Good Music We Can Know

Friday, April 30, 2010

Cock Rock Classicists: Deep Purple- Deep Purple (1969)

I don't know a great deal about Deep Purple, except that I don't like them very much. Their blewzie, proggy, "heavy" sound puts them in a category of bands that haven't ever done too much for me: Steppenwolf, Iron Maiden, a lot of Led Zeppelin, Uriah Heep, Blue Øyster Cult, etc. Of their well-known hits, I find "Smoke on the Water" to be fundamentally mediocre, and "My Woman From Tokyo" almost nauseating.

But you guys!

This album is some shit here. Deep Purple's Deep Purple totally is a thing. Heavy, proggily virtuosic, full of mildly pretentious poetry, and bombastic vocals... and yet, none of that detracts remotely from the overwhelming quality of creativeness and bad ass psych that you find on this record. This is a heavy psych masterpiece-- dark as a Scottish castle and Baroque as fuck.

The opening track paints a sonic picture similar to the detail of the Hieronymous Bosch painting that comprises the cover art (that is, phatasmagorically hellish), and features a propulsive, repetitive rhythmic attack and phased vocals. It is-- and I mean this-- pretty awesome.

The second track is characterized by slashing harpsichord from John Lord (whose work throughout is a marvel) and a surprisingly organic, nasty guitar; the third is a Donovan cover with jazzy jazzy organ from that is pretty beautiful. Yes: A Donovan cover. The next song, in two parts, opens with backwards drum and organ, a fucking sinister bassline, and spasmic guitar... leading into a straight ahead rocker with some half-assed lyrics that's saved from mediocrity by a good guitar solo and a just mashing, furious organ solo that's both braggy and primitive.

Side two starts with a cock rock success that deals, lyrically, with the conceit that Rosemary of Rosemary's Baby should have used birth control pills. Huh. How did that end up being kind of cool? How is that possible?

"Why Didn't Rosemary Take the Pill?" is followed by "Bird is Flown", a deeply moody little masterpiece and the strongest example of the strengths of then-lead singer Rod Evans' superbly operatic rock croon-- it also features the lyric, "my sorrow is hangin' in the grey sky!"

After that, there's only one left: the exquisite "April." A nearly twelve minute orchestral suite with lots of woodwinds and strings, snaking guitar, and serious baroque/classical aspirations, it's another example of this album sounding on paper like a Spinal Tap-esque embarrassment of macho pretension and bombast, but just isn't. It all just works. The whole album strikes a balance, and all the negative aspects are squarely evened out, even dominated by, an actual inventiveness in the rhythms, textures, and playing. Suspend even a little disbelief, give it just an inch of critical leeway, and you'll see it's an amazing record. A little hilarious, a little awesome, and a lot interesting. Why it doesn't have cult status is beyond me.

Try it, then tell me in the comments if you agree, or if you think I have accidentally liked a Deep Purple album.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Some Great Apollo: David Bowie- Vampires of Human Flesh (1980)

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) marked the last time Bowie would be truly, truly great (although I'll go to bat for Let's Dance, I think it's really wonderful). The de facto summation of his experimental period and a requiem for the 70s in pop form, it's surprisingly paranoid and adventurous. Not quite a masterpiece like Low, "Heroes", and the sorely overlooked The Lodger, it almost feels most kin to another of my favorite Bowie albums, Diamond Dogs... almost as though, as the 80s got more real, that Orwellian panic crept back up in him. Arguably his poppiest album in years, it's also his most histrionic, and it's utterly fantastic. So imagine my excitement at the discovery of Vampires of Human Flesh, a collection of outtakes and alternate versions of songs from Scary Monsters. (By the way, don't even listen to me on this subject-- this is the definitive commentary, if you ask me.)

Well, it's no "lost masterpiece," but it's interesting. Bowie was always fairly consistent and efficient in the studio-- even when he was making it up as he went and experimenting like a bright child-- and this time around he and the group were well-rehearsed before he even laid any tape. So these early versions are pretty similar to the finals, only somewhat more stripped-down. It's great to hear the more intimate vocals on both versions of "Up the Hill Backwards" (the album version practically buries him), the ragged-sounding "Because You're Young" is something of a minor revelation, and "Kingdom Come" holds its place as the worst selection on both records, with two equally awful versions here. "It's No Game" is awesome, as might be expected, but not much different.

