Sunday, May 30, 2010

Music Library Catch-Up: Baroness, Bong, Bongzilla, Brian Posehn, EDO, Hold Steady, Kinks

Baroness - Blue Record (2009). I liked Red Album a lot, but Blue Record is an enormous leap forward for Baroness.  Their metal-cum-Southern-jamband music was flirting with pure psychedelia before, but now it's more proggy psych rock than metal.  I wish I'd heard this in 2009, but it's one of the best albums of the year.

Bong - Bethmoora (2008) and Bong (2008).  Recommended to me by a guy at the breakfast taco place when we got into a conversation about Om, Bong has the same sort of heavy-trancelike almost-spiritual Sleep-influenced drone.  AWESOME.  Wonder where they got the idea for their name?

Bongzilla - Nuggets (1996-2003).  You might be surprised to learn that Bongzilla is very much in favor of the legalization and use of the demon weed, but only if you'd never actually read one of their song titles or looked at the cover of an album or thought for more than .0008 of a second about their name.  Heavy, Sabbath-y metal.

Brian Posehn - Live In: Nerd Rage (2006).  Appropriately following the metal potheads above, Brian Posehn is a funny guy who some folks may know from his extensive walk-ons on mainstream tv shows and others may know as one of the funniest guys who appeared on cult classics like Mr. Show, NewsRadio, and, well, pretty much anything awesome.  He's a big dorky guy who loves metal.  Should you appreciate this, you will likely appreciate his stand-up routine.

EDO - MarkBillWalt (date unknown). Eliot Duhan released this EP of tracks from a prior version of EDO for free.  It's good in that EDO way.

The Hold Steady - Heaven Is Whenever (2010).  The Hold Steady continues to play Hold Steady music.  This one doesn't have the flourishes of Stay Positive, but it brings the rock and emotion that makes the band one of the best around.  It's still too new to me for lengthy explanations of why I love it.  But I do.

The Kinks - Come Dancing With The Kinks (1977-1986).  I had no late-period Kinks in my collection, and I was feeling that lacuna.  Now I am not.  Some great stuff on here, although the source albums I've heard have lots and lots of filler on them.  A collection was the way to go for me.

Music Library: Lucksmiths, Lucky Sperms, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Lula Cortes, Lullaby For The Working Class, Luna

The Lucksmiths - Happy Secret (1998) and Why That Doesn't Surprise Me (2001). This is a drummer-led Aussie indie pop band with that sort of twee 60s guitar pop feel that people inevitably compare to Belle and Sebastian.  It's about as conservative as guitar pop can be, with wry songs that pretty much could have been written at any point in the last 40 years.  There's some production flourishes that date it to the modern, but short of those, this is classic songcraft: winsome lyrics and big pop hooks.  Great stuff!  Hat tip to Self-Help Radio guru Gary Dickerson, who hooked me up with these.

Lucky Sperms - Ecstatic Peace 7" (1987). I think I have this mistitled. It should be self-titled and was released on the Ecstatic Peace label.  And yet I don't care enough to change it!  Think on that, will you.  Anyway I grabbed these mp3s from a few years back (and I'm really happy to discover it's still there).  This 7" has Mike Watt and Steve Shelley covering Daniel Johnston's "Walking The Cow" on one side and a fairly loose cover of "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "Glass Onion" all at once on the other side with the rest of Ciccone Youth joining in.  Cool, cool, cool.

Ludwig Van Beethoven - Symphony No. 9, "Choral" (1999). No idea who the artists are on this.  Nice to have a copy of this piece of music in my collection, though.

Lula Côrtes - Rosa de Sangue (1980). Garage rock-y Brazilian music. I'd bet my man Dan Sharp knows a lot more about Lula Côrtes than anyone else I know.

Lullaby For The Working Class - Song (1999). Lush, lush chamber-folk music more than a little reminiscent of Lambchop's theatrics.  I don't mean to imply that LFTWC is building on Lambchop's music, though.  Their work is roughly contemporaneous with Lambchop's early albums.  Gorgeous stuff, definitely worth a listen.

