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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Category: Music (page 1 of 8)

We were the pop kids.

I just finished listening to the Pet Shop Boys “The Parlophone Years” documentary/mixtape presentation at the BBC. It’s quite good and the interview bits run the expected gamut from informative to amusing to introspective, and you get bits and pieces of songs from nearly the entirety of their career. (They left EMI/Parlophone shortly before releasing their 2013 album, Electric.)

There are three main musical acts at the core of my library. Genesis (and most of its solo offshoots), Midnight Oil, and the Pet Shop Boys. Of those, only one remains active. What this documentary program reminded me of is that for basically my entire music-purchasing life I’ve been fortunate enough to get a new PSB record every so often, and nearly every time I’ve found something to enjoy about the new record. That’s a thirty-year-plus run of superb songcraft.

“Opportunities.” “Suburbia.” “It’s a sin.” “Left to my own devices.” “Always on my mind.” “Domino dancing.” “How can you expect to be taken seriously?” “So hard.” “Being boring.” “I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing.” “Single.” “Yesterday, when I was mad.” “Closer to heaven.” “Integral.” “The Sodom and Gomorrah Show.” “Pandemonium.” “Did you see me coming?” “Love etc.” “Leaving.” “The pop kids.”

And that’s just selections you can hear bits of in the program linked above, to say nothing of, let’s say, “The end of the world” or “The Theatre” or “Metamorphosis” or “Up against it” or “To step aside” (look, Bilingual is an amazing album, okay?) or “Minimal” or “Twentieth Century” and so forth.

I feel like I’ve reconnected just a bit with one of the key threads woven into the fabric of my conscious life. Not a bad way to spend part of a day off, yeah? Yeah.

Pulp Pulp Culture Culture

I should know better than to tag songs on “best-of” albums.

It’s an okay song, I just didn’t necessarily want to hear it twice within half an hour.

What we’ve got here is failure to communicate the result of my ratings-tagging both the Thomas Dolby record Aliens Ate My Buick and the Thomas Dolby best-of compilation record Retrospectacle. I use MediaMonkey to build random playlists. Some are for specific bands or genres, others boil down to “give me X minutes of songs with a Y star rating or higher.”

The above screenshot is from my “MEHs Haul” playlist: 90 minutes of three-star tracks that haven’t been played in the last few weeks. I’m used to getting studio and live versions of the same song, especially in my workday-length random playlist. The same studio recording twice in relatively rapid succession, though? That’s my own danged fault.

Maintaining a digital music library is an ever-ongoing task, apparently.

3WA: Looking back, looking ahead

The weekly word working assignment is nearing the end of its first year. Overall, how did it go? I consider it a success. I never missed an update, I’m reasonably proud of most of the posts, and there’s a chance (however slim) that I may have led someone to watch something they might have overlooked otherwise.

Fine, fine… my readership amounts to maybe three entire souls. Slim chance, indeed. But capturing an audience wasn’t the primary goal. Forcing myself to get back into the habit of logging into this thing and flexing my writing muscles, that was the primary goal.

The remaining two 3WA posts for 2017 are in the bag. They’ll show up this and next Friday, right on schedule. I made sure to complete them before my mid-month vacation in order to dedicate vacation time to next year’s project prep. I chose a more challenging format, one which requires more work than just sourcing some screenshots.

It’s time to look ahead.

During the year two thousand seventeen, I wrote about fifty-two pieces of animation that brought me some measure of joy. In the year to come I intend to write about fifty-two music albums which bring me some measure of joy. Joy, as we established at the outset, is a key part of this ongoing project. The 3WA concept was born from a deep, desperate need to focus on the good things in life, and if the unrelenting hellshow of 2016 gave rise to this year’s project then what else could I do coming out of 2017 but to bump things up a level?

So, without further ado: Do you have a few minutes? About ten of them, actually? Because right here, right now, you can decide if it’s worth tuning in for 2018’s 3WA series.

Bonus points if you can name more than half the artists (without using search engines to cheat, mind you).

Capsule Review Roundup

We’ll round out this summer run of music (and related products) reviews with a handful of most-recent-album selections which I just couldn’t work up enough enthusiasm for to devote a full entry’s worth of time & effort…

  • Apocalyptica, Shadowmaker – So they’ve got a dedicated singer now. “Cold Blood” is good, the rest of the record left me… cold. Pass.
  • Giorgio Moroder, Déjà Vu – Two of the three instrumentals (“74 is the New 24” and “4 U with Love”) are pretty good, but what’s really weird about this record is that my favorite song is sung by someone I’ve never really enjoyed before (Britney Spears) and is a cover of a song I utterly loathed in its most famous incarnation (“Tom’s Diner”). Yeah, I dunno either. Overall, a so-so record.
  • Muse, Drones – I’m not a mega-fan of Muse. I tend to really enjoy three or four songs per album and can leave the rest. (Except in the case of the previous album, The 2nd Law, which I mostly hated.) This one is… okay. It’s a concept album, which probably doesn’t help.
  • Queensrÿche, Condition Hüman – QR has a new singer as of the album previous to this one. He sounds… ridiculously like the previous singer. I mean it’s really uncanny. So the good news is, if you like QR, you’ll probably have no trouble enjoying this album. I’m… not a huge QR fan. (That would be the other member of my household, hence why this is in my library to begin with.) A few songs work for me, the rest leave me underwhelmed.
  • Seabound, Speak In Storms – VNV Nation and mind.in.a.box led me to this band via vague musical association. If you like either of those other two acts you probably already know about Seabound. If not, well: it’s dark, dance-y European electronica. I generally like this album. The lyric content seems a bit grim, and sometimes the music goes along with that and sometimes it’s distinctly contrasted, upbeat. If you’re curious, I recommend hunting down the tracks “For Another Day,” “Everything,” and “When She’s Hungry.”

