LOVAGE – Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By (2001)

Review by: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan
Assigned by: Alexander Shatkevich

 

It’s called Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By but the sound is so pleasantly soporific that you’d be forgiven for thinking that rohypnol must have been involved somewhere along the line. For, despite the occasional breathy orgasmic groan and Mike Patton’s throaty perv croak, too lethargic for the vigour and tumble of heated lovemaking, the album never really screams out raging erection or well-tongued tumescent clitoris. Instead it feels like the aural equivalent of a good vintage cognac in a warm glass tumbler taken, of course, in front of a roaring fireplace — that same slow viscous consistency and that same comforting sense of crackly mellow warmth — and no one’s going to blame you if you just happen to doze off partway through. In the end Dan the Automator has dusted off some of his choicest vinyl samples to craft a captivating piece of easy listening revivalism. It’s not exactly the Swans  Scott Walker + Sunn O))), but then so what? This is an album for late in the evening, when all the business of the day is over and done with. Loosen your tie, ease yourself into your favourite armchair with the aforementioned vintage cognac in one hand and perhaps a big fat one in the other and let this wee gem of a Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By work its magic. (7/10)

FRANK OCEAN – Blonde (2016)

Review by: Eric Pember
Assigned by: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan

 

 
I hadn’t really heard Frank Ocean before now. I did like “Pyramids” because of John Mayer’s David Gilmour-esque guitar solo (which is still his only reason for existing, as far as I’m concerned), but that was about it.

I admit that I’m pretty suspicious of this type of music. It seems very calculated to appeal to those who are too smart for normal Top 40 pop, but at the same time feel distanced from truly experimental music. That also describes me relatively well (I’ve taken to calling myself a “contratarian populist” lately), and thus, I should be able to like this music.

However, I just can’t bring myself to do so. I suspect that part of it is modern production standards. I know that sounds like such a rockist thing to say, and it kinda is, but I can’t get myself not to feel that way. I know that rationally, that’s not true, since I quite like Janelle Monae and Kendrick Lamar. Then again, I’m told that both of them throw back to earlier epochs with their sound, so that’s probably why.

(I’m gonna note right now before I go further that I don’t feel like everything should sound like it did in the 1960s, as much as I like the general sound of the era. It’s just the pop production of this decade that really annoys me, somehow.)

I did start to get used to the production after a few tracks, but that’s when I unveiled another layer. Much of this album sounded like a variant on white guy with acoustic guitar (or as Todd in the Shadows calls it, WGWAG) music. It’s just that, buried underneath modernistic production and the trappings of R&B/soul music, it sounds suave enough to lure in the kind of people who’d usually be repelled by music like this.

Thankfully, after that, yet another layer peeled off and the album suddenly started showing actual potential. “Solo (Reprise)” is written and performed by Andre 3000, which is always a treat. “Pretty Sweet” then manages to build off the momentum that interlude created with some pretty clever atmospherics, which make me want to go back and listen to Channel Orange, because I’ve heard that album is full of that kind of thing.

Unfortunately, immediately after that one more layer peeled off, and the onion was revealed to be rotten from the beginning. “Pretty Sweet” is followed by a potentially-justifiable-but-probably-useless spoken word interlude about Facebook, then it unfortunately returns to the modernistic production and WIGWAG stylizations. So much for the promise the preceding two tracks showed, I guess.

The last layer then peels off, and the album just flatlines in a weird mass of Radiohead-esque emptiness that’s probably supposed to mean something, but doesn’t really add up to anything.

Sorry Star Trek II Wrath of Khan, but I can’t bring myself to like this album, although I could if more of it sounded like “Pretty Sweet”.

XIU XIU – Fabulous Muscles (2004)

Review by: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan
Album assigned by: Ed Luo 

 

Fabulous Muscles might start off innocuously enough, with a bumbling 8-bit circus rhythm and a vague, softly spoken intro, but it doesn’t take long for things to ratchet up a gear and  the listener to find him or herself subject to the first opening barrage of histrionics and to experience the album’s prevailing mood of uncompromising psychic honesty. FM is a paen to emotional incontinence and tormented self-expression, a sort of musical approximation to the effects of primal scream therapy — or else you could also quite easily just dismiss it as one massive grown up tantrum set to precarious, ugly music. It’s supposed to sound prickly and erratic, and you’re supposed to feel like a voyeur for listening into something that sounds so vulnerable, so intimate: all of it pouring out straight from the Xiu Xiu dude’s tortured little soul, pure and unmediated; and uncompromising too, refusing to make concessions to the  more conventional listener’s conventional musical expectations. But I couldn’t quite bring myself to buy into all that.

