Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sound + Vision - (1989)

In 1989, not all major artists had their catalog available on CD, and one of the most notable absences was David Bowie. When the format was in its infancy, RCA had issued several of his classics, but those pressings were notoriously awful and were pulled from the market in 1985 when Bowie acquired the rights to the recordings. Sharp businessman that he is, he took the catalog to market, and after an intense bidding war, he chose to reissue his classic work through Rykodisc, an independent CD-only label that had earned acclaim for its work with Frank Zappa's catalog. Instead of dumping all the discs on the market at once, the titles were slowly rolled out, beginning with a series-encompassing Sound + Vision, a three-CD/one-CD-ROM box set released to great fanfare in the fall of 1989. At the time, box sets were all the rage, following the template of Bob Dylan's Biograph — an exhaustive career overview that offered all the basics, peppered with some revealing rarities. Upon its release, Sound + Vision was reviewed as if it belonged to this tradition, when it really inverted the formula, offering a series, not career, overview by showcasing alternate versions and rarities, along with album tracks, with a few familiar hits tossed in here and there to provide context. This was a tantalizing way to begin a reissue campaign, and it did receive gushing reviews — the CD-era publication Rock & Roll Disc breathlessly claimed "Suffice to say that the sound quality will give your ears an orgasm" — but once the reissue series completed and once Ryko lost the rights to the catalog, Sound + Vision looked more like a curiosity, an artifact of its time, than a major statement. Much of the problem stems from its design — it was intended to show off the sound quality, which was a marked improvement over the RCA discs, and to show the depth and breadth of rarities within the vaults. It was not a career-capper; it was a teaser. It was enticing upon its release, and some of it remains so. There's a clutch of early rarities that lead off the set — the original demo of "Space Oddity," alternate single versions of "The Wild-Eyed Boy From Freecloud" and "The Prettiest Star" — that are quite good, alternate takes on "John I'm Only Dancing" and "Rebel Rebel" that manage to be notably different without changing the feel, excellent outtakes from Diamond Dogs (a medley of "1984/Dodo"), Station to Station (a glittery, lush cover of Springsteen's "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City"), and Young Americans (the superb "After Today," a disco-rock song that should have been on the album and is hands down the best rarity here). These suggested the great unearthed treasures that lay ahead, and they remain necessary additions to any serious Bowie collection, particularly because they never showed up on another disc. If they were placed in a better forum, they would function like the rarities on either Biograph or Eric Clapton's Crossroads — rarities that helped fill in the details of an artist's story — but since they're in a set that's intended to showcase what the Ryko series would do, not what Bowie had done, they're the main attraction instead of feeding into the greater narrative. And that narrative, while certainly capturing the sometimes bewildering twists and turns in Bowie's career, is an alternate-universe narrative, lacking defining songs, from "Starman" to "Golden Years," and presenting many familiar songs in odd, not particularly interesting variations (a live 1974 version of "Suffragette City," a German version of "Heroes," presented in a 1989 remix). Though it succeeds in conveying Bowie's ever-changing moods, it lacks the substance and sense of a great box set, which this surely could have been. Instead, it's an interesting artifact of the early days of CDs, right down to its overly elaborate packaging, and only those who want to relive that time, or need those rarities, will need this in their collection. (

Disc 1

Disc 2

Disc 3

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Peyote Road - (2008)

