Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Underworld ‎1992-2012 The Anthology



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The departure of Darren Emerson prior to the release of 2002’s A Hundred Days Off album could’ve signaled the beginning of the end for Underworld. While his contributions were undoubtedly essential in galvanizing the group’s genre-defining techno and abstract electronica of the 90’s, Underworld continued on to fully realize its panoramic sonic capabilities in the last decade at the hands of its core duo of Rick Smith and Karl Hyde.Spanning 3 CDs, Anthology is luxurious- capturing glorious pieces from 1994’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman through 2010’s Barking album rendering the previous ‘hits’ collection, 1992-2002, obsolete in the process. CD1 covers the sacred early territory including the brooding “Mmm, Skyscraper I Love You,” the punishing “Cowgirl,” the mournful “Dirty Epic,” and “Dark and Long (Dark Train)”- the quintessential archetype for the techno genre. CD2 opens with many people’s gateway track to the band: the crushing 1996 juggernaut that is “Born Slippy.” 1999’s Beaucoup Fish album had the unenviable task of following up the Trainspotting centerpiece and is represented by “Jumbo” and the manic freight train “Moaner.” “Push Upstairs” and especially “Shudder: King of Snake” are more than deserving representations of this underrated album yet they are omitted. “Two Months Off” may be the group’s single most important track as it urgently, joyously declares with soaring harmonies and cascading, sun-drenched synths that Smith and Hyde would be just fine a duo. “To Heal” is a symphonic masterpiece which crystallizes the warmth and humanity that has pervaded Underworld’s post-Emerson works. “Scribble” is a surprising selection from the Barking album that also features the slow simmering Dubfire co-production, “Bird 1” and the irrepressible “Always Loved a Film.” CD3 is a deeper but maybe non-essential exploration of some of the band’s rarities. The highlight is the heavy, monolithic “Second Hand” which featured on the Café del Mar Volume 1 compilation. Other notable tracks include the dazzling acid workout “Why, Why, Why,” the rising jam “Parc (Live)” and spacious, meditative “Simple Peal” which were all previously only available on Japanese imports.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Portishead Dummy Japan Album


Portishead Dummy

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Portishead's album debut is a brilliant, surprisingly natural synthesis of claustrophobic spy soundtracks, dark breakbeats inspired by frontman Geoff Barrow's love of hip-hop, and a vocalist (Beth Gibbons) in the classic confessional singer/songwriter mold. Beginning with the otherworldly theremin and martial beats of "Mysterons," Dummy hits an early high with "Sour Times," a post-modern torch song driven by a Lalo Schifrin sample. The chilling atmospheres conjured by Adrian Utley's excellent guitar work and Barrow's turntables and keyboards prove the perfect foil for Gibbons, who balances sultriness and melancholia in equal measure. Occasionally reminiscent of a torchier version of Sade, Gibbons provides a clear focus for these songs, with Barrow and company behind her laying down one of the best full-length productions ever heard in the dance world. Where previous acts like Massive Attack had attracted dance heads in the main, Portishead crossed over to an American, alternative audience, connecting with the legion of angst-ridden indie fans as well. Better than any album before it, Dummy merged the pinpoint-precise productions of the dance world with pop hallmarks like great songwriting and excellent vocal performances.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Billy Bragg ‎Must I Paint You A Picture? The Essential Billy Bragg



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In 1983, Billy Bragg was a guy with a cheap electric guitar, a rough but passionate voice, and a knack for writing and singing straight from the heart whether he was discussing leftist political concerns or the mysterious interactions between men and women. The guy has a band and the political issues that have caught his attention are trickier 20 years later, but he's still enchanted and puzzled by love, and hasn't stopped writing worthwhile songs about it. Must I Paint You a Picture? The Essential Billy Bragg is a three-disc, 50-song compilation that does an admirable job of capturing the hills and valleys of Bragg's recording career, opening up with "A New England" from his debut EP, Life's a Riot With Spy vs. Spy, and closing with a cut from 2002's England, Half English. A spin through this set suggests that Bragg's best (or at least most affecting) work arrived in the early stages of his career, as disc one (which follows Bragg through Worker's Playtime) is a decidedly more solid and absorbing listen than disc two (the material from the disappointing William Bloke in particular weighs down the collection's second act), and his love songs have stood the test of time a shade better than his political material (the miners' strike may be over, but broken hearts are timeless). But there are plenty of gems to be found throughout this collection, and Must I Paint You a Picture? serves as a potent reminder that in the grand tradition of Bob Dylan, even Bragg's lesser albums contain a handful of truly memorable songs worth hearing; if this isn't the ideal Billy Bragg collection, it's an excellent introduction, a solid career overview, and a lovely reminder of how much he has to say about the heart and the mind. Initial pressings come with a ten-song bonus disc that adds several hard to find selections, including Bragg's Anglophile rewrite of "Route 66," a telling duet with the late Ted Hawkins, and a bootleg remix that merges Bragg with the Hives.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Julian Cope ‎Peggy Suicide Deluxe Edition



