Sunday, December 04, 2016

DANNY 'FUCKING' WORSNOP



Well, fuck... don't thank me for this. Don't thank anyone. This new release was brought to my attention by a friend who grew up on the early stable of Earache artists, notably NAPALM DEATH, CARCASS, BOLT THROWER, ENTOMBED, GODFLESH, MORBID ANGEL et al. For him, Earache was his SST, so to speak; and, like SST's demise, Earache's decline in quality is so fucking obvious you could chart it on a bar graph.

It's not like I've been following the label. Hell, outside of Digby Pearson and his accountants, I don't think anyone has been following the parade of embarrassments Earache has been dragging out the past 15 - 20 years. I was well aware of Earache's standing in the grand scheme of things back when it was at its peak as a label and tastemaker (that'd be approximately 1987 - 1993) - and I heard (and in some cases owned) and enjoyed those crucial early records by Napalm Death, Carcass, Godflesh, etc. - but it was a dabbling and diversion for moi, and not something I focussed on as a steady musical diet. In the mid '90s I found myself working for their Australian distributor, and in some cases licensor, and so was very privy to what was going on with the label. The woeful outfit known as Dub War, who sounded like a bogus heavy metal stew of The Police and I Against I-period Bad Brains, made quite a splash and toured here at the time (I saw them - then again, I had freebies and saw just about every international act I could get freebies for; PS - they sucked), and some of the more purist metalheads I worked with bemoaned the unmetallic nature of Earache's venturing.

I thought it was a good idea for the label to wander outside its musical comfort zone, but only if the results were what I considered 'good'. One such release was Scorn's Gyral from 1996. Featuring ex-Napalm Death skinsman Mick Harris at the helm, the band/project known as Scorn had drifted from being a Swans/Head Of David/Godflesh-style 'heavy' rock outfit to a minimalist, percussion-based electronic proposition whose sounds prefigured Burial and other progenitors of what is known as 'dubstep' (you may have heard of it) by a couple of decades. I have been informed that his minimal success with Scorn, who pioneered a sound which was hugely popular decades later, has embittered him to no end - that may or may not be true, however. Gyral was Scorn's last release on Earache; they continued on for several more excellent releases on other labels, and Mick also had the ultra-minimalist, 'isolationist' project, Lull, who also did some fascinating recordings. But I'm losing focus here: the point is: Scorn's Gyral was licensed for the Australian market - and sold zip. And there were the Industrial Fucking Strength compilations and the equally woeful forays into 'hardcore'/'gabba' XTRM dance music with Ultraviolence and Johnny Violent, none of which took off; and by the time they released the debut by the now utterly forgotten Janus Stark - a band who - get this - featured the guitarist from The Prodigy - it was all over. Well, I recall liking those Iron Monkey albums they did, but nothing else springs to mind. I saw Napalm Death play in, was it 1997? Another freebie. They were fucking terrible. I left before they finished. ND made a great 'grind' band, but as a 'death metal' band, they were an utter failure - musically, if not commercially. I do not consider the terms 'grindcore' and 'death metal' interchangeable. I also saw Cathedral during this period. By this stage (that's probably 1997 or '98), their recordings were horrible, but as a live band they could still cut it in a to-the-point 'heavy' Sabbathian manner, something their records could definitely no longer achieve.

Approximately six or seven years ago, I found myself reappraising and hugely enjoying some of the groundbreaking recordings from the earlier days of the label: the first two LPs by Napalm Death and Carcass (these four albums are totally essential for anyone with a taste for noise), Godflesh's Streetcleaner, Scorn's output, Bolt Thrower's first 3 or 4 discs (a band who were a human punchline back in the day, but those records are great), Cathedral's Forest Of Equilibrium and others. In the pantheon of rock music, these are important recordings. What will never be important is the entire recorded works of Danny Worsnop. I know nothing of him, except that he is also the vocalist in two bands with improbably awful names such as Asking Alexandria and We Are Harlot. The former is a 'metalcore' outfit (excuse the language), the latter is a 'hard rock supergroup' featuring some other dickheads. What in the fucking fuck Digby Pearson is doing releasing a record by Worsnop is possibly something which can only be discussed between himself and his therapist, because I can't locate a logical reason for it. Earache has released some utter tripe in recent years - hello Massive and Rival Sons - but this is a new low. I'm not sure why I care. I'm not sure I do. I just thought you should know that Earache, nearly 30 years after the release of Scum, is about to release a recording which sounds like the missing link between Sugar Ray, Uncle Kracker and Alan Jackson. Knock yourself out.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Some random nonsense...

