LELE LELE – Lele Lele (2009)

Review by: Alejandro Muñoz G
Album assigned by: Nina A

Who are Lele Lele? Couldn’t find much information about them. In fact, couldn’t find anything apart from the fact that according to Spotify they are mostly listened to in Apeldoorn and Częstochowa. Trying to place their sound in a specific place is no easy task either. Sounding Eastern-Europeanish, Turkish-Balkanish, Middle-Eastern and Indian all at once, they are definitely a fusion group. But definitely not the kind of fusion group in which fusion means taking anything that sounds new or alternative or exotic in anyway, for then mixing it with the familiar sounds of pop and rock. There’s no pop nor rock in here. There’s not a lot of jazz either. And yet, it doesn’t seem to me as unescapably traditional music.
 
There’s a European wind ensemble somewhere in here; and then one finds some Indian percussion and sitar (or something sounding like it); plus a guitar-like instrument all in the middle. It’s folksy and yet it is not folk music in the sense of being the traditional music of a specific place. It is global folk, nomadic folk: folk music which tells the story, not of a place, but of a journey, an exchange. That way the record manages to sound characteristically Turkish or balkanic sometimes; extremely Indian at others, and still it always feels consistent, connected and balanced.
 
In a way, this music feels groovy, especially the slow songs. Not sure why but a song like “Cogs and Gears” reminds me of Reggae, even if it’s a completely different genre; it’s probably the syncopation. And that’s one of the most interesting things in this music: the syncopated rhythm. The rhythms are rich and complex and frequently all the instruments play in syncopation to one other.  
 
The mood of the album is hard to describe. The uptempo songs are festive and danceable, and yet, they don’t really feel that happy. More than anything else, they sound mysterious (though that may be simply the effect of Eastern scales on western ears). At times they may sound more playful, at times kind of melancholic, but the mystery lingers.
 
Overall impression: I enjoyed the album and I’m glad and grateful for the opportunity of getting to know it and explore it. I admire the consistency of their fusion; it certainly works and it works very well, and has let me curious about the context of the album. Still, on a purely emotional level I couldn’t really get a strong connection with the music. It may sound a little bit too premeditated (like it happens sometimes with superb instrumentalists). Maybe they lack a bit of rashness and spontaneity. Maybe it just felt a little bit distant, or it’s simply not my kind of music. Probably I just have to listen to it a couple of more times and without having to think much about it to write a review.  Anyway, I wouldn’t put anyone off listening to this record. I would recommend it. It’s good fusion music performed by an excellent singer and band. Also, don’t know why but I feel it may be enjoyed a lot more live. I would really like to see them in concert.

ADMIRAL SIR CLOUDESLEY SHOVELL – Check ’em Before You Wreck ’em (2014)

Review by: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Album assigned by: Syd Spence

If you ever watch “classic” rock videos on youtube – as I myself quite often do — then you’ll find that if you scroll down to read the comments section, that sitting there amongst the most upvoted comments at the top there’ll usually be at least one extremely self-congratulatory one from someone purporting to be a teenager or adolescent and making a big deal out of his or her preference for the sweaty, hairy, “authentic” music of the past in marked contradistinction to Taylor-Swift-Justin-Bieber-One-Direction fixated peers. These youtube comment sections will also tend to feature a number of variations on the same poignant lament: that of having been cheated out by being born a generation or two too late and therefore having missed on rock’s golden age. 

But these outpourings of grief are symptomatic of something much more widespread, a discontentment that arises from the very obvious malaise in which rock now finds itself. And the reasons for that malaise, for rock’s creeping debility and its for ever increasing irrelevance, aren’t too difficult to figure out either.

The fact is that from the 1950s onwards rock music enjoyed an extended, decades-long boom during which it was able to prevail both in terms of the influence it wielded on a wider culture – providing the soundtrack to the hopes, dreams and ecstasies of three or four generations of young people throughout the Western world and beyond – as well as in terms of the sheer, precipitous levels of musical creativity that it inspired: spawning a myriad of artistic triumphs from the likes of the Beatles, Hendrix, Bowie, the Clash, the Smiths, etc, etc. This boom period, it transpired, would only last up until the early 2000s when the whole thing just seemed to run out of steam like that. It was then that it reached a sort of turning point or phase transition where the great bulk of the music produced under the banner of rock essentially just stop sounding “new” – but since the elements of novelty and more especially that of shock go together to make up the foundations of the post-war youth culture that rock music itself helped to create this served to seriously undermine rock’s continued vitality as an artform. How exactly can rock can ever begin to sound ‘fresh’ and new again though when it seems incapable of overcoming its customary sonic ruts — when it keeps on labouring away with the same core set-up of amplified  guitars, drums, and bass that were there since the beginning? Because what can you do with that kind of instrumental set-up up that hasn’t already been done at least twice or three times already? What? Immerse everything in feedback or strike out a drone? use prepared guitar? go atonal?…No, it seems that regardless of the lengths that rock musicians go to that they’ll never be able to escape their inevitable fate, which is that of always sounding like the past. 

