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Old 09-14-2020, 08:06 AM   #41 (permalink)
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#6 Live at the Witch Trials (1979)

mother****ing PUNKKK ROCKKK

What's Great About it:
What a way to announce your presence! This record doesn't just kick the door in, it fires it off the hinges. It's Bombastic, it's Speedy, it's Vitriolic, it jitters with an energy that's enough to give you a stomach ache, nausea like you had a cup of coffee too many and then had 3 more(and then a line of coke).

It's at once the expected new punks debut, and totally alien. Every element of it has its own atypical personality. Marc Riley's thin and wiry playing warbles around the beat between adrenaline pumping power chords and elongated dissonant lines of Guitar Hero parody, the keys ring like the UI of a junked spaceship sounding like a more raucous take on Devo's Moog, the lofi production is somehow more lo-fier than other important '79 records (although from live takes it's easy to tell this isn't literally a live album)

the drums, goddamn these drums, they're so good the debut of MES could also be a story of the debut of Karl Burns. The only member of the group to match Marky's temperament, the drummer would be partly responsible for 3 of the top 10 albums of this list(including Hex Enduction Hour, and This Nation's Saving Grace) before finally leaving the band for good after an on-stage physical altercation with Marky in 1998.

I'm convinced he could have been a household name of 80's rock if he had a cooler head, (there were even talks of him joining PiL as a permanent member at one point), and it's on Witch Trials that he was given license to go hog wild. This is not the 4 on the floor snare heaven of your typical Joy Division student, Burns flies off the rails with attitude-laden fills and brings every acrobatic flourish to a gigantic punctuating crash. I'll admit I've only sat behind a kit once or 3 times in my life, but every time I have, I imagine myself delivering the rapid fire opening of “Crap rap/Like 2 Blow”, the punchy swagger of “Music Scene” and the thunderous racket of “The Classical”.

And finally, the man needs no introduction. Mark E. mother****ing Smith comes out the gate swinging. Scarcely is there a vocalist with such an idiosyncratic style, his delivery made additionally foreign behind his thick Northern English accent. Here he plays it somewhere between meth addled psycho and lovable entertainer.

The culmination of these elements is a band that from the very start demands to be heard. It stands out among its contemporaries, and carries the energy of big fish in a small pond through its entire duration.

There's a fierce hunger in early Fall that rings the hardest on Witch Trials. The music is clawing away from the mundane day to day of life, the lyrics echo'ing fears of inheriting plumbing as a profession (“I ran away from toilet and feces”), living on pittances from backbreaking dock labor (YAA YAA Industrial Estate), and getting caught in a drugged out cyclical lifestyle on the dole (Uhhh Repetition!)

it speaks to something great about punk in general as opposed to the romanticism in rock before it... it often captures what modern capitalist life has in store for the majority of people. Boredom and tedium, enough to drive a person mad.

The record itself though, is an exhilarating escape, an electrifying experience of unadulterated bedroom pogo, too smart for it attitude, and angry spitting catharsis.
Music would never be the same, it's The Fall.

Why it isn't higher on the list: The competition is getting stiff. This album could be higher on the list, it's a tough call. You could compare it to The Cure's debut in this way, it's not actually better or worse than what would follow, it's just a much straighter one-dimensional experience. What it does, it does perfectly. Later Fall albums would never match the sheer intensity of this first record, and that's important to note.
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Last edited by elphenor; 09-14-2020 at 08:50 PM. Reason: thx daddy
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Old 12-31-2020, 12:33 PM   #42 (permalink)
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Hex Enduction Hour (1982)

a rockin' oddball masterpiece, pure genius

What's Great About it:

The vision was a record that sunk in like a good book. Something comfortable and atmospheric yet heavy and intellectual. I don't think any other punk band with a good thing going would even attempt Hex Enduction Hour, but MES knew he didn't belong in the doldrums of critically acclaimed indie or with the "well meaning but inept hippies" of Rough Trade. He was striving for something with the meaty literary permanence of a Captain Beefheart or Velvet Underground only he'd take it even further and incorporate elements of Can for good measure.

