Monday, July 8, 2013

What's New?: 7.8.2013

Some very brilliant stuff here. . .
Neil Young — Trans (1982)

Yes, Neil's infamous "new wave" album. Once an embarrassment, I can now hear it as a musician pushing forward and challenging himself just for the sake of not staying still creatively. Although, beginning with the standard Neil Young fare of 'Little Thing Called Love' does feel a bit misleading. The next four tracks find Neil aping Kraftwerk as much as anyone else did in the early 80's and masking his voice with a vocoder. And, at the time, it sure would have surprised me had I been there that, actually, the best tracks are the ones where Neil doesn't try to just tread water. 'Transformer Man' received a new lease when Neil tackled an acoustic version for his Unplugged album about a decade later.  'Computer Age' is the other really good synth-pop tune here that has rightly been reassessed in a more positive light.  The synth redux of 'Mr. Soul' is pretty bad, but, like I said, at least he was trying something else.  The album ends with one of Neil's most idiosyncratic masterpieces.  'Like an Inca' is absolutely mammoth in scope and executed pretty damn well, to boot.  If it were billed to Neil and Crazy Horse and were on any other album besides this one, with eight minutes and one of the most rewarding chord changes in Neil's entire repertoire, it would have a much bigger reputation than it ended up with.  To give an idea of how important the song is: Neil revived it for his own audio autobiography just a couple years ago.  Yeah, that one makes it all worthwhile.  Easily.

William Tyler — Behold the Spirit (2010)

An incredible record from an incredible musician.  This one is just sheer mood.  Like, the whole thing just feels like a symphony.  Yeah, it's got separate parts and everything, but it's really just one big piece to behold.  William Tyler is a very inspiring guitarist who has longstanding roots in two long running Americana bands and who has finally come to the spotlight in recent years.  Comparisons to John Fahey, Will Ackerman and Leo Kottke are imminent, as Will does not sing at all.  There's twang, sure.  There's a big impressionistic emotional aspect to the music as well.  But, I dunno, there's a different quality to what he's doing here.  Instead, he just plays these glorious one man walls of fingerpicked sound; sometimes on an electric, a bit more delay and echo than your average folkie.  Just wonderfully warm and heartfelt tunes.  Then, he'll just go straight wacky psychedelic like on 'To The Finland Station.'  Just something unique and sparkling about this guy.  He released an album before this one in 2008 under the name the Paper Hats and it's really good too — but sorry, kiddos, it was a German-only release.  It's on Amazon MP3 for cheap and Spotify (for free, of course).

William Tyler — Impossible Truth (2013)

One from earlier this year that I missed until now. Easily my pick for so far album of the year. Still sparse and mostly just Will, but he is joined by some backing musicians this time around. Just have a listen to the first track.  An incredibly tuneful rollercoaster that rivals even the best work of his influences, its scope is only matched by its emotion.  The whole album just feels like the most beautiful manifesto: the output of someone whose full potential has been fulfilled for the first time, and yet, who also seems to be just now entering a creative renaissance.  Dreamy, seemingly bottomless near drones like 'Cadillac Desert' would have been album highlights in the past, but are now things that play like an easy intermission.  Album closer 'The World Set Free' is gorgeous.  And with slow burning development, it takes many side trips into any number of musical caves and crevices of influence.  But, perhaps most importantly (to me anyway), in the final third of the tune, with the addition of a drum set, woodwinds, a string quartet and some straight up distorted guitar dissonance, it's as close to David Axelrod's scope as contemporary music has been for at least a few years.  Whoo boy, what a find.

Brian Eno — Music for Films (1978)

A varied and emotional album of small pieces.  Seriously, this thing is a single record, but there's eighteen tracks in total!  Some of the tracks with a full band backing actually remind me of early Cocteau Twins, if you can imagine that.  There's a really "spacey" vibe to this music and I don't just mean the silence between the notes.  When I hear something like 'Alternative 3' or 'From the Same Hill' I get images of nebulae and elliptical galaxies in mind.  Sigur Rós has obviously learned a lot from the 'Sparrowfall' series that closes out side one of the album.  But Brian had obviously learned a lot from his time in Germany a couple years previous.  Things go in cycles, after all.  Very emotive stuff, in any case.  And the relatively accessible melodies combined with the shorter length of the pieces makes this one arguably Eno's finest work that I've yet encountered.

