BROADCAST – Tender Buttons (2005)

Review by: Jared Walske
Album assigned by: Eric Pember

I’m not familiar with all of Broadcast’s output – I really only know this album and their debut, The Noise Made by People – but I find it very easy to believe that this is their peak as a band. The same kind of icy and dreamy pop sound that was a dominated Noise is still here, but it’s been augmented by a sharper edge that gives their music a little more kick without overwhelming the softer aspects of their sound. A superb example of this can be seen in the opening track “I Found The F”. Musically, it’s not dissimilar to the kinds of songs Broadcast were already known for, but their earlier material would have used a less coarse-sounding synthesizer tone and would not have emphasized the drums and bass line as much. this becomes every more prominent on the following song, “Black Cat”, which is driven by abrasive bed of electronic noise underneath Trish Keenan’s vocal line. This blending of the pretty and the spiky runs throughout the album and while I could see someone getting tired of the sound by the end of the album, I don’t count myself among them. Listening to this album always makes me a little sad that Broadcast only made one album in this particular mode and makes Trish Keenan’s death in 2011 all the more tragic, as I think her singing and vocal melodies are what really help hold this album together. Give the album a listen and then tell your friends to listen to it too. You won’t be disappointed.

Highlights: “I Found The F”, “Black Cat”, and “Corporeal” stand out as obvious highlights for me, but I suspect that’s more personal preference than anything else.

Lowlights: None. Unless this style of dream pop doesn’t do anything for you, you’ll probably at least enjoy everything here.
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MORPHINE – Good (1992)

Review by: Markus Pilskog
Album assigned by: Jared Walske

Morphine came out of the alternative rock explosion of the early ‘90s, though they didn’t really sound like much else from that period. A power trio with saxophones instead of guitar, they shared some of the darkness and rawness of those bands but infused it with elements of jazz, blues and funk to create something that was quite unique.

The lineup in this debut consist of leader and main songwriter Mark Sandman on vocals, (a quite prominent) bass and some other instruments, Dana Colley on various saxophones and Jerome Deupree on percussion (joined on some tracks by Billy Conway). This lineup would last until Sandman died of a heart attack during a show in Italy (!). What is immediately noticeable is that the musicianship on this album is a lot higher than on your average alternative rock album, while at the same time being somewhat restrained (there isn’t really much solos here at all with the exceptions of some sax solos which are never overdone). However, the album is filled with slightly complex, but groovy and catchy bass lines, and rather varied drumming (sounds quite jazzy and varies a lot with the technique and use of drums, though my drum knowledge is limited). The saxophones replace the role of the guitar, coming with quite a lot of cool riffs or complementing the vocal melody (Do Not Go Quietly Unto Your Grave).

The band is really tight, and the music is surprisingly groovy, which together with the jazziness and the oily vocals makes the whole thing sounds damn cool (this album in general is great to show your friends how cool you are) and sexy (something that cannot be said for much other alternative rock). The songs doesn’t really grab you immediately, and on the first listen it is mostly the cool atmosphere and sound that carries you through, though on repeated listenings you discover all those small cool melodies (The Saddest Song is probably the best song melodically), riffs and subtle choruses. Still, it cannot be avoided that the album has a tendency to sound quite samey after a while. The vocals aren’t that varied, and however much they try, the combination of sax and bass runs a bit stagnant by the end. When you listen more closely, you see that the compositions are quite different, but when you’re finished with the album, you still get the feeling that the songs themselves are a somewhat hazy memory (which may have been the idea of the band, as the album sounds quite “hazy” itself). Their intelligent use of dynamics and tension make the album more interesting to listen to, and as long as you like their sound, there is no reason to neglect the album for the sake of diversity, but at least it shows a possibility for improvement (I listened to Cure for Pain some years ago, though I don’t remember how it sounded compared to this).

One of the things in music I really respect is whether the performers manage to realize their vision, and it seems that Morphine have managed precisely that. They have developed a quite unique sound that is engaging throughout the album, and both the songs and skills are good enough to make you keep returning to record, though its drawbacks also make you want to explore the band further. 

ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK – Dazzle Ships (1983)

Review by: Jared Walske
Album assigned by: Ali Ghoneim

I’m mostly familiar with OMD via their big pop hits from the mid-80s like “If You Leave” and “Tesla Girls” and while I’ve heard some of the stuff their earlier, artier material, it’s not what I immediately think of when I hear their name. As a result, listening to Dazzle Ships is an interesting experience. I can clearly hear the glossy pop band that would have those hits in this album, but there’s a little less emphasis on immediately catchy pop hooks and more attention paid to atmosphere and the overall flow of the album. It reminds me a little bit of Brian Eno’s pop albums, especially Another Green World, which also separated it’s more normal songs with stranger and less commercial compositions. the worst thing I can say about it is that the album is definitely a grower. A enjoyed it a lot both of the times I listened to it, but nothing on the album was as immediately catchy as the OMD hits I was already familiar with. Still, this was a very worthwhile listen and it deserves the critical reevaluation it has received in recent years.

Highlights: Everything, really. The album works really well as a whole and I’m not sure which, if any, songs I would pick out as the obvious best songs that you should listen to above all else. Just enjoy the whole thing at once.

Lowlights: None. It’s too solid and consistent to have any, assuming you don’t find synthpop to be completely unlistenable as a genre. 

KOOP – Waltz for Koop (2001)

Review by: Jake Myers
Album assigned by: Jared Walske

Is any of this actually a waltz?  I mean, the rhythms feel pretty jazzy, but that classification just seems like a cop-out when there is so much more going on here.  Suffice it to say that such an intriguing fusion of jazz, world music, and electronic stylings is enough to interest a relative Philistine like me.  I know nothing about any of those genres, though, so pardon the myriad of ignorant comments I am bound to unwittingly make.
There is not a striking amount of variety on this album, but that’s only a problem when you have a hard time making it from the first song to the last without breaks.  No, this one actually benefits from the more subtle variations in its sound.  The consistency allows the album to flow as an unbroken stream of thought and feeling.  And that feeling, I’d say, is the feeling of lying back in a classy bar in some exotic land, maybe indulging in some slow and easy sort of hedonism, while still able to contemplate the deepest metaphysical musings of the guru across the room.
There are some really groovy segments, like the flute breakdowns in “Baby”, that are sure to remind the prog aficionados such as myself of similarly great moments in the Jethro Tull and early King Crimson catalogues.  There are the lazy numbers like “Modal Mile”, which remind me a lot of Soul Coughing—hell, the vocalist even sounds kinda like Mike Doughty.  And check out how in “Relaxing at Club Fusion”, they manage to marry a modern electronic beat with the smooth classic wandering of that saxophone, all with those minimalist verses drifting in and out.  Subtleties, again, but how rewarding those can be.
The prize has to go to “Summer Sun”, though.  That bouncy, carefree, yet knowing melody really is something else, and it’s wonderfully strange how a song (and an album, for that matter) can sound like both the past and the future at the same time.       8/10