Tuesday Ten: 287: Tracks of the Month (March 1997)

Ten years of Tens. 287 posts, featuring 1,261 artists, 2,121 tracks, 1,817 albums, and 93 tracks from 81 artists named track of the month. In addition, there have been 42 best-of-year posts (actually going back as far as 2004), and run-downs of the best of the 80s, 90s, and 2000s (which was across a total of 27 posts, and they will go back online soon).

It has taken enormous amounts of my time, and I’ve made new friends, made new contacts, and discovered loads of bands by way of promos and links sent to me.

I don’t regret any of it.

Thanks to everyone who has supplied me with links, has told me about great new music, artists who have sent me their forthcoming songs for potential coverage. Thanks also to all of those who have supplied suggestions for Tens where I needed them, and those who indulge my random thought processes when I hear songs and come up with apparently random subjects (particular thanks to D and K on that front, that’s for sure).

I’m not planning on stopping here, either. I still have inspiration, I still want to continue writing. So there will be Tens for the foreseeable future, too.

All 287 posts in the series are here, on this site, and you can use the Google Docs link in the box to the right, for the moment, to search the whole list of songs and posts.

This week, then, is Tuesday Ten 287, and I’m taking a third visit back to 1997.


Daft Punk
Around The World
Homework
17-Mar-97

Yes, another mention for Daft Punk in this series (I covered Da Funk in 273: Tracks (Oct 1996)), but really, this song is too important not to cover too. The album itself dropped in the usual dead period post-Christmas, in the middle of January 1997, and while it did well to start with, they truly started getting mainstream coverage once this track was released as a single in the March of the same year. Much of that coverage was thanks to Michel Gondry’s extraordinary video, a lesson in elegant simplicity. A black room, some brightly coloured, costumed dancers, and each group represents an element of the song, and it’s glorious. Such a clever idea, and it worked so well that few others have tried to repeat the trick, simply because this one was utter perfection.


Atari Teenage Riot
Destroy 2000 Years of Culture
The Future of War
17-Mar-97

In a time of cautious optimism generally, this was the heaviest, most powerful – and political – album of it’s time by some considerable distance. The mid-nineties were the years after German re-unification, the fall of communism, and also after the first Gulf War. The re-unification of Germany in particular was not an easy project (and in some cases, it’s still ongoing now, nearly three decades on), and there was a lot of dissatisfaction from both sides – the amount of money being spent by the “West” on the “East”, and the flight of people from economically stagnant or failing areas the other way. There was also the undercurrent of the far-right, something ATR unleashed their fury on most notably on their debut album, of course.

Here, though, ATR had better production, better tools, and better words, and the whole album is one of hulking, furious power, best heard at a near-deafening volume. This track, though, gave voice to another fury of younger Germans – having to apologise for their past. This song shouts from the rooftops their desire to move on, to look to the future rather than backward, and to make a better world with what they have, without the baggage of the past. It’s an argument that still rages today.


Lamb
Górecki
Lamb
17-Mar-97

Lamb were one of those bands who found an intriguing niche in the cracks between genres, one of those points where there were acknowledged links, but no-one to that point had really exploited them. Lamb’s debut album found a listenable way to connect the dots between drum’n’bass, trip-hop, soul and jazz – the songs themselves had a jazzy base, in the main, the pacing was pure trip-hop, and the drum’n’bass influences only ever came through where the beats were needed for ballast. Lou Rhodes’ vocals were the other, really striking point of the band. Her emotive, wavering voice was perhaps one you could love or hate, but it was undeniable that she sounded pretty much unique at the time. Their finest moment, though, came with the last single from this album (the album itself was released in late 1996), released in the spring of 1997. Górecki – the title a nod to the Polish composer’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, which it samples and lyrically is inspired from – is six minutes of wrought, emotional beauty and has so much more depth than almost any of their contemporaries. Sadly mainstream success eluded Lamb – and I never managed to work out why. They deserved so much better.


LUXT
World of Hurt
Disrepair
18-Mar-97

I first found out about LUXT thanks to vocalist Anna Christine’s appearance on Velvet Acid Christ’s Slut, and a bit of digging eventually uncovered LUXT, whose sound was a bit of a surprise after the red herring of Slut. LUXT, by this point, were soon to release the very-much-more metal American Beast, an album that turned out to be their last, and by all accounts the end of the band was not a happy one. But before that change, their earlier material was a grimy, spiky industrial-rock hybrid that also made good use of dual vocals (Erie Loch being the male vocalist), and Disrepair was their first album for 21st Circuitry Records. It was by no means their best album (I still maintain Chromasex Monkeydrive is their peak by a long way), but it was a very useful pointer to where the band was going, and what they were trying to do. In the sound, there is an obvious tension, manifested clearly in the vocals often sung or orated through gritted teeth, and this lends a feeling of simmering rage to many of the songs – the pick of which here is the slamming, pummelling hate of World of Hurt, which builds into a maelstrom of industrial nastiness, with Anna Christine’s vocal work absolutely on fire.


