THE TIGER LILLIES – Farmyard Filth (1997)

Review by: B.B. Fultz
Album assigned by: Alex Alex

This quaint and charming collection of folk songs is something I would highly recommend for anyone with ears. Yes, even deaf people. The songs are unassuming and inviting, and can be enjoyed in many ways. You can listen to them. You can dance to them — they’re ideal for polkas, but a few could be waltzed to, at least until the timing abruptly shifts, as it often does in these songs. You can sing along to them, but you’ll need to learn the words first. Or you could do some combination of these three things. It’s up to you, really. I can’t make all your decisions for you.

The music is generally upbeat and most of the songs tend toward a medium to fast tempo. The folkish style is somewhat the same throughout, yet occasionally takes an unexpected turn. For example, “Motor Car” begins as a Spanish-flavored guitar piece, then becomes a kind of smooth lounge number with thick jazzy bass lines, while still (somehow) retaining that Spanish sound. “Flies” begins as a solemn J. S. Bach-styled hymn, transforms into another folkish piece, and ends with a stretch of operatic beauty. The unpredictable changes in tempo and emphasis, often within the same song, keep the music from ever becoming too stale or predictable. There is a clear sense of timing, and a skillful use of pauses and continuations, giving the entire album a very organic quality, almost as if the music itself is breathing (sometimes panting) on its own. 

The voice is perhaps the most limited aspect of the album, because it’s the sort of unchanging monotone that even Jon Anderson could mock, although to the best of my knowledge, Jon Anderson does not mock, so I only meant it hypothetically. Actually even the timbre of the voice is similar to Jon Anderson’s lilting and ethereal style… although maybe a more accurate comparison would be Tiny Tim. There is a playfulness in the voice that enhances and underscores the music, even in the most solemn songs. The vocals and the melodies intertwine so perfectly with one another that it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to imagine this specific music without this specific voice. And vice-versa.

The subject matter covers a diverse range of emotions. There is affection (a number of different types, in fact). There are laments for failed relationships, or failed attempts at relationships. There is anxiety, and the fear of dying dirty and poor in wretched obscurity. Ultimately there is faith in a happy ending, where God explains everything to us and clears away all confusion and doubt. There is religion, there is football, there is sex. In short, this is a kaleidoscope of human feelings and urges, blended into a colorful crash-collage of jagged rainbow patterns, as deep and as beautiful as a shattered stained-glass window strewn across the floor of a vandalized cathedral. Yet the brick that shattered this window is inexplicably missing, making it a mystery for the ages. 

If the album has one flaw, it is the inaccuracy of the opening number “Hamsters”. The procedure this song describes in such loving detail normally does NOT involve hamsters, as implied, but gerbils (or so I’ve heard). Hamsters would be more problematic because, unlike gerbils, they don’t have long tails, making them more difficult to get ahold of if they should venture too far. But this small idiosyncrasy only adds to the quirky, rough-hewn charm of the remarkable work of art that is Farmyard Filth. I would like to extend my most profound thanks to Mr. A. Alex for introducing me to this iconic milestone in folk rock.

In short, a remarkable and cathartic musical odyssey that I would recommend for the entire family.* 


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* other families, not mine 
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TUXEDOMOON – Desire (1981)

Review by: B.b. Fultz
Album assigned by: Tom Hadrian Kovalevsky

I’m not sure how to best review this, because it’s pretty experimental. I’m going to default to “safe mode” and write a general impression of each track, since there are only 7.  