I heard the song below, The Animals' 'Outcast', recently in a film I watched. For the life of me, I cannot recall what the film was. It was a couple of months ago, and obviously not memorable. But the song in question was. I found myself freeze-framing the credits at the end so I could find out who sang the track in question. Like many of the 'original' Animals' singles (before the band lost half its membership and split for California in '66), it's a cover of a soul/R & B tune, this one penned by Eddie and Ernie, a duo I must claim ignorance of. Anyway, the sheer psychedelic soul-power of Eric Burdon and co.'s rendition, with that wicked fuzzed guitar, is the sound that puts a skip in one's step. It's one of the best things I've heard this year.



And in regards to some belated SST worship - it's been a week or two - there's this footage of Saccharine Trust and Minutemen at the Anti-Club in '82. Oh yeah, there's Turds In Space thrown in the mix, too, which is some Spot avant project I kinda skipped through. But the 'Trust and the 'Men - oooooh, boy! - at this stage of the game they were writing a new rule book to tear up. It's interesting seeing just how low-key this whole mythical scene was back in its earlier days. Word is - according to someone, maybe Watt or Carducci - that the Minutemen never really got themselves an audience outside of their immediate peers, friends and gushing critics until Double Nickels was released and won them a wider audience. That may indeed be true. The 'Trust have never won themselves a wide audience, but you can't blame me for trying.



Lastly, there's Frank Zappa and his band of longhairs circa 1973. I noted a few posts ago that early '70s Zappa - which I had previously poo-poo'd - has been quite an obsession of mine the past 12 months, and it hasn't abated yet. This is a pretty excellent example of the freak show he and his band were at the time, and gathering by the number of Zappa-influenced bands who came out of Europe in the early '70s (I am fond of saying - oh, so fond of saying - that 70% of the Nurse With Wound list is merely made up of European art-rock gimps trying to copy Zappa and Soft Machine), I can only assume he made quite an impact. Enjoy. You've earned it.


Thursday, November 24, 2016

LATIN PLAYBOYS


The two albums released by the band known as LATIN PLAYBOYS in 1994 and 1999 - that's Latin Playboys and Dose, respectively - are worth considering and hearing. I recall them being played a lot here on community radio at the time, winning huge critical praise (Album Of The Years from various places), and yet I'm willing to bet that they didn't actually sell a whole lot and seem to be scarcely even remembered at this point in history. Latin Playboys were essentially a studio project for David Hidalgo and Louie Perez, both well know for their longtime work with Los Lobos, and their producer/muso friends, Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake. Los Lobos, as I hope you know, add up to a whole lot more than that band who did the La Bamba soundtrack (which was fucking ubiquitous back here in the day, and probably ruined the band for an eternity for many). Some interesting points to note: the band has been around since 1974, formed by a group of young Latino Americans with a fondness for traditional Mexican music, Ry Cooder and Richard Thompson (not the staple music diet of a typical teen at the time); they released an independent LP way back in 1978 (a record, I have just discovered, which fetches stupid money on Discogs); they made their first real splash on the LA punk scene, supporting Public Image's first show in LA in 1980; their longtime brass/wind man is Steve Berlin, he of the Flesh Eaters/Blasters; and their 1992 LP, Kiko, one often described as their 'experimental' album, is totally fucking magnificent, and a real fave of mine - it as a beautiful sparseness to it, with sweet harmonies and off-kilter percussion. And there are other albums in their vast discography to consider, too (their first 'proper' LP, 1984's How Will The Wolf Survive?, is also tops), but let's speak of Latin Playboys.