Xiu Xiu have been called noise, except that I always feel that with a noise artist like Merzbow the idea is to effect a kind of pure self effacement, to privilege sound above everything, whereas FM, is about employing harsh, dissonant music and awkward, distressed vocals, as a means primarily of manifesting an overwhelming inner turmoil. Interestingly enough Xiu Xiu seem to be at their most effective when they write actual songs. A case in point is ‘I love the valley OH’, which is by far my highlight of the album. It’s a song which I found myself returning to over and over again, both because it has a great hook and because of its emotional resonance. In the end though the problem with FM is that unless you have one of two extreme reactions to FM — either that of rejecting it straight off the bat because it makes you feel too queasy, or that of feeling yourself completely in tune with Xiu Xiu, a kindred at the level of your twitchy jangling nerves — then it makes you feel as if you’re missing out on something. Nevertheless it’s a worthy enough attempt. (7/10)

SIR HARRY LAUDER – Roaming in the Gloaming (2013)

Review by: Schuyler L.
Album assigned by: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan

Sir Harry Lauder is a really happy sorta guy. He’s good at drinking whiskey and loves to wax nostalgic about Scotch lassies and purple heather (“more like ‘PUURRPLLEe HAAAAZZZZzzzee,’ am I right now, dads?”) and has a really exquisite talent for rolling his “r’s”… I do wonder, how did he earn his knightship? ? ? (insert more suggestive question marks here).

Regardless of this totally needless query posited to occupy typespace, I must say that to his credit, Lauder only tends to be at the very forefront of the record’s sound about 80% of the time, with another 10% consisting of somewhat forced, explosive laughter… which is all right, really, because that reminds me a bit of the musical accompaniment… somewhat forced!

I am not going to review this one track-by-track, nor even mention a single track at all. And there’s really no point to it, with something as self-apparent as this record, which is one of a slowly growing pool of centenarians. 

You see, the problem is that Sir Harry Lauder is to subtle abstraction as marble is to concrete. 

And by that, I do also mean that he’s really white.

This is the kind of music you play after your luck has taken a bad turn. Perhaps you’ve lost your job, or your wife has left you because of your fantasy sports addiction, or maybe you lost one of your brand new running sneakers in the escalator at work, because you just happened put your foot on the side of it, though you damn well know you shouldn’t do that, fucking asshole.


Because no matter what happens, you can still listen to Roaming in the Gloaming and say “Wow, how awesome it is that possibly on this very day, a hundred-and-something years ago, Sir Harry Lauder was totally getting off in Scotland!” 

MASSIVE ATTACK – Mezzanine (1998)

Review by: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Album assigned by: Christian Sußner

If you grew up as a music fan under the dominant sway of the music press during its three-four decade long heyday then you most likely know the desperate feeling that came from constantly reading about some hugely important influential record that, having been name dropped once too often, you were eventually forced to save up enough money to buy (yes, you read that right, you used to have to pay for music, which tended to really limit your options) and listen to over and over again – and that, after countless vain attempts to ‘get it’, to understand what all the fuss was about, you were forced to give up on and chalk up as a failure of imagination or music appreciation on your part. Actually it quite often turns out that years later, when you eventually return to such half digested masterpieces, that rather amazingly the pieces just seem to fall into place of their own accord without any additional effort on the part of the listener, maturity or a deeper appreciation of music in general having taken up the previous slack. For other records that never happens at all, ever, and you’re forced to conclude that either there’s some musical blind spot in your brain (and that maybe, possibly there’s a chance you just might get it in the end, on your deathbed maybe), or that the music press had in fact been actually selling you a massive pup all along. Ladies and gentlemen, Blue Lines by Massive Attack just happened to be exactly one of those personal bugbear records of mine. I mean I admired the album, and parts of it I really loved, but in the end and in spite of all that initial goodwill on my part, Blue Lines left me lukewarm. 

You see I get how the record might have won over the critics in the early 90s, its relentless privileging of style and hip over soul and substance and its achingly sussed on point musical allusions/borrowings served as a potent weapon against the earnest rockism that was still characteristic of the alternative music scene back in the days. But the fact is that no amount of studied cool could make up for the essentially pedestrian quality of the music. Indeed, trip hop taken as a genre – and aside from a handful of notable exceptions like Portishead or DJ Krush – tends to sounds much less impressive than it did in the mid-90s. Because it really had an untouchable, hazy green aura, of mystique surrounding it back then. Albums like Dummy or Entroducing felt epochal, significant, like a promise of much more to come. But in the end it all proved to be one big anti climax – and all those cruel jibes about trip hop being a safe, sanitised version of rap/hip hop without all that stuff about thugs and guns and violence and bitches that you could play at nice dinner parties without offending your guests seemed not to have been so wide off the mark after all. I listen to those old trip hop records again now 20 years on and after having, rather critically, had the chance to hear many of the original dub, soul and reggae records that were formative influences on the genre and I can’t help but notice just how cumbersome and actually dated trip hop sounds in comparison.

