Eyes That Can See in the Dark

a music journal

October 24, 2002 (link)

8:26 PM

What he said. And the worst part is, the more a person uses, the more insensitive about it they become.

5:18 PM

The other day at work I was listening to Thelonious Monk's Brilliant Corners album for the first time, and when "Bemsha Swing" came on, the horns added an extra note to the melody, so that at the end of the second measure it goes "ba-ba boo, ba-ba boo, bah" instead of "ba, boo, ba-ba boo, bah". I'm used to the second version and didn't like the change, but it gave me a funny sense of déjà vu: hadn't I just been listening to another jazz tune I knew well, where the musicians did the same thing, adding a note that didn't need to be there? I felt sure of it, but couldn't think of anything at all that fit the bill, beyond the vague sense that I'd heard it on the radio -- but what help would that be? It drove me nuts for a little while, but then I got busy with something else and forgot about it.

Then, later in the afternoon, my boss showed up, and just before I was scheduled to leave for the day, she started singing quietly to herself, and my eyes practically popped out of my head: "What are you singing?" I asked. She told me it was an old melody from the Civil War. As it turns out, her melody from the Civil War had almost exactly the same pitch structure as the song I'd spent all morning trying to remember, Nat Adderley's "Work Song"! Besides being a completely spooky and funny coincidence -- sure, pentatonic melodies are everywhere in music, but what are the odds that the two songs would be that similar? -- it also jogged my memory. The people on the radio (whoever they were) did the same kind of thing as on the Monk song, but worse: "Work Song" is a call and response melody, so that the lead voice goes "da-da da-da, daaah, dah-doo dah, dah" and the rest of the band answers "da-da da-da, daaah, dah-doo dah". But in this version on the radio, the rest of the band answered with "da-da da-da, daaah, dah-doo dah, dah" -- in other words, the exact same pattern that the lead voice just played, which completely ruins the thing that makes it a great song! Without that little variation, it's totally foursquare, like something out of A Musical Joke. The Monk thing isn't as bad, but I still think the asymmetrical version is better -- the melody is leaner, more flexible that way.

current music: Patsy Cline - The Best Of

(Comments for October 24, 2002)

October 22, 2002 (link)

10:26 PM

Irwin Chusid (author of Songs in the Key of Z and host of WFMU's "Incorrect Music") is keeping a nice journal of his encounters and conversations with Shooby Taylor. In it we learn such facts as who played organ on "Stout-Hearted Men", what drove Shooby from the Postal Service, and where Shooby liked to pick up prostitutes back in the day (!). Check it out!

current music: Henry Cow - "Extract From 'With The Yellow Half-Moon And Blue Star'"

(Comments for October 22, 2002)

October 21, 2002 (link)

3:35 PM

My guestbook script doesn't seem to be working properly, so for the moment, email me if you want to leave a comment. Hopefully this'll give me the impetus to move my CGI stuff to the Rockoverlondon site, which I should've done a million years ago.

current music: Vladimir Ragimov - "Moskva"

(Comments for October 21, 2002)

October 19, 2002 (link)

2:43 AM

Some days I feel like "Rainbow Connection" might be the best song ever written.

(Comments for October 19, 2002) (4 comments so far)

October 17, 2002 (link)

3:59 PM

A few minutes ago, playing the Black side of a Modern Benoni, I reached the following position on move 22:

A diagram depicting move 22 in a chess game, with Black to move.  White has pawns on a4, b2, d5, e4, f4, g4, and h3, a knight on d4, bishops on c3 and c2, rooks on b1 and e1, a queen on f3, and a king on g1.  Black has pawns on a6, b5, c4, d6, f7, g6, h7, a bishop on g7, knights on c7 and c5, rooks on d8 and e8, a queen on h4, and a king on g8.

(Black to move)

Things aren't looking that good for Black -- his pieces are a bit uncoordinated, and his knights are a bit offside. There are a few options here, like 22...b5 and 22...Bxd4+ (a move whose point will become obvious later), but I caught a glimpse of a neat tactical idea and played 22...Nd3!? Naturally, White (whose rating was a good 150 points higher than mine) played 23. Bxd3 -- there may be alternatives, but it's certainly the logical move -- and won a pawn after 23...cxd3 24. Qxd3 (my computer likes 24. Kf1!?), reaching the following position:

A diagram depicting move 22 in a chess game, with Black to move.  White has pawns on a4, b2, d5, e4, f4, g4, and h3, a knight on d4, a bishop on c3, rooks on b1 and e1, a queen on d3, and a king on g1.  Black has pawns on a6, b5, d6, f7, g6, h7, a bishop on g7, a knight on c7, rooks on d8 and e8, a queen on h4, and a king on g8.

