31 October 2005

josquin desprez - "kyrie" (performed by the tallis scholars, from the missa pange lingua; missa la sol fa re mi lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : like "our prayer" by the beach boys, only centuries older, and more complex harmonically and spiritually.

as october melts into november, the "pagan" rituals of halloween give way to one of the catholic church's holy days of obligation, all saints day, the apogee of a movement one sees played out every week, saturday night revelry making way for sunday morning observance. november, for some reason, strikes me as the most solemn of months; if it had the benefit of more snowfall, it might also be the most hushed of months.

the catholic encyclopedia describes josquin's music as showing "the storm and stress of a transition period." it's only right, then, that i'd soundtrack the transition between these two days, months, and states, w/ the kyrie from josquin's missa 'pange lingua.' josquin's works don't "breathe serenity and repose" as w/ palestrina. rather, as the piece begins, and the unearthly soprano enters, one is unsure whose camp they're in, God's or the devil's, despite the ascent of the vocals. it's solemn to be sure, but it could v. easily be a choral piece for a black mass.

as the piece continues, though, one is perhaps in less doubt as to the nature of the work. shafts of light appear, the clouds disperse, the closing harmonies of the kyrie return the piece softly to the earth. yet, the unease engendered by the opening stays w/ the listener, just as the previous night's activities stay w/ the churchgoer as he receives the eucharist at 10am mass. it complicates the reception of the work as whole, while enhancing one's appreciation for it.
nahpi - "do they know it's halloween? (th'corn gangg remix)" (from the do they know it's halloween? single, available for purchase here.

in brief : buy here to support a good cause. guaranteed more treats than tricks.

halloween has long been one of my favorite holidays, a day when it seems quite sensible to believe in the things that go bump in the night. like a scary film or a rollercoaster, it's a form of controlled fear: nothing too terrible usually happens. of course, as a kid, one is aware that it's just makeup and make believe, or is aware of the safe precautions and physics involved, but, if the effect is especially well done, even the oldest of kids sometimes can lose sight of that--thus, for me, the continuing appeal of halloween.

"do they know it's halloween?" is a celebration of that spirit, costumed as an "initiative" to stop the spread of halloween. i'd feel really bad about posting an all-proceeds-to-charity single if, one, i wasn't posting a remix and if, two, it's expiration date wasn't upon us. sure, "do they know it's christmas?" is still played throughout the year, twenty years later, but that's b/c it's about starving kids and not christmas. "halloween," unlike its namesake, isn't about starving kids, missing out on free halloween candy; instead, it's about halloween (and also, through unicef, about helping starving kids). so, if you're too old to go out and collect money door-to-door, and if you like this remix, go ahead and click here to purchase the single.
so good-bye everybody, and remember, please, for the next day or so the terrible lesson you have learned tonight: that grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody's there, that was no martian--it’s halloween.
--orson welles.

happy halloween!

30 October 2005

mercury theatre on the air - "the war of the worlds" (from the very best of orson welles, available for purchase here.)

one of my favorite halloween treats involves enjoying a hot beverage, dimming the lights, and putting on welles's broadcast of the war of the worlds, which originally aired sixty-seven years ago tonight. so, here it is, the broadcast that sent the nation into a frenzy, especially my native new jersey, where the events were said to transpire, and sent orson welles's career heavenward. thrill to the broadcast! read all about it here! most of all, enjoy!

28 October 2005

vashti bunyan - "rose hip november" (from the just another diamond day lp, available for purchase here.)
vashti bunyan - "against the sky" (from the lookaftering lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : the sound has been w/ us for years. it's only the name that needed remembering.

when the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame, as one old song goes, i turn to a bunch of other old songs. a friend of mine breaks out her neil young and dylan records, which are quite evocative, while i go for belle & sebastian, lambchop, and british folk music. for all its beauty, there hangs in the air an imminent sense of dread--a statement that describes the music, as well as the season that it's so well suited for (cf. twee, an offshoot, which does well in both fall and spring, due to an unwarranted optimism.)

vashti bunyan is enjoying a bit of a renaissance right now; i say "a bit" b/c there isn't much music to celebrate: prior to this year's lookaftering, there's 1970's just another diamond day ... and that's it, really. like marianne faithfull, vashti was an extraordinarily attractive young woman who hooked up w/ a. loog oldham and recorded a stones song ("some things just stick in your mind"); unlike marianne faithfull, she's recorded nothing since then.

just another diamond day, from which "rose hip november" comes, was produced w/ a lot of people i like (incredible string band, fairport convention, robert kirby); lookaftering, the source of "against the sky," was produced w/ a lot of people i don't (joanna newsom, devendra banhart, animal collective). despite that, and the intervening years, there is great continuity between the two records w/ v. little change, least of all in the quality of vashti's voice; the tone, on the other hand, has changed: earlier, she sounded like she could have been a jazz singer or even marianne faithfull, now she sounds fully confirmed as a folksinger, the smokey tone of her youth having given up the ghost, so to speak. there is little concession to contemporary trends. rather, listening to these records one after the other, one discovers that contemporary trends aren't so contemporary after all.

27 October 2005

lee hazlewood - "my autumn's done come" (from these boots were made for walkin': the complete mgm recordings lp, available for purchase here.)

oh, but it has: real foliage; horror marathons and glowing pumpkins; meaningful football, whether played friday, saturday, or sunday; my mother's birthday, and my sister's a week after; my breath before me in the evening, a light jacket for the day; pretty girls wearing scarves; a cocoon of blankets and the clock falling back.

lee says it like it's a bad thing, though. oh, i know, it's metaphorical, about getting older and all that, realizing that the girls on the cover of vogue won't give you a second look, that you'll settle for the girls in the sears catalog. sinatra did the september of my years the year before, but he had turned fifty--ol' lee was only thirty-seven at the time of recording this one! now, stuart staples, he was seven years from being born in 1966; he was, though, a twinkle in hazlewood's eye, lee establishing the prototype for the tindersticks, before putting it to bed and moving on to more fertile ground, i.e. nancy. if you want to pity anyone, pity stu: not even out of the womb and already outdone. no wonder he's so sullen.

for all that talk about metaphor and the like, i can't deny the song's v. real power any more than i can stand deny the passage of time. wherever you are, it's about to get whole lot colder.
rogue wave - "publish my love" (from the descended like vultures lp, available for purchase here.)

rogue wave, for those who don't remember 2003's out of the shadow, is largely the work of one man, zach rogue, which is just about the best name i've ever heard this side of joe romance, a former professor of mine. now, i don't have this on authority, but the "wave" part would seem to signal "new wave," which is what "publish my love" sounds like. another thing it sounds like is the work of another one-man band, brendan benson. the two acts, along w/ a lot of bands these days, share a healthy appreciation for the cars. while benson's approximation is a little too rundgren faithful, zach &c. add a heavy backbeat and a sense of dread seemingly anathema to benson. lest one forget, though, that they're signed to sub pop, there's the requisite lyrical opacity: is the title refrain a warning? a putdown? metaphor? the great thing about it is, as synthesizers whir and you're singing along, it doesn't really matter.

and that's all i have to say about that. bear in mind, there is no direct proportion between my garrulity and the song's quality. i could have, for instance, gone on about the name thing, and mention that a friend of mine had a professor named pun (pronounced pOOn) and he is fond of saying that he studied under dr. pun. nothing would be gained from that, though.

