Violently Happy – Fran’s Review

Björk’s second album Debut is a weird and wonderful slice of the 90s. Rocketing between styles, the album is loud and quiet, fast and slow, modern and classical.  I didn’t understand at first why Dave classified this as Alternative Dance when much of it is very slow paced and gentle (see Like Someone In Love), but tracks like the club-set There’s More To Life Than This, and the manically upbeat Violently Happy go some way to explain it.

Despite the wide variety of styles, the album has a unifying airy feel throughout. This can be attributed to Björk’s light-touch vocals, which generally float fairly delicately over the music (bar the occasional shriek!). The singing has a distinct girlish sound, which is perhaps most noticeable in the almost a capella parts of There’s More To Life Than This. It is an unusual style that comes into its own in One Day, perfectly complimenting the optimistic innocence of the lyrics.

This fortnight (!) has been a great contrast to the Musical Adventure’s more sombre turn of late. Debut is both lyrically and musically uplifting, with some glorious electronic experimentation.

★★★★☆

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Consistently Varied Debut – Dave’s Review

Björk’s Debut is a varied album, full of character, mixing elements of classic house and trip hop with more mellow pop, featuring a range of brass, percussion, strings, and electronic instrumentation.

Percussion plays a key role in many of the songs, whether driving the song forward, like on Human Behaviour, or providing a backdrop for Björk’s excellent vocals, as on Aeroplane. Björk’s delivery ranges from the sweet, delicateness of Venus As A Boy to the powerful roar of Crying, to the cheeky whisper of There’s More To Life Than This, to the playful joy of Big Time Sensuality, sometimes all within a single song.

The first half of the record in particular features a lot of classic house, identifiable by its repetitive, dancey beat, bouncing piano or keyboard and the occasional bit of trumpet. The sound can be heard on songs such as Crying, Big Time Sensuality, Violently Happy and the quirky There’s More To Life Than This, during which Björk momentarily sneaks away from a party.

These classic house tunes are alternated with softer, slower tracks, often with a more romantic feel about them, as can be heard in Venus As A Boy and Like Someone In Love, in which Björk’s vocals are accompanied only by a harp.

The second half of the record features more of a relaxed trip hop feel to it, with songs like One Day and my highlight of the album, the wonderfully soothing Come To Me. In contrast, bonus track Play Dead carries a grander, darker, more serious weight to it, further explored in Björk’s later albums, in particular on Homogenic.

Despite all of this variation, the album is consistently strong and fits well as a whole. The pacing is good and allows Björk’s unique character to shine through.

★★★★★

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Alternative Dance

To follow last fortnight’s Alternative Rock album, I thought it would be good to explore a genre I may have missed from the music tree, Alternative Dance. For the next fortnight we’ll be listening to Björk’s 1993 album, Debut.

Iceland’s most famous singer has had a distinguished career to date. Her music blends a wide range of genres including trip hop, house, pop, rock, jazz, experimental art rock and dance. She is also well known for her fashion, acting, political views, but mainly her individuality as an artist.

An exhibition of Björk’s career will be appearing soon in a special exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York between 8th March and 7th June.

Björk - Debut

Björk – Debut

Each fortnight Fran and Dave choose a new album to listen to. We write about the genre or artist during the fortnight, and post our reviews on Sunday. Want to join the musical adventure? Subscribe by clicking the link in the sidebar to get an email every time there’s a new post.
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It’s OK with me – Fran’s Review

So I’ll keep this short, because I have a feeling Dave won’t! I really enjoyed listening to OK Computer this fortnight. It’s an incredibly bleak album, full of disillusionment, but it is beautifully done.

My favourite part of the record is the transition from the atmospheric and slightly terrifying Climbing Up the Walls into the calm embrace of No Surprises. The change from the wailing guitars (and wailing) of Climbing Up the Walls into the beautiful lullaby of the following track is almost enough to divert you from the continuation of the ominous themes, although the peaceful oblivion of carbon-monoxide poisoning is not quite as grim as having your head caved in with a pickaxe!

I wouldn’t say the experience of listening to this album has changed my perception of Radiohead’s output as a pretty depressing body of work. There is, however, a lot to like in the introspective lyrics and layered guitars. And there are some upbeat moments – penultimate track Lucky has an optimistic slant, and opener Airbag is positively buoyant by Radiohead standards!

★★★★★

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OK Computer – Dave’s Review

In a time when offices were still getting to grips with Windows 95, Radiohead were depicting the lonely, paranoid, depressing digital world we were about to enter. Throw in some deceitful politicians, traffic jams, and alien abduction, as we explore the pessimistic and scary outlook of their 1997 album, OK Computer.

We start with a look at the cover, as the cars drive on concrete highways into the dark scribbles that lie ahead; the cold, icy blues and white; and aeroplane evacuation procedure figures in the corner, panicking. Through the rest of the booklet we see plane crashes, high-rise office blocks, lost children, circuitry and a reminder that ‘you are a target market’.

