Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Arab Strap The Week Never Starts Round Here Deluxe Edition

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Too often in music, bands get referred to as being ‘unique’, but this Scottish duo genuinely were that most rare of things. Middleton pulled the strings musically - improving ten fold with each subsequent release yet always maintaining that mystique to the songs’ atmosphere – whilst Moffat supplied the words and tone of voice, always pitching it perfectly between humorous (but often cynical) banter and painfully honest admissions of one’s own faults. People regularly remark of bands putting themselves into their work, but within Moffat’s words lie the entire outline of his life to date. Over their career of 11 years, the band outgrew their initial miserablist mistag and became a relatively unsung national treasure for both their recorded work and live shows. And so it seems right that this, their debut album, should now be reissued forevermore with a second disc featuring their first four Peel Sessions and debut King Tut’s gig (having formerly been packaged in the Scenes of A Sexual Nature boxset). The Week Never Starts Round Here is a perfect snapshot of a Nineties indie band finding their feet. Some songs here hint at what was to come; ‘Blood’ still sounds delightful, walking a fine line between amusing and scathing ("My last lover’s playing with her new man now / It’s only three weeks we’ve been apart / They sat together and he sent her flowers / Well he can fucking keep that fickle disco tart"), whilst ‘Kate Moss’ still sounds remarkably fresh, with its opening statement of shock that someone could not find the model "pretty". Others jar a little with the rest of the band's output, but are still wholly decent indie romps when taken outside of that realm, such as the booming reverberating-snare used on the slightly eerie ‘The Clearing’ and the whimsical ‘General Plea to a Girlfriend’, complete with its whistle solo. It’s particularly interesting hearing the live renditions on the second disc alongside these studio versions, with the results sounding fuller and more rounded, even at this early stage. The Peel Sessions also yield interesting results. ‘The Smell of Outdoor Cooking’ – an early single – is fun whilst ‘Soaps’ gets an early airing before its pivotal role on their second album. Whereas ‘I Saw You’ is a wonderful example too of what it’s like meeting someone for the first time, with the words and music marrying perfectly; starting with sweet reflection, a period of nervous energy as to where you stand and ending in a mess of loved up joy and confusion, featuring such insight along the way as "I saw you twice and both times you were wearing orange / And she told you I fancied you in the toilets at The Garage". But despite the band going on to better it, both the Peel Sessions and album belong to ‘The First Big Weekend’. Even 21 years on, it sounds utterly mesmerising. The splendid live version has entirely ‘new’ lyrics detailing their journey to the BBC and Malcolm’s dour backing, bemoaning the weather, but the accolades belong to the studio recording. Building from a simple guitar line until the starring drum beat expands into a wonderful climactic indie anthem, it captured the hearts of Peel, Guinness’s advertising team, the label bosses and most music fans of the time; because it totally ‘got’ what being a twentysomething in this country was like during your downtime; nights out with your friends, some drinking out, some watching of The Simpsons, some passing interest in the opposite sex and a bit of late night cheese misuse. It’s the song that still defines the band to many, and one that certainly raised the bar of expectation surrounding the band such is it’s confidence and perfection.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

XTC ‎Fossil Fuel The XTC Singles 1977-92

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Fossil Fuel: The XTC Singles 1977-1992 is a splendid double-disc set that runs through every one of the group's 31 A-sides, from the nervy "Science Friction" to the lush, sighing "Wrapped in Grey." Between those two songs, XTC's craftsmanship grows remarkably fast -- based on the edgy pop of their new wave singles "Statue of Liberty," "This Is Pop," "Are You Receiving Me?," and "Life Begins at the Hop," it's hard to believe that they would later write the subtle, near-pastoral Beatles, Kinks, and Beach Boys pastiches of "Love on a Farmboy's Wages," "Great Fire," and "Grass." And those songs just scratch the surface of the terrific pop singles available on Fossil Fuel: "Making Plans for Nigel," "Ten Feet Tall," "Generals and Majors," "Towers of London," "Respectable Street," "Sense Working Overtime," "This World Over," "Dear God," "The Mayor of Simpleton," "King for a Day," and "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" are wonderful songs and forgotten classics. Although XTC continually made carefully constructed albums, they were a dynamite singles band, releasing songs that were tightly constructed and impossibly catchy. They never had hits, because their unabashed pop was never in fashion; plus, Andy Partridge's voice was too pinched and his lyrics frequently too cerebral. But XTC's music stands as some of the best and most influential pop of their era, and nowhere is that more evident than on Fossil Fuel.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Everything But The Girl ‎Home Movies The Best Of Everything But The Girl

