As a big music fan I often get given music-related gifts and this Christmas was no exception. Some good friends have given me a scratch-off wallchart with a Bucket List of 100 Albums. There are a few on there that are already favourites of mine but for the most part there are plenty on there that I have never listened to. If ever there was an opportunity to hear some music and artists that I wouldn’t normally choose then this is it!
I’m more of an album listener so this is right up my street, suffering the duff tracks as much as enjoying the stormers. I’ve decided to listen to each album twice, once on the way to work and once on the way home. Then I’ll make a simple decision- keep it or delete it!
The range of music is pretty diverse so it’s definitely going to be interesting. Looking forward to it!
I have never really felt anything post-Pepper to be a “proper” Beatles album, tainted by the now apparent path to their break-up in 1970 and exemplifying how the individual creativity of the Beatles was widening the cracks that had already started to appear in the band. The White Album was released following a time of turmoil and upheaval for the band that began with Sgt. Pepper. The relentless touring of their early years had tired them in every way, their manager Brian Epstein had died from a drug overdose, the psychedelia of ’66 was giving way to a more spiritual outlook, the Magical Mystery Tour film had failed to give them direction and John had allowed Yoko into the Beatles studio sanctum. In these circumstances the White Album seems to signpost the beginning of the end, easy as it is to be preconditioned that such a large collection of songs highlight each Beatles individuality rather than a cohesive band effort. The release of the 50th Anniversary new stereo mix of the album presents the opportunity to not only listen to the album with a new set of ears, but to also consider it as a collective release rather than an album of disparate music recorded in an atmosphere of conflict and enforced toleration.
It is thought by some that the mono version is the way the Beatles intended their albums to be heard as the band directly involved themselves in the mixing. Giving a more “in your face” listening experience I have always mainly listened to the mono albums. The engineers at EMI created the stereo mixes which in most cases suffer from severe channel separation, great for picking out particular musical elements but for me rarely an enjoyable listening experience overall. This is where the White Album becomes distinct from their earlier albums as the Beatles themselves participated in the stereo mix of the White Album and for the first time it was only available in Stereo in the US, mono being phased out and now becoming the novelty. Mixed as its own entity, there are some things that set it apart from the mono version which was also mixed by the Beatles and released in the UK. The extended Helter Skelter and right-speed Don’t Pass Me By make for a better listen than their mono versions but the harsh channel separation has always been too uncomfortable for me, even though there are some tracks that do sound better in the stereo mix. I wanted to hear how good a job they have done with the 50th Anniversary remixes and this provided an opportunity to have a proper listen to the three versions of the album to see how they sounded. To do this I created a playlist featuring the 2009 mono remaster, the 2009 stereo remaster and the new 2018 mix, sequencing each track one after the other.
Immediately I was surprised that the mono sounds really dull in a way I hadn’t noticed before, sounding much less clearer than the original stereo. You can hear different elements of the songs, perhaps aided by the channel separation, but there is a definite clarity there that is missing from the mono. A few of the original stereo mixes are actually pretty good, not having such harsh separation of sound, and for this mono die-hard my appreciation of the original stereo mix has been raised up a notch (although the channel separation is still jarring). However with the new 2018 mix we get the best of both worlds. The stereo separation has been improved across all tracks, centralising vocals and other elements and creating a much wider stereo soundscape. The clarity is further improved from the 2009 stereo remaster with elements like the drums and the bass really standing out without overpowering everything else. In some tracks the vocals have been brought a little more into the foreground and there seems to be something in every track that makes you think you are hearing it for the first time. This new mix provides a far superior listening experience than either the 2009 mono or stereo mixes, replacing the mono version as my go-to listen, although I still enjoy the head-on mono experience. It has also made me think about creating a similar mono-stereo-new stereo playlist for Sgt. Pepper to see if another mono-crown can be usurped.
As for whether I am able to appreciate the White Album as a “proper” Beatles album, well I’m not completely there yet. Certainly the Sessions recordings found in the Super Deluxe edition do elicit the band having a bit more fun than might be expected but it still feels like less of a band creation than previous albums. Perhaps my mindset will shift a little more with every listen and I will certainly be listening to the White Album a bit more often than I have up until now.
One more thing in case your wondering, I didn’t to listen to Revolution 9 three times in a row. It’s an interesting track but i’m not sure that would have helped my appreciation of the album!
Standout track: Too many to pick, but how about Dear Prudence to start with?
