Favorite Bands: Cocteau Twins

cocteau twins 2

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.

Welcome Back My Friends to the Show that Never Ends

So recently I’ve been reading David Wiegel’s The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock and enjoying it immensely.  Things I’ve learned:

–It’s evident that a few members of Yes either quit or were canned due to insufficient pretentiousness levels.  Tony Kaye was an adequate keyboardist that didn’t play flourishes and got the boot early on.  Rick Wakeman quit out of boredom, and the fact that he had no frigging idea what Jon Anderson was singing about half the time.  Steve Howe actually kind of likes Tormato, their 1978 album that nearly no one else likes, including the rest of the band.  Chris Squire’s bass was, not surprisingly at all, mixed loud, front and center on their first albums.

–Van der Graaf Generator were well-loved, even if their music made no damn sense at all.  The same goes for The Soft Machine.

–Robert Fripp is a genius guitarist…but no one knows what the hell he’s trying to play.

–Greg Lake had an ego about the size of Great Britain.  Keith Emerson not as much, but close.  Carl Palmer just wanted to play his drums.

–Keith Emerson’s famous stage shtick of sticking knives in his keyboard to get sustained sound was originally courtesy of some old Army knives from a roadie named Lemmy Kilmister.

–The guys in Rush write great songs, but they’re kinda sorta meatheads.  Singer Geddy Lee didn’t always know what the hell drummer Neil Peart’s lyrics were going on about, just that they were virulently Libertarian.  [This political bent seems to have faded into the background around the same time Geddy started playing synths on the albums, interestingly enough.]

–The more members Genesis shed, the poppier and more famous they became.  Keyboardist Tony Banks said if they’d called it a day when Peter Gabriel left, they’d have had a significantly smaller fanbase.

–Most bands, when interviewed by Creem magazine in the 70s, would make these wildly erudite but utterly vacuous proclamations about how progressive rock will change the world.

–Marillion singlehandedly brought back prog in the 80s by saying ‘Screw you, we’re going to play this stuff anyway.’

Seriously, though, it’s a fascinating (if slightly sarcastic) read if you’re a fan of the genre.  One of the pleasant surprises is that he does briefly touch on the less famous prog bands, including a handful of non-English bands from Italy and elsewhere.

 

Yet More On Making Mixtapes

memorex dbs gif

Yes, I know I’ve gone on about making mixtapes how many times here?  Bear with me, I’m about to go on just a bit more.

Every now and again I return to my catalog of mixtapes — that is, the mp3 recreations — and give them another listen.  By now I can tell which ones worked for me and which could probably have used a bit more planning.  Not that I’m going to change any of them, though…they’re a specific part of my past, and changing them now would only turn them into something different.  [Case in point, when I remade a few of them in 1999 and 2000, I was missing a few songs on each and replaced them with different tracks from the same era.  The mix worked just as well, but it didn’t feel like a true recreation…it felt like a ‘remastered reissue’ instead.]

As I’ve mentioned before, around 2014 I chose to reinstate the mixtape rules when making new mp3 mixes: double batches of roughly 45 minutes each, just as I would on one of those Memorix DBS I 90s you see above.  This forces me to think further about the flow of the music and the balance of the mix.  The upside to this is that the end result is a pretty solid and well-flowing mix.

The downside?  Well, I seem to still be throwing songs that don’t quite fit into the context of the rest of the mix.  They’re good songs, they just don’t quite work with the rest.  I’m thinking the main reason for this is that I’m no longer building the mixtape the true old-fashioned way, dubbing from tape or cd or vinyl, listening all the way through the song before adding the next one.  I’m just that little bit distanced from the mix, just enough where I don’t always catch when it doesn’t sound right.

I’m making up for it with these last few mixes by taking that extra time to select the music I think will work best, and listen to a rough set list so I can get the songs in the right order.

Why do this in this digital age, you ask?  Who makes mixtapes anymore?  Well, these are for my own enjoyment.  I listen to them at the gym, on long plane rides, during my writing sessions, and during Day Job hours.  I’ve only ever shared my mixtapes with a few others, and in truth I’ve only made maybe four or five tops specifically for other people.  I’m merely continuing the art of mixtape making as I know it.

 

American Epic

Thought I’d share the trailer for this fabulous four-part documentary on the early days of recorded American music… A. and I watched this the other week (it’s available for streaming on the PBS website) and it’s fantastic. Definitely worth checking out.

Part four is dedicated to a little something extra: a number of the present-day artists that took part in the interviews (and some that didn’t!) joined in on recording some of the original songs via the same old-school process — recording through old tube amplifiers and directly onto the record lathe! Some of them are dead on, like Pokey LaFarge:

…and some fit quite nicely into the band’s niche, like Alabama Shakes:

…and some play out in unexpected ways that make total sense, like Nas:

Definitely a documentary worth checking out for any music fan.

Hip Priest

So I’ve been listening to a lot of The Fall lately.  They’re a band that has a VERY long history, an extremely convoluted discography, only one original member (the wonderfully irascible and outspoken Mark E Smith), and one of the weirdest rock styles in all of post-punk.  But I find I love them anyway.


(I taught myself how to play this particular track back in ’88, I love the guitar work on it!)

Retro: 80s Outliers

Believe it or not, I haven’t listened to my beloved 80s college radio-era albums and mixes in quite some time.  I did that on purpose as I wanted to soak my brain in some of the new stuff that’s out there.  Different sounds thirty years on.  Some music reminiscent of the early years, such as the noisy shoegazeyness of Panda Riot versus My Bloody Valentine.  Other music reveling in its weirdness like Alt-J or its sparse loveliness like London Grammar.

So going back down the 80s rabbit hole one more time, I’m hitting the usual cast of characters such as The Smiths and the Cure and so on.  I procured those discographies quite some time ago.  I still listen to them every now and again when the mood strikes.

Lately however, I’ve been wanting to do a bit more research in the bands and sounds that I never quite got around to following other than a few singles.  I recently caught up with the Fall’s discography for the most part (I’m bypassing their 1,058,736 live albums that seem to have the same release frequency as a Guided By Voices record), and now I’m curious once more about some of the other outliers from that era.

Here’s some of the stuff I’m talking about:

 

A lot of Electronic Body Music (aka EBM) there to be sure.  It might sound much more lower-tech than the DJ boffins we have nowadays like BT and Skrillex, but not bad considering a lot of those synths were brand spanking new at the time and no one really knew much of how to work them.  And as long as they got people on the floor, so much the better.

But I’m also curious about other genres out there from that era, like the various punk scenes (such as Boston versus DC versus LA versus SF, and so on), or more of the Athens scene (Pylon, Love Tractor, etc), or anything else that’s out there that I may have missed.

So yeah…if any of you have any suggestions for old-school tunage for me to look into, please feel free to let me know!