Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What's New?: 11.13.2012

Considering the world is about to end, it's a good thing I'm finally all caught up. . .
Richard Dyer-Bennet — self-titled (1956)

Folkways reissue of an initially self-issued album of traditional tunes.  Absolutely wonderful guitar throughout and a really diverse selection of tunes.  He has a way of presenting otherwise kind of bleak songs in a really pleasant, appealing way.  The album closing tune 'Turkish Revery' illustrates this nicely.  The whole album is on Spotify and it's a very engaging and nice listen.  Pretty good for a guy that sounds "prissy" (**smirk**).  #fuckallmusic

Magazine — Secondhand Daylight (1979)

Howard DeVoto was a not a very cheery fellow in these days.  Here's 'Permafrost.'  And yes, he says things that I refuse to repeat here.  But dude, ignoring his obvious social issues, musically this thing just blows Joy Division away, doesn't it?  Have a listen to the epic centerpiece (and probably Magazine's best song overall) 'Back to Nature' and judge for yourself.  Convenient now to recognize just how well they were blending Karftwerk and Roxy Music.  I can honestly say, if I had been there, I would have been a huge fan.  It's not that far ahead of its time, but it's a good two or three years so.  Glammy guitars + angsty lyrics + chilly synths= meet the future.  Bands still want to sound this passionate and fail miserably.  I venture to say it's an era we'll never see again.  Haha, they were contemporaries of Joy Division and people don't care!

Rain Tree Crow — Blackwater EP (1991)

One of the best songs ever gets the single treatment.  Yeah, it's only four tracks (three of which are on the proper album), but any chance I get to talk about this glorious and unfortunately forgotten classic, I'll take.  This long-deleted digipack single is very cool, with a four panel fold-out design and it has the one non-album track the band recorded.  Sure, I've had that song digitally for years.  But it's nice to finally have a hard copy.  If you've never heard the Rain Tree Crow album before, do yourself a favor and check it out.  It's on Spotify in full (with 'I Drink to Forget' appended!).  One of the watershed albums of British post-punk's last days, an important mark in the post-rock landscape and one of my favorite albums of all time.  David Sylvian is god.  RIP Mick Karn.

Andrew Bird — Hands of Glory (2012)

Andrew Bird is my nominee for musical MVP of the year.  As something released late in the year, with little fanfare, after the man has already released one of the year's best albums, a fantastic non-album single and has been on tour for most of the calendar year, it was not expected that he would release another thirty-five minutes of new music this soon.  Yes, there's some covers and a redo (a decidedly reserved and superior take on 'Orpheo Looks Back'), but to say that anything here is lesser or not worthy of inclusion on Break it Yourself would be an out and out lie.  This is just what the band was doing for fun during those sessions and the fact that it's just as resonating, even more folky and even more organic than the full length that birthed these sessions is just magical.  They played this, completely acoustic during the encore when I saw him earlier this year.  It plays up the Americana and theatrical spaghetti western feel that Break it Yourself seemed to imply on songs like 'Three White Horses' and 'When that Helicopter Comes' and there's another long instrumental that's a reprise of 'Three White Horses' and a showcase for Andrew's loop station, one man pocket symphonies.  Magical.  Play it immediately after Break it Yourself: gloriously colorful images of folky, technology-immersed Americana will fill your head.  Jesus christ, how much better can he get?!

Fotheringay — self-titled (1970)

I hate my rating system sometimes.  1 star = bad.  5 stars = good.  But blindly handing out a fiver to albums like this simply does not do them justice.  To understand why this gets the score it does, you need to go out, buy this album.  Look at the cover.  Read the liner notes.  Put it on your headphones, take a walk with it.  That's what I did, and. . . You know what?  I'm good.  I'm just. . . really satisfied right now.  Track one is epic and resonating.  Sandy Denny is god, too.  Alcoholic, flawed god, sure, but is there any other kind?  How can every song she sang be that gorgeous?  And yet, here's pretty much her first album under her own direction.  To say that this is probably the best album I've acquired since HB doesn't even begin to describe how good it is (because, let's face it: people still haven't really understood that one).  Previously, when I thought of "British Folk Rock", I thought Pentangle because that's the best encounter I had had with such a thing (and that itself is not far off from being the best band to ever do it).  But little did I know that there was an entire album as good as those previously only isolated Sandy Denny moments on Fairport albums.  I mean, honestly, this thing not only has some of Sandy's best songs ever, it actually gives me genuine chill-inducing, David Axelrod-esque moments of literal brilliance on 'The Pond and the Stream'.  And then it has 'Banks of the Nile' at the end!  Probably my album of the year, if dates didn't matter.  The best record I've heard in well over a year, at least.  This CD reissue contains four complimentary live tracks.  Any self-respecting music fan should get it immediately.  Even my highest praise does this no respect.  Obviously best ever.

