Albums of the month: November

 

 

Dare The Human League.jpg
Dare by The Human League (1981)
*1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die*
Considered an 80s synthpop classic and the group’s best and most influential album. I love the sound which is more beautiful and dynamic than today’s synthesizers. On the opening three tracks, there’s a youthful optimism, travelling to new places and doing things you never dared (track 1), a relationship breakdown yet hopeful about the future (track 2), hitting the town (track 3).
Darkness delves into fear and is quite haunting while I don’t know what Do or Die is about.
Side 2 of the album is darker going into relationship territory and other directions. Get Carter is an instrumental cover of the theme from the 1971 movie. I Am The Law, inspired by the character Judge Dredd and written from a policeman’s point of view, has an ominous mood and a strong vocal performance by frontman Philip Oakey. Seconds (the B Side of Don’t You Want Me) features a gorgeous synth melody and the lyric “the shot that was heard around the world” suggests the JFK assassination. Love Action (I Believe in Love) is catchy and closer Don’t You Want Me, about jealousy and romantic obsession, contains arguably the most iconic intro to any synthpop song although unfortunately has been overplayed over the years on the radio.
Best tracks: Don’t You Want Me, Seconds, The Sound of the Crowd, Love Action (I Believe in Love), Darkness
8-9/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Testament by All Saints (2018)

Known for radio hits such as 1997’s Never Ever and 2000s Pure Shores (from The Beach soundtrack), I was honestly sceptical if I’d enjoy their new album, as got mixed reviews by critics and you might assume the girl group (women in their 40s now) are has-beens at this stage. Turns out Testament is one of 2018’s overlooked gems. While I’m not convinced All Saints are great lyricists, there are a bunch of good songs and pop hooks, as well as a sense of urgency and emotion. Lead single Love Lasts Forever is according to songwriter Shaznay Lewis “inspired by my son, about how our kids grow, change, go out into the big wide world, but we’re still here as parents and family”. Track 7 I Would came from Lewis feeling helpless with what was happening in Syria and other places. Has been compared to Beyonce’s Lemonade as both albums are about the female perspective.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Aviary by Julia Holter (2018)

A love it or hate it album I guess. I don’t know what listeners were smoking when giving Aviary such high praise. Experimental yes, but many tracks are boring, overlong and unmemorable. She doesn’t have enough interesting ideas to pull off an ambitious project of this length (90 minutes). Kind of a poor man’s Björk.
The opener Turn the Lights On is forceful and epic, featuring intense violins and vocal. The single I Shall Love 2 is an inferior imitation of Cocteau Twins’ Ivo. Words I Heard is a beautiful and affecting second single. Les Jeux to You is fun, joyful and might be my favorite.
Sadly, I only liked three tracks and I’m indifferent towards the rest. I prefer 2015’s Have You in My Wilderness and 2012’s Ekstasis which are more accessible and melodic.
4/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caution by Mariah Carey (2018).jpg
Caution by Mariah Carey (2018)

There are no classics here (apparently the music business stopped making those) but a few memorable songs, particularly GTFO, A No No (about the need to say no), Giving Me Life feat. Slick Rick & Blood Orange, and Portrait. The production is very smooth and ”produced”.
I was surprised how restrained her singing is. Maybe she can’t hit the high notes anymore or simply chooses not to, her choice. The vocal theatrics are in the past. The closer Portrait is a return to the piano balladry of her big hits and has the most emotional vocal performance. The critics love her comeback album.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Double Negative by Low (2018).jpg
Double Negative by Low (2018)

The industrial soundscapes just weren’t for me. Opener Quorum is not good enough to be a single. Fly features a beautiful Mimi Parker vocal performance. I’m drawn towards the conventional, less experimental songs on the album. Dancing and Fire is also memorable for the vocal, a moving duet between Alan Sparhawk and Parker. I’d like to listen to Poor Sucker live without the distortion, it might be a grower over time. The melody on Disarray is good but the production somewhat spoils it.
Double Negative contains 5-6 nice moments. Unfortunately the other half dozen tracks I find skippable because of the distortion and studio trickery.
If Low have released a great album with normal vocals and traditional instruments, then I’m open to giving it a try.
5/10

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Albums of the month: October

Happy Halloween.jpg

Happy Halloween!  I’ve not prepared any special horror posts as in previous years. I have a good excuse, since I’ve just moved house and have been arranging furniture, sorting, hanging light bulbs up etc. I ‘m satisfied with the place so far, although noise from the roads can be heard early in the morning (depending on the wind direction) so I’m adjusting to a new sleeping pattern. I chose a property in which the living room and bedroom face towards the south so the sun will shine there during the day. The kitchen is to the north and is nice and cool. I can close the kitchen door so the food smell doesn’t drift into the other rooms. The neighbors seem to be fairly calm which is a relief and there are some good walking/cycling areas nearby. I can play music or watch TV (at a reasonable level) without bothering anyone. I’m in awe of those people who move often, I just couldn’t do that with the stress levels involved. Thankfully I’m feeling more relaxed now.

