Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Yet Another iPod Commercial

Yeah, LPs are the best, but let's face it, I'm addicted to the iPod, so in its thrall that I even spell its name with the correct trademarked capitalization. Furthermore, I'm addicted to the album shuffle setting, one album at a time to infinity, always at random. At home, at work, and on the train, I have in fact had my iPod and iTunes on album shuffle for almost two or three years straight. The times in 2010 that I actually put on an album of my own choice, vinyl and CD included, could probably be counted on two hands... well, four... maybe six... okay, eight at the most (that's a mere 40 in a whole year, and at least 10 of those were the new Sun City Girls)...

How could I stop the shuffling when sequences keep coming at me like they did today and tonight, sweet gradational shifts through modern folk forms, from a Canadian man to two English women to an African-American man... it started late this afternoon with a concert by Leonard Cohen, live at BBC in 1968. All Leonard Cohen is great, his recent concert tours have looked exquisite, but my particular love is for the early stuff. McCabe & Mrs. Miller era. Songs Of Leonard Cohen (1967), Songs From A Room (1969),  production by John Simon (who did Music From Big Pink) and Bob Johnston (who did Blonde on Blonde) respectively. The high young reedy voice, great lyricist, killer acoustic guitar player. To quote one extremely accurate YouTube comment, "wintery hymn(s) of the soul's interior!" These BBC sessions are gorgeous... forget those legendary producers I just named, the music here sounds as good as anything on the albums, and so does Cohen's singing. Lenny is one of those guys whose lyrics stay nested and emerge gently, and only on repeat listens, even when they twist like knives. Tonight the one that stuck was the 8th stanza of "Teachers": "I ate and ate and ate, no I did not miss a plate, well how much do these suppers cost? We'll take it out in HATE." I have no idea who the backing band is, even after googling for almost 10 minutes! (I guess some folk/rock mysteries are still sacred... though there was a mention somewhere of "Dave Cousins and The Strawbs").

And after the Cohen, the shuffle goes right into Bridget St. John and her album Ask Me No Questions. Can you imagine the gradational shift from 1968 Leonard Cohen to 1969 Bridget St. John? The voice goes from male to female, and the mood is different, but there is still so much in common. She is a decade younger, born in 1946, part of the global beat/folk/hippie boom, with acoustic guitar playing as idiosyncratic as her contemporary Joni Mitchell, but with a much different singing voice, deeper and richer, almost like a British Nico. And that's what a lot of this album is focused on, just her acoustic guitar and voice, with only sparse backing. Her songs aren't immediately hook-filled, but they are complex and intriguing and often lovely. Progressive folk for sure, like when she sings "And as for me I'll eat a buttercup sandwich and wait 'til the shower is over.

And then the iPod shuffle goes from 1969 Bridget St. John to 1967 Shirley Collins, can you believe that? Had to be on purpose... talk about gradational... another British lady singing beautiful folk songs in the late 1960s. Shirley is a little older, more Leonard's age, more pre-hippie, and for the intents and purposes of this album  The Sweet Primeroses even pre-beat, in fact sounding like she could be singing from 500 years ago. Her voice is as clear as a bell and she sings over the sparsest of accompaniment, most notably her sister Dolly on Portative Pipe-organ (which she plays on six tracks... Shirley accompanies herself on 5-String Banjo for another four), which she plays at least 14 times more beautifully and hauntingly than this guy (who is fine, don't get me wrong... the costume changes are a plus, as is the cat cameo).

In a way, the shift from the Collins album to the next one is even more gradational; even though the change is from a British woman singing folk songs in 1967 to an African-American man playing fusion jazz in 1976, it took me a few minutes to even realize that it was a different album. I literally thought that Lol Coxhill himself, or someone like that, had been drafted by the Collins sisters for a rousing album closer, the old weird Britain meeting the new, if you will... but it was actually this odd mostly acoustic chamber fusion jazz LP by Michael Gregory Jackson that was released in 1976 on legendary label ESP-Disk. At that time the label was a bit past their prime, kind of like being on SST in the '90s, but this album, called Clarity, is a good one, some sweet, spiky, and exploratory 1970s music by an excellent and unconventional group: David Murray, Oliver Lake, and Wadada Leo Smith, all on horns/reeds/woodwinds/etc (no piano or rhythm section), while Jackson plays acoustic and electric guitars and sings occasional proto-neosoul vocals over a mix of composition and free improvisation. Almost as importantly, he's holding a cat on the cover. This was his debut, at the tender age of 23... he went on to record "career defining records on Arista/Novus in the 80s and 90s."

I swear these all came up today on random, in order, without me stopping the iPod. And after Michael Gregory Jackson, it jumped from folk forms (or did it??) and went into a perfect palate cleanser: the "T.V. O.D." b/w "Warm Leatherette" single by The Normal. As the brilliant A side came pulsing through the room, my son yelled from the next room "I LOVE THIS MUSIC!!" He was a little weirded out by "I don't need a TV screen/I just stick the aerial into my skin/let the signal run through my veins," but it was cool, I told him it was science fiction.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


