Jane Birkin – “Kawasaki” (1973)
Birkin’s work here is indelibly imprinted with the signatures of Serge Gainsbourg and Jean-Claude Vannier in top-flight ‘Melody Nelson’ mode, and that’s hardly a bad thing: those whirling strings, spare funky drums and bass, weeping guitar, and balanced temperaments of dynamism and melancholy are effective as ever. But Birkin’s half-sung, half-breathed vocals add a nice counterpoint to Gainsbourg’s more earthy speak-sing. The coy, coquettish album cover doesn’t hurt.
Bhutan Tibetan Buddhist Monks – “Entreaty to the Three Buddha-Bodies” (1971)
This highly dynamic piece of religious music created by Tibetan Buddhist Monks in the Kingdom of Bhutan (field recorded in 1971) captures many of the prevalent musical elements of the Tibetan Buddhist music I’ve heard, absent vocal chants. Deep booming horns, higher droning reed-like horns, percussive bells and drums, and semi-melodic percussive instruments create a sound that is definitively “other” to Western ears. And yet while the denotative meaning of the music is elusive, the austerity and beauty it creates is wholly evident, and intimates a concept of time and scale that is beyond most Western work.
[Audio] – 1981 ‘Briefcase’ Tracks, Part 10 (Decayes, Deep Freeze Mice, Department S, Deutsche Wertarbeit, Din A Testbild)
Various – Tracks from the ‘1981’ Briefcase Disc, Part 10
This is the tenth batch of tracks 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). Moving forward with the “D’s,” we’ve got five who certainly didn’t make it to the top of the pops, but were busy carving out their own little burrows at the edges of the post-punk ant farm. Decayes present punchy kookiness that lives next door to the mass-media-pastiche madness of Negativland. Deep Freeze Mice create low-fi power-pop that fits somewhere between Television Personalities and Monitor. Department S offer shiny, bouncy New Pop that will appeal to fans of Duran Duran. Finaly, we have two DNW-ish synth-based acts who present very different visions: Deutsche Wertarbeit live in a Kraftwerkian Utopia, soaring majestically on an autobahn to heaven; whereas Din A Testbild paint a nearly schizophrenic world of the mind, full of hazy chaos.
Decayes – “Dance Hall”
Deep Freeze Mice – “Dr. Z”
Department S – “Age Concern”
Deutsche Wertarbeit – “Deutscher Wald”
Din A Testbild – “Logischer Gerfriepunkt”
Penguin Cafe Orchestra – “The Sound of Someone You Love Who’s Going Away And It Doesn’t Matter” (1976)
Penguin Cafe Orchestra sadly seem to be an anomaly, from some unknown space between prog, the avant-garde, neo-chamber music, proto-post-punk (think Essendon Airport or Durrutti Column) and even RiO. The later work has achieved some popularity, but their first album remains seemingly unheralded. To my ears, it is perhaps their best, or at least purest, less cute than later work, more emotionally direct. The guitar figuring here has a feeling not unlike something from ‘Chelsea Girls,’ but the strings and the electric piano add a slightly off-kilter warmth that is unique. This music could very easily have been recorded today, in the best possible sense: based in no fads or even prevailing styles, it stands apart from its time or origin. [Penguin Cafe Orchestra are featured in several mixes at Musicophilia.] Update: wrong audio stream when first published, now corrected. Thanks!
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.
Nico – “Frozen Warnings” (1969)
Neither Nico’s contributions to the Velvet Underground, nor the lovely ‘Chelsea Girls,’ could suggest the breathtaking mystery and utter timelessness of her first two incredible albums, ‘The Marble Index‘ and ‘Desertshore‘. Those records might also be the best examples of prime John Cale at the crossroads between his avant-garde and drone-based experimental work, and his “friendlier” singer-songwriter work. Dark doesn’t come close to capturing the shimmering depths of this work; and from a purely sonic standpoint, this is minimal but careful production at its finest, surely influencing later masterworks like Talk Talk’s beloved couplet or Arthur Russell’s more introspective work. This track is relatively “pretty,” but even the more challenging tracks remain stunningly beautiful and emotionally gripping. [Nico is featured on one of my favorite mixes at Musicophilia.]
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.]
