Wednesday, December 28, 2016

George Michael - Edith and the Kingpin

George Michael with a cover of Joni Mitchell's "Edith And The Kingpin." A very sympathetic rendition that is neither condescending nor patronizing to the actors in this incredibly rich story of a gangster, female companionship, and heroin addiction.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Orange County Suite

The Doors - Orange County Suite

Everybody's Been Burned

The Byrds - Everybody's Been Burned

Sebadoh - Everybody's Been Burned

Graham Nash - Everybody's Been Burned

Sunday, December 18, 2016

DJ-Kicks / Daniel Avery

DJ-Kicks, the product of German label !K7, has been going strong now for 11-12 years. Sure, they've had some hits and misses but 2016 has been a pretty good run, with I think five releases so far, including the much-talked about mix CD from Moodyman which was surprising in its eclectic stew, not what you'd expect from him anyway. Other great stuff this year, particularly if you were ever a fan of '90s techno, etc. Been listening a lot to Daniel Avery's turn recently, curating/mixing trax from the likes of Shlomo, Ekserd, BLNDR, etc but a slow of his own tracks that veer very close to the medicated ambien end of ambient... more frozen than melted. You can hear the full album here. Some choice tracks below:

Interesting feature on Avery in which he talks about "escape" from urban noise, the club as sanctuary, re/presenting the "unreal" over the "real":

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

U2 - Bass Trap

I will have my favorite albums of 2016 up in a few days. But until then, here is "Bass Trap" from the b-side of the "The Unforgettable Fire" (1985) single by U2. I first heard this track, I think, in the spring of 1989, when I was at my (then) girlfriend's apartment. There was this kind of hippie hipster dude who lived upstairs, I forget his name, he had long hair and played guitar all day. So I went through his vinyl collection and recorded a bunch of stuff onto cassette, one of the tracks being this. I had the cassette for many years, and on long (very long) drives, at some point, this track would come on. It still always reminds me of her apartment complex, called "Taos," and my languid lazy days that spring when I was deluded with some misplaced notion that I could hold off "real life" and its obligations literally forever...

"Bass Trap" was my first real introduction to ambient music, the kind especially when seemingly "nothing happens." I didn't know that Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream, and kraut rock in general had already perfected this aesthetic. For me this was a brand new world. I know it's a minority opinion, but something about "nothing happens" really captivated me as a listener, and still does. I love the idea of repetition, endless repetition in music, but also a deceptively kind of repetition where once you hear something repetitive, 10,000 times, you begin to notice that there are subtle differences between minute 1 to minute 5. But that's not really the point. The point is that there is beauty and transcendence in repetition.

Anyway, the Edge says this about this track:

Recorded for The Unforgettable Fire album at Slane Castle. One of the experimental tracks that didn't make the cut, it came via the [Brian] Eno bag of tricks. In his case, we used a device that allowed you to trap a short musical passage and loop it ad infinitum. This exact idea went on to become the catalyst of an entire music culture called hip hop. Here we simply looped a few bars of Adam's bass, then I played guitar and Daniel Lanois played pedal steel on top.

Well, a bit of a forgotten track from the U2 discography, but a brilliant one, anticipating many Aphex Twin experiments from the 1990s. Crank it up on a long drive and ZONE OUT:

Friday, November 25, 2016

Joni Mitchell - Amelia

I was driving across the burning desert
When I spotted six jet planes
Leaving six white vapor trails across the bleak terrain
It was the hexagram of the heavens
it was the strings of my guitar
Amelia, it was just a false alarm

The drone of flying engines
Is a song so wild and blue
It scrambles time and seasons if it gets through to you
Then your life becomes a travelogue
Of picture-post-card-charms
Amelia, it was just a false alarm

People will tell you where they've gone
They'll tell you where to go
But till you get there yourself you never really know
Where some have found their paradise
Others just come to harm
Oh Amelia, it was just a false alarm

I wish that he was here tonight
It's so hard to obey
His sad request of me to kindly stay away
So this is how I hide the hurt
As the road leads cursed and charmed
I tell Amelia, it was just a false alarm

A ghost of aviation
She was swallowed by the sky
Or by the sea, like me she had a dream to fly
Like Icarus ascending
On beautiful foolish arms
Amelia, it was just a false alarm

Maybe I've never really loved
I guess that is the truth
I've spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitude
And looking down on everything
I crashed into his arms
Amelia, it was just a false alarm

I pulled into the Cactus Tree Motel
To shower off the dust
And I slept on the strange pillows of my wanderlust
I dreamed of 747's
Over geometric farms
Dreams, Amelia, dreams and false alarms

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Happy Birthday

A kind of a repost from a while back. But it's my mother's birthday today and I miss her terribly. This is for her, one of her favorite songs, "Different Drum," released in the fall of 1967 by a band called the Stone Poneys whose lead singer was a young woman named Linda Ronstadt. (I should clarify that even though the song was credited to the Stone Poneys, only other session musicians played on it).

