Saturday, May 31, 2008

Television Personalities "And Don't The Kids Just Love It" (Rough Trade, 1980)

Artist: Television Personalities
Album: "And Don't The Kids Just Love It"
Release Date: January 1981
Label: Rough Trade
Genre: Post-Punk, New-Wave, Indie-Pop
Mood: Rousing, Witty, Boisterous, Freewheeling
Reminds Of: Robert Wyatt, Syd Barrett, Swell Maps
Definitely Worth Buying: Amazon, CdUniverse

1. This Angry Silence
2. The Glittering Prizes
3. World Of Pauline Lewis
4. A Family Affair
5. Silly Girl
6. Diary Of A Young Man
7. Geoffrey Ingram
8. I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives
9. Jackanory Stories
10. Parties In Chelsea
11. La Grande Illusion
12. A Picture Of Dorian Gray
13. The Crying Room
14. Look Back In Anger

The first full album by Television Personalities, recorded after a four-year series of often brilliant D.I.Y. singles recorded under a variety of names, including the O-Level and the Teenage Filmstars, is probably the purest expression of Daniel Treacy's sweet-and-sour worldview. The songs, performed by Treacy, Ed Ball, and Mark Sheppard, predict both the C-86 aesthetic of simple songs played with a minimum of elaboration but a maximum of enthusiasm and earnestness and the later lo-fi aesthetic. The echoey, hissy production makes the songs sound as if the band were playing at the bottom of an empty swimming pool, recorded by a single microphone located two houses away, yet somehow that adds to the homemade charm of the record. Treacy's vocals are tremulous and shy, and his lyrics run from the playful "Jackanory Stories" to several rather dark songs that foreshadow the depressive cast of many of his later albums. "Diary of a Young Man," which consists of several spoken diary entries over a haunting, moody twang-guitar melody, is downright scary in its aura of helplessness and inertia. The mood is lightened a bit by some of the peppier songs, like the smashing "World of Pauline Lewis" and the "David Watts" rewrite "Geoffrey Ingram," and the re-recorded version of the earlier single "I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives," complete with deliberately intrusive prerecorded bird sounds, is one of the most charming things Television Personalities ever did. This album must have sounded hopelessly amateurish and cheaply ramshackle at the time of its 1981 release, but in retrospect, it's clearly a remarkably influential album that holds up extremely well.

(source: AllMusicGuide)

“Can you hear this angry silence…?”

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"Eternity And A Day" [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] (ECM Records, 1999)

Artist: Eleni Karaindrou
Album: "Eternity And A Day" [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]
Release Date: 1 October 1999
Label: ECM Records
Genre: Soundtrack, Classical, Chamber-Jazz, Instrumental
Mood: Elegant, Sophisticated, Passionate, Spiritual
Reminds Of: George Russell, Henry Mancini, Don Ellis, Jan Garbarek
Definitely Worth Buying: Amazon

1. Hearing The Time
2. By The Sea
3. Eternity Theme
4. Parting A
5. Depart And Eternity Theme
6. Borders
7. Wedding Dance
8. Parting B
9. To A Dead Friend
10. Eternity Theme Variation I
11. Depart And Eternity Theme Variation I
12. Bus (Pt. 1)
13. Depart And Eternity Theme Variation II
14. Bus (Pt. 2)
15. Trio And Eternity Theme
16. The Poet
17. Depart And Eternity Theme Variation III
18. Depart

Film composer Eleni Karaindou was born in the Greek mountain village of Teichio and raised in Athens, going on to study piano and music theory at the Hellenikon Odion. Relocating to Paris in 1969, she studied ethnomusicology for five years before returning to Greece to found the Laboratory for Traditional Instruments at the ORA Cultural Centre. Karaindrou's most successful collaboration was with filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos, with whom she first teamed in 1982, going on to score features including 1991's The Suspended Step of the Stork, 1995's Ulysses' Gaze and 1998's Palme d'Or-winning Eternity and a Day. Although primarily aligned with the Greek film industry, Karaindrou also worked with noted European directors including Jules Dassin and the great Chris Marker.

