Thursday, May 31, 2007

Talking Heads- Remain In Light

Year: 1980
Genre: Post-Punk

Highlight Tracks: "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)", "Listening Wind", "The Overload"

As much as I love the memories of my youth, when listening to albums like this I sometimes wish I could trade in my BJ & The Bear afternoons to have been in college during the original Punk/Post-Punk period. Music then was so frigging weird and exciting; you never knew what somebody was going to cook up next.

Take this incredible album by Talking Heads. On Remain In Light they go off the deep end with their Brian Eno collaboration to create an incredibly innovative sound. A perfect fusion of Talking Heads' trademark spastic energy, Eno 70's prog, and world music beats. The perfection is found in the balance of these three elements. The music on Remain In Light sounds like an entirely new genre even today. At times it is almost hard to believe humans made this.

Later the Talking Heads and Byrne in particular would embrace world music to the point where it would detract from their originality, but on Remain In Light they keep those elements in check, using the funky beats as an accent rather than some kind of "Kumbaya" sitting in a circle holding hands malarkey. I find a kindred spirit for this album with The Good, the Bad, and the Queen. Both bands incorporate music highlights from several cultures to create terrific new sounds.

This whole damn album is a highlight track. But if I had to pick a few I'd recommend "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)" for its awesome Adrian Belew guest guitar and freaky Kraftwerk/Devo electronic noodling. This song builds and builds while Byrne vocally jabs at your ear; the result is a production masterpiece. "The Great Curve" has vocal harmonies that (almost) put Jawbox and The Pixies to shame.

And I am still waiting for Michael Mann to use the double-shot of "Listening Wind" and "The Overload" in one of his movies.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Spectrum - Songs for Owsley

Year: 1996
Genre: Psychedelic

On this excellent EP, equally inspired by 1960's LSD chemist Owsley Stanley and 16th century philosopher/writer Francis Bacon, Spectrum shift away from guitars to focus entirely on making music with vintage keyboards and synthesizers. The odd music they create feels like it occupies two places in time simultaneously. The music could easily be Francis Bacon experimenting with some arcane device in a 1598 laboratory, or a bizarro psychedelic theremin jam in a Hell's Kitchen basement circa 1969. Being created in 1996 the music is neither of these things but the musicianship here is so imaginative and committed to the premise that it feels like anything but mid-90's neo-psychedelica.

There is a great experimental novel by Steven Beard called Digital Leatherette in which an alchemist uses this weird mystic energy tube to view and communicate with different times and places. This album feels like the background music for an imagined night when Owsley and Bacon accidentally tap into that energy tube and communicate back and forth arguing about the nature of the universe.

1. Owsley - Sonic Boom's vocals on this track sound like the demon offspring of a Crash-like fuck session between Jhon Balance and Genesis P-Orridge after the musical head-on collision of Coil and Throbbing Gristle.

2. Liquid Intentions - An instrumental track that sounds like it should be the score for an episode of Doctor Who directed by Stanley Kubrick.

3. Feels Like I'm Slipping Away - This track is the most traditional song on the EP and the closest to Sonic Boom's usual territory. Essentially a drug haze narrative of consciousness slipping away once and for all. Getting so far out you can never come back in. The music these whispered vocals are set too is amazing. It feels like the band are trying to recreate what they imagine slow-motion LSD crash-pads in the 60's were like. The beautiful part is that what they imagine (utilizing modern production techniques) sounds so much cooler than the real thing ever could.

4. Sine Study #1 - Okay with liner notes that are taken directly from the instruction manual of their vintage Synthi Hi Fli 256 Sequencer you have to expect a track like this. It is a six and a half minute tone poem, Spectrum putting their instrument through its paces, and it isn't very interesting in a dramatic musical sense. That said this one would be a nice song to play when you are sweating out a fifth of whiskey in a claustrophobic apartment staring at circuit boards under black lights.

5. The New Atlantis - Vocoder readings of Francis Bacon's writings on imagined Atlantean technology set to synth freak-outs. Ever time I hear this track I think to myself, ' It doesn't get any better than this!'

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Rage Against The Machine - Evil Empire

Year: 1996
Genre: Alternative

Highlight Tracks: "Vietnow", "Revolver", "Down Rodeo"
Weak Tracks: "Roll Right"

Something about this album is off-kilter. Maybe it is Zach de la Rocha's odd rhyme schemes and obscure lyrical references. Or maybe it is the band pushing the envelope in an attempt to make discordant music kick-ass. Most likely it is a combination of both things.

Evil Empire is RATM's weak album. Not to say that it is a bad album, but it definitely suffers in comparison to the rest of their body of work. Mainly because of the off-kilter feeling that prevails over it.

It feels like Tom Morello and Zach de la Rocha were going after different things on this album. The music is phenomenal here but includes a lot of guitar experimentation that undermines the pedal-to-the-metal Rage that we're used to. As interesting as Morello's guitar dissertation is it does not carry the album. The same could be said for de la Rocha's lyric writing. His critiques of society here are equal parts generalization and obscurity so that a populist middle ground is never attained. What this all adds up too is an album that is sonically interesting but never fires on all cylinders as their debut did.