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Casting the ill-advised attempts at too-clean modern rock from his late-'80s days firmly aside and fulfilling the promise of Skellington and Droolian, Cope on Peggy Suicide produced his best album to date, overtopping even his Teardrop Explodes efforts. Showing a greater musical breadth and range than ever before, from funk to noise collage -- and more importantly, not sounding like a dilettante at any step of the way -- Cope and his now seasoned backing band, with drummer J.D. Hassinger in and De Harrison out, surge from strength to strength. Ostensibly conceived as a concept album regarding potential ecological and social collapse, Cope wisely seeks to set moods rather than create a straitjacketed story line. As a result, Peggy Suicide can be enjoyed both as an overall statement and as a collection of individual songs; its sequencing is excellent to boot, moving from song to song as if it was always meant to be that way. Cope's voice is a revelation -- for those not having heard the hard-to-find Skellington and Droolian, his conversational asides, bold but not full-of-itself singing, and equally tender, softer takes when the material demands it must have seemed like a complete turnaround from the restrained My Nation Underground cuts. He handles all the guitar as well, with Skinner concentrating on bass and keyboards; guest Michael "Moon-Eye" Watts does some fine fretbending as well, including an amazing performance on the awesome "Safesurfer," a lengthy meditation on AIDS and its consequences. Picking out only some highlights does the album as a whole a disservice, but besides offering up an instant catchy pop single, "Beautiful Love," Cope handles everything from the minimal moods of "Promised Land" and experimentation of "Western Front 1992 CE" to the frenetic "Hanging Out and Hung Up on the Line" and commanding "Drive, She Said." An absolute, stone-cold rock classic, full stop.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Bob Mould ‎The Last Dog And Pony Show



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Just before The Last Dog and Pony Show hit the streets, Bob Mould announced that his supporting tour would be the last time he hit the road with a full electric band. From this point on, he would be challenging himself, finding different musical avenues to explore and leaving his trademark tower of guitars behind. Presumably, this also meant that The Last Dog and Pony Show would be the recorded farewell to this sound, and it is indeed an excellent consolidation of all of his musical quirks and signatures. The Last Dog and Pony Show is the work of a craftsman, not a nakedly emotional confessional like Workbook or Bob Mould. That's not to say the album is lightweight, since seriousness is one of Mould's signatures, but there is a sense of humor that hasn't been heard since Sugar, and he, overall, sounds more relaxed than he has in years. He's so relaxed, in fact, that he lets down his guard on the cheerfully ridiculous pseudo-rap "Megamanic," the only track on Show that offers a musical departure from Mould's past. The rest of the record is clearly a Mould album, from the rushing rockers to the impassioned acoustic ballads, but the craft in both the songwriting and the production guarantees that the music never sounds like a retread, even if it does sound familiar. And that's not a bad way to draw to a close the first part of his career, if Mould does indeed turn his back on his signature sound

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Big Audio Dynamite ‎Planet Bad Greatest Hits


Big Audio DynamitePlanet Bad Greatest Hits

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Culling together tracks chosen from a decade's (and seven albums') worth of material, Planet BAD serves as a focused, well-chosen compilation of Mick Jones' post-Clash outfit. Although neither as critically or commercially successful as the Clash, Big Audio Dynamite's blend of rock and dance music, with a generous dose of samples, was a fixture on college radio in the mid- to late '80s with tracks like "E=MC2," "The Bottom Line," and "C'mon Every Beatbox" (all included here). The band even managed to make a foray onto the U.S. Top 40 charts in 1992 with the infectious "Rush." With his place already secure in rock annals, Jones' work with BAD was much more lighthearted, but it cannily anticipated the influence electronics and technology would have on music. it's also undeniable that the band was a more interesting venture than it was sometimes given credit.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The Orb ‎U.F.OFF The Best Of The Orb



