Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Walkermania! Part Three

I will now conclude Walkermania by talking about the Walker Brothers' second and third album released in the UK, Portrait (1966) and Images (1967). These weren't obviously their last albums, as the Walkers returned in the 1970s with three more albums. I might cover them some time later.

Whereas Take It Easy.. was relative cheerful and uptempo, on Portrait and Images the basic concept has been turned upside down. This means that there are now only a couple of uptempo songs per album and the rest is ballads or at least very peaceful and slow songs. Both albums are really good and even though Portrait was more successful back then, I personally prefer Images.

After the debut album and number one hits Make It Easy on Yourself and The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore, the Walkers were household names in the UK. They were on top of their fame even though they never had another number one hit single again. Their music was becoming even bigger and more dramatic than before. There was also an increasing number of songs that were very intimate or jazzy. In my opinion, some of the most quiet numbers weren't able to capture their best qualities. Still, the Walkers obviously didn't lack ambition rendering songs like Just for a Thrill, Old Folks and Once upon a Summertime.

The Walker Brothers were at their most glorious when performing dramatic, grandiose songs that had almost a gothic quality to them. When I say ”The Walker Brothers” it is in fact often more like ”Scott, big choir and big orchestra”. John got more room on these albums and sang really well but he was obviously destined to remain in Scott's shadow all the way. Not only was Scott the most celebrated Walker brother, he was also beginning to show major signs of great songwriting skill. He wrote or co-write and sang on such amazing classics as Archangel, Deadlier Than the Male, Orpheus, and Genevieve. Scott wrote both very dramatic and gentle songs – it can be said that most of his material from this period is, in fact, focused on exploring the opposites. In addition to Orpheus and Genevieve, some of his more gentle songs included I Can See It Now, Experience, and Mrs. Murphy, the latter of which was released as a solo single.

Some of the best ”quiet and intimate” songs on Portrait and Images include No Sad Songs for Me, I Will Wait for You, I Can't Let It Happen to You (written by John, presented with an atypical arrangement including organ and no strings), as well as Where's the Girl, a song that once again captivated the amazing emotional quality of Scott's voice. And of course, there is a stunning version of Summertime, with a great jazz sax solo and all. Curtis Mayfield's gospel People Get Ready is also really fantastic whereas Living Above Your Head almost sounds out of place with a sunshine pop choir singing ”ba bop bop baa”. Still, it is really catchy, just like Walking in the Rain, a song made famous by the Ronettes.

There were indeed so many great songs that I am finding it difficult to mention all of them without sounding like a list. The main reason why I prefer Images is probably that it is a bit more lively as a whole. There is, for example, Everything Under the Sun, a midtempo happyish song that has a lot of kick and the kind of uplifting quality that is present in many of my favorite Walker Brothers songs. It Makes No Difference at All is also one of my most cherished favorites: a hearbreaking ballad with Scott singing in the lowest range of his voice. Just Say Goodbye is a somewhat similar experience, but it has an even more fantastic and subtle soundscape outside the massive chorus.

It goes without saying that the Walker Brothers were definitely not just any ”boy band” of the 60s!

Check out some music:

Friday, October 12, 2012

Walkermania! Part Two

Take It Easy with the Walker Brothers came out in December 1965. However, I now intend to talk about the Walkers' music from that period in general, based on CD 1 of the box set Everything Under the Sun (which I felt compelled to buy).

Given that the Walker Brothers were mostly famous for big ballads, the music on their first album is not very much dominated by ballads. There are actually only a couple of songs that are clearly ballads. Mostly it is comprised of midtempo songs that aren't even particularly gloomy despite Scott Walker singing lead almost all the time. The Walker Brothers' music comes across as very classy, aurally massive, a bit melancholic but definitely more uplifting rather than dark.

The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore was originally performed by Frankie Valli without any huge success. The Walkers version could have suffered the same fate if Scott hadn't demanded it to be recorded once again after the first attempt. The end result was a huge classic, a track to cherish from now to eternity. Despite being rather dark in the lyric section, the overall feel you get from it is something completely different. It is a great song, great arrangement and performance by both Scott and the studio band.

Randy Newman's I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore is one of Scott's most fantastic vocal performances. It seems almost unbelievable that with this kind of power, style, emotion and flawless phrasing he is still pretty much a self-learned singer. And even though Scott is just as great as he is, he also sounds fantastic when singing together with John Walker. John's background vocals appear in many songs, and the lovely female choir also plays an important role. Therefore, don't forget to check out the Walkers' take on the Everly Brothers song the Seventh Dawn which was the b-side of the Love Her single. There we have probably the most heavenly, uniquely beautiful harmony ever recorded by Scott and John. And speaking of great harmonies, also check out their version of Bob Dylan's Love Minus Zero!

Even though Scott sang lead on almost anything, John got one lead vocal on the debut album. His performance on Dancing in the Street may sound even a bit too cool but is in fact very good. John's talents were at this point largely overshadowed by Scott's amazing performances on songs like The Girl I Lost in the Rain (chilling!), There Goes My Baby (probably Scott's best uptempo number here) and, obviously, Make It Easy on Yourself. One Engel composition is even included on the debut album, You're All Around Me. More of his compositions appeared on b-sides.