This band I speak of were put together by Hidalgo and Perez after their experience recording Kiko and a desire to get deeper with their musical experimentation. In essence, let's cut the horseshit and call 'em what they were: an experimental side project. The band took the Latin/roots approach of their more famous other group and melded it into an avant-garde take thereof, with scratchy guitars, feedback, noisy electronics, tinny percussion and songs which appear to be on the verge of falling apart. Roll it all together into a recording approach which basically sounds like a rough demo - which is how the band came to be in the first place - and that's Latin Playboys. If I was to compare it to anything - and of course I must - the closest approximation would be Tom Waits' more 'out' recordings, such as Bone Machine, Swordfishtrombones and the Black Rider score, although Latin Playboys' approach is more haphazard, bringing to mind the way someone like, oh dear god, Guided By Voices put albums together circa 1990 - 1993 (please note: Latin Playboys and GBV sound absolutely nothing like each other; I am merely pointing out the 'sketch'-like approach to song craft both bands had at one point). Here's a bunch of killer tracks which give you an overview of their oeuvre: 'Viva La Raza', 'New Zandu', 'Same Brown Earth', 'Crayon Sun', 'Fiesta Erotica', 'Locoman' and 'Paula Y Fred'. What's interesting, too, is that, despite being recorded and released 5 years apart, the albums sound like they could've sprung from the same recording session. There is little differentiating the two in regards to quality and style. Both were released on Slash at the time, who were probably riding high on the success of drek like Faith No More and L7 at the time (as well as the general boost the whole biz had in the '90s), and since that day will never likely come again, you can probably forget about a semi-major recording company indulging their talent to this extent once more. Whatever. Here's the good news: Latin Playboys, and the two terrific albums they released in the '90s, are largely forgotten these days, and you can probably pick up the CDs for a buck or two a piece from a charity store with ease, as I did. For totally deconstructed and reconstructed Latin rock & roll, they're hard to beat.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Random groovy tunes...

No rhyme, no reason, a sample of some cuts getting a spin...

The name RUN WESTY RUN will garner a variety of reactions from dear readers. I can only gather that the majority one will be a befuddled WHO? Others will wonder why on earth I'm scraping the bottom of the SST barrel by giving them any coverage whatsoever. And there will be a few true believers who will acknowledge that their self-titled debut LP from 1988 - whilst no classic in this or any alternate universe - can at least boast a couple of pretty bumper tunes in a kinda forgettable late-'80s college-rock vein. Yes, I'm damning it with some faint praise there, but praise it still is. There's this cut, 'Curled Ending', which for me is the highlight of the disc in question, always the track I go for when I pull the LP off the shelf for its annual spin, and since it's on YouTube, I probably don't even need to go to that much effort anymore. I read somewhere that Grant Hart recommended the band to Ginn/Dukowski and co., the band being Minneapolis natives who were mining a kind of late-period Replacements/Huskers vein (certainly not the most inspiring period for either band, but whatever), and of course it's easy to dismiss their two LPs on SST as an excercise in pure pointlessness when the label was throwing piles of shit against the wall, I bear them no grudge for their efforts. They released two full-lengthers on the label before switching to their hometown imprint, Twin/Tone, in 1990 for one more exercise in recorded nothingness and disappeared thereafter. For someone somewhere I'm sure they're a musical big deal, and I do not mean to shit on your parade. I think they had one or two bright, shining moments, and the rest of their oeuvre belongs in the bargain bin, where it likely resides today. Still, those few shining moments were pretty damn great. For the record, I bought my beat-up cut-out copy of this LP about two decades ago; the version I heard and played in my younger days was my brother's which he received in a 3PBS radio competition in early 1999, in which he won an "SST prize pack' containing RWR, SWA's Winter LP and something else I forget. Score!



Let's quickly ponder LA's X, not the Australian one, who have pondered here before. They are or at least were an obvious entry point for many into the world of west coast punk back in the day, although for many I can only assume they were considered too much of a musical half-measure to be that inspiring, or maybe it was their descent into fairly mundane college-rock which has spoilt their musical legacy for many. They're not a band who ever got my blood running in a major way, although I always liked their interviews and live footage from the original Decline... film, and always had a soft spot for the John Doe/Exene musical partnership and their various musical endeavours (their roots band, The Knitters, who also featured Blasters folks, put out a great album in '85; and let's not forget John Doe's guest appearance on Tom Troccoli's sole LP on SST - I know you've been trying, but I thought I'd remind you). So, it comes to be that now, in my mid 40s, I have been greatly enjoying their first two LPs a whole lot. I bought 'em both about 20 years back for about a ha'penny a piece, and it's not like I've never not enjoyed them, but lately their rotation has been 'heavy', as opposed to an annual pity-spin. Although X were first-gen LA punker, they never really had the wild musical bent nor nihilism of many of their pears, whether they be other first-gen punkers (Weirdos/Screamers/Germs) or suburban HC slammers (Black Flag/Adolescents/Circle Jerks/Fear), but that doesn't mean their more polished and mature 'rock' sound is something to dismiss. It does, after all, 'rock'. For my money, their second effort, 1981's Wild Gift, is a better musical proposition than the debut, 1980's Los Angeles. Both were produced by Ray Manzarek (a man who staked his claim in life as 'an ex-member of The Doors'), though from all reports, Ray was a genuine fan of this crazy new music scene and wanted to do it justice in the studio. I think he succeeded moreso with his second effort. Song-wise, both LPs are stylistically similar - a Ramones-damaged mid-tempo punk rock approach with Billy Zoom's rockabilly inflections scattered throughout - but that claustrophobic, tight-assed sound Manzarek got on the debut is unleashed on Wild Gift, and it sounds like it's got some air to breathe. It sounds like a real punk rock recording, whereas the debut sounds like someone sucked the rock out of it. Got me? Good. Both albums have their fair share of boss cuts familiar to all and sundry, but Wild Gift has 'We're Desperate', 'I'm Coming Over' and 'In This House That I Call Home', and you need all of the above. I'd rate both as quite mandatory, should you be attempting to get your head around US punk rock of the past 40 years. The critics loved 'em, of coirse, but don't hate 'em because of it.