Peyote Road, Pocahaunted's second offering from the Woodsist/Fuck-It-Tapes camp compiles two funereal dirges, one from the studio, while the other is a vibey live cut from the bands spate of dates supporting Sonic Youth's rekindling of Daydream Nation last summer. The former, "Divine Flesh," begins with a dirty and thick guitar phrase that is repeated sludgefully through the duration of the song. The guitar work is embellished with some spry bongo work, what sounds like a sitar ringing sympathetically on the periphery, and eventually the snaking and syllabic vocal meandering's of Amanda and Bethany, the band's two core members. The B-side, "Heroic doses," is a more clouded, and less melodic affair, quite possibly a result of the live recording techniques employed. It comes across as a sort of subterranean fugue, with more circular dynamics, and less track separation. Peyote Road's pace is more contemplative than previous Pocahaunted releases and performances, erring on the side of mournfulness, and stopping well short of the ecstatic catharsis that put this LA band on the map this past year. This is not a bad thing however, as it lends a bit of space to the listener. Despite its density, there is a loamy and diffuse quality that makes what is ostensibly heavy music by virtue of its palette and repetition, somehow spacious and inhabitable. Call it the bearable lightness of Pocahaunted; eschewing black superlatives for a dark grey sonic tapestry. Further, as their name would indicate, there is an embedded playfulness in the bands approach that sets them apart from many other contemporary drone/psych outfits. The vocals, despite being darkly minor, have an oddly pre-pubescent bounce one might expect to hear coming from a 3rd grader discovering their goth proclivities, and we again mean that in a good way. Certainly anyone well familiar with the band will be exceedingly pleased with this offering, and anyone who has yet to tap into the Pocahaunted/Robedoor/NotNotFun locus would be doing themselves a favor by taking a dip in the pre-natal drone slurry that's been drifting up the coast for the last couple of years.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dig Your Own Hole - (1997)

Taking the swirling eclecticism of their post-techno debut, Exit Planet Dust, to the extreme, the Chemical Brothers blow all stylistic boundaries down with their second album, Dig Your Own Hole. Bigger, bolder, and more adventurous than Exit Planet Dust, Dig Your Own Hole opens with the slamming cacophony of "Block Rockin' Beats," where hip-hop meets hardcore techno, complete with a Schoolly D sample and an elastic bass riff. Everything is going on at once in "Block Rockin' Beats," and it sets the pace for the rest of the record, where songs and styles blur into a continuous kaleidoscope of sound. It rocks hard enough for the pop audience, but it doesn't compromise either the Chemicals' sound or the adventurous, futuristic spirit of electronica — even "Setting Sun," with its sly homages to the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" and Noel Gallagher's twisting, catchy melody, doesn't sound like retro psychedelia; it sounds vibrant, unexpected, and utterly contemporary. There are no distinctions between different styles, and the Chemicals sound as if they're having fun, building Dig Your Own Hole from fragments of the past, distorting the rhythms and samples, and pushing it forward with an intoxicating rush of synthesizers, electronics, and layered drum machines. The Chemical Brothers might not push forward into self-consciously arty territories like some of their electronic peers, but they have more style and focus, constructing a blindingly innovative and relentlessly propulsive album that's an exhilarating listen — one that sounds positively new but utterly inviting at the same time.

Ovalprocess - (2000)

By the time of Ovalprocess, Oval's fifth full album, the clicks-and-cuts style of experimental ambience Markus Popp and company helped develop nearly a decade before was being championed all over the world, from Tokyo (Nobukazu Takemura) to Berlin (Pole) to Sheffield (SND) to San Francisco (Kit Clayton). All of which makes it a bit of a surprise that Process remains a distinctive work. The scratchy bass hum and high-pitched, atonal effects heard on most every track are very nearly Oval trademarks, and despite the focus on experimentation, Ovalprocess retains yet another hallmark of the group's productions: it's a remarkably beautiful album. Granted, this won't quite signify to listeners unfamiliar with the genre, but when the album climaxes (on the ninth untitled track) with a droning organ melody heard faintly above a cacophony of glitch static, electronics fans might just find themselves wiping their eyes from the wonder of it all. Even among considerable competition, Oval remains the very best at making beautiful music out of civilization's sonic detritus. (

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

*** 7' SINGLE ***
Satisfaction / Loser = Weed - (1978)

Yellow Laughter - (1982)

Theo Hakola, born American, arrived in Paris in 1978 and founded Orchestre Rouge. The group released their first album Yellow Laughter in 1982 (RCA) and a second one in 1983 More passion fodder. Their dark and activist lyrics were both in English and French and their discs sleeves featured Ricardo Mosmer’s paintings. The group broke up in 1984 and Theo then founded Passion Fodder. The group released five albums.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Boss Hog - (1995)

