In 1982 British rock supergroup Asia stood, seemingly alone, stemming the new wave tide on behalf of the arena rock dinosaurs of the seventies. Fused from elements of Yes, King Crimson, Emerson,Lake and Palmer and, um, The Buggles, they ruled America’s airwaves for a couple of years with streamlined tearjerkers like Only Time Will Tell and Heat of the Moment.
Egos inevitably intervened, and Keyboardist Geoff Downes was left to guide the band through a quarter century of revolving door lineups and performances in Midwestern Irish Pub venues to ever diminishing crowds of the faithful.
Then, somehow, the man engineered a reformation, and in 2008 Asia Mark I, with vocalist/bassist John Wetton, guitarist Steve Howe and drummer Carl Palmer rejoining Downes for the gloriously pompous Phoenix, which became the first Asia album to chart in 20-odd years in the US and led to a successful bout of touring worldwide.
In 2010 the unit has held firm, and returns with Omega, a collection of songs that, whilst not so immediate as its predecessor, is still rather good. Asia in 2010 is less bombastic than of yore, though opener Finger on the Trigger starts off proceedings in spritely enough fashion, preferring to ease back on the extraneous noise in favour of some tastefully restrained arrangements that really allow the listener to enjoy throatsmith Wetton’s marvellous performance, both vocally and lyrically. As ever, a welcome treat.
Once upon a time I walked into Landspeed Records, and the garage rock mania filling the room turned out to be the Primary Colours album from Eddy Current Suppression Ring. It was good to once again be reminded of the considerable mileage gained over the years from a combination of three chords and snarling attitude. And given the sheer volume of garage rock compilations that have appeared in the wake of that momentous pre-Ramones Nuggets set released in 1972, the success rate has been pretty good. Off The Wall first appeared on LP in the early 1980s when the garage rock reissue market was still in its nascent phase, and contains bucket loads of impolite hormone saturated rock ‘n’ roll that sprouted all over the place around 1966.
It is in fact heartening to consider that raw-beat rock music has maintained its place in the pantheon of the greats because of sheer perseverance, if nothing else. This welcome Off the Wall reissue compiles a bunch of bands that were destined to never receive much attention from the mainstream music industry for the simple reason that the guitars are way too distorted, the production is sometimes a product of the stone age, and that niggling suffering at the hands of the opposite sex is ever present. With this in mind, The Purple Underground with its unrestrained 1967 rave-up Count Back will tell you pretty much everything you need to know.
Songwriting duo Jessie Vintila and Emma Royle have released a stunning debut album with tracks ranging right across the broad roots genre. Song styles vary from the country tones of Nothing to Fear, to the blues-jazz combo of Rather Be Lovin You, to the folksy Closing In. Whether by accident or design, themes follow the classic three part romantic movie format. First they’re about getting high on love, then love going bad, then back to the triumph of love in the finale.
It’s a very emotional journey, with a mix of the good and the bad, just like real life. Happy Pill, about the downside of chemical release, and the anguished Please Don’t Break Me Down, are particularly powerful.
Jessie’s vocals are the highlight of this CD, with tones that really lift the heart. She sounds achingly beautiful in Emotional and in So You’ve Never her sweet voice brings to mind Frente’s frontwoman Angie Hart. Melodies are beguiling in their simplicity and, combined with the crystal vocals and some nerve-tingling harmonies, they make a winning package.
The pair from Byron Bay are touring with their two compatriots and will be at The Front on Sunday April 18. The band put their wallets behind strong personal eco beliefs, with part-proceeds from CD sales going to environmental projects. So Thirteen O’Clock could help sweeten your day, whilst helping save some endangered critters at the same time.
Enigmatic electronic Swedish outfit collaborate with avant garde opera artists and release concept album about controversial evolutionary botanist. If that sentence doesn’t strike the fear of god into you, then nothing will. The Knife aren’t the most accessible of bands, known more for masks and not playing to any of the accepted norms of media participation, record promotion or publicity.
