Categories :

Albums

CD$12.99
13

Rock - Released March 15, 1999 | Parlophone UK

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Sélection du Mercury Prize
Blur's penitence for Brit-pop continues with the aptly named 13, which deals with star-crossed situations like personal and professional breakups with Damon Albarn's longtime girlfriend, Justine Frischmann of Elastica, and the group's longtime producer, Stephen Street. Building on Blur's un-pop experiments, the group's ambitions to expand their musical and emotional horizons result in a half-baked baker's dozen of songs, featuring some of their most creative peaks and self-indulgent valleys. Albarn has been criticized for lacking depth in his songwriting, but his ballads remain some of Blur's best moments. When Albarn and crew risk some honesty, 13 shines: on "Tender," Albarn is battered and frail, urged by a lush gospel choir to "get through it." His confiding continues on "1992," which alludes to the beginning -- and ending -- of his relationship with Frischmann. On "No Distance Left to Run," one of 13's most moving moments, Albarn addresses post-breakup ambivalence, sighing, "I hope you're with someone who makes you feel safe while you sleep." While these songs reflect Albarn's romantic chaos, "Mellow Song," "Caramel," and "Trimm Trabb" express day-to-day desperation. Musically, the saddest songs on 13 are also the clearest, mixing electronic and acoustic elements in sleek but heartfelt harmony. However, "B.L.U.R.E.M.I." is a by-the-numbers rave-up, and the blustery "Swamp Song" and "Bugman" nick Blur's old punky glam pop style but sound misplaced here. "Trailerpark" veers in yet another direction, a too-trendy trip-hop rip-off that emphasizes the band's musical fog, proving that William Orbit's kitchen-sink production doesn't serve the songs' -- or the band's -- best interests. 13's strange, frustrating combination of expert musicianship and self-indulgence reveals the sound of a band trying to find itself. With some closer editing, this could have been the emotionally deep, sonically wide album Blur yearns to make. ~ Heather Phares
CD$12.99

Rock - Released April 25, 1994 | Parlophone UK

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Sélection du Mercury Prize
Modern Life Is Rubbish established Blur as the heir to the archly British pop of the Kinks, the Small Faces, and the Jam, but its follow-up, Parklife, revealed the depth of that transformation. Relying more heavily on Ray Davies' seriocomic social commentary, as well as new wave, Parklife runs through the entire history of post-British Invasion Britpop in the course of 16 songs, touching on psychedelia, synth pop, disco, punk, and music hall along the way. Damon Albarn intended these songs to form a sketch of British life in the mid-'90s, and it's startling how close he came to his goal; not only did the bouncy, disco-fied "Girls & Boys" and singalong chant "Parklife" become anthems in the U.K., but they inaugurated a new era of Brit-pop and lad culture, where British youth celebrated their country and traditions. The legions of jangly, melodic bands that followed in the wake of Parklife revealed how much more complex Blur's vision was. Not only was their music precisely detailed -- sound effects and brilliant guitar lines pop up all over the record -- but the melodies elegantly interweaved with the chords, as in the graceful, heartbreaking "Badhead." Surprisingly, Albarn, for all of his cold, dispassionate wit, demonstrates compassion that gives these songs three dimensions, as on the pathos-laden "End of a Century," the melancholy Walker Brothers tribute "To the End," and the swirling, epic closer, "This Is a Low." For all of its celebration of tradition, Parklife is a thoroughly modern record in that it bends genres and is self-referential (the mod anthem of the title track is voiced by none other than Phil Daniels, the star of Quadrophenia). And, by tying the past and the present together, Blur articulated the mid-'90s Zeitgeist and produced an epoch-defining record. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
CD$8.99

Jazz - Released December 14, 1992 | Parlophone UK

Distinctions Sélection du Mercury Prize
Stan Tracey has long been a part of the British music scene, having played with Ted Heath's Orchestra in the 1940s. He also served as the house pianist for most of the '60s at Ronnie Scott's, where he had the opportunity to back many visiting American jazz stars, including Sonny Rollins, Zoot Sims, Dexter Gordon, and Stan Getz. Many of the pieces on Portraits Plus are dedicated to his favorite American players (though he didn't necessarily play with all of them). Leading a potent octet, the pianist begins with "Newk's Fluke," a chugging, engaging post-bop vehicle which includes a blend of Latin and Brazilian rhythms and potent ensembles. "Rocky Mount," named for Thelonious Monk's North Carolina birthplace, has the flavor of a Monk composition and a burning tenor sax solo by Art Themen. The moody "One for Gil" salutes Gil Evans, while "Clinkscales" (named for Duke Ellington's first piano teacher) is a swinging up-tempo blues that has a passionate Peter King alto sax solo. The remaining two songs are not portraits, but they round out the session very nicely. Licensed by Blue Note for issue in the United States, this excellent CD didn't remain in print long and may be getting somewhat difficult to find. ~ Ken Dryden
CD$12.99

