Tag Archives: beastie boys

12 albums not from 2012

Sometimes, in fact often, the most important records for me in any given year aren’t the salivated-over new releases, but the “why didn’t I hear this before?” discoveries, the things you’d ignored or dismissed or not got round to or simply not heard of previously. The back catalogue albums.

These might be re-releases or remasterings (although I’m pointedly not including My Bloody Valentine’s remasters here, as I knew all the music very well beforehand, and this list is about stuff I discovered for the first time), or explorations of the oeuvre of an artist whose brand new album you’ve fallen for, or they might be inspirations referenced in interviews by current beau musicians. Often, over the last couple of years, they’ve been records introduced to me by my fellow Devon Record Club members at our fortnightly meetings.

Every year I feel like I promise myself (and my wife) that I’ll buy less back catalogue albums over the coming 52 weeks. This year I promised I’d only buy one a month at the absolute most; with a fortnight and more of the year to go, I’ve bought 36. I don’t know how. I still fancy a trip to Rise Records in Bristol or The Drift in Totness before the month is out. Currently, these are my favourites.

Dungen – Ta Det Lungt
Various algorithms have been recommending Ta Det Lungt to me for years, but for some reason this year my desire to listen to it finally reached critical mass – I’m not sure why. Finally buying and enjoying this unashamedly retro psyche rock / jazz cornucopia is probably what’s stopped me from investigating Goat – I feel like I’ve got my fill of northern European psychedelia for the year.

Field Music – Tones of Town / Measure
Cheating, I know to put two records, but so it goes. Inspired by falling for Plumb so hard, I quickly went back and picked up the Field Music records I’d missed first time around, and found them both beautifully agreeable. A very special band.

The Modern Lovers – The Modern Lovers
Tom played this at Devon Record Club, and I fell for the Velvet-Underground-with-a-smile aesthetic straight away. A name and reputation I’d known for years, but never pursued.

Simon and Garfunkel – Bookends
I bought the latest remaster of Bridge Over Troubled Water to play at DRC myself, and, falling in love with it all over again, I also picked up Bookends for a pittance. As well as the fact that it has songs like “America” and “Mrs Robinson” on it, it also has the astonishingly modernistic and confusing “Save The Life Of My Child”. A very different record to Bridge…, but still awesome.

Roxy Music – Avalon
An obvious pick-up (for about £3) given my Kaputt love from last year.

Destroyer – Streethawk: A Seduction
As was this; Em spent a fortnight in America for work in February this year, and I asked if, while she was in NYC, she’d see if she could pick up this early acclaimed peak of Bejar’s from Bleeker Street records; she duly obliged (it’s seemingly impossible to find over here). Far more rewarding than a squashed dime.

Beastie Boys – The Mix-Up
A sentimental purchase in the days after Adam Yauch’s untimely, sad death. I’ve always enjoyed Beastie instrumentals, and this recent-ish collection shows off just how integral his musicianship was to the band; every piece here lives by its bassline, pretty much. We lost one of the best this year.

The Antlers – Hospice
Another DRC-inspired purchase, after Rob played Burst Apart at our ‘albums of 2011’ session. Falling heavily for their latest, I ordered this highly-acclaimed concept album too. It’s a very different record to Burst Apart, and I think I prefer where the band are going now, but this is a heck of a piece of work nonetheless, deeply emotional and affecting.

Hauschka – Salon Des Amateurs
A little cheeky, as a CD of Salon Des Amateurs literally arrived only this morning. We saw Hauschka last weekend at ATP and his set of prepared piano and drums was one of the most beautiful, intriguing, and enjoyable of the whole festival, especially when he went full-on jazz-house for the penultimate number. I ordered this from our chalet the next day, direct from the record label’s website. The album itself sees Hauschka layer his prepared piano (via computer-based recordings) (and with occasional touches of drums, brass, strings, harmonica and mandolin) into house/techno-ish arrangements. The prepared piano (preparing it by tying wire and laying other objects on the strings and hammers inside it) allows him access to a huge array of textures and sounds, man of which you’d assume were digital in origin. There’s a complexity and sophistication and organicness which marks out what Hauschka’s creating here from ‘real’ (as it were) dance music, but nevertheless it’s definitely of a kin. It’s also an absolute joy and pleasure to listen to – tuneful, fascinating, rhythmically addictive and compelling. Off one listen, I know I’ll be turning to this record for years to come.

CAN – Anthology
Although I’ve had various copies of the first five or so CAN albums since I was a teenager, I’ve never picked-up the legendary Anthology until now, meaning I’ve missed whole swathes of fascinating stuff post-Damo Suzuki, and that I’ve never heard the (arguably superior) edits of mammoth tracks like “Mother Sky” and “Halleluwah”. I was probably put off by the fact that they look like aging college professors still desperate to be cool on the cover. With CDs packed into boxes at the end of July, I picked this up recklessly in HMV in August when I had a desperate urge to listen to CAN and this was all that was available. Although I’m gutted it misses crazy b-side “Turtles Have Short Lets” (seemingly unavailable on CD), I’m still very glad I finally succumbed.

Lindstrom & Prins Tomas – II
This was like a cosmic-disco sticking plaster for the weird semi-aberration that was Six Cups of Rebel. It more than made up for that misstep.

The National – Boxer
Like I wrote the other day on returning from ATP, I simply don’t understand how I didn’t fall for this five years ago, except to say that bloody-mindedness has its uses and its failings, too.

(How) Is Paul’s Boutique Psychedelic?

psy·che·del·ic (sīkədelik/)
Of, characterized by, or generating hallucinations, distortions of perception, altered states of awareness, and occasionally states resembling psychosis.
A drug, such as LSD or mescaline, which produces such effects.

The term psychedelic is derived from the Ancient Greek words psuchē (ψυχή – psyche, “soul”) and dēlōsē (δήλωση – “manifest”), translating to “soul-manifesting”.

“any music that evokes, documents or intends to accompany psychedelic drug experience. and it could be anything that descends or borrows from any of the above. big tent.” Contenderizer, posting on ILX.

Bizarrely it was Danny from Embrace, who doesn’t have a reputation for being psychedelic (though I have seen him in some altered states, to be fair), who first expressed the notion to me that Beastie Boys were psychedelic. Way back in the mists of 1997, when I first met him and interviewed Embrace for my old fanzine, I asked if they still intended their second album (the first one was still seven months from release at this point!) to be ‘psychedelic’, which they’d suggested in an interview with Melody Maker a few months before. “Yes” he and his brother Richard both said. I asked them to elaborate: “Beastie Boys psychedelic” said one; “Sly & The Family Stone mad” said the other.

I’m not sure I quite understood how either artist (the former of whom I was pretty well familiar with, the latter I was just getting to know) fitted in with Eight Miles High or Sgt Pepper, but I’d come to the conclusion that Orbital made the most psychedelic music I’d ever heard, so I was intrigued by the notion.

I should express at this juncture that I’ve never taken a hallucinogenic drug in my life; someone older and wiser than me who I was at university with suggested that I was already psychedelic enough, and didn’t need to; I trusted his judgement. A lecturer, in my first term or two, also suggested that I came across as the type of person who “took a lot of drugs”, even though I wasn’t (unless one counts Guinness as a drug). Throughout my life I’ve consistently been described as “weird” or “odd” or “strange”, most usually by people who I’ve considered to be far weirder, odder, or stranger than myself. (I harbour a strong suspicion that I’m actually pretty boring.)

Certainly there’s a lineage from the psychedelic soul of Sly & The Family Stone to Beastie Boys, and Paul’s Boutique is littered with samples of psychedelic music from Hendrix and (most notably) The Beatles, but when people describe Paul’s Boutique as being psychedelic the understanding I have is that it’s not just about sampling psychedelic music; it’s about the effect that Paul’s Boutique itself has when you listen to it.

There’s debate over what the first psychedelic song was in the mid-60s; Eight Miles High by The Byrds, Happenings Ten Years Time Ago by The Yardbirds, Rain (first backwards tapes) and Norwegian Wood (first sitar use) by The Beatles (with Tomorrow Never Knows being some kind of apotheosis, and the first-guitar-feedback opening of I Feel Fine being some kind of latent origin), with Hendrix, Traffic, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys, and even Mellow Yellow by Donovan all furthering what people understood by the word.

Certainly there’s a direct lineage from the kind of San Franciscan hippy-psychedelia that emerged at that time to the “Daisy Age” “sampledelia” of De La Soul, which wasn’t a million miles away from what Beastie Boys were doing on Paul’s Boutique (even if it was a million miles away from License To Ill). By Check Your Head, of course, Beastie Boys are starting to flirt with the connection between consciousness-expanding drugs and Indian music and mysticism in a manner not dissimilar to George Harrison 25-odd years earlier, ideas which were fully embedded by Ill Communication tracks like Bodhisattva Vow and Shambala.

The kind of transcendence and interconnectivity espoused within certain strains of Buddhism and Hinduism – achieved through meditation, yoga, and sometimes imbibement of specific substances – seems pretty analogous to the acid experience; music that attempts to transport you or free your mind / soul / spirit. Add a civil rights slant and concern about freeing physical individuals rather than nebulous spiritual cncepts, and you get Sly & The Family Stone. Possibly.

