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

Monday, December 30, 2002

Alright, alright, alright--this will be my final post for Gregorian year 2002..thanks to everyone who stopped by and read all of my lunatic ravings for the past year--I couldn't a-done it without you..thanks to my cool web buddies over at Why Oh Why, especially A1phab3t--who also invited me to be part of Yo That Shit Is Wack, which I have been contributing to over the past year--but not much lately (sorry, A1pha!). I'd also like to thank my new buds over at The Flaming Lips' official site--those guys and gals are a hoot..and a special shout-out to Flaming Pixie for all of the convos par excellence (and the bottle of Laphroaig and CDs)..she is truly a wonder!
This past weekend, the Triptych Cryptonauts got together at Luna Pizza in Glastonbury..then trucked over to Slippery Slope's new hideaway--tucked into the Connecticut hills for some drinks n' cards--it was the best end-of-the-year event I could have hoped for..so big "huzzahs" to the gang: Neilalien (for the larfs and cheer--glad you *finally* got the discs), C-Dog (congrats again on the "event"!), Mega (for hipping me to usenet--mmm..albums..mmmm), Bone Daddy (for the cool convos), Prime Time (thanks for all the jokes, m'man!), The Fish Who.. (for the Luna Pizza suggestion), Slippery Slope (for hosting the cards n' drinks), Phinster B. (for being affable and friendly the entire evening!) and P.T.'s friend Charles (who mysteriously kept winning the card games..hmmmm...)..oh and Slip's fiancee Pam (for the koala joke...)..thanks again, all you groovy cats and girl--I had a blast--seriously, I haven't laughed that much in a *long* time!! Also thanks to some of the old Borders gang who made it to Pepe's in Manchester last Friday--it was good to catch up with Zack Q. Scott, his fiancee Phaela and the one and only Ian Schlein again--thanks for the laughs and stories..good times all around!
Well..I presented my "picks of the year" a couple of posts ago--so here are the ones that were O.K., but didn't quite make the final cut--at least I had higher expectations for them and they *nearly* delivered, but not quite on the mark...

Primal Scream "Evil Heat" (Columbia/Sony Records)--The Scream's first post-Creation album contains some *ace* tunes--unfortunately, the rest just sound like "XTRMNTR" out-takes..in fact, some probably *were* discards from those sessions--kinda worked over and given a 2002 sheen. Tracks like "Autobahn 66" and "Deep Hit Of Morning Sun" save the record from being a wasteland of Bobby Gillespie's "rock overdrive", but not even Kevin Shields' patented "M.B.V. production" help some of them from sounding like a "you've-heard-this-before" type of thing. All this, despite some daring experiments--like having Kate Moss (yes, the model--?!!!) sing on a track ("Some Velvet Morning") and a stripped-down, Spiritualized/Mercury Rev hommage ("Space Blues #2"). Ah well. it's *still* better than no Primal Scream at all..but how long will it be before I actually say it's better to have no Primal Scream *at all*? Bobby, don't fail me now...

Underworld "A Hundred Days Off" (V2/Junior Boy's Own Records)--I was waiting for this just to see if they'd still "have it" after DJ/underground club link Darren Emerson departed the fold in 2000 after completing the "Beaucoup Fish" tour. I was hoping they wouldn't revert back to Freur-style chart madness or to being bland Depeche Mode-wannabes. They did neither, thankfully--but what they *did* release doesn't exactly wow your ears off. The album seems to be lacking the crackle of earlier stuff, like "Second Toughest In The Infants" or even the "Cowgirl" single. Some reviews were praising it, calling it a "return to form"--well, what form? There are zingers on here--like the weird techno-country hybrid of "Trim"..and the most "classic Underworld"-sounding cut, "Dinosaur Adventure 3D"..but a lot of the rest just seem to be Smith and Hyde grasping for ideas and hoping one of them works..there's a lot more "real" guitar on here than on the last couple of records, and Hyde is actually *attempting to sing*--instead of performing his usual robotic solilloquies. Some of it passes inspection, some doesn't--well, it *is* their first record without Emerson--who was so pivotal in their 90s success..I'll cut them some slack, for now..

Porcupine Tree "In Absentia" (Lava/Atlantic Records)--P.T.'s "real" major-label debut (after starting on Delirium Records and moving over to K-Scope Records)..and sadly, just sounds like a vague Tool rip-off, except maybe with better musicianship. I guess the record is supposed to be intentionally dark, but then Steven Wilson will add a banjo to one track and harmony vocals to another, thereby confusing the whole thing. I'm just *hoping* it wasn't external record company pressure that led to this dreary album..the ol' "Well, Steven, you're in the big leagues now--gotta shift some units..this whole psychedelia thing is over..we're looking at a heavier sound here.." Ugh! They even included a bonus video included on the disc--and it's straight from the "dark, moody, Tool" video school...I guess "this ain't your father's Porcupine Tree" anymore. At least earlier albums had Wilson's "rawk" tendencies balanced out by spacier, psych moments--this one just barrels right toward the rock, no stoppin'. Please, Steven, if you're reading--dig out your tattered copy of "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" and throw it on the turntable..it's not too late...really...

The Chemical Brothers "Come With Us" (Astralwerks Records)--The Chems' return, but a lot of this is just "same ol' same ol'"..don't get me wrong--there's stuff on here that is as good as anything they've done..it's just the same story as a lot of these other picks..not enough wheat, too much chaff. I was wondering exactly *when* The Chemical Brothers would almost start sounding like an earlier version of themselves--and it's happened on this record. I recognized over half of the keyboard lines and drum sounds from their earlier albums and singles--and the "special guest" vocals are starting to border on un-necessary--this time around it's Richard Ashcroft, ex-The Verve and trying to jump-start his solo career, on "The Test". The standouts are "Star Guitar", with it's faux-My Bloody Valentine sound..and "Pioneers", which has a great melancholy keyboard hook at the beginning..."It Began In Afrika" makes good use of a conga drum sample and a spoken-word sound-bite and the title track has some excellent psychedelic moments. Overall, though, I didn't hear Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons striving for new sounds--only capitalizing on the ones they've already used. The same tactic was used by Aphex Twin last year--and I didn't much like his results either. It hasn't been a banner year for good (mainstream) electronica--what with this album, Underworld's..and Orbital sitting it out with a "best of" compliation--only F.S.O.L. and Boards Of Canada striking out on their own limbs. I hope for a more interesting '03.

On a final "New Year" note--to whatever labels are responsible (Elektra and Arista/Warner Bros., I think)--please, for the love of all that is good..*STOP* with the live Grateful Dead and Phish releases, already!! I don't care if there's a recording of Phish playing "Trout Mask Replica" backwards through a garden hose--there's *no* possible need for 40 live double (and triple) disc sets being made available. Most of their "phans" already have them bootlegged anyway--so you missed that boat a *long* time ago. The same with The Dead--it's *over* folks, Jerry is gone--there's no reason to release a triple CD set of them "live at some Bar-B-Q in some guy's yard in December 1973" or whatever--and the "real" Dead-Heads *already* have these shows--they are not necessary and are taking up room in record stores..thanks for hearing me out...Peace!

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Hello again, musos! Well, it's about that time--to do the "year-end" wrap-up kinda stuff. It's close enough, anyway. It was nice to see all of the heartfelt responses to Mary Hansen's sudden, tragic death--there were plenty of posts at both Stereolab's site and The Flaming Lips message board. My man in Minneapolis, M.A.D., also sent me a notice about Zal Yanovsky's untimely passing earlier this week. Yanovsky was a founder-member of 60s folk-flower pop band The Lovin' Spoonful, along with John Sebastian. The Spoonful crafted some of that era's memorable "AM singles"--which, though derided by the uber-hipsters of the day, helped spread the counter-culture image and ideology to more mainstream listeners..and you can't deny that "Summer In The City" is extremely catchy. The Spoonful flourished from 1966 through 1968, and folded when Sebastian decided to go solo (turning in a performance at the 1969 Woodstock Festival that was captured on the film and record set). Thanks for the great tunes, Zal, you'll be missed...and thanks again to M.A.D. for informing me of his passing.
Speaking of M.A.D., he has published another great review at PopMatters, well, two of them actually. One is for the Dropkick Murphys..and the other is for seminal early 90s British "shoegazers" Ride. It's been said that term was first used to describe Robin Guthrie (of Cocteau Twins) and his performing style--but Ride fit the bill with their morose harmonies and psychedelic-revival guitar squalls. It seems a single-disc version of the Ox4 three-disc set (that I have) has been released. M.A.D. tackles it with his usual panache, so check it out here..that is, if you want a capsule back to 1991..it's leaving soon..you should be on it.
Soooo....I was originally thinking on writing out a "Top Ten" list, the way I did last year. I started thinking about it, and the truth is that I don't even *know* if I bought ten *brand new* discs this year..I mean, I'm sure I have, but I don't think I bought enough new records to sift through and *pick* what I thought were the ten best. Instead, I'll just list some of the discs I think are note-worthy..besides, Top Ten lists are *so* 2001 ;-) And, here they are--my picks for Gregorian calendar year 2002:

The Future Sound Of London "The Isness" (Hypnotic Records)--Gaz Cobain is one tripped-out mofo, just ask him. I thought these guys (Cobain and his F.S.O.L. partner Brian Dougans) were gone--slipped into the electronic haze after their '96 mindf**k, "Dead Cities". It turns out Cobain went on some sort of existential road-trip, leaving England for L.A., India and Mexico. He was trying to cure himself of perceived (and real) sickness. The poor lad had mercury poisoning from his tooth fillings--which he discovered after much travelling and spending of his monies earned from earlier F.S.O.L. releases. He and Dougans developed "The Isness" from various sporadic sessions recorded over the past six years and a crazy, hour-long mix they dubbed "A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble (Growing In Your Brain)"--they could never give "Bubble" a proper release, because of sample clearances. So, they tore into "The Isness" instead. And it is like *nothing* being released at the moment--there's more sitar heard here than on Cornershop's latest..and yes, Cobain isn't exactly a singer--but I give him props for trying. "The Isness" is worth it for "Go Tell It To The Trees Egghead" alone..which sounds like a Delta blues raga--courtesy of B. Shrivastav on sitar and old Captain Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas on slide gee-tar...one of the finest tracks I heard all year.

The Flaming Lips "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots" (Warner Bros. Records)--Wow! I *knew* this would be a good record, but I had no idea it would have such an impact. I mean, yeah, "The Soft Bulletin" (their last album) got some acclaim among the pomo-hipster/critic set..but The Lips were *still* like a little club, even just two years ago. Now they've been on Conan O'Brien, toured with Beck...and are generally getting bigtime attention. Will this ruin The Lips? Hell no. This one continues the prog/symphonic vein they started mining on "Zaireeka"--but pushes it even further..with Wayne Coyne even getting a little Buckminster Fuller-ish on "Do You Realize??" (the album's breakthrough single)--all that stuff about the sun going down being an illusion caused by the world spinning 'round. It's so great to see an "ideas" band who've stuck it out for so long finally get some credit, and they are another band who constantly improve themselves..sure, the lyrics aren't always these literary achievements, but that's part of the charm of The Lips--they could be guys you work with or drink beers with at the local watering hole. It's tough to say where they are going from "Yoshimi..", because they *seem* to have perfected their symphonic-pop approach. I don't care, because I'm sure I will like it.

Cornershop "Handcream For A Generation"--Speaking of Cornershop..*they've* returned after a long hiatus and a side-project (the Clinton "Disco and The Halfway to Discontent" record). This time around it's just Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres, with a bunch of studio guests. Singh is *still* firmly planted in the 70s (and maybe a little in the early 80s)..but this time he's incorporated a little reggae and electronica into his funk/rock stew. There's some really catchy tunes on here.."Staging The Plauging Of The Raised Platform", though it goes on a bit too long--is this record's "Brimful Of Asha"--there's the all-out rocker "Lessons Learned From Rocky I To Rocky III"..and the strange reggae/funk hybird of "Motion The 11". "Music Plus 1" is their attempt at French electronica and by the time they get around to the requisite "Indian" track "Spectral Mornings" (with Noel Gallagher providing some drone-y guitar work)--it's been quite a ride. They sound a lot tighter on this album, like they've been practising. The loose, almost sloppy production of "When I Was Born For The Seventh Time" had it's charm--but they sound clearly revitalized on "Handcream.."--let's hope they stick with it.

Boards Of Canada "Geogaddi" (Warp Records)--I picked this up because their name was being dropped left and right by the press and some "big name" bands. I prepared to be underwhelmed by it--it can't be good when the pomo hipsters are falling over themselves to name-drop something. And...it sounded *very* strange at first, parts of it still do (that weird "woman singing" sample in "Dawn Chorus"), but overall these two Scottish lads *have* in fact, created their own little niche in the techno world with a unique sound. Yeah, some of the beats are pretty standard..but the drones and samples they scatter around those beats are dream-like, psychedelic and foreboding all at once--"Gyroscope", my favorite track, is essentially just a skittering beat and what sound like harmonium drones--it's eerie and beautiful, like being alone at a lake at night. They also are very *slowed-down*, unlike most of the stuff on Warp (Aphex Twin, Squarepusher)--where clattering, hyper-fast beats and keyboard "squiggles" are the rage. I would recommend this disc to any electonica fan--it's different from just about anything you've heard. Can't wait for their next one!

Beck "Sea Change" (DGC Records)--I know, I know..it's Beck...I honestly didn't think I would like this one as much as I do. I liked "Midnite Vultures" when it came out--but I rarely listen to it now--same with "Mutations"--I wasn't even sure I would bother, I figured he's pretty much done. I waited on this one for a long time--and finally picked it up a few weeks ago. I gotta say it stunned me--he's definitely learned a few things in the past couple of years (it can't be from Scientology, though--yuck!). The opener, "The Golden Age", is one of the best tunes he's ever written and is one of those great "end-of-the-day" songs for cold lampin' at home. But the rest doesn't disappoint, either--the Serge Gainsbourg string arrangement on "Paper Tiger", the sad "indie-country" of "Lost Cause" and the Nick Drake-hommage of "Sunday Sun" (does anyone else hear "River Man" in that one?). Still genre-hopping, but reigning in the excess..that's what this one is all about--and it works. Plus, touring with The Flaming Lips works in his favour too.

There they are!! Alright--I'll be back in the next post with my "almost made it" list--have some Happy Holidays--if I don't post before then!!