Least to Most: Pearl Jam (Intro)

Am I really about to kick off a potentially lengthy series after what has been a year of sporadic posts at best? You bet your bollocks I am.

I’ve been toying with a way to pick up where my earlier posts on Pearl Jam’s ‘lost’ years left off and cover the band’s rise and ‘glory’ years in a way that didn’t simply regurgitate what had been written so many times before – and lining up another candidate for a Least to Most series* so, as the meme asks, why not both?

As per previous and future Least to Most this is not my attempt at a critical “worst to best”,  as this isn’t a site of critique. It’s mumblings of personal thoughts and opinions relating to music. As such I’m going to be running through, in order (though certainly not uninterrupted), my Least to Most Favourite Pearl Jam studio albums.

Of key importance to note with this series is that as a massive Pearl Jam fan, even if they’re among the ‘least’ end of this rundown, it’s a fair bet that there’s usually at least two of these albums in my car or on rotation at a given time.

Let’s spin those black circles…

 

 

 

*Pink Floyd will be up to bat soon… depending on how soon I can a) listen to Saucerful of Secrets and b) decide whether Piper At The Gates of Dawn really counts as a Pink Floyd album.

Spinning the New

Blimey, it’s been a while….

I’d been lost composing a post about the Smashing Pumpkins reunion and how much a twatbadger Billy Corgan was but it ended up becoming a meandering rant about music’s biggest knobheads (especially Pete Townshend) and lost its way.

I’ve  recently made a comment along the lines that there’s been nothing ‘of note’ in terms of new music this year only – looking at my Spotify playlists – to be proven wrong and realise that while we’re not quite halfway through the year, 2018 has seen some pretty decent new music find its way into my jukebox. So, to get back in the swing of posting, here’s a bit of this year’s new music I’ve been enjoying.

Lucy Dacaus – Night Shift

I actually found this one after following those ‘related artists’ trails. I love a good slow build song – it’s fairly documented on this blog – and this is just that (it’s past the four minute mark before it all kicks off!) and makes me think of Jeff Buckley in terms of structure and style. The album it’s taken from – Historian – has been massively well received critically and is a joy to listen to. It’s a deep, intricate and beautifully crafted work that’s the aural equivalent of a good, absorbing novel with so many different pieces coming together into one amazing narrative propelled by a wonderful voice.

Spotify Link

Ben Howard – A Boat To An Island On The Wall 

Talking slow builds… I’ve commented on Ben Howard before and since discovering his music I’ve loved it all. Yet I clearly wasn’t paying any attention as he dropped a new album last week that completely caught me off guard. It’s amazing and ticks so many boxes on my list – mood atmospherics, chilled finger-picked acoustics, thunderous and reverb ridden electrics, complex layers… it’s only a matter of time before it’s on my shelves, it’s already on heavy digital rotation.

Spotify Link

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Shiggy

It’s odd that despite how much I enjoyed Pavement, I never really got into or paid any attention to Stephen Malkmus’ solo work. However, the new Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks album Sparkle Hard is thoroughly enjoyable affair (am I alone in hearing Billy Joel in opener ‘Cast Off’?) and it’s a real thrill to hear him get freaky with his guitar again on ‘Shiggy’.

Spotify Link

Toundra – Toureg

In my Five from Spain post I included Exquirla – the collaboration between a flamenco singer and post-rock band from Spain. Toundra is that thunderous beast and their new album – Vortex – dropped earlier this year. I could’ve put any of its tracks on here – they’re all a meaty slab of the good stuff.

Spotify Link

 

Five From: Death Cab For Cutie

An attempt at a new feature wherein – in an effort to shake off the ‘lapsed’ status of postings – I proffer up five songs from an artist / band. Not a ‘Top Five’ as such more a potted selection should you be so inclined to check said act out….

Hailing from a Bellingham, Washington and undoubtedly influenced by the emo scene in nearby Seattle, Death Cab For Cutie have been putting out records for (gulp) 21 years now.

