The Puppet’s Dream

A few months back I sat on a gloomy Sunday afternoon, ate some tacos, and watched this little indie horror film called We Are Still Here. A good friend told me I should watch it, so I figured why not? It was Sunday, gloomy, and there were tacos to be eaten. Turns out the film was pretty damn good. A creepy ghost story that was surprisingly moving. A story about parents in the throes of grief and depression over the death of their adult son who move far away from their home to a quaint little town in the middle of nowhere to an old farmhouse they found incredibly cheap. Of course there was a reason it was cheap. I’ll spare you the details as you should really seek this one out and watch for yourself. What struck me about it was that it had nothing to do with teens or 20-somethings partying and doing things their parents wouldn’t be proud of getting slaughtered in the usual grotesque manner. It was written with some maturity in mind. There was build-up and nuance. It was subtle horror that ends up in a massive hallucinatory moment of violence and gore. The end sends a chill down your spine.

I’m telling you, watch the movie.

The score was done by a composer named Wojciech Golczewski. It was subtle and nuanced like the film. Not overbearing, it worked to build those moments of surprise, melancholy and dread. Golczewski has been doing movie scores for sometime now, and a couple months ago he released his debut solo album called Reality Check. Of course when Mondo announced they were releasing it I had to drop the money for it and grab it. It was a wise decision as it’s a stunning piece of sci fi-inspired music.

reality-checkThere’s not much I can say about the album that the album can’t say for itself, really. There’s all the great synthesizer work you come to expect from a futuristic sounding album that sort of plays out like mini themes for film scenes. Tracks like “The Puppets Dream”, “Sid Vortex”, and “Solitude” are dense pieces of synth-inspired electronic music that pull you in to their world. The album cover, complete with disintegrating astronaut floating in space, elicits the casually doomed vibe you get as you make your way through Reality Check. But never do you get the feeling that Golczewski is heavy-handed in his approach to composing. It’s not weird whizzing and buzzing for the sake of making futuristic noises or doomed drone. You can tell he’s worked in film for awhile as each piece has a purpose. “Find Me” is reminiscent of Le Matos’ work on the Turbo Kid S/T; there’s a vastness in the track that also has an undertone of, strangely enough, hope. To me it sounds like a modern take of Le Parc-era Tangerine Dream. A populist take on the heady sci-fi sounds of the 70s. “Being Human” carries the weight of the title. It feels like the robot attempting to understand the meaning of mortality…or something like that. There’s elements of so many great electronic composers here, yet Wojciech Golczewski puts them all through his own unique creativity and point of view that it becomes something wholly original. “Reality Check” is barely two minutes, but within it he creates this almost hallucinogenic feeling, as if you’re listening as a black hole is devouring you.

Here’s the description of Reality Check, courtesy of Golczewski’s Bandcamp page:

Reality Check is a concept album compiled of material composed and inspired by Wojciechs various work for the motion pictures. It can be described as a horror sci fi soundtrack with influences from his previous demoscene and chiptune heritage together with more recent synthwave and electronica.

But don’t just listen to my blubbering, you should head over and check the album out for yourself. It’s another stunning piece of synthesizer/electronic work from someone you’ll be hearing more of. At least from me for sure(working on an interview with Mr. Golczewski himself. Look for it in the next few weeks.) While you’re over at his Bandcamp page, you should check out “Tonight She Comes”. It’s a 7″ he did for another indie horror film. Two great synth pieces. Missed out on that 7″. It sold out pretty fast. But it’s alive and well in digital form. Check it!

So yet another incredible instrumental album I’ve picked up this year. If this sort of thing tickles your fancy pick it up. And if you haven’t yet seen it, watch We Are Still Here. Well worth your time, friends.

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Ridiculous Vinyl Purchases : Nostalgia Gets The Best Of Us All

I guess you could say I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia kick lately. On a trip to my local record store recently I was given access to leaf through an as-yet put out collection of records and see if anything tickled my fancy. Within this “like, totally” 80s dive I located some truly most excellent spins from my formative years and without even thinking of what I was doing I’d pulled these 80s metal wonders from the lot and said “I want.”

