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Steven Dedalus "Steven Dedalus" (Belfast, Northern Ireland)

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Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991
Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991
by Michael Azerrad
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.08

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Book Could Change Your Life, 6 Dec. 2006
Michael Azerrad's mighty tome is quite simply the definitive statement on this important era in modern music. Admittedly, it might not seem like the most important time in music, but this book rightly elevates it to the position it deserves.

Covering an era when music seemed to really MEAN something, Azerrad allows us to see the wider picture by telling the story through the eyes of the people who were there. Each chapter is devoted to a particular band, focussing on their indie years and tailing off if a major label becomes involved. All the major names contribute to this tale, and one of the key aspects of the story is the way Azerrad allows these voices to reappear in other chapters, linking the narratives and providing a sense of continuity and, more importantly, community. This was a time when the 'scene' was so loosely defined that all the key players in this story knew each other (if only by reputaion more than anything else), and everyone seems to contribute to each other's story. there is almost a sense of 'family', as one individual will pick up the themes established by another.

Much has been said about the omissions in the book, and they do deserve a closer look. Azerrad clearly defines in his introduction the criteria for inclusion in the book. This has lead to compliants of various movers and shakers being left out of the story. Firstly, in a realistic way, it would be almost impossible to comprehensively cover every single band that made some kind of contribution to the American underground scene of the 1980s (for a general over-view, readers would be encouraged to check out Simon Reynold's "Rip it up and Start Again"). And secondly, some of the bigger names are not covered because they do not fit themeatically in the book. R.E.M., for example, are not featured because they were signed to a major label. however, their presence haunts the book, as they establish themselves in a way that the featured bands could only ever dream of, moving from strength to strength, and bringing the mainstream to their doorstep on their terms. The Pixies are not mentioned because they were on a major label. But, more importantly, their impact in America was considerably less than it was in the UK. As the focus of the book is to document how the featured acts changed America, the Pixies don't really warrant a mention (ok, they inspiried Kurt Cobain, but who didn't?).

The only omission that is slightly baffling is the Meat Puppets. Like R.E.M., they seem to haunt the book, popping up in every chapter. Their contibution to the American indie scene is immense, and they really should have been covered. I can't think of one good reason to explain their absence.

Other than that, the book is faultless. Giving a biography of each band works perfectly, and the various themes of the book become immediately apparent. The links between seemingly different bands like Black Flag and Beat Happening are genuinely startling. Each band has their own feel, and the narrative develops to suit the music. The Mission of Burma chapter is intelligent, witty and well crafted, much like the music the band made, whilst the Replacements' story is told in a humorous, drunken, debauched way, but with an undercurrent of emotion that perfecly captures the essence of the band.

Another strength of the book is Azerrad's ability to pin-point what makes a band so good. A band like Mudhoney were certainly not of much interest to me before I read the book, but Azerrad's affinty for the subject caused me to seek out the music, and listen with fresh ears. Azerrad's own narrative is also compelling, with his description of Husjer Du's version of "Eight Miles High" deserving particular mention.

Without a doubt, the stories that make up this tale are enought to inspire and educate a whole new generation. One can only hope that they do not fall on deaf ears.

Younger Than Yesterday
Younger Than Yesterday
Price: £5.28

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The End of an Era, 30 Nov. 2006
This review is from: Younger Than Yesterday (Audio CD)
"Younger Than Yesterday" signifies the end of the first part of the Byrds career (and end that had been on the cards from "Fifth Dimension" or maybe even from the day they got together...). It is the last album to 'officially' feature David Crosby as a member of the group, and as such, it is tempting to see it as being 'his' album, the one on which he got to realise his version of the group.

After the departure of Gene Clark, the remaining Byrds were left in a very precarious situation. Clarke had been the group's main songwriter, and compared to his work, that of Roger McGuinn and David Crosby does tend to pale in comparison. Their public perception was founded on their interpretation of other writer's work, which ultimately led to a scenario where their own view of themselves was not necessarily a view that the public shared. The band that became famous with hits such as 'Mr Tambourine Man' and 'Turn, Turn, Turn' bear scant resemblance to the "Younger Than Yesterday" era Byrds. It is no coincidence that, whilst they arguably did their finest work in this period, the commercial decline begins here.

