Tag Archives: Grandaddy

I qa50 years of tunedwxes…2000-09…

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And so…the third member of a somewhat unholyx cosmic trinity…I think bdazkloa whisker, with a fair following wind, my favourite of the three…Grandaddy’s ‘The Sophtware Slump’.

The album is an epic work, conceptually and musically harmonious…addressing an uneasy world in which technology rules and is apparently necessary.  Indeed innovative instrumentation adds greatly to the songs, while lyrically and melodically they retain a warm emotional and nostalgic feel – Jason Lytle’s personal outlook very much at the fore of the songwriting.  Look no further than opener ‘He’s simple, he’s dumb, he’s the pilot’ for evidence of such.

As with ‘Deserter’s Songs’ and ‘The Soft Bulletin’, ‘The Sophtware Slump’ is perfectly of its time, yet timeless and will endure.  The sophomore pun in the title is entirely erroneous and it must stand as one of the greatest ever second albums.

And ‘The Crystal Lake’ is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard…

Also of note in 2000…At the Drive-in’s commercially (successful) suicidal ‘Relationship of Command’,  Tom McRae’s brilliant and stark eponymous debut and Idlewild’s wonderful ‘100 Broken Windows’.

2001

System of a Down exist uniquely somewhere in the middle of a Venn diagram that somehow overlaps metal, emo, punk, protest, jazz, dance and folk.  ‘Toxicity’ was to a degree the band’s breakthrough album commercially and remains their most successful in sales terms.

The record for me is far ahead of many of its contemporaries in the emo and metal stakes, in terms of both musicality and songwriting.  It is overall a political beast – addressing many of the ills in today’s society, but retains a sense of fun and self-deprecation at times too.  Musically it is complex and varied – with elements of all of the genres noted above blended brilliantly beneath the strength of Serj Tankian’s expansive vocal.

The humour is highlighted nowhere better than in ‘Bounce’, a song which I don’t think will ever be beaten in terms of the effect I witnessed it have upon the entire stalls standing area of Brixton Academy some years ago…

Another strong year as well with The White Stripes’ ‘White Blood Cells’, The Strokes’ ‘Is This It?’, Ryan Adams’ ‘Gold’ and the perfectly brilliant, bonkers, Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players ‘Vintage Slide Collections from Seattle, Vol.1’.

2002

Guided by Voices stand side-by-side with The Fall in terms of prolific releases over the last thirty or so years.  The parallels continue by way of the presence of a very singular frontman – Robert Pollard – and a regularly revolving roster of musicians around him.  I discovered the band via a good friend in his record shop maybe ten years ago via the brilliant best-of ‘Human Amusement at Hourly Rates’ – which is an excellent introduction for anyone tempted to delve into a vast back catalogue which varies enormously (and necessarily?) in terms of style and quality.  I fell in love with the band almost immediately and in a fairly short time had secured pretty much everything they’d released, and I think I am still up-to-date – a few Pollard solo pieces aside.

‘Universal Truths and Cycles’, released relatively late on in the band’s lifetime, is my favourite GBV album.  As with so much of the band’s output, it is supreme lo-fi indie-pop…full of jangly guitars, discordant noise, nonsensical lyrics and wonderful tunes.  I love it.

I’ve never seen Guided by Voices, and am unlikely ever to get the chance – the maudlin story of which is elsewhere in this blog.  Let’s not dwell on that though, and instead rejoice in the glorious rise and fall of the keys on ‘Back to the lake’…

It says a great deal for UT&C that it beat the Flaming Lips’ utterly wonderful ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots’ to the 2002 choice and also Queens of the Stone Age’ ‘Songs for the Deaf’ – which secures a solid third place as the height of their recorded work.

2003

I can’t remember how I stumbled across The Distillers.  For certain my attraction (aurally and otherwise) to girls and guitars persisted in 2003 and remains to this day.  So somehow or other I fell, hard, for Brody Dalle upon the release of ‘Coral Fang’.  Dalle’s voice, along with contemporary Cinder Block from Tilt, exists within an exclusive club dating back to the likes of Grace Slick and Shocking Blue’s Mariska Veres – with richness and depth that is often pushed to breaking point – that bewitches me.

