Thursday, September 25, 2008

Where For Art Thou?

Historically the first 'hidden track' on a record is commonly attributed to The Beatles' sound collage at the end of Sgt. Pepper's. It was unlisted on the album titles and the effect was that it would loop forever as the needle hit the groove in the record, an effect unfortunately lost in its CD replica. Still it marks an important point in recorded music culture - the secret track.

Some artists turn their nose up at the idea, why hide something from your audience? While others have transformed it into a curious art. Still other 'secret tracks' have become famous in their own right - it's a little known fact that The Clash's Train in Vain (Stand By Me) was only a 'hidden track' due to time constraints in the printing of the tracklist.

Whatever the reason for their hidden or secret status (musical diversions, excessive swearing, humourous turns), now is the time to turn the spotlight on these musical oddities.

(a quick note, a lot of these were hard to find links to - so you'll find a lot of bad YouTube visuals, i suggest you play the song and point your browser elsewhere. Otherwise, enjoy)

Nirvana - Nameless, Endless
Tucked away at the end of Nevermind was this squall of distortion and nonsense lyrics whose title fits wonderfully. In fact it was actually removed from some U.S. pressings of the CD, contesting it would harm the marketability of the album - whatever, nevermind.

The Eels - Mr E's Beautiful Blues
This was actually the lead single for the band's third studio album Daisies of The Galaxy and of course confused many fans when it wasn't printed on the tracklist, a situation rectified by later pressings. The song also has more than a passing resemblance to The Rolling Stones' Get Off Of My Cloud.

Everclear - Hating You For Christmas
Found at the end of So Much For The Afterglow, a poppy - if embittered - blast an ex over the holiday season. Cue tinkling with Jingle Bells and Art Alexakis' wry vocal "thanks for the christmas card"

The Beatles - Her Majesty
The pioneers of the hidden track offer a very short acoustic ditty tacked on to The End which in many cases is actually listed on the tracklist, but no matter it's John Lennon captured at a lovingly humorous moment.

Manic Street Preachers - Working Class Hero
Rounding out the Mancs' latest comeback album Send Away The Tigers was this earnest cover of the Lennon classic. All the requisite vitriol are in place and it perfectly suits the Welsh group's firebrand of class heroics and guitar rebellion.

These British gloom-mongers got a lot of mileage out of the whole secret track shtick, maintaining the trend across their first three albums (represented here). It was a slight disappointment to some (this writer included), when they did not continue the tradition with their later studio work.

Scottish act Travis first hidden track was on their blockbuster The Man Who... album and the rockier Blue Flashing Light became a live favourite while Some Sad Song rounds out the twelfth memory of the album 12 Memories considering there are only 11 songs listed.

Lauryn Hill
The ex-Fugee first lady of hip-hop offered greedily secreted two hidden tracks on her 1998 debut. Tell Him is serviceable but the real treat is the cover of Frankie Valli's classic ode, demonstrating Hill's excellent layered vocals and emotive voice to full effect.

The last of our prolific hidden trackers, considering the band's world dominating popularity, these songs probably aren't that secret. The first a short coda to Everything's Not Lost from 2000's Parachutes. The latter cut 'Til Kingdom Come off of 2005's X&Y, was actually written for American legend Johnny Cash who unfortunately passed away before he was offered the piece. Interesting to note that for the band's latest album, there are hidden tracks all over the place, not just at the end of the album.

The Superjesus - Everybody Calls Me Lonely
Here represents the case for track for why tracks should not be hidden, its puzzling why such a great rock cut would be sequestered at the end of Jet Age, when it clearly should be pushed higher up the track listing before people lost interest. Particularly when said track is not a departure lyrically or musically from the rest of the record.

Tool - Maynard's Dick
Ah, the joke song, an ode to frontman Maynard James Keenan's appendage and a very silly song that appears at the end of box set Salival.

Bloc Party - Every Time Is The Last Time
It's as lovely as it is short, an almost needless instrumental at the end of the Japanese print of Silent Alarm. Perhaps it was to fulfill the obligation that Japanese CDs require a bonus track that ensures their nation is lured away from buying Western pressings, in which case it's only a little extra incentive.

and now some tracks i just couldn't find clips of, consider these the 'secret tracks' of this post...

