Black Mirror: Hang The DJ – music by Alex Somers & Sigur Ros

Black Mirror: Hang The DJArguably the 21st century’s most legitimate and enduring successor to the O’Henry-inspired twisted morality tales of The Twilight Zone, Black Mirror began on Channel 4 in the U.K. before migrating to Netflix and gaining an international audience beyond C4’s reach. Each of its stories are couched in the technology we have, or the technology we’re all but destined to invent given current trends of both technology and society. While many an episode of Black Mirror ends with a dark twist, Hang The DJ has a much happier one, an oddball among the show’s typical cynicism.

Hang The DJ‘s score is an exercise in barely-tonal minimalism. The episode concerns itself with an omnipresent matchmaking system, Coach, which pushes couples together for relationships of various lengths as it tries to determine their ideal match. Failure to abide by Coach’s matches risk banishment beyond an unspecified wall around the city/county/country in which the story happens, but when the alternative is being permanently paired with someone who isn’t one’s ideal match, and one is forbidden from doubling back to a former match, is that really such a threat?

Rather than hewing closely to the contours of the two protagonists’ budding-but-uncertain romance, the score almost seems to be providing accompaniment for Coach and its influence on the lives of everyone seen on screen: it’s atonal at times, almost a background drone that only foregrounds itself in melodic terms when the two main characters’ attraction increases. Even at the end, when they seriously contemplate climbing over the wall themselves rather than waiting for banishment, there’s little in the way of urgency or traditional tonality. It’s not an action scene, and the momentousness of it isn’t signalled by the score.

4 out of 4Things become more melodic and “human” once they’ve escaped – the constant drone of Coach’s presence is gone, and along with it the rigid matchmaking system that dominates everyone’s lives, and suddenly it’s Sigur Ros doing the music.

Hang The DJ is a fairly brief score, one whose impact and meaning may be a little hard to grasp when heard in isolation. But despite its brief duration, much like the story it accompanies, the score makes an impact.

Order this CD or download

  1. All Mapped Out (1:26)
  2. Sorry (2:58)
  3. Hours, Days, Months (1:31)
  4. Into Place (3:31)
  5. Match (1:31 – Sigur Ros)
  6. Out There (1:43)
  7. Sleeps (0:48)
  8. See You (1:53)
  9. Treasured (1:34)
  10. Ruined It (3:19)
  11. One Year (2:09)
  12. Doubts (1:58)
  13. Three, Two, One (1:12)
  14. We Agreed (0:33)
  15. One, Two, Three, Four (0:39)
  16. There’ll Be A Reason (1:28)
  17. End (4L58 – Sigur Ros)
  18. Over And Over Again (1:07)

Released by: Lakeshore Records
Release date: December 30, 2017
Total running time: 34:18

Raymond Scott Rewired

Raymond Scott RewiredSo, stop me if you’ve heard this one already: three remix producers walk into a bar, suddenly gain access to the complete recorded works of the late big-band-leader and electronic music pioneer Raymond Scott, and go back to their studios to do their own thing. Actually, it’s not certain if there was a bar involved, but that minor detail aside, that’s how you get this album.

And what a fun album it is! From a near-nonsensical mash-up of Scott’s electronic music and his extensive work in the realm of commercial jingles (“The Night & Day Household Greyhound”) to a career-spanning mash-up that somehow manages to encapsulate everything Raymond Scott was about (“A Bigger, More Important Sound”) to truly tuneful remixes that almost transcend their source material (“Cindy Byrdsong”, “Hey Ray”), every approach from very light remixing to almost rewriting the DNA of the original music is tried out here. Piling the output of Scott’s legendary homemade analog synthesizer/sequencer, the Electronium, on top of most conventional acoustic sounds does wonders (“Very Very Very Pretty Petticoat”), but that’s no less enjoyable than a cut-and-splice treatment of Scott’s narrated notes on a new piece of recording gear (“Love Song To A Dynamic Ribbon Cardioid”). At the end of the album, it’s all hands on deck as all three producers pay tribute to Scott’s most enduring creation (thanks to its heavy use in Carl Stalling’s cartoon music), “Powerhouse”.

