Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Nights Behind The Tree Line - (2004)

This is Henry Rollins reading excerpts and passages from a few of his books. Tracks 1 - 5 are from his book "Solipsist", Tracks 6 - 15 are listed as being previously unreleased though they're actually from his most recent book of poetry/prose/ranting "Roomanitarian", and the last track is from his "Broken Summers" book. A lot of different topics are covered on this one... "Kalifornia Dreaming" is about the perils of being 'American'. "Coma Season" is about the wear of life and the memories lost along the way. "Visiting Los Angeles" is deadly accurate and delivered with as much sarcasm and cynicism as you could possibly imagine,hilarious. Over all this is an excellent cd,with words and thoughts about the alienation of life and modern day reality that chill you, make you think, and challenge you. Anyone into Henry Rollins or a fan of that which fearlessly tells the truth out loud should check it out.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Songs For Swinging Larvae - (1981)

Songs for Swinging Larvae is Renaldo And The Loaf's debut album released on The Residents own, Ralph Records label. They are an English duo who force instrumentation through effect boxes, working with tape loops and cut-ups to grab any interesting sound they can. And while much of it comes off half-baked,there are some pieces here that you'd want to hear more than once: the gamelan and sax throb of "Bali Whine," the threatening crescendo of "BPM," and the dark bubble of a tape loop that spools through "Spratt's Medium." Music guaranteed to rid your house of unwanted guests.

Gap-Tooth Clown EP -(1997)

Gap-Tooth Clown's instrumental opener "Auto Pilot" merely pumps listeners up for lead vocalist Marcus Durant's charismatic entrance on the oddly grungy "Crow" (think early Soundgarden with added distortion). "Lipstick" then turns the spotlight back to guitarist Rich Millman who really dominates the song, but it's arguably the ensuing "Gospel Tent" which runs away with the EP's best song prize, fulfilling the promise of its title with accompanying handclaps and truly exultant calls to spread the good news of rock & roll. Finally, the more deliberate "Unusual" takes its sweet time at slowly ascending towards a piercing climax.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sand On Seven - (1998)

Not From There started in London. Two members were deported to their native Australia for lack of work visas. There they found some sort of stability and eventually became widely recognized as the number one indie band from down under. Don' forget that the lead singer is Austrian. Not surprisingly, he himself was deported to his home country for a year. This also explains the presence of two songs sung German. One of these, "Sich Offnen," received heavy radio play in Australia, where most people speak English. Despite all these geographical disruptions, the group landed upon a relentlessly stable form of noisy indie pop that instrumentally is all about rhythm.

1997: The Missing Year -
The Original Disfigured Night Arrangement
- (2009)

Over the years, The Residents have been so prolific that it's easy to see that a year could have simply vanished and gone unnoticed. And one did - 1997, THE MISSING YEAR!In the early to mid 90's, The Residents were quite active in the creation of CD-ROMs, releasing Freak Show, The GingerBread Man, and Bad Day on the Midway from 1992-95. With another CD-Rom, I Murdered Mommy, scheduled for 1996, the group expected to continue working in that direction for some time, but the CD-ROM market unexpectedly dried up and support for the project disappeared, leaving Mommy as yet another unfinished, semi-mythical masterpiece. So much time was devoted to writing and designing the CD-Rom that, other than some soundtrack music for the game and a short side project, Pollex Christie, no music was recorded in 1996.Having lost so much time on a dead concept, 1997 finally arrived, but the new year was not so happy. For the first time in decades, The Residents had absolutely nothing in the works. No CD-ROM, no album, no plans. 1997 was born dead. And truthfully, the year never got much better, but the group did begin moving in some interesting new directions.Creatively, The Residents saw Pollex Christie as a successful experiment, consequently they decided to follow it up with another highly experimental, classically styled piece. Moving quickly, in the spring of 1997, the group began work on a new 15 min work, Disfigured Night, and soon roughed out a MIDI arrangement.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I'm Your Man - (1988)

A stunningly sophisticated leap into modern musical textures, I'm Your Man re-establishes Leonard Cohen's mastery. Against a backdrop of keyboards and propulsive rhythms, Cohen surveys the global landscape with a precise, unflinching eye: the opening "First We Take Manhattan" is an ominous fantasy of commercial success bundled in crypto-fascist imagery, while the remarkable "Everybody Knows" is a cynical catalog of the land mines littering the surface of love in the age of AIDS. (

