Posts Tagged ‘slowdive’

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More small reviews

June 28, 2007

Slowdive – Catch The Breeze [Compilation]
Was it really a good idea to make this compilation in the first place? It should be known that Slowdive is a wonderful band and there really needed to be some kind of introduction for new fans, but why make it two disks when the band had so little material? This includes nine out of ten tracks on the original release of Souvlaki, barely anything from Just For A Day, and half of Pygmalion, as well as a lackluster selection of rarities from some early EPs. To be quite honest, this is unnecessary and poorly compiled, and anyone who is interested in Slowdive after buying this will want the rest of their stuff for the sake of completion, making this even more frustrating. What we really needed was a rarities collection, a compilation of all the hard to find EPs that include other songs that fans really want to hear but can’t bear to spend tons of cash in different places for. Which brings me to yet another problem with this, the price. It’s an import, so it’s going to cost around twenty five in the States if you can even find it, because it’s rare. This is really only for hardcore completionists who want the art and liner notes, but for anyone else the recent re-releases of the studio LPs that round up all of the officially released goodies on their bonus disks is more than enough and does more good than this does. On one hand all of this music is great, so I can’t really bear to give this a horrible rating, but as a purchase this is really stupid.


Blind Faith – Blind Faith
I was very apprehensive when I first listened to this, mostly because I don’t really like Eric Clapton that much. To be honest, I just really didn’t want to like this at all. But for whatever reason I ended up enjoying it to a certain degree. The first three songs are darn good. Had to Cry Today is a classic riff, and Well All Right is too, but I really prefer Can’t Find My Way Home, a quaint little acoustic tune that is probably my favorite song on the album. The one even casual Clapton fans seem to know is Presence of the Lord, which really does nothing for me because the whole religious thing kind of doesn’t sit well. But I guess the peak of the album is the final rocker/jam Do What You Like, which at times is very cool but probably could have been chizzled down, at least the long bass and drum solos. There are really some talented people working on this album. Clapton and Baker are really some of the best on their respective instruments. But like most stuff from this lite 60s blues genre, the guitar style and production bores me to no end. That doesn’t stop this from having some choice songs though, and it may be a better place to start on Clapton’s career than the likes of his solo albums.


Sonic Youth – Sister
Pinning Sister as a second best record really undermines the fact that it is a great record and not just the alternative to the obvious. While this is not an obvious record, like most albums by Sonic Youth, it is still immediately recognizable as a true classic of it’s decade, virtually refining noise-rock and displaying Sonic Youth’s songwriting ability and truly monumental style. Perhaps the comparison is made because Sister is not quite as ambitious or relentless as Daydream Nation, but in any case it is just about as enjoyable in terms of good songs and the overall result. What Sonic Youth does with undeniable success is rain the easygoing nature of American youth into a single album which does it’s damage with great consistency. At some points the album feels like the soundtrack to a quick weekend trip through rural America with your buddies, and to me that is represented by the cover pretty well. Sometimes this album is soft, with the wonderful Schizophrenia and the appropriately titled soft/hard noise of Tuff Gnarl. And sometimes it is great punk with choice numbers such as Catholic Block and Hot Wire My Heart. The album gets more rocking as it goes along and is very abrasive and by all means not a softie, and the only one song goes over the five minute mark, making it feel more listenable to the casual fan and easier to swallow, making this a good place to start. A noise rock landmark that not only deserves respect but demands it.


George Carlin – Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics
Although George Carlin is without question one of my favorite comedians, this is not his comedy working at it’s best. In my opinion, his sense of humor translates best through his books, but for a live comedy album, you could do worse than this. However, most of his completely outlandish comedy is overshadowed here by vulgar social satire, some of which is good and some of which isn’t. More than anything, George Carlin makes some really good points here and completely tears down politically correct walls and makes them his bitch. Especially provocative are “I Ain’t Afraid of Cancer” and “Rape Can Be Funny.” But as informative as this humor might be, it really isn’t all that funny. Carlin is his best when he is spitting anger and completely outlandish, random complaints, but here is more of a constructed approach to his psyche. Essential for fans, but in my opinion it’s a hard comedy album to listen to.


Cocteau Twins – Violaine [Single]
As far as I know, the Violaine series was the last material the Cocteau Twins ever released. In more ways than one, the series of EPs for the singles Tishbite and Violaine are just as important if not more important than the album they came from. Finding these singles is quite the task, and paying for them is even harder, but hunting them down individually or getting them in the box set Lullabies To Violaine is surely worth it. Like all of the Twins’ singles from the time, the song Violaine doesn’t take too many risks but is still quite a good song. All of the other songs are equally accessible, romantic, and at times wonderfully fragile. But the truth stands, the sound of the Milk and Kisses sessions feels a bit recycled from the Four Calendar Cafe recordings. In any case, these songs are lovely and a treat to any Cocteau Twins fans. The swirling bittersweet romance of Circling Girl and Smile are simply lovely, but the other two b-sides are the real treats. Tranquil Eye is a fine lullaby, and Alice is really like nothing the band ever did, from an era that otherwise doesn’t stand out that much. The song is one of Liz Fraser’s best vocal performances, and a mysterious, almost dark song that is a personal favorite of many fans. More than appropriate as a last released song for the band on their last single. For fans who have already deciphered the bands unique sounds, completely essential.


The White Stripes – Blue Orchid [Single]
I don’t know exactly what issue of the Blue Orchid EP I have is, but it has the title track, the two b-sides, and the You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket live take. As a big White Stripes fan, I’ll pick up any singles I see in the store, which is actually pretty rare to see. But this was more of an asset to me than the Walking With A Ghost EP by a long shot. The single is damn good, one of the few good ones from Get Behind Me Satan. And the two b-sides are disposable but fun little scraps/leftovers. Whose A Big Baby is funny and playful as long as you don’t take it seriously, and Though I Hear You Calling is just plain fun. But the live take I’m just not interested in, and although the song has some good moments, it might be my least favorite song on Elephant and is all around not that good of a performance. In a word, interesting. Fans will want this.


