Saturday, January 19, 2008

January 2008

The Nevstar Music Guide Issue No. 4

Happy new year everyone. May your 2008 be filled with the discovery of some great new music and that this discovery is assisted by The Nevstar Music Guide ! Bumper issue this month with an excellent ‘solo’ effort, a classic Britpop album and an intriguing top ten list. But before we start, if you are enjoying the Nevstar Music Guide, please take a moment to forward this Music Guide to someone else you know who is a music fan and might enjoy it. Anyone wanting to receive future editions can just click here and put “Subscribe” in the Subject field. Thanks for that. Right, into it:

Album of the Month

Maps : We Can Create

A defining aspect of the Web 2.0 is the concept of user-generated content (ladies and gentleman, the Nevstar Music Guide) with amateurs creating video content, posting book, movie and album reviews and generating their own music. I find the latter particularly interesting as no longer do record companies have a monopoly on what artists are recorded. Echoing Elvis Presley pressing a couple of songs for $1 a side, would-be Pop Idols now have access to relatively cheap recording equipment enabling them to easily convert their inner symphonies into digital form. The output is barely inferior to professionally produced material. With non-traditional distribution also available on the internet through MySpace et al, new and talented individuals can easily find audiences for their creative output.

A perfect example is James Chapman, aka Maps, who records his pop / electronica compositions on a 16 track machine in his bedroom without the assistance of any computer to help mix the songs. You could never tell, with a wide array of instruments and sounds seamlessly accompanying his ghostly vocals and languid melodies. His debut album, We Can Create, is the equal of anything that the majors released this year and was nominated for the Mercury Prize in the UK. Its an inspiration for anyone with the ambition to record those songs bursting from within.

Maps is a ‘band’ that strides across appallingly stringent definitions of genre. It is simply beautiful music which should not be dropped into a specific category. At times, it resembles the dreamy, atmospheric pop of Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev. In its quieter moments, it recalls Portishead and Zero 7 while the bigger songs generate a ‘Wall of Sound’ reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine or perhaps even Kid A era Radiohead.

My favourite track is It Will Find You which mixes a hip hop beat with a distinctive looped six note lead riff. Complementing the magnetic music is Chapman dreamy vocals which are accompanied as the song builds by a variety of other ‘noises’ dropped in as appropriate. The effect is stunning and displays his mastering of layering quite disparate sounds into one satisfying and fulfilling aural experience.

Quite simply, you really should take a chance and listen to this album. You wont be disappointed.

Hear samples or buy CD here :

Best Track : It Will Find You

Listen To If You Like :
Portishead.......................... Dummy
Moby .................................Play

If You Like This Try :
Mercury Rev ......................Deserters Songs
Death in Vegas ...................The Contino Sessions

Essential Classic Album

Pulp : Different Class (1995)

It was during 1995 that the Britpop era reached its pinnacle of prominence. Acres of column inches was devoted to a record company induced ‘competition’ between Blur v Oasis as they launched much hyped singles on the same day. However, it was an album released that year by the third of the Britpop triumvirate that has perhaps endured long after debates about the respective merits of Country House v Roll With It had faded from view.

The album Different Class perfectly represents the Britpop era in that it mixes all that was great in British music to that point from Beatles-eque melodies, Bowie / Roxy Music era nu-wave rhythms to the lyrical cleverness of The Kinks or The Smiths. At the same time it offers a cracking selection of intelligent and witty songs set to naggingly catchy melodies.

Pulp are fronted by the enigmatic Jarvis Cocker whose band laboured in obscurity throughout the 80’s trying desperately to build a following before he was suddenly at the forefront of the most exciting musical movement in a generation. Fortunately, JC is one of the pre-eminent lyricists of his or any other time and his observations perfectly capture the moment and the time. It is a party album, albeit one with brains and a conscience, exploring themes of sex and love, drugs and dying, class and sophistication.

