Explosions in the sky – The earth is not a cold dead place

Wandering through Tower records one day, above a rack of CDs they had placed this record. I tend to look around to see what the staff are highlighting and as I took it in my hand I read a sticker placed on the front by the record label To quote ‘****’, ‘beauty’, ’emotional’ , ‘beautiful’, ‘absolutely essential’, and other more euphemistic praise from the various music magazines.

I couldn’t resist and paid my 20 euro.

When i got home, what a treat!!

Its an entirely instrumental album, as I believe are the band. If you like Godspeed you Black emperor, Sigur Ros, similar bands on the constellation album you’ll love this.

5 tracks spread out across three sides and an etching on the fourth, of what appear to be doves, and the full message which is ‘The earth is not a cold dead place because you are listening, because you are breathing’.

From these messages and the tone of the music one gets the impression that we are being talked to by the earth. Both loving and melancholy. Although its an all electric sound, there is great warmth and emotion in the tracks and you’ll be listening with the lights out, perhaps looking out the window at a dark night, and just perhaps the start of a tear in your eye. Lacking vocals it gives you the emotions to help you think about whatever is in your heart.

And it builds and it builds into great torrents of music and emotion. It gets noisy but you go with it and you feel it.

Warning : you may come away exhausted!

Their website is amusing in how understated it is and how little they really say. But then I guess the music speaks for itself.

Having listened to these tracks on mp3 I can say that the vinyl is a complete revelation. Although there is a scuff at the start of the first track, the sound is full and clear and impressive and the grooves are well spread out for maximum impact. For ten dollars in the US, there is no way you can regret buying this record.

I have yet to buy their other albums but watch for more superltives when I do.

Richard Hawley – Lowedges

Richard Hawley as is well documented used to play guitar for a band called the long Pigs before jumping ship to Pulp and still plays for Jarvis Cocker. A few years ago he came out with a sel-title mini album on the same Setanta label, where he started singing for himself.

And what a voice, he doesn’t bother with too much variety but what he does is recreate the sound of the 50’s. A beautiful slow beat and crooning voice embellished with slide guitar, hawaiwan guitar etc.

All his songs seems to suggest he’s just lost another lover or is about to lose another lover. He is the great lost romantic. This despite the fact he’s married and lives with his wife in Sheffield. Sheffield is his home town which incidentally he also gets rather romantic about. Especially on his latest album Cole’s Corner.

This latter album has been getting rave reviews since the start of the year and a major promotional push from his new record label, Mute. The videos are well worth a watch on their website, www.mute.com.

But for my money Lowedges has the edge(sorry!) in every way over Cole’s Corner. Maybe its because its the first time I was introduced to his voice but every song here is a heart wrenching classic and possibly a bit more subdued than Cole’s Corner.

Starting off with ‘Run for me’, you know you’re in a for a late night listening, and smooching session, well 20 minutes before you have to turn the record over. We head on to ‘Darlin” the lack of a ‘g’ heralding the slight american twang he sings on this song with and you’re surrounded by the most magnificent twang of hawaiwan guitar.

‘Oh my love’ starts off slow and dreamy before building slowly to a marvellous crescendo and a great last line. Such is a hallmark of the magnificent Richard Hawley.

There are songs about motorcyles and love, such as ‘the only road'(a country feel to it. Its that slide guitar again) and ‘the motorcycle song’ which answer the suggestion of the cover, a shillouetted Richard sitting astride a motorcycle, no doubt a 50’s Harley.

The killer track on the album for me, is at the start of side two, ‘You don’t miss your water till your river runs dry’. Guess what! His love just left again. What is so wonderful about this song is the slight change in voice at certain junctures where he does sound like he’s about to break down and cry. And I’m all ready to cry with him.

Luckily the next song is the aforementioned ‘motorcycle song’.

Skipping through to the end of the album, he tells us ‘ the nights are made for us’ and Richard, I’ll spend a night listening to this record anytime.

h and my mum loves you too. And thinks that she knows you from the 50’s/60’s.

Dusty Springfield -Dusty in Memphis

I have to say at the outset, I am a huge fan of 4MWB. I don’t know much about the label. They’re about three years old and have rereleased a large selection of classic records. A lot of soul and jazz, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding stretching into Tim Buckley and this record from Dusty Springfield. Each release is issued on fabulous 180grm vinyl with a clear full sound and cut loud which will also suit DJs. Some like this release are housed in a gatefold sleeve. The only thing I’d like to see changed is the inclusion of an plastic lined inner sleeve. But at the prices these guys charge, who’s complaining?

