Tuesday, April 28, 2015
The Rainy Daze
Uni Records 3002
The sole album by the Rainy Daze. The band is largely known for the title track, "That Acapulco Gold," which was released as a single. It achieved notoriety for being one of the first rock songs that was explicitly pro-marijuana. I use the term "rock" lightly because the song sounds more like an old-timey music hall type song akin to Harpers Bizarre or Sopwith Camel. It is about a couple who go down to Mexico on their honeymoon to score some Acapulco Gold - "ain't nothin' it can't fix." The song was written by Tim Gilbert, the group's lead singer and rhythm guitar player and his college roommate John Carter, who later had a notable career as a record company executive and record producer. The Gilbert/Carter team also were credited with "Incense and Peppermints" by the Strawberry Alarm Clock" as well as most of the songs on this record almost all of which I think are better than "That Acapulco Gold." My favorite is the hard rocking "Absurd Bird" which has a smoking guitar solo from Mac Ferris. It has a terrific garage band sound although I'm not crazy about the misogynistic lyrics which are worthy of the Rolling Stones. The hard riffing "Weatherman" is another excellent garage rocker which sounds a bit like the Beatles' "Taxman." It features interesting rebellious lyrics delivered with a sneer by Gilbert. "Try a Little Harder" is very similar in its sound although the lyrics are less interesting, basically an egotistical jerk ragging on his girlfriend. "Out of a Calico Dream" is a gentle folk-rocker with a slight psych tinge. "In My Mind Lives a Forest" is more explicitly psychedelic with silly trippy lyrics and an interesting dynamic between the propulsive verses charged with some fuzz guitar and the slow chorus section with Bob Heckendorf's dreamy organ lines tying it all together. Very tasty! "Snow and Ice and Burning Sand" is also psychedelic but it lacks the energy of the previous cut. It is slow and moody with more whacked out pretentious lyrics. It is mostly driven by the rhythm section. I like it but I wouldn't mind a little more instrumental color. The band's lead guitar player, Mac Ferris, has the only other original song on the album, "Discount City" which is a fast-paced rocker, simple but effective. The original songwriting is unusually strong by garage band standards but the album is dragged down by the covers which are mostly weak. The best one is their take on the Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" which is slower than the original and given a psychedelic sound via lysergic organ work and reverb-laden guitar. I don't think this treatment really suits the song, but it sounds nice. Their version of the Four Top's "Baby I Need Your Loving" is slow and passionless. Their medley of "Shake," "Knock On Wood" and "Respect" is competent but pedestrian - pure filler. Despite the covers, this is still a very worthwhile album. I wasn't expecting much when I bought it since the only song I knew was the title track which I wasn't all that crazy about. It turned out to be a happy surprise. At least half of the album is really engaging and even the lesser tracks are listenable about the same ratio you'd get from Paul Revere and the Raiders or the Standells which is pretty good company. The band could play and Gilbert was a good singer. Too bad this was their only album, they might have had a promising career. If you have a taste for 60s garage bands, this album is well worth seeking out. I'm very glad I found a copy. Recommended to fans of the Electric Prunes and the Strawberry Alarm Clock.
