It Was Fifty Years Ago…

You may have heard the BIG NEWS from hither and yon that Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is getting a super deluxe edition from Apple in celebration of the album turning 50.  It’s BIG NEWS because this is the first Beatles album to get this kind of remaster/expanded reissue.  The deluxe edition will contain a new remix from Giles Martin, two discs of outtakes, and a dvd and blu-ray of even more goodies — including a 5.1 mix (!!) and the Making of Sgt Pepper documentary from 1987.  The new stereo remix, per Martin, is not the original remaster we heard on the 2009 box set, but a true remix, in which he shifted the sounds to make it sound more like the original mono mix.*

Yer darn tootin’ I pre-ordered it as soon as I heard about it!

Anyway…I’m looking forward to hearing this new mix.  I gave the album a good listen the other day (the mono mix, actually) and it really did break a hell of a lot of rules and boundaries.  Hundreds of other bands who heard the album for the first time were completely blown away by it, even more influenced by it.  When people call songs ‘Beatlesque’, they usually mean it sounds like something from this album.

Me?  I’m looking forward to hearing “A Day in the Life”…it’s what I think of as their finest moment, not just in songwriting but in production.  It transcends being just a pop song and turns into an orchestral piece.  Hearing a new stereo mix of this song should be a treat.

To quote from my ‘Blogging the Beatles’ series from a few years back, plus a few added notes:

Though this track was recorded relatively early in the sessions (19-20 January, with additional work done a week or so later), by the time they finished recording, they knew that this absolutely had to be the last track on the album, no question. It’s long been considered one of their best compositions, and given the amount of time dedicated to it (a total 34 hours, twenty-two more than the entirety of Please Please Me!), it’s by far one of their most complex productions.

There are three distinct parts – the first and third, written mostly by John and taken from recent newspaper articles (the death of friend Tara Browne in a car accident, the report that the roads in Blackburn were filled with potholes, and so on), and the middle section provided mostly by Paul (a simple nostalgic trip of riding the double-decker bus through Liverpool when he was younger), each with its own personality.

The first part is performed with deliberate slowness, starting quietly but growing increasingly louder until we reach the end. [EDIT: Ringo’s drumming here is to the fore, punctuating each line of the verse, mixed high and given a thunderous echo.  The deliberate slowness of this first part adds to its haunting mood, which makes the first orchestral swell sound like a maelstrom.]

The link to part two is via a crazy idea from Paul and Martin, in which an orchestra plays an unscripted rise from the instrument’s lowest E up to its highest in the space of 24 bars. [EDIT: if you listen closely, you can just about hear Mal Evans under the din, counting out said bars, leading up to the alarm clock going off.] That link serves not just to wind up the listener but the speed, as Paul’s section comes in double-time, a bouncy and simple melody meant to evoke a commuter running late.

The second gives way to a third part via an absolutely breathtaking eight bars – it’s not complex, but listen to how Martin takes a simple four-note score and makes it dynamic by gradually increasing the volume of the brass, pulling them from the back to the foreground, while simultaneously pushing John’s angelic ‘aah’s being pushed back into the increasingly echoey mix.  [EDIT: In the mono mix, John merely fades into the mix, but in the stereo mix he pans from right to left as well. This entire section is by far one of my favorite moments of any Beatle song ever.  A few simple mixing and scoring tricks, but they’re done so beautifully.]

In part three we’ve returned to an abbreviated repeat of John’s first section, played double-time as well…only to be brought back to that nightmarish ascension again. This time, once everyone hits that high E, we’re left floating up in the air for a brief second…only to come crashing down – hard – on a final low E chord. That final breathtaking moment is played by John, Paul, Ringo and Mal Evans on three pianos and George Martin on a harmonium, and is drawn out to nearly forty seconds via the recording level being brought up as high as possible as the piano’s natural reverberation slowly fades.

The Super Deluxe Edition of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band will be released on 26 May, one week shy of fifty years of its original release.

 

* Some background here…the Beatles were present for the original mono mix of the album back in ’67, but were not present for the stereo mix, which was done afterwards.  Audiophiles often say the mono mix is much better, as it’s closer to what the band wanted.  It also has a fuller, tighter sound, whereas the stereo mix feels a bit spacious.  Oh–and “She’s Leaving Home” is at the right speed on the mono mix, and in my opinion makes it a stronger song, where the stereo mix was slower and more maudlin, maybe too much so.

