Can – “Safe” (1979)
As adventuresome and eclectic as Can had always been, and as much as you have to figure Can fans were a little more open-minded in the day than, say, fans of Chicago or Journey, I imagine they lost a few listeners when they crossed that un-rock barrier of all barriers: the disco beat. Logically, of course, Liebezeit was perfect for it: what drummer could get more out of a simple beat, who could combine machine-like precision with human expressiveness better? For those who stuck with Can post-“I Want More. . .,” there would be plenty of gems in the admittedly inconsistent last few albums. One of my favorites, from the most disparaged album (save perhaps ‘Out of Reach’), is “Safe,” which feels anything but, with Czukay’s ominously building locust swarm of noise and the pointed contrast between the strutting-speed disco beat and lyrics like “Hear the helicopter, hear the thunder” and “safe as the mighty eye”. Made in 1979, this is disco from ‘1984’. [For more late-Can and post-Can music like this, be sure to check out two recent Can-centric mixes at Musicophilia.]
Brian Eno – “French Catalogues (Variations on Pachelbel’s Canon in D Maj., II)” (1975)
It’s the second, non-titular side of Eno’s ‘Discreet Music’ that has always affected me more deeply, and fascinated me most. Taking a classical work the beauty of which can sometimes be forgotten because of over- and misuse, Eno applies ostensibly cerebral experimentation, altering component elements of the score via mathematical formula. But the results, while perhaps momentarily disorientating, and intellectually engaging, are remarkably visceral; perhaps by breaking down our overfamiliar expectations the “experiment” create a heightened awareness of the existing beauty, while adding new beauty. That’s always been the trick of Eno, blurring the lines between the brain and the body, a “non-musician” getting in there and going at it without being in the least bit “punk” about it. But his variations on Pachelbel’s Canon in D are underrated pieces in his well-earned reputation. [The many sides of Eno are explored through similarly varied mixes at Musicophilia.]
Duncan Browne – “Journey” (1973)
Browne’s first album is a lovely little record that calls to mind Donovan, Nick Drake, and that misty pastoral folk revival feeling. But on his second, self-titled LP from 1973, slightly less expected elements begin to filter into the strongly-composed singer-songwriter material–don’t let the petroleum-jelly-on-the-lense cover photo deter you. The sophisticated guitar work, hand-claps, percussion, bubbling synth lines and choral coloration on “Journey” provide a good introduction to a wonderful and underrated album. [Duncan Browne is featured in this ‘Le Tour du Monde‘ mix at Musicophilia.]
Various – Tracks from the ‘1981’ Briefcase Disc, Part 6
Here is the 6th bunch of tracks from the ‘1981’ box set’s ‘Briefcase’ disc, from amongst 250 further bands and tracks not found in the nine themed mixes in the set. You can see previous installments and keep track of new ones with this tag.
Moving on into the Cs, all credit is due Hyped2Death, where I heard most of these tracks, so go over there and buy a few things (I recommend the Zoomers). This batch would largely fit right in on the ‘Cassette‘ mix from the set–in fact, a couple of these tracks were on the early versions of that mix. The jubilantly named Buzz brings us an arpeggiated, galloping little rumination on the absurdity of life and death; whereas the morosely named Cancer bring a silly slice of nonsense-vocals about. . . who knows what, but it doesn’t sound that horrible. The Cardboards shuffle along odd keyboard work. CCCP-TV bring you something that sounds like an American single on Postcard Records about sex, and accompanying terrors and secretions. Finally, Ceramic Hello create Ballard-informed darkwave electropop that can’t help sounding lovable and homemade, despite lyrics like “I lie in bed, laugh. . . and DIE”. Fun stuff, really.
Buzz – “Life Ends”
Cancer – “000010”
Cardboards – “On the R to TZ”
CCCP-TV – “Fear That Mindless”
Ceramic Hello – “Gestures”
Franco Battiato – “Meccanica” (1972)
‘Fetus’ was undoubtedly a horizon-expanding discovery for me, adding another layer to my understanding of the roots of synth-based music, outre, proto-punk, etc. Battiato would go on to do much more abstract music, following a trajectory not that unlike Eno, until he entered the center of the Italian mainstream in the 80s. This early stuff is a great headtrip of early electronics, off-kilter pop-rock songwriting, borrowed/sampled sources, and what I take to be sort of sci-fi lyrics (from what I can gather via Italian-English cognates). [I’ve not used the album’s cover because some might find it disturbing; it does seem slightly shock-value unecessary to me and is not representative of the fun music contained within. Franco Battiato is featured from this period here and in a later form here in mixes at Musicophilia.]
Caravan – “With An Ear to the Ground, You Can Make It” (1970)
I bought this album when I was 18, the same day as buying a twofer of the Soft Machine’s first two albums. And ten years later, I don’t think I’ve heard anything from the “Canterbury scene” I like more; but one doesn’t hear as much about this band as Wyatt, Ayers, et al. Canterbury is the other “prog” besides Faust/Can/Neu/Cluster-nexus Krautrock that doesn’t go wanky, even when it goes jammy, and Caravan from this era is a perfect introduction. This track has it all: it’s sprawling but spare, quiet and loud, rocking and introspective, even “epic”; but it’s always purposeful and infectious, with fantastic vocals (uncannily similar to Wyatt’s), bass, drums, percussion, flute and keyboards, never giving in to stereotypical prog-complexity for its own sake. [This track starts out very quiet, so be careful not to turn up your speakers too loud. Caravan is featured here in a mix at Musicophilia.]