Big areas of modern popular music (and I’m sure big swathes of pre-1950s music too) has always been concerned with expanding mental and spiritual horizons, obviously; from dance music (acid house, techno, a million splinters thereof), precursors to dance like Kosmische music (Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, CAN, Cluster, Harmonia, etc etc), to jazz (John Coltrane’s exploratory interstellar jazz; Miles Davis’ evocative, formless, transportative In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew), the “dreampop” of My Bloody Valentine and Spacemen 3 (plus proto-postrock relatives like Talk Talk, Bark Psychosis, and the synaesthetic sound-concrete experiments of Disco Inferno), the woozy, dope-derived soundscapes of dub; even Eno’s ambient music was (allegedly) conceived whilst he was in an altered, drug-induced state (lying in a hospital bed, full of painkillers, radio loud enough to perceive but not enough to listen to). The colourful textures and woozy soundscapes of Another Green World (hell, even the song titles) could very easily be taken as psychedelic. Lately the likes of Four Tet and Caribou have mashed together most of the above to create some new kind of psychedelic music. All of these things seem keen on stretching your brain and your soul out into new shapes whilst simultaneously soothing (either through beatific pastures or scorching noise). They’re all, also, obviously, my favourite things in music, and I appreciate them sans substances because, when music’s good enough, it does what drugs do but better, all on its own.

(Another favourite psychedelic tool? High-fidelity sound; woozy, unreal recorded music played back with truly immersive clarity and volume [hell, even plain old acoustic, there-in-the-room-with-you music] is some kind of weird magical voodoo trick that I’ll always be fascinated with.)

The crazy things is that Paul’s Boutique does pretty much all of the above things, from woozy organ licks to disorienting ping pong balls to the head-snapping stereophonic soundstage trickery that opens Hey Ladies, hallucinogenic juxtapositions of samples of recognisable tunes completely recontextualised, lyrics explicitly about “expanding the horizons / expanding the parameters”, dream-like segues and asides that make no linear sense but have some definite twisted logic to them, the absorbing, immersive density. It’s also, at heart, an attempt to evoke a specific place and time through sound (i.e. a lovesong to their estranged home of NYC, made from exile in LA). It’s about the most freewheeling, kaleidoscopic record I own; it may not be that abstract (although some of the lyrics certainly are; and thinking about it, so are many of the samples and the ways the two interact), and it may not sound like clichéd ‘psyche’ rock, but I think it’s more genuinely psychedelic in effect than most other records I’ve heard.

Plus, you know, the band photo in the sleeve is non-more-psychedelic…

Thursday’s listening

I loaded the music I bought on Monday (MBV remasters and the new Richard Hawley album) onto my iPhone before going to work, vaguely anticipating that Charley, who I share an office with, might want to listen to the Richard Hawley album.

Sure enough, I’d barely got through the door when she asked if it was on my phone; prescient or what? So we put it on via the little speakers on the windowsill, and played it through twice, front-to-back.

There’s lots of really amazing guitar playing on the album; it’s definitely his most rocking record, and pretty sprawling and psychedelic and heavy – the 9 tracks last just over 50 minutes. There are a couple of lovely, quieter moments amongst the maelstrom, too, but some of his lead playing, riffing, and solos are scintillating. It’s really nice to hear a proper guitarist go for it, rather than play this plinky plinky post-Edge infantilism-with-some-echo that passes for lead playing with the likes of Coldplay.

Afterwards we reverted to type and put 6music on; I recall hearing the Richard Hawley single a couple of times, and Red Sails by David Bowie, but the only other track I recall was by Grimes, which prompted Charley to ask if Visions was on my iPhone too; it was, so we listened to that from start to finish. Afterwards it was nearly 4pm, so I stuck all the Beastie Boys tracks on my phone on shuffle for the last hour in the office.

We talked, tidied, and watched TV when I got home, so there was no more music yesterday.


Devon Record Club listening last night #musicdiary2012

First up was Bodhisattva Vow by Beastie Boys, which we played in tribute to Adam Yauch. I’d brought along the Beastie’s anthology, and chose this track as it’s just MCA doing vocals on it, and it’s kind of the embodiment of the Tibetan-inflected sound and Buddhism-influenced lyrics that he brought to the band on Ill Communication (there are tiny hints on Check Your Head, too). Bodhisattva Vow has some of the maddest drum sounds I’ve ever heard; I assume they’re those massive Tibetan drums.

We’ve got into the habit of playing a tribute song at our meetings whenever a significant musician dies, but this affected me far more than previous choices in memory of Whitney Houston or Clarence Clemons.

