Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 Favorites + 2008 Faves Reconsidered

I haven't listed my year-end faves in a while, but if there's one thing the nation is clamoring for, it's the half-baked opinion of an old white guy. Anyway, the only film release I saw was Gravity, which looked great, but did not have much to say beyond pointing out that in space no one can hear you scream. So I'm going to list my favorite albums and then go back and reassess my favorites from five years back to see how they've held up.

1. Superchunk - I Hate Music. This is my favorite album of the year because I am nothing if not predictable. And I love this video because old.

2. Earthless - From The Ages. I don't know why it took so long for Earthless to make their third studio album, but I'm really glad they did. Their instrumental guitar-god psychedelic metal is almost the exact opposite of Superchunk's tight indie-pop gems, but I love this album almost as much as I Hate Music.

3. Hookworms - Pearl Mystic. Do I like retro-fuzz psychedelia with krautrock influence? Yes I do! So much so that I'm listing this album right after the Earthless one, even though they share a certain mentality. I found this band thanks to KEXP and they work for me like gangbusters.

4. Mavis Staples - One True Vine. She has marched on Washington, loved Bob Dylan, revitalized secular gospel, been in the business for more than 60 years, and she still has it in her to come up with something interesting and fun. Jeff Tweedy's production is sympathetic, too.

5. My Bloody Valentine - m b v. This album appears to be a time machine to my 20s.

6. Thee Oh Sees - Floating Coffin. Perhaps not quite as fantastic as the last few, but still very, very, very good.

7. Kurt Vile - Wakin On A Pretty Daze. I love Vile's music, but he's basically the hipster Jack Johnson, right? I mean, there's all this good-time/lazy-time vibe to all of his music. I like that he lets loose on the guitar on this album.

8. Wire - Change Becomes Us. I've run hot and cold on the third (or is this the fourth?) incarnation of Wire, but I really like this album, which mostly consists of rewrites of unrecorded tracks from the late 70s/early 80s.

9. Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels. This album from El-P and Killer Mike is excellent all around. And hilarious.

10. Darcy James Argue's Secret Society - Brooklyn Babylon. Argue's big band-free jazz society made a fantastic concept album.

Special Mention: Sally Crewe - "Making Plans For Nigel." Excellent new single from Ms. Crewe.

Other albums I liked:

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
The Dexateens - Sunsphere EP
The Fall - Re-Mit
The Flaming Lips - The Terror
Melvins - Everybody Loves Sausages
Pink Avalanche - Wraiths
Richard Thompson - Electric
Yo La Tengo - Fade


In 2008, I had a Top 20 list, but here's the top 10 of those for consistency.

1. Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life/Year of the Pig EP
2. Boris - Smile
3. Oneida - Preteen Weaponry
4. The Instruments - Dark Småland
5. Why? - Alopecia
6. Robert Forster - The Evangelist
7. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
8. Black Mountain - In The Future
9 (tie). The Dexateens - Lost & Found
9 (tie). The Distant Seconds - Spectral Evidence
10. Earth - The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull

Five years later, I would change this list up only a little bit. While I still like the albums by Oneida, The Instruments, Why?, Robert Forster (which was the toughest to move down, actually), and Black Mountain, the Harvey Milk, Earthless, Torche, and Benko albums are so great that they need to be on this list. I had heard the TV On The Radio and New Year albums that year, but I ranked them too low. There were a lot of other albums I have subsequently heard and liked a lot, too, and the ones that were real contenders were by Atlas Sound, James Blackshaw, Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves, Fennesz, and Jay Reatard. All in all, though, not too bad a report card. I'll give myself a gentleman's B. Maybe a B-.

1. Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life
2. Boris - Smile
3. Harvey Milk - Life... The Best Game In Town
4. Earthless - Live At Roadburn
5. TV On The Radio - Dear Science
6. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
7. The New Year - The New Year
8. Torche - Meanderthal
9 (tie). The Distant Seconds - Spectral Evidence
9 (tie). The Dexateens - Lost & Found
9 (tie). Benko - Welcome To The Follow Through
10. Earth - The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Music Library: T-Bone Burnett, T. Rex, Talking Heads, Tall Dwarfs, Tamás Vásáry, Tammy Wynette, Tapes 'n Tapes, Tarnation

Talking Heads, fool.

T-Bone Burnett & Richard Thompson - "Welcome Home, Mr. Lewis." I don't have a whole lot of tracks where RT plays on other people's songs, but this one, a tasteful instrumental, is just peachy.

T. Rex - My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows (as Tyrannosaurus Rex, 1968), Prophets, Seers & Sages - The Angels of the Ages (as Tyrannosaurus Rex, 1968), Unicorn (as Tyrannosaurus Rex, 1969), Electric Warrior (1971), The Slider (1972), Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow (1974). Man, the 70s did something weird to Marc Bolan's head where he abruptly shifted from hippie acid-folk of Tyrannosaurus Rex to the glam-fuzz-chamber-pop genius of T. Rex. Tyrannosaurus Rex was a folk duo that makes Devendra Banhart sound like the cover artist he secretly is while T. Rex was a guitar-and-drums duo (at its core, at least) that added layers and layers of fuzz and strings with Bowie's producer Tony Visconti as the conduit. Every single one of these albums is brilliant in its own way, although Zinc Alloy is starting to sound a little tired. Electric Warrior and The Slider are both utterly perfect, though. And geez, check out these videos. Marc Bolan basically invented Paul Stanley of Kiss's schtick, strutting around as if he doesn't notice that he has a damn congo player on stage. And he's wearing a t-shirt with his own face on it in the second video.

Talking Heads - Talking Heads: 77 (1977), More Songs About Buildings And Food (1978), Fear Of Music (1979), Remain In Light (1980), The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads (live album, 1977-81), Speaking In Tongues (1983), Stop Making Sense: Special New Edition (live album, 1984), Little Creatures (1985), True Stories (1986), Naked (1988), Bonus Rarities And Outtakes (compilation, 1977-1991), Popular Favorites 1976-1992: Sand In The Vaseline. Unlike everyone else who loves rock, I love the Talking Heads. They legendarily started out calling themselves either The Artistics or the Autistics depending on how they felt that evening. Their first single was the sublime "Love -> Building On Fire," which is sometimes my favorite song. Then they added Jerry Harrison, formerly of the venerable Modern Lovers, on keyboards and second guitar. Then they made a great album (77), followed by a brilliant album that more or less provided a blueprint for nerdy indie-rock funk (More Songs). Then they brought in Brian Eno to help develop Byrne's obsession with Fela Kuti and afrobeat in general into something completely new (Fear Of Music and Remain In Light). Then there's The Name Of This Band, which provides a different dimension on all of this creativity by showcasing their live persona, an impossible blend of aloof and impassioned music with Byrne's "I just landed here from Mars" stage presence. It is also perfect. Then there's their embrace of domestic funk with Speaking In Tongues and Stop Making Sense, still the greatest concert-film of all time. Little Creatures gets a bad rap for being lesser, but it is not really any lesser than Tongues, just obsessed with gospel and Southern jangle-pop. Even True Stories, the music to a weird, not-entirely-successful film attempts to connect with country music and is pretty phenomenal, all things considered. Naked, though, flounders on the second side, with Byrne sounding bored, despite the tropicalia tribute music blooming all about him. Bonus Rarities, for the most part, demonstrates why these tracks were outtakes or alternate takes left on the cutting room floor. Sand In The Vaseline has a few more nonalbum tracks, but none are that interesting. And now some videos! Here's a stunning live version of "Love -> Building On Fire" from The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads.

Here's the brilliant opening of Stop Making Sense. "Hi. I have a tape I want to play."

"I Zimbra" on Letterman.

Here's Pops Staples singing "Papa Legba" in True Stories, somehow made better by David Byrne and John Goodman's overdubbed German.

Tall Dwarfs - Hello Cruel World (compilation, 1981-84), The Short And Sick Of It (compilation, 1985-86), Dogma EP (1987), Fork Songs (1991), 3 EPs (1994). The mighty Tall Dwarfs were a New Zealand-based duo consisting of Alex Bathgate and Chris Knox who made bathtub psychedelia by home recording all manner of instrumentation over their simple-but-effective punk-based songs. It is impossible to overstate their influence on, say, Beck or Neutral Milk Hotel. Of these, Hello Cruel World and Fork Songs are my favorites, but all Tall Dwarfs albums are great.

Tamás Vásáry - Chopin: Piano Works [Nocturnes . Waltzes . Ballades . Scherzi] (recorded 1966). Is pretty piano music. I feel unqualified to say anything further about it.