Cocteau Twins – Dials/Crushed/The High Monkey-Monk/Oomingmak
This rare EP which I believe can only be found from the Cocteau Twins first box set contains five absolutely wonderful, classic Cocteau Twins numbers. In terms of mood and sound, this matches The Moon And The Melodies relatively closely, or at least the first and last songs do. But to be fair, these songs have much more identity and feel a lot more special than any songs from that album. The lovely Dials starts off the disk, and an instrumental version of Oomingmak ends it beautifully. But it’s the ones in the middle that really matter. Crushed is a typical pick for best Cocteau Twins song from hardcore fans, and The High Monkey-Monk is like nothing the Twins had ever done before, combing their lovely ambiance and dream-pop sensibilities with an eastern tinge making for an absolutely priceless cut. I have no idea about the rarity of this release, but these songs are four of the bands best and whatever trouble it takes a fan to hunt them down is worth it.


Arcade Fire – Funeral
Since their 2003 self titled EP debut, Arcade Fire have reached near mythical, untouchable status in the indie community by means of two fantastic albums and a killer live act. And Funeral raised the majority of that hype. If I recall correctly, Funeral stands as the best selling indie debut of all time, or something like that, but the details don’t really matter… Even upon it’s release, there was a stampede of popularity. Funeral is a tour de force of everything that indie rock has ever been about. Clever instrumentation is the first big draw. Using a myriad of creative instruments such as bells, accordions, violins, cellos, and even kettle whistles during Neighborhood #4, the band produces an interesting sound that does not let up. The fact that this album is about death does not overshadow the fact that it is also about love. For the most part, the album stays solid and lovely the whole way through. Almost every track stands out. The opening Tunnels is a touching love song, Power Out is an amazing explosion of energy, and an anthemic masterpiece is achieved with Rebellion. But they reach true pop bliss with Haiti, an irresistible tropical bounce, when Regine Chassagne whispers “in the forest we are high.” The album is not without it’s small flaws though, but perhaps they make Funeral all the more lovable. The production is creamy and smooth, which is probably why it gained so much popularity in exchange for a little backbone. Also, the vocalists styles are unique but also not necessarily always great. And a few low points are reached, namely 7 Kettles, but the spirit of the album is revelatory and lovely enough to captivate anyones mind. Big surprise, we finally have an indie band that meets almost impossible hype. A real keeper.


The Clash – London Calling
London Calling, The Clash’s massive double LP, is just one of those punk classics that I could never really truly like despite my best efforts. But to me, this isn’t really classic punk but instead classic punk-pop. It’s best moments more than justify it, and I can definitely see why people like it so much, but the majority of these songs are simply tired to me. It’s best moments are either some of the most brilliant, heavy songs the punk movement ever heard or wonderful pop; London Calling, Brand New Cadillac, Hateful, Spanish Bombs, The Guns of Brixton, and Train in Vain are all fantastic songs. But the majority of everything else is plagued by hooks that apparently only I deem cheesy. Specifically, songs like Rudie Can’t Fail, Jimmy Jazz, Lost In The Supermarket, and Clampdown are horribly annoying. Part of the problem I had with this album was the occasional reggae that they tried to work into the music which really only ended up severely annoying me. This is a monumental album, because not ever before had punk been drawn so freaking close to pop, enough so for the genres to meld. Thus, this is an essential punk album and subject of countless classic hooks. I mean really, I heard it first when I was a little kid and I was amazed even back them how many songs I recognized from the radio and pop culture in general. It’s also got that classic album cover that represents everything that punk is all about, and it is eternally plastered in my mind from being framed in so many of my friends houses. It’s a classic album. Half of it simply annoys the shit out of me, that’s all.


The Jesus And Mary Chain – Darklands
Considering the circumstances of the previous album, Darklands is a pretty ambitious album, even considering it’s tame nature in comparison to Psychocandy. Instead of loud, hooky punk-pop, The Jesus And Mary Chain created breathy, touching love songs, as well as including both Reids in the vocal responsibilities. The sheer emotional power that these songs hold is sometimes staggering. The three singles, Darklands, Happy When It Rains, and April Skies, are among the best the band has ever created, and the rest of the album is fairly solid as well. The problem might be the environment in which this is listened to. If you actually find yourself listening to this in your house on a rainy day, you probably WONT be happy. But at the same time, these songs hold considerable weight when played at the right time and in the right place. This may be tiring to listen to all the way through, as it does not let up in it’s revelatory romantic mood, but the truth still stands that this is another record that built a signature JAMC sound, as every record of theirs did. They never really came back to this style, making it feel like an anthem packed explosive valentine to fans. Wonderful in it’s own way.


Sigur Rós – Ágætis Byrjun
The Icelandic band Sigur Ros, by this point in their career, have redefined and expanded their sound enough times to completely avoid categorization. Are they rock? Are they ambient? Or are they simply some breed of sophisticated pop? The only thing for certain is that Sigur Ros aren’t afraid of being themselves, and have an awe-inspiring artistic freedom. Throughout this sprawling sophomore album, Sigur Ros created possibly their most accessible and simulatneously memorable album of their careers. The strategy utilized on Ágætis Byrjun is the same that was used on Von and would be used on future albums () and Takk. That strategy is simple. More means more. Which is ironic, because the opening introduction track is exactly the melody that the listener would want expanded on to about five minutes. This may seem like a pretentious move, but many have mistaken Sigur Ros’ all-over-the-place style and relentless experimentation for pretentiousness only to gradually realise that it is true beauty and the art of learning while writing songs. Really, it is quite impressive how consistant this album stays. The bands style here is to combine subtley atmospheric instrumentation with emotive, soaring melodies. These songs sound huge, both in length and in scope, and the result is surprisingly warm. This also sounds very unlikely, almost too good to be true. But what do you know, Sigur Ros pull it off, against all odds. From the opening Svefn-G-Englar, vocals are given extremely relaxed treatment and strings and a lovely melody is gradually explored. It’s hard to believe it, but every track is standout. Around the middle, the album shifts into a more dark, melancholy mood for the extent of two songs, Ny Batteri and Hjartao Hamast, which help to make Ágætis Byrjun Sigur Ros’ most representative album. The extent of my gruff is that the band repeats themselves a little here and there, but who doesn’t like more of a good thing? Happy, sad, lovely, dark, bright, relaxing, urgent. Sigur Ros are all of these things and more on their many albums, and this is the one that just happens to be the best. Although it may seem “uncool” to like Sigur Ros in some of the indie circles, emotion doesn’t lie. Sigur Ros is a wonderful band with a myriad of wonderful sounds. Start here.


