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.]
David Axelrod – “The Human Abstract” (1969)
Following up the recent post of two brilliant Electric Prunes-in-name-only tracks, here is another utterly unclassifiable, stunningly beautiful piece by David Axelrod. This is one of those guaranteed-goosebumps tracks, for me–the very definition of timelessness, masterfully combining stunning orchestral arrangement with an electrifying and effortlessly funky bass and drum combo. Gainbourg’s strings man Jean-Claude Vennier would’ve killed to compose this track. Axelrod is a master of the understated theme, repeating a three or four note pattern in such a way as to produce incredible emotional tension and, eventually, maximum release. There’s just not enough music like this, but I doubt there ever could’ve been. If you generally dig what Musicophilia and Musicophilia Daily are about, run and buy any Axelrod album from ’68 through ’75 and be prepared to be lifted to ecstasy.
Richard “Groove” Holmes – “Red Onion” (1973)
Hell yes. No tears here, just sweetness. Bernard “Pretty” Purdie slamming the funky drums, a tight bass-flute-percussion combo, lean guitar lines and well-tempered brass, and Holmes rolling his Hammond: this is a track to make even the Meters and the JBs weak in the knees.
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‘.]
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.
Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – “Affection” (1979)
In honor of Fathers’ Day, today I’m sharing one of my Dad’s favorite songs (at least of those I’ve shared with him over the years). It’s one my faves, too. I’ve known Dad to play this song several times in a row–and it deserves it. Jonathan Richman is one of the few people I’ve ever seen who seems genuinely imbued with real, unadulterated kindness and an openness to the goodness of the people around him; and in that way he’s a lot like my Dad, one of the world’s true idealists, who makes it his business create the good he knows we’re all capable of achieving. “Affection” is sweet, silly, and as a bonus it has that musical spookiness and energy we all love from the early Modern Lovers. Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad!
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.]
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.]
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.]
Tonio Rubio – “Bass In Action No. 1” (1973)
Sound library music doesn’t get any more stone cold than this track. Music of any kind rarely does. What should have been a cornerstone of golden-age hip-hop, “Bass In Action No. 1” is an incredible audio stroll consisting of sweet glistening electric piano glissandi, an ice cold single-note bass line, and the ready-made laid-back hip-hop breakbeat. It’s enchanting for the first minute; but when the beat kicks in at 1:05, you won’t be able to keep from grinning. [Tonio Rubio is featured in on an equally groove-laden mix of tunes from around the world at Musicophilia.] Update: Corrected the streaming link.
China Shop – “Kowtow” (1983)
Another great track originally unearthed by Hyped2Death, China Shop’s “Kowtow” is what psychedelic could’ve meant in the 80s, instead of a (usually) twee indie imitation of the late 60s. It ebbs and flows in a woozy way, but it’s not a purple haze–it has a New York post-punk edge and New Pop catchiness to its tripiness that places it pretty much out of time. China Shop’s nearly-complete work–a seemingly uneven but always interesting and often surprising oeuvre–is available at the nifty digital reissue label, Anthology Recordings.
Kode9 & The Spaceape – “Quantum” (2006)
To the casual follower of the Hyperdub label, Burial’s work looms large. However, Kode9 & The Spaceape’s album ‘Memories of the Future’ is almost equally appealing. Existing in a less hazy/rain-drenched landscape of sharper shapes amidst the cavernous dub, propelled as much by The Spaceape’s vocal contributions as Kode9’s beats, this music lives up to the album’s name. It sounds like a future that knows the past, a futurism that isn’t about pretending to exist ex nihilo. [Kode9 & The Spaceape are featured in an appropriately spooky, rich mix, ‘Tall Stories of Evil Gris-Gris,’ 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.]
Various – ‘No Heroes’ Bonus Tracks, Part 1
Post-punkers were ardent futurists, concerned only with moving forward, striving for ex-nihilo expression, right? Well, maybe rhetorically; but like everyone, they made art partly because they loved art they’d experienced.
Following the recent ‘No Heroes’ compilation at Musicophilia (with links to YouTube videos for the originals), here are some “bonus tracks” of more post-punk covers of classic rock/pop/r&b/jazz tunes. In this set, we’ve got Agent Orange and The Cramps taking on surf rave ups, and Cristina adding a touch of classy schmaltz to The Beatles.
Agent Orange [Dick Dale] – “Miserlou”
The Cramps [The Trashmen] – “Surfin’ Bird”
Cristina [The Beatles] – “Drive My Car”
Gang of Four – “I Love A Man In Uniform” (1982)
Gang of Four’s transition into slinky-sexy New Pop is certainly not as deftly graceful as that of, say, Scritti Politti. And they’re not quite reaching Fela-like sublimity in their “move their asses and sneak in a message” approach–they wield their politics as forcefully as ever to really give your ass equal consideration. But I suspect there’s a reasonable sense of humor at work here not so evident in earlier work; the music is servicable, and the satire of Thatcherite machismo and gun-as-“self-respect”-as-sex-organ psychology is pretty fun. I mean, “the girls, they love to see you shoot,” “I need an order,” and “to have ambition was my ambition” are pretty succinct and biting. The vocal crooning style du jour–well, again, not graceful, but enjoyable in its campy employment.
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!
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.]
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”
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.
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.]