Thursday, July 29, 2010

Give and Take

We give. You take. That's how it works in netlabel-land.

Down Team Up are back with a summer record, and it's well worth the taking.

"Give and Take" opens and closes with breezy, atmospheric keys and nostalgic soundscapes, but is overstuffed with energetic sounds over the course of 12 tracks spanning 52 minutes. As with their debut EP, the tunes on "Give and Take" each have a distinctive personality and share traits with many styles of electronic music, but are seamlessly mixed together. Take the time to listen to the entire record as a whole and you'll be treated to a soundtrack for moments both magical and ominous, as well as a few self-depracating sonic winks.

Listen and Freely Download here!

More music from Down Team Up and other experimental electronic artists can be heard freely from Believe in Billy Records

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chemical Brothers dive in "Further"

Been listening all weekend and at work today... the new Chemical Brothers album, "Further" (Astralwerks, 2010)

High quality album, in my opinion. There are a lot of classic Chems moments, familiar sounds and effects, esp. enjoyable if you liked Surrender. The continuous mix (well, pretty continuous through at least the first 6 tracks) and a generally positive vibe of exploration are welcome, esp. after the past few records have seemed like disjointed singles/collaborations.

Other reviews are saying how "Further" ebbs and flows both as a whole ( a piece to be appreciated in one listen), and over the course of each song. Indeed, though the record is only ~52 mins/8 tracks, there are a lot of layers and elements to enjoy.

"Escape Velocity" and "Horse Power" are the closest things to their big-beat hits, with the latter in line with a lot of the Electronic Battle weapon series, a bit cheeky with the horse neigh samples, but still a techno beast. The former really beats the heck out of that Who-esque arpeggio, and it's a great 12 minute ride, although towards the end i kind of wanted them o stop tweaking the knobs, we get it!

"Another World" is pretty and powerful as a 70's nostalic piece.
"Dissolve" recalls "Let Forever Be" with its wall of distorted guitar sound, as well as portions of some of the "Surrender"-era outtakes. Great percussion!

"Swoon" is much smoother in this LP version than the chopped single edit (side note: what percentage of single edits are very good? They either cram too much in so the result is a mess, or they cut out the best passages). It's a little bit "safe" in terms of the Chem's craft, as the bassline and squiggly sample and automated percussion are

"K+D+B" again recalls something from "Surrender", maybe passages from "Sunshine Underground" or the title track itself...
Album closer "Wonders of the Deep" for me approaches Sigur Ros or M83 terrain, with underwater depth charges and percollating blips giving way to twinkly guitar and big heartfelt choruses. A great emotional finale, though there is an extended twinkly fade out that sort of diminishes the effect.

Is it their best record? No, but it's very very good. Not since "Surrender" have they changed up their style this much. Certainly their best since "Come with Us".

Monday, June 21, 2010

Is it 1997 again?

I remember fondly the late 90's, when the "electronica" revolution was supposed to hit the US. There were some big-time salvos fired towards MTV, in the form of Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, the Crystal Method. Lurking just under the surface of US radio airplay were a host of other bands that were at the forefront of the Euro dance charts and still highly regarded as masters of their craft - the likes of Underworld, Fluke, Orbital, Leftfield.

All of these i discovered too late. Sure, in 1997-98, i was pleased as punch to be playing my Chemical Brothers "Dig Your Own Hole" to anyone who drove with me, or putting Prodigy's "Mindfields" on the college poolhall jukebox. But i didn't really get in on the ground floor for any of these bands. Over the years, i have become obsessed with Underworld, plenty a fan of Fluke and Orbital, admirers of many other electronic dance bands, big and small. I've explored various genres from electro to breaks to ambient to trip-hop to jungle and back. But i never really got the here and now. Whatever that is.

