26 May 2010

Twelve Old Videos

Blah blah blah... some old videos for fun... eclectic mix... be back in a few days... Enjoy!

Bjork’s “Big Time Sensuality” from her YouTube Channel: bjorkdotcom.

Erasure’s “Chains of Love” from their MySpace Video Page.

Chains Of Love (Video)

Erasure | MySpace Music Videos

Elastica’s “Connection” from the ElasticaVEVO YouTube Channel.

Lush’s “De-Lux” from the 4ADRecords YouTube Channel.

Blur’s “Girls and Boys” from their MySpace Video Page.

Girls And Boys

Blur | MySpace Music Videos

Modern English’s “I Melt With You” from the 4ADRecords YouTube Channel.

Placebo’s “Nancy Boy” from their MySpace Video Page.

Nancy Boy

Placebo | MySpace Music Videos

Siouxsie and the Banshee’s “The Passenger” form the SiouxsieBansheesVEVO channel.

Depeche Mode’s “Shake the Disease” from their MySpace Video Page.

Shake The Disease

Depeche Mode | MySpace Music Videos

Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop” from the CyndiLauperVEVO YouTube Channel.

Cranes’ “Shining Road” from the CranesVEVO YouTube Channel.

Nine Inch Nails’ “Wish” from their MySpace Video Page. Here is the LINK, as though you can see the video on MySpace, embed is having technical difficulties.
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25 May 2010

Catching up with Hadouken! and Massive Attack

First off, congratulations to Roman’s (SDM) nephew and family for the new addition to their family. (I know that Roman rather be baby-holding right now than blogging.)

We have tried not to play the “catching up game” too often this year… but at last, it is necessary from time to time. Here are two 2010 releases by Haudoken! and Massive Attack – I am sure that many readers here may have already heard the albums, but I felt the need to put at least my two cents in. Will keep it brief.

Hadouken!: “For the Masses”

Straight out of the UK with their sophomore album, Hadouken! released “For the Masses” (2 February 2010) earlier this year. I had first heard about Haudoken! when they released their single “That Boy, That Girl” in early 2007 and was just flabbergasted by it. The kicker is that a few of us here at the SDM Blog felt the same way, and we could not believe that this album flew under our radar when first released.

Hadouken!’s “For the Masses” stays true to their new rave style, with cutting edge electronics, indie rock sensibility, and a bit of grindie. In essence, they cross many different genres in their music, and their appeal is broad, but not safe enough to be another splattered cliché on the radio waves.

“Turn the Lights Out”, their lead single off their album, is a song that you just want to get up and just boggy down to. Something about the song just starts to make your blood rush through your veins, and just…well…it’s very hard for me to describe this feeling actually. It’s something like all the pent up anger that one has, and just that little bit comes out and you get the surge of something and you just feel like punching the wall. “Mic Check” is the most fun song on the album hands down! There was even a time when my friends and I were fist pumping in my car driving around at midnight at speeds that are definitely not legal. (One of those random nights.)

By the way, is the title of the album a subtle Depeche Mode reference?

Track Listing:
1. Rebirth
2. Turn the Lights Out
3. M.A.D.
4. Evil
5. House Is Falling
6. Mic Check
7. Ugly
8. Bombshock
9. Play the Night
10. Lost
11. Retaliate, iTunes Bonus Track

Keep up with Haudoken! at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is Haudoken’s! videos for “Turn the Lights Out” and “Mic Check” from their YouTube Channel: Hadoukentheband.

Massive Attack: “Heligoland”

Massive Attack is one of those bands that have puzzled and hypnotized me at the same time. They have this essence about them that is unique and uncompromising. Anyone who has listened to their music would agree. With their fifth studio album, “Heligoland (9 February 2010), I find myself with the same puzzlement and hypnotism, while having chills up and down my spine.

With their lead single of the album, “Splitting the Atom”, they have created something that reminds me of the Addam’s Family: very dark and eerie, but without any campy element. Yet the song is still intrinsically Massive Attack, with its fine subtleness and sophistication. Furthermore, two thumbs up for releasing a song that would not be considered a stereotypical lead single.

I am usually a sucker for a song with a beautiful female voice singing, and in “Paradise Circus,” it would seem I am still a sucker for one. Vocals by Hope Sandoval, of Mazzy Star fame, have added a great feel to the song. With an R&B feel to the rhythm, Sandoval’s vocals brought the song over the edge. Visceral but relaxing, the vocals are the perfect balance for the song.

Track Listing:
1. Pray for Rain, vocals by Tunde Adebimpe
2. Babel, vocals by Martina Topley-Bird
3. Splitting the Atom, vocals by Grant Marshall, Horace Andy, and Robert Del Naja
4. Gil I Love You, vocals by Horace Andy
5. Psyche, vocals by Martina Topley-Bird
6. Flat on the Blade, vocals by Guy Garvey
7. Parade Circus, vocals by Hope Sandoval
8. Rush Minute, vocals by Robert Del Naja
9. Saturday Come Slow, vocals by Damon Albarn
10. Atlas Air, vocals by Robert Del Naja

Keep up with Massive Attack at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is Massive Attack’s video for “Splitting the Atom” from their MySpace Video Page.

Massive Attack - Splitting The Atom

Massive Attack | MySpace Music Videos
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21 May 2010

Microfilm Answers 5 Again

My thanks to Microfilm (Matt Keppel and Matt Mercer) for not only allowing some streaming, but also allowing SDM to bring you a free download.

Real house music, anyone? Streaming in the background is “Body Language,” a Queen cover by Microfilm, off of their new, double alblum compilation “I Am Curious” (the singles) and “I Am Rewired” (the remixes). (I reviewed the compilation last week – link.) The second track, “Am I Ever Gonna Fall Apart in NYC (Astrolabe’s Breakdown in Bed Stuy Edit),” is a track that Microfilm shared with me, and now I share with you, authorized by the band, as a download below. After reviewing the compilation, going back through my collection of Microfilm tracks, and obsessing over house music for a few days, it was a no-brainer: I knew I had to reach out and ask them for a second interview, especially since there was a question I have been burning to ask. I would like to thank Matt Keppel and Matt Mercer for taking the time and answering 5 and sharing their downloadable track with the readers here.

1. I wanted to kick myself in the ass that I did not ask you this before… Why Billy MacKenzie? How did you guys decide to name a song after a post-punk icon?

MK: Originally the song was called "A Boy & His Dog" which was going to be about the 1970’s cult film about post-apocalyptic America, but then I started thinking about the voice of Billy MacKenzie and what a unique and fantastic voice he had. But he still seems only like a small cult figure in the U.S., even long after his death. I wanted to give him a shout out, as well as make an in-joke about how not fantastic my singing voice is.

2. I love the fact that you covered Queen… ballsy I may say! How did you guys come to that decision? Is there anything that is “too sacred” to cover?

MM: We both liked that this stadium-rock band of virtuoso musicians put out this odd, vaguely disco album [“Hot Space,” 1982]... It's probably one of the most subversive Queen tracks -- no real guitar, all those strange synth sounds and sexual ambiguity. And it was a challenge; when I really sat down and deconstructed their song, it's strange and way more complex than I expected.

MK: Not for me! I love covering “rock” stuff and songs that a lot of wanky music critics would be like “Oh, you can’t cover ______ band, they’re iconic! Or “They’re a real guitar rock n’ roll band.” I love the idea of debunking some rock n’ roll mythos.

3. You just released your first compilation: “I Am Curious” and “I Am Rewired.” Should we consider this release the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new one?

MK: That was part of the idea of putting the dates in the album titles, to give the collections a definitive time period organization. I guess I just realized that all of that material (minus a few remixes and the new covers) were all songs of ours from the previous decade. I like the idea of collecting a time period together.

MM: We consider every album to be a turning point for us. We're unsure what's next. We wanted to consolidate our EPs and singles and introduce people to us who may not have been exposed to the first few years of our repertoire -- as much of a "Hello, here we are," as "This is where we've been so far."

4. Remixing is an art form that does not get the credit it deserves. When you guys sit down to remix a track (whether your own or another artist’s), is there a philosophy or concept you work from?

MM: Sometimes I approach remixing as a highly functional thing, taking a track that might not work on the floor and using the core song to drive it with a more mixable final result. Many times, however, especially when remixing our own material, I run with it in any number of directions just to see where I'll end up. I would say the ultimate goal is to make something that we really like and would enjoy on a dance floor, whether or not it's faithful to the original song. Our remix attempts during the 2 Radiohead "competitions" online exemplify this especially.

