Thursday, December 17, 2015

Kurt Cobain - Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings

Kurt Cobain - Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings

If you have to ask yourself if you need this, you don't.  What was I supposed to do, not buy it? Not bloody likely.

For only two more dollars than the regular version would have cost me, I bought the deluxe edition - that's 31 tracks instead of 13. With 8 minutes of running time left, it's a wonder they didn't include a recording of Cobain scraping the bottom of a barrel with a guitar pick. It's natural to want a window into Cobain's mind - the global audience Nevermind gave him, whether he wanted it or not, had only two and a half years to get to know him, and many of his lyrics, even under the inevitable intense scrutiny following his death, remain oblique and elliptical. Home Recordings, however, is no magic cipher that will suddenly cast everything in a whole new light. It will not, as the fictitious Blaine DeBeers of iZombie claimed, fill gaps between Fecal Matter and Nirvana you didn't even know existed. While some of it is of academic interest, to claim to be able to draw a straight line between it and even Bleach would be like watching heretofore unseen footage of Jackson Pollock squeeze sauce onto a hotdog and claim the pattern to be a precursor to Blue Poles.

A good percentage of the tracks on Home Recordings are montages (duh) and monologues that don't bear repeated listens. "Aberdeen" is an anecdote about an abortive sexual encounter, one that Buzz Osbourne insists is spurious, along with most of the rest of the Montage of Heck documentary. Presented out of context, there's nothing to suggest it purports to be true. Little of the actual music is especially portentous either. The oft-released "Been a Son" gets yet another go-round in a version that makes the With the Lights Out recording sound polished and meticulous by comparison. Surprisingly, there's no version of "Polly", the most ubiquitous song in the Nirvana catalogue, to be had here, although there are plenty of four chord wonders that could have become a "Drain You" or "Smells Like Teen Spirit" had Cobain revisited them. There are a couple that did grow into something more substantial - the aforementioned "Been a Son" and a similarly inauspicious-sounding "Sappy". The With the Lights Out curio "Clean Up Before She Comes" appears here - a demo of a demo. Minus the pithy lyrics, harmonies and counter-melodies that form the song's hooks (I think there are four Cobains duking it out in there at one point in the better known version), it just doesn't connect. Some of the more abstract sketches might have had potential as well, such as "She Only Lies", which is just Cobain and a surprisingly clear-sounding bass. Perhaps the phone call that interrupted the dirgey "Burn the Rain" robbed us of a classic. One of the few songs I've revisited so far is the instrumental "The Happy Guitar". Known erroneously on bootlegs as "Black and White Blues" for years, it may be a tribute to Leadbelly, but it's closer to Lonnie Johnson, whose name you normally wouldn't associate with Cobain - therein lies the appeal.

I won't be the only one to quote that prescient line from "Aero Zeppelin" (from the genuinely valuable odds and ends collection Incesticide). "all the kids will eat it up if it's packaged properly". Just don't expect them to keep it down.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Motherfucker - Confetti

Motherfucker - Confetti

It would have been enough for Motherfucker to merely wake you from the pathetic stupor that most music seems determined to keep you in. Hell, if it was just good for a giggle because its name is a naughty word, that would have been better than nothing. Motherfucker's name is not an exercise in puerility or superficiality, however, but a portent of Confetti's unrelenting post-whatever-noise-rock-something-something - think the blunt assault of METZ delivered with the laser focus of Erase Errata. Confetti packs a lot into its 30 minutes, but has no time for moroseness, self-indulgence or half-assed bullshit.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Blur - The Magic Whip

Blur flip-flopped on whether or not it would continue to exist and in what capacity enough times over the 12 years since Think Tank that The Magic Whip was anything but inevitable. However, there's reason to believe it isn't intended as a one off. The album was produced by Stephen Street, the band's longest serving producer who worked with them from their stately Britpop era through to 1997's transitional self-titled album, suggesting another ongoing partnership might be in the works. More significantly, though, The Magic Whip has neither a sense of urgency nor finality to it. It neither bolsters nor tarnishes their legacy, but opens the door for the band to do either or both in the future.

No Blur album ever sounded like another, but Damon Albarn has been exploring new sounds with Gorillaz and as a solo artist, so carving out a distinct identity for The Magic Whip was never going to be easy. It's happy enough to revisit the past, but it's frustrating when some of its attempts to move forward have antecedents in the Gorillaz canon. But of course Albarn's world-weary sensibility ensures that the throwbacks are not mere exercises in nostalgia, and the more forward-looking material really resonates when it does work. The MVP "There Are Too Many of Us" starts with minor synth chords over a marching beat and some subtle, ominous bass work from Alex James and was inspired by the Lindt hostage crisis in Sydney. It's about the muted, impersonal reaction often inspired by watching a tragedy on TV; Albarn wrote the lyrics while switching between watching it that way and directly from a hotel room.

Sitting somewhere above Faith No More's new album and far below Swans' recent output, The Magic Whip has plenty to like about it. Whether there's Blur in our future is impossible to know, but the evidence presented suggests it's not a foolish thing to want.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Lady Lamb - After

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper - After

After is Lady Lamb (formerly Lady Lamb the Beekeeper)'s second studio album, following 2013's Ripely Pine and a string of lo-fi self-released recordings dating back to 2007. Ripely Pine, along with Torres' self-titled debut and Danish punks Iceage's second album You're Nothing, was an album by a promising young artist in my end of year list that was littered with the likes of Polvo, My Bloody Valentine and Richard Thompson. Iceage released a superb third album last year, Torres' second album is due in May, and here, of course, is After.

After very quickly answers the question of whether or not Aly Spaltro was willing to ride the crest of a wave and write twelve more songs in the particularly manic folk-rock style of Ripely Pine. This is one case in which I would have been fine with that, but to her credit, she's pushing herself in different directions already. It's not as if After is a radical reinvention - the tricks and tropes of Ripely Pine are all over it, in fact - but Spaltro's approach is more measured and her lyrics are broader in scope while still loaded with personal frames of reference. She's also more confident than before, which is really fucking saying something. She got a lot of mileage out of quiet-loud dynamics on Ripely Pine, building tension with the former and providing release with the latter. This carries over to After, but flourishes such as the way the opener "Vena Cava" stretches her voice and the stuttering rhythm of the penultimate "Batter" show she knows how to tread the line between exploiting an approach works and simply repeating herself. Elsewhere, songs such as "Ten" disperse her energy more evenly, and the contrast informs much of After's character. It keeps the listener on their toes, and in that sense, it's a microcosm for the career of an artist for whom complacency is not an option.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Happy Birthday to the Following Albums (2)

Happy 5th birthday, Owen Pallett's Heartland

Happy 10th birthday, Smog's A River Ain't Too Much to Love

Happy 20th birthday, Helium's The Dirt of Luck

Happy 30th birthday, Tom Waits' Rain Dogs

Happy 40th birthday, Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti

Happy 50th birthday, Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited

Sex, War & Robots