Tammy Wynette - Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad (1967) and D-I-V-O-R-C-E (1968). I admit that I sometimes get Tammy Wynette's songs confused with Loretta Lynn's. I mean, both are feminist country songwriters who burst out of the late 60s in a fury of rural women finding their voice. Tammy Wynette is the one where all her songs of this era are about dealing with the assholish chauvinism of rural men, whereas Loretta Lynn is more about kicking someone's ass for messing with her stability. Subtle but important difference! Man, dig this lady's wit.

Tapes 'n Tapes - The Loon (2005) and Walk It Off (2008). Pretty straightforward indie-rock beholden to Pavement without their wit and creativity. Not bad for what it is, but what it is is just okay.

Tarnation - Gentle Creatures (1995). This is alt-country through the lens of Patsy Cline's weepier music and David Lynch's goth-pop-rockabilly sensibility. It is quite, quite good.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Music Library Catch-Up: Belle and Sebastian, Cramps, Dexateens, Dylan, High Fidelics, Lou Reed, Sparklehorse

This is yet another post in which I discuss a few albums that I've picked up since I covered the artist in question.

Belle and Sebastian - The Third Eye Centre (compilation, 2003-13). This is a collection of EP and b-side tracks that was released this year. It's not as comprehensive as 2004's Push Barman To Open Old Wounds compilation, but I still like it. I wish I'd double-checked to see how many of these tracks I already had, though.

The Cramps - Smell Of Female (1983). I generally hate live albums because they are so often, in the words of Camper Van Beethoven, greatest hits played faster. This Cramps live album, however, captures the sound of a show where flat-out anything could happen. This is the kind of music that begs to be called "blistering." I'm willing to grant it.

The Dexateens - Sunsphere (2013). Alabama's mighty Dexateens, a band I love, dropped this EP earlier this year. It was actually recorded in a flurry of action in 2009, the same year as the band's last album Singlewide. I guess this means that it features the last line-up. Anyway, it rocks most righteously.

Bob Dylan - Biograph (compilation, 1962-81) and "Watching The River Flow." I never realized that there were nonalbum tracks on this box set. These are those tracks! Most of them are quite good and some are utterly essential, so I recommend them for the semi-obsessed Dylan fan. "Watching The River Flow" is a nonalbum track from Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II, which I have (or at least used to have?) on vinyl. Anyway, I picked this up, too, because "semi-obsessed Dylan fan" are words that could possibly be directed at yours truly.

The High Fidelics - The High Fidelics (2012). This is a first-rate surf-influenced instrumental rock band from Alabama. They have a Shadows-like willingness to mix other retro-exotica-cool sounds in with their surf music, and the interplay between guitarist Edwin Cleverdon and organist Robert Huffman is excellent fun. The rhythm section is no joke, either. Highly recommended. The spacey "Theme From Kismet" is my favorite of their tracks, but they are all worth a listen. Check them out here.

Lou Reed - Lou Reed (1972), Rock 'n Roll Animal (1973), Sally Can't Dance (1974), Lou Reed Live (1975), Coney Island Baby (1976), Rock and Roll Heart (1976), Street Hassle (1978), Take No Prisoners (1978), The Bells (1979), Growing Up In Public (1980), Bottom Line NYC (bootleg, 1983), Mistrial (1986), Songs For Drella (with John Cale, 1990), Magic & Loss (1992), Set The Twilight Reeling (1996), and Ecstasy (2000). Let me start by saying that I have about half of these on vinyl, but never felt the need to pick up digital copies until Lou's passing, when suddenly I wanted to listen to everything again. But the thing is that while the Velvet Underground is one of my favorite bands, Lou's solo stuff generally suffers from piss-poor quality control. Here is a blog post from 3 1/2 years back that I wrote about the few Lou albums I had digitized. I'm pretty hard on the lyrical content of New York in that post, and, well, I don't feel as harshly towards it anymore, although I think the bones I pick with Reed are still valid. So, to back up: Lou Reed has The Man playing a Donovan-like chamber-folkie, reworking a number of VU demos, but it is still much better than any album with hummingbirds on the cover has any right to be. Rock 'n Roll Animal, Sally, and LRLive all continue Lou's Transformer-and-Berlin-era glam maestro period. The former and latter are, in fact, carved from the same show with what was essentially Alice Cooper's backing band behind him. All are quite good in their own way, although after all this time (I mean, I first heard these albums when I was 16 or so) I still don't quite enjoy Lou's Maximum Rock & Roll period. What I love about the VU is that they were minimalists, never using million-note theatrics to express something that could be said with a two-note squalling drone. Coney Island Baby and R&R Heart have Lou going back to different basics, where he experiments with confessional folk and doo wop-influenced rock. I hated them when I first heard them back when I was a teenager, but I like them much, much more now, especially Baby, which sounds like all of the cracks and weariness that grew from Lou's glam persona and pushed him to be honest. I find Street Hassle a lot more uneven than I used to, although the title song is still one of the best things that came of the 70s. Even its clunkiest line (the one about how someone turning so blue means you'll never fuck again) can't unhorse its relentless drive. Take No Prisoners is, of course, his Havin' Fun With Elvis On Stage, where the massive amount of speed that he has taken derails his live show into what is essentially a rambling comedy routine. Since what I like about live shows is the uncertainty, the feeling that anything could happen, I love Take No Prisoners, because what happens is utterly unexpected and impossible to reproduce. I specifically mentioned in my previous Lou write-up that I did not think I needed a copy of the The Bells, and I am here to say that I was wrong. Growing Up In Public is so-so. Bottom Line NYC is the audio from a show that was out on video and I am grateful for whoever the mad genius was who ripped it because it is an AWESOME document of the Lou-vs-Quine guitar histrionics, way better than Live In Italy. I find Mistrial, Drella, and Magic all pretty mediocre, with far too few great moments. Twilight, despite the silliness of songs like "Egg Cream," is pretty enjoyable, and Ecstasy is an album I wish I'd heard back when it came out. But, y'know, I was too used to being disappointed by Lou to bother.

Sparklehorse - Chords I've Known EP (1995), Rainmaker single (1996), Rainmaker 2 single (1996), Someday I Will Treat You Good single (1996), Maria's Little Elbows single (1998), Sick Of Goodbyes single (1998), Distorted Ghost EP (2000), Gold Day EP (2001), Knives Of Summertime single (2006). After covering Sparklehorse's full-lengths recently, I realized that emusic has a lot of Mark Linkous's singles and EPs, so I picked those up. And, y'know, these are b-sides and throwaways. The ones I have listed as EPs are all pretty good, though. Definitely worth an investigation by fans.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Music Library: Superchunk, Swamp Dogg, Matthew Sweet, Sword, Syd Barrett, Jesse Sykes

Superchunk - Superchunk (1990), No Pocky For Kitty (1991), Tossing Seeds (Singles 89-91), On The Mouth (1993), Foolish (1994), Incidental Music 1991-95Here's Where The Strings Come In (1995), Indoor Living (1997), The Laughter Guns EP (1997), Come Pick Me Up (1999), Here's To Shutting Up (2001), Cup Of Sand (compilation, 1993-2003), Leaves In The Gutter EP (2009), Majesty Shredding (2010), and I Hate Music (2013). What sets Superchunk apart is their consistent commitment to avoiding bullshit. This is not a band that will attempt to blow your mind with their musicianship or their arty song cycle (not that there's anything wrong with that), but they will attempt to move you with their straightforward pop songs built on solid hooks, smart lyrics, and passionate delivery. As far as the albums go, the band was still working things out with Superchunk, although "Slack Motherfucker" was a 90s anthem for a really good reason. No Pocky For Kitty and On The Mouth show a band hitting all of their marks. I mean, this is what 90s "alternative music" was all about: great, loud, punk-influenced pop music with dynamic structures and odd, smart subject matter. And man, is "Precision Auto" a fantastic song, too. Tossing Seeds is the first compilation, reaching back before the first album to show that Superchunk was a great singles band even before it become a great album band. Foolish is my favorite 90s Superchunk album. Every song is a killer. Most bands struggle through a whole career to come up with songs this good. Incidental Music is another compilation of (mostly) singles, covers, and nonalbum tracks, including covers of songs by the Magnetic Fields, Motorhead, the Verlaines, and the Chills. I love it. I don't have much to say about Here's Where The Strings Come In or Indoor Living, other than that both are fantastic. Most of The Laughter Guns appears on Cup Of Sand, but the track "Hero," which doesn't, is good, too. Maybe not worth hunting down an EP, though. Come Pick Me Up brings in Jim O'Rourke as producer to shake things up, and O'Rourke adds some horn and string accompaniment that does provide a little depth without breaching Superchunk's no bullshit rule. The flourishes continued with Here's To Shutting Up, a lovely and emotional album that again breaks ground with keyboards, horns, and other accompaniment without breaking Superchunk's essential band-ness. The band was on a sort of hiatus for much of the 00s, with the occasional appearance but with no albums. Cup Of Sand is yet another excellent collection of b-sides and nonalbum tracks, including a cover of Bowie's "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)." Leaves In The Gutter is a 2009 EP with the new song "Learned To Surf" and three older unreleased tracks. Then there's Majesty Shredding, which is now my second-favorite of their albums, the sound of a band doubling down on their essential sound with the benefit of age to help them appreciate the simplicity and wonder of doing something very, very well. God, it's good. It's a bit like when the Go-Betweens got back together and starting making music that was among the the best of their careers. This year's I Hate Music is just as good.