“East/Jinx/…/Music #1” (I assume these are section-names?) opens the album on a brooding bass/synth track that reminds me of Bauhaus. A LOT. The beginning is right out of “Hollow Hills.” After about a minute and a half, Manzarek-like keyboards spring up abruptly. Of course, Goth borrowed a lot from “baroque” 1960s music by the likes of the Doors, the Zombies, the Animals (et.al) so the two styles go well together. A sax comes in a minute later, making things suddenly jazzy, another layer on the continuing goth motif. After about 4 minutes total the goth transforms into a weirdly middle-eastern sounding (to me) synth/jazz thing. Vocals enter out of nowhere. The voice reminds me of Bowie circa the Berlin trilogy (eg. “Secret Life of Arabia.”) The voice is hoarser though, going almost Joe Strummer-ish at times. The whole thing is an odd amalgam, although after the initial goth/doors intro it loses something. But it gets interesting again around the 10 minute mark, where it goes dissonant and I guess ambiant — my impression was “Secret Life of Arabia” going backward into “Moss Garden.” It has an Eno type of SOUND (electronic for the sake of being electronic) but it’s far more dissonant and trippy than classic-era Eno. Best analogy I can come up with is someone trying to be Pink Floyd and Devo and some unknown third thing all at once. Not sure if they succeeded or not, but it’s interesting to see them try.

“Victims Of The Dance” is another Bauhaus-sounding track, but this time it sounds like one of Bauhaus’s more experimental songs (considering this was released in the same era of classic Bauhaus, I’m wondering how much the two bands influenced each other). The vocal style varies between Murphy (in the chorus) to Bowie (most of the rest). The vocals are probably the most interesting part of this one.

“Incubus” is … another Bauhaus song?!? Did I upload a Bauhaus album by mistake?  No, the stuff going on in the background is probably too complex and jazzy. Bauhaus usually made their point in a simpler way. Incubus is like “Bauhaus mood” + “DEVO syncopation” x “punk-era Alice Cooper production values” … and this album came out right when Alice was smack in the middle of that era, BTW. Tuxedo Moon seem to have soaked up influences left and right, but I wouldn’t call them rote copyers — their twist on these “early-80s motifs” is pretty unique. 

“Desire” is a mid-tempo song that sounds a little like having a bad drug trip on a merry-go-round and being too disoriented to jump off. This song is an unsteadying experience. There’s a deceptively fast synth percussion-track going on underneath it, leading to a sense of fast/not-fast that makes your stomach do a double-take. The more they embellish it with saxes, keyboards, etc, the more they increase that vertigo of being swept up and down and around on a runaway machine. Every instrument on this is like a different part of that machine moving at a different speed and in a different way. Including the vocals. There are many interesting vocal overlays as well, which perfectly suit this song, because everything seems like it’s riding on top of everything else. If this song is “Desire,” it’s the kind of desire that makes your head spin and your stomach turn. It’s pretty amazing they were able to effectively translate that lovesick feeling into music. 

“Again” might have been called Bowie Again — the Bowie vocals are back. The background is different this time around, a spacy astral jazz that reminds me a lot of Pink Floyd’s “A Saucerful of Secrets” (the song), except sort of collapsing at the end, rather than reaching a melodic resolution. Not a bad song but that collapsed ending is probably the most interesting part.

“In the Name of Talent” is a really interesting one. The intro is slow and jazzy and moody, a lot like something off Pink Floyd’s “More” album … then a guitar comes in and the song enters this weird 3/4 timing and speeds up to a gallop. Yet the vocals are slow and relaxed, drawn out even. There’s all of these interesting little melodic “pings & pongs” during the middle instrumental break, like a solo played on some weird alien harp that it would hurt your brain to imagine. I like how this song doesn’t sound much like Bowie or Bauhaus, or even the Doors … it’s a weird mix of early techno/dance with ambiant with something else I can quite define. It’s more Tuxedo Moon than anyone else, I guess. Which is cool because all the Bowie/Bauhaus tributes were getting redundant. 

