Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas Island.

If I had to choose my favourite era of Depeche Mode (and I had a gun to my head, natch), I'd probably choose their "industrial" phase; the one they went through during the mid- to late-'80s. Construction Time Again, Some Great Reward, Black Celebration, and Music For The Masses rank as my favourite works of theirs -- and frankly, it wasn't just the A-sides of the singles that got my blood flowing. Often times during those years, they'd release the single, and then on the B-side there'd be two or three live tracks from a 1983 show at the Hammersmith Ballroom in London, and a "throwaway" instrumental that somehow didn't make it on the album. In 1986, when they released the 12" maxi-single of "Question of Lust" off of Black Celebration, they included for the B-side a most curious track: "Christmas Island," a very odd instrumental penned by both Martin Gore and Alan Wilder (which in itself was very odd; Gore was famously stingy about sharing songwriting credits with anybody).

Beginning with a background television set tuned to some kind of revolutionary recording, with a menacing throbbing synth building up in the distance, "Christmas Island" then proceeds to bust out some serious industrial EMB rhythms, filled with the brim (as was their norm back in those days) with sampled percussion, found sounds, and a distinctly dark overview. Christmas Island itself has been in the news quite a bit these last few months (over twenty-five Iraqi boat-people died horrifically in an incident off the northern coast of Christmas Island just under two weeks ago and set off in the Australian government a major rift over the laws of amnesty to asylum seekers from the Middle East and Asia), and the song is written about the island; but that's one of the things that make this track so listenable. What does it all mean? I'll tell you what: It's certainly not about tinsel and holiday trees.

Here's "Christmas Island" from our favourite boys from Basildon in 1986. Enjoy.

depeche mode
"christmas island"
a question of lust 12"

It's A Wham! Christmas!

Recently voted as one of the "most irritating Christmas songs ever," Wham!'s "Last Christmas" sure does earn that accolade. But due to the fact that electronica, goth, new wave, and dance really don't have much in the way of holiday music (Depeche Mode's brooding "Christmas Island" might make an appearance later, though it has nothing to do with Yuletide caroling) -- so what can I do? Here's some schmaltz, and here's a very young George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley cavorting with young, pretty people on a ski holiday! Look at the hairstyles! Look at George's teeth!

Released in 1984 as a B-side on "Everything She Wants" for the coveted Christmas #1 spot in the UK, it was of course beat out by "Do They Know It's Christmas?". Wham! ended up donating all the money earned through sales to the Ethiopian famine, too, so bully for them! But my God, it's an irritating track, alright. But here it is, in case you dig it.

Love, and many happy holidays,
Second Drawer Up From The Left

"last christmas"
everything she wants 12"

Do They Know It's Christmas?

Honestly, did you really think I wasn't going to have this track on my playlist? Now, a load of people out there have attacked this track, "Do They Know It's Christmas?", by noting that:

A) Indeed, rains do fall and there are in fact rivers in the mighty continent of Africa,
B) Many folks in Africa probably don't know it's Christmas, if only for the fact that they might not be Christians, and
C) The song itself, comprised as it was of a veritable who's-who of mid-'80s British pop royalty, was (and let's face it, it's kind of true) a little on the twee side.

Bono's impassioned lyric "Well, tonight thank God it's them ... instead of yoooooouuuuuu" notwithstanding, I'd like to just share it today, on baby Jesus' birthday. The sun is out and shining bright, galah parrots are taking wing from a small grove of gum trees, and a red-bellied black snake is sunning itself on a crag next to the neighbouring garden. 'Cos really, when one thinks of it, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" still has a pretty awesome calibre of coolness to it.

Written by Bob Geldof (Boomtown Rats) and Midge Ure (Ultravox) in order to highlight the plight of Ethiopians in the midst of one of the worst droughts of all time, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" was released 29 November 1984 and became the Christmas #1 single, selling over three million copies and becoming the (at the time) biggest-selling British single of all time (knocking "Bohemian Rhapsody" out of the water in the process). With John Taylor from Duran Duran on bass, Phil Collins (back when he was still kind of cool) on drum duty, Ure on keyboards, and Mr Gary Kemp from Spandau Ballet on guitar, I really have to say that the music certainly outshines the lyrics.

