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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Category: 3WA (page 2 of 16)

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3WA 2018 #32: Vangelis – Direct

I have my late great-grandfather George to thank for this one, as he introduced me to the music of Vangelis at a very young age. I kept some of the cassette tapes he made for me until only a few years ago (purged in the last move, as I no longer even own a cassette deck).

Mind you, Grandpa George is also the man who insisted that cassette tape was vastly superior in audio fidelity to compact discs. But never mind that.

What is it?

Direct is the 1988 album release by the musician who (usually) goes by just the one name, Vangelis. He’s the guy responsible for the theme to Chariots of Fire, which is still a visual meme all these years later, referenced by people who’ve never seen that movie but automatically use part of that song set to a slow-motion scene of people running and everyone laughs.

How does it sound?

Like a stack of synthesizers and stuff, really:

Why this pick?

Good question. Direct is not the best known, the most highly regarded, or the most iconic of Vangelis’ works.

In a way, though, this is “my” Vangelis record. It was the first one I came to without Grandpa George’s opinion influencing my reaction to it. It’s definitely much more keyed into my electronica/techno enjoyment mode than Vangelis’ more classic works. It’s accessible in a way that, say, Mask or Opera Sauvage or Spiral or Albedo 0.39 (all excellent albums in their own way, mind you) aren’t.

Think of it as a gateway album. If Direct appeals to you, I can recommend further exploration of the Vangelis catalog.

Which songs are the highlights?

As this is a (mostly) instrumental album, it’s hard to explain why some songs stand out above the rest, so here’s a quick list of my favorites: “The Will of the Wind” certainly, followed by “Metallic Rain.” “Dial Out” as well. “Rotation’s Logic,” too.

I like “The Motion of Stars,” “Elsewhere,” and “The Oracle of Apollo” somewhat less but they’re still notable.

Which songs don’t work so well?

When you’re dealing with an instrumentalist, you get the occasional snoozer. Sometimes when you’re dealing with an instrumentalist, that snoozer shows up when they decide to involve a vocalist. “Glorianna (Hymn a la Femme)” with its pseudo-operatic style really, really doesn’t work.

“Message” mostly works but it’s bookended by the murmurings of a small child, which comes off as more “creepypasta” than it does “endearing” or “adorable.” The closing track, “Intergalactic Radio Station,” mostly works but there’s a spoken voiceover bit toward the end which is distracting and annoying.

“First Approach” is just dull, sadly.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

The other record I considered is the 1977 release, Spiral. It’s only five tracks long but given that “Dervish D.” is by far the shortest of the songs at just over five minutes, the 40-minute total run time isn’t that much of a ripoff. The problem with Spiral, as with most Vangelis records of the time, is that they don’t really support the format of this project. I use bits of five songs on a record to make the sampler mix. That’s all of Spiral! That, and it’s hard to talk about one track on a lot of Vangelis records separate from the rest, as they tend to be of a type and theme.

It’s very artsy stuff, is what I’m saying.

Any final thoughts?

It’s almost certainly due to my early introduction to Vangelis that I ended up getting into several “one man in a studio with a lot of toys” artists, such as Jan Hammer’s soundtrack work and BT’s artsier stuff. (I won’t repeat my father’s alliterative verdict on Vangelis here as it’s a bit crass; suffice to say that he believes music should be made by bands in a proper studio, not by guys in small rooms of electronic toys all by themselves.)

3WA 2018 #31: Until the End of the World: Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack

Just to really, really break the formula, I threw in one of those “soundtracks” which are really just an excuse to package a bunch of songs from various artists into one presumably-appealing market-friendly slice of the current state of the pop music industry. The movie could have been a blockbuster, but more likely it was utterly forgettable and the resulting music bundle is far more memorable than the film whose existence led to its assembly.

What is it?

Until the End of the World: Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack is, as the title suggests, a collection of songs used in the 1991 movie. (This isn’t always the case with such projects; you get a lot of “inspired by” with this sort of thing usually.)

How does it sound?

It was a miracle I got the sampler mix out alive:

Why this pick?

I wanted to represent a type of album release which is present enough in my collection to warrant notice, the “music from or inspired by” cash grab movie-tie-in album. What’s funny about this one is that it’s one of the more genuine of its kind, as this music actually is all in the movie (however briefly, in some cases). And a lot of the music is really good!

I’m doing you a favor, basically. You should be grateful.

Which songs are the highlights?

There are two songs here titled something along the lines of “Until the End of the World,” one by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and the other by U2. Both are good, albeit very different from one another.

