Good Music We Can Know

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Kraut Fishing in America: Moebius and Plank- Rastakraut Pasta (1980), Material (1981)

Oh, that Krautrock bug. If you've got it, then you may already have these two essential albums from the superhuman duo of Conny Plank and Dieter Moebius. Or maybe you don't-- in my experience these records don't seem to come up all that often when the conversation turns to desert island Krautrock records. Sure, you've got the Can albums, at least the first Neu! record, some Harmonia, maybe, something by Faust, and hopefully Kluster's Zuckerzeit, but before you start eating Amon Düül's trash or trying to focus on Manuel Gottshing or Achim Reichel, even before you start snacking on tasty stuff like La Düsseldorf, Moebius or Roedelius as solo artists, Gunter Schickert, SYPH, or the more enduring works of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, You Gotta Get Down With Moebius and Plank.

One of the qualities I value most in Krautrock is what the Neu! boys dubbed "Motorik", that post-apocalypse highway sound that you find in some of the best, but not all, Krautrock specimens. (That link, by the way, goes to the wikipedia page for motorik. Yes, it has a wikipedia entry.) These two records find the boys serving up some very very innovative and playful takes on the moto-music sound, blending it with the sympathetic aesthetic of that Zuckerzeit-y, tinkle-toy video game/music box sound that Moebius often specializes in, creating very full, delightfully artful repetitious compositions. Fans of the full pop-kraut universe Bowie and Eno created for Low and "Heroes" will find a heart song for their souls on these grooves.

Honestly, these records could be a perfect introduction to the Kraut world, as they roll together and epitomize so much of what is great about Krautrock, from Motorik rollouts to electronic doodles to minimalist pop-repetition to Czukay-style sampling (Czukay actually plays bass on Rastakraut Pasta). They even dip heavily into the dub language and pull out some weird victories.

Moebius and Plank were both old masters of the game by 1980, when the first of these albums dropped, having been involved in what seems like half of the best Krautrock projects of the 70's. Plank himself may have actually been on more than half, but he is a superhero. Here are two guys who were not ready to slip into New Agey synth tranquility, electronic laziness, or any kind of routine. Here are two Kosmisch Wizards, more powerful than ever, soaring through the universe.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Eden's Island Way, In A Silent Way: Eden Ahbez- Eden's Island (1960)

I am re-writing this post because I feel that my original gave Mr. Ahbez an unbelievably short shrift. This is a beautiful and enduring record from an utterly fascinating man.

Eden Ahbez is best "known" for the song "Nature Boy", made famous, of course, by Nat King Cole. When Cole-- who had by then started playing the song from sheet music enigmatically passed off to Cole's manager by Ahbez-- decided to record it, he first needed to find the songwriter. Ahbez was ultimately tracked down, found living under the Hollywood sign. He was a Nature Boy, a Wandervogel-influenced, proto-hippie, beard-wearing, vegetarian, outdoor-commune group. He claimed to live on three dollars a day.

With the exposure and money from "Nature Boy" (which went to No. 1 in 1948), Ahbez became an unlikely minor celebrity and enjoyed a fair degree of success, and an interesting little career as a songwriter (which you can read more about here, at the excellent Eden's Island blog, which has a lot of wonderful info).

In 1960, he put out his one and only solo full-length LP, Eden's Island. A major commercial failure, often accused of kitsch, it is, to my mind, one of the great iconoclastic masterpieces of Exotica-- and one of my favorite albums.

From the aforementioned blog: "Eden’s Island seemed to be the grandiose summation of ahbez’s philosophic idealism, couched in a beachcomber context of Martin Denny-esque arrangements, with ahbez himself reciting poems about his own mystical hideaway."

It's so amazing, really. The arrangements are phenomenal. The Denny comparison is spot-on--though Arthur Lyman would likely be more apt-- but it's also a bit weirder than those guys. Moments of spare minimalism, weird vocal numbers, amazing experimental dashes (such as using water and wood creaking as a rhythmic element in "The Old Boat")... this reminds me of another bearded one: Moondog.

I would love to go on and on about how good this record is, but many others before me have done a better and more thorough job of giving this record its due. It's a masterpiece. It's completely bizarre, and deeply felt. You need to hear it, if you haven't. If nothing else, the song "Banana Boy" will brighten your life infinitely.

Eden with Brian Wilson during the Smile sessions

Here's a link to Eden's wiki. Interesting. Be sure to check out the Eden's Island blog, though.