4 out of 4I can’t help but think that Raymond Scott would have approved. The man devised and implemented a new instrument combining the functions of analog synths and sequencers in one massive box, in a near-total vacuum of information as to how one would create such a beast, because these ideas were new to everyone at the time. (No less a later electronic music pioneer than Bob Moog himself would go on to say that Scott was a huge influence on him.) A mind that could jump from big band stylings to otherworldly sounds for which there was no frame of reference…one can’t help but think that, had he been born a bit later, Raymond Scott himself would be doing some remixes of his own.

Order this CD

  1. A Bigger, More Important Sound by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (1:38)
  2. The Toy Penguin by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (3:12)
  3. Cindy Byrdsong by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (4:09)
  4. Ripples on an Evaporated Lake by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (4:10)
  5. Sleigh Ride To A Barn Dance in Sorrento by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (2:01)
  6. The Night & Day Household Greyhound by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (2:50)
  7. Love Song To A Dynamic Ribbon Cardioid by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (2:25)
  8. (Serenade On) Carribea Corner by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (4:08)
  9. In An 18th Century Discotheque by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (3:35)
  10. The Sleepwalking Tobacco Auctioneer by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (2:10)
  11. Very Very Very Pretty Petticoat by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (2:22)
  12. Hillbilly Hostess In Haunted Harlem by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (2:28)
  13. Good Duquesne Air by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (3:06)
  14. Hey Ray by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (2:54)
  15. Mountain High, Valley Higher by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (3:35)
  16. Siberian Tiger On An Ocean Liner by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (2:35)
  17. Shirley’s Temple Bells by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (2:12)
  18. Tick Tock Cuckoo On Planet Mars by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (1:56)
  19. Powerhouse by Various Artists (3:29)

Released by: Basta
Release date: January 14, 2014
Total running time: 54:55

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Raymond Scott – Manhattan Research, Inc.

Manhattan Research, Inc.Perhaps unfairly best known for having his music repurposed into the backing tracks for classic Warner Bros. cartoons, the late Raymond Scott has another claim to fame that often gets overlooked – he was one of the true pioneers of electronic music in America. In this area, Scott was a true renaissance man: not only did he pioneer the sound, but he built his own instruments and early devices that presaged sequencers, and he even did some of the first work on multi-track recording, at roughly the same time that Les Paul was experimenting with similar ideas. In the 1950s and 1960s (at roughly the same time as the ascendancy of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop), Scott was carving out his own path in an entire new genre of music.

Not only that, but Scott was trying his hardest to make his experiments pay for themselves: he marketed his unusual new sounds as music beds and jingles for commercials, with some success. The two-disc Manhattan Research, Inc. collection chronicles and archives that material, with a selection of Scott’s finished spots (both with and without announcers/singers) as well as demos and experiments that never made it to radio. The commercials range from obscurely local/regional campaigns (Baltimore Gas & Electric Company) to major national campaigns (IBM, Bufferin, Vicks, General Motors and a Sprite radio campaign that remains famous enough that it’s now become an ironic cover song). In a way, Scott achieved his aim by getting a new style of music into the ears of millions of listeners – but until now, not with any recognition.

While the commercials are a nostalgia trip that goes back even before the writer of this review was born, some of the purely instrumental pieces are startlingly ahead of their time: the “Night and Day” track on the first disc could’ve caught on in the 1980s had it been revived then. “Take Me To Your Violin Teacher” could easily be mistaken for modern chiptunes performed with 1980s video game hardware… and yet it was recorded in 1969. “Ripples (Montage)” anticipates abstract-but-tuneful electronic film scoring. “Cindy Electronium” sounds like late ’80s/early ’90s video game music.

