Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Complete Works of The New Pornographers



14 years is a long time in the life of a supergroup. And how many supergroups can you think of that survive for a decent length of time before collapsing under the weight of the members' collective egos?

Hailing from Canada, the New Pornographers have always resolved to leave the egos at the door and to come together to make the best music they can. They gather the tag "supergroup" largely because the three principle members have careers elsewhere: Carl Newman has a solo career as well as playing in the band Zumpano; Dan Bejar is in Destroyer and Neko Case is an acclaimed singer songwriter. The band have recently issued album #6, "Brill Bruisers", but here at TSATF HQ we thought we'd look back on their entire back catalog - not just because the contents of which are quite brilliant, but also as an introduction to the uninitiated.

"Mass Romantic" (2000)



An auspicious, if tepid start. The album shows hints of greatness but the total was less than the sum of the parts in this one.
Highlights include: "Mass Romantic", "Fake Headlines", "Slow Descent into Alcoholism" and "Letter To An Occupant".

"Electric Version" (2002)



This is the moment when things came together for this unusual collective. The songs are strong, the performances spirited, and the members sound like they are comfortable with each other now.
Highlights include: "The Laws have Changed", "Electric Version", "All For Swinging You Around".

"Twin Cinema" (2005)



Widely regarded as the band's masterpiece, and it's hard to disagree. Track for track it is the strongest record to date and the songs are absolutely top notch. They reward repeated listenings for the simple fact that they continue to reveal new aspects of themselves each time you play them. Brilliant.
Highlights include: pretty much everything on here, but if you must nit-pick then listen to: "Use It", "The Bleeding Heart Show", "Twin Cinema", "Sing Me Spanish Techno", "Jackie, Dressed in Cobras".

"Challengers" (2007)



After the high point of "Twin Cinema", anything was going to feel inferior. "Challengers" isn't so much as inferior, but it is subdued, and not as energetic as its predecessor. Very much the slow burner, it is no less rewarding, but it takes a little more work to wade through.
Highlights include: "Challengers", "My Rights Versus Yours", "All The Things That Go To Make Heaven and Earth", "All The Old Showstopppers".

"Together" (2010)



It was a long wait for this album, but when it dropped, it was the summer album of the year. Bouncy and vibrant, this album is serious fun.
Highlights include: "Crash Years", "Moves", "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk".

"Brill Bruisers" (2014)



If we thought the wait between albums four and five was long, it was a very long four years before this one hit us in August 2014. This record has plenty of energy, but it is not as immediate. It takes a few listens to hear the hooks in these songs. Once you crack the veneer, you're in - the rewards are rich and plentiful.
Highlights include: "Brill Bruisers", "Born With A Sound", "Fantasy Fools".

Take a listen below to our Hand Picked selection from the entire catalog of The New Pornographers. There's plenty of gems within. Once you've sampled, check out the full albums.

Enjoy! Let us know your favourite of the bands albums in the comments below.

Friday, 10 October 2014

100 LPs Shortlist #43: Fleetwood Mac - "Tusk"



Since when is an album selling 3 million copies considered a flop?
Even then, since when is a Fleetwood Mac album, by the classic lineup considered a flop?

Well, the reasoning goes a little like this:

1. This album is a double album, which (in those days) was significantly more expensive than a standard album. Plus the fact it has a lot of music to digest, at a hefty 20 songs and 75 minutes long
2. Its release follows immediately on the heels of what fans and critics alike consider an unimpeachable album, the 10+ million selling "Rumours" in 1977.
3. When that album is called "Tusk".

By the time this record was in the process of being conceived, the band were in turmoil. The two couples in the band had split up were at each others' throats. They were consuming copious amounts of cocaine, and that was just for breakfast. As a result, things were all a bit nuts.

In amongst all this drug-induced lunacy, Lindsay Buckingham asserted himself as the de facto leader of the band. He hated touring, but loved the studio, so this was his place to dominate. He had been listening to a lot of punk and new wave music during this period and decided that, after "Rumours", the 'Mac were one of the "dinosaur" bands the British punk bands were hellbent on eradicating. He wanted to change the band's sound to appear relevant again.

What you end up with, after 10 months in the studio and well over $1 million spent, is a record that sounds neither new wave, nor punk, nor overly Fleetwood Mac like. And after the one-two punch of 1975's "Fleetwood Mac" and its mega-selling 1977 follow-up, the first impression most people get is that this record is weird. Really weird. All the songs on the record, including the sublime Christine McVie ballad moments and pop gems of Stevie Nicks, are given oddball arrangements and other tweaks to suit Lindsay's twisted paranoiac vision. About half the album is devoted to Lindsay's sonic experiments, many of which sounded like rewrites of "Never Going Back Again" (i.e. "The Ledge") but with new, strange sounding instrumentation.

Such a brave (or stupid, depending on your viewpoint) risk resulted in the lowest selling album since their newfound fame in 1975. Sure it sold 3 million, but in comparison to "Rumours"' then 10+ million, this was considered a failure. If you were looking to get "Rumours Volume 2" with this album, as many people probably were, you were sorely mistaken.

However, it is precisely because of the fact that it is not a rehash of past glories that this album succeeds. There are many slow burning gems on this record that have mostly been forgotten. However many of the band's best ever songs are within the grooves of these two LPs.

Probably the album's most daring and unique single is one of Lindsay's aforementioned sonic experiments. The title track "Tusk" features a marching band, heavy tribal drums and almost no discernible lyrics. Equally fascinating are Lindsay's "That's All For Everyone", "That's Enough For Me", "Save Me A Place", "What Makes You Think You're The One", "I Know I'm Not Wrong" and the stellar "The Ledge".

The album's oddness may even be cemented by the fact that it opens with a ballad ("Over and Over"), as opposed to a barnstorming opener on the previous few records. It subsequently ebbs and flows between Lindsay's short, sharp and concise noisy pounding, sublime gorgeousness from Stevie ("Storms", "Sara", "Sisters of the Moon"), and soulful crooning from Christine ("Never Forget", "Honey Hi"). The pace is relentless until the slow burning side 4 starts (track 16 for CD and streaming listeners).

The jewel in the crown of the album however is the largely forgotten single "Think About Me" which, for my money, is one of the best things Christine ever composed. Despite having an incongruously-placed guitar solo it is a perfect pop song, with a soaring chorus some fat crunchy guitars.

Despite the dubious influences of the album, once the dust settled (pun intended) we are left with an album that stands on its own as a unique piece of work unto itself. It could use a spot of editing (what double record doesn't?) but this album is perfect in the way that the Beatles' "White Album" is - it is an album that dared to be different regardless of the consequences. It is bold and uncompromising, and it ultimately succeeds despite the odds suggesting it would fail. It creates a world of its own to get immersed into, and subsequently welcomes you back into time and time again.

I came to this album after hearing "Rumours" as a high school student in 1993, and to this day it still inspires me.

Take a listen again below on Spotify.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

100 LPs shortlist #42: Primal Scream - "Give Out But Don't Give Up"




Primal Scream were darlings of the English music press in 1991, with their soundtrack of the then-burgeoning rave scene "Screamadelica". The album is regarded in the hallowed annals of publications like Mojo and the NME as a masterpiece, capturing the zeitgeist of a brave new underground movement.

So what do you do when you're the darling of the hipper-than-thou music rags, to follow up said masterpiece?

Commit something close to career suicide: release a rock album.

The band had released two indie rock albums in the late 1980s that were quite average sellers. "Screamadelica" saw a huge shift in sound and saw them at the vanguard of a new sound influenced heavily by house music and other forms of European dance music. They became the accessible and visible face of an otherwise hidden, clandestine cultural movement.

When "Give Out but Don't Give Up" landed in stores and journalists desks in 1994, the reception was hostile. The criticism was largely the same. In summary: "Who the hell does Bobby Gillespie think he is, making an album that sounds like a poor imitation of 'Exile on Main Street'?" The NME even went so far to label the band as "dance traitors".

So what is the problem here? The album's biggest crime is that it wasn't "Screamadelica Volume 2". It wasn't anything like the extended heavy dance grooves of its predecessor. There were very few drum machines or synths to be heard.

Mind you, all the tracks here all pack mighty danceable grooves within their structures. The difference is that they are all played on real instruments: acoustic drums, electric guitars and basses and brass. It even features guest vocals from soul singer Deneice Williams and Parliament/Funkadelic leader George Clinton. To further round out the P-Funk connection, the back cover even has a grainy photo of Funkadelic's recently deceased guitarist Eddie Hazel.

If anything, the grooves are not as high energy as what they were previously or as they would become on subsequent albums such as "Vanishing Point" and "XTRMNTR". But that does not mean this is a wasted effort.

The record starts off with the two best and strongest tracks "Jailbird" and "Rocks", both guitar-heavy jams that are just plain good fun, as is "Call on Me" later on. Mr Clinton runs riot on a few tracks, most notably "Funky Jam" and the title track. While the latter is a sexy slow burning groove, the former is a bit of a throwaway, overlong by half and failing to develop the themes, opting to keep them the same.

Not being a huge fan of dance music, the charm of "Screamadelica" has largely been lost on me. While I'm also not a fan of slavish imitations of vintage artists (take Jet for example) the Stones, Faces and P-funk nods on this record are obvious but not derivative. While the middle of the record has a few flat spots, it's still a far better record than the then-recent effort by a more famous band of Faces copyists, "Amorica" by the Black Crowes...

Take a listen to the album below and give us your opinions in the comments section below.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Silverchair and the tall poppy syndrome

20 years ago Silverchair released "Tomorrow", their debut EP. Faster Louder were reporting that no major label would go near the band based on their demo, before winning a competition jointly run by Triple J and the SBS TV program Nomad in 1994.

A bit of disclosure here. I received a diploma in Sound Engineering from Platinum Studios in Newcastle, as they were known then. As I finished my degree, I remember hearing a demo that had recently been recorded in the studio during what was to be my last visit there. It was the Innocent Criminals, and the guys in the studio were saying how they predicted them to be huge. I was impressed at the time that the band were only 14 - he sounded much older than his years. But the buzz had started.

They thought the name "Innocent Criminals" sounded a bit childish so they changed it to Silverchair (they should have kept the original one, I reckon). The EP was issued, it hit number one, largely because "Rage played the shit out of it. As did every radio station.". As the writer of the companion piece to the Faster Louder piece above, writes: "...And no one ever got sick of it.". Maybe from her little patch of life on the northern beaches of Sydney, but not in their hometown....

I was 18 and a private guitar tutor in and around Newcastle at the time. At the time, the music was impressive for the fact that the band were all in Year 9 at school, but musically it sounded like every other grunge band to me. I thought "Tomorrow" had a high burn rate, as I was sick of it by about the third or fourth listen. Upon closer inspection I didn't even think it was that a pretty budget effort, even for a 13 year old, with lyrics that made no sense and a garden variety riff. And the fact that "Pure Massacre" was a direct lift from a Pearl Jam riff slowed down (it's "Glorified G" for the trainspotters) didn't endear me to them either.

It turns out I was not alone. If Newcastle people are good at anything - besides working hard and drinking hard - is cutting down people who get too big. Stories became rife among my students that the band would become smug little brats at school, not handing out autographs unless the requestor went to the tuckshop for them a minimum of 10 times, along with a number of just general displays of teenage arrogance. There was even a rumour that their guitar tech had to play the guitar solo on the recording because Daniel couldn't play it very well. It was all petty, and the validity of these stories cannot be authenticated, but it all fueled the growing hatred of the band.

The backlash was further heightened by the (legitimate) fact that they were booed off stage during a poorly planned opening slot for Pantera at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre on 11 November 1994. Again, not necessarily their fault (I mean seriously, in what lifetime is adding Powderfinger and Daniel John's boys on a Pantera tour ever a good idea?) but it all adds up. The experience so wounded Daniel John's ego that he used to rant about Newy audiences on stage, and at one point I vaguely remember him pledging never to play in town ever again. None of this did anything to endear him to the townspeople.

During this time Newcastle people didn't buy the records in droves. Silverchair fans were laughed at at school. Second hand stores were flooded with copies of "Tomorrow" once this shit hit the fan. In retrospect it was ugly. Very, very ugly.

I was actually shocked at just how profound the influence of "Tomorrow" was. None moreso than when the recent Hottest 100 of the last 20 years on Triple J happened. But then it occurred to me - the young bands of today all were kids when this record first hit the stores. They'd saved up their pocket money to buy the EP, fell in love with music and went out and bought guitars and started their own bands.

Those same kids also gave me heaps of work as a guitar tutor. So while having to teach "Tomorrow" drove me nuts, at least it kept me employed...

Monday, 15 September 2014

On U2 and Apple, Part 2




So, is everybody enjoying their new free U2 album?

We know that plenty of people are well and truly NOT enjoying it. But, more to the point, why is this happening?

I have many questions to ask about the entire thing. Does the CEO of Apple still think U2 are still relevant and popular? If so, I think there needs to be questions asked as to whether he really has the finger on the pulse of popular culture. Aside from that, the $100 million marketing campaign can only be beneficial for both U2 and the new Apple iPhone 6, as well as re-drawing attention to the fact that iTunes actually sells music, and not just apps.

What are U2 getting out of this? They still get paid. The band and their record label would get paid accordingly. And I decry people who claim this is selling out. Who, honestly, would knock back the chance at that kind of money, even if you were rich? What is certain is that while the public, at this stage, don't have to pay money for the album currently, the band were compensated for their work.

On the other side of the coin, their last album, 2009's "No Line on the Horizon", was considered something of a flop, having sold less than 400,000 copies in the UK. This would at least ensure that the record gets put into the hands of music fans everywhere, and setting up the album for big sales when it is released for sale in October.

The Guardian published a debate on the subject with one writer claiming that this stunt devalues, in the mind of some punters, the album as a product that needs to be purchased, and not downloaded illegally via a torrent site. This attitude, to me, is disingenuous, as a lot of people do actually download it to "try before they buy". Streaming services like Spotify can perform a similar function, and thus the copyright owner gets more sales. Either way, artists need to be compensated for their efforts so that they can pay their rent. This stunt is just another way to ensure that U2 get there rent money (as if they need it these days) and the punter gets something for free

However, the outrage from this is very real and it begs the question as to who whether the marketeers really understand their target market. U2 have reportedly sold 150 million records worldwide. With 13 studio albums and a couple of hits compilations, on average that is around 10 million per LP. All the hardcore fans would own each and every one. Factor in the people who don't own the entire back catalog, but own maybe a few albums here and there, you're looking at, conservatively, 30 million people the world over, who would love the idea of a free U2 album. That means that there is a good chance you could pick up a few new fans in the other 470 million, but there would also be a whole heap of people who are going to be royally ticked off by this stunt, or at the very least indifferent to it.

The other side of the coin is that this is a free gift. As the saying goes "never look a gift horse in the mouth". Accept it graciously, and if you don't like it, delete it.

I certainly would, if I owned an iPhone...

Sunday, 14 September 2014

U2 have hacked my iPhone



U2 have pulled off one mean little publicity stunt this week by releasing their new album to every iTunes user on the planet: all 500 million of them.

And not everybody is happy about it:





The idea was that this was supposed to be a free gift to every iTunes user, to co-incide with the release of the iPhone 6. It was a cross-marketing exercise of epic proportions. U2 stand to receive heaps of free publicity for this, Apple have lost (at the time of writing) $100 million on this venture.

And despite selling over 150 million records worldwide, Twitter was ablaze of people who had still never heard of the band:



Of course, this sort of thing has got people very worried for their online privacy:


And to be fair, who could blame them? Because despite the fact that cloud storage is a reality for many smart phone users, they still don't know how it works or what the safety implications of it are. For example, all your storage is kept in the trust of a third party who you have no direct contact with. You don't know if they're trustworthy or not. You don't know exactly who could be looking at your data that is stored remotely somewhere else in the world.

Also, many people don't know how to configure their phone correctly. Most of the complaints are because they have automatic downloads enabled, and so if the user was oblivious to the news of a free album, they would have had a nice (or nasty, depending on your taste) little surprise in your iTunes folder.

Personally, I don't own an iPhone, so I won't be getting the free record. I generally think that the last decent record U2 released was in 1988 ("Rattle and Hum") so I don't have much of a desire to listen to this new one. I could be proven wrong of course, and this album could be the best thing they have ever done.

Time will tell...

Sunday Sessions: Sugar



It's been a while since we've had a Sunday Session! But this one is truly a cracker.

Sugar were a sadly short-lived 90s indie band fronted by ex-Husker Du frontman Bob Mould. Musically,the band had leanings towards grunge but were far more melodic than any most of the bands tagged with the term.

The band only lasted two albums but such was the calibre of their output that everything Bob Mould released during his subsequent solo career has been compared (often unfavourably) to his work in Sugar.

This track, "Your Favourite Thing" was a single from the band's second album "File Under Easy Listening", from 1994. If you like what you hear here, seek out the album and their unimpeachable first record "Copper Blue".

So, enjoy Sugar!