Lazron’s Top Albums of 2016

2016, the year everyone loved to hate ! As with most years, there were a few albums that REALLY grabbed and stayed with me, and 2 of them seem to have gone completely under the radar (no better time to check them out !).

300One of my favourite releases of the year was actually a sort of re-release, albeit with half an albums worth of newly discovered, never released cuts. I really struggled with whether or not I should include it on the main list, but reasoned that I would keep my Top 10 for “New” albums, but spotlight the re-release on its own. I also discovered 3 great TV Soundtracks this year, but again decided to keep them off the main list, as all 3 had so many tracks, I just don’t know how often I’ll revisit them, separate from the shows themselves of course.

While my list doesn’t contain some albums that many seemed to love (Beyonce, Kanye, Chance, Solange, Bon Iver, Radiohead, Bowie, Danny Brown, Common, Iggy Pop, De La, etc), none of them really clicked with me personally, as entire albums. Pretty much all of them contained some good stuff, but just didn’t grab me on a consistent enough basis to include them in the list. That said, it pleases me greatly that so much music connected with listeners this year. It’s always a beautiful thing to see, and I always look forward to seeing what worked and didn’t work for people this year.

12722017 has a lot of gems on the horizon. I’m personally looking forward to new records from Arctic Monkeys, Nas, Jungle, Electric Guest, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Royal Blood, Kasabian, The Slew, The Shins, TRDMRK, Alexandra Savior, Noel Gallagher, Queens of the Stone Age & of course, the physical release of RTJ 3. I hope you discovered a lot of new gems this year, and maybe some of my picks will work for you like they did for me !

Happy New Year, and enjoy the list !!

742Honourable Mentions

GrapefruitYesterday’s Sunshine (1967-68)

grapefruit_webGrapefruit were one of the unfortunate 60’s bands that had the chops, songs & opportunity, but just didn’t blow up quickly enough. They were named by John Lennon, and even had a song produced by Lennon & McCartney ! Unfortunately, their original lineup only released one (excellent) album, 1968’s “Around Grapefruit”, before switching their sound towards Hard Rock for their second (and final) album, 1969’s “Deep Water” (which did have some good tracks, but was like a completely different band).

Grapefruit’s principle songwriter, George Alexander (aka Alexander Young) was the brother of both George Young (of The Easybeats) and Malcolm Young (of AC/DC). Despite his connection to rock royalty, Grapefruit’s timing just didn’t work out, and they broke up in late 1969. Their first record was remixed & re-recorded, but the Lennon/McCartney produced track was never released, nor were the original (non remixed) recordings, or a handful of other non-LP tracks. That situation was rectified this year with the (CD and digital only) release of “Yesterday’s Sunshine”.

This release really shines a light on what could have been, and in some ways adds to the tragedy of losing a great band too soon, as seen all too often in groups like Honeybus, The Family Tree & The World of Oz, among others. While an LP release would have been outstanding, having these recordings finally see the light of day was a joy to be a part of.

Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed MuhammadLuke Cage OST

coverI’m pleased to admit I was wrong in my apprehension of Disney taking over Marvel (and Star Wars), much less of partnering with Netflix (a then-unknown factor, original content wise). There was a valid fear that the material would be handled with kid gloves, glossing over any violence or adult themes. Thankfully those fears were unfounded, as evidenced by all 4 seasons of Marvel Netflix TV thus far. They’ve been exactly what they needed to be, and handled with the utmost respect to the source material.

Having just finished Luke Cage, I must admit that I found it to be the lesser of the 4 seasons created for Marvel Netflix so far. This is less a knock on LC and more a praise of Daredevil & Jessica Jones. All 3 shows have their issues, but I found that Luke Cage took the longest to get going, and suffered from some problematic writing and odd choices (or lack thereof). That said, I did enjoy the series, and wouldn’t hesitate to watch a second season (I look forward to the upcoming “The Defenders”, starring JJ, DD, LC & the upcoming Iron Fist).

One of the things that worked so well for the show was it’s soundtrack. Roping in a legend in Ali Shaheed Muhammad, partnered with a modern gem like Adrian Younge was a bold and clever decision. Ironically, both producers were contacted separately, without the knowledge that they had just recorded an album together in secret ! Sometimes these things just have a way of working out. Using the club setting to have an array of musical performers was a smart choice. Coupling that with a 90’s throwback feel, the music ended up working better than some of the writing on the show itself !

Kyle Dixon & Michael SteinStranger Things OST

coverMore Netflix love, more “It was good, but …” ! Stranger Things took the world by storm and became the Must See TV of that month. While I wasn’t head over heels, lose your mind in love with the show, it did maintain my interest throughout. I have a lot of respect for the filmmakers, they really came out of nowhere with this love letter to the 80’s, an era I reluctantly admit to being born in. In some ways I was reminded of what Tarantino has done with his work, a veritable “Best Of”, influences wise. Certainly not a knock on the show, as I think it achieved exactly what it set out to do.

One of the biggest draws for me (and many others) was the throwback soundtrack that anchored the series throughout. It became one of the rare scores that can stand on it’s own two feet, separate from the source material itself. It reminded me a bit of the semi-recent score for “Turbo Kid”, a film I’d highly recommend for those into 80’s throwback type stuff. This score road the Synthwave wave, along with many others, right into the hearts of 30+ somethings everywhere,

Much like with Luke Cage, Stranger Things has such an enormous amount of tracks (75 in total), I just didn’t feel that I would revisit it enough to justify a place on my Top 10. It’s great in doses, and I love that public demand lead to an LP release, as well as a second season (and presumably more music to come with it). This score has a definite feel, and it’s pretty special that they were able to capture it so long after the era it emulates.