And onto something completely different. I've been heavily absorbing the, err, heavy sounds of Wales' BUDGIE the past 12 months. So much so, I have actually splurged on physical copies (their essential albums from the 1970s have been granted rather swish vinyl reissues) to show my fandom, or something or other. I was made aware of their catalogue at two previous places of work, one in the latter half of the '90s, and one this century. In both workplaces I was situated within spitting distance of a vocal fan, and I came to appreciate the crunching, boogified nature of their power-trio ways. For the record, Budgie's first four albums from 1971 - '75, at the very least, I would rate as essential stabs of pre-punk hard rock a smidgen under the A-level sludge of Black Sabbath: that's Budgie, Squawk, Never Turn Your Back On A Friend and In For The Kill. Yes, there's a picture of a fucking budgie on every single album cover, with said picture often used as a pun in connection with the album title. Why the name Budgie? No idea, though I'm sure there's a ripper of a story behind it. Led by bassist/voclaist, Burke Shelley (and guitarist Tony Bourge was there for their best years, too), and formed in 1967, the obvious comparisons for their sonics would be Black Sabbath, Led Zep and Rush, although one should probably clarify a few things: Budgie never contained the monumental bong-rattling heaviness of 'Sabbath, the musical eclecticsm of Zep nor the technical wizardry/tedium or Rush. They occupied their own space somewhere between all three, and a nice space it be. In the realms of pre-Ramonic hard rock - that certain brand of guitar-heavy boogified no-brains-necessary realm of guitar/bass/drums aktion where frankly rather unattractive men in horrible clothes made beautiful noise - I would give them a ticket to sainthood. Like many of their hard-rock brethren, things started going pear-shaped by the time punk hit. It's not that punk wiped the floor with them and the old guard just shut up shop: much of the old guard, or at least those who made great music between the years 1970 - 1975, were simply running on empty by 1976. Inspiration only lasts so long. For many of the first-wave punkers, they were lucky to make it past 1979 without humiliating themselves in the process, so let's not say I'm being unkind here. Hard to pick a fave between the four because they're all good and all follow a similar path: cowbell, rifferama both slow and fast, an occasional acoiustic track and Shelley's squeezed-testicles vocals telling a story of a devil woman or thereabouts. Great song titles, too: any band who can sing a song entitled 'Hot As A Docker's Armpit' deserves your undying love. Many bands you know and love, and some you probably don't, have a great fondness for Budgie, which, by the natural laws of physics, means you should give them a listen.


Friday, November 04, 2016

Theme From An Imaginary Western


I've written about the band DC3 a few times before on this blog. It's not like I really have a whole lot more to add to the story, and it's not like the band - that's Dez Cadena's post-Black Flag outfit who featured a coupla Stains and a Paul Roessler (Kira's bro, ex-Screamers/Twisted Roots bearer of dreadlocks) in the mix - were exactly a top-tier musical outfit worthy of pages of ink in their praise. After 3 or 4 years of punk rock shenanigans, DC3 were Dez's back-to-basics return to his pre-punk roots: Budgie, Deep Purple, Mountain, Hawkwind. Back in the mid '80s, all this kinda get-up was about as fashionable as last year's milk, and I'd bet a penny or two they never shifted too many units in their lifetime nor the afterlife, but that doesn't mean there's nothing to recommend in their catalogue. I have noted before that the debut, This Is The Dream, has a fairly cool Saint Vitus-style sludge to it, and their live LP from '88, Vida, is probably even better, but in between it's pretty slim pickings. You're Only As Blind As Your Mind Can Be from 1986, which I have owned since, what, 1989?, is a record I have tried so many times with, but I always come up empty. The record itself comes up empty. Dez was always one of my fave Flaggers, but it is simply a rather terrible rock album which offers the listener little, and I can't for the life of me figure out what it was they were trying to achieve with the recording. It doesn't sound 'heavy', nor '70s' nor 'psychedelic', and therein lies a recording we will discuss no more.