MK: I personally like remixes that are far from the source material. Some people might whine and say, “Well, why not just create a “new” song then, if you’re going to take their original that far away from the source.” But I think that’s what makes a successful remix, not being a slave to the original.

5. You guys are currently working on new material… How far into the process are you? Any hints on what we could expect?

MK: I’ve already been writing lyrics and a few vocal melodies for new songs. I’ve also started collecting samples to use, cutting them up, altering them for use. I personally would love the next collection to be more of a cohesive concept piece, in lyrics and music. I would love to do something a bit less pop/dance floor centric and a bit darker and weirder, a bit more complex and cinematic, but these ideas and concepts are always changing and mutating.

MM: We are just getting started. The blank slate is always a bit intimidating, but it's wide open from here and that's also exciting.

Keep up with Microfilm at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and Fairtilizer.

Create a MySpace Playlist at MixPod.com

If you like the second track, "Am I Ever Gonna Fall Apart in NYC," you can download it right here: Link.
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19 May 2010

Sudden Death Over Time's Shaun Frandsen Answers 5

This past weekend I reviewed Sudden Death Over Time’s debut album, “SDOT” (link). In a nutshell, this the years biggest surprise to date: a stunning instrumental album that does not so much takes passive cues from its influences, but rather interacts in a musical dialogue with the past, while opening up the possibilities for the future. Of course, I was so mesmerized by the album, I had to reach out to Shaun Frandsen, the man behind the moniker. He quickly agreed to answer a few questions for the blog, covering everything from the influence his family had on him to vinyl. I would personally like to thank Shaun Frandsen for taking the time to answer 5.

(Sudden Death Over Time’s Shaun Frandsen)

1. Who are your musical and non-musical influences?

I grew up listening to The Smiths, New Order, The Cure, and various post-punk/alternative rock bands (The Smiths debut album [“The Smiths,” 1984] is probably my favorite all-time record). Johnny Marr is my favorite guitarist. Doves are my favorite active band. I have an older brother who has always been helpful in guiding me towards good music. We trade music a lot now. I remember being curious about the weird LP sleeves on the floor in his bedroom. He was a college radio DJ at the time. My father, who raised me, had his input as well. He had a band called Johnny Clark and the Four Playboys. My formative years were spent going to band practices, sound checks, and live shows. I picked up some guitar playing from my dad. He was very trusting and always let me jam out on his amps. Non-music influences? I have always been fascinated by the dark and romantic aspects of life in film and literature. I’m attracted to seedy kinds of environments. My father would bring me to the horse track and let me run free at a very young age. I picked up on all sorts of things other children my age probably weren’t exposed to. I was the son of a “rock star” with an older brother who listened to strange music. These were my early influences. As I got older, I became highly competitive in Cross Country and Track. “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” had a lot of impact [short story by Alan Sillitoe, 1959, turned into a film directed by Tony Richardson, 1962].

2. Why Sudden Death Over Time?

It was my bother’s idea. I like things that evoke some kind of thoughtful reaction. Everyone I passed the name to really took to it, so it remained. It wasn’t intended to be dark or gloomy. Well, I guess it could be perceived as that. It could mean what Hell feels like, I suppose. Pain and torment over an eternity. Death is a thing we can all relate to at some point, and it is something that’s been more frequent in my world lately. Unintentionally, the abbreviated version, SDOT, also stands for the Seattle Department of Transportation. There are SDOT markings painted everywhere on the streets of Seattle. It’s a name that allows you to come up with your own meaning. Nothing is implied.

3. Previous, you were part of an industrial band, Glis. How was the transition from working in a band to solo? Industrial to shoegaze/post-punk?

Glis was something I started with my girlfriend at the time, and the band took on other members as it progressed. We were heavily into clubbing. We would go to Goth and Techno bars because they played the best music, from New Order to Nitzer Ebb to The Chemical Brothers. In the mid-90’s, electronic music had peaked and I was totally mesmerized by it. My musician friends were introducing me to drum machines, samplers, and various other electronics. I was especially impressed with a certain friend of mine who made all these great sounding electro tracks on his home computer. He gave me some software and I was off to the races. I found myself totally seduced by that whole scene for a while. I started touring with other bands, doing collaborations, but found myself getting off track from my own music. I was left frustrated. That scene had become heavily saturated with stagnant and uninspired music. I was on a record label that only wanted dance floor hits.

I was writing music with Jean Luc De Meyer of Front 242, some of which appeared in Glis. We had an idea that we would make this dark experimental, spoken-word project where Jean Luc would use excerpts from Charles Baudelaire’s “Flowers of Evil” for lyrics and I would make these epic sweeping soundscapes (kind of resembling The Knife’s “Silent Shout” album), but our record label wanted it to be focused on the club… something that could be remixed and played by DJs. With no label backing, the idea soon fizzled away. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I wanted nothing more than to be away from that kind of bureaucracy.

I couldn’t sit in my home studio and produce music I didn’t like anymore. I became reflective and gently eased my way back into playing guitar. It was so refreshing! The music coming out was equally refreshing! It was like this revival of all the music I previously loved. The DJ was dead. Audiences wanted to see the stroke of the brush, and not the finished painting. The decline of the corporate music industry created a new artistic renaissance. The bar had been raised. Bands would be judged on less superficial merits and rewarded for being hardworking, creative musicians. The underground was re-opened. Everything came back into order.

My father gave me one of his Les Paul guitars, and I had promised to record and play live with it. His health had been severely declining. I played the final Glis gig in Los Angeles by changing several of the synth-driven parts to guitar melodies. My dad was happy I had done something he thought was valid. Ha-ha! He didn’t quite understand electronic music being an old-school rocker. He passed away soon after from heart failure. It hit me hard in many ways, but with the support of my friends and family, I got it together. My wife was a huge help in getting me back on track.

SDOT songs began in 2009, but the majority of the tracks on the album were written last spring in a creative blur. Everything just all of a sudden came together. It sounds cheesy, but it really felt like a force beyond me was guiding me. I can barely remember writing “Honeymoon in Manchester.” I sat down in the morning with my coffee and by the late afternoon it was finished. I’m much more comfortable working in this realm of music. It’s familiar, honest, and more me. SDOT is my only focus now, moving forward. I am doing all of the music, artwork, and production on my own. No label. No expectations. No blueprint to follow. I am much more in control and happier now. So the transition you could say was a force of nature.

4. You made the executive decision to release eight songs on the albums, not the eleven you had recorded. Could you expand on your decision, and is there any chance we will get to hear the other three?

When I listened to the album as it is now, I thought it captured everything I wanted to express in that short 35 minutes. As an instrumental album, it was enough for a modest debut. I didn’t want to get overly flamboyant with it. The other tracks were omitted because they sort of went off focus from the overall sound. The original idea was to press the album to vinyl only. I liked the balance of four songs on side A and four songs on side B. It reminded me of early New Order LPs. The process is still intact and my goal is to have it out on vinyl by the end of the year. Digital distribution is made easy nowadays for independent artists. So I went that route first to get it out in circulation. I’m going to do a limited run of a hundred numbered vinyl copies, and no CDs. You hand a CD to a person these days and people look at you like: “What am I supposed to do with THIS?” Ha-ha! It’s a new market.

5. I love the feel of the album’s music. Out of curiosity, what key instruments and equipment did you use to record?

For me, the record has a spring/summer vibe to it. I sampled various ambient sounds from around the city to capture the mood. The majority of the songs were recorded in my home studio earlier this year. Using good guitars is very important. I have a Les Paul and a Gibson Custom ES 335 that sound beautiful. I use a low budget Epiphone electro-acoustic guitar that records very nice. For synth, I use the Access Virus TI Polar. For multi-tracking software and compositions I am a loyal Cubase SX user. I use analog and software FX. Native Instruments Battery for percussion. The album was mastered on all analog equipment. I spend a lot of time on the ambient backing tracks, doing a lot of multi-layering for atmosphere.

Keep up with Sudden Death Over Drive at their MySpace and Facebook.

Also, check out Shaun Frandsen’s father’s band, Johnny Clark and the Four Playboys. They had a couple of original hits, including a surfer-rock instrumental, “Jungle Stomp,” and a Buddy Holly influenced, Decca-era single named “I Need a Woman.” If you are curious, head over to Rhapsody.

Again, here is the track “Honeymoon In Manchester” (audio with still) from the SuddenDeathOverTime1 YouTube Channel.