Youthful energy:

Mastering the craft:

Freakin' perfection:

...And here is where I stop myself from posting Superchunk videos for the rest of this post. But seriously, this one has John Darnielle as a dentist and then Jon Wurster murders a drummer.

Swamp Dogg - Total Destruction To Your Mind (1970) and Rat On (1971). Yes yes yes I said yes already. One of the biggest regrets of my life was not going to see Swamp Dogg play the Continental Club in Austin when my pal Gary was visiting. He said it would be a good show, but I was worried about the cost. The moral of this story is that I'm an idiot. These are freakin' amazing albums. Plus the cover to Rat On has Swamp Dogg sitting astride a giant rat.

Matthew Sweet - 100% Fun (1995). Missed this one when I covered Matthew Sweet's output back in 18-ought-22. If you follow Sweet's career, you will not be surprised to learn that it is excellent power pop.

The Sword - Age Of Winters (2007), Gods Of The Earth (2009), Warp Riders (2010), and Apocryphon (2012). The Sword do the type of metal meant to be animated by Ralph Bakshi, where sword & sorcery is just a step away from sci-fi. They freakin' rock. Which of these albums is best? ALL OF THEM. They are all best.

Syd Barrett - The Madcap Laughs (1970), Peel Session 1970, and Barrett (1970). All from 1970? I guess so. Barrett was Pink Floyd's martyred cracked genius and the inspiration for so much of what Robyn Hitchcock does. The Mapcap Laughs may be a bit too far into "The Gnome"-style whimsy from the first Pink Floyd album, but Barrett has a lot going for it. The Peel Session is pretty sweet, actually.

Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter - Marble Son (2011). I've been holding onto this one for a while! I covered the first Jesse Sykes album back in 2009 or 2010. Anyway, this one drops the alt-country and goes for some complex psychedelic folk-rock with a throwback feel. Sykes has a great voice, and this is a great album.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Music Library: Summer Hymns, Sun Kil Moon, Sun Ra, Sunburned Hand Of The Man, Sunburst, Sunn 0))), Sunset Rubdown

Summer Hymns - Voice Brother & Sister (2000) and Clemency (2003). This is a pleasant Athens, GA-based band with quiet, sometimes barely-there folk-songs with little odd psychedelic flourishes.

Sun Kil Moon - Ghosts Of The Great Highway (2003), Tiny Cities (2005), April (2008), and Among The Leaves (2012). This is Mark Kozelek's latest music project following the Red House Painters and his solo albums. Kozelek seems to be getting quieter as he gets older, although he occasionally unleashes his inner Neil Young and kicks it electric. His songwriting is excellent throughout all of these, with the exception of Tiny Cities, which is a cover album/acoustic reworking of Modest Mouse songs.

Sun Ra - The Nubians of Plutonia (with His Myth Science Arkestra, 1959), Jazz In Silhouette (with His Arkestra, 1959), Angels and Demons At Play (with His Myth Science Arkestra, 1960), We Travel The Spaceways (with His Myth Science Arkestra, 1960), The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra (with His Arkestra, 1961), Bad and Beautiful (with His Arkestra, 1961), Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow (with His Solar Arkestra, 1962), Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy (with His Myth Science Arkestra, 1963), The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra (with His Solar Arkestra, 1965), The Magic City (with His Solar Arkestra, 1965), The Heliocentric Worlds Of Sun Ra, Volume Two (with His Solar Arkestra, 1966), Strange Strings (with His Astro Infinity Arkestra, 1967), Continuation (with His Astro Infinity Arkestra, 1968), Soundtrack To The Film Space Is The Place (with His Intergalactic Solar Arkestra, 1972), Space Is The Place (with His Astro Intergalactic Solar Arkestra, 1972), Astro Black (1973), Lanquidity (with His Arkestra, 1978), Nuclear War (with His Outer Space Arkestra, 1982),  Reflections In Blue (Sun Ra Arkestra, 1987), Purple Night (1990), and The Singles (compilation, 1955-82). Born Herman Blount in Birmingham, AL, Sun Ra was a cosmic philosopher and jazz musician who hailed from Saturn and woe becomes the person who does not believe. His jazz music ranged from bop and swing to avant-garde fusion with the Singles album delving into doo wop, rock & roll, and even disco. Although I have 20 Sun Ra albums, this is a drop in the bucket of the hundreds he released. The earliest are straight-up bop and swing. Around 1961-62, the Arkestra apparently relocated to New York and began embracing free jazz. Bad And Beautiful has a bit of free jazz tossed in, but Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow is a full-on free jazz album, as lovely and chaotic as free music at its best. From there, Sun Ra's music took on cosmic significance all the way to Space Is The Place, a conceptual album and soundtrack album to accompany Sun Ra's film of the same name. The later albums aren't quite as exciting, although Nuclear War is excellent (the title track was covered by Yo La Tengo), Purple Night is pretty extraordinary, and The Singles is mindblowing. However, the albums on this list between Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow through Space Is The Place are all five-star, must-have albums. I'd say my favorite is The Magic City, but I'm not sure I would say the same five minutes from now.

Sunburned Hand Of The Man - Jaybird (2001). Trippy psych-folk-avant-jazz-rock that is sort of like Comets On Fire jamming some Sun Ra tunes.

Sunburst - 3-Song Demo (2000), WPRB (2003), 2003 Demos. These are some outtakes and demos from a band with Glenn Mercer and Stan Demeski of the Feelies along with some of the members of Speed The Plough. I don't think that Sunburst ever had a proper release, but this is good stuff.

Sunn O))) - The Grimmrobe Demos (2000), The Flight of the Behemoth (2002), White 1 (2003), White 2 (2004), Black One (2005), Oracle (2007), and Monoliths And Dimensions (2009). For a band that basically has one gimmick (Satan-dudes play long, loud, droning chord-noise!) in a genre that sounds like a joke (ambient metal?), Sunn O))) sure has a lot of tricks up their sleeves. I think the Grimmrobe Demos are a little dull and Flight of the Behemoth is a little more interesting thanks to the inclusion of noise-artiste Merzbow. The two White albums, though, are basically a battering ram of textures in the drone that pummeled me into submission. Black One goes further, working all kinds of unlikely sounds into the evil drone, surprising me with its depth, which becomes even more interesting on Oracle, which is practically a minimalist composition, and Monoliths, which has so many unlikely sounds that it may not even qualify for minimalism. I mean, don't get me wrong. We're still talking about music that 99 percent of listeners will only hear as an annoying drone pastiche of brown notes, but once you have ears for that sort of thing (and the intestinal fortitude, natch), it's amazing how it opens up for you.

Sunset Rubdown - Random Spirit Lover (2007) and Dragonslayer (2009). This is emotional indie-rock from Canada built on a solid foundation of classic rock tropes, and no I am not talking about the Arcade Fire, although it sure seems as if I could be. Anyway, the second of these is better than the first, so here's a video from that one.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Music Library: Strange Attractors, Streets, Strokes, Stuff Smith, Subset, Subtle, Sufjan Stevens, Sugar, Suicide

The Strange Attractors - Sleep And You Will See (2009). This is an interesting and quite compelling indie-rock band from Austin who make heavily layered bluesy psychedelic-ish indie-rock in the vein of Roky Erickson or Wooden Shjips with a thick haze of analog keyboard noise. Excellent stuff.

The Streets - Original Pirate Material (2002) and A Grand Don't Come For Free (2004). I enjoyed the Streets/Mike Skinner's oddball and somewhat crude take on hip-hop back in the early 00s because it seemed quite original and charming for a working-class British kid to take an American artform and turn it into something new, but in truth, I think now that this was just my unfamiliarity with the fluidity of hip-hop. This kind of repurposing had been done before and better, too, and The Streets still sound clunky, but that is much less compelling to my ears now.

