Sunday, March 31, 2013

What's New?: 3.31.2013

Still catching up on birthday splurging. . .

Rites of Spring — Six Song Demo (1984)

I've had a tough go of things with pre-Fugazi Dischord bands, generally speaking.  I was never much into shouty hardcore punk, so that pretty much cancels out most of the label's output until about 1985-1986.  But, I've tried to make a concerted effort as of late to get into less pretty, less melodic sounds (especially those of American bands) because I feel like maybe I've prematurely written off things that I might actually like.  Obviously looking at the score up there, you know that I've made at least one such discovery.  I've been into Embrace for a while and just figured that the label didn't really do any other fairly standard "punk"-sounding records at the time.  And while Guy Picciotto does do a lot of screaming and squealing on the band's initial demo here, Rites of Spring played mid-tempo, nearly fist-pumping rockers.  And it makes all the difference in the world, in terms of approachability.  I bought this and the CD of the band's proper output at the same time, with the intention of familiarizing myself with this intentionally before the rest of the material and I have to say, in some cases, I like these initial versions better.  'Hain's Point' and the group's most ambitious number 'End On End' are building, passionate numbers that seem to have been their most potent in their debuts.  Overall though: this Ian MacKaye-produced ten inch EP (released officially by Dischord just last fall) easily trumps all bootlegged versions in terms of fidelity and it's definitely something I overlooked unfairly.

Atoms for Peace — Amok (2013)

Thom Yorke's other band that's been around for a few years finally releases an album annnnnnd. . . it sounds like Thom's solo album, but with better songs.  Don't get me wrong, I loved the Eraser like any Radiohead whore (Radiowhore?) should have, it was just a little bit of a hard sell initially because the songs are so lyrically focused.  Not to say that the lyrics here are bad —quite the contrary— it just seems like Thom benefited a lot from sitting around and jamming the songs out with other people in the room.  And while the band here does include some seemingly odd matches for Thom (Flea is the band's bassist), there is still a lot here that invites comparisons to Radiohead and that's most likely because the band is filled out by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich and his buddy Joey Waronker.  And the percussive polyrhythmic electronic pop sounds they conjure up here really are not that far removed from the King of Limbs.  I guess, if anything it's more intentionally rhythm-driven.  Tunes like 'Stuck Together Pieces' and 'Before Your Very Eyes' are clear highlights and, upon repeat listens sound like a mish mash of OMD-meets-Fela Kuti — something that logically shouldn't work, but somehow does.  Thom's vocals just seem to get better with each record these days, and this one's no different.  He just swoops into these moments of falsetto harmonies at times that feel like the ground has dropped out out from beneath your feet and you are momentarily weightless — they're that good.  I've had this one for over a month now and while it's initial lustre has worn off just a tad, it's settled into my regular rotation nicely and, if nothing else, it will be interesting to see where Thom goes from here.

Neil Young — Old Ways (1983)

Okay: not my favorite Neil Young album of all time.  And not just because it's Neil's country album, but because it's so danged overproduced.  The opener, a cover of 'Wayward Wind', has the promise of being one of those classic eerie Neil Young openers, but is instead drown down with an overbaked string accompaniment and cheesy female background vocals.  Likewise 'Misfits' and that's pretty much what brings those album down.  The only tune here that doesn't really succumb to such is 'My Boy' and it's no wonder that I'd consider it the album's highlight as well.  One of Neil's infamous 80's sidesteps for a reason; it's only for the truly devout.

Rites of Spring — self-titled (mid-1980's)

And this is Dischord's compilation that assembles the complete proper Rites of Spring catalogue onto one disc.  Pretty much essential American punk rock, by anyone's measuring stick.  'For Want Of' strikes me right away as the default highlight.  An emotive, confessional masterwork of frustrated energy and fantastic riffs, it's a good one.  The rest of the band's End on End full length from 1985 is in a similar vein: rapid fire, affecting punk songs with Guy Picciotto's "near mental breakdown" style vocals.  There's a lot more to enjoy throughout the remainder of the album, but it finds a very similar notch for the duration (except for the tambourine groove of 'Nudes', which in retrospect sounds nearly Happy Mondays-ish — I can't be the only one that's noticed this?).  The real grabber here is the four song All Through A Life EP from 1987 that closes out the disc.  It finds the band turning down amps and tempos with fairly astonishing results.  The nearly jangly title track is as close to landmark as this band would ever come (which is pretty much arrived, from where I'm standing).  'Hidden Wheel' is another brilliantly quieter move, while the disc closes out with the more back to basics 'In Silence/Words Away' and the more subdued 'Patience.'  Thinking man's punk.  Really good.