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18 May 2010

Holy Fuck: "Latin"

With a name like Holy Fuck, it is not surprising that many people may not have come across this amazing eclectic band – luckily I have no moralistic scruples about it. And believe me, it is an appropriate name; the first time I listened to their music, that was my exact reaction, “Holy Fuck.” Hailing from Toronto, Canada, this is a band that understands the connection between noise and melody, cacophony and music. Having released their third album, “Latin” (11 May 2010), Holy Fuck has produced an entire album, meant to be an album. Avoiding the post iTunes/iPod revolution of just collecting songs into one collection, that in their entirety does not play well together or reflect on one another, HF’s “Latin” is meant to be taken in as a complete experience, as an album… something that is becoming rarer and rarer, but nevertheless something I love.

I am not intimating that the individual songs are weak without their brethrens close by; just the opposite, what makes this album amazing is that each song is carefully thought through. Each song has been given its own feel, its own identity though a combination of sounds and rhythms that are indigenous to that said song. Furthermore, from a production point of view, this album is not as refined as the previous two albums; “Latin” is definitely the rawest album they have released. It is almost as if they are capturing their live presence on the recording… turn up the volume high enough, it may sound as if they are right there next to you.

Opening with “1MD,” you may be misled to what comes next. This is compressed, feedback, noise, droning, harrowing, and horrifying… and if the point of an opening track is to grab the listeners attention, HF has succeeded! What follows is their own brand of dance punk; not the dance punk of popular acts like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but rather a dirtier, grittier, and less compromising form of dance punk that relies more heavily on funky bass lines and harsher, non pop, beats. Elements of post-rock and smidges of psychadelia weave themselves into the soundscape to enrich the range of music and keep you on your toes.

“Red Lights,” the second track of the album, is mixed right in, with a sexy-come-dance-with-me-funky-bass, the antithesis of what preceded, this is a song that easily captures the mind’s attention and the body’s need for movement. Where as “Latin America” will continue the same groove, with a piano added, “Stay Lit” slows down, creates an experimental lull, to change the mood and atmosphere to prepare for the more rocking “Silva & Grimes.” Eventually bringing the party to an end with “P.I.G.S.,” it is the harshest song on the album, one in which it is difficult to sway attention from. The heavily compressed/distorted elements are abrasive but welcoming, the beat danceable but verging on indie rock. And if this album is an attempt to capture a raw, live presence, this is the big finish to the set, doing justice to all that came before.

I remember reading once that Holy Fuck wanted to produce “electronic” music without the programming and looping. This is something they succeed in time and time again; with a drummer and bassist in the fold with two keyboardists, they traverse through endless possibilities. “Latin” is no exception, and I would argue their best album to date. Full of raw intensity, fueled by an understanding of noise, this is easily a standout in this year’s musical field.

Track Listing:
1. 1MD
2. Red Lights
3. Latin America
4. Stay Lit
5. Silva & Grime
7. Stilettos
8. Lucky
9. P.I.G.S.

Keep up with Holy Fuck at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is their video for “Latin America” from the youngturksrecords YouTube Channel.

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17 May 2010

VV Brown Answers 5 on "City of Abacus"

The seven-issue “City of Abacus” comic series launched this month, and will be collected into a graphic novel later this year (link for review of “City of Abacus”). The original posting of “City of Abacus” marked the first time SlowdiveMusic Blog covered something that was not “music related,” though singer, songwriter V.V. Brown is one of the writers. Why review it? Because “City of Abacus” is relevant and urgent, and if you dare to scratch the surface, there is a truth/reality that all of us should be conscious of. Of course, I could not pass the opportunity to commemorate this new direction without an interview, and few e-mails later, voilà. So I would like to personally thank V.V. Brown for taking the time to answer 5.

1. What is the genesis of “The City of Abacus”?

The symbolic genesis begins with a lost city, introduced through the symbol of a lost girl. The narrative genesis is one to be revealed throughout the story showing the lineage of reason and understanding. Like most historical beginnings the reasons lie in the understanding of the characters and their psychology, this development introduces the foundation.

2. Prior to “City of Abacus,” what experience did you have with comics?

I read them a lot. I found it a form of “xscapism” and a way to challenge my philosophical questions as a kid.

3. Comics / graphic novels do not have the same constraints as music or film. In a manner of speaking, the tradition of comics is one of social criticism and creating a chronicle of society’s attitudes and beliefs. But what are the constraints in creating through this medium?

There are no constraints but rather more a liberating sense of freedom. A sense of new discovery, where other forms of art inspire other forms of art.

4. Having studied and taught literature, I am a sucker for a good allegory, and the names of the characters seems highly allegorical. So out of curiosity, where did you draw your inspiration for the character and name of “Freeda?”

Freeda = freedom.

5. The concept of having memories erased is a very powerful metaphor for what is happening in the world today; most people do not see this happening to them in their day-to-day life. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I have come to believe this whole-heartedly when I hear all of the spin in the news. Do you really think that the world as become this “Orwellian?”

Absolutely. Desensitation, social hypnosis, anti-social behaviour due to social networking sites, books rewritten, polarised governments.... The world is spinning upside down and we are far removed from the beginning. The abacus, the first computer. George Orwell is definitely an inspiration.

For more information, please visit the “City of Abacus” homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Keep up with V.V. Brown at her homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

From TheCityOfAbacus YouTube Channel, here is a video preview and interview exclusive.

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16 May 2010

Sudden Death Over Time: "SDOT"

With a name like Sudden Death Over Time one might expect to get the darkest of music; whether downy or unyieldingly harsh, the name of the band alone has enough visceral power to intrigue you. However, you get neither the downy or unyieldingly harsh; what you do get with this debut, “SODT” (13 April 2010), is an infectious soundscape, the perfect balance between analogue and digital sounds, and one of the most cathartic visceral experiences… without vocals. I listened to the album twice before I really realized the power that Shaun Frandsen (the sole member of Sudden Death Over Time) is able to generate – and after a day of listening to the album, I appreciate and am blown away by its visceral power. Though it may be easy to say that this is electronic meets shoegaze, I venture to travel another road. This is post-punk, not post-punk revival. Think of a contemporary band like Editors; Frandsen understands the power of the understated, the ambient, and how to generate emotional power from repetition. Like Editors, Frandsen is not ripping off some past trend that is proving viable for artists, instead he is adding to a tradition, a genre, which continues to unfurl.

There is an important trick to modern instrumental (rock) music that some artists have not figured out: you cannot write music the same way you would when a vocalist is involved, but you cannot go so far out of the box that it becomes inaccessible and confusing. And many instrumental artists commit the first mistake, and some the second… Sudden Death Over Time commits none. Though there are no obvious divisions of verse-chorus-etc… there are distinct, sometimes repeated, elements to the music. The ambient keys fill in any holes in the soundscape, while the guitar arrangements accent the visceral power of the keys. Sometimes the guitar is played the exact way that original post-punk rockers played the six-string bass when employed as a guitar (think Robert Smith), sometimes played in a new distinct way. The rhythm section, sometimes danceable, sometimes rocking, is straight out-and-out post-punk.

The album opens with “Raindrops On My Shades,” which is lush with a beautifully strummed acoustic guitar (a lost art) and the traditional post-punk electric lead guitar, the fast-paced beat and the overwhelming soundscape sucks you right into this journey of eight brilliant songs. “Take It This Far,” the second track and shortest on the album, introduces some interesting, disco inflected, percussion, and slips right into “Summertide”: this is one of those songs best described as a sigh. And then “Blue Sky Night,” my latest obsession, begins sinisterly with an interplay between electronic noises, but when the beat drops you are transported, almost as if floating … or is that falling… through the sky. With the expected bass-line for the rhythm, there is a second subtle “bass” for melody, Frandsen brought out his bag of tricks for this number: everything is here – from the ambient keys to savvy contemporary programming, coupled with piercing guitar playing and a piano at the end, this is stuff of great arrangements. With so many elements running wild, Frandsen reins them all into perfect balance and unity.

I am tempted to go track-by-track on this one… but I hope I have said enough already for you to want to take the plunge into Sudden Death Over Time. “SODT” is the biggest surprise of the year thus far, raising that proverbial bar even higher. Shaun Frandsen is not paying homage or simply reviving the past, he is engaging his influences (from Joy Division to The Cure, from Suede to My Bloody Valentine) in a sort of musical dialogue, he is expanding tradition, and he has delivered an album that should not escape anyone’s radar. Head over to iTunes and get this one for your collection. Like me, you may find yourself wishing that this album was longer – and this is no complaint, but the highest compliment.

Track Listing:
1. Raindrops On My Shades
2. Take It This Far
3. Summertide
4. Blue Sky Night
5. Phoenix
6. Honeymoon in Manchester
7. Coldheart Tempo
8. Stars In The Sea

Keep up with Sudden Death Over Time at the band's MySpace page and Facebook.

