Another month comes to an end! The last few weeks have been quite busy on all fronts here, but all the new tunage kept me energized and entertained. Lots of good stuff this time around! Here’s what we have for the first half of the month. Enjoy!
Frank Turner, Be More Kind, released 4 May. As I’d said on Twitter, Frank Turner is the new troubadour you didn’t know you needed. This time out he’s not as folky, trying out a few pop tracks and ballads instead, and he pulls them off well. [Also: the above video is probably the best use of message appropriation I’ve seen in quiet some time. Heh.]
Belly, Dove, released 4 May. Tanya Donelly and Co return for an excellent, more adventurous third album. It sounds less like the more pop-oriented Star or the rocking King, and more like, say, Throwing Muses’ Hunkpapa, with a focus on angular yet catchy melodies. Unexpected but amazing.
Pinkshinyultrablast, Miserable Miracles, released 4 May. One of my favorite new discoveries, this Russian shoegaze band hits all my bingo points: heavy reverb, walls of guitars, dreamy vocals, and songs that just sort of skitter around the upper atmosphere. So much fun to listen to!
Beach House, 7, released 11 May. This band seems to have grown out of its Cocteau Twins comparisons and into its own special blend of dreampop. I should be listening to this one during my writing sessions more often.
Loreena McKennitt, Lost Souls, released 11 May. An unexpected but quite welcome (and very relaxing) album from a fabulous folk artist. She’s still putting out amazing albums.
Simian Mobile Disco, Murmurations, released 11 May. SMD’s new album seems to be more laid back and pensive than their previous output, but I’m not complaining, because it still sounds awesome.
Arctic Monkeys, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, released 11 May. After the hangover-themed AM, the band’s new one is hard to pin down, other than it has something to do with science fiction…maybe? I’ve decided it’s a song cycle about the front desk clerk at said hotel, having a long dark night of the soul during one of his overnight shifts. It’s weird (to say the least), but it’s a *good* kind of weird.
The Beatles, “A Day in the Life” at 2:45 — the transition between Paul’s “woke up/fell out of bed” sequence and the last verse by John, when John’s ‘ah-ah-ah’ vocals crossfade with the brass section. It’s a brilliant bit of mixing there.
Failure, “Daylight”, at 2:11 — The last verse of this doom-laden mindtrip goes from swirly dreamlike dystopia to face-punching guitar and drum crunch. Keep going and you get a hell of a great soaring guitar solo as well. This song is meant to be listed to as loud as you can get it.
Failure, “The Nurse Who Loved Me”, the last minute and a half. There’s something mathematically perfect about this ending that I love, where every beat is where it’s supposed to be…. and then drops out at the last few seconds for the last line.
The La’s, “Looking Glass”… at 5:00 — the point just after one of the final rounds of the chorus where the song breaks down, a calm moment in the music where Lee Mavers sings a plaintive ‘la-la-la’, just before the final extended instrumental round finishes off the piece. This moment inspired the “Listening” live scene near the end of Meet the Lidwells.
Lush, “Nothing Natural”… at 3:44 when the song stops cold and changes direction, the guitars leading the way, and at 5:00 when the bass drops out for another soaring moment.
Depeche Mode, “Stripped (Highland Mix)”… another soaring moment, this time at 3:53 when most of the instrumentation drops out, leaving only the various sequencer licks playing, until moments later when the drums slam the song back down to earth.
Love and Rockets, “Sweet Lover Hangover”… the band breakdown and David J’s bass bringing them back up to speed.
No fear, dear readers…it’s been a long weekend full of a lot of events, so hopefully I’ll be back up to speed with more exciting posts on Thursday!
This coming weekend at BayCon I’ll be moderating a panel called ‘The Next Generations of Science Fiction and Fantasy in Music’. I thought it was high time to talk a little bit about how SF/F has influenced music over the last couple of decades, not just aurally but visually. I’ve been talking with my co-panelists the last few days on this and I’m sure we’ll have quite a bit to talk about!
The first jazz song I remember hearing, even before Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy” from A Charlie Brown Christmas, was Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”. My mom owned the Time Out album and I remember being fascinated yet a little weirded out by the cover, as well as Joe Morello’s sparse yet intense drum solo on the big hit.
