Category: Album Reviews

Oooh – so close. Just missed it by a whisker, by a hair’s breadth. We were so close to having another masterpiece on our hands, and all it would have taken was a stroke of the pen, just enough ink to draw a line through that final title on the track list and draw to a close one of the finest, and most timely, sets of songs to be released in a good while. You may have read in the current periodicals that Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball was a solid effort, a noble failure, an encouraging sign, or even an embarrassing gaffe. These opinions are wrong and you should not listen to them. Wrecking Ball is ambitious, honest and alive, and all it would have taken for it to equal – that’s right: equal – the Springsteen FM radio staples of Born To Run (1975) and Born In The USA (1984) would have been to get rid of just that one last fucking song. Without it, it would have been a comprehensive challenge to the Neil Youngs and Bob Dylans of this world to show that it’s not good enough for the aged rocker to release an album that is ‘not bad, considering’. As it stands, Wrecking Ball still represents a fearsome new benchmark against which the golden oldies must measure themselves.

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The odds are stacked against albums. Even if you’re lucky enough to be a record released during that point in history when people were actually likely to buy you in large numbers,  even if you were created by a global superstar at the height of their powers, the odds are that, in the long run, you’ll sell, and be listened to, about as much as Englebirt Humperdink’s Greatest Hits. Time can be simply beastly in the way it treats an album, especially if it wasn’t quite fortunate enough to be the breakthrough. Pity Pink Floyd’s Meddle (1971) as it competes with Dark Side Of The Moon (1973) for a place in the public consciousness, or muster up some sympathy if you can for Nirvana’s first, Bleach (1989), doomed to a cold existence in the shadows of Nevermind (1991). It’s just not fair, especially when the album being forgotten is just as musically satisfying as its more popular sibling, who only staked their spot in history through good timing and relentless self promotion. It’s wrong, and we must rectify it.

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Larry Young’s “Unity”

Easily Young’s most famous record, Unity tears apart all stereotypes about the Hammond Organ. Far from its blues roots or the then-popular Soul Jazz, Unity tips the chilled vibe of the Hammond on its head, entering into a frantic post-bop excursion. Young didn’t go alone either; with trumpeter Woody Shaw, who composed half the tunes, stalwart tenor Joe Henderson and the beyond-enthusiastic Elvin Jones on drums, this album was bound to be excellent. Continue reading

Guest Entry: Andrew Hill’s “Pax”

Edit: In my haste to publish this excellent article I forgot to attribute it to the writer himself, the legendary Jono “Funny Man” Savery. 

For most of his lifetime, Andrew Hill was under-heard and under-rated. Though there was a sudden surge in recognition late in his career, the problem is that, while those who have heard him now tend to revere him, far too many jazz-listeners have not. Why is he so obscure? It probably has something to do with two things. Firstly, when describing Andrew Hill, the most common adjectives you will hear are ‘cerebral’, ‘complex’ and ‘challenging. This obviously isn’t a bad thing, but cerebral isn’t what draws the crowds. Secondly, he never really slotted nicely into any of the many sub-genres of jazz; rather he traversed the line between the outside and the straight-ahead without ever falling strictly into either. He’s often called ‘avant-garde’, but that doesn’t do him justice. Nor is he really hard-bop, whatever that means. The tracks may go head-solo-head, but neither the head nor the solos are what you normally hear given the hard-bop label. Continue reading

When you get down to it, it’s really very hard to describe something wonderful. The word itself doesn’t make it easy; it sits comfortably amongst ‘fantastic’, ‘amazing’, ‘awesome’ and ‘terrific’ in the pantheon of useless descriptors. Ultimately these words fall flat when you really want to convey what it is that makes something so affecting. This is the problem that faces anyone trying to convey just what it is that makes My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless such a remarkable rock record, arriving in 1991 to be the second and – to date – final record by the Irish four piece. It is one of those records; commercially unsuccessful, critically adored, hugely influential, and inspiring a fierce devotion from those who fall under its spell. It’s a record that’s got something no other has, something that twists and turns when you try and pin it down. Really there’s no way to ‘get it’ other than to hear it, but you’re not going to do that without some motivation, some reason to hunt it down, crank the volume and press play. Pay attention. Continue reading

