This months starts with a classic from the mid-2000s: Franz Ferdinand’s debut album Franz Ferdinand (2004) – a band I was anti-hyped against back then, but thankfully that wore off quickly. A terrific and essential band of the Noughties.
Next up is Around and Around, an odd compilation from 1964 by the Rolling Stones. It was an essential record for the German (and French) market back then. The music, of course, is good and as sloppy as the front and back cover art.
We then revisit Grant Green’s The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark – recorded in 1961/62, but not published until decades later. Very weird, as it is top-notch quality, if somehow within known standards. I revisit and re-revisit this one often, because I can’t quite wrap my head around how high the quality of the music is against how standardised it sometimes sounds. Fascinating guitar jazz.
Last entry for the month is Out of Frequency (2012) by the Asteroids Galaxy Tour, their second album. This was fresh and spirited indie psych-pop, I’m still very fond of it. Well, there we are.
Still tying up loose ends of the CD-shelf, so there are box set, side projects and the dodgiest kind of compilations: newbie baiting.
We start with the Leonard Cohen-box set The Complete Studio Albums Collection(2011). This came at a neat price, but has a wiff of deceit and squalidness coming from the business end of things… still, got this when it was still reasonably cheap and it’s neat. Read more for details.
Next up are John Cale and Brian Eno with their one-off duo effort Wrong Way Up (1990) – synth-pop I don’t like or understand from two artists I do love and understand. Well.
For something completely different, let’s take a look at the Impulse!-CD-edition of an epochal classic: John Coltrane’s 1965-free jazz sermon Ascension. Now this is a must.
We close with another weird blues compilation from the early 2000s, so when the CD as a format started to decline while good old music was legally available for reissues: King of Guitar Evangelists (2004) by acoustic Texas blues majesty Blind Willie Johnson. This compilation has its heart in the right place and was curated by Gérard Herzhaft who is without overstatement a legend, literally the author of the Encyclopedia of the Blues. But this compilation had no other function than to avert a new audience with its budget price – le’ts hope it did!
That’s it for the album reviews. I also wrote a little something about the old master of piano blues, Roosevelt Sykes. So have fun.
Rummaging through the back end of my CD shelf, so there is highly questionable stuff here.
A welcome encounter was the CD version of Kula Shaker’s 1997 EP Summer Sun – I think this is the only „Extendend Play“ on CD I ever purchased, and with six songs clocking in at 21 minutes, it’s a splendid little mash-up of britpop and raga-psychedelia. Very neat.
Stylistically consistent, we continue with Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow (1967) from thirty years earlier – there’s nothing much to add about this classic of Summer-of-Love-mythology, and Kula Shaker sure got a healthy dose from this. The bonus tracks on this CD are very good, some straight Kaukonen-blues.
And now for the dingy and disappointing backwaters of the CD shelf: a 2005 compilation of electric soul blues master Albert King, entitled Born Under a Bad Sign & Other Hits – the title gives away that this is not the album classic you’re looking for, it’s a desperate, but not despicable compilation, actually featuring a non-album single. I don’t remember where I but this, but I was young and on a budget. I do remember that I wanted to original (much more expensive) album Born Under a Bad Sign though and thought: Ah, this is just as good. Well it isn’t and I never got around to buy the actual thing. Compilations like these can deal real and long-lasting emotional damage, as you can see.
Which leads us to the next compilation, from 1996: The Weight by The Band. Now this is just a weird and cynical cash-grab of a CD with no value. I got this from my uncle as kid, since my father once introduced him to The Band through their first album, If I remember correctly. Anyhow, as even the thriftstore in my town doesn’t accept CDs anymore (he can’t resell them, no takers), I don’t know what to do with it.
Since I don’t create single blog entries for my reviews anymore, let’s try a new format. Here we go:
First up is 2009’s Frequencyby IQ – a canonized neo-prog band, and since this isn’t really my cup of tea, I feel bad reviewing it. I only have this since my brother-in-law was and is part of the German neoprog-revival of the early 1990s, and since I review everything in my collection, here we go.
Then there’s 1996’s Moseley Shoalsby Ocean Colour Scene – probably the best ‚also-ran‘-album of the late britpop era. It grew on me!
I try to grapple with 2008’s Psiche by Paolo Conte, where he messes with sophisti-pop and chanson – not too great, but there’s a classic on here.
2012’s Seeed by Seeed is another unfortunate entry, my sister gave it to me and I hate it, this kind of empty dancehall with a pseduo-self-ironic wink. Sorry for the negativity, I usually don’t write about things I dislike, it’s an accident.
