Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Vinyl Files Part 4 … Keith Le Blanc - Stranger Than Fiction (1989)

I’ve blogged about Keith Le Blanc and this album before, but since the The Vinyl Files is all about the black magic plastic stuff, and the small fact that this record itself has survived a couple of major vinyl collection culls, then a few more words won’t matter too much. 

Keith Le Blanc is the World’s Best Drummer You’ve Probably Never Heard Of ... yet, if you’ve listened to any of the Sugar Hill label’s pioneering hip hop of the early 80s (see Grandmaster Flash), any Tackhead, or any On-U Sound stuff, then the chances are, you’ve heard Keith Le Blanc ... even if you haven’t heard of him. 

He’s more than just a drummer. He’s a label owner, a producer, a programmer, and session musician extraordinaire. He’s worked with some of the best in the business for nigh on 40 years.

Le Blanc’s 1986 album, Major Malfunction, which deals with themes relating to that year’s Challenger (space mission) disaster, is frequently cited as his best solo work, but Stranger Than Fiction is my own favourite release for the way it best documents his obsession with sampling and cut-up beats. 

The album is perhaps a little dated these days, but back in 1990 and 1991 when I was consuming this album on a regular basis - more regularly than might have been healthy given its relatively subversive content and harsh industrial edge - this work was state-of-the-art. 

Stranger Than Fiction never made much of an impact in a commercial sense, but there’s a raft of underground or cult Le Blanc devotees out there, and it’s almost certainly the only record ever made where you’ll find voice samples of historical figures as diverse as Albert Einstein and X-rated comedian Lenny Bruce nestling comfortably alongside each other. 

(The Vinyl Files is a short series of posts covering the best items in your blogger’s not very extensive vinyl collection)

Monday, July 29, 2019

Classic Album Review: Audio Active - Spaced Dolls (2001)

As found in a $5 bargain bin somewhere near you … 

(to be fair, this is yet another one of those “classic albums” specific only to your blogger’s definition of “classic”, obviously). 

Despite getting by with a little help from highly influential friends such as Adrian Sherwood, Keith Le Blanc, and Doug Wimbish, among others, the chronically underrated Japanese outfit, Audio Active, remain a largely unknown quantity when it comes to exposure in the mainstream. Having long been a fan of their unique blend of reggae, dub-hop, and electronica, I’m continually astounded to discover multiple copies of their 2001 album Spaced Dolls priced down and left to sit unloved in the bargain bins of practically every music store I’ve ever frequented. It might be just me, but … hello! … WHY!? 

Whatever the reason for that is - and it probably has something to do with their challenging and hard-to-categorise sound - had Spaced Dolls been released as the work of a rather more high profile artist (such as: ??? - insert populist and trend-orientated electronica collective of choice), then I’m fairly certain it would have met with some amount of critical acclaim, and may have even been sold to an unsuspecting public as “ground-breaking” … and it would just as likely have sold by the truckload.

Spaced Dolls contains a mix of all three aforementioned genres, but even those descriptions barely cover the wide range of material on offer. Throw in some hip hop, a touch of ambience, and large portions of innovative spacey trance-like stuff and you get a rough idea what Audio Active is all about. 

Some of it may not be accessible enough for Audio Active to achieve what might be called “commercial success” but that doesn’t account entirely for their inability to gain exposure to a wider audience. Anyone familiar with the output of Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound label will already know a little bit about the band however, and much of its best output has been released on that label. Although this is ultimately a Sony release, Sherwood is once again on hand to assist with production. 

Best bits on Spaced Dolls include: ‘Cosmos>Chaos’, ‘Basspace’, ‘As The Wind Blows’, and ‘Back From The Black Hole’. 

Check out the tasty looking buds on the CD inlay. “… special thanks to Tha Blue Herb” … indeed.  

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Vinyl Files Part 3 … The Green & White Brigade - The Holy Ground of Glasgow Celtic (1968)

Taking the blog out of its comfort zone to explore something a little bit different this time. An album that taps into my love of football and my love of Celtic FC way more than it does my love of music. An album handed down to me by my Dad, much like my love of football and Celtic FC. A rarely played but very precious gem within my collection.

Some background: In 1967, Scottish football ruled the roost. That year, Celtic FC became the first British club to win the European Cup - yesterday’s equivalent of today’s Champions League - and it did so with an all Scottish playing eleven, with every player being born within a short driving distance of the club’s home ground in Glasgow. A month or so earlier, the Scottish national team had beaten the then World Champion English national side at Wembley to claim the British Home Championship, and a week or so after Celtic’s Cup triumph over Italian giants Inter Milan in Lisbon, the club’s bitter rival, Glasgow Rangers FC, narrowly lost the second tier ECWC Final against crack German outfit Bayern Munich. These were halcyon days for Scottish football. Never to be repeated, although Celtic would make another European Cup Final in 1970, and semi-finals in 1972 and 1974. 

