Thursday, November 17, 2011

Music Library: Only Ones, Opal, Opeth, Orchestra of St. Luke's, Ornette Coleman

The Only Ones - The Only Ones (1978). Utterly phenomenal slice of power pop-punk anchored by "Another Girl, Another Planet," one of the best songs of the punk era. The Only Ones had a lot of Rolling Stones and Big Star mixed in with their punk guitars and attitude, and it is only right and natural that they influenced both The Replacements and Yo La Tengo. This is a great album by any measure.

Opal - Happy Nightmare, Baby (1987) and Early Recordings (1989). With a guitarist from Rain Parade and a bassist/vocalist from The Dream Syndicate, Opal was a Paisley Underground supergroup of sorts. When bassist Kendra Smith left during their first tour, the band recruited singer Hope Sandoval to replace her and then changed their name to Mazzy Star, which was quite popular for a while during the 90s. These tracks sound like the work of a band halfway between Rain Parade and Mazzy Star, and that's not a bad thing. I like Rain Parade and The Dream Syndicate more than these songs, but I like these quite a bit, too. I'm indifferent to Mazzy Star, though.

Opeth - Blackwater Park (2001). Prog-metal! But while I love some prog and some metal, this is all the Opeth I need. I like this album, but my heart is not truly brutal enough to listen to this often, I'm afraid.

Orchestra of St. Luke's - Bach: Four Concerti For Various Instruments (1994). This Bach cat can swing!

Ornette Coleman - Something Else!!!! (1958), Tomorrow Is The Question! (1959), The Shape Of Jazz To Come (1959), Change Of The Century (1960), This Is Our Music (1961), Free Jazz (1961), Ornette (1962), Ornette On Tenor (1962), Beauty Is A Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (1958-1962), At The Golden Circle In Stockholm, Vols. 1 and 2 (1965), New York Is Now (1968), The Complete Science Fiction Sessions (1971), Of Human Feelings (1982), and Sound Grammar (2006). I don't need to convince you of Ornette Coleman's brilliance, do I? In my opinion, he's one of the  greatest musicians/theoreticians that jazz produced (I'd put him in the top five along with Monk, Trane, Miles, and Mingus). Under his direction, his band tore into his knotty compositions and remade jazz into something far more unpredictable and exciting. The first eight of these albums were released on Atlantic, with a variable band that always included Don Cherry on cornet or pocket trumpet. The band often had Charlie Haden on bass and Billy Higgins on drums, too. And pretty much all of these albums are utterly breathtaking, even fifty years later. The Shape Of Jazz To Come and This Is Our Music are my favorites, but only by a hair. The Beauty Is A Rare Thing collection includes some outtakes that are equal to the greatness of the albums. The Golden Circle live albums are also phenomenal, practically bursting at the seams with great ideas. New York Is Now, recorded with Coltrane's former rhythm section of Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones, is an interesting attempt to recast traditional "modern jazz" into something new. Science Fiction is all over the map, with Stockhausenish noise and Sun Ra-ish vocalizing and elements of funk and soul. It is my least favorite of all of these Ornette albums, but please keep in mind that it is still an incredible album. Of Human Feelings is some pure 70s-style Miles afrobeat-funk with some dips and turns that actually remind me of Captain Beefheart. I love it. Sound Grammar is a two-bass quartet album that won Coleman the Pulitzer Prize. Uncharacteristically, most of the songs are reworking of older compositions, but the music still sounds amazingly fresh and vital for the work of a 76-year-old man. Here's Ornette on SNL playing a track from Of Human Feelings after being introduced by Milton Berle, of all people.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Music Library: Om and Oneida

Om - Variations On A Theme (2005), Conference Of The Birds (2006), Inerrant Rays Of Infallible Sun (Blackship Shrinebuilder) EP (split single with Current 93, 2006), OM/Six Organs Of Admittance split (2006), Pilgrimage (2007), Gebel Barkal 7" (2008), Live At Jerusalem (2008), Conference Live (2009), God Is Good (2009). After the extraordinary stoner metal band Sleep broke up in 1998, guitarist Matt Pike went on to form High On Fire while bassist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius formed Om, a two-man, all-rhythm section band that was part heavy stoner rock and part drone-oriented space rock. They are astonishing for what they can do with such minimalist power. Many of their songs are quite long, although they started to punctuate the longer songs with shorter interludes on more recent albums. Hakius left after Pilgrimage, but the new drummer Emil Amos is just as expressive. Most of these releases are quite similar, though, with every album being as much a variation on a theme as the first. I like Pilgrimage and God Is Good the most because they add in quite a bit more dynamic without losing the all-important focus on the mystical drone.

