2017 Discography Review Challenge: TAPPI TÍKARRASS – Miranda (1983)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

Aaaand… Here’s where the fun begins. After meddling with some teenage pop punk and jazz fusion bands the 17-year old Björk teams up with bassist Jakob Magnússon to form Tappi Tíkarrass which roughly translates as “Cork the Bitch’s Ass” from Icelandic. Yep, that is their name. Cork. The Bitch’s. Ass. And the music lives up to this amazing title! Well, almost. Anyway, after a debut EP they release their first (and only) LP called Miranda which is enough to cork the ass of anyone who claims Björk has no talent. Seriously, this album rules! It isn’t amazing or groundbreaking or even innovative to any degree but damn me if this isn’t good! A collection of catchy, angry, energetic, melodic, new wavish post-punk (or postpunkish new wave, whatever) songs recorded with low production values (which basically amount to some distortion and echo effects here and there) and it’s all very, very enjoyable. Sometimes these guys sound like Talking Heads, sometimes like The Smiths, often a bit like The Fall or Gang of Four; there are also a couple of guitar ballads thrown in for good measure – in short, there’s a melting pot of cool influences on display but Tappi Tíkarrass hold their own. However, frankly they would still be good but wouldn’t be anything special at all without our future Icelandic diva – currently a boisterous teenager – on vocals. She nails pretty much every song and brings tons of charisma and attitude to the whole thing. This is her true arrival as a musical wonder, and it is on this album that you can already see how she would become a unique artist she is nowadays. Find this album and hear it – while it isn’t at all essential Björk listening, it’s very enjoyable and deserves way more recognition than it has. Good stuff.
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2017 Discography Review Challenge: BJÖRK GUÐMUNDSDÓTTIR – Björk (1977)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

Before becoming a household name, Björk Guðmundsdóttir was a young Icelandic prodigy who learned to sing and play the piano and the flute at a young age and was naturally noticed by music producers of that small country when she was just entering her teens. The result was this little curiosity that only Björk completists and hardcore fans would now be interested in. What can I say about this album? It’s cute and totally inoffensive, and it’s precisely what you’d expect from a fairly talented 11-year old girl surrounded by fairly greedy producers, arrangers and managers. Pretty little songs with disco-ish beats and pedestrian instrumentation, three of them composed by Björk herself, the rest by some other (very mediocre) Icelandic composers, neither of these songs being terrible but all pretty unmemorable and performed in a perfectly childish voice. The two covers – Stevie Wonder’s Your Kiss Is Sweet and The Beatles’ The Fool on the Hill add nothing to their respective originals except for the fact that both songs are translated to Icelandic. There is one instrumental track (which is also boring but at least performed by Björk herself on the recorder). And not a single hint at the great things to come, except maybe for a fairly experimental sitar opening of the album. Well… I guess it’s no wonder she named her 1993 album Debut, as if to insist that this ACTUAL first solo effort never happened. But let’s not be too harsh, she was 11 for Chrissake. The good stuff is ahead, so keep following my Björk reviews (in which I’ll also try to review every band she ever was in)!

KID CUDI – Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven (2015)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov
Album assigned by: Michael Strait

DISCLAIMER: When this review was written I was not aware- nor was anyone- that Kid Cudi genuinely had depression and suffered with suicidal thoughts and the review is written with that mindset.

There once was a rapper named Cudi
Who thought he could move everybody
By singing his pain
In the wake of Cobain –
His brain must have gone a bit muddy.
 
How do you make a grunge album in the 2010s?
 
Acclaimed recording artist Kid Cudi has the answer! You know guys, this must seem like a revelation to you, but doing grunge is actually easy. You take a very badly tuned guitar (because grunge is basically modified punk rock, right?) and just thumb the fuck out of it while doing an imitation of heavily autotuned Eddie Vedder with your voice. Because that is what grunge is all about! That and the yelling. You have to yell a lot to be a believable grunge artist, Kid Cudi knows that. When you can’t yell, simply roar, moan or make humming noises. Show them how your teen spirit smells, you know?
 
