Odds & Sods & Ends
Big Dumb Face – Duke Lion Fights the Terror!! (2001)
This was a loaner disc that I thought was so bizarre I had to make a copy. This is essentially a concept album about the hero of the people battling a demon from hell, though the story isn't really important. It's basically a one-man recording effort, with vocals sped-up for the upbeat tunes and growled for the death metal ones. The guy who recorded this was obviously a metalhead, with a metalhead sense of humor. That one man, as it turns out, is Wes Borland, who made a name for himself as the creepy guitar player from Limp Bizkit. Don't worry, Fred Durst doesn't go anywhere near this album – the sidemen include his brother and a few bandmates from other groups, though I can't quite discern what their contribution is. It's basically a tribute to Ween and Primus, complete with vocal manipulation, self-referential lyrics, and genre-hopping (which runs from death metal to rockabilly to speed country). There are a few good riffs here and there ("Kali is the Sweethog"), but a lot of this is truly obnoxious ("Mighty Penis Laser"). Even with vocal manipulation, Borland can't sing, and it's not an exaggeration to say that all of the vocals on this album are irritating. Entertaining, but irritating. At least his deep growl is somewhat passable when you can't make out what he's saying ("Burgalveist"). That said, some of these tunes are just too goofy to not make you smile ("Duke Lion", "Rebel"). And some of this is really good – the ridiculously catchy "Space Adventure" is a great tune that will be in your head for weeks, and the dark, brooding "Voices in the Wall" is genuinely creepy and well-written. I'd include "It's Right in Here" on that list for its awesome chorus alone if not for the 16-minute noise collage attached to the end. Maybe there's some Zappa in him as well? I guess you can credit this album for not being boring up until that point, and there is some genuine playlist fodder. But if you're the kind of person who finds Primus irritating, you better stay far away from this.
The Colourfield – Virgins and Philistines (1985)
This was Terry Hall's third band (after the Specials and Fun Boy Three), and one that's been pretty much destined to go down in obscurity, despite nearly placing a single in the top 10. It's too bad, because this album is fantastic. Although they've often been branded as New Wave, the music itself has a pastoral pop feel – there's plenty of acoustic guitar, strings, horns, and organ. In other words, it's more 60's than 80's, but the production sounds modern. This is lush, fully orchestrated pop, with no shortage of quality hooks – the tracks are often fairly complex and usually feature well-placed string arrangements and horn flourishes. They do rock out on occasion (the terrific "Faint Hearts", which goes into acoustic-hyperdrive near the end), but it's mostly a display of pristine and beautiful pop tunes. There's usually a Latin flavor, either in the rhythm ("Castles in the Air", the title track) or in the instrumentation. It's pleasant enough that you don't even mind Hall's angst-ridden lyrical barbs ("Take", "Thinking of You" - though the latter is pretty subtle), or Meat is Murder-style ranting ("Cruel Circus"). It sometimes gets so heavy-handed that you almost can't believe this was the guy belting out "Do the Dog" a few years prior. Despite the lyrics, Terry's voice does deliver enough emotion to carry the tunes on their back (I can't imagine "Thinking of You" working with any other singer), even if his range is somewhat limited. But the album's best asset is the songs themselves – there are a couple good ideas in all of them. The album's highlight comes near the middle with a cover of the Roches' "Hammond Song", which features a beautiful, building arrangement and spirited vocals that blow the top off the original. All this made the album a cult favorite, and I had seen copies on eBay go for nearly $300 before it finally got a reissue in 2010. It includes ten bonus tracks, including earlier, more rocking material ("The Colourfield", which was their first single, "Your Love Was Smashing", "Pushing Up the Daisies"), as well as a few oft-covered tunes like "Windmills of Your Mind" and "I Can't Get Enough of You Baby" (you know, the Pizza Hut one).
So what happened to the Colourfield? A few lineup changes may created inner turmoil – they did record a second album, but it ventured toward more synthesized pop, and doesn't resemble this album at all. Hall didn't like the direction the band was going and broke them up, though he seems to be still around...