It's hard to see why, though. Every track on "Younger Than Yesterday" demands attention. Opener, 'So You Want to be a Rock'n'Roll Star' has one of their most chiming and melodic guitar parts, along with lyrics bemoaning the pressures of fame (apparently referring to the Monkees, but more accurately aimed at their own formative years). Out of no-where, Chris Hillman - who had previously just been the bassist for the band - emerges as a major writer. 'Have you Seen her Face' and 'Thoughts and Words' are easily two of the best songs on the album, bristling with energy and creative freedom. McGuinn's guitar work, always the unifying factor with the early Byrds, is on top form, with the sonic experiments of "Fifth" Dimension" taken to their logical extreme, as guitars are put through all manner of studio trickery and lengthy backwards guitar drones are utilised. (and speaking of 'logical', isn't McGuinn one of the most 'logical' guitar players of his generation? Rarely is a note wasted and parts chime with almost scientific exactness. Even his guitar 'freakouts' seem perfectly orchestrated.)

However, as I said before, it does feel like it's Crosby's album. Whereas "Fith Dimension" was a whimsical journey through the various scientific and sci-fi themes that preoccupied Roger McGuinn, "Younger Than Yesterday" seems to be a platform for Crosby's meandering spirituality as well as his sense of sinister eroticsim. 'Everybody's Been Burned' could well be the greatest song the Byrds ever recorded, every musician playing at the very height of the powers. McGuinn's spine-tingling guitar part interlocks exactly with Hillman's superbly melodic bassline. And the solo is one of those moments where the listener simply has to hold their breath. 'Mind Gardens' deals with the more spiritual side of his writing, but its rambling drone textures and stream of consiousness lyrics are not to everyone's tastes (why two versions (three if you count the uncreditied instrumental take at the end of the cd) of this - only marginally different from each other - have been included on this set is absolutely baffling). 'Renaissance Fair' frequently strays into the realm of hippy-tweeness, but is set aside by its dazzlingly good bassline and Crosby's obvious enthusiasm for the subject.

On this album, Crosby's songs do tend to be that little bit more experimental, and frequently not entirely successful, but that is what gives him the edge over his bandmates. In essence, Crosby's version of the Byrds is the one that could have flown highest, taken the most risks and reaped the most rewards. McGuinn frequently takes a safer route (even if he did want to send them flying into outer space with his futuristic moog experiments) and Hillman was always going to go down the country roads. One can only wonder what the fate of the Byrds would have been if Crosby's artistic impulses were indulged...
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 21, 2014 5:42 PM GMT

On How the Illustrious Captain
On How the Illustrious Captain
Offered by Hausmusik
Price: £5.97

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gasss, 3 Nov. 2006
Hookers Green No1, an Aberdonian group with a shifting membership, have big ideas. And they want to share them with you.

This record takes in indie-rock, psychadelic flights of fancy, jazz, pop, jazz-pop, and much more. And it's all totally accessable. True, there is a disparity of styles used on the record, but the band manage to blend them all together into an (almost) seamless whole. And even the abrupt shifts in genre add to the over-all experience of listening to the record.

A large part of the charm is that this is an 'album'. In a time where it occasionally feels like albums have reverted back to their primal selves and are merely a couple of singles, a few more potential singles, and then some filler, "On How the Illustrious Captain Moon Won the War for Us" holds together as a cohesive whole. Songs flow into each other, melodies and themes are reprised, and it has the feel of listening to a musical at times. Which it might well be, for all we know.

Lyrically, the album deals with a startling range of themes, taking in life, death, love and loss, and everything else in between (that would be...um...all human existance then). The opening line "I have killed again, but I didn't mean to," sets the scene perfectly, the mixture of esoteric certainty and doubt. Things are rarely as they initially seem in the world of Hookers Green No1.

