Sade – The Best of Sade (1994)
Best Ofs can be strange things. Sometimes they’re a great way of road-testing an artist/band. Sometimes the hits are all you want. Other times you’d be better served avoiding them altogether, and seeking out a particular album. Some bands are defined by their hits (eg: Abba), while others are completely misrepresented by them (eg: Genesis). Whatever the case, this was the first thing I ever got of hers/theirs (Sade is the band, Sade Adu is the singer), so I’m recommending it, because it made me eventually seek out their studio albums. And you know what? They’re all great. But really, all you need is the Best Of. Sade’s greatest quality is their consistency. Their stuff all sounds the same. And that’s a good thing. It sounds like one big fluid song. Don’t get me wrong, there is variety in their music. I mean, what do you call their music? Soul, R&B, Latin, Funk, Soft Rock? Easy Listening? Quiet Storm? (Is that really a genre?) I don’t know, but they manage to take a formula that you’d think could be a bit generic and make it sound interesting, and uniquely their own. So I’m fine with calling it Jazz. Because Sade Adu sings the way Miles Davis played his horn. Believe it. Pure, direct, soulful, unadorned, exacting, heart wrenching. She avoids the overdone vocal gymnastics that is industry standard these days and keeps things lean and understated. And the band skillfully create ‘moods’ more than ‘songs’ for her to float through. “Pearls” is a good example of this. The strings and (Angelo Badalamenti-esque) keyboards dawn over silence, and her vocal is so measured, simply serving the melody and the narrative, that when she hits the lyric ‘She lives in a world she didn’t choose/And it hurts like brand new shoes’, it’s a truly moving moment. And their music is full of these letter-perfect moments. Songs like: “Jezebel”, “Like a Tattoo”, “Cherish the Day”, “Paradise” and “Love is Stronger than Pride” are truly captivating. Great late night music. (Great day time music too.)
Boards of Canada – The Campfire Headphase (2005)
Scottish brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin had been producing electronic music together since the late 80s before signing to the Warp label and releasing their (un)official debut Music Has The Right To Children in 1998. And they took the electronic music world by storm. Part electronica, part ambient, part post-rock; they appealed to many pockets of music fans with their signature retro-contemporary sound. The eagerly awaited follow-up Geogaddi (2002) – an epic album of 23 shrouded songs – darkened up the proceedings and stretched the electronic boundaries even further. People were on the net publishing their detailed analyses of this loaded work. Backmasking; the Occult; Branch Davidians; numerology; humans Vs God Vs nature – it certainly stirred up the fanbase. Three years later they gave us this, their 3rd album, The Campfire Headphase. The album was another underground event in the electronica sphere. The mysterious brothers – who rarely perform shows or give interviews – produced another aural feast that is simply stunning to listen to. Their electronic brew of styles induces a sort of synesthesia that slows time as the music pours over you, and by the time you’re 3 or 4 songs into it, you’re happily immersed. It has that power. Best to just sit back and enjoy the ride. All their albums get better with every listen. They’re like sonic adventures. You find new details in the far reaches of their songs. As if they’re somehow recording the internal soundtrack to their childhood memories, half of it seems real, and the other half is imagined. Also, the song “Dayvan Cowboy” became the first BoC song to spawn a film-clip. And it’s great – merging footage of Joseph Kittinger’s incredible plummet through the atmosphere, and then morphing out of the ocean as a big wave surfer. This perfectly suited the spacey yet earthly nature of this majestic music.
The Modern Lovers – The Modern Lovers (1976)
‘One, two, three, four, five, six…’ This is one of my favourite albums. Jonathan Richman is – I think, still – supremely underrated as a precursor to punk and the post-punk/indie scene that emerged throughout the 80s. He was writing and recording these songs as far back as 1971 before they saw the light of day in 1976 when the band was already dissolving (keyboardist Jerry Harrison would go on to ply his skills on guitar in Talking Heads; other band members went on to form/play with Real Kids and The Cars). Jonathan Richman’s ability to knock out these songs with a loose lazy humour made it seem kinda rudimentary and throw-away, (which it kinda is), but there is much passion to be found here. The classic opener “Roadrunner”, bursts out of the starting blocks, displaying his love of The Velvet Underground, and his attempt at writing a “Sister Ray” dirge. And “Pablo Picasso” is another great example of Richman’s droll sense of humour and singular lyricism ‘He could walk down the street and girls could not resist to stare and so, Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole’. “Old World” is one of my big faves, with lyrics like: ‘I wanna keep my place in the old world/And keep my place in the arcane/Coz I, still have parents/And I still love the old world’. There was nothing pretentious. This was just a kid from Boston who wanted to rock-out like his heroes The Velvet Underground and make some noise and have some fun. So he wrote songs about what he knew – and his lyrics just shine in songs like: “I’m Straight”, “Government Center”, “Dignified and Old”. Another fave is “Girlfriend” which begins with: ‘If I were to walk through the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston/Well first I’d go to the room where they keep the Cezanne/But if I had by my side a girlfriend/Well then I could look through the paintings/I could look right through them/Because I’d have found something that I understand/I understand a girlfriend’, and the innocence that pours out may be ironic but its a heartfelt irony, and typified with the chorus of ‘That’s a girlfriend/That’s a G-i-r-l-f-r-e-n/That’s a girlfriend/That’s something I understand’. I find it hard to talk about this album without gushing superlatives, but if you haven’t heard this album, all I can say is: Go get it. This is a life-changer. You’ll wanna start your own band – all it takes is a couple of chords and a Jonathan Richman. The chords are the easy part – finding another Jonathan Richman is the hard part. He’s a one off.
By Decoy Spoon