Fiona Brice – Postcards From

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  • Genre: Classical
  • Produced by: Fiona Brice and Julian Simmons
  • Released: 2015 on Bella Union

If you’re wondering who Fiona Brice is, you’re not alone. I had to admit, I had never heard of her until Berlin alerted me to her work as composer, touring musician and multi-instrumentalist for the likes of Jarvis Cocker, Midlake and Gorillaz, to name a few. And also, as the cool “sidewoman of Placebo”, which comes as a timely reminder that there’s still lots of music for me to discover. Besides, Brice’s description of Postcards From whetted my curiosity further. In this interview, she portrays the songs as auditory manifestations of her mood in a certain place at a particular time, as a result of her travels to unfamiliar territory while working for other musicians. These unfamiliar territories have turned up in the album as track names, the labels to these “moods”, and also as an appeal to the listener’s wanderlust: to fling their doors wide open, and embark on a mental trip with her.

Berlin opens the album with the silvery keening of the violins, and the voluptuous drone of the cello. Every note hangs heavy in the air, swollen with the surge of passion and wistfulness. Paris is the complete opposite of Berlin, lost instead in the luminous reverie of the dainty piano, with the occasional sigh from the violins. Unfortunately, the album tends towards one too many similar-sounding songs, at a similarly pedestrian pace. Fortunately, St.Petersburg provides some unexpected drama, the stabbing strings adding to an ominous feel in the music. You can almost feel the forbidding mood of the former Communist empire breathing down your neck.

On the whole, the album is still pleasingly decent to warrant at least a few more listens, although others may get frustrated with the benign nature of the record. Oh, me? I’m just saving this for another rainy day in the car. It sounds like the perfect soundtrack to daydream to.

 

 

 

 

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The Libertines – Up The Bracket

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  • Released: 2002 on Rough Trade Records
  • Produced by: Mick Jones
  • Genre: Garage Rock Revival

Up The Bracket was the album that made The Libertines thrilling for all the right reasons, apart from their beguiling 19th century English romantic-wastrel image and the songwriting partnership of Pete Doherty and Carl Barât, before the drugs, internal politics and bad press forced the band into increasingly rapid decline. You probably already know the nasty gossip, so I’ll just skip those bits and head over to the review.

On their debut, the first half of the music is pure, anarchic joy –  Horrorshow is a blitzing feedback of scratchy, dueling guitars, drums, and bass that engage in a furious tug of war in the middle of the song, as if to pull the song apart into bloody bits of flesh.Then there’s the rickety, just-been-round-the-pub vibes of Radio America, with some equally knock-about acoustic guitar playing, and the Strokes-baiting commentary of The Boy Looked At Johnny…which is ironic in hindsight since they were getting lumped into the same category as these folks back then.

Unfortunately, the album just pans out into blank rock territory towards the end, which is a real shame. Begging lacks the sweaty, scumbag atmosphere that made the first half of the album genuinely exciting to listen to.

Still, it’s a lovely introduction to these boys, who have now reformed after spending various stints in other bands. Thank god for that – I think Doherty and Barât pretty much belong together, in terms of musical partnership!

Felt – The Splendour Of Fear

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  • Released: 1984 on Cherry Red Records
  • Genre: Indie Pop, Dream Pop

What I love about Felt is how Lawrence and Maurice Deebank shared the same spirit in aesthetics. Their song titles seem to have been carefully stringed together with the most ornate words of the English dictionary, with a dash of Lawrence’s eccentricity. Combined with Deebank’s classically-trained background, which allowed him to drop elegantly melancholic Spanish melodies against Lawrence’s acerbic poetry with ease, the early Felt line-up produced a tier of top-class albums that still sound pretty amazing some 30 odd years on.

The Splendour Of Fear is a pretty special album in the early Felt canon, mainly because of Lawrence’s magnanimous attitude towards Deebank’s guitar-playing ability. Indeed, four out of the six tracks are instrumental in nature. It isn’t a bad thing though. Out of their entire discography, this is the most elegiac-sounding record and the essential gist of the Lawrence/Deebank partnership. The World Is As Soft As Lace betroths Deebank’s pearly guitar line to Lawrence’s Verlaine-esque warble, which also features a favourite Felt line of mine:

And all my great plans get blurred
By the softest touch, the gentlest word.

