Favorite 10 … err… 11 albums …

This is something they were doing on Facebook — the ’10 albums 10 days’ challenge, where you were supposed to just post the album cover without comment. I’m terrible at following instructions though.  I actually did 11, and I took a couple of weeks to finish it. I’m collecting them here as a more coherent way to archive them.  No particular order implied.

Beatles “Rubber Soul”

This is the first record I bought with my own money, when I was 9 years old, at the Gemco in San Jose, California. I chose it over Revolver, which was the current record at the time, for reasons I don’t remember, but I still prefer RS to Revolver.

I bought the mono version because it was a buck cheaper, and hearing the stereo version still feels wrong.

This was the record where they hit their stride as a recording band, when their collaboration with George Martin elevated them from their status as pop phenomenon to something more. The quality of the sound on this record always felt mysterious to me, tied in my mind to the title “Norwegian Wood” — like dark wood, with a deeply figured grain. Ironically at the time and now, that song is probably the slightest one on the album; the groove of “The Word”, the melodic and lyrical depth of “In My Life,” the propulsive anger of “I’m Looking Through You” all surpass “Norwegian Wood.”

I had the American version, which followed Capitol’s practice of releasing records with fewer tracks than the original UK release. In this case only, I think the US version is superior, both for leaving off “Drive My Car” and “What Goes On” and for including “I’ve Just Seen A Face” which is a much superior song.

John McLaughlin “Devotion”

 John McLaughlin is a polarizing artist, and kind of a difficult person from all reports. He claims to hate this record based on how it was mixed, which is silly, it has always sounded fantastic, and I have no idea what McLaughlin would do instead, and probably, neither does he.

This record is at an interesting intersection: the drummer, Buddy Miles toured with Jimi Hendrix in the Band of Gypsys. Larry Young, the organist had played with McLaughlin in the Tony Williams Lifetime, and they’d both played with Miles Davis. The bass player, Billy Rich was Buddy Miles’ bass player.

At any rate, this album is McLaughlin’s answer to Jimi Hendrix, with whom McLaughlin had jammed in New York. So there’s some of Hendrix’ blues influence, but combined with McLaughlin’s own compositional style, which is related to Jazz, but is rooted in his own odd chromatic exploratory style.

The key track is “Devotion”, which starts with an almost atonal riff, before opening up into a expansive modal chord progression. It is at once rocking, loud and meditative.

McLaughlin went on to be one of the seminal artists in the jazz rock fusion movement, with his group Mahavishnu Orchestra, but “Devotion” is everything great about his music with none of the annoying things he was prone to.

 Wendy Carlos “Sonic Seasonings”

 

It’s frustrating that Wendy Carlos’ “Sonic Seasonings” is out of print and not available except as pricey second hand CDs. Partly it’s Carlos prickly fussiness about her own work, but I think mostly it’s that she’s always been a better artist than a manager of her own career; it’s quite difficult to find her stuff, aside from the millions of copies of “Switched On Bach” you can still find in thrift stores.

This was my study hour music in High School, though it was not really music by the standards of the day; it was a recreation of natural sounds with synthesizers, and had a curious feel to it. You could go to a rain forest and listen to your surroundings, and it would be like “Sonic Seasons” but it wouldn’t be the same; every second of this dual vinyl record is carefully and obsessively arranged. It was ambient music before Eno had the idea, and it’s still a great achievement of that genre.

The natural world can be engrossing and if you really pay attention, the sound of the natural world can be fantastic, but there’s something special about how a dedicated artist can start with nature and end up with something both artificial and authentic.

Joni Mitchell “For The Roses”

Again, while “Blue” is the obvious choice, this Joni Mitchell album is my favorite. “Blue” was a masterpiece of misery as art. By comparison, “For The Roses” was more an album of adult concerns. The opening song “Banquet” could have been written yesterday; it is always current and outside any moment: “Who let the greedy in/And who left the needy out/Who made this salty soup/Tell him we’re very hungry now/For a sweeter fare.”

Every song has arresting details, from the multitracked chorus of Jonis singing close harmonies in chords of her own invention, and the menace of ‘”Come with me I know the way” she says “It’s down, down, down the dark ladder'”, “when you dig down deep you lose good sleep.”

It continued where she left off with her piano-centric tunes on “Blue” but there’s some of her trademark guitar songs, like “For The Roses”: A meditation on fame that goes deeper than most songwriters go: “Just when you’re getting a taste for worship they start bringing out the hammers and the boards and the nails.”

And always her lyrics are conversational, and conversations with an implied other, “Did you get around rezoning for you way up here?”