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Like most Everything but the Girl compilations, 2001's Home Movies: Best of Everything but the Girl restricts itself to the duo's first decade, before they reinvented themselves as the pop face of trip-hop with 1995's "Missing." A roughly chronological sprint through Everything but the Girl's first seven albums, from 1984's Eden through 1992's Acoustic, there's no room for any more than two or three songs from any one record; while this does a handy job of tracing Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt's career path from folk-jazz indie to sophisticated and adult pop music, it also means that several worthy songs, especially from the group's early days, are missing: no "Night and Day," "When All's Well," "Riverbed Dry," "Sugar Finney," or "Oxford Street." On the other hand, the songs chosen are a balanced and representational lot, including favorites like Thorn's indelible bossa nova "Each and Every One" and the lovely, Dusty Springfield-like orchestral pop of "Come on Home." Home Movies is an excellent introduction to Everything but the Girl's early years for newcomers beguiled by later hits, but all of the group's early albums (Eden, released in a very different U.S. version as 1984's Everything but the Girl; 1985's Love Not Money; 1986's Baby, the Stars Shine Bright; and 1988's Idlewild) are well worth seeking out on their own.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Lamb ‎Best Kept Secrets The Best Of Lamb 1996-2004

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For old-schoolers, Best Kept Secrets is Louise Rhodes and Andrew Barlow's thank-you note. The U.K. electronica duo accompanies each track with personal reflections, letting longtime listeners in on some first-time knowledge. But for the considerable portion of the globe that never discovered Lamb, its 16 songs are signal flares in the darkness. From the comforting, romantic swirl of "Gabriel" (from 2001's What Sound) through the chattering beats, slurping bass, and cut-up strings of "B Line" -- what is it, hot jazz in the 23rd century? -- all the way to the outfit's relative "hit," the chilly '90s electronica boom nugget "Gorecki," Best Kept Secrets covers the Lamb bases for both the knowledgeable and the neophyte.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Skunk Anansie Stoosh Japan Album

Skunk Anansie Stoosh

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Skunk Anansie were one of those acts in the 90s that you couldn’t help but be aware of, particularly around the time of their second album, Stoosh. A punkish hard rocking quartet, they stood significantly apart from the various cookie-cutter Britpop acts of the era, with an utterly different attitude and a significantly different sound. Also, the fact that they were fronted by one of few performers of the era to possess a genuinely effortless star quality didn’t hurt either. Skin remains to this day a woman with a striking appearance and a voice that can channel a rare blend of vulnerability, soulfulness and fury. That’s not to say her bandmates were slouches, because Stoosh is all the evidence you need that they certainly weren’t, but one of the few things that Skunk Anansie did have with their female fronted contemporaries, was that the blokes tended to blend into the background somewhat, with the difference being that Skin didn’t have to be cynically marketed as a sex symbol in an attempt to shift units. Her voice alone did that. Over two decades since its release, Stoosh remains a narky, aggressive and generally angry album. Cass, Ace and Mark (how come he didn’t get a vaguely ridiculous nickname?) get chance to demonstrate that they can do subtle, but they sound most at home when the volume gets cranked up and they are allowed to match their front woman’s aggression. Skin for her part sounds like a woman possessed, yet utterly dripping with conviction. Regardless of whether you liked Skunk Anansie at their commercial peak, you can’t argue that Skin came across as one of the most genuine performers of the era. Be it “Yes It’s Fucking Political”, “She’s My Heroine” or “Pickin’ on Me”, she can provide whatever the song needs vocally and you just don’t doubt the fact that she means every word she is singing. Skunk Anansie never sound anything less than full-blooded or committed to the material. It’s an aggressive hard rock album, released at a time when very few British acts were releasing aggressive rock albums, or at least not without a huge side-order of irony. Stoosh is played with an utterly straight, uncompromising bat, and if nothing else, you have to give Skunk Anansie credit for that.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Curve ‎Cuckoo


