Eyes That Can See in the Dark

a music journal

July 30, 2002 (link)

12:59 AM

If anyone has any requests for my next song-poem review (which, according to my schedule, should come sometime in the second week of August or so), I'm more than happy to do my best to accommodate you -- just leave a comment or drop me an email. Personally, for what it's worth, I'd rather do an obscure one than one of the better-known tracks (relatively speaking!) like "Believe in God Until You Die" or "Psychic Cigarette". And there isn't too much to say about "Rockin' and Rollin'" or, for that matter, the Rodd Keith songs, most of which are pretty straightforward (and, owing to Rodd's gifts, generally low on opportunities for cheap shots). But like I said, if you have one in mind, drop me a line! Oh, and it has to be available for web download, which will probably mean it's hosted at the ASPMA MP3 site.

12:47 AM

J: bedhead's "Parade" really is a very nice song. Gotta love that build. Gotta love that triumphant D / C at the end of it.
P: i fuckin' love that song.
P: that moment where the 2nd guitar comes in, after the distorted solo,
P: is moving!
J: yes!
P: it's so sweet, almost brings tears to my eyes...it's
P: like it's saying "everything will be ok...it's ok..."
J: really quite touching and unaffected.
P: or not quite that, but something like that.
P: yes, completely.
P: so gentle.
J: no, it is rather saying that, but in a big-brother, I'll look after you sort of way. Not like a lover, per se.
P: yeah, that works. it's definitely not a sex thing -- more of, yes, either a fraternal or spiritual thing.
J: spot-on.
P: when i heard that passage, i knew that i was, belatedly, a bedhead fan.
P: as in, if they make sounds like that, i'm on their side.
P: i think that whole album -- transaction de novo -- is my favorite of anything of theirs i've heard.
J: sure. I still rather like 'beheaded,' too, even though it's so damn cold and frigid and fragile and forlorn.
J: mine too, ultimately.

It's funny, I was lucky enough to see them play the whole album (plus some other tracks including "Disorder", which closed the set) at one of their final shows back in 1998, but at the time I didn't much appreciate it -- in part because I'd never really heard them before, and in part because I was a bit distracted by what I will delicately describe as "a minor health difficulty I was having at the time", but more than anything because I wanted them to be more like Low or Amanset or Transona Five. Once that I accepted the fact that they weren't, I realized they were great. Actually, by the end of the concert I was starting to get into it -- "Disorder" felt good, and I didn't even know it was a cover tune.

current music: "For Morgan's party, June 15, 2002 (deep piano scape)"

(Comments for July 30, 2002) (2 comments so far)

July 28, 2002 (link)

1:59 PM

And now, a track-by-track of All Tuscany and No Melon, a mixtape given to me by Absintheur a while back:

Side A:

The tape opens with a guy who has a sad, stranded story to tell. He needs to clean up his potty mouth, though. And maybe get a little extra help.
  1. "Rimshot (Intro)" -- Erykah Badu

    Once you start hearing her vocal line as something ending in "-job", rather than "-shot", there's just no chance of fixing it. It goes from being a bit of playful banter with the drummer, to a request for something altogether different.

  2. "Java Jive" -- The Ink Spots

    Snagging a tape copy of "The Best Of the Ink Spots" was one of the nicer free-music finds I've ever made. I don't know if I'd have ever bothered looking into them if they hadn't been namechecked by G. Love and Special Sauce in "Blues Music"! I remember putting this on in the suite with Jeremy, and having him turn to me, open-mouthed, and say "This is awesome." And it is! People who like, say, hair metal often seem to end up discussions in which someone backs them up into a corner and forces them to answer "yes" or "no" to the question "So you like this ironically, right?" I usually have little sympathy for their predicament, but in a way I suppose I feel something a bit similar when I'm listening to the Ink Spots. Actually, that's a terrible analogy, but I'll leave it, as it at least sketches the outlines of what I'm trying to say -- that is, simultaneously thinking "This is kind of silly" and "This is really good". This track is fairly low on the silly factor, though, as it's sung by the tenor and is free of the "honeychile" spoken-word section that shows up on about two-thirds of their songs.

  3. "Blue Lines" -- Massive Attack

    It sometimes seems like Massive Attack has been poised, waiting to capture my interest, for years and years now. The sound-world of their music is, from what I've heard of it, pretty much to my taste, and I like their delivery. So why haven't I sought anything more out? Perhaps, like Portishead, it's music I get into when I hear it in cafés or dorm rooms or on the radio -- in short, when other people are playing it. But then again, sitting here, listening to it, I'm enjoying it, it feels good -- and yet I have no urge to try to track down one of their albums. Maybe the biggest reason is that I feel a strange conviction that if I do seek out more of their stuff, 90% of it just won't work for me. Actually, the biggest reason is probably that I saw a shitty video of theirs on MTV that put me off.

  4. "Steppin' to the AM" -- 3rd Bass

    Did Pink Floyd ever sue them? There's something incredibly driving about this song, it's right in the pocket and up but loose. I think part of that comes from the loop starting out with the bass on one and the snare on three, without anything else in between. I doubt I could quote a single line from it except for "What's the time?" and the title, but I still like it a lot. Another good thing about it: its tonal ambiguity, which is in part caused by having samples in completely different keys (C#-sharp minor, B minor, D minor). I remember reading an interview with Bernie Worrell where he criticizes hip-hop for being insensitive to tonality, and I certainly understand where he's coming from, but sometimes those collisions, intentional or not, lead to great results.

    And now we get the first of many interludes featuring a rather cranky-sounding older woman haranguing a poor hapless fellow named Rick. He just can't do anything right. This time, it's answering the phone.

  5. "Dunford's Fancy" -- The Waterboys

    I knew a couple girls, twins, in high school who, as I recall, loved the Waterboys and U2 above all other bands. I think they might've played me a tape, but I don't remember it sounding like this -- a brief little moment for fiddle and guitar, a "fancy" indeed that's gone almost as soon as it feels like it's begun. (I'm a big fan of that sort of thing.) I remember one of the twins was kind enough to tape her copy of Einstein on the Beach for me. Like an idiot, I promptly used those very cassettes to try out my new idea of spray-painting my tape shells to make them look cool. Of course, I half-ruined them, and had to ask her to tape them again -- which, at three hours, is no small task. She was I'm sure annoyed, the more so when she gave the tapes back to me: "What did you do to this tape?" she asked.

