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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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Cradle of Smurf – S/T

February 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Tes Fesses Records, 2007

Well, of course I am picking up an album by a band named Cradle of Smurf.  But the group also helps with that long time hipster difficulty of taste entrapment.  Ever been asked “Hey, do you like Cradle of Filth?”.  It’s a tough question.  If you say that yes, you do like the symphonic death metal band you know you’re going to get sucker punched with “Oh really?  What is your favorite album by them?”  Trapped!  However, if you say no, then the Cradle of Filth fan scoffs at you and says “Of course, you look too wussy to like symphonic death metal.”  Trapped again!  But now you have an out.  If someone asks you if you like Cradle of Filth all you need to do is look knowingly distracted and say “Mmmm, they’re not as good as Cradle of Smurf.”  Not only do you flout the question asked of you, but you now put the other person on the defensive because they have no idea who Cradle of Smurf is!  OH YEAH!  Hipster high five!  Just hope that this Cradle of Filth fan doesn’t read this review, otherwise you may get slapped by a spiked glove because the jig will be up.

The maelstrom of colors and shapes that highlight the album’s cover is not a bad representation of the electronic music Cradle of Smurf composes.  The French duo (one of whom consists of Julie Normal if my research serves me right) deliver mostly poppy electronic songs with quite a few instances of noise and bleeps.  If you listen to these songs repeatedly to let them soak in, those sudden bursts of static nonsense fit in nicely with the flow of the tune.  For instance, “Akai to Aoi” is an upbeat track that begins the album but one can immediately hear the screeching pops that are thrown in periodically.  It doesn’t matter, as they mostly add texture to a song that might sound too bland on its own.  Normal’s voice sort of drones on amidst the light beats, but it’s mainly used as an excuse for lyrics more than a critical part of the song.

While I’m on the topic, if you prefer singing with your electronic music, you can forget it with Cradles of Smurf.  Most songs have no lyrics of any kind, but when there are vocals one almost wishes they just stuck to instrumentals.  For instance, on the group’s cover of Beat Happening’s “Look Around” Normal’s vocals are hard to hear because they are mumbled and wispy.  That may not be such a bad thing to some ears, for it’s not like Calvin Johnson was any kind of Pavarotti.  Thankfully the keyboards keep the song true to form, which also makes it clear that the band probably prefers to stick to its strengths.  Melodically fuzzy songs like “La Mort Du Pape” and lo-fi dance anthems like “Bachir” show that no matter what Cradle of Smurf try, their keyboard skills can craft some pretty good songs.

Just as I was to write this album off as just another experimental electronic record by a French duo (such a long list, monsieur!) out pops “Tokyo Song”.  Man, this tune has got the ability to get the indie dance floor packed!  It’s got a general dance beat and light intro, but then the keyboard that sounds like that Japanese stringed instrument sound (think samurai movie) weaves effortlessly into the tempo.  Finally, a sensitive tone sparsely adds to the composition yet makes it complete.  Of course, the end of the song devolves into a confusion of noises, but the impression was very strong.  Easily the best song on the record for me.

Cradle of Smurf have quite a few songs that aren’t on this album on MySpace, but maybe the recorded live experience (Youtube) is more for you.  Even this guy recommends you bring your goat to the dance floor.

If I am reading Julie Normal’s discography correctly, there were only 500 copies made of this Cradle of Smurf disc.  Am I a lucky man?  I suppose so, especially thanks to that “Tokyo Song”.  However, it’s going to be tough for other people to find this disc kicking around a dollar bin, so maybe it’s the mp3 route you need to go.  It certainly won’t likely be the live show route, for it seems that this side project ended around 2008.  Although Cradle of Smurf may be finished, they still provide hot argument material in the long running Cradle of Filth versus Cradle of Smurf debate!

Boards of Canada – Geogaddi

July 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Warp Records, 2002

Rarely does one scope around a bin of cheap CDs and find one that is actually on one’s want list.  Boards of Canada’s “Geogaddi” had been a target of mine ever since it had been named one of the better CDs of the last decade.  I had read articles referencing it and heard a few people speaking high praise for it.  There was no way it was going to sit there collecting dust.

