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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

50. The Magnetic Fields - I Don't Really Love You Anymore

 It's always tricky to pick the final selection in any Festive Fifty style chart. It's the last chance alley for inclusion and it's sometimes difficult to know where to draw the line. I'd whittled my list down to The Pixies, The Specials, Floorshow and the Magnetic Fields for that all important last slot on the chart and finally decided to plump for Stephin Merritt's merry band based on the need for some serious cello action.

Strangley, I haven't liked any other Magnetic Fields albums apart from 2004's 'i' which showcased Merritt's extraordinary song-writing talents in a less contrived and more low key bunch of songs. 'I Don't Really Love You Anymore' is a string driven romp with trademark leftfield lyrics and a jaunty little rhythm that bobs along like a balloon in a gale force wind. I played the whole album over and over, but this track just stuck in my mind for some reason and is a worthy starting point in my all time chart.

I doubt this is the official video, but I love the dancing!

Monday, 30 January 2012

Doccortex's All Time 50!

It's been an uphill struggle picking my all time favourite list of fifty tracks. There were just so many songs that I wanted to include, but after much soul searching and tinkering, I've cobbled together a list that more or less reflects my taste in mustic for the last few decades. I intend to publish a track every day for the next fifty days, but whether I can stick to that schedule remains to be seen.

The collection ranges from the obscure to the international global megastar. All styles and genres of music are represented from Northern Soul to techno to nu-metal, but I'm a little embarrassed at the lack of world music on the list. Maybe that will change in the future, but for now I'm sticking with the songs that I've loved and that provide the soundtrack for my memories.

Here's hoping there's something you'll enjoy amongst the fifty!

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Xeno and Oaklander - Sets and Lights LP 2011

I really don't know what to make of this...

Brooklyn based analogue synthesiser duo Xeno and Oaklander serve up some distinctly eighties flavoured delicacies on 'Sets and Lights'. Sadly, it has little of the warmth any of the eighties synth-pop megastars, but ends up sounding like a tinkly version of OMD with what can only be described as 'odd' vocals.

And that's where I begin to really love them. It's like a really stinky blue cheese with beautiful mellow white cheesiness, interlaced with blue veins of acerbic mouldiness. The beautiful minimal synth backing is the cheese and the blue veins are supplied by the vocal delivery of our heroes.

Imagine an early Depeche Mode backing track, make it more 'tinkly-winkly' then add the Xeno and Oaklander 'bitter' vocals. It's all a little on the creepy side, with the male vocalist sounding like a cross between the Danse Society and 'Nowhere Girl' by B-Movie, and the female equivalent sounding like the singing voice of that little girl out of The Ring crossed with the Ice Queen from Narnia. I'd like to say it's enjoyable, but it's not. But strangely it is too!

Allegedly they have single-handedly revitalised the New York's minimal electronics scene, which has to be applauded, but I can't see them doing much business in Barnsley. But who knows?

All the songs follow the same minimal 'plinky plonky' format and nothing particularly stands out, although I quite like 'The Staircase.' In truth, I like the concept of Xeno and Oaklander more than I like their music. They were apparently heavily influenced by the eighties Eastern-Euro 'Cold Wave' movement, which sounds intriguing, and may prove worth checking out more than this combo.

But then I hear 'Corrupt' or 'Italy' on my playlist and I love it!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Johnny Cash - American Recordings LP 1994

I wasn't all that familiar with the more recent Johnny Cash output before listening to American Recordings. I grew up listening to 'Live in Folsom Prison' and in comparison this is much more acoustic and low key, but with more emphasis on the richness of lyrics and profound sentiments. Apparently, this was the first album released by Rick Rubin's American Recordings label after it's name change from Def America (was this Def Jam once?), with Rubin encouraging Cash to record in a more minimal style in his front room with just his guitar for backing.

The whole idea worked brilliantly and a Grammy was soon in the bag, but I still have some reservations about the album. It's clearly a heartfelt, quality offering from Johnny, but few of the songs make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end like some of Cash's finer moments. The vast majority of the songs are enjoyable enough, but in no way classics. Exceptions to this assessment are the two 'darker' numbers included; 'Thirteen' and 'Redemption' which are both melancholy stormers that rank up there with his best.

It's a bit of a disappointment for me, but still head and shoulders above most modern day artists and it's definitely worth buying just for the two standout tracks. But not worth a Grammy.

And do I get on the panel that decides who wins a Grammy? Maybe I should start with the Mercury Music Prize and work my way up. I doubt P J Harvey would be winning if I was a judge.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Songlines - Top of the World 79 LP 2011

Possibly the least instantly accessible of the Songlines compilations I've listened to since subscribing to the magazine, but still a thoroughly enjoyable experience. There's the usual mix of world music goodies; from African Funk to Celtic fiddling and even an appearance by Phillip Glass.

From the main body of the compilation I really liked the June Tabor & Oysterband's contribution, even though I thought it was a male vocalist until now. Dawda Jobarteh chips in with some particularly jangly Gambian Kora playing, but best of all is the slice of Turkish pop perfection provided by Sezen Aksu, which warms the cockles of your heart even in deepest, darkest South Yorkshire in January.