Elephant's Memory (1969)
As the Moonriders said, "everybody's talkin' bout Elephant's Memory". I guess the reality is that nobody's really talkin' about Elephant's Memory anymore, except as the answer to a trivia question. They played as John and Yoko's backing band, briefly had Carly Simon as a member, and got a couple of songs from this album onto the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack. But their original albums are fairly obscure, and the group didn't stick around long. There really isn't a good way to classify this music - it's acid funk-rock with some big brass and two loud vocalists who sing lines like "the final potato is peeled for the stew of my mind". I'm guessing most audiences found them to be a little much, even in 1969. The bizarre cover actually represents this music well - a photo of the group bunched up together, wearing nothing but colorful body paint. In fact, "orgy" is probably the best way to describe this music. There are too many members to keep track of, with a number of jazz players and a hell of a talented drummer (Rick Frank). The two vocalists are Stan Bronstein, who sings mostly in gruff tones (as though he was Wolfman Jack or something), and Michal Shapiro, a female singer (not a "Michael") who steals away a lot of the attention. She doesn't quite have the range of a diva, but she at least adopts the style. I guess it goes without saying that most of this music is boistorous and quite crazy. That's certainly true, but this group did have a goofy side as well. The leadoff track is "Don't Put Me on Trial No More", which immediately leaps in with an exciting mix of fast-paced horns and wild vocals. It's like blues-rock drenched in acid, and by the time it's over it's hard to imagine them topping it. They don't really try, as this was an ambitious group that jumped from one idea to the next quite quickly. The result is an album that's entertaining as hell; even the longer tunes jump from one section to the next with reckless abandon. As you might imagine, the instrumentation is all over the place as well, but they generally stick to the "brass-heavy jazz-rock" template. A lot of the better tunes are on the first side - "Jungle Gym at the Zoo" is exploding with raw sexuality, and "Crossroads of the Stepping Stones" is a catchy and dippy folk tune that recalls Sgt. Pepper. Even ideas that shouldn't work ("Band of Love") are endearing thanks to maxed-out arrangements that emphasize the catchier parts of the tune.
As the album goes on, they really do go off the deep end, writing a boogie about yogurt ("Yogurt Song") with some rather bizarre lyrics that make me wonder what yogurt used to be a street name for. They even do a tribute to a street vendor that sells hot dogs. "Old Man Willow" is the centerpiece, which starts as a creepy pop tune that unexpectedly descends into jazz-hell. I guess I really didn't have to describe the songs individually; you'll be able to make a judgment on this pretty quick. Personally, I like 'em, even though I kind of wish they'd just let the songs speak for themselves once in a while. They were definitely ahead of the pack when it came to writing memorable songs, but often come off as kitschy or worse, a novelty. But fans of the more out-there psychedelic or progressive rock records will probably get a lot out of this album. Most of the original members of the band left only a couple years after this was recorded; by 1974 they had released their final album. None of them seem anywhere near as good as this, and seem to suffer from pretty terrible production aside. But I'll stand behind this one.
The Immortals – Mortal Kombat the Album (1994)
Mortal Kombat is rarely talked about anymore, but for a period of time in the 90's it was the hottest video game franchise around. Not only was the series one of the first to be geared towards an adult audience (back when video games were mostly thought of as a child's toy), but the gratuitous amounts of blood and violence drew national headlines, which was the best publicity a video game could ask for (as there was a time when video game characters getting murdered on-screen was actually shocking). Being swept up in it as a kid, I owned not only the soundtrack album but also this somewhat-forgotten disc. One thing that the series was famous for that it doesn't really have anymore was its sense of campiness, the adherence to the policy that the more blood and screaming, the better (which made the first movie just entertaining enough to be worth watching). If you've heard the popular Mortal Kombat theme ("Techno Syndrome"), you know the style of over-the-top, in-your-face music you get here. It is both obnoxious and downright hilarious – the beginning of "Prepare Yourself" has a few lyrics introducing things, then suddenly jumps to "JOHNNY CAGE IS NOT AFRAID TO DIE!!" Liu Kang's song ("Born in China") features plenty of Bruce Lee-style screaming plastered over the top of heavy techno music - what can be more extreme than that? How about the ridiculous falsetto singing that singlehandedly makes Scorpion's "Lost Soul, Bent on Revenge" awesome (or ruins it)? What's most surprising is that this is not bad - it was made by Praga Khan from the Lords of Acid, and he lends a professional touch (and some pretty cool vocals), even if he does recycle ideas from time to time. One of the songs actually is legitimately great - Sub Zero's tune ("Chinese Ninja Warrior") is melodically strong and has a fantastic vocal part, and is the only song I can say that I can enjoy even without the camp value. Otherwise, it's basically KLF-inspired house music – hell, the massively successful "Techno Syndrome" even borrows the main hook from "What Time is Love?" Khan has the good sense to keep it all concise – somehow I think that extending any of the running times past 5 minutes would kill it, although the album does wind up a bit short at 37 minutes. They should have done a song for Reptile, too. I'll even write the lyrics: "Rep-tile/Green masked warrior/I fought you on "The Pit"/They say you are a hidden character/But you don't have to hide from me/I understand you, Reptile!"