Can – “Shikaku Maru Ten” (1970)
You just know there’s at least a couple box-sets worth of amazing unreleased Can jams locked away somewhere, since they had their own studio. But I’m not holding my breath for Miles Davis-style “complete sessions” vault-clearings any time soon. So we have to be content with a few dodgy radio recordings and live bootlegs, and a couple b-sides and non-album tracks. “Shikaku Maru Ten” does the trick, gliding along with an effortless snare shuffle and bass/guitar groove that approaches New Orleans funk at 4am.
Camberwell Now – “Working Nights” (1986)
This Heat casts a long shadow, and rightfully so–their blend of the edge and energy of punk with longer-brewing strains of art-rock tradition created one of the most lasting archetypes of post-punk. But an unfortunate side effect is that their brief years of existence can obscure the fact that drummer and mastermind Charles Hayward has continued to make riveting, artful, and often beautiful work for nearly thirty years since This Heat disbanded. His compositions have tended to stretch out a bit from the punch of This Heat circa ‘Deceit,’ favoring the atmosphere of the bands earlier work and the rhythms of something like “Health & Efficiency,” but virtually none of the judiciousness and visceral impact was lost regardless of minor production shifts over the years. “Working Nights” represents one of the (numerous) high-water marks in Hayward’s oeuvre, This Heat included, reaching musical and emotional crescendos rarely matched in rock music. It’s a political work, I think, about the worker and industry; but it also explores more mysterious ground, the emotional level of someone who feels trapped in a machine that has no regard for its components, and the clattering, ghostly world in which the night-shift worker can live. The track also happens to presage, perhaps moreso than any of This Heat’s work, the cyclical, instruments-as-loops groove of the best of 1990s “post-rock” like Disco Inferno, Stereolab, Tortoise, or the various Thrill Jockey proponents–all from the unfashionable year of 1986. [Charles Hawyard and This Heat are featured in numerous mixes at Musicophilia that seek to expand upon their unique sounds.]
L’infonie – “Mantra” (1970) [‘In C’ by Terry Riley]
Presaging the rocking work Terry Riley himself would undertake with John Cale the following year, Canadian avant-garde rock-and-composition group L’infonie transformed Riley’s ‘In C’ into a rollicking, funky epic. Maintaining the guiding principles of the piece–53 short phrases in the key of C, played in order, each segment played the number of times chosen by each performer–L’infonie’s “Mantra” achieves the ever-shifting, push-and-pull patterns traditionally associated with the work. Their innovation was to disintegrate remaining lines between avant-garde, intellectual compositional music and popular music, adding double drum kits, electric bass, and percussion instrumentation, arguably changing the piece enough to justify the new name. They don’t quite complete the cycle–the tape ran out just around 30 minutes–but while it lasts it’s a hell of a ride. This probably shouldn’t be the first version of ‘In C’ you hear, but if you know and love other versions, this one will make you appreciate it anew.
Family Fodder – “Philosophy” (1980)
Family Fodder are the lens through which I view post-punk, my personal central nexus for the whole movement and creators of some of my very favorite albums and EPs of the era. For me, they’re the un-U2, the un-Joy Division, the antidote to the absurdly huge shadow cast by the Big Few Names that color the genre as a dead-end of gloom ‘n politics. Family Fodder instead pick up, run with and expand all of the best attributes of the Canterbury Scene (Caravan, Soft Machine, Wyatt, Ayers), the Texas Weirdos (Red Krayolas, 13th Floor Elevators), the Ohio Freaks (Pere Ubu, Devo, David Thomas) and even the Rough Trade/RIO Artsters (Henry Cow, Raincoats, This Heat), stir in a little French chanson and Jamaican dub magic, and infuse it all with their unmatched playfulness.
For a band whose modus operandi is fun first, a philosophical manifesto might seem counter-productive. But “Philosophy” is a manifesto-of-fun, cleverly communicating an intellectual commitment to remembering not to get too damned grown up about it all. That’s not to say they’re joking–the song expresses a sincere and pithy philosophy to live by while delivering a pointed critique of a zero-sum, lock-step, religious-minded “adulthood”. They don’t get self-serious about it either, setting it all to clomping drunk-tap-dancer drums, warbling organ, and snake-charmer reeds. They ultimately appeal to music geeks like us who see the beauty of humanity in music, and sum it all up: “when you make music, you play“. Which is to say, you live.
[Family Fodder are featured on ‘1981‘ mixes here and here, as part of the ‘Young Lady’s Post-Punk Handbook,’ and on a volume of post-punk ‘Miniatures‘ at Musicophilia. And coming at the end of this week, they’ll be featured in a guest-post by me (with a mini-essay) at the indispensable Post-Punk Tumblr blog as part of the “Top 35 Or So Songs of the 80s” project.]