Wilco — Summerteeth (1999)

I was into this album a lot in the post-Yankee Hotel Foxtrot euphoria that a lot of us record dorks went through around 2002.  So, this is technically a reacquisition, but I'm hearing it very much with new ears (get to that in a minute), so I'll just say right now: I didn't remember how twee this thing is.  'Can't Stand It', 'A Shot in the Arm', 'Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway (Again)' and 'ELT' are just pure pop with big, orchestrated, overwrought charts and charmingly earnest lyrics.  And yet, there's an ambitious middle trilogy of 'Pieholden Suite' (SMiLE, much?), 'How to Fight Loneliness' and the surprisingly dark 'Via Chicago' that illustrates just how far this band was willing to venture in those days to satisfy their urges.  Later in the album, the title track and 'In A Future Age' (one of my all time favorite Wilco tunes) provide the balance that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot would manage to pull off mid-song just a couple years later.  History has relegated this album to precursor status and it's almost too good in that regard — because, at this point, nobody can hear it without knowing what came afterwords.  And, on those terms, as the warm up to a masterpiece, it's hard to see it as anything other than brilliant.  Listen here.

Wilco — Sky Blue Sky (2007)

I was in a bad place when this album came out.  I was working a terrible job at Barnes and Noble that paid next to nothing and was struggling through a relationship that I was just beginning to realize was a complete failure.  It was not the wonderfully gloomy and romantic escape that A Ghost is Born was.  It was honest, no nonsense and blunt.  And, most of all, not necessarily sad, but realistic.  It had songs for days, but they talked about things in a way that was not fun, in any stretch of the imagination.  I went to work every day, had to hear this fucking thing confront me —usually two or three times in a shift— like a small child sticking its tongue out, taunting me, "I'm one of your favorite bands and I just made you feel worse about your life!" I, of course, trashed it, like any honest person in my position would have.  And I basically swore off Wilco after walking out on that job (my first walkout of two, within a year's time, in case you were wondering [you weren't]).  So, yeah, fuck these guys, right?  Fucking assholes; providing such wonderful escape for two albums and then going MOR dad-rock and forcing me to pay attention to the lyrics — because, let's face it, the simple arrangements here don't offer much in the way of hearing the words "that aren't there."  And what about these lyrics?  They suck, right?  Well, me of years past says, "YES, OBVIOUSLY" and gives you this look.  Me now, for lack of better words, gets it.  Ghost is Born was recorded while Jeff Tweedy was in the grips of pill addiction, while Sky Blue Sky is the first thing he attempted after coming clean about his dependence.  I was doing my own chemical coping in those days, so why shouldn't I have loved Ghost is Born, despite my own issues?  But when Sky Blue Sky came out, I was still toiling.  Such stark emotional confrontation was not what I wanted from one of my favorite bands when, in the previous five years they had provided the ultimate escape: a look back at youth through the eyes and mind of someone awestruck with America's (now inexplicable) enduring prominence in the post-World War II era.  Jeff Tweedy even sounds angry at his own generation (one which was now officially "old" when this album was released).  