Released in to commemorate Celtic’s phenomenal 1967 success, The Green & White Brigade’s The Holy Ground of Glasgow Celtic is essentially a collection of the terrace songs and accordion-led Irish rebel tunes so beloved by the club’s supporters ... many of whom identify strongly with Ireland; although based in Scotland, the club and its forefathers had - and still have - strong links with the Emerald Isle … it’s complicated, and deeper explanation of that scenario would require more than just a separate blogpost, it would require a whole book. 

Musically, it’s an acquired taste, obviously. I have no idea who The Green and White Brigade are, other than the fact that they clearly have great taste in football teams. The singing isn’t anything to write home about, but if you like Irish “folk songs” with um, tribal elements at their core, or if you feel the need for more accordion in your life (who doesn’t, right?), then this may just be an album for you. 

Includes timeless masterpieces such as ‘Hail Hail, The Celts Are Here’, ‘We’re All Off To Dublin’ (in the green, naturally), ‘The Soldier’s Song’, and ‘Sean South of Garryowen’, plus of course a couple of obligatory medleys. Just sing along in private, and make sure you don’t get arrested. 

In these days of mass marketing of football, where all manner of paraphernalia is available - replica kits, books, CDs, posters, club magazines, unofficial fanzines - it’s perhaps easy to forget that it wasn’t always like this, and an album like The Holy Ground of Glasgow Celtic would have been a relative rarity 50 years ago when it was released. A forerunner of things to come. For me, the music is hardly important, but purely as a keepsake, passed down from father to son, it means the world. 

(The Vinyl Files is a short series of posts covering the best items in your blogger’s not very extensive vinyl collection)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Album Review: Kool Aid - Family Portrait EP (2019)

If you type the name “Brian Tamaki” into Google, you’ll doubtlessly be directed to a plethora of pages relating to the self-appointed pastor/leader – and confirmed xenophobic homophobe – of New Zealand’s own ridiculously cultish Destiny Church. 
Little wonder then, that the band formerly known as Brian Tamaki and The Kool Aid Kids (previously blogged about here) have decided to dump the satirical and more offensive elements of that moniker to now go by the far more palatable and manageable name, Kool Aid. It’ll certainly help to cleanse the murky waters for any newbie searching for information about the Christchurch-based band.

The name may have changed but the band is essentially the same group of musicians and thankfully there’s been only minimal tweaking of the indie-meets-psychedelia modus operandi found on past work. 
The Family Portrait EP is the band’s third release of note; following on from the 2014 album Hot Buttered Blasphemy, and the seriously good 2015 EP, The Enchanted Castle. It amounts to six songs of lo-fi goodness, with three-pronged fuzzy guitar, infectious mellotron, and shared his and hers vocals – from Luke Towart and Violet French – at the core of everything the band offers here. Plus, there’s some trademark humour to be found in a generally strong set of lyrics. 
Although it’s not a Flying Nun release, it’s exactly the sort of sound that particular label specialised in. It may just be a Christchurch thing. And while nothing here, for my money, is quite as instantly catchy as ‘Eating Glue’ (from The Enchanted Castle release), all six tunes offer something different and the EP has no obvious weak moment. In fact, it’s a great listen … grab it below:

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Classic Album Review: The Boo Radleys – C’mon Kids (1996)

For a brief period in the mid-Nineties, Liverpool band The Boo Radleys strode across the indie landscape like a colossus thanks to the success of its critically acclaimed 1993 album Giant Steps. Having emerged from the so-called shoegaze scene via Rough Trade onto the Creation label, pop credibility was theirs following a run of relatively successful singles, most notably ‘Barney (& Me)’, ‘Lazarus’, and ‘Wake Up Boo!’ … and the widespread critical praise for the albums which spawned them.

However, the 1996 release C’mon Kids catches the band three years on, five albums in, and occupying rather uncertain terrain. This is the sound of a band struggling to find their place in the natural order of things. C’mon Kids is supposedly the band’s anti-pop album in so much as main man Martin Carr had a distinct reluctance to embrace all of the bullshit that came with that whole Britpop thing. And for a while his band seemed very much in danger of being lumped in with all of the other faux Sixties prototypes frequenting that particular scene. 

But if you proliferate your album with Gallagher-esque vocals, and add trippy little Sgt-Peppery interludes into the middle of tracks, then you really are just inviting trouble. 

