Saturday, May 29, 2010

Unwound - Leaves Turn Inside You (2001)

Unwound was cut from the same mold as the two other '90s stalwart post-hardcore bands that got most of the attention; Fugazi and Quicksand. Unwound veered from the safer path those two took (albeit one by breaking up and the other maturing into one of the finest bands ever) and went a bit more avant in their approach.

They kept it subtle and airy at one end but made it noisy and grating on the other; taking the best attributes of post-punk and fusing it with the audacity of noise rock, all the while toeing the line between indie, post-hardcore and post-rock; this is definitely one of the best albums of the new millennium. It's a sprawling and expansive hour-and-seventeen minute affair that delves into both spacey atmospherics and punk rock riffing.

Bravo, Unwound. Nice way to go out- leave your fans wanting more and critics scratching their heads with the whole "what if?" question.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The United States of America - The United States of America (1968)

A psych rock album with no guitar? Upon first listen I didn't believe this record was made in '68; outside of the production quality there's really nothing that ties it to the decade (except the spirit of the times, maybe). With its arty pretension, courtesy of Joseph Byrd's musical expertise and virtuosity (by 1967 he already had a vast knowledge of both electronic instruments and musique concrète) and singer Dorothy Moskowitz's icy cold vocal delivery, it literally sounds like it belongs in the early oeuvre of Stereolab.

So how'd they get away with creating a rock record with no guitar? Easy- heavy use of the violin (courtesy Gordon Marron), sublime bass lines from Rand Forbes and Byrd's work with the organ, calliope and electric harpsichord. Throw in Craig Woodson's electronic drums and here's an excellent psychedelic-meets-art pop/rock record that for some reason has been lost to the sands of time.

This is the 2004 version from Sundazed; re-mastered and with bonus tracks...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Paul Bley - Open, to Love (1973)

This 1973 record is a collection of solo piano improv pieces from Paul Bley; it's cold and stark, spare, expansive and chilling. It's like a cross between free jazz and Erik Satie; you ever see a horror movie and just as the main character starts their descent into madness and chops up the town with an axe? Yeah, this is like that- the fragmentary piano runs scattered about in the air, sounding like someone actually losing their marbles...

Except Bley knew exactly what he was doing on this album. Enjoy!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Hood - Structured Disasters (1996)

Hood's Structured Disasters is a compilation of some of their early stuff, pre-'96. If you're not familiar with Hood, they're a Leeds (UK) based lo-fi/post-rock/IDM/slowcore/shoegaze band that caught my attention for their collaboration work with Oakland's Doseone and Why? (for Hood's 2001 album Cold House).

This record is basically lots of 4-track recorded stuff; un-mastered, un-mixed, very lo-fi. Maybe intended to never see the light of day? I really like it, it sounds like stuff I record on my 4-track.

Check out the tape hiss...

Friday, May 21, 2010

PJ Harvey - Rid Of Me (1993)

If this isn't Polly Jean Harvey's best album, it's her most vitriolic; almost every song has a different version of her idea of love and hate- there's songs about vengeance, anger, sex, insanity, betrayal, angst and possibly some BDSM. Her nastiness is only intensified by Steve Albini's production (or lack there-of) which leaves the entire album sounding raw and cut open, which was probably the point. It's noisy, punky, blues-influenced, jagged, muscular; all the things Albini loves to make sound more than they are- here he mostly leaves it alone, trusting Harvey and her bandmates Rob Ellis and Steve Vaughan.

I don't know if PJ's the ultimate man-hater, I'm just glad it ain't me she's singing about...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Microphones - The Glow Pt. 2 (2001)

This album is an absolute treasure- it's one of those records you put on and it transports you to a completely different place, I still have a hard time believing it's only nine years old; I swear it's been around longer, I want to cut it down and count the rings someday so I can say "I knew this was older..."