“Hollywood for Plywood” is — oh wow! Cool ! The soundtrack from a high school science film! No, wait, it’s some kind of bassy/brassy jazz with swooping strings. Wow, interesting segue there. Both themes have a slick and glossy and slightly cheesy feel to them, especially with all the pretty strings. But where the first theme just sounds like anything from a random 1950s educational film, the second theme sounds like the students got bored, ate large amounts of mind-altering drugs, and tried to reproduce the first part on their school band instruments … transforming that impossibly optimistic and idealistic 1950s music into some deranged musical mindfuck for the 1960s/70s/80s/beyond. In a way I like this song the best, maybe because after all the unexpected twists and turns of the other songs, this last song still managed to surprise me.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: an album worth hearing. I might have shortened one or two of the songs just a little, because these fellows do tend to draw their grooves out, but usually there’s enough change-ups and interesting little touches to keep things interesting. If you like original Goth circa the Bauhaus days, or the Bowie/Eno trilogy, or jazz fusion, or electronica, or even if you just like musicians with an ear for detail, I’d recommend these guys. They sound like other early 80s music I’ve already heard, yet at the same time, they’re not quite like anything else I’ve ever heard. Pretty cool stuff. 

GRATEFUL DEAD – Terrapin Station (1977)

Review by: Christian Sußner
Album assigned by: B.b. Fultz

The Grateful Dead formed in California in 1965 and generally file under the label psychedelic rock. Their album “Terrapin Station” was released in 1977 and consists of 6 songs, the final centerpiece “Terrapin Station Medley” being the longest.

I think the first song “Estimated Prophet” is a pleasant opener for the album. With its nicely grooving bass, the wah-guitars and the vocals by Bob Weir and Donna Godchaux it creates an optimistic, almost summer-like atmosphere.

The following couple of songs in my opinion can’t keep up with the quality of the first track. “Dancing In The Streets” is meant to be a cheerful, well, song for dancing but it’s just too simplistic and straightforward to catch my attention. “Passenger” and “Samson and Delilah” are standard folk-rock songs which kind of remind me of CCR without having their power. And “Sunrise” finally which is sung by by Donna Godchaux alone back then may have been a reminiscence to Flower Power but nowadays just sounds pretentious and boring.

But in the end these first five songs seem like a prelude to the final 16-minute-track “Terrapin Station Medley”. In the tracklist of the LP the song is broken down into subsections but I had problems to retrace the intersections while listening as the different parts are quite homogeneous and the transitions flowing. Not like, let’s say, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. However, the song is BIG with a relaxed intro including some nicely picked guitar, some soothing solos and finally a long but not lengthy orchestral crescendo including some good co-singing by Donna again, various mood changes, more solos and finally a whole choir chanting the title of the album. I like it!

I too like the production of the whole album (I got the “mastered for iTunes version”, if that makes a difference) because it doesn’t sound outdated, au contraire, powerful with an eye for detail. I can’t say very much about the lyrics. The bits I understand while listening to the record without paying much attention to the words make me think that they’re not worth the effort of listening closer.

As a conclusion I’d say that, although it’s not an absolute classic, I enjoyed listening to the album. A good start and an excellent ending with some filler in between but I’ll definitely give it another listen after submitting this review. Last question: Which substances does one have to take to get to Terrapin Station and watch these cute turtles from the cover dance?

TRIUMVIRAT – Illusions on a Double Dimple (1973)

Review by: Alex Alex
Album assigned by: B.B. Fultz

In Russia, we used to have a minor hit, the lyrics went “There are three stars in the sky those stars are you and me”. Great lyrics. If you do not understand why those lyrics are great you might eventually will.

Bearing the above lyrics in mind is useful when encountering a group consisting of three members and called “Triumvirat”.

Electronic keyboards to a piano is what a hentai cartoon is to a Tinto Brass drama. In that sense Tangerine Dream are the masters of dramatic hentai.

The Sunflower mask and the flute are unique artifacts.

Lyrics in English, forged by German bands, are among the best lyrics in English ever.

The album states that in Germany there were schoolgirls, too. Schoolgirls are by themselves so eternal that no matter how many tons of synthesizers you would bring on stage,  they would effectively prevent any paradigm shift.

An unsuccessful carrier was, I gather from the album, a great fear for a young German. In the end of the song they ask “who’s going to work for you for the rest of your life”.

Fortunately, by now Angela Merkel has successfully resolved that problem.

