May 31, 2008
Title - Life's Too Good
Hometown - Iceland
Label - One Little Indian / Elektra
Street Date - May 31, 1988
RIYL - Björk, Iceland, one of the most spectacular and acrobatic vocalists of all time, The Pixes on ice, guys who walk all over a good song.
The Hits - "Birthday", "Motorcrash", "Deus", "Delicious Demon", "Mama"
Richter Magnitude Rating Scale - Great.2
Formats - Depending on the country and time of press the cover of the LP varied in color from classic neon green, to pink, to yellow, to orange, and blue.
Vocals: Björk Guðmundsdóttir and Einar Örn Benediktsson.
Trumpet: Einar Örn Benediktsson.
Guitars: Þór Eldon Jónsson.
Keyboards: Björk Guðmundsdóttir.
Bass: Bragi Ólafsson.
Drums: Sigtryggur Baldursson.
Lyrics and music: The Sugarcubes.
Acknowledgement: Friðrik Erlingson.
Kjartan Kjartansson, Gerard Johnson, Gail Lambourne, Mel Jefferson, Brian Pugsley and Ken Thomas.
Production: Ray Shulman and Derek Birkett.
Sleeve: P. White at Me Company.
Photograph: David McIntyre with collaboration of Pinks.
Publishing: Second Wind.
We have the UK to thank for breaking many an artist globally but 21 years ago NME, Melody Maker, and John Peel all embraced a little known band called The Sugarcubes from an even more unknown country at the time, Iceland. In fairness the experimental art rock band K.U.K.L. of which The Sugarcubes morphed out of had released music on Crass Records but the band fell under the radar to most of the mainstream.
The song “Birthday” (“Ammæli" in Icelandic) was their first international single released on One Little Indian. In Iceland this single was released on 11/17/86 but it became a UK radio hit in 1987; a rather disturbing song about a little girl having an affair with a man celebrating his Fiftieth birthday. It catapulted the band into a smashing international success and was the lead single off their forthcoming first full length record called Life’s Too Good.
This debut for the band was released 20 years ago – May 31st 1988. Before 1988 the world had no idea who Bjork was no less that she would become a music icon during our lifetime.
Life’s Too Good opens with a VERY quiet spoken word piece by Einar talking about teaching the little angels how to play harmonica which leads into a brief harmonica solo. The muffled absurd false start to the record suddenly erupts loudly into the true beginning of "Traitor;" a jarring direction for a first time listener who couldn’t possibly have been expecting it.
From this point forward we are introduced to the dive bombing dynamics of Einar speaking through each song who deconstructs whatever strong pop melodies Bjork belts out. The stage is set with what will continue to be 33 minutes of complex, strangely erotic black humored poetry presented from entirely two different kinds of voices, one male and one female. Together they both stomp and scream over keyboards, drums, guitars, drums, and trumpet. This is the basic Sugarcubes formula which remained through all of their discography.
Life’s Too Good featured a total of four singles which were released separately / singularly between 1987 and 88. They received decent radio play (all passing "Birthday" on the charts in the UK) as well as gaining attention on a still relatively new cable television network called MTV.
"Motocrash", track two and the last of the singles to be released is a prime example of the Sugarcubes famed dark lyrical content riding and bouncing on top of a driving, playful, chaotic rock song.
"Riding on my bicycle I saw a motorcrash. A proper motorcrash. Lots of spectators. I rushed to the center. Saw the injured parents. Cuts on the children. An awful motorcrash. So dangerous motorcrash. So terribly bloody Motorcrash"
While researching the record to write this piece I was rather shocked to read that "Delicious Demon" (think Nordic circus playing cowboy and Indians) was never released as a proper radio single. Like so many of their songs it trots along with Einar and Bjork dueling it out within the verses and then it breaks wide open into a full gallop during the chorus- cow bell and all. "Birthday" hinted at Bjorks unbelievable range but her true twisted sonic abilities explode like fireworks all over "Delicious Demon". I didn’t know a human voice could make so many sounds and it was the first time I had ever heard a girl spring from delicate whispers to a hurricane scream in a heartbeat. (for those of you who know my music there is no denying who my vocal idol is) I still don’t know how such a small person can make such a giant sound. Two decades later I continue to scratch my head over how she pulls off all those tones with just one throat and chest. It is as if her vocal chords are the size of our solar system- out of this world and massive beyond comparison.
