1969: Larry Coryell - Lady Coryell
The first time listening to Lady Coryell, I was expecting something busier. Basically, I was looking for a Bitches Brew inspired clone. Hearing the loose, scratchy voice of a slightly off key Coryell was somewhat startling. I skipped to the second track, only to hear that voice again: More then anything it sounded like Steve Winwood on crack. Slightly disillusioned, I took the disc out and started jamming Return to Forever, or whatever likeminded band I was craving at the time.
When my fusion hard on cooled a bit, I went back to Lady Coryell and discovered something completely different. In place of modal chaos was a ripe selection of extremely catchy themes. Even when the improvisation was at it's most extreme ("Stiff Neck"), there was always a hummable riff or phrase to fall back on. Secondly, and somewhat ironically, only the first half of the album contained vocals. Side-B revealed a lot more guitar noodling and extended jams. Yet Coryell's sharp, often distorted guitar tone was clear throughout. The perfect assimilation of style had evaded me before, but here was a jazz guitarist playing a heavy blues riff with atonal wankery fidgeting in the background ("Sunday Telephone"). Beautiful. It felt the same as the Hendrix inspired 'rock' aesthetic other musicians had been trying to achieve in the same year, though under different guises. Basically, it was not a record to be pegged down.
Coming back to it now, I can try to explain how Lady Coryell combines forms of jazz, blues, folk, and psychedelic rock, but it won't do much good. It's the kind of album that doesn't subscribe to any specific method. It is a gem because its eclecticism is effortless, and I can't help but think that if it were released today, it would still be hailed as truly original. If you take the albums variety into account, Lady Coryell is also a nice bridge from rock into a more traditional jazz setting, or vice versa. Though sometimes it's just better in the middle.
1998: The Crainium - A New Music For A New Kitchen
With the often vapid, territorial pissing of trends and provincial music(s), music can be tiresome and predictable. Most music that becomes popular nowadays can be traced back to an earlier trend that happened decades ago. It'd be arrogant to claim, however, that the more avant-garde sectors of music are any more original or 'authentic' than, say, the garage rock or disco-punk trends; all music has its influences, and all of it's hybrid. However, the difference between those in the vanguard and the more conservative musicians can be found in audience reception.
The Crainium's one and only album, A New Music for a New Kitchen, for example, is still very much part of a negotiation (as opposed to appropriation) of sound, despite it being clearly influenced by the short-lived No Wave scene of the '70s/early '80s. There's no co-optation involved here. Dragging the sounds of D.N.A., Mars, and Teenage Jesus & the Jerks through noise and post-punk movements of the late 20th century, The Crainium play with sounds that still resist convention and conformity. This is why their music in 1998 has continued resonance today; the codes in this music are still very much dynamic and alive, no matter how old the influences are.
In this hour-long document of nervous spasms and intricate song writing, The Crainium balance tight composition with blasts of free chaos. With discordant guitars, contorted drumming, and penetrating vocals, The Crainium channel the improvisational aspects of free jazz while signaling an era entrenched in noise contextualized; it's Cecil Taylor meets Boredoms meets James Chance meets Melt-Banana. It's intelligent music that harnesses the exciting destructive elements of punk, simultaneously acknowledging its home at the outer edges of societal normalcy. And it's this resistance to societal normalcy that's expressed in its lyrics, which deconstruct the notion of gender in a society that employs the construction for power politics (hence, the album title).
A New Music for a New Kitchen will probably never achieve the level of acclaim that most records of this caliber do -- not because it can't be appreciated or because it's ahead of its time, but because it's an anomaly. It's not part of a scene or a movement, and the embrace of dissonance and exclusion of tonality has assured its obscurity among the more straightened crowd. If anything, The Crainium makes it apparent that the No Wave scene fizzled out much too early, and the critique of gender in music is at best a slight hum. Even though Tim Dewitt and Brian DeGraw are now in Gang Gang Dance, their work in the Crainium remains their most penetrating output. A New Music for a New Kitchen isn't a cry for help; it's a scream to rise above the mediocrity of rosy-cheeked America. It's just too bad that the Crainium isn't around to keep things moving.
