Tag Archives: favourites

“Staring at the stars wondering what it’d be like to get to go that far”: Burning Tree – Burning Tree (1990)

burning tree

I picked this one up recently cause it was £4.99 on Discogs and I’ve been looking to add this long forgotten album to my record collection.  It’s strange when you listen to albums like this.  Y’know, the type that are largely ignored and become forgotten until, in 2121, the Indiana Jones of record digging uncovers it in some dusty storage archive.  Wiping the dust from the sleeve they proclaim they are startled by the discovery.  “The Holy Grail! After all these years …”  Or something like that.

Burning Tree’s one and only album came just before the ‘grunge’ boom.  Legend has it that there was enough of a buzz about the band to land them a deal with Epic and a support slot for The Black Crowes.  So, they were, at some point at least, highly thought of.  The album itself is a wonderfully psychedelic coloured slice of rock n’ roll.  Complete with loose grooves, snaking guitar, and swamp stomp.

Opener, Burning Tree, is brilliant. Seriously good.  So good that I’m happy to waive the penalty points that I dish out for self-titled songs.  Anyhoo, it has a real Hendrix Experience vibe going on.  Even the snaps of lead – with just the right about of buzz – and the solo.  Nice, restrained, snazzy, but not too showy.  Wigs, Blues And High Heeled Shoes is worth sticking with if it doesn’t light up immediately.  Ford’s subtle guitar and the breakdown around the 1:35 mark is particularly smashin’.  In fact, there’s a real ‘Washington State’ buzz there – like Nirvana, Mudhoney, and early Screaming Trees especially.  The bass roaming and the guitar snapping.

Fly On that’s the real highlight of the album, in my opinion.  A swampy stoner swagger.  Some psychedelic guitar flourishes and a wonderful vocal from Marc Ford.  There’s also some incredible harmonies between the three of ’em, too.  Fly On is a great example.  All Alice In Chains like.  I should actually add that the vocal responsibilities, like the songwriting, is shared by all three of the chaps here.  All do stellar jobs, though Ford’s vocals appeal more to these ears.  Baker’s Song and Playing in the Wind complete side 1 brilliantly.  Particularly the latter, with is flowing psychedelic grooves about dreams, man.

Side 2 lacks the immediate ‘yowsa!’ factor that kicked off side 1.  In fact, there’s not a song as great as either Burning Tree or Fly On, but it’s no less stellar.  Actually, that being said, Masquerade, Last Laugh and Mistreated Lover are probably pretty close.  The latter having something of Hendrix’s version of All Along the Watchtower about it, while Masquerade is the side opener; coming across all 70s psychedelic rock n’ rolla before the likes of Kula Shaker came along and briefly made that whole psychedelia revisionist thing happen with Hush and their version on Hey Dude. Again, the playing from all is exceptional, but Ford knows when to play and when not to – simple rhythms lit up with some really intricate lead playing.  Man, that guy can play.  There’s loads of nice wah laden solos, hanging notes, and crunching staccato flicks here and there.  Last Laugh on the other hand is all buzzing chainsaw swinging from a rafter and a nice big buzzing lead.

The other tracks on side 2 are Crush – a ‘being in a band’ ballad – and Turtle.  Both have some really brilliant melodies and Turtle in particular is a really exceptional take on 60’s rock n’ roll.  Also happens to round things off really well too.

So yeah, there you have it. Burning Tree’s sole LP.  A masterpiece?  I’d argue that it is.  There’s definitely the shadow of Hendrix, Cream, and some Stevie Ray Vaughan (which I only really noticed after getting into Stevie Ray Vaughan pretty heavily the last year!).  Of course, Ford would quit the band to join The Black Crowes.  That move made The Black Crowes great, though it signalled the end for Burning Tree.  Bah.

burning tree backThe LP comes with a plain white inner.  No lyrics, no detailed credits, and, most importantly, no glamorous band shots.  My copy is near mint.  Really doesn’t look as though it had been played!  I also noticed that the track order is different from the 2010 CD reissue.  Aside from the order, there’s two less tracks (Same Old Story and Baby Blue are missing).  Personally, I prefer the LP.