This month, I tried to catch up up with a few recent albums and also revisited Massive Attacks first two releases.

 

 

 

 

Blue Lines by Massive Attack (1991).jpg
Blue Lines by Massive Attack (1991)

*1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die*.
A debut LP that was an important part of the evolution of music in the early 90s. Considered the first Trip Hop album with its fusion of hip hop, downtempo, electronica, soul, sampling, and guest vocalists. I love the haunting opener Safe From Harm while the soaring Unfinished Sympathy is a 90s classic. Daydreaming is more streetwise and reflective of modern urban life. All three feature Shara Nelson and her soulful singing is why you should listen to the album. You could argue the singles are “trip-pop”. Five Man Army is beautifully produced and the best non-single. Be Thankful for What You’ve Got is a cover of William DeVaughn’s 1972 soul classic. I’m less enthused by the repetitiveness of One Love and the wordy title track which are lacking something. There are many writing credits, and while it does lack a singular vision, it doesn’t seem to matter, as the lyrics exude a timelessness.
8.5/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Protection by Massive Attack (1994).jpg
Protection by Massive Attack (1994)

*1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die*
Goes for a mellower, chill out sound compared to the debut. Tracey Thorn fills the shoes of Shara Nelson on the single Protection and also Better Things. Not quite as memorable vocally, though the second album is still better than average for the atmosphere and production, and there’s lots of replay value.
The second half is slightly weaker with the stand out being the orchestral lead single Sly with its intense vocal contribution by Nicolette Suwoton, a Scottish singer-songwriter of Nigerian parentage. Nicolette also features on Three. The wordy track Eurochild is a bit dull and the closing Light My Fire cover doesn’t work so well with the rest of the set. The instrumental Heat Miser is reminiscent of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. I prefer the smooth instrumental Weather Storm from the first half. As good as this album is, I would probably replace it with Mezzanine in the 1001 albums book.
7-8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Elite Hotel by Emmylou Harris (1975)
3.69 on RYM. Really? Not her best album. The vocal is nice and earned Harris the Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance, Female. Unfortunately the melodies are quite boring and forgettable. Tolerable thanks to the single Together Again and The Beatles cover Here There and Everywhere. I prefer her slower songs, the emphasis on Elite Hotel is for the faster tunes. Of her two albums from 1975, I far prefer Pieces of the Sky.
5/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wanderer by Cat Power (2018).jpg
Wanderer by Cat Power (2018)

Decent but not best of the year. A low-key effort which suits the singer/songwriters vocal. The piano sections on In Your Face and Horizon are simple yet haunting. The first half is the most melodic. The second half is pretty dull and sleep inducing. You are better off listening to Cat Power at her peak, 1998’s Moon Pix or 2003’s You Are Free.
5/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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C’est la vie by Phosphorescent (2018)

I quite liked his last album Muchacho (2013), especially the single Song for Zula. A few good moments on C’est la vie. My Beautiful Boy is presumably about his son, there’s a lot of parental affection as well as nice musicianship. I also enjoyed There from Here for the production.
Sometimes the tracks go on too long or are too repetitive (These Rocks, Around the Horn). The latter to my ears samples the Crocodile Dundee theme song.
Didn’t care for the autotuned Christmas Down Under. I prefer the other single New Birth in New England which is the most upbeat here and also suggests the joy of child birth.
The opening and closing semi-instrumentals are pleasant but not exceptional.
Despite some average songs, an Americana album with enough spirit so that I could return for more.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honey by Robyn (2018).jpg
Honey by Robyn (2018)

Consistently good pop songs throughout and one of the better albums of 2018. There isn’t a big anthem such as Dancing on My Own or Show Me Love but the standard is still pretty high. Missing U is a catchy single, with lyrics about a break-up from her boyfriend Max Vitali and sadness over the death of her long-time producer Christian Falk. The infectious Because It’s in the Music has a beautiful use of the harp. Baby Forgive Me is also hypnotic. I was less into the second single Honey with its thumping beat. Beach 2K20 has a seductive, danceable hook and a plea to go out and party, while I like the bass playing on closer Ever Again, a song about not wanting to get hurt.
The lyrics have an emotional weight which is not always the case with Electropop/Dance-Pop. Robyn appears to be in a post-break-up head space.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Broken Politi
cs by Neneh Cherry (2018)
The singer wants to address important issues on her latest Broken Politics but maybe she should have opted to write some articles instead, as the new music is dull and boring to listen to. She obviously cares about what she is singing yet there’s little emotion or passion in the vocal. It’s all very quiet and minimalist and somewhat of a chore to even finish. My favorite is the single Kong because it sounds like an outtake from Massive Attack’s Mezzanine. Her 2014 album Blank Project has stronger melodies.
3/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Look Now by Elvis Costello & The Imposters (2018)
Look Now by Elvis Costello & The Imposters (2018)