Rob’s choices
Okkervil River – The John Allyn Smith Sails
The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America

I don’t think we own the Okkervil River album that this song is from. We’ve got Black Sheep Boy. It was alright.

The Hold Steady I like in concept but not in execution; their sound is pretty prototypically mid-00s, very thick and dense and compressed in the mix and master, which really bugs me and, I think, really plays against their strengths – I’d like them to sound ragged and edgy and dynamic and like a proper live bar band. I’d like them to sound like Cure For Pain by Morphine, actually.

Graham’s choices
The Wonderstuff – The Eight Legged Groove Machine

I’d never heard this all the way through before; I know (and love) the singles, though. Big discussion about “massive w@nk3rs” in rock and pop music, inspired by anecdotes about Miles Hunt.

Tom’s choice
The Bhundu Boys – Shabini

Really enjoyed this, even though it made me get angry at indie bands being satisfied to let their thick mate play bass guitar because they don’t understand how important it is and awesome it can be. Mention of Alex James, another massive w@nk3r but an excellent bassist.

My choices
Beastie Boys – Skills To Pay The Bills
Field Music – Plumb

If I get to play a stand-alone track (because my album is 45 minutes or less in length) I’ve resolved to play a b-side. I couldn’t have chosen anything but Skills To Pay The Bills, really.

Field Music I chose because I know Tom wanted to hear it, it’s my favourite record of 2012 thus far, and, being short, it meant I could play a track, too.

Monday’s listening

So, day one of the music diary. What have I listened to?

Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part 2
I wrote about this earlier, so shan’t say much more.

Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees
The Clientele – The Violet Hour
The Verve – A Northern Soul
Blur – Badhead
Boards of Canada – Dayvan Cowboy

On my way to HMV to buy the MBV remasters I played some music via my iPhone during the walk. There’s a mammoth playlist on there called ‘I need this song on my iPhone’, which has no criteria beyond containing songs I like – several hundred of them. I set it to play completely randomly, and was gifted with three slices of mid-90s Britpop (of the more maudlin variety), plus The Clientele’s wistful, dreamy retro-pop, and BoC’s epic, wistful techno.

Beastie Boys – Sabotage, Fight For Your Right To Party
These two songs played over the PA in HMV whilst I was shopping. I looked to see if thy had The Mix Up, Beastie Boys’ instrumental album from 2007, but they didn’t, so I got the new Richard Hawley instead.

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (remaster – CD2 original ½ inch analogue tape)
When I got home I stuck this on – I’ve been waiting about 5 years for these remasters, watching the date get pushed back every few months on various retail websites. I assumed they’d never actually exist… The version done from the original ½ inch analogue tape was the one I most wanted to hear. I haven’t listened to Loveless in a while, and I certainly wasn’t A-B’ing the original CD here. So without listening really hard, well… it felt groovier, somehow, as if there was a little more bottom end, a little more soundstage, a little more ease to decipher the layering and surf along the internal rhythms of the different guitar tracks. Emma walked in, said “this is the remaster? It definitely sounds different” straight away, even while I wasn’t entirely sure! I think that secretly she has better ears than me, more intuitive.

Richard Hawley – Standing at the Sky’s Edge
Afterwards I played this, and enjoyed it a lot; I’ve really liked the single, which has been getting airplay on 6music. I’ll be listening to this a lot more.

My Bloody Valentine – EPs 1988-1991 (disc 1)
You Made Me Realise onwards. Sounded terrific.

Various songs by The Smiths, The Cure, The Specials, Cliff Richard, The Pogues, Samantha Fox, Shakin’ Stevens, Rick Astley, Tracy Chapman, etc etc, featured on This Is England 88
We watched This Is England 88 this afternoon, having received the DVD from Lovefilm; we’d missed it at Christmas time for some reason – I think just party-season busyness. Plenty of great ‘period’ songs on the soundtrack. And Rick Astley.

Boards of Canada – In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country
Autechre – Amber

These were both reading-soundtracks, inspired partly by Dayvan Cowboy this morning, and partly by a lot of Autechre discussion on ILM lately.


#musicdiary2012 Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part 2

My listening isn’t going to be “normal” today; it couldn’t be. Aside from the fact that it’s a bank holiday and I’m planning on buying some records later rather than going to work like I’d usually do on a Monday, there’s also the added oddness of coordinating and promoting this whole music diary idea too. I’ll spend spare seconds all week tweeting about it, looking up the hashtag, linking to blogs and tumblrs that are taking part, as well as recording my own listening. There’s also my dodgy knee to consider – on a normal May bank holiday I’d go for a ride first thing, but it’s raining and I’d only want to go for a ride in the dry at the moment – I can’t risk a slip or slide or anything that might put my knee at risk.

