Apr 26, 2017

RhoDeo 1717 Aetix


Today's artists was the brainchild of Roddy Frame, a Scottish songwriter and vocalist whose precocious talent -- he was still in his teens when the band cut their acclaimed debut album, earned the band a loyal cult following. With Frame's knack for catchy, upbeat melodies and wordplay that often invited comparisons to Elvis Costello, Aztec Camera became a major critical favorite in the U.K. and the U.S., even as the band went through frequent personnel changes. And now they are here to .....N'Joy

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Aztec Camera was formed in 1980 by Frame, then just 16 years old and living in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, Scotland. The initial lineup of the band consisted of Frame on guitar and vocals, Campbell Owens on bass, and Dave Mulholland on drums. Aztec Camera made their recorded debut on 1980's In and Out of Fashion, a compilation cassette of Scottish bands released by Pungent Records in association with Glasgow-based Fumes Magazine, and in March 1981, the group released a single through the respected Scottish indie label Postcard Records, "Just Like Gold" b/w "We Could Send Letters," which rose to number ten on the U.K. Independent charts. The British music journal New Musical Express gave Aztec Camera their seal of approval by licensing an alternate acoustic version of "Just Like Gold" for C-86, a cassette-only compilation curated and released by the magazine. After issuing a second single through Postcard, "Mattress of Wire" b/w "Lost Outside the Tunnel," Aztec Camera signed with Rough Trade Records, who released the single "Pillar to Post" b/w "Queen's Tattoos" in 1982. 1982 also saw the departure of Dave Mulholland from the group, with John Hendry taking over as drummer.

In 1983, Aztec Camera's debut album, High Land, Hard Rain, was released by Rough Trade in the U.K. and Sire in the United States. The album earned rave reviews (with many citing the fact Frame was just 18 when he wrote most of the songs) and respectable sales (especially in England), and guitarist Craig Gannon and keyboardist Bernie Clark expanded the group's lineup to a quintet. Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits came aboard to produce Aztec Camera's second album, 1984's Knife, but as the group's sound became slicker and more ambitious, Frame became disenchanted with his bandmates, and by the time he went on tour in support of the Knife album, Campbell Owens was the only other original member of the group left in the lineup, and it would prove to be his last tour with Aztec Camera.

After a stopgap EP of live tracks and B-sides was issued in the United States in 1985, the third Aztec Camera album, the R&B-influenced Love, appeared in 1987. Though it was issued under the group's name, Frame recorded the material with a handful of session musicians, and from that point on, Aztec Camera would not have a consistent lineup on-stage or in the studio, with Frame assembling a different set of players for each project. Love proved to be a commercial success in the U.K., rising to number 10 on the album charts, but it barely made the Top 200 in the United States, and the next two Aztec Camera albums, 1990's eclectic Stray and 1993's electronic experiment Dreamland, didn't even chart in America. After 1995's Frestonia, a low-key and primarily acoustic effort, failed to excite fans or critics, Frame retired the name Aztec Camera, and his next project, 1998's North Star, appeared under the name Roddy Frame. A compilation that followed the group's career up to Dreamla`nd, The Best of Aztec Camera, was issued in Japan in 1999 and in the U.K. in 2001; a more comprehensive two-disc set, Walk Out to Winter: The Best of Aztec Camera, followed in 2011. In 2013, AED Records brought out a 30th Anniversary edition of High Land, Hard Rain in the U.K., with Domino following suit in the United States in 2014; in support, Frame played a handful of solo shows in which he performed the album's 13 songs in their entirety.

