Posts Tagged ‘Sire Records’

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To mark the release of David Byrne’s eagerly awaited American Utopia album, here are the former Talking Heads front man’s variegated and all-too-sporadic canon of solo and collaborative albums.

America Utopia is David Byrne’s first solo album in 14 years, and only his ninth studio LP since the break-up of Talking Heads in the late 1980s. Of those nine, four have been co-headlined with other artists: Brian Eno, Fatboy Slim and St Vincent. The emphasis has been on quality rather than quantity.

But Byrne has not been sitting on his hands. Along with lecture tours, writing books and operating his own Luaka Bop and Todo Mundo labels, he has composed extensively for cinema and the stage. Byrne has, in fact, notched up more soundtracks than he has own-name projects, from big budget Hollywood productions such as Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor through to scores for experimentalist ballet choreographers Twyla Tharp and Wim Vandekeybus. Some of his best soundtracks have, happily, been released on vinyl.

Born in Scotland in 1952, but resident in the US from 1960, David Byrne has been based in New York since 1974, where he co-formed Talking Heads a few years later. He has been at the cutting edge of the avant-music scene for four decades, an achievement equalled by only a handful of musicians, one of whom is Brian Eno.

Brian Eno/David Byrne – My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts
(Sire LP, 1981)

Byrne first worked with Brian Eno in 1978, on Talking Heads’s More Songs About Buildings And Food, which Eno produced. The collaboration continued on My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, Byrne’s first album outside Talking Heads. The music is an art-rock extension of Eno’s groundbreaking 1980 collaboration with the beyond-jazz trumpeter Jon Hassell, Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics, which wove together electronica, tape manipulation and found sounds with jazz, African, Asian and Middle Eastern roots musics. Ghosts is a high-water mark in both Byrne and Eno’s catalogues, with ‘The Jezebl Spirit’ becoming an unlikely Paradise Garage classic. Remarkably, the duo did not co-headline again until 2009’s Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.

David Byrne  –  The Catherine Wheel
(Sire LP, 1981)

For a couple of years in the early 1980s, Byrne and the choreographer Twyla Tharp were an item. The Catherine Wheel, a patchwork of spacey electronica and earth-bound motor rhythms, is his score for Tharp’s Broadway-meets-ballet project of the same name, or to be precise, highlights from the score, which in theatrical performance runs for around 80 minutes. Like so much of Byrne’s stage and screen work, the music stands up well even when separated from the visuals. Alongside Byrne on vocals and guitars, contributing musicians include Brian Eno and Bernie Worrell on keyboards and synthesisers, drummer Yogi Horton and Talking Heads guitarist Jerry Harrison.

David Byrne  –  Music For The Knee Plays
(ECM LP, 1985)

Another of Byrne’s notable theatrical partnerships during the 1980s was with the iconoclastic playwright and director Robert Wilson. Music For The Knee Plays is Byrne’s part of the score for Wilson’s epic opera The Civil Wars, which also included sections by Philip Glass and Gavin Bryars. Byrne’s 19-piece collective line-up of musicians is made up almost entirely of jazz and funk horn players and his arrangements, which reference revivalist New Orleans’s outfits such as the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, effectively evoke the American Civil War-era which contextualises Wilson’s production.

David Byrne – Music For The Knee Plays Rei Momo
(Luaka Bop LP, 1989)

Byrne’s first solo outing after the break-up of Talking Heads is a heady cocktail of mambo, rumba, samba, cumbia, son and cha-cha-cha. The line-up is dominated by Cuban and Nuyorican musicians, including star stylists Celia Cruz, Willie Colón and Johnny Pacheco, augmented by Byrne and fellow vocalist Kirsty MacColl, whose husband, Steve Lillywhite, produced the album. Respectful of the traditions it celebrates without being in thrall to them, Rei Momo is a delight.

David Byrne  –  Uh-Oh
(Sire LP, 1992)

An engaging but often overlooked entry in Byrne’s canon, Uh-Oh is his post-Talking Heads flashback – poppy tunes, intricate but dance-friendly rhythms and splashes of Africana and Latin Americana. In 1992, after such daring experiments as My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, The Catherine Wheel and Music For The Knee Plays, the album was widely perceived as unadventurous and anachronistic. With hindsight and the passage of years, its straight-talking charm is more apparent.

