The music of Slowdive

A band I've been recommended and who were a key part of the shoegazing scene that emerged in the United Kingdom in the late 1980s. With the news of their new album getting a release this spring, I decided to look into Slowdive's discography. Below are my brief thoughts on the four studio albums.

Just for a Day by Slowdive (1991)
Atmospheric shoegaze you can get lost in. For the heart rather than the intellect. The openers Spanish Air and Celi’s Dream pull you in with their beauty and bring back memories of The Cure’s 1989 album Disintegration and the ethereal production of 1980s Cocteau Twins. The noisy Catch The Breeze is too jarring for my ears.  Ballad of Sister Sue and Erik’s Song are very melancholic.
The overall production impresses, while the dual vocal is less distinctive. There aren’t any big hits, and no really weak moments. All of a similar quality. A cohesive set, albeit a bit samey.
I've read the real standout here is disc 2 on the reissue, which brings together Slowdive's first 3 EPs. I'm not counting those EPs in this review.

Souvlaki by Slowdive (1993) 
Has more variation than their debut. Machine Gun has a pop song struture, which some listeners may feel is selling out. Album highlight When the Sun Hits is very powerful.
Here She Comes and the three closers don't hit me as hard. Definitely an album that demands investment and multiple spins for it to reveal its layers. I'm convinced the entire albums may prove to be valuable with further listens.
Best tracks: When the Sun Hits, Sing, Souvlaki Space Station, 40 Days, Machine Gun

Pygmalion by Slowdive (1995)
Have to be in the right mood to sit down and listen to Pygmalion. Very different to Just for a Day and Souvlaki. Hardly sounds like the same band, goes in an unexpected post-Rock/ambient direction, similar to what Talk Talk did in the late 80s and early 90s. A divisive, risky, non-commercial album. Tracks 1-4 are especially haunting. The Blue Skied an' Clear might be the best song and a definite highlight of the second half.

Slowdive by Slowdive (2017)
We exist in a revival/homage era designed to please the fans. This self-titled return after a 22 year absence is for me their weakest, although it has been praised by critics.
Star Roving, Don't Know Why, and Sugar for the Pill stand out, but the album doesn't give me chills which their 90s albums did.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome 

The Doobie Brothers 70s albums (ranked)

Certain band's fit nicely into a specific decade. The Doobie Brothers is such a band, whose most revered albums were released 1971-1978. In 2004, they were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and many believe they should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for their contributions to music.

Most agree on the decline began in the 80s. One Step Closer (1980) is a bland album which I barely remember. Michael McDonald decided to pursue a solo career in 1982 (which I haven't listened to so can't comment on). The Doobies didn't make another LP until 1989.

This post is about the 1970s, which is generally considered the heyday of The Doobie Brothers. Similar to what happened with Genesis, the Doobie Brothers went from rock to pop. That's oversimplifying their music though, which I will elaborate on in the mini-reviews below.

Michael McDonald’s vocal (from 1976-1980) is more distinctive than Tom Johnston's, who was forced to take a break from singing in the mid 70s due to heal issues.
The McDonald era is pleasant, but some argue is a bit tasteless, with the occasional catchy radio hit standing out. There are fans of both eras, I prefer the earlier rockier stuff.

The Doobie Brothers by The Doobie Brothers (1971)
Yacht Rock / Country Rock. A harmless debut from their pre-Michael McDonald days. Passable entertainment. Not much variety, but a few good tracks such as Nobody, Travelin' Man, and my personal favorite Greenwood Creek.

Toulouse Street by The Doobie Brothers (1972)
More ambitious than their 1971 debut. There's quite a nice variation throughout the album with genre detours, and faster and slower tracks. The two openers Listen to the Music and Rockin' Down the Highway get a lot of love, but I find them too similar back-to-back.
Of the two, Rockin' Down the Highway I prefer, which is suitable for a road trip compilation.
Mamaloi goes in a surprising reggae-styled direction. The title track Toulouse Street is vocally Cat Stevens-esque, which I like for the horn midway. Don't Start Me to Talkin' is very bluesy. Jesus Is Just Alright is the album highlight, with its catchy foot-tapping melody and sing-along lyrics. Also enjoyed Disciple, a long-ish jam with an infectious riff.

