Good Music We Can Know

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Secret Genius: Paul & Linda McCartney- Ram (1971)

Okay, let's just do it. Let's talk about Ram. This record is nothing short of a pop apocalypse to me, the place where the pleasure of the genre reaches a critical mass and just ends it all, eclipsing any other work of a Beatle or the Beatles for sheer enjoyability and playful creativity. I've been listening to this album since I was a youngster, and it's never lost a bit of its luster. Hell, I still have the same tape (not a homemade tape, either, but an official cassette release... that always pleases me, in a strange way) that my father played in his truck when I was a child, that I now play in my truck.

It rips open with the anthemic "Too Many People." This is the song that really stoked John Lennon's paranoia and bile, causing him to drop the vitriolic dis track "How Do You Sleep?"-- a bit of a rabid response, I would say, to such inoffensively reasonable observations such as "Too many people preachin' practices/ Don't let em tell you what you wanna be...", but I digress. It's a good fucking song, a real satisfying slice of 70's rock for driving fast through the countryside, feeling good about who you are in the world. It's also a fairly salient entry in the Lennon-McCartney grudge myth, if you buy into that stuff, as McCartney's vague jabs at his friend seem level-headed and ultimately caring. It's followed by the doofy blues of "3 Legs", a marvellously produced trifle about a three-legged dog and a one-legged fly. It's dumb as hell lyrically but there's bigger fish to fry here, the guitars sounding as crisp and weird as they do, and the various vocal filters being applied as they are... At times, McCartney's approach really reminds me of Eno's on Here Come the Warm Jets, laying out artful but nonsensical pop abstractions, then distorting them by treating each instrument, or section, with an effect or filter or Oblique Strategy, tossing in rewarding frills and textures all over the place.

The next thing is "Ram On", an utterly, devastatingly pretty little ukulele ditty with deceptively cavernous, ramshackle production. Opening with a quick blurble of distorted tape, leading into a cascading piano line, studio chatter, and a demo-quality intro on solo uke, it builds layers from there, adding Linda's always-straightforward backing vocals, reverbed electric piano, hand claps and bongos endowed with enormous echo, more and more backing vocals, and Paul performing mouth bass; imitating then shadowing a french horn; then whistling the whole thing out... a wonderfully complex and perfectly simple 2-and-a-half minutes. A similar effect is achieved in the next track, "Dear Boy", an ecstatic revelation of his love for Linda with that divine electric piano, layers and washes of vocals (which even perform the bass line of the song, to delightful effect), and a sudden, staccato chunk of electric guitar pushing the whole thing straight up into the heavens... quite simply, these have been two of the best and coolest love songs ever made.

What Follows is "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey", such an utterly weird little song suite that I hesitate to even describe it. He actually won a "Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists" Grammy for this tune, and while it seems too odd to have warranted the attention of the idiots at the Grammies, it certainly deserved its praise. Beginning with a warmly evocative childhood theme, complete with melancholy/nostalgia-inducing rainfall sounds, then imitating and sampling insect noises; reprising the first verse in a John Cleese-esque brusque British accent, and lurching into a french horn piece, followed by a giant chorus from Linda: "Heads Across the Water, Heads Across the Sky..."; the french horn coming back to accompany a "Pirates of Penzance"-reminiscent bit of a maritime nonsense ditty, then back to the chorus, then out of nowhere a "weedle-weedle little gypsy getaround" diversion, back to the chorus, and fade out rocking... This is creativity operating with total confidence and utter abandon. It's so charming, you almost lose sight of how fucking all over the place and random it is. Once you've heard it, babies, it's in your life forever.

It fades into the closest thing the record has to a misstep, the ghastly, raunchy blewz of "Smile Away", a song about how smelly his feet, breath, and teeth are. It's not my favorite, but it's still kind of great. The backup vocals in particular are inspired, and you gotta give it points for being so godawful peculiar.

