30 April 2011

M83 - Before the Dawn Heals Us (2005)

From allmusic (3.5/5):

"Before the Dawn Heals Us
is M83's follow-up to the 2003 international breakthrough Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts. If you're noticing a trend toward drifting album titles, that's deliberate -- M83 mastermind Anthony Gonzalez loves crafting antigravity masterpieces of layered and meandering synthesizers. He's also the principal player on Dawn, with previous collaborator Nicolas Fromageau having moved into solo work. Left to his own devices, Gonzalez has made a more cohesive record than Dead Cities. As nice as they were, that album's synthesized soundscapes tended to drift into a foggy territory between Boards of Canada and Tangerine Dream. Dawn remedies that with the addition of vocals, more consistent beats, and a cinematic pace. "Teen Angst" and "Don't Save Us From the Flames" pin gorgeous melodies to an indie electronic sound comparable to the Notwist; "Flames" in particular is a great departure, roaring out of the gate with giddy drum fills and an oscillating keyboard squiggle. "Farewell/Goodbye" is an icy, Air-ish duet between Ben of Cyann & Ben and Big Sir vocalist Lisa Papineau; it's not the most effective thing on Before the Dawn Heals Us, but it works as a love theme to the imaginary Michael Mann film Gonzalez seems at times to be directing. (Check out that cover art.) The album also has its stretches of instrumental wander. "I Guess I'm Floating," for example, features a scattered sample of children's laughter over lingering keyboard flourishes. But Gonzalez never gets carried away on the breeze -- he'll set a mood, but he'll cut it wide open, too. "Let Men Burn Stars" is a breathy and innocuous lull before the recording's most intense passage, "Car Chase Terror." "Look at my hands, I'm shaking...." a woman (actress Kate Moran) says over the hiss of crickets, her words tense with fear. A moody electronic pulse fades in, and suddenly you're in the midst of the chase, narrated by the same scared voice -- "Turn the key! Go! Go!" -- and the melody is melodramatic and terrifying all at once. Before the Dawn Heals Us is ambitious for sure, an emphatic step forward from the linger of Dead Cities. But it might also be a transition album for Gonzalez, a storyboard of where he'll take M83 next."

Get it here.

24 April 2011

Portishead - Roseland NYC Live (1998)

From allmusic (3/5):

"By the end of the '90s, artists realized that CD and CD-R bootlegs of live performances were in high demand, which meant that they could profit by officially releasing certain "special" live performances. Portishead's one-night stand at New York City's Roseland Ballroom, released as PNYC, certainly qualifies as one of those "special" occasions. Performing with a 35-piece orchestra, Portishead runs through selections from its two albums, favoring its second slightly. On the surface, it doesn't seem like the orchestra would add much to the performances, especially since the arrangements remain similar, but its presence makes the music tense, dramatic, and breathtaking. This is especially true of the material from Portishead. On album, several of these songs sounded a little flat, but here they soar right alongside such staples as "Mysterons," "Sour Times," and "Glory Box." That alone doesn't necessarily make PNYC revelatory -- instead, it deepens a listener's understanding of the artist, much like the Tindersticks' The Bloomsbury Theatre. Which means, of course, that PNYC is much more compelling and essential than the average live album."

Get it here.

20 April 2011

Kyuss - Blues for the Red Sun - (1992)

In honor of 4/20.

From allmusic (4.5/5):

"With Josh Homme's guitar tuned down two whole steps to C, and plugged into a bass amp for maximum distortion, stoner metal pioneers Kyuss achieve a major milestone in heavy music with their second album, 1992's Blues for the Red Sun. Producer Chris Goss masterfully captures the band's unique heavy/light formula, which becomes apparent as soon as the gentle but sinister intro melody gives way to the chugging main riff in the opener, "Thumb." This segues immediately into the galloping "Green Machine," which pummels forward inexorably and even features that rarest rock & roll moment: a bass solo. "Thong Song" alternates rumbling guitar explosions with almost complete silence, and "Mondo Generator" plays like an extended acid trip. The slow build of the epic "Freedom Run" and the driving "Allen's Wrench" are also highlights, and though the album is heavy on instrumentals, these actually provide a seamless transition from song to song."