Oneida - Enemy Hogs (1999), Come On Everybody Let's Rock (2000), Anthem Of The Moon (2001), Steel Rod EP (2001), Atheists Reconsider (split EP with Liars, 2002), Each One Teach One (2002), Secret Wars (2004), The Wedding (2005), Happy New Year (2006), Nice/Splittin'? Peaches EP (2008), Preteen Weaponry (2008), Rated O (2009), Absolute II (2011). Oneida is just as experimental as Om, although all they share is a sense of drone. Oneida has a healthy interest in many other styles and sounds, including classic rock, krautrock, fingerstyle folk (strangely enough), and lots and lots of noise. The earlier albums feature songs that are more conventionally structured than the later ones. Each One Teach One, a major turning point, starts with two roughly 15-minute tracks that are both built are minimal riffs (the first, "Sheets Of Easter" is pretty much a single chord). Secret Wars, a truly great album, incorporates many of Oneida's interests into a coherent whole. The Wedding and Happy New Year are close behind, although both are more eclectic. Preteen Weaponry is pretty much an amazing, sprawling single track split into three parts. Rated O brings in some dancehall sounds from the third world, strangely enough, and spans a three-album length with not many stops between songs. Absolute II, unfortunately, is no fun at all, a four-song, mostly keyboard-dominated album that seems to be all about trying the patience of listeners as the band tosses out annoying sound after annoying sound. Sorry, I came to this party for some mind-melting eclectic psych jams, not the sounds that Kraftwork would reject as too inhumanly dull.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

At The AV Club: lots of things

I have been absent for a little while. Among the things I have neglected to mention here are that I am writing about three shows for the AV Club now.

Prime Suspect: A show that's neither good nor bad nor just a kid like you. Sorry for the undeserved Leon Payne/Hank Williams reference.

The Simpsons: A show that has become defiantly not good. The commenters there remind me why I used to always avoid AV Club comments like the plague.

Avatar: The Last Airbender: I've resumed season two coverage here.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Music Library: Okkervil River, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Old 97's, Olivia Tremor Control

Okkervil River - Don't Fall In Love With Everyone You See (2002), Down The River Of Broken Dreams (2003), Sham Wedding/Hoax Funeral EP (with Shearwater, 2004), Black Sheep Boy (2005), The President's Dead (2006), and The Stage Names (2007). Okkervil River is a band that I like but do not love.  I wish it were otherwise, especially now that they have added the ultra-talented Lauren Gurgiolo to their line-up. Actually, that is unfair, as I have heard nothing from the new album, which the one she plays on. I might love it. These albums, unfortunately, have not given me much of an incentive. I really like Down The River of Broken Dreams, which sounds like a kaleidoscope version of some amalgam of The Band and Neutral Milk Hotel.  The next few albums and EPs, though, give me diminishing returns down to The Stage Names, which moves me not at all.

Ol' Dirty Bastard - Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version (1995). Yeah, this is fun.

Old 97's - Wreck Your Life (1998), Fight Songs (1999),
Satellite Rides (2001), and Blame It On Gravity (2008). Like Wreckless Eric, The Old 97's are a power pop band masquerading as a flavor of country.  As a power pop band, they are pretty good if never hands-down great.  As an alt-country outfit, they're a bar band.  The best of these is Satellite Rides, which abandons most of the country for some pure pop hooks.

Olivia Tremor Control - Music From The Unrealized Film Script, Dusk At Cubist Castle (1996), Explanation II: Instrumental Themes And Dream Sequences (1996), Pre-Cubist Castle Demos (1996), The Opera House EP (1997), John Peel Session 3/18/97, Live At Terrastock 4/27/97, Live in Chicago 5/1/97, Live In Atlanta 11/22/97, Live At The Emmaboda Festival (1998), Black Foliage: Animation Music (1999), Live In San Francisco 4/23/99, Live in Toronto 11/5/99, tracks from Smiling Pets (1999), "European Son," and Presents: Singles And Beyond (2000). As this list might indicate, I love the hell out of The Olivia Tremor Control. Dusk At Cubist Castle was a favorite way back in 1996, when I was just starting to figure out the greatness of the Beach Boys and quite into 60s psychedelia in general. I enjoy OTC's forays into electronic weirdness, too, although too much of it at once can tip it into boredom.  All of these live bootlegs are somewhere between fun and disposable, though.  The OTC is best at studio-level production.  If you're just looking for one or two albums, I think you will be plenty happy with Dusk At Cubist Castle and Singles And Beyond. Leave the rest for fanatics.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

At The AV Club: Avatar: The Last Airbender, Episodes 2.9, 2.10, and 2.11

In which I review three great episodes before our TV Club Classic Avatar coverage goes on hiatus for a few months.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

At The AV Club: Avatar: The Last Airbender, Episodes 2.7 and 2.8 plus Masterpiece Mystery: Inspector Lewis

In which I review "Zuko Alone," which is my favorite Avatar episode, and "The Chase," which is pretty well close.

