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April’s eMusic downloads April 30, 2009

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Hildur Gudnadottir: Without Sinking

Hildur Gudnadottir: Without Sinking

Aidan Baker and thisquietarmy: A Picture of a Picture. Ambient/drone music created on electric guitars. It’s the second collaboration between prolific experimental/noise/metal artist Baker, also known as one half of ambient doom/shoegazer metal band Nadja, and Eric Quach, shoegazer/ambient musician. Less abrasive than a lot of Baker’s work; quite pleasant, in fact.

Svarte Greiner: Kappe. Svarte Greiner is Erik Skodvin, one half of Deaf Center, an ambient/”home listening/modern classical” (to use a Boomkat label) project I really like. This is darker and more abrasive than Deaf Center, not unlike some of the stuff that was tagged isolationist a few years back. Skodvin is also the guy who runs the Miasmah label, which released…

Rafael Anton Irisarri: Daydreaming. More “home listening/modern classical,” this is a really good mix of piano and subtle electronics. Angelo Badalamenti’s influence would seem to be verified by a track called “Lumberton,” after the town in which the movie Blue Velvet is set.

Encre: Plexus. Another example of the Miasmah “home listening/modern classical” style, this is a single 40 minute track using cello and noise. Haven’t listened to it all the way through yet.

Greg Haines: Slumber Tides. Even more Miasmah, and more cello, along with occasional voice, bells, and a lot of electronic manipulation. Very good stuff, especially considering Haines was apparently only 18 when he made this album (produced by the aforementioned Skodvin).

Hildur Gudnadottir: Without Sinking. More “home listening/modern classical” using cello. I didn’t set out to get a lot of this kind of thing, but a bunch of Miasmah releases popped up on eMusic at the same time. This isn’t on Miasmah, though, it’s on Touch, which has a slightly more classical esthetic approach.

Deepchord: Vantage Isle Sessions. Deepchord/Echospace is a label and recording project operating in the dub techno style, and they just popped up on eMusic with a few releases. This is 13 versions of one track, for a total just under 80 minutes, but the various remixes are different enough to keep madness at bay.

Jonas Reinhardt: Jonas Reinhardt. Haven’t listened to all of this yet, but it’s another new album of retro electronica, with some krautrock (early Kraftwerk, Cluster, Harmonia) influences. It’s on Kranky, a label I’ve tried to keep track of since I got into the postrock/ambient band Labradford back in the ’90s.

Rapoon: Time Frost

Rapoon: Time Frost

Rapoon: Time Frost and Lull: Like a Slow River. I’ve bought albums by each of these ambient projects before (and a variety of other things Lull’s Mick Harris has done, particularly Scorn); these are part of a series of albums released on Glacial Movements, an isolationist/ambient label inspired by arctic and antarctic imagery. You can almost feel cold listening to these.

Two Fingers: Two Fingers. A collaboration between a couple of electronic musicians (one of them being Amon Tobin, who’s done everything from triphop to video game soundtracks) and a few vocalists, with grime/hiphop rapper Sway on most of the songs. There’s elements of grime, dubstep, and more here. Sounds quite good so far.

And a few dubstep singles and EPs, mostly from the Tempa label.

Dubstep: five albums to start with April 30, 2009

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Burial: Untrue

Burial: Untrue

A few posts back I talked about compilations and mix albums. Now for some single artist albums.

Burial: Untrue. Actually, the first album (Burial) is excellent, too, but this one feels a bit more developed and consistent. It’s a mix of disparate elements (2step, R&B, even ambient), but Burial makes a cohesive whole of the parts. On the one hand, it’s relatively accessible; its distorted R&B vocal samples give many of the tracks more of a song feel than you sometimes get with instrumental dubstep. It’s atmospheric, spooky, and strangely beautiful. It’s one of the best known and hyped albums to come out of the scene, one of the few to get attention from people who aren’t particularly interested in dubstep, but it deserves all that attention.

