Thursday, December 31, 2009


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bullhead - (1991)

After three albums filled for the most part with quick song bursts and the occasional longer track, the eight-song long Bullhead found the Melvins stretching out a bit more at points, this time allowing the heavily stoned tempos plenty of time to really sprawl all over the place. There are fewer sudden shifts between fast and slow moments as well, and a lot more pure lava-flow beat-over-head feedback sludge and noise. It's not all ten mph deliberation, though - "Zodiac" shows the trio at full speed and blasting aside anything that might be so foolish as to get in its way, not to mention one unhinged Osbourne vocal lead. If grunge was achieving breakthrough status in Seattle, it was being perfected in its rawest sense on this album. Opening cut "Boris" does all this in excelsis — the band's longest recorded song at this point, nearly ten minutes long, it practically drips from the bongwater of eight million potheads, with Osbourne invoking his own brand of demons over the deep crawl of the music. Osbourne here really has got the dramatic, theatrical Ozzy Osbourne attitude down, with the occasional double-tracked vocals adding to the off-kilter intensity of the performances. Crover again shows his worth on the drums — he plays things slow most of the time but, crucially, never once sloppily — while Black keeps the bass going, however relatively unheard under Osbourne's guitar attack. "It's Shoved" is the not-so-secret highlight of Bullhead, Crover's brisker drum work and Black's sharp bass playing heralding a wild lead-guitar melody and a great ensemble performance. However, efforts like "Anaconda," with its slowly uncoiling power, and the intense "If I Had an Exorcism," which gets all the more wired and wound up as it goes (Black's bass here is some of her best), are no slouches. (

Here Comes The Indian - (2003)

Informed in equal parts by acid-fried psychosis, crop-circle field recordings, and an elephants-on-the-loose circus thrash aesthetic, Animal Collective's fourth full-length album rests roughly at the meeting point between psychedelic, noise, and folk music. Here Comes the Indian begins gently enough with "Native Belle," a moody set piece that belies the album's clatter with 12 minutes of constrained rhythmic builds, drones, and squeaks. Things quickly explode with the searing "Hey Light," a lightning bolt of electrocuted brass and human wails that sends the album careening into psychoactive delirium. Since everything that follows — from the shrieking brattle of "Two Sails on a Sound" to the enchanted tribal vocal exercises of "Slippi" to the slow-building celebratory scuttle of "Too Soon" — feels similarly crazed, drug-induced, and apparitional, Here Comes the Indian makes for particularly lucid listening. Brash, crass, and texturally magnificent, this is well worth seeking out. (

*** 7" SINGLE ***
Commercial Single - (1980)

Side A - Amber, Red River, Picnic Boy, Shut Up Shut Up Side B - When We Were Young, Phantom, Moisture, And I Was Alone

Monday, December 28, 2009

Washing Machine - (1995)

This album finds Sonic Youth returning to the fearless exploration of their SST records, but the group has found a way to work that into tighter song structures. Not only are the songs more immediate than most of the material on their earlier records, the sound here is warm and open, making Washing Machine their most mature and welcoming record to date. It's not a commercial record, nor is it a pop record, but Washing Machine encompasses everything that made Sonic Youth innovators, and shows that they can continue to grow, finding new paths inside their signature sound.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Louis Armstrong Remixed - (2009)

Louis Armstrong Remixed is part of a collaboration with Battalion Armour and The Apple Juice Kid for the Beautiful Warriors 2 project. Yes I know.....this is not the usual kind of posting that you have gotten use to seeing on here, but I gotta tell ya, this is one real smooth remix album and if you have already downloaded and listened to the Miles Davis remix album by The Apple Juice Kid than you know what he is all about. Louis Armstrong is one jazz musician that I never was really familiar with but have always had respect for his talent. The songs on here that are mixed are all more or less Armstrong essentials and at no point does AJK let us forget that. Do yourself a favor and check this one out.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Frenzy - (1982)

Screamin' Jay Hawkins was a truly demented R&B shouter, as evidenced by the classic "I Put a Spell on You." It wasn't long before his camp schtick overshadowed his musical abilities, but for a brief while he had a certain warped genius. Most of these tracks were recorded for OKeh, and the 14-track compilation Frenzy contains most of the best of these recordings. Nothing ever quite touched "I Put a Spell on You," but the songs that came the closest are here. Frenzy may not be a comprehensive collection, but for anyone that wants more of the sound that made "I Put a Spell on You" a hit, this will suffice.

