Chromatics – Cherry (Deluxe Edition), Twisted Wires – Half Lives, Johnny Jewel – Music To Drive, Various Artists – After Dark
Chromatics – Cherry (Deluxe Edition), Twisted Wires – Half Lives, Johnny Jewel – Music To Drive, Various Artists – After Dark
In a recent post I wrote about receiving an order from Italians Do It Better and ended up pledging my undying love to Johnny Jewel for everything he has created. Well here we are less than two months later and here I go again.
First up is the newly released deluxe edition of Chromatics’ album Cherry. This version extends the release from its original 8 songs to 18 tracks total. Like the first version of it all of the songs are culled from different eras and releases from the band, some in new forms and versions. It definitely has enough cool additions to make this well worth any listener’s time. Next, it is great to finally have a Twisted Wires release on CD. This one collects material from 2009’s One Night At The Raw Deal up through last year’s Struck Twice. The style and tone of Twisted Wires really connects with me and I would love to see a full album of new songs from this project in the near future. Finally we come to the skillfully tracked compilation Music To Drive, curated to commemorate the 5th anniversary of Winding-Refn’s movie mood masterpiece Drive. The original soundtrack to the film featured the likes of Chromatics and Desire and in Johnny’s words “introduced the electronic underground to audiences everywhere”. So its great to see it celebrated with a nice collection of songs from Johnny’s various label projects.
As always this order arrived from Italians Do It Better with an awesome FREE oversize poster, a FREE sticker and a FREE CD. Name me another label that does more for their fans.
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Woke Up With A Monster and Special One
Cheap Trick – Woke Up With A Monster and Special One
Checking through my collection I realized that I was missing a couple of Cheap Trick studio albums. Somehow I had skipped over two of their lesser known (and lesser liked) CDs from the mid ’90s/early 2000s. It was a time period where I was guilty of not following their new releases too closely as they had left longtime label Sony/Epic and seemed to be jumping from one sinking ship to another with each subsequent disc. Nonetheless I had to correct the error of my ways and get my hands on these records.
1997’s Woke Up With a Monster with the band’s first album away from longtime home Epic records. They had moved over to Warner Brothers and recorded this album with the legendary Ted Templeman of Van Halen fame at the helm. Just as it was released the execs who signed them were let go and the record fell into a black hole as the band was quickly dropped. This is some undeserved treatment for a record I came to love from first play. I can easily call it their most aggressive release since their early days. I really enjoyed hearing the band dispense wth their softer side, forego the ballads and hold their pop sensibilities in check long enough to just rock the hell out. I’m not saying its a perfect album, in fact its a downright weird one with lots of experimentation going on but it has really struck a chord with me.
Conversely, we have 2003’s Special One, a self produced release on their own label in partnership with Big3 that is frankly a very mixed bag and possibly my least favorite Cheap Trick album. Sadly there’s not really a true rocker among the tracklist, a few of the songs try to break out and jam but the odd restraint never seems to fall away. It feels like this album was written in a hotel room on acoustic guitars, had some electrified stuff added as an afterthought and was recorded and mixed with little to no direction. Cheap Trick’s leftovers and bits and pieces are usually better than this stuff. And even that is not to say I hate it, it just doesn’t measure up to any of the standards the band has set.
So there we are. Collection complete. Until the next one. Which I understand will be November. Long live Cheap Trick.
Cheap Trick Website
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Dark Drive, Thunderheart and Self-Titled
The Rain Within – Dark Drive, Thunderheart and Self-Titled
The Rain Within is Andy Deane of alt/goth band Bella Morte. This project reveals his retro-electronic side. It is synth-based and full of lovely analog keyboards pumping out sounds reminiscent of ’80s alternative, dance and new wave music. Bright washes and moody vocals with lots of fun vocoder style voice effects dominate these releases. The songs have a great flow and an easy presence, suitable for cranking them up and jamming full throttle or turning down and enjoying as a background mood-setter.