Having said that, this isn’t really anything like any of the instantly accessible polished muck that dominated the charts for much of 1996 either. Combine the aforementioned poppy elements with walls of grinding guitar, copious amounts of feedback, lots of fuzz and distortion, then turn the vocals right down in the mix, and what you end up creating is something far too left of the mainstream to even threaten the charts. 

It all leaves me wondering what exactly the band had hoped to achieve on C’mon Kids. What they end up with is like some kind of psychedelic sludgy Britpop/grunge pick‘n’mix assortment. 

Ultimately though, it’s the layers of buzzsaw guitar that give the album its overall feel, and even beyond their short flirtation with pop stardom, it’s clear that the band’s instinct for shoegaze had survived. 

Maybe that’s its problem? … 

Three years and one album later, The Boo Radleys were no more. 

I picked up C’mon Kids on the (very) cheap but it’s nowhere near as bad as I first thought it might be. That doesn’t mean I’ve worked out what it is supposed to be yet. 

Highlights: most would say the title-track (also the opening track), and/or ‘What’s In The Box’ (a single and the album’s centrepiece), or maybe even ‘Everything Is Sorrow’; but I’d reckon ‘Bullfrog Green’, ‘New Brighton Promenade’, and ‘Ride The Tiger’.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Vinyl Files Part 2 … The Gordons – The Gordons (1981/1988)

An interesting one this. I have a vinyl reissue of the classic 1981 Gordons debut album released in 1988. Not to be confused with The Gordons compilation album also released in 1988 – which included additional material from the band’s Future Shock EP of 1980 – or the second self-titled Gordons album of 1984 (aka Volume 2). This 1988 reissue was released on Flying Nun (FN099) after the first version of the debut was self-released by the Christchurch-based band (GORDON2). Same album, different release, different catalogue number. Clear as mud, then ...

Whatever version of the album you listen to, it’s guaranteed your ears will be ringing. It’s likely your eyes will start watering. And there’s a fair chance paint will start peeling from the walls. Even if you don’t have paint on your walls. It is, put simply, a cacophony of guitar-led noise; seven blistering tracks featuring fuzz, feedback, full tilt grinding guitar, with pulsating and frequently chaotic rhythms underpinning everything. All topped off with punky vocals of varying degrees of clarity and adequacy. Don’t ask me what the songs are about. I probably won’t be able to hear you. And who even knew a three-piece could create this much of a racket? 

There was nothing else quite like this album when it was first unleashed upon an unsuspecting local record-buying public back in 1981. Other than perhaps the band’s three-track EP released a year prior. Sure, there was punk and post-punk, both local stuff and releases from overseas, but this album defied all attempts at labelling, and it somehow managed to create a genre all of its own. It was territory nobody else occupied, although the similarly inspired Skeptics would give things a fair old crack later in the decade. 

The Gordons – Alister Parker, Brent McLachlan, and John Halvorsen – would eventually morph into Bailter Space (aka Bailterspace), a band with a much wider commercial flavour and appeal, even if the trio’s basic modus operandi didn’t really change all that dramatically. 

The album was belatedly but deservedly honoured with the inaugural Taite Music Prize ‘Independent Music NZ Classic Record’ award in 2013. 

(The Vinyl Files is a short series of posts covering the best items in your blogger’s not very extensive vinyl collection)

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Classic Album Review: The Pogues - Peace and Love (1989)

Craig Stephen's been listening to The Pogues ...


By 1988 The Pogues had released three excellent albums, each one surpassing the other. 
Regardless, Peace and Love is, for this writer, the finest moment of the London-Irish act’s career. No mean feat it has to be said, but I appreciate that there won’t be a swathe of fans agreeing with me. 
In some ways, it is a peculiar component of the Pogues’ canon, receiving bemused reviews in Britain, although the response was generally better in the United States.
The demo sessions apparently went well, but by the time they got into the studio Shane MacGowan’s acid and alcohol intake had reached peak levels, affecting his voice. Producer Steve Lillywhite, however, used his technical magic to hide its flaws. The theme slanted toward London rather than their spiritual homeland Ireland, a move that did not endear them to everyone.