The Strokes - Is This It (2001). Decent and fun guitar rock. It may be a rehash of the clean, guitar-centric sound of the Feelies or Television by a bunch of rich kids, but what the hell is the problem with that?

Stuff Smith - Time And Again (1936-45). Top notch swing violinist.

Subset - Overpass (2000) and Dueling Devotions (2003). Quite good Austin power-pop band that I didn't realize were pretty much only locally known. These are good albums!

Subtle - Exiting Arm (2007). This is a fairly poppy and psychedelic album. I wouldn't classify it as hip-hop, although I think the band identifies more or less as working in that genre. It is led by Doseone, aka Adam Drucker, who was a founder of the Anticon Collective and previously was a member of the truly mindblowing cLOUDDEAD. There are some songs on the album, though, that work as hip-hop, and here is one.

Sufjan Stevens - A Sun Came (2000), Enjoy Your Rabbit (2001), Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lake State (2003), Seven Swans (2004), Come On Feel The Illinoise (2005), The Avalanche: Outtakes and Extras from the Illinois Album (2006), The Age of Adz (2010), All Delighted People (2010), and Silver & Gold (2007-11). Stevens embodies many things that I dislike in indie-rock, but he is so amazingly talented that I cannot help but enjoy his albums. Most of them, at least. The first two here are  a bit dull (A Sun Came) or unfocused jammy electronica (Rabbit), but the major leap forward with Michigan is nothing short of astonishing. I mean, yes, Michigan is precious in so many ways: the chamber pop strings, the goddamn banjo, the mannered and studied lyrics, the earnest religious talk, the ultra-long titles with enthusiastic asides in them, and yet it all works like gangbusters. Stevens' time in the Danielson Famile is on the plus side, though, as is his obvious love for Terry Riley's music. Seven Swans is precious acoustic music that nevertheless still works, and Illinois(e) perfects the obnoxiousness and then brushes it all aside with the strength of Stevens' vision. Man, that is a near-perfect album of chamber-pop sweetness. The rest of these are quite good-to-great, as well (well, The Age of Adz, which leans more into oddball electronics, is a bit lackluster). I have Stevens' earlier Christmas album, too, but I reviewed it some time ago. Anyway, here's a video to make you feel extra-precious and a little awkward at the Vacation Bible School social. Geez, every time he opens his mouth, I want to punch him a little, but I still really like his songs.

Sugar - Copper Blue (1992), Copper Blue Deluxe Remaster (1992), Beaster EP (1993), File Under: Easy Listening (1994), File Under: Easy Listening Deluxe Remaster (1994), and Besides (1995). Almost the exact opposite of Sufjan Stevens is Bob Mould's 90s band Sugar, which was completely unforced and direct. As in Husker Du, Mould's songs bury pop melodies under crashing guitars, although less deep. Copper Blue is chock-full of excellent songs, and the reissue adds some b-sides and a live show from 1992. The CD and LP versions apparently include a remaster of Beaster, too, but that did not come with the digital version I bought. Beaster, though, is an EP of pure rage, mostly focused on religious hypocrisy, quite unlike the two full-length Sugar albums with their pop sensibility. FU:EL is even more radio-friendly, and the remaster adds a live show from 1994 that was previously released as The Joke Is Always On Us, Sometimes. Besides collects odds and ends, some of which appear on the reissues.

Suicide - Suicide (1977). Ominous, oppressive, angry, and utterly unlike anything else that self-identified as punk (a descriptor coined by Suicide), Suicide built on the keyboard-plus-vocals stripped back sound of the Silver Apples with layers that were unavailable to the more hippyish Apples. Brilliant, brilliant stuff. This version adds bonus tracks and live tracks, including "25 Minutes Over Brussels," which records a Suicide concert that descends into a riot.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Music Library: Steve Earle, Steve Hicken, Steve Martin, Steve Reich, Stevie Wonder, Stones, Stonewall Jackson, Stooges

Steve Earle - Guitar Town (1986), Exit 0 (1987), Train A-Comin' (1995), I Feel Alright (1996), El Corazon (1997), The Mountain (with the Del McCoury Band, 1999), Transcendental Blues (2000), Washington Square Serenade (2007). I really, really like Train A-Comin' and I Feel Alright, both of which are comeback albums of a sort. His 80s albums have an appealing outlaw country feel probably derived from his love of Townes Van Zandt, but there's some raw need for acceptance there, too, that Van Zandt never would have had. Train A-Comin', which is all acoustic, is Earle's first album upon getting out of jail, and it is his statement that he will make the music he wants no matter what. I Feel Alright is that music, rock-influenced but not quite rock, which unfortunately became a template for most of his following albums. The Mountain, a bluegrass album, breaks the mold, but most of the rest are fairly similar to I Feel Alright, with a few good songs and a lot of forgettable ones.

Steve Hicken - "Episodes In Anticipation" (2004) and WIU Festival (2011). Hicken's a friend of mine besides being a composer of no small talent. This is lovely, lovely music.

Steve Martin - Let's Get Small (1977) and A Wild And Crazy Guy (1978). It is impossible for me to overstate Steve Martin's influence on my sense of humor. Finding these albums as a teenager was like when I learned that 90% of what I had been taught in my middle school Alabama history classes was bullshit; there was another world out there, a better one where a smart guy could be funny and beloved by pretending to be a stupid guy who thought he was smart.  Martin added layer upon layer of irony to his jokes, sometimes allowing himself to be silly and nothing but and sometimes spinning a riff into something quite pointed. It made him a star, a spectacle on the strength of his persona, without really changing his act at all. I mean, sure, the cocaine and manic unpredictability may have had something to do with that. However, I picked up the 3-DVD set The Television Stuff last year, which includes videos of Martin throughout his late-70s period, and even when it seems like his show is about to go off the rails, Martin was actually maintaining a fairly professional script throughout his shows. So, anyway, the problem with going back to something so instrumental to oneself is that history is often unkind to modern ears. See, these albums are still hilarious, except when they aren't. Martin's riffs on Native Americans, his "urban" voices, all of his jokes about nonwhite cultures: these aren't funny. In the late 70s, these bits may have been mildly transgressive stuff, but now they just seem xenophobic and racist, the turd in the punch bowl. Dammit, history! These aren't even 40 years old yet. That said, I still love these albums, but it's more like I loved my granddad, even when he was racist. Enjoy this video from Steve Martin Presents Homage To Steve, a video so beloved that I just want to hug it. I mean, I just about lose it from the moment that he spits his mouthful of water out on the stage.

OK, I'm back. Sorry, I just lost my mind for a minute there.

Steve Reich - Violin Phase (1967), Reich: Four Organs - Phase Patterns (1971), Reich: Music For 18 Musicians (1978), Drumming (1987), Different Trains (2005). Reich is one of the greats of minimalism. Like Terry Riley, Reich's compositions include a large amount of variability written into the music. Violin Phase takes two recordings of the same violin piece and slowly phases them out of sync with each other by introducing moments of silence in one recording, creating a fascinating phased effect. That album includes a recording of "It's Gonna Rain," a 1964 chopped-up monologue by a street preacher very reminiscent of Terry Riley's work of the same period. Four Organs and Phase Patterns advance the idea of phasing similar pieces of music, but they add some serious math into the duration of the phase, shifting the timing throughout to create weird synchronization and rather lovely disharmonies, too. Drumming is chronologically Reich's next composition, although the version I have is from 1987. This piece uses drums with different voicing in different time signatures to create a -- well, I'm going to have to be poetic about this -- an audio picture of mathematical space-time. Everything starts with basic 4/4 beats in whole notes, then the measures half, then quarter, and then the introduction of new drums start to phase into polyrhythms. The effect is brilliant. Then there's Music For 18 Musicians, which builds on the previous ideas of polyrhythmic timing, mathematically precise structures, and variability of musicians, and adds more sounds and more structure while loosening the basic notion of time required to perform the piece. In fact, you don't even need to limit yourself to 18 musicians to perform it. Finally, the last Reich piece I have is Different Trains, originally performed by Kronos Quartet, but in this version by the Smith Quartet. Different Trains samples spoken word interviews about the American and European train systems before and after WWII. The Americans, which include a Pullman porter, talk about class and social movement, while the Europeans, all Holocaust survivors, talk about the darker implications of trains. After each sample, the lead voice of the quartet (viola for women and cello for men) mirrors the inflection of the passage while the other voices race down the trails and provide whistle sounds.

