Saturday, March 01, 2014

Music Library: The Velvet Underground plus Notes On The Third Album

The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) and The Velvet Underground & Nico 45th Anniversary Edition (1966-67). I picked this up with the Verve reissues in 1987 because of Kurt Loder praising it on MTV. I'd also read about them in the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, which quoted the familiar line about how only 5,000 people bought this album when it came out and they all went on to form influential bands. And my mind ripped open. There was so many types of music! But they all were served up in a drone-y faux-primitive style. The songs were perfect. The Super Deluxe 45th Anniversary Edition has versions of the album in stereo and again in mono, then a copy of Nico's Chelsea Girls, which the album rightfully claims is pretty much a VU album, then a bunch of demos, then a cleaned-up copy of the 1967 Valleydale Ballroom show from Columbus OH, which is also a part of the Caught Between The Twisted Stars four-disc bootleg set, reviewed below. You already know if this is something you must have. I'm sure everyone reading this has heard "I'll Be Your Mirror," but there's never a bad reason to listen to it again. Even the most emotionally direct country song can't light a candle to this: "I find it hard to believe you don't know the beauty you are/but if you don't, let me be your eyes/a hand to your darkness/so you won't be afraid." I mean, dammit, that's gorgeous.

White Light/White Heat (1968), White Light/White Heat Super Deluxe (1967-68), and Live At The Gymnasium, NYC (bootleg, 1967). Just as legendary as the first one, WL/WH is a blast of noise that takes the screech of "European Son" and amps it up. Or, at least, part of it is. The opening song is really more of a boogie song built on John Cale's piano rolls. "The Gift" is a fusion of the instrumental track "The Booker T," which is a grungy take on Memphis soul, with Cale's chilly-comic tale of poor Waldo Jeffers. "Lady Godiva's Operation" is not too different from the two-chord drone-art of "Venus In Furs." "Here She Comes Now" is utterly gorgeous, showing the way to the dreamy third album. Then side two, with the frenetic and loud "I Heard Her Call My Name" and the furious 17-minute bashathon "Sister Ray," is where WL/WH gets its reputation. The Super Deluxe version adds both stereo and mono mixes of the album, a bunch of single mixes and outtakes, most of which appear elsewhere, and a cleaned-up version of the 1967 Live At The Gymnasium bootleg. It's a killer bootleg, and the cleaner version well worth the price.

The Velvet Underground (Valentin Mix) (1969), The Velvet Underground (Closet Mix) (1969), and La Cave 1968: Designs In Urban Living (bootleg, 1968). The two mixes of the VU's third album are significantly different in places. In fact, I've worked up a long blog post about them, which I'll append below instead of leaving a separate piece. While all four of the VU's proper albums are essential, this is my favorite. It's not perfect - I mean, after about a million listens, "The Murder Mystery" gets on my nerves a bit now - but that may be why I love it more. I assume that whenever they make the Super Deluxe version of this one, the La Cave bootleg, which is pretty good and features early versions of these songs, will be included. See below for lots of videos.

Bootleg Series Vol. 1: The Quine Tapes (recorded 1969), The Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes (bootleg, 1969), "Sweet Sister Ray" (bootleg, 1969), 1969: Live With Lou Reed, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (1969, natch). The Quine Tapes consist of three concerts recorded by superfan Bob Quine, who was also one of the greatest rock guitarists ever. Excellent all around, capturing the VU's less arty and more rocking live show. The Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes is a bootleg that sounds like it was recorded from the inside of Lou Reed's amp with the rest of the band much diminished in the background. It's interesting, but falls flat over the course of the album. "Sweet Sister Ray" from a bootleg called The Wild Side Of The Street is a recording of the long jam that the VU would use to warm up for "Sister Ray." The Live With Lou Reed albums are from shows in Dallas and San Francisco, and they're cooking.

Loaded (1970), Loaded: Fully Loaded Edition (1970), and Live At Max's Kansas City (1970). Loaded with hits, in Lou Reed's words, but still unable to find a mass audience, the VU's last proper album gets short shrift from some fans, but I think it's fantastic. The Fully Loaded Edition adds a bunch of outtakes, demos, and alternative mixes, many of which appear elsewhere. Max's Kansas City is a great live show from the period.

Peel Slowly And See (1965-70). This five-disc box set came out in the 90s and included all the album (with the Closet Mix of The Velvet Underground) and a bunch of demos and outtakes from all the way back to a very early practice tape of Lou and John with their first drummer Angus MacLise. Many of the outtakes were from VU and Another View, and few of the other tracks don't appear elsewhere. When I bought it back in the 90s, I had all four of the album on vinyl but no digital copies, so this helped out, but I can't see any reason to own it if you already have the other stuff. The early recordings are interesting to hear once, but that's about it.

Squeeze (1973). Ugh. This is the rightly-reviled rock album made by Doug Yule and three other people after Lou left the group. Anyone trying to tell you this is good is a contrarian who is trolling you and you should feel free to ignore that person thereafter. Consider:

VU (1985) and Another View (1986). VU consists of a bunch of tracks that might have been the follow-up to WL/WH. Even though it's more garage-y than their eventual third album, it is freakin' excellent. Another View is a bunch of other demos and outtakes that's pretty rough outside of "Hey Mr. Rain" and the extraordinary "Ride Into The Sun."

