Monday, February 25, 2013

Classic Album Review: Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady (1981/2001)

I was listening to this album today trying to convince myself that forking out a small fortune to see the Buzzcocks in Wellington was a worthwhile exercise. Here’s a review I wrote for another site a few years back:


Probably one of the best Punk-pop compilations you’re ever likely to find, the original 1981 edition of Singles Going Steady, initially released as a taster for the yet-to-be-converted American market, comprised of 16 tracks, and it represented a comprehensive overview of the Buzzcocks’ brilliant singles career to that point – the band’s eight A-sides and the eight accompanying B-sides. However the 2001 digitally remastered edition surpasses even that, with the inclusion of a further eight tracks, including three subsequent A-sides.

It is often stated that the Buzzcocks’ debut release – the Spiral Scratch EP – was the first genuine so-called “punk” release (in the UK, at least), beating the likes of the The Clash and the Sex Pistols to the punch, and if I can fault Singles Going Steady in any way then it is only because this album fails to include any of the four tracks included on Spiral Scratch (my choice would be the raw and mildly witty ‘Boredom’). It therefore largely overlooks the early influence within the band of Howard Devoto – who left to form Magazine just as the band started to make it “big”.
Singles does however open with the Devoto/Pete Shelley-penned classic, ‘Orgasm Addict’, the band’s first “official” 45 (not one for mainstream radio), and something of a DIY bedroom anthem for many a pre-pubescent boy in 1977 (if you’ll excuse the imagery/pun). We then get a run of a further seven utterly fantastic tracks which will already be familiar to most: ‘What Do I Get?’, ‘I Don’t Mind’, ‘Love You More’, ‘Ever Fallen In Love’, ‘Promises’, ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’, and ‘Harmony In My Head’ …

The best of the rest include the B-sides ‘Oh Shit!’, ‘Autonomy’, and ‘Something’s Gone Wrong Again’.

While the Buzzcocks were considered very much a “punk” band at the time, quite probably Manchester’s finest example of such, and very influential in the development of the post-punk scene, without the attendant punk movement in London and the emergence of a host of other bands with a similar sound and ethos around the same time, they’d just as likely have been regarded as a power-pop four-piece throwback to the Sixties garage scene. Although Shelley’s vocal contained the requisite amounts of anti-establishment sneer and the band’s style could be classed as moody and aggressive, their fast and furious style wasn’t radically different or overly experimental in the purest sense of punk.

And while there was plenty of wit and large doses of cynicism within their lyrics (mostly Shelley compositions), they weren’t especially political, and their focus was geared more towards problems associated with teenage issues such as growing up and dealing with the opposite sex rather than anything too subversive.

In fairness they weren’t just a singles band either, but there probably isn’t any need for newcomers to explore any of their other albums in any great depth, since all of the best stuff (and more) can be found on here. Enjoy!

What Do I Get?

Standing at the back of the Cat Power gig at the Wellington Town Hall on Saturday night I was reminded of just how much a live performance can change the way you feel about a band (or an artist). Especially if your only previous exposure to their music was of the recorded and tweaked variety. A live show leaves an indelible impression in a way that dozens of encounters with recorded output can’t. Loud and up close has a certain magic about it, a particular way of getting in, under the skin, for the long haul. If they turn it on live, chances are they’ll have you for life, no matter how patchy the discography may turn out to be.

I’ll get back to the Cat Power gig in a future post, but it got me thinking about the upcoming visit to these shores (in April) of post-punk stalwarts, the Buzzcocks, and my own feelings about that particular band.

On one hand, I was thrilled to see the Wellington gig (of four across NZ) scheduled on the only Saturday night date of the short tour, a date that also rather conveniently coincides with a couple of birthdays. And I was excited that I could actually choose to see the Buzzcocks for the first time, live, after so many years of following from afar, should I wish to do so.
On the other hand, I’m highly sceptical about reunion or nostalgia tours. More so when it comes to a band from an era so firmly associated with my wide-eyed youth phase. Not so much because of the idea that the band is now just cashing in, or because of the (usually) extortionate ticket pricing. No, nothing quite so high-horsed or noble, but more out of concern that the gig may change the way I feel about the band.

What happens now that the tinted eyewear has been removed and I’m forced to confront the band through grown up eyes? What if they’re way past their best? What if the gig is a steaming pile of dogshit and onetime idols are publicly outed as try-hard chumps? Gasp!

In recent years I’ve passed up opportunities to see The Cure and New Order precisely because I couldn’t come up with answers to those sorts of questions. Or because I couldn’t come up with an answer in time to secure a ticket.

