Classic Album Review: Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Rattlesnakes [1984, Geffen]

Posted on by Allison in Albums, Article Series, Classic Albums, Everything, Music | 3 Comments

I put Lloyd Cole and the Commotions‘ Rattlesnakes album  in the same category of relatively-unheard-in-North-America U.K. 80’s  releases not dissimilar to Prefab Sprout‘s Steve McQueen. They both contain some of the most fluid and sophistopoppy songs of the decade that have held up through the test of time. Rattlesnakes achieves the distinctiveness of being very reminiscent of the mid-80’s (this is just good pop music, not new wave) while still retaining its contemporary status.

I remember very little about 1984-1985 aside from some very distant memories of my sister bringing home a classroom guinea pig that stunk up our entire house, and an uncle who spent the summers with us while he was at the University of Waterloo flipping over my mom’s station wagon. I was 4 years old, and the internet-age of music was a long way off, bringing home how radically different music channels for distribution have been revolutionized. I have no idea how easy or difficult it would’ve been to go to a record store in Toronto and pick this release up, but I would imagine that the guy running the store probably looked like Boy George.

Do the kids still know who Boy George even is??

Before I start running down the block chasing kids away with my slipper in hand, I’ll get on with the review. What makes this a classic album? More than anything else I think it’s the fact that it still plays as well as an excellent contemporary album would today. Rattlesnakes has an erudite timelessness that most college bands implicitly have due to the fact that we know so-and-so went to Harvard, Columbia, or wherever, but that few explicitly reference with academia. It oozes with substance while managing to stay warm and fuzzy, accessible (these songs may very well be considered adult contemporary by today’s standards) in a way that last week’s Roxy Music is not. We wouldn’t imagine Lloyd Cole to be an art school snob; on the contrary, I’m sure most of us would imagine him to be a nice man. He likes golf, and Wikipedia tells me he likes booking dates that are suspiciously close to golf courses (a man after my own self-serving heart), on top of which, he has been married to the same woman since 1989.

None of this really adds or detracts from the overall quality of the album (aside from highlighting the fact that Mr. Cole is now probably quite old), which I’ll get into right now:

Perfect Skin – An homage to the most underrated female organ, something that often seems forgotten in these days of Jersey Shore tanning beds (hello enlarged pores and unnatural burnt sienna crayon complexion). One thing I most appreciate about Cole’s lyricism is his ability to be specific without overwriting, “She’s got cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin and she’s sexually enlightened by cosmopolitan” says it all. He gets caught up in gleaning the obscure details that make something extra descriptive; a quality that I especially prize.

Speedboat – A lot of bluesy pre-Charlatans keyboards going on here, which I suppose was prominent enough at the time. The careful addition of strings in just the right places makes this feel slick, though. Brilliant sounding chorus too. I hadn’t ever listened to this closely enough to catch what I would imagine to be this story about a couple drowning tragically.

Rattlesnakes – It always pleases me when the best song of the album is also the name of the album. I would also venture to say that Rattlesnakes is the magnum opus of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ brief 3-album career, period. I’m trying to think of a primary element that this incredible song might be missing, and I’m coming up empty. Brilliant lyrics, check. String arrangements, check. Unforgettable beginning, check. Spectrum of deep emotions, check. Reference to intellectual French Feminist and legendary actress, check. This song is just chock full of everything there might be to love about a smart *flawed* (read: real) woman, full stop. “She looks like Eve Marie Saint in On the Waterfront / She reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance”.

Tori Amos’s cover of this song is also fantastic.

Down On Mission Street – The saddest ditty on the entire album, chastising a guy who sounds like a bit of a pathetic dick. Another stellar example of well-arranged strings (and not just strings for the sake of strings).

Forest Fire – Despite some choice bass work, this song is hearkening back to an 80’s easy listening song that is on the tip of my tongue, but not quite coming out (it’s late; I started this to combat insomnia but instead of have sashayed myself into that annoying limbo of being tired but not quite stopping and forcing myself to sleep).

Charlotte Street – Harmonica happiness. Kind of reminds me of The The’s This is the Day. Sweet guitar solo 2/3 of the way through.

