Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Various Artists 'Paket aranžman' (1980)


I love the energy of this album - it's taut and (I think it's safe to say) political like a lot of post-punk, but all the more worthwhile for the harsh social conditions under which it was produced. For all the gloom of the Eastern bloc, these groups sound like they were having fun, and the short but flawless career of Šarlo akrobata (of whom I am a big fan) exemplifies this: occasionally ska-inflected bursts of punk-inspired expression that would make for an interesting socio-historical study.
Šarlo clearly share their art school sensibilities with English contemporaries like Gang of Four, Wire et al; but if you had grown up in an environment shrouded behind the Iron Curtain, I think you might have more immediate priorities than artists in the 'free' world - who more often than not are met with a wall of conditioned ignorance or apathy. There is a sense that this is music that is truly reflecting a heavily oppressed generation that, having been spurred by the anarchic freedom of the punk movement, is struggling to not only free but to find itself and its role in this strange limbo-world.

This urgency in the music, occasionally tempered by bleak resignation, invokes all the usual Cold War imagery I somewhat romanticize in my head, so this little summary could only be positive coming from that perspective... And Paket aranžman is as perfect a snapshot of a time and place as one could hope for. However I think for the post-punk connoisseur and Europhile there is more to be had here. Only the three foremost Yugo Rock groups are featured, but they cover a lot of ground and only leave you dying to know what the lyrics are saying, particularly in Idoli's passive 'Amerika' (are they cynical, reverential?). The New Wave/Two Tone movements had obviously taken hold in Serbian record shops, the kids were doing the jerk to Costello, XTC, the Specials and producing music with the same tight rhythm sections and jagged guitars.

Here are some sample videos to help give you some idea of what these guys thought about life under leaders who were little more than Soviet puppets... note the mocking of Sov social realism in Idoli's Maljčiki video. SHOW PAPERS AT CHECKPOINT.




Sound wise, it's not 'lo-fi' in the conventional sense, some songs are endearingly ramshackle but no worse than a typical penniless Western group making do with a cheap studio. The difference here is that the music mattered. It mattered to a youth mired in the conflict and prejudices of their parent's/grandparent's generation - both Soviet and internal. It is scant comfort to know that things were only going to get worse - events of the ensuing decades would claim the lives of a few of the musicians featured on this record, including the drummer and frontman of Šarlo Akrobata.

Wiki:
'Paket aranžman is a New Wave music compilation album released in 1980 by Jugoton and is one of the most important and influential records ever made in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It features the eminent Belgrade artists: Šarlo akrobata, Električni orgazam and Idoli. Along with Novi Punk Val and Artistička radna akcija it is considered a symbol of the Yugoslav New Wave era and still has cult status in the countries that emerged after the breakup of Yugoslavia. The album was voted the second best Yugoslav rock album of all time by the critics. It is second only to Odbrana i poslednji dani by Idoli.'

LINK: http://www.mediafire.com/?2k2jzyyegur

Friday, 27 November 2009

Янка Дягилева 'Стыд и срам' (1991)




The definition of a 'lost' classic. Russian 'punk poet' Yanka Dyagileva's sorrow is beautiful and heartbreaking. The dissonant rumblings of cheap electric guitar introduced here on some tracks makes this, like all 'final statements', prophetically unhinged and disturbing. The foreknowledge of her spiralling depression, alcoholism and the increasing bleakness of her lyrics haunt the listener throughout.

This short album is bookended by painful exorcisms, 'Выше ноги от земли' and 'Придет вода'; both are lengthy songs with more than one passage, and both transmit an indescribable angst (especially if you don't speak Russian), although these titles should give you some idea: 'The Water Is Coming', 'Higher Than My Feet Above the Ground', 'Of Devils'...
Cracked lullabies, a recurring broken music box and an endearingly shambolic delivery reflect an innocence lost, never to be regained, and the sort of fatalistic, self-destructive philosophy that permeates the art of those under the Mighty Red Boot. We are even treated to a minute or so of Yanka's *swoon* spoken word and *gasp* an organ solo!

The title translates as Styd i Sram, or Shame and Reproach, and is Yanka's final self-released record before her suicide in Siberia, in 1991, within months of recording these songs.
In Soviet Russia you were simply not allowed access to studio facilities unless you were bland, state-authorised un-music. Yanka's vagrant lifestyle, travelling around Russia in collectives playing to the counterculture crowd, was the only means by which a dissenting artist could make themselves heard - at grassroots level. As such the Russian political folk underground was largely inspired by Bob Dylan and other Western minstrels, as well as rock 'n' roll and other impassioned forms of music that were frowned upon. Indeed, many of Yanka's contemporaries faced arrest without trial (and in some cases even torture) for their stance.

To those in the know, Стыд и срам is a punk-folk classic, although parallels could be drawn with the concurrent grunge and lo-fi scenes emerging in America. However none of those artists knew anything of the true tyranny, cultural suppression and hardship that Yanka did; and the melodies bear no resemblence to anything Western.

It's such a shame there has been no comprehensive translation of this bohemian heroine's lyricbook, as the folk-poet element is lost on non-Russian speakers... But if you are interested there are dribs and drabs of information, and all her home-recorded albums and bootlegs are free to download here: http://store.yanka.lenin.ru/mp3/Prodano!_89/

Shout to Proskynesis for introducing me to this a while ago.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The POWDERED COWS AND THE TOY THROAT ALARM CLOCK - s/t (2009)


Right, a bit of a break from the norm here as this is not an album share; but I've included a few streams for you to peruse whilst you deliberate on taking the monumental risk of actually paying FIVE POUNDS for an excellent record by a lovely person whom, in all certainty, deserves the money.

Powdered Cows is the solo alias of multi-instrumentalist songwriter Martin Roberts, resident of the rolling hills and sweaty crevices of Dorset (this is an important factor as we shall find out).

Compared to the playful noise-jazz chaos of one of Martin's many group projects, Skitanja, the Powdered Cows output is predominantly of the introverted, reflective indie-folk variety. I'm crap at hearing lyrics, but based on the artwork and song titles this album is inspired by very late nights and the 'blissed-out' (as a friend recently put it) atmosphere of the countryside in the South West. It's my belief that the closer to nature you are, the closer you are to the essence of life, and this is reflected in the Powdered Cows listening experience, which is quite ethereal. 'Descent From Animals'.

From track to track the permeating sound is hushed and reverential, even when things take a darker turn it's as if Martin were staked out at 3am with Bill Oddie, waiting for a badger to emerge from its burrow. These references to nature shouldn't be misread as New Age philosophy either - think more along the lines of British Sea Power, a pastoral Englishness and celebration of peaceful life, with a dash of spirituality.

A lot of work has gone into the production, and each track is layered with instruments, synths and samples of all kinds: woodwind, strings, trumpet, drum machine, accordion, toybox, to name but a few. It's the sound of a musical collector bringing his toys out of the loft to play.
But what really ties this record together for me are the sound samples and the hissy gramophone-like effect on many of the tracks. We hear birds crowing, what sounds like pattering rain throughout 'Eyes of Knives', radio static, a kick-drum that almost recreates the sound of a record skipping on 'Little Red Lilly Beetle', and a denouement that, appropriately, reminds one of the 'Lonely Man' theme...