Can’s “Last Night’s Sleep” is delightful. The Jane Siberry & k.d. lang duet, “Calling All Angels,” is fantastic. T-Bone Burnett’s “Humans From Earth” is a hoot. Talking Heads’ “Sax and Violins” is fun, too.

Which songs don’t work so well?

The thing about a “various artists” set is, how much you enjoy a given artist will probably determine how much you like a given song.

I don’t really like R.E.M. or Elvis Costello, so “Fretless” and “Days” (respectively) are a big NOPE.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

It was so tempting to pick the tie-in album for When The Wind Blows, you have no idea. Just… let me Google that for you. Maybe the one for the Spawn movie instead? Were it not for Until the End of the World I’d have a lot of bog-standard movie-adjacent records to choose from but nothing nearly as good or iconic.

Any final thoughts?

In case you’re thinking of watching the movie after listening to this quite-nice collection of songs… no, don’t, really. Trust me. It’s a long boring weird-assed slog of a film. Not even William Hurt and Sam Neill can save it. Not even this nice collection of songs can save it. Save yourself a couple of hours: Watch anything else, do anything else.

You’ll notice that the music here is more artsy and more relaxed than my usual fare. It’s true, in the early 1990s I was into artsy movies and artsy music, at least for a little while.

I got better. Or worse, depending on your point of view.

3WA 2018 #30: Jethro Tull – The Broadsword and the Beast

It’s not very often that you run into an album where the stuff they recorded but left off is both as plentiful and as high quality as what made it onto the released record.

What is it?

The Broadsword and the Beast is the 1982 record from Jethro Tull, a band named for a guy who (in the 1700s) wrote a book that helped kick off the Agricultural Revolution. Much like another band who quickly tired of the question, “which one’s Pink?”, I’m sure Ian Anderson quickly tired of being called Jethro…

How does it sound?

Bring me my sampler mix as a talisman:

Why this pick?

My relationship with this band’s music is a bit weird. This is one of the few bands my Mom and I agree on, though we like different parts of their library. (My Dad and I don’t agree on any bands.) What’s considered Tull’s best work either bounces off of me entirely or just doesn’t overwhelm me. Yes, the Aqualung album is quite good, but the entire mid-to-late-70s stretch is very hit-or-miss. As is the post-80s stretch, if I’m honest.

Basically I’m as atypical a Tull fan as I am an atypical Bowie fan. Go figure.

I came to the band in the mid-80s thanks to their “Heavy Metal Grammy” winning (sorry, Metallica!) album, Crest of a Knave. After that one scored big, someone decided that a retrospective boxed set was in order. Thus, 20 Years of Jethro Tull, which introduced me to… basically most of the notable B-side material from Broadsword, though I didn’t know it yet.

Then, as I worked my way through the back catalog the same way I did with the other prog-rock stalwarts I got into back then, I found that the A-side material on Broadsword is pretty darned good, too. So here we are: It’s my absolute favorite Tull record and arguably the best “first” record of theirs for a new listener. I mean, I’m arguing it right here and now. QED, etc.

Which songs are the highlights?

From the original album itself? “Beastie” and “Clasp” start things out strong. Next comes the hit single (such as it was) in the form of “Fallen On Hard Times.”

“Broadsword” is an epic piece, one of the strongest things the band has ever done. How it never got used in a Highlander-ish show or movie is beyond me.

“Watching Me Watching You” is an odd but compelling piece, the strongest track out of the last few in the album proper.

The parade of B-side material starts with the vaguely-Christmas-themed “Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow.” By the time you’ve gotten through “Mayhem Maybe” (one of my all-time favorite Tull songs), “Too Many Too,” “Overhang,” and “Down At The End Of Your Road” you wonder why any of those couldn’t have replaced one or another of the lesser tracks on the album they actually released.

Which songs don’t work so well?

Even a favorite Tull album isn’t a spotless album, I’m afraid. “Flying Colours” falls flat largely due to its very, very dated 80s-synth underpinnings, “Slow Marching Band” is merely dull, and “Seal Driver” just doesn’t work for me, though its instrumental bridge section could have been pulled out into its own thing and I’d have liked that a lot more.

Among the extra tracks, when you hear “Rhythm In Gold” you know why it didn’t make it onto the album proper.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

I had some options here: The Grammy winner, Crest of a Knave, is a solid record worth talking about. I like a lot of the follow-up, Rock Island, as well. But I’d probably have gone with Under Wraps, the album after Broadsword where Ian Anderson and crew went absolutely bonkers for synthesizers. To be clear, there’d been a progression (if you can call it that) toward synths over the previous few albums. With Under Wraps, though, you get the full “welcome to the 1980s” experience. It’s the 80s-est of the Tull records by a country mile. I won’t say it’s a great album but it’s certainly interesting and there’s a handful of standout tracks found in it.

