Thursday, March 29, 2018

On remixes, over time and genre

Remixes have changed significantly over time.  In the past, the term was more literal.  The elements of a song, each recorded in a studio on individual tracks, had to be mixed to make a song.  This was normally the job of the producer, but starting in the age of disco (at least) and carrying over into dance music in general after that, remixing became a thing.  Often this meant repeating elements, and extending the song, but it also sometimes meant using the elements in a different arrangement to highlight different aspects of it. Only very occasionally was a new element recorded, but even then, it was usually subtle, and very small. Through most of the 80s, this was the standard use of the word remix, and although a few people attached their name to remixes, they were often the same people who did production on the albums anyway, so it was just an extension of their work there (this is what someone like Mike Saunders or Gareth Jones would have done, for instance.)

Now, keep in mind that in the 80s, I didn't listen to very much of what we'd call EDM yet—I was still more in New Wave, or what retroactively we've started calling synthpop.  Stuff like Depeche Mode, Erasure, the Pet Shop Boys, Ultravox, etc.  An important element of this type of music is, of course, the pop song structure and the vocal melody (and backing vocal harmonies.)

Here's an example; a rather lengthy one, but still.  Ultravox's #3 (in Britain) hit "Dancing With Tears In My Eyes" in original (well, remastered) version, and the very long "Special" Mix, which doesn't really use any new elements, but which extends the song significantly and highlights stuff that fades more into the background in the original version.  Note the intro, where the bass-line is a bit exaggerated, for instance—it's present in the original version, but you don't really notice it until the remix calls attention to it.  That intro just goes on forever and ever, by the way, which wasn't necessarily a requirement of these remixes.  But making them Extended was not unusual.  Most of the actual vinyl 12" singles (as well as later cassette and CD singles I bought during the 80s were mostly made up of these types of remixes.)

Gradually, remixers started adding a bit more.  There are, for example, four remixes of "A Little Respect" by Erasure on the 12" single I bought.  Two of them are variations of the kind of remix I mentioned above.  The Big Train remix adds more stuff.  It's subtle, but certainly noticeable  And then... there's the 12" House Mix.  By the end of the 80s, a significant change had started to come over the world of remixing, which this remix is an example of.  Remixes were now an excuse for the remixer to be the star.  A number of remixes were built almost from the ground up, with all new instrumentation, and the original was only nodded at in passing as the vocals were layered in, sometimes modified or filtered to give it a different sound.  I hated with a passion some of these remixes, which were terrible house songs that bastardized the originals rather than ones that added something significant or interesting.

Here's my sample of this kind of crap; from the "World In Your Eyes" CD single; one of the first really disappointing things I bought by Depeche Mode (partly because I didn't love the song in the first place, and thought that some good remixing could really improve it.  The same had been done with earlier singles from Violator, including "Personal Jesus" with the "Holier Than Thou Approach" and the "Pump Mix"; both of which were little removed from the earlier 80s paradigm, but which significantly improved the song from the album version.  Or, for that matter, the same was true with "Enjoy the Silence" where a mediocre album version was vastly improved by the "Hands and Feet Mix".

With "World In Your Eyes" the strange housey remixes that almost completely ignored the original song were all we got, just about.  Not that other 12"ers I bought during this era didn't have a mix or two of that type, but for the most part, they were rare, while good remixes were more common.  I added those two links above for reference, but I actually get bored with the original, and actively dislike the remix.

But there was an upside to this.  If you ignored the fad of house-sounding remixes that swept through the synthpop genre, what we also started to get were remixes that were a little more daring, making the song sound like it had a different mood, or different tone, or maybe that it was a collaboration between two different bands altogether.  In fact, that's an interesting side effect of it; bands started to become as remixers in addition to for their own work. Here's an early example; Anything Box's "Jubilation" in original album version, plus some remixes from the 12" (or CD) single.

For a more "mature" example of this same phenomena, here's a turn of the millennium song, "Annie, Would I Lie to You" by Iris.  The original version is first, then the "Children Within Bunker Mix" which, as you might expect, makes the song sounds almost like the vocalist from Iris did a collaboration with the Children Within, who remade the synths from the ground up.

This is more or less still the situation today in the synthpop (and futurepop and other related genres) scene today, and for the most part I like it.  That doesn't mean that I like every mix, of course, but it does mean that for the most part, you can tell what a mix is likely to sound like if you have any familiarity with the remixer.  It also means that we get a lot of variety in our remixes, which is an improvement from the old days when you had remixes that all sounded mostly the same (listen to the remixes for "New York New York" by MCL for instance.  Good luck telling by ear which one you're listening to, unless it's the Razormaid Remix (not the Razormaid Mix, which is different) which at least adds a subtle new sound to a few places.)

And MCL is a good spring board from New Wave to EDM, since it's basically an early EDM song—there isn't much to go on with a verse-bridge-chorus structure, or a vocal melody, or anything like that, which is what is also true for most EDM songs.  Some do have vocals, but quite often it's just a sample, or a monolog, or some other minor element of the song rather than the backbone around which the song is built.  This means that remixing in this new paradigm, where it's more than simply remixing existing elements, is a complicated process.  What exactly does it mean to remix, when it's nothing but instrumental elements, and you're expected to create new ones to give the song a different spin of some kind?  But not too different, because you still want to recognize it as the same song?  It really blurs the distinction between the artist and the producer/remixer quite a bit, just as it blurs the distinction between a remix and a cover version of the song itself.