After John at Karma had given the records a good looking over and had arrived on a price for these albums I paid the man and brought them home. What records am I talking about here? Dokken’s Under Lock And Key, Cinderella’s Night Songs, and Tears For Fears’ Songs From The Big Chair. Yeah I know, they seem like random impulse buys. And really they sort of are, but they also hold some significance in my pre-teen/teen years.

FullSizeRender (94)Dokken’s Under Lock And Key was a no-brainer(I guess in more ways than one) for me. Over the last few months I’ve collected a couple of their records, Back For The Attack and their last and live record Unleashed In The East. For me, Dokken towed the line between metal and hard rock. They came up in the early 80s LA where bands like Ratt and Motley Crue mixed glam and metal. Dokken toned the glam down a notch and concentrated more on intricate songwriting. Don Dokken had a good mid-range voice that lent itself well to banshee wails and warm balladeering rather well. Mick Brown and Jeff Pilson were a solid rhythm section, albeit nothing showy, while the ever tan and shirtless George Lynch excelled at lightning fast runs and melodic wailing better than most at that time. I fell for their heavy and serious rock music in 1985 when I swiped a dubbed copy of their album Tooth And Nail from my older brother. That album was part of the reason I wanted to learn guitar. I couldn’t get over how good George Lynch was. Up to that point it was Eddie Van Halen and Warren Di Martini that impressed me. Lynch seemed to be on a whole other level.

I first owned Under Lock and Key in December of 1986. December 2nd to be exact. I’d received a copy on cassette for my 13th birthday. I’d heard “In My Dreams” and “It’s Not Love” pretty frequently on MTV, Friday Night Videos, and on the radio show Metal Shop late Friday nights on 95.3 WXKE out of Niles, Michigan. Having the album I could fixate on some of the other tunes. “Unchain The Night”, “The Hunter”, “Lightning Strikes Again”, and the ballad “Will The Sun Rise” were all solid songs that were pretty much ignored by everyone else. This was the time of the singles, where record labels pushed two or three tracks and left the rest to collect dust somewhere on the back end of the LP. When I bought an album I gave the whole album a shot. Sometimes there wasn’t much else besides the singles, but occasionally you’d stumble across some buried treasures. I found that to be the case with Dokken, actually.

I was a huge fan of the band till I was 14 or 15 years old. Eventually what killed them for me was their self-serious nature. At first them taking themselves seriously was a good thing to my ears. It made their music seem heavier and legitimate. But as the years went on and their albums became less heavy and more ballad-filled the serious nature made the songs seem all the more, well, lame. George Lynch left the band and it pretty much became Don Dokken’s time to turn the band into a ballad machine.

But still, spinning Under Lock And Key over the last week or so has been a nice nostalgia trip. I’m not looking to rekindle any hard rock relationships, but it’s nice to step into the time machine now and then. And yes, if I ever see a vinyl copy of Tooth And Nail for sale on the cheap I’m buying it.

FullSizeRender (93)About three weeks after my birthday, the first week of Christmas break in 1986 to be exact, I’d headed to Butterfly Records in downtown Warsaw and bought a copy of Cinderella’s Night Songs. I’d given in to the fun and catchy first single “Shake Me” and felt I’d needed to dig into that album a little deeper. It turned out that the rest of that album was pretty solid. Opening track “Night Songs” was pretty damn heavy, really. Ballad “Nobody’s Fool” was enough to get the girls excited while still retaining some metal-ish edge to it. “Hell On Wheels”, “Somebody Save Me”, and “Push Push” were also pretty solid tunes.

This album became a staple of my 7th grade year. I played it pretty much all the time till spring. Coming back to this one recently I was again reminded of how solid this album is. While not seeking future records of theirs on vinyl, I’m glad to have this one as it’s a reminder that not all those 80s glammy hard rock records were completely bogus. Plus, it pays to dig into the deep tracks. I still think Tom Keifer has a great hard rock voice.