The Official Eden Cycle Soundtrack

Or: Albums Wot I Listened to Incessantly While Writing the Trilogy in the Belfry, 1996-2004. It’s by no means a complete list, as I’ve left out a ton of albums that didn’t get nearly as much play but may have shown up in heavy rotation for a shorter time. I also didn’t list the albums that popped up during the revision years, which would probably be another long list in itself.

I’ve put them in semi-chronological order of release. These are still some of my favorite albums; I would highly suggest checking many of them out, perhaps finding a copy or two for your collection if you don’t have them already. It’s a wide mix; there’s electronica, alternative metal, alternative rock, and even a classical album or two. A lot of these albums still pop up on rotation when I’m working.

To be honest, it does feel kind of odd to finally be listening to a different style of music for my latest project. [Meet the Lidwells! is full of power-pop goodness, so there’s a lot of Matthew Sweet and Fountains of Wayne involved, and a lot of listening to The Power Pop Show on KSCU.]  But I highly doubt I’ll stop listening to Fantastic Planet or Sea Change any time soon…

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Ultrasound’s ‘Everything Picture’

In the last few years of my run at HMV, I was given the go-ahead to do special orders for customers, as well as order the occasional import.  This came in handy when NSYNC released the single “Bye Bye Bye” some time before the No Strings Attached album; I knew it would be a huge seller despite the price, so I had them order a good hundred or so copies.  They all sold out within a few days.

Around that time, I’d been reading all the reviews in the British music magazines and catching up on bands that may or may not break here.  One of my favorite finds was a five-piece called Ultrasound, whose sound was a fantastic cross between crunchy guitar-led Britpop (very similar to Kaiser Chiefs, predating them by at least a few years) and seventies psychedelia, with a bit of Pink Floydish prog in there as well.  They released a handful of singles and one album, Everything Picture, before breaking up.  [They would, however, reconvene twelve years later for a second album, Play for Today, and have just released a new mini-album at the end of 2016.]

It’s a sprawling album, twelve long tracks stretching an hour and a half over two cds (most of the tracks are around six or seven minutes long, with the last track featuring a truly epic freakout that lasts a little over 21 minutes plus a two-minute hidden track!).  Due to its length and wide scope, many critics found it bloated and meandering, but despite that, it reached to number 23 on the UK Albums chart, and it’s remained a fan favorite.  I for one loved that it was a long album; a sort of The Beatles only with fewer and much longer songs.  I dubbed it onto cassette and listened to it constantly whenever I drove around New England.

The single “Stay Young” is one of my favorites from this album.  It’s a wonderful rock anthem from the loud-soft-loud school, a twenty-first century rewrite of “My Generation” in a way.

The track “Aire & Calder” is another favorite.  I love its driving beat and folksy melody that evokes the feeling of riding a caravan through the British wetlands.  [Aire and Calder are two rivers that meet up near Goole and Castleford just outside Leeds; both towns are name-dropped within the song as well.]

The album still holds up well nearly eighteen years later.  I can see where the critics were frustrated, as it slides all over the place, changing moods and sounds constantly (again, much like the White Album), but taken as a whole, it remains a strong record from start to finish.

The Joshua Tree Turns 30

I remember when U2’s breakthrough album The Joshua Tree came out, because it wasn’t just the usual music nerds like me that were eagerly awaiting for it; most of the guys I knew on my high school football team couldn’t wait to get their hands on it!  That was certainly a change.  Usually the jocks’ tastes in music and my tastes never crossed paths at all.

It could be that the teaser single, “With or Without You”, was such a huge hit that resonated with pretty much everyone.  I think there was also the fact that their previous  releases — the atmospheric The Unforgettable Fire from 1984, the excellent but far too short live album Under a Blood Red Sky from late 1983 and the amazing War from earlier that same year — were big favorites on MTV and rock radio.  And that classic performance at Live Aid in the summer of 1985 had given them a big ol’ boost as well.

I remember not being overly excited about the release at first.  Sure, I loved U2, but I wasn’t a hardcore dedicated fan yet.  In fact, I was more focused on the new Siouxsie & the Banshees cover album (Through the Looking Glass) that was released around the same time.  But I went ahead and bought it anyway, ordering the cassette from the BMG Music Club, and deemed it worthy of repeated listens.

