15 August 2012

Ride - Going Blank Again Re-issue and a rant...

I was hoping this week to write more, but life got in the way.

However, perusing the magazines in WH Smiths I noticed that Ride were re-releasing their back catalogue, with lots of extras.

Now you know from previous entries that I rate Ride quite highly. Leave them all Behind is one of my favourite tracks from the 90's so you would have thought that I would be quite happy shelling out good money for this re-issue.

Wrong, but have another listen to what I was hoping to hear...

Well, I went shopping in Reading with Mr Matt G into HMV - the last remaining music retailer in the high street. So I headed over to "R" hopes held high - and came out with the conclusion that HMV can go and rot in hell with Tower, Virgin and Fopp.

We knew before we got in through the front door that it was not going to be a pleasant experience for a purchaser of music. Why?  There was none being promoted in the window. Crappy DVD releases and pre-order video games, but no music.  We knew this - and expected it.  Not a problem.

We found the CD's all the way in the back, past the numerous Dr Dre headphones and ipod speakers, just past the T-Shirts and the second hand X-Box games. His Masters Voice, my arse.

There were about 4 racks with CDs in, unloved and unpromoted. Now I know my tastes are untrendy (don't care) but you would have thought a town like Reading, with many half decent live venues would take some pride in their music, but no.  I did find this rather great album for sale.  Now I could have the choice of 3 different issues - the first - the old unremastered one (2 for £10), but that wasn't what I wanted, I could have spent £15 on the remastered version with a couple of B-sides tagged on the end - fair enough, but I know what I did want. The two disc version. With an extra DVD of their live Brixton show.  That is what I wanted.  And luckily for me, they had a copy.

For £39.  That's right, just short of fourty quid. I am not going to elucidate on what £40 could buy in this world, but I know exactly what £50 can buy and it would probably last about as long as the original album. If I was tired.

Thankfully I had my smart phone on me and went to the new updated Ride website - http://ridemusic.net/
Not the clearest site on a mobile phone but usable.

They were offering the same 2 disc edition, direct, for £23. But that's not all. 500 copies would be signed by the band. All bought from the site would come with free downloads of the live show in HQ MP3 and WAV formats - all DRM free. What the fuck?

£16 cheaper direct from the band, probably signed and with a free live album? What the fuck?

Mr G proposed that I should go up to the counter and ask for them to match it. However, I do appreciate a couple of things (i) the people working in HMV have no say in the matter - it is just a job to them and (ii) a retail store needs to pay it's rent. Still, a £16 overprice is far from decent. In fact it is bloody criminal.

I love music and love shopping for it. HMV is now not a music retailer - there is no chain that offers what I as a music lover wants. Is was badly set out, badly priced and not conducive to the customer.  I know that because we both walked out with nothing.

Screw them.

So we walked down the road to the only other shop you could buy music from in Reading - an Oxfam Music.  Yes, a charity shop that sells CDs, tapes and vinyl. What we came across was a million miles away from HMV. A pleasant little shop, with music, books about music and a couple of bits of old music hardware. The set up was brilliant - Jazz and Classical sections as well as "Everything else" in alphabetical order, in stands that assisted the buyer in being able to flip through what they were selling as well as box sets and rarities higher up on show.
Obviously the prices were better (all around a fiver), but they were second hand.

Can I measure how much this setup meant? Yes.  I walked out with 4 CDs and Matt with 2. Ker-ching!

Three of mine I already had (2 I gave immediately to Matt as a gift) and one rare Promo CD from Steve Mason for £1.50.

What can be concluded?

1. Buying second hand is a great way of getting music
2. The chain store approach of selling music is working against the consumer - and the artist
3. If you want a certain album, try and buy direct from the artist or label - It may be cheaper and the artist is likely to get a higher percentage of your money.
4. Shop around - Amazon, Play and Zavvi are fairly good for price on new CDs and are likely to have a bigger range.
5. Music retailing in the UK high street is dead - and isn't coming back.

With no simple all encompassing way of retailing music to consumers, the music industry is as good as dead.

Sure there is iTunes and the like - but then you get no physical ownership - at best you get a 'lease' on a digital copy.