Kode9 and the Spaceape: Memories of the Future. More of a dub-inflected sound, with a vocal presence on most of the tracks provided by the Spaceape. The Spaceape rumbles and mumbles about “hostile aliens immune from dying” in a Caribbean accent. (It’s not surprising that his list of influences on his myspace page includes Ballard, Deleuze, and David Cronenberg along with various others.)

Pinch: Underwater Dancehall. The title gives a bit of a hint of the album’s sound: the underwater fits well with the dubbed out, echoing sounds, and dancehall — well, vocalists like Juakali give some of the tracks a dancehall reggae feel, for the vocal side at least. The CD has two discs, the first including vocal versions of several tracks, the second the same album again but entirely instrumental. I generally listen to the first, because the vocals add a lot to the sparse soundscapes. Juakali provides the reggae deejaying/rapping style on three songs, Rudey Lee does sung reggae vocals on one, Yolanda does some standout R&B singing on two songs, and Indi Kaur provides a hint of Bollywood on one.

Headhunter: Nomad. Dubstep evolved separately from dub techno, but Headhunter brings some serious dub techno influences to the fore here, as well as some minimal techno. The techno influence is playing a growing part in the sound of a number of more recent dubstep recordings, moving away from the simpler and rougher banging party tunes that’s become one of the more popular but less interesting directions the genre’s moving in.

Benga: Diary of an Afro Warrior. This has one of the biggest of the banging party tunes to come out of dubstep, the irresistible “Night” (co-produced by Coki), and the album has more of a dancefloor orientation than at least one or two of the albums above, but it also has enough variety to offer some real breadth and depth. It’s listenable as an album, not just a soundtrack to a night out.

Julianna Barwick: Florine EP (2009) April 30, 2009

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Julianna Barwick: Florine

Julianna Barwick: Florine

Julianna Barwick’s music is unlike pretty much anything I’ve heard before. Sure, there are faint echoes of past artists, and I’ll get to them shortly — but this EP’s six tracks are a revelation nonetheless. Barwick’s modus operandi is to create music using effect pedals and loops of her own voice. Musical instruments rarely intrude (“Anjos” has a piano loop, possibly some synth), or if they’re there, they’re difficult to distinguish from the voice-derived sounds. It’s beautiful music, somewhere between ethereal and ambient.

At times, I’m reminded of a few different things. John Foxx’s Cathedral Oceans albums, for example, which are ambient music based around Foxx’s church music-inspired vocalizing. The odd choral sounds of Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares. Classic Harold Budd and Brian Eno ambient. Sigur Ros. The Cocteau Twins. Bjork. Enya.

Though Barwick’s intrument is her voice, there are few discernible words or lyrics here. Her voice is used as an instrument. Only one song has an identifiable lyric — “Choose” has the words “any way you choose.”

Florine is part of the eMusic Selects series of exclusive releases on eMusic.com. Barwick has a previous album, Sanguine, which may be easier to track down for people who aren’t eMusic subscribers, but I haven’t heard that one. Yet. There’s also a free hour-long radio show at the Má Fama blog, with music and an interview.

Noise: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth (2008) April 29, 2009

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Noise: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth

Noise: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth

Just finished reading Noise: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth, a short story anthology edited by Peter Wild (and released as Empty Pages in the UK). The stories take their titles and inspiration from various Sonic Youth songs, some apparently trying to reflect something of what the song’s about, others taking the title as a starting point and going in their own direction. Mary Gaitskill’s the only writer here I’ve read before.

Interestingly enough, there’s elements of genre fiction here, including a ghost story and a story with a hint of Ramsey Campbell horror. Another is on the border between fantasy and surrealism. The book is not, for the most part, fiction about music. It’s not like Pagan Kennedy’s The Exes or Joe Pernice’s Meat is Murder or other fiction about indie rock. The one story that focuses most on music, the editor’s own contribution, is partly set at an MC5 concert and is about the turbulence of the 1960s, rather than about Sonic Youth.