Under Lime is one of the best songs of 2018 with an inspired, hummable melody. Unwanted Number is very catchy, a reworking of a song he originally wrote and was recorded by For Real in the mid 90s. Another stand out is Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter which has a lush production and was co-written by Carole King. I Let the Sun Go Down is nicely arranged as well.
The album’s weakness is Costello’s trembling vocal delivery which is too similar from track to track. His voice has seen better days. He has been dealing with a cancer scare so we shouldn’t be too hard on him. I was pretty uninterested in the second half (tracks 7-12) and struggled to care about the lyrical content. Then again, I’m not his biggest fan and tend to gravitate mostly towards Costello’s hits, so I’m probably not a good judge of the merits of the album.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Love Is Magic
by John Grant (2018)
Very eccentric material. I heard it yesterday and haven’t settled on a score yet. So far, I’m really liking what I hear and has top 10 of the year potential. Singer-songwriter John Grant’s fourth album, he is known for dark, humorous writing, although quite self-indulgent and silly on this occasion. Reading the lyric annotations on genius.com is helpful in decoding the music, or you can just be along for the ride and soak up the craziness. Again, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. The synthpop production is above average and a continuation of what he was going for on his 2013 and 2015 LPs.
Metamorphosis is possibly the oddest with its depiction of his lack of tears following the death of his mother while providing many other mischievous wordplays. Love Is Magic could be the most accessible and sounds like a lost hit from decades ago. Tempest dives into Grant’s nostalgia for 80s arcade games and even includes samples from said games.
I enjoyed Preppy for the synths more than the lyrics. Boy Smug Cunt attacks Donald Trump in a humorous manner. He’s Got His Mother’s Hips has a really trippy music video and is about a daft attempt at seduction. The contemptuous attitude towards his lover on Diet Gum is not very flattering yet it may not be himself who is the protagonist. John Grant is openly gay and Is He Strange explores a relationship he had to an Icelandic. The last two tracks are slightly weaker than the rest. The Common Snipe evokes images from nature with a message according to the singer about “truly seeing another human being and not projecting onto them what you want them to be”. The tenth and final track Touch and Go deals with Chelsea Manning, the former US soldier turned WikiLeaks activist who transitioned to a woman while in prison.
To sum up, a retro 80s synthpop sound and witty lyrics, an album that is not for everyone, but a lot of fun if you like that combination.
?/10

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Albums of the month: September

 

 

 

 

Hope you are all well. I’m busy at the moment moving house so the music I listened to recently was mostly ambient/instrumental. I didn’t have energy to concentrate on lyrics and I needed something calming. I also have been bothered by ringing in the ears of late, due to the stress of moving, and after having my ears rinsed out by the doctor, so I’m a little hesitant to listen to louder music as my ears are not protected by wax. Decided to buy Alpine MusicSafe Pro ear plugs which are for musicians and concert goers. The idea is you can reduce the impact on your ears and still be able to listen. I have only used them once so don’t know if they are helpful to me yet but I like the idea of protecting your hearing. Obviously I don’t want to have ringing in my ears after listening to an album. Anyone else tried these special ear plugs or have spells with tinnitus? I suppose the best medicine is not to listen to any music (or a limited amount at least).

 

 

 

 

Selected Ambient Works 85-92 by Aphex Twin (1992).jpeg
Selected Ambient Works 85-92 by Aphex Twin 
(1992) 
*1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die*
An important instrumental release for its influence on electronic and dance music. I didn’t realize it’s actually ambient techno as the title doesn’t allude to this fact. Prefer ambient without the techno aspect. Running for 74 minutes a lot to process in one sitting, so I listened in stages. Isn’t really my thing but did find a couple of tunes I liked in We Are The Music Makers and Xtal. I could imagine hypnotic songs such as Ptolemy getting played at clubs in the 90s. A classic album I respect more than I enjoy.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Koyaanisqatsi by Philip Glass (1983)
Koyaanisqatsi by Philip Glass (1983)

Probably works better together with the accompanying experimental film. As a stand-alone listen the music is dark and ominous, and while Philip Glass has his own unique style, I just don’t really enjoy this soundtrack. Perhaps it isn’t meant to be enjoyed in the usual sense? Unfortunately the fast tracks are nauseating. Prefer his film score for The Hours (2002)
4/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music Has the Right to Children by Boards of Canada (1998)
Music Has the Right to Children by Boards of Canada (1998)

*1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die*
The mellow atmosphere and electronic sound is at the forefront, with lyrics of minor importance. There’s quite a bit of repetition. Aquarius is the most memorable with the child voices and distinctive “orange” lyric. The other keeper is Roygbiv with its beautiful synth melody.
Not an album that lingers afterwards yet nice to have on in the background while busy with other tasks. I could easily accept never hearing it again so that tells you I wasn’t overly excited. You’d assume with a name like Boards of Canada that they are Canadian? Wrong. A Scottish electronic music duo consisting of brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin.
7/10

