Monday 22 October 2012

Coldplay - Things I Don't Understand

I was a late-comer to Coldplay: game-changing debut Parachutes had been and gone, and second album A Rush Of Blood To The Head was nearing the end of its shelf-life. Their third album, X&Y, was looming on the horizon. Although I had certainly heard their music here and there, my own musical journeys had somehow kept me away from exploring it further - partly because, prior to this point, I hadn't been particularly overflowing in the wallet department, and so very much relied upon the music I already had.

But then I started having singing lessons. And Coldplay's In My Place was the first song I worked on. I really liked it, and felt that it would make sense for me to explore their back catalogue. And thus, a new Coldplay fan was found in me. I began trying to get copies of their old singles so that I could listen to different versions, or b-sides. I continued this habit with X&Y, buying the single of Speed Of Sound. And it was there that I heard this song for the first time.

I can certainly see why Coldplay chose to leave out Things I Don't Understand when choosing the tracks for X&Y. It can easily be compared to Speed of Sound and, whilst it definitely 'fits' with the rest of the songs on the album, I think it would have unbalanced it a little. Nevertheless, it ranks as one of my favourite Coldplay songs.

The guitar riff, particularly in the intro, always puts me in a good mood despite the fact that - conversely - the lyrics talk of confusion and despair. Indeed, I find the whole song's sound to be rather uplifting even though the content of the vocals might suggest otherwise. Perhaps the key to this juxtaposition is that the final words are:

"But I love this life"

Even though the world can be difficult to understand, with so much that can fall apart around us, life can still be (and should still be) worth living. Generally speaking, if a Coldplay song sounds morose and forlorn, or positive and joyful, then the lyrics will reflect that. However, I think this song deserves recognition for stepping out of that mould a little by pulling us along with words of unsettling uncertainty, accompanied by a relatively exhilarating melody. It's only really when we hit the end of the chorus that there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

"The guitar is such a great friend, easy to carry from room to room, from house to house." - Pete Townshend

Saturday 20 October 2012

Reviving Stuff 60s (Brooke Bond D) - Various Artists

Brooke Bond D - Reviving Stuff
Brooke Bond D - Reviving Stuff
You've got to hand it to my mother: why spend money on music if she could get it for free? Hence I grew up on a musical diet fed via promotional cassettes from Weetabix, Smiths, and Brooke Bond, and there is no doubt that they all played a part in the forming of my musical tastes. The Weetabix Top Trax tapes and Smiths' Kid Jensen tape pushed some 80s music into my ears when I otherwise might have been too young to notice. But Brooke Bond, via their Brooke Bond D brand of tea bags, went for the 1960s.

I suspect that my mum had thought to herself, "Ah! Some music that I can appreciate," as I don't remember her ever being a huge fan of 80s rock and pop (despite the numerous times we played the tapes at home or in the car). So maybe the Reviving Stuff tape, with its "12 Smash Hits From The 60s" was exactly the kind of thing she was hoping for when it was given away in 1988. As it happens, like all the other music tapes, my sister and I commandeered it and we were both more likely to be listening to it than my mum would be.

Of the twelve songs on the cassette, at least seven of them remain with me as firm favourites. I dislike none of them, but those remaining five wouldn't rank highly amongst my "most played".

Side One
1. Len Barry - 1-2-3
2. Righteous Brothers - You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'
3. The Walker Brothers - The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore
4. Tom Jones - It's Not Unusual
5. Mamas and Papas - California Dreamin'
6. Lulu and The Luvvers - Shout

Side Two
1. Amen Corner - Bend Me Shape Me
2. The Flowerpot Men - Let's Go To San Francisco
3. Eddie Cochran - Summertime Blues
4. Dusty Springfield - You Don't Have To Say You Love Me
5. Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto, Astrud Gilberto - The Girl From Ipanema
6. Little Eva - The Locomotion

As far as picking twelve songs from the 60s goes, I think the guys at Brooke Bond did a pretty good job. But I certainly thank them for providing me with wonders like The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore (that song is simply beautiful), and Bend Me Shape Me (so many memories of singing this at the top of my voice during long car journeys). Whilst I'm sure that I would have come across It's Not Unusual, and California Dreamin' at several points during my life, I think it is possible that The Walker Brothers or The Flowerpot Men could have passed me by.

"I write songs so that the person I didn't say those words to can hear them" - Taylor Swift

Dean Freeman - Give Me Time EP

Back in the day, I used to frequent a music website called PeopleSound (as mentioned in this previous post). The site no longer exists anymore, but I used to enjoy visiting it and using its search tool. By inputting the name of a band or artist that I liked, it would recommend something to me. Not something obvious that I might hear on the radio, but something new from an unsigned or just-signed artist that regarded my chosen band as an inspiration.

