Eyes That Can See in the Dark

a music journal

April 30, 2003 (link)

10:26 PM

From sad news to, well, completely surreal news: Low will be opening for Radiohead on their European tour this summer, with Karla Schickele of Ida filling in on bass. It feels a bit through-the-looking-glass, but it's certainly great news, and such an opportunity for them is long overdue. Here's hoping the Radiohead fans treat them with respect and goodwill (and no matter how bad it gets, it still probably won't be as bad as the Soul Coughing fans were).

(Comments for April 30, 2003)

April 29, 2003 (link)

2:31 AM

I came across a reference to "Live Is Life", a song by a band called Opus, and immediately thought of this old, unsolved mystery of mine. I tried to track it down, but could only find a live "stadium mix", not the original. So I went with what I could get, and downloaded that. Assuming the two versions are relatively similar: it's not the song I remember, but it's far closer than any of the other leads I've had. In fact, it's so close -- the same key (A minor) and a similar melodic figure (high C going to a high B) -- that I'm starting to wonder whether the Opus song might in fact be what I heard that night...which would mean that many of the most distinctive details I remember -- the A minor / E minor chord progression, the piano, the Romantics-esque feel -- were in fact a fabrication, figments of my imagination.

Which would, in turn, mean that I'd be free to write and record the song I "remember"! It certainly wouldn't be the first time that's happened in music -- "Interstellar Overdrive", for instance, was based on a misremembered guitar line from Love's cover of "My Little Red Book" -- nor the first time I've made up alternate/different parts to existing songs. Back when I was 10 or 11, and they'd run ads on TV for greatest hits compilations on TV ("Freedom Rock", et al.), I used to listen to the 5-second snippets they'd play of various tracks, and if it wasn't a track I knew, I'd make up my own continuation for what came after the end of the excerpt. Among others, "American Woman" and "Bend Me, Shape Me" got that treatment. (I don't remember what I came up with for the former, but the continuation I wrote in my head for "Bend Me, Shape Me" was pretty dull.)

2:20 AM

Right now the Greatest Song Ever is "Singing a Song in the Morning", by Kevin Ayers. I'd only heard of it because of the persistent (and false) rumors that Syd Barrett played on it, which has led to its inclusion on many Pink Floyd-related bootlegs. (Barrett did lay down a guitar track for the song, but it wasn't used.) "Singing a Song in the Morning" is included as part of the new 2-CDR set In the Wood: The Complete Rarities 1968-1974, which collects basically every known Syd Barrett recording that hasn't been officially released, plus a few bonus tracks, of which this is one. I didn't like it at first, but now I can't get it out of my head, in a Y. Bhekhirst sort of way. Not that it sounds like Y. Bhekhirst -- it certainly doesn't -- but it has the same quality of insinuation-through-repetition, and it pairs it with a pretty irresistible hook that borders on the anthemic (and reminds me a bit of the surprise musical ending to the skit "The Jew, the Italian, and the Red-Head Gay" from The State).

12:25 AM

I've always really liked Freddie Hubbard's "Red Clay", but it seems like just about every recorded version I've ever heard of it somehow falls short. I heard him play it in Boston in 1991 -- with, among others, a young Christian McBride on electric bass -- and it was an incendiary performance that bordered on the definitive (as I recall, anyway: I wish I had a tape of the show!). Everything locked right into place, and the solo section was tight and full of blistering work from the rhythm section -- something it never seems to do in studio performances. McBride, in particular, was on fire, and played a mean slap bass solo.

I also remember a cassette that Morgan used to have that had a pretty good performance of "Red Clay" on it. I think it was a broadcast from the Detroit Jazz Festival that he taped off the radio; the tape's probably long gone, and I'm not sure that they even announced who the musicians were (it definitely wasn't Freddie Hubbard). It's been more than a decade since I've heard it, so I don't know what I'd think of it now, but at the time I liked it. I think they played it in C minor, and I hadn't heard the Red Clay album at the time, so I remember being surprised when I discovered that the studio version was in C# minor.

And said studio version was, and for the most part has always been, a big disappointment to me. I enjoy it, but compared to the live versions it's always felt anemic -- which, to be fair, is hard to avoid when you play that kind of tune in the studio. Part of the problem is Lenny White, who's always seemed a little too tentative; part of the problem is Ron Carter who, though he does a reasonable job comping, then turns around and plays what is very possibly one of the all-time worst bass solos in the history of jazz. (At the very least, it's certainly one of the most incongruous.)

