Archive for December, 2010

Generally, I love experiencing albums that receive little to no fanfare, yet are full of ingenuity, energy and inject some new life into my stereo speakers. “Talk Show,” the one and only album, by the band of the same name, fits that description like a tailored suit.

Back in 1997, alt-rock giants Stone Temple Pilots went on indefinite hiatus, as dynamo frontman Scott Weiland concertedly attempted to absolve his drug/alcohol demons, whilst working on his debut solo album.

The rest of the band (guitarist Dean DeLeo, bassist Robert DeLeo and drummer Eric Kretz) linked up with vocalist Dave Coutts (formerly of rock outfit Ten Inch Men) and Talk Show was born.

Their “swan song”  debut, released by Atlantic Records in September 1997, was met with widespread positive fan fare, which resulted in supporting act slots, with tours for Foo Fighters and Aerosmith. Upon first listen, this isn’t surprising at all. “Talk Show” is full of bright and optimistic dynamics, “lazy day” guitar riffs, energetic drums and interesting time signatures. In addition, Mr. Coutts, being involuntarily immersed in the monolithic shadow of Mr. Weiland, fills those shoes with aplomb. His vocal work is distinct, charismatic and quite likable.

With opening track “Ring Twice,” “Talk Show” catapults off the launch pad, pleasantly surprising the ear drums, with sweeping guitar riffs, a mammoth bass line and powerhouse drums. It’s the sound of a band ready to rock an arena. Take a listen up top.

The same can be said for “So Long,” a Zeppelin-influenced meat and potatoes anthem. The track begins with a psychedelic riff that fluidly transitions into a rock landscape full of rich bombast mixed with mellow zest.

“Talk Show” is a prime example, of one band being victimized, by another’s success. As a whole, the record is ambitious, taut and bursting with potential. Unfortunately, too many STP fans, and rock critics, were hoping for copycats of “Vasoline,” “Sex Type Thing,” “Plush” and “Big Empty.” However, “Talk Show” successfully holds its ground and never concedes. It’s well worth a listen.

The album is available on iTunes.

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“It was weird; while I was doing it, I remember sitting there, and I just knew there was something about it. I had never heard anything like this. I was really digging it but it was really fucking weird.”

This was how notable record producer Brian Paulson, described his account, of cultivating what would become, arguably, the most prolific, influential and successful indie rock album ever, by one of the most enigmatic and short lived indie rock bands, of the past decade. That album is “Spiderland” and the band is Slint.

Formed in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1985, the quintet consisted of Brian McMahan (vocals/guitar), David Pajo (guitar) and Britt Walford (drums), along with temporary members Todd Brashear (bass on “Spiderland”) and Ethan Buckler (bass on Slint’s first album “Tweez”).

After recording their debut “Tweez,” in 1987 (with famed Shellac frontman Steve Albini), Slint released it, into heavy obscurity, on the microscopic, highly beloved indie label Jennifer Hartman Records. Following a short tour, the members of Slint headed off for college. During this time, Mr. McMahan and Mr. Walford began writing songs for the follow-up, with their efforts culminating in the six, gloriously brooding portraits, that would indelibly place Slint, into the elite pantheon of post-rock/math-rock gods.

“Spiderland” was released on 27 March 1991, care of Chicago-based indie label darling Touch & Go. It was immediately showered with critical acclaim and went on to sell more than 50,000 copies, making it the most successful record in the history of T & G. In addition to being regarded as the first official post-rock album, its wide sweeping influence catalyzed a new wave of experimental bands (Mogwai and God Speed! You Black Emperor, to name a few) looking to transition from hardcore punk, without sacrificing the genre’s underlying themes. The album, chock full of angular, ominous rhythms, dramatic/alternating shifts in dynamics, odd tempos and irregular time signatures, has developed a feverish cult-following, over the 15 years since it was released.

What immensely separates “Spiderland,” from its many imitations, are the fantastically folkloric stories that surround its inception. During the recording sessions, which lasted a mere four days, rumours began circulating that the sessions were so intense and traumatic, that various members were periodically institutionalized for psychiatric help. Over the years, the band has stated that the sessions were, in fact, as intense and disturbing as were reported, but have declined to officially comment on the alleged visits to hospital, making the claim exponentially more intriguing.