David Byrne –  Lead Us Not Into Temptation (Music From The Film Young Adam)
(Thrill Jockey LP, 2003)

Bleak but important, this is Byrne’s noir-soaked soundtrack for the film version of Young Adam, a 1954 novel about a murder on a Scottish river barge written by the minor Scottish Beat poet and major heroin user (and recruiting sergeant) Alexander Trocchi. Byrne’s arrangements for the string section, drawn from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, add appropriately bleak textures, which are periodically lightened by Scottish folk musicians, hurdy-gurdy player Alasdair Roberts and accordionist John Somerville. Possibly Byrne’s best-realised film score to date.

David Byrne/Brian Eno  –  Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
(Todo Mundo LP, 2009)

Three decades after the historic collaboration that was My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, Byrne and Eno reunite for another high-scoring shot from left-field. What kept them? Most of the composing and recording was done by email exchange between Byrne in New York and Eno in London, and the production sets in-the-tradition gospel vocals, written and sung by Byrne, against emotionally neutral, electronic backing tracks, mostly arranged and played by Eno. If that sounds a bit semi-detached, it all, as Byrne would probably not say, starts making sense as soon as you spin the record. Eno next crops up as co-producer of ‘Everybody’s Coming To My House’ on the upcoming American Utopia.

David Byrne & St Vincent  –  Love This Giant
(4AD LP, 2012)

And three decades after the brass-centric film score for Music For The Knee Plays, Byrne dips into that well again too, this time at the suggestion of singer-songwriter St. Vincent. Lyrically, the material is concerned with the idea of human transformation, as reflected in the prosthetically-enhanced cover photo. Love This Giant is an accomplished album, but one that is not quite greater than the sum of its parts. Byrne and Vincent’s respective takes on life and music, though delightfully quirky, are a little too similar to encourage each artist out of their comfort zones.

David Byrne  –  Live From Austin TX
(New West 2xLP, 2017)

Considering the many thousands of tour miles he has notched up over the years, there are relatively few live albums in Byrne’s catalogue – notable among them are Talking Heads’s Stop Making Sense from 1984 and a 2004 collaboration with Caetano Veloso, Live At Carnegie Hall (released in 2012 but not yet on vinyl). Live From Austin TX, recorded in 2001, goes some way towards plugging the gap, including as it does material from Talking Heads and Byrne’s solo catalogues. Made with an electric quartet augmented on most tracks by an acoustic string ensemble, it was well recorded by a local TV station.

American utopia

David Byrne’s new solo record, American Utopia, is released on Todomundo / Nonesuch Records. The album includes the track Everybody’s Coming To My House, co-written with Brian Eno, featuring contributions from TTY, Happa Isaiah Barr (Onyx Collective), Mercury Prize winner Sampha, and others. American Utopia fits hand-in-hand with Byrne’s vision for his series Reasons To Be Cheerful – an ongoing series curated by Byrne of hopeful writings, photos, music, and lectures – named for the song by the late Ian Dury. Over the last year, Byrne has been collecting stories, news, ideas, and other items that all either embody or identify examples of things that inspire optimism, such as a tech breakthrough, a musical act, a new idea in urban planning or transportation – something seen, heard, or tasted. Just as the album questions the current state of society while offering solace through song, the content of the series recognizes the darkness and complexity of today while showcasing alternatives to the despair that threatens us.

While David Byrne has collaborated on joint releases with Eno, Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim), and most recently St. Vincent over the past decade, American Utopia is Byrne’s first solo album since, 2004’s Grown Backwards, also on Nonesuch. American Utopia morphed during the writing and recording process, beginning with longtime collaborator Eno, and eventually growing to include collaboration with producer Rodaidh McDonald (The xx, King Krule, Sampha, Savages) alongside a diverse cast of creative contributors including Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never), Jam City, Thomas Bartlett (St. Vincent producer, aka Doveman), Jack Peñate, and others. The album was recorded in New York City at David’s home studio, Reservoir Studios, Oscilloscope, XL Studios, and Crowdspacer Studio and in London at Livingston Studio 1

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Record Store Day 2018 will sweep America’s record shops, bringing with it performances, parties, and plenty of drool-worthy new and exclusives releases.  Uncle Tupelo (the band that predated and eventually morphed into Wilco) will release No Depression – Demos on Record Store Day. Previously released as disc two of the 2014 deluxe reissue of the landmark 1990 album, this marks the first time these tracks will be available on vinyl. Legacy will press 3000 copies.

One release we’re particularly excited about is Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression (Demos). the site and publication No Depression originally got its name from that 1990 album from Uncle Tupelo, a history former ND editor Kim Ruehl outlined in a recent piece for the Columbia Journalism Review.

