Shelleyan Orphan

Untitled Boxset

img_6687Shelleyan 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.

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Shelleyan Orphan on Facebook

Untitled Boxset from Amazon

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Thor

Beyond The Pain Barrier

img_6774Thor – 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.

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Thor Website (by Michael Pilmer)
Thor on Facebook
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The Bad Batch Soundtrack

Various Artists

img_6587The 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.

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The Bad Batch Website
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The Bad Batch Soundtrack from Amazon
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Studio Ghibli

My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Arrietty Blu-rays and My Neighbor Totoro Book

img_6667Studio Ghibli – My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Arrietty Blu-rays and My Neighbor Totoro Book

Studio Ghibli is an entity that is hard to describe properly to Westerners. The shorthand I see used most often is that they are the Disney of Japan. While that is an excellent quick way to get your point across there is so much more to it. Studio Ghibli have created around 20 feature films over the last 30 years, most directed by studio heads Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. These films are some of the most beloved in Japan.

Even though I am sure I miss some of their cultural significance and commentary on nationality and the Japanese identity, traditions, folklore and more I can still say with confidence that these films tread in deeper waters than anything Disney ever created. Ghibli films deliver more for adults, display more true humor rather than just comedic situations, show quality character development, reflect more upon life itself, all while being very strange and dreamlike yet also vastly entertaining.

My Neighbor Totoro is in many ways the studio’s flagship film. Its main character, the large spirit creature Totoro, is their mascot. In the movie two sisters meet some magical creatures in the woods. Their strange yet joyful interactions with these beings helps the girls deal with moving to a new house, cope with their mother’s illness, face growing up and get along with each other. Ponyo is Ghibli’s version of The Little Mermaid story and its quite different from the more familiar tale of Ariel. Arrietty is their take on The Borrowers stories. All of these blu-rays have many wonderful extras and the films can be viewed in Japanese with subtitles or as an English dub, usually starring the voice talents of many famous Hollywood actors.

I have included the novelization of My Neighbor Totoro in this post. It nicely captures the depth and whimsy of the film. It features illustrations from film director Miyazaki himself and the story is adapted by beloved Japanese children’s book author Tsugiko Kubo. Its a great companion to the movie.

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Studio Ghibli Website (in Japanese)
Disney Studio Ghibli Website

Studio Ghibli from Amazon
My Neighbor Totoro Book from Amazon

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Solex

Solex Vs. The Hitmeister, Pick Up, Low Kick And Hard Bop and The Laughing Stock Of Indie Rock

img_6557Solex – Solex Vs. The Hitmeister, Pick Up, Low Kick And Hard Bop and The Laughing Stock Of Indie Rock

I continue to write about fantastic finds from a magic list of CDs. What is so interesting is that this list is over 10 years old and I only recently rediscovered it. The list is made up of suggestions given to me by my musically enlightened pal Craig L. and from it I have been fortunate to discover Stina NordenstamBig StickThe Now Time Delegation and the subject of today’s entry, Solex. Despite being a decade late to the party with these bands they are all great inclusions in my collection.

Solex is Dutch singer Elisabeth Esselink. As the story goes, while providing vocals for a local Amsterdam band she began work on her solo project with a unique approach. Instead of assembling a new band she gathered up the albums that had not sold in the record store she owned, purchased a sampler at a record auction she attended and set up a makeshift recording studio in the shop’s basement. Cut, paste, sample, chop, loop, sing and presto her demos were complete.

This process gave her music a unique feel. Partly it has a lounge vibe, there are a few austere downtempo tracks, a noticeable world music influence is detectable and at times a loose jazzy feel is copped due to the use of saxophone and clarinet. Over the course of 1998-2004 and the release of her first four albums which are represented here, her style and approach broadened. She began sampling and manipulating instruments she recorded from live bands (most without their knowledge) as well as television commercials, jingles and old TV show themes. Eventually she added in more music played and recorded specifically for her work. This growth feels like a transition from audio collage to more structured song frameworks and semi traditional modes of music. These CDs represent the first half of her catalog which extended for another decade into 2013 before Solex fell quiet. If forced to categorize her sound I would say it was closest to trip-hop but in truth Solex is its own entity, a complex patchwork of disparate parts that thankfully and enjoyably can’t be labeled.