I prefer to look at this album as a step in the band's development that led to the excellent The Battle For Los Angeles on which Morello and de la Rocha finally achieve a synergy between sick guitar innovation and firebrand political lyrics.

Oddly, the songs on Evil Empire work much better individually than they do when listened to as a full album. Each song feels like a mini-epic and is much more enjoyable when seperated out; almost as if Evil Empire is a singles compilation rather than a cohesive album.

My favorite moments on Evil Empire come when RATM tinker with their formula the most. "Vietnow" has a great lumbering tempo, Zach singing his own backing vocals, and a terrific second half where de la Rocha mutters over a rising slow-jam before the song finally explodes into familiar territory with 'Fear is your only god!' repetition. "Revolver" features the one true moment on the album where Morello and de la Rocha have a meeting of the minds. Both begin restrained and then unleash with their respective instruments at the perfect moment. Finally "Down Rodeo" is de la Rocha's vocal showcase where the band take second fiddle to their frontman's pissed off tirade in which he becomes a Pied Piper for the disaffected by trading in his flute for a shotgun.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Q-Burn's Abstract Message - Oeuvre

Year: 1998
Genre: Electronica

Highlight Tracks: "141 Revenge Street", "Flava Lamp", "Pools in Eyes"
Weak Tracks: "Bugeyed Sunglasses"

Ah, the good old days of 90's electronic music. The scene was diversifying so rapidly in the mid-90's that browsing the Foggy Bottom Tower Records' electronica section was akin to taking a wagon-coach into the Wild West. You never knew who or what would catch your eye or your ear to introduce you to an entirely new sub-genre of sound. There were boomtowns of sound developing all over the world and names of DJs and producers would spread like the legendary gunfighters of old.

Back in 1998 I remember hearing vague mutterings out of San Francisco about DJ Q-Bert and the mysterious Invisibl Skratch Piklz, so one afternoon I rode into Tower Records to seek them out. I didn't find any DJ Q-Bert that day but I did stumble upon this little gem in the same section.

While Q-Burn's Abstract Message is a terrible name for a one-man band it does not reflect on the music contained within. Most of the music is nice, big-beat techno in the style of The Crystal Method or The Chemical Brothers. Q-Burn never reached the heights of party or personality that his big-beat compatriots did however. Probably because Q-Burn's Abstract Message is more of an IDM lounge project at heart. While most of the beats on Oeuvre can get you moving the really interesting music is in the quiet stretches and dramatic build-ups like on the tracks "141 Revenge Street" and "Pools in Eyes". These are exciting techno tracks without ever being in your face.

A lot of the music here feels like lounge-chic electronica rather than warehouse rave-up. If big-beat was a resurgence of fun, mindless dance music and IDM was atmospheric, chin-stroking then in actuality Oeuvre falls somewhere in between. Each song has elements of both styles which makes for an interesting album but also one that is hard to place.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Prong - Prove You Wrong

Year: 1991
Genre: Alt. Metal

Highlight Tracks: "Irrelevant Thoughts", "Unconditional"
Weak Tracks: "Prove You Wrong"

Prove You Wrong is a huge developmental step forward for Prong that would pay off in spades on the following albums Cleansing and Rude Awakening.

The lyrics aren't quite there yet but the music is. The album features chunky guitar, fist-in-your-face bass, and ass-kicking drums backing Tommy Victor's guitar squeals. The album is at the border check-point of industrial and metal thanks to the album's tempo that chugs along like the death-machine on the cover of Theodore Sturgeon's Killdozer. It never quite crosses over into industrial metal though because at times Victor seems reluctant to give up on his Headbangers Ball vocal delivery. His cheesy vocals and weak lyrics also prevent Prong from developing their own identity as a band. It wouldn't be til Cleansing that the band and front man Tommy Victor would evolve into their true form.

That said Prove You Wrong has some moments that make it worth listening too. The first two tracks are the highlights of the album. "Irrelevant Thoughts" and "Unconditional" are great examples of what Prong would evolve into in the following years. Listening to them is the aural equivalent of repeatedly punching the front armor of an Abrams Tank. You can't help but curl your hands into fists as the band pounds out these two gems. "Contradictions" is a more traditional metal ballad that borders on cheesy but the excellent slow-tempo work by the band is too good to be ignored.

The entire album gives the impression that Prong were preparing themselves to burst onto the scene with an entirely new sound and direction for heavy metal but that they needed this album to exorcise some of the trappings of traditional 80's metal before they could.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Orb - Orbus Terrarum

Year: 1995
Genre: Electronica

Highlight Tracks: "Montagne D'or (Der Gute Berg)", "Oxbow Lakes"
Weak Track: "Occidental"

Orbus Terrarum is an extremely complex album. It sounds different on every stereo system it is played on. It also sounds different at every level of volume you play it at. This is due to its sophisticated construction featuring an infinity of sound layers weaving in and out of each other in a way that is both mind-boggling and mysterious. The Orb craft albums like sound-alchemists rather than musicians.