It exists in a place (genetically) right around Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea; an intensely crafted homage to both the fragility of the soul and warm 4-track recordings, draped in inadvertent fuzz from the levels being too high; all these song "fragments" that leave it sounding unfinished yet it's a ridiculously fully accomplished thesis statement from a self-described loner that doesn't really want to be a loner.

Sort of a lo-fi bedroom folk version of OK Computer from the Pacific Northwest.

Bobb Trimble - Harvest Of Dreams (1982)

Bobb Trimble's story has to be one of the strangest in music; he made two albums (1980's Iron Curtain Innocence and this one, Harvest of Dreams from 1982) and basically disappeared from the music scene around 1986. He had two backing bands around this time also, one called The Kidds (whose average age was 12) and another called The Crippled Dog Band (average age: 15).

Apparently that raised some eyebrows in Marlborough, Massachusetts (as it should, as Trimble was in his mid-twenties. But hey, I don't judge...) and was in effect completely out of music until recently reappearing- I found out about Trimble's music from a 2007 e-newsletter I get from Secretly Canadian Records (they re-issued both albums with a bunch of bonus tracks; this is actually the re-issued version).

As for the album: Trimble's voice is a cross between Kate Bush and a theremin, and his music sounds like early Flaming Lips and Robyn Hitchcock.

Enjoy this hidden gem of weird psych folk from the '80s!

Albert Heath - Kawaida (1970)

This is one of those records that drives OCD completist/collectors like me insane; there are three different versions of this album floating around- all three have different track listings, different running orders and list different personnel. The only definite thing I know about this record is that it's one of the few perfect examples of the melding between modal jazz and African rhythms, sort of like the ideas Coltrane had on Africa/Brass.

Why this "lost" album caught my eye was the inclusion of both Herbie Hancock and Don Cherry, with the Heath brothers (Jimmy & Albert, listed here as leader for contractual reasons) and Jimmy's son Mtume, who actually should be listed as leader, it was said he arranged the whole thing under the concept of spreading the teachings of Maulana Karenga's Kawaida philosophy.

Here's the actual transcription of the line-up from the 1969 O'Be Records release:

Ed Blackwell - Bells & Percussion

Billy Bonner (Fundi) - Flute, Percussion (track 5 only)

Don Cherry (Msafari) - Trumpet

Herbie Hancock (Mwandishi) - Piano

Albert "Toudie" Heath (Kuumba)- Drums & Percussion

Jimmy Heath (Tayari) - Sax (Soprano), Sax (Tenor)
Mtume - Conga, Voice
Buster Williams (Mchezaji) - Bass

Recorded December 11, 1969. Produced by O'Be Productions. Recorded at The Universe, and Mastered at Town Sound Studios. Released 1970 on O'Be Records, catalogue number OB-301. Trip Records release is catalogue number TLP-5032. Liner notes on the O'Be Records edition written by Amiri Baraka.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Wire - The Classic Years

Wire is another insanely under-rated band, probably because people have never been able to peg them into a genre neatly; like that tired cliché "a square peg into a round hole" sort of thing. If you trace the arc of their career trajectory you'll see them going from the original London punk scene to jagged edged post-punk to synth-pop new wave to flirting with electronica, all the while staying firmly rooted in their experimental tendencies and never losing that do-it-yourself punk attitude.

This is why Wire is such an awesome band, they never had to stay the same from one album to the next, as evidenced in their first three, or "classic albums". Enjoy!

Pink Flag (1977; Harvest Records)
36.4 mb, ripped at 128 kbps in lossless .m4a format

Chairs Missing (1978; Harvest Records)
80.9 mb, VBR avg ~258 kbps

154 (1979; Harvest Records)
77.4 mb, VBR avg ~232 kbps

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Madlib - Shades Of Blue (2003)

After all the great shit that Premier, Pete Rock and the D.I.T.C. Crew did with marrying jazz to hip-hop in the early 90s, it's a wonder anything was left over for anyone else to do. Taking the expansive Blue Note Records back catalog and rendering it for a new set of listeners is an amazingly tall task, and Madlib stepped up and does it better than anybody (actually, I bet Dilla could've done it too, maybe better).