26 October 2005

jamie cullum - "nothing i do" (from the catching tales lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : granny's favorite makes good by being bad.

so, for those who don't know jamie cullum--this is where his detractors, of which there are many, and not entirely undeserved--this is where they would say, "consider yourself lucky," or something like that.

jamie cullum is a british jazzbo, like norah jones, but significantly less cool: his debut was something you'd buy for your granny, not for your older sister, and, at his worst, he's like the aural equivalent of jazz hands. for someone who's in his mid-twenties and, indeed, named his debut twentysomething, he's preternaturally mature, all antics aside, and he seems intent on being ingratiating. the bradys' cousin oliver, then.

on his new album, though, he's a new man ... sort of. he's working w/ dan the automator, he's pitching himself as a ladies man--and that's just on the lead single alone. (also, there's a supper club version of "catch the sun," a companion to his supper club version of "high & dry" from the debut.) still, there are vestiges of his old self, so to speak, on even the track i've decided to post. and i've decided to post it, b/c God help me, the tune is fucking great.

still, it could easily be two minutes shorter, the attempts at swearing come across like a kid who's just learned his first dirty word, the whistling at the end serves no purpose--in other words, if he was trying to please w/ his debut, he's trying to impress w/ this one. and much does impress, particularly the chords on the chorus, the backing vocals, the prechorus, and so forth. he's closer to being billy joel than thom yorke, and many of the other tracks on the album betray the piano man's influence. however, there are worse things--like being billy joel, apparently--and, before the supermodels, the furniture polish, and the classical pretensions, billy joel did write songs like "summer, highland falls." once he gets accustomed to acting his age, i'm sure he'll be just fine.
acid house kings - "this heart is a stone" (from the sing along with acid house kings lp, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : contra the old velvet underground story, this swedish act formed, in part, after disappointment in an album, namely, morrissey's kill uncle lp.

if you've downloaded the song by now, you know they don't do acid house. (question: technotronic aside, has there ever been an act that included its genre in their name that was any good?)

if you're thinking of download it--and i'd give it strong consideration--you should know that they have more than a border and royalty in common w/ kings of convenience. they also share: harmonies, strings, fingersnaps, and acoustic guitars. the acid house kings, though, unlike erlend and the other guy, have a queen, and by that i mean a woman. she sings leads on "this heart is a stone," even though the song is about a girl. it doesn't mean she's gay--but so what if she was? (and so forth.)

it's twee, then. but it's also v. tuneful, as befitting the land of cheiron and abba. more than that, it sparkles, making the best use of glockenspiel this side of a springsteen record, feels like a warm, sympathetic arm across your shoulders, and sounds like the greatest piece of advice you've ever received from a best friend you never knew you had. caveat auditor, though: the guys also sing on the album, and it can all get a bit bjorn-singing-anything-but-"does your mother know," so tread cautiously.

25 October 2005

richard strauss - "im abendrot" (soprano: lucia popp, w/ klaus tennstedt & the london philharmonic) (from the strauss : also sprach zarathustra lp, available for purchase here.)

this last section of the disc deals mainly w/ my coming terms to w/ the titans: sinatra, elvis, and dylan--or in other words, my father's favorite, my mother's favorite, and everyone else's favorite.

in retrospect, i'm not quite sure why i had troubles w/ sinatra and elvis. the convenient "out" was that neither played an instrument (well, at least) and neither wrote the majority of their material. it was more like, however, that i couldn't deal w/ my parents and i listening to the same music--even though that's where this whole thing began. listening to compilations is one thing, demonstrating interest in an artist each feels a v. personal connection w/ is quite another, and me being, especially as a teen, a v. private individual, i didn't want to invite that kind of "sharing." once again, we're in deep psychoanalytic sharing.

eventually, after stealthily removing records from the collection and listening w/ headphones, i gave up and played them alou; i have difficulty even rememberning a time when i didn't dig both of them. turns out it wasn't so bad, talking w/ your parents about their own youth.

dylan, on the other hand.

the careful searcher--and the excessively and curiously inquisitive reader--can probably find all of my public statements against bob dylan. playing instruments, writing his own songs, having a "terrible" voice--he marked essentially the end of the interpretive era initiated by jolson and crobsy, carried on by sinatra, and died for good w/ elvis in the john. it seems much easier for the enlightened music-listening guy to pass on both sinatra and elvis than on dylan, voice or no. no matter how much music one listens to, no matter how cultivated he or she become, dylan is like the gargoyle on the church, grinning--grinning, and not smiling--down on you from above

of course, once one gets past the voice, it quickly becomes apparent how well-suited it is to the material, that, when dylan compares himself to caruso, he's right: caruso's voice was made for opera just as dylan's voice is made for his songs. elvis said, "i don't sing like nobody," and dylan, an unlikely successor to his mantle, can also make that claim. i got into dylan's songs through covers, but once i heard the originals, i learned how even the most universal claim on his part is ultimately so personal, and best rendered by the man himself. it's rough--and only getting rougher--but just how would you describe the music, if not the same?

voices, too, are in play w/ lieder and opera, as previously mentioned in a posting on schubert. lucia popp's version of "im abendrot," wisely positioned as the last of the four last songs, is my favorite take on the song, and i've heard fleming, janowitz, norman, schwarzkopf, &c. this only reflects the principle of "i know what i like," and is no indication of how much i've come to learn about classical singing. no, i'm a greenhorn in such matters, but popp sings pretty, and if i'm going to meet death, i'd rather do so w/ someone who sounds like her than w/ the others, simple as that. i bought this disc sound unheard, before the internet and all that, and i was w/ it until the last track--and then i heard "im abendrot" and i was into it, literally, figuratively, and a whole lot of other adverbs, too. whatever the version, that opening blast of strings and horns can wring tears from my eyes w/ alarming ease.

oh, i know i said this wasn't about songs for one's funeral, but what a way to go-- but only after you've partied hard.
dr. ben bernanke, the online betters favorite at 38%, was named to replace alan greenspan by president bush, who wisely avoided charges of further cronyism by not nominating loyalists like glenn hubbard and larry lindsey. i was really struck by the language the president used--and not in the way one usually means when making such a statement. in light of another miers faux pas, let's compare his speech introducing bernanke w/ the speech made on the behalf of harriet miers (bearing in mind that, although a supreme court justice is an important nomination, the chairman of the fed is, according to the economist, often cited as the second most powerful position in the country.)

first, the miers speech was twice as long, and so already cronyism rears its head. two of the seventeen paragraphs of the speech deal w/ miers's professional accomplishments, as distinguished from her personal traits; one of those paragraphs deals w/ her "firsts" for a woman. (she has held "one of the most important legal positions in the country," we are told, "white house counsel," "importance" in this country now proportional to one's proximity to the bush family.) she "went to work to help pay for her own education," bush says; she has "a reputation for fairness and integrity"; she possesses "deep compassion and abiding sense of duty"; her "life has been characterized by service to others"; and the president "know[s] her heart, [knows] her character."

bernanke, too, is described as "a kind and decent man." but three of the ten paragraphs deal w/ his "impeccable credentials," 30% compared to 12% for miers. here's one of bernanke's money shot:
Over the course of a career marked by great accomplishment, Ben has done path-breaking work in the field of monetary policy, taught advanced economics at some of our top universities, and served with distinction on the Fed's Board of Governors. He's earned a reputation for intellectual rigor and integrity. He commands deep respect in the global financial community. And he'll be an outstanding Chairman of the Federal Reserve.
now, here's miers's:
Over the course of a distinguished legal career, Harriet has earned the respect and admiration of her fellow attorneys. She has a record of achievement in the law, as well as experience as an elected member of the Dallas City Council. She served at high levels of both state and federal government. Before state and federal courts, she has tried cases, and argued appeals that covered a broad range of matters. She's been a leader in the American Bar Association, and has been recognized by the National Law Journal as one of the most powerful attorneys in America.
bernanke's done "path-breaking work"; he's served on the highest economic board in the nation; he commands global respect, and is "one of the most cited economists in the world." miers, on the other hand, is well-liked, successful on a local level, and was bush's secretary before gonzales was promoted. by comparison, her money shot is premature ejaculation. it's a nightmare for republicans, but if you're a democrat, you're only asking one question: would it be worse if he retracted the nomination or if she went down in flames
edit: download link fixed for the venice is sinking track. you really should check it out, esp. if you're the type who likes to say about particular bands, "i was there when ... "
babyshambles - "albion" (from the down in albion lp, import available for preorder here.)
littl'ans feat. pete doherty - "their way" (from the their way single, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : b/c pete also wonders what you're up to.

mick jones and all that aside, the libertines always reminded me of the jam, all flag-waving and self-involved, for our a.d.d. times, a career condensed into an album and a valedictory single, "don't look back into the sun" as their "beat surrender"--only they had to go and ruin it w/ that second album.

doherty has moved on to babyshambles--one-half of that name right all the time, the other half, part of the time--but, alas, they're no style council. "albion," though, is a bit like solo weller, w/ echoes of "that's entertainment" and "english rose." the opening, w/ its knocks on a door and background noise, is a bit like the temptations' "psychedelic shack," itself a revisitation of the band's past; fitting, since "albion" isn't merely a look back to weller, but to the england of ancient times (fitting again, since doherty himself has become something of a myth). such themes--"gin in tea cups and leaves on the lawn, violence in bus stops and pale thin girls with eyes forlorn"--aren't new to doherty, but this manner of presentation is. given pete's nocturnal habits, one imagines that he has nights like these, all bleary-eyed and sentimental, willing to pay for your way for good conversation. it is perhaps a sign that he's becoming sensible in his older age, a welcome one at that. if he can steer clear of ocean colour scene, the boy might yet turn out okay.