Whenever a musical icon passes it always leaves a hole and with Aretha Franklin this is certainly no exception. Her voice was distinctive and magical, as befits the Queen of Soul. Some artists have vowed never to sing certain songs again after Aretha performed them. I probably heard her voice first in the Blues Brothers film revisiting 1968’s Think but soon got to know more of her musical catalogue. This album is a pretty good place to start if you haven’t heard an Aretha album. Released in 1972 and is amazingly her 20th album, winning her a Grammy. Her vocal talent just shines here, effortlessly delivering the soul of the ballads and dropping the amazingly funky Rock Steady. Another true talent departs but leaves behind an amazing legacy that you really should make time to explore.
Standout Track: Rock Steady
Their name was the first thing that attracted my attention – I love interesting band names! I’ve been meaning to mention Wolf Alice for a while after seeing them live, which was totally brilliant. Ellie Rowsell is one of those performers you can’t take your eyes away from as she lets rip her dynamic vocals with the occasional lupine snarl. Their latest album rubs punk-infused ire alongside Prog-rock expansiveness. It’s one of those albums where you can just enjoy musicianship that takes you from one place to another. Seeing them live just sealed it for me and they are now one of my favourite bands. This year also sees them nominated for a well deserved Mercury Music Prize. I am now getting into the deluxe version of their first album My Love is Cool but Visions is a brilliant album and if you can catch them live then go!
Standout track : Beautifully Unconventional
I haven’t got hold of a Kylie album for a long time despite being a bit of a fan (we refer to her as Kylie…Lovely Kylie… in our house!). It’s almost like when Ultimate Kylie came out in 2004 what else did I need? Getting tickets for Kylies upcoming tour as a birthday pressie is a real treat as I have never seen her live, and I also got the extra-track Deluxe edition of Golden, a nice little hardback book containing the CD. Mainly recorded in Nashville the tracks have been given a country twang but Kylie retains her pop princess crown throughout. Tracks like Radio On really show how Kylie can carry the mellower songs, but it’s the dancier tracks where she continues to uplift and get you smiling. There are occasions when you feel the “twang” may have been overdone a bit but the songs are well written and it makes for a great album to listen to in the sunshine!
Standout track: Raining Glitter
With the charts continuing to be awash with electronica, dance and rnb (although there’s nothing wrong with any of those) you might be wondering if there was still any good live music out there. Well if you have any doubts then get yourself along to one of Abbie McCarthy‘s Good Karma Club nights in London to catch bands that you’ve probably never heard of (yet!) and more to the point are really great. Going to see bands you have never heard (assuming you don’t Spotify them) means you never know what you are going to get, but last Thursday what we got was three brilliant live sets.
Being on first Island Club played to an undeservedly small crowd. I’m loving the 80’s influenced keyboard and drum sound that some bands have at the moment. I just instantly enjoyed their music which doesn’t often happen. Although all three bands were great I think Island Club took pole position on the night. Great songs, great music. Check out their headline tour dates here.
Calva Louise up next provided a loud and lively set very reminiscent of a late 70’s/early 80’s Punk band. For three people they make a lot of noise and lead singer Jess’s frenetic guitar work was brilliant. It’s this sort of band that makes live sets their own. heir energy was immense and I would have loved to have seen more from them. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more chances to see them again.
Easy Life provided yet another different style, showing how great a night Abbie puts together. A kind of soul/jazz Brit hip hop sound that sounded so great. If the talented front man switching between keys, guitar, and trumpet wasn’t enough the rest of the band slid between instruments with equal ease. I never thought I would see an electronic clarinet (?) again either!! Check out their Creature Habits tour dates here.
I’ve been enjoying all three bands on Spotify over the weekend and check out all three bands music here, here and here., but as is quite often the case nothing is as good as seeing them live so if you can catch any of them on their own tours then you should. Also do yourself a favour and check out Abbie’s upcoming Good Karma Club nights here. Well worth a trip to the East End!
I can’t believe I have only just picked this album up. Of course I had heard the singles She Said and Prayin’ but I never thought to buy the album. It’s a great mix of Northern Soul and urban hip hop. If you think of the current grime artists but with a smoother soulful backdrop then you are getting close to Plan B. Having always been a fan of soul and RnB the music is definitely my kind of sound. This is just another example of when you can miss albums or artists that you can really get into. Definitely worth picking up if soul is your thing providing you dont mind the rap side of things. He now has a new album out too which you can check out here.
Standout track: The Recluse