Every song is legitimately catchy, but it's easy to overlook this amidst the homespun, secretive ambience of the album, which is only punctuated in the first half by Angus Rudd's driving drumwork featured on such tracks as 'Hidden Tapes'. This actually rocks in a subdued, post-punk way and is one of my favourites on here; with an intro that sounds like a processed organ feeding back, and a highly satisfying Doctor Who tone in the chorus.
The Doctor Who tangent might also take us, by way of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (also featured here) to the 21st century's Ghost Box label and its esoterical manifesto of mysticism and the paranormal; a thread that I feel Powdered Cows picks up on, at least in spirit.

Hear some tunes, and possibly purchase them. http://www.myspace.com/powderedcows
Last.fm, free downloads. http://www.last.fm/music/The+POWDERED+COWS+AND+THE+TOY+THROAT+ALARM+CLOCK

Friday, 13 November 2009

John Frusciante 'Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt' (1994)

Resykld:
Who would've thought the popularity of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (whom popular opinion holds to be a gaggle of gurning, shirtless Californian twats with a few conversely great LPs to their name) could be indirectly responsible for an album like this?: A home-recorded double album of avant-garde, dissonant demons ('92 & '94 respectively) by guitarist John Frusciante. This is up there with other shadow flowers like Oar and the Madcap Laughs, except even more abstract in its style. Whereas Skip's music was a schizophrenic mess and Syd was just shot-away, Frusciante is not of that generation, and through the 90's was an extremely reclusive, emaciated crack and heroin addict with his head tightly screwed on and free of whimsy.

The songs/instrumentals are warts-and-all, frequently detuned, almost ignore melody (but not really) and sound as if they were written/recorded on the spot, freeform. If this spontaneity was the method, Frusciante's four-track tape machine (my favourite recording tool incidentally - because it forces you to make the most of the little space available) captures and preserves these moments of torment uninhibited. These recordings do not answer to gravity, they have their own laws and operate in an emotional and musical vortex. If you have experienced such a vortex or are capable of stepping into one, then you will 'get' Niandra. And no, you don't need to enjoy his group work, Frusciante has his own muse.

Listening back to this album by a physically withered, disintegrating individual, it seems miraculous that Frusciante managed to emerge the other side of the 90's; and go on to use his considerable talents to forge a decent solo career... but he'll never write like this again. He escaped the vortex, stepped through a waterfall, and today explores a different kind of spirituality. For all their macho sex-funk and Hendrixising, the Chili Peppers' constituent members cite an eclectic range of greats for influence, and Frusciante would go on to make some excellent, introspective and ambitious music off the back of post-punk/new wave/krautrock obsessions.
On Niandra however there is no trace of this later polish, it's a totally unique and isolated document - on its own planet musically and deeply personal, achieving a sort of metaphysical junkie plateau. The mistakes are left in, and anything resembling a pretty song is quickly ravaged with psychedelic tape effects and everything from tormented howls to banshee screams (made even more inhuman by occasional pitch-shifting). It's sad, ugly and beautiful.
When he finally rejoined his old group in 1999, cleaned up, Frusciante had lost all his teeth to infection and received extensive skin grafts for needle abscesses. He also suffered severe burns after his crack den burned down. Ladies and gentlemen:

I (Niandra Lades)
II (Usually Just a T-Shirt)

Remarkable 1994 interview and the only press Frusciante did during this period

Song from the album
Example of latter-day oeuvre

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Einstürzende Neubauten 'Zeichnungen des Patienten O. T.' (1983)


Here the Berlin group, led by the positively demonic Blixa Bargeld, expands its sound, underlying the metallic clatter and grating noises of the first album with something resembling a pulse (quite literally, on one track). The disturbing, minimalist sound still reigns but it's much more textured and varied this time around; O.T. is one of those albums where you will have it on in the background and mistakenly think you have been through half of it, only to check the tracklisting and find you've been listening to but a single epic composition. This progression is one reason I consider Neubauten's 80's period to be great.

We are not in the territory of conventional songwriting yet, no choruses or verses are here to give you a tether into popular music or safe familiarity, this is the world of Collapsing New Buildings - the constant disintegration and perpetuation of disposable modern structures (ideals as trends, cultures, powers-that-be, people?). You might say that musically and lyrically Neubauten are deconstructing it all themselves, but I think they had aspirations to destruction as well:
'I am waiting on the edge of the world for the new sun which burns more than it shines /The president howls at the grave of the HMV dog / And the newsreader bears his honest as bones face / The station ID, a blow on the bones.'

A few aspects of the broadening and deepening of the Neubauten sound, which has a resonance different to that of the masochistic appeal of the debut:
- synth burbles, circuit buzzes and static that provide a lower register to the found-sound ambience, which are fleshed out with a wider range of objects being struck/plucked/scraped etc
- at least twice the number of tape tracks (seemingly) in use, with several dedicated to analogue sampling and field recordings (a Hamburg fish market being one, apparently)
- occasional use of atmospheric, Central African-sounding woodwind and percussion, even dissonant strings ('Armenia')
- found sounds like water, animals and, erm, race cars...
The eclectic whole makes perfect sense as a coherent, continuous record, with an atmosphere so beautifully executed yet brooding and malevolent it probably belongs in a 'scariest albums' nerdlist. Has to be heard to be believed!

The album title means 'Drawings of Patient O.T.', O.T. refers to this man and gives you some idea as to the darker themes of the album, and perhaps Bargeld's growing sense of isolation from the world. Most of us may not be able to understand the lyrics, but this is not essential, especially when the music is perhaps a most effective narrator that often threatens to drown out Blixa's tortured exultations and improv. Not to detract from his talent as a vocalist (which is part of what defines the group) however, but it is a presence less dominant on this album.

I wanted to include a stream of a standout track, the neo-classical 'Armenia', but can only find live versions which have a totally different sound.
You can hear snippets here, but bear in mind that the tracklisting's messed up the so 'Armenia' isn't 'Armenia': Drawings of Patient O.T. – Einstürzende Neubauten – Listen free and discover music at Last.fm

Saturday, 7 November 2009

the Chrysanthemums 'Little Flecks of Foam Around Barking' (1988)


The finest psych-pop/double-concept LP to come out of 80's underground Britain, and certainly the best album ever made in Leicester. Crucially, the Chrysanthemums were a collaborative effort between two great unknowns: Terry Burrows (better known as Yukio Yung) and Alan Jenkins (he of Deep Freeze Mice and Cordelia Records); our beloved R. Stevie Moore is in there somewhere too - in fact it's the spirit of deadbroke musical ambition and penpal tape exchanges that glues it all together. That and the ever-amusing absurditastic lyricks.
Alan Jenkins' weirdness and deadpan noo wave non-sequiturs are here in spades; and channeled through Yung's reliable pop know-how and eclecticism (his fascination with Japan and Germany has resulted in some top releases, some of which you'll find @ MutantSounds) give us the magnum opus from these sadly anonymous heroes.
The only way it could possibly be any more perfect is if we got to hear Jenkins' befuddled croak, and you, as a music lover, are now obliged to blog search Deep Freeze Mice and have a good old nibble.

