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I'm Chris. I'm 22 years old and I'm into a large variety of music, from Metal in its many forms (mostly the extreme ones) to Goth and Postpunk, Reggae, Jazz, Prog, Techno, Ambient and Film Scores. This is where I rave about albums I really like, and other stuff.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division by Peter Hook





Keep on demolishing those myths


Joy Division was without a doubt, one of the most important bands of the modern day. They practically invented goth, for better or worse, inspiring legions of clones who could only ever imitate them at the superficial “gloomy” level. Over the years, much has been written about the tragic story of this group and its late singer Ian Curtis. Films such as Anton Corbijn’s “Control” ( a fantastic piece of film making, it must be said) only serve to perpetuate the myth of Curtis being this T.S. Elliot type, a brooding poet who stood apart from his friends. That he was, but only to an extent. Peter Hook’s “Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division” does much to paint a far more realistic and believable portrait of the man as “one of us”, and offers probably the most vital account of Joy Division’s short career yet. He was the bassist, after all. I haven’t even finished reading this book yet but over the last 3 days I haven’t been able to put it down, and I just had to praise it.

Having found myself hooked on his “The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club” I knew this one would be just as essential. Hooky takes us from beginning to end, growing up, meeting Bernard Sumner, founding the group, success, and the sudden jolt of the end while they were on the edge of a breakthrough American tour. This, apparently, was all that Curtis wanted all along, but as anyone who knows this band is aware, his personal circumstances became too much to handle. Given the fact that Hook and the other members of Joy Division/New Order are currently bitterly estranged (a frankly sorry state of affairs for what once was one of the very finest British groups), Hook does make a few personal criticisms of Sumner and the others throughout...however, he’s always quick to balance it out by praising them (especially Sumner) as musicians. He’s clearly proud, and rightfully so, of being a groundbreaking bass player with lines such as “She’s Lost Control” practically re-inventing the instrument in the context of modern rock, and its great to see his appreciation (in hindsight) of Martin Hannett’s genius production of their music. He also gives an intriguing track-by-track commentary to the albums which is like gold dust to fans like me.

However, what I admire most about this book is Hooky’s down to earth nature. Just as with his book about the Hacienda, reading “Unknown Pleasures” is like hearing him reminisce casually, yet thoroughly, about those times as if you were sat having a conversation with him. Despite their austere public image, these 4 guys got up to plenty of mischief on the road just like any other band and there are plenty of funny antics to read about. Its so refreshing to see the band’s story being told this way. There’s been so much pretentious nonsense written about Joy Division over the years, we really don’t need any more, especially not from one of the guys who was actually in Joy Division. I’m looking at you, Paul Morley. Now all that's left for Hook to do is publish the New Order book alluded to in the pages of this one. Can't wait for that.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Record Store Day sucks and so do you: a (somewhat) tongue in cheek rant





So, its that time of year again. The one official day in the year where you're supposed to make a huge deal about independent record shops. Personally I care about them on much more of a regular basis than that, so to me its kind of pointless: why can't every day potentially be a "record store day"? I don't need you to tell me when my "record store day" is supposed to happen, thanks. But this isn't the main issue. The main issue is: its a fucking stupid gimmick. Today, at popular indie stores all around the world (Rough Trade in London for example), vinyl obsessives and hipsters will be queuing round the block to purchase such things as an "exclusive" Nirvana 7", a 12" reissue of the first Oasis single (Christ, who the hell wants that anyway?), or a limited edition Sex Pistols 7" box set. I dunno how the hell much any of that costs at retail (probably too much!), but one thing is constant where RSD is concerned: as early as the following day, many of these releases will be showing up on ebay at stupidly inflated prices as "rare" items. Yeah, they're rare because some guy bought 5 copies of an already limited thing to sell on at a later date. A couple of years ago, an exclusive split 12" between Joy Division and New Order came out for Record Store Day (limited of 800 copies, of course), featuring both band's versions of "Ceremony" and "In A Lonely Place". Bearing in mind that the few recorded Joy Division demos and live recordings of both those songs sound like complete shit, and an original copy of the New Order version can be had for not too much cash, its pretty absurd and frankly disturbing to see something like that floating around on eBay with an £80 price tag on it. I mean come the fuck on. Ok, yeah, on one hand its pretty genius. Buy overpriced, limited edition, inferior modern repress. Sell it on eBay at ridiculously inflated price. Its a good way to make some cash, because you can guarantee that some idiot out there will fall for it. Not me though. Its like those people who scalp tickets for a concert and sell them at increased prices to people in the queue outside the venue 10 minutes before the band goes on. Yes yes, very clever. Making a tidy profit, I'm sure. I'd probably feel like a bit of a cunt doing that. Bow to my moral superiority.



Can you say the same? Don't you want to?


Modern vinyl. Its a bit of a funny subject to me. I refer you now to a hilarious moment during which I came across a brand new, 180g, "remastered from the original analogue tapes" blah fucking blah and all the rest of it, copy of "Nursery Cryme" by Genesis in the "was there for years-then suddenly disappeared for several years-oh look now its back again because vinyl is trendy now" wax racks of my nearest HMV, the ones that used to be stuffed with Hip Hop and DnB records and is now full of these classic represses because that's what's cool now so of course, we're going along with it....but I digress. So, Nursery Cryme. You know, one of, if not the best, prog albums of its era. It was all new, shiny, and loaded with these gimmicks that the sticker on the front was so damn EAGER to make a big (selling) point of. Sure, sounds good. Timeless classic album, brand new and shiny, all yours for a meager £25. Bollocks. Not ten minutes prior to this encounter I had flicked past an excellent condition copy of an ORIGINAL press of said album in a nearby independent (who will of course be joining in with today's festivities) for £3. A perfectly serviceable, above average example of an original artifact for £3 vs. a brand spanking shiny new "180g remastered from the original ANALOGUE (wow, where do i sign?!?!..) tapes" blah...just had to laugh, really. What would you choose? I'll give them one thing, at least they're not just sticking a CD master on it like some bastard reissue labels (Back on Black, some Earache releases before they fessed up and started doing "full dynamic range" versions...) have freely admitted to in the past. That's like buying a huge black CD/frisbee at two to three times the cost of buying a normal sized, silver CD. Yet all this "remastered from the original tapes" is still effectively a sales gimmick when you can snag an original copy, also mastered "from the original analogue tapes" for a fraction of the price....and come on, we're talking things like Genesis and Floyd here, classic rock that sold/ still sells millions of units and is still readily available 2nd hand in all the 200 editions that have been made over 30 odd years. Its all gotten a bit stupid these days. Classic albums that are still readily available in either superior or perfectly adequate editions, are being cranked out as ridiculous modern editions which are criticized time and time again by people who actually know their shit. Take your 90 quid "Immersion" box set of Dark Side of the Moon and shove it up your arse, coffee table book and all. I'd rather have an mp3, plus you should know A Saucerful of Secrets is miles better anyway. That 1994, one disc (!!!) "definitive remaster" of Selling England By the Pound (they must have forgotten about that when doing the 2007 "definitive" double disc collector's editions, I guess) suits me just fine.



In my past life I was Peter Gabriel's shaved forehead.


So, Record Store Day. In theory? Not a bad idea. In practice? More like a bad joke. As a huge music lover, it does piss me off and irritate a few of my sensibilities. Not massively, just enough for me to write a descriptive and hopefully humorous article poking fun at its perceived faults. Like it? Go and get involved. Personally I won't be bothering. I'll be laughing while you spend £30 on a limited edition 7" on eBay tomorrow cause you didn't make it down quick enough. Don't worry though. You've still got another 365 days to work on your timing.




ADDENDUM: Well well well, 26 quid at the time of posting this update.

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Joy-Division-An-Ideal-For-Living-12-Single-Record-Store-Day-2014-/371046652471?pt=UK_Records&hash=item56641a9a37

In the SAME day even. What did I fucking tell you? The highest buy it now at the moment is £49.99. Haha! Enjoy you twats!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Fields of the Nephilim - The Nephilim

 Released September, 1988
Situation Two/Beggars Banquet records


  "Does it hurt for I want you to remain?"