An interesting thing is that at times the Walkers seemed to be very much drawn towards soul and funk music. However, when it comes to the funk part, the results rarely were very commendable. Songs like Tell The Truth and Everything's Gonna Be Alright were great live numbers but not really Scott's strongest area. Land of 1000 Dances was included on the debut album and was also a very popular song but I think it just sounds bizarre when Scott Walker sings it – especially when you think about what was to come.

Take It Easy with... was certainly a worthy debut but if you're interested in hearing the singles and b-sides, which are all very, very good and not included on the album, I recommend checking out the extended version as a whole. You don't want to miss the uplifting beauty of songs like I Need You, After The Lights Go Out, and Young Man Cried. One of my personal favorites is My Ship Is Coming in, which will probably always amaze me. Scott and John make quite a theatrical opera duo!

Here are some samples:
The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore (promo video - now that's what I call Marketing! And by the way, can you imagine they also performed it live)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Walkermania! Part One

It comes as no surprise that the Walker Brothers have very much become an everyday activity to me. Back in the early 60s there were many great things going on in southern California. One of these things was bass player Scott Engel meeting guitarist John Maus. Original drummer Al “Tiny” Schneider was replaced with Gary Leeds after some time. Debut single Pretty Girls Everywhere was followed by Love Her which was musically a massive step forward. For various reasons, the trio decided to aim at the UK market. Especially Engel was very much interested in moving to England where he felt the band's music might get a better reception. Leeds managed to get financing for the trio to step on a plane.

Engel, Maus and Leeds arrived in England in the freezing cold winter of 1965. They were soon signed to Philips Records. Love Her caught a lot of attention and the first single recorded on English terrain (Make It Easy on Yourself) was a number one hit. Between 1965 and 1967 the Walkers released several top 20 hits, three albums and toured in the UK and abroad. At some point they were even said to be more popular than the Beatles, which is probably the result of their fan club growing out of proportion, thanks to the devotion shown by young girls towards their favorite Americans.

As the Walkers became more and more popular they also began to attract girls – hundreds, thousands of hysterical, screaming girls. A typical Walker Brothers gig consisted of screaming rather than music, even though the Walkers always gave the best performance they could. Some major violence occurred during tours of this period. Fans, tour personnel and the artists themselves ended up in hospital on many occasions.

So, there were definitely many interesting aspects about Walkermania. The most memorable thing is obviously the music and superb production quality, not to mention Scott Engel/Walker's voice that has continued to amaze people up to this day. In the mid-60s England pop was a lot about beat music. However, a typical Walker Brothers recording session was something quite different. Instead of two guitars, bass and drums there were more likely two or three sets of drums, three pianos, a brass section, a big string section and a chorus. The music definitely cost a lot of money to record but when you listen to the results... They just don't make music like this anymore! Or can't afford to.

Tune in next time, when I discuss some of the most beautiful, magnificent and heartbreaking  Walker Brothers songs! Meanwhile, check out something really good.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Thoughts on Melody Offers a Heart

Time for some mind-blowing news. The Sun Sawed in 1/2's new album now has a release date: October 2012.

Thoughts of Melody is ready for Elephants into Swans!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Boys Next Door

Here is a quote from last.fm's description for Herman's Hermits:

Part of the British Invasion, their trademark simple, non-threatening, clean-cut “boys next door” image made them easier to listen to and more accessible than other British Invasion bands.

Herman's Hermits are most definitely my cup of tea and I didn't even realize it properly until now – or actually a week ago on Monday when I watched a TV documentary about the band. It was part two in a four-part series called British Invasion.

Herman's Hermits were a band with one goal: to score hit singles. That goal they did achieve (I'm into Something Good; Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter; I'm Henry the Eight, I Am; Can't You Hear My Heartbeat and so on), and very much in the US as well. Based on the documentary I saw, some of the hit song choices actually came as a surprise to the band. While watching Peter Noone and other guys share their memories of being chased by a hundreds girls and having a few thousand more stalking outside their hotel I started thinking: how come they gained so much success by performing early/mid-60s style music in 1967?

Maybe the success of Herman's Hermits indicated the beginning of the upcoming bubblegum explosion. Peter Noone and the band definitely had most of the important characteristics of a bubblegum band. They were a band that scored many hits but didn't write them, the hit songs were simplistic and catchy, and their lead vocalist was a sweet-voiced teenager boy. However, unlike your usual bubblegum group, Herman's Hermits were not a fictional band that only came alive through session musicians in the studio. Herman's Hermits recorded their music personally and the same people also performed live.

This isn't the first time I have listened to Herman's Hermits but it definitely helps now to be able to see the band in the context of the specific time period and generally in the context of different musical phenomena of the 60s. The beauty of music often lies in the fact that you can listen to anything and come band to it when you have gained a more thorough perspective.

Another thing that I found interesting based on the documentary was that in the 60s the band seemed to feel restricted by the name 'Herman's Hermits'. After all, the band name didn't stop the Beach Boys from recording everything from psychedelic pop to country music. Still, Herman's Hermits went on to record stuff like My Sentimental Friend, which is a gorgeous performance, and actually starting to sound a lot like the usual British 70s bubblegum music – with strings and all!

