Thirty Years On: Random January 1988

One problem with going into a chronological overview like this is that sometimes it’s hard to pin down a release date. Quite often, before the Tuesday release date plan started up around 1988-89, labels would drop an album with minimal fanfare and a ‘soft release’…basically putting it out there whenever it just happened to be ready to go.  I’m sure someone at the label office has the date on record somewhere, but they’ve never made it known.

The downside to this is that sometimes one can only guess when it dropped. Sometimes the band will have a rough date (though that’s a big if — most bands will have little to no idea), but more often it relies on someone’s memories. I’ve managed to narrow down some dates due to my memories of listening to them during a specific timeframe, or that it was on the charts at a particular time, or that one of their songs appeared on a mixtape I’d made on a certain date.

That said…here’s a few releases that, to the best of my knowledge, came out in January of 1988.

Hugo Largo, Drum. Predating the quiet minimalism of early Belle & Sebastian and the off-kilter melodies of later Bjork, Hugo Largo’s strange alt-folk was embraced fully by the college crowds. Some of it might seem a bit too twee or precious now, but it’s still a fascinating listen. They were championed by Michael Stipe, who definitely helped them gain a following. Also: check out a fantastic cover of the Kinks’ “Fancy” from the same album.

Two Men, a Drum Machine and a Trumpet, “I’m Tired of Getting Pushed Around”. A band with a longer name than their discography — this one single. Essentially Andy Cox and David Steele (formerly of The Beat, and at the time part of Fine Young Cannibals), they dropped this one house track that found its way through dance clubs and even a music bed for Entertainment Tonight segments. It’s a silly throwaway track, but it’s a classic one.

The Other Ones, Learning to Walk. You may remember this band from their late-1986 self-titled album and the minor radio favorites “We Are What We Are” and “Holiday”…or not. They were a bit of an obscure pop favorite on the US shores, and alas, this second album was never released here. I only recently found it online, and I’m kind of surprised at how good it actually is. It’s definitely of its time, but it holds up quite nicely to the first album.

Lowlife, Swirl, It Swings EP. If that bass sounds familiar, it’s because it’s Will Heggie, the original bassist for Cocteau Twins. They’re kind of similar to The Comsat Angels or Joy Division.

Moev,Yeah Whatever. One of those bands on the Nettwerk label I always had a hard time locating back in the day, they were sort of an EBM-goth hybrid that reminded me of a less aggro Front 242.  They’d get a lot of college radio airplay thanks to “Yeah Whatever” and “Crucify Me”. Definitely an album to have in your collection.

Next Up: More January releases, this time with actual release dates!

Thirty Years On

Yeah, I’m pretty sure y’all saw this coming some time ago.  My unhealthy obsession with the music of 1988 deems it necessary that I do the occasional thirty-years-on post this year.  But hey!  This time I’ll focus only on the music and spare you the personal stories you’ve heard enough times already.  This’ll be like my Blogging the Beatles posts from a few years back, taking my favorite music from my favorite year specifically from a listener’s point of view.  I don’t have any set schedule or plan for this series , so it’ll most likely be sporadic, depending on the release dates and so on.

I decided to use the classic Guns n’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” (or as my friend Chris once call it back then, “Welcome to my Uncle’s”) as my header video for this introduction for a few reasons.  Even though the track had been released back in July of 1987, it was still getting heavy airplay alongside their other classic single “Sweet Child o’ Mine”.  Originally I was not a GnR fan at all, lumping them in with all the other hair metal bands of the day.  But on the same token, they were essentially the hardest-sounding band out there at the time.  A quick look at the early January pop charts and you’ll notice that pop music was leaning perilously towards the ‘lite’ side.  It was refreshingly inclusive and included multiple genres and performers, sure, but you’ve got to admit that there wasn’t much of a spine to many of those songs.  GnR was the much-needed exception to that rule.

It was time to look a bit deeper into the independents if I was going to satiate my need for exciting music.

Recent Purchases, December Edition

There usually aren’t that many new releases in the last month of the year; December is usually reserved for titles aimed at gift-giving…the box set, the greatest hits mix, the best-of-year compilations, and so on.  New albums don’t usually do so well this time out unless they’re either from big-name bands.  I usually use this month to pick up whatever few new albums there are and catch up on some of the older releases I hadn’t gotten around to.

So without further ado, a much shorter list to provide…

Cindy Wilson, Change, released 1 December. This was quite a surprise to a lot of people, as Cindy’s vocals are usually loud and up front, right next to Kate Pierson’s when they’re singing B-52s tracks. She’s much more subdued and adventurous here. The album feels like a mix of Tom Tom Club with a bit of less-noisy Sonic Youth thrown in.

Steven Wilson, Last Day of June OST, released 1 December. This one almost snuck by me! Steven quickly follows up his To the Bone with the soundtrack to a video game based on one of his songs. Much of it is instrumental, but that’s not a problem here, as he’s always had a gift for lovely and often haunting melodies.

