Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Demos (two discs)

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was Wilco's most anticipated album, and is highly regarded as their masterwork.  Unknown to most, nearly the entire album was leaked in demo form months prior to the official release, under the title The Engineer Demos.  Along with every track being demoed, save Jesus, Etc. is a plethora of unreleased songs that, accompanied by the More Like The Moon EP, creates a two disc marvel that gives a new way to listen to the masterpiece and an idea of what was left on the cutting room floor.

YHF is one of the shining transitional albums from the "alternative" rock of the nineties to the "indie" rock of the 2000's, though the differences are certainly muddled.  Since this is a more acoustic album, being entirely demos, it actually helps alleviate the turnover more simplistically, almost defining one of the largest musical movements in the last two decades.

YHF Engineer Demos

Disc 1 - The Demo Album

Side A:
(all songs sourced from The Engineer Demos)

1.  I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
2.  Kamera
3.  Cordurou Cutoff Girl (AKA Radio Cure)
4.  War on War
5.  Nothing Up My Sleeve
6.  Ashes of American Flags

Side B:
(all songs sourced from The Engineer Demos)

7.  Heavy Metal Drummer
8.  I'm The Man Who Loves You
9.  Pot Kettle Black
10.  Poor Places
11.  Reservations

Disc 2 - The Outtakes
(sourced from The Engineer Demos and More Like The Moon EP*)

Side A:

1.  The Good Part
2.  Kamera*
3.  Cars Can't Escape
4.  Instrumental
5.  Venus Stop The Train

Side B:

6.  Woodgrain*
7.  Handshake Drugs*
8.  Magazine Called Sunset*
9.  Bob Dylan's 49th Beard*
10.  Let Me Come Home
11.  More Like The Moon*

Since disc one is track-for-track Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (save where Nothing Up My Sleeve replaces Jesus, Etc.), I will just let you experience it yourselves.   It is definitely a better experience than the second disc, but since it should all be familiar, it won't need as much discussion.  If you have not listened to the actual album, why are you here?  You should be here!!!

Disc 2 is a mix of an EP that collected outtakes from the sessions, and the unrealized demos from the YHF Engineer Demos.  Barely any tracks are left out, but there were a couple that didn't have the desired or required Wilco quality to match.

The Good Part launches this 11-track b-side album, starting off on a good note with some more intense guitar work that present in the demos.  This leads into the EP version of Kamera, which is among the hardest tracks recorded during these sessions.

Cars Can't Escape is another track that never saw release.  It follows the tradition of excellent Wilco ballads, with some of my favorite lyrics from the album.  The next track, Instrumental, will be vocalized on the second side of the album, but works well as wordless-tune as well.  Reminds me of Final Fantasy for some reason.

Venus Stop The Train ends the first side and is probably the engineer demo I am most partial to.  A suitable lead-in for side b, consisting primarily of tracks from More Like The Moon EP.

Woodgrain is an excellent, though short, ditty with a charmingly subdued Jeff Tweedy vocal that makes you wish the song were much longer.  The second track on this side is one of the best b-sides from the sessions, and was actually rerecorded for their following album, A Ghost Is Born.

The most interesting and obscure track on the collection is A Magazine Called Sunset, which definitely harbors the most overdubs of the two-discs, with the general full-band set up and strings, along with some choral vocals, leading into definitely my favorite song, Bob Dylan's 49th Beard.  It is crazy how Wilco can fuse humor and seriousness into such captivating experiences.

Let Me Come Home is the final version of Instrumental from side a, and has some of Tweedy's most emotional lyrics and vocals.  And this all ends with More Like The Moon, the longest track on the set, I really feel this should have been on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

I am not familiar with any other Wilco bootlegs, so for now this is all the Wilco I can offer up, but I do truly hope you enjoy the experience Wilco and I have curated for you!

- blashco

Monday, November 4, 2013

Ambulance LTD - Shimmering Shattered Windows (Demos)

I know what you're thinking... The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Gorillaz, Wilco and... Ambulance LTD?!  I thought you were giving us music from our favorite artists, I've never even heard of this mystery band!