25NN

It is perhaps strange then that we open the album with the uplifting and life-affirming Airbag, and with sleigh bells! The lyrics describe that amazing feeling of rebirth felt after surviving a near-death experience and the sweeping guitar gives it some oomph.

Paranoid Android is apparently a reference to a character in A Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, a depressed android that grows up to hate his creators. The volatile, bipolar song is comprised of several quite different parts, from explosive guitar to beautiful melancholy, and personified well in the delivery of the manic lyrics.

We drift away into space for the next song, Subterranean Homesick Alien. Based on an assignment Thom Yorke wrote as a schoolboy, the lyrics speak of the alienation of modern life. This links really well to an article I read this week, claiming we now live in an Age of Loneliness in which the community of society has fallen away to leave individuals, isolated and alone.

The climax of the record, and surely one of the greatest songs ever, is Exit Music (For A Film). The song was written for the closing credits of Baz Luhrmann’s film, Romeo and Juliet. As I’m sure many of you know, it is a tale of two young lovers who each kills themselves to be together in death, as their feuding families deny them of this in life. A heartfelt solo on an acoustic guitar gently opens the song, as layers of instruments are slowly introduced as the courage builds up to the moment of suicide. Huge drums come crashing down as Yorke lets out a scream: “Now we are one in everlasting peace”. Literature, music, theatre and cinema all coming together to create something truly powerful.

Let Down follows Exit Music perfectly. Uplifting lyrics describe a metamorphosis, growing wings and floating away from the emptiness of modern life, from the repetitiveness of daily routine, from the disappointment. The light keyboard sounds and layering of the vocals make this new life sound wonderfully appealing.

Completing the first half of the record is one of the singles, Karma Police, complete with fantastic video. The piano-led song has a more traditional structure than many of the others on the album. It culminates in the brilliant finale in which Thom realises he was being petty with his ridiculous criticisms, as the song gets lost in backing ah’s before a distorting noise finally extinguishes it.

okcomputer_1920x1200

The interlude, Fitter Happier, is a list of resolutions for an American Beauty-esque depiction of bland, sedated, modern life read in a computerised voice over intermittent, haunting piano and a repeated audio snippet which says “This is the Panic Office, section nine-seventeen may have been hit. Activate the following procedure.” Of all the songs on the record, I find these lyrics the most interesting, full of contradictions and hinting at a history of illness that has been medicated to the point survival no longer seems worthwhile: “A pig in a cage on antibiotics”.

Getting on better with your associate employee contemporaries
No more microwave dinners and saturated fats
Fond but not in love
On Sundays ring road supermarket
An empowered and informed member of society

Tyres that grip in the wet

Perhaps the weakest song on the album, Electioneering at least adds politics to the themes of the album, released in the year Tony Blair’s New Labour were first elected to power. The lyrics highlight the way morality comes second in the hunt for power and takes a dig at the stranglehold the West has on the Third World through its monetary loans.

Things darken somewhat with the chilling Climbing Up The Walls. Unidentifiable echoes shudder all around as Yorke delivers his creepy lyrics of a madness trapped inside your head that you’re unable to escape. The guitars, brass and strings escalate to a frenzy until Yorke lets out a final cry of horror.

The mood lightens with the delightful xylophone of No Surprises, yet the lyrics remain as bleak as ever. There is a peacefulness about the music, reflected in the acceptance of the lyrics to live (or die, it’s not quite clear) in this polluted world, created by those in power, in which the everyday man slowly dies. Anything for a quiet life with no alarms and no surprises.

The grand guitar hook of Lucky reignites the superman feeling of survival we felt in Airbag, “Pull me out of the air crash, pull me out of the lake”.

Final track, The Tourist, is another of the gentle tracks, telling you to stop rushing around trying to do everything and take the time to appreciate the beauty of life before it passes you by.

This really is an amazing album. The songs grow on you over time and your favourite switches with every listen. The themes of the lyrics discuss the scariness of modern life excellently as we enter the digital age. The sequencing, the artwork, the videos, the live performances are all crafted to perfection.

★★★★★

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The End of the Eighties

To cheer Dave up from last fortnight’s angst, next up we’re reviewing a band with a permanent spot in his Top 5. From its placement on the Music Tree, this fortnight’s album looked like our final record of the eighties, but appearances can be deceptive, and it was in fact released in 1997. Representing Alternative Rock, this fortnight we are listening to OK Computer by Radiohead.

This is Radiohead’s third album, and marks the beginning of their more experimental approach to music making. Over the years it has received huge critical acclaim, so this fortnight we’ll see if it lives up to the hype! Or at least I’ll decide whether it lives up to the hype – I suspect Dave decided years ago…

Radiohead - OK Computer

Radiohead – OK Computer

Each fortnight Fran and Dave choose a new album to listen to. We write about the genre or artist during the fortnight, and post our reviews on Sunday. Want to join the musical adventure? Subscribe by clicking the link in the sidebar to get an email every time there’s a new post.
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The Cure for a Broken Heart – Dave’s Review

During the fortnight my girlfriend dumped me, it’s perhaps appropriate that we’ve been listening to the greatest breakup album ever, Disintegration by The Cure.