Caught Between The Twisted Stars (bootlegs, 1966-91). This is an odd four-disc bootleg box set that unfortunately mixes up recordings for no clear reason. Disc one is mostly the Valleydale Ballroom show, but the final "Nothing Song" is too long, and is moved to the start of disc two, while the rest of the tracks are a grab-bag of bootleg tracks from many different sources, such as La Cave and The Gymnasium, plus--oddly--a few from the ill-fated 1993 VU reunion tour. Then there's a couple of remixes and "A Short-Lived Torture Of Cacophony," which is "Melody Laughter" backwards. Weirdly chosen.


Notes On The Velvet Underground:

I bought a vinyl copy of the 80s Verve re-release with the mix by engineer Val Valentin mix when it came out, and this was the version that I became intimately familiar with as a teenager. Then I bought the VU's Peel Slowly & See box back in the mid-90s, which came with the so-called "closet mix" by Lou Reed himself, so named because Sterling Morrison quipped that it sounded as if it had been recorded in a closet. Since I had a digital copy of that, it was only recently that I got around to picking up a digital version of the Valentin mix.

This is a track-by-track comparison. I knew going in that each has a completely different version of "Some Kinda Love," and that "What Goes On" had vastly different mixes. I didn't appreciate that every song except "That's The Story Of My Life" has different mixes that subtly (or not-so-subtly) affect the listening experience.

"Candy Says": Each version has a vastly different drum mix, not to mention that the tonality of the guitars is also different. The closet mix uses brighter, more trebly filters on the whole track, so the snare snaps more in the left ear, giving the song more movement, and while both guitars are louder and clearer on the closet mix, this is especially true for Sterling's guitar on the left, which is quiet enough to be barely distinct through parts of the song on the Valentin mix. The backing vocals are also louder. The Valentin mix, though, rides more on the bass and, by muting the snare, gives the tap-tap-tap of the high hat more emphasis, which is also appealing.

This is the closet mix. I can't find a copy of the Valentin mix on youtube.

"What Goes On," of course, is all about the organ. The Valentin mix pushes it and Lou's guitar into the red and rocks significantly harder. The closet mix has the organ much quieter and Lou's stellar rhythm guitar with a less-trebly filter. However, the drums on the closet mix sound great, maybe the best that Mo ever sounded. Notice the snare in your left ear in the closet mix below.

Here's the Valentin mix for comparison:

"Some Kinda Love," as I mentioned, has two different versions of the song. The Valentin version has a great performance from the whole band, but Lou's vocal performance is maybe a little too cool. The closet mix has only one guitar rather than the killer interlock of the Valentin version and Mo's drums are about as minimalist as possible (hitting on each beat of the 4/4 with a bass drum and woodblock and that's it), but Lou's vocal may be a career best. Here's the Valentin mix version:

And here's the closet mix version:

"Pale Blue Eyes": The closet mix again turns the treble up. Mo's playing a tambourine that is brighter and mixed all to the left in the closet mix, making it more snare-like. The Valentin mix has her darker and in the center, which gives the song more propulsion. In the closet mix, Lou's guitar is almost inaudible, as is the organ. This pushes Sterling's guitar part - one of my all-time favorites - further out front, which is a lovely effect. The more muddled Valentin mix has a better band sound, though.

This is the closet mix:

And this is the Valentin mix:

"Jesus" has the bass much louder in the Valentin mix. Sterling's guitar (the one with the high part) is quieter in that mix, though, and Lou's acoustic guitar pushes the song along. In the closet mix, Lou and Doug's vocals switch sides, and Doug's vocals are much louder in the closet mix, which sort of dampens how shockingly well Lou sings this song. No, I take that back. Lou's performance is a different in each take. His voice cracks more in the closet mix, and he goes falsetto more often in the Valentin mix.

Here's the Valentin mix:

And I think this is the closet mix:

"Beginning To See The Light" switches the pan on the guitars for some reason and does the familiar treble filter. On the Valentin mix, the acoustic rhythm guitar is on the right and the electric is on the left, but the closet mix reverses them and cranks the electric. I could be convinced that the closet mix is a completely different take on the electric because the bassiness and thicker tone on the Valentin mix suggest humbuckers or P-90s while the closet mix sounds thinner and more pointed like a Strat. Both guitars are quite loud in the Valentin mix. The closet mix pans the drums all the way to the left, making it sound less like a conventional rock song. I could be convinced that Lou's vocal is different on each, too. There's little subtle differences that might be my mind playing tricks on me at this point.

Here's the Valentin mix, but I can't find the closet mix on youtube, unfortunately:

"I'm Set Free": GodDAMN, what a song. The Valentin mix has drums and Lou's vocal in the center and both guitars panned all the way out on either side. The closet mix turns up Sterling's guitar a lot on the right and moves Lou's rhythm to the center, but turns it down a lot. Mo's drums are panned a little left, but she's almost inaudible until about a third into the song. Both vocals are louder in the closet mix. The solo is treated differently in both. In the Valentin mix, the solo is a little muddier with medium-dark reverb. In the closet mix, it's pushed up in the mix, brightened considerably, and the reverb is different - more small-room than dark-ampitheater. Both versions are absolutely fucking brilliant.

