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Bad Lieutenant: Sink or Swim/Dynamo (2009) September 30, 2009

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Bad Lieutenant: Sink or Swim/Dynamo

Bad Lieutenant: Sink or Swim/Dynamo

We’re back in another period in which a New Order reunion seems extremely unlikely, so it’s up to the side projects to keep us going. Bad Lieutenant is Bernard Sumner’s latest. and though the lineup is different, it doesn’t sound all that far removed from where his previous side band, Electronic, ended up: melodic Britpop guitar rock.

It may seem a bit anticlimactically normal for someone who was part of Joy Division and New Order to make such conventional rock music, but it’s well crafted, it’s still Barney singing, and it’s not really a departure from some of the songs on the last couple of New Order and Electronic albums.

“Sink or Swim” particularly echoes the guitar side of New Order, a midtempo tune with electric and acoustic guitars (Peter Hook’s bass is sorely missed; the bass is anonymous by comparison). The chorus has a decent hook, and after the bridge, some backing vocals make the song a bit bigger, catchier, and more generally engaging. Three listens in and I’m liking this a lot, and hoping the album (due in a couple weeks) is as good.

“Dynamo”… well, if this were a physical 7” single, it’d be the b-side, not the a-side. There’s a pulsing keyboard line in the background, but it’s less reminiscent of Sumner’s earlier bands than of the Who. It’s not as catchy as “Sink or Swim,” and the occasional little electronic sound effects sound out of place on a song that, with just a little less inspiration, could be a throwaway Oasis tune. Very classic rock ending: harmonica, then more of a Who sound, then the guitars crash back in and the drums pound away and Barney doo-doo-doos and repeats “whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do” a few times, then back to “Won’t Get Fooled Again” for the last few seconds. It’s a lot less impressive than “Sink or Swim.”

So: one good song, one meh song. When the album shows up on eMusic (I assume it will, because the single did) I’ll download it and hope for more of the former.

Paul Morley on Joy Division (2008) May 29, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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Paul Morley: Joy Division: Piece by Piece

Paul Morley: Joy Division: Piece by Piece

Paul Morley was starting out as a Manchester-based writer for the leading UK music weekly, the New Musical Express (better known as the NME), at the same time as Joy Division started their musical career; he helped promote them in the pages of the NME and elsewhere, and has written about them a lot over the decades, as CD reissues and movies reignite interest in the band. He has a deeper, tragic connection to the band: his father committed suicide in 1977; Joy Division’s Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980.

Joy Division only recorded two proper albums (and another CD or two’s worth of singles, compilation tracks, and whatnot) before Curtis’s death. His suicide undoubtedly helped create the cult following the band has had over the decades, but there’s a timelessness to the music that has been every bit as much as important as the stories behind the music.

The Joy Division story’s been told in a number of books, in the first half of the movie 24 Hour Party People, and in the recent movie Control, about both of which more soon.

Anyway: this book. It’s everything Morley’s written about Joy Division. Articles, liner notes, memoirs, everything. Sometimes it’s repetitive, sometimes it’s annoyingly self-indulgent, but it’s always thoughtful and driven by a very real connection to the band and their music. It’s not a great book for reading cover to cover, though that’s how I read it. The repetition would seem less noticeable if I’d read the book in bits and pieces over a longer period of time.

This is not the book for someone new to the band, but then there are a few of those already. Touching From a Distance, written by Deborah Curtis, Ian Curtis’s widow, is a better starting point. There’s also a 33 1/3 book on their first album, Unknown Pleasures. But if you’ve read those or know the basics, there’s a lot of great stuff here, some of it written at the time all this was new and just happening, some of it written with a different perspective years later.

20 albums that shaped my life February 26, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Canadian content, Life in general, Music.
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Kate Bush: The Kick Inside (Canadian LP cover)

Kate Bush: The Kick Inside (Canadian LP cover)

Inspired by Kevin and Allyn and Geoff:

List the first favorite albums that come to your mind. This is NOT a list of music you feel is of critical importance or value. By noting the ones that come to mind first, you should get a picture of the music that shaped your life in your formative years.

I know I’m going to forget things and want to change things, but here goes. This is in roughly the order I encountered these albums.

1. Electric Light Orchestra: Out of the Blue. One of the first proper albums I ever got, and the first by a band that I was fairly obsessed by for a year or two, getting several more of their albums.It was probably the combination of catchy pop, prog, rock and roll, and the occasional synth that intrigued me.

2. Kate Bush: The Kick Inside. It was a while before I got the album, and not just the 45 of “Wuthering Heights,” but it was the beginning of a lifelong love for the distinctive and groundbreaking music of Kate Bush. It can beautiful, or weird, or both at the same time. There was nothing else like it at the time, and by the end of 1979 this and the next album, very different though it may be, helped set the course for my taste in music.

3. Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. I didn’t like the Sex Pistols when I first heard them, being too fond of the over-the-top production of artists like ELO, Queen, and Alan Parsons Project to like anything this raw and harsh. It took the more smoothed-off edges of new wave to lead me into the less compromising punk sound. Once it clicked, I realized it was nothing more or less than rock and roll in its purest form. My favourite punk rock is generally the first wave of late ’70s UK punk, but there are still bands doing fresh new takes on the sound. They’re just not the ones you’ve heard of.

