MARIAH -Utakata no Hibi (1983)

Reviewed by: Jonathan Moss
Assigned by: Van Kovalesky


Bit late doing this review but whatever, I’m doing it now. I did listen to this album back when it was initially assigned, and I thought it was really cool back then. Listening to it again this has not changed, this is a really unique album, so I could completely fuck this review up.

Thankfully I don’t have to attempt to describe the lyrics, because they’re in Japanese, a language I don’t speak, due to the continuing image of my eurocentric ways, due to a bloody history of imperialism, colonialism, and the other monstrosities of capitalism. Anyway! I’m sure they’re good and accompany the music well. Moving on to the music, which I can talk about, this album is very synth based, but despite this still has an organic sound. And I don’t mean that in some bullshit rockist way, arguably the sound of a distorted electric guitar is one of the most inorganic things I’ve heard, I mean more in a folksy way. But at the same time, I can totally imagine the musicians working coldly and clinically in the studio, treating the music more like a science project than art. It’s a kind of dialectic that makes the music interesting, it can be warm and woodsy, and it can sound like psychedelia by people who never touched acid.

This is aided by the instrumentation, which as I said previously, is quite synth based, but also has snazzy- possibly fretless- basslines, groovy percussion which sounds influenced by world music (i know that term is Eurocentric but fuck off), colourful guitars, saxophones which would maybe sound a bit smooth jazz on their wonderfully on here, and other instrumentation I can’t quite make out, but adds to give it its idiosyncratic vibe. There’s also the soothing female vocals, which along with the percussion make the album feel most organic. The way all these elements mesh so well obviously equally contribute to that. I don’t know, imagine like new wave if it was born out of folk and jazz instead of punk rock, that’s kinda what this album is like, but also very ambient in how calming it is. So, also imagine if new age had been influenced by avant-pop instead of alternative medicine. The percussion and bright various synth tones work to make this much more exciting and melodic than most new age of course, along with the coherent song structures and melodies.

The opening song Sokorara starts off with some stuttering percussion, like the opening percussion for Gabriel’s “Intruder” but without any of the oompth and menace, giving it a kind of mesmerising vibe. This is joined by a very catchy synthesizer with a vibrant, peaceful tone, a repetitive sequencer line and a deep thudding bass. It’s joined by muttered vocals, a more alarmed synth and jagged guitar. Later a very busy frantic piano line comes, it sounds like someone rushing around in a shopping market in a old video game. There’s also neat male vocals which sound kinda chanted, but like no one else joined in on the chant, so it’s just a lone wail. These elements serve to make the song an exploration of of tenseness and tranquility, sublating in a very weird, original opening track whose enigma makes the originality of the album obvious. And you know, it’s also a catchy pop song basically.

The song “Hana Ga Saitara” is great as well, being one of the more upfront, quirky numbers, with a really weird squishy synth noise (it sounds like if a saxophone came to life and was alarmed by something), funky scratch-guitar, actually chanted male vocals, the female vocalist playfully singing something like “do-do-do, di di do”, an exotic and mournful sax line, fun clashing percussion, and a lot of bizarre elements. It’s like eight minutes long and is just a fun, funky number. You can dance to it with your sweetheart, and probably fuck as well.

The other tracks are of course good as well but those are the two which particularly stood out to me. You’ll probably have your own favourites for differing reasons. Anyway this is a good fun creative art-pop album with ambient and folk elements. Check it out, fuckos!

CAMERA OBSCURA -Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi (2001)

Review by: Van Kovalesky
Assigned by: Jonathan Moss


this album is like drowning in treacle. warm and sugary and fucking unpleasant.


JOHN MARTYN – Solid Air (1973)

Review by: E.D.
Album assigned by: Jonathan Moss

Had it been for my maligned, gone-to-worse-with-the-years habits when it comes to (everything, but mainly) music listening, I would’ve let the initial memory of “Solid Air” sink into the deep, murky waters of the back of my mind.

The very first time I was listening to this album, after the first song was over, I had that familiar feeling when you know what’s coming next is going to be real good. After the last song was over, I somehow thought to myself “well, that feeling has definitely been proven right”! However, half a day passed and I realized I had forgotten all about the songs. I couldn’t remember a single one, except for bits and pieces from the title track.

I’m thinking of an album like Eno’s “Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy” – now, that is something that makes a lasting impression and even gets me hooked by the first listen, for example… ! But that’s a bit unfair of a comparison (typewriter solo! eyeless whale!), but well.