Ramin DjawadiWestworld OST

coverSpeaking of shows that took the (west) world by storm & were intrinsically linked to their scores, Westworld was another brain melter that gave just as much as it needed to, while making us wait 2 years for a follow up season (and score). Being set partially in a saloon, barroom piano music was integral to the shows DNA. The idea of including modern music, albeit in ragtime style, was brilliant and worked perfectly with the shows esthetic.

I was reminded at times of another HBO show with an excellent, piano driven score – The Leftovers. Both shows use their themes (piano and otherwise) to great effect, both rely on an extremely dramatic undercurrent, broken up with very occasional levity. As The Leftovers gears up for its third and final season, at least we’ll have Westworld to continue providing us with our delightful, piano-riffic score fix.

While Westworld did have far less tracks than Stranger Things and Luke Cage, I still wasn’t convinced that it would receive a ton of play from me over the years, as a complete album. While there are a handful of tracks that I loved and will absolutely revisit, it JUST missed the final 10 cut. Still, it’s well worth a listen.

The 2016 Top 10 List

10) The Last Shadow PuppetsEverything You’ve Come to Expect

music-review-last-shadow-puppets

I must confess, I was not the biggest fan of the first Last Shadow Puppets LP. As a huge Alex Turner fan, I was really excited to check out a non-Arctic Monkeys collaboration. Unfortunately, I found the first record to be a bit lost under its orchestration, some good efforts, but overall a bit aimless and overblown. The tools and skills were all there, but it was quite a disappointment after the excellence of Arctic Monkeys.

Luckily, LSP have honed their collaboration on this sophomore effort, bringing everything they do well and crafting some quality tracks in the process. While I can’t say that this is on the level of Arctic Monkeys’ output, it was never meant to be. As a side project between two friends and fellow musicians, it’s a very pleasing release.

9) The CoralDistance Inbetween

cover

I must confess, I have been a massive fan of The Coral for quite some time. Their first single, “Dreaming of You”, was an instant classic, although it took my awhile to warm up to the first record itself. It wasn’t until the first single from their sophomore release, “Pass It On”, that I went back and was blown away by the first LP. The early 2000’s were a magical time for that style of 60’s throwback rock. The Coral & The Zutons were probably my two favourites, but so many bands came out of that time, thanks to the sound The Coral brought to the fore.

Unfortunately, breaking into the US market wasn’t really in the cards. I was lucky enough to see them (and later The Zutons) in Toronto around 2003, but the place was only about half full. As each record passed, they transitioned to more of an acoustic, A/C style that was of less interest to me. In some ways I felt like Arctic Monkeys picked up where they left off, but I’d always hoped The Coral would return to their rock roots. Luckily, they did ! While “Distance Inbetween” isn’t perfect, it’s most definitely a return to form, and a gift to fans who stuck it out all these years.

8) CzarfaceA Fistful of Peril

limited-get-on-down-variant-cover-czarfaceIn some ways, I kind of view Czarface as an alternate universe Run the Jewels. Both groups have just released their third record, both have a white rapper and a black rapper who was previously in a classic hip hop group & both are able to be geeky at times while still maintaining an edge. Plus, ridiculous production, you gotta have that. Unlike RTJ though, Czarface has kind of stayed below the radar, well known to hip hop heads, but yet to achieve the universal acclaim enjoyed by RTJ.

With that said, Czarface have brought the heat yet again, proving that their chemistry and artistry is no fluke. Their devotion to a comic cover aesthetic is admirable, and enviable, a perfect fit for the multitude of comic references littered throughout. Ironically, Run the Jewels did a series of comic book covers for Marvel last year, something that probably made Czarface more envious than any other accolade RTJ has amassed. Still, all comparisons aside, as listeners WE are the real winners, getting to enjoy both albums before the dawn of 2017.

7) A Tribe Called QuestWe Got It From Here … Thank You 4 Your Service

frontBy all accounts, this is a record that should not even exist. Up until this year, and especially with the untimely death of Phife Dawg, it seemed that Tribe’s legacy would end with the uneven “The Love Movement”. Of course, regardless of that, ATCQ would have gone out with no less than 3 Classics (depending on who you ask), which is more than most groups can say in their lifetime. That said, we were blessed with a final record, made in secret & unleashed when nobody was expecting it. The problem was, could it possibly EVER live up to the hype and legacy ?

Well … no. Much like a new Beatles album, there’s simply no way to please millions of fans, many who had been following the group from their onset. Luckily, it really only needed to be better than TLM, and it certainly was ! As a 2016 Hip Hop release, Tribe delivered. As a late period addition to their catalogue, Tribe delivered. As an Instant Classic that will stand the test of time next to their other gems ? Well … just enjoy it for what it is.