So it's with a sense of warm nostalgia and affirmation that i welcome the releases of 2010. We're getting new albums from Underworld and the Chemical Brothers, both said to be returns to former form. Leftfield has reunited for a tour. Orbital have been toruing their greatest hits since last year, but have also released their first new material since 2004 (the excellent double A-side single "Don't Stop Me"/"the Gun is Good", which distills all the band were noted for and makes it fresher still).
Sure, most electronic dance music has a short shelf life, and there are so many lost to the false promises of "This is Techno - Dance Tracks 1998" compilations. It's just good to hear from a few old friends.

Monday, June 7, 2010

European Club Gig

I've arrived at the listening post for the famous "European Club Gig" 1996 by Underworld.
The actual venue for this amazing show remains somewhat cryptic...the only clue is Karl Hyde mentioning how great it is to be back in Germany.
But it doesn't really matter where the show was recorded - the excellent sonic quality of the recording and the epic performance itself are stand-alone virtues.

Clocking in at over 120 minutes, this is Underworld at their solo best, not a festival gig, but a fully developed live performance which showcases their best tracks at the time.

Beginning with the legendary "Juanita/Kiteless/To Dream of Love" series, we hear 20 minutes of track not yet released on LP, but rarely played with such sophistication. This song has so many loops and hooks and live additions that it can be perfomed countless ways. But here is a harbinger of the definitive live document "Everything Everything", recorded some 2-3 years later.

The next succession is from the 1994 LP "dubnobasswithmyheadman", consisting of "Dark and Long", "rez" (ok,a 1993 single) and "Cowgirl"... as typical, the latter two tracks are seemlessly mixed, but what's wonderful about the European Club gig is that everything's mixed! The boys don't take a break until over 70 minutes in!

Sister tracks "Cherry Pie" and "Rowla" exhibit the band at their techno best, before the beat-poetry of "Confusion the Waitress" and jungle breaks of "Pearls Girl" kick in. An amazing 17+ minute version of "Born slippy" follows, and believe me, you're not bored for a second. Effortlessly segueing into megahit "Born Slippy.NUXX" as a finale, the whole show sounds polished, but still playful, with lots of rough vocal samples, quick record-spin blasts, and intro/outtro beat-heavy improvs for each track.

It may be of uncertain origin, but the European Club Gig stands as one of Underworld's finest live recordings, circulating the internet in various guises, but always in high fidelity. Minimal crowd noise means alll the more concentration on the music, never to disappoint.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Easy as (Cherry) Pie with a side of Rowla

If you're at all familiar with Underworld's "Second Toughest In the Infants" LP from 1996, you'll know the driving trancey track "Rowla"; If you are lucky enough to own the "Pearl's Girl" EP, you'll find a track called "Cherry Pie" that starts with the same 5-note pattern and sounds, but quickly turns into something entirely different; urgent quelches and atmospheric pads are layered udner a barrage of beats.

And in listening to the 1996 shows (most recently the Quartz , Glastonbury and Reading summer festivals) you'll often hear these two tracks mixed seamlessly and epically into a good 15-20 minutes of bliss/aggression, depending on how you hear the world.

As I've mentioned, the 1996 shows have a rather fixed setlist, in comparison to the experimental jams of 1994-95. It could be a consequence of festival audiences, where you play the more recognizeable tracks at the expense of some deep cuts. But each performance reinforces the impression that nothin within the song is static - Underorld stretch these tracks out with some lovely beat-heavy passages, include child-like vocal samples, and generally showcase why they have been described as an improvisational electronic band.

Case in point: "Rez/Cowgirl" from the Reading Festival. Yes, these two tracks are typically played side by side, and I'd venture that they are among the most commonly performed tracks in the UW canon, one or both making an almost-nightly appearance. They are always jubilantly performed (in more recent years, Karl Hyde has taken to singing "Celebrate! Celebrate!" during the synth breakdown). In 1996, though, the mixed track was a bit fresher, and at Reading it is a 16:44 monster that grows from the twinkling pattern of Rez and ends with Hyde and the band triumphant before a crowd wanting more.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Solid 96

Today, i enter a succession of live Underworld documents from 1996 with recordings from Roskilde and the US Organic festival.