For the most part, it’s a solid and generally well-written collection of modern literary/mainstream fiction. At times the SY influence is overt; other times, it’s barely discernible. But each story has a brief intro by the author to provide a little context. Perhaps surprisingly, there aren’t any stories noticeably influenced by SY’s own literary touchstones (the Beats, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, etc).

I’ve dug out all my SY albums to make a playlist of the songs included, because some of them are from albums I haven’t listened to in a while. Not that it makes all that much of a difference. The stories generally draw on something evoked by song titles rather than building in any way on any narratives in the lyrics — not that Sonic Youth’s songs necessarily lend themselves to that.

Wild has also edited Perverted by Language: Fiction Inspired by The Fall (I like them but I’m a lot less familiar with them, but on the other hand it has stories by Steve Aylett and Jeff VanderMeer and I may get it after all). The next book, Paint a Vulgar Picture: Fiction Inspired by the Smiths sounds like a must-have, though I’m not sure I’ve read anything by any of its contributors. But given the more storytelling-oriented approach of Morrissey’s lyrics, it’ll be interesting to see how the writers work with those songs as inspiration. Wild is also planning similar books inspired by some other bands I love (Joy Division, the Ramones, the Velvet Underground), so I expect to be reading more of this kind of thing.

Alcest: Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde (2007) and Amesoeurs: Amesoeurs (2009) April 13, 2009

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Alcest: Souvenirs d'une Autre Monde

Alcest: Souvenirs d’une Autre Monde

Funny how some musical styles keep coming back, often in fresh new ways. Shoegazer circa the late 1980s and early 1990s was about layers of guitar texture and sometimes noise, often with plaintive or subdued vocals floating above or buried in a wall of sound. But few bands recorded more than an album or two that could be considered shoegazer; Britpop was about to take over the UK music scene. By 1995 shoegazer was over. Over the last few years, though, it’s made a comeback. A few bands are making strong albums in the classic style, but others are adapting shoegazer to other genres. Ulrich Schnauss and M83, among others, combine shoegazer and electronica. Jesu combines shoegazer with industrial metal.

What’s all this got to do with Alcest? It’s a project started by Neige, a musician from the black metal scene in France. Though he was reportedly unfamiliar with shoegazer and postrock before recording the album Souvenirs d’une Autre Monde (memories from another world), this is a richly textured post-metal album that at times bears a strong resemblance to classic shoegazer band Ride, particularly in the vocals. The songs tend to have layers of electric guitar, sometimes with a lighter lead guitar or acoustic guitar melody on top, sometimes alternating with acoustic passages. There are moments that sound closer to metal, with the drums’ blastbeats struggling to make an impact through the guitars, but those moments work well in context. There’s a good balance of elements here, though it does threaten to become a bit formulaic at times. Fortunately, the sixth and final track switches things up a bit, losing the wall of guitars and instead featuring mainly acoustic guitar and a melodic piano line. The vocals here remind me a bit of Sigur Ros, not a shoegazer band, but a band influenced by some of the same sources.

Overall, though the album does rely on its formula a bit too much at times, it’s not a formula too many others are using. And if there aren’t many memorable melodies, there are at least some stirring textures.

Amesoeurs: Amesoeurs

Amesoeurs: Amesoeurs

I thought, then, that I’d like Amesoeurs (soul sisters), another project from Neige. This one is supposedly influenced more by 1980s postpunk, like the Cure and Joy Division. That should be right up my alley, but this album doesn’t quite cohere the way the Alcest album does.

For one thing, the metal connection is much more overt here. The album starts with what sounds like a goth/metal crossover instrumental that switches gears into a more metal attack partway through, with some all but inaudible vocals. Speaking of which, the vocals help make the difference between the projects clear. Most of the songs have clean and clear female vocals by Audrey Sylvain; a few have throat-shredding metal vocals by Neige, completely unlike his style on Souvenirs, and not really working with the material here, as far as I’m concerned. A lot of this reminds me of the Dutch metal band The Gathering’s album Mandylion, though Anneke van Giersbergen’s voice is much stronger than Sylvain’s. But that vaguely gothic metal sound is present here.