Red Exposure - (1980)

Continuing deeper into their self-created world of weird alien skies and man/machine biology, among many other things, Edge and Creed, still working with John Cyborg, whipped up Red Exposure. Released as it was in the U.K. by Beggars Banquet during the heyday of Gary Numan, Red Exposure probably came across as the whacked-out American version of the modern machine music Numan (or more appropriately, Cabaret Voltaire) was whipping up. Seen in the light of history, though, it just sounds like Chrome — a slightly more controlled Chrome than on previous albums, but still out-and-out crazed and strange. Elements of fractured beauty surface more than once — the instrumental "Room 101," with haunting keyboard sighs and drones, and the similarly moody pulse of "Nights of the Earth" show that not everything is completely cracked. Such moments are only brief compared to the usual hip-shake mind-fuck of Chrome, pitched somewhere between unexpected catchiness and head-shaking, "what the hell was that?" shifts and turns. Musically there's less clutter, no immediate sense of piling absolutely everything up to see what would happen, even on the busiest tracks. Still, everything feels distanced and not-quite-there as before — even the crispest, punchiest songs, like the slow-dance beat of "Static Gravity," have something frayed at the edges (in this song's case, distorted and muddied orchestral swoops). Edge and Creed split the vocals between most tracks, while playing a boggling array of keyboards, guitars, and whatever else they could get their hands on. Creed's singing is a little more comprehensible than Edge's, who buries himself in the murk as much as possible or ominously whispers when the mood takes him, as on the more-cryptic-than-thou trudge of "Jonestown." Samples and drop-ins again make an appearance, but usually heavily treated, acting more as background atmospherics than jarring cut-ups. The most amusing cut in context is "Electric Chair," which sounds like somebody told Chrome to see if a Devo-like hit could be created. (

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas - (1999)

In their liner notes, Low hopes that their fans, "...will consider this our gift to you. Best wishes." Those who are already fans should be more than pleased with this little morsel. Throughout Christmas Low's trademark simplicity of instrumentation allows the listener to hear every nuance and crystalline detail. Beginning with "Just Like Christmas," we find the band at their poppiest with a drum sound and sleigh bells worthy of a restrained Phil Spector session. Mimi Parker's warm vibrato makes an irresistible mantra of the titular refrain. The album highlight "Blue Christmas" would have been doomed to a kitschy fate in most hands, but Mimi Parker's voice captures the broken-hearted melancholy of the original while eschewing any obvious Elvis references. The cover of "Silent Night" doesn't fare as well; the band fails to add anything of note to this holiday standard. Christmas also includes several songs that could alienate more secular listeners, especially "If You Were Born Today" which is chock-full of biblical references and paints an extremely despairing scenario on the fate of a contemporary Christ. Low does a rare thing in today's indie-rock milieu by refusing to survive on cynicism and worldliness alone. Whether or not one ascribes to their beliefs, the heartfelt and reverential beauty of their sound and lyrics are perfect for the holiday season. Christmas is a rich treat in a tiny package.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas - (1994)

F.M. Einheit teams up with guitarist Caspar Brötzmann for a series of improvised duos leaning heavily into the extreme noise end of the spectrum. Brötzmann had previously recorded an improvisational duo with his father, the great free saxophonist Peter Brötzmann (Last Home, Pathological) and seemed somewhat uncomfortable in the genre. As noisy and relatively free as his playing is with his trio Massaker, it appears that deep in his heart he's a rocker and it's in a rock context, however widely defined, that he shines brightest. Here, Einheit never supplies a regular rhythm but rather an array of generally harsh percussive sounds and Brötzmann tends to react with similar attacks including whorls of feedback and his trademark grimily fuzzed guitar. Fans of Einheit might enjoy this foray into riskier territory, but listeners hoping for something akin to the ecstatic heights scaled by Brötzmann in his early Massaker albums will be in for something different than expected. Not your typical Christmas album....or is it a Christmas album at all ???