There are a few throwbacks as well; Scott tries out completely electronic renditions of his existing compositions including “The Toy Trumpet” (which becomes almost unrecognizable) and “Twilight In Turkey”, both of which featured in their original, jazzier forms on Reckless Nights & Turkish Twilights. Some of his electronic music beds are also quite obviously very close cousins of the music from his Soothing Sounds For Baby albums. There’s also one very interesting guest star on a few tracks: the voice of none other than Jim Henson graces some tracks recorded in 1969, including “Limbo: The Organized Mind”, a free-form ramble set to Scott’s electronic sounds, and a couple of Bufferin commercials which seem to have sprung from “Limbo” both conceptually and musically.

A lot of this information, incidentally, is included in a book that clocks in at around 140 pages and covers Scott’s entire life and career, not just the material on these two CDs, in a wealth of detail.

3 out of 4Raymond Scott is still overdue for a reassessment of one of the electronic music pioneers in the United States, to say nothing of being a composer whose works influenced generations of children (by way of Warner Bros. cartoons). Manhattan Research, Inc. really isn’t a “general audience” listening experience, but it’s an invaluable archive for anyone interested in how electronic music gained a foothold in our national consciousness: in little snippets, 30 or so seconds at a time, behind commercial announcers and jingle singers.

Order this CD

    Disc One

  1. Manhattan Research, Inc. Copyright (0:11)
  2. Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. (Instrumental, Take 4) (1:14)
  3. Bendix 1: The Tomorrow People (1:06)
  4. Lightworks (1:52)
  5. The Bass-line Generator (3:10)
  6. Don’t Beat Your Wife Every Night! (1:44)
  7. B.C. 1675 (Gillette Conga Drum Jingle) (3:16)
  8. Vim (0:59)
  9. Auto-Lite: Sta-Ful (Instrumental) (0:47)
  10. Sprite: Melonball Bounce (Instrumental) (1963)
  11. Sprite: Melonball Bounce (1963)
  12. Wheels That Go (0:50)
  13. Limbo: The Organized Mind (4:33)
  14. Portofino 1 (2:13)
  15. County Fair (1:01)
  16. Lady Gaylord (1:02)
  17. Good Air (Take 7) (0:38)
  18. IBM MT/ST: The Paperwork Explosion (4:31)
  19. Domino (0:33)
  20. Super Cheer (0:34)
  21. Cheer: Revision 3 (New Backgrounds) (0:39)
  22. Twilight in Turkey (1:32)
  23. Raymond Scott Quote / Vicks: Medicated Cough Drops (1:34)
  24. Vicks: Formula 44 (0:46)
  25. Auto-Lite: Spark Plugs (1:00)
  26. Nescafe (1:06)
  27. Awake (0:35)
  28. Backwards Overload (6:04)
  29. Bufferin: Memories (Original) (0:59)
  30. Bandito the Bongo Artist (1:30)
  31. Night and Day (Cole Porter) (1:45)
  32. Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. (“395”) (1:07)
  33. K2r (0:19)
  34. IBM Probe (1:56)
  35. GMGM 1A (1:49)
  36. The Rhythm Modulator (3:37)
    Disc Two

