Saturday, June 2, 2018

Heavy Rocks - Boris

Heavy Rocks
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 long 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

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

Ashley Eriksson
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

Ray Charles - Ray Charles

Ray Charles
Ray Charles
Atlantic 8006

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

Angelic Swells - Neverever

Angelic Swells
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

Eight Miles High - The Golden Earring

Eight Miles High
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.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Le tour de l'ile - Félix Leclerc

Le tour de l'ile
Félix Leclerc
Polydor 2424 146

Back in 2013 my family was up in Montreal on vacation.  After dinner my wife and I took a stroll and came upon a giant street party in the big plaza downtown.  There was lots of dancing and music along with large cartoonish figures acting out some sort of story.  I found it baffling but fun.  I did figure out that it was a tribute to Félix Leclerc who I had never heard of.  I looked him up when I got back to the hotel and learned he was a French-Canadian pop singer who was a cultural hero and ardent supporter of Quebec nationalism.  A few months later I came across this album in a bin of French vinyl at a record store and bought it.  Leclerc croons in the French chanson style and has a warm, smooth voice.  The music is most interesting to me for its political edge as is evident with the opening track, "L'encan" which is a biting satire of Canada's natural resources and cultural treasures being auctioned off to the rich, including a dig at American interlopers.  The song has a carnival feel to it and Leclerc speaks the lyrics more than he sings them.  "Chant d'un patriote" takes the point of view of an armed rebel attacking his monarch presumably a reference to the Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837 in Quebec.  The stirring guitar strumming and martial drumming convey a feeling of patriotic urgency which enhances Leclerc's passionate vocal.  It is one of my favorite tracks on the record.  My French isn't good enough to figure out the poetic "Comme une bête" which features a series of metaphors which I believe are meant to convey feelings of loneliness and loss.  The music is romantic with evocative use of strings.  "La complainte du phoque en Alaska" is a cover of a song by Michel Rivard.  It is about a lovelorn seal that has lost his blonde lover or something like that, which apparently is meant to convey the author's own feelings about losing his lover.  The song has a music hall flavor that suits Leclerc well.  I don't really get "L'ancêtre" which seems to be an homage to his ancestor although there are probably some metaphoric or poetic overtones that escape me.  Leclerc's vocal is very spirited on this track.  Side two opens with "Les poteaux" which is a humorous song about utility poles.  It is another music hall style song.  "Le dernier point" was written by Jean-Luc Juvin.  It is a dramatic song full of poetic imagery.  "Sors-moi donc Albert" expresses the frustrations of a woman imploring her spouse or lover to take her out on a date.  It has a cabaret feel to it with jazzy overtones.  "Fatalité" is a lively folk-style song.  "Un an déja" addresses a recently deceased friend.  He inquires about conditions in the afterlife contrasting it with dissatisfaction with current conditions some of which seem specific to life in Quebec.  The music is very subdued as Leclerc recites the lyrics rather than singing them.  The album concludes with the brilliant "Le tour de l'ile" which describes L'Île d'Orléans where Leclerc lived in Quebec.  He describes the beauty and charm of the island, as well as its exploitation by the government and outsiders (including another dig at the United States.)  He compares the island to France and asserts his support for French-Canadian sovereignty in Quebec.  It is a beautiful song bolstered by a sensitive string arrangement and a robust, yet tender vocal from Leclerc.  It is my other favorite track on the record and gives the album a powerful finish.  I don't have the language skills or cultural awareness to fully appreciate Leclerc's work.  I like the music, but I'm mostly drawn to this record by Leclerc's vocals.  I find his phrasing and the timber of his voice very pleasing and he is able to reach me emotionally even when I'm not sure what he is singing about.  I also appreciate the personal and poetic quality of his songwriting despite my limited understanding.  Recommended to Francophile Leonard Cohen fans.