Herman's Hermits were(/are?) in fact a very charming band. I think I also may have to give the title for “the sweetest British male vocalist” to Peter Noone. What can I say? No one could ever dislike stuff like Silhouettes, I'm Into Something Good, No Milk Today, or... Listen People. Oh My!

Here is a live video for Listen People. I agree with the girls in the audience. For some reason the guys behave a bit more chilled-down.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Scottmania, Part Four

We have arrived at Scott Walker's fourth solo album and the almost final solo album for a long time to feature original material by Scott himself (There was also a "Scott 5" but I will discuss it sometime later). Many people consider Scott 4 his absolute masterpiece which is of course open to debate. I like to think about Scott 1–4 as equals. Even though there weren't that many Scott Walker compositions on Scott 1 and 2, the cover songs reflect Scott's personality in some way and when they don't, they are at least extremely well-rendered by Scott. Scott 4 is 100 % Scott Walker-written material (credited to Engel, as it is his real name).

Whereas Scott 3 was quite slow and often in 3/4, Scott 4 has perhaps a better balance of slow and mid-tempo songs. Still, Scott 4 is not really a super high-energy album of rock&roll but compared to Scott 3 it has a faster average tempo. Scott 4 is also the most pop-oriented solo album Scott has ever created. There is no sign of the crooner music style and the arrangements have elements of folk, and of course baroque pop.

The World's Strongest Man is, for a change, a song the lyrics of which are quite easy to understand. Even though you probably thought Scott's vocals couldn't get any more tender and emotional, they actually do just that on this album. One of Scott's biggest accomplisments regarding this album is, in fact, his vocals that seem to have improved from perfection...

To me, Boy Child is definitely one of the most memorable songs here. First of all, there is a strong connection to You Still Believe in Me. There are a couple of things that connect these songs, one of them being the comforting mood. Scott's performance has a hypnotizing effect. Angels of Ashes has a pretty similar effect, although I still feel the need to complain a bit about the melody sounding too much like Goin' Back.

Scott even gives us an anti-war protest song, Hero of the War, which is an extremely well-written song, The lyrical content comes across quite heavy but Scott makes it all very light to listen with his rendition. Could this be one of the reasons why he later decided to "become" a tenor (instead of baritone that he really is) – his serious songs have a soothing effect even when he intends to cause restlessness?

The Seventh Seal, a song about Ingmar Begman's film of the same title may be the structurally simplest of all these ten songs. Despite having only one part, the song evolves a great deal on the way. The Seventh Seal and The Old Man's Back Again (Dedicated To The Neo-Stalinist Regime) both have some quite impressive choir vocals. These vocals give both the songs a touch of unease even though Scott again channels some really easy-going and careless vibes. What a curious contradiction, you could say!

Rhymes of Goodbye is the final song and I think it is my #1 favorite from Scott. I actually like the song so much that I could call it some kind of a guilty pleasure... Except that I don't really feel guilty about it. But there are times when I listen to it over and over and over... Rhymes of Goodbye has quite a strong folk rock vibe. In fact, Duchess is a quite similar song but I am not quite as much fond of it. Still, don't ignore Duchess, it is lovely.

And there we have it: Scott 1, 2, 3 and 4. Fortunately, this is most definitely not the end of Scott Walker's fantastic pop music. Scottmania will continue.

Music from Scott 4 (YouTube):

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Scottmania, Part Three

By the time Scott Walker released his third solo album, Scott 3 (1969), he had evolved into a great songwriter. On Scott 3 there are ten original compositions and three Jacques Brel songs. Depending on how you see it, you could say this is Scott's best from this period.

This is definitely Scott's most waltz-oriented album. The album is overall very peaceful and slow and many songs are in 3/4 which could be the reasons why the album didn't do as well as the first two albums. Scott 3 doesn't, in fact, make the best possible album for workout or other situations when you wish to draw energy from what you hear. A very different kind of energy emanates from Scott 3: a melancholic, yet hopeful, peaceful and tremendously beautiful feeling.

It's Raining Today represents Scott's appreciation towards both harmony and dissonance. Big Louise is another song that may sound a bit frightening in the beginning but both of these songs are actually perfectly listenable and lovely. Peaceful songs with big arrangements follow one after another and this pattern doesn't really change much until the end of the album where you find the Brel songs.

Actually, there are a couple of times when the album momentarily turns into something else than a peaceful cradle of hopeful melancholy. We Came Through sounds to me like a medieval battle song – glorious! By this song you will also have noticed that Scott's songwriting leans quite a bit on very traditional pop melodies – the kind of material that is still recycled in pop music today.

30 Century Man, a song that carries the same title as the Scott Walker documentary film (which I highly recommend to watch) is different in the sense that it doesn't have anything else for accompaniment than an acoustic guitar. The song is also a bit more... bluesy than the rest of songs. Many of Scott's songs on this album are sweet and short, and 30 Century Man is the shortest: only 1:29.