I never quite followed up on my brief 1985-6 fascination with jazz, other than listening to it on my Walkman late at night, but lately I’ve been making a slow return back to it. It’s mostly been the new piano-based bands such as the amazing GoGo Penguin…
…or one of my favorites from the last couple decades, Brad Mehldau…
…but I’m yet to fully embrace it as I once did. I’m thinking this is something I should look further into. I mean, I’m relatively familiar with most of the classic musicians like Miles and Monk and Oscar and Basie and so on. I’m thinking maybe I should do a bit of homework and find a couple of good radio and internet stations and get myself back in the groove.
Who are your favorite jazz musicians, old and/or new? I’d love to try them out!
I think it’s safe to say that everyone has experienced that band or musician that just didn’t do it for you, despite everyone else screaming at just how absolutely phenomenal they are. Sometimes it’s because their style just doesn’t suit your tastes. Sometimes it’s that you’re only familiar with their three songs on permanent rotation at the local radio station, despite a lengthy discography. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood.
And sometimes, ages later, it finally clicks and you finally understand what the hullabaloo was all about.
Bob Dylan is a good example of me not *getting* him the first time around. As a kid I’d only heard a barking troubadour with songs that went on far too long. It wasn’t until recently when I bought that big box set a few years back (The Complete Album Collection) and started listening through the years that I finally understood what he was doing. Now I get why so many people find him so amazing.
LCD Soundsystem is another one. I was initially turned off by their retro-disco shtick they had going (especially with their then-hit “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House”). Pretty sure they were also part of the wave of bands that Pitchfork found absolutely amazing but about three people had ever heard of them. Then I listened to last year’s American Dream album and, wouldn’t you know it, they’re a damn catchy band with some fine tunes going on!
Another recent changeover is Parquet Courts. I kinda-sorta liked some of their songs but couldn’t make myself go any further than streaming the songs. Then their latest song “Wide Awake” comes out and man, that is one hell of a fun earworm. It’s one of my favorite songs of this year.
Or Courtney Barnett, which at first I thought, ‘okay, kind of has a dopey-hippie thing going on’, but then I started listen to her lyrics, which are often off-kilter but deceptively brilliant. “Avant Gardener,” for instance, is actually quite a mundane yet harrowing story of having a debilitating asthma attack. And her record with the equally weird Kurt Vile is actually an amazing blues album.
I guess what I’m saying here is that it’s okay not to jump on the bandwagon and sing the praises (har har) of the bands and musicians with everyone else. Sometimes it’s better to take it all in at your own pace and see where it goes.
May was a relatively quiet release month, and in retrospect I think it’s right about when the 1998 industry shake-up really started kicking in. A lot of really good bands were dropped, many of them before they were given a chance to prove themselves, or worse: many more of them due to far too high expectations on the industry’s behalf. It was starting to get really ugly about that time.
Still…many bands soldiered on and kept releasing stellar records.
Spoon, A Series of Sneaks, released 5 May. Spoon’s one album on a major label (Elektra) was unfortunately a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair, as they only stayed at that label for less than a year. They’ve since stayed with indie labels and are now considered one of the best indie bands out there.
Tori Amos, From the Choirgirl Hotel, released 5 May. I’d always been a Tori fan, even after her deliberate turn to weirdness with 1996’s Boys for Pele, and I found myself really enjoying the full-band rock sound of this one.
Global Communication, Pentamerous Metamorphosis, released 5 May. Previously released as a limited-edition extra cd for the great Britpop band Chapterhouse’s 1993 album Blood Music (it’s a reinterpretation of its tracks), it’s an amazing chill-out ambient record and a perfect partner with their previous, the also amazing 76:13. This one got a hell of a lot of play down in the Belfry during the writing of the trilogy, and the same amount in Spare Oom years later when I was revising it for self-publication. Easily one of my favorite albums of all time.
Garbage, Version 2.0, released 11 May. It took me a long time to get used to this album, as I’d originally felt it was a bit too like the first album, but with slightly weaker songs. Eventually I came around!
Godzilla: The Album, released 18 May. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. I agree, it was a ridiculous movie, but it was a fun popcorn flick. And there were some pretty cool songs on it, like the above, and tracks by Ben Folds Five, Jamiroquai, and Days of the New. I’ll even forgive them for that so-bad-it’s-good Diddy/Jimmy Page track.
Cowboy Bebop OST, released 21 May. “Tank!” is one of the best, most recognized, most loved anime opening theme songs ever. And from a visual standpoint, the opening credits are so amazingly animated, paced and edited that you can’t help but feel a chill and a thrill whenever you see it. The rest of the soundtrack is just as great — a mix of bebop jazz, moody melodies and even a few silly filler bits. Yoko Kanno is considered one of the best Japanese music composers out there.