Tool – 10,000 Days
While I would have deemed 10,000 Days the worst Tool album to date a couple of months ago, I have given it enough time to decide that it is slightly better than Undertow. The sheer quality of the album is simply shadowed by how difficult and limit pushing the music is. Every song on the album is in some way a new exciting revelation for Tool, who having been out of the studio for five years really had to prove that they weren’t loosing their touch. Some familiar aspects of Tool are still here. The touches of filler, the difficult rhythms, and progressive style are still here. These details remind us that Tool is still very much one with their fans. During the filler song Lipan Conjuring, Adam Jones “sings” along lightly with a creepy Native American chant. This detail caught my ear for some reason. It is just a subtle reminder that the band does not let up, even when they are crafting a small, seemingly insignificant nuance. Once again, every corner of the album shows Tool doing what they do best in new ways. Maynard’s voice sounds much different at times, which is alright, because his voice actually sounds more smooth and his lyrics are only getting better and more insightful. The radio hit Vicarious is hypnotically dark, as the lyrics describe our painful world to be like. Jambi. The most difficult part of the album is the long, pained Wings for Marie series, dedicated to Maynard’s recently departed mother. Tool have never made a piece this long and progressive, and it’s fun if not a little difficult to get through. The album contains less memorable riffs than other Tool albums, but on the other hand The Pot is easily among the absolute best songs the band has ever creates. It has rock solid riffs, a frenetic pace, and downright unbelievable guitar and bass work. In fact, the entire album features perhaps the most impressive instrumentation the band has shown yet. The latter parts of the album tend towards more hypnotic psychedelia. It’s a difficult album, and not always fun, but it has some great, classic Tool songs and it expands the band repetoire even further, proving that Tool really ARE amazing and don’t lose momentum.

I guess we can nail Tool down to a specific genre now, can’t we?

Progressive psychedelic alternative grunge metal.

Maybe.

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Slowdive – Souvlaki

May 11, 2007

Souvlaki – Food – 8/10
The most elusive of Greeks foods available at your local gyros joint, souvlaki is seldom ordered because it just takes a bit more time to prepare and is just a little more expensive than that chili cheese dog or Italian beef that you could also order. The extra change and minutes add up though, and this ends up being filling, delicious, and satisfying, way more so than anything else on the menu. It is a fairly simple dish though. Souvlaki is seasoned meat, usually pork but sometimes chicken or some other meats, sometimes shredded or as dumplings, either cooked on a skewer with various other vegetables or in a pita sandwich like gyros with onions and tomatoes. What struck me about this dish when I first tasted it was how dense and satisfying the meat was. After eating a souvlaki sandwich (which cost me just under five dollars), which was portioned about the same as a gyros that would hardly fill me, I was completely full and unable to eat anymore, and it took some work to put that last few onions down. This deception proved to be a great surprise, and after eating it only at five in the afternoon, I woke up the next morning around six not really that hungry. Which was bizarre. In any case, it is the kind of meat that is easy to pig out on within the confines of your tray. It’s the meat that you love to bite and taste the marinade off of the rough outer edges on your tongue, it’s the type that you chew more than you need to just to savor how juicy and dense it is, and it’s the kind that you like getting stuck between your teeth. There is just something about this that I love. There is just something about it that leaves me longing for more though… It’s not that it isn’t delicious, it just isn’t interesting. On the other hand, a chili dog is less filling but more exciting. It is worth getting though, and it is way better than Gyros or Italian Beef. A good fast meal the next time you stop by an Greek joint.

Souvlaki – Album – 10/10

Slowdive is unfortunately always put second to My Bloody Valentine, and Souvlaki is always put second to Loveless. The danger in this is that these bands as well as these albums are really opposite sides of the same coin in that they are both masters at crafting wonderful shoegaze, but their methods, ideas, and end results couldn’t be more different. Well, maybe not. They both were of the same breed, and the intention was the create lush, beautiful melodies with swooning guitars and a sleepy production. But they just brought the genre to new heights in their own ways. I would first like address the fact that it is physically impossible for anyone to write a review about any shoegaze record without reference to either My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, or Ride and their respectable masterworks. And unfortunately this isn’t too unreasonable, because the genre hasn’t quite nailed out it’s kinks even fifteen years after it’s breakthrough, and really only a few shoegaze albums have really mattered or been as original and fantastic since this trifecta of awesome. Most shoegaze bands rip on one of the three, it seems. But Slowdive is the one that is tough to pin down, mostly because they developed so much in their short career and have almost equal love from fans for all three of their albums. Or maybe it is because their style is so unique and hard to replicate that it simply ends up standing alone due to severe difficulty in imitation. To me it seems pretty obvious that Souvlaki is the winner and the pinnacle of Slowdive’s career, and it attains the status of a classic album and a shoegaze essential with ease.