1. The roles we play, a dead-ended game. We have to change. Create and rearrange. The roles we play they are a dead-ended game.
2. Watch who they beat, watch who they eat.
3. You pretend that you depend, but now you are, are you, visible?
4. There are no rabbits in my hat (yes, yes, yes, I am a traitor to my sex!)
5. Abracadabra! What am I now?
6. Only true love will break the rules.
7. Your penis, it is tiny, and it can not spell.
9. Cut it out of my body, cut it out of my mind, to look, no look
11. What are we hiding? (Parts 1-2 and 3) - Blood and babies, over tea. The eggtree and the ebbing tides. The main in the moon, drinks claret
12. New hormones. Until then, we will not know what love is
14. A new music for a new kitchen. Or, (How I raised myself up from the dead, and you can tell too!)
15. The coquettery of immobility oh watch how I bake, a vicitm, a baby, a coital cake
17. A new music for a new kitchen
2003: Leafcutter John - The Housebound Spirit
It was Keith Fullerton Whitman, right here on TMT in fact, who initially acquainted me with the name Leafcutter John. He answered most glowingly in Leafcutter John’s favor when asked if there were artists deserving more recognition, "Some of the most vital and humanistic yet academic-leaning computer music of this or any time really." I remember this because it piqued my interest at the time that such bold plaudits were going to someone I'd never caught wind of before. Also, that someone with such an organic and folksy name was making computer music. I feebly investigated him at the time, couldn't find much about him, tried to *gulp* download his album, was stymied, and proceeded to ignore KFW's plea and went on like seemingly everyone else (I still can't find many reviews of this album) in continuing to ignore him. Well, not too long ago, I stumbled upon this album, and ever since, I've regretted not heeding the well-informed advice at the time.
This album is sold as one of those Matmos(ish) novelties (no knock on Matmos) featuring samples from a highly restricted set of sources. In this case, the samples all come from items you can find in your home. The reason is that the artist was suffering from crippling agoraphobia after being attacked in public, hence the title The Housebound Spirit. To be honest, I couldn't give a lick. It’s distracting to consider such tangential nonsense. What we should concern ourselves with is the breathtaking sweep of this album. The ‘genre’ ping-pongs around with every track, from KFW IDM sounds to Kid 606-esque cut-ups to avant-classical electro-acoustic to a sparing vocal and acoustic guitar. They're masterfully executed, and, moreover, it’s really an enjoyable collection to listen to. The pacing might be the greatest achievement here, with strikingly disparate tempos residing next to one another cohesively. Similarly, the dynamics in sound are perfectly jarring. And none of this comes anywhere near to conveying the magical experience of listening to this record. This is the truly inspired music that makes people like my self love music. PLEASE, please go out and buy this album. Absolutely one of the most essential recordings I've heard in the past few years.
2. Electric Love
3. If You have an Enemy
5. Walk on my Back
7. Mandolin Work
8. Short Sine
9. House of a Soul
10. For Two
11. All I Could Think of Was Nothing
12. Arches Never Sleep
13. Escape From the Globous Playpen
14. Dead Men Can't Talk, They Can't Do Anything
15. Know Mercy
1978: Pere Ubu - The Modern Dance
With The Modern Dance, Pere Ubu accomplished something almost no other artist has ever accomplished: they created a timeless record. Twenty-six years after its inception, The Modern Dance sounds as jarring and radical as it must have in 1978. This doesn't make The Modern Dance the greatest album ever made, but it certainly makes it one of the most interesting ones. And as a fun exercise, I'm going to review The Modern Dance as if it came out today, on December 20, 2004:
Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi is considered the first absurdist drama ever written and caused a riot on the night of its first performance in France in 1896. In this scatological farce, Pere Ubu (which translates into King Turd) is an obese and vile member of the bourgeoisie who murders literally hundreds of people in his overblown and insatiable pursuit of money and power.
Never before has a band's name fit the group so perfectly. Straight out of Cleveland, Pere Ubu laughs at American complacency and entertainment expectations, beginning their debut album with 30 seconds of blistering and uncompromising guitar feedback before falling into the avant-garage anthem "Nonalignment Pact." At that point, you think the pain has passed. But Pere Ubu has other plans. The pain has only begun, because David Thomas, the human embodiment of Midwest paranoia, begins yelping and squealing over the riffing and senseless electronic squeals as if a whole flock of fire-breathing geese are chasing him in his flying car. And only them does the horror really hit you: Pere Ubu has a bloated mental patient for a lead singer.