Fragments Of The Universe Nurse - (2008)

Watching Human Eye onstage is like being attacked by space aliens. They are like something dreamed up by Philip K. Dick during an acid flashback, a science fiction sound world with rock and roll roots assaulting all of the senses. Their second full-length release, "Fragments of the Universe Nurse", continues their musical mission with more mind-derailing time changes, laser-beam synthesizer blasts, hallucinatory overdriven echoplex, and a generally brutal assemblage of disparate elements from a sonic palette that ranges from mid-70's punk rock to psychedelia, prog, free jazz, and Sci-Fi movie sound effects. Writhing giant robot snakes, huge illuminated plastic eyeballs, flying T.V. sets, and exploding flourescent paint-filled balloons only heighten the atmosphere of transformed reality and universal anxiety suggested by Human Eye's music. The musical structures whirl and explode in an entangled storm of opposites fusing together and colliding with strange precision. On first listen, you might think you're hearing traces of Beefheart, Germs, Chrome, Soupy Sales, the Residents, Hendrix, Gentle Giant, and the Boredoms. By the second or third listen, you'll (hopefully) be too disoriented to think, analyze, etc.

The B-Sides - (1995)

This ultra-rare picture CD was limited to a mere 2,000 copies and attached commercially to 1995's To Bring You My Love. The nine-song EP features studio sessions and home recorded four-track offerings, all of which have been lovingly crafted and packaged for die-hard PJ Harvey fans.

"Jackie Brown" Music From The
Miramax Motion Picture - (1997)

Jackie Brown, Tarantino's long-awaited third feature, finds him exploring new territory, creating a homage to blaxploitation flicks as well as a surprisingly subtle character study and love story, and its soundtrack appropriately finds him in new territory as well. The unified collection of '70s soul and funk is refreshing. He has wisely selected a batch of songs that haven't been worn out by oldies radio, building the bulk of the album with cult favorites like Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street," Bill Withers' "Who Is He (And What Is He to You?)," Randy Crawford's "Street Life," Minnie Riperton's "Inside My Love," the Vampire Sound Inc.'s "The Lions and the Cucumber" and Pam Grier's "Long Time Woman." Only "Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time," "Strawberry Letter 23" and "Natural High," as well as the Grass Roots' "Midnight Confessions," are familiar oldies items, but they play an integral part in the film itself and help make the soundtrack a thoroughly enjoyable, compulsively listenable experience. (

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tago Mago - (1971)

With the band in full artistic flower and Damo Suzuki's sometimes moody, sometimes frenetic speak/sing/shrieking in full effect, Can released not merely one of the best Krautrock albums of all time, but one of the best albums ever, period. Tago Mago is that rarity of the early '70s, a double album without a wasted note, ranging from sweetly gentle float to full-on monster grooves. "Paperhouse" starts things brilliantly, beginning with a low-key chime and beat, before amping up into a rumbling roll in the midsection, then calming down again before one last blast. Both "Mushroom" and "Oh Yeah," the latter with Schmidt filling out the quicker pace with nicely spooky keyboards, continue the fine vibe. After that, though, come the huge highlights — three long examples of Can at its absolute best. "Halleluwah" — featuring the Liebezeit/Czukay rhythm section pounding out a monster trance/funk beat; Karoli's and Schmidt's always impressive fills and leads; and Suzuki's slow-building ranting above everything — is 19 minutes of pure genius. The near-rhythmless flow of "Aumgn" is equally mind-blowing, with swaths of sound from all the members floating from speaker to speaker in an ever-evolving wash, leading up to a final jam. "Peking O" continues that same sort of feeling, but with a touch more focus, throwing in everything from Chinese-inspired melodies and jazzy piano breaks to cheap organ rhythm boxes and near babbling from Suzuki along the way. "Bring Me Coffee or Tea" wraps things up as a fine, fun little coda to a landmark record. (

Pollex Christi EP - (1997)