"their way," too, is a revisitation of the past, of the second album's "what katy did" (which doherty revisits on the babyshambles album, w/ "what katy did next"). it's early american rock 'n' roll transformed into a pub singalong, a feeling only enhanced by the coda, a crackling, lo-fi recording of the guys--or girls! i don't know who or what littl'ans are--sitting around w/ an acoustic guitar, sounding a bit like early orange juice, of all things. in terms of pete guest spots, it's better than the thing he did w/ client, but not as good as "for lovers" w/ wolfman.
dexys midnight runners - "reminisce (part two)" (from the don't stand me down lp, import available for purchase here.)

yeah, i thought i'd reminisce once more.

i've started to think about the spring of 1997.

when i began this thing, i credited artists who changed the way i listen to music, transforming it always into an ecstatic experience. now, i'd like to thank the people whom i've "met" (and met) since i became active on the internet over eight years ago, people who've changed how i listen to music and what i listen to. a few also have, happily, had an equal effect on the life i live outside of music:
mark bartlam, marcello carlin, robin carmody, sean carruthers, sterling clover, michael daddino, nick dastoor, tom ewing, tim finney, jess harvell, geir hongro, thomas inskeep, maura johnston, ally kearney, andy kellman, nicole kessler, josh kortbein, mitch lastnamewithheld, persinthia lawdro, michaelangelo matos, brian mcdonald, glenn mcdonald, joe mcglinchey, jimmy the mod, ethan padgett, matthew perpetua, dan perry, ned raggett, mark sinker, kris srinivasan, sundar subramanian, ricky t, otis wheeler, wilson & alroy--and jesus (no, not to thank!), i hope i didn't leave anyone out.
this was, quite literally, my first foray into the world of alternative. (an aside: before looking back, i always thought that mark day's post was written by tom ewing, and i thought mark day was taking the piss--so, before i got to know him, i had a secret grudge against ewing.) do people still use usenet? for non-binaries purposes? those were times, such as i'll always remember. as much as i enjoyed ilx and a few select message boards, nothing quite matched the exchanges--or the characters!--i encountered on alt.music.alternative, a centralized forum that all comers had access to, now left to die in a pile of spam and x-posting.

enough old man musing. what i haven't discussed is my conversion to "white" music--not the xtc album, but that too would come eventually. this occurred largely b/c of the results of another road trip, this one undertaken as an adult w/ friends. my friends, it should be noted, have uniformly pretty awful taste in music; just the other night, they were reliving the "greatest concert ever," a creed show (my best friend's wife related again how she cried when scott stapp brought out his son during "arms wide open.") i did however have one friend w/ ... interesting taste; of course, to even things out, he was by far the quirkiest of the lot, a guy i haven't heard from since he picked up and left one new year's eve several years ago, claiming that he was "tired" of all of us, and moved to california.

enter hendrix and elton john. of course, for every great artist he liked, there was a guess who--or the little river band. still, those first two artists provided a gateway into what would follow, mostly classic rock and blue-eyed soul. an easy psychoanalysis would say that i traded in one form of unpopular music amongst my peer group--these were still times when one could be called all kinds of neat epithets for enjoying rap; now it's the types who would have done the namecalling who do the most listening--for two more--and w/ my soon-to-be appreciation of britpop and -rock, another one. (yes, i longed to be the moody outsider, but i couldn't do entirely w/ some degree of popularity.)

massive attack, i read about in vibe. from what i heard, they were into all of the things i was into at the time: rap, funk, soul, reggae, plus a little rock 'n' roll. explorations in this vein would also lead to successful findings (portishead) and less successful ones (hooverphonic, gus gus, morcheeba, &c). they still hold up quite well, i think.

none of this is particularly elucidating, i realize. as i crafted that list above, my mind was flooded w/ thoughts (and threads) and the route navigated to get to this point in listening taste seems far less interesting than the people encountered along the road; the dexys song--a descendent of "coney island baby," a forebear of billy bragg's "walk away renee"--only amplifies the mood, one i naturally tend to drift into as night falls. i hope you've encountered similar folk in your life; i hope, if you're one of the above folk, that tonight you're warm and safe, as you are in my memory.

24 October 2005

venice is sinking - "pulaski heights" (from the venice is sinking / what we do is secret split ep, available for purchase here.)

in brief : despite the name, this is americana of the best sort: jangly and stringkissed, optimistic but not jingoistic.

sometimes, it's really convenient when you find great new music in your box; v. often, it comes as a great surprise.

venice is sinking is an athens, ga five-piece led by singer/guitarist daniel lawson. perhaps not surprising, given the band's provenance, his vocals are shrouded in mystery like a younger michael stipe's, though his tone is closer to someone like dean wareham."pulaski heights," however, sounds celebratory in a way that i never heard from galaxie 500 or from r.e.m. before they signed w/ warners (which, sure, would give most indie bands a reason to celebrate).

much of that impression is due to the presence of violist karolyn troupe, who demonstrates throughout this track the benefits reaped from having a full-time violist in the band. indeed, w/ all due respect to the rest of the band, it was her viola lines that caught my ears--but it wasn't until i heard those lines lock in w/ lawson's vocals right before the chorus that i knew i would would post this.

the presence of the viola and, indeed, the whole of the band's sound reminds me of the pogues at their prettiest, or an american version thereof. w/o essentializing, each band is capable of evoking through their music what makes their native land great. the synesthetic in me sees sunrises and the deepest of greens; it makes we want to take to the road and see this land. on "pulaski heights," one gets the sense of the vastness of america, in terms of both physical size and opportunity--based on this early work, the prospects for the band itself seem scarcely less vast.

21 October 2005

my latest novel - "sister sneaker sister soul" (from the sister sneaker sister soul single, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : oh, well, maybe one ...

the band name sounds like a belle & sebastian side project, while the song suggests a b&s who go out of doors once in a while and own amplifiers. it would also fit in well on the second half of funeral, and , for some reason, i want to sing "car wash hair" along to it. so, two parts of epic indie rock, one part thoughtful, introspective songwriting--the aural equivalent of a note passed to the object of one's affection, asking "do you like me? yes. no. circle one," w/ the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

more sweater weather music, in other words: the solo violin during the expansive instrumental section is like a soft wind ruffling whatever leaves are left in the trees. when the guitar enters, my latest novel will send you back indoors, seeking the comfort of a warm bath and a hot cocoa. enjoy these times.
don't know if i'm going to have time to post/write today, so let me at least point you to some music elsewhere.

first, new radiohead / pulp material ... sort of. "this is the night" is by the weird sisters, a band who will feature in the next harry potter movie, and it is composed of jarvis cocker, jonny greenwood, and phil selway. potter fans will love it, to be sure; then again, they'll pay $3.49 for a small chocolate frog. it won't make you forget this is hardcore, though if you're lucky, it'll help you forget kid a. (courtesy of ateaseweb.com.)

next, i've long thought that jens lekman has the best record collection in indie rock, what w/ samples of "i've got something on my mind" by the left banke and "give me just a little more time" by the chairmen of the board. this time out, he samples "heatwave," but he also gets really clever on the chorus, as you can hear for yourself. (courtesy of secretly canadian records.)

lastly, perhaps you've longed for the moment when cee-lo would meet up w/ a collaborator who bring out the closet freak in him. wait no longer--well, wait a little while until the gnarls barkley project is released, his collaboration w/ danger mouse. oh, but wait no longer to sample it: "crazy" can be heard here. vocally, cee-lo's never sounded better. (courtesy of spine magazine.)