Well what can a poor boy do? Just give up on singing in a rock n roll band? “Not bleeding likely,” I can hear the legions of the dearly devoted scream out in unison. Perhaps you too regard yourself as one of the faithful and are unable to stomach all that hype going around about how hip hop’s stolen a definitive march on rock and roll and assuming its former status as the most exciting, urgent music genre around. Well then you might have also begun to notice how going full-“retro” musicwise no longer carries the sort of cultural stigma that it once did way back when: when well-meaning (but admittedly clumsy and humourless) retro bands like Ocean Colour Scene and Paul Weller — and to a lesser extent Oasis — would get continually ripped to shreds in the music press for being sad, uncool, hoary old dadrockers. And that in fact sounding uncannily like the past seems to carry its own sort of cachet these days, as the success of artists like the Brian Jonestown Massacre or Ariel Pink would surely seem to attest.  So then why not make a virtue out of necessity? — Because if you’re bound to sound like the past whatever the fuck it is you do and whatever it is you play, then what’s to stop you from going all out with it and doing it with zeal  and bravado? 

And this my friends is where Admiral Sir Cloudsley Shovell finally, belatedly, make their entrance into this long and super indulgent review with a tasty little long player entitled “Check ‘Em Before You Wreck ‘Em” —  an album that doesn’t so much give off a certain whiff of the past as drag the whole thick, heavy miasma of 70s proto-metal glam back along behind with it. A joyous, glittering, stomping juggernaut of a record, completely unrepentant in its retro-desire to leech out all the best parts out from your favourite Black Sabbath-Led Zep records and to regurgitate them out again in the form of a seamless little gem of a record. And it’s a sheer pleasure to listen to, trust me – so much so that you can’t help but feel a little uneasy at having been so readily seduced by a record that could, after all, have been released at any point during the last 40 years. Band name notwithstanding though, the music lacks the kind of conceptual sophistication and hijinks that other modern retro groups like have brought to the table; it’s just pure straightahead rock and roll. And it’s the love and the enthusiasm that win you over in the end, that make it sound so fresh: even if you can’t help but feel that this is a musical dead-end. That is unless you want rock to ossify into a kind of living fossil, to turn it into a kind of folk music in which every detail of the past is carefully preserved and curated – which for me personally seems to go against the whole spirit of the music. But hey what do I know, I was born about 5 years too late. 

THE POLYPHONIC SPREE – Together We’re Heavy (2004)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov
Album assigned by: Ed Luo

This is grand, epic and BIG. Together we’re heavy indeed, if by ‘heavy’ you mean producing symphonic-sounding universalist anthems. But let’s look at the band behind the album: The Polyphonic Spree is a group of about 20 constantly rotating musicians from Dallas led by a man called Tim DeLaughter (which actually rhymes with ‘daughter’ and not ‘laughter’, for your information), who is pretty much the only constant member. Tim’s idea is basically making catchy indie pop BUT with a major difference – contrary to the 00s musical fashion and giving absolutely zero fucks about being ‘cool’ and ‘trendy’, he drenches his songs in lush orchestral arrangements and gives them bombastic gospel-like choir treatment.

The results (at least on this album, which is their only record I’ve heard so far) are predictably GRAND. The messages of the album doubly so: Love thy neighbor! Peoples of the world unite in one sweeping motion! Be happy, today is the best day of your life! Let’s sing together for love and peace! Stand up, throw your hands in the air, sing your throat out and be free! “You gotta be strong, you gotta be two thousand places at once”, “and love will shine today”! These guys are practically making 1967 happen again, at least within the limits of this particular record. And with some good memorable melodies, nice harmonies and very professional singing, too! Think classic-era Electric Light Orchestra, which apparently was a major influence. Lush arrangements and ecstatic choirs suddenly make sense.

It goes without saying that your perception of this music highly depends on whether you can enjoy this sort of thing non-ironically or the cynicism of our times has gotten you for good. And no, don’t fall under the impression that the whole record is naively over-optimistic either – lyrically this album acknowledges the tough and dire affair that is life, and it does have its share of melancholic moments as well (One Man Show, to name one). The record also features a rock-opera-like mini-suite called When The Fool Becomes a King, which also adds to some slight diversity of mood. However, in the end the purpose of EVERY SINGLE song here is to make you happier and more capable of dealing with the harshness of life. This is a statement of optimism, a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ album, the musical equivalent of a helping hand lent to those in need of cheering up.