Scott's every song is filled with extremely fine imagery. His lyrics might even be too cryptic for some people's taste... I don't understand even half of it. Scott's vocals are obviously beyond perfection all through the album, and the arrangements are just as excellent as always. There are wonderful strings, sometimes also beautiful harp, piano and amazing percussions.

In the end of the album there are three Jacques Brel songs. Sons of is a pretty peaceful waltz, yet it is clearly more restless than any other waltz on this album. Funeral Tango is a great song with macabre lyrics – once again about death but from a very fun perspective. Scott even laughs, kind of. I didn't expect to hear that... Finally, there is If You Go Away. All I can say is... I would definitely consider going away if it meant that Scott would sing this song to me...

Listen while watching the rain!

Music from Scott 3 (YouTube):

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Scottmania, Part Two

Scott 2 is the Scott Walker album that I usually end up listening the most. Scott 2 followed soon after the debut solo effort and was equally successful on the charts. The album has a similar structure as the first album. There are contemporary covers (Hal David and Burt Bacharach's Windows of the World, for instance), film music (Mancini's Wait Until Dark), Jacques Brel songs, and original material.

Now that I think about it, it could be that my affection towards Scott 2 has something to do with the fact that the album contains slightly more dangerous themes than the first album. Jackie is a good example of Scott moving towards more violent topics. In a nutshell the song is a tribute to a decadent and destructive yet exciting lifestyle. Jacques Brel's original version was called Jacky and the song indicates Brel's fascination towards the theme of decadence. The theme also intrigued Scott and he seems to enjoy a great deal putting himself in the main character's shoes. In the end, I don't understand what is wrong with singing about controversial topics. It is just a song... Even though it certainly reveals something about the dark depths of the human soul.

Jackie was released as a single and banned by the BBC. I wonder what BBC would have thought about Next, an even more violent Jacque Brel song from the same album (Scott 2). The lyrical content is in fact so horrifying that the whole thing turns upside down and becomes a pretty entertaining song – at least to me. On the surface it is a classy and dramatic tango, rendered flawlessly by Scott, but the lyrics tell a story that will make your blood turn cold if you think about it to much... Still, highly recommended!

Jackie and Next are just a couple of examples of the wonders this album has to offer. Scott's own compositions are, again, really the coolest material on the album. The Amorous Humphrey Plugg is absolutely fantastic. With the fancy arrangement it sounds like some sort of crooner song but it can also be seen as a perfect baroque pop song. To me, the magic is in the emotional nuances. Scott is a fantastic interpreter of emotions, and definitely not just the negative ones! When it comes to the lyrics, The Girls on the Streets follows the decadence theme but to me just sounds magnificent – the chorus is really quite ecstatic. It is another very slow song, but slower is usually better, I think. The arrangement is fabulous, especially the accordion!

Plastic Palace People is another piece of very intriguing lyrics. The arrangement feels like you are floating in some kind of dream world. It is a simple idea: strings and other instruments moving up and down the scale, but still the is overall feel is completely out of this world. When the strange vocal echo effect comes around, the song claims its place among Scott's most psychedelic songs. The Bridge is the fourth and final Scott Walker composition on the album and a beautifully melancholic tune. You can practically see the autumn leaves falling from trees while listening to the song.

Scott also turns the Tim Hardin song Black Sheep Boy into pure gold with his tender rendition. This was in fact, in my opinion, the first time Scott showed his more natural singing voice on a record (although, to be precise, he already gave a similar performance of Hardin's The Lady Came from Baltimore on the first solo album). Whereas he mostly sticks to the very dramatic vocal style he is known for, in this song his singing sounds more down-to-earth and relaxed. On Scott 4 he used this kind of singing style more than anywhere else during his career.

Something about this album really fascinates me. Again, it must be the balance between very easily listenable pop songs and considerably more grim material. Everything is coated with absolutely perfect, rich arrangements and Scott Walker's voice – the classiest one in the world.

Songs for you (YouTube):

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Scottmania, Part One

A few months ago I experienced strange times. I was wondering how I was ever going to move on from Scott Walker's solo albums 1–4. The reason to this was that I believed finding music that is at least equally good would be really, really difficult. Since then I have moved on, for the most part, but I still haven't found the music that I would need to really break this habit of listening to Scott Walker – and only Scott Walker... I am very much open to any kind of recommendations.

Now I will write some kind of small review-presentations of all these Scott Walker albums. They were released in 1967–1969 and show Scott's fantastic development as a songwriter, poet, and why not as a singer. The first solo album, Scott, was released in 1967 while the Walker Brothers were still around.

It is clear as day that Scott truly spread his wings on the solo albums, right from the start. However, at this point Scott was still mostly singing other people's songs. There are contemporary songs (for example a gorgeous version of Angelica), film music (You're Gonna Hear from Me – showing Scott's crooner side), original compositions, and Jacques Brel songs.

The original material is of course among the most interesting material here. Montague Terrace (In Blue) is a fantastically uplifting composition with a sensational arrangement. Everything on Scott's albums 1–4 is, in fact, incredibly well arranged, thanks to Wally Stott (a.k.a. Angela Morley) who arranged quite a few of these songs. Other original Engel (Walker) compositions include Such a Small Love, a song that features a very typical eerie mood that Scott likes, and Always Coming Back to You, a dreamy song with a hint of desperation.

