YELLO – Solid Pleasure (1980)

Review by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez
Assigned by: Andreas Georgi 

solid-pleasure-cover

In a way, it’s a bit weird that I’m frequently at a loss for words when reviewing electronic music, since it was the first genre that caught my attention back in my youth, but it’s true. Anyway, Yello are an electronic music group, initially a trio, and this is their first album. Their music can be described as artsy synthpop with a strong emphasis in rhythm (including some non-trivial ones, like the Latin-derived beats in “Downtown Samba”, which are quite a feat for a band whose music is mainly programmed – apart from the singer, the other members are a tape manipulator and a samplist), but that does not exclude them from going for some darkish (with tongue firmly in cheek) ambient parts, like the “Massage”/”Assistant’s Cry” sequence. The record sounds also quite varied because Yello take the route of recording many short songs, which is unexpected (you’d usually think a straight dance number like “Bostich” would be a 7 minute rave, but here it lasts only two). In short this is the kind of album that I don’t think I could “love”, but would not mind returning to it some day.

GOLDEN EARRING – Moontan (1973)

Review by: Tom Hadrian Kovalevsky
Assigned by: Roland Bruynesteyn 

This is an album for depressed, balding middle aged men who stagnate in their rumpus rooms behind a disused pool table, swimming with flies and their own filth, as they shoot back more beers in a desperate attempt to forget the traumas of ageing and their ageing wives.

This is an album for beige-and-tan diners on the motorways of flyover states with tattered PVC seats in need of replacement, where the cigarette ash of the underpaid and angry women who work there (some are single mothers, all are jilted lovers) falls with an angered and dissatisfied plop into the coffee percolator as they strain to wipe the thick and browned layer of fry-grease of the table tops.

This is an album for horny teenaged boys with dirty mussed hair and thin, sad lines of hair on their upper lips who see women as sex objects and have semen-encrusted girlie mags stuffed, haphazardly and rather off center under their beds.

This is an album for failures. Only the everyday ones, though.

STEFAN VALDOBREV (СТЕФАН ВЪЛДОБРЕВ) – …to (…към) (1998)

Review by: Mark Maria Ahsmann
Album assigned by: Nina A

 

 

…към features fairly decent but not outstanding and somewhat generic 90’s pop rock. The songs are all well arranged – in particular I like the sound of the lead guitar which seems influenced by Reeves Gabrels’ work with Bowie on Hours. And the singing is competent. The overall sound is upbeat, accessible, melodic, mostly based on drums, bass, (alternating acoustic and electric) rhythm guitar and lead guitar. On some places horns and female vocals are added. There are a few excursions to other genres, like light hiphop on “Da”. It all sounds a little derivative though I can’t really pinpoint it to any artist that would be an obvious example. Though sometimes U2 comes to mind – I don’t mean that in a bad way.
Apart from the language in which it is sung and some minor details in the arrangements (like the start of the first song “Nov”) the sound is very Western – you wouldn’t know it was a Bulgarian album apart from that.
All in all it was a mildly pleasant listening experiment though I found the refrains of some songs quite cheesy. Especially on the first song, I found that really so off putting that at first it coloured my view of the whole album.

THE PASTELS – Up for a Bit with the Pastels (1987)

Review by: Nina A
Album assigned by: Jonathan Moss

 
The formula of gorgeous jangly music + random dissatisfied lyrics sung in a mostly unfeeling voice has been mined to death by the Smiths, of course (only at least Morrissey knows modulation and expressiveness), and if you add a bit of baroque pop extravaganza in the general spirit of “Golden Brown”, you get the opener “Ride”. In other words, something right at home in the 80s. In fact, the next track deviates only a bit by being a blues shuffle in jangly pop disguise. And then there are more songs. And they are all nice and inoffensive, perfect for college kids, I imagine, lyrically too, probably, but I wouldn’t know that because really the lyrical content fits the melancholic 80s kids aesthetic best when it is perceived as the generic teenage mumbling it is.
 
You see, if you’re over the age of 20, I doubt that you’d play any of these songs over and over and say, man, this song has so much meaning!!!! No, I imagine “old guns” only using this album as a mood music or the soundtrack to reminiscing of better times — the time when you’re under 20 and a record like this could blow your mind. And with 10 songs clocking at more or less 3 minutes each, it doesn’t overstay its welcome either, so in what I’d say in conclusion is Up For A Bit With the Pastels, “I am alright with you”.

RUSH – Moving Pictures (1981)

Review by: Michael Strait
Album assigned by: Eric Pember

 

Aight, there’s a whole shitton of things I’d rather be doing right now than reviewing a fucking Rush album, so let’s get this out of the way.

Rush, as far as I’m concerned, are a corny AOR band pretending to be a corny hard rock band pretending to be a corny prog rock band. I didn’t like them when I was 16, I don’t like them now, and unless something changes drastically in my biochemistry I’m not about to start liking them anytime soon. Geddy Lee’s vocals annoy me, not because they’re too high-pitched or womanly but because they’re way too over-the-top, like Bruce Dickinson or some garbage power metal vocalist; he tries so hard to fill every syllable with emotion that I end up feeling nothing whatsoever except the occasional spike of mild irritation. He’s a skilled bassist, and he’s got a good tone, but he rarely comes up with any actual memorable basslines – most of the time he’s just showing off. Same goes for their drummer, mostly – he certainly knows how to play, but he really doesn’t contribute much; most of the time he’s a forgettable background presence, like most rock drummers. Say – why does everyone worship that guy again?

