Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Various A Life Less Lived (The Gothic Box)



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Perhaps the most mocked, maligned, and misunderstood of rock subgenres, goth's gloomy aesthetic encompasses a host of different styles: glam, punk, metal, disco, New Wave, industrial, psychedelia, murder ballads, classical, and endless permutations thereof. Stranger still, it has thrived outside the mainstream for nearly 30 years even as many of its major artists have experienced some degree of pop success: The Cure, Siouxsie Sioux, Ian Astbury, Nick Cave, and the Bauhaus family have all emerged from their coffins into the Top 40 at some point. Others, such as Echo & the Bunnymen, Jesus & Mary Chain, and Ministry, aren't expressly goth but share enough affinity for the theatrical and/or macabre to merit inclusion on Rhino's A Life Less Lived. Notwithstanding the leatherette packaging, this 3-CD/1-DVD set is as comprehensive a survey as possible for a label that applies equally to the Misfits' horror-punk, Einstürzende Neubauten's sturm and clang, and Dead Can Dance's wispy arcana. Save godfather-of-goth Alice Cooper, all the figureheads are well-represented, including their work before, after, and between their best-known bands: The Birthday Party, Tones on Tail, Creatures, Dali's Car, Southern Death Cult. Either by influence or simply their ever-changing lineup, the Sisters of Mercy alone seem responsible for every third song. The few American groups to dent the scene – Christian Death, 45 Grave, Kommunity FK – get their due, while floridly named forgotten heroes like Alien Sex Fiend and Lords of the New Church are resurrected in all their eldritch glory. The DVD is predictably top-notch: "Lullaby," "Bela Lugosi's Dead," "Cities in Dust," etc. These days, goth may mean a Hot Topic fashion victim to most or a convenient tag to hang on angsty bands like Evanescence, AFI, and My Chemical Romance, but even that demonstrates its pervasive influence and undead staying power. Release the bats.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

The Electric Soft Parade ‎Holes In The Wall


The Electric Soft ParadeHoles In The Wall

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The idea of two English late-teenage brothers in a band together may conjure up thoughts of Oasis via Silverchair, but Holes in the Wall, Alex and Tom White's debut album as the Electric Soft Parade, is a surprisingly assured album. Like Oasis and Silverchair, the Electric Soft Parade proudly wear their musical influences on their sleeves, as Holes in the Wall reveals intimations of bands like Ash, Grandaddy, and Teenage Fanclub. While Holes in the Wall veers more toward indie and psychedelic rock as opposed to the more straightforward power pop of contemporaries Weezer and Sloan, one of the album's greatest virtues is its memorable melodies, as exemplified in the catchy choruses of songs like "Empty at the End" and "Silent to the Dark." The White brothers also have ear-catching production on their side, giving their album true flavor by infusing it with splashes of electronics and keyboards, psychedelic swirl, and the occasional irregular time signature. The ESP have certainly proved that they can rock (embodied by "There's a Silence"), The Electric Soft Parade have produced a fine debut that should place them firmly in the midst of the post-Brit-pop musical landscape, a scene that they have the potential to shape as they mature.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

The Wonder Stuff ‎If The Beatles Had Read Hunter... The Singles



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A posthumous collection of all of the Wonder Stuff's singles from 1987 to 1993, plus a cover of Slade's "Coz I Love You" from a charity compilation, If the Beatles had Read Hunter...the Singles is both a fine starting point and, for most, all the Wonder Stuff they'll ever actually need. Albums one and three, 1988's The Eight-Legged Groove Machine and 1991's Never Loved Elvis, are solidly entertaining (in wildly differing styles) throughout,  However, in the classic Brit-pop tradition pretty much all of the band's very best material, from the Kinks-like, music hall-style tune "The Size of a Cow" to the manic buzz of "Give Give Give Me More More More," was released as singles. This is a solid, completely representative overview. Those whose curiosity is stoked would do well to buy The Eight-Legged Groove Machine next.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