His —and the band's— ambitions here seem so much less interested in being "cool" than they are in being honest with themselves.  You have to rewind a bit here and understand: these were the last days of GWB's run in office and they were —and I don't think I'm going out on much of limb here saying as much— a rather bleak time.  We all knew that we were under the leadership of somebody that was not looking out for us.  Couple this with my own internal issues, another horrific season of summer wildfires in Reno and, yeah, it was like this plastic, sugar-coated version of someone saying, "Hey, you're not going to be okay" and then smiling the most unpleasantly empty smile at me.  Fuck them.  Fuck it.  Fuck it relentlessly.  It was not fun to hear your favorite, previously unpredictable band go Prozac Dave Matthews on you.  It was excruciating, to be completely honest.  They truly were the one thing I had that I knew would be mine for all time.  And now, a meddling soft rock turd was excreted to leave me alone and floating again forever.  Except, why now, do I hear it and just acquiesce?  Like it was just a really good album all along?  I have not answers for that question.  But, as bleak and creepy cheerful 70's AM pop as this thing is, I have only more questions.  Why was it recorded as crappily as it was?  That's not what Jim O'Rourke would have done.  He would have forced the band's ambition to be emotionally stark naked for their audience into the background where some keen investigative listening would have revealed it.  In other other words, he would forced the band's most human album to be another weird collage of good tunes and obscure sounds (he does, however, contribute some ultimately inconsequential string arrangements).  But there's a lot to be said and admired about the fact that the band chose to just streamline everything and mask nothing.  I also know that this was the second of two big lineup changes in Wilco in those days, so coupled with Jeff's substance dependence-shedding, it just reeks of a back to basics strip fest.  Throw things out that you can't deal with anymore.  The sort of record where it sounds relatively tame to the rest of us, but was actually a very traumatic and life-changing event for those involved (see also: David and friends).  What is it about?  Everyday life.  What does it mean?  It means you're okay while you're listening to it — in the classic sense of the blues, its misery wants your company until you both just want to hug each other and smile without effort.  It's very 70's soft folk rock (think the Crosby/Nash albums, America's third album and Aztec Two-Step) and there's not a whole lot here that sounds that great when played outside of the context of the album.  It will pat you on the back in the locker room after dunking on your head in a game of one on one and say some sidestepping compliment like, "Your new sneakers are cool."  It's one of the friendliest arch rivals you'll ever encounter.  That said, 'Impossible Germany' is easily one of the band's best tunes.  One generation taking the next to task through an overthought metaphor, it's an absolute masterpiece on an album that definitely needed one.  This is probably my most personal review ever; very telling that it's for this album — and this band.  For such a lightweight sounding album, it's pretty fucking intense on closer inspection.  I just. . . I mean I can't even. . . just. . . man.  It's a lot better than it's reputation. Just wish I had known better at the time.  Listen here.