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Solex Website
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Solex from Amazon
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Solex on Spotify

The Cars

Candy-O and Panorama (Expanded Editions)

img_6728The Cars – Candy-O and Panorama (Expanded Editions)

When The Cars collided with the music scene of the late ’70s they really caused a stir. Their sterile minimalistic sound filled with keyboards and highly textured guitars bridged not only rock and pop but also moved music forward into the new decade, embodying the esthetics and approach that would become New Wave before there even was such a thing. The impact and sheer success of The Cars cannot be understated and I feel is a fact that is lost on many today. We are talking about a band that sold a monumental 25 million albums in the US alone. You can’t even begin to put that in perspective in current times.

Candy-O, with an alluring air brushed image by Peruvian pin-up artist Vargas on the cover was helmed by famed Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker, as were all of their classic first four albums. It continues The Cars’ quest for perfection of sound and while still pop-based it is slightly colder and more metallic than their debut, mostly due to the exclusion of backing vocals this time out. The new remastering is a nice improvement on previous versions if not a bit loud. The extra tracks have interesting different vocal takes and vary in sound quality. The real star here is the album itself, from “Let’s Go” to “Dangerous Type” and everything in-between.

Panorama is a much more difficult record. As The Cars matured they began to dial down the pop sounds and catchy hooks in favor of a more experimental approach and an even colder and more disconnected tone. I’ve always felt these changes were possibly spurred on by hearing bands like Devo and Gary Numan come along. Those guys were toying with some of the same tones and moods as The Cars’ early material but in an even more aggressive fashion. While I like Panorama as an album it is admittedly not filled with single material but lots of interesting tracks. Honestly it a necessary bridge, serving as an evolution that would fulfill itself on their fourth album, Shake It Up. The extras consist of a b-side, a work in progress that would become “Maybe Baby” on the next album and two stellar unreleased songs. “Shooting For You” and “The Edge” feel like they should have been on the record and with a little more work could have possibly been the singles the album needed.

I think I’ll let The Cars sum up these expanded editions for me – “Candy-O, I need you so” and “I just want to be in your Panorama”!

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The Cars Website
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The Cars from Amazon
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Alice Cooper

Paranormal

img_6720Alice Cooper – Paranormal

Alice knows how its done. You embrace your past as you lean slightly forward. You team up with the producer of your classic albums, Bob Ezrin. You assemble a band that can capture your old style while sprinkling in enough new flavor to keep it fresh. You bring the members of the classic lineup back for a couple of songs on the bonus disc along with some new live recordings of the hits. Everybody is happy and they’d better be because honestly, what more could you ask for? (Are you listening KISS, cause I’m looking at you?)

I’m not saying this is a perfect album. There are a few lumps in the oatmeal for sure, but as a whole it is truly a blast. There are some awesome classic sounding Alice songs on here but even the ones that don’t totally succeed still contain Alice’s distinctive personality and style. Not only will you find the obvious lyrical references to Billion Dollar Babies but also some sonic tips of the hat to Alice’s late ’80s Trash and Hey Stoopid sound and his 2000s era of Brutal Planet and Dragontown as well. Listening to this record you realize how many bands Alice has influenced when it dawns on you that the opening track, “Paranormal”, could practically be a new single from Ghost.

Also worth mentioning are a few guest appearances. Larry Mullen of U2 fame plays drums on most of the album, Roger Glover from Deep Purple lays down some nice bass on the title track and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top contributes his signature guitar sound to “Fallen In Love”. All of that is well and good but the super star guests aren’t guests at all but the return of original Alice Cooper Band members¬†Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith on two tracks on the bonus disc. Dennis also plays bass on a couple of tracks on the album proper too. Boy is it good to have these guys back. Maybe its the magic of the musical time machine talking but their songs “Genuine American Girl” and “You And All Of Your Friends” sound as good as anything on their classic and revered early ’70s catalog (which I posted about recently¬†here). The package finishes out with some nice live recordings of Alice’s hits. All in all at almost age 70 Mr. Cooper still has attitude, magic, wit and style to spare. I hope he shares some more with us soon.

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Alice Cooper Website
Alice Cooper on Facebook
Alice Cooper on Twitter
Alice Cooper on Instagram

Paranormal from Amazon
Paranormal from iTunes
Paranormal on Spotify

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