EDEN'S ISLAND: The Music of An Enchanted Isle

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hell With John Canoe, We Shall Junkanoo!- Exuma- Exuma (1970)

"A Bahamian visionary, humanistic philosopher and people's poet. Exuma gives expression to the beauty and power of the cultural life of the Bahamas - the people's every day experiences, folklore, myths, stories, junkanoo, rake and scrape, pain, joy, struggle and survival. His life and art reflect the wonderful cultural heritage and personality of Bahamians, drawing on the roots of Africa and the branches of the Amerindians, Europeans and Americans." -Alfred M. Sears

Exuma is the name of the musical force manifest in Tony Mackey (or Macfarlane Gregory Anthony Mackey, by birth), a Bahamian from Cat Island who possessed a rare and wild gift for unique and ecstatic musical expression. Resembling, at times, a spectral and divine demonic Siamese twinning of Nina Simone and Dave Van Ronk, summoned to create a Bahamian rejoinder to Dr. John's Gris Gris, this album and this artist are truly essential listening. With enough crazy clatter and free-folkiness to satisfy the No Neck set of more "current times", sufficiently feral jams for the pot smokers and psych junkies, and more than enough folk, soul, blues and culture to grease the ears of music hunters, lost-sound seekers, folkies, calypsomaniacs, slave song lovers, and traditional attic spiders, this is, again, Essential Stuff.

This is a record about freedom, but also about zombies. An Obeah Record, a transcendent folk exorcism from another dimension within nicking distance of the equator. A Human piece of Human music for magnificent Peoples in all states of Pain and Passion.

EXUMA 1970

Monday, August 16, 2010

Spiritual Jazz Obsession: Joe Henderson Featuring Alice Coltrane- The Elements (1973)

There's a lot about this album to make it special... not the least of which is that it features Alice Coltrane in a rare role as a sideman, on harp and piano. What else? Henderson's tenor is in the finest of forms (as it always is, including on Pete LaRoca's superb album Basra, featured here), trafficking in the kind of free-skronky, spiritually wild, high inspiration that Pharoah Sanders found on Alice Coltrane's Journey In Satchidananda (my favorite jazz record, probably).

Each track is named after and based thematically on one of the four elements, and for once a basic and often mediocre idea is executed in such a universal and inspired way that it really clicks, not just musically but also conceptually. The track "Water," an obvious highlight, finds Henderson treating his sax with a thrillingly mercurial effect, resulting in the aural impression of a saxophone being played under, through, or with water. It's delightful, but also fiercely experimental in the spiritual vein. This is one of the arguments for the incredible value of this period in time for spiritual jazz. This is one of the best records of its ilk. This is Jazz happening to the Universe! Brothers, this is the sound of Jazz Mattering.


Exotic Dream of an Andean Sun King: Elizabeth Waldo- Realm of the Incas (1961)

Here is a sublime record of Inca compositions, played on "Authentic Pre-Columbian Instruments" and served up wonderfully by Elizabeth Waldo, a so-called "Musical Archaeologist."

Have you ever found yourself listening to the wonderful records of Yma Sumac and begun to wish you could hear Les Baxter's lush, near-psychedelic, pseudo-Andean arrangements more or less straight, without Yma's hyperbolic vocal histrionics? This, perhaps, is the cure.

(Bless Ms. Sumac and her incredible gift, and may I never speak a bad word about her, but we all know her records aren't exactly "any time" records-- they take a toll. They're challenging in a way Exotica generally isn't.)

Nothing here is quite as strange as what you might find on an Yma Sumac record, but the beauty is uninterrupted and indeed also almost psychedelic in its swirling, crystalline instrumentation. This is a fantastic piece of work, and while I'm not qualified to speak to its anthropological integrity, I can attest, with vigor, that it is Musically Superb. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Closet of Curiosities for posting this one. Zip over there and check out the post (and thank the man), which reprints the back cover literature. Here's a quote:

I have found that the Indian of all areas leaves his stamp on his musical contributions as indelibly as the African leaves his mark on the better known Afro-forms. Above all, the Indian, of noble soul, strives his entire life to unite the forces of man and nature about him. -Elisabeth Waldo

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Light at the End of the World: Skeeter Davis- The Essential Skeeter Davis (1958-73)

Straddling the line between country and girl-group-style pop (not unlike Connie Francis, at times), the great Skeeter Davis was never the prettiest gal, or the most talented singer.  But her girlish, sassily optimistic songs make her an angel for the ages.  Don't be a big asshole.  Listen to the lovely Skeeter.

This should convince you:

Sorry I had to get rough with my language... I don't think you're an asshole, I just want you to like my Skeeter.


(thanks to my friend Julia for hipping me to this)