New Order, NOMC15, released 1 December. I’ve always felt this band was a little boring live, as they never really had much stage presence at all (per Peter Hook, it was usually because they were either wasted or putting on an attitude, or both), but apparently they’ve lightened up and put on a much more entertaining show over the last few years. This is a great mix of New Order songs both new and old, and they do almost all of them justice. [I say almost, because I feel they really do “Atmosphere” a disservice, as Bernard can’t hit Ian’s low notes and it ends up like he’s singing the words but to the tune of “Ceremony” instead. Other than that, it’s quite excellent.]

U2, Songs of Experience, released 1 December. An excellent follow-up to 2014’s Songs of Innocence, and just as solid and strong. Just like the previous album, they’ve recaptured the power and focus that had been lacking in the last few releases. One of my favorites of the year.

Belle and Sebastian, How to Solve Our Human Problems (Part 1) EP, released 8 December. The first of three planned EPs from a poppier version of a band formerly known for their lo-fi murblings in the 90s and 00s. It took me a few songs to get used to their new direction, but it works well for them.

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Coming up Thursday: the year-end compilation and best-of lists! 🙂

Recent Purchases, November Edition

A slightly shorter list this month, but running the gamut between soft, loud, delicate and noisy. November had quite the eclectic mix!

Lost Horizons, Ojalá, released 3 November. Simon Raymonde from Cocteau Twins, and Richie Thomas from Dif Juz? What’s not to love? A laid back, sort of jazzy album that’s a relaxing treat.

Bibio, Phantom Brickworks, released 3 November. Even more relaxing than the above album, this one’s filled with lovely meandering instrumentals and makes a fine writing soundtrack.

Sleigh Bells, Kid Kruschev EP, released 10 November. A usually-loud band surprises us with a mid-tempo, sometimes even quiet mini-set that’s just as excellent as their ear-bleeding noise.

Seal, Standards, released 10 November. I got a chance to see him play tracks from this album with the San Francisco Symphony a few nights ago, and it was absolutely fantastic. He really nailed the Sinatra/Rat Pack vibe on this album. I particularly love this track, as it really reminds me of The Wrecking Crew.

Morrissey, Low in High School, released 17 November. Questionable commentary, wonky politics and untrustworthy touring aside, I’m still a fan of Moz’s music, and I think this is probably his strongest album in quite some time. A lot of his previous records were good but not memorable, but this one’s got a goodly amount of keepers.

Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Wembley Or Bust, released 17 November. I totally admit I’ve been obsessing over this album lately! Yeah, I’m almost 47 and this is the music of my youth. It’s an excellent live mix of classics (and “When I Was a Boy” from 2015’s Alone in the Universe) and a hell of a fun listen.

Elbow, Best of, released 24 November. Go buy this already! One of my favorite bands of the new millennium. Absolutely stellar songwriting with gorgeous melodies and amazing vocals.  I don’t obsess over this band so much as I let their music pull me in and take me places.  I love it when a band can do that.

Bjork, Utopia, released 24 November. Weirdly beautiful as always, Bjork’s new album is once again less about the melodies and more about the sensation of its sound. Delicate and fragile, but always great.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds,Who Built the Moon, released 24 November. The Other Gallagher Brother (the one wot wrote nearly all the Oasis songs) puts out an off-kilter yet surprisingly strong album that’s quite different from his previous two.

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One more month of new releases to go!

A dreaded sunny day…

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Last Friday saw the reissue of the fantastic 1986 album by the Smiths, The Queen Is Dead.  The expanded package includes a lovely remaster of the album itself, with the addition of numerous demos from that era, single b-sides, and a live performance at Great Woods in Mansfield MA (of course mislabeled as “Boston”, as is normal for that venue).  The cd package also includes a dvd of the Derek Jarman mini-film, as well as a hi-fidelity remaster of the album.

The Queen Is Dead became my favorite Smiths album soon after I picked it up, which, if I recall, was not that long after I ordered their final album from Columbia House.  It’s their most solid and consistent album that’s not a singles compilation, in my opinion.  While some love the brutalism of Meat Is Murder or the doom of the debut (or the poppiness of Strangeways, Here We Come, for that matter), the consensus is usually that TQID is their best moment.  The songs are tight, exciting, and playful.  Johnny Marr’s guitar work here is top notch, and Morrissey is clearly having fun being the smartass intellectual lyricist.

I almost always gravitate to this album over their others.  While I love nearly all their work, this one is the most positive and uplifting, the most fun to listen to, even with the one-two punch downers of “I Know It’s Over” (mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head…) and “Never Had No One Ever” (I had a really bad dream / It lasted twenty years, seven months, and twenty seven days…).  They’re balanced by the silliness of “Frankly Mr Shankly” and “Vicar in a Tutu”.  The lead title track is an amazing kick-ass jam and is one of their hardest, loudest tracks they ever committed to tape.  [The reissue offers a ‘full version’ that goes on for nearly a minute longer.]