Tricky, Angels with Dirty Faces, released 25 May. Tricky follows up his excellent Pre-Millennium Tension with an about-face that took a lot of people by surprise. There’s more avant-jazz than trip-hop on this album, and it’s not the easiest of listens, but at the same time it’s fearless and fantastic.
Sloan, Navy Blues, released 26 May. One of my favorite Canadian bands, Sloan has always put out solid, hard-rocking songs with excellent power-pop melodies. This one’s a bit harder than usual for them, but it’s still a fun listen.
Intense walls of shredded guitar noise? Check.
So much reverb you could drown in it? Check.
Unconventional time signatures? Check.
Otherworldly feminine vocals? Check.
Dream pop melodies for days? Check.
Pretty much everything that makes Jonc a blissfully happy listener? Check.
Pinkshinyultrablast comes from St Petersburg, Russia, and they’re absolutely amazing.
May 1988: A good portion of my closest friends are graduating quite shortly, and will be taking off in various directions for their college careers. Thus starts the era of me being a moody bastard for about six years. Meanwhile, after about five years of recording songs off the radio and creating my own proto-mixtapes, I finally decide it’s time for me to create my own mixes straight from my own growing collection. I call them ‘compilations’ instead of ‘mixtapes’ because it sounds more professional, considering how detailed I get in creating them. Thirty years later I’m still making them, digitally.
Wire, A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck, released ?? May. The second album in their ‘beat combo’ era, the band moves closer to their eventual electronic experimentation, using samples, loops, and treated instruments. I played the hell out of this album for a good couple of years after it came out.
Colin Newman, It Seems, released ?? May. In tandem with the above, Wire co-lead singer Newman dropped an even more electronic and experimental album. While the Wire album is more rock oriented, this one’s for sitting back and listening.
Heavenly Bodies, Celestial, released ?? May. A somewhat obscure album featuring vocalist and 4AD friend Caroline Seaman (who would pop up on a few This Mortal Coil albums) and a few ex-Dead Can Dance members, it’s a proto-darkwave album with a moody groove to it. “Rains On Me” got some serious airplay on a lot of the college stations when it came out.
Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, Nothing Wrong, released ?? May. The noise-punks from Leeds released an excellent album of sludgy, growling alt-rock that might not have been to everyone’s tastes, but those who did like it (like me) absolutely loved it.
Living Colour, Vivid, released 3 May. Loud, abrasive, political, funky, humorous, and absolutely amazing. Lots has already been said about this album, and it’s all true. I got to see these guys at UMass Amherst in 1989 (it was part of MTV’s college campus tour, with the Godfathers opening up), and they put on one hell of a great show.
Depeche Mode, “Little 15” single, released 16 May. The last single from 1987’s Music for the Masses. It’s also one of my favorite tracks from it due to its amazing dynamics, starting off quiet and delicate and ending up Wagnerian and bombastic. It’s one of those songs you need to hear in headphones to get the full power of it.
Fairground Attraction, The First of a Million Kisses, released 16 May. It took me years to finally buy this album, but I remember the above track getting played incessantly on WMDK and the other AOR stations in the area. A fun and irresistibly catchy tune. The rest of the album is great too!
Compilation: Stentorian Music, created 20 May. The first of many compilations was an ongoing experiment of a themed mix; this one featured songs from groups like The Sisters of Mercy, Love and Rockets, The Cure, and The Screaming Blue Messsiahs among others, and designed to be played loud. It was put on a 60 minute tape and it came out reasonably well, considering. Not bad for a first try.
Compilation: Preternatural Synthetics, created 20 May. Yeah, even then I knew I was getting a bit ridiculous with the titles, but it was just something for fun, after my titling the old radio mixtapes with corny ‘Love & Rock & Roll’ titles. This one was a 90-minute tape featuring all synth and/or electronic-sounding bands, such as Pet Shop Boys, New Order, Depeche Mode, and so on. It’s a perky mix, and rather enjoyable!
The Timelords, “Doctorin’ the Tardis” single, released 23 May. A ridiculous single from the KLF/Justified Ancients of MuMu/JAMMs/etc. gang. Mixing Gary Glitter’s “Rock & Roll Part 2” and the Doctor Who theme, it’s one of those earworms that the college crowd loved.