I have a long difficult Joni Mitchell essay in my head, but I’ll try and boil down what gets me about her: She is what every artist should be, an observer off to the side, but her self-reflection is endless and uncomfortably sharp, so much so she seems as estranged from herself as she is from others. Her music makes you feel as though she’s shown you her inner self (and the album art includes a long shot of her naked next to the ocean), but this is an artistic construct.

You listen to her music and think you know her, but what you really know about her is her sharp eye for detail, the way she sees things in others, and herself, and the abiding emotion behind every song: loneliness, a yearning to connect that seems impossible to fulfill. She connects with us, her audience, in a way that it seems like her personality and intellect denies her in her own life…

Or maybe that’s a construct as well, but it’s fascinating to dwell in the cloud of uncertainty she creates.

My Bloody Valentine “Isn’t Anything”

“Loveless” is the obvious MBV choice, but I played the hell out of this (and the various EPs that came out pre-Loveless) at the time. It was the synthesis of contemporary influences (Jesus & Mary Chain, Dinosaur Jr) but still sounded completely original.

If there’s a moment on this CD that still slays me, it’s that opening riff of “Feed Me With Your Kiss” that ends with a repeated hammer on the root note of the key. Each time it’s repeated they add another BAM on the tonic. I pointed this out to my kids once, and thence after when it came on the car stereo when we were driving, they’d count out the BAMs at the top of their lungs.

Basic Channel “BCD Vol. 1”

Like a lot of things I learned about Basic Channel from a mixtape by Aran aka DJ Teep, and playing that tape in the janky car stereo was the best way to get up on the music.

Also notable for the Metal Box packaging which invariably destroyed the CD after inserting and removing it a few times.

Now that this kind of music is such an institution it has it’s own category on the Boomkat website, it’s hard to express how odd and otherworldly this music sounded the first time I heard it. I’d heard a lot of techno before hearing this but this was something else. It was music that seemed to bring it’s own abandoned factory with it, barely lit, and filled with fog.

Brian Eno “Before And After Science”

I’m hot and cold on Eno. Never really warmed up to the stuff he did after he stopped writing songs and singing, but this album (and “Taking Spider Mountain By Strategy”) is is close to perfect.

Side one is more up tempo and reflects his antic ideas about lyrics: “Anna with her feelers moving round round round Is sharpening her needles on the wheel.” he sings in “Kurt’s Rejoinder,” an homage to Kurt Schwitter, the 20th Century avant-garde artist, whose “sound poetry” is is the background on this track.

But the authentic substance of this album is Side 2, particularly the sequence beginning with “Julie With” and ending with “Spider and I.” This is ambient music before Eno “invented” ambient music, and it’s slow quiet music built from layers and effects. It culminates with “Spider And I” which is what I want to hear while I’m dying.

Wishbone Ash “Pilgrimage”

Another one from back in the day: Wishbone Ash are a band with remarkable longevity. This album was their peak for me. It’s a player’s album — it was their second album after a lot of live shows, and they’re just plain hot. The album opener “Vas Dis” seems to be played at double speed, but it’s no problem, they an do that and make it look easy.

The peak for me is the second track “The Pilgrim” which starts out with a simple phrase repeated forever as echoey guitar floats in the grid created by repetition. This is eventually crossfaded into extended math-rock-esque riffing.

“Alone” follows a similar pattern, with a 4 measure repeated melodic pattern that transition into interlocking lead guitar solos, but the star is the bass, which defines the rhythmic pocket while still improving.

This kind of mostly-instrumental guitar-led music shows up again decades later with bands like Tortoise, but Wishbone Ash were there first.

An aside: They were on their first big US tour and played a show in Cedar Rapids, after which they invited Cedar Rapids police into their hotel room for some reason, having forgotten there was a suitcase open on the bed with a giant bag of weed sitting on top. They were arrested and sent home to England, and it was a long time before they were back touring in the US.

Gentle Giant “The Power And The Glory”

In this cavalcade of favorite albums, I’ve focused on things that were artifacts of my youth, because they’re the things I’ve live with the longest. In general I don’t feel nostalgic for being young, particularly the run from when I was 13 to about 25, because it was a period of untreated depression, family upheaval, and being completely unprepared for any of the normal growing up/adult business.

So what stands out for me isn’t nostalgia, but rather what music was the most effective escape from the buffeting winds of negativity and despair.