It's probably worth mentioning that in a brief GesichtBuch photo comments box exchange I had with Burrows (really), he expressed his dissatisfaction with the mastering of the album. And whilst it could certainly do with more range and punch, I think you will be too busy having your brain cells rearranged by the CD rip presented here to give a toss. A dearly beloved album in my collection, enjoy or die!

I II

More info here, including transcript of R. Stevie Moore's top notch sleevenotes...
... And here an inadequate video I made for 'He's Had His Bears'.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Jello Biafra 'High Priest of Harmful Matter' (1989)

Ex-Dead Kennedys frontman's second spoken word album, recorded (presumably) during his speaking tour of US universities. He's an articulate and rousing speaker, with important messages to impart - if Chomsky's stoic mutter sends you to sleep then look no further. It's a 20 year old album, so there are one or two dated cultural refs at the beginning; but the broader issues he raises will be all too familiar to the more switched-on younger listener. Some prescient, statistically-supported predictions are made that would later unfold, with consequences that endure to the present day...

3 tracks: one of 10 minutes, two more @ 45 minutes each.
Even if progressive politics and the real dirt don't 'appeal' to you, I'd highly recommend hearing this for the meat of it: Biafra's summary of censorship in America. He details the madness of Tipper Gore's PMRC (you'll never look at Al the same again) and the ensuing 'obscenity trial' brought against Dead Kennedys and the Alternative Tentacles label for the Frankenchrist album cover... In the pre-web era the breadth and depth of Biafra's research is quite remarkable - you actually believe what he's saying and, lo and behold, a cursory Google search will confirm. He's great at voices too and there are bittersweet laughs to be found amidst the tales of persecution and corruption.
Anyone who's familiar with Frank Zappa's anti-censorship efforts, testimony against the PMRC and this video in particular will find 'High Priest...' both fascinating and terrifying. I II

Black Flag 'Who's Got the 10½?' (1985)


Purpose

Roll call:
Greg Ginn - Mahavishnu improv-punk, dissonant garrote strings
Henry Rollins - Banshee razor throat, vox of conscience
Kira Roessler - Bump buh bum bu bump buh, (see album title)
Anthony Martinez (RIP B. Stevenson) - machine gun allfiller/timekiller

One of me favourite albums (and a live one at that!) period, been meaning to share it f'some time. Ripped from CD (how quaint!). Rollins didn't write any of these songs, but he is on form here, spitting fire and making every lyric his own - if you know the guy you'll know that they might as well have been.
I can't think of any other bands who provoked this white-knuckle rapture of tight-wound, late-night sobriety and damning isolation. It's violent catharsis. A band where the guitarist plays lead and rhythm simultaneously!
True, the post-Damaged era of Sabbath/free jazz-inspired sludgecore yielded some seminal albums that would essentially be responsible for the grunge movement (as I and the 'key players' see it) and an anti-scene vision/work ethic that goes above and beyond the narrow strictures of 'punk' of early 80's west coast US; BUUUT one might argue that the muddy/downright awful/yet-to-be-remastered (come on Ginn, ya c*nt!) production on most of those albums never truly represented the explosive/implosive experience of LIVE Black Flag.

1984's live effort, their only truly inconsequential record, was an example of just about everything going pear-shaped as a recording and as a poorly-mixed slab o' Flag.
Black Flag lived on the road, they played anywhere anytime and, by all accounts, always delivered. A performance band, then. See the Youchoobs for prüf. They developed their sound on the road and through the cassettes played on the van's tape deck. In this van Ginn wrote his lyrics, which set up camp behind Rollins' increasingly misanthropic and punishing thousand-yard stare. They saw The Shit all over and they called it, that's the young man's duty.

And since the Flag were a band that worked more live than in any other medium, thank ___ they left us with a perfect snapshot of their final peak; before the as-yet unexplained animosity of Greg Ginn towards Rollins could sever an already frayed and exhausted relationship. Personally I suspect it was a clash between Ginn's psychotropic use (hear it in the music, the 70's influence) and Rollins' heart-of-stone sober focus. Ginn's music after Flag was, unsurprisingly, mainly jazz fusion guitar jams.

But here on 10½ we gots all the innovations of 80s Flag: the fucked-up time signatures, the anti-solos, fronted by a caged animal, ever-lengthening hair... and the ability to conjure a leaden heart in three chords like no other band on earth. These were never your average L.A. punk wasters. As for more contemporaneous influences they were in good company on Ginn's SST with post-punk expansionists Minutemen, Meat Puppets... you can hear the soundemolitions of their beloved Einstürzende Neubauten in here too.
The extensive setlist is not slim on the old anthemiklassix either - there's the customary freakout stoner jam (what better way to stick it to the skinheads?) and medley, you'll love it if you have ears and any small measure of righteous anger.
I could write endlessly about this record, its relevance to me personally, its meaning to other musicians and how BF were one of the few that 'rose above' (hurrrr) the surrounding pond life-smegma of La-La Swamp. Are you sick of the swamp and its revolting fumes? You aren't the only one. Join yourself!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Steel Pulse 'True Democracy' (1982)


My posts have been getting a bit oppressive lately, so here's something more buoyant and conscious. This record gives me butterflies and flashbacks to amazing sex that never happened. Here are ze opening and concluding paragraphs of my little brother's exhaustive review; 'True Democracy' made #5 in his 'top 100 albums' list back in April:

''I always find it hard to review reggae with sounding like some raddish who has no idea what he's on about but, nevertheless, I'll do my best to do this album justice - officially my favourite reggae album of all time. While I could just as easily call their 1978 debut, Handsworth Revolution, a classic (it is the album that got me into reggae music and all), Steel Pulse's fourth album here stands for me as the pinnacle of Birmingham reggae (don't even get me started on that joke of a band called UB40). To put this album into a bit of context, with their aforementioned debut, Steel Pulse had caused a few ripples in the music industry and had gained a sizeable cult following, and had even supported Bob Marley and Burning Spear on tour. They'd become known for using much more of a polished studio sound than their roots reggae contemporaries, as well as peddling very politically-motivated, anti-apartheid songs (it doesn't take much of an imagination to think what they'd be on about for a song called Ku Klux Klan for example). As yet, though, mainstream success had eluded them. In hiring legendary producer Karl Pitterson (who had albums such as Bob Marley's Exodus and Peter Tosh's Legalize It under his belt, as well as Steel Pulse's first two albums), the band attempted to find a more mainstream sound as well as, in lead singer David Hinds' words, "your earth-man style and your militant style". It's the best way to sum this album up in a stylistic sense. From the bare bones of the instantly-recognisable reggae backbone, True Democracy employs an eclectic mix of upbeat dance rhythms, political and social commentary and a state-of-the-art feel that sets it apart from the sound of contemporary Jamaican reggae of the day. It's mainstream yet militant, preaching yet unpretentious, and one of the absolute essentials on top of that.''

