Saturday, August 29, 2009


One of big-beat pioneers Chemical Brothers’ more underrated singles, ‘Elektrobank’ created a relatively minor but still significant impact back in the halcyon days of 1997, when Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons ruled the dance-chart roost with their brand of pavement-shattering and envelope-pushing drum n’ bass. ‘Elektrobank’ was virtually a Chemicals 101 track, featuring plenty of agitated breakbeats, shuddering bass lines, forceful sampled vocals and an aggressive tone throughout: in short, all the artistic trademarks that made the dynamic duo a revered name amongst mainstream clubbers and underground cognoscenti alike. Check out the lyrical, engaging video clip by renowned non-conformist auteur Spike Jonze, featuring a very young Sofia Coppola (before her fame-finding directorial days) as an embattled rhythmic gymnast overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to win the day.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I Put a Spell on You

Previously cast as a manic, hyper-frenzied voodoo-blues incantation, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s well-regarded ‘I Put a Spell on You’ was radically transformed into a simmering, edgily ominous dungeon crawl by Bryan Ferry in 1993, effectively exchanging the original’s swampy depravity for a more measured, ironically stately but no less foreboding aura that also highlights Ferry’s infamous lounge-lizard mannerisms. This highlight from 1993’s underrated ‘Taxi’, constituting one of Ferry’s more resonant ‘readymade’ covers, is complemented by a stylish, live performance on the now-defunct ‘Top of the Pops’, featuring the Roxy Music frontman in familiar onstage surroundings: prettified but vacant-faced back-up dancers, functionally competent sidemen (or in this case, sidewomen), and lots of dramatic smoke effects.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Rain Tree Crow

When erstwhile new-wave outfit Japan got back together in 1990, frontman David Sylvian was insistent that the band not call themselves by their former moniker. Instead, Sylvian had the rest of the group adopt the rather oblique name of Rain Tree Crow, and he also contended that it was more tenable for them to go in a different musical direction. So, instead of the pop-funk and New Romantic textures that were their former stock in trade, the reformation album, also called ‘Rain Tree Crow’, was a seemingly randomised collection of atmospheric ballads and tonal instrumental sketches that was about as far removed from their previous sound as possible.

The album itself was released in 1991, and while it netted considerable critical acclaim, it fared rather averagely on the charts, just making it into the top 25 in Britain (previous Japan albums all landed in the top ten). The group disbanded shortly after, perhaps because of the record’s inadequate showing, but definitely mostly because of Sylvian’s supposed dictatorial control of the project, which in effect left the other members as mere sessionists for what is essentially another Sylvian album. Not surprising then that it was reported that large amounts of intra-band strife and general disgruntlement marked the moods of the recording sessions.

However, notwithstanding any charges that ‘Rain Tree Crow’ comprises the fruits of a highly contentious recording experience, and the fact that it sounds absolutely nothing like Japan, there are a few artistic merits to be found on it, as proven on this remastered reissue. Evocative instrumentals like ‘New Moon at Red Deer Wallow’, ‘Red Earth’ and ‘A Reassuringly Dull Sunday’ have titles that describe their contents to a tee, all ethnic-fusion percussion and woodwinds, modulated guitars and atmospheric synth tones. Meanwhile, things like ‘Black Crow Hits Shoe Shine City’ and ‘Big Wheels in Shanty Town’ are elegant interpretations of the sort of streamlined worldbeat that art-rock stalwart Peter Gabriel excelled at. There are also a handful of stately, finely sculpted ballads that are highly reminiscent of Sylvian’s solo work, like the meditative, pastoral ‘Blackwater’, the desolate-sounding ‘Cries and Whispers’ and the elegantly edgy ‘Every Colour You Are’.

So, while ‘Rain Tree Crow’ is not quite the proper Japan reformation record that old-school diehards were hoping for, it is nonetheless a crafted collection that updates the collective's basic sonics for a new decade, and also holds up to repeated listenings. It might not have the resonance of classic Japan albums like ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ and ‘Tin Drum’ possess, but it’s still a well-rounded and highly artistic listening experience that thankfully doesn’t fall into new age-influenced self-indulgence. A sound artistic progression for Japan, and a solid indicator of the shape of things to come for the reconstituted group, had they decided to continue.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Bittersweet Symphony

A classic Brit-rock bauble from the halcyon days of late-1990s, Blair-era Cool Britannia, The Verve's 'Bittersweet Symphony' from 1997 is a veritable turning point for the erstwhile space-rock pioneers, indicating a shift in artistic direction, from the seething white-noise aesthetics of the past, to a more accessible, radio-ready sensibility. Notwithstanding the tetchy legal issues that bedevilled its initial release, 'Bittersweet Symphony' has rightfully earned its place as the Wigan collective's most recognisable single, by dint of its distinctive orchestral-string lead melody, its loping, strutting backbeat, and of course, frontman 'Mad' Richard Ashcroft's sneery, yet despairing, howl-against-the-elements lyrics. Check out the infamous video clip, which had Ashcroft lip-synching while walking down a busy street, quite oblivious to his surroundings, and consequently, causing all manner of social mayhem when he intentionally, nonchalantly knocks into passers-by, and at one point, jumps on top of the bonnet of a car, much to the chagrin of the irate owner. All great stuff, and a fond reminder of the best bits of Brit-pop, back in the days when it really mattered.