Monday, July 9, 2018
Sunbeam Records SBRLP5086
This is a reissue of the debut album by the British band Kaleidoscope originally released as STL 5448 on Fontana Records in 1967. Original copies command a princely sum and they are worth it if you can afford it, because it is a truly wonderful album. I'm very happy with the reissue though. It is a quality pressing on heavy vinyl that sounds terrific. The sleeve is very nice and there is a booklet with notes by the group's leader, Peter Daltrey, with many wonderful pictures and ephemera from the record's 1967 release. I consider Daltrey to be among the most underrated figures in the history of rock. He was a fine singer and a brilliant songwriter. Kaleidoscope is much admired by cultists, but they ought to be appreciated by everyone. All of their albums are excellent and their unreleased album "White Faced Lady" is one of my all-time favorites. It was finally released on CD in the 1990s and if it ever comes out on vinyl I will be raving about it in this blog. Daltrey's solo records are also very worthwhile full of intelligence and melodic charm, but unfortunately I don't think they've ever been issued on vinyl either. This fantastic album opens with "Kaleidoscope" which is driven by Dan Bridgman's crisp drumming along with brisk piano runs and jangly guitar. It features psychedelic lyrics describing the sensations and images of being out in a crowd. The record becomes introspective with the gentle "Please Excuse My Face" which describes hiding one's heartbreak. A ringing guitar riff introduces the remarkable "Dive Into Yesterday" which is one of my favorite Kaleidoscope songs. The lyrics are extraordinarily trippy, a cascade of colorful imagery reminiscent of John Lennon's work on "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Strawberry Fields." "Mr. Small, the Watch Repairer Man" is a sympathetic portrait of a lonely worker very similar to Keith West's "Excerpt from a Teenage Opera" or the Hollies' "Charlie and Fred" which also were released in 1967. The song is extremely poppy and engaging. "Flight From Ashiya" was the single off the album. I think it has less commercial appeal than "Dive Into Yesterday" or "Mr. Small, the Watch Repairer Man" and it was not a hit. It is still a great song though. It begins with an ominous piano chord before shifting into an insistent bass riff supported by jangly raga rock guitar runs as Daltrey gives an atmospheric account of a doomed flight. "The Murder of Lewis Tollani" begins with a pounding drum that sounds like a heartbeat suggestive of "The Tell-Tale Heart" before lurching into a swirling psychedelic melange of melodies that recount a murderer's apology to his victim. This dazzling song concludes one of the finest album sides you will ever hear. Side two opens with "(Further Reflections), In the Room of Percussion" which as you might guess from the title is quite hallucinogenic. The music is a mixture of a trippy ballad and music hall recitation that reminds me of Syd Barrett. The lyrics are dreamlike and poetic. "Dear Nellie Goodrich" is a delicate love song with a chamber pop flavor and just enough trippiness to make it fit in with the rest of the album. It reminds me of some of the Zombies' songs on "Odessey and Oracle." The soaring "Holidaymaker" describes a holiday at the beach with colorful detail. With punchy horn overdubs and a straight forward poppy sound, it is the most commercial song on the album. It was the B-side for their single but perhaps it should have been the A-side. The elongated vocals and the shifting tempos give the song some psychedelic flavor. "A Lesson Perhaps" is spoken word with courtly accompaniment. It is a trippy fairy tale about a king who is lost in dreams, unable to act. The album concludes with the ballad of "The Sky Children" which is nearly 8 minutes long without any lengthy instrumental breaks. It is a psychedelic fairy tale about a journey undertaken by a group of children through a magical land. It features a mixture of colorful whimsy, evocative nonsense and trippy symbolism that recalls Donovan or even Lewis Carroll. I don't think the story is quite interesting enough to justify its length, but the melody is very hypnotic and appealing so I find the song consistently compelling. Thus ends one of the best albums of 1967 which is no mean feat considering how many excellent albums were released that year. I rank it among the best British psychedelic albums along with "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" and "Sgt. Pepper." Daltrey's lyrics are original, poetic and stimulating and the band's music is exciting and memorable. I've listened to this record many times and it still sounds fresh and enchanting to me. Even if you have little use for psychedelic music, this album is also a very rewarding pop record, one that really ought to be much better known. Recommended to fans of "Butterfly," "Forever Changes" and "Odessey and Oracle."