The album’s title track is a great example of how the album, certainly musically, pushed the band a level above the world of West Coast punk (maybe in part symbolic of Dalle’s break-up with Rancid’s Tim Armstrong and subsequent relationship with QOTSA’s Josh Homme)…with lovely touches, rises and falls of baselines and melodies throughout – albeit retaining a drive, strength and aggression.  In many respects it moved away from the band’s earlier, much harder, harsher, records and would ultimately pre-empt the break-up of the group in spite of reaching a commercial peak.

Hon. 2003 mentions go to British Sea Power’s wonderful debut ‘The Decline of British Sea Power’, Mark Lanegan’s ‘Here Comes That Weird Chill’ and The Mars Volta’s ‘Deloused in the Comatorium’

Also released in 2003, and I think, along with a related BBC effort (see 1968), one of the greatest ever live releases – Jeff Buckley’s ‘Live at Sin-e’.  I think as well the greatest example of Buckley Jr’s undoubted genius – a double album comprising his own work, covers and fabulous between-song dialogue – recorded with just him and guitar in the coffee shop at which he worked in Greenwich Village in the early nineties.  The album was preceded by a four track ep released while Buckley was still with us, which I stumbled across while travelling in Australia as a teenager.  I can honestly say that this Van Morrison cover changed my appreciation of music forever…

2004

The Go! Team are very definitely the most underrated band of the noughties, and if you don’t believe me then go and ask Stuart Maconie – he’ll tell you…

‘Thunder, Lightning, Strike’ is an explosion of playground soul, samples, rap, electronica and pop from start to finish, all delivered with an infectious level of enthusiasm all too lacking from many of today’s staid and apparently uptight artists.

Check out the album’s Wikipedia entry for a list of the samples used throughout…and then go and find all of the originals and buy them too, for it’s a sterling selection.

There’s not much more than that to say really…other than that I defy anyone to listen to it and not end up with a smile on their face which, let’s face it, is surely what life is all about.  If the likes of Pharrell and Andre 3000 have released some of the best pop songs this century, then The Go! Team have definitely released the best pop album.  It was with no small amount of delight I learned earlier this year of the band’s return.  Herewith my favourite song…replete with some Holland-Dozier-Holland magic…the joyous ‘Ladyflash’…

Finishing in the places for 2004: Comets on Fire’s ‘Blue Cathedral’, Morrissey’s ‘You Are The Quarry’, Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Want One/Two’ double and Nick Cave’s ‘Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus’ – home to one of the best songs ever…

2005

A tie for 2005.  I cannot separate Bright Eyes’ ‘I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning’ and Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Come On Feel The Illinoise’.  Both records are supreme examples of modern Americana – with very definite nods to the past but bursting with relevance, originality and poignancy…

Conor Oberst is an artist I have slowly grown to adore over the last ten years.  Both artist and output are challenging to access at times and certainly to love but I discovered him properly with this album and I am now smitten.  ‘I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning’ is a beautiful record – brilliantly written, perfectly sequenced, balancing humour, love and sadness, and even a sprinkling of HRH Emmylou Harris.  I don’t think there is a more perfect pair of opening and closing tracks on an album in ‘At the bottom of everything’ and the barnstorming ‘Road to joy’.  Indeed Conor…let’s fuck it up and make some noise…

Whereas with Sufjan it has been a more immediate infatuation.  I’d been aware of him for a while but was persuaded to investigate properly upon seeing ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, the soundtrack for which makes use of ‘Chicago’.  There are few words really to describe what he is, or what he does, but the product is beautiful ethereal thing in all senses.  Evidence of this presented very well by the song named after said state capital.  I cannot wait to experience it live at EOTR 2015…

More Americana from both sides of the Atlantic in 2005’s special mentions with Langhorne Slim’s ‘When The Sun’s Gone Down’ and Richard Hawley’s ‘Coles Corner’ (a would-be winner in many other years…).

2006

Another very definite tie…

Howlin Rain should be massive, but they’re not, which selfishly is often preferable as I get to experience the force of nature that is their live show in rather more intimate surroundings than I might.