Anyway, my mother was very fond of Linda Ronstadt, and growing up we had her greatest hits on the record player a lot. She had a great run of country-tinged Top 40 singles. This particular song, written by Mike Nesmith (of the Monkees) is a perfect pop song, a wonderful example of a catchy, beautiful, but clever pop song, less than 3 minutes long. (And it has a bit of an edge too, lyrically).

Happy Birthday to my favorite person in the world.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

15 Years in New York / Interpol / Deerhunter

So, 15 years ago, today, I moved to New York City. Lots of things have changed since then. Lots of things haven't. I suppose I could write a long philosophical exegesis of my time here and what it has meant, but that would be boring. But I can add a bit of context: for some bizarre reason, I used to write a journal in 2001, and here is what I wrote tonight, 15 years ago:

As I drove [my car] on the NJ Turnpike, my emotions ran the gamut of sheer euphoria and excitement, to sadness and despondence. From hope for a new life to wishing my car would just veer off the freeway [into] some conflagration. Each feeling lasted seconds. Nothing too serious. But dusk on the NJ Turnpike (generally an extremely ugly stretch of America) was awesome. I arrived in this city alone. And that will prove to be the best part of all of this. I did it all by myself!

Anyway, I was trying to think back to what music I was probably listening to those days, and I can't really remember the fall of 2001 in terms of music (although I did see shows by Orbital, Tool, and Spiritualized). One song that I was listening to a lot in 2002, in the year after my arrival, was "NYC" by Interpol from their debut album Turn On The Bright Lights, one of those inexplicable albums that are brilliant despite being completely derivative (and it's worth noting that the band never came anywhere close to the halcyon heights of that album in anything they ever released subsequently). The Village Voice had a pretty good summation of the song:

Even a decade after its release, you'd still be hard-pressed to find anyone who really knows what "Subway, she is a porno" means, but there is a kind of hazy plod to Interpol's "NYC" that does perfectly exemplify the everyday life of many a working New Yorker: those bits of your commute where you keep your head down, downshift into autopilot, and strap on your mental and emotional armor for the battle you find daily in the rat-race capital.
So in commemoration of those 15 years -- and to all the people I knew in those early years, you know who you are -- here is "NYC" by Interpol:

"Subway is a porno," indeed.

Last night, in more of a coincidence than anything else, I saw what was without doubt my best concert of the year so far, Deerhunter, who were playing Webster Hall near Union Square. The show was outstanding, just fantastic. I've seen Deerhunter before, but this time, the band was just totally on, without any kind of fucking around, from start to end, on point, demonstrating once again why Deerhunter remains probably the best and most versatile guitar rock band in America today. Guitar rock is hardly very trendy these days but Bradford Cox and his crew reveal a deep commitment to the possibilities of that instrument, straddling carefully the line between utter abandon, whitenoise, frenzy, and distorted bliss (think Sonic Youth and MBV) on the one hand, and the sheer confectionary joy of the three-minute pop song (think Motown + Big Star) with lilting verses and hookladen choruses. Although their album Microcastle (2008) remains my favorite of theirs, ALL of their albums are worth getting, each containing at least half a dozen killer pop tracks that other bands spend entire careers working towards.

What made last night's show amazing was the band's ability to surprise. They've now added a live keyboard/saxophone player (Javier Morales) who adds a lot of funk to what was ostensibly four-on-the-floor rock krautrock attack. We got some really jamin' funky workouts in the show, hinting at perhaps the future trajectory of the band. An album of Stevie Wonder covers?