In addition to introducing such wildly original musical compositions, “Spiderland” also became widely noted for its bizarre vocal deliveries. Mr. McMahan, with conniving consistence, repeatedly throws the listener, like a curveball on five cans of Four Loco, with an intoxicating blend of spoken word whispering and primal screaming, ingeniously utilizing the dark-daydream music landscapes to his utmost advantage.

The signature track, “Good Morning Captain,” (which featured on the soundtrack for the movie “Kids”) gloriously represents the album’s masterwork. Inspired by the Samuel Coleridge poem, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the lyrics are awash with references to alienation and visceral images of a boating crew lost at sea. The eight minute tome is, in a word, breathtaking.

After recording “Spiderland,” the band quickly dissolved. The original trio (Mr. McMahon, Mr. Pajo and Mr. Walford) reunited in 2005 & ’07 for brief European and U.S. tours. However, those anxiously awaiting new material, will, most unfortunately, be left hanging in limbo indefinitely.

“Spiderland” is currently available on iTunes. Enjoy the video!

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Being an up and coming band, from Oxford, can definitely be a double-edged blessing; the good news: you have the esteemed privilege, of following in the footsteps, of Radiohead. The bad news: like it or not, you’re inevitably going to be compared to them as well.

Enter Spring Offensive, a band that shares more than a few similarities with the legendary Abingdon quintet. Each band’s members met whilst at school, Spring Offensive is also a quintet, both share the same musical influences (Joy Division, Magazine and Kraftwerk, to name a few) and, to top it off, SO’s lead vocalist/guitarist Lucas Whitworth’s lyrics, and vocal stylings, bare more than a slight resemblance, to Mr. Thom Yorke’s (and, at times, Ian Curtis).

However, when one listens to SO’s epic 2010 EP, “The First Of Many Dreams About Monsters,” one realizes, straightaway, that SO is playing with a different musical deck of cards (as opposed to a house of cards :)). If Radiohead’s six minute opera-style track, “Paranoid Android” is a short film, SO’s “TFOMDAM” would be the extended version not seen in theaters. Over a sprawling 13 minutes, 22 seconds, “TFOMDAM” presents five different songs, to tell one story, that will brilliantly turn your cerebellum inside out, upside down and then let it drift peacefully out to sea.

Mr. Whitworth, backed by the impeccable contributions, of Matt Cooper, Theo Whitworth, Pelham Groom and Joe Charlett, flawlessly transitions his vocal work, on this track, from youthful exuberance reflecting infinite energy and optimism, to a soft spoken, more intense and introspective adult. Throughout though, his cadence is a striking homage to both Mr. Yorke and the late Mr. Curtis.

How then, one might ask, does this warrant Spring Offensive receiving such a lofty honour as EP of the Year? To put it simply, “The First Of Many Dreams About Monsters” irrevocably proves that ingenious, thought-provoking, emotionally inspiring, sonically entrancing music still exists, one just has to look much harder, these days, to find it. Care of “TFOMDAM,” that search just got exponentially easier.

“The First Of Many Dream About Monsters,” in addition to Spring Offensive’s debut self-titled EP and their “mini album” “Pull Us Apart,” can be purchased via the band’s web site: http://www.springoffensive.co.uk, and their MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/springoffensive.

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Here at “Death Of A Cultured Man,” we enjoy turning back the clock a bit. It has a fair amount to do with nostalgia, but it also allows us to recognize certain artists who, in our humble opinion, were not given their proper acknowledgement, at a specific point in time.

In April 2009, the critically acclaimed British rock band Doves, released their fourth studio album, “Kingdom Of Rust.” This record was met, with both highly anticipated hype and scrutiny, as it followed in the footsteps, of the band’s other brilliant efforts, “Lost Souls,” “The Last Broadcast” and “Some Cities.” “KOR” produced two hit singles; the album’s title track and “Winter Hill.” However, the song that never fails to give me goosebumps, whilst epically tugging at my heartstrings, is the album’s fifth track “10.03”.