Get it here.

15 April 2011

Happy Mondays - Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches (1990)

From allmusic (5/5):

"At their peak, the Happy Mondays were hedonism in perpetual motion, a party with no beginning and no end, a party where Pills 'N' Thrills and Bellyaches was continually pumping. The apex of their career (and quite arguably the whole baggy/Madchester movement), Pills 'N' Thrills and Bellyaches pulsates with a garish neon energy, with psychedelic grooves, borrowed hooks, and veiled threats piling upon each other with the logic of a drunken car wreck. As with Bummed, a switch in producers re-focuses and redefines the Mondays, as Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne replace the brittle, assaultive Martin Hannett production with something softer and expansive that is truly dance-club music instead of merely suggestive of it. Where the Stone Roses were proudly pop classicists, styling themselves after the bright pop art of the '60s, the Mondays were aggressively modern, pushing pop into the ecstasy age by leaning hard on hip-hop, substituting outright thievery for sampling. Although it's unrecognizable in sound and attitude, "Step On," the big hit from Pills, is a de facto cover of John Kongos' "He's Gonna Step on You Again," LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade" provides the skeleton for "Kinky Afro," but these are the cuts that call attention to themselves; the rest of the record is draped in hooks and sounds from hits of the past, junk culture references, and passing puns, all set to a kaleidoscopic house beat. Oakenfold and Osborne may be responsible for the sound of Pills 'N' Thrills and Bellyaches, certainly more than the band, which almost seems incidental to this meticulously arranged album, but Shaun Ryder is the heart and soul of the album, the one that keeps the Mondays a dirty, filthy rock & roll outfit. Lifting melodies at will, Ryder twists the past to serve his purpose, gleefully diving into the gutter with stories of cheap drugs and threesomes, convinced that god made it easy on him, and blessed with that knowledge, happy to traumatize his girlfriend's kid by telling them that he only went with his mother cause she was dirty. He's a thug and something of a poet, creating a celebratory collage of sex, drugs, and dead-end jobs where there's no despair because only a sucker could think that this party would ever come to an end."

Get it here.

01 April 2011

The Gun Club - Fire of Love (1981)

From allmusic (4.5/5):

"The Gun Club
's debut is the watermark for all post-punk roots music. This features the late Jeffrey Lee Pierce's swamped-out brand of roiling rock, swaggerific hell-bound blues, and gothic country. With Pierce's wailing high lonesome slide guitar twinned with Ward Dotson's spine-shaking riffs and the solid yet off-the-rails rhythm section of bassist Rob Ritter and drummer Terry Graham, the Gun Club burst out of L.A. in the early '80s with a bone to pick and a mountain to move -- and they accomplished both on their debut album. With awesome, stripped to the frame production by the Flesh Eaters' Chris D., Fire of Love blew away all expectations -- and with good reason. Nobody has heard music like this before or since. Pierce's songs were rooted in his land of Texas. On "Sex Beat," a razor-sharp country one-two shuffle becomes a howling wind as Pierce's wasted, half-sung half-howled vocals relate a tale of voodoo, sex, dope, and death. The song choogles like a freight train coming undone in a twister. Here Black Flag, the Sex Pistols, Son House, and the coughing, hacking rambling ghost of Hank Williams all converge in a reckless mass of seething energy and nearly evil intent. As if the opener weren't enough of a jolt, the Gun Club follow this with a careening version of House's "Preachin the Blues," full of staccato phrasing and blazing slide. But it isn't until the anthemic, opiate-addled country of "She's Like Heroin to Me" and the truly frightening punk-blues of "Ghost on the Highway" that the listener comes to grip with the awesome terror that is the Gun Club. The songs become rock & roll ciphers, erasing themselves as soon as they speak, heading off into the whirlwind of a storm that is so big, so black, and so awful one cannot meditate on anything but its power. Fire of Love may be just what the doctor ordered, but to cure or kill is anybody's guess."

Get it here.