Sunday, October 14, 2018

Jefferson Airplane Takes Off - Jefferson Airplane


Jefferson Airplane Takes Off
Jefferson Airplane
RCA  LSP-3584
1966 

So many of my musical faves have died this year and I don't post enough to keep up unfortunately.  Marty Balin's passing last month hit me pretty hard though so I have to acknowledge it.  I've been a fan of the Airplane since I was 12 years old.  They were my favorite American band when I was a teenager even though they had already broken up.  "Surrealistic Pillow" and "After Bathing at Baxter's" were a big part of the soundtrack of my life back then and I still enjoy listening to them.  I initially was attracted to the music of Grace Slick and Paul Kantner with its transgressive and defiant attitude as well as its psychedelic character.  In contrast I found Balin's songs kind of corny.  As a result this album was for many years one of my least favorite Airplane albums, since it is dominated by Balin who wrote or co-wrote 8 of the 11 songs and sang lead on most of them as well.  As I grew older though, I became attracted to Balin's romanticism and soulful voice and this album became one of my favorites.  When I heard Marty had died, this was the album I reached for.  I think it represents the purest expression of his vision for the band.  Slick and Kantner asserted themselves on "Surrealistic Pillow" and dominated the band after that.  Balin is quoted in the liner notes saying "all the material we do is about love" which is certainly true of this record and has always been Balin's greatest strength as an artist.  The album opens with "Blues from an Airplane" by Balin and future Moby Grape member Skip Spence who was the Airplane's drummer on this album.  The song is not a blues, it is pure folk-rock propelled by Jack Casady's booming bass lines.  The song introduces the elaborate vocal harmonies that would become a signature aspect of the Airplane's sound throughout its existence.  The album's velocity increases with Balin and Kantner's "Let Me In" which is driven by Jorma Kaukonen's ringing guitar chords and more frenetic bass work from Casady.  Kaukonen has an exciting guitar solo as well.  It is a classic example of the zonked out folk-rock that characterized the early Airplane style and foreshadows the sound of "Surrealistic Pillow."  Kantner sings lead and does a great job conveying the erotic urgency of the lyrics.  Kantner and Balin also wrote "Bringing Me Down" and which is highlighted by Kaukonen's jangly guitar lines and solo.  I consider "It's No Secret" to be one of Balin's best ever songs.  His yearning vocal is superbly expressive and the dynamic interplay between Casady's rumbling bass runs and Kaukonen's slashing guitar chords is wonderful.  John Loudermilk's "Tobacco Road" has always seemed to me an odd song choice for the Airplane but they do it quite well thanks to a heartfelt vocal from Balin and more brilliant bass playing from Casady.  The song has been covered many times, but I've never heard a better version than this one.  Side two opens with Balin and Kantner's "Come Up the Years."  In his liner notes Ralph J. Gleason describes having the song stuck in his head after playing the album and I've always had the same experience.  I first heard the song on the 1977 Airplane comp "Flight Log" and I loved it so much that I played it over and over.  Even now it still sticks with me every time I play this album.  The song features another emotional vocal from Balin with lovely harmony support from Kantner and Signe Anderson.  The song is about a guy in love with a girl who is too young for him, but it is so sincere and lovely that it never comes across as creepy.  Casady's bass lines give the song a strong hook and the folk rock guitar work enhances the song's atmospheric feeling.  Casady also stands out on Balin and Kantner's "Run Around" which is sung by Kantner with vibrant harmony support from Balin and Anderson.  Dino Valenti's flower power anthem "Let's Get Together" is an ideal vehicle for the early Airplane sound.  Kantner, Anderson and Balin trade verses over jangly guitar runs from Kaukonen and Casady's relentlessly driving bass work.  The Youngbloods have the best known version of this song, but I think this version is just as good.  More jangly guitar introduces Balin and Spence's "Don't Slip Away" which features compelling ensemble vocals over a solid folk-rock beat.  Next up Signe Anderson belts out a cover of Memphis Minnie's "Chauffeur Blues."  Her powerful vocal reminds me of Judy Henske.  It is an uptempo rollicking song that gives Kaukonen an opportunity to rock out over the compelling blues foundation laid down by Casady.  The album concludes with Balin and Kaukonen's moody "And I Like It."  Balin's vocal is tremendous and the song is loaded with tension and feeling, giving the record an emotional finish.  As much as I love this album I have to admit that it feels a bit tentative, it is still deeply rooted in folk-rock unlike the Airplane albums that followed.  It is nonetheless magnificent folk-rock, some of the best I've ever heard, easily rivaling the best efforts by the Byrds, the Beau Brummels and Love.  There may be a familiarity in the style of the music, but I also hear something new bubbling underneath, the nascent San Francisco sound.  I don't think it is purely hindsight, I believe that sympathetic listeners in 1966 heard a calling, a recognition of a shared vision that would emerge in 1967.  It is obvious that this music means something to the band and their belief in it is communicated to the listener.  It is not commercial music intended solely to entertain and sell records, this record is sharing a communal message.  It comes across in the lyrics and in the passionate quality of the music which is driven by the redoubtable instrumental punch offered by Casady and Kaukonen.  It is also evident in the band's vocal strength, particularly Balin who was one of the most expressive rock singers of his era.  He sang with such commitment and feeling, he completely sends me.  I will always be grateful that he walked up to Paul Kantner in that folk club many years ago.  The result was some of the best rock music I've ever heard.  I'm really going to miss him.  Recommended to people who value sincerity in music.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

God Help the Girl - Original Soundtrack



God Help the Girl
Original Soundtrack
Milan Records M2-36700
2014 

This is the soundtrack to Stuart Murdoch's debut film which began as an album with the same title.  The original album features much of the same music mostly sung by Catherine Ireton who portrays the main character Eve.  For the film soundtrack the actress Emily Browning replaces her on vocals.  Ireton is a more polished singer, but I find Browning more satisfying.  Ireton is too slick to convey the vulnerability and feelings of the character as well as Browning does.  The film depicts a troubled young woman, Eve, who aspires to achieve success in the music business.  With the help of a couple of friends she forms a band called God Help the Girl to fulfill her musical vision.  Bob Kildea and Chris Geddes are the only members of Belle and Sebastian who actually perform in the film band (which resembles a more photogenic version of the Belles) but the entire lineup of Belle and Sebastian perform on the soundtrack which results in it sounding like a Belle and Sebastian album performed by guest vocalists.  It is too bad that Browning already has a day job, she'd be a great addition to the group.  The record opens with "I Suppose That Was a Prayer" which is a melancholy instrumental with some of Browning's dialogue from the film.  The soundtrack record corresponds roughly to the chronology of the film but this dialogue is from near the end of the film where Eve describes her healing.  It is followed by her performance of "Act of the Apostle" which was originally recorded by Belle and Sebastian on "The Life Pursuit."  The song is full of typically Murdochian cleverness and adolescent angst and although it predates the film, it fits it perfectly and is used to introduce Eve during the title sequence.  The song has a music hall flavor to it that suits Browning very well.  I prefer this version of the song to the original.  "I Dumped You First" is a Murdoch song performed by Olly Alexander who plays Eve's friend James in the film.  It begins with some dialogue from the film as James' band breaks up on stage.  It is a quiet song performed on acoustic guitar that uses desperate boasting to cover up heartbreak.  Only a brief section of the song is used in the film but the complete version is played during the title crawl at the end of the film.  Browning sings the tender piano driven "Pretty When the Wind Blows" which she performs in the mental hospital in the film as she is trying to recover from her illness and start songwriting.  "I Know I Have To Eat" is another melancholy instrumental with dialogue of Eve talking about her problems with her doctor.  The record perks up with the delightful "God Help the Girl" which is Eve's description of her contradictory nature.  It is vivacious sunshine pop sung by Browning with a sparkling orchestral arrangement by former Belle, Mick Cooke.  In the film Browning only croons the second verse of the song accompanying herself with a keyboard app on her phone.  This version of the song isn't used at all in the film unfortunately.  Browning also sings "The Psychiatrist Is In" in which Eve impersonates a psychiatrist for the benefit of James.  It is an overtly romantic sounding song with bongos and a sensuous string arrangement.  Side two begins with "The God of Music" which features dialogue from James and Eve from the film.  This is a bit out of order since it appears in the film after the following song, "If You Could Speak" which is performed by Browning, Alexander and Hannah Murray who plays Eve's other friend, Cassie, in the film.  It is a jaunty tune that is featured in the charming scene where Eve and James teach Cassie how to write a song.  "The Catwalk of the Dukes" is a lovely instrumental reprise of "The Psychiatrist Is In" that is used in the scenes where Eve counts her pills and then asks for a job at Dukes Cafe.  It is followed by "Perfection as a Hipster" which is performed by Neil Hannon of the band The Divine Comedy with support from Browning.  He doesn't appear in the film, Eve's obnoxious boyfriend Anton puts the song on when he takes her to the clothing shop where he works.  On the original "God Help the Girl" album, Hannon portrayed Anton but the conception of the character seems to have changed by the time the film was made because the lyrics don't sound much like the film version of Anton.  "F**k this Sh*t" is a wistful instrumental that Belle and Sebastian composed and performed for the film "Storytelling" and which previously appeared on the Belle and Sebastian album of the same name.  It is out of order on the record, it follows the "Pretty Eve in the Tub" segment in the film and it appears again in the end credits.  It makes very effective background music for the scenes of Eve and James wandering around Glasgow.  "Pretty Eve in the Tub" is a chamber pop song sung by Alexander that accompanies footage of Eve bathing and glimpses of her life at home in the film.  James is apparently the subject of "A Loving Kind of Boy" which is sung by Belle and Sebastian guitarist Stevie Jackson and accompanies footage of James, Eve and Cassie posting flyers trying to recruit musicians for their band.  It is an upbeat sunshine pop song given a Spanish flavor by the horn section.  Side three starts with "What Do You Want This Band to Sound Like?" which is another snippet of film dialogue featuring Eve, James and Cassie discussing their band.  It precedes "A Loving Kind of Boy" in the film.  Browning sings "Come Monday Night" which is driven by a hypnotic bass riff from Kildea and a gorgeous string arrangement from Cooke.  It is a typically Murdochian song that contrasts the monotony of ordinary life with the romantic aspirations of the singer.  In the film it is performed by God Help the Girl at a rehearsal.  "Collective Idiocy" is another snippet of dialogue regarding band names.  "I'm Not Rich" is Murdoch's version of a hip hop song sung by the three friends confronting their delusions about themselves.  It does not appear in the film nor did it appear on the original record.  It is mildly amusing but superfluous.  Browning sings the exuberant "I'll Have to Dance with Cassie" which accompanies the big production number in the film.  It is insanely catchy and engaging in the best Belle and Sebastian manner.  I consider it the highlight of both the album and the film. "Stalinist Russia" is another dialogue snippet featuring James and Cassie discussing his failure at romance with Eve.  It occurs much later in the film.  "Baby's Just Waiting" is sung by Celia Garcia who was a participant in the original "God Help the Girl" album.  She plays a garbage collector who joins the band in the film.  It is pure Stuart Murdoch both in the way it blends 1960s pop with contemporary music and its familiar themes of the oppression of school, misfits and romantic disconnection.  The song is out of sequence on the soundtrack, in the film it appears before "I'll Have to Dance with Cassie" when James and Eve first enter the dance hall.  "Partick Whistle" is a pretty instrumental version of the song "Down and Dusky Blonde."  Side four commences with "Musician, Please Take Heed" which traces the events of Eve's breakdown concluding with her drug overdose.  The song is delicately sung by Browning at first, but then the driving guitar riff kicks in and the song takes off.  It is the most energetic and dramatic song in the film.  "I Just Want Your Jeans" is sung by Hannah Murray who is a much less skilled singer than Browning but her awkwardness suits her character well and enhances the goofiness of the song which is meant to be written by Cassie.  The song illustrates Cassie's growing self-confidence in the film.  "Invisible" is another moody instrumental.  It appears in the flashback of the trio clowning around that follows Eve's overdose which chronologically occurs before "I Just Want Your Jeans" in the film.  It is also reprised during James and Eve's walk to the train station at the end of the film.  "The World's Last Cassette" is more dialogue from the film courtesy of the two radio DJs that Eve is desperate to give her demo tape to.  Their radio banter appears periodically throughout the film and is mostly annoying to me.  I find Eve's obsession with them to be the most contrived element in the film.  "Down and Dusky Blonde" is mostly sung by Browning with help from Murray.  It functions as Eve's statement of liberation and fulfillment and is performed by God Help the Girl in their sole live gig in the film.  It displays Murdoch's typical knack for delivering an emotionally compelling song with irresistible pop allure.  "Dress Up In You" is a Belle and Sebastian song that first appeared on "The Life Pursuit."  It plays over Eve's bus ride which ends the film and then continues into the title crawl.  It seems like an ironic song to play at the end of the film since the film celebrates Eve going off to find success and the song represents the bitter perspective of a spurned former friend directed at someone who has gone on to be a big success.  Actually I find the whole film perplexing in that regard.  It is obviously a personal film for Murdoch, loaded with all his favorite themes and I suspect he relates to both James and Eve.  The story closely resembles the beginning of Belle and Sebastian, however the ending is the equivalent of Murdoch abandoning Glasgow after making "Tigermilk" and running off to London to become a shallow pop star.  Regardless of my misgivings about the conclusion, I consider the film and this record to be immensely satisfying.  I've long been a huge fan of Stuart Murdoch and regard this to be among his most quintessential works.  Murdoch's lyrics are consistently evocative, resonant and intelligent making a simple story seem profound and emotionally powerful.  Musically it is wonderful, as engaging and appealing as any Belle and Sebastian record ever.  I like the little instrumental interludes as well and even the excerpts of the dialogue from the film.  The record particularly benefits from Mick Cooke's brilliant orchestral arrangements which has always been a Belle and Sebastian strength.  This album is essential for Belle and Sebastian fans and will probably appeal to most people on the poppier side of the indie rock spectrum.  Recommended to people whose favorite Belle and Sebastian album is "If You're Feeling Sinister."

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Nowhere - Ride


Nowhere
Ride
Sire r1 525987
1990 

I missed Ride during their initial incarnation, they had already broken up by the time I bought this album.  I was thrilled when they reunited and I finally got to see them live a few years ago when they played most of this album in a largely empty Wiltern Theater here in Los Angeles.  Despite the small crowd the band gave an inspired performance that I found thrilling.  This is one of my favorite albums of the 1990s and I've been listening to it regularly for two decades.  It opens with "Seagull" which delivers a kinetic wall of sound and enigmatic lyrics of alienation and redemption.  It is an explosive song that displays the band's instrumental force to great effect.  I find it extremely exciting and it is one of my favorite songs in their catalog.  The energy continues with "Kaleidoscope" although it has more of a pop feel to it particularly in the guitar riffs and the vocal harmonies.  The lyrics anticipate their impact on a lover after the singer is dead but are more trippy than morbid.  "In a Different Place" is a slower song with a stately, almost martial pace in the verses before sonically erupting in the choruses.  The lyrics describe being separated from physical reality and the song has an appropriately dreamlike feel to it.  Side one concludes with "Polar Bear" which is another slow song with droning guitar chords and a compelling rhythmic drive.  Its lyrics describe repression and freedom in highly poetic terms.  Side two begins with "Dreams Burn Down" which features cascading sheets of sound before the verses begin.  The verses are punctuated with blasts of sound that reflect the anguish expressed by the lyrics which describe an unfulfilled love.  A tribal drum beat introduces "Decay" which is a hard-driving song about the transient nature of love and life. "Paralysed" is a song about insecurity and inadequacy delicately crooned by Andy Bell.  Laurence Colbert's muscular drumming drives the song which features a hypnotic dirge-like instrumental finale.  The album concludes with the magnificent "Vapour Trail" which further explores the transience of love.  It features shimmering layers of jangly guitars and more dynamic drumming from Colbert gradually building to a majestic climax and a delicate string coda.  It is a brilliant finish to a flawless album.  I adore the sonic richness of Ride's sound which I find endlessly compelling and exciting.  The music is simultaneously beautiful and powerful and when I saw them live playing it at a high volume it absolutely mesmerized me.  Their lyrics are sublime, full of evocative and dreamy imagery as well as romantic sensitivity.  Their persistent themes of alienation, escape, transience and insecurity are relevant to me and add to the impact of the album.  I consider it a masterpiece.  I'm so happy they have gotten back together and I really like their most recent album "Weather Diaries" as well.  Recommended to My Bloody Valentine fans who wish they could understand the band's lyrics.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Tangerine Dream - Kaleidoscope


Tangerine Dream
Kaleidoscope
Sunbeam Records SBRLP5086
2011

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.  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

Heavy Rocks - Boris



Heavy Rocks
Boris
Sargent House SH 059
2011

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

Odessey and Oracle - The Zombies


Odessey and Oracle
The Zombies
Big Beat  WIKD 181
1968

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

Colours - Ashley Eriksson


Colours
Ashley Eriksson
K Records KLP 245
2013 

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 this album 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.