During one of my first visits, I was basking in the back-catalogue of Tears For Fears, so I naturally asked PeopleSound what it could offer me. One of the first results was a guy called Dean Freeman, and his song How Does It Feel?. After listening, I soon downloaded a couple of other tracks he was offering, then found his official website which had one extra track on offer.

Today, his website no longer exists. I can find only a couple of references to Dean and his music that aren't just within a list of mp3 files. His career as a musician, it seems, was shortlived. I recall that he was also involved in production and so perhaps he continued to walk down that avenue instead.

Really, I shouldn't mourn that he didn't release any other music. There are hundreds of thousands of musicians that release good stuff and yet never "make it", or fail to be discovered by the right person, or decide not to pursue that particular dream, or just lose motivation and allow it all to fade away. It's a fact of life in the music industry: only a very, VERY, tiny percentage of people ever approach a point where they might call themselves "a success".

But as for this guy...

Dean Freeman was one of the first artists that I listened to away from the radio, or from personal recommendations. His music represents one of the first times that I felt I was discovering something for myself and, at that time (potentially anywhere between 1999 and 2003), that was a big deal for me. I tried to find out as much as possible about his music but, naturally, found very little. In my somewhat childish naivete, I started to set up a fan page and contacted Dean by email requesting the possibility of conducting an e-interview. From what I remember, his reply was understandably cynical; asking what form my website was going to take, and what I intended. I saw sense in the end, and didn't proceed with the 'project'.

My fan-website never saw the light of day and, unusually for me, I don't think I have any old floppy discs with the files on it. His own website no longer exists. All that remains is a couple of old references on websites such as EmoSonic (2008) and The Muse's Muse (2007).

So here I am now, talking about a musician that very little people have probably ever heard of, that never really made it, and that doesn't really seem to exist anymore. And yet, somewhat amusingly, his music actually means something to me because it represents a period in my life when I started finding music with a little more independence. Perhaps then, this is my eulogy for his career as a recording artist.

His one release which was available digitally and as a physical CD (which I stupidly never purchased, so I guess I'm as much to blame for not fully supporting his endeavours!) was his EP: Give Me Time.

Give Me Time EP
1. Give Me Time
2. Rain
3. Something I Can't See.
[currently seems to be downloadable at EmoSonic and CampFame, amongst others]

Curiously, the first track that I ever heard, and my favourite, is How Does It Feel?, which doesn't actually seem to feature on the EP. It definitely had the production values of both the early and revived forms of Tears for Fears, some nicely distorted background vocals, and a confident guitar. From the EP, the title track stands out above the others , but Something I Can't See is notably different due to a piano taking control. If you were to pressure me into making a comparison (which, to be honest, I'm generally quite happy to do) I'd draw a strong parallel with White Ladder-era David Gray.

Maybe someone else out there also downloaded the mp3s like I did, and still enjoys them the way I do. Maybe there's some CDs of his EP still floating around in the world, regularly listened to by someone else who wishes there could have been more.

Whether an artist "makes it" or not, their music still could have something to offer.

Thanks, Dean. You were one of the first important steps along my own, personal, musical road.


Sadly, there's no YouTube video I can link to, no SoundCloud widget to play his music. So I shall reiterate that the Give Me Time EP can be found to download at a couple of places such as:

Enjoy :)

"Dance to the movement of the stars. Sing till the walls around us ring. Pray that it never fades away until we sleep" - David Gilmour

ToLiesel - The Light

After writing the previous blog post about Message to Bears' song Wake Me, I visited their Facebook page.  Scrolling through the latest posts, I saw a link to a recent gig that listed the other bands that performed with them. I searched one of them, ToLiesel, clicked the link to hear their song, and very quickly fell in love with it.

Sometimes it is tough to put a finger on exactly why I like a particular track. Other times I can easily declare, "The chords are wonderful!" or "The voice is heavenly!" or "It fills me with joy!", etc. etc.

In this case, I am ashamed to admit that much of my enjoyment is because it reminds me of another band. Making comparisons seems to be a staple of music commentary, yet usually frowned upon; it is often considered lazy, and too reliant on the reader's knowledge. And yet music is sometimes phenomenally difficult to describe in words that the only way around it seems to be, "They sound like [this band], only rockier/funkier/darker/...".

ToLiesel's The Light reminds me of Big Country, a Scottish band that were mostly successful during the eighties. The similarities were first obvious to me in the vocals, but even the guitars take me back to songs like Look Away and Wonderland. Yet it is important to note that, firstly, I may be the only one that even thinks they sound similar and, secondly, it isn't a bad thing. I could also, just as easily, suggest that the guitar is reminiscent of Parachutes-era Coldplay.

The Light is ToLiesel's only output so far, but I am certainly keen to hear more from this band. The harmonies are unforced and gentle, the guitars ring out with the comfortably familiar indie-echo, and the heavier sections of the tune remain focused and in-keeping with the rest of the tune. It's impossible to make any judgement of a band based on a single track, but I look forward to what comes next.

