Green Day – American Idiot

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  • Artist: Green Day
  • Released: 2004 on Reprise Records
  • Genre: Rock

In the light of America’s presidential candidates battling for Obama’s throne in the White House (and jumping through the circus hoops for the rabid press), there’s no better time than now to reflect on this album.

Once upon a time, during  the noughties, President George Bush Jr. led American troops towards the the infamous “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq and Afghanistan and tore the economics of America (and the world) into pieces in the process, which filtered through to Billie Joe Armstrong, who had been keeping an eye on the news. Incidentally, the master tapes of their upcoming album had been stolen when the studio they had been recording in was broken into. In hindsight, it was a massive stroke of luck for Green Day, who were twiddling their thumbs regarding their musical direction after Warning, with American Idiot selling over 15 million copies (and probably still counting). They’ve found it hard to top this ever since – I bought the abysmal 21st Century Breakdown and have since fought the urge to kick myself for not getting American Idiot.

When this came out, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. I remember seeing an advert for it on TV (do they still do adverts for music albums?) , and being the 14-year old ignoramus that I was, I turned to my mum and asked, “Why are they all dressed like that?” And then a year later, I accompany my good friend to the local CD store as she buys the album. She kindly lends it to me, and upon hearing the first few tracks my mind is blown. I no longer remain an ignoramus, and we soon obsess over the lyrics and tracks. I soon become a full-blown teenager, complete with wonky spectacles and awkward behaviour. We scribble the lyrics on a piece of paper during art class, and I draw a replica of the bleeding heart artwork. The album becomes my companion every single morning, after my mum leaves the house to go to work at a factory, where people obviously below her caliber bully her every week, and I get left at home to my own devices when she goes out on the weekends, which warms me to the slacker fate of Jesus In Suburbia (“The living room/Or my private womb/When the Mum’s and Brad’s are away). I also attempt to write my own grandiose version of American Idiot-inspired canon, where St. Jimmy arrives at the Boulevard Of Broken Dreams and ponders his own hopeless future (The American Idiot musical gets its first staging in 2009 – telling, eh?). I also ponder the meaning of Whatsername and wonder if my absent dad ever thinks of my mum like how Jesus ever did. I don’t think so.

It’s probably the only punk record that has resonated with me – being one of the slacker teens of our generation, the millenials, who either witnessed George Bush’s tenure either firsthand, or felt the aftereffects as the consequences sunk in – the subsequent xenophobia resulting from the September 11 bombings, the loss of innocence, the confusion. In many ways, it also feels like OUR punk moment.

Here’s the first 9-minute song off American Idiot: The Jesus Of Suburbia!

Roy Orbison – In Dreams

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Artist: Roy Orbison
Released: 1963 on Monument Records
Genre: Rock

Dear beloved readers, do you remember how I mentioned liking musicians that possessed emotional bombast in their work? Roy Orbison suits this description to a T.

The first song that made me fall in love was I Can’t Stop Loving You – listen to it now, and the full force of it – three minutes of yearning and regret – simply hits you in the face. If you’re a young, waspish teen or twenty-something you would probably find Roy Orbison’s records among your parents’ dusty vinyl. However, I can guarantee you this: his work is timeless. Go and dig them out. Listen to them. Weep. Or just bask in wonder.

When people talk about Orbison, he is famous for several things: his tremulous, melodramatic three-octave voice, along with the slicked-back duck’s ass hairdo, cherry-red Gibson ES-355, Ray-Ban shades and dark suits. And “Oh, Pretty Woman”.

Every song on In Dreams is a carefully crafted gem. Swooping orchestral arrangements, closely miked female voices, the lightest touch of Spanish guitar…thankfully, it doesn’t tip over into overt sentiment or soppy territory.
On the self-titled song Orbison’s voice soars along with the strings with jubilant gusto at 2:17 , while Blue Bayou has the best female backing voices I’ve ever heard – warm, syrupy and very alluring. For the ones who gripe about Orbison being too depressing, Sunset is a toe-tapper with its swing-esque piano, with the strings and backing vocals exploding together in chorus. The production on the album is fantastic – the one I have is the Monument Record remaster. The sound is just the right loudness, and the glorious sound envelops you if you listen with external speakers.

