Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Red Krayola - The Parable of Arable Land (1967)

I rank this landmark record by Red Krayola right up there with the other classic psychedelic standout albums from that era; it might be one of the first "rock" records that was made up of purely free noise experiments. It sits directly in the middle ground between the free jazz of Albert Ayler and baroque folk of Love. More than half of the record is various versions of a Free Form Freak-Out, main Krayola Mayo Thompson basically invited about 50 people back to the studio where they were recording and told them to bang on things, wail like banshees, etc. to achieve the desired effect.

Changing their name from The Red Crayola (for obvious copyright infringements), guitarist/visual artist Thompson, drummer Frederick Barthelme and Steve Cunningham crafted an intense and sometimes scary psychedelic wonderland (they were once paid $10 to stop playing a show in Berkeley, of all places!) that was as much a visual trip as an auditory one, mixing music with art and blurring the line between audience and performer.

If you're looking to get into this awesome band from the psychedelic era; look no further than this- if you like it I'll probably be posting their follow-up records Coconut Hotel and God Bless The Red Krayola and All Who Sail With It. Enjoy!

Six Organs of Admittance - Dark Noontide (2002)

Ben Chasny is the one-man band behind Six Organs of Admittance, a project he started in 1997 up in the tiny Humboldt County enclave of Arcata on Northern California's Lost Coast. People travel to the Lost Coast for solitude . and you can hear it in his droning textures and folky blend of psychedelia; although the chords are mostly minor (it is folk after all) it still has a warmth to it to counter the contemplative vibe. It's the thinking man's drone folk.

I read somewhere that this album was Chasny's attempt at setting Dreamtime to music, if you're unfamiliar with Dreamtime it's the Aboriginal myth of Creation and how all people exist eternally in the Dreaming, and upon being born we are more or less custodians of our little part of the world, learning the customs and traditions of our place. Hence, the "six organs of admittance" is thought to be how our spirits enter our mother's womb to inhabit our fetuses.

Check out this blissful and chaotic record immediately!

Six Organs of Admittance - Dark Noontide (2002; Holy Mountain Records)
60.1 mb, VBR avg ~ 191 kbps

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Galaxie 500 - On Fire (1989)

I don't know if Galaxie 500 can be credited with starting the slowcore movement, but they did more for its early development than anyone else. I think it was their intention to be an eighties version of The Velvet Underground; at least in the Velvet's quieter moments (think their 1969 self-titled album, the one with Pale Blue Eyes and I'm Set Free). Hey, if you're gonna copy someone, copy the best, right?

Shimmering and wave-like guitars set over slinky and growling bass lines locked into a steady drum beat; that's the Galaxie 500 sound that everyone after tried to copy as well; some got it right (Low, et al) and some didn't. But the fact remains that Galaxie was an awesome band, never trying to confuse the listener with tempo changes and stops and starts; just pop music slowed down enough to be covered in a sweet molasses glaze.

This is the 1997 Rykodisc re-issued remaster with three bonus tracks...

John Fahey - The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death (1965)

If you play guitar and love all forms of it being played, then John Fahey is like a revelation. I've been playing for about 12 years now and no amount of practice or performance will ever get me anywhere near Fahey's playing (and I consider myself an above-average guitarist).

Fahey's story is as quintessential an American story as they come: born in 1939 to a nice family in Washington, DC; moving to a suburb after the war; falling in love with both the guitar and record collecting; starts his own record label (Takoma Records) with money he saved working at a gas station; graduates from college (degrees in philosophy & religion); moves to California to attend UC-Berkeley in 1963 (leaves after a year) and get's his master's degree at UCLA in folklore studies (his thesis was on the music of Charley Patton). He also traveled to Memphis to record blues legend Bukka White and put out an album of his in the meantime, and would eventually go on to release albums by other great guitarists like Leo Kottke, Robbie Basho and a then unknown George Winston. He'd later expand the label and sign some rock acts, like Canned Heat and The Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Of course, since it's an American story the second act is the obligatory "where he loses it all" with a divorce, alcoholism, health problems and poverty; and of course the third act is one of redemption- working again with heavyweights in the experimental guitar scene like Jim O'Rourke, Derek Bailey, Sir Richard Bishop and pianist Cecil Taylor. Fahey died in 2002 from complications during a sextuple bypass open-heart surgery.

So enjoy an early album from the greatest folk-blues-primitive guitar legend of all-time...