The Captain and Me (1973) by The Doobie Brothers 
Considered their best album. You can’t fault the musicianship, nothing is out of place and the players work very well together. Long Train Runnin' and China Grove are two Doobie Brothers classics which still get radio play. The album has plenty of replay potential and is more cohesive in its rock sound than the experimental Toulouse Street (1972).

What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits (1974) by The Doobie Brothers
Not instantly accessible and less commercial than The Captain and Me (1973). Black Water has the catchiest chorus, while Road Angel is strong for the guitar work. Some of these songs, such as Eyes of Silver, want to be hits, but don't quite get there.
The quality dips a bit in the middle with the trio of songs, You Just Can't Stop It , Tell Me What You Want, and Down in the Track.
Another Park Another Sunday and Daughters of the Sea are a step up. As with other Doobie Brothers albums, the lyrics are probably the least interesting aspect. Not a perfect record, but more potent than the albums that would follow.

Stampede (1975) by The Doobie Brothers
Goes in a country-rock direction. Their weakest so far. The somber outlaw ballad I Cheat the Hangman is quite haunting, but most tracks are unremarkable. There's a burst of energy towards the end with I Been Workin' on You.

Takin' It to the Streets (1976) by The Doobie Brothers
A transitional album, with Michael McDonald stepping in as vocalist. Would mark the beginning of their pop direction. The singles Takin' It to the Streets, It Keeps You Runnin' and especially Wheels of Fortune are the highlights. The non-singles disappoint and are forgettable.

Livin' on the Fault Line (1977) by The Doobie Brothers
Surprisingly, the opening three tracks are the worst. Gets better, and probably my favorite of the Michael McDonald albums. The enigmatic sleeve has a hint of mystery.
Best songs: You Belong to Me, Livin' on the Fault Line (an adventurous jam), Chinatown

Minute by Minute (1978) by The Doobie Brothers
What a Fool Believes is catchy and the Doobies biggest hit. The album won four Grammy's.
Best songs: What a Fool Believes, Dependin' on You

The Captain and Me (1973)  8.5/10
What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits (1974)   8/10
Toulouse Street (1972)  8/10
Livin' on the Fault Line (1977)  7/10
The Doobie Brothers (1971)  6/10
Minute by Minute (1978)   6/10
Takin' It to the Streets (1976)  5/10
Stampede (1975)  4/10

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Favorite discoveries from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 soundtrack

I should preface by admitting I have not seen Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, so I can't discuss how the music fits with the movie. In this post, I'm only including new-to-me song discoveries and won't talk about the movie.

Lake Shore Drive by Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah (1971)
The piano really stands out. A lesser known gem by a band whom I had honestly never heard of before. The title alludes to the drug LSD, although I've read it's named after the Chicago lakefront roadway.

Southern Nights by Glen Campbell (1977)
Written and recorded by Allen Toussaint, from his 1975 album Southern Nights, and later becoming a chart-topping hit for country music singer Glen Campbell. The lyrics of Southern Nights were inspired by childhood memories Allen Toussaint had of visiting relatives in the Louisiana backwoods, which often entailed storytelling under star-filled nighttime skies. So I guess you could say it's technically a song about Louisiana. Might come in handy for Alyson's An American Odyssey In Song series.

Surrender by Cheap Trick (1978)
About the relations between the narrator and his parents. A warning about STD's. Those who grew up with the song in the late 1970s are probably on the other side now with kids of their own.  Rolling Stone deemed it "the ultimate Seventies teen anthem" and ranked it #471 on its list of "the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time"

Films of the month: April

The Handmaiden (2016) (Chan-wook Park)
Directed by talented filmmaker Chan-wook Park and inspired by Sarah Waters‘ Victorian Era crime novel Fingersmith. The Handmaiden is a stylishly shot Korean 1930s re-imagining. Deserves praise for the beautiful costumes, lighting, production design and cinematography. But if I’m honest, it’s style over substance. A film about love and cold-blooded deception. Memorable sex scenes for the way they are shot, and one of the best twists mid-movie in recent memory, but the story is very long and at times confusing. The non-linear time line makes more sense towards the end.
SPOILERY: Though there is condemnation of perversion in the library scene, you could argue the film is voyeuristic fluff and designed to titillate in the same way as one of Kouzuki’s dirty books. It’s conceivable what Hideko experienced resulted in a hatred of men, making women more desirable to her. Or maybe she was a lesbian to begin with, who knows. 