That’ll do for now. What do you think I should try next…?

ABC – The Lexicon of Love II

You’d think with my musical identity being formed in the mid-1980s and with ABC being a popular UK-based band (and boy howdy was I into that sort of thing back then) that I wouldn’t have missed out on most of their discography. And yet, I only listened to one of their albums a few times (at a friend’s house) back in the day and never went looking deeper in the decades since.

At this point, ABC is a band the same way recent incarnations of Jethro Tull is a band. In this case it’s Martin Fry instead of Ian Anderson who’s surrounded by whichever players meet his needs for the project.

It wasn’t until friend Wonderduck nudged me in the direction of their second album, Beauty Stab (reviewed previously), that I started paying much attention at all. When the latest record was announced, a “sequel” to their debut at that, I found myself intrigued.

So, can I review The Lexicon of Love II without actually being particularly familiar with its breakthrough predecessor? Sure I can. The sequel conceit can be taken or left as the listener chooses, as far as I’m concerned. My concern is whether this music stands on its own.

Generally speaking it does. Most of the album hits the “good but not great” mark, to my particular tastes. The lead single was “Viva Love,” which is plenty solid enough (and is on my portable playlist, months after release, so make of that what you will). Many of the other tracks like “The Flames of Desire,” “Confessions of a Fool,” “The Ship of the Seasick Sailor,” and “I Believe In Love” are fine. They’re plenty listenable. “The Love Inside The Love” should be used as an insert song in a high-quality James-Bond-like movie. Only one song (“Ten Below Zero”) is what I’d consider a loss. You can put this record on and bask in three quarter of an hour’s worth of well-produced and clever pop songcraft. There’s kind of a lounge-act quality to the synths-and-strings-and-crooning results, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just not for me, mostly.

There’s one truly standout song here, though. One four-minute-or-so piece where everything Fry’s bringing to the effort just gels. That is “Singer Not The Song,” and if you pick up only one track from TLoL2, make it this one. It’s not markedly different in style or tone, mind you. Somehow, though, it’s the place on this album where Fry and his collaborators make a song work perfectly. Maybe it’s that it’s the least (blatantly) about-love piece in the track list? Maybe it’s that here’s where Fry sounds like he’s really putting a lot more of himself into the words and performance? But as the song itself declares, he’s the singer, not the song. One seems discouraged from speculating. Whatever, it just works.

Should you buy this album? Generally, I recommend it. My quibbles with the album are entirely to do with what I get out of music personally. It’s smart, it sounds good, it’s enjoyable and lush and energetic. Unless you’re averse to upbeat pop music in kind of an 80s-throwback vein, you will probably find plenty to enjoy here.

Queen of Hearts – Cocoon

Yes, this album is over two years old. Since it’s technically the most recent release from the artist in question, I’m going to rule this one a valid choice. So there, my site my rules, neener neener et cetera.

Now. I feel the need to provide backstory on this one.

Friend Wonderduck and I trade YouTube links from time to time. (Okay, he’s much much better about it than I am.) Usually it’s to a piece of music we each think the other might find relevant to our interests. So, a while back he sent me a link to a track by The Sound of Arrows, one which is strongly reminiscent of the Pet Shop Boys. The song was okay but didn’t quite sell me on the band. Out of curiosity I clicked on some of those related links that YouTube provides. And I ended up listening to a song called “Shoot the Bullet” which The Sound of Arrows produced for an artist who goes by the name, Queen of Hearts.

That I bought her EP and then her full debut album in rapid order might tell you what you need to know about Cocoon, but it wouldn’t be playing fair to leave it at that, now would it?

Up to this point in our little weekly review project I’ve been showcasing artists with some kind of previous track record that people are likely to be familiar with. I can’t tell you “this is (or isn’t) like her last album” so if you pick up a song or the EP or this album, what are you getting yourself into? Dance music (for the most part), of the electronic variety, with a strong and clear vocal presence right up front. While a lot of electronica acts hire a woman to sing and then bury her voice under synthesizers and drum beats and effects, Queen of Hearts is the focus here. This is her show, and we’re invited.

The album opens with The Arrival EP’s closing track, “Freestyle,” and follows that up with “Neon.” It’s a strong start, and the head-bopping toe-tapping energy rolls on, song after song, through “Like a Drug” and “It Isn’t Enough.”

It isn’t until the halfway mark, 7 tracks into the 14 track run of the album, that the tempo calms down for “Surrender” and then the memorable and marvelous “Warrior.” Afterward, “Shoot the Bullet” finally shows up, a reminder of where this whole journey started (it was The Arrival‘s opening number) and still one of the high points here.

Toward the end I do find that some songs don’t quite gel for me. Honestly, I’d be amazed to find fourteen entire tracks on one album that really “wow” me, so this isn’t a serious knock against Cocoon. Besides, you have to stick around for “Overcome By the Rhythm” and the closer, “Tears in the Rain.”

Now, if you didn’t wander off when I said “dance music” and “electronica” earlier, if I’ve piqued your interest at all, then let me tell you: Go get this record. It has four songs I absolutely love, several more that I play quite frequently, and really only one track, “Suicide,” I could do without (more due to lyrical content than any problem with the song’s other attributes, and that’s mostly a quirk on my part).

Anyway. Go forth and acquire. You’ll thank me later.

Oh, and then go pick up The Arrival EP, or at least “Where Are You Now?”. Just sayin’.

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