  1. Ohio Plus (0:17)
  2. In the Hall of the Mountain Queen (0:49)
  3. General Motors: Futurama (1:04)
  4. Portofino 2 (2:14)
  5. The Wild Piece (a.k.a. String Piece) (4:07)
  6. Take Me to Your Violin Teacher (1:40)
  7. Ripples (Original Soundtrack) (0:59)
  8. Cyclic Bit (1:04)
  9. Ripples (Montage) (4:06)
  10. The Wing Thing (1:00)
  11. County Fair (Instrumental) (1:00)
  12. Cindy Electronium (1:59)
  13. Don’t Beat Your Wife Every Night! (Instrumental) (1:45)
  14. Hostess: Twinkies (0:32)
  15. Hostess: Twinkies (Instrumental) (0:32)
  16. Ohio Bell: Thermo Fax (0:24)
  17. Pygmy Taxi Corporation (7:11)
  18. Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. (Announce Copy, Take 1) (0:29)
  19. Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. (0:44)
  20. Lightworks (Slow) (1:40)
  21. The Paperwork Explosion (Instrumental) (3:30)
  22. Auto-Lite: Ford Family (1:03)
  23. Auto-Lite: Ford Family (Instrumental) (0:54)
  24. Raymond Scott Quote / Auto-Lite: Wheels (1:50)
  25. Bufferin: Memories (Demo) (0:44)
  26. Space Mystery (Montage) (5:11)
  27. The Toy Trumpet (2:15)
  28. Backwards Beeps (1:05)
  29. Raymond Scott Quote / Auto-Lite: Sta-Ful (1:36)
  30. Lightworks (Instrumental) (1:29)
  31. When Will It End? (3:14)
  32. Bendix 2: The Tomorrow People (1963)
  33. Electronic Audio Logos, Inc. (5:23)

Released by: Basta
Release date: 2000
Disc one total running time: 58:48
Disc two total running time: 63:11

Tim Finn – North, South, East, West…: Anthology

North, South, East, WestIt’s something of an understatement to say that Tim Finn has earned a best-of album by now. The only catch is that it’s taken so long that there’s probably a whole generation in New Zealand – never mind everywhere else – asking “Tim who?” Hence, North, South, East, West… has a bit of an identity crisis: it’s not just a Tim Finn compilation, but crams in the better part of a best of Split Enz best-of album and selections from Crowded House (well, after a fashion) and the Finn Brothers, in addition to the obligatory new songs designed to hook in everyone who’s already bought all of Tim’s previous work.

With that in mind, you have to forgive North, South, East, West…‘s inherent schizophrenia. The one common thread linking all of this very disparate material is Finn’s extremely versaitle voice. Whether it’s the very orchestrated sound of Split Enz or the relatively stripped-down guitar wash of Crowded House or the Finn Brothers, Finn’s voice cuts through the whole mix every time. His solo work has darted back and forth between more ornamented, Enz-like songs and more acoustic fare, so even if you set aside his non-solo projects, there’s no one sound dominating the entire 2-CD set.

The obligatory new material includes songs we haven’t heard before, and new recordings of songs that we have. Finn covers Split Enz’s “Stuff And Nonsense” as a duet with Missy Higgins, and gives Crowded House’s “It’s Only Natural” a similar treatment with Bic Runga riding shotgun. He also covers the Crowded House hit-in-some-parts-of-the-world “Weather With You” with Neil and Liam Finn. Also included are very stripped-down new versions of “So Deep” (from his very-produced, dance-rhythm-heavy second solo album Big Canoe) and Crowded House’s “How Will You Go”, and an instrumental piano cover of a portion of Split Enz’s “Poor Boy”. I felt that a partial cover was a little bit of a cheat (especially when it’s done so well), and “So Deep” already wasn’t my favorite song from Big Canoe, and it doesn’t really benefit from the toned-down rethink. I’m much more partial to “How Will You Go” in its original form, so this new recording, relieved of most of its beautiful vocal harmonies, certainly doesn’t supplant the original. It’s interesting to note that none of the Crowded House songs on this collection are the original recordings – all of them are re-interpretations.

Fortunately, the genuinely new tracks are a treat: “Into The Water” and especially the jumpy “Light Years Away” are up there with the best of Finn’s output over the past decade, and “Nothing Unusual” winds up being a kind of theme song for the whole compilation: it borrows the main riff from “Many’s The Time” and namechecks Enz chestnuts like “Maybe” and “Malmsbury Villa”, and the lyrics talk about the inspiration for songs in general – it’s a song about when one writes and performs songs, a bit of a meta-song, and a pleasant one at that.