6) The AvalanchesWildflower

2d3bd6cf9de70afb8992874acb2b5599-1000x1000x1Speaking of lengthy waits between records, how about 16 years between first and second albums ? True, Tribe went 18 years, but that was after a breakup and 5 albums ! It was starting to look like we would never see a follow up from The Avalanches, and the pressure was intense, considering how lauded their debut was. Amidst health issues and throwing out albums to start from scratch, 2016 was finally the year we got to hear another transmission from the top of the mountain. But was it worth the wait ?

Well … again, I suppose that depends on what type of listener you are. Their debut, “Since I Left You”, is on such a pedestal, it’s almost impossible to top or equal (for most diehards). It’s a situation many electronic artists struggle with, from RJD2, DJ Shadow, Fingathing, Portishead, Tricky and onward. Thankfully, “Wildflower” meshes very well, and rewards repeat listens. Its release also spurned a re-pressing of their debut, so if you end up hating this one, you can finally afford a copy of the other one !

5) Wax TailorBy Any Beats Necessary

recto-def-1024x1024Wax Tailor is sorely underappreciated, and virtually unknown in many places. I actually wasn’t too familiar with his work until about 2 years ago, but better late than never ! While I find some of his LP’s a bit uneven, “In the Mood for Life” really blew me away (and is highly recommended). Still, that record came out 7 years ago, and with any artist (much less a DJ or Producer) there is always the chance that the magic is lost, or at least, not consistent enough to carry an entire album.

Luckily, WT has delivered an enjoyable, partly Blues-based effort that flows nicely and doesn’t sound derivative of his earlier material. I can’t say that it reaches the heights of “In the Mood for Life”, but it does have elements of that release, as well as his other projects. Last year he released a live, orchestral backed album which was essentially a Best Of. That release dovetails nicely into this one, and both are certainly worth a listen.

4) WeezerThe White Album

weezer-weezer-white-album-2016Well, if you’d told me that a 2016 Weezer album would crack my Top 10 list (much less Top 5), I’d have said you were a piece of human garbage for spreading such lies. Yet, here we are ! Sorry for the cruel remark. Anyway, like most people, I really dug the first 2-ish Weezer records, then tuned out entirely for several (horrific sounding) albums. I felt no real urge to listen to them, neither their old OR new material. That said, I started hearing rumbles that this was a pretty solid return to form, then I found the whole thing on youtube anyway, so why not gamble with 30 minutes for an old favourite ?

As it turns out, the rumours were true. This is easily Weezers best front to back album since Pinkerton (which in some ways isn’t saying much, but is actually pretty astounding if you think about it). The way I describe it is, if you EVER liked Weezer, you’ll find something to love about this album (perhaps all of it). It would certainly be easy to dismiss, and many who haven’t heard it (or Weezer in years) will sneer and ignore it. It is what it is, but what it is may be of interest to you.

3) Boogie BelgiqueVolta

coverSpeaking of underrated producers, Boogie Belgique  is another who has released several excellent albums, but remained relatively obscure in most non-European places. BB’s style is largely Electro Swing based, meaning he combines old jazz tunes with new electro beats to make catchy and timeless new tunes (ideally). I was a bit concerned for this album, as his last 2 haven’t been front to back perfect, but I was still excited enough to pre-order it.

Luckily, BB stuck the landing and delivered arguably his most accomplished album to date. It draws on elements of his previous records, but feels BIGGER, especially production wise. I still worry that he may have reached his peak (especially if this doesn’t land), but this is one of the best records of the year. I truly hope it reaches as many ears as possible.

2) Run the JewelsRTJ3

runthejewels3Well, they’ve done it again. This time they shocked us all by dropping RTJ3 on Christmas Day, for free. Another astounding move by a group that has done so much in such a small amount of time. For Hip Hop fans, this was one of (if not the) most highly anticipated releases of the year. I have to admit, I was a bit disappointment when they moved the release to January, but anything worth having is worth waiting for (plus, I didn’t really have a choice either way).

Luckily, the album is a gem (as assumed). Easily the Hip Hop release of the year (sorry Kanye / Chance) & a triumphant conclusion to the RTJ Trilogy. Who knows what their next step will be (apart from a massive world tour), but RTJ have built up a ton of goodwill with fans, and an impressive discography. In the end, we are all witnesses …

1) La FemmeMystere

la_femme_mystere_albumLast (first?) but not least, another underrated band who will likely miss out on most End of Year lists. I had the great fortune of seeing La Femme in Montreal this year, and it was a fantastic experience (muddy sound mixing notwithstanding). Their first record, “Psycho Tropical Berlin” was another under the radar release, finishing 2nd on my Top 10 that year, second only to Arctic Monkeys’ stellar “AM”. It didn’t seem right to bump LF again, so here they are, alone at the top !

Now, of course, this won’t be for everybody. I know that some people just don’t care to listen to non-English music, and I must confess that La Femme are the only french band I listen to. That said, they make an eclectic and appealing blend of Dreamy Pop, with Rock, Rap and even Dance elements at times. Kind of a mix between Serge Gainsbourg, Portishead, Radiohead, Phantogram & Sigur Ros ? Maybe ? All that really matters is, they write great tunes, put on a great show & have released 2 highly enjoyable albums. Check them out, it just might be up your alley !

 

And that is that ! Hope you guys dug the list, and that maybe some of it works its way into your ears ! Have a great year, and keep the music coming !