Saturday, June 2, 2018
Sargent House SH 059
I'm a fan of Henry Rollins' radio show broadcast locally on KCRW. I have been listening to him since he was on the regrettably defunct Indie 103.1 ten years ago. I'm not a big fan of his music although I like it okay, but as a record buff he blows me away. He's a much more adventurous and energetic music collector than I am. He has introduced me to a lot of records and artists I probably never would have otherwise heard such as Boris. I'd read about the band but they didn't sound like my cup of tea and I never bothered to check out their music. Then I heard them a few times on Rollins' show and I loved their heavy sound. I started buying their albums and became a fan. Of the Boris albums that I have, this is my favorite, the aptly titled "Heavy Rocks." It is sometimes referred to as "Heavy Rocks II" since Boris released another album called "Heavy Rocks" in 2002. It is a double album and although the cover looks like a plain purple sleeve in my pictures, it is actually embossed with pictures of the band and text listing credits and song titles - I just could not figure out a way to photograph it so they were visible. Side one opens with the ferocity of "Riot Sugar" which is driven by a juicy metallic riff and lots of loud guitar noise. The heated lyrics (sung in Japanese but translated on the inner sleeve) are rather sweetly crooned in contrast to the violent music. It is an example of one of my favorite things about this band which is their blending of noise and pop in their sound. "Leak-Truth, yesnoyesnoyes-" is an odd ball title for a song that I don't understand at all, maybe it loses something in translation. It is another noisy rocker reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr. particularly in the contrast between the low key vocal and the rocked up guitar noise. I presume that "GALAXIANS" was inspired by the spaceship shooting arcade game although the lyrics are typically cryptic. It is energetic and punky with lots of lightning fast riffing and electronic sound effects. "Jackson Head" continues in a similar vein with a compelling hard rock attack embellished with electronic noise. The lyrics are truly weird bordering on surreal. In contrast to the relentless intensity of side one, the second side begins quietly with the folky intro to "Missing Pieces." The song gradually acquires noisy overlays although it maintains its slow pace until it explodes into several minutes of speaker shredding cacophony at the song's climax which gradually ebbs away and the folky tune reappears. The lyrics are strikingly poetic even though I remain clueless about what they are trying to say. The subdued, introspective sound continues with the brief instrumental track "Key" which stops abruptly just as it is getting interesting. The third side commences with the hard-rocking "Window Shopping." The band kicks out the jams with high speed riffing and screaming guitar feedback. The song is listed as an instrumental but there is some dialogue in it as well as someone repeatedly crooning "doo doo doo." "Tu, la la" is one of my favorite tracks. It is a rocker with dreamy vocals that sounds like over-caffeinated shoegaze. I'm once again flummoxed by the lyrics but I still love the song. The fourth side opens with "Aileron" which begins with a deceptive calmness before erupting into the usual wall of sound. The song is mostly a thunderous dirge overflowing with throbbing bass lines, pounding drums and soaring feedback. As you might expect from the title, the lyrics do evoke flight although it is more of a psychedelic self-fulfillment/love song. The album concludes with the raucous instrumental "Czechoslovakia" which features ear-pummeling heavy riffing and irresistible rock drive. It gives the album a satisfying high energy finish. I'm not much of a metal guy nor am I into noise-rock but I adore Boris. They manage to combine the energy of metal and the thrilling power and dissonance of noise with pop values resulting in some of the most dynamic and exciting rock music I've ever heard. The lyrics tend to be pretty abstruse, but since they sing in Japanese, they are easy to ignore. I play this record a lot and it never fails to get me going. Recommended to people who think it would be cool if My Bloody Valentine jammed with Einstürzende Neubauten.
