November 2, 2012
French songwriter Melody Prochet has taken her time over the development of her latest project, Melody’s Echo Chamber. Indeed, it was over two years ago, at a show by psychedelic rockers Tame Impala in Paris, that Prochet began formulating the fuzzed-out pop that permeates her debut album, enlisting that band’s Kevin Parker on production.
The pair are an ideal fit, and Parker’s presence is tangible throughoutMelody’s Echo Chamber, from the rounded bass and phased guitar picking of ‘Crystallized’ to ‘Endless Shore’’s loping psychedelia. Yet Prochet’s unique character and way with a tune shines through enough to make this far more than a Tame Impala tribute exercise.
‘Some Time Alone, Alone’ is a highlight on an album that seldom — if ever — resorts to filler, its chiming guitar work echoing the hearty chorus of opener ‘I Follow You’, while elsewhere there are darker moments treated with icy reserve (‘Mount Hopeless’, the cannibalism-themed tale ‘Snowcapped Andes Crash’).
There are one or two hints of the late Trish Keenan in Prochet’s delivery, and she regularly dips in and out of her native tongue effectively, such as on the 5/4 shuffle of ‘Quand Vas Tu Rentrer?’ and ‘Bisou Magique’’s breathy performance over a rolling breakbeat. There are attractive touches of keyboard in amongst the phasing guitars, most notably the swirling chords and sci-fi- sweeps on ‘You Won’t Be Missing That Part Of Me’, and Prochet’s voice is well-suited to floating above the tracks in the slightly distant way she executes so well.
The reversed freneticism of ‘IsThatWhatYouSaid’ offers little outside of a reassertion of the album’s psychedelic grounding — a not-altogether unwelcome addition — while the child-sung hook of closer ‘Be Proud Of Your Kids’ adds a touch of charm that successfully manages to avoid being sickly sweet.
Prochet has delivered a strong, fully-considered debut here, and appears to have been developing a project with more substance to it than the airy platitudes of My Bee’s Garden, the band in which she got her start.
Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON
February 11, 2011
What does the future hold for the endangered ‘opening track’…?
Back when Starburst were still Opal Fruits, and Prince was yet to become The-Artist-Formerly-Known-As-Prince (and then Prince again), LP track listing mattered, and no more so than the selection of track one. Where once even LPs that didn’t fall into the category of (shudder) ‘concept albums’ were a carefully thought-out sequence of songs, they now exist as a collection of tunes geared towards mp3 player shuffle functions. Does this mean the impact of the opening track is of more importance than ever?
Whether as a statement of musical intent, or a gradual pacesetter for the album to come, track one has an important job. Some jump straight in, outlaying the theme and direction of the album; some are snippets of loosely relevant sound or dialogue (usually entitled ‘Intro’ or similar).
It could be hypothesised that the dawn of the iPod generation has seen a shift towards ‘immediate impact’ track listings: every song must be strong enough to stand up on its own, outside the context of its album, or it will be skipped. The ability to purchase individual tracks, even if they have not been released in single format, has seen a decline in album releases that contain what previously might have been termed “album tracks”: songs that may have not been hits but filled in gaps in the overall narrative. Maybe this is further testament to the futuristic attributes of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’: the album had seven of its nine tracks released as singles (all charting in the US top ten) long before iTunes began weeding out the padding with single song downloads.
In most cases, the opening track has been granted no immunity from the draconian laws of modern day album production. Take ‘Boyfriend’, the opener to Best Coast’s debut Crazy for you, for example. An indie blog favourite from last year, the track fully implements the Best Coast ethos within the first five seconds: sun-bleached guitars and catchy surf pop songs all coated in Bethany Cosentino’s reveries for her man, her weed, and her cat. Everything you need to know about the album can be found within that first track: an audible blueprint. This technique is common among contemporary bands: push across a concise manifesto before the listener’s finger can reach the skip button.