20 October 2005

i call 1992 the end of the new jack era b/c, in july, mary j. blige's debut, what's the 411?, is released, effectively marking the entrance of diddy on the pop stage (although dave "jam" hall did much of the heavy lifting). w/ this release, the synthesis is thrown out of whack, favoring the hip-hop pole over the r&b pole--indeed, mary j. is the first r&b artist i know of to have a remix album.

then, in 1993, former players on the new jack scene released albums that were vast departures from their past work: tony! toni! tone!'s sons of soul stressed their band aspect (and sampled ice cube's line, "and you can new jack swing on my nuts"); babyface's for the cool in you saw him picking up an acoustic guitar; and r. kelly's 12 play saw him, basically, retreating to his own galaxy, where he happily remains, in between court cases. oh, and bell biv devoe released hootie mack: not much changed and that was the problem: it sounded ridiculous, even then, and it showed how out of step the original new jack sound had become.

some of you may have no idea what the fuck i'm talking about, and for you i present:

new jack swing for quick studies
another bad creation, "iesha"
bell biv devoe, "b.b.d. (i thought it was me)?" and "poison"
boyz ii men, "motownphilly"
bobby brown, "every little step," "my prerogative" and "on our own"
en vogue, "hold on" and "my lovin' (you're never gonna get it)"
johnny gill, "rub you the right way"
guy, "dog me out," "groove me," "i like," "let's stay together," "teddy's jam 2" and "wanna get with you"
janet jackson, "alright," "love will never do (without you)" and "rhythm nation"
michael jackson, "jam"
johnny kemp, "just got paid"
teddy riley, "is it good to you" (feat. tammy lucas)
al b. sure! "nite and day" and "off on your own (girl)"
keith sweat, "i want her"
t.l.c., "ain't 2 proud 2 beg"
tony! toni! tone! "feels good" and "the blues"
troop, "spread my wings"
christopher williams, "dreamin'"
the winans, "it's time"
wreckx-n-effect, "new jack swing" and "rump shaker"
guy - "groove me" (from the groove me: the very best of guy lp, available for purchase here.)

the tapes that didn't get made are in many ways more interesting than the one that did; the shadow tapes would present an interesting alternate history. the parameters of the project sort of dictated that i included the most influential songs from a particular movement. to represent new jack swing, i chose bobby brown's "my prerogative" and janet jackson's "love will never do" simply b/c i needed a song by whom i regard as the movement's architects, jimmy jam & terry lewis and teddy riley. (one might at this point interject that l.a. reid & babyface played no small part, and i'd agree, but i never found babyface terribly convincing.) "groove me," another riley production, is just as seminal, if less mainstream popular, as "my prerogative," but don't be cruel was the first album i bought by an actual recording artist, as opposed to a bunch of singing raisins. also: as hard as it may be to believe now, bobby brown was once really, really cool.

anyway, teddy riley: if the name no longer rings a bell, even the most casual radio listener is bound to remember songs like "rump shaker" and "no diggety." guy was his first band, and it never enjoyed the success amongst "serious" music fans that followers like timbaland and the neptunes receive. make no mistake about it, though: if not for the groundwork set by riley, and later refined by people like devante swing of jodeci, it's hard to imagine tim, who did his residency w/ jodeci, and pharrell a) making the music that they do and b) being given the chance by major record labels. (and it's not just the producers: r. kelly and his "band," the public announcement, were seen by many as guy rip-offs when they debuted.)

here's the dialectic in 1987, the year of riley's first major production (though he played keyboards on "the show," the first rap song i ever heard), keith sweat's "i want her": swaggering, dense, highly rhythmic hip-hop (big daddy kane, eric b. & rakim, public enemy, &c.) and smoothed-out, smoochy r&b (freddie jackson, anita baker, luther vandross). in a great revitalization, not unlike the punk movement, riley created a synthesis of the two styles, mixing traditional r&b songwriting w/ hip-hop beats and raciness, and dubbed it new jack swing, the sound that ruled r&b radio from 1987-92 (this also probably marks the moment when r&b stopped making love and started having sex.) later, it would incorporate clever samples; much, much later, in the wrong hands, it would devolve into vocal show-offs singing rickety songs over classic pop and r&b. in 1987 and, later, in 1989 when guy's s/t debut was released, it was fine, just fine, and perfect for me, in the midst of my own transition from rap to r&b and soul, tracing hip-hop samples back to their roots. (speaking of which, the-breaks.com is an invaluable research that i've been using for years to figure out what the name of that song is that so-and-so is sampling, and vice versa.)

unfortunately for riley, it was his greatest strength--his ear for beats and samples--that became his downfall. jam & lewis continue to thrive b/c of, well, one, janet jackson, but also b/c they came from a trad r&b background (the time, the s.o.s. band) and were songwriters before beatmakers. but don't feel too bad for teddy: he's at least getting some gta money, "groove me" having appeared in san andreas. instead, say a prayer for al b. sure!, ask yourself what he's doing today (mostly telling you how he feels about you on the nightshift), then lament how pop music--unlike rock--forgets its heroes.
lambchop - "prepared" (from the colab ep, available for purchase here.)

in brief : lambchop ready the listener for the fall, in their old, unusual way.

the rain has stopped; the waters have receded; the sun, though growing more distant by the day, has returned; the leaves are turning; the air is more bracing; and the stars seem that much closer. truly, my autumn's done come. so what better way to mark this grand occasion than w/ a new lambchop track?

"prepared" is from a collaboration w/ electronic duo hands off cuba, fittingly called colab; the other songs on the ep are deconstructions of "prepared." the track itself is a paring back of the sound heard on c'mon / no, you c'mon, which is good news for those of you who loved the sparseness of is a woman, kurt wagner assuming the role of a rock 'n' roll garrison keillor, declaring himself "the most undisciplined of men."

i, on the other hand, came to lambchop through what another man spill's and nixon, full band albums proud of their soul influence, the latter perhaps my favorite album of the decade, w/in its grooves the v. sound of late november. "prepared," however, can make a similar claim: the chiming guitar heard on the refrain falls on the ear like dying leaves, its slow march in perfect step w/ the more relaxed tempo of the fall. in other words, have your sweater close by.

19 October 2005

the skyliners - "since i don't have you" (from the wcbs 101.1 25th anniversary, vol. 1: the 50's - silver anniversary edition lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : oh, you're not going to have it that easy this time.

the formation of my listenings habits could be drawn up schematically this way:
oldies--->soul--->rap--->new jack swing--->funk--->classic rock--->brit pop--->alt rock--->classic pop--->jazz--->pop pop--->indie rock--->blues--->classical--->???

filling in the gaps between genres are what i'll call the titans, individuals who were my favorite artist ever at one point, who changed the way i listened to records, and, thus, who i felt compelled to give representation to on this collection. they are: stevie wonder, marvin gaye, sam cooke, sly & the family stone, al green, james brown, prince, the smiths, david bowie, the rolling stones, the beach boys, orange juice, bruce springsteen, elvis presley, frank sinatra, bob dylan, and dexys midnight runners.

to the beginning! i've mentioned family trips before and the music that was played. the first four songs should give you an idea of the songs that soundtracked scenery and skies stretching from the jersey shore to the green mountains of vermont. (special mention should go to sweet, delicious & marvelous, a collection of soul covers perfomed by, of all things, the california raisins, bought specifically for one of these trips, and the first album i ever spent my money on.) compilations did the duty whenever we left our native new jersey; the now sadly lamented 101.1 wcbs fm held off the philly stations on trips to atlantic city.

what can i say about dion that i haven't said before? "i wonder why," w/ its staccato opening, places me back in time like nothing else. it sounds like the start of something big; in reality, its opening fanfare is more like taps for both doo-wop and the '50s. of course, no one told that to frankie valli, who would continue the spirit of the '50s up through the late 70's, and whose "rag doll," w/ the incomparable 4 seasons, fought the good fight against the british invasion, refusing to believe the news that either doo-wop or, generally, american music were approaching anything remotely resembling the end. his falsetto cry--one of his two vocal tones, the other being the shriek--of "i love you just the way you are" near the end is probably the greatest display of empathy and devotion that i've ever heard on record.

"if you don't know me by now," on the other hand, was the sound of something entirely new for me. my father is decidedly anti-rock & roll and for that reason so is my mother; hearing teddy pendergrass sing--who, naturally, i thought was named harold melvin; gamble & huff were names that would become important, too, but that's not until later--, teddy was the closest that i'd gotten to hearing the grit, passion and, well, unbridled sensuality of rock & roll (and, to a greater extent, of the stax and atlantic soul records that never made these compilations or wcbs). i remember sneaking out to my mom's car and putting this song on again; it seemed far too intimate and personal to listen to amongst mixed company. at the time, i couldn't imagine there was a force in the universe that could refuse teddy anything (if legend is correct, there rarely was). i hoped that when i grew up that i would sound exactly like him--i still try, too.

what the first two songs, at least, have in common w/ "since i don't have you" by the skyliners is that they're precisely the kind of music that the kids of today won't hear on commercial radio. indeed, "since i don't have you," if known at all, is probably known best in its cover version by guns 'n' roses. "since i don't have you" was released the year after "i wonder why," but it seems much older, unfamiliar w/ even the rudiments of rock & roll. it is instead a refugee from a era that probably even seemed bygone in 1950's america. the one nod to modernity was jimmy beaumont's vocal" bing, frank or tony would never have sung it like that: impassioned, strained, desperate, assured, few people in the history of rock & roll have ever sung anything like jimmy sings "since i don't have you."