I wouldn’t have done Aqualung, though. It’s a classic, and I’m not averse to those (I picked Selling England By The Pound for my Genesis selection, after all) but I don’t think I could bring anything interesting to the topic. Hey, if you haven’t been burned out on “Aqualung” and “Locomotive Breath” yet, by all means pick up a copy! I consider it the album after which Ian Anderson kind of really got full of himself, which is why I can’t get into the next few albums (particularly the “no discrete songs to be found” concept albums, Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play).

Any final thoughts?

In case I’ve been too subtle on this point so far (which seems unlikely): Find a version of The Broadsword and the Beast with the full 18-track line-up. It’s absolutely worth it.

3WA 2018 #29: Filter – Title of Record

I wonder what, in the coming post-CD age, will replace the gimmick of the “hidden track” at the end of the disc, found after waiting through several minutes of silence.

What is it?

Title of Record is the 1999 sophomore album release by Filter, the band mostly and forever known for that “Hey Man Nice Shot” song, though they’re also somewhat known for a song from this album as well.

How does it sound?

You know a sampler mix goes a long way:

Why this pick?

This is simply the Filter record I like best. I liked it when a coworker first loaned it to me back in my radio days, I like it now. Compare to, say, The Amalgamut where I like three songs and can’t stand most of the rest, or The Sun Comes Out Tonight which has a few strong bits and a lot of… not as strong bits.

There’s a lot of “nope” in Filter’s song catalog, basically. Too angry, too dark, what-have-you. And it’s all on a bunch of other records that aren’t Title of Record, thank goodness. Which isn’t to say ToR doesn’t have a lot of anger, oh heavens no. You don’t spin up a Filter record because you’re in the mood for sweetness and light and cute puppies. I’m just saying there’s a threshold between “angry enough to encourage catharsis” and “whoah dude dial it back a bit,” and at no point does this particular album cross that line for me.

There are very few albums which aren’t from one of my Big Three (Genesis, Pet Shop Boys, Midnight Oil) that I will listen through all the way without skipping a song. Title of Record is one such.

Or, to reword and sum up: I don’t care much about this band but I completely dig this album.

Which songs are the highlights?

Once you get past the less-than-a-minute-long intro track, everything here is good for me. Really, I’m not kidding. But if I had to point to a couple of specific tracks I’d go with “It’s Gonna Kill Me” and “The Best Things.”

And maybe “I Will Lead You.” Possibly also “Cancer.” Let’s not forget “Miss Blue.” And… well, you get the idea.

Which songs don’t work so well?

I still think “Take a Picture” is a good song, even if it’s a bit overplayed.

So it still works well. I just don’t listen to it as often, that’s all. And I had to put something in this section, didn’t I?

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

I nearly took a full swing at The Sun Comes Out Tonight, as it’s the newest in my library. (Yes, I know another album follows that one. What I’ve heard of it so far doesn’t interest me much.) I gave a capsule review a few years ago, and I’m going to be repeating efforts often enough this year as it is, so it’s probably for the best that I leave it be. So here we are.

Any final thoughts?

Much like with Apoptygma Berserk, Filter’s a band where there’s one album pitched right into my strike zone and a bunch of others that aren’t even close. And of course the album I like best marks me out as a statistical outlier to the band’s staunchest supporters. Go figure!

And one of these days I’m going to edit down a version of the “Miss Blue” track without the 14 minutes or so of silence-then-random-screaming after the song itself ends. Hidden “bonus” tracks, y’all! The best way to ruin a perfectly good random playlist! Sigh.

3WA 2018 #28: Joe Hisaishi – Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Soundtrack

The nice thing about having soundtracks in the year’s project roster is it gives me a chance to take a bit of a break. Think of them as sort of like a “bottle episode” of a TV show.

What is it?

It’s the soundtrack to Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, released in 1984.

How does it sound?

Like music used to soothe gigantic bugs.

Why this pick?

Part of the successful immersion into the weird post-apocalyptic future of this particular Miyazaki film is the compelling, slightly off-kilter score. Listening to one or another of the pieces on this soundtrack album is enough to put me in that world, if only for a few minutes. And so, I’m sharing that opportunity with you, here.

Which songs are the highlights?