Well Ambulance LTD should be among your favorite bands.  Why?  Well, first, try this.  Yeah?  Now this one.  And this.  Oh, oh, oh this one for sure.  And finally...  Yes yes, if I haven't sold you, then you may now go to a different page.  Ambulance LTD is one of those bands where it just never made sense that they weren't blowing up.

Personally, their first feature length album known simply as LP is one of my favorite albums.  A band with a very fragmented history and progress, they finally began working on LPII after years of limbo, but their record label TVT Records filed for bankruptcy, giving all the rights to the acquirer, prompting Ambulance LTD to file a lawsuit.

Looks like they're back in limbo for now, but alas, I have unearthed some mighty fine demos from LP and LP II to introduce this fabulous band to you all!  I highly suggest downloading this set as it really shows their talent to write impressive songs even in demo form.

Depending on how the future looks for Ambulance, I may upload the demo version of LP II, as I have over a dozen songs that haven't seen release and are not featured on this demo set.  But for now, some acoustic goodies!

Ambulance LTD - Shimmering Shattered Windows (Demos)

Side A:

1.  The Dog
2.  New English
(acoustic session)
3.  James
(b-side demo from LP)
4.  I Don't Believe Anyone
(demo of early single)
5.  Love Bird
6.  Straight A's

Side B:

7.  Primitive (The Way I Treat You)
(acoustic session)
8.  Sugar Pill
9.  Stay Tuned
10.  Stay Where You Are
11.  Ophelia

The album title is a lyric snippet from the final track, Ophelia, "it's easier in the soft light of the shimmering shattered windows," which gives a good representation of what to expect from Ambulance's penmanship.  You will definitely get some Shins vibes on this collection.

The first side consists of newer demos from their sophomore attempt, which has yet to be titled, but I have dubbed LP II.  The Dogs, a quick yet inspirational ditty opens the tracklist, focusing on pressing forward and perhaps even revolution.  I kind of wish more of the lyrics focused on these ideas as opposed to love, but don't get me wrong, New English is a love song with plenty of incite, wit and emotion (not to mention a highly satisfying melody).

James and I Don't Believe Anyone are both from the first LP era, the former never seeing release and the latter being reworked into a single.  Though this is a highly acoustic experience, I Don't Believe Anyone is definitely more rockin' 60s-style pop guitar.  The atmosphere in James' vocals and downer of a jam is rather affective and helps this track stand out.

We slow down for the end of this side, firstly with Love Bird, probably the most generic song on the album, though still catchy and worthy of a listen.  This would be one of the tracks from LP II as well.  After this is the demo of Straight A's, which was the final track off of the New English EP.  I find this version to be better, honestly.

The second side consists entirely of demo versions of songs from LP, released in 2004.  The acoustic rendition of Primitive, though less immediately grabbing, is definitely a treat.  The version off of LP
may be a little more catchy, but this definitely does it justice.

Sugar Pill, the only track I have ever heard by Ambulance LTD that utilizes a turntable, is a super catchy almost dance song that tickles your eardrum, which is followed by Stay Tuned, an acoustic ditty and Stay Where You Are, a beautiful track to say the least.

This all leads up to perhaps the best track, Ophelia, again where the album title is derived from.  The demo of Ophelia is as solid as the officially released track with out a doubt, helping create as legitimate a way to absorb Ambulance LTD as possible.  I truly hope this opens your musical mind up to this awesome band that I heart so much.  Enjoy!

- blashco

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Gorillaz - P-Sides

Ideally, all of my collections will be more geared towards themes like this.  Though the concept of a thought-out "unreleased album" is arousing, I feel like it is a better tribute to artists and their progress as artists to focus more precisely.  A well available bootleg of The Beatle's White Album demos is a fine example of a well-themed and highly enjoyable album, but it also lets you as a listener experience a specific time in the respected musician's career.  In other words, it is educational.

Now, don't get me wrong, P-Sides is much more fantasy album than informative package.  After G-Sides (from Gorillaz) and the double disc D-Sides (from Demon Days), we all expected Plastic Beach to have a P-Sides.  Instead we got The Fall, which was good but did not have any "p-sides" on it (to my knowledge, at least).  So here we go, an album that spans from the end of the release of Demon Days to their breakup, AKA the Plastic Beach era.