 

 

 

 
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Spinner by Brian Eno & Jah Wobble (1995)
Spinner isn’t Brian Eno’s most popular work but a personal favorite. I can’t get enough of this collaboration. The perfect relaxation when dealing with ringing in the ears/tinnitus.
I don’t know much about the music of Jah Wobble, he’s been active since 1980, any album suggestions readers?
10/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Age of Consent by Bronski Beat (1984)

Included as #191 on Pitchfork’s recent 200 Best Albums of the 1980s list. I love the synthpop classsic Smalltown Boy, especially for the iconic instrumental parts. Jimmy Somerville can do spectacular things with his towering vocal, which he demonstrates throughout the album. Would I listen to the LP again? I doubt it. As impressive as the music is, the high-pitched singing gets on my nerves after a while. Definitely an acquired taste. I Feel Love is a powerful cover of the Donna Summer original. I can’t help thinking he should be singing opera instead of pop.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indigo by Wild Nothing (2018).jpg
Indigo by Wild Nothing (2018)
Letting Go and Partners in Motion are two of my favorite dream pop songs of 2018. Another highlight is the single Canyon on Fire which is rockier and reminds me of The Cure.
The rest of the album is pleasant although forgettable. His style isn’t breaking any new ground, most of the songs could be described as retro and second-tier 80s music. I suggest just listening to the singles.
6/10

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Albums of the month: August

 

 

 

 

Young Americans by David Bowie (1975).jpg
Young Americans by David Bowie (1975)
*1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die*
I haven’t listened to nearly enough soul music to properly assess the album’s merits. In order to create a more authentically soulful sound, Bowie brought in musicians from the funk and soul community, including an early-career Luther Vandross and Andy Newmark, drummer of Sly and the Family Stone.
Many of the compositions feature backing singers and saxophone. The opening title track Young Americans is a Bowie classic and the “All right, she wants the young American” chorus is unforgettable. Win features a seductive vocal in the vein of his Let’s Dance phase. Fascination and the John Lennon contribution Fame are both pretty funky. The cover of Across the Universe is the weakest moment here. I like some of the saxophone sections across this album but maybe the instrument was overused. The lyrics seem to be of lesser importance.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Station to Station by David Bowie (1976).jpg
Station to Station by David Bowie (1976)
*1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die*
Blending funk, krautrock, balladry. A transitional album, developing the funk and soul music of Young Americans, while presenting a new direction towards synthesizers and influenced by German electronic bands such as Neu! and Kraftwerk.
The consensus seems to be that the album is experimental, technically brilliant and enigmatic.
A showcase for his new alterego The Thin White Duke, an impeccably dressed hollow man who sang songs of romance with an agonised intensity, yet felt nothing.
The title track Station to Station starts with the rhyme of a train and could be about the tension between the desire to experience deep feelings while also wanting to protect yourself and attain an aloofness.
Golden Years was originally written with Elvis in mind and has been described as carrying with it “an air of regret for missed opportunities and past pleasures”.
Word on a Wing, suggests a connection to God, and a blurring of reality and “grand delusion”, Bowie described the lyrics in a 1980 interview: “It did come as a complete revolt against elements that I found in the film…Something I needed to produce from within myself to safeguard myself against some of the situations I felt were happening on the film set” (as an actor in 1976’s The Man Who Fell to Earth in which he plays an alien visiting earth)
TVC15 has a catchy second half, and lyrics apparently about hallucinating a girlfriend is swallowed by a TV set, and the narrator going to look for her.
Stay features inspired guitar work, and lyrics about drug addiction and asking a woman to stay.
Wild Is the Wind is a romantic and tender Nina Simone cover, and has been praised as one of the finest vocal performances of Bowie’s career.
9/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Low by David Bowie (1977)
Low by David Bowie (1977)
*1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die*
An experimental, atmospheric album with the b-side including instrumentals, and several of the A-sides very cinematic. The writing is quite sparse and open to interpretation. Musician Brian Eno was moving towards his ambient phase at this point in the mid 70s, he was a collaborator on various tracks. The photographic image, under the album’s title, formed a deliberate pun on the phrase “low profile”. Low has also been regarded by music analysts as being a crucial influence on the post-rock genre, which would come to prominence among underground musicians nearly two decades after the album’s release.
Be My Wife has been talked of as an influential track on the 90s britpop sound.
Warszawa is on the verge of a horror soundtrack, an unsettling mood piece, which takes you to a different head space and taps into feelings of isolation and melancholy, whether this is a reflection of Bowie’s own inner turmoil following his drug-taking years in America or a result of his new surroundings in Europe is uncertain. Perhaps both? He has said in interviews he was no longer playing a character. Joy Division took inspiration from the instrumental, as they were originally called Warsaw.
The life-affirming instrumental Speed of Life is the polar opposite to the darkness of Warszawa. These mood swings also feature on his next album “Heroes”.
The track Sound and Vision is probably about artistic inspiration and how you sometimes have to wait for it.
Always Crashing In The Same Car might suggest drug addiction, making the same mistake over and over.
Bowie said in 1977 that the song Weeping Wall is “about the Berlin Wall, the misery of it.” Others, however, have suggested that it was originally developed for use in the film The Man Who Fell to Earth. Bowie’s (never completed) work on the soundtrack became the inspiration behind his experiments on Low and “Heroes”.
9-10/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heroes by David Bowie  (1977)
“Heroes” by David Bowie  (1977)
*1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die*
The second chapter of the Berlin trilogy continues what 1976’s Low started, with mostly instrumentals on the B-side. Bowie said that the quotation marks in the title “indicate a dimension of irony about the word ‘heroes’ or about the whole concept of heroism”.
The uplifting title track likely was influenced by Neu 75, an album Bowie mentioned in interviews he was a fan of. The famous title track was inspired by producer Tony Visconti’s brief love affair with one of the backing singers. Visconti was married, so the affair was doomed from the start.
Sons of the Silent Age could be about frustration with passivity.
Blackout suggests the narrator is unwell and having blackouts. Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray stated that the song is about the collapses that Bowie suffered in Berlin.
Side B:
Sense of Doubt evokes an ominous mood.
Moss Garden has a tranquil atmosphere and is meant to invoke the feeling of being in the Saiho-ji moss gardens of Kyoto, Japan.
Neuköln reflects Bowie absorbing his surroundings. Perhaps a sense of the lonely voices on each side of the Berlin wall. Neukölln was home to many Turkish immigrants.
While the LP is still top-tier Bowie at times, the album overall is less memorable and not as groundbreaking as Low and Station to Station.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lodger by David Bowie (1979).jpg
Lodger by David Bowie (1979)