Side two opens on "Heart of the Country" another composition which finds Paul scatting out bass lines and imitating the other instruments. In fact, this track may be one of his all-time great vocal performances, his wistful delivery of the verses achieving a sweet perfection. It's followed by "Monkberry Moon Delight", a monstrously grotesque shanty of Tom Waits-level bone-machine ramshacklery, scary nursery rhyme imagery, and growliness. So unhinged and howlingly strange, Screamin' Jay Hawkins' perhaps-inevitable cover of it sounds positively tame by comparison. In terms of sheer strangeness as a composition, it succeeds in every way that, say, "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" might not. And again I will point out, the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production is pure gravy. Beautiful.

The Buddy Holly-inspired "Eat at Home" I've always found pleasant but fairly inconsequential. It's central entendre is wonderfully sexy, though. "Long Haired Lady", on the other hand, is another in a series of masterpieces. Opening with the closest Linda would get to a lead vocal, she demandingly inquires, "Do ya love me like you know you ought to do?" in a flat, mock-teenage voice.  That voice always flummoxed me as a child (its seeming so incongruously off-putting), but it's a delivery that I now relish, especially as it contrasts to Paul's especially sweet and heartfelt delivery. It's like a version of "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" where Meat Loaf enthusiastically proposes to Ellen Foley (or was it Karla DeVito?) with the reassuring voice of an angel, pledging his eternal love to the support of heaven's horns as they both ascend to a paradise of mutual passion and devotion. Of course the track fades into a reprise of "Ram On", the album's first song of love, and of course it would have to segue into the sublime ode to teenage amor, "Back Seat of My Car." This song has been often compared to the works of Brian Wilson, both from a production and thematic-content perspective-- and rightly so. The relatively intimate emotions of young love (and all the friction with the girl's father that that usually entails) are here amplified to soaring, heart-exploding heights, the sentiment further heightened by an absence of the kind of goofy playfulness that's been sweetening the album up to this point. Here the record ends, and makes its stand with a gorgeous and heartfelt finale, declaring of their love "Oh, we believe that we can't be wrong."

I strongly suspect that any of you who might be reading this are already familiar with this record. If you're not, then I hope I've managed to pique your interest, and if you are, I hope I've provoked in you a desire to throw it on give it another listen. Seriously, if you don't know this joint in your bones, then get it inside of you, tonight.  This is Paul's best solo work by a mile, and one of the best albums of all time.

Again, I won't be posting a download link here for fear of being taken out by an anti-Beatles-pirating death squad, but I'm sure you can find it out there in that big old world, my friends.

Also, my friend from UbuWeb has recently tipped me to the delightful and surprising fact that Paul recorded an instrumental version of this record, under the pseudonym of Percy "Thrills" Thrillington. It's god damn great, and I'll be chatting you and your computers up on that subject in the coming days as well. Search it out, fellows, and dare to dream of greatness. Good night.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Secret Genius: Paul McCartney- "Lost" McCartney II (1980)

Here is the so-called "lost" McCartney II. Like most things bearing the oft-spurious title of "Lost Album," the truth of this one is that it is a collection of outtakes, excluded tracks, and extended or alternate takes. It offers, to my ears, no greater or more complete a vision of the record than the extended rerelease of the original discussed below, but it does make for fascinating listening for those, like me, who always want to "hear more." Get it if you want it, I shouldn't have to convince you. There's some seriously cool mysteries on here, though.

