Monthly Archives: June 2010

356. The Guild League – “Private Transport”

It’s been mighty cold and pretty damp in Melbourne town over the past week. At such times, my thoughts turn to numerous grey days I have spent under London skies on my various stays there.

This album is a perfect soundtrack to such feelings.

The Guild League is the vehicle Lucksmiths lead-singer Tali White established to showcase his song-writing and to explore more complex, layered music.

He’d been doing a lot of travelling from a London base during that time. The songs herein capture the joy of exploring new surrounds, and the sadness of love long- distance.

The music swings between upbeat, at times, downright funky (Jet Set Go! and Siamese Couplets) numbers, to wonderfully melancholy string compositions.

Tali has always had a silky sweet voice, but here we also get to see his skill at wordplay and imagery (Cosmetropolis is a treat). He hooks up with a whole gang of collaborators who construct some mesmerising soundscapes and jaunty numbers. The cello, handclaps and layered vocals on Faraway Place are truly ambitious.

This album is not perfect. Its pacing is a little awkward and a couple of tunes are regular ‘skips’, but every backpacker should have it loaded into their iPod.

The band didn’t deign to make any videos, so I did (!):

File under: Moving


 

355. Guided By Voices – “Under the Bushes Under the Stars”

Regular readers of this blog (and also the more irregular/infrequent of you) may have already picked up that I really don’t know that much about music-making.

I only write as an avid and attentive listener. As such, any advice or opinion I give regarding what a band should be doing better should clearly be seen as speculative and ill-informed at best.

I say all this because yesterday I was pretty convinced that GBV were hampered by the low and borderline obstructive production quality on the album in question.

Well, on this one they got all disciplined and almost slick. The production values hit passable levels, and thus we are left to scrutinise the band in a less distracted way.

Unfortunately, they seem to have traded off some spontaneity and creativity along the way. Among the 24 tracks (yeah, they’re still prolific) there aren’t as many pearls (unpolished or otherwise). The borderline Beatlesque qualities of the previous release are lost as the band comes across as some very, very reserved REMBuffalo Tom-Flying Nun hybrid, but without a big, ear-catching track to keep me coming back.

File under: Sounds like bad bush to me…

354. Guided By Voices – “Alien Lanes”

I went through a ‘lo-fi’ phase in the mid-late-1990s.  I was seduced by the awkwardness and deliberate difficulty of it all.

Thus I have an excess of albums from Superchunk, Sebadoh and these guys.

Not wanting to prejudice those “S” reviews in a couple of years time, those blokes were a little less difficult than this collection from GBV.

I’ve seen GBV referred to as ‘anti-rock’. I presume that refers to their unwillingness to conform with the expectations of record labels, listeners etc.

For example, here we get 28 tracks, most under 2 mins along, most without a chorus-verse structure, many without intros or outros.  Most sound like they were recorded underwater (one deliberately so) or from a long, long distance away.  Tracks are overdubbed, underdubbed, haphazard and throwaway.

I get the concept – let the music free, don’t conform, don’t overmassage the message.  But in the end it just aint very listenable or enjoyable. It’s the musical equivalent of mumblecore – over-rated and self-indulgent.

It’s a real shame.  There is a huge amount to like on this album underneath all the grime.  These guys lay down some great riffs, grooves and what could/should be choruses. Game of Pricks and Motor Away are very solid (although the latter was improved by the Salteens), and songs about hunting knifes are always fun:

File under: Roadworks are called for…

One rack done

With my recent burst of review productivity this blog has managed to clear an important hurdle. The first of my two CD racks is all done!

That’s 24 of the little compartment thingies.

The other rack has 55!!

And there’s the vinyl as well.

We’re going to be here a long time folks…

353. Green Day – “Dookie”

Here’s a CD from the wife’s collection.

She clearly embraced Calif-skate punk more than I ever did. But, as I comment to her regularly, she does have good taste.

It was hard to ignore Green Day around the time of this release. They released classic single after classic single and occupied a lot of music video land. They even (eventually) ended up soundtracking a Seinfeld episode (and now have their own Broadway Musical – which is sort of a punk-ish act in its contrariness).

But before all that came this explosion of an album. It is almost the Thriller of pop-punk, featuring as it does five big hit singles.

When I Come Around is the most contagious, Basket Case the one with longest bridge and most scope for air-drum action, but it’s always been Longview that did it for me. The power toms and the witty lyrics keep it fresh:

The highs on this album are mountainous.

The rest pales considerably. When Billy isn’t spitting lyrics, it’s all pretty straightforward guitar power-pop of the sort The Young Fresh Fellows played to much less fanfare.

As we own no more Green Day, I’m using this review to also embed my favourite vid from the boys:

File under: Horse management anyone?…

352. Al Green – “The Very Best of Al Green”

You have to respect the single-minded artist.

This greatest hits collection from one the megastars of the soul music scene showcases twenty tracks, each and every one of them concerned with the topic of love.

Getting distracted by food, civil rights, cars or even euphemisms is not for Mr. Al Green. He’s focussed on your love, her love, lost love, the next love and being loved. And love invokes squeals, “yeahs”, guttural purrs and many, many high notes.

We have stumbled into rutting season and he is the man with the hugest antlers. But Al is no sleazy Barry White or Isaac Hayes. His is an angelic, wholesome Let’s Stay Together, Let’s Get Married love.

After recording these he went from Mr to The Reverend. I’m not completely au fait with his gospel career, but what I’ve heard stays on the righteous side of saccharine.

But back to the corporeal love side of things. This is a fantastic collection. The backing orchestration – very often built around organ and/or horns – is first rate. The vocal stylings flawless. And as you can see from the cover, and moreso from this video, his hair is irresistable (and inspirational):

You can seriously hear the hair in the songs…

File under: It is easy being Green

351. The Grates – “Teeth Lost, Hearts Won”

Yesterday I supposed that I would have been even more appreciative of the Grates’ debut if I was a decade and a half younger and thus willing and able to push myself up near the front and embrace the ecstatic vibe of it all (ok, I am paraphrasing/embellishing). 

Their follow-up is an album I’m sure I would have embraced with greater enthusiasm back in the day.

It’s got that “more difficult” second-album thing going in. 

There isn’t a killer single.  Oh Yeah is the most obvious contender and wouldn’t crack the top 5 from album #1:

The sound is more polished, but more predictable.  It ain’t nearly as poppy.  It feels like the band feared becoming the Frente of their generation, and thus put away their silly hats and instead embraced the more surly Yeah Yeah Yeahs side of their personality.

I’m probably being harsh here. Milk Eyes works, as does Burn Bridges.

As a younger man, I would have spent more time with the album, allowing myself to be seduced by its standoffishness, delighting in my persistence and sophistication in “getting it”.

I ain’t got that in me anymore, especially on a rainy day ill-suited to brash electro-rock.

File under: My patience is lost