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Referencing ND founding editor Peter Blackstock, Ruehl writes, “Blackstock occasionally participated in an online message board called NoDepression.AltCountry, named for the 1993 debut album of Midwest alt-country group Uncle Tupelo (who had, in turn, named their inaugural recording, No Depression, for a song The Carter Family had recorded a half-century earlier, during the Great Depression).”

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Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy, and Mike Heidorn formed the group Uncle Tupelo after the lead singer of their previous band, The Primitives, left to attend college. The trio recorded three albums for Rockville Records, before signing with Sire Records and expanding to a five-piece. Shortly after the release of the band’s major label debut album Anodyne, Farrar announced his decision to leave the band due to a soured relationship with his co-songwriter Tweedy. Uncle Tupelo split on May 1, 1994, after completing a farewell tour. Following the breakup, Farrar formed Son Volt with Heidorn, while the remaining members continued as Wilco. Although Uncle Tupelo broke up before it achieved commercial success, the band is renowned for its impact on the alternative country music scene. The group’s first album, No Depression, became a byword for the genre and was widely influential. Uncle Tupelo’s sound was unlike popular country music of the time, drawing inspiration from styles as diverse as the hardcore punk of The Minutemen and the country instrumentation and harmony of the Carter Family and Hank Williams. Farrar and Tweedy lyrics frequently referred to Middle America and the working class of Belleville.

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This Record Store Day release features a handful of exclusives, including a 1988 demo of the title track, which has never before been released on vinyl. Check out more details and a track list for No Depression (Demos) here.

Released in 1990, Uncle Tupelo’s debut album No Depression was a genuine milestone in American rock and roll, a striking fusion of traditional folk and country with post-punk innovation and hardcore ferocity. For the first time on vinyl, fans can hear Jeff Tweedy, Jay Farrar and Mike Heidorn’s legendary demo tape Not Forever, Just For Now, recorded in 1989, plus a demo of “No Depression” recorded a year earlier.

Side A 1. Outdone [1989 Demo] 2. That Year [1989 Demo] 3. Whiskey Bottle [1989 Demo] 4. Flatness [1989 Demo] 5. I Got Drunk [1989 Demo]
Side B 1. Before I Break [1989 Demo] 2. Life Worth Living [1989 Demo] 3. Train [1989 Demo] 4. Graveyard Shift [1989 Demo] 5. Screen Door [1989 Demo] 6. No Depression [1988 Demo]

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The Replacements were always going to be a risk for any label to sign in the mid eighties. The band’s reputation for sloppy live shows, drunken interviews and overall contempt for anything resembling self promotion was already legendary. Not that any of this ever worried the band, when Sire eventually signed the Mat’s in 1986 they seemed more concerned with keeping up with their local rivals Husker Du (who had just signed to Warners) than proving any doubters wrong.

Paul Westerberg always seemed to understand that for the kind of band he was going to run, danger was a part of deal. Indeed, the Replacements seemed to revel in it. One of their very first songs was a tribute to Westerberg’s great hero and soon-to-be inevitable heroin casualty Johnny Thunders. On “Johnny’s Gonna Die,” Westerberg sings with an offhand casualness: “Johnny always takes more then he needs / knows a couple chords / knows a couple leads / and Johnny’s gonna die.” The sentiment is decidedly not, “Hey, we should probably do something before Thunders finally kicks it!” It’s more like he’s noting the weather outside, an absolutely prosaic dispatch. Westerberg even ends the song with a sort of cheerful refrain of “bye, bye” — it was 10 years before Thunders would finally leave the building, but the Replacements had already skipped ahead to the eulogy.

For all of the tremendous hilarity surrounding the band’s legendary antics, the Replacements’ story is far more tragedy then comedy. The band wasn’t a suicide pact, but they were a sort of four-man Russian Roulette game. Excess bordered on mandatory. A much-repeated (and unconfirmed) story tells of Westerberg confronting the deeply troubled and dependent founding lead guitarist Bob Stinson before a show when Stinson had just finished 30 days in a detox clinic. Westerberg brings him a bottle of champagne and tells him: “Either take a drink, motherfucker, or get off my stage.” It doesn’t matter so much if this is true or not, simply because it is plausible. Being wasted was Bob Stinson’s brief in the Replacements — he really wasn’t good enough a technical player to keep around sober and levelheaded. The fact that he was eventually fired for being overly erratic is an unamusing irony.