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If you're a big fan of the Orb and have most of their releases, the big question you may be asking yourself when you see this release is whether you even need it or not. Since I heard Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld, back in late 1993, I've been a massive fan of the group and have managed to pick up all of their major releases and even a couple singles. Still, when I saw that this one had come out, I had to get my hands on it for the simple fact that the version I purchased had a bonus disc of unreleased material. After the initial run of 2CD sets, they went and cut it down to one CD, making it more of a release for those just getting into the group. I must say, if you're just getting into them, it's about damn time. Not only has the Orb been around for a long time releasing great disc after great disc, but they've always kept that sort of goofy attitude about themselves that they never manage to come across as pretentious and neither has their music. They've released songs that run both 40 minutes and 1 (as well as about every length in-between) and if there's ever an electronic music hall-of-fame, they should probably be one of the first few to get inducted (after the obligitory forerunners like Eno and Stockhausen). Anyway, the first disc is exactly what you'd expect to get in a best-of release, with a couple other tracks thrown in for good measure. Instead of starting out the disc with the bands almost trademark song of "Little Fluffy Clouds," they open with a rather unexpected Orbital (not by the group Orbital, though) Dance Mix of "A Huge Evergrowing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Center Of The Ultraworld." Quite a bit different than the album version, it's a nice way to start things off. From there, they go into 7" mixes (meaning radio edits) of the aforementioned "Little Fluffy Clouds," "Perpetual Dawn," "Blue Room," and "Assasin." The first disc also includes original versions of "Toxygene," "Towers of Dub," and "Asylum" among others. A very nice inclusion on the disc is of the unreleased track "Mickey Mars." It's a little bit of a different style for the group, but it's great. Things close out with a couple more classics and a hidden remix of their track "Oxbow Lakes" from Orbus Terrarum. For more hardcore fans, the second disc offers a lot more in terms of excitement. Things start out with a live version of "Little Fluffy Clouds" that doesn't offer a whole lot new to the formula. From there, the group goes into the Ultrabass II mix of "Perpetual Dawn" and a super tricked-out take on "Pomme Fritz." Things get even more strange with the drum and bass spiked version of "Toxygene" by the Ganja Kru. It seems a bit weird at first hearing the track redone in such a different genre, but it manages to work a lot better than other drum and bass inflictions I've heard. After sort of a throwaway mix of "Assassin," the disc continues with excellent versions of "O.O.B.E.," "Blue Room," and a remix of the previously unreleased "Mickey Mars" that's even better than the original on the first disc. Things close out on the harsher side with the Vestax Mix of "Montagne D'Or (Der Gute Berg)." Overall, it's another great release for the group. I may be a little biased in my support of the group (since they're one of my favorites), but the 2CD set provides a lot more Orb music for those who can't get enough of the group. If you have most of their releases, definitely go for the 2CD version, as the first one mainly just has the classics, but even those are all mixed together and it makes for a nice smooth flow through the course of their music. The second disc is mixed as well, and it's a little more across-the-board in terms of styles, but very interesting nonetheless. 140 more minutes of fun from the pranksters.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Ian Brown ‎My Way


Ian BrownMy Way

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After the Stone Roses' shambolic demise, few would have predicted that frontman Ian Brown would go on to achieve both a prolific solo career that would far outlast the band's, and sustain a loyal following that worships him as though he was the personification of the Roses' difficult sophomore album, Second Coming. But 12 years after his debut, the man who's influenced pretty much every lad-rock band of the '90s and 2000sis back with his sixth studio album, My Way. Produced by longtime collaborator Dave McCracken, it may be named after Sid Vicious' anarchic cover of the Sinatra standard, but it's the only trace of Brown's early punk leanings on an album which is perhaps his most punchy, hook-laden, and immediate to date. Indeed, eschewing the politically charged dub-reggae/hip-hop of its predecessor, The World Is Yours, Brown has gone straight for the jugular on 12 tracks which are said to have been inspired by Michael Jackson's seminal opus Thriller. A rather tenuous link with monkeys aside (Brown's first album was titled Unfinished Monkey Business, a play on his "King Monkey" nickname), at first glance, there appears to be very little in common between the King of Pop and the King of Madchester. And while it's ludicrous to suggest that there's anything on My Way that sounds even remotely similar to Jackson's groundbreaking epic, it does appear to have at least attempted to adhere to its "all killer, no filler" policy. Opening track "Stellify" doesn't quite stand up to his claim that it was originally intended for Rihanna, but its jaunty piano stabs, pounding military beats, and triumphant horn section provide his most infectious single since 2001's "F.E.A.R." His newfound chart-bound stance continues by teaming up with esteemed songwriter-for-hire Amanda Ghost (James Blunt, Beyoncé) on "For the Glory," a vitriolic attack on former Roses' guitarist John Squire and the doom-laden electronica of "Vanity Kills." But My Way is much more interesting when Brown is left to his own devices. "Crowning of the Poor" is a working-class call to arms set against a backdrop of menacing synth stabs and the kind of underground grime beats you'd find on the first Dizzee Rascal album; "Always Remember Me" is a blissed-out shoegazing ballad full of rousing strings and My Bloody Valentine-esque distorted guitars; while the anagram-titled "Own Brain," is a groove-laden blend of Timbaland-style R&B and '80s synth pop .My Way may not live up to Brown's rather bombastic praise, but it's an inventive and consistently strong collection of songs which sounds more like a debut from someone in the prime of their youth than a middle-aged Mancunian 20 years into his career.
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