Justice - Cross (2007)
With Daft Punk's Human After All getting panned to hell and back, the door was open for another duo to claim the crown of French house, and Justice ended up doing just that with this debut album, which seems to be more famous for the hype it created than the actual music on it. It more or less takes Daft Punk's method of forming melodies out of rapid fire samples of distorted guitar and bass and commits balls deep to it. This is a hell of a banger, but it's also about the least subtle electronic album that I've ever heard. Basically, the album pummels the listener with noise by overdriving guitars to the breaking point and putting them right on top of the mix, then slurring a bunch of slap bass over the top. All this makes for dirty, rapid fire, metallic, and powerful music that's ultimately danceable, even if it results in a perpetual "blown speaker" sound. In fact, "Waters of Nazereth" is practically heavy metal. But this all has its limitations; like Daft Punk before them, the duo have no idea how to properly build a track, and very little of the material here actually feels complete - Dig Your Own Hole this is not. For example, the epic opener, horns and all ("Genesis"), ends with a tense and frantic dance beat that seems sure to lead its way into an anthem, but it only leads to more distorted guitars, and it just dissipates the tension instead of releasing it. The other limitation these guys have is that they never let anything get too complex, and despite every track here being super loud and funky, there are never more than a couple of things going on at once.
This album got a lot of mainstream attention, and that's mostly because of the vocal tracks, including a modern take on "ABC" ("D.A.N.C.E."), which references Michael Jackson several times. It's catchy, but obnoxiously so, and the only real point of interest is the way the voices are distorted and placed all over the mix. The lyrics are intentionally bad, and most of the lines are muddyed up to the point of unrecognizability, but if you have a soft spot for the Jackson 5, this should at least bring a smile to your face. "DVNO", a pounding, bass-heavy stormer with a good vocal track (think Daft Punk's "Face to Face") is better, and stands as the only real solid single here. The entire album straddles the line of bad taste so well that I can't figure out if I'm underrating or overrating it. "TTHHEE PPAARRTTYY" is obnoxious on so many levels that it's almost a masterpiece of awfulness; it features squeaky-voiced Uffie rapping about a girl's night out and having lots of money, uses a trite and chirpy melody, has a couple of rhymes that purposely don't work, and literally goes half the song without even dropping the beat. It's kind of pointless to complain about this, as Justice do not even really see themselves as musicans, and the album is pretty clearly style over substance, with nary a solid melody to be found. So while I can sit here and grouch about this album's lack of replay value, it's kind of silly to do so when this is clearly meant to be played over boosted nightclub speakers, not my headphones. All that said, whatever they're doing, they do it well. There's even a super-obscure Devo sample in there! I realize saying it's "better than Human After All" doesn't really do it justice, but really it is the same type of sound, just with more density and power, plus a sense of self-awareness. If you're a teenager, you'll probably love this for its lack of subtlety and raw power, but this truly does get worse every time you hear it, which sucks because this album pretty much wound up defining the following five years (or more) of club music, and may be directly responsible for Skrillex. They did release another album in 2011, and that one's pretty interesting, resembling a hybrid of techno and synth-heavy progressive rock (!), but it appears as though their moment has passed.