Here I played what I think is -- at least in terms of accuracy and clarity -- one of the best moves I've ever come up with: 24...Nxd5! Putting an exclamation mark in front of a move I made myself always feels a little silly and presumptuous, and it feels doubly ridiculous given that this move forces not a win, but a draw. But I've checked it out with two different computers, both of which seemed to agree that it's the best move (and when a computer comes up with a sacrifice on its own, it's almost always the right line), so I'm rather proud of finding it. White again chose the natural move, 25. exd5 -- I suspect it's the best move, too -- and the point of my sacrifice became clear after 25...Bxd4+. If White recaptures with the bishop, he loses the e1-rook (i.e. 26. Bxd4?? Rxe1+), so 26. Qxd4 is forced, after which Black gave perpetual check with 26...Qg3+ 27. Kf1 Qxh3+ 28. Kg1 Qg3+ 29. Kh1 Qh3+ 30. Kg1 Qg3+ 31. Kf1 Qh3+ 32. Kf2 Qh4+ 33. Kf3 (1/2-1/2).

current music: Fatala - "Söhkö", from Gongoma Times

(Comments for October 17, 2002)

October 15, 2002 (link)

10:46 PM

Almost a month to the day after my review of Disc One, here's my track-by-track review of Disc Two of Yellowdock:

  1. "Getting Ahead in the Lucrative Field of Artist Management" (0:54) - UNKLE

    Har har. Is this taken from an actual ad? It seems like something that might be in Kentucky Fried Movie, but I'd like to believe it's real.

  2. "Rockin' and Rollin'" (2:52) - W. L. Horning

    What can I say about this that hasn't been said before? Apparently, he also commissioned a song-poem recording of this by "Frank Perry & The Sweet Strings", which I'd love to hear if only to see how they managed to come up with something like a plausible rendition. (See the ASPMA "Miscellaneous Albums" page for more information.)

  3. "If You'd Scream" (1:16) - Powerdresser

    I'm not convinced by this track, really. I like the idea of all the little change-ups and rhythmic tricks they do, but somehow I don't find the song itself memorable at all. It sounds tossed-off, and none of the sections have enough profile for me to really be engaged by them. On the other hand, it might work a lot better in the context of an album, which would give me more time to get into its soundworld. I have to admit, the Neil Peart-style drum intro puts me off from the beginning, but that's not really fair.

  4. "Look Away" (3:27) - Apples in Stereo

    Oddly enough, the line J. likes so much -- "I know you fight against the shadows" -- is probably my least favorite lyric on this track, but despite myself I like this song. The Apples in Stereo have never really lived up to my expectations, mainly because that part of the pop tradition with which they ally themselves isn't really my favorite: a little too strained, a little too "twee" (I have very mixed feelings about that word). They've come up with a few really nice songs though, like "Glowworm" and "Tidal Wave", and though this one isn't quite as good as those, I still enjoy it.

  5. "Eight Miles High" (3:35) - Leo Kottke

    I saw Leo Kottke on PBS something like seven or eight years ago, and was impressed enough with his playing to write down his name and add it to my "musicians to check out" list. He got a nice sound out of his instrument -- a 12-string, as I recall -- and his songs felt good, and didn't go too far into New Age/folk lite territory. Alas, I'm not so impressed with Mr. Kottke's skills as a vocalist: not that he's bad, exactly, but I find myself wishing the track were an instrumental, with the melody played on the guitar instead.

  6. "The Seven Widows (The Sprigs of Night)" (2:33) - Appendix Out

    It's pretty enough, but I don't really miss it when it's gone. I definitely don't find it annoying or anything like that, and there are nice sounds all around: just a bit too slight for my taste. And then it comes back! What was that?

  7. "The Night I Bore the Maiden's Child" (3:47) - Autumn

    When I was 14, a guy named Shane unexpectedly invited me to stay with him and his family in their time-share condo for a week during summer vacation. Though I didn't know Shane too well at all -- we were friends, and played together in jazz band, but we weren't close -- I basically said "What the hell, why not" and accepted. It was fun at times, but Shane and I were coming from pretty different places, and it ended up getting kind of awkward after a while. One problem was that he liked to go to sleep to music, which in this case meant his radio playing at damn near full volume; since that's not something I can generally sleep through, and we shared a room, most nights I ended up waiting for him to fall asleep, and then slowly turning his boombox down, over a period of minutes, until it was quiet enough for me to sleep through. It seems like the songs I have to endure when I'm trying to get to sleep imprint themselves permanently on my consciousness; for instance, when I was 6 or 7, the radio on my father's alarm clock went off in the middle of the night, and he let it go for at least five or ten minutes at full blast. Some song with the chorus "Love is life / Love is life" was playing, and I've never been able to forget it. (I still don't know what that song is: anyone out there have an idea? I can tell you it's not by Hot Chocolate or Blood, Sweat and Tears -- both bands have songs called "Love Is Life", but neither track is the one I heard that night. It was in A minor, I think, and had high male voices and a prominent piano part -- and since I was born in 1976, it couldn't have come out any later than 1984 or so.)

