Monday, August 15, 2016

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Skeletons

I know I've posted this one before but I love this song by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Skeletons" from their last album It's Blitz! (2010). Not sure what the song is about but it's a really original arrangement for a song, with its faux bagpipes and shuffling drum parts. I have no idea how they reproduce this kind of sound as a 3-piece live. The song overall has a really 1980s pop vibe, something that wouldn't be out of place on MTV in 1985 and yet somehow sounds kind of timeless. The mark of a great pop single.

It's been a while since the band put out a record but if and when they, I'll definitely get it.

Also, I have kind of a big crush on Karen O, who lives in LA.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Verve

So back in 1994, I went to see the movie Nadja in a movie theater in Northampton, Massachusetts. Really didn't know what to expect, but I liked it. It had a bit of the style of Hal Hartley and a bit of the style of David Lynch but nothing too weird. It was a nice evocative and atmospheric movie about modern day vampires, starring the quite lovely Elina Lowensohn, an American actress of Romanian origin. But what really stayed with me as I exited the movie was the soundtrack, and in particular one scene in which the main character (Nadja) is talking about emotions, a scene that transitions seamlessly into a dance scene between the two lovers. Here is the moment before that transition, where you can hear the beginnings of a dreamy song:

In the background you hear this music and it seemed positively heavenly. I had no idea what it was. And in those pre-internet days, there was really no way to find out. I don't know exactly how but I began to suspect that the music that I wanted to identify was created by a band called the Verve. Fast-forward a year, to 1995, and I ended up buying the Verve's debut album, A Storm in Heaven. By that time, I had moved to Amherst and was living in the "white house," a lovely and strange house populated by a bunch of transient students but whose bedrock were our landlords Pat and Jacqueline.

It was here that I heard that album a thousand times: A Storm In Heaven completely blew my mind. It wasn't particularly original in any fundamental way: basically shoegazer music with the space-y elements maxed out, the rough edges (a la MBV) smoothed out, and fueled by atmospheric guitar courtesy of the Verve's incredibly talented guitarist Nick McCabe. Yet, from the first song to the last, the album felt like a bit of a journey, perfect for late night (very late night) ruminations of twenty-somethings from an inbetween generation. I present here the first and second perfect tracks that set off the album. Just brilliant stuff. This is without par one of the greatest opening album tracks for a new band:

And the second part of the 1-2 punch goes into "Slide Away":

I bring these songs up because the Verve is re-releasing their first two (both wonderful) albums, A Storm in Heaven and A Northern Soul, as deluxe editions. More information here.

Neither of these two albums had the song that I so desperately wanted to identify, that soundtracked the movie Nadja. But I eventually found it, much later, in 1998 or 1999, I think! The song was "One Way To Go," the b-side of their very first single ("All In My Mind"). And when I finally heard the song in full, my expectations were fully justified in the sheer gorgeosity of the sound:

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Young Gods - L'amourir

Heavy stuff today. The Young Gods were a band from Switzerland who sang mostly in French. Actually, scratch that, I just discovered that they still exist. In any case, I used to listen to them mostly in the early '90s. Very electronic, very heavy, industrial music but tempered by a bit of experimentation. In other words, it wasn't the kind of industrial made famous by Ministry or Revolting Cocks and bands like that. Although they are not as famous as, say Nine Inch Nails, I would say that Young Gods were incredibly influential for a whole generation of electronic musicians. David Bowie, for example, once name-checked them. The band has been around since 1985, with their tenth and last album, Everybody Knows, out in 2010. There are a lot of good abrasive Young Gods songs but I present here "L'amourir," the second single by the band, from 1988, which was later added to their excellent album L'eau rouge (1989), which in my opinion remains their masterpiece.