Here is a sound (no video, just a picture) clip of “Honeymoon In Manchester” from the SuddenDeathOverTime1 Youtube Channel.

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12 May 2010

Seven Videos

Some videos to enjoy on a chilly NYC night.

Hurts' "Better Than Love" from their YouTube Channel: videohurts.

The National's "Blood Buzz Ohio" from the 4ADRecords YouTube Channel.

The Drums' "Forever & Ever, Amen" from their YouTube Channel: theDrumsForever.

Devlin's "Shot Music", featuring Giggs, from his YouTube Channel: DelvinOfficial.

Malachai's "Snowflake" from the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.

Kele's "Tenderoni" from his YouTube Channel: iamkele

Midnight Juggernauts' "Vital Signs" from their YouTube Channel: midnightjuggernauts.

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11 May 2010

Microfilm: "I Am Curious" and "I Am Rewired"

My thanks to the guys at Microfilm for keeping me in the loop. It is much appreciated!

Last autumn, Microfilm’s “I’ll Sing Like Billy Mackenzie in Heaven” enraptured me. What a clever song! What an odd, but welcomed, reference for an electronic house band! This is a band that has brains and aesthetics… this is a band that has the chops and confidence to do things differently, against the mind-numbing cliché of what passes as house music. Now, Microfilm releases their first compilation, a double album of singles and remixes: “I Am Curious (Microfilm): Collected 2006-2010 & I Am Rewired (Microfilm): Remixes 2006-2010” (11 May 2010). As the rule of thumb, SlowdiveMusic Blog shies away from reviewing compilations, but this, my friends, is no regular compilation. This is a testament to solid craftsmanship, to thinking outside of the box, and bringing house music back to what it is suppose to be.

The first “disc,” “I Am Curious (Microfilm): Collected 2006-2010” takes you on a journey from the first single, “Young Adult Fiction,” to the duo’s most recent tracks, including “Body Language,” a Queen cover. How many house musicians have the courage to cover Queen? Most rock bands do not… dare not, and yet Microfilm takes on the challenge with excellent results. The original track is one of Queen’s sexier songs, relying heavily on an alluring bass line and vocal arrangements. Microfilm subverts all of that; with affected vocal arrangements and a synth arpeggio to carry the song during the verse, the song is anything other than the conventional (make-believe) house song on the radio. This is ripe for a real dance floor, for lovers of house music, and those ready to hear a beat blaring over speakers. Other great moments including the opening track, the Brother Grimes Mix of “Young Adult Fiction” (dark, broody, bordering on electric body music) and “Free” (infectious, mesmerizing, impossible not to dance to). My personal favorite, “I’ll Sing Like Billy Mackenzie in Heaven” (featuring Del Marquis of Scissor Sisters), graces the collection.

I refuse to call the second “disc,” “I Am Rewired (Microfilm): Remixes 2006-2010,” a companion to the first. The second half is an intrinsically important as the first. The thing about house and electronic music is that it is wiser to think about “songs” as “tracks” that are not statically fixed, as they are in pop, rock, and other mainstream genres. And the concept of remixing is not just extending a song or creating something out of nothing – these are just passive, lazy ways to approach remixing, and quite boring. The purpose of remixing a track is to bring out a new, hidden dimension of the song. Sometimes the remixes have many similarities to the original, yet at other times the differences are distinct and obvious, but ultimately welcomed. Not only are they able to write great tracks in original format (as you hear in the first half of the collection), but also they are able to delve deep into their own tracks (and those of others) and bring out something new, something hidden, something distinct. To prove this fact, listen to the first version of “Young Adult Fiction,” then flip over to not one but two remixes of the track: the Arthur Rimbaud Mix and the Marcel Proust Remix – curiously enough both named after French writers. All three versions of this track are vibrant, urgent, and distinct; all three tracks bring out a new feeling of dark sensuality. “After Dark (Arena Cloudburst Mix)” is the one track I am stuck on the most. It is not often that you hear a real house song that seems to “hesitate,” but this one does, and yet does not distract from its invitation to dance – not an easy feat to pull off!

Take the plunge into the world of Microfilm – this is a perfect start for anyone not familiar with their music. From playful to dark, from pensive to carefree, this collection demonstrates every visceral aspect they can generate. And for those who want to learn about and/or discover real house music, then again this is an excellent starting point. This is a collection of vast imagination, house at its best, and electronic savvy that is uncompromising, unlike what has passed for house music for way too long. One word of advice: this collection is meant to be listened to really loud… blaring! Turn up the volume, imagine you are at some dark, somewhat seedy, club, and get lost in a two-hour adventure of visceral beats and hypnotizing soundscapes.

Track Listing:

“I Am Curious (Microfilm): Collected 2006-2010”
1. Young Adult Fiction, Brother Grimes Mix
2. Chicago
3. Ralf & Florian
4. Free
5. Teenage Symphonies, Video Edit
6. Black Eyes, White Boys
7. Ciccone
8. International Velvet
9. BFF
10. I’ll Sing Like Billy MacKenzie in Heaven, featuring Del Marquis
11. Nothing Can Stop Us
12. Body Language

“I Am Rewired (Microfilm): Remixes 2006-2010”
1. Am I Ever Gonna Fall Apart in NYC?, Astrolabe’s Full Breakdown Remix
2. Young Adult Fiction, Arthur Rimbaud Mix
3. After Dark, OCD Soundsystem Mix
4. Disco Demolition Derby, Partying Slippers Mix
5. Teenage Symphonies, Little Darlings Mix
6. Hospitalized For Exhaustion, Kid Whatever Remix
7. After Dark, White Limousine Mix
8. Teenage Symphonies, Astrolabe’s Classic Club Cut
9. International Velvet, AngelTheory Remix
10. Young Adult Fiction, Marcel Proust Mix
11. After Dark, Area Cloudburst Remix
12. Teenage Symphonies, Olivia Hussey’s Reprise

Keep up with Microfilm at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and Fairtilizer.

Here is their video for “Teenage Symphonies” from their YouTube Channel: WeAreMicrofilm.

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09 May 2010

Heads Up: Jazica

One of the things I have been negligent of is searching out new, unsigned talent. It is easy to venture onto any website (from MySpace to iTunes) and search for bands with released material; searching for unsigned band globally though can be a challenge. Much like navigating through a major, medieval city without a map, surfing through the web for something that really catches your attention can be a chore that ends up in a dead end. So, in order not to get myself lost in the flux, I really am going to force myself to bring attention to unsigned bands the moment I discover them so that you could them check out. With enough exposure today, we just may be listening to tomorrow’s veterans. This next band is one that I have sat on for too long.

Jazica, hailing from southern England, is a quartet that does not fit nicely into any given category. Electropop but with a traditional lineup (Nick Haverly (bass), Kev Jones (drums), Frankie Murdoch (vocals, guitar, synths), and Chris Smallwood (guitars, synths, electro beats)), indie sound but not the same old prepackaged feigned angst, the best way to describe their music is sagacious. Here are some comparisons that may help: inviting like Friendly Fires, sexy as Metric, distinct as Guillemots, and yet savvier than the average band cause they can generate a unique sound (like the aforementioned bands). In the proverbial nutshell, this is music that will perk your ears up a bit and grabs your attention.

Supporting bands like Chew Lips and Delphic and being finalists in the Road to V Competition in 2009, Jazica are now achieving radio play on BBC Radio. On 16 January 2010, Jazica released a four-track EP titled “Cut Shapes.” “Sugarcane” is the opening track, starting with a mysterious air and ushering in affected vocals, there is this perfect mix between digital and analogue sounds. Followed by “Laid Back,” the mood changes into more of their “punkish” influences; keeping their singular pop sensibility, the song is the most guitar and drum driven on the collection. “Start,” my favorite, has that Banshees’ “Kiss in the Dream House” quality. Outside of their regular comfort zone, experimental in arrangement and mixing without being inaccessible, though it is a song that anyone can really appreciate, it is truly a song for true music lovers. The collection completely changes pace for the final track, “Follow the Rhythm” – upbeat, quirky, and truly 80s in its heart, this is amazingly playful song that breaks with the current trends of what 80s references bands are making. But that is the thing about the “Cut Shapes” EP and Jazica in general, the references are wider and more idiosyncratic than most of the bands out there; add that with their own sense of pop sensibility and how to approach music, you have an EP worth adding to your collection and a band you need to check out and support.