    One of the first nights at the timeshare, the radio was playing some song that kept going on and on about "black velvet". (I'm guessing it was this song by Alannah Myles, called none other than "Black Velvet".) I don't know that it got played more than once or twice that night, but it's permanently etched into my brain now. So, when I say that "The Night I Bore the Maiden's Child" sounds like "Black Velvet" to me, you can understand why that association feels neither voluntary nor, I'm afraid, positive. I also get a color association with this song -- lots of black and purple -- which isn't something I'm normally prone to; I don't fully understand why this song should have a synaesthetic effect on me, when there are so many other songs I find so much more upsetting (to steal a term from J.) that don't, but there it is. Anyway, bottom line: I don't like the vocals -- though they never get quite as pretentious as I expect, that entrance really kills it for me -- and the instrumental parts don't do much for me either way. So, nyet, I'm afraid.

  8. "Al Pacino calls dealership." (1:26) - "Celebrity Soundboards"

    I love celebrity phone pranks, and I especially love it when they use the same sample several times in a row -- in this case, "Jim!" "Jim!" "Jim!" -- and somehow people don't catch on! For those of us whose sense of humor thrives on the absurd, it's like a free sandwich.

  9. "Wellen der Liebe" (4:04) - Blumfeld

    I like this song a lot, it's sweet. Would I like it as much if it weren't in German? (Answer: does it really matter?) It's a relative rarity -- for me, anyway -- to hear a "happy" production that actually makes you feel happy! Most songs that try for this feel end up feeling forced, oppressive, or fake, so it's always nice when there's one that actually pulls it off. Given the key of the song (B-flat) and the sound of the guitars, I figure they're probably using capoes -- and it's interesting to think about the subtle influence that has on the feel of the song, i.e. making everything brighter and a bit more jangly. (Another, somewhat similar example: "Here Comes the Sun".)

  10. "Pimps" (5:05) - The Coup

    I'm a little tired of violin-based hip-hop loops, but this one's better than average. I like the scratching -- which sounds like it's saying "son-of-a-bitch" -- and I like the cute little "Red Clay" quote that the bass player drops. The rhymes are OK, but I don't get too excited about them. The skit element is a little bit amusing, I guess, and I like the British woman's voice. The big problem, though, is the beats, which are really kind of boring. And without good beats, the song feels gimmicky and unbalanced. But I'm making it sound worse than it is -- I like this track well enough, particularly when I'm in the right mood.

  11. "Dr. Pepper" (0:38) - The American Analog Set

    This song turned into "The Wait". Not sure how I feel about the "Dr. Pepper" iteration -- it's cute and short, but it sounds a bit uninspired by Amanset standards: go figure. And yes, they're serious -- Kenny talks about it in the liner notes: "Dr. Pepper didn't share our sentiment, and...tactfully requested that we not align ourselves publicly with Dr. Pepper or its subsidiaries and that we refrain from performing the song in the future." Through the Nineties, by the way, is a good example of an album where, if you only have it as MP3s, you miss out on some great stuff. I enjoy the album on its own -- and, in fact, I downloaded it before buying it -- but it's twice as fun when you've got the liner notes and can read all the stories behind the tracks.

  12. "I'm Tired Gone" (1:48) - Bethany Curve

    I do like the textures and harmonies in the guitars. I don't like the vocals, though; I've never been into really digital-sounding reverb, and the guy's delivery, which is a little sketchy to begin with, is further undermined by such trebly effects. That fade sounds really unnatural and weird, and just when the song was starting to get going: I wonder why they did that?

  13. "Zephyrus" (4:34) - Stellamara

    I like this song well enough. It's spacious, patient, tastefully done. I'd like to really like it, but for some reason, I don't find that it picks me up and carries me -- whereas I've heard tracks by Dead Can Dance and Bel Canto which were much less tasteful (i.e. much cheesier), but somehow more involving. I think it's a timbral issue, perhaps; there's nothing wrong with the sounds, but somehow they don't quite draw me in -- the mix feels a little too opaque, the sounds aren't liquid and three-dimensional enough. A shame, since I'm always intrigued by music that shows taste and patience -- all the more so in a genre like this one, in which those virtues are all too often in short supply.

  14. "Door of My Heart" (0:44) - Bonnie Prince Billy

    A pretty little fragment. If you take away the false starts, it's barely 30 seconds long.

  15. "Killer Distance" (5:22) - Bluecat

    Most of this track I can take or leave, but I like it when the guitar comes in. I know it's a little cheesy, but I buy it. I wish he'd really cut loose, preferably with a torrent of rapid-fire sixteenth notes to match the breakbeats; he's got the perfect tone for it and everything -- all he needs to do is play a Jeff Beck/Scott Henderson-style solo and I've got my payoff. What could be easier, right?