Recall of my first New Order gig is special to me and I want to preserve it. By some reasoning – decipherable or otherwise – I felt that seeing them again would risk tarnishing how I felt about the band going forward. I also had issues with the absence of Peter Hook (but let’s not go into it too much).

As for The Cure, the thought of watching the onetime Prince of Goth, Robert Smith, heave his aging overweight frame across a stage, all the while trying to convince us that his own unique variation on teenage angst was both heartfelt and genuine, well, let’s just say it was more than I could bear.

I did however make an exception for The Specials in Auckland back in 2009. That was an experience, a roadtrip, an extended weekend with friends I hadn’t seen in yonks, something that went well beyond the notion of simply attending a gig. So I don’t really count that one, I see it as an exception to the rule.

Which brings me back to the Buzzcocks … what to do? One of the true genre pioneering bands of my generation and I pass up the chance to see them? But what about that awkward moment when I realise I’m standing in front of a 60-something balding Manc git screaming at me about teenage masturbation? Or when he’s reminding us of how hurt he was that time he fell in love with someone he shouldn’t have fallen in love with … I mean, really?

Or I could just live in the moment, have a night out, and have some fun. Disconnect from that baggage and have a good night out watching a band I once adored …

Saturday, February 23, 2013

New Fat Freddy and blog update ...

So I’ve been blogging for a couple of years now at the rate of around one post per week and everythingsgonegreen has finally crawled across the 10,000 page hits mark. Thanks to the, ahem, four people (myself included!) who saw fit to leave a comment. I love you guys! … but more comments please, don’t force me to get all controversial on your ass in order to squeeze more blood.

Anyway, of those page hits, the Fat Freddy’s Drop (love you guys too!) album review from way back has proved the most popular link (859 single page views, though The Naked And Famous are closing in fast). And any combination of words that include fat, freddy’s, and drop, provide for four of the ten most popular search terms that transport readers to everythingsgonegreen.
Fat Planet
Incidentally, roughly speaking, New Zealand accounts for around 40% of everythingsgonegreen’s readership, the USA 20%, the UK 7%, with the rest of the cyberplanet accounting for the remaining third (thank you fine folk of the Ukraine – love you guys too!).

So purely as a pathetically obvious greasy bumlick, to cater specifically to the very discerning (and somewhat attractive) everythingsgonegreen readership, here’s a link to a clip of the latest release from Fat Freddy’s Drop (‘Mother Mother’), found over at Peter McLennan’s wonderful dubdotdash – link below:

Fat Freddy's Drop - Mother Mother (Live)

Albums of 2012 … Afterthoughts …

I’ve had a few thoughts on some of the other albums I listened to through 2012, some of which I’ve reviewed here, and some others that didn’t stick around long enough to earn a review.

The albums that didn’t make it into the final ten fell into two categories: firstly, those albums downloaded and binned after a few listens, and secondly, those albums downloaded/purchased that I actually liked, kept, but didn’t like enough to include in the ten.

It’s the first category that provides a surprise or two. Looking back, I was pretty quick off the mark to download and bin a couple of acclaimed new release albums that would ultimately prove prominent on year-end lists elsewhere. Albums I had downloaded on the strength of positive reviews, but nonetheless albums I just couldn’t gel with.

For example, the Frank Ocean album wasn’t in my ten, ubiquitous though it was on any number of other blog year-end lists. Nor the none-too-bad Hot Chip release. Neither did indie darlings Grizzly Bear feature. New albums by all of the above were downloaded, listened to (more than once), and discarded.
Ocean: an orange shade of purple
Much loved though they all were elsewhere, those albums got the recycle bin treatment because I knew I wouldn’t be listening to them on any regular basis going forward. But not before I’d extracted the few tracks on each that I’d connected with (for playlist purposes).

A friend of mine – even as a fan of the Frank Ocean album – summed it up best for me when he said (paraphrasing here): “it’s almost as though critics were shocked to discover a half decent R&B album in 2012 and (over) reacted accordingly” … but for me Channel Orange remained over-hyped, and Ocean came across as something of a poor man’s Prince.

I also (downloaded and) binned new work from past favourites like The Cult, Dandy Warhols, and Smashing Pumpkins. All were mediocre – at best – when measured against deeds of yesteryear. And Muse, past masters when it comes to these year-end lists, well, what they gave us – odd album cut excepted – was the ridiculous posing as the sublime. It too was binned.