Track Listing:
1. Sugarcane
2. Laid Back
3. Start
4. Follow the Rhythm

Keep up with Jazica at their MySpace page, listen to the music they are streaming, and if you are as hooked as I, head over to the Bandcamp website and purchase the EP.

One last teaser to get you hooked on Jazica; here is their latest posted video, “Laid Back,” from their YouTube Channel: Jazicatheband.

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07 May 2010

"City of Abacus"

My thanks to V.V. Brown and company for the opportunity to write about “City of Abacus.”

Once upon a time The King of Abacus was seduced by a maid, Virusos; though he would call off his affair when the Queen became pregnant, send Virusos (who was also pregnant) away from Abacus, and rekindle his relationship with his wife, the seeds of the future had been sowed and what would be reaped is the story of “The City of Abacus.” Singer, songwriter V. V. Brown and company bring the world of Abacus alive, in a neo-Orwellian world where thoughts are control by being erased; free thought and individuality quelled and destroyed by a machine, the MX-41. In a nutshell, they have created and written a tale of a dystopia more harrowing than Orwell could have ever imagined.

Written by V.V. Brown and David Allain, illustrated by Emma Price, and storyboarded by David Allain, this is the story of a young girl, Freeda (the daughter of the King), who like much of the youth of this generation, inherits a world that has lost freedom of thought, objectivity, and creativity. The fantasy world of Abacus is the perfect analogy of our world, which through the constant saturation of media and the Internet, faux reality television, and the obsession with celebrity culture, has become numb, misinformed, and detached from reality. And just as Orwell’s generation’s anxiety and emotions in 1948 was jumbled into “1984,” V.V. Brown and company brings this generation’s into “City of Abacus.” This is not your typical graphic narrative; this is the story for a generation fighting for liberation of thought.


Why would a music blog write about a graphic novel? Besides my admiration and love for V.V. Brown’s music, it is refreshing to see an artist engage another medium and explore her creativity in a new venue. Further, there is a sense of urgency and relevance to this narrative that makes it important. As the world keeps turning, it is important to question and challenge what has been inherited; it is important to question what are the constraints on free thought and expression. And for this reason, I encourage all of you to enjoy a bit of escapism and get a hold of this comic that will chime strongly with truths.

From 7 May 2010 through November, one issue will be released monthly, culminating in a graphic novel to commemorate the epic tale. Accompanying each issue will be the opportunity to download a song that musically represents the narrative. After the publication of the graphic novel, the songs will be released as an album.

The comic will be distributed through Diamond Comic and available in hardcopy at a store near you, or you could go to The City of Abacus website and purchase online. From 7 May 2010 to 29 May 2010, a “City of Abacus” exhibition will be running at The Book Club in Shoreditch, East London.

For more information, please visit the “City of Abacus” homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. (Also, keep up with V.V. Brown at her homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.)
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06 May 2010

Young Michelin

My thanks to my friends at La Bulle Sonore Records for keeping me in the loop…

I have covered music from continental Europe and Latin America, from Mexico to Russia, Iceland to Germany, and there is something to be said about hailing from a nation that is not suffocating from the weight of all its musical trends, and that in one word is perspective. Hailing from non-English speaking nations seemingly gives artists more exposure in the breath of music to listen to; at the same time there is the space to write music for the sake of writing music that has solid craftsmanship and not just to fit into some trend. And this can easily be said about Young Michelin. Hailing from France (and singing in their mother tongue), they join the rank of indie artists generating music that at once pays homage to the past but also pushes forward towards the future with urgency and relevance.

Releasing an eponymous EP of four tracks (8 May 2010), this is a perfect example of the French indie scene at its best. Like most of the Western World, Young Michelin takes cues from the 80s, but unlike so many of the bands doing this, you would be pressed to pinpoint a specific influence. They steer clear from sounding derivative; there is no rehash here. Instead, what you get is sometimes airy, sometimes gritty punk/electro influenced pop music. “Je Suis Fatigue” [“I’m Tired”] is a trippy, sometime litely kitschy, song, the plays a balancing act between docile guitar arrangements, a gritty rift, and electronic elements. What makes the song really work is the fact that it does not stick to any one mold, but rather constantly shifting its musical references. “Elle M’Oubliera” [“She’ll Forget Me”] is laced with crisp guitars, catchy arrangement, and a beat that is reminiscent of the thriving power of late 70s post-punk.

“Obscene” is definitely a study in contradictions. The music is definitely punk/post-punk influenced, with vocals that are more reminiscent of early British synthpop. The song is the most emotive on the EP, and the darkest. “Teen Whistle” closes out the EP, and is the most surprising song in the collection. The song has a slow buildup, opening with a simple beat and bass line, crisp guitar playing follows, and then subtle keys in the background. And when you are lounging comfortable in what you think will be the airiest experience, the beat drops and the vocals come in, and you are sucked into the broodiness of it all. All I could think when I first heard this song was, “Wow.”

Head over to Young Michelin's MySpace site, take a listen, and if you are drawn in as much as I am, head over to the La Bulle Sonore Records site and download the album.

Track Listing:
1. Je Suis Fatigue
2. Elle M’Oubliera
3. Obscene
4. Teen Whistle

Keep up with Young Michelin at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

If you are free on 8 May 2010 and happen to be in Paris, you may want to head out to the Point Ephémère to catch La Bulle Sonore Records Firth Birthday Party. The Wave and Young Michelin will be performing, as well as DJs Tod Brownies and Cosensation.

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05 May 2010

Kyte: "Dead Waves"

Have you ever stopped to just listen to the world around you? Have you ever had a moment when you are listening to sound and think to yourself, “That sound is pure poetry?” You know, the kind of subtle sound that is seductive from beginning to end, which is moody and broody, and yet sensually attractive? If you know what I am talking about, then Kyte’s latest album, “Dead Waves” (downloadable in the USA since 16 April 2010, CD import available 27 April 2010) is for you; if you do not know what I am talking about, you are about to learn exactly what I mean. Hailing from Leicestershire, UK, Kyte has trudged through the last few years compiling a repertoire of (nu)shoegaze material that leans heavily towards producing sweeping atmosphere. This is about music that relies heavily on melody and tight arrangements, favoring mood, sophistication, and ambience over grandstanding, bandwagons, or worn out clichés. This is music that is arrantly poetic.

With a bit of the grandiose of post-rock bands like Sigur Rós, coupled with a bit of the ambience of early post-punk like “A Forest” or “Charlotte Sometimes,” Kyte leans heavily on the electronic elements to produce a consistent sonic experience beginning to end. This is not to the say that the songs sound alike – quite the opposite, each song emotes its own individuality – but each track flows smoothly and effortlessly into each other. Opening with “The Smoke Saves Lives,” as you listen you have a strange experience. Conventionally speaking, this sounds like a song to close the album… you know, those kinds of song that just sort of rips out any emotion left after nearly an hour of listening. Instead, starting your near hour long listening experience, “Dark Waves” first song is an ambient faire that is sonically emotionally wrenching – making this a uniquely stunning opening for an album.

The song melds right into single, “Inhfsa.” Starting with an affected electronic voice, it becomes more than obvious that Kyte has strong pop sensibilities; yet they do not abandon themselves to them. Kyte is more concerned with composing sophisticated and ambient arrangements, and not radio-ready ditties. This song maintains the ambient feel of the rest of the album, while giving a three-and-three-quarter vignette of what the album has to offer – this is the perfect lead single for the album.

Interwoven through the twelve songs on the album are three songs of epic proportion. “Each Life Critical” languidly builds itself into soothing soundscape, as the synthpop inspired ostinato helps to bring you to that same point of languidness. “Fake Handshakes, Earnest Smiles” and the titular “Dead Waves” also build up slowly, but are the two moments on the album that the vocal arrangements seem to “lift” up from the music itself. I would be remiss if I did not mention “Designed for Damage.” By far the most alluring song on the album, amazingly arranged for maximum impact, this is the one song that meshes every single element on the album into one track. Though short of epic proportion, there is that epic feel; electronic, but the “classic” shoegaze shines through; gut wrenching, but cathartic; luxuriating in 80s’ cues, but fresh, urgent, and relevant. As time goes on, this is one of the tracks that is going to be known as a signature Kyte song.

2010 caught me by surprise with so many strong releases, and Kyte lifts up the proverbial bar slightly higher again. “Dead Waves” is an amazing album, whether you enjoy indie rock, shoegaze, post-punk revival, or electropop – but most amazingly, what you will find with this album is that none of those labels do it justice. Kyte’s “Dead Waves” defies singular classification, drawing on a range of cues and ingenious song writing to create a sophisticated album that is sensually tempting to get lost in.