I Am Kloot ‎Natural History


I Am KlootNatural History

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Easily one of the most accomplished bands of the new acoustic movement, I Am Kloot has created one of the better albums in the genre with Natural History. Songwriters John Harold and Arnold Bramwell strike a highly successful balance between folksy acoustic numbers and mini rock epics throughout the album's 12 tracks. Catchy vocal passages crop up left and right, psychedelic guitar passages mingle readily with moments of quiet sublime romance, and the band isn't beyond throwing in the occasional refreshing jazz arrangement. It's not surprising that the music sounds as lush as it does, since Elbow frontman Guy Garvey produced, engineered, and mixed the album, along with offering snippets of harmonica, sound effects, some percussion, and backing vocals. Acoustic guitars, a somber bass, and hushed drums percolate slowly as they twist and twirl around Harold and Bramwell's vocals. Imagining I Am Kloot as a darker, acoustic lo-fi Oasis would seem to be entirely appropriate, and not just because there's a resemblance in their Mancunian accents. But this is a mini Oasis that occasionally moonlights in Robyn Hitchcock whimsy. Lyrically, there are loads of bizarre things going on, with disarmingly quirky lines like "Will someone somewhere marry me... to you," "There's blood on your legs, I love you," and "Twist, snap, I love you," rearing their heads at odd moments. These are clearly chaps who know how and when to turn a killer phrase. As endearingly quirky as some of the songs might be, there's an ample supply of beautiful ballads on hand to vary the mood. Weird near-genius standout tracks "To You" and "Twist" sit perfectly alongside the sweet, perfect "No Fear of Falling" and the eclectic, jazzy wonder of "Sunlight Hits the Snow." One senses that Garvey may be responsible for the occasional lapse into realms a bit too epic, but he and the band always manage to reel songs back in when they get too bombastic. Smart, catchy, at times ramshackle, and at other times desperately atmospheric and exotic, Natural History is a wonderful debut album.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Midnight Oil ‎Essential Oils


Midnight OilEssential Oils

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The first truly comprehensive collection from the Aussie alternative rock legends, Essential Oils boasts 36 remastered tracks, featuring at least one from every album, including the early EPs Bird Noises and Species Deceases. Organized chronologically, the set dutifully charts the band's rise to international fame, from the nervy, punk/new wave attack of their 1978 debut to the soaring, politically charged alt-rock of 2002's Capricornia. Adorned with rare images and liner notes from Rolling Stone Senior Editor David Fricke, Essential Oils provides the perfect entry point for newbies, a solid collection for casual listeners wondering what else that "Beds Are Burning" act from the '80s was all about, and a smartly paced anthology for longtime fans who have kept the flame alive over the decades.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Tricky ‎Maxinquaye Deluxe Edition


TrickyMaxinquaye

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Tricky's debut, Maxinquaye, is an album of stunning sustained vision and imagination, a record that sounds like it has no precedent as it boldly predicts a new future. Of course, neither sentiment is true. Much of the music on Maxinquaye has its roots in the trip-hop pioneered by Massive Attack, which once featured Tricky, and after the success of this record, trip-hop became fashionable, turning into safe, comfortable music to be played at upscale dinner parties thrown by hip twenty and thirtysomethings. Both of these sentiments are true, yet Maxinquaye still manages to retain its power; years later, it can still sound haunting, disturbing, and surprising after countless spins. It's an album that exists outside of time and outside of trends, a record whose clanking rhythms, tape haze, murmured vocals, shards of noise, reversed gender roles, alt-rock asides, and soul samplings create a ghostly netherworld fused with seductive menace and paranoia. It also shimmers with mystery, coming not just from Tricky -- whose voice isn't even heard until the second song on the record -- but his vocalist, Martine, whose smoky singing lures listeners into the unrelenting darkness of the record. Once they're there, Maxinquaye offers untold treasures. There is the sheer pleasure of coasting by on the sound of the record, how it makes greater use of noise and experimental music than anything since the Bomb Squad and Public Enemy. Then, there's the tip of the hat to PE with a surreal cover of "Black Steel ," sung by Martine and never sounding like a postmodernist in-joke. Other references and samples register subconsciously -- while Isaac Hayes' "Ike's Rap II" flows through "Hell Is Around the Corner" and the Smashing Pumpkins are even referenced in the title of "Pumpkin," Shakespear's Sister and the Chantels slip by, while Michael Jackson's "Bad" thrillingly bleeds into "Expressway to Your Heart" on "Brand New You're Retro." Lyrics flow in and out of consciousness, with lingering, whispered promises suddenly undercut by veiled threats and bursts of violence. Then, there's how music that initially may seem like mood pieces slowly reveal their ingenious structure and arrangement and register as full-blown songs, or how the alternately languid and chaotic rhythms finally compliment each other, turning this into a bracing sonic adventure that gains richness and resonance with each listen. After all, there's so much going on here -- within the production, the songs, the words -- it remains fascinating even after all of its many paths have been explored (which certainly can't be said of the trip-hop that followed, including records by Tricky). And that air of mystery that can be impenetrable upon the first listen certainly is something that keeps Maxinquaye tantalizing after it's become familiar, particularly because, like all good mysteries, there's no getting to the bottom of it, no matter how hard you try.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Bjork Post Tour Edition



