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Strange Ranger - Remembering the Rockets Music Album Reviews

The best album of the Philadelphia band’s deep and underappreciated catalog dares to ask what comes after indie rock.
For Strange Ranger, indie rock isn’t just a genre; it’s an actual lifestyle, the prism through which every aspect of adulthood can be projected and understood. The 2016 album Rot Forever, by an earlier incarnation of the band, started its 72 minutes of Up Records fanfic with the line “She played rock guitar” and peaked with “Won’t you come see Pile with me?” Going by the name Sioux Falls at the time, core members Isaac Eiger and Fred Nixon were kids in Bozeman, Montana, who were prone to let one or two ideas stretch out for six minutes because that’s what their heroes Built to Spill and Modest Mouse would do. They moved to Portland for the followup, Daymoon, and it felt like a higher education, going deeper into the Pac NW canon and local scene politics (key song: “House Show”). They’re now in Philadelphia, and Remembering the Rockets is everything one might expect from…





Various Artists - Paradise: The Sound of Ivor Raymonde Music Album Reviews

The composer behind Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want to Be With You” also worked with David Bowie, the Walker Brothers, and Ian Dury. A new compilation reveals how he helped shape 1960s British pop.

“I Only Want to Be With You” is so perfectly suited for Dusty Springfield’s voice, it seems impossible that it wasn’t written specifically for her. But, in 1963, when a journeyman composer named Ivor Raymonde devised that racing melody and the songwriter Mike Hawker wrote the lyrics, their first stop was crooner Frankie Vaughan. When he passed on the song, the duo took it to Springfield, who was trying to launch a solo career after finding success with her trio the Springfields. It sounded like a perfect fit for her first single, so they recorded two-and-a-half minutes of pure pop ecstasy and released it a week later. “I Only Want to Be With You” shot up to No. 4 on the UK pop charts, not only establishing Springfield as a viable pop star, but taking its place one of the finest singles of the era.

Springfield is likely the only name many readers will recognize in that story (although some Brits may remember Vaughan). But hopefully the release of Paradise: The Sound of Ivor Raymonde—by Bella Union, a label run by Ivor’s son Simon Raymonde, of Cocteau Twins—will change that. Simon has described the project as a labor of love: It’s taken him years of diligent research to reconstruct his father’s sprawling catalog, which starts in the late 1940s and ends in the 1980s. The task was complicated by the fact that Ivor was a hired gun, working any number of jobs: writing songs, scouting talent, producing sessions, devising and conducting string and orchestra arrangements. He even sings on one track, the dusky pop number “Mylene,” which appeared on the soundtrack to the forgotten 1959 sex romp Upstairs and Downstairs. “In those days it seemed from all the documentation he was the sort of guy who’d turn his hand to anything, he was happy to get paid, happy to be a session musician, happy to do an arrangement if asked and didn’t turn down work,” Simon recently told the Yorkshire Post.

Simon isn’t inflating his father’s importance with Paradise. Ivor Raymonde was a figure of no small significance in the 1960s UK pop scene, but because he worked mostly behind the scenes, his name is not especially well known. A product of big bands in the ’40s and jazz combos in the ’50s, Raymonde started working with eccentric producer Joe Meek in the early ’60s, signing on as an in-house producer for Decca Records later in the decade. During that time, he worked with major artists at the height of their careers (Billy Fury, the Walker Brothers), future stars (David Bowie, Tom Jones), and many musicians who never achieved celebrity. Taken together, his catalog forms an eccentric, not exactly representative but still incredibly enjoyable, history of a sophisticated era in British pop. When Ian “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll” Dury wanted to evoke that heyday on 1980’s “Superman’s Big Sister,” he hired Raymonde to write the string arrangements, creating a song that mashes pop, punk, and novelty into three strident minutes.

Paradise portrays Raymonde as a composer with remarkable range, one who treated the stars and the nobodies, the cheeky novelties and the heartfelt ballads, with equal insight and consideration. Credited to Burr Bailey (an alias for Meek’s studio assistant Dave Adams), “Chahawki” is a frantic story-song about a Native American and his beloved dog—a B Western set to music. Raymonde gives the ridiculous story an epic quality, as well as real emotional heft, by adding cinematic strings and insistent backing vocals.

On the other end of the spectrum, his arrangement lends Helen Shapiro’s “He Knows How to Love Me” a soulful gravity that makes her transformation from independent woman to infatuated lover sound all the more persuasive and profound. Like a good film composer, his contributions succeed when they disappear into the song, when the music sounds less like the product of a hit-making committee and more like an extension of the artist credited on the 45 label.

For a concrete example of what he could do with an arrangement, compare the album version of David Bowie’s “Love You Till Tuesday” and the single version included here. The original, included on Bowie’s self-titled ’67 debut, features a fairly stripped-down arrangement with marimba and acoustic guitar. Raymonde’s, which was released on a subsequent 45, opens with a strange oboe riff and a heavy orchestral backing, pushing the song along at a quicker clip. The woodwinds wrap around the singer’s heavily accented vocals like a mod suit, emphasizing the oddity of his phrasing and making his weird laughter sound unrehearsed. Raymonde’s arrangement matches Bowie’s dandy self-regard so perfectly that you wonder what lessons the struggling singer-songwriter took from their one-off collaboration.

Songs like “I Only Want to Be With You” and the Walker Brothers’ magisterial “Make It Easy on Yourself” will be familiar to many listeners—perhaps overly familiar—but that’s the attraction of a compilation like Paradise: In addition to unearthing obscurities, it allows you to hear popular tunes with new ears. You listen for the parts you might otherwise ignore or fail to notice. I always loved the sublime strings of “Make It Easy on Yourself” but hadn’t considered how they do all the weeping and sobbing for Scott Walker, or how they grant him a determined dignity despite his heartache. I never considered how Raymonde’s arrangements for Springfield clear a path for her strong melodic lines, like bodyguards parting a crowd of adoring fans. He arranged the song as though she were already a star, a courtesy he extended to every artist who crossed his path.

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