I got into them, like so many I guess, on the back of their widely acclaimed Transatlanticism. But then I stopped listening after the overexposure of Plans on the back of, I think, it featuring on some of those overly sappy, treacly, cheesier than a cheddar factory US teen-sitcom shows. However, in 2011 my wife surprised me with tickets to a DCFC show. I was expecting a lot of quiet acoustic numbers. Instead it was one of the best live shows I’ve seen – new material (the then-new Codes and Keys album) vastly more upbeat and superior to anything on Plans and songs that I didn’t know that meant I quickly went and picked up Narrow Stairs. The quality of those two albums (and the connection to a great night out) meant that Death Cab went up the play count list. Here’s five of those heavy rotation tunes that don’t sit in Spotify’s Top Five for DCFC:

Why’d You Want To Live Here

Title And Registration

This is the one that first got my attention and I still thoroughly enjoy it and Transatlanticism. That nagging little guitar line… I was quite chuffed when I sussed that one out.

I Will Possess Your Heart

Narrow Stairs is all too often dismissed and this song is immense with its build up of layers and pulsing rhythm – it kills live too.

You Are A Tourist

Viewed in retrospective, Codes and Keys is actually an intense break-up / pre-divorce album. Frontman Ben Gibbard had been married to Zooey Deschanel for a couple of years and was living the healthy life…. everyone labelled it his ‘happy’ album. But then the couple announced their seperation a few months later and lyrics like “If you feel just like a tourist/ In the city you were born/ Then it’s time to go/ And define your destination/ There’s so many different places to call home” take on a different meaning. Either way Codes and Keys is a bloody good album.

Little Wanderer

From their last studio album, Kintsugi. Not their strongest but a good effort and also the last to feature guitarist / occasional songwriter Chris Walla who’d been with the group from the start. With a new album strongly hinted at for this year, I’m looking forward to more.

Least to Most: Foo Fighters, Part 3

Foo Fighters

It’s surprising the amount of stick Dave Grohl got for moving forward and making new music. Or, as some saw it, daring to make new music after the death of Kurt Cobain. As the man himself has often pondered – did they just expect him to stop? Music was all he’d done up until that point and he was only 25, why should he stop? In October of 1994, six months following Cobain’s suicide, Grohl booked some time at Robert Lang Studios in Seattle – where Nirvana’s final, aborted studio sessions had taken place (which yielded the demo of what would become ‘You Know You’re Right‘) earlier that same year – and recorded a fifteen-track demo, playing every instrument (save one guitar solo) himself.

Not sure where his future lay Grohl considered looking for another band with a vacant drum stool. One such stool had recently been vacated by Stan Lynch and there’s a great video of Grohl going full Animal with the Heartbreakers on SNL – “it was the first time I’d looked forward to playing the drums since Nirvana had ended.” Ultimately, though (and even after a couple of shows sitting on the vacant Pearl Jam drum stool*), Grohl wanted to give his ‘Foo Fighters’ project his attention as the demo tape he’d circulated was now picking up major label interest. The name was applied to the demo tape as Grohl wanted some anonymity post-Nirvana and to suggest that a group was behind the music.

Released in July 1995, there’s something wonderfully charming and warm about Foo Fighters. It’s very much a product of its time – the guitars are very grunge-like and loaded with the same levels of fuzz associated with Grohl’s former outfit but the songs quickly jump into more melodic and lighter routes and there’s an overwhelming sense of lightness and, yes, goofiness that wouldn’t be present on any other Foo Fighters release (likely down to the fact that the largely nonsensical lyrics were written 20 minutes before recording). It’s loaded with hook, charm and warmth and positivity. Though I have to wonder if I’m the only Foo Fighters fan that doesn’t care for ‘Big Me’.

Highlights: ‘This Is A Call’, ‘I’ll Stick Around’, ‘Alone + Easy Target’, ‘Good Grief’,’Floaty’

Wasting Light

Fuck but I love this album. This is the one instance in which the Gimmick behind it paid off in spades. In an effort to recapture some of the rougher sound of earlier Foo Fighters releases, Grohl decided that Foo Fighters Album 7 would be stripped of all the production bells and whistles that had been draped over Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace and bought in Butch Vig and to record the entire album on analogue equipment in Dave’s garage.