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Some performers never make a bigger splash than with their first record, a situation that the Ramones and De La Soul know all too well. If that's the case, though, said musicians had better make sure that debut is a doozy. Aztec Camera, or more specifically, Roddy Frame, falls squarely into this scenario, because while he has doggedly plugged away ever since with a series of what are, at times, not bad releases, High Land, Hard Rain remains the lovely touchstone of Frame's career. Very much the contemporaries of such well-scrubbed Scottish guitar pop confectionaries as Orange Juice, but with the best gumption and star quality of them all, Aztec Camera led off the album with "Oblivious," a mini-masterpiece of acoustic guitar hooks, lightly funky rhythms, and swooning backing vocals. If nothing tops that on High Land, Hard Rain, most of the remaining songs come very close, while they also carefully avoid coming across like a series of general sound-alikes. Frame's wry way around words of love (as well as his slightly nasal singing) drew comparisons to Elvis Costello, but Frame sounds far less burdened by expectations and more freely fun. References from Keats to Joe Strummer crop up (not to mention an inspired steal from Iggy's "Lust for Life" on "Queen's Tattoos"), but never overwhelm Frame's ruminations on romance, which are both sweet and sour. Musically, his capable band backs him with gusto, from the solo-into-full-band showstopper "The Bugle Sounds Again" to the heart-stopping guitar work on "Lost Outside the Tunnel." Whether listeners want to investigate further from here is up to them, but High Land, Hard Rain itself is a flat-out must-have.

Aztec Camera - High Land,  Hard Rain (flac  250mb)
01 Oblivious 3:05
02 The Boy Wonders 3:10
03 Walk Out To Winter 3:20
04 The Bugle Sounds Again 2:50
05 We Could Send Letters 5:40
06 Pillar To Post 3:55
07 Release 3:38
08 Lost Outside The Tunnel 3:25
09 Back On Board 4:50
10 Down The Dip 2:10


Aztec Camera - High Land, Hard Rain bonus (flac  444mb)
01 Pillar To Post (Original Single Version) 3:43
02 Queen's Tattoos 2:12
03 Orchid Girl 2:35
04 Haywire 3:59
05 Walk Out To Winter (7" Version) 3:48
06 Set The Killing Free 3:47
07 Back On Board (Live) 4:22
08 We Could Send Letters (Live) 6:55
09 Walk Out To Winter (Kid Jensen Session) 3:34
10 Down The Dip (Kid Jensen Session) 2:25
11 Back On Board (Kid Jensen Session) 4:17
12 Release (Kid Jensen Session) 3:49
13 Walk Out To Winter (Unreleased Single Version) 3:25
14 Walk Out To Winter (12" Version) 7:48
15 Oblivious (Colin Fairley Remix) 3:51
16 Oblivious (Langer/Winstanley Remix) 4:37

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Roundly trashed upon its fall 1984 release -- many reviewers took the album almost as a personal insult -- Knife is nowhere near as terrible an album as it seemed at the time. One must remember the circumstances, however: 1983's High Land Hard Rain, as well as the preceding singles on the legendary Postcard and Les Disques du Crepuscule labels, had presented Roddy Frame and crew as the jazz and folk-inflected, acoustic guitar-slinging saviors of pop music from the synth-driven hordes. Knife, on the other hand, was produced by Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler, who brought in a pair of keyboard players to color Frame's newly R&B-flavored pop songs. In retrospect, though, Knife is, a thoughtful and largely likable set of tunes. There are three killer singles, the danceable "Still on Fire," "Just Like the USA" (which features a jiggly guitar riff that almost turns into the hook from the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" in a few spots), and the sublime "All I Need Is Everything," a lovely, yearning tune based on a hypnotic guitar riff and featuring possibly the best chorus of Frame's career. Slightly below that fine triumvirate are "The Birth of the True" and the stirring "Backwards and Forwards," which both recall the pretty but slightly strident ballads of Frame's early career, and the peppier "Head Is Happy (Heart's Insane)," all of which are perfectly respectable tunes. Then, though, comes the bland, forgettable "The Back Door to Heaven," and the title track, which stretches out too few musical or lyrical ideas over an endless, nearly ten-minute track that seems to be going for a Dire Straits-like ambience but merely sounds noodly and insipid. With a more sympathetic producer and a less obvious method of filler (why not record new versions of those early singles?), Knife would have made it past the cultural arbiters.