It is perhaps easier to talk about what Souvlaki does right by instead talking about what it does not do wrong, maybe because good things and bad things have floated among shoegaze enthusiasts for years and there is almost nothing left. It could also be because I am very bad at writing reviews about albums I adore and usually end up just raving and using strong positive adjectives and nothing more.I’m going to quote something nerdy, or maybe just too deluged in popular culture to be considered fair description for a virtually unknown indie band from the early nineties, and certainly too vague and wordy for something specific that I am trying to say. With great power comes great responsibility. Using so layered, deep guitars requires a precision that most musicians do not dream of. It’s the kind of album that could have easily been fucked up on a song by song basis due to small mistakes in vocals or drums or something, but it is fortunately perfectly shaped and chizzled down to the finest details. One of the key factors in making moving music is building and relieving tension well, and Slowdive does it on every track, building waves of guitar chords that sound relieving at their first moments and longing at their last. I’m still trying to figure out how this effect is created, specifically on Machine Gun, where sometimes only subtle changes or no changes at all somehow transform their purpose in a matter of seconds. The only real explanation is that the band is simply impeccable in their ability to write soothing melodies without taking the easy way out. It sounds pretentious, but often times this album is soft spoken and beautiful in a tired, dreamy sort of way, specifically on Here She Comes. This song is particularly beautiful because of how it is simultaneously a dreamy lullaby and a touching elegy, and the instruments are played great too. The drums are a hushed chugging beat, the bassline is warm and simple and the guitar echoes between speakers in waves and is beautifully strummed.

The final breath of life on the original release, Dagger, is played similarly. Only an acoustic guitar, layered vocals, and very subtle background sound is present here. These two songs prove that Slowdive is not only capable of beauty when they pile up the guitars and assault the ears with a beautiful wall of sound. But that extreme is also utilized with significant success. The first song Alison is the most poppy thing on the album if anything here could be remotely considered poppy, and was accompanied by a so-so music video. To me, this is the kind of album that deserves visual treatment in the mind only. Alison is a fine song and a good way to start the album off as it is in many ways representative to what the rest of the album has to offer. It is dense in pretty guitars, has a nice little melody and is a good piece of poetry. The segue into Machine Gun and then into the explosion of happy energy 40 Days is an impressive set of songs to start the album off on. But easily the most loud song on the album is Souvlaki Space Station, the muscle that complements some of Souvlaki’s more tender songs. But the song contains some contradiction in it’s structure. While it is loud and very dense, it also does a huge amount with very little. The entire song is simply one repeating riff that builds itself up and takes itself apart periodically, and it somehow manages to be very dreamy and hypnotic. Another popular song is When The Sun Hits, equally as loud as Souvlaki Space Station but instead a melancholy burst of desperation, another truly accomplished shoegaze masterwork.

It is only expected that this album has one or two weaker tracks. It is nothing short of a miracle that this album kept it up for seven tracks before degenerating mildly. And I really would say mildly, because both Altogether and Melon Yellow are darn good songs in their own right and only comparatively weak to the streak of perfection that preceded them. And hey, it might just be me, because people often cite Melon Yellow as a stronger track. I also think it would be a good thing to straighten out some questions about the different issues of the album. Souvlaki was first put out in 1993 on CD, vinyl, and cassette with the album ending on Dagger. It was then re-released in 1994 stateside with four extra tracks from the 5 EP, and they are in some ways essential to the mood of the album. The cover of Some Velvet Morning isn’t that exciting or great, and really neither is the nearly disturbing little instrumental Missing You. But the other two are truly worthy of being on Souvlaki. Good Day Sunshine is a relaxing trance-like foray into dream pop avante-garde and a gorgeously disorienting masterpiece of mood. Country Rain is also wonderfully gentle and exceptional. But the ultimate way to experience the album is the 2006 double disk reissue, with the original release on one disk and Outside Your Room, 5, and In Mind Remixes EPs all included. This is really nice because many of these songs are well worth checking out and are otherwise a pain to get ahold of, making the reissue even more of a treasure. Also of note are the rare Souvlaki Demos which truly increase the scope of what the album had to say through some fascinating b-sides that are unfortunatley of very mediocre sound quality but probably worth tracking down in any case.

I really don’t think the accomplishments of Slowdive on Souvlaki can be understated. The truth is, this is just as good and essential to the genre as Loveless, and is an all out wonderful album. Souvlaki is one of the few albums that goes off in many directions while keeping it’s focus, and it ends up being a dark, melodic, crushing, gentle, soaring, sexual, and contemplative masterpiece that is completely representative of Slowdive’s unique style. While Slowdive had already made some great music and would make some more in the future, everything in their career points back to this album. This is one of the best albums of it’s kind and should not be missed by anyone who wants to know anything about shoegaze.

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Mojave 3 – Puzzles Like You

January 10, 2007

Puzzles Like You

Yeah yeah, always two steps behind. I’ve heard it before. Whenever I review something that is moderately new, it is always just old enough so that people have gotten over it already. Whatever. I guess it just takes me a while to get acquainted to new stuff, or maybe it just takes me a while to get ahold of new stuff. Either way, if you didn’t know, Mojave 3, pronounced Moh-hah-vee, is Neil Halsteads band, and has been for the past ten years. And for those of you who don’t know who Neil Halstead is, he was the lead songwriter of Slowdive. Mojave 3 has three original members from Slowdive, I believe, so it is essentially the same songwriters doing things in a completely new context. Puzzles Like You is their latest work and it came out earlier in 06. I like it, I’ll admit it, but I’m still struggling to come at grips with it. Being a huge Slowdive fan, I am used to Halsteads songwriting in the shoegaze genre, and to hear this kind of thing still disturbs me, as this is a country/pop album. While even after twenty years Neil Halsteads songwriting ability hasn’t gone down the tubes, I still have some issues with this album, most unfamiliarity, but in the end if you like either country or pop, you will like this a whole lot. I enjoy the pop aspect of it, so I DO like it, but once again, I still have some gripes.

