Sunday, February 26, 2017

Palace Music - Viva Last Blues

Viva Last Blues represents a considerable leap forward for Palace Music.  Released in 1995, it has far more a full band sound than anything previous.  The band have a kind of loping, slightly warped country sound, exemplified by the opening two tracks More Brother Rides and Viva Ultra.  Some tracks have a darker, moody feel to them such as Brute Choir and the vengeful Tonight's Decision ("when he comes for me I will fuck him o, I will waste him in my own way"), and these songs are pretty effective.  The Mountain Low attracts attention for his lyrics about "if I could fuck a mountain..." etc but it's the kind of easy melody that Will Oldham would make his name with as Bonnie Prince Billy.  Later, New Partner has a lazy, relaxed easy charm, Oldham drawling "you were always on my mind".

Further into the album Work Hard / Play Hard rocks errr 'hard' with a full rocking sound and Oldham's squawked vocals. and the strutting, squalling guitars of Cat's Blues help to mix the sound up a bit, and stop the album from sounding too samey.  The rustic, bluesy folk of We All, Us Three, Will Ride and Old Jerusalem rounds off the album.   

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Cure - Join the Dots: B-Sides & Rarities

FOUR CDs of b-sides from The Cure, great!  The set is broken up chronologically, and not surprisingly the first disc 1978-1987 is by far the most essential.  Any self-respecting Cure fan (Cure-head?) should already have creepy kitchen sink drama 10:15 Saturday Night already and the rest is a bit hit and miss.  The stronger tracks are earlier on the disc, with I'm Cold sounding like the darker moments of their debut album, Three Imaginary Boys, while Another Journey by Train is like early single Jumping Someone Else's Train ran through a 17 Seconds blender, ie, pretty damn good.  Descent is like cast-off riffs from their Faith album and Splintered in Her Head could soundtrack a descent into hell.  After this the mood changes abruptly with the quirky likes of The Dream and The Upstairs Room, though the second version of Lament is a brooding slab of glorious misery.  What else?  Further into the first disc sees Robert Smith get looser and looser with his vocals, not always to great effect (the piercing wails on New Day).  The pacy guitar strums of The Exploding Boy are quite fetching though.

After this things get a bit wobbly.  On the second disc, A Chain of Flowers has some gorgeous, if very Goth-y, ringing guitars.  They turn their hand to poppy moments such as 2 Late and To The Sky is the Cure's very own John Hughes soundtracking moment, it wouldn't have been out of place in a mid 80s coming-of-age movie.  Other highlights include the Eastern flavoured Fear of Ghosts and two different covers of The Doors' Hello I Love You. Elsewhere, we could do without remixes of Icing Sugar, Hey You and Just Like Heaven, and the dance-infused Harold and Joe comes across as trying a bit too hard.

The third CD is by and large, accessible intelligent pop like This Twilight Garden and Halo, and darker brooding numbers like Play and the gentle grower that is The Big Hand.  We also get a couple of novelty covers, Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze and Bowie's Young Americans, along with Burn, taken from the soundtrack to The Crow.  The fourth CD isn't great really, some dreadful remixes (A Forest) and dodgy covers (World In My Eyes).  But overall, a decent collection.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Wilco - A.M.

Wilco's debut album, released in 1995 is a fairly 'straight' country rock album.  It opens with I Must Be High, a melodic, upbeat country rocker.  Casino Queen is a boozy, Stonesy rocker, straight out of Exile on Main Street, while Box Full of Letters is a similarly swaggering rock song.

Shouldn't Be Ashamed slows the pace down a bit and it suits them better.  The song still rocks, just a bit more gently, and it's a highlight.  As are Pick Up The Change and I Thought I Held You, a pair of breezy, relaxed tunes with Jeff Tweedy's voice upfront and central.  Less successful is the overly country, banjo-drenched That's Not The Issue, and John Stirratt-sung country ballad It's Just That Simple feels a bit out of place.