This album represents at least three unique listening experiences based on volume.

At low volume the album makes for an excellent ambient experience. It is great to have on while you are trying to drift off to sleep. This is a relatively quiet album with soft edged sound molecules that never jolt or offend the listener's ear. At low volume Orbus Terrarum is absolutely hypnotic.

At medium volume the album is perfect background music. It is funky enough to bring energy to a room while never eclipsing the conversations or creative work being done. This is not a dance album (not in the slightest) but it does feature incredibly complex percussion programming that really comes to the forefront at medium volume.

At higher volumes the album is completely captivating and requires the listener to drop everything they are doing the moment it begins. At this volume the hypnotic ambient elements and complicated percussion combine to support the amplified synth lines and sound washes that were otherwise ignored at lower volume. At higher volumes this album leaves the realm of ambient or background music and becomes an work of electronic art.

I listen to Orbus Terrarum quite frequently when I go to bed but always drift off into weird music inspired dreams before the album ends. Today I gave the album a true listen at full volume and it reminded me of why I love The Orb and electronic music in general so much. The Orb are masters of electronic music and on Orbus Terrarum they are in top form.

There is so much going on here that it is hard to summarize in words. The majority of this album is like tripping on a sonic drug. If it had a physical texture it would be like dipping your hand into a lava lamp or maybe that scene in The Matrix when Neo's body is being consumed by the liquefied mirror. The album also brings to mind far-off lands in the near future, a soundtrack to read George Alec Effinger to. But at the same time it evokes dripping water and steam-punk.

If there is a weak track here it is "Occidental" which stretches out to almost 14 minutes without much cohesiveness. The track features an amazing array of studio trickery but no theme emerges to tie it all together. Technically the track is excellent but as a song it does not really work.

The rest of the album however is perfection. Each song inspires the imagination and confuses the ear as sonic elements emerge out of and dissolve into the thematic soup that is swirling around the room. This album sounds like someone playing the DNA helix as if it were a xylophone.

The track "Oxbow Lakes" begins with a discordant synthesized piano line that submerges into a bass heavy synth extravaganza. The percussive motor of the song dives deeper and deeper as schools of sound-fish swim in darting patterns around gigantic lumbering forms. The piano part reemerges in a warbled form as the song busts through the sea-bed and explores subterranean caverns until emerging into the new world discovered in the following highlight track "Montagne D'or".

"Montagne D'or (Der Gute Berg)" begins sounding like your are listening to a conversation through cracks in a sensory deprivation tank. It makes you feel like you are surrounded by life and yet isolated. The use of muffled vocal samples here is excellent. This loneliness quickly explodes into a sonic masterpiece that is the album's high point. The Orb rarely evoke conflict in their music but when they do, as on this track, it is brilliant. This song sounds like someone turning in on themself to discover their conflicted soul feeding on an imagined universe. It is beautiful music that brings to mind conflict on an external level leading to internal self-destruction.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Nine Inch Nails - The Perfect Drug

Year: 1997
Genre: Industrial - Dance

Highlight Track: "Perfect Drug (Plug Mix)"

What the hell does anyone see in the movie Lost Highway? I mean I know its soundtrack brought Rammstein to America's attention and included this pretty great Nine Inch Nails' song but other than that the movie doesn't have a redeeming quality. Totally Lynch resting on his laurels (but I digress).

I guess Trent Reznor decided to release this EP so that fans could get the song while distancing themselves from that disaster of a film. In usual 90's Reznor brilliance he farmed out the song for several remixes by some of the best in the biz and ended up not even including the original edit of the song on this disc. That was pretty gutsy move on Reznor's part but of course it paid of brilliantly. The Perfect Drug EP is the last of NIN's great remix releases of the 90's. It rounds out the almost 10 year hitting streak of terrific EPs that started with Sin, included the perfection of Fixed, and spun off into a million variations of tracks from The Downward Spiral.

On this EP we get remixes from Meat Beat Manifesto, Plug, Spacetime Continuim, The Orb, and NIN themselves. It makes for a great example of variations on a theme. Each remix explores different directions of the same song in a way that never feels repetitive over the EP's 35 minute runtime.

While all of the remixes are exciting, it is the Plug version (an alias of electronica genius, Luke Vibert) that impresses the most. Vibert somehow manages to speed the song up to drum-n-bass tempo while slowing down its dramatic elements to a point where "The Perfect Drug" is reminiscent of "Something I Can Never Have". It is pure genius how Vibert manages these disparate elements within the same track and the conflict it creates makes for great listening.

