Friday, April 11, 2014

Flashback Friday: Lost Sirens by New Order

In 2003 New Order started recording what would turn out to be their final album: Waiting For The Siren's Call.  It took over a year to record and at least £700,000 in production costs.

During these torturous recording sessions, they started recording new material during off moments.  They completed 7 songs, which they were going to hold for the next record.  However - long simmering tensions built up and the band split apart in 2007.

It took 9 years, but the 7 new tracks plus a remix of one of the original songs were released as the album Lost Sirens in 2013.

You can hear it here: Lost Sirens by New Order (Xbox Music)

This album is well worth the wait.  While many of the tracks on Waiting For The Siren's Call seem overly fussed over, the relative spontaneity of these tracks make them seem fresh and memorable.  Plus - the stripped down remix of "I Told You So" brings the song out from underneath the gloss of the original mix, and fits in nicely with the other tracks.

In the meantime, New Order have reformed without "lead bass" player/founding member Peter Hook and are touring the US this summer.  Peter is also touring - with his son - playing New Order and Joy Division classics.

Give Lost Sirens a spin, and let me know what you think in the comments below.

Also - if you want to compare/contrast, the parent album is also available on Xbox Music.

You can hear it here:  Waiting For The Siren's Call by New Order (Xbox Music)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Flashback Friday: The Dreaming by Kate Bush

In 1974 or so, Kate Bush, a shy, retiring 16 year old schoolgirl, managed to get a demo tape to David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. He was stunned that there were over 50 songs of exceptionally high quality on her demo. Paying for a proper studio recording of three of the songs out of his own pocket, he got her signed to EMI records.

A few years later, after she turned 19, she entered the studio to record her first album. She had spent the intervening years studying movement and dance, while continuing to write and perform idiosyncratic songs. At this point, she had over 200 compositions to choose from. Her debut album, “The Kick Inside”, featuring the single “Wuthering Heights” was released to general acclaim and success, but a large part of her career – mostly record production – was out of her control.

In 1982, after a couple of modestly successful follow-up albums, she finally gained control of the producer’s chair and released an album that was her vision from start to finish: The Dreaming.

You can hear it here: The Dreaming by Kate Bush (Xbox Music)

Fair warning: This is a “difficult” album, but you can get your head around it if you spin it a few times. Kate had become intrigued with the compositional possibilities of the Fairlight CMI sampler and built most of the album around it. Also – she had moved beyond the singer/songwriter style of the time and was exploring more dramatic cinematic storytelling with her songs. Topics on this album include failed bank robbery attempts, driving in the Australian outback, the life of Harry Houdini, and the paranoia of the suburban homeowner, among other things. She also was experimenting with alternative vocalizations – shrieks, groans, backward vocals – all processed through the Fairlight. This can be off-putting to the first time listener, but patience is rewarding, since there’s nothing quite like it in modern music. The album is roughly divided into two movements, split right where the vinyl album break would be.

After this record, Kate moved back to a more general pop direction, and released Hounds of Love, which became the biggest selling record of her career. However, Hounds of Love’s cinematic sweep would not have been possible without The Dreaming, which most people still haven’t heard, due to its reputation. So – give it a spin and see what you think.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Flashback Friday: A nod is as good as a wink... by Faces

So - it's 1971 or so. The Yardbirds, which featured three of the finest guitarists in rock - Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page - have broken up. Jimmy Page is regrouping as the New Yardbirds with John Paul Jones, and a pair of unknowns - Robert Plant and John Bonham. Jeff Beck has formed his own version of the Yardbirds with an unknown Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. While Jimmy Page's group would go on to become Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck's group would record two amazing albums - Truth and Beck-ola - and disband.

Meanwhile, one of England's beloved psychedelic bands - The Small Faces - were having issues of their own. They had just disbanded after losing their founding guitarist/vocalist and were trying to figure out what to do. Somehow they hooked up with the remnants of the failed Jeff Beck group and became the Faces. (Possibly over a shared love of alcohol - Faces live performances were notorious for including a real bartender on-stage!)

Although their first couple of albums were tentative, their live shows were anything but. It wasn't until their 3rd album - A Nod Is As Good As A Wink... To A Blind Horse - that they really captured their live sound on vinyl. If you only know Rod Stewart from his 80's mega hits, you'll be pleasantly surprised here. Rod wasn't the only vocalist - Ronnie Lane provides a nice counterpoint to Rod's vocals. This album is pretty much a winner from start to finish - a "ragged but right" album. You can hear echos of this record in many of the bands influenced by the Faces: The Replacements, Guns N' Roses, The Black Crowes, and Pearl Jam.  

