Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Greek Progressive Rock

 Now, I do not normally post gig reviews of Greek-singing artists on this blog anymore but this is something a bit different. PLJ Band were formed in the late 70's and they played progressive rock at a time when it had already gone out of fashion. Their first LP "Armageddon" was released in 1982 featuring music inspired by John's Revelation, sung in English, although there were some passages that were recited in the original ancient Greek text. It was promoted by the record company alongside the first LP by new wave band T.V.C. (now, I wonder what happened to them?). Needless to say the record was not a success. It sold about 400 copies and I'm proud to say I bought one of them back then. What the band did after that, was they changed their name to "Τερμιτες" (Greek for "Termites"), they started singing in Greek and success in Greece followed soon afterwards. Meanwhile the "Armageddon" LP gathered some attention abroad, especially after the internet came along, mostly by collectors who viewed the concept of a band from Greece playing progressive rock somewhat exotic.
So, last autumn, the band decided to reform and play "Armageddon" in its entirety. Having bought the album when it originally came out, this was something that I wanted to see. Unfortunately (and probably predictably) not very many people were interested in that, so the concert was rescheduled and apart from "Armageddon" the setlist was expanded to feature the well known songs and hits from the band's Greek-singing "Termites" phase.
I went to listen to "Armageddon", most of the others went to listen to "Termites", I guess in the end everybody was happy.
And here, you can get a glimpse of what "Greek Progressive Rock" sounds like along with a sample from their Greek phase...

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance

Why wouldn't they? However, this is in fact the title of the latest album by Belle And Sebastian. It is truly a 2015 album, since it was released in January. And it was actually released in 2 different editions. The standard edition, available on CD and double vinyl LP contains 12 songs. The deluxe edition however, available on a quadruple vinyl LP box set contains 16 songs. It contains the 12 songs of the standard edition, however one in an "extended version" and another one in an "extended mix" (more about these definitions later), plus 4 songs that are exclusive to this edition. On top of that, the running order of the songs in the deluxe edition is completely different to that on the standard one. Confused? You will be!
It was this, the deluxe edition that I listened to first, before listening to the standard. Not from the vinyl though. When you buy the box set (and its price is quite reasonable for a quadruple vinyl), you also get a "download code" inside the box which you can use to download these 16 tracks. I fit these songs into two CD-R's (I'm an old-fashioned "physical product" junkie myself) and listened to it from there.
Now, usually, on a Belle And Sebastian album, the opening track is usually the most important track, or maybe the best one (but that is of course, a matter of taste). Now, I know I have listened to the deluxe version first, but I still can't imagine a better opening than "The Party Line", which is exactly what it says on the tin: A great, almost disco, dance song. There are other up-tempo songs you can dance to, possibly better songs, like "Enter Sylvia Plath" and "The Book Of You" which in my opinion is the best song on the album (there's hardly a bad song on this album as we will see later), but I think "The Party Line" is the perfect opener.
On the other hand, listening to the standard version, one realizes that "Nobody's Empire" is an equally strong track to open the album, even if it is less danceable. And it features the second best lyric of the album in "If I had a camera I'd snap you now, cos there's beauty in every stumble". If dancing is what you're after though, then look no further than "Enter Sylvia Plath". It's not so much disco,  it's more the synth-pop track of the album. Maybe a little bit Hi-NRG at some points (for those who remember the definition from the 80's). There's more synth-pop on "Play For Today" another of my favourite songs. Then there's "The Everlasting Muse" with its jazzy bassline, which suddenly turns into a waltz right in the middle. In short, this album is a celebration of pop music, the kind of pop music with the kind of lyrics that are typically Belle & Sebastian ever since they were formed. A perfect example of this is "Ever Had A Little Faith?". This song is one of two that get a special treatment on the deluxe edition. "Ever Had A Little Faith?" is featured in an "extended version" and "Perfect Couples" in an "extended mix". Belle & Sebastian have used in each of these cases, the correct definition those of us who were buying 12inch singles in the 80's are familiar with. "Ever Had A Little Faith?" has an extended ending and "Perfect Couples" is longer as a result of several additions in the mix in various parts of the song (but not a "remix"). The song that would benefit from an extended or "dance" mix in my opinion is of course "The Party Line".
So, while we're talking about the differences between the two editions what about the four bonus songs that feature only in the deluxe one?. One surely tends to think that they were probably not that good so Stuart decided to keep them off the standard and chuck them in the deluxe for die-hard fans and completists only, right? Well, wrong! In my opinion leaving "Two Birds" off the standard edition is a crime! This is just a great song! Especially considering that "Today (This Army's For Peace)" the album's only weak track is in both editions. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just sort of... boring. Although one must admit placing it as the album's closing track is a good choice. A slow song, and if one switches off the album out of boredom let's say, they won't miss anything since it's the last song. (The closing track in the deluxe edition, by the way, is "The Cat With The Cream"). The other 3 bonus tracks are also good, especially "Piggy In The Middle with an amazing bassline.
Finally, I know we're only two months into 2015, but I can honestly say, "Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance" is the best album I've listened to this year so far. Non-stop pure pop as MTV used to say.

A subtle gift to modern rock
She says "be popular, play pop"
And you will win my love

If it was up to me though, I would take "Today" off and I would replace it with "Two Birds". But then, I'd probably move "The Book Of You" as the last track so that the album would end with its most beautiful (and most romantic) lyric:

We're always walking in the rain
And you're just trouble so I claim
But then the world can see
That I'm the one for you
And you're the one for me