Thursday, April 26, 2018
Big Beat WIKD 181
This is a 1997 English re-issue of the classic Zombies album originally released on CBS Records in England with lacquers cut from the original tapes. It sounds terrific. I saw a concert a couple of years ago where the four surviving members of the band played the album in its entirety from beginning to end. It was one of the greatest musical experiences of my life, at times my eyes were in tears at the joy of hearing this music live. As I mentioned in my post on "Time of the Zombies" this music thrilled me when I first heard it as a teenager. This entire album is on the second record in that album. For many years I figured that was a good enough format to have it in, especially since original copies of the album were so expensive and hard to find. Then it started getting re-issued. I still resisted buying it particularly since I had also acquired it on CD via the "Zombie Heaven" box set. But ultimately I succumbed, it was just too important to me not to have it by itself. As a teenager back in the 1970s I mostly learned about pop music from the radio. At first I listened to top 40 AM radio and then when I finally got an FM radio I listened to album oriented rock, which we now call "classic rock." Even as a young person I realized that this music was mostly crude and idiotic. I heard an endless stream of stupidity that drove me back to the music of the 1960s. In retrospect there was plenty of intelligent music in the 1970s, I just wasn't hearing it on the radio. It was much later that I heard groups like Big Star, Roxy Music, King Crimson and Sparks. That is why when I heard this album, it blew me away. It was so unlike anything I had ever heard, even my beloved Beatles. At first I didn't even know what to make of it, the lyrics were so unusual and the music was so delicate. I was almost embarrassed that I loved it so much, it was so different from the music that my friends liked. But ultimately I didn't care, this record spoke to me like no other. I treasured it. It is a flawless masterpiece, 12 brilliant and diverse songs that convey experiences and feelings with unwavering intelligence. It begins with Rod Argent's upbeat "Care of Cell 44" which joyously recounts a person looking forward to the return of their imprisoned lover. Swelling mellotron lines and a big bouncy bass riff drive this engaging song which also features a sweet vocal from Colin Blunstone supported by very appealing background vocals. Somehow this song stiffed when it was released as a single but I find it endlessly enticing. The record shifts gears for the melancholy of Argent's "A Rose For Emily," a tale of loneliness delivered with a sensitive vocal from Blunstone supported by simple piano accompaniment from Argent. Chris White's "Maybe After He's Gone" displays a stimulating soft/loud dynamic with an atmospheric arrangement that expresses the confused emotions depicted in the lyrics. White's "Beechwood Park" is a beautiful nostalgic song enhanced by a chamber pop arrangement that gives it extra resonance. White also wrote "Brief Candles" which is one of the songs that most impressed me when I first heard this record. The song's poetic portrait of a disintegrating relationship still sends me and I admire the exhilarating shifts from the piano driven chamber pop of the verses to the soaring mellotron bolstered choruses. White, Blunstone and Argent all take turns at the mike. Side one concludes with Argent's "Hung Up On a Dream." This album is sometimes labeled as being psychedelic which I don't really hear, but this song is definitely in that vein. The impressionistic lyrics are hallucinogenic and the dreamy music is driven by jangly guitars and surging mellotron runs. The evocative lead vocal gives credibility to the flower power imagery of the lyrics and the beautiful background vocals enhance the atmosphere of the song in the best British psychedelic style. This has always been one of my favorite Zombies tracks and when I first got "Time of the Zombies," I played this song over and over. Side two opens with White's "Changes" which is a gloomy chamber pop track lamenting the changes money has made in a woman the singer used to know. It is particularly notable for the elaborate ensemble vocal arrangement in the choruses. The record perks up with Argent's ebullient "I Want Her She Wants Me." The song is so catchy that it verges on sunshine pop and it inevitably perks me up when I hear it. This is equally true of White's "This Will Be Our Year" which should have been a hit single. The song's sunny optimism, cheerful piano runs and Blunstone's heartfelt vocal it make it the emotional highlight of the album. The album takes a darker turn with White's creepy "Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)." It is an anti-war song with lyrics that vividly evoke the horrors of World War I sung by White in a shaky voice that conveys the pain expressed by the song. It is driven by Argent's ghostly harmonium playing adding to the menace of the lyrics. The song shocked me when I heard it as a teen and I still find it very powerful. When I saw the band performing it live, White's vocal gave me chills. Sunshine pop returns with White's jubilant "Friends of Mine" which celebrates the romances of the couples that the singer knows. This charming song also should have been a hit single. The album concludes with the band's actual hit single, Argent's "Time of the Season." As you probably know the song has a hypnotic melody punctuated by Argent's jazzy keyboard runs which rank among the finest instrumental work in his Zombie career. It is an outstanding finish to an outstanding album. This record is now 50 years old but it still sounds fresh and innovative to me. I loved it in my youth and I love it just as much now. I consider it one of the most influential and important albums in my life. I'm so grateful that I stumbled across that copy of "Time of the Zombies" all those years ago and decided to take a chance on it. Hearing this album opened my eyes to the artistic potential of pop music and along with the Beatles changed my life for the better. Recommended to people who believe that good music should have something to say.