The album recovers well with strumalong Should've Been In Love, and the remaining songs drift pleasantly along, including the Dylan/Neil Young style Passenger Side and the blissed-out country drift of Dash 7 and Blue Eyed Soul.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Palace Brothers

The second Palace Brothers album, released in 1994 is if anything even more sparse and stripped down than the debut.  Most of the album is just Will Oldham and a guitar.  There are few moments as forlorn, and as dejected as the opening You Will Miss Me When I Burn, Oldham opens with the devastating line "when you have no one, no one can hurt you."  It's the finest song here and one the finest in his extensive back catalogue, just a shame it ends after three minutes.  After this we get standard issue acoustic songs like Pushkin, I Send My Love To You and No More Workhorse Blues as well as the dodgy Come A Little Dog.  But apart from the opening track, unremarkable stuff.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs

Yo La Tengo released Popular Songs in 2009.  A kind of sprawling, lengthy album, it opens with dramatic strings on Here To Fall, a kind of indie-soul workout.  One of the band's strengths is evoking a lazy, end of summer feel, and soft, shimmering tracks like Avalon Or Someone Very Similar and I'm On My Way do just that, featuring fine guitar from Ira Kaplan, reminiscent of the softest Velvet Underground material.  Georgia Hubley gets do her spooky, sultry chanteuse thing on the keyboard-heavy By Two's and the largely acoustic When It's Dark.  It's not all sweetness, Nothing To Hide contains distorted guitars that grind just the right amount.  Elsewhere, Hubley and Kaplan duet on If It's True, which sounds like a vintage soul song, complete with swooning strings.

The final three lengthy tracks occupy 37 minutes on the album.  The first of these, More Stars Than There Are In Heaven, builds up slowly with gently growling guitars and plods along pleasantly for nine and a half minutes or so, while the virtually instrumental The Fireside sits and shimmers, making pretty sounds and effects for eleven and a half minutes.  They don't really go anywhere, but that's not really the point.  Unfortunately the longest of the three, And The Glitter Is Gone, is merely 16 minutes of grinding guitars, which is more tedious than that sounds.

Still, two out of three is not a bad strike rate and says a lot about Yo La Tengo as a band in general, they are that "two out of three" type band.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Uncle Tupelo - Anodyne

Uncle Tupelo's fourth and final album came out in 1993.  Jay Farrar's country-soaked Slate opens the album, and the prominence of fiddle will tell you what sort of album it is.  At times the country influence is heavy and a bit much (the busy fiddle on Acuff-Rose, the 'honky-tonkiness' of We've Been Had).  Much better is Jeff Tweedy's rocking The Long Cut, a rollicking tune which lurches back and forth in a very pleasing manner.  They get the country just right on Doug Sahm's mid-paced strum Give Back The Key To My Heart, Sahm providing vocals and songwriting.  The countrified REM influence comes through on Tweedy's New Madrid, and soaring steel guitars lift the title track from mediocrity.  Farrar's contributions generally have more of a country feel than Tweedy's, with cry-in-your-beer High Water a prime example.  Whereas when Tweedy does the steel guitar laced No Sense In Lovin', he ups the tempo, taking it out of traditional country territory.

The problem with an album like this is it's more an album to admire, considering its influence, than to truly love.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The House of Love - The House of Love

The House of Love's second album is kind of like a classic 80s indie album that happened to come out in 1990.  After the slowly building opener Hannah, the album kicks into gear with Terry Bickers' chiming guitar riff on the anthemic Shine On.  This brooding track flirts with goth as a Guy Chadwick croons "I need assistance".  But the following track Beatles and the Stones is the heart of the album.  Opening with some gorgeous, laid back guitar, it contains a romantic chorus telling the tale of how "the Beatles and the Stones suck the marrow out of bones" but ultimately "made it good to be alone".  The guitars are more akin to the Velvet Underground's third album.   

Elsewhere the album has a couple of upbeat, pleasant tunes (Shake and Crawl, I Don't Know Why I Love You) and some a little on the busy side (Hedonist, In A Room).  Chadwick sounds a little like Lloyd Cole on Never and the stripped down Someone's Got To Love You, while later, Blind rivals Beatles and the Stones for the prettiest guitars on the album. 

At times the album seems unremarkable but there are some really nice moments on it.  Not the best album of 1990 but worth spending a bit of time with.