Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What's New?: 10.25.2011

Picking up on something I should have returned to years ago. . .

Thurston Moore — Demolished Thoughts (2011)

It's a damn shame that it took Kim and Thurston announcing their separation for me to finally get this album. I knew about it earlier in the year, but I just kept saying, "I'll get it next time" when I stepped into the record store. So, up front: yes, it's very mellow. Mellower even than Trees Outside the Academy. I loved Trees, plain and simple. It was a nearly shocking breath of fresh air at the time and it just felt for me like yet another sign of the great creative rebirth of all things Sonic Youth. The influence of Neil Young loomed large over that album. And (to continue that metaphor) if it was undeniably Crazy Horse in its sound, this one, while still retaining Neil's unavoidable influence, is a bit more Stray Gators. The string and harp accompaniment, the complete absence of electric guitars and the production and assistance touches of one Beck Hansen all add up to, hands down, the mellowest thing Thurston has ever stamped his name on. Truly, I have a hard time thinking anybody who liked Trees and that hears this will dislike it. The two albums almost play like complimentary pieces. The most Sonic Youth-y things get is on the centerpiece 'Orchard Street', which floats and strums its way into a very familiarly jammy territory for Youth fans (although, just played on acoustic guitars and, uhm. . . harps). 'Space' is clearly the best thing here. It's a long, dreamy meditation on private universes and the possibilities that could be. The string arrangements are decidedly in Sea Change territory and I can't say I'm anything other than absolutely pleased that the collaboration between Thurston and Beck yielded at least one thing I completely wanted to hear. The whole thing just becomes even more poignant and sad in the wake of the author's separation from his partner of 20+ years. It's one of those bittersweet musical triumphs. One that is just pure beauty on the surface, but with a bit of behind the scenes knowledge, it becomes an absolutely emotionally wrenching affair that I, as the listener, can only take a step back and marvel at the courage of the whole thing.

For Against — Black Soap EP (1984/2010)

Great to hear these very early recordings of one of the best American new wave bands ever. Things are very much in the early 80's post-punk vein here, as this basically documents the band's first serious trip to a recording studio (in 1984 — these recordings weren't properly released until 2010). The title track is a very short, angular, punky piece that manages to be punk and psych at the same time. And so, here it all is: what I've been searching for has been in front of my face all along (more on this later). 'Black Good Friday' follows suit and, if nothing else, previews the For Against sound that was to come. It's 'Amen Yves' (here sub-titled 'White Circles') that really puts forth that the band was completely special. A totally stock Factory Records sound is conjured up amidst a fantastically dreamy drum machine and bass synth groove that could fill the snobbiest of rock club dance floors. Totally ace. Scary to think they were this good this early. Short, but sweet!

For Against — In the Marshes (1984-1987)

This was actually recorded in the years noted, but not released until 1990. Again, pretty stunning stuff for an American band at the time. I'd say only the Mission of Burma had come this close to sounding nearly as genuinely bleak as their British counterparts (and that's a compliment to everyone involved). And yeah, I bring that up because the band still sounds totally stuck on their British influences (not that this is a bad thing, just limiting). The glorious wonderful gloominess that is 'Amen Yves' appears twice in two versions that are even more Factory Records-obsessed than the Black Soap version (and again, this is not necessarily a bad thing). Overall, it sounds like a band trying to find their voice. And, for a band that had so much greatness ahead of them, the potential is just blossoming.

