Sunday, June 7, 2009

June 2009

Album of the Month

The Doves : Kingdom of Rust

A common childhood refrain to a perceived injustice is to claim that it is unfair. My mother always used to respond "Life's unfair" which to a ten year old is not only inarguable but ultimately depressing. It shatters youthful preconceptions of some heavenly court of arbitration to right obvious wrongs. But then we learn as we age that the advice was particulary sage. Toast falls buttered side down, those with lesser talent may get promoted ahead of you at school or sports, and it seems that great bands often languish in relative obscurity while Miley Cyrus has her own movie.

But sometimes the best bands do rise to critical if not widespread acclaim and adulation. And one such band is The Doves, whose fourth album, Kingdom of Rust is this June's Album of the Month.

The Doves had a long road to the top with more than a few roadblocks. Their roots can be traced to a 90s dance act named Sub Sub whose music studio burnt down taking with it most of their tapes. Resisting the obvious temptation to say they rose from the ashes, the band reformed as The Doves and promptly released two stunning minor masterpieces in Lost Souls (2000) and The Last Broadcast (2002). Each consisted of a wide range of lush, shimmering songs; atmospheric and melodic efforts with dance-like rhythms building tension and then subtly allaying it. They met with critical but not widespread popular acclaim.

They returned in 2005 with Lost Cities which I felt was not quite to the same standards but sold much more strongly (proving once again that I know nothing). The world had changed and with the success of bands like Elbow, Coldplay and Snow Patrol, they now found that there was a market for well orchestrated, subtly layered, cleverly constructed atmospheric pop. And no one does this better than the Doves.

Now they return with their fourth album, Kingdom of Rust which is the equal if not surpassing anything else they have written. Opener Jetstream is a stunner. Plaintive Radioheadesque vocals accompany Massive Attackish minimalist soundtrack for the first two verses before the full talents of the band are let loose in a spontaneous outburst of passion and purity. Lead singer Jimi Goodwin depicts it as the soundtrack to the end of Bladerunner which tops any effort I could muster to describe its impact.

What follows is equally mesmerising. The title track follows next and its a song which recalls their first two albums with a lilting, mesmerising guitar line accompanised by soaring vocals. But the record is more than a repeat of the past. They experiment with a Phil Spectorish Wall of Sound approach in 10:03, and an almost progressive rock era effort in Birds Flew Backwards. Furthermore, the album arguably has the best material at the end. Compulsion has a extremely catchy funky beat, which is followed by the hard fuzzier rock guitars in House of Mirrors which are a treat. The album closes with the excellent Lifelines, which rises to a peak, holds its breath before finally exhaling and lapsing into a silence that we want to instantly fill by replaying the album from the start.

Like most great albums, Kingdom of Rust takes a while to really grab hold of your senses. Its charms slowly seep to the core of your musical sensibilities. But once it reaches your heart, it wont let it go, and you too will be a fan forever.

Listen to it or buy here:

Try this if you like :

The Verve
New Order

If you like this try :

Elbow : Leaders Of The Free World
My Morning Jackets : It Still Moves

Essential Classic Album

Jeff Buckley : Grace

Some albums have an erie quality, as if the protagonist almost anticipates their own death. Amongst the list would be Closer by Joy Divison, Pink Moon by Nick Drake, From A Basement On the Hill by Elliott Smith and The Holy Bible released by Manic Street Preachers shortly before the disappearance of Richey James. However, perhaps none is more poignant and more achingly wistful than the only album by Jeff Buckley entitled Grace. For someone with a voice of an angel, he ascended back to heaven to join them all too quickly leaving us only with this otherworldy album.

Buckley was the son of 1960's folk hero Tim Buckley, and seem destined for fame. Yet at the age of 30, in mysterious circumstances, he drowned, leaving only one complete recorded album. But its impact is hard to overstate and it consistently ranks in various Top 100 of all time lists. It is soaring and magnificent at times, then quiet and introspective at others. It demands and should be heard before we depart this physical world.

The album however must be listened to in isolation from the circumstances that followed it. Its not a last will and testament, but rather an ambitious debut album showcasing Buckleys range and virtuosity. Faced with his first blank canvas, the artist opts to record his many and varied ideas. While others start in black and white, Buckley demonstrates he has full command of all the colours on his palette right from the start. As such the album has elements of jazz, funk, pop and rock yet it never feels forced or unnatural as he melds the different elements and instruments. Thus we have ghostly opener Mojo Pin, the very Red Hot Chillish sounding So Real, the Britpopish title track Grace and then the psychedelicish closer Dream Brother.

But the standout track is Buckley's brilliant take on the Leonard Cohen track Hallelujah. Since its recording it has instantly become the definitive version upon which all others will be judged. Angst and yearning are subtly mixed with hope and optimism leaving a track which is simultaneously uplifting and depressing. One of the few songs that can genuinely bring a tear to the eye just by listening to its mournful tones. Please note its the song I want played as my casket is carried from my funeral.

Like Buddy Holly, we listen to his music and sometime wonder what such a prodigious talent wouldve gone on to achieve. If this was the entree, what would the main be like? But ultimately this is self-defeating. We should take the opposite approach and give thanks that we live in a world which he also briefly Grace(d).

