Friday, 19 July 2019

Rage Against the Machine - The People of the Sun

I remember seeing this 10" a bunch of times in the shop I bought it from before eventually deciding to get it. Over the years I'd been going in there sometimes they'd have a copy and other times they wouldn't. On all the times it was there before May 2003 they also had a bunch of other records I wanted to buy instead, so it never made it into my purchases. But as the years went by, the amount of money I was spending on records increased, so it was no surprise that I did finally pick it up. I also bought Siamese Dream and Pretty Hate Machine on vinyl that day, so it was a strong day for a very particular part of my record collection.

The record itself is a strange one - I never quite got the bottom of why it was released on Revelation Records, a label I wouldn't have thought would have normally had much to do with band like Rage. They'd been on a major label from the start and Epic released the cd and 7" versions of single. At the time I thought it was odd that it was on a record label that I wasn't that familiar with (of course, I eventually got to know Revelation Records well), and that a single would be so readily available so many years after it was released. I think in a lot of ways I stopped caring about the answers to these questions - they don't keep me awake at night.

It's a nice little record for a number of reasons - you've got some live songs, a collaboration/cover with Chuck D from Public Enemy and some non-album songs. The three album tracks are all from Evil Empire, which in 2019 has become the Rage album I play the most often - I think its underdog status back in the day helps, partly because I didn't over do it back in the early 2000's; I know the self-titled album like the back of my hand, and whilst The Battle of Los Angeles had some huge songs, they weren't the lasting classics I thought they'd be. People of the Sun and Bulls on Parade are the studio versions and both great singles. Without a Face is a huge late-album gem and the outro never fails to put a smile on my face. The live recording is a great reminder of how incredible they were to watch.

The other songs are fascinating - with Chuck D they cover Public Enemy's Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos and segue pretty much seemlessly into Zapata's Blood, a great song that often appears live, but never in the studio (at least, in my limited research). Hadda Be Playing on the Jukebox is a funny one - an Allen Ginsburg poem set to music, recorded live in Detroit in 1993. At 8-minutes, the duration is actually one of the most interesting things about it - when forced to stretch themselves over more than 5-minutes (due to the length of the poem) the band almost lean into post-rock. The relationship between Zach's vocals and the three instruments is perfect - when Zach gets louder, the music is there rising up and teasing him on; and when he does get loud, he shouts in a way you never hear elsewhere. But he's not necessarily leading everything - Tom's guitars show hints of the peaks to come from early on, as do Brad's drums. Like I said, almost post-rock in the way it holds back but gives hints of whats to come throughout. I like it. Makes you wonder what could have happened if they'd played more music like this - I don't imagine it would have been anywhere near as popular, but it would have made for very interesting listening. Worth the entry fee for that song alone.

Format: 10", insert
Tracks: 5
Cost: £9 new
Bought: FM Music, Southampton
When: 03/05/03
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: none

Friday, 12 July 2019

Texas is the Reason - Do You Know Who You Are? The Complete Collection

This is potentially going to be quite a short review (but I do tend to ramble for however long the record is, so we'll see). This is the reissue of Texas is the Reason's only album Do You Know Who You Are?, which doubles as a "complete collection" as they've included a second disc including all the other songs the band had recorded. I wrote about the album itself seven years ago here. The self-titled 7" (which I wrote about five years ago) forms the final three songs, so there's just four songs left to write about. Breezy, right.

But before we get into that, we should dwell on the terrifying fact that I wrote those blog posts so many years ago. I'd been listening to Texas is the Reason for four years when I first wrote about them here and it's now been nearly double that amount of time. The truth is, as much as I really like these songs, I always thought I'd have got more into them by now. If you played me a random album track and asked me to tell you the title, I'd struggle. For an album I've had for 11 years and played countless times, I always felt I'd know it better than I do. I think certain albums (and even whole genres to an extent) are just harder to break down sometimes. I think it's safe to say that I'll never know these songs well enough to put a name to them (luckily, I rarely get challenged to do such things, so it's ok).