So what made it into the second category, albums that made it all the way to the end of the year, only to miss out? Albums I liked, kept, and will listen to again. The better than decent also-rans:

Coming closest of all but just missing the final ten was Leftfield’s Tourism (reviewed here), and it probably rates as my live album of the year. I gave this a thorough workout through the early part of 2012.

Orbital’s Wonky, something of a comeback album that, for the most part, lived up to the best of that pioneering outfit’s past work, also came very close to making the cut.
The Raveonettes: great Danes
The Raveonettes featured in last year’s ten, and 2012’s Observator was a similarly strong release that suffered only from feeling a little too familiar, mainly on account of sounding a lot too much like 2011’s Raven In The Grave. All the same, it still rates as another great album from the prolific Danish duo.

And Paul Weller’s Sonik Kicks didn’t quite win me over enough either, despite it being another solid release from a man who shows no sign of slowing down.

The Haunted Man, the latest from Bat For Lashes is also a very listenable body of work, and the feeling persists that I need to give this one a few more spins. I really came quite late to this one and perhaps haven’t absorbed it fully. On any other day The Haunted Man would more than likely have made the ten …

Had the second half of Bobby Womack’s The Bravest Man In The Universe been anywhere near as strong as the first half it too would have been a certainty for the ten, but as noted in my original review (here) it just sort of limps to an unfulfilling conclusion.
Bobby Womack: soul man
The Dub Pistols’ Worshipping The Dollar (reviewed here) is another that came close and it found itself on semi-permanent pod rotation for a month or two mid-year.

Upon further reflection, I was very tough on The xx’s Coexist, which has appealed to me a lot more since I wrote my original review (here), but I’m quite sure the band will console itself with the reality that far more highly regarded critics (than myself) deemed it a worthy effort, and it doubtlessly features on the majority of those year-end album lists found elsewhere.

Ditto, Cat Power’s Sun, another album that kept revealing more and more of its subtle charms well after my initial review (here) was uploaded. I look forward to her gig in Wellington (tonight already!).

My ‘New Zealand’ album of the year has to be local-boy-done-good Myele Manzanza’s solo debut effort (reviewed here).

I also had a fair bit of time for Ladyhawke’s 2012 album, Anxiety, another highly polished synthpop gem from Masterton’s Pip Brown.
Ladyhawke: pomp and polish
But those two are merely the tip of the iceberg during what was a great year for “local product”. My only issue is that I didn’t get around to listening to enough of it.

Reissue of the year if only for the fact that I didn’t fully get into it first time around and it therefore still felt remarkably fresh: Paul Simon’s masterpiece, Graceland, which came with all the additional bells and whistles offered by repackaging.  

So that’s “the albums of 2012”. If not the best, then certainly my “most listened to”. It was a year where more streaming/download options than ever before – not to mention a procession of different listening devices, each one better than the last – resulted in instant access to a wider range of music than I could ever have previously imagined. Right now it’s hard not to feel a little bit like a lucky old cat licking a super-sized dollop of fresh cream.

Here’s a clip from one of the albums I binned in haste, and probably shouldn’t have. Hot Chip’s gem ‘These Chains’, one of my single tracks of the year … lifted from (the 2012 album) In Our Heads:


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Albums of 2012 # 1: Celt Islam – Baghdad

When I was posting a short series of ‘Just Browsing’ posts to highlight a few of my own favourite downloading sources a while back, I had fully intended to include Celt Islam’s Soundcloud page but never quite got around to it. Here’s a guy with virtually no commercial profile whatsoever, yet he’s making some of the best electro-dub-world crossover tracks you’re ever likely to hear. He calls it Sufi Dub, and he gives most of it away.

Celt Islam (aka Muhammad Abdullah Hamzah) is a Manchester-based composer and producer with an extraordinary talent, and the album Baghdad – released digitally in late 2011 – is perhaps the ultimate example of his widescreen musical vision thus far.
I say widescreen, yet ironically it is probably only the niche market appeal of his work that has held him back from wider acclaim. I suspect some of this stuff is not all that accessible to an awful lot of people, a situation not helped by the limited marketing scope of a self released album.

But it’s widescreen in the sense that it blends so many different genres to produce something of a genuine world music hybrid. No single style dominates an absorbing mix of dub, electro, drum’n’bass, and dubstep, with African flavours and Middle Eastern influences being the most prominent.

