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