As another side note, when I wrote about the album I tagged the band in the tweet I sent, and they retweeted it - this was the first time any of my posts had gained any real traction on Twitter. Even now, it's my fifth most-read post. I learnt the word "vignette" from the tweet they sent about it. In that post I wrote about hopefully seeing Texas is the Reason, something I did finally do on their 2013 tour in London (and I have a great poster from the show too). I didn't say it in that post, but Something to Forget (Version II) is a great song.

So, on to those four songs I mentioned. Every Little Girl's Dream is a new song and feels very different - the production is clearly very far from the sound of the album, the vocals are less smooth, there's a whole bunch of echo and it just feels heavier. I like it. It's also wordier than any of the album songs, as is very clear in the huge block of printed lyrics. When Rock 'n' Roll Was Just a Baby is another new song and perfectly fine. The same can be said for Blue Boy, from the split with The Promise Ring - perfectly nice but not very memorable. Something to Forget (Version I) is from the split with Samian and a much rougher recording than the album one - it adds a bit of charm, but misses the excellent "This is only fun for me" bit in the outro. Strangely, The Promise Ring and Samian are two bands I almost certainly should have got into, but simply never did. There's still time mind you, but I think I may have missed the boat on those ones.

The package is very nice and makes it a worthwhile purchase even if you have the original LP and 7" - double orange vinyl and a complete list of all the gigs they played (up to 2012). The LP is clearly a new pressing too as the last album track, Jack With One Eye, is on the third side of vinyl rather than squeezed onto one record (although at 38 minutes it should fit comfortably). It includes a download code for the whole lot too, which is nice - when I play the album on my iPod or at work, I listen to these mp3s because 38 minutes of Texas is the Reason is often not quite enough.

Format: Double 12", gatefold sleeve, insert
Tracks: 16
Cost: £0 new
Bought: Gift
When: 25/12/13
Colour: Transparent orange
Etching: Side A: "Fellas, coincidence and fate figure largely in our lives"
mp3s: Download code

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Shores + Charles the Osprey - Ritual

In 2011 I stumbled across the band Shores playing a pre-Fest show in Gainesville on the night before Fest kicked off properly. They were playing in 1982 with Caves and Pure Graft, two British bands we knew well. Also on the bill were Charles the Osprey and Beast of No Nation. It was a fun night and a good introduction to how the rest of Fest was going to play out - drinking cheap PBRs in a sweaty venue listening to punk-rock. I really enjoyed Shores - they took more influence from bands like Low than they did from punk-rock bands and sat in a very interesting and largely unique position between punk and slowcore. It worked for me; afterwards I went to the merch table and picked up both of their albums at the time, Coup de Grace and To Volstead (for a bargain $15. I was also given a free compilation cd which introduced me to Bars of Gold, which in turn introduced me to Bear vs Shark. It was a pretty good free cd).

I enjoyed seeing Charles the Osprey that night, but in a more casual way. My memory is of them basically being an instrumental math-rock band, which is in no way a bad thing - they were certainly fun to watch - but it's just not something I'm hugely into. Sarah, however, is a big instrumental math-rock fan, so she picked up the Charles the Osprey record afterwards.

About a year later, I discovered the Different Kitchen distro here in the UK, which stocked a lot of No Idea records. I'd been directed to it after buying a Cutman record at All Ages that turned out to have the wrong 7" in the sleeve (Cutman being another Gainesville band we discovered on the first day of actual Fest) - they didn't have the right one, but suggested the distro as a place to find it instead. They had a huge selection of stuff, and I was particularly pleased to see that not only had Shores released another album, Leavening, but there was also a 7" with a Nirvana cover and a split with Charles the Osprey. Sarah had told me the CTO LP she got was pretty good, so I figured the split was worth getting too.

The split is actually much more interesting than you might normally expect - each band offer one new song, one cover of a song by the other band (although, reinterpretation might be a better word) and one song where they swap members to create two new bands. Both bands are technically two-pieces, although Shores have additional live musicians, so the third song on each side is then half-Shores, half-CTO. It's a level of collaboration you don't see in split records as much as you'd like to.