And for the rest of "Nonalignment Pact," the catchiest and most fun attempt at garage-rock in years, Thomas blurts the silliest lyrics with such frenzy you start to believe these lines are coming from his heart: "I want to make a deal with you girl/ Get it signed by the heads of state/ I want to make a deal with you girl/ Get it recognized around the world/ You better sign my/ Nonalignment pact." Synthesizer farts, whooshing air noises, and a single-minded groove take the song to heights unseen since "Debaser."
And the Pixies are the best starting point, too. Think Pixies if, instead of creating alternative rock, they had instead created a steady market for dramatized alien rape sounds. David Thomas and friends certainly couldn't have made this album without the Pixies yelping with a fat guy or Captain Beefheart showing the world the power of nonsense. And they've grabbed hold of the spirit of the Contortions, Gang of Four, and every other post-punk or no wave group that wanted to dance. But Pere Ubu has mangled these influences through a strange new filter. It's not blue collar; it's not hipster pretension; it's not anything except really, really frighteningly weird.
And the rest of the album beyond the startling "Nonalignment Pact" makes good on that statement, albeit with less guttural impact. "The Modern Dance" and "Laughing" both stir and brew into creepy and unsettling no wave soundscapes before exploding into jittery dance-if-you-have-a-seizure-coming ecstasy. Saxophones and comically high-end guitars splatter around David Thomas's multi-tracked vocals; making lyrics that sound like a tortured homeless man's diary entry become profound statements about belief and chaos: "If the devil comes / We'll shoot him with a gun."
The wonderfully strange "Chinese Radiation" makes good on its name and announces the second half of the record as the extremely experimental half (because apparently the first half wasn't weird enough). "Life Stinks" is a two minute squeaky fart that comes across as honestly as farts tend to do. "Real World" and "Over My Head" try to match "The Modern Dance" and "Laughing" as a one-two combo, but instead meander and never hit the groove of the formers. "Sentimental Journey," literally six minutes of
moans and glass breaking, even makes a case for Pere Ubu as the shittiest and most pretentious band ever.
But "Humor Me," which ends The Modern Dance, returns Pere Ubu to our previous conclusion: they're the weirdest good band we've got. What starts as a really lame reggae prank (complete with "It's just a joke, mon" Jamaican accent) suddenly transforms into a Pixies-cum-psychedelic dirge with David Thomas sincerely wailing, "So humor me!" over a climactic guitar solo. Did Pere Ubu just end their record with a mock-reggae jam/indie rock anthem? Has a band already bested "Take Me Out" for the Mid-Song Transition Award?
Pere Ubu have announced themselves loud and clear as a rock presence, a rock presence just as soon to implode as to conquer the world. Four records of "Nonalignment Pact" and "Humor Me" will get them David Thomas statues while one record of "Sentimental Journey" will get them shows in friends' basements. The verdict is out on these Cleveland rockers, but maybe that's what Pere Ubu is all about. Is it a joke, mon?
1. Nonalignment Pact
2. The Modern Dance
4. Street Waves
5. Chinese Radiation
6. Life Stinks
7. Real World
8. Over My Head
9. Sentimental Journey
10. Humor Me
1963: Stan Getz - With Guest Artist Laurindo Almeida
If jazz canonization is based on prolificacy, then the alto saxophone virtuoso Stan Getz is certainly guaranteed a seat at the altar. Rather than focusing primarily on jazz innovations over all 40-something albums, though, Getz included a variety of alternate styles from other countries. His most high-profile exploration, which gave jazz its highest popularity since the emergence of big band, was a series of records throughout 1963 that hit on the smooth rhythms of the Brazilian bossa nova. In terms of its popularity, these records could clearly be marked "crossover." Outside of record sales, though, there was another border crossing. Bossa nova was an inherently Brazilian music, never touched by an American player.