Looking at the Jacques Brel songs Scott eagerly chose to record in English, the songs actually reveal surprisingly lot of Scott's dark inner world. I think it says a lot that the first song on his first solo album is about a sadomasochistic relationship (Mathilde). Later, there is another Brel song about his own death (My Death)... And it doesn't get much lighter with Amsterdam at the end of the album.

It seems that Scott selected the cover songs carefully to fit the mood he wanted to pursue. That mood could be described to be generally melancholic, or perhaps it is a question of balance between the beautifully melancholic and the almost scaringly dark songs... Still, it confuses me to hear him obviously being on top of the world singing all of this music – even happy?

You see, Scott Walker doesn't seem to be too fond of his own voice. Or maybe he is, but according to what he has said in interviews, he never listens to his own music again after it is finished. On his more recent albums he uses a higher vocal register in order to prevent the listener from getting too comfortable while listening to his singing. All of this sounds strange, but serves some kind of purpose to Scott.

That is enough for now. We will soon return to the mystery of Scott Walker and listen to some Scott 2...

As usual, some song picks for you (YouTube):

New Stuff from Nada Surf

I came across a new music video by a band I like but still should get to know better... Anyways, I enjoyed this song. You might too. Nice imagery there.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sunshine and Flowers

Once again I made a discovery from my own CD shelf. It occurred quite some time ago, actually, but I couldn't find time or motivation to publish this post about Eternity's Children - until now. After all, the nightless night has just passed and the hottest days of summer lie ahead...

Eternity's Children were never very succesfull but since the 60s they have definitely gained a status as cult favorites. The group was formed in Cleveland in 1967 by singer-keyboardist Bruce Blackman and drummer Roy Whittaker. Warm vocal harmonies were a major part of the group's sound right from the beginning. In my opinion, the best parts are the ones where Linda Lawley's vocals can be heard – that is especially on the second album Timeless.

Generally speaking, Eternity's Children sound like a very typical sunshine pop group which is no wonder considering their first album (Eternity's Children, 1968) was produced by Curt Boettcher and Keith Olsen. The first album has some excellent moments, such as Mrs. Bluebird, a song that I think might be one of the catchiest ever recorded, and a perfect example of the incredible power of nonsensical baa-baa lyrics. Other cool songs include Sunshine Among Us, and Again, Again - and others.. Nothing here is actually bad.

The second album (Timeless) is a big improvement from the self-titled album. Timeless feels a lot more coherent as a whole. The album becomes more than a sum of its parts and unlike the first album cannot be blamed for sounding like Curt Boettcher's side project (with emphasis on the word 'side'). The album features brilliant organ sounds with horns, and of course the vocal arrangements are magical. With the band sounding more like itself and not Sagittarius or the Millennium, the result sounds (at least to me) in a very good way slightly more down-to-earth. In addition, the band sounds really happy on this album! Pretty much every song is very good and makes a charming collection of summery feel. You can't go wrong with this one! Check out I Wanna Be with You, Nature's Child, Look AwayTill I Hear It From You, or just any other great tune.

Later, Eternity's Children moved on to a different blue-eyed soul style abandoning the tender harmonies and sunshiny sounds. The results are very good, too. Rev-Ola's reissue called Eternity's Children has both the albums as well as great singles from the band's later recoring career. All in all, a fantastic reissue!

Here are a few songs (YouTube):

Thursday, June 21, 2012

To Brian

This has to be done. Even though I'm one day late.

Happy 70th to Brian Wilson,
one of my biggest heroes,
creator of absolute beauty!

All the very best from Thoughts on Melody

Love Songs

A few years ago I heard about a band called Minky Starshine & the New Cardinals. You guessed it: I was intrigued by the male lead singer's voice... So, I got the album, enjoyed the music but never really found a good way to approach it. There were after all perhaps too many songs on the album: sixteen in total. Since then Starshine has gone solo.

It took a few more years and a second album to get a hold of Starshine. I slowly began to like the second album Unidentified Hit Record more and more... And I still enjoy it a little bit more each time I hear it. This album has definitely become a classic for me.

What is not to like here? The general production is awesome. There are fantastic drums and guitar, sax, cool piano, harpsichord, even strings, generally very energetic playing. Ken Stringfellow and Mike Musburger play (Ken also sings) on this album which certainly adds some familiar elements to the mix. And of course, Minky's vocals are fantastic.

This is pretty much a love song album. Love shows its bittersweetness and uplifting sides, misery and happiness as the usual counterparts. There are many moments that are just plain beautiful, and other parts are often dominated by a more complicated bittersweetness, that certain feel that isn't all happy or all sad, instead both at the same time.

You could say that Minky likes to use a certain type of hooks a bit too many times on the same album. Now that I have listened to the album probably more than twenty times, I just can't blame Starshine for using such great hooks. Everything comes together like a dream. It is not perfect, but not being perfect is an essential part of making humane music. And even though I don't cherish every song on this album equally much, it is just how the things usually are. If I have to mention a few favorites, I will give you Bitter End, Paper Rain, and of course Brand New.