Both sides sound distinctly like the bands listed on the labels, despite the different types of song included. Shores' original Tipper is a perfect example of their style of music, and their cover of CTO's Kids sounds like it could easily have been a Shores song - the addition of vocals obviously being a major factor, the mathy guitars still present, but much less prominent. The first half-and-half song is credited to a band called Beaches and is essentially a step further along the same trajectory as the last two songs - distinctly Shores-esque (mostly due to the vocals again), but with a much more mathy edge and unusual instrumentation.

On the other side, CTO's Sculptor is exactly how I remember them from that night in Florida. Their take on Roux, one of the highlights of Shores' first album, is fascinating - the guitars taking over where the vocals would be. If I play it without paying much attention to what song I'm on, I'm aware of it sounding familiar before I realise why. The second collaboration goes by the name Howard the Duck and, fittingly, is more mathy but with much darker guitars, which works pretty well for me.

All in all, a very interesting record and one I'm glad I picked up.

Format: 12", half-a4 insert
Tracks: 6
Cost: £9 new
Bought: Different Kitchen distro
When: 14/11/12
Colour: Grey mix
Etching: Side A: "All song, no solo" Side B: "All solo, no song"
mp3s: Download code

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Mick Turner - Don't Tell the Driver

This was very much an impulse buy. I don't regret it as such, but I can think of countless records that I've not bought for £17 that would be better. Mick Turner is one third of the Dirty Three, a band I have a huge amount of time for. I'd consider myself a "big fan" of the band, despite not yet having all their albums - I've been working through their back-catalogue slowly, making sure I give each album the time it deserves. A lot of them are slow-burners, and I'm enjoying taking it at a slow pace.

On 18th May 2014 I was in Manchester to see Neutral Milk Hotel and spent the day record shopping. I don't often get to splurge money in different cities anymore, so made the most of it and spent a lot. A good percentage of that went in Piccadilly Records on a variety of things, including this record. I'd not seen it before, but figured if it was as enjoyable as a Dirty Three album it'd be worth it, and added it to my pile.

In short, it's not as good as a Dirty Three album, but maybe I shouldn't have expected it to be - I'm sure Mick enjoyed making this music outside of the expectations of the band, so I should try to enjoy it as such. Don't Tell the Driver is a perfectly warm and pleasant album, but not remotely memorable. Over the course of an hour and eleven songs, the music alternates between nice moments and moments so scrappy that you wonder if there's another album playing somewhere - the title-track is a prime example of the latter. The Navigator is a great example of a song where the instruments all build together (rather than at odds with each other) and it sounds great - it's the highlight of the album. Long Way Home is good too, with some nice horns. There are a lot of ideas within songs, some are given room to grow, others cut short. I feel like Dirty Three are a band known for letting those ideas go to beyond their natural conclusion, and I guess that's what I like about them.

I don't play this album often and the vast majority of times I think I could be in the mood to play it, I decide to listen to the Dirty Three instead. I should have known it was always going to fall into that category. Still, it's nice to look at that lovely artwork.

Format: Double 12", insert
Tracks: 11
Cost: £17 new
Bought: Piccadilly Records, Manchester
When: 18/05/14
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: none

Thursday, 4 July 2019

The Decemberists - Florasongs

This was a thoroughly non-essential purchase, but I can't turn down a bargain. It also seems that I'm a big Decemberist fan, despite only really considering myself to be a casual Decemberists fan; my record collection certainly suggests the former. I remember when this 10" was announced sometime after their seventh album, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (an album I bought a week after it came out - maybe I am a big fan?). I remember thinking I wasn't going to buy it because I wasn't that big a fan, but here we are.

In March 2016, about six months after it came out, this copy of Florasongs found its way into the Norman Records sale and got added to my basket along with five other records. Despite my apathy towards buying it, I do quite like it. The opener, Why Would I Now?, is just one of those great Decemberist songs - moves along at a good pace and very memorable (the next song, Riverswim, fails on both those counts). Fits and Starts is basically a punk song and The Harrowed and the Haunted is a good example of a slower song that works (the hook is infectious), but Stateside is probably the highlight of the record for me. If the song isn't a direct reference to The Replacement's Answering Machine then I'd be amazed - the gentle strumming of a melancholy electric guitar and the fact the drums never kick in no matter how much you're expecting them to puts it right alongside Answering Machine. Another clue is that Colin Meloy literally wrote the book on Let It Be (albeit more of an autobiography of a very particular time in his life - as 33 1/3 books go, it's probably more interesting for a Decemberists fan than a Replacements fan, but luckily I'm both). That song alone justifies the £5 I spent on this 10" - thoroughly recommended.

Format: 10", insert
Tracks: 5
Cost: £5.24 new
Bought: Norman Records
When: 29/03/16
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: Download code

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Pop Will Eat Itself - Dos Dedos Mis Amigos

Here's a fun fact: when I got my first "proper" hifi when I was 18, the very first song I played on it was Everything's Cool by Pop Will Eat Itself. I wanted something heavier and with thick layers of instrumentation so I could hear them all clearly through (what I considered at the time to be) an expensive amplifier and speakers, so picked that song. I'm sure had I bought my hifi any other month in my life, the first song would have been different, but in October 2002 I was really into that particular tune. Of course, audiophiles will talk about "burn in" time (even if not asked), so maybe I wasn't hearing the very best version of it, but I'm sure it was better than the mini-system I'd been using up to that point (which is maybe doing that little all-in-one Sony hifi a disservice - I still have it and it still mostly works).

I'd been a big PWEI fan for a while, but Dos Dedos Mis Amigos was a world apart from their earlier albums - big and dark and basically industrial. I was introduced to PWEI by the Sega Saturn game Loaded and the two tracks that were playable on the cd - Kick to Kill and RSVP - were both from this album. However, I'd go on to hear a lot of their earlier years before coming back to this era. My first PWEI compilation was Wise Up Suckers, which covered the narrow period in time when they were signed to RCA, and I then bought a scattering of albums and singles and the newer, more exhaustive compilation PWEI Product (on which I heard Everything's Cool for the first time, and played on my new hifi). I finally got a copy of Dos Dedos Mis Amigos on cd for £7 on eBay in 2003, towards the end of my PWEI-buying frenzy (I also got the double-cd remix album Two Fingers My Friends on eBay a couple of years later, mostly out of completeness).

I loved the album back then and think it's aged remarkably well, but maybe that's because I love crunchy NIN-style guitars as much now as I did in 2002. Given this was my introduction to the band, it was strange to go on an extended jaunt through their dancey-indie sampling days and back to their early grebo days before coming back to where I started. I wonder if I'd just got this album first whether I'd have been more shocked by the sound of the earlier styles. This was the PWEI I wanted - edgy and cool - but I was happy to go with the other versions of them too. It's a strong album with a bunch of roughly equal highlights - Ich Bin Ein Auslander, Kick to Kill, Underbelly, Everything's Cool and RSVP. I initially misheard the lyric in the opener as "the bassist is racist", which raised a number of difficult questions, before eventually finding out that they were singing "the basis is racist"; the extent to which I'd misunderstood what that song was getting at is almost funny. Babylon is a bit of an anti-climatic ending.

15 years after buying the cd (nearly to the day) I bought this copy of the LP from a friend on Twitter called Rob - he was having a clearout and I was more than happy to buy a bunch of the records he was selling. I'd not seen Dos Dedos on vinyl back in the day, and hadn't made much effort to seek a copy out. But when a copy was offered to me at a very fair price, I couldn't say no. It's in incredible condition for its age and, whilst nearly every part of my hifi has changed since I played Everything's Cool on it when I was 18 (I still have the same speakers, at least until I move and have room for some floor-standing ones), it's still pleasing to sit back and actually listen to these songs and all their layers of fuzz and industrial noise.