And finally 1994’s At the Dear Head Inn by Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Paul Motian, recorded in 1992, reunites Jarrett with Motian after almost 20 years and brings him back to the venue of his early days. It’s exactly what you would expect, pretty neat piano cool jazz.
Rating: 8.1/10 Rated as: Album Album Status: Genre Classic Released: 1973 Specific Genre: Hard Rock, Rock Opera Main Genre: Rock Undertones: Progressive Rock, Symphonic Rock Label: Track
1.1 I Am the Sea 1.2 The Real Me 1.3 Quadrophenia 1.4 Cut My Hair 1.5 The Punk and the Godfather 1.6 I’m One 1.7 The Dirty Jobs 1.8 Helpless Dancer 1.9 Is It in My Head? 1.10 I’ve Had Enough 2.1 5:15 2.2 Sea and Sand 2.3 Drowned 2.4 Bell Boy2.5 Doctor Jimmy 2.6 The Rock 2.7 Love, Reign o’ver Me
Can you see the real me?
Where Tommy (1969) staked its claim as progressive rock by fusing the posture of hard rock with the aesthetics of an all-frills, no-shame broadway show extravaganza, Quadrophenia decidedly takes its cues from Richard Wagner – in posture and attitude, I mean, less in musical terms. A Ring of the Nibelung with a cockney setting, this is Rock Opera with capitals. Everything about it is enormous: the riffs, the vocal arcs, how it shifts between ethereal, foggy gentleness and hard-driving rock&roll with in a song (“Punk and the Godfather”, “I’m One”), the way the motifs and choruses built up and intertwine within a song and across the double-LP. And Wagner does loom large musically on Entwistle’s valkyrian, otherworldly French horn motif dominating the album (it shows up throughout, but check out “Helpless Dancer” for quick reference).
Re-using the overture/”underture” idea from Tommy with recurring motifs, it is difficult to single out songs as highlights – what I’m left with after going through the first two sides is just an overall sense of high-quality music (again, a ‘classical’ reception mode transported through a number of pure hard rock riffs). I remain slightly suspicious of how they beef up the songs with big horn sections and the symphonic keyboard element (pretty new stuff for this context back then) – the Who’s unique strength lay in both mass and volatility, and while this is a massive album, its tide-like, imperative pull is dampened somewhat the longer it runs, as evermore mass comes at the cost of sustainable excitement. Yet this is possibly the Who’s “largest” realized project, and as such: a sure classic in the field of high-concept hard rock.
Rating: 5.8/10 Rated as: Album Album Status: for Fans Released: 1972 Specific Genre: Pop, Pop Rock Main Genre: Pop Undertones: Rock&Roll, Baroque Pop, Country Pop, Vaudeville Pop, Traditional Pop, Orchestral Pop, Folk Pop Label: RCA Victor
1 Take 54 2 Remember (Christmas) 3 Joy 4 Turn on Your Radio 5 You’re Breakin‘ My Heart 6 Spaceman 7 The Lottery Song 8 At My Front Door 9 Ambush 10 I’d Rather Be Dead 11 The Most Beautiful World in the World Bonus Tracks: 12 What’s Your Sign? 13 Take 54 14 Campo de Encino 15 Daybreak
Now this time through, we want everybody to listen to the punchline
Nilsson had hit it big time with the predecessor Schmilsson (1971), but as the B-movie theme of this son-of-album suggests, that success in hindsight might be something like the real life equivalent of The Dude actually getting his rug back. On Son of Schmilsson, Nilsson still straddles the thin line of parody vs. rip-off successfully for the most part, though the sleep-walking confidence is replaced with the lumbering gait of a very lucky drunkard. Evenly divided into earnest, sentimental crooner-anthems of traditional pop or vaudevillian ditties on the on hand and, on the other hand, straight rock&roll parodies, self-referential and thoroughly camp in nature, this album is a showcase of executing (in both senses) genre-stereotypes. Suspicion arises this might work better rated as straight comedy, not music.
While the actual fluff like the wannabe-Crosby-christmas of „Remember“ or the Beach Boys/calypso sent-up of “The Most Beautiful World in the World” makes me chuckle faintly, his stab at wistful country pop ballads, “Joy”, is possibly one of his funniest songs, especially when the cowboy runs out of ways to explain the cycle of relationships: “Things went good, things went bad. Good. Bad. Good, bad. Guuh, baaahhh, guh-bah…”. And „Turn on Your Radio“ or „The Lottery Song“ prove again just how closely Nilsson listened to Lennon/McCartney’s folk pop songcraft of „Blackbird“ or „I Will“ – nowhere near that quality though. These musically competent statements are nothing new to Nilsson and nothing he hadn’t done better before.
