Saturday, 22 April 2017

Spacemen 3 - The Perfect Prescription



The highs and lows of a drug trip - the story behind Spacemen 3's classic sophomore album The Perfect Prescription. Rugby's very own neo-psychedelia quartet consisted of a genius paring, Jason Pierce and Peter Kember. They were backed up by bassist Pete Bain and drummer Rosco, for what was an eventful 1987. It was during Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" five weeks chart topping stint, that saw the release of The Perfect Prescription. But first, here's the back story. 

Influenced by garage rock, noise rock, and psychedelic rock; Pierce and Kember started re-creating music. Two decades in particular, the psychedelic 60s - The Red Krayola / The 13th Floor Elevators, and the punk 70s - Suicide / MC5. I'll go as far to say that Spacemen 3's influence on modern music is far greater than the influences on their formation. Today, bands from all around the world cite Spacemen 3 above My Bloody Valentine. The Fender Telecasters and Rickenbackers of Spacemen 3's past opened up the technophobe's obsession with equipment, and as Spacemen 3 progressed, so did the guitars and the shoegaze scene they were ever so close to - Fender Jaguar. The Perfect Prescription was released before Daydream Nation and Loveless, it's a pinnacle rock album that paved the way for Ride, Loop, Galaxie 500, and Mercury Rev.

The Perfect Prescription is a concept album from start to finish. It never sways from its core musical and lyrical interests - drugs. The drug trip has been expressed through 60s psychedelic music, and Spacemen 3 were not afraid to discuss their use of recreational drugs. It splashed down on their debut album Sound of Confusion with "Losing Touch With My Mind". The use of hard-core drugs has always been associated with Spacemen 3, and by referencing drug use on The Perfect Prescription, they answered the soft core critics with an experience. Driving suits out of venues as the decibel levels reached new highs. It was intensified by the album opener, "Take Me To The Other Side" - still performed by Spiritualized to this day. The four and a half minutes of pure psychedelic passion introduced The Perfect Prescription to the concept, it starts with the want, the need for drugs, to take them to the other side. Pierce sings: "I have a passion sweet Lord, and it just won't go away. I have it each and every day Lord, sure as the sun comes up each day." Pierce's obsession with a spiritual being is no coincidence, his drug talking "Take Me To The Other Side" was envisioned two decades prior to its conception - "When I'm rushing on my run, and I feel just like Jesus' son." / "Heroin, be the death of me. Heroin, it's my wife and it's my life, because a mainline into my vein, leads to a centre in my head, And then I'm better off than dead." - "Heroin" from The Velvet Underground & Nico.

Spacemen 3 elevates the listener, as the drug trip continues. "Walkin' With Jesus" begins with a stark two chord organ, repeating itself throughout in a holy manner. The organ has forever been associated with church, the perfect instrument to take the listener through Pierce/Kember's trip. This track, in particular the organ, influenced Palma Violets, who took the powerful two chord organ riff for "Step Up For The Cool Cats". An influence to many, it’s easy to see why Spacemen 3 are noted as a key band in 80s alternative rock. Theirs a cool edge, a sigh of relief when listening to Spacemen 3. Then there’s the angst, powerful distortion that features from time to time. The Perfect Prescription features all aspects of Spacemen 3's sounds, outlining them with the concept, like a bar chart. "Walkin' With Jesus" is the melodic high ground, the beginning of their trip. It's aligned with "Ode To Street Hassle", referencing Lou Reed's album of the same name. Kember sings, which is more spoken word than anything. Again, it's a possible reference to Reed, who has used spoken word techniques throughout his career. Kember talks of "Walkin With' Jesus", in a vision like manner. Quoting the previous track, Kember makes "Ode To Street Hassle" sound like the beginning to a dream.

