As always, when we’re going on vacation, I always create a new compilation or two to listen to during the flights. I’m a little behind in creating these, so they contain tunes from most of the spring and summer of 2017 (including a few reissues).
Here’s the playlists, with the YouTube links where available. Enjoy!
Hey there! We’ll be on vacation starting very soon, so the next few weeks are going to be filled with quite a few fly-bys and short entries, depending on if I have the time and bandwidth. Sorry for not providing you with something of substance in the next few weeks! We’ll be back up to normal most likely by mid-August.
In the meantime, have a Cornelius track. It’s his first album in I think a decade or so, and it’s all kinds of excellent and worth checking out.
First, here’s a video of The Smithereens playing “Blood and Roses”, one of their first hits and one of my favorite bass lines of the 80s:
Whenever I’m in a guitar store and checking out basses, I usually use that riff to test it out. It’s a relatively easy lick (even if technically it’s dropped down a half-step to E-flat) and if I can pull it off without my fingers cramping, then it’s a bass I can use. I’m posting it here because it’s also a riff that I like to use when I’m practicing.
So what’s the deal here? Drunken Owl? What?
That’s the name of my current music project, named from the 18th century British slang term “drunk as an owl” (thanks to A.’s wide-spanning reading material for the source). It’s one of those phrases that doesn’t quite sound right logically, but makes for a good band name.
I’ve been meaning to return to playing and recording music demos for quite some time, though, like with most of my other grand creative plans, it was put aside so I could finish the Great Trilogy Revision Project. So! Now that that behemoth is out of the way, I can finally move forward with it. I don’t plan on any grand masterpieces or anything…all I really want to do is lay down my songs. I’ve amassed a decent amount of them over the years, and I’m itching to write and record some new ones as well.
And like my books, I want to see how far I can DIY it. I’ve recorded a few demos on my phone, for starters. [The sound is mono, but the quality is actually pretty good, considering!] I plan on using the instruments I have already: the basses, the guitars, the keyboard, the funky lo-fi drum pad (it’s hiding behind my camera bag on the floor under the keyboard in that picture up top), and maybe some slightly better (but still relatively cheap) editing-mixing software.
Any plans on releasing them on Bandcamp or whatever? Eh, probably not, but we’ll see. I may just upload them to Soundcloud and share them here or elsewhere. The main reason for this ongoing project is mainly to make good on my lifelong loves of writing, music, and art. [Yeah, I’m trying to get my art up and running again as well.] The main goal here is to have fun with it!
[Edit: Just learned this morning that Soundcloud is going kerflooey. Guess I’ll have to find a different embedder!]
First off, a few notes: Since I’ve already gone over the actual music on the original album and the Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane single here a good few years ago, I’ll be dispensing with that and talking about the sound of the remix. Secondly, I’m going over the big box set and not the 2-disc version that’s also available.
I’ve been listening to this release for nearly a month now, just to get used to the sound, and I’d have to say that overall, the remastering/remixing was well done. It’s kind of hard to say that about the original Beatles oeuvre, considering that nearly all of it was a four-track mix with a ridiculous amount of bouncedown* on many of the tracks.
*Bouncedown = a trick the band and George Martin used to employ to open up track space for more sounds. A mix would be made for two or three of the four tracks, then would be ‘bounced down’ to the empty fourth track (via copying the master onto a new reel), thus freeing up three new tracks for more instruments. The upside is being able to fill out the sound; the downside is slight degradation of the sound and possible muddiness in the mix.
One of my friends jokingly asked me if he knew how much Paul paid Giles to pump his bass so high in the mix, and to some degree I can see where he’s coming from. At this point, Paul would lay down a simple temporary bass track to be recorded over later in the mix when he could add more flourishes. A song like “Fixing a Hole” is a good example of this; the bass is all over the place on that one, so if your speakers or equalizer are a bit on the bassy side, it’s going to overwhelm the track. A simple EQ adjustment of my headphones made it sound a hell of a lot better.
The levels of Ringo’s drums are pushed up a lot more than previous. This has always been a big issue for me, especially for most of pre-Rubber Soul recordings, as quite often he’d be so far back in the mix that you barely notice him. His drum work on this new version is now crystal clear and given an added punch, which works to great effect on many of the songs here.