But in line with an album containing actual burps, ironic audienc-cheering and someone gurgling liquids and spitting them out as a rhythmic device, almost all the other songs are genre exercises and could be titled „Son of Country Pop“, „Son of Baroque Pop“, „Son of Rock&Roll #2“ or „Son of McCartney“ and so on. If Zappa is Ween’s direct antecedent, Nilsson is their silly uncle. The genre exercises are the interesting aspect of the record, though for different reasons. As mentioned, „Joy“ just is a terrific send-up – a caricature, but highly listenable. After the gorgeously gentle „Turn on Your Radio“, the rocking revenge boogie „You’re Breaking My Heart“ features lines like „You’re breaking my heart / you tear it apart – so fuck you“. This is 1972, show me something like this on, say, Exile on Main St. and I’ll show you Lennon’s coked up drinking buddy. Then show me something like this on a record targeting unsuspecting Burt Bacharach-fans and I’ll show you a bewildered Nilsson: ‘You didn’t get the Schmilsson-message the first time? Well, fuck you.’
The beatlesque „Ambush“ is an inconspicuous piece of baroque pop rock grandeur – really one of Nilsson’s quasi-highlights, with the project idea being: What if “Hey Jude” didn’t quite work, wouldn’t that be fun? Nilsson makes a point of purposely dulling down the song, taking way too obviously long with his endless crowd-cheering („Alright… alright… alright…… alright…“). Still, give it a quasi-spin! „I’d Rather Be Dead“ is silly filler vaudeville pop, „The Most Beautiful World in the World“ is just a general fuck-you to album closers, utilising a deranged calypso pop hook violated by Mary Poppins – Nilsson concludes this quasi-concept album about being a quasi-slave to pop culture (productively and receptively) with another musical nod to cheap sequels: „See you next album!“.
So indeed, there’s a lot of pop competence and a lot of bitter meta-jokes on this album. I didn’t even mention the albums’ best song, the bouncy and indirectly media-critical pop rock of „Spaceman“, since it simply is not the focus of interest: More than half of the album is Nilsson gleefully goofing off, unwilling to care for quality if it doesn’t just happen.
Rating: 8.1/10 Rated as: Album Album Status: Genre Recommendation Released: 1960 Specific Genre: Cool Jazz Main Genre: Jazz Undertones: Third Stream Label: Atlantic
1 Vendome 2 Pyramid 3 It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing) 4 Django 5 How High the Moon 6 Romaine
Cool, but not loungy, progressive, but not sonically avantgardistic
There are no fundamentally weak releases in the Modern Jazz Quartet’s catalogue, but which albums would you recommend as their absolute top picks? That’s no trifling matter. Discounting their live albums, Pyramid is a slight contender among their studio work, with its focus on sophisticated vibraphone-and-piano duels that draw their power from subtlety bordering on inconspicuousness. The Modern Jazz Quartet had entered their phase as elderly statesmen, and alongside their (in my view) epochal Third Stream Music, they were ready to further test out the possibilities to turn their jazz quartet format into a chamber music style that could have potentially broken loose from either jazz or classical – yet without strings or clarinet, they end up on the slightly conventional side of cool, sneaky swing once more.
As such, this is a terrific jazz release: cool, but not loungy, progressive, but not sonically avantgardistic, minimalistic, but not sparse. It works just as well as background music as it does for an intense listening. Given the fact they barely seem to touch their instruments, these guys put down one mean swing.
Rating: 1.6/10 Rated as: Album Album Status: of No Interest Released: 2005 Specific Genre: Electroclash, Electro-Punk Main Genre: Electronic, Electronic Dance Music, Punk Undertones: Techno, Dance-Punk, Industrial Label: novamute
1 Intro 2 Sick Like Me 3 All Systems Go! 4 Untitled 5 Diving in Whiskey 6 Rumpelkammer 7 A Mess 8 A Very Loud Lullaby 9 Der Grottenolm 10 3 Minutes Happiness 11 An Army of Watt 12 Patridiot 13 Blitzkrieg Pop
Honestly? It depends, you see.