Brian Eno - Ambient 1: Music For Airports (1978)

As great as Brian Eno's non-ambient albums are (the one he did with David Byrne can be downloaded here); I've always been intrigued with this one. It's got more feeling than any other record; just atmospheres, textures and landscapes of the mind- it's also one of the most demanding records I own because of what it asks of the listener.

Most music with words (or even guitars or saxophones or drums or etc.) pretty much tell you how to feel; or rather what the musician was feeling at the time of recording. Eno has stated that his intention with Music For Airports was to defuse the tenseness and anxiety of air travel by creating "sound installations" to be played on continuous loops in the terminal, and as to not be noticeable to the listener. A sort of non-invasive procedure, done musically.

Robert Wyatt helps out on the piano on two tracks; I hate to use the word "track" here because the four pieces are so seamless, it really should be taken as a whole. This is from the 1983 Working Backwards box set so the last track is four minutes longer than the CD or vinyl pressings.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

At The Drive-In - Relationship of Command (2000)

Standing at the intersection of post-hardcore and progressive rock is El Paso, Texas' At The Drive-In; my friend Conor turned me on to these guys well after they had broken up and went on to form The Mars Volta (guitarist Jim Ward would start Sparta). This is what Rush might have sounded like if they grew up on Minor Threat.

These guys were pretty ahead of the curve, a lot of bands tried to do this but failed miserably; by the time other bands figured out what they were doing they were already done with this and deep into 45-minute, eight-part prog rock suites.

So here's some of what Omar Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala were doing before they got really freaky with shit like De-Loused In The Comatorium and Frances The Mute...

Superchunk - Foolish (1994)

I went to a high school that had a radio station (in fact; the oldest high school radio station in the United States- there's even a Wikipedia page about it- Go WHHS!) and I signed up to take the class for my second semester of 10th grade; I've always had an un-natural attachment to music so I figured what better way to annoy hundreds (more like tens) of listeners with my music tastes? Back in those days (1992 to be exact) it was an actual credit class, now it's an extracurricular club run by the students (with a faculty advisor that doesn't have to do a whole lot). Anyway; you needed an actual FCC license to broadcast on the air ($35 back then was a lot of money) so I never got my license. But I was put on the air, and I got in a shitload of trouble.

The story goes: the teacher of the class was an on-air personality for the soft-rock radio station (I'm not going to name any names here) and she usually didn't come in until around 11:00 most days, she was the morning drive-time personality on that un-named station that operated near the Granite Run Mall. Anyway, the student director thought I was hilarious and wanted to give me ten minutes on the air. I went over to the racks of records, pulled two out (they were Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and a 7" single of Superchunk's Cool). I had been learning things like how to load the PSA cartridges (basically see-thru 8-track tapes that had various anti-drug messages or anti-suicide slogans and whatnot with typed-out labels on them), get proper distance from the microphone and enunciate my syllables, and segue from one track to the next- all that radio shit.

So I did my ten-minute bit, played Bring The Noise and Cool, talked in between, told jokes, did impressions of teachers I hated, etc. When I was done (much to our surprise) the faculty advisor was standing outside the on-air booth door with the most livid expression on her face. She went into a tirade about "losing our station license, illegal broadcasting, yadda yadda, whatever..." I was laughing pretty hard. I was sent to the principal's office, got a day of in-school suspension and had to drop the class.

This story has a happy ending, but you'll have to stay tuned to a later blog entry to get the rest. At any rate, this Superchunk record does not have the aforementioned song on it, but it's my favorite of theirs. I'll probably do a massive 'chunk post one of these days, they always epitomized what "indie rock" is all about, and will forever remind me of my first attempt at being a disc jockey...

Brand Nubian - In God We Trust (1993)

If you like the first Brand Nubian record, you'll probably hate this one. That one had party raps and fun jams, this one is serious; full of Nation of Islam imagery, Five-Percent ideology, Black empowerment and knowledge dropping left and right. If 1990's One For All was Grand Puba's coming out party (it had those "bitches and blunts" songs but was still politically charged and socially conscious), then consider this record Sadat X exerting his emerging influence over the group (Elijah Muhammad voice-overs, abrasive and anti-Semitic at times; anti-homosexual, anti-pork, anti-white, etc). Puba was more or less forced out of Brand Nubian before the recording of this album, so Lord Jamar would see more work on the mic, plus- he agreed with Sadat.