Oh, and they have kindly made this song free to download. So do it!


"He who sings scares away his woes" - Cervantes

Friday 19 October 2012

Message to Bears - Wake Me

Previously, I mentioned how I have changed some of the ways that I look for or discover new music. One of them was: "A friend on Facebook is in a band of his own, and mentioned the other bands he is sharing a gig with". That is exactly how I heard this song for the first time.

Outrageously, I don't even remember which friend it was that led to me arriving at Message To Bears' website. I recall reading a list of bands playing at one particular gig and, of the bunch that were mentioned, it was definitely the music of Message to Bears that seemed to stand out and, in particular, this track.

The song begins with the sounds of a woodland: birds singing, a stream bubbling away, and it is almost as if you can hear sunlight coming through the treetops. An acoustic guitar is quick to join in with a slow and gentle series of notes. As the tune continues, the pace picks up a little with further instruments joining in, some simple vocals build the sound, and we soon find ourselves at the crescendo. And then everything suddenly falls away and we are left with the guitar occasionally providing a note, a cello carrying us through, and the final "aaaahs" of the vocal line.

Some songs follow a similar progressive pattern to this one, and yet end up with the listener feeling like they haven't really experienced anything - as though it has just been pieced together with little creativity at all; more of a block-by-block approach to music. Jerome Alexander (the multi-instrumentalist behind Message to Bears) has avoided this and, whilst the tune does seem to pass you by almost without realising it, you do reach an ending that leaves you feeling content and satisfied. For me, the biggest surprise was that the woodland sounds continue throughout almost all of the track, when I was expecting them to just act as an introduction and soon fade away.

As the title perhaps alludes to, Wake Me is the perfect soundtrack to starting a day... albeit the kind of day when you have no job to do, and are perhaps vacationing in some idyllic log cabin at a forest's edge. Regardless, it should serve to calm even the most frantic of minds.

"The function of music is the release us from the tyranny of concious thought"

Sunday 7 October 2012

Kid Jensen's Chart Blasters - Various Artists

So far, the most popular post here is about the Top Trax cassettes that were given away by Weetabix in the 1980s. Judging by the comments left on the page, I can only assume that there are lots of people out there that get as nostalgic about these kinds of things as I do.

Those Weetabix tapes got an awful lot of play when I was a child, but if there was one other cassette that could possibly have been put in the player more times then it would have to be yet another tape that was given away back in the 80's.

Smiths crisps (which later became part of the PepsiCo group, and thus some of the products became labelled as Walkers instead) gave away a 10-song track cassette in 1986. David "Kid" Jensen was the celebrity used to give the mix some credibility as he'd been a radio regular throughout the 70's and 80's and, when this tape was released, had made a move from Radio 1 to Capital FM as well as making a start in television.

The album's title is incredibly eighties: "Kid Jensen's Chart Blasters"
"Kid Jensen's Chart Blasters... from Smiths!"
"Kid Jensen's Chart Blasters... from Smiths!"

My sister and I adored this tape and, as with the Weetabix cassettes, I am certain that my relationship with music was forged and moulded by it.

Before the music began on Side One, Kid Jensen himself provided a little introduction that still remains deeply ingrained in my brain. Sadly, the actual tape itself was accidentally left in a car that got sold/scrapped and so no longer can I listen to those immortal words:

"Hi, I'm Kid Jensen, and I've got together with the people at Smiths to bring you a hot selection of chart blasting hits. You'll be hearing from The Bangles, King, Cyndi Lauper and Paul Young, D.C. Lee, Bonnie Tyler, Shakin' Stevens, Dead or Alive, Alison Moyet and Michael Jackson! So get on your feet and jump to the beat with Kid Jensen's Chart Blasters... from Smiths!"
And then The Bangles' Manic Monday would begin.

In fact, we became so used to listening to the tape that whenever I hear one of the songs being played today, I always expect to then hear the intro to the next track off the tape. It seems a little wrong when Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Wanna Have Fun doesn't begin as King's Taste Of Your Tears ends. But then, that's what custom digital playlists are for these days.

So, for those of you who remember the tape but don't remember what was on it, here's the track listing:

Side One:
1. Manic Monday - The Bangles
2. Taste Of Your Tears - King
3. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun - Cyndi Lauper
4. Every Time You Go Away - Paul Young
5. See The Day - D.C. Lee

Side Two:
1. Holding Out For A Hero - Bonnie Tyler
2. Turning Away - Shakin' Stevens
3. You Spin Me Round (Like A Records) - Dead or Alive
4. All Cried Out - Alison Moyet
5. Thriller - Michael Jackson

"Music is forever; music should grow and mature with you, following you right on up until you die" - Paul Simon