First (re)impression: It's going to be a solid year.

At first blush, and also taking a gander at the bootlegs chronologically ahead of these, Underworld were settling into a setlist that usually included "rez", "cowgirl", 'Born Slippy", "Born slippy.NUXX", "Juanita", "Cherry Pie/Rowla" (always perfection when played live together", and one or two tracks from "dubno" or previews from the next long player "STITI".
In these two gigs, I hear and sense a jump from a band that was experimenting with what their live show might contain to one that was confident and willing to let a more regular setlist be explored from night to night. Samples enter and exit, Karl Hyde adds some ad libbed revelations, but it seems (if memory holds), that 1996 was a year of fewer tracks, fewer improvs, and instead very solid performances of a shorter setlist. It's all leading up to the mysterious, legendary "European Club Gig" that has been making its way around the internet for many years - a testament to Underworld's live prowess.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Disappear Here - by Hybrid

Something of a review here of an album that has been played pretty much daily, often multiple times, for the past month.

Hybrid: "Disappear Here" (2010, Distinctive Records):

Hybrid have been known for mixing symphonic, soundtrack-inspired orchestration with hard beats and aggressive electronic production since their stunning debut "Wide Angle". That and the follow up, "Morning Sci-Fi" each were split between tracks with slightly menacing vocals and instrumentals that often swelled from lovely or eerie into manic breakdowns.
With their prior LP, "I Choose Noise", i rather feared that they had fallwn victim to repeating themselves. Not only is the album the most break-beat inspired, the orchestral strings seemed a little tacked on. So imagine my surprise and enjoyment when "Dissappear Here" recharged and reshaped the group.
Chris Healings and Mike Truman, producers since the beginning, have now added vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Charlotte james, who's voice drives no fewer than 8 of the 12 tracks, ranges from wounded ballads ("Disappear here", "Salt", "Numb") to in-your-face declarations of empowerment ("Original Sin", "break My Soul"). Many of the tracks have a decidedly live feel and a traditional song structure. Howeever, where Hybrid stick to the strings and beats formula (stunning opener "Empire", "City Siren"), or stir up differentr genres (the mysterious, soundscapy "Green Shell Suit"), they're clearly concentrating on a wider range of emotions.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

1 9 9 5

Today, i continued chronologically with my Underworld bootleg collection, and entered 1995, amazing to think that this was 15 years ago!

Underworld took off with the re-release of "Born Slippy.Nuxx", with the arrival of the "Trainspotting" film soundtrack and some help from Pete Tong. But in 1995, as with the 1994 dates i discussed previously, the live performances were really loose and were drawing on a small catalog (compared with today's canon). But these were also the days to hear the really rare tracks played live. During future tours, you'd be pretty much guaranteed to hear "Nuxx" and "rez" and "cowgirl", along with many other noted singles. But in 1995, Underworld was generating a buzz from their debut, but were not yet a bona fide super group. You'd get sneak peaks at tracks from the next LP ("rowla", "Juanita"), some rare remixes (e.g. UW's remix of "Leave Home" by the Chemical Brothers) and other deep cuts (e.g. "Spikee"- a B side vinyl cut, not readily available until 2003's Underworld retrospective "1992-2002", unless yhou had a VHS of "footwear repairs" or a rarer still comp. cd).

Today i listened to T in the Park -Hamilton, Scotland, 6/8/95 and Leicester University, 10,20,95, as well as the 1995 lowlands festival

Sadly, these boots are not of the best sonic quality, suffering from volume fade outs and audience noise. Someone in the fan trading community commented on the Leicester gig: "You can only polish a tud so much". But still, these gigs are very listenable and free-flowing, in particular Lowlands, which is pretty much one solid hour of mixed tracks.
They also broadcast a few things loud and clear: UW are not afraid to riff on a track for a good 15-20 minutes, nor are they hesitant to throw caution to the wind and give the crowd a solid dose of improvisation. In particular, the Leicester gig has at least four lonnnng improvs consisting of barrages of beats and crazy effects, as well as a killer version of "Mmm skyscraper i love you" that swells to 21 minutes in length.

