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Alan Braxe and Friends – The Upper Cuts

July 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Vulture Records, 2005

Truth be told, I thought I had stumbled on an early eighties folk rock act that wanted to be edgy.  Whenever “and friends” accompanies a guy’s name I’m thinking those friends are the ones with fiddles, slide guitar, and perhaps backup vocals.  The brash font of the album title, as well as the vinyl wear effect behind it, just screamed Chicago or Billy Squier.  I’ve seen enough of those record covers at flea markets to be wary of them, but I thought that for just a quarter I had to know (HAD to know) what Braxe and his honky tonk buddies sounded like.

I am so glad I was completely wrong about Braxe, but I am also so glad that I stumbled on an excellent record as well.  Alan Braxe of France is apparently a dance music maker that releases vinyl singles very infrequently, so this record serves as a compilation of twelve of his efforts.  One of his apparent friends is Fred Falke, known for his own dance music, so with two of these types of artists this turns out to be one big hip shaking party with no signs of haystacks or cowboy hats.  Score!!

I could go into each track, but a big surprise for me was my recognition of “Music Sounds Better With You”.  I have heard it somewhere before, really liked it, then forgot about it.  It’s a modern disco song that repeats the chorus quite often in its nearly seven minute span.  Not that you’ll notice as you abandon all semblance of responsibility as you jerk left and right to the groove, sloshing your cocktail all over the place.  Or a coffee mug, as in my case.  It’s a light enough song so one doesn’t feel overwhelmed, but it’s also got a strong rhythm that should get a room full of people to get down.

I also loved the airiness of “In Love With You”, the warmth of “Love Lost”, and the straight on dance anthem of “Rubicon”.  Everything just sounds so easy and casual, so if you want to dance you can but you can also just soak it all in.  Despite the overall enjoyment, there are moments when some songs do sound a bit dated, even if one doesn’t mind so much.  “At Night” has a drum machine and a chugging synth effect that immediately brought “Miami Vice” to mind.  It’s a killer track, and I know Crockett and Tubbs would have approved its appearance during a chase scene.  “Vertigo” also clearly comes across as something from the nineties with its cymbal pop and, again, drum machine.  Sure, the song was actually made in 1997, but I’m thinking early nineties like Technotronic or La Bouche.  Hey, there’s still room for enjoyment of those kinds of tunes, right?

Listen to all sorts of great tracks from Alan Braxe on his MySpace and Soundcloud sites.  By the way, the groovin’ video for Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You” may have been when I first heard the 1998 track.  Those silver guys should have been stars.

Scoring this for only a quarter felt pretty good, but the ultimate satisfaction came from spinning it.  This is exactly the kind of music I’m veering towards these days since I feel a bit maxed out on punk and rock.  I admit, I like to get some dancing in when I am in the swivel chair and have my coffee mug at a safe distance.  Perhaps that’s why I’m more forgiving of Top 40 these days since it’s all dance music to me (compared to that awful tripe from the early to mid-2000’s).  If Alan Braxe was an American artist who could pump out the hits every other week he would no doubt be huge.

But I am glad he’s not, for he’s more into taking his time to get that song right than throwing everything against the wall and hope a hit sticks.  Braxe is still busy these days, putting out exactly one single and quite a few remixes since “The Upper Cuts” was released in 2005.  Since he’s mixing, producing and doing other sorts of music jobs, one might not see output from Braxe for months.  However, if one keeps up with certain websites there will always be a reason to keep those dancing shoes nearby.

Oh, and Golden Dollar for sure.  That’s two in one week, woah!

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Prince Fatty Meets the Mutant Hifi – Return of Gringo!

July 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Mr. Bongo Records, 2011

Whether it’s Clint Eastwood, “Red Dead Redemption” or an odd book here and there, I’ve had an affection for western-themed entertainment.  I know it has all been romanticized, for living on the edge with crime, natives, and hot weather abound does not sound like a good time.  But like those James Bond movies, I’ll throw away reality for a bit and sit through a spaghetti western if I’ve got the time (by the way, ever see “The Great Silence”?  That’s a pretty good one.).  Music with western themes isn’t as common place, but when I have heard it (like Spindrift) I’ve gotten great vibes from it.  So of course, seeing a varmint stare down another varmint in a dusty town far from here on a colorful album cover is a shoe-in for my money.  Plus, there’s a song called “The Good, the Vlad, and the Ugly” on here.  It’s gotta be good.

This disc is as good as its cover depicts.  Mixmaster Prince Fatty (Mike Pelanconi) and multi-talented musician Mutant Hifi (Nick Coplowe), as well as a huge accompaniment of instrumentalists, lay out some of the hippest ska-tinged western music I’ve ever heard.  Okay, perhaps it’s the only ska-tinged western music I’ve ever heard.  Regardless, the entire album paints a picture of a bunch of guys in bowling shirts and cowboy hats skanking at the OK Corral.  It’s not a typically rapid ‘pick it up, pick it up’ type of ska, though.  More along the lines of the Skatalites where you can sit back with beer, have a conversation, and nod your head slightly with the beat.

