Adventures of a University Finalist

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Gates of Troy


The Monkees - Apples, Peaches, Bananas and Pears
Squeeze - Piccadilly
The Undertones - Valentine's Treatment
The Jam - Billy Hunt (Alt. Version)
Jellyfish - Russian Hill

So finally we reach the climax of the Uni Finalist 1st Anniversary competition. Dick has been grooving to his specially formulated compilation for a couple of months now but I had until now failed on my promise to pay tribute to the bands that he cited as the greatest to appear on these fable pages on interwebness.
As usual, the obvious song choices have been summarily dismissed replaced by a forgotten pop classic, a light hearted tableau of city life, a gritty soul stomper, a critique on the emergence of self congratulatory yob culture, and a tidy Fab Four pastiche. Not exactly as snappy as the Seven Dwarves' names but I believe that those descriptions will suffice for now.
The Monkees, of course, are often regarded as a joke; an unfortunate sidenote to the advent of pop culture in the 60s with their ultra-popular television show seeking to build upon, and ultimately exploit, the formula created by Richard Lester in 'A Hard Day's Night' and 'Help!' Such accusations are often married with idle reminders of the prescence of session muscicans on all of their pre-Headquarters albums (the fact that such logic somehow doesn't apply to 'Aja' or 'Pet Sounds' is beyond me). To give in to such useless drivel is to forget that The Monkees not only wrote and performed many songs in the pantheon of pop but could also to afford to have off cuts as infectious as 'Apples, Peaches, Bananas and Pears'. They had so many string to their bow that they could match Glen Campbell, The Left Banke and Love in their respective genres.
Squeeze too are often forgotten as the musical shape shifters they were in favour of the general tag of 'kitchen sink drama'. The fact that the label hasn't been bandied around since shows how unique Squeeze were but that's forgetting the point. 'Piccadilly' taken off their classic Elvis Costello produced album 'East Side Story' begins with Paul 'Don't Shoot Me, I'm Not the Worst Thing About Mike & Mechanics' Carrack's exultant piano playing pinning down its playfully up tempo melody. Glen Tillbrook's lyric has to be one of his best mixing rapid fire social observations with a sense of humour as dark as high street caff espresso. "A man behind me talks to his young lady/He's happy that she is expecting his baby/His wife won't be pleased but she's not been round lately"
The Undertones and The Jam were both misfits of the punk scene. The 'Tones subverted negatism and situationist doctrine for songs about choclate and girls whilst Paul Weller's heavy political rhetoric was disrupted by accusations of being a revivalist and a Tory Boy. The Ulster quintet are captured here at the end of their fertile creative relationship with 'Valentine's Treatment' taken from the Stax flavoured ''The Sin of Pride' album. However, having mentioned the great soul label, this particular track has more in common with the art rock soundscapes of The Associates and Scritti Politti. The guitar line shimmers, the synths build, the backing vocals evoke the synonymous 'Lexicon of Love', and Feargal flexes and trills his vocal chops. The chorus change with the O'Neills attempting to hijack the song forcing it into something altogether tighter is really quite exhilirating. The version of 'Billy Hunt' is altogether muddier with the guitar part more studied, the bass more prominent (for me Foxton's basslines are the keystone to all of the Jam's more hardline musical arrangements) but that non-existent rhyming couplet still hangs there elliptically grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
I refer to Jellyfish's 'Russian Hill' as a Beatles pastiche but, as all Jellyfish fans know, the band only had one real hero and Macca bleeds through here as strong as always. The driving element of a regular acoustic strum, gorgeously understated slide guitar, organ washes that sound like angelic air brakes - it's all 'Fool on the Hill' until 'Spilt Milk's experimental nous takes hold of the reins and the Ron Burgundy jazz flute looks to flesh out the arrangement. A populist construction turned on its head by an abstract vision: something that all of these bands have shown from the bridge of 'Smithers Jones' to the entirety of 'Head'. Good choices.

