There’s no time like now to revisit The Slits.
No, not really, it’s just a random 28 albums for your listening pleasure. I have great intentions with this, even if everything goes tits up, to be a start back into posting random nonsense. I’m not going to post much detail as it takes time and effort and giving a fuck, all of which I’m short of, and there doesn’t seem to be much point really. I’ll let you know in future posts if I’ll be taking more interest in posting as was posted before, until then enjoy Blondie.
As so elegantly sung by Ian Dury & The Blockheads. It’s been a while since I last dropped a post, and probably will be a while longer. Long Covid along with pneumonia has really left me floored. I’m wrapped up in an electric blanket to keep warm enjoying Do It Yourself. It’s taken me about 10 minutes to type this missive so far, which doesn’t bode well for informative posts about the albums upped in the future. When posts do finally return, they’re going to have to look a bit different.
The reason I wanted to drop in today is for two albums requested sometime in the past couple of years (good things and waiting…) that I’ve had sitting on my desk top for months. I hope whoever it was that requested them pops by…
East Ash is a band with a sound, a band that was all about a moment in the lives of a few people, a chemistry experiment that worked perfectly just one time, a reaction that could never occur again. If any band earned the title of local heroes in the late 1980s in Columbia, it was East Ash. The band formed in 1985 and, by the end of the decade, had gained a large local following with their atmospheric, melodic art rock with live shows involving anything from props to a Tom Jones impersonator, the music still seemed the main focus both live and on the band's two albums, "Crushing A Flood" and "Ellie". It was widely believed in local music circles that East Ash was the band from Columbia that would make it on some level. Unfortunately, even though they managed to draw healthy crowds to The Blue Note, a reluctance to do major touring and interband tensions got in the way of their potential. Helicopter guitars, awash in reverb, cough out lines that range from purely percussive to soaring and melodic. Singer Jeff Rogers accompanies himself on an evil-sounding fretless bass, and sings in an anguished wolf-howl. The band has many moods, all of them bleak...at slow tempo they are incredibly sinister. Up-tempo, they're downright scary, careening along behind Don Cizek's obsessive, manic drumming and the wild guitar extrapolations. Unfortunately this album doesn't hang together like "Crushing A Flood". Find that one first for the undiluted version.
A weirdly arty but rather appealing little album, the full-length debut by Rhode Island trio Johanna's House of Glamour is an intriguing blend of Goth stylings, the shoegazer aesthetic of bands like the Cocteau Twins and Downy Mildew, and most interestingly, a strong echo of '70s progressive rockers Slapp Happy. Laura Darrow's dolorous voice and idiosyncratic phrasing are more than a little reminiscent of Slapp Happy/Henry Cow singer Dagmar Krause, and multi-instrumentalists Daniel Darrow and Bruce MacLeod create a serene yet mysterious musical bed filled with subtle synthesizers, keening electric guitars that sound like Robert Fripp in an atypically mellow mood, and intriguingly strange sounds buried deep in the mix. The lengthy songs unfold slowly, favouring undulating atmospheres over memorable melodies. The placid albeit vaguely foreboding sound strongly recalls that of This Mortal Coil, especially on the hushed cover of T. Rex's "Cosmic Dancer," sung by Daniel Darrow. It might take a few listens to really get into Farewell Street, but its well-worth the effort.
Although it lacks a standout track on the level of Smart's "Inbetweener," Sleeper's second album, The It Girl, is a stronger effort, suggesting that lead singer/song writer Louise Wener could develop into a distinctive talent. Certainly, her melodies and hooks are uniformly better this time around, ranging from the bouncy "Sale of the Century" to the sighing melancholy of "What Do I Do Now?" Wener's lyrics continue to be underdeveloped and simplistic, but her hooks usually make that tendency easy to ignore. What would have made The It Girl an even stronger album is a clearer, more focused production. Although the sound of the album changes subtlety throughout the course of the record, the overall effect is numbingly similar. The rhythm section lacks drive and the guitars lack balls -- they blend together into one dull grind. Out of all of Stephen Street's productions, this is the most undistinguished. Occasionally, the song is strong enough to compensate for the flat production, but Sleeper albums will not only improve according to the development of Louise Wener's song writing, but also as the band finds the right producer.
Wiping off the industrial grit, burning flames and sleazy sampler ooze of his night jobs in Revolting Cocks, Ministry and Pigface, Edinburgh-born/Chicago-resident singer, guitarist and pianist Chris Connelly (not the MTV film show host/onetime Premiere magazine editor but the former Fini Tribe member) has made three restrained solo albums that increase the peace and are, at heart, more pop than anything else.
Phenobarb Bambalam, which Connelly recorded in the aftermath of his girlfriend’s suicide and dedicated to her memory, cuts back on the Walker/Bowie devotions for a bit of the sterner rock aggression and dance rhythms of Connelly’s other endeavours. (Although the downcast ’60s inflections of “Too Good to Be True” and the guilty feedback miseries of “Heartburn” do follow Whiplash Boychild‘s lead; a dramatic cover of Tom Verlaine’s “Souvenir From a Dream” introduces a new design entirely.) Keeping the sound pressure beneath drastic levels, Connelly sounds like all the wind has been sucked out of his sails; the bleak record winds along aimlessly on auto-pilot, avoiding sharp turns and great ambitions, often letting the grooves shape the song writing rather than the other way around. Although hauntingly effective in conveying gloom, Phenobarb Bambalam shunts much of the suffering in the lyrics away; Connelly’s resigned singing leaves the album’s emotional door wide open, and all the claustrophobia in the music rushes right out.
Massachusetts synth duo Boy Harsher’s debut LP Yr Body is Nothing is an exercise in control, both in its tightly wound song writing, and the carefully articulated way it draws from numerous styles. Darkwave, minimal and hints of body music are all discernible on the album’s ten tracks, although the overall effect is slick and cohesive, never coming across as genre pastiche. Jae Matthews and Gus Muller know how to deploy those sounds to serve their own purposes, using them to build out taut, hypnotic songs to their fullest.
Much of what gives Boy Harsher’s songs impact comes from nuance in arrangements, gradual changes, or slight modulations that create depth. Mid-album highlight “Suitor” works a simple kick and cymbal pattern for all it’s worth, propelling Matthew’s unnervingly reverbed voice forward until a bassline bursts through the tension, simultaneously shifting the focus of the track and adding dimensions to the elements that preceded it. It’s a clever trick that Boy Harsher invoke elsewhere to good effect, like the subtle way the bass sequence on “Deep Well” feels like it’s shuddering under pressure to keep up the pace, or how “Big Bad John” moves synths forwards and back in the mix, even as their cut-off and envelope move in time with the rhythm of the song. Changes happen under cover of darkness and fog, with liberal use of echo and verb used to distract the ear, often to the point that songs can undergo enormous transformation without the listener even consciously registering it.
Beyond those more wily charms, Boy Harsher also display some of the capacity for funk shared by many of their DKA label mates, albeit in a specifically subdued form. The synthetic rhythm on “Last Days” has some bounce in it, buoying the song up as Matthews gradually unwinds herself across the song’s back half. Similarly, “Morphine” uses quantized drum machine hits to create a deep robotic groove, allowing for a more laidback feel to take root, a vivid contrast to the fraught sensibility of the rest of the album. There’s a substantial approach to bass and drums on Yr Body is Nothing that anchor it, allowing everything else more freedom to dissolve or coalesce as necessary.
It might be the contrasts in approach on the LP that ultimately make the most lasting impression. Stripped down but solid, loose but carefully managed, Boy Harsher reconcile moods and structures and then pull them apart again, making music that has a perverse, independent momentum all its own.
Whenever people argue over which Metallica album is best, it's always over the same two: Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. There is little to no doubt these are the iconic quartet's two most iconic records, but whichever is best comes down to personal preference more than anything else. But... the conventional answer is Master of Puppets. It's also my answer to this debate that long predates the existence of the internet; place where the art of debate is murdered every two weeks or so. What is it that makes Master of Puppets so special and...transcendent?
It's what I'm going to try and break down in this classic album review.
First of all, there's the music. Metallica were not only considered one of the fastest and most aggressive thrash metal bands in the eighties, but they also were innovators and weren't afraid to step bash from their style's aesthetic to bolster their identity. Master of Puppets is the culmination of that. There are some killer thrash metal tracks on that thing, but always with a twist. Battery has this eerie and disquieting intro. Disposable Heroes, one of my personal favourites, has this conceptual staccato riff meant to mimic rifle fire and these interstitial melodic parts that texture the song. Its trash metal by definition, but never have you got the feeling Metallica is trying to adhere to any set of rules.