Here The Residents purport to interpret N. Senada's 1937 piece The Big Toe (or Thumb) Of Christ. It is said that the composer would build a piece by appropriating the works of others, though he would leave holes in the "blueprint" for others to fill. Thus The Residents recreate a work that steals heavily from classical music, filling in the gaps with television theme tunes such as Popeye The Sailor Man and The Theme From Star Trek. The finished result sounds as good as the idea, an impressive musical collage, the highlight is their rendition of Carmina Burana by Orff.
Pollex Christi is deliberately very difficult to play, because Senada wanted mistakes. "They introduce unimaginable variations into the music," he said. "If the audience wants perfectly played music, let them listen to angels. Human music should stumble along most pitifully."
This recording was originally released in a limited edition of 400 numbered copies.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Safe As Milk - (1967)

Beefheart's first proper studio album is a much more accessible, pop-inflected brand of blues-rock than the efforts that followed in the late '60s — which isn't to say that it's exactly normal and straightforward. Featuring Ry Cooder on guitar, this is blues-rock gone slightly askew, with jagged, fractured rhythms, soulful, twisting vocals from Van Vliet, and more doo wop, soul, straight blues, and folk-rock influences than he would employ on his more avant-garde outings. "Zig Zag Wanderer," "Call on Me," and "Yellow Brick Road" are some of his most enduring and riff-driven songs, although there's plenty of weirdness on tracks like "Electricity" and "Abba Zaba". (allmusic)

People - (1996)

People is Babe at its most straightforward and ingratiatingly rock-like. (Another view would call it calculatingly commercial, but that doesn't seem to be what's going on here.) Sounding unnervingly like the Presidents of the United States of America at times (most pointedly on the tense, bass-heavy "Can't Stand Up," "Rube Goldberg" and the explosive "Family Picnic"), the album peels away the band's difficult exterior for such best-behavior charmers as "Breathe," "Stand by Your Man" (no, not that one), the sweet-sounding/sour-tongued "Memphis" and Rose Thomson's gorgeous "Wake Up," which could pass for a lost Lisa Loeb single. If People attracts new fans who won't care much for the band's trickier back catalogue, it's clear that the same wry intelligence and highly individual musical ambition is at work both here and there.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Half-Mute - (1980)

Tuxedomoon's debut album on Ralph Records followed in the wake of several EPs and singles released on their own label. Unlike many techno bands in the wake of punk, they punctuated the electronics with instruments such as sax and violin, the sax reminiscent of the self-taught sounds of David Bowie — not entirely polished, but unmistakable. The lyrics are dark and morose with glimpses of humor. Peter Principle's bass sounds positively chunky as well, contrasting with the rather fey but propulsive drum machines. "What Use?" is as close as they get to pop here, while other tracks ("Fifth Column") replicate the sort of European despair mined by Kraftwerk or Bowie on the second half of Heroes (another Bowie reference — however, they were one group whose vocalist didn't try to sound like him). "Dark Companion" borders on the pretentious but narrowly gets away with it. The experimental musicianship is what makes this album recommended. (

Locust Abortion Technician
- (1987)

The aural equivalent of a nightmarish acid trip and arguably the band's best album (or worst, depending on your point of view), Locust Abortion Technician tops the psychedelic, artsy sonic experimentation of Rembrandt Pussyhorse while keeping one foot planted firmly in the gutter. The record veers from heavy Sabbath sludge (even parodying that band on "Sweat Loaf") to grungy noise rock to progressive guitar and tape effects to almost folky numbers in one big, gloriously schizophrenic mess. Gibby Haynes debuts his "Gibbytronix" vocal effects unit here as well. (

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Roosevelt 2.0 - (2000)

This compilation is the same as the Roosevelt disc that is included in The Residents four CD set "Our Tired, Our Poor, Our Huddled Masses", with the addition of an abridged version of Pollex Christi. The tracks on this comp are in a different order and it was originally released in a limited edition of 1,200 numbered copies, each packaged in a wooden cigar box.
A nice collection of Residents tunes that are not featured on any of the groups studio recorded albums.

