Favorite Re-Discoveries Of The Year
Only 2 this year, but they were biggies!
Saint Etienne: Saint Etienne just passed me by entirely when they arrived on the scene in 1992 with Foxbase Alpha. The albums that saw the heaviest of rotation around that time were Screamadelica (Primal Scream), Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches (The Happy Mondays), Some Friendly (Charlatans) and The PWEI Cure For Sanity (Pop Will Eat Itself), The Stone Roses. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I left the missteps of that time off (Psychefunkapus, Bootsauce—although the Brown Album remains a guilty pleasure!), The Soup Dragons and The Farm). Bloggers prerogative. Anyway, point being, given what my tastes were at the time, Saint Etienne would have been right up my alley. Electronic mixed with acoustic instrumentation, beats, atmospheric, obscure samples galore, and top notch songwriting, fantastic singing. I jumped right in with the debut, and as soon as I heard both disks of the Deluxe version of Foxbase Alpha, 3 times in a row, I was absolutely in love with Sarah Cracknell’s voice and starting picking up everything I could find: Foxbase Alpha led to the similar but more refined So Tough, then onto the absolutely beautiful Tiger Bay (which did away with the sampling in favor of more complex song structures), then I popped for the ‘60’s pop of Good Humor; to the return to form of Finisterre (So Tough, Vol II), the semi-concept album Tales From Turnpike House, and finally finishing off my journey with the love letter to music lovers that is Words and Music By Saint Etienne, and the Brian Eno homage of Sounds Of Water. In a matter of months I had devoured their entire, proper discography and I can safely report that there’s not a stinker in the lot! Out of the compilations I have bought Continental (which has an amazing cover version of Gary Numan’s track Stormtrooper In Drag), which consists of rare sides and remixes, is terrific, and their 100% remix double album, Casino Classics, is on order as I write this. This band is the very definition of “binge worthy”. Recommended Albums: So Tough, Tiger Bay, Words and Music By Saint Etienne, Finisterre.
The second missed-it-the-first-time-‘round obsession this year was Porcupine Tree or, really, the genius that is Steven Wilson. I am very wary of approaching any modern day ‘progressive’ bands; they just, for the most part, don’t resonate with me. But I heard the song Luminol, from Wilson’s 2013 album The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories), and had to buy the album, and it quickly became one of my early favorites of the year. Yes, it contains some “classic” British symphonic prog elements to it, in addition to a little fusion, but the sound of the damn thing, Jesus Christ! It’s clear, crisp, and so unlike anything released in recent memory! I am so sick of the compressed “jam it all in there, it’ll fit!” production shit that seems to be de rigueur today, where distortion rules and instrument separation is all but a forgotten dream. No room to breathe. Wilson is a great musician, yes, but it’s behind the boards where he really shines. So, from Wilson’s solo stuff I started picking up Porcupine Tree albums, one at a time and in chronological order, which is the way I’d recommend you all do as well, should there be an interest. They started out like a techno version of Pink Floyd (or, I guess, the ORB with more guitars!), with the musicianship and outright jamming capabilities of Ozric Tentacles and/or GONG, eventually evolving into an ambient/metal/prog/techno/pop band of the highest order, and continued their high quality until 2009 when they released, in my opinion, their first real sub-par effort entitled The Incident. They are now on an indefinite hiatus. Recommended albums: Fear Of A Blank Planet, In Absentia, Stupid Dream, Up The Downstair.