A collection of posts from my original weblog...or the inscrutable rantings of a madman...could be both...

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Hey now, musos...I'm back after mine and Pixie's unofficial honeymoon--she's back to her job, and I've got to start cracking the employment ads and updating the ol' CV. I do have a spare moment to review The Beta Band's latest, titled Heroes To Zeros, in typical B.B. tongue-in-cheek humour. The cover art even reflects this, as it's a comic-book/manga full-colour drawing of the lads fending off an army of menacing androids. They've dropped this after a three-year hiatus, when they toured with Radiohead and got critical props for "Hot Shots II", their 2001 record.

"Heroes To.." begins with Assessment, and it's an up-tempo rocker..the first thing you really notice about it is it's crisp production--even more so than "Hot Shots", long gone are the scrappy, willfully ramshackle mixes of "The 3 EPs" and the first full-length. The main guitar riff sounds a bit like a U2 out-take, but then Stephen Mason's vocals emerge to remind you whose disc you actually bought. They've cut back on the Gregorian-type chants as well, but they do make an appearance in "Assessment". The middle section even features a (gasp!) guitar solo--albeit a jokey one. It's a solid album-opener. Space follows...charging in with a tribal drum beat and synth loops than sound like "Won't Get Fooled Again"s--only slowed down. There's a section that fits the title, in which Mason "la-las" and a low synth note provide a mellow duet. Another guitar solo in here, too..they haven't gone all "rock star" on us, have they? The next tune is called Lion Thief. It's got acoustic guitars and harmonied vocals, which give way to a spacey section of hi-hat, synth'ed claves and sampled strings. Another section appears, with echoed vocals--and back to the acoustic part. In B.B. fashion, the lyrics don't make much sense, but are lovely to listen to in the layered harmonies they sing. Easy sounds like a progressive funk hybrid..with Stevie Wonder-esque keyboard phrase and Caravan-like melody--it's one of my early favourites. Again, I have no idea what "..I'm dysmophic in doses/Imagine tryin' to..shit out/twelve red roses.." means..but it sounds great in the tune. Wonderful follows "Easy", and it's the most "ol-skool Beta Band" track on the album--it's all there...the synth hand-claps, whimsical melody and Mason singing as if he just had about four bong hits in the control room. "She's so wonderful..." they harmonize while the languid guitar solo floats behind in the mix. Troubles is next, and it begins with a synth phrase that mimics a koto, and some strings come in with the vocal. It's certainly pretty..but after "Wonderful", it's like a one-two punch to sedate you.

Out-Side wakes you up for the second half of the record with stampeding beat, raunchy blues slide-guitar and even sampled dog barks. Then the breakdown slams it to a halt with echoed vocals that made me think of Slowdive's "Pygmalion" album. The fast section whips you back into it's frenzy--and it makes for a nice stop/start effect which The Beta Band are masters of. Space Beatle is the next track--and I don't know if it's supposed to have a connection with the earlier "Space", but it's spacey enough in it's own right...with filtered organ chords, metronomic clicks and echoed vocals--followed by a section of military snare and "I love you to pieces" sung chant-style--then back to the original part..pretty seamlessly, too. Rhododendron is the album's only instrumental, though I'm not sure what it has to do with the plant. It's very Incredible String Band-ish, circa "Wee Tam & The Big Huge". Liquid Bird has an electronic sheen, programmed beats and another click track--and it's loud..until it fades out with a xylophone at the coda, of course. Next up is Simple, and it attempts to strike a balance with "Liquid Bird"s electronica and the B.B.'s rustic sound, which really seems to have been their m.o. from the beginning. "Simple" pulls it off a lot better than some of their previous tries, probably because of the production values. It also has the ol' "think-it's-over-but-it's-not", when the "you end up on your own" line is sung after a few seconds' interval at the end of the cut. The album closes with Pure For, and it continues the Beta Band mellow-track-for-the-end tradition...like "The Cow's Wrong" (which liberally borrowed from Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls" for it's melody) on the "Beta Band" album and "Eclipse" from "Hot Shots" (they cheekily name-checked the final track on "Dark Side Of The Moon"). "Pure For" picks up the tempo a bit from those others and it makes a great framework for the "I'm so glad you found me" line they sing repeatedly--and with no bonus or hidden track--it really does end the album.

This one's a bit of a grower..I've only listened to it three or four times before this review..and already I like some of the tracks more than I did when first hearing them. The production is probably the best they've ever attempted and they sound like they've learned how to blend the different sections within tunes much better. That said, there isn't much in the way of a different direction or *brand-new* ideas here. If you're a fan, you'll like it--if you're expecting something completely off-the-wall (for them), you'll be disappointed. For all that though, it's good to have these guys back in action! Though I didn't think they had split, sometimes waiting three years for a new record can make you wonder. I don't know what their touring schedule is like...but go check them out live if you can--they actually can perform a lot of this stuff onstage--and they don't even have that much gear with them for all of the sounds.

The Beta Band/Heroes To Zeros: A-

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Back again, musos! Sorry for the delay in posting, I've been posting over at the new blog, Pond Of Tunes, and of course, getting ready for the upcoming nuptials--which take place one week from this coming Monday!!!! This past weekend was a Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK, so Pixie and I went into Oxford Centre to find some wedding clothes, and I got to hit HMV Records with a bit of spare cash....after much deliberating on which titles to pick up..I decided on The White Noise's An Electric Storm, which I managed to find--I was shocked that it was in HMV, which seems too mainstream to carry an "outro" record like it. I also bought Marillion's Clutching At Straws, the last studio effort with Fish on vocals.