Toumani Diabate with Ballake Sissoko – “Bafoulabe” (1999)
Hearing the kora for the first time was a revelation; that I first heard the instrument in person, live, only made it more breathtaking: a single instrument to the eye, but the sound was that of a harp, an upright bass, the Indonesian kepaci, and a flamenco guitar together. This recording of the most well-known Malian kora musician Toumani Diabate captures the range of the instrument beautifully, without any of the cheesier “world music” fusion-trappings that diminish many a contemporary recording. The shifts in tempo here create a dreamlike feeling.
Paolo Renosto (Lesiman) – Moto Centripeto (1973)
Another brilliant cut from the alternate history of popular music, aka Sound Library music. Echoing and reverbed piano and harpsichord float over dulcet vibes with abstract sounds, all grounded by a breezily funky bassline. This is cool beyond cool, the soundtrack to the movie version of life as one wishes it were lived.
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)
Uncle Tupelo – “Wait Up” (1992)
I’m not in love with any Uncle Tupelo album in its entirety, but this Tweedy-penned tune has stuck with me over the years. The quiet desperation, pleading from a point of exhaustion, in the three-note melody and lyrics is affecting and simple. The tantalizingly brief shifts from the jaunting banjo to the half-speed, cavernous wailing of Peter Buck’s electric guitar is like a sonic metaphor for a glimpse beyond the surface of workaday fondness into the occasionally realised, sometimes beautiful, sometimes dangerous depth of love.
This Heat – “Repeat” (1979)
Few one-off experiments are more exciting than This Heat’s “24-Track Loop”. This Heat were an expansive band, but at some level were generally identifiable as a “post-punk” or “rock” act; “24-Track Loop” defied genre at its time, sounding little like any established repetition-based dance or electronic music of the time, though drawing from dub and musique concrete methodology. “Repeat” is an extended mix of the seminal track, allowing each phrase to burrow into the listener’s consciousness before new qualities are slowly introduced; it’s no less stunning than its briefer counterpart.
Sam Prekop – “Showrooms” (1999)
Prekop’s first solo album winningly calls to mind the bossa-lite cocktails served up by Stan Getz in his collaborations with Charlie Byrd and João Gilberto, with a nice dash of West Coast sunshine pop and chamber pop. Most indie rock absorbs the surface trappings of other forms, but remains at its core unambitious indie rock. Prekop has managed to break free of such shackles, tapping into a timeless feel that is elusive to most of his peers.
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.]
Digable Planets – “Black Ego” (1994)
I hope by now it’s common knowledge that Digable Planets weren’t the hip-hop-hippies their “one-hit-wonder” single made them seem. Like the best trip-hop, their mellowness (especially on their second album, ‘Blowout Comb’) fronted a complex blend of emotions, telling stories of the personal-as-political and the political-as-personal. Plus, with their Modern Jazz Quartet-like approach to vibes-and-strings and their judicious beat-borrowing (here the eternal Zigaboo), they made hip hop sound as good as their best new-school contemporaries. They tapped a deep well, and another fifteen years on, it’s far from dry.
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.]
Pharoah Sanders – “Astral Traveling” (1971)
This is jazz that escapes the entrenched dichotomy one might associate with 1971. It’s neither “traditional” nor “fusion” or “experimental” per se. It has a compositional feeling and an exploratory vibe that feels “astral” indeed, but it’s not necessarily head music, and there’s no funk or rock foundation. It is contemplative in a way that feels like a classic jazz ballad, but there’s no piano here, and the instrumentation is small-group but not strictly standard. It’s simply rich, beautiful, spiritually resonant music, effortlessly both accessible and experimental. [Sanders is featured in a Sensory Replication Series mix at Musicophilia.]
The Cure – “Grinding Halt” (1979)
I love the foggy ghost-world of ‘Faith’ or even the teenage widescreen-emotions of ‘Disintegration;’ and generally The Cure strike me as being one of the true keepers of the post-punk faith through the 80s, along with Sonic Youth. But I wouldn’t have minded if they’d developed the brittle, furtive, twitchy sound they had on their first LP a little further. The manic tracks of later Cure hint at it, but there’s a tininess and tinniness here that’s appealing in a different way. Never has a post-apocalyptic vision sounded more uptempo (or had a catchier bass hook), but the edgy paranoia comes through surprisingly effectively on the small black-and-white t.v. screen The Cure are filling here. [The Cure are featured on several mixes 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”
Ofege – “Nobody Fails” (1974)
Another gift from Exiled Records, and another taste of spinning Nigerian afro-rock greatness. With a shuffling rhythm that shifts from feeling triple-time to half-time, sweetly crooning guitar, and a vocal hook that doesn’t stop, “Nobody Fails” (like the whole album) is addictive. Apparently Ofege were a bunch of teenagers, aided on this record by studio session men, but the sound is anything but immature.