Electronic System – “Time Trip” (1977)
Speaking of usually sharing things a few of you might not have heard–let’s follow up Kraftwerk with one of their very first disciples you might not know. No, this isn’t an pseudonymous outtake from Moroder–this is the sound of the influence of Kraftwerk spreading just west to Belgium, rather than south to Italy, and merging similarly with the spread of disco. It’s by Dan Lacksman, who should be just as well-known and revered as Moroder, at least for his work with his partners as part of Telex. Amazingly, the album from which “Time Trip” comes is easily found on reissued CD, while Telex’ admittedly more brilliant work is completely out of print–probably the most glaringly crazy O.O.P. I can think of at present. The album is not perfect–Lacksman was only a couple of years removed from pretty cheesy but promising sound library-esque synth-jingle-pop work–but it’s a lot of fun and sure to go down easy at your personal discotheque. [Electronic System are beatmatched at Musicophilia with the other disciples and children of Kraftwerk, and Kraftwerk themselves, on the “four LP set” ‘Le Meilleur de Les Rythmes du Monde‘.]
Kraftwerk – “Antenna” (1975)
I mostly try to share things at least some of you might not have heard. But sometimes, hearing a track that’s become embedded in our mutant musical DNA without setting out to do so can be just as amazing. That’s the feeling I’ve just had, hearing “Antenna” at complete random, not having put on ‘Radio-Activity’ in at least a year. Maybe there’s nothing left to be said about music upon which multiple genres are founded–this is as much the bedrock of modern music as James Brown, and hip-hop MCs in the late 2000s are declared geniuses when they have the insight to borrow heavily from the grandchildren of the disciples of Kraftwerk. The Knife, probably my favorite modern group to get started this decade, live and breath in the radiowaves of this album. Even my beloved OMD, themselves now well and duly canonised, were but a minor homage (however wonderful) when they aped the album outright eight years later to make ‘Dazzle Ships’. But there’s no need to say anything really, when thirty five years on, the music still sounds like the future. Simply resplendent (the track, the whole album), and worth being reminded of now and again.
Henri Texier – “Le Piroguier” (1976)
This is music that can only be called genre-free–spare, pure, feeling equal parts experimental and folk-made, calling to mind only other iconoclasts like Brigitte Fontaine & Areski or Emmanuelle Parrenin in its spooky stillness-through-rhythm. Consisting solely of acoustic and organic sounds–handclaps, wordless vocals, single-note bowed strings, and upright bass played in a whirling fashion–it feels vaguely Turkish or Moroccan. It’s elemental and at the same time futuristic, small and yet suggesting wide-open space. Simply beautiful–and inexplicably out of print, so grab it at the ever-essential Mutant Sounds.
Electric Prunes (David Axelrod) – “Holy Are You” and “Our Father, Our King” (1968)
Some might mourn the loss of the band that “had too much to dream last night,” but a “proper band” couldn’t become a product front with a result less like the faux-Velvet Underground debacle than what David Axelrod did with the Electric Prunes moniker. It’s hard to figure it was really worth the trouble of keeping the discarded name alive, financially–especially if what you plan on doing with it is realising albums of quotes from a Mass and from the Torah, however hip. But the whole album from which these tracks come–all 25 minutes of it–is bliss approaching the sublime, with beats that can only be described as “dope,” vibes and organ and soaring strings, fuzzed out guitars and funky basslines, all spinning ever higher in exultation of the text. Not hard to imagine this one dropped the jaws of Monseurs Vannier & Gainsbourg.
Eurythmics – “Take Me To Your Heart” (1981)
A few heroes of art rock/proto-punk were welcomed with open arms by their post-punk progeny, and had a distinct and direct effect on, even participation in, their music despite the reputation for death-to-the-past futurism: Eno, This Heat’s Charles Hayward, Brian Ferry, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lennon and Reed comrade Klaus Voorman, even hippies like Mayo Thompson and unrepentant longhair Robert Wyatt. No less important or participatory were Can’s Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit and their producer Conny Plank. Here they assist Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart on the very first Eurythmics album–what fledgling group could have hoped for a more auspicious start? [For more late-Can and post-Can music like this, be sure to check out two Can-centric mixes at Musicophilia. The Eurythmics are also featured in the ‘1981’ Box Set and the Young Lady’s Post-Punk Handbook]
Michael Rother with Jaki Liebezeit – “Zeni” (1977)
While I would say Klaus Dinger‘s post-Neu! work (especially via La Dusseldorf, whom you can check out here) is generally fuller and more energetic than Michael Rother’s, the latter was buoyed by the involvement of Can‘s Jaki Liebezeit, who ably brings Dinger’s Motorik drumming to Rother’s airy and stirring melodic tendencies with the guitar and synthesizer. Other tracks are more representative of the flying-down-the-Autobahn side of Neu!, while this one is closer to the bands more contemplative, minor-key work, with Liebezeit emphasising the toms. [For more Can and post-Can music like this, be sure to check out two recent Can-centric mixes at Musicophilia.]