CHECK YOUR MACHINE (link removed by request)

Secret Genius: Paul McCartney- McCartney II (1980)

It's hard for me to talk about Paul McCartney without railing on about his undeserved reputation as some kind of crassly commercial, unrepentantly cute, baby-boomer bogeyman, but suffice it to say, I feel it's undeserved. Paul was, if the jauntiest and catchiest songwriter of the Beatles, simultaneously the most experimental and avant-garde. If Wings stands as a monument to post-Beatles mediocrity, then McCartney, Ram, and McCartney II tower as beautiful, wild, and endlessly enjoyable masterpieces, a testament to and realization of all the promise and talent the 20th Century's most successful composer carried with him into his solo career. (Not to be needlessly didactic, but I'd say that puts him a step above the teflon boomer-saint and rival in history, John Lennon, who managed about one and a half great solo outings and a few more that weren't too embarrassing. I love him as we all do but come on. How did he sleep at night?) Ram is my favorite of the three, one of my most beloved records of all time, but the strangest by far is McCartney II, and that is what I'll ramble on about today.

After breaking up Wings and spending nine days in jail for marijuana possession, McCartney dropped II, a synth and weedsmoke-drenched bedroom record of epically weird proportions. Utilizing the so-crazy-it-just-might-work technique of holing up in his Scottish studio, getting high, and playing all the instruments himself, he emerged with a surprisingly experimental bunch of songs so creative and cool that even notorious grump Lennon had to muster some praise for his old friend. The big single was "Coming Up", a strange but pop-friendly disco track with massive compression and sped up vocals. After it opens the record, one has to sweat through the agitating new-wave nightmare of "Temporary Secretary", a song I usually skip but have to admit is a fascinatingly garish piece of work, a Devo-esque piece of hot trash worth suffering through for the sadistic pleasure of it. It's followed by the soothing balm of "On the Way", a cruisin' bit of what is essentially a blues, but draped in dub-level amounts of echo and garnished with little bits of angular guitar work. Excellent... and we're off!

Next up is the gorgeous "Waterfalls." Simple, perfect, oddly similar to the TLC hit of the same name... some may write this type of track off as maudlin or corny but to hell with those monsters, and their hardened, bitter souls. I implore you to lend your full attention and whole heart to this video:

After that brief diversion into a land of earnest sentiment, it's back to the playfully trippy. "Nobody Knows", a stompin' trifle, followed by "Front Parlour", a decidedly lo-fi bit of synthy krautrock, a la Zuckerzeit or Ralf and Florian; then a reprise of sentiment in the vein of "Waterfalls", this time distorted somehow into a soaring yet brittle haiku of optimism in the form of "Summer's Day", followed by another grainy kraut jam, "Frozen Jap," complete with handclaps, crushingly hollow compressed drums, and a drum machine. The record is flowing at this point, an unpredictable river of stoned optimism... "Bogey Music" comes and goes, its essential mediocrity hazily cloaked in relentless echo, and is followed by one of the record's masterworks, the sinister, slightly reggae-ish "Darkroom." It's one of those pop songs that comes into your life and makes you feel like you've never heard anything like it, like you've been waiting for this specific mix of pop and art without ever suspecting it even existed. It's like hearing Brian Eno's Here Come the Warm Jets, Roxy Music's debut, or Bowie's Low for the first time. Pop as art with no compromise, utterly unique and essentially familiar.

I guess the original album followed "Darkroom" with "One of These Days", a nicely introspective track with McCartney's signature direct pop appeal and kind, friendly voice. I suppose I have an expanded version, though, because for me, that song has always been followed by the album's other great revelation, "Check My Machine," a powerful dub distortion with looped banjo, falsetto vocals, gallons of echo, and positively brilliant sounding synths. I could groove to this all day. Alien music; truly, truly weird. You can smell the cheeba wafting from the studio as he wrapped this one up. I have no idea how it didn't make it onto the original release, but history and the profitability of re-releases+bonus tracks has rectified the error. Look at what the Rolling Stones did with Reggae in the 70's. Then look at "Darkroom" and "Check My Machine." Then tell me how Keith Richards is the fucking Pope of Rock n Roll and Paul is its Judas. Judas? I don't believe you.

The final track on my version is "Secret Friend", a ten minute synth meandering with tape-distortion warbling and "saxophone" sounds throughout. It's not gripping stuff the whole way through, but it is a stellar fadeout to this secret masterpiece. I cannot recommend this shit highly enough. Here is the work of a man having fun, getting high, being a genius, and doing what he wants to do. You'd best believe, my friends.