Listening back to the songs chosen from Finn’s large body of solo work, I have to say that generally, the songs are very well-chosen; it seems like Big Canoe and Finn’s self-titled 1989 album were buried for some reason (and I still count the latter among his very best solo work), and his work from the musical stage production Steel City isn’t represented at all, but as many labels as Finn has 3 out of 4been on over the years there may be issues there (which may also explain the Crowded House oddity noted above). Once the compilation moves on to music from 1993’s Before & After, things tend to line up, more or less, with the Tim Finn best-of mixes that I’ve been creating for myself for years. Considering how hard it’s become to find some of Tim Finn’s material, this compilation is probably a good idea for those curious about his work.

Order this CD

    Disc One

  1. I See Red performed by Split Enz (3:17)
  2. My Mistake performed by Split Enz (3:02)
  3. Poor Boy performed by Split Enz (3:23)
  4. Six Months In A Leaky Boat performed by Split Enz (4:23)
  5. I Hope I Never performed by Split Enz (4:36)
  6. Dirty Creature performed by Split Enz (4:01)
  7. Maybe performed by Split Enz (2:53)
  8. Stuff And Nonsense performed by Tim Finn & Missy Higgins (3:27)
  9. Fraction Too Much Friction (4:10)
  10. Made My Day (3:20)
  11. So Deep (4:15)
  12. How’m I Gonna Sleep (3:52)
  13. Not Even Close (4:18)
  14. Many’s The Time (4:20)
  15. Persuasion (3:52)
  16. Into The Water (3:14)
  17. Nothing Unusual (4:02)
    Disc Two

  1. Weather With You performed by Tim, Neil & Liam Finn (3:43)
  2. How Will You Go (2:59)
  3. It’s Only Natural performed by Tim Finn & Bic Runga (3:44)
  4. Underwater Mountain (3:55)
  5. Dead Man (4:04)
  6. What You’ve Done (3:43)
  7. Subway Dreaming (4:16)
  8. Angels’ Heap performed by the Finn Brothers (2:50)
  9. Disembodied Voices performed by the Finn Brothers (3:37)
  10. Luckiest Man Alive performed by the Finn Brothers (3:59)
  11. Winter Light (4:11)
  12. Couldn’t Be Done (2:53)
  13. Astounding Moon (3:36)
  14. Straw To Gold (3:58)
  15. Out Of This World (3:01)
  16. The Saw And The Tree (4:05)
  17. Light Years Away (3:09)
  18. Poor Boy (instrumental) (1:31)

Released by: Capitol / EMI
Release date: 2009
Disc one total running time: 64:25
Disc two total running time: 63:14

Regina Spektor – Far

Regina Spektor - FarThis is going to sound like a completely goofy reason to go and buy an album, but I went to get Regina Spektor’s Far purely because of one of the producers she worked with on the album. Seriously. Now, when you take into account that the producer in question is the reclusive former ELO mastermind Jeff Lynne, it makes a bit more sense – not only am I a lifelong fan of his, but any appearance by him on record is a rare and precious thing indeed.

That said, Far is, in places, a much better album than I expected, regardless of who’s manning the mixing console on a given track. My first exposure to Regina Spektor was – perhaps unfortunately – her duet with Ben Folds, “You Don’t Know Me”, from Folds’ last studio album. I thought she had a fairly distinctive voice, enough that I was intrigued, but when I went to Amazon to check out clips of her solo work, her back catalog just didn’t register as being “my thing”. Where Far succeeds, it succeeds spectacularly, and where it misfires, it does so equally spectacularly.

If I have a problem, stylistically speaking, with Ms. Spektor, it’s with her tendency to try to be a bit too “cute” both lyrically and in her vocal delivery, with a habit of over-enunciating words for effect. Once in a while, it’s okay, but it seems like every third song shows that tendency, which is a pity, because it distracts from the sheer beauty of some of the songs where she isn’t trying to hard to be clever. It’s jarring to veer from “Human Of The Year” or “The Genius Next Door” to something like “Dance Anthem Of The ’80s”, which literally revolves around her funny-pronunciation gimmick.