Following this template, six string-toting Aussies Tame Impala began their 2010 debut release with ‘It Is Not Meant To Be’, possibly the most psychedelic rocker in an album full of psychedelic-rockers, while Gold Panda’s first forays into the world of the long player, ‘You’ from the much lauded Lucky Shiner, is the audio equivalent of a business card for Londoner’s forward-thinking production style.
However, some bands remain stubborn and decide to take a different route. LA Indie sensations ‘Warpaint’, the darlings of the music press last year and this, decided to kick off their introductory set The Fool with the five minutes-plus stoner grind of ‘Set Your Arms Down’, a noticeably contrasting track to the preview single ‘Undertow’ that had wowed the critics so. Speaking to Interview Magazine shortly after the album’s release, bass player Jenny Lee Lindberg explained the simple reasoning behind the decision: “It’s stoner order. We made this album to listen to stoned.” With this knowledge, the positioning of ‘Set Your Arms Down’ makes perfect sense.
But there was a time when bands or artists weren’t overly concerned with the importance of track one’s impact; when a clear line existed between the 12” LP and the short, three minute blast of the 7” single. Singles were there for the radio-friendly fix of chart busting pop, while albums were to be mulled over and carefully considered (plus skipping the track on vinyl could be a right hassle). With this in mind, bands were free to use their openers as tasters for the tracks that followed, or to ease the listener in gently; the musical equivalent of entering a hot bath. Dark Side of the Moon’s ‘Speak To Me’, with its heartbeat, demented laughter and slow build into ‘Breathe‘ (with a gap so non-existent it caused havoc when producing a CD version of the album) is a perfect sampler for Pink Floyd’s eerie classic, while Led Zeppelin’s elongated ‘Song Remains the Same’ from 1973’s Houses of the Holy has a full 1”33 of explosive, overblown instrumental before Robert Plant shuffles up to the microphone. Mac Rebbenack introduced his voodoo medicine man alter-ego Dr John to the world with the brilliant ‘Gris Gris Gumbo Yaya’, yet the track is so soporifically relaxed it’s often in danger of drifting off to sleep and rolling back into the same New Orleans swamp from which it emerged.
Whether it was folk-rock opuses in three parts (CSNY’s ‘Carry On’), slow-grinding funk workouts (Funkadelic’s ‘Mommy, What’s a Funkadelic?’), or just a honey-toned Frenchman murmuring over a menacingly sexy groove while a Gauloises hangs listlessly from the side of his mouth (Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Melody’), the musicians of yesteryear paid no heed to worries concerning the length, impact or characterisation of their opening tracks.
However, with retrospect, some have perhaps been slightly misplaced in their positioning. ‘Gimme Shelter’, the blockbuster opener to The Rolling Stones’ 1969 album Let it Bleed, is so intensely mind-blowing in its delivery (who could forget the crack of Merry Clayton’s voice as she shrieks the word “murder” over the song’s vamp out?) that the listener is left musically spent by the end and has to go and have a lie down during ‘Love in Vain’. A similar fate befalls the listener of James Brown and The JBs’ Doing it to Death, the opening title track of which is a pounding 10 minute celebration of everything right with music set to a 12/8 groove so funky it hurts – a tough track to follow.
Neil Young began his solo career away from Buffalo Springfield with the folly of ‘The Emperor of Wyoming’, a jaunty country instrumental that had many reaching to grab the needle from record long before its sublime follow up, ‘The Loner’. (Young did rectify this mistake on second album Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, introducing the world to his ability to rock with the best of ‘em on the stomping opening gambit of ‘Cinnamon Girl’).