It's Only the End of the World (2016) (Xavier Dolan)
Winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes. Family drama, adapted by Dolan from a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce. I was sceptical because of the mixed reviews, the low expectations actually are a blessing, and it’s not Dolan’s worst film. 
I love the music video flourishes and use of colors. Held my interest throughout. The character dynamics are intriguing. Antoine’s (Vincent Cassel) hostility and bullying is inappropriate, clearly he has been allowed to get away with this behavior for too long with no consequences. The only excuse he has is the hot weather is driving him nuts. Perhaps the parenting was too soft and his close-ones not firm enough. You kind of understand why Louis got the hell out of Dodge 12 years ago if Antoine was so insufferable. Yet you can also see it from the family’s point of view that Louis has shunned them for years.
Like a Hemingway short story, there are things unsaid beneath the surface, which you can question. Why for instance are Antoine’s and Catherine’s children not at the social gathering? Where is Martine’s husband? Why would Catherine marry such a jerk?
Favorite quote: ”What if I don’t only have words to answer? What if I have words to say”

The Salesman (2016) (Asghar Farhadi)
Winne of the Oscar for Best Foreign language film. Reminiscent of a play. The wife made things difficult for her husband. She didn’t want to report the crime which then made him look neglectful. The neighbour justifies why she kept it from the police as the neighbour predicted the court case would lead to more suffering. The fact the intrusion is never fully revealed adds to the intrigue, and the details become extra important as clues.
I confess I am a little out of my depth in regards to the Death of a Salesman references, those scenes with the husband and wife enacting the play went over my head. Knowing your Arthur Miller may deepen the experience.
I didn’t particularly like any of the main characters, but their predicament was interesting to observe. The visit by the small boy at the hour mark seemed like needless padding, maybe to give some warmth to a rather humourless story. Probably could have been cut by 20 minutes. Sporadically powerful, especially in the last third, and a film I could easily rewatch. In the same vein as A Separation and The Past, with the focus on intense conflict on a domestic scale. 

A Man Called Ove (2015) (Hannes Holm)
Swedish drama/comedy. Nominated for foreign language film this year. There was the occasional amusing moment, for example when he visits the neighbour Rune, and berates the cat for walking on private property. But a lot of the deadpan humor didn’t appeal to me, maybe better to watch together with a packed audience. The wife and neighbours are sweet, albeit too good to be true. The film is mainly about grumpiness, nostalgia and the need to change, giving simplistic reasons for his bitterness. Lacks depth. For a comedy, it's too long.

Things to Come (2016) (Mia Hansen-Løve)
Overpraised French drama with Isabelle Huppert playing a philosophy teacher who faces marital issues and looks after her elderly mother. Well-acted and realistic, but I wouldn’t label it best of the year. The story is rather forgettable and minor. The film doesn’t do anything unique or unconventional and for me fails to stand out from the pack. Although if I had to highlight a favorite scene, the acting by Huppert in the bus was remarkable to watch.
Quote: “I look on all sides and see only darkness everywhere. Nature presents to me nothing but doubt and concern. If I saw nothing there which revealed a divinity, I would come to a negative conclusion. If I saw everywhere the signs of a creator, I would remain peacefully in faith”

Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind (documentary) (2003) (Susan Lacy)
A career retrospective. Began as a solo sing-songwriter. Mitchell was self-taught, with a unique vocal, and a talent for personal, vulnerable song writing. She would go on to experiment with new sounds on her subsequent albums, altering her vocal delivery, and collaborating with rock and jazz musicians.
Her relationships with musician Graham Nash and drummer John Guerin inspired a number of songs. Joni Mitchell was also a painter and many of her album sleeves reveal her art. You can look at them at this site.
She wrote a song about Woodstock, which many identified with, although she didn’t actually attend, watching the event on TV.
An ongoing conflict in her life is wanting to settle down and longing for love, while desiring independence and following her muse, her art. Also looks at her untidy relationship with her daughter.

