Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Hartnoll Brothers

Popular music is full of siblings who have made music together, and a lot of them have had rather tempestuous relationships. The fightin' Gallaghers from Oasis spring to mind, as do the Davies brothers from The Kinks. And, going even further back, I believe the Everly Brothers didn't speak to each other for the odd decade or two.

An exception to this rule are Paul and Phil Hartnoll from the seminal electronic act, Orbital. Hmmm... Must have been all the E they took. It's hard to stay angry at someone when you're pilling your tits off.

Despite the lack of any high-profile familial bust-ups, it's a truism of life that all good things must come to an end. And so, after four memorable appearances at Glastonbury, seven great studio albums, and a stonkingly good valedictory tour in 2004, Orbital broke up. Along with the likes of Leftfield, Underworld and the Chemical Brothers, they will be remembered as one of the most vital and innovative electronic bands of the 90s.

(If you're unfamiliar with their work, check out these videos for a taster - The Box and Halcyon).

But what are the Hartnoll boys doing nowadays? This year has provided us with the answer, so it's time to don my metaphorical music reviewer's hat and give the following pair of CDs a listen:

Long Range - Madness and Me

I saw Phil Hartnoll's Long Range at The Big Chill back in summer 2006, so I was expecting a CD of their new material pretty soon afterwards. I didn't think I'd have to wait over a year anyway!
Not to worry - it's here now. And it's got all the ingredients for a great dance album. Filthy basslines? Check. Insistent beats? Check. Heart-fluttering melodies? Check. The title track is a particularly beautiful piece of music.

The only exception to this tale of excellence is the song 'Your Face', in which Long Range 'succeeds' in sounding like some godawful German heavy metal band from the 80s. I don't know what Phil was thinking of there, but the result is complete shit.

Nevermind, things get back on track with the excellent Just One More and it doesn't detract from what's a very promising debut from this band.

8 out of 10.

Paul Hartnoll - The Ideal Condition

Wow, this is an entirely different kettle of fish. It's been said that Paul wants to get into making soundtracks for movies, and it certainly sounds like it. Much of the material comes across like the soundtrack for a movie - a bloody good one.

A lot of The Ideal Condition couldn't be described as house music - or, indeed, dance music of any kind - so a lot of Orbital fans probably won't like it. But personally I love the airy, orchestral, almost pastoral sound of tracks like 'For Silence' and 'The Unsteady Waltz'.

There are still harder, clubbier tracks (and the poppier 'Please' featuring the distinctive vocals of The Cure's Robert Smith) but the overall feel is sweeping and grandiose. For example, 'Nothing Else Matters' is one of the most beautiful electronic tracks I've heard in ages, and the final track 'Dust Notes' reminds me of the sort of grand, overblown orchestral piece that wouldn't sound out of place on the Floyd's 'Atom Heart Mother'.

In other words, it's fookin' brilliant.

9 out of 10.

So there we have it. A narrow points victory to Paul.

The feeling back "in the day" was that Paul was probably the real brains behind Orbital. I think this was mainly due to the fact that Phil, during the live shows, used to cavort around and wave his arms around and generally look like he was having just as good a time as the audience - while Paul generally kept his head down and seemed to be doing most of the 'knob twiddling'.

Despite this public impression, I reckon these albums show that the talent in the Hartnoll family was shared around fairly evenly.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Manic Monday