Sunday, March 25, 2018
K Records KLP 245
I bought this from K Records' mail order service after I caught Eriksson opening for Mount Eerie at an art space in downtown L. A. in 2013. She delivered a mesmerizing set that even kept the hipsters quiet. I probably would have bought it eventually anyway because I'm a fan of her band Lake and have several of their albums. This does not sound much like Lake even though two of Eriksson's bandmates play on the record. The record begins with "March of the Conch" which is a slow keyboard driven instrumental that has a light, airy feel reminiscent of New Age type music. "Why Are You So Helpless?" continues the gentle pace as Eriksson croons about unhappiness and repression using images from nature. I like the way the song gradually builds in strength leading to a majestic finish. "West of the Mountain" is a dreamy ballad that celebrates nature. It is driven by a big bass line with chamber pop keyboard flourishes. The record perks up with "Arguably" which is a bouncy tune that approaches sunshine pop. The horns by Bill Kautz give the song an even brighter sound. The lyrics praise love and friendship. The record slows down again for "Ett Stilla Regn" which is a cover of a 1972 song by Swedish pop singer Ted Gärdestad. Eriksson sings it in Swedish. It is a song that uses a lyrical description of rain to describe the singer's feelings. The weather imagery continues with "Good Storm" which equates storms with emotions. The song is glacially slow with an ethereal feel to it. "Colours" is another quiet song that has a cozy domestic feeling as she describes waking up in the morning. It is rather twee, but I dig the lovely vocal. Side two opens with "Bury the House" which has more energy than most of the tracks. It has a repetitious structure that I find hypnotic. "Mother Nature's Promise" is similarly simple and repetitive, like lethargic synth-pop. "Sunset" returns to the serene dreamy sound of the songs on side one. "Humming in the Dark" is propelled by an insistent piano riff that is suggestive of locomotion which is appropriate for a song about humming while walking in the woods. "Organ Magic" is a relaxed instrumental with a slight exotica feel to it. "In the Stubborn Eyes of a Demon" looks for hope and optimism in the face of evil. The music is delicate and sensitive and gives the album a sweet finish. If you are looking to rock out, this is definitely not your record. It is introspective and subtle and requires patience to fully appreciate its charms. I like to play it late at night or on rainy days when the abundance of nature imagery has extra resonance. I find Eriksson's gentle voice to be very soothing and entrancing and she has created alluring soundscapes that enhance her voice's impact. This is a beautiful album that provides a sublime and tranquil listening experience. Recommended to fans of Lavender Diamond.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
When Atlantic Records put out their wonderful CD box set of Ray Charles recordings for the label, they called it "The Birth of Soul" which seems accurate to me. If anyone invented soul music, it was Ray Charles. However the music on this album is mostly rhythm and blues, although it is labeled rock and roll on the cover and the liner notes describe Charles as a blues singer. This was Charles' first album on Atlantic although it is basically just a compilation of his past singles for the label. The earliest track is the classic "Mess Around" which was recorded and released in 1953. The song was written by Ahmet Ertegun under the pseudonym A. Nugetre. Charles lights up this smoking boogie-woogie song with his ferocious piano playing and a red hot vocal. It is one of the most exciting recordings that he ever made. The b-side of the single was Charles' own "Funny (But I Still Love You)" which is a bluesy torch song. Charles' singing and playing make it memorable and I like the romantic guitar solo as well. Lowell Fulson's "Sinner's Prayer" was originally the b-side of the 1954 single "It Should've Been Me." It was recorded at the same session that produced "Mess Around." It is a blues song with an authoritative vocal from Charles backed up by his typically dynamic keyboard work. The self-penned "Don't You Know" was also a 1954 single. It is a slight song but Charles sings his heart out on it in addition to delivering an energetic piano solo. The song was paired with Charles Calhoun's "Losing Hand" which is a slow blues propelled by Charles' piano runs. Charles wrote "I Got a Woman" which was a big hit single in 1955. It is arguably the definitive recording of Charles' rhythm and blues period, an absolutely perfect song that exemplifies all the best qualities of the genre. Its flip side was "Come Back Baby" which was credited to Charles although it was actually written by Walter Davis who recorded it in 1940. It also was a hit and deservedly so. Charles' vocal is incredibly expressive, a landmark in the development of soul singing. Charles' "A Fool For You" was a 1955 single. It also has a stirring vocal that enables this otherwise pedestrian song to carry a lot of weight. Charles wrote the b-side "This