Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Music Library: Mauricio Kagel, Max Roach, Mayflies USA, MC 900 Ft Jesus, MC5, Mclusky

Mauricio Kagel - Ludwig Van (1969) and Acustica (1971). The avant-garde composer made a good bit more music than I have.  The first of these is the soundtrack to a film Kagel made about Herr Beethoven's music that is fascinatingly as if one of Beethoven's symphonies ran into Brion Gysin's cut-up method of literature.  The latter work is also fascinating, with all sorts of found sounds clashing and clanging their way from din into music.

Max Roach - We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite (1960) and Members, Don't Git Weary (1968).  The former is a pretty amazing piece of music co-written by Roach and Oscar Brown Jr. Roach has assembled an amazing band with Abbey Lincoln singing, humming, and scatting vocals.  Lyrically and musically, this work is about the history of African-Americans in this country, culminating in the Civil Rights Movement that was finally starting to edge ahead at the time of its release.  The latter album has Roach playing a pretty joyous version of modal post-bop jazz.

The Mayflies USA - "You and Me" and "Florida to the Radio." A couple of folky power pop tunes by a North Carolinian group.

MC 900 Ft Jesus - Hell With The Lid Off (1990), Welcome To My Dream (1991), and One Step Ahead of the Spider (1994).  These were a gift that I'd shamefully never listened to prior to this.  Allmusic tells me that this is early trip-hop, which sounds as good as any sort of genre label.  It's clearly influenced by electronica and hip-hop as well as noir music (and fiction and movies) and William Burroughs-style mindfuckery (and that's two Burroughs references in the same group of reviews, if you're keeping track).  Since my only prior exposure to them was their ubiquity in used bins during the 90s, I was surprised by how enjoyable they are.

MC5 - Kick Out The Jams (1969), Back In The USA (1970), and High Time (1971).  MC5 were the original loud and grungy Detroit rockers, mentors to The Stooges, forerunners to punk, pretty much ground zero for rock that sounds loud and dumb but is really smarter than you.  Kick Out The Jams is easily the best of the three, but all three are fantastic.

Mclusky - Mclusky Do Dallas (2002) and The Difference Between Me And You Is That I'm Not On Fire (2004).  Ultra-clever Welsh punk rock band with catchy melodies under the traditional punk start-stop loud-quiet dynamics.  Best track: "Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues."  Now an ex-band, although a couple of these guys have gone on to form the similar Future Of The Left.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Music Library: Matthew Friedberger, Matthew Shipp, Matthew Sweet

Matthew Friedberger - Winter Women/Holy Ghost Language School (2006). Friedberger is the brother half of the Fiery Furnaces.  On these albums (the plural seems unnecessary because this is really one album with two parts), Friedberger makes music that is sometimes annoying and sometimes inspired and really in bad need of an editor.

Matthew Shipp - Harmony and Abyss (2004). The Allmusic review considers this to be outside of the realm of jazz.  That seems like an ok assessment on the face of it, but it also seems to be shutting a door.  Shipp is interested in electronic rhythms and sounds, but he's fundamentally a jazz artist.  And this is fundamentally a jazz album.  A pretty interesting one.

Matthew Sweet - Girlfriend (1991), Altered Beast (1993), and Son of Altered Beast (1994).  Matthew Sweet is well-named for his ability to wreak sweet pop into the heart of even his most slashing song.  All of these songs slash and burn their way through beautiful melodies and exquisite harmonies with guitars provided by Robert Quine, Richard Lloyd, and Ivan Julian.  Fan-freakin-tastic.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Music Library: Mastodon

I scheduled this post to be Mastodon only before I realized that I don't actually have that much to say about the band.  I mean, yes, their subject matter is pretty wild, and their prog-metal interesting and awesome.  Yes, they have a broader appeal than some metal bands.  And yes, if you like music that cooks and pummels, you will probably like them.  But lots of people have written about them elsewhere and none of this adds anything to the discussion.  So, well, there you go.

Lifesblood EP (2001). Five-song EP with a number of audio samples that color the songs.  Pretty decent material that points towards the powerhouse they were about to become.

Remission (2002). See, here's the problem.  I have only so many ways to say "awesome."  This album is awesome.  It's awesiomatic.  It's complex, heavy, clever, and amazing.  Awesome. I mean, it starts with the song "Crusher Destroyer" and culminates in the song "Mother Puncher."  Wow.