So here's Shades of Blue, with Madlib invading Blue Note and taking all the best stuff from the collection; samples of pianists Andrew Hill, Herbie Hancock and Horace Silver, vibraphonists Bobby Hutcherson and Milt Jackson, trumpeter Donald Byrd and saxophonist Wayne Shorter as well as faeturing some original compositions and cover versions of some old favorites from Madlib's own jazz group Yesterday's New Quintet.

Download this one today!

96.1 mb, VBR avg ~ 217 kbps

Glenn Branca - The Ascension (1981)

There's a Phillip Glass quote I found somewhere about Glenn Branca; something to the effect that "(he) has one foot in punk and the other in experimentation". That's a pretty apt descriptor of the whole No Wave scene in general, and here on Branca's debut solo record he explores sound via a four guitar army (one of which was Lee Ranaldo, who would go on to form Sonic Youth with another Branca disciple, Thurston Moore), played with a punk rock attitude.

Branca (along with Fred Frith) was an early pioneer of the use of prepared guitars, as well as exploring textures and "sheets of sound" through droning and repetition, alternate tunings and excessive volume. These "songs" on The Ascension aren't as much songs as the ideas (or "sketches") they represent, performed with all the above devices and effects. Under all that feedback and distortion there's an array of sounds and things going on that appear and re-appear upon subsequent listens. It's more or less an adventure.

Best when listened to loud; really, really loud...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pavement - Watery, Domestic (1992)

If the four songs on this EP were included on Slanted & Enchanted, it would've been the greatest album ever.

Just think about that...

Mekons - The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strnen (1979)

I think after free jazz, my favorite genre just may be post-punk. Both are full of bursts of energy and fractured, angular, sharp sounds. Occasional squeals are peppered throughout, as well as expansive areas of space; that "dead" sound in between freak-outs.

So here's the Mekons' 1979 debut full-length record.
Apparently "Strnen" is an inside joke between band members; the idea that if you give a monkey a typewriter and an infinite amount of time, eventually they will "accidentally" produce the complete works of William Shakespeare, hence the album cover.

Recorded in mere days on the Gang Of Four's instruments (the record label actually used a pic of Go4 on the album cover's sleeve) it's another excellent example of all the wonderful (if not unknown) bands coming out of that scene in the late '70s. One of my favorites of the genre...

Jacques Brel - Infiniment (2003)

I was introduced to the work of Jacques Brel by none other than Scott Walker (through his nine cover versions of Brel songs sprinkled throughout his first three albums). Brel was maybe the first "pop" superstar from across the pond, and once you get an earful of his plaintive melodies and his sad sack ne'er-do-well overtones; it's like being transported to some smoky club in Paris in the late 1950s. Never mind the fact that I can't speak a lick of French, it's his delivery that breaks your heart.

He's a misanthrope that you root for; you want him to get the girl he's pining after. Instead, later that night you're both sharing a bottle of Merlot, smoking from his pack of Gitanes and weeping about your collective misfortunes. Ah, Brel.

Anyway, I'm not a huge fan of greatest hits-slash-career retrospective compilations, but this one from 2003 is pretty awesome. It's Jacques in his infinite Jacques-ness; tracing the arc of his entire musical output from 1953 to his death from lung cancer in 1978.

Jacques Brel - Infiniment (2003; Barclay Records)
Disc 1

Disc 2
254.7 mb, ripped at 192 kbps

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Butthole Surfers - Rembrandt Pussyhorse (1986)

This record feels like an accident. I mean that in the nicest way possible- it's a fractured, dissonant, psychotic blend of experimentation and noisy post-punk; going from odd piano-driven tracks about creeps to insane babbling mayhem to quiet, almost funereal organ dirges to funky-ass, down-home psychedelic dirt blues soul rock.