Monday, May 21, 2007

MC 900 Ft. Jesus - One Step Ahead Of The Spider

Year: 1994
Genre: Alt. Jazz

Highlight Tracks: "New Moon", "But If You Go", "Buried at Sea"
Weak Tracks: "Tiptoe Through The Inferno"

Sounding like a jazz club poetry reading at the end of the world One Step Ahead Of The Spider feels ground-breaking in retrospect of the trip-hop movement. At the time it came out though it felt just plain weird. Swinging on the pendulum between individual apocaplyptic oracle and slacker idiocy MC's lyrics and attitude make for one very interesting ride

MC 900 Ft. Jesus has a dark yet playful vocal delivery that gives the impression that he is a mischeivous god toying with the lives of his album's protagonists. From its opening rain sound effects you can already tell that it will end badly for the speed-obsessed woman in the epic first track "New Moon". Her tale of twilight car crash is set to an ultra-cool jazz jam that sets the tone for most of the album. However for all the dark numbers MC tries to right the ship by turning out playful tunes like "If I Only Had a Brain" which unfortunately came to be the public face of this fascinating album. That single's whimsy while entertaining doesn't properly represent the level of artistry on display here.

One Step Ahead Of The Spider is an interesting mix of live jazz, simple keyboard playing, and basic electronic elements. The music feels minimal here but its simplicity is deceptive as each song's subdued repetitiveness propels you forward. It's a very chill album that would be great to listen to when barbequing at sunset or sitting on the front stoop drinking beer from a brown paper-bag. This effortlessly cool album deserves to be listened to a lot more frequently.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Lights of Euphoria - Thought Machine

Year: 1995
Genre: Industrial - Dance

Highlight Tracks: "No Tears", "Deal in Sex (Protection Mix)", "Subjection"
Weak Tracks: "Give Me You", "Misery"

Lights of Euphoria is the moniker that Torben Schmidt of Zoth Ommog Records releases his industrial dance music under. Schmidt is a talented dance music programmer and Thought Machine features some great beats from the hey-day of the old school industrial dance clubs.

That said the use of guest vocalists from the across the mid-90's industrial landscape make the album painfully uneven in quality. While the beats and atmospheres sound great on every song the melodramatic singing, of Schmidt's hand-picked guests, often cripples individual songs. Fortunately the album's instrumental tracks make it worthwhile.

Back in the day, when I was knee-deep in the scene, I probably took this album a lot more seriously than I do now. I was a freak for the use of good samples and the use of Pinhead from Hellraiser on "No Tears" and of Evil Dead II on "Subjection" were particular favorites back then. Another trick Schmidt pulls on Thought Machine that I totally geek-out over (to this day) is framing the album with three short interludes; each is centered around one sample and features an eerie programmed atmosphere. These could be considered throw-away tracks but to me they divide the album into sections and add greatly to the drama of the presentation.

Even back in '95 I only considered this album third tier when compared to the rest of the industrial canon. Today the music sounds pretty low-tech (especially after the later 90's Synth explosion) and most of the singing has become unbearable to listen to.

The one vocal track that really works is "Subjection" featuring Claus Larsen of Leather Strip. It is a great industrial dance track even by today's standards.

Along with "Subjection" the saving grace of Thought Machine is its instrumental tracks. Even though they sound dated they are fun to listen to when reminiscing about my old industrial/goth scene days.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Knut - Terraformer

Year: 2004
Genre: Post-Metal

Highlight Tracks: "Solar Flare", "Evian", "Fallujah"

Imagine a wooden Viking ship adorned with low-tech booster rockets and radio arials sticking off of it at crazed angles. A hundred oars stick out of each side, rowing in ghostly unison. The sails made from shiny, 60's-era, Apollo lander tin-foil are full with solar winds.

The Viking ship glides through space passing a giant star that looks like a yellow eye shot-through with loopy strings of blood. Just beyond the star a planet comes into view. The alien continents of its surface pock-marked by giant explosions and mushroom clouds. The Viking captain stands above the forecastle surveying the approaching shore with grim determination. His crew of Viking astronauts, on deck behind him, ready for war.

Then, hidden in the haze of the dying sun, two small interceptor craft appear. The Viking ship banks to starboard as the laser beams of the smaller crafts make the space around it into a net of destruction. A thick energy beam slices into the Viking ship's mid-section. A fountain of wood splinters erupts into space. The shattered planks and slivers floating in the weightless void spin into oblivion as the interceptors rocket through them for the kill.

On deck the warriors curse in their Viking tongue as their ship rides the rough waves of space. As the Captain barks for evasive maneuvers he thinks of how far his immortal crew have come since their earthbound days. Countless planetfall raids on mishaped demons, months of aimless drifting without food or drink, passing through strange vortex and wormhole; challenges all survived. Centuries they have sailed through the stars in search of Valhalla. Perhaps today thay have found it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jane's Addiction - Ritual De Lo Habitual

Year: 1990
Genre: Alternative

Highlight Tracks: "Obvious", "Three Days", "Classic Girl"
Weak Track: "Been Caught Stealing"

One of the best albums of the 90's by one of the best American rock-n-roll bands of all time.

This album is much more than "Been Caught Stealing" and if you've only ever heard that mega-single then you are really missing out.