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10 Great Lesser Known 60’s Psych/Pop Albums You May Love

One thing I love about music is the thrill of the hunt, the crate-digging (virtual or actual) that eventually pays off in the discovery of a previously unknown gem. Of course, the gems are often few and far between, sandwiched between Moe Koffman comps and Lithuanian hip hop albums (if you’re lucky).

It can often be discouraging when one thinks of the onslaught of albums already released and the plethora still released on a weekly basis. It can be exhausting and nearly impossible to wrap your head around, yet all the more rewarding when a new gem is unearthed.

I’ve always taken it upon myself to pass on such gems to those I felt would glean that same joy from them. It began with passing along mixtapes, emailing mp3’s, even swapping vinyls with like-minded individuals. One of my favourite things about working at HMV was the ability to pass on recommendations to those who would otherwise not have enjoyed them. Well, that and the deep discount on vinyl.

All of this leads us to today’s (long gestating) post. I pride myself on having a wide breadth of knowledge and tastes when it comes to music. I love Folk, Rap, Rock, Blues, Electronic, (old) Country, even Classical. To me, a good song is a good song, regardless of genre.

That said, arguably my favourite style of music is 60’s/70’s Psychedelic Pop. A lot of it is the production, the feel of the music itself, the inherent catchiness of oh so many “Beatle-esque” groups to follow the wake of mania. For me, there’s just something about a catchy 3 minute 60’s psych-pop track with gorgeous harmonies and interesting production. I can’t explain it much more than to dub it a sort of aural magic, rarely mastered but always welcome.

Over the years I’ve sifted through countless of these albums, 90% of them subpar or good for 1 or 2 decent tracks. In a genre championed by many Nuggets-type compilations, finding a lesser known front to back quality album is next to impossible.

For that reason, and of course my love of passing on great albums, I decided to compile a list of 10 great lesser known 60’s Pop-Psych albums that you may love (thus the title). Obviously I avoided well known classics like “Odessey and Oracle” or “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake”, but in my opinion all 10 of these underrated classics deserves a place in your heart.

1) Nirvana – The Story of Simon Simopath (1967)

Nirvana - The Story of Simon Simopath (1967)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nl2ygWrUhw

Not to be confused with that “other” band (who they later sued), this 1967 gem was one of the first concept albums (and not the only one to be featured on this list). It tells the story of Simon Simopath, from life to death. Running a scant 25 minutes in length, TSOSS races by, but never feels rushed. It plays as a complete experience rather than a collection of tracks, though “Lonely Boy” and “1999” are enjoyable standouts.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xoG7BZnfvKE

nirvana2Nirvana was essentially a duo who hired extra studio musicians to complete their albums and play various shows / television appearances (including a memorable one in which they were covered in black paint by Salvador Dali. Weird). They’ve since regrouped and have continued to play shows to this day (much to the chagrin of confused grunge fans everywhere).

Their follow up album “All of Us” (containing their two best known tracks, “Rainbow Chaser” and the title track) is enjoyable in its own right, but for my money, “Simon” is where it’s at.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g62F3iUI8yM

2) The Family Tree – Miss Butters (1968)

buttershttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4i78Qoaa7M

“Miss Butters” is an album that should really have a much larger following than it does. It’s catchy and well written (one of the songs is co-written by Harry Nilsson himself), truly a delight from start to finish. The first time I discovered it I couldn’t believe it had eluded my ears for so long. Much like Simon Simpopath, Miss Butters is one of the earliest concept albums and tells the story of its title character, from birth to death.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBcQYbjoGog

84135The Family Tree was the brainchild of Bob Segarini, a man I was lucky enough to speak with and properly thank for creating such a gem of a record. “Miss Butters” was their only full length record, though they did record a handful of other singles before disbanding. It’s interesting to note that “Miss Butters” was produced and arranged by the same two men who worked on Nilsson’s “Aerial Ballet” (another favourite of mine). Their skills certainly lend a wonderful, almost ethereal quality to the proceedings.

In my mind “Miss Butters” is one of the greatest lesser known 60’s pop records of all time. The story is interesting and well told, the music is timeless and the harmonies can’t be beat. Simply put, “Miss Butters” is the kind of record you spend a lifetime digging crates to find.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45W6wQiy6RU

3) Grapefruit – Around Grapefruit (1968)

Grapefruit - Around Grapefruit [1968]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNO9KXAm23c

I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t come across this record until earlier this year, but it’s easily one of the best albums on this list. The production, the vocals, the hooks, the weird cover art, it’s all here ! I remember listening to this for the first time and praying that it would maintain its quality throughout the entire record. Luckily for me (and you), it’s not only an enjoyable record from start to finish, it even has a great b-side (“The Dead Boot”) !

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZzFif7tSt4

Grapefruit-Around-the-BBCGrapefruit were an interesting band for a number of reasons. One of their members (George Alexander, born Alexander Young) was the brother of AC/DC founders Malcolm and Angus Young as well as George Young of The Easybeats (impressive family). In addition to this, they were named by none other than John Lennon himself (after Yoko Ono’s book “Grapefruit”). They were originally signed to Apple Records, though the label was not up and running in time and “Around Grapefruit” was released by Decca instead.