FullSizeRender (95)So that leads us to Tears For Fears and Songs From The Big Chair. I was never a huge Tears For Fears fan. I liked the songs when they came on the radio, but I never owned any of their records. They were too pop and radio for my eccentric pret-teen tastes. But over the last few years songs from this album began to come back to me and reminded me of a certain road trip my family took in the summer 1985.

My parents rented a house in Englewood, Florida, for us to stay in on a week-long vacation in the sunshine state. We packed our bags and loaded into our 1984 Honda Accord and headed south. This was a long, long, long drive. It was filled with card games, naps, arguing, burger joint stops, and lots of radio. Tears For Fears’ “Shout” was huge that summer so we heard it A LOT on our way to and from Florida. So much so that it felt as if it had become a part of my DNA. I seem to remember hearing “Head Over Heels” as well quite a bit, though I may have just grafted those memories onto this vacation road trip. Either way, it was one of those situations where at the time I was thinking “Not this song again!”, but unbeknownst to me it had taken hold and had connected with my 11-year old brain. I’d never thought about it, but whenever I’d hear that song over the last 15 years or so it made me feel good. I wanted to hear it more. It was a pleasant surprise when it would come on some 80s radio station or 80s mix I might be listening to. That trip was the reason, I think. So when I saw Songs From The Big Chair in that stack of records I knew I needed to take that one home with me.

Spinning the record I was amazed by just how good of an album it is. It’s catchy, kind of quirky, and a completely different trip from what was coming out in 1985. The singles were massive, and as a whole the album was wonderfully produced and engineered. No wonder it became a permanent part of my DNA.

So there you have it. My walk down memory lane, or nostalgia avenue. There’s one more album I picked up in that lot, but I’ll save it for another post. Until then, go put on some of your or your significant other’s eye liner and throw on Night Songs or Under Lock And Key.

Or better yet, don’t.

Let The Bruise Blood Come Out

This is an interesting one for me.

You see, it seems I discovered the wonderful world of anxiety attacks the summer of 2014. I’m not sure why they started coming on.FullSizeRender (29) My wife had gotten a new job that had her traveling quite a bit. That might have been a part of it, with me being the only adult at home with three kids to make sure they were okay and not kidnapped by marauders or succumb to the pressures of peer pressure while I was at work. But really, I’ve never been one to fold under pressure when it comes to keeping everyone safe and sound, fed and clean, and generally warm with a roof over their heads. I pretty much handle the homebody duties and always have. Curse of the anal-retentive I suppose.

So, even though the wife was going to be gone for four days I felt I had a handle on things. She left on a Sunday and that Monday morning I went to work as usual, no big deal. But sitting at my desk I suddenly had this feeling the world was folding in on me. It was like tunnel vision, with everything narrowing in front of me and I suddenly had this overwhelming feeling of fear come crushing down on me. I got up from my desk and just walked around the dock like a madman trying to walk it off. I went outside and thought maybe some fresh air would help me, but about 2 minutes into my meandering I thought how horrible it would be for me to just fall over dead at work outside, which then caused more fear to bubble up.

Eventually the feeling subsided and I just felt incredibly wore out and like I was getting a cold. I only had to go to work for one more day that week as I took the rest of the week off in order to take my two youngest clothes shopping(yeah, in hindsight that was a really stupid idea.) So Tuesday went okay, then Wednesday morning came and after we dropped my oldest off to band camp the two youngest and I headed to Fort Wayne for some school shopping. Traffic was dreadful as half way to the Fort road crews were working on the highway which caused about a 25 minute crawl(totally not good for the impatient.) We finally made it to Fort Wayne and of course the mall isn’t open yet. Figuring out what to do for an hour, we decided to head over to Target. They have clothes…they have school supplies. We made our way in and as we walked up to the boys clothing dept that feeling came back. The tunnel vision, the darkening edges, and the overbearing fear. Except this time I was an hour from home with my then 9 year old and 11 year old. I quickly just grabbed a couple pair of jeans and some shirts for my son to try on. We made our way back to the dressing rooms and he went in as my daughter and I sat on a bench outside the dressing room. A phone kept ringing in the area somewhere which was driving me nuts. I just kept talking to my daugther in order to keep my head from spinning off my body into the blackness of space(or retail.) The feeling subsided and we left empty handed(who the hell knows what sizes of clothes I grabbed for my son…poor guy.)

