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.
Death Comet Crew – “Exterior Street” (1984)
Rammellzee posesses a rhythmic fluidity and a full-force speed that made his MCing pretty damned advanced for the early days of hip-hop. And it fits the post-punk-ish artiness and darkness of this Electro/hip-hop track. The combination adds up to a manic, tense, sharp, and fiery concoction. Certainly it doesn’t feel like party music, unless it were a celebration of an apocolypse.
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.]
“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.]
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.
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‘.)
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”.]
Arthur Russell – “I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face” (1974)
Anybody who’s followed Musicophilia for long knows Arthur Russell is one of very few I’d go so far as to call a “musical hero,” as he’s featured on at least half a dozen Musicophilia mixes and two Daily posts so far. But loving Arthur’s music is a little different than loving that of most artists: no two albums, whether released in his lifetime or culled posthumously, under his name or via one of a dozen groups or pseudonyms, is necessarily alike, though there’s always something indelibly Arthur about anything he touched.
He puts Janus to shame; his permutations were seemingly endless: avant-gardener, disco impresario, cello-and-vocals dub hero–there really aren’t adequate labels, as these clumsy attempts illustrate. ‘Love is Overtaking Me,’ released on Audika Records last year, revealed yet another side or three: singer-songwriter, modern loving rocker, high-country cowboy-poet, blue-eyed soul crooner. This very early, simple song reveals a touch of all of these, and representative of the under-appreciated compendium as a whole, captures some of his strongest and most accessible melodies via plaintive piano, Hammond organ, brass touches and above all Arthur’s resonant vocals.
Moondog – “Toot Suite, 3rd Movement” (1994)
Every incarnation of Moondog puts a smile on my face, from the early oddball percussion works to the vocal rounds with his daughter to the orchestral works, always with his signature playfulness and humor. This later track from 1994 combines elements of all of them, with a jazzy swing and Stan Getz-esque sax playing in canon-like melodies that are unmistakably Moondog. Joy in three minutes. [Moondog is featured here and here in mixes at Musicophilia in all his effervescent beauty.]
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.
Karla Schickele – “Room For Me” (2001)
Karla Schickele (of Beekeeper, Ida, and K.) is one of the few singer-songwriter voices of the 90s/00s who’s stuck with me (along with Low). She works in many ways within the paradigm, focusing on piano, spare banjo or guitar, small percussion instruments; but there’s always a quality to her music I can’t quite pin down that is anything but the sort of softness one expects from this music. There’s an angularity, a geometric quality, a vivacious intellectual quality to her musical concepts that is subtle (especially on this track, from a self-released ‘Overnight’ EP) but comes through with repeated listens, especially on her piano-based tracks. Small repeated pieces fit together in her music like tiny living clockwork. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with being “pretty” when it’s this well done.
Friction – “Cycle Dance” (1980)
Friction almost literally imported No Wave and the late 70s New York post-punk vibe to Japan, with two members having played with James Chance in the Contortions. Still, they’re no carbon copy, bringing a more rythmic emphasis than Mars or DNA, especially on this track, with its rolling double-tom drumming and chanted vocals. I don’t imagine this band’s records were absent from the Boredom’s record collections. This album is currently available as a fairly costly “LP sleeve” Japanese CD import, but for fans of the New York discord, it’s worth it.
Review of Arthur Russell’s ‘World of Echo’ (1986, reissued 2004)
I can’t think of a record that changed the way I thought about sound and music–by being exactly what I’d always wanted to hear but never thought existed–more than ‘World of Echo,’ which I first heard around the summer of 2001. The first album I heard was Phillip Glasses’ posthumous 1993 compilation ‘Another Thought,’ then the only thing in print, and that was love. When I finally tracked down ‘World of Echo’–that was love forever. And so it was a wonderful surprise and a joy when around 2004 many of his recordings began to be reissued (most by Steve Knutson at Audika Records) and more importantly, appreciated by many more people than ever heard his music in his lifetime. Since then, a number of very good to revalatory reissues and compilations have been released, and I continue to be amazed as new facets of this sublime artist are revealed. [Don’t miss, for example, the collaboration with Peter Zummo, “Song IV,” previously posted here at Musicophlia Daily. And you can hear more Russell featured in mixes here, here, here, and here at Musicophilia.]
Here is a track not from ‘World of Echo,’ but appended on Audika’s 2004 reissue which seems to have been recently re-pressed–so please buy it! This is one of the most heartbreaking, beautiful, true songs I’ve ever heard: “Our Last Night Together”
Beyond the “more…” link is a review I wrote for Localist Magazine around the 2004 reissue of the album. I sent it to Audika’s Mr. Knutson, who passed it on to Arthur’s parents and partner; it was a moving moment when I heard back from Steve that they approved, and reportedly said I’d really gotten to the core of things.
Peter Zummo (with Arthur Russell) – “Song IV” (1985)
Peter Zummo collaborated with Arthur Russell on seemingly every disco and experimental work Russell headed up. Here trombonist Zummo gets top billing, but it’s clearly a collaboration of equals. This piece was a revalation to me when I first heard it–yet another side to Arthur, a sublimely spiritual instrumental work rooted in his study of Indian music, with Russell on wordless vocals and cello, Zummo on delay-trombone. Simply beautiful–and reissued last year, so pick it up! [Arthur Russell is featured in various incarnations here, here, here, and here. If you don’t know Arthur yet–rent ‘Wild Combination’ and buy ‘World of Echo’ (recently re-pressed) and you’ll never look back.]
Steinski & Double Dee – “Lesson No. 1: The Payoff Mix” (1983)
This track is embedded in the trajectory of contemporary culture, just as much as it (and its sequels) drew from mass culture through ’83. But besides all that “importance” bit–it’s just a great listen for those who dig electro, early hip-hop, and cultural sampling in general. Reissued in 2008 on the compendium ‘What Does It All Mean? 1983-2008 Retrospective,’ it’s a good thing this stuff is now quasi-legitimately available. UPDATE: New stream link.
Ut – “Safe Burning” (1989)
Despite getting started in New York in 1978, most of Ut’s recordings come from England and the mid- to late-1980s. That’s ok–the No Wave spirit stayed strong with Ut, so this recording from 1989 is still prime post-punk, for fans of Sonic Youth, Au Pairs, Glenn Branca, Y Pants, and the more ambitious sides of Riot Grrrl and revivalists like Erase Errata. Their last two albums, ‘In Gut’s House’ and ‘Griller’ (from which this track is taken) were reissued last year, and both are great. [Ut will be featured on an upcoming series of further ‘Post Post-Punk‘ mixes at Musicophilia.]
Our Daughter’s Wedding – “Buildings” (1982)
Another celebratory track, this is joyous singalong ramshackle synth-pop from the white-kids-who-dig-Bernie-Worrell-and-Prince school. The lyrics are basically “Someone’s out there building tonight | Everybody’s Having Fun | Yeah!” I loved it from the moment I first heard it, and wished it’d been released in 1981. ODW were recently given the compendium treatment on CD (‘Nightlife: The Collection’), and it’s well worth seeking out.
UPDATE: Backup stream: