Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Rancid - Rancid

I have one Rancid album, and this is it. I'm pretty sure any Rancid fan would be horrified at the prospect of only owning their self-titled fifth album, rather than one that everyone agrees to be better, such as ...And Out Comes the Wolves. I was never a huge Rancid fan - I saw them at a Reading Festival one year and borrowed one of their cds from a friend (back in the day when that was how you shared music). I don't think I ever had any plans to get into them properly, I just bought this because it was quite cheap.

I was in Heidelberg visiting a friend who was spending a year abroad studying there. I was exploring the town one day and found the local record shop, Vinyl Only (I can't remember if it was true to its word, or whether there were cds there too). There wasn't a huge amount I was after, but I did find this and Sparta's Porcelain for £7 each (or whatever that was in Euros at the time), which seemed like good deals. I figured I'd get £7-worth of enjoyment out of it and I probably did back then. Plus, I knew the song Rattlesnake from a free cd I got on a copy of Kerrang! one summer - that cd ended up being the soundtrack to a family holiday to France (at least in the headphones I had, not the car hifi).

I've not listened to this album in a very long time - it was before the era of mp3 downloads and it's rarely what I feel like listening to when I sit down in front of my record player. It's not a bad album, but it's pretty flat - I mean that in the sense that across the 22 songs, there are few moments that really stand out, which means it's just 22 hardcore-ish punk songs. There's a very subtle hint of their old ska days, but it's not very noticeable. Generally speaking, I prefer the songs that Lars sings, but I definitely couldn't listen to a whole album of just him singing, so it's good that there's a mix. There are a few moments that stand out a bit, but it's hard to figure out which ones they are without counting lines on the LP (and I guess I just don't care that much)

I think I just came to Rancid too late. I can see why my friends were big fans in our late teens - the band had a perfect mix of aggression, aesthetic and enough genres to appeal to a variety of people. As someone whose teenage years are beginning to feel like a distant memory, it's harder to enjoy as much.

Format: 12", picture sleeve
Tracks: 22
Cost: £7 new
Bought: Vinyl Only, Heidelberg
When: 23/01/06
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: no

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

One Minute Silence - South Central

South Central was one of the biggest songs from One Minute Silence's debut album. My friends and I all became fans of the band when they released their second album, Buy Now... Saved Later and eventually dug out copies of their debut (I found mine in a record shop in Bournemouth). In the early 2000's I developed a pretty unhealthy eBay addiction and occasionally saw this 12" picture disc go up for sale, but I never bought a copy. I liked how shamelessly metal the a-side looked (at least back in the day, anyway).

Many years later I was in Auckland and stumbled across a copy in the huge Real Groovy. It was a mere £1.85 (or whatever that was in NZ$ at the time) and it seemed rude not to. It had been three years since OMS had released their third and final album, although I still listened to them from time to time. It wasn't remotely like the indie or post-hardcore I'd been getting into for the few years around that time, but I felt like I owed it to younger me to buy it. He'd have been pleased that I had him in mind when I made that purchase.

I guess the most curious thing about this record is how it made it all the way around the globe in the first place. I wonder if the band ever had much of a following in New Zealand? If so, it almost feels like a bit of a shame that I should buy it and bring it back around the world for it to reside in my record collection in the country it came from. The b-sides are Stuck Between a Rock and a White Face, also from the debut album and Half Empty a song that made it onto the Japanese version of the debut. It's a fine additional song and would have fit on the album just as well as a lot of the other songs.

This is another slightly (understatement) underappreciated record in my collection, but I'm glad I have it.

Format: 12" picture disc
Tracks: 3
Cost: £1.85 second hand
Bought: Real Groovy, Auckland
When: 20/04/06
Colour: Picture disc
Etching: none
mp3s: no

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Pale Angels - Primal Play

I very nearly saw the first ever Pale Angels show, but it clashed with another band I really wanted to see at (Pre-)Fest, so I had to miss them. In the end, another 6 months would pass before I finally saw Pale Angels and became a fan, and that was only really by accident.

Pale Angels feature Mikey from The Ergs and Jamie from The Arteries. Being a big fan of The Arteries I was intrigued, but I'd never really listened to The Ergs and was aware that Mikey had a tendency for being in many bands at any one given point. Being shockingly apathetic, I simply never made any effort to check them out, despite hearing good things about their album, Primal Play (which, if I remember correctly, had come out just ahead of their first ever show at Fest). Anyway, one Friday evening in east London, Calvinball were playing one of their last ever shows along with a few other familiar bands, and Pale Angels got added to the bill. I was pleased to finally be forced into checking them out (plus, it turned out that by this point my friend Reza was playing drums for them, an arrangement that continues to this day).

