Record #329: Electric Light Orchestra – Olé ELO (1976)

As a rule, I usually regard greatest hits compilations as insincere cash grabs by the Suits, entry-level, contextless chop jobs for listeners who can’t be bothered to delve into a band’s actual records, or both.

But Olé ELO has more interesting origins.

​As interest in Jeff Lynne’s group began to gain steam with the success of their huge hit Face the Music, United Artists Records compiled a retrospective of their past albums to give to radio stations. These non-retail compilations soon began circulating in the underground with such frequency that UAR had a commercial release. 

As is fitting for its initial purpose, this is a little more educational than most compilations. Each track is given a short blurb on the record sleeve explaining its significance in the ELO catalogue.

​And being that we’re talking about songs by Electric Light Orchestra, of course the music is great. The tracks are arranged chronologically, moving the album from hugely ambitious prog pop on side one to concise monster pop hits on side two. “10538 Overture,” with its “I Am the Walrus Vibe,” instantly exposes Jeff Lynne’s goal to continue what the Beatles had started by combining classical orchestration with modern rock and roll. And to that end, their eight minute reinterpration of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” is a must for a collection like this. 

As a big ELO fan myself, I’ve spent most of time with the albums following this compilation. As such, I enjoy this record as a good digest of everything I’ve yet to get into. And if it’s anything like the eleven minute epic “Kuiama,” I have some listening to do.

Record #328: The Evens – Get Evens (2006)

Fugazi was always sort of like the Beatles of the punk scene, so it makes sense that Ian MacKaye’s band with his wife Amy Farina would seem a little bit like Paul McCartney’s early solo work. 
The Evens is far more cynical, of course, but there’s something about the ragged, mathy, husband/wife vocals that evokes Ram.

The entire instrumentation of the record begins and ends with the two voices, Ian’s Baritone guitar, and Amy’s drums. No overdubs, no distortion, no bass. Any fans of Fugazi’s final record The Argument will find no surprises here. The quieter songs on that disc form the basis of Ian’s guitarwork, while Amy’s drumming is filled with angular shuffles.

The lyrical content is vintage MacKaye–anticapitalist, anticonsumerism, antigovernment–but he’s never been more charming then here, particularly on “Dinner With the President,” wherein he asks why he’s never been invited over “(I live in town,” he says. “It’s not geography”) only to reveal the reason in the third verse (“I know just what I’d do…stand up and yell as the meal is served”).

While there’s nothing here that approaches the sheer heft of Fugazi’s monolithic catalogue, it would be a mistake to dismiss the Evens. Ian is just as sharp and witty as ever, and Amy is as formidable a writing partner as anyone else.

Record #327: BRAIDS – Deep in the Iris (2015)

Montreal art-pop group BRAIDS hasn’t really gotten their dues. Their hype ran high with their debut Native Speaker, traipsed joyfully between manic, loop heavy indie pop and almost post-rock ballads.

Its follow up, Flourish//Perish, released fresh on the departure of their keyboardist, was a far more subdued affair, dwelling mostly in ambient electronica. It was beautiful, but not as pixie-devilish as anticipations demanded.

And so their third record, Deep in the Iris was released to almost no fanfare. As a BRAIDS fan, I only stumbled upon it by accident (and ignored it for a few months). Which is a shame, because with a hype machine behind it, this record could have been a huge hit.

Rather than retreading either prior albums, BRAIDS finds a way to mix the soft atmospherics of Flourish//Perish with Native Speaker’s unhinged energy.

For example, listen to the third track “Blondie,” whose structure is built on a wash of swelling keyboard chords paired with starting and stopping breakbeats. Anti-slutshaming anthem “Miniskirt” starts as a low piano led ballad before the drums and synths turn it into a dance track.

​Given that they’ve always done both sides of their sound well, it’s good to see them here expertly combining them to create some truly engaging songs.

Record #326: Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002)

Think back to the early 2000s.

9-11 is fresh in our minds, the Strokes, Hives, and White Stripes have harbinged the Rock Revival, nu-metal’s studded leather boot is still kicking down our doors. Radiohead has released two electronic albums in a row.

40-Year Old Virgin hadn’t been released yet, so we were all ignorant to the fact that a certain band would make us gay apparently.

Into this cynical, hardened society, Coldplay released their second full length, A Rush of Blood to the Head

While Parachutes had made a bit of a mark thanks to a couple strong singles, Rush of Blood was ubiquitous (how many movies used “Clocks” in the trailer?), eagerly taking Radiohead’s place as U2’s heir apparent (the band photo on the inner sleeve even looks like it was taken from the Joshua Tree artwork).

Which was fine, because two things have always been true: 1.) Radiohead has always been too paranoid and suspicious of the ruling class to be the biggest band in the world, and 2.) Chris Martin “would give [his] left testicle to write an album as beautiful as OK Computer.” His words, not mine.

And A Rush of Blood to the Head is the closest Coldplay has ever gotten to that goal. That claim is going to piss off some people, most of whom haven’t listened to OK Computer recently enough to remember that its musical center is closer to “Let Down” than “Paranoid Android” (which actually sounds a little bit out of place). Rush of Blood, on the other hand, is a bit toothier than its reputation.

Wide-eyed in worldview and complacent in its composition though it may be, its not all “Scientist” and “Clocks” here. “Politik” is crunchy and wincing. Behind “Daylight’s” Arabic tinged strings is the most driving drum part Coldplay ever put to tape. “God Put a Smile on Your Face” throws its weight around by means of a ragged acoustic guitar.

“Green Eyes” and “Warning Sign,” with their perfect Mazzy Star vibes, would have been indelible 90s alternative hits had they been released eight years earlier. Whisper positively rips, remaining the loudest song the group has ever done. And “Clocks” and “Scientist”? They’re not bad tracks if you can isolate yourself from their overuse.

While Coldplay would go on to become parodies of themselves (I feel like I’ve said that before), here they are still making their mark on pop music, and who cares if that mark fits a bit snugly between a few other bands’ imprints? It’s a damn enjoyable record

Record #325: Flying Saucer Attack – Further (1995)

Cryptograms has always been my favorite Deerhunter record–especially the first side, with its swirling ambience occasionally giving way to a more straightforward pop song. Curious then, that I did not immediately flock to Further when I first saw it name dropped in Pitchfork’s review the way I did to Echo and the Bunnymen (though that was probably for Microcastle…).
But the comparison is more than appropriate. Further might lack the full band clarity that Cryptograms falls into, but its whooshing, somnambulant atmosphere is cut from the same cloth, if not the cloth itself (after all, it was released thirteen years earlier).

​Acoustic guitars are woven through massive towers of delay and reverb, obscuring the vocals in the mix to the point where they are occasionally more of an additional texture than a verbal element. It is absent of percussion, except for “To the Shore,” the twelve minute standout of the album, which utilizes a galloping tom loop and arhythmic cymbal rush alongside a wash of single-chord guitar delay and feedback.

Though now twenty years old, Further is timeless, at once nostalgic and futuristic. Next to album and label information, the spine reads the phrase “HOME TAPING IS REINVENTING MUSIC,” which may not seem like a huge deal now, with Garageband preloaded onto every Macbook, ten years after Arcade Fire’s Funeral and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s debut broke open the floodgates of self distribution on the internet, giving rise to the advent of free distribution services like Bandcamp.

But in the nineties, where bands like Nirvana, Radiohead, and even underground heroes Sonic Youth and Jawbox were relying on major labels to finance and distribute their music, a loud call for DIY ethics was a radical slogan as punk rock as anything Fugazi had to say on the subject, even if the music is about as un-punk as you can get.