May 29, 2002 (link)
At first, Paradise Now, by the Dutch band Group 1850, had me quite impressed with how well they managed to evoke the sound of the 1960s -- until I realized that the album was recorded in 1969! For some reason I'd initially thought they were a contemporary act. Regardless, I like this album. It's the first one I've gotten in a while that's made me want to play it on repeat, not so much because any particular moment is especially addictive but simply because I very much enjoy the overall feel of it -- relaxed and loose, but not meandering, and recorded in a way that's pleasing to me. Considering that they get a fair number of Pink Floyd comparisons, that probably shouldn't come as a surprise -- though, then again, I've found that comparisons to Pink Floyd are almost always bullshit. Actually, though, when I listen to this disc, I find myself thinking of Jimi Hendrix (or even Black Sabbath) more than Pink Floyd. In the album's last track, a 11-minute jam called "Purple Sky", there's a moment, about 4:25 in, where the lead vocals sound uncannily like Hendrix -- if I didn't know better (and I don't) I'd have said it was Jimi himself. The track sounds a hell of a lot like "Voodoo Chile" as it is, given that it's in D minor and 6/8 and basically has the same chord changes and the same feel...actually, listening to it now, at times it borders on being a full-fledged ripoff of "Voodoo Chile", not that I have any objection to that.
Another thing: it's a really well-sequenced album. At 8 tracks and 36 minutes it may seem like it'd be hard to screw it up, but it'd also be tough to improve on it. The short little songs are placed just about perfectly, so that they break up any possibility of monotony without breaking up the flow of the album. "Purple Sky" is the album's longest track, and putting it at the end is just right, but it doesn't bog things down by being there, either.
You know, this is a damned good record! I don't know why I like this album so much, but something about it is really sitting well with me. It's a bit like a cross between Electric Ladyland, Pangaea, and some Dutch ancestor of the American Analog Set. It seems like it'd be the perfect disc for hanging out late at night with a few friends and a bottle of wine -- you can give it your full attention and find it completely rewarding, but it's also recorded and structured in a way so that it ought to be easy to have a conversation while it's playing, while still being able to feel it in the background. Given how good this disc is, I'm surprised that I've never heard of it before -- I just blundered upon it randomly, and thought I'd give it a try. (Actually, I snagged it nearly two months ago and only gave it my first listen within the past day or two.) Lately it seems like whenever I check out '60s stuff I haven't heard -- whether by bands I've never heard at all (Chocolate Watchband, 13th Floor Elevators), or by bands from whom I've only heard one or two songs (Small Faces, Zombies, Count Five) -- I end up disappointed, bored, or otherwise less than engaged: they're just not the kind of music I'm looking for. (I don't need to see their identification -- they can go about their business.) So it's nice for a change to dig up an album that has a lot of the qualities that I value most both in 1960s music in general, and in the albums I love from that time.
Current music: When I started writing this entry, Klaatu -- "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft"; now, Group 1850 -- Paradise Now
May 26, 2002 (link)
Or, to put it differently: "Two Way Diamond I" : "Two Way Diamond II" :: "Cry Baby Cry" : "...can you take me back, where are people, can you take me back?" Not completely, but it's the same kind of thing.
Ois guade winsch i dia zum Gbuadsdog, or La-breithe mhaith agat: take your fun, but either way, raise a glass tonight for 26 years of the love (and the research) of the Charity Rapper! May his psychic cigarette burn ever brightly.
One of the greatest things on the Amanset's From Our Living Room to Yours is the way the last three songs flow together. In particular, the transition from "Two Way Diamond I" to "Two Way Diamond II" is fantastic -- there's something magical about the way that the sound suddenly opens up, with the Farfisa playing those rich-sounding, heavily reverbed single notes while the bass and drums play counterpoint. It almost makes TWD II sound like an antiphonal response to TWD I. A big part of this is the downward key change from E minor to E-flat minor, a shift which suddenly opens up a whole new palette of colors and, again, makes it sound like the "other half" of TWD I. TWD II then gives way to some ambient noises, which play for a bit before the Rhodes enters "Don't Wake Me" begins. That song, in turn, is in D minor, which makes the last three songs of the album a movement down by half-steps: E minor, E-flat minor, D minor. It sounds academic, but the effect is palpable, even if you don't make note of precisely what's happening, and I daresay it plays a big part in creating the feeling of unity that makes the end of Living Room so good.