Nic Jones — Penguin Eggs (1980)

Truly a wonderful, but bittersweet work from a musician that seemed to be on the cusp of something even better.  This has one of the single greatest side one/track one's of all time with Nic's absolutely ace arrangement and performance of 'Canadee-I-O.'  A stunner on any level of evaluation, it's probably the definitive version of the tune.  The rest of the album is all traditional tunes as well, and the focus remains Nic's seemingly supernatural guitar playing.  A tune like 'Courting is a Pleasure' just appears to be a pleasant song of a broken heart on the surface, but Nic's accompanying himself on guitar makes the song a lot fuller than it initially may appear to be.  There's some tunes with accordion like 'The Drowned Lovers' and 'Barrack Street' that are so jaunty and bouncing, they sound nearly like sea shanties (in a good way).  The solo instrumental 'Planxty Davis' is generally the sort of gorgeous thing you're in for here, though.  Nic was injured not too long after this album and it left him unable to play for many years.  At least this album got made.

Jimmy Woods Sextet — Conflict (1963)

A rare (and odd) sideman appearance from Andrew Hill drew me to this one.  The alto player that led this session (not to be confused with the similarly named, yet equally as overlooked, bassist) was apparently a well-respected composer among his peers and this was one of only two sessions that he led before deciding that that was enough of that.  Not only does Andrew Hill play on this one, Elvin Jones is at the kit and even tenor demigod Harold Land is present.  I swear, if this one were on one of the east coast labels, instead of the long-ignored west coast-based Contemporary label, it would be considered right there with all the classics on Blue Note and Prestige.  Have a listen to the title track and see for yourself.  The whole record, perhaps because of Andrew Hill's presence (or so I'd assume?), has a similar "in-but-slightly-out" sound.  This version has three bonus tracks that are alternate takes of tunes on the proper album, but hearing this band is an absolute pleasure, regardless of the tunes they're riffing on.  A one hundred percent stone cold classic.  Whoo boy, it's a firecracker of a session.

Jon Hassell — Power Spot (1986)

Truly, it would not seem a just world if Jon Hassell didn't have at least one album released on the ECM label. I'm just surprised it took this long into his career for it to happen.  This album is probably the thing most similar in overall sound to his Fourth World album since that album, six years previous to this one.  It's a very hard thing to review a Jon Hassell album and do it justice, simply because nothing else sounds like the music he creates.  Dreamy washes of sound and percussive ramblings are the order of the day for the base on which Jon builds his towers of blurted out blocks from his heavily treated trumpet.  It's a completely and strangely beautiful album and a defining moment, in both Jon's and ECM's respective catalogues.  Top stuff.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

New podcast: . . .these days. . .

It looks like this:

Or this:

It sounds like this:

. . .these days. . . by Austintayeshus on Mixcloud

It's meant for this:



Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What's New?: 7.3.2013

Continuing on. . . and on. . . and on. . .

The Appleseed Cast — Illumination Ritual (2013)

It's a strange time to be an Appleseed Cast fan. Their dreamy cascades of cymbals and guitars is still present on their first album in four years, but the only original member left is singer and creative center Chris Crisci. Aaron Pillar and John Momberg's respective farewells are now relegated to the stopgap Middle States EP from two years ago. And while Aaron's inimitable guitar style is definitely missed on Illumination Ritual (things definitely take a turn in a more angular direction), this album still manages to sound like the Appleseed Cast. Except, they're really fast now. There is a very much an upswing in tempos this time around and that's a catch twenty-two, because while the songs definitely have riffs and hooks that are great, it almost feels like the whole album is just one long song, because the tempos don't vary much. Still, it sounds an awful lot like Mare Vitalis, and that's fantastic because that's not only an album I love, it's also the one where I feel like they were doing great pop songs when you stripped away all the effects and noise. So, here: 'Cathedral Rings.' It's an emotionally charged, dynamic, anthemic, fist-pumping, rock-and-fucken-rolling masterpiece. Probably their best all around song since the Peregrine days, at very least. Side two of the album contains a very epic Low Level Owl-esque two-fer that was probably intended to be the big centerpiece of the album with 'Barrier Islands (Do We Remain?)' morphing into 'North Star Ordination.' It's definitely a highlight, in a classic-sounding Appleseed sort of way. Throw in a couple instrumentals, and we're done. Overall, it's Chris delivering a by-the-numbers Appleseed Cast record and trying to give us (the fans) what he thinks we want. Little does he know, I will like whatever he does as long as he's leading with his heart and not trying to rehash past glories. I'm extra critical of this stuff because they are one of the best things currently going. And besides, as the proper full length follow up to Sagarmatha, it was going to be hard to top that one. I just wish Aaron's departure from the band wasn't so glossed over.

Bob Dylan — Dylan (1970)

Generally regarded as Bob's "worst" album, it's also generally accepted that he was trying to piss off fans when he recorded it. It was mostly recorded during the same sessions for Self Potrait and, just like that album has an unmerited bad reputation, after fully digesting this one, I have to say it falls into the same category (some of the album consists of outtakes from the unimpeachable classic New Morning). There are no originals here, but the things Bob does with tunes like 'Mr. Bojangles' and 'Big Yellow Taxi' are fascinating and ultimately they feel less like someone making fun of them and more like someone just screwing around. There's a very nice folk pop sheen to the production and I have a really hard time not playing the whole album whenever I listen to it. Certainly not his best work, but this is just an alright album, where he would commit near atrocities in the future.

