Thursday, 30 October 2014

New Music: Purple

Screaming and thumping their way out of Texas is a three piece indie-punks Purple. They are just starting to make waves in indie circles with a thumping, punk-infused sound that is full of energy and spunk.

The band is unusual in that it is led by singing drummer Hannah Brewer, whose riot-grrl inspired vocals set the tone for the band's music - huge mosh-pit anthems, high on energy, dripping with attitude and with heaps of memorable choruses. In Purple videos and in their press shots, Hannah has positioned herself with an image as one slightly unhinged and crazy girl. But her talent is undeniable, and her ability to sing with such passion and drum those intricate drum parts is incredible.

The band is fleshed out with Taylor Busby on guitars and Smitty Smith on Bass. They provide a front line sound that is solid and accessible.

The band are currently making waves in England doing a small club tour in advance of their debut LP, which drops on November 10.

There's plenty of great music on the band's YouTube Channel. Check some of it out below. I think they have a bright future ahead of them and I hope they get to play in Australia in support of this album.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Vale Jack Bruce



Bass player Jack Bruce has died at age 71, following complications from liver disease.

Jack was classically trained in playing the stand-up double bass. He wanted to learn to play jazz but was denied by the institute he studied at, the Royal Glasgow Academy of Music (now known as the Royal Conservatoire) encouraged him not to. He moved to London and started playing stand-up bass in the local jazz clubs but then switched to electric bass (then popular in Britain thanks to the pioneering use of the instrument by Jet Black in the Shadows) and joined Alexis Korner's incubator of R&B talent Blues Incorporated. He left to join the Graham Bond Organisation, then he spent three weeks in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (where he met Eric Clapton and he was succeeded by future Fleetwood Mac bassist John McVie), spent a couple of months in Manfred Mann early in 1966 and then formed a band called Cream...

...and then proceeded to change music forever.

Cream was arguably Jack's brainchild and the music the three members produced influenced countless musicians over the next few generations (and continues to). With their freeform improvisations, they were arguably as important to the development of jazz rock fusion as Miles Davis was. However, the legacy they left us was the insufferable 15 minute in concert drum solo.

Jack's bass playing, at least in Cream, was melodic and rhythmic all at once, making up for a lack of a rhythm guitarist simply by creating a bass tone so thick it filled out the arrangment completely.

The loose jamming around a conventional song structure was influential to bands such as The Grateful Dead, Phish, Govt. Mule, Neil Young and Crazy Horse and many many others.

In the midst of a Clapton obsession as a teenager, I purchased a copy of Cream's final LP "Goodbye". The whole jamming thing was wildly out of step with the grunge and Alt rock that was going on at the time, but that mattered little. I was struck not by Clapton's playing on that album (at least not on side one) but by the sound and the technique of Jack's playing. It was like nothing I'd ever heard before. The way the instruments were separated in the mix, with Clapton in the right channel, Jack in the left Ginger thundering out all across the stereo spread, i found myself regularly adjusting the balance to remove Eric altogether just to listen to that bass...

The band's closest competition was the Jimi Hendrix Experience, although there were many bands who sprung up in their wake, peddling the same sound in the same format (i.e. The Gun, Grand Funk). As Cream imploded from ever clashing egos and other artistic problems in late 1968, Jimi interrupted a performance on the Lulu show to pay tribute to Cream, launching into a wild impromptu version of "Sunshine of your Love" on air.



Jack's contribution to popular music will be admired and poured over for years to come. He will be missed.

R.I.P. Jack.

Below is a hand-picked collection from the short career of Cream, featuring Jack's incendiary bass playing.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Life gets in the way...

We here at TSATF HQ ask for your pardon as we get our collective heads together, after a few big life events and hectic periods at our day jobs.

We're working hard to get back in the swing of things.

Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, check out this great live performance of this post's meta-song, "Life Gets In The Way" by Even.

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...