Luna -  Lunapark (1992), Slide EP (1993), Bewitched (1994), Penthouse (1995), Luna EP (1996), Pup Tent (1997), The Days of Our Nights (1999), Luna Live (2001), Close Cover Before Striking (2002), Romantica (2002), Rendezvous (2004), and Lunified (2006).  Has there ever been a songwriter as talented and yet lyrically lazy as Dean Wareham?  I mean, I love the hell out of Luna.  I love the hell out of Galaxie 500.  But Wareham's lyrics, while generally coming from a smart place, employ some amazingly lazy rhymes.  And here: has there ever been a band with a better indie rock pedigree than Luna?  It's not just Wareham, fresh on the heels of Galaxie 500, but Stan Demeski of the Feelies on drums and Justin Harwood of the Chills on bass.  Their first album, Lunapark, is produced by Lou Reed and Bob Quine's pal Fred Maher.  Sterling Freakin' Morrison plays guitar on Bewitched, my favorite Luna album and one of my favorite albums, period.  And then they bring in Tom Verlaine to guest on Penthouse.  Which includes a secret track that is a cover of Serge Gainsbourg's "Bonnie and Clyde" with Laetitia Sadler of Stereolab singing the female voice.  I mean, what the hell?

So Lunapark has the band as a three-piece (Wareham, Demeski, and Harwood), and is an ok album that's not quite as good as Galaxie 500's last album or Luna's next.  But it's a start.  The band took out an ad in the Village Voice and found Sean Eden to play 2nd guitar.  Eden's on the Slide EP, which has an album track, a demo, two excellent covers (Beat Happening's "Indian Summer" and the VU's "Ride Into The Sun," both of which appear on Lunafied), and the original "Rollercoaster."  Bewitched and Penthouse are both extraordinary combinations of VU-style guitar heroics and Wareham's pop sensibilities.  The Luna EP is the last release of the original four-piece.  Besides the album track and covers (Talking Heads' "Thank-You For Bringing Me An Angel" and Tom Rush's "No Regrets," which Lee Hazlewood also covered), the new originals include "The Moviegoer," presumably named after the Walker Percy novel, the rave-up "It's Bringing You Down" and the only-ok instrumental "The Enabler."  Pup Tent has new drummer Lee Wall, and it's not quite as strong as the previous two albums, although it's far from a bad album.  The Days of Our Nights is still a little weaker in the knees.  Luna Live is a remarkably entertaining live album with some exciting interplay between Wareham and Eden.  Justin Harwood quit the band to return to New Zealand while this was being recorded, but new bassist Britta Phillips provides a seamless transition.  Romantica is a great album, the strongest since Penthouse.  Considering that Dean and Britta were about to start releasing non-Luna albums together and then get married a few years down the line, Pitchfork's assertion that Wareham's improved songwriting had a lot to do with his proximity to the lovely Ms. Phillips seems retroactively justified.  Close Cover Before Striking is an EP with a killer version of  Kraftwerk's "Neon Lights." Lunified is a post-breakup collections of covers from throughout Luna's career.  None of the covered tunes are surprising choices (Suicide, Beat Happening, Wire, Talking Heads, Lee Hazlewood, and so on), but Luna plays them pretty damn well.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Music Library: Love & Rockets, Love Tractor, Low, Lowe Stokes, Lowery 66

Love and Rockets - Love and Rockets (1989).  Sounds almost exactly like my junior years of high school, except that I was mostly listening to punk records then.

Love Tractor - This Ain't No Outer Space Ship (1987).  According to my sources, this album is, in fact, not an outer space ship, but a collection of music by a great Athens band.  Love Tractor was well-known for their instrumentals, but most of these are not instrumental songs.  They are, however, pretty great examples of the Southern strain of folk-rock-influenced indie rock of the day that some historians used to call "college rock."  It was known as such because many of the popular "college rock" musicians had roommates who died while they were recording these songs, which led to Robert Christgau giving these records an automatic A.