Ironically, speaking of vocals, some of these early EDM remix hits made songs famous by removing vocals.  Here's two examples of that: the Cameron Paul remix of C.C.C.P.'s "American-Soviets" and the most famous of the Jam & Spoon remixes of Age of Love's "Age of Love"

 And this is what got me thinking about all of this in the first place.  All week I've been really digging Dave Joy's "First Impression."  It's a great song.  But one of the things that is really interesting about it is that there seem to be more good remixes of this song than just about any other song I've got in my collection.  It even dwarfs the number of good remixes I have for "Acid Nightmare" by A*S*Y*S or "The Answer" by Tommy Pulse, or even of "Enjoy the Silence" by Depeche Mode.  Well, maybe it doesn't dwarf the number of "Enjoy the Silences" that I have.  But it certainly matches it.  It's surprising how many versions of this song there are. And, it's surprising how many of them are versions that I like.  I've had a really hard time picking a favorite, and even if I do, it's a close thing, because a bunch of other versions are really cool too.

Here's where all of this comes together, though—the original version is called the "Original Skyline Mix" but along with that was a remix by Dave Joy (the artist) and DJ Loudness, as well as one by another hardtrance artist known as S.H.O.K.K.  It's the S.H.O.K.K. mix that took off and made the song a hit.  And it sounds quite a bit different from the original, to the point where it's almost another song altogether.  Those three were the original release, but there were several additional releases over the years, down until we got the 10th Anniversary release with a bazillion remixes.  But the curious thing is that the newer remixes tend to be remixes of the S.H.O.K.K. remix; containing elements that are unique to that version, rather than of the original song.

Anyway, the whole thing is kinda curious, and I've already rambled way too long on a very esoteric topic, but listen to the "Original Skyline Mix", the "S.H.O.K.K. Remix" and the more recent "Nomad Remix" to see what I'm talking about.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Best acid

Sometimes things come full circle.  I was aware of the London acid scene of the mid and late 90s long before I became aware of the (mostly) Continental hardtrance scene of the (mostly) 00s.  But because hardtrance largely emerged by combining the acid sound with the trance sound into acid trance, which evolved into hardtrance (arguably, trance came out of the earlier acid scene to begin with), I find myself coming full circle and getting more into acid that I missed the first time around.  Especially if it intersects in some way with hardtrance.

The funny thing is how similar all EDM really is to other variations of it.  People sometimes act like there are massive fissures dividing the three great branches of EDM: techno, trance and house.  This is baloney.  Lots of artists were all over the place, and lots of tracks are hard to put in a specific genre.  The fact that some others are not doesn't mean that there isn't a continuum of closely related music that slips in and out of genre definitions all the time.  Most EDM is... well, it's all quite similar.  This is even true of folks who think that there are loads more than three big branches, and treat Breaks and Jungle as if they are completely separate things from Trance or Techno.

Speaking of controversial, I don't think techno was invented by the Belleville Three either.  I think it evolved directly out of New Beat in Europe, and what the Belleville guys were doing was a sideshow of hip-hop and Chicago house.  That said, acid was clearly invented by Phuture in Chicago, although it was just a weird novelty when they did it.

That said, there are some types of EDM that I don't like by type.  Some of the really extreme hardcore stuff, like speedcore and whatnot, is just stupid.  Goa and psy-trance kind of irritate me with their phony trippy-hippy exoticism.  The whole drug culture of the rave scene I dislike a lot, but honestly—it pervades all of EDM, not just psy-trance.  A lot of house I don't like, but a some of it I do.  I got really turned off when house-style remixes took over on my CD and 12" singles of New Wave (synthpop) stuff  in the very late 80s and early 90s; they really screwed up a load of the Depeche Mode Violator remixes, for example.  But I really like Felix Da Housecat's "Silver Screen Shower Scene."  Then again, discogs often calls that Electro or Tech House or even merely Techno rather than House.  And although there's this narrative (as noted above) that House and Techno both evolved out of some kind of hip-hop and soul movement, that's absurd.  I actually quite dislike "black" electronic music, such as it is.  I have no connection to it, and no interest in it.  The whiter (and usually more European—for whatever reason my folks on this side of the Atlantic don't dabble in it nearly as much—the better.  And to some degree, the harder the better, unless it devolves in self-parody, which it sometimes does (and I do like plenty of wispy, ethereal stuff; I love a lot of Dreamwave stuff, for instance.  And most people don't even call that EDM at all.)

But obviously, attempting to draw hard and fast lines around EDM and attempts to oversplit it are somewhat foolish, at best.  (I mean, fer cryin' out loud, Ishkur's, which is sometimes pointed to as definitive, has "hard acid techno" as a separate development from "acid techno."  And he doesn't recognize acid trance as even existing at all—but he's clearly biased against trance, so there's that.  Rather, there are influences and movements that move like waves through the sea of electronic music, affecting all kinds of overly split subgenres at a time.  The squelchy, dirty overdriven 303 bass-line that defines acid, for instance, is sometimes called is own thing, but it there's also acid house, acid techno, acid trance, and more.