Next, be sure to pay enough attention to the lyrics. Grunge is supposed to be edgy, right? You really have to show how thoroughly depressed, dark and brooding you are. So be sure to include win-win phrases like “I am losing it”, “dumb punk loser”, “fall in the void”, “everything and everyone sucks”, “one last fuck you to the world”, etc. The more you mention wishing to die, the better. Let the world feel your agony by literally describing it!
 
Yeah, and also, grunge is the NINETIES thing, right? So you gotta bring up the one thing that symbolizes the nineties the most, which of course is… the Beavis and Butt-Head skits! These guys are sure to underline the edginess of your creation AND entertain your audience at the same time! I mean, come on, you can never go wrong with the old Beavis and Butt-Head, right? It’s also pretty cool to have them mention explicitly what great artist you are and how well you handle grunge’s raw emotion… thing. Or whatever it’s called. Let subtlety be your best friend!
 
And after one hour of all this awesomeness, when your listeners are practically writhing in ecstasy and screaming in delight, BRING DISC TWO ON THEM! Fill it with acoustic demos of more incredible songs. Cause that is exactly what they wanna hear, right? It’s grunge, so it should be raw, okay? Raw emotion, acoustic songs, studio noise – it’s all good, cause they will get to see all of your multiple sides as an artist at once.
 
And that, my friends, was the recipe of a masterpiece. Right? Right?
 
WRONG!!! WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!! FUUUUCK YOU KID CUDI WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING??? AAAARGHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 
AAARGH!!!
 
This. Was. Horrible. Atrocious. Abominable. Outstandingly bad.
 
I literally have nothing more to say. End of review. I hope to never hear this album again. You might wanna take a listen out of sheer curiosity of course, because this amazingly low level of quality is a truly rare thing. But proceed at your own risk. I almost died while making my way through this shit.

РАНЕТКИ (RANETKI) – Ранетки (Ranetki) (2008)

Review by: Charly Saenz
Album assigned by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

Funny how commercial music can be totally impervious to their original country’s culture. Or anything else for the matter. This music could have been made in Buenos Aires, Madrid or in Seattle, but well, the girls come from Russia (except Lena, the bass player who’s from Poland: enough with the trivia).

They are bold enough to play a total “Satisfaction” ripoff in “Naslazhdajsja”. Girls don’t sing bad when they don’t sing like a Powerpuff Army (chorus in “Mal’chishki – Kadety”) and they don’t scream (first track); in that case they are sound like my neighbour’s wife when he doesn’t cut the grass on sundays. These are efficient bubble-pop-fake-rockers, I guess. “Ej Ne Do Sna” stands out a little, with some interesting riff (only heard half of it but it was good). There are some ballads as expected. Not sure why “Serdce Ne Spit” has a slightly Brazilian vibe: does not work. 

“Alisa” is .. Rock and roll. It made me laugh out loud. Almost to the brink of tears. 

God this is a bit painful (I don’t recommend to buy the album on vinyl) but Cheyenne is still way worse! By now the girls are older, let’s hope they’re moving to singer-songwriter stuff, we still need a new Joni Mitchell. Or Four!

A TRIBE CALLED QUEST – The Low End Theory (1991)

Review by: Nina A
Album assigned by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

 

I was teen-ager too, you know. And pagers were truly hip for a while but the world has changed so drastically since the time I went to school and was vaguely aware of that thing called “hip hop” (I knew it involved baggy pants) that I am not even sure it happened in the same life anymore. So I listen to this Tribe called Quest in hopes to get, you know, reminded of the glorious 90s. Or possibly even understand what was happening in the world when I was too young to understand anything.
 
A Tribe Called Quest are cool. They have a really cool name. They have cool verses. They have cool beats. They have a cool flow. They fuse jazz atmosphere with hip-hop attitude in a real cool way, if you are to believe the allmusic take on this record. They are just all-around cool.
 
