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)