This type of music is not new for Deane. Bits and pieces of these sounds can be heard peeking through on a few of the earlier Bella Morte releases. The Rain Within has become Andy’s outlet to indulge in these influences fully. Technically The Rain Within began with the full length album Pain Management in 2010 but it is in the last three years that things have really been developing with the project. The self-titled EP release from 2014 is the more melancholy of the bunch, being synth-wavy and introspective. The Thunderheart EP, released the following year, picked up the pace a bit with its knockout title track. The 5.25″ floppy disc case packaging is a lot of fun and the perfect touch for these now sold out self-releases. I believe they are still available digitally and combined onto a single regular disc.
Last year’s full length album Dark Drive develops the sound even further, the songs have more individual personality and diversity. The music conveys a deceptive simplicity, leaving the listener to focus on the mood being created. Its hard not to pick the single “Murder” as the stand out track here, with its visions of purple neon, angst driven lyrics and dance floor ready chorus. I’ve got to hand it to Andy Dean for simultaneously reminding me of Martin Gore and Carpenter Brut. If that is a collaboration that would make you excited then The Rain Within is for you!
*full disclosure – this item did not come in the mail. I picked it up in person at the merch booth when I saw The Rain Within live recently.
The Rain Within on Facebook
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Dark Drive from Amazon
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Alphaville – Strange Attractor
Sadly often miscast as a one hit wonder, Alphaville is a band that has never quite been given their due. Yes their amazing and anthemic song “Forever Young” has an ingrained popularity and familiarity heard in film soundtracks and at proms across the country and presumably the world. But the band has so much more to offer and the truth is that there were plenty of other songs on their synthpop masterpiece of a debut album that were popular at the time. “Big In Japan”, “Sounds Like A Melody” and “The Jet Set” singles and even album cuts “Summer In Berlin” and “Victory Of Love”, all from the Forever Young album got plenty of play in clubs and bars. “Dance With Me” and “Red Rose” from their follow up album both had a similar effect as did “Romeos” from their third album, albeit to a lesser extent.
All of this is to say that even though their last three albums didn’t really register in the US their first three did have measurable impact beyond the “Forever Young” single. I actually love their entire catalog. To me they always embodied the sound of a synth wave European opera with superb bright production and soaring vocals. Whether singing about the seven seals and scarlet beast of the end times on 1994’s “Fools” or talking to dolphins in a city on the moon in 1989’s “Sensations” their sensibilities and Marian’s lyrics have always spoken to me.
Its no surprise then that from the first listen I have been bowled over by their newly released seventh album, Strange Attractor. When sole remaining original band member Marian Gold starts the album singing in a deep drone “I hate to sleep, but I love to dream” I know that I am in for another true Alphaville style journey. From “Marionettes With Halos” dissing today’s fake YouTube stars to the obsessive love of “Beyond The Laughing Sky” this album hits all the right points. The surprising standout here is “A Handful Of Darkness”, the album’s bleakest but most soulful and powerful track which echoes a cry lost in spiritual darkness and questioning. For a synth hook based band Alphaville has always been somewhat profound. Here themes of loneliness and the circular nature of time run even deeper than usual in their work, as well as my favorite concept of theirs, a sleepless yet dream filled life. “The books on the wall dream ominous dreams and armies of shadows are walking off their pages.”
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Shelleyan Orphan – Untitled Boxset
Shelleyan Orphan were an enigma of uniqueness. Popping up on my radar in the late ’80s due to their associations with The Cure I was floored by this duo’s second album. Then their singer, Caroline Crawley, worked with This Mortal Coil on the Blood album and I instantly became a massive fan. Sadly they only released one more album during their original tenure. After disbanding both members and other associated musicians worked together and apart on other projects but not until they reformed around 2008 to finally release their fourth album did I catch up with them again. Then, as quickly as they reappeared things went quiet and I heard nothing more about them until the sad news of Crawley’s death was announced last year.
All of that makes this gorgeous release so bittersweet it is hard to describe. This new boxset contains remastered versions of their three classic albums, Helleborine, Century Flower and Humroot, as well as a full additional CD of live, demo and b-side tracks and a DVD with some live TV performances and music videos. While there are still more b-sides, mixes and compilation tracks that could have been included for this box to cover everything except their final album I won’t make that quibble. What is in here is so lovely and nicely packaged and affordably priced that I’m just happy to have it as an audio celebration of Crawley’s life and voice.