For Against — Echelons (1986)

One of the great lost classics of the American new wave. It sums up 'tiny metropolis' living pretty well within the first track. Indeed, 'Shine' says it all: "I've had this idea, I've had it for a while: blow this town to smithereens. Yeah, that would be my style. Does that answer your question?" Growing up in an isolated, tiny metropolis myself in the early 90's, I can definitely relate. What follows is almost like the American Unknown Pleasures. A set of nine absolutely perfect bass driven, jangly songs that seem to be so fast because the band is so nervous. The grasp on atmospherics that the band had at this point is downright jaw dropping. Case in point: the way 'It's a Lie' develops from solo bass to an absolutely gloom-ridden wall of sound is just impressive. The band's first official single receives a reprise here on 'Autocrat' and it's another highlight. An angular bass riff and many fancy guitar pedal showcases by Harry Dingman atop a singular lyric of "Yeah, that's right: that's the way it is" by singer/bassist Jeffrey Runnings and the deal is sealed. 'Forget Who You Are' is a strikingly resonating rant against the record industry, but musically it sounds as faithfully Joy Division-esque as the best of any of their British peers. The album ends with the longburning, slow-developing 'Broke My Back' which is just as good and as gloomily wonderful as anything the Cure or the Sisters of Mercy could have churned out at the same time. I guess my point here is: this band was surely inspired by all the late-70's British new wave greats — but so were all their British contemporaries at the time of this album's release. Why should they be considered second tier because they were not British? They were using the same source material for their thesis as their British counterparts — and they did just as well, if not better. I initially bought this album about ten years ago during my tenure at the local used record store. I followed a recommend from the Chameleons website and happened to find an original vinyl copy of the album at work. I listened, loved it and thought nothing more of it. I surely read Jack Rabid's glowing reviews of the band's newer material in the Big Takeover over the years and just said to myself that one day I would go back to them. I just decided to go for it and order everything that Words on Music had available the other day. I doubled up on this copy of Echelons because it just felt right.

For Against — December (1988)

A lot of folks have gone out of their way to declare this the best of the For Against catalogue. And, as much I have to agree that it is certainly an exemplary work, it just isn't a standout in the bigger picture. I purchased this one on digital download way back when (not long after I scored my Echelons vinyl) and perhaps it was the reason for my lesser enthusiasm about the band. If it was the best they had done, maybe I was on the wrong track. I definitely liked it; then and now. But, I don't know. It has a bit of staleness to it. (I lost it, along with lots of other music I only had digitally over a year ago when an external drive crashed) The best songs are better than anything on Echelons (mostly looking at 'Sabres', 'Clandestine High Holy' and 'Stranded in Greenland' here), but the rest is just nice filler. A lot of the songs feel like they go on for too long and the tempo is slowed down a little too much (I mean, I found it great that they played so fast on the first album; illusions of being a punk band were nothing if not totally entertaining at that point for them). Throughout all of that though, Jeffrey Runnings' lyrics are quite nearly the best they've ever been. He captures an isolated, lonely feeling so well, so many times throughout the album that it's hard to believe these weren't the first set of lyrics he'd ever written (they sound naive enough, but affecting enough to be). A worthy follow up to Echelons in the bigger picture, but just not as good.

For Against — Coalesced (2002)

It's like so many of my own personal music-listening potentials, fulfilled and shattered in one gloriously jangly melancholy swoop. I've never heard this album until now. All the same, it strikes me as clearly the band's best work. And this is strange, as it features only one of the group's original members: bassist/singer Jeffrey Runnings. It's a lot more jangly than their 80's work, but it retains that same feeling of introspective isolation that only seems to genuinely occur to those of us that are landlocked for extended periods (the album cover photo, which crops a bundle of wheat inside an ocean blue square is very telling). Runnings returns to bass for the first time since December and maybe it was that that was the spark to his output. His lyrics are inwardly looking, but not down. Indeed, every song here has a retrospective slant that feels more redemptive than it does depressing. This is music of personal revelation. The excellently jangly backdrop (handled by Steven Hinrichs) is the perfect complement to the lyrics here. It finds that majestic balance between overtly self-indulgent mush and truly resonating art. Runnings seems like he can't say anything that's not profound when he blurts out in his boyish croon gems like, "Nothing this bad can ever last" and "Intangible things don't mean too much: isn't that sad?" I love this album. And, most of all, it fulfills the research I set out —when I decided that new wave was the genre for me and that I needed more sparsely jangly albums like the Cure's Seventeen Seconds in my life— and it just feels like epic redemption for me as a music fan after hearing it this far into my life and getting as much out of it as I am. And, for the band that created it, it's also an absolute triumph. It sounds like nothing else. There are shades of moods of the bands that inspired it, but there are no direct lines of influence to be heard. For an American band to accomplish such a feat just makes me feel great. It's a strummy, layered, mature, introspective and rewarding masterpiece from a band that seemed poised to make such a record all along. That they actually did and that it's actually better than the records from what most people would consider to be their peak period is just shocking. Jesus, it's good.