Still, there are worthwhile moments. A few songs sound similar to Alcest songs. There’s a brief keyboard instrumental halfway through the album that sounds like Harold Budd. Naturally, it’s followed by a straightforward black metal song that hurts the flow of the album. The title track reminds me of German ’80s goth band Xmal Deutschland’s Tocsin album, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Alcest worked for me because the disparate elements were fused together to make something new. With Amesoeurs, those elements tend to be thrown about randomly, so the album really doesn’t have a consistent feel from beginning to end. I think the solution for this one is to cherrypick some of the songs and make a playlist from it; there’s certainly enough good stuff in the album’s 55 minutes for a longish EP.

Jill Barber: Chances (2008) April 10, 2009

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Jill Barber: Chances

Jill Barber: Chances

Picture a 1950s sock hop, like something out of Happy Days or American Graffiti. The lights go dim for the first slow dance of the night. Someone plucks the standup bass, then the piano and brushed drums and light guitar strokes come in, and a girlish voice sings “Chances, what are the chances, chances that I’d find you,” and before long the strings come in too. That’s how folkie singer/songwriter Jill Barber’s album Chances begins, and it stays firmly in that retro mode for the rest of its 33 minutes and 43 seconds.

Barber has a distinctive voice that reminds me a little of Brenda Lee or Wanda Jackson in her country ballad mode. Another obvious point of comparison is Julee Cruise circa Floating Into the Night. You can easily imagine some of these songs playing in the background of something by David Lynch. The difference is the ominous undercurrent in Floating Into the Night that reminds you it’s not actually a 1950s pop album, but something modern and odd. Barber’s album is, by and large, true to whitebread 1950s pop, though her singing seems a bit incongruous on “Oh My My,” which reminds me more of something less whitebread, like Nina Simone’s “See Line Woman,” thanks to its insistent rhythm and background vocals.

In a way, this could be a female counterpart to Richard Hawley’s Coles Corner, which also draws on 1950s infuences, but Chances is too purely retro to have the timeless feel Coles Corner has. No ambient outro here.

What matters, though, is that the singing and musicianship are solid, and the tunes are catchy and memorable. There are a lot of great little touches; just the right backing vocal here, a little jazzy touch there, a hint of country over there, a bit of a swinging ’30s or ’40s feel on “Leaving You,” all of that making this a thoroughly enjoyable anachronism.

Dubstep: a few key compilation and mix albums April 6, 2009

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skull

Various artists: Skull Disco Soundboy Punishments

Okay, it’s all about the clubs and the singles and the radio shows, it’s not about albums. That’s fine if you’re 21 and living in south London and are already a DJ or producer. If, instead, you’re a few years older, not so keen on clubbing until dawn, and just want to listen to the music without trying to track down white labels at Chemical or 320s from Beatport… albums are a good way to go. Some may argue they aren’t representative of the experience, but personally, I think if the music has any real quality or depth, it isn’t dependent on being heard in a particular environment. (If it’s not clear by now that this is aimed at relative newcomers as opposed to people who are already into dubstep, well, it is.)

So. There are single artist albums and there are mix and compilation albums by multiple artists. Let’s start with the latter.

There are by now several dozen mix and compilation CDs. Some focus on releases from one label, others on a particular local scene (from San Francisco to Estonia), some on defining the genre, others on finding connections with other sounds.

The Roots of Dubstep is a solid compilation that collects a number of key tracks by prototype dubstep creators. It’s more accessible and catchy than some of the end products, and is worth getting as one of the starting points.

Tempa’s Dubstep Allstars is a genre-defining compilation series. Each one is something of a snapshot of the dubstep scene at a particular moment. The earlier volumes catch the metamorphosis from predecessor styles to dubstep; the latest, Appleblim’s Dubstep Allstars Volume 6, draws on newer artists who are bringing minimal techno influences to the sound. They’re a good starting point, though because they’re DJ mixes you’re not getting complete tracks, you’re getting a flow of music. The Rinse series of DJ Mixes started with dubstep, but various volumes have ventured into the related territories of grime, funky, and wonky; they tend to get a lot of attention.