It took me seconds on my phone using Google to find the website of an old, defunct, relatively unsuccessful band who broke up 15 years ago and order their album.  Next time you want to buy some tunes, please do the same.

05 August 2012

Live review - P.I.S.S. / Senor Fruity Pants and the Gentlemen from DelMonte

I had the unfortunate 'pleasure' of being invited to watch a couple of live bands at a fundraiser recently.  I obviously went incognito - with the thought that I would be generous - because it was in a good cause.

I am sorry to say, that cannot be the case.

Two bands, one headache.

First up was the rock band P.I.S.S. thankfully their entire set was caught on camera as shortly after finishing their only tune, they stormed off stage.
One can only presume that they decided to leave because the main act had managed to spray paint the guitarist's classic Marshall half-stack a shocking pink. Words escape me on how to describe them musically, I only hope you can make it through the thankfully short video which I managed to sneak out.
Visually it appeared as though the bass player had stolen his hairstyle from a 1980's Liverpool supporter and the guitarist had stolen all the lead singers food for the last decade. Tattoo's were everywhere in tasteless fashion.

I, personally do love Rock and Roll. But I don't like that.

Luckily a bar was open, so I did my bit for charity and put as many away as I could in order to brace myself for the "main attraction".

I last saw this band a year ago and although some equipment has been upgraded (the drummer now no longer has a childs drumkit) and perhaps a few more minutes had been spent practicing, they were just as appalling as before.

Although their set was mercifully short at just over 15 minutes covering just over 4 songs, Senor Fruity Pants managed to change his outfit at least once per song. More than once he disappeared mid song to jump into another leotard, much to the consternation of the band and amusement of the audience, who luckily by now had been stewing in alcohol for hours.

Watching this blasphomey against music sober would come under the Geneva Convention.

The guitarist managed to unplug his guitar on the first number before hitting his first chord - unsurprising for such a hambeast of a man, with feet to match. The bass player and drummer fared better, although equipment malfunctions appeared to hold the band back.

Not as much as the incessant need of Senor Fruity Pants to continually change his outfit. He had more changes of clothes in 15 minutes than I usually do on a 15 day holiday.

This left the band on stage with nothing to do, except clearly to decide to revolt and play the songs they wanted to. They found sizable chunks of time to do this twice, when both guitarists took turns in grabbing a microphone and attempting to salvage what self respect they had by launching, semi-competently into cover songs.

Unfortunately, on both occasions they were cut short by the leader of the group, who ran on, grabbing microphones from them proclaiming "It's all about me" - more or less in those words.

Their final captured tune was an ode to a local sandwich shop, where they seemed to finally gel as a unit, taking turns singing, with restrained timekeeping throughout, ending with a 70's funk feel which showed musical promise.

In summary, I have suffered less pain at my local GUM clinic, but I did enjoy the Pimms.

01 July 2012

The Flaming Lips - Do You Realize

We've talked about songs that you would want played at your funeral. Mine has changed (again) and it is all written down in a letter to whoever outlives me.

However the 23rd Track today was always likely to be on my list of "to be played when I kick the bucket".
It was playing after I drove a friend home, pissed as a newt (him, not me) after a few shandies for his birthday. As I pulled into my drive it was playing and I was close to tears.

That is the official US video.  The UK one had lots of dancing naked women. For some reason, I can't find that on YouTube. Perhaps I should try RedTube...

So why was I close to tears?
For all the facts over being a quiet, fat, tough skinned sack of crap, I am a human. A human who has faults, fails occasionally and can't express my love for everyone and everything the way I wish I could. I am not perfect in any way and try to better myself when I can. I am grotesquely naive - and most of the time I wouldn't really want to change that. I find wonder in simple things and fall in love five times a day.
At least.

Stupidly, childishly, hopelessly and I do nothing about it.
Inherently,  my heart is broken five times a day as well.

So obviously regret is another feeling that claws away at me - why didn't I do this, or say that. Regret eats you up like a disease, rotting you from the inside.

So when did I first hear this?
No idea.  I think it was written up in the press as one of the best albums of the year and had a funky looking cover, so I bought it. And fell in love with it.