It all starts with the ironically-named "Stop" easily one of the most dramatic and entertaining album openers ever. Right away the album is tearing along with towering vocals from Perry Farrell and virtuoso playing by the band (especially guitar-hero Dave Navarro - what happened to that guy?). It is a damn exciting song and if it doesn't get you going then you better check your pulse or more appropriately make sure you have one!

The first half of the album is chock full of high-speed numbers dedicated to the fast and loose rock-n-roll lifestyle. Our journey is narrarated by Farrell's nasal whine and psudeo-butch grunts and groans. Meanwhile the rythmn section conduct high-speed dog-fight stacattos underneath Navarro's warp-speed guitar solos. Brilliant tempo changes abound and when we get to the fourth track "Obvious" we already need a breather. Jane's Addiction slow it down on "Obvious" but they never cease to amaze.

"Obvious" is the first of the album's Nothing's Shocking-style epics. It is a beautifully constructed mid-tempo mega-jam. Farrell's voice becomes another instrument, rather than the usual center-piece, as the band bend the listener's ear around a vortex of sound. If I had to describe the Rocky Mountains to a blind person I would play them this song.

"Been Caught Stealing" (the single heard round the world) is probably the album's most boring track. It is a decent enough summer-time single but it doesn't really show off much of what made Jane's Addiction such a great band. There is little innovation here which is probably why it ended up being so popular. This song blends in with any other trad-rocker of the early 90's. Which makes for a passable song just not that interesting.

"...Stealing" is followed by the album's tent-peg song; the gargantuan "Three Days" is a miracle in music. Nothing I can write here will do it justice, you should probably listen to it for yourself.

Actually the entire second half of Ritual is genius.

"Three Days"
"Then She Did"
"Of Course"
"Classic Girl"

In the future that block of songs should be studied in conservatories and books should be dedicated to lauding the band for arranging them in that order. That inspired song sequence combined with the fiery first-half makes this album a modern classic.

That's about as ringing an endorsement as I've ever mustered. I'd almost feel ashamed for such heavy-handed cheerleading but it really is that damn good.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Inspiral Carpets - Life

Year: 1990
Genre: Madchester

Highlight Tracks: "Commercial Rain", "Weakness", "Sackville"
Weak Tracks: "Sun Don't Shine", "Memories of You"

I feel like I can't properly comment on this album without a vocabulary chock full of Manchester colloquialisms because that's what the album brings to mind: the vibrant and exciting Manchester scene of the late 80's and early 90's. In one month in Manchester you could catch techno-progenitors 808 State at some warehouse then cut across town to catch Inspiral Carpets on the guitar-pop end of the scene (or Happy Mondays or The Charlatans or Stone Roses - take your pick). There was such an awesome proliferation of music going on there no wonder they dubbed it Madchester!

Life crackles with energy and imagination, practically bursting at the seams with ideas. As a debut album it gives the impression that the Inspiral Carpets were going for broke when they recorded it; jamming in two albums worth of quality material as if they thought this was the only chance they'd ever get to cut an album. The result is an album that includes everything and the kitchen sink. A debut that I would call a madball masterpiece of proto-britpop if not for the inclusion of the two weak tracks listed above.

"Memories of You" is weak because it sounds like filler. It feels like the band threw it in to give the listener an unnecessary breather from the blistering first half. Musically the track is okay, but momentum-wise it pulls the chair out from under the otherwise brilliant progression of songs.

"Sun Don't Shine" is just a terrible misfire of a song. It took all of my willpower not to skip over it on today's listen. I hate this song and wish it had been regulated to b-side or better yet 'unreleased' status. I guess the song should have worked since the band pull-off similar ballad numbers on the album's later half and again years later on Revenge of the Goldfish. But no matter how many chances I give it, this song always falls flat. First, they replace the Hammond organ with a cheesy synthesizer line that I can not stand. Then as if that wasn't bad enough the song bogs down in a quagmire of painfully bad lyrics sung with a rare lackluster vocal delivery by Steve Holt. Ugh, moving on.

Thanks to these two tracks the album plays long. Which is a shame because it really is a great example of high-energy British rock and doesn't need those two songs slowing it down.

As I stated earlier the album is overflowing with strong tracks. "Commercial Rain" is a perfect example of what makes Life such an amazing album. Its opening beats drive head first into a wall of distorted Hammond organ then smash through as the bass and guitar open up full-throttle. The song's trademark Madchester jam then wraps around Holt's emerging vocals that manage to sound like the best of the early 80's Romantics. The rest of the album features equally amazing instrumentation and passionate vocals. "Weakness" sums up everything about the band that rocks; being a true party anthem. On the slower side, the single "This Is How It Feels" turned into a genuine hit (and rightfully so) while the album closer "Sackville" is a glimpse into the genius balladry that would come later in the band's career on Revenge of the Goldfish.

