Tagged: #shfl11

#shfl11: U2 – Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own

If there were an official list of bands that it’s cool to hate, U2 would surely be #1 (possibly tied with Coldplay). They may be the biggest band in the world™, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no surer way of proving your indie cred than by dissing the boys from Clontarf. They’re overblown; too religious; are hypocritical (their attempts to get governments to stump up aid-money whilst depriving their own government of funds is a particularly ugly example of this); only follow, rather than set-trends; they’re responsible for global warming. Obviously one of those is untrue, but they’ve probably been accused of all of them.

However, what the nay-sayers ignore is that U2 have been making great rock music for the best part of 35 years: they’ve experimented, they’ve not been scared of ridiculing themselves, and their live shows are truly something to behold. After releasing, The Joshua Tree, one of the biggest albums of the 80s, they then released Rattle & Hum, an ode to Memphis blues, that saw many writing them off. Their response? Achtung Baby, an album influenced by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Manchester baggy sound. This sort of thing deserves kudos, not sneering.

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Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own is taken from the album How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, and is an incredibly moving song about Bono’s relationship with his dying father. It has all the hallmarks of a great U2 track, many of which would be listed by doubters as the hallmarks of a terrible U2 track:, the trademark Joshua Tree guitar sound, a hair-raising crescendo, and a slightly disconcerting falsetto from Bono.

If you hate U2, listening to it won’t change your mind, but if you’re able to put aside preconceptions and just appreciate a great track, then this is one you should be glad to find on shuffle.

#shfl11 is a self-set challenge to write a post every day in 2011 about whatever song pops up 1st on shuffle on my iPod.

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#shfl11: Brass Construction – Happy People

Well, #shfl11 finally seems to be doing what I’d hoped it would: introducing me to music I have never encountered before, despite it being on my iPod. Today, Happy People by Brass Construction, which is certainly the worst band name we’ve had so far, and possibly one of the worst names ever. According to Wikipedia they were originally called Dynamite Soul, and I can’t help thinking that they probably spent quite a lot of time wishing they’d never changed it.

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Or then again, maybe not, because Happy People is taken from Brass Construction III, which was, unsurprisingly, their third album, which was released before they went on to release Brass Construction IV, V & VI. They really weren’t great at the whole naming lark, were they? Even their Best Of is more imaginatively named. Still, at least their music is better than their way with words. Happy People is a meaty, if hardly revolutionary slice of 70s disco-funk, bringing to mind Earth, Wind & Fire, The Gap Band and Kool & The Gang, amongst others.

Brass Construction, however, never quite reached the heights that these other bands did (maybe something to do with the name?), only broaching the main US Top 100 on 3 occasions, and the UK Top 30 twice. In both instances their highest position was reached with their first single, the dance-floor classsic Movin’: you may not have heard of Brass Construction (I hadn’t), but you’ll almost have certainly have heard the track (I had).

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Considering that Movin’ was their first single, that Happy People, off of their 3rd album, is a clone of it, and that their last UK chart entry, in 1988, was with a remix of Movin’, it’s hard not to think that they never reached the heights because they didn’t have the same quantity of quality. That said, considering who’s sampled them, and how good Movin’ is (and Happy People ain’t bad either), you’d have to say that they’re still responsible for a lot more good music than many other, more famous acts, and I’m just glad that #shfl11 brought them into my life.

#shfl11 is a self-set challenge to write a post every day in 2011 about whatever song pops up 1st on shuffle on my iPod

Construction site by Jakob Montrasio on flickr

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#shfl11: Jim Hendrix Experience – Gypsy Eyes

It seems quite apt that after James Brown, the next artists I should find as part of #shfl11 is Jim Hendrix. In many ways he’s been as influential as Brown, and is certainly as close to my heart as The Godfather of Soul.

On top of the fact that he rbought an entirely new dimension to rock in the late 60s, blending psychedelia, R&B and a type of guitar playing that left his peers dumb-struck (as did his chutzpah, including the time he opened a show, that Paul McCartney & George Harrison were attending, with a version of Sgt. Pepper’s, only days after it been released), he could almost be claimed as an honorary Englishman.