Little Girl of Mine" which is a jumping rhythm and blues cut. Renald Richard's "Greenbacks" came out in 1955 as well. It reminds me of the jazzy recordings Charles made prior to signing with Atlantic when he was aspiring to be the next Nat King Cole. Henry Glover's "Drown In My Own Tears" was a hit single in 1956. Charles' bluesy vocal is rich with feeling, truly stunning. It gives me goosebumps. The single was backed with Charles' "Mary Ann" which has a Latin sound to it which gives it extra swing. Charles' magnificent "Hallelujah I Love Her So" also came out in 1956. The song reveals Charles phenomenal growth as an artist, as he moved beyond a traditional rhythm and blues sound into his own unique style combining blues, jazz and gospel, the nascent sound of soul. Charles' "Ain't That Love" was the most recent single on the album. It was recorded in late 1956 and released early in 1957. It is the song that most approaches soul particularly in the gospel inspired interaction between Charles and the background singers although the sax solo is still pure rhythm and blues. This song foreshadows the sound that Charles would further develop on his later Atlantic recordings. If you have any interest in the transition from rhythm and blues to soul, this is an essential record. Half of it is sheer genius and the remainder is outstanding. There has never been a better pop singer than Ray Charles. This music is not only important and influential, it is also endlessly compelling and stimulating. I've played it countless times and it never loses its appeal. Recommended to fans of Aretha Franklin.
Saturday, March 10, 2018
Slumberland Records SLR 117
I first became aware of this band when I caught them opening for Veronica Falls at the Bootleg Theater several years ago. I loved their set. Lead vocalist Jihae Meek was extremely charismatic and put on a great show. Afterward I wasn't sure how good the music really was though, I might have just been swayed by the theatrics. So eventually I bought their debut album to see if they were as good as I remembered. The short answer is "not really" but I like the album anyway. All but one of the songs were written by Meek and her guitarist husband Wallace Meek. They are mostly retro in style and content as is immediately evident in the opening track "Here Is Always Somewhere Else." It begins with the melodramatic sound of thunderclaps and rain before lurching into a lovely romantic ballad that could have been recorded by Timi Yuro if she knew some guys with jangly guitars. "Blue Genes" increases the tempo but remains rooted in the girl group era sound although I can't recall any early 60s group ever singing about incest. The song is indeed about a brother and sister who are in love with each other. It was originally recorded as a single by the Meeks' previous group, The Champagne Socialists. "Coconut Shampoo" is an ultra-poppy rocker about horny teenagers. The Beach Boys style oohs in the chorus put the song over for me. "Now" is a cover of the Plimsouls' classic song. Neverever slows down the song and mutes the rocking edge of the original making the song sound prettier and more romantic. I would not say that I prefer it to the original, but this version suits Meek's voice extremely well and she delivers a winning performance. "Young Runaways" mixes New Wave power pop and girl group vocals to deliver another ode to teenage lust and cruising. It was originally the b-side of The Champagne Socialists' single. Side two begins with the oddball "Cowboys and Indians" about cowboy and Indian lovers on a murderous rampage. This rocking song is driven by dense percussion reminiscent of Bow Wow Wow. "16th Wonder" is a dramatic shift in tone and style. It is a romantic song about teenage heartache featuring jangly guitar and Laena Myers-Ionita's lovely violin lines. It gives Meek a great opportunity to showcase her vocal ability. Rock and roll vulgarity returns full force with "Bitch Boys" which is silly fun. The verses of "Teardrop Tattoo" sound like they were lifted from "A Teenager in Love" by Dion and the Belmonts and the ooh-wee-oohs in the break are straight doo-wop. Meek sings about being threatened with murder by a jealous boyfriend although she seems surprisingly okay with it, even describing it as "true romance." "Young and Dumb" sounds like Lesley Gore crossed with Motown. As you can probably guess from the title it is another tale of ill-fated teenage love. The album concludes with "Underwater Ballet" which is about a guy drowning himself in the ocean for love who changes his mind a little too late. It is a driving, pounding song with a thick sound that reminds me of Best Coast. I love 1960s pop, Motown and girl groups so I have no problem with Neverever's derivative sound, I just wish the songs were more memorable. I enjoy all of them while I'm listening but very few of them stick with me after the record is over. "Now" is easily the best song on the album and they didn't write it. I do appreciate the cleverness of the lyrics and Meek's singing is very appealing which is reason enough for me to give the album an occasional spin. Recommended to fans of early Blondie.