This Gentle Giant album I actually had to mail-order from an import company that advertised in the back of a music magazine. I’d sent something anyone born since about 1980 knows nothing about — a Self-Addressed-Stamped-Envelope (SASE) to the company, in order for them to mail me a paper catalog

I was intrigued by the album art and the brief description, and ordered it. For better or worse, it was music unlike anything I’d heard before.

These British beardos had this unbelievably ambitious idea for a concept album about political power and manipulation. They were the sort of hyper-technical musicians turned out by the British university system, who constructed herky-jerky jigsaw compositions. No melody too atonal, no rhythm too awkward. When they calmed down for a moment (listen to “Aspirations” in the comments) they could make really lovely, heartfelt music.

Mostly, though, they were the kings of making hyper-proggish girl repellant music, the sort of thing that got women to yell “take that shit off! Put on some Earth Wind & Fire!”

And no one did it better.

Sonic Youth “Daydream Nation”

I guess my assessment of Sonic Youth was rather soured by events of the past few years, let’s just say Kim Gordon got me in the divorce.

But it can’t be denied, this is a seminal record that does what great art does: Take the the discarded things, the things thought of as ugly, ungainly, misshapen according to current conventions, and make them the center of a new kind of beauty. There are moments of dissonance and thrashing around that at the time this record was released were hard to take, but they serve as frames for sustained passages of great beauty and meditative calm.

They got extra points from me for the references to William Gibson novels. This is the sound equivalent of Gibson’s dead television channel sky.

XTC “Black Sea”

There’s several truly great XTC albums but this one stands out for me. Starting with the hilarious over the top skronk of “Respectable Street” that royally takes the piss out of the British middle class, this is subtle song writing beginning to end, fleshed out with a huge, rude rock production.by Steve Lillywhite.

Favorite Songs:

1. “No Language In Our Lungs,” which is one of the few rock songs that addresses the inadequacy of language directly: “I would have made this instrumental but the words got in the way”

2. “Towers of London” That opening riff is purest XTC. Like “No Language …” it takes as its subject something unexpected. It’s a love song to London and the long dead people who built it: “Pavements of gold leading to the underground, Grenadier Guardsmen walking pretty ladies around, Fog is the sweat of the never never navvies who pound, pound, pound, pound, pound spikes in the rails to their very own heaven ”

The Beatles have much to answer for; XTC’s perfectly distilled British eccentricity is one thing they can be proud of.

KRUI Noise Radio 2013-03-02

So it’s been a bit since I did a radio show, so I have a backlog of new stuff to work through. New Burial, Autechre, My Bloody Valentine, Alex Under, Ron Trent, Terrace, and of course Chaircrusher….

[audio:http://www.cornwarning.com/chaircrusher/Chaircrusher2013-03-02-KRUI-NoiseRadio.mp3|titles=2013-03-02 KRUI Noise Radio|artists=chaircrusher] http://www.cornwarning.com/chaircrusher/Chaircrusher2013-03-02-KRUI-NoiseRadio.mp3
My Bloody Valentine Who Sees You
Autechre Bladelores
Alex Under Bola 7
Alex Under Bola 3
Ed McFarlane She Sleeps
Ros Sola 6Sway
Sean Deason Ode To Detroit
Tevo Howard Pump & Bounce
Tevo Howard You Have A Way With Words
Micro World Your Techno Toy
Ron Trent Kids At Play
Ron Trent Exotic Drums
Perkowitz Time Lapse
Terrace Out of Time
Microworld Happy Machines
Ros Sola Sign Language Poetry
Microworld Subterranean
Don Froth REflex (Shake Shakir Remix)
Terrace Mekanika
Sean Deason S4R4
Orphan101 Baila Second Mix
Sean Deason The Nature Of Time
Chaircrusher Isthmus Strait Isthmus
Max 404 How to Bluff Your Way Into Techno
Starkey Fantasy
Starkey Nucleus

My Bloody Valentine “M B V” Review.

OK, new MBV first reactions. The overall sound hasn’t changed much if at all. If I had made a record as epochal and evocative as Loveless, I guess I’d have problems finishing a follow-up. There are kids in their 20s who literally grew up listening to it. I know it was on heavy rotation in my car driving kids around, and my sons are 24 and 27.

Where it’s different? “New You” is pretty sunny and not as fuzzy as the usual MBV song; the focus is on Bilinda’s multitracked vocals. It points up the influence of 60s french singers like Jane Birkin and France Gall on Shields. The album almost sounds like a noisier Stereolab at times. The two bands were more or less contemporaries; Stereolab had french women vocalists who made that connection more explicit, but it’s a serious part of Shields’ stylistic vocabular.