So remember that comment about baggy pants before? Yeah, most of my peers grew on diet export hip-hop and some local examples. I kinda didn’t. I didn’t even suspect it qualified as music. I thought it was just for the kids with baggy pants who wanna act tough, yo! So in a way it is delightful for me to hear just how cool and even demanding respect a bunch of former teenagers without pagers can actually get.
 
What I am trying to say is that you can treat this record as a cool backdrop for your evening, something to jam to or even treat it as a research-worthy artefact of another time (and in my case another culture). If you want a more insightful take, I suggest you go read yourself some real reviews but really, why on earth would you reading about this thing instead of listening to it? The product is dope, I promise.
 
[Note: This album was assigned to me way back in February because I betted incorrectly that Leo will get no Oscar this year either]

АКВАРИУМ (AQUARIUM) – Навигатор (Navigator) (1995)

Review by: Nina A

Album assigned by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

 
Am I always glad to spend some more time in the philosophical company of the only Russian musician we have heard of on this blog – namely the great otherworldly bearded bardic guru Boris Borisovich Grebenshchikov. He certainly wasn’t always bearded though and while I have no idea what the progress of his facial hair was by 1995, which is when Navigator got released, what I do know is that after the fall of the Berlin wall, Mr. Grebenshchikov had also already tried to use this new opportunity to export his creative efforts to the West. Here, Wikipedia tells us that he didn’t quite make it and this could be partly attributed to the fact that Russian song tradition emphasizes lyrical complexity over hook and drive, which in the West earned him comparisons to Dylan and not much chart success, and I think it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that his music was considered for one of the two primordial categories (has hooks: “ooh, Beatle-esque pop!!” vs. has an emphasis on lyrical content: “ooh, Dylan!!!”), as you do, in musical critique, with anything that is new.
Saddened with this new development, Mr. Grebenshchikov decided to go full-on Russian apparently and released the so-called Russian Album, a beautiful acoustic folk-rock affair that relies even more on Russian songwriting tradition, and later, in 1995 came Navigator, which continued in this unmistakably Russian bardic vein with some French chanson flavour and bluesy touches (fourth track “Не коси”’s blues guitar contributed by Mick Taylor stands out here) for good measure. The album was recorded in London, so it also featured contributions by Dave Pegg on the double bass and Dave Mattacks on drums. And since it made use of a bunch of additional instruments: strings, flute, recorder, harpsicord, accordion, mandolin, Tibetan drums, I was curious to look to a previous eclectic Aquarium effort, and nothing spells eclecticism quite like a Russian album named Radio Africa with some Chinese characters plastered on top of a photo taken at the Gulf of Finland, for comparison. While on 1988’s Radio Africa the creative use of the additional instruments to drive the beat or make the texture of the music more complex can rock your socks off with delight, here on Navigator these instruments serve more of a background atmosphere role because it is the bardic narration that takes the front and centre. This is especially so on the title track “Навигатор”, which can really be used as a textbook example of a touching bardic ballad. Well, if you are touched by this type of thing, anyway.
And for all the talk of Dylan, I think that namedropping Mark Knopfler would also not be too out of reach here because didn’t Mr. Knopfler also have a reputation for being a young man who writes good music for old people? (at around 40 at the time of Navigator’s release, Mr. Grebenshchikov was not even eligible for a midlife crisis yet). But more importantly, I feel that both Mr. Knopfler and Mr. Grebenshchikov have been able to pull of songs that are pretty much driven by a lyrical narration and have a comforting melancholy sound with remarkable ease. However, while the majority of Mark Knopfler’s narrations are concerned with ordinary life drama, with most of Boris Grebenshchikov’s composition aspire to levels of Byronic spleen and irony paired with incredible erudition, a combination that has over the years become somewhat of a staple for the model tortured soviet artist (and while soviet times are safely behind us, such artistic types still hang around, inexplicably, mostly in the sphere of fine arts and film education, proudly passing this refined tradition onto their students). Still, Boris Grebenshchikov was made to pull this archetype off and make it very likeable: let’s not forget his friendly melancholy voice of ancient wisdom, talent for lyrical detail and the aforementioned erudition that allows him to slip in the occasional religious or mythological detail for full impact. It is really comforting in a sense when he tackles this aesthetic in his music, and whatever the wry commentary in a particular song might be, you’d accept it with the “I know what you’re talking about” reserved for your closest friends with which you’ve suffered the blows of fate together for God knows how long… yeah, the 90s weren’t the most cheerful of eras in Eastern Europe.
Anyway, Navigator is a fine record put together with loving care and intelligence, featuring no less than two accordion-driven waltzy numbers, two bluesy tracks, a rousing folk epic (track 3 – “Кладбище”) and a whole lot of gentle intimate singing in the finest Russian bardic tradition. The reaction it got out of me was “aww, how cute and so very admirably authentic” but it might get some even more cathartic reactions from other listeners and truly cement Boris Borisovich Grebenshchikov’s status of everyone’s favourite great otherworldly bearded bardic guru.