The band is in essence a side project for Ethan Miller of Comets on Fire (sort of) fame…an outlet for his love of the best of 70s US rock and roll and lighter in tone and content than the deeper, darker psychedelia of his work with Ben Chasny in CoF.

The band’s wonderful self-titled debut is best, and also lazily, conveniently, described as a ‘more psychedelic Creedence’ – which is exactly what it is.  A thundering groove-ridden, soulful rock and roll trip around the west coast of America.  For the desert leg of said adventure, see ‘Roll on the rusted days’…

Midlake’s ‘The Trials of Van Occupanther’ pays very great respects to the 70s as well…albeit in somewhat more gentle fashion with echoes of Laurel Canyon, Fleetwood Mac and English prog/folk.  The harmonies alone stand the album over and above the competition, before one considers the beautiful arrangements and perfect songwriting presenting rustic, pastoral stories of life amongst forests and mountains.

I have said for some time that ‘Roscoe’ is the best song so far this century and nothing has appeared yet to change my mind in that respect…

Shout outs too for The Grates’ ‘Gravity Won’t Get You High’, Manchester Orchestra’s ‘I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child’ and The Hold Steady’s ‘Boys and Girls in America’.

2007

For a long time I mistakenly (and now not unashamedly) pigeon-holed Maximo Park with the likes of Hard-fi and other dreary laddish indie of the time.

How wrong I was, and how immediately I was corrected upon the release of ‘Our Earthly Pleasures’, which from start to finish is the definition of wonderful indie-pop.  The record is as full of energy and enthusiasm as the band’s live shows.  There is a strong emotive and evocative feel to the songs as well – reflecting the charm and challenges of everyday relationships in today’s world.

I really could have gone with any track from the record, but have settled for ‘By the monument’…

Taking nothing away from Maximo Park, not an enormous amount else stood out (for me) in album terms in 2007…although little-known beat groups Radiohead, Bon Iver and The National all released some reasonable fare.

2008

Howlin’ Rain.  Again.

‘Magnificent Fiend’, the band’s second album, sees a progression from the raw, dusty brilliance of their debut to a more polished, sort of soulful sound but remaining (I think) firmly rooted in the very best of 70s rock.  Picking up from where the debut left off in guitar terms, the record introduces itself with dramatic piano pieces, more Hammond organ and the occasional dash of mariachi trumpet – all of which blends together wonderfully.  Ethan Miller remains very much front and centre as well, as the greatest rock and roll frontman I have ever seen…with an increasingly wide vocal range from bluesy soul to roaring R & B.

The first album immediately planted the band in my top five favourites ever, the second cemented them for good.  And I honestly can’t describe how good this band is live.

Showcasing the above elements perfectly, all in the space of a glorious six and half or so minutes is ‘Lord have mercy’…which builds and builds to a break and choral crescendo (c.4m 38s) that fills my entire being with joy.

Elsewhere in 2008, ‘Fleet Foxes’ eponymous debut was up there with Midlake in beautiful Americana terms, The Last Shadow Puppets’ ‘The Age of the Understatement’ would better anything Alex Turner has done before or since and ‘Mono in VCF I’ contained the sublime ‘Spider Rotation’ – presented here for your enjoyment because I don’t think enough folks have ever heard it…

Lastly, a third song for 2008, for the brilliant sake of it.  The Raconteurs’ ‘Carolina Drama’ is a supreme example of storytelling within song, very much descended from Dylan’s ‘Lily…’ (see 1975).  This live BBC version is wonderful as well…

2009

Closing the noughties, Brakes’ ‘Touchdown’…

I was four years late to Brakes, picking up a promo copy of this record on the understanding the band had something or other to do with British Sea Power (hello Eamon) and Electric Soft Parade (hello boys).

I discovered soon after that albums one (Give Blood) and two (Beatific Visions) are equally as good and well worth checking out.  Brakes deliver brilliant, raw indie pop that focuses first and foremost upon fun but is cunningly threaded throughout with very clever songwriting and complex musicality with lovely nuggets of country and post-punk sprinkled around…to be expected I suppose when one considers the links the members have to other projects.

My favourite track is the first Brakes song I heard (the promo skips track one)…’Don’t take me to space man’…

Do also check out Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ ‘It’s Blitz’, ‘Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’ eponymous release, Manchester Orchestra’s muscular sophomore ‘Mean Everything To Nothing’ and Yellow Moon Band’s ‘Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of The World’.

