Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Chemical Brothers - "Brothers Gonna Work It Out" (LP Review)

Although The Chemical Brothers originally began as producers and DJs, it wasn't until 1998 and after two successful studio LPs that they officially released their first DJ mix LP, "Brothers Gonna Work It Out". Ok, technically this mix is based on their 1997 "Radio 1 Anti-Nazi Mix", but that was a limited release on their own label, Freestyle Dust, and "Brothers Gonna Work It Out" was released on the much larger Astralwerks label.

I became a big fan of the Chemicals when singles from their 1997 LP, "Dig Your Own Hole", surprisingly received a fair amount of radio airplay (powered mainly by Noel Gallagher singing on "Setting Sun", although even "Block Rockin' Beats" made the playlist). After getting a copy of the then hard to find debut LP "Exit Planet Dust", I was hooked.

So in 1998 I got this LP as soon as it came out. I'm pretty sure it was the first DJ mix LP I bought, and I have to admit that buying an LP of people mixing other people's music seemed a little odd at first. Since then, I've become quite a fan of the genre and I've lost track of how many I've added to my collection. The expectations for a mix LP is to 1) tell a story and 2) recontextualize both the familiar and unknown in the DJ's own unique style.

"Brothers Gonna Work It Out" succeeds at both. First, all the songs are presented through The Chemical Brother's big beat filter; indeed several of them are either remixes of songs by the Chemicals or other people's remixes of their own songs. There are a few 70's era funk songs (mostly from soundtracks) thrown in the mix for variety, but mostly it comes from their contemporary mid 90's big beat bands. As such, the entire mix very much sounds like a Chemical Brothers LP, and that means it is as subtle as a sledgehammer. Thievery Corporation makes smoother mixes, James Lavelle/Unkle make more experimental mixes, DJ Spooky makes more abstract mixes, and DJ Shadow's mixes are like a textbook, but I'm not sure anyone rawks harder than the Chemicals in their mixes.

The mix also does a good job of taking the listener on the journey. They take their foot off the accelerator for a few short moments ("Gimme Some Love", "Mother Earth", "I Think I'm in Love"), but mostly it slams from one track to another because, well, that's what The Chemical Brothers do. They do a good job of foreshadowing upcoming tracks and referencing motifs from previous songs (e.g., "Mars Needs Women" and "Take That Motherf*ers!").

Here is the track list taken from Wikipedia, with links to the more obscure bands going to if they don't have a Wikipedia entry:
I think tracks 1-3 are the strongest, or at least sample from songs I like better. Track 4 starts off strong with "Mars Needs Women", but "Losing Control" and "Mother Earth" are a bit weak. Track 5 echoes the psychedelic final two tracks on "Dig Your Own Hole", and while it is strong (and points are awarded for integrating Spiritualized into the mix), it doesn't standout as much as the first three tracks.

Standout tracks: Track 1 (YouTube, Grooveshark), Track 2, Track 3. (N.B. the tracks make more sense in the context of the entire LP).

Skip 'em tracks: none.

Final Score: 9/10. There might be some nostalgia for this being my first mix LP, but the bottom line is if you like The Chemical Brothers, you're going to like this LP.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Galaxie 500 - "This Is Our Music" (LP Review)

First post of 2010 and time to complete the Galaxie 500 hat trick...

Released in 1990, "This Is Our Music" was Galaxie 500's third and final studio LP. The name of the LP is a nod to the Ornette Coleman LP of the same name. That alone should tell you that the band is simultaneously 1) clever, 2) ambitious and 3) just a bit pretentious. I mostly like the reference, but sometimes it is seems a bit much for a garage rock band.

The short version: "This Is Our Music" is a very good LP, but pales in comparison to their first two LPs, "Today" and "On Fire". I'm not sure if they were running out of ideas, becoming worn down by touring, or perhaps their initial unassuming -- almost timid -- sound was unsustainable.

The LP represents a continuation of direction that was introduced on their second LP, "On Fire". But some of the ideas don't work. For example, the opening track, "Fourth of July", is a good song, but is lyrically awkward. Prior songs found the poetry and beauty of quotidian events, such as this from "Snowstorm" on "On Fire":
Well I listen to the weatherman
He's changed his tone of voice
And he can see it on the radar
Only seven hours away
Well there's gonna be a snowstorm
When the t.v has gone wild
And they got nothing else to think of
And they're letting me go home
"Fourth of July" tries to be too clever for its own good:
I wrote a poem on a dog biscuit
And your dog refused to look at it
So I got drunk and looked at the Empire State Building
It was no bigger than a nickel
I stayed at home on the Fourth of July
And I pulled the shades so I didn't have to see the sky
And I decided to have a Bed In
But I forgot to invite anybody
"Snowstorm" is precious; "Fourth of July" is affected.

Perhaps I'm being too critical... There are no bad songs on this LP, and some are excellent. But more so than the first two LPs some are nondescript, such as "Hearing Voices", "Spook" and "Way Up High".

The excellent songs include bassist Naomi Yang singing the Yoko Ono song "Listen the Snow is Falling", "King of Spain, Pt. 2" and "Melt Away", which is perhaps the best song on the LP. The 1997 Rykodisc reissue includes an outstanding cover of "Here She Comes Now" by the Velvet Underground (originally a B-side to the "Fourth of July" single). Galaxie 500 had always borrowed heavily from the Velvet's aesthetic and this cover just makes it official.

"This Is Our Music" is a strong LP that deserves to be in your collection. And while it would be a remarkable LP by almost any other band, it just doesn't quite live up to the standards set by their first two LPs. Dean Wareham left the band in 1991 after touring and went on to form Luna. Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang would eventually form Damon and Naomi. Both bands would release decent LPs, but neither band would capture the magic of their original band. For those whose are interested, the site "Head Full of Wishes" expertly covers Galaxie 500 and their various post-1991 bands.

The Galaxie 500 discography would be posthumously extended with a live LP, Peel sessions LP, B-Sides LP, etc. But "This Is Our Music" is an appropriate coda for a band that was criminally undiscovered while they were active.

Standout songs: "Fourth of July", "Listen the Snow is Falling", "King of Spain, Pt. 2", "Melt Away", "Here She Comes Now". (Many of the above are live versions; the studio versions can be found on Grooveshark.)

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 8/10.