The best song on the album is Common People which soared to No. 2 on the UK singles chart, an unheard of position for an indie track. It is an incredible track somehow mixing an unforgettable head shaking, toe-tapping beat, with a rousing anthemic like chorus amidst a tale of love and, for bonus points, a damning indictment of class differences

Morever there are a number of other terrific tracks with nary a weak one in sight. Mis-Shapes which starts off the album is a cracker. It’s a great call to arms for a generation raised in the turmoil of England in the 70’s and profiles the new hope that Cool Brittania promised. “We wont use bombs, we wont use guns, we’ll use the one thing we have more of and that’s our minds”. Disco 2000 is a strange, yearning love song for a childhood friend set to a cracking guitar riff while Sorted for E’s and Whizz and Bar Italia take subtle shots at the rave culture exploding onto the scene at the time. There are also quieter introspective moments such as I Spy and F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.

Jarvis ultimately revolted from the celebrity lifestyle that his new found fame afforded. Pulp’s next album, This Is Hardcore, is a glimpse into a tormented soul. As Jarvis himself opines, “this is the sound of someone losing the plot, you’re gonna like it, but not a lot”. It is outstanding in its own right, but for first timers, start your love affair with Pulp by putting Different Class onto you CD buy list. It’s example of a band at the height of its powers at the right place and at the right time.

Hear samples or buy CD here :

Best Track : Common People

If You Like This Try :
Pulp ................................His ‘n Hers
Blur ................................Parklife
Roxy Music .......................Country Life

Top Ten List

The history of rock and roll has been shaped by many bands and events. But which particular ones were pivotal. Here is my view on the seminal moments in Rock History which changed the course of history of rock music for better or worse. So, in chronological order, here are the Top Ten Greatest Moments in Rock History.

1. Elvis Presley Records 'That's All Right’ : September 1954

This is ground zero for rock and roll. Its impact cannot be overstated. A poor white boy with a ‘black’ voice, Elvis grew up listening to a combination of black rhythm and blues, gospel, and rockabilly. Fooling around in Sun Studios, he started playing an uptempo version of ‘That’s All Right Mama’, an old blues classic first recorded by Arthur Crudup. Sam Phillips heard this new version and urged them to get it on record. The rest, as they say, is history.

2. James Brown Records ‘Live at the Apollo’ : 1962

Already the hardest working man in show business, performing in excess of 300 shows per year, James Brown in 1962 indelibly inked his place in history with this album. Recorded at his own expense, it went on to become the first million-selling rhythm and blues album ever. It stands as a beacon of originality which was immeasurably influential to soul, funk and rap artists who followed. Sampled and copied to this day, his energy and verve on stage is captured perfectly in this timeless album. Available here.

3. The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show : February 1964

No British band had ever made it big in the US although many had tried. Weeks before their arrival in 1964, Capital Records had signs hanging in Times Square denoting “The Beatles are Coming”. Most thought it was a promo for a new horror movie. But America soon woke up to Beatlemania as four young guys with ‘shockingly” long hair showed up on the No. 1 rated Ed Sullivan Show watched by an estimated 73 million Americans. Launching into All My Loving, a nation sat transfixed. Rock and Roll was exciting again. In a way, the first reaction to The Beatles was correct. The British Invasion had begun. By March 1964, the Beatles occupied the top five positions on the singles chart in America.See rare footage here.

4. Bob Dylan at Newport Folk Festival : July 1965

One of the more notable impacts of the Beatles was the influence it had on Bob Dylan. He had made his name as a folk poet carrying on the legacy of Woody Guthrie. Dylan recalls hearing the Beatles for the first time while driving and realising that the music world had changed. He thus turned up at the Newport Folk Festival with a, gasp, electric guitar. Amidst boos from the audience, he played three electric rock and roll songs to decidely mixed reaction before storming off the stage. Footage is available in the great Martin Scorcese film on Dylan, No Direction Home. It however marked the start of a remarkable period in his career as he recorded three absolute masterpieces (Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde) in the space of 18 months. Dylan similarly had a major impact on the Beatles, allegedley introducing them to drugs while imploring them to pay more attention to their lyrics. Thus they went from I Want To Hold Your Hand to Eleanor Rigby.