The Cure

Plainsong

Opener Plainsong is anything but a plain song. Huge crashes and shimmers create a grand, bold start to the record. The two and a half minute long introduction is typical of this patient album, giving you chance to absorb the song before Robert Smith’s soft, echoing, dream-like voice enters. I imagine this would make a great opening to a concert.

Smith has a wonderful way with words. I’ve never known anyone use so many short words (there is no third syllable in the whole of Plainsong!) yet create such vivid imagery. Here we see that in the bleakest of times, at the deathbed of a loved one for example, a simple smile can make everything ok.

“I think it is dark and it looks like rain”, you said
“And the wind is blowing like it’s the end of the world”, you said
“And it’s so cold, it’s like the cold if you were dead”
Then you smiled for a second

“I think I’m old and I’m feeling in pain”, you said
“And it’s all running out, it’s the end of the world”, you said
“And it’s so cold, it’s like the cold if you were dead”
Then you smiled for a second

Sometimes you go make me feel like I’m living at the edge of the world
Like I’m living at the edge of the world
“It’s just the way I smile”, you said

Pictures of You

Pictures of You is where the break-up album theme is most obvious. We’ve all been there – looking through old photos of your ex, remembering the good times, wishing of what could have been. Driven by an excellent guitar line, this song sums that up perfectly. As before, the extremely long intro adds extra weight to the first line and the first verse. There’s even a nice little pun that the singer is breaking up inside looking at all the pictures, but also smashing the pictures themselves.

If only I’d thought of the right words
I could have held on to your heart
If only I’d thought of the right words
I wouldn’t be breaking apart
All my pictures of you

The First Half

The first half of the record is made up of the three singles (Pictures of You, Lovesong and Lullaby – I’m not included Fascination Street which was only released in the USA) sandwiched with some of the more subdued album tracks.

Lovesong was written by Robert Smith as a wedding gift for his wife. The straightforward vow-like nature of the lyrics and the pop structure of the song give it a feeling of simple honesty, like the pure, non-complicated love you see in the movies. The song also provides a nice balance to the predominantly gloomy, dramatic album.

Lullaby has more of a nightmare feel to it than the name would suggest, telling of a spider-man lurking and creeping around the bedroom as you try to sleep, enhanced by Smith’s snake-like delivery (look at all those s-words) and depicted well in the video.

For me, Closedown is all about the contrast between the drum, which feels frantic and searching, while the guitar sounds so chilled out, like it’s sipping cocktails on some Caribbean beach. Together with Last Dance, the lyrics continue to explore themes of regret and the realisation that things are no longer as they were.

The Second Half

Whilst the first half of the record was generally fairly light and soft, things turn darker in the second half. Fascination Street has a dirty energy to it, focussed around a deep bass line and swirling guitar that builds with Smith’s passionate vocal.

The next to songs seem fairly linked. Prayers for Rain is about being trapped in a relationship and you are waiting to escape. The prayers come true with Same Deep Water As You. The longest track on the record, slow and gloomy, with the occasional rumble of thunder, this stormy piece is world’s away from the cheeriness of Lullaby.

Kiss me goodbye
Pushing out before I sleep 
Can’t you see I tried?
Swimming the same deep water as you is hard

The Amazing End

The final few songs of the album are incredible and I often find myself starting the album from here.

Full of emotion and intensity, Disintegration is the climax of the record. Opening and ending with the smashing of glass, the relationship is crashing to its death. There’s an anger to the song, present in the machine-like drums and the bass. The blood is pumping. The adrenalin is running. The vocals begin sorrowful and melancholic, best heard in the line ‘to just let go my party piece’, but as the song develops, they too become more agitated. The spaces between the verses shorten, disappearing into the frenzy.

Oh I miss the kiss of treachery
The aching kiss before I feed
The stench of a love for a younger meat
And the sound that it makes when it cuts in deep

Now that I know that I’m breaking to pieces
I’ll pull out my heart and I’ll feed it to anyone

Instrumentally, Homesick is perhaps the most beautiful on the record. The piano and the guitar seem to dance together perfectly for a while, before they are interrupted by the drums, representing the addiction described in the lyrics. The guitar falls away while the piano remains. The violin emphasises the sadness that the dance has been broken, followed by a second, more aggressive guitar to show the struggle to leave the addiction and return home. By the time the vocals enter, the story has already been told. In the end the guitar finds its way back to the piano and all is calm again.

We end with the deliberately titled Untitled, the softest and most delicate on the record. The moment of reflection. The chance to sulk about all the regrets you had, all the things you never said, that you couldn’t make it work and that it’s all over, again.

Never quite said what I wanted to say to you
Never quite managed the words to explain to you
Never quite knew how to make them believable
And now the time has gone
Another time undone

★★★★★

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