Anyways…nearly there now, five more years to go, thanks for staying with me this far, if indeed you have…

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50 years of tunes…1990-99…

Wow…the 1990s are tricky…I think because they encapsulate my teenage years, together with numerous musical awakenings and epiphanies (both at the time and retrospectively).  Every year has a number of albums that could be ‘the’ one.  Anyways…here is my selection with some increasingly rambling musings…

1990

More Sonic Youth.  Acknowledging the fair distribution of credit to all members on most of the band’s output, 1988’s ‘Daydream Nation’ is for me very much a ‘Thurston album’.  1990’s ‘Goo’, however, is my ‘Kim album’ – her songs and fronting duties very much the standouts on an equally good record.  Both albums are at the more accessible end of the Sonic Youth canon and supreme examples of indie/noise rock at its finest – reminiscent of Husker Du in weaving lush and infectious pop songs with discordant challenging noise and beat poetry lyrics.  ‘Kool Thing’, presented here, is just as the name suggests, there are few kooler…

Highly commended releases from 1990 also well worthy of investigation include Ride’s ‘Nowhere’, Jane’s Addiction’s ‘Ritual De Lo Habitual’ and Fugazi’s ‘Repeater’.

1991

1991 saw the advent of grunge.  Which is odd, in a way, because I am increasingly convinced in at least musical terms that there was never really any such thing.  Maybe it really was more of a reflection of fashion, or broader alternative culture, into which various bands fell easily within – only very few of them bore any resemblance to the next.  As such, the ‘which grunge band were better’ arguments – at least amongst the highest profile protagonists – are somewhat futile.  Nirvana, steeped in the legacy of 80s US alternative rock…Husker Du, Pixies, Black Flag…were ultimately a world away from the heavier 70s metal muscle of Soundgarden…who in turn differed wildly from Pearl Jam’s payment of more orthodox rock and roll dues to Neil Young and The Who.  Conveniently for me, in the avoidance of such argument, in my early teens I grew to love all three bands and still do.

In this exercise though, it is Pearl Jam’s ‘Ten’ that wins out for me over the brilliance of both ‘Nevermind’ and ‘Badmotorfinger’.  The immediate and aggressive ‘Porch’, sat amidst an album whose spirit soars and dives through light and dark, presented here for your consideration.

Also of note this year R.E.M. (again) with ‘Out of Time’ and in relatively more obscure but equally brilliant terms – My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’ and Slint’s ‘Spiderland’.

It’s fascinating again in this exercise as well to consider within the space of a year the overlap, ends and beginnings of eras seemingly miles apart in musical terms and history.  The mainstream explosion of American alternative rock through at least some of the records noted above was synchronous with the end of a previous dynasty.  While admirable in terms of scope and effort, and containing a number of great songs, Guns n’ Roses ‘Use Your Illusion’ double-double album was ultimately an overblown and overweight beast – signalling the effective end of both the band and the excesses of 80s hard rock.  It would have been better, no doubt, edited down to a single album, although would still I fear have succumbed to the scuzzy, raw attack of its younger noisy contemporaries.

1992

R.E.M.’s ‘Automatic for the People’ is sometimes regarded as the beginning of the end for the band.  It is the case that overall the Warner Bros output does not stand up to the 80s’ IRS years, certainly in terms of consistently brilliant albums, but for me there are diamonds to be found in an increasingly rough field right until the band’s retirement.

It is true that the big money deal saw a general shift to more radio friendly fare but that generalisation is not necessarily fair when laid at ‘Automatic…’, which is a magnificent thing.  Many associate the album almost entirely with smash-hits ‘Everybody Hurts’ and ‘Man on the Moon’ – both very good songs but nowhere near the best the record has to offer.  The production is notably better than in the past and the lyrics certainly more recognisable (maybe a good thing, probably not) but the songs retain  wonderful and complementary streams of warmth, darkness and light.  A great example of this, chosen as well for @Allofwhich, is ‘Find the river’…

The Americans further dominate my list of other favourites from the year, albeit largely less commercially successful efforts: Sugar’s ‘Copper Blue’; Soul Asylum’s ‘Grave Dancers Union’; Blind Melon’s and Rage Against The Machine’s eponymous efforts and the Black Crowes’ outstanding ‘Southern Harmony & Musical Companion’.