Maybe part of the problem is me, and how I personally react to the music. I can’t help but think Neil Halstead is trying to pretend he is American or something, and I make fun of him for it sometimes. There is nothing wrong with changing your style, especially when you are fricking Neil Halstead and your ability can work in multiple genres. But I just feel robbed somehow. He’s trying to write American styled music and it’s feeling kind of awkward to me. His accent doesn’t always completely fit the music, and it just makes me cringe when he sings “she likes a man with his trousers shorter” in Kill The Lights and then scurries off into an organ diddy. I’m still getting used to this stuff. That’s another part of my problem…I’m so used to Slowdive. They have been one of my personal favorite bands for a long time, and I’m really used to a completely different context of music, so when I hear this I feel like I have been lied to or am being lied to because it is so different. I think part of that is I wasn’t around to hear all of the early Mojave 3 stuff and I’d probably be able to hear the transition. I’m not so sure I have an interest in the transition anyway, though. It’s folk rock, and that’s fine, but no matter how long Neil lives in California and rides the waves and acts like an American folk artist, I still can’t detatch him from Slowdive, nor do I ever want to.

But this is good, better than the other Mojave 3 record I have heard, Out Of Tune, anyway. I’m just… I’m so not used to this shit! I can’t say it any plainer. The good thing about this record is it’s outward poppiness, wereas before the bands goal was more quiet strums and less incessant riffs. More of a sunset kind of thing. Now this is the band in full swing and as good as they have ever been as far as I’m concerned. Even if it’s good though, I feel like I can’t relate to it on a personal level like I could Slowdive. I’ve heard others say that this is a more stripped down Slowdive, with the feelings less burried. BULLSHIT. This is not anywhere close to Slowdive no matter how you slice or dice it. If anything, I feel like Slowdive is more honest and open. For that reason, I would kill for another Slowdive album whereas Mojave 3 I just don’t care so much about. It’s the style. If Neil wants to write music this way, that’s fine. I just SO don’t feel obligated to stop bitching about missing the old style.

To put it more simply and playfully, I find that Slowdive is more night music and Mojave 3 is more daytime music. From what I have heard, each Slowdive or Mojave 3 record can cover a different part of the day. Just A Day feels something like three or four A.M. Souvlaki is ten P.M. while Pygmalion is midnight. Out of Tune is maybe six P.M., depending on the season. Once again, it’s sunset music, and make what you will of that. Puzzles Like You might be one in the afternoon, or maybe just noon. That’s good. It’s a completely different angle, but it’s a good angle. Once again, I can’t come to grips with it. There are some very cool parts of this album, most of them rather Beatles-esque. Some particulars are Ghost Ship Waiting, Puzzles Like You, and To Hold Your Tiny Toes. It’s pop romance, and it’s really good. Almost every song on the album is good.

And that’s the truth of it, it’s a very good album. I’m just not used to this yet, so it deterred my listening experience. You have no idea how hard it is for me to say that this is very good and well written when I feel so naive for believing in Slowdive so much when Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell have moved away from it. Chances are, at least one of these two great bands will speak to you. I’d even go so far as to say both do speak to me. I really just need to lighten up and get used to Mojave 3. It’s a matter of personal preference. Please don’t take my complaints too seriously. They are the words of a man who is simply too touchy, and he needs to change his way of looking at things so that he can enjoy albums that are clearly good, like this. I feel like I’m sitting across a room from an old crush or something, thinking about how much they have changed. Listen to The Mutineer, the fantastic closer. That’s essentially how I feel. I’m warming up to this, and Slowdive fans surely will, but it just takes a little while.

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Christmas Playlist

November 14, 2006

I make a lot of playlists on my iPod, but to be honest, the majority of them are total crap. Most of the time, I just kinda randomly put a bunch of songs that I am into at the moment onto a playlist and leave it extremely unbalanced and uneven, and nothing really connects the tracks at all. But every once and a while I end up with an arrangement of songs worth keeping. Not THAT often, but sometimes. I don’t know if this playlist is one of them, but I tried at least.

Really, the idea at first was to make it a playlist for Winter in general, but then it sort of escalated to a Christmas thing, just because really, the best part of Winter is when it starts in December through Christmas. Or rather, the holidays. I guess I want to be politically correct anyway (not that anyone should ever really care), but the gist of the album is to cover the time before the big holidays. Christmas just happens to be the religious holiday that I celebrate, albeit non-religiously, so that was the end result. I sort of had an image or an idea in my mind when I made this playlist, which is essentially the first step to making a great playlist anyway. You need to have a solid idea or at least a set of them, and a certain flow to the songs. And it needs to develop and progressively go somewhere. I’m not going to post the entire playlist here because I honestly don’t think it flows very well, but I’ll talk about some select tracks.

Baby It’s Cold Outside by Leon Redbone & Zooey Deschanel

Every good Christmas compilation needs a low key piano jazz holiday song like this. In fact, you could damn well make a CD full of stuff just like this. People do. But personally, the mood of these types of songs are something that I can easily get tired of. But this is a great song, no doubt. It was originally made in 1949 and is pretty much the perfect winter warm-up lazy duet. This particular version was on the soundtrack to the movie Elf, but there have been countless renditions since Frank Loesser wrote it so long ago. Througout the song, the female singer traditionally sings the main melody, while a typically deep voiced male accompaniment sort of passively comments on all of the womans standard lines of the Christmas tune with musings of his own. Truly a classic, and a great version of it at that. The perfect song for when you wake up to snow for the first time in November or December and think to yourself, “Aw shit, it’s the holiday season, isn’t it?”

Airbag by Radiohead

This was the first song I ever properly listened to by Radiohead, and I remember thinking to myself when I heard it, wow, this is really something special. I could rant for a while about how OK Computer is one of the greatest albums ever, but you all have surely had enough of that by now. Typically, this is the best song for me for getting up in the morning to a busy day. Not only is it a great and pretty underrated tune, but it’s Christmas-y. It even has the sleighbells, which are actually pretty hard to effectively work into a tune. The lyrics still always get me, especially when he says “An Airbag saved my life.” A really nice tune for any time of the year, but it is very fitting to winter in particular.

Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight) by Asobi Seksu

I think you could argue that the heroes of the indie rock scene in New York this year are Asobi Seksu. Not only did they release a dropdead gorgeous album, Citrus, but they are touring and have a lot of merchandise and treats for people directly from their website. The most interesting of these treats is what I have a reason to believe was the first officially released Asobi Seksu song ever, although I think they had another name before Asobi Seksu so I very well could be wrong. The release is a joint EP of two Christmas songs released only on transparent green vinyl. PAS/CAL did a song, and Asobi Seksu did this one. It’s really very cute, as you would not normally expect shoegaze to cover Christmas song territory, but this band does and it works out pretty well, in a power punk/pop sort of way. You can just hear the guitars taking over when Yuki’s voice yelling the title of the song fades into the pillow of sound below. Nice, very nice.

Goodbye by Kevin Shields

You all know I just can’t possibly make a playlist these days without including something by one of my new favorite bands. Well, this isn’t actually by MBV, but I did include Soon, so you can count that in (come on, the sleighbells are just way too delicious). But I decided to include this too, from the Lost In Translation soundtrack. Of the four 2003 Kevin Shields orchestrations, this one might just be the most pretty. It’s not straightforward pop like City Girl and not electronic beauty like Are You Awake, but it is just very relaxing synthesizer ear candy. Decidedly it is very remeniscent of Becalmed and Zawinul/Lava by Brian Eno, but that’s good. You can really say a lot without saying anything, especially when you aren’t even using traditional instruments, in music. The piece is very momentuous, a bit somber, and also wonderfully reminiscent of times that one doesn’t want to go away. Get the Lost In Translation soundtrack if you can, it’s great. Filled with lots of priceless gems like this.

Lorelei by Cocteau Twins

Cocteau Twins are one of those bands that are so beautiful that it is painful. I don’t even know much about them and I can say that with the utmost confidence. And not because you want more Cocteau… There is more than enough material by the band to go around. These guys can simply make your heart melt by being themselves, beautiful, ethereal, and completely priceless. That explains why a “CocteauFest” is held every year. Expect me to review these guys again soon. They just seem like the band that I will end up getting obsessed with soon enough. Which is, as you all know, not good for my continued recovery, so I’ll keep it to Library checkouts and Christmas gifts for now. Anyway, fantastic song. Very Christmas-y, and it even has wintery synthesizers in the backdrop and guitars that are wispy like a first snow. This is how vocals should really be treated in dreampop…not even real words, but the tongue of ones own mind and feelings, completely unintelligible to anyone else but undeniably full of feeling.

Christmas At The Zoo by The Flaming Lips

If you haven’t gone to your local zoo in the dead of winter, well, you really should. It’s great. First off, it gets you off your ass and away from the eggnog for a few hours, which has got to be good for you, and the entire experience is just a lot of fun. No one is there, or at least very few people are, because it’s just cold, so you can kind of not worry about crowds. Beyond that, the animals love it when people visit them during such an otherwise dull and unpopular time of year to go to the zoo. Maybe this song is a little too fun and jangley to adequately capture such a visit, but it’s a necessity for this playlist. Strangely enough, although the subject matter is just as silly and cute as any other Lips song, this is one of the more straightforward and conventional the band has ever made.

Lovelife by Lush

I always thought that this song would be great for the soundtrack to a romantic comedy or something, which is a shame, because I typically dislike romantic comedies. But I make almost all of my playlists with images of a movie that I imagine in mind. No sleighbells in here, but it almost seems like there are, and the lyrics are diaphanous and sweet. The lyrics are very thought provoking too, comparing love and it’s ups and downs to different aspects of nature and life.

Good Day Sunshine by Slowdive

No, it’s not a cover of the song by The Beatles. It’s an original Halstead instrumental offof the 5 EP, also on the release of Souvlaki with the bonus tracks. In my mind, the ‘movie’ that this playlist is for comes to a hard point right before the end, and the main character ends up having a really shitty Christmas eve. But they wake up really really early in the morning, maybe before sunrise, and for whatever reason, everything is beautiful. The streets are empty, the decorations are all up, and even though almost no one is anywhere but home, all of the Christmas lights and neon signs are still lit. And then they go into the shell of a shopping mall, where only a few scattered stores are open, and the sun starts to rise. And it goes through the glass windows perfectly. And this song is playing through the entire ending sequence. And that’s all I’ve got, I guess that’s how my daydream ends.

Well, I didn’t (and couldn’t possibly) cover each and every song on the playlist, but I hit some more interesting ones I guess. Maybe it is just a tad early to be worrying about Christmas and the holiday season, but soon enough I’ll be gift shopping, and I’ll play this in the car.

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Slowdive – Blue Day

September 11, 2006

Man, being a fan of bands that have so little material is hard. It really is. You have to cling onto every little bit you can get. Some bands are great and yet still have a ton of material. That really feels great. To love a band that has a lot of material, even if a lot of it is mediocre, is a great feeling because there is always something to fall back on. When the hits get old and the bad songs get you down, theres the middle ground to fall back on, and it’s one of the most relieving things a fan can have. What means more, a band that consistantly pulled off fantastic material for the span of only a few albums, or a band that pulled off fantastic material in greater numbers but less consistantly? It’s hard to say. But I really can’t stress it enough… When one of your favorite bands only has so much material, even if all of it is great, it feels lonely sometimes, even lonelier if the band isn’t well known.

When it comes to Slowdive, an admittedly low key and somewhat short-lived band, there just isn’t too much material. But you have to remember that the band never really broke up so much as took a completely different turn and made a transformation from the dark, ethereal, and stormy approach to a more country and pop related field. So yeah, you can go off and listen to Mojave 3 and call it a day, but it’s not going to feel the same. Slowdive is a band that still strongly hovers in great strength, and a point of view shift isn’t going to change that. But no matter what Mojave 3 does, there will always be some type of relief in the releases of Slowdive. If you really look hard enough, there can be some very interesting live stuff and other stuff in low quality, but the bulk of the bands material can be divided up into four groups. The first three groups would be of the bands three albums, Just For A Day, Souvlaki (including the 5 EP, three tracks of which were included on the extended cut of Souvlaki anyway), and Pygmalion, the latter of which I reviewed not too long ago. The last group would be everything in between, all of the b-sides and material from the EPs the band made that kind of jump all over the place. The band actually had a considerable amount of EPs, and when you think of how well planned out and themed each album was, everything else the band made was really of it’s own world. Of course it’s Slowdive, but when you aren’t on a schedule and you don’t have to mix that goddam album, you can kind of get out whatever feelings you want and write whatever you want without having to fit a theme around it.