To any self respecting fan of vintage goth, the entire discography from the original incarnation of Fields of the Nephilim is worth its weight in gold. This band, largely unlike any of their contemporaries (beyond superficial similarities, such as hats and smoke), and indeed unlike any in the world, released a string of commonly regarded quintessential records from 1984 to 1991, comprising 4 now classic albums and a slew of equally good EPs and 12” singles including the gothic rock genre’s arguable peak (admittedly, one of many) in the form of the 12” version of “Psychonaut” (1989), a staggering 9 minute trip of a song. Sure, they kind of looked and vaguely sounded a bit like The Sisters of Mercy early on, but they had a different vibe. Whereas the Sisters’ music was more about reality combined with clever lyrical metaphors, FOTN’s music, image and everything else were steeped heavily in the occult, and mysticism, and bordered on hard rock and classical heavy metal escapism. Their discography defines goth rock as much as the other giants from that era like The Sisters, Bauhaus, and all the rest. When it comes to choosing the best of their classic trio of studio albums I find myself always coming back to one more than any other: 1988’s almost self titled, “The Nephilim”.

Why this album? Well, it seems to fit nicely in the middle of their progression as a band, being the 2nd of the 3 albums. Its heavier, consistently better and more densely layered than 1987’s nonetheless impressive debut “Dawnrazor”, and more energetic, punchy and concise than 1990’s somewhere-far-beyond-this-world Prog-goth epic “Elizium” (which despite having just as much potential to be the best, is let down at times by its own airiness and long winded arrangements). “The Nephilim” fits right in the middle of those albums and displays this band at its absolute best on the album format. Fields of the Nephilim is a band who in their prime, were able to completely transcend the limitations of their genre trappings and create a profound and timeless sonic experience, and this album is a perfect example of that. The classic line-up of McCoy, Yates, Wright, Pettit and Wright had a chemistry that was undeniable, all you need do is listen and hear their unique craft at work. From Tony Pettit’s distinctive bass playing (really, this guy was THE goth bassist, listen to THAT “Psychonaut” bassline or the intro to “Love Under Will” and just try to disagree!), the textural yet driving guitars of Peter Yates and Alex Wright, to Nod Wright’s propulsive drumming topped off with Carl McCoy’s unmistakeable intonations, these four guys were quite a team. There are plenty of live recordings (many bootlegs and an official live album) to prove that they were just as effective on stage too, and a concert film recorded on the tour to promote this album entitled “Forever Remain” is a must watch for any fan.

The atmosphere this album exudes is thick and almost tangible, otherworldly while being warmly familiar. It feels like returning to something sacred, submerged in a warm glow coming from some place that isn’t quite real. At least, that’s the effect it has to my ears. Backing up this unearthly atmosphere is some seriously killer songwriting including such instantly recognisable classics as the endlessly re-playable single “Moonchild” and the climactic “Last Exit For The Lost”, alongside fan favourites like the relentless “Chord of Souls” and the moving “Love Under Will”. “Phobia” sounds almost like Motorhead. All powerful, highly addictive songs. For me though, the real highlight has to be “Celebrate”, a subtle and haunting bass and vocal duet with whispers of guitar to bring shivers to your spine (it was perfected as a slight remix on the “Psychonaut” B-side, yet another reason why you really do need that 12”). The use of atmospheric samples to add layers to the sound and bridge the songs is revelatory in an album of this kind. The imagery inside the sleeve is as compelling and mysterious as the music within it. Carl McCoy’s lyrics have always been largely shrouded in mystic imagery which some might call clichéd or dubious, but they can make for some interesting interpretations for your own situations and his powerful, unique voice drifts over the songs with clarity and purpose.

Overall, this is a highly potent package that is commonly regarded as one of the essential albums of the style. If you want to get a good idea about 80s Goth music and just how good it was, get this album. Its a bewildering thought to me that this stuff was actually popular once upon a time, several years before I was born, in an era where contemporary popular music was vastly superior in (not just) my opinion. FOTN themselves are still around, albeit in a largely unoriginal lineup (the original band fell apart after “Elizium”, nowadays is essentially McCoy and hired hands, though bassist Pettit has been seen playing with them live again recently), producing the occasional inferior yet promising album like 2002’s “Fallen” (incomplete demos from an aborted reunion of the original band at the end of the 90s) and 2005’s underwhelming and self referential “Mourning Sun”. The essential body of work from this band remains in the 80s, created by the original line-up. Now, go and check out, and buy, this masterpiece of an album...and don’t forget “Psychonaut” while you’re at it.


Friday, 17 January 2014

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Released: November 26, 1986
Directed by: Leonard Nimoy
Producer: Harve Bennet
Screenplay: Nicholas Meyer, Harve Bennet, Steve Meerson & Peter Krikes


 “Everybody remember where we parked...”

Time travel plots are a staple of sci fi, especially in the world of Star Trek. Frankly, its a bit of a cliché. However, there are some examples of the idea being pulled off really well, and one of those is The Voyage Home. This film was the most successful of the Star Trek series to date, and is still held in high regard by many fans including myself. Its certainly one of my very favourite Trek films, up there with The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country all sharing the top spot in my mind for the best of the TOS era features. The thing that makes The Voyage Home so successful is just how different it is to either of those aforementioned films, and indeed how different it is among all the Trek films. In a noticeable change of pace, our heroes find themselves on 20th century Earth in a “save the whales!” adventure marked with priceless comedy thanks to the unforgettable onscreen chemistry of the cast. There’s no real violence, no Klingon bad guys, no space battles. Star Trek IV is pure, light-hearted fun, and that’s precisely the reason why its so good.

As the final part in the trilogy of films that began with The Wrath of Khan, The Voyage Home sees Admiral Kirk and co. and returning to Earth to face judgment for their actions in the previous two films. What starts out as something that seems to be along the lines of the other films, takes a sharp right turn. An alien probe is harassing the planet Earth, looking for Humpback whales. In the 23rd century, they’re extinct. Of course, the natural answer is to attempt time travel by the ludicrous means of flying around the sun at warp speed, and after a surreal time travel sequence where do they end up? San Fransciso, 1986. The first shot of our heroes, wandering around the streets of the city, looking sorely out of place and accompanied by roaring contemporary Jazz Fusion replete with impossibly 80s programmed drums and synth (indeed the entire soundtrack is a noticeable departure from standard Trek film music), is one of the most charming, funny and priceless moments in the entire history of this franchise. Their interactions with the “primitive and paranoid culture”, as Kirk puts it, are just effortlessly funny, as are their interactions with themselves. The chemistry between these actors to generate humour was never so obvious as in this film. Having recently just seen this again after several years, the “save the whales” mentality of the film has also never stuck out to me as much. This is undoubtedly a sign of the times, and its nice that they were able to put a relevant and contemporary message into the film. The rest of it is filled with non stop examples of effortless humour and great character interactions; I forgot how funny this film really is. This is one that has me laughing almost all the way through, every time. Let's not forget the inherent humour in a Russian guy, in 1980s America, stopping people in the street to ask where the nuclear vessels are kept.

Of course, everything works out in the end as it should, with our heroes making a successful return to the future bringing with them two Humpback whales and a disenfranchised 20th century marine biologist. For saving the day yet again, they’re rewarded with a brand new shiny Enterprise and the chance to fall flat on their faces in the underwhelming and largely derided follow up, The Final Frontier. The Voyage Home, though, is a fantastic film and one that even non Trek fans will be able to enjoy due to the setting. For many Trek nuts, myself included, The Voyage Home is one of the unmissable highlights of the film series. As with Star Trek II, the version I have discussed is the 2009 remastered DVD, which presents excellent picture quality. The packaging and bonus features are again somewhat minimalist, but the only other version of this film I've owned is an older VHS so the improved picture is very apparent to me. If you want more comprehensive bonus features, nicer packaging and perfectly adequate picture quality, get the 2003 2-disc collectors edition, or indeed the newest BluRay version which combines this edition's image quality (except probably even better, being a BluRay) with the 2003 edition's extensive bonus material.