Their guitarist is good, though, and he’s responsible for some of the best moments on this album. I recall his solos on Signals being strings of horrendous pseudo-metal clichés, which means he must have fallen a long way in one year because his solos on this album are actually mostly great. They’re weird and experimental without being inaccessible, and they have gravitas without being too “epic” or “awesome”; it’s almost like he’s playing in the wrong band, actually, ‘cos these things really wouldn’t sound out of place in actual prog rock songs. His riffs are pretty good, too, especially on “Tom Sawyer” – an overrated song, but still probably the second-best song on the album. If it were a little less complex it’d almost sound like it belongs on Who’s Next, ‘cos its intelligently reserved chorus and meaty guitar tones would fit right in. Alas, the singing is still insufferable, but this is Rush – that comes with the package. “Red Barchetta” is good, too, if you can get past how earnestly corny it is; the melody’s good, the riff’s good, and the unusual structure feels unforced and natural. I’ll even grant that it has some emotional resonance, ‘cos earnestly corny is still earnest, and well-applied earnestness can touch the heartstrings on occasion.

Elsewhere? Well, we’ve got “YYZ”, which is a fun little romp through a bunch of riffs, basslines and silly boogies, and that’s where the good stuff ends. The remaining four tracks – which, together, take up over half the album’s length – are all varying degrees of boring and pointless, and I can scarcely remember anything about any of them. My notes tell me that “Limelight” has a similar riff to the one Paul McCartney used in one of the segments on “Band On The Run”, but I can’t for the life of me remember which one, and the melody is barely there at all. It’s four minutes of unremarkable wallpaper, and the next three are the same, except that one of them goes on for ten minutes instead of four. That’d be “The Camera Eye”, which tries hard to be big and epic and ends up sounding perfectly pleasant and dull, like a walk by an English river on a grey and slightly drizzly day; not bad, but near-enough impossible to focus on and certainly impossible to remember when it’s finished. The next two, meanwhile, are so lacking in musical ideas that my notes become useless. I mean, take a look at what I wrote while listening to the last song: “This song has a bassline. It also has guitar stabs. It has vocals. The vocals have effects!” Fuck’s sake, this music exists only in the most technical sense. It’s dull, it’s boring, it’s bland, and I don’t want to spend any more time on it when I could be exploring so much music that’s so much more worthwhile. I’m out.

P.S. The synths are all bloody godawful too. Did I mention that?

REGINALDO ROSSI – Mon Amour, Meu Bem, Ma Femme (2012)

Review by: Ed Luo
Album assigned by: Victor Guimarães  

 

So as this record showcased here is a little outside my boundaries, this review’s going a be a tad short. Reginaldo Rossi was known in Brazil as the “king of Brega” – a style of Brazilian popular music characterized by a sense of melodramatic flair in the singing and its particular appeal to the lower-class population. This compilation album, which presumably covers Rossi’s most well-known songs (most of them released in the 1980s), is a nice collection of assorted three-to-four minute mini-dramas, mostly of the romantic nature guessing by some of the song titles. Musically speaking the songs vaguely remind me of early-to-mid 1960s European mainstream pop, with rock-style instrumentation, occasional orchestration and a singer in the forefront giving their all. I don’t feel I’m exactly qualified to choose any highlights, but the title track (coincidentally the earliest song in this album, released in 1972) seems like a prime example of this sort of music.

XIU XIU – Fabulous Muscles (2004)

Review by: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan
Album assigned by: Ed Luo 

 

Fabulous Muscles might start off innocuously enough, with a bumbling 8-bit circus rhythm and a vague, softly spoken intro, but it doesn’t take long for things to ratchet up a gear and  the listener to find him or herself subject to the first opening barrage of histrionics and to experience the album’s prevailing mood of uncompromising psychic honesty. FM is a paen to emotional incontinence and tormented self-expression, a sort of musical approximation to the effects of primal scream therapy — or else you could also quite easily just dismiss it as one massive grown up tantrum set to precarious, ugly music. It’s supposed to sound prickly and erratic, and you’re supposed to feel like a voyeur for listening into something that sounds so vulnerable, so intimate: all of it pouring out straight from the Xiu Xiu dude’s tortured little soul, pure and unmediated; and uncompromising too, refusing to make concessions to the  more conventional listener’s conventional musical expectations. But I couldn’t quite bring myself to buy into all that.

Xiu Xiu have been called noise, except that I always feel that with a noise artist like Merzbow the idea is to effect a kind of pure self effacement, to privilege sound above everything, whereas FM, is about employing harsh, dissonant music and awkward, distressed vocals, as a means primarily of manifesting an overwhelming inner turmoil. Interestingly enough Xiu Xiu seem to be at their most effective when they write actual songs. A case in point is ‘I love the valley OH’, which is by far my highlight of the album. It’s a song which I found myself returning to over and over again, both because it has a great hook and because of its emotional resonance. In the end though the problem with FM is that unless you have one of two extreme reactions to FM — either that of rejecting it straight off the bat because it makes you feel too queasy, or that of feeling yourself completely in tune with Xiu Xiu, a kindred at the level of your twitchy jangling nerves — then it makes you feel as if you’re missing out on something. Nevertheless it’s a worthy enough attempt. (7/10)