With the nine minute "Ecstasy Symphony / Transparent Radiation (Flashback)" you get that dream. It's one of Spacemen 3's optimum recordings, finding itself tracked perfectly on The Perfect Prescription - right at the heart of the story. Reaching the high of their trip, Spacemen 3 evoke this sensual feeling by covering The Red Krayola. The nine minute piece is like a predecessor to post-rock. The gentle violin has been used to show a peaceful setting. Everything about this thrilling peace is spectacular. Theirs eerie synthesizers, reverberated rhythm guitar, and a simplistic cover, all conveying the underlining power and energy of being high. It marks a change on The Perfect Prescription, from the taking of drugs to the passenger. United by the following track "Feel So Good", with its highly applicable title. Pierce and Kember sing a duet, both singing the same lyrics, but with Kember taking over the sharper vocals: "Lord I feel so fine, takes me out of my mind." When rock musicians implement brass instruments it's usually somewhat of faux pas. Spacemen 3 included a trumpet on "Feel So Good" and it wraps the track together. It's a slow, relaxing track that denotes the 'quiet before the storm' feeling that's inevitable.

"Thing'll Never Be The Same" marks the abrasive turn. It opens with a brash guitar solo, with meaningful connotations. This represents the harsh reality of a fairy tale drug saga turned sour. It's the moment Spacemen 3 revel in - noise. This track is the most distorted and vigorous on The Perfect Prescription, still nothing compared to their past and future releases. Pierce sings: "We'll put some love deep in our veins, somewhere in our hearts, things won't be the same." His vague drug tolerating descriptions sway from reality, this empowering track turns the tide in Spacemen 3 history.

Think of Bob Dylan now as we continue on our journey through space rock. Yes, that may be confusing and slightly arousing to some, however when Spacemen 3 paid homage to Dylan's "In My Time of Dyin'" on the seventh track "Come Down Easy", I’m sure they never had folk in mind. The glorious sound of a shimmering acoustic guitar has long been associated with the Southern folk / blues - Lead Belly, Charley Patton, and Robert Johnson. Dylan's twang influenced Spacemen 3 for their easing off track. Opening with a slippery bass lick, "Come Down Easy" commands the blues. "In 1987 all I wanna do is fly All I want for you to do is reach up to the sky," Pierce sings, opening the proceedings. He goes on to sing: "In 1987 all I wanna do is get stoned, all I want for you to do is take my body home." Pierce's vocal has been layered, creating this cave-esque echo. It's Pierce searching for his soul - as there lyrics suggest: "Lord I'm gonna shake it, lord I'm gonna make it, sure I'm gonna take it, ‘cos I feel, yeah I feel, alright."

Shrouded in mystery and confusion, The Perfect Prescription ends with "Call The Doctor". It doesn’t take a genius to realise what this track is about. The dark reverberated rhythmic guitar signals the sorry end to Spacemen 3's drug trip. Kember sings: "Call the doctor pretty baby, you know I'm near to my last breath. You'd better hurry now honey, or you're gonna be my death. You'd better throw away the spoons and all the other dirty things, cos when the law arrives this evening, I don't think they'll wait and ring." Like the psychiatric drug recovery scenes in Trainspotting, "Call The Doctor" reveals a treacherous story of an overdose and its social stigmas. It comes alive, as Kember sings the album defining lyrics: "Hey there's the door now pretty baby, see who's on the other side, tell them to back up with the wagon now, I think I'm going for a ride." The reference to "Take Me To The Other Side" is inverted. Kember's link to the opposite side of the album stands out as The Perfect Prescription's coup de grĂ¢ce. There's a tenacious stalemate between figure A - the drugs, and figure B - Spacemen 3. No outcome is decided as "Call The Doctor" closes with powerful lyrics: "Tell them I did it to myself babe, and I lived a life of sin, tell them black ain't always white babe, and without sure ain't within."

Every drug related angle is explored on The Perfect Prescription. Its core focus is in no way hidden through obscure messages, Pierce / Kember have truly written a  psychedelic masterpiece. Reading the track titles will tell you the story vividly, but the lyrics within are outstanding. Kember's spoken word voice is menacing, whereas Pierce's, as with his Spiritualized discography, sounds angelic. That's what Pierce / Kember wanted to get out of The Perfect Prescription, which by the way is the best album title of the 80s. They wanted to tear the album in half. Side A is the high, featuring simplistic rhythms and organ riffs. Remember, the organ is related to religion - perceived as the good / high. Then there's the complex and dissonant side B. No organ, no sacred Pierce vocal, just the pure grit of a downward spiral drug trip. They convey the perfect prescription drug, in the eyes of drug taking citizens. In 1987, Spacemen 3 released one of the best neo-psychedelia albums this country has seen. 30 years on and The Perfect Prescription is still a cult underground classic.
-Ed