I highly recommend this to Orbison beginners. Only The Lonely isn’t the best place to start in my opinion, because Orbison’s yearning starts getting dreary in the middle of the album from having too many songs on it.

Here’s a sample of one of my favourites, Blue Bayou!

Killing Joke – what’s THIS for…!

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‌• Artist: Killing Joke
• Released: 1979 on E.G Records
• Genre: Post-punk

Paul Ferguson’s drums take centre stage on their second album – which I am totally in love with, because they sound fucking massive. Think spatial, earthquake-inducing vibrations. And then combine that with some tight bass riffs. You can see where I’m going, don’t you?

Killing Joke stripped out the new-wavey synths from their self-titled debut, and came up with an album that was downright brutal. Industrial, dystopian, psychotic – that pretty much sums it up. Jaz Coleman adds to the psychotic element with his distorted shouty singing – if you watch any KJ videos he’s really intense. You don’t mess with Jaz.

Tension has an amazing drum beat (duh-duh-dum, duh-duh-dum) which manages to tattoo itself on my memory (and simply refuses to go away), and Follow The Leader resembles something that I heard vaguely on a post-punk mixtape, and actually dug it: skittery synth beats combined with that metallic drum sound. I need to dig that mix out someday.

The guitar riffs are also totally headbang-worthy, which left me thinking that Killing Joke actually also lean towards heavy metal as well. A quick Last.fm inquiry on the artist page, and I single out a comment from a user, that half- confirms my suspicion: “anybody, pls, kill all the idiots and faggots who label the last KJ album as ‘post-punk’. I’ve finally found another band to quell my moshing instincts.

Here’s Tension. Enjoy!

Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures

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  • Artist: Joy Division
  • Released: 1979 on Factory Records
  • Genre: Post-punk

I could wax endless lyrical about Unknown Pleasures, but you know how overdone all those reviews are…

It seems only right to listen to Joy Division today, on the 36th anniversary of Ian Curtis’s death. I cracked out Closer earlier, and my mind was mired in my own thoughts while listening to The Eternal in the car. The weather was befittingly Mancunian in description, shrouded in angry clouds that finally burst in the afternoon – grey, forbidding, exactly the way I like it.

The very first time I listened to Unknown Pleasures, it was on a normal commute to work. I wasn’t instantly seduced, but I used to work at a lab – and the best part was that you had a room all to yourself, where you could do your own thing and not get bothered by other people, so I would queue a couple of albums and get to work throughout the day. It was in this environment that I got acquainted properly with this album. Soon I got pretty obsessed with Unknown Pleasures. I would pore over Ian’s inscrutable lyrics in my mind, and I also remember having a mini epiphany to Shadowplay. There were colleagues in the workplace, but due to misunderstandings on each other’s part we fell out soon after, and I became solitary once more. Ian’s voice was a solace to the boring work. In hindsight, I realize how ironic it was. We got trapped in our own loneliness. I quit my lab job after three years.

Listening to New Dawn Fades through proper headphones makes me realize again how vital Martin Hamnett’s production is, particularly with the drums. To recount one of my favourite Hamnett stories – he made Steve take his drum kit apart and record each bit separately (snares, bass drum) to prevent the sounds from the bits of his drum kit from spilling over into the recording mike. The airless quality of the music enhances that eerie, spatial atmosphere so that each instrument is crystal clear – you practically jolt to the sound of smashing glass on I Remember Nothing. In fact, I think I’ll be reading his track-by-track guide to Unknown Pleasures while listening to it. Fantastic raconteur, that Hooky.

As a treat, here’s Unknown Pleasures mastered from the original master tape, in full Youtube glory!

 

 

 

Pity Sex – Feast Of Love

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  • Artist: Pity Sex
  • Released: 2013 on Run For Cover Records
  • Genre: Shoegaze

If you like fuzzy, distorted guitar music with a melancholy edge under 4 minutes long, you’re in for a treat. This album is chock full of dirty fuzzy riffs, with the exception of Hollow Body, which is a beautiful, poignant song on acoustic guitar. Throw in a female voice, courtesy of Britty Drake, and you get additional aural pleasure. I am very tempted to name-drop Bilinda Butcher here, but Feast Of Love does not strictly adhere to the Loveless format. Hmm, I shan’t!

The album revs up with album opener Wind-Up, played thrillingly fast…and the inner beast in me revels at the heaviness. But it’s not all brutal speed though – the music slows down on Sedated (fitting name right there, huh) – oh wait, I spoke way too soon: the drums kick off again in the middle of the song, and off they go on a whirl!

On overall, the debut from the Michigan-based band is pleasant enough for me – they’ve just released their third album White Hot Moon. I might go nose around that a bit. Please excuse me!

You can stream Feast Of Love here if you’re interested:

https://runforcoverrecords.bandcamp.com/album/feast-of-love

 

 

 

Soundcloud Pick: NOTHING – The Dead Are Dumb

I came across this on Pitchfork (ah yes, I have a love-hate relationship with this site) and this track reminds me of Souvlaki-era Slowdive – that sad/warm intimate, gentle shoegaze-y feeling. Actually, it also reminds me of Embrace.

SoundCloud Pick : Japanese Breakfast – Everybody Wants To Love You

Shiny guitars that mesh with the chorus “EVERYBODY WANTS TO LUUV YOU” so well, and then burst in a glorious mess of violent colour.  Holy shit. *hits repeat*

t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 – アンタラ通信

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  • Artist: t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者
  • Released: 2015, self-released and on Dream Catalogue
  • Genre: Vaporwave, Ambient

I was listening to アンタラ通信 while reading Simon Reynolds’ book, Retromania (mostly about the music industry’s rampant recycling of past music, and a peek into sub-genres that I vaguely knew, and never knew). The album’s pretty long, about over an hour I think – and IEMs don’t give the album justice.

I was reading a chapter dedicated to the hauntology music subgenre, which could only be described as ghostly apparitions of music that continue to lurk in the present world, even after they’re gone in reality. Cue library music dating from the 60s to the 70s, and those reedy, weird faux-futuristic synth sounds that were so prevalent in the 80s. I think that’s why David Bowie’s Sense Of Doubt holds a special place in my heart. The entire second half of “Heroes” sound exactly like a pre-imagined dystopian future. It also reminds of the low-frequency hum of the TV where I would lie awake on the bed, straining to hear what on earth my mum was watching at 2 in the morning.

Which brings us back to アンタラ通信 (does it mean Android Signals??). Much of the appeal of vaporwave lies in the fleeting feelings and real/fake memories subconsciously provoked by such muzak, as a result of ingrained music patterns, chords and sounds delivered by 90s’ television and radio. Ad jingles. Your bleeping midi music from a Gameboy Color handheld. That awful Barbie song by Aqua (I’ll probably itch to listen to it later). Chintzy shopping mall music. All of them seep and congeal into a thick stew in our minds that gets skewed over time, retaining only the slighest semblance in our memories. Vaporwave brought that all back in a torrential rush. When I listen to 東京, 2089  I instantly get lost in reverie upon hearing the chiming piano melody, and muse over how a bloody piano bit gets me all misty-eyed for nothing. The opening track, 愛の多くの顔  is a glittering, shifting 8-minute phantom – for some reason it reminds me of those huge, empty buildings that always stay vacant no matter how bustling the economy is. Listening to it on headphones is awesome – the ambience practically envelopes my ears in shiny mist. It feels disorientating and familiar at once, like a out-of-body experience. I should try lucid dreaming to this track. 

I’m sorry for rambling so much instead of reviewing this album properly, but for some reason it feels right to do this way instead.

Here’s an exclusive 80s luxury aesthetics piece:

 

MONEY – Suicide Songs

moneysuicide

  • Artist: MONEY
  • Released: 2016 on Bella Union Records
  • Genre: Indie Rock

There’s only so much music you can listen to without getting nauseated, or feeling cynical. So when albums like Suicide Songs come and sweep you off your feet, you feel this inner glow radiate in your heart. Halleh-fucking-lujah, man.

The beauty of MONEY‘s music comes from Jamie Lee’s voice – but his voice isn’t as perfect like Jeff Buckley’s or Thom Yorke’s. Sometimes his voice wavers and cracks, but it’s laden with emotion – when he sings, he means every word. When he’s feeling the pain, all fucked up at 3 am in the morning from drink, half-sobbing to himself, you feel it all the more. Couple this with the sweeping orchestral arrangements, and you get transcendental church hymns of the human condition. The album’s opus, Night Came opens with some reverb guitar and Lee’s soaring falsetto, with a lonely bagpipe – ebbing and flowing slowly, it gradually builds into a monster of an ending. It is depressing, but there’s an optimism underneath the gloom too. In some ways it reminds me of the bleak grandeur of Suede’s Dog Man Star, where Brett Anderson similarly exorcised his personal demons with the use of a sprawling orchestra on Still Life.

Thankfully, Suicide Songs doesn’t tip into corny territory, as is the case with orchestra backings – the addition of acoustic guitars also add a sense of intimacy to the album. On You Look Like A Sad Painting On Both Sides Of The Sky, the lyrics “Outside the world is crucified, you must find something to be sacrificed to/To your love/Or to your lie” also add to the biblical presence of the song.

On the whole, the album is pretty good – unless you find music like this depressing. I don’t, though. And what do you know? Jamie Lee is a Felt fan. Oh boy.

As always, here’s a sample – You Look Like A Sad Painting On Both Sides Of The Sky below for your enjoyment!

 

Penguin Cafe Orchestra – Music From The Penguin Cafe

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  • Artist: Penguin Cafe Orchestra
  • Released: 1976 on Obscure Records
  • Genre: Instrumental Folk, Contemporary Classical

Look at the cover…it’s kinda cute, eh? Some guy with an enormous bird mask, possibly a magpie headpiece, is regaling a large emperor penguin with some tasty bits of gossip, I presume. We’re going to politely ignore the fact that the guy’s pubes are a wee bit visible.

However, we’re not going to ignore the fact that this was released under Brian Eno‘s experimental record label, which was also painstakingly exclusive – there are only 10 records released under Obscure. Music From The Penguin Cafe is titled number 7 on Obscure’s catalogue list.

Music From The Penguin Cafe has a child-like wonder. The cheekiness of the music is a joy to listen to. As a listener, you find yourself getting sucked into a playful experimentation – but along the way the record is underscored by sorrow and poignance.

Penguin Cafe Single reminds me of reading an Alexander McCall Smith novel. The opening has a kitschy feel, almost like a vintage BBC children’s show opening theme. Playful keyboards provide the syncopated rhythm to the melodramatic violins, until it gets to the middle of the song – where the strings start stuttering and a ghostly, wide-eyed wonder, created by bells (something akin to Pink Floyd‘s creepy psychedelia on Bike) hangs over the song. Then the bass starts up, the violins realize there’s nothing to be afraid of, and the song is on its feet once more – like a kid running gleefully across the grass, with chocolate-smeared fingers. Giles Farnaby’s Dream is a dizzy dance around the apple tree, the galloping rhythm provided by the folk-esque guitar and supplemented with that Olde English Folk Feel by the harpischord and violin-fiddling.

The Sound Of Someone You Love is heartfelt poignance, duly delivered with some gorgeous folk guitar. I can’t help but feel myself melt into a gooey mess when the violins come together with the double bass.

Let me post a link before I start weeping: here’s Penguin Cafe Single!

 

 

 

 

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