It wasn’t until that summer, around the release of the third single “Where the Streets Have No Name” that the album really clicked with me.  I’d started hearing more deep cuts from the album being played on WAAF, WAQY and other New England radio stations as well.  The drifting beauty of “One Tree Hill”,  the barely restrained anger of “Bullet the Blue Sky”, the pastoral melancholy of “Red Hill Mining Town” (the last of which reminded me of the dead-end feeling I was having about my home town at the time).

The album kicked off such a storm of excitement that their tour ended up being THE EVENT TO SEE.  Sadly, I would never get to see them live until nearly ten years later for the PopMart Tour, but my sisters did get to see them down in Worcester for this tour, much to my extreme jealousy.  Numerous parts of the tour stops were filmed for what would end up being the documentary Rattle and Hum, released in 1988 complete with soundtrack and new songs recorded on the road.  And a little over ten years later, they’d resurrect and re-record one of the b-sides for “Streets” and release it as a single for one of their greatest hits mixes:

I’d revisit the album numerous times over the years: a constant soundtrack during my post-college writing years and even more during the Belfry years; talking with my then-girlfriend about how the album was sequenced into a specific flow of sound and mood; a constant replay when the band released their (almost) entire discography on iTunes; while working on my Walk in Silence project.  I’ve never grown tired of it.

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Thirty years on, this album is still considered a classic.  U2 themselves are celebrating its anniversary with a tour of North America and Europe, playing the album in its entirety.  I doubt I’ll be going when they stop by Santa Clara in late May, but I’m sure it’ll be a fantastic show.  [For a brief moment I thought hey, maybe they’ll come to Outside Lands!…and then I realized they’ll be wrapping up their European leg about the same time so I doubt they’ll be in the mood for trekking all the way back to California by that time.  Wishful thinking, though!]

Year in Review, Part 4

And finally, here we are at the last quarter of the year!

Phish, Big Boat, released 7 October.  The band is positively perky on this album, full of bounciness and silliness that I haven’t heard since Billy Breathes twenty years ago.  It’s also more cohesive and catchier than Fuego, their previous outing.  And there’s some amazing harmony going on with this track right here.

Green Day, Revolution Radio, released 7 October.  Another excellent album from the boys from the East Bay.  While it may not be as radio friendly as American Idiot, it’s just as angry and in your face.

BT, _, released 14 October.  BT is a fascinating musician in that you’re never quite sure what his next sound is going to be like.  He’s a great remixer and his electronica stretches from glitchy to sublime.  And then there’s this album, which is essentially an electronic classical album of sorts.  It’s stunning and lovely and rates right up there with the work of my favorite new composer, Mason Bates.  And of course this got a ton of play during writing sessions.

Bowling for Soup, Drunk Dynasty, released 14 October.  BfS is up to their goofy, punky best as always with this Kickstarter-funded album (you should check out the KS page just to watch the video where they forget they’re trying to sell the album and talk about–you guessed it–drinking beer).  It’s a strong and solid album all the way through, and a hell of a lot of fun.

Jagwar Ma, Every Now and Then, released 14 October.  This album, interestingly enough, reminded me of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, in that it’s a flawless mixture of melodic indie rock and blissed out dance grooves.  And “O B 1” is definitely my Track of the Year, with its ticking ambient/chunky riff mix and infectious beat.  The album itself is up there in my top ten as well.

American Football, American Football, released 21 October.  WOO!  New American Football!  Given that their previous album was 17 years ago, that’s a long wait, but it was quite worth it.  These guys were part of the original laid-back, wistful, math rock sound that included Low and early Modest Mouse back in the late 90s, so it’s great to have them back.

Jimmy Eat World, Integrity Blues, released 21 October.  Glad to see these guys are still going strong after all these years, and still writing songs that stick in my head for hours.  A solid album all the way through.

The Radio Dept, Running Out of Love, released 21 October.  Yet another Wait–they have a new album out?? release for 2016, and it’s excellent.  Dark and weird and groovy and twitchy all over the place — which is what makes me like them so much.  Really dug the production on this one a lot.

Sleigh Bells, Jessica Rabbit, released 11 November.  I really love their Wall of Crunchy Guitar sound (it’s great for headphones when you’re on a plane or at the gym), and I love the way they slip around their melodies, making them playful and in your face at the same time.

A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from here…thank you 4 your service, released 11 November.  YES!  Another ATCQ album finally arrives, and it’s a stunner.  It might be their last one they release, but it’s a hell of tight one.