Anyway, in honor of the Deerhunter show but also the beginning of my 16th year here in New York City, I present two songs by Deerhunter. The first, the opening track on their last album Fading Frontier (2015), "All the Same" is a lilting indie rockish meditation on letting yourself go, and not getting too attached to anything (including a place):

My home, anywhere
Expect no comfort, save for air
Take it anyway
I could leave or I could stay
Wouldn't matter much to me
Much to me
The second, which I've posted,probably a few times over the years on this blog, is a live version of "Nothing Ever Happened," the epic lengthy track from Microcastle which has been a sort of concert closer for the band for many years. Here they are, playing the song in a 12-minute version at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago in 2012. Behold:

Here's looking forward to the next 15.....

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Neil Young - Pushed It Over The End

I started this blog about 10 years ago! My first post was on April 24, 2006 and it sure was a good one. But the very first song I ever talked about on this blog, in a post that July, was a song called "Pushed It Over The End" written by Neil Young. Now, more than 10 years later, I am coincidentally listening to that same song and STILL blown away by it. What's so fucking great about this song? Let me quote myself from ten years ago:

His guitar playing is pretty, understated, but incredibly communicative. You hear it, you almost feel like you're teetering on the edge of something ("pushed it over the end," after all), and then you tip over and make the long deep fall, all the way down. That's exactly how I felt hearing the song before I even knew the title of the song.
What's the story behind the song? I think Neil wrote it sometime in 1974, and did a full-band version of it with Crosby Stills Nash and Young on their (in)famous cocaine-fueled 1974 tour. He also did an acoustic version of it during a solo tour later that year. Then he just kinda dropped it. Never released it on an album. Never did anything with it. This was literally one of his best EVER songs. I'm not kidding -- in his entire 50 year career, I would rank this as one of the most brilliant songs he ever wrote. And that's saying quite a lot, given his ability, especially in the late sixties and seventies, to just rattle off classic after classic without breaking a sweat.

"Pushed It Over The End" was a strange elliptical meditation on the existential malaise of the mid-seventies, filtered through allusions about Patty Hearst, Nixon, and God knows what else. This was a song about the intersection between love and politics, about how relationships can be abstracted through politics and vice-versa, how some of our most self-destructive urges can sabotage the best things in life until they are (literally) pushed over the end (edge).

Playing background to the almost incomplete lyrics flush with disjointed imagery, was a skip-stop-start waltz-y rhythm (one person called it a "junkie waltz") that never quite gels, it just wobbles through the first couple of minutes until it momentarily gets a firm backbeat and stands tall. And then all of a sudden, it's back to the wobby skip-start-junkie waltz again.

His guitar playing sounds like a musical virtuoso on one instrument is learning how to play another. The lead guitar solo (beginning at 3:05) is nothing much to speak of, a sequence of utterly sloppy notes played up and down the guitar neck, strings bent here and there, but THEN at one point, he holds the same single note as a vibrato for, like, 10 freaking seconds flat (start listening at 3:30), it is absurdly intense, like you just want to stop breathing - just like you imagine when you are pushing your favorite relationship over the end. Your head hurts and you can't breathe, but you are just compelled to try to fuck things up. It's like an aural equivalent of that.

All of this was recorded live on a CSNY live date in 1974 (August 27, 1974). Young later added a few choice overdubs - apparently vocals by Crosby and Nash -- but the recording still sounds spartan. At some point, in 1976, Young had apparently wanted to include the song on his greatest hits-type triple album thing called Decade. The liner notes for that song were even written up:

Recorded live on the road in Chicago, 1974. Thanks to Crosby & Nash's help on the overdubbed chorus, I was able to complete the work. I wrote it for Patty Hearst and her countless brothers and sisters. Also, I wrote it for myself and the increasing distance between me and you.

As you can guess, the song was dropped from Decade at the last minute. The liner notes were erased. And because Neil Young is completely crazy, when he did issue the song, he made it available ONLY on a single-sided Italian 12" single that was released in 1981 and which NO ONE bought. Anyway, this Italian objets d'art is worth gobs of money. I recently bought a copy for $100. Yes I'm that insane. It's the most expensive song I've ever bought in my life.

