Month: September 2017

Dalek : Asphalt For Eden (2016)

Innovative :
(of a product, idea, etc.) featuring new methods; advanced and original.

(of a person) introducing new ideas; original and creative in thinking.

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Beautiful album art done by Paul Romano.

Gutter Tactics absolutely blew me away back in 2009. It was an album that completely revitalized my interests in experimental modern music and made me eagerly anticipate a followup.

So, after 7 years we have Asphalt For Eden. I’m not one to typically purchase anything on release dates but this was different. Gutter Tactics was easily one of my favourite albums of that year’s releases and infrequently gets abandoned from my phone’s music list. The question is, does Asphalt For Eden deliver? With that much personal hype invested it could have easily disappointed. I’m happy to say, it is just as good. Maybe even better.

Whether you are a fan of “rapping” vocals or not I can’t recommend this album enough. Asphalt For Eden contains a few more catchy hooks than other albums in this Jersey born band’s discography but it actually works to make the music more interesting and diverse. The artistic integrity is still in tact and while songs like Shattered and Guaranteed Struggle do offer a more steady rhythm to the often noisy, ambient and atmospheric song structures, it does so tastefully. For those more interested in the dark psychedelia of past albums, there are plenty of textures and cacophonous compositions to sink your teeth into. 6dB and Masked Laughter are prime examples of the more experimental pieces here and they do not disappoint. They are sequenced perfectly between some of the more accessible songs here and work to balance the album out well.

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Eden indeed (en)

Things are a little less angry this time around with less attention spent on social criticisms and frustrations with the world at large. That isn’t to say that these themes aren’t present. If anything, they are more impactful than ever as they are woven into the lyrical fabric more tactfully and, as such come across more fully realized. Shattered is a perfect example of this with it’s accusations that people of all states struggle with hope and that “world has cataracts.”

Other songs like the mentioned Masked Laughter are a lot more introspective. There is a sense of personal anguish and frustration that can be heard from Brooks that isn’t typical. This change in lyrical direction makes this album much more engaging for me than some of their past works. At a short 38 minutes it concise, evocative and well conceived. It Just Is ends the album well with and showcases a few new ideas. The moodier, electronic intro separates it from the other 6 tracks. Lyrically, it is sparse. If this is the direction of future Dalek, I would be happy.

Asphalt For Eden is not only a terrific successor to Asphalt For Eden but a fantastic return for a band who spent 7 years in “hiatus.” It isn’t as dour or as ambient as some of their earlier records but the changes they have made in their music are for the better. I’m just hopeful that they will stick to this project with the current members and build off of this template.

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Track List:

Shattered
Guaranteed Struggle
Masked Laughter (Nothing’s Left)
Critical
6dB
Control
It Just Is

 


The Cure : Faith (1981)

Haunting : Poignant and evocative; difficult to ignore or forget.

the cure faith 1

What exactly IS this?

The Cure have never been an inaccessible band but for one reason or another I didn’t adapt a taste for their music until much later in life. Perhaps years of negativity and cynicism has finally come to a head and I can truly appreciate the haunted, melancholic ideas that this band has to offer. Or maybe it is my recent admiration for simpler compositions and concise songwriting. Let’s opt for the former as it makes me sound more mysterious. Darker, more disturbed and clad in black I will listen to Faith in my dark room with a sole candle lighting the way to the turntable so I don’t get lost when time comes to flip the vinyl.

Faith is an album that strays even further from their initial sound. Seventeen Seconds, an album released only a year prior, began the dour shift towards darkness that this album fully revels in. With feet firmly planted in the wake of Joy Division’s demise, The Cure took over the “goth” crown in 1981 and made themselves a household name both musically and with their tormented personas. The imagery wasn’t something I found appealing and likely added to the reasons I didn’t give them a chance at the time. Sure, dark music appealed to me but something about this scene came across as whiny, pathetic and desperate to impress. Opinions changed around a decade ago when I decided to give all of The Cure’s back catalogue a fair chance. I started from the beginning and by Faith I was engaged.

the cure faith 2

Ahhhh…okay. I see it now.