''Whereas their earlier work is just as meritable, True Democracy sees Karl Pitterson's production creating a much fuller and uptempo sound and, therefore, a much more accessible one. Such is the reason if I had to recommend one classic reggae album to someone who's never heard any good reggae before, I'd go with this album. Another reason it's impossible to hate this album is because, while softening their approach in order to gain a more mainstream audience, Steel Pulse still explore the deeply evocative, militant and thought-provoking lyrical matters of social and political commentary, with Hinds incorporating some unusual subjects into his lyrics. As well as all this, Pitterson's splendid production allows each band member (particularly percussionist Phonso Martin) to really stand up and make themselves heard. All these factors are the building blocks to a classic reggae album, and one I couldn't give enough praise. Brilliant album. If you've ever thought about getting into reggae but aren't sure where to turn, I recommend this.''

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Deathspell Omega 'Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice' (2004)


What's that? Black metal is a silly genre and about as far removed from 'frightening' as I could post on All Hallows' Eve?
Well slap on your best over-ear heddfones because you've clearly not heard what France's most innovative extreme metal group have to offer. This breaks the Norwegian monopoly on a fading, self-parody of a sub-genre.

I never thought I'd truly enjoy a black metal album in my lifetime, but y'know what? I was wrong. First there's the guitar work, a lot of characteristically high-end, dissonant stuff with murky lo-fi production that just sounds otherworldly and hellish - about as far removed as you can get from thrash-derived cliche, with its own kind of beauty.

Then the mixing and 'ambience' of the album holds everything together and drowns out any potentially embarassing secular rambling. Strangely enough, the end product really is unsettling; primarily because it doesn't summon the image of greasy-haired misanthropes in smelly leather trenchcoats so much as it does demons eating babies. Deathspell channel Hades in ways that speed metal has never attempted before: atmospheric sampling, reverse guitar, various unidentifiable tics and sound degradation effects (à la Burial) and a Wall of Sound so devastating it would flatten the business district of Manhattan in a Roland Emmerich movie. In fact the wall of sound is literally a wall insomuch as they seem to have flattened the onslaught, ironed out the spikes that normally make various extreme metal subgenres difficult to endure for long periods - the album washes over you like an oil slick (stopping to punch you in the head a few thousand times on the way).

Speed is by no means the order of the day (although of course there are blast beats aplenty) but neither do Deathspell lapse into the tacky keyboards and melody of many contemporaries... This is punishing stuff for the uninitiated - and the overpowering delivery from the fringes of sonic reason and (shockhorror) lack of guitar solos is, I think, what earns Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice its acclaim and reputation as a 'scary' album. It's a bona fide 'Reign In Blood' for the 21st century, and equally suited to clearing every last muthafucka out the room.

It's also great to study to. Or maybe that's just me...
I meant what I said about over-ear phones btw - you'll miss a lot of the subtleties otherwise. Youtube samples fail to capture this.

satan's all about the free will and junk

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Themed Mix: Marshmallow in Space


Originally posted to my Tumblr, Neon Sigh, Marshmallow in Space
reflects a particular feeling I get from certain tracks / track combinations that is both dreamlike and cosmic, both warm and cool, and also bittersweet. It wasn’t my initial intention, but the mix also kind of ended up being like a soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist, and sorta (well, really) about love, which when I realized where it was going I just ran with it. I hope you hear some things on here you haven’t heard before, and feel like you’re drifting along on a cozy marshmallow amongst the stars!


Various Artists - Marshmallow in Space
——Tracklisting——
1. Broadcast - “Until Then”
2. Depeche Mode - “Never Let Me Down Again”
3. Dead Can Dance - “Wild in the Woods”
4. Tones on Tail - “Lions”
5. Suicide - “Touch Me”
6. Chromatics - “Mask”
7. The Glove - “Mouth to Mouth [Landray Vocal Mix]”
8. My Bloody Valentine - “Lose My Breath”
9. Strawberry Switchblade - “Deep Water”
10. Cocteau Twins - “The Itchy Glowbo Blow”
11. Goldfrapp - “Lovely Head”
12. Sad Lovers and Giants - “Your Skin and Mine”
13. Lush - “Love at First Sight”
14. The Jesus and Mary Chain - Nine Million Rainy Days
15. Spectrum - “Then I Just Drifted Away”

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Better Than the Beatles #234: Cardiacs


^1984

30-year-old (and counting) cult institution from my old hometown of Kingston Upon Thames, brought to you by the ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN.

Despite the fact that Tim Smith (the brains of the operation) has always vehemently rejected the 'progressive' label (he prefers simply 'pop' or 'psychedelic') it is a reasonable point to raise: in Cardiacs' music there is a fondness for unusual chord progressions, chord modulation, and compressing the equivalent of a prog epic into 4 minutes or less... All with the energy of a '77 band. Cardiacs also opened for Marillion in the 80s, apparently Fish was heartbroken when the fans did not take to them...
It's natural that an amateur such as myself who can't write for toffee should always seek to pigeonhole a sound for n00bs, but the Cardiacs are infamous for being one of those idiosyncratic oddities who sound remarkably similar to nobody except Cardiacs. The only comparisons I can come up with are the more anarchic, ambitious New Wavers like XTC and Split Enz (particularly the latter's early years), mixed with the avant-rock of Henry Cow... Infact they straddle all types of 'progness' whenever they feel like it, perhaps playing symphonic Yes-ness one minute and unhinged Gentle Giant sing-songs the next. That's the remarkable quality of this band, there are seemingly no limits. But you can always relying on the delivery being OTT to the point of ridiculousness and bewilderingly melodic - you know that this is Tim Smith's idea of how pop music should be.
They are also obscenely tight live. Unfortunately Smith suffered, erm, a cardiac arrest in 2008, and it's unlikely you or I will ever experience a 'religious' Cardiacs performance.

I think this is as clear-cut a case of love 'em or hate 'em as you will ever encounter on this blog... Unacknowledged genius or bad acid trip in a fairground? Or are they just trying too hard? I don't think so personally, plus buried in the lyrical abstractions are some statements somewhere I am sure of it, which keeps me listening.
Presented here is 'Sing To God', a 1995 double album which will leave you laughing hysterically, then slack-jawed in disbelief as each track reaches new heights of structural insanity and musical prodigiousness. And then the injustice of it all hits you, that by this time the 'classic' Cardiacs line-up had shrunk to a quartet, and they actually somehow played this shit onstage, constantly, to comparatively tiny audiences of loyal fruitcakes. It's just not fair. God bless Cardiacs.
This is from the album, easily the most insane piece of music I have heard in a long time

Groundhogs 'Thank Christ For the Bomb' (1970)


I say this often, but this time I've really got something special for yuz.
Once upon a time, albums like this got to number 9 in the pop charts. I suspect it had something to do with the fading 60's counterculture - that era of cultural identity crisis, political activism and constant fear of nuclear holocaust... And the stoned white-blues pretenders that helped to herald heavy metal, of course.
But Cream and Led Zeppelin this ain't, in fact Groundhogs were in a league of their own. Aside from the best album cover/title ever for what is first and foremost a leftist, anti-war concept album, stylistically the band were carving their own niche with this record which they would further explore on their next two albums Split and Who Will Save the World?. This very special sound falls somewhere between prog rock, hard rock, psychedelia and an advanced strain of blues, all delivered with the kind of raw production that (combined with the imagery in their artwork) no doubt played a large part in the Groundhogs being looked on today as somewhat 'proto-punk' - for their acknowledged influence on many first generation UK punk luminaries in this decade. A young Mark E. Smith was particularly smitten, and the Fall have covered the first track here 'Strangetown' (hear below), as well as 'Junkman' from the subsequent LP.


