Lightning Round Reviews: November 1-9, 2018

In case you hadn’t noticed, the last quarter of 2018 has put paid to any perceived drought of new releases & reissues.  Capsule reviews of what I’ve been listening to since the first of this month follow the jump; albums are reviewed in descending order on my Personal Proggyness Perception (PPP) scale, scored from 0 to 10.

Continue reading “Lightning Round Reviews: November 1-9, 2018”

soundstreamsunday #87: “Melt!” by Siouxsie and the Banshees

siouxsieA commanding presence in British punk since the later 1970s, and creating out of that — along with Joy Division, The Cure, Bauhaus — an overpowering, dark music that came to be known as goth, Siouxsie and her Banshees moved their music towards romantic intoxication.  Siouxsie brought light to the dark, deftly drawing rich melodies from the shadows draping the songs.  Bassist Steven Severin foregrounded the twilight with a nervy, often high-up-the-neck playing, while Budgie’s tribal pounding gave the band’s work a pulse-quickening danceability at the edge of chaos.  A rotating cast of like-minded souls added instruments as needed, and fans of the band’s various guitarists across its 17-year recording career can be fairly territorial regarding the shifting lineups.

You can hear in Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain (1984) a fascination with the Banshee’s A Kiss in the Dreamhouse (1982), with “Melt” maybe having some direct influence on “Nocturnal Me.”  (Although — it would probably be just as fair to say that both bands were obsessed with “Venus in Furs”-era Velvet Underground, a goth cornerstone.)  “Melt” is a dirge of self-immolation — loss of identity — in being consumed by a lover, its explicit sexuality dealt as poetry from the view of a succubus.  Appropriately, the vampyric backing is suggestive of an older, more eastern, Europe, but with a restraint that sends a chill rather than a horror show laugh (something to which goth rock is all too susceptible).

This live version of “Melt” is from an episode of the Old Grey Whistle Test in December 1982, and captures Siouxsie and the Banshees with the Cure’s Robert Smith, who stepped in to replace John McGeoch on guitar and would stay to help write and record 1984’s Hyaena.  The performance is notable for Smith’s presence, of course, but also for the kind of sound and vibe the band could get live while staying fairly lean.  A lament, a shake and a shiver — “Melt!” is a key to the goth rock kingdom.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

soundstreamsunday #86: “Ocean Rain” by Echo and the Bunnymen

echoIt’s like they couldn’t help it, all the British bands that invented themselves in the wake of the Sex Pistols.  As hard as they tried not to, they created some of the loveliest pop music one can imagine, with smarts and restraint and pretension, lots of pretension.  In their willful endeavor to be a serious, art-y band in an evolving psych-goth-pop scene, Liverpool’s Echo and the Bunnymen were not the equal of Siouxsie and the Banshees or the Cure or even Simple Minds, but they had it in them to produce one of their era’s best records in 1984’s Ocean Rain.  As unique as it is in its genre for its use of an orchestra the album nonetheless captures the period, as romantic impulses toward grand gestures infused particularly British music with a youthful, surrealistic poetry — it didn’t always work, of course, and didn’t always need to work to be successful: if you were to ask me to name an album that summed up 1984, I’d point to, among others, Ocean Rain, even as I was a teenage metalhead.  But it’s not a perfect album.  Singer Ian McCulloch’s reach as a lyricist at times exceeds his grasp, and two of the record’s tracks (“Yo Yo Man” and “Thorn of Crowns”) threaten to bring down Ocean Rain‘s otherwise glistening pop dramas and diminish the band’s full flowering.

The title track closes the album, and “Ocean Rain” is a study in building pop ballad tension across five minutes of orchestra and guitars, with McCulloch and the band finding peaks and shifting down, delivering lyrics perfect for 80s college angst.  Echo and the Bunnymen would never be this good again, but they really are so good on Ocean Rain that nothing else compares to this jeweled and flawed masterpiece.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

soundstreamsunday: “How Do You Sleep” by LCD Soundsystem

LCD soundsystemJames Murphy made no bones about the hipster cred accorded Can on “I’m Losing My Edge,” LCD Soundsystem’s 2002 dancefloor-meets-Weird Al hit.  “I was there, I was there in 1968, I was there at the first Can show in Cologne,” he sing-speaks ala King Missile, going on to target Suicide and others in the pantheon of removed, white boy cool.  It’s idolatry and idol-destroying at once, and it’s a lot of fun to listen to.  Murphy never shies from the obvious or expected, scratching musical itches and quoting hosts of precedents within his long-ish form constructions.  He makes big beats, giant basslines, and his meta smarts about the music he creates enlivens his work rather than reducing it to a nostalgia trip. Precocious, yeah, precious, no.

Murphy wrapped up his LCD Soundsystem project in 2011, but revived it last year with some shows and this year (this month in fact) with American Dream, a double LP epic that continues an obsession with Adrian Belew-era Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, New Order, Depeche Mode, Modern English, Kraftwerk, and on and on and on….   Songs as dessert, and dessert with every meal.  And yet the lyrical content carries some heft, and whether or not you think Murphy is saying anything new or real or whatever, you can take his songs in a lot of different ways, luxuriating in all the analog richness  and the cracking drums, or thinking, as I do when listening to the lyrics of “How Do You Sleep?”, of something that relates on a personal level (in this case, there’s a Stevie Smith “Not Waving But Drowning” vibe going on).  These aren’t simply tossed off words so people who aren’t comfortable with instrumentals have something to chant, or words made to fit or counterpoint melody, which was Can’s m.o.  The lyrics crystallize, emotionalizing the epic weight of the central, insistent riff and Murphy’s all-in vocal.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