"An Electric Storm" lives up to it's cult electro-psychedelic reputation..it's very strange and extremely dark at times. It's members, David Vorhaus, Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson met at a lecture that Derbyshire and Hodgson were giving on electronic music. Vorhaus was born in the U.S., but had moved to the UK to avoid the draft in the mid-60s. Derbyshire and Hodgson were already a "group", called Unit Delta Plus, and had composed the Dr. Who television theme for the BBC. Vorhaus convinced the pair to join him in an experimental project, and The White Noise was born. Somehow, Vorhaus met Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, and played him a demo tape of Love Without Sound, which would become the opening track on "An Electric Storm". The group had a series of singles in mind, but Blackwell provided an advance for a whole album. The White Noise set up their own studio, which they dubbed Keleidophon and painstakingly assembled all of the tracks using primitive synths and hundreds of overdubs and tape-splices. The Island accountants started to grow nervous that nothing had turned up after a few months of work, and forced the group to finish the album. It was released in 1969, but the group played no concerts, or conducted any interviews--and the record quickly disappeared...only to be taken up in underground circuits and college campuses. The White Noise eventually whittled down to just Vorhaus, and he recorded a follow-up in 1974 for Virgin..and a last album in 1980 for Pulse Records, neither of which have been re-issued on CD...and talked of making another album in the 90s, but I don't know if it ever materialised.

"An Electric Storm" starts with "Love Without Sound", which could have been a modest hit-single..with it's echoed vocals (courtesy John Whitman) and tiki-like drum sounds. It was probably a bit *too* strange for the charts, even in 1969. The sped-up and slowed-down tape loops and sound effects (a woman laughing and dogs barking), make it an unsettling love song. My Game Of Loving is next...and I describe it as a psychedelic soft-porn soundtrack, or perhaps incedental music for a "Barbarella" out-take. There was no way this was going to chart...still it's electronic soundscape (well, what you can hear behind all of the moaning) is state-of-the-art for the late-60s--it's closest contemporaries would be The United States Of America or Fifty Foot Hose. Here Come The Fleas is next...and is described in the booklet as "an obvious single choice", but it doesn't sound anything but an interesting electro-novelty--with it's off-kilter melody, sped-up voices and West Indian guy complaining that he can't hear his steel-band. It does make for a nice goofy moment amidst the weirdness and other-wordly quality of the rest of the album. The Firebird is another Whitman-sung tune, and to me, sounds like the other "almost-single" on the record--it's got a jaunty melody and nice synth curlicues. Your Hidden Dreams features vocals by Val Sharpe and floats along on it's trippy background. The lyrics are quite tough to hear at times, but don't come off as "inaudible" as described in the CD booklet.

Side 2 (well, it would have been on the original LP) is where things get on the "bad trip, maaaan" stage. The Visitation is an 11-minute jaunt into a creepy electro-psych tape collage. It has a bit of a "narrative" about a bloke who goes to visit his girlfriend, but who is killed on his motorcycle before reaching his destination. The piece is in sections, and it's music changes from low synth drones to carnival-like organs to bell-like chimes...with vocal samples of a woman crying and a man talking about "returning to my darkness". This may sound corny, but against the weird musical backing, it's very effective. The tunes ends with the woman crying. Following that, just to cheer you up...is Black Mass: (An Electric Storm In Hell), which begins with eerie chanting, then goes into a drum pattern which decidedly owes more than a little to Pink Floyd's A Saucerful Of Secrets--except that here, the drums are phased..so it sounds like a monstrous hail hitting the outside of a dome. Screams and high-pitched tones are added to the mix, and they appear at random, which can be a shock when you hear it for the first time. At Amazon.com--a couple of the reviewers said that they used to trip on LSD and listen to this through headphones...which I would not recommend, unless you want a "bogus psychedelic journey", not an "excellent trippy adventure". For all of that, though, I would recommend "An Electric Storm" for it's sheer experimental value and the fact that major labels would actually release stuff like this once upon a time, knowing that they may not make a gigantic profit from it and cater to a marketing-research poll. I believe the CD is still in-print on the 3-D/Island Special Products label..and it is possible to order it from Amazon, or you may find a copy or two on eBay. See ya soon!

Friday, March 26, 2004

I've been broadening my knowledge and listening habits to include some 80s neo-prog lately. I initially gave the genre the short shrift (as I mistakenly do sometimes, case in point being Orbital..whom I dismissed as sub-par before really giving them a chance--and now they are among my favourite artists). You can't mention "80s neo-prog" without one band automatically popping to mind. That's right...Marillion. Formed out of a few regularly gigging pub bands in London in the late-70s--they were originally Silmarillion, after J.R.R. Tolkien's history of the elves...can't get much more prog than that, can you? You can, because they shortened their name and forged their musical alliance based on a mutual love of early Genesis.

They did the usual club circuit, eventually landing a prestigious spot at the famed Marquee Club in London (which also sponsored The Who, The Move and a nascent King Crimson). They were spotted by an EMI A&R guy and signed in 1982, releasing the Market Square Heroes and He Knows You Know singles. Script For A Jester's Tear, their debut full-length, appeared in 1983, and was an immediate hit with the die-hard proggers, thanks in a large part to Scottish lead vocalist Fish (nee Derek Dick) and his near slavish Peter Gabriel-isms--as well as guitarist Steve Rothery's pseudo-Hackett/Howe riffing. Add to that Mark Wilkinson's cryptic full-colour cover art--and a neo-progressive trend was born. Still, despite the "name that Genesis tune" quality of the music, "Script For..." hasn't dated *that* badly..especially when compared to the chart stuff at that time (Kajagoogoo and Duran Duran, please stand up). The Web and Garden Party have become classics to Marillion fans..intricate and melodic, hell, they were more creative than Genesis were in 1983, even if they were doing their best to meld 1973 with 1983. Fish does remind everyone that it's the early 80s with the closing track, Forgotten Sons, a lament to "the troubles" engulfing Northern Ireland. "...Searchlight...Armalite.." are the opening lyrics, so you get the picture right quick. A credible debut in any musical climate, though I'm sure the critics at the time (in England anyway) ripped the record apart for daring to show some bold freeky prog colours in the post-punk greyness and New Romantic pastels and heavy metal black. Rolling Stone probably awarded it their compulsory "three stars".

