Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lissy Trullie - "Self-Taught Learner" (LP Review)

I've listened to this EP enough times to render an opinion: despite how much we (the collective we) want Lissy Trullie to be the next Lissy Phair / Lissy Ramone / Lissy Hynde, she's not quite there. She's got the style, but not (yet) the substance. Released in 2009, her 6 track EP "Self-Taught Learner" generated a lot of buzz (e.g., reviews in altsounds, Rolling Stone), but ultimately this emperor has clothes, but not fully matured song-writing chops. The neo-punk attitude's there and the production is clean enough not to inhibit mainstream appeal, but I guess there is a reason why the record labels have been riding this first release for the last two years.

The version I have was actually re-released later in 2009 on Downtown Records and features slightly different cover art (and no, that's not Lissy on the cover) and an additional 4 songs: 2 new songs, an unreleased demo, and a phoned in version of Biz Markie's "Just a Friend" (with Adam Green). If you have the 6 track version, you're fine -- the 4 new tracks don't add much. None of the 10 songs are really bad, but only a couple really stand out. Here's hoping her song writing improves, she hooks up with a better partner, or does more inspired covers like her version of Hot Chip's "Ready for the Floor".

Standout songs: "Boy Boy", "She Said" (live version), "Ready for the Floor"

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final Score: 5/10. "Lissy Ramone can't take your call now, please leave a message."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Perfume Tree - "Tides' Out" (LP Review)

Perfume Tree's 1997 EP "Tide's Out" was a sign of things changing for the band. For one, up until this point they had followed the standard formula of releasing an LP, and then a remix EP to complement that prior LP. "Tide's Out" is not really a remix EP for 1996's "A Lifetime Away" (that LP never received a remix release (edit: I don't know what I was thinking when I wrote that; 1995's "Fathom the Sky" was the remix EP for "A Lifetime Away")), but is actually a remix EP for the "Feeler" LP that was released in 1998. More importantly, this EP signals an almost complete shift toward electronic music, a shift that "Feeler" would complete. Previous releases had always retained an organic feel, but that is almost entirely gone on this release.

In my prior review of "A Lifetime Away", I covered the story of Perfume Tree, their members, and their unfortunate lack of the success they deserved. Vancouver-based radio DJs, toiling in obscurity on the small label "World Domination Recordings", and prior to that the even smaller "Zulu Records", their sound is as fresh today as it was in the mid-1990s. The CDs are out of print, but most can be found used for decent $ (right now "Tide's Out" is going for less than $5 on Amazon).

I actually think the songs here are stronger than on "Feeler". The EP features 6 tracks (~55 minutes), but really only 3 distinct songs: 2 versions of "Blink", 3 versions of "Saturate", and "Too Late, Too Early" (which would be significantly reworked as "Too Early, Too Late" on "Feeler"). "Blink" is a rather fast, up beat song compared to most by the band. The "Black and White" version actually rocks pretty hard, complete with a hammond organ sound that the original version lacks. All three versions of "Saturate" are good, with the "20,000 Leagues" sounding, well, like it is under water. The "Full Steam" version is appropriately titled as well, driving almost as hard as "Blink (Black and White)". All six tracks are amazing.

"Tide's Out", like "A Lifetime Away" the year before, showcases the band at its creative peak. As before, the band is great, but Jane Tilley's vocals really separate the band from its peers. No connect-the-dots, formulaic electronica here. You owe it to yourself to hunt a copy of this EP, as well as the rest of their canon.

Standout songs: "Blink", "Saturate", "Too Late, Too Early", "Saturate (20,000 Leagues)", "Blink (Black And White)", "Saturate (Full Steam)"

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final Score: 10/10.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ultra Orange & Emmanuelle - "Ultra Orange & Emmanulle" (LP Review)

While watching the excellent film "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", a great song came on that both Danette and I immediately liked but were unfamiliar with. Watching the credits, we found that it was "Don't Kiss Me Goodbye", by Ultra Orange & Emmanuelle, which is basically a now permanent collaboration of the group Ultra Orange and actress Emmanuelle Seigner (who also starred in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"). A French actress singing pop music -- you're thinking Bridgette Bardot, Serge Gainsbourg, and "Bonnie and Clyde", right? Somewhat, but in this case you need to also think David Roback & Kendra Smith (i.e., "Opal") or David Roback & Hope Sandoval (i.e., "Mazzy Star").

"Don't Kiss Me Goodbye" was great in the context of the movie, and I made a point to buy the LP. Unfortunately, the LP is disappointing. DKMG is the best song on the LP, and on repeated listening it became apparent that why we like that song is because we're both fans of Mazzy Star. Take equal parts "Halah" and "Bells Ring" and you have a good idea of what DKMG sounds like: fuzzy dream pop with breathy, half-spoken female vocals. The LP cover art nicely captures the sound.

Some songs are ok, some are really bad, but most are just very derivative and simple. If the band down the street sounded like this, it would be ok, but the expectations are higher here. If you don't listen too closely, they sound better: perhaps the banal lyrics would sound better in French. The good songs are good enough to give some diversity to a playlist or mix cd, but as a collection of 11 songs this LP just doesn't hold together. Mostly it make me appreciate David Roback more. Emmanuelle sings better than Scarlett Johansson (e.g., her cover of "I Am the Cosmos") but she's clearly no Hope Sandoval.