Wilco — Wilco (The Album) (2009)

And this was released when I was in full-on Wilco denial, so it figures the time or two I heard it in passing, I figured that it was only confirmed what I had decided the band turned into: a soft rock bunch of sellouts.  But, I'm the walking contradiction, because I was totally into Crowded House the entire time.  Maybe I was just charmed by Neil's accent — who knows?  But had I actually paid attention, 'Wilco (The Song)' —joke or no— would have meant a lot to me.  And yeah, this one is another album of mid-tempo, jangly roots rock, but if you can sit with it for a minute, tunes like the near anthemic 'One Wing' (complete with noisy freakout), the completely great Fleetwood Mac-aping throwback Leslie Feist duet 'You and I', the Northern Soul-ish 'I'll Fight' or the completely soul-bearing closer 'Everlasting Everything' will open up and make good on the on title track's promise.  It's very much a "NEW WILCO" that you hear on this album.  One that doesn't care what the world views it as, just as long as its creators and fans are happy with one another.  "I know this might sound sad, but everything goes both good and bad.  It all adds up and you should be glad."  Indeed.  Listen here.

Wilco — The Whole Love (2011)

And yeah, if I had just been patient with Wilco, it would have paid off.  This album is definitely in the vein of "NEW WILCO"™ but, it's also got some stuff that is just completely out of left field and, truly, this album sounds like the spiritual follow up to A Ghost is Born, just completely content (as opposed to borderline sociopath). It's definitely their most diverse work since that album.  The opener 'Art of Almost' is so incredibly different, I actually said to my lady friend upon my first play of the album, "This is the most un-Wilco song I've ever heard."  Epic and sprawling, it brings in the orchestra (David Axelrod, much?) only to go all noise rock at the end.  It's weird pop, for sure.  WinnerOn the very next song, they turn into Belle and Sebastian, for some reason.  Oh, I love it!  When the band goes back into the more introspective-toned material that they built their name on, magic occurs.  The lush, David Crosby-esque baroque folk of 'Black Moon' has got to be one of their very best tunes.  In a similar vein, 'Rising Red Lung' pops up late in the album and it's a good one, too.  Then, RAWK.  However, through all the silly genre exercises and songs being played through smirks and smiles, the album ends on possibly the band's best song.  'One Sunday Morning' is Jeff Tweedy's autobiographic, soul searching epic, masked as a tribute to his father.  Rarely has the band sounded as poignant and genuine as they do here.  Twelve minutes and repetitive as hell, but still somehow doesn't feel long enough.  Ultimately, this ends up as a scattershot of an album that is book-ended by, quite arguably, the band's two best overall songs.  And that counts for a whole hell of a lot.  Redemption achieved, however belated (though not the band's fault at all). 

Bad Lieutenant — Never Cry Another Tear (2009)

When that first track kicks in, with its undeniable latter day New Order sound, it's hard to think this album will be anything other than a near masterpiece.  But, not to say it's not great for us New Order fans wanting more (it is), it's just a little too lengthy.  They could have trimmed this down to nine or ten tracks and every single one would have been great.  But, instead, it feels like they top-loaded it with the highlights.  I mean, honestly, most of the album's top tracks are in the single digits.  Barney's 'Summer Days' is, without question, the most personal tune he's ever done.  And, as such things go with me, wins immediately.  The other vocalist in the band, Jake Evans, sounds a bit like Jimi Goodwin — and, you know, there's some gems later on in the album that he sings (but not many people listened that long).  But ultimately, this album ends up sounding like Electronic's underrated second album — and that was thirteen years before this one was released.  I didn't buy this when it was new because it was an outrageously priced import and part of me thinks that this interim time between my expectations and my actually hearing it was a good thing.  This album is great for dedicated Barney fans, but it's nothing we haven't heard before.  Even still, it's very listenable (and rather good, as it were).

My Bloody Valentine — EP's 1988-1991 (late 1980's-early 1990's)

Playing catch-up with last year's reissue campaign.  This stuff —some new to me, some not— is just absolutely indispensable in understanding the evolution of rock music in the late 80's.  Disc one, track one is just about as close to a one song manifesto as any band came.  But, they did other stuff too.  That was later, though.  In the interim, there's all kinds of stuff.  This collection is pretty much essential, for the second half of disc two, which is all rarities and previously unissued stuff.  Behold: the Public Enemy-sampling 'Instrumental No. 2', the full version of 'Glider', the band tries to be the Cure (or something) and, finally, Sonic Youth-y.  This is a darn good release —the gatefold digipack and booklet are gorgeous— but a bit more discography info in the liner notes would have been damn near perfect.  Overall though, yeah: pretty essential stuff.


Monday, March 25, 2013

The Ocean Blue — Ultramarine

It should come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever that I've been anticipating this album for at least three years (probably longer, if we're being completely honest).  And the fact that it's rumored to have been in the works for at least twice that long should be an instant recipe for disappointment.

But no.

The Ocean Blue has always been a band where I get exactly what I expect from them and, somehow, they still manage to throw in a few surprises.  Surprises that, confusingly, make absolute perfect sense after hearing them.

Sure, there's vintage slow layered strummers like 'Whatever You Say, It Breaks My Heart,' 'Blow My Mind' and 'A Rose is a Rose.'  But the band seems to have developed a new maturity along with its classic twee sensibilities, even since last time out.  Songs like the surprisingly dancey (and undeniably catchy) lead single 'Sad Night, Where is Morning?', the melancholy hindsight of 'Ground Gives Way' or the majestic and ambitious mini-epic 'New York 6AM' are all things that the band pulls off extremely well, but given their previous output, were completely unforeseen.