the opening string swells make me ten years old again, sitting in the backseat of my parents' car, miming the opening harmonies w/ my little sister. you know, as lou reed says, those were different times--and yet it's precisely these moments--the staccato opening of "i wonder why," frankie valli's falsetto, teddy pendergrass's howl, jimmy beaumont's "yoooooooooou"s--though but seconds out of time, that shape perception, thoughts, and futures, that explain why i listen to what i do and why i feel compelled to tell you about it.
the crimea - "lottery winners on acid" (from the tragedy rocks lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : much better than all other rock songs that have drug references in the title.

ah, there's no other way to do it: it's been a long, strange trip for the crimea.

still there? "lottery winners on acid" was originally issued on cd in 2002; reissued in 2004; and now released on their debut lp in 2005. john peel said it was one of the best songs he'd heard in recent years, and he put their "baby boom" in his festive 50 of 2003. an auspicious start, then, for a new band.

three years since their debut single, though, and they're still at the start--long time coming or not, it's a hell of a debut. the band have compared themselves to the beach boys: despite the drug reference, it's far less lysergic than anything that band recorded between 1967-69. rather, they sound like the beach boys in the way that the flaming lips and the delgados have sounded like that band: child-like, wonderful harmonies, skewed point-of-view. all that, and a guitar riff that sounds like a continuation of hendrix's "burning the midnight lamp" (and a domestic release, to boot!)

tragedy does rock after all.
so, here it is, my tribute to myself. over the next handful of nights, i'll post a track, talk about it, an place it in the context of my developing tastes.

let me tell you: this was a real mother to assemble. i can only imagine what it must have been like for the peel folks, given the wide range of his tastes.

so, w/ no further ado ...
disc 1
dion & the belmonts, "i wonder why"
the 4 seasons, "rag doll"
the skyliners, "since i don't have you"
harold melvin & the blue notes, "if you don't know me by now"
stevie wonder, "i was made to love her"
marvin gaye, "stubborn kind of fellow"
sam cooke, "tennessee waltz"
lorraine ellison, "stay with me"
otis redding, "try a little tenderness"
doug e. fresh & the get fresh crew, "the show (single edit)"
bobby brown, "my prerogative"
janet jackson, "love will never do (without you)"
sly & the family stone, "everybody is a star"
al green, "i'm still in love with you"
james brown, "there was a time"
prince, "1999 (single edit)"
elton john, "saturday night's alright (for fighting)"
the jimi hendrix experience, "hey joe"
massive attack, "teardrop (single edit)"
oasis, "live forever"
pulp, "common people"

disc 2
the smiths, "this charming man"
david bowie, "rock 'n' roll suicide (live)"
the rolling stones, "let it loose"
u2, "a sort of homecoming"
the beach boys, "god only knows (live, 1967 rehearsal)"
the magnetic fields, "100,000 fireflies"
orange juice, "consolation prize"
bruce springsteen, "candy's room"
duke ellington & his orchestra, "in a sentimental mood"
the ronettes, "i wish i never saw the sunshine"
abba, "dancing queen"
aaliyah, "are you that somebody?"
dionne warwick, "are you there (with another girl)"
glen campbell, "wichita lineman"
elvis presley, "if i can dream"
frank sinatra, "angel eyes"
bob dylan, "if you see her, say hello"
dexys midnight runners, "reminisce (part two)"
howlin' wolf, "killing floor"
andrew w.k., "party hard"
richard strauss, "im abendrot" (sop., lucia popp)

18 October 2005

m.i.a., "galang '05" (from the galang '05 single, import available for purchase here.)
editors, "bullets (single version)" (from the bullets single, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : getting to know you all over again ...

ok, my index finger is as tender as prime filet mignon, so i'm cheating today--my penance is giving you two songs.

both are re-recordings of the lead singles from two of 2005's finest debuts. the difference in "galang" is at the start: the chanty, survivor theme song-ish bits have been moved to the front, as if it's meant as a continuation from the original (ah yeah! again and again!) the difference in "bullets" is the end: they rewrote the parts that made it sound like interpol's "pda" while emphasizing the bits that make it sound like early u2. as a result, it's now a far more savage thing, befitting all of the talk about disease and the title "bullets."

17 October 2005

lorraine ellison - "stay with me" (from the best of loma records, available for purchase here.)

in brief : this whole post: due to a shaving accident earlier today, i'm typing w/ nine fingers.

not much of a fan of literary criticism, vladimir nabokov put forth that the mark of a good poem is a "telltale tingle between the shoulder-blades."

lorraine ellison's "stay with me" is a song that paralyzes the critical faculties, and much else besides. as i write this i'm preparing an answer to my own challenge of the other day, songs that one would like to see appear on a john peel-esque tribute to oneself--"stay with me" will be one of those songs, a song that i've played to just about everyone i meet. it's been the last song on every mix of mine that it's appeared on and it's also been sequenced last on every compilation that has collected it and, as you'll hear, there's a v. good reason for this.

the force of ellison's vocal is said to have shook the walls and nearly have broken the tape, but its emotional power exceeds even that. it is a song that meets nabokov's standard and then some, as the session players are said to have dropped their instruments in awe, while others broke into tears. even on tape, the impression is scarcely less powerful: it produces a sinking feeling in the pit of one's stomach, gooseflesh on one's arms, and, yes, a tingle between the shoulder-blades, and down the spine. it is music that is as raw and exposed as the flesh on my left index finger.

play it loud--and for everyone you know.
another interesting release day tomorrow. some highlights:
animal collective, feels
babyshambles, fuck forever
boards of canada, campfire headphase
depeche mode, playing the angel
lightning bolt, hypermagic mountain
marah, if you didn't laugh you'd cry
m.o.p., st. marxmen
robert pollard, bubble ep
silver jews, tanglewood numbers
rod stewart, thanks for the memory: the great american songbook, vol. 4 (this man is a godsend; w/o fail, he releases this album a week before my mother's birthday)
stevie wonder, a time to love
luxembourg - "luxembourg vs. great britain" (from the luxembourg vs. great britain single, available for purchase here.)

in brief : from my favorite "new" band comes brainy, desperate pop for people who haven't been the same since pulp split up.

i don't feel entirely right about doing this--indeed, it would be much better if you were to buy this single here. but, as they are, in their own words, "essentially unsigned," you probably have never heard of them and would be buying on faith, and $1.74 is still $1.74, and you probably need to fill your tank.

pay close attention, then, so you'll be queued up to buy their next single. luxembourg are my favorite essentially unsigned band, and it has more to do than w/ just their insistence on typing their name in lowercase. since 2002, they've released at least one excellent track a year, from "making progress" to "we are the resistance" to last year's "mishandled." (you can hear the mp3's at their website, located here.) the streak happily continues w/ "luxembourg vs great britain," and in the title and lyric alone, you hear echoes of "still ill" and "mis-shapes," which should give the reader some idea of the band's patrilineage.

the pulp comparisons are also abundant when discussing the music and, certainly, as the track blares out of one's speakers, it does sound like 1993 all over again. the guitars are a little sharper than anything i can remember from pulp; i think the band sound more like another act from that era, too little-loved, too well-forgotten: sleeper, a name that fits too well, and one that must be too near the bone for the boys of luxembourg. but the mixture of choppy guitars and prominent keyboards recall sleeper tracks like "inbetweener" and, especially, "what do i do now?"

singer david shah is no louise wener, which is just how nature planned it, but he is v. bryan ferry, esp. early bryan ferry, when his appeal was in the sum of his mannerisms. he also sounds v. posh like mssr. ferry, but his lyrics betray a man in a gutter--in a gutter w/ a lot of smiths records, but w/ more gentility than the younger steven patrick. "we've been very patient, we've been patronized," shah sings on the chorus, a long way from suns shining out of behinds and "frankly mr. shankly"s. the tone may be slightly different, but the tune is v. much the same: the same passion and despair fuels their work. "i've given up everything for you," shah croons in a falsetto that would make moz proud, "so don't say you don't want me--i'll just stay here 'til you do," as the shouted chorus of "sex! drink! love! hope!" repeats until close, a refrain that all twentysomethings are familiar w/. luxembourg, meanwhile, is a band you should become familiar w/; i think you will find that they will stay around in your head for quite some time to come.

