Found Sounds (Where It’s At)

The beautiful thing about obsessively browsing your local indie record shop is that, once in awhile, you will stumble across something very cool and completely unexpected.  Last Friday was one of those days.

In 1994, Beck Hansen appeared on the mainstream music radar with his debut album Mellow Gold and its ubiquitous hit single “Loser”.  Just two years (and a couple of indie releases) later, Beck followed up his debut with an album that changed alternative music.

Odelay broke all the so-called rules about what a popular record could be.  Released in an era where radio was keen to pigeon-hole artists into specific cavities, Odelay featured a veritable bitches’ brew of sounds and beats.  Listen carefully and you’ll hear a whirlwind of rock, funk, soul, folk, country, bubblegum pop, bluegrass, found sounds, hip-hop, electronica, and a dozen other madcap genres.  It should have been an epic disaster, but thanks to Beck’s underrated songwriting and the Dust Brothers’ brilliant production it flawlessly hangs together.  We still hear echoes of Odelay in alternative rock records today (see also: Radiohead, Eels, Flaming Lips, Kasabian).

Fast-forward a dozen years, and Geffen released a deluxe edition of Odelay on vinyl.  It was an over-the-top celebration of this genre-defying (and yet genre-defining) record, spread across four (yes, four) 180-gram platters.  Sides A, B, and C feature the original record, remastered for vinyl.  The other five sides collate a smorgasbord of rarities, remixes, and B-sides from the era.  Best of the bunch is probably the song “Deadweight” which pointed Beck’s compass in the direction of his excellent but lower-key follow-up album Mutations.  Despite all the sonic goodies, Sides A, B and C will surely have me Rockin’ the Catskills the most often.  I haven’t spun all four discs yet, but the bass and drums on songs like “Hotwax” and “Novakane” sound so good it’s ridiculous.

The deluxe packaging is pretty cool.  The front cover features everyone’s favourite hurdling mop-dog, now embossed with metallic blue doodles.  The twisted collage on the back cover is similarly embossed, complete with the doodle artist’s epithet “Property of Michael”.

The four platters are tucked into individual pockets inside the gatefold sleeve.  Rounding out the package is a large-format booklet containing a short essay by Thurston Moore, a hilariously random interview feature by Dave Eggers, plus lyrics and song credits.  But be forewarned – there is no download code for mp3s of the records! Blame it on the 2008 vintage of the release.

I was very lucky to find this package at my local record shop.  The shopkeeper was astounded that I had snapped it up less than an hour after it first hit the shelves, since it had taken months to bring in.  Call me Johnny-on-the-Spot; my new lucky number is 1614.

On this particular day, my turntable is undeniably Where It’s At.

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#8 – Velociraptor! by Kasabian

Label:  Sony Music

Released:  19-Sep-2011

Artist’s Website:  www.kasabian.co.uk

Britain’s kings of danceable rock hurl new sonic textures into the kitchen sink.  Greatness ensues.

Kasabian is a band from Leicester, UK that is huge back in their old stomping grounds but almost invisible in North America.  Despite the universality of well-written rock music, it’s strange how some bands are able to cross over into other markets and others just don’t translate across oceans.

There is nothing uniquely British about Kasabian.  True, they borrow from many types of UK rock, most prominently Beatles and Stones melodies and the beat-heavy Manchester rhythms of Stone Roses and Primal Scream.  But as equal-opportunity thieves, they also knick ideas and rhythms from Motown, blues, funk and other distinctly American idioms.  Maybe it comes down to a shortfall of record company backing or relentless touring.

Those who don’t keep an ear tuned into what’s happening in the UK are missing out on a very exciting band.  Kasabian have created a niche for themselves over the last decade via four well-regarded albums.  Early singles like “Club Foot”,  “Processed Beats” and “Empire” put them on the map with a seamless hybrid of electronic beats, buzz-saw programming, big guitars and swaggering vocals.  The music was simultaneously rocking and danceable.  Comparisons to Oasis and Chemical Brothers were inevitable, but ultimately a little lazy since Kasabian smartly sneaked a few other influences into the mix.

Kasabian’s 2009 album West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum toned down the over-the-top Oasis-style swagger and replaced it with a kitchen-sink approach to sounds and textures.  The record was less crammed full of beats than its predecessors and certainly much weirder (in a good way).  Every four-on-the-floor rocker was juxtaposed with a trippy electronic Kraftwerk-referencing dreamscape.  The single “Vlad the Impaler” was just insane, a boot-stomper that would make Primal Scream proud but with programmed squiggles and rhythmic left turns that must be heard to be believed.

And so it continues with Kasabian’s new record.  Velociraptor! uses the blueprint of West Ryder as a jumping-off point and mines even more diverse melodies and rhythms.  “Let’s Roll Just Like We Used To” is a paean to youth, but somehow manages to weave a gong, hand claps, mariachi horns, and ‘60s spy movie melodies into something greater than the sum of its parts.  “Days are Forgotten” is next up on the Kasabian jukebox; this time the rhythm section locks into a groove while layers of vaguely Arabic vocals and lithe guitar lines intertwine over the top.

Things start to get truly strange and beautiful with “La Fee Verte”, which sounds like a modern take on The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life”, complete with shifting time signatures on the bridge.  But lest you get too comfortable with this groove, the title track bursts out of the speakers with walls of synth programming, furious beats, and a completely silly and hilarious lyric about dinosaurs.  And then it’s right back into the unexpected when “Acid Turkish Bath (Shelter From The Storm)” explores Middle Eastern sonic textures.  Turn left yet again to find the simple keyboard motif and basic beat of “I Hear Voices”.

The back half of the record is anchored by single “Re-Wired”, a slow-building rocker with a huge break-beat chorus.  “Man of Simple Pleasures” sounds like Oasis cherry-picking the Kinks’ songbook, with a hypnotically circular and sneakily English melody.  Closing track “Neon Noon” is a chilled-out (at least by manic Kasabian standards) meditation on the passage of time.  It’s a welcome comedown after the dazzling kaleidoscope of influences on display throughout Velociraptor!.

Kasabian may always be a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, and may never “break America”, but their fans will find much to enjoy on this album.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjsrH_cnK7g