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Toro Y Moi’s debut LP Causers Of This had a fantastic energy that saw it bouncing round the blogosphere before dripping into the mainstream last summer. Though dubbed and sectioned off as hipster “chillwave” or “glo-fi”, the album’s colourful digital sound secured Chaz Bundick fans who were happy to forget about genre, happy to indulge in his electro-nostalgia.
Underneath The Pine is still very much a memory painter and will nicely complement the faded photos on your newsfeed. The intro track (aptly named “Intro/Chi Chi”) dilates the pupils with a surging Zero 7 sounding warp before we are well and truly within the boogie of “New Beat”. Whilst the songs from Causers Of This were able to help us reminisce pretty casually, moving through the more disco Underneath The Pine may leave you wondering whether you did indeed do a little jet set schmoozing on the French Riviera in your youth. Yet what is perhaps stranger is how the music doesn’t feel gimmicky or surreal despite the clichéd imagination doing its worst. As demonstrated by the jabbing little bass line on the first single “Still Sound”, Chaz has everything under control. Live instruments have given the tracks a depth and warmth that a quick listen of Causers of This (laptop offspring) will make surprisingly clear. “Good Hold” is a wonderful example of how successful this is – gentle flanging without any cut and paste noise.
For those of us swept away by the chillwave in the summer, Underneath The Pine provides a pleasant return to dry land with all those dreamy memories intact. The album confirms Toro Y Moi’s status as a pioneer and the music will provide a welcome life ring whether you’re drowning in Last.fm chillwave radio or being squeezed by summatives.
If you like your superstars glossy and perfectly formed, don’t bother to read on. Instead of the air-brushedness of modern superstardom gracing the front cover, we’re greeted with the bloody gurn of Mr. Zombie looking as if he’s just won a fight-to-the-death for dominance of a neanderthal tribe. With lyrics and iconography ripped straight from the blood-and-guts B-movie sort of horror film for people frustrated with the geological pace of Let The Right One In, it’s important not to take this too seriously: this has its bloody tongue well and truly in its cheek. Tracks such as “Werewolf Women of the SS” are, I would imagine, fairly self-explanatory.
As far as meaningless lyrics go, “All hail Jesus Frankenstein!” beats the usual “wherever you go I’ll go there too” sort of mush that populates the airwaves. “Sick Bubble-Gum” puts the “cuss” in percussion, its glorious “motherfuckers” interlocking with diminished fifths to create a resonant emotional experience. “What?” sounds like Satan taking a sledgehammer to Steriogram’s “Walkie Talkie Man”, and is the most exciting riff-based song in years. “Virgin Witch” pays testament to Testament, as well as spouting some nonsense about, you know, virgin witches and stuff. And so it continues, on a headbanging, gutbashing tour through the ghost-train and Halloween-candy world of grand guignol haunted house horror.
It’s simple stuff, but so effective because it’s played by some brilliant musicians. Guitarist John 5 is an astonishing bluegrass player, and technically as good as anyone in the world; asking him to play stuff like this is a bit like getting Shakespeare to write the script for Total Wipeout, and he has just as much fun.
This album is a musical and lyrical treat capable of touching everyone who hears it, and is as much fun as the film House of 1,000 Corpses (which Zombie directed) ought to have been.
In March 2001, four disparate but colourful characters released their debut album to an unsuspecting public. Murdoc, Russel, 2D and Noodle, better known as Gorillaz, had arrived. With the possible exception of The Archies (of “Sugar Sugar” fame) Gorillaz were the world’s first virtual band, the perfect metaphor for a world rapidly embracing the internet age. They were about as far from the stereotype of the self-aware supergroup as it was possible to be. A term so often prefixed by the word “vanity”, this was a side project where the driving force behind it – Blur’s Damon Albarn – barely accepted the recognition of even having been involved. Gorillaz were a group who had made a very conscious decision to make the music the star of the show, avoiding the distractions of the egotistical frontman or the bassist with the bad attitude and the heroin problem.
The standout tracks are those that capture the genre-splicing experimentalism that is at the heart of the album. Gorillaz is a journey through hip-hop, rock, Latin, punk, dub, and reggae, and these diverse genres manage to complement rather than detract from one another. “Double Bass” lollops along menacingly with an oppressive, bass-heavy groove punctuated only once by Albarn, the man supposedly at the heart of the project. Albarn’s voice, which has a childlike sense of vulnerability on the cavernous dub of “Man Research (Clapper)”, is juxtaposed with the gravelly tones of the late Buena Vista Social Club member Ibrahim Ferrer on “Latin Simone”. Just as quickly Gorillaz leave Cuba and arrive in London, 1977, at the driving punk rock of “M1 A1”, complete with sneering vocals.
While by no means universally lavished with praise on its release, it is important to look back on this album ten years on in the light of the staggering upward trajectory of the current incarnation of Gorillaz. Their widely accepted failure as a Glastonbury headline act perhaps demonstrates that it was in this early stage of their career, when the A-list hook-ups and Syrian Zither orchestras of Plastic Beach were absent, that Gorillaz were truly able to fulfil their purpose – as a vehicle for bold experimentalism, something sadly lost in the harsh glare of the Pyramid stage.
How many Percy Sledge songs can you name?
Based on an in-depth survey (whoever was in the pub at the time), chances are that most of you will know “When A Man Loves A Woman”, and perhaps be aware that he covered “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” at some stage too.
History hasn’t been kind to Percy Sledge. Unlike that of Otis Redding, his popularity has been in a fairly constant state of depreciation since the early seventies. Sledge has been living in the shadow of his one major hit, much like contemporaries Wilson Pickett, Ben E. King and Jimmy Ruffin. But why? Is this due to his ability, or rather to his longevity? Whereas Redding’s death instigated a much-deserved surge in popular interest (even to this day), Sledge and other living soul performers of his era have largely faded into obscurity.
Any one of his four early albums for Atlantic Records could have been selected here, but it’s Take Time To Know Her that is probably the most consistent of the bunch. Admittedly, there’s little to differentiate this album from Warm and Tender Soul or The Percy Sledge Way, and no real progression in terms of tenor or theme. It’s about love, loss, and emotional cruelty, with an edge of embittered reflectivity that’s less pronounced on his earlier records.
It’s an album that really needs to be listened to, not written about. And not through laptop speakers, either. I did try to isolate specific tracks that might help to spark an interest in this neglected figure of the Southern soul canon, but there’s really no point. It’s of exceptionally high quality right from the title track to its oddly optimistic conclusion; a testament to the brilliance of a performer who we’d do well to fully appreciate before it’s too late.