Thursday, May 31, 2007

Jimmy Scott

The little-known Jimmy Scott remains one of the industry's most well-kept secrets, despite having been around since the late 1940s. Blessed with a spooky, undeveloped yet affecting soprano, Scott has made a name for himself as a bit of a novelty jazz vocalist, interpreting the day's standards through the parameters of that unique voice. Best-known to modern-day audiences by a cameo performance in David Lynch's kooky "Twin Peaks" series, Scott has enjoyed a revival of sorts since that appearance, putting out a handful of records that made considerable dents amongst discerning jazz circles. Check out his emotional reading of Bryan Ferry's "Slave to Love" here, and stay on after the song's ending for an enlightening interview with Talking Heads' David Byrne.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Unplugged a-ha

Two of Norwegian pop institution a-ha's more underrated singles are the cinematic "Stay on These Roads" and the whimsical "Early Morning". While the studio versions of these two numbers are polished and professional-sounding, they are given new, revelatory live readings in the band's stripped-down, acoustic renderings during an unplugged session from 2001. Check out the spare, unadorned editions of "Stay on These Roads" here and "Early Morning" here.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Jesus Jones

One of the more underrated acts to emerge from the fertile Madchester scene of the early 1990s, Jesus Jones have made a name for themselves as purveyors of aggressive, electronica-based guitar-rock, cleverly adding somewhat poppish sensibilities to anchor the oftentimes noisy proceedings. While their single-minded melding of man and machine hasn't always been successful, they did score a handful of hits on the British charts, with their popularity peaking in 1993, with the release of the wholly computer-modelled "Perverse".

Have a look at the video clips for the three singles drawn from it: the pulverising "Zeroes and Ones" (about the mind-numbing effects of living in a automated consumerist society) here, the subversive "The Right Decision" (about questionable leadership choices made in the name of patriotism and nationalism) here, and the swirling "The Devil You Know" (about mainstream society's propensity to pass unconsidered judgement on alternative cultures) here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Hunters and Collectors

Starting out as a typical post-punk outfit in the early 1980s, Melbourne's beloved Hunters and Collectors have since metamorphosed into a well-regarded art-rock institution capable of churning out elaborate prog-rock influenced pieces, as well as veritable stadium-rock anthems. Check out two of their most well-known numbers: the sturdy marching anthem "Holy Grail" (about Napoleon's disastrous attempted invasion of Russia during the winter of 1812) here, and the enduring, heartfelt "Throw Your Arms Around Me" (a wonderful song about a one-night stand, which has been covered by luminaries like Neil Finn and Eddie Vedder) here.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Jesus He Knows Me

One of the most scathing, yet humorous satires of televangelism, Genesis's underrated "Jesus He Knows Me" from 1991 remains a brutal skewering of religious hypocrisy, taking a well-aimed potshot at charlatans like Jimmy Swaggart and other men of his ilk. Check out the hilarious, parodic promo right here.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

These are the Days of Our Lives

A simple yet poignant promo that showcases the band and late frontman Freddie Mercury's performing talents, Queen's open-hearted "These are the Days of Our Lives" from late 1991 serves as an apt last hurrah from the iconic rock outfit, capping a very successful two decades in the business. It also acts as a suitable farewell note from Mercury, who would sadly pass away a short while afte the making of this video. Catch it here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Fall at Your Feet

One of the more underrated pop gems in Crowded House's marvellous repertoire, "Fall at Your Feet" is a brooding, moody humdinger that speaks volumes about that inexplicable emotion named unrequited love. Check out the stylish black-and-white video clip right here.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

George Winston

One of the less supercilious new-age pianists around is the incomparable George Winston, who has chosen to work within a conventional, simple framework, steering clear of grandiose, overstuffed arrangements, in favour of unadorned, almost austere pieces shorn of any self-righteous posturing. This is in direct contrast to other new age artists, who do convey an invariable sense of ennui through monotonous, rote compositions and the shoehorning of pretentious metaphysical "concepts" into their music.

Winston's primary, simple approach to performing is to tap a neo-classical, starkly minimalist vein, turning out surprisingly ear-friendly melodies that recall the more accessible moments of romantic-era composers like Chopin, Liszt and Brahms, which he expertly melds with his own pastoral, folkish sensibilities.

The self-described "rural folk piano" exponent has enjoyed a lengthy and reasonably successful career, which started in the early 1970s, and culminated with his highly acclaimed trio of seasonal-themed works – "Autumn", "Winter Into Spring" and "December" – which virtually set the benchmark for all solo-instrumental albums to come. Check out the full-length version of the impressionistic "Colors/Dance", set to a series of wonderfully and expertly shot images taken during a road trip in Canada, right here.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Gary Numan

Starting out as a card-carrying member of the then-burgeoning new wave community, Gary Numan eventually metamorphosed into one of the primary exponents of industrial-informed Gothic electronica, churning out darkly themed, coldly forbidding works whose influence are audible in contemporary records by the likes of Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM and Skinny Puppy. One of Numan's more distinguished albums is 1998's theatrically paranoid anti-religious treatise "Exile". Check out the remarkable, metallic "Dark" here, knowingly set to a montage of images from the Second World War.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Mastery of Massive Attack

Bristol collective Massive Attack effectively ripped out the guts of the burgeoning British R&B-soul-reggae-hip-hop hybrid scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s, dragged them to their dingy mad-scientist laboratory, forcibly turned them inside out and added all manner of strange chemicals to the mix, resulting in something texturally deeper and decidedly more sinister.

Widely credited as singularly creating the much-maligned trip-hop strain, the Massive Attack sound is also uniquely contradictory. Categorised under dance but eminently undanceable, relying heavily on synth programming and drum machines, but surprisingly and supremely soulful, Massive Attack was one of the most innovative outfits to ever emerge, a genuine musical revolution in the highly confusing, shellshocked landscape of the late 20th and early 21st century. A brief rundown of the group's stellar works is in order:

Arguably the ne plus ultra of their oeuvre, "Blue Lines" evoked the appropriate responses of awe and respect upon its initial release. The impossibly epic "Unfinished Sympathy" (bolstered considerably by Shara Nelson's strident yet measured diva performance) remains the indisputable highlight, but other tracks like the effortless rap vocal gauntlet "Five Man Army", the quietly menacing urban nocturne "Safe from Harm" (again with Nelson on board) and the spacey environmental anthem "Hymn of the Big Wheel" (featuring reggaeton veteran Horace Andy) are also dynamic examples of the group's nascent artistry.

A more laid-back affair that smoothes out the rougher edges of its predecessor for a more polished, accessible finish: thankfully, this makes for a no less compelling listen. The melancholic yet cinematic title track (featuring Everything But the Girl's Tracey Thorn) is a brilliant study in urban desolation and private emotional psychosis, while "Karmacoma" takes a sharp left turn into dub-reggae (which would be even more fully realised on "No Protection", the Mad Professor's full-length, ghostly dark-side version). "Spying Glass" (Andy's showcase here) introduces a healthy dose of paranoia to the proceedings, while "Sly" makes wonderful use of enigmatic chanteuse Nicolette's sensual, neo-Billie Holiday vocals to construct an appropriate 21st-century torch song.

Adopting a more organic and earthier approach on this third masterpiece translates into a darker and murkier effort that managed to win the group the attention and admiration of otherwise conservative, sneering rock fans. Basically turning the paranoia level up to 11 and letting it simmer there until the meters exploded in shards of fear, panic and loathing, "Mezzanine" can boast of at least three classic numbers: the highly ominous, bass-heavy "Angel" (the band has reaped a plethora of royalties from its licnsed usage in a variety of media); the densely nocturnal, dread-inducing "Risingson", a malignant and venomous rap duel; and the gossamer, lighter-than-ether lullaby "Teardrop" (with the incomparable Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser helping out on vocals), which managed to evoke an otherworldly sense of dislocation.

100th WINDOW (2003)
Perhaps relying a bit too much on Pro Tools technology and analogue modelling workstations, "100th Window" still manages to stand out by virtue of its glacial beatscapes, which at times rival the icy, apprehensive aesthetic conjured by Radiohead's "Kid A". The sterile, frosty sonic-lab ambiences of "What Your Soul Sings" and "Special Cases" are enhanced by suitably aloof presentations by rock rebel Sinead O'Connor, while "Butterfly Caught" is psychological claustrophobia personified, droning with mutated breakbeats and overlaid with threatening rap interjections.