Monday, March 25, 2013

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.

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