My rating: 5/5

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

 Released: June 4, 1982
Director Nicholas Meyer
Produced by: Robert Sallin, Harve Bennet (executive)
Screenplay: Jack B. Sowards, Nicholas Meyer (uncredited)
 


"Can I cook, or can't I..."

I'm sure that's what went through Nicholas Meyer's head when he watched the final edit for this. Star Trek: The Motion Picture, while not an inherently bad film, was a less than ideal start to the Star Trek movie series. It just took a bit too long to make its point, and the story wasn't exactly A-grade material. Put it up against the smash hit A New Hope that came out a year prior, and the winner is obvious. For the next film in the Trek series, I'm sure they realised they had to step up their game a little bit and come out with a film that would make an impression. In that they succeeded, and also created a film that is still regarded by many as the definitive Star Trek feature.

I have never seen Space Seed, the original series episode featuring Khan that serves as a backdrop to this movie. I'm not as big a fan of TOS as I am of TNG, DS9, and so on. If you have seen that episode then you'll know exactly what's going on from the beginning. Thankfully this film is successful enough that it doesn't require you to have seen the episode to get into it, though it may help if you have an idea of just who Khan is to explain the connection between him and the rest of the characters. Put simply, the film center's around Khan's obsession with revenge on Kirk that untimately proves to be his undoing, while Kirk survives and is free to save the galaxy and spout one liners another day. At the center of all this lies Genesis, a world-creating device of unimaginable power which Khan sets his eyes on, that provides the foundation for the film after this one, and the one after that in part, too. This is the first film to introduce many elements that would become synonymous with the Trek features, including the distinctive red uniforms (not like the “space pyjamas” of The Motion Picture). Ricardo Montalban gives an unforgettable performance as Khan, subtly menacing and explosive when needed, without ever going over the top. If you want to see a top actor doing a classic villain role, watch this. He and Kirk face off in their respective ships in one of the most memorable space battles in film history. Like a classic submarine fight, both ships are effectively running blind in a nebula and almost collide with each other in one instance. Its a tense, dramatic battle scene that leaves both ships crippled. In the end, a certain crew member sacrifices himself so the Enterprise can escape to safety, while the Genesis device goes off aboard Khan’s stolen ship and creates a new world which becomes the focus of the next film in the series. The rest of the cast is on top form, the screen chemistry between these people (especially the classic Bones, Kirk and Spock trio) is undeniable and just a joy to watch...and isn’t Kirstie Alley just stunning? There are some good awkward moments between Kirk, his ex wife, and son that he didn’t know about. James Horner’s score is one of the most memorable of the movie series, and there are some great visual effects from stunning matte paintings to charmingly dated CGI that was doubtless the absolute cutting edge in its day.

Unlike some, emptier sci fi, The Wrath of Khan is really classic character drama in a futuristic setting, topped off with some great action and the moral/political take on things, the reflection of the human condition that defines classic Trek in the minds of so many fans. This film is the first part of the classic 3 film series of Treks II, III and IV that are basically one big story arc. This is the film that was so good, so classic, that they ripped it off like you wouldn’t believe for 2013’s style over substance Star Trek Into Darkness. I just got hold of the newest 2009 DVD edition of this film, remastered in 1080p from the original print, which apparently needed a bit of restoration work as it wasn't in great shape after all those years. Before this I was accustomed to the lower quality of my VHS copy, I have to say the difference is remarkable and I have never seen this film look so good. The bonus features on this DVD version are decent, though not as good or comprehensive as on the 2003 2-disc special editions. The trade off is the much improved picture quality. If you want to know just what this remarkable cultural phenomenon is all about, you could pick a much worse place to start than Star Trek II.


My rating: 5/5

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Released: June 9, 1989
Director: William Shatner
Produced by Harve Bennett
Screenplay: David Loughery



             "I can't help but notice your pain...it runs deep...share it with me!"