For Against — Shade Side Sunny Side (2008)

This one was hailed as a serious return to form at the time, mostly because original guitarist Harry Dingman was back on board. I like it. It's a bit more rockin' than I'm used to for these guys (the gratuitous distortion on songs like 'Glamour' and 'Aftertaste' just don't sound right). 'Why Are You So Angry?' has shades of Coalesced and it's definitely a favorite. The music on this album is very reflective of the stark, white on sparse black cover. It definitely has that quiet/loud dynamic going on. Songs like the piano-led 'Game Over' are just about as bleak as anything the band has ever done, while the closer 'Irresistible' turns all of Runnings' seemingly inward-focused anger over the years at an actual target and the results are just downright chilling. Overall, it sounds exactly like the sort of music that two-thirds of the original band should be making at this point.

For Against — Never Been (2009)

Striking again quickly, Jeff and Harry put out this even better album with a new drummer (Nicholas Buller, who had replaced Paul Englehard). Granted, it doesn't truly get off the ground until track two on the flat out gorgeous 'Different Departures', it's nothing but the sky from that point onward. The band has backed away from it's unnecessarily aggressive stance on the previous album, and back into the more subdued and sublime territory of Coalesced. Take for example the post-rock leaning instrumentals 'Black Willows', 'Per Se' and 'The Tenebrists' and you know something new is awry. 'Specificity' is an absolute classic in the band's playbook at this point. This album just seems to continue in the mature jangle sound that they started on Coalesced, and it's nearly as good. The closer 'You Fade' is a dark, cascading wall of dynamics and it's capped off back Runnings' confession that "It's always been this way for. . . like a thief who's fled the scene, you fade away from memory." Fantastic stuff. Especially for a band who may have been seen as a second tier act all along. It's nice to know that, yes, they were that good all along. And they've been here all along. Just waiting for your (re)discovery.

Also, as a side note, Oakland band Broken Cities is giving their album away for free. It's definitely in the post-rock vein of things. It reminds me very much of Sigur Rós without a singer. Been digging it a lot recently. Check it out; it's free after all.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

What's New?: 10.15.2011


Yes, it's quite true: I bought Genesis records. Let's talk about them. . .

Genesis — Foxtrot (1972)

Well, I guess if this is as good as Genesis ever got (which is the general consensus, reading over reviews sites across the internet), I guess I like Genesis pretty darn well. Even still, they do have a sense of second tier-ishness about them to me. I don't know what it is, but I can't connect fully and completely. But, gosh dang if there aren't passages of sheer outright beautiful awesomeness littered all throughout their music; a concentration of which whose percentage is rather high on this album. I mean, the first two minutes of the starter 'Watcher of the Skies' is just pure organ and synth blissout. The way it morphs so perfectly into the actual song is a pretty magical moment. The whole song has a lighter than air feel to it and the constant shift of the dynamics only enhances the triumphant feeling it also possesses. Maybe it's the Yes fanboy in me, but I instantly noticed a nick from the chord sequence of 'Time and a Word' in 'Time Table', but I still like the song, so there. I think what really appeals to me about the band's early material, most of all, is the British folk aspect that is present. At any given point, these complex and labyrinthine songs can break down to these bare bones acoustic riffs that are just heaven. Case in point, here, is obviously the ninety second long instrumental 'Horizons' which has such melodic originality to it, while still retaining hints of classical-mindedness, that I just sit back and marvel at how good it is. The by then status-quo sidelong, twenty two minute prog-rock symphony 'Supper's Ready' is appropriately dense and nearly impenetrable if you just pay attention to Peter Gabriel's (still thought provoking) lyrics. But the guitar and keyboard work throughout the song by (collectively) Tony Banks, Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford is just excellent. I'm not a Phil Collins apologist, however. His drumming is merely adequate, but it does do the job, so there you have it. Overall, it definitely strikes me as simultaneously the album you play for people who hate Genesis and/or prog. Because it certainly contains the best and/or most accessible moments of both.