The Amanset generally seem to keep these three songs together when they play live, and by treating them as a single track, Through the Nineties basically acknowledges that they amount to a suite. But in live performance they shift "Two Way Diamond II" up to E minor, same as TWD I, and for me -- precious as it may sound to say this -- something is lost in the change. (Try it yourself -- listen to the studio disc, then to the live performance. Besides the obvious differences in instrumentation and acoustics, can you hear how the transition in the live performance sounds samey compared to the studio disc? "Two Way Diamond II" ends up sounding like a continuation of the same track, rather than a response to it.) So when I listen to the version on Through the Nineties, the thing I tend to focus on most is Mark Smith's drumming. Since the beat he uses for "Don't Wake Me" is brilliant, that's easy enough to do!
Current music: The Beach Boys -- "Surf's Up (live version)" (This is beautiful, and the questionable recording quality only makes it more beautiful -- Brian Wilson's voice sounds all the more fragile and desperate for it. The ending is a little weird, though.)
With all my railing against pandiatonicism -- I'm even one of the first pages to come up on Google when you search for it -- I thought I ought to mention a pandiatonic piece that I actually like, namely Sones de Flor by Peter Garland from the Walk in Beauty CD. I first heard this about five-and-a-half years ago, and wasn't immediately taken with it, but something about it stuck with me -- I remembered it as feeling like an enormous prolongation of/oscillation around a suspended chord, and I liked the piano-violin-vibraphone instrumentation (courtesy of the Abel-Steinberg-Winant trio, who turn just about everything they touch into gold). Listening to it now, perhaps I'm not as struck as I expected to be, but I still enjoy the way the piece feels in some sense "wide open". The combination of two percussion instruments is a big part of that; both are "chiming" instruments allowed to ring freely, a kind of timbre that -- to me, anyway -- tends to suggest spaciousness and slow time. (I'm not the only one to think that, either -- a reviewer for Fanfare describes him: "Often simple in design, his consonant or modal melodies...grow rich in resonances through repetition or subtle variation, suggesting the stark beauty and vast open space of the New Mexican desert.") At times the insistence on diatonic/modal structures gets a bit wearing, but those structures seem like the point of this piece in a way that most pandiatonic pieces don't share: here it seems organic, not accidental or casual.
As I listen to the subsequent tracks on the CD, I'm surprised to find myself enjoying "Hermit Songs", the first movement of Jornada Del Muerto, quite a bit. I always thought of it as a track I didn't like, but I guess the forte opening has always put me off -- subsequently, about three or four minutes in, there are much quieter sections which are rather beautiful. This is one of the things I love most about classical music, or Western art music, or whatever you want to call it -- of all the genres I listen to, it often seems to engage the "omnipresent ghost of silence" with the most consistency and intelligibility. Of course, ambient music does it too, but trying to find an ambient record that does it well can sometimes feel like playing the lottery -- the proportion of good ambient records to bad ambient records can be pretty lousy, particularly if you don't know what you're doing and you're not big on the Eno or Namlook approaches. Classical music usually doesn't engage the quiet end of the spectrum as completely as the best ambient music does, but it also usually has more to fall back on, more angles from which to approach the piece, if that engagement fails. Given my experience with the genre, there are a whole lot of ambient CDs out there that depend mostly or entirely on timbral beauty, and temporal/spatial awareness, to avoid the "hey-that's-just-some-guy-hitting-random-notes-on-a-keyboard" syndrome. Most classical pieces (outside of beginning student works) seem to at least have some degree of structural interest, or some formal element, that can be engaging when the overall sound-world of the piece fails to draw you in. However, I reserve the right to change this opinion, particularly if someone plays me enough CDs of bad, "John Williams, meet Edgard Varèse!" modern classical music.