Iannis Xenakis – “Mélanges” (1979)
As an architect, Xenakis is a sworn enemy of mine, a direct disciple of Jenneret-Gris (aka “Le Corbusier”). Fortunately, unlike the avant-garde Modernists in architecture, their musical equivalents didn’t try to literally destroy what came before (or at least they didn’t succeed). Indeed, this percussion work at times recalls Indonesian gamelan; at other times it brings to mind the push-and-pull of the rhythm elements of Charles Ives’ Symphony No. 4. Also unlike the blank, indifferent banality of post-war avant-garde architecture, this music is highly visceral, abstract as its highly dynamic progress may be. [Xenakis is incorporated into several experimental-but-visceral mixes at Musicophilia.]
Rachel’s – “Forgiveness” (1999)
Rachel’s probably were the group that were most lazily tagged “post-rock” in the late 90s and early 2000s, and one of the examples that best illustrates the meaninglessness of the term–post-rock only makes sense if your musical frame of reference begins with Nirvana. They were simply making modern chamber music, carrying on a tradition of accessibly experimental and unabashedly beautiful work that calls to mind Penguin Cafe Orchestra, some of Franco Battiato’s late 70s work, or perhaps that of Luciano Cilio. I generally prefer the somewhat more traditional trio sound of ‘Music for Egon Schiele,’ but ‘Selenography‘ is often successful with its slightly larger and more ambitious palatte. [If you enjoy Rachel’s, you’ll like these mixes at Musicophilia on which they’re found.]
“Bob” Darin – “The Harvest” (1969)
Walden Robert Cassatto briefly emerged from his better-known persona, Bobby Darin, to create a couple (very) surprisingly great singer-songwriter-rock-funk albums in the late 60s. I guess it could’ve been a cash-in on the rising hippie tide, but to my mind the risks of alienating his established crooner audience for the ears of (most likely highly skeptical) kids doesn’t seem to make a lot of financial sense. Especially when it turns out the music is pretty great, and the politics are pretty pronouncedly progressive–it seems sincere to me. In any case, the resulting music is sometimes beautiful, sometimes funny, and always enjoyable, as on this rollicking, jumpy track that warns of the hubris of man and the folly of power with a series of clever couplets. [The funky feeling of this track is found throughout this mix that features Mr. Darin at Musicophilia.]
Miles Davis – “He Loved Him Madly” (1974)
Don’t miss this one. This is deep, intense listening, and it won’t grab you if you don’t have the attention (and about half an hour) to devote. But I promise, it rewards the effort. This is beyond the cosmic-exploration of the Germans we love; this is an exploration of the infinite spirit, the depths of mourning, the heights of love. It is minimal, subtle, undulating, meditative, careful, above all beautiful. Anyone who questioned Davis’ motives for “abandoning jazz” and going fusion couldn’t have maintained that incredulity if their ears were open to the sheer expressiveness of this music. This wasn’t booty-funk, this wasn’t stoner-rock, though its elements are guitar, flute, drum kit, keyboards, electric bass, and echo effects: this is simply, utterly human music. Give it the time, give it your ears, and it will build itself slowly through you. [The glory of “Judas” Miles Davis is featured here, here and here at Musicophilia.]
Beck – “Satan Gave Me A Taco” (1994)
I haven’t followed him closely the last decade or so, but I still think Beck is a pretty great merry prankster for the straight world, a real well-intentioned goofball (apparent Scientology notwithstanding). “Satan Gave Me A Taco” is wonderfully absurd narrative, an exploration of the giddy excesses of corporate Rock And Roll, or, something. It’s lyrically epic in its not-quite-four-minutes.
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.
Only Ones – “Lovers Of Today” (1979)
I don’t know if you call it post-punk or power-pop, but this is rock the way I like it. Smart minds through dumb drums, muscular guitar lines that are surprisingly svelte, working-class punk snarl and swagger that’s read a book or two, all rough-and-tumble (“we ain’t got feelings, we got no love, we ain’t got nothing to say”) that’s raw and emotionally affecting. There’s a little Television in there, if you want your art-rock roots.