14 October 2005

morning runner - "be all you want me to be" (from the be all you want me to be single, import available for preorder here.)

in brief : coldplay are fans--and maybe also a little jealous.

yes, morning runner had landed an opening slot on the uk leg of the coldplay tour, a choice made out of admiration, but perhaps out of a little envy.

coldplay, to this day, still receives a number of comparisons to u2, comparisons based on front men, on global popularity, but still, at times, on their music. the major difference between the two bands and, indeed, between coldplay and morning runner is that coldplay is a piano-based band and, thus, rocks less comprehensively. when coldplay rock, it is in the fashion of elton john and billy joel and other piano men (and, yes, "saturday night's all right (for fighting)" is a great anomaly). pianos can rock--johnnie johnson, nicky hopkins, andrew w.k.--but martin isn't that kind of player.

morning runner, too, have a piano player in the band, but so have a lot of rock 'n' roll acts. there are also similarities between the vocals of chris martin and matt greener, but the latter sings so exuberantly that he could care less if a bit of "englishness" could impede widespread success. and while, like u2, both bands pursue the big themes and sentiments, morning runner do so on "be all you want me to be" at a tempo coldplay has eschewed since "don't panic." "you can make it! don't sigh!" greener exclaims on the chorus, as the band plays exclamation points behind him.

what is most auspicious about "be all you want me to be" are the band's sense of dynamics and its familiarity w/ restraint. the intro has the bass/guitar interplay of the wedding present and, though the chorus scrapes the sky, to be sure, it only does so after emerging from a pleasing section of dissonance. and as the song draws to a close, it ends in a brief "layla"-like reduction to solo piano which could v. easily fade-in to one final performance of the chorus. instead, they allow the last third of the song to wind down, believing that they've gotten all they can out of the chorus. it's not the kind of thing that, if repeated, will eventually lead to coldplay opening for them, but, really, when was the last time you listened to x&y anyway?

oh, and if you can stand a little more rain, matador has posted the title mp3 from the forthcoming cat power record, the greatest, to be released in january. on "the greatest," she's never sounded more like dusty springfield--that may have to do w/ the fact that she recorded it in memphis, w/ some of al green's old sidemen.

13 October 2005

country joe & the fish - "not so sweet martha lorraine" (from the john peel - a tribute lp, import available for preorder here.)

in brief : top cut from peel's favorite album of the era.

the same day i read about the peel tribute album, i went into work and heard "a house is not a home" being played over the muzak system. this set me to thinking about another recent tribute album to someone whose name i must sadly attach the adjective "late", so amazing: an all-star tribute to luther vandross.

the version of "a house is not a home" played was an homage to luther's restructuring of the song; the saxophone faithfully followed luther's melisma. one could, then, envision a smooth jazz tribute to luther--but how in the world would such a thing be accomplished by singers? i mean, after all, if you're just going to follow luther's pattern, good intentions aside, why even bother?

this is not to slight luther's considerable talents as a composer, a career that spanned nearly thirty years, from david bowie's "fascination" in 1975 to, indeed, 1986's "so amazing," and ending far too soon w/ last year's "dance with my father." instead, it should only speak to luther's unparalleled gifts as an interpreter that such songwriting accomplishments could pale in the comparison. and it is the intepretations that figure heavily on so amazing, since nine out of the 15 tracks are covers of other's peoples' music.

i suppose what made luther special, then, was that i can hear a muzak version of "a house is not a home" or, as i later did, "creepin'," and know that it's his version. the luther approach was, in the main, a change in tempo and an elongation of time. (i've often thought that luther was born to late, that as, essentially, the male dionne warwick, he would've thrived as an uptown soul singer; he probably would have killed to have had bacharach/david write for him, to have played the role of lou johnson.) but so much of it is down to the vocals (and backing vocals); a more successful approach probably would have been a cover of his songs and not his interpretations. but it would also have been a less commercially successful project.

the peel tribute, too, is an interesting spin on the idea of a tribute record. it is a compilation, not of his compositions, and not of his interpretations, but of songs that inspired him as a young man ("lost john," "dust my blues"), that were written about him ("bird of cuzco"), and that somehow became associated w/ him (everything else).

"not so sweet martha lorraine"--imagine blonde on blonde if dylan was interested in the possibilities of the recording studio--comes from electric music for the mind and body, john's favorite record of the psychedelic era; its lack of commercial success confounded him; had it been released during the height of peel's powers, perhaps it might have been different. one wonders if it was exactly this sort of thing--the commercial failure of records he thought artistic successes--that would spur him on later in his career.

this poses an interesting question for the music obsessive: if you had two 80-minute cds to fill as a representation of yourself and the things you love, what would you put on it? keep in mind, this is quite different from what you want played at your funeral (for me, "sunflower river blues" by john fahey and "stardust" by louis armstrong). rather, it should sound like your life flashing beside your ears.

and for those of you who don't just read the "in brief" description!

bonus : roy harper - "when an old cricketer leaves the crease" (from the hq lp, import available for purchase here.)

the last song played on tonight's tribute.
when the moment comes,
and the gathering stands,
and the clock turns back to reflect
On the years of grace,
as those footsteps trace
for the last time out of the act.
good night all.

the undertones - "teenage kicks" (from the john peel - a tribute lp, import available for preorder here.)

in brief : you were expecting, what--the inspiral carpets, maybe?

go, go, click the above logo; explore the site; read the tributes; check out the peel sessions index; review the results of past festive 50's; see what john had to say about your favorite band (see what they had to say about him). click here to listen to the bbc live. beginning at 19:00 gmt (2pm est), a six-hour long tribute to john begins.
japan - "ghosts" (from the tin drum lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : and from a haunted house to the torment of one's inner demons ...

john cale's "graveldrive" sounds like a haunted house, haunted by the traces of a loved one, too infrequently home. the track is indeed spare, but total silence has been utterly exorcised, as if the narrator couldn't bear a house gone quiet, as if he needed the persistent hum of the refrigerator (or the treated guitar).

david sylvian, on the other hand, utilizes silence as the foundation of his track, filling the corners of the day that one usually occupies w/ routine (work, bar, sleep, &c.). his croon grows more spectral as the track goes on, the marimbas rattle like skeletons. trapped in the closet? no, but stuck at home--too much rain; i can relate--and the hour has grown later than he'd thought. sylvian arrives slowly at the realization that, unlike cale, it's not, as he once thought, the house that's haunted.

i've not much more to say about "ghosts." it is, however, ideal music to listen to if you're driving down a dark backroad w/ scant evidence of civilization, on a rainy, cold, autumn night, and your windshield wipers aren't working as well as you'd hope. w/ a little luck, i'll be posting sweater-weather songs shortly, songs w/ jangle and three-part harmony--but this isn't the autumn i love just yet.

12 October 2005

john cale - "graveldrive" (from the blackacetate lp, available for preorder here.)

in brief : the sound of a house unsettling.

between lou reed and john cale, i've always sided w/ cale. it's nothing against lou reed: my two favorite velvet underground albums are the ones that he masterminded. i just think that cale is a more interesting guy, more apt to experiment w/ his music and his persona, and not frozen behind a pair of aviators and a leather jacket.

he's quietly been on a streak as of late. his last three albums of original material--admittedly, recorded over a span of ten years--have spawned at least three songs that stand w/ his best work: "set me free" from walking on locusts, "caravan" from hobosapiens, and now "graveldrive" from blackacetate, released next week.

"graveldrive" is a simple thing, composed of treated guitar, eno-esque atmospherics--he appeared himself on hobosapiens--and a mournful female voice, an effective counter to cale's throaty wheeze. it's a tone that he affects for this song, and it's entirely appropriate. like i said, it's a simple thing, musically and emotionally; it is, in a way, the perfect complement to a song like "crepuscule with nellie." it's all about the comings and goings of a loved one at a time in life when it seems like the future will soon hold nothing but goings. cale's voice creaks like an old house, as he implores his beloved to take him along. one gets the sense that these are words he never says, but are also words that are never far from his mind. he's set right again by something as simple as the sound of footsteps on a gravel drive, though w/ the understanding that one day that sound will cease--and, w/ that recognition, more appreciative of every step one takes.

11 October 2005

television personalities - "the crying room" (from the and don't the kids just love it lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : even punks cry.

the crying room is where, shortly after being elected, the new pope receives his vestments. it is so called b/c it is where the former cardinal, realizing the responsibilities and burdens of his new office, often experiences a catharsis, shedding not only his old name but also much of what he was as he ascends to the papacy.