I picked up my copy of Baghdad mid-year, having previously compiled a pick and mix playlist of some of his earlier output. It blows me away every time I listen to it. So much so, it soon became the irresistible and only option when it came to selecting my number one album of the year. I can’t say for sure that it was my “most listened to”, but it is the one that made the most impact on me.
It somehow all feels very international, very global. The absence of vocals (for the most part) probably helps. I don’t really know whether having some sort of global vision is a key philosophy behind Sufi Dub, but it feels good. It feels like it connects a wide range of musical strands, something that’s open to all colour and creed, just patiently waiting to be embraced as a theological and meditative blueprint for a better world.

At a time when global unity feels like a forlorn hope – even if it remains every bit the main ideal we should all aspire to – Baghdad offers a brief reprieve from concepts like xenophobia and ethnic difference. A journey across a border-less world, no less.

If only more people knew about it.

Highlights: ‘Tribernetikz’, ‘The Silk Road’, ‘Sarayda Dub’ (clip below), ‘Presence’, and ‘Sinking Sand’.

Albums of 2012 # 2: Of Monsters And Men – My Head Is An Animal

Okay, so this one was a major surprise for me. Something of a bolt from the blue. One that came all the way from Iceland in the form of an album that became something close to my “happy place” in 2012.

Of Monsters And Men is not a name I was familiar with at the start of 2012. By the end of the year though, the band had become practically impossible to ignore, and music from My Head Is An Animal, the band’s inspired debut album, was everywhere – on the charts, on mainstream and independent radio, on music television and its various cyber offshoots, and just about anywhere else you cared to look.
I heard it in shopping malls, at award ceremonies, and I’ve even heard it used as interlude music during breaks in play at international cricket. I lost count of the number of times I heard a snippet from the album underscoring or subliminally sound-tracking some form of advert or “feelgood” news brief over the past six months or so.

Usually this would be a bad thing, of course. A very bad thing. Having the music you love being used in this way. In the way it all but destroyed ‘Blue Monday’ for a generation that once adored it. In the way any number of Beatles tracks have slowly but steadily lost their lustre over the decades (let it go! - Ed). A bad thing for the music, and often something that results in a vastly reduced shelf life for the band or artist that created it.

Yet, curiously, Of Monsters And Men have – thus far at least – managed to turn this theory on its head. Just getting these snippets and extracts out there has worked heavily in the band’s favour. Album sales have soared, particularly in the US, where the exceptional debut single ‘Little Talks’ led the way by going Top 20 within weeks of its release. Commercially, at least, familiarity hasn’t yet bred the level of contempt normally synonymous with over exposure. So far.

Now the trick for Of Monsters And Men (and label Universal) will be to ensure that level of exposure – subliminal or otherwise – doesn’t lead to negative type-casting and a permanent loss of long term credibility.

(Pleasingly, I’ve read a few reviews that have compared Of Monsters And Men’s music to that of Arcade Fire. Rather more worryingly, I’ve also read a few pieces where the words “Mumford & Sons” have been offered. It would seem there is a very fine line indeed).

There is just something so very uplifting about My Head’s offbeat mix of indie pop and folk. The harmonies, the big pop choruses that propel the music to a series of peaks, the sense of almost childlike wonder in the singing voices of dual vocalists Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Raggi Pórhallsson. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what it is, but it’s big, it’s bouncy, and it’s a helluva lot of fun. A happy place, even.

There is no great sense to be made from a set of lyrics that focus on the surreal, the mythical, and the fantastical. But that doesn’t really matter, Of Monsters And Men make even the most trivial and frivolous feel epic. It’s more about the shape and form than it is about the minutiae of detail.

For what it’s worth, there’s a strong maritime and nautical theme running right across the album, with everything from songs about life on the high seas to charming little ditties about insects and pond life. We get the odd song about matters of the heart to bring us back down to earth occasionally, but mostly Hilmarsdóttir and Pórhallsson’s narrative is all about otherworldly adventure stories and all the wonderful imagery that comes with that.

Anyway, it seems pointless to go on. I loved this. I played it often. It made me happy.

It’s such a beautifully crafted album it seems a little harsh to single out specific tracks as highlights … but: ‘Dirty Paws’ (clip below), ‘Mountain Sound’, ‘Little Talks’, ‘Six Weeks’, and ‘Your Bones’.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Albums of 2012 # 3: The Orb & Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – The Orbserver In The Star House

After all of the advance promotion and social media hype for this album, I have to say I was a little underwhelmed by The Orbserver In The Star House when I finally picked up a copy on CD.

I’d whet my appetite on the continuous drum-roll of preview mixes and pre-release samplers, but somehow it felt lightweight and flimsy when listening to it in its physical form; a throwaway piece of dub/crossover fluff, and the result of little more than a few weeks worth of studio frivolity for Alex Paterson and Lee Perry. A wee bit of fun on the side, before each man returned to whatever else they had on the go.