Lodger is my least liked of the Berlin trilogy. Granted, Bowie wanted to keep changing and experimented with world music, but…it just isn’t as strong as the two Bowie albums from 1977.
Lodger has been interpreted as divided roughly into two major themes, that of travel (primarily side one) and critiques of Western civilization (primarily side two). It is also noteworthy for foreshadowing David Byrne’s and Brian Eno’s album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981).
Tracks 6-8 are the most accessible but I’m not a big admirer of the singles D.J. and Boys Keep Swinging.
On Repetition, he was quoted: “I decided to write something on the deeply disturbing subject of wife abuse in the manner of a short-form drama”
The extended 1988 version of Look Back in Anger (provided as a bonus track on the reissue) might be my favorite track.
Despite not loving Lodger, it’s still innovative and superior to most albums produced in the 2010s.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Let’s Dance by David Bowie (1983)

Bowie was already starting to go Pop/New Wave on his 1980 album Scary Monsters and Let’s Dance is a continuation of that direction into Dance-Pop. The lyrics are safer and less interesting than his 70s work.
As with the 1980 album, there’s a run on the A-side of three great tracks in a row: Modern Love, China Girl, and Let’s Dance. Cat People (Putting Out Fire) is also essential Bowie and has been used for various soundtracks. Criminal World has a nice guitar intro while closer Shake It is basically an inferior version of the title track. Without You is the best of the lesser known tunes here.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tidal by Fiona Apple (1996)
*1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die*
A 90s classic which won several awards. I don’t know if I’m right, but to me it feels like the most personal and sincere record she ever wrote. I hadn’t listened to Tidal in a decade, holds up really well. Similar to Kate Bush, Apple was very mature as a writer at a young age. Besides the introspective songwriting these tunes also have a nice instrumental variation, while also being quite piano heavy. She plays the piano herself. Rare that I like every track on an album.
The opening lyric might be the most striking:
“I tell you how I feel, but you don’t care
I say tell me the truth, but you don’t dare”
10/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

when the pawn fiona apple.jpg
When the Pawn… by Fiona Apple (1999)
Apple is angrier and louder here. Perhaps she got inspired by Alanis Morissette? There are very few weak tracks and lots of memorable moments. The music doesn’t hit me as hard on an emotional level as the 1996 debut did, although the songwriting is still excellent. Notable for breaking the world record for the album with the longest title, often abbreviated.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Albums of the month: July

 

 

Looks like I’ve found somewhere to rent though I still have a lot to do in terms of moving, so blog posts will remain at a minimum, 1-2 posts a month for the foreseeable future. I’ve been dealing with sciatic nerve pain running down my leg, not fun, forced to change my workstation habits, less sitting, more exercise and standing up. Unfortunately I’ve read the injury takes quite a while to heal but I still managed a few albums and finally got around to Bowie, or the first stage of his discography at least, from 1969-1974. (I skipped his 1967 LP which I don’t consider a proper Bowie album)

 

 

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David Bowie / Space Oddity by David Bowie (1969)