Yeah, I know I am still one album behind because a third Minky Starshine album (Womanity, 2012) has already been released. I will check it out more carefully when I think it is time. There is also still the first album to explore more deeply.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Soulful Baroque Bubblegum... And Blues Rock

Sometimes huge internet marketplaces show their strong side... I had never heard of a British band called the Love Affair until I ended up buying a very affordable collection called The Best of the Good Times. For some reason, whenever people report the male lead singer of a band being exceptionally good, I often check out if there really is something to it. I remember it only took one song of Steve Ellis' singing to get convinced.

Like many bubblegum superstars, Steve Ellis was only a teenage boy when he was already singing on hit records in the late 1960s. Also like many other bubblegum artists, on the a-sides the Love Affair was practically Ellis backed by session musicians. Also, the band had only one chart-topping hit, Everlasting Love - a song that definitely deserved the spot! But the Love Affair wasn't a one hit wonder as it had other top 10 hits as well.

However, the Love Affair wasn't really a bubblegum band. The hit songs were arranged to appeal to the masses, pretty much like Edison Lighthouse and others, but on the b-sides the Love Affair was showing a heavier r&b style. The music is all good, and the distinction between the a-side and b-side style is quite interesting, as if there were two whole different bands. There was obviously a difference of opinion concerning the band's desired image and direction, so Ellis and his bandmates broke up after only a few years. It seems that the music business won this round.

In any case, Steve Ellis is a fantastic white soul vocalist. He sound equally good singing heavenly pop songs like Bringing on Back the Good Times, Rainbow Valley, and A Day Without Love, as he sounds singing more bluesy songs like Let Me Know, 60 Minutes (Of Your Love), and I'm Happy – there is also a great version of Hush.

I must say, I rarely buy music with such high quality for about £3,50. There are so many songs that sound like hits that it is almost exhausting. The blues rock works nicely as a balancing agent.

Check out some cool songs (YouTube):

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Annual Greatness

The time has come to talk about More Songs About Her, the 2012 release by Secret Powers. It is the band's fifth album – and the fifth excellent album in a row. Not every band releases five albums this good in (less than) five years! I don't seem to be able to stop listening to these albums anymore...

Compared to What Every Rose Grower Should Know (2011), many songs on the new album seem to have a slightly more serene feel. Still, More Songs About Her rocks just as hard as the band usually does. Secret Powers don't really change their sound: there is nothing to fix as the sound is already perfectly balanced. Shmedly's studio and his fantastic talent as a producer is definitely one of the band's greatest assets. On a Secret Powers album there are always lots of nice additional details that enhance the overall sound. Be it strings, organ, piano or something else, everything is perfectly in its place.

And not only is Shmedly impeccable in the studio, he has once again written about half of the songs and they are all brilliant. Ryan Farley's Running at This Pace is also really catchy, and I especially enjoy him singing Shmedly's Not That Kind of Girl, another song with perfect solo guitar work. John Brownell, the new guy, has provided three songs. Post War with the fantastic Allman Brothers guitars is one of my favorites. Impossible Girl has some real kick, and Caroline towards the end of the album is a nice slow song with rather disturbing lyrics...

Every other song that I haven't mentioned yet is also great. There are absolutely no weak moments on this album. The obvious highlight is Hard to Be Someone, a supremely sympathetic song that sounds a lot like Shmedly's personal anthem and quite a tribute to his downshifting lifestyle. Superb!

However, Troy Warling is not on this album. I miss Troy...

Secret Powers bandcamp

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Grand Talent of Scott Walker

I think I might be getting obsessed about Scott Walker. I listen to his first four solo albums from the 60s (Scott 1-4) every day, and if I don't.. Well, then I won't be too happy..

Originally, I had heard one song from Scott Walker's band, the Walker Brothers (The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore). Apart from that, I hadn't spent much time thinking about Scott Walker, or the Walker Brothers... This more recent development began when I saw the documentary film Scott Walker: 30 Century Man. The (almost) whole story was there: at first Scott Walker was in the Walker Brothers, a band that was much more popular in the UK than its homeland, the United States. Scott wrote songs for the band and soon went on to record solo albums. After that, his musical ambitions only kept growing. He is still writing new music – and he is definitely not trying to please the big buying audience anymore!

Funnily, the documentary film didn't say much about the first phase of Noel Scott Engel's musical career. Engel, as his real name is, was a teen idol way before his enormous success with the Walker Brothers. To me this is really interesting, as I might consider myself a sucker for teen idols... Scott before his grown-up career sounds quite a bit like himself, only his voice is higher. And, yeah, the music is a bit different, too...

In the mid-60s Scott joined the Walker Brothers, a band in which the members were not really brothers or called Walker. The Walker Brothers were considered to be a boy band, and its popularity was often even compared to the Beatles. The band was a popular subject of gossip and hype. It didn't take long until Scott began to feel anxious being in the band. He wore sunglasses to express the alienation he was feeling at the time.