Well, of course I do.

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Fifteen on the Fifteenth: Favourite Albums

15“What’s your top ten albums?” is a question that gives me high anxiety. What are those ten albums? List after list after list is made before I settle on one. That list rarely changes. A constant ten jostling for first position. On occasion, one or two reaching new hights (the top five), but I don’t like to assign numbers. That’s just way too tough.

When asked about a top 15, my head near enough exploded. So many possibilities. An endless list of albums that are just ‘bubbling under’. Whittle them down to just five!? Challenge accepted. Countless notepads later and the list has been decided. Not necessarily the best albums I’ve heard, but these fifteen are favourites. Albums that I’ve turned to time and time again.

Masters of Reality – Masters of Reality (1988)
often referred to as The Blue Garden on account of the splendid painting that adorns the cover, this album has long been a favourite. So much so that I paid £36 for the original Def American CD from eBay and thought nothing of it. It’s a classic rock album flavoured by psychedelic stoner blues and 60s and 70s vibes.

Screaming Trees – Dust (1996)
I totally subscribed to that whole ‘grunge’ thing after hearing Nirvana. I was late to the Screaming Trees, though – this was the first album of theirs I bought. Utterly brilliant start to finish despite the troubles within the band and the label. It transcends ‘grunge’ and surfs on rays of psychedelic splendour.

Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking (1988)
I posted about this one a while back if you want to read all my thoughts on it, but in short this is classic rock dragged backwards through glass.

The Afghan Whigs – Gentlemen (1993)
My friend Joe had given me this back at the dawn of the millennium. Back then I was hooked on K-Billy’s Supersounds of the 70’s and alternative rock. When we got talking about music and he identified that I was into a whole load of alternative rock, he says “do you like The Afghan Whigs?”. I’m glad he asked me that question. Aside from the slap on the chops when I said “no”, he told me he’d give me a loan of Gentlemen. “It’s fuckin’ awesome”. Yup.

The Afghan Whigs – Black Love (1996)
… and I don’t understand exactly how The Whigs were overlooked. They really are one of the best from the alternative rock boom back in the 90s. Swagger, soul, sparring guitars, imagination, and a whole load more. This is my favourite, though. Just. Dulli took his demons and wrapped them all up in a wonderful slice of noir.

Tom Waits – Mule Variations (1999)
This one is perfect. Sprawling, warm and beautiful. Not only is there not a bad song on here, but it boasts some of my favourite Tom Waits songs.

Johnny Cash – The Fabulous Johnny Cash (1958)
This is an audacious album to release as your debut. So many great (and timeless) numbers and I honestly never tire of it. One that we’ve listened to a fair bit over the years. I dare say it’s my wife’s favourite, too.

Johnny Cash – Orange Blossom Special (1965)
The first Johnny Cash album that I properly listened to and the one I tell folks to listen to when they start that whole “all Johnny Cash stuff sounds the same” shenanigans. It’s a special record – wonderful cover, Dylan songs, murder, prison, a train, and You Wild Colorado.

ZZ Top – Tres Hombres (1973)
Is it possible to discover an album within the last five years and call it one of your all-time favourites?  I reckon so.  I can’t believe that I overlooked ZZ Top for so long. Seriously, it’s ridiculous.  Craig Hughes was baffled when I explained that I had never heard any ZZ Top albums.  He assured me they were only one of his favourites and responsible for a bunch of absolutely essential albums.  Highlighted this as a life changer.  He wasn’t wrong.  I’ll never tire of this.  Ever.

Stone Temple Pilots – Purple (1994)
I remember hearing this back in the day and falling in love with it from the off.  Big riffs, darkness and all sorts of energy.  There was loads of noise about the band being Pearl Jam copyists – ‘grunge-lite’.  But they were completely different bands.  Plus, for my money that other lot never made an album this good.

