Tuesday, April 15, 2008

April 2008

The Nevstar Music Guide Issue No. 7

Album of the Month

Black Mountain : In The Future

Warning : This album is not for everyone. Don’t even consider approaching this album unless you have at least once stared into space while listening to Dark Side Of The Moon. Don’t purchase it unless you like your rock heavy enough to overwhelm your speakers. And please don’t buy it if you have an attention space of less than the seventeen minutes which is the running time of the epic ninth track, Bright Lights. In The Future is not an album to be played in polite company.

This is Black Mountain’s second album after their eponymous debut album released in 2005. Their first album was pretty straight forward classic rock nodding towards Led Zeppelin and their ilk. It is enjoyable but nothing special. Their second album though, In The Future, is brilliant. It attempts to combine the instrumental experimentation of progressive rock with the hard rock of the likes of Black Sabbath. They are heavy and dark, yet counterbalance that with an understanding of the weightlessness of music. Hence there are pretty melodies from sparse and delicate vocals, both male and female, amongst the bombastic guitar work.

The album starts with Stormy High featuring a thumping bass line and staccato bursts of drums as a rhythm slowly establishes itself. The rhythm stormily builds, accompanied by simple vocals before reaching a crescendo of noise and sound before abruptly finishing. We then ease into Angels, a quietly sweeping tune as gentle as its title. Is this the same band? The album continues thus; generating bursts of power and thuggery which are followed by tentative, quiet, almost nervous confessions of guilty emotions. Then there are long instrumental sections; some atmospheric, others stratospheric.

My favourite track is Wucan which has a slow backing track which sounds like a computer error message endlessly looped, overlaid by a distinctive guitar riff which is played increasingly frenetically. Vocals are then added with male and female alternating “so we can come together” before the song degenerates magnificently into obscure electronica feedback. It then slowly reforms, a gathering wave of tension, getting set to break again. Its music no computer could ever write.

At times they remind me of the fictional band Stillwater from the film Almost Famous particularly on the track Stay Free. However Black Mountain have way more range and ability. They are the band Russell Hammond of Stillwater should’ve left so “he could play all that he could play”. No instrument in their armoury is left unplayed, no sound effect left out.

I recently re-watched 2001:A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick’s magnificent sci-fi vision of the evolution of lower and higher forms of intelligence. In The Future is an album that would sit comfortably as a companion CD. It demands to be listened to in a dark sound-proof room with shimmering neon lights bouncing off the floor, walls and ceiling, leaving you to contemplate the space inside and the emptiness outside …………….. or vice versa.

Listen to tracks or purchase here :

Best Track : Wucan

Listen To If You Like :

Led Zeppelin..........................Physical Graffiti
Pink Floyd.............................Piper At The Gates of Dawn

If You Like This Try :

Spiritualized..........Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating In Space
Yes....................Closer To The Edge
Emerson Lake & Palmer......Tarkus

Essential Classic Album

Marvin Gaye : What’s Going On (1971)

Popular music is littered with examples of the wider public proving industry experts wrong. Dick Rowe, a producer at Decca, rejected the Beatles after they auditioned for the label in January 1962. Columbia Records didn’t want to release Johnny Cash’s breakthrough album Live in Folsom Prison. Similarly, Motown CEO Berry Gordy did not want to release Marvin Gaye’s new single What’s Going On in 1970. He thought it was far too political and inconsistent with traditional Motown format. Gaye insisted and on release, it became Motown fastest selling single to that point sitting on top of the charts for five straight weeks. Gordy thus demanded an album along the same lines and as a result, we are blessed with the existence of Marvin Gaye’s masterpiece, What’s Going On.

Gaye first tasted success as part of the Motown hit parade. His good looks, easy charm and sensational voice ensured he became one of the label’s most bankable stars. However as the 60’s ended, Gaye started to become disillusioned and frustrated. The increasing societal strains developing outside the studio didn’t square with the sunny singles he recorded in it. The death of duet partner Tammi Terrell from a brain tumour, the return of his brother from Vietnam and the disintegration of his marriage saw him re-evaluate his life and his art. Following attempts at launching other careers, he entered the studio in 1970 to vent his frustrations, recording a couple of songs which became the backbone of a new album that changed the face of soul music.