The eight songs present here are extremely varied. From the opening bass of The Holy Hour to the contemplatively named title track, this set of songs never gets boring or predictable. Primary follows the dirge of the first song with a blast of energy reminiscent of the more upbeat origins of this band. The Funeral Party is a wall of unsettling keyboard constructs that would aptly suit an episode of Twin Peaks. The one constant throughout this ever changing record is the echoey, almost dissonant bass. It bookends the entire album perfectly and flows consistently eerie throughout.

As their third album, Faith is contender for my favourite album by The Cure. It is short enough to enjoy as a quick listen and deep enough to engage. They hadn’t gone too far down the path of “goth” stereotypes at his point and there is plenty of variety for fans of most styles of music here. Each of these eight pieces are riveting but subtly produced. Some of the vocal work sounds as if it was shouted down a hallway and works well to convey the emotionally driven lyrics. Conceptually and musically I can’t find fault in this album. The Cure were on a roll here with a few albums that truly challenged the conventions of popular music. A must have for anyone who enjoys music on a foggy day.

*A special recommendation to listen to the song Carnage Visors. A song available on the deluxe CD version. I mean, speaking of bass….

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Track List:

The Holy Hour
Primary
Other Voices
All Cats Are Grey
The Funeral Party
Doubt
The Drowning Man
Faith

 


Shirley Bassey : Live At Carnegie Hall (1973)

Dame : (In the UK) the title given to a woman with the rank of Knight Commander or holder of the Grand Cross in the Orders of Chivalry.

shirley bassey 1

Psst….The audience is THIS way. 

I’ve been a fan of the James Bond franchise as far back as I can remember and the most recognizable voice aside from Connery’s is that of three time contributing singer Shirley Bassey. What makes things a little odd is that I didn’t really get into her solo music until I had heard the Propellerhead’s sole record Decksanddrumsandrockandroll where Bassey adds her legendary voice to the song History Repeating. Before then, a lot of the more theatrical singers on the Bond soundtracks sounded similar to me. I was also young and opted for the heavier hitting themes such  as Live And Let Die, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and, embarrassingly A View To a Kill. Songs like Goldfinger annoyed me a little and sounded a bit shrill for my tastes at the time.

I digress, this isn’t a James Bond retrospective but I would have been remiss not to bring the franchise up as Bassey is often considered synonymous with it and this live recording contains a few snippets and overtures from John Barry’s Goldfinger score. This record is also released by United Artists who distributed the early films in the Bond franchise so, for fans of that movie era this might be a tantalizing album for that reason as well. The production is better than most fully orchestrated live albums at the time. This is likely due to Dame Bassey’s popularity and the deep pockets of United Artists at the time.

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The many poses of a Dame.

Live At Carnegie Hall is one of the best live, recorded albums of Bassey’s with her 1972 concert at Royal Albert being only a smidgen better in terms of audible quality. This is due to the venue’s superior sound, in my opinion. Either purchase is recommended and Bassey sounds absolutely breathtaking regardless of the preferred concert. The orchestra is tight, grand and perfectly acoustic live. There are enough surprises and seemingly improvised sections to make this a must have for those who own the studio recordings of these songs.

The songs chosen for this concert were well conceived and the versions performed blend well together in the sequence delivered. I especially enjoy the transitions between Day By Day to And I Love You So and the Rhumba ending of Big Spender flows well into Never, Never, Never. Overall, it is impossible to pick out favourites as this is a live concert and, as such a concerted effort of hits. What amazes most is how someone could sound this good live. It really puts most modern singers to shame. Every note is hit perfectly and the emotional delivery is almost visual through the speakers. The added nuances to songs make them feel more alive than the studio versions and this Dame’s sass exudes from the record on each song. If you can listen to I Who Have Nothing and not be moved, you have no soul. The 70s might be my favourite era for live Bassey music. Thankfully it was captured so well here to preserve this timeless icon’s voice.

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Track List :

Goldfinger
Where Am I Going
I Capricorn
Let Me Sing And I’m Happy
Johnny One Note
For All We Know
I’d Like To Hate Myself In The Morning
I Who Have Nothing
Day By Day
And I Love You So
Diamonds Are Forever
Big Spender
Never, Never, Never
You And I
Something
This Is My Life (La Vita)
The Party’s Over

 

 


Agalloch : Pale Folklore (1999)

Folklore : The traditional beliefs, legends, customs, etc., of a people.

agalloch pale folklore 1

Beautiful packaging. It is a tossup as to whether I prefer this to the original, “woody” release. Both capture the essence of this nearly perfect album.