Birds Of Fire - (1973)

Emboldened by the popularity of Inner Mounting Flame among rock audiences, the first Mahavishnu Orchestra set out to further define and refine its blistering jazz-rock direction in its second — and, no thanks to internal feuding, last — studio album. Although it has much of the screaming rock energy and sometimes exaggerated competitive frenzy of its predecessor, Birds of Fire is audibly more varied in texture, even more tightly organized, and thankfully more musical in content. A remarkable example of precisely choreographed, high-speed solo trading — with John McLaughlin, Jerry Goodman, and Jan Hammer all of one mind, supported by Billy Cobham's machine-gun drumming and Rick Laird's dancing bass — can be heard on the aptly named "One Word," and the title track is a defining moment of the group's nearly atonal fury. The band also takes time out for a brief bit of spaced-out electronic burbling and static called "Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love." Yet the most enticing pieces of music on the record are the gorgeous, almost pastoral opening and closing sections to "Open Country Joy," a relaxed, jocular bit of communal jamming that they ought to have pursued further. This album actually became a major crossover hit, rising to number 15 on the pop album charts, and it remains the key item in the first Mahavishnu Orchestra's slim discography. (

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Living Legends - (1990)

If one needs a starting place to discover how an obscure trio of Sheffield sound experimentalists became one of the founders of industrial/EBM music, not to mention a whole range of artists interested in pushing the boundaries of recorded sound, The Living Legends is it. Conveniently collecting the series of singles the classic trio line-up released on Rough Trade Records, Legends makes for astonishing listening even today, alien now as it was then, and perhaps even more so. Compiled in more or less chronological order with a few exceptions, the tracks range from the quietly mysterious to astonishing, in-your-face sonics. The earliest single, "Do the Mussolini," and its various B-sides initially cast the band as gloomy, dour figures interested in fooling around with tape machines, rhythm boxes and a sense of echo that always made them sound like they were recording in the deep bowels of the earth. The Velvet Underground's "Here She Comes Now" gets an intriguing revamp here, Kirk's guitar buzzing the main riff in the background. After that, things really kick in with the groundbreaking "Nag Nag Nag," brilliantly coproduced by Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis and Red Krayola bandleader Mayo Thompson. Mallinder's abstract aggression as his electronically treated voice roars the title line is breathtaking enough, but the combination of heavily treated guitar and keyboard noise over the basic but effective rhythm pulse adds to the fantastic effect. Many other standouts follow from here, including the lengthy drone/groove of "Walls of Jerico" and the near-clinical push of "Second Too Late," with a gripping duet between a distanced Mallinder vocal and an upfront, vocodered and dead sounding voice. The sense of how the Cabs used everything from the more chaotic end of Krautrock to dub techniques surfaces throughout, capturing the sense of how they at once synthesized past approaches and created new ones. (

Haus Der Luege - (1989)

The final Einsturzende album of the 1980s found the group wrapping up that decade on a high note; while Haus der Luege barely lasts over half an hour, it's designed for maximum impact, and that it creates. The seasoned five-person lineup clatters and bangs away with fire, though the focus is more on straightforward industrial-tinged rock, as opposed to full-on industrial banging and relentless sonic experimentation. Things fully fire after an alternating voice/noise "Prolog" with "Feurio!," one of the band's strongest singles. With an ominous death-disco rhythm stop-starting under it all, swirling wails and cries in the mix, and sudden guitar lines filling out the sound, Bargeld's declamatory vocal approach in full effect. It's perhaps one of the most "industrial dance" songs the group's ever done, but it feels like a logical conclusion of their sound rather than a sudden embrace of Wax Trax! esthetics. Equally impressive is the title track, starting with a soft chime before turning into a dangerously funky aggro-crawl. Much of the album's second half is taken up by the lengthy "Fiat Lux," broken into three separate sections. Low in volume and astonishingly subtle until its final, overtly rhythmic conclusion, it's a testament to Einsturzende's abilities at the opposite end of where they are most often stereotyped as working, ambient instead of full-on noise. Bargeld's singing and a soft, central keyboard loop provides the main hooks for the piece, even when an array of random samples and noises starts surfacing about halfway through the track. Add in some blunt, interesting cover art and an appreciative essay from writer Biba Kopf, and Haus der Luege is another Einsturzende success. (

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"The Elephant Man"
Original Soundtrack - (1980)