And what a treasure trove of vocalists! There were the gals from Bananarama, Simon le Bon, Bono, Sting (back when he was cool), Paul Weller, George Michael (Wham!), Paul Young, Boy George (Culture Club), Adam Clayton (U2), Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet), Kool & the Gang, Nick Rhodes (Duran Duran), Holly Johnson (Frankie Goes To Hollywood), Martyn Ware (Heaven 17), the blokes from Big Country, and (recording their voices on tape and mailing to Geldof after the fact) David Bowie and Paul McCartney.

We here at Second Drawer Up HQ wish you, our dear readers, a very happy, healthy, and safe holiday season! Thanks for reading, and keep in touch -- SDU's TOP 5 ALBUMS of 2010 are coming up, and boy oh boy are they corkers, or what?

So -- here's Band Aid and the single "Do They Know It's Christmas?". Enjoy!

band aid
"do they know it's christmas?"

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Recycled Post! Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

I swear this album just gives me shivers, it's so good. I've been incredibly busy juggling through the hoops set up by the Australian government in regards to immigrating, so I have to admit that I haven't been posting as much this month as I normally would. Don't worry, some new stuff is on its way! But for now, here's my review of "Organisation" by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark -- probably one of my favourite albums of the '80s. Cheers, have a lovely day, blah blah blah. Talk soon.

Atmospheric. Majestic. Sombre. A dark-hearted cocktail of heartbreak and misery. With no further ado, I'd like to tell you, dear readers, about Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's second album, Organisation. Released in October 1980, I would be tempted to say that this is probably their bleakest release, especially coming so soon on the heels of their much poppier eponymous debut (which, in essence, was basically a faithful reproduction of their live shows up to date). What's rather interesting about Organisation, now that I think of it, is how the entire affair begins: with the energetic and quite poppy "Enola Gay." I'm pretty sure everybody, at one point or another, has heard this classic anti-war track. As we all know, Enola Gay was the airplane (USAAF B-29 SuperFortress) that dropped the atomic bomb "Little Boy" on Hiroshima, Japan on the 6th of August, 1945, instantly vaporizing (and slowly killing) 140,000 citizens. Even due to its grim subject matter, it's certainly the catchiest single on the album. Such a juxtaposition - noodling synths, an immensely hummable tune, and snazzy drumbeats layered over lyrics such as "Is mother proud of Little Boy today?" and "Aha, this kiss you give, it's never ever gonna fade away." And now that that story has been told, it's time to move on to the rest of the album.

When the German experimentalist band Kraftwerk (more, much more, on them later) played in Liverpool, UK in the October of 1975, a certain spark was ignited in the imagination of one Andy McCluskey, who, immediately after the show, knocked on the backstage door and introduced himself to the band. According to Wolfgang Flür in the BBC Four documentary Synth Britannia, McCluskey had said, "We've just been shown the future - we're going to throw out all our guitars, and buy nothing but synthesizers TOMORROW!"

And how that inspiration shows, in Organisation! Andy McCluskey, his long-time partner in music Paul Humphreys, and the permanent replacement for their drum-machine (lovingly entitled "Winston"), Malcolm Holmes, came together and created an interesting hybrid of pop music, electronic experimentalism, and industrial chic - all thrown together with a punk-rock ethos of, in Humphreys's words, "just go out there and do it, already!"

So they did, and, in the heyday of synth-pop, they put out a piece of art that's nearly unprecedented in its audacity and originality. It practically goes without saying that the surge of brilliant synth-pop that launched from the UK was mightily helped by acts such as OMD and others that sprouted like wildflowers from the bleak Northern towns during the rubbish end of the '70s, when Victorian slums began to be ripped down and replaced by the narrow and grey concrete high-rises of modern-day England.

Take a fine track like "Statues." The KORG sends a seamless stream of smooth doom in the background, as finely tuned harpsichord synths pluck and bend in the fore. An organ-borne clickety-clack drumbeat pulls gently, as the most forlorn and defeated vocals I've ever heard sag like dead orchids.

What is faith
And when belief
And who knows how
These things deceive;
I never said,
And though I tried
If I could leave,
I'd sleep tonight.

 The song's just bloody haunting. There's such an imminent gloominess that lurks underneath everything, like a fungus you know grows under the most beautiful of gardens. And how the notes just hang there, and how, as the song fades into the ether, McCluskey's vocals just wail in pain, "I can't imagine how this ever came to be." Fade into nothing. Written as a post-humous dedication to Ian Curtis (15 July 1956 - 18 May 1980), I'd like to think that Ian himself would have been so fucking proud.