The Louvin Brothers — Satan is Real (1959)

Probably more known for its campy cover art than its actual music, this came to my attention after I realized that the Byrds had covered a song from this album.  And guess what?  It's a darn fine harmony country album.  The title track, with its mid-song sermon, is a bit goofy, but that's pretty much the only tune here that's a misfire.  Just have a listen to the glorious harmonies on songs like 'The Kneeling Drunkard's Plea' or 'I'm Ready to go Home' and bask in their warmth.  The religious aspect doesn't really affect how well the material is played and sung — it would be good regardless.  The whole thing's on Spotify, so check it out.  Fancy guitar tone throughout the entire album as well.

Travis — Closer EP (2007)

Travis b-sides! Yay!  While I anticipate their forthcoming full length with growing impatience, I'll take a couple "new to me" songs any day!  These come from the sessions for Boy With No Name, so as that's one of my favorite albums by the band, my expectations were pretty high.  These two songs are alright.  'The Day Today' is a jubilant strummer, complete with a horn section; passable.  The good one is 'This Love' which, in its first half, sounds like the basis for 'Quite Free' and that's just fun.  One of the band's best choruses, as well.  The second half of the tune develops into a triumphant, fist-pumping, string section-enhanced anthem.  Anybody else wouldn't be able to pull it off, out of lack of sheer sincerity.  Fucking Travis: cornballs that really mean it. 

Belle and Sebastian — Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (2000)

Apparently, the sessions for this album were exceedingly difficult.  It splintered the band and led its leader to doubt himself for years to follow.  You'd never know that listening to the album's leadoff track.  If this band ever sees a "best of" set, that should be on it.  Where does the album lose its way, you ask?  Well, when Stuart stops directing the band and starts letting it direct itself.  A lot of it sounds like Arab Strap outtakes.  And that makes sense because it followed that album by about eighteen months.  But I'm thinking too deeply about this.  Is it good?  Yeah, definitely.  Kind of in the second tier of the band's overall catalogue, but definitely recommended if you already know you like them.  The lovely 'Waiting for the Moon to Rise' is a memorable one in that regard, while 'Don't Leave the Light On Baby' boasts string and horn charts that would make David Axelrod jealous.  Most of it has a very nice, unremarkable jangly backdrop that goes down easily, but doesn't really leave a lasting impression.

Belle and Sebastian — The Life Pursuit (2006)

In which our protagonists go exceedingly twee and seem obsessed with noticeably faster tempos and keyboards.  Not bad, obviously, but in retrospect, it very much feels like a prototype for the near perfection of the formula.  Otherwise catchy numbers like 'White Collar Boy' and 'For the Price of a Cup of Tea' seemed dragged down by such heavy handed arrangements.  When an actual vintage jangly strummer does pop up, it's pretty darned great and sticks out fairly easily because of its surroundings.  Damn good song.  There is a serious slant here towards purposely "retro" sounding arrangements and that's a gift and a curse.  Because, while the band is very good at sounding like a 60's pop act, it feels a little cheap for them to be so derivative when they had previously been so good at being unique, despite their obvious influences.  I'm mixed on this one, overall.  But it's still Stuart and the gang and it's still decent, in the larger scheme.  Nice to finally have a hard copy of it.

Fairport Convention — What We Did On Our Holidays (1969)

Obvious classic is obvious.  The album begins with 'Fotheringay' which has got to be one of the most beautiful songs ever written.  The longingly romantic way Sandy sings it, the subtle harmonies — absolute perfection.  Elsewhere, they totally own a Bob Dylan song and then Richard Thompson and Sandy duet on one of the defining songs in folk rock.  Again, my rating system sucks when it comes to albums like this.  It's purely transcendent music that will endure past most things and just get better with age.  Will be listening to this album regularly for many years to come.  Outstanding.


Monday, November 12, 2012

What's New?: 11.12.2012

Getting close to catching up. . .
The Kinks — Arthur (1969)

This is the limited run that came out on the Sanctuary label last record store day that not only was pressed on super heavy white vinyl, but is two discs — the first of which is the mono mix of the album and the second is the stereo.  Obviously, the proper album Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) is an irrefutable and enduring classic.  But this mono/stereo gatefold package is absolutely gorgeous and the big draw for me was the mono mix.  Noticeably different than my original US stereo pressing and just downright warmer, if you ask me.  If you don't know this album, here's the first song and the last song from the album.  Many more good ones, and even a few better ones, to be found in between.  Good stuff.