    Poor Rick. Now Mike's gotta move his cah.

  6. "The Girl I Love, She Got Long Black Wavy Hair" -- Led Zeppelin

    David, Roger, Nick, Richard. (Syd, even.) As we can see here, the BBC session tapes are good enough for Led Zeppelin to release them officially. Why won't you do the same, guys?

    Now Rick's on the coals for a whole bunch of things: not shoveling his share of the snow, not cleaning the stairs, not stopping the toilet from running.

  7. "Snowshoe BBQ" -- Atom and his Package

    You know, based on precedent, I really shouldn't like this song. I can't stand They Might Be Giants, quickly grow weary of Negativland, and don't even have much patience for Ween. But somehow, this track works for me. Maybe it's the complete ludicrousness of the premise. Or maybe it's the audience participation section. I like those little sped-up voices chanting "Snowshoe! Barbecue!"

  8. "What is a Juggalo?" -- Insane Clown Posse

    Another song I "shouldn't" like, but do. Is it too easy to bring in Eminem, as an illustration of why I like this track? Probably.

    The water's running. The toilet's running. Will no one placate this woman?

  9. "Sayanora Anthem" -- Them Jazzbeards

    What in the world is this thing? I've resisted the temptation to look Them Jazzbeards up on Google, so I can't say I know a thing about them. I will, however, speculate that they're either Irish, or wish they were. I can't figure this track out: synth-sounding piano, playing a very basic 6/8 arpeggio over stock chord changes (G / D / F / C). Odd, windy-farty sound effects lurking in the background. '80s drums complete with heavy reverb, gated snare and, on the intro, an amount of flanger that ought to be illegal. And over all this, a violin melody of the kind critics like to call "long-limbed", which after a while is taken up by the soprano sax (with slightly questionable intonation at times). I've no idea what to make of this.

  10. "At Last! Riots on Spofforth Hill / Sometimes I Worry / Track 21" -- Hood

    The cryptic, lo-fi, fragmentary quality of Daniel Johnston's recordings on Hi, How Are You makes them seem elusive and full of invention. The cryptic, lo-fi, fragmentary quality of these Hood recordings just makes me feel confused. I think it's the vocals, but for whatever reason, Hood and I have just never connected. On the other hand, "Track 21" is lovely and almost painfully short -- I like it far more than anything else I've ever heard from Hood.

  11. "Spitalfields" -- Red Snapper

    These guys remind me a bit of Cerberus Shoal, though I suspect that there's a fair amount of sampling going on here. I like the premises of this track, but it lacks the arc and shape that would make it fully engaging. Not that I'm recommending the Godspeed approach to dynamics, but I feel like there's something a little more needed to really make this song come alive. I wonder if they've heard George Carlin's routine about their band name?

  12. "M.M.'s Dunk" -- George Winston

    Nothing wrong with this track. I was afraid it'd be a solo piano track along the lines of his reinterpretations of Vince Guaraldi, which I find...less than compelling. But instead it's a cute little hornpipe for solo harmonica, lasting all of a minute and a half. If he's playing this piece himself, he's a pretty good harmonica player.

  13. "I Like Your Mom" -- Bouncing Souls

    Brevity is the soul of wit.

  14. "Handwriting" -- The Rachels

    I'm going to have to invoke the Thumper's mother clause here. I've heard Rachels tracks that I didn't mind at all -- even rather liked -- but this isn't one of them. I could go on, but I won't.

    Side A closes with an excerpt from a motivational speaker, who tells us that people like to work with people whom they describe as being open and candid, positive, consistent, and decisive (he helpfully tells us that that's "able to make a decision"). Before he can say anything more, with perfect timing, the tapeside decides to end.

Side B:

You thought it was rain!
  1. "Didacts and Narpets" -- Rush

    Oh, look, someone must have bumped Neil's on switch. Listen, our power bill's been high this week...could you go over there and turn him off?...Yeah, don't mind Geddy, he's just backwards today. Ah, that didn't take long. Thanks.

  2. "1/2 Man, 1/2 Amazing" -- Pete Rock & Method Man

    I can point to any aspect of this track and say to myself, "Yeah, that's pretty good", but somehow the whole never feels any better than OK to me. It seems thin, plodding, a bit random. I like that guitar sample, though.

  3. "Queen of the Long-Legged Insects" -- Lullaby for the Working Class

    About a third of the way through this track, something happened to the tape, so it suddenly drops out and comes back in a gradual sort of nyuyuyyyulp. I can't really figure out what the lyrics are getting at.

  4. "Chickfactor" -- Belle & Sebastian

    My favorite part of this track is the little sidestep the chords do at the very end of the form: A7/G, D, A7/G, D, Bb/C. That last chord is a really nice touch -- I don't really understand how it gets us back to G major, but it works. Is that a Mellotron? That's a toy I'd love to have.

  5. "North Sea Oil" -- Jethro Tull

    This song -- which is almost a full half-step fast on the tape -- lies right on the border between the era of Jethro Tull that I like, and the one I don't. I wish I could articulate what makes intricacy seem like fussiness in one piece of music and invention in another; perhaps it's another one of those rules that depends purely on one's perception of the track as a whole -- in other words, if the track as a whole works, it's intricate invention, and if it doesn't, it's wankiness. All that being said, there are some rhythmically interesting things going on here that are surprisingly easy not to pick up on, which is usually a sign of good songwriting: how many people really "notice" that the theme to Mission: Impossible is in 5/4, for instance? It feels right, so you don't question it unless you're really thinking about it (or trying to play it). That kind of thing is what I like about this track; the Rush-like overtones, and Ian Anderson's schtick (which by this point in this career is beginning to become wearing), are the things I don't. Maybe I'm just one of those people who should own Aqualung, Original Masters, and one or two others, and call it a day with them. It's hard to countenance that, though, considering how great an album Aqualung is. "Mother Goose" and "Wond'ring Aloud" are two of the more beautiful songs ever recorded.