I had no idea what to expect when they took the stage, but I certainly wasn't prepared to be taken back to early-90's grunge rock. It felt a bit like what it must have felt like in the dingy bars of Seattle 25 years earlier - unexpected walls of fuzz-heavy tunes. I was impressed. (I had the same feeling the first time I saw Hot Mass a few years later - another Arteries offshoot.)

At the end of the year, I finally picked up their album, along with two 7"s in a bundle from Specialist Subject Records. It was everything I was hoping for after seeing them - fuzzy and heavy. In the Sunset is possibly the highlight, although the 14-minute Bed Bugs is more exciting than you might otherwise expect from such a long song - it starts of slow but then builds to quite a pace before finding a very catchy chorus.

Format: 12", insert
Tracks: 9
Cost: £11.50 new
Bought: Specialist Subject Records
When: 05/12/14
Colour: Blue marble
Etching: Side A: "Put the kettle on" Side B: "Sexy willy riff"
mp3s: Download code

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Explosions in the Sky - The Wilderness

Explosions in the Sky are an incredible band. I often feel that it took them a while to realise that themselves though; the level of grandeur around their first three albums was minimal (almost non-existent). The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place is musically mind-blowing, but on the surface appears much like a regular album - if you picked it up in a record store, you'd have no warning of quite how huge it would be. On All Of a Sudden I Miss Everyone they finally began to release records as if they were an epic post-rock band - everything about that record screams "I am a big album".

It was a theme that they continued with Take Care Take Care Take Care and this album, The Wilderness. It's strange to focus so much on the packaging, but a lot of time and effort has clearly gone into it, so it feels worth dwelling on. If you picked up this double LP copy of The Wilderness in a record store, you'd know you were in for something big. The gatefold sleeve unfolds in ways I still can't quite fathom and makes a sort of cave of geometric art (see the last picture). The first disc is red and the second clear with a laser etching of the geometric lines found across the artwork. It's a lovely way to present the album.

Musically, I'm a huge fan of The Wilderness. Take Care was a good album, but it didn't do anything dramatically different to what they'd done before. The two before showed they'd found their sound, and they made it their sound. There's nothing wrong with Take Care, but it was too similar without being better. The Wilderness, however, shows the band much further outside of their comfort zone, and the results are brilliant. So many little things are different that it's hard to even put my finger on what makes it so different.

The album has far more songs than we're used to, but a similar duration, resulting in much shorter songs. When a band like Explosions records song that is only three minutes long, you assume it's filler, but these moment somehow contain just as much beautiful music as the longer songs. Infinite Orbit is a great example - it's only two-and-a-half minutes long but still makes my jaw drop. Gone are the quiet-quiet-loud moments that the genre is used to (and the band have historically done so well) and instead we have songs that hit all the same emotions and tell equally interesting stories, but in a totally different way.

It also feels like there is a lot more experimentation with how to make sounds - at the very start of (and a bit throughout) Disintegration Anxiety I have no idea what they're using to make the music, but it's great. John Congleton (of The Paper Chase, and the reason I got into EITS) produced the album, but he also produced Take Care, so I assume that all parties brought fresh ideas to the table.

I'm really pleased that the band released this album, both for them and for me. It would have been easy to play it safe with another expected post-rock album, but instead they treat us with a huge mixture of things that they still somehow manage to craft into sounding beautiful.

Format: Double 12", multi-directional gatefold sleeve, 24"x24" poster, slipcase
Tracks: 9
Cost: £35 new
Bought: Truck Store
When: 04/04/16
Colour: Transparent red, clear
Etching: Laser etching on side D
mp3s: Download code

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Owen Pallett - In Conflict

I started listening to Owen Pallett when he was recording under the name Final Fantasy. I'd been given a mixtape with the huge The CN Tower Belongs to the Dead and shortly afterwards I had the opportunity to see him in Cardiff - it remains one of the best shows I've ever seen - he played entirely solo with a loop pedal and then played a bunch of songs in the car park after the show finished. About 20 or 30 people were stood in absolute silence watching him play violin and sing un-amplified. It was quite something.