The 12 Days Of Brumalia - (2004)

The 12 Days of Brumalia was an internet event presented by The Residents and For 12 days, starting on December 25th, a new song was posted on the web site along with an illustration and a quote. On the 13th day, The Residents presented the epic musical work, The Feast of Epiphany. Ralph America collected the audio tracks for a CD release in the summer of 2004.
Brumalia: Birthday of the Sun - Thousands of years before Christ, so-called pagans worshiped the Sun as a god. When winter approached, the sun dipped lower and lower in the sky each day. It seemed to the people that their god was forsaking them. The shortest day of the year came around December 21 (winter solstice). Several days later it became evident that the sun was coming back. When the people were sure the sun was returning, a great celebration called the Brumalia began on December 25th. On the eve of Brumalia, people exchanged gifts, sang songs, played games, and feasted. They kissed under mistletoe, which was considered sacred to the Sun-god and thought to have miraculous healing qualities. Holly berries were also considered sacred. Holly wreaths, round like the sun, decorated houses and places of worship during Brumalia. The Roman Catholic Church absorbed the Brumalian rituals around 350 A. D. In the fifth century the church ordered Christmas to be celebrated forever on the Brumalia, December 25, inasmuch as no certain knowledge of Christ’s birthday existed. The birthday of the sun, became the birthday of the son. (

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Donnie Darko - Music From The Motion Picture Score - (2002)

The most remarkable thing about Richard Kelly's directorial debut, Donnie Darko, is its sheer tenacity. After suffering the fatal blow of a post-September 11 release date, the ominous film, which features the destruction of a sleepy suburban household by a falling jet engine, was pulled from theaters. Its subsequent release on video garnered a rabid fan base that elevated the movie to cult status, spawning hundreds of websites devoted to untangling its spidery threads of time-travel logic and spiritual chicanery. Rookie composer Michael Andrews, whose only previous work was for television's Freaks and Geeks, captures the underlying dread and unsettling beauty of the film by remaining reverent to it. Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, the heart of the piece is a pulsing, hypnotic waltz that transports you to the alternate-reality Middlesex, VA where the film takes place. His use of period (1980s) synths and a voxophone, tastefully punctuated by sparse choral arrangements, evoke a Danny Elfman score leached of bombast and quivering in its naked form. Like Air's soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides, Andrews' songs create such a specific sense of place that an entirely different film would emerge in their absence, robbing the consumer of its dizzying afterglow -- the soft, walking pianos on "The Artifact and Living" and "Rosie Darko" tiptoe through your subconscious for weeks. Due to the sparse, six-million-dollar budget of the movie, the producers had to decide whether or not to include celluloid-only tracks like "Killing Moon" by Echo & the Bunnymen and "Under the Milky Way" by the Church or pay for the special effects. They wisely opted for the latter, threw in an extra quarter and allowed Andrews and singer-songwriter Gary Jules to construct the heartbreaking re-working of Tears for Fears' 1983 hit "Mad World," that delivers the last play on Donnie Darko's haunting, apocalyptic jukebox. (

Loveless - (1991)

Isn't Anything was good enough to inspire an entire scene of My Bloody Valentine soundalikes, but Loveless' greatness proved that the band was inimitable. After two painstaking years in the studio and nearly bankrupting their label Creation in the process, the group emerged with their masterpiece, which fulfilled all of the promise of their previous albums. If Isn't Anything was the Valentines' sonic blueprint, then Loveless saw those plans fleshed out, in the most literal sense: "Loomer," "What You Want," and "To Here Knows When"'s arrangements are so lush, they're practically tangible. With its voluptuous yet ethereal melodies and arrangements, Loveless intimates sensuality and sexuality instead of stating them explicitly; Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher's vocals meld perfectly with the trippy sonics around them, suggesting druggy sex or sexy drugs. From the commanding "Only Shallow" and "Come in Alone" to breathy reflections like "Sometimes" and "Blown a Wish," the album balances complexity and immediately memorable pop melodies with remarkable self-assurance, given its difficult creation. But Loveless doesn't just perfect the group's approach, it also hints at their continuing growth: "Soon" fuses the Valentines' roaring guitars with a dance-inspired beat, while the symphonic interlude "Touched" suggests an updated take on Fripp and Eno's pioneering guitar/electronics experiments. These glimpses into the band's evolution make Shields' difficulty in delivering a follow-up to Loveless even more frustrating, but completely understandable — the album's perfection sounded shoegazing's death-knell and raised expectations for the next My Bloody Valentine album to unreasonably high levels. Though Shields' collaborations with Yo La Tengo, Primal Scream, J Mascis, and others were often rewarding, they were no match for Loveless. However, as My Bloody Valentine fans — and, apparently, Shields himself — will attest, nothing is. (