At this point, though, it would be futile to expect such a process to result in a raw sounding record. It’s not like Dave Grohl has a small garage for that matter either. But, what makes Wasting Light such a late career highlight is that Vig captures a sense of purpose and drive in the band that had been lacking for at least three albums previous. It’s a big, anthemic rock record shorn of production sheen and filled with a sense of energy that comes from the fact that they recorded the entire album live and – with Pat Smear back in the ranks – a heavier, three-guitar strong attack.

From the off with ‘Bridges Burning’ powering into ‘Rope’ and ‘Dear Rosmery’ there’s no let up. Instead, when you’d expect it at track four, ‘White Limo’ has been described as “a blistering, paint-stripping thrash track” with Grohl’s vocals lost as he screams at what must be the top of his register. There’s no slowing down on Wasting Light. No ballads. ‘These Days’ looks like it’s gonna be that track until it turns into a thumping Foos classic that will no doubt rub shoulders with ‘Run’ and ‘Something From Nothing’ on the inevitable Greatest Hits 2. No, Wasting Light found a revitalised band firing with an energy and power few thought they had left in them and got me really paying attention to the band again and, depending on the day of the week, could just as easily sit right at the top of this list.

Highlights: ‘Bridges Burning’, ‘Rope’, ‘White Limo’, ‘These Days’,’Arlandria’, ‘Walk’.

The Colour and The Shape

Twenty years on (gulp), the moment when the practically-throwaway ‘Doll’ gets torn apart by the arrival of ‘Monkey Wrench’ and The Colour and The Shape shifts into gear remains shit-the-bed-amazing. So good that the band themselves would give the formula another go and top it with ‘T-Shirt’ giving way to ‘Run’ on this year’s Concrete & Gold. That being said, while ‘Run’ is a great song, it doesn’t match the sheer power and fire of ‘Monkey Wrench’ – an absolute stone-cold classic. And it’s not the only one on the album for is home to a tonne of em: ‘Monkey Wrench’, ‘My Hero‘, ‘Walking After You’, ‘Enough Space’ and, easily their best song, ‘Everlong‘.

The Colour and The Shape was the first Foo Fighters album recorded as a group (although Grohl would end up re-recording the drum parts himself leaving drummer William Goldsmith little choice but to leave the band. He’d be replaced by Taylor Hawkins before the tour behind the album began) and is the most cohesive and consistent set of songs they’ve put to tape, still. After an extensive tour behind Foo Fighters, the band were coming together with Grohl emerging more confident in his role as singer and band leader – if you go back to ‘Monkey Wrench’ when he hits his final “one more thing before I quit” you can here that confidence screaming through. On the downside his first marriage was ending in divorce. This meant that, in place of the nonsensical lyrics on the first album, much of Grohl’s domestic strife was poured into the lyrics – ‘Everlong’ in particular is a strange mix up as it was written against both the collapse of his marriage and the beginning of a new relationship.

What makes this album stand out for me is that in between the staggering strength of the obvious hits, the songs that are so often forgotten are really bloody good too. Take ‘Enough Space‘ – watching ‘Back and Forth’ it’s clear how important this song was as one of the first new ones Grohl wrote for the band, with a tempo inspired by the jumping up and down of European audiences to heavier tunes. Or ‘My Poor Brain’ or ‘Wind Up’ or the best Foo Fighters album closer to date – ‘A New Way Home.’ These are great tunes and on any other album would be stand-outs. When put on an album stacked with killer classics they’re almost forgotten but prove that The Colour and the Shape is an album full of strengths (and ‘See You’ which, frankly, you can forgive).

Check out any review for a new Foo Fighters album and it will be this one that it gets judged against and with reason. The Colour and The Shape built the template of every song and direction the Foo Fighters would make yet remains their benchmark in terms of quality and consistency.

Highlights: All of it.

