Sunday, December 26, 2004

Humbug !

Its 'Boxing Day' here in the UK, and like many people I've has a little too much xmas cheer and woken up with the blues...

So here's the top 5 songs for Scrooges,

1. Cold Turkey - John Lennon (put that bird down... not even in a curry)

2. Lets make Christmas mean something this year pts 1&2 - James Brown ('lets make xmas mean something' sing his band - and James screams back 'NO, NO, NO, NO. NOOOOOO' - freak!)

3. Fighting in a sack - The Shins (I don't want to know what's in Santa's sacks thank-you!)

4. Jesus Christ - Big Star (Chilton sounding as sarcastic as ever, especially on the line "and were all gonna bet born" - when big stars die they form black holes - like my bank account at xmas)

5. Mistletoe and Wine - Cliff Richard (Mistletoe + Wine = a fairly good poison - perfect antidote for the boxing day blues)

bah humbug!

xo

Jon

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Olivia Tremor Control – Dusk at Cubist Castle

I waited so long for this album to be re-released so I could get hold of it in the UK. Id got some real-media samples of it from Amazon.com, and I thought it sounded good but nothing prepared me for the album proper. It fries my brain. Anyone familiar with the bands associated with Elephant 6 records will also be familiar with the formula. Sweet pop hooks with American underground lo-fi credentials, odd bedroom style space-rock and psychedelia from bands like Apples in Stereo and Essex Green. What all of these bands have in common is the DIY approach to song-writing; the “everything but the kitchen sink” and some of that too if it sounds good approach that has characterised the American underground scene for the past 15 years or so. Dusk at Cubist Castle represents the zenith of this approach.



The Olivia Tremor control and its various offshoots notably ‘Pipes you see, Pipes You don’t’, have the Beatles ‘thing’ going on. And yet, unlike the sorry British creations like Oasis they do not bastardise it and rip it off. The Olivia Tremor Control use this influence creatively. The songs are embalmed with the same playful use of strange sounds that characterise Lennon and McCartney’s white album phase. They infuse their songs with the same warped sense of humour and playfulness which made Beatles Classics like ‘Hey Prudence’ so enjoyable to listen to. They do not however just steal; everything sounds very contemporary and very American underground. The loose edges are never cleaned up; the songs drift in and out like glimpses of workings out in an artist’s sketch-pad. If it has a sonic blueprint it would probably be Pavements ‘slanted and enchanted’ but to limit it to that would only do it a disservice.

The album begins with an eleven song popfest.

‘Opera House’ kicks off the album. It’s like a lo-fi nightmare of detuned guitars, wailing droning keyboards and slack kneed drums; which collide with cranks, levers and pulleys; dogs barking and glocks tinkling. I’m sure if you listened hard enough you’d here someone banging on that kitchen sink. It’s pure Brian Eno era ‘Roxy Music’. Its sounds like a manifesto of intent, leaving the listener with no false assurances that this is going to be an easy listening experience.

‘Jumping fences’ is prime time 2 minutes of power pop, yet ever present are those strange sounds (like that kooky rattle in the chorus) just in the background that can pop up at any minute just to remind you that this could disintegrate at any minute.

‘Define a Transparent Dream’ is where the ‘Beatles rip off’ police start rubbing their hands poised for the kill. It all sounds suitably ‘White Album’ before the chorus comes in takes us off in another tangent and messes it all up again.

The start of the album throws up pop gem after pop gem, ‘No Growing (Exegesis)’ is just such a gorgeous melody, and comes complete with complimentary car horns in the chorus. ‘Can you come down with us’ sounds like 1968 era Pink Floyd, all icy psychedelic detachment with elongated trippy outro. ‘Marking Time’ and its ‘I get high’ coda, heralds the end of the pop bit and the start of the ten song cycle which is ’21 Green Typewriters’.

By most artists standards ’21 Green Typewriters’ would make an albums worth of material itself. It has most in common with the more experimental side projects like ‘Pipes you see and Pipes you don’t’ due to its sudden loss of sheen. There’s no getting away from the sudden launch into absolute lo-fi wickedness that ’21 Green Typewriters’ represents. Its challenging and disconcerting and seems like an intentional attempt to dislodge the listener fro the cosy world created with the first eleven songs. Movement ‘8’ is just nine minutes of ambient noise. Movement ‘9’ begins with the line “how much longer can I wait”. It’s an elaborate joke at the audiences expense – and the punch-line is that its followed by another seven songs with absolute classic pop credentials.

These last seven tracks are less focussed than the first eleven songs and are particularly downbeat, but they are still great pop songs. 'N-Y-C 25' is the standout track, with its eerie string sections and catchy pop “pleasant dreams don’t sleep to long” chorus and psyched out Lennon-esque backing vocal. ‘Cant explain’ is pure Austin Powers wig-out material.

Its a brilliant and highly rewarding journey through the American undergrounds lo-fi obsessions and classic pop song-writing. Should you buy it? Well, its great value for money as you get over an hour and twenty minutes of music and the sheer scope of the 27 tracks is incredible. Is it a concept album?… well erm, yes I think it loosely portrays the stages of a psychedelic high, with the first eleven tracks being the ‘coming up’ stage ; the ’21 Green Typewriters’ section being the ‘High’ and the seven more downbeat songs that follow as a ‘come down’ stage. All I know is that its been stuck on my stereo for a month, and Im still finding new things to listen to in it. I make all my friends endure it. I love it. Dusk at Cubist Castle is a classic.

Now if only I could get the ‘Pipes you see, Pipes you don’t’ CD over here in England.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Top ten Sunday morning songs and hangover cures

I woke up this morning,
got out of bed,
got sheets full of urine,
and a steak knife in my head.

oooooh, ooooooh...

and we say we'll never do it again, but we will, and when we do our only salvation will be rock n' roll... So here's my top ten Sunday morning songs/hangover cures.