Monday, May 14, 2007

HiM - Sworn Eyes

Year: 1999
Genre: Experimental

Highlight Tracks: "Scorn Nothing", "On The Periphery"
Weak Track: "Trace Elements"

This is a very cool album. I almost would call it trip-hop if not for the more abstract stretches. But then again it has a real jazz aspect to it as well. The entire thing is instrumental and feels like a score for an imaginary film. I'm going to go with experimental as its genre because it gives the impression that HiM mastermind Doug Scharin is trying to create something new by experimenting with cross-genre elements; colliding old-school jazz live instruments with hip-hop production and beautiful electronic programming.

From the above paragraph it should be obvious that this is not the lame pop-goth band H.I.M. this is the Chicago improv-scene jam unit of the same name. Featuring members of June of 44 and Tortoise among others, Doug Scharin orchestrates some real indie-cred talent on this 1999 offering.

Each of the five songs feel epic in scale; giving one the sense that each song is meant for its own urban saga. Without vocals, however, this is left completely to the listener's imagination. I would attempt to write some album-inspired fiction here but with one track clocking at 20-minutes and another at 12-minutes, I feel like I'd be writing a novella or screenplay before I did the music any justice.

Suffice it to say, this music has an extremely cool vibe that would inspire one to write some kind of near-future noir setting where 40's nostalgia was all the rage. It's the kind of music that should be playing in the background of one of Deckard's minor cases or in the head of a private eye character in Shadowrun. Especially the album highlight, "Scorn Nothing", which kicks unholy amounts of ass in its own creepy, trumpet-wailing, 'fist fight on a fire-escape' way.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Girls Against Boys - Tropic of Scorpio

Year: 1992
Genre: Noise Rock

Highlight Tracks: "Wow Wow Wow", "Plush",
"Everything I Do Seems To Cost Me $20"

Consider this my official petition to get this album remastered and reissued.

This album is an incredible document in the development of Girls Against Boys as a band. It features "safety's off" machine-gun creativity with the band going in a million directions at once. The songs roll into each other with an unstoppable kinteic energy that takes the listener through its 31-minute run-time in the blink of an eye.

The rythmn section hold the whole ball of energy together; rocking deep bass-lines and scattershot drumming through-out. The bizarre vocal performances add a sense of cool to the whole thing, but also include such fun high-pitched asides that its almost self-deprecating at times. Singer, Scott McCloud, sounds pretty young here but you can catch hints of the wizened, cynic of later albums that he would turn into after a few more bourbons. The production wraps the album in a nice level of fuzzy noise so that even the quiet numbers sound like they have a million things going on at once. GVSB sound like they went into this album open to any and all ideas and they packed as many into it as possible.

The one-two punch of album highlights "Plush" followed by "Everything I Do Seems To Cost Me $20" is worth the price of admission alone. The rest of the album features an amazing array of drenched in cool noise rock that should also be taken seriously. To some the album may come across as unfocused (since GVSB tightened up a lot on later releases) but to me this shotgun blast works like a messy little masterpiece.

As a debut full-length this album showed a ton of promise and Girls Against Boys spent most of the 90's living up to that early potential with a catalog of amazing albums.

Their debut definitely could benefit from a volume boosting remastering as it played kind of low on my stereo and in the car. Such unique and exciting instrumentation deserves to be heard with better sound quality and volume.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Fictional - Fictitious [+]

Year: 2001
Genre: Industrial - Synth

Highlight Tracks: "Blue Lights", "Nightmare", "On Helloween"
Weak Track: "Hangman"

Being the first Industrial-related album on here I feel like I should clarify the genre since there will be a million more. To me Industrial music is based on the beats; strong, driving, repetitive. I break the genre down into three main phases based on the prevelant sound of the phase: Noise (early), Dance (late 80's, early 90's), Synth (late 90's to present). Of course there are obvious ancestors of the later phases in the earlier ones and examples of the earlier phases continue to be made today, but for the most part the phases hold true.

Ficticious being in the Industrial-synth phase don't expect the most profound lyrics here. That said this music is very danceable and when they aren't impressing with their thump-thump, Fictional create some beautiful synth atmospheres. The entire album has a gothic tone with each track dripping in woe and sorrow.

Fictional is a Funker Vogt side-project. The parent band cater to the psuedo-fascist, combat boot dancers of the scene but with Fictional they give a more than competent nod to the scene's children of the night. This makes the album a nice cross-over number appealing to both sides of the Industrial/Goth divide (if that even exists anymore). This appeal generated a true dance-floor hit with the song "Blue Lights" and a reissue by Metropolis records. The reissue features two additional 'live' tracks that I feel detract from the cohesiveness and tone of the album.

For some reason this album (minus the 'live' tracks) makes me think of foot-chases, ornate bridges, and inner-city waterways. Imagine the Liffey in Dublin with the sun blotted out by a biblical swarm of bats, a shadow is cast over the entire city as a doomed couple run from a pack of slavering hell-hounds.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Eugenius - Oomalama

Year: 1992
Genre: Indie-rock

Highlight Tracks: "Here I Go", "I'm The Sun", "Bye Bye"
Weak Track: "Bed-in"

This is a nice, little record from those innocent and oblivious high school years. In the vein of Teenage Fanclub or The Lemonheads, it is inoffensive mix-tape for-a-girl-you-like music. It pretty much sums up being clueless about girls; complete with the highs and lows of having hopeless crushes across the classroom.