They followed "Script For.." up with Fugazi in 1984. Sticking a bit to the lines laid down by "Script.." and cranking up the melodrama a notch or two..it's not exactly a holding pattern, but not that much of an advance either..still, they sold out venues in England and The Continent, the punters bought the record..and they even gained a cult following in the U.S.A. Mark Wilkinson had duly turned in the album artwork, and the jester from the debut became Marillion's visual symbol. For the next album, Fish decided to completely bring the lyrics up to date. Misplaced Childhood was released in 1985, and the clues to the change in direction are right on the sleeve itself. A boy wearing a drum major's uniform, holding a magpie is the centerpiece of the front cover..while the jester escapes from a window on the back cover. The lyrics concern themselves with lost love, loneliness and "wide boys" on the streets--far more initmate than his previous observations. The band also hit the mainstream in a big way with the surprise chart success of the Kayleigh single and it's follow-up, Lavender. I remember hearing "Kayleigh" on the radio, but it had little impact on me at the time. When I heard it again a couple of weeks ago, for the first time since then--I recognized the melody, but didn't have any sort of nostalgic flashbacks or anything. The album is the best of the bunch, with nice segues between the tunes..and they update the 70s prog habit of naming multiple sections of longer tunes, like Bitter Suite: divided into i. Brief Encounter ii. Lost Weekend iii. Blue Angel--gotta get those extra royalties somehow ;)

By 1987, after touring extensively, Fish was ready to leave Marillion. He stayed and recorded their fourth full-length, Clutching At Straws, and toured to support it--then announced he was departing for a solo venture. "Clutching..." moved in even more of a pop direction but with ol' Derek still there, retains at least of some of the progressive features of the first three albums. After a double-live album which chronicled the '87 tour, called The Thieving Magpie, Marillion re-grouped to find a new singer and lyricist. Steve Hogarth was the result of the search and they recorded Season's End, which was released in 1989, the first new studio album in two years. Hogarth slowly brought the band away from Fish's prog influence to a more mainstream hard rock sound, though "Season's End" is more of a bridge between the two. They continued on into the 90s (with albums like "Brave" and the horribly-titled "Marillion.com") and are still active today~though their fan-base has dwindled to the hard-core punters. They dropped by EMI in the early 90s and released the subsequent records through a few indie labels. They have set up their own small label now, and are releasing live shows through their website--a bit like King Crimson's Collector's Club series--unfortunately, they aren't offering any Fish-era shows.

Fish also released his first solo album in 1989..and has contuned to do so, setting up his own label as well--and he took Mark Wilkinson's cover art talent with him. I don't own any of his records yet, but I'm hoping to score a few and check them out. The man himself appeared on a hilarious episode of the British muso-quiz show Never Mind The Buzzcocks just recently and took the piss out of a lame Bryan Adams video...big ups to him for that!! HMV has been offering a few older Marillion re-issue titles (just the single-disc versions from 2000--not the double discs with all of the 12" singles, B-sides, etc.) in their bargain section..so I've been snapping up a few here and there--can't beat it for £5!!! See ya soon!!

Friday, January 09, 2004

O.K., a couple of weeks later--Happy New Year to those still using the Gregorian calendar, anyway...I guess I'll wrap up my 2003 stuff, seeing as it's now '04.

Biggest Disappointments

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci/Sleep/Holiday (Sanctuary Records) ~ Another band who's now on Sanctuary's roster (Ween, Spiritualized), their first full-length for their new label suspiciously sounds *exactly like their last one* ("How I Long To Feel That Summer...."). Seriously--there's a carbon-copy of just about every track on "How.. " on "Sleep/Holiday"!!!! I never thought I would say this, but I think that collectively, G.Z.M. has finally run out of ideas. It's sad to think that they hit their peak on Barafundle (from 1997), but that's the way it appears. Of course, if this is the first G.Z.M. record you've ever purchased (or d/l'ed ;) ), you'll think their folk-rock blend is mesmerising. Fans of the older, wacky psych/prog and even the "transition" records ("Gorky's 5", "Spanish Dance Troupe") will find "Sleep/Holiday" just another step into cookie-cutter album status. Wish I had just copied it from another Gorky's fan--I'd feel less cheated out of my money. If you want some choice G.Z.M.--check out the 20 compilation, also released this year on Sanctuary. It brings together some of the early EPs from '94/'95/'96 psych-prog era and it shows you how creative and willing they were to experiment in the studio.

The Polyphonic Spree/The Beginning Stages Of.... (Hollywood Records) ~ This album got so much attention in the music press (particularly in the UK)..and all the indie/chin-strokers at the Flaming Lips message board were falling over themselves praising it. I took the bait and bought the record--after a few cursory listens..I've decided it's just O.K.. Yeah, Tim DeLaughter and his forty theives have manic energy to spare, but for a band with so many members, the songs do sound a bit skeletal. There's not much going on in them, and most are based around a scrap of lyric or a simple guitar riff. They pile on so many extras, like theremins and choral arrangements, that it almost hides the tune's basic structure. There's no denying the catchiness of Soldier Girl or Light And Day, but the psychedelic pastiche/"Up With People" blend gets a bit irritating by the record's end--then you get to wade through a 36-minute drone that is mainly just an endurance test. Better luck on the next one, guys & gals.

Bubbling Under The Top Ten

Richard Thompson/The Old Kit Bag (SpinArt Records) ~ R.T. is back after his label-hop from Capitol Records a few years ago. He turns in his usual grab-bag of quality tunes and even gets his son Teddy to help out on a couple of tracks. It didn't make the Top Ten due to it's "same-y" content to the last bunch of Thompson releases, but even a run-of-the-mill R.T. record is better than 90% of the shite out there--and he destroys anything being put out by his contemporaries (exceptions being Billy Bragg and maybe Robert Wyatt). He always surpasses even his old band, Fairport Convention, who're still dropping their annual offering as well, I couldn't tell you how their recent stuff is--I can't be bothered to listen to anything past 1975. Richard even found time to duet with his former wife, Linda, on her underrated Fashionably Late record from 2002. It's good to have him back.

Yo La Tengo/Summer Sun (Matador Records) ~ This one falls into the same catagory as the Thompson album...the usual quality release from Yo La Tengo--but that's just it, they're not treading any new ground here, just turning in another set of heavenly ambient Y.L.T. tunes which they'll rock out more at their live shows. I don't have a problem with that at all...but it doesn't guarantee them a Top Ten spot. This one's for Tengo fanatics only--everyone else will fall asleep to it.