"oich Oich" makes a rare live appearance here, at least a year before it hit the US on the back of the "Pearls Girl" EP. The original "Born Slippy" and "spoonman" also feature in both shows.

By 1996, the show would become more polished and the setlist a tad more predictable. But in 1995, Underworld were using every weapon in their smallish arsenal of tracks, to great effect.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The sound of bands breaking up...

This isn't (hopefully, thankfully) about Underworld, but...

Don't you hate being late to the party? i have an unfortunate habit, of discovering a band too late - they're on the rocks or have already broken up.

A few examples:

The Borrowers - yeah, you've probably not heard of them. But they made a little indie stir in 1996 wih t heir eponymous debut and college radio tracks "Broadway Mary" and "Jaswant's Rain". At the time, i hadn't heard anything by the band. Instead, my father took my brother and i to a free concert at South Park, outside Pittsburgh, PA, which hosted a summer concert series of both up-and-coming and somewhat established bands. And they were awesome, comprised of multi-instrumentalists (inc. mandolin, and drummers who hit the bass for effect) with a clear passion for songwriting. Sadly, they didn't get the exposure they deserved and after a sub-par self-released album, the Borrowers went on to other musical pursuits. Still, their debt "The Borrowers" on Guardian records, strikes a chord with me.

The Caulfields - Power-pop heroes, and taking their name from my fave book, (err, see pseudonym "holden"), The Caulfields had a minor hit with "Devil's Diary" in 196-ish. I discovered them by chance in a used CD store, attraced both to their name and to their second album ("L") artwork- a photo of the Atomium, the crazy sphere and stick building for the world's fair in Brussels, Belgium (a place i would eventually visit in 2006, taking plenty of photos, much to the amusement/dismay of my travelling companion). Anyway, I bought "L" (1997)first. It's just pure power pop goodness, with clever, ironic lyrics and a hard-rockin' guitar-driven chorus, but not afraid to add the odd horn section. Lead singer John Faye has been very kind to me, and has gone on to a solo career with the John Faye Power Trip and a new band, Ike, which has been high profile in the Philly-Delaware area.

The Prayer Chain - While i was in college, a grad student who was very into Christian rock gave me a bunch of old cassettes. I gave them a listen and lo and behold, i discovered a few bands that i really enjoyed, and they were honestly good, not just praise and wosrhip, but really "alternative" to the norm, with insightful lyric. Some of the tapes were by The Prayer Chain. The one that most drew me in was called "Antarctica" - it's a collection of outtakes from the band's last LP, "Mercury" (referred to in the press as "the sound of a band splitting up") and a live show from ~1995. The outtakes are really agressive and driving ("Loverboy", "Friend or Foe"), not to mention catchy, and in the case of "humb", a precursor to the noise-rock genre. hardly the praise and worship stuff i expected - it was actually very cryptic.

But the live EP was so solid and so emotional, that i dare say i got chills the first time i played it, and that was the middle of summer! Tracks like "Wrounde", "sky High" and "Shawl" emphasize a unique vocal and a 90's alt-guitar style, but with very spiritual lyrics. The band indeed broke up, but were definitely ahead of their peers.

Today is 1994 again

For the first day of revisiting the Underworld bootleg catalog, I started logically enough at the beginning, or, the first recorded shows I own.