So it’s hardly a surprise they’re in the market for astringent barely listenable noise operas.Tomorrow, In A Year is based on Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of the Species but I would challenge anyone to point that out without the benefit of cheat notes and reviews like this pointing it out.
It starts out with a trickle of mild bleeps that could be bird noises I suppose and ends 120 odd, really odd, minutes later with a couple of tracks that might have fallen off a Knife album (Colouring of Pigeons, The Height of Summer) But the album sits uneasily in the bands discography – it’s neither a spooky, icy electronic record nor a thoroughly immersive otherworldly aural space exploration. Being stuck in-between doesn’t suit Karin and Olof and despite the occasional flourish I can’t see even the most devoted Knife fan listening to it all the way through more than once other than to prove a point to the idiots who just don’t get it. Like me.
Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp have been in the dress up cupboard again, and this time they’ve come out wearing, well, basically head to toe Elton John outfits, with a guest appearance of Olivia Newton John and potential ex boyfriends sprinkled on the side.
Their fifth offering to the masses, Head First, is one of sweeping synths and unaffected disco, the type that makes people like me wish the attempted revival had had a more successful comeback of late, but, there are elements of boredom to it.
The problem is Goldfrapp do what they do well, better than most of their counterparts in fact, it’s just, that’s all they do. It’s a tried and tested formula that works brilliantly, and that’s why Head First is such a confusing album.
Revealing the standout single Rocket too soon, the album’s sleek and shine swallows up its potential to blow you away, as the score for the Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy did. The other exception to this is Shiny and Warm that commands listening and makes you feel a little bit cooler than you were four minutes before.
They’re a band of subtleties, and Head First is full of them, but there’s no moment of even the slightest explosion, which leaves this album in the predicament that Seventh Tree suffered, sitting next to their others in a catalogue, and not being raved about like it could have been.
After endearing themselves to the hearts of so many with their 2007 debut LP A Book Like This, Australia’s favourite brother-sister duo have, with this sophomore effort, succeeded in creating a folk-pop opus to match, if not surpass, their debut. The Stones have survived the dreaded second album curse by, most notably, taking their (almost sickly) sweet, quasi-freak folk inclinations and adorning them with more substantial, complex and involved instrumentals inclusive of drums, banjos, piano, and fuzzy guitars. With such strategic developments, the pair – but most notably Julia – sound less doting, and parts of A Book Like This now sound like the naïve angst of a 13 year-old girl in comparison. The vocals are as enchanting as ever (although the constant alternation between songs sung by Angus and those by Julia may be irritating to some), but they’re now enriched with a deep, nourishing undergrowth to their standard acoustic foliage. This gives the album a tone which is at times surreal and at times electrifying, but overall undoubtedly more confident, mature and – most importantly – more lasting.
Presented in a standard issue 4AD sleeve complete with dark, murky visuals and clean typography, things bode well for Norwegian shoegazers Serena Maneesh’s second effort. The legendary British label has, after all, been home to the likes of Cocteau Twins, Lush and Pale Saints, all groups who’ve been slapped with the ‘gaze tag at one stage or another.
However, the most obvious reference point on No 2: Abyss in B Minor - which was, incidentally, recorded in a cave in Olso - is My Bloody Valentine. Melody for Jaana, a wall of woozy, distorted guitars over which some Norwegian dame does her best whispered Bilinda Butcher vocal, is vintage MBV, while Magdalena (Symphony #8) sounds like the long lost companion piece to Swallow, right down to the flute.
The influence of Kevin Shields hangs very heavily over this LP: when they aren’t mining Tremolo-era MBV, Serena Maneesh’s more electronic based excursions - all jacked-up beats, fuzz bass and ultra blown-out production - recall Primal Scream circa XTRMNTR, an album Shields also worked on.
But hell, the famously perfectionist Shields has been testing the patience of his fanbase since the release of 1991’s landmark LP Loveless. And, as we’re nearing two decades without a follow-up in sight, punters could do worse than to lend an ear to Abyss.