The first track “Transistor Cowboy” starts off with a gunshot (possibly the result of the album cover’s showdown) and bulls into a gritty tune that sounds like a combination of surf rock and ska.  Despite the audio violence, the whistling that transitions the first two tracks gives off another impression of that sixties western theme.  The multitude of saxophones, trombones, and trumpets on “Black Powder” certainly help invoke that feeling as well, so it isn’t long before one may wish that this really was the soundtrack of a movie one hasn’t seen yet.

It is a blaring start, but most of the rest of the album provides a more relaxing set of tunes.  “Plague of Locusts”, “Across the Border”, and “Up the Creek” show more of a ska influence than a surf one, which allows for a steady toe-tapping session for listeners.  There are no vocals to be heard aside from the occasional clip from a movie/TV show, so one doesn’t have to worry about getting disrupted during one’s low-brimmed, pistol-packing daydream.  The whistling returns on “Son of a Thousand Fathers”, as well as those fantastic horns in a sweeping enchantment.  Mutant Hifi even does his best Dick Dale impression with the guitar, making it one of the strongest tracks on the record.

Though every song sounds like just a cool ska-western concoction that one hasn’t heard before, “The Good, the Vlad, and the Ugly” will probably snap everyone to attention with its take on the “Tetris” video game theme.  The horns, guitar (of course), and the creepy chanting in the background give it a sound that could follow a gunslinger as he or she crosses a desert expanse.  Or it could just be a scene where a bunch of odd shaped blocks are shooting it out while yelling out “Four lines!!”.

Have a look at what Prince Fatty is up to on his website.  You could also listen to the entire record on SoundCloud, but I would be remiss if I didn’t send you over to Forces of Geek for a very comprehensive review and history lesson.  I can write a review, but that guy can take you even further!

This is a great disc.  It reminds me of all sorts of things, from old ska and reggae artists to those spaghetti westerns I like to sit through once in awhile.  It has been awhile since I’ve given out one of these, but Prince Fatty, Mutant Hifi, and the entire band deserve the Golden Dollar.  Not only does this album have a unique swing to it but it also provides an excellent soundtrack to whatever gathering one pulls together.  Not sure how the duo is going to top this one, unless it is a take on film noir or the musical.  Whatever it is I will certainly be there to hear it.

The Gymslips – Rocking With the Renees: The Punk Collection

July 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Captain Oi! Records, 1999

Well, you know how I am by now I would think.  I see something from Captain Oi! records with an album cover that has an illustrated story of what looks like someone’s day.  Then there’s the front-and-center pair of jubblies that sort of overshadows the fact all of the ladies involved on the cover have short hair and look a bit tough.  So yes, when I picked this up I figured it as a punk record which made it a bonafide gimme when it comes to attracting my hard earned quarters.  I was a bit confused by what the band name represented (turns out it’s a full length tunic with a pleated skirt that kids wear to school) as well as the fact that the title of the album references a group called the Renees.  Two group names?  Jubblies?  What’s going on?  Let this be a lesson to any dollar bin shopper that when one begins to over think their purchase, they should just pop themselves in the eye and hand over the money.  Why bother with the details?

The Gymslips sound as they look, and that is blue collar rock ‘n roll.  However, whereas one might think there’s a lot of yelling and abrasive guitar screeching the Gymslips actually have a pop edge with a bit of humor.  The introduction of “Renees” (pronounced ree-knees) includes a chorus of “We’re the Renees/here we come/1-2-3/and up your bum”.  Hmm, oh really?  One of my favorite tracks, “Drink Problem” follows with an exceptionally catchy chorus of “Whiskey makes you frisky/gin makes you sin/brandy makes you randy/and rum makes you …”.  The band trails off, but if you’re good with rhyming and can think of a word that relates to being randy, well, there you have it.  The speedy pop punk of these songs begin the record off excellently, and if you like that no frills sound then the rest of the record is your kind of thing.

Along with their British accents, which sound a bit cockney, the allure of the Gymslips are their song subject choices.  They have a song about “Face Lifts”, which details a woman’s unfortunate vericose vein issue as well as a lady who is “a big fat lump at 21 going thin on top”.  Oof.  The liner notes mention that the song “Yo Yo” is titled so because it’s about someone whose underwear tends to go up and down.   I merely like the title of “Silly Egg”, which is a term used as an endearing thing to call someone else for being goofy.  Oh, those British.  The Gymslips do manage to get serious once in awhile, for “Thinking of You” is a light pop love song about yearning for another.  This gives the Gymslips a little bit of depth, though most of their songs are lighter fare so don’t think you’ll be wrapped up in too much emotion during the 27 tracks.

Unfortunately as the album continues on the lyrics and liner notes go away in the booklet, which is a pity since they were enlightening.  Along with the loss of information comes with a dip in interesting songs, for they get more polished and a lot more eighties.  Synthesizers, proper singing, and a general departure from the pop punk origins turn the Gymslips into just another band from that era.  There are remnants of the old Gymslips on songs like “Wonderland”, which if one gets by the prominant synthesizers one will appreciate the nearly spoken vocals and the catchy refrains.  The group leans a little more towards Blondie’s path on songs like “Loves Not the Answer”, where nearly all of the grit is gone and is replaced by a band that is enjoying the comforts of lightweight, toss off pop.   It’s not the greatest send off given the earlier songs, but since these later tracks are from 1984 I suppose it is understandable (or even inevitable).