Rock - Released January 12, 2009 | Parlophone UK

Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Music - Sélection du Mercury Prize
Natasha Khan's debut album as Bat for Lashes, Fur and Gold, was so vivid and fully realized that it was a tough act to follow: she found ways to make her wildest flights of fancy into music with the immediacy of pop and the intimacy of a singer/songwriter's confessions. It takes a lot of ambition to pull off that kind of alchemy, and that ambition defines Two Suns. Khan's sounds and visions are even more widescreen here, full of pristine electronics and heady concepts, and Scott Walker, the undisputed king of high-concept music, duets with her on the ultra-theatrical finale "The Big Sleep." Since Bat for Lashes' songs practically burst with characters and ideas, a concept album seems like a logical next step for Khan's music, but the magic her songs had previously feels dissipated this time around. Two Suns revolves around Khan's "desert-born spiritual self" and her "destructive, self-absorbed, blonde femme fatale" alter ego Pearl as it covers "the philosophy of the self and duality, examining the need for both chaos and balance, for both love and pain, in addition to touching on metaphysical ideas concerning the connections between all existence." That's a lot to pack into just 11 songs, and it's not always entirely clear just what they're about, despite motifs like "blue dreams" that run through them. Some songs are just plain overdone: "Traveling Woman" and "Peace of Mind," with its tribal rhythms and gospel choir, aim for majesty but end up dragging. Others use the album's posh polish to make an impact, like "Glass" -- on which Khan hits some amazing high notes -- and "Daniel," which nods to the poppier side of her music. The directness that made Fur and Gold's modern-day fairy tales so enchanting and moving is often missing, and nothing on Two Suns is as musically or emotionally immediate as "What's a Girl to Do?" or "Sad Eyes." However, the subtler spells Khan casts with hypnotic tracks like "Sleep Alone" and "Moon and Moon" eventually reveal their beauty. And as Two Suns unfolds, it gradually shifts from overt attempts to dazzle listeners to focusing on Bat for Lashes' greatest strengths: Khan's voice and her considerable skills at telling a story and setting a mood. Pearl may be the album's dark side, but she's responsible for some of its best songs. "Siren Song" sets her seductive false promises to dramatic pianos, while "Pearl"'s Dream," with its battles and kingdoms, is classic Bat for Lashes. "Good Love" reaffirms Khan's way with bruised ballads, and "Two Planets"' pummeling beats and swirling voices make the mystical power the rest of the album reached for crystal-clear. Ultimately, Two Suns is nearly as graceful and poetic as Bat for Lashes' best work; it's just that the album's massive concepts and sounds require a little more time and patience to unravel to get to the songs' hearts. It's clear that Khan's talent and ambition are both huge, and for her to slightly overreach is better than not aiming as high as she can. ~ Heather Phares
CD$12.99

Rock - Released July 2, 2007 | Parlophone UK

Distinctions Sélection du Mercury Prize
With Fur & Gold, Bat for Lashes -- aka Natasha Khan -- brings a fairytale quality and air of mystery to her music, performing a delicate balancing act between everyday emotions and the power of fantasy. As the title suggests, there's something gorgeous but raw about her songs, which fly from spare British chamber folk to shades of lavish rock, pop, and dance as she throws herself into stories that update the traditions of other iconic female artists. She's a warrior princess of the moors with only her steed to keep her company on "Horse and I," a song whose dramatic sweep would do Kate Bush proud; on the fable-like sensual duet "Trophy," Khan sings "creatures of mercy/shoot them down and set me free" with Björk-like urgency. Despite Fur & Gold's unabashedly mystical vibe, Khan emphasizes the reality in her magical reality, whether she makes it sound like it's perfectly natural to sing "drink his blood and he's our leader" on "The Wizard," or crafts strong heroines on songs such as "Prescilla"'s urban folk or "Sarah"'s surprising rock. The most remarkable thing -- out of a lot of remarkable things -- about Fur & Gold is the emotional power of Khan's songs. "What's a Girl to Do?" might be decorated with beautifully ghostly girl group beats and harmonies, but the pain of falling out of love is palpable. Best of all is "Sad Eyes," a love song so warm and fragile that the way it cuts to the quick when Khan sings "trying to keep it together/keep my love as light as a feather" is breathtaking. As far flung as these songs can be, they never sound scattered, and only rarely overdone: the thunderstorm-laden ballad "I Saw a Light" is the only moment that feels close to over the top. Fortunately, the final track, a soaring cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire" that shows off Khan's vulnerable, old soul voice to its finest, more than compensates. This is a vivid, accomplished, transporting debut. ~ Heather Phares
CD$12.99