But it's when they consider their past is when the album really unfolds and reveals itself.  Following the tried and true tradition of sequencing the album so the highlight is smack dab in the middle, 'Fast Forward Reverse' is destined to be a monument in the band's catalogue.  I first heard the tune and I went, "Wait, I know this!"  And, sure enough, on the band's previous release, it appears as an ambient instrumental.  But, even without that connection to their now distant past, it's still a right brilliant pop tune that manages to blend the layered dreaminess of the band's past with their now maturely streamlined jangle.  Top gear, all the way.

It's hard to call this sort of thing a revival for a couple reasons: this sort of jangly dream pop is almost woefully unfashionable at this point and, most importantly, the fact that it's next to impossible for one of the key bands of a style to revive it — how can one of the building blocks now be a revivalist?  It's only now, after seeing them survive this long and letting the world come to terms with their records on its collective own, that the Ocean Blue can be asserted the status as one of the defining bands of their initial era.  And now that that era has passed, here they are again, in case you forgot — or if you missed them the first time around.

Through a discography that can be described as "inconsistent" at best and a band history that can only be dubbed "fragmented", Ultramarine makes the grand statement that the band has seemed poised to make ever since Beneath the Rhythm and Sound

And it's easily their best since that album.


PS— There's already been one b-side released, as well.  It's a sad piano-y thing.  Decent and a wonderful compliment to the album.

What's New?: 3.25.2013

Been accumulating stuff for a bit now.  Let's just get into it.
Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions — Bavarian Fruit Bread (2001)

I've been getting back into Mazzy Star lately because it's something I can play in my library before the kids arrive and it just sets the scene really nicely and makes the day go by, not necessarily faster, but a little smoother.  I skipped this when it was new because of one review and I never looked back until now.  Bert Jansch guests on 'Butterfly Mornings' and that's pretty much the best example I can give for why this album is good (he's also on the equally as gorgeous 'Charlotte').  There's a couple covers, too: JaMC and Leonard Cohen.  The whole thing is slow and dreamy and gorgeous.  Basically what I hoped her work beyond Mazzy Star would be.  The unlisted track 'Sparkly' is perhaps even more like Mazzy Star than proper Mazzy Star and it's a finale to an album that just gets better every time I play it.  Also: Mazzy Star reunion, ya'll!!!!! (i.e. I'm late as hell and nothing else actually came of it sadface.jpg)

April March — Chick Habit (1994)

I used to have April March's entire catalogue, but I don't know.  One day I thought it wasn't cool anymore and that was that.  Now, I know I'm not cool and I never will be, so time for me stop trying to pretend like she doesn't make wonderful music.  French pop revival that's as true and genuine as if it's the real thing.  April's voice has always been something I've just loved unconditionally since the first time I heard it, so it seems like it was just going to be a matter of time before I came back.  There's a couple Serge Gainsbourg covers and Jonathan Richman is about, contributing guitar to some tracks, so you know it's good.  My favorite April March song has always been 'Cet Air-La', which takes the original by France Gall and turns it into an acoustic ballad that transcends the campy (but still great) original and becomes something else entirely.  That one on its own is worth it.

Dinosaur Jr. — Green Mind (1991)

Basically a J. Mascis solo album.  From what I understand from hardcore fans, this is kind of considered the beginning of the end for the band.  But I. . . uhhhh. . . I kind of like it.  I was not there at the time, so I have absolutely no emotional strings attached to this band.  Hearing it now, though, it sounds great.  I like the self-aware, world-weary, Crazy Horse-inspired sloppy-yet-tuneful approach this album has.  Yeah, it's totally self-aware, but the tunes are completely great.  Leadoff track 'The Wagon' is a good manifesto for this album: noisy, yet somehow melodic.  I love the balladeering, melancholy aspect of these tunes.  It's as if everything has a hindsight view before anything has actually happened.  The proposed centerpiece 'Blowing It/I Live for that Look' would indeed be the highlight if not for, late in the album, when things get very deep on the most inspired song, 'Water.'  The influence of Neil Young looms heavy over tunes like this, but that's not even anywhere near a bad thing, as it's quickly become one of my favorite new discoveries.  That chord that he hits leading into the chorus is so odd, and yet so inspired — just, wow, I guess.  What a tune.  Lineup changes be damned; this album is darn good, if you ask me.