2cv – Did Suckers creatively borrow from this song for Save Your Love for Me? Allison’s answer is: yes.

Four Flights Up – A little bit Traveling Willburys, a little bit Chris Isaak. All good. And I’ve just learned that the Cars’ Rik Ocasek produced this along with Patience and Perfect Skin, which makes me like it even more.

Patience – What Freur’s Doot Doot song wishes it could be.

Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken? – This is likely the one our regulars will be familiar with due to Scottish dour faces, Camera Obscura. As much as I enjoyed Let’s Get Out of This Country and generally don’t mind anyone creatively borrowing as long as it doesn’t border on aping, I have to note how much better this song is due to its heartfelt sincerity. Yes Lloyd, we are ready to be heartbroken. We are ready to bleed.

Summerworks: Wilderness of Manitoba, Mountain and the Trees, Entire Cities, The Weather Station, August 12, Upper Ossington Theatre

Posted on by Ricky in Summerworks | 1 Comment

Toronto – The lineup for Summerwork’s music portion on Thursday night reads like titles from Farley Mowat novels – Wilderness of Manitoba, Mountain and the Trees, Entire Cities and The Weather Station. All four bands seem to draw inspiration from Canada’s large and vast space and the gentle and quietness that comes with it. It was basically acoustic-folk power hour at the Upper Ossington Theatre. Knowing that I myself was heading to a cottage on the weekend, I thought these bands would be a nice primer for my foray into nature.

First of all, I would like to thank the staff of Summerworks for putting on a well organized festival. There were no problems anywhere and one of the volunteers at the Festival was nice enough to retrieve one of my flip flops from underneath the seats after that flip flop decided to go rogue and escape from the clutches of my right foot.

Canadian duo The Weather Station started off the night. Tamara Lindeman, took on vocal duties while her partner Jack Donovan used the banjo for most of the set. They played nice set of songs that was a bit on the gentle side. Tamara told us she used to suffer from stage fright, and then played a nice little song that had some really complicated banjo action. After a few short enjoyable tunes, the band was joined by their tour mates, a 7 piece band from Toronto called Entire Cities. They had a more upbeat feel then the Weather Station and lead singer Simon Borer had a mustache that would rival any 70s era hockey player. They retained a similar wild country-folk sound of the Weather Station, but infused some layers onto their music – there was a flutist (is that a word?) and a few guitars as well. The band laid down some funkier songs that managed to get some people off the seats. They too played a few short but enjoyable songs.

Following a short intermission, Jon Janes took the stage with an acoustic guitar. Also known as The Mountain and the Trees, the man was dressed in plaid and instantly captivated the crowd with his blend of honest humor and impressive melodies. I had anticipated a good show after Patricia raved about the man in her CMW review. I think of all the acts I saw on Thursday, this dude definitely impressed me the most. Hailing from Newfoundland, Jon introduced each song with funny anecdotes that added a nice personal feel to the show. I was also impressed with the way he would loop his own guitar and then replayed it later in the song to make it seem like more then one person was on stage. Either he’s really ingenious or anti social, I am not sure. Either way, Mountain and the Trees was definitely impressive.

Considering one year ago, I had never heard of the band the Wilderness of Manitoba, I found it rather shocking that Thursdays night show was the fourth time I had seen the band. They are now tied with The Antlers, British Sea Power, Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, The Rapture and Voxtrot as the bands I have seen the most. Having first seen them play in a garage in their very own backyard, one of the things that first caught my eye about their set on Thursday was how much they had grown as performers in merely a years time. If I had improved my coding skills in one year as much as these guys have improved their live stage skills, I would have created skynet years ago.

Their set this time around sounded sharper then I have ever heard them before and the band was properly spaced out, allowing their vocal harmonies to really fill out the room. The band has also upgraded their wardrobe considerably, looking quite dapper in suits and vests. I say they are taking the professional road now. The band sang a nice blend of bands between their debut release – Hymns of Love and Spirits and their new record, When You Left the Fire. It was nice to hear the recorded sounds of actual birds when they played the song Bluebirds. The next step would be for them to actually have birds in the audience during the set. I think that would be so great.