Infinitely more conventional than David Lynch's Eraserhead effort, The Elephant Man follow-up focuses on John Morris' impressive yet all too safe compositions with a minimal amount of authority. There is much Danny Elfman-like carny-jingling travelling along the industrialized byways of 19th century London, a few rumblings of looming despondency, and not nearly enough creative invention. Surely, mixing one of Mel Brooks' favorite composers with the unparalleled world of Lynch would never have amounted to much, but it's even more telling that the soundtrack's peak is actually Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings." Without a doubt, the moment is fully realized, capturing the film's extraordinary climax with new depth. In the larger story, though, along with Dune, The Elephant Man represents an in-between stage for Lynch's personal work trying to find the right composer. Morris does his best trying to understand the unique complexities of Lynch's mind. It's just that much like the film itself, it is a restrained Lynch experience. Which is rarely — if ever — a good thing. (

The Lounge Lizards - (1981)

One might be forgiven for mistaking the Lounge Lizards' debut album for a traditional jazz release at a glance, what with the two Thelonious Monk covers and the participation of producer Teo Macero (who had previously worked with such heavyweights as Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck and Ella Fitzgerald, to name just a few). No, while there's definitely great respect shown here for the jazz tradition, the members are obviously coming at it from different backgrounds — most especially guitarist Arto Lindsay, whose occasional atonal string scraping owes far more to his experience in New York City's no wave scene than to quote unquote traditional jazz. In fact, the two aforementioned Monk covers seem a strange choice when you actually hear the band, which has more in common with sonic experimentalists like Ornette Coleman or Sun Ra. That's not to say that this is too experimental; saxophonist and lead Lizard John Lurie knows when to blow noise and when to blow melody, and ex-Feelies drummer Anton Fier manages to infuse a good rock feel into the drum parts even when he's playing incredibly complex rhythms. The end result is a album that neatly straddle both worlds, whether it's the noir-ish "Incident on South Street," the art-funk of "Do the Wrong Thing," or the thrash-bebop found in "Wangling". (

Fasciinatiion - (2008)

After a four-year break that involved building their own recording studio and setting up their own label, Blank.Wav, the Faint return with Fasciinatiion, a set of songs that are as ambitious as they are sleek — and tweaked: "I might distort myself a bit," Todd Fink sings on "Mirror Error," but that's an understatement. Virtually any sound that can be altered or augmented on the album has been, illustrating the blurring of man and machine that is one of Fasciinatiion's major themes. On "Forever Growing Centipedes," fuzzed-out beats and keyboards zap and twitch like they're attached to electrodes, while "The Geeks Were Right"'s chunky bassline gives the song's dystopian rock an electro-inspired backbone. While Wet from Birth's symphonic flourishes have been pruned, Fasciinatiion is just as ambitious as its predecessor, spinning cautionary tales about science, surveillance, and pop culture sleaze and setting them to kinetic, self-consciously synthetic backdrops. This love-hate relationship with technology is the cleverest thing about the album — at least in theory. In practice, Fasciinatiion is almost as much of a mixed bag as Wet from Birth was; songs like "A Battle Hymn for Children" take the album's themes in overwrought directions. Other tracks have interesting concepts but don't do much musically, such as the tense childhood memories of "Fulcrum and Lever" and "I Treat You Wrong," which dissects a manipulative relationship with the clinical distance of an autopsy. On the other hand, "Fish in a Womb"'s squirm-inducing words ("That slice in my neck, it's oozing jelly clear as glass") detract from the song's subtly pretty melody and arrangement. The Faint's pop skills match their conceptual ambition more than a few times, however: "Machine in the Ghost" and "Mirror Error" are bouncy and spare, with skeletal rhythms just strong enough to support their surprisingly sweet melodies. "Psycho," the album's most overtly playful track, resembles a slowed-down Brainiac song with its squeaking synths and rubbery guitars, and "Get Seduced"'s pop culture tirade comes attached to some of the band's most nagging hooks. Fasciinatiion clicks enough of the time to make it a step forward from Wet from Birth, and despite its unevenness, at times it can be fasciinatiing. (
Commercial Album - (1980)