It seems to me that it wasn't until the solo career when Scott really began to shine. The Walker Brothers performed music that had certain similar aspects to Scott's solo work but as a solo artist there was no need to adjust to the group dynamics. When Scott went solo he began a journey towards his later ambitions. At first he recorded many cover versions, including several Jacques Brel's songs. There were also original compositions right on the first album – with some extremely well-written lyrics. Scott 3 (1969) contained touches of dissonance, indicating the more experimental style that Scott was already interested in at that point. Scott 4 (1969) wasn't as big a commercial success as the first three albums but it was the first to feature only Scott Walker compositions.

Albums Scott 1-4 are in any case must-hear material. There are spectacular orchestral arrangements as well as awesome songs. Then there is Scott's personal instrument... His deep baritone voice. Scott's voice can be characterized by magnificent integrity and expressiveness. He makes singing sound so very easy with his relaxed style and natural vibrato. There is also a lot of emotion. In fact, his style is sometimes quite theatrical.

According to Scott himself, he probably would have started making experimental music earlier if Scott 4 had been more succesfull. After Scott 4 there was little progress for many, many years. Finally, in 1995 came Tilt, the first of Scott's avant garde/experimental albums. The following album, The Drift was released in 2006. These albums are surely interesting as they reveal the more adventurous, ambitious, as well as darker sides of Scott Walker. Nowadays Scott does exactly what he wants, and that is probably the ideal state of mind for a talented artist to be in.

Here is Jackie, a Jacques Brel song from Scott 2 (1968).

Sunday, April 1, 2012

An Evening with Colin and Rod

According to Rod Argent, the Zombies visited Finland last during their very first international tour back in the 60s. We will see if the band will actually return in another 50 years as promised... In any case, the present-day version of the Zombies gave a memorable and heartfelt performance in Helsinki on March the 31st.

The concert was the last of the Zombies' Scandinavian mini tour. It was especially Colin Blunstone whose presence radiated all kinds of positive feelings to the audience. Blunstone's voice was strong and soulful and when he sang more quietly he sounded exactly like himself back in the 60s! Rod Argent delighted the audience with many stories about the band's history and thoughts about the influence that the Zombies have had on pop music.

Argent and Blunstone were thrilled to be performing as the Zombies and it showed. Argent played many fabulous, long solos on the keyboard. Blunstone gave vocal performances both soulful and ethereal. Guitarist Tom Toomey, bass player Jim Rodford and drummer Steve Rodford also enjoyed being on stage and performed with style. Toomey's guitar work was definitely worth mentioning... Everyone on stage was really good!

The set was a nice cross-section of the Zombies' career, from the band's very first singles to their latest 2011 album Breathe Out, Breathe In which Argent and Blunstone were obviously very proud of. The songs sounded really good live, I must say. The most anticipated part of the set was probably the part with songs from Odessey & Oracle. All of the band's hits were also played (Tell Her No, She's Not There, Time of the Season). As a whole, the gig was a lot more than just those most influential baroque pop songs on Odessey & Oracle. It was simply great to hear Colin's solo stuff, music from Argent, and even Alan Parsons Project material! Many of the songs were not familiar to me but well... There is always time to check them out. The important part is that I enjoyed every second of the concert.

It was a great experience to see the Zombies. There are not so many 60s pop bands that come to Finland in the 2010's. I hope to see more!

The Zombies website

The (Phil)harmonic Tampere 2012 so far: From Williams to Glass

So, guess which live act I still prefer in all of Tampere and Finland? It is of course the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the very few full-size symphony orchestras in Finland. It seems that it can't get any better now. I have discovered the most skilled musicians and most appreciated works of music that have most definitely stood up well against the test of time!

Here is a small recap of what I experienced during January and February. To keep it short I haven't commented on everything.

Jan 13th: Film music by John Williams
Lead by Peruvian conductor Arturo Alvarado, the Philharmonic played an energetic, sold-out show of John Williams' best-known film music, including themes from Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, E.T., Schindler's List, and of course Star Wars. The most memorable moment to me was the theme from Jaws. Just imagine a huge orchestra playing those two notes... Gee, that was cool! I also loved Harry Potter, as well as Schindler's List which was a lot more stripped-down as a whole but all the more beautiful.

Jan 20th: Vivier, Brahms, Stravinsky
Vivier finished writing his cosmic composition Orion in 1980. Compositions as new as this are often very different from the old classics and Orion was no exception. Anything composed in the 20th century can easily be recommended to fans of progressive rock. As for Johannes Brahms, he was a composer whose music is often performed in Tampere these days. He is a popular ”old-school” guy, and piano concerto #2 was indeed a very impressive, even heavy piece of music.

Jan 27th: Olivier Messiaen: Turangalîla
This time the people at Tampere-talo were introduced to French 20th century composer Olivier Messiaen and his long ten-part Turangalîla symphony. Valérie Hartmann-Claverie played ondes martenot, the first widely used electronic instrument. The wailing sound of the instrument was indeed an important part of some of the more sentimental parts of the symphony. All in all, a lot of this piece of art was somewhat challenging to listen to. Still, somehow I got the hang of it and in the end I felt happy. It was a very rewarding listening experience. Sometimes it can be really worthwile to challenge yourself!