While Jon Spencer spent much of his time in Pussy Galore trying to destroy rock & roll as fans know it, by the time he got the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion rolling, he'd come to the belated conclusion that old-school rock and R&B could be pretty cool after all, and since the history of Boss Hog — one of Spencer's seemingly infinite number of side projects — overlaps with Pussy Galore, you get to witness this transformation over the course of their recording career. While Boss Hog's first album was a nearly unlistenable morass of aural sludge, six years later, their self-titled major-label debut turns out to be a very solid album in the same rootsy grit-rock vein as the Blues Explosion's best work. If anything, Christina Martinez, Spencer's partner in crime (and spouse), is a stronger vocal presence on this record, if only because she hasn't developed quite as elaborate a shtick as Spencer — she just belts it out in a sturdy blues-punk style, unlike Spencer's often amusing but sometimes irritating collection of blues and rockabilly affectations. Boss Hog also displays a far greater willingness to get funky than JSBX; they're not ready to face the Meters in a battle of "on the one," but the best cuts here boast a more sensuous feel for groove than the prime suspects have shown in the past. In short, Boss Hog shows that somewhere down the line Spencer and Martinez learned the importance of getting a groove on, and though that groove is rough, noisy, and ill-tempered, you can still dance to it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A National Healthcare - (1993)

The debut album by the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black is a punkier, almost poppy, take on goth rock than their over-the-top band name suggests, closer in spirit and execution to early-'80s Damned or even early Redd Kross than the likes of, say, Christian Death. Since the album was produced by the great Andy Shernoff of Dictators fame, that's not surprising. Singer Kembra Pfahler has an appealingly bratty whine, and for the most part, the songs stick to the three-chords-in-three-minutes template, and the closer they are to that ideal, the better; songs like the overlong "Alaska," with its rambling spoken sections and irritating sing-songy chorus, are notably inferior to tight little rockers like "Dionetics," which proves that it's possible to have a catchy singalong chorus that consists primarily of the repeated phrase "that f*ckin' asshole." The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black would never again reach the heights of this urgent fusion of camp and punk, but A National Healthcare is a good goofy time. (

Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea - (2000)

During her career, Polly Jean Harvey has had as many incarnations as she has albums. She's gone from the Yeovil art student of her debut Dry, to Rid of Me's punk poetess to To Bring You My Love and Is This Desire?'s postmodern siren; on Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea — inspired by her stay in New York City and life in the English countryside — she's changed again. The album cover's stylish, subtly sexy image suggests what its songs confirm: PJ Harvey has grown up. Direct, vulnerable lyrics replace the allegories and metaphors of her previous work, and the album's production polishes the songs instead of obscuring them in noise or studio tricks. On the album's best tracks, such as "Kamikaze" and "This Is Love," a sexy, shouty blues-punk number that features the memorable refrain "I can't believe life is so complex/When I just want to sit here and watch you undress," Harvey sounds sensual and revitalized. The New York influences surface on the glamorous punk rock of "Big Exit" and "Good Fortune," on which Harvey channels both Chrissie Hynde's sexy tough girl and Patti Smith's ferocious yelp. Ballads like the sweetly urgent, piano and marimba-driven "One Line" and the Thom Yorke duet "This Mess We're In" avoid the painful depths of Harvey's darkest songs; "Horses in My Dreams" also reflects Harvey's new emotional balance: "I have pulled myself clear," she sighs, and we believe her. However, "We Float"'s glossy choruses veer close to Lillith Fair territory, and longtime fans can't help but miss the visceral impact of her early work, but Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea doesn't compromise her essential passion.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Inflatable Boy Clams EP - (1981)

Inflatable Boy Clams was a short lived San Francisco based art-punk band active in the early 80s, featuring Carol Detweiler on bass, drums, organ and vocals, JoJo Planteen on bass and vocals, Judy Gittelsohn on organ, slide guitar, bass and vocals and Genvieve Boutet de Monvel on sax. They realeased one self-titled double 7" on Subterranean Records in 1981. Interesting songs with a possible influence of The Residents.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Divine Punishment - (1986)