Which is the reason I’m actually refusing to rate this album objectively. It might not have the best songs or the best arrangements; maybe it isn’t even good by normal rock and pop standards. Not to mention that a lot of people will probably hate this record for being so at odds with the times, full of almost saccharine sunshine. BUT I happen to have really enjoyed this album, and I want to praise The Polyphonic Spree for their sheer audacity and boldness, for not being afraid of sincerely trying to make people love their lives a bit more. In 2004 this takes balls.  

GROUND ZERO – Revolutionary Pekinese Opera, ver. 1.28 (1996)

Review by: Tristan Peterson
Album assigned by: Tom Hadrian Kovalevsky


Okay so, something needs to be cleared up before I begin this review. This isn’t an opera. Do not think it is an opera. No I’m serious, things will not end for you if you think it’s an opera. Don’t fuck up and think it’s an opera.

Anyway, Revolutionary Grand Pekinese Opera is an album (read: their third) by Japanese noisers Ground-Zero*, who were an ensemble led by Otomo Yoshihide, who is in my opinion one of the greatest turntablists ever.  The first incarnation of this band was formed for a John Zorn album (Cobra), so that should very well sum up the sound this project has (read: fucking insane). 

Even though I am really big into the harsh noise, free jazz, marching, sound collage and other such territories which this album not only treads upon, but completely steamrolls over, I did not like this album on first listen.  I thought that it was just thoughtless sound collage, no real effort put in, and if there was any, it was quickly squashed by what seemed to be needless fuckery. Really, it was a noise album that was noisy for all the wrong reasons, and it just made no sense at all.

But on further listening, the record began to click, in a way. All the nonsensicalities began to align themselves in such a way that it creates a rather beautiful sonic hellscape. The first opening tracks all sort of build into one huge cacophonous din which has elements of progressive rock, the inevitable noise and free jazz, spoken word, military march, and even classical music. Of course many of these elements occur at the same time more often than not. But all of this gets released into Paraiso – 1, a very dark and minimal melodic piece which is actually extremely beautiful and calm, compared to the rest of the first “movement” of this record, if you will.

The next half of this album is far more free form in nature, but it also incorporates more ethnically diverse music, incorporating free jazz explosions over salsa motifs, and tortured screams over newscasts and the literal assault of a violin. Of course, this half of the album takes the idea of an increasingly cacophonous roar to the next level, going even more batshit than previously, before again ending on an eerily beautiful Paraiso – 2, which ends on turntable noise and a slow fade of an organ playing Disney music, which kind of sums up the record perfectly.

Although I didn’t know until well after my first listen, this is actually a conceptual record about the clash between Maoist China and Western culture. To be quite frank, know that this was the concept of the record greatly enhanced my listening experience on repeats, because the record does reflect those themes when you can pick them out of the mess of sound it creates.

I would say don’t expect to enjoy this album on first listen. You need to give it a few chances for it to really seduce you into its world.

Overall: 7.4/10

ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRACTIONS – Get Happy!! (1980)

Review by: Syd Spence
Album assigned by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

This is the second Elvis Costello record I’ve listened to. The first being My Aim is True, which I thought was pretty mediocre pub rock with a bit of working class romanticism thrown in. For those that don’t know about music movements of the ‘70s Britain, pub rock was a back to basics take on rock’n’roll. Essentially it was glam rock on lager instead of cocaine. Eventually it would get angrier and morph into punk rock, but that didn’t happen to Elvis. No, he sought instead to modernize it with the working class romanticism that Thin Lizzy and Bruce Springsteen were peddling. Given that I thought My Aim is True was boring and middling, what would I think of the reincarnation of Buddy Holly three years later? The answer, BETTER.

In fact I would go so far to say this record is in fact good. It has a nice crisp production with Costello’s voice front and the band in the back. The Attractions sound professional and snappy, though not exceptional, they back Costello well. Elvis continues to mime pre-67 pop music, but this time with a little ska and stax style R’n’B thrown into his poppy pub rock. Each of these twenty songs has a hook, and some are pretty good, like the song “The Imposter”. Most of these tracks are upbeat, but he does vary the mood. Unlike My Aim is True, I was never really bored at all. It was interesting all the way through.