In The Stagnant Pool, Lawrence’s obtuse lyrics take on a much more macabre feel with vague biblical references, delivered with Deebank’s guitar playing that borders on pathos:

The stagnant pool,
Like a drowned coffin,
Still as a deceased heart,
Haunting the ghost of the noble crusader

A Preacher In New England shimmers, blurs and melts into a blinding pool of emotion, with Deebank creating his own brand of wordless through his guitar. He recalls huge cathedrals of sound that twist and wind artfully at his fingers, making your heart skip a beat – and then finally leaps into wondrous oblivion, fading out like a receding dream.

It should be noted that Maurice Deebank left Felt shortly after recording The Splendour Of Fear, and also subsequently recorded his only record Inner Thought Zone in the same year. There are similar parallels to this and The Splendour Of Fear, so you might want to check out Inner Thought Zone as well if you liked this.

Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed

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  • Artist: Rolling Stones
  • Genre: Country Blues
  • Released: 1969 on London Records (US) & Decca Records (UK)

 

Records like this have a lovely, wide-eyed wonder to them. There is a subtle, organic harmony of the overlaying riffs with the drums and the bass, the way they’re allowed to breathe. You can hear Keith Richards just noodling along, and then thinking, “Hmm, what about if I play this?” and Charlie Watts rising to the challenge. Mick Jagger simply delivers. The best part of it all? They pull it off so perfectly. It doesn’t sound like a wankfest of instruments, or an awful overdone affair. There’s only the essential muscle and bone, with nary a trace of fat.

Its ragged charm also plays a major part in its allure – Keith’s guitar playing slowly unravels like a ball of yarn, while being accompanied by Ry Cooder’s pretty mandolin tremolos on a cover of Robert Johnson’s Love In Vain. Mick Jagger’s blissed-out vocals stretch like a lazy cat to the heavens, probably made possible by some tabs of acid. Live With Me brings the infamously debauched, wildcat side of Mick Jagger out, with him making a rather crass but irresistible proposal (“Don’cha think there’s a place for you/In between the sheets?”). Wild, huh. Then comes Let It Bleed. Practically everyone but me knows this song. It’s an eye-opener to the occasional enfant terrible methods of Jagger for me. The insouciance of Jagger’s voice and lyrics manage to infuriate and charm in equal amounts (“We all need someone to cream on”). You Can’t Always Get What You Want is an amazing wall of GLORIOUS sound, with the raw ululations of the London Bach Choir battling against Watt’s drums and sending goosebumps up your arms. It’s an uplifting anthem for the “live and let die/go” mentality, with an almighty shrug.

Here’s a sample: You Can’t Always Get What You Want

 

 

Glaxo Babies – Nine Months To The Disco

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  • Artist: Glaxo Babies
  • Released: 1980 on Heartbeat Records
  • Genre: Post-punk, experimental 

Ah, Glaxo Babies. They happen to make the same strain of mutant music along the likes of The Pop Group, and why wouldn’t they? They also happen to come from Bristol, the multi-cultural city that also spawned trip-hop in the early 90s’, and brought much more joy and mischief to post-punk in the form of funk/dub/jazz mashups. There’s another group that could be counted as the yin to Glaxo Babies’s sound: Maximum Joy, who made cheerier, raucous funk, along with fellows Rip Rig + Panic. But that’s for another review anyway.

Glaxo Babies formed in 1977 with original members Tom Nichols, Dan Catsis (current guitarist for The Pop Group) and Geoff Alsopp, and subsequently brought Rob Chapman onboard as singer. The line-up went through another drastic change (a completely new line-up, in fact, with Rob Chapman leaving after recording a few tracks) before they recorded Nine Months To The Disco. As a result of this, their approach to the record became much more experimental, throwing in liberal doses of jazz, sound-collaging, funk and dub and finishing the recording of the music within a day. Wow. Hats off to these guys, because it doesn’t sound shoddy at all. Glaxo Babies put out another album, Put Me On The Guest List in 1980, and continued to record music periodically until their demise in 1990.

In a nutshell, the closest approximation of Nine Months To The Disco would be something like the result of bringing bloodthirsty savages to a disco party. Tribal drums underpinned with tight, primeval bass riffs, sans the overt politicizing of The Pop Group – but with an ominous undercurrent.

