Thee-Silver-Mt-Zion-Fuck-Off-Get-Free-We-Pour-Light-On-Everything-608x608“We make a lot of noise because we love each other” says the child who’s brief monologue opens “Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything”. Canadian band Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra does make a lot of noise, and it can take a few listens to acquire a taste for if (if you ever do).  However, there’s no denying the high and wild energy of this album or the joy with which it sounds like it was made.

It’s an interesting album, but it’s definitely not for the musically squeamish.  It’s the kind of album that sounds loud even when you play it at low volume – at times it feels over-saturated with sound, which makes the quieter moments stand out in greater contrast than they might in other contexts. Often the vocals are slightly off-kilter, not unlike those of Robert Smith from the Cure. They’re mixed in between alternating distorted and screaming, simple, repetitive guitar riffs, poured over a simple rhythmic intensity that is relentless at times. Then there are the sweet moments with the string section and female chorus, although those moments have their own eccentricities.

It would be easy to write this stuff off as pure chaos.  But once you’re acclimated to it you can discern a musical intelligence that makes good use of dynamics and pace changes to help you connect to music you can probably feel more than hear.

“Fuck Off Get Free” isn’t going anywhere near the Billboard Hot 100 or BBC 1 playlist. On the other hand, it’s one of the best examples of the totally noncommercial side of psychedelic tinged post rock whatever genre I’ve heard so far. It’s an experience you’re not likely to get elsewhere. I find it easy to open my heart to this oddity after hearing it a few times, but I appreciate many people might not feel the same.

It’s hard to pick one track here. They all have their good points (or lack thereof depending on your point of view. I went with “What We Loved Was Not Enough” because it has a good mix of beauty and beast on the one track. It’s a bit long, but so are most of the best ones.  It’s now on the What Am I Listening To 2014 playlist

 

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Mogwai_Rave_TapesMogwai is a band I’ve been aware of for a few years but haven’t got around to hearing until now. I’ve listened to their latest album “Rave Tapes” a few times and it is a collection of mostly listenable and somewhat hypnotic mid-tempo, mostly instrumental rock tracks. The band use mostly standard rock band instrumentation and motifs to produce pieces that feel like film soundtracks, ranging from edgy and aggressive to the somber and ethereal.  There’s plenty of dynamic build on nearly each track with shades running from dark to majestic. Some of it is reminiscent of mid-70’s Pink Floyd’s instrumental jams that stretch between the vocals. (There is one actual song on the album, and it wouldn’t be out of place on an early Floyd album). There might even be a hint of King Crimson circa the “Red” album, except without the big guitar solos, although that might just be me.

I like the album well enough, but this is something I would have in the background rather than something I would sit down and listen to. Nothing here knocked my socks off, but I wouldn’t hit the skip button either, with the exception perhaps of “Repelish” which is marred for me by its sample of someone explaining the subliminal satanic message that one apparently hears when “Stairway to Heaven” is played backwards.  On the other hand, some of the other tracks seem to be growing on me with subsequent listens so I might feel more strongly sometime down the road.

“Remurdered” seems to be a big track on the album. It starts off with a dark thriller-movie kind of bass riff then shifts dynamics about halfway through by adding a hyperactive synth with increasing layers of sound and density nearly up to the end. Ultimately though I went for “Heard About You Last Night” because I really like those delayed synth bells, the way the guitar comes in under them, and the overall calm feel of the track, relatively speaking.  It’s on the What Am I Listening to 2014 playlist. 

Bombay Bicycle Club "So Long, See You Tomorrow"Thanks to my two eldest sons, Bombay Bicycle Club is one young band I am familiar with. “So Long, See You Tomorrow” is there fourth album, and it is completely different than the first three in that it is not completely different from the previous one. That is, the band released an above average Indie  Rock album, a completely acoustic folk album, and an electronic pop album in that order, as though they were three different bands. I’m not complaining – I enjoyed them all. I would not have thought that was the best way to build a core following, but it seems to be working for them.

Anyway,  “So Long, See You Tomorrow” builds on “A Different Kind of Fix”, their previous album, with a smooth balance of pop that relies less on the guitars than previous albums, filling out the sound with a variety of synth work, extra vocals, and a wind instruments. There are also some sneaky world music motifs popping up here and there, especially rhythmically, possibly inspired by singer/songwriter/guitarist/keyboardist/frontman Jack Steadman’s travels through India, Japan and Turkey.

To me this album sounds like their most mature work so far, fewer quirks, just decent sounding pop music from beginning to end. I can see the album kicking Bombay Bicycle Club up another notch to a wider audience the way last years “AM” did for the Arctic Monkeys. I hope I’m right. This album is a pleasure to listen to.

“Carry Me” and “Luna” have already been released as singles, .The latter is currently on the BBC Radio 1 playlist. Therefore with all there is to choose from I’ll skip those. My son Tiernan really likes the opening track “Overdone”, and I like it too, but he can get his own blog (lol). Instead I’ll go with “Home By Now”, which is a mid-tempo ballad with an “ahhh” feeling kind of chorus and some nice dynamics as the song goes on. I’ve also chosen “Feel”, which grabbed me right away with drummer Suren de Saram’s mid-eastern rhythmic drive under a catchy upbeat tune with a simple but effective hook in the chorus. They are both on the What Am I Listening to 2014 playlist.