Boards of Canada are a Scottish duo with guys named Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin.  They’ve only put out three full records, including this one, but their adeptness at sweeping, soothing compositions is quite impressive.  “Geogaddi”, when listened from beginning to end, might send you into a state of rolling your eyes into your head.  Disclaimer:  If you listen to this record based on my review, I am in no way responsible for if your eyes do not roll back to their usual forward position.  Instead, please accept my apologies for the likelihood that you now resemble a zombie.

The record consists of the interweaving of transitional tracks (a minute or so) and longer players.  Most of the shorter tunes are curious blips, though the pretty tones used in “Dandelion” and “In the Annexe” could have used a few more minutes.  Given that a few of the lengthier tracks have no problem with being repetitive, it’s curious as to the reasons why the duo cut these two tracks short.  Maybe I’ll have to go read around somewhere.  I did have to go look up the situation with “Magic Window” and its nearly two minutes of silence.  Was this a message from the band that the best calming sound is silence?  Or is there an importance to the album run time of 1:05:54?  Ah, who knows.  I’m just a writer.

I am glad that when Boards of Canada go long, they go for about four minutes or more.  “Alpha and Omega” uses the same notes progression for most of its seven minutes, but the infusing of dark static, vocal utterances, and fades makes the whole thing a mesmerizing experience.  One could very easily put one’s head back in a chair and phaaaase ooooutt.  “Sunshine Recorder” sounds like something Rjd2 might appreciate due its introduction that includes a sort of smeared electronic note and an active drum beat.  Like “Alpha and Omega”, it is a fine tune to listen to when calming down is necessary.  A song that feels like it is twice its three minute length, “Corsair” just makes one feel lobotomized.  It’s just so serene.

After listening to the whole disc a few times, my favorite track is one of the earliest.  “Music is Math” is not only a true statement in my mind, but it also epitomizes the beauty that Boards of Canada are capable of constructing.  The light, warm tones float above each other while an unobtrusive back beat provides harder texture just works so well.  Regardless of what I think about the rest of the album’s enjoyment level, this song makes it all worth it for me.

Boards of Canada have the requisite website to seek various information, but I recommend the group’s Youtube channel for listening.

As time has gone on, I have grown a deeper appreciation for electronic music.  The boom and crash that is rock n roll is still a great thing to have at the ready, but sometimes one just needs to concentrate or cut back on the distraction of vocals.  Boards of Canada excel in this type of electronica and will always be worth listening to when they put out new material.  The duo’s last record, “The Campfire Headphase”, came out in 2005 and though six years is about the maximum line where a band is either about to put out a new one, I’m worried.  The News section of their website hasn’t been updated since 2006!  Uh oh.

It’s possible that Sandison and Eoin are working on side projects, family, etc.  Until an official announcement of the band’s existence comes out, people should go out and listen to some Boards of Canada.

Various Artists – Crydamoure Presents “Waves”

March 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Crydamoure Records, 2001

Featuring a picturesque cover of a location I would consider giving nearly anything to transport to right now, this compilation looked promising in a few ways.  The track list of the album made it apparent that this was going to be a dance CD of some sort.  With songs like “Intergalactik Disko”, “Boogie Shell” and … “Santa Claus”, well, it looked to be a rousing time.  There’s also a track called “T.I.T.T.S”.  If it was a song about The International Taste-testers of Taco Salads I couldn’t pass it up.  I love taco salad.

Cryadamoure are actually a duo from France who create house music to please the French masses.  Figuring that they might as well assist others who create similar music, they started the Crydamoure record label and put out this compilation of artists.  Since this is house music, many of the songs stick to one loop and repeat it with slight variations.  For many songs this style makes little impression, like on “Lovers” (sorry Raw-Man), “Intergalactik Disko”, and “Coral Twist”.  I could see these tunes being much more interesting if one was actually at a dance club and experiencing some other sensory influence (glug glug glug), but as is these aren’t anything spectacular.

“Hysteria” by Le Knight Club had some serious potential when it began with its hook, but it never brought it to the next level.  When a song gives a hint as to what is in store, one usually feels that it’s only a matter of time before more beats, drums, sound, etc get introduced to pour it on.  “Hysteria” never gets there, and the sad sound effects of artificial cheering from an audience makes it more apparent of its lack of success.