1993

I would not discover Belly until two years later at Glastonbury, however (and I have given this some considerable thought) they would become my favourite 90s band.  Indie-pop at its finest…I love every song on each of the band’s two albums and much Tanya Donelly-related output besides.

Debut album ‘Star’ was a somewhat unexpected success with ‘Feed the tree’ dominating MTV and other alternative media output, along with fellow singles ‘Gepetto’ and ‘Slow Dog’.  The songs bear a complexity over and above straightforward pop, with hints of Americana and folk throughout – highlighted particularly in the latter track…

Again a ridiculously good year, with all of the following deserving of top spot in their own way: Suede’s ‘Suede’; Bjork’s ‘Debut’; Slowdive’s ‘Souvlaki’; Cracker’s ‘Kerosene Hat’ and The Lemonheads’ ‘Come On Feel The Lemonheads’.

1994

If Belly weren’t my favourite 90s band, then Weezer probably would be, and ‘The Blue Album’ is my favourite Weezer record.

The album gained widespread notoriety for ‘Buddy Holly’, a wonderfully catchy pop song with a brilliant and inventive Spike Jonze video placing the band in the ‘Happy Days’ world, yet there is much more to the record.  Appropriately following Belly’s ‘Star’ in this list of sorts, it is another astounding debut release – mixing fiendish pop with slacker cool, surfy garage with epic rock, all underpinned by seemingly personal lyrics that remain generally cryptic but equally accessible to the audience.  The melancholy ‘Undone – The Sweater Song’ a great example of this.  The band’s energy and wonderful relationship with their fans also stands them up as one of the best live acts I have ever seen.

Embarrassingly good runners-up here too: Jeff Buckley’s magnificent ‘Grace’ (although see the Sin-e live ep/album for his best releases); Portishead’s ‘Dummy’; Green Day’s ‘Dookie’; the Manic’s ‘The Holy Bible’; and Therapy?’s ‘Troublegum’ (which opens with maybe the best three lines of any album ever).

1995

As mentioned earlier, my first (and it would transpire, only) visit to Glastonbury would see me fall in love with Belly, and with Tanya Donelly. The band’s second (and sadly final) record, ‘King’, saw progression to a more expansive sound and broader deeper themes than its relatively simple older sibling – maybe with echoes of Donelly’s (step-) sister project ‘Throwing Muses’.  It again is a terrific record, albeit one which maybe didn’t fit with the commercial tastes of grunge and Britpop at the time (more fool everyone) and I really could pick any one of the tracks for presentation here.  ‘Seal my fate’ wins, for the searing, soaring, vocal alone…

Also for consideration from 1995…The Longpigs’ ‘The Sun Is Often Out’; Everclear’s ‘Sparkle & Fade’; Elastica’s ‘Elastica’; Pulp’s ‘Different Class’ and Supergrass debut ‘I Should Coco’.

A mention here as well for what I believe is probably the best track, certainly in British terms, of the 1990s.  Amidst much of the Britpop nonsense that would come and go stands ‘Yes’ by McAlmont & Butler – a seemingly timeless track – almost orchestral, with echoes of Phil Spector’s work, and David McAlmont’s soaring, nigh-on impossible vocal.  There is none more feel good.

1996

Another debut…Belle & Sebastian’s ‘Tigermilk’.  Sat well outside of the mainstream indie production line (literally, in terms of a very limited initial pressing), the album would set the band on the way to now almost legendary status in the continuously brilliant alternative Scottish canon – and deservedly so.

The band’s unmistakable soulful melodies and harmonies, right from the off, are laced with humour, sadness and social observation – creating stories, soundscapes and kitchen sink cinema.  ‘The State I Am In’ demonstrates this very well…

Other favourites from 1996: Barry Adamson’s (extraordinary) ‘Oedipus Schmoedipus’ (a relatively recent discovery of fucked up soundtrackery); Placebo’s ‘Placebo’; and the wondrous ‘Fuzzy Logic’ of the incomparable Super Furry Animals.