He'd accomplish this with three main changes:

First, they'd be bailing on Rough Trade, their new label, Kamera, is now lost to time but MES described it as containing a bunch of old metal heads in his autobio

Next, Karl Burns would be recording with the group again, however not as the replacement drummer but rather in addition to Paul Hanley

And lastly, The Fall would be traveling up into the mountains of Iceland to play a few gigs and record

the mystical "Hex" was the supposed final Fall album, and it may have been if each of these changes didn't align perfectly in a breath of divine inspiration pushing the already progressive punk group into its own branch of ferocious Avant-Jazz

the arrangements are improvised with the slower moments descending upon you like Icelandic mountain fog in the early morning, while the uptempo turns strike with the sudden jagged fury of a bad temper

the pure texture of the sound is fascinating, lofi haze with dense abstract guitar attacks that somehow still leave plenty of space for the polyrythmic drums and melodic basslines

it all comes together like a drunken stupor in the snow, MES remarked that the unique studio even looked like an igloo

the production takes wild risks while retaining a near live mix, MES remarks in Renegade that he would try things he'd never heard of anyone else doing, making tweaks that would drive any sound engineer mad and recording his vocals over slowed down and sped up versions of the songs

there's simply nothing else that sounds close to it, in the best possible way

the vocals are high in the mix and as vital as ever with a captivating wad of literary influence as dense and exciting as the music, off the lyric sheet it reads like what you might see in pages pinned to a belligerent reclusive writer's bedroom wall if the author had been dropping acid three days out of the week

over these songs it somehow all makes sense

it's an unforgettable record, The Fall's last stand against a forgetful history, they didn't go down as just another Punk group...

Why isn't higher on the list: honestly "And this Day", the closing track crosses over into excessive self-indulgence and doesn't need to clock in at an entire ten minutes

Jawbone Air-rifle is fun but not essential

I would have preferred a couple of the songs they were working on in live shows to replace these tracks, maybe "Jazzed up Punk ****" given some polish

but it comes with the territory of the process they used
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Old 01-01-2021, 07:26 PM   #43 (permalink)
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#4 The Wonderful and the Frightening (1984)


high falutin' glammed up garage in this relentlessly inspired double LP

What's Great About it: This is the album that first put The Fall on my radar. Back in the day when elph was a baby bat and mostly into New Wave and Goth, and The Smiths the wacky pop gem "C.R.E.E.P" somehow made it onto a playlist of mine. Between the sparkling synths, infectious bassline, and totally bizzaro duet of Brix and Marky scarcely has a piece of music inspired such unadulterated joy in me.

it's dripping with vibrant personality, it's absurd but not stupid, so colorful and fun I want to laugh and bedroom pogo at the same time

it's the type of music that'd usher in World Peace if people could just wake up from their greyscale cynical commercial trials in the science of marketable production and Sex and GOOD GOD GET SOME FOOKING TASTES

anyway I see "Oh, Brother" as the partner song and it too is phenomenal melodic bass ecstasy with obscure lyricism

this is the first Fall album where Brix started playing an active role and besides the pop tracks her influence is prominent on the psych garage opener and the rockin' "2X4" that's hilariously inspired by her father's suspicion of Marky, the image being that of the patriarch chasing the delinquent Marky while wielding a block of wood. Whether this really occurred, who knows.

She rarely gets proper credit for what her playing brought to the table and in addition to Karl Burns this was easily one of the tightest incarnations of the group

Still, The Wonderful Frightening World of The Fall is the world of Mark E. Smith and it's his wild drug fueled imagination that spins the dizzying guitars and double drums into wild new landscapes

"Copped It" features the Virgin Prunes vocalist in addition to already being a chuggin' dumpster rock monstrosity about the puritanical attitude of the music scene towards plagiarism

"Disney Dreamland Debased" hilariously utilizes a premonition MES had while at Disneyland with The Fall the same day there was a freak ride accident ending in a decapitated customer for the purposes of a jangle pop ditty

track for track Wonderful and Frightening delivers the most creative ideas of probably any Fall album on this list

in addition, MES really hones his drunken sing-along style into a hook generating machine, his natural command of melody can reach out and grip the listener like industrial strength glue

behind the accent and wordy style you start to hear echoes of Bo Diddley and Gene Vincent, the whole great American tradition of Rock'n'Roll being channeled almost impossibly through this quaint Edinburgh man

there's a lot to love in the Wonderful world of The Fall

Why isn't it higher on the list: The Fall's first expedition into prettier psych guitars while interesting doesn't always deliver pure electricity, and some bands do outclass them in this specific genre

this is right outside the top 3, and my first real love when it comes to The Fall, but it's not a perfect album
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Old 03-11-2021, 03:57 PM   #44 (permalink)
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#3 Perverted by Language

it's not repetition it's discipline

What's Great About it: This record got the definition of "mixed" reviews for the very reasons that make it a top 3 Fall record. While The Fall were already an outsiders group even among outsiders, Perverted by Language confused a British music landscape just getting comfortable with the idea of Punk with its heavier reliance on repetition and experimentation.