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mustt Mustt - (1990)

When the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomehni banned all music in Iran and declared it to be sacrilegious, his views by no means reflected the outlook of all Muslims. In fact, Islam's Sufi sect believes music to be a sacred and necessary element of spiritual life. Like Hindus, the Sufis passionately encourage meditation, dancing and chanting. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is a master of traditional Qawwali, the music of the Sufis. Soulful and hypnotic, Khan's passionate singing on these songs of praise underscores the richness and vitality of Sufi culture. While Qawwali music goes back centuries, the use of synthesizers adds a modern edge to the highly absorbing Mustt Mustt.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Os Mutantes - (1968)

The band's debut album, Os Mutantes, is far and away their best — a wildly inventive trip that assimilates orchestral pop, whimsical psychedelia, musique concrète, found-sound environments — and that's just the first song! Elsewhere there are nods to Carnaval, albeit with distinct hippie sensibilities, incorporating fuzztone guitars and go-go basslines. Two tracks, "O Relogio" and "Le Premier Bonheur du Jour," work through pastoral French pop, sounding closer to the Swingle Singers than Gilberto Gil. Though not all of the experimentation succeeds — the languid Brazilian blues of "Baby" is rather cumbersome — and pop/rock listeners may have a hard time finding the hooks, Os Mutantes' first album is an astonishing listen. It's far more experimental than any of the albums produced by the era's first-rate psychedelic bands of Britain or America.

Alles Wieder Offen - (2007)

If Einsturzende Neubauten's 2007 effort Alles Wieder Offen ("All Open Again") seems to be more of a follow-up to 2000s Silence Is Sexy than 2004's Perpetuum Mobile, it could be because it delivers on EN's 2002 dream of a listener-supported official album. Mobile appeared on the band's usual home label Mute so a tour could be financed. Even if it was hardly a throwaway album, the group's hunger for progress seemed undercut by the use of air horn blasts, metal crashes, and other devices that referenced the sound that made early Neubauten so infamous. Alles, on the other hand, was paid for by "supporters" who received interim recordings and an expanded final product different from the general release with bonus tracks and a DVD. As such, it's free to explore the more difficult and subtle side of the band's music. There are moments on Alles where tension escalates into something approaching chaos, and other moments where the rhythms are mechanical, but most of the album sounds like sophisticated modern composition-meets-downtrodden pop song, as if leader and head writer Blixa Bargeld was working on a Threepenny Opera for the 21st century. Displaying Blixa's love of irony and wordplay, the title "All Open Again" refers to something less positive than it might sound. Being "open" to a different way of thinking comes at a cost in his songs, as if it's a burden. Key track and single "Weilweilweil [Becausecausecause]" questions the "endless set of appeasements" society offers in lieu of answers and represents them with zombie-like chanting of the song's title. "Don't take the advice of those/who've long since frittered their winter fat/of opportunities" it continues, but if principles aren't sacrificed in this unforgiving world one gets stuck in the land of "Nagorny Karabach," where Blixa lives "up on my mountain/in my black garden/the enclave of my choice." His lyrics are matched by the equally vivid music. Making great use of basslines, strumming guitars, and sometimes even breathing, Neubauten create something rhythmic instead of just percussive and drive home the solitude theme with stretches of silence. The big eruption of noise comes during the lone sociable song "Let's Do It a Dada," and then it's a slow slide down to the insular closer "Ich Warte [I'm Waiting]." "Ich Warte" waits for proof that "life is not an error, not error and music" and receives none, but when Blixa declares, "I'm waiting for the new language/That will be of use to me" he only needs to look as far as the wonderfully unique album he and his fellow musicians have created. (

Saturday, December 19, 2009

4 - Track Demos - (1993)