Dinosaur Jr. — Bug (1988)

The band's last pre-reunion album with the original lineup.  And yessir, it's a good 'un.  Noisy and melodic and ever-so-subtly jangly.  Reminds me of a less abrasive Sonic Youth of the time, actually.  Every song here has a wonderful minor chord tone to it and this album essentially pre-dates the dominant influence of Neil Young that would soon loom large over Dinosaur's music, so it's proven to be a very influential little piece of work.  'Pond Song' has the best example here of the jangly/noisy dynamic that I'm finding to be very retroactively awesome these days.  'Course 'Freak Scene' is the one that everybody remembers from this album and with good reason as it pokes fun at, and simultaneously celebrates, the burgeoning indie rock culture.  A very unified album, I'd say it deserves its reputation (well, except for that puzzling last track).

Bad Brains — Rock for Light (1983)

Ric Ocasek-produced second album by the seminal DC band.  Been too long that I haven't had anything in my collection that accurately represents the beginning of American new wave (besides the Ramones and all those jangle bands I love, of course).  I know dick about the harder core side of punk, but even someone with a passing interest in the stuff hears the same thing all the time: if you're only going to fill the spot for hardcore punk in your collection with one band, it should be Bad Brains.  And they are, of course, not really a representative example of the genre, by any stretch of the imagination, as they'll go fast blast beats, complex noisy guitar lines and shouty whiney vocals most of the time only to dip straight into roots reggae and go straight back to the rawk.  The reggae songs are alright, but almost feel like afterthoughts when you consider most of the album goes for the jugular.  There is some poppier material like 'Banned in DC' (a redux from their first album) and boy oh boy, is it good.  I guess the main thing that I really like about this album is the passion in the playing.  It's impressive to me that they can basically play a style of music that I'm not very well-versed in and that I'm maybe even unsure whether I like or not, and yet, I still enjoy what they did with it and can feel something in the performance.

The Durutti Column — Red Shoes (1992)

With this acquisition, I've completed my catalogue of Vini's proper albums (still missing some of those harder to find compilations).  It's from 1992, so it has that awkward late 80's overproduction that Vini was still clinging to (and he was still stumbling with samplers), but I find that his guitar playing to be at its ambient best in this period, so there's always something redeeming.  See the long track 'Pete's Riff' for an idea of what I'm talking about.  Not an out and out success by any means.  But some true Durutti gems to be discovered when Vini stops trying so hard and just follows his heart.  The album has a secondary part called Greetings Three attached to it and those four songs are a bit better overall, dating from 1986.  'All That Love and Maths Can Do' is the most well-known tune among those tracks.  Highlights on Red Shoes are when Vini stays stripped down: the wonderful 'Song for Les Preger' has a riff that vaguely recalls one of his previous tunes, while 'The Crowned Goddess' is an absolutely incredible tune that manages to be bleak, beautiful and one of the most emotionally intense tunes Vini's ever done.  Spotty, but totally worth it.

Beachwood Sparks — Make the Cowboy Robots Cry (2002)

I just happened to check these guys out on based on the strength of their brilliant Sade cover and I thought they were like a dreamier Buffalo Springfield revival — NOT BAD!  This mini-album finds them going full on into that direction and I have to say, it's really good.  The opener 'Drinkswater' is a brilliantly manic song that shifts, changes and morphs through several movements only to travel back through them all.  There's another big seven minute, starbound epic called 'Ponce de Leon Blues' a couple songs later and it just cements this disc's status as an ambitious and darn fine affair.  A couple shorter twangy pop songs that close out the disc (highlight 'Ghost Dance 1492') and if nothing else, it's an eye-opening precursor to Sub Pop's acquisition of Fleet Foxes a few years later (seems the folky country rock didn't come from out of nowhere, after all).