9.6

Live Show: Electric Six


Where: Leicester
Venue: The Scholar

Live from Leicester its Electric Six! The gig began with a tribute to Saturday Night Live which summed up the mood for the evening; fun, energetic, hilarious albeit slightly overrun, with a few duds here and there. I am a self-confessed hardcore fan of electric six and knowledgeable of their lengthy album list (13!). I was slightly disappointed that highlights, such as “Synthesizer” were left off the set list. However, the band chose to indulge in their own style of playful humour, telling tales of their last venture in Leicester meeting the Bedingfield's, (David loves his meat) and taking jabs at Preston. I was impressed at the effortless ability of the band to switch from flawless performance to stand-up comic routines.

The vocal stylings of Dick Valentine remain a powerhouse of masculinity, expressed in such delights as “Gay Bar”, “When Cowboys File for Divorce”, and “I Invented the Night”. Adopting a friendly, yet self-deprecating persona, Dick empowers the room with an electric atmosphere galavanting and assuring the audience that despite his modest fame is just another down-to-earth guy who wants to entertain a room full of strangers. If you’re debating whether to catch them live I strongly recommend the experience, mosh pits and hecklers aside, the band is experienced in delivering up to and beyond its audience expectations.
-Hayley

Credit: Someone's picture on Instagram and stuff..

I'm not too familiar with Electric Six... other than the obvious. It only took a few songs for me to feel unprepared and somewhat embarrassed at the amount of Six fanatics that actually know all the words - impressive to say the least. It became clear that Electric Six are more than a one (two?) hit wonder in the UK, continuously releasing albums with boundless lyrical creativity is a testament to that. An audience of punks, goths, every student union representative under the sun, Nightmares from the Discotheque, and I… eat up the comedic inspiration Electric Six were formed on many years ago.

Like Electric Six, NFTD, a Welsh duo with a support band, rapped?? I don't quite know what it was, but it was more poetic than your non-nonsensical fuk dem hoes I be makin a milli w/me willy progressive dollar sign lyricists America seem to shit out every month. Their comedy driven energy was a delightful introduction to Electric Six - think Beastie Boys meets Jedward.

Electric Six, making a reference to their last show in Leicester 14 years ago, seemed to realise their sustained accomplishment on the stage and in the recording studio, with front man Dick Valentine reminiscing about his meet and greet with Daniel and Natasha Bedingfield at Radio One's Big Sunday back in 2003, saying it was the biggest audience they've ever played to - a believable feat knowing just how many heads you can fit into Victoria Park on a sunny day.

A stone's throw from Leicester’s O2 Academy, but a generation away in reality. It was fantastic to see that Valentine and co still embark on European tours, continually release new music and enjoy it. They have a very dedicated, almost hardcore following who are enormously proud of their achievements.
-Ed

Friday, 14 April 2017

Discovery II: Jack Bowden - "Arsonist"


It takes creativity and talent to learn how to write like Kent based musician Jack Bowden. Without trying to sound too respectful, Bowden's song writing skills are next to none for the subject matter. Flicking through his repertoire of songs, I noticed Bowden has a sincere sense of humour, with his writing clearly directed at a generation of mod-pop noughties and nineties kids. Everyone and their mum can safely listen to and follow Ed Sheeran on Twitter; but Jan down the road won't be listening to Bowden no matter what status of elevation he achieves - and that's down to his song-writing, and coincidentally his musical style.


There's something about Kent musicians, Deal specifically, that excels in song-writing and musical ability. I don't have to look far back to Will Varley's very warm and intimate unscheduled gig at the Cambridge Folk Festival campsite at 1am to remember just how excellent Deal musicians can be. With the Smugglers Records collective like Varley and Cocos Lovers; there's this sense of disbelief about the quality of music available down there.