Mark Lanegan – Scraps at Midnight (1998)
Lanegan has so many great solo albums, but this one will always be my favourite and it’s one I just keep going back to.  I bought this on release day and took it back to my friend Alan’s place.  We sat and listened to this sucker and then got Blast Corps on the old Nintendo 64.  Then we listened to Izzy Stradlin’s 117° (which I picked up the same day after ordering) and Scraps at Midnight again.  Good times.

The Doors – Strange Days (1967)
Magnificent stuff this – and I covered it fairly recently.

Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R (2000)

Yup. This is awesome. The first great alternative rock album of the millennium and one I honestly don’t think has been bettered (though I do reckon their … Like Clockwork comes really pretty close!).  I still listen to this an awfy lot.  Just absolutely incredible.

Spirit – The Family That Plays Together (1968)
Twelve Dreams … is the one folks pick out as being the bonkers psychedelic masterpiece, but The Family That Plays Together is looser, and, for me, the perfect marriage of Strange Days-era Doors psychedelia and 60s pop. Utterly infectious, too.  You can pretty much draw a line to everything that’s good about alternative rock, ‘stoner rock’ or ‘desert rock’ from this album.  Or at least this band (and The Doors and ZZ Top, of course).

American Music Club – Mercury (1993)
Another that Joe introduced me to.  Late 1999, I believe.  Took a copy on mini-disc and listened to it practically every day until buying my own copy after a couple of weeks.  Love this album.  Joe introduced me to a lot of great stuff and this is one of the very best.

So, there you have it, 15 of my absolute favourites.  I noticed while putting this list together that there’s a whole bunch from the 90s.  Well, I guess you can tell when I had my major ‘musical awakening’, eh?  The stuff I discovered then has inspired me and stuck around with me, too.  Through a whole host of different things.

As the question was thrown out there for all to participate, there are a bunch of other writers out there posting their 15 top albums (or books about music in 1537’s case).

Here’s a bunch of others for you to check out (I’ll add links to others as they appear).

1537
Keeps Me Alive
– Aaron
– James
MikeLadano.com
– Mike
– Uncle Meat
Iron Tom Sharpe
Living a Beautiful Life
1001 Albums in 10 Years
Arena Rock
Caught Me Gaming
Pop Culture Forays
Boppin’s Blog
Tangled Up In Music
80’s Metalman
KingCrimsonProg
A Hole In The Head
The Audible Stew
Nick Green Reviews
Another Bad Conversation
500 Reasons Why The 80s Didn’t Suck

*note the exclusion of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Easily in my top 5, but I have no idea where my CD copy is, so I couldn’t possibly include it.

“She walked in with her alligator sister trying to get to Heaven on Sunday”: Stone Temple Pilots – No. 4 (1999)

no. 4So, 1999.  The Eve of the Millennium.  There were a few things I remember well.  The biggest thing – and the most bonkers – was the big dark cloud that loomed like the wormhole that opened over Stark Tower.  Complete global meltdown.  The annihilation of everything that makes the world tick: The Millennium Bug.  Folks walked around wondering if they would have functioning technology in a few months.  Would the internet break? Would planes fall from the sky?  Would we awake to a new, post-apocalyptic existence.  Menfolk becoming hunter-gatherers, while the womenfolk sew and throw some food together and the brainyfolk set about reinventing things that we used to take advantage of.