Best Live Show Of 2003

I actually only caught one show this year--it just happened to be Carling Weekend, or The Reading Festival, a three-day cavalcade of bands playing on a main stage and three other tents in Reading, England. My full review is in the archives for August 2003...but my favourite sets were:

1.) Elbow - BBC Radio One Tent
2.) The Mars Volta - BBC Radio One Tent
3.) Keane - Carling Tent
4.) Billy Bragg - Carling Tent
5.) Mull Historical Society - BBC Radio One Tent
6.) Grandaddy - BBC Radio One Tent
7.) Doves - Main Stage
8.) Primal Scream (with Kevin Shields) - Main Stage
9.) The Libertines - Main Stage
10.) Good Charlotte -Main Stage (Ha Ha Ha--I keed, I keed)

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Happy Crimble to all! I'm excited...I finally get to open a few of my gifts from My Dearest tonight!!!! :) Speaking of Ms. Pixie ~ she has sent her Top Ten list back...drum roll please..............

My Top Ten

The best 10 CD's I acquired in 2003 (Pixie's rules)

1.) A Birthday Mix CD from my Fiance (Thanks sweetie :) ).
2.) Ed Harcourt ~ From Every Sphere Ed is brilliant! Go and buy all his work NOW.
3.) Ed Harcourt ~ Maplewood (See above)
4.) Untitled ~ by iBee*. A "calming" Mix CD from my French hippy "Dad"
5.) Keane ~ This is the last time. This is just a single - but Keane are excellent. I'm looking forward to hearing some more of their work
6.) Sparklehorse ~ Good Morning Spider. I can't remember whether I got it this year or last year. Whatever - it's still going on my list.
7.) The ***** Chronicles ~ Vols 1 & 2. 2 joint effort mixes. Half Indie/Half Prog. I'll leave you to decide which halves are the best.
8.) Elbow ~ Cast of thousands. Manc Cunts.
9.) Elliott Smith ~ No Name (A Collection of B-Sides and Live Tracks). RIP Elliott - you fucker
10.) Eureka ~ another mix (ok - this one's a tape but I did say I was following MY rules). This ones by Oh Allah* - he's going to be a famous artist one day - watch out for him.
11.) A Taste of Honey ~ another mix cd from the French hippy Dad. This one however is completely prog shit. I've been hanging around with my Fiance too much - it's starting to have an effect. Someone help me.
12.) The complete works of Lambchop. A special thanks to my very good friend Singingbear*. Take care.
*All three are members at The Flaming Lips message board

There ya have it, musos--read an' reckanize!!!!

Outstanding Re-Issues of 2003

Bob Dylan SACD re-issue series (Sony/Columbia Records) ~ Noticing the big returns on ABKCOs Rolling Stones SACD series from 2002, Sony steps up to the plate and finally delivers some decent Dylan CDs. I've got Bringing It All Back Home, Blonde On Blonde and Blood On The Tracks so far--and they sound pretty amazing! I haven't heard them on a "surround-sound" set-up..but at home and at work, I'm impressed with the re-mastering. The CDs come in cardboard "digi-paks", similar to the Stones' discs, with original artwork intact...in fact, a big improvement over the original Columbia 80s/early 90s CDs. My only complaint, similar to the ABCKO SACDs, is a lack of historical perspective on these records, particularly the mid 60s albums. No essays or "making-of" notes--well, I suppose if you've read any issue of Rolling Stone (as I haven't) this past year--I'm sure one of the boomer-fogies on the writing staff have waxed rhapsodic about the series, including all sorts of technical details. Still, it's nice to see ol' Bobby Zee get the CD treatment that *some* of these records deserve.

Arthur Brown/Kingdom Come (Sanctuary Records) ~ I only became aware of these just a month ago--the complete catalogue, just three albums (Galactic Zoo Dossier (1971), Kingdom Come (1972) and Journey (1973)) from the wild & wacky Arthur Brown. He assembled this band after the dissolution of The Crazy World, his operatic pop-psych band ("Fire"), in 1969. They did the hippie thing of "getting their heads together in the country, man", dropped a lot of acid and rehearsed some new tunes. "Galactic Zoo Dossier" was the result of these sessions..and it's a trippy affair all the way through. A bit harder-rockin' than the Crazy World, but Brown continues being willfully weird--even for 1971. "Kingdom Come" continues in that vein--but gets closer to more traditional "rock". After some usual band antics (the drummer stealing the bass-player's wife away---or something like that)..they were short a member (namely, a drummer) for "Journey", used a primitive drum machine--and stumbled upon a sound that was also beginnning to happen in Germany at the same time. They split after "Journey"..and Brown faded into obscurity--occasionally surfacing as a backing vocalist..or when he was mentioned in psych documentaries. Check these out, if you're a fan of early-70s psych/hard psych--they were doing some genuinely strange things in the "hangover of the 60s"

Barclay James Harvest re-issues (Harvest/EMI Records) ~ Yeah, yeah--technically, these are from 2002, but I only became aware of them this year. EMI re-issued the albums of their first signing to their "progressive" label (hence the name)...and filled them chock full of bonus tracks and with excellent booklets. The CD booklet cover art appears to be a desk from the 1800s with whichever B.J.H. record is represented on the disc--very very retro groovy!! I don't own any of them yet--but I plan on buying the first two B.J.H. records very soon.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

After a brief intermission...the rest of the best...

5.) Mogwai/Happy Songs For Happy People (Matador/Pias Records) ~ The gee-tar noodling Glasgow natives came out of a year and a half hiatus (after only releasing the "My Father My King" EP in 2002) with their new full-length, and it's their best one yet. I don't know if they've been practising their tunes 'till the reach a nice, purdy sheen--but this stuff is tight!!!! They've also opted to have original producer Tony Doogan in the control room, instead of Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, The Delgados, Mercury Rev)--who's been in the chair for the past couple of albums. Almost every track is stand-alone amazing--only Ratts Of The Capital, with it's guitar-squalls and meandering, drags a bit, but even that doesn't bring down the majesty of the whole. Hunted By A Freak, the opener, builds and builds to a crescendo of guitar, robot voices and a processional beat, then pulls back again to the spare opening riff...then builds again..it's stunning! Kids Will Be Skeletons, my favourite track, could be an amped-up Another Green World out-take--it's a beautiful ambient sound-scape that flows along as if recorded for a summer day. In fact, most of these tunes recall Eno's '75 landmark...so much so that I can't help thinking "A.G.W." was a major inspiration for "Happy Songs..." It's melodic, haunting and subtle...this ain't a Peaches album, and thank Eno for that!!