Here's the concept: The structure of most pop songs consists of only two parts, the verse and the chorus. Since the verse and chorus usually repeat three times in a three-minute song, a pop tune really only consists of one minute of music. Cut out the repetition and you can, therefore, fit 40 pop songs onto a 40-minute record. And that's exactly what the Residents have done on The Commercial Album, the title of which comes from the band's deduction that since pop songs only consist of one minute of music and most advertisements are about a minute long also, ad jingles are "therefore the music of America." Got it? Whatever the concept behind it, this album is not only weird in that special way that only Residents albums are, but it's also surprisingly musically satisfying. A few of its 40 tracks ("Secrets" and "The Simple Song," for example) feel like throwaways, but most of them are surprisingly well organized and complete. The instrumental "Japanese Watercolor" is particularly impressive, as are the songs "Picnic Boy" and "Troubled Man." This album would make a great introduction to the Residents for anyone who hasn't yet been exposed to the band's unique brand of whimsy. (

Thursday, September 17, 2009

dj BC
The Beastles - (2004)

dj BC received both acclaim and controversy after his release of the self-made album The Beastles, a mash up of music from The Beatles and the Beastie Boys. The music has since been removed, most likely at the request of Apple Records, the owner of all Beatles intellectual property, including their songs. As a result of the Beastles release, the Boston Phoenix marked him as Boston's Best Lawbreaker, the Detroit Metro Times marked his CD one of the best of 2004, and he was featured in Newsweek, and Rolling Stone. Some tracks from the first Beastles album, along with other dj BC mashups and Beastie Boys bootlegs, were included on a rare 2-Part limited vinyl release by the Japanese record label Hotshot Records.

Daydream Nation - (1988)

By refining the song-oriented breakthroughs of Sister and developing their fascination with noise and alternate tunings, Sonic Youth created a masterpiece of post-punk art rock with the double-album Daydream Nation. Though the self-conscious sprawl of the album might appear self-indulgent on the surface, Daydream Nation is powered by a sustained vision, one that encapsulates all of the group's quirks and strengths. Alternating between tense, hypnotic instrumental passages and furious noise explosions, the music demonstrates a range of emotions and textures, and in many ways, it's hard not to listen to the record as one long piece of shifting dynamics. But the songs themselves are remarkable, from the anti-anthem of "Teen Age Riot" and the punky "Silver Rocket" to the hazy drug dreams of "Providence" and the rolling waves of "Eric's Trip." Daydream Nation demonstrates the extent to which noise and self-conscious avant art can be incorporated into rock, and the results are nothing short of stunning. (

...And Farewell To Hightide - (1996)

The first album by Maine-based post-rockers Cerberus Shoal (following the lovely Lighthouse in Athens EP from 1996) may surprise fans of the group's better-known records. While later albums by the ever-shifting collective feature a greater emphasis on exotic instrumental textures, the arrangements of these five songs are quite simple, featuring subtle percussion, occasional horns, and layers of guitars and keyboards; comparisons to both past masters of space rock like Atom Heart Mother-era Pink Floyd, and more contemporary figures like Flying Saucer Attack and Godspeed You Black Emperor! are inevitable.
Starting with their punk rock roots upon their 1994 formation, Cerberus Shoal relocated from Maine to Boston when the first line up of Caleb Mulkerin (guitar), Chriss Sutherland (bass/ vocals), Tom Rogers (drums) and Josh Ogden (guitar) was established. After a handful of shows at ABC No Rio, a self-titled EP and a full blown US tour all before the end of 1995, a couple line up changes would progress the Cerberus Shoal sound to a poppier, mellower appeal. With Kristen Hedges replacing Ogden on guitar and vocals, and the addition of David Mulder on keyboards, the two EP Lighthouse in Athens Parts One and Two and And Farewell to Hightide... were released in 1996 on Tree Records; both of these featuring Cerberus Shoal's stylistic changes. (