So, what's the best acid?  As I've been involved a lot more with exploring acid, I've been looking for what I think are the definitive tracks, that really stand out for some reason or another.  "Acid Trax" by Phuture is probably the first acid house song ever, where the overdriven 303 was first overdriven, as far as anyone knows.  Primitive 80s house like this still sounds pretty much like every other primitive electronic music genre, though: does adding an overdriven 303 line to Kraftwerk or Throbbing Gristle fundamentally remake it?  I doubt it.    "Acid Trax" is interesting as probably the first acid song, but hardly the best.  Acid didn't get really good until musicians from Europe got a hold of their own 303s and started adding them to what was already a mature and diverse electronic music scene going on at the time.

My oldest son (the only one with whom I can talk EDM) will tell you that "Mad Cows on Acid" from 1997 by DDR & The Geezer is the best acid song.  It's a credible shot at the title.  He's also the one who introduced me first to "Acid Nightmare", an acid trance track by A*S*Y*S, who I probably like better than he does now.  That's another credible contender (sometimes you can tell just by how many versions of it there are out there, which is a testament to its enduring influence and success.)  One of the earliest tracks I encountered of the genre was "Je Suis Electrique" by L'Âge Synthétique, before I even had any idea that I was listening to an acid bassline.  The minimalism, while still offering an emotional crescendo and brooding darkness also makes it a classic of either early tech trance or hard trance, depending on what you want to call it.

Really, the first acid most people hear and recognize is one that they may not know is acid; Pump Panel Reconstruction's remix of New Order's "Confusion" which was famously used in the first Blade movie in the vampire nightclub, when the blood came out of the sprinkler systems.  This is so enduring, in fact, that the specific 303 bassline has been sampled and reused in at least three other songs since: the Warp Brothers (sometimes partnered with various others in some versions) "Blade (Phat Bass)", Randy Katana's "Play It Loud" and Public Domain's "Blade (Bass In The Place)".

Perhaps that's my own bias showing, but the acid that trends towards trance and hard trance tends to be my favorite stuff.  Check out Wippenberg's "Neurodancer" or the long version of Solar Quest's "Acid Air Raid" for some other credible "best acid" tracks.

I've got other stuff; acid that's so experimental and musique concrete that it's barely listenable.  I've got hardstyle acid (some stuff by Blutonium Boy and DJ Neo, but even A*S*Y*S is into this stuff now.  I'll throw out another potential contender here with either "Acid and Bass" by those two, or "Acid Overdose."  Both are credited to one of the two, but produced/mixed by the other, or by the pair.).  I've got very minimalist acid.  But for a final contender, let's throw out the oddly ethereal and "light and floaty" "Pure Acid" by Kai Tracid.  Mostly just because it's quite a bit different, and shows some of the breadth of the genre.  From dark and minimalist, to party rave bangers, to ethereal and flighty "happy" trance songs, acid can do it all, while still delivering the classic overdriven 303 sound.
  1. "Acid Trax" Phuture
  2. "Mad Cows On Acid" DDR & The Geezer
  3. "Acid Nightmare" A*S*Y*S
  4. "Je Suis Electrique" L'Âge Synthétique
  5. "Confusion [Pump Panel Reconstruction]" New Order
  6. "Neurodancer" Wippenberg
  7. "Acid Air Raid" Solar Quest
  8. "Acid Overdose" DJ Neo
  9. "Pure Acid" Kai Tracid

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Arizona Trail Thru-hike

Although I don't talk about my hobby of hiking here all that often, it is still one of my favorite things to do, especially in the American west and southwest, which I consider my true home (as opposed to the upper Midwest where work has me living.  Not that I'm not happy enough living where I live, but I don't get out and hike very many weekends in Michigan or Ohio, needless to say, when it's the deserts and mountains of the Rockies and the Colorado Plateau that I love.)

Here's a long-distance hike that's maybe a bit more doable for someone like me that can't afford to take half the year off to do one of the "big" hikes of the Triple Crown; the Arizona Trail.  At 800 miles, it's only a third the length of the Pacific Crest Trail or the Continental Divide Trail, although it offers a very similar experience to the first third of either of those, in many ways.  Plus, taking a 6-8 week sabbatical from work is a more doable option than a six month sabbatical, I think (not that I've done any investigation whatsoever into what's required for either.  I just know that 6-8 weeks of unpaid leave is more affordable than six months of it.)

Chris Berry, or @hikerslim, is the guy hiking this YouTube compilation of the trail.  I really like how he's by himself.  To so many hikers, getting into the "hiking community" and moving as a group seems to be part of the experience; I don't like that.  If I take a group of friends and family with me, that's one thing, but otherwise, I don't want to meet up with people that I only know by their trail names and we travel together.  If this is a true solo hiking experience, it's already much more appealing than even the CDT or PCT, and certainly much more appealing than the AT.