Stevie Wonder - Music Of My Mind (1972), Talking Book (1972), Innervisions (1973), Fulfillingness' Final Finale (1974), Funkafied Rainbow: Live In London (bootleg, 1974), Songs In The Key Of Life (1976), Original Musiquarium I (partial compilation, released 1982). That's a lot of psychedelic soul music right there. Stevie Wonder would be an outlier in the field of R&B or soul just from his tendency to mix his music with funk and psychedelic sounds, but his expression of his particular vision and genius is what makes his music transcendental and universal. There's not a stinker in this whole group, but Talking Book and Innervisions are the pinnacle. If I have any criticism, it's that the 80s production on the original tracks from the Original Musiquarium are more dated than the earlier recordings. The bootleg is solid and worth searching out. In the video below, when Stevie sings about being glad to be alive towards the beginning, he's referring to an accident that year where his car collided with a log truck outside of Durham, NC. He was struck by a log on the head and nearly died, and the experience transformed him.

The Stones - Dunedin Double EP (1982) and Another Disc, Another Dollar EP (1983). The Stones were a short-lived New Zealand band with the classic Flying Nun twitchy Feelies-esque sound. The Dunedin Double was actually a double-LP with tracks by the Chills, the Verlaines, and Sneaky Feelings in addition to the Stones, but all I have are the Stones' contributions. Another Disc was their only other release.

Stonewall Jackson - "Why I'm Walkin'." Just want to mention this excellent single.

The Stooges - The Stooges (1969), The Stooges Deluxe Edition (1969), Fun House (1970), Fun House Deluxe Edition (1970), 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions (1970, natch), I Got A Right (outtakes, 1972), Raw Power (Bowie Edition, 1973), Raw Power (Iggy Mix, 1973), Live In L.A. '73 (bootleg), Wild Love: The Detroit Rehearsals And More (outtakes, 1973), Head On (outtakes, 1974), Metallic K.O. (live, 1974), More Power (outtakes, 1974), Penetration (outtakes, 1974), and Jesus Loves The Stooges EP (Iggy and James Williamson, 1977). Do I even need to make an argument for the greatness of the Stooges or talk about how much I love them? I mean, I have THREE VERSIONS OF FUN HOUSE. And I'd buy another one tomorrow without a second thought. Raw Power comes only in the underpowered Bowie edition (which is the one to have) and the overpowered Iggy mix (which is almost unlistenably pushed into the red), and most of the outtake albums around it are somewhat unnecessary. I Got A Right may be the greatest unreleased song by any band ever, but no one needs 16 versions of it. Head On, in particular, is an utterly useless waste of money, while More Power may be the best of the outtakes. Metallic K.O. is an excellent document of Iggy's confrontational 1974 stage show, but you probably already know that if you've read this far. I've never picked up the re-formed Stooges-ish releases despite some compelling reasons to do so, but I will at some point. My heartfelt apologies to James Williamson and Mike Watt.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Music Library: Stereolab

Stereolab! This is where indie rock reaches one of its logical peaks. They mixed punk, krautrock, French pop, electronica, lounge music, minimalist compositional music, VU-style drone, hip-hop, and tropicalia, basically every form of niche music with legs, into an always-interesting stew of musical greatness.

Early Drone: Switched On (compilation, 1991), Peng! (1992), The Groop Played Space Age Batchelor Pad Music EP (1993), and Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements (1993). At this point, Stereolab was all about the VU and krautrock. Switched On collects two EPs and a single from 1991. Peng! is the first full-length, although the band was still a four-piece. Batchelor Pad Music is a long EP that showcases even more growth from the group. Transient Random-Noise adds Mary Hansen as a second vocalist and Sean O'Hagan (later of the High Llamas) on guitar, and the album culminates in the 18-minute "Jenny Ondioline" which is exactly the knife-edge of perfect fusion of krautrock propulsion and VU drone.

Everything At Once: Mars Audiac Quintet (1994), Refried Ectoplasm: Switched On Vol. 2 (compilation, 1992-95), Emperor Tomato Ketchup (1996), Dots And Loops (1997), Aluminum Tunes: Switched On Vol. 3 (compilation, 1994-97), Cobra And Phases Group Play Voltage In The Milky Night (1999), The First Of The Microbe Hunters EP (2000), and ABC Music: The Radio 1 Sessions (live compilation, 1991-2001). The band added more and more sounds with every album. Mars Audiac Quintet is practically a Neu! album in places. Refried Ectoplasm rounds up a bunch of singles, including the excellent "John Cage Bubblegum." Emperor Tomato Ketchup is one of the finest albums made by anyone, anywhere. Dots And Loops throws in more Brazilian sounds. Aluminum Sounds collects more EPs and nonalbum tracks, but it also has the first signs of Stereolab's tendency to over-release. Some of these tracks are terrible, but some are great. Then there's Cobra And Phases, my least-favorite Stereolab album, which sounds fussy and undercooked. Microbe Hunters is much stronger. ABC Music collects a lot of Peel Sessions and other Radio 1 Sessions, and it cooks like nobody's business.

Things Grow Static And Fall Apart: Sound-Dust (2001), Margerine Eclipse (2004), Oscillons From The Anti-Sun (compilation, 1993-2005), Fab Four Suture (compilation, 2005-6), Chemical Chords (2008), and Not Music (2010). Sound-Dust has a little more life than Cobra And Phases, but Mary Hansen was killed in an accident the next year. Stereolab wasn't sure whether to go on without her for a while, but finally released Margerine Eclipse in 2004, mostly as an elegy to Hansen. Oscillons has B-sides and nonalbum tracks from all throughout Stereolab's career, and it is wonderful. Fab Four stitches together four EPs, all pretty good. Chemical Chords and Not Music, both recorded in the same 2007 sessions, are also quite good.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Music Library: Stanley Brothers, Stanton Moore, Staple Singers, Mavis Staples, Stars, Steely Dan, Stéphane Grappelli, Stephen, Stephen Malkmus

The Stanley Brothers - Earliest Recordings: The Complete Rich-R-Tone 78s (1947-52). These are the first recordings of Carter and Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys. To distinguish it from mainstream bluegrass, Ralph Stanley called it old-timey music. This is not just historically significant music, but also excellent. This compilation is on Revenant Records, the imprint co-founded by John Fahey.

Stanton Moore - Flyin' The Koop (2002). This is a jammy album by Galactic's drummer along with two sax guys, bass, and drums. It is okay, but not my favorite. It never really ends up anywhere.

The Staple Singers - Uncloudy Day (1959), Will The Circle Be Unbroken? (1960), Freedom Highway (1965), Soul Folk In Action (1968), The Best Of The Staple Singers (Stax) (1968-74), "Slippery People" (1984). It's hard to overstate how cool the Staple Singers were. The band consisted of Pops Staples, who managed to be laid-back and passionate at once,  his son Pervis and his three daughters Cleotha, Yvonne, and the baby Mavis, who usually sang lead. Pops Staples played heavily vibratoed Fenders with a cool, minimalist style that influenced people like, y'know, Steve Cropper and Robbie Robertson, who, in turn, influenced just about everybody. And the Staples leapt from strict gospel into pop music fired by uplift and civil disobedience, which brought them to the March on Washington. In the tumult of the late 60s, they signed with Stax and brought Southern funk built on positive messages with Booker T and the MGs as their airtight back-up band. Uncloudy Day and Circle are phenomenal gospel albums and Freedom Highway and Soul Folk are phenomenal protest-in-the-guise-of-R&B albums. The Stax best-of has some killer funk and "Slippery People" is a Talking Heads cover that is the highlight of a Pointer-Sisters-ish 80s keyboard-junk album that is bad enough that I let all the other tracks go. But this must have something to do with Pops Staples appearing in True Stories, but I don't know the background. Anyway, dig these videos.

Mavis Staples - You Are Not Alone (2010) and One True Vine (2013). In her 70s and still going strong, Mavis made her most recent two solo albums with Jeff Tweedy, and they are fan-freaking-tastic. "One True Vine" is the better of the two, but not by much.

Stars - Heart (2003). This is a Canadian indie-pop band. And they're ok.

Steely Dan - Countdown To Ecstasy (1973) and Pretzel Logic (1974). You know how there's these bands loved by people you respect and you cannot for the life of you understand why? Here's one. Steely Dan sounds to me like the baby laxative people use to cut their coke. And yet they are beloved. I mean, I don't hate either of these albums, really, because they're just too freaking weird to be truly forgettable, but too slick to embrace their own weirdness. It's just studio talent fucking around. It seems passionless.