COCOROSIE – The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn (2007)

Review by: B.B. Fultz
Album assigned by: Rodrigo Lopes

One of the first things I noticed was, there’s a lot going on here. Genres as diverse as indie, rap, and … opera? … are thrown together in unusual combinations. I’m not sure how well it works (it would depend on your definition of “works”) but the album is definitely experimental, and that’s usually a plus. It’s hard to describe the music specifically as this or that, so I’ll give you my take on the vocals.

Two voices dominate this — I’ll call them the “odd” voice and the “normal” voice (this band is the brainchild of two sisters, so I’m assuming they’re the two different voices). The odd voice is predominant on most tracks. It’s very odd, and reminds me of Yoko Ono a little (not a criticism and not a compliment, just a neutral observation). It’s not exactly “dissonant” but it’s definitely an acquired taste. Sometimes it approaches something ethereal and reminds me of that singer from Belly (remember her?) as well as other vocalists I can’t place. I was actually on the next-to-last song before I realized who this voice REALLY reminds me of is BJORK — sorry, I don’t know how to do the umlaut. It’s weird that it took so long to make what seems, in hindsight, like an obvious connection. But then it’s a pretty weird album (again, a neutral observation).

The “normal” voice is more melodic and more conventional, but I don’t always prefer it. Sometimes it sounds overblown and melodramatic. The normal voice is easier to listen to than the odd voice, but the odd voice is often more compelling.


Some High Points —

“Bloody Twins” stands out. Between the music box sounds in the beginning, the increasingly strange voice, and the Pink Floyd-style wind effects, it evokes a peculiar mood, even moreso than most of the other songs.

“Sunshine” has an elegant simplicity that drew me in, while the strangeness of that voice simultaneously kept me at arm’s length. A weird feeling of being pulled and pushed at the same time.

“Werewolf” reminded me of a Beck song in the beginning although I can’t pinpoint why … something about the words and how they’re sung. It’s interesting to hear this one develop, since it alternates between a “slow rap” done by the odd voice, and a more melodic / almost operatic style by the other voice. My first impression was, it sounds like it could’ve been a background song on Breaking Bad, probably for one of the more surreal or thought-provoking scenes.

“Animals” has an almost (but not quite) traditional *boom-boom-bap* backbeat, which is just different enough to be interesting. Especially when it fades out completely in the middle of the song, then eventually fades back in. It’s almost like two different songs struggling to be heard. 

“Miracle” (the last song) is hard to describe but it probably has the most curious musical structure of all the songs. I’m not sure if the album ends on the “best” song, but it definitely ends on one of the most interesting songs.


Some Low Points —

“Black Poppies” gets (more than) a little grating, mainly when the odd voice gets very high-pitched and sounds like a small child singing. It’s just too damn saccharine and this weakens the mood of the song. I don’t mind eccentric approaches as a rule, but to me, this overtly childish voice was just annoying.

“Girl & the Geese” is no more than a very short story, set to rudimentary music. I don’t always mind that — “Seen And Not Seen” by the Talking Heads does something similar and I love that one. But SANS presents a fascinating idea about gradually changing your face by changing your thoughts, set to an involving background score that compliments the words. “Girl & the Geese” is just a snippet of magical realism about people turning into geese, and the music is much more … sparse, I guess. At least it’s very short.


CONCLUSION —

To be honest I felt a little out of my depth so I briefly looked up what other reviewers said, if only to find something to anchor my thoughts on. My view comes closest to what BuzzSugar said … that the album is “well worth a listen despite its flaws.” Except I get the feeling BuzzSugar had SPECIFIC flaws in mind, whereas my general impression is much more vague. I know there are minuses to this album, just as I know there are plusses too. I just can’t always tell which is which. I’ll refrain from giving it an “X out of 10” rating because I’m probably not qualified to rate this music, if only because I’m not sure what “comparables” to scale it against. It seems to defy standard genres, at least as I know them.  

At any rate, the album was an interesting listen, and makes me curious about how the two sisters came up with this particular combination of styles.