The Rolling Stones — Beggars Banquet (1968)

'Sympathy for the Devil' is obviously why everyone likes this album.  One of the best, and intentionally offputting, songs of all time.  Have to marvel at just how thoroughly brilliant the lyrics are (catchy tune as well).  Otherwise, this album seems like the beginning of the Stones' effort to become an Americana band.  Taking their cues from the Kinks' dip into folky, twangy textures, it's easily the most resonating Stones album I've yet to hear in full.  'No Expectations' seems to channel equal parts Otis Redding and Bob Dylan.  Fine and dandy, actually.  And, you know, I'd say it's very middle-period Kinks sounding.  Chunkier and with a lot more reliance on "the blooz" thrown in, but there is a sense here of self-righteous, inward delving-via-roots music-edness.  'Jigsaw Puzzle' is another good one in that regard.  Nothing else here really sounds like 'Sympathy', but this album is actually a really unified affair, outside of that song.  The more I hear this middle period Stones stuff, outside of the hits, the more I like it.  Really like it.

Dead Meadow — self-titled (2000)

Dead Meadow does things low, slow, fuzzy and with plenty of wah-wah.  Sounding like Black Sabbath riffs filtered through early Pink Floyd effects pedals, but played with a nearly festishized intensity.  Throw in some good old 70's-inspired fascination with mysticism and the deal's sealed.  You either like it or loathe it at this point.  Here's 'Dragonfly', probably the album's poppiest number.  Most of the album sounds like 'Beyond the Fields We Know', just so things are very clear. It's just that, this brand of true believer revivalism is downright unheard of for what is essentially nerd rock for stoners.  And, I don't know, Dead Meadow has this unpredictable aspect to them to just go ahead and get floaty psychedelic (dig that first ninety seconds) at any given time.  Fun.  And loud.  Though not necessarily in that order.

Dead Meadow — Shivering King and Others (2003)

This one came out right around the time I started working at Tower so I heard it a lot back then.  The title track was my favorite then and it still is now.  Reminds me very much of the headier longform stuff Led Zeppelin was doing on Houses of the Holy (yet, somehow, even better).  It's six minutes of buzzing acoustic pysch atmosphere that is absolutely brilliant.  In general, the songs here are longer by nature and this one hangs together a little better as an album.  'Golden Cloud/Me and the Devil Blues' is about as good a statement of purpose that I can come up with for this band: ten minutes of buzzing, low end trippiness.  Yeah!  The album ends with two more atmospheric songs: the floaty 'Heaven' and the extra trippy 'Raise the Sails.'  Really pretty good stuff, if you're into the sound.

Miles Davis — Live in Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Volume 1 (1967)

Just when you thought Columbia had milked the Miles Davis vaults dry!  But no, not meaning to get all cynical guy right away because this set is just as necessary as any of the previous sets that Columbia has released documenting this band.  It won't make you understand any better why they were one of the all-time greats, but it will enhance your argument for that stance.  It's in the days right before Miles' groups would start inventing fusion, so it has a wonderful sort of "before and after" feeling where the band will literally play a searching, borderline dissonant tune like 'Footprints' and then follow it up with old standbys like 'Round Midnight' or 'On Green Dolphin Street' (and it's great to hear just how far the band stretches these otherwise tame tunes).  At three discs, plus a DVD, it's a very welcome and complimentary addition to this period in Miles' career.  The previously available Live at the Plugged Nickel box set should be the go-to choice for anyone wanting the definitive live document of this band, but this one is hardly a bad choice, by any measuring stick.

Miles Davis — Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Volume 2 (1969)

Oh, holy hell yeah!  This is the big one, as this band was never properly recorded in a studio.  As such, it's been called Miles' "lost band", and boy, were they a smokin' little unit, tell you whut!  And this is the motherlode that us Miles fans knew just had to be floating around somewhere in someone's vaults.  There was always this one that came out in 2001 that documented the band on this album with Airto Moreira (making them a sextet) about eight months after the material on this set was recorded.  And that's a fine release, but even Miles went out of his way to mention this specific quintet in his autobiography as one of his all time best bands.  And, as my first taste of actually just the quintet, I have to agree.  Because these merfers actually didn't give any phucs, whatsoever.  Wayne Shorter was playing a lot of soprano, Chick Corea was exclusively playing an electric piano and Dave Holland was still sticking to acoustic bass at this point, so the music takes on a very colorful, energetic tone.  It's got the electric piano and the rest of the band are still on acoustic instruments, but everyone's playing is stretching out and playing these tunes in a manner that, by all reasonable logic, is far beyond the scope of the instruments they are playing.  There's still that great "in transit" aspect to the performance where the band will play a dizzying, funky rendition of 'Miles Runs the Voodoo Down' and then break into 'Milestones' like it's nothing and the two tune are just supposed to be played like that.  It's intense stuff, for sure.  And some of it is so scorching and passionate, it has to be heard to be fully understood.  This one comes with a DVD as well, but I've not been able to bring myself to give it a gander just yet.  Overall though, just. . . yeah.