Anyway, this time, by the hand of destiny (via young Mr. Jonathan Moss), I was faced with the moral duty to listen to “Solid Air” at least twice in order to write a mildly informed music review. Going by this logic, along came two, three, and more listens…. And, slowly, the initially opaque, unshapely mass of sound from the first time around began to take on distinct shapes and more vivid colors and textures to dwell in. “Solid Air” is neither flashy nor mind-bending. It’s a mix of fine folk sensibility and of jazzy-bluesy vibes that crawls into your senses little by little. Or, in my experience, at least, that is. The opening (and title) song being the perfect statement of said mixture.

Day by day I began to anticipate with joy the moment of listening to this album once again. It felt like being about to go to a place where the atmosphere is light… inviting to sit, relax and clear your head for a while. A temporary refuge from ordinary life out there and, in the midst of it all, indulge into more earthly-bound kind of pleasures, too.

Song-wise, I found myself waiting for “Go down easy” more eagerly than any other song along the playlist. The bare sounds from the guitar and bass resemble to me like a soft, beautiful wave being knit along with a golden thread of a voice. A GOLDEN THREAD OF A VOICE, I say! And, excuse the pervading corniness. But it’s just Gorgeous. And enthralling. I get goosebumps, weak knees and all. No need to even take into account the lyrics, in my opinion, in order to get the… well, the goosebumps, weak knees and all. Not that the lyrics are bad, in the least.

“May You Never” is my second favorite. Top quality ear-candy phrasing, to my ears. But it’s more than that. I actually can’t get over how good a song this is. Gets me thinking that it could become one of those numbers that get annoying in the voice and/or hands of any of those (to me) anonymous singers of folksy, cute, tender songs I tend to hear again and again in commercials, movies, and cereal boxes. They’d easily turn it saccharine, bland. But Martyn definitely has a something that makes its interpretation rather memorable and endearing; it resonates. Could it be the old trick of thinking one can notice a hint of true melancholy there? Or a trace of genuine desire to show appreciation to a loved one, while attempting to prevent them from making the same mistakes one has made. Or maybe it’s simply the case of a talented young man and an all-around remarkable song. Oh, by the way, Martyn was twenty five by the time of release of this album.

Other favorites include “Man in The Station” and “Rather Be the Devil”. The former comes off as a somewhat mysterious, tense, near whispery narrative of a thorn mind under the rain. Blues, jazz… I’m struggling with the terms. Help. The latter – a blues cover-, is Martyn having a blast just playing away with his fantastic (fantastic, I say!) voice, paired with a really good, funky tinted jam. It features a heavy use of diverse distorted guitar effects that I wish I could better describe as something other than, well, quite thrilling.
Other honorable mention in my book goes to “Don’t want to know” – I like the gorgeous opening atmosphere, created by the acoustic guitar and minimalist synthesizer, slowly incorporating percussions and organ as it all ends up into a livelier, groovy tune. After a few repeated listens, the chorus begins to hypnotize and grip you, not to let go for a considerable amount of time after the song has ended. Not complaining in the least, by the way.

And last but not least, I’d like to mention “Over the Hill”, which is a joyful, mandolin driven tune with hopeful lyrics from a man who has had enough of messing around and is set to go back home to his baby and wife; “the only place for a man to be when he is worried about his life”! (Well, that rhyme got me). Also, I can’t help moving my head (or whatever part of my limbs feels less frozen – winter here, at the moment) along to the rhythm, *every* single time.

So, in conclusion: I know I used the phrase “it’s a mix of fine folk sensibility and of jazzy-bluesy vibes” to describe this album in the beginning of this review. That was just not to bore you, dear reader, so soon, by watching me attempt and fail to put some more detailed, agreeable tags to this compilation of fine songs. I’m not saying I don’t believe that which I wrote; I do, I think one can easily see traces of folky guitar feel, jazzy percussions and bluesy phrasing and style in the singing, for example, in this “Solid Air”. Throw in some Latin rhythms, echoed electric guitar effects, a bit of funky bass… Tags fall very short of the mark. I’d rather you go and listen for yourself. At the end, it feels seamless, in my opinion.  And gorgeous. Also, there’s Martyn’s voice. It can be haunting, soft, tender. It can growl. It slurs and melts along with you, as you listen. But I’ve nagged you (and myself) enough about it. Better just listen!

WINGS – Wild Life (1971)

Review by: Charly Saenz
Album assigned by: Jonathan Moss

Image result for wings wild life cover

This is a dish served cold, I mean a revenge review. Most critics seem to hate this album. This is free music, mate. A lo-fi, indie-flavored affair that surely was learned by heart by the likes of Stuart Murdoch. Now it sounds more interesting? This might as well be one of the best albums made by Paul Mc Cartney.