Before Slowdive decided to get serious with their music and start recording albums, they were a band that played for fun. They took a lot of influence from some earlier ambient bands and a lot from My Bloody Valentine too. You can really hear the Brian Eno and the MBV when you listen to some of the earlier tracks. What Blue Day is is essentially a collection of all the best material that was released on EPs before Just For A Day. So decidedly the tracks are all from their own little worlds because they were never tried to fit together coherently or anything. But that is good, because it makes each song even more of a treat. Keep in mind though, that the problem with this compilation is that it stands in obscurity. There was only so much Slowdive material that was even released before Just For A Day.

In fact, there were only three releases; the Slowdive, Morningrise, and Holding Our Breath EPs collectively contain a grand total of ten tracks. Blue Day has seven. Really, the importance of the three that are missing aren’t that vital. Avalyn II is an extended version of the already included Avalyn I. Catch The Breeze is already included on Just For A Day anyway, and there is no reason to include an A-side in such a collection. And Golden Hair is a Syd Barret cover that is pretty good but not as essential as the rest of the material, as it’s construction is a tad shakey. But fans who would go far enough to get Blue Day would probably be worried about the sake of completion anyway, so it would be annoying not to have those two songs. Granted, Golden Hair can also be found on the 2004 Best Of compilation Catch The Breeze, but while the double disk release isn’t exactly hard to find, it is still grossly expensive, catching a price of over twenty dollars where ever you could find it. It is a bloated release considering that the three albums might as well be bought anyway. So while the lack of Avalyn II and Golden Hair is really not that troublesome, it is still annoying. Beyond that, only so many copies of Blue Day were made. There were several packaged with Souvlaki on it’s first release for whatever reason, and then it was commercially released in Japan and several European countries. So the only way you can really get it is as an import. So what is more worth it? Tracking down the three EPs in their entirety and getting all of the tracks, or finding this rarity and having almost all the tracks that are worth having? That is really a decision you would have to make on your own. And you could also further make the arguement that the 2006 re-release of Just For A Day contains everything on this disk plus all three missing tracks and even more. But I would say this collection is worth the effort it takes to find it, just because it is an antique of sorts and has seven completely ingenious songs.

As far as the music itself goes, every song is brilliant. And not just great, I mean brilliant. You can make some arguements for songs on Just For A Day being shakey and not so good, but all of the bands music from before Just For A Day is grand. The song Slowdive is one of the bands indesputed best, a happy and optimistic take on a dream. Avalyn I is a gorgeous melancholy instrumental. Morningrise is a soaring piece where the MBV influence really shows. She Calls is very much in the vein of Slowdive, a more down to earth sexual glossy song. Losing Today is a dark and beautiful elegy. Shine is almost a lullaby, and is very simmilar to one of the bands later hits “Machine Gun.” And finally, Albatross might be the disks weakest tune, and even then it is an interesting venture, experimenting with different beats and approaches.

So… Really if you like Slowdive you will need these songs somehow. I guess I really wrote all this in response to the songs, not any particular release. But Blue Day is well worth it if you can manage to get your hands on it. It is rare and therefore worth the money, and any really hardcore Slowdive fans wouldn’t be beyond trying to track it down. But really, it’s easier to just get the Just For A Day re-release, which has not only a better sounding Just For A Day but a bonus disk filled with almost all really early Slowdive recordings. The only things missing are the Beach Song and Take Me Down recordings, which are very MBV inspired and poorly recorded vintage Slowdive that was scrapped for the Slowdive EP, and then maybe a few other really low key recordings. So if you are planning on getting Just For A Day or Souvlaki, GET THE RE-RELEASES. GET THE RE-RELEASES. GET THE RE-RELEASES. Even if they are more expensive, you won’t get bitten in the ass later. Slowdive was a band that was still inspired even in their earliest days, and while you really can’t get much better than the actual albums, the odds n ends are essential too, and if you like any of the albums, it’s worth getting them in some way.

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Slowdive – Pygmalion

August 14, 2006


All things considered, the way that Slowdive ended their career was fairly unusual and unique. Whether or not it was a good move is a completely different story, but I would like to think that there is something respectable about doing something really different for a final album. A lot of what bands try to do on albums that they know might be their last is try to summarize what they have already done, or cover the styles of their entire career. Or at least follow on in the same genre without switching up the style way too much. But Slowdive played their cards a little differently. I’m pretty sure that their attitudes changed when they knew the band was coming to an end, and yet they still produced a record that was far more individual than it’s predecessors Just For A Day and Souvlaki. It is an enjoyable but slightly inconsistant ambient work that while is not ingenious or groundbreaking like those predecessors, switches it up a little. As a present for the fans, if nothing else. I want to call it a treat, but a treat is what you get when you obey. Pygmalion is a present, that I’m sure of. It’s not that great of a present unless you were expecting it, but a present nonetheless, coming straight from the giver with love.

The mood of the music has changed drastically since Souvlaki, the bands second and most popular studio LP. Souvlaki is basically a Greek shishkabob of meat and vegetables and stuff. I guess I can see where that comes into the music on the album. I want to say that Slowdives music is varied but it really isn’t. It’s all very individual, but it all covers the same amazing flowing tremendous ground. So every song on Souvlaki was delicious, but it was all different. Just covered in the same sauce and on the same stick. Souvlaki is probably one of my favorite albums ever, and it is the perfect album for a rainy Saturday evening. In fact, I make a point to listen to Slowdive whenever it is rainy out at night, and play Mischief Makers for N64 if at all possible. Pygmalion, in case you didn’t know, is a character in Greek mythology who follows an interesting story. Pygmalion was a world famous sculptor, one of the best ever, and he might be a little gay but that is debatable. He creates a statue in the form of a naked woman (what is there to say, the Greeks and Latins were just horny.) and it is so beautiful, so proportionally realistic and gorgeous that he falls in love with it. And where would you expect this story to end? With Pygmalion turning into some kind of flower or bird or something, out of grief for the fact that he can not love his creation.