While Sadat X's protest jams can seem bloated and offensive, they serve as an important indicator to what was going on in the African-American community in the early-1990's. The Nation of Gods and Earths (also known as the Five Percenters) were an offshoot of the Nation of Islam, and seen as extreme and radical in its teachings (hence the anti- stance above on many issues). Many young black men sought refuge here from the negative things around them in the ghetto; and Brand Nubian considered themselves adherents to the teachings. Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Trenton's Poor Righteous Teachers and most notably the Wu-Tang Clan would also feature Five Percenter ideas in their music.

While I don't agree with some of the things that are said on this record, the views of Brand Nubian are taken as a history lesson (I consider myself both a fan of and an academic music appreciator) of what it was like in their part of the world almost 20 years ago. Controversy aside, the positive things on this album outweigh the negative, plus the music is so damn funky.

Jens Lekman - Oh You're So Silent Jens (2005)

Jens Lekman is the best thing to come out of Sweden since cheap, easy-to-assemble mode furniture. That's a pretty assured statement, considering the influx of talent coming from over there recently. But I'm able to say that with confidence because Jens channels the musical spirit of two of my favorite singers with souls full of melancholy; Morrissey & Stephen Merritt. You could call him the Swedish version of either one of those guys and you wouldn't be far off; even when Lekman's music is sunny and cheerful his lyrics are dark and rife with black humor.

Lekman got his records put out in the US by Secretly Canadian Records by writing them letters; he was on their mailing list and regularly ordered albums from them directly. He just happened to send some of his music on a CD-R one day, and ends up with a record deal. That's one of those stories that restores my faith in the record industry (it would take a tiny label from Bloomington, IN to do that for me; I wish you big major labels would pay attention to a business model like this).

Anyway; one of my favorite records of the decade- it's a compilation of all his 7" records, tour-only CD-R's and early singles.

Jens Lekman - Oh You're So Silent Jens (2005; Secretly Canadian Records)
56.7 mb, ripped at 128 kbps in Apple lossless .m4a format

Mandrill - Just Outside of Town (1973)

Funny story about this album; I used to have it. I used to have a lot more records actually, but during the "Big Move West '06" I realized that car/trunk space was insanely valuable, so a few hundred records didn't make it out here with me. Just one crate, I grabbed the best (and most salable) items and stuffed them between clothes and assorted memorabilia deemed "move worthy". My younger brother got the records.

The funny thing about this actual record, is that while I owned it, I never knew how it got into my possession. It was either a) my parents (extremely doubtful), b) a leftover item in a garage sale-binge (I used to be able to buy a whole box/crate back in the Philly suburbs at a yard sale for like $10) or c) it magically appeared in my collection (it didn't even have a jacket, just
the actual vinyl record slipped into that thin paper sleeve insert). Option b seems to be the most reliable choice.

First time I listened to it; however, there was no doubt in my mind that this was some of the funkiest stuff ever recorded by man. Sure, there's some ballads and whatnot, but mostly just pure funk/rock fusion going on here. I never got another copy of it (I've run into a few of the more recent re-issues at local record stores but I'm holding out for an original- I want to buy someone's history, like the history I passed on by passing this record on).

But I've learned my lesson; next time I move, every last record is coming with me...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Duke Ellington with Charles Mingus and Max Roach - Money Jungle (1962)

Instead of Charlie Mingus and Max Roach being at the beck-and-call of a then already legendary Duke Ellington; it's sort of the other way around, and you can hear that right off the bat with the opening (and title) track on this awesome collaboration album. Mingus and Roach both had tremendous egos, as they were the young, hot-shot composers/band leaders on the scene, just coming into their prime at the time of this recording. And nobody ever second-guessed the Duke, so for all three to put their egos aside and let creativity take over makes for an amazing listen right here.

Ellington has been primarily known for his swinging big band music, so for him to join up with two hard bop legends was certainly a stretch for him; he actually shows his chops, and he's really an under-rated pianist (he let Billy Strayhorn do most of the work for the 30 years they played together in his orchestra). Let's face it, as a ballad writer The Duke was unrivaled for decades, likewise with swing and that big band Cotton Club stuff; but as bebop and eventually hard bop would take over the jazz-scape, he was more or less pushed aside. This was his way of catching up with the pack, and it's a creative high point for the man.

I've already posted a Mingus album (1963's The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady) and I'll eventually get around to posting a Max Roach-Clifford Brown album in the near future, but for now, here's the 2002 re-mastered edition with alternate takes...