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After Debut's success, the pressure was on Björk to surpass that album's creative, tantalizing electronic pop. She more than delivered with 1995's Post; from the menacing, industrial-tinged opener, "Army of Me," it's clear that this album is not simply Debut redux. The songs' production and arrangements -- especially those of the epic, modern fairy tale "Isobel" -- all aim for, and accomplish, more. Post also features Debut producer Nellee Hooper, 808 State's Graham Massey, Howie B, and Tricky, who help Björk incorporate a spectrum of electronic and orchestral styles into songs like "Hyperballad," which sounds like a love song penned by Aphex Twin. Meanwhile, the bristling beats on the volatile, sensual "Enjoy" and the fragile, weightless ballad "Possibly Maybe" nod to trip-hop without being overwhelmed by it. As on Debut, Björk finds new ways of expressing timeworn emotions like love, lust, and yearning in abstractly precise lyrics like "Since you went away/I'm wearing lipstick again/I suck my tongue in remembrance of you," from "Possibly Maybe." But Post's emotional peaks and valleys are more extreme than Debut's. "I Miss You"'s exuberance is so animated, it makes perfect sense that Ren & Stimpy's John Kricfalusi directed the song's video. Likewise, "It's Oh So Quiet" -- which eventually led to Björk's award-winning turn as Selma in Dancer in the Dark -- is so cartoonishly vibrant, it could have been arranged by Warner Bros. musical director Carl Stalling. Yet Björk sounds equally comfortable with an understated string section on "You've Been Flirting Again." "Headphones" ends the album on an experimental, hypnotic note, layering Björk's vocals over and over till they circle each other atop a bubbling, minimal beat. The work of a constantly changing artist, Post proves that as Björk moves toward more ambitious, complex music, she always surpasses herself.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

A Certain Ratio ‎Early


A Certain RatioEarly

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With the Creation reissues of A Certain Ratio's catalog becoming increasingly tough to track down and with the post-punk revival going on around the time of its release, Early arrived right on time. Despite an uneven discography and an inexplicably numerous string of Joy Division comparisons, ACR was an excellent -- if inconsistent -- post-punk band that exemplified a spectacular movement against the old rock guard. In reality, it only seems right to refer to the ACR captured here as a post-punk band for chronology's sake. They came after the punk explosion of 1977, yet they had hardly anything in common with that movement. At their best, they used rock instrumentation to sound little like a rock band, laying a combination of disco, funk, and Latin percussion as the foundation of their sound. They hardly took a cue from punk, evidenced as early on as their second single, a cover of Banbarra's "Shack Up." Early, an assemblage of key moments and rarities that ends with 1985, is one of those compilations that makes no overt commitment to the fanatic or the curious -- an issue that's probably exacerbated by the inclusion of five Peel Session selections. As a result, four songs are presented in two versions, eating up space that could have been taken up by other highlights. The only case where this overlap can be excused is "All Night Party," their first single; the studio version is a drumless din of Mancunian miserableness, while the Peel Session version is given the death disco treatment with drums from Donald Johnson, who wasn't on board at the time of the song's original recording. It would be a bit of a cop-out on the part of the Soul Jazz label to view the second disc -- the one with the B-sides, rarities, and Peel Session material -- merely as the icing on the cake, the bonus. Though Early goes for the price of a single disc, the space provided could have been used a bit better. The discs are far from maxed-out content-wise, and there are a handful of damnable exclusions. However, this bizarre restraint might have more to do with the future of the ACR catalog than a few boneheaded decisions. All things considered, there is no shortage of great material here, and the packaging is phenomenal. A short film documenting the band's first trip to New York City is also included.
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