It's the last Manic Monday before the official kickoff of the Bigassed Neverending Commercial Holiday Joy Season! Spend, spend, spend!
Acoustic Blues - Paul James (reissue)
Explorer - Duke Robillard (reissue)
New Blues For Modern Man - Duke Robillard (reissue)
Live Shots - Joe Ely
Greatest Hits - Keith Urban
Old Town School Of Folk Music, Vol. 4 -Various Artists
Angel Down - Sebastian Bach - I guess he has time for music now that his gig on Gilmore Girls is up.
A bunch of Holiday Gift Packs are coming out on Capitol Records, each from a different artist (i.e. Pat Benatar, Blur, Blondie, etc. Each features a CD and DVD.)
Ask Forgiveness - Bonnie Prince Billy
Fly Me Courageous - Drivin' N' Cryin' (reissue)
Awakening Live - Melissa Etheridge
Genesis - a bunch of reissues of their 80's stuff on Rhino
Dose - Gov't Mule
Y34R Z3RO R3MIX3D - Nine Inch Nails
Colorado 88 - Phish (and more live Phish, too)
Jukes - Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes - Springsteen light is reissued this day.
Joshua Tree - U2 - 20th Anniversary reissue
The Brit Box: U.K. Indie, Shoegaze, and Brit-Pop Gems of the Last Millennium - Various Artists - Rhino's gift box in a cool-looking package. 78 songs. Stone Roses, Smiths, New Order, Supergrass, My Bloody Valentine, and many, many more artists.
Jesse Winchester - reissues
That is all. Now enjoy the turkey this week, if you're in the USA, and if you like turkey.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Contrast Podcast Needs YOUR Vote!

As you may or may not know, I participate in a weekly podcast, Contrast Podcast, produced by the fab Tim Young. Each week, he assembles a themed podcast featuring songs introduced by the participants. This week, the theme was Random Shuffle, so each participant shuffled a player and submitted the first song that came up, with a short intro. My song this week was Summer's Coming by Sean Watkins. Next week, the theme is 1986, so I've chosen a song, recorded an intro, and emailed it off to Tim to be part of the podcast next week.

For year's end, Tim's doing a Contrast Podcast Festive 50, and asking folks to submit their favorite 5 songs of 2007. I would love it if any of you would join in the fun. Here's what to do:

1. Decide on your 5 favourite tracks of 2007 and put them in order from 1 (your favourite) to 5 (your fifth favourite). (Note: he's a Brit, so favourite=favorite. Yes, I'm a smartass.)
2. Send this list to me at tim.young@rhul.ac.uk with ‘Contrast Podcast Festive 50’ in the message title by the 27th November.
3. This is open to all contributors and listeners to the podcast .. so spread the word. The more votes we get the better it will work.
4. Three lucky list-makers (pulled out of the hat randomly) will win a copy of the ‘The Trucks – Titties ep’ including my remix!!
5. I will then put the lists together to make a chart and invite contributors to introduce songs that they have liked.
6. The podcast will go out from 18th December to 1st January with a countdown of the top 50 .. hopefully!

If you are shy about recording an intro when/if your song makes the cut, I can do one for you. So, come on, help us out!

What did I submit? It was tough, since there are many songs I couldn't get enough of this year, but my list is:

1.You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb - Spoon
2. Right Moves - Josh Ritter
3.Boy With A Coin - Iron & Wine
4.Down In The Valley - The Broken West
5.Head Like A Hole - Giant Bear (NIN cover)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Oldies but Moldies.

Nat of local fame recently discussed the five oldest records in her collection. That got me rooting through the old lp collection, and reminiscing quite a bit. I was all about the black vinyl disks when I was a kid.

My answer, therefore, would have been much too long for a comment, so I'll list mine here.

First of all, there is a lot missing from this collection. After all, I wasn't always about the music I dig now. In elementary school, my collection was chock full of K-Tel collections with names like Fantastic!, Dynamite!, and Out of Sight! I also had everything Kiss yarked up until the under-the-belt combo of the horribly inept Kiss Alive II and those solo albums. Egad, those solo albums. This stuff, along with other mistakes, was purged from the collection when I reached middle school, and never missed. Thus, this answer to Nat's question involves just those that survived.

There are two from those days, and I am certain that they predate any of the Kiss albums I bought, anyway. They were both, of course, inspired by my older brothers' collections, and the first was the only band that they both had.