Unfortunately, again the only one on youtube is the Valentin mix:

"Story" is the same in both.

"The Murder Mystery" is different only in that the Valentin mix pushes the drums and rhythm guitar and dampens the vocals. There may be other differences, but I have a maximum of two listens per day on that song.

I think this is Valentin. They're very close:

"After Hours" puts a little more reverb on Mo's voice and turns the bass down a lot while panning it to the center. It's very loud and distinct (in the left ear) in the Valentin mix and so quiet in the closet mix that I thought it was a bass drum through most of the song. The closet mix also puts those neat deep reverb echoes on Mo's voice when the song rests, while the Valentin mix has a short repeat reverb instead.

Valentin mix:

Closet mix:

Monday, February 24, 2014

Music Library: Valery Gergiev, Vampire Weekend, Van Dyke Parks, Van Halen, Van Morrison, Vaselines, Vashti Bunyan, Velvet Crush

Valery Gergiev - Stravinsky: The Rites Of Spring (2001) and Mahler: Symphony No. 1 (2008). Two excellent orchestral pieces conducted by Gergiev.

Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend (2007). There are worse bands to emulate than the Talking Heads.

Van Dyke Parks - Song Cycle (1968). I wish I liked this album more than I do, because it has a lot going for it, and yet I find it amazingly dull. As much as I love the Beach Boys' SMiLE, I feel I ought to love this. But nope.

Van Halen - Van Halen (1978), Van Halen II (1979), Women And Children First (1980), and 1984 (1984). Such delicious cheese. It's practically bubblegum.

Van Morrison - Bang Masters (recorded 1967), Astral Weeks (1968), His Band And The Street Choir (1970), Moondance (1970), Saint Dominic's Preview (1972), Veedon Fleece (1974), and The Best Of Van Morrison (compilation, 1964-89). Once upon a time I loved Mr. Morrison's too-sophisticated-for-rock-but-I-love-soul thing more than I do now. I mean, I still like Astral Weeks a lot, and I love his garage-y stuff with Them, but most of these albums are only so-so for me.

The Vaselines - The Way Of The Vaselines: A Complete History (1987-92) and Enter The Vaselines (also 1987-92). Lovely, foul-mouthed pop-folk-rock music. The latter is an expanded version of the former.

Vashti Bunyan - Just Another Diamond Day (1970) and Lookaftering (2005). Fairylike Brit-folk princess who recorded the ethereal, barely there, brilliant album Diamond Day with Joe Boyd and then more or less disappeared from the music scene for 30-odd years.

Velvet Crush - Teenage Symphonies To God (1994). One of the greatest power-pop bands crank up the hooks and earn the title of this record from Brian Wilson.

Sorry so terse. I'm behind and anxious to move this along.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Music Library: U-Roy, U2, Uncle Tupelo, Unicorns, The United States Of America, Universal Congress Of, Universal Life And Accident

U-Roy - Rock With I (compilation, 1972-76). U-Roy was one of the originators of toasting, the style of monotone chanting over a reggae beat that was one of the roots of hip-hop, and these are some of his 1970s tracks.

U2 - Boy (1980), October (1981), War (1983), The Unforgettable Fire (1984), The Joshua Tree (1987). Beloved by some, but not by me. I didn't delete these out of some memory of discovering them when I was in 7th or 8th grade.

Uncle Tupelo - "Pickle River (Demo)," No Depression (1990), Still Feel Gone (1991), March 16-20, 1992, Munich Nachtwerk 12/2/92, Anodyne (1993), "Effigy," The Long Cut + Five Live (1994), Mississippi Nights St. Louis MO 5/1/94. I fell hard for this band in the early 90s, then dragged my friends to Wilco and Son Volt shows before either had released an album. No Depression seems pretty unsteady now, and Still Feel Gone is trying too hard to be a synthesis of the Minutemen and country music. The acoustic March 16-20, 1992 hits just right, though, and Anodyne sounds like the work of a band who found balance. Munich and St. Louis are bootlegs, but neither is all that dynamic. Their cover of CCR's "Effigy" from the No Alternative comp is freakin' excellent. The Long Cut + Five Live is, as advertised, a single from Anodyne with five live tracks at the end.

The Unicorns - Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? (1993). Silly and fun indie rock from Canada.

The United States Of America - The United States Of America (1968). This was a psychedelic electronic band from the late 60s. They're sort of what I wish Van Dyke Parks were more like.

Universal Congress Of - Universal Congress Of (1987), Prosperous And Qualified (1988), and This Is Mecolodics EP (1988). UCO was a free/fake jazz outfit led by Joe Baiza, formerly of Saccharine Trust, that tried to blend skronk jazz with punk/hardcore rhythms.  Good stuff.

Universal Life And Accident - Centrifugado (1998). The great Che Arthur and Adam Reach, current of Pink Avalanche, were the creative force behind this excellent punk/metal-ish band. Unfortunately, I can't find any clips online. Worth searching out.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Music Library: True Wheel, Trypes, Tuff Darts, Turing Machine, Ike Turner, TV on the Radio, Twangbangers, Twilight Sad, Two Dollar Pistols, Tyvek

True Wheel - True Wheel (1997). Yet another Feelies side project! Sort of! True Wheel features Glenn Mercer on lead guitar and Dave Weckerman on drums (I think), but the guiding force behind this band is a completely different singer/songwriter. Having two Feelies involved does give the songs a Feeliesesque feel, though.