Mrs. Miller's Greatest Hits (1966)
The concept of outsider art or "so bad it's good" (for lack of a better phrase) has been around for an awfully long time, but few of those albums garnered the type of success that Mrs. Elva Miller briefly had in the sixties. Mrs. Miller's "greatest hits" - her first album, by the way - is a collection of covers of contemporary pop standards, and it's so odd that I can't figure out how to properly rate it. Miller, who was in her late 50's at the time, had previously produced and distributed a few local gospel records, and was discovered by a KMRC disc jockey due to her, uh..."unique" voice, particularly its off-key, warbling vibrato. They came up with the idea of having her record a pop covers album, and the rest is history. The circumstances of this album are kind of a mystery - she's clearly having a good time, but hadn't figured out that the producers were trying to make fun of her, and she later claimed that they deliberately used the "worst" takes to make her sound worse than she actually was (which is almost certainly true). She's almost always out of tune, frequently a half-beat behind, and forgets her fair share of lyrics. But let me point out that this isn't like William Hung's Inspiration album - Mrs. Miller actually can sing, she just has no control over her voice. If Susan Boyle sings like a bird, then Mrs. Miller sings like a bird with a foot on her throat. Even her whistling is all over the scale, which is doubly jarring, as she has a ridiculous range (even hitting a spine-tingling high note on "Lover's Concerto" that I've only heard opera singers hit). The disconnect between her and the generic, professional studio band that backs her is striking and maybe the funniest thing about this album, especially when she mangles the final pre-chorus of "Downtown" by rushing herself to keep up, only to hit the big moment earlier than anyone else. What's surprising about all this is how much replay value there is - the songs themselves are all standards, and Miller's vocals are wild, but not in a grating way. In fact, I prefer Mrs. Miller's versions of these songs more than any of the originals, as once you hear her renditions, there is really no going back. Even with the undercurrent of "they're really just making fun of her", Miller herself is so cheery (even cracking up in the spots that she screws up the worst) that you may find yourself listening to this un-ironically, as there really aren't any other albums out there quite like this (well, unless you're a Wing fan. She's recorded plenty of albums like this).
Believe it or not, this album was a success, selling a quarter million copies and leading to several national TV and USO show appearances. I've watched a number of clips on Youtube and it's one of those weird situations where the audience is both laughing at her and with her, and to her credit she's good-natured about the whole thing. Her music career fizzled out pretty fast, though she did record three more albums after this. The 21-track compilation Ultra-Lounge: Wild, Cool & Swingin' is really all you need, as it contains most of this album anyway, as well as her incredible cover of "Monday, Monday", which is as unforgettable and awesome as "Downtown". She certainly is a unique talent, and if you can enjoy other extreme warblers like Tiny Tim or Captain Beefheart, then there's got to be a place in your heart for Mrs. Miller.
New Radicals - Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too (1998)
These guys are lumped in with all the other late-90's one-hit wonders, but there's more to the story. That hit, "You Get What You Give", was a primo slice of pure pop, and even if it hardly has enough melodic ideas for an entire song, it's still one of those hits that can make you smile in the first 15 seconds. The band consisted of singer/songwriter/producer Gregg Alexander, who had previously released a couple of unsuccessful solo albums, and a rotating cast of randoms, including Josh Freese, who was then just starting his mission of being linked to every musician alive (no idea if he actually played on this album). Altogether, 23 guys are credited in the liner notes for playing various instruments, but they're hardly more than a backing band for Alexander. Alexander himself is kind of a mixed bag - good songwriter, okay voice, and an obnoxious lyricist, as he's guilty of about as many terrible lyrics as he can be credited for good ones, some of which I can't really peg either way. You could classify a line like "We did a porno film for coke/I heard I'm big in Japan" as unnecessarily hip or mean-spirited and racist, but it's still clever. Musically, it's mostly pleasant - he uses a lot of piano-based arrangements with a good dose of acoustic and funk guitars, and you can tell he was influenced by guys like Todd Rundgren. As such, he doesn't rock out much, but when he does the results are great ("Jehovah Made This Whole Joint for You"). His voice has a decent range, relying a lot on falsetto (kind of like Sting), but he doesn't really rise up much above replacement level. It's the politics that confuse me - he seems so "above all the fakeness", but he's not above penning FM-ready love songs. Does he really want to burn down major corporations and overthrow the government, or is he just fascinated with people who do? Perhaps his most famous line is his slam against Beck, Hanson, Courtney Love, and Marilyn Manson, but he later admitted that the whole thing was a KLF-like experiment to see if the media would latch on to that line instead of the social commentary that preceded it (no surprise: they did).