At times, the album can seem bewildering, as it ambles from section to section, almost like scenes from a movie, but once again, if you are open to it, then it really adds to the impact of the record as a whole.

And few albums can boast of a song as powerful as the final track. And that's a fact.

Cardinal [Expanded Edition]
Cardinal [Expanded Edition]

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utter Perfection (I really mean that!), 4 Oct. 2006
Cardinal were a 'blink and you miss them' kind of band. Eric Matthews and Richard Davies released one album, a single and then split up. They played a few gigs, and were then chucked in the dustbin of history.

Thank God for re-issues, then! And what a reissue this is! There is so much bonus material here, that it makes you wish Cardinal had never split up because you just want more and more and more. There are 'live' tracks, out-takes, doodles and demo versions. The demo versions are particularly revealing becasue frequently, if Richard Davies sang the finished album version, Eric Matthews sings the demo version. This offers a fascinating insight into how the album was created, and how the brought together all the different elements to make their songs. (Also, Richard Davies' singing on the demos is slightly less 'twee' than on the album, some might say).

However, this would all be irrelevant if the album wasn't a stone cold classic in it's own right. The ten songs on the album meld together thematically and sonically to form almost a loose concept: if you get your ass kicked, someday you'll get back up again. Not exactly "Tales From Topographic Oceans", but it'll do.

As a rule of thumb, Davies supplies the words, Matthews supplies the arrangements, and the two compliment each other perfectly. The album has quite a lush sound, with orchestral elements fleshing out the basic guitar/bass/drums set-up.

The first track, 'If You Believe in Christmas Trees', encapsulates the overall feel of the album. A simple guitar part is led by a bass melody, which builds into a full band sound. Then sweet, sweeping strings enter the picture, giving the song a very different hue. But the real master-stroke comes in towards the end when a full baroque brass arrangement bursts into life, taking the song in a whole other direction. The words narrate a beguiling tale of loser-dom, with the protagonist getting beaten up at the end to the sound of the baroque horns. In a word, stunning.

For what it's worth, Davies' voice, which is in a higher register and very enunciated, can become slightly grating at times, and the album lacks serious bite. There are shifts in mood, but I guess the overall tone is 'whimsical'. But other than that, I really can't find any reason to doubt it. A treat for the ears.

R.E.M.'s Murmur (33 1/3)
R.E.M.'s Murmur (33 1/3)
by J. Niimi
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Oblique and Intriguing, 4 Oct. 2006
R.E.M.'s first album is regarded by many to be their finest, and this instalment in the 33 1/3 series pulls out all the stops, offering some intense analysis. Be warned, this book is not for the faint hearted.

As someone who discovered "Murmur" over a decade and a half ago, and would try to listen to it at least once or twice a month, I found it frequently very hard to follow all the contrasting strands that Justin Niimi is attempting to pull together in an attepmt to explain the mysitque of this enduring classic.

Guitars are pin-pointed, drum patterns are celebrated, song structures de-constructed and the lyrics transcribed (no mean feat in itself).

The problem is the sheer amount of depth that the book goes into. Unlike some of the other books in the series, Niimi's reads more like an academic text in places, resulting in a situation where, if you want to get something out of it, you've got to put a lot into it.

Whilst reading the book, in particular the song by song analysis, I found myself unable to follow some of his points and frequently failing to recognise the passages he was referring to. Dilligently, I got the album out and listened to it, only to find parts of the record I guess I'd never really heard before.

So there I was, listening to "Murmur" whilst reading a book about "Murmur". In a sense, the ultimate music nerd, and the target audience of these books. They got me hook, line and sinker.