The second song is "Pas Mal," the original b-side to "L'amourir." Here is a live version from 1992:

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Eels - Old Shit / New Shit

Here is the song "Old Shit/New Shit" from the sixth studio album by Eels called Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (2005). The album (which had 33 songs) was pretty amazing but this song seems particularly appropriate today. The main architect of Eels is, of course, E (real name: Mark Oliver Everett). The lyrics to this song here. In case you want to know more about Eels, see here and here. They've had a pretty long career, now over 20 years and 11 albums, and are based out of Los Angeles.

"I'm tired of the old shit
Let the new shit begin."

Auscultation - Black Window

This is a song ("Black Window") from a cassette-only release by Auscultation. The album, L'etreinte Imaginaire ('imaginary embrace") can be purchased here in cassette form (obviously) or as digital files. Auscultation is an Oregon-based musician named Joe Shanahan. An earlier release, cleverly titled S/T, came out in 2014. Reviews of L'etreinte imaginaire here.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

John Beltran - Soft Summer

This is John Beltran's "Soft Summer" from the album Ten Days of Blue (1996). The track was also featured on the compilation Lush Life Electronica (2001).

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Massive Attack - Paradise Circus

This was the standout track from Massive Attack's album Heligoland (2010). I've been a fan of them for a long time and I think I saw them live in New York... in 2006, I think. Critics tend to favor their early stuff but I loved their two mid-period albums Mezzanine (1998) and 100th Window (2003). Both have the triphop vibe but feel a bit more swampy and dank. Definitely worth checking out. Here is "Paradise Circus" which has an X-rated video online somewhere (easy to find). But I'm just posting the basic track which has Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval on vocals.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The Velvet Underground - Candy Says

I don't remember when or where I first heard this song but it was probably in my junior or senior year of college.

"Candy says
I've come to hate my body
And all that it requires in this world"

"Maybe when I'm older
What do you think I'd see
If I could walk away from me."

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Alan Vega (1938-2016)

More death (it is 2016 after all): Alan Vega of the band Suicide died on July 16. Apparently he was 78 -- I thought he'd be more like 58 but what do I know. In any case, lots of stuff written about Sucide since his death, the best stuff being here and here and here. Even Bruce Springsteen had something to say about it.

I first heard of the band, I think, in 1987, when I saw R.E.M. on their Document tour. During the encore, the band, unexpectedly, did a bunch of covers: They covered "Strange" (Wire), "See No Evil" (Television), and "What We All Want" (Gang of Four). Then, lead singer Michael Stipe also mentioned another band, Suicide...which, he admonished us, we should be listening to. So being incredibly impressionable, I went out and searched out their stuff, all of it. To say Suicide was the weirdest of the lot (and that's saying a lot, when you think about how weird Wire was in the late 1970s) was not an understatement. I was completely blown away by all this music but Suicide was really an outlier, like music made by aliens. You could break down the constituent parts (50s rock'n'roll iconography, punk rock attitude, electronic music straight from krautrock via Kraftwerk) but the outcome was like an alternative soundtrack to a nihilistic version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The first self-titled album (1977), people, will tell you, is brilliant. And another thing people will tell you: it still sounds ahead of its time. There are a few albums like that, that still sound completely OUT OF TIME, not rooted in any time period or decade or idiom. The first Suicide album is like that. I give you two songs by them:

This is "Ghost Rider," the opening track on the debut. Look at the intensity of Vega's face. His stage antics were legendary. Taking a page out of the Iggy Pop rulebook, Vega would threaten the audience, confront them, fuck with them, and totally subvert any semblance of the normal accepted conventions between performer and audience. If you were in the audience, you were likely to be kicked in the face. Here, in "Ghost Rider" he kicks you in the face.. in spirit, just by standing almost in one spot, his eyes boring through your skull.

And here is their magnum opus, "Frankie Teardrop." Ten-and-a-half-minutes of aural violence, laying the foundation for Throbbing Gristle and everything after.

I hate the word "singular" when music critics use it, but really, Suicide deserves that descriptor. They were, to use another cliche, one-of-a-kind.

Here is a wide-ranging interview with Vega from 2002 with one of my favorite pop culture writers, Simon Reynolds.