Aztec Camera - Knife (flac  468mb)

01 Still On Fire 4:00
02 Just Like The USA 4:02
03 Head Is Happy (Heart's Insane) 4:14
04 The Back Door To Heaven 5:23
05 All I Need Is Everything 5:50
06 Backwards And Forwards 4:13
07 The Birth Of The True 2:42
08 Knife 9:06
09 All I Need Is Everything (7" Edit) 3:48
10 Jump 2:54
11 All I Need Is Everything (Remix) 6:05
12 Jump (Loaded Version) 5:31
Live At The Dominion Theatre 16th October 1984
13 Mattress Of Wire 3:17
14 Walk Out To Winter 3:17
15 The Bugle Sounds Again 3:20
16 Backwards And Forwards 4:17
17 The Birth Of The True 2:50

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Roddy Frame dispensed with the previous members of Aztec Camera and turned to a group of American session musicians and high-powered producers (Russ Titelman, Tommy LiPuma) for his third full-length album, on which he also abandoned his singer/songwriter, folk-rock approach in favor of an American R&B style. It's a distinct step down from the ingenuity of his first couple of records, and was met with indifference in the U.S., which seemed to be its intended target. In the U.K., the album belatedly took off after its second single, "Somewhere In My Heart," went to #3, and became Aztec Camera's only Top Ten LP. (Other U.K. chart singles were "How Men Are" [#25] and "Working In A Goldmine" [#31].)

Aztec Camera - Love (flac 528mb)

01 Deep And Wide And Tall 4:02
02 How Men Are 3:38
03 Everybody Is A Number One 3:25
04 More Than A Law 4:39
05 Somewhere In My Heart 4:00
06 Working In A Goldmine 5:36
07 One And One 4:10
08 Paradise 4:29
09 Killermont Street 3:16
10 Deep And Wide And Tall (Breakdown Mix) 7:17
11 Bad Education 2:48
12 The Red Flag 2:49
13 Killermont Street (Live) 3:24
14 Pillar To Post (Live) 4:09
15 Somewhere In My Heart (12" Remix) 7:10
16 Everybody Is A Number One (Boston '86 Version) 3:14
17 Somewhere In My Heart (The Alternate Mix) 6:30
18 I Threw It All Away (Live) 2:04
19 Working In A Goldmine (Sax Version) 3:56

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A welcome comeback after the flaccid dance-pop of 1987's insipid Love, Stray is among Roddy Frame's most assured and diverse collections of songs. Unlike previous Aztec Camera albums, there's not one unifying style to the disc, and the variety makes Stray one of Frame's better collections. From the assured rocking pop of the singles "The Crying Scene" (the closest thing Aztec Camera ever got to an American hit single) and "Good Morning Britain" (a rousing collaboration with Mick Jones of the Clash and Big Audio Dynamite) to the cool, Chet Baker-ish cocktail jazz of "Over My Head," Frame covers the waterfront, but it's the quartet of songs that constitutes the second half of the album that impress the most. These four songs, "How It Is," "The Gentle Kind," "Notting Hill Blues," and the tender acoustic closer "Song For A Friend," are a loosely connected cycle mingling folk, soul, and pop in varying proportions. Starting with a bitterly cynical denunciation of modern society, the four songs move through sadness and resignation to a hopeful, sweet closure. Shorn of the pretentiousness that mars some of Frame's earlier lyrics -- written, to be fair, while he was still in his mid-teens -- the lyrics on Stray are the first that stand up to Frame's remarkable melodic sense. The simple, low-key production by Frame and Eric Calvi also retreats from the unfortunate excesses of both Love and its misbegotten Mark Knopfler-produced predecessor, Knife. With the exception of Aztec Camera's 1983 debut High Land Hard Rain, this is Roddy Frame's best album.

 Aztec Camera - Stray   (flac 392mb)

01 Stray 5:34
02 The Crying Scene 3:34
03 Get Outta London 3:41
04 Over My Head 5:53
05 Good Morning Britain with Mick Jones 4:02
06 How It Is 4:00
07 The Gentle Kind 5:32
08 Notting Hill Blues 6:41
09 Song For A Friend 2:27
10 Salvation 5:11
11 True Colours 4:30
12 Consolation Prize [Live with Edwyn Collins] 3:06
13 Do I Love You? 4:40
14 Good Morning Britain [Mendelsohn Mix ] 4:05

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Rob-in-Brevard said...

Splendid post! Many thanks for these A.C. shares, especially with the extended edition bonus tracks.

thecatkeaton said...

Could you please repost High Land, Hard Rain and it's bonus disc? Thanks.