*Despite all the MTV (and Courtney fuelled) Nirvana vs Pearl Jam schtick the animosity between members really wasn’t there. Grohl sat in for two shows in Australia pre Jack-Irons and it’s been suggested that, having heard and recognised Grohl’s direction, they told him he’d be better doing it alone rather than playing for someone else. Eddie Vedder would actually premier two of the album’s songs on his radio show in 1995 as well as playing alongside Grohl in Mike Watt’s backing band – whose tour Vedder’s band Hovercraft were on along with Foo Fighters.

Least to Most: Foo Fighters, Part 2

Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace

When touring the split-personality In Your Honor Foo Fighters would play two shows in each town / city – one big rock show in an arena and another in a smaller venue showcasing the quieter acoustic side of that album along with some re-readings of their back catalogue with an expanded line-up including a violinist, a pianist and former-Foo Pat Smear. The latter format would be captured in the lacklustre Skin and Bones and, at some point after the tour – as Dave Grohl tells it in ‘Back And Forth’ – the chief Foo was chatting with Clive Davis, boss of RCA (with whom the Foo Fighters have been since 1999) and expressed how great it would be if the Foos could be the band that did these different shows to demonstrate the different sides of their music and people could go to whichever appealed most and wouldn’t necessarily have to go to both. In what Grohl seems to have taken as a Svengeli comment (as opposed to, say, simply stating the bloody obvious), Davis replied “you can do both together” and the ‘Gimmick’ behind Foo Fighers Album 5 took root.

Taking In Your Honor‘s half-electric, half-acoustic approach and deciding to do it all on one album, often one song, meant that Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace saw the Foo Fighters incorporating more instrumentation and styling detours than before and scoring plenty of scorchers along the way. Lead single and opener ‘The Pretender‘ is top-drawer Foos and still ranks as one of their best. ‘Let It Die’ – acoustics giving way to screaming power chords and Grohl at full wail – is the perfect meld of the two Foo dynamics and shows the formula working at its best and ‘Erase/Replace’ is another and holds up well ten years later. ‘Long Road To Ruin’ is standard Foo Fighter mid-pace that was killed by over-play, ‘Cheer Up, Boys (Your Make Up Is Running)’ (a working title that stuck) is a good, fun blast. Thing is, even with Gil Norton at the helm, it’s when the band stretches that the cracks show – ‘Summers End’, ‘Statues, ‘Home, ‘But, Honestly’…. they’re ‘ok’ but not quite the finished article they should be and there’s nothing about them to lodge in memory and the lack of power house riffs apparent in the first half of the album makes the closing third drag just a bit too long.

Still, I’d be the last person to fault a band or artist for trying to stretch themselves – to stand still is to go backwards and all that – and the efforts would yield fruit soon enough….

Highlights: ‘The Pretender’, ‘Let It Die’, ‘Come Alive’, ‘Erase/Replace’,’Cheer Up, Boys (Your Make Up Is Running).’

There Is Nothing Left To Lose

This is where I, and I’m sure plenty of others, came in. ‘Learn To Fly‘, it’s video and There Is Nothing Left To Lose broke the Foo Fighters to a lot of people and deservedly so though I can’t help but feel that, in the passage of time and the band’s continual evolution into STADIUM ROCK BAND, it’s often forgotten.

Just before the band would head out on tour for The Colour and the Shape, Pat Smear announced he wanted to leave. He hung around and continued to tour while the band found a replacement in Grohl’s former Scream bandmate Franz Stahl but, after that tour, Stahl too was fired. It’s clearly still a sore point for those involved but it would appear that writing for Foo Fighters Album 3 wasn’t working with Stahl. Feeling that the previous album’s recording sessions with Gil Norton were too arduous, Grohl decided to record the next one in his basement with the band as a three-piece – once Nate Mendel had quit for a day*.

Grohl has said of the sessions that “At that point it was me, Taylor and Nate and we were best friends. It was one of the most relaxing times of my whole life. All we did was eat chilli, drink beer and whiskey and record whenever we felt like it.” There Is Nothing Left To Lose feels like it was a blast to make. It’s got the energy and drive that would inform their later work but also retains the quirky charm of their earliest recordings. If I recall correctly there was an interview around the time where Grohl said he was focused more and more on melody too and there are times – ‘Aurora’, ‘Generator’, ‘Live-in Skin’ and the Police-like ‘Headwires’ when There Is Nothing Left To Lose is a great power-pop record. ‘Next Year’ and ‘Ain’t It The Life’ are great showcases for the band’s developing mellow side while ‘Stacked Actors’ and ‘Breakout’ are the obligatory harder edged cuts which, oddly, do nothing for me and seem positively out of place overall on this album.

