Friday, 25 August 2006

A few quick reviews

Sorry about the lack of posts, but between being flat out at work and flat out at home organising my wedding (I'm getting married in November), I simply haven't had any time. I will try to find time to post something now and then to show that I'm still alive.

This is just a quick post to let you know about a couple of albums that I have been listening to quite a bit lately. In both cases I enjoyed them when I first purchased them, but on the last few listens they suddenly "hit" me. That's a great feeling :)

Guided By Voices - Bee Thousand

I talked about this band and album in one of my best of 2004 posts, as GBV were one of my great discoveries of the year. Like the Replacements, their albums are predominantly patchy affairs. But unlike the Replacements, they released a definitive statement, a masterpiece where all cylinders were firing and they didn't put a step wrong. And this is that album.

It takes an open mind to warm to this album. First thing you need to forget about is the natural human response to be put off by a poor quality recording. You need to learn to appreciate a song on its own merits and not by how it's been recorded. Think you can do that? Then you are ready for this album.

You've probably heard the term lo-fi bandied around the indie press, but this album truly defined the lo-fi "genre" (if you can call it that). While some bands add fuzz to their music in an attempt to give them some rough and unpolished credibility, these guys literally recorded this album on 4-track tape in their basement. And just like Rockette Morton of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band was "fuelled by beans" on their freak-out album Trout Mask Replica, Bob Pollard and the boys were fuelled on beer during the making of Bee Thousand. And lots of it. There's a reason why many of their fans affectionately called them Guided By Beer.

This album consists of 20 tracks, and beneath all the fuzz and tape hiss lies a charming set of melodies and fantastic songwriting that gets under your skin (in the best way possible). Some of the songs only last for a minute, but they cram more hooks and melodies into that minute than most bands can muster in an album. 16 of the 20 tracks are sung by frontman Bob Pollard, but guitarist Tobin Sprout contributes vocals to 4 of the tracks and they are some of the best tracks on the album (Awful bliss being my personal favourite).

This album was released in 1994, but its melodic spirit lives in 1968. If you were always a believer that the White Album was the best Beatles album, this is the unheard 3rd disc. Yes, the tracks on this album are that good. When this album hits you, you won't know how you lived without these songs in your life.

The Wedding Present - Seamonsters

I have to thank album reviewer Adrian Denning, whose excellent review convinced me to buy this album. If you are a Smiths fan, but always wished that they were a bit louder, then this is the album for you.

Frontman David Gedge's vocals, like those of Morrissey, are definitely an aquired taste. But I've always preferred vocals that are a bit "different", and Gedge's vocals add a real emotional and unique element to these songs. Credit must also be given to producer Steve Albini (who has worked with Nirvana, PJ Harvey and countless others) for his amazing production, which adds an eerie and understated quality to these songs, raising the vibe ante to the max. Just check out opening cut Dalliance, when it suddenly goes from a medium paced rock song to a distorted freakout. Amazing stuff.

You need patience with this album. It didn't hit me as being brilliant until I'd given it close to 10 listens. Some songs are more immediate on the first listen, while others creep up on you. But they will grow on you, so please give it a chance. A highly underrated gem of an album.


Guided By Voices - Awful bliss [Link Removed]
Guided By Voices - Echos myron [Link Removed]
Guided By Voices - Queen of cans and jars [Link Removed]

The Wedding Present - Dalliance [Link Removed]
The Wedding Present - Dare [Link Removed]
The Wedding Present - Heather [Link Removed]

UPDATE: Song links removed.

Monday, 7 August 2006

RIP: Arthur Lee 1945-2006

Arthur Lee, of seminal 60's band Love, died on August 3rd of acute myeloid leukemia.

The core Love lineup released 4 albums from 1966 to 1979 - Love (1966), Da Capo (1967), Forever Changes (1967) and Four Sail (1969). The most critically acclaimed of these albums, Forever Changes, is rightly lauded as a lost classic and one of the greatest albums of all time.

Unlike many other highly acclaimed albums of the era, it has aged remarkably well and I agree that it is a brilliant album which deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles, Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys and Odessey and Oracle by the Zombies. It definitely has the sound of the psychedelic 60's but there's a dark undercurrent to songs like The red telephone and You set the scene which give it a timeless eerie quality as well.

Unfortunately, Forever changes never gave Love the commercial or chart success which they clearly deserved. But we all know that talent and commercial success are often mutually exclusive.

Rest in peace, Arthur. Your contribution to popular music will live on forever.


Love - The red telephone [Link Removed]
Love - You set the scene [Link Removed]

UPDATE: Song links removed.