Atoms for Peace — Default (2013)

B-side action from one of the year's most pleasant surprises. The a-side was definitely a grower for me and it appears here in an instrumental version alongside the non-album doodle of a song 'What the Eyeballs Did.' It's one of the AfP songs where Flea's bass playing is front and center and it's all the better for it. Nice to hear more from these guys.

Cocteau Twins — Otherness (1995)

I've had this guy digitally for many years, but it's always nice to find hard copies of these sorts of things. It's essentially a remix EP wherein Robin and Liz try to make some older songs kind of ambient dancey. Not a total success, but not a waste of time either. The highlight is the super blissed out, very nearly psychedelic, drumless retake of 'Cherry Coloured Funk.' Well done on that one, you lot.

Morrissey — The HMV/Parlophone Singles '88-'95 (late 80's/early 90's)

A lot of this was not new to me. In fact, about 90% of it wasn't. But, for a few of these b-sides (and even a couple of the a-sides), they appeared on the British singles and nothing else. So, they were out of print for many years until these things came out.  But forget it: those were too expensive and way too bulky for me.  This guy squeezed out a few years ago under my radar and it's those two sets slimmed down to three CDs: the perfect package.  Way too many Moz classics (and just plain old musical classics) to start naming names, so I'll just run down the list of things I liked that I didn't already know.  'Journalists Who Lie' is about as awesome as it can get when you look at the title and then consider that the song could be described as "cartoon rockabilly."  'Pregnant for the Last Time' is more fake rockabilly fun, while tunes like 'You've Had Her' and 'I'd Love To' are the sort of cascading introspective mini-epics that find Steve dropping the rockstar façade and singing these full on heartachingly genuine masterpieces.  I guess I understand why he's hidden them away and basically assigned them to obscurity status in his own catalogue.  I mean I do but I don't.  The frustration of being a Morrissey fan.  Top tunes, whatever the case.

Morrissey — Beethoven Was Deaf (1993)

Morrissey's best band rocking out for a bunch of Frenchies. There's a sense to this live album that it was meant to be a big grand assertion of dominance —and, in retrospect, it most certainly is— but, at the time it was virtually ignored in the shadow of the near smear campaign being launched at Steve in the British music press (not to mention: this album has still never been released in America). Oh well, by the wayside went definitive versions of essential Moz classics (the rockabilly-ed up 'Sister I'm A Poet', the flawlessly rambunctious run through of 'The Loop' and the version of 'Jack the Ripper' that's so good it makes the studio version seem like a sick joke).  Of course, all of the then-Moz calling cards are present as well, but it's the diversity and the tension in the setlist that really makes this one a complete and total classic.  It's an album that I've known for several years, but it feels like such a relief to finally have a hard copy of my own.  Where in later years, Morrissey released live things for fan benefit only, this one actually feels like it belongs in the strange saga of Morrissey's creative trajectory.  And, of course, it doesn't hurt that they play a totally kickass version of my favorite Morrissey song.

Q and Not U — Different Damage (2002)

Totally great DC indie guys.  Noisy and political and shouty and spastic and inexplicably funky — it's only now, a decade later, that I can really understand that they were one of the first of the new wave revival that hit hard in the early 2000's.  This was the band's second album (and a lot of folks would say their best) and it's just a wonderfully angry and varied record.  The first track is probably the highlight, but side two of the album plays less like a group of songs and more like a sidelong suite whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  It's definitely an album that sounds best when you take the whole thing in at once.  It's too bad they quit after their poppier follow up album; truly a band that had something different to say.

R.E.M. — Strange Currencies (1995)

This Monster single had absolutely no chance at the charts, but it still managed to crack the top 40.  It's definitely one of the more conventional R.E.M. moments on that album.  But the real reason this single was released was so the band could get some live recordings for the one-off show they did in support of Automatic for the People out there (it's a now nearly forgotten piece of trivia that the band did not tour in support of their most famous album).  There's a super juicy rockin' version of 'Drive', a silly Iggy Pop cover  (where Michael inexplicably declares after the final chorus, "Dracula was pretty good, but it wasn't quite as gory and violent as they said it would be") and that finally morphs into a seriously rocked up 'Radio Free Europe.'  Well worth hearing, even if only for historical purposes (the music just so happens to be great as well).  Would love to see the entire show released.

Heat waves suck.


Monday, July 1, 2013

What's New?: 7.1.2013

This is the first of a very large batch. . .