The opener Space Oddity is a Bowie classic, inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the space race at the time. A song that also could be interpreted as a drug trip or about facing your fear. The album highlight for its lyrics, vocal performance and production values. The rest of the A-side is quite underrated. Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed is a good blues rock track especially for the backing band. The lyrically ambitious 9 minute Cygnet Committee is empowering by insisting “I want to live”, apparently the song is about the faults of the hippy movement, although maybe the same could have been said with less words. Letter to Hermione is a farewell ballad to his former girlfriend, Hermione Farthingale, who was also the subject of An Occasional Dream.
The b-side of the album is a look at where Bowie was at during this time, the strongest of them are Janine and An Occasional Dream. Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud feels a bit pompous. The only song I skip over is God Knows I’m Good with its annoying chorus. Memory of a Free Festival has a dull intro and builds to an ending which is kind of Bowie’s answer to the outro of Hey Jude. I’ve listened to the LP 2-3 times and it grows on you.
7/10

 

 

 

The Man Who Sold the World by David Bowie (1970).jpg
The Man Who Sold the World by David Bowie (1970)

Rockier than the previous 1969 album. The guitar work on The Width of a Circle stands out, with lyrics about identity and meeting a monster by a tree who is himself. Perhaps a song about confronting your vices. Others have interpreted it as a sexual encounter with God, the Devil or some other supernatural being.
All the Madmen is about the perception of sanity and insanity. If everyone was insane, the one sane person would be perceived as crazy. Autobiographical as his brother was in a mental institution. Bowie voices his belief that we’re all insane in our own ways.
After All is probably the strangest song here.
Running Gun Blues returns to the heavier rock sound, about the Vietnam War and seems to be an anti-violence message.
Saviour Machine envisions a society where a machine solves all problems but then becomes obsolete itself.
She Shook Me Cold is memorable for the giant guitar riff. There are some truly inspired riffs on this album, the intro to The Man Who Sold the World is another, a song famously covered by Kurt Cobain in the 90s. Bowie is quoted as saying “I wrote it because there was a part of myself that I was looking for”.
Supermen was partly influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche and H. P. Lovecraft, lyrics about supermen who live “tragic endless lives”.
It has been claimed that glam rock began with the release of this album, though is also attributed to Marc Bolan wearing glitter on a Top of the Pops appearance, December 1970.
8/10

 

 

 

 

Hunky Dory by David Bowie (1971)
Hunky Dory by David Bowie (1971)
Although only a moderate commercial success, the album was very well-received by critics, with unforgettable pop singles such as Changes and Life on Mars? The playful artwork hints at the confusion over the artist’s sexuality and the singer would use this (at the time) controversial aspect to promote himself. In fact his wife Angie encouraged him to experiment with his appearance.
Bowie pays tribute to his influences with the tracks “Song for Bob Dylan” (Dylan’s reinventions paved the way for Bowie), “Andy Warhol” and the Velvet Underground inspired “Queen Bitch”. There’s also a fascination of parenthood, fame and consumerism, themes which run through the record. Musically moving away from hard rock to mostly piano-heavy arrangements. A greater attention to accessible and pop friendly melodies.
Changes is about being young and searching for an identity, while also tapping into the reinvention of Bowie’s career.
Oh! You Pretty Things, one of the stronger non-singles for its melody, is allegedly a reaction to his wife’s pregnancy, while giving the words multiple meanings and referencing bands and predicting the arrival of Nietzschean supermen on earth.
Eight Line Poem is about the division between countryside and urban landscape, and goes in a country music direction in the vocal and instrumentation. It’s not a bad song but feels somewhat like a missed opportunity.
Life on Mars, among Bowie’s most recognizable 70s hits, described by the singer as “a sensitive young girl’s reaction to the media” as she goes to the cinema. The title is a call for something beyond that which the mousy girl knows, beyond her dull life, maybe even beyond entertainment. A universal longing most can identify with. The second half of the song suggests the artist’s point of view, and a struggle with repetition in their work, yet also a look at commercialism.
Bowie wrote the song Kooks to his newborn son Duncan “Zowie” Jones, continuing the parent theme of Oh! You Pretty Things.
Quicksand could be the most philosophical album track, Bowie pondering the unknown and unanswerable questions.
Fill Your Heart is a response to Quicksand with a message of love and forgetting your mind, I’m not a fan of the vocal performance.
Queen Bitch is a rockier tune, borrowing its memorable riff from Eddie Cochran’s 1960 single “Three Steps to Heaven”. A strange story, yet relatable lyrics of missing out and what could have been.
The closer revisits the mental illness theme of the track All the Madmen (on 1970’s The Man Who Sold the World). The Bewlay Brothers is about Bowie’s older half-brother, who was hospitalized with schizophrenia and would eventually commit suicide in 1985.
8/10

 

 


The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars by David Bowie (1972).jpg
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars by David Bowie (1972)

Considered Bowie’s breakthrough album and sometimes referred to as his magnum opus. A loose concept album about Bowie’s titular alter ego Ziggy Stardust, a fictional androgynous bisexual rock star who acts as a messenger for extraterrestrial beings. Among other things, the lyrics discuss the artificiality of rock music, political issues, drug use, sexual orientation, social taboos and stardom. Received widespread critical acclaim and recognized as one of the most important glam rock albums. His backing band realized that most of the songs on Hunky Dory were not suitable live material, so they needed a follow-up that could be toured with.