He seems like a nice guy.  Much of his commentary is fairly mundane, even banal, but he says it with a smile and a mild attitude that reminds me of a slightly hippier version of Bob Ross or Mr. Rogers.  It's a relatively enjoyable experience to hear him talk about how clear he expects the water in an upcoming stock tank to be compared to the stream he just filled up in, or giving oddly precise mileage counters as he obsesses over the starts and stops of the "passages" as defined by the Arizona Trail Association.  Very relaxing.  Pleasant fella.  I do laugh a bit at his constant discussion about passage starts and stops, which in most respects are somewhat arbitrary anyway.  Unless you're stopping for a night in town, or a resupply, then crossing a passage boundary means very little, after all.

Of course, I've probably ruined the experience—because his videos don't have a musical soundtrack; just his talking (plus the occasional bird call or wind noise, although his gear does a good job of keeping that down) I've gotten to playing background music on my own with Windows Media Player, and the experience is somewhat less relaxing, needless to say, when you've got face-melting acid techno like "Mad Cows on Acid" or "Acid Air Raid" playing in the background.  Oh, well.  Why not?  He doesn't really say anything except whether or not he's stopping for water or not, whether or not he's stopping to make camp or not, and whether or not he's passing the end of the passage or not.  You can get that without the audio from context, for the most part.

As an aside, if I ever do hike the Arizona Trail, and make a video diary of it, I will almost certainly avoid the hiker video cliches of recording my feet from directly above; a view that consistently gives me a headache to try and watch, and I'll probably actually stop and talk, rather than hold out my camera or phone and record myself walking.  I also doubt that I'll put my phone down on a mini tripod and take a video of myself walking past it, because then I'll just have to go back, get the phone, and trim that out anyway.  I tend to think; who really wants to look at me, anyway?

Monday, March 26, 2018

(Belated) Friday Art Attack

Whoops!  I got busy and never did the Friday Art Attack on Friday after all.  The weekend was even busier.  Here it is, only a little bit late.

Two versions of the Ice Temple from the Frozen Shadows map for Temple Run 2.  Temple Run is a bit boring, which makes it a decent time-killer app for when you're sitting there in the dentist office waiting room, or something like that, but it doesn't get much beyond that.

Apparently there was a comic book based on the game.  That might have been doable.  The concept is, of course, Raiders of the Lost Ark, but the execution is relatively shallow, as befits the type of game that it is.

From the comic book Fall of Cthulhu, and turned into one of those Demotivator type memes.

Sniper rangers.  If only, D&D.  If only.

Michael Whelan's cover art for A Princess of Mars.  I always thought his green men looked too thin and spindly and Dejah Thoris didn't look very red, but whatever.  That's because the first time I read it, I had the Frank Frzetta cover and interior illustrations.  Of course, Frazetta made the red men even less red; they were just straight up white people.

Today's Wayne Reynolds.  A blue dragon from some Paizo adventure or other.

An aboleth; one of D&D's most overtly Lovecraftian original creations.

Some more Waynbe Reynolds, from the Abyssal Plague novel trilogy.  Which, actually, isn't all that bad for D&D fiction.  Mostly because two of the three novels were written by Don Bassingthwaite, who's probably among the most talented novelists doing D&D work.  James Wyatt does the middle volume, and it's not bad either.

The preface novel by Bill Slaviscek, on the other hand, is terrible.

Some deviant art spaceship designs.  This has a military corvette, or possibly frigate, kind of look to it.

Well, another Wayne Reynolds.  The original Eberron mural.

Familiars; a bat, a toad, big centipede, and a quasit—which if you're not already familiar with the concept of a quasit, it's the demonic equivalent of an imp, which D&D has decided is a devil.  And, of course, contrary to pretty much every source ever, D&D has decided that devils and demons (and daemons) are significantly different types of beings.

I'm not quite sure what is happening here, but it has a kind of Quori vibe going on.  How's that for an esoteric D&D reference?

Friday, March 23, 2018

First Impression

I've been pretty delinquent in posting lately, but I'll do a Friday Art Attack in a little bit.  In the meantime, here's a very nice hardtrance song I recently discovered, in many, many forms, since it got a 10th anniversary release with 18 mixes (and then even an additional remix after that.)

For whatever reason, the Dave Joy "Topic" page has the thing listed twice, but go through the "First Impression" videos (the green ones) and see which ones you like.  For me, personally, it's very hard to pick a favorite.  I discount the edits and radio mixes, as merely shorter versions of the better long tracks anyway.  I'm not a huge fan of the Paul Webster mix, which has a kind of Chicago House like vibe to it (and I always hated late 80s and early 90s house).  The Michael Tsukerman has a kind of classic trance vibe to it; a bit more laid back and less overtly hard trance than most of the rest.  The Nomad and the Alex Mac & Zeebra Kid vs Nicky D mixes have some acid overtones (curiously the mix by Acid Maniacs isn't all that acidic, but very unique and recommended nonetheless).  Philippe Rochard turns the song, as expected, into a hardstyle song.  The Skyline mix is supposedly the original, although the DJ Loudness vs. Dave Joy mix is also from the original release.  The S.H.O.K.K. remix is from the original release, and is considered a classic of the hardtrance genre. It's impossible for me (at least at this point) to pick a favorite version; at least half a dozen of the ones I have are in the running.