"Mama" marches out of the gate with just a bass line leading the way with Bjork's voice on a leash behind it. Enter slowly stage right the rest of the instrumentation and suddenly the melody takes off like a race horse with terrifying screams and cries behind it. We have beauty being strangled and this too is a theme we see repeated throughout the band's career. Without this good verse evil push and pull we would have just another band but the Sugarcubes handcrafted and perfected this pattern.
"Coldsweat" and "Deus" were the final two internationally released singles. I never fully understood why or how the limping bump and grind that defines "Coldsweat" outpaced "Birthday" at radio back in the day. In hindsight it is a bit ironic since "Birthday" is THE song everyone associates the band with all these years later. I was 16 when I picked up this record in 1988 and "Coldsweat" which kicks off side B was the song I always skipped past (still do today) to get to "Deus". I have always considered "Deus" to be the sister track to "Birthday". They are similarly paced but "Deus" is less dreamy and more of this earth. This song, no matter how many times I listen to it, still surprises me. The Sugarcubes had an inherent ability to keep the listener guessing by not following the traditional verse chorus verse chorus song structure. Their unpredictability was part of their power and to this day offers the listener more of an exciting runaway train ride than a safe go round on a carousel.
It was somewhere today around track 9 or 10, between "Sick for Toys" and "Fucking in Rhythm & Sorrow" that I tried to place myself back in time. I wanted to recreate what band I would have musically speaking drawn a parallel to The Sugarcubes. The only band that comes to mind who barely matches their off kilter polar opposite energy of male –v- female as well as melody –v- aggression is The Pixies. It then occurred to me that a mere three months after The Sugarcubes released this record, Surfer Rosa was released, yet another classic record deserving of a post at a later date.
To this day I mostly prefer the first half of Life’s Too Good, after "Deus" the record loses my attention. The hooks become fewer and farther between and in wanders more experimental material including fog horn like sounds with even more spoken word banter. Considering the first 8 tracks are pretty much flaw free pure genius with female vocals never to be outdone again, the few weak tracks act more like petite speed bumps between the cataclysmic hits.
For the 6 years The Sugarcubes were an active touring band, they put helped to put Iceland on the map for music lover’s around the world. They practically gave birth to their country’s now booming tourist business and they also opened the door for bands like Sigur Ros and Mum to be excepted worldwide in the years to come. Without this parade of talent pouring out of Iceland I don’t think the now annual Iceland Airwaves Music fest would have existed no less be as popular and well attended as it is either.
What defines a classic album will vary from person to person but for myself, a record sounding as poignant to me now as it did 20 years ago certainly earns it the highest honor in my record collection. This record isn’t just classic though, Life's Too Good was a catalyst that introduced the world to not only Bjork (who in turn brought electronic music to the general public) but the culture and country that created a band unlike anyone had ever heard before. There is no copying such an extraordinary level of talent and creativity, so what makes this classic album so unique is that it would be impossible for someone to recreate. Ever.
May 29, 2008
And a quote from the man himself:
"Death is the key, the final and ultimate orgasm. Life is the painful part of the whole misery, it's just about dying. Death is the key... Commit suicide... "
I am a huge fan of any band that encourages people to commit suicide. A) Why then is this guy still alive if dying is so friggin awesome? and B) If people offed themselves who would left to buy their records, pay to see them live, bother to interview them, or bother to read interviews with them?
If a corpse painted singer falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does anyone give a crap about the sound either way?