Black Sabbath — Master of Reality (1971)

Super nice vinyl reissue on Rhino that even replicates the embossed cover and includes a print of the original poster that came with the album. Never really been into these guys for a lot of the same reasons I've struggled in the past with the Police and u2 — I only knew what they became, not what they initially were. And, just like with u2 and the Police, I've found that I've unfairly judged Black Sabbath mostly based on Ozzy's solo shenanigans. This is heavy, sludgy riffing stuff. I know they were initially a heavy blues rock outfit, but by the time of this album (their third), all of the blues had been stripped away in favor of a low end, throbbing buzz. Check 'Children of the Grave' for an example of just how anthemic they get here. Tony Iommi's C# guitar tuning only seems to magnify the lowness of these songs, but there's also a sense to this album that it's the band's most diverse to date. The short classical guitar instrumental 'Orchid' is arguably the prettiest thing the band did in those early years, while the spooky ballad 'Solitude' hits a surprisingly introspective note. For the most part though, they stick to the slow and heavy riffs and the way they do so with such dynamics is what's really impressive. The labyrinthine, nearly mathematical shapes that their riffs conjure on the closer 'Into the Void' are just pure dork candy (which is obviously why I like it).

Black Sabbath — self-titled (1970)

The first, eponymously titled track on this album is such a classic of rock music, I can't even begin to convey how important it is — nevermind how genuinely affecting it is, approaching downright disturbing by the time Ozzy pathetically flails away, "Please god, help me!!!" The band still has a bit of a blues stomp in them at this point, and even though they were probably the heaviest thing going then, they were still sticking to those 1-4-5 changes sometimes. But still, some of the riffs here are absolutely definitive and completely unique. If this was the only album the band ever made, it'd be considered a landmark. Instead, they got better.

Black Sabbath — Paranoid (1970)

Seems like a cliche to say this album is probably the band's most likeable because it has a song on it that you may have heard before.  But, there you have it.  I took to it most easily because of that and the relentlessly heavy title track.  But, there's also a lot more diversity happening here.  'Planet Caravan' is easily the calmest thing the band did in the early days and 'Electric Funeral' is a darkly psychedelic trip.  'Rat Salad' is the infamous odd man out, while the closer 'Jack the Stripper/Fairies Wear Boots' is an ambitious pro-drug anthem.  Hard to recommend anything except this one for anybody looking to understand why Black Sabbath is so revered.

Black Sabbath — Vol. 4 (1972)

Sprawling and druggy, there's no way you can tell me that this is anything other than Black Sabbath's magnum opus. Recorded in LA and containing a special thank you to the "COKE-Cola" (seriously, that's how it's written in the liners) company there, you can just see the disillusionment and cynicism kicking in like the most cathartic hangover. 'Changes' was a hit I guess, but it's easily the least representative thing here. It's the band doing an all keyboards ballad (doesn't that Mellotron just sound fucking excellent, by the way?) and the big thing here is that it establishes the power ballad as a thing. Later on, 'Laguna Sunrise' reprises that mellower mood and it's a surprising moment of genuine beauty.  Otherwise, this thing is relentless.  Just manically slow tempos, crunchy guitar tones and cynical lyrics.  Dark dark dark.  The way things melt into 'Every Day Comes and Goes' on the last track is just about one of the heaviest moments I can right now recall.  I would be remiss if I didn't say just how much Tony Iommi's guitar sounds like Neil Young's at certain points on this album.  Boy oh boy, it's all over the place and very much a lovely dark rock album.  Very good.  Check it out.

Syd Barrett — Barrett (1970)

Not very Pink Floyd-ish, but who cares.  It's a decidedly nice album of gentle folksy songs that sometimes get psychedelic because of what they imply through the lyrics.  It's got a very nice sheen to it (some have embarrassingly called this one overproduced over the years; for shame).  I love how the multi tracks mingle and converse with one another, sometimes mid-song (thinking of 'Dominoes' here mostly, but the same can be said of the whole album, in varying shades).  It's definitely a grower of an album.  The polite, non-imposing presentation of the songs makes it so.  But darned if it isn't really affecting music after you've sat with it for a while.  This particular version features seven bonus tracks that are all alternate takes of proper album tracks.  No big revelations, but nice to have, in any case.  The long run has revealed this to be completely unique, idiosyncratic music.  But masked under the veil of being harmless soft rock.  It's no wonder that a band that was so influenced by this album dedicated a song to Syd.

Kronos Quartet — Pieces of Africa (1992)

This is the Kronos group augmented by a lot of hand percussion on some tracks, basically.  Fantastic, otherwise unplayed compositions though.  They touched on it briefly a couple years before this, but on this album they play the entirety of Kevin Volans' brilliant 'White Man Sleeps' suite.  The fourth part is such an emotional and significant apex in the music, I have a hard time rating the rest of the album by comparison.  The whole thing's good though.  It's Kronos doing their non-conventional thing and it really does work well with this stuff.  But, wow: that part four. Are things that are that beautiful, generally speaking, so aching as well? Wowza.

It's entirely too hot these days.