All of which egotistical rambling finally brings us round to Mezzanine, Massive Attack’s third album: the one where the band started to expand on their sound, developing an earthier, more rock-oriented style, and softening some of the hard, blunt edges of their first two albums. I mean in theory it should appeal a lot more to my rather more organic sensibilities, but to me it just sounds a lot like probably the best beer commercial soundtrack music ever. I still find an immense depthlessness to their music, a horrible anodyne quality that lurks behind the immediate surface allure, of which admittedly there is plenty. Angel and Teardrop, the two that everyone knows from the album, are completely worn out from over familiarity, like a frazzled imitation persian rug — and really I can’t even begin to separate out the music from its role as the incidental music or as the inspiration for the incidental music in a thousand different adverts or television productions. The images and visual symbols, the products, and the music all bleed into one another, one great trite miasma. Worse still whenever I listen to Mezzanine and start to really get into it, I reflexively think of where I’ve heard the same thing done better or where it’s felt far more genuine. There are, as always with Massive Attack, exceptions: moments when they triumph over their musical limitations, Risingson being one obvious highlight, although there are fewer of these than on Blue Lines. But (to my most alas) I still don’t get it; I just can’t overcome my by now decades long resistance to the group (6/10).

VARIOUS ARTISTS (ED RUSH, TRACE & NICO) – Torque (1997)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Album assigned by: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Consider this my contractual obligations review. Quite honestly I was unable to sit through this album even once. I’m sure there are people out there who can appreciate this and therefore write something meaningful about it, but I cannot. What immediately hits you in the face is a very aggressive, driving drum beat. Everything else is pretty much is a soundscape accompanying this drumbeat, and this drumbeat, with little significant difference, dominates each and every track. The soundscapes do have some interesting elements, but ultimately it’s all about that drumbeat. I don’t like it and don’t care to hear it, so that pretty much negates any other attribute of this music. Not for me, sorry!

A YEAR IN MUSIC: RICHARD & LINDA THOMPSON – Shoot Out The Lights (1982)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1982
Review by: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Whenever anyone asks me for my favourite guitar albums* – as in, “which of your favourite records are the best and most thrilling when it comes to the guitar playing” – I usually have very little hesitation in singling out one album in particular, that is Richard and Linda Thompson’s valedictory 1982 masterpiece Shoot out the Lights: a record borne of painful and acrimonious personal circumstances, but that, of all that duo’s fantastic run of 1970s-80s albums, is generally regarded as their absolute finest. 

Shoot out the Lights is an album that I find myself returning to over and over again and that has lost little of its freshness and its ability to startle for me, even after a full decade or so of intense listening. I single it out as a great guitar album because as brilliant, and in fact as sublime, as the songwriting, the lyrics and the singing are on Shoot out the Lights – and trust me both Linda and Richard are absolutely at the top of their game here – it is Richard Thompson’s guitar that ultimately ensures the record’s immortality. 

Thompson’s playing on Shoot out the Lights represents a true marriage of profound artistic inspiration with a remarkable instrumental virtuosity and technique that foreswears any hint of flashiness or trace of superfluity, but that instead is always supple and alive: the grace and fluidity of Thompson’s lines characterised by an extraordinary sense of precision and focus. Thomson’s guitar playing always lends a striking, palpable sensuality to the songs on this record: songs that trace the breakdown and disintegration of a marriage that was also a wildly successful artistic partnership, though in the end the ache seems to have been primarily a bodily/physico-emotional one. The guitar’s electric resonances hint closely at past intimacies, at feelings since buried over in a furious tide of acrimony and accusation – the instrument serves as an unforgettable, furiously effective complement to Linda’s yearning-but-distant vocals in songs like “Walking on a Wire” and Richard’s gruffly desperate turn on “Man in Need”: ultimately raising these songs to a level of emotional eloquence that is rare, even among the best of Thompson’s folkish/singer songwriter peers.

Linda is dignified but broken throughout – weary beyond telling (“where’s the justice and where’s the sense?/when all the pain is on my side of the fence”) – her haunted vocals are a mixture of betrayal and utter resignation, while Richard’s vocals swing back and forth between bewilderment and rage (“Back Street Slide”). 

In the end, even though it’s the guitar that sets this album apart, the songwriting is just exceptional throughout – and if you’ve ever been curious as to why Richard Thompson is so often cited as one of our finest living songwriters then I really can’t think of a better place to start. 


*No-one’s ever actually asked me this, not yet anyway, but just humour me.