This album is chock full of energetic indie-rockers that would be great anthems for any off-beat teen relationship. Songs that have just the right amount of guitar and whimsy for that drive down to the shore, but also have enough hidden damage in the vocals to put a dagger right through your heart after the inevitable break-up. It has a nice 'remember the good times, I want to call her' quality to it.

Beyond those excellent masochistic teen aspects, for the long-haul the album features great, early-90's guitar-pop. This is a sunny, energetic album with just the right off-beat vocal tone to miss the mainstream. This album went nowhere when it hit U.S. shores back in '92, even though it was plugged by Kurt Cobain as one of his favorite bands. This commercial failure may have been due to the fact that Marvel comics sued the band into changing their name from Captain America only after the music press had heralded Captain America as the second-coming of indie-Jesus. A second coming that came to the U.S. disguised as Eugenius (named after the band's primary song-writer, Eugene Kelly).

After the barn-burner opening/title track, the album feels low-key until the sixth song when it takes-off like a rocket. The excellent indie-rocker "Down on Me" begins an incredible run of nine invincible tracks that really put this album on the map. Oomalama is much more interesting than anything The Lemonheads did in the 90's and nearly rivals Teenage Fanclub's classic American debut, Bandwagonesque.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Death In Vegas - The Contino Sessions

Year: 1999
Genre: Electronica

This album is one moody bitch so here goes -

1. Dirge: Asphalt at night, slick with rain. Streetlights reflecting in polished black paint on the body lines of a purring muscle car. She leans against the left-side of the hood looking bored, he grips the steering wheel trying to look tough.

2. Soul Auctioneer: Skin taught over junkie bones. Arm dangles off the gray couch, long cigarette burning down over empty beer cans and a bent spoon. Dull eyes watch ceiling fan theater while the landlord yells through the door. John Peel plays faintly on the radio.

3. Death Threat: Neon lights flicker on dormant robot arms. A digital clock reads early A.M. as a conveyor belt jiggles to life. Swivel joints do the robot as sides of beef roll by on rubber and pins. Buzzsaws cut with indifference. The controller presses buttons in a sealed booth, tired and oblivious to the perfection.

4. Flying: Flags flap in the dull morning wind. Alarm clocks strike city-wide. Coffee gets poured, toast gets bit, papers are read. Ties are tied after shoes. Lips brush cheeks. Front doors bang shut. Elevators descend. Feet skittle down steps. Thousands of routines are repeated and completed. Strangers bob heads in rythmn with commuter train rides or with bizarre synchronicity to each others radios while in traffic jams. From the sky all the moving parts look like art.

5. Aisha: A gas station recedes behind two speeding Harleys. It explodes. Iggy nods at Aisha. They ride into the heart of the blood-red sun.

6. Lever Street: The folds in the sheets are a mountian range, their legs smooth glaciers. They sleep with a small fan blowing back-and-forth under a wind chime. Light from the street filters in through bent blinds on their stacks of books.

7. Aladdin's Story: The boys cruise through the warehouse district looking for fun. A car full of bent smiles and challenges. Junior Murvin croons on the radio. Gentle hooligans on the prowl.

8. Broken Little Sister: She sits on the rooftop in a torn dress, teasing pigeons in cages. Her color blind eyes make the gray sky look green and the gaps between buildings the color of oceans. Satellites fall from the sky all around her.

9. Neptune City: A princess puts on foundation powder while her country goes to war. Clouds of powder drift over the people. Letters from sons and daughters. Exotic images on tee-vee. 'So smart in your uniform.' A last night out with the boys, a weekend leave home, marching bands in their eyes.

'Tell us all about it.'
'Sorry mate, I just want to get twisted.'

Monday, May 7, 2007

Chapterhouse - Blood Music

Year: 1993
Genre: Shoegazer

Highlight Tracks: "Don't Look Now", "Everytime",
"Deli", "Love Forever"

This album brings a smile to my face everytime I listen to it. It is a great combination of shoegazer, pop, and emerging 90's electronica. While their first album Whirlpool is a better straight-up shoegazer affair (with better singles), Blood Music offers up such a joyous combination of styles that I personally like it better.

Something about the carefree attitude of the band in cherry-picking elements from several genres is really refreshing. On Blood Music Chapterhouse are truly inspired in their attempt to carve out a sound of their own; something at the crossroads of genres that hadn't been really heard before. Many shoegazer bands eventually evolved into electronica later in life (see Seefeel, The Telescopes, etc.) ending up radically different from their original sound. Chapterhouse on the other hand incorporated electronica into their lush guitar thing rather than opt for it over the shoegazer elements that made them (semi)-famous. The product is this excellent album.