Wobbling electro-thumps with fast-paced, violent shuffle beats between punk and techno, cackling aggressive sound effects, screamed vocals – okay, this supposedly comes from those dark underground caves with stroboscopic red lights and angrily painted faces, but translated into a very harmless mid-sized dance club environment. Why does this sound so much tamer than what 1980s industrial had to offer, while desperately doubling up on everything that seems so neat and dangerous when the older, cooler kids with their very scary skull-tattoos and their rattling teeth do it?
Rating: 2.1/10 Rated as: Album Album Status: of Zeitgeist Interest Released: 2011 Specific Genre: Indie Pop Main Genre: Pop Undertones: Indie Folk, Indie Rock, Folk Rock Label: Record
1 Dirty Paws 2 King and Lionheart 3 Numb Bears 4 Sloom 5 Little Talks 6 From Finner7 Six Weeks 8 Love Love Love 9 Your Bones 10 Lakehouse 11 Yellow Light [Bonus Tracks: 11 Yellow Light 12 Sinking Man]
The son was an okay guy
How many ways are there to make a twee sort of indie folk pop epic and larger than life after Arcade Fire and Mumford & Sons? In a style where cymbal clashes, the constant excited punctations of “HEY!”-choirs and the mandatory sudden shifts in dynamic from soothingly picked acoustic guitar / accordion / glockenspiel to thunderous brass sections have become stereotypes within half a decade, the debut of this band unadvantageously plays as if they had been veterans at this game for years, shipping in another one of those sure things to please the fandom. Aside from trivial melodies, they display musical skill, clever instrumentation, impressive performances – it’s all on point and we all should wish they don’t get stuck in the corner of epic indie folksters that self-imploded some short time right before or after the release date of this.
Rating: 10/10 Rated as: Album Album Status: Backdoor Classic Released: 1993 Specific Genre: Alternative Rock, Jazz-Rock Main Genre: Rock Undertones: Blues Rock Label: Rykodisc
1 Dawna 2 Buena 3 I’m Free Now 4 All Wrong 5 Candy 6 A Head with Wings 7 In Spite of Me 8 Thursday 9 Cure for Pain 10 Mary Won’t You Call My Name? 11 Let’s Take a Trip Together 12 Sheila 13 Miles Davis‘ Funeral
I think it’s time for me to finally introduce you to the Buena Buena Buena Buena: Good good good!
If you missed Morphine, you missed out on a cultural branch and attitude connecting the defiantly subdued rebellion of the 1950s’ cool jazz with the brawling counterculture grandeur of rock. A fully developed band from the start, Morphine had cut out the curious niche of “low rock” with the mature jazz stylings of their debut Good, yet with their sophomore strike Cure for Pain they created an instant classic. The ingredients are the same, but compared to its subdued predecessor, Cure for Pain is a behemoth of groove and sweeping melancholia based in a jaded sort of bluesy jazz-rock with a beatnik’s cloudy fantasy of a rock cellar. Simply put, Morphine tried to make music for cool grown-ups with cool grown-up ailments like hotel bar seduction and cognac affliction, amidst a scene of anxious grunge kids, and they succeeded. This couldn’t have worked at the time other than going for a niche audience right away.
Morphine’s sound was and is unique. The potential of each element is caught at its most exciting in these tracks: With a surprisingly sharp and punchy tone, the compositions treat Sandman’s bass as a lead instrument as well as the bedrock of their groove (I’m not quite sure how), the two-string bass constantly shaking things up with its earthquake boom and its slinky underground slide. Jerome Deupree is one of the funkiest, most loosely swinging drummers in rock music (let’s not forget the equally great Billy Conway featured on some numbers here) and Dana Colley’s saxophone work is staggering – at will freewheeling (“Head with Wings”, or the upbeat roadtrip favourite “Mary”), confrontational (the aggressive stomp of “Thursday”) or ominously foggy (“Miles Davis’ Funeral”, or the trippy and hypnotizing come-down of “Let’s Take a Trip Together”). Sandman’s voice, much like his bass, has two strings and many frets: the beat sexy low-life or the gravelly soothing crooner, and he slides up and down the full emotional register of this potentially restrictive set-up.
Making the most out of a fixed set of possibilities, it is one of the few albums where practically each of the songs has been my favourite in a certain phase of my life, with „Cure for Pain“ being an ultimate anthem of anyone who’s remotely familiar with obsession. What makes this work is the mastery of a simple recipe with diversity in attitude, mood and emotivity: A record that can be equally depressing as it can be soothing, that is as hedonistic as it is mature – like a very peaty Lagavulin. It took me a few listens (even after already having been converted to the band), but once you get hooked, there’s no turning back.