  6. "Mama Said Knock You Out" -- LL Cool J

    This song has one of the greatest choruses I've ever heard in a hip-hop track. I love the way he growls it -- "Rrrrrrrraah'm gonna knock you out". And I love the little jumping dotted voice-rhythm that they put in after the second chorus. What are the voices saying there? It sounds like "Dank, wood-ay". This track works because LL Cool J's flow isn't smooth -- it's so fragmentary and start-stop that it seems like he doesn't need to hurry, he's so badass that he can take his time! "My nine is easy to load" is one of my favorite lines ever -- so simple, and yet so utterly menacing.

  7. "Wolftrap and Fireflies" -- Carbon Leaf

    After "Mama Said Knock You Out", this seems unfortunately bland. I think this song is a bit too by-the-numbers for my taste -- I keep waiting for a twist, but it never comes, and I feel like I know everything that's going to happen before it does. Nothing to impeach about their musicianship, though; I just need a little more, I think.

  8. "Black Satin/On the Corner" -- DJ Krush

    Is this from Bill Laswell's Panthalassa project? My general impression of that set has been that I'm OK with everything until they bring in the Miles samples -- and alas, I feel the same way about this. I don't know what it is, but this gives me the same creepy feeling that I get from those commercials that re-animate dead actors. I just don't feel like the music structurally reflects what Miles was musically "about" -- he's being used as a very surface-level signifier, like a patch on a keyboard or an 808 cowbell. The samples used for this track in particular, taken out of context as they are, make him sound weak and flabby, which only heightens the feeling of necrophilia. Perhaps I'd feel differently if I weren't so disappointed by the approach taken by the project as a whole; I was hoping for something more like Spool, Datacide, the Album Leaf, or the like. There's a deep, rich, ambient quality inside Miles' music, and this kind of treatment doesn't bring it out.

  9. "The Gator" -- Will Oldham

    I don't think I've ever heard a note from Will Oldham I didn't like at least a little bit. This track isn't particularly striking, and I couldn't remember how it went before I cued the tape up, but it has most of the things I like about his stuff -- the spareness, the tremulous voice, the patient and warm accompaniment. For a guy with lo-fi inclinations, his recordings sure sound nice -- most of the time, anyway.

  10. "Gold" -- Lamb

    Hate that vocalist -- it's a faux-blues-jazz style that drives me bugshit: if I wanted that, I'd rather listen to Macy Gray. Unfortunately, her part at the beginning is also the most interesting section of the song by far; the meter is almost impossible to pin down, and I'm left wondering where the hell the one is, which is a sensation I like. The drum programming weighs things down -- it's too heavy and foursquare. With a lighter touch on that, I might well have warmed to this track a bit; after all, I don't much like Bel Canto's vocalist, but I quite like "Unicorn", so those sorts of things can be overcome.

  11. "Black Sun..." -- Current 93

    "An ax-age, a sword age,
    Shields will be battered;
    A wind-age, a wolf-age,
    Before the world is shattered!"

    -- Twilight of the Gods: The First Name, Dennis Schmidt, p. 201

  12. "Last Days of Tecumseh" -- Grant Lee Buffalo

    This reminds me a little bit of my friend Hans's stuff, or his performance on the opening track of Jesse's John Glenn. It's over so quickly, I'm not sure what to think of it, but I do like that banjo.

  13. "Rimshot (Outro)" -- Erykah Badu

    OK, that's just gotta be intentional. I mean, I know there's innuendo there, but...? When I tried searching to see if anyone else agreed with me, I ended up with Trent Reznor/Brian Molko slash fiction in which Trent confesses "how much he adored the music of Erykah Badu"! Yikes.

current music: All Tuscany and No Melon

(Comments for July 28, 2002) (4 comments so far)

July 27, 2002 (link)

9:36 PM

It was hard work, took several hours, and will seem like the height of folly to 99 people out of 100, but for those that care, a little treat:

It's my pleasure to present a complete transcription, done by yours truly, of Shooby Taylor's vocal performance on "Stout-Hearted Men". It's only a syllabic transcription, as the musical element is relatively straightforward and would be a nightmare to notate, given Shooby's penchant for Sprechstimme. I've tried to make it as accurate as possible, but there are no doubt mistakes here and there, and there are certainly passages where there's plenty of room for disagreement. In the fast passages, Shooby's syllables are almost untranscribable, and in those cases I've done the best I could to render something of the phonetic shape of the line.

Without further ado:

Shooby Taylor - "Stout-Hearted Men"

Whee, shoo soo sah, shoo soo swah, shoo voo plah, doo doo rah, doo doo sah, doo doo rah
(Soo-da-li-twee-daht, soo-da-li-doo-ton-plee-blah)

Dwee, dah dah shrah, plah plah sah, dah dah rah, plav da shree, loh ku pah, dav du sah!
(Soo-da-li dwee-daht, soo-da-li doo-ton plah-blah)

Ray, shah-dah-hah, shah-plah-vrah, sah-vlah-sah, shah-plah-rah, sah-vlah-nah, shah-vlah-hah
Soo-day-li doom-bop, doo-dwee-bee-oo-ton-dwee-bee

Bim, soo-dee-lee dee-dah-lah-bay oo-dayt, dayt, dwee-bay-doo
Shrah, soo, shah, nah, rah, sah, pah, dah, hah
Soo-duh-lay dee daht, soo-duh-lay doh-ton twee-bop

Bim, soo-di-lee dee-buh-lah-bay diddle-ay doat-und vee-bah
Bim, doodle-ay deedle-lah-bay, soodle-ay doo-dah-laht-nn
Dwin-shoodle-ay-doo-goo-la, dwin-shoodle-ay-doo-goo-la
Bim, doo-bah-lah-odel-doo-bah-lah-bah-doo-buh-luh-buh-doo-bah-lah-bah

Bim, zhoo-doo-lay doo-goo-lah-bay doodle-ay doat-un dwee-bee, dah
Soo doo-zhoo-lah doo-goo-lah-bay doodle-ay doat-un dwee-bee
Poppy, poppy, poppy, poppy, poppy, poppy, poppy, poppy!
Soo shoo-doo-lay doo-goo-lah-bay doodle-ay doat-un dwee-bah