Six years later, I finally went to see him play again. I think there'd been opportunities to see him in between, but I think I was worried about ruining my memories of that Cardiff show. This show was a seated show in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, a building on the south bank in London that I'd not been to before. I can't remember what I knew about the show in advance - quite possibly very little - I didn't even know if it was going to be solo or with other musicians. I dragged along my friend Rich thinking he'd probably quite enjoy it. Plus, he worked a few doors along the river, so it was at least easy for him to get to.

Owen played that night with a chamber music orchestra, a drummer and a bass player (as well as a few songs solo) - it was quite a grand set-up compared to what I'd been used to. I remember really enjoying it, but it being very different to the last show (which was a good thing). However, the highlight of the night hit when he played a couple of songs with all the musicians at the same time. It was like watching a live drum 'n' bass remix of classical songs. The drummer in particular was beating the shit out of his drums and the effect was incredible. If I'd just seen those two songs alone I would have left happy. I couldn't have pictured a show more different to the one I saw six years before and I certainly wouldn't have expected to enjoy it so much.

Those two songs turned out to be The Riverbed and Infernal Fantasy, two consecutive songs from his most-recent-at-the-time album, In Conflict. I'd heard a lot of noise around the album release, but after my moderate enjoyment of Heartland I was wary of rushing out to get another album. After the London show I bought In Conflict as soon as I found a copy (the LP includes a bonus track that isn't on the mp3 download - Bridle & Bit - a very interesting song with female vocals). It's a great album with a strong mixture of songs - I Am Not Afraid and The Secret Seven are really great. But for me, three songs towards the end of the album are what I look forward to the most. The Sky Behind the Flag quickly picks up the pace as the drums and beat get moving fast but then The Riverbed hits even harder from the outset and is the highlight of the album. It's probably the most obvious "rock song" that Owen's ever recorded, but it turns out that style of writing with his musical stylings work incredibly. Then we are treated to Infernal Fantasy, which features some almost-gang vocals towards the end. It's very strangely weighted album for me - I listen eagerly awaiting those songs towards the end - but it makes for a very rewarding listen.

Format: Double 12", gatefold sleeve
Tracks: 14
Cost: £20 new
Bought: Truck Store
When: 14/01/15
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: Download code

Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Gutter Twins - Saturnalia

The Gutter Twins were a Tuesday-record-from-Spillers discovery in late-July. I'd long been aware of both Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli, so figured it'd be interesting to hear a collaboration between the two of them. For £11, it was definitely worth the punt.

I knew they both had great voices, and they work wonderfully together. The songs are quite varied but ultimately fit within the category of "rock" - a lot of the edge that set these guys apart in the 90's is a bit watered down, but that's to be expected. If you're after some heavier-than-middle-of-the-road rock songs with some incredible vocals, then you're in for a treat with The Gutter Twins.

I don't listen to this album that often, but I enjoy it a lot more than I remember each time I do. In my mind it's quite a long album, and at 12 songs and nearly an hour long, it's on that side of things. When "super-groups" release albums, there's always that fear of the album being bloated from no one telling them to stop (something Them Crooked Vultures were very guilty of); I would probably have enjoyed this album equally, or maybe more, if it was a couple of songs shorter, but that's just my preference. It's a perfectly enjoyable album, but certainly hasn't changed my life in any real way.

Format: Double 12", insert
Tracks: 12
Cost: £11 new
Bought: Spillers Records, Cardiff
When: 29/07/08
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: Download code

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Bob Dylan - Biograph

Shortly after I started this blog I had the realisation that I'd have to write about this boxset at some point; it filled me with dread. It's important to note that I'm not anti Bob Dylan, but I've found over the years that I have a tolerance of about 20 minutes, half an hour at most, of his music. I fully appreciate his status as a musician and I see why he's so popular, but I find large doses of him very difficult. This record might well be the reason for that.

In 2006, after a two-week trip around New Zealand my friends and I ended up in Auckland and had the last day of our trip to explore the city. I made a line pretty much straight for the huge record store, Real Groovy and spent a number of hours trying to check out everything they had. I bought a lot - two weeks of incredible scenery had left me starved of record shopping. One of the finds I was most excited about was this 5-record Bob Dylan boxset, for a mere £11. It's not in great condition, but it felt worth it for the sheer quantity of music.

I'd never really sat down and listened to Bob Dylan before. You hear a lot just about the place, especially given that a lot of my friends were very big Dylan fans. That year we were going to Roskilde Festival for the second time and Bob was playing - this pleased at least two of the friends I was going with. When close friends are that excited about a certain musician, you really have to check them out properly (and, to be honest, I really should have many years before). By buying this record I thought I'd have a great chance to get to know him - what could be better than a huge best-of and rarities compilation?