Speaking of silence, I'm able to really listen to these pieces thanks to the generosity of my lovely girlfriend, who has lent me her Powerbook 1400 with an option to buy (an option I intend to exercise as soon as I have some money). It's fantastic to be able to play CDs and MP3s, and to write about them, without having to endure the constant hum of my G3's fan. In fact, as I write this, the room is totally silent (the Garland disc is over, and the Powerbook's hard disk has spun down) except for the clicking of the keyboard and the sound of traffic outside! It makes me want to listen to, and write about, music.
Current music: American Analog Set -- "Mellow Fellow/Gone to Earth"
May 24, 2002 (link)
I will now force myself to say ten bad things about Pink Floyd:
From the diaries of James Forrestal, the first man to hold the office of Secretary of Defense (which was founded in 1947):
13 November 1948
Palpable's review of Fun Trick Noisemaker by the Apples in Stereo pretty much mirrors my own experience with that album. As he says, "Tidal Wave" is reasonably memorable, and "Glowworm" is actually a pretty great song -- after having heard it just once (played by Jonathan, on a trip to northern Vermont for a Transport to Summer show), some months later I found myself hearing a melody in my head and wondering where in the world it'd come from, and what song I was remembering. By sheer coincidence, I happened to glance at an Apples in Stereo website shortly after that, and blundered right onto a soundclip of "Glowworm". It's a catchy little pop song with a great hook and an unexpected sidestep in the chord progression to keep things interesting. (Tangentially, I think I might actually prefer the alternate/demo take that's on Science Faire, but the two versions are really pretty similar.) The rest of the album, though, is a complete blur to me, which is a very bad sign for a record that's ostensibly trying to be a pop album. I really don't think I could hum a single bar of any other track on the disc -- whenever I try, I keep coming up with Of Montreal songs!
Speaking of trying to remember unmemorable tunes, here's a challenge that was given to a friend of mine, as part of his entrance exams for grad school: hum the melody of an even-numbered Beethoven symphony. When he posed it to me, other than the Pastorale, I couldn't come up with a thing! After a few listens to the Second, I can remember that part in the first movement where it modulates a bit while slowing down, but otherwise, nothing. It's funny, especially given that Beethoven's odd-numbered symphonies are all gifted with such memorable tunes. It may well be true that the "Ode to Joy" from the Ninth, and the three-shorts-and-a-long from the Fifth, are very likely the two best-known melodies from any symphony written by anyone, ever. (The only competition I can think of would be the beginning of Schubert's Unfinished, aka the opening to the Smurfs theme song, and Mozart's Symphony No. 40; neither come close, though, to the omnipresence of "dun-dun-dun-DUM" and "Alle menschen werden Brüder". And yes, since neither one is a symphony, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and The Four Seasons are both disqualified, not that they'd win anyway.)
Current music: Christina Kubisch - Dreaming of a Major Third
May 23, 2002 (link)
Most music labelled as "noise" bores me, but so far I generally find Aube's stuff intriguing. Most recently, I checked out the Autodecision 7-inch, which apparently uses the sound of an "executive decision maker" as source material. The constraints under which he places himself may seem gimmicky, but I suspect the product benefits from the rigor of his approach, or at least from the decision to impose some sort of formal structure on the compositional process. There's something about his work which makes me feel as though there's an intelligence behind it, whereas a lot of noise-stuff just feels random and meaningless, as though nothing of any consequence were being communicated (or no attempt at aesthetic communication were being made to begin with).
Current music: Vibracathedral Orchestra -- Versatile Arab Chord Chart
May 22, 2002 (link)
Track down a copy of The Fifth Dimension's "Up, Up and Away". Listen to it.
Now, listen to this version, sung by a Korean children's choir, and try to tell me you don't like it better. It sure sounds a lot more like riding in a balloon to me. And no, I'm not laughing at their pronunciation; I think it's kind of sweet, actually -- it reminds me of the "loo-loo-loo" singing from Charlie Brown Christmas. I even like their arrangement better! I hear piano, harpsichord, upright bass, marimba, flutes -- how does a children's choir get this kind of instrumental firepower behind it?