Camper Van Beethoven, Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, released 24 May. Another college rock band that went from indie (Pitch-a-Tent) to major (Virgin) in 1988, this record was indeed beloved by a quite a few fans, both old and new. I particularly loved this single, which also got a lot of play on the AOR stations.
Morrissey, “Everyday Is Like Sunday” single, released 31 May. Say what you will about his current nutjob shenanigans, his early post-Smiths records were fantastic. This second single from Viva Hate was another ‘borrowed’ single that popped up at the radio station I worked at. I soon fell in love with the gorgeous deep cut “Will Never Marry”, which would end up on quite a few of my future compilations.
The Sugarcubes, Life’s Too Good, released 31 May. This album was an instant hit for the college crowd, with its eclectic mix of often bizarre lyrics, infectious melodies and the balance of its two lead singers: the pixie-like Bjork and its weirdo horn player, Einar. Not to mention its dayglo album cover! Another band I got to see at UMass Amherst around that time.
It was a busy first part of the month, and the rest of it wasn’t half bad either! Here’s some more great recent tunes I’ve been spinning lately…
The Damned, Evil Spirits, released 13 April. Of course this band would release an album on Friday the 13th! And it’s a damn fine record, in my opinion very similar to their early 80s output. In fact, it kind of reminds me of The Black Album, one of my top faves of theirs.
Juliana Hatfield, Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John, released 13 April. JH provides an excellent tribute to one of her childhood heroes with perfect and solid covers. It’s funny how ingrained in my head all these songs are, as my sisters owned most of the 45s!
A Place to Bury Strangers, Pinned, released 13 April. A bit of a change in the band line-up makes them sound a bit like Slowdive vocally and a hell of a lot more like Joy Division musically. Their wall-of-noise production hasn’t changed, though, and that ties it all together in an aggressive post-punk way.
Manic Street Preachers, Resistance Is Futile, released 13 April. The Manics return with another solid album of post-Britpop rock. They’ve always been more of a UK phenomenon, never quite catching on here in the States, but they’ve always been a consistently fine band.
Jesus Jones, Passages, released 20 April. I know, right?? Their last album was ages ago, but they’ve returned (thanks to PledgeMusic) with a damn fine album of songs worth checking out. Heavy on the guitars and rocking grooves as always, they deliver just what you’ve been hoping to hear.
Kimbra, Primal Heart, released 20 April. A little odd, but always fascinating. A fun groovy little album to sit back and relax to.
Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer, released 27 April. This album SO worth all the hype that’s been thrown at it. It feels like she’s rewritten Prince’s Dirty Mind, with all its funk grooves and uninhibited sexuality, but that’s definitely NOT a complaint. It really is an amazing album.
It’s a good thing I’ve been streaming these albums and downloading them a few at a time, because all these single major release dates are gonna bankrupt me. Lots of really fun albums at the start of the month, so we’ll have the rest of April featured in Thursday’s post!
Sloan, 12, released 6 April. A great band that’s been around since my college days, releasing a great album of alternative power-pop gems. Each band member wrote 3 songs each, and all twelve of them are solid.
MIEN, MIEN, released 6 April. This is one of those ‘I have no idea what I’m listening to but it’s amazing’ albums I often stumble upon. It’s like an unexpected mix of motorik, psych, goth, and Britpop, and it works. Extra points for making a spot-on Stan Brakhage homage for a video!
Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Sex & Food, released 6 April. UMO once again provides a wonderful album of lite funk, weird grooves and strange ideas. Sometimes they sound like Steely Dan (like with this track), other times they sound like badass grunge. You’re never quite sure where it’s going, but it’s a fun ride.
Eels, The Deconstruction, released 6 April. Mark Oliver Everett returns from a four-year hiatus with a mix of slightly weird yet irresistible tunes on love, loss, and a fresh lease on life. It kind of reminds me of Beck’s Morning Phase: intensely personal yet uplifting at the same time.
Wye Oak, The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs, released 6 April. One of my top favorites this month. I’d heard of the band and had one of their older albums, but this one floored me upon first listen. Quirky and angular with melodies similar to Lamb, they’re just fantastic.
The Family Crest, The War, Act I, released 6 April. A local favorite (parts of the above video were filmed only a mile or two from our apartment!), they bring an amazing amount of energy to their music, whether it’s happy or sad. Definitely worth checking out.