  16. "Intermission" (0:48) - Offspring

    Amusing. I guess I have a soft spot for the Offspring ever since I saw the video for "Keep 'em Separated", right around when it came out, and pegged them for fame. (Not quite as impressive as my Fugees story, but I was still pleased with myself.) I quite like "Separated", but then they promptly cloned it with "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)", and thus joined the ranks of Bands Who Write the Same Song Over and Over Again.

  17. "Binario" (3:31) - Komeda

    I like the way this track starts. The organ arpeggios intrigue me, and I'm always a sucker for that kind of "pack-a-wack-a" analog synth percussion. Of course, an intro like that practically has "PROPERTY OF STEREOLAB" stenciled on the side, so it's understandable that they take it in a different direction, but I don't find that direction too interesting. I'm not sure what doesn't gel; maybe it's just that I hear the intro as being in C-sharp minor, so when they pull it into E major, it somehow feels forced to me. The bass and drums are a little leaden, too -- they don't rock hard enough to rock, but if they don't, the pattern is too foursquare. It's a little better the second time through, when the guitar comes in, but overall, it just doesn't quite convince me.

    (Listening again, yeah, I think it's the bass that doesn't work for me. Not that I can come up with a better line, but when I focus on what-I-wish-were-different, that's the first thing that jumps out at me, especially since a better bass line could, I think, make the drums seem more convincing. I wonder if John McEntire produced this?)

  18. "Duck & Cover" (1:52) - Red Krayola

    What a strange song! I think it's probably bullshit, but at least it's memorable bullshit. That girl singing makes me think (again) of Shelley Long, who seems to be my touchstone for Earnest White Girls Who Sound Strained When They Try to Sing. The line about "homosexual love" makes me laugh, or did the first few times at least.

  19. "The Prom Song!" (1:47) - Bows

    H. said she thought it was an Eminem loop too. I daresay, though, that Marshall Mathers probably didn't use a computerized voice saying "Prom prom! Prom prom! Prom prom!" with the kick drum, which is a shame -- it's the best thing about the track. I can't quite follow the story they're telling -- they need to take diction lessons from MC Hawking, perhaps. The ending, unfortunately, just annoys me.

  20. "I Have Space" (2:26) - Mates of State

    Decent melodies. Weird, almost mono production. The guy sounds like Billy Corgan and the girl sounds like the girl from Rainer Maria. Is this emo? I like the piano part; it sounds surprisingly full for just piano and drums.

  21. "Jab" (2:26) - Basque

    I like the spaciousness, the warm, expressive fretless bass. I have mixed feelings about the vocals; when she keeps it simple, it's fine, but when she pops her plosives or feints at back-of-the-throat, Portishead-ish growling, it's a bit self-conscious and distracting. (Can you tell I'm really picky about female vocals? For the most part, I prefer them to be as simple and unaffected as possible.) It doesn't detract much at all, though. I'd love to be able to get a bass sound like that, especially on the low notes.

  22. "Improvia" (1:19) - Scenic

    ...And then what happened?

  23. "The Sad Skinhead" (2:43) - Faust

    Kind of wild to think this was recorded in 1973 -- it could have just as easily come out within the past five years, from the sound of it. Did these guys coin the term "Krautrock"? This song's OK, but nothing I get too excited about; maybe I'd feel differently if I could figure out more of the lyrics. It's a little catchy, but only a little.

  24. "Center of the Universe" (2:43) - Built to Spill

    I really like Doug Martsch's work with Calvin Johnson as the Halo Benders -- especially the God Don't Make No Junk album -- but I've never really connected with Built to Spill. Case in point, this song: it's completely fine in every way, I can't find anything in particular to reproach about it, but it doesn't engage me enough to make me want to hear it again when it's done. I think, though, that I might get more into it if I were listening to it with someone who really liked it; it's music that is probably best enjoyed when you've got enthusiastic company, and if someone like JDR were singing its praises and playing it on his turntable, I'd probably get more attached to it. Alone and out of context, it's harder to build a connection to it.

  25. "Saturday Night Church" (4:26) - Tuatara

    I first heard this track on J.'s "Eat the Pain! / Slurp the Pain!" mixtape of a couple years back. It's a decent enough tune, but I wish there were a little more meat in the sandwich. On the other hand, I like the deep-tuned tremolo surf guitar, and the vibes are nice too. I'm very fond, generally, of "foregroundless" ambient music, and some of my favorite moments in songs are the ones before the lead vocal/main instrument comes in (like in the Basque track above, which I almost wish I could hear as a solo bass track). Here, though, I don't feel fully satisfied by the things in the foreground -- the flute, the sax solo -- and so, for want of a strong Hauptstimme, a potentially promising groove doesn't (to my taste) really live up to its potential. It's still a pleasant listen, though.