Rock - Released June 19, 2000 | Parlophone UK

Distinctions Sélection du Mercury Prize
The London foursome Coldplay were early critics' darlings in their native U.K., showcasing melodic pop on a slew of EP releases and constant live shows just after the spark of the new millennium. Not as heavy as Radiohead or snobbish as Oasis, Coldplay were revealed on Parachutes as a band of young musicians still honing their sweet harmonies. Combining bits of distorted guitar riffs and swishing percussion, Parachutes was a delightful introduction and also quickly indicated the reason why this album earned Coldplay a Mercury Music Prize nomination in fall 2000. Frontman Chris Martin's lyrical wordplay is feminist in the manner of Geneva's Andrew Montgomery, but far more withered. The imagery captured on Parachutes is exquisitely dark and artistically abrasive, and the entire composition is tractable thanks to gauzy acoustics and airy percussion. Coldplay's indie rock inclinations are also obvious, especially on songs such as "Don't Panic" and "Shiver," but it's the dream pop soundscapes captured on "High Speed" and "We Never Change" that illustrate the band's dynamic passion. This basic pop was surely a refreshing effort in the face of big productions like the Spice Girls and Westlife. Parachutes deserved the accolades it received because it followed the general rule when introducing decent pop songs: keep the emotion genuine and real. And Coldplay did that without hesitation. ~ MacKenzie Wilson
CD$12.99

Rock - Released September 5, 2005 | Parlophone UK

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Sélection du Mercury Prize
Coles Corner is Richard Hawley's fourth solo offering. He still tours as a guitarist with Pulp and does session work for a number of artists, but it is clear from his catalog that his true passion lies with making his own records. His production style is simple yet elegant, warm and graceful, with lots of space for the listener to enter into. Hawley's love of Roy Orbison, Elvis, and Scott Walker has left the best possible mark on him as a singer and songwriter: He understands that in writing a song, the most important thing is to make it immediately available to the listener as either a lived or desired experience. He paints his lyrics with melodies to get that across, then records with the intention of creating a world at once familiar and somehow utterly dreamy, timeless. Coles Corner is an intimate collection of love songs (most of them broken), where sadness and melancholy are carefully housed in forms and frames that understand the weight of the emotion communicated without letting the emotion overwhelm the song itself. They are saturated in tenderness and the heart of true romantic, not self pity or bitterness.. Coles Corner is an actual place, a corner in Sheffield, Hawley's hometown, where people have met and encountered one another by chance, to hang out, rendezvous, and commiserate since 1905. This song cycle reflects the hope experienced in some of those chance encounters as it flowers and then withers and dies. Sounds like a downer, but Hawley's melancholy is so rich and empathetic, so devoid of self pity and self assessment, it is anything but. The opening title track is like the beginning of as a suite or a film score. The Colin Elliot arranged strings ease in John Trier's piano and Hawley's voice, offering a snapshot from a man who stands alone on that corner, looking, waiting, deciding. His willingness to step out into a world of chance, into the world of people who all know what he feels is stirring. The ballad portays a world seen from outside; the protagonist's desire to enter becomes his movement toward something unknown and unexpected. "Just Like the Rain" is its mirror image, a song fueled by thin, shimmering guitars, articulated against restlessness and a desire for return, to find the ghost that has haunted the narrator. Here, echoes of Mickey Newbury's and Johnny Cash's stylized country story songs ("Sleep Alone") Charlie Rich's and Roy Orbison's balladry ("Darlin Wait for Me") permeate Hawley's delivery; they alternate with traces of Walker, Jacques Brel, and even the Frank Sinatra of "In the Wee Small Hours" ("The Ocean") to incarnate something completely and utterly his own. "Hotel Room," is an old-school rock & roll crooned ballad that iterates the magical nature of a tryst that feels like it exists outside of time and space and the margins of the universe are demarcated by four walls and the bed that is the lovers' sanctuary. And so it goes. Reveries, nostalgia, longed-for wishes, regret, sadness, and the bittersweet mark of the beloved left on the heart of the left and lost. Early rock & roll and rockabilly, country, traces of the vintage-'40s pop, jazz, and blues, fall together on a dimly lit, intimate streetcorner that has witnessed it all. Hawley's guitar sound rings like a voice from another era; it underscores both emotion and story in his voice. There isn't a moment on Coles Corner that doesn't stand up, doesn't fall into the next, giving them all uncommon, even singular depth and dimension. And the singer's voice conjures shadows, glimmers of soft light, street lamps, tears, and the sound of lonely steps on a rainy midnight street. Coles Corner is expertly assembled and executed. It is magical and utterly lovely. ~ Thom Jurek
CD$12.99