Suddenly, I think I remember reading that he had a cold that day -- or am I confabulating that memory? But even if it's true, it doesn't explain why, on the live recording of "Red Clay" that's included as a bonus track on the new remaster of the album, his solo is just as bad (and just as groove-breaking). On the other hand, the live version definitely has a bit more fire to it, and with Billy Cobham on board, there's a good deal more punch to the drums. But the rest of the rhythm section is a letdown: Johnny Hammond's no Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter's definitely no James Jamerson -- even John Paul Jones would probably be an improvement! -- and George Benson, while his solo is a reasonably good one, is in absolutely dire need of a distortion pedal: his clean jazz-guitar sound doesn't cut through, doesn't "sing", and seems woefully thin and out of place in this context -- which is a real shame, as there's nothing wrong with his ideas.

Finally, the worst version of "Red Clay" I've ever heard -- other than ones I've played myself, of course -- is from the Charles Earland album Leaving This Planet. I bought that CD, at a rather inflated price no less, specifically because it had "Red Clay" on it (and Freddie Hubbard too). I figured that since Earland was an organist, it'd have to be funky, right? Wrong: it was an absolutely atrocious, Muzak-ified rendition that bordered on the unlistenable, as did the rest of the album. I've seen some good reviews for that disc, but I thought it was total dreck, and suspect I would still feel the same way if I were to revisit it. (It's one of only a handful of discs that I've ever gotten rid of -- I gave it to my college music library.)

Current music: Atom Heart - Dots

(Comments for April 29, 2003)

April 28, 2003 (link)

8:08 PM

Zak Sally leaves Low. Assuming it's true, it's very sad news; I don't doubt in Al and Mim's ability to keep making great music, but he'll definitely be missed.

2:20 AM

Things I wanted to say about "I Love My New Shears", but couldn't figure out where to fit in:

  1. It's faster than "Roygbiv" -- it's actually pretty quick by BOC standards.

  2. The beats are great, too -- every element is perfectly placed, and the bass drum in particular has some nice syncopated figures that work really well. It's interesting to compare this track to "Track 18", which has far more of a hip-hop flavor.

  3. One of the things I always find myself thinking about BOC is how much one can learn from them. I can't think of anyone else working in electronic music who can construct a song so tightly -- they conjure so much out of such simple materials! -- and at the same time manage to suggest such a depth of hidden complexity and subtlety.

  4. I'd like to draw a chart of the different asymmetries/irregularities in this track and see where they line up with each other. It's intriguing that the main synth line places its variation at the start of its loop, rather than later on; the net effect is almost subliminal, in that you'd be hard-pressed to notice the variation unless you were listening for it, and yet I suspect it's a key part of what makes the song work so well.

  5. It reminds me of Marble Madness, though I'm not sure that's entirely justified.

  6. This song makes me, as a listener, do something I don't normally do as often as I should: with each repeat play, I find myself focusing in on different individual elements for the duration of the song -- the hi-hat, for instance -- and listening to whether and/or how they change over the course of the track.

1:13 AM

Boards of Canada fans take note: the BOC Yahoogroup is abuzz with discussion of two old demo tapes, called A Few Old Tunes and Old Tunes Vol. 2, that have recently turned up on Soulseek (first as .ogg files, then as MP3s). Rumors about these files have been flying fast and furious -- if you read through the archives, you'll see some major-league soap opera theatrics playing themselves out -- but the consensus seems to be that the tapes are legit. Interestingly, rumor also has it that they were circulating among "elite" traders (and were likely being sold, on CDR, at very high prices) for a couple years before the tapes were leaked to the general public -- apparently, by someone quite close to the band.

I'm on a Mac and can't use Soulseek, but I turned up a weblink that had five of the songs, which I downloaded. After listening a few times, I'd say they're the real thing. The site where I found the tracks didn't have track titles for a couple of the songs ("Track 18" from A Few Old Tunes and "23" from Old Tunes Vol. 2); the others are "I Love My New Shears", "Trapped (Remix)", and the picturesquely named "Prancelot Brainfire". So far my reaction to the tracks varies; "Trapped (Remix)" features a slowed-down R&B vocal that's a bit ear-catching at first, but doesn't really give me much in the way of the Boards of Canada fix, whereas on the other hand, "Track 18" (I think this one's real name may be "Sequoia"?) sounds like a first cousin to "Roygbiv" from Music Has the Right to Children -- infectious, leaping analog synth lines, playing cyclical melodies over a loose, shuffling beat with a bass drum that goes whump on the downbeat. In other words, it's quite good.

But my favorite is definitely "I Love My New Shears", which is probably one of the best things I've ever heard from BOC. It's also a relative of "Roygbiv", but in a different way: like that song, it takes a static, fairly simple progression as its ground, and, by setting it against other lines whose internal motion is different, creates a composite harmonic texture that's very rich and pleasing. It's one of Boards of Canada's best tricks; in the case of "Roygbiv", the central figure is a set of very basic piano chords that I've talked about before, which combine with the countermelodies around them (especially the bassline) in a way so subtle and clever, and yet so natural, that it's almost impossible to harmonically individuate the piano chords without hearing them on their own (while at the time their simplicity informs the song, and helps to give it that ingenuous quality that makes it so pleasing).