Stéphane Grappelli - Jazz In Paris (1962). This is a sweet album by Django Reinhardt's main sideman, made many years after Reinhardt's death. There are several albums by Grappelli with this same name. This one does not have Oscar Peterson, but it does have someone playing some lovely Django-esque guitar.

Stephen - Radar of Small Dogs (compilation, 1988-93). This is a messy and fun New Zealand band led by the Clean's David Kilgour. This compilation collects the Dumb EP and some demos and live tracks.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Stephen Malkmus (2001), Pig Lib (2003), Face The Truth (2005), Real Emotional Trash (2008), and Ege Bamyasi (Malkmus and Friends, 2013). Malkmus's post-Pavement music is good but rarely great. I have loved each of his albums for a little while and then more or less forgotten about it. The cover of Can's Ege Bamyasi is fun, although it is basically as disposable as Beck's Record Club albums.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Music Library: Spinal Tap, Spinanes, Spirit Caravan, Spiritualized, Spokane, Spoon, Squirrel Bait, Squirrel Nut Zippers, St. Vincent, Stan Getz

Spinal Tap - This Is Spinal Tap (1984). While I still love the movie, part of the problem with an ironic comedy album is that it fizzles after time.

The Spinanes - The Imp Years EP (2000). Pretty great indie-rock band from Olympia, WA.

Spirit Caravan - Dreamwheel EP (1999) and The Last Embrace (compilation, 1999-2003). This is an absolutely awesome short-lived doom metal trio led by Scott "Wino" Weinrich. The Last Embrace is a compilation containing tracks from both of their full-length albums, a few EPs, and some nonalbum tracks.

Spiritualized - Lazer Guided Melodies (1992) and Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space (1997). Spiritualized is a band that I like, but I have never made the plunge to pick up more of their albums. Part of this is because I think Lazer Guided Melodies is only so-so, even though Ladies And Gentlemen is excellent, partially an outsider's take on soul music.

Spokane - A Small Commotion (compilation, 2008). The quietest of all bands, Spokane plays a form of ultra-polite folk-rock that's barely there.

Spoon - All The Negatives Have Been Destroyed EP (1996), Soft Effects EP (1997), A Series Of Sneaks (1998), 30 Gallon Tank EP (1998), Love Ways EP (2000), Girls Can Tell (2001), Kill The Moonlight (2002), Gimme Fiction (2005), Sister Jack single (2005), Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007), Get Nice! (2007), Transference (2010). One of my favorite indie-rock bands, Spoon is built on the rock-solid rhythm machine of Jim Eno's drums and Brett Daniel's chunka-chunka guitar. The early EPs (sorry, I don't have their first full-length Telephono, although I wish I did), and Sneaks are building to the greatness of 30 Gallon Tank's "I Could Be Underground," Girls Can Tell, and Moonlight. Fiction, Ga Ga, and Transference are all also excellent, albeit a small step back in quality from their peak. Get Nice!, a bonus disc of demos that came with Ga Ga, is not so great.

Squirrel Bait - Skag Heaven (1987). The Louisville, KY hardcore band that splintered into Bastro, Gastr del Sol, and Slint, and later provided some integral components to the Chicago avant-rock scene. This is great stuff, with elements of math rock and start-stop dynamics.

Squirrel Nut Zippers - Hot (1997). Chapel Hill's contribution to the 90s swing revival has a love of all music from the early 20th century, which they mix into a pan-retro melange of blues, swing, calypso, and hillbilly music on this album.

St. Vincent - Marry Me (2007). The super-talented Annie Clark makes music that is incredibly odd and very, very good, and there really is no reason why I haven't picked up her 2nd and 3rd albums. I listened to them streaming, and I thought I had bought them at one point, but apparently not. Anyway, Marry Me, her debut, with its sly Arrested Development-joke title, is funny and surprising and heartfelt, and there are not that many artists who make music that can claim all three of these adjectives at once.

Stan Getz - Diz and Getz (1953), The Steamer (1956), Getz/Gilberto (1963). Getz was a giant of the saxophone, and these three albums show off his range from the smoking bop album with Dizzy Gillespie to the cool jazz of The Steamer to the uber-cool Brazilian samba fusion of Getz/Gilberto, recorded with guitarist Joao Gilberto, his wife Astrud (who Getz seduced), and Tom Jobim.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Music Library: Sparks, Spatula, Specials, Spectrum, Speed The Plough, Speedking, Speedy West, Spider Bags, Spike Jones

Sparks - Kimono My House (1974), Propaganda (1974), and Indiscreet (1975). Led by the brothers Mael, Sparks are an oddball band. At this phase they were a glam-ish pop vehicle with lots of Beefheartian weirdness and a seriously twisted sense of humor. Later they went electropop, but at this point they were still a proggy rock band. Sort of. And I just missed seeing them live this past weekend, so damn the organizers of the Mountain Oasis Festival for putting them on more-or-less opposite Neutral Milk Hotel.

Spatula - Despina By Land (1997). Post-rock from an instrumental Chapel Hill band with guitar, cello, and drums. Pretty good album, too. I picked it up after hearing them on the college radio station in 1997, and I still like it.

The Specials - The Specials (1979), Too Much Too Young (collection, 1979-1980), The Singles Collection (collection, 1979-84). The Specials are so fantastically great. They are, of course, the flagship band of the two-tone British ska revival. Only the first of these is a proper album, and neither of the two collections offers that much beyond it.

Spectrum - Geração Bendita (1971). Psychedelic tropicalia band with lotsa fuzz and lots of fun.

Speed The Plough - Speed The Plough (1989). And for a different type of psychedelia, Speed The Plough, a Feelies offshoot, plays quiet folk-rock with psych flourishes. Good stuff. There are some new compilations of STP out there that I intend to investigate.

Speedking - The Fist And The Laurels (collection, recorded 1995-97). Before LCD Soundsystem, James Murphy had a punk/electronica band. This is everything they recorded, including an album that was shelved until Murphy became famous. Pretty good stuff, although rarely great. Very interesting to hear what Murphy does in a different context, though.

Speedy West - Stratosphere Boogie: The Flaming Guitars of Speedy West And Jimmy Bryant (compilation with Jimmy Bryant, 1952-56), Swingin' On The Strings: The Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant Collection, Vol. 2 (compilation with Jimmy Bryant, 1951-56), Speedy (compilation, 1950-56), West Of Hawaii (1958), Steel Guitar (1960), Guitar Spectacular (1962), and For The Last Time (with Jimmy Bryant, 1975). I covered Jimmy Bryant's solo work some years back and now I've gotten around to his partner in crime, under whose name these compilations are filed by dint of first billing. West and Bryant are utterly delightful, virtuosos both, and their take on these songs will bend your ear into unnatural shapes. Stratosphere Boogie and Swingin' belong in everyone's homes. Speedy is a collection that doesn't add much to the prior albums. West, Steel, and Spectacular are all post-Bryant, and Speedy is mining a vein more Hawaiian slack guitar than Western Swing, which is a little mellow for me. Last Time brings together an aging West and Bryant, both of whom have unfortunately slowed down quite a bit. Here they are at their peak, obviously enjoying each other's company and competition:

And one more, just because Bryant's guitar, which is, if I recall correctly, a 12-string tuned in thirds, sounds AWESOME:

Spider Bags - Shake My Head (2012) and Teenage Eyes single (2012). Kickin' garage-rock trio from Chapel Hill.

Spike Jones - The Very Worst Of Spike Jones (1944-49). Woo, this is humor for a different generation. I hate this. I mean, yes, thank you for bringing anarchic and sarcastic humor to the masses, but so much of this is weighed down by racial humor or, as in the clip below, the fact that it is utterly hilarious that a little person would try to lead a band and do impressions. Blah. Stay in the past, man.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Music Library: Soundgarden, South Park, South San Gabriel, Southern Culture On The Skids, Spacemen 3, Spain, Spank Rock, Sparklehorse

Soundgarden - Louder Than Love (1990). But quieter than hate! I'm not much of a Soundgarden fan after they started to incorporate the pop, but this one is pretty good.

South San Gabriel - Welcome, Convalescence (2003). This is an offshoot of Centro-Matic with Will Johnson making glitchy-electronic folk-rock. It's mopier than Centro-Matic usually is, but it's pretty rewarding music, too.

Southern Culture On The Skids - Too Much Pork For Just One Fork (1991), Peckin' Party EP (1993), Ditch Diggin' (1994), Dirt Track Date (1996), and Zombified (1999). So much fun, these guys are. Ridiculous fun. SCOTS re-recorded a number of the songs from Too Much Pork and Peckin' Party for their major-label debut Dirt Track Date, and yet both versions are excellent. Ditch Diggin' flat-out cooks. And Zombified brings the SCOTS love of garage goodness to the horror rock extremes. So much ridiculous fun. Can't believe I haven't bought more of their albums.