Jandek — Six and Six (1981)

Diving headfirst into some Jandek.  He's a weird guy, whose entire musical persona came from the perceived anonymity of its creator and who may or may not know how to actually tune a guitar.  Back in the 80's, you could only find his records in select shops and if you didn't have any shops that carried him, you could always send a letter off to a PO box in Houston, Texas and initiate your musical journey that way.  Three decades later and that's all still pretty much the case.  He's got a website now though.  His music is most certainly not for everyone and a lot of these songs sound like they were rehearsed very little (if at all) and the recordings are, most likely, the first (and only) takes of the tunes.  I simply sent a personal check off and, a couple weeks later, received a package with this plain looking address label and decidedly messy penmanship.  This is Jandek's second proper album and not much is changed from his first.  It's still just a discordant guitar and a quiveringly passionate voice belting out words that are either intensely personal or total nonsense.  There's not really a highlight on this album and it sounds like Jandek is playing his detuned guitar without really playing any frets, so it all hangs together as a whole. 

Jandek — Ready for the House (1978)

His first album, originally released under the band name the Units.  This one is known for having the premiere recording of 'European Jewel' on it (which is denoted as "Incomplete" on the song list).  It's the only time on this album he plays an electric guitar — and it would be the last time he would do so until his fourth album.  'European Jewel' itself is actually the most tuneful track he would do among these first two albums.  And the fact that he released this in 1978 is just astounding when you really take a step back and consider the bigger picture.  Easily a decade ahead of his time at this point.  Maybe not always tuneful and fun to listen to, but always interesting.

Jandek — Later On (1981)

His third album.  And first to feature his harmonica playing!  I would say this album is where Jandek's blues-slant first started to make its presence known.  Twisted as they may seem, some of these songs have some serious blues intonations (thinking mainly of 'Just Whisper' here, with its "walkin' down the road" imagery).  And that's the main thing about this album: for the first time, Jandek's words have become actual living worlds unto themselves, whereas in the past it just seemed like he was making them up as he went sometimes.  Everything here has a purpose and is worth considering.  And he just kept improving.

Jandek — Living in a Moon So Blue (1982)

His fifth album.  A strange one, as it features sixteen tracks, none over three and a half minutes in length.  This is in big contrast because it seems like all of his previous albums feature at least one long form track that ventured off into seven or eight minute territory.  Because of this, the better fidelity of the recording and the variety in his guitar playing this time around, it's an album that seems a lot longer than it really is (in a good way).  There's an instrumental ('One Step Ahead'; sounding like the Durutti Column in bizarro world), a song where Jandek is possibly angry at himself ('You Can Stop Now'), possibly an attempt to sound like Bob Dylan ('Anticipation') and one of the weirdest ways to end an album, possibly ever (the chugging stomp of 'Crime Pays').  Again, just all Jandek: his voice, his guitar and his harmonica.  Probably his so far calmest album, at that point.

Jandek — Chair Beside a Window (1982)

This one contains the eerie classic 'Nancy Sings.'  It was Jandek's fourth album overall and easily his best at that point.  Virtually every song here is a winner.  The opener 'Down In A Mirror' was probably Jandek's best set of lyrics up until that point.  There's another attempt at 'European Jewel' here and it's a genuine shock to hear for the first time, because there's a full band backing him.  There's a few other tracks where the band appears (all uncredited musicians, of course) and it's a gloriously wailing clatter they create each time out.  The definitive picture of early Jandek, I would say.  Now I only have about thirty more years worth of albums to acquire and digest.  **long sigh**


Sorry for the delay.