Soul Jazz Records and ~scape have released comps putting dubstep into particular contexts. The former’s two Box of Dub comps include dubstep tracks alongside other varieties of what it calls “future dub.” The latter’s Round Black Ghosts volumes connect dubstep with the minimal techno continuum.

There’s a growing number of releases aimed at introducing dubstep to new listeners. I liked Breakbeat Science’s Science Faction: Dubstep mix CD from 2006 for its focus on labels that don’t show up much on the Dubstep Allstars compilations. Soul Jazz’s 2008 two-disc Steppas’ Delight: Dubstep Present to Future is a solid collection of canonical dubstep tracks with newer tracks by some of the producers who are keeping things interesting. Caspa and Rusko’s FabricLive 37 isn’t entirely to my taste (though it’s not bad as a soundtrack when you’re blowing stuff up in some Xbox game), but it represents a popular strand in the dubstep fabric (sorry), namely, the banging party tunes as opposed to the darker and more cerebral stuff I generally prefer.

Another trend is compilations that look like they might fit in this area, with titles like Definition Series: Dubstep, that actually feature tracks by relative unknowns. You can find some really good tracks, but if you use compilations to find the artists you like so you can explore them in greater depth, you may be frustrated; some of the artists on these comps have very few releases out there.

As far as label comps go, one unmissable pick is Skull Disco’s Soundboy Punishments. It’s more consistent than some compilations, because most of the tracks are by two artists, Appleblim and Shackleton. Shackleton in particular avoids most of the dubstep cliches by incorporating ethnic percussion influences, creating a sound that reminds me of the late prolific rhythm and noise producer Muslimgauze at times. The set also moves beyond the boundaries of the genre by including the hypnotic, epic 18 minute minimal techno remix of “Blood on My Hands” by Ricardo Villalobos.

The best regional compilation I’ve heard so far (not that I’ve heard all of them yet) is B.A.D. (Bay Area Dubstep) Volume One. Though there’s a lot of wobble (the distinctive bass sound in a lot of dubstep that has become a cliche), there’s also a lot of inventiveness and some dub influence.

All of the above should be available on CD and many are available through the usual download stores.

“That’s All, Folks!” Cartoon Songs From Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes (2001) and The Carl Stalling Project (1990 and 1995) April 6, 2009

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"That's All, Folks!" Cartoon Songs From Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes

“That’s All, Folks!” Cartoon Songs From Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes

This album is both wonderful and frustrating. It’s wonderful because it has nearly two hours of classic music from great old cartoons on two CDs, and because it comes packaged in a CD-sized hardcover book with a hundred pages of text and illustrations. It’s frustrating because so much great music — so much of the music that comes to mind to me, at least, when I remember watching Warner Bros cartoons — isn’t here.

In 2001, that didn’t seem to be too much of a problem, because surely there’d be another volume with “One Froggy Evening” and some of the other essentials. Unfortunately, there never was another volume.

Oh, well. There’s still a lot here, and some of it is top notch material, including the full “What’s Opera, Doc?” and “Three Little Bops,” as well as 11:30 of “Bugs Bunny’s Greatest Hits.” It can sometimes seem a little disjointed, because you’re often getting short cues from a variety of cartoons, and because it goes from material that anyone who’s even slightly interested in these cartoons has seen plenty of times to more obscure earlier cartoons.

The book is worthwhile, too. Producer Daniel Goldmark contributed the introduction “Cartoon Music: A Quick Appreciation” and the closing “Notes on the Featured Cartoons.” Jerry Beck and Will Friedwald, authors of the indispensable book Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: A Complete Illustrated Guide to the Warner Bros. Cartoons, have an article on “The Creation of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies.” Keith Scott wrote “Who Was That? Specialty Voices in the Warner Bros. Musical Cartoons.”