There are a number of reasons I struggled with this boxset, and one of them is certainly the sequencing, which lacks any coherent flow. I'm a fan of chronological best-ofs, but I see that some work best in a more curated order. Whatever the intended flow was here, I can't see it. The album starts with Lay Lady Lay, which is underwhelming. I'm probably in the minority of people that suffered this problem, but I was very familiar with Ministry's slightly dodgy cover of the song from Filth Pig, so I was probably off to a dubious start. That is my own fault really.

Side two (of ten!) steps it up a notch - I remember thinking this was more like it. The Times They Are A-Changing and Blowin' in the Wind were classic Dylan songs I was aware of, and Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll was a pleasant surprise. However, the true gem and highlight of the 53 songs here for me was Masters of War. That political, bitter epic came out of nowhere and instantly became my favourite Dylan song. It was worth the £11 and other 52 songs just to hear that song alone.

Side three features some upbeat songs in the form of Tombstone Blues, Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar and a live recording of Most Likely You Go Your Way as well as Like a Rolling Stone, which has a great chorus. I was very familiar with Subterranean Homesick Blues from the much-parodied video but also, more regrettably, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers cover (there's a bit of a theme here - I've heard good Dylan covers since hearing this album, but the ones prior to that point were mostly somewhat dubious).

The big problem is just that there are a lot of songs that do absolutely nothing for me. It's unfair to single these out, but Visions of Johanna or Every Grain of Sand are prime examples (and both on the same side) - nothing really happens. They're fine, but there are a lot of other songs that are equally fine, and it adds up to a lot of kinda similar, rambling acoustic-guitar-and-harmonica numbers. If I had to, I could put together a single LP best-of that would be incredible. He has so many memorably great songs that it's probably make for a hugely enjoyable listen. But I appreciate it wouldn't be the "best" to everyone, so they include the many rambling, forgettable acoustic songs too to even it out. I guess the modern solution is a playlist of the Dylan songs I actually like.

The sides 6-8 are a little lighter on songs I enjoy, but they bring it round with the last disc. Even the very-80's-sounding Gotta Serve Somebody is quite enjoyable. The final side ends up being one of the most hits-heavy with I Shall Be Released, Knockin' on Heaven's Door, All Along the Watchtower and Forever Young

The boxset is pretty detailed - Wikipedia tells me it was considered to be the first "boxset", which is quite cool. The picture sleeves contain a few paragraphs about each of the songs and there's a 36-page book giving a not-so-brief history of him and his music. You'd be lucky to get such an attention to detail these days. I remember trying to read about each song as I listened to it on the first play, but I quickly got tired of that. A year or so later I tried again, spreading the task (or chore - it felt like it at times) over a few days. None of the content has stayed with me it seems, except the intro to the book where the author talks about attending a Bob Dylan themed party - you had to dress as a character from his songs. At the time, the only character I could immediately think of was an eskimo, since that song had featured heavily in road trips in my friend's VW camper van.

That summer we saw Bob live and it was quite the disappointment. I shouldn't be too harsh, he's very old and it's quite the miracle he can still play and I do feel lucky to have seen him, even if I'm not the biggest fan. However, the peak of my disappointment hit when he played Masters of War, my new favourite Dylan song - he decided to change so much about it that it had none of the anger or excitement of the version I was used to. His set was long, and my friend Vicky got particularly bored (although it's worth noting that even Hugh and Rachel who were big fans were struggling too) so we went for a wander mid-set and caught about 15-minutes of Wir Sind Helden, a German band my friend Nadine had got me into, and then returned to catch the end of his set.

I always felt that the boxset was chronically missing Hurricane, a Dylan song I knew and loved beforehand, and felt that it was a shame that the sprawling best-of I had was missing such a huge song (and contained so many songs I didn't care for). I ended up buying the more recent and equally sprawling Dylan boxset (on cd, for a bargain £6 in Fopp), mostly so that I could have that song. It turned out that buying another huge collection of Dylan songs was maybe not wise, given my tendency to prefer him in small doses. I also have a 4LP covers record in the form of the soundtrack to I'm Not There. I seem to only indulge in Dylan in large amounts (rather shamefully, I've still not consciously listened to album in the traditional sense), which might be where I'm going wrong. I should probably rectify that at some point (but where to start!?).