You can also check out the entire run of "First Impression" mixes on Spotify if you prefer to use Spotify to YouTube (be sure and check out the Madwave remix, which is separate).  You can also buy the whole enchilada at Amazon, iTunes, Beatport and various other locales. The price per individual track isn't great, but you can get the entire 10th Anniversary as a digital download for less than $6, which works out to about 33¢ a song.

In fact, the challenge (if you want to call it that) isn't in finding the versions, it's in deciding which ones make the cut, get added to my phone, or to my playlist of hardtrance "best of" hits.  Having more than half a dozen of one song is... well, it's not completely unheard of (ahem, "Acid Nightmare") but it's odd.  And then, we start talking about "Second Chase" or "Third Pleasure" or even "Fourth Joyride", where granted, the number of mixes goes down on each, but are still substantial, all by the same artist

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Top 10 Albums

A friend of mine on Facebook is going through a process; one of those modern day modern technology versions of the chain letter, I suppose, where he's talking about the top ten albums that impacted him in his life.  I thought this would be a fun thing to do too (although I don't know that any albums impacted my life so much as I just like them a lot), but rather than doing a facebook post once a day for ten days, I'd just do them all as a single blog post.

Starting with music that reeks of my childhood, moving through the music that defined my tastes as they emerged as a teenager, and into some modern favorites that I still listen to considerably more than anything else, this will be all over the map.

And honestly, aren't we kind of migrating into the post-album world with regards to music anyway?  Without further ado:

10. Roger Williams "Christmas Time"

To me, this is the defining Christmas album.  I know, I know; it's piano instrumentals, but this is still, to me, what Christmas songs are supposed to sound like.

This is, of course, like all of the early stuff, one of my dad's records from his big old vinyl collection that he had when I was young.  He didn't actually add a lot to it while I was a kid, both because my parents went through a prolonged poor period while he was going through grad school to get his Ph. D., and because I doubt he really liked much of the music of the late 70s and the 80s anyway (a notable exception or two being Dire Straits and Huey Lewis and the News, which he picked up on cassette tape later in the 80s.  He's since converted all of his vinyl to digital formats.

In fact, it's probably fair to say that much of my love of music is attributable to my dad in the first place, who 1) insisted that learn to play an instrument as a kid (the piano, and later the trombone), 2) insisted that I learn to sing once I could read music from taking piano, and 3) played music all the time when he was sitting around at home.

So, we listened to a lot of stuff.  Much of it, I came to dislike (stuff like Joe & Eddy, the Christie Minstrels, Creedence Clearwater Revival, BTO, etc.—a lot of 70s era rock n roll that was kind of anti-edgy, I suppose).  But some of it stayed with me.

9. The Steve Miller Band "Greatest Hits 1974-1978"

I guess there has to be an exception to the non-edgy 70s rock.  And to be fair, there's more than one that could probably qualify (maybe some older Fleetwood Mac, or Chicago IX or something should get a nod here too.)  Not that I love this music or these songs, or even have copies of any of the songs on my phone or in my CD collection, or elsewhere.  But because they were songs that made up the soundtrack of my childhood, which I don't hate (Creedence and 3 Dog Night, on the other hand, I grew to intensely dislike.  Heard a lot of them too.)  The strange sounds of some of these songs probably prefigured what I was going to end up doing, which is moving into electronic music in a big way.  Not that the Steve Miller Band is in any form or fashion and electronic music band, but that rocking synth bridge in "Swingtown" and the "laser sounds" that start off "Jungle Love" came into my life at about the same time as the original Battlestar Galactica TV show, and I always thought it sounded like cylons shooting their lasers.

A lot of my dad's music I dislike, and a lot of it I'm indifferent to, but this is one that I remember quite fondly.  I even thought that the van art record cover was kind of cool back when I was a kid.

8. The Beach Boys Greatest Hits
Sadly, I don't have a discogs link or image file for this one; I'm not sure which version my dad had.  I perused the list of likely candidates on discogs, but I can't remember which one we had.  I know it was at least a 4-sided (i.e. two vinyl discs) collection; it might have even been more.  Every one I look at on discogs is either too short, or it's a foreign release that I'm pretty sure my dad didn't buy (he did have some Argentine-released records from the late 60s when he lived there for a little while, but he didn't have any Beach Boys greatest hits from the Netherlands, for instance.)

My dad had some Beatles stuff too; I know for sure that he had Help and Rubber Soul, for instance, and some of the other, earlier ones (I know for sure that he didn't have Sergeant Pepper's or The White Album, though.  I think he lost interest in them when they became more overtly hippyish.  Or maybe that just coincided with him being in college, getting married, having kids, and not having money, etc., so he just never bought them.)  That said, I always preferred the Beach Boys.  They were more American (obviously) which meant, among other things, that I could relate to what they were singing about even more than I could to the Beatles.  I could relate to their relaxed teenager California vibe, from a California that doesn't exist anymore thanks to invasion and corruption.  In fact, in some ways, I think of the Beach Boys as the anthems of the America that's been stolen from us; the America that should be our birthright.