I didn't think so.
Hometown - UK
May 28, 2008
May 26, 2008
I knew I recognized the track to be an old soul song but I couldn't remember who it was by originally so I turned to Wiki for some insight. Marlena Shaw (Bluenote artist) does the new version featured in the commercial but the original version was penned by Ashford & Simpson in 1969 and released as a single by The Fifth Dimension as well as Marvin Gaye with Tammi Terrell. Mystery solved.
8. Wii Fit. Mock me if you like but I have really enjoyed my first three days of playing this "game". The four basic workout themes of Yoga, balance, strength training, and aerobics on a board with sensors that keeps track of your weight / weight distribution has already helped me shed a pound and a half in three days. Admittedly I thought just the concept of working out to my video game system was pathetic but so far I have truly enjoyed it and truthfully feel genuinely challenged by it.
7. Studying the French Language again for this first time in 20 years at home from an old textbook. Maybe a proper college class next Spring?
May 23, 2008
May 22, 2008
1 - 10 of about 4,010,000 for emo suicide
The suicide of a 13 year old girl from the UK who considered herself emo has ignited all sorts of interest in and attacks against this genre which apparently no longer means 1st generation emo like Rites of Spring or 2nd generation emo like Cap's Jazz, but rather My Chemical Romance. (Huh? Is that even music???)
Metal and Goth kids can sigh in relief because there is a new teen killer in town according to parental units and the coroners of the world and it wears guy-liner.
How about we do a study about teen depression and how music doesn't create suicidal kids, suicidal kids find music that appeals to their already depressed nature. Parents are in denial and looking to point the figure at anyone else but the chemistry of their child, the family atmosphere he or she is raised in, and how they themselves were too blind to see or scared to admit that all the signs of a mentally ill person living under their roof was right there in front of them and missed it.
May 21, 2008
Camera Obscura talks about recording their new record here.
Serena Maneesh update fans about their upcoming records and next studio album here.
Love is All is always up to something fun here.
Check out new music from Clearlake - first new material in years - here.
Efterklang first US tour dates are here.
May 20, 2008
Title - Songs in A&E
Hometown - UK / death's door
Label - Sanctuary / Spritualized Limited
Street Date - 5/27
RIYL - Spacemen 3, Heroin, self destructive behavior, Harmony Korine tributes (this record was made side by side to a Korine soundtrack J recently scored and A & E features short instrumental interludes dedicated to the director), The Rolling Stones at their not very best, Lou Reed with a higher register
The Hits - Soul on Fire, Don't Hold Me Close, The Waves Crash In
Richter Magnitude Scale Rating: Moderate
Seriously, can we get this man some help? I know Jason Pierce AKA the man behind Spiritualized had been hospitalized due to double pneumonia (see, this is what long term drug use can do to you kids) for a lengthy stint but these songs don't give me a sense that we have ourselves a healed, healthy, and happy man. We have a decent body of work here but this sixth record, The Songs in A & E, have me a little worried. His body is a broken one.
May 19, 2008
Who - ME! (And seriously the ladies of Ipanema alone are worth the night out)
May 16, 2008
May 15, 2008
May 14, 2008
Cassette From My Ex is a relatively new website about mixtapes. But a specific type of mixtapethe one made by a former flame. The site's contributors give a little backstory on the tape in question and provide images. Even better, you can stream each tape (one side at a time, natch) to get a real feel for what the maker of the tape was trying to say. One semi-famous contributor so far is Claudia Gonson of the Magnetic Fields, and Damon Locks of The Eternals and Trenchmouth is due to post soon. Maybe they'll get Nick Hornby in on the action one day.
Above : Allison from The Kills
Above: Jennifer of Royal Trux
Check out these wanna be RTX pictures of The Kills. Friggin Poncho and all.
May 12, 2008
I liked the energetic Specials version.