Hours upon hours were spent in my room, using the little record player my parents had bought in the 50s - you remember, the little portable ones that were self contained and made their own case. I pored over the record cover - the first "real" one that was my property. I seem to remember there being a poster with it, but that's long gone now.

I remember digging this because it was one my brothers didn't have, yet it had all the songs that I liked from the albums I'd heard, and a few new ones. It also gave me a chance to hear different versions, since it was a live album. See how early this whole thing started?

The next one was heavily inspired by my eldest brother M___'s collection.

At the time, live music was more of an economic decision than an artistic preference. A single lp cost about $7.00, but you could get a double album for $10.00, and a triple like this for about $13.00. More bang for your buck. Any of them were a big investment for a 4th grader in the day when a copy of The Flash was only a quarter. And thanks to both the radio and my brother's records, I was really into the Beatles and McCartney both. This three-disc set not only gave me new versions of songs I knew, but also a lot of new songs, as well as live versions of Beatles songs! This is one I'd like to replace on CD.

It's interesting to note that while I played the hell out of these records, they are still in fantastic shape. I'd even say the McCartney is close to pristine, despite getting played for years longer than the Grand Funk. I was careful with my music to the point of neurosis, I guess. My reverence started at a very early age.

This one was a gift from my other brother, R__ . His idea was always to get me music that I wasn't listening to, and broaden my horizons. In this case, however, it's no wonder the lp is in great shape. With the exception of one song, Do You Feel Like We Do, I never warmed up to it. As a kid, I thought maybe I just wasn't "getting it", because this was such a monstrously popular album. I figured I'd like it better as I matured. I didn't. The main reason this is still in the stacks is the fact that I've never found a used record store willing to buy another copy of the damn thing.

The next one was my own decision, made around 6th or 7th grade, and one of the few to escape the "used record store" purges of the 1980s that removed a LOT of records from consideration here.

This is still a great album. When it first came out, my young mind was baffled by Bohemian Rhapsody, but it grew on me in exactly the way Frampton did not. And the first side is simply one great song after another. In fact, I cannot for the life of me explain why I don't have this on CD, especially since good Queen boots have thus far eluded me.

Finally, we come to one that I'm sure I got in 7th grade, as another gift from R___. This time he got it right, as I was ready, largely because of Queen, to start exploring the more progressive rock bands, and Kansas was a terrific primer. While songs like Dust in the Wind are commercial enough for a young listener to consider "normal", songs like The Spider and Paradox challenged me to follow the melodies and rhythms in a way that hadn't happened before. This album prepared me for a lot of bands I listened to later, such as Yes, ELP, and King Crimson, which in turn paved my way toward jazz. Not only that, but it was also a lyrical departure from the teen love that most of the radio fare consisted of, and that meant a lot to me. I wanted something more intellectual than the usual party fare of the day. And look at that cover! The next record R___ got me for a gift was Wish You Were Here. He really hit the nail on the head that time, eh?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Trivia Quiz - Names

The standing rule: No Googling!

Who is the artist referring to in the song? (Give me the artist/song title, people!) No, these are not the exact lyrics, since what fun would that be? (and none of these are super-obscure songs, ok?)

1. She should wake up, since he's got something to say to her. It's late September and he should be back at school, you know.

2. She made a food (CORRECTION, the word is FOOL) of everyone. She broke the rules, but the world was just waiting for her.

3. This bloated hairy thing winnin' a grammy must not get back together with Glenn Frey.

4. This guy had a hard run, runnin' from her window, and he's on his bended knees asking her not to come around anymore.

5. She need not put out the red light or sell her body to the night.

6. This country boy never learned to read and write so well, but he could play guitar.

7. All he wants to do when he wakes up in the morning is see her eyes.

8. Her phone number was 867-5309.

9. He's crawling up my wall, black and hairy, very small.

10. He looks at the night, and it don't seem so lonely. How can he hurt when he's holding you?

The More Difficult BONUS question:

11. She feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China.