The Devine Punishment is the first instalment of Galas' Masque of the Red Death trilogy around the AIDS epidemic and all the agonies and drama that it brought forth. It is the most experimental and eccentric album in the series, containing almost no repeated melodic patterns and creating a horrifying atonal experience with droning rhythms, dissonant organ effects and outrageous vocals. Galas is a classically trained artist but do not expect operatic stunts, instead she performs everything from screaming hellhounds to falsettos, cracks, whispers, growls and obsessed outrage. Each of the 2 long pieces can be divided into a number of shorter sections of which the very last one Sono L'Antichristo has to be heard to be believed. It's a demonic prayer that eradicates all other music that wants to give shape to evil. Galas impersonates AIDS itself and presents it as a curse of the antichrist. In 12 lines, repeated in a hysterical craze, she presents herself as la prova, la sanzione, la pestilenza and 9 other Italian nouns for everything that is threatening and abominable. Needless to say the lyrical content is essential to understand and appreciate this piece. It is as much a performance as it is music. Actually, this will not pass for music to many people. But the agonizing power of it is unmatched and has to be heard. (

The Spoils - (2009)

Zola Jesus is the musical name of Madison, WI’s Nika Roza Danilova, who crafts dark, lo-fi music dominated by her operatic vocals and keyboards. Danilova showed an interest in singing early on, buying voice lesson tapes and opera sheet music at age seven; soon after, she began working with a vocal coach for the next decade. Anxiety and the competitive nature of opera caused her to stop singing for a couple of years, but missing that form of expression spurred her to begin Zola Jesus. Inspired by high-school favorites like Diamanda Galás, Lydia Lunch, Throbbing Gristle, and the Swans, Danilova made cathartic home recordings using keyboards, drum machines, and anything else she had on hand. Her first officially released music included a couple of 2008 7"s: the Poor Sons EP on Die Stasi and Soeur Sewer on Sacred Bones. In 2009, Zola Jesus became one of the most talked and blogged-about underground artists, and her release and touring schedule reflected that: along with the full-length The Spoils, she also released the Tsar Bomba EP on Troubleman, New Amsterdam on Sacred Bones, and an untitled, limited-edition vinyl album and a split release with Burial Hex on Aurora Borealis. For her live band, she recruited her cousin Dead Luke to play synths, bassist Lindsay Mikkola, and drummer Max Elliott. Danilova also played in the group Former Ghosts, which featured Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart and Freddy Ruppert. (

Monday, March 15, 2010

Stag - (1996)

The repeating sitar-into-guitar-chord start of the album makes it clear that Stag isn't going to be quite like anything the Melvins had yet recorded to that point. There's such a strong and audible emphasis on the band really exploring the possibilities of the studio throughout that the effect is breathtaking — it's a huge, epic sound that's also quite varied, a fine indication of where the band would be going in later years. The roots of the Melvins remain clear — direct, deliberate, and focused crunch — but they don't feel constrained by them, bringing in everything from more stripped-down space in the arrangements to stylistic forays revolving around the central approach. Hearing horns and scratching helping match the monster riffs on "Bar X the Rocking M" is at once a mind-f*ck and something that makes total sense, as does the mini-prog epic "Buck Owens," packing in time-signature shifts and a mid-section trip-out and more in three minutes' time. Short, almost fragmentary songs like "Hide," with its quiet guitar chime, and the weird, sparkly drones and burbles of "Soup" help to further flesh out the inspired feeling of Stag. Osborne's vocal delivery and various treatments thereupon are fantastic, ranging from dreamy float and gentle croon to rasping roar, paralleling Stag's overall emphasis on trying anything at least once to see what works. Check his winsome, light turn on "Black Bock" for a real trip — it's hard to believe this is the same guy who sang on "Hooch" and "It's Shoved." Songs like "Tipping the Lion" and "Goggles" capture the spirit of Stag excellently, able to switch from quieter to louder moments and back again effortlessly. Then there's the twinkly, Chipmunks-sung "Captain Pungent," which will leave most listeners paralyzed with fright or with laughter, if not both. (

The Sandman Waits EP - (2007)

This disc was offered as a bonus for people who pre-ordered The Voice Of Midnight CD from Ralph America. Originally it was announced to be limited to 300 copies, but preorders exceeded expectations and the number of copies manufactured was bumped up to 500. The disc was manufactured by Ralph America for the Cryptic Corporation, but the label is listed as eL Ralpho. It was Issued in a plastic envelope with a single card inlay. An interesting note: I have seen this EP for sale at The Residents merchandise table when I was at the recent Talking Light show and believe it or not, the price was $125 !!! No kidding.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

*** 7" SINGLE ***
Jezebel / Speed Demon - (2008)

The "Priest" They Called Him - (1993)