Track Listing:
1. The Smoke Saves Lives
2. Ihnfsa
3. You’re Alone Tonight
4. Designed for Damage
5. Like She Said
6. Fear from Death
7. Each Life Critical
8. No-One Is Angry, Just Afraid
9. Guns and Knives
10. Fake Handshakes, Earnest Smiles
11. Dead Waves
12. Strangest Words and Pictures
13. Creating Our Reality – iTunes bonus track

Keep up with Kyte at their homepage at Blogger, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is their video for “Ihnfsa” from their YouTube Channel: kytetheband.

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04 May 2010

Corinne Bailey Rae Live

After a long day of working (the “nine-to-five,” followed by the part time, and a ton of driving in between), I headed to Manhattan with two of my coworkers; we were off to see Corinne Bailey Rae at Webster Hall (New York, NY USA). It was our first time hanging out together outside of work, and our first time seeing Corinne Bailey Rae… and the night was perfect.

We got to the city, drove directly into a lot, and admittedly went to get a bite to eat, risking the chance of not seeing the opening act, Daniel Merriweather. When we finally arrived at Webster Hall, heading for the bar area on the main floor, I had a bit of regret not catching the entire Merriweather set. His band and he were tight, his demeanor welcoming and amicable, and he even joked about selling CDs at the end of the set “in the back” so that he would be able to pay the rent.

At this pointed we headed up to the balcony, settling into our second of three spots of the night. (Also, at this point, again my camera started acting up again; apologies for the lack of strong photos.) Then the main event started: Corrine Bailey Rae opened with “Are You There,” the opening track of her current album, “The Sea.” (Previously reviewed: link.) The album’s conception predates her husband’s sudden death, as the process of the composition started with him; after months in solitude, Bailey Rae returned to the studio, both as a means of coming to terms with her emotions and life and starting the cathartic process of starting life all over again. And it was with that knowledge that I came to the show, a bit nervous about what exactly to expect. I had no doubt that her performance would be technically spot on, but what I did not know was just how emotionally powerful and positive the show was going to be. After getting comfortable in our second spot, the band came on stage. Backed by a five-piece-band, Bailey Rae strummed her white electric guitar as she soulfully sung, “Are you here? Are you here? Are you here? Cause my heart recalls that… it all seems the same… it all feels the same.” Her voice was simply amazing; thousands of times more soulful live, thousands of times more powerful.

Soon after the first song, we headed back to the main floor, and (politely of course) headed up to get a closer spot. Backing her on the stage were Jennifer Birch on guitar, Steven Brown on keyboards, Luke Flowers on drums, Kenny Higgins on bass, and John Maccalum on guitar, who shared lead vocal duties with Bailey Rae on the final song of the evening, Evans and Livingston’s “Que Sera Sera” – and I assure you there was no hint of Doris Day in this cover version! There was a gospel feel to the end of the show, one that lent so much positively and energy. When she sang “que sera sera” [what will be, will be], there was no sense of resignation or sorrow… there was no sense of ambivalence. Instead, Bailey Rae embraced the words… owned them!… in perhaps the ultimate realization: we must accept life at the moments we most wish to forget it and live on.

As I have admitted in a previous post, though Bailey Rae has been in my radar for quite sometime, it was not till “The Sea” that I really started to listen. This really burns me, as in current days I have become attached to her eponymous debut album. Hence, my favorite moment of the evening was the performance of “Put Your Records On.” And of course, another great moment was “Like a Star”: “You’ve got this look I can’t describe; you make me feel like I’m alive. When everything else is a fade, without a doubt you’re on my side.” Without a doubt, the recorded rendition of the song pales in comparison with the live rendition. (By this time, I realized that I was so swept into the show that I had not written down the complete setlist!)

Other songs from “The Sea” that really hit an emotional spot for the crowd included “Paris Nights/New York Morning” (which she introduced as being inspired by New York City), “Paper Dolls,” and the titular track: “The Sea.” The final song of the main set, she sang, “The sea… takes everything from me.” Again, just like what would follow with “Que Sera Sera,” there was no sign of resignation that you hear on the album… Instead, there was visceral power of acceptance that was overwhelming and quite beautiful. And you realize that Bailey Rae’s ultimate message/example is to live life, to embrace it all, the good and the bad, and grow from it, and ultimately always do something positive with what life has dealt you.

One of the year’s best albums? Check. Great performance? Check. If you get a chance to catch Corrine Bailey Rae live, do not hesitate – she will sing time away as you are trapped in the beauty of her voice.

Keep up with Corinne Bailey Rae at her homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
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02 May 2010

1991 - A Retrospective

It started on a Tuesday… and the year would see the first Gulf War, Dr. Jack Kevorkian being barred from performing assisted suicides, the IRA launching a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street, the Unrepresented Nations and People Organization formed, the Visegard Agreement signed, the Rodney King beating, Armenia, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, and Ukraine amongst countries becoming independent from the collapsing Soviet Union, curfews being imposed on black towns in South Africa, Germany regaining complete independence, the Treaty of Asunción signed, the Dow Jones closing above 3000, Edith Cresson becoming France’s first female president, Queen Elizabeth II becoming the first British monarch to address the US Congress, Boris Yeltsin voted president of Russia, the South African Parliament repealing the Population Registration Act, Yugoslavia collapsing, the Warsaw Pact dissolved, Mike Tyson arrested for rape, Bill Clinton announcing he would run for president, Poland holding its first free parliamentary elections, Australia winning the Rugby World Cup, the KGB closing down, hostage Terry A. Anderson released after seven years in Beirut… and the list goes on and on.

1991 was a year that would change the world thereafter, and it is no surprise that the world of music would change with it in ways that we still experience.

Like any historical reality, the seeds of 1991 were sown in the past, especially in the 1980s. And music, like most art, is reactionary and would react to the world around it. I have come to see the 1980s as a neo-gilded age: though we were conscious of worldwide recession and the closing years of the Cold War, there was always this veneer that was smeared on everything. Politicians and CEOs, with their Orwellian double talk, would paint a picture of progress, of immerging from hard times through unity, and a new wave of nationalism started to soar. Musically, the second British invasion of the American mainstream took place (Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, Wham!…), and music moved away from straightforward production to glitzy, gilded production. The technology that would become the modern personal computer and sequencers were really invested in during the 80s, and this would have an impact on how music was produced and performed. New wave, electropop, hip-hop, and later industrial would rise and start to represent the “cutting edge.” Gilded, possessing veneer (computers sounding like instruments and band), these musicians would even mirror the double talk (entendres) of the politicians: did you really think that “Safety Dance” was about dancing?

The 1980s was a decade of conservatism, rejecting social, economic, and political ideologies of the previous generation. The dominant western powers were both conservative led, with Reagan in the USA and Thatcher in the UK. All over the world like never before, with the loosening of restrictions, corporations grew (bubbles in the economy created), and corporations would start to yield more power than individuals. This is a trend that continues till today, where the Supreme Court of the United States decided that corporations enjoy the same right to freedom of expression as individuals. And the music of the era, even with much of its political and social criticism, mirrored quite often the glitz (yes, glitz, Reagan was a Hollywood star), gilder, and double talk of the political/corporate institution. Music, which was always an industry, started to shift its attention more and more to numbers, not talent; just look at the proportion of one-hit-wonders in the decade – it’s astounding. But in a worldwide recession, the corporations started to feel the need to really protect their investment, which is the recording of albums. The practice of dropping artists that did not sell a specific amount of units started to become the norm by the end of the decade, as opposed to nurturing them. If this were always the case, bands such as The Cure and Depeche Mode would have been dropped after their debuts, but both were nurtured instead and remain two of the most iconic bands in history. Essentially, numbers were becoming more important than talent and this is most evident in the amount of releases by artists; no longer were they expected to release yearly or every eighteen-months, they were expected to tour and tour and tour until the required units were sold.

With disco and glam, in their original form, overthrown, ignored, and/or reinvented (house rising from the ashes of disco), in the 1980s the music industry had to invent new ways of generating profits and exposure; they succeeded, as seen/heard by the first video played by MTV, “Video Killed the Radio Star.” The rise of MTV would revolutionize music. It was no longer just about the song, but also the look. Slowly, high and unique fashion statements and youth would dominate the pop charts, and not just youth, but “fit” youth, as if there is no overweight talent. Essentially, by the close of the 80s, MTV was one long, twenty-four-hour commercial. All that aside, MTV caught up with the need to sustain itself, came up with various concept shows (playing videos was not enough or really necessary), and one show in particular would change how we envisioned bands: in 1989, MTV launched “MTV Unplugged.”

