Monday, 11 August 2014

1001 Albums Update: 776 and counting

Right, lots to get through, as I've now officially moved past the three quarter mark!

Before I get to it, I have another piece of musical literature to heartily recommend. As I've mentioned previously I'm a massive  +Johnny Cash fan, so you'll probably not be too surprised to find that I've currently got my nose in Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn. It's a fantastic biography, truly enlightening and featuring plenty of "talking heads" - Cash's daughters, Marshall Grant, Kris Kristofferson, not to mention Cash himself - so that you get a very thorough, well-rounded account of his life. I'm only half way in and I'm already flabbergasted about how many scandals John put himself through, and then the strength of character it takes to turn that around. It's out in paperback in November, I suggest you track it down.

OK then, onwards with the list! I tried to round out the noughties this time around, but also wound up covering a lot of nineties stuff too, and consequently I've found that MY GOD they liked to make long albums in the nineties! Anyway, here we go...

  • Devendra Banhart - Rejoicing In The Hands: This guy gets revered as some sort of American alternative icon, but I simply couldn't get past how odd his voice sounded.
  • Drive-By Truckers - Southern Rock Opera
Oh heck yes, I saw someone describe these guys recently as R.E.M. meets The Rolling Stones and cursed myself for not checking them out sooner. The guitars on this double album have that satisfying crunch to them and the vocals are raw to the bone. "Dead, Drunk and Naked" and "The Southern Thing" are especially awesome.
Incidentally, their new album English Oceans is also pretty ace, and their ex-guitarist Jason Isbell (who joined right after this album) is incredible as well. I saw him and his band The 400 Unit live at Gorilla in May and they were fantastic, I'd never heard someone get such rapturous reactions from an audience at a club-sized gig. His most recent album, last year's Southeastern is a heartfelt work of genius.
    • Shack - HMS Fable: I adored this album. Fantastically positive and melodic, this should have been huge post-britpop, but somehow it was Travis who made it big instead. Songs as good as "Pull Together" deserve not to be forgotten.
    • Metallica - S&M
    I gave this a listen just before their triumphant Glastonbury set - I've always been a bit "meh" about Metallica but they really killed it, played a really good set and the on-stage crowd-pit was an interesting touch. They definitely shut up those slagging them off as a poor choice of headliners. I've never understood people giving out about the headliners at Glastonbury - if they're not to your liking then there's DEFINITELY going to be someone else playing at the same time worthwhile. I had to laugh when James Hetfield asked for the lights to be brought up so he can see the crowd, and when he saw them he let out a trademark "OOO RRRRRYEEEEEAHHHHHHHH!". Oh, and they closed the set with fucking SEEK AND DESTROY! That's awesomeness right there, I've loved it ever since Sting used it as his ring music in WCW.

    Anyway, best talk about the actual album! So S&M was actually a live concert Metallica did with the San Fransisco Symphony Orchestra, where they'd play their hits with added orchestral arrangements. It's quite a heady mix, but at its best the mix of orchestral and metal really heightened the drama in Metallica's songs. The amazingly responsive audience - you can hear them singing along word for word to "Masters Of Puppets" at times - also really enhance the listening experience. Overall, an interesting experiment that comes off better than you'd think.

    • Dizzee Rascal - Boy In Da Corner
    Oiiiiii! It's that irritant Dizzee Raaaaaascuuul!!! Safe to say I wasn't looking forward to this. It was a bit more varied than I thought it'd be, with flashes of jungle as well as hip hop, but there's no escaping the fact this guy just isn't my cup of tea. Having said that, I'd take "innovator of grime" Dizzee over "gurning holiday anthem idiot" Dizzee any day.
    • Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker: This wasn't up to the standards of Gold but was still passable. The little snippet opening the album debating Morrissey albums was interesting, I didn't have Adams down as a Morrissey fan for some reason. 

    • Le Tigre - Le Tigre: Hey, it's original riot grrrl Kathleen Hanna's post Bikini Kill project! This album's about as sharp, quirky and spirited as you'd expect. There's just no resisting something like "Deceptacon".
    • Les Rhythmes Digitales - Darkdancer
    Wow, this was quite a curio. Songs like "Music Make You Lose Control" and "(Hey You) What's That Sound" are instantly recognisable for their samples - Missy Elliott would later use the same sample as the former, while the latter sampled "I Wish" by Skeelo of all things.
    What messes with my mind though, are three things. One, Les Rhythmes Digitales was just another alias for Stuart Price, who'd go on to produce albums by Keane, The Killers and New Order - all on completely the other end of the musical spectrum from this album. Two, this album came out in 1999(!) and three, it's most famous song "Jacques Your Body" actually came out in 1997(!!!), but didn't find an audience until it was used in that robot Citroen C4 advert years later. Crazy!

    • Beth Orton - Central Reservation: Beth Orton's always been a bit of a conundrum to me. She's always managed to have some credibility with the trip-hop crowd but I've always thought of her as Dido-level supermarket fodder. Nothing here particularly helped solve my conundrum.
    • Mercury Rev - Deserter's Songs: While this could get a bit twee at times, it was a really nice listen in general. Opener "Holes" is about the best example of where they got the balance right.
    • Lucinda Williams - Car Wheels On A Gravel Road 
    Stellar bit of country here, with the mostly heavy guitar arrangements on the likes of "Drunken Angel" being particularly welcome. Although more acoustic songs like "Jackson" (no, not that one) were also stunning. If this took your fancy I'd strongly suggest you give Lydia Loveless' new record "Somewhere Else" a listen too.
    • Turbonegro - Apocalypse Dudes: With a name like that I was expecting some Spanish novelty act. Instead what I found was an absolute belter of a rock record.
    • Robbie Williams - Life Thru A Lens
    Oh hell yes, I've been looking forward to this one for a while. I don't care if he's a bit of a prick and can't really sing, if you were still in primary school when he was at his peak, Robbie was the acceptable face of pop music for years. Robbie's song writing partner Guy Chambers really kept knocking it out of the part whenever he collaborated with him, and this album was no exception. I was surprising to find (karaoke favourite) "Angels" and "Let Me Entertain You" on the same album as "Lazy Days" and "Old Before I Die": I thought both pairs of songs were on separate albums.
    Anyway, you can keep the Sinatra/Buble impression and the covers of the Haribo advert song, this album is how I'm going to choose to remember you.
    • Death In Vegas - The Contino Sessions 
    Until now I'd just associate Death In Vegas with annoyingly being in the way on CD racks when I wanted to buy Death Cab For Cutie records. Now, I've discovered they're responsible for one of those ubiquitous songs that I've been unable to put a name to for years: "Dirge" (which I used to merely know as "the creepy la-la-la song"). Pretty uninspiring stuff in general though.

    • Belle & Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister 
    Another enjoyable listen from Belle & Sebastian. Admittedly I got a bit distracted imagining what Bob Dylan would sound like singing these songs (when I was away at a conference, an attempt at singing "Stuck In The Middle With You" somehow transformed into a halfway-passable Dylan impression, and for some reason I thought of that listening to this). Go check out "Fox In The Snow".
    • The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Now I Got Worry: Very odd record that was just snippets of some cool bluesy riffs paired with some nigh on unlistenable stuff, like the "AAAAAARGH!" at the start of "Skunk".
    • David Gray - White Ladder: Ah, David Gray, and his big wobbly head. Unlike Robbie, he was the target of much vitriol when I was younger for his bed-wetter anthems. Nothing's changed David, sorry.
    • D'Angelo - Brown Sugar: I can't believe people have been begging this guy to come back like he made Pet Sounds or something. There's nothing here that really makes him stand out from his R'n'B peers.

    • Eels - Beautiful Freak
    Lo-fi winner here from Mark E. Everett (whose father, Hugh Everett III, was a physicist and postulated the theory of parallel universes), "Novocaine For The Soul" and the title track are great. Much better than that creepy album cover.

    • Maxwell - Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite: I was confused as hell listening to this as I thought Maxwell was some Swedish DJ. I realise now I was mixing him up with Axwell. Bit middle of the road in general.
    • Fun Lovin' Criminals - Come Find Yourself: 
    Before smashing mugs on Never Mind The Buzzcocks and attempting to get shitty b'boy catchphrases over on 6music ("Ch'eeeah"), Huey Morgan made a living as the lead singer in the Fun Lovin' Criminal, trying and failing to sound like Beck meets the Beastie Boys. You'll probably know "Scooby Snacks". Let me assure you, that's all you need to know.
    • Barry Adamson - Oedipus Schmoedipus
    Winning cameos by Jarvis Cocker (on the funky, sultry "Set Controls For The Heart Of The Pelvis") and Nick Cave (on the magnificent Boatman's Call-eque "The Sweetest Embrace") were really what shone the most on this record. Plus another song I've been hearing for years and unable to put a name to - "The Big Bamboozle" (or "the parpy brass song")!

    • Guided By Voices - Alien Lanes
    Quite in contrast to The John Spencer Blues Explosion, this collection of lots of short, vignette-type songs was a pretty sweet listen, like you're channel hopping between stations. "Game Of Pricks" is particularly good at capturing that "something sweet and fuzzy coming through the radio" vibe, and stuff like "A Salty Salute" is very Flaming Lips-esque.
    • GZA - Liquid Swords: Somehow I found this preferable to his work as part of Wu Tang Clan. His clan mates even sound better when they guest on songs here. I really can't put my finger on it...
    • Elastica - Elastica
    Good lord did these guys make some of Britpop's most irritating songs. Lead singer Justien Frischmann used to date Brett Anderson and Damon Albarn (though not at the same time, that would be gross) but shares none of their song-writing talents. Most famous examples are probably "Waking Up" with the post chorus vocals being virtually unintelligible, and "Connection" which would eventually be the theme tune to Trigger Happy TV, with it's slow motion squelch/groan sounds ("UUUUUUUUUUUUN") .
    • Rocket From The Crypt - Scream, Dracula, Scream! 
    What an ace record this is! Much in keeping with the "songs I've been hearing for years but been unable to name" theme of this blog, I swear I've heard "On A Rope" from something else. The band also deserve lots of credit for utilising a string section while still being able to keep the record sounding fiery and punky. Good stuff all round.

    Also to my liking were

    • Screaming Trees - Dust
    • Sleater Kinney - Dig Me Out
    • David Holmes - Let's Get Killed
    • Everything But The Girl - Walking Wounded, Idlewild
    • The Charlatans - Tellin' Stories
    • Billy Bragg & Wilco - Mermaid Avenue
    • Elliott Smith - Either/Or ("Say Yes" is just fantastic)
    • The Verve - Northern Soul

    While the following left a lot to be desired
    • Gotan Project - La Revancha Del Tango
    • MJ Cole - Sincere
    • Bebel Gilberto - Tanto Tempo
    • Nitin Sawhney - Beyond Skin
    • Stereolab - Emperor Tomato Ketchup
    • LTJ Bukem - Logical Progression 
    • Robert Wyatt - Shleep 
    • Finley Quaye - Maverick A Strike
    • Khaled - Kenza
    • Suba - Sao Paulo Confessions
    • Tavlin Singh - OK
    So that's your lot for now, I'm sure you'll hear from me again soon, but until then remember