Bowden excels in the double entendre; it’s his go to weapon on "Arsonist". Many of his songs follow suit, but specifically "Arsonist" with its morbid atmosphere and sorrowful lyrics. Here listeners are exposed to some of Bowden's best features, a soulful, youthful voice, skilled acoustic guitar playing, and a big fat sheet of lyrics designed to unleash all the question marks in the listeners head. It's very intelligently created, the same can be said about the budget video which like Bowden, surprises in it' simplistic beautiful meaning.
-Eddie Gibson

Track Review: Slowdive - "Star Roving" / "Sugar for the Pill"


When Slowdive announced they were releasing new music, I didn't quite know how to feel. As a monumental fan of Slowdive, new music seemed somewhat out of the question when seeing how many of today's nostalgic renaissance have stumbled. Though, who was I trying to convince.. to me, Slowdive have never been the nostalgic piece in the 90s shoegaze puzzle. They're the everlasting creators of post-Cocteau Twins dream pop; they were and still are the sound of alternative British rock.



"Star Roving" was announced and released somewhat surprisingly in January, and all the fear of expectation instantly fled. This must be my most played song of the decade already, forever on repeat, forever mixed with the hits from Souvlaki, and the anti-pop borderline post-rock Pygmalion which is loved by just about everyone who has taken the decency to listen to "Blue Skied An' Clear" on a blue skied and clear day. "Star Roving" is unlike anything Slowdive have released before, first of all it's furiously fast which screams hit - hit in the shoegazing sense, think "Vapour Trail", "Soon", "When the Sun Hits". The production has been modernised, with Slowdive's core instrumentalists adapting to the clearer, more fine production.


"Sugar for the Pill" is a maturing day job piece binding work from all of Slowdive's history. A very delicate and calming song that is more Pygmalion than expected. It's dissected like many of Slowdive's older more pop structured songs like "Catch the Breeze" - somehow combining the slow tempo soft rock of Coldplay's Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, with Just for A Day's pop (think Coldplay - "Chinese Sleep Chant" if it was produced by Brian Eno, oh wait.) That fearing but enduring synthesizer / bass makes you realise how suitable it is for Slowdive to return to their creative origins at the same time as Twin Peaks.

It makes you feel like you're still stuck in the 90s but not wanting to escape. The shoegaze comeback (and I mean the shoegaze comeback not the nu-gaze hippie pussy copy cat wankery Americans like to call modern neo-psychedelia,) has been driven by unearthing not so much a genre, but a sound and a way of sounding which struck a chord with kids in the 90s. The very same pleasing sounds have been missed in the decades that passed. Their archaic, experimental, but never punk  creations are a thing of beauty, and we as listeners quite luckily get to partake in this never ending cycle of 90s re-branding for just a little longer. Even if it only lasts a few years, it will be worth it. To hear that opening riff on "Star Roving", to watch as the hair on your arms stick during m b v's "She Found Now", making you think to yourself what the fuck has everyone else been doing since 1995.
-Eddie Gibson

Monday, 10 April 2017

Discovery: Dark Dark Horse - "Into the Night"


I remember seeing Dark Dark Horse in Leicester a few years back when they supported The Twilight Sad at Firebug, a venue / bar deep in the heart of Leicester's music scene. That was five and a half years ago, and along came an album review a few months later of their debut album Centuries. There’s nothing special about the review, it's just interesting to note how much I've actually changed (aged and balded basically) since 2011/2012. Likewise Dark Dark Horse adding interesting elements to their otherwise simplistic electronic sound.


The duo are back after quite some time with their follow up EP Luna II, to be released on the independent Little Fanfare - quite some difference to the Japanese release of Centuries all those hair fulfilled years ago. On initial listening I pick up on two things; it's distant from the smooth sounding Centuries, and that "Into the Night" has a Far East ring to it, otherwise known as the Gold Panda sound. This is no "Quitter's Raga", which I once used seven seconds of to end terrible video reviews. It's more of a slow tempo alternative rock Empire of the Sun, evoking the deep sounds of the genres sadder, pessimistic, and unapologetically Northern - The Twilight Sad, Glasvegas post-debut, British Sea Power post-Do You Like Rock Music?... you get the picture. It's a very atmospheric and mood driven song, and what I mean by mood driven is that, well, you need to really be in the mood for uplifting raga and sad bass driven synths. Dark Dark Horse do seem to find the middle ground between the two, I remember them performing songs from Centuries incredibly well at Firebug, and look forward to hearing how they shape these new songs on Luna II live.
~Eddie Gibson