10-13-1994 Sheffield University, UK:
Underworld as we know them (in their electronic mode) had been around for a couple of years, and had just released their stellar "Dubnobasswithmyheadman". Yes, that album includes some classic singles, such as "Cowgirl" and "Dirty Epic", and songs that would be live staples for years. But at this early stage, the band wasn't required to play the singles and they really hadn't had any megahits yet. In fact, from the recording, you get the feeling that they are playing to a small, rather indifferent crowd, made even more awkward by the announcer's hearty introductions, to which the band respond by launching quietly into a very lush track, "Thing in a Book"; the show ends with an impromptu encore of "Dark Train" to a surprised announcer who thought they'd gone off for good. The gig itself draws heavily on tracks from the "Dark and Long" EP - provisionally remixes, but actually there are some epic long tracks that bear little resemblance to the original - as well as a few early versions of tracks that would feature on 1996's "Second Toughest in the Infants".

The real joy of this recording is that it's almost continuously mixed and full of beat-driven improvs. I get the sense that the band (Karl Hyde on vocals/guitar, etc, Rick Smith and Darren Emerson behind the mixing desk) were still polishing their chops, doing what they wanted regardless of if the crowd was into it or knew any of the tracks...but the improvisation that has always characterized their shows is present even this early on.
Maybe it's a product of the time, that mixing was a bit more rough around the edges, or maybe it's hearing some of these tracks in embryonic form, but it makes for a memorable recording.

1994 - Tranway, Glasgow, Scotland:
This show was recorded by the BBC, and with that built-in radio audience, Underworld are all business. Unlike the above show's long improvs and transitions, here the tracks are pretty distinct, and they're played quite agressively - nothing soft or gentle in this set! Karl Hyde cuts and pasts lyrics from soon-to-be megahit "Born Slippy NUXX" over top the usually instrumental original version, as well as sticks "Spoonman" on top of the rarely played "Dogman Go Woof". This one was wonderfully remastered by the Underworld fan concert-sharing community (Ride the Sainted Rhythms).

What is this? Why are we here?

I'm a compulsive music collector.

Yes, like you, i really love music. But I have tremendous loyalty to a few bands, most notably Underworld and Genesis (worlds apart musically, but both have served me well), meaning I have put a lot of hours into listening and collecting everything i can get my hands on by them.

I discovered Underworld (outside the rare comp. track) in earnest in 2002. Truly changed my musical directions. Like all obsessions, things (i.e downloading and buying) soon got out of hand. And now, 8 years later, i have about 130 bootleg recordings, not to mention all the LPs, most every single and a lot of rarities/imports.

By no means do i have every gig that Underworld has performed, but i do have the majority of those that have been recorded (in concert or via radio) from 1994-present.

Sure, i've listened to them all, usually as soon as i obtained them. Sure, i have my favorites. But recently we moved and i reorganized by CD collection (yes, i burn all the downloads i enjoy to CD - old fashioned for sure! But mp3s are so impersonal and seemingly impermanent), and it was pretty overwhelming. Why am i collecting these? There are only so many hours in the day to listen to music, and it's mostly taken up by whatever's on my mind /mood at present.

So, in the interest of (1) enjoying again all those moments of magical discovery and (2) somewhat scientifically checking again how the band has evolved their live performances, road-tested songs, and build their repertoire of favorites, improvs, one-offs, and period pieces...

i resolve to play at least 2 and hopefully several Underworld boots per day and record a few impressions. And because Underworld's not all I listen to, I'll probably use this blog to post some reviews of other bands that are rocking my socks, some links to netlabels offering free music by deserving new/obscure artists, and maybe pump my own music/netlabel releases a bit.

And while many/most who read this don't really care about my impressions (because writing about music is ridiculously subjective), i'll keep the posting to the high-points as i see them - e.g. when a new track made the live set for the first time, the first or few recorded versions of an improv or new track that never saw the studio light (as far as we know), the gradual shifting from long improv beat-driven jams to having a catalog capable of sustaining a new tracklist every night, the departure of Darren Emerson, the arrival of Darren Price to the live mix, etc.

I hope that you'll share in the memories and fill in the blanks.