Spacemen 3 - Dreamweapon (1988), Performance (1988), Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To (1990), and Forged Prescriptions (2003). There has never been a more accurately titled album than Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To. Spacemen 3 (so named despite there being only two members of the group) played heady drone music heavily influenced by the Velvet Underground. All of these albums are great. Dreamweapon is the only proper studio album of the ones I have. Performance is live. Taking Drugs is a collection of demos, and Forged Prescriptions is a collection of alternate takes and b-sides.

Spain - Spirituals: The Best Of Spain (1994-2003). A dreamy, romantic, shoegazey, gauzy sort of band led by bassist Josh Haden, son of Charlie and brother to the triplets of that dog (including my not-so-secret longtime crush Petra). Their best known song is "Spiritual," which has been recorded by a number of other artists. Here's a latter-day version of that song from KCRW with the Haden triplets on backing vocals.

Spank Rock - YoYoYoYoYoYo (2006). Baltimore-based hip-hop dude with a nerdy flow and Kool Keith-style obsession with sex.

Sparklehorse - Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot (1995), Good Morning Spider (1999), It's A Wonderful Life (2001), Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain (2006), Live At Lollapalooza 2007, and In The Fishtank 15 (Sparklehorse + Fennesz, 2009). One of my favorite weirdos to fall out of the 90s alt-country movement, where he was an ill fit anyway, Mark Linkous aka Sparklehorse made songs of Tom-Waitsian beauty and intensity with his own Appalachian bent. All of these are amazing albums in their own way. They are all full of quietly creepy songs of astonishing beauty and vision. Vivadixieetc. may be my favorite but mainly because it was the first one I discovered. Much of it was made with David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker. The supporting tour had Linkous opening for Radiohead and he managed to hurt himself badly when he passed out from a near-lethal drug combination and pinned his legs underneath him for the better part of a day. With damaged legs and a damaged brain, he had to learn to walk and play guitar again, and the result is Good Morning Spider, which adds a lot of noise and power to his songs. With Wonderful Life, Linkous's heroes began turning up on the album, including Tom Waits hisownself and PJ Harvey. Dreamt has him working with Danger Mouse (as he would again on the collection Dark Night Of The Soul) and everything is firing on all cylinders. The live EP is ok, as is the Fishtank EP, which has a lot of Fennesz's trademark electronic clutter all over it. Linkous killed himself a few months after his friend Vic Chesnutt. David Lowery has blamed this on money and health problems, making him another victim of our idiotic healthcare system. But that's another story. And man, that just makes me sad. Here are some of his songs for your enjoyment:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Music Library: Sonny Rollins, Sonny Sharrock, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee

Sonny Rollins - Sonny Rollins With The Modern Jazz Quartet (1953), Sonny Rollins Plus 4 (1956), Tenor Madness (1956), Saxophone Colossus (1956), Sonny Rollins, Vol. 2 (1957), Freedom Suite (1958), Sonny Meets Hawk! (with Coleman Hawkins, 1963), Alfie (1966), G-Man (1986). What made Rollins such a giant of bop was not just his willingness to experiment but his innate gift of making it work. Modern Jazz Quartet is Rollins's first album as a bandleader and he sounds quite like himself right out of the gate. Plus 4, Tenor Madness, and Saxophone Colossus were all recorded and released a few months apart in 1956 and the progress Rollins makes between March, when the first one was recorded, and July, when Colossus was recorded, is amazing. Rollins starts out as a contender with Clifford Brown and Max Roach as sidemen on Plus 4, pushes aside Coltrane to command Miles Davis's Workin'/Relaxin'/etc. quintet on Madness, and emerges as a giant with Colossus, which is one of the finest bop albums out there. Vol. 2, from the next year, has Monk sitting in on piano on his own compositions, Horace Silver joining Monk on "Misterioso" and playing on most of the rest of the album, J.J. Johnson on trombone, and a rhythm section of Paul Chambers and Art Blakey. Nutso. It is amazing. Freedom Suite, which has Rollins in a trio setting, showcases how the man pushed against the strictures of bop.  Sonny Meets Hawk! is fun, but breaks no ground. Alfie, which is the soundtrack to the Michael Caine movie of the same name, experiments quite a bit with bop, although this time in the context of Swinging London 60s. G-Man, from 20 years later, shows that the man can still cook, with three of the four tracks stepping out past the ten-minute mark.

Sonny Sharrock - Black Woman (1969), Guitar (1986), Seize The Rainbow (1987), Live In DC (with Pharoah Sanders, 1993), and Space Ghost: Coast To Coast (1996). Sonny Sharrock was an anomaly, a jazz giant who made the free jazz of the late 60s even more chaotic with his loud, skronky electric guitar, a guy who truly came into his own with Last Exit in the 80s. (and a quick RIP for Last Exit drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, who just passed as of this writing). Sharrock played on albums by Pharoah Sanders and Miles's best album Jack Johnson, and he inspired more rock guys like Thurston Moore than jazz guys. Black Woman, the only album I have of Sharrock's from the early part of his career, is a powerful, raw album. Guitar and Seize The Rainbow are both powerful and beautifully weird. The Live in DC concert with Pharoah Sanders shows how well these two innovators worked together, trading licks and backing each other's leads with familiar ease that belies the power of the music. Finally, the Space Ghost EP showcases different takes and mixes on the awesomely half-atonal Space Ghost: Coast To Coast theme, released two years after Sharrock's untimely passing.

Sonny Stitt - Only The Blues (1957). One of the great bop saxophone sidemen, Stitt played with everyone, most notably Charlie Parker. This is a solid bop album, good but not great.

Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee - Drinking In The Blues (1960). Harmonica and guitar from the folk-blues duo who came to prominence during the 60s folk revival. Good stuff. Here's Pete Seeger getting all polite up in this song.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Music Library: Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Son House, Son Volt, Sonic Youth, Sonic's Rendezvous Band, Sonics, Sonny Boy Williamson

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - Broom (2005) and Pershing (2008). This band, despite their unwieldy name, does not play atmospheric post-rock, but pleasant indie pop.

Son House - Delta Blues And Spirituals (recorded 1970). I have many of Son House's sides from the 30s and 40s on other collections (including the excellent Charley Patton box), but the only album I have that is attributed to Mr. House is this one, which was recorded much later in his life. This one, though, has his version of "Death Letter," which is so brutal that it is practically metal.

Son Volt - Trace (1995). I love the hell out of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco, but Son Volt is just too dry and studied for me. I mean, this album, their debut Trace, has some moments of real life. But I saw them right around the time this came out, and the band played the album so closely, so unvaryingly, that they could have been lip-syncing to the album. Then I picked up the next two Son Volt albums and found them really boring. And this was when I loved alt-country more than anything! I ended up selling them back to a record store long before I digitized my collection. This album is pretty good, though.

Sonic Youth:

Bad Moon Rising (1985), EVOL (1986), Sister (1987), Master-Dik EP (1987), Daydream Nation (1988), Daydream Nation: Deluxe Edition (1988), 4 Tunna Brix: Peel Session 10-19-1988. I haven't listened to the prior albums since the early 1990s, but I guess I should check out Sonic Youth and Confusion Is Sex again at some point. This is where the band became great, though. On Bad Moon Rising, Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo brought their experience with Rhys Chatham to bear on songs - actual songs, with beginnings, middles, and ends - with little psychedelic altars to noise erupting periodically. EVOL is not much of a leap forward, other than "Expressway To Yr. Skull," in which the little altar of noise because a full-fledged church. Then, on Sister, the devotion to noise and soundscapes became a damn cathedral, a testament to human experimentation, marrying compositional art music to straight-up indie rock like no one else. Sister is one of my favorite albums, but the Master-Dik EP that followed it is only ok. Then there's Daydream Nation, a masterpiece where Sonic Youth marries near-ambient noodling with hardcore riffage and energy, punk economy with krautrock scale, subject matter of totemic personal privacy with a gaspingly large vision of the world. This is the greatness of Sonic Youth: their ability to marry seemingly opposite styles and sounds into a coherent, overwhelming whole. The Deluxe Edition adds demos and live versions and nonalbum tracks, but it's only for collectors. The Peel Session has SY covering a bunch of tracks by The Fall (including a Fall-ish cover of the Kink's "Victoria," which was, incidentally, a hit for The Fall).

