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.

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