Bih-mm doo-goo-lah öh-ay-nn doodle-ay hooh-ay-nn doo-goo-lah öh-ay-nn doo-doo-ay
Bih-nn doo-goo-lah öh-ay-nn doo-goo-lah dooh-ay-nn doo-goo-lay oon-da-da-duh

Ooh oopy poopy, poppy poppy, poppy poppy da shra! Poppy da rah! Soo doo-ba-lay doo-dah!
Bim, soo-da-lee doo-goo-lah-bay doodle-ay doat-un dwee-bee doo drah!
Dah dah dah sah, buh doo hah rah!
Ho, ho, ho, ho! So, ho, ro, ho!
Do-o-oh, ho, ho droh, foo-dah-lay-pah
Bim, soo-da-lee dee-dah-lah-bay doodle-ay doat-un dwee-bay doo-ton
Dway, zhoo-da-lee doo-goo-lah-bay doodle-ay doat-un dwee-bee
Dun, zhoo-da-lee doo-goo-lah-bay doodle-ay doat-un dwee-bee
Hoppy poppy poppy poppy doppy doppy dop shra!

Bim, shoo-di-lah deedle-ah-bay doodle-ay doat-un dwee-bee
Bim soo-da-li duh-dah-lah-shree, soo-duh-lay doo-goo-lah-bay
Oodle-ay doat-un dwee-bee, dum shoo-doo shrah-dah,
Bim duh doh doh doh doh duh doh, bay-ton-doh-bul-ah-oodly-shoo-doo-lay!

(organ break)

Dim, zoo-duh-lay doo-dah-lah-bay doodle-ay doat-un dwee-bee oo-ton
Dwen zhoo-doo-lay doo-goo-lah-bay doodle-ay doat-un dwee-bee
Zschrun, zhoo-duh-lay doo-goo-lah-bah doodle-ay doat-un doh-bay
Peepy, poppy, peepy, poppy, doppy dop-ah foo-di-ah bah

Bim, zoo-duh-lay dee-dah-lah-bay doodle-ay doat-un dwee-bee
Skim, soo-doo-lay doo-goo-lah-bay doodle-ay doat-un dwee-bee
Vwin, shoo-doo-lay doo-goo-lah-bay oodle-ay doat-un dwee-bee
Dopey dopey dopey dopey driv-duh-doo schwa-a-a-a-ah!

In closing, an IM I got today from my lovely girlfriend:

H: i was looking at some out of alphabetical order encyclopedias the other day and thought how much they reminded me of shooby
H: sa do ra ta-tr

I thought that was pretty funny.

current music: Lee "Scratch" Perry and the Upsetters -- Super Ape

(Comments for July 27, 2002) (8 comments so far)

July 26, 2002 (link)

2:20 AM

At about 1:00 this afternoon, someone hit this site with over 7 MB of transfers in the space of under an hour. This, as it happened, put me way over the Tripod hourly bandwidth limit (something I didn't know existed: an hourly limit?), and so the site was suspended for about two hours. This has encouraged me to finally get my ass in gear and put up a mirror of the site, which can be found at http://rockoverlondon.co.uk/eyes. Don't change your links just yet, as I'm actually hoping to get it working at http://rockoverlondon.com/eyes and, until then, the Tripod site will be the "master" site. However, I definitely expect that to switch within the next couple months, with the Tripod site becoming the mirror and the Rockoverlondon.com/.co.uk site becoming the master site. When that happens, I'll put up a Javascript alert, or something equally annoying.

I still don't know how someone managed to pull down 7 MB from this site in under an hour -- you'd have to reload every page on my site half-a-dozen times to pull that off...

Quite a few of my friends love Radiohead, and quite a few hate Radiohead. I've never had a particularly strong opinion on the matter; sometimes I find myself warming up to them, and at other times I'm a bit put off by their production or by Thom Yorke's vocals. Whatever the case may be, I can conclusively say that, whatever its merits may be held to be, Kid A is one of the few albums I've heard in recent memory that have made me want to start playing it again as soon as it was over. (It's certainly the only Radiohead album that's ever gotten that reaction from me.) I'm neither particularly qualified nor inclined to defend it -- and after three or four listens over the past 24 hours, I'm still trying to figure out what I think of it -- but I do know that its sound-world is able to capture my interest. I'm also not inclined to think that my reaction is much affected by all the hype that surrounded this album when it was released; it certainly didn't overwhelm me when OK Computer came out -- if anything, hype tends to put me off.

current music: Sonic Youth -- NYC Ghosts & Flowers

(Comments for July 26, 2002) (6 comments so far)

July 24, 2002 (link)

11:56 PM

I (unintentionally) lied: I think I heard "Morning Bell" and possibly "Idioteque" on the radio a few months ago. I had thought the material I'd heard was from Amnesiac, but hearing "Morning Bell" now, I remember how it caught my ear at the time.

11:22 PM

To my knowledge, up until ten minutes ago, I'd never heard a note of Radiohead's Kid A. I'm listening to it on my headphones right now, and so far, it seems like it might be the best thing I've ever heard from them. So many good sounds!

current music: Radiohead -- "The National Anthem"

(Comments for July 24, 2002)

July 23, 2002 (link)

8:38 PM

"The Hill", lyrics by Nancy L. Abel, sung by Kay Weaver.

Once in a while you'll run into a song-poem that comes a lot closer to being a fully credible song than most of them do. Sometimes that just means it's boring; rubbernecking at musical and lyrical disasters is, for most people, the biggest draw of song-poems. (Maybe that's why I've never been that drawn to Rodd Keith's work -- he's too good at what he does!) Perhaps "The Hill" is one of those; free from any particularly deadly lyrical gaffes, it's actually got a reasonably interesting melody and some surprising chord changes which, if they're a bit precious, are still a nice change from the usual. So what sinks it? Read on...

We open on a ii / I progression, F-sharp minor 7th to E major 7th. The feel is Latin, a bit on the bossa side. Bass and drums are in the middle, guitar off to one side (with a heavy dose of phaser on it) and piano to the other. After a four-bar intro, Kay Weaver comes in:

(F#m7 / B7 | Emaj7)
The hill from my memories

You know the scene: it's a movie from the early '70s. She's wearing a sweater, he's got bad hair and a fringed jacket or something, and they're walking together through Central Park, or a beach in wintertime. If the piano were a Rhodes, it'd be perfect.

