Sunday, October 18, 2009

Willis - "Take You High" (LP Review)

Willis (aka Hayley Willis) is a little-known UK alt-folk singer that has released one LP (2003's "Come Get Some") along with several singles and EPs. In support of that LP, the 2003 4-track EP "Take You High" was released, featuring "Take You High" from the LP as well as 3 non-LP tracks.

The Willis originals "Take You High" and "Haunt You" are forgettable tracks, with the latter being slightly better than the former. What makes this EP interesting at all are the two covers. Her cover of "Old Time Religion" is interesting and upbeat, but her sparse & slow cover of Cameo's "Word Up" steals the show.

I have to admit that I never liked Cameo, and I hated "Word Up" when it originally came out in 1986. And while "Word Up" has been covered numerous times (e.g., Korn's version), Willis performs the definitive version; far better than the original in my opinion. But it is not just me: Danette loved Cameo back in the day and she thinks the cover is inspired.

CSI often features engaging music selections during the episodes (although Danette and I agree that the last couple of seasons have not featured the music as prominently), and I first heard this song in the CSI episode "Post Mortem" (video). I often know most of the music featured in the episodes, but this is one of my favorite discoveries (the other being Sigur Ros with the song "Svefn-g-englar" (video)).

I'm not sure how active Willis is currently -- at the time of this writing her website's "news" section has a last entry of 2007. Although her covers are good, the two originals here are not impressive.

Stand out tracks: "Word Up", "Old Time Religion"

Skip 'em tracks: "Take You High", "Haunt You"

Final score: 5/10. "Word Up" is amazing and "Old Time Religion" is interesting, but the originals only serve to drag down the final score. Skip the EP and get just "Word Up" on iTunes or elsewhere.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

This Mortal Coil - "Sixteen Days/Gathering Dust" (LP Review)

Ivo Watts-Russell founded the 4AD record label in 1980 and proceeded to define the sound of experimental/alternative/goth/shoegazing music in the UK. Seminal bands recording on their label included Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Dif Juz, Clan of Xymox, Lush and others. They also got involved with the US alternative scene with the related bands of the Pixies, The Breeders, and Throwing Muses.

Aside from all these great bands, Watts-Russell was also the core of the 4AD project, This Mortal Coil. The idea was to take various permutations of 4AD artists and record a mixture of originals and obscure cover songs. Thus the range of music on TMC releases simultaneously defines and is defined by the "4AD sound".

Before their three classic LPs, they released the "Sixteen Days/Gathering Dust" EP. The title track is a medley of two early Modern English songs, rerecorded by a collection of 4AD artists (including some from Modern English). Although I've been a big fan of TMC for many years, I have to admit I have just learned about this EP very recently. It was never released on CD; it is available only as 12" and 7" versions. The title track was featured on an iTunes-only 4AD EP ("Full of Dust and Guitars"), but I don't think that is available any longer either.

In addition to the title track, the 12" EP featured "Song to the Siren" (a Tim Buckley cover) and "Sixteen Days Reprise". The title track from the 12" version was largely forgotten and it was struck for the 7" version which then featured "Song to the Siren" as the lead track (with "Sixteen Days Reprise" as the b-side). Of course, STTS would become TMC's most popular track and be featured on their debut LP, "It'll End in Tears". STTS is a truly sublime song, but it is not the focus of this review.

If you're a TMC fan, 1) you already have STTS and 2) you're eager to get your hands on additional TMC songs (their retrospective box set, "1983-1991", is nice for beginners but does little for completists and collectors). If you're not yet a TMC fan, "Sixteen Days/Gathering Dust" is not the best place to start -- the Modern English covers are pretty good, but they only show a little of what the group/project would go on to achieve. Do yourself a favor and check out their other releases as well.

Standout tracks: "Sixteen Days/Gathering Dust", "Song to the Siren", "Sixteen Days Reprise".

Skip 'em tracks: none.

Final Score: 7/10. Perhaps a bit low; but I'm assuming everyone already has STTS and is getting this for Modern English covers.

Bonus Links #1: Modern English original versions: Sixteen Days, Gathering Dust

Bonus Links #2: Song to the Siren: contemporary TMC/Cocteau Twins live version, Tim Buckley original version.

Bonus Link #3: I normally don't post links to bootlegs, but since this EP is unavailable elsewhere, you can find a link in a post at