This is the missing link between all that late-'60s acid-damaged stuff like Beefheart, Syd Barrett-era Floyd and '70s satirists/experimenters The Residents and today's bands like Liars and Black Dice. You can file the Surfers somewhere midway in that lineage; at least their first three records. If you have any of that radio-friendly alternacrap stuff from the nineties (especially Electriclarryland) please smack yourself in the face.

I'd recommend listening to this album at full volume in a dark room.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Love - Forever Changes (1967)

This is probably the greatest record you've never heard. For some reason this gem remains largely under appreciated, I can't figure out exactly why- it might be my favorite record from the psychedelic '60s. For those of us already in the know, please disregard my shock that unfortunately not every one has the 180-gram remastered heavy vinyl re-issued copy, we'll invite you over to listen in our living rooms.

Barring that; here's a digital copy to get you acquainted with one of the ten best records ever recorded in the history of modern music.

You never even have to say thanks, I'll know that you feel the same about the music on this album when you're hunting down a copy of the original record and your
rancid breath and bloodshot eyes from neglecting your hygiene and countless hours of sleep lost while chasing down this Holy Grail of under-rated psych folk rock memorabilia will be thanks enough.

Uncle Tupelo - No Depression (1990)

Before there was a Wilco or a Son Volt, there was an Uncle Tupelo. Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar's hatred for each other wouldn't reach critical status until three years after this here record so it's nice to see whatever vitriol they had wasn't for each other. Yet.

No other American band has been able to mix punk, college rock and country so thoroughly and convincingly like UT, plus this was years before Jeff cleaned up so the booze was flowing almost as steady as the fists, women, ideas, van rides and resentments; Jay was more or less the big man on campus during these days, and eventually... well, we all know more Wilco songs than Son Volt tunes, am I right? Most fans will point to 1993's Anodyne as their best work, but No Depression catches the band in a more embryonic state, hinting at what was to come.

So here's a nice slice of electrified Americana, in case you were wondering where bands like The Jayhawks, Steve Earle, Ryan Adams, Old 97's and Lucero got all their best ideas...

AMM - AMMMusic (1967)

I don't know if this was the first free-improv piece of music ever recorded, but it's definitely one of the most unlistenable. This is for you experimental noise freaks out there (I'm one of you... Or are you one of me?)

I've only been able to sit through this whole record a handful of times, it's not something you want to listen to except for the experience of listening; it begs the question "do the noises we make have consequences?"

One of the most angular and abstract experimental albums ever recorded, it's essentially two long tracks of feedback from broken instruments acting as a confrontational noise/sound collage...

AMM - AMMMusic (1967; Elektra Records)
102.1 mb, ripped at 320 kbps

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Camper Van Beethoven - Telephone Free Landslide Victory (1985)

My first week of middle school I met this kid named Matt; I think we sought each other out because he was wearing a Misfits' Fiend Club shirt and I was wearing a Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bullocks shirt (the assistant principal made me turn it inside out, which ironically got it more attention than before- go figure...). Anyway, Matt had an older brother that was a DJ at his college radio station, so when I'd sleep over his house on the weekends (his mom was a nurse and she worked the night shift), we'd drink a ton of Jolt cola and eat candy and stay up all night listening to his brother's cool records.

This one from Camper Van Beethoven especially sticks out in my mind- I think we may have wore this one out. Anyway; Matt Ryan, wherever you are- thanks, man. And thank your brother for hipping up our ears at such a young age.

This is the 2004 re-mastered re-issue with bonus tracks (of course)...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Bear vs. Shark - Right Now, You're in the Best of Hands... (2003)

My friend Conor turned me onto these guys a few years ago; I always thought they were like a poor man's Les Savy Fav- a driving rhythm section, distorted and screechy guitars and vocals alternating between shouts, barely intelligible screaming and melodic singing.

One of those bands that puts out two really good records, shows a shitload of promise and then goes and breaks up.

Go figure...