Ben Folds Five
Brick
Whatever and Ever Amen
18-Mar-97

I adore the first Ben Folds Five album. I discovered the band by chance in my first term at Uni, when a friend offered me a spare ticket to see them live at the LA2 in the November of 1996, and I was hooked on the debut after that, and to be honest I was a bit surprised when their second album arrived the following spring, as it was…a bit different. The songs were longer, in some cases rather less immediate, and it took me a while to get into it. One thing that was still great about it was Ben Folds’ way with a tune – every song is memorable in some way or another, and the more, er, angry tracks (One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces (best. title. ever.) and Song For The Dumped) are both brilliantly chirpy “fuck you” songs, but the most striking song on this album by a mile was the ballad that became an unlikely hit. Brick, as it’s lyrics make obvious from the first time you hear about it, is about an abortion – and what makes the song so devastating is that it was about Ben Folds’ own experiences at high school, when his girlfriend had an abortion, and he stayed by her side as she went through it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Folds was not especially keen on talking too much about the song when it became a hit, and I can’t really blame him.


Machine Head
Take My Scars
The More Things Change…
25-Mar-97

Machine Head were an utter sensation when they first arrived, being the talk of the metal press as they blew away headliner after headliner that they supported. Part of that was their simple ability to rework classic thrash metal into a more modern sound that was very much of the time – having the monstrous anthem Davidian as the opening track on your debut didn’t hurt either – but also the fact that they have always been an absolutely fantastic live act. So hopes were high for the second album, and in many ways they didn’t disappoint. The album is still remembered fondly by most metalheads for the first three tracks – all three of which are still regulars in live sets, and frequently cause carnage at metal clubs – but what surprised me a bit listening to the whole album for the first time in a while is how good the rest of the album holds up, too. But Take My Scars – from the squall of the opening guitars to the end of the final breakdown – is still the pick of the album, a hulking, scorching metal anthem that is up there as among the best metal tracks of the nineties.


BRAINIAC
Mr Fingers
Electro-Shock for President
01-Apr-97

I first appreciated the potential power, if you will, of the internet in May 1997. I was on an e-mail mailing list/discussion group about The Verve when I found out Timothy Taylor had died – from a friendly contact on the group, in his home town of Dayton, OH…the morning after it happened. The simple fact that this kind of information could now be disseminated this quickly – up to then it was waiting for music publications like the NME or Melody Maker (or whatever else) to get to their next publication date, as none of them had any form of web presence at that point, that I recall (the NME still has a shit website even now) – rather blew my mind. Since then, I’ve maintained all kinds of friendships online, with friends as far afield as Iceland, southern Europe, Australia, and of course various parts of the US and Canada – and we even manage to meet up occasionally at festivals or elsewhere as travel permits. The loss of Timothy Taylor, though, stopped me in my tracks.

I’d quickly become a devoted fan of Brainiac after an extraordinary live show supporting Girls Against Boys in March 1996 (twenty-one years ago last week at the Duchess of York in Leeds), and this was to be the only time I saw them. They were touring their third album (the barking mad space-punk-new wave of H1551NG PR1G5 1N 5TAT1C C0UTUR3), which had landed them a deal with Interscope, and at the time of Taylor’s untimely death they were recording their fourth album to start that deal. In the meantime – and just two months before his death – Brainiac released an EP that was weird. Even by their standards. It was a release that had the electronics (they’d always used a Moog to great effect anyway) pushed to the foreground – with no guitars at all, some departure – and at points it made them sound like they’d just beamed down to earth from a distant planet (Trent Reznor has since voiced his admiration for this – on none other than Radio 1 in the UK!). Like opener Fresh New Eyes, little more than a curious electronic pulse, a hum like tinnitus, and Taylor howling and murmuring alternately as he wishes for, well, I actually have no fucking idea.