Five Years, probably the most straight-forward on the album in terms of story, details the panic over the announcement of the end of the world due to a lack of natural resources. I especially like the melody in the first half of the song. The second half is a little too on-the-nose. A sad song which can bring a tear to your eye.

Moontage Daydream contains heavy metal elements and introduces the alien messiah that will rescue the earth from disaster. Often cited as an album favorite by members of the band. Featuring use of the cut-up technique in which Bowie would re-arrange random words such as the famous opening lyric: ”I’m an alligator. I’m a mama-papa”.

Starman, a catchy, decade defining pop single. A great song which I’m a bit weary of.

Star concerns itself with Ziggy and his realization that being a rock n roll star is the way to save the world.

Hang On To Yourself is one of the earliest examples of Punk Rock/Proto Punk

Ziggy Stardust, another iconic 70s classic, with an instantly recognizable opening guitar riff. About the animosity that arises between Ziggy and the group, as Ziggy grows more and more popular, pushing The Spiders from Mars to the shadows as he gets the spotlight. Ziggy was killed by his fans when they turned on him for neglecting them, and the band broke up, having lost their frontman.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide is about Ziggy’s death and Bowie’s heightened vocal performance adds emotion to the situation.

Musically the 1972 album is top-tier Bowie, a big sound with lots of pop hooks. Although there isn’t much depth. He is hiding behind a character and not willing to share personal anecdotes. Taking space-themed and fame aspects from previous albums and expanding or reusing ideas. Fun pop to listen to but the Ziggy character is very sketchy and to me the music becomes style over substance. The argument could be made there are enough blank spaces so the audience can reach their own conclusions about Ziggy. Bowie admitted in a 1977 interview that people “contributed more information into Ziggy than I put into him”. The shifting points of view is inventive yet confusing. In the Hang On To Yourself documentary the singer is quoted as saying: “If you’d asked me at the time what it was I was trying to do I had simply no idea. This otherness, this alternative realty I wanted to embrace, I wanted anything than the place I came from”
Bowie’s vocal performances are definitely praiseworthy as he brings plenty of variation vocally from track to track. I respect the album but prefer his 1970 and 1971 LPs.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

Aladdin Sane by David Bowie (1973) .jpg
Aladdin Sane by David Bowie (1973)
There’s an attempt to reach the American audience, lyrics written in (and about) the US. The album sleeve (along with 1977’s Heroes) is arguably the most striking of his career, depicting a lightning bolt on his face.

Watch That Man: About hanging out with The New York Dolls. Didn’t like the harsh production.

Aladdin Sane: There’s a chaotic use of piano on the title track, fun and over the top. An anti-war song in how young men are enticed into enlisting in the armed forces. Introduces the “American cousin” of Ziggy Stardust.

Drive-In Saturday: A strong single with a brilliant chorus. Bowie: “it’s about a future where people have forgotten how to make love, so they go back to video-films that they have kept from this century”

Panic in Detroit: Excellent guitar riff that had me tapping my foot. The lyrics were inspired by late-night stories about the Detroit 1967 riots told to Bowie by Iggy Pop. The 5-day riot was one of the worst in American history.

Cracked Actor: Daring lyrics for the time it was written. About an aging movie star’s sexual encounter with a prostitute. Cracked Actor is also the title of a 1975 television documentary about Bowie.

Time: The lyrics seem to be semi-autobiographical and personal, about his faltering marriage to Angie Bowie:
“Breaking up is hard, but keeping dark is hateful
I had so many dreams
I had so many breakthroughs
But you, my love, were kind
But love has left you dreamless
The door to dreams was closed
Your park was real and dreamless
Perhaps you’re smiling now
Smiling through this darkness
But all I had to give was guilt for dreaming”

The Prettiest Star: Another tune about David’s and Angela’s marriage. Written in 1970, a romantic song, in contrast to the conflict and bitterness which ‘Time’ suggested. A second interpretation is the song is about falling in love with a movie star.

The Jean Genie: The most instantly recognizable track from the album though I never really enjoyed it. Bowie might be using his cut-up technique here as the lyrics are strange and surrealistic. Perhaps written in a drug haze? It’s been said the song was influenced by the outrageous behavior of Iggy Pop.