Leviathan (2004).  Apparently, Remission wasn't awesome enough, so Mastodon had to try something so ridiculous audacious that anyone hearing about it in advance would assume that it was doomed to failure from the start.  The joke, it is on this person I just made up!  Because Leviathan, a concept album about Moby-Dick, is phenomenal.  In retrospect, the only concept album about Moby-Dick that could possibly work is one by a complex, proggy, supremely heavy metal band.

Call Of The Mastodon EP (2006). Lifesblood plus tracks from their first release, a vinyl-only EP from 2000.  Much like Lifesblood, it's more promise for the future than awesomeness itself.

Blood Mountain (2006). This one is another concept album, although the concept is a little less comprehensible to me.  Something about a guy struggling to reach the top of a mountain and set a crystal skull there.  Yeah.  But the music is great.  The problem here is the mastering, which is too hot, too overcompressed.

Crack The Skye (2009).  Did I mention that the narrative in Blood Mountain is hard to figure out?  Because I told you what that one is about in a sentence.  This one, though, is about, well, let me just quote drummer Brann Dailor:

There is a paraplegic and the only way that he can go anywhere is if he astral travels. He goes out of his body, into outer space and a bit like Icarus, he goes too close to the sun, burning off the golden umbilical cord that is attached to his solar plexus. So he is in outer space and he is lost, he gets sucked into a wormhole, he ends up in the spirit realm and he talks to spirits telling them that he is not really dead. So they send him to the Russian cult, they use him in a divination and they find out his problem. They decide they are going to help him. They put his soul inside Rasputin's body. Rasputin goes to usurp the czar and he is murdered. The two souls fly out of Rasputin's body through the crack in the sky(e) and Rasputin is the wise man that is trying to lead the child home to his body because his parents have discovered him by now and think that he is dead. Rasputin needs to get him back into his body before it's too late. But they end up running into the Devil along the way and the Devil tries to steal their souls and bring them down…there are some obstacles along the way.
See? Easy. This is the proggiest damn thing outside of Magma.  But without choral singing.  And more metal.

Music Library: Marlee MacLeod, Marmoset, Marnie Stern, Marty Robbins, Marvin Gaye, Marvin Pontiac, Marx Brothers, Mary Black, Masonic

Marlee MacLeod - Drive Too Fast (1993), Favorite Ball & Chain (1995), and Vertigo (1997).  Marlee is a friend of mine and a very cool person, so let me start by saying that I'm sorry I don't have her fourth or fifth album.  I meant to pick them up for a long time, but I never did, and that's a crappy thing to do.  It's my loss more than anyone's, though, because MacLeod is a hell of a great, creative songwriter and a wonderful singer.  These three albums mix some Replacements-ish grit with folky alt-country soul.  Her words and delivery, though, are the real selling point.  She sings about movies and relationships and literature and rootlessness, and she makes you feel it.  I'm sorry that she seems to be semi-retired from music and hope that this changes in the future.  Because she's awesome.

Marmoset - A Marmoset Menagerie (2007).  This is a collection of music by the band Marmoset that eMusic offered as a free download sometime in the past.  They're a pretty good indie rock band, but I haven't pursued their music further.  You can still get it for free here.

Marnie Stern - In Advance Of The Broken Arm (2007) and This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That (2008).  Adding the excesses of guitar heroics to the spazzy and skronky avant-rock of your Hellas and Lightning Bolts, Stern has created a sound that is wholly her own.   She more or less layers parts that many guitarists would consider a kick-ass solo through all of the different movements of her songs while singing and looping and channeling the crazy energy of her band (which is sometimes pre-recorded on an ipod).  Wild, disorienting and completely unique.

Marty Robbins - The Story of My Life: The Best of Marty Robbins 1952-1965.  I have Gunfighter Ballads on vinyl but sadly, have never picked it up for digital consumption.  This collection gathers Robbins's singles from his high period, and they cover a lot of ground, from Hank-esque early tracks to the amazingly happy honky-tonk of "Singing The Blues" to the epoch-making "El Paso" and "Devil Woman."

Marvin Gaye - What's Going On (1971), Let's Get It On (1973), and Here, My Dear (1978).  I am inadequately prepared for the task of talking about Marvin Gaye.  All three of these are famous concept albums, the first one on social ills, the second on the most primal human impulse, the third on what happens to a marriage when a famous, socially conscious soul singer indulges in the most primal human impulse too often with young ladies who are not his wife and his wife decides to leave him and take the royalties to his next album.  All important issues, and with Gaye's production and sultry vocals, all sound sorta sexy.