Despite releasing a few relatively successful singles, the record was not nearly as successful as all involved had hoped it would be. For their second (and last) record “Deep Water” they ditched their psych-pop sound entirely, favouring a harder rock sound (much to the chagrin of their fanbase). Again, success eluded them and Grapefruit disbanded, leaving behind a gorgeous pop masterpiece just waiting to be discovered.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V920QCpX3LU&list=PLFBA375907CCA4341

(Sidenote – In their defence, “Deep Water” did have the awesome “Universal Party”, which really should have been a hit. Truly a band gone too soon)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7osvKNBR2Q

4) The Idle Race – Birthday Party (1968)

bpartyhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhLs4Q8OguQ

Unlike most of the groups on this list, The Idle Race are somewhat better known. This is mostly due to their singer/songwriter, the incomparable Jeff Lynne. Before he jumped ship to join The Move, ELO, The Traveling Wilburys or write/produce Tom Petty’s biggest hits, Lynne anchored The Idle Race and made this incredible record. The Beatles influence is undeniable, but never comes across as subpar or ripped off. Lynne’s ear for melody and songwriting chops are incredible, making this genuinely feel like a lost Beatles album at times.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUfMre3-Kg0

idle_bannerIt’s ironic that Lynne is the least recognizable of The Traveling Wilburys, as he was arguably the most prolific. He was in no less than 4 groups who released multiple albums, he released 2 solo albums, wrote and recorded for countless artists (including re-invigorating the career of one of his heroes, George Harrison) and when someone needed to sift through and produce the 2 “lost” Beatles Anthology tracks (“Free as a Bird” and “Real Love”) it was Lynne that was brought on board to essentially be the 5th Beatle.

The results of those sessions were astounding, especially considering what he had to work with. It all began with The Idle Race, and even then his talents were easy to hear. Lynne left the group after their second album was released. The Idle Race soldiered on with a Lynne-less third record (which actually wasn’t bad), but “The Birthday Party” was truly their masterpiece.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLlBCLYO0FU

5) The Move – The Move (1968)

the-move-the-move-1968http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5izMtCJTno

Speaking of “The Move”, one could argue that they were actually not so lesser known. They had 9 top 20 UK hits in a 5 year span and were actually quite successful there. That said, and like countless british bands before and since, success in the United States always eluded them.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HOUJGHVrUg

themoveFounded in 1965, The Move are probably best known for eccentric singer/songwriter Roy Wood. Wood had become friends with Jeff Lynne and offered to bring him on as a member of The Move, though Lynne initially declined, preferring to focus on The Idle Race instead. While Lynne would eventually join The Move for their third and fourth albums, it’s their self titled debut album that’s always stuck with me.

Oddly enough, The Move had arguably better non-album tracks than album tracks, especially for their second and third albums. Tracks like “Blackberry Way”, “This Time Tomorrow”, “Curly” and “Tonight” were among their strongest. I would also reccomend Wood’s 1973 solo album “Boulders”, another underrated gem.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3f9t_ia3FE

6) The Paper Garden – The Paper Garden (1969)

The Paper Garden album by Paper Garden-1968http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjI9ywWOUMY

The Paper Garden is another band that I only recently discovered. Unlike most of the other bands on this list, The Paper Garden were an american group, hailing from New York. This obscure album was to be their only release, though that almost adds to it’s appeal.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQRR5s6yLcE

bThe sound of the album is something of an amalgamation of Grapefruit, The Zombies, Nirvana and even a bit of Pink Floyd. While not nearly as flawless a release as, say, “Miss Butters” or “Around Grapefruit”, the production is excellent and some of the songs are absolute gems (especially “Gypsy Wine” and “Mr. Mortimer”). All in all, a pleasing listen with a bit of clutter here and there.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjI9ywWOUMY&list=PLAFE464A2A135C113

7) The Poppy Family – Which Way You Goin’ Billy? (1969)

poppy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7F94g9EaXO8

The lone Canadian act on this list, The Poppy Family were best known for the title track of this album, the worldwide smash “Which way you goin’ Billy ?”. Oddly enough, it’s the one track on here that I don’t really care for. I mean, it’s okay, but a bit sacchirine, and nowhere near as good as the rest of the album.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlke44q6JIg

tumblr_m4ystfOlzW1rvvx1oo1_500The Poppy Family were essentially husband and wife duo Terry and Susan Jacks. This album featured two additional musicians, but they were both released following this record. The Poppy Family released one more album before divorcing and heading off into solo careers, but it was much more of a country record than a psych-pop one (sadly).

I first heard their music when I discovered a stack of records in a vacant lot near my apartment. One of those records was their “Beyond the Clouds / Free from the City” single. I really dug the sound of it and quickly tracked down the surrounding album. Interestingly, I realized that I’d heard elements of two tracks (“What Can the Matter Be?” and “Of Cities and Escapes”) sampled on the classic debut hip hop record by Deltron 3030. Neat !

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbaDQyfDlRM

8) The World of Oz – The World of Oz (1969)

Oz - Fronthttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JA-zKzB5ujM

Don’t let the name or cover art fool you, this album has nothing to do with the L Frank Baum stories. Like most 60’s psych-pop bands, The World of Oz faded into obscurity after releasing their lone album. Unlike most of those bands however, they were signed by the famous Deram label and given the use of a 33 piece orchestra. The results sound amazing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PiFwvsK9ny4

hqdefaultWhile lyrical depth is not something they were known for, the lush production and angelic vocals really set this record apart from the legions of other pop offerings. Their best known track, “The Muffin Man”, is a bit silly, but damn if it doesn’t lodge itself into your brain. There’s certainly a “Twee” element to a lot of their material, but the harmonies and orchestral backing are transcendant at times.