^sound quality's better in upload

So Thank Christ was a turning point for Tony McPhee (jaw-dropping guitar, vox) and co; having been a semi-successful blues band in various forms since '66 and earned their stripes, they were going down a path nairy travelled, opposed the cheesy machismo and studied wankology of their peers. Perhaps this was to their detriment financially (McPhee is conspicuously lacking in phoney Hall of Fame tokens of commercial achievement, when he should be remembered as one of the greats), but ultimately to those in the know, the classic run of albums speak for themselves as some of the most remarkably fresh and emotionally-charged rock albums you'll come across. At their best Groundhogs are not clawing to capture the blues with over-acted guitar solos; a world-weary fatigue just emanates naturally from the songs and playing technique, especially on this album.
I've got time for the rest somewhere, don't get me wrong, but when you hear Groundhogs you'll just wonder what those other groups were playing at...

bandages

Monday, 19 October 2009

Martin Galway - Project Galway


Project Galway is a compilation of songs from Martin Galway, a chief composer of Commodore 64 video game tunes, "recorded directly from his very own chip, as they were meant to be heard: with the most sensitive and well-balanced 6581 filter ever heard." (purchasable as a hard copy double-disc at C64Audio.com), including some previously-unheard pieces and alternate versions. Despite being somewhat of a video game aficionado for much of my life, I've never played any Commodore 64 games (!), though the fact that I think this is some of the greatest video game music ever just goes to show that soundtrack material can be enjoyed apart from associating it with what the songs were made to accompany. "Comic Bakery" is the most SERIOUSLY EPIC track of all, though other highlights include "Helicopter Jagd", "Ocean Loader v2", and "Mikie". Grab it!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Vangelis - Blade Runner OST, Esper Edition (1982)


The release history of one of cinema's most celebrated soundtracks (and groundbreaking electronic album in its own right) is a long and complicated one, with large swathes of the most memorable score left unissued, alternate track titles, blahblahblah. All you need to know is that this incorporates the entire original soundtrack - nothing is left out and it's all noirish, cyberpunk, sci-fi synth-classical genius. The tracks are in chronological order as they appear in the film. I can't remember whether I included the artwork as this is an old upload, but it's likely =D
The remit is broad: Moog jazz/blues, grandiose synth compositions, Middle Eastern modes with uncanny synthesized bazaar orchestra...
For fans of the movie (if you haven't seen it go buy the tin box final cut edition or watch here, you mug) you'll appreciate the fact that this 320kbps bootleg includes everything from the geisha billboard music to Vangelis' spot-on speculation of what clubbers would be dancing to in 2019 dystopian Los Angeles. These tracks are possibly the best feature for me, the ones where the musical cues were never issued separately, so you still get to enjoy the subtle genius of the sound effects department: rain falling, wind chimes, etc. The bootleggers obviously made a conscious decision to extricate the dialogue track but keep in alot of these sounds, and they only serve to enhance the atmosphere.

Tyrell Records


^(This is just the main title theme and closing credits,
doesn't quite do justice to the scope of the soundtrack)

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Tom Lehrer In Concert (1959)

My father was never a punk rocker. And I'd never wish him to be... In fact I get mildly embarrassed at 75% of my music collection whenever our conversations turn to music - he is an austere classicist through and through, with a deep knowledge of classical (but not Stravinsky, he's got not melody you see) and a passion for light opera (Gilbert & Sullivan etc). We even got the marching band treatment as kids. I always loved it. Rock n' roll and doo-wop vinyl, recorded to cassette to put on in the car - that's as close as he got to letting his hair down. Don't get me wrong, he's not a blinkered old fart, just musically conservative, or at least uninterested in the frivolous nonsense I waste my time on. Sometimes I agree with him.

But this is all before you take account of Tom Lehrer. My father broke his leg in a motorcycle accident in the late 70's and Lehrer's literary brand of satirical sing-song kept him sane, apparently, and it's easy to see why: there's something very comforting about the best musical satire of the 20th century - it makes you realise you aren't insane after all and everything really is fundamentally fucked.

Don't let the cover fool you either, Tom plays a mean piano and has a meaner lyrical repertoire that covers everything from drugs and nuclear holocaust to rednecks and 'poisoning pigeons in the park' - which perhaps explains his popularity with 60's subculture.
Lehrer was infuriatingly educated, funny and conscious, with a head-spinningly deft playing technique and an ability to mimic other styles. This bloke and a piano could bring the house down and he was, predictably, bigger in the UK than his native land, I guess he was too much to stomach for a Cold War audience. At the time, the mainstream press deemed Lehrer tasteless. This is poppycock, obviously. His wit shines in the spoken interludes and the total lack of frills on this live compilation give it a warm and jovial atmosphere.
Not much here has dated, as long as you have the vaguest grasp of where the world was at in 1959. Step outside yourself, laugh and enjoy. If this was big with the hippies you mugs'll love it. I'll end on a quote from the 81-year-old himself. 'I'm not tempted to write a song about George W. Bush, I couldn't figure out what sort of song I would write. That's the problem: I don't want to satirise George Bush and his puppeteers, I want to vaporise them'

This is a sizeable upload and probably all the TL you'll ever need.
Part the first
Part the second

Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Passage - Seedy: The Best of the Passage

The Passage were a post-punk Mancunian post-punk group, appearing on the impeccable Cherry Red label with a handful of albums and singles. Despite their brilliance, they continue to remain fairly obscure (currently less than 3,000 listeners on Last.fm) - I only had heard them when I was putting a post-punk box set together and had been recommended their stuff. Although there are certainly similarities between this group and contemporaries of the same scene, the difference with The Passage is that there is a certain standoffish sarcasm present that is uniquely theirs (comparable to the role The Cars served for new wave). Favorite tracks on *this compilation*, Seedy: The Best of the Passage, are "Carnal", "Devils and Angels", "Armour", and "Drugface" (sampled by Moby, apparently).

