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The Stylus Police: Dust, Screaming Trees

August 10, 2013 Comments off

Dust, album coverWell I’ve let this section slide a bit so let’s rectify that right now!

Okay, them Screaming Trees, eh? That Dust! I’m going to kick off by telling you what sort of music this is and you’ve got to promise not to run off, okay? Alright then, here goes. Strap yourself in:

Catholic Rock.

No, wait! Come back! Let’s try that one more time. [Cough!] I’m going to kick off by telling you what sort of music this is. Strap yourself right back in again:

Awesome.

And that’s the thing about Dust. About as far from happy-clappy saucer-eyed Bible-waving as you can get, its introspective lyricism and delicately arranged melodies will seduce you long, long before you find yourself asking “Hang on, Gospel Plow?!” And by then you won’t care, because Dust isn’t trying to evangelise The Faith so much as communicate the thoughts, confidences and misgivings of Joe Normal. This is faith laid bare, open and honest.

In terms of genre I guess “anthemic grunge” just about covers it. As intimate as these songs are it’s not difficult to imagine them washing effortlessly over crowded fields on a summer’s afternoon, unifying with the knowledge that we all, on some level, share the same vulnerabilities. As a solo pursuit Dust is equally delightful however, each track being meticulously produced with — marvellously — not one single dud amongst them.

Don’t like God? Don’t like grunge? Don’t like music, even? Doesn’t matter, Dust is one of those albums that you simply gotta have. One of those rare works that enriches your life in the listening. Did I also mention that it fucking rocks? Done deal :D

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The Stylus Police: Joanna Newsom

December 19, 2011 Comments off

During her recent(ish!) TED talk on nurturing creativity, “Eat, Pray, Love” author, Elizabeth Gilbert, aired the notion that the Spanish exclamation of “iOle!” evolved from the recognition of the divine (AKA “Allah!”) within transcendental performances. Incredibly interesting stuff and, at no small cost to the intricate beauty of the universe, highly unlikely to be true. Dang!

Thing is, there certainly are artists whose preternatural performances make it easy to see how such an idea about language could gain credence. Because when a piece of music reaches into your heart and makes you at least feel like you have a soul then it’s only natural to want to associate that feeling with something otherworldly. And whenever I find myself on the receiving end of this phenomenon it is usually due, as if you couldn’t have guessed, to one particular source:

Joanna Newsom.

So this is my favourite artiste (yes, with an ‘e’ on the end and everything) hence you’ll forgive a certain reticence towards analysing exactly why I find her output so singularly affecting. Not wanting to break the spell I might, very tentatively, venture that it has something to do with how her lyrical worldliness is so starkly defined in its contrast to the youthfully earnest vocal style in which it is delivered. Emboldened and ever so pleased with my own insightfulness, I might press on to reference the aesthetic synergy betwixt function and form… “Is there any art that could be rendered more perfectly than via feminine beauty?” I might ravenously ask as someone who prefers to be served by attractive waitresses not from any chauvinistic will to power, but simply because it makes the food taste better. At which point I would have careered too far into matters both philosophical and culinary when all I really meant to say is that Newsom’s body moves as enchantingly as her mind, resulting in performances that are as spellbinding to see as to hear.

So, what to listen to? What to view? Well the received wisdom is that her vocal delivery has mellowed over time, making her later output the more accessible. Personally I don’t think the travel is all that significant and with the average song-length remaining steadfastly above the three minute mark (the absolutely wonderful “Only Skin”, from Newson’s second album, weighs in just shy of seventeen minutes!) we’re clearly not looking at a Regina Spektor-style shift from the avant garde to the mainstream. Have One On Me is unlikely to seduce you if neither Ys or The Milk-Eyed Mender manage it, but by the same token each album represents an equally worthwhile excursion into the woman’s oeuvre.

And yet your wholesale adoption or wholesale dismissal of Joanna Newsom’s music isn’t really the point here. Nobody can tell you what you should love. What it’s shown me, though, is that it’s possible for an artist to take you some-place else with astounding regularity, to the point where it seems inconceivable that you ever made do without their music. Everyone has their Joanna Newsom, I suspect. Make sure you find yours.

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The Stylus Police: Love Your Self Abuse

July 24, 2011 Comments off

It's only fitting that one of the best albums should have one of the best covers. If this is you, call me.

Baby Chaos, the best band that ever there was.

Not that anyone noticed.

This is the album that put me off making music for years, though. I mean, why bother if everything you aspire to has already been done? Because to someone who had overdosed on the soft-loud-soft of Nirvana (and hey, Nirvana are great) and was butting heads with the sneering bombast of Oasis (and hey, Oasis are… Oasis), Baby Chaos’ primary skill — doing intricate, interesting stuff AT VOLUME — seemed like some next level shiz. Because it was.

And it still is. Go on, give Mental Bruising For Beginners a spin. That vocal layering towards the end, it shouldn’t work should it? And yet it sounds phenomenal; And Loud And Clear. That’s a ten minute punk song. If The Fall (and hey, The Fall are Mark E Smith and Mark E Smith is Great) do a ten minute song it means they repeated the exact same thing forty times instead of twenty. Loud And Clear, on the other hand, is an elongated crescendo of ever-increasing complexity that somehow, physics-defyingly, never becomes confused or muddled, each part remaining loud and cl… well, the clue’s in the name. Next. Level. Shiz.

It’s not even that there aren’t any skippers. Weighing in at thirteen tracks, there are bound to be one or two you’re not particularly partial to. It’s just that the majority of the album is so bollock-blazingly, breast-soakingly GLORIOUS that it doesn’t fucking matter. Excellent song-writing, ambitious arrangements, all brought together via superlative production, Love Your Self Abuse is a masterclass in What Guitars Are For and I weep for the uninitiated.

 

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