Yet sometimes an opening track comes along that so clearly defines not only the sound of a particular artist, but also that of a whole subgenre. Wu-Tang Clan’s 1993 classic Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) fully implements the group’s grimy, kung-fu-sampling gutter rap from the first bars of ‘Bring da Ruckus’, a song so fantastically abrasive that hip-hop was never quite the same after it dropped. The album also resisted a fashion developing in hip-hop (and across other forms of electronic-based music) at the time for assembling some relevant snippets of dialogue or music into a track entitled ‘Intro’ or similar. Countless examples exist from between the early ‘90s and the present day – some of the era’s classic albums among them. DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing opens with a scratched up fragment of dialogue thanking “Bob Wood/national program director of the Chum group” for his contribution to some unknown project – one entirely unconnected with the album to follow – but the track and its enigmatic vocalist became synonymous with the birth of a whole new generation of beat-makers and producers. Perhaps the introduction of the CD allowed artists space to establish their particular feelings regarding the album at hand through the intro track, where once it may have taken up valuable vinyl space? Either way, it’s a method widely practiced throughout all contemporary genres. Last year’s Mercury Music Prize winners, The XX, opened their self-titled debut with a track bearing the ‘Intro’ moniker, although here the cut is one of the album’s highlights.
So the opening track appears to be heading towards redundancy from its job as an album’s entrance point, its role of gently guiding the listener in or blowing their proverbial socks off with a heavy impact introduction to a band’s sound greatly reduced by the move towards albums-as-collections-of-individual-tracks mode of record releases today. Perhaps the future lies in the model Beck introduced on release of his Guero album from 2005: an album that exists in several different forms – remix versions, extended deluxe editions, fan reworkings – and has no fixed track order. As the man himself put it in an interview in Wired back in 2009: “Artists can and should approach making an album as an opportunity to do a series of releases – one that’s visual, one that has alternate versions, and one that’s something the listener can participate in or arrange and change. It’s time for the album to embrace the technology.” Lovers of the opening track beware; Beck is suggesting you may be that most dreaded of creatures – the musical dinosaur…
October 17, 2010
Autumn’s coming/here/never left, and in celebration/comiseration/indifference of that fact, here’s some tunes for your ears while you kick leaves about and go and sniff wood fires and start getting obsessed with cooking stews.
Autumn is a very affecting season on music tastes, with certain tracks and sounds finding their zenith as the temperatures drop. Tattooed Tears from Japan’s Ice Cream Shout was a grower on me, finally becoming a one of my tunes of the year as the first leaves began to fall…
Following on from a track of the year contender, here’s a cut from an album of the year, Tame Impala’s Innerspeaker. Finding themselves both in contrast to and aided by the dream-pop/chillwave sound of current American indie, Australia’s Tame Impala carve ’60s psychedelic productions in to an album that is as original as it is an homage to it’s predecessors.
I came across this track on a compilation celebrating five years of London independant label Moshi Moshi Records (entitled We Got Monkeys: Five Years of Moshi Moshi Records), released back in 2003. Everything about this song is Autumn, from the string samples to the vocal melodies. I’m yet to decide whether there are certain harmonic progressions or other musicological factors in determining a track’s ‘season’, outside of the obvious ‘summer tunes’ steeped in BBQ smoke and heat haze, or their winter equivalents (see Bjork’s Vespertine album for the definitive article here), I guess it’s subjective.
Quite simply the best song ever written with Autumn in the title.
A slice of the real hip-hop from this mid-’90s collaboration, with the feel of Brooklyn in the Autumn time etched deep in to the piano riffs and vinyl-crackle of one of the genre’s finest beat constructers.
A track that’s been doing the blog rounds recently in anticipation of the LA-based Warpaint’s full length debut The Fool, out towards the end of this month. The smooth-edged opening chords and chorus melody slot perfectly in to the theme of this mixup.
Making music that sounds good in the colder months must come naturally to those living in the chillier corners of the planet. Norway’s Röyksopp will be no strangers to many of you, especially with the success of Melody A.M, the album from which this track is taken, a work filled with shivering electro anthems.
And finally another cut from Junip’s Fields album, perhaps the most autumnal track of a hugely autumnal album. See below for a review of Junip’s recent gig at XOYO in London