Travis — Side EP (2001)

Travis b-sides; now we're talking! The title track here is a longtime favorite of mine by the band; a surprisingly Cure-ish little thing that jangles during the verses and explodes with an grand swoop during the choruses — isn't that why I love them in the first place? (rhetorical answer: of course) The three b-sides here are a mixed bag. The studio track 'Ancient Train' finds the band filtering their sound through a nearly Bob Dylan-esque Americana twang and sense of irony. Can't say I saw that one coming; but darned if it ain't great. The other two tracks are live performances. 'Driftwood' is taken on and finds it to be more crowd singalong than actual Fran vocals. I do love hearing when a band has the crowd on its side, but it doesn't necessarily merit repeat plays. The final live song is a cover of Bowie's 'All the Young Dudes' and it's just pure fun. Fran can't hit all the high notes and it's pretty obvious, but the band clearly loves playing the song, so it's one of those rare cover tunes that gets by on pure vibes, despite how mediocre the actual reading may be. Fun stuff; always nice to hear more by these guys.

The Horrors — Primary Colours (2009)

After really loving Skying it was hard for me not to wonder just exactly where the hell these guys came from. With this album, question answered: they have been convincingly faithful revivalists for several years, apparently. This album is just noisier, that's all (take in a five second preview of every track here and you will mostly get squalling feedback and distortion. From the swirling, gooey, reverb-drenched guitars that dominate 'Three Decades' and the title track, to the incredible 'Scarlet Fields' and the stunning closer 'Sea Within a Sea' (both of which sound like Mark Burgess singing over outtakes from the Cure's Pornography), it's clear that this band has done their homework and that they are not just a revival group. Like I said of Skying: this just makes me think the band is less of a revivalist group and more of a genuine "apostle" of the sound. It just feels natural with these guys. And sheesh, they are incredible songwriters.

Prince — Mountains/Alexa de Paris (1986)

Sure, 'Mountains' —as far as its structure and overall tone— is essentially unchanged from the album version, but this is the epic ten minute extended version. Completely worth it on its own, as it features the Revolution, in peak form, just jammin' out. It's a rare moment of Prince actually releasing something that justifies all those bootlegs (I mean, there's a reason people wanted to hear more, right?). The b-side is the instrumental 'Alexa de Paris' and while it is a bit more guitar jammy than I generally prefer, it is Prince just wailing away, Jimi Hendrix or Eddie Hazel style. Really good stuff for Parade-obssessives like me.

Genesis — Trespass (1970)

Well, hey there, this is darn good, isn't it? I mean, I still have no clue what Peter Gabriel is talking about, but just the sound of his voice and the band on this album is pure chemistry. I don't get it for the life of me, but I do feel something. This is probably the band's real first album, as their initial material (from 1968/1969) has been pretty much disregarded by the band for years running. It's definitely the first album that sounds like "them." Every song here is just ace for me, but 'White Mountain' really sticks out. It's an example of buildup tension and release executed perfectly. The folkiness of the album cannot be denied. And maybe that's why I like it so much: musically, it's very reminiscent of John Martyn, Fairport Convention and Nick Drake albums of the same period. Really solid stuff.