Supersonic (2016) (documentary) (Mat Whitecross)
You cannot mention the band Oasis without mentioning Britpop. I’m aware of their hits, but don’t own the albums. Oasis were a pre-internet zeitgeist sensation who reached millions, with their first two albums hailed as modern classics. The Gallagher brothers are depicted as attention-seeking, volatile, arrogant troublemakers, who don’t care how they are perceived. As people, potty-mouthed and anything but gentlemanly, but quite entertaining to follow at a distance. With an attitude, good looks, and a handful of anthemic songs, the group managed to tap into the mid 90s music scene.
If anything, they seem authentic in their lyrics and bad behaviour, although it’s hard to know what is jokey and serious with the duo, and the documentary doesn’t make me any wiser if their attitude is a performance for the cameras. Rather congratulatory, although the film does try and delve into the brothers' family history and reasons to why they are angry. There is the occasional look at the origin of a song, but you have to search elsewhere for an in-depth analysis of their music. The doc focuses on the career peak 1994-96, showing the rise from obscurity, how band members handled fame, but doesn't address the rivalries with other Britpop bands, which was dealt with in the 2003 Britpop documentary Live Forever.

Live Forever: The Rise and Fall of Brit Pop (documentary) (2003) (John Dower)
I decided to give a watch as Pitchfork are celebrating Britpop this March. Landmark moments are included in the documentary such as big songs and important albums, but needed to be longer to dig deeper. There's an emphasis on the hardship of the Thatcher 80s, which fuelled the rise of lad rock. Also touches on the impact of New Labour and how that was linked to Britpop. Jarvis Cocker admits he had dreamed of making it, but fame is "shite" because he can't go out without getting noticed. Delves into the rivalry between Oasis and Blur, although both are very cagey regarding the singles released on the same day. I could have done without the remarks of the Oasis tribute band.

Commando (1985) (Mark L. Lester)
Not as original as Arnie’s other 80s work, but entertaining, quotable, and with non-stop action. Especially the opening hour surprises with its action sequences involving a plane, an airline stewardess, car chases. and the police, while the final 30 min is weaker and too formulaic for the genre.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Old and new albums of the month: April 2017

A Beatles heavy month, I managed 7 of their albums. I wanted to complete the Beatles discography so I could rank them, but couldn't bring myself to listen to the fab fours earliest material Please Please Me (1963) and With The Beatles (1963), which seem mainly for teenagers. Also remaining, Yellow Submarine (1969), Let it Be (1970) and the compilation Past Masters (1988), which I'll get to later. White album (1968) and Abbey Road (1969) I was familiar with.

On a side note, you may (or may not) have noticed I've expanded my album top 10s on the Music page, which now includes the years 1965- 2009. Obviously incomplete, I have a long way to go. Feel free to make album suggestions over there for what I overlooked, or should listen to next!

Computerwelt by Kraftwerk (1981)
As with Kraftwerk's Radio-Aktivität (1975) which I reviewed last month, Computerwelt tackles another of the 20th Century's big innovations, in this case computers. Not for everyone, but a beautifully crafed album.

Rage in Eden by Ultravox  (1981)
Very powerful. A synthpop album that sounds amazing from start to finish, and you can tell a lot of care has been put into each song. Better than Vienna (1980). Want to explore the rest of Ultravox's discography.

Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys 
The title Pet Sounds was derived from the last track which ends with a dog barking. God Only Knows and Wouldn't It Be Nice are the recognizable hits, but it's the ambitious writing that really stands out for me. The lyrics are universal and timeless, and make you think about your own life.
In terms of the production, Brian Wilson used Phil Spector's wall of sound session musicians and tried something new.

Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan (1965)
The album when Dylan went electric. That aspect is not as shocking for today's audiences. I didn't love all of these songs, but he is a great lyricist and lengthy tracks were groundbreaking back then.
Like a Rolling Stone, Ballad of a Thin Man, and Desolation Row are classics.

Modern Times by Bob Dylan (2006)
His late-career crocky, raspy vocal will divide audiences, and undermines what are some of my favorite Bob Dyan lyrics.

The Far Field by Future Islands (2017)
Seems to have motion as its theme, and certain tracks would be ideal running music. The album is too samey, and the second half has some filler, but there are 3-4 vibrant tracks. Cave, Aladdin and Day Glow Fire are enjoyable for the bass and synth work, while album highlight Ran with its running video is the most powerful, and an early candidate for song of the year. The sad, slower ballad Candles might be a grower. Debbie Harry's guest appearance on Shadows is forgettable. In a year with so little new music to get excited about, this will do for now. Good but not great.