Pale Folklore was my gateway into the musical forest that is Agalloch. Helmed by Oregon native John Haughm, this band has broken a few conventional barriers over the course of their career. Today we will start at the beginning with this, their amateur first release.

Agalloch show a plethora of of artistic influences on this record with the main one being the music of heavier, folkish bands. That isn’t to say that this is a direct copy. If anything, I’d say that Pale Folklore expands and combines elements of dozens of musical stylings while incorporating ideas from other artistic mediums. There is something poetic, theatrical and ambient about this LP and a lot of that has to do with the raw, organic production.

As this band’s first, full length endeavour there are a lot of overlapping ideas presented with varying quality. The idea to open any album with a sprawling, three part, nearly 20 minute piece is risky but it works to engage the listener. Over the course of She Painted Fire Across The Skyline we are given insight into this band, their music and the themes they would be introducing to us. As a whole, it is the perfect introduction not only to this collection of songs but as a band at large. It remains one of my favourite songs of this ilk and works well thematically for this album with its constantly shifting moods and ideas.

agalloch pale folklore 2

That lake! She be COLD!

Production wise, Pale Folklore sounds great in comparisons with similar projects recorded independently. There enough moments that music transcends the lack of recording techniques and elements that are hindered by it but as a whole, it is inspiring and interesting. The Misshapen Steed is an example of great ideas sounding limited by a lack of money, gear and production knowledge. It is a great composition but it feels a bit deflated and more like a video game soundtrack piece rather than the epic, sprawling musical orchestration it was obviously trying to be. As a later reissue, the vinyl sounds great and is leaps and bounds beyond the audio quality of the earlier released CD. In a world with lacklustre attention to wax releases, The End Records has shown that they care about their customers and artists while many are looking to make a quick buck by the resurgence of this physical media.

With a few minor technical drawbacks aside, Pale Folklore is a tremendous effort. It is both ambitious and lovingly crafted. Musically, it is original and performed extremely well. The chilling feeling of autumn permeates throughout this piece and offers a continuous, story-like atmosphere. I’d like to personally commend John Haughm’s steady drumming throughout. He is, by no means a “drummer” but he holds everything together very well as a multi instrumentalist here. Don Anderson is inspired on lead guitar and creates wonderfully realized atmospheric textures. His playing on Hallways Of Enchanted Ebony and As Embers Dress The Sky are emotive and well conceived. The one element I don’t care for are the female, operatic vocals. They aren’t frequent enough to ruin the songs they are present in but they are a bit thin and don’t add anything compelling.

As the first full LP released by this genre defying outfit, Pale Folklore is one of my favourites. I highly recommend it to anyone a fan of atmospheric thought-provoking music. The production quality might be a bit of a hurdle for those used to this band’s later albums but to me it captures the mystical, natural qualities and suits it well with only a few minor immersion breaking moments.

agalloch pale folklore 3

Track List:

She Painted Fire Across The Skyline 
The Misshapen Steed
Hallways Of Enchanted Ebony
Dead Winter Days
As Embers Dress The Sky
The Melancholy Spirit


ZZ Top : Eliminator (1983)

Motif : A distinctive feature or dominant idea in an artistic or literary composition.

ZZ top eliminator 1

Cool car. Showing off your success has never been more profitable.

Love or hate them, ZZ Top have many identifiable characteristics as individuals and as a band. Beards abound with the only member not sporting one having it as a surname and with an auto entitled The Eliminator, these guys know how to brand themselves.

When it comes to music, Eliminator is more of the same. It is recognizably the result of these three and doesn’t veer too far from their half a dozen other albums. Sure, nothing is new or adventurous here but I think fans of this sort of music don’t care for change so it was probably the best bet to keep things safe.

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We get it. Unfortunately this Eliminator has seen better days. My Eliminator appears to have peeled over this sleeve a few times. By “My Eliminator” I mean “My Hotwheels.” 

Keyboards were introduced a little more frequently on this outing but not to an extent that many other 80s bands would exhibit. This is still very much a guitar, bass and drums album. It is steak and potatoes and as such can be fun for a ride to the beach in the ole Chevy while hollering at women passing and giving the trucker’s wave to like-minded brethren.