Genesis — Nursery Cryme (1971)

This one is also really good — but a bit of a rehash. I mean, I like people who are clearly doing nothing wrong to repeat themselves as often as possible (Vini Reilly, Morrissey, Bill Evans, the Cocteau Twins, to name a few) but I don't know. This one feels formulaic. Now, after trashing it right out of the gate, I will say that the first four minutes of the album are absolutely thrilling on 'The Musical Box.' If only the rest of the album had been able to retain the same level of intensity. It's just fine, honestly. And look, I gave it a rather high score. I've already played it to heck and back, so there. It's a good pre-cursor to Foxtrot. They just did everything on here better elsewhere.

Genesis — Selling England by the Pound (1973)

Hey, more Genesis albums from the early 70's that are just darn solid affairs, imagine that! Again, this band knows how to kick off albums with insanely good buildups, as 'Dancing With the Moonlit Knight' is just fantastic, starting as acoustic plucking, morphing into charged-up gallop rock and ending with keyboard euphoria; hot damn, that's some listenable multi-movement rock music. Going off into left field immediately after that is the glammy (??!?!!!!?) 'I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe).' I love the song, honestly, but my confusion arises from the fact that I was always under the impression that proggers and glam kids were not on the same page, but this just confuses me. The grandiose chorus, the esoteric lyrics about fashion; good stuff. The real kicker though is the album closing suite of the thirteen minute 'The Cinema Show' and 'Aisle of Plenty.' It follows the now familiar (yet, no less stunning) Genesis formula of slow acoustic folky thing that builds into prggy show off bits, but this then strips down the layers, slows things back down and ends on another (entirely different) acoustic folky thing and it's just downright affecting how well it's pulled off. Melodically new (for them, anyway) and conceptually great stuff. And the whole album hangs together exceptionally well.

John Lennon — Imagine (1971)

Re-acquisition. It's often been said that this album starts off like it's about to be the greatest album of all time, but then it falls in love with itself. Where the Plastic Ono album got scared by its own humility (and therefore, was an alltime enduring classic), this album almost sounds like it's going for too too much. That's not to say it doesn't have tunes for days, because it does. The bigger arrangements and backings and reliance on blues cliches that dominate most of the album do not play to its advantage. It also seems overtly political without reason. I'm sure everybody knew John was a Labour supporter, but some stuff is just a conceptual failure here ('I Don't Wanna be Solider' for instance). This is all balanced by fantastically genuine and venerable moments like 'Oh My Love,' 'How?,' the Dylan-esque 'Oh Yoko!' and the lifechanging title track. There's not an unlistenable song on the album, but it is very uncohesive. It's very telling that, on an album as uneven and chaotic as this one, Lennon would never again sound as assured and satisfied as he did here.


Monday, October 10, 2011

What's New?: 10.10.2011

Proggy bits and pieces. . .

Jethro Tull — Aqualung (1971)

Sure, there's a lot of guitar flashing and just an in general 'overplayed' vibe to the whole thing, but there are also really tuneful songs at the heart of everything here. And, you'll just never know when a song will go straight into acoustic folk rock territory. Wonderful stuff. The title track is a good indicator for the rest of the album: hard rocking and intense one minute, strummy and folky the next. There is a bit of a (what the band said in retrospect was unintentional) concept to the album of how religion in society is used to cover up unpleasantness (and subsequently, how organized religion is a bit of a noble failure in this respect). Conceptually, very "deep man." But musically, it's more folk rock than it is prog to my ears. It actually really reminds me of Fairport Convention albums from the same period. Songs like 'Mother Goose' and 'My God' are just excellent, regardless of how you want to classify them.