Maximum Sexual Joy has oodles of orgasmic bass and funky scratching, with what appears to be a delirious masked orgy and neanderthals having some fun tearing people apart in progress, while Seven Days has the most intense driving bass rhythm ever, with the fractured piano improvisation fading in and out throughout. The eerie synths sweep in and out of the song like a pale spectre. Free Dem Cells finally sets the party alight, and sees trebly guitars face each other in a Gang Of Four-style showdown, with the drums and bass serving as the spectators instead, egging the guitars on with glee. I love the drums on this one – the high hats sound crispy enough, mmm. Album closer Shake (The Foundations) sees them ditch the genre-bending and go full out funk, which may come as a relief for some people, although it may also come as a disappointment to other people. Just saying.

 

 

Autechre – Amber

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  • Artist: Autechre
  • Released: 1994 on Warp Records
  • Genre: IDM

Where I live in Singapore (ha, ha), there’s this particular road in Malaysia that serves as the perfect place to listen to Amber in the car, which starts from the Tuas car checkpoint and begins again from the Malaysian side, through the Batu Pahat checkpoint. This is an inconvenient detour from where I reside, and we undertake this 30+ km detour only when the damned Causeway is jammed to the brim with cars.

There’s nary a single soul in sight, with lush forests full of deciduous trees lining the long, snaking road that has been fenced up to prevent unsavoury types from entering the area. This road is the most tranquil of places, but there’s an current of unease trickling in the background. It’s the weirdest feeling ever: an uncomfortable juxtaposition of the proverbial oasis of calm, with the wire fences that serve as a reminder of your presence in a restricted area.

So what do I do? I put on Amber, and snuggle comfortably in the backseat. I love the weird spacey, blissed-out vibes that Amber radiates in spades. It’s the most surreal experience ever. You’re half expecting someone to run out on the road but nobody appears. Even the shophouses to the right of the road are closed. How the fuck are shops closed in the daytime? It’s an apt avenue down H.G Wells, so I always imagine that the area has been evacuated in the light of an impending alien invasion. If you could see what I saw, you might have agreed with me anyway.

Album opener Foil sounds like aliens have beamed themselves down from their 60’s themed spaceships and Piezo is one of my favourites, where you get this quirky, bursting pogo-ing rhythm and a haunting synth floating somberly in the back. It’s like having a rave at the bleakest of funerals. Nine shimmers with an unfathomable beauty, with the keyboards unfolding their wings and pulsing like radars, spreading their indecipherable signals to the listener. Underneath it all, there’s this underground battle; a tug-of-war between harmonious melody and jerky, syncopated rhythm. It’s an essential pivot of Amber, which was probably why it appealed to me so much. I’ve tried listening to it in other places, but nowhere beats the surrealism of the fenced forests and deserted road.

 

Decades / Failures – 002

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  • Artist: Decades / Failures
  • Genre: Post-punk
  • Released : 2014 on Dead Tank Records, self-released on Bandcamp

This review came about as a recommendation from Instagram user and fellow music fan lightningpaw, who suggested checking out Decades/Failures’s music. Thanks for the recommendation, lightningpaw!

Decades/Failures is Philadelphian Adam Juresko’s post-punk worthy moniker, and I suspect, a knowing nod to two of Joy Division‘s songs. Swathed in glacial synths, complete with distorted baritone and haughty gothic overtones, 002 manages to retain the philosophic introspection of Joy Division and Kraftwerk-aping early New Order, but suitably updated for the millenium with very pretty synths.

I (Never Wanted To) Believe cracks out the cavernous reverb, and the thudding drum machines and primitive synths recall the ceremonial sombreness of early New Order (Movement and Power, Corruption And Lies), while Gentle Forces ‘s industrial clackety sound is reminiscent of the eerie ascending elevator effect on Joy Division’s Insight. The song gradually gains momentum with the addition of ominous bells and fuzzy synths, but cuts off again with the same effect on the intro. Tell Me How is mired in Interpol-esque melancholia, complete with the same tidy rhythm, while the synths weave themselves around the bass like gossamer-thin spider silk.

As a whole, despite the obvious influences 002 is still a joy to listen to, especially for fans of  the primitive electronic sound that was prevalent in the late 70s to the early 80s.

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!

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