Despite releasing a few moderately successful follow up singles, The World of Oz faded into obscurity. Likely they were hindered by listeners who confused them with some sort of Oz tie-in soundtrack. The album has since become a highly sought collectable. In addition, they too had a great b-side (“Peter’s Birthday”). All in all, the album may not be high art, but it sure tastes sweet to the ears.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjcbkgSDrMo

9) Honeybus – Story (1970)

Honeybus-Storyhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmXN_5pXYjo

Much like “Around Grapefruit”, “Story” is an incredible record that deserves to be known as a classic. Honeybus are mainly known for their hit song “I Can’t Let Maggie Go”. As good as that song is, it certainly doesn’t prepare you for their full length record. Oddly enough, it isn’t even ON their record, though it certainly doesn’t suffer for it’s exclusion.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btHlHDWyXd0

Honeybus-2

Honeybus are a bit of an odd case. The man who wrote their biggest hit (Pete Dello) left the group before they began recording “Story” and doesn’t even feature on the album ! Essentially, the group was forever linked with a song that someone no longer part of the group had written. You’d think his departure would have an adverse effect, but as it turned out, members Ray Cane and Colin Hare were both gifted songwriters in their own right.

Somewhat like The Zombies after the completion of “Odessey and Oracle”, Honeybus broke up before their record had a chance to catch on. Dello would later re-join the group for a second album (which was recorded but never released), but further success was sadly not to be. Both Dello and Hare released excellent solo albums in the early 70’s, but the feel of the original record may never be topped.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yF61kPhqvwM&list=PLB933A41659C76EFE

10) The Pretty Things – Parachute (1970)

170786http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnGNDJvZS_w

While technically a cheat (since this was released in 1970), this album was just too good to omit. I’ll also admit that the album isn’t exactly “pop”, though it features enough hooks and catchy material to at least flirt with that title.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlk1m6LOuCU

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The Pretty Things are a bit of an odd duck. They were quite prolific and dabbled in many different genres. That said, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of theirs in general. Oddly enough, my first exposure to their music was very likely their track “Cause I’m a Man” from the original Dawn of the Dead. Of course, I didn’t know it was them at the time, but I suppose that goes to demonstrate their versatility.

Their previous album, “S.F. Sorrow” was another concept album (and actually would make more sense in this list since it was released in the 60’s). Apart from their contribution to Dawn of the Dead, these two albums are the extent of my interest in their output. “Parachute” opens with two 3-part suites that flow impeccably and set the tone well. The album is a mix of rock, pop, psych, blues and more. For me (and many others) it was their swansong, but what an album to go out on (technically they had 7 more albums, but anyway).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDLr9dKnN4Y

And there you have it, 10 (9) catchy 60’s albums well deserving of your attention. I’ve been meaning to get this typed up for months now, but I never really got around to doing it until today. I suppose when you’re writing for fun and without deadlines it becomes much easier to shirk and avoid finishing. That said, I hope this has been somewhat informative and will lead even one of you to discover and enjoy something new, as I have. When it all comes down to it, that’s what music is for, and what makes it all worthwhile.

Thanks,

– e

The 25 Slays of Christmas – 9 – “Gremlins (1984)”

http://m.imdb.com/title/tt0087363/

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zoK0BzYUTrU

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Well, here’s the moment where I have to admit that I’ve never seen this movie before. I know, I know, it’s a classic and I must never have had a quality childhood without seeing “Gremlins” when I was a kid. I also didn’t see “The Goonies” for the first time until last year so go to town on that one too. I swear I saw a lot of “classic” films when I was a kid, I just never got around to seeing these ones. I saw “Memphis Belle” like 3 times though, that’s gotta count for something.

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Anyway, by this point you must know the plot to this one by heart. That band Mogwai named themselves after that cute little creature on the poster, who was given as a Christmas gift but with strict rules. Never get him wet or feed him after midnight. Both of these things happen and an army of “gremlins” are unleashed upon the nation. Can they be stopped ?! Where did they come from ? Are they basically just Ewoks in some ways ?

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This one has a lot of talent behind it. Directed by Joe Dante (Piranha, The Howling), Produced by Steven Spielberg (1941, Hook), Written by Chris Columbus (The Goonies, Home Alone), Music by Jerry Goldsmith (Planet of the Apes, The Omen) and Starring Corey Feldman, Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold and the voice of Howie Mandel ! As the Mogwai. It’s weird, he’s sort of doing a version of his “Bobby’s World” character.

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Anyway, no doubt I’m gonna catch hell for this, but I didn’t really like this movie very much. I think a lot of it has to do with not seeing it as a kid and therefore having no prior attachment to it before this. I mean, as a big horror fan and a kid that was into comics and sci fi it really seems like I would have seen this at some point. I assume my parents thought it looked too scary (I was only 2 when it came out) and didn’t want my fragile little mind being warped. You know what they say about the best laid plans …

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It’s not that there’s anything “wrong” with the movie, far from it. I think I would have loved this as an 8-10 year old. I really couldn’t shake the similarities between the Gremlins jokey kid-speak and the Ewoks. It was all very cutesy and frankly kind of annoying at times. It’s funny to learn about Howie Mandel voicing Gizmo after the fact, it makes a lot of sense. Suffice it to say, at 30 this movie just doesn’t have the appeal to someone coming in fresh.