It was pretty clear that we weren’t going to be successful in school clothes shopping, so I decided we’d go look at books and hit up Neat Neat Neat Records downtown. I’d told my oldest we’d look for some books for her and I didn’t want to come home empty handed after she’d been outside sweating, marching in formation all day. I’d also asked Morrison at NNN to hold a couple first pressing Cure records, Wish and Faith. Couldn’t not grab those.  Afterwards we snag some lunch before heading back home.

We made our way to S. Calhoun St and parked. As we walked up to NNN we noticed a hand written sign that basically said “I forgot my laptop. Be right back.” So we meandered in front of the store for 10 minutes or so, then Morrison rolled up and happily let us in to the store. The kids know the rules when we head into a record store, which are as follows: 1. Touch nothing 2. No running 3. I said don’t touch anything, dammit! So by now they’re pros at entertaining themselves as daddy gets lost in the stacks of vinyl. It was a great grounding experience going in there after the morning’s anxiety. It felt good to talk to Morrison, about anything. We talked retail, vinyl, bands, Public Radio stations, and of course The Cure. I was super excited to get Wish and I had recently started falling for Faith, one of the most underrated Cure albums in my opinion(next to The Top, maybe.) Morrison is one of those guys that knows music. Not in a smarmy “I’m better than you” sort of way. But in a way that he can recommend something to me that I didn’t know about previously that I will actually like. That doesn’t happen much for me anymore(yeah, that sounded kind of smarmy, didn’t it?) What I’m trying to say is that Morrison is a dude that knows music, inside and out. He’s a year younger than me so we can relate to the middle-aged guy thing pretty well, and he’s working on making an album that’s very much influenced by Tangerine Dream’s Rubycon. He’s a cool dude.

While the kids sat on the couch in the hi-fi room, Morrison told me about a huge collection he’d gotten from the Public Radio station. He said he hadn’t even gone through it yet, but that I was welcome to go through it and see if there was anything I was interested in. Of course I can’t pass that up, so I started rummaging through it when I came across New Sounds In Electronic Music. I like electronic music, and new sounds are always inviting so I stopped looking at that point and pulled this one out of the pile. I knew with those Cure albums I’d hit my monetary limit so one more record was icing on the cake. Or the cherry on top of the sundae. Something like that. Morrison threw me a number for the album and I happily agreed. I gathered up the spins and the kids and we headed out.

Once we were home for good with the oldest in tow(happy at the books she had waiting for her) and pizza to chow down on, we settled in for the night and I threw the album on the turntable. Reich’s “Come Out” was a social commentary piece he’d done in the 60s as a statement towards Civil Rights and the treatment of peaceful black protesters by thuggish cops. It’s also Reich’s early works in musical experimentation regarding phasing. Starting two tape decks out at the same time, then letting them start to phase out of time. To some I’m sure it’s annoying to listen to, but to me it’s absolutely mesmerizing to get lost in. The Richard Maxfield piece “Night Music” is analog bleeps and chirps. Maxfield was one of the pioneers of avante garde electronic music, and his piece shows that. It’s not something you’d put on at parties(maybe you would, just don’t invite me to that party unless some Xanax is involved.) Pauline Oliveros’ “I Of IV” is rather spellbinding. Once again not for everyone, but when I listen to the entire 20 minute span of this piece I can get lost in its depths quite easily. I do listen to it on headphones as I know the family doesn’t share my enthusiasm. Oliveros is another pioneer of electronic music. I even hipped White Hills to this track, as it reminded me of some of their more expansive, spacey instrumental pieces.

The album itself was appealing to me for the fact that Steve Reich was on it. I’d really gotten into Reich over the previous winter, so that was a plus. I’d never heard of Richard Maxfield or Pauline Oliveros, but with song titles like “Night Music” and “I Of IV” I knew I couldn’t go wrong. But more than anything; more than the music or the mind-expanding sounds in those grooves, the most important thing about this record was just the find. It was the feeling of being anchored back to earth while searching through that box. This record could’ve been some classical work, or an old Thelonious Monk Riverside LP. What it was didn’t matter as much as just me finding something. It deflated the earlier panic and let me get back to feeling normal(or as normal as I get.) That’s what is so great about this LP. It’s an added bonus that I really dug the music and the composers.