Since Steve Albini gave Rid of Me such an uncompromisingly noisy finish, it may have made sense for Polly Harvey to release her original demos, augmented by several unreleased songs, six months later as an album. After all, the initial British pressings of Dry came with a bonus disc of her demos. Still, the official, independent release of 4-Track Demos suggests that Harvey wanted to give these songs another chance for listeners who found Rid of Me too abrasive. Even for those who enjoyed Rid of Me, 4-Track Demos is a revelatory experience, since it arguably captures the raw emotion of the songs better the official record. A handful of songs from the record aren't repeated in demo form — namely "Missed," "Man-Size," "Highway 61 Revisited," "Dry," and "Me-Jane" — but they're replaced by the previously unreleased "Reeling," "Driving," "Hardly Wait," "Easy," "M-Bike," and "Goodnight," most of which are easily the equal of the songs that were actually released, and that's what makes 4-Track Demos necessary for every Harvey fan, not just collectors.

Music Tapes For Clouds And Tornadoes - (2008)

From the sound of things, not all that much has changed for Julian Koster in the nine years since his Music Tapes project made its somewhat perplexing initial appearance with First Imaginary Symphony for Nomad. Music Tapes for Clouds and Tornadoes finds the elusive, eccentric Koster still fixated on homemade and otherwise unconventional instruments (including such creations as a "fun machine" and "the Seven Foot Tall Metronome," along with his trusty banjos and otherworldly singing saws); still futzing around with archaic recording methods (no Edison cylinders this time around, but the credits do list a record lathe, a wire recorder and ribbon microphone from the 1930s, and several pieces of equipment from the '50s and '60s); and still warbling dreamily to, for, and about insentient entities and natural forces (in this case, as the title suggests, primarily meteorological phenomena, as well as reindeer). There are some definite musical developments here, most notably a shift away from the jumbled sound collage aesthetic to a more direct and melodic song-based approach, but the most striking change may be one of context. Whereas Nomad was released at the height of the Elephant 6 Recording Company's prolificacy and success, and got somewhat overlooked in the shuffle, the intervening years have seen the E6 collective's output dwindle and then essentially halt altogether, while its stature and the cult fascination with its works (most prominently Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, to which Koster was a significant contributor) have continued to increase; the upshot being that considerable attention was paid to this new offering. (

Friday, December 18, 2009

Trout Mask Replica - (1969)

Trout Mask Replica is Captain Beefheart's masterpiece, a fascinating, stunningly imaginative work that still sounds like little else in the rock & roll canon. Given total creative control by producer and friend Frank Zappa, Beefheart and his Magic Band rehearsed the material for this 28-song double album for over a year, wedding minimalistic R&B, blues, and garage rock to free jazz and avant-garde experimentalism. Atonal, sometimes singsong melodies; jagged, intricately constructed dual-guitar parts; stuttering, complicated rhythmic interaction — all of these elements float out seemingly at random, often without completely interlocking, while Beefheart groans his surrealist poetry in a throaty Howlin' Wolf growl. The disjointedness is perhaps partly unintentional — reportedly, Beefheart's refusal to wear headphones while recording his vocals caused him to sing in time with studio reverberations, not the actual backing tracks — but by all accounts, the music and arrangements were carefully scripted and notated by the Captain, which makes the results even more remarkable. As one might expect from music so complex and, to many ears, inaccessible, the influence of Trout Mask Replica was felt more in spirit than in direct copycatting, as a catalyst rather than a literal musical starting point. However, its inspiring reimagining of what was possible in a rock context laid the groundwork for countless future experiments in rock surrealism, especially during the punk/new wave era. (

Red-Eyed Soul - (2006)