The site used to let you download the file but now they've converted everything to streaming (bleech). I wonder if I could get a copy of the original, or at least a higher bitrate MP3; 48kbps isn't so bad, but I'd like to hear a little more of what's going on with that arrangement -- it sounds almost Brian Wilson-ish. I know the whole Langley Schools business is getting beaten to death, but this is really a case where that sort of thing applies -- the kids take a fairly contrived song and turn it into something genuinely sweet and innocent, whereas the "adult" version sounds totally faux and overblown by comparison.
Current music: Electric Mud -- S/T (I couldn't find anything about this disc until I managed to track down a review here: "This relatively unknown band made a political rock album with German lyrics in 1971. The sound quality is rather primitive and raw...There are four tracks in all, dominated by angst-ridden lyrics and long, complex instrumental passages dominated by guitar and organ. It's not my bag really..." Along the way they say things like "Jimi Hendrix issss God!". At the moment, I can't say I'm much impressed; it's inoffensive, but not especially interesting.)
May 21, 2002 (link)
At the moment I'm listening to Cruel But Fair, a very nice Pink Floyd live CD from the 1975 tour (April 26 at the L.A. Sports Arena, to be precise). The clarity and depth of the recording is pretty incredible considering the circumstances under which it was likely recorded -- the L.A. concerts were marred by repeated incidents with the police, who were on orders from Police Chief Ed Davis to bust as many pot smokers as they possibly could. (As this site tells us, over the course of the five shows "511 fans are arrested for various offenses, mostly marijuana possession.")
Despite this tumult (which, by the way, inspired certain passages in The Wall), the recording isn't really marred by audience noise at all. I can't imagine having the chutzpah to bring in quality taping gear to a show at which the police were known to be so actively on the warpath! Whoever taped this show sure knew what they were doing, and hats off to them. I'm generally not a fan of the 1975 tour -- among other things, it had the same setlist for every show, which is a bit much. It's fun at first to hear the Animals-in-progress of "Raving and Drooling" and "You've Gotta Be Crazy" which start the first set, but after a few listens the novelty wears off, and it becomes quite obvious that those lyrics were changed for a reason! ("He had a whole lot of terminal shock in his eyes" -- what does that even mean?) The rest of the first set is usually OK (the two halves of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", minus the coda, sandwich "Have a Cigar"), but the second set and encore are Dark Side of the Moon and "Echoes", both of which the band were completely sick of playing by this time -- and, generally, it showed. (Particularly annoying are the backup singers they used for this tour, who don't manage to convey any feeling that they have much idea of what exactly they're singing about -- it just seems like sound and fury, in "Ooh" and "Whoa" form.) To make matters worse, they added a sax to "Echoes", which is every bit as bad an idea as you'd think.
All that said, I enjoy listening to this set, or what I've heard of it so far, quite a bit. After my experience with the famous bootleg Smoking Blues I spent a lot of time worrying that the lo-fi quality of so many audience tapes was actually masking a performance I wouldn't enjoy if I could hear it clearly. Thankfully, I got over that one quickly -- Smoking Blues is a great recording, but not a great performance, and there are plenty of other great-sounding tapes that I enjoy tremendously. Cruel But Fair isn't likely to end up as one of my all-time favorites, but it's a good set. Thanks again to the taper for braving angry cops and security guards to document this show.
Current music: Crystalized Movements -- Revelations from Pandemonium
May 13, 2002 (link)
"I Got a Record", lyrics by Margaret Flenory, sung by Bobbi Blake.
It opens with a chipper little G major beat, played by piano-bass-drums and, after a moment, a cheesy synth that reminds me of the string sound that Parliament always uses -- a sound I've never much liked. Over this, two backing vocalists -- a man and a woman singing in octaves -- cheerfully tell us that "I've got a record...I've got a record...I've got a record...I've got a record..." Given that beginning, and the title, I found myself expecting something like the scenes in Murmur of the Heart (aka Le Souffle au Coeur) where the jazz-loving little French Oedipus runs home with a brand-new copy of a Charlie Parker 78 and can hardly wait to put it on. So is this song a paean to the joys of getting a new record? No, not exactly...