Highlights: ‘Learn To Fly’, ‘Headwires’, ‘Aurora’, ‘Next Year’,’Generator’

Concrete and Gold

I gave my first impressions on this one only recently and I still think it ranks up there as one of the band’s finest. Free of the gimmicks the band headed to a big studio, hired a producer and the only focus was on creating a shit load of good songs. They succeeded. When talking of Gil Norton’s involvement on Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, Taylor Hawkins said it had been the first time “Dave had to deal with someone in the room questioning all his ideas”. Between these two albums it would seem that nobody really questions Dave’s ideas when they needed to because Concrete and Gold is the Foo Fighters album they’d been trying to make for a long time – a heavy mother with plenty of diversity and reach but, more than on any other attempt, consistency and quality.

In the build up to its release, the PR machine latched on to Dave Grohl’s description of it being Motorhead taking on Sgt Pepper. Ryan Adams has called it their Revolver. Concrete and Gold doesn’t quite achieve the premise of its PR – though it does feature Paul McCartney – and is, at the end of the day, a Foo Fighers ROCK album. To quote my initial review “It does, however, stand apart in the Foo Fighters cannon and is the sound of the band playing to those highs and strengths its achieved during its ascent to stadium rock act while also stretching out enough sonically to both refresh its sound and offer a welcome hand to those fans like me that had begun to wonder if Dave Grohl had anything interesting left up his sleeves. Turns out he does.”

Highlights: ‘Run’, ‘Make It Right’, ‘The Sky Is A Neighbourhood’, ‘Dirty Water’,’Arrows,’ ‘Concrete and Gold’.

Out of Europe: Five from Belgium

As the idiots currently keeping their overpaid, corpulent backsides on the green benches in the Houses of Parliament continue making a complete and utter shite show of the political equivalent of chewing on a live hand grenade, I thought it time to rock up with another Out of Europe post.

And where better to rock up to, as it were, than Belgium? One of the smaller countries in Europe but densely populated and which also happens to be a seat of the European Parliament – cue the brainless barks of “our laws shouldn’t be made in Brussels”. I’ve only spent a couple of days in Belgium and that was in Brussels so I’ve yet to see what I’m told are the beautiful towns of Bruges or Ghent but I’m sure that can be easily fixed.

I will say that one of the real joys of this series I seem to have set myself (whether I can find five from every other member of the EU) is exploring those countries’ music and discovering acts I’d otherwise have had no awareness of. So while Girls in Hawaii and the obvious honourable mention here, and to some extent dEUS, were familiar to me the joy of getting new music and culture into my ears continues and continues to highlight what an absolute twatting pile of excrement the ‘leave’ vote really was.

Girls in Hawaii – Here I Belong

One of the few Belgian bands I knew… my wife got the first Girls in Hawaii (2005’s From Here To There album while she was living in France and so it has a special place in my heart as it soundtracked a lot of our driving about that country. A couple of years after their second album their drummer was killed in a car accident and it was a few years before they regrouped. I’ve not yet checked out their new album but this is from their third album Everest and while not as upbeat as their usual offering I love the slow build and pace of this one.

Plastic Bertrand – Ça plane pour moi

Because who hasn’t heard this? It sold nearly a million copies and Plastic Bertrand sits as one of Belgium’s biggest selling musicians with 20 million plus sales.

dEUS – Quatre Mains

dEUS were the first Belgian-based indie band to sign to a major record label and this one kicks off their most recent (2012) album of French-language rock.