All Shook Down [Explicit]

‘All Shook Down’ (1990)

The band’s final LP gets punished for what it’s not – a real Replacements record. Paul Westerberg began ‘All Shook Down’ as a solo effort and only shifted to include his bandmates during sessions. On its own merits, and stripped of ‘Don’t Tell a Soul’’s misguided bombast, the album is pleasant. It is fine. The steady “Merry-Go-Round” has a nice hook and Paul’s sleeve-hearted storytelling is solid – even if, as he looks back, Westerberg takes his band’s legacy more seriously than the boys did in the moment). But middling tempos and hushed shuffles make ‘All Shook Down’ the audio equivalent of beige. Stuck between being a Replacements record and a solo debut, the album doesn’t satisfy in either way. Westerberg’s pen is typically astute and nimble here, noting the soon-to-be-disastrous marriage depicted in “Nobody” and the fractious future of an unsettled newborn in “Sadly Beautiful.” It’s an album reckoning with the consequences of all that has come before. On the final track the band would ever release, “The Last,” Westerberg ruefully acknowledges: “It’s too late to run like hell.”

Star-Belly

With stints in Throwing Muses and The Breeders behind her, Tanya Donelly was more than ready to front her own alternative rock band, and Belly captured the spotlight even more firmly than those previous groups. Filled out by three musical cohorts from Donelly’s Rhode Island home base, Belly made an impressive debut with “STAR” the 1993 Sire set included a Modern Rock chart-topper in “Feed The Tree,” another MTV favorite in “Gepetto,” and brought the quartet two Grammy nominations. These 15 originals give indie dream pop plenty of appealing hooks – even if the album’s sweet-sounding vocals sometimes sing about rather strange stuff. Today we’ll wish upon a Star in honor of Tanya Donelly’s birthday.

Star was borne out of artistic restlessness, Donelly having blossomed as a songwriter in her first band, Throwing Muses, by the sessions for their fourth album The Real Ramona, becoming an equal to the band’s heretofore leader, and Donelly’s stepsister, Kristin Hersh.  Donelly came to the sessions with more than her requisite pair of songs, quickly realising elsewhere would be a better fit for the bulk of them rather than the latest Muses’ album.  Initially, that home was ostensibly The Breeders’ sophomore release:

“The songs I brought to The Real Ramona were the two that ended up on there (“Not Too Soon” and “Honeychain”), “Full Moon, Empty Heart,” “Slow Dog,” and “Gepetto” (all songs that would appear on Star).  This was around the time [the early quartet lineup of Throwing Muses] had started to dissolve so I thought, I’ll have the two on there and save the rest for The Breeders.  They had several home options for about six months there.”

In the time off between Throwing Muses albums at the turn of the 1990s, Donelly and Pixies guitarist Kim Deal collaborated on a new project, The Breeders, who released their debut Pod in 1990 largely consisting of Deal’s songs with the plan of the follow up featuring largely Donelly’s songs.  As luck would have it, that second Breeders album would become Belly’s first.

“Everything that is on Star was intended for the next Breeders album.  All the old reels I have in my basement of the demos are labeled The Breeders.  The Pixies had announced a year long, worldwide tour and Kim signed on for that.  I sort of got antsy, had already left the Muses and so I thought, I’m taking my songs and making my own band!”

In retrospect, with such a flurry of activity occurring in such a compact timeframe, the aesthetic groundwork for Star appears to have been laid in Donelly’s final pair of Muses tracks; the off-kilter, chipper pop of “Not To Soon” and the harrowing dreamlike beauty of “Honeychain” portending the two ends of Star’s spectrum.  Indeed, Donelly views the latter as forming “the bridge between my Muses and my Belly life.”

Star’s appeal is clear; its tone is impeccably balanced between oblique jangle-pop and moody dream-pop, tracks that individually would appear at odds with each other benefitting by this balance to achieve an unwitting congruity.

That said, with the exception of REM’s Automatic For The People, the upper echelon of the UK albums chart in and around February 1993 was continuously peppered with compilations of legacy pop acts with nary a blink at rising alternative acts until Suede’s debut would chart a couple months later, so how and why Star?  .

Indeed, few albums can as deftly move from the Eastern European flavours of “Angel” to “Gepetto”s jangly bounce, veering over to “White Belly”s gorgeous murk and back around to the countrified folk of “Untogether”.

While truthfully a rather sprawling album at 15 tracks over 51 minutes, Star plays small owing to its constant shift in tone reinvigorating the listener track to track.  “Dusted”s razor wire riff belongs chiseled on a Rushmore of indie rock hooks while there is nary a chorus as exuberant in the annals of indie rock as “Slow Dog”.