The "Priest" They Called Him is a collaboration between William S. Burroughs and Kurt Cobain (Nirvana). Cobain provides dissonant guitar backing based on "Silent Night" and "To Anacreon in Heaven" to Burroughs' deadpan short story reading. The track was originally released as a limited edition (5000 copies)10-inch EP picture disc on Tim/Kerr Records in 1993 and subsequently re-released on CD and 10-inch vinyl. This short piece read was first published in Exterminator!. The "Priest" in the track title refers to the story's protagonist, an otherwise nameless heroin addict trying to score on Christmas Eve. After selling a leather suitcase filled with a pair of severed legs (and subsequently visiting the ubiquitous crooked doctor), the Priest returns to a boarding house with a fix. While preparing, the Priest is interrupted by muffled moans from the next room. He knocks and finds a crippled Mexican boy in the throes of agonizing withdrawal. After giving the boy his drugs as an act of charity, the Priest returns to his room, reclines on his bed and dies, in what Burroughs calls the immaculate fix. Another reading of this piece was also used in "The Junky's Christmas", a short animated film in 1990. The title character, the Priest, is only the protagonist for that section of the book (and, in fact, is at most only a side character in the rest of the novel), if the term protagonist is even applicable in this bit of Burroughs' writing. The original 10-inch record is one-sided (With the cover art completely covering the disc along with a hand written number from 1-5000.) while the flip-side features etched autographs of Cobain and Burroughs: "William S. Burroughs" and "Kurtis Donald Cohbaine" (With a dot above the o of Cohbaine).The release details "TK 92-10044" are etched in the inner groove of Side A. Kurt Cobain's friend and bandmate Krist Novoselic features on the cover.

dj BC
Let It Beast - (2006)

Bob Cronin established himself within the mainstream with his release of The Beastles in 2004, a collaboration that saw him fuse various tracks by The Beatles with vocals performed by the Beastie Boys. As the presence of bootlegs received national notoriety, Cronin received praise for his work from the likes of Rolling Stone, Q Magazine and Newsweek, establishing him as one of the world’s premier bootleggers. Let It Beast contains more of BC's unique mixing talent scattered throughout ten original mash-ups that pick up right where his first Beatles/Beastie Boys release left off.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Machine Conspiracy - (2010)

Conforce, is Dutch techno producer Boris Bunnik. Machine Conspiracy continues in the same vein as Conforce's recent releases on Meanwhile and Modelisme, focusing on a bright and buoyant dub techno vibe. The album was recorded mostly in his bedroom in Leeuwarden, with two tracks originating on the Island of Terschelling, an isolated Dutch isle where Bunnik grew up, which is pictured on the album's cover. All the tracks on Machine Conspiracy are previously unreleased. Lush and melodic Detroit/Dutch techno album from the mighty Conforce. Ever since the release of his 'Our Concern EP' in late 2007, Boris Brunnik has forged a celebrated catalogue of heart-warming techno for labels like Rush Hour and Curle. He arrives at his debut album for Meanwhile, shaping six tracks (the CD release has ten) of synth-cushioned headspaces equally at home on the 'floor or the bedroom. His sound takes the most florid elements of Detroit operators like Carl Craig or Derrick May and fuses them with a European dub-techno sensibility to place him in the recent tradition of Convextion.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ride The Tiger - (1986)

Anyone who encountered Yo La Tengo's first album, Ride the Tiger, upon its original release in 1986 can be forgiven if they didn't immediately recognize that the band would become one of the most consistently interesting American acts of the next 15 years. Yo La Tengo's debut is a decidedly modest affair, and Ira Kaplan often sounds as if he's still finding his feet as a singer and guitarist, though Dave Schramm does more than his share to take up the slack (in his liner essay for the 1993 reissue of Ride the Tiger, Kaplan went so far as to write that "Dave's guitar playing is inarguably the best thing about the record"). However, Kaplan already knew where he was going as a songwriter, as "The Cone of Silence," "The Forest Green," and "The Pain of Pain" make clear, and if the group's bracing blend of tuneful eclecticism and creatively applied noise was still gestating, Kaplan's lovely melodic sense and the haunting blend of his reedy tenor and Georgia Hubley's slightly fragile soprano marked Yo La Tengo as a band with real potential. Clint Conley made a rare post-Mission of Burma appearance on Ride the Tiger as producer (he also takes over from bassist Mike Lewis for three cuts), and he had the smarts not to impose a Vs.-style hard guitar sound on the band, instead making the most of the band's roomy jangle and giving the sound plenty of body when it needs it. Ride the Tiger is Yo La Tengo's juvenilia, and they'd create much stronger work a few years down the line, but on its own terms, it's an intelligent and engaging set, and any band that can cover the Kinks and Pete Seeger on the same album and make them both work must be doing something right.

