Friday, September 17, 2010

New to me - Knockin' off cultural blind spots

Some old CDs that I heard for the first time this year (with videos/songs).

New Order "Power, Corruption & Lies" (1983)
Does it make me a bad critic to prefer New Order to Joy Division? I don't really know New Order well enough to make that claim of course, seeing as the only albums I've heard are "Brothers" and "Power, Corruption & Lies," and the only Joy Division I own is "Closer" (yes yes I don't own "Unknown Pleasures," though I've listened to most of it.

New Order was formed after the death of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, the remaining members creating the more danceable and upbeat (upbeat meaning the group's growing love for synths and the non-baritone vocals Gary Schoenfeldt, who took over singing duties. But, barely under the surface it's really just as dark and brooding as anything Curtis-helmed). It's also more pop-oriented, with dance-floor staple "Blue Monday" still reigning as the top selling independent 12-inch single in UK history.
"Power Corruption and Lies" varies it's sound way beyond "Blue Monday," which is far from my favorite track on the album. That distinction belongs to "Age of Consent," which includes a repeating, Peter Buck-esque riff until a guitar more indebted to Sonic Youth than Brit-pop takes over with some cathartic strumming. This record owns. 'Nuff said. A

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah "Clap Your Hands Say Yeah" (2005)
Speaking of post-punk, CYHSY was one of the first bands to tumble through the spin-cycle of internet over-buzz in 2005, and was part of that wave of NYC post-punk revivalism. Despite all the ephemeral context, CYHSY's debut is solid. Really solid. Like a squalid, driving distortion of David Byrne's vocals, Alec Ounsworth's primal melodies are immediately accessible and catchy, even as he wails almost unintelligibly about the "skin of his yellow country teeth." A-

The Specials "The Specials" (1979)
The leaders of ska's second wave in late '70s UK (and owners of the record label 2 Tone that is now synonymous with the genre) The Special's debut consists largely of covers of Jamaca's ska originators from the previous decade. More than just band nerds finding a way to utilize their brass instruments, The Specials were down-right cool and fun, and had more in common with Mod culture and the  burgeoning '77 punk scene than anything in ska's '90s US third wave. Oh, and it was produced by Elvis Costello, so you know it's good.

The Buzzcocks - "Singles Going Stready" (1979)
I don't know The Buzzcocks as well as many of Punks' class of '77, but I know they are famous for having more melodic vocals than many of their peers.

"Singles Going Steady" is the only Buzzcocks record I own, and I've read it's all you really need unless you are a huge fan. They released a lot more singles and EPs than they did LPs, and it collects all the early singles and best songs. I haven't heard the other records. Listening to the Buzzcocks reminds how much of early Punk was indebted to garage rock and early rock 'n' roll. (Over-all B+, best songs A)

I hear the beach boys in this one, specifically:

GZA - Liquid Swords (1995)
All the adjectives usually used to describe RZA's production — murky, dark, violent, unforgiving, etc — apply here. This came out when the Wu was releasing solo efforts as easily as shit after coffee, and as with all Wu-Tang Clan projects, most of them make appearances. The whole thing is draped in Wu-mythology via old Kung-Fu samples. GZA always had the tightest, most straightforward flow of the crew, and occasionally the songs have a hard time distinguishing themselves from each other — but I suppose that's part of the appeal — this is a cohesive work, and a classic from Hip-hop's golden era. A

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