4.) The Mars Volta/De-Loused In The Comatorium (Gold Standard Labs/Universal) ~ I had heard the buzz, heard that these guys were the "next big thing", that they were formed from the remains of At The Drive-In, etc. I was reluctant to check them out--for fear the buzz wouldn't translate into a good record at all. My mate Mega convinced me to buy the disc...and it blew me away. I mean, it's got Flea on it, but he's not doing his show-offy "Hi, the name's Vanilla Bootsy"-stuff he does with R.H.C.P., and there's a guy playing vintage Fender Rhodes licks, straight out of "Bitches Brew" or "The Inner Mounting Flame". There's a bizarre concept going on, and all the song titles read like chapter headings in a sci-fi novel. These are punk-prog tunes that stretch to 6..8...even *12* minutes (gasp!) Something's happening here, and you don't know what it is..do you, Mr. McLaren? Is progressive finally cool again? We won't go that far--but this stuff is very strange, and very welcome. See them live, too...it's like The MC5 meets Return To Forever, then they both go get a pint at Hawkwind's commune...then your mind gets scrambled...

3.) OutKast/The Love Below;Speakerboxxx (Arista/LaFace Records) ~ A hip-hop double album, and a whole disc afforded to each members' separate ideas...self-indulgent? Sure. Completely necessary? Well, it is a double album..are they ever? A total failure? Nope. While I find "The Love Below" (Andre 3000's portion) to be a lot more daring and off-the-wall loopy--love songs, done in funk, R&B and hybrids of those with hip-hop, "Speakerboxxx" (Big Boi's record) provides a good contrast, with it's street vibe and roughneck rhymes. Yeah, they could've shaved off half the tunes and had a colossal single album...but then, you can say that about everything--going all the way back to The White Album. There hasn't been a whole lot of great hip-hop this year--not to my ears anyway--everyone was raving about The Streets early on, then all the thugs made Eminem a film star...and after that...let's see...2Pac's 30th posthumous record came out...and...hmmm...besides OutKast and Blackalicious, a whole lotta hollow gangsta posturing and bling-blingin'. And if you've heard anything catchier than Hey Ya! this year, please tell me---'cos that jam puts a mile-wide smile on my face. There's rumours that Andre and Big Boi are getting all "Fleetwood Mac" with each other..separate records, separate acts in their stage show...it's too bad. Well, if this is the end of OutKast, they went out with stylee to spare!!!

2.) Ed Harcourt/From Every Sphere (Heavenly/EMI Records) ~ I thought this was a 2002 release..but Pixie reminded me that it came out in February of this year. Harcourt's follow-up to Here Be Monsters continues his mix of romantic/troubled tunes--but his command of the studio is improving and he's got a top notch band backing him. Harcourt's veddy-English gothic tales may not light everyone's fire--but he's a good tonic for all the guitar-toting indie boys and whatever remains of the "girl-with-a-piano" scene of the 90s...and he seems to get better and better. The moods differ on every tune, and while sometimes that can make for an uneasy listen, he always provides a generous hook here..a sweet little piano phrase there. By the time you get to the closing, epic title track...you appreciate the journey that much more. I think Harcourt's got the potential to rival Kate Bush's ambitious albums--I hope he gets to make at least a few more, anyway. Incidentally, his debut indie-EP, Maplewood, has been re-issued on Heavenly/EMI this year also, and is worth a listen. Cheers to My Darling Pixie for providing me with Harcourt's records!!!

..............and.......my favourite album of 2003 is..................................................

1.) Elbow/Cast Of Thousands (V2 Records) ~ I was a bit hesitant when I first heard this--nothing really "jumped out" at me. I was concerned that maybe they couldn't top their 2001 debut, Asleep In The Back. Had the moody Mancs lost their magick touch? But then, with further listens...little phrases kinda poked their way through the mix at me. First, it was the opener, Ribcage, with that catchy piano riff, sing-along chorus at the coda...damn that's a great track!!! Still my fave on the record....but then others....Fugitive Motel, where lead singer/guitarist Guy Garvey's voice just coats the chorus like some vintage Laphroaig whiskey...Not A Job, with it's melancholy beauty and soaring, Peter Gabriel-esque chorus (These guys make better Peter Gabriel records than Gabriel himself--and it takes him ten years to come up with new ones). There's Grace Uner Pressure, which, despite sharing it's name with a hideous Rush album from 1985, starts out slow and reverb-ed..and builds to an all-out, uplifting chorus--featuring the crowd at Glastonbury 2002 as backup singers, and Jimi Goodwin of Doves. They ably slip by the sophomore slump--and though they've retreated a bit from the more progressive sounds of their debut...they've crafted a brilliant record, worthy of repeated listenings. Well done, boys--now get in the f**king studio and make another one!!!!!!!!

Editorial note: Pixie has decided to re-tool her Top Ten list--I'll post it here when she submits her new list

Monday, December 15, 2003

Well, well, well..it's that time of the year--yep, I knew you were waiting for this--it's the annual Schizoid Man Picks Of The Year--where I list off my fave records and ephemera from the past twelve months--give or take..and this year, I'll have a guest contribution from my amazing fiancee, Ms. Flaming Pixie!!!!

So...without making you wait while presenters read silly banter from TelePrompters...the Top Ten Records Of 2002 (in ascending order):

10.) Spiritualized/Amazing Grace (Sanctuary Records) ~ This one just barely made it...I was hoping J. Spaceman would delve back into the dense, layered psychedelia of "Pure Phase" and "Ladies And Gentlemen..." with this follow-up to the underwhelming "Let It Come Down", released in Sept. 2001. Alas, no--just more of the same: electrified, psychedelic blues chants and urban secular gospel, even a revved-up '65 Dylan clone ("Cheapster"). It gets bonus points over it's predecessor for a rawness in the production, and it sounds like J. had been listening to latter-era Primal Scream records (hints of "XTRMNTR" are all over the opening track, This Little Life Of Mine)...better than "Amazing Grace" is the 2-CD collection of "A" & "B" sides, also released in 2003 called (surprisingly), The Complete Works--Volume One. It shows the band in their early stages--after Spaceman left the seminal Spacemen 3 in 1989. That was a band not afraid to experiment, unlike the 2003 model, which seems content to rest on it's psych-street-cred laurels. There's always the next one, I suppose.