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

3 Feet High And Rising
(w/ Bonus Disc) - (1989)

The most inventive, assured, and playful debut in hip-hop history, 3 Feet High and Rising not only proved that rappers didn't have to talk about the streets to succeed, but also expanded the palette of sampling material with a kaleidoscope of sounds and references culled from pop, soul, disco, and even country music. Weaving clever wordplay and deft rhymes across two dozen tracks loosely organized around a game-show theme, De La Soul broke down boundaries all over the LP, moving easily from the groovy my-philosophy intro "The Magic Number" to an intelligent, caring inner-city vignette named "Ghetto Thang" to the freewheeling end-of-innocence tale "Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin's Revenge)." Rappers Posdnuos and Trugoy the Dove talked about anything they wanted (up to and including body odor), playing fast and loose on the mic like Biz Markie. Thinly disguised under a layer of humor, their lyrical themes ranged from true love ("Eye Know") to the destructive power of drugs ("Say No Go") to Daisy Age philosophy ("Tread Water") to sex ("Buddy"). Prince Paul (from Stetsasonic) and DJ Pasemaster Mase led the way on the production end, with dozens of samples from all sorts of left-field artists — including Johnny Cash, the Mad Lads, Steely Dan, Public Enemy, Hall & Oates, and the Turtles. The pair didn't just use those samples as hooks or drumbreaks — like most hip-hop producers had in the past — but as split-second fills and in-jokes that made some tracks sound more like DJ records. Even "Potholes on My Lawn," which samples a mouth harp and yodeling (for the chorus, no less), became a big R&B hit. If it was easy to believe the revolution was here from listening to the rapping and production on Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, with De La Soul the Daisy Age seemed to promise a new era of positivity in hip-hop. (

Richard D. James Album - (1996)

Perhaps inspired by the experimental drum'n'bass being created by Squarepusher (a recent signee to his Rephlex label), Richard D. James' third major-label album as Aphex Twin was his first to work with jungle — though, to his credit, he had released the breakbeat EP Hangable Auto Bulb almost a year earlier. Contemporaries Orbital and Underworld were beginning to incorporate moderate use of drum'n'bass in their work as well, but this album was more extreme than virtually all jungle being made at the time. The beats are jackhammer quick and even more jarring considering what is — for the most part — laid over the top: the same fragile, slow-moving melodies that characterized Aphex Twin's earlier ambient works. Most overtly disturbing is "Milkman," the first straight-ahead vocal track from Aphex Twin; the song is a child-like ode that gradually deteriorates into a bizarre fantasy concerning the milkman's wife. With all the Aphex Twin's curious idiosyncracies, though, Richard D. James Album is a very listenable record and a worthy follow-up to I Care Because You Do. [The American issue features the English EP "Girl/Boy."] (

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Space Is The Place - (1972)

Space Is the Place provides an excellent introduction to Sun Ra's vast and free-form jazz catalog. Typical of many Sun Ra recordings, the program is varied; earthbound songs, like the swing number "Images" and Egyptian exotica piece "Discipline," fit right in with more space-age cuts, like the tumultuous "Sea of Sounds" and the humorous "Rocket Number Nine." Sun Ra fuses many of these styles on the sprawling title cut, as interlocking harmonies, African percussion, manic synthesizer lines, and joyous ensemble blowing all jell into some sort of church revival of the cosmos. Throughout the recording, Sun Ra displays his typically wide-ranging talents on space organ and piano, reed players John Gilmore and Marshall Allen contribute incisive and intense solos, and June Tyson masterfully leads the Space Ethnic Voices on dreamy vocal flights. This is a fine recording and a must for Sun Ra fans. (
Ghosts Of Dead Aeroplanes
- (1999)

In the past, words such as "maniacal," "angst," and "demented" were used to capture the Prolapse sound, but while still betraying their non-conformist stance, none of those characteristics are readily apparent on the Leicester band's third U.S. album, Ghosts of Dead Aeroplanes. Gone, too, are most hints of sound terrorists such as PiL and the Fall; instead, the album, while still full of ardor and shards of discordant guitar noise, positively shimmers in a way that might be more akin to new wavers such as Joy Division and Bauhaus. That is, more than anything, the album is pretty and refined but in a seriously intense and atypical way, and the jaggedness of the music belies its frangibility. Prolapse still deal in an odd angularity and uneasiness — the bass grumbles, the guitars aim and fire, the drums often sound programmed and metallic — but it somehow manages to be both more accessible and artful than the band's previous music. Songs such as "Essence" and "After After" are almost impossibly attractive because they apparently arise out of despair and white noise, but are elevated into shining, melodic gems that retain a mechanical raggedness of sound. Always the songs seem directed, purposeful, and challenging. A good helping of the prettiness can be attributed to Linda Steelyard's almost ghostly vocals, which carry in them the enticingly ominous melodies. Co-lead vocalist Mick Derrick, on the other hand, could be speaking French as audible as his monotonic, sometimes-spoken-sometimes-shrieked vocals are, but that is not the point; Derrick's muttering is a constant, almost subliminal presence boiling beneath the music and adds a palpable layer of mystery to the sharply etched soundscapes. The album's title seems entirely appropriate in at least one way: Ghosts of Dead Aeroplanes maintains a spectral allure that is wraithlike. You can never quite get a grasp on the music, you can only feel its presence on the back of your neck. Sounds come echoing from deep places before disappearing, and words are whispered as if from a different dimension, a different existence. Perhaps springing from beyond the grave. (