Marvin Pontiac - The Legendary Marvin Pontiac (1999).  This is John Lurie's idea of a joke.  Lurie is the leader of the downtownish jazz band The Lounge Lizards and an actor who's appeared in a couple of Jim Jarmusch films.  Marvin Pontiac was supposedly an insane African-Jewish musician.  But the music is actually pretty decent, with blues and R&B tracks that have a little life to them.  So there, I guess.

The Marx Brothers - "I'm Against It." Whatever it is, I'm against it.

Mary Black - "My Youngest Son Came Home Today." Folk song with an earnest anti-war message.

Masonic - "Brand New Day." Indie-pop tune from an Austin band that I believe broke up a while back.

Music Library: Mark E. Smith, Mark Eitzel, Mark Knopfler, Mark Kozelek

Mark E. Smith - The Post Nearly Man (1998).  If, like me, you were hoping to pick up an album of MES, the estimable leader of The Fall, rambling out his fractured poetry while found sounds and electronic beats fade in and out, well then, mister (because are there any ladies who would fit that bill?), this is your lucky day.

Mark Eitzel - 60 Watt Silver Lining (1996) and Caught in a Trap and I Can't Back Out 'Cause I Love You Too Much, Baby (1998).  I only have a couple of Eitzel's solo albums, but I always have meant to pick up more.  The former of these is a near-jazzy effort, perfect for the gray Sunday afternoons of the soul.  The latter is a more up-and-down album, although mostly down, which fits Eitzel's general melancholia.

Mark Knopfler - "Cannibals."  Not much of a fan of the Dire Straits nor this song.

Mark Kozelek - Rock 'N' Roll Singer (2000) and What's Next To The Moon (2001).  I really like Kozelek's music.  When he was the lead of the Red House Painters, he played slow, moody music that occasionally erupted into near-epic VU-inspired feedback.  Solo, he played slow, moody, mostly acoustic music that exploited his tendencies to reinterpret other people's music into Kozelek-style songs.  With Sun Kil Moon, he plays slow, moody music that sounds a lot like the Red House Painters and Kozelek solo.  Fortunately, I like Kozelek's sound.  These albums, his only two solo albums (there's actually a third that collects both of these along with two other tracks, but it doesn't really count) mostly feature the music of AC/DC.  I mean the earlier one, an EP, has three originals and one John Denver cover along with the three AC/DC songs while the latter is a full album of AC/DC songs reconceived as slow, moody tracks.  Kozelek somehow connects with Bon Scott's inner sad folkie, and it's pretty amazing.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Music Library: Mahalia Jackson, Man Man, Manduka, Manitas De Plata, Manu Chao, Map of Africa, Marco Benevento, Marconi Notaro, Marek Stefanski, Marianne Faithfull

Sorry for the continued brevity.  I'm way behind on these reviews and finding myself almost too tired to do them.

Mahalia Jackson - Gospels, Spirituals, and Hymns (released 1991) and Amazing Grace (released 2003).  Amazing voice, amazing soul music.

Man Man - The Man In A Blue Turban With A Face (2004), Six Demon Bag (2006), and Rabbit Habits (2008).  Tom Waits-y carnivalesque indie rock.  The last one references Moby Dick a few times.

Manduka - Manduka (1972) and Los Sueños de América (with Los Jaivas, 1974). Psychedelic Brazilian music.  Heavy!

Manitas De Plata with Manero Baliardo - "Tarantas."  From an album called Gypsy Flamenco, which is what this is.

Manu Chao - Siberie M'etait Conteee (2005).  Chao has a reputation for his third-world punk, but I'm not familiar enough with his music to know why.

Map of Africa - Map of Africa (2007).  ZZ Top-ish blues rock from a couple of guys best known as DJs.

Marco Benevento - Best Reason To Buy The Sun (as The Benevento/Russo Duo, 2005) and Invisible Baby (2008).  In the organ-driven, jambandish vein of Medeski, Martin, and Wood, Benevento's music is ostensibly jazz, but it's that sort of 70s jazz-funk that is basically rock music these days.

Marconi Notaro - No Sub Reino Dos Metazoários (1973).  Brazilian guitar music with a heavily psychedelic drone that is more than a little reminiscent of Six Organs of Admittance.

Marek Stefanski - "Toccata i fuga d-moll BMV 565." Everyone knows this little piece of music.  Think The Phantom of the Opera.

Marianne Faithfull - "Strange Weather." Melancholy song from the later career of the Zelig-like Faithfull.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Music Library: The Magnetic Fields

The general consensus on Stephin Merritt is that he's the Cole Porter of our times, meaning that he is witty, gay, catchy, witty (did I mention that one already?), and gay.  And catchy.  Boy howdy, are his songs catchy.