The fifth full-length release by art-punk collective World/Inferno Friendship Society is just as enjoyable and intermittently frustrating as their other albums, but Red-Eyed Soul finds the Brooklyn-based outfit both mellowing slightly and moving tentatively into more commercial waters. Opening track and first single "Brother of the Mayor of Bridgewater" is a straight-up pop song that, with its infectious horn riffs and scat-sung chorus, would have fit comfortably on Dexy's Midnight Runners' Searching for the Young Soul Rebels. It's followed by the even more accessible and catchy "Velocity of Love," which has — no kidding — actual hit single potential, like with radio play and everything, and "Your Younger Man," is a dead ringer for Look Sharp!-era Joe Jackson, right down to the pissed-off sneer in Jack Terricloth's lead vocal. After that, things settle into more familiar territory, mixing big-band ska riffs with '70s punk guitars and Terricloth's arch vocal style and sardonic, politically charged and historically minded lyrics. The aforementioned frustrations come on songs like "Only Anarchists Are Pretty," which stretches out a clever lyric and catchy tune about two-full minutes too long, and the 30-second acoustic toss-off "Please My Favorite Don't Be Sad," which strands a promising song in a barely finished state. Red-Eyed Soul is a breakthrough for the planet's most confusingly named band, one that puts the group at an interesting artistic crossroads between their anarchic punk roots and the '80s pop sheen that covers this album's most interesting songs. (

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Singles Box Set - (1999)

One of the most popular crossover dance acts in the world, Underworld fortunately still held onto a bit of credibility with DJs and remixers. This is a collection of three CD-5 singles, encompassing remixes and B-sides for the singles "Push Upstairs," "Jumbo," "King of Snake," and "Bruce Lee." The roster of remixers is simply stunning, with all factions of the dance world accounted for. From mainstream America comes Roger Sanchez; for hard-edged British techno there's Dave Clarke and Slam; and for the more "intelligent," self-referential brand of electronic dance there's the Jedis (aka Global Communication) and Salt City Orchestra. Though rock fans who've gradually gotten into Underworld may tire of hearing the same "song" several times in a row, the variety and quality of sounds are excellent. The few B-sides are obviously album rejects, though interesting to hear nonetheless.

Disc 1

Disc 2

Disc 3
CD 1 - (1998)

Stefan Betke's nine variations on damaged dub minimalism recall the best of Basic Channel techno while steering well clear of the monotony factor. As with Pole's first singles, these tracks materialize out of a haze of stuttering fuzz, bouncing thin shimmers of echoing synth off of ambiguous rhythms and taught, bulging bass. Those who have followed Betke's Kiff career up the ranks to CD status will be disappointed to see the full contents of his previous 12" Tanzen included here, but it's at least nice to have it all in one place. An excellent debut.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Brief History Of Love - (2009)

On their debut album, A Brief History of Love, the Big Pink immerse themselves in all aspects of the first wave of shoegaze. The duo of Robbie Furze and Milo Cordell have doubtlessly made a complete study of the guitar music coming out of their native U.K. in the late '80s and early '90s and worked to build their sound into an impressive conglomeration of influences that's made up of components like the proggy excess of the Catherine Wheel, the guitar overload of My Bloody Valentine, the drum loops and dance elements of Chapterhouse, the dark, industrial sheen of Curve, and the epic sweep of the Verve but with plenty of modern production tricks. The influence extends to the vocals, which recall the expansiveness of the Verve's Richard Ashcroft rather than the dreaminess of the Thames Valley shoegaze contingent. Seeing (and hearing) all these comparisons may make it easy for some to instantly write the band off as record collectors or scene fetishists with no ideas of their own, but that would be a mistake. Yes, they are derivative. Yes, they are rehashing the past. This is key, though. They write really good songs and make them sound really good, too. That's the neat trick that allows them to escape the retro-revivalist label and that's why A Brief History of Love should appeal to both fans of shoegaze days gone by and the people who are still discovering the past and digging other groups who, like the Big Pink, are keeping shoegaze alive. The best songs on the album would do all right if stacked up against the work of their idols. Take "Dominos," for example. The thundering drums combine with an instantly memorable hook, the kind that makes you want to sing along before the first chorus is half over, to make it soar. "At War with the Sun," too, has a thrilling chorus and an uplifting feel, "Tonight" rollicks and rolls like a goofy cross between Jane's Addiction at their most pop and Medicine at their frothiest, and "Love in Vain" is a heartbreaking ballad that sounds like a second cousin of "Drugs Don't Work." The whole album isn't perfect; there are a few moments where things get a little predictable and the production is a bit slick, but these are minor concerns because the songwriting and performances paper right over the flaws. A Brief History of Love is a strong, sometimes really, really good debut, and a nice addition to the shoegaze canon. (

