Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jane Siberry - "When I Was a Boy" (LP Review)

I first learned of Jane Siberry from the "Until the End of the World" soundtrack, which was released in 1991 and featured the exquisite duet with k.d. lang,"Calling All Angels". Two years later, it appeared on Siberry's LP, "When I Was a Boy". But as good as "Calling All Angels" is, it isn't even close to being the best song on this LP. This is an extraordinary, complex and mature LP. It is not quite perfect, but even the flaws are admirable: experiments and directions that just don't quite work. She sings beautifully, but has spoken word parts that remind me of Laurie Anderson. Ultimately, this LP delivers intelligent, unpretentious art-pop for adults.

The first five songs on the LP are the strongest and form a perfect sequence, covering multiple genres while retaining a sensual, spiritual feel: "Temple", "Calling All Angels", "Love is Everything", "Sail Across the Water", "All the Candles in the World". "Temple" and "Sail Across the Water" are produced by Brian Eno and are thus the strongest tracks on the LP. "Temple" and "All the Candles in the World" experiment with a dance / electronica beat, but do so without pandering.

Unfortunately, the flow is interrupted with "Sweet Incarnadine", which is the only song to skip on the entire LP. Things pick back up with "An Angel Stepped Down (And Slowly Looked Around)", but unfortunately that is the last excellent song on the LP. The remaining songs aren't bad ("The Vigil (The Sea)" is pretty good), but they fail to sustain the excellence of tracks 1-5 & 7. The LP closes with a "Harmony Version" of "Love is Everything", but the difference between the two versions is slight (and the non-harmony version is more intimate).

Speaking of different versions, there are apparently many different versions of "Temple". The discogs.com discography is incomplete, but there is a 5" promo CD lists three different versions ("Single Mix", "Alternate Single Mix", "Body and Soul Radio Remix", in addition to the LP version), and searching on the web uncovers references to an "Ambient", "Sanctuary", and "Orinoco" mixes. It is not clear if this adds up to 7 different versions or 4, but more importantly what's the point in all the different versions? Once Brian Eno has produced your song, everyone else can just go home because you're not going to do better than his version. I don't know which version is used in the video linked below, but it is greatly inferior to the stripped down, hard-hitting LP version.

Fortunately, you can download the entire LP, including the good version of "Temple", from Siberry's website. In 2006, she changed her name to Issa, sold nearly all of her possessions, and released her back catalog as MP3s. In 2009, she changed her name back but has retained the free downloads. You have to respect that, and now you have no reason to not listen to this LP.

Standout songs: "Temple" (not the good LP version!), "Calling All Angels" (live solo, studio w/o k.d. lang), "Love is Everything" (excerpt, live with band, live solo), "Sail Across the Water", "All the Candles in the World" (also not the good LP version), "An Angel Stepped Down (And Slowly Looked Around)".

Skip 'em songs: "Sweet Incarnadine".

Final score: 9/10. If Eno had stuck around for a few more tracks, this would have been an easy 10/10.

Bonus Link #1: Additional videos are on her YouTube channel, sheebatv.

Bonus Link #2: "Calling All Angels" sung by the cast of "Six Feet Under".

Bonus Link #3: "Love is Everything" cover by k.d. lang.

Bonus Link #4: Did you catch the nod to The Beatles "The End" at ~2:37 in "An Angel Stepped Down (And Slowly Looked Around)"?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Freddie Scott - "(You) Got What I Need" (the song remains the same)

Here is an gem of a song that you probably won't recognize until you play it... Freddie Scott was a song writer turned performer that had a few hits in the 1960s, but never became really famous. In 1968, he released the single "(You) Got What I Need" on Shout Records (no, it's not Motown even though it sounds like it).

You probably recognize the song because Biz Markie built an entirely new song based on the the piano riff and 1/2 of the chorus of YGWIN for his 1989 single "Just A Friend". Some dismiss Biz as novelty rap, but I think he is hilarious and if he's good enough to guest for the Beasties, he's good enough for me ("The Biz vs. The Nuge"). Adam Green & Lissy Trullie must agree, since they did a loose cover of "Just A Friend", screwing around in what looks to be a back stage dressing room. They get most of the words right.

If Biz never borrowed from "(You) Got What I Need", the only place you would have heard it would be on the mix LP "Product Placement" from DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist, where they sandwich it between Kool & The Gang's "N.T." and James & Bobby Purify's "I'm Your Puppet" (~6:39 -- 8:33 in the studio version of "Part 1", starting at 8:34 in this live version, but it is cut off right as the song breaks).

Freddie Scott: YouTube

Biz Markie: YouTube (bonus link: the "literal" version of the video)

Adam Green & Lissy Trullie: YouTube

Perfume Tree - "A Lifetime Away" (LP Review)

Perfume Tree might be the best defunct band you've never heard of. Formed by three Vancouver-area radio DJs and active during most of the 1990s, Perfume Tree compiled a significant discography that went criminally unnoticed, by both the radio and the critics as well. The former is not surprising, but I'm not sure how the critics so completely missed out on this band either (e.g., allmusic.com reviews only one LP from their discography, and completely whiffs on that review, giving it 3/5 stars).

Their third full-length LP, 1995's "A Lifetime Away" is probably the strongest LP in their canon. Whereas their first first two LPs were focused on a more organic sound, and their fourth and final LP as Perfume Tree was decidedly more focused on electronica. And while there are no bad releases from Perfume Tree, "A Lifetime Away" finds the perfect balance in their shifting musical influences.