The absolute best thing they ever did, was in fact their cover of Jack Bruce's 'Theme From An Imaginary Western', a track made semi-famous by Mountain's version on their excellent debut LP from 1970, Climbing. DC3's version remains the best there ever was, a truly magical slice of baroque hard rock with incredible dexterity and musicianship which possesses a precision neither other semi-famous version possesses. In fact, it remains one of my all-time fave SST jams ever. Dez's version was only ever available on the second Blasting Concept album from '86, and some fine citizen has finally placed it on Youtube for all to enjoy. Let's line 'em up and see how they go...



Sunday, September 11, 2016

ORANSSI PAZUZU


This is one of my favourite albums of 2016, and it's by Finland's ORANZZI PAZUZU (which means 'Orange Demon', I am reliably informed). The name of the album: Varahtelija, released on the excellent SVART label out of Finland (certainly one of my fave imprints on planet earth, reissuing all kinds of stoner, Black Metal, Nordic hardcore, free jazz, weird prog/fusion, psych and all in between. I am not on a retainer for stating this: what they do is a very good thing). And then there is Oranssi Pazuzu (excuse me if I simply refer to them as 'OP' from now on). They're a Finnish quartet, and this is their fourth album. I've also been getting myself familiar with two previous efforts, 2013's Valonielu and 2011's Kosmonument, and to me they represent one fucking great band evolving, progressing and getting better with each release.

OP are nominally a 'Black Metal' band, but such a genre now carries such a broad umbrella of sound under its wing that it can be almost impossible to peg just exactly what a BM band is. I used to cover a fair bit of BM in this blog about a decade ago - and nothing too wildly outside of the big names (Darkthrone, Burzum, Immortal, Enslaved; as well as US BM such as Weakling and Leviathan), other than some detours to the likes of End from Greece, Idjarn and Striborg (the last two I haven't listened to since BC - Before Children) - but I must admit I've barely given the 'genre' a listen in the last 9 years. Fatherhood may've been a deciding factor in that (you can't play that shit in the house when you have infants - it just doesn't work), but it could also be just a part of my listening habits: I tend to go through phases of a certain genre/sound, beat it into the ground for a few years then move onto something else, only to revisit that sound again years down the track (the same thing has happened with my total obsession with post-war R & B/blues/rockabilly from a number of years back - that obsession will come back).



So! To kick back and ensconce myself in some real-deal BM, even if it is of the 'arty' variety as slung by OP, almost feels like a breath of fresh air. OK, let's call OP a 'psychedelic BM band', for whilst grimness abounds, blast beats are had and growls can be heard, it's mixed up with a *gulp* almost post-rock sensibility, some of this sound like the orchestral sheets of sound you might get on a Godspeed disc, with Hawkwindish synth swirls, Flippery dirges and a hypnotic, cyclical churn not one thousand miles removed from the acid-fried goodness of a Miles ca. Agharta/Pangaea. Christ. Now that description probably just makes OP sound like a mish-mash of record collectors' wet dreams, but for the record: I am not and never have been a record collector; and 2) these comparisons are merely projections from my mind and very likely don't reflect the influences nor intent of the band. In other words, their ideas are their own. I still like noisy, anti-social shit when it's done well (and boy, it's the worst when it's done poorly), and OP appear to be serious in intent. They're not out there being 'extreme', 'radical' and trying to offend: it's simply about beautiful noise. They are one of the best things you will hear in 2016.

Below is an older dirge which you should sink your ears into...

