20 September 2006

Pavement - Wowee Zowee

Wowee Zowee musically defines the term "grower". At first the eclectic scrapbook of 18 inconsistent songs is interesting but not really musically pleasant, just a swirl of strange, angry little songs merged with slow, melancholy ballads. But as soon as you realise that each is, in its own right, a work of genius, Wowee Zowee as a whole sort of gels.
The way we are greeted with a slow guitar chord and piano note repeated unevenly doesn't exactly set the tone. Most people will have worked this out by the first line "There is no castration fear!". So that's alright then. After this oddity, we reach the classic Pavement single Rattled by the Rush, a near-perfect indie song, as well as the only one I could find on YouTube. Rattled by the Rush is the only song that really could make a decent single, but I'm sure I watched Father to the Sister of a Thought - a more folksy indie song - on YouTube a month or two ago. TO add to the already inconsistent tracklist we then hear Black Out and Brinx Job, completing the slow lapse into a weird vocal track and general Pavementish insanity and noise. After this there are no patterns. Grounded's peaceful lull is somewhat interrupted by Spiral Stairs' addition to the album, Serpentine Pad - basically a punk song, which ends, to a Pink Floyd-like (sort of) intro to Motion Suggests. From then on the songs don't flow in any way, but fit together in an antiflow... it just works.
But of course in an album as weird as this there are flaws. Western Homes is a terrible song to bow out on, but does keep the experimental feel with the interesting vocals, which waver like a hot atmosphere. If only they could be paired with a better song. Best Friend's Arm, while being a funny little addition, is really just Pavement trying to play another Slanted and Enchanted song, and failing. Otherwise, it's hard to pick out other failings, but the collection still seems to have an unfinished air about it.
Of course, the best thing about this album is the experimentality. It built on the strange noises that Pavement had already started using previously, but using them much more effectively. Bob Nastanovich's keyboards, sound effects, and percussion are all used to maximum effect here, unlike the other albums, and of course this is a good thing. It still doesn't stray far from the guitars, drums, bass setup, but there's enough variety of techniques to make it sound original.
If you do wish to invest in this album, I recommend the remastered edition that is due in November. If it's anything like the other two remastereds it'll be well worth the money. I am buying it again, as well as the upcoming (if not confirmed) rereleases of Brighten the Corners and Terror Twilight, which will effectively complete a collection of all Pavement songs. Fantastic news.

Wikipedia article, Amazon page, a professional review.

EDIT: I've changed my mind, Best Friend's Arm is an awesome song.

PS: Sorry this couldn't've come at the regular time of Sunday night (a time I wish to stick to in future). Also sorry it's more Pavement. Still to come I have Björk, Bright Eyes, Beck, and Massive Attack; possibly more. Then it'll be back to standard goings-on.
Other stuff going on: Links bar to your left. Much cool stuff. If you do play N, join the forums. Most of what I do on the internet these days can be traced back to there. And I'm on the IRC channel (as linked to in the forum) pretty much all the time I'm online.
Also a hit counter. I needed one, badly.

10 September 2006

Pavement - Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe and Reduxe

Before Slanted & Enchanted, Pavement were a small band who really weren't recognsised further than a few friends and audiophiles who were lucky enough to have attended a gig, where they may have been presented with a cabbage by former drummer Gary Young. Young, Stephen Malkmus and Spiral Stairs were not the 5-piece band that split up in 1999, but just 3 guys who were practically jamming in their garage, recording the results onto cassette. The 50-page booklet that comes with this reissue explains the process in more detail. "We'd set up a few small amps, no bass, with just the guitar played through a bass amp". Crude as the setup is, it actually works. Young had to run around the house starting and stopping the tape machine. Luckily they got the album together. It's maybe the most lo-fi thing I've ever heard, but the songs are fantastic enough to make up for it.
This album is often cited as one of the best and most important of the 90s. Spiral Stairs modestly comments that it "launched a thousand Weezers (in addition to Weezer)". If that's true, I appreciate this album just for that. The original 14 album tracks are, for me, the bulk of this album. Of course. There's not a weak song. Even the punk-ish shouting of 'Two States' and 'Conduit For Sale!' (in which Malkmus scream "I'M TRYING!" 16 times in a row for each chorus) are fantastic, even for me, an often electronically oriented music lover. Over half of these songs are real standouts, there's no point in listing them. It's not all angry screaming either, we get the thoughtful 'Here' and Zurich is Stained, adding an extra dimension to the album. The songs all flow, particularly 'Trigger Cut/Wounded-Kite at :17', which has has a near-perfect chorus melody, as well as Perfume-V. But they also contrast to singalong "ooo"s, in In the Mouth a Desert.
I haven't even got to the bonus tracks yet - a whopping 34 of them! After a second reissue (Crooked Rain Crooked Rain) Pavement look to be releasing pretty much every song they've ever made - fantastic news for people like me. There are some songs here that didn't make the album, thankfully they didn't fade away, or we would have missed some great material. We get 2 sessions with the late John Peel, with 7 surprisingly good songs and a version of 'Here'. The 'Watery, Domestic' EP and its outtakes aren't really anything extremely special for me, but you can't help but like Shoot the Singer and Greenlander, even if you won't be humming them on your way to school/work like Slanted & Enchanted's original works. To finish the 2nd disc there is an awesome concert of 13 songs, which includes a couple of new tracks.
I truly think that this is an essential album. Pavement haven't been noticed by today's youths, who think that Nirvana were the band of the 90s. If some of them heard Pavement, they'd be blown away. This is a good place to start.

Wikipedia articles: [1] [2], Amazon Page, a professional review.

03 September 2006

Guillemots - Through the Windowpane

With Arctic Monkeys and Thom Yorke favourites for this year's Mercury, I've decided to review new artists Guillemots's debut album, one that for me is better than either of them. (Yes, even The Eraser.) After a few EPs and singles earned the Guillemots a few fans in late 2005, but now have widespread respect after some video and radio airplay, and of course the priveliged Mercury nomination.
The main problem here is inconsistency, it's just so hit-and-miss, for me. There are precisely three fantastic songs on this album: Made Up Lovesong #43, Trains to Brazil, and Sao Paolo. I love all three. The happy little Made Up Lovesong #43 got the publicity, complete with joyous lyrics and lead singer Fyfe Dangerfield's trademark wailing at the climax; and Trains to Brazil's similarly jubilant instrumentality would provoke me to make the comparison "A Happy Arcade Fire." For me, the true musical genius shines through in the epic Sao Paolo, a huge song with a full orchestra, climaxing in the middle with the sort of music that deserves to be screamed from the top of a mountain.
Meanwhile, we get one or two incredibly drab songs. Blue Would Still be Blue may have a nice vocal track... but that's all it is. And a few broken chords played in a staccatoed sound effect. Later, the almost silent And If All thankfully lasts under 80 seconds.
The Björkesque Annie Let's Not Wait is a small joy on this album, as is Through The Windowpane. We do get quite a bit of synth-ey pop backing to Dangerfield's dynamic vocals, creating some catchy little pop songs, but they can so easily bring in a whole orchestra wherever they like. This is the sound of a group commanding the studio and creating their record exactly how they wanted it.
I don't totally love this record, as I've explained. But it has its moments, and certainly shows more brilliance than the generic indie bands of this day and age.

Wikipedia article, Amazon page, a professional review.