The fact is, this is an identifiable band with a distinct sound. This album contains songs heard on every “old man rock” station in existence so if you still can’t get enough of Sharp Dressed Man through that means, buy Eliminator. For the rest of us, I’ll tap my foot and nod my head when I happen to hear them in the wild.

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Track List:

Gimme All Your Lovin
Got Me Under Pressure
Sharp Dressed Man
I Need You Tonight
I Got The Six
Legs
Thug
TV Dinners
Dirty Dog
If I Could Only Flag Her Down
Bad Girl

*This album has a little arc that perfectly resembles the intended listener in my mind. Legs, Dirty Dog and Bad Girl. Need I say more?


YOB : Clearing The Path To Ascend (2014)

Yob : (Urban definition) The antithesis of what a good boy should be – rude, obnoxious, violent and stupid. Formed by spelling ‘boy’ backwards, it was coined in England in the 18th century as it was very popular amongst upper classes to speak backwards at the time.

YOB ma 1

Brilliant artwork.

With a name like YOB the music had better be good. Fortunately for all of us, this ridiculously named band has had a reputation for releasing quality music. Clearing The Path To Ascend is no exception.

With only 4 songs adding up to over an hour, this album excludes a lot of music fans strictly due to the lengths of each part. As a fan of Mike Scheidt and his unusual stylings, it would be very remiss of me not to consider this his magnum opus.

YOB ma 2

This is the reason to buy this on vinyl.

In Our Blood and Marrow bookend this work not only as the longest tracks but as the opening and closing pieces. Nothing To Win is more of a counterpart to the former and works to continually add tension rather than be appreciated for its own brilliance. Things see a definite crescendo with Unmask The Spectre and drift down for the moving conclusion that is Marrow. In the final moments of this album is where the listener will feel compelled or repelled as there is a shift in tone. These changes show growth and were well conceived to put near the end of the record. It is dramatic but it works and I’m hoping that they decide to venture further down this path.

Rage and aggression aren’t something befitting for aged musicians. It is a breath of fresh air to hear an experienced band attempt to retain what makes them important without having to “phone-in” their performances. The only things that should make old men angry are taxes and those damned kids on his lawn.

*Someone back me up in hearing November Rain in Marrow. No one else seems to hear it and I’m starting to feel as crazy as the time that duck in the garden told me to sell my earthly belongings and join that alien cult.

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Track List:

In Our Blood
Nothing To Win
Unmask The Spectre
Marrow

 

 


XTC : Black Sea (1980)

Punchy : Having an immediate impact; forceful.

XTC black sea 1

A gaggle of seamen. Luckily the bird, mast and moon make out the band name to avoid confusion. 

After their terrific third record, Drums and Wires, Swindon natives XTC really had their work cut out for them. Gladly, their fourth album Black Sea doesn’t disappoint.

Black Sea is a tight, punchy grouping of well written pop songs. Respectable Street opens things off slowly with a simple piano and vocal piece teasing a softer entry before it bursts open into familiar territory. In many ways this is a direct sonic counterpart to their previous album but the tiny changes to the musicianship and production are notably positive. Firstly, the drums are punchier. They are loud, tight and adventurous. A specific example of this is on the song Living Through Another Cuba where Terry Chambers seemingly throws all restraint to the wayside as he plays around with both live drums and samples. It is an interesting track but one that feels a bit out of place. The idea is okay but this is where my opinions on this record start to sway.

There are songs here that are among XTC’s best but Black Sea is, by far the most commercial sounding of their early records. This is were subjectivity comes into play. I prefer a couple of their outputs over this but this is far from a sleazy appeal to widen their fan base through radio play. The songs are well written and unique with enough hooks to keep any music geek engaged. 95% of this album’s music works for me but there are a few misses. Fans of earlier XTC will enjoy heavy hitters like Paper and Iron and Rocket From A Bottle. Those wanting something different have the mentioned Living Through Another Cuba and Sgt.Rock. The latter being an accessible fluff piece but newer ground for this band, for better or for worse.

XTC black sea 2

Worse than deciphering a doctor’s note.