Lady Grinning Soul: The most beautiful and romantic song on the album. Pianist Mike Garson’s contributions add a lot to the album as a whole.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

Diamond Dogs (1974) by David Bowie.jpg
Diamond Dogs by David Bowie (1974)
This 1974 concept album was Bowie’s glam swan song. He decided to play all the instruments himself, except drums (Aynsley Dunbar), bass (Herbie Flowers) and keyboards (Mike Garson). Since he was a teenager, the singer had been fascinated about malformations and he decided to put some references in, while also giving the album a post-apocalyptic atmosphere in the vein of Orwell’s 1984. The eye-catching cover artwork features Bowie as a half-man, half-dog, painted by Belgian artist Guy Peellaert. The album is credited with anticipating the punk revolution that would take place in the late 70s.
The A-side is full of energy while the B-side (tracks 7-11) I found pretty boring. Rebel Rebel is the single everyone is familiar with its classic lyrics and memorable guitar riff. Overall, the album has its moments but feels rather shallow and top-heavy.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

High as Hope (2018) by Florence + The Machine 
High as Hope by Florence + The Machine 
(2018) 
One of my favorite albums of 2018 so far. I was moved by the lyrics of South London Forever while the orchestral production on Patricia (apparently a Patti Smith tribute) stands out. The epic Big God and 100 Years are both quite powerful. Her vocal delivery is a bit samey during the course of the album but you could argue it’s cohesive. June, Hunger, Sky Full of Song, Grace and The End of Love are decent but maybe at times a bit repetitive. I haven’t followed the career of Florence + The Machine so don’t know how High as Hope compares to the other releases.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

Seasons, Pt. 1 (2018) by Jan Hammer
Seasons, Pt. 1  by Jan Hammer 
(2018)
A pleasant, 46 minute summer-tinged album with enough instrumental variation to keep it interesting. Not as iconic as his Miami Vice work and I wasn’t expecting it to be. The opener is a little lazy with the Phil Collins-esque drumming but some of the tracks, “April”, “Winter Solstice”, “New World II” and “Causeway Bridge”, certainly are good enough to be represented in a potential reboot of the TV show. I can imagine would be nice to chill out to on a long car journey. The weaker parts of the record go in a slightly bland new-age direction, such as 68 Reasons, Suite European and Seasons. The guitar and keyboard playing sometimes saves the lesser songs. Sounds like he’s still using the same production techniques as in the 1980s and you could be tricked into thinking was recorded many years ago. Pitchfork didn’t even mention Seasons, Pt. 1 for the week’s new album releases which is a travesty since it’s Jan Hammer’s first new album in close to a decade. I enjoyed the album even though several cuts feel like jingles rather than songs. But I suppose you’d expect that from a musician who is known for TV themes, commercials etc.
6/10

 

 

 

 

Janelle Monae  Dirty Computer album cover
Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe
 (2018) 
Don’t like the vocal distortion on the title track. Crazy Classic Life is a highlight with its catchy chorus and empowering lyrics.
The instrumental intro of Take A Byte is fantastic and the track is among the better deep cuts on the LP, even if I’m not convinced by the vocal. Screwed (surprisingly not a single) starts with a wonderful guitar riff and is a fun pop song with daring lyrics ala Prince (who collaborated on the album before his untimely death).
A top heavy album. There’s some filler on the second half. The single Make Me Feel (which I find overhyped) is getting attention and is reminiscent of Kiss by Prince. The spoken word parts of the political closer Americans are passionate, though it feels like a homage to The Purple One and especially Let’s Go Crazy. To sum up, four songs I liked, the rest of the material I’m iffy about.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

Wide Awake by Parquet Courts (2018) 
Wide Awake! by Parquet Courts 
(2018) 
I expected more based on the 3.64 score on RYM. I was pretty bored and could hardly finish most of the tracks! Not a fan of shouty vocals so maybe it just wasn’t my taste in the first place. The title track is a fun single with an infectious guitar riff. I like the piano on the closer Tenderness. The melody for Total Football is memorable too.
4/10

 

 

 


Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides (2018) by Sophie.jpg
Oil of E
very Pearl’s Un-Insides by Sophie (2018) 
Currently ranked as the 17th best album of 2018 on RYM’s chart. Healthy to try new things and this is my first bubblegum bass album. It’s Okay to Cry is a moving opener, a ballad with a nice synth intro. The next two tracks go for a Skrillex-esque production which is a complete change of pace and isn’t for me. There’s a beautiful 50 second section in the middle of the song Faceshopping which reminded me of Kate Bush, and so does the impressive vocal performance on Is It Cold In The Water? which contains a memorable chorus. I’m sure the transgender community have got a lot to relate to in the lyrics but since I’m not of that persuasion, I was simply interested in the tunes. Not Okay and Ponyboy are the worst tracks. The instrumental Pretending wouldn’t have been out of place on Anna von Hausswolff’s 2018 LP Dead Magic. RYM users are raving about Immaterial (I disliked it) which sounds like a modern pop song from the Billboard Hot 100. The final track Whole New World is again for Skrillex fans. While the album has its strong pop moments, the tonal shifts are just too jarring and abrasive. Skrillex combined with Kate Bush is a bold yet extremely odd combination. I liked and loathed different parts of the album, making it difficult to reach an opinion.
6/10

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome