Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cap'n Jazz - Analphabetapolothology (1998)

I don't know if there's another band from the 90s that has spawned more imitators and at the same time gone so un-noticed; maybe because the imitators they spawned got it all wrong, or did it "cleaner", or were less about having fun and more into whiny self-involvement (you know who I'm talking about), but Cap'n Jazz were definitely one of the most original bands of the early-90s Midwest emo scene, probably because they took a medium that was used mainly for heartfelt self-expression and had a shitload of fun with it.

The brothers Kinsella (Tim & Mike; vocals and drums respectively) along with bass player Sam Zurick and guitarists Victor Villareal and Davey Von Bohlen laid the blueprint for what was to come (basically any "emo" band that can't be tidily described as some form of "hardcore") and all the bands that grew out of their eventual demise; The Promise Ring, Joan of Arc, American Football, Ghosts and Vodka, etc. Here's their 1998 compilation from Jade Tree Records, which basically culls all their tracks ever (except for one song; Naive) so you can trace the arc of their career from early 7-inches to a fully realized, tightly coiled pile of post-emo indie punk rock.

So if you grew up listening to all that early-millennium whiny screamy shit, here's where a lot of it started; except this band was a joyful, shrieking catharsis of sloppy precision...

Buddy Miles Express - Expressway to Your Skull (1968)

I've always held fast to my opinion that Jimi Hendrix's work with drummer Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Cox was far superior to that he did with the Experience; it's a funkier, more soulful incarnation of Jimi's music and it came along at a time when people were more or less doubting (or challenging) Hendrix's "blackness".

So Buddy's drumming gave everything a funkier, dancier swing (fresh off his work with blues rock band The Electric Flag) and Jimi's Band of Gypsys was born. In between being a sideman for Mike Bloomfield's project and Jimi's new thing, he had his own thing, the Buddy Miles Express, with Jim McCarty on guitar and Billy Rich on bass. This is a pretty cool album as far as being a period piece; not every song is a knock-out (the cover of Sam & Dave's Wrap it Up is actually kind of flat) but it's interesting to see on record how one of the first albums to attempt to blend hard rock with funk & soul works out- this basically presaged the whole Funkadelic movement; helping to spawn funk rock.

Anyway, give it a go; you shan't be disappointed (too much)...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Minus the Bear - Highly Refined Pirates (2002)

If you like catchy, guitar-based indie rock that borrows from both prog and math rock, then Minus the Bear's Highly Refined Pirates is the record for you. I'd say this is their masterpiece, it has an urgency missing from the follow-up, the more polished Menos El Oso. Maybe it's a component piece to that record, this is the happy mask next to the sad one; either way I'll take this one for overall hummability and pure enjoyment. It's still tight as all get-out, please don't misunderstand my previous assertion that urgency doesn't equal polish- it's been finely ProTooled for your listening pleasure, without jettisoning the warmth (I've always thought over-produced music felt a little cold).

Made up of former members of such bands as the seminal Botch (Dave Knudson, guitar); Kill Sadie & These Arms Are Snakes (Erin Tate, drums) and Sharks Keep Moving (Jake Snider, lead singer and guitar), the current members of Minus the Bear read like a
Pacific Northwest all-star team in the mathcore/noise/post-hardcore scene; also with Cory Murchy on bass and electronics-tweaker Alex Rose rounding the band out. Matt Bayles left the band in '06 to focus on his career as a producer; you may be familiar with some of his work: Mastodon's Remission, Leviathan & Blood Mountain; Isis' Celestial, Oceanic, Panopticon & In The Absence of Truth; Russian Circles' Station; The Sword's Warp Riders; and some engineering work for some band called Pearl Jam (oh, and Queensrÿche. Remember them?)

So here's another one of my favorite records from this past decade...

Faith / Void - Split LP (1982)

Faith was signed to Dischord Records from 1981-83, not solely because lead singer Alec is Ian MacKaye's younger brother; but because they played a rawer, dirtier (dare I say more urgent?) version of Minor Threat's brand of hardcore punk. They released two EPs (a 1981 self-titled cassette-only release and a 12-inch vinyl from '83 called Subject To Change) and then they were gone. The various members would go on to play in several seminal hardcore bands through the next decades, but this Split LP with Void was their shining moment.

Side 2 belongs to Void, with their more metal-based approach- at times it's terrifying, with all the rage of eventual thrash mavens Metallica and Slayer, barely preempting their two debut records by less than a year. It's ultimately the more rewarding of the two sides; what Faith lacks in chops Void makes up for with sheer moxie. Their career left behind even less music; a posthumous EP called Condensed Flesh and a demo called Hit & Run, because that's literally what they did.

If you're in the mood for some early-80s hardcore, here's your download...

Silver Apples - Silver Apples (1968)

New York City's Silver Apples were way ahead of their time. I've said this about a ton of bands (especially here in print) but these guys were doing what Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Cluster were doing five years later and they were considered groundbreaking. Think about that.

They only released two albums before calling it quits; and here is their 1968 self-titled debut- heralded as an electronic breakthrough, with lead Apple Simeon Coxe's hand-built oscillating synthesizer (the eponymously named Simeon, with its 9 oscillators and 86 knobs) as the main instrument and Danny Taylor's polyrhythmic, tight-as-a-tick drumming, the Silver Apples created some of the most interesting electronic-based experimental psychedelic pop music at the same time The Beatles were making The White Album and The Velvet Underground were making their third record. Think about that.

Think about a lot of things, but think mostly about clicking the link under the album cover...

Refused - The Shape of Punk to Come (1998)

It's been brought to my attention that punk, and especially hardcore (and post-hardcore for that matter) have been sorely under-represented in this here blog. Let me remedy that malfeasance by posting one of my favorite punk (or post-hardcore, whatever) records of all-time, Sweden's Refused and their landmark 1998 album The Shape of Punk to Come. This album took such a toll on the band that they had to break up immediately following the completion of recording. Good thing they didn't hang around in the aftermath of this record, they not only set fire to but destroyed preconceptions of how punk was supposed to sound; they basically turned the world on its fucking ear.

Blending as many styles as they could here, it runs the gamut from straight ahead chunky rock riffage to shrapnel-laced blast punk to artier noise stuff to screamo and back again; it seeks to confound ears- every time I think I know what I'm listening to, it changes from one to the other. If it's not a focused arpeggio centered around minor chords then it's screechy string rakes and harmonic Eddie Van Halen-esque tapping sections, and then jumps on to these over-the-top bombastic drumming passages, all the while knob-twiddling galore behind the studio glass (acting as an instrument in and of themselves). I'm out of clichés and adjectives after this paragraph.

Anyway, this is meant to be listened to loud. Turn this shit up, kiddies.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fujiya & Miyagi - Transparent Things (2006)

I've been on a serious Krautrock kick lately; I'm not talking Can, Dzyan, Neu!, Amon Düül II, Embryo, et al. (those are always in constant rotation) but the bastard sons of Kosmiche Musik- stuff like Brighton, UK's Fujiya & Miyagi and their 2006 record Transparent Things. It's got a ton of Kraut-infected reference points on here, from the motorik drum beat (Klaus Dinger's most celebrated drum pattern found a home on half these tracks!) to the spacey electro atmospherics and dancey vibes all about.

I'm interested in the synthesis of influence- recent bands making homages to
the first wave; like Stereolab, LCD Soundsystem and Super Furry Animals all have the Kosmiche spirit sprinkled around their music, but here Fujiya & Miyagi celebrate it like it's the only style of progressive rock to make it alive out of the 70s.

Which isn't a bad thing at all...

Paavoharju - Yhä Hämärää (2005)

Take two brothers (Lauri & Olli Ainala); insert them into a born-again Christian commune in the Finnish town of Savonlinna with a bunch of instruments and recording equipment, add generous portions of lo-fi ambient psych-folk and dream pop and that's basically Paavoharju in the most reductive of ways. They're so much more than all of that, they defy any genre pigeonholing by employing an extensive use of electronics (to add a perfect balance between acoustic guitars and ethereal-sounding vocals) it's much easier to just call it "experimental".

Yhä Hämärää
loosely translated means "still murky"; as all the song titles revolve around a similar theme (or a poem of sorts): "forever to the world / light oozing through everything / moon consoles concern / depth / gust / air flows / morning sun feels / pure white / I traveled far / it is still murky / black street..."

