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.
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.
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.
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.]
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.
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).
Howlin’ Wolf – “No Place to Go (You” (1959)
There’s no denying Howlin’ Wolf’s absolutely singular, absolutely thrilling voice is key to his appeal. But his early records stand out in the realm of mid-century electric blues for their rhythmic qualities, too. Here the not-what-you’d-expect emphasis on the three, and a subtly swinging jazz-like emphasis to all the instrumentation is spooky and captivating, and feels somehow exceptionally modern. It certainly adds a menacing quality to the desperation of the “old and gray” protagonist’s story. I don’t know if it appeals to electric blues purists, but it certainly goes a long way toward dispelling the “it all sounds the same” prejudices of the non-initiated and the casual listener.
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.
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.
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?!?
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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”.]
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.
Roy Budd – “Goodbye Carter” (1971)
This soundtrack and Budd’s ‘Diamonds’ are two of the coolest British soundtracks, and this track captures it all: jazz-ish upright bassline, tabla, great echoing harpsichord (?), electric piano, and fantastic production with plenty of space in the staging. This track was featured in the most recent ‘Le Tour du Monde’ mix at Musicophilia; if you like this track, it’s a good bet you’ll dig the mix–and keep your ears open, further installments are coming soon, after a hiatus from the wonderful world of the funky 70s.
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.]
Les Attaques – “Deth” (2005)
Since 2000, Les Attaques have been drawing from the scuzzier side of the well from which Portland/NYC’s Italians Do It Better collective draw today, and with equal success. They pull together ice-queen vocals, DNW/Italo synths, Factory Records bass, earlier motorik German sensibilities, and bones-exposed disco-house beats with aplomb, crafting something that is definitely homage, not facsimile, imbued with a ghost of the past but not aping it. This track is the definition of a slow burn, sonically strip-teasing you with one slowly revealed element after another, achieving a dirty-beautiful ecstasy.
A Certain Ratio – “Do the Du” (1980)
The “other” early Factory band to most people, and generally teased and mocked as the lightweights compared to Joy Division. But I’ll take A Certain Ratio’s herky-jerky British attempts at funk (and later tropicalia) over the glum seriousness of Division any day; and it rarely got better than this little slice, with it’s perfect beat, scratch guitar, and judiciously applied reverb.
1906 [Jean-Michel Jarre] – “Helza” (1973)
Early Jean-Michel Jarre is too hard to find, considering how crazy-good a lot of it is, like the insanely cool, spooky proto-synth featured in this mix at Musicophilia. This one is a sublime example of the sort of elegant but funky stuff the French/Italians/Germans were doing with instrumentation borrowed from Motown in the early 70s, bringing in choice touches of early electro. A solid, close-miced rhythm section (bass, drums, clavichord) carries the weight of the track along with spare percussion and rhythm-flute a la early Kraftwerk, but what takes it to a magic level is a ghostly, reverbed piano line that floats over the top, and electronic bits floating around the periphery. Magic stuff.
Jeru the Damaja – “Ain’t the Devil Happy” (1994)
Though it’s a little unfair, “conscious” has come to be a near-synonym for “soft” or “hippie” or “not real” when it comes to hip-hop. Jeru, though, is conscious like hip-hop forefathers the Last Poets or Gil Scott-Heron were conscious: politically conscious, sociologically, spiritually, economically: not “foolin around”. Jeru felt no reason to compromise between brains and musical brawn. So also like those forefathers, he achieves the rare feat of political music that matters as much for its music as its message. Spare and efficient, “Ain’t the Devil Happy” is not the least bit dated, like even plenty of other musically enjoyable mid-school hip-hop.
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.
Bernard Estardy – “Emeute À Tokyo” (1972)
Top-notch early-70s sound library stuff here from a Frenchman who seems to be consistently strong, whether working in this “Psyche Rock”-ish electro-jam mode or in a Gainsbourg-like Chanson idiom. This one is a nice funky breakbeat (with phasing no less!) and rollicking piano surrounded by diving, swirling synths, for a resulting high fun factor. Check it the full album at the completely essential Library Hunt. [Bernard Estardy is featured here in a fairly different mode at Musicophilia.]
9th Scientist – “Do You Love Me?” (2004)
9th Scientist is carrying the torch strong for those who love mid-school sample-based hip-hop, but he’s not living in a DA.I.S.Y. retro world. He takes it Southern slow (Atlanta, not Houston or New Orleans), with an unhurried delivery, and for him “consciousness” is not an aesthetic, but a life’s pursuit. Musically his strongest suite is production, where he’ll appeal to fans of Dilla, with simply utilized, unpolished soul/funk loops. This track uses a perfect sample, sounding almost like a heartbeat echoing the intensity of an ode to a lifelong (possibly estranged) friend. Check him out here, pick up a new album here.
Wire – “Our Swimmer” (1981)
Wire’s “final” single (until the late-80s reformation) carries on Colin Newman’s catchy qualities (think “Outdoor Miner”) but, if I’m not mistaken, taking on a little Factory/99 Records dance/funk influence. It grooves along with a one-note bassline, one chord (with that inimitable Wire guitar sound), double-tracked vocals, punchy drums, and bits of warm synth wash, slowly becoming more and more mutant-disco. There’s a weirdly zen-like quality to the whole thing, surprisingly. It would’ve been a proud way to move on, if they’d stuck with the break-up. [Wire is featured here in a mix of post-punk miniatures at Musicophilia]
Gamelan Semar Pegulingan Club – “Gambang” (1972)
Apparently representative of an older, more traditional style of gamelan from Bali, to Western ears this still sounds like the future, even after Steve Reich, speed metal, math-rock, d’n’b, etc. Nothing I’ve ever heard matches the rhythmic intensity and complexity of the faster styles of gamelan, especially not whist being so beautiful: those ringing bells, the floating flute lines, the subtle drumming, those deep resonating gong-like bells. Played by an orchestra or a small group, it sounds like it could only have been played by a hundred-armed computer with a soul.
Erkin Koray – “Sir” (1974)
Erkin Koray is touted as “Turkey’s Jimi Hendrix,” but for me, while the Arabesque guitar lines are compelling, the interest is often in the beats, the baselines, and the clean funk-psych-prog way the music is produced. This one starts out with a decidedly Turkish, almost traditional groove (were it not for the dancing electric bassline), moves into rock-out territory, and back again in just under three minutes. [Koray is featured here in a mix of miniatures from the early ’70s at Musicophilia.]