Friday, September 09, 2016

DAVID BOWIE - Blackstar



'tis nearing mid September in the year 2016, and yet I still haven't heard a better album this year - or one released this year - which betters DAVID BOWIE's Blackstar LP. If you'd told me on January the 1st that I'd rate David Bowie's imminent and much-touted release as my favourite record of 2016, I'd have called you a smoking joker, and likely much worse. As with just about anyone and everyone I know with a modicum of discerning taste, I hadn't rated anything Bowie had done - bar maybe a single or two - since the late '70s. He went into mersh overload in the '80s (and, in my opinion, had a number of great pop singles in the first half of the decade), but slid considerably into nowheresville by the latter half of the decade, spent the '90s in some sort of faux industrial/drum & bass hellhole and then piffled around in the 21st century trying to play catchup with a handful of 'okay' musical endeavours (I 'liked' the The Next Day, but not enough to want to hear it more than twice).

Bowie is one of those characters who divides opinion amongst the rock cognoscenti, or at least the hardcore rockist elements of it. For some, the mere mention of him as a 'pioneer' or even a 'rocker' is something which brings out the guffaws. Wasn't he merely a musical thief, an opportunist and careerist who stole from other, far more worthy musical entities, and regurgitated it with a sheen for the masses? I give him more credit than that. I have never considered myself a hardcore Bowie fan, but his output circa 1969 - 1979 - just about any of it from that period - is something I can listen to and enjoy and appreciate, and surely that's enough. Bowie himself was at least self-deprecating enough to acknowledge that he totally sold out in the '80s, and for me one of his great mistakes in the '90s, when trying to get 'hip' again, was him hanging out and collaborating with a gormless Bowiephile nudnik like Trent Reznor - but this is all academic. Sometimes those with a great vision of what they want to do and who they are lose it and never get it back.

So, on the morning of the day he passed away, I was on the phone to a certain Warwick Brown, Greville Record proprietor and avid Bowiephile. He was raving to me about the new album, pleading for me to give it a ago, telling me about its avant-garde jazz leanings and its absolutely-no-doubt-in-the-world status as a RETURN TO FORM. I'd heard that before, as we all have, regarding various artists who once paved the way but have been coasting on a whole lot of nothing for decades (prime offender being the Stones, for which a 'return to form' amounts to an album which isn't totally fucking dreadful). I sat down on the toilet - true story - did my business, and streamed the first, self-titled 10-minute track in the meantime. I agreed that it was indeed quite good, but I had other things to do. I was not working that day, the sun was shining and the kids were on summer break, so I went to the beach for the day, vowing to listen to the rest of it when I got home. As I got in the door later in the afternoon, I received the text from a workmate that Bowie had died, social media went nuts and you either cared a lot, a little or not at all. I spent the evening quietly listening to Low, Aladdin Sane and Hunky Dory and, while not wanting to get caught up in some sort of mass mourning for a fellow I never even knew, had to acknowledge that life on earth would have been a whole lot more dull had 'David Bowie' - that character of creation from middle-class post-war Blighty - not been invented.

 A few days later I came back around to Blackstar. I streamed and I streamed. I found myself devouring every bit of information I could regarding this mysterious album. It was a cryptic parting gift, for sure, but it was also musically the most interesting thing he'd offered the world since I was in short shorts and he'd even roped in some genuine 'jazz musicians' as his backing band, not as a simple gimmick, but because their musical contributions counted. Interestingly - well, it's at least of interest to me - there's some musicians from the ECM fold present, notably guitarist Ben Monder, who released an album on the label earlier this year. Bowie had a knack for much of his career in hand-picking a good band, a talent which shouldn't be dismissed. The vinyl edition went out of print immediately, so I had to wait a good month before I could procure a copy. I'm not a big advocate for format snobbery, but in this case, the vinyl edition is the way to absorb oneself in the release. This is not only because of the ridiculously lavish nature of the packaging (gatefold die-cut sleeve, embossed ink, deluxe booklet with beautifully extravagant ink work), but because the album itself - a mere seven songs in 41 minutes - has a side A and a side B. It doesn't sound like a release of the CD or streaming era. Whether this is accidental or deliberate, or whether I'm just reading that observation into it is up for debate, so feel free to do that amongst yourselves. At the very least, barring a few displays of modern technology, it sounds like it could have been recorded 40 years ago. Would I have found this album quite so fascinating had the man himself not passed away a couple of days after its release? Probably not, but context is much of what we hear when we listen to music, and in the light of what took place, Blackstar is one fucking special record, one which has brought me great peace of mind in 2016. For those with an open mind and a pair of functioning earholes, there is simply no reason why you shouldn't give it a listen.