Where she does a straightforward delivery, Spektor’s work is just breathtaking – “The Calculation”, “Blue Lips” and “Laughing With” are repeat listening favorites. Where she only does a little bit of gimmicky delivery, such as “Machine” or “Folding Chair”, it doesn’t distract from her outstanding songwriting. These songs display a great command of crafting a song and, in places, surprisingly mature lyrics.

Where she loses me is with the stacatto, machine-gun syllables of
“Dance Anthem Of The 80s”; which really epitomizes the facet of Far that I greatly dislike, with lines like “You-oo-oo-oo-oo are-are-are so swee-ee-ee-ee-eet”…it’s like listening to a singing Dalek. I don’t mind a bit of musical comedy here and there, but when it becomes grating to listen to, I draw the line. There are a couple of “skippers” on Far – i.e. songs I quickly decided I could do without after the first couple of listens. Maybe there’s something I’m missing from not having seen her live, but the appeal of these songs evades me – it’s a true love/hate relationship.

Fortunately, Far has far more great songs than it does annoying novelty tunes, and on that merit I can recommend it. As for the Jeff Lynne-produced material, “Folding Chair” is one of the catchiest, most addictive songs I’ve heard all year (and Spektor’s humorous delivery actually works here as she delivers a short passage of the music in vocal “dolphin barks”). “Genius Of The Year” and “Wallet” are unusually stripped-down productions for Lynne, where “Blue Lips” is almost a little too Lynne-y. The download bonus track “The Sword & The Pen” is a bit jarring, with its sudden 3 out of 4dramatic build-ups to the chorus. Still, it’s good to hear the man’s doing something other than endlessly covering “Mr. Blue Sky”. (Spektor was apparently compeltely unaware of Lynne’s ELO pedigree, knowing his work only via Tom Petty’s Highway Companion!)

With repeat listening, though, I really stopped caring who was producing what and just found myself enjoying the album – with a few exceptions.

Order this CD

  1. The Calculation (3:09)
  2. Eet (3:49)
  3. Blue Lips (3:32)
  4. Folding Chair (3:35)
  5. Machine (3:52)
  6. Laughing With (3:13)
  7. Human Of The Year (4:05)
  8. Two Birds (3:15)
  9. Dance Anthem Of The 80s (3:43)
  10. Genius Next Door (5:04)
  11. Wallet (2:26)
  12. One More Time With Feeling (3:56)
  13. Man Of A Thousand Faces (3:07)
  14. Time Is All Around (3:05)
  15. The Sword & The Pen (3:46)

Released by: Sire
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 53:39

Split Enz – The Rootin’ Tootin’ Luton Tapes

Split Enz - The Rootin' Tootin' Luton TapesFor much of of 1978, Split Enz seemed to have reached the end of the road. Having lost their label contract, their management, and almost all of their live work, the band was stranded in England with only a grant from the Queen Elizabeth Arts Council in their native New Zealand to sustain them through the lean times. At this point, lead singer/songwriter Tim Finn’s younger brother, Neil, had been with the band for less than a year. With no concerts to play, the emphasis was on writing and rehearsing (and, when they could afford it, recording) new material, and with Phil Judd having come and gone again, Neil had his first chance to try to add his own songwriting touch to the band’s sound. In June and July of 1978, the Enz converged on a studio in Luton to record their new material, with songs written by both of the Finns. And the irony of it is that only a few of those recordings have been heard until now.

Approximately half of the songs recorded at Luton were honed further and re-recorded from scratch as the group’s 1979 album Frenzy. The other half were occasionally dusted off (and sometimes re-recorded) as B-sides for singles (this being back in the days when there were still physical singles, and when those singles still had B-sides), while others never saw the light of day. Poised precariously between the original Split Enz remit of arty, complicated rock with ambitious arrangements and challenging tempo changes, and the group’s more sharply-focused ’80s pop-going-on-new-wave sound, these are the Luton sessions, revealed at last after 30 years to satisfy relentless pressure from the group’s loyal fans down through the years.

