Saturday, June 21, 2008

Slowdive "Just For A Day" (Creation, 1991)

Artist: Slowdive
Album: "Just For A Day"
Release Date: September 2, 1991
Label: Creation
Genre: Dream-Pop, Shoegaze, Indie-Rock
Mood: Intimate, Ethereal, Gentle, Bittersweet
Reminds Of: Ride, Mojave 3, My Bloody Valentine
What People Think: AllMusicGuide, Boomkat
Definitely Worth Buying: Boomkat, Amazon

1. Spanish Air
2. Celia's Dream
3. Catch The Breeze
4. Ballad Of Sister Sue
5. Erik's Song
6. Waves
7. Brighter
8. The Sadman
9. Primal

Named after a word in one of Nick Chaplin's dreams -- not from a Siouxsie and the Banshees single -- Slowdive formed in Reading, England, in late 1989. The group orginally consisted of Neil Halstead (guitar/vocals), Rachel Goswell (guitar/vocals), Christian Savill (guitar), Adrian Sell (drums), and Chaplin (bass). Formed when they were mostly in their teens, Slowdive was initially lumped in with the remainder of the early-'90s British shoegaze scene; Slowdive's later releases extended upon the likes of the Cocteau Twins and the more atmospheric sides of post-punk, and they closed out their career with an excellent and misunderstood ambient LP.
Signing with Creation, Slowdive's early singles received glowing press and chart placement. Their debut single, Slowdive, thinly veiled an indebtedness to the Byrds and My Bloody Valentine, with no traceable punk influence. (In fact, they were probably amongst the first batch of young rock bands to ignore the movement.) Just after Slowdive's recording, Sell left for university. Neil Carter subbed for less than a year, lending his skills to the follow-up single, Morningrise; former Charlottes member Simon Scott hopped on board prior to the band's third single, Holding Our Breath. The sleepy escapist psychedelia of both Morningrise and Holding Our Breath made significant impressions on the British indie chart. The press dubbed them part of "The Scene That Celebrates Itself" -- a small, loose, conglomerate of like-minded bands who could be seen at each other's shows, frequently hanging out together within the same circle. This "scene" included Lush, Moose, Swervedriver, Curve, and Blur. Not associating with themselves as a move of self-importance, grandstanding, or high society, it was merely a means for those involved to get into shows for free. Most of those involved were university dropouts on the dole. A dastardly move by the press, the tag just made it easier for them to lasso a group of bands into the to-be-expected derision. With the Brit-pop trend close behind, they could cast aside their champs of yesterday with one fell swoop.
For some, Slowdive will always encapsulate all that is wrong about the so-called shoegazing movement. The disaffected vocals, bowl-headed haircuts, the over-reliance on FX pedals and their vague lyrics were all at odds with the music media's then obsession with grunge and Britpop. Certainly, Slowdive weren't to everyone's taste but in a relatively short time they produced three largely excellent albums; each of which featured a signficant development in their sound and now well-respected as essential references in the dreampop movement. As if to prove that Slowdive were always more concerned with melody than they were given credit for, founder members Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell now ply their trade in the spare, more countrified work of Mojave 3.
Their debut album 'Just For A Day' has - on the whole - aged surprisingly well and is a more focused effort than one could reasonably expect from the band members who were still in their early twenties at the time. Granted, the vocals tend towards the effete but there were already signs of the tougher, more robust effects which would be perfect by their second album. Evidence of this is plain to see on the sinister finale 'Primal' and three minutes in to 'Catch The Breeze' as the floating melody is cruelly overtaken by a heavier, darker surge of guitar. In contrast, at this stage of their career, Slowdive were more comfortable with glacial soundscapes of which 'Celia's Dream', the mournful 'Ballad Of Sister Sue' and the gorgeous instrumental 'Erik's Song' stand out the most.