Ed Harcourt’s new album “Time of DustEd Harcourt "Time of Dust"” is a sombre and melancholy affair. It’s also a pretty good listen.

The macabre opening piano riff of “Dreamland” sets the tone with a love song that Gomez Addams might sing to Morticia if they were into singer/songwriters. The title track is a catalog characters and events you might notice when the world is falling apart.  Further on the saddest orchestra plays sadly and slightly out of tune (fortunately for us, only in the lyrics), the ship goes down,  rooks sit on a fence waiting to move one on to the next world, and we are reminded that love is like a minor key. I think you get the gist.

What offsets all this darkness is that at its core this is an engaging collection of well-crafted and well-performed songs. The music consistently compliments the lyric content. The production and arrangements support the songs perfectly and are creative enough within the margins of support. The album is as easily listenable as it is dark.

My one criticism is a minor technicality: at six songs this seems to me to be neither an EP nor an album. I suppose that hardly matters as we progress further into the digital age.  If a six-track album means no filler or out-of-context tracks, and there are none, then so be it.

If you want to hear an above average singer/songwriter album and the above description hasn’t put you off, you should give this a shot. I’ve added “In My Time of Dust” to the What Am I Listening To 2014 playlist.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings "Give the People What They Want"I remember lying under the covers with my first transistor radio, keeping the volume down so my parents wouldn’t know I was still awake.  Mid-60’s radio opened up new worlds to my impressionable young ears. One of those worlds was a land called Motown.   Listening to The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin and The Four Tops , to name a few, made me feel simultaneously excited and chilled, pouring right through my heart chakra (although at the age of ten I don’t recall articulating it to myself quite like that).  The initial thrill from that music may be well in the past, but it still makes me feel good to hear that music.

I listened to “Give the People what They Want” by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings for the first time just after a particularly protracted, dry and less than productive work meeting. Almost immediately I had feelings similar to those described above. You can’t not feel good listening to this music.

The Google machine tells me Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are at the forefront of a revivalist movement to revive and revitalize soul and funk from the 60’s and 70’s. They certainly seem to meet that criteria. Sharon Jones has a powerful, classic voice for soul. The songs fit perfectly into that genre. The only significant difference, if you can call it one, is that the songs have a contemporary edge. “People Don’t Get What They Deserve” is perhaps the most obvious example of that with its subject being the growing inequality between the rich and the working poor.

The arrangements and production values here are in keeping with the era they hark back to, right down to recording to analog. If there are any modern touches here they are subtle and only used to serve to support the musical concept, and probably make the recordings sound as clear and crisp as people of an earlier time would have made them had the technology been there.  In short, “Give the People What They Want” sounds and feels like an authentic Motown album from four or five decades ago.

I recommend this album to anyone who likes music. Now that I’ve finally discovered this band I’m certain I’ll be going through the back catalog of albums they’ve been releasing since 2002.

It was a tough choice making selections for the playlist. There were so many candidates. I finally settled on “Retreat”, which is the strong album opener and has grown on me with repeated listenings. I’ve also chosen “You’ll Be Lonely”, because it was one of the first songs to stick in my brain, and it sounds so cool and funky. Both songs are on the What Am I Listening To 2014 playlist

Tinsley Ellis Midnight BlueTinsley Ellis’s “Midnight Blue” is the kind of album I wish Eric Clapton still made; full of energy, intensity and old-school musicality. After Springsteen, this might just be my favorite album from what I’ve heard so far this year.  

Tinsley, equally skilled as a blues vocalist and guitarist, serves up his talents in pretty much every flavor the blues can be rocked, shuffled, dragged or stomped. There are even a couple of tracks that have sort of a mid-tempo, adult contemporary radio kind of feel going on.  So it’s well grounded in familiar territory, but it never gets repetitive.  

“Surrender” seems like the obvious choice for a single. It could easily seduce your ears with its smooth vocal emphasis and tasty laid back guitar fills supported by a simple rhythm section that’s solid as a tree trunk. It’s also one of the least bluesy songs on the album, so I feel I should counter it with “That’s My Story” a somewhat tongue-in-cheek rocker about irreconcilable differences played in a style that early ZZ Top fans will be familiar with.  

Both tracks are on the What Am I Listening To 2014 Playlist.  

“Just Like Fire Would” has been running through my head since I started listening to “High Hopes”, so I’ve added it to the What Am I Listening To 2014 playlist as a second selection from the album  It was originally performed by Australian rockers The Saints back in the mid 80’s. Springsteen and the E Street Band started performing it during their 2013 tour of Australia and apparently it stuck with them too. They do a good job of making the song their own.

A brief look at the Google machine shows me that the Saints got their single up to 29 in the Australian charts back in the day. Springsteen looks set to do a bit better with it on an international scale – there’s a new video out.

If you’re interested, here’s the original version by The Saints.