Now Bobbi Blake comes in, her voice ridged with the distortion of cheaply-pressed vinyl (or a played-out acetate):
I got a record inside of me
Ouch. That's gotta hurt. (Cheap joke, I know.)
I can't turn it off
You mean you've got a gramophone in there too? Oh, no, wait, this is some sort of metaphor, isn't it...
Oh, I got a record inside of me
I suspect if someone started saying this to me, I'd start backing away slowly while trying to maintain eye contact.
Sometimes it makes me happy
Under this the backing vocalists chirp "Happy!" and "Makes me sad!", the latter without any particular pathos: "it makes me sad, and that's great!" they might as well be saying.
Sometimes my heart rejoices
This is starting to sound like the kind of record for which one prescribes lithium.
I got a record inside of me
At this point we're wondering whether the record in question has been telling our protagonist to set fires in abandoned buildings and that sort of thing.
I got a record inside of me
The vocal melody isn't exactly moving at a fast pace here, yet we're repeating the first verse verbatim. Most song-poems seem to have too many words ("And I can hear 'em"), but this one seems to have too few -- which means that we'll have a lot of repetition, but also means that we'll probably be spared the seemingly inevitable spoken-word interlude. (Putting the "song" back in song-poem, as it were.)
And now we get the plot twist:
It says, blessed are the people
Aha, I knew it. You get us hooked with the catchy melody and then, boom, you hit us with the Christian message. Sneaky, sneaky.
I got a record inside of me
Notice the switcheroo -- now the "Oh" comes before the last line. Is it a compositional device, or a Bobbi Blake improvisation? We'll have to track her down, interview her, see if she can remember...
I got a record inside of me
And so the line of demarcation between religious fervor and chronic schizophrenia is, yet again, shown to be a rather blurry one. On the other hand, I'm sure Wesley Willis would love to have some benevolent voices in his head for a change -- and at least this record isn't telling anyone to turn a harmony joy bus ride into a fit-throwing hell ride.
Current music: Nilsson -- "Everybody's Talking" (You know, this is a really great song, "bwah-bwah-wah-ha-wah-wah" notwithstanding. I love those guitar parts, and his falsetto too.)
May 12, 2002 (link)
Another Sharpeworld link: Threnody for the Victims of Zarathustra? The last part is one of the most cacophonous things I've ever heard!
I think this is really terrific. Playing the samples that are already there is fun; uploading your own samples, and getting to hear them with a 15-second natural reverb, is even better, especially if you keep listening to the stream and the next person in plays your song (which is pretty likely, since it ends up at the top of the list, but hearing a visitor specifically choose to play a piece of mine was still a pleasant surprise). But the best of all is calling in (the number can be found on the "concept" page) and speaking or singing or, in my case, playing the trumpet into the phone, and hearing it 40 seconds later with that huge reverb. I don't know how many incoming calls they can take at one time, but I know at least one other person was there while I was, though we didn't really interact. I'd love to get a few of my friends together and call in at the same time, with voices or instruments or anything else, and make some good noises.
By the way, I got the link to Silophone from Sharpeworld, which is a nice site with lots of links to amusing oddities, musical and otherwise.
You know what I'd like to hear? A bootleg mix of Seefeel's "Plainsong" and Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'". Somebody make it happen. How exactly does one pull the vocals off a track without taking the backing with it? The Thompson vocal eliminator (from which I usually get at least a couple hits a week) works, I assume, by putting one stereo channel out of phase and summing the result to mono, which has the effect of throwing out whatever was panned center. But I can't get my mind around how one would do the opposite -- throw out information that was panned to one side or the other, leaving only the stuff in the middle. Now that I think about it, if you took the above out-of-phase mono signal, and applied it to one channel of the original stereo signal, then -- if the channel you applied it to was the one that was out-of-phase in the mono signal, let's call it "left" -- wouldn't you end up with an intact center channel, none of the sound that was panned exclusively left, and twice as much of the sound that had been panned exclusively right? Or would you just end up with the equivalent of having taken the raw right channel to begin with? I suspect the latter.