5. Jimi Hendrix at Monterey Pop Festival : 1967

Myths endure while reality fades. This concert is a classic example. The myth endures that Jimi Hendrix went on stage an unknown, but walked off a legend. The reality, if you check out the stunned look on the crowds faces, suggests otherwise. White America simply wasnt ready for a black guitarist who wrote, sang, played lead and rhythm guitar while dominating the stage as a wild, effervescent showman. He had to head to the UK to really break into the big time. But this moment will forever be remembered as when a brash new talent was introduced to the world. A world which will never see his like again. Copies of the entire concert have just been released on DVD. See footage here.

6. Woodstock and Altamont : 1967 / 1969

These two legendary concerts marked the peak and ultimately death of the hippy ideal. Somehow, 500,000 crammed into a farm in Woodstock in northern New York state to listen to an absolute Who’s Who (including The Who!) of 60’s popular music. Highlights included an incendiary rendition of The Star Spangled Banner by Jimi Hendrix and Joe Cocker singing With A Little Heap From My Friends. Facilities were woefully insufficient, but the spirit of that hippy culture meant everyone somehow got along.

It was slightly different two years later in Altamont. Festivals had sprung up everywhere with hippies expecting everything to be laid on free of charge. A late change of venue saw around 300,000 turn up for a three day festival at the Altamont speedway in California designed to hold 15,000 for three hours. It was a toxic mix with the crowd becoming increasingly unruly. As the Rolling Stones took the stage, an altercation took place between the Hells Angels (recruited as security guards) and a black youth called Meredith Hunter who was then stabbed to death. “No angel born in hell, can break that Satan’s spell”. It was the end of the hippy era and the counter-culture nirvana it promised.

7. David Bowie creates Ziggy Stardust : June 1972

Perhaps scared of his own personality, David Bowie created an alter ego in Ziggy Stardust supported by his band, The Spiders From Mars. The first of many alternative characters, Ziggy allowed Bowie to experiment with a ‘new band’ while acting out his own fantasies on stage. Echoing the creative freedom that Sgt Peppers allowed the Beatles, Ziggy simultaneously created a great album, started off the entire glam rock movement as well as kickstarting music concerts as stage show extravaganzas.

8. Sex Pistols play gig on River Thames : June 1977

The moment, Queen’s Silver Jubilee, 7th June 1977. The Sex Pistols appropriated the date for the release of their ‘tribute’ song, “God Save The Queen”. Virgin Records, the bands third label in three weeks, organised a boat so they could play a version of their new song in front of the House of Parliament. A select group of about 50 witnessed the concert as the boat was accompanied down the Thames by Police boats requesting the immediate cessation of ‘hostilities’. Caught on camera in the terrific documentary The Filth and Fury including a special shot of long haired Richard Branson protesting their innocence. As Johnny Rotten later said, “We declared war on England without meaning to.”

9. The launch of MTV : 1981

A pivotal moment in rock history was the launch of MTV in 1981. While increasingly irrelevant now as essentially a reality TV channel, MTV originally changed the game plan for the distribution of music. A video became an essential marketing device. It led to the rise of photogenic bands such as Duran Duran and artists like Madonna and Michael Jackson who understood the entertainment requirements of the new medium. And the first song played on MTV, the answer to a great trivia question, was none other than Video Killed The Radio Star by The Buggles.

10. The Opening of the Hacienda : 1985

Dance music was already on the rise, but the opening of this famous club in Manchester by Tony Wilson saw the start of an era featuring the DJ rather than the band as the star attraction. To this day, the best DJ’s, playing music created and recorded by others, are followed and revered around the world as they play the soundtrack to escapades into drug-fuelled fantasies.

Got a different opinion ? What moments do you consider pivotal in the history of rock ?
And that’s it for another month. Hope you have enjoyed this latest edition. Tune in next month for The Top Ten Movie Soundtracks of all time.

A bientot all you music lovers.

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