And the music. Hmm. On the back Dusty says “Like most people, perhaps, I associated Memphis with one kind of sound, a hard R&B sound”. I’d have to plead guilty here. I would normally expect plenty of horns and a whole lot of boogie. But not on this record. Dusty’s husky bedroom voice comes at you from beneath the bed clothes enticing you back in for a longer rest on a sunday morning, and perhaps, just erhaps a little lovin’. The mood is kept up throughout the record hardly changing even for the ‘son of a preacher man’. There are horns and boogie but its a gentle swaying boogie. And that voice, oh that voice.

Bryan Ferry – Bete Noire

Bryan Ferry is well known for his attention to sound quality and I believe likes his vinyl too. Certainly all his records still come out on vinyl. Roxy Music records like Avalon and Flesh and Blood sound marvellous and are great to show off your system.
This album, released in 1987 is probably my favourite. Its an album full of athmosphere, tension and claustorphobia and some very moody pictures of Bryan on the cover.
The former English teacher kicks off here with Limbo, a fast paced song which still seems to find him in a worrisome mood. Throughout the record ambient songs seem to come from everywhere, beats, synths and strings, sounding just like Brian Eno is back on board.
The slow song Zamba ends side one and is a typical tale of the mysterious woman who drives him crazy. The right stuff picks up the speed again while female voices spice up the chorus on The name of the game.
Its lush, imaginative and great to listen to.
Oh and its another master by Robert Ludwig.

The Blue Aeroplanes – swagger

I picked this up some years ago on the recommendation that if I liked the Divine Comedy(whom I love) I would also like the Blue Aeroplanes. Well it stayed in my collection pretty much unlistened to for years until, while appraising records for resale I took it out, dropped the needle and loved the sound. Probably the best of their albums its the only one I own. Its calleed Swager and it shows. The singer doesn’t sing but talks in a Mark E Smith tone, full of confidence, some arrogance and a cooler than thou attitude. All the time the music is pumping away in the background with what might now be called angular guitars. (I’m still not sure of this term) This is definitely music you can dance to if any indie disco was to play it. To some extent it reminds me of Flowered Up’s weekender which was from the same era but had more dance sensibility. This is pure indie rock.

The fun begins on side one. “Jacket hangs” passes by. “World view blue” lines us up for the lovely “Weightless”, soundling like a devotion to breaking up. The message is to go down in flames. After this thoughtful message we are thrown headlong into the magnificent “…And stones”. My God, this is marvellous, a repeated baas riff and driving drumbeat push us along nodding and dancing all the way while Gerard Langley possibly sings to us of lovers uptown, lovers all around.

Sound is average. There’s a lot going on, and a driving rhythm but nothing distinct.

The Divine Comedy – Liberation

1994 was the year of yob rock. Oasis and Blur were heading both the music charts and the front pages of newspapers, broadsheet and red top. A small review in Uncut talked about the Divine Comedy’s Promenade and while ginving it a good but not brilliant rating made it sound interesting enough to pursue. I bought Promenade In Comet records in temple bar and being stunned and delighted by what i heard I rushed back to buy the previous album, Liberation.

An awful yellow sleeve showing the sole surviving member of the DC, Neil Hannon, clad in a suit, women’s sunshades and clutching some Victorian railings doesn’t augur well for the music. Or does it? It suggests that what’s within is not interested in fashion, other people’s ideas or impressing the music media.

Festive road starts off soundling like a chamber orchestra and well, that’s fine because that’s what it is. Musicians play drums and percussion, viola and violin, cello and the french horn. Its beautiful! All these instruments are put to great effect backing Neil’s Scott Walker like baritone relating great 19th and 20th century literature in catchy melodies full of pop bliss and irresistible hooks. We are told a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald in Bernice bobs her hair before ending up with a poem by William Wordsworth. (Lyrics that Neil memorably forgot in a gig I attended). Along the way we pass off for a teenage love affair in “Your Daddy’s car”, some disco in “Europop” and a greek sounding tribute to Eurorailing in “Europe by train”.

The only low point of the set is the track “Timewatching” which from what I hear is universally derided by fans but seems to be a favourite or ongoing project by Neil as it has been recorded at least three times. It seems to be related to his search for love. So now that he’s married perhaps he won’t feel the need to sing it anymore.

Packaging is minimal and sound quality is average. Setanta(the record label)’s sound quality never being the best.

But this is a recording everyone should own even if on CD. And its companion piece, Promenade.