1997

And yet another brilliant, brilliant, debut release…Grandaddy’s ‘Under The Western Freeway’…

Part Americana, part psych, part noise-pop and an indication of the glories that would follow in the band’s future releases (more on that to come…) – favourable comparisons with lo-fi contemporaries such as Pavement are left behind with occasional steps beyond the real world.  Musically the album is complex and at times very clever – wrapping the acoustic and electronic, the orthodox and the experimental, up in neat little packages.

‘A.M. 180’ is one of my all-time favourite songs.  A sober Bear very nearly lost himself completely when experiencing it live for the first time at End of the Road in 2012.

Special mentions also to Radiohead’s landmark piece ‘OK Computer’ and the majesty of Spiritualized’s ‘Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’.

1998

I regard the next three years’ albums of choice as an other worldly collective, created and existing in some distant space and time, and before sitting down to this exercise experienced a mild panic that I would have to choose between two or even three of them.  It is with an almost divine, or maybe that should be cosmic, sense of justice that in actual fact they were released in consecutive years.

The success of Mercury Rev’s ‘Deserters Songs’ surprised everyone upon its release, including to some extent I imagine the band themselves.  The album began as an entirely personal project for both frontman Jonathan Donohue and guitarist Grasshopper – cathartic, even, and with little commercial focus – following a difficult few years both individually and as a band.  Creative impetus, however, had been provided for Donohue following collaboration with the Chemical Brothers and the subsequent involvement of producer Dave Fridmann (and, by proxy, Donohue’s old band The Flaming Lips) would support the band’s development of something very special indeed.  The album’s themes are often bleak – focusing upon escape and abandonment – but retain a sense of hope and redemption throughout, all of which sits in a vivid cinematic landscape.  Now rightly highly regarded in both critical and audience terms, it will remain a timeless work of art.

‘Goddess on a hiway’, actually written years previously during Donohue’s time with the Lips, is my favourite song on the record…

Other notable 1998 releases include the criminally little-well-known ‘Good Morning Spider’ by Sparklehorse and the raw, often flawed and occasionally brilliant promise of what could have been in the posthumous release of Jeff Buckley’s ‘Sketches for my sweetheart the drunk’.

I’ll single out as well a track I discovered while in Australia on my travels…The Living End’s ‘Prisoner of Society’ – one of my all-time favourite pop(ish)-punk tracks, complemented by an awesome lo-fi video…

1999

The Flaming Lips had already been going for ten years when in 1993 the track ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’ brought them into the consciousness of college rock, MTV and the wider world.

It would be ‘The Soft Bulletin’ though that would take the band to (at times maybe unwelcome) levels of renown and success.  The record as a whole is far more accessible than the acid punk and experimentalism of much of the band’s earlier work, yet still retains complex psychedelic themes and arrangements which will always signal the Lips at their very best.  In some respects, the album in both form and content would provide some degree of structure to a band that up until that point and never really known what it wanted to be, and set them on a broad path to the adoration and cult status that they receive today – still creating unique and inventive art.  Ironically…the levels of associated success would at times come close to destroying both the band and individuals within it but very thankfully all have come through it.

It is an extraordinary record by an extraordinary band, and I will always love both.  The Lips, both in concert and on record, live in other worlds of light and dark, yet at the bottom of it all is always a sense of the goodness and hope that exists across humanity – it is a privilege on any level to be part of that.

It is no coincidence that the record was produced by Dave Fridmann in tandem with his work on Mercury Rev’s ‘Deserter’s Songs’ (see 1998) – there is very much a symbiotic relationship between the two records in musical, thematic and philosophical terms – evidenced by the bands touring in partnership as well.

My favourite track from the album, the opening number, has so often opened the band’s performances I’ve been fortunate enough to witness.  It is always thrilling, and wonderful, and heartbreaking, and joyous, and, well…

Just one last album from the nineties and a world away from my staple fare…’Surrender’ by The Chemical Brothers…which I believe is their best.  A very definite move away from the big beat of the first two albums…with a psychedelic feel that is at times tempestuous and at others utterly dream-like.  The epic build and then break of ‘The Sunshine Underground’ is like nothing else before or since.  Magic.