  26. "Rock On Top" (3:21) - Ugly Duckling

    I like this one. The overall feel reminds me a little bit of Black Sheep -- i.e. playful and sly. The beats and loops are good, and I enjoy all of the MCs. Nice chorus, too -- it's fun, and charmingly quaint. I'd be interested in hearing more from these guys, I like their style.

  27. "Celebrating a Destructible Wine" (0:56) - Fragmented

    A cryptic, but appealing, little interlude. Too bad the album it came from is, according to J., no good. Tracks like these are always a pleasure when (in their original context) they're dropped in the middle of a strong album. Good example: Seely's Seconds, which has some gorgeous, nameless little analog synth interludes between tracks.

  28. "Bed Caves" (3:10) - Danielle Dax

    It starts out reasonably enough. Then, at 0:35, the lead guitar comes in: OK, it's a little overly obvious in its "Eastern-ness", but I can deal with that. But then the vocals come in: nope, sorry, I'm just not convinced. Too shrill, too dry, too contrived. They don't grate on me, exactly -- they just don't work for me. Maybe if I heard more from Danielle Dax, it'd make more sense, but as it is, her vocals just seem kinda silly.

  29. "Demographics" (5:29) - The Helio Sequence

    I'm not the world's biggest shoegazer fan, but I have to admit, this is pretty solid all around. The intro's got some very pleasing sounds, enough so that it's almost a disappointment when the guitar and drums come in and overwhelm it, though that soon passes. (Still, a five-minute version of the intro, turned into a song in its own right, would be right up my alley: I love those quiet, almost organic-sounding synths.) I like the neutrality of the vocals; vocals are the downfall of most shoegazer-ish stuff -- whether it's the way they're performed, or the way they're recorded -- so it's always good to hear a good, solid, well-produced vocal that isn't overblown or strained. Those guitar swells on the outro are pretty nice -- that's a sound I've always liked.

That's Disc Two! I'll do a quickie on the MP3 disc, and on Nissan's Master of the Sixth Speed (which was the "grab bag" random disc I got), at some point in the near future.

current music: Yellowdock, Disc Two

(Comments for October 15, 2002)

October 11, 2002 (link)

1:31 PM

Do all Windows machines stutter your MP3s when you try to connect to the Internet? I think J. wrote something about this a while ago, but I can't find it. Whenever I start up AOL at work, if I'm playing an MP3, it glitches out -- "pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa" -- while the computer dials the access number. It was amusing at first, but wears out its welcome very quickly, not least because of its deadly predictability -- you stop really listening when you're waiting for the glitch to kick in. (Update: I think this was what I was looking for on J.'s site, but it's about something a little different.)

As a result of that, lately I've taken to bringing in actual audio CDs (!), which don't have the same problem. It annoys me that it felt weird to do that at first; somehow I don't want my dominant mode of listening to be the grazing, shuffle-play, computer-fan-hum one -- and even if it is in practice, I don't want it to be that way internally. But, predictably, once I got going it felt satisfying in a way listening to MP3s generally doesn't. Obviously that's at least 90% psychology and association, but maybe there's an acoustic element in there too. (There certainly is with vinyl vs. CD, which is sort of a similar thing.)

A few of the albums I played this week:

  • Eric Dolphy - Out to Lunch
  • Low - Secret Name
  • Miles Davis - In a Silent Way and Nefertiti
  • BBC Music - Masterprize: The Six Final Works for the International Composing Competition (Harding/LSO)

I've written about both of the Miles Davis albums more than enough already, so I'll skip them. I'm glad to have the BBC Music disc, which was given to me as a gift about four years ago and is the kind of thing I'd be unlikely to get around to buying. I've probably listened to the disc three or four times since I received it; I think I might've been more impressed in the past, but this time around, almost all of the compositions sounded like total old hat -- harmonically uninteresting, full of gratuitous percussion flourishes, that kind of thing. There was one exception, Andrew March's Marine - à travers les arbres, which at least had some lyricism and timbral nuance to it. I don't know what I think of it overall -- actually, now that I listen to it again, the later sections seem rather less inspired -- but harmonically and texturally, at least, it's much more appealing to me than its competitors, many of whom sound remarkably like disguised versions of John Williams. (One piece had a section, at least a minute long, that sounded like an almost verbatim excerpt from Le Sacre du Printemps. I'd like to hope it was programmatic -- I haven't read anything about these pieces -- but if it wasn't, and Stravinsky's works are still in copyright, which I think they are...if I were a lawyer, I'd be salivating.) I just don't understand what the point of writing music is -- especially this kind of music, which requires such time and expense and so often gives you so little in return -- if you're not going to write a piece that has profile, something to differentiate it from the ten thousand other pieces that sound more or less the same.