So… it is pretty wonderful, really. But it should have been the first in a wonderful series.

Not that it’s the only collection of this kind of music.

The Carl Stalling Project: Music From Warner Bros. Cartoons 1936-1958

The Carl Stalling Project: Music From Warner Bros. Cartoons 1936-1958

In 1990, Warner released The Carl Stalling Project: Music From Warner Bros. Cartoons 1936-1958, and followed up with The Carl Stalling Project Volume 2 in 1995. These are also essential purchases for any hardcore fan, but they may arguably be a little less attractive to the casual fan who remembers the more famous cartoons. The first album was a tribute to Warner Bros. composer Carl Stalling, and was aimed at the kind of artsy audience that recognizes names like John Zorn (who contributed an introduction to the liner notes) and Hal Willner (who organized the project). It’s still great, of course, with this kind of source material, but it’s even more disjointed than the above album. You can make a case that that’s not a bad thing — by including more obscure selections and not many complete cartoon scores, the album lets you hear this music as music rather than just as a reminder of the cartoons. And the music is definitely worth listening closely to. The only problem is, not all of it was written by Carl Stalling. Some of the most familiar music here was actually composed by Raymond Scott, and I vaguely recall that there was a bit of a fuss over the CD crediting all the music to Stalling. The upside was that Raymond Scott’s music experienced a resurgence of interest as a result.

The liner notes to the 1995 follow-up mention that some listeners wanted more complete cues and more familiar music, pointing out that the first volume was intended as an introduction to Stalling as a composer and arranger rather than a conventional soundtrack. But the second volume does deliver a bit more of what those listeners wanted. There’s a bit less to the liner notes this time around, but it’s still a must-have for fans of this music.

The liner notes from Volume 2 also promised more volumes, but they never appeared. One possible future album was a collection of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck songs, and “That’s All, Folks” does have tracks devoted to Bugs and Daffy respectively, but there’s not nearly a full album’s worth. “That’s All, Folks” was the work of a different producer, so there’s no way of knowing what future Carl Stalling Project CDs might have had.

That there’s still interest in this music should be evident from the fact that the Looney Tunes DVDs include isolated music scores as an option for some cartoons. Could be I just need to see about ripping those tracks to my hard drive and putting together my own compilation.

Spandau Ballet: Journeys to Glory (1981) and True (1983) April 4, 2009

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Spandau Ballet: Journeys to Glory

Spandau Ballet: Journeys to Glory

Like I said a few posts back, talking about all the Ultravox-related activity these days, the 1980s never ended. Following Ultravox’s lead, New Romantics turned soul boys Spandau Ballet have reformed for a concert tour. I’m not interested in seeing them live, but the news got me to dig out the two Spandau albums I own, for the first listen in a few years.

Spandau Ballet initially seemed to be more about being fashionable young things in the right scene than about music. I remember hearing their first album, 1981’s Journeys to Glory, the same night I first heard New Order’s debut album, Movement. I went out and bought my own copy of Movement shortly thereafter; I didn’t get around to Journeys until several years later, when I found a cheap copy in a delete bin.

Unlike the people who made up New Romantic forebears Japan, Visage, and Ultravox, Spandau Ballet were young and inexperienced, and the album shows it. The songwriting, musicianship, and singing all leave a lot to be desired. Tony Hadley’s singing ranges from pompous bellow to awkward croon, and the band’s music tends to robotic, stiff attempts at synth-led funk rock that’s neither funky nor rocking. But it’s not without its charms.

Side one has the hit songs (well, hits in the UK, at least) with “To Cut a Long Story Short,” an undeniably catchy dance stomper driven by a sharp synthesizer riff, and “Musclebound,” a slow thumper of a tune. Side two’s “The Freeze” and “Confused” hold up relatively well, as more straightforward dance and pop songs respectively. But Journeys to Glory is still a first effort that’s very much of its moment.