The Future - (1992)

As with most every Leonard Cohen album, a new record means a new means of musical exploration. With The Future, Cohen adds chiming synthesizers and eerie orchestrations to his brooding anthems about life's darker half. One of the last of Cohen's full-length albums, The Future is definitely one of the most direct. More notable tracks include "The Future" and "Anthem," both of which were featured on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack. Closer to spoken word poetry set to music than simply songs, the entire album is one long manifesto calling all to challenge the concepts of righteousness and despair in our modern world. Regardless of the music behind the man, Cohen still manages to bring to The Future what he brought to his earlier recordings: one man against the world with nothing but a gruff voice and a cause. (

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Closer - (1980)

If Unknown Pleasures was Joy Division at their most obsessively, carefully focused, ten songs yet of a piece, Closer was the sprawl, the chaotic explosion that went every direction at once. Who knows what the next path would have been had Ian Curtis not chosen his end? But steer away from the rereading of his every lyric after that date; treat Closer as what everyone else thought it was at first -- simply the next album -- and Joy Division's power just seems to have grown. Martin Hannett was still producing, but seems to have taken as many chances as the band itself throughout -- differing mixes, differing atmospheres, new twists and turns define the entirety of Closer, songs suddenly returned in chopped-up, crumpled form, ending on hiss and random notes. Opener "Atrocity Exhibition" was arguably the most fractured thing the band had yet recorded, Bernard Sumner's teeth-grinding guitar and Stephen Morris' Can-on-speed drumming making for one heck of a strange start. Keyboards also took the fore more so than ever -- the drowned pianos underpinning Curtis' shadowy moan on "The Eternal," the squirrelly lead synth on the energetic but scared-out-of-its-wits "Isolation," and above all else "Decades," the album ender of album enders. A long slow crawl down and out, Curtis' portrait of lost youth inevitably applied to himself soon after, its sepulchral string-synths are practically a requiem. Songs like "Heart and Soul" and especially the jaw-dropping, wrenching "Twenty Four Hours," as perfect a demonstration of the tension/release or soft/loud approach as will ever be heard, simply intensify the experience. Joy Division were at the height of their powers on Closer, equaling and arguably bettering the astonishing Unknown Pleasures, that's how accomplished the four members were. Rock, however defined, rarely seems and sounds so important, so vital, and so impossible to resist or ignore as here. (

We Became Snakes - (1986)

Sharp, tuneful, but retaining the ragged dissonance of their earlier records, We Became Snakes is probably the Saccharine Trust record to own. Produced by Mike Watt, Snakes is the most coherent and focused of the Trust discography, but that in no way means it's significantly less adventurous, rigorously demanding, or fun. Perhaps due to Watt's presence, the rhythm section sounds beefed up and keeps the rest of the band in line, but never puts a stranglehold on the possibilities inherent in free improvisation. Not exactly what you'd call a groovefest, Snakes is the best place to get a taste of what Saccharine Trust was up to.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Blue Valentine - (1978)

Two welcome changes in style made Blue Valentine a fresh listening experience for Tom Waits fans. First, Waits alters the instrumentation, bringing in electric guitar and keyboards and largely dispensing with the strings for a more blues-oriented, hard-edged sound. Second, though his world view remains fixed on the lowlifes of the late night, he expands beyond the musings of the barstool philosopher who previously had acted as the first-person character of most of his songs. When Waits does use the first-person, it's to write a "Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis," not the figure most listeners had associated with the singer himself. The result is a broadening of subject matter, a narrative discipline that makes most of the tunes story songs, and a coherent framing for Waits' typically colorful and intriguing imagery. These are not radical reinventions, but Waits had followed such a rigidly stylized approach on his previous albums that for anyone who had followed him so far, the course correction was big news.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