Michael Karoli & Polly Eltes – “Home Truths” (1984)
Michael Karoli is sometimes easy to miss (for me) in his contributions to Can–dominated by Jaki Liebezeit’s incredibly inventive beats and Holger Czukay’s sonic textures–and I’ll confess, his soloing is occasionally the thing that detracts from the focus and force of later Can. But he seemingly followed some of the same obsessions of his bandmates, post-Can–especially reggae/dub and a penchance for a blissed-out quality of songwriting. His lone post-Can LP, with Polly Eltes (on whom I can find little information, but who apparently sang on Eno’s ‘Taking Tiger Mountain,’) will be a major find for fans of the Raincoats ‘Odyshape’ and after albums, the Slits’ “Earthbeat” phase, and the Rough Trade/west London sound in general: it’s playful, percussive, warm, sophisticated but unaffected. This is one of few post-Can projects that seems readily in-print and available (along with Liebezeit’s Phantom Band’s third LP, ‘Nowhere’) and is expanded with three fantastic tracks not on the original 1984 issue, so be sure to pick it up if you enjoy this track. [For more Can and post-Can music like this, be sure to check out two recent Can-centric mixes at Musicophilia.]
Phantom Band (Jaki Liebezeit with Rosko Gee) – “You Inspired Me” (1980)
Phantom Band, Jaki Liebezeit’s post-Can band and the most sustained project of any Can member, morphed considerably over four years and three albums (see this post for a track from their next album) but maintained a very high quality throughout. The second and third LPs have a distinct arty post-punk feel to them. But their self-titled LP from 1980 picks up largely where Can’s ‘Saw Delight’ and ‘Out of Reach’ left off, bringing in strong elements of African pop music and polyrhythmic percussion (as well as the underrated Can vocalist Rosko Gee). But in my opinion, it improves on these albums with greater focus and musical clarity, stripping things down a bit, and bathing everything in a gentle warmth combined with a feeling of mystery that reminds me of the best of Hamilton Bohannon‘s late 70s work (the echoed guitar at 3:20 is a virtual homage) and a touch of fusion-era Miles Davis. “You Inspired Me” is especially Bonannon-esque, combining major-chord joy (matched by Gee’s lyrics) and minor-chord ambiguity (in the instrumental sections) deftly. [For more Can and post-Can music like this, be sure to check out two recent Can-centric mixes at Musicophilia.]
Irmin Schmidt with Jaki Liebezeit, Michael Karoli & Rosko Gee – “Endstation Freiheit (Title Theme)” (1981)
The “breakup” of Can was apparently not an acrimonious one, if judged by the frequency with which its members collaborated on one another’s projects and with one another on production work–it seemingly matched pace with Can’s album output. It also often matched the quality of Can’s work, as with this piece, involving three core members plus late-era vocalist and bassist Rosko Gee. [Be sure to check out two recent Can-centric mixes at Musicophilia for an in-depth exploration of late- and post-Can music.]
Sorry for the lack of posts the last week or so. I’ll have at least a couple up every day this week, starting today with a couple Can-related tracks to coincide with two Can-based mixes up this week at Musicophilia–one focusing on the under-loved last five albums under the Can name, and another (up later today) focusing on the remarkably fertile period of creativity and collaboration that followed their 1979 “split”.
I’m still seeing the weird title-only ghost-reposting of early posts from Daily via Reader, and I still can’t figure out what’s causing them or how to stop them. I apologise if they’re cluttering your inbox–but maybe it’s not too bad in case you missed something 9 months ago! If you have any familiarity with blogging/Wordpress and have any advice on how to fix the issue, I’d really appreciate hearing from you. Thanks everyone!
Steve Reich – “Piano Phase” (1967)
Don’t miss this one. “Piano Phase” is as much an experience as a piece of music, and as an experience it profoundly affected the way I heard music, how I decided what was music. It gave me permission, as it were, to follow an impulse that was already growing in me when I first heard it age 20: to admit I loved sound first and foremost; if sound took a song form, great, but if not, that ruled nothing out. What mattered was the effect it had on my ears themselves, in my mind, in my heart–and a repeating shape could have as much of an effect as painterly ballad.
I still tend to perceive Reich’s music (especially the phase-based work) as shapes, visually as much as sonically, and I think this is because its constituent elements are so simple and laid bare at the very outset. “Piano Phase,” a simple duet run of twelve notes, played in a staccato, unsentimental fashion: clear, precise, perhaps slightly mechanical. And then these simple elements, with very few changes internally over the course of 20 minutes, are ever so slightly shifted: and instantly an ever-changing set of new, far more complex shapes begin to emerge, as the basic parts continue to slide past one another. And these evolving shapes are anything but mechanical, producing emotional reactions in me that are subtle in their nature, but wholly visceral.
It moves me as no other Modern artform can, because music is never primarily functional; more than any medium, a “functional” conceit no matter how austere must take temporal and emotional form, and beauty need not be rejected or destroyed. I find it fascinating that every time I hear the piece, the shapes are different than previous times, based on the volume listened at, the quality of the speakers, with headphones on a loud bus or in a forest–this is music that technically but more importantly musically is reborn each time it’s heard. [Reich is heard in several of my very favorite mixes at Musicophilia, which attempt to mirror Reich’s work in creating near-physical reality from sound.]
The Suburbs – “Ghoul of Goodwill” (1981)
Minneapolis’ The Suburbs are a unique hybrid of American, even Mid-Western, qualities and European sensibilities that leaves them sounding like little other “post-punk” music, fitting neither nascent “indie rock” qualities nor glitzy “New Romantic”. They’re not at all slavishly tied to Euro heroes like Roxy Music or contemporaries like Visage or The Only Ones, but they possess a similar elegance. They combine this elegance, most singularly expressed through their unique use of piano (not synth) as a principle instrument, with muscular rhythm and wit. Their 1981 album ‘Credit In Heaven’ is one of my favorite of that year. [The Suburbs are featured on several mixes, including two ‘1981’ discs, at Musicophilia.]
