Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Human League: The Dignity Of Labour Pts. 1 - 4 (1979)

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If the only track you know from The Human League is Don't You Want Me (or Fascination or Love Action), you know nothing about The Human League.

This EP, the band's first, is a striking follow-up to the band's first single, Being Boiled. This is a bizarre, abstract, and purely electronic piece of music from a weird pseudo-pop band. The music is well ahead of its time and really experimental. The band makes use of the Roland System 100 synthesizer on every track. Just listen. It sounds nothing like the Human League you think you know. It's truly brilliant.

(Sadly, my copy of this 12" 45RPM single is lacking the flexidisc that was originally included).

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

How To Destroy Angels: Welcome Oblivion (2013)

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Allmusic's description of How to Destroy Angels is perfect, except for one thing. They write: "Mixing industrial beats and dreamy trip-hop-tinged vocals, How to Destroy Angels feature Trent Reznor, his wife Mariqueen Maandig, and NIN producer Atticus Ross." [source] That should have read: "his gorgeous wife Mariqueen Maandig." Just do a google image search, if you want to be convinced. But, back to the record.

This is a fabulous record, but if you are expecting NIN, you will be disappointed. It's far quieter and measured, but I think it's really beautiful.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Housemartins: Now That's What I Call Quite Good (1988)

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I will make the suggestion that Now That's What I Call Quite Good is really the only Housemartins collection anyone needs. It's a double LP of top album cuts, b-sides, and BBC sessions. It works very well as a collection, and it really means you don't need the first two releases, unless you feel strongly about the band.

I used to have a CD copy as well, but my then-girlfriend over-payed it so much so that I swore I would never listen to it again, lest I decide to kill myself. That was one CD I was happy to leave behind. Somehow, I have the LP, and I have listened to it and managed not to kill myself.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Housemartins: The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death (1987)

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Jesus hates him everyday
'cause Jesus gave and farmer took

A year after the first record, this Christian new wave band returned with it's second and last LP, The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death. That's quite an evocative title and the title track has good pace and I rather enjoy it. Me and the Farmer, Build, and a number of other tracks, are quite good too (I hope someone gets that "quite good" reference). The record sounds like the first, but with new songs, if that makes any sense at all. But, I have to say that I was finished with the band at this point. I did see the Beautiful South in concert a few years later, but I kind of forgot about this band, for the most part.


Friday, August 19, 2016

The Housemartins: Caravan Of Love (1986)

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I hate the song Caravan of Love with a deep and abiding passion. The Housemartins did not write this song, though they recorded a very popular version of it the year after it was recorded by
Isley Jasper Isley. As I have mentioned in the past, I dislike a cappella music intensely, and this entire EP was recorded that way.

I suppose I ought to give the band credit for disparaging organized religion in the video--if that's really the correct interpretation, and I am not convinced that I agree with that argument--but even that doesn't blunt the religious overtones of the track, not to mention the other tracks on this EP, like Heaven Help Us All (Sermonette) and When I First Met Jesus:

"Talk about Jesus Talk about Jesus I talk about Jesus I talk about Jesus I try to back Jesus I try to back Jesus I try to back Jesus I try to back Jesus I click about Jesus I click about Jesus I click about Jesus I click about Jesus I clap about Jesus I clap about Jesus I clap about Jesus I clap about Jesus I talk about Jesus I talk about Jesus I talk about Jesus I talk about Jesus."

In fact, the five tracks as a whole comprise some sort of bizarre mini gospel effort.

So, here's the strangest story I have about about Caravan of Love. Years ago, I was hanging out with some people, and one couple in the group were planning to buy new speakers. Of course, when one auditions new audio gear, one wants to hear familiar music, but also music that touches on all of the ranges. You want to hear bass response, the higher end, and mid-ranges, and so, you may want more than one song or more than one style. Well, this couple decided that the one and only track they needed to hear was Caravan of Love, which they carted around on CD to the various stereo shops. I heard that song so many time, it almost made me made. I would have chosen Led Zeppelin.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Housemartins: London 0 Hull 4 (1986)

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The Housemartins only produced two real records plus a bunch of compilations. Paul Heaton went on to form The Beautiful South, but by that time, I had mostly lost interest. This LP commences with one of the more enduring Housemartins tunes, Happy Hour. Even casual fans will recognize a few other tunes from this LP, like Sheep, Think for Minute, Lean on Me, We're Not Deep, etc.