Low - Long Division (1995), In The Fishtank 7 (with Dirty Three, 1999), "Carnival Queen," Things We Lost In The Fire (2001), and The Great Destroyer (2005).  Low's music is - used to be, at least - aptly named.  The songs were minimalist, the beats slow, the singing somewhere between impassioned and cold, as if the listener is freezing to death with an image of warmth in his or her mind.  Long Division and most of Things We Lost In The Fire feature that sound.  This Fishtank release is one of the best, with Low and the Dirty Three pushing each other into weirder and weirder psychedelic heights.  "Carnival Queen" is a Jandek cover, but it sounds very Low-ish.  The first track of Things We Lost In The Fire, "Sunflower," is an extraordinary pop song.  The Great Destroyer adds faster tempo and louder guitars, but the overall effect is less than the quiet minimalism of High Low.

Lowe Stokes - Vol. 1 (1927 - 1930).  Stokes was a fiddler in Gid Tanner's Skillet Lickers back in the 30s.  As with many mountain fiddle tunes, some of these are hard to distinguish from each other.  "Prohibition Is A Failure" is a pretty great little slice of history, though.

Lowery 66 - Holiday With Genie (2002). A short-lived Austin band led by my pal John Troutman, also of the Mendoza Line, Lowery 66 specialized in delightful folky chamber-pop song-suites, not unlike Wilco of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.  Their sense of restraint adds considerable amount of tension into these songs, and Troutman's lyrics and singing have a certain Tweedy-like quality.  As shown by the cover painting, an artsy look at the lower deck of I-35 in central Austin, this is an Austin project through and through.  Troutman's been off in the world teaching history for a number of years now, though, so Lowery 66 never followed up on this album.  But for people like me who love Wilco and, say, Camper Van Beethoven or Richard Davies, this album is a pure pleasure.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Music Library: Love, Arthur Lee-Style

When I was young and firebellied with my head bursting with education and the sheer thrill of being alive, I could have explained Kant's Critique of Judgment to you, and you might have even found my explanation interesting.  But my memory and understanding of Kant's system of aesthetics have gone the way of my rudimentary understanding of the Russian language, so Прости меня.  I do recall that Kant lays out his taxonomy of art at one point, and he places music in the highest, least touchable, most ineffable category, because - and I am likely getting this wrong - he argues that music is the artform least affected by reason.

There's, of course, much more to philosophy than Kant, but his ideas were the touchstone for pretty much all of Western thought.  I forget which of his followers took his ideas of sublimity and attached them to dynamic conflict (Schopenhauer, maybe?  This sounds like him).  But whoever that dead German guy was, he was sure right.

One of the things that I most like to hear as a listener to music is the embrace of opposites, the way that great musicians take two mutually exclusive ideas and turn them into harmony - or, at least, a pleasing and harmonious disharmony or anti-harmony - without losing their essential components.  This is sublime: the semi-synthesis of opposites.  Arthur Lee, I say unto you, was a master of the sublime.

Arthur Lee was the frontman for Love, a multiracial rock band when there were few other multiracial rock bands.  Love played music that was simultaneously crude garage rock and ultra-sophisticated chamber pop.  Love's greatest album Forever Changes manages to rock like hell while rarely touching upon any of the key elements of rocking like hell.  In his excellent 33 1/3 book on Forever Changes, Andrew Hultkrans calls Lee prophetic, visionary, and apocalyptic.  He's dead right about the last two, but fortunately Lee is about as prophetic as The Book of Revelations, which is to say: not at all.  But I don't know that anyone has ever created apocalyptic rock with the fervor of Lee.  Most of his subject matter seems married to a metal sensibility, but, as I say, Love had no metal.  And I generally can't understand metal vocalists, anyway.

Love (1966).  The first album starts with a blistering garage version of Burt Bacharach's chordy and jazzy "My Little Red Book," which showcases how well the band straddles opposition.  The rest of the album is okay, if a bit derivative of The Byrds.  Lee's heroin anthem "Signed D.C." is a stunner and their version of "Hey Joe" cooks pretty well.  My version has both mono and stereo versions of the songs on it, and the mono versions, as you might guess, sound significantly better.  Also included is the pretty great "No. Fourteen," which was the b-side to "7 & 7 Is."