I'm not posting a link to this. In this case, I fear the potential recriminations of such an act... but you internet wizards can surely find a way to download this if you don't feel like filling Paul's already overloaded coffers. Just make sure you get the bonus tracks, dig it? They are key. They are necessary to your life.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Kosmische Gehackt und Geschraubt: Flash Strap Presents- Afrokraut•Control Car

They fiercely hated capitalism and colonialism and immoderately loved psychedelic drugs. They built self-managed nations and communities devoted to the inner space exploration, they were followers of polygamy and esoteric practices. They worshipped the rhythm.. and the ministers were Tony Allen and Jaki Liebezeit. At the out side, RAF urban guerrilla rioted and the Nigerian dictatorship put down the rebellion... and Allah could have been Marxist. Can, Faust, Fela Kuti & Africa 70, Neu!, Ofo the Black Planet, William Onyeabor, Harmonia are the stars of Krautrock and Afrobeat. It’s a journey through the sounds of a buried period, looking for improbable resemblances between seventies Africa and Germany.
Massimo Carozzi, for his excellent Afrokraut mix, listenable at Music City

"It's a plan of action through non-action. It's an observational/lenticular move, and it's the right move... It's an intended obfuscation; I think the implicit vibe that comes with something law enforcement related is aggression, control, all the dominant archetypes we can watch failing catastrophically at the moment. On Patrol is about flipping that vision: enforcement through perceptual strategies. On Patrol is a statement of place, a statement of being. It's not about patrolling. It's about getting On Patrol."- Camerone Stallones/ Sun Araw, describing the philosophy behind the concept of being On Patrol, also the name of his cosmically badass most recent full-length.

Inspired by the Afrokraut bridging suggested in part by Mr. Carozzi, and the truly evident connections that have always lived within the music itself; as well as the fine Mr. Araw's razor-sharp alchemy of, as he says, "70's classy: free jazz, krautrock, African music, etc.", in addition to the notable elements in his work of funkadelicism, dub, and old-school hip hop; and with considerable attention paid to Brother Murky's revelation of a comp, Purple Chicha Music-- I give you an effort of my own Man-Hours and Brain-Powers, Afrokraut•Control Car.

Stretching worldly Kraut grooves and Afro-psych/synth across space and time, utilizing the slurring technique of chopping and screwing to obtain a unity, to insist the intrinsic connection be felt more deeply in the blood, this set aims only slightly to make points and teach lessons about international musical kinship, instead skewing mightily in preference to the creation of audio-psychic fuel with which to find one's consciousness setting about going On Patrol to, in either the physical realm or otherwise. Observe and Conquer. Move through space like a secret genius, a jalopy wizard, a safari cyborg. You understand what I am advocating, I trust.

The set consists of two programs: the first, Afrokraut, the details of which has been fairly well fleshed out by now, and the second, Control Car, a rundown of similarly chopped late 70's/early 80's disco-funk cuts, largely of African-American or African origin. Control Car is Robocop funk, abandoned city steam vent soul-dubb jams. Originally slated to be a separate project, a review of the two programs side-by-side revealed a kinship that ran deep, one bolstering the other and creating a seriously trippy, groovy, dare I say, apocalyptically radical universe of active-minded, head-bobbing smolderers unrestricted by a simple thesis of duality-- friends, this is a trifecta.

Disregard the inherent pretension in these wordy paragraphs and get cerebrally primitive to these enjoyable musical experiments.