Crash Course In Science – “Flying Turns” (1981)
Crash Course In Science made homemade music from a basement in the distant future, in 1981. And it still sounds like the future in 2009. The ingredients are not dissimilar from much that we recognise as DNW, but what often feels amateurish and even cute from Germany is, perhaps counter-intuitively, more menacing, hard-edged, and cool-as-hell from a boy-girl-vocals group from Philadelphia. I can’t think of a single post-punk act more desperately in need of a full-on reissue treatment (outside of the full works as originally created of Family Fodder).
Mr. Partridge – “The Day They Pulled The North Pole Down” (1980)
“Mr. Partridge” is Andy Partridge of XTC, but this solo-ish work isn’t the singer-songwriter-perfect-pop you might expect from later years. This track comes from one of the attempts Partridge made at dub/remix work in the early, more post-punk phase of the band’s career, sampling elements songs from the first three albums. The results are unique in the band’s oeuvre, and are underrated and wonderfully weird. [My other favorite track from early solo Partridge, though not a sample-based piece, can be heard as part of this beat/dance-oriented set at Musicophilia.]
Fela Kuti – “Unknown Soldier” (1979)
Make the time for this track, I promise you won’t regret it. “The personal is political/the political is personal” doesn’t even come close to getting it for Fela Kuti. This track has everything that’s great about Fela’s music and Afrobeat–all participants serving the groove in the best JB’s-like way, some playing a repeating, individually tiny sound figure repeatedly for the duration of this 30-minute track in order to create something much larger than the individual, something hypnotic and transcendent.
But this is one instance where I’d insist on paying attention to the lyrics, too: the story Fela tells here is astonishing, and the way he tells it keeps my hair standing on end for the duration. I can think of few moments in music more wrenching, heart-breaking, and astonishing than Fela’s description of the murder of his mother peaking at the pure sound of loss at 22:55-23:05. But the whole thing is the most effective contrast of humanity versus the dehumanising effect of military-minded “order” I’ve ever known, in any medium. This is one of the high achievements of popular music.
The Carter Family – “Wildwood Flower” (1935)
Music so sturdy, simple, direct, and affecting is rarely achieved, especially that stands the test of so many decades. The clean melodies of the Carter Family are clearly from another time, virtually another world, yet they call forth an elemental, essential musical understanding in any American. And perhaps they tap into the foundational strains of “folk musics” everywhere, and speak universally.
The Shaggs – “I’m So Happy When You’re Near” (1969)
Most people would hear The Shaggs and think, “that’s just wrong,” but for some of us, it’s just so damned right it simply had to be. The musical expression of “sticktoitiveness” at its best, the young Wiggin sisters may have been coerced into making music in a way that might require a call to CPS today (being taken out of school on the basis of their father’s premonitions and delusions of grandeur). But from the sound of things, once they got going, nothing was going to stop them. And so the seemingly avant-garde clashing of tempo, melody, alternate-tuning, and deconstructed pop forms and subject matter flows forth as though it were the most natural thing in the world–for these girls, it seems to have been, and there is indeed a logic to it all, once the listener acclimates. Many never will, but for those who do, The Shaggs scratch an itch that more considered un-pop music (Captain Beefheart, LAFMS et al) can’t even reach. Just don’t dare call it kitsch–we love this music wholly on its own terms. [The Shaggs are featured on two Miniatures mixes at Musicophilia, including work from their lovable but more “normal” later recordings.]
Neon Judgement – “TV Treated” (1982)
I try to avoid the “if you like [contemporary band x], you should check out [influence x]” formula. But the Neon Judgement were so prescient and so good, and so clearly foreshadow one of the musical developments of the last half decade I tend to enjoy–the entire DFA/LCD Soundsystem/Hercules & Love Affair/”dance-punk” sound (not to mention Goldfrapp, Out-Hud, Les Attaques, et al)–that it’s hard to avoid. The Neon Judgement were from Belgium, clearly loved Suicide and a fantasy-world NYC, and could be called DNW-related or proto-Electro, but their sound is more fully-formed and fully-fledged than those labels can often suggest. There’s the hard, long-lasting dance beats; the saw-tooth sine wave synthetics; the “punk” vocals; and the New Wave guitar jangle, and it’s intoxicating stuff–so much so that I’ve got to share two tracks. They deserve more attention.
Neon Judgement – “Concrete (NY Stoney Wall Doll)” (1984)
Free Design – “Kites Are Fun” (1967)
I can think of very little music that so glowingly and lovingly portrays the innocence and openness of childhood, especially in narrative form, as that of the Free Design. The total absence of any detachment may make the music seem jokey to those accustomed to the usually-useful skepticism of adulthood, but if anything can melt our guarded state of mind, it’s the Design’s perfect-pop three-part harmony. [The Free Design are featured on Musique du Monde mixes of glowing 70s warmth at Musicophilia.]