Of course, the Beach Boys themselves were complicit in that, in spite of their music.  They weren't nice guys, they had all kinds of issues.

7. Duran Duran "Rio"

The very first music that I ever bought myself with my own money was a 45 speed single for "Hungry Like the Wolf."  I think I was in 5th grade or so.  I really loved Duran Duran all through middle school, and I still think that the Rio album is one of the best albums ever released.  Sadly, for many years it was hard to get a hold of "properly."  The US release that was actually successful was on cassette (and vinyl, I'm sure, but I had the cassette version) and it had the "night" versions from Carnival replacing the regular versions on the whole first side.  Of course, I didn't know this for many years, so when I finally went to upgrade my old cassette to CD, I couldn't find the versions that weren't a little lamer anywhere.  It took until the 2009 re-release and remaster before I actually got what I wanted (and more!) in digital format.  And it was worth getting; it's still an absolutely great album, when using the "correct" versions of the songs, by which I mean third American version (it was actually released twice in America and, believe it or not, failed to achieve anything.  It was the third release with the remixed versions on side 1 that is the one everyone knows.)

Another side effect of this album's impact on my tastes is how much it influenced me towards New Wave and away from pop, country, and even—to a great degree—rock and roll.

6. a-ha "Hunting High and Low"

Speaking of which, sometimes of course, I'd buy a pop album—or so I thought—only to discover that while the song I knew best was certainly a pop classic, the rest of the album might turn out to be somewhat moody synthpop new wave.  Such is the case with Huhnting High and Low.  Not that I'm completely surprised; I actually remember when both "The Sun Always Shines on T.V." and the eponymous "Hunting High and Low" singles were (briefly) on the radio.  Both are, needless to say, much more moody and melancholy than "Take On Me" or its cheesy, bouncy b-side, "Love Is Reason."

Of course, their second album, Scoundrel Days is even moodier and more melancholy, and even more overtly New Wave rather than pop.  In spite of that, it is highly recommended, at least by me, although if you're only going to get one a-ha, you've got to get this one first.

Honestly, you could probably only get those two and be fine.  I also have Stay On These Roads which I got partly just for "The Living Daylights" track, but I kind of dropped them after that.  And in this day of Amazon or iTunes ordering of a single song, just get these two albums and then the tracks "Stay On These Roads" and "The Living Daylights."  Nothing else after Scoundrel Days is a must-have.

5. Def Leppard "Hysteria"

Although I did move from pop and rock into New Wave as my teenager tastes developed, especially the last year or two of high school (which would have been fairly late in the 80s—but that's cool, because it meant that I got chase down several years worth of back catalogs, which was exciting in a way) I've got to put two actual 80s hair band rock and roll anthems on before I completely move into that territory for good.  Hysteria is literally the first full album I ever bought—on cassette tape, naturally—and I listened the crap out of it, just as I did with all of my other early cassettes (including the two mentioned previously.)  I liked almost everything on it, although now many years in retrospect, I think only half of the tracks deserve to be considered memorable (and most of them were on the first side of the tape; now that I've upgraded to CD that's a moot point, of course.)

One could argue that this isn't entirely fair to write them off as just an 80s hair band; Def Leppard were musically very gifted and innovative, and to at least some degree, the 80s hair band craze was made up of people imitating Def Leppard; down even to imitating the Hysteria cover art, at least in the case of Winger.  And if some of the hair band craze artists ended up being one-hit wonders, or more forgettable in general, the same can not be said for Def Leppard, particularly for this album (and the one that preceded it too.)

4. The Cult "Electric"

If it's not fair for Def Leppard, it's even less true for The Cult, who had an edgy New Wave and punk-like approach to their hard rock.  While probably 1985's Love is more "classic" (or at least more indie) than 1987's Electric, the latter had much more of an impact on me personally, and it's one that I listened to all the time.  It was kind of the ultimate party album for me and a few of my friends.  For at least a little while, this prevented me from seeing the depth of the music, I admit.  I often skipped to "Born to Be Wild" because I knew it best, and stuck there for some time.  After a while, I came to appreciate it much more, of course.  I'd say my favorite track now is actually "Wildflower"—and by a long shot—while the fact that they decided to remake "Born to Be Wild" is kind of cheesy (not that it's not a great cover version—just that I almost wish it had been stuck on the b-side of something, in retrospect.)

One guy described The Cult (and specifically this album) as The Doors and AC/DC having a baby.  I dunno about that, but for 80s British heavy rockers, they were certainly edgier than Def Leppard ever were.  Of course, edgier is sometimes weird; their fascination with injun imagery prefigured the rise of loads of cultural Marxism crap.  But once upon a time, even cultural Marxists were able to produce good art, as this album shows.