9.) Super Furry Animals/Phantom Power (Sony/Epic Records) ~ I was as excited as every other S.F.A. freak to hear that their follow-up to 2001's masterpiece, Rings Around The World, would be released in the UK in spring 2003, and in the States a couple of months later. When I finally wrapped my ears around the result, well...I still think the Furries have yet to make a really bad record--but "Phantom..." hardly departed from "R.A.T.W."s formula of Beach Boys harmonies, techno freakouts and wry-humoured lyrics. That said, it has it's share of brilliant moments--the goofy lyrics of "Golden Retriever", the sedated majesty of "Hello Sunshine", the trippy coda to "The Piccolo Snare"...and of course, this album got the 5.1 DVD treatment as well. I haven't seen any of the vids for the tunes--but if it's anywhere near the quality of the "Rings Around..." DVD, it's probably something to view (while in an altered state of mind ;) ). It'll be interesting to hear what these Welsh wizzards come up with next--as long as it sounds different from this.

8.) The Flaming Lips/Fight Test EP; Ego Tripping At The Gates Of Hell EP (Warner Brothers Records) ~ The Lips established a holding pattern this year after attaining a new level of popularity with 2002's Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots full-length. They stuck to creating EPs from singles released to keep the "Yoshimi.." ship cruising along. Fight Test couples a few lacklustre re-mixes with two new tracks and a couple of '02 radio sessions..of the two originals, "The Strange Design Of Conscience" shows the most promise--an almost fully electronic track (I think a first for OKC's finest)--it moves along and doesn't do too much to wreck their cred (I mean mainstream cred--they left their indie-cred behind a long time ago). The other, "Thank You Jack White (For The Fiber-Optic Jesus That You Gave Me)" is just a country-ish novelty ditty that will no doubt provide a moment of goofy hilarity amongst Wayne Coyne's more soul-searching tunes at future Lips' shows. The radio sessions are mostly forgettable (Radiohead's "Knives Out", Beck's "The Golden Age")--aside from the Wagnerian, over-the-top cover of Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out Of My Head"--*that's* good stuff!! I haven't heard the "Ego Tripping.." EP yet, as it's an X-mas gift from My Dearest...but the buzz I've picked up from the "General Lips" forum at the Lips' message board sounds familiar--the re-mixes are shite, the new tunes are up to their usual standard. Hang on for the next full-length, is my advice.

7.) Ween/quebec (Sanctuary Records) ~ Gene and Dean Ween return after a two-year absence (and being dropped from Elektra Records' roster)..recouping from the disappointing White Pepper album, which seemed to be tailored to get them noticed on mainstream radio, but had the effect of alienating a lot of their fan base. So they retreat a bit--bringing back Andrew Weiss, who was at the studio console for early triumphs "God Ween Satan", "The Pod"..and Ween-head favourite, 1997's The Mollusk. The result is more consistent than the last record, but not exactly a return to form--no matter how much praise is heaped on it by Ween-ers. There are certainly tracks which hold up to anything on the older albums--like the rocked-out opener, "It's Gonna Be A Long Night"...the Floydian "Among His Tribe", "The Argus" (which was actually demoed during the "Pepper" sessions) and the classic-Ween funny "Zoloft"--but other tunes start out with promise, and go nowhere--like "So Many People In The Neighborhood", which wants to sound like it belongs on "God Ween..." but doesn't quite make it. "The F**ked Jam" which is an apt title for this sprawling instrumental...and the closer, "If You Could Save Yourself (You'd Save Us All)", one of Ween's patented "cry-in-your-beer" tunes that could've used more editing. Still, with the obvious care they put into the production side of things--this records sounds better than 90% of the junk out there. I wouldn't recommend "quebec" for a first Ween album (I'd go to "Chocolate & Cheese" or "The Mollusk" for that)..but I do say "Welcome back, Gener and Deaner...we missed ya!"

6.) Shack/...Here's Tom With The Weather (North Country Records) ~ I know..no-one's exactly clamouring for this one--in fact, it probably sold just a few hundred copies..and that's in their native UK! Still, I was excited when I saw it on display in the HMV in Oxford Centre. The last words from these Scouser janglers were the two Oscar EPs in 2000. I'd feared they'd split, brought down by the needle and the damage done. Not so, they've returned to deliver this latest effort--and while it doesn't establish a new direction for them, it's the same gorgeous harmonies, tasteful string arrangements and pretty acoustic guitar-playing that made H.M.S. Fable (released in 1999) such a great record. Well done, lads! Let's just hope I don't have to wait another four years to hear a batch of new tunes from you. On a side note: I also picked up their 1995 album, Waterpistol, which is back in print on the Marina label. Now if I could only find "Zilch" and some Pale Fountains stuff....

There you have it--Nos 10 through 6..I'll be back soon with the rest of the list..as well as re-issues, live shows, Pixie's list and other gobbledegook I thought was Grade-A in 2003..stay tuned....

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Happy (early) Thanksgiving to the U.S. readers--and for everyone else--well, erm..I hope your workdays aren't godawful tomorrow..me, I'm going to go through my bootleg tape collection and update some of the tape inserts--on ones I dubbed over ten years ago--the marker for the track-listing has faded so much, I can barely see the song titles anymore. So, there ya have it--a little bootleg tape insert restoration project.

I finally got round to buying the brand-new OutKast double-CD set, The Love Below/Speakerboxxx. The reason it's a double-disc is that each half of OutKast, Andre 3000 and Big Boi, have taken a disc between them for their own ideas. Could this be hip-hop's own Ummagumma? (I hear you snickering out there ;) ) Still, the allusion fits in a way--because this is certainly an ambitious concept--and could've been a resounding flop. Luckily, they seem to have side-stepped both Pink Floyd's tendencies on "Ummgumma" towards avant-garde instrumentals (which make up the "studio" portion of the set) and The Flaming Lips' "cool-concept-but-tough-to-utilise" gambit (with the 4-CD set Zaireeka)...and we'll just ignore E.L.P.'s 1977 ego-fest, Works--Vol. 1, shall we? I don't even know if this has been attempted by a mainstream hip-hop group--unless you count that First Amendment disaster that is 2 Live Crew's "As Nasty As They Wanna Be". A bloated double-record set that had DJ Marquis (or whatever his handle was) dissing M.C. Shan (?!!!) on a ten-minute bland-a-thon of sluggish beats and production that sounded like they were recording in a bowling alley bar with a Casio and a turntable from Jed Clampett's garage sale. That whole set had two good moments--"Me So Horny" and I can't even remember the other one--and those are unintentionally hilarious to listen to now--plus, half of "Me So.." is the "Full Metal Jacket" sample. Anyway........

I've listened to both discs a few times now and I'm finding that I like Andre's "The Love Below" CD more than Big Boi's "Speakerboxxx". I think it's because he tackles far more in his allotted time...he goes from a lounge-y intro (the title track)..into a Hendrix-inspired wah-wah freakout, into an upbeat, jazzy tune (Love Hater)...into a goofy convo with "God" with an acoustic guitar backing (yes, titled God)....and on and on. He's got a Prince/Sly Stone type funk jam (Happy Valentine's Day)...and an 80s R&B/club/George Clinton-esque hybrid (Spread)...even a spoken-word parody of upper-class British dandies (Good Day, Good Sir)..and of course, the irresistible Hey Ya!, which will become the over-played radio track on the album--still, doesn't mean you can't bounce around to it right now. Despite some sexist moments in the lyrics and in some of the tune titles themselves, ("Spread", "Vibrate", "She Lives In My Lap"--and the winner of the awkward track title of the year, Where Are My Panties?) I love this record. The reason that that stuff doesn't cause me to give up on them, is that the music is so damn good--and you get the feeling that Andre really means what he's singing (yeah, he sings on three-quarters of the disc), he comes off as a playa-with-a-heart-of-gold, and I'd rather listen to that than rappers slurring about being in da club or how much bling bling they've got stashed in da crib. "The Love Below" drags a bit toward the end--but it gets off to such a great start, that it was inevitable that the energy would wane for the last tracks.

"Speakerboxxx", by contrast, is almost exclusively 'Lanta style hip-hop from start to finish. Big Boi is sort of the Keith Richards to Andre's flamboyant Jagger--he keeps things grounded and rockin'. It begins with some radio static and a decidedly electro-funk intro., which leads into the hard-techno/R&B Ghettomusick, it's a strange track--with some moments of tempo-change, MC'ing, near-gospel singing--it's no surprise that Boi had some input from Andre 3000 on this one--and it's one of the best cuts on the disc. Unhappy has an interesting intro, but then becomes a standard 2003 hip-hop joint, you know, part R&B/part rap, saved only by Boi's slick flow--which is still top after nearly ten years in the big leagues. Bowtie starts out sounding like a "Mothership Connection" out-take, complete with "Chipmunks" voices--then Boi takes the mic for some lyrics--and back to Parliament for the chorus..it's very catchy, and chalk up another one for "Speakerboxxx". The next few cuts ("The Way You Move", "The Rooster", "Bust") crib some more notes from 70s R&B (particularly Earth, Wind & Fire & Parliament) and "Bust" adds some gangsta bluster into the mix--but with only middling results--though "The Way You Move" has an undeniably catchy chorus. War has a creepy guitar line running through it's verses and a political bent to it's lyrics--and Boi's flow is amazing on it, while Church returns to the P-Funk vibe and reminds me of vintage De La Soul, maybe it's just the bouncy keyboard phrase. Bamboo is an interlude featuring a spare beat and Boi's young son doin' some rappin'....the beat continues into the next track, Tomb Of The Boom, which is probably the weakest track, and just seems a concession to the 50 Cent/Eminem crowd (it features frellin' *Ludacris* as a guest MC, fer chrissakes!). Knowing is a nice return to form, and more input from Andre, singing falsetto backing vocals. Flip Flop Rock cleverly reprises that creepy guitar from "War"--but that's about all that distinguishes it, besides some expert MC'ing from Big Boi (I mean, this one has Jay-Z on it...over-hyped guest MC #2--arrrgh, marketing ploys!) There's a couple more tracks (Reset being the standout, with it's stoned 70s R&B vibe), and interludes before you finally get to a reprise of "Bowtie" and the disc is over. It's some tough slogging after "Church", but even with it's obvious flaws...'Speakerboxxx' is still better than 90% of the junk released as hip-hop this year.

There you have it--I'll end up adding "The Love Below/Speakerboxxx" to my "Top Of The Year" list..it's another good'un from OutKast--though the two separate discs have me confused--I'm hoping this isn't the end of the ATLiens, that would be a shame. Rumours are floating around that the two barely get along these days, and I hope they're not true--if they split, it'll just be another nail driven into the pine box of true hip-hop.

The Love Below: A- Speakerboxxx: B+ Combined: A

Friday, October 03, 2003

Hey Musos! The official 3rd anniversary of "Schizoid Man" passed by last week--I'd given the whole run-down on the origins of this blog last year, so I decided to make this one a low-key affair..thanks again to any loyal readers I have and I apologise for not blogging much these past months. I like to think it's the *quality*, not the quantity, that counts ;)

I've also completed a year's tour of duty at Flaming Lips.com just this past Wednesday--Cheers to all the groovy guys and gals I've met over there over the past year...especially My Dearest Flaming Pixie. FlamingLips.com also got a brief mention in a hilarious Onion story about the recent Internet crashes. Nice one, Onion staffers!!

Today is the nuptial ceremony of my man C-Dog and his lovely bride-to-be, Tiffany B.. I will be attending the festivities, along with a number of the usual suspects from the Triptych Cryptic gang (S. Temple of The Temple Files is coolin' out with a lift to the wedding for me). My Dearest could not attend with me, but sends her best to the newlyweds-to-be. I 'spect there'll be some gettin' down on the dance floor--but no moshing for me this time ;) Be there or be square, foos!!! A BIG Schizoid Man "Congratulations" to C-Dog and Tiffany!!!!!!!!!!

A minor rock-n-roll passing last week as Robert Palmer died in his apartment in Paris at the age of 54. Palmer started out on the English soul scene in the early 70s--but was over-shadowed by contemps like Joe Cocker and even Dave Mason, formerly of Traffic. Palmer struggled on and by the late 70s, had a couple of chart hits with a re-make of Little Feat's "Sailin' Shoes" and the vaguely reggae-tinged Sneakin' With Sally Through The Alley. He then re-invented himself in the mid-80s (or maybe it was his label's idea) as a slick, smoove-operator pop crooner. He epitomised 80s-pop vapidity with the made-for-radio shlock Addicted To Love and Bad Case Of Lovin' You and their accompanying ready-for-MTV videos, which featured Palmer as designer-clothed crooner in front of a line of tight black mini-dressed, high-heeled, heavily made-up models, hair slicked back and swaying back and forth like ultimate 80s party-zombie vamps, some actually pretending to play certain instruments. He also was part of the one-off Power Station project in 1985--which scored hits with Some Like It Hot and their bland cover of T. Rexs (Bang A Gong) Get It On, I guess there was so much cocaine in the studio that they probably thought it sounded good at the time. By the early 90s, Palmer found himself out-of-fashion in the alterno-rock and electronica world--even mainstream radio had deserted him for slicker R&B and "safe" alterno-pop bands. The Power Station re-convened in '96, hoping to cash in on the brief Duran Duran resurgence, to no avail. Palmer was more than likely mounting a new comeback attempt, plans for a new record and such. Not that I'm overjoyed the man passed, 54 is way too young to go..but at least he saved himself a bit of dignity and didn't hit the road once again as an 80s nostalgia act.

I also found out (through Close Your Eyes and Cheek) that English music critic/writer Ian McDonald committed suicide just over a month ago. McDonald is best known as the author of Revolution In The Head--one of the standouts in the trillions of Beatles-related tomes out there in the marketplace (along with, in my opinion, Peter Brown & Steven Gaines' The Love You Make and Hunter Davies' 1968 biography, the best book written about The Fabs while they were still an active band). The bloggers over at Close Your Eyes have an interesting angle on why McDonald made his awful decision--pure nostalgia for a time that will never return--at least not for a long time...he was the quintessential 60s head--having *been there*, maaaaaan. It's too bad, really..McDonald had a great talent for music crit and analysis--especially when it came to The Fabs, though I do agree with the lads at Close Your Eyes--McDonald's slagging of Across The Universe is *way* off-base! Anyway, R.I.P., Ian--you'll be missed.

That's all for now, kids--be back soon with more...Peace!

Friday, September 19, 2003

Some capsule reviews of recent purchases:

Elbow/Cast Of Thousands (V2 Records): I've been waiting a while for this..ever since getting Asleep In The Back, and their uber-indie EP for Any Day Now. Sure, the sound is about the same..but that's about what I expected (secretly--I was hoping they'd go even more prog, and break out mellotrons and lengthy solos..ah well..). Ribcage, the opening track, is as good as anything they've done..and Not A Job also excels. A couple tracks drag for a bit--tempo-wise, but that's a small complaint. See them live, and everything will fall into place. They survive the sophomore slump admirably!

Ween/qUEBEC (Sanctuary Records): Deaner and Gener are back..after the somewhat disappointing "White Pepper", released in 2000. Andrew Weiss, the producer behind "God Ween Satan", "The Pod" and "The Mollusk" joins the madness again...and the result sounds like....well, Ween. Zoloft is an instant classic ("Give me that Z-o-loft..suckin' 'em down, I'm a happy man..")..Among His Tribe features a droney, psychedelic jam that could be a Floyd out-take from "Obscured By Clouds"--if you were positive they weren't goofing around, which I'm not, but it's Ween after all. Maybe being freed from their major-label contract gave them the courage to get really weird again. I'm not sure what it was, but listening to "qUEBEC" is like meeting up with a friend you haven't seen in a while--a bit awkward at first, but leaving you with a good feeling.

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci/Sleep/Holiday (Sanctuary Records) The Welsh pop-folksters have also moved to Sanctuary, from Beggars Banquet/Mantra. Their first album for the label sounds...pretty much like the last three or four. Not that I'm complaining *too* much, mind you...but the breezy folk-rock is starting to become a bit boring. I keep hoping for a little of the old psych weirdness to pop back in (as on "Hair Like Monkey, Teeth Like Dog" on "Spanish Dance Troupe"), but it's just Euros Childs' love laments and the rest of the group providing their usual solid backup (especially Megan Childs' fiddle-playing and vocals). I guess John Lawrence was the key instigator for the prog/psych side of the group--and his leaving left the band open to evolve into Childs' folkie pastoral vision. They're still better than most groups out there--but "Sleep/Holiday" leaves something to be desired.

Shack/Here's Tom With The Weather (North Records) I was surprised to see this in the shop in Oxford. I was thinking Shack had split for good, since their last full-length was "H.M.S. Fable" in 1999--perhaps amongst rumours of heroin addcition. But no, these Liverpudlian janglers have a new album out and everything. The band's nucleus is still brothers John and Michael Head, and they're still serving up nice jangle-pop melodies which anchor the darkness in their lyrics. They've also moved to a small label--since the majors seem to be pre-occupied with boy/girl bubblegum bands and singers, or crap-metal garbage. It's good to have these boys back..I hope it isn't another four years between records for them.

Mike Oldfield/Tubular 2003 (Warner Brothers UK) You're probably amongst the skeptical (like My Dearest Pixie) who're thinking "Again?" and I wouldn't blame you...not that much, anyway. If you're an Oldfield freek, though...you knew this was coming. I didn't, until I was in England--and saw it in the shop. Oldfield returns to his bread and butter...the record that put him on the map, way back in 1973. It is the closest to the original "Bells" than either "..Bells 2" (1992)..or "Bells III" (1998). He basically hunkered down in his studio and, using the most state-of-the-art gear, re-recorded the two suites that comprise the album. For the "narrator" role toward the end of "Tubular Bells--Part One"..the honour is given this time to John Cleese (of Monty Python and "Fawlty Towers" fame), who bites into the role with dramatic aplomb. I can't say it's an improvement on the original, but the music achieves a high sheen, which I bet Oldfield was hoping for at The Manor all those years ago.