I wasn't happy with the Low disc when it came out, but now that I'm over the disappointment I felt at the time, I can enjoy it on its own merits, though I still very much prefer the first three full-lengths. The production isn't to my taste, but with a couple exceptions, the songwriting is generally on a level comparable to the earlier albums. "Two-Step" dates back to 1995, which is probably why I like it so much -- sometimes I think my favorite Low album is Long Division -- but newer songs like "Immune", "I Remember", "Starfire" and (especially) "Soon" stand up well on the album, and stood up very well in concert. They're good songs, I just don't like Albini's production at all, though it's easier to deal with on drumless songs, and the mastering on the CD is much better than the vinyl (which sounds really dead and compressed to me, whereas the CD sounds cold and crystalline, a sound I think is better for this particular album).

Finally, Out to Lunch. There aren't too many of the anointed classic albums that I just don't connect with -- but at the risk of losing some of my, um, "proto-avant credibility" (?), this is one of them. I like Dolphy, though not as much as I used to think I did, and I can appreciate the caliber of the playing on the disc, but I've never gotten excited about any of the music on it. It's very difficult to write about, both because there aren't any negative adjectives that spring to mind and because I'm not foolish enough to use them. It's kind of like a conversation I had the other week with M., who was shocked to find out that I wasn't that into Wayne Shorter's playing on his solo albums (at least the ones I've heard). The adjectives he used to describe it -- along the lines of "creative", "searching", "impossible to understand" (in a good, how-does-he-come-up-with-that-shit? way) -- were ones I had no problem with at all, and I think we're hearing the same thing. It's just that somehow, I haven't felt a connection with the solos on albums like Ju-Ju and Speak No Evil: I can hear him fighting to forge an improvisational path that isn't fettered with bebop clichés, and I have tremendous respect for it, but I don't feel anything like the almost physical pleasure I get from hearing his playing on a song like "Circle" (which is one of the most beautiful tenor saxophone solos I've heard in my life). As I said to M., maybe the Blue Note recording style, which normally I quite like, has something to do with it -- maybe on those Miles recordings, which were made a little bit later, the gorgeous acoustic "frame" that Teo built around Shorter helps me to listen differently.

Anyway, I can see where all the positive adjectives about Out to Lunch are coming from, and I have no urge to see it devalued or taken down the totem pole. Nor do I feel like I have any trouble parsing its ideas, all of which seem quite intelligible to me. It simply just doesn't click, for me anyway. But I'd be more than happy, after twenty more listens, to revise my opinion: it'd be more than worth it to eat my words if it meant having the kind of connection with this album that other people, including some of my close friends, seem to have.

M. thought it was pretty funny that, for a long time, I heard it as "All those other Slim Shadys / Adjusting my teddy". (As in the frilly undergarment, not the bear.) Of course I didn't really think that's what it was, but I never took the time to figure out the real lyric, so I just sort of glossed it. As so often is the case, I like the Mondegreen better than the real thing: in that universe, what better way could there be to indicate their subservience, their beneathness? "You'd be my toadies even if I wore women's undergarments!" And yet him in a teddy seems remarkably plausible; maybe it's all the Photoshopping, or maybe it's the fact that it's not too much of a stretch, visually, from a wife-beater shirt to spaghetti straps: who knows.

current music: Sun Ra - Purple Night

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

October 8, 2002 (link)

11:21 PM

Okay, this story is too funny -- it has to be one of the worst pieces of chess reporting I've ever seen. Errors in bold:

"Fritz won the opening skirmish even though he [sic] began with the aggressive Scotch Opening, precisely the kind of tactical maneuver experts say computers do not understand well [!!?!?!?!]. As he had done in the previous two games, Kramnik confused Fritz with an early gambit of queens [what in the world is a "gambit of queens"?]...Kramnik said he knew he was winning as early as move 19.a3, when Fritz weakened its pawns on the king's side."

I mean, OK, getting the chess terminology wrong is annoying, but it's not such a big deal. But saying that computers don't understand tactics well (I don't know what "tactical maneuver" is supposed to mean) is the exact opposite of the truth: tactics (and brute force calculation) are exactly what computers are best at, and Fritz is programmed to play aggressive, open games in the hope of getting Kramnik to miscalculate! It's one thing to confuse your queenside and kingside, but it's another thing to just totally blow the facts of the story.