The Manchester-based trio, consisting of brothers Jez Williams (vocals, guitar) and Andy Williams (drums, vocals), along with prolific bassist and frontman Jimi Goodwin, with just one song, managed to turn “KOR” into the musical translation of a Monet landscape. The track seamlessly combines a haunting U2-inspired guitar riff, a captivating crescendo-style melody, a temple-throbbing bass line and Mr. Goodwin’s signature whimsical vocal delivery.

Although Doves went on indefinite hiatus, in March of this year, after touring heavily throughout ’09-’10, in support of “KOR,” they emphasized that a return to the studio is imminent. For now, enjoy the video below. If you’re new to the Doves experience, and you like what you hear, their entire catalogue is available on iTunes and most music retailers. “Some Cities,” their third studio album, is my personal favourite.

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Amidst the monotonous, recycled haze that potently characterizes pop music, one band has stepped far outside the box, broken it down with a sharp knife and made their own box, within the quaint, picturesque confines of their idyllic hometown hamlet.

That hamlet would be the southern English county of Oxfordshire, and the band would be its latest indie musical sensation Gunning For Tamar (pronounced TAY-MAHR). The quartet, comprised of Joe Wallis (lead vocals/guitar), Dan Pollard (guitar/keyboards/vocals), D’arcy King (drums) and Ben Green (bass), are accomplishing a rare feat; not only do GFT hail from the same region as a certain band that brought you “Hail To The Thief,” they’re proving, quite effortlessly, that Oxford is the ideal destination, for amazing/undiscovered/unsigned talent.

After recording a split EP, with fellow Oxford outfit Phantom Theory, in March of this year, GFT were eventually rewarded with a solid write-up, courtesy of UK music magazine “NME,” as well as receiving “NME”‘s prestigious “Breakthrough Track of the Week” honour this past September, for the single “The Organs. The Senses. The Muscles. The Memories.” This track, which was given a complimentary audio shout-out, back in October, care of the influential BBC radio program Introducing In Oxford, prominently reflects the band’s dark/introspective/brooding musical stylings as well as their painfully obvious talent. As “NME”‘s Jonathan Pierce wrote, “It reminds me of stuff I used to listen to in 2004…it has a lot of very post-rock traits, like serious lyrics. Fair play to them for not just playing the usual crap.”

GFT, who were previously known as Ride East Strike West, are currently on a UK tour, with their most recent gigs being in Oxford. They plan to record a follow-up EP in 2011. To satisfy your immense curiosity, and to purchase the split EP, please visit http://www.myspace.com/gunningfortamar or the band’s official web site at http://www.gunningfortamar.co.uk.

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For anyone who has ever believed that music can only be enjoyed and appreciated, if the volume is cranked all the way up and the bass is so potent, it could shake one’s eyes out of their sockets, it’s time to give your ear drums a breather and a whole new perspective. Allow me to introduce you to “4’33.”

Conceived in 1952, by the legendary American experimental composer John Cage, “4’33” was ahead of its time by leaps, bounds, yards and miles, and remains so to this day. The piece, seen by Cage enthusiasts and classical music critics alike, as his most famous and controversial composition, consists of three movements, totaling the piece’s namesake. Cheekily, the piece was “written” for any individual or grouping of instruments. I say “cheekily,” because as the title of this post implies, “4’33” is “performed” with absolute silence. Instead, throughout the duration of the piece, the audience takes in the sounds of the surrounding environment, thereby enabling a completely organic listening experience and emotional reaction.

In a 1982 interview, Mr. Cage explained that “4’33” was inspired by two primary elements; the impact that Zen Buddhism, which he began studying in the late ’40’s, and his adamant belief, that any sound or grouping of can constitute music. Mr. Cage, in the same interview and with the same fervent confidence, that he considered “4’33” to be the most important piece of his entire repertoire.

Please take a moment to watch the video and decide for yourself.

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Over the years, my music tastes, for the most part, have cultivated a palette for bands that are far off the beaten path and, more often than not, possess Anglo-Saxon roots. After being “introduced” to My Luminaries, last summer, I found yet another reason, why England never seems, to be at a loss, when it comes to producing first-class musical talent.

The Reading-based quintet, comprised of James Ewers (lead vocals/guitar), Leila MacFie (keyboards/backing vocals), Mark Ferguson (guitar), Mike Murray (bass) and Sam Stopford (drums), was formed at London’s Kingston University in 2004.