Sunday, February 18, 2018
The Golden Earring
Polydor 2485 113
This is a late 1970s/early 1980s Dutch re-issue of Golden Earring's fifth album. Like most Americans I first became aware of the band when "Radar Love" became a hit here in 1974. I had just started to listen to the radio a lot and it was one of my favorite songs of the time. I liked the song so much that I eventually bought "Moontan" which is the album it was featured on. I figured that was all the Golden Earring I would ever need. Many years later I learned that Golden Earring had been around long before I had ever heard them. Their career dates back to the early 1960s. I bought a CD compilation of their 1960s singles in the Netherlands and liked it although it is pretty derivative of British Invasion style pop. It made me interested enough in the band to buy this album when I came across it in a record store. I might have bought it even without knowing anything about the band simply because I was intrigued by their side long cover of the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" which is one of my all-time favorite songs. The record opens with bassist/keyboardist Marinus Gerritsen's "Landing" which is a heavy organ driven rocker that reminds me of a cross between Iron Butterfly and Deep Purple. I'm a sucker for a good riff and I dig the song's heaviness. The lyrics are trippy and enigmatic. The remaining songs on side one were written by guitarist George Kooymans. "Song of a Devil's Servant" opens with a lengthy instrumental passage featuring flute runs by lead singer Barry Hay. Sieb Warner contributes some Indian style percussion as well. The song initially sounds like the Moody Blues, but then the band begins rocking out with a Jethro Tull-like riff. The song is about a guy who sold his soul to the devil. Hay isn't a strong enough singer to hold his own against the band's forceful sound, he sounds strained at times. "One Huge Road" is a straight ahead rocker. It features another booming riff and lots of energetic guitar noise. Kooymans takes the mike on this track but he isn't any more effective than Hay. Despite the song's heaviness it also has an agreeable poppiness to its sound. That is largely absent from the pounding dreariness of "Everyday's Torture." It reminds me of Led Zeppelin's cover of "Dazed and Confused." The torture in the song refers to unrequited love and heartbreak although the lyrics are so awkward that they have little impact. Side two consists of the band's extended workout on "Eight Miles High." The song begins with a subdued, jangly sound that adheres closely to the original song's arrangement. It drifts away from that in the instrumental break with some raga-ish guitar noodling that gradually gains in strength and volume leading into a more highly charged riff-driven instrumental passage that has little resemblance to the original version of the song. Regrettably that gives way to Warner's drum solo which goes on way too long. Gerritsen then joins him for an extended bass solo that isn't much better but restores a little of the song's momentum. Finally the guitar returns and the band lurches into some energetic jamming that eventually after a brief pause evolves into a riff that sounds like it was lifted from Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive." From there the original Byrds song at last reappears leading to the songs rather abrupt conclusion. I have to admit the first time I played this track I was really disappointed. I like it better now although I still think the drum and bass solos are boring. You should check it out if you are a fan of the original song. The album itself is too derivative and lyrically weak to be essential, but it is worth looking for if you like late 1960s hard rock and appreciate a good riff. Recommended to fans of Humble Pie and Free.