“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” has always been one of my favorite Lennon tracks (not to mention one where I can only name one band whose cover has done it justice), and I love what they’ve done to this one. The phasing on the vocals (which give it that spinny, whoosh-y sound) are much more pronounced here.
“She’s Leaving Home” is at the correct faster speed that was originally only used for the mono mix. This version makes it sound like less of a dirge and more of a stage musical performance, and it sounds lovely. The strings and harp are also clarified here.
“Within You Without You” is as mystical and mysterious as ever. The only problem I had with the original mix is that it sounded a bit two-dimensional, if that makes sense. The Indian instruments and the orchestral instruments felt squished together, with George’s vocals kind of thrown on top. This mix gives the song a hell of a lot more room to breathe and meander. The two cultures swirl around each other now, and George’s voice is stronger yet retains the tenderness.
The original mix also had some lower-end issues, at least to my hearing. Both “When I’m Sixty-Four” and Paul’s section of “A Day in the Life” always sounded a bit muddy, as if the bass levels had been pushed up a little higher than necessary. This has since been fixed for both tracks, thankfully. “Sixty-Four” sounds less like a well-worn 78 rpm record and more like a live vaudeville performance. Check out Ringo’s light tapping on his ride cymbal on that one — he does lovely work on it.
“Lovely Rita” – Another song that sounded a mess in the original, but sounds clearer, even though it’s still drenched in echo. You can hear a lot more of the sound effect silliness on this one now. I can finally also hear John’s mumble at the end. I can now hear him saying “I don’t believe it.”
And then there’s “A Day in the Life”. My favorite track off the album, their magnum opus. It sounds absolutely stunning, especially on earphones. The orchestra swells are much clearer and wilder. The final chord is mixed clearer (and you can hear Ringo shifting in his seat just before the final fadeaway). My only complaint is that Giles didn’t retain the last transition (the ah-ah-ah’s) before John’s last segment. My favorite part of George Martin’s mix was his gradual lift in volume of the brass and strings as John’s “ahs” fade further into the background; here, they’re mixed to remain in tandem. Ah well, can’t complain.
And what of the extra tracks? First off, the remixes of “Strawberry Fields Forever” (done in 2015 to go along with the release of the 1 cd/dvd remaster) and “Penny Lane” (brand spankin’ new) give the two tracks even more punch than before.
The sequence of the tracks on the extra cds in the box set are chronological, so you truly get to listen to the album as it’s being written, recorded, and put together. Multiple versions of “Strawberry Fields”, the first on the list, show its evolution from a light track that might have been at home on Revolver to the darker, more ominous track we all know and love. It’s not until they finish “A Day in the Life” (fourth in line, after “Sixty-Four” and “Penny Lane”) that the album really starts to take shape, and more of the songs start taking on a more common theme or sound.
Also included is the original 1967 mono mix — not the 2009 remaster, but the original 1967 mix as made by the Beatles and Martin themselves — and a few odds and ends, including the extremely rare “Penny Lane” US Mono promotional mix with the extra horn segment at the very end of the track.
Non-musically, the packaging is outstanding! The hardback book that comes along with it is a wonderfully written historical document of not just the recording sessions but what was going on in Britain at the time, both socially and politically. The cds and dvds are in a recreation of the vinyl album cover, complete with the lyrics on the back. A recreation of the original ‘Mr Kite’ poster owned by John and a large advertisement for the album are also attached, as is the original cut-out sheet (featuring sergeant stripes, fake mustache and so on) from the original album.
Final thoughts? The big box set is definitely for completists, as there’s a lot of repetition; more passive fans will probably want to pick up the two-disc “anniversary edition” that takes the best of the extra tracks (and the two current-mix single tracks). It sounds great and looks great. [And of course most Beatles fans are dearly hoping that the other albums get this treatment, though we won’t hold our breath.] Highly recommended.
Another great month of new releases worth checking out!
Saint Etienne, Home Counties released 2 June. SE is one of those bands that I kind of knew from different tracks, but only within the last, say, four or five years have I come to really appreciate them. Poppy, distinctly British, and finely written.