The bottom line is that Black Sea is a terrific followup to one of the best albums released in the 70s. It is difficult to trail perfection and this is as close as any band can get. Drums and Wires was a brilliant, standout album that I will eventually spend some time with on this blog. While I personally consider Black Sea a small step down in quality it does try new things that work most of the time. It is worth a purchase and a listen for the production quality and the percussive punchiness alone. It retains their 60s pop sensibilities while offering enough modern elements to sound interesting and relevant.

XTC black sea 3

Track List :

Respectable Street
Generals And Majors
Living Through Another Cuba
Love At First Sight
Rocket From A Bottle
No Language In Our Lungs
Towers Of London
Paper And Iron (Notes And Coins)
Burning With Optimism’s Flames
Sgt Rock (Is Going To Help Me)
Travels In Nihilon


Tom Waits : Frank's Wild Years (1987)

Theatrical : Marked by extravagant display or exhibitionism

WAITS FWY 1

With accordion packed, Frank is ready to take on the big city.

With as extensive a musical library as Tom Waits’, it can be a bit daunting to choose one to discuss. After all, nearly every record can be considered a momentous treat for the ears. Here, I’ve opted to take a look at what is possibly my favourite of his works to date. Frank’s Wild Years manages to capture everything I love about Mr. Waits’ music on one piece of vinyl. It is theatrical, somber, odd and conceptual.

Co-written by Wait’s wife, Kathleen Brennan, Frank’s Wild Years follows an aspirational young man from rags to riches and concludes with his spiral into despair.
Act I (The A Side) follows protagonist Frank as he reaches for the top. The songs are groovy, fun and sassy in a way only Waits can deliver. Straight To The Top is an upbeat Rhumba that gives the listener plenty of hope for the character. Every song that follows Frank on his journey is extremely varied. From the jazzy blues of the opening track, Hang On To St.Christopher to the finally, Innocent When You Dream (78) the listener is taken on a roller coaster of a ride.

WAITS FWY 2

I’ve never been so happy to see lyrics printed out for an album.

There aren’t enough superlatives to express my love for this album. Waits always impresses by breaking conventions on each record but this may, arguably be the most far out that he has ever reached. Each track can be separated from the whole and enjoyed without the narrative of the accompanying tunes but it is worthwhile to listen from start to end. There are days when I think Act I surpasses Act II but others when I feel the exact opposite. One thing is certain, each act is distinctly different. Act I is the rise and Act II is the fall. There are reprisal counterpart songs in the second act that are share an opposite feeling. For instance, Straight To The Top in Act II is a maudlin tale of a man broken by poor decisions and fame. Contrast that with the mentioned Rhumba version and you begin to hear the story unfold in a very effective way.

To pick out some personal favourite songs on this collection is nearly impossible. While listening to it again to write this article I left the record in my turntable and have been spinning it over and over. This has been a part of my collection for over two decades but it never gets tiring or old. It is a masterpiece that transcends music. There are some playful theatrical moments but it doesn’t sound like stage music. Catchy tracks are sprinkled amidst the melancholic ones to prevent it sounding too upbeat. It is an anomaly of a record that sounds more like a compilation than an intended LP. I can’t begin to imagine the sorts of things that went through their heads in order to create such insanity. Telephone Call From Istanbul is a prime example of the type of craziness on display here. The lyrics alone are terrifyingly hilarious. Give it a spin and jauntily bob your head to Waits warning you that it might be a bad idea to drive a car when you’re dead.

Frank’s Wild Years is a contender for the best Wait’s album. Stacked up against his other works that is no easy feat. If you’re a fan of music in the slightest, give this a spin. It has something for everyone. Everyone with ears.

WAITS FWY 3

Track List:

Hang On St.Christopher
Straight To The Top (Rhumba)
Blow Wind Blow
Temptation
Innocent When You Dream (Barroom)
I’ll Be Gone
Yesterday Is Here
Please Wake Me Up
Frank’s Theme

More Than Rain
Way Down In The Hole
Straight To The Top (Vegas)
I’ll Take New York
Telephone Call From Istanbul
Cold Cold Ground
Train Song
Innocent When You Dream (78)


Sarah Vaughan : The Magic Of Sarah Vaughan (1959)

Wondrous : Inspiring a feeling of delight; marvelous.

SV 1

That wily Pink Panther has struck again!