"the crying room" is my second favorite television personalities song; my favorite is "look back in anger," and in my private world its pre-eminence is such that i'm never asked any of the following three questions: 1) "oh, you mean the play?" 2) "oh, you mean the david bowie song?" 3) "oh, you mean 'don't look back in anger.'" "the crying room" is the track that leads into "don't look back anger," and it is the penultimate track on and don't the kids just love it. it is, befitting its name, reflective and rueful, unsure of what it's doing, but sure that it must be done. though a brief instrumental, its pairing of melodica and acoustic guitar leaves a lasting impression.

it's an odd song to post, b/c those who know the band certainly know the song, though perhaps this will give them pause--and make them pause--before skipping right to the album's last track. on the other hand, those who don't know the band should make a beeline to "look back in anger." still, as i've warned before, the nighttime is my opportunity to be indulgent, and this song perfectly captured the season, the hour, and the weather (misting rain, light breeze, dropping temperature). like the crying room, though, the song should cleanse the new listener's palette and whet the appetite for all they have yet to discover.
handsomeboy technique - "your blessings" (from the adelie land lp, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : the japanese avalanches.

all of the press around japanese duo handsomeboy technique--what little of it there is--has labelled them as the japanese go! team, which isn't entirely accurate. the go! team sample vocals, as handsomeboy do here, but they also, by and large, write their own music. from what i can hear on "your blessings," handsomeboy don't do that. (and the avalanches / go! team parallels are a bit specious, i think, mostly generated by the fact that the go! team proved more popular than the avalanches, and the hardcore had to find a way to counter that.)

i had first heard of them on said the gramophone, got caught up in the enthusiasm, but didn't dig the song. w/ more and more attention paid to them, though, i gave them another shot and came up w/ "your blessings," which i like a lot.

the vocals on "your blessings" are from jackie deshannon's "when you walk in the room," a substantial hit for the searchers in the 60's. handsomeboy's particular genius on this track is the way they chop up the chorus and, ultimately, make it much more effective than the original. as for the music ... have you ever seen fireworks when making eye contact w/ another? bright lights? angelic choirs? "your blessings" is like macy's 4th of july extravaganza exploding over the tokyo skyline. it understands the joy of romantic entaglements as the avalanches' "since i left you" understands being entirely free of them.
josef k - "it's kinda funny (single version)" (from the endless soul lp, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : the sound of young scotland, once; like orange juice, but w/ the lights out.

i have this co-worker. he's into bela fleck and clapton. sometimes, i think, that's all one needs to know. he has surprised me, though, like when i was playing neu '75, which he liked so much that he bought it on the spot. turns out, he also digs josef k. (maybe it's the german thing ... )

i described the song to him like this: have you ever been so low, on such a rotten streak, that at times there was something bleakly humorous about the whole thing? (he said, "no," which might describe his listening habits.) if he was familiar w/ them, i would have said that josef k were to orange juice as, to use an obvious example, the stones were to the beatles--namely, the former were rougher on the ear and sharper to the touch. (malcolm ross of josef k would later join orange juice after the disintegration of the band he founded.)

"it's kinda funny" isn't emblematic of josef k's sound; their songs are, for the most part, uptempo if not upbeat, w/ guitar parts that bite like barbed wire. it is, however, to me their definitive moment, and this is the single version of the song. there are a number of difference, notably the change in atmosphere. the album version is suffocating, its guitar lines interlocking, forging restraints, while the single version is more spacious. given the subject matter of the song, you'd think that the former would be more effective, yet there's something far more desperate about the latter. it gives the impression that one could leave through the front door instead of through the crack in the wall, and yet. you listen to "it's kinda funny" at this time of year and you're uncomfortably aware that winter'ss coming soon. it's a chill wind of a song that reminds you that there is a cold that you can't keep out.

10 October 2005

gang of four - "not great men (phones extended version)" (from the limited edition return the gift lp, only available on import, which can be purchased here.)

in brief : paul "phones" epworth returns the gift, teaching indie kids--and old punks--to dance, all over again.

return the gift, if you haven't heard, is a re-recording by the gang of four of their groundbreaking and, particularly today, influential work.


the official reason is that they hated the drum sound; it didn't capture them as they really were live--which carries w/ it the faint suggestion that you should see them live ... or, failing that, buy this album.

it's not an unusual move: in the 80's, i remember a whole host of artists re-recording their music and then advertising it on tv as their "greatest hits." usually these artists either have a tortuous recording history and, due to licensing problems, couldn't bring together all of their hits; other times, they were artists who didn't own the rights to their original performances, like prince's 1999: the new master or the commodores, whose lionel richie-less "greatest hits" i mistakenly bought as a dumb kid (and whose lionel richie-plus greatest hits i quite intentionally purchased as an informed adult.)

jazz artists frequently re-record their works, whether standards or original compositions. usually, the most recent recordings act as a signpost for where they're at artistically at the moment. james brown has done this; to a lesser extent--and i mean that in all ways, bon jovi has as well.

artists might also want to update not their sound, but the sound of the records: kraftwerk re-recorded w/ the mix to take advantage of newer technology (and one might argue they did the same w/ minimum-maximum).

in recent times, too, it's been going on. n.e.r.d. and fiona apple re-recorded entire albums w/in the last few years; the go! team thought they might have to. so the gang of four find themselves part of a larger contemporary movement, just as their sound has formed the basis for a larger contemporary movement. what does it sound like, then? well, the drums have more thwap! to them, but elsewhere they--the band that is-- seem a little stiffer and, dare i say it, discophobic. indeed, were bands to follow the blueprint of return the gift, they might be a little less dancefloor friendly.

does one, then, accept the official reason behind it? are there other arguments to be made? perhaps, i'd answer to both. a quick glance at the tracklist reveals no tracks recorded after 1982, aka before the fall. again, official reasoning behind this is that those were the only records the original gang played on. they were also, you know, the records that were really good from pillar to post. return the gift provides a competitor to their other (readily available) "greatest hits" records, 100 flowers bloom and a brief history of the twentieth-century; what gift doesn't have, though, is later material like "womantown" and "is it love." all of which seems like an attempt by the band to rewrite history--ah, very totalitarian!--and effectively put a period on their career in 1982. are these recordings, as prince had hoped w/ the new master, meant to be definitive, to replace the originals?

dunno. but here's the phones, aka paul epworth, remix of "not great men." happily, epworth remembers that go4 were a great dance band, and if one remembers that epworth was the engineer for lcd soundsystem, the giddily irreverent second half of the mix makes much more sense. this kind of irreverence is unexpected from epworth, the producer of futureheads, maximo park, and bloc party, all of whom take the go4 v. seriously, and would likely hate the synthetic drum sound epworth uses. i would disagree: i think it's best that he questions the go4's authority.

07 October 2005

ah, but there's a reason i love mark e. smith:
America's a funny place at the moment. New Jersey's a lot more interesting than New York. They seem to really react to us there. People are a lot friendlier there as well, and you can have a smoke.
from an interview w/ the guardian.
broken social scene - "ibi dreams of pavement (a better half)" (from the broken social scene lp, available for purchase here.)

i don't know who ibi is. a band member, maybe? (see? i can both take you inside the arcane worlds of certain bands, while remaining a charming outsider w/ others.) all i know is that bss are canadian which, in the last few years, is as good as saying to me that they're british. an effect of nafta, i reckon: all of the good music has gone north. i also quite enjoyed "almost crimes" from their first record, and i believe feist is a member, who is a little charmer.

ibi dreams of pavement, like so many (though, to be honest, the last malkmus solo album really wasn't that bad at all). ibi's particular dream is of the slanted & enchanted era; mine tend to drift that way too. so, "ibi" has admirable clang and clatter--but, what w/ the shouted vocals, one realizes that this is but a dream. stephen, if memory serves, never started a song shouting at the top of his lungs; instead, he work himself up to a fever pitch. also the horns leading to an anthemic closing? keep dreaming!

the bss album is getting a lot of great pub. i mean, look at that metascore! they'd be this year's arcade fire ... if they weren't two-years' ago's arcade fire. still, i'm not hearing much else, "it's all gonna break" aside, that's eminent diggable. this, though--this is a nice dream.

