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

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....