Rock - Released June 13, 2005 | Parlophone UK

Distinctions Sélection du Mercury Prize
CD$12.99

Rock - Released June 25, 2001 | Parlophone UK

Distinctions Sélection du Mercury Prize
Ed Harcourt certainly has a grasp of atmospherics, and he's steeped -- some would say marinated -- in his influences. There are some really marvelous tracks on Here Be Monsters, the songwriter's debut album. "Something in My Eye," which is lush with trumpet and strings, has an evocative tune and a vocal in a languid stupor, while "Beneath the Heart of Darkness" sports a great lead-in and such witty, ear catching lyrics as "spluttering like an army of artillery sporadically firing." The ending veers into the experimental, with a hurricane of noisy static before a calm resolution. "Wind Through the Trees," sounds like the forlorn hand of Erik Satie skittering its way across a piano, with the dreamy refrain "You can't run from me/'cos I'm the wind through the trees." Beautiful. Other tracks warranting further ear time are "These Crimson Tears," with its cello and muted trumpet wafting after-hours from some jazz club alleyway, and "Apple of My Eye," which has a mock Motown/spiritual vibe, with handclaps and a much beefier vocal than the one featured on the earlier Maplewood EP. What remains is less noteworthy, and the penultimate track, "Shanghai," comes with an awful, possibly ironic guitar break, and sounds like a Buggles reject. It's a baffling puzzler given what preceded it, making one wonder about the artist's allegedly vast back catalog and his possibly tenous hold on quality control. This artist contains multitudes, though, and it looks like the gifted ones are in the ascendant. Follow his upward trajectory. ~ Mark Joseph
CD$12.99

Rap/Hip-Hop - Released February 4, 2002 | Parlophone UK

Distinctions Sélection du Mercury Prize
British soul woman Beverley Knight has yet to be fully embraced by the record-buying public despite possessing perhaps one of the most phenomenal voices around. The disappointing chart performances of her first two albums, The B-Funk and Prodigal Sista, cemented the belief that while her talent is unquestionable, her material just isn't strong enough to propel her into the mainstream. This, however, should all change with Who I Am, a well-produced collection of contemporary R&B songs that is just as confident and self-assured as her more celebrated U.S. contemporaries. The feisty first single, "Get Up," sets the tone immediately, allowing Knight to show off her astonishing vocals amidst some slinky dancehall rhythms. Elsewhere, the funky "Same" channels '80s Prince just as convincing as OutKast, while "Whatever's Clever" is the kind of powerhouse R&B that En Vogue innovated in the early '90s. The ballads are just as strong. "Fallen Soldier," a tribute to murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, is a stripped-down acoustic number filled with raw emotion; "Bestseller Mystery," with its slide guitar, sounds like a lost blues classic; and "Beautiful Contradiction" is a soothing soulful duet with Stevie Wonder sound-alike Musiq (Soulchild). Occasionally, the album veers into the kind of bland MOR territory that has often blighted Britain's more recent soul singers (Mica Paris, Shara Nelson). "Hurricane Jane" is rather monotonous, tune-free neo-soul, and "Gold"'s dated-sounding production positions Knight as more of a lounge singer than an accomplished R&B talent. But overall, Who I Am is still a colossal leap. After seven years of being an also-ran, Knight now has the material to back up her world-class vocals. The big time surely awaits. ~ Jon O'Brien
CD$12.99

Rap/Hip-Hop - Released February 4, 2002 | Parlophone UK

Distinctions Sélection du Mercury Prize
British soul woman Beverley Knight has yet to be fully embraced by the record-buying public despite possessing perhaps one of the most phenomenal voices around. The disappointing chart performances of her first two albums, The B-Funk and Prodigal Sista, cemented the belief that while her talent is unquestionable, her material just isn't strong enough to propel her into the mainstream. This, however, should all change with Who I Am, a well-produced collection of contemporary R&B songs that is just as confident and self-assured as her more celebrated U.S. contemporaries. The feisty first single, "Get Up," sets the tone immediately, allowing Knight to show off her astonishing vocals amidst some slinky dancehall rhythms. Elsewhere, the funky "Same" channels '80s Prince just as convincing as OutKast, while "Whatever's Clever" is the kind of powerhouse R&B that En Vogue innovated in the early '90s. The ballads are just as strong. "Fallen Soldier," a tribute to murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, is a stripped-down acoustic number filled with raw emotion; "Bestseller Mystery," with its slide guitar, sounds like a lost blues classic; and "Beautiful Contradiction" is a soothing soulful duet with Stevie Wonder sound-alike Musiq (Soulchild). Occasionally, the album veers into the kind of bland MOR territory that has often blighted Britain's more recent soul singers (Mica Paris, Shara Nelson). "Hurricane Jane" is rather monotonous, tune-free neo-soul, and "Gold"'s dated-sounding production positions Knight as more of a lounge singer than an accomplished R&B talent. But overall, Who I Am is still a colossal leap. After seven years of being an also-ran, Knight now has the material to back up her world-class vocals. The big time surely awaits. ~ Jon O'Brien