1. Sunday morning - The Velvet Underground

2. Im only sleeping - The Beatles

3. Can't get out of bed - The Charlatans

4. Sleep the clock around - Belle and Sebastian

5. Strange feeling - Tim Buckley (oh no, here comes spew)

6. Mexican Seafood - Nirvana (this is what you'll see after talking to god on the big white telephone)

7. One bourbon, one scotch and one beer - John Lee Hooker (that'll cure it!!)

8. Cigarettes and coffee - Otis Redding (night before or morning after, its not gonna save you now)

9. Where did you sleep last night? - Leadbelly (the time I ask myself this question)

10. Hand in your head - Money Mark (or your head in your hands, swearing you'll never do it again)

Much love

J

xo

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Elliott Smith - Cover of "Care of Cell 44"

For those of you who are interested in Elliott Smiths cover version of "Care of Cell 44" from Odessey and Oracle as mentioned in the review below...

here you go!

Elliott Smith - Care of Cell 44 (Zombies Cover)

The Zombies - Odessey and Oracle

OK... I know I haven’t posted for a month... and it’s rude to start a weblog and then never post... but I can change, i mean it!

How about we start at the top, with a classic, perhaps the most famous classic in all the world of music...

Well maybe it’s just me, then...

See I always go through phases, every listener does! and for the last 18 months its been a Zombies phase!



The Zombies were 60’s beat group from St Albans in the UK, who began their musical career by winning a London Evening Standard competition to find the ‘new’ Beatles. They were built around the songwriting partnership of Rod Argent (Keyboards) and Chris White (bass). Their first single became a huge success in the US and became associated with the British invasion, where they were the second British group of the 60's to score a #1 hit record. ‘She’s not there’ didn’t do quite so well in the UK and only reached the number 12 spot. Their third single ‘Tell Her No’ held a similar fate scoring a top ten placing in the US chart, yet strangely failing to make the top 40 in the UK. (see This Fan Page)

The next four years would find the Zombies on the brink of being dropped by Decca their UK label, only managing to keep their contract by recording superb singles. By 1967 The Zombies were disillusioned and on the verge of break-up….

And then as if by magic!

Well no… they still broke up, but not before recording one of the most underrated albums of all time, a classic slab of pure pop perfection, a milestone in popular music Odessey and Oracle.



So is it that good?

Well yes it is! Three words describe it 'strange yet wonderful'. A good record or film is the one which leaves you feeling like you’ve just spent your time doing something worth while, something engaging. Odessey and Oracle does this every time and the key reason for me is the extremes of emotion to which it is able to carry me and still maintain my interest. Its strange, difficult, challenging, moody and also catchy, uplifting, and brilliant.

Take the opener ‘Care of Cell 44’ (regularly covered by Elliott Smith). It is the catchiest pop song this side of the Beatles ‘Revolver’ and yet it’s just… well… odd! It begins quite normally with a delicious build up, each individual instrument making its own mark, from the ‘cutest’ of piano riffs, joined by a crashing drum beat and a bass line that can’t help but make you smile. However, when Colin Blunstone starts singing you suddenly realize that this is like nothing you might have heard on 'Revolver'. The lyrics for a start:

Good morning to you, I hope your feeling better baby/
Thinking of me while you are far away/
Counting the days until they set you set you free again/
Writing this letter hoping your O.K/

Saved you the room you used to stay in every Sunday/
The one that is warmed by sunshine every day/
And well get to know each other for a second time/
Then you an tell me about your prison stay/

The song confuses on many levels. Who is singing the song? Colin Blunstone waiting for a lover to come home from prison? in which case is it a man or a woman? Or is it a woman waiting for a man to come home? Or is it an even more abstract musing on the modern relationship being like a prison, with Blunstone as the partner/prison guard setting up the room at home? Then just when you’ve let your guard down, ‘that’ chorus comes along and whips the top off your already befuddled head… strange and yet wonderful see !

Other strange yet wonderful things pop up all over this album… The skewed ‘Rose for Emily’ sounding like a deeper more profound 'Eleanor Rigby'. When Colin Blunstone’s silky-smooth vocals are offset by a choir of angels in the chorus guiding ‘Emily’ towards her end it sounds like heaven. The psychedelic treat which is ‘Beechwood Park’ and ‘Hung up on a dream’, has Blunstone sounding icy and detached, while his fellow Zombies splutter lysergic crescendos around him. ‘This will be our year’ is deceptive in its simple perfection, and just plain sexy. And the oddity which is ‘Butchers Tale (Western Front 1914)’ sounding like something pinched from a stage musical in which a gothic pump organ surrounds an almost frenzied Blunstone, who narrates the twisted tale of the ‘Butcher’, a soldier in World War one who sees no difference between the war time slaughter and his work back at home.

‘Time of the season’ finishes the album. It feels huge, lush and extravagant, almost cinematic in its scope and yet a closer listen finds the same sparse arrangements that characterise the rest of the album, built up around Blunstones 'cool', 'hip', whispers and moans. It builds to the grooviest dirtiest organ solo never to grace a Doors record and would have made the great Ray Manzerek proud. This perfect three and a half minutes of pop was eventually issued as a single after the albums release and ended the Zombies four year absence form the charts. With another Top 5 hit in the US (still no love in the UK) CBS began begging The Zombies to reform, by which time the band had been parted for over 12 months and Rod Argent moved onto new projects. An ironic and yet fitting end to one of the most severely underrated albums, by one of the most overlooked bands in pop music history.


Wednesday, November 17, 2004

and so it begins...

that was can you dig it by Georgie Wood and now we'd like to do "hark the angels come..."