Pink Floyd — Ummagumma (1970)

The Floyd gettin' all sorts of wacky in the early days.  This is a two record set, in which disc one is live past favorites and disc two is all new studio material.  The live stuff is long and jammy, the studio stuff is long and calm, all of it is very psychedelic and trippy.  The live arrangements that the band had worked out really emphasized the quiet and meditative versus loud and chaotic dynamics in the songs.  Have a listen to 'Careful With That Axe, Eugene' to get an idea of how they did it.  The studio half of the album is mostly filled with curiosities, with each band member getting a half side feature.  Not necessarily that great overall, as most of the material is more along the lines of a soundtrack (but without any direction) than actual fleshed out songs.  Roger Water's excellent acoustic number 'Grantchester Meadows' is definitely the highlight of the entire album.  Worthy stuff; and a fine overview of the band's early years.

Van der Graaf Generator — Pawn Hearts (1971)

This album has Robert Fripp all over it, so it's gained a bit of a reputation over the years as somewhat of a hidden proggy gem, if I'm to understand things correctly.  It's a bit faster, more dissonant and not quite as subdued overall than the album that came right before it.  It's just three long songs (one of which takes up all of side two).  There's lots of shifting, weird turns in the songs, so you can never really get too comfortable when it's playing.  The closest to conventional things get is on the otherwise spacey piano ballad 'Man-Erg', but even that has a moment of aggressive sax/Hammond B-3 riffing and Peter Hammill's shrieking vocals.  Check out the big, twenty-three minute epic 'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers' and expand your head, square.  There are too many passages in that song that are just downright amazing to start listing here.  But it's worth the ride.  Really "big idea" music.  Cool.

Leo Kottke — Chewing Pine (1975)

Leo gettin' in a good groove and milking it for all it's worth.  I've been going through these early and mid-70's Leo albums pretty easily all year long and this one's no different.  It goes down smooth and easy, but gets better with every listen, as you start to notice the care in the playing and small nuances of songcraft.  'Standing on the Outside' continues Leo's tradition of indisputably strong side one/track ones.  Couple more vocal numbers (one a Procol Harum tune, the other Marty Robbins) and the rest of the album is just Leo doing what Leo does.  Some of the numbers pick up where Dreams and all that Stuff left off (like 'Venezuela, there You Go' and 'Monkey Money'), but the rest of the instrumental numbers point straight back to Mudlark and Greenhouse territory.  Lots of slidin', quick pickin' and very tuneful riffs.  I especially like the two ballads ('Rebecca' and 'Trombone') towards the end of the album.  Certainly not the best of Leo's work from this period, but some moments here are just as strong as the best.

Fairport Convention — Babbacombe Lee (1971)

Fairport loses Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson and decides to go all high concept.  It's about a boy, named John "Babbacombe" Lee, who goes off to serve and live with an old lady and leaves as soon as he can to be in the navy.  He's successful and happy until he falls ill and is forced to return working for the elderly woman, loses his mind and brutally kills her.  Not sure why the band chose this guy's story to tell, but the package that this comes in is pretty elaborate: a gatefold cover, a 10"x10" eight page booklet and full lyrics printed on the inner sleeve.  Good fun — and hey, the music's not bad either!  It's definitely more in the "rock" end of folk-rock here, as the guitars are the loudest and most amped up I've yet heard on a Fairport album.  Still, even though there's little here that reminds of the Fairport I previously knew, check out the rather nice harmonies and catchy riffs on 'John Lee' or the gentle acoustic strum and brilliant vocal melody (and presumed Sandy Denny leftover) 'Breakfast in Mayfair' or even the genuinely eerie 'Dream Song.'  Not a total winner, but a nice one to pick up if you like the early albums and aren't opposed to a little more rockin' out than usual.

Tom Rush — The Circle Game (1968)

Tom gets the big orchestrated treatment on a lot of other people's songs (three of which are Joni Mitchell's) and pretty amazing results ensue.  Paul Harris' arrangements kick absolute butt throughout.  Look no further than the absolutely bleak and beautiful charts on the album opening 'Tin Angel' for proof.  There's a couple James Taylor songs here, but, amongst the covers, the Joni songs are the best.  The final two tracks are both originals by Tom and they steal the show, easily.  'Rockport Sunday' is a rare solo acoustic instrumental that is just stunning in its scope and its virtuosity, while 'No Regrets' has become a Tom Rush standard in its own right for a very good reason.  Have heard about this album for years, but I'd consider it a minor classic now that I've actually heard it; if for nothing else than side two.