Based on the strength, of their first offering, a 7-track live album entitled “Let The People Decide,” ML quickly garnered the attention of Australian indie label Cottage Industry Records. After “signing” with CIR, the band promptly released a series of singles and an EP, culled from the demos, of what would comprise their debut studio effort, “Order From The Chaos,” which was released on CIR, on 7 June 2010.

The album was instantly received with hearty fanfare and solid reviews. This success culminated with the band winning the “Early Bird” award, issued by prominent U.K. music publication “Q Magazine,” for emerging talent. This accolade awarded ML, with a high-profile slot, at last summer’s Glastonbury Festival.

Since the release of “Order From The Chaos,” ML have drawn complimentary comparisons, to other prolific British bands, such as Doves, Blur and Swervedriver. Although “OFTC” has a decidedly Brit-pop atmosphere, Mr. Ewers’ vocal deliveries and lyrics, suggest an emotional/aesthetic landscape, closer to that of Editors. Stand-out tracks include “Parasol” (see video at top), “A Little Declaration” and “The Sound of Music.”

“Order From The Chaos” is currently available on iTunes and the band’s MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/myluminaries.

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Anarchic, off-beat humour: check. Violent, slapstick non-sequitirs: check. Hand puppets playing talking animals and/or objects: check. Confusing lengthy cutaways, to scenarios, not involved with the main plot: check. The most irreverent, ingenious and indelible British comedy series of the ’80’s: check.

If none of these hints are obvious giveaways, chances are likely, that you’ve never experienced the perverted pleasure, that was “The Young Ones.” Running for two seasons, from November 1982-June 1984, on BBC 2, “TYO” was the sardonically satirical brainchild, of Ben Elton (the mastermind behind “Blackadder,” another British comedy masterpiece), Lisa Mayer and series co-star Rik Mayall.

The show centered around four hapless, never-do-well (or hardly anything), bottom basement undergrads/flatmates; violent, punk metal fan Vyvyan (Adrian Edmondson), pompous, would-be anarchist Rik (Mayall), long-suffering hippie Neil (Nigel Planer) and the suave, diminutive Mike (Christopher Ryan). All four attended the fictitious “Scumbag College,” within the University of London. Ironically, the characters were hardly ever seen attending class or studying.

The creators of “TYO” cited “The Monkees” serial comedy, as its direct inspiration, even modeling it after the program. Each episode was a half hour in length, and both featured the cast, having hilarious quarrels, with a landlord, in between musical interludes and the aforementioned non-sequitirs. It also helped give prominent British bands of the time, such as Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Motorhead, The Damned and Madness, substantive exposure to U.S. audiences, after the show aired on MTV, PBS and Comedy Central, in 1994.

What put “TYO” ahead of its time, was the unabashed, unashamed and unflinching attitude, it brought, to national television. Arguably, it fostered the genre of “alternative comedy,” that helped usher in other brazenly funny comedy series, such as “Kids in the Hall.” Before “TYO,” audiences had never witnessed such spastic, over-the-top physical comedy, that often resulted in set props being broken and cast members being fictitiously injured, all for the cause of an uproarious studio audience guffaw.

“The Young Ones” DVD box set is currently available, online, via Amazon, Borders and Barnes & Noble.

Two of the most memorable scenes, from the series, the “bank robbery” and “University Challenge,” have been posted up top. Enjoy!!!

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“I’m really interested to capture some really iconic, bigger names. Really, the whole point is to get people who are having their moment, to try and get a definitive record of what they’re doing.”

This was legendary music producer/engineer/longtime Radiohead collaborator, Nigel Godrich, explaining his motivation, for co-creating the landmark British music show, “From the Basement.” Mr. Godrich also cited another British music series, “The Old Grey Whistle Test,” as another source of inspiration.

“FTB,” which aired on SKYTV, from December ’06-January ’09, was broadcast live from Maida Vale Studios in London. The show’s format, much like its prolific co-creator, was quite distinct, primarily because of its format; there was no host, no audience and it wasn’t backed by corporate sponsoring. The show essentially allowed musicians to perform live, in a “studio” setting, to capture the organic essence of their music making process.