however those that got it really got it, the opening track immediately displays how much the new krautrockian approach works...the mythology goes that John Peel immediately fainted on air after playing it

"Eat Y'self Fitter" is an unforgettable 5+ minute gripping chug of weaponized Kraftwerk and rockabilly that defies explanation, the practically one chord verse abruptly collides into one of The Fall's most zany and unforgettable choruses

the closer is as equally powerful as the opener, "Hexen Strife" is an insanely potent western swing and contender for the quintessential Fall song

in addition to the stand outs like the above mentioned tracks, the album is one of The Fall's most cohesive outputs, listeners that let the record run down to the last groove are rewarded with an experience like a prog record that still retains the anarchy and cynicism of punk, as you pick your drooling self up from the carpet to flip the record you wonder how much time has past and maybe if time isn't just an illusion altogether

the grounded set up allows MES to really play with his Free Verse poetry approach to lyricism running language experiments on some tracks and raging indictments on others

such is the wealth of discovery here, that a thought provoking conversation among the devoted continues today about the various meanings and significance of the lines found across these eight tracks

at the same time MES understood well the importance within the audio medium of using a phrase that "slaps you in the eyes" or sends an immediate jolt down the listeners spine and you find plenty of that here as well:

you know nothing about it/it's not your domain/don't confuse yourself with someone who has something to say

what's a computer/eat y'self fitter

it was the time of giant moths in the neighborhood of infinity/used to have this thing about Link Wray/ used to play him every Saturday

etc. etc. etc.



lyrically it's one of my favorite albums of all time, and for about half of it I still have no idea what this drunken Brit is going on about

there seems to be a relatable theme of claustrophobia and discontentment with the new quieter established home life with Brix as the vultures and stale hanger-ons of the music industry swirl around them, MES has something to say about everyone of them

speaking of Brix, the final plus to this album that I'll mention here is that she makes her debut co-writing "Hotel Bloedel", a mystifying track, her soft vocals, while still plenty punk both contrast and harmonize well with Marky's speak-sing

Why isn't it higher on the list: I think a case could be made for this actually being the best Fall album if you included some of the other tracks recorded at the time that would later be included in bonus editions

Kicker Conspiracy...Wings...Pilsner Trail

if these could have been worked into the original release you'd have an album just as powerful as the second and third Fall album
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Old 05-10-2021, 07:06 PM   #45 (permalink)
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#2 Dragnet

Lovecrafted pissdrunk racket

What's Great About it:

there is nothing else that sounds like this album...simply nothing

while other macabre punk groups brought gothic literature to life with reverb drenched guitars, compressed snare, and studio overdubs, The Fall deliver the uncanny based on Smith's mysticism and the band's adventurousness alone

the songs use the downtempo grooves, heavy bass, and traditionally non-western scales adopted by groups like Siouxsie and the Banshees but forgo the production frills and new glam

Smith rings out red hot on the mic over garbage can drums while Riley's cartoonish style turns ghastly all recorded in what sounds near straight to tape

what's captured is as fun as it is menacing, laugh out loud funny but then totally gripping...as if you were dropped head first into some Lovecraftian dimension.... only the monsters here wear shoes for hats and all other matter of oddities

MES remarks in "Renegade" that as much as pop musicians got down into seeing themselves as navelgazing artists, he still felt he had an important role as an entertainer

he lives up to this wonderfully, the lack of production really lets the lyrics and Marky's vibrant personality punch through and exhilarate the listener into drunken pogo ecstasy the whole thing grounded by his impeccable ear for a good hook

his other roles seem to be as a rabble rouser, risk taker, and critic of critics, he takes his first shots at journalists here with the fiery "Printhead" an eviscerating line concludes it

Quote:
"With print you substitute an ear
For an extra useless eye"
Dragnet is a record that proves to me the limitless possibilities of sound even within the pop medium. The ability for art to re-contextualize aspects of life, to morph and repurpose ways of thinking and to highlight the power of true individualism

here Camus' Absurd Man proves the joy in horror

Quote:
They say music should be fun
Like reading a story of love
But I wanna read a horror story

Why isn't it higher on the list: well it's basically tied with the next one
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Old 05-12-2021, 01:03 PM   #46 (permalink)
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Levitate gon' be numba 1, I'm calling it.
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