Jethro Tull — Thick as a Brick (1972)

First of all, the packaging for this record is completely and fully impressive as to the amount of detail and work that went into it. A gatefold sleeve that contains an entire fake newspaper. I even went through and read a good portion of it and, not only is it completely detailed, much of it is downright hilarious. The music feels like it had just as much consideration given to it, as the album is just one piece that is divided into two sidelong parts; and while it definitely has distinct parts and unique 'song within a song' passages, it's all part of the greater work. While there are also lots of light and folky acoustic passages, the album is much more electric and focused on soloing this time around. At that point, it becomes very clear that this was intended to be a more 'proggy' album. A glance at the lyrics is pretty impenetrable, actually. It's definitely got some poetic qualities to it, but there are lots of sidebars within sidebars and no thoughts ever really get fully completed. In any case, it's a profound work regardless, because it's just musically interesting. There is plenty of soloing and noodly purely technical passages (hey, it is a prog album after all), but unlike a lot of other prog that is technical for technicality's sake, the tunes here are impeccable and smart. Hard to pick a favorite between these two Tull albums.

Egg — Egg (1970)

One of the great bands of the legendary Canterbury scene. Definitely more classical-minded for a rock trio (heck, side two of the album is dedicated to an instrumental "symphony"). For a guitar-less trio, Egg manages to color their music with a surprising amount of tonal ambiance thanks to Dave Stewart's organ work. Take a song like 'I Will Be Absorbed' for instance: tons of dynamics shifting and a general sound about it that there has to be more than just three guys playing. There is also a real emphasis on tunes here. Take the group's adaptation of Bach's 'Fugue in D Minor' in which they transform the piece into a somewhat funky two minute psychedelic trip. The symphony (billed as 'No. 2') is a twenty minute instrumental experience that simply expands on the idea. It's a bit reminiscent of ELP, if they were more concerned with tunes than skills (and not to mention, it gets pretty wacky and dissonant at points). As a deluxe reissue on the great Esoteric boutique label, this features bonus materials that are all just as strong as the proper album.

Soft Machine — One and Two (1968/1969)

Neat two-fer CD reissue of the first two Soft Machine albums. Soft Machine was, of course, from the same Canterbury scene that Egg also rose from. Where Egg was a bit more focused on playing a sort of "classical rock," Soft Machine is more in the vein of playing "jazz rock." Be it through Robert Wyatt's decidedly jazzy drumming and occasionally even scatty vocals or Michael Ratledge's undeniably Herbie Hancock-esque keyboard work, there is definitely a sense here that group was raised just as much on jazz as it was on rock and roll. Both albums are divided into two sidelong suites that range in length from less than a minute to in excess of seven minutes. For all of the idiosyncratic and (presumably) sarcastically narcissistic lyrics and patience-trying density of the layout of the albums, you have to really take a step back and marvel at just how revolutionary and new this music must have sounded like in 1968. There is plenty here that could easily be considered right alongside the Krautrock bands that people seem to give a lot more credit to (for whatever reason). You really have to scratch your head with something like 'We Did it Again.' Essentially a fuzzier ripoff of 'You Really Got Me' — and yet, it still sounds fresh. The first album is a bit more solid overall, as Kevin Ayres is still in the band on guitar and it's just the trio playing some wildly psychedelic pop. The second album goes a bit more jazzy, with the addition of a horn section and Ayres being traded out for bassist Hugh Hopper. Two very distinct affairs, but both equally as revelatory in their own ways. Pretty fun stuff.

Hugh Hopper and Alan Gowen — Two Rainbows Daily (1980)

An all instrumental duets album that features Alan Gowen on various keyboards and Hugh Hopper playing his electric bass through various effects and pedals, both playing several parts through overdubbing. While not strictly a jazz album, it ventures closer to jazz than anything else. Kind of in an ECM mode, as it does get very ambient and nearly new agey at certain points. Something like 'Morning Order' (famously sampled by Common) is the kind of song I think of when I envision two aging British hippies getting together to have a cup of tea and make music. Lovely stuff, actually. The fuzzy bass tones and early synths do date this one pretty quickly, but the musical conversations these guys have are interesting to eavesdrop on, for sure. The album closes out with the fantastic nine minute ballad 'Waltz for Nobby.' This CD reissue features five tracks from a one-off trio performance (that features the headlining duo with Nigel Morris on drums) that is most certainly a jazz date. It does not compliment the proper album very well, but as its own session, it's not too bad. Highlighted by the eerie 'Little Dream,' it definitely illustrates that these guys were just as comfortable in a purely jazz setting.