So Getz, though having recorded his first bossa offering with Charlie Byrd in 1963, had to be shown the way. That same year, he brought a flood of Brazilian artists to record with him in the U.S., many of whom had been playing for almost a decade. Having roots in bop, though, Getz clearly brought his own feel to languid music.
Perhaps the shining example of the complementary nature of the two inherently different styles is Getz's session with Laurindo Almeida. Throughout the resulting record, Getz and Almeida's style reveal their hard contrast. While Getz emotes all the lyrical spotlight that the progressions would seem to demand, Almeida remains tightly wound around the chord progressions and melodies.
For Almeida, who wrote most of the songs, they seem to be mere exercises; but his impressively disciplined timbre only contributes more to the setting of the music. Getz seems to come in handy for the music when he can offer variation through his own improvisation skills, as well as his ability to channel his emotion into simple staccato runs. Getz is already picking up this skill by the second track, "Outra Vez."
By the final track, "Maractu-Too," Getz is firmly enmeshed in the rhythm while Almeida begins to improvise over his own song's deceptively slippery melody. The trade-off is indicative of what the two styles bring to each other, and, more importantly, how the improvisational element of jazz, when held in check, can produce a more powerful effect.
In terms of chronology, the unification of Getz and a figure like Almeida made no sense for American jazz and its obsession with moving forward. Some pondering the viability of an already-been-done may look to this resurrection as proof of hope across all borders, musical and geographical.
2001: Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions - Bavarian Fruit Bread
Though it sounds like none of them, this seeming one-off of a release from Hope Sandoval easily stands among Vashti Bunyan's Just Another Diamond Day, Bridget Saint John's Songs for a Gentle Man, and Linda Perhacs' Parallelograms as a dreamy folk classic. It's a breezy, sunny day outside, and I'm just playing this album over and over again searching for the right words to hold it. The thing is, as vaporous as these twelve songs feel, I'm finding myself bowled over by the strength of the songwriting. It's that perfect mix of drift and meticulous arrangements that defies pat conclusions. Much like Colleen's fragile instrumentals, the material is as barely there as it is indelible.
Then there's that voice. A mist-borne bubble of collapsed breaths. A tremble in the embrace of the impossibly healing forces of nature. A cool whisper in a rustling of dense, massive velvet curtains. It never fails to send chills all through me, to the point where I feel helpless against it. And the instrumentation (performed by Sandoval, MBV's Colm O'Ciosoig, and eight guests) almost mirrors this sensation, bolstering as much as deferring to her magical intonations. Bavarian Fruit Bread is just a cut above the rest when it comes to mellow perfection. It never quite loses its grip, even during the barely-there instrumental passages, creating an impenetrable cocoon of criss-crossing blue ribbon.
"Around My Smile" is as sexy as it is wiped out. It's like a vacant tome to feminine allure that, in its dry way, manages to make you acquiesce to the hokey sentiment that Sandoval really does "got it goin on." Then there's the gorgeous interpretation of Ballad of Cable Hogue's "Butterfly Mornings" (with folk luminary Bert Jansch on guitar). Not to take away from Stella Stevens' charming performance, but Sandoval once again takes something near cornball and makes it a thing of dusty, irresistible beauty. If Cable had been directed by Wim Wenders instead of Peckinpah, this is what the song might've been like.
Another highlight is the impossibly soft lullaby "Feeling of Gaze." After a stately cello intro, it melts into a sad sawing rhythm that breaks for a call to celebration like a charmingly weird antithesis of both Madonna and Kool and the Gang's exclamations. If you needed one song to sell you on this album, "Feeling of Gaze" is it. Though the heartbreaking Jesus and Mary Chain cover ushering in the record should be more than enough. Then there's "On the Low," a phased-out, bluesy rhythmic partner to the shoegaze-toned "Around My Smile."
After the near eight-minute Landing-esque murk of "Lose Me on the Way," we are knocked from a bottomless dreaming haze into the slow stirring of an unlisted twelfth track, thus ending what has been an earthy yet gauzy listening excursion on a relatively grounded note, rather than an almost frighteningly ethereal one. Which shows that, as much as this is an album perfect for kicking back, it's also ideal as a harrowing experience in losing oneself in sheer sensuality before emerging back into the terse realm of everyday life.