The Turtles — Turtle Soup (1969)

Produced by none other than Ray Davies himself!  Knowing that, and considering this was their preceding album, I was perhaps expecting too much.  This is certainly not a total wash, but it's just generally a nice pop/rock album.  Nothing embarrassing happens, but there's not a surprise to be found either, so take it for what it is.  The 12-string jangle of 'She Always Leaves Me Laughing' is good 60's pop, while 'Somewhere Friday Night' is the sort of dreamy jangle, mildly folky thing that the Turtles seemed to promise all along (and yeah, it's probably the best thing here).  As a last album by a should be legendary band, it's a bit low key and, some might argue, "safe."  I would call it a dignified and appropriate addendum to Battle of the Bands (which, let's be honest, would have been the best way ever to end a career).

Tom Rush — Take a Little Walk With Me (1966)

The first half of this album is all renditions of old rock and roll favorites.  Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, it's all here.  Al Kooper produces and, as far as the first half of the album is concerned, it appropriately takes on a very similar tone to Bob Dylan's work of the time.  Listenable, sure but nothing that special.  Side two and Tom goes back to straight acoustic numbers and it's just glorious.  Tom's version of 'Turn Your Money Green' is a clinic for someone wanting to take someone else's composition and making it their own.  'Galveston Flood' closes out the album and Tom is just showing off at this point, with his slide playing and soaring overdubbed harmonies.  It's a perfect example of an album that starts off maybe a bit slow and just gets better and better as it plays.

Jon Hassell — Fourth World, Vol. 2: Dream Theory in Malaya (1981)

I buy any Jon Hassell I see, especially in the used bins.  This one snuck up on me, in that regard.  Guitar weirdo and all around thinkin' outside the box guy Michael Brook is pretty much co-billed here, as the album is basically Jon soloing over Michael's sound concoctions.  And the musical backdrops over which Jon solos are very manic and repetitive for the most part.  I'm not exactly sure why this was billed as part two of the series, because where the original was dreamy and cascading in sound, this one is amped up, aggro and quite challenging.  Michael Brook's digital treatments and MIDI-synth arrangements are not exactly as smooth as I have come to expect Jon Hassell's backing band to be.  Have a listen to the opening number to get a glimpse of what I mean.  The title track is ten minutes of what I expected and easily the album's highlight.  Brian Eno is about, playing drums and his influence reigns supreme over the album's closing number.  Overall, probably the most challenging Jon Hassell album I've yet encountered.  And still a really good one.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

King Krule — Rock Bottom b/w Octopus

How appropriate is a new King Krule single at this venture?

Seemingly so well-timed, it's scary.

Because, these, my friends, are not only Mr. Marshall's finest works to date, these two songs have made this year worth tolerating.

Elections, job changes, a constant onslaught of unsureness.

And yet, here's a teenager to make me feel better about everything.

I was teetering on it when he released his self-titled EP about a year ago, but now I'm absolutely sure of it: Archy Marshall is on the cusp of the next wave of British music.

His jangly guitar tone screams classicist, yet his purposely out of tune baritone voice says amateur. His romantic riffs conjure tradition, yet his starkly real observations of the world as a young man with no prospects hit quickly and effectively.

I mean, jeez, the a-side here is a jangle song that uses the now unimpeachable 'Amen Brother' break while our narrator ever so passionately implores that we watch him as he "ascends to shame."  Is this not the perfect person to claim the British guitar rock throne?

'Octopus' (the flip) is even better. It's the 'Noose of Jah City' on a bigger budget and it's just pure magic. A mellow soprano sax harmony to close out the final vamp and that's a wrap.

"Everyone's perspective begins to change."

Or at least I hope so.

Because he is the embodiment of all that can be good about music.

And furthermore, proof for the argument that you can practice and practice for as long as you like, but some people are just born with it.

Less than eight minutes in length and easily worth a year's wait.

Almost scary how good it is.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

What's New?: 11.4.2012

Still playing that friendly game of catch up. . .
Jethro Tull — Heavy Horses (1978)

Hey, you know what?  This one ain't bad at all!  It's a bit overproduced and bloated, but the songs have a nice, folky base to them.  The Celtic textures on something like 'Acres Wild' is just a completely unforeseen touch that works fantastically.  There are a few somewhat dull "rockers" on the album, as if the band could not decide what direction they actually wanted to go in here (mainly looking at you, 'No Lullaby').  But, on the whole, strong moments are the standard here.  'Moths' is quite possibly the catchiest Jethro Tull song I've yet heard, while the two album closers —'Weathercock' and the title track— point the band straight back to the thoughtfully movement-shifting and calmly rocking out territory of their earlier work.  I, too, was skeptical of such a later album, but it's surprisingly listenable, on the condition that you already know you like the band.