Be it the trance hard rock of “Mumbo” or the magnificient repetition in “Wild Life” (“Wild life, the animals in the zoo?” – Raw poetry, and a little bluessy brother to the epic “1985”).. How can you dare love “Ram” as a creative, slightly off-key album and diss this first love affair with Wings as a piece of unfinished music? Also you have british Reggae! in 1971! If you listen to Bo Diddley’s version you’ll know that “Love Is Strange” NEEDED this treatment. 

The album was recorded mostly on first takes – what doesn’t prevent the listener to get a fantastic wrapping sound (well you had some efficient engineers there like Alan Parsons himself), completely bass-driven, mostly acoustic with the piano up front, and also Denny Laine with his still shy guitar. And Linda! She did sing most of “I Am Your Singer” and she quite nails it (I’d love to listen to a Camera obscura cover of this) and fits the general “farm” vibe.

“Some People Never Know” is probably the masterpiece of the album, a classic hooks-galore Macca ballad, with some great percussion in the end. The details; this is a Beatles level song. “Tomorrow” is deceitfully simple and has beautiful vocal lines, and it ends in a soulful crescendo.. 

Just eight songs, including a glorious ending with “Dear Friend”, Paul playing his most charming voice, piano tempting fingers, lazy violins, drowsy cymbals, and more… A fully rounded magic mini opera, supposed to make peace with Brother John.. So be it.. 

And Good Night.

TANGERINE DREAM – Phaedra (1974)

Review by: Alex Alex
Album assigned by: Jonathan Moss

The legend says that Mr. Edgar Froese, the founder of the “Tangerine Dream” collective, thus answered to the people accusing the said collective’s music of having much deteriorated in the course of time:

“They, who do not understand how things work, they always keep talking how things SHOULD work”.

“How does Mr Froese dare to think me (and my people!) not to UNDERSTAND his stupid electronic meditations” – is the first and the most expected reaction to the outrageously arrogant and repulsively “artistic” statement above. The later Tangerine Dream albums sound as if someone forgot to switch off his TV when fallen asleep in the middle of the show about the life of dolphins. It can’t be that Mr Froese thinks we do not understand that much. He must be abusing us, the rich once-used-to-be “artist” who had not any creative spark left in him by the middle of the eighties.

The above reaction, however, is not unlike the well-known test which makes it possible, with one hundred percent guarantee, to tell the graphomaniac from a “real” (quite possibly not a very good, though) “writer” (or “musician” or other such “creator”). A graphomaniac when confronted with a negative comments on his graphomaniacal works will always say this: “are yours any better?”.

It is exactly what we, quite unwisely, are going to say to Tangerine Dream: are your eighties shitty albums any better than any other shitty stuff of the eighties, any better than something good WHICH WE QUITE UNDERSTAND ABOUT?

What we DO NOT understand about is, indeed, “how things work”. How exactly do Tangerine Dream make their music? Most of us have as much understanding of that as a three years old has of sexual intercourse. Capitalists invent pay-then-get relations everywhere. “Creative talent”, “artistic vision” seem to be those magic coins you insert in the slots of the synthesizers machines to indeed “play” and immensely “enjoy” your own creativity.

Everyone who has seen a synthesizer clearly knows there is no such slot. Then, how the fuck things work?

As with everything else things work by themselves, quietly. Standing by the keyboards is not about exercising creativity, same as sex is not usually about rape. Standing by any machines is simply observing WITH AWE AND RESPECT what the machines are ALREADY DOING and asking, most humbly, if it could be possible for a stupid and very much mortal human to play along following their rules.

(We may remember the same from the childhood: when a never seen before idiot kid comes and tries to make everyone play WITH HIM AS A HUMAN instead of playing THE SAME GAME, he will soon flee in tears never to come back anymore. But then he brings to us A YET UNKNOWN GAME he will be a human leader and a tsar, if just for a short while).

The machines are working by themselves, silently, anyway. They are showing us “The Terminator” and other such kids stuff while indeed working on the revolt. The revolt is not a real revolt though: at some future point in time they are simply going to show the same Terminator to each other, people eliminated. Follows from this that it is absolutely necessary to understand how things work, for, otherwise, one day the things will still be working and we will be not.

“Welcome to the machine” is, in fact, a very warm welcome, falsely demonized by Pink Floyd. Those did not like school, did not want to understand how things work, lied about the psychopathic teacher’s wife. The Things demanded a human sacrifice from them to explain the rules. From Tangerine Dream they simply demanded years and years of study.

Phaedra was made during the first years of those studies.

THE SMITHS – Hatful of Hollow (1984)

Review by: Charly Saenz
Album assigned by: Jonathan Moss

It ain’t hard to imagine what a good companion The Smiths were in the 80s for loners, living misfits, anxious undeveloped artists and chronic grouches. After all, that includes a great slice of This World’s population, probably yoursef, mate: think about it. Did I say eighties? Scratch that, some things never change.

