On Sophia Allison’s Wikipedia page for her last album under the Soccer Mommy moniker, Clean, there is a lengthy list of year end lists that it appeared on. Two years later, Allison has released the follow-up Color Theory. Several tracks document her Mom’s battle with cancer including the heartbreaking last track “gray” and the seven minute “yellow is the color of her eyes”. The latter is the longest track here and has Allison declare that “loving you isn’t enough”. The track expresses emotions through metaphors with drums that suddenly open up to become expansive.
Several of the songs have an emo tinge and are not lyrically much different than several of the emo rappers that are currently popular. The electric/acoustic guitars of “circle the drain” sounds like it could have been released at any time in the last 30 years where Allison sings that she feels low sometimes even when everything is fine. “night swimming” sees Allison trying to figure out a relationship with a distant partner. Opener “bloodstream” is that moment childhood gives way to adulthood and you don’t recognize the person staring back at you in the mirror. Produced by Gabe Wax, there is a slickness to the Soccer Mommy recording that could be a younger version of Kacey Musgraves who loves indie pop rock and also explores the many emotions of being a young adult.
Almost exactly a year after the David Bowie (Space Oddity) album, David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World appeared in November of 1970. Whereas the year before, Bowie was on a more dreamy hippie trip, this new release had a distinctly harder edge with many tracks sounding like the advent of heavy metal. Tony Visconti was back to produce and this time had plenty of input from guitarist Mick Ronson.
First track, “The Width of a Circle” sets the tone early with a heavy Ronson guitar lick along with the dexterous drumming of Mick Woodmansey. Double tracked vocals on the vocals are effective on “All the Madmen” about Bowie’s half brother Terry who at that time had been hospitalized for mental illness. “After All” features a melancholy circus organ that sounds like a waltz for the dead.
No singles were released from the album and most fans under the age of 50 would know the title track better from Nirvana’s version that appeared on 1994’s MTV Unplugged in New York. The famous guitar riff leads into Bowie’s treated vocals and a moog synthesizer adds an ethereal quality to the whole affair. Using a Jimmy Page guitar line given years before, “The Superman” closes out the album.
This is certainly a departure from the previous year as much of The Man Who Sold the World sounds like a hard rock band that Bowie was fronting. Besides the Nirvana cover, the most famous item is the photo of Bowie posing in a dress that was eventually adopted as the final album cover. Still, there is a way forward here where glam gets introduced to the sound and Ziggy Stardust is eventually born.
In 2011 LCD Soundsystem announced that their last show would be at Madison Square Garden set for that Spring. But a few years later, flickers of lights started to come back on and in 2016 James Murphy reunited the band to headline Coachella. A new album was also announced for that year but it would take until September of 2017 before that saw the light of day.
I purchased the album not too long after release but had a hard time with it. Off and on for the next 2+ years I would keep trying to get into it before finally putting through the review process this year. First single “call the police” was sublime from the get go. An anthemic call to arms where Murphy exclaims, “we’re death from above!” As a contrast, the album starts on a slower note with the emotional “oh baby” and is bookended by the David Bowie tribute “black screen” where Murphy sings of their relationship over a light, echoing drumbeat.
A strong New York funk by way The Talking Heads influence runs through tracks like “other voices” and ‘I used to” The Daft Punk like “tonite” won a Grammy for best dance recording in 2018. “how do you sleep” about former DFA partner Tim Goldsworthy holds the emotional weight of the album. The 9 minute opus is punctuated by a devastating synth stab that appears a third of the way in.
At the end of 2017, the comeback album was awarded album of the year honours in both Mojo and Uncut magazine. While Murphy creates many stellar moments and a few career highlights (“call the police” and “black screen”), it’s the angular funk of several tracks with guitar squalls that make for a more challenging listen. It’s been quite the journey with this album, glad it’s finally done!
With many people locked up at home, staying safe during the pandemic, Fiona Apple released Fetch the Bolt Cutters, first album in 8 years. Immediately one’s attention is drawn to the percussive nature of the release especially on a track like “Relay” that brings an equal amount of soul to the vocals. “Drumset” sees Apple pleading with bandmates about why they took their instruments away after an argument, amusingly it was only to go to a gig.
The album begins with two great tracks – “I Want You to Love Me” that lays a bed of piano and bass before the drums come in half way through that see Apple get anthemic in the chorus. “Shameika said I had potential” is a line that sticks with you, whether you’re a young Fiona Apple or just hearing it sung by her. “Under the Table” describes a dinner party we’ve all been stuck going to that we didn’t want to be at in the first place so act like a brat.
“Cosmonauts” has the most pure pop moment that appears in the chorus before Apple turns more serious on “For Her”. The track starts acapella but grows in stature where Apple sings the staggering line, “You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in”. The agonizing weight of depression is tackled on “Heavy Balloon”. Fetch the Bolt Cutters is wildly creative, at times exhilarating but always challenging. Surely one of the most memorable releases that this pandemic will give us.
I still remember the first time I ever heard The Doors. It was around 1983 when I was about 8-9 years old. I was sitting in the car waiting for my mom and listening to the radio when they played “Light My Fire”. Even at that age I was blown away. Arguably their most popular song and one of the best singles of the 1960s, the Robby Krieger composition is memorable for the first drum kick before the organ line leads into the shamanistic lyrics of Jim Morrison. After the song ended, the DJ then said some nonsense about how some people thought Jim Morrison was still alive. I thought that it sounded ridiculous at the time but I still remember it to this day.
Many years later, I picked up The Doors disc about 20 years ago for £2.99 at HMV on Oxford St in London. It seemed like the perfect album to have for the one room flat I shared with my Australian roommate. It went on to soundtrack many walks through London parks, returning late from the pub and one particularly debauched night at home.
The first single released from the 1967’s s/t album was first track “Break on Through” that flopped on original release but later became classic rock FM staple. Like on “Light My Fire”, the first sound here is also John Densmore drum which has a bossa nova swing along with Krieger’s dirty guitar line. The atmospheric “The Crystal Ship” sees Morrison ask for “another kiss before slipping into unconsciousness”. One of the most famous tracks on the album is a cover of “Alabama Song”, a Bertolt Brecht poem originally set to music by Kurt Weill in the 20s. It’s a surreal leftfield choice with Ray Manzarek’s swirling organ/keyboards that sound like a hazy day at the circus or one that would appear in a dream.
Side two on the album opens with the obligatory blues cover of “Back Door Man” that seemed to be mandatory in the 60s. This is followed by an upbeat two minute rocker in “I Looked At You” that is topped two songs later by “Take It As It Comes”. With simple lyrics about enjoying life, it is a great band and fine vocal performance. The final 11 minutes is devoted to “The End”. The menacing and dark epic was honed over months of performing in clubs and adds in lyrics about The Oedipus complex about a child loving the opposite sex parent and hating the same sex one. To have a track like this appear at the end of a pop record in 1967 must have lead many a hippie down a dark path while tripping on psychedelics. It’s on tracks like this that the Morrison legend grew.
The Doors as a band were revered for many years by high school and college students as they rediscovered this band through the 80s and 90s. But since I purchased the disc in 2000, this attitude has drastically changed as it’s not uncommon for the band to be easily dismissed. With this shift in opinion, it seems that the (perhaps) overrated band is now severely underrated. The Doors album captures both the sunny and darker side of Los Angeles in the 1960s long before The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction. This is one of the great albums of that decade and should be rediscovered by each new generation of music fan.