I'd like to make a quick side-note on how damn catchy "The More I See You" is, before I move on to the highlight of the album - "Stanlow." "The More I See You" is a subtle and somewhat funky marriage between Kraftwerk and Gary Numan. This immensely hummable track practically dares you not whistle its charms after hearing its lovely lilts and turns. It's also the only cover on the album, based on the 1945 single by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. Like I said earlier in this paragraph, it's as catchy as all hell, and sometimes I'll find myself attempting to play the imaginary keyboard on the edge of my desk! Great love song, filtered through the emotive lens of early '80s synth-pop.

Which brings us to the final song on the album (unless you happen to purchase the remastered 2003 version, which has six extra tracks on it, including a nifty re-working of their first single, "Electricity"), "Stanlow." It's certainly rare to hear a love-song devoted to an oil refinery near Liverpool Bay, Merseyside, but here you have one. At six minutes, forty-one seconds long (of which the first two and a half minutes are comprised almost entirely of samples taken from within the refinery itself!), this is ... well, it's fucking amazing, is what it is.

I - I just can't do it justice. I'll let the final lyrics set the tone.
A morning comes just as it left

The warmer feeling seldom owned
And tonight all I see alone
And as she turned we always knew
That her heart was never there.

What does it all mean? Frankly, I've never been to Stanlow, nor have I experienced what it meant to have it in such close confines during the waning years of the '70s. But it must have been one hell of a landmark, to be honest, to have inspired such a beautiful, heartfelt paean. And, just when the lyrics and music fade away, the intense, heartless churning of the machine takes over once again and slowly disappears, as if into the River Mersey.
And this is one hell of an amazing album. And that, dear readers, is what I think of when I think of Organisation.

And I leave you now with OMD performing "Statues" in 1981. Enjoy, dear readers, and have good dreams.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Electro Classic Jukebox: Duran Duran.

Two things. First, a heartfelt "thank you" to EMI Records for finally enabling embedding on their music videos. Truth be told, I'm not really sure what the issue with embedding was in the first place -- it's not like I was stealing the music and sharing it with somebody else without giving EMI their piece of the pie or anything like that! Rather, I like to think that the act of embedding music on a blog or a website actually is a form of free advertising for their "product," more than anything else. Somebody sees the blog, likes what they hear, and maybe -- just maybe -- they'll go to their local record shop or iTunes and make a purchase. Everybody wins, and blah blah blah. So thank you, EMI, for finally seeing the light. Embedding is not stealing. Yay.

Secondly, thank you to Chez Pazienza at Deus Ex Malcontent for posting Duran Duran today.  Their 1982 masterpiece Rio, long a favourite album of mine, is mind-bendingly chockfull of brilliant moments, and always well worth a listen from front to back. Every song on this work is a highlight, whether it's the title track with its chorus "Her name is Rio, and she dances on the sand," the monumental minimalism of "The Chauffeur," the heady (and probably best-known) urgency of "Hungry Like The Wolf," or the out-and-out rock 'n' roll rollicking of "Last Chance On The Stairway." Rio is a work of genius, and frankly has not aged a day since it was released nearly thirty years ago.

For what it's worth, my favourite track off Rio is "Save A Prayer." It has racked up hundreds of plays on my iPod and iTunes; and that's not even taking into account how many times I've played it on vinyl, cassette tape, and CD. There's something magical about it -- is it the slightly Asian influence in the opening synths? John Taylor's immaculately performed bass riffs? Simon le Bon's mature and realistic musings on a one night stand? Is it how the entire band gels and performs a nearly 6-minute perfect pop song in a day and age where the norm was three and a half? Who knows? It's just a fantastic song. "And you wanted to dance, so I asked you to dance, but fear is in your soul / Some people call it a one night stand, but we can call it paradise." 


duran duran
"save a prayer"

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Crystal Ark.

Producer Gavin Russom is known by the nickname "Wizard" -- a moniker that's rather fitting, considering his flowing red mane of hair and his almost mystical ability to program, play, and build synthesizers. Also a member of DFA's ridiculously talented family of musicians, this gentleman from Providence, Rhode Island also sometimes performs as The Crystal Ark. His music, to me, represents a sort of subsonic melding of technological prowess and an almost organic, shamanistic spirituality that dives deep beneath the surface of the listener's subconsciousness and subverts the definition of reality, and how encapsulated the broader surface of life really is. And hey! It's fucking fabulous to dance to.