Since then I’ve gotten control of the panic, no prescription meds required. I’m just trying to not get overwhelmed. I’m pushing some of those homebody responsibilities onto those kids of mine who are now old enough to do those kinds of things. Exercise helps in alleviating some of that stress, too. And beer.

I just had to let some of the bruise blood come out.

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Afterthought Part Three : White Hill’s ‘Walks For Motorists’

One of the albums that unfortunately fell through the cracks with me in 2015 was White Hills’ Walks For Motorists. It was one of those records I was extremely excited about as White Hills has been one of my favorite bands ever since I first discovered them courtesy of Joe over at 1537. I’ve even had the honor of interviewing Dave W and Ego Sensation twice, first back in 2013 about their then new album So You Are…So You’ll Be, then again last year about Walks For Motorists. Even with all that excitement the album sort of got left behind this year. I think it came out in April, but the vinyl was delayed for like a month or something. I don’t know. All I know is when it finally arrived we were in the midst of some painting project at home and the house was in disarray. I listened to the album a couple of times, as well as the bonus 12″ that came with the deluxe copy, and that was pretty much it. Vacations, wife gone on work trips, kids go back to school, other albums hit my ears, and the seasons change,…turn, turn, turn. So December comes, albums are re-visited, a list is made, posts are posted, and next thing you know it’s freaking January.

Goodbye 2015. Hello 2016.

IMG_0639So here I am on the Monday after the New Years holiday and I’m listening to Walks For Motorists at my desk and wondering why this didn’t stick better with me? It’s pretty phenomenal. Their 2013 album So You Are…So You’ll Be hit me right away. As I listen to songs like “No Will”, “Wanderlust”, and the epic space jam “Lead The Way” I’m convinced once again of Dave W and Ego Sensation’s innate ability to pull the listener from their drab, pedestrian surroundings and place them in some psychedelic wormhole and come out the other side into this R. Crumb-like hallucinogenic state. I think that’s what grabbed me in the first place in regards to White Hills. They’re not about being flashy(though they can flash with the best of ’em) and they’re not about being as heavy as possible(though they can be heavy as Black Sabbath under dense metallic gravity). They’re all about this incredible musical journey. Walks For Motorists continues that musical journey quite beautifully, with a much sharper, crisper musical palate than ever before. The dense layers of molten fuzz that encrusted previous White Hills joints has been replaced with a studio sheen and focused lower end. This record is a drum and bass smorgasbord. The Gibson Les Paul has been set off to the side in place of highlighting Ego Sensation’s monolithic fuzzy bass tones and emphasis on dark, groove-laden  rhythms. Dave W has put the synthesizer front and center this time around, with the Les Paul filling in the cracks and crevices when needed. Producer David Wrench sounds like a perfect fit for White Hills. It still very much sounds like Dave W and Ms. Sensation, but interpreted through new ears.

IMG_0640Also, with previous White Hills records, there were usually a couple instrumental pieces that would fill the voids with atmospheric lushness. “I, Nomad” does that in spades, feeling like floating through some technicolor tear in time. The last and title track “Walks For Motorists” is sort of an instrumental, with the sound of a voice in conversation underneath the long-ish groove-heavy tune. There’s also some classic guitar heavy psych in the form “We Are What You Are”. “Automated City” is part android techno and part space rock noir.

The album as a whole has a noir-ish feel to it. Glamorous, dark, seedy, and dystopian. This is definitely a dance record. It also feels like one step closer to White Hills making that Siouxie Sioux/Bauhaus/Echo and the Bunnymen-inspired 80s alternative record. I very much look forward to hearing something like that. 4AD-meets-endless space rock jams? Yeah, I could go for that. Until then, I’ve got Walks For Motorists to enjoy.