It’s Donelly’s unsuspecting vocal prowess that threads Star together as an album rather than a collection of songs.  Wafting vaporously into view on opener, “Someone To Die For”, she proceeds, throughout the album, to emit just enough grit and force to stay atop her band’s thunderous patches while reining back at precisely the opportune respite points.

Release date 25th January 1993

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By 1997, Dinosaur Jnr had drastically altered from the band’s original incarnation. Bassist Lou Barlow had been fired before the group had been signed to a major label in 1990. Drummer Emmett “Murph” Murphy had departed after a lackluster stint on the ’93 Lollapalooza tour. Singer-guitarist J.Mascis was the last man standing.

Newly signed to Sire Records, J.Mascis released a torrent of music in the early ’90s and put out three Dinosaur Jr. albums in the space of four years. At the height of alternative rock’s popularity, Dinosaur Jr. got played on the radio, the albums hit the charts and MTV even embraced the band . In crafting his group’s seventh album, J.Mascis took a little more time. On some of Dinosaur Jr.’s ’90s recordings, J. Mascis  was the only person featured. But it’s tough to play concerts as a power trio if you’re only one guy. Eventually, he replaced the trio’s founding members with Mike Johnson on bass and George Berz on drums. Mascis continued to have a stranglehold on the band creatively, so Dinosaur Jr.’s sound – loud, distorted with disaffected vocals from its frontman .

Also along the way, he brought in Kevin Shields Of My Bloody Valentine as an “honorary member” during the sessions for “Hand It Over”. J.Mascis and Shields had been tour mates and friends for years, so it seemed like a natural pairing, sonically.

“I remember he’d plug in different pedals and I’d play until I liked the sound, and then we’d try something with that sound,” Mascis has said, “His studio in England wasn’t too easy to work in at the time. It was weird, like a haunted house.”

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Although the Dinosaur Jr. frontman thought the experience was strange, he did like the results. Mascis would later recall that he felt he was finding new ways to be excited about his band, his songs and his music.

“I definitely felt psyched again,” he has  said . “I really liked the album, but then that was the point where the major label gave up on it and didn’t even tell anyone it came out. We went on tour and people didn’t even know it had been released. It was kind of depressing. But I really liked the album. It was just hard to tour because they basically didn’t do anything to promote it.”

J.Mascis recalls the troubles with Sire Records beginning when he handed over Hand It Over, on which he had written, sung, played a whole lot of instruments, produced and even created the cover art. He was clearly attached to this album, but the label executives were not impressed.

“I went to a meeting and heard the classic thing I never thought I’d hear, that I thought was just the silliest, stupid thing you used to hear if you go to a record company: ‘I don’t hear a single,’” Mascis said. “I couldn’t believe I’d actually heard that coming out of somebody’s mouth. I knew that was the end for sure – like, are you seriously saying that right now? It’s just such a cliché.”

Mascis stuck to his creative guns and he claimed the label punished Dinosaur Jr. with a lack of support for the record. Hand It Over came out on March 25th, 1997 to little fanfare. The record got some positive reviews, The band toured to promote Hand It Over, but to middling results. A strange occurrence allowed this version of Dinosaur Jr. to play one of its final gigs on The Jenny Jones Show (on a show titled “Grow Up! You’re Too Old to Party with Your Daughter”). J.Mascis put an end to the band by the end of 1997.

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Lou Reed / The Sire Years: Complete Albums box / 10CD set

Lou Reed / The Sire Years: Complete Albums box / 10CD set, Rhino are to release a new Lou Reed CD box set that collects the eight albums released on the Sire label during a period that spanning almost a quarter of a century.

The Sire Years: Complete Albums box kicks off with 1989’s spectacular New York album, and the rather underrated follow-up Magic and Loss. Sandwiched in between is Songs For Drella, Reed’s collaboration with Velvet Underground mucker John Cale.

That trio is the rock solid foundation for a set which also includes the last two ‘proper’ studio outings (Set the Twilight Reeling and Ecstasy) but also takes in Perfect Night in London – Reed’s acoustic live album recorded during the Meltdown ’97 festival – and the two-disc version of The Raven. Another live album, Animal Serenade (also double disc) completes the box set.

The Sire Years: Complete Albums is packaged in a clamshell box and is good value at under £3 per disc. No remastering for this set – it uses the most recent masterings available and no bonus tracks.

If you are looking to explore Reed’s solo work of this era, but aren’t interested in live material (and can live without The Raven) then the five-CD Original Album Series set highlighted here might be a better option. And it’s about 50 percent cheaper in terms of per-disc price. The packaging will be inferior though.

The Sire Years: Complete Albums is released on 30th October 2015.