*** 7" SINGLE ***
What Use ? / Crash ! - (1980)

*** BY REQUEST ***
Snakey Wake - (1988)

The second release on the Residents' fan club label is a studio recording of music written for the wake of their longtime guitarist and friend Philip "Snakefinger" Lithman, who died of a heart attack while on tour in 1987. This 20-minute suite begins with a propulsive, almost danceable version of Hank Williams' "Six More Miles to the Graveyard," which the group had already covered a year before on Stars & Hank Forever. What follows is a four-part composition that brings in old English laments, church bell scales, a twisted bossa nova beat, cathartic screams, and distant yelps. Maybe unsurprisingly, there is no guitar to be heard anywhere on the album. A very personal album, hence its limited release, but better than a lot of what they had been currently working on. The group was able to channel some of their anguish into the following God in Three Persons project as well, but a great chapter of the group's career had come to an end.

Fever Ray - (2009)

At first, it's a little difficult to determine where the Knife ends and Fever Ray begins. On paper, it's clear — the Knife is the project of Karin Dreijer and her brother Olof, while Fever Ray is Karin with co-producers Christoffer Berg, Van Rivers, and the Subliminal Kid — but the differences aren't as distinct when listening to Fever Ray the first few times. Initially, the album's dark, frosty atmosphere feels like a continuation of the Knife's brilliant Silent Shout, and the oddly bouncy rhythms on songs like "Triangle Walks" and "Coconut" recall the duo's exotic-yet-frozen Nordic/Caribbean fusion. Eventually, though, Fever Ray reveals itself as far darker and more intimate than anything by the Knife. The Knife's spooky impulses are usually tempered by vivid pop instincts that Fever Ray replaces with a consistently eerie mood, particularly on "Concrete Walls," which feels like an even grimmer cousin of Silent Shout's "From Off to On." However, Fever Ray's mix of confessional lyrics and chilly, blatantly synthetic and often harsh sounds make this album as successful an electronic singer/songwriter album as Björk's Homogenic. These are some of the most alluring and disturbing songs Dreijer has been involved in making: the excellent album opener "If I Had a Heart" explores possibly inhuman need with a churning, almost subliminal synth and murky bass driving Dreijer's pitch-shifted vocals (which sound more like a different part of her psyche than a different character in the song); when her untreated voice comes in, keening "will I ever ever reach the floor?" she sounds even more frail and desperate by comparison. The rest of Fever Ray follows suit, offering fragile portraits and sketches that walk the fine line between intimate and insular. Dreijer further expands on the storytelling skills she developed on Silent Shout: the characters in her songs feel even more resonant and unique, especially on "When I Grow Up," which is as fascinatingly fragmented as a child's train of thought, skipping from sentiments like "I'm very good with plants" to "I've never liked that sad look by someone who wants to be loved by you." She also has an eye for unusual details, as on "Seven"'s "November smoke/And your toes go numb." It all comes together on the haunting "Now's the Only Time I Know," where the low end of Dreijer's voice sounds especially vulnerable and the lyrics fill in just enough to be tantalizing. At times, Fever Ray threatens to become a little too mysterious, but it never sounds less than intriguing, from the layers of claps and castanets that make up the beat on "I'm Not Done" to "Keep the Streets Empty for Me"'s almost imperceptible guitars. With almost tangible textures and a striking mood of isolation and singularity, Fever Ray is a truly strange but riveting album. (

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Clown - (1957)