And now for the weird news. The band used its platform to preach about about Christianity, albeit sometimes in somewhat subtle ways. The back cover of this LP, for example, contains this perplexing statement which is full of cognitive dissonance:

"Take Jesus – Take Marx – Take Hope"

Wow, that's Jesus and Marx together in one package, all thrown in with hope, no less. I can't imagine anything less hopeful than Marxism or Jesus. Moreover, Karl would not have approved. Bizarrely, that statement seems to stand in contrast to the sentiments dispensed in the song, Sheep:

"And when you see a can I see a crook
And when you see a crowd I see a flock
It's sheep we're up against
Sheep we're up against"

Aren't congregations referred to as sheep? Aren't sheep those people who can't think for themselves and follow superstitions blindly? I realize that the band might be saying that people are sheep in reference to a whole host of issues, like voting and politics in general, but how can you exempt religion from that argument? If people are sheepish idiots, people are sheepish idiots, as the song so rightly says:

"They've never questioned anything, they've never disagreed
Sometimes I think they must have wool in their ears"

I would apply the above statements to the huge numbers of people who blindly follow ancient superstitions. Despite that, I would call this a fun and happy record, though one that hasn't aged as well as I might have thought.

Sometimes, a strong indication of how much I like a band is reflected in whether I own any CDs. I have no Housemartins CDs.

Oh, and on a final note, it rankles me when people favourably compare the Housemartins to the Smiths. The Smiths were a top-shelf band; the Housemartins were not.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Koen Holtkamp: Liquid Light Forms (2013)

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This release was limited to 400 copies: 300 on black vinyl and 100 on gold vinyl. My copy is on gold vinyl. Both were pressed in the US. I suppose you might label this music as experimental or electronic. Originally, he was the other ha;f of the duo that made up the groups Mountains, a kind of droneish affair.

The record company posted this, about this record:

Three plush, extended synthdrone compositions orbiting in new age and kosmische spheres with a really blissed out feel

 "Liquid Light Forms focuses almost entirely on electronic pieces utilizing predominantly voltage controlled modular synthesizers and sequencers. Liquid Light Forms radiates with pulsating, dense rhythmic patterns that morph and emerge as they compound on themselves. The result is a hypnotic and truly psychedelic listening experience that proves to be one of Koen's most captivating recordings yet."[source]

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Honeydrippers: Volume One (1984)

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Sadly, there was never a volume two. That's such a shame because this was a really great experiment. Who would have thought that Robert Plant and Jimmy Page (formerly of Led Zeppelin) could team up with Jeff Beck, Nile Rodgers, et al., and produce such an unexpected and interesting record? The other sad thing is that this is only an EP, with a mere six tracks.

It's a terrific collection of oldies: I Get A Thrill, Sea Of Love, I Got A Woman, Young Boy Blues, Rockin' At Midnight. The most famous of these tracks was Sea of Love, but the other songs are really great too. Even if you hated Zep, you will like this record.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Jools Holland: Jools Holland Meets Rock 'A' Boogie Billy (1984)

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In case you didn't know this already, Jools Holland was once a member of Squeeze and is now a talk show host.

This is a really snappy record. It's lively and a real barn-burner from start to finish. That's all I have to say.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Hold Steady: RAGS (2014)

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Rags, I really love ya
I can't forget about ya
You'll be a hard luck woman
Baby, 'till you find your man
- Hard Luck Woman, KISS

This limited edition 10" EP contains five cover tunes, released via Pledge Music. It might be difficult to get a copy of this one. This record was released as a fundraiser for the family of 'Jersey' Mike Van Jura, who passed away unexpectedly. Each band member choose one track, leading to a rather odd collection. But, as a big fan of the band, I like this record.