In "I Love My New Shears", the ground is an analog synth line, arpeggiating parallel sus2 chords (with one slight variation in the opening chord): Asus2, Bsus2, Dbsus2, Absus2, repeated twice. Against that is set, first, a relatively simple countermelody, and then a sort of bassline, jumping up and down in fifths, that starts out in parallel motion -- A, B, Db, Ab -- but then sidesteps: F#, G#, Bb, F. The net harmonic effect, over eight bars, is: Asus2(#11), Bsus2, Dbsus2, Absus2, F#m7, G#m7, Bbm7, Fm7. It may sound dry on paper, but it works really well, and is to me an example of Boards of Canada at their best -- taking transparent musical materials and putting them together in unstereotyped ways to make beautiful, subtly assymmetrical songs. And -- again like "Roygbiv" -- it's over just a little bit too soon, leaving you to reach for the repeat button and play it once more.

Current music: Boards of Canada - "I Love My New Shears"

(Comments for April 28, 2003)

April 26, 2003 (link)

2:00 AM

"Joedy Is A Wise Guy", lyrics by White-Dienna, sung by Bob Gerard.

We start out with guitar, bass, drums, and a little piano, playing a stop-start figure in C major whose rhythm reminds me of...what, exactly? Some Johnny Cash tune whose name I don't know comes to mind (it's the one with trumpets), as well as that Papa's-gonna-buy-you-a-diamond-ring song, but I think I'm thinking of something different.

Joedy is a wise guy
He steals a girl and tells her lies

He apparently spells his name rather unconventionally, too. I wonder if his pals are named Vynnij and Rahquo.

What makes him so cool
He tries to be smooth

If trying to be smooth were the thing that makes a person "so cool" and able to get girls, I would've had a lot more fun in high school. (Actually, that's not true -- I never really tried to be smooth. I probably should've; sincerity's better suited to college, I suspect.)

And with you away, you're bound to lose

"Absence makes the heart go wander", I guess. I get the feeling that the authors of these lyrics weren't voted "Most Popular" -- or "Most Likely to Teach Prosody and/or Grammar", for that matter.

Joedy doesn't fake

This could be "feint", which seems unlikely but would make more sense: weren't we just talking about how Joedy likes to engage in trespasses on credulity which exceed his best? (I'll send a peanut butter cookie to anyone who recognizes that quote without needing to use Google.) (You're on the honor system.) (But if you cheat, may your genitals malfunction unpredictably.)

He'll ask your girlfriend for a date
And when you receive the news, you'll be blue
'Cause your love is gone without you being clued

There are so many other ways to write that last line, almost all of them less awkward and better-rhymed. Besides, maybe we're more resourceful and observant than White and Dienna think! And wait, why are we "away" again? We're about to find out:

He seeks the girls whose guys told Uncle Sam "Hi"

That's one of the stranger euphemisms for military service I've ever heard, particularly since (as we'll soon discover) White and Dienna are talking about the draft. Most guys who got drafted probably told Uncle Sam something more like "OH PLEASE GOD NO LOOK I'M GAY AND A COMMUNIST AND I HEAR VOICES LEMME-OUT-LEMME-OUT-LEMME-OUT!!", but maybe I'm wrong.

What makes it so bad
He's got a boss pad

Yeah, damn, you know, whenever I lose my girl to another guy, it's his nice apartment that hurts the most. "I mean, I'd be OK, if he didn't have such nice lighting and such high square footage...and his Oriental rugs, each one is like a nail in my heart..."

And then you receive a letter from her

Straight out of South Philly: "And then you receive a lettah from huh."

Labelled "Hi, Dad"

And this is such a blow -- such a kick in the teeth -- that Bob Gerard has to say it again:

Labelled "Hi, Dad"!

He sounds so incredulous and angry! "How could she!"

Joedy's no machine
He's cool and smart and tough and mean

So wait, you say he's not a machine, but this Joedy sounds unstoppable! It looks hopeless! But wait:

But he can be licked

I don't think the visual conjured by this line is the intended one...

And he can be whipped

...and this one tells me a lot more about Joedy than I wanted to know. Are his middle initials D.A.F.? (No cookie for that one, but I'll be impressed.)

Because Uncle Sam will get him just like you

Oh, great, that's a huge comfort! I think White and Dienna are wildly overestimating the power of schadenfreude. "Yeah, your girlfriend is playing the mango game with this Joedy, but he'll be in the army soon, too. This news will no doubt be enough to sustain you through long months of being shot at, receiving soap-in-a-sock barracks beatings, playing Russian roulette in a tiger cage, and other such delights."