Mission Of Burma - Signals, Calls, And Marches (1981)

I mentioned a few posts ago what my favorite EPs of all-time were; well, here's my favorite "extended play" album, ever. Eight songs and 27-minutes of post-punk fury; not a single filler on here. Mission Of Burma exploded onto the Boston club scene in 1979, playing louder than anyone else (guitarist Roger Miller suffered from such extreme tinnitus that it led to the band's eventual hiatus, from 1983 until reforming in 2002).

In between "gigs" Miller and Martin Swope (tape manipulator/sound engineer) would go on to form Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic (I've uploaded their 1984 album Magnetic Flip here), while drummer Peter Prescott was busy with his Volcano Suns project and bassist Clint Conley would produce the first Yo La Tengo record, then get a master's degree in broadcast journalism and work as a TV producer at a local Boston station.

So, MoB version1.0 would feature one EP, one full-length (1982's Vs.) and a posthumous live album (1985's The Horrible Truth About Burma). Then almost 20 years pass by and they reform
(sans Swope), putting out three more records and in the process erasing any doubt that they still aren't able to totally rock.

So enjoy this classic EP from the finest American band to call it quits, then let two decades lapse before they plugged it back in...

Mission Of Burma - Signals, Calls, And Marches (1981; Ace Of Hearts Records)
23.7 mb, ripped at 128 kbps in Apple lossless .m4a format

The Genius of DJ Shadow...

I often wonder about DJ Shadow, and when he was working on Endtroducing...... if he knew it was going to get such critical acclaim, be such a landmark in the hip-hop genre? I mean, the album made the Guinness Book of World Records for fuck's sake (for being the first album constructed entirely of sampled material), has appeared on so many "Best Of" lists and has legitimized turntablism and sampling as true art forms- this might be the one album your mom could name (because of its inclusion on Time Magazine's 2006 Best Albums of All-Time list). Seriously...

So we've all read the hype and most of us have listened for ourselves- this one's for you fence-sitters (I'm trying to sway you over to our side), or you guys that haven't heard it yet (casual hip-hop fans: once you've heard this and you're still convinced that "hip-hop isn't real music...", please send me your address so I can mail you the back of my hand because you deserve a slap!) because I think the proof is in the pudding.

This took like two whole years to produce- I can only imagine the frustration (if you've ever messed around with or own an Akai MPC-60, you know what I'm talking about) trying to make this work, and as coherent and flowing as this record is; the fact remains that it's a record in the truest sense of the word- as in the record of an event: the event being a man, a turntable, 60,000+ records (it's been said this man's collection rivals most large music shops) and that old sampler coming together in perfect harmony.

I'm also including the album he did with Cut Chemist (formerly one-half of Jurassic 5's production team); 1999's Brainfreeze, another album made completely with samples from old soul, funk, jazz and rock 45's. They did it tag-team style, recorded in one take as a practice for a double DJ set they were scheduled to play live at the Future Primitive Soundsession in San Francisco.

The man is a genius, yo. Get hip to this shit, now!

Jorge Ben - A Tábua de Esmerelda (1974)

A lot of people will point you to Ben's 1976 record África Brasil as his ultimate musical statement to the world, and while that album is funky as all get-out; the soft and subtle tropical rhythms of A Tábua de Esmerelda are so sublime and relaxing, it's like swimming in a sea of piña coladas. From the backing vocal melodies to the swaying conga drums, bouncy basslines and strummy guitars; it's a summer album if there ever was one.

The styles explored on this album were born out of his Samba and Bossa Nova beginnings and his eventual leaning toward the Tropicália movement, and
while never becoming fully immersed in the cause (considered subversive in his native Brazil because of its opposition the the military coup of 1964, many adherents to the genre were imprisoned and sent into exile, including fellow countrymen Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil.) Ben was more subtle in his opposition, instead disguising his ire and scorn for the governmental dictatorship in humor, sarcasm and satire with esoteric subject matters. While his criticisms were sometimes thinly-veiled, he was expert at toeing the lines between outspokenness and saying things that could make him "disappear" in the middle of the night.

It's a shame that more artists from Brazil (a country of 190 million people) don't get the recognition they deserve in the United States- they're a country that's just as rich with
musical styles and cultural heritage as anywhere else on Earth. Anyway; download this wonderful record right now...

