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.

MOSSING ABOUT: SUMO – Llegando Los Monos (1986)

Review by: Jonathan Moss
Dedicated to Charly Saenz 

 

A CERTAIN SOMEONE was supposed to review this album for round 13 but he failed horribly and here I am, kicking ass. 
This is a very strong album. The instrumentation throughout is clear and poppy, whilst having a punkish energy and a new waveish sense of fun. Even when the instruments fail to move past the conventions and stereotypes of pop rock they’re saved by a feeling of excitement. Kind of like a B-Movie. The groovy melodicity of the album is responsible for moving it past this as well, like a bonfire party! (one that doesn’t scare animals). Vocalist and main man behind the band, Luca Prodan, is a really good singer. You can tell he was influenced by the British punk explosion but vocally, at this point anyway, he sounds a lot more sophisticated, though still retaining a snarl. He’s multifaceted, he can sound romantic, witty, passionate, angry. Fairly conventional human emotions for sure, but that only ensures he’s genuine in expressing them. The lads got a lot of charisma, and adding this to the hookiness of the tunes makes it a joyfully fun listen.
The album is definitely rock music but within that paradigm it’s got enough varied songs and moods to stop it from becoming dull. It opens with a short, eerie synth piece, which is immediately and amusingly contrasted with the first song, the short pop-punker “El Ojo Blindado”. Melodically it sounds very similar to Blondie’s “One Way Or Another”. It has a tense, energetic chorus, like a person trying to grab a one million pound cheque out of an arcade grabber. It’s quite short as well, making it the perfect energetic punk opener, with a fab guitar solo. Not that the album stays in that groove, the subsequent song is a synth laden funky tune, with a dark yet quirky vibe. The vocals are almost spoken, the opening lyrics “She had my head on a plate/With her sweet and sour sauce/She was riding in her car/I was riding on my horse/Neck and neck along the road/Well, well I have nothing left to hide/So, what a heck/Firefly cars, women rushing past” are great. Luca’s enunciating of “what the heck” is amusing, like a mischievous kid. This is well contrasted with the epic romanticism of the chorus. The guitar playing is suitable, having a sort of jagged moodiness, reminiscent of the guitar playing on a Wall of Voodoo record. “TV Caliente” has funky scratchy guitars and a coy, sardonic feel. This is continued on the next song “Next Week”, but its a lot more raucous and hard rocking, like a sarcastic comedian got drunk and became more manic and mean. 
“Cinco Magnificos” is the strangest song on the album. It has really creepy ominous synth playing, violin that reminds me of Laurie Anderson (her music, not Laurie herself), a spaced out echoey vibe, spy rock guitar, bouncy echoed drum machines and a druggy vocal performance. Some of the synths wouldn’t sound too out of place in a synthwave song. The violin playing gives it an intense driving momentum, and the keyboard playing evokes images of a dark road surrounded by desert and gas stations. After the unnerving vibe of this song there’s “Rollando”, which has a sweet reggae rhythm guitar track, swirling gypsy violin playing and sardonic, sexy vocals. It’s still a dark song, but it’s got a cool urban feel, unlike the rural gothic of Cinco. Like the protagonist of the song made it from the empty desert to the big city. You can even tell he came from the desert because of the harmonica in the song! Luca singing “ooh, survival time” is dark, but he does it in such a beautifully haunting way, as if he knows that the apocalypse will bring time for heroism and sexy girls. “Los Viejos Vinagres” follows, which has a wonderfully funky scratch guitar and melodic horn combination. It has the energy of a punk song. Luca’s singing is incredibly fun as well. Groovy pop-funk is what the album needs after the darkness, like a handjob after an autopsy.
“No Good” is a pleasant, lazy shuffle, with catchy reggae guitar, but it’s one of the lesser songs on the album, especially compared to what follows. “Heroina” is definitely my favourite song on the album. It doesn’t sound like anything else on the it, and in theory I should hate it, with it coming very close to arena rock. But it’s such a well constructed song, with great dark ironic lyrics. In the chorus Luca enthusiastically and bombastically shout-sings “HEROIN” over a mellow catchy guitar line and epic saxophone playing, its one of the funniest things I’ve encountered recently. Hell, it’s more punk than the punk song on the album. It’s like a dark Springsteen song, if Bruce wasn’t one of the least talented songwriters out there. The verses are great as well, being genuinely emotionally touching yet gauche and barroomy. Luca delivers a sneering mock-romantic performance and there’s silly female vocals to back it up. Maybe it would veer too close to parody if it wasn’t so catchy and genuinely rousing, making it strangely touching, especially knowing Luca did suffer from heroin addiction. And died at a tragically young age because of drink.
The album ends on a reprise of the synth piece at the beginning, but not before one last song, the decadent party viber “Que Me Pisen”. I wouldn’t call it a highlight but it has a cool live feel and an amusing performance from Luca. 
Anyway, forget charlatans like Bono and Springsteen. Luca Prodan is where its at, the rightful heir to Joe Strummer.

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.