Editor’s Note: I must also note that with previous White Hills releases, this one came with a bonus 12″ called Drives For Pedestrians. It’s 30 minutes of extra music, which in this case is trippy, atmospheric, spacey jams. These extra albums are such a great surprise. They may not have fit on the overall LP, but they’re definitely not table craps. Check out their tour-only EP Stolen Stars Left For No One for proof. That’s as good as half the actual LPs released nowadays. Thanks White Hills. I won’t forget you next time. 

Oneohtrix Point Never : Garden of Delete

It’s not often that I can’t think of the words to describe an album. I can usually scrounge up enough vernacular to create a pretty good idea of what’s in between theoneohtrix grooves. But with Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, and his newest album Garden of Delete, it can be quite perplexing to paint a clear picture of what he’s doing this time around. Going back to the first OPN records, it was a lot of drone and space-y ambient textures. Betrayed In The Octagon, Russian Mind, and Zones Without People had the vibe of early Tangerine Dream and Vangelis, but with a darker view of the outside world. Replica made brilliant use of loops which made for a whole new vibe, while R Plus Seven felt haunted and alone. A soundtrack to a content dream that turns into a nightmare, only to head back into the light towards the end.

Oneohtrix Point Never toured with Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden last year, which prompted Daniel Lopatin to change the scope of his music. He wanted to create something more modern; something more rock-influenced. The result is Garden of Delete, a mix of distorted vocals, dancier beats, and industrial muscle that is both the weirdest album by OPN, and one of the best.

So there was a story about how this album was a result of the influence of an extraterrestrial named Ezra that came into contact with Lopatin. The album does indeed have somewhat of a story regarding this tale, and there’s even a song called “Ezra”, but I’m not going to get into that. I’m just going to talk about the songs themselves. “Intro” is a distorted voice(presumably the alien in question) which leads into “Ezra”, a loop-filled track that feels like snippets of memories sewn together with Lopatin’s musical storytelling. The song picks up in the middle section like some manic techno freakout before the bottom drops out. “Sticky Drama” feels like OPNs attempt at a pop hit. It contains big bombastic swaths of synth you might hear on some big radio hit, as well as heavily effected vocals that could be some pop diva disguised as a robot. Pretty soon though the song descends into some hellish, industrial explosion, like Skinny Puppy devouring Aphex Twin in an attempt to digest its essence. There may be moments of modern pop extravagance here, but make no mistake this is an Oneohtrix Point Never record.

“SDFK” is a quiet interlude that reminds one of earlier OPN records, and it takes us into the album’s centerpiece “Mutant Standard”. An eight minute ride into deep space and some dark subconscious, the NIN influence is noticeable but it never feels like Lopatin is aping Mr. Reznor. Elements of ambient soundscapes and driving techno, the song is carried along by a percussive center that allows for strange aural delights to come in and out of the mix, racing from left to right. “Mutant Standard” feels very much alive and relevant. All of those artists attempting to do what Daniel Lopatin does need to sit down and listen to this song and go back to the drawing board. “Child of Rage” is another track that showcases the elegance Lopatin brings to electronic and synth music that may sometimes gets lost in the weird. It’s like Weather Report and Cluster were enveloped into an old IBM motherboard. “I Bite Through It” sounds like Nitzer Ebb and New Order through metal shavings and bad dreams, while Stanley Jordan plays over the mania. “Freaky Eyes”, “Lift”, and “No Good” take the album to it’s eventual end, with “No Good” being the reserved, quiet piece this album needs to end on.

Garden of Delete never wavers from the journey it starts at the beginning. It seems Daniel Lopatin isn’t resting on his laurels by sticking to the same formula. What this album proves is that he is as ever-changing and as vital as the music he creates as Oneohtrix Point Never. Not sure how he can top this album, but I’m happy to listen and see if he can.

8.8 out of 10

 

 

ELO : Alone In The Universe

Jeff Lynne has become a universe unto himself in the last 40 years. A Beatles freak that created his own unique brand of power popELO through studio inventiveness and the sheer love of melody. He did his fair share of radio love in the 70s. Is there anyone that grew up in the 70s that doesn’t have some ELP-scored moment? “Telephone Line”, “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head”, “Strange Magic”, “Turn To Stone”, and “Livin’ Thing” were massive hits and played in countless car rides and late night AM transistor radio listenings. School dances, make out sessions, break up heartbreaks, and even your melancholy moments all at one point or another had Mr. Lynne and ELO backing them up. For me, it was a Wheaties commercial. Yes, a Wheaties commercial starring none other than Caitlyn Jenner(well, in 1980 she was still known as Bruce Jenner and was an Olympic champion.) The commercial was soundtracked by ELO’s “Hold On Tight” and that song always stuck with me. It wasn’t until I was 19 years old and had bought the ELO album Time on a whim that all those childhood memories came rushing back. As I listened to the album in my bedroom “Hold On Tight” came on and I was floored. I’d never known who sang the song and when I realized it was the band I was currently listening to that I’d just randomly bought their CD that evening I couldn’t believe it. This began my descent into an ELO/Jeff Lynne wormhole that would last for years.

Not many can have a successful career; first as a recording artist then as a sought-after producer. Jeff Lynne did that. In the 70s he was the leader of ELO, then in the 80s he produced albums for George Harrison, Tom Petty, and also the supergroup Traveling Wilburys(of which he was also a member.) He created the “Jeff Lynne sound”, which consisted of chorus-y, snappy snare and bright chiming guitar. It’s one of those sounds that you never forget and it makes albums like Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever and Lynne’s own Armchair Theater such timeless and classic albums. Unfortunately it’s also like a watermark that indelibly dates the songs and albums. It’s a calling card with a catchy phrase you never forget. After awhile though that catchy phrase goes from clever to kind of kitchy.

Jeff Lynne has returned after a rather quiet 15 years(give or take some producing here and a covers album there) and has given us Jeff Lynne’s ELO. Alone In The Universe is most definitely a Jeff Lynne album. You like soaring harmonies, melodies for miles, and a sprinkle of heartbreak for good measure? Then step inside Mr. Lynne’s guitar-shaped rocket ship and enjoy.

I’m not sure what constitutes an ELO album anymore, as opposed to just a Jeff Lynne album. They’re really hard to tell apart at this point. I suppose there’s less spaced-out rockabilly and Roy Orbison-isms on an ELO album than say a solo Lynne record. Alone In The Universe revisits some familiar ELO territory, in particular Face The Music and A New World Record-era ELO. The “Telephone Line”-like “When I Was A Boy” will make you feel all warm and fuzzy, while “Dirty To The Bone” feels like Lynne revisiting the few moments of 80s ELO that weren’t dreadful. “When The Night Comes” has a stunted reggae vibe, like Lynne can’t get loose enough in the rhythm department to get the right amount of skank. Still, it comes across as a decent enough Jeff Lynne song.

The production touches Jeff Lynne is known for have been mellowed over time, like a leather chair that has been worn down over years of use. The snare isn’t quite as snappy as it used to be, which is a good thing and a good fit for the weathered voice that emerges from that bearded face.

Alone In The Universe is worth the price of admission just to have two exquisite tracks. “The Sun Will Shine On You” is regal and like floating through space in some magical bubble powered by a truly “strange magic”. This song is proof Mr. Lynne should continue to make music until he no longer can. “Ain’t It A Drag” is a jangle rock track that sounds like what would happen if the Traveling Wilburys had been produced by Jon Brion on a coffee buzz. It’s a fun rock ‘n roll number that Lynne might’ve thrown at us in his Armchair Theater days.

So if you’re looking for A New World Record, Face The Music, or Out Of The Blue, then go listen to those albums. Alone In The Universe isn’t those records. It is, however, Jeff Lynne making the best of getting old. It’s also a couple Jeff Lynne classics and a handful of pretty decent songs.

7.5 out of 10

 

emptiness inside

So the whole shoegaze vibe hasn’t quite left me just yet. Tonight, it’s the My Bloody Valentine CD Boxset of their first two LPs, as well as their EP collection. I recently bought a Pioneer 25-disc CD changer for the home stereo off of my pal at work for a pauper’s allowance and this delicious box set is what I’m christening it with.

