Monday, February 27, 2012

Floater


Not many people outside the Pacific Northwest have ever heard about the Oregon-based band Floater.  I think that's a real shame, considering they are one of the best and most accessible bands I've had the pleasure of seeing live... about 42 times or so.

Many fans of Floater actually know, and keep precise count of, exactly how many times they've seen the band live... which usually is as many times as they possibly could since discovering them.  I lost track years ago, when I was too busy to attend most of the shows, but I do my best too keep up on any new CD releases.

Like many fans, the first I heard of Floater came from their second album Glyph when their song "The Sad Ballad of Danny Boy" gained some national radio airplay back in 1996.

"The Sad Ballad of Danny Boy"

While it's very much not my favourite or their best song, it still spiked a bit of my interest, and I attended a concert with some friends...  Early Floater shows were quite unique and regarded by fans as "an experience" more than just a simple rock show.  Usually, the room would be dark and filled with smoke and incense up to five minutes before the band would come onstage, a single beam of light projecting from somewhere behind the drum set, a montage of sound clips swirling around the room as various TV screens at every angle played random clips from old black and white films.  Once the band came out and began playing, the atmosphere stayed the same, shrouding the band in smoke and film projections (projected onto the smoke itself).  All this led to shows being more oriented towards the audio/visual experience and the music itself, as opposed to the band and its members.

"Peter The Destroyer (part 2)" (live)

After my first show, I went to the local music store and bought both their albums.  Their first album Sink is undoubtedly heavier and harsher than any of their later music, but it's also one of my favourites.  I will admit that I think most of the vocals and musical layers are buried under really poor production quality, so a few years ago I went through the album and re-EQ'd the whole thing.  Upon listening to the newly EQ'd version of Sink, I noticed even more layers of swirling guitars and sound clips than I had ever before been aware of... making this fantastic album even better!

"Snowblind"

While Sink is significantly a heavy metal album, there are still plenty of moments where their music is brought down to show a much softer element, giving the band the label of "space rock."

"Weary"

Their second album Glyph expanded their musical styles, adding far more depth musically and lyrically. Still staying hard and heavy, this album brought about a much more clean sound to their music.

"Persecutor" (live)

"All The Stories But One"

My personal favourite is their third album, 1998's Angels In The Flesh and Devils In The Bone.  Veering further and further away from the heavier music, Floater began truly finding their sound and soul with Angels.

"Settling"

Essentially a concept album, Angels was a seventeen track journey from birth to death and rebirth, book-ended by a two-part song that would quickly become a fan favourite for live shows.

"Endless I & II"

Around the time their fourth album Burning Sosobre came out, the live shows had slowly started to rid themselves of the atmospheric aspect, Rob cut his hair, and the band began to interact a little more with the audience.  The music was still good, and starting to mellow out a lot more.  Personally, this was when I felt they were trying to be a bit too much like The Doors, but I can't say I enjoyed them any less.

"Independence Day"

It probably didn't help much in my mind either that the album included a cover (albeit a good one) of a Doors song...

"Waiting For The Sun"

It wasn't until recently that I read that a big part of the reason behind their mellowing out in sound was in hopes to rid themselves of some of their "more rude fans" ...  This actually makes a lot of sense to me, having seen many of that rudeness at their earlier shows.  A lot of their earlier crowds simply felt the band was a "drinking band" ... but Floater had grown far beyond that, and they had grown up.

But their next album, Alter, took a long time to grow on me.  Maybe it seemed a bit too over-produced for me (a strong contrast from Sink's poor production quality).  Alter just came off as too crystal-clear sounding... and not the gritty Floater I had seen god-knows-how-many-times.  It was almost as if they found a song template and stuck with it.... but I can also name many great rock bands that had their periods of being in a rut.

"Alone"

I've since grown to not only appreciate, but really enjoy Alter.  Once I got over my stubborn wall, I was able to listen to the album more objectively, and now I consider many of the songs to be "classics" in the Floater canon.