The Clown was Charles Mingus' second masterpiece in a row, upping the already intense emotional commitment of Pithecanthropus Erectus and burning with righteous anger and frustration. With Pithecanthropus, Mingus displayed a gift for airtight, focused arrangements that nonetheless allowed his players great freedom to add to the established mood of each piece. The Clown refines and heightens that gift; instead of just writing heads that provide launch points for solos, Mingus tries to evoke something specific with every piece, and even his most impressionistic forays have a strong storytelling quality. In fact, The Clown's title cut makes that explicit with a story verbally improvised by Jean Shepherd (yes, the same Jean Shepherd responsible for A Christmas Story) from a predetermined narrative. There are obvious jazz parallels in the clown's descent into bitterness with every unresponsive, mean-spirited audience, but the track is even more interesting for the free improvisations led by trombonist Jimmy Knepper, as the group responds to Shepherd's story and paints an aural backdrop. It's evidence that Mingus' compositional palette was growing more determinedly modern, much like his increasing use of dissonance, sudden tempo changes, and multiple sections. The Clown introduced two of Mingus' finest compositions in the driving, determined "Haitian Fight Song" and the '40s-flavored "Reincarnation of a Lovebird," a peaceful but melancholy tribute to Charlie Parker; Mingus would return to both throughout his career. And, more than just composing and arranging, Mingus also begins to take more of the spotlight as a soloist; in particular, his unaccompanied sections on "Haitian Fight Song" make it one of his fieriest moments ever. Mingus may have matched the urgency of The Clown on later albums, but he never quite exceeded it.

The Fields - (2008)

For almost two years, Blank Dogs, the anonymous one-man band credited to Mike Sniper, has been a some-wave punk machine, churning out cassette after CD-R after 7” without much rest. The recipe is rather simple: Toss a grimy old synthesizer, a guitar, and Steve Albini’s old Roland into a pot and distill the vapors. The resulting discography has been an increasingly manic bunch of catchy melodies soaked in static and distortion, each additional transmission seeming a little poppier, a little more violent. The Fields EP on Woodsist Records abandons the frenzy that characterized previous releases, letting the pop hooks that were maligned, abused, and distorted to shine through almost unchecked. Despite the author’s best efforts, this album refuses to be ugly. The straightforward post-punk anthem “Red World” opens with what could be the lost B-side to Joy Division’s “Disorder.” Second track “Before the Hours” restates Blank Dogs’ commitment to open-mindedness, giving the melody entirely over to borderline psychedelic experimentation that recalls labelmate Meneguar’s The In Hour. Blank Dogs still wallows in the defeat of past pessimism, but instead of striking the confrontational stance that dominated previous tracks like “Death Jumpers” and “Pieces,” The Fields just sounds exhausted. “Spinning” starts off with the slow dirge of a death march, but with the drum machine going unchallenged for the entirety of the song, it turns into a mechanical club song. Any sense of spontaneous life is smothered. The head-nodding, foot-tapping hooks and riffs from past efforts were once contorted and challenged through each track. Now, on songs like “Passing the Light,” they’re set on auto-pilot, soldiering on until they run out of gas. (

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Extra Width - (1993)

Extra Width is a crankin' piece of bluesoid ranting, with Jon Spencer working up one hysterical performance after another. "Afro" sounds like an old Curtis Mayfield track. Similarly, "Soul Letter" is a hefty chunk of riff-muck, as is the noisy bliss of "Soul Typecast." The playing is energetic and unhinged, and Spencer drives the engine with his whoopin' and hollerin'. Plenty of noticeably '70s production techniques add to the atmosphere, contributing significantly to what may be Spencer's best record.

The Complex - (2003)

After devoting more than 15 years to building their unique fusion of edgy performance and advanced yet home-brewed technologies, the Blue Man Group moves aggressively toward the mainstream with The Complex. "Mainstream" is, of course, a flexible notion, so what passes as commercial for these guys is a lot more adventurous than most of the era's ear candy. These tracks adhere to clear song structures, with guest vocalists singing actual lyrics on original as well as cover material; a zombie-like cameo by Dave Matthews (God, I cant stand that guy) on "Sing Along" offers the wryest surprises. But an unmistakable imprint endures in the eclectic sonic references and, above all, thundering stage-oriented rhythms. The core members of the group play traditional instruments — in this case, ranging from standard-issue electric guitar to Hungarian cimbalom, heard most clearly in the opening seconds of "Above" — as well as their invented gear whose contributions to the din are, frankly, neither critical nor easy to discern. On their version of the disco classic "I Feel Love," for instance, the 16th-note pulse created via sequencer for the Donna Summer original is mimicked by the device they call the Tube, giving rise to the question of whether using something new to do what someone else did with old stuff 20-plus years earlier is worth the effort. But this is, of course, beside the point: Although its inspirations, musical and conceptual, trace as far back as Kraftwerk, The Complex serves as a reminder that modern devices and glistening production values can be applied to the most primal creative instincts, if utilized by the right — blue — hands.

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