I believe that was a good decision.

So I bought this disc changer because I still have some CDs I quite like to listen to, but had a lousy CD player to play them on. Not only that, but I’ve got some pretty great CD boxsets that I’d love to load in and hit random on. Now I can. The first thing that came to my mind was this collection of remastered albums by one of my favorite bands that I bought as soon as it came out back in 2012. Of course I’d prefer these on vinyl, but God knows when Shields will get around to doing that. It took him nearly 22 years to release a proper follow-up to 1991s seminal Loveless. Figured I’d take what I can get. This one was pretty pricey anyways. Can’t imagine all of this on vinyl and the gallons of plasma I’d have to give in order to afford it. Turns out, these shiny, circular discs can sound pretty damn good as well. Who knew?

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I came to MBV late. Like 22 years late. But I’m here now, and I will tell you this collection is a great way to see Shields and company not only revolutionized their sound in just the course of a couple years, but how they revolutionized alternative music as a whole.

IMG_0807First up is the EPs 1988-1991. When I first received this box set in the mail from the excellent Luna Music back in 2012 this was the album I listened to the least. I was of the mindset that these were just throwaway songs collected onto two discs in order to just sweeten the musical pot for those suckers wanting to be completists. Turns out I was a f*****g moron and what this double CD album does is show you the evolution of the band in three years time. “You Made Me Realise” is noisy and punk-informed, while “Slow” is a churning fuzz pop classic. You get the feeling that Kevin Shields was quickly finding a voice in the squall and feedback he was making. There’s both Brit pop decadence and vitriol noise excursions on here. You can hear where the pre-Isn’t Anything sound gives into the pre-Loveless wall of dense sound. It’s quite fascinating. Really, this double CD collection is absolutely essential in understanding the sonic evolution of My Bloody Valentine.

IMG_0805Next is the band’s first proper LP, 1988s Isn’t Anything. I listened to this one quite a bit when I first received the box set as I wasn’t all that familiar with the record, honestly. At first, it sounded rather thin to me. It’s a sparse, noisy pop record for the most part. There were hints of what was to come in tracks like “Lose My Breath”, “Feed Me With Your Kiss”, and the album closer “I Can See It(But I Can’t Feel It), but for the most part these were treble-y, jangly pop songs. But here’s the thing, I think this record is also an essential step for the band. I think what this record proves is that Kevin Shields, Debbie Googe, Bilinda Butcher, and Colm Ó Cíosóig were merely mortals, just like the rest of us idiots. They weren’t these moody, dour, mystical beings creating Gothic walls of deafening sonic white noise. No, they were just a band of four people wanting to make music. Just four folks giving into their Beatles and Sex Pistols fandom and making rock and roll. This album is essential in understanding the people, so we can tolerate the myth.

IMG_0804And then there’s Loveless. I can’t really say much about this album that hasn’t already been said. In fact, I can’t add anything to the mix other than to say once I got this album, I REALLY f*****g got it. This album sort of melded into my psyche. I’d listen to “Touched” and “To Here Knows When” on repeat in my headphones for an hour. I swear it seemed as if ghosts were trying to talk through the fuzz and dense noise. After awhile you started to hear all those things buried deep within the tracks. With these newly remastered versions of the albums(one from the original tape, while the other from the original 1/2 inch analogue tapes) you can hear bits and pieces that were barely there before. Percussion and voices appear that were merely aural shadows before. “Sometimes” becomes this almost meditative, melancholy sigh. “Only Shallow” and “Loomer” have a deeper, harsher fuzz to them now. They seem heavier, even. “When You Sleep” has more of a minor key melody to it thanks to bringing the keys up a bit. Everything just pops a bit more with these new remastered versions.

So yeah, I’m enjoying a little My Bloody Valentine. My wife returned from her trip last night and brought home some Mothman Black IPA from Lewisburg, West Virginia. It’s quite a tasty brew, I might add. Tastes more like Black Rye than IPA, and that’s a good thing in my book.

Have a great Sunday evening folks.