The Trypes - The Explorer's Hold EP (1984) and Music For Neighbors (compilation, 1984-2012). And again with the Feelies side projects! This one was more of a gentle collective than a band, with all of the Feelies slowly joining over time. The Explorer's Hold, which appears in its entirety on Music For Neighbors, includes an early version of "The Undertow," which would eventually pop back up on the third Feelies album, Only Life. Pretty great stuff.

Tuff Darts - Tuff Darts! (1978). These guys are a full also-ran 1970s CBGBs punk band with a pronounced glam/pop side. Although they never made waves like their contemporaries, they deserved to be better known.

Turing Machine - A New Machine For Living (2000). Fantastic krautrocky math-rock band well worth searching out. Not unlike a heavier Polvo.

Ike Turner - Rhythm Rockin' Blues (compilation, 1951-56). Well before he was a druggy guy who beat up his wife, Ike Turner was busy inventing rock and roll. This compilation collects his early singles leading up to "Rocket 88," which is the track where critical consensus holds that rock and roll diverged from the blues as a separate genre of music.

TV on the Radio - OK Calculator (2002), Young Liars EP (2003), Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes (2004), Return To Cookie Mountain (2006), Dear Science (2008), Nine Types of Light (2011). The universal critical acclaim for this band means that I do not really have to try to drum up anything to say about them. OK Calculator, an indie release from when the band had only two members, just sounds like so much screwing around. Young Liars, with the addition of Kyp Malone, ups the ante with some excellent group singing. Desperate Youth brings in more electronic sounds, but Cookie Mountain is where the band hits a peak. The songs and production are all firing together and the album is essential. Dear Science, which took a while to grow on me, manages to improve on the near-perfection of Cookie Mountain. Nine Types Of Light, though, seems a little lackluster.

The Twangbangers - 26 Days On The Road (2002). Bill Kirchen, Redd Volkaert, Dallas Wayne, and some other guys run through a lot of lightning fast rockabilly and country. Volkaert is, of course, the greatest guitarist in Austin and Kirchen was the hotshit guitarist for Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, so there's a lot of impressive guit-fiddling on this album.

The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters (2007). Indie rock that's both mopey and poppy, the way the lord* intended.

* Lord Morrissey, in this case.

The Two Dollar Pistols - On Down The Track (1997) and The Two Dollar Pistols With Tift Merritt (2000). Honky-tonk from North Carolina led by the incomparable John Howie. The EP with Tift Merritt is the first release with the Starbucks chanteuse on it.

Tyvek - Fast Metabolism (2007). Fast, fun, Wire-ish punk from Detroit.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Music Library: Allen Toussaint, Townes Van Zandt, Toy Love, Tracy Jordan, Trailer Bride, Trans Am, Treepeople, Trees, Trembles, Tribe Called Quest, Trip Shakespeare, Trouble Down South

Allen Toussaint - Life, Love and Faith (1972). Toussaint is a New Orleans-based force of nature, well known for his production and performance chops. This album is a pretty great slice of unmistakably New Orleans-style 1970s funk, anchored by the excellent "On Your Way Down."

Townes Van Zandt - Our Mother The Mountain (1969), Townes Van Zandt (1969), Delta Momma Blues (1971), High, Low and In Between (1972), The Late Great Townes Van Zandt (1972), Live At The Old Quarter, Houston TX (1973), Flyin' Shoes (1978), Rear View Mirror (1979), Road Songs (1993), No Deeper Blue (1994), Anthology: 1968-1979. He was a depressed rich kid from Texas who drank himself to death in his early 50s, and he was one of the greatest American songwriters who have ever lived. Some poetry, like a good joke, is meant to crack like a whip at the end, and Townes Van Zandt wrote songs that cracked more than most jokes or poems. His first album, For The Sake Of The Song, is weighed down by shitty production. Skip it. Pretty much every song appears in better form on a later album. The next two, Our Mother The Mountain and Townes Van Zandt, strip things back, and stripped-back almost always works best for a Texan. "Tecumseh Valley," about the short and sad life of a mountain girl, may be the best song on these two in the long run, but the latter's "Waiting Around To Die," reportedly one of Van Zandt's first written songs, is utterly devastating.

Delta Momma Blues is also wonderful, but it pales next to 1972's High, Low And In Between and The Late, Great Townes Van Zandt, both of which are so ridiculously full of great songs, it's a wonder that Van Zandt's head didn't explode from all the creativity. Each features one of his two best songs: "To Live Is To Fly" from HLAIB and the ubiquitous and yet still-powerful "Pancho and Lefty" from TLGTVZ.

Live At The Old Quarter is pretty much everything you could ask from a live album: a stage patter full of warm jokes, performances as taut as if the singer's life depended on them, good sound, and no pander. Van Zandt wasn't yet 30 when it was recorded in 1973. And there's nowhere to go from there but down. Flyin' Shoes is overproduced, but the songs still crackle with life even if they don't have as much whipcrack as his 1972 albums. Rear View Mirror captures some lovely live performances from the late 1970s. Road Songs collects live performances of other people's songs, including the devastating "Dead Flowers" that later cropped up on The Big Lebowski soundtrack. No Deeper Blue was the last studio album released in Van Zandt's life, and it's overwhelmingly sad. The production is way too intrusive, his voice is shot, and the songs sound like the work of a man ready to die. The Anthology was an early purchase that's unnecessary if you have the run of albums from 1969-73. Highly recommended: the documentary Be Here To Love Me.