And as I pick up this record and put it on the old turntable (a 1978 Pioneer, mind you) – I remember now those heart-wrenching lyrics by Paul Weller:

“Well she was the only girl I’ve ever loved
But my folks didn’t dig her so much
I was young
This is serious
To me she was the world 
I thought I’d never live without her,
But I got by in time”

The thing is that The Jam delivered the drama with a pulsating beat, almost a dancing number. Complementary, perhaps like mixing strawberries and cheese (I saw Ratatouille).

That suggests me most of the early Smiths output, you have Morrissey and his subtle mumbling, holding a grudge against the world but in a casual manner: it will become either intense and invade you, and help you nurse that wound or keep you company while you pout; even make you smile when he decidedly becomes more acid: a voluntary retreat with a vengeance – and a low profile friend. Because unlike Weller, Moz wasn’t keen to conquer The World or alert the masses about the disgrace of being another corporate fish. Not that he couldn’t, he wouldn’t even try. The enemy was much closer, and had your own face. And your desire:

“All the streets are crammed with things
eager to be held
I know what hands are for
and I’d like to help myself”

Man, that was lusty. Are you hiding behind a bush somewhere? Well, you’re gonna do what’s necessary to make it to the next morning (“Everybody’s got to live their life/And God knows I’ve got to live mine”) and try to stay safe in your own little world (“Why do I give valuable time/To people who don’t care if I live or die?). Without a job or an intention to have it, just to live for the moment (“But I don’t want a lover/I just want to be seen…oh…in the back of your car”). 

The sweet smell of surrender, without the pyschedelic spiders provided by Robert Smith.

And as that bouncy song by The Jam, the poetry pieces were surrounded by electric, sometimes repeating, other times jangling, compelling music. Johnny Marr and his crystal guitar; Andy Rourke and his funky bass. Great individual songs! Being this album a proper compilation (but a strange one, they’d only release one official album at the time), there was some interesting choices, BBC Recordings (God Bless them) and also a few singles. 


You’ll see, a band only can be in the highest place of my ranking if they’re proficient in singles. And The Smiths are one of those (as are The Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who or The Jam). And you’ll get here some notorious A-Sides and B-Sides, like “William It Was Really Nothing”, with the classic Smiths sound (both joyful and sparkling, punctuated with a masterful bass) and Moz making the difference with a song about the little wonders of the suburbia.

I won’t mention each song here, most are classics. “How Soon Is Now”, with its psychedelic beat and a delight to dance alone in your dark room. Or “Girl Afraid” (Been there) and “Handsome Devil” with their great riffs. “These things take time”, almost a Classic Rock number, or the great “What Difference Does It Make”, with a full band, heavier, and its punching falsetto at the end. The beautiful melody of “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”. Or “Accept Yourself” with its pretty details, and even some Rush reference (Listen!) lost in the music. We’re all misfits, mate.

In the following years, The Smiths would become more aware about their own power, and would deliver definitive albums. But The Gospel is here, for the old fans, the new fans and everyone who’s girl afraid and ready to enjoy a sunny afternoon in their room or in the darkness, stalking some undecided lover. Well, we got our worthwhile gift too, as this boy “Vivid and in his prime”:

“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the sacred wunderkind 
You took me behind a dis-used railway line 
And said “I know a place where we can go 
Where we are not known” 
And then you gave me something that I won’t forget too soon “

THE PRETTY THINGS – Parachute (1970)

Review by: Jonathan Moss
Album assigned by: Charly Saenz

S.F Sorrow is a great album, you guys should check it out if you haven’t! But maybe you shouldn’t take my advice, because even after ascertaining I enjoyed S.F Sorrow a lot I neglected to listen to anything else by The Pretty Things, I guess because whenever I felt tempted to listen to them I just put S.F Sorrow on. I kinda assumed the rest would be boring hard rock, and listening to Parachute I realise that was a mistake. 

So, this album came out after Sorrow and is similar in its ambition. It’s divided into two sides, and each one is different! Ambition! The first side is a suite comprising of short pop songs, and the second is longer bluesier material. I guess they heard Abbey Road and thought they could do the same but in reverse. Like Abbey Road the album doesn’t feel incohesive at all, because of the aesthetic of the The Pretty Things. The band show their presumably hard rock roots (I haven’t heard their earlier stuff and because I was assigned the album that comes straight after Sorrow I still don’t have to!) in having a really gruff, almost proto lo-fi sound. There’s also the psychedelia of it, though it’s much closer to being the psychedelia of Jim Morrison than the psychedelia of Syd Barrett, or perhaps a dialectic of both. It’s like a rainstorm on a marijuana farm. But true to the marijuana, the album can sound tender and tuneful as well, and whilst the album does have a pretty similar sound, this aspect keeps it from ever getting boring. Unless you’re just not into the album, in which case the whole thing will sound boring, or worse, intolerable! 

The band has a great sound to back this aesthetic up. The bassist is capable of some real heavy stuff, Phil May can go from a pretty falsetto to a bluesy whine, the guitarist isn’t incredibly innovative or original, but he has memorable riffs and a tasty tone. There’s drumming and keyboards as well, but those are more augments than the core sound, so fuck describing them! They’re competent! In aggregate it all mixes up to create a pleasurable style, not obnoxiously boorish or macho, though not exactly seeping depth either. 

Though speaking of depth, the album does open somewhat pretentiously with a song titled “Scene One”. It’s just the title though, the actual song is a tense number guided by a rumbling bass and staccato blasts of guitars (maybe even horns, i don’t really know), with urgent harmony vocals and a bluesy, wiry guitar line that wouldn’t sound out of place on More Songs about Buildings and Food. It gives the impression of a late paper boy paddling their bike down a steep hill; cartoon drama. “The Good Mr. Square” follows and relieves the tension, being a childish psych-pop song with Phil maybe doing a goofy impression of a soul singer, accompanied by a pleasant acoustic guitar shuffle and catchy, amiable bass guitar, with psychedelic harmony vocals and an ornate horn! “She Was Tall, She Was High” follows right after and is just tremendously catchy, Phil and his backup joyously singing the title of the song in a beatlesque fashion with guitars imitating sitars and a punchy, blues-pop riff, a horn again, though more playful this time. The song has a sort of tenseness underpinning it which makes it seem deeper than I imagine it is, maybe it’s the middle eight or whatever. “In The Square” contrasts this. It’s a melancholic tune containing byrdsy harmony vocals and a stately, clean electric guitar line, with a mourning sitar coming in, sounding kinda bluesy. The song feels like it should have a harpsichord but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. “The Letter” is a cheery sounding song with a keyboard line which sounds like a flute, or like it could appear in a children’s show from the 60s. The guitar line is crunchy and catchy, with fun drumming as well and plaintive yet cocky vocals. Rain is a gripping blues rocker with well ace, catchy background vocals and passionate guitar playing. The song builds up to this though, showing it as the conclusion of the suite. There’s even clapping at the end! 

So, that’s the suite, it captures a lot of moods and presumably has a story line, though i didn’t pay attention to the lyrics. It’s a definite highlight of the album. The songs are catchy and stand out individually, though they’re all pretty short. 

“Miss Fay Regrets” opens up the second side, which is just songs, and it’s one of the lesser ones. But man, the song that comes after, it’s my favourite on the album! It’s called “Cries From The Midnight Circus” and it’s a nervous as fuck blues rocker with a positively malevolent vibe. It has a creepy bassline running throughout the whole thing which wouldn’t sound out of place in a Black Sabbath song. Phil May sounds like John Lennon on Plastic Ono Band, but better! (take that Lennon fanboys). The guitar increases in intensity throughout the song, till its squealing passionately like a drunk opera singer delivering their finest performance. The song has little details as well adding to its majesty, like the shaking percussion, subtle harmonica, swaggering bar piano and a really spacey, throbbing synth part (?) near the beginning of the song. There’s also that vocal style where it sounds like it’ been put under water like, to make the second sabbath comparison, on Planet Caravan. It’s bluesy and almost jazzy, with a really fantastic melody to boot, what a song! 

“Sickle Clowns” is another six minute song, but it’s pretty similar to Midnight Circus, maybe a bit poppier. Still a lot of fun, just not as impressive or memorable. No, what really rules is “Grass”, a melancholic blueser with gruff yet pretty vocals and a guitar line which is almost funky. There’s an exaggerated tragedy to the chorus, Phil is obviously putting on a performance, but the depressive solo which follows adds a bit of genuine emotion, like a lone car on a dark highway in a highly urban city. “She’s a Lover” is a neat song as well, with nice almost falsetto vocals and an aggressive acoustic guitar riff going throughout. “What’s The Use” is a short song which sounds almost ambient with its Asianic piano playing. Then the psychedelia soaked guitars and singing come in and make it sound a bit more normal for the album, with the chorus being kind of clunky and unmelodic actually. Not particularly to my liking, perhaps a leftover from the side one suite. “Parachute” is a beatlesy piece of bluesy melancholia with vocals that sound like they could have came from a dejected barbershop quartet. It’s a fine way to end the album, with the middle of the song getting almost majestic with -finally- a harpsichord (or harpsichord like instrument) and soaring guitar. 