Is there a reason these recordings weren’t issued at some point back then? Well…yeah. They’re definitely diamonds in the rough, and there’s almost zero stylistic unity in the material. With nothing to lose (how much lower could they go from being unemployed in another country, with no recording contract and no promotion?), the band can clearly be heard revisiting its old sound, taking various approaches to revamping it, and even trying on and discarding whole new styles as they saw fit. The bulk of the songs are still Tim’s, though the tunes written by Neil are a revelation. Some of the songs represent his earliest songwriting efforts, as well as some of his earliest outings as a professional musician. His singing voice is, to be charitable, unrefined in places, but the pure catchiness of his songwriting offsets that. “Carried Away” and “Holy Smoke” originated here, as did “Late In Rome”, better known as “Serge”.

Tim’s contributions aren’t anything to sneeze at, however – “Semi-Detached” (one of my favorite songs that the man’s ever written), “Hypnotized”, “Next Exit” and “Remember When” originate from the Luton sessions, among many others. It’s with Tim’s songs that one can hear the most stylistic experimentation; “Hypnotized” is performed almost in the style of ’50s blues-rock, with a typically Enz twist, and some of Tim’s other tunes are similarly poised between the Enz’ early ’70s music-hall-inspired sound and more instantly accessible styles.

There are other landmarks to be heard here, especially if one has the two-disc version that was made available only to the Frenz Of The Enz fan club. That second disc, not available at retail, consists primarily of early mixes of the songs from Frenzy. Some of them, such as “Frenzy” itself, is in a decidedly unfinished form. But that disc also contains other tunes as well – Phil Judd’s last two contributions to the Enz as songwriter, “I’m So Up” and “So This Is Love”, are on the fan-club-only disc, as is “Livin’ It Up”, a song by relatively new recruit Nigel Griggs, which sees the Enz belly up to the edge of punk…and apparently back away slowly again. Judd’s two songs are a sharp reminder that, as much as some listeners regard him as the architect of the Enz’s weirder excesses, he was as capable of coming up with catchy, three-or-four-minute gems just as the Finn brothers were.

Other unusual writing credits appear; the first disc features a Griggs/Tim Finn collaboration, “Creature Comforts”, “Straight Talk” (co-written by the elder Finn and former Enz sax/horn player Robert Gillies, who had departed the band by this point and embarked on an art career that would later see him serving as, of all things, production designer for Xena: Warrior Princess), and an atmospheric-but-rather-strange song called “Animal Lover” by Eddie Rayner. These songs likely emerged from group jams – it was about as close as the Enz would ever get to an all-hands-pitch-in kind of band. The rest of the time, barring a few Eddie Rayner instrumentals, it seems that the band’s music came from the minds of Judd and/or one Finn or the other. It’s an interesting peek into avenues left unexplored. The first-ever songwriting collaboration between the Finn brothers, “Best Friend”, can also be heard, though it’s not something you’d probably be expecting if your indoctrination into the Finns’ duets was Woodface or the Finn Brothers albums.

It’s worth noting that purists might object to one thing: Rayner remixed many of the recordings, though not all. The two Judd songs originate from an appearance on the BBC’s Dave Lee Travis show, and some were left alone or had been mixed down and couldn’t be remixed. “Semi-Detached” is one such example of a song left untouched, and it certainly didn’t need any revising. But to be honest, purist or no, I’ve never heard the Luton tapes in their original state – and I doubt too many can say that they have either – so it’s not as if I have something to compare this release to so I can hear what’s changed. I also appreciate that the bulk of the Frenzy material is on the second disc only; as Frenzy is still available commercially, these alternate takes amount to music deleted scenes and outtakes (though the band is said to prefer the raw passion of the original recordings). Those who only want to hear stuff they’ve never heard before can do just fine with the single-disc version.