I once saw a copy in a local shop for $30, but that was soon after it was released. I haven't seen any since then. The tracks are:

1) All Through The City, the Dr. Feelgood track, written by Wilko Johnson
2) Closer To The Stars, the Soul Asylum track, written by David Pirner
3) Hard Luck Woman, the KISS tune, written by Paul Stanley
4) I Gotta Get Drunk, composed by Willie Nelson
5) The Last Thing I Ever Wanted Was To Show Up And Blow Your Mind, from Those Bastard Souls,  written by David Shouse.

My favourite track from this EP is All Through The City, but I love the original too, so that makes sense. Also, I have to say that the band's version of Hard Luck Women is great, even if it a KISS song.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Hold Steady: Teeth Dreams (2014)

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I absolutely hate the album cover. I simply cannot believe that the best rock band in America allowed this as the cover for its new record. Such a great band; such a horrifying cover.

Someone is trying to sell a copy of this LP on Amazon for $161.71. Copies of this record a readily available in many places for a fraction of the cost (I have even seen copies for $9.99 a few months back). I guess if you pay inflated prices, you have only yourself to blame. In any case, this is a great record. I read one bad review from some internet loser, but don't believe that guy. This is great. The whole record is great, and I would say it's a bit better than Heaven is Whenever.



Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Hold Steady: Heaven Is Whenever (2010)

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There are two pressings of this LP: 2010 and 2015. I have a copy from 2010. There were also a couple of limited edition releases for Record Store Day in 2015, one of which was on orange vinyl.

The first time I heard this record, I was a little disappointed, but what I was really feeling was the absence of Franz Nicolay, the band's keyboardist. I have adjusted to the change, and am happy to say that I can recommend this record without reservation. I saw this tour in Toronto when the band passed through. The Hold Steady is the best band in America, and currently my favourite band.


Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Hold Steady: Stay Positive (2008)

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Me and my friends are like the drums on "Lust for Life"
We pound it out on floor toms
Our psalms are sing-along songs
- Constructive Summer

At the time, I felt that The Hold Steady's fourth record was something of a disappointment. Happily,  the intervening years have changed my opinion. After all, it contains one of my favourite Hold Steady tunes, Slapped Actress, which is in my top five tunes from this band. Stay Positive was released after the wonderful Boys and Girls in America and the truly amazing Separation Sunday, which just might be my favourite record of all time. As such, I may have been hoping for too much.

This record has a bunch of great tunes: Stay Positive, Sequestered in Memphis (wait, I might list them all if I do that). There are simply no bad tracks on this double LP.

This record was released in 2008 in the US and Europe. I have the American pressing. My understanding is that this LP will be repressed soon. In the meantime, finding a copy of this record will probably be challenging. Right now, there are two copies for sale on Discogs, one for $50.84 and the other for $231.28 (The UK pressing is about $55.00). If you think that is expensive, just have a look at amazon.ca! At the time of writing, there were three vinyl copies for sale for $5284.00, $5782.78, and $7005.29! These re-sellers must think we are all idiots.



Monday, August 08, 2016

The Hold Steady: Separation Sunday (2005)

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We mix our own mythologies. We push them out through PA systems
We dictate our doxologies and try to get sleeping kids to sit up and listen
I'm not saying that we could save you
But we could put you in a place where you could save yourself
If you don't get born again at least you'll get high as hell

- Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night, The Hold Steady

Though I often find it difficult to make lists and to ranks records or musicians, I would say that Separation Sunday is probably my favourite record of all time. I have praised other records, like those from Leonard Cohen, Joy Division, et al. But, this record is nothing short of a masterpiece. At first, I considered the record to be a pleasing affair with a great bunch of tunes. After a few listens, something clicked and I found that I had a hard time not listening to it. For a long period of time, whenever I grabbed a CD from the shelf or fired up the iPod, this is the album I always chose.

Wikipedia has a good summary of what the record is all about:
Separation Sunday is the second studio album by The Hold Steady, released on May 3, 2005 through Frenchkiss Records. A concept album, Separation Sunday follows the stories of Craig (the narrator), Holly (short for Halleluiah), a sometimes addict, sometimes prostitute, sometimes born again Christian/Catholic (and sometimes all three simultaneously); Charlemagne, a pimp; and Gideon, a skinhead, as they travel from city to city and party to party. (All three characters made appearances on the band's previous album, Almost Killed Me, and reappear in "First Night", and "Same Kooks" on Boys and Girls in America, and then again in "Ask Her For Adderall", a bonus track from Stay Positive.)

Separation Sunday is lyrically dense, full of Biblical allusions, intertextual and self references (e.g., in "Don't Let Me Explode," when Holly is asked about Charlemagne, "she just smiled all polite-like and said something vague"; in Almost Killed Me's closing track, "Killer Parties," the narrator instructs listeners, "If they ask about Charlemagne/Be polite, say something vague"), word play, and puns ("Stevie Nix": "She got screwed up by religion/she got screwed by soccer players"). Vocalist/songwriter Craig Finn typically delivers these lyrics in a distinct flavor of sing-speak.

Musically, Separation Sunday engages Classic rock motifs -- guitar solos, riff-based structures, use of piano and organ, and guitar harmony. Structurally, however, most songs eschew the standard "verse-chorus-verse" song structure, frequently foregoing choruses or refrains altogether. In a review of the album, Blender described The Hold Steady as "sound[ing] like the best bar band in the world." [source]
I'd second that best bar band line, so it's truly bizarre that Allmusic awards the record only 4 of five stars. This, in my mind, is a perfect record. So, let's see what Allmusic has to say:
It is a much darker record [than Almost Killed Me], revolving around drug casualties, broken lives, a hoodrat fixation, spiritual and physical dissipation, and general despair, and there aren't as many easy laughs this time out -- but instead the listener gets lots of head-shaking wonderment at Craig Finn's genius lyrics and voice. His gruff, in-your-ear vocals negotiate the twisting torrent of words like a world-class skater kid. He is insanely literate and insanely insistent: he's like the guy who calls at 2:30 a.m. in a frenzy to holler about his latest disaster of the heart, the bar-stool poet with a religious obsession, or the guy who corners you at a party and just won't shut up about how Boston are the missing link between the Beatles and Derrick May -- only you don't mind because he is strangely brilliant. He is also just about the best rock & roll frontman since Bob Pollard. In fact, the group sounds a bit like Guided By Voices at times, only a Guided By Voices that want to kick your sorry can up and down the length of the bar. Or maybe a GBV that worship Springsteen instead of the Who. Whipping up a classic rock-inspired frenzy of monitor-straddling guitar riffs, dual harmony leads, E Street piano flourishes, and galloping horns, the band behind Finn sounds like nothing less than Jim Steinman's dream group. You could talk about great individual songs (the epic "How a Resurrection Really Feels," the piledriving album opener "Hornets! Hornets!," the weird and almost funky "Charlemagne in Sweatpants"), but the strength of the album is in the flow from song to song and the way the intensity level (which starts off at a near fever pitch) elevates until your head is just about ready to burst from the thrill of it all. Call it a quaint idea in 2005, but Separation Sunday is truly an album, one that sounds almost perfect when played from beginning to end in the proper running order. Block out about 42 minutes sometime, hold steady, and get ready for indie rock -- no, rock & roll -- at its sweatiest, most intense, and most impressive. Long live the album; long live the Hold Steady.
So, why only four stars? Of course, not every one agrees. On Amazon.com, someone said this:
I bought that last cd and it SUCKED! The singer sings monotone the whole entire time and doesn't have any variations of tone. The music isn't half bad, it isn't great, but it certainly isn't so good that i can ignore the lame-o singer. its just terrible terrible terrible. if you listen to anything that i say hear this: do not buy this album, you will regret it for all of eternity!
I truly feel sorry for the person who wrote that. 

I'm not a religious person and there is a deeply religious theme to this record, so it might be odd that I feel so strongly about it. I can suspend my disbelief in fairly tales long enough to enjoy this record. 

I saw him at the riverbank
He was breaking bread and giving thanks
With crosses made of pipes and planks
Leaned up against the nitrous tanks

And he said take a hit
Hold your breath and I'll dunk your head
Then when you wake up again
Yeah, you'll be high as hell and born again


- Banging Camp, The Hold Steady

Like the first record, there are lots of names dropped, like: Humbert Humbert, Cain, Abel, McKenzie Phillips, the Four Horsemen, Jesus, St. Theresa, Stevie Nix [sic], Mary Tyler Moore, Rod Stewart, Nelson Algren, Paddy (Patrick Costello), William Butler Yeats, William Blake, Saint Paul, and St. Peter.

Prices for the original pressing of this LP are as insane as those sought for the debut. The two copies for sale now on discogs are listed at about $250 and $405 Canadian. I opted for this 2016 re-pressing.


Sunday, August 07, 2016

The Hold Steady: Almost Killed Me (2004)

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"All the sniffling indie kids: hold steady. All the clustered up clever kids: hold steady."
- Positive Jam, The Hold Steady

Yes, finally! I have said many times that The Hold Steady is the best band in America. I know that's a difficult statement to endorse, but I genuinely believe it is the truth. Others may disagree. I know that some people are not enamoured with Craig Finn's vocals, but, to me, they add an interesting dimension to his poetic and vivid lyrics. Sometimes, it's as though he is half-shouting, half-singing, but I think it works. And, just what is he singing about? Wikipedia's summary is spot on.
Noted for their "lyrically dense storytelling," and classic rock / bar music influences, the band's narrative-based songs frequently address themes, such as drug addiction, religion and redemption, and often feature recurring characters based within the city of Minneapolis. [source]
The two most interesting recurring characters are Holly and Charlemagne, but let's not forget Gideon.

I did not know anything about this band when this record came out, and now prices for the original LP are quite high. There are two copies for sale now on Discogs at $268 and $400 Canadian. There is no way I would ever pay that much for any record.

Thankfully, the album was just re-released on vinyl and I snapped up a copy. The only downside is that it is on blue vinyl. I prefer black vinyl, but this will do. The good news is that the digital download came with several bonus tracks, which were originally only available on the Australian CD. Those tracks are:

Milkcrate Mosh
Hot Fries
Curves & Nerves
Modesto Is Not That Sweet
You Gotta Dance

This is an excellent debut record, with a bunch of fabulous tunes. If I had to rank my favourite Hold Steady records, this would be second or third on the list. The band has so many awesome records, it makes ranking difficult. Allmusic refers to this record as the band's "hands-down masterpiece." That's flowing praise, but Separation Sunday is a better record. That's the band's masterpiece.

I learned a lot from this record. For example, I had never heard of Feminax or Ybor City before.

"Hold steady Ybor City. you're up to your neck in sweat and wet confetti"
- Most People Are DJs, The Hold Steady

This, and later THS records, also increased my knowledge of Minnesota geography.

One of the curious things about Craig's lyrics is the use of place names and the names of people, some of whom I had never heard of. For example, these name are mentioned on this LP: Patty Smythe, Beverly Sills, Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson, Elizabeth Shue, Steve Perry, Neal Schon, Nina Simone, Andre Cymone, Billy Joel, Meatloaf, Rocco Siffredi, Phil Lynott, Ellen Foley, Freddy Knuckles, Right Said Fred, Freddy Mercury, Drop Dead Fred, Johnny Rotten, Freddy Fresh, Mickey Mantle, Porky Pig, Alice Cooper, Solomon, Jesus, the Holy Ghost, the Father and the Son (some of the people are fictitious), James King, King James, and Jada Pinkett. If you include the bonus tracks, we also get Phil Spector, Judas, Jack Kerouac, and Elliot Smith. 

I cannot pick a favourite track because they are all favourites. This is as killer record.

"it's hard to hold steady when half your friends are dead already."
- Knuckles, The Hold Steady

Turn it up!