Feb 3rd: Sibelius, Mustonen, Prokofjev
This was the first time I heard music from Finland's most famous composer Jean Sibelius played live. Bardi op. 64 was a small, intimate musical poem. I was thrilled to feel the beautiful Finnish landscape in musical form. The main event was Olli Mustonen's first symphony Tuuri, ordered and performed for the first time by the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra, conductred by Mustonen himself. Tuuri was a charming work, composed to the famous Finnish poet Eino Leino's poetry (Helkavirret). Great music, great lyrics!

Feb 17th: Liszt, Glass, Sibelius
Liszt and Sibelius were really awesome but Philip Glass hit the jackpot with his violin concerto. It was like hypnosis. Glass's harmonies were sometimes (especially at the beginning) bizarre but mostly the music was all about stunningly beautiful, hypnotic, repeating melodies. Repetition, in general, is not the most common feature in classical music but Glass is the master of repetition. However, the music doesn't get boring at all because Glass's melodies are incredibly memorable and the mood is... hypnotic, as well as really dramatic. Listen to the concerto if you already haven't! The first and third movement are really fast and dramatic, and the second part is slow and incredibly, really incredibly touching... Oh my goodness.

Here it is:
1st mov
2nd mov
3rd mov

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Crazy About Secret Powers

I am currently feeling a bit intoxicated because of Secret Powers. In order to become really special to someone a band/artist must have the ability to attract a person to listen to the same music all over again and go back to the old songs after exploring other types of music. Secret Powers does all that and more.

It is no coincidence that I am once again very much drawn to a band labelled as power pop by both the band and the power pop blog community. Most of my all time favorite bands have had an essentially similar approach to music.

Jangly, bouncy, rocking guitar pop, power pop, Not Lame pop... Something that may not be the most innovative music but year after year on gives homage to some of the most cherished melodic pop-rock music of the past decades. Sometimes power pop assimilates features from the current best-selling pop music but power pop is always at its best when it is not trying to develop into anything that doesn't do justice to its guitar-laden, hook-filled, happy/sad mid-tempo magic.

Call it what you like! I call it melodic, bouncy, catchy, sentimental Beatles-influenced non-hipster pop-rock. Or briefly: power pop.

My first contact to Secret Powers occurred only about a year ago. Their second album had gained attention in several blogs that I happened to read at the time when the album came out. It took me a while to find time to check it out. Soon after listening to that album I ended up buying all of the band's albums. I still think there is something strangely magical about the 2nd album (Secret Powers and the Electric Family Choir, 2009) which could mean it is the best Secret Powers album. All Secret Powers albums are equally good but I would say that the 2nd album has an even more special feel to it than the other albums.

Now I find it strange that I wasn't totally convinced about Lies and Fairy Tales (Secret Powers 3rd, 2010) at first. Now I don't seem to have those thoughts anymore. Lies and Fairy Tales has revealed all of its beauty. I am currently drooling over it while waiting for the new 2012 album to arrive.

So, what is great about Lies and Fairy Tales? Ryan ”Shmed(ly)” Maynes, as always, gives us many great songs including Tangerine, Cows, Cracks on the Wall, Opening Band and others. Troy Warling, John Fleming, and Dan Strachan have also taken part in the songwriting. It seems that the other members become more activate little by little which is of course great. Multivoiced songwriting can be a huge asset.

A closer look at Secret Powers music always reveals something added there to make it more interesting as a whole. Something unexpected is very likely to happen in a Secret Powers song. Often that unexpected thing is a cool instrumental solo, a tempo change or, for instance, a lovely part of harmonic oohs and aahs. It could also be a magnificent bridge melody (check out Riding the Shark).

It is stange that you may not even pay much attention to those cool parts even though they are most definitely one of the things that sets Secret Powers apart from your average pop band. These carefully constructed parts spice up the songs and give them new dimensions. Therefore the songs always sound like they were created by people who have vision, style and courage to try new things. Just listen to pretty much any Secret Powers songs and you will hear samples of this creativity. Here are a few examples: the baroque piano solo and the following vocals in Cows, the ”explosion” in Cracks in the Wall, the enormous guitar solo at the end of The Lie, or the very Styx-like part starting at around 2 minutes in Just Might.

I'm So in Love is definitely one of my favourites on the album. The title reveals quite a bit about the song, and I would go as far as to describe the mood ecstatic. The vocal sound reminds a lot of Teenage Fanclub. Don't forget to pay attention to the very nice instrumental bridge.

Ryan Farley's Feels so Good comes with big energy while Troy Warling's New Skin is more peaceful and acoustic. To me, Miss Lonely (also by Warling) might be the most memorable song here. The song indeed is a cradle of peaceful melancholy and harmony and I often find myself enjoying the magical interplay between the drum beat, rhytmic details and the song itself. I think Warling sounds a lot like Glenn Tillbrook which is obviously awesome!

As I said, I am waiting for the new album More Songs About Her to arrive in a couple of days. There is a sampler of the album at secretpowersband.com. Also check out four songs from Lies and Fairy Tales at the band's MySpace.