A few months on, I’ve softened on that first impression. It may well still be all of those things, but having repeatedly taken this out on a series of road trips over the past three months or so, having given it the car audio treatment, having “open road tested” it, if you like, I can unequivocally state that it’s every bit the carefully crafted work of art I initially anticipated it would be.
 It isn’t as though the build up wasn’t justified. Each man is a production genius, a past master in the art of what was once considered cutting edge dub, a student and innovator of the form. It seems only natural that the pair should collaborate in the studio sooner or later. That it wasn’t sooner is the only surprise.

With dubstep and its confusing multitude of sub-genres dominating the bass music landscape, there would undoubtedly have been temptation for Paterson and Perry to deviate from what they know. To offer their own unique take on the latest trends. That they didn’t, that they stuck to the tried and trusted forms of what each man does so well, is of some relief, and it offers no little testimony to the collective self belief that runs right through The Orbserver In The Star House. Some of it might be distinctly “old school”, but if that’s the case, it’s a seat of learning that today’s young tykes can only marvel at and learn from.

Perry is once again in imperious form with his stream of consciousness ranting and raving, toasting atop of Paterson’s electro noodlings to create an upbeat and warm summery vibe throughout. None of Perry’s observations are especially profound but they’re frequently offbeat and humorous … more “sly grin” than “laugh out loud”.
No, this isn’t an album that you can take too seriously. Yes, there is something distinctly off-the-cuff about it, and yes, it may be lightweight and fluffy in nature, but what I hadn’t realised at the outset was that all of those elements are a big part of its ongoing appeal.

Definitely one for the summer.

Highlights: ‘Ball of Fire’, ‘Soulman’, ‘Hold Me Upsetter’, ‘Golden Clouds’, and one of the most unusual takes on Junior Murvin’s ‘Police And Thieves’ that you’re ever likely to hear.

There’s been a few great remixes of material sourced from the album already, here’s the popular OICHO remix of Golden Clouds:

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Albums of 2012 # 4: Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles (III)

Compared to the first two Crystal Castles albums, from 2008 (I), and 2010 (II), self titled album number three feels a little bit like the band’s equivalent of a “pop” album.

Both of the earlier releases were slightly flawed efforts on account of each one containing at least a couple of tracks that were virtually unlistenable. Tracks so abrasive and inaccessible (to my delicate ears) they all but ruined the listening experience unless I was prepared to periodically activate the “skip” function. For all of the highlights on the first two albums, and there were certainly more than a few, (III) is the first Crystal Castles album I find myself loving from start to finish.
Anyone familiar with the work of Toronto’s Alice Glass and Ethan Kath will know that the only way to listen to the music of Crystal Castles is LOUD – preferably with the aid of headphones to shut out any peripheral or background noise. That isn’t really a recommendation, it’s a prerequisite for ensuring maximum impact. Crystal Castles exist only to be played loudly, very loudly. Or to play live, which I strongly suspect is very much the same thing.

(III) isn’t a pop album in any traditional sense of the word “pop”, but in context of the extremes that Crystal Castles tend to operate at – ranging from experimental industrial noise to cutesy synthpop – it sits dangerously close to the crossing-over end of the spectrum. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because in the hands of vocalist Alice Glass, even cutesy synthpop can be made to feel dissident and subversive.
Applying FX to the Glass vocal is critical to the album’s appeal; whether cut up or buried deep in the mix, wailing, screeching, or more orthodox singing, the voice of Alice Glass serves as an outlet for everything from rage, pain, and loss, to tenderness, serenity, and calm.  Sometimes all wrapped up within one track. A cross-section and wide range of emotional responses that Kath’s electro wizardry supplements perfectly.
It is no surprise that Crystal Castles have become firm concert and festival faves right across the globe in recent years. While the band’s sound is clearly heavily indebted to technology and the more sterile environs of a studio, there is just something so perversely visual about it. That probably has a lot to do with Glass being able to channel Angry Rock Chick 101 at whim, but it’s also about the kaleidoscope of colour and chaotic imagery created by Kath’s constantly challenging music.

I was gutted to have missed them in Auckland recently … wrong place, wrong time.

Highlights: ‘Plague’, ‘Wrath of God’, ‘Affection’, ‘Pale Flesh’, ‘Violent Youth’, ‘Telepath’, and the closer, the ever so slightly demented lullaby, ‘Child I Will Hurt You’.