Current music: Afronaut -- "Shapin Fluid"
May 5, 2002 (link)
Nearly a year to the day since I started it, here's the seventh and, for now, final entry in my Deep Chill Network review project:
All in all, if I were to make myself a 74-minute mix CD of the best DCN tracks available on the site, it would probably be something like this (though probably not in this order):
I guess the next logical thing to do would be to actually buy a Deep Chill Network album, no? My list is sorted in order of how much I like each track, but Cyber Sleep 1, from which my favorite "Stage 1 (CS 1)" is taken, is -- as I've lamented here before -- completely unavailable. However, my next two choices, "Slumber" and "Feather", are both on Dreams 1 which is still in print, so that seems a logical choice. When I have a bit of spare cash (ha), I'll try to pick it up, and if so I'll definitely review it! (I'm sure you're thrilled.)
Current music: Deep Chill Network -- various tracks
May 4, 2002 (link)
Lots of different interesting moments over the past week, but little time to jot them down...
It was quite a surprise to hear the Tonite Let's All Make Love in London version of "Interstellar Overdrive" on the radio last week. Granted, it was college radio, but still, they played all 14 minutes of it. A song or two later they played some band from New Jersey called The Want, who have apparently broken up but who sounded more like Led Zeppelin than any other band-trying-to-sound-like-Zeppelin I've ever heard -- only the vocals gave it away, though they were still very, very similar to Plant.
I got on a minor Weather Report kick last week, too, digging out my copies of Heavy Weather and Night Passage. I did some shopping with Heavy Weather on my Discman, which was nice. I've never been fond of "A Remark You Made", and was half-expecting to like it this time around after not having heard it for years, but if anything it sounded cheesier than ever. On the other hand, the rest of the album sounded great, especially the B-side of the original LP -- "Rumba Mama", "Palladium", "The Juggler" and "Havona". "The Juggler" is just gorgeous -- I first heard that track more than a decade ago, and it still seems fresh, as does "Havona". I poked around on Google for a transcription/translation of "Rumba Mama", but couldn't find a damn thing, much to my surprise: anyone know what Manolo Badrena is singing? That search led me to Weather Report: The Annotated Discography, which has a lot of nice interview excerpts and background information. Interesting fact (though I don't think I got this one from the discography) -- apparently, the Japanese version of Mysterious Traveller has a bonus track called "Miroslav's Tune". I tracked down an MP3 of it in short order, since Mysterious Traveller is one of my all-time favorite albums. I can see why they left it off the disc, though, as it wouldn't fit in with the rest of the tracks at all. It sounds more like an outtake from Sweetnighter, but not an especially good one -- it comes off as rambling and unfocused, with occasional and very disruptive intrusions from a string section. By the way, there are some pretty harsh words from Zawinul about Miroslav on the discography's page for Mysterious Traveller.
Speaking of harsh words, the Hang-ups album I lambasted some months back plays a hell of a lot better over headphones. When I listen to it on my home system it sounds harsh and overblown, but walking around with it on my Discman, sonically it sounded pretty good -- the compression helps it to cut through when you're walking busy city streets. (In fact it's so compressed that it seemed nearly as loud on volume setting "2" as my Miles Davis bootleg did on setting "8".) None of this, however, can really make up for the album's faults. The lyrics and arrangements are weak, and the vocals leave me completely unengaged -- they remind me of the backup singers on the theme music to VH-1's "Pop-Up Video". There's no life to them -- they seem absent, even vacant.
Current music: Harmonium -- Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison (a Canadian album from 1975 with a lot of nice parts, including some very pretty Mellotron playing)
Tom Jones, Henry Fielding
The Once and Future King, T.H. White
The Computer Connection, Alfred Bester
Richard II, Shakespeare