Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Music Library: Galaxie 500, Game Theory, Gang of Four plus Schubert, Dr. John, & El-P

On with the Gs. I have to say that the sheer amount of music ahead of me is a bit daunting, but the actual listening and writing is fun fun fun. The best thing about this project so far has been revisiting music that I haven't spun in years, although the thrill of discovering greatness in something that I acquired and had yet to explore can't be beat.

People who read all of these (maybe there's one of you?) might notice that I've mentioned Pynchon a number of times recently. I think the comparisons of Pynchon to the Fiery Furnaces and Firesign Theatre are valid, but the man's work has been on my mind recently because I have been reading Against The Day. When that book was published in November 2006, I was stressed with my job, my manuscript, and the distractions of raising a toddler, and I couldn't see myself taking on a book of that length and heft. When I finally bought a copy in early 2008, I had yet another child, was working on revisions to my manuscript, and literally had no mind to spare for Pynchon. I tried reading it, but had to give up about 1/4 of the way in. I wasn't getting the jokes and couldn't keep the characters straight, nor the themes, nor the different plotlines. And that's no way to read Pynchon. But I picked it up again a few weeks back and this time I'm enjoying the hell out of it. I'm a little over halfway through it, but I sorta hope it never ends. Still, when I finish it (as I know I must sometime), there's a new Pynchon to read. And that's a feeling I've never had before: being outpaced by Pynchon. That guy always has a new trick up his sleeve.

Blah blah blah. Gs! Gs! Gs!

Galaxie 500 - Today (1988), On Fire (1989), This Is Our Music (1990), Uncollected (1996), Copenhagen (1997), and Peel Sessions (2005). The kings of dream-pop, Galaxie 500 built their sound around a busy rhythm section and echo-ey guitarwork. It's the perfect soundtrack for a snow day, but we don't get those too often here in Texas. Although the components of the sound don't change much from the first studio album to the last, Dean Wareham's songwriting on This Is Our Music is far more confident than on Today. And On Fire is my favorite of these. Uncollected is a bunch of b-sides and covers that came out with the Galaxie 500 box in 1996. The last two are live albums. Copenhagen is sorta dull, but the Peel Sessions are quite loose and fun, as Peel Sessions tend to be.

Game Theory - Real Nighttime (1985), Big Shot Chronicles (1986), and Lolita Nation (1987). Game Theory was a fascinating jangle-pop band from California. Whereas the early versions of REM were lyrically about Michael Stipe's smearing of communication into near-wordless jumbles, Game Theory's Scott Miller wrote hyper-literate songs that were miniature Modernist works begging for footnoted annotation. For example, Real Nighttime, their first full-length LP, opens with "Here Comes Everybody," the title itself a reference to the repeated HCE motif which stands for the protagonist (to the extent that there is one) in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. All three albums have a slick 80s-alternative sheen provided by producer Mitch Easter. Interestingly, Lolita Nation takes that slickness and deconstructs it with various types of studio trickery, resulting in an album that veers wildly between accessibility and complexity.

Gang of Four - Entertainment! (+ Yellow EP) (1979), The Peel Sessions (1981), Solid Gold (+ Another Day, Another Dollar EP) (1981), and Songs Of The Free (1982). Oh man oh man, Gang of Four: agitprop for your ass. With a running Marxist critique in the lyrics tied to a heavy funk rhythm section and slash-and-burn guitar heroics (my buddy Phil Freeman says that Steve Albini should cut Go4 guitarist Jon King a check every time he looks at a guitar), the Gang of Four was the most intellectually and musically satisfying band of the first wave of British post-punk. Influenced: every subsequent band that tied minimalist funk with scratchy guitars and vocals more yelled than sang. Off the top of my head: The Minutemen, Big Black, Fugazi, The Liars, Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, REM, Franz Ferdinand, and countless others ranging from the world-shatteringly great to what-the-hell-were-they-thinking abysmal. Few of these had the smarts of the Gang of Four. All of the above: essential, especially Entertainment!, the motherlode. There should be a charity to deliver copies of Entertainment! into the hands of college freshman considering a degree in philosophy.


Borodin String Quartet - Schubert: String Quartet No. 12, "Quartettsatz." This is from a disc that had another Schubert string quartet piece on it, but my mp3s for the other work were hopelessly corrupted at some point. I had another Schubert rip with the same problem. Lest you think my computer hates Schubert, they were all originally on the same disc, so it was probably a mistake I made when ripping it. Anyway, yes, this is beautiful music.

Dr. John - Babylon (1969). This is a wildly ambitious follow-up to the superb Gris-Gris. Where that album was all about the creepy voodoo atmosphere, this one has a more Mardi Gras-influenced feel. I admit that I don't like it quite as much, but it's certainly interesting. My favorite track is the tuba-driven "Glowin'."

El-P - Fantastic Damage (2002) and I'll Sleep When You're Dead (2007). A friend hooked me up with these after I posted about El-P a few weeks back. And I'm very grateful (so thanks!), because each album is awesome in its own way. I haven't parsed all the rhymes yet, but the sound of each album is fantastic, all apocalyptic sci-fi geekery, like DOOM but more serious.

I also have recently received from a friend (and thanks!) all of the Firesign Theatre's Dear Friends radio shows from 1969 and 1970. That's some 12 hours of densely layered comedy there, so it'll take me a while to work through.


Jenifer 2:05 AM, August 27, 2009  
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