Who are they? A band that has been around for decades. Rockers, weirdo's, grunge stalwarts, acid freaks, pop divas - they have worn all the hats that are going. But they love their fans, always giving more than just a little light show. The lead singer always starts the show coming out in a giant hamster ball. At shows a few years ago they gave out lasers to the crowd. Hundreds of them. Just imagine what that looks like....

I drove a girl who worked with me home one evening, over a decade ago and played it to her, wanting her to love me. She nearly did, but fell for the brash, fit, boy with courage instead.

The Shapesmith and I went to see them at the Albert Hall a couple of years later. Lets just say they know how to put on a show...

I grinned the whole night long - happy with such unbridled joy for the first time in years - that my face was in pain for days. I've been through a lot of things in 38 years. Things I wish I hadn't, but we don't always have a choice. The words of this simplistic, overly sappy song hit me. And they keep hitting me every time.

Do you realize, that you have the most beautiful face
Do you realize, we're floating in space,
Do you realize, that happiness makes you cry
Do you realize, that everyone you know someday will die

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn't go down
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

Is it the truth of life moving faster than I can deal with, resonating with my own feelings and memories of past regrets?
Is it the the deep knowledge in each of us that life is finite and that on average, half of those we love will die before us, and our own inability to deal with it sociologically?
Is it their knowledge of Copernican science?
Is it their "hippy" ideology and general weirdness?
Is it a deeper pain to do with the mis-spelling of realise? With a "Z" instead of the correct "S"?

I don't know. probably an addition of all of the above.

All I do know that what, to some could be one of the more depressing songs in the pantheon of pop, I find one of the most emotionally life affirming. It mixes many of my pent up feelings and spits out its rainbow cocktail of joy in nine lines.

It expresses love. And there is nothing else in this world.

23 June 2012

Queens of the Stone Age - Go With the Flow

I've needed to listen to a lot of loud music recently to deal with, well, life. The best I have come across in the last few years is Queens of the Stone Age. Or QOTSA as most people seem to write their name.

An iconic album cover, with rather significant pitckfork symbolism.  Their name seems to play on homosexuality, metal and the album title is rather forward too.  Is it just noise?

You decide with this video from the UK's Shynola collective.

I remember  when I first heard them, back a good 15 years ago when I was on a Web Design course (this was when it was still in it's real infancy and it wasn't so easy - you had to write code to make things happen.)

One of the guys I got on well with "Mike Tok" was into all sorts of left field music - from stuff that would make Aphex Twin sound like Tom Jones to "4 to the floor Techno". I didn't imagine he would like guitar music, but he ripped a disc for me - and it included the QOTSA album "Rated R".  It was great - not only well produced and with a coherent sound all the way through, but as a musical item - a complete album. Every track seemed to be part of the whole.

A couple of years later this came out, so I bought it. And I wan't dissapointed.

The most important thing about this album, for the band, was that they had to replace their drummer. Now that is always a problem for any band - getting a drummer is difficult. Getting a good drummer is next to impossible. Getting a great drummer is just wishful thinking.  That is unless you are friends with Dave Grohl.

So they called him up - he was looking for a change and said yes. There isn't a single time when "Dave Grohl" isn't the answer to "Who is the best drummer we can get for this record?".

In this song they could have just gone with a 4/4 rhythm and it would have been acceptable. But he doesn't.  He takes 3 different beats and changes every so many bars, adding a complete dimension to the sound.

The guitars and bass almost take up the space of the drums, pounding away to a steady beat, with the drums and lead guitar adding accents to the music. So much better than anything ordinary.

How about live? Is it playable - you bet, faster too....
Obviously not Mr Grohl there, he had left again to go back to the Foo Fighters. But he is just part of the package.

Having the lead guitar accenting - answering each line of the verse, along with the "Iggy and the Stooges" plinking piano in the background bring the whole thing to life.
The rest of the album is very similar - not in a bad way, but in an accessible manner, including the incredibly hard "First it Giveth" which has some of the best vocal harmonies recorded in this genre.
Oh, the fun of a full time rock band eh?

More drumming from Mr Grohl, rather reminiscent of his work with Killing Joke.

Well, if you see me speeding down the motorway singing my face off, you will now know what I am listening to.

This, or Westlife.