“If I Am” bears close listening, because it’s maybe Shields most fully realized, appealing vocal melody. If anything has changed in 22 years, it’s that Shields has progressed as a songwriter, especially in the songs he wrote for Bilinda Butcher.

“Nothing Is” in my opinion should have been left a B side, and replaced with another pop song. It is a relentlessly repetitive loop that gets slightly louder and then ends. It would be fun to hear them play it live, but compared to the more fully composed songs it comes off as a piss take.

ValentineIf you’re at all a fan it’s worth tracking down the Tape Op interview where he describes his recording techniques. It’s easy listening to MBV to feel like there’s something complicated there, but once you know how simply he recorded the music it’s more impressive — there aren’t a whole bunch of overdubs — he spends time getting the sound he wants, and he might have 4 tracks of different microphones on a guitar cabinet, but compared to a Beyonce record they’re very simple and transparent.
Image stolen from Mojo Magazine without permission.

A life in records

I’m going to be 55 years old this year, and being the sort of music-obsessive nerd that I am I separate my life into musical epochs centered around particular records.

1. 1964 — watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan at my grandmother’s house with my whole family. My mom — a talented composer, among other fine qualities — insisted we all watch. It’s hard to imagine how that affected everyone then — even my Grandmother thought it was something remarkable.

2. 1966 — I saved up my allowance — for a long time — to buy the Beatles “Rubber Soul” — I got the mono version because it would have taken me another week to get the extra dollar for the stereo version. In my mind the sound of that record — uncluttered and dark is inextricable with the visual image of a dark wood, like mahogany, which of course for me was ‘norwegian wood.’

3. 1970 — the dual shot of Grateful Dead’s “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty.” Forget the Deadheads, the tie die, the bloated, sad death of Jerry Garcia. The Dead crystallized the moment, but with something that will always remain mysterious and deeply American. I wrote an essay for Little Village about it that almost but not quite captures how I feel about these records.

4. 1974 — I don’t know how exactly but I discovered — or rediscovered, it was music that was in the air in my house — John Coltrane & Thelonius Monk. In particular a Riverside re-issue called “Monk/Trane.” Jazz is a fickle thing, that works best in the moment, as it’s being played, but I learned every note of those records, and the version of “Abide With Me” — arranged by Monk but without his piano, still makes me tear up.

5. 1977 — A banner year of “Never Mind The Bollocks It’s the Sex Pistols” and “Talking Heads 77” — I tried to play the Sex Pistols record for my dad, a symphony conductor, and he made it about 3 minutes. He just left the room, shaking his head.

6. 1983 — REM “Murmur” The first few REM records were landmarks in American Music. Like the Dead, they rather outlasted their moment — nothing after “Life’s Rich Pageant” really stuck with me.

7. 1988 — My Bloody Valentine “Isn’t Anything” — as unlike REM as a band could get, a pure, abstract, lovely roaring noise. To the whole “shoegaze” movement this album and “Loveless” basically exhausted the genre before it was fully explored — they just couldn’t be topped. Their influence is immense, and pops up in the weirdest places.

8. 1991 — The Swervedriver EPs on Creation, beginning with “Son Of Mustang Ford.” A lot less punk and a lot more rawk than MBV, Adam Franklin’s songs and the blazing arrangements thereof were impossible not to listen to over and over.

9. 1994 — Two poles of the same universe Aphex Twin “Selected Ambient Works II” and Richie Hawtin “Recycled Plastic” Aphex Twin made music that was like a series of empty rooms that were each haunted by a different ghost. Richie Hawtin’s “Spastik” was an Ars Poetica of pure Rhythm. These two records and a slew more started a headfirst dive into electronic music and led to my own attempts at music production. In an echo of the spirit of 1977, this was homemade DIY music that gave a million people the idea to do it themselves.

10. 2004 — The World Of Arthur Russell. I’m a guy who grew up in Iowa, playing the cello. Arthur Russell was a guy who grew up in Iowa playing the cello. I was aware of “Is It All Over My Face” from club parties, but this album crystallized his genius. I’d give a lot to make a track as transcendent as “In The Light Of The Miracle” or “Go Bang.”

11. 2006 — Burial’s self-titled debut on Hyperdub — I can’t believe it’s been 6 years. Again, someone much imitated since then, but never equalled, except by his subsequent productions. A gateway drug into the world of Dubstep and the whole crazy universe of UK Bass music.

Since then… not sure. I listen to so much new music it’s hard to pick out anything as epochal as these records. And maybe it’s something you only really see in retrospect.