*** 7" SINGLE ***
Dancing In The Street / What A Dilemma - (1980)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lazer Guided Melodies - (1992)

The group's seminal debut album is aptly titled: The melodies shimmer and drone and hum like otherworldly pop tunes, and Radley and Pierce's vocals hover gently in the mix. One of the premier dream pop albums, Lazer Guided Melodies is both beautiful and innovative. Long before they were floating in space, Jason Pierce and friends were exploring the far reaches of the pop universe on Lazer Guided Melodies. Essentially four suites, it was an album on which nothing was as it seemed; all was processed and tinkered with, while horns and brass offered glory and fulfillment to the keyboards, guitars, and vocals. It was, really, the new space rock, drugged to oblivion and gazing at the planets, the modern psychedlia. Best heard on headphones, isolated in a darkened room, this was the sound of shapes to come.

µ-Ziq & APHEX TWIN (aka/ MIKE & RICH)
Expert Knob Twiddlers - (1996)

The two most popular artists to record for Britain's Rephlex label — label-founder Richard D. James (Aphex Twin) and Michael Paradinas (µ-Ziq) — collaborated in 1996 for Expert Knob Twiddlers. Recalling the great Milton Bradley game boxes of the 1970s and '80s, the cover is a picture of James and Paradinas, in suitable low-res, chop-and-paste photos, playing a variant of Connect Four. Inside, the two techno auteurs' music mesh quite well; Paradinas' liquidy funk distortion smoothes out the calculated, almost sterile, experimentation of Aphex Twin. The style-blending, however, cancels out the particular attractions of both artists, and the listener is left with something they might not have expected to hear from either. Fans of Aphex and µ-Ziq will be excited, but newcomers should go elsewhere before they dig this deep.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cunning Stunts - (1992)

The release of Cunning Stunts signals a "maturity" to the Cows, but it really means that riffs and hooks are starting to emerge from their usual tar pit of sound. Although Shannon Selberg's ranting and raving dominate the proceedings, it's guitarist Thor Eisenstrager who steals the show with his frenetic playing and bold experimentation. Not the pure noise of their earlier work, but certainly not an attempt at mainstream respectability, either. The Cows are simply too frenzied and defiantly idiosyncratic for that to happen.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Giant Steps - (1960)

History will undoubtedly enshrine this disc as a watershed the likes of which may never truly be appreciated. Giant Steps bore the double-edged sword of furthering the cause of the music as well as delivering it to an increasingly mainstream audience. Although this was John Coltrane's debut for Atlantic, he was concurrently performing and recording with Miles Davis. Within the space of less than three weeks, Coltrane would complete his work with Davis and company on another genre-defining disc, Kind of Blue, before commencing his efforts on this one. Coltrane (tenor sax) is flanked by essentially two different trios. Recording commenced in early May of 1959 with a pair of sessions that featured Tommy Flanagan (piano) and Art Taylor (drums), as well as Paul Chambers — who was the only band member other than Coltrane to have performed on every date. When recording resumed in December of that year, Wynton Kelly (piano) and Jimmy Cobb (drums) were instated — replicating the lineup featured on Kind of Blue, sans Miles Davis of course. At the heart of these recordings, however, is the laser-beam focus of Coltrane's tenor solos. All seven pieces issued on the original Giant Steps are likewise Coltrane compositions. He was, in essence, beginning to rewrite the jazz canon with material that would be centered on solos — the 180-degree antithesis of the art form up to that point. These arrangements would create a place for the solo to become infinitely more compelling. This would culminate in a frenetic performance style that noted jazz journalist Ira Gitler accurately dubbed "sheets of sound." Coltrane's polytonal torrents extricate the amicable and otherwise cordial solos that had begun decaying the very exigency of the genre — turning it into the equivalent of easy listening. He wastes no time as the disc's title track immediately indicates a progression from which there would be no looking back. Line upon line of highly cerebral improvisation snake between the melody and solos, practically fusing the two. The resolute intensity of "Countdown" does more to modernize jazz in 141 seconds than many artists do in their entire careers. Tellingly, the contrasting and ultimately pastoral "Naima" was the last tune to be recorded, and is the only track on the original long-player to feature the Kind of Blue quartet. What is lost in tempo is more than recouped in intrinsic melodic beauty. (