The Crystal Ark has released two EPs this year: The City Never Sleeps and The Tangible Presence of the Miraculous. Ten days ago, the video for "The City Never Sleeps" was released, and it's simply amazing. Directed by vocalist Viva Ruiz (whose hypnotic and chanty voice propels the transcendent track), this video has everything: Insomniac New Yorkers, old-school synths, spiritual quests, a shaman dancing on a table, and brilliantly realized animal costumes. And lasers! So yo, check this shit out.

The Crystal Ark - The City Never Sleeps from DFA Records on Vimeo.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Tron Legacy Light Show.

From the good folk at io9

This is some crazy, awesome shit. For most of late November and early December, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in London, England was used as the canvas for a projected Tron: Legacy light show featuring the soundtrack from Daft Punk and sound effects from the film. Behold! Here's the 9 1/2-minute video of the proceedings! Man oh man, this kicks some serious ass. I remember seeing the original Tron in theatres when I was a young lad; in fact, that was one of those movies (E.T., Empire Strikes Back, and Predator are others that come to mind) that I went and saw, over and over and over again. I, for one, am frothing at the mouth to see this bugger -- I really hope it's as awe-inspiring to me as an adult as the original was when I was a child. Go, Tron Legacy! And go, Daft Punk! You guys were born to provide this soundtrack.

I recommend putting in headphones, or turning up your volume to full-blast. This is epic.

HP ePrint & TRON: Legacy projection mapping - complete animation from Guided Collective on Vimeo.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Art Vs Science!

The year was 2007, and Dan McNamee had gone to see a Daft Punk concert in Sydney. Inspired by the techno spectacle (as well as anybody should!), he rang up two old high school mates, Jim Finn and Dan Williams, and proposed that they form a band. Art Vs Science was born, and the rest, as they say, is history. And I'm really, really impressed by what they've turned out so far.

There are many pleasant surprises that have engaged me during my stay here in Melbourne (if one is interested, then visit my Oz-ward Bound blog to read about my adventures trying to gain Australian citizenship). Victorian architecture,  flocks of parrots, the colourful flora and fauna, the laid-back personality of the local population, and -- yes -- the nearly obscene wealth of fantastic electronic acts that have been formed here. From the Presets, to Severed Heads, to Cut Copy and Midnight Juggernauts, to Pnau and Empire of the Sun, to Grafton Primary and Infusion, and to Art Vs Science and Sean Quinn and many, many more, Australia has produced some of the more original and eclectic electronic soundtracks to grace my playlist in many a moon.

So, back to Art Vs Science. They formed in early 2008, and have so far released two EPs: 2009's Art Vs Science and 2010's Magic Fountain. Their first full-length (title TBA) will be released in February of 2011, and they've also covered Split Enz's "I See Red" for the new compilation record He Will Have His Way, a compendium of Tim and Neil Finn covers. They've also recorded a minute-and-a-half little ditty about bad breath for the Australian kid's science TV show Sleek Geeks (think about rhyming "halitosis" with "diagnosis"), and are currently on tour with Infusion and Sean Quinn (they hit St Kilda on the 10th of December at the venerable Prince Bandroom -- you should totally go)!

An enthusiastic and bombastic stew of experimental synths, disco-punk, and techno, Art Vs Science's music is fantastically catchy, a frenzied hodgepodge of forward-thinking boom 'n' bass 'n' noise. Utilizing guitar and bass and live drums, their work has something for everybody, including those music snobs who tend to steer clear of bands that "just noodle at keyboards and sequencers." But holy shit, there's a lot of fun to be had here. "Parlez-vous Français?" will not only get your ass moving on the dancefloor, but will also make you smile -- there's a lot of quirky humour on display. "Take Me To Your Leader" delves deep into Empire of the Sun territory -- it reminds me quite a bit of Mr Steele's "Swordfish Hotkiss Night." "Magic Fountain" maintains a serious Daft Punk sensibility throughout its hardcore bangin', and -- if you're listening to their Magic Fountain EP -- there's even a live cover version (recorded at Splendour in the Grass) of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's "Boom! Shake the Room" that's just ... fucking special.

OK, I've talked enough. Here's some music for y'all, my favourite readers in the whole wide world.

art vs science
"parlez-vous français?"
art vs science ep

art vs science
"magic fountain"
magic fountain ep