Metallica, Hardwired…to Self-Destruct, released 18 November.  Ending on a surprising note, considering I’m not much of a metalhead at all, but this is one hell of a great album, the best they’ve done in the past few years.  They still have a few songs here and there reminiscent of the more radio friendly Load/ReLoad era, but they’ve returned (finally) to some the best axe-wielding they’ve put on record in quite a while.

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Coming up next week: The End of Year Lists!  Favorite songs, and my year-end mixtape!

 

Year in Review, Part 3

Back again for Q3!

Blink-182, California, released 1 July.  I’ll admit, I’m still a Blink fan partially because Travis is such an insanely great fast-speed drummer.  This new album feels like a return to their happier, punkier days of the late 90s-early 00s, and it’s a lot of fun to listen to.

The Avalanches, Wildflower, released 8 July.  When was that last album of theirs?  2000?  2001?  Far too long.  They’ve lightened up on the sampling (a bit) for obvious financial reasons, and their songs aren’t nearly as weird and goofy as the ones on Since I Left You, but on the other hand, they’ve excelled at creating groovy vibes and insanely catchy tracks like the above.

Lou Rhodes, theyesandeye, released 29 July.  Lamb’s lead singer released a lovely solo album featuring some of her best work outside that band.  Her style of singing works well in a non-electronic atmosphere here, and she also does a hell of a great job covering The XX as well.

Dog Party, ‘Til You’re Mine, released 5 August.  One of my favorite local bands releases their fifth album — the first after drummer Lucy’s high school graduation (!!) and as always, it’s all kinds of fun to listen to.  Short econo punk that would make the Ramones and Fuzzbox proud.

De La Soul, …and the Anonymous Nobody, released 25 August.  So happy to see these guys back at it…one of the best hip-hop groups around.  I’m also impressed by the DIY nature of this album as well: the samples used were recorded using live musicians (their jamming would be recorded and various bits used for the samples), and the entire project was funded via Kickstarter.  Even a lot of the non-music packaging and post-production was done either by them or by friends and acquaintances.

Banks & Steelz, Anything But Words, released 26 August.  Who knew that the dark, driving alt-rock of Interpol would fit so perfectly with the blistering delivery of RZA?  And that these guys met up frequently to play chess?  This match-up delivers one hell of a strong punch from both sides and it’s one of my favorites of the year.

The Wedding Present, Going, Going… released 2 September.  The Weddoes are back!  Another Kickstarter-funded album that was well worth the wait.  Full of their trademark dreamy and crunchy riffs on top of lovely melodies.

Wilco, Schmilco, released 9 September.  Wilco has always been just this side of weird, and their new album proves once again that they can pull it off and still be fun and enjoyable to listen to. Definitely a band off in their own universe, but they’ve become quite comfortable and agile within it.

Bastille, Wild World, released 9 September.  I wasn’t quite sure how they were going to top their fantastic debut album from a few years ago, but they’ve pulled it off by being bigger, stronger, and more experimental with their sounds.  They’ve also injected a bit of humor into the mix this time out, which makes a lot of the songs that much more fun to listen to.

Preoccupations, Preoccupations, released 16 September.  The band formerly known as Viet Cong returns with a new album that sounds straight out of 1985-era goth that you’d expect to hear on Homestead Records, and it’s a fascinating listen.  [Also, the above video perfectly fits with early era 120 Minutes, doesn’t it?]

Against Me!, Shape Shift with Me, released 16 September.  One of their most melodic releases that I can think of, and some of their best work as well.  The songs feel freer and livelier.  Another frequent player during the Day Job as well as writing sessions.

Beach Slang, A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, released 23 September.  Another album that sold me on first listen, even before the album was done.  Equal parts Replacements and Dinosaur Jr, there’s a hell of a lot of great pop-punk going on here.  Definitely in my top ten of the year.

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Next up, the final quarter of 2016….and of course, I’ll follow up with the lineup for the end-of-year compilation mix and my Top Albums and Songs of the year!

 

Year in Review, Part 2

As you can tell, I haven’t quite been sticking to my schedule nearly as well as I’d hoped.  I’d blame it on the procrastination or the Day Job or the election or whatever, but it really has been a bunch of things.  I started writing this one up last night after doing much of our Christmas wrapping, but had to stop short so I could get working on my editing.  I’m hoping in the new year I’ll be a little more on the ball, yeah?

Well hey, here we go with Part 2 of my favorite albums of 2016, and Q2 was filled with a hell of a lot of great albums that I’m still playing heavily months later.  Enjoy!