Monday, 21 September 2009

Eleanor Rigby - The Best Of, Vol. 1 (1994) & 2 (1996)

I first came across Eleanor Rigby when I was questing after whether there were any Mod/Mod Revival female artists out there. While she was certainly inspired by Mod artists (doing a bunch of Kinks covers and the Rolling Stones' "Play With Fire") in music and her looks, she more frequently came off sounding like Debbie Harry, albeit a Moddier,and rougher-edged version. With currently less than 1,000 listeners on Last.fm, a bit of odd controversy, and her current whereabouts unknown, she remains an obscure, even slightly enigmatic figure. She only released one full-length album, Censorship, and her best-of collections Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, packed with a cheesy, yet tuneful assortment of tracks, are currently totally out of print. You can read more about her backstory at Mr. Suave's Mod Mod World.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Jungle Brothers 'Done by the Forces of Nature' (1989)


To this day unfairly overshadowed by 1989's other alt. hip-hop/Zulu Nation milestone - 3 Feet High and Rising. The Jungle Brothers trumped their debut (Straight Out the Jungle) here and built the ark from that original Native Tongues blueprint. This is a fact acknowledged by the album's placing in the Source's top 100 hip-hop LPs of all time, but still the debut is all anybody seems to talk about. The astounding diversity of the sampling represented here is more than a match for De La Soul, the pacifist politics relayed with all the articulacy of A Tribe Called Quest and the production as densely layered as anything the Bomb Squad were producing at the time.

Musically it will just leave your head spinning. If Straight Out the Jungle was the funk album, this is the all-encompassing Afro pop album, and to my mind a definitive jazz-hop manifesto. It's a much more well-rounded affair than the (still excellent) debut, sampling everything from African trad to R&B on up, often within a single song.
Lyrically the album is as positive and (anti?)intellectual as you might expect, what with Jungle Brothers being the vanguard for the movement. They preach self-realization, address black identity with dexterity, delivering a few expertly-crafted party jams along the way; as well as a vastly superior sequel to the seminal (but dated) 'I'll House You' with 'What U Waitin 4?'.
Apparently, such conscious themes have long since passed into Afro-centric cliché within the mainstream hip-hop 'community'... so what? Black culture has always been homogenized and sold back, gutless and lobotomised, to a latent consumer herd, now more than ever. But there's always a dissenting alternative that is not for profit or ignorance. Plenty of people know it's records like this that count and provide armour for future generations... Don't miss out!


Monday, 14 September 2009

the Seatbelts 'Cowboy Bebop' (1998)


Barmy genius OST to what is universally regarded as the best anime of all time and an awe-inspiring, big band jazz eclecto-workout. The Seatbelts were assembled by composer Yoko Kanno to perform and tour this much-loved soundtrack, which is a sublime retrospective of various pre-'65 jazz trends and much more besides. From the big city blues of 'Cosmos' and the Blade Runner-in-Africa synths of 'Space Lion'; to the ostentatious spectaculars 'Tank!' and 'Rush' - there is something for every palette... especially if you dig Charles Mingus. And be sure to hear each song out, they are prone to switching genre mid-jam. Has a big band ever been put through it's paces so much as the Seatbelts?
The ever-critical users of RYM have given it a 4.16 average out of 5 (that's in the top flight of popular votes), putting 'Cowboy Bebop' in eighth place for top albums of 1998. Behind...urgh... Neutral Milk Hotel? I never said they were a tasteful bunch...
As testified by many strangers to the anime show (watch it), the album is an easygoing and accesible standalone classic; but fans of show will also revel in the déjà vu and memories of the show - indubitably to be butchered and flogged for $$ in 2011 of course!

It's all a dream...


Manic Street Preachers - JFPL Demos

*These* are the demo versions of all the tracks from the new Manic Street Preachers release Journal For Plague Lovers (Jenny Saville's Stare pictured at left), included on a bonus disc with the deluxe edition of the album. The sound is seemingly stripped away of that extra 'oomph' heard in the actual album release, and yet some of these tracks here rival the final product (especially "She Bathed Herself in a Bath of Bleach", sung by Nicky instead of James, and "All is Vanity" which is all the more powerful in bare, acoustic form) - highly recommended!

Related items:

- *Click for JFPL Article Scans from NME May 2009* (re-upped!)

- The Shadows and Words documentary on the making of the album on YouTube (Pt. 1 is below):

Here also is a description of the original release...:
(Originally posted at A Future in Noise in May, 2009):
It's impossible to listen to or discuss the new Manic Street Preachers album, Journal For Plague Lovers (set for release on 5/18), without placing it in the context of the band's history: their confrontational, politically-charged style of music, after a couple of EPs and 1992 debut album Generation Terrorists , offered a stark contrast to the early-90's British shoegaze scene. Though threatened to be smothered by the exploding Britpop movement, a cult following sustained them. Member Richey James (songwriter and guitarist) contributed heavily to the lyrics and mood of 1994 album The Holy Bible, released only months prior to his disappearance (sadly declared as 'presumed dead' in November, 2008), proved an intensely dark reflection of his personal turmoil.

The remaining three Manics, James Bradfield (vocals / guitar), Nicky Wire (bass / songwriting), and Sean Moore (drums) went on to release the brilliant Everything Must Go in 1996 (including 5 tracks co-written by Richey), and several other albums which all received mixed critical reception: This is My Truth Tell Me Yours (1998), Know Your Enemy (2001), Lifeblood (2004), and Send Away the Tigers (2007).

A mixture of semi-outrage and hopefulness in fans and critics alike has surrounded Journal For Plague Lovers since the announcement of the track-listing and cover art in March. In many ways appearing as a Holy Bible 'part 2', the cover art was done by Jenny Saville (whose Strategy painting graced the Holy Bible) and all of the songs contain lyrics left behind by Richey.

Opener "Peeled Apples" establishes an immediate departure from the commercial approach of Send Away the Tigers, with soundbite snippets and unnerving bass throbbing away. Tracks like this, and extraordinary album high-points like "She Bathed Herself in a Bath of Bleach" and "Marlon J.D.", not out of place in comparison (or companionship) to The Holy Bible, show a sudden maturity and advancement in band's sound, as if Journal For Plague Lovers is a purging of all they have been holding back. The content of the track available as a promo at their official website, "Jackie Collins Existential Question Time" seems a bit shocking amidst the radio-friendly instrumentation, with "Me and Stephen Hawking" continuing the feel of poppiness mixed with tongue-in-cheek wit.

"This Joke Sport Severed", acoustic and moving at the outset, and strings leaping in midway, is the most somber track so far, followed in theme, though more sarcastic, by "Facing Page: Top Left" later on. The album's mid-section has a greater continuity than the start, with title track "Journal For Plague Lovers", and even "She Bathed Herself in a Bath of Bleach", hinting at their glam-rock influences, while "Marlon J.D." is a crunchy synth-punk track, my favourite on the album. "Doors Closing Slowly" reiterates that unsettling gloom introduced earlier on. "All is Vanity", "Pretension/Repulsion", and "Virginia State Epileptic Colony" nearly blend into each other, sounding incomplete and hum-drum in comparison to what else is available here. Closing track "Williams Last Words", which is delivered vocally by Nicky Wire with much sadness and presumably in tribute to Richey. Bonus track "Bag Lady" ought to fulfill the needs of anyone who really expected to hear something Holy Bible-esque, sounding incredibly like it was pulled straight from '94.