“FTB” quickly procured critical raves for the variety of musicians it attracted. Over the show’s four series, it broadcast performances, from the likes of White Stripes, Sonic Youth, Gnarls Barkley, The Shins, PJ Harvey and Radiohead. To no surprise, it was Radiohead’s set, mainly because of their direct connection to Mr. Godrich, that garnered “From the Basement” its highest ratings ever.

Cut to part 2 of this post:

Radiohead – “In Rainbows: From the Basement”

In January of 2008, the legendary lads from Oxford, after metaphorically rocking the music world, by initially releasing their seventh studio album, “In Rainbows”, on their web site, via a “pay what you like” system, three months earlier, officially released the record in standard CD/vinyl format.

In May of 2008, to coincide with a stretch of live shows, around the U.K., the band recorded their stunning performance, on “FTB,” at The Hospital Studio in London’s Covent Garden. The show included songs heavily culled from “In Rainbows,” along with classic tracks from “Kid A” and “Hail to the Thief.” The broadcast aired on VH1 on May 3 2008, and quickly became the most watched, talked about and in demand broadcast “FTB” ever produced. The attention didn’t stop there. Upon its release, via iTunes (which omitted the non-“In Rainbows” songs), on June 25 2008, it became “FTB”‘s highest grossing podcast ever.

Although the performance, as a whole, is nothing short of breathtaking, brilliant, spectacular, and all of the other usual adjectives associated with Radiohead shows, the band particularly shines, on soulful renditions of “House of Cards,” Bangers + Mash,” (see video up top) “Reckoner” and “Go Slowly.” Thom Yorke and Co., yet again, effortlessly prove why their reputation gloriously precedes them, by leaps and bounds.

“In Rainhows: From the Basement” is available in both video and audio-only formats on iTunes.

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The music industry, across the pond, has historically been known, for generating some of the most ingenious, indelible and off-the-wall artists, the world has ever known; the Beatles, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Kinks, The Cure and Radiohead, just to name a select few. And when it comes to a band fulfilling the “off-the-wall” description, one has to look no further, than London’s very own The Horrors.

Formed in Southend, in the early 2000’s, the band, fronted by enigmatic vocalist Faris Badwan, along with Joshua Hayward (guitar), Tom Cowan (synths), Ryhs Webb (bass) and Joseph Spurgeon (drums), cites The Birthday Party, Bauhaus, Joy Division and New Order as their primary influences. The band quickly established themselves, in the underground goth rock/New Wave revival movement, that was taking shape in southern London, around 2001.

After releasing their debut album, “Strange House,” in 2007, to much fanfare and critical acclaim, it was their sophomore effort, “Primary Colours,” released in 2009, that brought The Horrors a whole new level of exposure, notoriety and fame. Upon the album’s release, it quickly shot to number 25 on the U.K. Top 40 chart, and generated two brilliant singles, “Sea Within A Sea” and “Who Can Say.” The former spawned a prolific eight minute video (see up top) directed by Jesus and Mary Chain bassist Doug Hart. In addition to a world tour, the album garnered The Horrors a headlining slot at 2009’s prestigious Reading and Leeds Festivals.

Along with this esteemed accolade, the band were shortlisted for the equally prestigious Mercury Prize (the top British music award) and were heralded, by music magazine “NME,” as the best band of 2009.

What makes “Primary Colours” such a remarkable effort, is its pervasively quirky, darkly comical atmosphere. Throughout the album’s 45 minute duration, the listener can palpably envision, a campy Halloween musical, that would put “Rocky Horror” to shame. This is due, in large part, to stylized, grinding guitar effects, playing over scratchy, throbbing bass lines and fluid, slightly spastic drum beats, that have a painfully obvious Joy Division-sound. Add Mr. Badwan’s humorously brooding, theatrical vocals, and you have an album that sounds, truly, like nothing you’ve ever heard.

The band, which is currently playing the festival circuit, have been road testing new songs, and are expected to release their highly anticipated third album, after the new year.

“Strange House” and “Primary Colours” are available on iTunes and all major (and minor) music retailers. I encourage you to find out what Halloween rock really sounds like 🙂

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