Radiohead — Go to Sleep and There There EPs (2003)

Six b-sides from the Hail to the Thief album. As Radiohead b-sides go, they're all over the place, from acoustic numbers (the lovely 'Gagging Order') to glitchy electronic tunes (the surprisingly tuneful 'I am Citizen Insane'). The Amnesiac b-side 'Fog' shows up in a live solo Thom rendition, where he accompanies himself on piano and that's just fun (seriously, a b-side getting live love is awesome anyway, but to actually put out the live recording is great). 'Paperbag Writer' and 'I am a Wicked Child' sound like the album that birthed them, while the paranoid electronic doodle 'Where the Bluebirds Fly' sounds like a leftover from the Amnesiac b-sides. Definitely hardcore fan fodder, but good for what it is.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

What's New?: 10.1.2011

Cat Stevens — Foreigner (1973)

Filling up holes in the old Cat Stevens collection. Like all of his previous albums, this one's good, but not quite as good as the one that came before it. Still love the big budget folk rock production and his undeniably passionate performances throughout. The whole of side one is taken up by the now infamous 'Foreigner Suite' which features four regular old Cat Stevens songs (good ones, too) that are segued by doodly little instrumental half-songs. I love that sort of unnecessarily ambitious crap. The final song has the (now hilarious) little Joe Satriani/Coldplay bit — not an album highlight, but worth a mention for comedy's sake. Side two of the album just carries along in the same manner but it just doesn't sound as interesting without the willfully artsy aspect that side one has. The album closing song '100 I Dream' has got to be one of the single most uplifting songs ever. Take one look at some random lyrics: "Pick up the pieces you see before you, don't let your weaknesses destroy you." A sparse folk rock backing that mirrors his earlier triumphs and a multi-tracked harmony vocal and the deal is sealed. Good stuff.

Dave Brubeck — We're All Together Again for the First Time (1972)

The title is presumably a reference to Dave, Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan. It is absolutely top tier post-bop from a time when the stuff was frowned upon and in short supply. I don't know what it is, but Paul Desmond just sounds on fire throughout. Gerry Mulligan's composition 'Unfinished Woman' is a soul jazz rave-up — gosh dang, it's good. The Desmond feature on 'Koto Song' is hauntingly beautiful. Rhythm section of Jack Six on bass and Alan Dawson on drums is completely sympathetic to the dynamite frontline they're backing. There's even a super long rendition of 'Take Five' and Dave finishes the live set (recorded at two different dates in late 1972) with a solo reading of 'Sweet Georgia Brown' — completely appropriate, seeing as how it's very obvious that everyone involved was having a blast. Solid stuff. I need to explore Brubeck properly.

Cal Tjader — Several Shades of Jade (1963)

Really sweet find at a thrift store on this one. I did have this album, years back, on this two-fer CD. Overall, it looks a lot more gimmicky from the outside than it actually is. Because, for the most part, it's just Cal Tjader's group playing what they played, but with augmentation from a tastefully Lalo Schifrin-arranged orchestra. I actually didn't remember much of this album from previously, and that's surprising. Because it's actually really worthwhile. I mean, something like 'Song of the Yellow River' is just about as ahead of its time as something might get. Overall, this is probably one of the Cal Tjader albums most folks might guess is pure cheese — but after properly reassessing, I'd say it's among his best.