M AX NOI MACH In The Shadows LP (WHITE DENIM) At the time of his interview in the most recent issue of Blastitude, Robert Francisco had yet to release any full-length vinyl as M Ax Noi Mach, but now that time has come and it fulfills all the promise shown on the 7-inches and the tapes like Chaser. Not only did quality-driven fellow Philadelphian label White Denim step up and pay big bucks for mastering in order to successfully groove the thick frequencies, but Francisco did his part and showed up with his best series of tunes to date. His music continues to never settle into any one obvious subgenre... power electronics would seem to the closest genre description, although his vocals seem rooted in 90s hardcore/grindcore more so than 70s/80s industrial...  harsh noise doesn't fully work either, because what might start or otherwise sound like a harsh noise track is frequently pushed, via driving dance beats and that mastering job, into a radio-ready club dance feel (just listen to the way the opening track "Creeper" hits). And the real club hit on this album should be "Devil City"... I really want White Denim to bankroll an early 90s style hip-hop video in which Francisco lip-syncs out on the streets dressed in winter wear. They'll have to cut a censored radio version due to the gigantic hook based around the phrase "buncha fucking animals," but it'll be worth it. Side one closer "Fetico" is a weird quieter 'talking' track that nicely demonstrates that crucial trait of all music, the ability to change it up a little. (Some call it dynamics.) Side two is also very heavy and it has another (welcome) version of "Creeper" called "Creeper Sits." All in all, a perfect and readily available introduction to what this guy does.

PHIL COHRAN African Skies LP (CAPTCHA) Can't say how beyond-stoked I was to walk into Reckless and see this on the wall, a brand new funky colorful gatefold vinyl version of the wonderful African Skies by Phil Cohran. I did not know this vinyl release was in the offing, but I am familiar with the album, having bought a CDR version of it for 10 bucks off of Cohran himself a few years ago at one of his Ethiopian Diamond gigs (he's still doing it every other Friday night at 7PM, go to 6120 N. Broadway in Chicago for fine food and good music). In fact, familiar is an understatement, as this is possibly one of my favorite albums of all time, certainly one of my most-played this decade. It was recorded in 1993 for Chicago's Adler Planetarium, and not only does it sound excellent as a soundtrack to viewing galactic depths, but, with Cohran's extensive harp and frankiphone themes and solos over sublime deep string arrangements, it's also like experiencing ballet in ballrooms, fairy tales in bedrooms, and folk songs and stories on the savannah, without any rooms necessary. (And really it's just the deepest of cosmic jazz by one of its all-time great composers.)

GROUP DOUEH Beatte Harab LP (SUBLIME FREQUENCIES) For my money their best album yet. The first two were compilations spanning different years and different recording situations, but this seems to be a complete work of new material, laid down possibly in a single committed studio session. It's also his first album to be largely acoustic, with little (if any) electric guitar, and more traditional Moorish instruments such as the "tinidit (three string Mauritanian lute), ardin (kora-like harp played traditionally by women), tbal (clay drum) and the kass (tea glasses)." Apparently there is also Korg synth on here, but I haven't even really noticed it yet after three listens. The raw 'VU bootleg' thrill of the first 2 LPs is gone, but in its place are deep roots laid down with sweet clarity, and the interplay between Doueh's tinidit and his wife's ardin is unreal, sometimes like Joseph Spence jamming with at least three Magic Band guitarists all at once, the speed of the notes sometimes suddenly doubling or even tripling until the music sounds like a school of silver-jeweled turquoise hummingbirds bending backwards to fly concentric circles around a tiny heart-shaped cathedral made from golden vases at the exact center of your mind.

AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE #1.  "To those of us who are here now, Noise Culture (as we're calling it on the cover) is really exciting and worthy of detailed investigation. There are differences between good and bad noise, and there are ways to explain this in print." So writes co-editor Chris Sienko in the premiere issue of this long-awaited and finally-published Noise Culture magazine, something that he's been illustrating for years with various online writings, many of them right here in Blastitude starting way back in early 2001, but it is a fine thing to have so many of his observations and opinions on paper and in such a nicely designed book (because really, this magazine is a book, as much as the Industrial Culture Handbook was a book). And there is indeed much, much more than Sienko's contributions, including a whopping 38 page oral history of the Broken Flag label (by the magazine's other editor, UK-based Steve Underwood of the Harbinger Sound label), and features on Carlos Giffoni, The Haters, Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock, Climax Denial, Sewer Election, Putrefier, the IDES label, the Apraxia label... and that's still not all. 164 pages, perfect bound. 

One last note about some nice Cluster-related reissues coming to us from the Bureau B label... first off, there's a CD of the Cluster 71 album, their first as the well-known Moebius and Roedelius duo, created after they parted ways with founding member Conrad Schnitzler and changed the spelling of their name from Kluster. This is a truly groundbreaking album of "epochal, experimental electronics" that so many post-No Funners would still kill to create in 2011 (wow, that's 40 years later)... and if you're a fan of the later beat-driven pop-inflected Cluster albums like Zuckerzeit, this album will probably scare the shit out of you with its yawning chasms of deep-space noise that somehow always... seem... to.... BE.... GETTING... LOUDER..........  On a much prettier and more pastoral tip, Bureau B is also doing CD/LP editions of two solo albums by Roedelius called Selbstportrait and Selbstportrait - Vol. II. These were originally released on the Sky label in 1979 and 1980, and are completely solo recordings, one man sitting at a Farfisa organ and getting deep. The tracks are beat-oriented constructions with melodic cycles and improvisations playing out gently over the top, closer to the aforementioned Zuckerzeit style but with an additional aura of high-lonesome freedom of movement. Again, I think a lot of today's young chillmagogic artists would love to make albums like this, but let's face it, they just don't have the musical depth to do it... they're just gear-collectors and button-pushers who don't seem to have any idea how to improvise actual heartfelt and/or philosophical melodic statements. In other words, rad sounds but no songs, and these tracks, however "sketchbook" they may be, are ALL songs.

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