Candy Apple Grey
Candy Apple Grey
Offered by Assai-uk
Price: £8.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Album That Imporves With Age, 25 Sept. 2006
This review is from: Candy Apple Grey (Audio CD)
Upon it's release, "Candy Apple Grey" was seen as a disapointment by fans, critics, and record label. Fans thought that the band had 'sold out' by going with a major and watering down their sound, critics felt it lacked the bite of previous releases and was vastly inferior to "Flip Your Wig", and the record label wanted something more 'pop' but with the quality songwriting of "Zen Arcade".

In retrospect, it's hard to see how Husker Du could have won out in this situation. Their reputation was based on their power as one of the foremost hardcore bands in America, but beneath all of the noise and rage, lay a beating 'pop' heart, that was only now begining to flex it's muscles. Husker Du had dipped their toes into the world of pop music before, but not as confidently as on "Candy Apple Grey". However, what the band considered pop and what Warners considered pop were (and are) two completely different things. After it's release, the record failed to do what was expected of it, and the band hurtled towards "Warehouse: Songs and Stories" and their (perhaps) inevitable demise.

As a result of all this, it's frequently hard to be objective about "Candy Apple Grey", because, in a certain sense, it's the album that broke up the band. This is the first time Husker Du sounded slightly unfocussed, and...well, tired. The 'pop' songs on the album such as 'I Don't Know For Sure' and 'Eiffel Tower High' don't sound as convincing as 'Books About UFO's' from "New Day Rising" or 'Makes No Sense At All' from "Flip Your Wig". They also suffer from a pretty thin sound, giving them no bite at all. They're still full of hooks and insightful lyrics, but they kind of leave you lacking, somewhat.

The production aspect is something that dogged Husker Du throughout their recording career, and every single album has serious sonic failings. "Candy Apple Grey" is all treble, and the shift from indie to major has made no difference to the audio quality at all. When placed beside other recordings made at the time,such as the Replacements or R.E.M., both of which bear a resemblance to Husker Du at times, Husker Du frequently fall short.

But this shouldn't detract from the songs, and it doesn't. 'Don't Want to Know if You Are Lonely' is simply one of the finest songs the band ever wrote, a harrowingly percise look at a failed relationship. 'Sorry Somehow' almost borders on epic, and 'Crystal' is harsh and dissonant, it's placing at the begining of the album almost serving as warning to the listener, a goading attempt by the band to find out who their true fans are.

But inbetween all of this is 'Too Far Down' and 'Hardly Getting Over it', two bona-fide masterpieces. Husker Du had tackled emotional issues before, but never so directly or starkly. 'Too Far Down' could almost be the great-grandfather of emo, with Bob Mould accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, literally dragging himself further and further down into some real or imagined pool of suffering. 'Hardly Getting Over it' is more textured, drums, bass and a slight hint of keyboard perfectly framing a tale of loss and melancholy. Grant Hart responds with 'No Promise Have I Made', a piano ballad that's possibly a little too over-wrought to be totally convincing.

Ultimately, "Candy Apple Grey" doesn't really sound like anything else in their back catalogue. It stands alone, misunderstood, frequently unloved, but begging for rediscovery. Ultimately flawed, it is still one of the finest albums to emerge from the American underground scene of the 1980s, and it's power will continue top resonate for quite some time to come.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 18, 2016 1:11 PM GMT

Let It Be
Let It Be

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Key Work of the Era, 4 Sept. 2006
This review is from: Let It Be (Audio CD)
"Let it Be" stands out amongst the rest of the Replacements' catalogue as an era defining classic. They never bettered it, and very few other artists have even attempted to capture it's bruised glory.

Ramshackle playing, bum notes and slurred vocals are all part of the charm of the Replacements, and on this album the serve to frame the songs, giving them the air of having literally just been created as the tape is rolling. There is a definite sense that every note the band plays is the exact note they were always meant to play, a wonderful feeling of abandonment and raw beauty.

Standout tracks include 'I Will Dare', which features a wonderfully sublime guitar solo from R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, "Sixteen Blue", which redifines what a ballad can do, and "Unsatisfied", which is so raw and heartbroken that it seems as though it could literally break up as you listen to it.

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