Themes From Great Cities

It might have come to your attention that I'm not a regular poster of love and understanding, which you will just have to get used to. I will however, have bursts of creativity where I move completely randomly from post to post with no rhyme or reason. I have recently posted a few singles (7 & 12”) and the odd bootleg which have been received very well by all who visit. More of the same will continue as you, dear readers, seem to be enjoying them.

Some of the rips are my own, but many more are from other blogs and I’m just sharing the wealth. If other bloggers out there wish to share the rips from my posts, please as I do, host them yourself. To combat this, the FLAC files that are over 6 months old will be replaced with MP3 files.

Finally I am happy to re-up old posts where the link has expired. Please comment in the relevant posts comments box.

Monday

Don’t Fear The Strawberry Reaper


Rose McDowall‘s treatment of ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ was her first aborted solo release following the break-up of Strawberry Switchblade. Originally rush-released in 1988 by a collaborator, without her consent, Reaper quickly vanished and has become the stuff of cult legend among collectors and fans alike. Rose McDowall's glorious cover of the Blue Oyster Cult's doomy rock classic, blooms into a brave anthem for self-empowerment “baby take my hand/don’t fear the reaper”. Simmering with a mixture trepidation and freedom, it’s pierced by McDowall’s elegantly bittersweet vocal that working alone was no doubt brought into the studio. Rose McDowall is a true lost legend of Glasgow's indie scene, a character that moved from post-punk provocateur to chart-bothering synth-pop queen.

Sunday

Black Pop Workout


The Sheffield based band Hula was founded in 1981 by guitarist and tape experimenter Ron Wright, Mark Albrow and drummer Alan Fish. The three members lived with Stephen Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire) and Paul Widger (They must be Russians, Clock DVA, the Box) in a villa called Hula Kula. After trying the bass players Alan Watt, the notorious Chris Brain (Tense, NOS) and Mark Brydon (Chakk, Moloko), Hula recruited John Avery. A bass player was necessary for filling out the exciting live shows complete with lots of video material (Peter Care). Various other members passed in and out of the ranks over the years, with bassist John Avery becoming the only constant. Their music was highly influenced by Cabaret Voltaire and other electronic/ambient artists, but Hula added a more industrial edge and schizophrenically experimental sound. The band's concerts often took the form of multimedia barrages, using twelve or more film projectors to enhance the already disorienting music. Black Pop Workout was recorded at Western Works, Sheffield, October 19th 1981, except B2 recorded at Hula Kula, June 1st 1982, mixed at Western Works and produced by Cabaret Voltaire's Stephen Mallinder.

Friday

Are You A Bit Deaf?


Recording under the moniker You've Got Foetus on Your Breath, Jim Thirwell, aka Foetus, released his first album, Deaf, in 1981. Thirwell's eccentric trademark sound, a confrontational sonic tapestry based on harshly recorded instruments, noises, samples, and voices, is firmly established on Deaf. The songs are twisted heaps of sound that sometimes resemble Frank Zappa outtakes being pummelled to death by Einstürzende Neubauten and Thirwell's scatological, antisocial lyrics only add to the bizarreness. If you've got the stomach for it, Deaf can be rewarding, but it's also a great way to clear the room at a party.

Thursday

Flying Lizards


In the late 1970s, composer and producer David Cunningham was savvy enough to cloak his experimental music in the disguise of a novelty record, at least for a while; his fractured deconstructions of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" and Barrett Strong's "Money," released under the moniker the Flying Lizards, managed to inch into the pop charts because folks thought they were some sort of musical joke, even though Cunningham's wit didn't negate the seriousness of his musical ambitions. After the international success of "Money," Virgin Records wanted a Flying Lizards album to go along with it, and the resulting LP was where Cunningham's cred as an artist ran up against his instincts as a pop satirist. The principle reason "Money" became a left-field hit was that even though the song had been bent within an inch of its life, it still had a catchy hook and, if you wanted to, you could dance to it. That can't honestly be said for the new material Cunningham and his associates put together for the album; except for Bertold Brecht and Kurt Weill's "Der Song von Mandelay," which doesn't have an honestly memorable hook, the new tracks are all originals and they're informed by the space and anything-goes vibe of dub instead of radio-ready pop, and while they're intelligent and well-executed, they're not especially compelling. Through the soundscapes that dominate the second half of this album are more interesting to talk about than to hear, at least they're better than the vocal tracks closer to the beginning, which sound both pretentious and musically flawed. The Flying Lizards' first album unwittingly followed one of the greatest traditions of '50s and '60s pop -- take a hit single, surround it with a whole bunch of filler less interesting than the hit, and presto! You have an album.

Tuesday

Provision


Front Line Assembly was the best known of the various electronic music projects undertaken by the prolific Vancouver-based duo of Bill Leeb (vocals, synthesizers) and Rhys Fulber (synthesizers, samplers). After working in the mid-'80s under the pseudonym Wilhelm Schroeder with Skinny Puppy, Leeb formed the industrial/techno-based Front Line Assembly in 1986 with Fulber (who initially joined on as a studio assistant) and synth player Michael Balch. After Balch departed Front Line Assembly in 1990, Fulber stepped in as a full partner; the streamlined duo soon released the electro-styled album Caustic Grip, from which the we find the 12” single Provision.

Monday

Release The Bats


Sex Horror, Vampire Glory. Release The Bats rumbles and stumbles through a wild night of campy debauchery flailing about on the edge of sanity. This is my least favourite release from the Birthday boys - mainly because it’s the single which got them forever stuck under the inappropriate label of "GOTH". There is just a bit too much dubious desperation to avoid that description if you ask me. Somehow dark but also humorous and totally just hanging in there. Why worry whether this counts as Goth or not? Just let it rip like the cool machine it is...

Saturday

Fried


In contrast to the crisp, clean sound of World, Fried often sounds rougher, a bit more shut in. Combine that with Cope's generally successful attempts to project an image of barely stable sanity, helped in large part by the notorious wearing-nothing-but-a-turtle-shell cover photos, and the idea of Fried as his album of crazed musical collapse understandably is a strong one. However, World producer Steve Lovell once again handles things here, along with playing guitar, while even more importantly, key Cope collaborator Donald Ross Skinner, a young musician from Cope's hometown, makes his debut. Kate St. John again contributes cor anglais throughout, adding a haunting atmosphere on many cuts. If anything, the album shows that Cope may be completely musical tripping out as he chooses but he knows exactly what he's doing throughout. Certainly the first cut, "Reynard the Fox," shows him balancing inspiration and arrangement perfectly -- one of his strongest, catchiest choruses eventually bleeds into a freaked-out spoken word bit followed by a total rave-up. Other songs range from further on-the-edge efforts -- the frenetic "O King of Chaos" and more generally weird "Sunspots" -- to gentler, wistful numbers like "Laughing Boy" and "Search Party" that effectively capture a rural psych feeling akin to XTC's own work at the same time. In all, Fried shows Cope at his dramatic best -- he's not disintegrating by inches, but he knows how to project that impression with vigor and skill, all while sounding like himself most of all. He gets in a hilarious slam along the way -- "Bill Drummond Said" trashes, by means of an energetic enough folk/rock combination, his former manager from Teardrop Explodes days. Drummond got his revenge years later -- while most well-known for his work in the KLF, his solo album The Man featured a ditty called "Julian Cope Is Dead."

Friday

Shut Your Mouth


Retreating from the collapse of the Teardrop Explodes to his hometown of Tamworth, Cope produced his first solo effort with help from producer Steve Lovell on guitar and fellow Teardrop Gary Dwyer on drums. The result is a surprisingly vibrant, rich album that shows Cope easily moving on from his group days while retaining his unique powerful and natural gifts for singing and songwriting. If there's something about the sound of World that suggests its early-'80s recording dates -- Dwyer's drums sound like Steve Lillywhite's been after them at points! -- Cope's own particular, heavily psych-into-pop-inspired goals aren't lost in it. Some of his songs are so inspired that one just has to wonder how in the world they didn't end up as hits somewhere. "An Elegant Chaos" is a great example, an at-once cryptic and fascinating lyric peppered with just enough knowing irony ("Here comes the part where I break down and cry") and a synth-string-touched crunch given a breezy pace. Top it off with Cope's singing and the result is simply genius. Two songs from the final Teardrops sessions, "Metranil Vavin," an homage to a Russian poet, and "Pussyface" get enthusiastic run-throughs here. "Metranil Vavin" in particular is a kick, shifting from garagey crunch and energy to a show tune chorus at the drop of a hat, while sitar from Lovell and concluding oboe from Kate St. John, who plays on many other cuts, add even more pastoral trippiness. Further strong cuts include "Kolly Kibber's Birthday," with a fast rhythm machine and keyboard drones leading the way; the quirky string/brass surge of "Sunshine Playroom"; and the upbeat "Greatness and Perfection." Throughout World, Cope demonstrates why he's one of the best, most unaffected singers in rock around, his vocals carrying sweep and passion without sounding like he's trying to impress himself or others.

Thursday

Scarecrows


If The Burden of Mules is dark and cacophonous, an angry, intense slab of post-punk gloom best left to its own (de)vices, Scarecrow makes the most of the band's better attributes with spotless production by Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie. Allen's almost-spoken, heavily accented vocals sputter through a mix of up-front bass, rhythm guitar, synthesizers and creative percussion. Some dreary moments remain, but a send-up of Otis Redding's "Respect" reflects the lightened mood.

Wednesday

Tell Me Why?


Few 80’s pop songs can claim any sort of historical importance, but Why? Taking on board its subject matter of violence towards the Gay community it is quite incredible to think that it was was a big radio hit; especially at a time of rising anti-gay sentiment fuelled by the mounting AIDS hysteria. For all of those who were personally affected by these issues, Bronski Beat and Jimimy Somerville helped keep you sane in a world that was doing its best to eradicate you.


 "...as I turn to kiss his lips".

Tuesday

Lionheart


Proving that the English admired Kate Bush's work, 1978's Lionheart album managed to reach the number six spot in her homeland while failing to make a substantial impact in North America. The single "Hammer Horror" went to number 44 on the U.K. singles chart, but the remaining tracks from the album spin, leap, and pirouette with Bush's vocal dramatics, most of them dissipating into a mist rather than hovering around long enough to be memorable. Her fairy tale essence wraps itself around tracks like "In Search of Peter Pan," "Kashka From Baghdad," and "Oh England My Lionheart," but unravels before any substance can be heard. "Wow" does the best job at expressing her voice as it waves and flutters through the chorus, with a melody that shimmers in a peculiar but compatible manner. Some of the tracks, such as "Coffee Homeground" or "In the Warm Room," bask in their own subtle obscurity, a trait that Bush improved upon later in her career but couldn't secure on this album. Lionheart acts as a gauge more than a complete album, as Bush is trying to see how many different ways she can sound vocally colourful, even enigmatic, rather than focus on her material's content and fluidity. Hearing Lionheart after listening to Never for Ever or The Dreaming album, it's apparent how quickly Bush had progressed both vocally and in her writing in such a short time.

Sunday

Kind Of Blue


Kind of Blue isn't merely an artistic highlight for Miles Davis, it's an album that towers above its peers, a record generally considered as the definitive jazz album. To be reductive, it's the Citizen Kane of jazz -- an accepted work of greatness that's innovative and entertaining. That may not mean it's the greatest jazz album ever made, but it certainly is a universally acknowledged standard of excellence. Why does Kind of Blue possess such a mystique? Perhaps it's that this music never flaunts its genius. It lures listeners in with the slow, luxurious bassline and gentle piano chords of "So What." From that moment on, the record never really changes pace; each tune has a similar relaxed feel, as the music flows easily. Yet Kind of Blue is more than easy listening. It's the pinnacle of modal jazz; tonality and solos build from chords, not the overall key, giving the music a subtly shifting quality. All of this doesn't quite explain why seasoned jazz fans return to this record even after they've memorized every nuance. They return because this is an exceptional band - Miles, Coltrane, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderly, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, and Wynton Kelly; one of the greatest in history, playing at the peak of its power. As Evans said in the original liner notes for the record, the band did not play through any of these pieces prior to recording. Davis laid out the themes and chords before the tape rolled, and then the band improvised. The end results were wondrous, filled with performances that still crackle with vitality. Few albums of any genre manage to work on so many different levels, but Kind of Blue does. It can be played as background music, yet it amply rewards close listening. It is advanced music that is extraordinarily enjoyable. It may be a stretch to say that if you don't like Kind of Blue, you don't like jazz; but it's hard to imagine it as anything other than a cornerstone of any jazz collection.

Saturday

The Comsat Angels


Named after the J. G. Ballard short story "The Comsat Angels", the group's original line up (lasting from 1978 to 1992) consisted of Stephen Fellows (vocals, guitar), Mik Glaisher (drums), Kevin Bacon (bass) and Andy Peake – (keyboards).
They debuted in 1979 with the "Red Planet" three-track single on Junta Records. This release attracted Polydor A&R man Frank Neilson and the band signed a three-album recording contract. These three albums – Waiting for a Miracle (1980), which included the single "Independence Day", probably their best known song, Sleep No More (1981) and Fiction (1982) – are regarded by some as their best, but only sold modestly.

They Were Big In Japan, But Where Else?



Big In Japan formed in late 1977 in Liverpool around guitarist Bill Drummond and several short-lived line-ups that finally settled down around vocalist Jayne Casey, guitarist Ian Broudie, bassist Holly Johnson, and drummer Budgie. Violently theatrical, the band was dividing opinions almost from the moment it emerged, with Casey and Johnson particularly prone to flamboyance. Local producer Clive Langer was a firm friend and fan, he produced the band's first single Big In Japan, a split 7” released on the local Eric's label in September 1977 with a track by the Yachts, under their Chuddy Nuddies alias, on the B-side. During their brief time, Big In Japan recorded four songs which eventually became the From Y to Z and Never Again EP, released after their demise to pay off debts. The unintentional consequence of the EP was the formation of the Zoo Record label.
Big In Japan also recorded a Peel Session on 12 February 1979, with a line-up of Casey, Broudie, Johnson and Budgie; the session was broadcast on 6 March 1979. Big In Japan left a recorded legacy of seven songs: one on a single, four on their EP From Y to Z and Never Again, and two further tracks released on Liverpool compilations. All seven tracks plus the three Peel Session tracks are presented here. Please note that this is not an official release.


Big In Japan were a supergroup with a difference - its members only became super after they left.

Thursday

Died Pretty


Reissue of the seminal compilation that brings together Died Pretty's first two singles (neither of which appear on the Very Best of, despite that album taking its name from their first single) and the breakthrough Next To Nothing EP. Pre Deity sounds and runs like it's proper album and many people think it's one of their best releases! Died Pretty is/was one of Australia's best, though sadly underrated, rock groups. Their music is always fresh and sharp, and although regular chart success has unfairly eluded them, their spirit has remained intact, along with their substantial following. "Pre Deity" is a cleverly titled collection of the band's material prior to their debut album. It features their first single, "Out of the Unknown" and B-side "World Without". The first is a fast paced rocker with searing guitar and dual lead vocals from Ron Peno and Brett Myers (who are the creative force behind the band, and the remaining foundation members); the second is a quiet ballad. The single encapsulates Died Pretty, proving they are capable of loud, in your face rock, but also have a gentle side. Their second single, "Mirror Blues" is an epic - it runs for 10 minutes, but its shifts and changes ensure it never drags; it is a brilliant song. The final four tracks comprise the EP "Next to Nothing", which provides more of the band's diversity. It has a soothing ballad ("Plaining Days"), another epic in the form of the 8 minute "Desperate Hours", which has a quiet, brooding opening, bursts of angry guitar, and Peno's vocals, which range from low murmurs to guttural screams, ending in a crescendo of wild and manic sound. The last track, "Final Twist", is a beautiful and evocative song; perhaps it's apocalyptic, but who can tell? Whatever it is about, it grabs you and never lets go. This is a fine collection of early material from a truly great band.

Tuesday

Obsession


By 1989 Clan of Xymox had basically no more female vocal-only songs, but they gave it one last shot with this one... A New Order re-hash, yes, but New Order are so fucking good that if you rip them off well, you still end up with something brilliant. And this is. Best Goth Pop Song Ever.

You Have To Work For Love


A lifetime ago, Al Jourgensen was a New Wave Synthpop musician. Long before he had morphed into the Unkle Al of Ministry as we know him today, Al was clean cut and straight laced. These lovingly rebooted 12” singles released over 35 years ago capture an age of innocence and electro-synthpop sensibilities. If you’re a connoisseur of early New Wave Synthpop this is a must have collection of singles, if you’re a collector of all thing Ministry this is a must have, if you what to have Al’s children (WTF is wrong with you?) this is a must have, but if you’re only searching for current Ministry, stay away. You have been warned.

Monday

Boots For Dancing


The mantra was ‘do it for yourselves,’ just get out there and give it a bash – in reality everyone was a star although it was more like everyone was an anti-star. In an almost mythic turn of events, one day a friend showed Dave Carson a list of band names which included Boots For Dancing. That very same night Carson and three of his chums pitched up as last-minute support for a featured band. The first name that came into his head when he had to introduce the band was Boots For Dancing.
Inspired from that live onstage jolt, the group began rehearsing in earnest, churning out The Troggs-style (“Wild Thing”) primitive garage rock. The group’s feature song “Boots For Dancing” was an early standout anchored down by a New Orleans second line pulse. Upon hearing this unique pairing of punky snarl with a rarefied groove, Bob Last of Pop Aural called Dave Carson and suggested the group make a 12” single of the track.
“That sort of shaped the direction we would travel along: punky but funky,” Carson.

You Ain’t No Fuckin’ Dancer…



The first wave of punk was becalmed in the doldrums by November 1978. Post punk was still a figment of some prepubescent journalist’s imagination. Politically, the UK was part grey Orwellian uber-state, part suburban dream zone, part police state. As with many groups from the punk era, Siouxsie And The Banshees are primarily remembered as a “singles” band but this ignores the absolute crucial impact The Scream had on UK music at the time. Sheet metal guitar, pounding, tribal drums and Siouxsie’s part Nico-esque dominatrix meets primal yelp vocals made The Scream unlike anything else released that year.
The Banshees had left punk pogoing and spitting firmly in their rear-view mirrors, with an album as unexpected as it was ground-breaking. To paraphrase Paul Morley, The Banshees were punk like Pharaoh Sanders or Miles Davis were punk. They were squalling, uncompromising, visceral, energetic, spacey and melodramatic all at the same time.
Opener Pure sets the tone. A whirling dervish of a song with nods to Can and the Velvets, it spirals in and out of control as Siouxsie’s paranoid lyric leads the charge. Metal Postcard is perhaps the central song on the album. John Mackay’s screeching guitar intro hints at Hitchcock’s Psycho soundtrack while Kenny Morris’s thunderous attack gives the song a primitive air. Dedicated to anti-Nazi John Heartfield, Metal Postcard lays waste any hint that The Banshees had fascist overtones.
The Beatles-slaughtering cover version of Helter Skelter has an almost joyful glee in its climbing, fluttering changes. There is clearly a reverential tone to Siouxsie and friends with nods to their musical heritage, but this is all something very new. Switch, the longest and perhaps most complex song on the album closes. A claustrophobic, creeping dread lingers throughout before it lunges breathlessly to an end.



Sunday

Miami


The sophomore record by the Gun Club bore the curse of having to follow a monolith of their own making. Fire of Love sold extremely well for an independent; it was a favourite of virtually every critic who heard it in 1981. Miami showcased a different lineup as well. Ward Dotson replaced Congo Powers (temporarily, at least) on guitar, and there were a ton of guest performances, including Debbie Harry and Chris Stein. Stein produced the album. Off the bat the disc suffers from a thin mix. Going for a rougher sound, Stein left the instruments at one level and boosted Pierce's vocal. There is plenty of guitar here, screaming and moping like a drunken orphan from the Texas flatlands, but next to its predecessor it sounds drier and reedier. Ultimately it hardly matters. Going for a higher, more desolate sound, frontman and slide player Jeffrey Lee Pierce and his band were literally on fire. The songs here, from "Carry Home," "Like Calling Up Thunder," "Devil in the Woods," "Watermelon Man," "Bad Indian," and "Texas Serenade," among others, centred themselves on a mutant form of country music that met the post-punk ethos in the desert, fought and bloodied each other, and decided to stay together. This is hardcore snake-charming music (as in water moccasins not cobras), evil, smoky, brash, and libidinally uttered. Their spooky version of an already creepy tune by Creedence Clearwater Revival, "Run Through the Jungle" runs the gamut from sexual nightmare to voodoo ritual gone awry. Finally, Pierce and company pull out all the roots and reveal them for what they are: "John Hardy," is a squalling punk-blues, with the heart of the country in cardiac arrest. Dotson proved to be a fine replacement for Congo Powers, in that his style was pure Telecaster country (à la James Burton) revved by the Rolling Stones and Johnny Thunders. Miami was given a rough go when it was issued for its production. But in the bird's-eye view of history its songs stack up, track for track, with Fire of Love and continue to echo well into this long good night.