In which I review the latest episode of Inspector Lewis.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

At The AV Club: Avatar: The Last Airbender, episodes 2.5 and 2.6

In which I review the mediocre "Avatar Day" and the excellent "Blind Bandit."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Music Library: O Bando, Jim O'Rourke, Obsessed, Octopus Project, Of Montreal, Oh-OK, Ohio Express

O Bando - O Bando (1969). Tropicalia from the psych-garage side.  It's okay, but it's nowhere in the league of the identically named (given the translation) The Band.

Jim O'Rourke - Long Night (2008). From O'Rourke's experimental side, this is a single work split into two parts, each about an hour and 20 minutes long. While I like it, I'm not sure that I got enough out of it to justify the time I put into it.

The Obsessed - Lunar Womb (1991). Scott "Wino" Weinrich's band prior to St. Vitus was The Obsessed, based out of Maryland. When The Obsessed's original album from the early 80s was finally released in 1990, Wino left St. Vitus, pulled together a new rhythm section, and called this new band The Obsessed.  This is the second Obsessed album, therefore, but it's the first with the band as it was comprised in the 90s. Anyway, it's typically great doom metal, like most everything Wino does.  And the cover, one of Goya's dark period paintings, is metal as fuck all.

The Octopus Project - One Ten Hundred Thousand Million (2004). Oh, this is just great. Indie-pop from Austin with a killer electronica coloration.  Fantastic stuff.

Of Montreal - The Sunlandic Twins (2005). Bowiesque indie pop. I sorta like it, but I'm not crazy about it. I generally love the Elephant 6 bands.  Of Montreal, though, I don't love,  Maybe someday.

Oh-OK - The Complete Recordings (recorded 1982-1984). Now this is an Athens band I love. Led by Michael Stipe's sister Lynda and Linda Hopper, Oh-OK was a fascinating band.  At first, they featured Stipe on bass and vocals, Hopper on vocals, and a drummer pumping out dance beats.  Later they added Matthew Sweet on guitar, and that's great, too, but I like 'em best with the more stripped-down sound.

Ohio Express - "Yummy Yummy Yummy" and "Chewy Chewy." Bubblegum music is the naked truth! Some folks don't take these songs seriously, but you can hear a whole lot of punk and post-punkish pop in them.

At The AV Club: Avatar: The Last Airbender, episodes 2.3 and 2.4

In which I cover Return to Omashu and The Swamp.  In the comments, I mention my recent health problems.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Music Library: Nirvana, No Age, No Man/No Man's Band, NoMeansNo, NOMO, Norman Blake, Notwist, Nouvelle Vague, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Nirvana - Bleach (1989), Nevermind (1991), In Utero (1993), MTV Unplugged In New York (1994). Is there a point to writing about these guys at this stage?  I think everything that I could possibly say has been said ad nauseam.  I will say that my favorite of these is the Unplugged album, not least because it has the Meat Puppets on it.

No Age - Weirdo Rippers (2007) and Nouns (2008).  Great indie rock band. I always love these guys when I listen to them and completely forget about them later. And then I'm surprised when they come up again.

No Man/No Man's Band - Damage The Enemy (1989). Art-rock from Mission of Burma's Roger Miller in the between years.  It's alright, but it ain't no Mission of Burma.

NoMeansNo - 0 + 2 = 1 (1991) and In The Fishtank 1 (1999). Solid SST-style punk rock.  The Fishtank EP is one of the early ones, before they hit on the idea of bringing in two different bands to try to merge their styles.

NOMO - New Tones (2006), Ghost Rock (2008), and Invisible Cities (2009). An instrumental band with a healthy dose of afrobeat melding with jazz, tropicalia, post-rock, and avant-rock, NOMO is fascinating. Their cover choices are extraordinary, too. New Tones features, besides - it should be said - the killer originals, the most unlikely cover of Joanna Newsom's "Book Of Right-On." Invisible Cities, which does add quite a bit of tropicalia madness, includes a cover of Tom Zé's monster track, "Mã." All in all, all three of these are fantastic.