Closing Time - (1973)

Tom Waits' debut album is a minor-key masterpiece filled with songs of late-night loneliness. Within the apparently narrow range of the cocktail bar pianistics and muttered vocals, Waits and producer Jerry Yester manage a surprisingly broad collection of styles, from the jazzy "Virginia Avenue" to the up-tempo funk of "Ice Cream Man" and from the acoustic guitar folkiness of "I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love With You" to the saloon song "Midnight Lullaby," which would have been a perfect addition to the repertoires of Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett. Waits' entire musical approach is stylized, of course, and at times derivative — "Lonely" borrows a little too much from Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" — and his lovelorn lyrics can be sentimental without being penetrating. But he also has a gift for gently rolling pop melodies, and he can come up with striking, original scenarios, as on the best songs, "Ol' 55" and "Martha," which Yester discreetly augments with strings. Closing Time announces the arrival of a talented songwriter whose self-conscious melancholy can be surprisingly moving. (

Monday, September 14, 2009

Old Wounds - (2008)

Young Widows released a solid album in 2006 titled Settle Down City. Drawing on the influences of Jesus Lizard and Black Flag among others, they released an album that was respectable in all sense of the word. They put out an album that people definitely liked. But now they've put out a record that people will fucking love. This shit is loud. This shit is heavy. This shit is great. Expanding their sound, Young Widows have created a near-masterpiece. Driving basslines set the tone and shrieking guitar and pounding drums deliver the noise. These fuckers know what they're doing. They want to make you eat shit and like it. They want you to get punched in the face and ask for another one. And they've accomplished it. With Kurt Ballou's production mixing in live and studio recordings it sounds immediate. It sounds like David Yow and the Lizards recording their own version of In on the Kill Taker. Numbing is the right word for this record. It numbs your soul. You can come into this with no regrets and come out wondering what the fuck happened. The guys in Young Widows understand that what happens happens and you've got to learn to deal. Dealing can be a pain but when you've got to do it, you've got to do it. Listen to this album and deal. Deal with what happens and what doesn't. Deal with the shit that you haven't even eaten yet. But just listen and enjoy. This album is the lunch you've only eaten once but want another bite of. (

High Horses EP - (2001)
A nice little one-off by The Residents' "Combo de Mechanico" (despite what it says on the sleeve!). Who? Wha? we might say, but they sure ain't telling. This seems to carry on a series of automated-music experiments - History of Digital Music, Pollex Christi - and, as usual, there is a bizarre concept behind it. This represents the sound of riding the carousel at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park in 1970 while under the influence LSD. This CD is very short for the price, but you do get a lovely 'Factoid-a-round' wheel inside, which gives you information about 1970, the Golden Gate Carousel and Acid. A word of warning for those who get dizzy easily. 3D spatial sound trickery is employed all the way through.
It was a good stop-gap while waiting for the next album. What it obviously wasn't was a thrown-together-overnight project — the process behind this has been gently simmering on the back burner of The Residents' collective consciousness for at least 16 years. As revealed by Hardy Fox in a radio interview, back in 1987. The Residents have long had an interest in street organ and carousel music, which is programmed by means of punched cards. High Horses is an attempt to both emulate punch-card carousel music by means of modern computer systems, and to simulate an actual carousel ride.
The Residents seem to have turned towards the importance of sound again, after a slight aversion for most of the nineties. I think they decided that it would be a good experiment to explore the use of notes, harmony and melody for a while (paying less attention to texture). Here, I think they were beginning to combine the two again.
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