Overall, it’s a good album, with emphasis on the word good. When I was assigned this record, I was told that it was a ‘classic’, and perhaps it is, in the modernize pre 67 pop music side of the ‘new wave’ spectrum, but to my ears, it’s just a collection of good songs that never really transcend pleasant. In other words, I don’t think any music aficionado exploring the totality of rock music would miss out too much for skipping Costello’s work. I will say this, if you are looking for some delightful pop tunes, then this isn’t a bad album to get. Just don’t go in thinking this is London Calling level ‘classic,’ because it isn’t. It is good though, check it out if you like Blondie or The Cars or general pop rock. 

LAXMIKANT-PYARELAL – Amar Akbar Anthony (OST, 1977)

Review by: Nina A
Album assigned by: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

 
India is a country in which people get their astrological natal charts when they are born and ride busses with no windows so that their karmas don’t tangle together. Or so I’ve heard anyway but there is undeniably a sense of great tradition and veneration for the Creation surrounding Indian culture.
 
And I would approach any cultural item that comes out of this land with a similar sense of deep respect because, well, because when the hero has a duet with a young lady, you are convinced that they are truly and deeply in love, more so than those posers Romeo and Juliet, and of course the lady is the most beautiful flower in the land… yes, like in the fairy-tales that have been given to us so that we may grow wiser by their morals and by the trials and success of the heroes. 
 
There is a love duet on this record, by the way. I recognised it right away because it was a duet with a lot of flourish and vocal embellishment in the lady’s part but the fact that part of the lyrics were “I love you” was also a good hint. But of course they are truly in love. They sound happy.
 
The film Amar Akbar Anthony is an Indian action comedy film with a curious set up – three brothers get separated and adopted by people of three different religions – a Hindu policeman, a Muslim tailor and a Catholic priest. The names of the brothers – Amar, Akbar, Anthony – are pretty indicative of who goes where. And of course they would reunite by the end and live prosperous and happy lives but it is the journey that is important here.
 
And these songs, of course, present you with the journey. Not only because the majority run past the 5 minute mark – I know, ages, right? But it is of course the steady rhythms, the orderly fashion in which all instruments round out the arrangements and of course the narration-like singing. You know the singer narrates, and very interesting stories at that, by the way his lines build, by the dramatic pauses he makes, by the Norse poetry-like alliterations (okay, getting a bit carried away here) and the occasional responding chorus.
 
I’d say the title track – Amar Akbar Anthony – stands out from the rest, and it is also the most instantly memorable one because of the hook which constitutes of three singers on it singing out consecutively and sustaining the three character names – Amaaaar Akbaaar Anthonyyyy. Have fun singing that to yourself while doing the dishes, by the way. It does sound so evocative, that particular songwriting decision. It sounds as if somehow the fates of the three brothers separate from one another and unravel before your very eyes. 
 
But I’ll stop making assumptions about what the content of the songs may be and assure you instead of the incredibly pleasant singing, the nice arrangements and picks for instruments and the overall joy for life that this soundtrack conveys.
 
Check it out, it’s very cool. 

SODA STEREO – Canción Animal (1990)

Review by: Nina A
Album assigned by: Charly Saenz

 
Soda Stereo, I like you. I like your hooks and your steady rhythms and songs that take just the right time to unravel and build momentum. I like the solid bass playing and the fuzzyish guitar sound and the earnest drumming and occasional horns, just nice, nice production.
 
Now, I regrettably do not speak Spanish so I don’t know the hidden meaning behind the lions mating on the album cover. Or maybe I do, Canción Animal probably means Animal Song and what is more animal than mating? Maybe eating and sleeping but come on, the title track sounds sexy. And did he mention “amor”?
 
But yeah, despite not speaking Spanish, I can imagine that this powerful, steady almost arena-like music tackles some important issues of the human condition that are just as important now as they were in 1990. In fact, maybe they were even more important in 1990. Music was important back in this pre-mass Internet access age and this album sounds very big and important – there is even a song that refers to year of 1990 and I am sure it has something insightful to say of the zeitgeist of the era. Or take this other song – Un Millón de años Luz – in which the protagonist urges you not to return without a reason because he’ll be a million light years away from home? When was that not relevant? I am not being ironic, I totally trust these guys and the quality of their work.
 
Truth be told, the big, steady drumming, the steady bass and the overall production values remind me of another power trio on the cusp of the 90s – Crowded House – but the similarities probably end there because Soda Stereo seem to be much more new wave inspired and much more straightforward with their big sound and to-the-point songwriting. And if I have conjured the image of some U2-style arena rockers into your head, rest assured that there is something quite different, very unique and possibly quite Ibero-American about Soda Stereo’s sound on this album. In fact, do play it, and see if you are not tempted to join Gustavo Cerati in singing “Es igual, es igual”, whatever that might mean, on the opening track already.