Eternity and a Day is about an elderly writer, Bruno Ganz, who discovers he has only a short time to live and must decide what to do with his remaining time on earth. The album is both shorter and considerably more varied than its predecessor. Again the music is scored for string orchestra and soloists, this time oboe, bassoon, French horn, mandolin, accordion, piano and two clarinets. Over the course of 18 tracks Karaindrou weaves a series of melodies around a central "Eternity" theme, cues ranging from the eloquent piano solo (played by the composer) "By the Sea" to a traditional wedding dance, various ensemble pieces, a touching elegy for string orchestra and clarinet, "To a Dead Friend" to finally a wind trio against strings for the moving finale, "Depart". More varied and thus more accessible, it is perhaps the better choice for the newcomer to Karaindrou's music.

(source: AllMusicGuide)

“As you are writing…The ink grows less…The sea increases…”

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Ornette Coleman Double Quartet "Free Jazz ( A Collective Improvisation) (Atlantic, 1961)

Artist: Ornette Coleman Double Quartet
Album: "Free Jazz (A Collective Improvisation)"
Release Date: 1961
Label: Atlantic
Genre: Free-Jazz, Improvisation, Avant-Garde
Mood: Passionate, Knotty, Sophisticated, Provocative
Reminds Of: Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Louis Jordan, Arnett Bobb
What People Think: Wikipedia
Definitely Worth Buying: Amazon, CdUniverse

1. Free Jazz
2. First Take

One of the most important (and controversial) innovators of the jazz avant-garde, Ornette Coleman gained both loyal followers and lifelong detractors when he seemed to burst on the scene in 1959 fully formed. Although he, and Don Cherry in his original quartet, played opening and closing melodies together, their solos dispensed altogether with chordal improvisation and harmony, instead playing quite freely off of the mood of the theme. Coleman's tone (which purposely wavered in pitch) rattled some listeners, and his solos were emotional and followed their own logic. In time, his approach would be quite influential, and the quartet's early records still sound advanced many decades later.

As jazz's first extended, continuous free improvisation LP, Free Jazz practically defies superlatives in its historical importance. Ornette Coleman's music had already been tagged "free," but this album took the term to a whole new level. Aside from a predetermined order of featured soloists and several brief transition signals cued by Coleman, the entire piece was created spontaneously, right on the spot. The lineup was expanded to a double-quartet format, split into one quartet for each stereo channel: Ornette, trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Scott LaFaro, and drummer Billy Higgins on the left; trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, bass clarinetist Eric Dolphy, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Ed Blackwell on the right. The rhythm sections all play at once, anchoring the whole improvisation with a steady, driving pulse. The six spotlight sections feature each horn in turn, plus a bass duet and drum duet; the "soloists" are really leading dialogues, where the other instruments are free to support, push, or punctuate the featured player's lines. Since there was no road map for this kind of recording, each player simply brought his already established style to the table. That means there are still elements of convention and melody in the individual voices, which makes Free Jazz far more accessible than the efforts that followed once more of the jazz world caught up. Still, the album was enormously controversial in its bare-bones structure and lack of repeated themes. Despite resembling the abstract painting on the cover, it wasn't quite as radical as it seemed; the concept of collective improvisation actually had deep roots in jazz history, going all the way back to the freewheeling early Dixieland ensembles of New Orleans. Jazz had long prided itself on reflecting American freedom and democracy and, with Free Jazz, Coleman simply took those ideals to the next level. A staggering achievement.

“It was when I found out I could make mistakes that I knew I was on to something...”