Norman Blake - Live At McCabe's (1976), Whiskey Before Breakfast (1976), Norman Blake and Tony Rice 2 (with Tony Rice, 1990).  Blake, who is not the guy from Teenage Fanclub, is one of the major bluegrass guitarists alive today. He's played with pretty much everyone, including Dylan, Cash, and Steve Earle. His solo work features astonishing virtuosity presented with utter relaxation. That tension is amazing to hear. His collaboration with Tony Rice has the two greased-axle players trading licks with more notes than every other album released in 1990 combined. And it's only 30-something minutes long.  If these guys didn't have such feel for their material, this would be Yngwie-style wanking, but they play with not just speed but nuance, and that means everything.

The Notwist - Neon Golden (2002).  The formula of indie-rock-plus-electronica-percussion has been copied by a gazillion bands by now, but The Notwist were early adopters. These songs are excellent, and the unusual sounds they add are quite pleasing to my ears. I think Pitchfork stuck the song "One With The Freaks" on their best-of-the-00s list.

Nouvelle Vague - "Too Drunk To Fuck." French cabaret-style cover of the Dead Kennedys song.  Yawn.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - Mustt Mustt (1990) and Bandit Queen Soundtrack (1996). Khan was one of the major practitioners of the traditional devotional music of the Sufis, Qawwali.  He's an amazing singer, but even in these albums, which are somewhat Western-oriented in their production, I find that I am sadly indifferent to his charms. I can hear his talent, but it doesn't speak to me.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Music Library: Nick Lowe, Nicky Hopkins, Nico, Nina Nastasia, Nina Simone

Nick Lowe - Jesus of Cool (1978), "Let's Eat," Labour of Lust (1979), Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds Sing The Everly Brothers EP (1980), Nick The Knife (1982), Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit (1984), "I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock and Roll," Party of One (1990), The Impossible Bird (1994), Dig My Mood (1998), The Convincer (2001), Untouched Takeaway (2004), At My Age (2007), and Quiet Please: The New Best Of Nick Lowe (2009).  It seems there should be a genre name for the type of songs that Nick Lowe writes, even though it's clear that, at least in the early days, he's working against multiple genre conventions.  They're all somewhere between country and pop, deeply informed by the protopunk-ish pub rock of the 70s, but still hard to shoehorn in any subgenre other than just plain rock.  What Lowe does is craft extraordinary songs, built around a central conceit that is generally simple and rich at the same time.  As much as I like the younger, more rockin' Lowe, I really love the older, more mature songwriter that he grew into around 1990 with Party of One. That and every album after is a near-perfect collection of songs.

Nicky Hopkins - The Tin Man Was A Dreamer (1973).  Hopkins was a session musician for many classic rock tracks, especially with the Stones. Considering how talented he was as a sideman, I hoped that  this would be an excellent album, but unfortunately, I was a little underwhelmed in two listens.  Perhaps I'll change my mind over time.

Nico - Chelsea Girl (1967) and The Marble Index (1969). She may not be much of a singer, but these chamber pop pieces are gorgeous and powerful.  She wrote very little on the first and almost all of the second, but they seem of a piece.  Consider how instrumental Jackson Browne was for the first album (even writing the amazing track "These Days," which is my favorite Nico song). I can't believe I'm complimenting Jackson Browne, but there you go.

Nina Nastasia - Dogs (2000), The Blackened Air (2002), Run To Ruin (2003), On Leaving (2006), You Follow Me (with Jim White, 2007), and Outlaster (2010). Nastasia is possibly my favorite underappreciated songwriters currently working. These songs tend to come across as folk revival tracks at first, but Nastasia is an odd bird of an artist.  Her tracks veer off into odd tangents, chasing the emotion far beyond the bounds of traditional songcraft.  With only six albums to her name, it seems unfair to say that three are my favorites, but it is true.  The Blackened Air is a horror story masquerading as folk music, as if Flannery O'Connor and Shirley Jackson were collaborating on songs.  You Follow Me features stunning interplay between Nastasia and Dirty Three drummer Jim White, who makes the most of Nastasia's lovely, unsettling songs. Outlaster is a heartbreaker with Nastasia's trademark near-perfect songs.  Only "You're A Holy Man" stands out as a less-than-great track, and I'm even on the fence about that one. Seems appropriate that she should come up in a post that also includes Nick Lowe and Nico.