08 June 2012

John Denver - Take Me Home Country Roads

So - another tough week. Still having a few of them.
Driving home tonight, still listening to 105.6FM (Church of God Ministries pirate radio) which is just the best thing I have heard - wonderful deep Nigerian voices full of life, with accents SO deep you can make one word in 20. I swear last night the guy was passionately rallying against Tesco, Lidl and Aldi as they were the only words I could make out.
As the broadcast filtered out, I shoved on the iPod...

Track 23 was this flipping brilliant tune.
Listen up and try not to join in.

Right - straight off the bat - he was not the Milky Bar Kid when younger and yes he did die in a plane accident. And more weirdly for me - this is a Folk Singer/songwriter of a popular "easy" classic pop tune.

What the hell? Am I ill?

Probably, but that is unrelated.  There is such a thing as good pop.
I like all sorts of music - it's just that there is precious little really good pop. So what makes this great and worthy of being somewhere on my iPod?
I was walking back to my brothers place a few months ago at about one in the morning after a few jars, up and down the Hampstead roads - chatting and laughing with him. A rare thing when you consider how different we are.

Even though we are brothers, our childhoods were somehow different, we didn't share interests, hobbies, or anything (apart from a girlfriend once, but that's for a different website....).
We certainly didn't swap music or share musical tastes. I played musical instruments, ending up on guitar and he played sports, ending up with football. Quite different.

At one moment he just started singing, as you do when no-one is around - "Almost Heaven~"
I answered back with "West Virginia" immediately.

During that walk back, we almost remembered every line between us.  HOW?

It wouldn't have been in our childhood homes, it is certainly not the type of chune played on the radio or would be in our separate music collections - how did we both know it?
When I got home I checked my music database - 71 thousand tracks and counting - Not there, and only Annie's Song by John Denver on an old compilation CD.

Sometimes, when something is so close to perfection it becomes embodied by it's cultural surroundings. It must have been on television hundreds of times, in adverts, films, on late night TV, Desert Island Discs. We must have picked it up by osmosis, in the same way that you remember hymns, if (like me) you had to sing them in school every day.

Good songs rise above everything else - the cheesy look, the blonde bob haircut, the folkiness, the overproduced backing vocals. It is just great - a great cycle of chords make up the song - a melancholy memory of home, longing and thoughts of being re-united with the physical embodiment of memories.

Just what we were doing then - walking to his home and just as I did this evening, driving home. Certainly "Almost Heaven, West Ruislip" doesn't have the same ring....

We got in and looked it up on YouTube - kettle on the boil in the background.

"I thought you got it wrong, Geej" he said.
"What the hell are you talking about - I'm never wrong"

He showed me what he described as "The Original" - this....

Well, it proves something - we are different. What he thought was the original was a cover - and quite a different style, at that, by the wonderful Toots and the Mayalls. Holy crap - yes I knew that as well (and had it on the database at home). It works.
It really does.
What other covers are there?
How about the Olivia Newton John one he mentioned in the first video?
Almost Heaven? Almost Gospel at the beginning....
I would say it almost works.
How about a punk version?

Great songs, in whatever genre can transfer really happily as their original essence cannot ever be diluted.
It was only on Wikipedia that I realised the truth about where little brother had properly heard and sang the song before.
Iconic tunes, popularly know, only transfer finally to their end into one "genre", if you will.
Football grounds.
Fulham - his adopted club change the lyrics in the same way as Mr Toots did earlier.
The crowd sing "Almost Heaven, Craven Cottage"....

Bloody football.

06 June 2012

MC 900ft Jesus - If I only had a Brain

So I had a long day after a long weekend. Drove home listening to a truly bizarre Harrow based Nigerian religious pirate radio station (105.6FM - listen in, it's brilliant) which eventually started phasing in and out of reception, so I had to play my iPod instead.

I was happily listening to this and that, but Beethoven's 9th started up. A truly magnificent piece of work - intricate and moving, passionate and intelligent. The type of work people have obsessed over their entire lives.

Luckily for me, the 23rd track today was the antithesis of this - the wonderfully named MC 900ft Jesus.  Let's play...
What the living heck?