HOWEVER. The story of Pygmalion as told in Ovid does not end in tragedy like 95% of his stories do. Instead, Aphrodite feels sorry for Pygmalion and his sorrows for not being able to communicate with his beautiful creation. So she turns the statue to life, and the statue is henseforth known as Galatea. They marry happily and the two have a son, named Paphos.

And then what happens? I have no idea. It even sounds a little strange to me that no one dies or is turned into something or is chased off into the woods and violated. The story really has no lesson, and it ends with a somewhat happy conclusion. With all that said, I’m not really sure how the story of Pygmalion has anything to do with the album by Slowdive. Anyway, this album is very ambient, and it sort of does follow in the footsteps of the other albums while really doing something completely different. What is still here is vaguely the same type of songwriting, but what is different is the fact that it is produced and put out in a completely different way. When I first listened to it, I thought to myself, yeah, this is Slowdive. I can hear it. But missing are the soaring and almost tragically beautiful guitars and muscular beat. A lot of what distinguished Slowdives previous work was the fact that it felt very important. Like what was going on was breathtaking, the images were immensely important feeling. But Pygmalion sort of strips that all down. While Slowdive is beautiful in it’s earlier forms, the reason this is interesting is because it doesn’t feel so important. I can’t relax to Souvlaki, unless maybe it’s Machine Gun or Good Day Sunshine, simply because the music is purposefully tense.

A lot of what is on Pygmalion is far more electronic and relaxing. There are no longer layers of guitars and feedback like before, and instead of that soaring stuff, we now have a homier piece. It sounds like Slowdive without all the intensity, and the electronic touch really brings out the songwriters intentions well. What they are able to do with synthesizers is interesting to say the least. But what the album doesn’t do very good is keep structure. The entire thing is a little flimsy as far as the flow of the album goes as things sort of switch up a lot, but it generally keeps the more quiet and relaxing feel. I guess what I’m trying to say is, one of my few complaints is the fact that the tracks weren’t sequenced well enough.

But there are a lot of treats to be found here. Rutti is one of the best songs the band ever wrote, and while it is a little different, it stays very ambient and relaxing and floaty. It’s a long and extremely satisfying venture that changes as it goes along and it does pretty well in it’s sequence in comparrison to the rest of the album. It’s a great track to open the entire thing. And it is very long, ten minutes actually, so fans should be very happy with the delivery. The next song, Crazy For You, is pretty good as well and is known by Slowdive fans to be one of the better songs on this album. The instrumentation is fantastic, and it would probably be the best song on the album if not for the aggrivating layered vocals that kind of ruin the experience a tad. But once again, the instrumentation is cool enough to make it a good song.

And then there is a contrast. The next song is called Miranda and from a standpoint that the previous song forcasts, it is very different and disturbing. I rented the movie Identity before I listend to this song for the first time. It hit me, this song should have been in that movie. The psychological creep is exactly fitting. Miranda is rather beautiful, but only so much. It’s very creepy, and is what you would expect to hear in any thriller in the downtime between when people are getting picked off by a killer. Trellisaze is pretty bad, it has a great synth line that is ruined by completely out of place beats and sound effects. Then there is Cello which is pretty interesting. It almost calls out to the listener in a somber way. This track is truly Slowdive in it’s most stripped down form, only really featuring synthesizers. You can easily immagine guitars piled on top of the notes with a strong beat like many other Slowdive songs, and however they are not. It is lonely, yet beautiful, and it really makes you wonder, even if it is only a short blurb.

J’s Heaven is another track that is pretty good, and if it isn’t it breaks even. It creates an atmosphere pretty well, and also features a psychological creep that this time isn’t quite as encroaching as Miranda. And then comes Visions of La, another little blurb much like Cello, but this time it is a lovely little melancholy spanish guitar piece. Blue Skied ‘An Clear probably catches the mood of the album best, in it’s ambient synthesizers and relaxing vocals and sound effects, with a soft beat to carry it all home. It is very relaxing and dreamy and is easily the best track on the album. And then the album ends with All Of Us, a serene yet sad song that while is not overly ingenious, is very good and does the band justice considering it is the last song released on the bands last album.

So how good is Pygmalion? …In retrospect, it isn’t really THAT great, but it is good. When I think about it, the casual listener probably won’t like this at all, but that doesn’t stop this disk from being flat out good. So if you weren’t a rabid fan of this kind of music, like of Slowdive or ambient stuff, you would probably give this a rating somewhere in the fives. If you are a fan of ambient music or Slowdive like me, you would probably put this somewhere in the eights. So it’s a compromise. I really wanted to rate this somewhere in the eights too, but I realize I sort of can’t if I want to be fair.

But you also need to keep in mind that this is a very rare album. Not that many copies were made. I won’t say how, but one of the reasons I listen to so much music is because I have connections to every single library in the country and all of their CDs. Guess what? Not one library in the entire country had this album. So that is just something you need to think of. But if you really consider yourself a fan of Slowdive, and I myself do, then this is extremely worth it. It’s a collectors item, so the ultimate price that any real fan of the music would have to pay is twenty five to thirty dollars on ebay or amazon for this rare LP. Or the effort it takes to borrow this from someone. To be quite honest, fans of Slowdive really NEED to track this down by whatever means they can.

All in all, it is probably the least well structured and well written of all of Slowdives albums, and it is a difficult listen at first, but considering the flack it got when it came out ten years ago, this really isn’t a bad album. But you should really only listen let alone buy this if you love Slowdive or if you are a really hardcore ambient fan. The smooth electronic themes and great production on this album really speak to the right listener, and while it does not have the same heartfelt and beautiful mood of previous Slowdive albums, it may actually be an even more suitable album for the night. As long as there is some rain anyway.