Fingerprince - (1977)

This transitional album for the group may not be one of their best, but makes up for it in historical importance. The self-created myth has that the album was intended to be the first three-sided release, what probably transpired was that the group had more songs than could be fit on a vinyl LP, so a few years later the remaining tracks were released as the Babyfingers EP (good luck trying to find one). Both EP and LP tracks are on the CD reissue, however. Fingerprince is one side of songs, a melding of their earlier, primitive side (their old piano, heard so well on Meet the Residents, is still in service here) with their sinister pop side that would be perfected on Duck Stab and The Commercial Album. Side two is a ballet cycle, entitled "Six Things to a Cycle," an attempt at faux-ethno-primitivism (heavily rhythmic, repetitious) that would prefigure their work in Eskimo and Mark of the Mole. The instrumentation owes as much a debt to Martin Denny's exotica as it does to Amadeo Roldan (the modern composer they sampled on their first single). The Babyfingers tracks follow a similar pattern, with a side of short songs ("Death in Barstow" being the best) and a longer track ("Walter Westinghouse") an experiment in extended, multi-character narrative. Snakefinger lends his guitar to "You Yesyesyes," dropping licks from The Third Man and others. (

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Helium - (2000)

You know you've got a strange sort of magic going on when a scratchy vocal by Tom Waits (on the reprise of the hypnotic, chamber music meets French cafe and spaghetti western title track) is the least bizarre element. The trio of Rob Burger (accordion, piano, pump organ, marxophone, harmonica), Carla Kihlstedt (violin, viola), and Mark Orton (guitar, Dobro, banjo) offer a vision of what a chamber music group might sound like if they mixed a studio session for a Western film with a rhythmically diverse, often atonal classical excursion. The opening track "A Life in East Poultney" finds a banjo plucking over a droning violin as bells ring in the background. That same violin does a seductive dance over a plucky organ base and accordion harmonies on the title track, which evolves into the image of a train blowing harmonica steam across the land. "Scrap" rolls like a schizophrenic fiddle tune, and then the fiddling slows down into a mosey on the wacky and atonal "Sand Dog Blues." And by that point, when the craziness is just beginning, you're either tripping and enjoying or wondering who these three are and just why they think this is commercial music. The New Yorker put it best when it said their music is "a soundtrack for the kind of puzzling dream which leaves you sitting awake in the middle of the night." You will love it or loathe it, but you can't just shrug and ignore it. (

Box - (1993)

Box, which is Babe's first album can be remarkably entertaining. "Chicken Head Bone Sucker" finds a stunning common ground between the Butthole Surfers and King Crimson; "Spatula" digs a groove between Basehead and Soul Coughing; "Born Again," bass player Rose Thomson's ironic self-help screed, is roaring punkish fun. But in the best way possible, the album is also exhausting, with challenging tempos, overcaffeinated tension and music that does everything imaginable to avoid stepping into a simple melodic structure. Although a fascinating animal that merits further investigation, Babe the Blue OX is intended not to be the easiest creature to wrap your arms around.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Devotion - (1970)

This album is from a pivotal moment in McLaughlin's history. This was just after he left Miles' group, but before Mahavishnu Orchestra started, and the music captures this moment perfectly. McLaughlin's technique had not progressed to "Mahavishnu" perfection yet, but the music has the in-your-face rock drive of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. This recording date grew out of sessions Alan Douglas put together, featuring McLaughlin and Larry Young jamming with Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles (Billy Rich was the bass player). McLaughlin sounded timid next to Hendrix (none of the material with Hendrix has been officially released), but really comes to life on Devotion. This is arguably one of the finest acid rock albums of all time. McLaughlin is on fire, using fuzzboxes and phasers, over Larry Young's swirling Hammond B-3, with Billy Rich and Buddy Miles as the rock-solid rhythm section. If you think that McLaughlin's solo at the end of "Right Off" (from A Tribute to Jack Johnson) is one of the high points of his career, then this is the album for you. Soon after this album was recorded, McLaughlin holed up, practiced like crazy, and re-emerged as "Mahavishnu" John McLaughlin, with both a new sound and a new band. Documenting the period just before that transition, Devotion is a complete anomaly in his catalog, as well as one of his finest achievements.

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