Saturday, April 25, 2015

Yo La Tengo - Painful

Yo La Tengo’s sixth album, released in 1993 represented something of a shift from their previous material.  Less reliant on song-based, sub Velvets grooves, initially the album can feel a little hard to get into, on first listen there is little that jumps out at you.  The album has two versions of Big Day Coming, and the version that opens the album is kind of dreamy and drippy, with little happening over seven minutes.  The album picks up from here on, some very catchy melodies are given a pleasing skew with some wonderfully distorted guitar work on tracks like From A Motel 6 and Double Dare.

There are still traces of their earlier Velvet-y ballads, Nowhere Near and a cover of The Only Ones' The Whole of the Law have  perfectly pitched sleepy vocals from Georgia Hubley and Ira Kaplan.  Later, A Worrying Thing has a lazy summer feel to it.  But what the album really has to recommend it is the forefront and centre guitars of Kaplan on tracks like I Was The Fool Beside You, the second, heavy version of Big Day Coming, and valedictory instrumental closer I Heard You Looking. 

Though the album is less instant and alluring than May I Sing With Me, on prolonged listening little details begin to reveal themselves, making you come back time and time again for more.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Swervedriver - Mezcal Head

Mezcal Head is Swervedriver’s second album, released in 1993.  It’s basically a feast of guitars, they hit a little harder than on debut Raise right from opening track For Seeking Heat.  Tracks like Duel and Blowin Cool are less shoegaze and more heavy, catchy rock.

A couple of the tracks fall a little flat, MM Abduction is fairly ordinary while the monotonous six and a half minute Last Train To Satansville feels twice as long.  Thankfully the rest of the album recovers from this lull, the remaining tracks are very consistent across the board, in the mould of Duel.  Final track You Find It Everywhere may actually be the pick of the bunch, ending the album with a flourish.

So not an album for introspective types looking for meaningful song titles/lyrics, but for guitar aficionados it’s well worth a listen.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Album Review: The Church - Starfish

The Church are an Australian band who have been on the go since 1980, releasing 25 albums.  Their fifth album Starfish, released in 1988 opens with the slow, pulsing, moody grind of Destination.  The clean, liquid duelling guitars of Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper rise and fall in intensity throughout the song, gradually building up unresolved tension while Steve Kilbey croons over it.  There’s unquestionably a whiff of the eighties off the album, it plays out like a mixture of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, The Psychedelic Furs and The Smiths overlaid with a very eighties production.  This is exemplified by Under The Milky Way, possibly the best song on the album, which has a catchy melody and some exquisite guitar touches.  It starts with an acoustic, Smiths-like guitar progression before developing into a lush widescreen melody.

After that, the rest of the album struggles to measure up, some tracks like Spark have a very dated sound, sounding like a long lost theme song for a John Hughes movie.  But the songwriting is undeniably strong, highlights include the slow-burning Lost, a little like Lou Reed and the Commotions or Reed's Berlin updated for the eighties, the insistent, measured strum of Antenna, and Lloyd Cole was surely taking notes from the likes of A New Season and Hotel Womb for his first solo album.  On the other hand, North, South, East and West is one of the more anthemic tracks here, taking a Smiths guitar line and writing it large in the sky.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Album Review: Smashing Pumpkins - Machina/The Machines of God

Smashing Pumpkins fifth album was released in 2000 at a time when the world had grown rather tired of Billy Corgan and co.  With drummer Jimmy Chamberlin back in the fold the sound is heavier than their previous album Adore, with the clattering riffs of opener The Everlasting Gaze setting the tone.  Like many of their albums it's long, fifteen tracks over 73 minutes.

It's something of a mixed bag, not a return to their heavy early nineties sound, nor a continuation of the poppy feel of Adore.  This album attempts to marry the two and doesn't quite pull it off.  The powerful, hard-riffing Heavy Metal Machine and The Imploding Voice come across as more overblown bluster than anything else, as if the band decided 'hey, we can still do heavy'.  Elsewhere Raindrops + Sunshowers would be far better if the track was allowed to just breathe, the busy production is a little too much.  Tracks like Stand Inside Your Love, Try, Try, Try, and I of the Mourning are reasonably memorable, though the latter's endless refrain of "radio, radio, radio plays my favourite song" grates after a while.

There is a lot here to get your head around.  The Sacred and Profane works as it feels like the band isn't trying too hard, it's one of the stronger melodies here, as is This Time, which has a lovely descending jangly guitar part.  On the other hand the overlong The Glass and Ghost Children does nobody any favours, meandering for nearly ten very long minutes.
But it's all just a little too much, and without any really great songs it's not quite a keeper.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Album Review: Ride - Smile

Smile is a compliation of Ride's first two EPs, Ride and Play, released in 1990.  For those used to Ride's albums this feels a lot more ramshackle and very sixties, particularly opener Chelsea Girl which is kind of like a crunchier Byrds.  This surging, rush of a track is followed by the swaggering riffing of Drive Blind, All I Can See and Close My Eyes, which have an almost psychedelic grungy guitar sound.  Some of Mark Gardener's vocals are endearingly ropey, but all of these are very fine tracks nonetheless.

It's very early nineties, Like A Daydream is a perfect example of that shoegazey/baggy sound that begat Britpop.  The one track that doesn't work as well as the rest is the plodding Silver, but it's obliterated by the thrilling guitar on Furthest Sense and Perfect Time where, unbeknownst to them, they were mining a similar heavy seam of psychedelia as the Screaming Trees.

As good as any of Ride's later material, this deserves investigation.