Cheap Trick, Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello, released 1 April.  Thought I’d start off this one with an unexpected surprise — I’ve been a longtime Cheap Trick fan [I’m talking “Surrender” era here, so that means I AM OLD] so I was quite pleased to hear that they had a new album out this year.  This isn’t the poppy CT from the late 80s, mind you.  This is the crunchier, rockier CT from the late 70s – early 80s.  One of my favorites of the year.

M83, Junk, released 8 April.  Where 2011’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming was the sound of 70s LA glitz and 80s cinematic vistas, Junk seems to take the idea of the one goofy track from that album (you know, that one about turning into frogs) and expands on it.  The end result sounds like a mix between 80s kids shows on PBS and theme songs to Love Boat episodes.  And yet somehow it works without being cloying or embarrassing.  Even if the album cover does look like a Happy Meal box.

Lush, Blind Spot EP, released 15 April.  One of the best shoegazey bands of the 90s returns after twenty years for a tour and a new EP, and it was well worth the wait.  It’s just as lovely and shimmery as their previous records.  Yet another constant play during my writing sessions.

Wire, Nocturnal Koreans, released 22 April.  Essentially a mini-album of leftovers from the sessions for their previous album (2015’s self-titled), but nonetheless there’s not a wasted track here.  They’ve settled quite nicely into their current iteration as an indie-rock band with a sparse yet powerful sound.

RWBY Vol 3 soundtrack, released 3 May.  I found this online animation series quite by accident back in 2014 (I think I saw the Vol 1 soundtrack on eMusic as an endcap suggestion), and I quite enjoy it.  The soundtracks are great as well, very Paramore-ish and a lot of fun to listen to during my writing sessions.

Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool, released 8 May.  “Doot doot OH HEY we have a new album out.  Here you go.”  And the fans trip all over themselves downloading and liveblogging it! Heh.  Seriously, though, it’s a great album.  Haunting, gorgeous, tense, and dreamy.  Another writing session soundtrack!

Nothing, Tired of Tomorrow, released 13 May.  I do likes me some crunchy alternative metal, especially if it’s as melodic as Nothing is.  I’d never heard of this band before hearing this album streamed on NPR.com, and within two songs I definitely had that HOLY CRAP I NEED THIS response.  And once this was out, I quickly downloaded it along with the rest of their available albums and singles, because I loved it that much.  One of my top ten albums of the year.

Mark Pritchard, Under the Sun, released 13 May.  On the other end of the spectrum we have some lovely quiet ambient electronic from one of its best producers (and one half of Global Communication, whose 76:13 I still listen to on a regular basis while writing).  The album feels haunted at times — kind of hinting at being alone on a desolate world, come to think of it — but it also has its moments of light humor (“Hi-Red” sounds a bit like Mark playing with the settings on his keyboard more than anything else) to balance it out.

Beth Orton, Kidsticks, released 27 May.  Beth is one of those ‘off in her own universe’ songwriters, but without the weirdness that sometimes derails Tori and Bjork.  Her music has also retained that not-quite-electronic sound that she captured so well back on 1996’s Trailer Park, letting it sound both natural and ambient at the same time.

Garbage, Strange Little Birds, released 10 June.  Probably my favorite album of theirs after their self-titled debut back in 1995.  There’s some great guitar crunch going on here, and Shirley Manson can still belt it out effortlessly.  One of my top ten favorites of the year.

The Shelters, The Shelters, released 10 June.  As my sister said to me, ‘Dig that Rickenbacker sound!’  These guys picked up where Jet left off some time ago with the Swinging London-influenced sound, and I couldn’t be happier.  That this was released on Capitol makes absolute sense; they would have fit in quite nicely next to the Beatles as a great 60s guitar combo.

The Temper Trap, Thick As Thieves, released 10 June.  This band has grown to be one of those ‘I haven’t heard it yet but I’ll definitely download it’ bands of mine, and their newest has not let me down.  The title track is in my top ten favorite songs of the year as well.

DJ Shadow, The Mountain Will Fall, released 24 June.  The always amazing DJ Shadow brings forth an album that features less samples and a lot more hard sounds, giving his already experimental vibe a grittier edge.  I’ve been putting this one on during my writing sessions when I need an angrier vibe.  [The above track is NSFW lyrically, but they sure do fit the video, given the present political atmosphere.]

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Coming soon, Part 3, in which we check out some excellent late summer tunage!