That line, which I think is just great, is one of the few things that stands out about Star Trek V, a film that is commonly seen as being the single weakest film in the series. It confuses me that, coming off the back of the brilliant and massively successful Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the followup could be so average. A sub standard plot involving a journey to the center of the galaxy to find "God", combined with noticeably weak visual effects compared to the previous outings, caused William Shatner's first turn at directing to be the thing that almost killed the franchise according to some.

Its actually quite a funny film at times, but you get the impression that a lot of the humour was either unintentional or there to pad out the fact that the story wasn't quite up to scratch. The visual effects aren't as good because ILM couldn't do it, and the poor guys they drafted in to do it had half the required time to get it together. Surprisingly, the film apparently did alright when it opened, but it wasn't long before the critics began hurling words like "mess" and "shambles", and not without some justification. Now, that said, The Final Frontier isn't a complete failure. The campfire scene between Kirk, Bones and Spock is cool. You can't help but laugh when Scotty walks into the wall and knocks himself out, while in the middle of saying "I know this ship like the back of my hand..." (then again, this is such an obviously slapstick moment), and the scene where the character's inner demons are brought out into the open is one that I've always remembered. Then of course, we have Kirk questioning "God" like only Kirk would. I agree, what the hell does God need with a starship? The brilliant David Warner also makes an appearance, but as we know he would return in the next film and do much better. Was that a conscious decision, I wonder?

If you're a fan of Trek, even the weaker movies have some value and are worth watching, if only to get an idea of just how much better the high points of the series really are. The Final Frontier is more of a curiosity than anything else, as it does show some glimmers of potential. Had they had more time and the budget they needed, I'm sure it would have turned out a lot better. Thankfully, with the next film in the series, they got back on track in a big way and produced a fitting end to the series of original Trek films. That film is unmissable. You can safely skip this one, however.

My rating: 2.5/5

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Cynic - Demo 1991 (Roadrunner Demo)

Cynic - Demo 1991
Progressive thrash metal
1991 Roadrunner Records

 


Discovering the demo material of Cynic was something of a minor revelation for me, being only really familiar with the Focus album. At this point Cynic was quite a different band, though the evolution of their demos does give a hint at the direction they were headed. The first two demos from '88 and '89 are more rudimentary if still enjoyable thrash, the '90 demo an explosive shot of hyper speed, uniquely melodic technical riffs and relentless drumming that in my mind comes out on top of enough full albums by other bands. On this demo the sound is veering more towards death metal and coincidentally is the one that secured them a deal with Roadrunner I think, it would explain the name anyway.

By this point the classic Cynic lineup had been established, with bass as on the previous demo being handled by Tony Choy, an astonishingly gifted bass player who was apparently the only one capable of filling the gap in Atheist left by the insanely skilled Roger Patterson. His playing also blends seamlessly with this incarnation of Cynic, he wouldn't have worked on Focus but I would have loved to hear what a full length recorded around this time would have sounded like. There are three songs, two of which later appeared on the debut. They are noticeably different from the Focus versions, as well as the added appeal of hearing them in these far more brutal incarnations. The version of "Uroboric Forms" in particular just destroys, in some ways I prefer this to the album version though it is the most similar to the one on Focus. "The Eagle Nature" is quite different, the most bass intensive of the three songs, without the clean break in the middle and a different ending. The final track "Pleading for Preservation" is the most energetic and driving one, with relentless melodic thrash riffing bursting out from a relaxing clean intro, and an ending that was later reworked into "How Could I" on Focus. Paul's vocals are absolutely awesome, savage and fitting the music perfectly. No vocoders yet. Of course, if you're familiar with this band you know the instrumental performances are just out of this world. If not, then listen and be duly blown away. There are just some insanely fast riffs in this demo, and the degree of technical skill is nothing less than highly impressive while still being completely emotive. The solos especially are quite frankly, just wonderful.

Despite its short length this is absolutely worth tracking down, sadly there has yet to be an official release of the Cynic demos but this is an essential listen for fans and anyone into early 90s death/thrash.