Da Capo (1967).  I like to pretend that Da Capo is an EP.  See, the first side to this short album is the very definition of essential music.  This is where Love solidifies its sound: driven by harpsichord (of all things!) and flute, packed with ballads, and yet it still rocks like hell. There is almost nothing like it.  The six songs of the first side drive relentlessly to the explosion that culminates "7 & 7 Is" and then settle back with "The Castle" and "She Comes In Colors."  Then the second side is a turgid yawn of a 19-minute blues jam called "Revelation" that is anything but.  I can only think of two other bands that made EPs-leading-to-LPs with such a sure hand: the Minutemen (with Buzz Or Howl Under The Influence Of Heat leading into Double Nickels On The Dime) and Mission of Burma (Signals, Calls and Marches leading into Vs.).

Forever Changes (1967).  Sublime is the word.  It sounds so organic, such a melding of five different personalities into one great whole of a band (as depicted in the cover picture) that its surprising to learn how fractious the recording was.  The legendary Wrecking Crew (in this case Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Billy Strange, and Don Randi) plays all of the instruments on two tracks ("Andmoreagain" and "The Daily Planet," the latter arranged by Neil Young) because the members of the band were so sick and angry with each other that they couldn't or wouldn't record together.  Perhaps living in the same house wasn't such a good idea.  But they got their act together and recorded the music on the rest of the album (sans Snoopy Pfisterer, who drummed on Love and played harpsichord and organ on Da Capo).  And the music looked into the darkness and doubt of LA's Summer of Love and turned it into a brilliant folk-flamenco-garage-chamber-artpunk document of the times falling apart.  No one bought it, though, and Arthur Lee disbanded the group.  According to legend, guitarist Johnny Echols and bassist Ken Forssi took to robbing doughnut stores with plastic water pistols.  Rhythm guitarist and co-songwriter Bryan MacLean got into drugs and then Jesus and only made two more albums before his premature death in 1998.  Ken Forssi died that same year, come to think of it.  And Arthur Lee died in 2006.  What a bummer this review is turning into!  But the album itself has bummer lyrics, albeit sublime bummer lyrics.  And sublime music.  I have friends who don't like or get this album, but I hope that someday they will. 

Four Sail (1969).  Too much a showman to let his fame go to waste, Arthur Lee rounded up a new group of musicians and lo and behold, it's pretty good.  I mean, it's not Love, really.  All of the gentle touch is gone: the songs are pretty much garage-y folk-rock through and through.  But the songs still have Arthur Lee's twisty way with words and structure, and a few genuine first-rate songs in "Robert Montgomery" and "Singing Cowboy."

Out Here (1969).  Consisting of pretty much everything recorded at the Four Sail sessions that didn't appear on Four Sail, this is where Lee starts to seriously dilute the Love name.  I mean, it's a double album that runs the gamut from truly sublime work to and handful of utterly silly and pointless songs.  And there's a definitely theme of self-sabotage that brings to mind other troubled geniuses like Alex Chilton, who allegedly destroyed the master tapes for the upbeat version of "Downs" just to spite his label.  What else could explain the excruciating drum solo that Lee pins to the end of the otherwise brilliant "Doggone?"  Still, for those of us who live to excavate buried treasure, there's plenty of greatness here.

False Start (1970).  Listeners can be forgiven for thinking they've accidentally cranked some Grand Funk instead of the greatest psychedelic genre-smashing band of the late 60s.  False Start opens with a track co-written by Lee and his pal Jimi Hendrix, but it doesn't do either any favors.  The rest of the album jams along loosely with only a few glimmers of Lee's trademark wit and wisdom.

Black Beauty + Rarities (1973). Arthur Lee disbanded Love again after False Start and set about making his first solo album, 1972's Vindicator.  He then finally accepted the truth that post-Forever Changes Love was simply Arthur Lee and whoever he was jamming with at the time.  Black Beauty includes a number of tracks from sessions credited to 'Love with Arthur Lee'.  Also included on the bootleg are a bunch of pre-Love surf and rock tracks that Lee played on and a few later tracks.

