bleached piano that seems to drop like warm cream from the clouds supported by a deliberate, almost frighteningly stark beat and guitar line so minimalist in execution that it allows those liquid keys to luxuriate all over the space between. They didn’t follow this for 20 years, perhaps awestruck by the intensity of their creation.

Where to find: Gaucho (1980)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday Floorfillers: Brian Eno & David Byrne, 'The Jezebel Spirit'

Brian Eno is not a name that immediately comes to mind when you think of clammy dance floor anthems. But his work with David Byrne both in the role of producer or in collaborative work like this, have led Eno to abandon his natural inclination towards the calm while losing none of the alien otherworldly nature of his best work.

While the twosome look more like they should be doing your accounts, they manage to breed a frankly out of control funk beast, appearing like two crazed children with a cheap chemistry set pouring ingredients into the test tube without fear of the cataclysmic results.The track is built around an arrresting vocal sample of an unidentified exorcist going about his work with spiritual fervour bolted to vast layers of african drumming which underpin, making this a downright feverish experience.

The percussion sounds less like any conventional instrument and more like the contents of your pots and pans drawer being emptied onto the floor by some giant earthquake and promptly rattling down the street in a random manner with a preposterously groovey bassline sounding more like some kind of cosmic rubber-band being plucked by the gods themselves. Massively influential DJ Larry Levan saw the future and installed the track as a peak set mainstay, recognising the equal parts of raw genius and art school daftness that make the track a true original.

Where to find: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Modern Sounds On Thursday: The Kings Of Leon, 'Crawl'

So 'The Kings Of Leon' have a new album out and it's quite impressive. Needless to say jaded critics everywhere have dubbed the album a clear evolution in their sound, and for once they might be right. The band are now poised to rule over the indie rock scene for the next six months like some kind of U2/ Coldplay hybrid without the bombastic moments that cripple each of those tepid naval gazers.

So why not get a headstart on the inevitable and download some songs from 'Only By The Night'. You haven’t been living under a rock I take it, so you've heard the lead single 'Sex On Fire' and loved it, once you've tired of it's slick rhythms why not move onto the likely next single 'Crawl'.

It comes on like grinding industrial drill and builds to an utterly blinding chorus leaving you a sweaty mess on the floor, pondering the enormity of it all. With buzz-saw guitars and a pulsing steel groove still burning your ears you'll be left wondering just when our friends from Tennessee learned to ditch the southern rock leanings and drag us with them on a post-punk trip into a new intoxicating landscape. Transcendent.