It's worth noting that this song is now actually (finally) officially released as part of CSNY's recent live chronicle of the 1974 tour, called CSNY 1974. There is even a video of the song in a DVD in the collection. However, the version on there is VASTLY inferior to the version on that strange and rare Italian 12" from 1981. Fortunately, you can hear an (albeit poor quality) version of the prized Italian 12" version here:

Is it worth $100? No. Am I crazy? Yes. But is it a good song? Yes. Fucking brilliant. Hear it and weep.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that some actually think that a third version of the song, an acoustic version which Neil apparently called "Citizen Kane Junior Blues" (because why not) is the BEST version out there. You decide.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Glenn Campbell - By The Time I Get To Phoenix

Since I'm on the theme of childhood music, a friend (thanks Patrick M.) recently reminded me of Glen Campbell and the recent documentary about him, I'll Be Me (2014). I haven't seen it but the conversation took me back to my very long-ago childhood, when I was probably 3 or 4, in my parents' house in Bloomington, Indiana where there was a copy of Campbell's album By The Time I Get to Phoenix (1967). My parents' music taste was a mix of Tagore music, classical Indian music and an eclectic smorgasbord of country and western, pop, folk, and rock (Glen Campbell, Linda Ronstadt, Jim Reeves, movie soundtracks, and yes, even the Beatles).

This album, whose cover I probably stared at for hours, was played all the time in the house. Most of the songs were covers, which was the m.o. of most country musicians at the time, but the music, so universal and timeless, somehow remains lodged in my psyche decades later.

I remember particularly "Homeward Bound" (a cover of the Simon & Garfunkel song) and "Tomorrow Never Comes") but the real standouts were the title track, "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" the old standard written by the great Jimmy Webb which Campbell made his own. The other was "Cold December" written by Alex Hassilev of the defunct The Limeliters, a folk band who had a few hits in the late 1950s/early 1960s. Both songs highlight Campbell's voice -- kind of like the Jimi Hendrix of country and western vocalists. There's also Campbell's guitar playing which is subtle and sublime.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Wombles - Wombles of Wimbledon

The Wombles was a stop motion action show that ran on British TV originally from 1973 to 1975. Reruns of those original episodes have continued on TV for years, decades. Each episode was about 5 minutes long and chronicled the lives of these fictitious furry animals (kind of like hamsters) as they got into trouble in the English countryside.

The theme music for the show (And many associated songs featured in the show) were written and performed by Mike Batt, a well-known English songwriter who had a few hits in the 1970s (including the effervescent "Summertime City"). Batt also had a modicum of success as a songwriter for hire for a bunch of British acts from that era including Steelye Span.

Either way, the theme song to The Wombles is quite a lovely song, compositionally perfect in its cadences and melodic sense, to invoke both childhood in general but also a very specific English sensibility of childhood. There are lots of french horns and trombones and violins and a bouncy beat guaranteed to make you sway. It's one of those songs that has been the longest in my brain, chords, melody, lyrics literally imprinted in my brain until I die. I have sung this song forever and am now singing it to my son who finds all this more mystifying than amusing. But in a testament to its Beatesque power to burrow into one's brain, he also hums the song frequently and without being aware of it.

Stripped of all the musical accoutrements, with just guitar and voice, you get a sense of the awesomeness of the song's melody, chords, and lilting nature. It has a bridge worth killing for.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

No Fun

This is the single most influential song of my life. It also captures the very essence of life itself, better than Friedrich Nietzsche, Immanuel Kant, George Gurdjeff, Jean-Paul Sartre, Homi Bhabha, Gilles Deleuze, and Jacques Derrida. Why, you may ask? Because it fundamentally describes the human condition:

No fun to be alone
Walking by myself
No fun to be alone

Well, maybe go out
Maybe stay home
Maybe call Mom
On the telephone

Feast on this sonorous marvel yourself:

Husker Du - Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely

"Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely" was the first single off of Husker Du's album Candy Apple Grey (1986). The was written and sung by the band's drummer Grant Hart.

Ultra Vivid Scene - Special One

I remember this from some centuries ago when I was but a gleam in my parents' eyes. Ultra Vivid Scene had one great album called Joy 1967-1990 that came out in 1990. I must've heard it a million times on a C90 cassette which I still probably have somewhere. One of these few perfect pop albums from that era, the art of the 3-minute song with killer hooks and melodies. And this particular song, of course, had the lovely and adorable Kim Deal on backing vocals.

Turns out the dude in Ultra Vivid Scene (well, actually it was only one guy, Kurt Ralske, who did everything) quit music and has had a second career as a visual artist and academic. And this career has been incredibly successful--I'm not even sure if anyone remembers that he released this killer pop album 25 years ago. According to his website, "Kurt Ralske's video installations and performances enact a dialogue with history: an exploration of the past that proposes a new view of the future."