I know when I first heard it and why. Did I buy it when it came out? Nope.  I bought it when I saw the video.  It was on a compilation of the video work of Spike Jonez (Beastie Boys - Sabotage, Jackass, Where the Wild Things Are etc). There was a phase about 10 years back when the directors of pop videos managed to get their works compiled and released - Michel Gondry and the likes all had videos out - pre- YouTube. It was one of the only ways of seeing this stuff. So I obviously bought the lot.

And this stuck out for me.

Why? It's crap, obviously, isn't it?

Well, No.  It's a bit like how Eddie Izzard explains fashion from being Cool - to looking like a dickhead:
Music like this is very similar - I call it the "Awesome to Awful coefficient". Sometimes the difference between something so amazingly dull, boring and uninspired and musical genius is very, very slight. And such is the case here.
Perhaps the originality of the video pulls it out of the crevice of self-loving that it could so easily be thought of.
Perhaps it is the expanded half time chorus, auto-harmonized by some 80's synth that brings it above that.
Perhaps it is the unarguable catchiness of the bass-line.
Perhaps it is the lyrics, yet again - just a little better than their surroundings seem to say.

I'd like to think that the sum of the parts - all being 'just a little bit' better than they could be brings it all the way from Awful right round to Awesome.  That and the wonderful self depreciation of the first line - "Suppose - I accidentally got my shit together"
Going on to listen to the rest of the song, it is my dream for somebody else to sing it - somebody who has the same sort of feeling about their own intelligence, who wants to better themselves. Who do we all know from popular culture like that?
I would love to see a mash-up of the scarecrow singing that version of "If I only had a brain".

Imagine - Dorothy : "Well, what would you do if you had a brain?" Scarecrow : "Suppose - I accidentally got my shit together". Now there's a musical I would watch.

Then again, it could be that I like this for the same reason as these two pop pundits....

16 May 2012

Class of 2011

A long time coming - but my summary of 2011. Lets pretend that I was careful and wanted a full three months to pass before I passed judgement on anything from 2011.

I will, however, be brief. As you may know - 2011 for me was not "Everything released in 2011" but everything I heard, or rather added to my library in 2011.

There-fore I have no problem saying that my top Album of that year was Guided by Voices Greatest Hits. I even reviewed them earlier - here.

Sure they broke up, reformed a number of times, disliked quality recording methods, drank too much and reformed this year after a really long break, but boy, can they write songs.... Catchy, tuneful, intelligent yet simple.
 Go and buy it - I know some of you did.

What about Chune of the year? If you read anything from last year, I was probably most blown away by Deerhoof live at Alexandra Palace. They really were bloody amazing, especially their drummer. Read about that here. The song - Milk Man. So odd, with it's bizzare mismatch of rhythm, melody, loud guitars, jazz drums and child-like vocals, it has to be a hit...
Seriously the best song of the year....

But not the Oddest song of the year.
That title this year goes to the wonderful King Missile. OJR stalwart Mr Les Bell played the second track here on air, and I hunted them down for more - and came across this, frankly worrying tune.
Poetic and amusing yet delivered in a very dry manner. The whole guitar sound reminds me of early 90's noise merchants Mindfunk, with that overhammered reverb. Does that mean all their tracks are such pre-grunge noise-fests? Nope - as you can hear from this....
If there was an award for Why didn't I like this when it came out? then The White Stripes would win it.
When they were first around I couldn't stand them. Can't really explain why either - too simplistic? I remember disliking the fact they spent a lot of money recording an album using 1960's studio equipment - needlessly hipster, in my book.
Too popular amongst the type of people I disliked - trendy, genre skipping wastes who would move onto the next hip thing as soon as it turned up.
Of course I was wrong. Looking past the deconstructionist and simplistic sounding songs, there is art. The last bastion of music as art is songwriting. And unfortunately for my pride, Jack White can write a good one...
As for my favourite Jazz track of the year, one I thought was an original and an instrumental by the cinematic orchestra.  It turned out not to be.
The Art Ensemble of Chicago did it originally in 1970 and it evokes all the 10 years of the sixties coming to a close alongside the promise of a new decade. But this version with it's soulful singing and image laden lyrics just makes me feel happy.
Just starting off so peacefully with bass - not feeling the need to emote much and the drummer slowly building up alongside the brass to an explosion that goes so far it falls apart. Only to begin again.
The rather well known vocalist Fontella Bass just rips it up, more subdued than the alto sax break, but summed together a near perfect musical moment.