Standout songs: "Sing Sing", "Don't Kiss Me Goodbye" (movie montage version), "Lines of My Hand"

Skip 'em songs: "Bunny", "Touch My Shadow", "Won't Lovers Revolt Now"

Final Score: 4/10. Mazzy Star keeps saying they'll release a fourth LP; in the meantime we have this...

Bonus Link: Bardot & Gainsbourg -- "Bonnie and Clyde"

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Arctic Monkeys - "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not" (LP Review)

What's the appropriate soundtrack for the recent UK riots? "Anarchy in the UK" by the Pistols? "London's Burning" by The Clash? All good choices, but they're 1) dated and 2) rather literal.

Instead, I thought of "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not", the 2006 debut LP by the Arctic Monkeys, a colorful collection of songs that depict the bleak, feckless lives of working class youth in the UK. For example, listen to "Riot Van", and it becomes apparent that lead singer / guitarist / song writer Alex Turner is writing about (and in the process, somewhat glamorizing) a general malaise, not about riots themselves. Take Springsteen's "Nebraska", update it by an entire generation, transplant it to the UK, speed it up, and you have WPSIATWIN.

While I had seen Arctic Monkeys on a TV show (SNL perhaps?) and enjoyed them, it took me a while to actually get this LP. The hype machine for the band was in full swing (yet another Britpop band: The Strokes, Oasis, etc.), so I wasn't sure what to think. The LP really is as good (or nearly so) as the hype: stripped down, lo-fi, catchy garage punk. Similar to The Cribs, and while not quite as good as them, they easily belong in the same discussion. Although if pressed, I might admit that the lead single from the LP, "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor", rawks as hard as anything The Cribs have written.

Standout Songs: "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor", "The View From the Afternoon", "Fake Tales of San Francisco", "Riot Van", "Perhaps Vampires Is a Bit Strong But..", "When the Sun Goes Down".

Skip'em Songs: none.

Final Score: 9/10.

Husker Du - "Everything Falls Apart and More" (LP Review)

"Everything Falls Apart" was Husker Du's first studio LP, originally released in 1983 on Reflex Records and then re-released as "Everything Falls Apart and More" in 1993 on Rhino Records. The "and More" part refers to including Husker Du's first two 7" singles, 1980's "Statues / Amusement" and 1982's "In a Free Land", as well as two unreleased tracks a studio version of "Let's Go Die" (a live version appears on 1982's "Land Speed Record"), and the previously unreleased"Do You Remember?" (which is the English translation of "Husker Du"). The original LP clocked in at under 20 minutes, but the bonus material takes it to 42 minutes. Yes, in 1982 20 minutes was considered a full length LP for punk bands.

I got this LP sometime well after college, so it doesn't have the same nostalgia for me as "Flip Your Wig" or "New Day Rising". And this LP doesn't show the depth, complexity or variety that other LPs would; this is straightforward, hard-core punk. The production is thin & biting (courtesy of Spot, who produced most of the bands on the early days of SST Records) and the songs are short, furious, and rarely last much over two minutes. I wish I had heard this LP when it came out, it would have made a huge impression on me then.

But even still, this is a surprisingly good LP to listen to today. It is mostly angry punk music, but a few glimpses of their future, more melodic sound peek through in a few songs, like "Everything Falls Apart", "In a Free Land", and "Do You Remember?". So while this LP stays well within its genre, it is a genre that Husker Du helped create. Many fans think Husker Du began with "Zen Arcade", but if you're in the mood for a ferocious blast of energy, then give this LP a listen.

Standout Songs: "From the Gut", "Punch Drunk", "Bricklayer", "Afraid of Being Wrong", "Everything Falls Apart", "Target", "In a Free Land", "Do You Remember?".

Skip 'em Songs: their awkward cover of Donovan's "Sunshine Superman".

Final Score: 8/10

Thanks to HUSKERchout for the super-rare concert videos.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Husker Du - "Eight Miles High / Makes No Sense At All" (LP Review)

I recently rediscovered this one out of my stacks of CDs and put it in my iTunes collection. Released in 1990 on SST Records three years after Husker Du had broken up, this 4-song EP is really just two earlier 7" singles combined and re-released: 1984's "Eight Miles High" and 1985's "Makes No Sense At All".

"Eight Miles High", their cover of the The Byrds classic 1966 song, is a non-LP single. Covering a song by The Byrds was quite a stretch for a punk band in 1984, and Husker Du turns out an appropriately heavy, buzz-saw version. The B-Side is a live version of "Masochism World", one of the heaviest songs on the acclaimed double LP "Zen Arcade".

"Makes No Sense At All" is the best song in Husker Du's catalog, and quite possibly the best punk song ever. It is the only single from their outstanding 1985 LP "Flip Your Wig". The B-Side is a cover of Sonny Curtis's "Love is All Around". That's right, as if to prove they could stretch further than The Byrds, they covered the theme song for The Mary Tyler Moore Show (opening credits).

So do you need this EP? If you already have "Zen Arcade" and "Flip Your Wig", then there are only two new songs: "Eight Miles High" and "Love is All Around". The latter is just a novelty, so the former is really the only new song. If you're a hard-core fan (and don't already have the two 7" singles!), then get this EP since it is still in print and reasonably priced (I think the individual singles are out of print). But if you're not familiar with Husker Du, then start with "Flip Your Wig" and "New Day Rising" instead.

Standout songs: Eight Miles High (live 1983, live 1985, live 1987), Masochism World (studio version), Makes No Sense At All / Love Is All Around (in a single video).

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final Score: 6/10. All good songs, but necessary for hard-core fans only.

Bonus Link: The Byrds - "Eight Miles High"