8. The Olivia Tremor Control - Music from the Unrealized Film Script: Dusk at Cubist Castle
The band name and the title promise something special, but this did little for me. Something of an homage to the more experimental side of The Beatles (it’s been compared to The White Album; which so happens to be my least favorite Beatles record by a very long shot), it’s a long affair that for me doesn’t go anywhere. It’s not really all that experimental. I mean, there are unconventional structures here and some added sound effects, but nothing that hasn’t been done before a lot. What is lacking is emotion, depth, fun or a sense of purpose. Never was there anything that made me connect or take notice. I don’t dislike it so much as that I am almost incredibly indifferent to it.
7. Sky – Sky 2
A strange gathering of rock, jazz and even classical musicians, playing chill-out versions of music from all these genres (curiously, classical chief among them) along with many original compositions. You can hear the virtuosity, the references to classical music and the more complex than usual compositions. And yet, there is something missing. In a way it sounds tinny, plastic even at times. There are moments when I get caught up in the music (Hotta, Sahara, Tristan’s Magic Garden, Toccata), but a lot of the time I know that what I hear is good, but why does it at the same time sound like stock music for company trailers? It’s like these guys frequently took compositions that aren’t fit for lounge music, but went out of their way to make it sound like lounge music anyway. In the end it is not as bad as I make it sound perhaps, but something about it just disappoints me, like it is more than clear that there is a much better album that could have been made out of this.
6. Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss
One of those albums I feel two listens aren’t enough. Both times I only got into it about halfway. Do the songs get better there or is it just that I have to get into it? It feels that there is a thick wall of guitars initially, impenetrable for me. Then later I feel the sound opens up more and there is more variety, feeling drama and the voice of Wolfe becomes more clear. I frequently like what I hear and perhaps I will love it one day.
5. The Soundtrack of Our Lives – Welcome to the Infant Freebase
The second album of over an hour that draws comparisons to The Beatles. I feel that the similarities are less overt here and although The Soundtrack of Our Lives is not as ambitious as The Olivia Tremor Control they are far more enjoyable and consistent. No, I can’t say with a straight face that these guys are in any way original or that the existence of this album makes any difference in the grand scheme of music, but I’ll be damned if not every song on this 70 minute affair is good and at times (Four Ages Part II, Blow My Cool, Instant Repeater ’99) even a little more than that.
4. Bee Gees – Bee Gees’ 1st
My father had a 2CD compilation of The Bee Gees: one CD for the early soft rock period and another with the disco era. He only ever played the first disc, so I might be one of the few people of my generation that is far more familiar with early Bee Gees than dance Bee Gees. That said, I never cared that much for that compilation CD myself, because they were almost all sweet sounding ballads, no matter the subject matter (and every now and then the Bee Gees did have some weird things to sing about). It was a bit much of the same, sound-wise. That’s why I’m happily surprised that this album is so varied. There is more than one trick here. There are a couple of famous ballads here, most notably To Love Somebody and personal favorite New York Mining Disaster 1941 (a good example of their off-beat subjects), but there are also some more baroque sounding tracks and even some Gregorian chants. Sure, it is still not the most varied album out there, but it feels well balanced and the album seems to be made with care.
Also, if you ever wondered why some people suspected the Bee Gees actually were a new identity for The Beatles this will be the most important proof. There are instances were I can’t separate the singing of the Gibb brothers with does of Lennon and McCartney.
3. Wire – Chairs Missing
The follow-up of Pink Flag is a case where the album is not as consistent as the predecessor, but the highs are higher. I am the Fly and Outdoor Miner are the most famous tracks, but my favorite is Marooned and what about that great mood setter of an opener, named Practice Made Perfect. What I like about Wire is how simple and basic everything sounds, but that at the same time everything feels more complex. It’s the offbeat lyrics, the uneasy atmosphere and the crazy rhythm that make this band and this album so unique.
2. The The – Soul Mining
Yet another 80’s album with a new wave sound. And another good one. Since when were these things so good? The cover makes me think I’m getting African inspired music, but outside of the chants at the end of Giant there is none of that. What we get is more poppy, yet with an alternative and dark edge. When you’re not paying attention to the lyrics you might be surprised to learn how nasty they sometimes are, in a good way. This is one of those albums that has it all: good lyrics, enough variety and memorable music, both in a catchy way (This is the Day) or in a more surprising way (that piano ending of Uncertain Smile). There was plenty of soul found in the mine.
1. Gene Clark – No Other
This was an album I discovered when I compiled the playlist for albums on Acclaimed Music and I was immediately impressed. Even then, when I was hardly able to focus on the lyrics I was moved by the music. The country/ folk/ rock sound is varied, but always contains a sense of melancholy mixed with a real spirit for life and living. Clark has a smooth voice with a pleasant sound and as an ex-member of The Byrds it is no surprise he sings in their style, but there is also something individual about the way his voice sometimes seems to rise up out of the harmony with the music to highlight a line that perhaps means more to him. When I finally got around to the lyrics they turned out to be both poetic and direct and full of hard-lived truths that fit the genre.
Above all I think this is a masterpiece of composition. The actual production of this album is notorious as it was extremely costly in its complex use of recording techniques, all the more painful as the album flopped and wasn’t re-released until the early 2000’s. The weird thing is that when I listen to it now with that information in mind it is still hard to imagine this album having such a rough and expensive production, because everything sounds so natural, understated and easy. The album is sometimes said to have influenced the sound that Fleetwood Mac would use in the years after and of course they had a huge success. But I have said here before that Fleetwood Mac to me is good, pretty music, without emotional depth, where the appeal of the music and the production are used to hide the feelings of the performers. This is the opposite: No Other comes across as deeply felt to me. The album is equally pretty as, say, Rumors, but there is a sense that Clark shares his heart for dinner with you. It is that mix between easygoing and beautiful music with a real broken soul that makes it such a great album.
A simple overview of my votes. Everybody on the right step forward please:
1. Wire - Chairs Missing vs. Gene Clark - No Other
2. The Olivia Tremor Control - Music from the Unrealized Film Script: Dusk at Cubist Castle vs. The The - Soul Mining
3. Chelsea Wolfe - Abyss vs. The Soundtrack of Our Lives - Welcome to the Infant Freebase
4. Sky - Sky 2 vs. Bee Gees - Bee Gees' 1st