Regardless of all of this, it’s an album I can play over and over and not become tired of. Peace and Love has a timeless quality; it beguiles and bewitches. It can also be infuriating, but this doesn’t detract from its depth. 
One of two standouts was penned, not by MacGowan, but by veteran folkie Terry Woods. ‘Gartloney Rats’ adjoins ‘The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn’ (off Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash) for its numerous references to alcohol, with the tale of a village band that would “never get drunk but stay sober”. It clocks in at 2:32 but feels much longer given its pace and endless lyrics that Woods rattles off sharply. 
Woods and Ron Kavana’s ‘Young Ned of The Hill’ is in the same vein, the speedy winger of the piece, and one with some bite, cursing Oliver Cromwell who “raped our Mother Land” but finding that, in the likes of “gallant men” like Ned Hill, Ireland will always have an iron will. 
MacGowan’s ‘Down All The Days’ is about Christy Brown, “a clown around town”, who types with his toes and sucks snout through his nose. Suitably, the song begins with the clatter of a typewriter. The final verse includes the lines “I’ve never been asked, and I never replied, If I supported the Glasgow Rangers” in reference to the black and white nature of the green and the blue of Scotland’s largest city’s twin towers of football. 
‘Boat Train’ returns to binge drinking as MacGowan’s drunken character brings up most of the booze on the gangway and requires help to get on the boat, before indulging in songs and poker games as he somehow makes his way to London. 
As with If I Should Fall From Grace With God, the album released the year previous, the musical influences hop from one area to another, with the opening instrumental ‘Gridlock’ easing out of jazz central; ‘Cotton Fields’ has a suitably calypso/Louisiana feel; ‘USA’ – again set in the southern States – has a taste of banjo but neither of the latter tracks are what you would consider indigenous music as the Pogues very much put their own stamp all over it. 
And then there’s the tale of lost love in the magnificent ‘Lorelei’, written by Philip Chevron with Kirsty MacColl on backing vocals and the mournful ‘Misty Morning, Albert Bridge’ – both of these songs are among the best the band ever did. 
Given the discord that clouded over The Pogues in 1989 it’s remarkable that Peace and Love is as good as it is; but perhaps this bedlam was what the band thrived on. 
It was, in effect, the last hurrah: yes, 1990’s Hell’s Ditch was better than the critics would have us believe, but even then it couldn’t touch any of the four previous albums. And that was effectively it, MacGowan was too fucked up to carry on and the band plodded on, but really it was all over. 
And before you leave take a peek at the cover featuring the brylcreemed Scottish boxer, who never made it out of the bottom of the undercard, and his right hand. 
PS: (Intrigued by Craig's closing salvo, I did some research on the story behind the cover photo and found these comments from MacGowan and Chevron – Ed) 
Shane MacGowan: "Nobody seems to know who it is. He obviously wasn't very good cause he didn't get very far (laughs). I like boxin', watchin' it. I don't like doin' it! But anyway somebody, I forget who, found this glass negative of this boxer with no name and we put peace and love on his fists. So he's like sayin' Peace And Love or I'll bust your fuckin' head in.” 
Philip Chevron: “I'm a bit foggy on the details, but I think Simon Ryan, our designer, got the picture from a photo library. The guy turned out to be a Scot, by then elderly, but still alive and apparently not greatly chuffed by his new fame.”

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Vinyl Files Part 1 ... Young Marble Giants - Colossal Youth (1980)

A quite wonderful, stripped back, minimalist slice of early 80s indie out of Cardiff, featuring Alison Statton (vox), and the Moxham brothers, Stuart (on guitar and keys) and Philip (on bass). Relatively unique for its time, Colossal Youth was an album without drums, and despite its ethereal atmospheric bedroom/DIY feel, as a debut release, it has stood the test of time rather well. Essentially a collection of songs about bedsit living and life on the fringes of Thatcher’s society-less* Britain. Songs like ‘Searching for Mr. Right’, ‘Music for Evenings’, ‘Wurlitzer Jukebox’, ‘Salad Days’, and ‘Credit in the Straight World’ were all the more compelling for their simplicity and understated beauty. The latter tune was eventually covered by Hole, and Kurt Cobain himself was a notable high-profile fan of the album. Released on Rough Trade, Colossal Youth charted on the official album charts here in New Zealand (reaching number 20), the only country where it achieved such exalted “mainstream” status. Although it also hit number 3 on the UK independent album charts.

Young Marble Giants toured with Cabaret Voltaire during their pomp, and there have been a number of post-millennium reunion gigs without any new recorded material being released. There was a 2007 reissue - released as Colossal Youth and Collected Works - which came with additional work from the era, including Peel Sessions, singles, and the like. Statton later formed the jazz-orientated Weekend, which eventually morphed into the popular Working Week. These days she works as a chiropractor. 

I’m currently in possession of my second vinyl copy of Colossal Youth, and although I remain uncertain of the whereabouts of that first copy, I’d like to think it is in good hands. Hopefully hiding away in a bedsit or student flat somewhere. 

* Margaret Thatcher … ''They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.'' 

(The Vinyl Files is a short series of posts covering the best items in your blogger’s not very extensive vinyl collection)

Here’s ‘Credit in the Straight World’ …