There's sadly no version of "Fashion" or "Ashes to Ashes," the latter of which I'd die to hear another version of (it being such an inscrutably perfect production), but there is a previously unheard track: a Talking-Heads-y art-funk instrumental called "Is There Life After Marriage?" which is fine.

Throughout this collection, wanting though it may be, it's fascinating to get even a hint of these song's many layers-- of the depth of Bowie's and Visconti's craft. The vocal arrangements, when less produced and finished, are wonderfully revealing, and the skeletal guitars and thumping drums show that these songs would work almost as well as grittier, nastier versions of their colorful, shiny selves. This is probably essential for a Bowie scholar, much less so for everyone else.


The Revolution Will Be Recited: The Last Poets-The Last Poets (1970)

Anyone who tells you The Last Poets was the first rap group is either unaware of Andre Williams or overly interested in the pointless exercise of pinpointing "first" incarnations of current trends. Seriously, if another person in this world tells me that rockabilly was the "first punk" I'll move to the moon.

But The Last Poets first album is worth talking about not just because it's an obvious stepping stone on the way to hip hop-- it's a radical, incendiary snapshot of a specific time in race and social anger, crystallized in visceral, hard-boiled, furious Panther poetry. A series of largely spoken word recitations with a musical lean and a drum support, The Last Poets bring it hard and mad-- criticizing the oppressiveness of white society, black/urban/lower-class society's complacent implication in their own oppression, and the role addiction (to alcohol, drugs, and sex) and hopeless resignation plays in that complacency. They do also find time to celebrate their culture and its people, but their energy is mostly focused on apocalyptic accusations and revolutionary paranoia. Their name itself comes from the idea that they will be the last of the poets before it comes to revolution and all poetry will be written with violence... that it never came to that only makes their predictions more haunting, a prophecy yet to be fulfilled, a glimpse of what could have been, or a last look at a dwindling brand of Black Pride.

The song, "Wake Up, Niggers" may be familiar to some due to its inclusion in the film Performance and its awesome soundtrack, and it gives you a very good idea of what to expect from this album, both in terms of song structure/lyrical content and the mantra-like repetition of a, ahem, certain controversial word. Just-- be prepared, maybe think about where you play this record, and how loud. But don't let that discomfort keep you from this white-hot artifact of the Black Power generation. Not just empty rhetoric, this is thought-provoking stuff no matter how you approach it.

If you like Gil-Scott Heron and think you can handle the hard stuff, if you think you're ready for the revolution but not sure if you're willing to eat rats... see what this mind-blowing masterpiece does to you.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Your Heart Belongs to Me: The Supremes- Meet the Supremes (1962)

The Supreme's debut didn't contain a single hit... how odd, because it's chock-a-block with distinctive, beautiful pop songs that charm with an unbelievable freshness and sweet naiveté. Just look at the gals on the cover: Diane Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, all dolled up in their Sunday best, awkwardly positioned on their stools, faces shining in that teenage way. Then consider that Barbara Martin, who was still in the group at the time, could not pose for the cover because she was obviously pregnant. It is a strangely lowly start for the group that would go on to symbolize Motown glamour. Compare the uncomfortable, malformed shrimp on the cover to the more evolved insectoid diva Diana Ross would grow to be.
The music within is just as adorable and youthful as the girls on the cover, but a lot less awkward. It's stunning, in places. "Your Heart Belongs To Me," the first track, sports a vaguely exotic production that's overwhelming in it's instant appeal, and lyrics pertaining to a girl's soldier boyfriend, who's off in a "faraway land." It's excellent (and, it's worth noting, written by Smokey Robinson). "Who's Lovin' You" and "Baby Don't Go" are both perfect pop songs in the early Motown mode, the latter with Wilson absolutely nailing the lead vocal part. "Buttered Popcorn," which you've probably heard before, continues to be just as perplexingly dirty as it ever was, a raucous and raunchy tale of a girl whose boyfriend has a butter obsession that befuddles even once you begin interpreting it as metaphor. Sometimes innuendo doesn't add up, it's just suggestive for it's own sake. A cunning stunt.
"I Want A Guy" is a stunner, a slightly middle eastern, lilting arrangement with fluttering flutes and "exotic" organ sounds. Diana Ross attacks the vocals in an early version of that alien trill that would make her so famous, and it's one of my favorite performances of hers... notable, perhaps, because it is her first.
Side two opens with "Let Me Go The Right Way," a great song which memorably has the backup vocals defiantly declaring: "I want to be a wife!" The rest of the side continues on the same rich vein. All the songs are great, what can I say? They're great. It closes with "He's Seventeen," a blushingly teenage song that obsesses over two details: he's only seventeen, and I'm just sixteen. The vocal arrangements are hilarious and oh-so-charming, and the whole song is just candy to anyone with a yen for dated teen songs. Which is not to place it in the kitsch category; it's pulled off with such panache that it achieves a resonance to anyone who had to be a teenager at some point.
It's a really sweet album.