If I was falling in love these days, I would dedicate this song to whoever it was:

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

The Whitest Boy Alive - Island

This is "Island" by The Whitest Boy Alive, a now-defunct band based in Berlin (but with members from also from Norway). The song is from their second and last album Rules (2009).

Saturday, September 03, 2016

I knew this girl in Galveston, Texas

I knew this girl in Galveston, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico. I was living in Houston and I would drive down I-45, past all the topless bars, and into Galveston to see her. She had pretty blue eyes and a disarming smile. She would wear her flip flops to the beach, dragging me with her. I always wanted to leave, but she would make me stay. I still remember an image of the ocean, dark and foreboding as a storm approached the beach. We were silent a lot, but I think she knew what I meant and vice-versa. We communicated a lot without speaking. So I wrote this song "So Few Words" for her. I wrote the song on May 23, 1999 and recorded it on the same day. Me on guitars and vocals. It is the fifth track from my first EP called Locust Dreams.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Lie Cheat and Steal

The opening track from Tool's debut album Undertow (1993). Did they ever top this? Doubt it. This is music that is taut, pulled apart, completely under control, like an armored division, attacking, rolling down to its target. Utter control and precision. Yes, they released better albums than Undertow but did they ever top the ROCK GUITAR ATTACK of this song ever? No.

No One Is Innocent.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Sylvia Plath - Crackle and Drag

I just realized that the day Sylvia Path killed herself, February 11, is also my birthday. I had no idea. But Wikipedia does not lie, as we all know. That's a pretty morbid coincidence. Strangely or not, I've been thinking of her quite a bit recently. Like most young people, I also read The Bell Jar, I think during college. And I'm pretty sure I re-read it when I moved to Northampton, Massachusetts in the early nineties, given that Smith College features prominently in her life and the book. I remember liking it quite a bit although I'm not sure how I'd feel now.

Part of the reason I've been thinking about her is that I recently (re)saw the movie Sylvia (2003) directed by Christine Jeffs and starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig. Basically a straight-ahead biographical drama about Plath's life (with an obvious focus on her relationship with Ted Hughes), the movie was not judged kindly by audiences at the time (although Roger Ebert did give it a fairly good review). I was not one of the many who were bored by it. I actually liked it, especially Paltrow's very nuanced performance, one of the best in her (now stalled?) career as a top-flight actor. I kind of actually believed Paltrow was Plath. And there are moments of amazing vulnerability conveyed in her performance that were, well, surprising. I didn't expect that.

The soundtrack to Sylvia was composed by Gabriel Yared (who also scored and got an Oscar for The English Patient) and I also kind of liked it. It wasn't maudlin or too laden with sentimentality. As one reviewer noted, there are echoes of the violins from "Eleanor Rigby" but the basic motifs and themes are rather understated. The actual suicide is depicted with a spare piano motif that suddenly cuts off the orchestral score:

More to my typical music tastes, I have a feeling that the producers of Sylvia had wanted a pop/rock song or two to soundtrack the movie. And word probably got around. Someone told Paul Westerberg about it who came up with one of the great tracks of his late period solo career, "Crackle and Drag." Unfortunately, the song was never used in the actual movie, which is a pity as it's a beautiful reflection on her life and suicide. The words "crackle and drag" refer to Plath's famous poem "Edge" where she writes (about a doomed woman):

The moon has nothing to be sad about / Staring from her hood of bone
She is used to this sort of thing / Her blacks crackle and drag

Here the "blacks" are the long funereal curtains that drape the theater stage. The "crackle and drag" is an allusion to the static caused by the curtains as they brush up and drag against the floor... as they move across the theater stage.

In Westerberg's capable hands (and voice), the song has two studio versions, both featured on his album Come Feel Me Tremble (2003), a kind of "soundtrack" to a video documentary of the same name. One version of the song is acoustic and the other a kind of raging but beautifully heavy power pop version, kind of like early Cheap Trick filtered through Big Star. Fantastic actually. But the version that I really love is one that he never actually released (a totally Paul move if there was ever one) but performed quite a few times on his 2002 tour before the album came out. Here is that version performed in Minneapolis on July 1, 2002. The song begins very tentatively, with Westerberg flubbing lines, basically screwing up the whole thing, but gains momentum slowly until by the end it's a tour de force. Really amazing. Would have been perfect for the movie:

And finally, there is the totally rockin' version by Westerberg, released on Come Feel Me Tremble:

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Stooges - L.A. Blues

Today, Wednesday, I am in a state of anguish. Especially tonight. Fucking sucks.