So instead of being in the office listening to BBC Radio 6music, I’m in the livingroom, writing this blog post, and listening to Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 by Beastie Boys, because I’ve not listened to anything but Beastie Boys by choice since Friday afternoon when I found out that Adam Yauch had died.

I got HSCP2 at about the same time as Goblin by Tyler, The Creator. At the time I remember feeling let down by Goblin but thinking that HSCP2 was better than I expected. I listened to it half a dozen times and then didn’t really think about it again. Aside from playing Paul’s Boutique a few times at and around Devon Record Club in February, I’ve not really thought about the Beastie Boys since then. I assumed Adam Yauch was getting better, that his cancer was in remission, that they were past their 90s best but still a presence at the core of my cultural world, even if in the background now.

MCA’s passing has changed that, and brought them and their music to the forefront of my mind, and, judging by Twitter, Facebook, message boards, blogs, websites, and newspapers, to the forefront of a lot of other people’s minds, too. They were (are?) awesome, a massively important part not just of my own musical and cultural development but, more importantly, of my generation’s musical and cultural development, and, even more importantly again, a massively important part of mine and my generation’s personal development, too.

Because the Beastie Boys, and Yauch in particular, showed us that we could be goofy and love to party but also have a conscience, be compassionate, be sincere, and be loving too. Their music covers so much ground, emotionally, spiritually, and musically. I can’t think of many bands that reflected better what it’s like to be a rounded human being, with a sense of humour, a sense of anarchy, a sense of love, and a sense of social responsibility, and a sense of friendship too.

There’s a video of Coldplay covering (Fight) For Your Right (To Party) at a gig in Hollywood the other night; they, unsurprisingly, turn it into a boring, maudlin, everyman piano ballad, which strips all the energy and verve and life and fun from it. But, in the last 30 seconds or so, as Martin sings “mom you’re just jealous / it’s the Beastie Boys” and the crowd joins in with the last two words…

Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 is a pretty good record. Maybe really good.

I wanna offer my love and respect to the end

I keep typing sentences and then deleting them because they seem trite next to actual rememberings by people like Sasha or Mark or Clem. The only mentionable memory I can recall is skipping arm-in-arm from one pub to another on my birthday with my best friend, singing Sure Shot at the top of our lungs, and that seems kind of trite now.

So I’ll just say that hearing that Adam Yauch has died upset me a lot. For literally my entire lifetime the Beastie Boys have been releasing records full of life, energy, ideas, positivity and fun. They, and particularly Yauch, seemed to teach an entire generation of people how to grow up from snotty, irreverent, occasionally offensive little punks into decent, admirable human beings. No one else like them, before or since.


How to do a remaster / rerelease properly

Following Tom’s choice at round six of Devon Record Club the other week, I ordered a copy of Crazy Rhythms by The Feelies on Thursday (it’s my birthday tomorrow, and I deserve a present), took advantage of a free trial of Amazon’s Prime service, and had it arrive at work yesterday.

The only copy available was the 2008 remaster on Domino Records, which suited me fine, though I was a little wary as Amazon didn’t list the tracklisting, and I’d seen something about one release appending an (allegedly pretty good) additional song at the end, that wasn’t from the same era as Crazy Rhythms; as The Feelies have spread their career out over quite some time, often with big gaps between records, I didn’t want something from another era intruding on the nine songs I had heard at Rob’s house, and that I liked enough to want to own (even though their sound isn’t meant to have varied much over the decades!).

As I cooked dinner last night I opened the cellophane and stuck Crazy Rhythms on the CD player, and was delighted to see that there were no bonus tracks appended to the original tracklisting. I was also delighted to find, and a little impressed at the initiative of, a little credit-card sized… card… with codes to download a handful of bonus tracks – a single edit, two demos, and two recent live recordings (plus a download version of the album proper – which seems pointless as why not just stick it in your computer and rip it? Presumably this card comes with a vinyl release too…).

I doubt I’ll ever download these tracks, but the thought struck me as good, and innovative, and the kind of thing that, alongside a sympathetic remastering job and decent (but not ostentatious) packaging, makes for a good rerelease. I’m not bothered, as a rule, by bonus discs and demo versions and live versions and fancy box sets in the shape of the guitarist’s head and artwork postcards and gold-coloured vinyl and 5.1 surround sound DVDs and recreation t-shirts and USB sticks full of .wav files and mono versions and all that novelty bumf. At the risk of sounding like some kind of godforsaken hippy, I just want the music, man, on a CD, in a case that doesn’t prevent me taking it out easily enough to play as often as I want for fear of tearing the packaging or scratching the disc.