(link removed by request. I hope you go find it somewhere, though. It's worth the effort, or even money)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Kraut Fishing in America: Harmonia- Live 1974

Right there at the top, it promises "Kraut," yet hardly a Krautrock pearl has fallen from the mouth of this blog. This ends now. The fertile and wide ranging German scene obscenely characterized by the reductive but ultimately useful term "Krautrock" is responsible for many of my favorite records and it's time we got into this.

Harmonia, the result of a confluence of visionaries Moebius, Roedelius (both of the legendary Cluster), and Rother (of the brilliant Neu!, inventors of motorik) was between Music Von Harmonia and Deluxe (two of the great Krautrock records of all time), when they played this show in '74. It nearly overshadows the two mighty studio records; by freely experimenting and exposing the process of their discovery in a live context, it peels back a few layers of their polished kosmic repetition, and it's fascinating, hypnotic listening.


Have You Been to Baia, Donald?: Nelly Martins & Tito Madi- Encontro no Sabado (1959)

Nelly Martins' and Tito Madi's Encontro no Sabado contains, simply, some of the most pleasant and beautiful music you could hope to hear.Many of the songs seem to be a dialogue between a man and a woman, sung in Portuguese, and all are supported by immaculate arrangements of string-based fantasy swoons. It basically sounds exactly like it would feel to fall hopelessly in love in the reality of an old and extremely romantic movie musical.

Did you see Disney's Pecos Bill short, where Pecos sees Sweet Sue riding a giant catfish and falls in love so hard that he jumps into the blue of her eyes and swims around playing a harp? Imagine a Brazilian version of that, and you are imagining something like this throbbing, swooning, whirlwind romance of a record. Or just gaze into the gorgeous cover, which gives you a pretty good idea of how lush and precious this is. It's really beautiful. Total masterpiece of sweet romance.

I got this at Loronix, a wonderful blog of Brazilian music... a lot of the links are dying there, but you should check it out.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Some Great Apollo: David Bowie-Resurrection on 84th Street (1976)

I could go on and on about my passion for the works of David Bowie, specifically in the 70s, and what a genius I think the man is... and mayhaps I will at some point. But for now I am jotting down a quick post of this interesting '76 bootleg of Bowie touring in support of Station to Station.

The sound quality is decent, and the performances are good, if not revelatory, but it's great to hear Bowie from this period, especially sounding so together. Just inches from his yeyo-induced psychotic break, probably already freaking out about the painting of Satan that "materialized" at the bottom of his pool, he gives nary a hint of this onset of madness-- on this night in 1976, he is a consummate performer and total professional.

The album features a blistering "Station to Station," and what remains his longest studio track is delivered in a nearly identical time frame live, making a point for the deliberateness of its excess. It's great.

The rest of it is basically solid, energetically faithful versions of the songs, the notable exceptions being the extended rockout of "Jean Genie," and a really long, let's-slam-some-rails-backstage, drum solo on "Panic in Detroit," which is 13 minutes fucking long. Whether that sounds good or bad depends on your preference for basic rock drum solos, but I do promise this: the solo ends with what I think is Bowie scatting his ass off. Scatting, all! At least, I hope it's him. It's probably him.

For all the anecdotes of Bowie not even remembering writing and recording Station to Station, this solid live interpretation of the material is refreshingly sane and dignified (if lamentably absent of "Golden Years" and "Wild is the Wind"). Mostly just for Bowie scholars, I guess, but have at it if you like.


Here's the tracklist:

1Station to Station

2Suffragette City



5Panic in Detroit


7TVC 15

8Diamond Dogs

9Word on a Wing

10Rebel Rebel

11The Jean Genie

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Visionary Gay Rap For a Post-Homophobic Future: Sid Licious and Natty•Bo- One Dogg Each

It's a hand-me-down dick kinda Monday

An I'm rollin with my fags in my Hyundai
Cruise up to the block
Lookin' for some cock
That's sweet as a bubble gum sundae

This is the first stanza of the heavily West Coast-indebted gay rap daydream, "Bubble Gum Sundae," from the debut EP of Sid Licious and Natty Bo. If that doesn't sound great to you, you have accidentally just been wrong about how a thing can sound to you. It's okay if you were wrong. We can work this out. Honest-to-Goshly, this is a fantastic little piece of work. Extremely hilarious, but more than just a joke, the rap egos of these two men appear to be-- at least at times-- homosexual, mixed-race, and Jewish... something neither artist can claim to be in real life, but embody with a deadpan panache that manages to convey nothing less than a hip hop utopia of taken-as-a-given racial and sexual acceptance.

The first track is a dance party that incites the crowd to smack their lips, as some kind of bizarre dance command, while listing the things the duo hold most dear: wine, weed, bitches, murder scenes, etc... but mostly, just knowing the importance of a good night's sleep. It's followed by a nasty club track with euro-brand trash smeared all over it that brags of having a, uh, "six-inch pussy," ahem.

After that is "Bubble Gum Sundae," perhaps the best, and certainly the phattest, track on the EP. A sun-drenched travelogue of a great gay day spent together (cruising, rollerblading, in bed, in the jacuzzi, at the beach, at the corndog stand), the boys profess love for each other, a like for cock, and an intention to "ATTACK... boys". Lyrically and musically, it approaches perfection, achieving a skewed parody of West Coast tracks like Cube's "It Was a Good Day", while maintaining an earnest commitment to the awesomeness of the concept when considered at its face. (It also contains this excellent lyrical transition: "So a quick rolla blade in the shade..." So gay, so cool, so proud.) It will make you laugh, and hard (and that's part of the appeal), but not because of the mundane gay panic aspect or the intrinsic, easy novelty of juxtaposing homosexual themes with a notoriously homophobic genre; it's funny because its so fucking badass, and they sound so cool, and the beats are so dope. It's the commitment to the material.

The next track opens with a maddening mantra of nonsense that name-drops Phillip Glass, then explodes into almost MGMT-style indie-pop, before it gets all nasty again: "It's getting hard, harder to get hard... But you're gonna get hard with: Sid Licious and Natty Bo..."

The final track, "White Black Jew," meditates on their cultural and religious heritage while maintaining their sexual pride, and it's damn near a masterpiece of some bafflingly specific, yet abstract, hip hop deconstruction. It's also hysterical.

And seriously: all throughout the EP the beats are more than just dope. They're deceptively clever and relentlessly inventive, shifting seamlessly and containing layers and depth. At times achieving mid-period Tangerine Dream levels of electronic vintage tranciness, dropping out to create a beat comprised of people laughing, tossing in a gnarly klezmer quote, or just burying rewarding sounds and textures in unexpected places.

You should have this. I promise.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Genius of Free Jazz: Archie Shepp- The Magic of Ju-Ju (1967)

A while back I was remarking to someone that I could never really find anything as good as Archie Shepp's Coral Rock, and he got sort of maximum paternal and suggested I hear this album before I think I know Archie Shepp. Well, if you ask me, it doesn't exactly blow Coral Rock out of the water, but it is an amazing album, if not his masterpiece. Shepp is such a gifted player, possessing an exquisite alchemy of savagery, sophistication and soul that is totally unlike his peers. No one would mistake this-- or any Shepp recording-- for, say, Coltrane or Pharaoh Sanders, and despite a shared interest in African music/instrumentation and its intersection with passionate improvisation, neither of them would have arranged a track as barren, repetitive, and scorchingly single-minded as the title track from The Magic of Ju-Ju. Perhaps what sets Shepp furthest apart is his palpable anger. Where others of his generation pursued a spiritual elevation, Shepp often preferred to display an intellectual rage and achieve his catharsis in that way.

As for the album, Allmusic does a serviceable description here:

"Shepp's emotional and fiery tenor takes off immediately, gradually morphing with the five percussionists who perform on instruments including rhythm logs and talking drums. Shepp never loses the initial energy, moving forward like a man possessed as the drumming simultaneously builds into a fury. Upon the final three minutes, the trumpets of Martin Banks and Michael Zwerin make an abrupt brief appearance, apparently to ground the piece to a halt. This is one of Shepp's most chaotic yet rhythmically hypnotic pieces"

Another essential record from Shepp. Good VBR rip.


Coral Rock is here

Busy Suckin On A Ding Dong, Jim: The Velvet Underground- Sweet Sister Ray

Is "Sister Ray" the most incredible song of the sixties? Or-- to hell with it-- the most incredible song in the history of rock "n" roll?

To speak in hyperbole when discussing "Sister Ray" only makes sense. It is a fearsome God-Monster of a song, one that has taken many terrible and awesome forms. This bootleg is infamous for having three of those many mutant live versions of the song. But it also boasts the shadowy, mythical "Sweet Sister Ray," a 40-minute, rarely performed (and even more rarely recorded) spiritual lead-in to what was often a terrifically long opus itself.

When playing live, the band was able to take what felt like a punishing, ecstatic eternity at 17 minutes on vinyl, and stretch it out indefinitely-- opening up to long passages of interplay between Reed's flipouts and Sterling Morrison's visionary, understated improvisations, or just chugging along with a brutal motorik rhythm. Experimenting at the outer limits of feedback and volume, pushing the primitive simplicity of the drums to the point of ritual oblivion, reciting Last Exit To Brooklyn/Naked Lunch-reminiscent lyrics in a literary deadpan that implied Reed's underlying droll gallows humor-- and doing it for upwards of 40 amphetamine-fueled feverish minutes... hellfire and damn it where can I get every recorded version of this song?

Well, there are three here: one nicely recorded, with a tangled, angular performance from the guitars; one played with a marvelous maximum of feedback and distortion; and one with a somewhat low recording quality that is good but pretty typical. The best versions, for my money, can be found on the excellent 3-disc set, The Quine Tapes, a mess of recordings made by the teenage Robert Quine. There are three long renditions of "Sister Ray" on The Quine Tapes and they are easily among my favorites, so you should get that stuff if you haven't got it. Everyone, get The Quine Tapes!

As for "Sweet Sister Ray," it doesn't quite live up to the main feature, to be honest, but it's pretty insistently interesting. It might well bore you at first, but by the time it's over, you realize it's already gotten into your blood.


Monday, April 12, 2010

From the Library Library: Piero Umiliani- Continente Nero (1975)

Umiliani is one of those Library guys that has a million records, often under different names.  I think he's one of the more reliably good figures of that scene, and Continente Nero is my favorite of his works.  Full of urgent, tension-building strings, Umiliani-typical percussive aspects, and the rush of adventure and discovery; this is a documentary in your head, Jacques Cousteau-style, where nature is perceived as an unfathomably precious beauty and a mystical void of peril that will destroy man even as he works so obliviously destroys it.  Highly evocative, and a little less corny/funky/upbeat than a lot of similar docu-soundtrack library stuff.  Very thin and serious stuff.  If you like Sven Libaek (he'll show up here soon), this will scratch a different aspect of that itch.
*I just realized that "Continente Nero" translated from Italian is "Black Continent."  Awesome&Problematic, just like all the best old stuff.
36 15 Moog has tons more Umiliani on his blog, so check him out, but this one is the best.
embark on a rigorous journey, fraught with wonder and peril

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Everybody!: Admiral Dele Abiodun- It's Time For Juju Music

Here is a highlife party record that just refuses to stop being the best party in space... like the best of this kind of African jamming, what seems rote at its start begins to imperceptibly turn itself inward, becoming a trippy, vaguely cerebral, dance dance dance party that doesn't just creep up your booty and start your bones to shakin' but also funks up your mind, putting you so deep into it man...

This rip is comprised of two tracks which is not exactly the original intent of the album but each side of the record is so obviously one long interrupted track that this is really the only way to do it. Side A is the best for me, keeping the vocals to a minimum and exploring the outer limits of what instrumentation you might want to throw at this kind of funk, at times attaining almost a kind of minimalism and sporting all the keyboard-handclaps you could ask for... then the singers jump in, remind you that it's indeed time for juju music, to shake your body and hold your baby, then they're gone and it's back to outer space we go...

This record is a little cute and maybe a touch naive (and more than a little indebted to King Sunny Ade), but it keeps me absolutely riveted every time.

Get it y'all, and don't forget to hold your baby

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Thank You, Growing Bin: Gert Thrue- Sound Painted Pictures of Cosmic Love

Oh Ding Dang Dammit: I got this from The Growing Bin which is a very nice blog indeed, and this record is the New Obsession. Just a baffling procession of modal organ improvisation and drums just completely all-a-drummin', it creates the most positive psychedelic atmosphere imaginable. God, it's just so tangibly good... go to this place and retrieve it from the link they have there, then prepare to be pleased. I predict you will be pleased. Oh my son, my son, you will, you will be pleased.

*Clearly I was very excited about this at the time, sadly to the point of cartoonish unintelligibility. Perhaps rightly so. Still one of my favorite straight-ahead psych records. It will bring you back from a bad trip, if you need it to-- this is righteous cosmic music, and it sets a space explorer straight.


Glorious Daughter of the South: Just Julia

A collection of recordings by Just Julia, a daughter of the New South and Cult Songstress. Just Julia records on her lo-fi lonesome, using primarily ukulele, keyboards and overdubbed vocals. This rare collection of songs has never until now been released as a single collection and exhibits her rare pop literacy with charming and powerful covers of songs by Harry Nilsson, various girl groups, Donovan, the Flamingoes, and the Everly Brothers. Dispersed among these clever homages are a smattering of originals which seem to truly sit head and shoulders: the original compositions "Old 86," "Crime Report," "Virginia," "French King Bridge," and "Sugar Hollow" smuggle and snuggle right the fuck in with the sonnets of the master bards and make themselves at home like crafty country raccoons.

Listen, if you like it when a girl sings a song, if you like the ukulele, if you like Harry Nilsson and might like to hear him respected musically, if you like to hear a song of a world that is decent and nice like a watermelon picnic: get this compilation. Don't be a Yankee, get the songs, the songs!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Phantom of the Studio: Joe Meek- I Hear a New World (1959)

"This is a stretch of the Moon where there is a strange lack of gravity forcing everything to float three feet above the crust, which with a different magnetic field from the surface sets any article in some sections in vigorous motion, and at times everything is in rhythm."

So says Mr. Meek, by way of explaining the song "Magnetic Fields," from his liner notes for I Hear A New World. This is the legendarily strange&awesome producer's ode to the Space Age and personal studio experimentation album, and what a curious bit of something it is.

It's worth hearing solely for the gorgeous, haunting title track, an alternate reality version of what Joe Meek's music might have sounded like had he not been a UK pop producer, but rather a peer to The Velvet Underground and The Red Krayola in early art-pop psychedelia. The rest of the album, however, manages to be both stranger than the first track, and somehow less bewildering than the man's more "mainstream" output. If you've ever heard Raymond Scott or Bruce Haack, mix that sense of innocent electronic pioneering with a little surf/space age pop, and you know what to expect from I Hear A New World. At times it verges on nigh-unlistenable studio noise, but mostly it's vaguely pleasant, weird little ditties. Mostly instrumental with the exception of the first track-- although highly effected/compressed dum-dum-dum voices do pop up throughout. Originally released as two EPs, each came with wonderfully dotty liner notes:

They are worth looking at, I promise. Marvellously written to convey evocative images well-suited to the tunes, they go a long way towards elucidating the reason each song sounds the perplexing way it does. Here's a wiki link to their article, which has some nice quotes from Meek.

Hear this new world. 320