Trying to describe their sound is difficult and frustrating, in part because their sound transcends music. By that I mean the sound is so mesmerizing and so unlike anything else, I actually forget that I'm listening to music. Off the top of my head, only The Orb's "Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld" also has that effect on me. Labels like dub, trip hop and downtempo come close, but fail to really capture the sound. The allmusic review quotes another review comparing them to Bjork, but that is simply wrong; I don't dislike Bjork, but she only wishes she could make music this beautiful. I'd suggest that Perfume Tree is somewhere between Portishead, My Bloody Valentine, and Cocteau Twins.

The strength of the band (and the source of the Cocteau Twins comparison) is Jane Tilley's ethereal vocals. Pete Lutwyche is responsible for the beats, which are great, but never really overpower the more atmospheric aspects of the songs (and thus separating Perfume Tree from most of the trip hop artists on a label like Mo' Wax, for example). Bruce Turpin (samples & mix) rounds out the band.

The LP has a wide variety of sounds: "Virgin" & "See Me Smile" have a driving, organic beat, "Contact" has the distorted guitar that suggests the MBV influence, "Never Pass This Way Again" is nearly ambient, and "The Nightmirror" & "Crystal Tips" have a soundtrack quality to them. But my favorite song on this LP is the closing track "Late Light", with a strong beat and focus on Jane's vocals.

"A Lifetime Away" was originally released on the tiny label of Zulu Records in 1995, but was then re-released in 1996 on the only slightly larger (and ironically named) World Domination Recordings, making them label mates with Seattle's Sky Cries Mary, who are similar in aesthetic if not quite sound. Since it was released on World Domination it is not too hard to find, but the earlier releases on Zulu are difficult to find: if you see a copy of one, pick it up. (I actually had to email the band ca. 1998 for their help to replace lost CDs, but that's a story for another time...)

Perfume Tree eventually morphed into Veloce, who released one LP and then the various members seemed to drop out of the music business. There is a Perfume Tree myspace page, as well as a historical page hosted at Minimum Records (a label the band members started), but little information otherwise. ectoguide.org also has a nice, simple summary page for the band.

In a perfect world, Perfume Tree would have received the recognition they deserved. I'll eventually make my way through the rest of their catalog, but "A Lifetime Away" is their strongest release and a good place to start.

Standout songs: "Virgin", "So Far Away" "See Me Smile", "Contact", "Never Pass This Way Again", "The Nightmirror", "August", "Crystal Tips", "Late Light".

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 10/10.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Weezer - "Weezer" (LP Review)

Weezer's eponymous third LP (generally referred to as "the green LP" to differentiate it from 1994's self-titled debut, "the blue LP") was released in 2001, after a long-term hiatus and shuffling of band members following the release of "Pinkerton" in 1996. As I stated in my review, "Pinkerton" is a solid LP but suffers from being slightly self-indulgent, incomplete and sometimes too smart for its own good. The green LP addresses those flaws and recaptures the magic and humor of the blue LP.

Simply put, this LP is a veritable textbook on how to write & execute power pop; few people write hooks as well as Weezer's front man Rivers Cuomo, who is arguable the GenX equivalent of Brian Wilson, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Paul Simon, et al. Three songs were released as singles from this LP ("Hash Pipe", "Island in the Sun", "Photograph"), but just about any of the ten songs could have been chosen.

The LP length, the humor, the song style & craftsmanship, even their "Flying W" logo: it is all reminiscent of Van Halen's first four LPs, updated of course with a nerdy, hipster, GenX attitude & sense of irony. And I mean that in the best possible way.

In contrast with "Pinkerton", the green LP features the return of producer Ric Ocasek (who also produced the blue LP), and Ric knows a good deal about catchy tunes as well. And whereas "Pinkerton" was modeled after "Madam Butterfly", there is no pretentious concept for this LP. The songs also don't overstay their welcome: the longest is 3:50, and the entire LP clocks in at less than 30 minutes. And while half an hour is might be a little short for an LP, the advent of the compact disc and its generous 74-80 minutes of storage led many bands & producers at the time to forget how to cull weak tracks. Sometimes less is more.

Standout tracks: Would it be cheating to say "all"? If forced to pick only some, I'd go with: "Hash Pipe", "Island in the Sun" (Spike Jonze version), "Photograph", "Don't Let Go", "Knock Down Drag Out", "Simple Pages", "O Girlfriend".

Skip 'em tracks: none.

Final score: 9/10. Two things keep it from 10/10: its modest length (could we have found more track, perhaps like the blue LP's "Say It Ain't So"?), and the blue LP's shadow of perfection.

Bonus Links: Several of bonus tracks & B-sides from the same sessions: "Oh Lisa", "Always", "Starlight", "Brightening Day", "I Do", "The Christmas Song". None are bad, but not including them was probably the right choice (yes, I realize that contradicts my nitpick above).

2011-10-09 edit: Mikey Welsh, who played bass on just this Weezer LP, died Saturday October 8.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tony Carey - A Fine Fine Day (forgotten song)

I first mentioned Tony Carey as the keyboardist for Rainbow Mk II (1976-1977; see my review of "On Stage"). Although his tenure with Rainbow was brief, he was (and still is) quite prolific as a solo artist, recording as Tony Carey and Planet P Project (among others). He scored a few minor hits along the way (e.g., "I Won't Be Home Tonight" and "Why Me?"), but never really turned the corner.

My favorite song of his is "A Fine Fine Day" from his 1984 LP "Some Tough City". I like songs with stories, and this one tells the story of Uncle Sonny's return from prison. The lyrics are ambiguous about how the reunion turns out, but the video and 7" cover art leave no doubt about Sonny's fate. I remember this one getting some airplay on MTV (and maybe radio) when it came out. My favorite work of his is still with Rainbow, but this song isn't bad and you might remember it from 25+ (!) years ago.

A Fine Fine Day: official video, lip sync version from Solid Gold.

Bonus Link: The YouTube channel "pinkwrld" is devoted entirely to TC/PPP videos.