Buy - Jellyfish - Spilt Milk
Buy - The Monkees - Missing Links Vol.1
Buy - Squeeze - East Side Story
Buy - The Jam - Direction Reaction Creation
Buy - The Undertones - The Sin of Pride

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Night Owl is the Right Owl


Owsley - Owsley (Giant Records, 1999)

Owsley - Oh No the Radio
Owsley - Zavelow House
Owsley - The Sky is Falling
Owsley - Uncle John's Farm

Here is a simple equation: a Grammy winner + lascivious pop hooks + silibant sunshine choruses + crunching power chords + crunching 4/4 drums = a fascination with the fairer sex = Owsley. So why have you never heard of him before? I can't answer that question other than to state that I got very lucky one day when flicking through AMG recommendations.
Before I went AWOL for a month, some form of discourse was developing on this site as to the quality of music broadcast through this raggy old fish n' chip newspaper of a messenger. This seems to has dried up other than some nice welcome back messages so to kick in all back into gear I propose that people enter an ad hoc competition based around these songs.
So all you have to do is state is which of the chosen selection is your favourite and why without any citation of potential influences. I want some fluent prose please, people. The winner gets a one of a kind, double CD Power Pop compilation.

Next time: A post on all 5 of Dick's Picks from the last competition. Might as well catch up finally whilst I still have the mental faculties.

Buy - Owsley - Owsley

Friday, January 13, 2006

Brand New White Mustang


Bruce Springsteen - Tunnel of Love (Columbia, 1987)

Bruce Springsteen - Walk Like A Man
Bruce Springsteen - Brilliant Disguise

If one were to break down the Boss's 80s output it is disparate to say the least: 'The River' represents his over expansive flirtation with gritty rock n' roll; 'Nebraska' established his credentials as the godfather of lo fi; 'Born in the USA' was the multi platinum monster; and 'Tunnel of Love'... it's his best. "His best?!", you holler. The first since his debut without the legendary E Street Band? The downbeat paean to the perils of domestic strife? The one that flits between accapella and synth overkill?
Well, firstly, the album's only weakpoint is the title track that tries to incorporate a fairground atmosphere into the production when a sparser arrangement would have suited as a perfect counterbalance to the cynical lyrical undertow. That's a fantastic strike rate considering the collective strength of the eleven other tracks present especially the likes of 'Tougher Than the Rest', 'Valentine's Day', 'Cautious Man' and, arguably his finest single, 'Brilliant Disguise' which perfectly incorporates all of the album's aesthetic charms and strength. The snare snaps in a syncopated pattern, an acoustic is buried under calypso cicada clicks and whistles, country guitar licks reinforce the anthemic chorus, and an electric piano ties down the high end. Meanwhile, the lyric borrows beautifully from influences ranging from Fitzgerald's 'Tender is the Night' to Lou Christie's 'The Gypsy Cried' as accusations of a partner's underlying motives become questions of one's own values and commitment. . "God have mercy on the man/Who doubts what he's sure of"
' The River' is often found wanting due to its inability to establish a satisfactory rhythm. Moods ebb and flow with brainless filler often undercutting a more profound reach. 'Nebraska' despite its critical acclaim, wide reaching influence, and its status as my first purchase by New Jersey's finest still has a tendency to leave me cold. I'd love to be able to explain why but I myself am unsure as to the reasons behind this particular opinion. Perhaps it is a feeling that the work is richly veined by a disappointing pessimism that never pushes beyond self-pity resulting in a cookie cutter mix of imagery and frugal instrumental ambition. 'Highway Patrolman' is still my favourite Springsteen song though with its tale of conflict between two brothers on either side of the Crime and Punishment dialectic. 'Born in the USA' too often is tarred by the Brian De Palma technicolour brush with 'Glory Days' representing Springsteen at his most cloying with its stereotypical blue collarisms becoming slowly irrelevant. The title track is the most famous example of the album's inconsistencies with its perfectly honed anti-Vietnam diatribe becoming drowned by its overproduced stadium shout (the Boss's solo slide guitar version of the song is phenomenal). 'Tunnel of Love' could perhaps be said to be dated by its distinctive production that features synths and a frequent insistence on echo but that doesn't smother what is a truly brilliant meditation on the nature of man and that ultimate enigma: love.

Buy - Bruce Springsteen - Tunnel of Love

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Spiral Stairs' Bluegrass Boogie