Damien Rice - Prague/Silent Night
Taking a leaf from Lauryn Hill, Rice's debut O had two secret tracks, one of them a cover.

Cold War Kids - Sermon Vs. The Gospel
A dusty demo at the end of debut album Robbers & Cowards.

The Cat Empire - 1001
An epic jam that may or may not be about the demise of a tram inspector

They Might Be Giants - Planet of the Apes, Return to the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, This Ape's for You
Yes, you read that right, at the conclusion of the live album Severe Tire Damage, the two Johns perform a song in ode to every 'Apes' film conceived in chaotic live improvisation fashion. It's to be heard to be believed, and in some cases - best left hidden.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008 any other name, would smell just as sweet

I've been known to make people mixtapes for their birthday, and today's post is no exception, it's just that since it's such a tidily themed playlist that i should share it with everyone. Regardless, to its original intendee, a very Happy Birthday Ms. Girdwood.
Rose - A Musical Playlist
Seal - Kiss From A Rose
Edith Piaf - La Vie En Rose
Outkast - Roses
Poison - Every Rose Has Its Thorns
Bon Jovi - Bed of Roses
Matmos - Roses & Teeth
A Perfect Circle - Rose
Kanye West - Roses
St. Germain - Rose Rouge
Ben Harper - Roses From My Friends
Bette Midler - The Rose

Instead of doing my usual track-by-track breakdown, i thought i'd just talk about them all in retrospect. Firstly i couldn't pass up the immediacy of Seal's Kiss From A Rose, it's one of those hits (funnily enough from Batman Forever) that everyone of my generation seems to know the words to regardless, it was was that all-pervasive.

Considering the theme, Ms. Piaf's warbling was the first thing that came to mind as did some 80's power ballads which come in the form of Poison and Bon Jovi. Hip Hop seems to have a floral mindset too, as evidenced by the appearance of Outkast and Kanye West. While A Perfect Circle and Matmos lend the compilation some edge with some atmospheric rock and avant-garde experimentalism respectively. Finally a bit of acid jazz to lead into Ben Harper's soulful acoustic guitar before the soppy ending we all know we love to hate and hate to love, The Rose.

Ahhh a quickie but a goodie, i've noticed that the hits have gone up considerably since i bothered to add a counter - so i thank you for taking the time to join me here at The Rant and i hope you continue to do so in the future.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Foxes and Feems

The keen-eyed amongst you may have noticed that there's been a distinct lack of album reviews round these parts for some time, including those on The Scene, well unfortunately dear readers, that's because they're shutting down. So until i find some new sources to inundate with my reviews, they'll have to temporarily find placement here....

Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (SubPop, 2008, Alt-Country/Folk)

With only a single EP to their name, Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut certainly made quite the splash with the American music press. Garnering the kind of critical praise that hasn’t been seen since, well, The Arcade Fire comes to mind; but even in an industry that’s quick to hype ‘the next big thing,’ it’s not often that a debut album is called “a landmark in American music” with such unanimous praise (as The Guardian did).

The quintet’s sound, with its warm acoustic textures and precise vocal harmonies, is easy to like, but just because a record is easy to listen doesn’t guarantee its greatness. Only startling musicianship or innovation will do that, and Fleet Foxes aren’t bankrupt in either.

Hailing from Seattle, the quintet’s sound is as far flung from that town’s main musical export of grunge, as one can get. It’s sunny harmonies evoking classic artists such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or The Beach Boys, while the dusty Americana is reminiscent of recent revivalists such as Band of Horses. Frontman Robin Peckold’s croon recalls another national staple, that of Jim James of My Morning Jacket. Fleet Foxes don’t necessarily trump all of the above, but offer a seamless cohesion of these influences while evoking some sort of renaissance fair with its almost baroque instrumentation and old-world production.

The folky round of White Winter Hymnal and Blue Ridge Mountains makes it sound easy, while the forlorn Tiger Mountain Peasant Song highlights the enduring power of a voice and guitar to create the sound of loneliness and haunting timelessness that underpin the record. It’s the aural equivalent of dusting off a grimy stain glass window to let cracks of sunlight shine through and illuminate the colours therein.

In just forty minutes we have a musical landscape that stretches beyond the boundaries of its simple musical setting, the music can either wash over the listener in swathing brushstrokes such as on He Doesn’t Know Why, which follows with Heard Them Stirring which, like much of the album, rewards intimate listening with rich musical grain.

Whether the group survive past the hyperbole and transcend their obvious references remains to be seen, but for the time-being it’s as good a record as any to deserve the weighty mantle of American album of the year. Even if that year isn’t necessarily 2008, perhaps ‘best re-issue of an imagined lost album from 1972’ would be more fitting. Either way it’s a gratifying form of nostalgia in today’s cutting edge music industry.

4 out of 5

And it's Fleet Foxes' White Winter Hymnal that leads us to another themed playlist, forget Vivaldi, it's Al's Music Rant's own seasonal playlist:

The Seasons' Cycle


Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal

Kickstarting our is the aforementioned 'folky round' as warming as winter can be chilly, and sometimes a good old song is the best defense against the frost and snow.

Manic Street Preachers - Winterlovers

From the Manic's recent return-to-form Send Away The Tigers another sort of rebellion, this time the shouty, anthemic guitar with arena-sized guitars. 'NA NA NA!'

Dragonforce - Inside The Winterstorm

You might think i'm joking, but while the lyrics are nonsense, the ballady breakdown between the videogame guitar solos actually features pianos and great melodies. Otherwise it's Guitar Hero-baiting histrionics as usual

Sufjan Stevens - Sister Winter

Such a brilliant build-up; it starts all chilly and echoey like a man resigned to being frozen alive until a shift halfway which is like seeing the brightest neon christmas lights just over the hill - complete with carol singers


Of Montreal - Our Spring Is Sweet Not Fleeting

Ironic in this short instrumental ends up being as fleeting as it is sweet - all sixty seconds of it

Augie March - Men Who Follow Spring The Planet 'Round

You can always rely on Glenn Richards for some old-world poetry about unrequited love and accompanying music that's suitably rustic

The Bravery - Rites of Spring

Named after Stravinsky's brilliant ballet, and to be honest i'd have preffered that than some Killers lite rock, but its a whole 40 minutes long - so this slice of emo-disco will have to suffice.

Architecture In Helsinki - Spring 2008

Seeing out Spring is another short but sweet instrumental, from the childlike strains of Australia's indie darlings.


Bryan Adams - Summer of '69

Ahhh, Summer, my favourite season. In fact i have a whole four disc series of compilations called Summer Driving - and i needed a song that captured that euphoric feeling - and what better way than nostalgia and fist-pumping sing-a-long all in one?

Queens Of The Stone Age - Feel Good Hit Of The Summer

An anthem of another kind, quite the juxtaposition, no? Cue primitive chant of "Nicotine, Valium, Vaccadin, Marijuana, Ecstacy & Alcohol." Repeat till blacking out.

Death Cab For Cutie - Summer Skin

Good ol' DCFC seem to have a mood for every occasion, but do none better than yearning melancholy. Plus not many songs capture their subjects so quickly and beautifully as this does, "Squeaky swings and tall grass"

Joni Mitchell - The Hissing of Summer Lawns

This song always reminds me of heat haze, that effect you get when the heat is so intense on the road. Regardless, it's actually a song about the trappings and isolation of L.A. - trust Joni to give it some genius


Brian Eno - Dunwich Beach, Autumn 1960

A highlight of Eno's extended Ambient period. A drawn-out instrumental that seems to epitomise the term 'autumnal.'

The Vines - Autumn Shade

When The Vines weren't channeling Nirvana via The Beatles, they made some lovely psychedelic-tinged balladry and this is a great example from their never-bettered debut, Highly Evolved.

The Flaming Lips - My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion

Speaking of psychedlia... Complete with bird chirping and treated guitar and synth, this is a rumination on the seasons' passing, death and "the one bird that didn't leave you." Churlish elements that combined make for quite a touching song.

Pelican - Autumn into Summer

A sprawling ten and a half minute instrumental from the progressive rock come post-metal come post-rock four-piece. Whatever your genre-bending fancy, this is an epic piece that rises from atmospheric opening to an explosive finale

And Finally...

XTC - Season's Cycle

The song that gave this compilation it's title and the parent album Skylarking is easily the best concept album about the four seasons ever written. If this compilation didn't do it for you, it definitely will.

stay tuned for more music goodness.