The album follows the example of the title track single. It is a quite radical departure from the strict Motown formula. He incorporates elements of jazz and funk while introducing layered multi-track vocals, accompanied by strings, pianos, hand percussion and some sexy horns. More importantly though he ditches the Motown staple of happy love ditties and writes passionate lyrics lamenting the depths to which his country has descended. It addresses issues such as the Vietnam war (What’s Going On), poverty (Inner City Blues), ecology (Mercy Mercy Me), and the wretched plight of black children (Save The Children). The outcome is marvellous. Here we have an artist in the fullest sense of the world, entertaining while using his art form as a soapbox, encouraging and cajoling introspection of our soul. What’s Going On is a river. You can allow it to lazily flow past you, its endless rivulets and eddies forever calming, mesmerising and reassuring. Or you can leap in and feel its power and current as it surges and drags you towards a different place.

Following its release, other soul artists followed in his footsteps. The music became more socially conscious and more ‘of’ the times. Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin produced their best work in the 70’s following a similar framework. Marvin Gaye himself continued to make outstanding music until his unfortunate death at the hands of his father in 1984. But What’s Going On stands as his masterpiece. Certainly the greatest soul record of all time, it deserves consideration as one of the greatest albums of all time.

Hear samples or buy CD here:

Best Track : Save The Children

If You Like This Try :

Lets Get It On.....................Marvin Gaye
Innvervisions......................Stevie Wonder
Amazing Grace....................Aretha Franklin

Nevstar Top Ten

The Nevstar was at a concert recently (the Datsuns who ROCKED!) and noted with interest the large number of individuals wearing band t-shirts. One walked by in a Rage Against The Machine t-shirt. Now, while I’m not a fan of this band, it did make me think what a fantastic name that is. And so began investigations which led to this months Top Ten list. What are the best band names of all time? The choice is of course hugely subjective but I think one key element is asking would the band have been as successful under a different name? After conducting an exhaustive search in a number of music stores (oh the hardships endured in collecting material for you humble readers), here is my attempt at :

Top Ten Band Names of All Time

10. Queen

I felt that I had to include at least one, one syllable band name even though they don’t seem to have the creativity of some of the other entries. I toyed with Suede, lingered over Blur but ended up deciding that Queen was a great band name. Who better than Freddy himself to illuminate the rationale for choosing it over their previous band name, “Smile”.

"It's just a name, but it's very regal obviously, and it sounds splendid. It's a strong name, very universal and immediate. It had a lot of visual potential and was open to all sorts of interpretations."

Well said. Probably a good example of the importance of a band name. Do you really think they would have been as successful if they were called Smile? The US might have produced the King of rock and roll, but England will always have their Queen.

9. Roxy Music

I think this is a fantastic name. The group's name was partly an homage to the titles of old cinemas and dance halls, and partly a pun on the word ‘rock’. But it is also a great combination of ‘rock’ and ‘sexy’ which describes perfectly the music of Roxy Music. Their music was sexy rock, their album covers were sexy art, and so it is only fitting that their name alludes to sexy rock music.

8. Straitjacket Fits

New Zealand acts have developed some great names over the years. The Headless Chickens and The Dance Exponents spring to mind. But none is better than the darlings of the distinctive Dunedin sound, The Straitjacket Fits. First and foremost, the name sounds undeniably cool. It then hints at complexity and layers which is exactly what the band was like. An infinitely better name than their original stage moniker which was The Double Happys. Also hail from the best named recording label of all time in Flying Nun.

7. The Velvet Underground

Reportedly named after a book about the sexual underground of the 1960’s, the Velvet Underground is an artistic name from this Andy Warhol managed band. It is also supposed to evoke images of underground cinema. Virtually unknown in their time, they were an incredibly influential band in no small part thanks to their arresting name. Brian Eno once noted that not many people heard early Velvet Underground albums, but those that did formed their own bands.

6. AC/DC

What a great name for a band. Rock and roll is electric. AC DC stands for alternating current / direct current which indicates an electrical device can use either type of power. According to Wikipedia, the Young brothers saw the term AC/DC on the back of a sewing machine and thought the definition fitted with their raw power and electric stage shows. Millions of albums and t-shirts later, and the band are still going with that same famous moniker. The slash is often replaced by a streak of lightning for effect. Note that religious leaders have claimed that it likely stands for Anti-Christ/Devil’s Children. Whatever. Fellow 70’s heavy metal act Iron Maiden also should receive commendation for their choice named after a medieval torture device.