I used to love “MTV Unplugged,” until I really realized what the effects of the show really were. At the end of it all, you were a real band if you could perform acoustically as a band. Not drag in an orchestra, not add a slew of musicians, but the band, coming out, bare-boned, and performing; the show would gain momentum in 1991 to 1994. It was the first step in rejecting a lot of the 80s ideas about music, in line with what came in the 90s. The glitz was gone, the veneer was gone, and soon too the double talk (until Clinton gets caught with his zipper unfastened). This was the symbolic death knell for electronic musicians, like Petshop Boys, who disappeared from the pop charts, who could not perform in this format. And then started the rise of musicians that mirrored the world of the 1990s: less glitz, corporate dominated, straightforward lyrics (poetic lyrics were rarely acceptable), and pre-packaged for consumption. New wave and electropop would be pushed into the underground for close to a decade, hip-hop would reinvent itself to be more “real,” more “credible.” And industrial artists, like Nine Inch Nails, would embrace their rock influences over their electronic and carve out a small niche for themselves. Raw emotion was favored over high production or virtuosos in all genres, just listen to Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart” – pure emotional power. And concerts were supposed to be just that, concerts, not spectacles. Madonna, the master of live spectacles, would not tour post 1993 till 2001, for even her brand of high antics were rejected.

And to distinguish itself from what came before, the 1990s would invent the term “alternative,” whatever the hell that means. Have you ever seen which artists are lumped under alternative? Most of them have nothing in common with one another… at least not on the surface. The only thing they have in common is the demographic they are being marketed to by the record industry: white, suburban, 13-30 years old. (It is nothing like labels like “disco” that defines a sonic tradition or “shoegaze” a scene and aesthetic concept.) The 90s would tread straightforward for six years, before artists like The Prodigy would rise from the underground to prove that their was viability beyond the “mainstream.” And as the world went from the liberal 90s to the conservative oughts (00’s), political policies and artistic expression would return to the 80s for cues. Ironic, really when you think about the 80s and 90s: in the mainstream, when conservative power is in rule, the most glitzy music is produced, while when liberals are in power, the most bare-boned music is produced as a general rule of thumb. Even the East Coast vs. West Coast saga of hip-hop started to fade into history, as that sort of credibility was no longer necessary.

But it was 1991 that set the rest of the decade into motion. From glitz to bare, from nurturing talent to caring exclusively about numbers and investments, the future from this point on seemed glib for music. However, something gave way, as the late oughts and now (whatever we will call this decade) seems more apt to not reject anything, but rather reinvent and assimilate – genre-bending is in, along side revivals – and this is a new phenomena to figure out a decade from now. (And no, I do not believe it is because of lack of talent.)

What follows are retrospectives of five amazing albums from 1991: from synthpop to grunge, from Britpop to shoegaze, these five albums either reified and developed everything that was going on in music or blatantly rejected it outright and kept a candle burning for the following generation to rediscover what had been rejected. Enjoy them, treasure them, for they are not just albums, but landmarks in musical history. Enjoy!

Queen: “Innuendo” (5 February 1991)

Rock… macho bravado… straight (if not straight-laced)… Queen hoodwinked everyone. Choosing a name like “Queen” had many connotations, not least of all of Freddie Mercury (né Farrokh Bulsara) being gay himself, which he may have been private about, but was no secret. Through a career spanning close to twenty-years as a band, Queen proved one really important thing: good music trumps anything else. Queen, now, has become one of the most iconic bands in history, on level with The Beatles, David, Bowie, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, and The Rolling Stones – their fingerprints are everywhere! It is impossible to listen to music from any decade from the 1970s till now and not see their fingerprints all over, from rock to pop, from electropop to punk rock. And what made Queen such a phenomena? They did not stick to the rules of music. They were one of the first major acts willing to genre-bend when no one else was willing to. They were willing to experiment and never became complacent; they always kept a feeling of urgency to their music that made them relevant. And having the best frontman ever did not hurt either. Surely, no man has ever stepped on a stage that had the captivating power that Mercury had during a performance. The only person who comes close (damn close actually) is Annie Lennox, whose performance of “Under Pressure” alongside David Bowie at the Wembley Stadium in honor of Freddie Mercury proves that these two were and continue to be worlds away from all other performers.

Why is it a must? “Innuendo” is the last album to be recorded with Freddie Mercury, who past nine months after release. Mercury, who was already rumored to be HIV positive by the time of his death, finally made a public announcement of this fact twenty-four hours before his death. “Innuendo,” in many ways, is a living and breathing testimony of Mercury’s illness and its effects on the bands members and friends. In “I’m Going Slightly Mad,” Mercury sings, “I’m one card short of a full deck, I’m not quite the shilling. One wave short of a shipwreck, I’m not at my usual top billing. I’m coming down with a fever, I’m really out to sea. This kettle is boiling over…” And throughout the album, there are many other encoded moments such as this one. Musically, the album veers between hard and soft, 70s and 80s, but always being signature Queen. And in many ways, this is the last great album of a previous generation. Post-1991, the thriving musicians of the 80s would become old school, and a new breed of musicians would rise to the top. However, unlike the vast majority of “this old school,” Queen’s influence on music was already seen… and continues: Anthrax, Ben Folds Five, Green Day, Katy Perry, Keane, Manic Street Preachers, Metallica, Muse, Nirvana, Radiohead, and Smashing Pumpkins to name a few. This album on one hand may be the closing of an era, but on the other begins a new one where echoes from the past filter through for a new generation to embrace.

Track Listing (CD Version):
1. Innuendo
2. I’m Going Slightly Mad
3. Headlong
4. I Can’t Live with You
5. Don’t Try So Hard
6. Ride the Wild Wind
7. All God’s People
8. These Are the Days of Our Lives
9. Delilah
10. The Hitman
11. Bijou
12. The Show Must Go On

Keep up with Queen an their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

From the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert here is Queen, George Michael and Lisa Stansfield’s performance of “These Are The Days of Our Lives” and Queen, Elton John, and Tony Iommi’s performance of “The Show Must Go On.” Both clips from their YouTube Channel: queenofficial.

Blur: “Leisure” (26 August 1991)

1991 saw the rise of Britpop, led by Blur. Foregoing the 80s, Britpop reached back to the British Invasion of the 60s for their main influences, while infusing some glam and punk rock in different degrees. Out with the mainstay (the 80s) and in with the new, Britpop artists, though most famous in their native UK and continental Europe, would make waves in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South America. This new “style” of music would be seized upon by the corporate music establishment and pushed, pushed, and pushed on audiences for a few years. And like any of these corporate trends, what seems to follow after the initial trend is discovered is crap, so much of it just reinvented and prepackaged by the industry to turn over a few bucks quickly. But if you go back to the origins, you more often than not discover some incredible talent, like Blur. Forming in 1988 in London, originally the band would also infuse some elements of shoegaze and Madchester, setting them apart from their fellow Britpop artists. In 1990, Blur would tour the UK opening for The Cramps, release “She’s So High,” and create a new buzz in town. Years later, there would be a great rivalry with Oasis, two minor hits in the USA (“Girls & Boys” and “Song 2”), quite a few side acts (The Ailerons; Fat Les; The Good, the Bad & the Queen; Gorillaz; and Me Me Me) a break-up, a summer tour reunion in 2010, confirmation that the summer reunion was all that fans were going to get, and then a new single, their first in seven years, on 17 April 2010, “Fool’s Day.” So what exactly the future holds for Blur is unknown (though I am personally hoping for a new album!), these four guys have already blazed a trail for artists to follow.

Why is it a must? It is the first major Britpop release; though it would only chart in the UK (#7), “Leisure” lays down the foundation and path that other artists would benefit from, including Echobelly, Oasis, Sleeper, and Suede. The album starts off with their first single, “She’s So High,” the perfect example of Blur’s music: simple, catchy, poppy, and Damon Albarn’s unmistakable voice. The albums straddles both the dirgeful and gloomy (“Wear Me Down” – “I can’t say I love you easily, but you wouldn’t want me to, so I’d rather say nothing and leave it up to you… then it’s easy to forget…”) and the quintessential Britpop sound (“Bang” – “When all is said and all is done, what was said was never done. Don’t panic, it’s not really worth your while…”). Though Blur would develop into one of the most playful bands of the decade, their debut treads with a savoir-faire that is rare in debut albums. If any album is ground zero for Britpop, “Leisure” is it.