Overall, it was a nice pleasant evening. Those who know me would not classify me as an acoustic folk music kind of guy but I did enjoy myself at this showcase. If you are looking for something nice, quiet and melodic, then you should check out any of the four bands on the list.

SummerWorks Reviews: Post-Eden, The Sad and Cautionary Tale of Smackheaded Peter, Ride the Cyclone

Posted on by Brian in Everything, Reviews, Summerworks | Leave a comment

promo photo for Atomic Vaudeville’s
Ride the Cyclone

As SummerWorks winds down for another year, I’d like to thank the festival on behalf of the Panic Manual for accrediting us again. Here’s a few more reviews, hopefully you were all lucky enough to catch one of these or a different show from this great festival.

The posters for Suburban Beast’s Post-Eden call it a live film. This is an apt enough term for a show where two large video screens dominate the stage and the cast monologues and acts for a while in front of filmed scenes of themselves. The concept is interesting enough, and the presentation is certainly innovative. But the story lets the production down; it’s a bit prosaic, and much as it struggles to tie a few disparate story threads together, it doesn’t quite manage it.

Susan (Sascha Cole) and Robert (David Coomber) are a married couple trying to sort out their lives after a messy affair. Their teenage daughter Ashley (Jenna MacMillan) finds herself drawn to local brooding teen Jacob (Kevin Walker) who’s convinced that the world is about to end. And Eden (Lindsey Clark) is the family dog, who died of a protracted illness. The attention the sick dog got left Robert feeling unloved; Ashley, meanwhile, is convinced that the deceased dog is restless under the ground in their backyard and has cursed the family.

Having a person play the dog is not nearly the weirdest thing in this show; a couple of the images that come across the screen are very odd, like the one where Ashley and Jacob have rubber animal masks on and make out in the street. Stuff like that is way too abstract for this show’s good, as it’s hard enough to believably mesh live acting with filmed scenes without trying to throw in that level of bizarre too. For such a central plot point, the “curse” of the dead dog doesn’t really get much play. The parent’s storyline ends up being a fair bit more interesting than that of the two teenagers. There’s some mumbo-jumbo about wildlife in the area acting up, but it’s all talked about a lot more than it’s shown and mostly seems extraneous to the plot.

Still, the production wins points for creativity in presentation, and the cast is pretty good, with extra credit to Clark, who gets partially buried in sand on stage, something I’d sure not want to be doing every other night for a week and a half.

(after the click: Smackheaded Peter and probable fan’s choice pick Ride the Cyclone)

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Concert Review: DVAS/Designer Drugs, August 13, The Mod Club

Posted on by Paul in Concerts | 1 Comment

Toronto – I will be the first to admit that I’m a bit of a rockist at times.  Sure, I enjoy a good electro/dance tune as much as the next guy (and I saw quite a bit of electronic stuff at this past weekend’s Lollapalooza), but I’m less likely to go out and see that stuff live.  I had heard good things about DVAS however, and wanted to check them out.  So even though it was a Friday the 13th, I figured I’d try my luck and see what they were all about.  I was impressed.

Playing a brand of music heavily influenced by the ’80s and full of lots of hot synth action, they were a little reminiscent of Chromeo, but definitely had their own thing going on.  Jered Stuffco is an engaging frontman with a strong voice that almost veered into falsetto territory on occasion.  I found that he referred to the crowd as “y’all” a few too many times, but that can be forgiven when you introduce songs with lines such as “This song is about sex addiction!”  Lo and behold, the song was about sex addiction.  And it was an awesome song.  DVAS played more than a few awesome songs, my favourites being “Questions” and “Watching You.”

Up next were New York’s Designer Drugs.  Appropriately enough, some guy in the crowd approached me before their set and tried to sell me drugs – probably not designer ones though.  “Yo bro, you lookin’ for anything?”  “Um .. no.  Please go away now.”  Back to the music: Designer Drugs spun a great set of tunes that had the whole room going crazy.  At times, it almost felt like I was partying with the cast of Jersey Shore – there was a lot of fist pumping going on.  I’m not sure how many people in the audience caught the sample of Refused’s “New Noise” that they slipped in there, but I certainly did and it was appreciated, as was their use of Hot Butter’s  “Popcorn” later in the set.  All in all, a good night of music.