Hence this "song" (because it's not really a song so much as a wail into the void) which has a title which is VERY appropriate "L.A. Blues." Ladies and gentlemen, I present The Stooges from the greatest album of all time, Fun House (1970).

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

METZ - Acetate


This is "Acetate," the opening track from METZ II, the second album by the Canadian band METZ. One of my favorite albums of last year.


This is also exactly how one my college bands used to sound. Except we weren't anywhere this good. But we were noisier.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Al Stewart - Flying Sorcery

When I was about eight or nine, I was really into airplanes. And one of my most treasured books was a book on the history of aviation, which to a nine-year old seemed utterly romantic and adventurous and exciting. Even the names, all difficult to pronounce, of the pioneers, communicated strangeness, a world inaccessible only in dreams by a little boy. I knew all of these names by heart: Icarus, Otto Lilienthal, Louis Bleriot, Amelia Earhart, Amy Johnson (shown left), Hugo Junkers, Samuel Langley, Alberto Santos-Dumont, Thomas Sopwith, and of course, Charles Lindbergh and the Wright Brothers. And the names of the early biplanes and airplanes were imprinted in my brain. I spent a lot of time drawing sketches of airplanes -- ones from the early 20th century -- flying in the sky. Pages and pages. I was fascinated by flight. Of course, I forgot all that and outgrew it soon after. Not sure what happened. I suppose there was puberty, girls and music and other things.

But so it was a strange surprise to hear this song, "Flying Sorcery" by Al Stewart from his classic album Year of the Cat (1976) which some consider a masterpiece of the mid-seventies singer-songwriter genre. "Flying Sorcery" is a song about those early years of aviation and it so perfectly captures my childhood fascination with flight that I almost feel like someone had talked to me when I was nine and wrote that song down. As the song, floating on a lilting melody, coasts along, we hear about Kitty Hawk (where the Wright Brothers flew), Amy Johnson (who flew from Britain to Australia, above), Tiger Moths, Faith, Hope, and Charity (a British biplane fighter), Leonardo da Vinci, and of course Icarus.

So here is a small part of my childhood, explained in 4 minutes and 23 seconds:

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.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Sparklehorse - See The Light

A friend, Ben, recently died, on July 5, in New York. I was lucky enough to know him for the past few years. This is for Ben.

Monday, July 04, 2016

La Femme - Sur La Planche

Been listening to music by La Femme, a French electronic surf pop band whose album Psycho Tropical Berlin (2013) is hard to get out of your mind, once you've heard it. Various websites say that the band is a krautrock band, but I honestly don't see it. They have a strong surf rock vibe (that twangy echo-y guitar) but with a artsy post-punk-ish pretensions.

It's basically high-energy electronic pop music with melodies designed for maximum indelible impact on your brain.

The first time I heard them was this song, "Sur La Planche" which was featured in an ad for a Renault automobile. And really, most of their songs should soundtrack auto advertisements. They're perfect for that. Since that album, they have released a couple of standalone singles ("Sphynx" and "Ou va le monde?") but if you like the following song, get the album. It's a total cheer-upper in these dark and disturbing times.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Delia Derbyshire - Pot Au Feu

Delia Derbyshire doing "Pot Au Feu." Recorded in 1968 and released on BBC Radiophonic Music (1971). Someone on the wiki site helpfully notes:

This is three minutes and nineteen seconds of paranoia, virtually a rave track circa 1991 in its structure; a stattering, pounding teleprinter-paced bassline worthy of Timbaland as the tension builds, then a moment of chaos and crisis, an alarm-bell of a book recalling the 'panic/excitement' lines so prevalent in early 90s hardcore.