The blog over at WFMU posted another fantastic version of this classic song by MELT BANANA that needs to be heard, as any attempt at describing it would be an injustice.
This is another example of how a well written song can translate across genres, styles, recordings and decades.
So go ahead, hug him up. You know you want to.
P.S. It looks like Amy Winehouse is intentionally draining the life out of this musical masterpiece. But even her best attempts to destroy the Monkey Man can not kill this powerful song.
May 11, 2008
Holy Fuck's "Lovely Allen (Brothers Remix)"
This remix of a 2007 song by Holy Fuck really threw me for a loop when I first heard it a couple of weeks ago as part of a mix that Brothers did for FADER. After unsuccessfully trying for a while to find an MP3, I ended up ripping it from the mix itself, though the sound quality and wonky ending leave a little to be desired. Regardless, it's a monster remix of an already fantastic track and whenever it starts up, I basically end up wishing it'll never end.
Check the Brothers FADER mix here.
And here's the video for the original "Lovely Allen":
Ironically an outfit at John's Varvatos 315 Bowery Boutique costs more than what the bands who once performed at a typical night at CBGB were paid, even if they were to pool all their money together along with the tips from the bar staff. For a touch of true CB's nostalgia I can only hope that they bus in homeless people to beg for change and potentially point homemade weapons at you just like the good old days when the residents from the homeless shelter above the club would hang out in front on warm nights- creating one of the strangest rock meets not mixers on the planet.
Varvatos truly believes that by playing R&R dress up with the old CBGB (which houses three of his fashion lines within its walls) he is now a part of the club's mythic history. That's sort of like someone buying John Lennon's iconoclastic round glasses and saying they are now a part of The Beatles history. Nope, you are still just a fan with clearly a lot of money to toss around.
Commercial rent has skyrocketed to astronomical proportions (40K to 150K a month!!!) in the East Village so in my mind it is just a matter of time that this landmark to New York's music history is doomed to become the bank or newest Starbucks conquest that John Varvatos was trying to spare it from in the first place. John is only delaying the inevitable. To be blunt, his store won't last the test of time. If some of the most famous bands in the world couldn't save CBGB why would a designer's utilitarian sleek silhouettes be able to do it? I don't care how modern your fabrics are or how much you think people will be willing to pay for them in a "famous" location, it simply can't last more than a few years.
I suggest we go ahead and take all the salvaged parts of CBGB now embarrassingly used as a backdrop for rich people to shop within and ship to the the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland where the club can be given a decent memorial in a place that actually pays tribute to ROCK.
For kicks the museum should also recreate the CB's bathrooms by placing them at the hardest to reach / furthest point in the building where those with full bladders will have to snake their way through a packed house only to make their way down dimply lit stairs to the pits of hell otherwise known as the latrine. Men could then face the humiliation of public urination since the stairs ended at a door-less men's bathroom and women could look forward to relieving themselves in a half standing / half squatting position (Because God knows what was smeared or dripped all over the toilet seat, assuming there even was a toilet seat) while holding the stall door shut with one hand because there isn't a lock and cursing because there isn't any toilet paper, the toilet isn't flushing, and there is only one working sink with a faucet spitting nothing but scalding hot water. Now that is the CBGB I remember.
I am a nostalgic person but the more I reminisce about CBGB, the more I am convinced it is time to send it off to greener pastures. New Yorkers need to create a new legendary space for bands to play and stop beating a dead horse with a couture fashion line.
May 10, 2008
May 8, 2008
May 7, 2008
Title - These Are Your Bloody Rarities, Vol. 2
Hometown - UK
Label - Peacock Records (let's call it an import label wink wink)
RIYL - Rare MBV, shoegaze
The Hits - Never Say Goodbye, Strawberry Wine...to name a few
Richter Magnitude Scale - Moderate
Tracks 1-18 represent the all the music from Ecstasy and Wine, the You Made Me Realize EP, and the Feed Me With Your Kiss EP.