DAMN by Kendrick Lamar (2017)
A disappointment considering his previous work. Well-written here and there, but unenthralling and rather boring presentation. Lacks memorable tracks. Humble has a punchy piano melody, although it's quite repetitive and I disliked the lyric. Album highlight Fear has a smooth beat, sampling 1973's Poverty's Paradise by The 24-Carat Black. Not as accessible to the mainstream as To Pimp a Butterfly. For hip hop fans only.

Humanz by Gorillaz (2017)
I've sporadically enjoyed Gorillaz hits in the past, without actually listening to albums in their entirety. Based on the early 2017 singles, I had very low expectations.
I found 5-6 good songs, especially Strobelite, We Got The Power, Andromeda, Busted and Blue, She's My Collar, and Hallelujah Money, yet as an album experience I feel unsatisfied. Most of the other cuts I failed to connect with, because had very little melody or emotion. Perhaps will appeal to hip hop fans, because many tracks go in that direction.
I sense there's an attempt to inject some heart into the songs I highlighted. Sadly the modern computerised production is too cold and soulless for me to feel much for the album as a whole. A mixed bag.

Beatles for Sale by The Beatles (1964)
Teenage heartbreak songs. Eight Days a Week is the big hit, and No Reply is very catchy too.

A Hard Day's Night by The Beatles (1964)
Catchy pop geared towards a young audience. I'm in my mid 30s, so I'm the wrong age for this type of music. And I Love Her is sung with feeling by McCartney, yet most of the other stuff here is overly commercial and a bit impersonal.
Best songs: A Hard Day's Night, If I Fell, And I Love Her, Can't Buy Me Love
Lesser known highlight: Things We Said Today

Help! by The Beatles (1965)
Similar package to A Hard Day's Night, in that it's a soundtrack of catchy pop aimed at radio and mass appeal.
In contrast to A Hard Day's Night, there's an attempt to appeal to an older demographic with lyrics to Help!, Yesterday and I Need You, but still wanting to maintain the adolescent listeners.
Best songs:
You've Got to Hide Your Love Away
Ticket to Ride
Lesser known highlight: I Need You

Rubber Soul by The Beatles (1965)
One of my favorite Beatles albums with some great melodies. You can sense the growing maturity in their songwriting. There are Beatles hits (Drive My Car) which are simplistic entertainment and make you forget the world, and then there are affecting songs such as Norwegian Wood, Nowhere Man, Think For Yourself and In My Life, which are about life and touch your soul. Rubber Soul thankfully has many of the latter category. The Word and What Goes On annoy me for the choruses, other than that I have no complaints. A classic with endless replay value.

Revolver by The Beatles (1966)
Considered by critics to be among the best LPs of all-time and best Beatles releases. Admirable for its aesthetic and influence, but not a personal favorite.
Production wise more experimental than the folk rock of 1965's Rubber Soul, with electric guitars, Indian music, piano, horns, orchestral florishes and vocal distortion.
There are undeniable classics (Eleanor Rigby, Yellow Submarine, & Got to Get You Into My Life) but those are few and far between. My favorites of the lesser knowns are Here There and Everywhere, She Said She Said, For No One and I'm Only Sleeping. Weaker tracks Good Day Sunshine and Doctor Robert needn't have been included.
A strong set of tracks, with some really good non-singles, but Revolver's lyrics aren't quite as emotionally involving as their 1965 effort. In time, it's possible I'll grow to love it to the same degree as other Beatles albums.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles (1967)
The Beatles’ concept album. A big number of hooks, so that you can enjoy simply by listening to the melodies, or if you choose, listen to the words. The sleeve is iconic and many things have been written about it, with the Beatles reinventing themselves as Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band, a fictional alter ego group, which allowed them to experiment.
Probably one of the most innovative, consistent and best-loved Beatles LPs. A commercial and critical success. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it number one in its list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". Producer George Martin claimed Sgt Pepper was an attempt to match the quality of Pet Sounds, a landmark release in 1966 by the Beach Boys.
The closer A Day in the Life gives me goosebumps, and there really isn't a weak track.

Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles (1967)
An album of two distinct halves. Reminds me of Kate Bush's Hounds of Love, with the pop stuff and the art stuff included separately.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

What song is this?

For the last few weeks, a lyric has been stuck in my head. Goes like this:

"We are your sons and daugh-ters, mas-ters of none"

Or at least that's how I remember the words. I think it's possibly the chorus to an 80s hit. I've tried googling to no avail. Beginning to annoy me!

Any ideas who the band are?


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