Blood Music plays like a lush dream. It alternates 'high-def cumulonimbus on crisp blue skies' day-dreaming with 'half-buzzed sunglasses at night hunting for an after-hours bunker party in England' cool. It's real 'watch the streetlights reflect on the cab windows on the drunk ride home' music.

Which is probably why the album inspired so many imaginative remix projects. The American pressing includes a second disc that features two remixes of "We Are The Beautiful" and two b-sides: "Frost" and the collosal jam "Picnic". The UK pressing features the invincible Global Communications remixing the entire album on a molecular level (I'll be giving that bonus disc its own much-deserved entry at a later date).

Had the chance to see Chapterhouse at the old 930 Club on the Blood Music tour and didn't go. Still kicking myself over that one.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Barkmarket - Vegas Throat

Year: 1990
Genre: Noise Rock

Highlight Tracks: "Ditty", "Poverty", "Salvation", "Backstabbers"
Weak Track: "The Patsy"

The best parts of Vegas Throat are when Barkmarket really bring the noise. Which unfortunately usually only kicks in on the later half of most of their songs. The first half of most of their songs feature slow-building rock and weird lyrics that should be both entertaining and disturbing but really aren't much of either. I keep this album around because it is part of the history of my beloved noise rock genre.

Vegas Throat falls in the third tier of that genre however due mainly to the fact that Barkmarket don't convince me they are as depraved as they claim to be. Most of the vocal performance by John Nowlin feels like bad acting rather than actually insanity on display. The band do a great job with the plodding noise-crawls and climactic explosions but without a truly genuine singer the album falls short.

Noise Rock is one of my favorite genres and some of its best examples are on the Amphetamine-Reptile Records label. Most of the bands in that camp completely sell you on their fucked-in-the-head humidity and when they sing about torturing somebody in a shed you really think they did it. Not so with Barkmarket on Vegas Throat released on Rick Rubin's, Def American label.

That said there are some moments of brilliance tucked in between the community theater. The song "Ditty" is near perfect, a quick series of gut-jabs that really make you feel pummelled after its 1:46 run-time. "Poverty" sums up the best of the Barkmarket formula with a long intro of restrained noise that explodes into Nowlin's best vocal performance on the album. Finally "Salvation" is the noise-rock kicker that I was hoping the whole album would be back when I bought it so many years ago. The best song however is a cover of "Back Stabbers" which produces a bizarre performance from the entire band and is the one time they are really firing on all cylinders (oddly enough it is more a creepy atmosphere piece which makes me think maybe Barkmarket should have switched sound direction in their mission statement at some point).

The fact is that Barkmarket are a good band and their lyric writing is awesome. Unfortunately their execution is lacking (due to John Nowlin's vocals) which results in a very uneven album on which each song must be judged individually. Each song is such a weird mix of good and bad elements that it is hard to come up with a final tally tipping in either direction.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Accelera Deck - Addict

Year: 2000
Genre: Glitch-tronic

Highlight Tracks: "Untitled Crank", "Quiescene", "Further"
Weak Tracks: "Trip Through", ";11"

Reminiscent of Autechre but not as 'cerebral' as their later works, Addict is excellent background electronica. Glitchy but not to the point of IDM abstraction, Accelera Deck gives the album a forward momentum with subdued beats thumping over very organic and moody backgrounds. This organic base gives each song a latent melancholy which when combined with staring at the cover picture let's the listener's imagination run wild. The final three songs have a weird hip-hop tinge that works for the most part except on the song ";11" which is definitely the album's weakest track.

When the album isn't background music it runs a little long at over an hour however many of the tracks inspire the imagination which makes it a good album to write too.

Take for instance the second half of the song "Pulling Through" which brings to mind everything from a soot stained sky above frozen trenches to being trapped in the hull of a leaking, Chinese, slave freighter.

Orbit Achieved!

Welcome to my latest music writing project: Satellite Eclectica!

It has often occured to me that in the hustle of the daily grind we find ourselves listening to music from a lot of different sources and in a lot of different situations; however we rarely have the time to actually sit down with an album and give it an honest, thoughtful listen. Music has become mostly a background soundtrack to our lives.

I am a huge music fan with a monster sized collection and even I rarely have the time to devote to listening to complete albums. I mean really listen to them without any other activity going on but enjoying the album itself.

I credit this to being a busy adult. In High School it seemed like all I did was listen to albums all the way through. Nowadays though I listen to albums partially or to individual songs on random. Mainly because I am driving somewhere or walking to class and once I arrive the music stops. Later when I pick up my Iriver or get in the car my mood is different and I put on something different from what I had on earlier.

With this project I have decided to attempt to listen to my entire music collection and chronicle each album I listen to on a daily basis. I vow to listen to at least one full album a day and write in this space about the album in the form of either a review, general observations, or simply what the album inspires me to think about.

This is a daunting task because my record collection is huge but ultimately this should be an enjoyable one. I invite everyone who finds their way here to Satellite Eclectica to join me on my musical journey of full-album rediscovery.