It takes nearly half of the compilation to pass on before the songs get more interesting.  Le Knight Club make up for their “Hysteria” let down by composing “Cherie D’Amoure”.  Even though it is considered a bonus track (inferior?), it is a strong tune for me due to its somber tone.  Not every dance track needs to be in your face and loud about it, which makes “Cherie D’Amoure” and its ability to quietly get the foot motivation going appealing.

It seems that once “Cherie” is finished, the compilation finally gets into gear.  “Wrath of Zeus” by the Eternals, “The Turkish Avenger” by Sedat, and even “Santa Claus” by Le Knight Club make up a couple of the dance songs that stood out to me.  Again, despite the repetitiveness the songs had a hook that could sound excellent if blasted into your ears while you’re surrounded by a swath of multi-colored lights and grinding people.  “Boogie Shell” reminds me of a traditional pulsing dance tune while the final track of “Holiday On Ice” has hints of Daft Punk in its inverted sound effects that seem to poke at the listener.

Listen to a few house tunes on the label’s MySpace page.

I was ready to write this compilation off for some of its earlier tracks, but the music that showed up in the second half convinced me that this isn’t so bad.  All songs have constant repetition, but there are certainly better tracks than others depending on how the hooks are constructed and varied over time.  Even though I don’t listen to much house music, I have to say that writing this review was easy given the motivational background music.  Picking up further house compilations, whether they are from Crydamoure or not, is likely a real gamble when it comes to discovering effectively enjoyable songs.  However, if one can find some affordable music to keep the body moving, no matter what the genre, then it is a success.

Future Bible Heroes – I’m Lonely EP

December 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Merge Records, 2000

Haha, now this is easy!  Folks, what I have not told you and what you are very imminently about to find out is that I am a full-fledged Stephin Merritt fan.  I’m not sure when I fell into the lull of the Magnetic Fields, but everything they have put out has been keenly listened to by yours truly.  In fact, pretty much anything with Stephin Merritt’s name on it I make an effort to seek out and certainly listen to with enthusiasm.  This includes all of Merritt’s side projects like the 6ths, the Gothic Archies, and the Future Bible Heroes.  Lo and behold, this little EP was tossed casually in a dim, cheap location and I could not help but acquire it.

Registering just under twenty minutes for five tracks, this record continues the veiled melancholic style that Merritt likes to employ with all of his groups.  The Future Bible Heroes usually has a more electronic, busy sound than the Magnetic Fields, so it is no surprise that the title track is soaked with synthesizer beats and hurried pace.  It’s somewhat difficult to pick out all of the various parts and bits that this song is consisted of, but like “Blond Adonis” on a previous record, these Future Bible Heroes songs tend to be so excitable that they could be mistaken for a lower key club tune.  Well, I’d be dancing.  Merritt’s voice, which is one of the deeper ones in popular music, flows easily without concern throughout the song as if he really is quite fine with being alone.

The other songs on the EP continue the saturation of synth, with “Blue Hawaii” continuing the speediness that “I’m Lonely” started and “Cafe Hong Kong” starkly plodding along to Claudia Gonson’s cool vocals.  “Good Thing I Don’t Have Any Feelings”, which sounds as depressing as one might think, features Merritt at his deepest while he numbly tells off whoever it is that he’s impervious to the emotional assault of a break up.  Finally, a remix of “Hopeless” from their first record sends the listener off to a poppy happiness amidst the lyrics of despair.  Songs sound happy, lyrics are depressing as hell … this is great stuff, people!

I can’t necessarily recommend this as a must grab for dollar bin divers for it only has four original tracks and a remix.  However, none of these four tunes show up on the Future Bible Heroes’ follow up full length record “Eternal Youth”, so if you’re already a Merritt fan then perhaps this is worth a little bit to get.  If these songs don’t do it for you at all, well, I’m shocked perhaps you might like some of Merritt’s other acts.  For a group that doesn’t make a direct effort to make you feel one way or another, the Future Bible Heroes are worth a listen for those who like pop but feel that they’ve heard it all before.  Now if we could just get another 6ths album sometime soon …