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Arnold Dreyblatt "Animal Magnetism" (Tzadik, 1995)

Artist: Arnold Dreyblatt
Album: "Animal Magnetism"
Release Date: 23 May, 1995
Label: Tzadik
Genre: Avant-Garde, Microtonal, Minimalism, Sound-Collage
Mood: Playful, Manic, Cathartic, Quirky
Reminds Of: LaMonte Young, Alvin Lucier, Elliott Sharp
What People Think: AllMusicGuide
Definitely Worth Buying: CdUniverse, Amazon

1. Point Rotation
2. Next Slide
3. Animal Magnetism
4. Group Velocity
5. Side Band
6. Flashbulb History
7. Epilogue

Arnold Dreyblatt's compositions have been recorded for such leading avant-garde music labels as Hat Hut, Tzadik and Table of Elements. The New York native studied film and video at SUNY with Woody and Steina Vasulka, and earned his masters from the Institute for Media Studies. In the mid-'70s, he studied composition with Pauline Oliveros and LaMonte Young, then learned from Alvin Lucier until getting his masters in composition in 1982. By that time, Dreyblatt had already been directing his own music ensemble, the Orchestra of Excited Strings, for three years. In 1984, he moved to Europe where, in addition to composing, he began using texts and images in his installations and performances. He has received numerous grants and stipends including the Overbrook Foundation, and the Philip Morris Art Prize. Dreyblatt has been a guest composer at Amsterdam's STEIM, Berlin's Kunstlerhaus Bethanien and more. He has been commissioned by Ars Electronica, Podewil/US Arts Festival, as well as for his production 'Who's Who in Central & East Europe 1933' for Berlin's DAAD-Inventionen '91. He has also created two independent yet interrelated art works in collaboration with the University of L√ľneburg's Kulturinformatik Department, entitled "Who's Who in Central & East Europe 1933" and "Memory Arena." As of the late 1990's, Dreyblatt still resided in Berlin.

"While I really like everything of Arnold's, especially the more "heroic" parts of Nodal Excitations and Propellors in Love, this is the record that really steps out as the first genuinely new sound in maybe 10 years. It's as if the Dirty Dozen Brass band got a hold of some of Arnold's records and decided to give it a go. I cannot overstate how unbelievably brilliant this record is. When played loud, I firmly stand by my declaration that it is one of the 4 or so best records ever made". - Jim O’Rourke

"The bright, punchy staccato nature of Dreyblatt’s compositons allude to some of Michael Nyman’s early ensemble works, a character further emphasized by the dynamic constraints of the instrumentation... ...Dreyblatt wants you to listen through the beats in order to connect with the overtone structures and resonant sound features bouncing off the rhythmic surfaces... ...I’ve certainly grown to love it.“ - David Illic, The Wire Magazine Soundcheck Winner October, 1995

"This particular release from 1995 is initially striking because of its pure energy. I guarantee that it's one of the few releases you'll find featuring "classical" instruments which encourages you to "listen at maximum volume!" Dreyblatt also uses a wider palette than most Minimalists, as his Orchestra of Excited Strings actually consists of strings, horns, percussion, and just-intonation guitar. Yet he holds the same concern with microtonal structure that Conrad does, just through more propulsive music. Some people back in the Seventies used to talk about how the music of Steve Reich and Phillip Glass was somehow related to "rock," but those charlatans don't have anything on Arnold Dreyblatt. - Pataphysics Research Journal

“If you REALLY wanted to scare somebody, wouldn't you find a new way to do it…?”

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Scott Walker "Tilt" (Drag City, 1995)

Artist: Scott Walker
Album: "Tilt"
Release Date: May 1995
Label: Drag City
Genre: Avant-Garde, Experimental, Baroque-Pop, Minimalism
Mood: Brooding, Theatrical, Bleak, Autumnal
Reminds Of: Jacques Brel, Nico, Brian Eno, Leonard Cohen, Serge Gainsbourg
What People Think: SputnikMusic, WorldSocialist
Definitely Worth Buying: Amazon, CdUniverse

1. Farmer In The City
2. The Cockfighter
3. Bouncer See Bouncer
4. Manhattan
5. Face On Breast
6. Bolivia '95
7. Patriot (A Single)
8. Tilt
9. Rosary

Tilt was Scott Walker's first album following over a decade of silence, and whatever else he may have done during his exile, brightening his musical horizon was not on the agenda. Indescribably barren and unutterably bleak, Tilt is the wind that buffets the gothic cathedrals of everyone's favorite nightmares. The opening "Farmer in the City" sets the pace, a cinematic sweep that somehow maintains a melody beneath the unrelenting melodrama of Walker's most grotesque vocal ever. Seemingly undecided whether he's recording an opera or simply haunting one, Walker doesn't so much perform as project his lyrics, hurling them into the alternating maelstroms and moods that careen behind him. The effect is unsettling, to put it mildly. At the time of its release, reviews were undecided whether to praise or pillory Walker for making an album so utterly divorced from even the outer limits of rock reality, an indecision only compounded by its occasional (and bloody-mindedly deceptive) lurches towards modern sensibilities. "The Cockfighter" is underpinned by an intensity that is almost industrial in its range and raucousness, while "Bouncer See Bouncer" would have quite a catchy chorus if anybody else had gotten their hands on it. Here, however, it is highlighted by an Eno-esque esotericism and the chatter of tiny locusts. The crowning irony, however, is "The Patriot (A Single)," seven minutes of unrelenting funeral dirge over which Walker infuses even the most innocuous lyric ("I brought nylons from New York") with indescribable pain and suffering. Tilt is not an easy album to love; it's not even that easy to listen to. First impressions place it on a plateau somewhere between Nico's Marble Index and Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music -- before long, familiarity and the elitist chattering of so many well-heeled admirers rendered both albums mere forerunners to some future shift in mainstream taste. And maybe that is the fate awaiting Tilt, although one does wonder precisely what monsters could rise from soil so belligerently barren. Even Metal Machine Music could be whistled, after all.

(source: AllMusicGuide)

“If I’m using politics, I’ll use it to talk about an inner state rather than a political state. They’re related. It’s a way to break out of the [traditional] songwriting format. I’m looking inward—that’s why you get a solitary feel from the music. I’m composing something of myself through fragments.”

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Jackie O-Motherfucker "Fig. 5" (Road Cone, 2000)

Artist: Jackie-O Motherfucker
Album: "Fig. 5"
Release Date: 2000
Label: Road Cone
Genre: Experimental-Rock, Post-Rock, Improvisation, Noise
Mood: Theatrical, Uncompromising, Searching, Confrontational
Reminds Of: Volcano The Bear, Vibracathedral Orchestra, White Rainbow
What People Think: TheBrokenFace, AllMusicGuide
Definitely Worth Buying: Amazon, Emusic

1. Analogue Skillet
2. Native Einstein
3. Your Cells Are In Motion
4. Go Down, Old Hannah
5. Amazing Grace
6. Beautiful September (We Are Going There)
7. Chiapas! I Must Go There!
8. Michigan Avenue Social Club
9. Madame Curie