4 out of 4Ultimately, this collection, in either single or double disc form, may really be for-fans’-ears-only material. These aren’t new Split Enz songs (nor are there likely to be any), but the vast majority of the songs on the first disc, and a fair few on the second disc, will be new to most fans’ ears, and I’m not one to pass up on the chance to hear something new – or even just new-to-me – from either Finn. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the group’s “year from hell,” in an English summer three decades ago.

Order this CD

    Disc one

  1. Miss Haps (4:08)
  2. Home Comforts (4:13)
  3. Animal Lover (3:16)
  4. Carried Away (4:37)
  5. Semi-Detached (5:03)
  6. Holy Smoke (3:21)
  7. Message Boy (3:47)
  8. Hypnotised (3:41)
  9. Late In Rome (3:25)
  10. Straight Talk (3:23)
  11. Hollow Victory (3:23)
  12. Evelyn (3:16)
  13. Best Friend (3:04)
  14. Creature Comforts (2:52)
  15. Remember When (3:56)

Disc two – Frenz of the Enz version only

  1. Hermit McDermitt (5:02)
  2. Betty (6:13)
  3. I See Red (3:15)
  4. Mind Over Matter (3:09)
  5. Next Exit (3:54)
  6. She Got Body She Got Soul (2:57)
  7. So This Is Love (4:14)
  8. Abu Dhabi (4:53)
  9. Famous People (4:02)
  10. I’m So Up (2:58)
  11. Marooned (2:27)
  12. Livin’ It Up (1:17)
  13. Frenzy (3:07)

Released by: Rhino
Release date: 2007
Disc one total running time: 55:25
Disc two total running time: 47:28

Sixpence None The Richer – Divine Discontent

Sixpence None The Richer - Divine DiscontentThe band’s final group effort before going their separate ways to new
careers, Sixpence None The Richer’s swan song isn’t one of those farewell albums that makes you feel like you understand perfectly well why they’re calling it a day. Divine Discontent is an example of the best you can hope to do with a farewell album: the listener is still likely to want more when the show’s over.

“Breathe My Name”, a twitchy song with quirky chorus harmonies, exemplifies what I miss about Sixpence already – the combination of Matt Slocum’s songwriting and guitar work and Leigh Nash’s voice is a winner when the band is firing on all cylinders.

The cover of Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” surprised me quite a bit. I’ve heard everything from choral interpretations to reggae covers of it before, and it’s a testament to the power of the original song as written that it stands up to (nearly) every permutation I’ve heard it put through. This is one of the better covers I’ve heard, transforming into a guitar-based number without the trademark organ solo of the original. It’s also interesting to hear a female vocalist do the song.

Even more surprising is the hard-hitting “Paralyzed”, which seems almost like something one would expect the Cardigans to do. Lyrically, it goes a little bit outside of what one would expect from a Christian band with crossover success. There’s nothing in the song that just shocks me speechless or offends me, I just wasn’t expecting to hear it from these guys. I’m really pleased to hear impassioned, non-cookie-cutter anti-war lyrics from a Christian group, even if they’re pre-Iraq War.

4 out of 4Ironically for an album that includes a cover of “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, a paraphrase of a passage that I remember reading in a book about Crowded House springs to mind: Divine Discontent doesn’t sound like a band that’s on its way out, but a band proving it’s fighting to live. That certainly seems like an apt description for Sixpence None The Richer’s final studio album.

Order this CD

  1. Breathe Your Name (3:56)
  2. Tonight (3:52)
  3. Down And Out Of Time (3:28)
  4. Don’t Dream It’s Over (4:03)
  5. Waiting On The Sun (2:54)
  6. Still Burning (4:02)
  7. Melody Of You (4:50)
  8. Paralyzed (3:54)
  9. I’ve Been Waiting (4:19)
  10. Eyes Wide Open (3:28)
  11. Dizzy (6:36)
  12. Tension Is A Passing Note (3:30)
  13. A Million Parachutes (6:19)

Released by: Reprise
Release date: 2002
Total running time: 55:11