Then, there's the more powerful stuff like Master of Puppets or Welcome Home (Sanitarium), where they really break up the form and aren't afraid to slow down the tempo in order to achieve the desired effect. The guitar and drums lead build-in after the slow interlude in Master of Puppets has become stuff of legend and it wasn't something they've done prior. Speaking of which, Orion is not exactly their first instrumental song, but it's their most powerful and accomplished. It's so bold and multifaceted; it often feels like you're not listening to Metallica at all. The music on Master of Puppets is a natural evolution from Kill 'em All and Ride the Lighting more than it is a reinvention. That.... uh, came later in their career.
What I believe truly sets Master of Puppets apart is their improvement as storytellers. And that informed the music to a certain degree. Master of Puppets marked the first time they had a cohesive, multi-layered and self-conscious narrative to tell. There are some anti-war songs on the record, anti-religious, even Lovecraftian material, but it can all be interpreted through the allegory of being at war with yourself and with the world. The story of Master of Puppets (the album) is the story of a damaged psyche struggling to regain control of itself. Whether you want to see it as the mind of a returning soldier or your own is up to you, but it's why this album is so magnetic and transcends time.
Through passionate song writing, Metallica became arguably the first metal band to move past the representation of chaos, destruction and/or epic battles into a more intimate and meaningful territory. That's why Master of Puppets is so beloved by fans. It tells the story of young people at war with themselves. Whether it's the title song where the protagonist struggles with an invisible puppet master and losing his free will or the Lovecraft-themed The Thing that Should Not Be, which highlights the fear of the unknown (especially within oneself), the theme of psychological battles is omnipresent on the record. It's not always straightforward, it's often allegorical, but it's why young people identified... and are still identifying with Master of Puppets today.
Was Master of Puppets Metallica's best album? It's not for me to answer. It's my personal favourite by a mile and a half, but whether you enjoy its versatility and its majestic storytelling more than you enjoy Ride the Lightning's musical breakthrough and aggression is up for you to decide. What I will tell you though is that Master of Puppets is Metallica's most important and influential album. That, I don't think can be debated. Master of Puppets was so fucking good; Metallica's fans never forgave them. They're like addicts trying to chase a high they'll never get again. Every new album is compared to it and automatically becomes a deception. I'm sure it's frustrating to James, Lars, Kirk and friends, but few musicians have reached such an artistic apex in their career.
"Doctorin' the Tardis" was released in 1988 by The Timelords ("Time Boy" and "Lord Rock", aliases of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, better known as The KLF or the JAMs). The song is predominantly a mash-up of the Doctor Who theme, Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll (Part Two)" with sections from "Blockbuster!" by Sweet and "Let's Get Together Tonite" by Steve Walsh. The single was panned by critics but became a commercial success, reaching number 1 in the UK Singles Chart and charting in the Top 10 in Australia and Norway. There are also samples of dialogue from: a Dalek and Davros in TV: Genesis of the Daleks.
The band had a 1968 Ford Galaxie police car which had featured in some of its videos and promotional artwork. For the release of this song, a fictional backstory was created for the car. The band claimed that the car had spoken to them, revealing its name as "Ford Timelord." The record itself was credited to Ford Timelord, and the sleeve featured the text "Hi! I'm Ford Timelord. I'm a car, and I've made a record... I mixed and matched some tunes we all know and love, got some mates down and made this record. Sounds like a hit to me!"
After years of copyright wrangling, the belated reissues of Toyah’s early albums has finally allowed her to be reassessed. It’s Anthem which Toyah’s 13th full album most closely resembles. It appears having her early work back out has enabled Toyah to be as at peace with her music as such an untameable spirit will ever be. She’s made excellent questing albums since Anthem, but none have so completely reconciled her fearlessness with a simultaneous love of bloody great big pop songs. Posh Pop’s title eludes to Toyah’s husband Robert Fripp guesting on guitar, under the alias Bobby Willcox. Such knowingness aside, it’s not a bad description for such elegant material.
My relationship with Madonna’s Erotica has been an ever-evolving one. Being 28 years old at the time of its release, I was too old to relate to most of the music’s sexual politics. But I played the album incessantly, maybe because I recognized something innately human beneath its icy surface, and, even if I couldn’t articulate it, there was an honest rage behind Madonna’s rebellious public persona: Erotica and its accompanying Sex book seemed to be a part of the most audacious public temper tantrum I’d ever seen. At the very least, I knew a good flamenco guitar solo when I heard one.
The Stranglers first release for a decade, the aptly titled Dark Matters, is a masterpiece to get lost in and a tribute to their late and great keyboard wizard Dave Greenfield. The album sees the band embrace all the nooks and crannies and styles of their fascinating journey in a late career flourish – a genuine highlight that ranks with those classic and game changing first 5 albums.
Halloween passed with barely a whimper this year, a product that was destined to be curtailed by the crisis affecting many…distinct lack of funds in the family coffers. It’s sad because I was looking forward to trick or treating (such a nasty Americanism of the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain) or Guising as I used to know it, with my two grandsons. Very few households displayed lights and decorations inviting the younger children to run up to the door expecting sweets to be delivered into their goody bags. After an hour or so of tramping around the neighbourhood we called it a night and retired back to my daughter’s house to inspect the evenings haul. The main contents were the cheap jelly sweets (Haribo) and mini bars of Cadburys and Mars branded chocolate sweets. A couple of juicy satsumas were unceremoniously tossed to the side in favour of the other more appealing contents. A reflection of how children perceive what is advertised and what is not being the preferred snack.
The perception of what is normal to children fascinates me, their ability to decipher information about their surroundings in ways that parents seem unable to manage (the satsumas incident being one of them). Once explained why the satsumas should be kept for eating at a later date my oldest grandson put the satsuma back in his bag, while my youngest (he’s 28 months), after watching everything that had gone before, shaking his head in disagreement, put his satsuma in his brothers bag. Gotta love him!
While I’m here, I better take a moment to discuss my mental health. I posted a comment yesterday briefly outlining that I am slowly getting back to my normal badassed self. Instead of hiding away from society, I am almost ready to venture back into the wider world. My first step was admitting that I was in denial…damn difficult to do. My second was realising the unconditional love from children can’t be diluted, it is what it is. My third step was learning not to rush; everything takes its own damn time to heal and it’s not going to change.
Because it was Halloween I felt that if I’m going to post something, it might as well be relevant. Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love featuring the Stranger Things track Running Up That Hill was going to be relevant enough.
Back in the dark days of 1982, much of my time was taken up with listening to the makers of what was known at the time as 'hardcore punk'. It was all about fast, loud guitar rock music with a political message of anarchy and war. All very heavy. Bands such as Discharge, GBH and One Way System come to mind. Vice Squad were cut from the same cloth. Vice Squad could produce good music, and indeed this album entered the top 40 charts of the time. Thankfully the second album Stand Strong Stand Proud was a marked improvement. Of course, it’s sod’s law that it didn’t fare as well as the dodgy debut in the UK charts, but in every other way, it was superior. Better songs, better playing, better sound and you could actually hear the vocals properly too. Not exactly a great record, but a good one. Out Of Reach, a smart enough single which trailed the album just about made the Top 75, but this was to be the high watermark for the band. The anthemic title track was another good single, but missed the chart completely.
Stand Strong Stand Proud, despite several throwaway numbers, clashes with social malignancies like vivisection (“Humane”), political passivism (“Freedom Begins At Home”), and the steady erosion of punk values (“Out Of Reach”) with power and complete credibility. In addition, Beki’s point of view provides a welcome contrast to the typical male-dominance in modern-day hardcore. Of the other material ‘’Cheap’’ sounds a bit like the pop-punk of C86 four years early, perhaps the Shop Assistants in a bad mood and ‘’No Right To Reply’’ is agreeably fast and riffy. The band cover Bowie’s doomy ‘’Saviour Machine’’ quite well and ‘’Rock “N” Roll Massacre’’ combines powerful guitar work with a song about pop music fatalities including Jimi and Sid. There are a couple of offerings that fly by without leaving much impression, but the album ends strongly with the neat mid-pace stomp of ‘’Deathwish’’ and strong anti-war song ‘’Propaganda’’.