P-Sides has many sources, which might be a bad thing, but not many outtakes have leaked in any fashion.  Primarily a handful of demos is all that is hard to find on this set.  But the way it is curated should make the experience more streamlined.  Overall, being a huge fan of Gorillaz, I find this set on par with The Fall.

Gorillaz - P-Sides

Side A:

1.  Electric Shock
(original demo for Rhinestone Eyes, with instrumental opening)
2.  Rhinestone Eyes
(live for iTunes exclusive EP)
3.  Sumthin Bout This Night
(collaboration with Snoop Dogg, available on Doggumentary)
4.  Crystalised
(cover of a song by The XX)
5.  Hillbilly Man
(available on The Fall)
6.  Benko
(from Albarn's band Rocket Juice and The Moon)
7.  Revolving Doors
(available on The Fall)
8.  The Parish of Space Dust 
(available on The Fall)

Side B:

9.  Glitter Freeze
(alternate version)
10.  Soldier Boy 
(collaboration with Martina Topley-Bird)
11.  Untitled (AKA Gorillaz Routine)
(a collaboration with Kid Koala, either slated for an upcoming album or never released)
12.  Poison
(from Albarn's band Rocket Juice and The Moon)
13.  Stylo
(early demo)
14.  California and The Slipping Sun
(available on The Fall)
15.  Pirate's Progress
(full length version of intro from Plastic Beach)
16.  DoYaThing
(collaborative single with James Murphy and Andre 3000)

If the album didn't contain officially released songs, it would only have 5 or so tracks.  This is merely an exercise in curating, and there is a likely chance I will need to remove this from the site.  But for now, this is all Gorillaz fans who are salivating for an official P-Sides will get.

The opening intro was released as a bonus track on Plastic Beach as "Three Hearts, Seven Seas, Twelve Moons" but left out the bit with Electric Shock, so classifying it as a demo is a little sketchy.  A befitting opening, nonetheless.  This cuts right into the iTunes Sessions version of the song that was "demoed."

Sumthin Like This Night is an excellent collaboration, with reggae-like horns and all the Gorillaz pop you'd be correct to expect.  Definitely among the best tracks on the album, this was one of the songs Albarn produced off of Doggumentary, Snoop's eleventh album.

Another gem is up next: the cover of Crystalise by The XX.  It's tenderness is comforting and reminiscent of Stop The Dams off D-Sides.  It definitely could pass as a ballad by Blur.  Much less digital influence, ironically transitioning to the first track utilized from The Fall, an album recorded on an iPad.

I highly contemplated removing Benko and Poison from this collection because it is kind of a stretch to pretend they are Gorillaz songs, but the timing was correct and I just kept them on.  Definitely the black sheep of the album.  Still rather interesting, with African beats and all that love.

The next two songs are probably my favorites from The Fall, ending side a with something a little familiar.

After the half-point mark, we get an awesome alternate take of Glitter Freeze, with a little more edge and intensity, this is definitely the version I prefer to Plastic Beach's rendition.  Relatively similar though so nothing too mind-boggling.

Soldier Boy holds probably the most interesting back story, as it was originally an outtake from Demon Days, never seeing any release.  Then Martina Topley-Bird took the instrumental to that song, originally titled Snakes & Ladders.

After this, probably my favorite track on the collection arises.  Not really sure how the collaboration went down, if Kid Koala and Damon Albarn got together or if it is just a remix/mash of older Gorillaz material.  Regardless, it is incredibly catchy and one of the longer tracks on P-Sides.

After another Rocket Juice and the Moon track, with Damon doing an emotional ballad, we are treated to the Stylo demo, which is exactly what you would imagine.  The song is pretty well developed at this point, just a little stripped down from the official release, though there is a bit at the beginning that I think was removed for the final take.  No lyrics.

The final track off of The Fall gets us slowed down a bit for the full-length version of the intro song from Plastic Beach, which is just very pretty orchestration.  Another actual outtake from Plastic Beach.  This brings us to the grand finale: the full 12-minute take of DoYaThing, which technically was a separate single, not a "p-side" but hell, it belongs on an album so here it is.

Obviously, an official P-Sides would look immensely different and would likely be loads better and more fulfilling, but enough people seemed interested in this mix, so I will give it to you because I love you so much.  Enjoy!

- blashco