What about dance music? Well I don't listen to the radio, because it has turned into crap, but the next track by Battles was used in a Honda advert in the cinema and luckily my Soundhound application worked out who it was. A fantastic Aphex Twin, glitch style track with real instruments, supplemented by computer effects, without sounding like half of each genre, they manage to really work them together.
All I know about them: British, signed to Warp, play guitars as well as a prominence of electronic tomfoolery in order to shape a rather individual sound. I like them, but the album only had really 2 tracks I would bother listening to again.

And finally - my Re-release of the year - the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band. If you don't know about them, hit Wikipedia. They are essential listening if you like any two of the following; Comedy, Trad Jazz, Self depreciation, musicianship, silliness, and well... Dadaism. Their first ever release, a cover....
From the album "By Jingo, it's rubbish" - 1966 brought to the light the type of humor Pete Cook and Dudley Moore were promoting, along with experimenting with noises, multi-track recordings and Jazz. I can't imagine what it would have been like then, as even by todays standards, it's pretty darn weird.

14 May 2012

Back once again.

Evening, I'm back.

Sorry and all that but everything has been getting in the way.

Musically, we said goodbye to Etta James and MCA, which is a shame.

Todays update is already there above this - "How to "Rip" CD's".

Yes, the first thing I probably should have written about, but it is there now - my view and opinion on how to do it. It's the way I do it.

And I am awesome.

If you can't be bothered to click that box, click this one..... Click me hard.

No idea if I can manage to write daily, but I will attempt at least weekly updates. I have a new job and I am all over the world, or rather the country. More time for more music. Less time for writing though.

Let's see what happens.
I'll leave you with 3 MC's and One DJ....

01 January 2012

Funkadelic - Maggot Brain

Well a good excuse for not updating with my picks of 2011, I am afraid.  A close relative passed away over Christmas and I have been rather busy on things not work or fun related.

Although we had gone through their Will and wishes for type of service, we hadn't spoken about music.

Now you know that music means a lot to me, without it, I am nothing, so my Desert Island Discs are continually updated. However my thoughts on music for my own funeral, well, I had never finalised anything.  It got me to thinking, what should I have?

Is it that which means the most to me? Is it Something somber? Should it be the opposite to this - perhaps something upbeat? (My mother always jokes that I would play "Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead" at hers...) Well, I know what I do want, but this is a close second.....
Forget the rather creepy imagery.  That's all it is. Rather than waste any time re-writing it's Wiki entry - this is what it says..

According to legend, George Clinton, under the influence of LSD, told Eddie Hazel during the recording session to imagine he had been told his mother was dead, but then learned that it was not true. The result was the 10-minute guitar solo for which Hazel is most fondly remembered by many music critics and fans. Though several other musicians began the track playing, Clinton soon realized how powerful Hazel's solo was and faded them out so that the focus would be on Hazel's guitar. Critics have described the solo as "lengthy, mind-melting" and the ending as "an emotional apocalypse of sound."

But it is more than that - the pure unadulterated passion and heart of Eddie Hazel's playing is second to none. It transcends anything that words can explain. I give you two other examples - Mr Carlos Santana, please step forward....

Santana's second guitarist (Ronnie Earl) there proving you don't need distortion to make a hell of an impact. (1.47 onwards). I hope Eric Clapton hears that and realises how over-rated he is.

The Second example is from Funkadelic again - but post Eddie Hazel. Eddie left the group (in jail, health problems, legal disputes - the usual, unfortunately) and George Clinton brought in Michael Hampton (Kid Funkadelic) aged just 17 at the time to replace him.

This version is from a bit later - 1978

Blinding. Just so superb, even with piss poor quality recording and sound, he manages to keep the listener with him, even when the other instruments aren't playing.

But not what I would like played at my funeral.  That would be this...

Please ignore the video - the song is "Mysteries of Love" by Angelo Badalamenti, unreleased version from Twin Peaks - not the Blue Velvet version. Moving and Magnificent.

Things I have learnt in the last week - Write your Will, Pay for your own Funeral, let people know what you want done at it, make sure your finances are easy for others to understand.
Choose your own music.