"Come See Everything"

By this time, their shows had been stretched to two nights each... One being a normal electric live set, and the other being a more intimate acoustic set.  The band re-worked some of their songs for acoustic instruments and also wrote some brand new songs for an acoustic album, rightfully called Acoustics.

"Out of Sight"

By 2006, I had long since stopped going to the shows.  Most of the reason for this was the venue they used to frequent shut down, and I wasn't a fan of the large theater they began appearing at.  Between work, the band I was in, and the change of venue, it just wasn't as big a priority for me anymore... but I did manage to catch a few of the acoustic sets at one of the little bars in town for the release of Stone By Stone.

"Space In Between Us"

The album is pretty good, but I'll admit that it's my least-listened-to album of theirs.  I suppose I should give it a re-listen considering I heard it this past week, but I still can't think of any songs off of it.  Most of the album makes me think they wrote a lot of the songs for their acoustic sets, and then merged them into an electric album... or maybe they just decided to cross the whole two concepts into one sound.  There are really some good songs on Stone By Stone... just none that apparently stick with me for long!

"Breakdown"

So this brings us to the most recent album by Floater.  I didn't even realise the 2010 release Wake existed until mid-2011 sometime.  I decided to check their website to see if there was anything new in the works, and sure enough, it already had been worked and released.

"Killing Time"

Wake was produced and released by the band itself, and on first listen I was thrilled.  Perhaps it was the layered vocals, or maybe it was the dissonant chords... but the Floater that I remember from the days of Sink, Glyph and Angels was back!!  Back, yet more mature... I honestly hadn't been this excited by a new Floater album since Burning Sosobre or the live album that was partially recorded in my hometown.

"Enough"

I was (and am) not disappointed by anything on this album, and I am crediting Wake for reviving my interest in a band I had pushed to the back of my music collection long, long ago.

"Simplest Way of Life" (live)

So if you are interested by any of what you hear, definitely search out any of the band's albums (although it's obvious which ones I'd recommend over others), and get yourself hooked.  Then force it on your friends, and maybe this amazing band can one day be known all across the country.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Enigma


Another of my all-time favourites, anyone who is familiar with the music of Enigma really needs no explanation as to why... but here's a video clip that honestly should sum it up quite well on its own.

"Rivers of Belief"

In early 1999, I picked up a copy of Trilogy, a box set of the first three(3) albums by Enigma.  I was familiar with the music to an extent, but had never heard a full album in its entirety, which is quite important in regards to Enigma.  This set introduced me to what's commonly known as the "Enigma Sound", a little progression of horns that start (and originally ended) each album.  This little horn segment is placed to let you know that you're starting an Enigma album, an experience of its own that can be magical and mystical to anyone who listens.

"The Voice of Enigma"

Michael Cretu had himself a relatively known (in Europe, at least) musical career in the 80's, and when he began this musical project, encompassing mysterious tones and themes, he opted to distance his name from the project, calling it simply "Enigma."  His name and most information of anyone and anything involved was left off of the original album liners, further expanding the mystery.  Unfortunately, this also got him sued on many occasions, for the random samples used in the music having not been credited.

"Return To Innocence"

This music is commonly called "New Age" but I prefer to call it "World Music." Despite not being from any specific culture or tradition, the purpose of Enigma is to create a form of music that encompasses every culture, religion, and tradition in the world... A style of music completely its own, in which anyone and everyone in the world can relate and find comfort.

"Beyond The Invisible"

Each album has its own theme, but pretty much everything in the realm of humanity is incorporated as the topic of interest... Most often finding a combination, similarity, and contrast between religion/spirituality and sexuality/sensuality.

"Gravity of Love"

Everything from Gregorian Chants to east Indian vocals are sampled, musical themes from classical works (such as Orff) and classic rock bands (both Black Sabbath and Genesis have been sampled), and a variety of languages (mostly French) are used frequently.

"Following The Sun"

The music evokes landscapes through valleys and over mountaintops, delving deep down into the ocean, and more recently reaching far out into space.