Well, ain’t that something. Those wacky young Chili Peppers have finally gone and made something of themselves. Oh sure, they’ve been a few places, seen a few things in their time. They’ve even written some mighty fine music. But with the release of I’m With You (2011), they’ve proved that, underneath all the tattoos and incomprehensible, quasi-spiritual California-isms, they’ve got some real character. It’s a good thing too; things were looking grim there for a while, artistically speaking. The popularity juggernaut that was 2006’s Stadium Arcadium may have scored the boys a bundle of successful singles and awards, but it really represented a low point for the band. Once you got past the likes of ‘Dani California’ and ‘Snow (Hey Oh)’ you were faced with a disgustingly bloated (28 songs over 2 hours) double album where a bland and repetitive production made all the tracks sound boring, regardless of whether they were any good. Combined with the departure of (kinda) long time guitarist John Frusciante, the future of the Chili Peppers was looking uncertain. But then, this is the band that can’t stay still, for better or worse. From their early (criminally ignored) days in the ‘80s as purveyors of so-goofy-its-hardcore funk rock they’ve progressed steadily through near-metal nihilism, Beach-Boys-on-downers, and Stadium Arcadium’s bland-o-rock. Though it is not without the musical and lyrical tics that will always make the Chili Peppers good for a cringe or two, I’m With You reminds us that this is one band that is not afraid of the future.

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Bluejuice – Head of the Hawk

I never expected this album to be as good as it is.

But really, when you consider the quality of work on Bluejuice’s second venture, Head of the Hawk, I’m just shocked more people haven’t discovered this album. Well in fact, “Broken Leg” was voted no. 5 in the 2009 Triple J Hottest 100, but the Hottest 100 does have a very particular audience which isn’t necessarily indicative of mainstream opinion. Continue reading

Fear of a Blank Planet

Porcupine Tree were a strange discovery for me. While the first few listens completely turned me off (“you call this prog rock?”), I gradually warmed up to them after being forced to put up with them while my brother was driving. Specifically, the song that really got my attention was “Anesthetize”, after my brother mentioned that Alex Lifeson (of Rush) guested on a guitar solo. Little did I anticipate how my mind would be blown.

Describing Porcupine Tree as a modern day Pink Floyd, while beyond high praise, is more than a bit unfair to Steve Wilson, the primary songwriter, guitarist and singer. However, it’s easy to see why such comparisons exist; the combinations of electronics and instruments, the flowing nature of each song, the layered keyboard textures and the sophisticated, thematic lyrics (hell, even the occasional clumsy lyric is classic Roger Waters) are all reminiscent of Dark Side of the Moon. Indeed, there is a rather logical progression from Dark Side to Radiohead’s OK Computer to Fear of a Blank Planet; each devliering more dystopian, damning critiques of society and the human condition. Continue reading

Basic Channel – ‘BCD’ (1995)

It’s to their credit that Basic Channel’s Mark Ernestus and Moritz Von Oswald both created and redefined the sound of an entire genre in the space of just a few years. What pushed two Berlin-based record shop owners to mix the sonic elements of Dub music with the dance-ready electronic sounds of the nineties nightclub is anyone’s guess but the result both captivated and alienated the electronic music community – who were still on the fence as to whether or not “techno” was exclusively dance music. From the first few records released on their own label, the blueprint for Dub Techno had been laid. Minimal arrangements of pulsing 4/4 kicks and deep, hypnotic basslines formed the core of their music, with sparse splashes of synth stabs and clanging percussion used to add variety in the most pure sense. Basic Channel’s appearance on the underground Berlin techno scene had indeed posed more questions than answers; shrouded in mystery, few were sure if Basic Channel were a group or simply a label. They continued to release EPs and 12-inches under a variety of different aliases with little to no extra information aside from the audio etched into the grooves – appropriately in tune with their minimal aesthetic.

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Galaxie 500 – ‘Today’

Some records defy any attempt at myth-making. You can push them and pull them, you can threaten and cajole them, but no matter the amount of pressure to which they are subjected, they stubbornly refuse to be anything but themselves. Thus it is with Today, the 1988 debut of rock’s dreamy semi-obscurities, Galaxie 500. So confident, so accomplished and affecting were the trio’s subsequent studio albums, 1989’s On Fire and their 1990 swansong This Is Our Music, that there is an overwhelming urge to see something in Today that isn’t there. Surely it is a lost classic, an unpolished gem, lost in a sea of public indifference, like the masterworks of so many alternative rock bands (an awful term) of the mid to late ‘80s? Or perhaps it is a flawed masterpiece, brought down by band tension/unsympathetic production/financial constraints? It isn’t, and it doesn’t need to be.

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