3. Depeche Mode "Music For the Masses"

The first Depeche Mode album I got, probably in early 1988 when it was still relatively new (but after "Strangelove" had been out as a single for a little while, and I think also "Never Let Me Down Again."  Not that I ever heard the latter on the radio...) and the completion of my journey from pop to New Wave.  Much of the New Wave that I had earlier listened to was New Wave that had a lot of pop appeal; that wasn't really true for Depeche Mode during this era (at least in the US); they were dark enough to be scary to people who weren't into that kind of thing; depressing, solo music, not party music; the soundtrack of the Walkman generation.  Not only that, they dressed in motorcycle leathers, but had weird nearly skinhead-like haircuts, they never smiled in pictures, and they were notoriously private about their actual lives.  In an era in which most people thought of electronic music as bubbly, bubble-gum pop music, Depeche Mode defied those trends, and almost single-handedly created the dark electronic music as it was known after their imprint, from scratch (not that dark electronic music didn't exist, of course, but it didn't have the almost mainstream appeal of Depeche Mode; it was all novelty or fad stuff before them.)  In fact, someone once flippantly (although not untruthfully) told me that the reason that there are relatively few female synthpop vocalists is because girls don't sound enough like Dave Gahan.

From an artistic standpoint, this probably is just past their peak; this represents just the beginning of the "selling out" maybe of their sound; or maybe it's better seen as a kind of victory lap celebrating it after they had just finished perfecting it the year before.   And then, after this, they took a break and came out with Violator, which was certainly even more commercially successful, but which also represented the completion of their selling out and big steps in their journey to not even being an electronic music band at all anymore.  For sheer artistic brilliance, I recommend Black Celebration over this one—by a slim margin—but this is the one that made me a fan.

2. Erasure "The Innocents"

Of course, it can't all dark, and the other half (in my mind at least) of the top of the heap of New Wave music was Erasure (which ironically was driven by original Depeche Mode founder Vince Clark).  It's probably way too simplistic to suggest that there were two big pillars of New Wave; the darker pillar and the lighter pillar, and at the top of each respectively was Depeche Mode and Erasure, but that's how I saw it at least during the 80s.  The two of them were certainly more prominent than other examples of each, and both seemed to have developed their sound kind of independently of what was going on at the time.  Erasure's sound is very much the Vince Clark sound (not unlike what he did with Yaz, or The Assembly or even the freshman Depeche Mode album Speak and Spell.)

This is, again, the first one of Erasure that I stumbled across, since "Chains of Love" and "A Little Respect" got a fair bit of radio play in '88.  But I had Wonderland, The Circus and the compilation Two Ring Circus to get in short order, and then not that long later, Wild! came out (which was, up to that point, the gayest album I owned.)  But in 1988, those weren't yet very old anyway.

During the 80s and early 90s, I used to say that Erasure was an every other album kind of band.  Wonderland was great, Circus had some great songs but was overall kind of weird.  The Innocents was brilliant; Wild! again had a fair number of misses (although the Crackers International EP that came out before that helped bridge the gap a little better.)  Chorus again was great, and I Say I Say I Say was kind of boring most of the time... and then they broke the pattern after that.  In fact, I've long ago lost the plot with both Erasure and Depeche Mode both, but even moreso with Erasure than with Depeche Mode.  That's kind of curious, as Erasure still does stuff that's more like what I used to like than Depeche Mode does; but at the same time, I just can't be bothered because I got so bored after I Say I Say I Say and Erasure that I never even listened to Cowboy or Loveboat.  I should probably check them out on YouTube or Spotify just to see if I've been missing anything that I'd actually miss or not.

1. Depeche Mode "Black Celebration"

Well, this shouldn't be a surprise.  I kind of telegraphed this result, didn't I?  Black Celebration, released in 1986 (and bought by me in late 1988 or early 1989) didn't have any "hits" in the US; I had never, in fact, heard a single song from it prior to buying it on cassette tape (and later on CD) and probably got very little radio play except on the most dedicated of "alternative" stations.  In spite of that, Depeche Mode had been quietly building up their fan base in America following the sleeper hit "People Are People" a few years earlier, and when they did their masses tour, it was a huge event; but even the band themselves were surprised by the reception that they got.  Depeche Mode were themselves sleeper hits, after a fashion.

If anything, this was even darker than Music For the Masses, and it was certainly more "artsy" and less accessible; songs like "World Full of Nothing" or "It Doesn't Matter Two" for instance are both strange and yet lovely.  ("Sometimes" and "Dressed In Black" don't count; there's always an awkward Martin Gore ballad) and even "hits" like "Stripped" and "Question of Lust" were considerably less accessible than stuff that came before.  (On the other hand, "Question of Time" is a pretty classic dark Depeche Mode dance track.)

One of my favorite tracks was the ender; "But Not Tonight" and I was surprised to find out years later that it was never meant to be part of the album at all.  The British version didn't include it, and the band was a little miffed that the American record company stuck it on; apparently, they never liked the song and considered it kind of pop trash or something.  That's a shame; I always loved it, and thought that the change in tone made for a kind of nice epilogue to the album overall that enhanced the experience of listening to it all the way through.  Apparently the band have finally come around to accepting it, after a fashion, and even play it on occasion in their shows now.  Probably as a concession to the fact that it's fairly popular and has been covered a number of times.