Yes, I ran all the song titles through Google Translate.

Anyway, this is one of my favorite releases of the last ten years; a real hidden gem full of murky, dense, layered atmospheric folktronica jams from the land of reindeer and cheesy symphonic death metal. Enjoy!

Flower Travellin' Band - Satori (1971)

Heavy psych from Japanese stoners; think Sabbath and Zeppelin channeled through extensive LSD trips, Eastern philosophy and Asian technical superiority- this is the essence of Flower Travellin' Band's 1971 classic Satori (the Japanese Buddhist term for "understanding"). Yeah, I understand that this fucking rocks- it acts as both an homage and an encouragement to American-slash-British hard rock, pushing the envelope a little further than Grand Funk, Deep Purple or Blue Cheer could've hoped to.

Lead guitarist Hideki Ishima may also be one of the most under-rated axe men of all-time; he shreds. Balancing the precarious tightrope between psychedelia, prog and metal; he weaves lines in and out of Joe Yamanaka's harmonica runs, all over Jun Kozuki's outstanding, plodding bass lines and George Wada's tight drumming.

I can't believe I didn't discover this record earlier in life; it's filled a void I didn't even know existed. Do yourself a huge favor; Oh, musical adventurer!- download this shit right now!!!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Esquivel - Other Worlds, Other Sounds (1958)

Juan Garcia Esquivel was the King of Space Age Pop, that quirky brand of late 50's-early 60's bachelor pad music that was meant to be played at cocktail parties; basically- lounge music with elements of jazz and a Latin flair designed to get you laid.

When this album came out in 1958, it blew minds- even listening to it in now in stereo I'm amazed at how well Esquivel played the knobs in the studio, how voices, trumpet blasts, guitar bends, vibraphone runs, etc. all are bounced around back and forth between my various speakers (I'm listening on four). I read somewhere that listening to this in mono would be like looking at the Mona Lisa in black and white.

Other Worlds, Other Sounds opened up a whole new world of what can be done with stereophonic sound, as well as opened up a whole new set of listener's ears when Exotica (or Space Age Pop) underwent a renaissance in the early 90s.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Aesop Rock - Labor Days (2001)

This is kind of a no-brainer for today. Aesop Rock was working as a waiter during the writing and recording of this, so at times it's a bitter record; there's themes of disillusionment, regret, anger- but there's also the light at the end of the tunnel, which is the solution to all these negatives. What do we do to give our lives meaning? We find the work that satisfies us, fulfills us, helps us to transcend all the bullshit of daily life.

It's a concept album based on what it's like for us day-to-day working stiffs- existentially speaking we're just these bodies that get up every morning, drag our asses to our jobs, punch a clock, fulfill certain duties, eat, shit, go home and do it all over again. Ultimately, our jobs begin to define us; construction worker, pre-school teacher, karate instructor, CEO of a Fortune 500 company, etc. How do I want to be defined? By my job title itself or the lives I touch through my work?

So, happy Labor Day, folks. I hope you love your job as much as I do, and I hope you can find a life full of meaning through it...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Jazz Composer's Orchestra - The Jazz Composer's Orchestra (1968)

This might be one of the great unknown jazz records (even to free jazz aficionados), the mere mention of it to record store clerks has brought me such mixed reactions from the raised eyebrows and "you know about this?" to confused bewilderment to downright derision. Just by the names on the cover you can see how awesome this line-up is, but there's so many more musicians on this they'd have to had a triple-LP sleeve to fit them all.

Carla Bley. Ron Carter. Andrew Cyrille. Richard Davis. Steve Swallow. Alan Silva. Randy Brecker. Charlie Haden. Reggie Workman. John Tchicai. Ed Blackwell. It reads like a who's who of late-1960s avant jazz musicians, all led by producer Michael Mantler; written specifically with Cecil Taylor in mind. Broken into two suites, loosely titled Communication, with #s 8, 9 and 10 making up suite one and the two-part #11 finishing the piece (there's a short track featuring Pharoah Sanders in between) it's really one of the unheralded music happenings within the free jazz movement.

So do yourself a favor, get on this now.

The Jazz Composer's Orchestra - The Jazz Composer's Orchestra (1968; JCOA Records)

170 mb, ripped at 320 kbps