Program One: AFROKRAUT
1. I Want More- Can
2. Everyday- William Onyeabor
3. La Bomba (Stop Apartheid Worldwide!)- Neu!
4. Saduva- Gibson Kente
5. The Seven Game- Baka Pygmies/ Irmin Schmidt and Bruno Spoerri
6. I First U Last- N'Draman Blintch
7. One Thing (Or The Other)- Michael Karoli and Polly Eltes
8. Ceddo End Title- Manu Dibango

Program Two: CONTROL CAR
1. Wind It Up- Control
2. Break It!- Oby Onyioha
3. Over the Ledge (Rub Dub)- Ta'boo
4. Jungle Drums- Wild Fantasy
5. Them Crazy- Robo Arigo


Try this out and let me know how it makes you feel, if for no other reason than because it is my birthday. I love you all.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Exotica Safari in the Lushness of Space: Russ Garcia- Fantastica (1959)

We are enveloped by the silence of space and swallowed into a nebulous mist of weightlessness…floating far and wide into space.

Onward we fly—when an unbelievably forlorn and mournful sound reaches out to us…desolate and lonely beyond belief.

A sense of deep depression has settled over us, when, without warning, the grotesque monsters of Jupiter appear…is all of space filled with these unspeakable horrors? This is certainly no laugh in the dark.

As we whisk by this barren inferno a glowing, whirling mass appears in the distance. We are witnessing the birth of a planet.

During the final stage of our journey we watch breathlessly the lunar display before us—the exquisite moon rise in all its majestic and peaceful beauty…we’re almost home.

So reads the literature on the back cover of Russ Garcia's sci-fi Exotica masterpiece, Fantastica. I feel like I've heard a number of records in this subgenre, and the majority of them have been relatively aimless theremin squiggles and groans backed by dissonant-yet-humdrum string sections. This, on the other hand, is highly satisfying stuff-- with all the weirdness one might expect of 50's sci-fi music and more than enough of the lushness and sense of adventure one requires of an exotica/safari record. This is a safari on Jupiter, a SCUBA exploration in the seas of Neptune, a dinosaur sighting in the jungles of Venus. Or why don't I just let the track names speak for themselves:

Into Space


Lost Souls of Saturn
Monsters of Jupiter
Water Creatures of Astra

Red Sands of Mars

Goofy Peepl of Phobos

Volcanoes of Mercury

Birth of a Planet

Frozen Neptune

Moon Rise

Go on this journey.

F A N T A S T I C A •320

Sophisticated Daydream of Exotica: All-Star Orchestra- A Far East Fantasy in Latin Dance Rhythm (1959)

What an excellent example of Exotica culture-collage. Asian songs played in a Latin-jazz style by what might be a Hawaiian band. Sublime. Each influence, from its popular American jazz skeleton to the "Latin" arrangements, up to the mishmash of Hawaiian popular music reflecting and refracting through popular Asian music (which has influenced and been influenced by both Hawaiian and American popular music in general and Exotica in particular), can be heard... This is a surprisingly unique record in the Exotica canon, and one about which I can find very little information. A bit of a masterpiece. Highest possible recommendation for Exotica lovers.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Eastern Jazz Obsession: Ahmed Abdul-Malik- Jazz Sahara (1958)

Here's the 1958 debut-as-leader of Ahmed Abdul-Malik, an oud player and double bassist who's thrown down with Art Blakey, Coltrane, Odetta, and Thelonius Monk, among others. These are enormous East-meets-West jams, with a much harder emphasis on Middle East instrumentation and style than American jazz, and relatively little exotica-style musical tourism. For 1958, this was some pretty authentic shit, and this record was a first exposure to these types of sounds for many American listeners.

Besides Malik on the oud, this record also features a kanoon, a darabeka, and a duf, all used to beautiful effect. The more typical "jazz" sound only rarely makes an appearance, with the occasional swooping solo from sax-bopper Johnny Griffin really beefing up the supreme coolness of the whole affair. It's a lovely piece of work, and nicely aggressive.

I got this originally from Big Fat Satanist, a blog which is long since no more. I know Jazz Sahara is still floating around on other blogs and such, but I was swinging pretty hard to it tonight and thought I should drop it at my spot. Get it if you don't already got it.