"Feel Me Heaven"

The most recent album was back in 2008, and while there's been a "Platinum" compilation album including some rare unreleased music and remixes, it doesn't seem there will be anything new from Cretu for quite some time, if ever again. Although I will admit that I had that feeling before each of the past few albums were released, so there's always hope... which I suppose is the real message behind Enigma's music.  There is always hope.

"La Puerta Del Cielo"

If this is the first you've ever heard of Enigma, I suggest you pick up their first "best of" album, Love Sensuality Devotion, and give it a good solid listen from start to finish.  My guess would be that you'll end up searching out much more.

"Social Song"

Monday, February 13, 2012

Death In Vegas


Way back in the very, very beginning of 2000, MTV2 actually played music and was playing every music video they had in alphabetical order.  This was quite the event for a list-maker and alphabetical marathon freak such as myself. (Take this damn blogue for example.)  So, of course, I tuned in for as much as I possibly could, and somewhere in the first day or so a song by Death In Vegas played.  I had never heard either the band nor the song "Aisha" but both the music and the video were kind of weird and intrigued me.

"Aisha"

The next day, I went down to Tower Records (which also still existed) and bought their first two(2) albums.

The first album, Dead Elvis, holds the band's original name as the title.  Apparently, the Elvis Presley estate people weren't that thrilled about the band's first choice in name, so they respectfully changed it and used it as an album title instead.

"G.B.H."

The album has a much more reggae-inspired "British thug" trip-hop dub sound than anything that followed, but anyone familiar with Death In Vegas knows that their sounds change from album to album.  Samples and audio clips have been a mainstay in their music, but never as much as that first album.

"Rocco"

The other album I picked up was The Contino Sessions, which had the first D.I.V. song I had heard, and began with what I still say is one of the most dissonant songs I've ever heard.

"Dirge"

This second album was much heavier with actual instrumentation and vocals, instead of being quite so sample-ridden like the first... which made the album a bit more solid and less fragmented.  A few outside vocalists, like Iggy Pop and Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream, contributed vocals.

"Soul Auctioneer"

It wasn't until just after I started working at Best Buy in 2003 that I found out about their 2002 album Scorpio Rising.  Of all things Best Buy played on their store radio, Death In Vegas was the last thing I expected, but there it was.

"Hands Around My Throat"

Like the album before it, Scorpio Rising had some outside vocalists, like Liam Gallagher (yes, from Oasis) and Paul Weller who sounded very Joe Cocker-ish on a nice cover of The Byrds' Gene Clark.

"So You Say You Lost Your Baby"

And like before, I wasn't aware of the next album, Satan's Circus, until my 2005 trip to Japan... where I found a copy in the giant Virgin Records in Tokyo.  So, I picked it up, along with some Nilsson imports and a few rare Kylie Minogue albums (yes, I'm eclectic.) and gave it a listen.  It was... weird.  I fairly don't remember any real vocals on that album, and it was mostly just ambient beats & breaks.  They were clearly getting back in touch with their beginnings and isolating any fans who had hopped on for the rock songs.

"Heil Xanax"

Another album I picked up in Japan was their 2004 "best of" compilation called Milk It, which had a bonus disc of remixes, and then that was it for Death In Vegas...

Until last year, apparently.

While reading up on the band to write this blogue entry, I noticed that a new album called Trans-Love Energies had been released in September of last year.  So I postponed by blogue a bit, bought the album, listened, and now here we are.

"Your Loft My Acid"

The album is a nice return for a familiar sound, and I couldn't be happier to have a new album by D.I.V. after seven(7) years of figuring they were done for good.  While apparently one of the two(2) main guys in the group is out (either on good or bad terms, no one seems to know), it's definitely still the Death In Vegas I know and love.

"Medication"

Well, definitely one of the lesser-known bands in my collection and once again a favourite of mine, I can only hope that D.I.V. keeps pulling surprises out and releases many, many more albums over the years.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Chumbawamba

See the space which lies between the rich and the poor
How the space increases as we keep on taking more
Keeping that space between us all
Is how the west can keep control...