The overall production (done by Steve Albini, who produced Nirvana's In Utero) wavers between sounding too polished and moments of the raw grittiness an album like this calls for and would have greatly benefited from if implemented on a wider scale throughout. Not exactly a place for beginners, since there are so many reference points to other places in their discography, nor is this the sort of album that can be properly understood after just a couple of listen-throughs, Journal For Plague Lovers ends up as the most enigmatic, satisfying release the Manic Street Preachers have put out in years.

MYSTERY ALBUM 02

Wiki
For our purposes also known as Sensimilla - 'Scones'.
Previous 'mystery album' here. (Touch wood this method seems to work, the only well-known album I received notification for and had to remove was Loop's 'A Gilded Eternity').

This fileshare is always being taken down, and once you've become a believer you should probably buy it. Because the proceeds (as long as you buy from Stones Throw) go straight to the mother of 'real' hip-hop's greatest deceased producer, who succumbed to the effects of a rare blood disease on 10th February 2006, 3 days after magnum opus 'Donuts' came out. The mum has been yet another victim to the ethnic cleansing of America's healthcare system, still lumbered with her son's medical bills three years down the line. Despite the universal acclaim and popularity of Dilla's productions since the late 90's, she's still struggling. Listen, enjoy and support if you aren't already struggling enough through life...
This album is the only real contender to 'Entroducing...'s untouchable 'sampled soundscape' throne, a strange place where familiar sounds structures have been lovingly dismembered, distorted and juxtaposed to build a world that stands on its own two feet - testament.

In fact such is the quality of these beats (an inadequate term in this context, let's say 'works') that not only are they still being used for songs by a lot of the top 'real' MCs; but the works succeed in totally upstaging all raps by virtue of the layered emotiveness in the music. Be prepared to dive headfirst into the Melting Pot.
If you've heard the latest DOOM album or the classic Fishscale, you will instantly recognise 'Lightworks' and 'One For Ghost'.
One of the greats, with more soul than you can shake a stick at.

GLAZED

Tune from the album Workinonit (10CC and Beastie Boys fans pay attention)

Various Artists 'Ethiopiques 1'


Bored of music? Never-ending streams of obnoxious, pasty suburbanites with amplifiers? I was until I got volume 2 of Buda Musique's Ethiopiques series, and now I've never felt better! There have been 23 of them so far, and they are all far, far, far out. The agenda for the series is Ethiopian music with the occasional overspill into neighbouring Eritrea, but the sheer range of styles covered therein is as much, if not more, that what you might find in inferior countires that never knew the wisdom of Selassie.

I was going to upload the aforementioned vol.2 which focuses on urban azmaris, in fact I've been sitting on it for a while, but using somebody else's link is much easier and where better to start than the beginning? This is a snapshot of the popular Ethiopian sound from 1969-75, and despite using some US-style jazz and 60's electric instrumentation it is nothing like you've ever heard before; they completely made it their own, much like West Africa's ever-popular Mali music, but much strangers to the senes. The overall effect is something quite hypnotic, some truly weird loping rhythms here and some mind-blowing jazzstrumentals there, all entrenched in the meandering scales of traditional Ethiopian singing, percussion and perhaps a trace of gypsy music brings to mind the black Zionist link. Sometimes it sounds like a parallel universe, non-wife beating James Brown. There aren't any Yoobtube videos for this one so you'll just have to do the clicky-click - this is one of the best things I've shared in a while so ignore at your peril.

Link nicked from hee-yer, with a few others in the ridiculously diverse series aussi:
BIG HEAD STEVENSON

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Various Artists 'Samurai Champloo Music Record - Impression' (2004)


The ronin-themed hip-hop soundtrack thing is just a happy coincidence and after this it will definitely be out of the way, honest...
Recently I was tickled pink to discover that Shinichirō Watanabe (director of hands-down the greatest anime series of all time Cowboy Bebop) had completed another acclaimed series a few years back called Samurai Champloo, which maintained his propensity for fusing kinetic storytelling over approximately 26 episodes with purdy musiks - to spellbinding effect. And by fusing I mean the initially unholy, but soon completely natural marriage of Edo period Japan and, you guessed it, hip-hop. A historical revisionist take on the chanbara genre (there is an episode with beatboxers), like Bebop it raked in the glowing reviews for it's soundtrack of which several discs were released. 'Impression' is by far the strongest though so here it is.

The album is split into three parts, first third is produced by Japanese DJ duo Force of Nature, second by another Japanese producer of immense talent called Nujabes and the final part by brilliantly-named American DJ Fat Jon the Ample Soul Physician. The last track is an R&B song by a chick called Minmi, which actually wraps things up rather nicely. Except this one and the track listed in kanji 'Impression' is all instrumental glory, and it quickly becomes apparent that goood music is alive and well in Nippon. The track with vocals is obviously nonsensical to me, but it's surprising how the language actually survives the journey into Western musiks unmangled, and the meter isn't totally off kilter. I would never begin to try to deconstruct foreign language hip-hop, but I highly doubt it's as the internet says - that Japan doesn't have a significant black minority population and therefore has nothing to say. Apparently food is a hot topic... None of this is important!

The beats are fucking sick, so sick they will probably make you sick in your ears, and it just gets better as it goes along, like a snowball made of fucking sick. None of it suffers from OST out-of-context syndrome because it's just a bunch of appealing vomitus thrown haphazardly over the show, the soundtrack was probably written beforehand! While most tracks are in hip-hop tempo, there are tons of surprises, like 'Nightshift' being indistinguishable from funk (which is ironically where it all began) or funk with a drum quintet(?) on it. There's just an awful lot going on - particularly satisfying is some of Nujabes' loungy-jazz-cum-deep-house material and all of Fat Jon's Eastern-tinged stuff. Even raga gets a look in!
It's interesting to note that, judging by the Youtube viewing figures and the popularity of this album on sites like RYM, the show's soundtrack is something of a sleeper hit, and deservedly so. I will never use the word 'chillout' seriously in a sentence as long as Moby has breath in his body and the Tesco album charts thrive on lazy compilations for dull people, BUT elements of this album might be considered to have a therapeutic or relaxing quality on the heavy head. But it's got the aforementioned boom-bap, it's also cool, otherwise I wouldn't be posting it here would I because that wouldn't be a cool thing to do on my little blog would it? Just think about that. In all seriousness, in the strange and scattershot world of instrumental hip-hop, this is as good as it gets. This and the other albums I am posting.

On the Dee Elle

RZA 'Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai' OST (1999)


Part 1 of a short series on instrumental hip-hop.