Maybe, if I really like a band, I might be interested in all the b-sides (and possibly related non-album singles) that accompanied the album being rereleased; it might be nice to have Paperback Writer and Rain tacked onto the end of Revolver, for instance (even though they should, chronologically speaking, be tacked on at the start); but I’m not complaining, at all, about having them together with We Can Work It Out and Hey Jude and so on in the Past Masters release – not being able to get hold of them at all (except for on a prohibitively expensive box set, perhaps), would be the thing that infuriated me here. Hello The Stone Roses and Silvertone records.

I know it seems like a luddite thing to say in 2011, but I still like the integrity of an artist’s intent (or an A&R man’s, perhaps…) regarding the sequencing of an album; having to rush to press ‘stop’ after I Am The Resurrection finishes because I’m not in the mood for Fool’s Gold is an annoyance (so a few seconds of added silence in which to do so is a good thing, fyi remastering engineers and product managers). Bonus materials as a rule, and especially putrid demo and live versions, should be stuck on a separate disc so I never have to listen to them unless I want to. Saying that, 5-10 seconds of silence followed by some choice, well sequenced b-sides, isn’t going to upset me.

As for the actual remastering, well… despite some perceptions, I’m not as fascistically anti-dynamic-range-compression as some might think. Certainly I don’t just want to hear a scuzzy, indistinct version with the levels pumped up towards digital zero – I want improved clarity, imaging, impact – but I’m not averse to things being made a little more beefy and modern, as long it’s sympathetically done, and they don’t end up tediously loud or, and this is especially important, digitally clipped.

Some serious audiophiles I saw online circa the remastered Beatles albums release in 2009 were getting haughty that the CD versions weren’t quite as good as some rare Japanese vinyl release that costs $600 or whatever, but to me, they were pretty spot on in terms of what I wanted. Likewise the Sly & The Family Stone and CAN remasters from a few years ago, and the recent Stone Roses, Paul’s Boutique, and Screamadelica rereleases. The 2003 Talking Heads ones maybe pushed things a half-step too far, likewise the Funkadelic series from approx 2005 perhaps, but neither is rendered anywhere near the kind of unlistenability achieved by Kanye’s Dark Twisted Fantasy; they might be loud, but they’re not distorted, to my ears.

Another thing to consider is whether something needs remastering or not; the 3CD set of Giant Steps from The Boo Radleys doesn’t mention anything about remastering on the cover, spine, or in the liner notes, which is great, because the original version I have still sounds utterly fantastic, and didn’t need anything doing to it to my ears (I don’t know what Martin Carr thinks regarding this, however). (I did buy the new version and give away my 15+ year old original, though, because, well, two discs of b-sides!)

(As a side note, both The Beatles and Sly & The Family Stone had their studio album remaster rereleases bolstered, a few months later, by the remastered rerelease of seminal compilations – Sly’s 1969 Greatest Hits set, which was my introduction to the band, and The Beatles’ epochal Red and Blue collections – for many people, compilations like this are how you get to know an artist’s work, and they can be just as revered as the ‘proper’ albums; it’s a shame when they’re forgotten amidst a flush of remastered studio LPs.)

The only major artist I can think of who I’m still waiting for remasters of is Prince. Heaven only knows if he’ll ever get his thumb out of his ass long enough to make peace with his record label and sort this out. I’m sure there are plenty of other, lesser-known but no less talented, musicians awaiting sympathetic rereleases. I’ll hear about them in time, I suspect. What I could really hanker after, though, is ‘fixed’ versions of albums from the last ten years or so that have been released with shoddy sonics on CD in the first place. Whether that will ever come to pass or not, I don’t know.

Albums of 2011 (so far)

So it’s about that time that I wax lyrical about the records I’ve bought, listened to, and enjoyed so far this year, as much to keep my mind clear with what I think of things as for the sake of spreading a little listening love around. So here goes.

Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys!
I’m unsure what I think of this, and indeed, by extension, Elbow, in 2011. On a phenomenological level, the act of listening to this is pleasurable; it sounds gorgeous. But I never do want to listen to it. I suspect, partly, that there’s a sense of darkness, of bitterness, of spite, that’s been eroded from Elbow’s music slowly since their debut, and I need that contrast to their wide-open humanism in order to give contrast, subtlety, and emotional drama. It’s lovely, like the last album, and I’m glad people like it, and I admire it, but I don’t love it.

British Sea Power – Valhalla Dancehall
I want to like this more; I’m not sure why I don’t. Here’s what I said back when it came out.

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine
I listened to this very intensely, and with great frequency, during darker evenings. I have no doubt I’ll pull it out again when the nights draw back in; it’s that kind of record.