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I realize I’m in the minority here but considering the hype and talent involved I found this to be a letdown. That said, my roommate loved it as a kid and watched it with me and his girlfriend. She didn’t like it either and he admitted it wasn’t as good as he’d remembered. Sometimes a movie like this just doesn’t work when you catch it 20 years too late. I loved “Labyrinth” as a kid but never saw “The Dark Crystal” (which many people love). I’m afraid that too would be a case of catching the train two decades too late.

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In the end, I respect all of you who love this movie that you loved as a child, but sadly it just didn’t do it for me. Frankly “The Goonies” was better, just saying.

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The 25 Slays of Christmas – 8 – “Rare Exports (2010)”

http://m.imdb.com/title/tt1401143/

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http://youtu.be/T5woAOEvuNI

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I’ve been hearing nothing but great things about this one since it came out a few years ago. It’s a Finnish film (with some English) and apparently more of a dark family film than an outright horror. Obviously there are violent elements, but not the gore of “Black Xmas” or “Don’t Open Till’ Christmas”. I’d meant to watch it last year but just didn’t get around to it. So, does it live up to the hype ?

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The story revolves around an archeological dig hired by a mysterious (and wealthy) businessman who is searching for … Something. They do indeed find something frozen in a mountain and are eventually killed while trying to unearth it. Meanwhile a father and son have caught an old naked man in a trap and set about trying to figure out who he is. Upon deducing that he is actually Santa Claus, they set out to sell him to the wealthy businessman while trying to avoid hordes of elves who will stop at nothing to protect their “boss”. Pretty awesome plot, no ?

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While that description may sound complex or convoluted, it doesn’t come across that way in the film. The filmmakers do a great job juggling storylines and keeping you guessing until all is revealed. A somewhat questionable (but ultimately satisfying) twist ending results and ties up the films’ multiple storylines nicely.

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The acting is well done, albeit with the usual caveats for a child actor. I wouldn’t say he’s irritating or anything, but certainly not the most interesting character. Probably my favourite element was using the one Finnish guy who could speak fractured English as a translator while trying to negotiate the sale of Santa with the businessman. It was a well done bit of comedy and added nicely to the story.

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It’s interesting to see so many recent Christmas-related foreign horror films. This one is a great example, as is “Inside”, a well done French film that I’ll be revisiting in this marathon in a couple of days. I’m also looking forward to watching “Sint”, a Dutch film that also tells a much darker version of the Santa Claus mythos. It’s interesting to see different takes on the subject from different parts of the world. Each have their own flavour and visual flair, lending itself well to the subject matter.

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As implied by the story and reviews, “Rare Exports” is a delight. It works both as a Christmas horror film and just a fun film in general. While not particularly scary it’s never boring, a problem that can sometimes affect films like this. I certainly look forward to watching this again next year, it’s earned it’s place on the ultimate “12 Slays of Christmas” list. Maybe next year we can all pitch in and buy our own Santa !! Probably not though, we don’t have that kind of money.

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The 25 Slays of Christmas – 7 – “Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 (1987)”

http://m.imdb.com/title/tt0093974/

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http://youtu.be/vJe_re68IRI

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You might be wondering why I have the sequel on here and not the original “classic”. Well, for one thing this one is about 50% flashbacks of the original movie and is essentially a “best of” in that sense. Additionally, the new stuff in this one is hysterical and a much more entertaining film, including the Internet classic “Garbage Day” line. Re-watching this one made me go out and buy the recently released 2 disc DVD of both movies. I’m not usually one for DVD commentaries, but this is one I’d definitely like to hear !

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The first SNDN was about a boy who sees his parents murdered by a man dressed as Santa Claus. He’s sent to an orphanage run by the extremely strict Mother Superior. After years of torment he grows up and receives a job at a toy store. When he’s asked to dress as Santa and witnesses a potential rape, he snaps and begins dispatching “naughty” people on his way to exact revenge on Mother Superior. This sequel sees his (now grown up) brother relating this story to a psychiatrist while in an institution. Eventually he escapes and sets off to finish what his brother started.

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Now, technically this is a pretty bad movie. It doesn’t really have anyone of note (apart from archival footage of Linnea Quigley from the first film) and the producers decided to cast Eric Freeman in the main role rather than going with a better actor who had more experience. They chose Freeman for his looks (such as they are) and we all reap the benefits of his amazingly over the top performance. Freeman has since disappeared, despite attempts by fans to track him down. At least we’ll always have this gem of a movie to remember him by.

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Although the original is arguably the best known of the series, there are actually 5 SNDN movies in total. The third carries on the story of Ricky (played by the much more capable Bill Moseley of Devils Rejects and TCM 2 fame) but does not feature him in a Santa suit at any point (sadly). 4 is completely unrelated and involves killer bugs, 5 stars Mickey Rooney as a crazed Toymaker. I initially bought the 3-5 DVD set that Lions Gate released a few years back, but after suffering through part 3 I gave up and sold it. 1+2 (but mostly 2) are really all you need.