In America, we have monuments instead of mythology: bright obelisks and classical statuary erected as perpetually new in the place of the perpetually old. This is, after all, the New World; we dedicate these talismans against ruin across the landscape almost as if to keep history itself at bay, to keep time from catching up with us. Underfoot are bones and detritus, though, the debris of the little nameless events that are excluded from American history. It's all a rather shallow grave when you think about it. Jackie-O Motherfucker's unprecedented Fig. 5, the group's first CD release, presents a dim and unsettling archaeology of American music. Released in the wake of the American century, it's the first unapologetically brilliant piece of experimental music I've heard this year. Somehow constructed bereft of any postmodern irony, Fig. 5 transforms a commanding grasp on the celebrated tributaries of American music-- jazz, Appalachian folk, soul, African-American spirituals, West coast surf-rock, Protestant hymns, Louisville post-rock, bluegrass, electronic noise-- into an autochthonous gospel. Jackie-O Motherfucker-- two multi-instrumentalists, Tom Greenwood and Jef Brown and the cadre of eclectic talents with whom they surround themselves-- abandoned the remix loop jazz-fusion of their first two albums (available only as LPs) and literally emerged from the basement and the soil with a masterpiece. The gust-blown digital hum of the first track, "Analogue Skillet," underpins plucked and scraping strings, like a bow on the nervous system itself. It's buzzing neon yielding to something like a screen-door creaking on its rusted hinges behind wind chimes in "Native Einstein," a kind of front porch minimalism. There's a faint chorus of young girls counting down in the recesses, playing Double Dutch in the road. The strings sound like saws; the lone sax whines like an animal. The scene is replaced by the solemn repetition of guitar twang; "Your Cells are in Motion" is the working man's Mogwai: a funereal procession of rising guitar and faint vocals coalescing steadily into shantytown post-rock, tarnished but true. Labradford will spend the entirety of their career trying to create this song and never get it right. The choral "Go Down, Old Hannah," performed here by the Amalgamated Everlasting Union Chorus Local #824, is a prison camp work song dating back to the turn of the century-- a plea for sunset to end the workday. "Amazing Grace," the slave trader John Newton's ubiquitous 1779 hymn to God, is barely recognizable as Appalachian free jazz: steely banjos and twittering horns that sound like bagpipes are equal parts mountain folk and Pharoah Sanders. The lilting "Beautiful September" provides an interlude of catchy No Depression dream-rock. But the album's centerpiece is clearly the tribal 24-minute "Michigan Avenue Social Club," a track that sounds at times like dismembered Gershwin, and at other times like Cul de Sac with horns. Fig 5. fades out on the brief, chirping "Madame Curie," dissolving into the earth from which the whole work arose. For all its disparate strands, Fig. 5 is surprisingly cohesive, constructing some ratcheted new sound with junk and memory rather than laundering old sounds with the irony and veiled contempt of other pastiche exercises. The disc itself is packaged in an oddly fascinating die-cut cardboard folio, complete with snippets of Alan Lomax's celebrated American ethnomusicology. Fig. 5 is slow and plodding like time itself. This work, again, simply has no precedents. Or rather, its precedents lie in the dusty anonymities of American musical history, instead of the proud and touted monuments of our cultural past. Listen to it once if you can. It is our secret national anthem.

(source: PitchforkMedia)

“Apocalyptic dirge, the monotony of life, light the whole world on fire and destroy it…”

Friday, May 2, 2008

Aesop Rock "Labor Days" (Def Jux, 2001)

Artist: Aesop Rock
Album: "Labor Days"
Release Date: 18 September, 2001
Label: Def Jux
Genre: Underground-Hip-Hop, East-Coast-Hip-Hop, Abstract-Hip-Hop
Mood: Thuggish, Hostile, Confrontatiotal, Menacing, Druggy
Reminds Of: Kool Keith, Mr. Lif, Atmosphere, Rjd2, MF Doom
What People Think: AllMusicGuide, SputnikMusic, Popmatters
Definitely Worth Buying: CdUniverse, Amazon

1. Labor
2. Daylight
3. Save Yourself
4. Flashflood
5. No Regrets
6. One Brick
7. The Tugboat Complex, pt. 3
8. Coma
9. Battery
10. Boombox
11. Bent Life
12. The Yes And The Y'All
13. 9-5ers Anthem
14. Shovel