(Cm7 / F7 | Bbmaj7)
I still recall the hill

What a jump! Did Nancy L. Abel want a tritone leap? Well, she sure got one. It basically works -- as Coltrane discovered, nearly any leap is plausible if you make a ii/V/I out of it, and it also covers for one of the song's weaker lyrics. There's gotta be a name for that, when you prematurely and thuddingly repeat a word, but I don't know it.

(Fm7 / Bb7 | Ebmaj7)
Where I found my love early in the fall

It's about here that you start to notice that something seems wrong. Why isn't this song falling in the pocket? Sure, the rhythm section isn't so hot, but the songwriting is such that it ought to get that slightly cheesy, "Moonlighting"-theme-song vibe regardless.

(Dm7 / G7 | Cmaj7)
Where I once sat wanting him

And then you say to yourself: what if, instead of Kay Weaver singing this, it were Astrud Gilberto? And it becomes clear what the problem is: Ms. Weaver is just too loud, too much of a belter. The wrong person for the wrong song, as it were.

(F#m7 / B7 | Emaj7)
The hill where I felt strange yearnings

Laetitia Sadier-style prosody here -- "where I felt STRANGE yearn-INGS" -- such that I originally thought the line was "The hill where I felt strangen-ings", which is perhaps more interesting, if a bit psychotic.

(Cm7 / F7 | Bbmaj7)
And knew not my destiny nor path

The song begs for the world-weary tones of Gilberto -- heck, even Peggy Lee -- but she's channeling a second-rate version of Grace Slick. She hints at a lighter, almost nasal tonal quality on "And knew not" that would be a big improvement if she kept it up.

(Fm7 / Bb7 | Ebmaj7)
Where I was obsessed with strange burnings

It's like a rule, you know? Every song-poem either has to have a line with a homoerotic subtext, or a line that sounds vaguely like it came from the pen of a budding psychopath.

(Dm7 / G7 | Cmaj7 / C7)
When by chance I came to know the man

After this line, it sounds like we get something rather unusual in the world of song-poems: an edit! It's a bad one -- a choppy splice that sticks out like a sore thumb -- but given the fact that most song-poems are one-take, damn-the-torpedoes, no-mistake-is-too-heinous-to-go-unincluded affairs, it's a rare luxury. (Of course, it could just be a glitch in the transfer.)

(Fm7 / Bb7 | Ebmaj7)
Where once my hand in his he placed

(Asus | A)
And the fall began

There's definitely a family resemblance between the way she sings this line and the way Grace Slick hits those loud A's at the end of "White Rabbit" ("Feed your head! Feed your head!").

Suddenly a new harmonic leaf -- a modulation to A major, and we get the first chord progression in the song that isn't a ii/V/I! The sus-to-major sequence (think of the intro to "Pinball Wizard") sounds like it's going to take off into a double-time solo, and maybe the guitarist will get a chance to show off his chops...but no, we just get four more bars of the sequence, and then we're back to the verse, with a very slight variation on lyrics we've already heard:

(F#m7 / B7 | Emaj7)
The hill from my memory

(Cm7 / F7 | Bbmaj7)
I still recall the hill

The melody and unusual chord-structure of this song is such that you know that -- unlike some song-poems, which sound half-improvised in the bad sense of the word -- someone really wrote it. I wonder who came up with the music? It could've been Kay Weaver, I suppose, but my bet's on the piano player. Regardless, it's done with a hell of a lot more care, compositionally, than 90% of song-poems get.

(Fm7 / Bb7 | Ebmaj7)
Where I found my love early in the fall

(Dm7 / G7 | Cmaj7 / C7)
Where I once sat wanting him

I'm still wondering whether "fall" in this song sometimes refers to an Edenic sort of fall, or whether it's just a weakly conceived lyric: "I found my love early in the autumn. Then he took my hand in his, and the autumn began." I'd rather think that she's describing a fall from grace, being seduced to abandon her virtue, that kind of thing. ("Yes: that's how we dress when we're ruined," said she.)

(Fm7 / Bb7 | Ebmaj7)
Where once my hand in his he placed

(Asus | A)
And the fall began

Okay, so maybe this time we'll get an Asus-to-A freakout? Yes yes? A little something to chew on? Fast guitar solos straight out of Jamey Aebersold "Rhythm Section Workout" LPs? Samba-disco rhythms?

Nope, we just get another 4-bar bit, yet another return to the verse, and yet another trivial lyrical variation. Sigh. It would've been perfect, too -- the music going from innocent bossa nova to cynical, carnal samba-disco: falling from grace never sounded so appealing! On the other hand, what little the guitarist does do in this section is basically crap, so maybe it's better this way.

(F#m7 / B7 | Emaj7)
The hill where I felt strange yearnings

(Cm7 / F7 | Bbmaj7)
And knew not my destiny nor plan

"Path" becomes "plan". Intentional lyrical variation, or an error by Kay Weaver? Ah, who cares. It's interesting to note how natural the tritone shift sounds, though -- you get used to it very quickly.

(Fm7 / Bb7 | Ebmaj7)
Where I found my love early in the fall

And now the coda:

(Dm7 / Gm7 | Dm7 / Gm7)
He took my hand, but did he understand

(Ebmaj7 | Cm7 / F7)
How much I needed...

We go rubato, and get a couple of dreadfully wrong notes from the guitar in return. The pianist only half-plays the last chord or two there, but still brings them out enough so that the two repeated guitar notes ("plong...plong...") sound completely silly.

(Bbmaj7 / Ebm7 | Bbmaj7)

Kay Weaver holds the lovelorn final note. As the record fades, our intrepid guitarist predictably grabs the chance to toss off a few gratuitous double-time runs.