Those of you who read my Shaved Fish rant might find it oddly hypocritical that I’m tapping the compilation record well again with The Magic Of Sarah Vaughan. The fact is, it is too difficult to obtain a decent collection of these early rhythm, blues, jazz records in a playable condition so I take what I can get. There are a lot of redistributed, remastered versions being rereleased but they vary in quality from abysmal to mediocre. They are also priced extremely high so I strongly urge fans to do some research before purchase.

The Magic Of Sarah Vaughan contains an average collection of music but lacks in production quality. It claims to be in Hi Fi Stereo but these were obviously taken from a Mono mix. This is to be expected and kind of adds to the experience of listening to these classics. There is something comforting about the entire package. I still strongly recommend buying the original albums but understand that it can be a difficult task. I’d have, personally gone with a different set of tracks for this compilation but with such a grand body of work through different distributors, that may have been impossible.

SV 2

It says Stereo. The proof is in the text.

I still don’t care for “hits” records but in this case my interests in Sarah Vaughan’s music outweighs my preferences or principals. No, the production isn’t desirable but her wondrous voice makes the washed out sound quality listenable. The fact that listening to this is still enjoyable is black magic. Vaughan’s voice is timeless and cuts through the aged quality. The backing instruments and vocals sound a bit muffled but as a bargain record in a clearance bin, you can’t go wrong.

SV 3

Track List:

That Ole Black Magic
Careless
Separate Ways
Are You Certain
Mary Contrary
Broken Hearted Melody
I’ve Got The World On A String
Don’t Look At Me That Way
Love Is A Random Thing
Friendly Enemies
What’s So Bad About It
Sweet Affection


Uriah Heep : The Magician's Birthday (1972)

Immersive : Seeming to surround the audience, player, etc. so they feel completely involved in something.

UH MB 1

Yup, this is what I feel whenever those brats play on my unkept lawn. “Back you pesky kids! My waving stick commands you!”

Uriah Heep was at their most creative when it came to creating The Magician’s Birthday. They had been straying from the mundane production of their first album over the course of their next three outputs. Everything came together here. It is arguably their best and definitely their most experimental. Personally, I have a huge fondness for this record but it is debatable as to whether it is objectively better than other greats such as Salisbury and Look At Yourself.

The Magician’s Birthday is an immersive experience. It is made to be listened to loud and in stereo. Every song is layered with complexity and the entire package sounds lush. Mick Box’s guitar tone is chunky with a strong use of “wah” which adds to the sound of the fantastic keyboard arrangements. Things get very dense and heavy at moments which contrasts wonderfully with the quieter sections, of which there are many. What separates this from other acts at the time is how silent it can be at times. Sunrise, the opening track has a lot of punchy moments but also frequently omits certain instruments. These breaks allow Byron to add emotive, a capella sections in short bursts. It is very effective.

UH MB 2

Smoking cigarettes may make you appear cooler than you are. Surgeon General’s warning 1972.

Things ebb and flow through upbeat transitions to mellow moments. There is plenty of variety here. Hard rockers like Spider Woman and Sweet Lorraine are accompanied by the moodier Blind Eye and the excellent ballad Rain respectively. The vocal harmonies are loose and belted out by the band members in an almost “call/response” style that suits the rugged, jammy instrumental sections. Ken Hensley is, unsurprisingly the standout here. His moody Moog ties everything together disparately. A lot of the bizarre sounds he adds to each song shouldn’t work but they do. Things aren’t pretentiously delivered. He keeps the keys in the background in favour of adding textures rather than pummelling the listener. A perfect example of his strange additions can be heard on Tales. The transition from this song to the title track is perfectly realized.

The Magician’s Birthday might not be for everyone. I’m sure it isn’t favoured by fans but, in my opinion it is the best Uriah Heep ever got. Unfortunately, everything went downhill from here. This was a high point in their career. As a band they were heavier than a lot of their contemporaries and are often overlooked. You can’t go wrong with any of the early Uriah Heep albums. Now go and dust off that D&D set, take some acid and listen to the bizarre jam session in the middle of the title track. Happy Birthday to everyone!

UH MB 3

Track List:

Sunrise
Spider Woman
Blind Eye
Echoes In The Dark
Rain
Sweet Lorraine
Tales
The Magician’s Birthday