It is amazing to see that a rather obscure UK pop punk band band from the eighties has a French fansite up!  And it’s being updated … since 2001!  Definitely check that place out for pictures or go to the MySpace page to hear a few tunes.

Ultimately, half the album had the eighties garage pop/punk sound that I love, which made it worth the purchase by far.   Even with the latter half of the record saturated by eighties musical trends, nearly every song has a catchy element that makes the whole record fun to listen to.   It helps that this collection of tunes is most of what the Gymslips released via vinyl singles, so it gives a pretty good overview of what the Gymslips were about during their half decade tenure.  And really, aside from a few tracks on some seven inch records, this CD is pretty much everything one is needs to get a great taste of the Gymslips.  Given that I got it for an affordable price perhaps readers will have the same kind of luck if they look around.

“No One Buys CDs Anymore” … Myth or the Hard Truth?

July 16, 2012 Leave a comment

No, not interested anymore?

Within the past week I have had two people tell me that no one buys CDs anymore.  They said it in a casual, matter of fact way as if I was obviously going to nod my head in utter agreement.  I smiled (grimaced?) knowingly, but the reaction was meant to hide the secret of my truth.  Geez, I buy CDs all the time and in bunches.  I can’t imagine it to be so, but perhaps I am one of the rare people who still value the lightweight, slightly rectangular plastic media.  A few years back this switch to non-physical preference might have been scoffed at, or at least considered still a ways off, but the facts of 2012 have been revealed.

According to an article by Gigwise posted around two months ago, CD sales have been surpassed by digital downloads at least in the United Kingdom.  The financial amounts appear in pounds and UK record labels are referenced, but it is most likely that something similar has already occurred in the United States.  Hey, convenience always wins, so everyone probably saw this coming with the technology boom going on.  In addition, whenever sought after items are only worth a dollar (erm, I understand this feeling) it is understandable that such items fly off the virtual shelves.  To get that Top 40 tune that gets repeated over and over, how can you not be willing to shell out a dollar to listen to it even more often?  Even with the instant access to songs and albums, does that mean that the purchasing of physical media is truly on the outs?

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The Self Righteous Brothers – In Loving Memory Of…

July 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Black & Greene Records, 2006

The album cover looks like a couple of ghosts from Pac-Man got together and said, yo, forget this ‘getting eaten’ gig!  Let’s start a band!  The band name of Blinky and the Roadmasters was already taken, and Pac-Man Sucks probably reminded them too much of their old job.  So, due to their love of the Righteous Brothers’ song “Unchained Melody” from their favorite movie “Ghost”, they created a spinoff band moniker in tribute.  For a dollar I wanted to find out what the ghosts’ musical abilities amounted to after years of chasing and getting chased.  However, it is possible that the group is actually comprised of three Boston musicians.  But c’mon, that seems less likely.

Turns out these are a bunch of Boston guys mixing up between pop, rock, and some experimental tendencies.  The opener of “Floyd” is a sometimes abrasive, sometimes dated rock affair that introduces the listener to what the Self Righteous Brothers can sound like, even if it is not that interesting.  Despite their choice of introduction, it doesn’t take long for the group to slip into their primary sound of pop rock.  On “Alan Watts” the Self Righteous Brothers wanted to sway kindly when they sang about the late British philosopher, who was all about the Zen.  This carefree sound continues into the forlorn “Graduated Cylinder” as well as the catchy “When I Want To”, which is actually half moody instrumental and half nineties indie rock.

I was beginning to like the Self Righteous Brothers, mainly because the pop songs as well as the pensive instrumentals of “Didjeridon’t” and “48 to 6”, really kept the variety interesting.  Sometimes the group would venture a little too far from what they’re good at (like unfortunately funky “Electric Boogaloo”) but they are generally quite palatable after that “Floyd” number early on.  They do manage to slip a few zingers in periodically, as is evident near the end of the album on “Sidecar Jesus”.  As the record appears to finish on an upbeat pop note, the Self Righteous Brothers couldn’t resist finishing the cheery “Sidecar Jesus” with a confusing noise guitar segue as well as a sped up, louder version of the chorus.  (sigh)  Perhaps they didn’t want to end on a predictable note, though listeners may not appreciate the non-Zen interruption.

Listen to a few tunes by the Self Righteous Brothers (one of which is a Beatles cover) at their Myspace page.  Er, read about wedding arrangements in, uh, Japanese at their website?

Despite a few hiccups, this is a decent pop rock record that has a few good songs on it.  Most of the weirdness is contained on the album cover as the Self Righteous Brothers prefer to be easier listening than those bizarre ghost masks may infer.   With the limited amount of information on the internet about these guys (and not the Australians by the same moniker) it appears that this was the group’s one and only album.  Perhaps their confusion about what they really wanted to sound like did them in, or perhaps it was just time to move onto more focused projects.  Like running away from that juiced up, yellow ghostivore!  Gahhh!!