And so the song closes. A shame: it's one of the few song-poems that has a decent tune and lyrics that are no worse than many a standard -- but, it was sabotaged by what one might call the musical equivalent of miscasting. And I'm still mad that they didn't do a samba freakout! Someone should cover this song and do it properly. Maybe that someone is me! I can't sing like Astrud Gilberto, though.

current music: Stereolab - "Monkey Jelly"

(Comments for July 23, 2002)

July 22, 2002 (link)

12:46 AM

Over at AsianclassicalMP3.org, in addition to loads of other good stuff there, they've got a real scorcher under the Amjad Ali Khan link. From a typically quiet and rubato start, "Tigalbandi (Trio) in Rag Khamaj" builds and builds -- at first in small increments, but gradually gaining higher and higher levels of intensity, with some pretty wild metric modulations that are nailed with complete precision -- and ends in a ferocious climax, with Ali Khan's fingers no doubt a blur by the end. If you listen to it from the beginning, it makes for a harrowing trip!

Speaking of trips, the Simpsons episode tonight was one of the best I've seen in a while. (Yes, I know it was a repeat.) There was a period in the late '90s in which the writing really went to hell, but recently it's come roaring back, and I'm glad of it. I found myself literally cheering aloud -- "C'mon, Homer, pass the joint to Smithers...c'mon, do it, do it, do it!" It wasn't by any means perfect -- Phish's appearance didn't really amount to much, which is a shame -- but there were some absolutely brilliant moments. I love the Simpsons most when they push the envelope most, and doubly so when they manage to skewer all sides of a controversy. And those crows!

current music: Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli -- Souvenirs (Lord knows why it's taken me so long to seek out this music; I've known about it since I was 13, but never made the effort to pick it up. It's every bit as irresistible as it's said to be. Were they playing this in Williams and Sonoma when I was there, some months back? I remember feeling the urge to cakewalk down the isles, picking up random things I couldn't afford and playfully lifting them over my head. If this music somehow evokes sophistication, however anachronistically, to modern ears, it does so in a welcoming way: the world it conjures is one in which you're instantly included, if you want to be. Its transfiguring force is not glamour, but fun and dance.)

(Comments for July 22, 2002)

July 15, 2002 (link)

2:11 AM

The "Unsurpassed Masters" series of bootlegs, on the Sea of Tunes label, appear to enjoy very high regard among Beach Boys obsessives. Most volumes in the series are made up of outtakes, rehearsals, and alternate takes from particular albums -- for instance, Vol. 19 is taken from the "Wild Honey" sessions -- and the remainder seem to be live shows and that sort of thing.

However, Unsurpassed Masters Vol. 15 -- Good Vibrations is something the likes of which I don't think I've ever seen before: an entire bootleg box set devoted to one song! There are 3 CDs and over three hours of music, every bit of it taken from the recording sessions for "Good Vibrations" -- and even that represents only a small fraction of the many hours of tape that supposedly were tracked. (The linked page says that the sessions took 60 hours over six months; I think I remember reading that there were at least 25 hours of tape in the vaults. That sounds like a lot, though on the other hand, I once spent something like 8-10 hours in session with We Miss Felix on a particular song, and could easily have spent another 3 or 4, if not more.)

With all the music in the world that I have yet to hear, I can't imagine myself buying something like this, particularly at bootleg prices -- even if I could find it, it'd probably be something like $75, which would be enough for me to pick up the entire Nick Drake catalog, or the complete Beethoven piano sonatas, etc. But if you're thinking "This sounds like a job for MP3 Man!", well, you're right: I've been lucky enough to get an MP3 copy of the whole set, and have so far listened to about half of it.

The sheer masochism of the task appeals to me, and there have indeed been moments where I couldn't imagine ever really wanting to hear "Good Vibrations" again. But there's some amazing stuff to be learned here, about the process of composing/arranging and about experimenting with timbre and orchestration. In particular, it's really remarkable how narrow the margin is between, on the one hand, the ethereal and masterful finished product -- and on the other, total kitsch and hokum. And the difference is almost all in the orchestration: early drafts of the chorus are, musically, almost identical to the final version, but are encumbered by a clunky, foursquare arrangement that sounds like nothing so much as the (old) theme music to "Sesame Street" (and sure doesn't sound like a candidate to be one of the Greatest Pop Songs Ever Recorded). Indeed, if anything, most of the improvements involve removing instruments, or getting the ones that remain to play fewer notes. I suppose it's not really a newsflash that restraint is one of the cornerstones of brilliance, but it's still neat to hear how the song comes into focus, little by little (though we only get to hear a tiny fraction of the entire process). That of course raises the question of the difference between something sounding "right" or "better" versus simply sounding like the finished product I've come to know. It's an interesting question, but it'd be more interesting if I'd heard anything that sounded like a plausible alternative to the final version. I didn't, and to my mind, all the evidence -- the #1 hit, the critical and popular acclaim, my own taste -- suggests that, given the material he had on tape, Brian Wilson's choices would probably be just about impossible to improve upon. (Certainly he chose wisely in removing that absolutely dreadful fuzz bass solo. No, I'm not kidding.)

Sadistic as it feels to say so, I think just about every recording musician could benefit from listening to these tapes. I can't claim that it'll transform a person's musical world, but given the pedigree of the song in question, I think it's more than worth taking a few hours to get some insights into how it was put together -- and how some of the smallest changes can make the biggest differences. I think most musicians, myself included, give perilously little attention to arrangement and orchestration -- and if anything, the advent of sample-driven performance technologies makes that debate more relevant, not less so. We may not have the kind of nuanced control that Brian Wilson could get when directing a human musician, but at least we can have access to something like the timbral palette he had -- if we buy the right sample CDs, anyway.