For me, though, the fall of 1999 was all about the return of Stone Temple Pilots.  The most awesomest of alternative rock n’ rollers. By this point they’d released two utterly wonderful albums in Purple and Tiny Music … Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop, but they still endured a fair bit of criticism.  Some of it about their front-man Weiland and his troubles; some of it about them being some second-rate grunge band. For me, Stone Temple Pilots were more than a ‘grunge band’ (or the “Pearl Jam copyists” that some claimed).  I’ve often discussed this with friends of mine over the years – especially the ‘grunge lite’ tag, Weiland’s harmonies and the fact that they were a band that were more creative than many of those considered to be their peers.  They were more original and dynamic and, quite frankly, there wasn’t a band at that time who had the attack, swagger and hooks they had going on.  Anyway, despite all the problems and the madness, Stone Temple Pilots were back with their fourth album, simply titled No. 4.  Forget the Millennium Bug, suckers!
lyricsFrom the first couple of seconds of Down it’s clear that this one is a darker album than its predecessor.  Likely the result of Weiland’s troubles with addiction and suchlike.  He doesn’t sound angry about the trouble he’s been in, but he sounds mighty conflicted.  Weiland alludes to his complicated relationship with the drugs when he sings “You can get it if you really want it, but you better off just leave it alone. You won’t forget it if you ever had it, so you’re better off just staying at home” (Heaven & Hot Rods) and “Falling fast but doing all I can. I know the questions but I lost the answers.  I got the message and the message stood” (Pruno).  While Down was heavy musically, Heaven & Hot Rods and Pruno are possibly the heaviest two punch combo in the Pilots’ canon due to the weight in Weiland’s lyrics and performance (not something you’ll read every day!).  Three songs in and Stone Temple Pilots are rocking like a burned-out star.  Those same influences are buzzing about, but the texture is all rough and distorted.  The psychedelic grooves and bass runs of DeLeo are really pretty special during Church on Tuesday and Sour Girl (about the break-down of Weiland’s marriage).

Not that Side 1 was guilty of slouching, but Side 2 really turns things up a notch.  No Way Out kicks things off and rocks that shit up, there’s some more weight in Weiland’s lyrics, too (“I’ve been a walking a lonesome highway. I felt as though I had no home”) but the band really do hit their stride.  Sex & Violence thrashes like some metallic serpent as Weiland revisits a past relationship (quite possibly the subject of Sour Girl), before he asks for a bit of faith during the pretty brilliant Glide (“just give me half a chance from throwing it all away”).  Glide is awesome – it really is.  The riff and the cajoling bass … and even Kretz on the kit!  Man, it’s so good.  Weiland also sounds pretty excellent on here.  Clean, inspired and showing off his range.  I Got You is also pretty brilliant.  Weiland is lyrically pretty open here – chatting about his troubles and that relationship that he just can’t walk away from.  MC5 and Atlanta, though – for so long I put those two tracks back-to-back on every mix-tape I would make.  One drenched with the punk influences of the Stooges and, well, MC5, and the other The Doors.  Seriously good stuff.
stpbackIt’s often been suggested that Scott Weiland’s struggles with drug addiction had been the reason that the band never quite reached the highs expected.  Those highs, I imagine, being the commercial success enjoyed by the likes of the bands that critics claimed they mimicked following the success of Purple.  I’m not so sure about that, though; Weiland is an interesting chap and a key to the band’s sound (listen to Talk Show, Army of Anyone or even Stone Temple Pilots featuring Chester Bennington if you don’t believe me).  He’s abstract both as a vocalist and song-writer.  His phrasing, delivery and sense of melody are so important to the feel of Purple and Tiny Music … Gifts from the Vatican Gift Shop, and it’s no different here.  His lyrics are often poignant and ludicrous (“she walkedin with her alligator sister”, etc), but he delivers them with a tremendous amount of verve and style.

One of the big criticisms of No.4 is the sound (‘brick walled’ – trust me, there’s a lot of gripes out there), though I personally thought it suited the material.  Music On Vinyl’s release is cut from a 24 bit / 192 kHz digital master and actually sounds a little different to the CD to these ears.  There’s a bit more space and mid-range, but the nature of it hasn’t been altered. The way it was mixed was intentional and one of the main reasons I love this one.  It’s claustrophobic and a bit stressed.  Maybe how Weiland felt.  How the band felt, in fact.  Regardless, it’s a big metallic motherfucker of an album and one worth setting aside 40 odd minutes for.