Betty Harris – “There’s A Break In The Road” (1969)
Betty Harris is great, Allen Toussaint is a legend; the lyrics here are an iron maiden of don’t-fuck-with-me clarity, and the vocal hook is no less deadly-sharp. The bassline is timeless, and the feedback howls make your hair stand on end. But I can’t lie: it’s Ziggy Modeliste that makes this track the indelible mind-blower it is. One of the master’s best, the beat rides on its edge full-speed for the duration, never settling into what other drummers would consider the normal expression of the rhythm. If d’n’b had ever really had half this power of the beat–this is the feeling, sped up, it was going for, it seems–I’d be listening to it every day. This was the b-side of the single?!?
Brainticket – “One Morning” (1972)
With only a few exceptions, “Krautrock” has been a genre of the haves and the have-nots, for me: a few top tiers of very few acts of greatness, and a precipitous drop-off to the (wanky, noodling) rest. So I haven’t experienced a lot of “lost gems;” but if Brainticket is Krautrock (given that it’s made by Swiss, Italian and German musicians) the first two albums are gems. I prefer the second album, ‘Psychonaut’. If you can find it, grab the two-fer that houses the the first two albums. This track makes might appeal to fans of Animal Collective, based on what I’ve heard of their work, with it’s off-kilter, pretty-but-tense weirdo-folk feeling.
[Audio] – 1981 ‘Briefcase’ Tracks, Part 9 (Lol Coxhill, Crispy Ambulance, Dalek I Love You, Danse Society, Dark Day)
Various – Tracks from the ‘1981’ Briefcase Disc, Part 9
Here is the ninth installment from the ‘1981 Briefcase,’ the catch-all mp3-CD found in the ‘1981‘ box set (the nine main mixes of which are now available in full for download at Musicophilia). Finishing the “C’s” and moving into the “D’s,” these five tracks comprise a nice little slice of the abstract/experimental and “dark-wave” sides of post-punk. First up is Lol Coxhill, who is a stretch as a post-punker being generally associated with the Canerbury scene (and Kevin Ayer’s finest work especially); but by 1981 he had become associated with Cherry Red and its arty post-punk experimentalists, and here gives us a lovely little mournful sax-based instrumental. Next is Crispy Ambulance, with an extended workout in the Factory Records house sound of the day, somewhere between Joy Division and A Certain Ratio (more remarkable for the proto-late-90s graphic design of the 12″s cover, IMO). Dalek I Love You present a squelchy, odd little bit of avant-New Pop, while Danse Society morph Vangelis-like soundscapes into a gothic pop tune. Dark Day bring it all back to the instrumental abstract side with an echoing cavern of backwards instrumentation.
Lol Coxhill – “The Calm”
Crispy Ambulance – “The Presence”
Dalek I Love You – “Heartbeat”
Danse Society – “Continent”
Dark Day – “The Exterminations, Part 6”
Alan Parker & John Cammeron – “Ice Breaker” & “”Sahara Sunrise” (1973)
Sometimes it seems like the “sound library” world is a dream–this other world, this alternate history of popular music, kept like a secret until just the right time in a person’s music-geek-journey when it seems like there just wasn’t enough funk-with-strings, enough breakbeats-and-rhodes-and-percussion made in the real world. It’s really Blaxploitation soundtracks one step over, Serge Gainsbourg on a budget, Tamla-on-the-Thames, with a good dose of musique concrete and space-age-Moog thrown in for good measure, but for whatever nutty reason almost never commercially released at the time. These are two cuts from two of this alternate reality’s Big Names (who played with Serge and the Shadows et al in “real life”) from one of the most consistently great Library records (consistency is perhaps their one downfall, usually) and one of far too few that can be bought today, if you can find it.
Leda – “White Clouds” (1978)
“White Clouds” caps off a mini-them this week on Musicophilia Daily of less-heard music by well-known artists. The album attributed to Leda is perhaps the least likely offshoot of Tangerine Dream, apparently created by Peter Baumann. Even on the dancier/disco tracks there’s a definite touch of the cosmic TD sensibility, and it’s apparent on “White Clouds”. Floating female vocals are doubled by a sanguine synth line, above double-time arpeggiated synths and “epic” drums. It’s a lot of fun, and you should grab it from the Synopsis Elektronika blog. [And if you get going on the electro-space-disco trip, you can hear more Leda on the ‘Les Rythmes du Monde‘ “box set” at Musicophilia.]
Phantom Band – “Experiments” (1981)
Carrying on with the accidental theme of side projects/lesser-known work, Phantom Band has a central sonic element you’ll probably recognise: it’s that drum sound, so metronomically perfect yet humane, courtesy of Can’s Jaki Liebezeit (the guitar line sounds not unlike late-era Karoli, the keys have some Schmidt to them, and the bouncing bass wouldn’t have shamed Holger Czukay, for that matter). A dubbed-out minimal funk with fabulously altered vocals and squelching bits of electronic noise, this stuff deserves to be much better known. Call it post-punk, call it proto-punk funk, call it no-disco, it’s good stuff.