Gorki – Red Mijn Ziel Vooral

So the whole language thing in Belgium is a bit of an odd one – the country seems split between French-speaking and Dutch-speaking. So, in the interests of fairness, I was hunting for a Belgian band that sang in Dutch. My digging lead me to Gorki who kicked off in 1991 with their breakthrough ‘Anja’ and follow up ‘Mia’ which appears to have dominated Belgian charts for some time. They kept at it for another twenty years only coming to an untimely end in 2014 when their singer, Luc De Vos, was found dead in his working apartment from acute organ failure. I’d already been struck by the moving sound of this one before I read that far and it seems to add something to the sense of longing in his voice.

Cecilia::Eyes – For The Fallen

Belgian post-rock? Go on then. I’ve been enjoying Cecilia::Eyes’ second album the last couple of days, Here Dead We Lie which seems to have a strong world war two theme, think Pink Floyd’s Final Cut. On second thought – don’t, that one is pretty shit. Thankfully most of this genre is devoid of words so there’s no chance of Roger Waters droning on painfully over the top of it.

Honourable Mentions go to Mintzkov’s ‘Life After Fire‘, De Portables’ ‘Col Phillins‘ and, of course:

Django Reinhardt – I’ll See You In My Dreams

Django Reinhardt nearly lost his life when the caravan he and his wife lived in caught fire when he knocked over a candle on his way to bed. His right leg was paralysed, and the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand were badly burned. They wanted to take his leg. He told em arseholes and left the hospital and was walking within a year. The use of his fingers didn’t return, though, so he developed  a new technique which become known as ‘gyspy jazz’ and, to quote Wikipedia, his ” innovations on the guitar helped elevated it above its prior position as usually only a rhythm instrument.”

Out of Europe: An Irish Top Five

Of all the stupidity and upheaval that the colossal butt-fuck of an idea called ‘Brexit’ that so many fools were goaded and misled into voting for is likely to cause, one of the biggest potential quagmires is the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, thrown into even greater murk by that soulless banshee May’s desperate tactic of clinging to power by giving a massive bung to the D.U.P in utter disregard to the issues it throws up with the Good Friday Agreement.

As such I thought it fitting for this Out of Europe series to draw up a quick Top Five from Ireland who, while we continue to be lead blindfolded into a dead end, will remain in the blissful embrace of Europe. And, as we’ll be tearing Northern Ireland down with us, acts from that island’s north east tip don’t qualify.

My Bloody Valentine – Only Shallow

Formed in Dublin in 1983(!), My Bloody Valentine’s opus Loveless took two years to record (that’s nothing, it would be 27 years before they followed it up) and its extensive production costs got them dropped from their label but, fuck me, it’s amazing.

God Is An Astronaut – Forever Lost

A post-rock band who’s sound, according to that fabled source Wikipedia, “employs elements of electronic music, krautrock, and space rock.” I cannot for the life of me remember how I found them but I’d often listen to their second album – which this is from – at the gym.

Damien Rice – Rootless Tree

Success is often a real fucker. Look at what it did to Kurt Cobain. Damien Rice seems similarly unimpressed by it. When songs like ‘Canonball’ and ‘Blower’s Daughter’ pushed his solo debut O into so many peoples’ cd collections he withdrew and pushed against the tide. He’d only wanted to make the one album but his label pressed him into releasing 9 (from which this is taken) which leaned a little darker and met massively mixed reviews. It would be another 8 years before he dropped anything else. I like the line “fuck you, fuck you, love you and all we’ve been through.”

The Frames – Revelate

Dublin’s Glen Hansard is a busy chap. Aside from a solid solo career and frequent touring supporting and playing with Eddie Vedder he’s part of the folk-rock duo The Swell Season and continues to front the Irish rock band The Frames which he started in 1990. Oh, and he acts too – he starred in the film ‘Once’ and some other film called ‘The Commitments‘.

U2 – Until The End of the World

This band is certainly more of a cult act, probably little-known outside of Ireland. Despite what I can only assume are poor-to-middling sales they’ve been around a while now occasionally flirting with some good write-ups in the local press, bad haircuts and have even played a few venues outside of their native Dublin despite their singer’s clearly shy and introverted demeanour.

Honourable mentions to the blues of Rory Gallager and The Cranberries’ Dreams