Wishbone Ash - Argus (1972)

I guess I'm one of those dudes that always thinks records like this one should've been bigger than they were; maybe there's a perfect world where all the greatest overlooked music exists in perfect harmony with the over-rated- a place where Wishbone Ash would be filed (alphabetically, of course) right in between The Who and Yes (because that's sort of exactly where they're filed in my mind).

This album should be known for its outstanding guitar work; Andy Powell and Ted Turner's twin axe attack was maybe the first instance on record where two guitars could take a lead at the same time, interweaving their lines and runs into, as well as on top of, one another's. Lead singer Martin Turner's vocals aren't especially great but his bass work stands out here, clicking perfectly with drummer Steve Upton to create one of the most rewarding hidden gems of the decade.

If you're a prog rock fan, or an early '70s hard rock junkie, here's a pretty nice record that runs down the middle of those two genres, incorporating some folky influences as well...

Wishbone Ash - Argus (1972; MCA Records)

84.8 mb, VBR avg ~ 240 kbps

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bill Evans Trio - Explorations (1961)

This album by Bill Evans and his trio (Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums) is my favorite jazz record that doesn't have a big name soloist (no trumpets or saxes here) because this unit works like lock and key without anything else. Bill Evans certainly was never considered the best jazz pianist of his day but he's definitely one of the most copied. Something about the way he blocked out his chords, and the voicings he used- an entire generation that came after owes this guy a huge debt.

Perfect music for cocktail hour or reading by the fire...

ESG - Come Away With Me (1983)

I wonder if the Bronx-born Scroggins sisters knew they were gonna be so influential when they put these records out. Or did they just wanna be funky? These basslines and beats have been sampled by everyone: Wu-Tang, Beasties Boys, Gang Starr, Dilla, Big Daddy Kane, trip-hopper Tricky, R&B stars TLC, the list goes on and on.

Their records are so obscure to mainstream ears that they've been sampled so much without people realizing who they are; they aren't punk (but their cold and spacey recordings share an aesthetic with post-punk bands like Joy Division and Wire) they aren't exactly funk (but you can dance to it); it was literally the first incarnation of "dance punk", paving the way for bands like Le Tigre, !!!, Liars and James Murphy's LCD Soundsystem.

Check this one out, you shan't be disappointed...

Dr. Octagon - Dr. Octagonecologyst (1996)

Earth people; New York and California. Earth people; I was born on Jupiter...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fela Kuti - Expensive Shit (1975)

This is some serious funk straight from the Motherland. Fela Anikulapo Kuti was a pioneer in what we now call "world music" (a term I always thought sounded a bit exclusionary; after all, don't we all live in the same world?), bridging the gap between western jazz and funk and West African highlife music (a form of horn and guitar driven pop).

Although it's only about twenty-four minutes long, Kuti and his band Africa 70 cut a wide swath in the decade's ever-growing field of funk; if this doesn't make you get up and dance you just might not have a soul...

Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man - Out Of Season (2002)

This album is the missing link between Talk Talk and Portishead; it's no wonder that Rustin Man (Paul Webb of Talk Talk) and Beth Gibbons were attracted to each other- I always thought Talk Talk was one of the main influences behind the whole trip-hop movement. Except this takes out almost all the acid jazz influence and replaces it with an even more downtempo approach (dare I say loungey vibe?) and inserts Gibbons' wavering and sometimes ancient sounding voice on top of Rustin Man's pastoral and fragile (as well as creepy at times) music.

Download one of the decade's best hidden gems; if you missed this one and liked Portishead's "comeback" album, you'll be able to hear Webb's influence on that record as well...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Charles Mingus - The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963)

Probably my favorite jazz record of all-time; either this or A Love Supreme depending on what kind of mood I'm in. This is actually a lot more than just straight jazz, and if you've never heard this one your ears probably hate you in advance. It's an album that sits at the crossroads between the avant-garde, big band music and that whole Third Stream movement that incorporated classical elements into free jazz by using traditional classical instrumentation (an eleven-piece "orchestra" performed this record) by experimenting and improvising, definitely not trademarks of classical music.