If you’re a passing fan of the band, I do suggest picking up this reissue; its remaster provides the album with a much fuller, warmer sound (the original mix suffered from too much treble and loudness, at least in how I’ve heard it).  I’m also happy that they provided us with the original twelve-inch crossfade of the two b-sides “Rubber Ring” and “Asleep”, which makes the two songs connect in a very Abbey Road medley sort of way.

Favorite Albums: Synchronicity

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I’ve been hearing a few Police songs on Sirius 1st Wave lately, and it got me thinking: I haven’t listened to their last album Synchronicity in a LONG time. It occurred to me that this was one of the early non-Beatles albums that I connected with from start to finish in the early 80s. [I’d say Rush’s Moving Pictures and Thomas Dolby’s The Golden Age of Wireless are two others from this era…I’d listened to full albums all the time, but very few of them contained a full album’s worth of tracks I completely loved.  That would change within a year or so.]

I remember Synchronicity coming out as there was an amazingly detailed push by the label, A&M, on MTV, including multiple versions of the album cover, as well as a four-minute long teaser that was played on the music channel:

Having become a somewhat passive fan of the band on the previous album (1981’s Ghost in the Machine and the many hits that got airplay on rock radio, I loved what I was hearing. And when it was released in June of 1983, one of my sisters bought it and I damn near wore it out playing it. I’d dubbed a copy of it for my own listening until I finally found a used vinyl copy a year or so later.

Of course everyone knows the lead-off single, “Every Breath You Take”, which still gets an amazing amount of airplay over thirty years later. I was more a fan of its b-side, “Murder By Numbers”, which was treated as a bonus track on the cassette and CD. I was also a fan of the second single, “Wrapped Around Your Finger”. It’s not often you hear a song that uses the phrase “trapped between the Scylla and Charibdys”. Nerdy stuff indeed.

But what I found myself really enjoying was the strange mix of album cuts, from the jazzy “Miss Gradenko”…

to the new wave weirdness of “Mother”…

…to the jittery opener “Synchronicity I”.

I was only twelve when it came out, but budding writer in me really liked the idea that the album was all about different kinds of philosophies, both religious and profane, and how often they were linked in one way or another. Sting’s uber-intellectual lyrics were tempered by some brilliant melodies that seemed to transcend anything they’d recorded before.

Of course, it was also their last album together before they broke up (acrimoniously due to clashing egos, of course), so they certainly went out with a bang. Each member went on to vastly different solo careers and though they’ve reconvened a few times for one reason or another, they’ve never released anything new since.

Out of all the Police albums I listen to, Synchronicity gets the most plays by far.  It’s the tightest, the wildest, and the most interesting in my opinion.  The others tend to have weak spots that lose my attention, but this one I’ll still listen to from start to finish.

 

Recent Purchases, September Edition, Part II

More musical goodness from last month for you to enjoy!

Living Colour, Shade, released 8 September. Great to see these guys back, still rocking hard and writing some damn fine songs.

The National, Sleep Well Beast, released 8 September. A somewhat more somber affair for these guys (well, a bit more laid back than they already are!), but still a great album.

Lamb, “Illumina” single, released 13 September. A new track by Lamb? SWEET! A lovely track by one of my favorite electronic bands. Definitely looking forward to more from them.

Foo Fighters, Concrete and Gold, released 15 September. A harder, darker album, less catchy but just as great.

Ringo Starr, Give More Love, released 15 September. Ringo’s albums can be hit or miss, but he definitely hit it with this one. Very upbeat and confident on this one.

Prophets of Rage, Prophets of Rage, released 15 September. Music by the guys from Rage Against the Machine and rappers from Public Enemy and Cypress Hill. You’d better expect some fucking rage.

Gary Numan, Savage (Songs from a Broken World), released 15 September. I think I may have found another album that I will be listening to during writing sessions for the next Mendaihu Universe story. I’m amazed at how damn good this album is.

Cut Copy, Haiku from Zero, released 22 September. This band manages to create a new variant of their signature electronic sound with every new album, and I’m always fascinated by them. Yet another fine release.

Tricky, ununiform, released 22 September. Another ‘I will buy anything they release’ musician. Tricky’s not as grimy and gritty as he used to be, but he still retains the great triphop chill that defines his sound.

The Horrors, V, released 22 September. I stumbled upon this group a few years ago and I love their mid-80s goth retro sound that kind of reminds me of Comsat Angels. Definitely worth checking out.

Wolf Alice, Visions of a Life, released 29 September. This is such a fun band to listen to! You never quite know where they’re going next with each song, but the ride is a blast.

Coming soon enough: October releases! We have some fine albums for this month as well that I’m looking forward to picking up!