1:38 AM

A couple passages that caught my eye, taken from Volume 1 of the Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 3rd ed., published 1980:

"Traditionally, it was believed that the Arabs lacked originality necause their approach to mental diseases was largely influenced by Greek medical science, by the tenets of Christianity, and by the enlightened Byzantine administration...[A] number of asylums were founded in Baghdad in the 8th century, in Damascus in the 9th century, and in Aleppo, Kalaoma, Cairo, and Fez in the 13th century. As early as the 12th century, travelers returning to Europe reported on the enlightened treatment mental patients received in those institutions...The same treatment facilities were available to rich and poor patients alike...At the root of that humanitarian attitude was the Moslem belief, stated by the Prophet, that the insane person is loved by God and is particularly chosen by Him to tell the truth." (p. 35)
"Reich was among the first to suggest that society, through its values and mores, can impose patterns of child rearing and, hence, affect character formation...He asked why, if Marx was correct, members of the working class allowed themselves to be oppressed? Why did the world revolution predicted by the Communists not occur?...To answer those questions, Reich suggested that the bourgeoisie set the standards for child rearing. In a paternalistic society the seeds are sown for producing persons with an authoritarian character structure who are subservient to those in a higher station than themselves but callous to those of lesser position. Workers do not revolt because their character structure renders them submissive to authority. Marx assumed that people are by nature opposed to oppression and exploitation and will change any society wherein they occur. Reich argued, in contrast, that society conditions people to accept oppression and exploitation and that resistance to those social injustices is not innate but, rather, comes from a different mode of child rearing. Reich believed that children reared in freedom and openness would, indeed, resist exploitation and oppression." (p. 835; emphasis mine)

This set has got to be one of my best free-book finds ever. All three volumes are in perfect condition, case and everything -- it weighs something like twenty-five or thirty pounds! -- and I can't imagine that there's that much in it that's genuinely out of date, though of course there have been lots of developments on the pharmaceutical end of things. How much must this set have cost when it was published -- $100 or more, I'd think? The current (seventh) edition goes for $279 on Amazon.com!

(Comments for July 15, 2002) (3 comments so far)

July 11, 2002 (link)

1:19 AM

Last month I finally got around to checking out Daniel Johnston's music. I'd heard a few things here and there, like Mary Lou Lord's cover of "Speeding Motorcycle" and an MP3 of Johnston playing "Put My Love Out", but had never really felt motivated to delve any deeper, despite -- or perhaps because of -- all the praise I'd seen lavished on him. Even reading an unexpectedly lucid and intelligent interview, and Absintheur's favorable comments as well, didn't prompt me to seek his music out. But after reading a glowing review of Hi, How Are You on Audiogalaxy, I decided to give it a try, and downloaded it.

When I first tried writing about this album (in an entry I accidentally deleted after a few sentences), I was tempted to say that I was "infatuated" with it, but that's not really the right word at all. Regardless, it's certainly easy to be quite taken with it, and I'm glad I sought out Hi, How Are You first, since I haven't been as intrigued by the other albums I've heard since (Yip/Jump Music, Rejected Unknown, Songs of Pain). The production is wonderful -- it wouldn't be the same album without it, and if there's a better example of the merits of super-lo-fi recording, I don't know about it. Not least in that equation is the pitch-shifting of his voice; again, I can't imagine the album without that unnaturally high, childlike quality. (For that matter, Johnston's heroes, the Beatles, were no strangers themselves to pitch-shifting. I wonder if he sees his own happy accident as analogous.) Some of the songs are, of course, better than others: more often than not, I prefer the fragmentary songs like "I Am a Baby (In My Universe)" to the more straightforward ones like "Big Business Monkey". (On the other hand, I find that listening to the album as an album, one song after another, generally helps me enjoy it more than if I cherry-pick particular favorites.)

But the one that really stands out is "Desperate Man Blues". It didn't really hook me on first listen, but after listening to it a couple more times I found it to be one of the more astonishing and moving things I've heard this year. (I'm not sure if I'd feel the same way if I didn't know the story, or if it were different: would it be as moving to me if Johnston were a self-satisfied college kid, rather than a desperately lonely manic-depressive living with his parents? Probably not, I suppose, but it's not a question over which I feel compelled to agonize.) On the one hand, here he is, singing into his crappy boombox, alone in his room, over an old jazz recording -- and he's singing over a lush big-band recording, something that suggests a world of parties and riches and socialization that couldn't be farther removed from Johnston's own condition. And yet that juxtaposition is exactly what makes it work: the fact that he's surrounded by this glamourous, dated music -- a music that evokes everything from which he's excluded -- only makes him sound all the more alone, and in much the same way that satire can often have unexpected access to pathos, Johnston's vocals are made all the more moving by the fact that he's singing terribly sad words over an essentially happy tune. (Even a risky line like "there's no spunk left in me", which would sound either ridiculous or knowing in anyone else's hands, just sounds like the lament of someone who belongs to a bygone era -- a feeling which is also heightened by the music.)

By the way, searching for the lyrics to "Desperate Man Blues" (which I eventually found here) led me to this page, which among other things has an intriguing passage from Heidegger:

Martin Heidegger (reviewed by Smith) has suggested that technology has developed to the extent that reality is transformed into "standing reserve" for use at a later point in time. This objectification of reality, according to Heidegger, transforms reality into something abstract and simultaneously absent. This technological reality not only influences interaction with social contacts and history, but also our own view of ourselves. Heidegger goes to the extent of arguing that there is no place to stand outside of this reality and criticize it; that "we ourselves are revealed to ourselves and understood by ourselves in the same way." (Smith 377).

12:10 AM

Quite a few recent hits, by the way, looking for stuff about Metabolist. I wonder if there's a reissue brewing, or if there's been a recent critical "reassessment"?

12:05 AM

When I saw a repeat of The Cosby Show a few months ago, I heard the theme music come in and exclaimed aloud, "That's Lester Bowie!" If Wynton Marsalis had played on it, what would I have said? ("That's Booker Little!", maybe.)

It's strange that I have so much Seefeel -- except for a couple compilations and the Starethrough EP, I've got just about everything. I can't say there's much else in my collection along the same lines, although I do like Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2 quite a bit.

(Comments for July 11, 2002) (2 comments so far)

July 10, 2002 (link)

11:41 PM

On the other hand, I listened to Seefeel's Quique on the way back, and didn't much like it at all. I bought both CDs at the same time, and was hoping to have a similar "aha" with Quique, but came away with the same impression I'd already had -- namely, that it was inferior to both Pure/Impure and Succour, and shared most of their faults and few of their virtues (so it's oppressively chipper, rather than upliftingly bleak...?). Somehow I don't get the feeling of time-shifting that I do from the other two albums -- neither the hopping-around-on-E monomania of the former, nor the dark-elevator-in-a-dead-spaceship interstellar bleakness of the latter. Maybe if I were on E, it'd be easier to foster that sense of scale, but for now -- inasmuch as I'm more-or-less de facto straightedge -- it just ends up feeling repetitious and lacking in depth.