Prince — Prince (1979)

Sure, not his most enduring material, but there's a charm to the two early Prince albums. It's a brand of semi-disco R&B/funk that just doesn't really sound like anybody else. Because, while Lakeside and Slave were conceiving songs entirely in the studio, Prince was still writing in his bedroom. Hence, you get introspective seven minute things like 'I Wanna Be Your Lover.' It doesn't have the standouts that his first album had, but it does hang together a little better overall as an album. It has a very dated late-70's vibe to it that I must confess I like. A time when recording studios were a church of sorts and even a lesser Prince work like this one was still treated like a goldmine. Dah well, the record's good, but far from his best.

The Band — Music from Big Pink (1968)

The (other) album that the Basement Tapes begat. There's just something about this album that you feel. I can't really articulate it — but this is powerful music. I think it was George Starostin that said (or at least, he was the first person who proposed the idea as I knew it) that nobody really knows what these guys are talking about, but they are talking about some serious shit. And that comes through in this music. It's an epic collision of old meets new. Old timey ideals and ethics meet a newly discovered rocker interest in folk music and you get music that proposes something completely timeless — rare for rock music. I know it's the hit and the song that everybody knows, but I can still remember the first time I heard 'The Weight.' It is a godlike moment in music and one of my favorite songs of all time. Levon Helm's vocal performance is just about as good as it gets in my book. With my interest in Fleet Foxes reaching its most fervent phase, it's nice to go back and hear the roots. Jesus, this album is good. Makes me feel warmer just thinking about it.

The Zincs — Moth and Marriage (2001)

The Zincs' debut album is a sparser presentation of what they would become. For the most part, it's a dual jangly strummy guitar arrangement of esoteric pop songs. This one is a bit more acoustic-based than the albums that would follow, but despite the sparse presentation, the songs are just as good. There really aren't any standouts —besides Jim Elkington's bizarre lyrics— and that plays to the album's advantage, because it demands a full listen every single time. I guess this ultimately plays up Elkington's slant towards British folk rock because it does have the feeling about it that it's about the greater statement than its individual parts. Hard for a guy like me to dislike such willfully tuneful and strummy music.

Cocteau Twins — Four-Calendar Café (1993)

It sounds absolutely fine now, but I can only imagine how disappointing this must have been coming after Heaven or Las Vegas. In retrospect, it can be looked at as a very cliched stock Cocteaus sound. That sounds great these days because the band has been defunct for so long, but at the time, it must have bruised a few longtime fans' hearts. Still, Cocteaus doing "Cocteaus" is better than nothing. This album is notoriously subdued and lowkey in its production, but that actually plays to the success of mellower songs like 'Oil of Angels', 'My Truth' and the especially vintage-sounding number 'Essence.' Overall, not their best, but still a darn fine album.

Cocteau Twins — Head Over Heels/Sunburst and Snowblind (1983)

And straight back into the classics and my Cocteaus collection is complete. You can't fault albums like this. Sure, the band did better songs, but does this not hang together like a total masterpiece? 'Sugar Hiccup' is one of Robin Guthrie's most inspired moments, while 'Musette and Drums' creates the sort of building quality that most bands can only dream of. Yeesh, I mean, sure they were totally onto something new here —and would arguably repeat themselves for the rest of the 80's— but who cares when they were doing it this well? When you're in the zone, you want to stay there. And this is where theirs started.

Mojave 3 — Spoon & Rafter (2003)

After digesting —and really liking— Ask Me Tomorrow, I decided one was not enough, so I found this album used. I purposely went for this one because the first song is 'Bluebird of Happiness'. It's the only Mojave 3 song I've heard that's as good as —or, indeed, better than— Slowdive. A nine minute epic that channels Neil Young via-shoegaze, it's one of Neil Halstead's best songs ever. I just wish all of Mojave 3 was as good. The rest of the album does follow suit, in a matter of speaking. There are some twangy little ditties that toe the line between sleepy country rock and dreamy folk, but none of them have that insanely realized balance of emotion, intensity and restraint that that first track has (as the only sane person in the room asks, "What does?"). It's a lovely little album after the initial shock up front. But, I have to admit, without that first track, I would have scored the album significantly lower.