The sound quality for everything is decent but obviously lacking the depth, warmth, and bass of the original recordings. Since the MBV boxset doesn't look like it will be released anytime soon this collection and Volume 1 (which has all the other EPs on one disc) might be worth while for the serious fan who can't afford to buy all the rare EPs and singles.
I would normally never review one of these kinds of records but for you hardcore MBV fans this might be worth tracking down for three reasons. (listed below)
1) Track 19 is from a 7" flexi "The Catalogue #67 and is called Sugar and relatively rare.
2) Track 20 in an instrumental track from a 7"
3) Tracy 21 is another instrumental track taken from Pensioners on Ecstasy CD.
May 6, 2008
May 5, 2008
Title - Water Curses EP
Hometown - MD/PA/Boston/NYC/Seattle/the world
Label - Domino
Street Date - May 6, 2008
RIYL - Animal Collective, Panda Bear, Avey Tare
The Hits - Water Curses, Street Flash
Richter Magnitude Scale - Major
In an average workday I would say I listen from anywhere to 5 to 12 records a day- easy. Unfortunately much of the time I am only half listening, forget what I have thrown on, or tune out whatever I intended to listen to in a matter of minutes.
Today I put Animal Collective's Water Curses EP on and about 2 minutes in I found myself thinking GOD, ANOTHER BAND THAT WANTS TO BE ANIMAL COLLECTIVE!!!! I am utterly over this. And then I quickly realized, ooops, this is Animal Collective and they have ever right to sound like themselves. It isn't the band's fault that every other new band seems to be borrowing heavily from their trademark tribal atmospheric ethereal melodies.
The four songs found on Water Curses are perfect stepping stones from Strawberry Jam, moving farther away from their jam band drum circle tendencies and closer to a more structured, more palatable mosaic of textured sounds.
The song "Cobwebs" repeats the line ping pong style "I'm not going underground" and I can attest that they speak the truth. Animal Collective have spun a delicate silvery psychedelic web between the world of cult following and the mainstream.
This is an Archers of Loaf song that gets stuck in my head from time to time, even if I haven't heard it in forever. It is very good to hear/see this re-interpretation and to find that it works so well in this solo format. The original recorded version from the Archers of Loaf album 'Icky Mettle' is rather quirky, but this acoustic version shows that the song stands on its own and wasn't reliant on the specific sound/style of that recording/era/scene.
May 4, 2008
"Art rock is a term used to describe a sub genre of rock music with "experimental or avant-garde influences" that emphasizes "novel sonic texture." Art rock is an "intrinsically album-based" form, which takes "advantage of the format's capacity for longer, more complex compositions and extended instrumental explorations. The Golden Age of Rock lectures define art rock as "a piece of music in the rock idiom that is appealing more intellectually or musically, that is, not formulated along pop lines for mass consumption. It's usually somewhat experimental. It often employs a long structure with several themes like classical music, though sometimes it's a suite of individual songs. One unifying feature is that Art Rock almost always features keyboards more than guitar." As well, art rock is "not so much for dancing as for listening and it often tells a story or has a philosophical theme to the lyrics.""
No Age, Considered an art band by scenesters and critics alike is a label that I am uncertain they fully deserve. They are noisy, unbelievably so for just two guys, but somewhere buried beneath the cacophony of sound are old fashioned pop songs.
No Age sounds like if every K Records and Sub Pop band played all at once as a symphony, one half playing EVOL and the other half playing Loveless. They are a beautiful sonic mess with vocals for those who aren't so worried about pitch and CD packaging as layered and thick as the music on the disc itself.
Perfectly imperfect Nouns is an enormous collage of color, sound, and concepts just abstract enough that it leaves plenty of room for your imagination to work with it.
May 1, 2008
After the demise of this band member Ken Griffin went on to form Kid Silver (Jetset Records) and now plays in a group called Favourite Sons with 4 members of Aspera on Vice.