Sigur Ros -Takk

The very first thing you notice is the sheer weight of the package. Housed in a a thick cardboard gatefold sleeve this is vinyl luxury at its finest. I thought I was going to end up with two 200grm vinyl slabs but not only was the outer sleeve sumptuous but there was an inner sleeve for each record too. The vinyl itself was probably 160grm, strong and nicely pressed. Only caveat was that these are cardboard sleeves and some of the extraneous cuttings had made their way onto the vinyl and could be heard during playback.

Another sexy touch is what is I guess the equivalent of the hidden track on a CD. There is an extra 10″ record hidden in the packaging, a third mini sleeve in the middle, a cut out of a bird revealing the black vinyl underneath. A 10″ record with one track and an engraving on the flipside. Even if you hate the music Sigur Ros create its still a good idea to buy this record and either hang it on the wall or show it off to your friends. I’ve never seen a CD package to resemble it.

And the music. Well its Icelandic! If that’s not enough, there are shades of Bjork without any of the dance inflections. Although I’ve been aware of Sigur Ros for years this is the first album I own by them. A brief flirtation with an early 12″ never led to anything more. But repeated insistence by friends who are big fans led to my purchase of Takk. And the packaging certainly didn’t put me off.

Its ethereal, dreamy, glacial etc. It is beautiful though. And as you’ve no doubt heard most of the singing is sung in a made up language called Hopelandish. Unlike the Cocteau Twins whom the above description could refer to it seems to have been created by real instruments with an unprocessed voice. And I believe it is an analogue recording.

The sound quality is excellent. I was a bit put off at the start because there were bits of paper from the packaging getting in the way but these have more or less disappeared and the sound is really good. The only thing negative is that his voice sometimes grates on hitting the high notes and well the price.

Sarah McLachlan – Surfacing

Sarah seems to be pretty huge in the US but apart from the dance track which was a huge hit here with Delerium, I didn’t know anything about her and didn’t know what to expect.

Based on this album, and Fumbling towards ecstasy/Freedom Sessions I love her.

Her music is slow, romantic, serious and beautiful to listen to. Her voice is full of emotion. She’s singing about love, losing love and she’s perfect for late night listening sessions. Her voice is husky and suggestive and reminds me a bit of Eleanor McEvoy.

My favourite songs are ‘Do what you have to do’, a song about realising you have to let someone go when they no longer love you, ‘Bowling a mystery’ which seems to worry abou what happens when we get to heaven and ‘sweet surrender’ which has a bit more pace to it and a beautiful sound which is of course throughout the record.

Led Zeppelin – II

I was listening to Meat Loaf’s Bat out of hell the other night and singing along merrily when I decided to switch to Led Zeppelin. I had never opened the album, so I removed the wrapping, put it on the turntable and dropped the needle.

Wow!

The difference to what I had been listening to before was nothing short of astounding. The music was alive, spacious, every beat, chord, note was so clear and despite being a rock recording was not harsh or too bright in any way. And classic records have a certain reputation for being bright.

There was plenty of tape hiss too but this didn’t irritate me at all. It was perhaps a further sign that the recording was representing the truth of what was on the original tape and hadn’t been messed about in anyway.

So what about the music? Well Led Zeppelin are pretty famous so I guess you already know whether you like them or not. I would not consider myself such a fan, but this album starts off with one of their most famous and poppular songs, Whole lotta love. So despite being neither a huge rock or Zeppelin fan the music had me dancing around the room, playing guitar and grinning in my cheesiest manner. Not once but twice as I dropped the needle a second time.

one thing that surprised me. They are known as a heavy metal band, probably the first heavy metal band. but this record is really funky. Its briliant to dance to and shake your head to. And as mentioned above the sound is not harsh.

Definitely worth giving a go!

PS : This is the 180g version which has since been superseded by 200g versions at both 33rpm and 45rpm. These should theoretically be better but I’m perfectly happy with what I’ve got and won’t be ‘upgrading’.

The Killers – Mr. Brightside 12″

I was in a nightclub when I heard a track which was very familiar yet brilliantly different. It had all the heartache and tension of the original and yet managed even more soaring melancholy. It was the Thin White duke mix of Mr. Brightside by the Killers. A track which for months was terribly close to the bone on account of a recent breakup. It kept me dancing and thinking and dreaming.
This US double 12″ on the Island record label has this version and the dub and three other mixes. The original(not here) is a classic and so all the mixes are also real floor fillers but my favourite is definitely the mix above.
The pressing is well spaced out on four sides of vinyl and of a much higher quality than the blue vinyl of the album.
Highly recommended.