Distant Plastic Trees (1990).  The first of two albums recorded with original vocalist Susan Anway, this is a synthpop album recorded with cheap-ass keyboards and a cheap-ass drum machine.  Some of the songs are among Merritt's best, especially "100,000 Fireflies."

The Wayward Bus (1991). Almost of a piece with Distant Plastic Trees, this one also features Anway, the cheap-ass instrumentation, and more of Merritt's obsession with Phil Spector and early Beach Boys.  Now only available as a two-parter with the previous album.

The House of Tomorrow (1996). Stephin Merritt on lead vocals.  Five songs built on loops and synth-pop. 

Holiday (1994).  The Allmusic review is right to connect this with the Future Bible Heroes albums.  Anway is gone, Merritt is the primary singer, and the album is pure 80s-style electropop.  Good songs, although not as good as on future releases.

Charm of the Highway Strip (1994). A concept album about roads and travel that is seemingly built on themes from country music (although it is still as electropoppy as its predecessor).    

Get Lost (1995). Kind of a step backwards, this is my least favorite Magnetic Fields album.

69 Love Songs (1999). This one is the motherlode, three discs of love songs, some sublime, some stupid.  You could - if you were like me - make a full single disc of perfect songs, but the unevenness of the three disc experience has its own charms.  There's songs from many different genres, but all feature Merritt's sardonic wit and deep well of emotion.

i (2004).  Only fourteen songs this time, all starting with the letter "I."  No synthesizers.  And it's almost as strong as 69 Love Songs.  My favorite is the disco tune "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend."

Distortion (2008). But this one's only ok.  There's a couple of great songs, but I think the gimmick is a little too over-the-top for the material.  The gimmick is that everything is distorted as hell, inspired by the fuzzy pop of the Jesus & Mary Chain.

Music Library: Macha, Macy Gray, Mad Scene, Madvillain, Maggie Osterberg, Magma

Macha - Macha (1998), See It Another Way (1999), Macha Loved Bedhead EP (2000), and Forget Tomorrow (2004).  I'm surprised that Macha is not better-loved than it is (or was: I'm not sure whether Macha is still a going concern).  Anyway, Macha was an Athens band that combined moody indie rock with trancelike gamelin music.  The first two albums are fantastic and beautiful and I recommend them to people who like their indie rock full of interesting sonic experimentation.  The Macha Loved Bedhead EP came about when Bedhead broke up.  Macha's McKay brothers had apparently been in a high school band with the Kadane brothers of Bedhead, and Macha took a few raw demo tracks, including a cover of Cher's "Believe," and came up with a synthesis of the Macha and Bedhead aesthetics that somehow sounds like neither.  Neato.  The final album downplays the gamelin side of Macha's sound and up-plays the poppy side, and I just don't like it very much.

Macy Gray - On How Life Is (1999) and The Id (2001). She's a hell of a great pop singer. What do you want, a dissertation?

The Mad Scene - Sealight (1995). Led by Hamish Kilgour of the Clean (on guitar and vocals here rather than drums), Lisa Siegel on guitar, and joined by Robert Vickers, formerly of the Go-Betweens, on bass, The Mad Scene have a killer Aussie-kiwipop pedigree.  Good songs, too.

Madvillain - Madvillainy (2004). One of DOOM's finest moments, this is a collaboration with producer Madlib where the two keep pushing their respective envelopes - better sounds, better beats, better rhymes - to the point that this is one of my favorite hip-hop albums.  Wish I had a better way of talking about it, but it's been discussed at length elsewhere around ye olde interwebs.

Maggie Osterberg - Snowy Days EP (2002) and The Red Cow In Heaven (2003).  I've known Osterberg for quite a while.  These two EPs combine her slash-and-burn pop guitars with sampled vocals.  Intriguing stuff!

Magma - Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh (1973) and Ẁurdah Ïtah(1974).  Magma is among the most wretchedly excessive of prog-rock bands: their albums build mythology about a sci-fi future on the planet Kobiai, mix choral music and electric jazz elements with complex-but-driving rock, and are completely sung in the made-up language Kobiain.  They are like Yes as kidnapped by French Situationists besotted with Popul Vuh, Beefheart, and Arthur C. Clarke.  I don't mean to insult these albums; music this weird and silly certainly deserves respect.  In fact, it's actually fairly brilliant.  Thanks to John Kuhlman for the hook-up.

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