Format: Double 12", gatefold sleeve
Tracks: 11
Cost: £17 second-hand
Bought: Rob, Twitter
When: 07/03/18
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: none

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Silverchair - Diorama

I don't think anyone could ever argue that Diorama is Silverchair's best album, but there is no denying that it sounds incredible. The production effort is probably greater than the three albums that came before it combined, and it pays off because it still sounds fresh today.

When I got into Silverchair they'd released three albums with one of the most clear trajectories in all of rock music - their transition from grunge to polished rock was perfectly linear, so it was no surprise what their fourth album, Diorama, would sound like. I was probably most into Neon Ballroom at the time, so I was fine with this transition, although never really got into this album as much as I thought I would at the time; maybe I still needed a bit more of that early-days grunge involved.

Diorama came out when I was at college and I found a copy in a shop called Essential Music in Southampton, a little shop a few roads behind the main shopping area that had been pretty good at getting Australian imports in - I'd bought The Freak Box, collecting the singles from Freak Show, from there a year earlier and picked up a 7" of The Greatest View and the boxset of singles from Diorama over the following 12 months. The cd was £14, which was a lot at the time, but worth it - apparently it was only about two weeks after it'd come out. Anyway, it seemed that Silverchair had picked up quite a following of people I half-knew in college and when word came around that I had a copy, I had all sorts of people I'd never really spoken to coming up to me and asking if they could borrow it - for a few weeks the cd just seemed to travel around people as they taped their copies before eventually making its way back to me. I don't know exactly how many people heard this album first because of my copy, and I definitely didn't know half their names.

I don't know whether everyone else was a bit underwhelmed too. Diorama is a mixed bag of incredible orchestral instrumentation and unexpectedly huge riffs. You could never call it a heavy album (except for One Way Mule and The Lever) but there are classic Silverchair grungey guitars throughout. However, more often than not, they're just part of a song - Greatest View starts off loud but can't keep the momentum going, Without You's riffs end up disappointingly low in the mix during the chorus, World Upon Your Shoulders finally explodes into something brilliantly heavy and Too Much of Not Enough brings them in and drops them away more times than I care to count.

On the other hand you've got songs like the huge opener Across the NightTuna in the Brine and the equally huge closer After All These Years where the orchestra and Daniel Johns' vocals dominate - he really upped his game on this album and is almost opera-singer-like in the variety of notes he hits. Those songs are always the ones I think of when I think of Diorama, but maybe that's because they bookend the album so nicely - some stuff happens in between, but you start with a beautiful, grand song and end with another.

It's technically unrelated but I'll not get a chance to write about it elsewhere: I saw Silverchair on this tour and the set was much like the one captured on the Live From the Faraway Stables cd/dvd boxset - two halves, one of the grander songs and one of the heavier older songs. I was always surprised by how many of the songs from Diorama found their way into the second half because I'd never really considered it a heavy album. On the dvd in particular (because my memories of the show itself are pretty faint now - they didn't play anything from Frogstomp, but I sang along to every word of the songs from The Neon Ballroom), The Lever really shines. It's a great example of showing how you can take an easily over-looked late album track and turn it into the highlight of the night. I bet no one walking into that room did so thinking that The Lever would be the best bit of their night.

Anyway, when I saw this album was getting re-released I added it to a list of albums I should buy then forgot about it entirely. Only in December when I was browsing through Banquet did I see it and finally buy it. When I got home, it was one of the first albums I played from my haul that day - I knew it backwards, but I wanted to hear those songs soar on my fancy record player for the first time. That play started something of a resurgence for with this album, because it just sounded so fucking lovely. I've probably listened to it more in the last six months than I did in the 16 years before that.

Format: 12", numbered (#1184)
Tracks: 11
Cost: £22 new
Bought: Banquet Records, Kingston
When: 27/12/18
Colour: Yellow/green mix
Etching: none
mp3s: none