But the lack of accessibility was in part due to the experimentation, the artistic touches, and other elements that make this considerably more than just a pop album.  Maybe it's just me being somewhat pretentious, but I've always considered some of the best of Depeche Mode's albums as nearly artistic equivalent to modern symphonies, although using the modern pop song as the vehicle to deliver them.

Anyway, this album was the last of a three album partnership with producer Gareth Jones, and between Jones and Alan Wilder, the musical talent and innovation was clearly apparent to all.  Without them, who knows if we'd have sampling in mainstream music at all, for instance?  Depeche Mode were still quite credible under different producers; David Bascombe and Flood, respectively, but they especially suffered when Wilder split with the band.  Wilder's solo career didn't do anything all that interesting either; Wilder needed Gore's song-writing talent, and Gore (and Co.) needed Wilder's musical and production talent.

Depeche Mode did a lot of good work.  I even like their early stuff like A Broken Frame quite well, but the three "dark electronic" albums: Some Great Reward, Black Celebration and Music For the Masses are clearly their best material.  Earlier Construction Time Again was just starting to get dark and "serious" and by Violator they were well on their way towards become a "formerly" electronic band—although I certainly have to give them credit for putting "Enjoy the Silence" on that one, which has got to be their most iconic song of all time.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Friday Art Attack

Wow, it's already time for another one of these?  Where does the time go?  By coincidence, I seem to have fewer fantasy and more space opera images today.  But not tso much that if you're a fan of one but not the other you're out of luck.

A medusa pirate queen and dinosaur riders in the jungle.  There is literally nothing not to love about this entire image.  Plus, that weird energy cannon or whatever it is that they're about the fire at the T. rex.

The Jabberwocky.

It was always disappointing to me how bizarrely stupid and hippyish James Gurney's Dinotopia was.  But the images are top notch.

Have I mentioned before that I seem to really like undead dragons?

Or savage, ghoul-like vampires that are less urbane and stylish and more brutal and savage?

It's too bad that 1313 never got made.  Maybe we'll get the Boba Fett and the Bounty Hunters space western that the Star Wars series once promised implicitly.  Maybe—if we're really lucky—the new Solo movie will be that movie.  I doubt it, though.

I don't know why John Carter looks like a teenaged kid here, but here he is on a leaf boat with Tars Tarkas poling past plant men.

Some John Howe Silmarillion images.  This is from the fall of Gondolin.

A more traditional take on Morgoth and Ungoliant than last weeks' image.

And the Middle-earth "god" of the sea, Ulmo, looking very Neptunian.

Jandar of Callisto, Lin Carter's best fake John Carter.

I don't know what this is, but I sure wouldn't want to run into one on a dark night in the woods.

RAWR!  This looks almost like it could be Tarzan and Jane, but I don't know what story it would be from if so.  But I admit that I never read all 24 of the books.

It's worth reminding myself that I'm essentially an anti-urbanite southerner at heart.  Part of the reason that in all of my settings every city is some kind of "wretched hive of scum and villainy" is because I think city-folks are wretched scum and villains, for the most part.

Sorry not sorry if you're a city guy yourself.

A girl and her snow gorilla.  Lolwut?  Cool image though.

Watch out, buddy!  Oh, well.  We can always hire more cohorts to paddle our boats.
This guy, on the other hand, has more of a PCish vibe to him. 

Friday, March 02, 2018

Friday Art Attack

Well, I never got around to doing last week's Friday Art Attack.  Here's this week's.

 I can't remember what this is from.  Starfinder, maybe?  D20 Future?

Dagon, as he appeared late in the 3e era in Dragon Magazine.

Panthers and a barbarian, and a fire behind him, and a giant planet in the sky.  As unlikely as all this seems, it still makes for a cool visual.

Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath.  These get loads of differing interpretations, but this one has among the most classical "Lovecraftian" looks to it, really.

Speaking of which, this is a really creepy interpretation of Ungoliant when Morgoth's balrogs came to chase her off.  I do kind of like this creepy human-armed interpretation as opposed to merely being a big spider.  Big spiders are fine, but Ungoliant was some kind of singular monstrosity.

I'm a big fan of civilized apes and man-apes in my fantasy.  This is concept art for Planet of the Apes, but honestly—where else are you going to get images of that kind of thing?

Following Star Wars, imagery that looked an awful lot like Star Wars really took over science fiction art in a big way.  I have a science book that I loved as a kid and found a copy of in a used book store that was printed in the late 70s as a reprint; The New Challenge of the Stars. Patrick Moore was the author and David Hardy the artist.  And, of course, the new cover art was delta shaped spaceships not unlike Star Destroyers going to war against a big round space station that looked like a shinier Death Star, shooting lasers.

Classic good vs. Evil.  Get rid of that stylized sun and give them red crosses, and you have the crusades.

Art from some Leigh Bracket Mars story collection.  I've always liked this image. 

Speaking of ruins of greater and grander civilizations still lingering in a world turned to barbarism...
I don't know when the derro turned dark-skinned like the duergar and drow, but apparently they have.

Speaking of drow... here's a necromancer raising dwarven zombies and stuff.
This has a weird The Ring kind of vibe to it.  No doubt, exactly as its meant to.

Aaaannnddd.... some Arrakis to end the day's art selection off.