I guess it may be easier to just ignore the lyrics and focus on the music, as the songs themselves are mostly good, whether they're catchy ("Technicolor Lover"), sweet ("Someday We'll Know"), or funky ("Mother We Just Can't Get Enough"). There are even a few experimental touches - the title track is a drugged-out, reverb-heavy dirge, and "I Hope I Didn't Just Give Away The Ending" not only opens with a neat vocal build-up (and closes with some Isaac Brock-style barking), but it also features lyrics both terrible ("By the way, this girl was sexy and she wouldn't touch you/That may not be true, but I said it so you'd feel involved with this song") and heartbreaking ("I don't even love you/We weren't even friends/It's just that I can't take it alone"). Such is the bi-polar nature of this album - even Alexander's vocal tics range from powerful to embarrassing. The only consistency is solid songwriting, which is the reason why I can recommend this; half these songs could have become hits given the right singer/producer. Which is not to say Alexander is deficient in either category, but his attitude towards the music industry was not exactly conductive to a long career - he gave preachy interviews and didn't care if he had another hit or not. He dissolved the band soon after, and was hardly heard from again. In the end, he may have been one of the most successful one-hit wonders of the 90's - he had an endearing hit, put out a good album, and left while people were wanting more rather than put out artistically bankrupt albums to scrape the bottom of the charts as so many others in his position did. There's still the notion that he could have been famous, if only he was motivated to do so.
Ponce de Leon (2005)
This self-released album is the work of a Florida collective led by some guy named John Hogan. I discovered it through Pandora Internet Radio, only to find that apparently no one else on the internet has heard of the band either. Maybe I can help a little. They describe themselves as electro-prog, and their website details some weird manifesto about the lyrics being about commercialism or something like that, but it's really more enjoyable than that would suggest. There is a slight prog influence here, but it's more punk - Hogan can't really sing, so he basically shouts out all the lyrics, and the tempos run pretty fast. The lyrics themselves are pretty great, and there are a number of lines that'll make you do a double-take: the singer plays the part of Ponce de Leon in a modern society, and it turns out that he really wasn't a nice person. There are lines like "not enough human Africans/to achieve enslavement acumen" and some really goofy rhymes ("orangutans like the way it feels/to go a day without throwing banana peels"). But what really sets this apart from the wealth of boring indie-electro releases that come out every year are the songs themselves - they've clearly put a lot of thought into these tunes, and all of the better ones have at least two good hooks. Most of this is immediately enjoyable - the songs do a lot to grab your attention and don't let go, and several of them practically beg you to sing along ("Nail Polish Gun", "My Lord Put a Mountain Down on Me"). The standout track for me is "Cum Day Garsawn", which features a shimmering synth line, a great guitar solo, followed by an even better synth solo. But there are really no duds here - the ones that don't jump out run pretty short ("Time Juice", "Flavor Wagon"), and their attitude and keen sense of humor make it a lot of fun to listen to. In particular, I love the synth-steel drum on "Caribbean Zombies", played so fast it can't help but sound off, and dropping the theme from Seinfeld in the end of "Jungle Tea Parties" is not only an awesome moment musically, but it's hilarious as well. The vocals are generally the focal point, but the synths do pretty much all the rest of the work. The problem is that their keyboards sound cheap and don't do the arrangements justice - if they were able to drop a few grand into studio time, session musicians, or production work, this would be a 4 1/2 star album. But what can you expect from a labour of love like this? Surely input from a "professional" would try to dull the edges anyway, which is half the fun here. I can only imagine what the live show (if it exists?) is like. I usually argue that most obscure indie stuff is obscure and indie for a reason, but this one is worth looking for.