Toy Love - Cuts (compilation, recorded 1972-80). Before they were influencing the Elephant Six bands as the Tall Dwarfs, Chris Knox and Alex Bathgate were in a delightful poppy punk band called Toy Love. This album collects all of their tracks.

Tracy Jordan - Werewolf Bar Mitzvah (2007). Yeah, it's a 30 Rock joke, and I've attributed it to a fictional character.

Trailer Bride - Trailer Bride (1997), High Seas (2001), Hope Is A Thing With Feathers (2003). These are the first, fourth, and fifth albums by Trailer Bride, a Southern gothic alt-country band led by Melissa Swingle. They are all pretty great, but the first one has a special place in my heart, as I saw one of TB's first shows at the Cave in Chapel Hill (they were a three-piece at the time) and this appeared not long thereafter. Unfortunately, I can't find any clips from that album, but this is a pretty cranking song from High Seas.

Trans Am - Futureworld (1999). These guys loved Kraftwerk and irony and punk rock (paging James Murphy) and if you do, too, you will really like this album.

Treepeople - Something Vicious For Tomorrow/Time Whore (1990-1992) and Just Kidding (1993). This is the Idaho guitar-noise-punk band that Doug Martsch was in before he formed Built To Spill. They're pretty good but not great, and it's interesting to hear how Martsch was tied into to the Pacific Northwest's music scene of the late 80s/early 90s. I'm talking about grunge, y'all.

Trees - Light's Bane (2008). Heavy, slow, sludgy doom metal from Portland. I think I read somewhere that these guys have an eco-friendly message buried somewhere in the vocals, but damned if I can understand them.

The Trembles - Trembles EP (1995), Demos and Live Stuff (1995). Southern jangle-pop band outta Tuscaloosa led by the excellent songwriter Ray Buttram that I played bass for in the 90s.

A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory (1991). Old-school hip-hop from when jazz fusion was the name of the game.

Trip Shakespeare - Lulu (1991) and Volt (1992). Literate power pop from the Midwest with smart lyrics at odds with their surface sheen, not unlike a lesser Game Theory, although there's points where this band sometimes succumbs to the easy charms of their own feigned vacuity. The Volt EP is all covers.

Trouble Down South - Can You Hear The Dogs Barking? EP (2001), Everybody Digs Trouble Down South (2003), and Live At The Hole In The Wall (2003). One of the most fun bands I've ever been in, TDS was an Austin-based cowpunk band named for a Mekons song (and not, as it may seem, an unfortunate itch in a delicate place). All of these can be found at the bandcamp site I created for the band.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Music Library: Tommy Flanagan, Tomte, Tonebenders, Tony Conrad, Tony Rice, Toots & The Maytals, Torche, Tortoise

Tommy Flanagan - Plays The Music Of Harold Arlen (1978) and Sunset And The Mockingbird: The Birthday Concert (1997). Flanagan played with everybody in swing and bop: Ella, Coltrane, Miles, Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins, Mingus, and the list goes on and on. On these albums, Flanagan takes the lead, but both kind of simmer low without ever working up too much heat.

Tomte - Eine Sonnige Nacht (2000). This is an excellent German indie-rock band with elements of Pavement and Sonic Youth. Since they mostly sing in German, I have only the barest idea of what these songs are about. I got this album from my pal Martin, who grew up with some of these guys.

Tonebenders - Tonebenders (1997). This was a great Raleigh band that blended Stax-style horns with some Jon Spencer-style fractured blues. I'm pleased that someone made a video on YouTube for one of their songs, although it is in service to a tv show I've never seen. Still, dig the lovely guitar tone on this track. This album is worth seeking out, although it may be out of print now.

Tony Conrad - Early Minimalism Volume One (1964-1997). Conrad was one of the fathers of minimalism and the almost-simultaneous drone-rock outburst of the Velvet Underground. In fact, Conrad was one of the musicians involved with the Dream Syndicate in the mid-1960s, which also included Marian Zazeela, LeMonte Young, VU bassist/pianist/violist John Cale, and the first VU drummer Angus MacLise. Conrad and Young disagree about the ownership of the Dream Syndicate music. Young believes that it is his alone, while Conrad considers the music collaborative. The result is that while there were tapes made of the ensemble, Young retains all of them and most have never been heard by the public. This box set, which consists of only five compositions, starts with one of those Dream Syndicate recordings from 1964, a manipulated recording of drone called "Four Violins," which is an extraordinary document. The other four compositions are later recordings of Conrad's compositions, which are all fine, although a bit overwhelmingly monolithic when listened to back-to-back.

Tony Rice - Church Street Blues (1983) and Plays And Sings Bluegrass (1993). This may be the opposite to Conrad's downtown, super-intellectual minimalist compositions. Rice is one of the foremost bluegrass guitarists around, lightning fast and always tasty. Of these two albums, I like the former better, mainly because it features Rice solo or backed up by one other guitar. Plays And Sings adds a lot of other musicians, but less is more with this type of music.

