Saturday, September 27, 2008

Someone Else's Record Reviews

Just because I'm a little busy (coupled with the fact that nobody reads blogs on the weekend--right?), I'm gonna cut and paste some reviews straight out of allmusic.com for some new music that caught my ear and should catch yours. Forgive me, original content to resume on Monday.

Alpacas Orgling, by L.E.O.
"If those three letters look familiar, that's entirely by design: LEO is an unabashed re-creation of the sound of vintage late-'70s Electric Light Orchestra on an indie rock budget. The ELO lifts are subtle but unmistakable, with direct nods to tunes like "Telephone Line" and "Mr. Blue Sky" mixed in with bits that cleverly nod to Jeff Lynne's creamy pure pop goodness without actively ripping him off. It could possibly be the most clever album-length evocation of an established band's sound since the Rutles. "But that's all it is, right?" sneer the non-believers. "It's nothing but a baldfaced ripoff of the sainted Jeff Lynne, and with a silly album title besides!" Alpacas Orgling is the single best album any of its major participants have ever taken part in. And yes, that includes the hugely overrated Jellyfish, a band much more interesting in concept than in practice. Given the self-limiting task of channeling their own pop sensibilities through those of an earlier generation of craftsmen causes all concerned to step up their game: the songs are gorgeously arranged, with instantly memorable melodies and lyrics generally far less pretentious than the sort of claptrap Jeff Lynne himself often came up with. Of course, the most logical next step is for McAuley, Viola and company to take the lessons learned from this project back to their primary careers, but as long as one is clear on the album's artistic intentions and is willing to approach this kind of wholesale imitation on its own playful level, this is an album any true lover of '70s AM radio pop fluff should treasure."

Future Clouds And Radar, Future Clouds And Radar
"A hefty two-disc set, Future Clouds & Radar features 27 tunes which demonstrate Harrison's gift for crafting gorgeous psychedelic-tinged pop songs has only grown stronger during his lay-off from recording, and his band of compatriots who helped him commit this to tape navigate his stylistic twists and turns with the élan of a Formula One racing team. While Harrison's voice splits the difference between John Lennon and Glenn Tilbrook, melodically Future Clouds & Radar hops from one approach to another throughout its playing time, from the acid-drenched electronic meandering of "This Is Really a Book" and the stripped-bare blues figures of "Devil No More" to the high-spirited rock & roll of "Holy Janet Comes on Waves" and the bittersweet simplicity of "Christmas Day 1923," with plenty of solid hook-infused power pop and up-tempo rock along the way, all presented with just the right degree of polish and played with skill and spark throughout. It's telling that the more relaxed numbers such as "Build Havana" and "Green Mountain Clover" are as effective as the high-energy tunes, and Harrison can play goofy and sincere with equal impact. As strong as Cotton Mather's best work was, Future Clouds & Radar suggests Robert Harrison's best music still lies ahead of him, and this is an accomplished and thoroughly enjoyable calling card for his new enterprise that discerning fans of smart pop will want to hear."

Songs In A and E, Spiritualized
"Who would have thought that Jason Pierce's Spiritualized would have had any life in them after the rather uninspiring Amazing Grace in 2003? In the intervening five years, Pierce nearly died from double pneumonia. Near death experiences by their very nature are life-changing events. The music on Songs in A&E were recorded in that aftermath, but most of the album was written two years before he got sick; with so much of it about near death and survival, it feels like life imitating art. From the first notes of "Sweet Talk," it's obvious that a very different Spiritualized is up and about; an acoustic guitar, a sparse drum kit, the voice quartet, a few horns, and a minimal bassline fuel it. Pierce sweetly croons to a loved one in waltz time; his words are simultaneously appeasing and accusatory. The gospel chorus isn't as overblown as it was on Amazing Grace or Let It Come Down. They are in a support role, offering Pierce's reedy voice a fullness and authority it wouldn't have otherwise. The arrangement is lilting but powerful. How strange, then, the sounds of a ventilator that usher in the next track "Death Take Your Fiddle": "I think I'll drink myself into a coma/And I'll take every way out I can find/But morphine, codeine, Whisky, they won't alter/The way I feel/Now death is not around..."Death take your fiddle"/And play a song for me." Minor-key acoustic guitar and ghostly bass frame Pierce singing a mutant folk-blues that evokes Gary Davis' "Death Don't Have No Mercy." The backing vocals float wordlessly like death angels, hovering around the vocalist and giving the tune an otherworldly quality. But this isn't a song about dying; it's a song about coming close and cheating it; it's eerie. The proof? The next two tracks: "I Gotta Fire," and "Soul on Fire." The former is a taut, "Gimme Shelter"-esque rocker, the latter, a lush, uptempo love song. "Sitting on Fire" is a beautifully orchestrated love song: it's an admission of weakness and codependency but celebrates both of them at the same time: "Baby, I'm sitting on fire/but the flames put a hole in my heart/when we're together we stand so tall/But a part of me falls to the floor/Sets me free /I do believe it'll burn up in me for the rest of my life." Strings, vibes, marimbas, and drums crash in to the center of the mix carrying the protagonist into oblivion. "Yeah, Yeah" is a scorching rocker that feels like the Bad Seeds meeting the old Spacemen 3. "You Lie You Cheat," crashes in Velvets style with acoustic guitar and screeching feedback. The chorus sings atop a flailing drum kit, distorted strings, and wailing electric guitar. The marimbas and strings that power "Baby, I'm Just a Fool," sweetly underscore a very dark pop song, complete with "da-do-da-do-dat det-det-do's". It descends into beautifully textured chaos led by a loopy violin solo over seven minutes. Songs in A&E is the most consistent recording Spiritualized has issued since 1997's Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. It contains the best elements of the band's signature sound, and paradoxically hedonistic yet utterly spiritual lyric themes. That said, newly focused energy, willfully restrained arrangements, and taut compositions give the set a sheer emotional power that no Spiritualized recording has ever displayed before, making it, quite possibly, their finest outing yet.

3 comments:

Londinium said...

I"m going to go find the Alpacas and drink deeply, but only after you apologize for dissing Jellyfish....

Uncle E said...

Nonono, that wasn't me londinium! That was some allmusic.com hack, as I said in the disclaimer. Just a cut-n-paste jobbie. I love those guys. And you will enjoy L.E.O.'s Alpacas.

JON said...

"...the hugely overrated Jellyfish.."

You must out this dolt!

Love the LEO, too...