Reel To Real (1974). Arthur Lee sounds almost like Al Green on some of these tracks, and I mean that as a compliment.  One of the essential ingredients of Love's sublimation of opposites is its identity as a multiracial band playing a wide array of music that rarely dips into R&B or blues.  It was music mostly sung by a black man who sang nothing at all like how many people thought that a black man should sing.  False Start, on which Arthur Lee made a claim to be the toughest black man in rock music, sounds false.  And yet here, the Memphis-born Lee lays a claim, strongly, to the region's sweet soul music.  He doesn't forget who he is.  In fact, with all of the folky elements and psychedelic elements that he swirls into his soul music, this is his most successful album since Four Sail.  Maybe since Forever Changes.  It still has problems, but it also sounds heartfelt and meaningful and that counts for a lot.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Music Library: Louvin Brothers

Even when they sing secular music, the Louvin Brothers are about the best argument for the existence of a benevolent deity outside of the way that Christina Hendricks is shaped.  Charlie and Ira Loudermilk, who for some reason decided that "Louvin" was a more commercial name, sang a type of country gospel based on close harmony.  Many singers in popular music pitch their harmonies in fifths (C and G, for instance), which helps keep everyone in key and cover the tonal discrepancies of their voices.  Close harmony singers often pitch their harmonies in thirds, which can sound so very wrong with a lot of voices.  Many of the popular singers who have pulled off close harmonies are also closely related: the Beach Boys, the Everly Brothers, the Andrews Sisters.  It's not completely necessary, as in Simon and Garfunkel, but it seems to help.

Anyway, the Louvin Brothers sang in amazing close harmony, swooping about each other's lines, trading the melody, and generally performing impossible feats of sound as if it were nothing at all.  Even when they're singing about the dangers of being broadminded (as they tell us, it's spelled "s-i-n") or how removing the Bible from the classroom will lead to a generation of children who will never even have the chance to go to heaven (yikes!), even when their lyrics are about something that I - to put it mildly - have some qualms about, man oh man how I love their music.

Tragic Songs of Life (1956). Is there a better title for an album of country songs than this?  I would posit that there is not.  On their first secular album (and second album overall) The Louvins bring home the tragedy and murder and existential horror that our folk-loving forebearers called entertainment.  You will never hear better versions of "In The Pines" or "Knoxville Girl" than the versions on this album.

Satan Is Real (1959).  Some modern fans (and not-fans) of the Louvins don't know what to do with this album cover.  Fie upon them, though, because sublime and ridiculous aren't just well-acquainted but in fact have been living in sin since the first primate slipped in mammoth shit and executed a perfect half-gainer off a cliff.  This is a raggedly beautiful gospel album, fueled by the brothers' fundamentalism and given life by their sense - well, Ira's, at least - in their own damnation.  It's this same sense of a talent that work contrary to own's deeply held beliefs that makes Jerry Lee Lewis so good.  If you don't find yourself happily singing along with "The Christian Life," well, then, sinner, you are failing to enjoy the sweetest temptation of all.

A Tribute To The Delmore Brothers (1960).  The Delmore Brothers were a close harmony group of the 30s that rather directly influenced the Louvins. I have only a handful of Delmore Brothers songs in my collection, I'm afraid, so I can't really compare these to the originals.  But I can say that the Louvins are in top form on this album, with tracks like "Blues Stay Away From Me" and "Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar."  

When I Stop Dreaming: The Best of the Louvin Brothers (recorded 1952-1963).  This collection is the first Louvins album that I heard.  I was a big Uncle Tupelo fan and their cover of "The Great Atomic Power" plus a couple of positive mentions in No Depression led me to search this down in 1995.  It's such a great collection.  I might try to squeeze another few tracks on here if I had been the one to select 24 Louvin Brothers tracks for this collection.  But I can't imagine what I could possibly cut.  This is essential music.

Close Harmony (recorded 1949-1963).  This is the 8-disc Bear Family box set of Louvin tracks.  I think this is everything they recorded in a studio during their duration as a band.  I suspected that I would get tired of listening to the Louvins over the nearly 10 hours of music, but I didn't even grow remotely tired of them.  I had only shuffled through this collection prior to this, but listening to them swerve back and forth between gospel and pop songs, between bluegrass and country and Everly-style rock, that's what I call a wonderful time.  But someone should have stopped them during their tribute to the soldiers of the Korean War before they recorded "A Seaman's Girl."