So now we get a guitar solo, an unremarkable bit of sub-Herb Ellis noodling. After eight bars or so, the bass tries to go the dominant, but the rest of the band takes a moment to follow. However, in their indecision, they manage to stumble, pretty much en masse, and nearly trainwreck before going back into the "bridge":

He seeks the girls whose guys has told Uncle Sam "Hi"

Another ramshackle transition, another botched lyric and grammar accident.

What makes it so bad
He's got a boss pad

What was the key to having a boss pad in nineteensixtysomething, anyway? They didn't have quadraphonic sound, or 8-track players, and Marvin Gaye wasn't yet at his peak.

And then you receive a letter from her
Labelled "Hi, Dad"

So is "Hi, Dad" meant to be symbolic of the breakdown of intimacy, or of the subsitution of amicable distance for romantic passion? Because it just sounds Electra-complex to me. Speaking of Elektra, the Doors are coming to Philadelphia! Ridiculous though it no doubt is, I'd almost be curious enough to see it, if tickets didn't start at $50...

Labelled "Hi, Dad"

No anger this time -- it's just matter-of-fact, with a hint of resignation and sympathy. Then you hear Bob Gerard try to cue the band back into the verse -- "Two" -- but he's early by two beats, lands in completely the wrong place, and messes everybody up. Anywhere else, that'd be time for a new take -- but not in the world of song-poems!

Joedy's no machine

So, despite his virtues, not really Gladia Demarre's type, then. (No cookie for that one, either.)

He's cool and smart and tough and mean

Whereas before, Bob Gerard growled the line out emphatically -- "TOUGH and MEAN!" -- this time the line comes out in a rush of pissed-off, yet ineffectual frustration.

But he can be licked

I just picture a PFC bursting into tears and punching Bob Gerard, for taking his half-formed, repressed mental image and blowing it up into full Technicolor.

And he can be whipped
Because Uncle Sam will get him just like you

Have I mentioned how glad I am that the draft hasn't been reinstated? (Knock on wood...)

And the song fades off into the sunset, taking Joedy, Bob Gerard, and the poor PFC with it.

Current music: "Joedy"

(Comments for April 26, 2003)

April 20, 2003 (link)

7:44 PM

Marshall Marrotte: Hi Mr. Grimes, it's really incredible to finally meet you and have a chance to talk for a while.

Henry Grimes: It's nice to meet you too, Marshall. What would you like to talk about?

Marshall Marrotte: I wanted to ask you about what you have been up to all these years, what caused you to leave music, and your recollections of friends and musicians like Sonny Rollins, Don Cherry, Albert Ayler...

Henry Grimes: How is Albert doing?

Marshall Marrotte: Well, I hate to be the one to tell you, but Albert passed away in 1970. There is still some debate as to what happened: some say he committed suicide, others say he was murdered. His body was found in the East River in New York City.

Henry Grimes: Oh man, really? Wow, I didn't know that. That's terrible.

And this interview was conducted in late 2002!

A rather moving footnote to this story: after all these years, he has a bass again. It's named Olive Oil and it comes thanks to the generous heart of William Parker, who donated one of his spare basses (and a bow) and arranged to have it refurbished.

Current music: Charles Gayle -- "Redemption" from Consecration (I put this CD on before I happened upon the interview above, which is a pretty strange coincidence since I listen to it so seldom.)

12:36 PM

The odd thing is, despite not updating this site for three weeks, if anything I've gotten more hits than usual (I suspect in part because I linked to the Trogdor game at Homestarrunner.com).

I've been predicting for some time now that April would be a very busy month, and indeed it has -- two concerts, six different US states (seven if you count DC), an obnoxious knee injury, several very important birthdays, a huge project at work, and so on. It'll be a few days before things calm down, I think; when that happens, I hope to do another song-poem review, and perhaps a transcription of Rainer Brüninghaus's solo on "The Colours of Chloe" -- we'll see. (Listening to an MP3 of that in Audion, when I turn on the "karaoke" feature, Eberhard Weber disappears completely! Normally that's a bad thing, but when you're trying to transcribe a piano solo, a big, warm bass sound tends to get in the way.)

But for now, here's the tracklist of my entry in the CD club we've got going. Club members shouldn't read this, unless they want to spoil their surprise! It's three audio discs (plus a data disc); sharp readers will note that the third is pretty much identical to this disc.

Current music: Fuchsia -- "Shoes and Boots"

(Comments for April 20, 2003)


just finished:

Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare

The Young Visiters [sic], Daisy Ashford


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