06 October 2005

evie sands - "i can't let go" (from the one kiss can lead to another: girl group sounds lost and found boxed set, available for purchase here.)
the nashville ramblers - "the trains" (from the children of nuggets: original artyfacts from the second psychedelic era - 1976-1995 boxed set, available for purchase here.)

in brief : give me rhino records and you may keep your merges, dfa's, and saddle creeks, sir.

rhino recently released two new boxed sets, one kiss can lead to another, a girl group history (w/ a refreshing definition of "girl group"), and children of nuggets, another sequel to the original. let's start, as decorum would dictate, w/ one kiss.

first, the title is genius. one kiss can lead to another--it doesn't mean that it necessarily has to. you know how fickle boys can be, and how prone they are to motorcycle accidents, whether it's jimmy or terry or bobby dylan. and that's only presuming that the british invasion won't wipe us out and keep us from singing about the second date; and that's assuming that we all won't be dead tomorrow, b/c of a much more serious potential invasion. not only does the set capture the essence of the girl group song, it captures both its sound and its time period--and this w/o contributions from phil spector or cameo-parkway, prevented by licensing issues w/ abkco.

evie sands is an interesting woman. she performed the original version of "i can't let go" to no fanfare; several years later, the hollies would have much more success w/ it (and linda ronstadt didn't fare too poorly w/ it in the 1980's). her first single, also on this box, was overshadowed by a version by jackie ross (of "selfish one" fame). another song she tackled first: "angel of the morning."

all of this is an incredible shame--and the reason why boxes like this exist--b/c she has an incredible blue-eyed soul voice, and her interpretation is leagues above the hollies and ronstadt. sometimes one hears a song for the first time, likes what he or she hears, forms an idea of what it will shape up as, but may be ultimately disappointed in where it ends up going. "i can't let go" is song that is so amazing that one becomes quite nervous that it may all go wrong. thankfully, though, this isn't the case. "i can't let go" is essential psych-pop of the highest order, elevated to that level by sands's voice and an exquisite chorus. one is surprised that dusty springfield, who appears twice on this box and usually had such an eye for this thing, didn't cover it, as she did two other songs on the compilation. regardless, sands, on evidence here, would have at least stood toe-to-toe w/ dusty, and that's saying a lot.

children of nuggets, meanwhile, collects the cream from the "second psychedelic era," i.e. 1976-1995. lots of punk, garage revival, power-pop, &c. as w/ evie sands and one kiss, a track like the nashville ramblers' "the trains" demonstrates the necessity for such a collection. the ramblers, a west coast power-pop outfit, released but a handful of records in the mid-80's and never to my knowledge recorded an album. "the trains" is proof of what a pity that is.

i've a thing for train songs; i'm not sure why. dylan does too, but he seems more definite. "the sound of trains off in the distance," he writes in chronicles, "more or less made me feel at home, like nothing was missing ... " ironically, the sound of trains signifies what's missing for the singer of "the trains": his girl. over an approximation of the flamin' groovies at their most beatlesque, he sings, "but when she's not around, i can hear the trains underground, when i'm alone, i can feel the sun going down." the subject matter is somewhat similar to randy newman's "living without you," but what "the trains" excels in particularly is how absence not only makes the heart grow fonder, but it also makes one's senses keener.

the only thing better than these two releases, then, is the tantalizing prospect of a nuggets set covering the years that have thus far been overlooked, namely, 1970-75. surely, this was no oversight: like george lucas when he joined his space opera already in progress, the folks at rhino know exactly what they're doing. you should too.
mew - "the zookeeper's boy" (from the and the glass handed kites lp, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : not your kid brother's synth-rock ...

mew have been around for a few years. and the glass handed kites is their second album, the follow-up to 2003's frengers. which i missed, due to some really silly biases. oh, nothing against the danes--i mean, some of my favorite pastries are danish--but, rather, against pokemon. see, a number of years ago now, there was a pokémon movie (remember pokémon?), and it was all about this, like, super pokémon called, you guessed it, mew, and so i thought the band would be some uninspired piffle. (of course, the name of mew's nemesis, mewtwo, did nothing to end my long-standing love affair w/ a similarly-named irish band.)

turns out, i was wrong. mew is truly inspired piffle. i mean, really, how else can you describe lyrics like, "but if there's a glitch, you're an ostrich?" but it sounds fantastic.

indeed, you could probably use it fool your younger brother. secretly switch his normal rock & roll--fall out boy, mychem, tbs, &c.--w/ mew and watch what happens. for about the first fifty seconds, he should totally dig it--but when it gets to the chorus, watch out! "mom!" he'll scream--and if there's anything his music has taught him, it's how to scream--as the rock & roll becomes synth-pop, real synth-pop, like omd, ca. architecture & morality. much current rock pays lip-service to synthesizers and the 80's, but mew really mean it; the results are incredibly fascinating. of course, your kid brother won't get it, but what the hell does he know anyway? i mean, he probably likes morrissey more than the smiths. and, and ...
i've noticed that i type the word "import" frequently in my entries. looking over it, of the sixty-five or so mp3's i have posted, five or thereabouts are by recent american acts. there are several reasons for this: 1) i'm a professed anglophile 2) there are other blogs covering american music better than i could hope to 3) related to 2, i write from america; the majority of this page's readers are americans; i therefore post what we're all less likely to hear in these parts. lest i be accused of being unpatriotic--these are dangerous times, after all--below you'll find a listing of artists who've begun recording this decade; whom i love, like, or have liked; and what my response would be to new material from each.

scissor sisters (if only for "everybody wants the same thing")
the strokes (though not so much based on what i've heard recently)
the walkmen
kanye west
andrew w.k.

they're spotty, but often spectacular--so yeah:
lcd soundsystem
ludacris (though i realize he's now doing his ice cube thing)
bubba sparxxx (as long as he keeps either timbaland or organized noize w/in proximity)

sure, why not:
ryan adams
the decemberists
okkervil river

i'm dubious:
yeah yeah yeahs

05 October 2005

new order, "bizarre love triangle (richard x remix)" (from the waiting for the siren's call 7", currently unavailable.)

this is markedly better than his remix of gwen stefani's "cool"--and it's not all to do w/ source material either.

the other day, i described x as "backward-looking and forward-sounding," and so one immediately sees the difficulty for him in remixing gwen's hit, as it is exactly that, resembling one of those prince songs of the 80's that he penned under a different name, only made w/ 21st century technology. his decision to just put a new rhythm track under it comes across as resignation or frustration (or simply cash-grabbing--surely he's earned it at this point).

remixing "bizarre love triangle," on the other hand, a song nearly twenty years old, puts him under no obligations to sound "current." indeed, if anything, he makes it sound even more 80's--think the "extended dance mix" from substance crossed w/ prime exposé, only not, as he would have formerly, literally--in the process revealing the '94 remix (from the best of new order), an attempt at forward-sounding, as the real anachronism.

instead, it is new order themselves, on the a-side, who are left to both look forward and sound current: "waiting for the siren's call" is easily their finest single since "regret." viewed in this light, the x remix is but an added bonus.
king creosote - "not one bit ashamed" (from the kc rules ok lp, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : trying to break your heart ...

king creosote = kenny anderson; kenny anderson = brother of gordon; gordon anderson = lone pigeon; lone pigeon = co-founder of the beta band--indeed, they were originally calle the pigeons--and co-writer of "dry the rain" ("special thanks and love to gordon," it says in the three ep's liners).

(i imagine one could connect the entire scottish scene in similar six degrees fashion. part of that country's charm, really.)

both are a part of the scottish fence collective, an array of folks (including james yorkston & the athletes) who issue newsletters and records at a blinding clip. king creosote himself has released some twenty-odd (and mostly odd) records since 1998, but it's his last few that have brought him attention for being more than gordon's brother.

"not one bit ashamed" itself originally appeared on 2003's psalm clerk, in a drastically different form. those who've heard it might find the re-recorded version, backed by the earlies, somewhat lumbering when compared to its fleet-footed predecessor. the former starts off at a slower tempo, w/ tubas--no, wait, where are you going? the main difference between the two, though, is the shifting of lyrical burden, from "it's not good enough," which dominates the psalm clerk take, to the title phrase that brings the song to a close, but had been obscured in the earlier version.

the song moves along from a trot to, as drums are added, a canter to, at last, a gallop, w/ more, different horns being introduced, all of it carried along by anderson's warm vocal. "i gave you half of my heart and you gave a half-hearted shrug," he sings, bringing the song to its last act. it is an amazing--and heart-wrenching--thing to hear this song start its ascent; it's like watching the space shuttle take flight: one is amazed that something so immense can leave the ground and, after some initial resistance, w/ what ease, jettisoning all but the essentials. it is but one example from an album that helps kenny anderson establish his name. even in such a distinguished family, he has little to be ashamed of.

04 October 2005

professor murder - "champion"

b/c, unlike ... well, just about every other e-mail i've received from a band, jesse of professor murder was nice enough (wise enough?) to address me by name, i've put up a direct link to an mp3 by the band. (if you go to their website, you can hear more, read about upcoming shows, &c.)

"champion" sounds, at times, like an arthur russell production, like a band from brooklyn, and like the yeah yeah yeahs, ca. "machine" (and someone should, since that band doesn't seem interested in it--more's the pity). if i were to offer constructive criticism, i would suggest that they maybe settle on a few of these ideas, develop them further, and then run w/ it.

so, go, give them a listen. best of luck to professor murder. (and for the rest of you, let this serve as a lesson as to what good manners--and musical talent!--can do for you.)