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Moviegoer: March - April 2010

March and April were busy months with the packing and moving and prepping the house for the market.  But I did catch a few movies and read a few books.  Picking up from last time:

Movies (not all were first viewings)

17. The Killers: B+
18. A Perfect Couple: C- (blah, first of two terrible Altman films)
19. H.E.A.L.T.H.: D (gah)
20. Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback: B
21. Bad Day At Black Rock: B
22. A Serious Man: A+
23. Near Dark: C+
24. The Passion of Joan Of Arc: A+
25. Lola Montes: B+
26. Alphaville: B+
27. The Friends Of Eddie Coyle: A-
28. X Files: I Want To Believe: C
29. Hubble 3D: B

Books (Jan - Feb):
1. Against The Day - Pynchon
2. Chronic City - Lethem (both reviewed here)
3. Farber on Film - Manny Farber
4. Inherent Vice - Pynchon (both reviewed here)

(Mar - April)

5. Inventory: 16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls, 10 Great Songs Nearly Ruined by Saxophone, and 100 More Obsessively Specific Pop-Culture Lists - the AV Club
6. You Don't Love Me Yet - Lethem
7. Radio City (33 1/3) - Bruce Eaton
8. Geek Love - Katherine Dunn
9. Bend Sinister - Vladimir Nabokov

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Music Library: Loudon Wainwright III, Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan, Louis Prima

Loudon Wainwright III - "Dead Skunk," "The Acid Song," and "Motel Blues."  I've written before about how much I wish I liked Wainwright more than I do.  On paper it looks like I'd be a big fan of his.  In reality, though, he sorta grates on me.

Louis Armstrong - The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (1925-1929), Blow Satchmo Blow (1926-1938), Stardust (1931-1932), "Summertime," The Gold Collection (1954-1965), and Disney Songs The Satchmo Way (1966).  Oh, how I want to joke about how this icon of American popular music is a relative obscurity.  The laughs we would share!  But alas, rather than doing this I will instead talk a bit about the music herein.  Boring!  And yet there is nothing boring about most of this music.  The Hot Five and Hot Seven box set is so worth the money.  In fact anything the man made in the 20s and 30s is worth the money.   I don't have any of his recordings from the 40s for some reason.  "Summertime" is his string-laden duet with Ella Fitzgerald and it hits me to the soul.  The Gold Collection is also syrupy, but to far more varying effect.  And the Disney collection is unlistenably bad.

Not Louis Armstrong - "Oops I Did It Again."  Here's the parody hit that went around the web some years back.  See, the joke is that Louis Armstrong is a giant of jazz and here someone who sounds a little like him is performing a version of Britney Spears' "Oops I Did It Again."  Hilarity!  I mean, sure, Armstrong performed a lot of popular songs from different periods, and presumably would have been happy to record a song like this.  But he didn't!  And Britney Spears is a girl making girl music, which just adds to the hilarity.  Next thing you know, these guys will have a version of someone equally unlikely performing this song.  Maybe even Richard Thompson!

Louis Jordan - "Beans And Cornbread."  Some might think this is the greatest song of all time.  They might be right.  I had a full album of Louis Jordan songs, too, but it somehow got corrupted.  Boo.

Louis Prima - Collector's Series (1956-1962) and The Wildest! (1956).  Prima was indeed the wildest.  If there were only a handy metaphor for how the music of New Orleans often stews together an spicy combination of jazz, rock and roll, swing, Cajun music, and okra with a roux base!  But that would be silly because New Orleans isn't known for its cuisine.  So this Prima cat (and if any human being ever deserved to be dubbed "cat," it is this one) is hilarious and fun and wild and even touching.  Raw humanity poured into music, like one pours a delicious okra-and-seafood stew over rice.  Writing this made me strangely hungry.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Music Library: Lou Reed

