Category: Catalog Releases

London Chamber Orchestra: Minimalist

[London Chamber Orchestra - Minimalist]Back in the late ’80s, the London Chamber Orchestra recorded a series of albums on Virgin Classics, which then marketed them more like rock releases than classical.

Each album in the 9-disc series had distinctive, templated covers. The LCO moniker occupied a corner in big Helvetica type with an abstract image dominating the remaining surface. It was a far cry from the yellow label branding of Deustche Grammphone or the low-budget art of Naxos.

These albums are long out of print, the recordings butchered on various compiled reissues. The ensemble’s reading of Vivaldi’s concerti and Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante pop up on other EMI Classics releases.

One album has managed to maintain its integrity despite numerous reissues and cover changes: Minimalist. In fact, the album is scheduled for another reissue on Feb. 12, 2013.

Of the discs in that original series, Minimalist was the only one to feature modern music from American composers. At the time, major labels were finally coming around to minimalism, with Nonesuch cornering recorded premieres by Philip Glass, Steve Reich and John Adams.

Minimalist was one of the first albums not released by Nonesuch to focus on these three composers.

I had actually bought the album around the time it was released — as a Christmas gift for my piano teacher. I didn’t get around to buying a copy for myself till 2012, when I found an original Virgin Classics pressing at Silver Platters.

By then, 23 years had passed since that initial gifting. Back then, I had only listened to a scant number of works from each composer. Today, only two of the works were unfamiliar to me.

Minimalist was intended to be a crash course in the works of Glass, Reich and Adams, and it serves that purpose well. Although each composer has been tagged with the minimalist brand, their individual writing styles couldn’t be any more different.

Adams doesn’t go for the level of abstraction as Glass and Reich. Reich’s harmonic language is more adventurous than Glass or Adams, his rhythms more syncopated. But Glass is the most accessible, his harmonic and rhythmic language clearest of the three.

LCO selected the right works from each composer to highlight these differences.

Adams’ Shaker Loops strikes just the right balance between intellectual rhythmic exercise and programmatic storytelling. It’s certainly a good choice as an introduction to his output.

Reich’s Eight Lines highlights the signature syncopation that drives his work, while being just the right length to fit on a minimalist showcase.

Company is one of Glass’ most recorded works, and LCO jumped on that bandwagon early. It’s too bad so many other chamber orchestras followed in their wake. Thankfully, LCO also include Glass’ Façades.

The only odd man out is Englishman David Heath. He’s no minimalist, and the dissonance of his contribution, The Frontier, clashes with the harmonies of his American counterparts.

It’s also the most interesting work on the disc. There’s a bit of a rock attitude underpinning The Frontier, and it’s a nice contrast to the high-mindedness of the preceding works.

Despite that jarring addition — or maybe because of it — Minimalist hangs well together as an album. So well, in fact, it’s been immune to butchering. (Mostly — some of these recording appear on other EMI compilations.)

Looking back, I made the right choice giving this album to my piano teacher. I’d probably direct other curious listeners to it in the future.


Oriental Love Ring: In This World

Oriental Love Ring: In This WorldOriental Love Ring first formed in Honolulu in 1988, and the only recording of theirs I possessed was a single track from a cassette compilation titled No Place to Play. For all I knew, it was the only recording by the band that existed. But that song, “Damage”, was so damn good, it made me a fan.

Too bad I was still too young to see them play live. By the time I had that independence — more commonly known as “college” — the band had already split up.

I no longer have a cassette player, but the Hawaii Punk Museum made No Place to Play available online. On a lark, I decided to search the web for Oriental Love Ring and discovered the band had reunited and released an album of new songs in 2010.

“Damage” hinted at what the band could achieve, and In This World fully realizes it.

There’s not a single dead spot on the album. Guitarist Beano Shots wrote or co-wrote the lion’s share of the tracks, and his melodic gift hasn’t dimmed since his days in the Squids.

Peter Bond sounds perennially youthful with his soaring tenor, and he and Shots weave their guitar riffs beautifully on such tracks as “Prayers to an Empty Sky”, “Disconnected Girl” and the title track.

Not surprisingly, Bond’s contributions to the album, “I Know You Know”, “Take Me to the Moon” and “Tonight”, have the bite of his later band, Spiny Norman.

Original drummer Bryan Brudell used electric drums on “Damage”, forever dating the song (in a good way, as far as I’m concerned.) Larry Lieberman opts for a more organic sound, and he’s in lock step with bassist Chad Ikezawa.

In This World arrives 20 years after Oriental Love Ring first split up. The band says they’re doing this out of fun, and it sure does come across in the finished product.

This album is also something of a weird wish fulfillment for me. Oriental Love Ring were playing at Wave Waikiki at a time when I was still learning how to drive. “Damage” spurred my imagination and made me wonder about all the stuff we didn’t hear. As it turns out, some pretty damn good music.


Duran Duran: Seven and the Ragged Tiger (Special Edition)

By the time Duran Duran recorded Seven and the Ragged Tiger, the band had turned into international superstars. Touring kept them out of the studio, which meant little in the way of archival material.

The special edition of Seven and the Ragged Tiger does not hold any surprises for diligent fans who snatched up the singles boxed set from 2004 or the 12-inch compilations from the late ’90s.

"Is There Something I Should Know?" suffers from something of an identity crisis. US fans probably associate the track with the band’s self-titled debut, which shoe-horned the track in a 1983 reissue that came in the wake of the success of Rio. (I, for one, keep expecting to hear it after "Careless Memories".)