4. David Bowie: Stage. My first Bowie LP. Sort of a stepping stone from the vaguely proggy rock I liked to the stranger end of new wave, this was a concert album from the time of Bowie’s Heroes album. From Station to Station through Scary Monsters is my fave run of Bowie albums, though there’s plenty of great stuff before and after that era. This was probably one of my first Eno-related experiences, too.

5. Gary Numan and Tubeway Army: Replicas. Mixing punk/new wave with synthesizers, alienation, and the science fiction of JG Ballard and Philip K. Dick, Numan created an album that was influential in its own right but also brought to my attention the band he happily admitted was his top influence, Ultravox. Ultravox and its founder, John Foxx, have since eclipsed my interest in Numan to a considerable extent, but this is still a fine album and I might have taken longer to discover Ultravox without it.

6. Brian Eno: Music for Films. Heard it playing in a record store: sparse, eerie instrumental electronic music a million miles away from the usual, more florid electronic music of the time. Plus he got bonus points for working with Roxy Music, David Bowie, Devo, etc etc. I’ve got lots of his albums, love most of them, but this is still my fave.

7. Wire: 154. Former punk band demonstrating just how far this whole new wave/postpunk thing could go. A masterpiece by a great band I’ve already blathered about here.

8. Joy Division: Closer. The first album, Unknown Pleasures, didn’t click with me when I first heard it. This did (and then so did Unknown Pleasures). And from this came New Order and so much more.

9. Killing Joke: Killing Joke. Bought this after reading about them in Creem: too punk for metal fans, too metal for punk fans, but using synthesizers too and ending up in the Billboard disco charts? They’re still around and still confounding expectations, after influencing everyone from Metallica to Ministry to Nine Inch Nails. This album showed a different way to incorporate synths: instead of weird noises, or imitating other instruments, or just layering pretty chords on top of everything, this album had abrasive synth sounds that were as aggressive sounding as the guitars.

10. Siouxsie and the Banshees: Juju. Siouxsie practically invented goth but didn’t let it become a straitjacket. Pounding tribal drums, swirling guitars, melodic basslines, and Siouxsie’s voice… another postpunk classic.

11. Cocteau Twins: Head Over Heels. My first exposure to the 4AD sound dreamy and ethereal but also loud and banging. One of the forerunners to the shoegazer scene.

12. Husker Du: New Day Rising. Punk seemed to have been abandoned by the major labels and headed itself into a dead end of faster harder louder dumber. Husker Du was fast, hard, loud, and smart, and weren’t afraid to slow things down occasionally or use acoustic guitars and piano.

13. The Smiths: Hatful of Hollow. Like REM, another fave, the Smiths were jangly guitar-based rock with melodies to die for, lyrics to ponder, and a frontman who was very much not the usual rock singer.

14. Jesus and Mary Chain: Psychocandy. The Beach Boys playing through a slow motion car crash of guitar feedback, this was a renewal of punk and another of the foundations of shoegazer. Noise = pop.

15. Jr Gone Wild: Less Art, More Pop. Friends of mine release their first LP, a mix of punk, ’60s, country, and other influences, especially Bob Dylan, the Byrds, and possibly Elvis Costello. A friend of mine once heard the critics’ darlings Uncle Tupelo, who are credited with kicking off the No Depression/alt.country scene, and said they were just Jr with all the fun sucked out. He wasn’t entirely wrong, though Uncle Tupelo probably never heard Jr.  think their next two albums are arguably better in many respects, but this is the first time friends of mine put out an actual album. I had a single, a compilation LP with a couple of songs, and a couple of tapes of stuff by some of the guys who later became Jr, but an album… especially one I actually liked… that’s a big deal.

16. My Bloody Valentine: Loveless. The pinnacle of shoegazer, layer upon layer of distorted guitar sound and distant vocals, sounding nothing like rock music as that term is generally understood. There were a lot of great bands in that scene (Ride, Lush, Slowdive, etc), but this is the most important and influential album from that scene. And I love it.

17. Various artists: Pimps, Players, and Private Eyes. Ice-T helped compile this collection of funk and soul songs from blaxploitation movies, which helped reignite my interest in those styles. And not just in the context of blaxploitation.

18. Culture: Two Sevens Clash. This is a roots reggae album from the late 1970s that was reportedly a favourite on the UK punk scene (I read about it in a couple of books on punk). The punk clubs didn’t have enough punk albums to play, so DJ Don Letts introduced the punk scene to reggae — a more hardcore version of the sound than Bob Marley’s. This is heavy on the rasta stuff, but also accessible and catchy, and helped get me more into reggae.

19. Interpol: Turn on the Bright Lights. New but drawing on the likes of Joy Division and other postpunk and pre-grunge alternative bands as influences, this helped revive interesting guitar rock for the 21st century. See also Editors, Bloc Party, Kaiser Chiefs, etc.

20. Burial: Burial. Boxcutter’s Oneiric was the first dubstep album I heard, if memory serves, but this one sealed the deal. It may have evolved out of UK scenes I wasn’t familiar with (2-step, garage), but I could hear elements of ambient and dub making something unique, like a soundtrack for a low budget third world Blade Runner. It’s strange, atmospheric, and oddly affecting.