Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Camera Obscura - "Let's Get Out of This Country" (LP Review)

"Let's Get Out of This Country", the 2006 LP by Camera Obscura, reaches the potential hinted at by their first two LPs: 2001's "Biggest Bluest Hi Fi" and 2003's "Underachievers Please Try Harder". Those were good, solid LPs that featured a handful of good songs. However, it all comes together for the band in LGOOTC: the production, the song writing & variety, the lyrics and the singing -- just the right combination of cleverness, earnestness, maturity, and detachment. An indie pop masterpiece.

The ease in which the band executes different styles is one of the features that separates this record from their others. Aside from the perfected indie pop sound, they also nail a smoky, downbeat country song ("Dory Previn"), a waltz ("The False Contender") and punk ("If Looks Could Kill"). The songs are slow ("Country Mile"), "vast" ("Razzle Dazzle Rose"), up-tempo ("Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken") and mid-tempo ("Come Back Margaret") and everything in between.

As many people have now read, "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken" is an "answer" to Lloyd Cole and the Commotions' 1984 single "Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?" from the LP "Rattlesnakes" -- "Hey Lloyd, I'm ready to be hearbroken / 'cause I can't see further than my own nose at this moment". That's a pretty obscure pull and you have to respect that. Ditto the homage to Dory Previn with the lyrics: "How I adore you Dory Previn / I turned you up to eleven for the band’s ears to bleed".

The weakest song is "I Need All the Friends I Can Get". It's not really a bad song, but it also suffers from placement immediately after the "If Looks Could Kill", which is easily my favorite song. Sometimes I'll skip the preceding song, "Country Mile", just to hurry up and get to "If Looks Could Kill".

Although it is a band effort, the star of the show is definitely the dour, never-smiling Tracyanne Campell. She writes all the songs, sings and is one of the two guitarists. Producer Jari Haapalainen does a great job of capturing the band's lush yet lo-fi sound, but especially so in capturing the tension of vulnerability and strength in Campell's voice. You owe it to yourself to give this LP a listen.

Standout tracks: "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken", "Tears for Affairs", "Come Back Margaret", "Dory Previn", "Let's Get Out of This Country", "If Looks Could Kill".

Skip 'em tracks: none.

Final Score: 10/10.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Donnie Iris - "Ah! Leah!" (Forgotten Song)

You've probably heard this song a long time ago, but might not have known what they were singing. Well, in the chorus they're singing "Ah! Leah!" -- apparently chosen because it sounded good, then they realized it was a woman's name.

This was the single from the 1980 Donnie Iris LP "Back on the Streets". It is tempting to call Donnie Iris a one hit wonder, but he actually had a hit after this (1981's "Love is Like a Rock") as well a hit in 1970, "The Rapper", with The Jaggerz. Not good stuff in my book, but technically it's more than one hit.

This is a definite guilty pleasure. Sure, it's a slightly silly song, but it's got a strong hook, power chords and a good solo, so what more could you want? I remember it getting a modicum of radio airplay in early 80s. But the video... geez. It did receive a bit of early MTV play as I recall, but not much. Although I'm linking the video below, I highly encourage you not to view it. It's bad. Really bad. So very bad, it will ruin the song for you (see also: James' "Say Something" video). I've made fun of Jan Hammer in his video before, but Donnie's earnest "Buddy Holly meets your Dad's friends" look is excruciating.

I blame the video for bumping this song off the classic rock radio play list.

YouTube (don't do it!).

1981 Live version on YouTube (not much better!).

(a PBS station!) version (surprisingly good); I think this is from the show "Live From Studio A".



Saturday, July 25, 2009

Those Dancing Days - "Those Dancing Days" (LP Review)

"Those Dancing Days" is the initial 5 song EP from the Swedish, female band "Those Dancing Days". Infectious pop exports from Sweden? No, it doesn't sound like them.

TDD make fun, fluffy pop songs -- nothing more, nothing less. "Hitten" is a good song, but "Those Dancing Days" is the best of the bunch with a strong hook and interesting drumming. On most songs Cissi Edraimsson, the drummer, seems like she's holding the rest of the band back, but her fills work on this song. "1000 Words" and "Dischoe" are decent songs, with only "Tasty Boy" worth skipping.

The EP was initially released on V2 Music, but the band has since been picked up by Wichita Recordings. Wichita must have thought "Hitten" & "Those Dancing Days" were the best songs as well since those are the only two that made it to their 2008 debut LP "In Our Space Hero Suits". Ultimately this is a cute, but not essential, EP.

Standout Tracks: "Hitten", "Those Dancing Days".

Skip 'em Tracks: "Tasty Boy".

Final Score: 6/10.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Lukid - "Foma" (LP Review)

Earlier this year I reviewed Lukid's first LP, "Onandon". I was especially impressed with the depth, variety, sophistication and restraint Lukid (real name: Luke Blair) showed in his music. Not long after that review, I got a copy of his second LP, 2009's "Foma" (also released on Werk Discs like the first LP). I've been putting off reviewing "Foma" because I was trying to absorb everything it presents. Most LPs I review here are with the benefit of repeated listens and reflection (read: the reviews are "less than timely"). And while Danette has accused me of handing out too many "10/10" scores, I don't see how I can give this less than a perfect score -- I can't find a single fault with the entire LP.

This is more than just yet another electronica record. There are quiet, subtle songs ("Ice Nine", "Raise High the Roof Beam", "Foma"), smooth grooves ("Veto", "Ski Fly", "Slow Hand Slap", "Time Doing So Mean"), thick base lines ("Saddlebags", "Fall Apart") and dubstep ("Chord"). There's even a prog rock homage: "Laughin". Ok, maybe "Laughin" should be labeled post rock, but whatever -- it's excellent. It's always unfair to compare artists, but I'd triangulate Lukid somewhere between Plastikman, RJD2, and Fatboy Slim.

This is an LP that you can really listen to & study, and it's also something you can just put in the background and enjoy the beats. It rewards your attention, but does not demand it.

Standout Tracks: They're all good, but you must listen to: "Fall Apart", "Veto", "Slow Hand Slap", "Laughin", "Foma"

Skip 'em Tracks: None.

Final Score: 10/10.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Nick Lowe - "Cruel to be Kind" (forgotten song)

There are some songs that I can listen to over and over again and they're just as fresh as the first time I heard them. Nick Lowe's "Cruel to be Kind" is such a song. Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl" is also such a song, but I'm pretty certain it does not qualify as a "forgotten song".

Lowe's first and only hit single in the US, "Cruel to be Kind" was released on 1979's "Labour of Lust". This song enjoyed significant contemporary radio and MTV airplay, but it seems to have mostly disappeared from the classic rock radio stations. The video (pretty good for the times) features real footage of Lowe's marriage to Carlene Carter.

Despite long-running collaborations as a song writer, musician and producer with Elvis Costello and Dave Edmunds (solo and as well as part of Rockpile), Nick Lowe has never really achieved large-scale success. You might have heard "I Knew the Bride" before, and you might not have known he wrote "What's So Funny About Peace, Love & Understanding?", but "Cruel to be Kind" will always be his most significant contribution to pop music. Give it another 10-12 consecutive listens.

"Cruel to be Kind": YouTube. Top of the Pops version: YouTube.

Bonus Link: Letters to Cleo did a decent but uninspired cover for the 1999 movie "10 Things I Hate About You": YouTube.