Categories
Vinyl

Vinyl love: The Coral “The Coral”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: The Coral
Album Title: The Coral
Year released: 2002
Year reissued: 2011
Details: Black vinyl, 180 gram, Music on Vinyl

The skinny: Just a few days ago, I wrote about this ridiculous ear worm that appeared at number three on my Best tunes of 2002 list. But “Dreaming of you” is by no means the only incredible tune on The Coral’s self-titled debut. Indeed, the (at-the-time) young sextet from Merseyside, England had put together a twelve-song kooky and psychedelic party, that you might say is reflected in the colourful pastiche album artwork. When I saw a reasonably priced copy of this Music on Vinyl reissue pressed to a 180 gram disc, I did not hesitate. And I can happily say that I am just as pleased with this pressing as I have been with everything else I’ve purchased by MOV.

Standout track: “Wildfire”

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2002: #3 The Coral “Dreaming of you”

<< #4    |    #2 >>

You want an ear worm? Well, have I got one for you!

Those who are already fans, you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve heard this before but maybe have forgotten about its pure joy, chances are you’re going to thank me for the reminder. If you haven’t heard this track before, well… press play below and get ready to jump up and dance like a maniac.

This is The Coral’s third ever single and early hit, “Dreaming of you”.

The group was formed in 1996 in Hoylake, England when its six members were all still in high school. By the time the group released its debut, self-titled album, they had developed and fine-tuned a sound that was uniquely their own but one that was made up of instantly recognizable sounds. Steeped in old country folk, dub reggae, and all things psychedelic, they sounded old, yet new, and really, out of time altogether. Their relative youth fed their experimentation, their tendency towards fun and the lack of any sense of what shouldn’t work but in the end, did. The album was nominated for the Mercury prize and it and the band are seen as the first in the new wave of British guitar rock bands that kicked off the 2000s.

“Dreaming of you” comes in at track four on the album so if you’re listening to “The Coral” in full, you are already warmed up to the group’s energy, antics, and crazed pace. But I don’t think anything can prepare you for the smile that will instantly form on your face and how your feet will immediately start tapping. The hopping on one foot bass line begins the proceedings but the staccato guitars and whirling organs are not far behind. There’s horns, there’s vibraphone, there’s old style choral backup vocals and of course, there’s James Skelly’s soulful lead vocal turn. It’s like a crazed carnival on an old creaking ship caught in a turbulent ocean storm, navigating the giant waves with no one at the wheel because everyone is caught up in the party. It is mayhem and bedlam and hilarity. And all this in just a shade over two minutes.

“Up in my lonely room
When I’m dreaming of you
Oh what can I do
I still need you, but
I don’t want you now”

Whether you’re on the side of the lyrics being about heroin addiction or on the side of a love that’s no good but can’t be helped, there’s no arguing how wonderful the track is.

You are now guaranteed to be singing or humming this song all day.

You’re welcome.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

Categories
Albums

Best albums of 2020: #5 Secret Machines “Awake in the brain chamber”

This COVID-19 pandemic has changed all of our lives and for the most part, we have looked at these changes negatively. But are there some positives to be found in this new normal? One that I can think of right off the bat is that it brought us a new Secret Machines album, their first in twelve years.

Secret Machines were originally formed in 2002 by brothers Brandon and Benjamin Curtis and fellow Dallas, Texas musician Phil Karnats, when the three of them relocated to New York City. Their debut album, “Now here is nowhere’, was met with buzz and critical acclaim when it was released in 2004. Its big, kautrock-influenced prog sound even found a fan in David Bowie and they ended up getting calls to tour with Muse, U2, and Oasis. The sophomore album, 2006’s “Ten silver drops”, followed up on the promise of the debut and this is where I caught up with them, falling as hard for them as did Mr. Bowie.

Unfortunately, fortunes changed for the band when Benjamin decided to leave to the group to pursue a project called School of Seven Bells with the Deheza twins. A third Secret Machines followed but felt a bit stalled to me. Regardless, I still went to see them when they rolled through Ottawa in 2008 and yeah, I was bowled over by the intense and explosive performance. I kept tabs on them for a while and there was word of a new album being worked on in 2010 but it ended up being shelved for being too depressing and the band went inactive. Besides word of Benjamin Curtis’s death in 2013, seeing Brandon Curtis performing with Interpol in 2015, and Runout Groove Records* issuing the band’s first two albums on vinyl in 2016 and 2018, news this summer of a new Secret Machines record is the first thing I’d heard about the group in a decade. So yeah, it was a surprise.

The band is still just the two still-living original members, though a number of additional musicians appear on “Awake in the brain chamber”, including a beyond-the-grave performance by Benjamin Curtis. The album has reportedly been in the works, off and on, for many years, but really only started to solidify after Brandon Curtis started working with Josh Garza again in 2018. And it is possible that the only reason we hearing this year is because of the opportunity the band to release it without the pressure to promote it, afforded by this pandemic.

Okay. So that’s a lot more words than I had planned on writing for this album but I think the backstory for it is almost as important as the sound of it, which by the way, is excellent. Have a listen to and read more words on my three picks for you below and see what you think.


“Everything starts“: This first track illustrates the most marked difference between this album and Secret Machines’ earlier work. At just a smidge over five minutes, “Everything starts” is the longest track on a tighter, more compact album, where it might’ve been the shortest by a long shot on earlier works. And they’ve done this without dispensing with the big, ambient space rock sound. It acts as a tribute to frontman Brandon Curtis’s brother Benjamin because they built the song around the deceased musician’s guitar work. Drummer Josh Garza has said this about it: “When I close my eyes and listen to ‘Everything Starts’ I see three guys in a room playing music. I see Ben, Brandon and me… we’re all playing our instruments, we’re all smiling and it’s probably a bit too loud.” And as sad and troubling as the lyrical subject matter is, Josh’s image is beautiful and satisfying.

“Dreaming is alright”: Track two on the album starts off with Josh Garza’s pounding and punishing drums. His self-described ‘bashing away’ style of drumming is a big part of this group’s sound and forced Curtis to rethink many of these recordings when he decided that they would form the basis of a new Secret Machines album. Here it pushes the song into overdrive, forcing the guitars and the synths to keep up, racing down a darkened highway, just barely hugging the curves and staying on the road. It’s dangerous and precarious but the title brings us back to just this side of optimism. Brandon sings words that evoke holding hands in the face of a disastrous apocalypse and turning the page to tomorrow when today seems hopeless. Yeah, dreaming is definitely more than alright.

“Everything’s under”: This final track features more of the driving and relentless drone that had critics calling them krautrock acolytes in their early days. And yeah, it rocks. Totally abandon with arms a-flailing, the drums are punished and synths wash over you like a tsunami and that’s exactly as Secret Machines would have it. But here, as on the rest of “Awake in the brain chamber”, it’s served up in a morsel manageable for the rest of us mere mortals, not dragging it out as they would have in their previous lifetime. The chorus sums up the feeling of this album best, the succinct injection of the passion and energy of it all: “We’re gone, gone, gone beyond… everything’s under control.” Indeed. Let’s just hope this spells the start of something bigger and doesn’t end up just being an excellent post script for the band.

*Runout Groove records is a vinyl only label whose monthly releases are voted on by fans. The fact that they are chosen every time one of their albums comes up to be voted on shows that Secret Machines’ fan base is very much alive and well.


Check back next Thursday for album #4. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Strokes “The new abnormal”
9. Venus Furs “Venus Furs”
8. Bright Eyes “Down in the weeds, where the world once was”
7. The Beths “Jump rope gazers”
6. The Rentals “Q36”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.