Lou Reed is one of those guys who looms so large in my imagination that he seems fictional.  It seems so amazingly unlikely that any one guy would form the noise-pop-folk-and-above-everything-rock-rock-rock Velvet Underground, befriend Andy Warhol, go glam and androgynous in the Bowie-fueled 70s, release Metal Machine Music, spar with Lester Bangs, pluck Bob Quine from the punk scene and set him at his rightful place only to dump on him out of jealousy, go confessional, accept the elder statesman of rock mantle, and marry Laurie Anderson.  His coolness isn't just a shield but his divine right.  He doesn't need protection from people like me.  He was born into the natural aristocracy of music and legend.  And yet for such an amazing guy he has sure churned out a ton of shit.  The man has a bunch of albums that I would almost certainly never own.  And here's the ones I would own.  Are there more that I should have?

"(Do The) Ostrich."  Credited to Lou Reed and The Primitives, this is the 1964 dance craze that never happened, mostly because few were willing to follow the steps, which include instructions to put your head on the floor and let someone step on it.  Also on the single was one John Cale, who would play a large role in Reed's musical development.

Transformer (1972).  I've never picked up Reed's first solo album, but I probably should.  This is his second, on which he reinvents himself as a glam-rock icon.  This is a weird move for the man, since glam was at least partially built on Reed's own music with the VU.  It was like he became his own grandson.  Any album that includes tracks like "Perfect Day" and "Satellite of Love" is okay by me.

Berlin (1973).  This is Lou's intensely depressing concept album about a couple who destroy their lives through drugs and hard living.  Many of these songs recycle parts and themes he had been working on for years with the VU, and I think it's safe to say that this was his peak as a lyricist.  His songs work like little short stories throughout, capturing details that express more of the narrative than anything Reed could say directly.  The music is bombastic, which is what you can expect from producer Bob Ezrin.  And the album is a stone classic, although one that I find it hard to sit through.  I used to laugh about the insanity of the story of how Ezrin got the crying children in the background of "The Kids": according to legend Ezrin told his own children that their mother had been killed and recorded their anguish.  Now, with children of my own, the effect is more of what Ezrin was shooting for: I am horrified.  Is there a German word for unpleasant pleasures?

Metal Machine Music (1975).  One of the hallmarks of great provocateur art is the response of those who do not understand it: "I could do that!"  MMM contains four tracks, each roughly 16 minutes long (the album claims that they are all 16:01, but it lies), of two guitars feeding back.  The feedback is sometimes harmonious but more often dissonant.  The sound has been endlessly reviled, often winding up on 'worst album of all time' lists, but it has also inspired followers, such as Merzbow, Sonic Youth, most industrial bands, and any number of dark ambient metal bands.  Like most provocateur art, I find it more interesting to talk and read about than to experience.  But it will definitely spur a reaction, and I give it a spin every couple of years or so.  I would be remiss if I didn't link to at least one of Lester Bangs's articles about it.  I prefer a different one, though, where Bangs describes himself cruising in his car with MMM cranked on the stereo.  That's an image that never gets old.  Even better than ol' Lester, though, is my pal William Ham's article on MMM.   The Wall Street Journal recently quoted one of Bill's lines, marking the first appearance in those august pages of the phrase "sounds like Marshall stacks being pack-raped by angry kitchen appliances" since Reagan died.

The Blue Mask (1982).  What, you may ask, no Street Hassle?  I should get another copy of that sometime, true, since not only will I never listen to my cassette again, but I gave it away a few weeks ago.  But I have the title song on the collection at the end of this review, and that's really the best part of album.  The Blue Mask is another story, with Reed and Bob Quine making the best rock music of Reed's solo career.  Sadly, the lyrics are subpar at best.  I mean "Waves of Fear" is okay, but man, then there's "Women," in which Rock's Very Own Grumpy Uncle overcompensates for his gay-baiting past.  Embarrassing for all of us.  And yet it still rocks.  Question: why is the cover yet another version of the image of Reed from the cover of Transformer?  Was Transformer/glam music the mask, and if so, why is that mask blue ten years later?