9:50 PM

At the moment, I'm a bit infatuated with the string coda to "John and Mary", the last song on Jaco Pastorius's flawed-but-beautiful Word of Mouth album. Right now, it feels like those are some of the nicest chords ever written for strings, and I love the veiled, almost Mellotone-like quality they have on this recording. I always forget what good ideas Jaco had in the studio; I get so used to thinking of him as the Weather Report wunderkind -- and then later as the mentally-ill, overplaying shadow of his former self -- that I have to rediscover the brilliance of his studio albums. At least Word of Mouth and the self-titled, anyway -- I haven't heard the others, most of which are bootlegs of his unfinished Holiday for Pans album. Word of Mouth is surprisingly light on displays of chops, and whenever Jaco does cut loose -- "Crisis" and "Chromatic Fantasy" -- it's to serve the structural necessities of the song. He has such a reputation as a spotlight-hogging soloist that it's interesting to hear him choosing to take this kind of approach -- and it certainly wasn't one taken lightly: as I recall, the record cost a mint, and had something like fifty guests and session musicians on it. Had he gotten tired of the chops-monster scene in Weather Report -- was this a conscious reaction to it? I remember from reading the Jaco biography that he was deeply involved in the album, but I don't remember what he might've said about the vision behind it. It's interesting to speculate whether an album like this was a self-conscious attempt to broaden his horizons, or was representative of the kind of music he "really" wanted to be working on, or something in between (which may well be the right answer). A shame about the Ewok vocals toward the end, but nobody's perfect.

Listening to Coltrane's Crescent last night while I was cooking dinner, when "Bessie's Blues" came in I was reminded of something someone said -- was it Paul, who made the tape for me? -- about how Crescent is this album of these rubato, meditative, cyclical, searching pieces, and then in the middle of it there's this totally straightahead blues, out of nowhere, and it's almost incongruous but somehow it's right on. Paul wouldn't have said this, but maybe it's a little like a scherzo, or the comic relief in Shakespeare -- but there's a much better example lurking somewhere, of another album where this is true, that I can't come up with. ("Pourquoi manges-tu?" maybe, but that's not what I'm thinking of.) I really like those kinds of thoughts, the ones that give you insight into an album -- in this case, an album specifically, i.e. its overall arc -- and articulate a perspective from which to hear it that you might've already had, but which seems fresh and revelatory when actually put into words. So few critical observations have that quality -- for me, anyway: most of the criticism I read emits not the "Aha!" of revelation, but the dull thump of an agenda being repeatedly being smacked into the object of choice.

Later that same night I was listening to "Fat Old Sun" from my tape of the boot from Quebec City, 1971 (great show, by the way), and realized: these are the same chords as the ones to that Them Jazzbeards song! Fortunately, the resemblance doesn't set up an interference pattern for me -- i.e. I'm not forced to hear the latter when I hear the former, and even if I am, it's not bothersome and doesn't last. But it's still funny.

And today, listening to "Fall" from Nefertiti: how many times have I wished this song were longer? There's a moment when Tony Williams almost drops out and it's just Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter, and I wish that moment were three minutes long, it's so timeless and delicate and touching. I remember the first time I "got" Nefertiti, I was sitting in the music library and listening to the quintet box set on those rich, deep speakers, and suddenly it all clicked and I said to myself, this could be the most beautiful music I've ever heard and I never want to stop listening to it. (Yeah, I've written about this before.)

When I played it today in the office and H. said something like "What a beautiful song this is" at exactly the right moment, it made me want to cry a little bit, kind of like when S. came up to me, looking moved, and said "I just saw the most incredible movie" and I asked him what he'd seen, and he told me it was Breaking the Waves and I said "I'm so happy that you said that, I was hoping you would say that." It was the same feeling: when others understand and are moved by the art that moves us most, we feel that we ourselves are in some small way recognized, known. Why that experience is so powerful for me -- why it has such a mainline to my emotions -- is something I'm still trying to understand, since it's an experience common to most of the defining positive moments of my life.

current music: Jaco Pastorius - "Crisis"

Even though I first heard this song, and Word of Mouth, at least twelve or thirteen years ago, I'm not sure that I've ever realized what a strange piece of work it is -- not strange in the sense of "out", since it's really not that out at all, but rather that I've never really heard anything else quite like it. It's the piccolo, maybe, that somehow keeps it from settling into the usual high-speed free-bop pocket.

(Comments for October 8, 2002) (5 comments so far)

October 7, 2002 (link)

4:15 PM

"Let's Twist", lyrics by James Granville, performed by Bob Brown with Orch.

A while ago I emailed Morgan and told him to listen to this MP3 from a Korean music site. He said it sounded "like someone playing their nose". If that sounds like someone playing the nose, then the bowed amplified upright bass solo on the intro to this song sounds like someone playing the snore -- it's so mid-rangy and humpa-lumpa, you know? And it really does, especially when it first comes in and you don't know what it is. I have a history of having weird associations with weird string sounds; when I was younger, I was always vaguely embarrassed by the violin solo at the end of The Who's "Baba O'Reilly", which somehow sounded to me like what the Germans (and the Drum Major in Woyzeck, but not Wozzeck) call an Altweiberfurz, tunefully emitted by a smiling woman somewhere in between Strega Nona and Baba Yaga: Baba O'Reilly herself!