The Del-Byzanteens – “Girl’s Imagination” (1981)
From the final ‘1981’ mix up today over at Musicophilia, “Girl’s Imagination” is further proof of just how cool New York was in the world of ‘Downtown ’81,’ or at least in the minds of its art-participants. (One participant here of note is director Jim Jarmusch, on vocals and keyboards.) The EP earns its hieroglyphic cover with a beguiling, snake-charmer sound and a fascinating storyteller approach. The sound of the coolest mental breakdown ever, a nightmare you want to hang out in for a while.
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.]
Robert Schumann – String Quartet A Major, O41 N03 “Adagio Motto” (1842)
I’ve heard Schumann described as “weepy,” and I guess this piece wouldn’t dissuade anyone who saw that as a pejorative. But I find the interplay of this chamber orchestra considerably more emotionally diverse than mere maudlin. On the whole, melancholy is central; but there are moments of elevation, joy, expectation, perhaps hints of anger, and the piece shifts subtly and nimbly between them in a way that rings true and avoids sentimentalism.
Janko Nilovic – “Roses and Revolvers” (1970)
It’s incredible to think that this music was made as an aural hired-gun for advertisements or cheap television shows or films. If there were ever a track to get you excited about the of alternate universe of pop that is the realm of “sound library” LPs (which were almost never made available commercially), this is it. Fuzzed out guitar soars around twirling harpsichord and Rhodes over one mother-of-funk beat that is hip-hop ready, breaking things down and building up with incredible grace and care. But the coup de grace is the bassline, which has to be one of the best I’ve ever heard, remaining funky while carrying the core melodic duties of the track. I bet money you won’t be able to listen just once. This is the pinaccle, but if you dig it, it’s time to start digging those sound library blogs linked over at Musicophilia. [Nilovic is featured on several Musique du Monde mixes at Musicophilia, which you’ll definitely dig if you like this one.] (UPDATE: The wrong song was previously linked; it’s been corrected.)
Bill Evans Trio – “Jade Visions” (1961)
Hopefully you know the Bill Evans Trio‘s four albums from 1961, but if you don’t this is a fine introduction. This track, written by the ill-fated bassist Scot LaFaro (who would die tragically mere days after this gig), embodies everything that is wonderful about the records: Motian’s drums, LaFaro’s bass and Evans’ piano are all “lead” instruments, but not in the free-jazz sort of way; they dance with one another perfectly, always balanced, always careful, but full of understated passion. “Jade Visions” in particular still gives me goosebumps, after literally hundreds of listens. The only downside is that you may spend years searching the jazz aisles and find few other sessions that reach this sort of sublime stillness. (If you don’t own ‘Sunday at the Village Vanguard’ and ‘Waltz for Debby,’ I recommend you go ahead and purchase ‘The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings‘.)
Link Wray – “Rumble Mambo” (1958)
You have to love that just-behind-the-beat swagger of Wray’s guitar, complimented in this version of “Rumble” with a martial dance beat that feels a little punk, and some sultry-sweet sax. This is the very essence of “cool” taking shape.
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.]
Pascal Comelade & Robert Wyatt – “September Song” (2000)
Pascal Comelade has made a lovely career of making smart music with toy instruments, and this collaboration with Robert Wyatt brings out the sweetest warmth from both. Nostalgic, whimsical, and simple, this song is the sound “golden days” captured perfectly. [Robert Wyatt is featured in varied contexts in several mixes at Musicophilia.]
Fever Ray – “Dry and Dusty” (2009)
I have Jon at Portland’s Anthem Records to thank for The Knife. In curmudgeon mode, I’d written them off, guilt-by-association with that farming implement-entitled nexus of hipster ephemera–to my loss. Jon got me to listen to ‘Deep Cuts,’ and I was instantly won over–the warmth, the electronic buzzing, the wonderful melodies, the taste of experimentalism: who could resist. ‘Silent Shout‘ was released the next year, and while I missed the pop sensibilities at first, the album now strikes me as a classic of the genre. Fever Ray is the Knife in all but name, with little appreciable fall-off from the main body of work despite being the work of 1/2 its personnel–it’s no singer-songwriter side-project or noodley indulgence. That multiple-personality-disorder vocal approach is as haunting as ever.