“For all that I have is written in waves…”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Charalambides "A Vintage Burden" (Kranky, 2006)

Artist: Charalambides
Album: "A Vintage Burden"
Release Date: May 23, 2006
Label: Kranky
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, Psych-Folk, Post-Rock, Freak-Folk
Mood: Brooding, Literate, Fragile, Autumnal
Reminds Of: Tunng, Flying Saucer Attack, The Sunburned Hand Of The Man
What People Think: AllMusicGuide, PitchforkMedia
Definitely Worth Buying: Boomkat, CdUniverse

1. There Is No End
2. Spring
3. Dormant Love
4. Black Red Blues
5. Two Birds
6. Hope Against Hope

Texas group Charalambides, considered by many to be the quietly serious godfathers of the whole freak-folk movement, have been turning out shimmering hush-folk masterpieces on cassette, CD-R and CD, since the early ‘90s, way back before there was any kind of movement to lead. Their journey has found them pursuing a singular vision of the transporting possibilities of simple repetition, uncluttered melody, largely acoustic instrumentation and freely expressive vocals. Eschewing drums or swollen band line-ups, Charalambides has remained a duo, sometimes a trio, dedicated to exploring the spaces between notes, the significance of silences, the subversion of expectations within the basic idea of the song. Along the way, on albums like 2004’s Joy Shapes, they have charted some extreme regions, unearthing strange ghosts, almost falling off the edge of the world in their pursuit of unfettered exploration. So, it’s not too difficult to see A Vintage Burden—recorded by the core duo of Tom and Christina Carter—as a return from the outer edges, back to the warm certainty of lyrics, verses, structure. It is certainly their most accessible album in quite some time, with the exploratory impulse subsumed into the confines and comfort of song. If anything, this album almost sounds like the weary come-down after the trip’s strange and unsettling peak. Which isn’t to say that this is anything like a mainstream rock or folk album: this is still pretty unusual stuff and the six tracks here demonstrate a distinctly skewed take on the song cycle with a deliciously psychedelic flavour, much of it due to Christina Carter’s beautiful, haunted vocals and particularly her penchant for multi-tracking—as on the spacious opener “There Is No End”. Here, against a simple, unhurried six-note motif plucked out on a muted electric guitar, she creates a wispy, ethereal, many-voiced presence, which she wraps around herself like a cloak, giving her the security to really stretch out in wordless abandon without making herself vulnerable. It’s a wonderfully rich and enveloping technique, coming on like a more organic version of Fursaxa’s experiments with the time lag accumulator. Elsewhere, though, there are more conventional approaches to the notion of song, yielding genuinely moving results. “Spring” is like a shower of refreshing rain on a dusty landscape, with its hopeful message and almost unbearably beautiful delivery. Christina sings “Do not wait / Go outside / Sky is blue / Full of stars… Love is in the air / Let it shine / It will shine.” Tom’s guitar actually sounds like it’s smiling, right up until an almost impossibly happy ‘60s riff comes in just 30 seconds from the end of the tune, assuring us all, once and for all, that everything really is going to be alright. While Christina’s style and delivery remains utterly her own throughout these acoustic country dirges and psychedelic blues-folk ballads, the closest point of comparison to any other vocalist is on “Dormant Love” where she burns through an atmospheric electric mist to sound almost like a free-folk reincarnation of Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser. The one instrumental track here is a 17-minute showcase of Tom Carter’s shimmering guitar styles. Starting out with rudimentary acoustic strumming, the piece gradually accrues layers of pedal steel wails, electric finger picking, and blistering fuzz soloing—coming on like a one-way donkey ride into the Texas desert with the hallucinations cascading down around you and the horizon bending in the heat. This album is like a vivid dream of once-lost items falling gently like leaves from a clear blue desert sky: familiar and strange, happy and disconcerting, beautiful and unsettling—and with a deeply trippy soundtrack. What’s not to like?

(source: PopMatters)

“A Vintage Burden’s embrace is still emotional, still heartbreaking, still sad, and at times still chilling, but somehow, it’s less of an exercise to wrap your arms around it.”

“Let it wash over you, let it slowly but surely catch your attention, and steadily let the music build its case for how engrossing it can be.”

“Picking up the pieces isn’t a speedy process…”

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Pop Group "Y" (Radar Records, 1979)

Artist: The Pop Group
Album: "Y"
Release Date: April 1979
Label: Radar Records
Genre: Post-Punk, No-Wave, Experimental-Rock, Noise-Rock
Mood: Dramatic, Intense, Cathartic, Literate
Reminds Of: The Slits, Sritti Politti, Public Image Ltd., Swell Maps
What People Think: AllMusicGuide, Boomkat
Definitely Worth Buying: Boomkat, Amazon

1. She Is Beyond Good And Evil
2. Thief Of Fire
3. Snow Girl
4. Blood Money
5. We Are Time
6. Savage Sea
7. Words Disobey Me
8. Don't Call Me Pain
9. The Boys From Brazil
10.Don't Sell Your Dreams