Legendary Hearts (1983). The follow-up to The Blue Mask brings back Quine and bassist Fernando Saunders along with new drummer Fred Maher.  Musically, it's almost as good as The Blue Mask.  Lyrically, it's more evened out, but while the lows aren't as low as on the previous album, the highs aren't nearly as high.  Which isn't bad, really.

Live In Italy (1984).  Same band as on Legendary Hearts playing songs from as far back as the VU and on through the 70s.  Bob Quine notoriously complained about how quiet his guitar is in the mix, but I can hear him fine.  Still, there's no doubt that Reed was sick of Quine by this point (and vice versa).

New Sensations (1984).  Quine is gone, as is most of the music of interest.  This album has a lot of songs about embracing the quiet suburban life.  It's not so great.  Or good.

New York (1989).  Much was made of this as Reed's big comeback album, with Mark Deming at Allmusic even calling this his best solo album.  That it isn't, my friend.  It's quite good, mind you, but where Reed the lyricist once relied on nuance to tell his stories, this is nothing but angry confessional throughout, the equivalent of listening to deadpan Air America talk shows played in the key of G. One reference to the "Statue of Bigotry" might be acceptable if a little winceworthy, but Lou brings it up in two separate songs.  And his rant against Jesse Jackson in "Good Evening, Mr. Waldheim," as if the two were remotely equivalent, is bewildering.  Bad lyrics, incomprehensible politics, good music.

Between Thought And Expression (recorded 1972-1986).  This is an adequate retrospective I picked up nearly 20 years ago for a song.  I like having tracks from albums I don't want (like The Bells, for instance) and the unreleased tracks are generally pretty good (Don Cherry joining Reed on a version of "Heroin" from the late 70s, for instance).  Not a bad purchase, all in all.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Music Library: Lord Invader, Loren Mazzacane Connors, Loretta Lynn, Los Campesinos!, Los Lobos, Lost Patrol Band, Lothars

Lord Invader - Calypso in New York (recorded 1940s-1950s).  This is a Smithsonian Folkways collection of Lord Invader's excellent postwar calypso.  Lyrical topics range from party music to scathing indictments of American racism.  The man could cook.

Loren Mazzacane Connors - Long Nights (1995) and Airs (1999).  Avant-garde guitarist Connors plays some quite airy improvised music here.  When I was listening to it, I was exhausted and seeking to drown out the whirr of jet engines, and these did so without raising my blood pressure.

Loretta Lynn - You Ain't Woman Enough (1966) and Van Lear Rose (2004).  Both of these albums kick so much ass.  The former features Lynn's domestic first-wave feminist anthem and was produced by Nashville ace Owen Bradley.  For an album clearly assembled quickly to complement the single "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)," every song brings Lynn's smarts and passion to bear on the material.  Excellent stuff.  The second album is her most recent, one of the best - if not The Best - of the "new artist helps revitalize classic country artist" albums.  In this case, the new artist is Jack White of the White Stripes and every one of Lynn's performances on this album is a killer.

Los Campesinos! - Maida Vale Session (2006), "C Is The Heavenly Option," and Hold On Now, Youngster... (2008).  I like these singles and the album so much that I'm surprised I haven't picked up either of Los Campesinos!'s follow-ups.  These tracks have infectious energy and pop melody out the wazoo.

Los Lobos - Just Another Band From East L.A. (1978-1992).  Los Lobos isn't a favorite by a long shot, but I like them enough for about 2/3 of this collection.  They are best when playing rootsy rock & roll or during the droney songs of Kiko (and there's a good Mitchell Froom production).  There's a definite NPR vibe on all of their songs, though, as if they felt it necessary to make a bid for respectability that keeps the band from ever cutting loose.  But it's okay for what it is.

The Lost Patrol Band - "Safety Pin."  This is a rock song.  I have little else to say about it.

The Lothars - Meet The Lothars (1998).  Using three (or is it four?) theremins and an electric guitar, the Lothars (featuring my friend Jon Bernhardt) bring a distinctly rock approach to the avant-music herein.  Good stuff, and they got even better.  I used to have a copy of their 2000 album Oscillate My Metallic Sonatas, too, but I don't know what happened to it.

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