Track Listing UK:
1. She’s So High
2. Bang
3. Slow Down
4. Repetition
5. Bad Day
6. Sing
7. There’s No Other Way
8. Fool
9. Come Together
10. High Cool
11. Birthday
12. Wear Me Down

Track Listing USA (re-ordered to front load the singles):
1. She’s So Hight
2. There’s No Other Way
3. Bang
4. I Know
5. Slow Down
6. Repetition
7. Bad Day
8. High Cool
9. Come Together
10. Fool
11. Birthday
12 Wear Me Down

Keep up with Blur at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter (Graham Coxon).

Here are the links for the videos for “She’s So High,” “There’s No Other Way,” and “Bang” from their YouTube Channel: Officialblurchannel.

Slowdive: “Just for a Day” (2 September 1991)

Originally a dirty, dirty word, shoegazing would solidify itself in the 1990s as the heir apparent of post-punk. Though taking its origin in the mid 80s, by 1991 shoegaze would have spawned the likes of Chapterhouse, My Bloody Valentine, and Ride – and this is the year that Slowdive would release their debut album, “Just for a Day.” Formed in Reading in 1989, there are two stories behind the namesake of the band – the first, homage to the Siouxsie and the Banshee’s song (where this blog has gotten its name), and the second (“the official”), from a members dream. With an EP release in 1990, by the time their debut was released, they were dubbed as part of the “scene that celebrates itself” – Steven Sutherland’s sneering phrase for a scene of musicians who seemingly got a long (at least in public), never giving into childish rivalries amongst themselves; go figure, they acted like adults! And though shoegazing would only gain modest mainstream recognition in the UK (non in the USA) as it competed with the dominant Britpop, two decades later it is impossible to not see its influence: The Big Pink, The Horrors, A Place to Bury Strangers, Asobi Seksu, and Silversun Pickups. And Slowdive was one of the bands that were instrumental in developing, expanding, and defining this genre.

Why is it a must? Whenever Slowdive gets mention among fans of shoegaze, inevitably there is someone who says, ““Souvlaki” is the best album ever!” But here are few reasons why I say “Just for a Day” is just as great (or maybe even greater). It still sounds incredible – as urgent and relevant as anything The Horrors or the Big Pink is putting out. The vocals arrangements are some of the most visceral ever, with lyrics as poetically dark as Robert Smith’s: “She flies, she’s gone to ride an angel’s breath, gone to taste a dream. And every time I call her, a shadow crawls away…” (“Celia’s Dream”). Musically, unlike so many other shoegazers, there wasn’t this obvious use-a-lot-of-effects-and-distortion; instead each song has a life of its own, arranged and produced to bring out their own trippy, idiosyncratic world that is so infectious it is easy to get lost in. And unlike their predecessors or decedents, Slowdive was not just paradigm shifting in the music scene in general, they were even iconoclasts to shoegazing itself – and “Just for a Day” is the evidence of it!

Track Listing:
1. Spanish Air
2. Celia’s Dream
3. Catch the Breeze
4. Ballad of Sister Sue
5. Erik’s Song
6. Waves
7. Brighter
8. The Sadman
9. Primal

Tracks from 2005 Sanctuary Records release second CD
10. Slowdive
11. Avalyn I
12. Avalyn II
13. Monringrise
14. She Calls
15. Losing Today
16. Golden Hair
17. Shine
18. Albatross
19. Catch the Breeze, Peel Session
20. Shine, Peel Session
21. Golden Hair, Peel Session

Nirvana: “Nevermind” (24 September 1991)

Like Britpop in the UK, grunge in the USA would be seized upon by the corporate music industry as the latest fad in music that you simply had to listen to. Though, unlike Britpop, it was not an immediate seizure. Grunge has its roots in the mid 80s, with bands such as Green River, Soundgarden, and The U-Men. But the album that just ripped through the underground to mainstream was Nirvana’s sophomore album, “Nevermind.” Formed in Aberdeen, Washington USA by Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic, the trio would later include David Grohl on drums and other musicians on stage playing guitar. If any one genre was the antithesis of the 80s mainstream, if any one genre rejected all the glam and glitz of the 80s, it was grunge. But make no mistake, they did not reject aesthetics, they just replaced the old aesthetics with new ones: flannel, blue jeans, bed and long hair, power chords, thick bass lines, and banging drums. And leading the charge was Nirvana, whose fame was in spite of themselves. Cobain and crew never set out to be famous, and record execs had no clue about the windfall they had landed in the band. But once they realized it, the endless and lackluster imitations started to hit the radio waves, but there was and is only one Nirvana.

Why is it a must? One song alone, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” This is the anthem of a generation: “I’m worse at what I do best, and for this gift I feel blessed. Our little group has always been and always will until the end.” By Cobain’s admission, the song was an attempt to write a song in the style of The Pixies, an obvious influence on many grunge musicians. (By the way, Cobain swore he was unaware of a deodorant called Teen Spirit when writing the song.) “Nevermind” has many other amazing tracks packed into it, including “Come As You Are,” “Breed,” “Lithium,” “Polly,” and “Drain You.” From September 1991 onward, the American music scene radically changed thanks to “Nevermind.” And though I am sure that Cobain had no intention of revolutionizing the mainstream, he did. The only pity was that one too many hacks tried to imitate “Nevermind’s” sonic and visceral power… Reality, an album such as this one is once a generation, and this is the album of that generation and 1991.

Track Listing:
1. Smell Like Teen Spirit
2. In Bloom
3. Come As You Are
4. Breed
5. Lithium
6. Polly
7. Territorial Pissings
8. Drain You
9. Lounge Act
10. Stay Away
11. On a Plain
12. Something in the Way
13. Endless, Nameless – hidden track on select copies

Here are the videos for “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Come As You Are,” “Lithium,” and “In Bloom” from the NirvanaVEVO YouTube Channel.

Erasure: “Chorus” (14 October 1991)

Treading through the later half of the 80s from obscurity to worldwide fame, Erasure built a pop career on the marriage of Andy Bell’s voice and Vince Clarke’s genius synthpop songwriting. From their debut album in 1986, “Wonderland,” the band employed guitars on various tracks, include “Who Needs Love Like That?” “Sometimes,” “Victim of Love,” and “A Little Respect.” From playing small clubs to playing arenas, this small duo, often doubted and ignored by the press, developed a fan base that remains loyal after two-and-a-half decades. Their claim to fame: strong songwriting. The songs are simple, catchy, and easy to remember, with beats nearing dance ready (sometimes full on dance), and devoid of demure or gloom. Anyone who knows Erasure’s music would immediately admit that even when making political (“The Circus”) or social (“Chains of Love”) statements, it is done without harassing the listener, without being preachy, and without losing their pop friendliness. And in a decade that rejected electropop in general, Erasure kept a sparkling candle burning for a future generation/decade to embrace.

Why is it a must? Erasure and their album “Chorus” would represent everything that grunge and its macho bravado wasn’t. Instead of reformatting and introducing new instrumental elements, like live drums and more guitars (which Depeche Mode would do in the grunge era), “Chorus” is the first Erasure release that is solely electronic – pure glitz, very glossy, and highly produced, the antithesis of the trend in 1991. There is no prepackaged grunge anxiety, instead a lovefest, flirtation, and personally sensitive introspection, all accomplished while dancing. And if this wasn’t an affront to the straight, straight-laced male dominated music industry, Andy Bell queers it up in the single “Love to Hate You”: “For every Casanova that appears, my sense of hesitation disappears…” And in the Greek inspired “Siren Song,” Erasure delivers their most powerful message about how to live life: “Try to feel the splendour of it all, embrace the honesty of nightfall; try to feel the anguish of it all, wrap yourself up in every facet of emotion.” (By the way, they filmed the tour to the album (The Phantasmagorical Entertainment Tour) and released it on DVD: “The Tank, the Swan, and the Balloon.” This was not a concert, but full out-and-out spectacle, in two acts, multiple costumes (Bell in a frock in the shape of the globe at one point), while covering some ABBA classics (including “SOS”), “Over the Rainbow,” and “Stand By Your Man.”)

Track Listing
1. Chorus
2. Waiting for the Day
3. Joan
4. Breath of Life
5. Am I Right?
6. Love to Hate You
7. Turn the Love to Anger
8. Siren Songs
9. Perfect Stranger
10. Home

Keep up with Erasure at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here are their videos for “Love to Hate You” and “Am I Right?” from their MySpace video channel.

Love To Hate You (Video)

Erasure | MySpace Music Videos

Am I Right? (Video)

Erasure | MySpace Music Videos
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