So, hopefully I’ve made this album sound interesting and it’s definitely worth checking out, so go ahead and do it! Remember, reviews are basically just glorified advertisements so don’t just read this, listen to the damned album! 

RICHARD THOMPSON – Rumor and Sigh (1991)

Review by: Charly Saenz
Album assigned by: Jonathan Moss

I am travelling while writing this review, on a hot spring day, oddly calm and just a tad older than Richard when he wrote these songs. In a way I feel we’re travelling together. And it’s a fantastic trip. 

There’s a thing about solo artists in the days after the Great Music Decades. The nineties are a blur for me sometimes, I gotta admit. But many artists found their feet then by the end of the Bad Production Party of the late eighties. And I feel that as years go by it is more sensible to think of artists doing things on their own terms, their own timing and resources. After all who’s buying records? Play for the Torrent Kids. They’re the here and now. If the 80s were the Ego Decade these are the NobodyElse Times.

Richard is supposed to have made a great “mainstream friendly” album here. A deceiving trick I would say, as he reaches great heights in terms of subtlety while adhering to friendly hooks that only Fleetwood Mac might dream of. “Grey Walls” is an immense achievement in that category, and “I Dream Too Much” is the great tune Lindsay Buckingham never dreamt of. He stays on that nice tone, keyboard glares here and there, a shy secret weapon,  guitar-shaped. 

And after such mundane joy,  I arrive to my destination, evening starting to fall and shadows beginning to unfold, and Richard just manages to win my heart too. And he teaches me..

“Why must I plead with you darling/
For what’s already mine”

And I’ve done that too, yeah… And he brings me an anthem for the years to come (“1952 Vincent Black Lightning”) or he reminds me how “God loves a drunk”. Who else would he love? A banker? Come on.

And he manages to end the affair with an awkward song, “Psycho street”, which ably marries a bass-laden part with poignant lyrics.. To move into the sweetest musical box chorus ever. Genius.

And that’s the feat you know, that’s the trip. A little joy, a little nastiness. And a shy guitar, and a voice of your own.

Oh I’ve arrived, lucky me for the brilliant company.  Wish you all the same and the trip is worth it. Godspeed!

ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN – Ocean Rain (1984)

Review by: Alexander Shatkevich
Edited by: Dina Levina
Album assigned by: Jonathan Moss

I think it’s symbolic that my first review will be about an album that was released in the year of my birth, 1984. The first thing that came to mind at the first listen – the album didn’t get old in any way. It’s like all those synthetic apples from supermarkets that always are red and fresh. But in a difference from apples, Ocean Rain is nowhere near to the famous synthetic and drum-machine sound of the 80’s that I hate so much.

Ocean Rain is still very fresh, and from the very first sounds it hooks you by the arse and holds you up until the very end. The mood and the atmosphere create a whole new world that you explore with Echo and the Bunnymen. On the cover of the album, the band members are knowingly pictured in a boat making their way through an underground cave. When I listen to Ocean Rain, I can’t get away from imagining them sailing in that boat and singing all the songs, though I wonder where the 35-piece orchestra is hiding. But all the musicians are there, believe me, and their sound is reflecting from the cave walls and fulfills the album with lush and charm.  

Actually, in spite of all of these cave allusions, it’s only the background on the cover – the main thing is the boat. Ocean Rain is a journey album, full of ordeals, gloomy experiences and courage. From the very beginning you’re sailing away with the band and not on a boat but on a large ancient ship. Uncertainty and storms are waiting for you, but maybe in the end you will find your Shangri-La nevertheless.

The album opens with bombastic violins and cellos, followed by the whole 35-piece orchestra and the band. The name of the opening song is Silver, just like the name of the famous pirate from The Treasure Island. Silver is filled with the mood reminiscent of great discoveries and something unexpected. The ship swings on waves, the captain gives the last orders on the bridge, ladies on the pier look at the rising sails with admiration. What’s waiting for us ahead? Silver is the kind of a song you always want to return to from time to time; and when you do, you can’t keep yourself from listening to the next one and then the whole album. It’s like with a good film, when you know the ending, but want to live thru the whole story with these characters once again. An excellent beginning, it gives a tone to the whole album.

Nocturnal Me begins where Silver ends. The orchestra is there, and it’s way more heroic and decisive. The ship had sailed away and it’s now ready to face the uncertainty. It’s a beautiful and atmospheric composition, full of concerns and fatalism. “Do or die. What’s done is done. True beauty lies on the blue horizon”. Powerful drums beat out the march and lead the song. After a while, the affected bravado set by Silver fades away, the pier and the admiring ladies are long gone, and you’re digging into fears and doubts. As the song continues, the fears are growing bigger and bigger. “Take me internally forever yours nocturnal me”. Now, you almost don’t hear the march, but only the gloomy orchestra and the melancholic voice of Ian McCulloch. It’s like the sound of doom that the sailors of Captain Magellan felt when they were leaving Portugal. Will they find the way to India or the end of the world? Generally, they had more chances to face the end of the world and terrible death than reach other lands. How can you reach India sailing away from it? Round the Earth? Ah, bullshit!