The Embarrassment – “After the Disco” (Original) (1979)
This is one of those long-lost, unreleased-for-years gems that really makes you scratch your head and wonder, “who shelved this and what were they thinking?” It’s got all the manic frenzy and nerdy humor of Kansas’ best band The Embarrassment‘s early singles (and comes from the same sessions). It’s wonderfully wrong and catchy, the rhythms of the instruments and the vocals never seeming quite aligned but made all the more compelling for it. This is the sort of joy that post-punk is all about. The ‘Heyday‘ compendium seems to go in and out of print, but if you find it, buy it quickly. [The Embarrassment are featured on the ‘Amplifier‘ mix from the ‘1981‘ box set at Musicophilia.]
[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”
So sorry for the lack of new posts this week. I plan to be back to the regular pace of 10+ new posts per week starting this weekend. But real life has intruded, as I hope you’ll understand. As always, thanks for listening, and please don’t be shy with any suggestions for improvement or recommendations of things you think I should hear/share.
Nina Simone – “Black Is the Color Of My True Love’s Hair” (1966)
Of all the Queens of vocal jazz, when she’s at her best (and with the most sympathetic production) nobody tops Nina Simone, for me. Her voice isn’t the unbelievably singular instrument of Lady Day, nor does she have the stylishness of Sarah Vaughan; but the tremble, shake, just-controlled fire and depth of her voice makes the emotional impact of her ballads greater than anyone else. Hers is the voice of wisdom, hard-won, of grace amidst the day-to-day. This is one of those tracks that makes my hair quite literally stand on end every time, and brings a lump to my throat, imbuing a traditional tune with immense heartbreak and a sense of meaningfulness (in political context) that is astonishing. The use of space in the mix is absolutely mastered here.
Smashing Pumpkins – “Starla” (1992)
Billy Corgan has grown down, into a pathetic satire of a 15-year-old internet Goth, a 40-something grade-A loser: yeah yeah. But back circa “Drown” and “Glynis” and this track, for a brief couple of years, he really had a fantastic sound going. And I don’t just mean the impressively grand rock styling–I mean the sounds themselves. The phasing, the distortions, the endless-sustain sounds he could create shaped my young ears toward an awareness of production-as-creation as much as ‘Pet Sounds’ or ‘Sgt. Peppers,” and made me think about dynamics and staging and all the stuff that eventually lead me far, far away from anything one would call “rock music”. But you know–coming back to this epic after many years, I find I actually like it a lot on its own terms. I’m not sure what any of it means, but I think it has an energy that doesn’t boil down to mere “rawk” pyrotechnics–in its own, utterly artless/funkless way it’s actually quite a groove, emphasising the expansion that comes with repetition as much as any disco or Reich.
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”.
Flatt & Scruggs – “We’ll Meet Again Sweetheart” (1949)
I don’t know much about bluegrass and country music–but I know I tend toward the pre-electric forms that emphasis vocal harmony. This track from Flatt & Scruggs has always stuck with me. It has the sweetness and simplicity of earlier Carter Family tracks, wonderful banjo playing, and a nice bit of fiddle.
Chrissy Zebby Tembo – “Lonely Night” (1974)
Another discovery courtesy of the good people at Exiled Records, the fairly mysterious Zambian Chrissy Zebby Tembo’s LP is my favorite kind of rock–minimal, raw, funky, tuneful. Informed by the first sort of “punk”–“garage rock”–“Lonely Night” is one I bet you won’t be able to play just once. For a song about loneliness, it really couldn’t be more fun. The record is currently reissued as a slightly spendy import, but if you like this track, then it’d be money well spent.
Pauline Oliveros – “Bye Bye Butterfly” (1965)
Oliveros seems like one of the least po-faced and self-serious of the early electronic/minimalist/musique concrete pioneers. It’s not that she didn’t take her work seriously–it’s just that she possesses an eclecticism and verve that doesn’t call to mind tweed jackets and wooden pipes (she writes books with titles like. Rather than seeing music as the purview of the ivory tower (although she was a moving force in the study of experimental sound), she promotes the idea of music being everywhere–requiring attention, perhaps effort to discover, but not “education” or “correctness”. She seems to think a great deal about the relationship between spaces and sound, something I find greatly appealing–although my career is in preservation architecture, it is the sound of St. Pauls which strikes me most fully, for example. This early piece creates a cavernous soundscape, constituted of echoing sheets of modulating sine-waves and pastiched orchestral and operatic samples, creating a web of sound that is definitely not pop music, but which I find quite viscerally appealing. Like a sensitive AM radio, you sort of have to tune to the right wavelength, but once you’re there I think you’ll find it rewarding. [Pauline Oliveros is featured in the complex web of sound found in the Somnambulist mix at Musicophilia.]