5. Guns N’ Roses

Like a great racehorse, this terrific band name emanated from the conjunction of its parents. Guns N’ Roses was the result when members of “Hollywood Rose” combined with those of the “LA Guns”. I guess the name “LA Hollywood” didn’t really set the heart racing, but Guns n Roses certainly did. The name is a brilliant composition and surely a contributor to their huge success worldwide.

4. Primal Scream

A great name, Primal Scream is named after a cry heard in Janovian psychotherapy, a form of scream therapy. Each word is quite powerful in its own right and the combination is downright dangerous.

3. Massive Attack

It was quite noticeable in my research that electronica / dance music bands are a lot more creative in their names. Bands such as Thievery Corporation, The Chemical Brothers or Groove Armada all have great names, but the best of the bunch in your correspondents humble opinion is Massive Attack. Like Primal Scream above it’s a combination of two great sounding words to give an even more powerful combination.

2. The Psychedelic Furs

A great band name which so nearly wasn’t. This post-punk band which starred in the early 80’s with such songs as “Pretty In Pink” originally toured under the bland name of “The Europeans”. Yawn. Fortunately they opted for a much better name in The Psychedelic Furs which is both incomprehensible yet simultaneously very eye-catching.

1. Rage Against The Machine

After all the research and study, I ended up where I started. I simply cant find a better band name than Rage Against The Machine. Focusing the angst and ‘rage’ of rock and roll’s core audience towards the implacable corporate/government machine set against it. Looks great on a T-Shirt and even better asking for it in a CD store. The band walk the walk as well with several great politically motivated songs which are generally critical of US Government domestic or foreign policy. So much better than their original name of Lock Up!

And as a bonus, two of the best band names of all time were probably ones given to artists make believe bands. Two which would easily have made the list :

Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars – David Bowie

Got a different opinion? Think of a better band name? Leave a comment or send me an email here.

Reader Feedback

Last months Top Ten list featuring the Top Ten TV Themes received a lot of feedback. Several were aghast at my selections but there was reasonably universal agreement about the names at the top of the list. Notable omissions according to my readership were :

1. The Wombles – watch here

How could I have forgotten this one! Perhaps the only one of the suggestions that I regret not including. Still hummable 30 years after being produced, the Wombles of Wimbledon will be remembered for more than just Great Uncle Bulgaria. If you only watch one clip, watch this one.

2. Taxi – watch here

Similar to Hill Street Blues, this piano based piece is extremely memorable and very emblematic of the show. And who can forget the postscript of the TV executive leaving for the day. “Good night Mr. Walters. Unnnn-errrr.” High quality.

3. Brady Brunch – watch here

Similar to the Beverly Hillbillies in that it outlined the plot premise of the entire show in the TV theme song. Was coupled with one of the most original opening montages in television history as well. Not sure if it is a great theme song or just one of those annoying tunes you cant get out of your head (like Puff The Magic Dragon) !

4. The A-Team – watch here

Mentioned by more than one respondent, the A-Team does have quite a memorable theme song even if the show has dated quite quickly (except you BA Baracus!)

5. MacGyver – watch here

A typical 80’s TV theme show. Similar to the A-Team theme in a lot of respects.

6. Dr Who – watch here

Perhaps no theme song in the history of television is as distinctive as that of Dr Who. An unearthly piece of music introduced this otherworldly show. It was and is instantly recognisable.

7. X-Files – watch here

Similar to the above in that the theme music was very much in line with the content of the show. Not as memorable as Dr Who, but still quite notable.

8. Six Feet Under – watch here

Am not familiar with this show but evidently has a great theme song as more than one reader nominated it.

9. Magnum PI – watch here

Another classic 80’s TV theme song with its distinctive, dah-dah-dah-duh.

10. The Love Boat – watch here

This was a terrific theme song which was extremely synonymous with the general feeling the show portrayed.

Thats all for this month. Dont forget to email me if you have a comment or criticism or would like to get email notification of future updates.