I never heard their second album Diamond, just a couple singles that didn’t really catch my attention. But in 1983 everyone would hear Spandau Ballet, as they hit big with their breakthrough album True.

Spandau Ballet: True

Spandau Ballet: True

True sounded like the work of a different band entirely. Hadley’s mannered singing had improved considerably, as had the rest of the band’s musicianship, but more importantly, they were moving into another UK musical scene, the early ’80s pop revival drawing heavily on soul and R&B. ABC, Culture Club, Heaven 17, and the Style Council were doing something somewhat similar, as would Sade a year later. True was a blend of slick pop with soul, light funk, and a touch of jazz, much catchier and lighter on its feet than the often leaden Journeys to Glory.

Not that the critics appreciated the new direction much more than the old one; though the album, and especially the single “True,” was a huge commercial hit, the album didn’t get a lot of critical respect. It’s true, listening to “listening to Marvin all night long,” to quote one line, is not really like listening to Marvin Gaye. But so what? If it’s plastic whiteboy soul revivalism that’s not really anything like real soul music, why not see it as its own thing and judge it accordingly? It’s light, airy, catchy, disposable fun. It’s certainly aged a lot better than Spandau’s other albums, and they never recaptured True’s popularity.

In theory, I shouldn’t like True at all. I didn’t care much for some of the other stuff in this style, like Level 42, and this album is all surface sheen, devoid of real substance. But for some reason I let my guard down in 1983, and I can still enjoy True for what it is, without needing any ironic detachment or mutterings about guilty pleasures. It’s well crafted pop, and sometimes that’s enough.

Besides, if not for this album, we’d never have had P.M. Dawn’s “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss,” and who’d want to live in a world without that song?

Beat Pharmacy: Wikkid Times (2008) April 1, 2009

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Beat Pharmacy: Wikkid Times

Beat Pharmacy: Wikkid Times

First, there was reggae. Then dub was abstracted from reggae: removing a lot of the vocals and melody, focusing on the song as a collection of sounds that could be played with. Then there was dub techno, a stripped down form of electronic music that borrowed a lot of the ideas and the feel of dub reggae. And here we come full circle, as dub techno comes back to the song and the singer.

It’s not a new idea; the German techno production team Basic Channel moved from using a dub approach to techno to recording more recognizable reggae tracks with vocalists on albums like With the Artists, released in 2003 under the name Rhythm & Sound and featuring a number of reggae singers.

So, when I saw a review the other day of a Beat Pharmacy album, I went to emusic to see if it was there. And it was. I downloaded it immediately after checking out the samples.

I don’t know much about Brendan Moeller, the person who is Beat Pharmacy, though I’d seen the name mentioned occasionally (he remixed a track by dubstep producer Appleblim not long ago). Based on this album, I have some homework to do. Wikkid Times is built on a dub techno core (with the occasional house music beats) but it’s not abstract and minimalistic. It’s a collection of reggae from the future, an electronic sound that makes for a valid electronic reggae style not much like the electronic dancehall sound that supplanted roots reggae in Jamaica.

The songs feature a variety of vocalists, including Paul St. Hilaire, who’s worked with a variety of dub techno and dubstep producers, and the Spaceape, who collaborated with Kode9 on the already classic dubstep album Memories of the Future.

Wikkid Times isn’t a perfect album; like a lot of dub techno, many of the songs go on for longer than they really need to (the eleven songs here take 78 minutes to get through), and there are moments when the dub techno/house crossover can start sounding a little cheesy. But ultimately that doesn’t really detract from what is overall a solid and entertaining album, one that’s warmer and more accessible than a lot of the music in this subgenre.

Salvaged from an old blog April 1, 2009

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Bill Nelson's Red Noise: Sound on Sound

Bill Nelson’s Red Noise: Sound on Sound

Here’s a blog post from 2005, from my old, now deleted general blog, discussing Verve Remixed, Carolyn Mark, New Order, Webb Pierce, Paul Anka, Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd, New Musik, and Bill Nelson’s Red Noise. And why not.

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