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I suppose it takes a certain atmosphere to really appreciate this viewing experience. Freeman’s over the top performance is amazing though, and it really would have been a drag to see someone “better” playing it straight. Nearly every line of his is deliciously laughable, and I couldn’t imagine a Christmas Horror list without this stunning classic. Again, I use the term “classic” somewhat loosely, but if you can’t watch this one and enjoy it for what it is, well, maybe your heart is 2 sizes too small !!

Nah, I’m just kidding, you’re alright.

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The 25 Slays of Christmas – 6 – “Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974)”

http://m.imdb.com/title/tt0070694/

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOXx7Q0UfH4

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Well, apparently it wasn’t enough that I fell asleep during “Don’t Open Till’ Christmas”, so I followed that up by falling asleep during this one too. Yet again I didn’t feel I could BS a review on a movie I only saw part of, but I didn’t get a chance to re-watch it for a few days, thus the tardiness of this review. On the plus side I saw some pretty cool movies since then, and even better, this is a cool flick !!

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The plot revolves around a house with a checkered past that was willed to the owners grandson upon his death. The only stipulation was that the house be left untouched and remain in the family. 20 years later the grandson has decided to sell the house. As word spreads, a mysterious figure escapes from an insane asylum and makes their way to the house, killing any who get in their way. Who is the killer, and what is their relation to the house ? What exactly happened in the house anyway ?!

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SNBN sports an impressive cast, including John Carradine (The Howling, Bride of Frankenstein), Phil Bruns (Return of the Living Dead II, also played Jerry’s original father on “Seinfeld” for 1 episode before being replaced), Mary Woronov (Death Race 2000, The Devils Rejects), Patrick O’Neal (Under Siege, The Stuff) as well as several former “Warhol Superstars” such as Ondine and Candy Darling. The acting is largely fine, especially for a low budget affair of this ilk. Interestingly this was also produced by Troma bigwig Lloyd Kaufman ! Neat !

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One of the first things I noticed about this film was the excellent minor key version of “Silent Night” used over the opening credits. It was quite lovely and really set the tone nicely. And I don’t just throw around terms like “lovely” all the time I’ll have you know ! The film was completed in 1972 but wasn’t released until 1974 (the same year we were graced with “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”). It certainly has an uneven feel at times, but this adds to the surreal, dreamlike feel the film maintains.

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While not super gory, SNBN does have its share of murders, including a few axe murders in the opening 15 minutes. The plot is really something to behold. At times I felt like I was lost, but by the time the twists are slowly revealed I came to really respect and enjoy what they were going for. There are elements of incest, insanity, murder, conspiracy and faked deaths, etc. You know, all the “good stuff”.

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To be honest, I did a complete 180 on this film upon re-watching it and would definitely say it has been one of the unexpected highlights of this holiday slayride. It kept me guessing and, like most good films, made me want to watch it again after it was over. I’m certainly glad I gave it another shot after starting it too late initially, and I highly reccomend giving it a go. The best part of it is, it’s in the public domain so technically you own it already ! What a world !

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The 25 Slays of Christmas – 5 – “Don’t Open Till’ Christmas (1984)”

http://m.imdb.com/title/tt0089038/

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http://youtu.be/GAWTX-2ahSg

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Now here’s a film that makes a lot of the “typical” Christmas Horror lists (along with Christmas Evil, Black Christmas, Jack Frost, etc). Last year was the first time I’d seen it, but all I really remembered was that it was British, gory and flipped the “Killer Santa” gimmick by having their (creepily) masked killer only murder people dressed as Santa. Ideally he killed a few murderous Santas, but we can’t be sure of that.

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As previously mentioned, this flick revolves around a masked killer who clearly hates Christmas and has taken to murdering anyone dressed as Santa Claus (except for a female stripper, but she didn’t have the beard, so maybe that’s a loophole). Scotland Yard is baffled and will stop at nothing to end this enormous pile of Santa corpses by any means necessary.

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The cast is made up of unknowns, with the exception of Edmund Purdom (who only agreed to star in it if he could also direct) who played the killer in my recent October Horrorthon entry “Pieces” (SPOILER). It won’t surprise you to learn that this film was produced by the same people who brought us “Pieces”, so you can expect a similarly gory and sometimes confusing piece of cinema.

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Now, I’m not going to lie to you. I started this one pretty late and fell asleep halfway through. Not because it sucked, but likely because I chose to watch the latest episode of “American Horror Story” first (featuring a Killer Santa !!) and didn’t get this rolling till’ about 11:30. Anyway, I knew I owed us both more than just phoning in this review, so I re-watched the last half yesterday to do it justice.

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Prefacing this with the fact that this movie switched directors midway through and is kind of jumbled and confusing at times, I actually kind of dug it. It has a really high body count, lots of gore and an interesting and (for this kind of flick) unique storyline. There seemed to be at least 1 kill every 10 minutes which is a pretty solid ratio for a horror flick. I mean, nobody got stabbed with a candy cane, but a guy got his face burned up pretty bad so that’s something.

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I have to respect the producers for knowing exactly what kind of movie they wanted to make and, despite it taking two years to complete, putting out a holiday gorefest that topped the better known “Silent Night, Deadly Night” (which had been released one month prior). Ironically, if the original director hadn’t left then this would have beaten SNDN to the screen, but both movies are different enough that they can co-exist. Now if only we can get a “Vs” movie and pit SNDN’s Santa against DOTC’s Santa Killer we’d REALLY be in business ! Still, until that happens I guess a double bill will have to do.

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