Pavement - Spit on a Stranger
Nickel Creek - Spit on a Stranger

It begins with a bang. A half second snippet of stoner rock - perhaps the long forgotten hybrid of 'Silver Machine' and 'Immigrant Song' for which Don Quixote and his faithful steed Rochinate searched so long. This, however, quickly dissipates replaced by a small baby gurgling 'Selling England By the Pound' and clean unobtrusive arpeggios. It is the sound of the Big Bang. It is the sound of stars collapsing into blissful entropy. It is the sound of space curling up the folds of her summer dress and dancing over the universe's edge. It is Pavement's bugle call before stepping on a rainbow to the heavens above.
Of course, due to it being Pavement who are writing their eulogy before the HMS Wowee sinks beneath the liquorice waves, 'Terror Twilight', their final album (from which 'Spit on a Stranger' is the opening track) was everything that the band had never been before: clean, precise, docile, populist. In other words, it was a sound of a group reaching a plateau and bailing out before they had a case of the Sugarloaf Mountains on their hands. 'Spit on a Stranger' is a rare entity in the lexicon of Malkmus & Co in that it's a simple unadulterated pop song. The band had created such a beast on their previous efforts in the shape of 'Shady Lanes'. Other tracks off the album such as the beautiful 'Major Leagues' and whimsical nonsense of 'Carrot Rope' amount to efforts as to the same objective. However, "Honey, I'm a prize/You're a catch/We're a perfect match/We're a perfect match/Like two bitter strangers" creates such a perfect brew of apples n' pears joy and blatant romantic nihilism accompanied by the rhythm section's laconic anti-harmonies that this song has always been a favourite.
This particular reputation is greatly enhanced by bluegrass trio Nickel Creek's take on the song from their 2002 cut 'This Side'. The threesome of Chris Thile, Sara and Sean Watkins drop the Steppenwolf feint and kick straight into the first verse with a soulful chicken fried snake of a lead vocal and a staccato mandolin chord burst. A steel acoustic fleshes out the mandolin as it flits across the song's chord progression and by the song's end this is joined by what can only be a heavily distorted fiddle which almost pushes the song into flux. The harmonies too are no longer fuelled by cheap Belgian lager but rather sour mash; from a slur to an outrageous purr. By the time everything's coloured acapella the breath is well and truly stolen from you and fed to the birds. I'd just love to see what they would do with the willfully heretical 'Folk Jam'.

Buy - Nickel Creek - This Side
Buy - Pavement - Terror Twilight

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Satan Is My Master (Sunrise)


AM/FM - When I Died In Sebastopol
Jose Gonzalez - Lovestain
Cee-Lo - All Day Love Affair
Chris Bell - Country Mom (Demo)

Oh dear. As soon as I promise a new period of creative expediency and I get struck down by a reoccurence of glandular fever - a plague that has affected me since an ill advised pursuit of leisure with a Christian at a First Year University Discotheque. By some freak of nature, I became the vessel for her multitude of sins (with the coveting and all) and since then this particular pox never seems to leave for long - placing razorblades in my throat, aches in my limbs and a strange desire to read trashy novels. Thus, my so-called comeback has been delayed by a few days. My apologies for this.
However, this small selection should go someway to sating prospective appetites with its usual shape of obscure album tracks, mixed genres, and unpopular acts all tied up by extraneous categorisation. In this Northern Hemisphere winter chill I thought that I'd be antipodean in my weather concerns and frame my selection around the god Helios and his pet Sun. The Chris Bell number is a clear prototype to Big Star's mercurial 'Watch the Sunrise', Cee-Lo is so happy that you can hear the starlings chirping around his earlobes, JGs is the only track on his brilliant new album to have the 'Finalist' No. 1 song ingredient of handclaps, and AM/FM have to be heard to be believed. Their non-instrumental tracks can often be marred by weak vocals; not a real plus when you're an acoustic folk duo dependent on the success of your harmonies. The Gonzalez AKA Bravia Boy track may seem a little too dark for the purposes of this exercise with its acoustic thrum reverberating with tinny bass tones. However, with 'Country Mom' covering the sunrise one feels that it would be unfair to not give sunset a shout in the beauty stakes; the shadow resting on the sun's golden throne.

PS: De-Fish - Sorry to upset you. Will you send you a complimetary set of travel tissues to dry your man sized tears. Oh so salty.

Buy - Jose Gonzales - Veneer
Buy - Cee-Lo Green - a Soul Machine
Buy - AM/FM - Mutilate Us

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Recommencement of Normal Broadcasting Hours Will Resume Soon

Three posts in two months - what a load of old bollocks, eh? My irregular hours brought about by the Christmas period, working a plebs life in a book shop, family visits and ill health. However, my sister is now sadly leaving to return to Australia, the book shop has been replaced by a regular 9-5 slot at a law firm, my wireless connection has been repaired (by the aforementioned sibling), and £75s worth of HMV vouchers should enable a steady supply of new music. The comeback post should come on the 3rd and hopefully steady service will resume. I do realise that such nonsense has been promised before so we'll have to see. Merry Christmas to you all and Happy New Year too.

PS I sure as hell ain't getting off this crazy music blog ride just yet.