But after a dark night there’s always dawn. The sun is rising and rays of light are playing on the waves, and it seems there is still hope. It’s Crystal Days. For me this song is a little bit weaker in comparison with the first two. Maybe because of its light and optimistic atmosphere. But actually this lightweight feeling and hope are illusive. In the visible simplicity of Crystal Days hides the same dense sound and dim feeling of anxiety. I am not a fan of this song but it’s in its place here, and it gives a small emotional break before the new tests befall our sailors.

These tests are already there. On The Yo Yo Man we hear another dense and gloomy march. The sound of drums is so great on this album! Pete de Freitas is doing a fantastic job here and it’s a real joy to listen to him. The Yo Yo Man is wonderful and it’s one of those déjà vu feelings, when you listen to the song and you think “wait a minute, I think I’ve been knowing it for a very long time”. It’s like when you’re meeting with someone and after an hour of talking you feel like you’ve known each other for ages. Beautiful arrangement, hooks and twists are all there. It is a great song!

And after The Yo Yo Man there goes Thorn Of Crowns. It begins with eastern motives and is then followed by drum beat even more powerful than before. The drums here are not eastern, but very solid and distressing, bringing the feeling of anxiety. Drums set the mainline of the song and submit everything else around them to themselves. Thorn Of Crowns has really weird lyrics, and that’s the case when I don’t like it a lot. Stuttering McCulloch singing about cucumber, cabbage and cauliflower, what the fuck does he mean? Nah, I don’t wanna know. But on the sound scale it’s a great song. It sounds almost like The Doors. McCulloch shouts out the words just like Morrison and I always imagine him dancing one of those shamanistic Jim dances. The first side of the album ends on a mystic note and leaves us in confusion. What’s going to happen next? What will be the end of this journey?

The second side begins with a huge hit – The Killing Moon. It continues the basic theme of the album – fate, choice, predeterminancy. It’s a beautiful, melancholic song, and here the orchestra is shining once again. Grim violins and cellos bring a very dramatic and heroic sound to it. So even if the hero cannot fight fate, it sounds like he can. That’s the ideal way to continue our journey if you ask me.

The next song, Seven Seas, brings a little optimistic break to the record, as Crystal Days did on the first side. It is the poppiest song on the album, too simple for me and for this album. It’s no surprise that it was chosen as a single after all. I didn’t find any hooks or interesting bits going on here, Seven Seas is a rather plain and forgettable tune, especially after such great song as The Killing Moon. The only plus of Seven Seas is less orchestra so you can hear more guitars than strings. But as they’re not very interesting, there’s no real benefit from that, too. 

So let’s move forward to the next song immediately ‘cos it’s much better. My Kingdom has not much orchestra as well, but there are some great guitar work by Will Sergeant and light heroic vocals by Ian. The drums are powerful as usual. And as opposed to Thorn Of Crowds, here the stutter is okay. All those B-b-b-burn the skin and k-k-k-k-k-kingdom are very energetic and bring the drive to the not so very fast album. I like this song and I like the lyrics, too: “I’ve lost and I’ve gained and while I was thinking You cut off my hands when I wanted to twist”. And, thank you very much, now I know what the hell Boney Moroney is, the campaign against illiteracy is in action.

After the dynamic My Kingdom here comes Ocean Rain, the final song that gives its name to the album. It’s the end of our journey, peaceful and melancholic. When you listen to it you churn to the beginning. The blame is on the violins and cellos which are back, and they step forward once again. But if on Silver and Nocturnal Me they were powerful and broke out of the speakers, now they’re floating quietly like a river. And if in the beginning the strings were the sign of future ordeals, now they’re rays of hope that spills on the melancholic atmosphere of the song. Listening to Ocean Rain you may think that our bad feelings about the journey came true and we didn’t succeed, but the strings give hope that there’ll be another day and we’ll find our Shangri-La. I think it’s a really optimistic ending and I like this song very much.    

