Tuesday, July 10, 2012
What's New?: 7.10.2012
Been meaning to expand my classical palette lately, so I was on the lookout for something newer and more contemporary when I stumbled upon this (and the next one). It's inspired by, and dedicated to, friends that had succumbed to AIDS. With such a heavy muse, the symphony starts out in its first two movements pretty lively. It's not until the second half on the third and fourth movements that it takes on a more expected, heavier, melancholy tone. It's actually pretty atonal at points and reaches some pretty great moments of hopeful despair. I had no clue what to expect going in, but I certainly didn't expect such emotional heft. I dig it, but it's far removed from light listening. Check out the first two movements here and here.
Walter Piston — The Incredible Flutist / 3 New England Sketches / Symphony No. 6 (1938 / 1949 / 1955)
Another one checked out simply because I had no clue what it was. And darned if it ain't great! I knew nothing of Walter Piston, but after some researching, 'The Incredible Flutist' seems to be his most well-known piece and I can see why. It moves through so many different sections and styles, so quickly and so seamlessly. The sub-section entitled 'The Tango of the Merchant's Daughters' starts out especially gorgeous. The Symphony No. 6 (subtitled "Gettysburg") is more subdued. Long, overstated melodies and many passages of sparse wonder linger throughout (especially on the third movement). The whole thing's great. But the real winner on this disc is the inclusion of the three part suite 'New England Sketches.' Beautifully impressionist and understated, but gargantuan in its scope, I absolutely love it. A wonderful find.
The Lines — Memory Span (late 1970's-early 1980's)
Just when you get cocky enough to think you've mined a specific style to the point that you probably only encounter third or fourth tier bands from then on out, you get a kick in the ass that you completely deserved for being so cocky in the first place. My kick has come in the form of the Lines. The fact that these guys recorded something as brilliant and transcending as 'Nerve Pylon' and I'm just now discovering it is clue enough that the great new wave revival of a decade ago was a cherry pick of a revival. This is an eighteen song collection of the band's EPs, singles, their b-sides and general non-album material. It presents a picture of a band that is clearly of its time, as it's all here: nervy art punk, 60's inspired jangle, jagged instrumentals and, ultimately, a post-disco sound that is just as poignant and revolutionary as —if not outright better than— any of their more celebrated peers. It's an absolutely essential document of an unjustly forgotten band. And while it is stylistically all over the place, the music it contains is so timely, so unique and so downright good that it hardly matters. Essentially, they are like the Cure, if the Cure never got popular. They got to sign to tiny record labels that let them do whatever the hell they wanted. They played crappy hole in the wall clubs and knew their audience (what little of it there was). They got to get their artsiness out in the moment, when it mattered the most. The production sounds may date the recordings, but the songs contained here are ultimately from another time entirely. I remarked a while back that, through my scouring of used vinyl bins and late night readings of Trouser Press, I was essentially trying to find another band that gave me similar feelings to those I get from early Cure recordings. I think I may have actually found the Cure's artsy twin brother. Many outtakes (free to download; all worthwhile) can be found here (click on "SOUND").
The Lines — Flood Bank (1981 / 1983)
This is actually the Lines two full length albums collected on one disc. By the time they released their first album (Therapy, from 1981), a good three years into their existence, the band had developed a uniquely and entirely danceable take on the whole scene. Elsewhere, atmospheric stuff that seems to anticipate the Chameleons is about, and the album is all the better for it. When the band released their second album two years later (Ultramarine, from 1983), they were fully immersed in minor key-tinged dance textures. Just have a listen to the album's kickoff number and relish in that dreamy cascade of slappy bass dark jangle. Most of Ultramarine's songs clock in at five minutes or longer and have a prominent bassline that's more memorable than the main riff. So, yeah. Any of the so-called "post-punk revivalists" can send their checks straight to London. (but we knew that already, didn't we?) The one time the band incorporates lead keyboards is where this compilation takes it title from and, I swear to god, that opening ten or so seconds could be any pop song on the radio right now (except the Lines actually have a good song to follow the intro). As a whole, Ultramarine shows more of a willingness to branch out and slow the tempo down, in favor of a much more tuneful and layered sound. If only they had stuck around long enough to get one more album out. But, nope. Can't be mad at quitting while you're ahead. And they certainly were. There are more free downloadable extras here (again, click on "SOUNDS"). Furthermore, between these Lines reissues and the recent Trypes reissue, I am firmly of the opinion that Acute Records is not only on my side as an astute music listener, but also one of the best current record labels going. Brilliance all around.
George Winston — Winter Into Spring (1982)
A self-described "folk pianist", it should have been obvious right away that I was in for another surprise from the early Windham Hill roster. This thing reminds me so much of Keith Jarret's solo piano albums on ECM (outright classics, if you ask me), that I'd have a hard time not being into this, even if just a little. The songs develop slowly, but they unfold into brilliantly melodic passages. The opener 'January Stars' is a good indicator of the whole album. Heavy on long, thoughtful themes and dramatic tones. Just speaking in terms of overall sound, it's very beautiful music, in a minor key mode. The nuances of its best parts can indeed be lost in a haze of "background music" facades, but its influence is hard to overstate. In its "not jazz" stance (all of the songs are clearly composed and not improvised one tick), it seems right there with Brian Eno, the Durutti Column and the Cocteau Twins as music that was just enough on the outer rim of pop to be filed in the "rock" section, but it's too ethereal, too near-ambient to really fit in with any pre-established genre. Check out the meditative album center piece 'Rain' for an indication of what I'm getting at. Besides, Andrew Bird totally borrowed a riff from this album, so that's worthy of note for me on its own.
Cisco Houston — The Folkways Years: 1944-1961
A gargantuan, twenty-nine song retrospective from Woody Guthrie's right hand man. While Cisco has a decidedly polite croon of a voice (especially noticeable on the duets with Woody), his songs are interpreted in a way that personifies the folk tradition perfectly. When he sings 'I Ain't Got No Home', it's one of the most believable performances I've ever heard. 'The Cat Came Back' is the enduring classic here. And it's just fine, but I prefer the less novelty sounding stuff. His guitar playing is excellent throughout and the two tracks with Woody are essential. Wondrous music.