soundstreamsunday: “Isolation” by Joy Division

ian-curtis- joy-division-wendy-winder-obskur-magazineMusic critics tend to dismiss Joy Division’s posthumous Still as a hit-and-miss collection of studio scraps paired with a lackluster recording of their last show.  And in a specific context — compared to the brilliant Unknown Pleasures and Closer, it seems a bit of a rush job with less-than-pure motivations — this holds some weight, although I’d argue as its own thing Still may be more representative of the band as a whole, and that the live half of the double album contains fiery performances wildly joining hard rock, punk, and synth-y goth music.  My first exposure to Joy Division, over thirty years ago now, was hearing “Shadowplay” from Still, and it gave me the metal thunder frights.  It sounded as if Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner, Ian Curtis, and Stephen Morris channeled the essence of Fleetwood Mac’s “Green Manalishi” through a punk filter, as they sped to the center of the city in the night.  Even as they rode their wave of goth punk popularity their songs betrayed the band’s primary strength: their music was as much about making connections as alienation, masked and revealed in turns by Curtis’s not-waving-but-drowning lyrics and delivery.

When Curtis made good on the promise of his lyrics a few days after the show, the band pivoted into New Order and went on to define electronic dance music in the 1980s.  It’s a remarkable story of artistic continuity in the wake of tragic change, but the strength of the group’s trajectory even before Curtis’s death can be found on Still and on “Isolation” in particular.  Stripped of producer Martin Hannett’s carnivalesque studio tweaks, the song’s live incarnation has a punch lacking on Closer, with Sumner’s keyboards threatening to submerge Curtis’s plaintive singing, and Hook’s and Morris’s stripped bass-and-beat backbone out-crafting Kraftwerk.  The big guitars so much a part of their origins were yielding to distilled, synth-led rhythmic and melodic lines.  While “Isolation” would sit comfortably next to its future cousin, the New Order calling card “Blue Monday,” it remains a place of passage rather than a destination, a liminal space aglow with potential.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

soundstreamsunday: “Sons of Pioneers” by Japan

japantindrum2A British post-punk band could grow into just about anything in that fertile ground of the late seventies, and Japan proves the point, as over its short record-releasing career (1978-1981) the band moved from a funk punk glitz unit to new pioneers of progressive art rock.  You can see the steam rising off the entire five-album catalogue, the creative engines driving full tilt, inevitably towards early breakdown.  If the end came too soon there’s one more record, 1991’s self-titled Rain Tree Crow, that seals the deal: together, Mick Karn, Richard Barbieri, and brothers David Sylvian and Steve Jansen were among the most unique musical collaborators of their era, and should be in any discussion of Talking Heads or King Crimson from this same period, as bands who pushed forward and influenced all musical directions.  In its progression of fashion and music, Japan functioned as an interlocutor, a not-so-missing link, between New York Dolls-style punk and Tears for Fears-style new wave, a Roxy turned Crimson, an achieving Guns’n’Roses cum Duran Duran.

“Sons of pioneers are hungry men,” intones Sylvian in the nuanced Ferry-esque croon he’d been developing since 1979’s Quiet Life, the band’s third album.  I have no idea what this lyric means. But…I like it and its pure sonics and the way Sylvian so naturally handled a lyric as a shaped sound.  “Sons of Pioneers” comes from their last work as Japan, Tin Drum, an album charged with atmospherics, and further demonstrating the contributions and importance of each member, although Mick Karn’s gorgeous playing is a particular show stopper.  His expressive command of the fretless bass pushes and pulls “Sons of Pioneers” across its landscape, as the song takes its time unfolding, enjoying its own groove.  I’m including the live (from the posthumous live record, 1983’s Oil on Canvas) and studio versions because they both kick ass in their own spacious and patient ways, although there is an urgent edge to the live performance.  The concept-y concert footage shows a superlative Japan in its swansong, Jansen with his world beat and Barbieri sino-spacing out the proceedings on keyboards, Karn transporting himself magically sideways and Sylvian, dapper glam hand ever in pocket, delivering the riddles.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

soundstreamsunday: “Subterranean Homesick Alien” by Radiohead

radiohead - EditedThe figure “singing from the window in the Mission of the Sacred Heart” in ELO’s “Mission (A World Record)”, last week’s soundstreamsunday entry, could be the uptight narrator of Radiohead’s “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” from the band’s 1997 tour-de-force OK Computer.  As if in mirrored conversation, those two songs, separated in time by over 20 years but perhaps closer than they appear — in their beam-me-up guitar melodies, keyboarded grandeur and darkening moods — are to me joined at their metaphoric sci-fi hips.

Radiohead’s confidence on OK Computer, in both the intense alienation of the fragmented lyrics and the band’s break with the walls and squalls of mid-90s guitar rock, is a subtle swagger ripe with end-of-the-millenia decaying beauty.  It’s a prog goth triumph, reaching in its many directions to locate the mood of its time, a burred gloaming richly unsettled.  It’s also, I was reminded when listening again to it recently, funny, in the same way that Forever Changes is, or Fight Club, or a mad prophet preaching the end times.  There’s just no telling what the next turn will be, but there is a willful design, and so the satisfaction of a wicked lyric or the resolution of a majestic melodic sequence prompts a smile or a laugh.  The parts come together, a human victory, a denial of the end even as it’s being trumpeted.

The internally rhyming title of “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” a riff on a Dylan masterpiece (and, further back, a Kerouac novel), feels tossed off on the one hand but also maybe the only choice given its narrator’s painting a scene of alien surveillance and his desire, that he be taken “on board their beautiful ship, show me the world as I’d love to see it.”  He’s maybe one of them, maybe wants to be one of them, but who They are is undetermined and in any case moot: the point is homesickness for a place that has to be better, with the “breath of the morning” and the “smell of the warm summer air.”

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.