The rest of the "orch." (another bass and a couple of guitars, from what I can tell) plays an loping, ambling shuffle in G major. Listen to it, do your toes start tapping? Does your head start rocking back and forth? Yeah, I thought so: this song feels good!

Bob Brown comes in after a few bars. His voice is just right for this kind of music -- lazy, youthful, a little bit knowing.

I took my baby to the show one night
And it seemed like things were gonna turn out right

Shades of "She was just seventeen / If you know what I mean"!

But when I asked my baby for a kiss
She said, if you don't mind, I'd rather twist

The snoring bass keeps sawing away under Bob. It's a little incongruous, but I like it! It's kind of like the tuba solo in Petrushka, the one that signifies the entrance of the dancing bear. Its ungainliness makes it charming. It's like watching your math teacher dance -- he might look ridiculous at first, but if he doesn't give a damn and is obviously having a good time, then it works.

That's it for a kiss, let's twist
That's it for a kiss, let's twist

I kept hearing this line as "That's it for a kissless twist" at first, which is both better and worse.

The way my baby smiles spins my head around

Alas, they don't drop in a sample of "Tubular Bells" here.

That's it for a kiss, let's twist
That's it for a kiss, let's twist

Weren't they at "the show"? That phrase makes me think of a drive-in movie, not a dance -- unless "twist" is a euphemism, which it probably isn't, since later our narrator trades a "twist for a kiss", making this song a trenchant observation about his lady friend's need to dance (i.e. build emotional ties through shared experience) before getting intimate. (Nomi Malone would beg to differ, probably.)

She got me jumpin' all around town

Now we get an instrumental break, giving our friend on the upright bass another chance to shine. He makes me think of the Monkey Guy (Morgan will know what I mean). It's kind of funny that they miked his amp, rather than recording him directly. Artistic choice, or jury-rigged setup? Who knows, but I like the way it sounds, and towards the end of his solo, he starts sounding surprisingly like a bari sax! He keeps on chugging underneath the brief guitar solo that follows him.

I asked my baby, how about a date?
She said a date will make you feel just great

This is the only lyric that comes close to being a typical song-poem clunker, but it might not be -- I'm still not sure how to read it. Did Bob Brown sing "make you feel" by accident? It's possible. Or is the female character making a sly observation? Is it social commentary? Or just a malapropism? If so, why do so many song-poets have such Ringo Starr-like problems with their pronouns?

I said, I'll pick you up 'bout half past nine
She said, you better be here right on time

Bob Brown makes everything sound dirty -- in a good way: that's something that the best 1950s-style singers were particularly adept at, making innocuous lines sound pregnant with hidden meaning. It's a bit of a lost art.

Oh, that's it for a kiss, let's twist
That's it for a kiss, let's twist
The way my baby smiles spins my head around

This song is going on my next mix CD, that's for sure. It's among the most musically plausible song-poems I've ever heard, and that mugga-wugga bass gives it just the right hint of off-kilter-ness. If he were a guitar player, it'd be atrocious, but it works just right -- and he's still chugging away! Did he go on to play the jug in the 13th Floor Elevators?

That's it for a kiss, let's twist
That's it for a kiss, let's twist
She got me jumpin' all around town

I like to think of the song-poem author putting this on for his grandkids: "Betty, Joseph, come here, listen to Grandpa's song!" "You wrote this, Grandpa Jim? Wow, you must've been famous!" Even a 5- or 6-year-old could pick up on the bogusness of some of the other song-poems, but this one makes the grade.

Oh, let's twist, for a kiss
Come on and twist for a kiss

I'm tempted to bracket this review with Beatles quotes: "You may be a lover, but you ain't no dancer".

Oh, little baby, twist

current music: "Let's Twist"

(Comments for October 7, 2002)

October 6, 2002 (link)

10:28 PM

Two quick notes: first, I've been listening to Kraftwerk's Ralf and Florian LP a lot over the past day or two, and I like it a lot! Parts of it are uncannily prescient, though I suppose to put it that way is a little bit like a Stereolab fan who listens to Neu! and says "Wow, they really anticipated..." I particularly like the sound of the flute, and the role it plays, on this album. And "Tanzmusik" makes me want to do silly dances, and was probably instrumental in my decision to wear a turtleneck today.

Second, there's a good interview with Mimi Parker of Low, originally published in the 2001 issue of Chickfactor magazine, which can now be found here on their website. If you like Low, have a look; solo interviews with Mimi aren't too common, and it's nice to hear some more of her thoughts on various topics, both band-related and not.

Coming soon: a review of Yellowdock, disc two; another song-poem review; and other tasty treats.

current music: Entries number one and two (in succession) in the Aleatoric Composition Competition

(Comments for October 6, 2002)


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