Sure there is a hiccup or two, major among them is that Hellborine plays in the UK track order although the US listing is printed on the materials. But what is important here is the music which sounds lush and ethereal, folky but timeless, conceptual but never pretentious. The instrumentation that Jemaur Tayle, along with other musicians, created, while blissful and accomplished on its own, will always pale when compared to Caroline’s transportive vocals.
The presentation of this set, while not elaborate, is beautiful and worthy of the material it holds. Inside the box the CDs are housed in printed jackets featuring their respective album covers with colorful printed sleeves. The accompanying 20 page booklet is attractive and informative. Most striking of all is a reproduction of a handwritten letter from Jem containing musings on and remembrances of Caroline. Interesting, as that is how I see this entire box, musings on and remembrances of Shelleyan Orphan.
Shelleyan Orphan on Facebook
Untitled Boxset from Amazon
Thor – Beyond The Pain Barrier
Thor is truly an amazing performer and has survived a long time in the rock and roll world. Starting as a title winning bodybuilder he became a muscleman who incorporated music in his show. Eventually he was fronting a band performing glam rock in the ’70s (Keep The Dogs Away), hair metal in the ’80s (Only The Strong) and hard alternative rock in the ’90s (Dogz II). In the 2000s and beyond he has returned more to his roots releasing albums encompassing many rock and metal styles.
In the late 1980s Thor acted in the cool, fun and hilariously cheesy rock and horror movies Rock And Roll Nightmare and Zombie Nightmare, both directed by his friend, genre film great, John Fasano. Thor provided the soundtracks for these movies as well. Fast forward to 2015 and Thor starred in another film, his own documentary called I Am Thor, which is certified 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The success of the documentary coupled with Cleopatra/Deadline Records releasing his classic albums in deluxe editions as well as 2015’s guest star studded Metal Avenger album, has put Thor back on top of Mount Olympus.
Now Thor, returns once again to bring us mere mortals a dozen more tales of heroes, battles, quests and gods from Beyond The Pain Barrier. This is a solid record for Thor and it takes a different approach than Metal Avenger. The only guests to be found here are the return of The Imps’ guitarist Frank Soda for a couple of songs. Many of the songs are more shredding and thrashy than Thor usually tends to be with lots of double kick drum. There are also some killer slower ballads like “When A Hero Dies” and “On Golden Sea” which were recorded with a different band lineup than the rest of the album. The record closes with an awesome extended epic “Quest For Valor” that is pure Thor – “Long ago this kingdom was peaceful …now death is everywhere”.
As a parting note, if you ever get the chance to see Thor perform live you must go. The guy has more costume changes than Cher and by costumes I mean different pieces of rubber armor. He uses many fun props and cool masks too. Often his shows include battles with evil characters in equally bad costumes who storm the stage. Thor usually performs feats of strength like blowing up hot water bottles until they explode, bending steel bars and wrapping mic stands around his own neck or having concrete blocks smashed on his chest. It is all great fun and not to be missed.
Thor Website (by Michael Pilmer)
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The Bad Batch Soundtrack – Various Artists
Strangely this soundtrack mirrors the highs and lows of the film it is from pretty accurately. It looks great, is very cool and interesting but you sense there could and should have been so much more. After seeing the film and enjoying it, partially because of how integral music was to the movie, I ordered the soundtrack. As it is the music here shouldn’t work together in the same film or on the same album, but it does. Despite seeming to be drawn from all over the stylistic map the way the interstitial material, sounds and character dialogue from the film, is set between the tracks it provides nice transition and cohesion.
On the album you hear ’80s stalwarts like Culture Club and Ace Of Base, newer bands like White Lies and Darkside, some tracks from Black Light Smoke and a few other bands. What you won’t hear are a number of compositions by experimental electronic wizard Nicholas Jaar which are sprinkled throughout the film but left off of the soundtrack. I found this to be a poor choice although who knows what the reasoning or issues behind their exclusion were. All in all I really do dig this CD, and I want to “find comfort”, but its not worth an arm and a leg. A little Bad Batch humor there.
The Bad Batch Website
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