Toots & The Maytals - 20 Massive Hits (1968-1973). The Maytals are a major figure in the transition of ska and rocksteady into reggae music, and this compilation album captures these subtle changes in all of their glory. There may be no better song from this period than "Pressure Drop," with its gospel-based vocals, swirling Farfisa organ, relentless off-beat bass (which is also the lead instrument), upstrummed chicken-thin rhythm guitar, and delicately polyrhythmic percussion.

Torche - Torche (2005), In Return (2007), Meanderthal (2008), Healer/Across The Shields EP (2009), Chapter Ahead Being Fake (split with Boris, 2009), Songs For Singles EP (2010), Harmonicraft (2012). I first heard Torche at a Boris show in 2008, and I was blown away by their fusion of stoner metal with more traditional rock sounds (which is not unlike some of Boris's best songs, as it happens). They were touring behind the truly excellent Meanderthal at the time. Unlike Boris, Torche doesn't have strong roots in the avant-garde, but they do what they do very, very well. More like Baroness than Boris, I suppose. Anyway, their 2012 album Harmonicraft is also very, very good. The first two albums are fine, as are the singles, while the EP is almost as good as Meanderthal and Harmonicraft.

Tortoise - Tortoise (1994), Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996), TNT (1998), In The Fishtank 5 (with The Ex, 1999), Standards (2001), It's All Around You (2004), The Brave And The Bold (with Bonnie "Prince" Billy, 2006), A Lazarus Taxon (compilation, recorded 1995-2006), and Beacons of Ancestorship (2009). The flagship post-rock band, Tortoise is all-instrumental (except on the Bonnie "Prince" Billy collaboration) and incorporates all manner of sounds into their rock-like music: fake jazz, krautrock, tropicalia, lounge, dub, minimalism, Morricone, whatever works. The band started out with three percussionists and two bassists on their first album, which even incorporating marimbas, vibes, and electronics, is a pretty radical line-up. By the excellent Millions Now Living, they had added guitarist David Pajo of Slint, which gave them more of an element of rock. TNT, their best album, keeps the rock flavor and ups the ante on the Sharrock-style skronk-jazz by replacing Pajo with avant-jazz guitarist Jeff Parker. The Fishtank EP and Standards are even louder without losing the underlying cool. It's All Around You, however, never really comes alive. The Brave And The Bold shakes things up by being a cover album, and it's quite enjoyable, especially the covers of Richard Thompson's "Calvary Cross" and the Minutemen's "It's Expected I'm Gone." A Lazarus Taxon is a compilation of nonalbum tracks and b-sides, and it's freaking brilliant. Beacons is a return to form of sorts, picking up the pieces from It's All Around You and adding in more electronics and more surprising sounds.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Music Library: Tom Petty, Tom T. Hall, Tom Verlaine, Tom Waits, Tom Zé


Tom Petty - Southern Accents (with The Heartbreakers, 1985), Wildflowers (1994), and Anthology: Through The Years (with The Heartbreakers, 1976-2000). I'm not much of a Petty fan. I mean, I like "Don't Come Around Here No More" from Southern Accents, and, well, not much on Wildflowers. I like a lot of Petty's early hits on Anthology, but considering their ubiquity on the radio and in culture, I'm not sure I needed a two-disc collection of those songs. And I'm not sure why I would need to post a clip featuring one of those songs.

Tom T. Hall - Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (1968-72) and Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1971-75). Hall, the author of "Harper Valley P.T.A.," is a fantastic poet/story-songwriter in vein of Kris Kristofferson and Townes Van Zandt. Since I don't have any of his studio albums, I don't know how he holds up at that level, but these collections are great. I mean, the song in this clip has the hallmarks of a novelty song, but Hall stays on the right side of that line.

Tom Verlaine - Tom Verlaine (1979), Dreamtime (1981), Cover (1984), Flash Light (1987), Warm And Cool (1992), Around (2006), Songs And Other Things (2006). The frontman for Television, who I recently wrote about, Verlaine's solo career has ups and downs. The self-titled first album and Dreamtime are both excellent, with much of Television's jagged friction and some guitar workouts. The first one has a number of Television songs that the band never got around to recordings, too. Cover and Flash Light are both a little lackluster and marred by some serious 80s production crap. Warm And Cool is all instrumental, and I like Tom's shut up and play your guitar phase. The music evokes Link Wray and surf bands with the distinctness of Verlaine's unique style. Verlaine was recording with the re-formed Television the same year, and then there was more than a decade of silence from the man. Around and Songs dropped the same day in 2006 with the former an all-instrumental affair while the latter is has songs with lyrics. Both are quite good.

Tom Waits: Let's break this up a bit.

The Early Years, Vol. 1 (1971), The Early Years, Vol. 2 (1971), Closing Time (1973). The Early Years albums only came out years later, but they are of a piece with Closing Time, a document of Waits's folkie period. While there's a lot of clever songs here, even on early acoustic versions of "Diamonds On My Windshield," you can hear how Waits is striving to become himself, but not quite there. If he'd never progressed beyond the honeyed-oak voice and winking sentimentalism, he would have been Billy Joel.