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Arriving in London under the wing of Chas Chandler, Hendrix hooked up with two white Englishmen, Noel Redding & Mitch Mitchell (something that Wesley Snipes’ character refuses to accept in the movie White Men Can’t Jump) and preceded to set the world on fire. The track Gypsy Eyes, whilst not their finest work by any means, highlights why. The riff is insinuatingly addictive, the rhythm section kick up a joyful noise, that brings to mind the urban heartbeat that Crosstown Traffic so brilliantly depicted, and the whole thing blends every genre under the sun.

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If, for some strange reason, you’ve never got into Hendrix (perhaps you were put off by the annoying use of Foxy Lady in Wayne’s World) then I’d suggest the The Essential Jimi Hendrix, which is how I first discovered the great man, and includes the classic as well as lesser known tracks such as Gypsy Eyes.

#shfl11 is a self-set challenge to write a post every day in 2011 about whatever song pops up 1st on shuffle on my iPod.

Gypsy by oliver on flickr

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#shfl11: James Brown – Soul Power Pt. 1

Well, after the obscurity of yesterday’s #shfl11 entry comes a song that I know very well, and love even more. James Brown was, arguably, one of the two or three most influential musicians of the last 50 years, if not the entire 20th Century. He essentially created a new genre, funk, and did for black music what Elvis did for, well, black music actually.

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Soul Power Pt. 1 is probably one of the purest expressions of his late 60s/early 70s phase, when he’d moved away from the more classic R&B sound of his early years, and was starting to become the true Godfather of Soul. Like much of his best work it’s a pretty simple thing, sampled to death by a million and one artists, with lyrics that are unlikely to win any awards. But if there’s one thing you should never do it’s underestimate James Brown, and he it’s worth mentioning that by the time he released Soul Power Pt. 1 he’d already penned I’m Black & I’m Proud.

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Because whether he was giving voice to the nascent black power movement, or laying down moves that every singer cum dancer would be ripping off for the next 40 years, James Brown had true soul & his songs always had power.

#shfl11 is a self-set challenge to write a post every day in 2011 about whatever song pops up 1st on shuffle on my iPod.

Soul power by Lunchbox Photography on flickr

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#shfl11: Husky Rescue – Sleep Tight Tiger

So, for the first time since starting #shfl11, clicking shuffle on my iPod brought up a track that I’ve never listened to, by a band I’ve never heard of, off an album (The Art Of Chill 4, compiled by The Orb) that I’d forgotten I owned. Which was kind of the idea of this rather pointless exercise in the 1st place.

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So, what’s Sleep Tight Tiger by Husky Rescue like? Well, actually, it’s pretty good. It sounds like a demo for a Twin Peaks soundtrack, has a husky voiced man (who in my imagination looks like Sebastien Tellier) wishing a tiger a good night’s sleep, and is really rather soothing. Strange, but soothing.

According to Wikipedia (so it must be true) Husky Rescue is the brain-child of Finnish composer Marko Nyberg and, in a pleasing coincidence for a blog primarily concerned with music & marketing, have had a few tracks used in ads. This one, New Light Of Tomorrow, was used in a P&O commercial. Which is nice, as is the song. Enjoy.

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#shfl11 is a self-set challenge to write a post every day in 2011 about whatever song pops up 1st on shuffle on my iPod.

Husky by Christine Zenino on flickr

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#shfl11: Break Reform – Fractures (U-Neek Dub)

Around 11 years ago I returned from a great year in Australia, though when I got back to the UK I was very happy to be able to find great music without having to wait for a Gilles Peterson tape to be sent by a kind friend. And, so, one of my first buys after returning was the 1st Worldwide Mix by the aforementioned Mr Peterson. Amongst many stand-out tracks, Break Reform’s Perfect Season was, and is, a wonderful slice of modern British jazz; cool, subtle and utterly addictive, it’s, well, perfect.

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Unfortunately Fractures, the title track of the Break Reform’s debut album, is anything but. With a plodding beat, a discordant piano line that sounds like a Portishead off-cut and Nanar Vorperian ‘s beautiful vocals smothered in the mix, it’s only lifted by a Koop-style vibes harmony. All in all it sounds like a bit of very average mid-90s trip-hop.