Roger Waters, Is This the Life We Really Want?, released 2 June. It’s been quite some time since his last album. This is pure distilled angry, cantankerous Roger Waters at his finest, with music that sounds equal parts Wish You Were Here, Animals, and The Final Cut.
alt-j, Relaxer, released 2 June. A continuation of their signature weirdness that somehow still gets a hell of a lot of airplay.
U2, The Joshua Tree [Deluxe Edition], released 2 June. How many times have I listened to this album and not gotten sick of it? It’s indeed a classic album and the new 30th anniversary package is quite worth checking out.
Panda Riot, Infinity Maps, released 9 June. One of many “oh, they have a new album out? SWEET!” releases that seem to be sneaking up behind me this year. I was a big fan of their 2013 album Northern Automatic Music and this was definitely a great follow-up.
London Grammar, Truth Is a Beautiful Thing, released 10 June. I know I’ve heard of this band before but I can’t seem to remember where, so I gave it a stream listen, and LO! It was pretty damn good.
The Drums, Abysmal Thoughts, released 16 June. One of those bands I didn’t quite ‘get’ the first time around, but the more I listen to them, the more I love their stuff.
Royal Blood, How Did We Get So Dark?, released 16 June. Another band whose first album passed right by me. This one’s loud and crunchy like Foals with a bit of Sleigh Bells thrown in for good measure.
Ride, Weather Diaries, released 16 June. A VERY welcome return to one of my favorite bands of the early 90s, they’ve lost none of their signature soaring shoegaze noise.
311, Mosaic, released 23 June. 311 is on my list of ‘I will buy any new album they release’ bands. I know they’re not to everyone’s tastes, especially since they’ve mellowed somewhat since their louder mid-90s output. It’s a hell of a great album.
Radiohead, OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017, released 23 June. Loved the original when it came out 20 years ago during my HMV years (and one that got a hell of a lot of heavy rotation during the trilogy writing session years). Love the new release, which features a great remaster of the original, most of the b-sides, and three unreleased tracks. I originally wasn’t going to download this as I had most of it, but it was a great price and yeah — helluva great album and all that.
Prince & the Revolution,Purple Rain [Deluxe Remaster], released 23 June. An album that got me through a lot of my early teen years, it’s still a freakin’ FANTASTIC and solid album from start to finish. The new remaster sounds powerful and full of energy, and it also contains all those pesky hard-to-find era b-sides as well!
Algiers, The Underside of Power, released 23 June. Another ‘who the hell is this and WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME ABOUT THEM’ band for me. Tried it out with a stream and immediately put it in the basket to purchase. I’m still not quite sure how to describe them other than a mix of TV On the Radio and Bloc Party. Highly recommended.
Au.Ra, Cultivations, released 30 June. Ditto for this band as well, only they get extra points for heavily reminding me of the early 4AD sound, complete with chimey guitars, dreamy melodies and reverb for days. I’ve been playing this one a hell of a lot over the last week.
Floating Points, Reflections – Mojave Desert, released 30 June. Ditto again. This particular band fascinates me because they’re kind of like Air, with a bit of Caspian thrown in, and maybe just a hint of BT’s more ambient sound as well. This one continues to fascinate me.
OKAY! I’m not sure what’s coming in July, as I haven’t been up on my release lists as of late, but I’m expecting more goodness soon!
If I had to pick any one band that influenced my bass and guitar styles the most, inspired numerous plot ideas and settings for my early writings, and always calmed my teenage soul late at night, it would definitely be Cocteau Twins.
I absolutely adored the layered, chiming and heavily echoed guitars of Robin Guthrie, the dual-tone melodies of bassist Simon Raymonde (and even the dissonant meanderings of original bassist Will Heggie, who went on to be part of the band Lowlife), and the otherworldly vocalizations of Elizabeth Fraser.
They were My Bloody Valentine at a much lower volume. They were Felt with a hell of a lot more ambience. They were goth without the pretension and imagery. And they were one of the biggest anchors of the classic 80s sound of the 4AD record label. When all the music critics described their sound as pastoral, autumnal or dreamlike, they really weren’t trying to be over the top. They really did sound like the Scottish Highlands on a cool and foggy morning, or a late October in foliage-laden New England.
If you haven’t given them a close listen, especially their dreamier 80s output, I highly suggest it. It’s quite lovely.