Alright, next up comes one of my all-time favourite bands.  Chumbawamba may only be known (ie, remembered) for “that one ‘I get knocked down’ song,” but there is, was, and has always been much, much more to this band.  Even though Wikipedia does it a bit better than I do, I’ll do my best to ramble about their musical progression over the past thirty(30) years.

Yes, I said thirty(30).  Their one big single may have come out in 1997, but they have been making music and releasing albums and singles since 1982.  In fact, Chumbawamba was relatively well-known in the U.K. years before they became a “one-hit wonder” in the States.  Being a group of Anarchists (the real type, not the common “tossing bombs” misconception, but that’s another topic...), their music has been consistently political and social in nature throughout the years.

"Revolution (Liberation/Stagnation)"

Their first album was called Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records: Starvation, Charity and Rock & Roll - Lies & Traditions and was an ode (sarcastically) to the Live Aid form of “charity” events, and openly mocked the blatant hypocrisy of billionaires putting on live shows, claiming their songs will end world hunger, all while glazing over the actual causes of suffering in the world.

"Invasion"

Their second album, called Never Mind the Ballots: Here’s the Rest of Your Life is another concept album about hypocrisy.  This time, the topic is voting, elections, and candidates and their lies.  This is my favourite playlist addition every four(4) years.

"The Candidates Find Common Ground"

They started off in the 80’s as a punk-rock band, only a relatively unique style of punk infused with a horn section... but still typical “punk” of the 80’s.  Conversely, amidst all of the loud shouting and guitars, they still found proper space for some decent old-fashioned folk music and ballads.

"Fitzwilliam"

Near the end of the 80’s, Chumbawamba did something completely “not punk” yet still keeping with their Anarchist values.  They released an album of traditional rebel songs and madrigals, dating back as far as the 1300’s.  The album was generically titled English Rebel Songs, 1381-1914 and was entirely a capella.

"Hanging On The Old Barbed Wire"

But did they go straight back to loud thrashy punk?  No... of course not.  Instead, the band of teenagers and young adults had grown up a bit, found dance music, and released the album Slap!

"That's How Grateful We Are"

After that, the album began working on an album called Jesus H. Christ.  It had far too many samples by artists like Elvis and The Beatles, and (of course) they were denied permission to use just about everything they used... so the album was pulled, re-worked, and tooled into a different album about copyright and censorship. (A favourite topic for the band through the years.)  The new album was called Shhh and was my first Chumbwamba album way back in the time of cassette tapes.

"Behave"

Next came an album simply called Anarchy and it was their most popular album at the time (in 1994)... Topics ranged from fascism to homophobia, and the songs were just as catchy as ever.  The album is famous for having the picture of a baby being born on the front cover, and was banned from many record stores.  I remember someone on their old message board stating that the band grew tired of people saying that childbirth was “the most beautiful thing they’d ever seen” so they put it on the cover as a form of spite.

"Enough Is Enough (Kick It Over Mix)"

Next up came 1996’s Swingin’ With Raymond which was broken into two parts... One side “Love” and the other side “Hate.”  Hate was filled with their typical “loud shouty-singy guitar songs” while Love kept to more down-tempo ballads.

"This Girl"

"Salome (Let's Twist Again)"

After a falling-out with their record label, the band signed to EMI, which outraged the punk community.  It’s not “punk” to be on a big corporate label, especially if you’re an anti-corporate Anarchist band... So this got them called “sell-outs” but uhm... they didn’t let that keep them down.  Okay, I couldn’t help that, sorry.  Anyways, the band released Tubthumper and kept their typical social-political messages in each and every song.