LCD Soundsystem – The London Sessions
A clandestine ‘greatest hits’, perhaps; a posthumous wave to appreciative fans. I dearly wish I’d seen them live. I’m pretty sure I’d got guest-listed for a Bristol gig in 2007, but circumstances changed and we couldn’t go.

Primal Scream – Screamadelica (Remastered)
I love this as much as ever; I thought I didn’t / couldn’t.

Ron Sexsmith – Long Player Late Bloomer
The melodies are delicious, but the arrangements are a little too slick for my tastes. I must investigate his early stuff soon, in the hope that his compositional gift hasn’t changed, and that he started out more minimal.

Josh T Pearson – Last Of The Country Gentlemen
I’ve only listened to this once and only vaguely; it made me feel like a voyeur, and I don’t want to be made to hear the feelings contained within songs called Honeymoon’s Great: Wish You Were Her. But Pearson is such a talented that I know I’ll come around eventually. It’s only art.

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
This is magnificent. Strangely, Americans I know seem not to get it as much as Brits.

Joan As Police Woman – The Deep Field
Ostensibly Emma’s (she loves Joan), but I like this a lot too; it’s an r’n’b album, essentially, but the kind of r’n’b that’s played live in a room, with long, crunchy, richly-textured guitar lines. A little bit Maxwell, a little bit… Second Coming by The Stone Roses, almost. Modern electric blues I guess (not Griff Rhys Jones stuff).

Iron And Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
I like this a lot when I listen to it, but I don’t remember to listen to it quite enough (possibly because the opening track is maybe my least favourite); it feels like a journey through the whole of American popular music, from country to soul to jazz to indie rock and back again. The tunes deserve more attention.

The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck
I’d hate to repeat myself, so just read this.

Bill Callahan – Apocalypse

Tyler The Creator – Goblin
Above and beyond anything else, this is too long; 15 tracks lasting 73 minutes is just far too much to take in, and it becomes boring. In fact, it starts boring; the opening track is a 7-minute “woe is me” monologue with a pretty tepid backing track. Beyond that… sonically, Goblin is Fisher Price El-P / Def Jux, a kind of lo-fi, schoolroom version of The Cold Vein without the sci-fi vision. It’s not got the concision, incision, or, and this is crucial, hooks of Dizzee Rascal, for instance, who was perhaps the last rapper this youthful, energetic, and (almost) controversial to get so many words typed about him.

And as for the controversy… lyrically, Goblin is the Aristocrats joke, but without a punch line. “I’m awesome / and I fuck dolphins” is absurd enough to elicit a laugh; “I raped a pregnant bitch and told my friends I had a threesome” is reaching so far for controversy as to cause a nasal snort as you try and decide whether laughing at is as bad as laughing with. To my mind the only things it’s not acceptable to make jokes about are rape, and infant death; the latter is what turned me off Chris Morris’ Jam TV program a decade ago.

The Lex nailed many of my feelings regarding Odd Future Wolf Gang in his blog for The Guardian; Tyler may be gifted (I’ve not listened enough to appreciate his talent for internal rhymes or his flow yet), but he’s not transgressive. He’s just very, very young, and trying very, very hard. But so were the Beastie Boys, and they grew up from snotty misogynists into something far more palatable, without losing their musical verve along the way. Because there is something somehow compelling about kids yelling “kill people / burn shit / fuck school” and “golf wang!”

Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
I’ve listened to this about four times, most of them in the car while driving to the airport. My initial impression is that it fits, sonically and in mood, almost exactly halfway between Check Your Head and Hello Nasty. This is where Beastie Boys ought to sit in 2011, as far as I’m concerned. The tunes, hooks, noises, beats, etc, are far more catchy and enjoyable than Tyler.

Radiohead – The King Of Limbs
People bitching about the brevity of this annoy me; it’s longer, and with far less songs, than Revolver. I like it; I really like about half of it. They seem, to my ears, to have finally interpolated the influences they’ve been wrestling with for the last decade. It’s not got the tunes or approachability of In Rainbows, or the impact of Kid A, but it’ll do nicely.

Panda Bear – Tomboy
I pretty much standby what I wrote a few weeks ago; I like this a lot. It doesn’t have the absolute peak, sublime moments of Person Pitch, but it’s more consistent, more structured.

Wild Beasts – Smother
I’m only a few listens into this, and none of them at volume of with intensity, but I’m enjoying it immensely; Anthony Hegarty and Guy Garvey / Paul Heaton fronting a subdued, sensual, 21st century Tears For Fears; which is not surprising given the Talk Talk name-drops made in the run up to its release. Could perhaps do with a little more energy, a little more chaos, a little bit of loss of control

Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise
This might be the album I’ve played the most (proportionally to the time I’ve had it for) this year; there’s a mix of electronic textures, live instruments, technoness, jazziness, etc etc, that is just bliss to my ears; vatic enough to stand calmly in the room and be ignored if needs be, but gorgeous enough to entwine around you and take your full attention if you want.