You can hear it here:
A Nod Is As Good As A Wink... by Faces (Xbox Music)

Sadly, the increasing popularity of Rod Stewart's concurrent solo albums - especially a song called "Maggie May", which featured members of the Faces - overshadowed the rest of the band, and they fell apart soon after this album was released, bowing out with one final album "Ooh la la".

So - grab a beverage, give this a spin, and let me know what you think in the comments below.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Flashback Friday: New Rock by Buffalo Daughter

And now – a band most of you have probably never heard of. But first – a quick detour into history courtesy of the Beastie Boys.

In 1992, at the height of their popularity, the Beastie Boys set up a vanity record label called Grand Royal. Grand Royal had an eclectic roster of artists, including Sean Lennon, Luscious Jackson, Money Mark, At The Drive-In, Bran Van 3000 and many more.

One of my favorite releases of theirs was 1998’s “New Rock” by a Japanese band called Buffalo Daughter. This group consisted of a guitar player/vocalist (suGar), a bass player/keyboardist (Yumiko) and a turntablist/graphic designer (MoOog), augmented by a drummer and other musicians.

You can listen to it here:
New Rock by Buffalo Daughter (Xbox Music)

According to Wikipedia: Buffalo Daughter [are] considered to be the linchpin of the so-called “cut-and-paste” rock Shibuya-kei movement from Japan. Other Shibuya-kei bands include Pizzicato Five and Cibo Matto. (I was initially going to write about Cibo Matto, since they have a new album out, but my favorite release of theirs isn’t available for streaming. I’ll pick another one of their records soon, possibly the new one if I can get my head wrapped around it.)

That’s a good starting point for this record – cut and paste. Sometimes this record sounds like a ‘60s lounge album, sometimes it sounds like a broken sampler, and other times, it sounds like a lost German progressive Krautrock album. It’s these progressive songs – where they downplay the sampling and stretch out a little – that really make the record for me. Check out my favorite song “Sky High” – track 12 – to see what I mean. Other highlights for me include the long workouts “Super Blooper” and “Autobacs”.

Anyway – travel back to the New York music scene in 1998, give this record a spin and see what you think.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Trip to Orcas Island & the Outlook Inn in Eastsound, WA - Feb. 21st to Feb. 24th, 2014

(from the All Snowed In department)

Hi everyone,

We took a family trip to the San Juans last weekend.  Dana got a great deal at a place called the Outlook Inn in Eastsound, WA located on Orcas Island.  I have been to San Juan Island (and the city of Friday Harbor) many times, but I've never been to Orcas Island. 

Orcas Island is interesting.  It's the largest of the San Juans, but it has no cities.  There are towns, but they're "unincorporated communities", if you will.  Eastsound is relatively large for a town - there are grocery stores, cafes, restaurants, gift shops, etc. - but there are no streetlights.  When the sun goes down - it gets DARK! 

We arrived in Eastsound on a Friday afternoon, and were rewarded by the scenery:

(Note:  The island you see just offshore is apparently called Indian Island)

Very nice indeed.  We checked into our hotel:

and got this view from the balcony:

(This was taken Saturday morning - too dark on Friday.  No streetlights, remember?)

The next morning - Saturday - we set off on an Orcas Island adventure.  Orcas Island is basically shaped like a lowercase "n".  Eastsound is at the apex, so we traveled down the right leg towards Rosario resort, Moran State Park, Mt. Constitution and Doe Bay.  We had lunch at Doe Bay - it was wonderful.  Here's a few photos of the cafe and Rose enjoying "The Best Hot Chocolate Ever!!!":

(Hot chocolate - locally sourced!)

Outside, there was a cool statue overlooking the fog enshrouded water:

As we headed back to Eastsound, we took a detour to the town of Olga.  This is it:

 There was a third building, but it burned down:

Coming back through Moran State Park, it started to snow:

Sadly - the road to Mt. Constitution was closed.  Probably a good thing too, with all the snowfall.  But it was clear by the time we reached Rosario Resort:

We had a great tour inside Rosario Resort and Spa - we got to see the museum, and hear the pipe organ.  Then we headed back to our hotel in Eastsound, dodging a snow flurry or two, unware of the surpise awiting us tomorrow morning:

Yes - that's right.  Snow on Sunday.  It totally transformed the landscape.  We were planning on heading back, but based on the cars we saw slipping around, we decided to stay another night and head back on Monday.  So - we ventured out into the snow to explore Eastsound:

(Get ready for snowballs.  Rose threw them at us non-stop)

It was pretty miserable out there:

But - luckily - Darvill's bookstore was open and they had hot chocolate!  We warmed ourselves up at the bookstore, then headed back to our hotel room to watch movies, do puzzles and enjoy the fireplace, while the snow fell silently outside.