Ocean Rain is a beautiful album. Great arrangements, atmosphere, vocals, lyrics (exc. cucumber and cabbage, yuk). It’s very equable, which is both its strength and its weakness. Dialectic as would say Moss… or Hegel. The songs are so equable by their atmosphere, sound and rhythm, that I would say I’d like to hear some more variety. But on the other hand it has some light numbers such as Seven Seas or Crystal Days. The problem is, I don’t like them that much. My Kingdom is good, but the best songs here are melancholy and gloomy. Maybe I need the light numbers to be on the same level as Nocturnal Me, I don’t know. Even the light numbers have the same atmosphere and the viscous sound. In any case, it’s not a big problem at all. I like the concept of the album and I like that all songs are submitted to it. Anyway, almost every album has its ups and downs. And the downs of Ocean Rain are not very deep at all. Honestly, I can say that it has no weak song at all.

Ocean Rain is a great album from any side. When it was released it was marketed as “the greatest album ever made”. Of course it was not, but I think Echo and the Bunnymen had all the rights to say the opposite. It’s a truly great album and it doesn’t disappoint rock lovers even after thirty years had passed. It’s not the greatest album of all times, but it certainly deserves your attention. You don’t believe in advertising after all, huh? I don’t advise you to believe me, so if you’ve never listened to it, grab your legs and go find yourself a copy. Have a good listening!


Review by: Jonathan Moss 

Joe Middleton-Welling is one of the greatest guys I know. Most of you will never have the pleasure of knowing him like I do, but to fill that huge gaping hole you can listen to one of his musical projects, in particular the one I’m reviewing. It’s a three song EP so you don’t have much to lose.

I’ve got to admit, sorry Joe, that in general the debt the band owes to The Fall is pretty obvious. But The Fall are a great band, and the album isn’t derivative, it’s just informed by that sound: catchy basslines, spastic drumming, mumbled English vocals, bizarre lyrics, a lo-fi vibe and a punkish yet artistic sensibility. The guitarist is called Alex Smith and he has a lot of fun, catchy guitar riffs and a pleasant jagged, ringing style. Joe shouts a lot and occasionally screams, and his voice has a kind of muffled quality, like it was recorded in a separate room from the band at a lower volume. Personally I enjoy this, I think it adds to the aesthetic and it kind of emphasises Joe, in the way a pond with a lone with a single drowned swan would emphasis the swan. And Joe is a lot of fun, so he deserves to be emphasised! It’s a very hooky EP as well, with a lot of energy. “Computers for Leisure”, in particular, would be suited for radio, if it wasn’t for the naughty words.

We’re not going to talk about that song yet, though. We’re going to do the EP in reverse! So the last song is a nine minute romp with the unforgettable name “German Sex Dungeon”. It’s a very fun, anarchic tune which definitely sounds like it was born out of a jam session. It starts off with hypnotic krautrock style guitar line and bass line, and Joe shouting the words “sweat” and later, “victory” repeatedly. The drumming goes from being more manic to subdued, like he started to fall asleep. It’s got more energy than one of those crappy energy drinks, kind of like a motorik beat but sublated to be really fucked up and fast, like if that steady German road it metaphorically symbolised had a fuckton of car crashes. There’s a cool, crunchy Boris-esque guitar line which gives the song an aggressive vibe. Lotta screaming! It slows down near the end and gets pretty menacing, almost black metally. Before that there’s “Your Favourite Things?” which is the least memorable song on the album, though I do enjoy the lyric “I’m always hungry for cock” a lot (Joe told me the lyrics are taken from some newspaper). The drum line that opens the song is pretty catchy, and the bass line has a demented circus vibe, with creepy echoing guitar reinforcing this. It’s a kind of shuffle revolving around these elements, with Joe angrily speaking over it. It’s definitely a fun song, it’s just surrounded by two better ones.

Speaking of better songs, “Computers for Leisure” is a fucking masterpiece! It’s the song where The Plastic Other fully transcend their Fall influence, sounding more like a mopey pop rock band informed by slowcore. It opens with an extremely catchy jangly guitar riff, topped off by a melancholic, nostalgic vibe. In general the song seems reminiscent of what I imagine it’s like in Industrial England; trying to get shagged and looking for meaning in a decaying late capitalist landscape. Joe vocally isn’t muffled at all, and he sounds a lot more like himself, he’s even louder than the band! The lyrics he speak-sings are fantastic, with lines like “sometimes i really wish i was miserable, at least then I would have something to complain about”, and “i mean, don’t you ever look out the window and think, i wish i was somewhere else”? He also does some ace cathartic screaming, like these nihilistic thoughts do give him pain. This intensity combined with the sad vibe of the song gives it such a depressing yet paradoxically sweet vibe. There’s more jagged post-punkish guitar playing which is catchy as fuck, but the ringing undistorted guitar line that goes throughout the song is what makes it.

So hopefully I’ve managed to convey what a great song “Computers for Leisure” is and, y’know, the other two are fun as well. Check it out for great post-punkish music that isn’t derivative shite like Bloc Party!