Thankfully, the track that popped up when I hit shuffle this morning wasn’t Fractures, but the version featured on the remix album New Perspectives, the U-Neek Dub. It’s not often that I’d say remixing a track in a dub-style improves it, let alone makes it more cheerful, but that’s what this version does. The whole song is made more listenable by the dub-lite make-over; it’s like the ska-fairy sprinkled some moon-dust on the frog and made a prince.

Unfortunately I can’t seem to find anywhere to link to the U-Neek Dub remix, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it’s likely to bring a smile to these long winter nights. But thanks to the magic of Amazon, you can at least sample the eternal perfection of Perfect Season right now.

#shfl11 is a self-set challenge to write a post every day in 2011 about whatever song pops up 1st on shuffle on my iPod.

Stones by icelight on flickr

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#shfl11: The Beatles – Tomorrow Never Knows

It’s quite apt that the latest track to pop up on my iPod as part of my plan to listen to, and write about, a random song every day in 2011 (I missed this weekend as I was travelling), is by The Beatles. Not only has it just been announced that they have racked up 5 million downloads in the 2 months since becoming available on iTunes, but whilst in London I picked up a rather lovely Beatles cushion, showing the band in their Sgt Pepper outfits.

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When Rolling Stone listed what they believed to be the 500 best albums of all time, they put Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at number 1. But, to paraphrase John Lennon (“Is Ringo the best drummer in the world?” “He’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles”), Sgt Pepper’s isn’t even the best Beatles album: which album that is is something that I change my mind on most days, but Revolver would probably win out 9 times out of 10. In many ways it’s the most perfect pop album ever recorded, it has a cooler cover than Sgt Pepper’s and Tomorrow Never Knows is an absolutely perfect finale.

Fittingly for a song recorded in the Swinging London of 1966, Tomorrow Never Knows was apparently written by John Lennon under the influence of LSD. What’s for certain is that the track is a brave statement of intent by a band who were about to abandon touring to concentrate on pushing the boundaries of popular music in their Abbey Road studio. It sounds like nothing that any popular act had ever recorded before, it could be used as an aural definition of the word psychedelia and, in many ways, as far as I’m concerned, it set the stage for what would later become techno: just play Setting Sun by The Chemical Brothers back to back with Tomorrow Never Knows if you don’t believe me.

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Anyway, there’s really nothing more than needs to be said about The Beatles, so I’ll leave you to enjoy this 20th Century masterpiece and get back to admiring my new cushion.

#shfl11 is a self-set challenge to write a post every day in 2011 about whatever song pops up 1st on shuffle on my iPod.

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#shfl11: Small Faces – Lazy Sunday

When you stop to think about it, it’s amazing that The Beatles ever broke America: whilst their music was, and is, quite obviously brilliant, it’s also, often, very, very British. And parochial, eccentric British rock is something our former colonial cousins have never taken to – something the Small Faces would have been able to explain more than almost anyone.

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The Small Faces were one of the biggest drivers of the mod sound in the 60s, and their influence has been felt across the decades since their demise. Lazy Sunday perfectly encapsulates the charm of the Small faces; sung, if that’s the right word, in a blatant London accent, it veers & rolls with a life of its own. And whilst  the likes of Paul Weller, blur, and half of the Britpop era bands owe a debt to the band, they never made it in the way that they should have. In common with bands like The Kinks, they were just too British – as were their spiritual heirs, such as Weller, blur & even The Streets.

Despite this, the band that was born out of the Small Faces’ demise, The Faces, launched the career of Rod Stewart, whilst Small Faces singer Steve Marriott found fame in the US with Humble Pie. Sadly though, it didn’t ended very well for a number of the band: without the riches that came to many of their peers, and troubled by illness and other tragedies, Marriott & fellow vocalist Ronnie Lane both died far too young, with many people only recognising their brilliance after their passing.

Let’s just hope that they’re both up there somewhere now, enjoying an eternal lazy Sunday afternoon.