George Harrison – “Under the Mersey Wall” (1968)
Yes–this is the George Harrison. But don’t hold your breath for any gently weeping guitars, or even any sitars. I can imagine this might have caused about as many pissed-off teeny-boppers as ‘Metal Machine Music’ caused pissed-off proto-punkers. This is outre, experimental, long-form early electronic music, along the lines of Morton Subotnik with touches of the kosmiche of early Tangerine Dream or Cluster. Once you let go of any Beatles-based expectations, this is actually pretty compelling stuff, abstract but visceral; if Harrison was dabbling, it’s more convincing than his ersatz-ragga stylings. Who knows–for all the people this record probably angered, it probably set a few down mind-expanding paths beyond anything even “Revolution #9” could have done. [If you can roll with this track on its own, you’ll probably enjoy ‘The Somnambulist,’ an experimental mix into which Harrison’s electronic work is embedded.]
[Audio] – 1981 ‘Briefcase’ Tracks, Part 8 (Club Tango, Colours Out of Time, Commercials, Concrete, The Conservatives)
Various – Tracks from the ‘1981’ Briefcase Disc, Part 8
Today we’re making up for lost time, with two installments from the ‘1981 Briefcase,’ the catch-all mp3-CD found in the ‘1981‘ box set (from which eight of the nine main mixes are now available for download at Musicophilia). This is the 8th set of tracks. Keep track of new sets with this tag; and don’t miss Part 7, posted earlier today.
In this set are five almost-unknowns. Perhaps best are Club Tango, with a nice bit of bouncy, wry dance-punk. There’s also the Colours Out of Time, who one might broadly lump with Echo & The Bunnymen or their American counterparts the Urban Verbs. Rounding out the set is Scotland’s Commercials with a bit of that proto-indie Postcard feel; similarly lo-fi but considerably darker Concrete with some handmade nuclearphobia; and The Conservatives with a taste of things to come (at least in Southern California) with some 1981-style hardcore punk that will appeal to fans of bitchin’ Camaros.
Club Tango – “Performance”
Colours Out of Time – “The Waiting” (BBC)
Commercials – “Simon”
Concrete – “Uranium Plant”
The Conservatives – “Suburban Bitch”
[Audio] – 1981 ‘Briefcase’ Tracks, Part 7 (Chameleons, The Chefs, Chemicals Made From Dirt, Christian Death, The Clash)
Various – Tracks from the ‘1981’ Briefcase Disc, Part 7
As it was missed last weekend, today there will be two further installments from the ‘1981 Briefcase,’ the catch-all mp3-CD found in the ‘1981‘ box set (from which eight of the nine main mixes are now available for download at Musicophilia). This is the 7th set of tracks. You can see previous installments and keep track of new ones with this tag; and be sure to check out Part 8, also posted today.
Both of today’s sets continue in the C’s. Of course you know The Clash, but perhaps not quite like this: a dubby disco remix of “The Magnificent Seven,” which, along with “This Is Radio Clash” comprises the works of The Clash for people who don’t like The Clash. Then there’s The Chameleons, better known for their post post-punk, New Pop albums, here with an early Peel session; Chemicals Made From Dirt, championed by Hyped2Death; Christian Death with a little SoCal Gothicism; and The Chefs, with a silly little ditty about hanging-on, gossip, and the soul-crush of scenesterism.
Chameleons – “Here Today” (BBC)
The Chefs – “Someone I Know”
Chemicals Made From Dirt – “Ike”
Christian Death – “Dogs”
The Clash – “The Magnificent Dance”
Curtis Mayfield – “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go” (1970)
Curtis Mayfield can have a lot going on in his tracks, but they never feel over-stuffed. Mayfield could absorb larger-scale soundtrack-ready arrangements of brass and strings without losing any of the sharp melodicism or the funk, a balance he was one of the first to master. In that vein, this track has long been one of my favorites–a real gateway drug to the musical joys of the 70s. Here the strings feel especially integral, not aloof in that great Gainsbourg/Vannier way but sharp and directly interacting with the rhythm instruments. But the tops is that fuzz-bass and the dubbed-out echos whenever Mayfield refrains, “don’t worry”.
Front 242 – “Black White Blue” (1982)
I can’t speak for later Front 242, but in the early 80s these Belgians were really onto something, making a spooky style of electronic music that is akin to Throbbing Gristle or fellow Liaisons Dangereuses and presages later Electro, but which remains unique. This track, with its periodic hyper-32nd-note 808-hi-hat breaks and bouncing rhythmic emphasis remains strikingly contemporary.
Yoko Ono – “Mindtrain” (1971)
I’m not even going to address the misconceptions about Ono as a person or re: the Beatles, other than to say they’re nonsense. If the recording personnel on Ono’s early albums are any indication, it’s clear that the Macca killed the Beatles, not this mind-expanding artist. I’ll grant that her vocal approach makes her no Carol King, but she never wanted to go down easy (in art, in life) and I think she gave Lennon balls, not took them. John Lennon never rocked like he did on her first two albums (not to mention Ringo, too) and the album he recorded simultaneously to her first. This track is a Krautrock-or-Fela-level stretch-out, kicking into a fully-fledged-funky groove and never letting up; Klaus Voorman bounces things along nicely on the bass, the drums slowly build the train-like churn from a breakbeat stomp into a Faust-like barrage; and John shreds and shards the guitar like a slightly-more-in-control-than-usual Sonny Sharrock. Ono’s freak-out vocalising (if you can’t call it “singing”) pushes the whole thing into the stratosphere. She’s like nothing you’ve ever heard; unless you’ve heard the stronger and more innovative women in music she surely influenced/freed up from post-punk onward. This is one time to open your ears and pay no mind to the haters. [Yoko Ono appears on a ‘Le Tour du Monde’ mix at Musicophilia in a singer-songwriter mode, with a track that uncannily anticipates Big Star’s gutting “Holocaust”.]
L.S. Gelik – “Bajing Luncat” [“Jumping Squirrel”] (1996)
I picked up this album (as a Japanese import with much more appealing cover art than I can find online) from an Indonesian-import wood furniture shop owner, and can find next to no information about it. It is an example of a Sundanese form of Indonesian music called “kecapi suling,” created largely using different kecapi, a “zither-like” instrument. To my ears the music sounds something like a cross between Ivory Coast kora and the slower, plaintive varieties of Indonesian gamelan (bell orchestra) music. It’s meditative, hypnotising work, with repeating cycles of sparkling string tones and woodwind notes turning in the wind above. Beautiful and haunting.
Emmanuelle Parrenin – “Topaze” (1977)
I can guarantee you’d never match this track to its cover. Parrenin’s ‘Maison Rose‘ is an odd one, but fascinating: mostly pastoral in the Drake/Bunyan vein, but with bits of an edge that remind me a little of Laurie Anderson or Brigitte Fontaine or Linda Thompson; quite lovely and worthwhile. And then there’s this track, that seems like it’s from another album; but also from another time and place: abstract wailings ostensibly derived from a hurdy gurdy (the link with the rest of the album) are wrapped around a booming, single-note bass tone and then. . . holy shit, that beat: all echoed, sliced up, turned around, and utterly cool. Where this came from out of this artist, I don’t at all understand; Like a cousin to This Heat’s ’24 Track Loop, it’s simply out of nowhere. I’ll leave it for you to supply what genres it anticipated and by how many decades. All I know is, I can get completely lost in this beat, on repeat.
Arthur Russell – “Terrace of Unintelligibility” [Part 2] (1985)
This is an excerpt from the short film that was included with the first copies of Audika Records’ reissue of ‘World of Echo,’ featuring live performances of tracks from that album (especially “Answers Me”). The meditative fullness that Russell could achieve breaks my heart every single time, hundreds and hundreds of listens on, after so many years. I can’t begin to fathom how he could do so much with so little, but I’ve heard nothing truly like it. This film nicely reflects the intimacy one feels when hearing ‘World of Echo’ in the dark through headphones. [Find previously featured incarnations of Mr. Russell at Musicophilia Daily here, and mixes which incorporate his music at Musicophilia here.]
Shape Note Singers – “Travelling On” (1959)
Beautifully recorded in stereo by Alan Lomax in 1959, this Shape Note Choir exemplifies the slightly odd, but undeniably stirring sound of shape note hymns. Expressively rhythmic for white European-derived music, the four sides of the choir create a roller-coaster ride of canon-like melodies and harmonies.
Faust – “The Lurcher/Krautrock/Do So” (Live, BBC) (1973)
Don’t miss this one. This twenty-minute medley expresses a wide swath of Faust’s power and prescience. The first section, “The Lurcher,” is a drunken Germanic breakbeat-funk with treated saxophone and ethereal guitar that must have seemed to be coming from the future to whoever actually heard this performance in March of 1973. The second section, “Krautrock,” must have sent plenty running, if they hadn’t already; but those who remained in the center of this maelstrom-meditation may have experienced a religious conversion (even though Faust may have been having a pisstake at a nonsensical genre they never really fit, their humor was often sublime). And after all the build up, humor comes to the fore, as Faust reminds everyone not to take it all too seriously with “Do So,” a bent little pop ditty that is subtly as cyclical as their longer works disguised in song-form. If you haven’t heard this performance before–or especially if somehow you haven’t heard Faust before–I envy you the experience. For me, in contrast with Can, Faust took years to fully seep in, but once they did there was no going back–these sounds can reshape your ears. [For more Faust, check Musicophilia for a number of mixes.]
Karen Dalton – “Katie Cruel” (1971)
For me, Karen Dalton is at her best when she’s at her most spare, and this might be my favorite: jittery banjo, bittersweet voice, and aching fiddle, knitting a tale of loss and regret. This is where she transcends “folk revival” or “singer-songwriter” (or “Billie Holiday of folk music” comparisons) and simply creates pure American music, out of time, beyond any single persona. [Karen Dalton is featured in a wide-ranging ‘Le Tour du Monde’ mix at Musicophilia.]
The Beat – “Mirror In the Bathroom” (1980)
This is UK Ska Revival at its best, in my opinion–borrowing heavily from 60s ska but not slavishly imitating it, pushing the artform (without breaking from it, as with Specials AKA or Fun Boy Three). There’s an itchy urgency to this track, with its perfect beat and double-time rhythm guitar, with that booming echo-drenched guitar line doubling up the careening bassline. It all adds up to the coolest take on paranoid (drug-fueled?) narcissism/obsession I can imagine. Catchy doesn’t do it justice–this is infectious. [The Beat are featured in a ‘1981’ mix and a ‘Post-Punk Miniatures‘ mix at Musicophilia.]