The Heart Of Saturday Night (1974). Waits's second album, The Heart of Saturday Night, kicked off with "New Coat Of Paint," a statement of purpose if ever there was one. The music was jazzy, the lyrics like Beat poetry, and the songwriting bled all over the stereo. Waits dropped the sentiment for a lovely fatalism. My favorite from Heart is "Shiver Me Timbers," because I have the soul of an Ishmael.

Nighthawks at the Diner (1975). Nighthawks was recorded with studio audience to capture the comedy-show patter of Waits's evolving live show. Waits is still mining the jazzy sound, but the songs are almost country. Waits's voice had started to develop his trademark Louis Armstrong-howling grit. Fascinating stuff.

Small Change (1976), Foreign Affairs (1977), Blue Valentine (1978), Romeo Is Bleeding: Live In Sydney Australia (bootleg, 1979). Waits's jazz-Beat-nostalgia don't-call-it-rock hit a fever pitch with Small Change and its very slightly lesser cousin Foreign Affairs, then mutated to become more and more bluesy through Blue Valentine. Romeo Is Bleeding captures Waits's almost-a-play stage show of the time, but his classic performance on Austin City Limits is an ever better document. The first clip here is "Tom Traubert's Blues," my favorite of his 70s songs, and the first track on Small Change. The second is the beginning of his ACL appearance with words from Foreign Affair's absolutely perfect death ballad "Burma Shave."

Heartattack And Vine (1980), One From The Heart (with Crystal Gayle, 1982). Heartattack is positioned right between jazzbo Tom and the kitchen-sink Tom that was coming into being. It never really settles anywhere. One From The Heart is the soundtrack to the notorious Coppola flop. Waits is trying to please a theoretical audience that wants to hear big band numbers while trying to please himself with heavy percussion tracks like "You Can't Unring A Bell," and the album is even more lost than Heartattack.

Swordfishtrombones (1983), Rain Dogs (1985), Franks Wild Years (1987), Big Time (1988), Night On Earth Soundtrack (1992). Here Waits slipped into a completely new persona, an outgrowth of Jazzbo Tom into Tom Of The Kitchen-Sink Blues where German cabaret music collided with tango and blues and clanky percussion and Waits's carnivalesque dancing bear voice. Swordfishtrombones starts the revolution, but Rain Dogs is the best album here. Franks Wild Years has good songs but also some filler, Big Time is a fun live document, and Night On Earth is a lackluster affair mostly made of instrumentals.

Bone Machine (1992), The Black Rider (1993), Mule Variations (1999), Alice (2002), Blood Money (2002). Waits's blues turned harrowing on Bone Machine, a gloriously bleak album, one of my all-time favorites, and those themes continued through Mule Variations. Both of these albums bring the death ballads to the fore, although they continue with his obsession with the forgotten, unwanted, and just plain weird. The Black Rider, a collaboration with playwright Robert Wilson, is sort of a dry-run for the later, much better albums Alice and Blood Money.

Real Gone (2004), Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards (released 2006 and 2009), tracks from Healing The Divide (with Kronos Quartet, 2007), Glitter And Doom: Tom Waits In Concert (2008), Bad As Me (2011). Real Gone is good-but-not-great, picking up the thread from Mule Variations and turning its attention to political blues amidst the other Waitsian themes. Orphans was a massive box set with a bunch of nonalbum tracks and demos, featuring some excellent Waits material going back to the 80s. I was fortunately enough to find the vinyl-only tracks released in 2009 online. Healing has four fun versions of Waits doing a few of his great latter-day songs backed by Kronos Quartet. Glitter and Doom is an excellently-titled live album and a great document of Waits's 2008 tour, and Bad As Me shows that the old man is still going strong with this persona, even as he turns his attention to his own demise.

Tom Zé - Tom Zé (1970), Se o Caso é Chorar (1972), Todos os Olhos (1973), Estudando o Samba (1975), Correio Da Estaçâo Do Brás (1978), Nave Maria (1984), Brazil Classics, Vol. 5: The Hips of Tradition (1992), Grupo Corpo: Parabelo (with Zé Miguel Wisnik, 1997), Defeito de Fabricação (1998), Live at Middle East, May 19, 1999 (bootleg, with Tortoise), Jogos de Armar (2000), Santagustin (with Gilbert Assis, 2002), Imprensa Cantada (2003), Estudando o Pagode (2005), Danç-Êh-Sá (2006), Estudando A Bossa (2008).  Zé is the oddest and most arty musician to burst out of Brazil's incredible tropicalia movement of the late 60s and early 70s. While his first two albums were interesting, he didn't really come into his own until 1973's Todos os Olhos, which fuses indigenous Brazilian music with sounds borrowed from rock and jazz and, well, everywhere.

This fusion became even more pronounced with Estudando o Samba, a concept album about samba music that employs Zé's oddball ear to levels that are astounding. Listen to how Zé builds on the parts to "Mã," with the repeating guitar part on the left playing in a slightly dissonant key, the fuzz guitar on the left playing a part that blends with the brassier horns when they come in, the call-and-response of the vocals panning left and right, the center-panned punctuation horns, the insistent beat that anchors the whole track. Utterly brilliant.