Charles Mingus was at the forefront of this school of thought, his friend Gunther Schuller coined the term after Mingus' 1955 record Jazzical Moods. Here on The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, Charlie took it a step further than ever before; re-imagining this suite as a free jazz-classical ballet piece to actually be performed by dancers (it never was because it was considered too emotionally intense!).

This is why Mingus is the greatest composer in the history of modern music; he could swing like Bird and Ellington, but he had Mozart and Beethoven in his blood...

Stéphane Grappelli / David Grisman - Live (1981)

This album was my introduction to violinist Stéphane Grappelli; I learned later that he made his name playing with Django Reinhardt, opening their famous Quintette du Hot Club de France together in 1934. About this same time I learned about mandolin-player extraordinaire David Grisman from his association with Jerry Garcia from their Old And In The Way project.

So there's the back story on how this album came into my consciousness; this laid back affair recorded at Boston's Berklee Center in 1979, simply titled Live- a wonderful collection of traditional jazz tunes done in a bluegrass, down-home style. Rob Wasserman (of Ratdog and Lou Reed's bands of the early '90s) plays bass, Mike Marshall on guitar and second mandolin, Mark O'Connor (guitar and second violin) and Tiny Moore on electric mando.

Lee Hazlewood - Cowboy In Sweden (1970)

You can take Lee Hazlewood's music on two different levels: one; he was a hilarious jokester that wrote tongue-in-cheek pop and country songs or the second tact, which was he saw himself as a serious musician that was completely misunderstood, even now. I'd like to think he's somewhere in between the two, bridging the gap between ridiculous camp and true art.

Cowboy In Sweden was a television series from Sweden that Hazlewood starred in and wrote the soundtrack to. It's an attempt at reconciling the psychedelic sounds of the day with Bakersfield-style country and string-laden commercial pop music; the results are what would happen if a cowboy took LSD and appeared on The Lawrence Welk Show.

It's that awesome...

Organized Konfusion - Stress: The Extinction Agenda (1994)

Organized Konfusion was a hip-hop duo from Queens consisting of Prince Po and Pharoahe Monch; they were outspoken and politically-charged as well as socially conscious which is probably the reason they never got their due. The beats are tight, Po & Monch's flow is top ranking, there's only one skit and the only two guests are A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip and fellow New Yorker O.C. This album is the very personification of East Coast Hip-Hop; it's got all the proper elements- obscure jazz & soul samples, hardcore street knowledge and that proper boom bap.

Today's rappers need to take this one to heart; this is how it should be done...

Alexander "Skip" Spence - Oar (1969)

File Skip Spence along with Nick Drake, Syd Barrett and Roky Erickson under the unfortunate category of "mental illness exacerbated by excessive drug use" casualties of the late 1960s; they all got a chance to record wonderful albums before (Drake), during (Barrett & Spence), or after (Erickson) complete breaks from reality.

Skip's story is a tough one; he was the original drummer for Jefferson Airplane, leaving after their first record and trading his drum kit for a guitar and amp. He then went on to have a successful few years as the main songwriter and guitarist for Moby Grape, but during the recording of their second record in New York, Skip had a bum LSD trip and he went off his nuts, trying to attack band mates Jerry Miller & Don Stevenson with an axe, chopping
down their hotel door in the process. Then he went to CBS Records' executive offices and tried to attack their producer, David Rubinson. Skip was sent to Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital for six months and pumped full of thorazine, this is the record he wrote while in the asylum. He went to Nashville, recorded this whole album in a few weeks on a three-track and disappeared to the woods near Santa Cruz, where he lived in a trailer until he passed away in '99.

It's a haunting and deeply affected personal statement from a man in the midst of some serious inner turmoil; there's some solace to be taken here in Spence's beautiful honesty and dark confessional lyrics. Download this album now!