Pot-au-feu is a French beef stew but that's not really relevant.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pink Floyd - Middle

Been listening to a lot of middle-period Pink Floyd recently, stuff from 1970 to about 1975. There's nothing particularly uniform about this period but I appreciate their ability to fuse pop with some moderate experimentation. There are two very high-quality BBC sessions from 1970 and 1971 that are circulating (use The Googles and ye shall find). Both sessions find the band firmly in their first post-Syd incarnation--no weird loopy psychedelic pop songs--but rather a bit of pastoral hippie music with bits and pieces of musique concrete. Most of the material is from Atom Heart Mother (1970) and Meddle (1971). Here is "Fat Old Sun," a rare David Gilmour tune that they dress up with loud electric guitars and rustic organs:

Have also dipped my toes into the live world of Floyd, particular their spectacular late 1974 tour of Great Britain. Here, they performed a superb setlist, including three completely new (at the time) songs, opening with the gorgeous "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and following up with the vitriolic, bilious, and brilliant pair of "Raving and Drooling" and "You've Got To Be Crazy." There's something quite attractive about musical acts introducing lots of new unrecorded songs on tours. You would hardly find that these days.

The latter two songs would, of course, many years later, show up on the Animals (1977) album under entirely different titles. These three epic (and I really mean, EPIC) songs were then followed by a complete performance of the soon-to-be classic rock warhorse of Dark Side of the Moon, which for all its faults and its over-familiarity and identification with the most reactionary dad-rock, still sounds remarkably beautiful in 1974, performed by a four-piece. Finally, the show concludes with a lengthy "Echoes" where the band gets a bit of their rock out. Awful lyrics (hello Roger Waters?) but you can't fault the tremendous musical execution.

From that 1974 tour, here is "Any Colour You Like"--actually from their Wembley performance on November 16, 1974. Gentle psychedelia for the cognitively-impaired and sleep-deprived hippie in me. Every bandmember is amazing here but of particular note is the bass playing by Roger Waters, someone not normally known as a musician of any note, but here he really takes the axe by the hand and more than acquits himself on the instrument in sometimes busy and sometimes extremely understated ways, often alternating between beautiful bass runs up and down the fret boards to soft harmonics and suspended notes (hear the parts, especially, from about 3 minutes in....) Fantastic stuff....

I should add that things seem woefully not right now and there is no hope that they will get better. In fact, there's a good chance that things will be... very difficult, for the near term. Family, relationship, and work, the triad that holds things up -- none of these things are in a healthy state now. And doesn't the world seem a dismal place? Tragedy, death, violence, prejudice, conflict, etc. -- you wonder what happened.

In that spirit, let me offer one more Floyd tune from that era, one that reminds us that a small piece of music can be, in the right circumstances, a salve for the soul. Here is a beautiful demo by the absolutely underrated Richard Wright. This is a demo of the chords that later made up the song "Us And Them" from Dark Side. Listening to it, I am reminded that it is possible to forget things for a while and imagine a better time. Music has this paradoxical capability to let you sink completely within yourself and yet, while at the same time, allowing you to totally forget yourself too.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Metal Box

New purchase! P.I.L.'s Metal Box, originally released in 1979 (and later re-released in the U.S. as Second Edition). Snagged this off ebay. It was pricey but this was an original issue from 1979. The outside canister obviously has some wear and tear, mostly (I presume) from oxidization over the past 37 years. But the vinyl appears to be in mint condition -- a brilliant album spread over 3 records. One of the reasons for getting this on vinyl is that the bass, played by the incomparable Jah Wobble, is very compromised on the CD editions. On vinyl, everything really jumps out at you. So now I own an original first print!

Not sure if I've ever written about this album -- it is undoubtedly one of my favorite albums of all time. And yet it is also one of the most difficult listens, especially the first time. It's not really 'musical' in the conventional sense, but drawing from dub, especially, creates an entirely new (for the time) sonic blueprint based around discordance, repetition, and atonality. Its hypnotic nature derives actually from the fact that there's almost nothing musical and pretty in it (well, except for the concluding instrumental "Radio 4.") And yet, in the mesmerizing nearly 8-minute grooves of "Poptones, you can get totally lost after a few minutes. One of the greatest dub/post-punk tracks every recorded. Hell, one of the greatest tracks ever recorded by anyone anywhere.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Débruit - Percute

This is from the album Outside The Line (2015) by the English artist Xavier Thomas who goes by the name Débruit. More about him here. A new album, entitled Débruit & Istanbul, is about to come out in a couple of weeks.
Unfortunately, I can't embed the track here. But you can listen here.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More

Someone once wrote a book called Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More.
Which is really a great title for anything, don't you think?
It captures the friction between hope and reality that characterizes so much of life.
Yes indeed.

I've always liked this song:

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie Was

First post of the year.

Listening to Hunky Dory, then the rest, in order.