Jethro Tull — Songs from the Wood (1977)

The year previous, the band released this album that hints at the calmer direction of Heavy Horses, but where Heavy Horses was a bit overproduced and bloated, this album is way past that. The gratuitous keyboards and ridiculous arrangement shifts on the album opening title track sound more at home on a crappy jazz fusion record of the time. Thank you, but no.  Some cool moments of weird folky textures scattered throughout, but it really feels like the band can't stay focused at all here.  And, for a band that kind of built its name on being unpredictable, it just seems like they're being shifting and changing mid-song just for the sake of doing it.  Enh, it's not all bad.  'Velvet Green' is kinda sorta really good.  It just feels like all of tempos on this album are too fast.  They got it right next go 'round.  So, this album stands as a kind of transitional work.  Really only for dork-minded idiots like me.

Jethro Tull — Benefit (1970)

Alright!  Now this is a classic-sounding Tull!  This is the album right before Aqualung and it's just a really nice, thoughtful, melodic work in the same vein.  It's arguably even more tuneful.  'Nothing to Say', just right away, strikes me as one of those great "lost classic" songs of the classic rock era.  Just a really noisy, resonating number.  Elsewhere, the more folky aspect of the band is present with the excellent strummers 'For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me' and the closer 'Sossity, You're A Woman.'  Darn good album and a great table setter for the one-two punch that was to follow.

George Winston — Autumn (1980)

It's taken me a while to really get into George Winston's albums so far, but sometimes when they hit, they hit hard.  It's definitely mood music, in that respect.  Meaning: I have to be in the right mood to really get what the player was going for.  With my recent trip and thinking back on my youth, I relisten to this album now and it sounds awesome.  The opening tune, 'Colors/Dance', moves through its two or three themes in a really convincing way, really sounding like late summer's cooling temperatures convincing the leaves to fall and turn orange for the winter.  Good stuff.  Although some of it does get a little too stock new agey for me.  'Longing/Love' is just. . . uhh, yeah.  Not my cup.  Most of side two ("October") of the album is pretty dissonant, perhaps surprisingly.  George doesn't spare on the big, dramatic flourishes, so it does come off as a bit overplayed.  But it's actually pretty darned affecting when you sit down with it in the right mood.  Not my favorite George Winston album, but side two is probably my favorite side of any GW album I've heard thus far.

Ferde Grofé — Grand Canyon Suite (composed 1929-1931/recorded 1958)

It's kind of going for that "big" Americana thing that Aaron Copland was into.  It's a bit more impressionist than that, but yeah.  That's the long and short of it.  It's here in its entirety for free and well worth the listen.  The more sparse passages on 'The Painted Desert' and 'Cloudburst' are just excellent.  Really not a work that requires a listener to be familiar with its muse to appreciate all the same.  Some really nice moments; a bit of the old boombast takes it down a notch though.

Billie Holiday — The Golden Years (1933-1941)

The first in Columbia's exhaustive attempts to document Billie's output with anybody associated with the label.  This is an absolutely gorgeous three disc vinyl LP box set (that was still sealed [!!!] when I rescued it, thank you very much).  So many amazing musicians, so many amazing moments.  I mean, I could go all dork on you and just go track by track, but all this stuff is available on CD many times over.  So, just go buy a Billie Holiday best of set.  Chances are, four or five of the absolutely essential performances from this collection will inevitably be on it.  What else do you want from me?  This is just excellent music, all around. 

Joe Sample, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne — The Three (1975)

"The Three." That's actually what they called themselves.  Not going to get too cynical at this juncture because Joe Sample sticks to acoustic piano the entire time.  And that's a pretty bold move for him at this date.  It was a Japanese-only release for nearly three years until the cooler than cool Inner City label finally scooped it up in 1978.  Mostly standards, it's a meeting of players that makes sense, considering their firm West coast roots, but that didn't really happen otherwise.  The mode is in that loose, slightly funky, really relaxed post-bop mood that a lot of the stuff from the Inner City label had.  Joe flat out steals from Ahmad Jamal on the opener and that's just plain old fun, while there's an excellent 'Manha de Carnaval' to kick off side two.  It's good piano trio stuff and a downright great find for Ray Brown fans.