It gets weirder. Flash Ram would be a lovely, poppy tune if the electronics didn’t squelch like they’d been dipped in a strange liquid, and Fashion 500 is two minutes of random moog effects and a French voice mumbling in the background, while The Turnover (“If I could catch up with the chameleon” is the only whispered, repeated lyric. Me neither), For My Beloved is fifty seconds of really quite harsh noise experimentation, predating HEALTH’s similar work by at least a decade. But the whole EP is worth hearing for the absolutely glorious and unhinged electro-punk of Mr Fingers, where Taylor appears to be possessed by his finger-puppet alter-ego. I suspect little of this would actually have ended up on that album that was intended to follow, who knows? But in just five releases – three albums and two EPs – Brainiac set the bar for experimenting with the whole idea of being different in the nineties. They did whatever the fuck they wanted – with the backing of an open-minded label in the form of Touch & Go – and had a live reputation that was pulling in people all over the place, and were always enthralling. But the loss of Taylor so young has left a “what might have been” that always leaves me somewhat wistful when I think about it. Others do, too, if the barrage of comments on this glorious post about Bonsai Superstar is anything to go by.


Gravity Kills
Here (The Hell Everyone Misses Mix)
Manipulated
01-Apr-97

Possibly the only remix album I’ll feature in this series covering 1997, this was, as I recall, a bit hit-and-miss when it came out and twenty years has not changed my opinion a great deal. Typically of remix albums, big names phone in some takes on vastly better originals (Hi there, Al Jourgensen, PM Dawn, Praga Khan), but there are a few diamonds in the rough. Particularly the lead track, a long-forgotten artist called T.H.E.M. rebuilding Here into a much tougher-edged track that easily surpasses the album version. Then, Martin Atkins provides by far the best of five different takes on the industrial dancefloor whirlwind of Enough – by bringing the malevolent bassline originally hidden in the mix to the forefront, and it results in an intriguing rework. Remix albums are often like this, and indeed they seem to be going out of style (again).


The Chemical Brothers
Dig Your Own Hole
Dig Your Own Hole
07-Apr-97

The Chemical Brothers burst into the mainstream with this album, with two number one singles (the Noel Gallager-collaboration, and more-than-a-bit-of-a-nod to Tomorrow Never Knows, Setting Sun, and then the hulking beat monster that was Block Rockin’ Beats). But as this staggering album proved, there was so much more to them than chart hits. They dug deep into their rock influences, meshing them neatly with electro (the pulverising Elektrobank) and even starry-eyed prog in the epic closer The Private Psychedelic Reel (which is absolutely amazing live). But in addition, they were able to make tracks that simply relied on big beats and acid tweaks – where they came from of course – better than ever before, such as in the case of the wonderous title track, whose elastic, multi-layered basslines provides an amazing base for the groove and melody to actually bounce off in jaw-dropping style. I never quite worked out how to dance to it, mind – partly as the track has an almighty momentum to it that means it barely stops for breath…


Spahn Ranch
Monochrome
Architecture
08-Apr-97

Spahn Ranch, although in a very different musical realm to Lamb, took a similar idiosyncratic path. While starting out as an electro-industrial band (and I’ve never really got on with the relative primitivism of Collateral/Collateral Damage), once Athan Maroulis gave full force to his rich voice, Spahn Ranch began to find their niche, and man, was it a divisive one (an ex-girlfriend of mine, fifteen years ago or so, absolutely hated them). Architecture – at pretty much the mid-point, near enough, of their eight year existence – is actually a pretty good showing of what the band were doing.

There are well-deep basslines that come straight from dub tunes and pitch-dark drum’n’bass (Monochrome, Laurels), there are house/breaks-influenced dancefloor bangers (In The Aftermath, Incubate), glorious, tender ballads (Futurist Limited/Futurist Unlimited), not to mention an extraordinary, groovy cover of The Equals’ early anti-racism song Black Skinned Blue-Eyed Boys – the latter an initially surprising choice for a band pigeonholed into industrial, but in light of the breadth of their influences (something Athan talked about in an interview with this site last year, it actually makes a lot of sense.

Spahn Ranch were a band ahead of their time, one where following trends and “fitting in” would generally result in success – but the nineties were the one time in recent decades where this wild experimentation in “alternative” circles perhaps gave us a richer history to look back on than ever, even if we didn’t know it at the time. Industrial and dance music, of course, grew ever closer after the millenium (and maybe have diverged again since), and given trenchant views on both, perhaps we simply can’t please everyone, ever. Anyway, if you’re into industrial, but have never heard Spahn Ranch, they were worth digging into, and Architecture is an ideal starting point.

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