Ravi Shankar proves a slightly disappointing guest selector, but out of some distinctly suspect offerings, he at least pulls it round a little with selections from the legendary Philip Glass and Indian-American composer Karsh Kale.

I would heartily recommend a subscription to Songlines Magazine; not only do you receive the magazine and the compilation CD every month, but there's also some excellent bonus CD's in some of the issues. The Bahia and Scandinavian compilations both proved a big hit on my car stereo. Here's the link if you're interested;

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Agnes Obel - Philharmonics LP 2010

Danish singer/songwriter Agnes Obel provided us with a minimal and atmospheric treat when unleashing Philharmonics into the great wide world of music. The songs are often insular and sound like the soundtrack to some Scandinavian fairytale, but maintaining rich and heart-felt lyrics.

The whole thing hangs together around the beautiful, delicate piano backing and the haunting, lonely voice of Agnes herself. These are songs for a cold winter's evening, slurping a glass of akvavit and munching on some frikadeller. (Look it up food fans.)

All the tracks are of a high quality, but the melancholy 'Avenue', the enchanted 'Philharmonics' and the stark elegance of 'Riverside' are worthy of a special mention.

Agnes has produced an album of rare beauty and hopefully can retain control of her career and musical direction in future releases. You should go out and buy the LP immediately if you don't own it already!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds LP 2011

Not all wilfully obscure stuff...

It's a bit mainstream I know, but Oasis are little guilty pleasure and I thought I'd give Noel a chance as the existing reviews are hardly sparkling. This is allegedly Noel branching out and breaking away from his more offensive little brother, but at the end of the day it sounds like Oasis, or at least all the Oasis songs that Noel sings on. However this is no bad thing, and a 'Style Council' issue is easily avoided.

I'm afraid this is going to be one of those reviews where I have to say 'If you like Oasis, you'll like this.' It's not as good as the best Oasis albums, but it's better than the worst. It's consistently above average, with the standout tracks; '(Stranded on) The Wrong Beach', 'What a Life' and 'Broken Arrow'.

It all sounds like I'm damming the album with feint praise, but the whole experience is more enjoyable than that. It's reminiscent of 'The Masterplan' in both atmosphere and in the expectation levels before purchase. Don't expect anything vastly different and you'll be pleasantly surprised.


Friday, 13 January 2012

Laura Cantrell - Kitty Wells Dresses LP 2011

The album is a great idea. A tribute to 1950's Country and Western Legend Kitty Wells by present day alt-country songstress Laura Cantrell. The title track was penned by Cantrell herself, with the other songs picked from the Kitty Wells back catalogue and presented in straightforward and respectful manner.

If you're a big fan of the Country genre it can't be faulted, but for me it needed a twist or a tweak to make it more accessible and relevant. The tracks are all standard Country and Western, tear-jerking style ballads and although classics in their time, they come over as a little dated for a modern audience.

The title track is possibly my favourite offering from the album, with Kitty's classic 'One by One' and the brilliantly titled ' It wasn't God who made Honky Tonk Angels' coming a close second and third. The question has to be asked; if God didn't, who actually did make Honky Tonk Angels? What is a Honky Tonk Angel anyway?

I've got to admit I like Cantrell's own songs better than these covers, but for good ol' boys, rednecks, cowboys and line dancers, I'm sure this will go down a storm.


Saturday, 7 January 2012

Erasure - I Say I Say I Say LP 1994

You've got to love Vince Clarke haven't you? In the olden days Vince was at the cutting edge of electronic music and I've never lost that initial sense of enthusiasm for his work. Nowadays however, he's more of a 'has been' than the usual bunch of 'never will be's' that feature on Into the Valley...But that's got to be a good thing in my book.

There are hundreds on Erasure albums (well 14 anyway) and I own most of them, and this one sits comfortably in mid-table obscurity. It's the standard package of sing-a-long synthpop; not as dance based as 'Wonderland' or 'Chorus', but more commercial than later offerings like 'Erasure'. In short, if you like Erasure, you'll like this.

It's a toss up as to which is the best track, with 'I Love Saturday', a camp bleep-fest just pipped at the post by the more straightforward floor filling charms of 'Run to the Sun'. I'll review the new album 'Tomorrow's World' at some point in the new year.


Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Classic Track: Television Satellite - Sophie and Peter Johnson 1986

It's hard to believe it's 25 years since Television Satellite was unleashed on the world. At the time it was just an obscure Peel track that squeaked into the Festive 50, but it was so much more mysterious than that. Synthpop was in it's infancy at the time, the internet was years away and information about indie artists was in short supply. In those days you let your imagination fill in the gaps and I only had the song and their two names to go on.

To me, Sophie and Peter Johnson sounded like a geeky brother who had learned to play synthersizer in his bedroom, with sister Sophie a stylish, prim and proper, girl next door type who worked in a library, enjoyed science fiction and spoke with a lisp. The video below is the first time I've ever seen them and I don't think I was too far away, admittedly they look like they're sponsored by Primark, but that was cool in the 80's. It's hard to verify the lisp or the library from the video. The song is an absolute cracker by the way!