Still - it was a lot of fun having a "snow day".  The weather reports were saying that the snow would start melting around 4:00 AM, so we figured that tomorrow morning there wouldn't be much snow left.  Instead:

Yeah - there was more snow.  The weather service updated the alert to 4:00 PM and mentioned more snow was expected.  Dana & I figured that we better try to catch the noon ferry.  The roads had been freshly plowed, the air wasn't nearly as foggy and there was better traction with the fresh snow. 
It was kinda white knuckle driving - Dana is an awesome driver - but we made it to the ferry terminal in Orcas Village.  And - yup - no snow:

All in all, a great family adventure!  Here are some parting thoughts:


Friday, January 31, 2014

Flashback Friday: Laughing Stock by Talk Talk

Hi everyone,

Remember Talk Talk? They were an 80's synth-pop band, initially posed as an "angst-y" version of Duran Duran by EMI records. They had a string of popular albums in the 80's, with hits like "Talk Talk", "It's A Shame", "Life's What You Make It", and "It's My Life". Because of their early successes, they were increasingly allowed to chart their own course - which they did in a way that nobody expected. Eventually, they would ditch the synth-pop trappings, and explore the world of orchestral ambient jazz. This experimentation culminated in 1988's Spirit Of Eden - after which, they parted ways with an increasingly frustrated EMI.

This is where Laughing Stock comes in. This is their final album as a band, recorded for Polydor in 1991. It continues the radical rethink introduced on Spirit Of Eden and, to some critics, represents the pinnacle of their work. Technically, it's a rock album, but it also sits at the intersection of ambient music and jazz.

You can listen to it here:
Laughing Stock by Talk Talk (Xbox Music)

This is not an "immediate" record. I know it's a lot to ask, but you may need to set a aside a little time to listen to it, before making a final judgment. I found that headphones can help a lot during the initial listens. Also - you may want to concentrate on the 2nd and 3rd tracks - Ascension Day & After The Flood - as a starting point. They're sequenced to fit together, and they're how I'd introduce the album to someone.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

P.S. In case you don't know, you don't need a subscription to listen to Xbox Music - just a Microsoft LiveID. I think you get 10 free hours of music a month.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Flashback Friday: Aerial Ballet by Nilsson

For this edition of Flashback Friday, I'd like to showcase the album "Aerial Ballet" by Nilsson.

You can listen to it on Xbox Live here:
Aerial Ballet by Nilsson (Xbox Music)

Harry Nilsson - who usually went by his last name on his albums - was born in poverty in NYC. He escaped to California and by the late 60's was working in the computer department of a bank. During this time, he was also writing songs for hire, and was discovered by the Monkees. At this point, his performance skills and his near three octave vocal range led to a recording contract with RCA and close friendships with most of rock royalty, including the Beatles.

Nilsson then proceeded to chart one of the most idiosyncratic careers in rock history - from writing children's movies to being thrown out of bars with John Lennon - without ever performing a live concert. I'll leave the rest of his biography to the excellent DVD "Who is Harry Nilsson?" and concentrate on this album, which was his second for RCA.

His first album, Pandemonium Shadow Show (1967) was quite the product of its time - slightly psychedelic, slightly vaudevillian - think Sgt. Pepper's, but orchestral and all by one person. By Aerial Ballet (1968), Nilsson had sharpened his songwriting, ditched the odd cover songs, and delivered his first really amazing song "One" - which was a hit for Three Dog Night, not him. His hit song on this album was "Everybody's Talkin'" - which was, of course the one song he didn't write.

This is a strange album, to be sure. You might find it almost "too pop". That's not because it was recorded in 1968 - even then, it felt out of time compared to contemporary albums like the White Album. Nilsson belonged to an earlier "tin-pan-alley" style of songwriting that fell into favor about then. Concentrate on his elaborate multi-tracked harmony vocals - all done by him - and his use of melody and song arranging. Also - notice how biting the lyrics are from time to time and the odd sense of humor that goes with it.

This bitterness and odd humor would eventually dominate his songwriting thru the rest of the 70's - especially after his breakthrough album Nilsson Schmilsson, which is the last of his "normal" records. In addition, Nilsson tried to out scream John Lennon on their joint album and permanently destroyed his vocal range - his final albums are almost unrecognizable as the work of the artist who cut this record.

But - ignore all that for now. Instead, give a listen to this relic from a simpler time, and imagine where "Rock Music" would have gone had more people been able to follow his lead.

And, of course, feel free to post comments below.

(Side note: The last three songs on the Xbox Live version are not from this album - they're bonus tracks Nilsson recorded about the same time. You may recognize one of them from TV...)