How do you pronounce "Quique", anyway? "Quee-quay"? Probably, if it's Latin -- though part of me wishes it were a clever Francophone pun for "kick" ("kee-ker"). And Googling reveals that it shows up both as Latin and Spanish, the latter of which would I believe come out as "kee-kay".

current music: Pink Floyd -- The Darkside Rehearsals [sic: live in Brighton, January 20, 1972, and the first-ever performance of Dark Side of the Moon -- and what a bad one it is! The rest of the show is good, though.]

10:26 PM

Of all the musicians who have ever fired a pistol in my general direction, Lester Bowie is easily my favorite. I was lucky enough to see his Brass Fantasy twice in the early '90s -- once in California and once in Boston -- but never got around to picking up a Brass Fantasy CD, until I saw a copy of Avant Pop in a used CD store a few months ago. I've put it on a couple times since buying it, and hadn't really taken to it -- the sound is very trebly, almost harshly so, and I remember the Fantasy as being far tighter and richer-sounding than this recording would suggest. (You won't hear me say this too often, but if anything, I feel like this recording needed -- more compression!)

However, when I walked out for groceries today, I put Avant Pop in my Discman and I enjoyed it far more than I ever have before: it must be a "Discman album". The opening tune, Steve Turre's "The Emperor", still struck me as a little bit weak, but everything else felt real nice, especially the pop-song covers like "Saving All My Love For You" and "Crazy". "Blueberry Hill" came on just I walked into the supermarket, and seemed all too apposite in a way I can't really articulate -- as though it were a (rather ironic) soundtrack for everything that was going on around me. (I felt like I was in "Drugstore Cowboy", if that makes sense.) Lester Bowie once said, referring to Wynton Marsalis (who was a rising star at the time), that "With his chops and my brains I could have been one of the greatest." But I think he's selling himself short -- or, if not that, at least underestimating the extent to which his supposed limitations shaped his (completely distinctive) voice. I have a hard time imagining Bowie's sense of humor, or his knack for playing "the right wrong notes", coming out of a technical prodigy -- but stranger things have happened.

I don't remember whether I met him once or twice -- I know I did in Santa Cruz, but I'm not sure whether we were able to get backstage in Boston. Either way, members of the Brass Fantasy were kind enough to introduce me (awestruck half-assed 14-year-old trumpet player that I was) to him when they played in California. I remember him as being friendly, if a bit gruff, and he talked with me for a good ten minutes or so. I'm sure I told him how much I liked the Leaders album (Mudfoot) and so forth; unfortunately, the only thing he said that I can really remember was something to the effect that "You've got to play every kind of music. It doesn't matter if it's country and western, it doesn't matter what it is -- you've got to play everything". (Perhaps I would've remembered more if Don Moye hadn't been changing his clothes in the same room while we talked! Fortunately, he didn't get completely undressed, but I'm pretty sure it rattled me, especially as I had a hard time reading his mood and wasn't sure if he minded my presence.)

It was great to meet Lester, and it was more than generous of him to take the time to talk with me. But to be honest, what I remember most about the evening is probably how nice the folks in the Brass Fantasy were to me. For instance: earlier in the evening, before the performance, I had narrowly missed winning a trivia contest (they played a big band version of "Norwegian Wood", asked us to guess who it was; most people wrote Gil Evans, but I wrote Count Basie, changed my mind and wrote Duke Ellington -- and to my chagrin it turned out to be Basie). For some reason I ended up really pissed off at myself for not winning, and was in a bad mood before the concert. Then, about fifteen minutes before the show, an African-American man in his thirties asked if he could take the seat next to me for a minute -- I think he wanted to take a moment and eat his dessert -- and it turned out to be Bob Stewart, the tuba player with the Fantasy. (I think I almost said no -- I have some vague memory that it was my dad's seat, or my sister's -- but I'm glad I didn't!) I'd heard a fair amount of his work with Don Cherry, Arthur Blythe, et al. and liked it a lot, and I think he was totally flattered that I knew the albums he'd played on. He was very warm, and reacted with complete (and very flattering) disbelief when I told him I was fourteen: "You're fourteen? You're kidding me, come on. You've got to be eighteen, seventeen at least. You're fourteen? Oh, man."

Then after the show, I talked with several of the trumpet players, and ended up hitting it off particularly well with Eddie Allen. I can't imagine anyone being kinder or more encouraging than Eddie was that night; I'm sure I had plenty of rough edges, and it wouldn't surprise me if I said plenty of stupid things, but Eddie was nothing less than wonderful. We actually carried on a very brief correspondence -- one letter each; I think I dropped the ball on that one -- and I wish I could find the letter he sent me, which has long since gone missing. (Eddie, if you're out there and you happen to read this, thanks so much for being a friend to a 14-year-old twerp. I hope you're making good music these days; I still have Another's Point of View kicking around, but I've lost touch with what you've been up to since then...) I also remember Stanton Davis as being nice, as was a third trumpet player whose name, to my embarrassment, I can't recall.

By the way, the pistol-shooting was during their performance of Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit", though I'm not sure whether that happened at the Santa Cruz performance (I think so) or at the Boston one (which took place in a fairly sketchy part of town -- sketchier than we realized at the time). "Strange Fruit" is of course about a lynching, and at the climax of their rendition, Lester suddenly pulled out a starter pistol and fired it into the air above our heads, three or four times: crack-crack-crack. It wasn't really in my direction -- above me and to the left, as I recall -- but it was most definitely in the general direction of the audience, and I have a feeling that more than a few people jumped, though oddly I don't think I was one of them: am I rewriting history when I say I almost think I knew it was coming?

current music: Sonic Youth -- Goo (I often forget how much I enjoy Sonic Youth. Not that I'm a huge fan, but there's something I've always liked about their approach, and I think they come up with some surprisingly beautiful moments, like the end of Sister or the closing chords of "Dirty Boots".)

(Comments for July 10, 2002) (2 comments so far)


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