Elvis Presley - Having Fun With Elvis on Stage (1974) (but you may want to hear it anyway)
This is a bona fide one star album, but there is a funny story behind it. Colonel Tom Parker, the man who made Elvis the biggest celebrity in the world (and then exploited him for all he was worth) was looking for more ways to cash in on his hot property, even though it was the 70's and he didn't own the rights to any of his albums anymore. He discovered (made up?) a loophole - it was possible for him to still sell Elvis Presley records as long as they didn't have any actual songs on them. So he put together this "spoken word" album of Elvis just saying stuff on stage in between the songs, hoping to cash in on the real die-hard Elvis collectors, or maybe those who just didn't feel like reading the record jacket. It's funny, but in a truly post-modern way. This only could have worked in this era, before stuff like Snakes on a Plane, intentionally bad commercials (I'm looking at you, Quizno's), and Weezer's progressively awful album covers had ingrained themselves in our society, and if an album like this was released today, it would purposely turn up the craziness in an attempt at going viral, trying as hard as possible to be funny while trying (and ultimately failing) to fake-market itself as serious. But here's what makes this so great (for a one star album, that is) - Parker really did think this idea would sell, and may have even believed that some people would legitimately want to hear this. But this is mid-70's Elvis - overweight, addicted to painkillers, and counting down the months until his fatal heart attack. And, as it turns out, completely disconnected from reality. Contrary to the title of this album, he doesn't do anything fun at all. In fact this doesn't even really qualify as spoken word, since there isn't any narrative or theme, just a bunch of quick cuts of banter between songs - you get Elvis belting out "well, well, well, well, well..." for half a minute, then telling a brief story about his early days (most of which are not even factually correct, making me wonder if Elvis was trying to invent his own history or had simply forgotten it), then giving us some bizarre non-sequiturs ("I'm the NBC peacock!"), then interacting with some audience member who we cannot hear, then "well, well, well, well, well...." for another 30 seconds. Elvis says "well" over 200 times on this album. To Presley's credit, the way this album is patched together probably makes him sound a lot more whacked out than he actually was...but then again, maybe not. Basically, they try to capture him attempting to joke arond, but you only get the punchlines. By the time this album ends, you're left wondering, "what the...?" You're hoping for some kind of coherent story, something to explain why he's acting so weird, something to tie this all together just a little bit in the end, but all you hear is Elvis leaving the building. And that's how you make a one star album. Not that you needed to know that - the only people who are going to be interested in this are those who truly enjoy Dadaist humor, and for that, it's at least worth one listen. See also Paul Stanley's People, Let Me Get This Off My Chest, which is a similar concept, although that one was clearly done for laughs - there may never be another album like this again.
Oh, what about Elvis's actual music? Maybe, someday...
Qkumba Zoo - Wake Up & Dream (1996)
This was a failed crossover dance project from Johannesburg, but it winds up being a pretty neat mid-90's relic. The band is a vocalist named Levannah, and a dance music producer named Owl, plus someone named Tziki who is credited with "dancing". I'm guessing you can tell what kind of music this is based on those names alone. For the most part, it's generic dance music with a slick, club-friendly sound, but with an African flavor. None of this is too risky, but at least it has the promise of being exotic (as much as, say, The Lion King). Which is to say it's the kind of music Enigma might have made if he managed to pull his head out of his ass. This album was their big international release, and while it didn't make much of a splash, it at least scored one moderate hit, "The Child Inside". It's maybe the best thing they ever came up with, thanks mostly to that gorgeous vocal in the chorus. They do have some success whenever they hit upon a good synth hook ("Rain", "Happy Earth Day", "Time of Wonder"), and Levannah's voice is pretty enough to carry a tune by itself ("Big"). Also, they don't really handle ballads too well, which is typical for this type of act, but you get them here anyway. Essentially this is somewhere between World Clique and Aquarium, though it doesn't have the attitude of Deee-Lite or the edginess of Aqua. In fact, there's pretty much no edge here at all, as Levannah sings about the power of dreams, listening to your ancients, taking care of the Earth, indulging your inner child, and other things you probably first heard in The Jungle Book. Q-Zoo lives in a sensitive and friendly fantasy world, where mermaids sing beneath the ocean and the demons of Apartheid cry about what they've done, not that there's anything wrong with that. It would have been neat to see these guys have a bigger impact, but "The Child Inside" basically stayed as a minor novelty hit that wound up on a Sea World commercial, and Tziki wound up killing herself soon after, maybe because so few of you bought this album. Supposedly they've done more in the meantime, though subsequent albums are nearly impossible to find. I still pull this out from time to time as there are some good parts and a few songs do have a tendency to stick in your brain - "Happy Earth Day" is a great song, I don't care what anyone says.