Nina Simone - Little Girl Blue (1958), Verve Jazz Masters 17 (1958-1967), Wild Is The Wind (1966), The Essential Nina Simone Vol. I (1967-1973), and The Essential Nina Simone Vol. II (1967-1971).  A singer of neither pure jazz nor R&B, Simone was extraordinary for her ability to combine many different styles into something uniquely her own.  Her deep, sometimes-brassy, sometimes-bassoony voice is like no other.  I'm not crazy about all of the rock covers on the last two albums, neither of which seems all that essential, but there's enough pleasure to justify them, anyway.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

At The AV Club: Avatar: The Last Airbender, episodes 2.1 and 2.2 plus Gloria: In Her Own Words

In which I discuss the first two episodes of season two of Avatar: The Last Airbender, which includes the hilarious "The Cave Of Two Lovers."


In which I discuss the HBO documentary on Gloria Steinem called Gloria: In Her Own Words.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Music Library: New York Dolls, Gary Newcomb Trio, Joanna Newsom, Ney Matogrosso, Nick Cave, Nick Drake

New York Dolls - New York Dolls (1973) and Too Much Too Soon (1974). I doubt I have to convince any of the theoretical readers of this blog that the New York Dolls were both groundbreaking and astonishingly great.  A lot of dudes put on makeup and ladies' clothing after the Dolls, but none wore them with the same crazy wit and most made music that wasn't even in the same ballpark.

The Gary Newcomb Trio - The Gary Newcomb Trio (2008).  An Austin-based country-pop trio that featured a pedal steel player in the traditional guitarist's role and my pal Brandon on bass, The Gary Newcomb Trio are a fun listen.  Recommended.

Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me (2010).  Perhaps I'm overwhelmed, but this is the first Joanna Newsom album that really has failed to grab me.  I mean, I like it, but I don't love and I don't really see it as a great leap forward.  Her first had more catchy songs on it and her second seems more wildly ambitious.  This one seems more like a tribute to Joni Mitchell and Fleetwood Mac than an attempt to rewrite American folk music.  More isn't always more, if you know what I mean.

Ney Matogrosso - As Ilhas single (1974).  Apparently this guy is a sort of Brazilian Klaus Nomi, with a stage show featuring absurdist outfits and a outlandishly high singing voice.  These two tracks are rather like Brazilian chamber pop.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - From Her To Eternity (1984), The First Born Is Dead (1985), Kicking Against The Pricks (1986), Let Love In (1994), Murder Ballads (1995), and The Boatman's Call (1997).  I'm a relatively recent convert to Nick Cave.  He seemed so overwrought to me when I was younger, but his music hits me right in the gut now.  Fans: what should I get next?  These albums are fairly remarkable for their ability to be somewhat the same over a lot of variation in style.  For Her To Eternity combines avant-noise with Tom Waits-ian theatrics and some wonderfully tense dynamics.  The First Born Is Dead has all of those elements, but the album deconstructs the blues.  Kicking Against The Pricks is a covers album that maintains the building dread of the first two albums with even more cabaret-style theatrics.  There's some five albums I don't have in the gap here, but Let Love In is an astonishingly dark and fun albums of songs about the destructive nature of love.  Murder Ballads promises on its title, with death and (comical) mayhem filling each song to the brim.  The Boatsman's Call, on the other hand, shed the theatrics in favor of breathtaking intimate ballads.  All of these albums are fantastic, so tell me: what next, friends?

Nick Drake - Five Leaves Left (1969), Bryter Layter (1970), Pink Moon (1972), Time Of No Reply (released 1996) and Made To Love Magic (released 2004).  The tragedy of Nick Drake's death is part of the story of his life, the quintessential talented young guitarist and songwriter who was too sensitive for this world.  These albums support the image of oversensitivity.  Five Leaves Left is almost impossibly beautiful, but it is also a chilly album with quite a bit of remove. Every song is perfect, though, with the right amount of taste in the accompaniment (Richard Thompson's guitar on "Time Has Told Me" is especially great, as are Robert Kirby's string arrangements).  Bryter Layter is a mistake that amplifies the arrangements to an unfortunate level. There are good songs under all of that goop, but only a few are pleasant listens for me.  Pink Moon, the last album he made while alive, is of an even more perfect and chilly and bleak beauty, like the harvest moon referenced in the title song.  The two posthumous albums consist of outtakes and home recordings and are mostly not that enjoyable.

At The AV Club: Avatar: The Last Airbender, episodes 1.19 & 1.20

In which we reach the two-part finale of season one.

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