Saturday, April 25, 2015
Relativity Records EMC 8043
I'm afraid it is time to acknowledge another obituary, in this case Edgar Froese, founder and leader of Tangerine Dream, who passed away back in January. During its heyday, I was completely oblivious to German electronic rock music, or krautrock as it is more commonly known. I may have seen some albums in records stores or rock encyclopedias but I certainly never heard any of it. That changed in 1977 when I saw the film "Sorcerer." I liked the film and loved the soundtrack which of course was written and performed by Tangerine Dream. I loved their name as well and kept my eyes open in the record store and over the course of the next decade I bought a few of their records. Nowadays I prefer Neu! and Can, but at the time I was impressed by their sound and the group expanded my musical horizons making me more open to people like Brian Eno and Terry Riley as well as synth pop in general. The band has a massive discography and I've only heard a small portion of it, in fact this is the most recent of their albums that I own and it is 30 years old. The band kept steadily recording right up until Froese's death. This is a concept album of sorts, all the tracks refer to parks around the world aside from the title track which references Los Angeles and the television show "Streethawk" which used the piece as its theme. However I can only detect a connection between the song titles and the music itself on a few of the tracks. The opening cut is "Bois de Boulogne (Paris)" which has a very 80s sound in its percussion and synth lines. It starts out perky and poppy like something you'd hear in a soft-core sex film but then it becomes more somber and dramatic with a synthesizer issuing lower register blasts sporadically. The song ends with a slow, ominous passage that sounds like another song entirely. "Central Park (New York)" has a lively percussion track with a disco feel to it upon which are overlaid some aggressive synth lines which aren't all that conducive to dancing but which are very dynamic. They remind me Vangelis' soundtrack to "Blade Runner." "Gaudi Park (Guell Garden Barcelona)" has a very basic, almost tribal percussion track upon which are laid down majestic synth patterns suggestive of "Chariots of Fire." The song becomes more rhythmically complex as it progresses and in its latter half is quite dense and energetic. "Tiergarten (Berlin)" opens with the sound of children playing and a melodic piano line which is bolstered by a synth doing string orchestra type background music. Eventually the drums kick in and more synths arrive and the song ends up sounding like a commercial. "Zen Garden (Ryoanji Temple Kyoto)" actually strives for a Japanese sound imitating traditional Japanese instruments and musical patterns. Katja Brauneis provides some wordless vocalizing which greatly enhances the song to my mind. I prefer the human voice over a synthesizer. This is my favorite track on the record. Side two opens with "Le Parc (L. A. - Streethawk)" which begans with the sound of a jet before launching into an uptempo highly structured tune. As I mentioned before, it was used as a television theme and it sounds like it, being very catchy and accessible. In contrast to the slickness of the previous cut, "Hyde Park (London)" starts out with a mechanical sounding abstract prelude before launching into a chunky riff driven song that is about as close as these guys come to rocking out on the record. This is another one of my favorite tracks. "The Cliffs of Sydney (Sydney)" sounds like more movie music. It has a driving percussion track upon which the boys play stirring synth riffs until the break where there is a languid, dreamy synth passage that is followed by more uptempo riffing that gradually peters out to a somnolent synth drone accompanying the sound of sea gulls and waves. "Yellowstone Park (Rocky Mountains)" oddly begins with a return to the sound of "Zen Garden" and what sounds like the synth equivalent of an orchestra tuning up before a relatively simple synth line begins accompanied by wordless vocalizing by Clare Torry. The drum pattern sounds like it is inspired by Native American music. Some of the synths seem to be imitating animal and bird noises. It reminds me of New Age music in its appropriation of nature and its contemplative feel. I don't listen to this album often, generally the kind of pleasures it offers I get from classical music which is more interesting and compelling. It lacks the drive and engagement of good synth pop as well. When I'm in the right mood it does hold my attention although I wish it didn't sound so 1980s, especially the drums. On the plus side it is consistently propulsive and richly textured. I admire Froese's remarkable career. He was extraordinarily prolific and committed to his vision, a true artist. I certainly will never own more than a fraction of his output, but I'm going to keep buying his records whenever I come across them. Recommended to fans of Vangelis and Giorgio Moroder's film soundtracks.
Friday, April 17, 2015
Pylon Records 34
Marnie is Helen Marnie of Ladytron, a band I'm a big fan of. I was excited to learn that she made a solo record and when I bought it last year I was not disappointed. It is a brilliant record. I can't believe I've yet to hear it on the radio, it is so much better than the vast majority of stuff they are playing. The record is not a drastic departure from Ladytron, it is not as if she has embraced punk rock or folk. It was even produced by her bandmate Daniel Hunt (along with the Icelandic composer Bardi Johansson.) There isn't really a song on here that would sound out of place on a Ladytron album, but the overall impact and feel of the record is different from Ladytron. It follows the direction introduced on the last Ladytron album "Gravity the Seducer" which had a warmer, more seductive tone than their other albums. This record goes even farther, it is rich in emotion and romantic feelings and has a more sensuous and sensitive sound. The opening track "The Hunter" sounds the most like Ladytron. It has a strong danceable beat and is driven by synthesizers. Marnie coolly croons the lyrics which are a return to the heartless femme fatale persona she often adopted with Ladytron. It is a fabulous, entrancing song that should have been a hit single. She leaves the dance floor for the dreamy "We are the Sea" which is an inviting love song that uses the natural world to represent human relations, a technique she used quite a bit on "Gravity the Seducer" and she employs it throughout this album as well. This is certainly true of "Hearts on Fire" which a moody piece of synth pop that examines the role of love in the struggles of everyday life. It is a gorgeous song bolstered by Marnie double tracking her vocal creating a lovely harmony vocal that adds to the impact of the song. Very romantic. Side two opens with "Violet Affair" which is another dreamy love song with a lush sound. "The Wind Breezes On" features one of Marnie's most beautiful vocal performances ever. I believe this exquisite song is about finding oneself. "Sugarland" has a more pronounced beat and a mechanical riff that sounds more like Ladytron as do the dark, apocalyptic lyrics. The song has a dense sound that adds to its gloominess. "High Road" is one of my favorite songs on the record. It has a driving, hypnotic riff and a sexy groove that provide the setting for Marnie's alluring vocal. The lyrics are seductive and inviting with a desperate edge worthy of Bruce Springsteen. This synth pop torch song impresses me enormously, I've listened to it a bunch of times and it still sends me. Side three opens with "Laura" which is the track that departs the farthest from Ladytron's style, it doesn't even have percussion. It is atmospheric dream pop with almost a gothic feel to it reminiscent of Kate Bush. Nature imagery abounds in this ode to a lost loved one. The beat returns for the more uptempo "Submariner" which features a romantic description of a man who has given his heart to the sea in what I believe is a song about commitment. There are some lovely synthesizer passages in this song and it builds relentlessly to a powerful climax before gracefully fading out. The album concludes with the supremely romantic and poetic "Gold." The title of the album comes from the lyrics of this song, the "crystal world" that gave birth to the love described in the song and almost the entire record as well. It is the most beautiful song on the record and like "Submariner" it builds in strength giving the album a majestic finish. The lyrics are loaded with memorable imagery and I find the song deeply moving. It is a testament to her growth as an artist. Side 4 is blank aside from an impression of Marnie's logo in the vinyl. Such a wonderful album, it validates the album as an art form. The songs build off each other and the pervasive themes of love and the natural world give the record a satisfying cohesiveness and resonance. I believe this is one of the best records of the 2000's. Since I bought it last year, I've played it more than any other record and it still thrills me every time. I hope that Marnie does not quit her day job, I adore Ladytron and their kinetic charms. With Ladytron Marnie has been extremely effective ripping into the lady-killers and the guys who have wronged her. However I think her true talent is revealed as a solo artist, her vision is more profound and expressive when released from the constraints of the dance floor. She is immensely talented and I can't wait for her to make another solo record. Recommended for Ladytron fans who wish they weren't so cynical.
Sunday, April 12, 2015
Reprise Records RS 6344
The great English guitarist John Renbourn passed away last month much to my sorrow. As I've mentioned in many past posts, I became interested in English folk music following my discovery of Fairport Convention as a teenager. I started with Fairport and branched off into Steeleye Span and Pentangle which is where I learned of Renbourn. This was the first Renbourn solo album that I bought. It was originally released in 1968 in England on Transatlantic Records. At the time I had never heard a record like it. The mixture of folk, jazz and classical in Renbourn's work and his skill and dexterity on guitar impressed me a great deal. Since then I've heard plenty of folk and jazz guitar records and I still think this record sounds pretty amazing. It starts with the courtly "The Earle of Salisbury" which is listed as a traditional song but it is normally attributed to the English Renaissance composer William Byrd. I hadn't heard much music from this era at the time and I adored Renbourn's stately playing of this delicate tune. It prompted me to explore Renaissance music with many happy results and I'm still a fan of that music. The song is followed by "The Trees They Do Grow High" which features Ray Warleigh on flute. Renbourn is listed as the composer but it is a traditional song that is known by many other titles generally featuring the words "Daily Growing." This was the first place that I heard the song, but Renbourn also recorded it with vocals on Pentangle's album "Sweet Child" (which I did not have at the time.) That is my favorite version, but this instrumental one has a lot of appeal, particularly Warleigh's jazzy flute lines. "Lady Goes to Church" was written by Renbourn but it sounds more like something a Renaissance troubadour might have composed. It is very elegant with some remarkable fret work from Renbourn. Side one concludes with "Morgana" which is one of my favorite tracks on the record. It begins with Warleigh playing a Renaissance style air on his flute supported by Renbourn and then Terry Cox joins in on drums and the song takes off with some propulsive runs from the players. They proceed to run through several more Renaissance style tunes all of which are highly engaging. It blew me away as a teenager and it still sends me. Side one focuses on ancient music, but side two concentrates on jazz and blues and is more likely to appeal to rock fans. It opens with "Transfusion" by the jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd and it was originally recorded by the Chico Hamilton Quintet in 1962. Renbourn has retained the frenetic quality of the original with a lot of help from Terry Cox on African drums. Renbourn's fingers are flying throughout the cut. It is one of my favorite tracks on the record and it ends way too soon. "Forty-Eight" is credited to Renbourn and Cox and it is a more sedate track although it still has a jazzy feel to it. Cox plays glockenspiel and drums on it. Renbourn wrote "My Dear Boy" which is a short but kinetic exercise with a ragtime flavor. "White Fishes" is a collaboration with Ray Warleigh who also plays flute on the song. Both men deliver some exciting jazz-influenced runs, it is another stand-out track. Next Renbourn covers Booker T and the MGs' "Sweet Potato." The song lacks the seductive groove of the original but Renbourn increases the tempo slightly and with help from Cox on percussion the song rocks quite nicely. Lots of fun. The album concludes with "Seven Up" by Renbourn and Cox. It is a raga-influenced track with dynamic interplay between Renbourn and Cox that is very invigorating to listen to. A fantastic track that ends the album on a high note. I regret to admit that I've yet to acquire all of Renbourn's solo albums, but this is my favorite of the ones I have. There is not a mediocre cut on it and most of it is simply outstanding, a great acoustic guitarist at the peak of his powers. Between his solo work and Pentangle, Renbourn made a lot of great music that has delighted me for several decades now and for which I am immensely grateful. Recommended to fans of Bert Jansch and Davy Graham.
Sunday, April 5, 2015
Fantastic Plastic Records B0006426-01
This is a double EP which I consider to be a ridiculous format, why not just release a proper album, it would be just as long and more convenient. I had been reading about this British band for awhile and was interested in them, but I didn't buy this record until I saw someone compare them to my beloved Belle and Sebastian. I must have bought dozens of albums already because of someone invoking a comparison to the Belles. Of course they never really sound like them, I'm always disappointed. However I'm such a sucker that I can't resist, I always fall for that comparison. This band doesn't sound like Belle and Sebastian either although I can see why reviewer made the observation. I'm not sorry I bought this record though, it is worthy in its own right. It comprises the band's debut EP "I Saw Such Things in My Sleep" (tracks 3-6) and their single "Trains to Brazil" (tracks 2, 7 and 8) plus one new song, "Sake" which opens the record. "Sake" is hardly a song, more of a fragment really, less than a minute long. There is a single moaned verse with murky piano accompaniment. Like all but one of the songs on the record, it was written by Fyfe Dangerfield. The record comes to life with the poppy "Trains to Brazil." It has a propulsive drum beat perfect for dancing and swirling synth lines that drive the song with horns in the breaks for extra oomph. The song is about missing a loved one and making the most of one's life. Despite what the sleeve says, the next song is "Who Left the Lights Off, Baby?" It is a bouncy, upbeat tune about trying to dump a lover. The lyrics are kind of mean, but humor and the sunny vocal make the song sound cheerful and appealing despite its subject. The song ends with an exuberant sax solo. The B side features "Over the Stairs" which is nearly 10 minutes long. It is a slow moody song with a dream pop sound from its heavy use of synthesizers and organ. I would find it dreary were it not for Dangerfield's passionate vocal which makes the song compelling. It reminds me of Suede. I believe the song is about finding oneself. Side C opens with "Made Up Lovesong #43" which is a love song with a twee flavor. It starts slow and then the rhythm section kicks in giving the song abundant energy and drive. "Cats Eyes" is a slightly jazzy song featuring a dynamic vocal from Dangerfield that gives it strength. The lyrics are poetic and enigmatic, it is a very lovely song, easily the most interesting one on the album. Side D begins with "Go Away" which was composed by the entire band. It is driven by a reggae-like bass and drum pattern that provides a seductive groove over which Dangerfield does the indie rock equivalent of scat singing. The record concludes as quietly as it began with "My Chosen One" which features Dangerfield softly crooning a tender love song over minimalist piano support. The songwriting on this record is better than average and the music is fine, but Dangerfield's singing is the primary draw for me. He has terrific range and sings with a lot of feeling. Recommended to fans of Damien Rice.