There’s a lot of white spines this year, so far.

The Original Bits Aren’t Good

It was pointed out in a thread about LCD Soundsystem on ILM the other day that Dance Yrself Clean, probably my favourite track on This Is Happening, is a rip-off of a tune called Jamaica Running by The Pool. This revelation caused a little bit of consternation in some people: that Dance Yrself Clean was just Jamaica Running with some singing over the top; that it was “rotten” of James Murphy not to credit The Pool; that if you stripped away the unoriginal bits from LCD songs you wouldn’t have much left over…

I remember a quote about The Verve from years ago: “the original bits aren’t good, and the good bits aren’t original”. At the time, maybe 1997, I was too young to have the breadth of musical knowledge that I have now, and thus didn’t find myself recognising what Mad Richard and co had robbed, bar realising that the openings lines of History had been “adapted” from William Blake’s poem, London. If The Verve had nicked a riff here, a lyric there, that was fine; I couldn’t tell, so it was new to me.

But then I remember hearing the orchestral version of The Rolling Stones’ The Last Time for the first time, the Andrew Loog Oldham version that Bittersweet Symphony sampled. I’d read something which suggested that all The Verve had borrowed was a chord sequence played by the string section, that the drum pattern and main string hook, the two most vital identifying parts of the song, were their own work, Ashcroft’s own work, and the sample was buried and barely audible, and that it was pure avarice that made Loog Oldham seize songwriting credits for himself, Jagger and Richards.

Rubbish. That whole sweeping string hook, the double-thwack rhythm of the drums, the stately pace, the swell and poise of Bittersweet Symphony all came directly from The Last Time. Ashcroft had said they’d “made it like a hip-hop record” but it was more like dancehall; this wasn’t someone stringing together a batch of varied samples and creating a new tune from elements of old ones; it was an MC making up a new vocal over an old backing track. Except that the backing track was being played by a house band rather than on a battered 12”. Years later I heard Funkadelic’s I Got A Thing, You Got A Thing, Everybody Got A Thing for the first time, and discovered where the intro for The Rolling People had come from, and the quote about the good bits not being original started to make much, much more sense.

As teenagers, some of my friends had been of the “sampling is theft” mentality, which never made a great deal of sense to me, or, luckily, many fine musicians. Sadly it made sense to lawyers to a degree, which is why only Kanye can afford to sample someone else’s music these days, and why, say, the reissue of Paul’s Boutique (which, of course, features the lyric “there’s only 12 notes that a man can play”) couldn’t append any bonus tracks – legal issues would mean they’d have to classify it as a new release and thus pay to clear all the samples. Maybe that’s fair enough, but I know for a fact that I’ve bought records on the back of them being sampled on other records, from Jimmy Smith and Curtis Mayfield albums to those Blue Note compilations laden with treasures like Marlena Shaw’s live version of Woman Of The Ghetto; surely that benefits artists more?

Intriguingly, I doubt The Pool could sue LCD Soundsystem for appropriating the rhythm from Jamaica Running anymore than CAN could sue The Stone Roses for half-inching the bassline from I’m So Green for Fools Gold, even though Men At Work got sued for Down Under having a flute solo that was a little bit similar to the melody from the Kookaburra kids’ song. Maybe this is a western cultural thing, a privileging of melody over rhythm in terms of musical importance and the rights of authorship. G.C. Coleman has never received, nor looked for, any royalties from the use of The Amen Break, pretty much the most famous and widely used drum sample ever. I’m pretty sure the Incredible Bongo Band never has from their Apache break either. Which makes, despite the flagrant nature of the steal, Loog Oldham look even more mealy-mouthed and greedy regarding Bittersweet Symphony.

So what is musical theft? Is it stealing a chord sequence? A melody? A rhythm? A sample? A bassline? An idea? I know of bands who, in moments of existential songwriting crisis, have jammed around the chord-sequences of other people’s songs and come up with their own songs, not reinterpretations or reimaginings but completely different, new, unrecognisable songs with their own unique arrangements and character, but who are petrified of this creative methodology being talked about lest they look like thieves or, worse still, people whose own creative well has run dry. This is madness, especially when, with one band in particular, a couple of key early-career moments were comprised of wide-eyed, blatant, loving homages to musical ideas from their influences.

There’s another big, loaded word: influence. “Influenced by” and “sounds like” being worlds apart almost all the time.