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The duo of Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia (with help from three others) gave us the refinement of the deeds they started before. This 1993 release garnered them the press and acclaim they deserved, and although it would be five years before their next release, they left the masses with a lasting impression. The lead-off "Missing Link" burns by with the loudest number they had done up to that point. Using the loudness as a driving force instead of an accompanying factor, it's a refreshing blast of energy. An illustration of the opposite end of the noise spectrum is "Left of Mother" with its acoustic base and Halliday's airy vocals spilling into the tracks. "Unreadable Communication" showcases a different train of thought with its electronic intro and main body, only heightened with moments of the Curve grind. These are the extremes, and Cuckoo is the crystallization of previous works. Following the blitz of "Missing Link," "Crystal" finds the band back in the mode of power through coloring and groove. The color of noise is used splendidly in the chorus, adding to the tone of the lyrics. "All Of One" leads off with Halliday's floating lyrics before plunging into a guitar driven choruses. Additional flourishes of guitar throughout add depth and teeth to the composition. The "Curve style" is used to great effect in "Turkey Crossing" with its simple bass groove and ultra-dirty guitar phrases accompanied by Halliday's seductive vocal. Lyrics like "I'm finished with you/please be finished with me" are only embellished by layered guitars adding musical weight to the lines. Flood's prowess at the board only helps "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" pound a groove into your head, only to have the salt of dirty guitar added into your wound. It's grind and melody join two things that at times seem to be in conflict, just like the objects of the title. Curve was one of the top purveyors of "shoe-gazing" pop, and Cuckoo demonstrates why. This is an essential album to the genre.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Sugarcubes ‎The Great Crossover Potential

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The Sugarcubes were one of the great cult bands of collegiate rock, not only because they had a distinctive sound, but because they were so damn weird. They sounded like nothing else in the late '80s/early '90s or anything that came before, creating an unusual hybrid of pop, dance, and the avant-garde. So rabid was their cult that some critics said they could cross over into the mainstream, yet that never really happened, despite their strong English following. However, that notion gives the title to their best-of collection, The Great Crossover Potential. The 14-track compilation proves that they could never really have crossed over, mainly because their pop sense is quirky and they're often an acquired taste. Björk, of course, wound up being a pop star with equally ambitious music, and while her talent is apparent here, it's often submerged by Einar's excruciatingly ridiculous showboating. Einar was often overbearing on the Sugarcubes albums (particularly toward the end of their career), and it is true that he's less irritating here than on the proper records, but casual fans should be aware that The Great Crossover Potential is only slightly less uneven than the actual albums, with the exception of the remarkable debut, Life's Too Good. The collection, however, remains a nice way to round up the highlights, particularly those from Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week! and Stick Around for Joy

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Various ‎Never Mind The Mainstream...The Best Of MTV's 120 Minutes Vol. 2

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Acting as a sampler for MTV's flagship alternative show, Never Mind the Mainstream... was the best compilation of '80s alternative music released in America at the time. Featuring powerhouse tracks by R.E.M., Joy Division, Depeche Mode, and the Violent Femmes, this album serves as the ultimate introduction to what was popular in the alternative underground at the time. Several good, underrated songs are stacked up next to the classics and do just fine on their own. New Order's "Perfect Kiss" stands surprisingly well between Joy Division's classic "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and Depeche Mode's mega-hit "Personal Jesus." Hüsker Dü and the Jesus and Mary Chain contribute driving, powerful rock tracks; elsewhere, Ministry showcases their paranoid anger with the club hit "Stigmata.This is a fantastic album that serves as a wonderful sampler for these artists' talents.
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