Whilst DJs have been producing beats exclusively for MCs to spit over since the early 80's, hip-hop fashioned to be heard on its own is much less prevalent (it's yet to be truly recognised as a genre of its own) but has yielded some truly intriguing results. With the exception of a few groundbreaking cut & paste instrumentals and turntablism, non-specialist interest in 'just the beats' barely existed until the potential of hip-hop as a compositional tool was fully exploited by DJ Shadow's 'Entroducing...' album, the first album to be made entirely of sampled material (with a few seconds of interlude vocals recorded in studio).
Whether it be via breakbeats and crate-digging à la Shadow or just navigating the intricacies of beatmaking on a digital workstation, once (good) hip-hop producers are freed of the limitations of having to craft a foundation for raps they can (and do) tend to go a bit mad. Variations and changes that would not have been considered before are indulged, often morphing the track into something that could no longer be called conventional boom bap hip-hop or whatever. This is why 'instrumental hip-hop' does not have it's own section in digital or physical shops - it too diverse, often crossing the border into electronica, downtempo, industrial, trip-hop... in fact just about anything, as these uploads will hopefully demonstrate.


One of the musical vignettes from Ghost Dog (footage not from film)

I'd like to start with a master who is no stranger to a sequencer, and who's minimalist, kung-fu flick and Thelonious Monk-inspired beats were responsible for a renaissance in 1993. RZA (Ruler, Zig-Zag-Zig, Allah in the Five Percenter alphabet) was the mastermind, de-facto leader and producer of Staten Island, NYC's Wu-Tang Clan, a group who's hard-hitting sound once sold a hell of a lot of records but nowadays would be considered 'underground'. RZA's style must have been a revelation in the time of sluggish gangsta/Funky Drummer conscious hip-hop, every bit living up to the dark spiritualism and espionage tactics of Wu-Tang's lyrics. It sounds lo-fi, gritty and unique, whilst being extremely difficult to resist nodding your head to.

Since that initial period of success and the plethora of classic solo albums produced by Rizzer that followed, things started to tail off. The long-awaited sophomore Wu-Tang album in 1997 was an overstuffed double-disc beast, flawed but with plenty o-merit. The group however was in dissolution, and from this point on RZA turned more to live instrumentation and a pronounced 70's soul influence - whilst still crafting the occasional classic. He is nowadays more prolific and better known for his movie soundtrack work. 'Ghost Dog' was the beginning of that and it marks a one-off return to the sound that made RZA a household name and minor deity within hip-hop.
The cult movie is an understated Jim Jarmusch effort which I really recommend tracking down, and with his history of East-meets-West themes and beat-crafting there could not have been a more perfect choice to produce the music than Mr. Turkey Swizzler.
There were two soundtrack albums released, one was made up of RZA-produced rap tracks inspired by the film and released in North America (t'was so-so); the other was a Japan-only released and comprises of the much-vaunted score to the film, the excellent scratchy beats you hear throughout. In this upload I've also included a bunch of songs that weren't on the original release, like the music from the infamous Cold Lampin' scene among others, these are tagged on the end.
The score itself is like the protagonist of the film, subtle and cold on the job but warm and reflective in it's quieter moments. For the most part, this serves as a prime example of typical instrumental hip-hop (typical for the RZA at least), in that you'll never question what type of music you're listening to. There are some beautifully humble percussive pieces and acoustic effects which I can only assume were recorded live; and the few samples used are done so sparingly, with RZA's expressive keyboard work taking the 4.
Most of the tracks are short and don't outstay their welcome, but there is one big exception: the infuriating 'Opening Theme (Raise Your Swords)' at track 2. Mark my words and avoid that one and you will get along just fine this album. Now not to downplay the up-front quality of the beats, but you'll also find 'Ghost Dog' makes great background/night-time music to accompany most PG-rated activities, with it's unobtrusive rhythm and dusky atmosphere. For fans of the film, it even has the freestyle in the park as a nice little extra - what more could you ask for? Really? I'll end on a simple RZA quote I found, for anybody who somehow got through this entire entry and still thinks 'hip-hop' = Lil' Wayne.

''How has the South dominated hip-hop for the last four, five years without lyrics, without hip-hop culture really in their blood? Those brothers came out representing more of a stereotype of how black people are, and I think the media would rather see us as ignorant, crazy motherfuckers than seeing us as intelligent young men trying to rise and take care of ourselves.''

Pt. 1
Pt. 2

Friday, 11 September 2009

Edan - 'Beauty and the Beat' (2005)



Edan's second full-length is a wee independent (read: not produced by Timbaland, the Neptunes or their brood) gem from 2005, which is sample-based in an old-skool stylee. What makes it unique however is that pretty much all the sampling is culled from 60's psychedelic pop and rock, with some soul thrown in. Sounds like a big fat mistake but... well what do you expect me to say? Because it doesn't fail, it soars. Inventive (like those 60's four-track conceptual epics) und funky, but suitably sprawling given the source material; and the sound reproduction is a tad crackly like an old 45. 'Beauty...' is not rammed to the gills with obligatory guest spots either - one of the few to pop up is Mr. Lif who is supposedly amazing but, whilst admirable lyrically, always kind of annoyed me. I hope he annoys you too.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

One Last Wish '1986' (1986)


^(Sound quality of video is not representative of album)

People really have some half-arsed ways of categorising music, not to mention marginalising themselves and others. One Last Wish formed in a great year for music, er, 1986, after the dissolution of what many consider to be the first 'emo' band, Rites of Spring. This is still a term I have difficulty acknowledging in the musical sense, not least because it has been lumbered with derogatory connotations and passed into lazy slang for people who don't understand it's true origin... Although by now it's safe to say that the term has been firmly reinvented by morons (after all, what isn't 'emotional'?!) - 'melodramatic' would be so much more apt.
Anyway, when I was still at school, 'emo' was not in use and it didn't constitute a lucrative youth trend - these people were simply labelled as 'goth', a proud label indeed that is, importantly, rooted in a hugely diverse set of musical traditions stretching way back to the late 70's. I try and fail to ignore the developments of pop-metal. What you are getting here is not the Billboard 100 emo that you have come to love or loathe.
If 'emo' must be used, let us use it properly. It was invented as a title for Rites of Spring and their ilk - bands that arose from the always-active Washington, D.C. scene during the Revolution Summer - and who were tentatively billed as 'emotional hardcore' or 'emocore' (which itself has a totally different meaning nowadays). Ian McKaye and his post-hardcore group Fugazi are two of the central pillars of this scene that the music fan 'on the street' will be familiar with; and '1986' is one of the lesser-known classics of McKaye's groundbreaking Dischord label.

One Last Wish comprised of three ex-members of Rites, including singer/guitarist Guy Picciotto. They released only the one short 'n sweet masterpiece before moving on (two of them to Fugazi); and it's a record which I consider to be much superior to the output of their first band, even if they are more celebrated. Every song is a gem, the impassioned delivery is every bit deserving of the original 'emo-core' tag; and it's musically ingenious to boot, more complex and cavernous-sounding than than its violent hardcore brothers. Every little time change within the punk-length songs is calculated to twist the stomach and Picciotto's voice suits the material to a T. It's never a cakewalk understanding rock lyrics at the best of times, but you know the score here: pious straight edge personal politics and good old alienation, both from the mainstream and the 'punk scene'.

Meat is, like, murder