Goo (1990), Dirty (1992), Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star (1994), Washing Machine (1995). The first of their major-label releases, Goo is pretty fantastic. Maybe it isn't Daydream Nation-good, but what is? Goo is more audience-friendly but it still maintains SY's love of noise and speed erupting into placidity. Dirty, which is much maligned in some quarters for its willingness to please, is similar, but it strikes me as even more successful than Goo. SY had to balance their bid for new listeners (I mean, they headlined Lollapalooza back when that meant something) with their own style, and Dirty gets that in spades. Experimental, which bugs me to this day by lacking an oxford comma, is where the friction between SY's experimental side and their radio-friendly side start to come together, and it's slightly less great than Dirty for it. Washing Machine, while having one of my favorite tracks in the 20-odd-minute "The Diamond Sea," really starts to fall apart on the second side. The run from "Little Trouble Girl" to "No Queen Blues" to "Panty Lies" is almost like a parody of Sonic Youth, with Kim Gordon's usually righteous feminist rants sort of running the music in circles. Annoying circles. I almost never skip through a SY song, but I pretty much always skip these. Anyway, SY's growing popularity in the early 90s led to events like this absolutely fantastic clip of their network premiere on Letterman. I saw this at the time and it has been burned in my consciousness like few other TV appearances of favorite bands. And, oh hell, I can't stop posting clips of SY in the 90s.

SYR 1: Anagrama (1997), SYR 2: Slaapkamers Met Slagroom (1997), A Thousand Leaves (1998), Silver Session (For Jason Knuth) (1998), SYR 3: Invito Al Cielo (1998), SYR 4: Goodbye 20th Century (1999), NYC Ghosts & Flowers (2000), SYR 5: Olive's Horn (Kim Gordon, DJ Olive, and Ikue Mori, 2000). Wrapping up the 90s are two excellent albums in A Thousand Leaves and NYC Ghosts & Flowers and a whole bunch of experimental EPs. Anagrama is the best of these, practically an outtake album. Slaapkamers Met Slagroom and Invito Al Cielo are both good album, although both run on a little two long. Silver Session and Goodbye 20th Century are both slogs with a few moments of greatness, and Olive's Horn is just freakin' awful.

Murray St. (2002), In The Fishtank 9 (Sonic Youth + I.C.P. + The Ex, 2002), SYR 6: Koncertas Stan Brakhage Prisiminimui (Sonic Youth su Tim Barnes, 2002), Sonic Nurse (2004), The Destroyed Room: B-Sides And Rarities (released 1994-2004), Rather Ripped (2006), SYR 7: J'Accuse Ted Hughes (2008), The Eternal (2009). The 00s albums were uniformly excellent as SY fell into a solid lock on their sound. The Fishtank EP, on the other hand, is lousy, but not as lousy as the two SYR EPs, which are so dull that I couldn't bring myself to pick up the final two. The Destroyed Room, with music spanning the 90s and 00s, is fan-freakin'-tastic. And The Eternal may be my favorite of all of these. It's a shame that Thurston Moore had to go and fuck up the band.

Sonic's Rendezvous Band - Live, Masonic Auditorium, Detroit, 01/14/1978. A killer punk experiment with Fred "Sonic" Smith and Scott Asheton.

The Sonics - Here Are The Sonics!!! (1965). Garage rock does not get better than this. As an added bonus, there's three extraordinary Christmas tracks from a 1966 EP added to the end.

Sonny Boy Williamson - Down And Out Blues (1959), More Real Folk Blues (1967), and Bummer Road (1969). The second of two blues musicians named Sonny Boy Williamson is the better-known one. Down And Out Blues has Muddy Waters, Robert Jr. Lockwood, and Willie Dixon. I don't know who's on the other ones. They're all pretty good.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Music Library: Slovenly, Slow Dazzle, Sly And The Family Stone, Small Faces, Smashing Pumpkins, Patti Smith, Smiths, Smog, Smokey Robinson, Snuff, Soft Boys, Soft Cell, Soft Pack, Soft Set, Solex + M.A.E.

Slovenly - Thinking Of Empire (1986), Riposte (1987), We Shoot For The Moon (1989), and Highway To Hanno's (1992). It is unjust that Slovenly have been so overlooked. This was an SST band with legs, and all of these albums stand up just as strong today. Slovenly had the Beefheartian eclecticism of The Minutmen, the jagged edges and fearless exploratory spirit of early Wire, and a genuine guitar hero in Tom Watson (who still tours and records with Mike Watt). These albums are sadly out of print now, and Allmusic seems to reviewed them more hamfistedly than usual. But Allmusic is wrong; Slovenly still packs a punch, even when they are out in guitar-god skronk-and-melody heaven.

Slow Dazzle - The View From The Floor (2005). A more insubstantial sideband of then-married Timothy Bracy and Shannon McArdle of The Mendoza Line. It's not terrible by any means, but it don't have the greatness of the Mendoza Line at their peak.

Sly And The Family Stone - A Whole New Thing (1967), Dance To The Music (1968), Life (1968), Stand! (1969), Greatest Hits (1970), There's A Riot Goin' On (1971), and Fresh (1973). It is fascinating to compare the utopian funk of Sly's 1960s albums, all the way up to the three singles ("Hot Fun In The Summertime," "Everybody Is A Star," and "Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Again)") on Greatest Hits. Then Sly's drug use got out of control and he made his version of Exile On Main Street, There's A Riot Goin' On, which took the funk and imbued it with dread palpable to turn the joyous funk of "Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Again)" into the terrifying, heavy drizzle of "Thank You For Talkin' To Me Africa." Fresh is more upbeat without releasing much of the darkness at the heart of Riot.

Small Faces - Ogden's Nut Gone Flake (1968). A half-daft concept album that practically reeks of marijuana smoke from the moment you start it, Ogden's Nut Gone Flake manages to be fun and witty, even if only half-baked nonsense. Or all the way baked, as the case may be. I mean, check out the sheer rock and the whimsy on display in this clip.

Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream (1993). Ugh. I liked this when I was 21. Not so much now.

Patti Smith - Horses Live (2005). As the name and date say, this is a live version of every track from Horses from 2005 that accompanied the re-release. I've covered Patti Smith elsewhere at length. Just wanted to mention this. It's not really worth owning on its own, but any reason to own a copy of Horses is a good reason.

The Smiths - Meat Is Murder (1985), The Queen Is Dead (1986), Strangeways Here We Come (1987), and Singles (1987). I never listened to these guys when I was a teenager because, basically, I was afraid of them. The tiny punk scene where I grew up had some strong limitations on one's music intake, and the Smiths were on the other side of the line. So when I picked these up in the mid 00s, the Smiths were basically new to me. And I liked them! Then I took up smoking cloves and wearing black nail polish and calling my dad a few times every day just to let him know that eating meat is so bourgeois.

Smog - Dongs Of Sevotion (2000). Bill Callahan has been doing this for a long time, I think, but I'm not that much of a fan. This is ok without ever blowing me away.

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles - Anthology (1967-75). The thing that surprises me most about this is that these songs are from the late 60s and early 70s, not a decade earlier like I had somehow always thought. But these are the tracks you think of when you think of Mr. Robinson and the Miracles he fronted.

Snuff - In The Fishtank 4 (1999). This is the last of the Fishtank EPs before Konkurrent, the label that put the series together, realized that they should be getting dissimilar artists to work together. Snuff is a British punk band that I gather believes that they are funny. Thus there are variations on "Yes, We Have No Bananas" all over this EP, and it suuuuuuuuuucks.

The Soft Boys - A Can Of Bees (1979) and Underwater Moonlight... And How It Got There (1980). These are freakin' excellent albums. Underwater Moonlight, in particular, is brilliant. Robyn Hitchcock was pointing the way for psych-folk aficionados of the future while Kimberley Rew was laying down the best shimmering power-pop since Big Star.

Soft Cell - "Tainted Love." What other song would someone have by Soft Cell?

The Soft Pack - The Muslims (2009). The name of the album was the name of the band, but they changed it because of all the racism they encountered. Who could have guessed? I saw them at SXSW in 2009 and they were ok. But this song, "Bright Side," is excellent.

The Soft Set - The Soft Set (2000), Only Lovers Left Alive (2004), Unrequited Love's A Bore (2006), and a whole bunch of unreleased tracks (2006). Fantastic Go-Betweens-y/Smiths-y indie pop band that I was in at one point. Led by William Crain, who is an encyclopedia of rock. And now you can't hear them anywhere, which is a shame. Wish I could share some of these songs with you.

Solex + M.A.E. - In The Fishtank 13 (2005). This is a Fishtank EP from after Konkurrent had their big idea and it works pretty well. I know almost nothing of either of these artists, but the result is interesting, with electronica and horns playing off each other.

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