90 Day Men - Panda Park (2004)

I was introduced to 90 Day Men through one of their members (Robert Lowe performs solo as Lichens) as the opening act for Explosions In The Sky a few years ago. His drony, ambient textures were strange and dream-like, and I quickly found myself downloading his album The Psychic Nature Of Being, free from his label Kranky's website.

Anyhow; I was deeply intrigued by his other projects- so I picked up his main band's 2004 album Panda Park, a prog-psych-art rock mish-mash of a thing; maybe it's closer to math-rock or post-rock... actually; all genre pigeonholing fails this record terribly. It's really a great rock album, all classifications aside. At times the piano can sound like a baroque jam from Ludwig von, the guitars sound as if they were lifted off of Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans, the drumming wouldn't be out of place on a Don Caballero record.

Do yourself a favor (if you consider yourself a musical adventurer) and download this record right now!

Monday, June 7, 2010

R.E.M. - Chronic Town (1982)

This is the third-best EP of all-time, right after Mission Of Burma's Signals, Calls & Marches and Pavement's Watery, Domestic. Well, that's just my opinion- but hey, who's blog is this now?

That's right.

R.E.M. hails from Athens, Georgia- you probably already know all this. I'll skip the intros and niceties then.

I always thought this band could be split into two distinct halves, the first half (which runs from 1981's Radio Free Europe single up until around the mid-90's Monster/New Adventures in Hi-Fi albums) and the second half (the four albums since original drummer Bill Berry left the band). It's funny to trace their arc of trajectory; about an album a year until '94, then an album every 3 years or so. Michael Stipe could get away with the argument that everything he ever needed to say he said by Automatic For The People; the scope of their work could've concluded with that record and their legacy would remain forever unblemished by their more-or-less subpar work as of late.

Anyway; here's one of my favorite things they've ever done, an early snippet of the band they used to be, all jangly guitars and mumbled vocals...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Arnie Lawrence - Unobstructed Universe (1976)

I found this a few weeks ago on a blog I like to frequent (Prog Not Frog), and all I can say is that it's absolutely amazing. Funky-ass rhythms that melt away into some free jazz/space jam stuff and then back again- and that's just during the 30-minute title track.

I don't know a whole lot about this release except that it's listed under both Arnie Lawrence as leader and credited to Unobstructed Universe as the band. I read in an interview with Lawrence that it was his intention to call the band and record Unobstructed Universe but for contractual reasons it's listed under him. Go figure.

Either way, it's some funky ass fusion shit from the mid-1970's...

NME C86 - A Rough Trade Records Compilation (1986)

C86-style pop music has been making a bit of a resurgence as of late, all thanks to bands like The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart and The Raveonettes. Which is a good thing- because at some point fans of those bands will have to stumble upon this gem, (once) a cassette that I picked up at House Of Music (Manoa Shopping Center, Havertown, PA) sometime in the late '80s and (now) a digital file somewhere in the recesses of my hard drive. I wonder what the original tape would be worth if I still had it? (I just did an eBay search, couldn't find this actual cassette but some of its contemporaries; going for anywhere from $1.50 to $8.00; which sadly, isn't as much as I thought...)

Anyway, if you're a fan of fuzzed out and jangly twee indie pop, here's where it started- the following bands owe as much a debt to both The Jesus & Mary Chain and The Smiths for their impetus as the two bands I mentioned above owe to the entire movement in general...

1. Primal Scream - Velocity Girl
2. The Mighty Lemon Drops - Happy Head
3. The Soup Dragons - Pleasantly Surprised

4. The Wolfhounds - Feeling So Strange Again

5. The Bodines - Therese

6. Mighty Mighty - Law

7. Stump - Buffalo

8. Bogshed - Run to the Temple

9. A Witness - Sharpened Sticks

10. The Pastels - Breaking Lines

11. Age of Chance - From Now On, This Will Be Your God

12. The Shop Assistants - It's Up to You

13. Close Lobsters - Firestation Towers

14. Miaow - Sport Most Royal

15. Half Man Half Biscuit - I Hate Nerys Hughes (From The Heart)

16. The Servants - Transparent

17. The Mackenzies - Big Jim (There's no pubs in Heaven)

18. Big Flame - New Way (Quick Wash And Brush Up With Liberation Theology)

19. Fuzzbox - Console Me

20. McCarthy - Celestial City

11. The Shrubs - Bullfighter's Bones

22. The Wedding Present - This Boy Can Wait