Ram Rider - Portable Disco (2005)
What a find this was. I don't really know anything about Ram Rider, not even his real name. I know he's a producer of Japanese techno, along the same lines as Ryukudisko and Denki Groove, but there is little information on him in English. So what do we know about this album? The cover is vibrant, set in a garden, with several animals up front, including a parrot, a zebra, a lion, and some others that I can't identify. In the background, there is a disco ball that reflects the entire color spectrum onto the scene. That's really the feeling of the album; it's busy, colorful, fun, bright, and anyone can enjoy it. Even the title of the album means something; you feel like you're in a club every time you hear it. After a brief opening bit, the first "full" track is called "Yume de Aeru Yo", which has an immediately likeable vocal hook and a cute, danceable beat, smooth in a Discovery-era Daft Punk way. It's a good track, but just wait - the entire album is like this, and better. You could have fooled me into thinking this was a greatest hits collection; as far as I know six singles were released from this album, and there could have easily been more. It's vibrant, feel-good pop, with disco bass lines and electro-house beats, and the heavily vocodered vocals of the Rider himself anchor it all down. Some of the best tracks use violin hooks to give the music a sweeping feel ("Hello", "Sweet Dance"), and there's one that uses a full orchestra in an explosive chorus ("Music"). There's a guitar-heavy space-arena-rock anthem ("Sun Light Stars") and a couple of tracks that blend shimmering keyboard lines that are more meditative ("Bedroom Disco" and "Yellow, Magenta, Cyan and Black", featuring Midori's ultra-cute vocals). Even the 'safer' tracks work fine - "Space Walk" is a fine piece of 80's style Euro-disco, and the straightforward trance of "Door" is hypnotic. Some use guitar hooks ("Mirror Ball", "Feels Gonna Feel"), and there's a remix of "Bedroom Disco" by Ryukyudisko that sends a bouncy rhythm track from speaker to speaker. I really don't want to mention everything on the album (too late?), but suffice to say there is not one sub-par tune on here, and all 14 of these songs (not counting the intro) have ended up on a playlist of mine at some point. Usually albums that put 10+ songs in the 5-6 minute range seem like marathons, but this is one of the few that actually justifies it. There are a few knocks against this; it can be exhausting to listen to all at once, and a few tracks use a lot of annoying high-pitched noise ("Sun Light Stars", the "Bedroom Disco" remix). But this is one of the few pop albums that can run for over an hour and not get boring, mostly because it doesn't try to overshoot its boundaries; one song has the lyric "funky disco junk", and I can't help but wonder if Ram Rider's describing his own music. But let's not forget how enjoyable electro-funk and disco can be in the right hands. You'll put a lot of miles on this.
Charanjit Singh - Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat (1982)
How many times have you heard this story before? Obscure LP sells about a hundred copies, one of which makes the thrift store rounds and eventually ends up in the hands of a DJ who sees the record as a hidden treasure and gets it reissued. But this isn't The Shaggs we're talking about here - this is acid house, which wouldn't even exist until 1989! The tools are not that unfamiliar - the drum beats are 808s, and the synth melodies are unmistakably TB-303s, which had only just recently come out. In a way, this does not really sound much different from the disco tracks that Moroder had produced. In fact, even the idea of synthesizing traditional Indian music was done before, on Haruomi Hosono's Cochin Moon album, released back in 1978. But the beats themselves were so ahead of their time - nobody was using an 808 in quite this way back in '82, and if more than a handful of people had bought this record you might guess that it kick started the whole acid house movement. As for the music itself - every track runs about 5 minutes, starting with a few synth pings, dropping a bass line, then adding the disco beat, and eventually playing the raga part. There is really not a whole lot of variety on this album - in fact, save for maybe "Raga Kalavati" (which almost has a funk atmosphere), all the tracks have a variation on the same bass line and drumbeat. You'd really be hard pressed to tell any of the tracks apart, which means you really only need one of them, but they sound so good (you have to give props to Dutch label Bombay Connection for cleaning this up - it sounds amazing), it's no problem listening to all ten.
I really don't know what to give this album - fans of early house music such as 808 State are really going to want to hear this, but it doesn't really work as an album per se since every track is basically the same. Of course, you could also say that about Steve Reich. This wasn't exactly meant to be listened to the way Computer World was. So this rating is even more of a guess than the others. This is a great album to play loud on a good system, and I would imagine some of these might even work well in a club setting despite being nearly so old. Mostly, this is because Singh keeps it simple and doesn't add in non-electronic elements, giving this a timeless feel. Who says India can't get down?