“I don’t know where the sunbeams end and the starlight begins”: The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)

YoshimiOne of my favourite bands are The Flaming Lips.  I consider them to be one of the most vital and creative forces in music right now – have been for a number of years, too.  They divide folks I know though; some agreeing that they are incredible and others saying they just don’t get it.  I don’t think I know many who are on the fence (that being said, I’ve learned over the years that everyone has at least one of their albums.  Most likely it’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots).  Anyway, I find that they continue to evolve with each album.  Pushing their own sense of being and continuing to challenge the listener.  To challenge what music is.  What art is.  I think that right there is why I continue to follow them.  Even when they flirt dangerously close to the abyss.  Despite the missteps, they remain a truly marvellous band with a truly wondrous and charming front-man.

I got into The Flaming Lips big time when I heard The Soft Bulletin in the summer of 1999.  An album that just blew my mind.  It’s quite rightly considered by many as their masterpiece – full of crashing overdriven drums, creative instrumentation, a wall of sonics, imaginative production, dreamy melodies and emotional weight.  The question: how do you follow something like that?  Well, for Wayne & Co. the answer was to embrace electronics and focus on the swooning and often dizzying instrumentation.  I was late picking up Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, but the few folks I knew that dug them said it was the greatest thing they’d heard.  A sentiment echoed by much of the music press that I’d spotted reviews in at the time.  The contemplative songs about mortality remain, but they’re thrown in with some stuff about evil natured robots and a young girl named Yoshimi.  It’s surrounded by glitches, reverberating falsettos and dizzying distorted digital … eh … pyrotechnic splendour. But was it, as Uncut declared, “astonishing” and the greatest album released in the magazine’s lifetime?
gatefoldI got my copy of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots from my brother.  He gave me it to start off my collection when he gave me the record player.  There’s a few pops and some surface noise, but it still sounds really wonderful.  Lush and warm.  When I finally got my hands on a new stylus and pre-amp I got that sucker hooked up and got the album spinning.  Twice.  Back to back.  Just like I did when I first got my hands on the CD.  Just finding myself lost in the grooves.  Each beep, crunch, and swoosh vital.  Even the little bit of surface noise and the pops sounding like part of the album.  A pulse.  A heartbeat.

The album opens with Fight Test – a coming of age tale that caused them a whole lot of bother with Cat Stevens.  Truth be told, as much as I like Father and Son, I can never relate to that sucker the way I could this.  Despite all the awesomeness to come on Side 1, it’s One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21 that really gets me.  A really tremendous bass run and a looped drum kick drill a hole as Coyne sings “Unit 3000-21 is warming – makes a humming sound when its circuits duplicate emotions”.  Perhaps inspired by Short Circuit’s Johnny 5? but it pre-dates Wall-E by a good couple of years.  Although there’s not a great deal more to it (other than the tremendous closing minute of so when the acoustic guitar features), I just can’t see past it.  It’s utterly marvellous.  And I don’t care what anyone says.  It’s the same with In the Morning of the Magicians. Simple and effective.  I dare say both of these could have complimented the The Soft Bulletin.

Side Two is kinda strange and is a mixed listen.  Coyne continues exploring those same themes and there’s a weight behind it that’s lost within the concept of Side One.  With the robots long gone (thanks Yoshimi!), the mood changes and the textures get a little less glitchy and a little more lush.  Are You a Hypnotist? is a take on that whole ‘fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice’ shenanigans.  Coyne throws it out differently though – “are you some kind of hypnotist waving your powers around?”.  Never thought to use that line, so well played.  In fact, Side Two it’s all about asking questions, and the most important one of all is wrapped up in Do You Realise? and All We Have Is Now.  Life moves fast, people.  Don’t get caught waiting around – live it and make the most of it.  The closing Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia) is really pretty wonderful, too.
BACKI guess it would be wrong not to mention the title track (well, part one), given it’s likely the song most folks would associate with the band.  Ridiculously wonderful in every way you could imagine.  It bounces along quite nicely as Yoshimi is introduced.  It’s brilliant.  Preposterous, even.  Part 2 is the chaos.  An instrumental breakdown that represents the battle.  Complete with screams and crowd cheering.  You go for it, Yoshimi!  You done it!  And that’s it, really. We never hear from the Pink Robots or Yoshimi again.

Even now.  It’s a great listen – not their best, but it’s still a pretty great record.