Listen to it or buy here:

Try this if you like:

Van Morrison

If you like this try :

Elliott Smith : From a Basement On The Hill
Nick Drake : Pink Moon
Grant Lee Buffalo : Fuzzy

Top Ten List

The late 60s were possibly the most fertile period of musical creativity in the history of popular music. Perhaps it was the coincidental emergence of some terrific musical talents, the convergence of peak output of some amazing bands or maybe it was simply the great drugs! Regardless of the reason, much of our musical heritage can be traced to the events of some forty years ago. As such, I thought it might be fun to look back and muse with hindsight on what the Top Ten Albums from 1969 were. It turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. Anyway, here is the Nevstars :

Top Ten Albums From 1969

10. Kick Out The Jams / MC5
The debut album from Detroit based MC5, this is one of the most riotious, kick-ass, live albums ever to be recorded on vinyl. It is perhaps the prototype for garage rock bands ever since demonstrating the simple art of playing rock and roll music very fast and very loud. The history of punk starts here.

Key tracks : Ramblin Rose, Kick Out The Jams

9. Bayou Country : Credence Clearwater Revival
Southern rockers CCR recorded not one but TWO great albums in 1969 with Bayou County being quickly followed by the excellent Green River. However, this is the Nevstars favourite with the band at the peak of their considerable powers.

Key Tracks : Born On The Bayou, Run Through The Jungle, Who'll Stop The Rain

8. Stand ! : Sly & The Family Stone
Perhaps one of the most important records of the 60s. A raucus mixture of black and white musical influences, pop, soul, rock and funk with Sly standing in the middle of the whirlwind of musical ideas orchestrating and commanding like a virtuoso composer. A racial album illustrating what we can all do together. Essential.

Key Tracks : Everyday People, Stand!, I Want To Take You Higher

NB : Yes, Everyday People IS the same song that Toyota now use for their adverts. I cannot muster sufficient scorn for the practice of diluting such a powerful societal statement to a soundtrack to sell cars.

7. Live at San Quentin : Johnny Cash
The essential companion album to its more famous brethren, Live at Folsom Prison. This set is better in some respects, more shambolic in others. The best moment is when Cash sings a song entitled San Quentin written especially for the occasion. It nearly causes a riot the first time he plays it, and so he assuredly plays it again for good measure. "San Quentin, I hate every inch of you."

Key Tracks : San Quentin, I Walk The Line, A Boy Named Sue

6. The Stooges : The Stooges
Along with MC5, the Stooges demonstrated either a complete lack of respect for rock and roll, or somehow distilled its essence into three minutes of blistering sound. Iggy at his most obnoxious (which is a good thing). Would be in the Top 3 in virtually any other year.

Key Tracks : 1969, I Wanna Be Your Dog.

5 : Bitches Brew : Miles Davies
Considered by some to be the finest jazz album of all time, but less controversially it is certainly the starting point of a genre that became known as jazz - rock fusion. An ideal entry point for rockers interested in getting into jazz, and similarly very influential on rock musicians of the time. A wonder.

Key Tracks : Bitches Brew, Miles Runs The Voodoo Down

4. Let it Bleed : Rolling Stones
Amidst tough competition, the Stones effort from 1969 stands easily amongst this esteemed company coming during perhaps their most creative and important period. Tense and brooding yet also magnificent.

Key Tracks : Gimme Shelter, Midnight Rambler, You Cant Always Get What You Want

3. The Velvet Underground : The Velvet Underground
The Velvets recorded their third album in the summer of 1969. More sparse, mellow and melancholy than their first two albums, it demonstrates a direction that Lou Reed would follow in his solo albums. Here he creates interesting characters and sets them free, wondering and recording what happens to them in their interaction with the world at large.

Key Tracks : Pale Blue Eyes, Candy Says

2. Abbey Road : Beatles
It wasnt always easy, but the Beatles made it through to 1969 and delivered an outstanding recorded album one more time, somehow summoning enough civility to exit in style. Its stands as their last recorded album (Let It Be was recorded before but released after), but this was no coasting into the sunset. Abbey Road is a masterpiece containing layers of sounds and ideas letting everyone know that they truly had no peers before or since.

Key Tracks : Something, Because, The End

1. Led Zepellin II : Led Zepellin
It takes a mighty fine album to knock the Beatles from Number 1 but a certain band called Led Zepellin somehow managed it. Like CCR, they were very prolific in 1969 recording two albums (Led Zep I appearing earlier in the year). Great as Led Zep I was, establishing the template for a heavier guitar sound, Led Zep II is the masterpiece. A dramatic, swaggering, posturing and preening effort which elevated them to superstardom where they would remain forever. Beyond essential.

Key Tracks : Whole Lotta Love, Ramble On

Look forward to comments and criticisms of the Top Ten, but my first defence is likely to be that it was impossible. I changed the order of the Top four alone about ten times. The quality of any Top Ten list is probably determined more though by what you had to leave out. Here the list is long and distinguished. Some of the other albums released in 1969 include:

Blind Faith : Blind Faith
Dusty in Memphis : Dusty Springfield
Crosby Stills & Nash : Crosby Stills & Nash
Green River : Credence Clearwater Revival
In The Court Of The Crimson King / King Crimson
The Band / The Band
Led Zepellin I : Led Zepellin
Tommy : The Who
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere : Neil Young
On The Threshold of a Dream : Moody Blues
Five Leaves Left - Nick Drake
Arthur (Or The Decline and Fall Of The British Empire) : The Kinks

Wow, there is a great record collection right there. Have I missed any?

Thats all for this month.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

1969 - what a great year in music! Hard to believe it's 40 years ago too (not that I was there / here till a few years later!)