THE MASTER’S APPRENTICES – A Toast to Panama Red (1972)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov
Album assigned by: Syd Spence

It’s 1972, and an Australian band called The Master’s Apprentices fully justifies its name by releasing this album that sounds like a bit of everything from that era – a bit of prog, a bit of hard-rock, a bit of folk-pop, a bit of late 60s psychedelia… Atomic Rooster meets Black Sabbath meets Caravan meets Blue Oyster Cult? Yes, that would pretty much sum up what A Toast to Panama Red sounds like. Don’t get me wrong – these guys were obviously talented and could even come up with some catchy hooks (the chanting coda that closes “Beneath the Sun”), some cool hard-rock riffs (“The Lesson So Listen”), several fine bluesy guitar solos (“Southern Cross”), some “medieval-style” acoustic strumming here and there, plus they could definitely play their instruments really well, but… There is still something missing in all of this, and this something is called originality.

Indeed, there are few things on this album that you haven’t heard before if you’re familiar enough with all the rock and prog classics from the 1967-1972 era. It is pretty much the definition of “by the book” hard/prog rock. The worst offenders are, of course, passages that bear a bit too much resemblance to Black Sabbath (see the beginning of “Games We Play I”). Other tracks – such as “Melodies of St. Kilda” may not strike you as much with “this is clearly a rip-off of this” kind of feeling, but instead they sound like a bunch of influences thrown in a melting pot with only a half-assed attempt at weaving them together into actual songs.

Yeah, songwriting is another weak point of the album, as most of these tracks feel half-baked, and the sudden instrumental solos in the middle of the songs certainly don’t help – they are good on their own but they break the flow of these songs, ultimately messing them up and leading them nowhere.

However, this isn’t such a murky mess of an album as my above evaluation of it would make you believe. There are still a couple of good songs – the ones where everything worked, seemingly against the odds. “Love Is” is a great psychedelic anthem that’s catchy, memorable, well-constructed and bombastic without being too cheesy. The background horns appearing in the chorus midway through the song are a very nice touch, too. Another one that really worked for me was the album closer – “Thyme to Rhyme”. This one is all about production – that amazing acoustic guitar tone and all the bleeping and whistling sounds in the background create a unique psychedelic atmosphere. These two songs are where the Apprentices become the Masters for a short while, and, of course, if the whole album was like this, it would be a great lost gem of the classic rock era. As it is, though, it’s a very flawed and rather derivative but occasionally interesting historic artifact.

P.S.: After completing this review, I look at the title of the album again and realize that they are saluting to a cultivar of cannabis… HEY, MAYBE THAT IS THE KEY TO ENJOYING THIS RECORD! I guess I’ll have to get some hemp then, and listen again, and write a proper review… See you then, I guess.