The track appears as a bonus, along with two versions of the B-side "Faith in This Colour". Of course, there’s "Secret Oktober" and the dance mix of "The Reflex", which is far superior than the album mix.

Very familiar territory for the schooled Duranie. That leaves the videos, which is where the true value of this reissue lies.

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Duran Duran: Duran Duran (Special Edition)

Here’s how far I’ve fallen as a Duranie: I didn’t know there was a controversy surrounding the expanded reissue of Duran Duran’s self-titled album.

Yes, I thought it was odd the camera clicks at the start of "Girls on Film" cut out, and I thought I just made a faulty rip to my computer, until I discovered it was actually on the recording itself. I shrugged it off as a bad pressing but didn’t think too much of it.

I still have the remastered version of this album from 2004, and my aim in purchasing this reissue were for the extras — demos and videos.

Then I read EMI’s statement admitting to the glitch and standing by it. Andy Taylor, who left the band twice, gave his indignant reaction, and given what I know about Duranies, I didn’t bother to comb any Internet fan communities to gauge the consumer outrage.

Me? I’ve bought this damn album multiple times, and I have no shortage of versions to which I can listen. I’m not lacking in "Girls on Film" or "Planet Earth".

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Benjamin Britten: War Requiem / Sinfonia da Requiem / Ballad of Heroes (London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Richard Hickox)

War Requiem by Benjamin Britten has always been a work I wanted to hear when I first read about it in a textbook during high school. Back then, CDs were replacing vinyl as the listening medium of choice, and War Requiem was too lengthy to fit on one disc.

For a student on a limited income, a double-disc set was beyond my budget. Eventually, I would forget about it.

Alex Ross devotes a chapter of his book The Rest Is Noise to Britten, which got me thinking about War Requiem again. Armed with 12 eMusic download credits, I finally got to listen to the piece 20 years after learning about it.

So how is it?

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Hüsker Dü: New Day Rising

If you’re a newcomer to the works of Hüsker Dü — as I am — don’t start with Zen Arcade.

That was my mistake. The critical scuttlebutt says this sprawling double album is essential listening in the Hüsker Dü oeuvre, but given the way it was recorded — in 85 hours with mostly first takes — it’s a hot mess and not necessarily a good first impression.

Said scuttlebutt also indicates New Day Rising is the band’s best album, and if I started there first, I would have become a fan sooner.

Zen Arcade tried to be many things at one time, something New Day Rising avoids by concentrating on being fast and hard. The band’s sound changes little from track to track, Bob Mould’s thin guitar slicing through the strangled bottom end of bassist Greg Norton and drummer Grant Hart.

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Emmylou Harris: Luxury Liner

It’s taken me more than a decade to resume my exploration of Emmylou Harris’ earliest work, and I wanted to blame Elite Hotel, her second album, from scaring me off. In reality, the fault lies with Pieces of the Sky.

Harris’ stunning debut threaded together songs from diverse eras and genres with a seamless performance that still sounds rich many decades later. It left such an impression, Elite Hotel, which I also bought at the same time, didn’t have much of a chance.

Nor did any of her other early albums.

Thanks to the convenience of online stream (RIP Lala), I got around to listening to Luxury Liner, Harris’ third album. Why did I wait so long?

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Eurythmics: Savage

In my early days of music collecting, Eurythmics was one band I filed under "must-own" — if the duo released an album, I made sure to get it. My enthusiasm for them, however, petered out before the release of We Too Are One in 1989. (Nor did I manage to get the 1984 soundtrack. In the Garden hadn’t been released in the States at that time.)

In reality, Eurythmics was a far better singles band than an album band. Of the vinyl albums I purchased in my youth, only two made the leap to CD — Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) and more recently, Savage.

Savage holds a strange position in the band’s discographic history. They went back to using synthesizers after having made a big effort to ditch them two albums earlier, nor did they tour in support of the album. The singles don’t have the chart-ready catchiness of their previous hits.

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Cause & Effect: Cause & Effect

In the wake of Music for the Masses and Violator, Depeche Mode clones came out of the proverbial wood work. First, Camouflage, then Red Flag and eventually, Cause & Effect.

Cause & Effect singer Rob Rowe, like Camouflage’s Marcus Meyn, bore yet another striking timbral resemblance to David Gahan, and those familiar string pads and synth basses thread through the Los Angeles duo’s songs as well.

Guitars were only starting to become a component in Depeche Mode’s music at the time, but they were part of Cause & Effect’s sound from the get-go. The opening track of the band’s self-titled debut album incorporated an acoustic guitar to great effect. The ringing riff that opens "Something New" is more New Order than DM.

Where Camouflage had a spiritual and aesthetic affinity with its England-based counterparts, Cause & Effect were far more willing to spin that sound for its own purposes. In short, they were nowhere near as dour.

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Camouflage: Voices & Images

I grew up with this album but only tangentially.

I bought a 7-inch single of Camouflage’s "The Great Commandment" without really knowing what I was getting. (That was the equivalent of visiting a site such as thesixtyone back then.)

I played it for my brother who was into Depeche Mode at the time, and he ended up buying the band’s debut album Voices & Images. I played it for another friend of mine, who then bought the album on cassette.

I pretty much take Depeche Mode on a case-by-case basis, a behavior rooted in the idea that the band "belonged" to my brother, and Depeche Mode-adjacent bands suffered from guilt-by-association as a result. When I found Voices & Images in the bin at Cheapo Discs during SXSW 2009, I decided to give it a shot.

Damn, those Germans can be a dark bunch.

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