#shfl11 is a self-set challenge to write a post every day in 2011 about whatever song pops up 1st on shuffle on my iPod.

Lazy teenagers by Alex Murphy on flickr

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#shfl11: Arctic Monkeys – Fluorescent Adolescent

When the Arctic Monkeys released Favourite Worst Nightmare, the album Fluorescent Adolescent is taken from, they were known not only as the band who had taken Hear’Say’s crown for the fastest selling British début (notching up  360,000 sales in a week in the process) but also as the MySpace band. Along with Lily Allen, many commentators hailed them as having been made by MySpace. At the time this was considered to be a sign of the changing times. Now, of course, being associated with MySpace just makes them sound old.

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Of course the whole MySpace thing was always more of a press creation than a reality: the reason that the Arctic Monkeys, and Lily Allen, were, and are, so successful was that they wrote such great songs. The Arctic’s mix of addictively catchy hooks and biting lyrics meant that they were always destined for greatness. In fact many even questioned whether Alex Turner actually wrote the lyrics, claiming that they were too brilliant for such a young man (he was 19 when they recorded that record breaking début).

Thankfully Favourite Worst Nightmare silenced all those critics: the tunes are just as brilliant, the lyrics as cuttingly truthful, and no song better embodies that than Fluorescent Adolescent: to the sort of deceptively simple tune that the Revolver-era Beatles would have been happy to call their own, Turner sings a bitter-sweet tale of memories of misspent youth and the oh so drawn out torture of ageing.

Most bands would kill to write one song as good as Fluorescent Adolescent; at the time the Artics were knocking them out as if they were going out of fashion. Of course, much has changed since then. Turner now dates an ex-model, has a side-band influenced by Scott Walker (the man who apparently influenced yesterday’s #shfl11) and the Arctic’s most recent album was produced by an American rock god in the middle of a desert.

Personally, I preferred the music the Arctics were making when he wasn’t dating ex-models, and was more inspired by Oasis & The Streets than Scott Walker. But with a back-catalogue that includes tracks such as Fluorescent Adolescent, I’m happy to let Turner have his fancies, confident that he’ll keep putting out quality for a long time to come.

#shfl11 is a self-set challenge to write a post every day in 2011 about whatever song pops up 1st on shuffle on my iPod.

Fluorescent by David Jones on flickr

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#shfl11: Radiohead – How To Disappear Completely

Whilst Kid A, the album that How To Disappear Completely is taken from, may have been named by Pitchfork, Rolling Stone & The Times as the best album of the noughties, I’d guess that for those of us who aren’t music critics or die-hard fans of the band, it doesn’t get anywhere near as much play as other Radiohead releases, probably coming somewhere between their (underrated) debut album Pablo Honey and, its even more abstract sister-release, Amnesiac.

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Kid A is undoubtedly a brave collection of music, with no official singles, and music that bore more resemblance to the output of Mo’ Wax and Aphex Twin than their previous releases. With its sparse instrumentation, muffled beats and angular rhythms, the album certainly wasn’t aimed at the mass market. Nick Hornby even suggested that, similar to Lou Reed’s Metal Music Machine it was an attempt at “commercial suicide”. That review received a lot of criticism, some rather over-blown, but I’d argue that he has a point, even if some of the tracks, such as Everything In Its Right Place and The National Anthem are truly great.

However, even when trying their best to be obtuse & abstract, there is something in Radiohead they just can’t get away from: their ability to write killer tunes. How To Disappear Completely is one of the most ‘normal’ tracks on Kid A and that’s really no bad thing. Although it verges on being Radiohead by numbers, with it’s slow build, epic climax, and haunting melodies, amongst the, admittedly very artistic, insanity that makes up much of Kid A, it’s like an oasis of calm.

How To Disappear Completely may be unlikely to make lists of the best ever Radiohead songs to my ears, it makes a very pleasing break when fighting through the artistic challenge that is Kid A.

#shfl11 is a self-set challenge to write a post every day in 2011 about whatever song pops up 1st on shuffle on my iPod.

Radiohead image by Wonker on flickr

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