Correio and Nave Maria are both great albums that try a little harder to please, which makes them ironically less pleasing. After Nave Maria, Zé gave up on music and went to work in his brother's gas station, but fortunately for him and all of us, David Byrne of Talking Heads had become obsessed with him. We have that obsession to thank for the last Talking Heads album and Byrne's first few solo albums, and for Byrne's label Luaka Bop, which Byrne used to find Zé and get him recording again. Hips of Tradition and Defeito are both great, with the former cooking thanks to high production values and the latter a concept album of sorts about various deceptions. Parabelo comes between, and I don't know anything about it except that it is very good. The Middle East bootleg is from Zé's first US tour, which brilliantly backs him with Tortoise.

Zé's post-2000 albums have been uniformly excellent, with full-on classics in Jogos de Armar and Estudando o Pagode. All are worth seeking out. Check out this mini-documentary for Luaka Bop's three-record Estudando collection. Zé is building a song on the sound of glass being sanded at one point! DAMN, y'all! That is so amazingly cool.

OK, one more clip, two short songs in two minutes. Dig it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Music Library: Through The Sparks, Throwing Muses, Thurston Moore, Tift Merritt, Tim Buckley, Tim Maia, The Time, Tindersticks, Titus Andronicus, TK Webb, Tobin Sprout, Tokyo Police Club, Tom Paxton

Through The Sparks - Worm Moon Waning (2010) and Alamalibu EP (2012). Quite good folky, chamber-poppy indie rock from Alabama that hearkens to the good-time Laurel Canyon pop of the late-70s without losing the southern-rock angle that gives it its individual weirdness. The Alamalibu EP is especially fun.

Throwing Muses - The Real Ramona (1991). Is this the epitome of early 90s indie rock? Led by stepsisters Kristen Hersch and Tonya Donnelly with an idiosyncratic but easily recognizable sound and songs with pop hearts but very individual subject matter, this is rock as a facet of the leaders' personalities, trying to reach people but uninterested in being too mainstream. Hell, I don't know what I'm trying to say here. I like it, that's all.

Thurston Moore - Psychic Hearts (1995), "Fourth Day Of July" (with Mike Watt, 2003), Trees Outside The Academy (2007). Stepping out from behind Sonic Youth lets Moore be slightly more garage-y on Psychic Hearts (but not that much, really), more drone-y around Watt's bubbly bass on "Fourth Day," and more acoustic-y, folk-oriented, and heartfelt than usual on Trees. All of these are excellent albums, but Trees may be my favorite because it is so much of a departure for the guy while still clearly within the continuum of his songwriting.

Tift Merritt & The Carbines - various demos and live tracks, 1998-2000. I don't have a Tift Merritt album, but I seem to have a bunch of tracks from her early period when she was a local talent in the Triangle area of NC. This is probably the work of my lovely and talented wife. Tift Merritt has a lovely voice, but the songs are very run-of-the-mill.

Tim Buckley - Starsailor (1973). This is Jeff Buckley's dad, the jazz-folk-groovy-rock dude who also died while very young. I don't really like this album, though. Even though the vocals seems very passionate, the instrumentation is so very busy that it barrels around obnoxiously calling attention to itself.

Tim Maia - Racional (1975). This one is fun! Maia is basically the Curtis Mayfield of Brazilian music, but for a while in the 70s, he was involved with a cult. This is the record (or maybe records? I'm not sure) he made to celebrate the awesomeness of this cult. Some of it is in English, but most in Portuguese, and it is as awesome as a 70s funk-disco-samba celebration of a bizarre cult could be. I mean, check this clip out.

The Time - What Time Is It? EP (1982). Minneapolis funk from Morris Day & co., the antagonists who are neither very purple or related to the Purple One from Purple Rain. Unsurprisingly, this sounds like an album of Prince outtakes. Funky Prince outtakes.

Tindersticks - No More Affairs EP (1995). Considering how wantonly they are plumbing the depths of some of my iconoclastic 60s faves like Lee Hazlewood, Scott Walker, and even Serge Gainsbourg, I should have picked up more of these guys' albums.

Titus Andronicus - The Airing Of Grievances (2008) and The Monitor (2010). Of all the New Sincerity (aka "We Love Springsteen") bands that sprang onto the national stage after the success of Arcade Fire, these guys may be the best. They are smart, marrying witty lyrics to excellent metaphors, passionate about their work, and they rock. The Monitor is especially vital, with an overall theme of using the Civil War as a metaphor for one's struggle against mediocrity.

T.K. Webb - Phantom Parade (2006). Bluesy rock. What will they think of next?

Tobin Sprout - Carnival Boy (1996) and Moonflower Plastic (1997). Bob Pollard's Keef Richards in the early days of GBV, Sprout wrote some of the more poppy GBV songs (my favorite of his: "A Good Flying Bird") before leaving in 1997 (he was also part of the GBV Classic tour in 2010). These were his first two solo albums, made while he was still in the band. Moonflower is the better of the two, but they do put forth a fairly cogent argument that Sprout is at his best when working with Pollard as a foil.

Tokyo Police Club - A Lesson In Crime (2007) and Elephant Shell (2008). Why I have not just one but two of these guys' albums is a mystery to me. I mean, they're good-but-not-great indie rock, but me feeling unoffended if uninspired by a rock band is not exactly a ringing endorsement, right?

Tom Paxton - "The Last Thing On My Mind" and "Fred". I only have two tracks from this folkie who has written dozens of stone-cold classics that seem impossibly timeless to have been written by a guy still alive.

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