When The Pop Group first came onto the scene in late 1978 they were being hailed in the UK press as one of the saviours of rock and roll, and with good reason as the group's music made almost everything being created at the time seem old hat over night. The Pop Group's debut single "She Is Beyond Good and Evil" released in 1979 was an instant classic and one of the landmark recordings of the 1970's, it was a seething tense piece of aggressive funk/punk/dub/free jazz that demanded attention. It sounded like nothing in the world at the time of it's release and gave me the same feeling as when I heard Public Image Ltd.'s first single, it seemed to hint at endless possibilties for rock and roll. The B side "3:38" should also mentioned this was a pulverizing dose of mind-numbing dub that seemed to look ahead to Pop Group lead singer Mark Stewart's trailblazing work in the 80's with Mafia. A CD re-issue of "Y" in 1996 strangely omitted this great track from the release, WHY?
Anyway the original release of "Y" opened with a stick of dynamite called "Thief of Fire" which was the group at it's best, this is a blistering ride through the bushes of Viet-Nam highlighted by Simon Underwood's funk/dub bass playing, the twin Beefheart guitar attack of Gareth Sager and John Waddington, and Mark Stewart's shrieking "my face is on fire" vocals, Sager also provides some squealing saxophone in the song's mid section. I remember a Melody Maker piece on the group around the time of the release of this album where the band admitted to listening to loads of King Tubby and Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz" while they recorded the album, which makes perfect sense.
The next track on the album is a very experimental piece called "Snow Girl" which is driven by some Cecil Taylor type piano, shotgun blasts of guitar from Waddington and Sager and gutwrenching bass slaps by Underwood, Stewart provides a bizarre but strangely catchy vocal. The next track is the truly frightening "Blood Money" which is a nightmare soundscape where Stewart screams bloody murder in the background, he seems to be screaming about spiders being all over his chest, he sounds like Damo Suzuki on that track on Can's "Tago Mago" where Damo seems like he's being tortured, the music on "Blood Money" is thrilling it's a real meltdown of all the instruments into one, Gareth Sager plays some sax lines that sound like the bagpipe wizard Rufus Harley.
"We Are Time" is my favorite track on the record and comes at you like a commando raid on your brain, this track is truly terrifying and singer Stewart sounds like he is coming out of his own skin, the guitar playing by Sager and Waddington is dazzling. The group then throws you a big league curveball called "The Savage Sea" this one opens with an almost melodic piano and it could almost be a Pop Group ballad!, Stewart is a little more restrained on this number, I think the piano part was nicked by The Teardrop Explodes on their great B-side "Window Shopping For A New Crown Of Thorns" and The Pop Group's influence can also be felt on the Teardrops other freakout B-side "Strange House In The Snow".
"Words Disobey Me" is another wildly experimental piece in the style of "Blood Money". "Don't Call Me Pain" opens with a sax riff that sounds like it is being played by Traffic's Chris Wood, on this one Stewart screams "Don't Call Me Pain, My Name Is Mystery" and who am I to doubt him, the song is wrapped up with a fine free jazz baching track. With "The Boys From Brazil" it's back to free jazz territory, again Sager's sax reminds one of Chris Wood while Underwood plays a great funky bass riff, the guitars collide with each other at the end and it is just plain awesome. The record finishes with a stripped down dirge called "Don't Sell Your Dreams" where Stewart sounds totally spent and on the verge of collapse, the musical backing is superb, full of space and it reminds me of the Pharoah Sanders group on "Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt" the guitar playing is full on Sonny Sharrock!, the record then just fades quietly into oblivion leaving you feeling totally drained.
After playing "Y" you wonder how the group ever hoped to top it, they never did, but their second album was great as well but just not as good as "Y", few albums are. The Pop Group finished in 1981 and splintered into groups like Rip, Rig and Panic, The New Age Steppers and most importantly Mark Stewart and Mafia, Stewart really carried the flame from the original Pop Group and much of his work with Mafia is on par with the best of The Pop Group yet his records have been totally ignored.
"Y" is the best place to start to get to know the music of Mark Stewart and company, in my opinion it's one of the most original and inspiring records ever made.


"It was a very young attempt to mix up poetic, existensialist stuff with political yearnings. The idea of love as a revolutionary force-the way it kind of switches on a light, makes you hope for a better world..."