Your humble reviewer is not hugely invested in the state or the fate of hip-hop. A lot of folks are, though, sometimes to an unfortunate extent-- hip-hop spends almost as much time drawing lines and fighting over its own image as the punk and hardcore zines do, albeit more entertainingly. One of the results of this is that a whole lot of hip-hop records are basically about hip-hop: the mainstream stuff (aka "real" hip-hop) offers up further meta-explorations of a few MC-persona archetypes, while the undie stuff (aka "real" hip-hop) dedicates itself to the Ancient Skillz of crate-digging, battle rhyming, and either picking on the mainstream or spitting abstract jumbles of wordplay. The former is how we get stuff like P. Diddy saying, "I don't write rhymes, I write checks"; the latter is how we get stuff like the Anti-Pop Consortium, who sound godlike in ten second snippets but prove mind-numbingly tedious by fifteen. Aesop Rock is one of those MCs who have stumbled upon a blindingly intelligent solution to this state of affairs: he's ignored all of that baggage and made a record that's mostly about something. That something is work. Labor-- effort in its broadest sense-- is a topic he treats sometimes pedantically but often more thought-provokingly than not only the bulk of hip-hop, but the bulk of any genre. It helps that Labor Days is as terrific a record as anyone could ask for, really, and you should buy it, and here's why. First: Aesop Rock is a terrific MC. His flow is rapid but clear; his interjections, double-time verses and sing-song bits are arranged with near-symphonic skill. He's also calm and confident, avoiding both the egomaniacal swagger of a lot of mainstream and the egomaniacal jerkiness of a lot of underground, while nicking their finer points as well. Better than that: Aesop Rock's flow is brilliant, a combination of mindbending wordplay ("Who am I?" he asks, then answers: "Jabberwocky Superfly!"), in-rhymed poetics ("You won't be laughing when the buzzards drag your brother's flags to rags"), and surgically sharp, eye-rolling dismissals of anyone he disapproves of: "If you had one more eye you'd be a cyclops," runs one, "which may explain your missing the premise." Aesop Rock says more astoundingly intelligent things per minute than the entire combined rosters of a lot of other labels. Second: Blockhead, who produces much of this record, does an equally terrific job. Labor Days is bound for constant comparisons to Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein, the other Def Jux Edgy Intelligent NYC MCs with Stark Progressive Beats record to crop up on 2001's year-end lists. And while the comparisons are valid ones, lyrically and often sonically, Labor Days differs by trading in The Cold Vein's minimalist grind for an equally minimal but remarkably lush, cinematic spread of subtly weaving beats and sinuous, somber, minor-key instrumental arrangements that sound as if someone has been doing his crate-digging in the klezmer, bouzouki, and koto piles of the "World Classical" section. "Daylight," the record's initial standout, works from a long, plush melodic loop with a wood flute sighing over it (there are a lot of woody flutes on this record-- enough to make you wonder if Blockhead wouldn't have done a better job than RZA on the Ghost Dog soundtrack). Meanwhile, "Save Yourself," the record's real standout, consists of a slow-motion lope constructed from staccato bass blips, an east-Mediterranean guitar pluck, and wispy female cooing. "Battery" stretches the limits of hip-hop pastoralism with a bass-and-cello figure and more of those fluttering coos with Ace intoning, "Brother sun, sister moon, mother beautiful," and, "I painted a sunny day on the insides of my eyelids." If most hip-hop chases a futuristic, brightly lit city vitality, Labor Days is laid out peacefully on a rainy plain somewhere. And if The Cold Vein sounds like the grind of inscrutable machinery, Labor Days waits a couple hundred years for those machines to be covered with moss and vines. When it all comes together, on "9-5ers Anthem"-- a track which pairs a sprightly bassline with handbells (handbells!) with Ace in top form, spitting out brilliant parallel metaphors for quotidian employment-- it seems so all-consumingly right: hip-hop bouncing confidently along, actually saying something about something, and saying it well and smartly. Aesop Rock does have a message here, which you'd expect to be a bad thing but isn't, really, insofar as the message is a pretty reasonable one. Ace's message is that life can be hard but that's all the more reason to shut your mouth and work on something that makes you happy. Essentially. Labor Days gets cartoonish only once, on "No Regrets," which is still a decent and sensitive track but which we won't really get into here because on the other hand, it's the inherent pragmatism of Ace's theme that allows for his wonderfully apologetic complaints about 9-5 employment. Not to mention all those glorious eye-rolling disses: "Keep me posted," he says, "as to when you grasp something mature to sit and soak about, Mister, and I'll consider picking up your record. "That last line's from "Save Yourself," which collects Ace's comments on the How We Do Hip-Hop question-- he's undie, of course, here with his sonically progressive Def Jux release, so clearly he's going to drop some invective on this Important Issue. His take, though? Forget it: "Maybe you ought to try saving something other than hip-hop," insightful advice no matter what genre you insert at the end. "Pistons pump perfect," he says, then, "what you're holding ain't really broken." And for the duration of Labor Days, it's pretty clear that in the hands of someone with something to use it for, it's not, not at all.

(source: PitchforkMedia)

"We the American working population hate the fact that eight hours a day is wasted spent chasing a dream of someone that isn't us. And we may not hate our jobs, but we hate jobs in general that don't have to do with fighting our own causes…"