"The Big Issue"

Well, not one to shy away from making fun of themselves (as they’d been doing it for years), their next album WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) was about the music industry, pop stars, and boy-bands.  An audio clip of a newsman saying “Stupid...” is looped over and over, fading in from the very start of the album, and essentially playing out through the very end.  The first song, “I’m With Stupid” is about their own presence in the music charts, alongside various manufactured artists like the then-emerging Britney Spears.  “Pass It Along” is about the internet, file-sharing and music piracy... something they are very much in support of (So if you want any of their music, I’m happy to share!) and “She’s Got All The Friends (That Money Can Buy)” is a catchy little song about the Paris Hiltons of the world.  In all, it’s a musical slide show of the band’s trip into the celebrity scene.  Disney, Microsoft, George W. Bush, The Bee Gees... This album has it all.

"Pass It Along"

Then comes yet another change of musical style.  In Readymades they did away with the infamous backwards cymbals of dance music, and the middle-aged musicians mellowed their sound down into what I call “electronic folk.”  This may just be my favourite album of theirs... I really like the shades of trip-hop mixed into their normal sound.

"When I'm Bad"

And to mark every major transition, Chumbawamba re-recorded and re-made their rebel songs album, adding a couple and increasing the date span of the songs.  I guess you could call English Rebel Songs, 1381-1984 a re-release... but with a much more mature sound and vocals.

"The Smashing of The Van"

As they veered away from electric music and further towards a more traditional folk sound, the band released Un …as in “UnChumbawamba.”  A transitional album with a transitional name to boot.

"Everything You Know Is Wrong"

A Singsong and A Scrap introduces their smaller band line-up (down to four members from, what was it, nine? ten?) and the simple folk music sound that occasionally poked its nose out in their early years.

"Fade Away (Late Night Mix)"

The Boy Bands Have Won actually holds the world record for the longest album title at 865 characters... The full title is as follows:

The Boy Bands Have Won, and All the Copyists and the Tribute Bands and the TV Talent Show Producers Have Won, If We Allow Our Culture to Be Shaped by Mimicry, Whether from Lack of Ideas or From Exaggerated Respect. You Should Never Try to Freeze Culture. What You Can Do Is Recycle That Culture. Take Your Older Brother's Hand-Me-Down Jacket and Re-Style It, Re-Fashion It to the Point Where It Becomes Your Own. But Don't Just Regurgitate Creative History, or Hold Art and Music and Literature as Fixed, Untouchable and Kept Under Glass. The People Who Try to 'Guard' Any Particular Form of Music Are, Like the Copyists and Manufactured Bands, Doing It the Worst Disservice, Because the Only Thing That You Can Do to Music That Will Damage It Is Not Change It, Not Make It Your Own. Because Then It Dies, Then It's Over, Then It's Done, and the Boy Bands Have Won.

"El Fusilado"

If "Boy Bands” was the folk version of “Tubthumper” then their 17th album ABCDEFG would be its “WYSIWYG”...  An album mostly about music, there are references to Wagner, Metallica, and Guantanamo Bay.  They also sampled themselves, using bits of their songs from the early 80’s, making this album a welcome sound to fans.

"Wagner At The Opera"

Currently the band is working on a new album... I don’t know what it will sound like, but I am sure I’ll enjoy it.


Something I didn’t touch on, but is a major part of Chumbawamba... Liner notes.

In every album’s liner notes, paired up with every song’s lyrics, there are explanations on the songs’ origins and back-stories.  Since every song is about some social issue, political theory, historical event, etc... every song has a story, and Chumbawamba tells those stories in the artwork sleeves for their albums.  It’s very informative and often a good read, and in the case of songs like “Tubthumping” where the American audience isn’t too keen on British slang, it’s a big help for explaining the song’s intent.

I can honestly say that I have learned a LOT not only from listening, but from reading the notes.  In fact, for a while there, I had personally typed up all the liner notes and was running a web-site for them.  Eventually, I shut down the site (because I got sick of keeping up web sites like that), and sent the band the text for their archives...

"I Wish That They'd Sack Me"

Well, I think that just about does it for my long post on Chumbawamba.  I consider them to be the most under-appreciated band of all time.  There are a lot of one-hit wonders who are more than what they seem, but I doubt any of them have as much hidden depth as this band does.