This soundtrack album does something a bit odd: Most tracks are made up of two or three bits of the soundtrack score proper, so while half of one track might be something you find relaxing or whatever, the other half might be from a fight sequence. The lead track contains the opening theme, sure, but it’s bookended by two unrelated bits of background music.

This being the case, it’s hard to point to a specific track and say, “This, this one stands out.”

Other than “Nausicaä Requiem,” that is.

Which songs don’t work so well?

See above…

I guess if this soundtrack has a weakness, it’s that the occasional 80s-style synths leave it feeling rather dated in places.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

I almost went with the soundtrack to Iria: Zeiram the Animation. They’re of a similar vintage and there are some bits on that album that I really love.

Any final thoughts?

I’d prefer them to have made more individual tracks to separate out the themes instead of sticking two or three per track, but that’s the way the Giant God-Warrior crumbles, I suppose. (Does the Giant God-Warrior count as a giant robot for “giant robot warning” purposes? Nah, let’s say it doesn’t. Ha.)

3WA 2018 #27: Duran Duran – Astronaut

I made some mistakes while selecting the album list. That’s fine, mistakes happen. Two of the mistakes boil down to, “but I’ve already written about this one!” Ha ha, too late, I made a big sampler mix late last year and everything. I’m committed.

Here’s the first of those mistakes. I’m standing by the selection because first time around, I was unkind to a perfectly cromulent record. This time, maybe, I can do justice to the thing.

What is it?

Astronaut is the late-2004 studio record released by Duran Duran, who were busy trying not to fall off the pop-culture radar entirely.

How does it sound?

Mix up for the sampler:

Why this pick?

It’s the last album by the band that I actually like. Duran Duran are very, very hit-or-miss for me, which is weird because their sound didn’t change much over the first couple decades. Rio and Notorious? Great! Seven and the Ragged Tiger and The Wedding Album (yes that’s not its real name but whatever, everyone calls it that)? Meh. Liberty and Red Carpet Massacre? No thank you. I couldn’t tell you why one record works and another doesn’t, not in this instance.

Astronaut is almost on the “meh” part of the spectrum, and upon first listen that was my overall impression. Now, though, I really love a half dozen of the songs and am okay with most of the rest. Only a couple of the tracks still put me off.

So here we are. It’s a good record. Don’t trust what 2004’s version of Karel had to say about it! (I’m not linking that post. You can search for it if you want.) He was kind of a self-absorbed jerk with delusions that his opinions mattered!

…Hmm. Maybe things haven’t changed terribly much, eh?

Which songs are the highlights?

“(Reach Up For The) Sunrise,” the lead single and first track on the album, is a fully competent radio-friendly piece of work and holds up just fine, fourteen years later.

The real standouts, though, show up once the first couple of songs are out of the way. “What Happens Tomorrow” is marvelous in the same way that “Come Undone” was on The Wedding Album, “Nice” may not be terribly deep but it is outstandingly upbeat, “Taste The Summer” is almost good enough to make me think fondly upon my least-favorite of the seasons, and “Finest Hour” is surprisingly uplifting.

Along the way we also get “Want You More” and the title track “Astronaut,” both solid bits of pop songcraft.

Which songs don’t work so well?

I still don’t like “Bedroom Toys” or “Still Breathing” very much. Some things didn’t change from 2004 to now, I suppose.

“One Of Those Days” needed an overhaul; there’s a germ of a good song in there somewhere that should’ve had the chance to come to fruition.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

Had I been thinking clearly enough I’d have remembered I’d written about Astronaut already. Twice. Okay, the second time it was only a couple of paragraphs, but the point stands. I goofed up.

My obvious choice should’ve been Notorious. I love that record to bits. There’s not a song on there that I can’t enjoy on some level. I will play it through and not skip a thing. It contains several of my all-time favorite DD tunes, such as “Skin Trade,” “Winter Marches On,” and “Proposition.”

Maybe, if I revisit this album-write-up idea later, I’ll rectify this egregious oversight.

Any final thoughts?

I received this album from the radio station outfit I used to work for. It was the big promotional package and everything. I gave it away to a friend (after ripping it to my library) because my first impression was so underwhelming.

I… kind of wish I hadn’t done that. D’oh.

The version of “(Reach Up For The) Sunrise” they released as a promo is a better mix than what’s on the album. So of course I don’t have a copy of that either! Go, me!

Oh, hey! We’re past the halfway mark on this year’s project. I haven’t missed a deadline in a year and a half so far. Let’s hear it for six more months of reliable content production!

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