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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Bob & Bob - "Simple & Effective" (M.I.T.B. Records) Vinyl LP

Bob & Bob are an art duo.  Which means they make drawings, paintings, photographs, videos/films, art performances and of course, record albums.  On the surface, one can describe them as not only an American but specifically a Los Angeles version of Gilbert & George.   Yet, entirely different.  Gilbert & George deal with the British world, Bob & Bob are more light, entertaining, and very American.  Beyond that, there are no concrete comparisons between the two duos, except that they are a duo, they do art, and for the casual fan, it's hard to tell the difference between Gilbert and George, and therefore the same for Bob & Bob. 
Bob & Bob has been around since the 1970s, where they met in art school and decided to work together.  What they have produced is quite remarkable, and I have to say the big aspect of them that I like is that they are fun.   The fact that they are not serious is what makes them so important.  Yet, I wouldn't say humor is the only importance to this duo.  
As far as I know, "Simple & Effective" is their first recording under the name of Bob & Bob.  Recorded and released in 1978, the album came out of the Los Angeles art scene when it was very active.  The album reflects not of its time, but more in the state of the Bob & Bob mental state.   14 songs that are funny, but also quite tuneful in that early Beatle mode of tunefulness. Clearly, the album is very much a hand-made project with the lyric sheets that look like it was made at the local Kinko's -including the pages hand stapled by either Bob or Bob.  This is very much a statement by an art duo who looked beyond the art gallery to do their art. 
It's an impressive collection of songs that is very much the DIY spirit of those years.  It's a remarkable album that puts me in a great mood.  There are very few albums that do that. Especially recordings from visual artist, which tends to be on the dark or depressing side.  Not Bob & Bob, they are here to entertain.  Although, I wouldn't take it fully on that surface level.  There is something critical being made here, and I appreciate that effort to put the stamp, even licked, on the culture of that time, and yes, even now. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Move - "Shazam"/"Move" (Fly Records) Double Vinyl reissue, 1970

I have always heard of The Move, but it was years later till I actually heard their music. I have to imagine that the first Move song that I was aware of is "Hello Susie."   How can any teenager refuse that song?  The odd thing is, I think I first heard "Hello Susie" on KMET, which was the Los Angeles underground rock station.  I suspect that the DJ (B. Mitchell Reed?) had the import because I don't think the album "Shazam" came out in the United States.   So it was years later that I actually heard the album - probably in Topanga Canyon.  

For one, I loved the variety of pop that's on the album.   Only six songs, yet, extreme pop done in a hard rock style.  Crunching guitars, with baroque overtures.  One can say it's sort of in the Beatles groove, but the truth is, I think the leader of the band and chief songwriter Roy Wood was in his own world.  My first impression was 'eccentric fellow." At the time I never read an interview with him, and rarely did they get press in the U.S.  Maybe a mention in Rolling Stone, or perhaps they were lucky enough to get this album reviewed, but the memory of it was not me experiencing the album through the printed media, more radio.  
"Beautiful Daughter" is still a song that stays in my head when I walk around Silver Lake.   The string arrangements sound very elementary, and it is almost a punk like the DIY version of something classical.  When you hear strings on a Beatles record, you know it's done by professional musicians - but "Beautiful Daughter" has an enticing spirit from an amateur.  For me, it's a unique song that is beautiful, but something off about it all. In fact, that explains the logic and beauty of The Move.  There is something not quite right.  "Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited" is clearly the masterpiece of this album.   The song builds and builds on a powerful bass riff, and then goes into "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."  Side two mostly covers, but again, totally reimagined as originals by The Move. 

The vinyl version I purchased comes with their first full-length album, "Move," which is even odder than "Shazam."   Mostly Roy Wood songs, with the help of a young Tony Visconti on arrangements of strings.  It's sort of a greatest hits album but from an alternative universe. Clearly not from this planet, and super sure not from the U.S.  Even though there is a cover of a Moby Grape song, the pop on this record is very hyper-baroque pop.   It includes an early version of a much shorter "Cherry Blossom Clinic.   The Move was a unique band in an unusual period of experimentation in the field of pop.   

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Morrissey - "Swords" (Polydor) 2 x Vinyl, 2009

I love Morrissey.  Without a doubt one of the great songwriters of the late 20th century and 21st century.  But is he consistent?  No.  Finding his brilliance one has to really check out the b-sides to his singles.  For instance, I do like his stand-alone solo albums, but it's the collections that are much more satisfying.  I'm not sure how or who decides what goes on the final album, or how he chooses what becomes a B-side and not on the A-side, but I find him at times, consistently wrong.   His "B" choices are excellent.

For me, the great classic Morrissey is "Don't Make Fun of Daddy's Voice," which when I first heard, I cried.  I haven't the foggiest idea what is in that song that made me tear up.  It could be the Daddy image or the passionate delivery of Morrissey's voice.  The song is poetic, with a significant amount of anger reflecting on sadness.  "Good Looking Man About Town" and "Christian Dior" have a novelist approach in nailing down a character's traits - but with Morrissey, it's a combination of a mirror image as well as a projection of sorts.

Credit should go to his band and his co-writers, who are credited for the music composition.  Whyte, Boorer, and Tobias fit into the Morrissey orchestra.  In a way, it reminds me of Duke Ellington's big band.  Each member can express their 'identity, ' but it has the Morrissey stamp as well.  "Swords" is my favorite Morrissey album.   A B-side may be the throwaway material, but for that reason alone, I love it more.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Edwin Astley - "Secret Agent Meets The Saint" (RCA) Vinyl, 1965

Two shows that made an impression on me as a child were the British series "Secret Agent" (Danger Man, UK) and "The Saint."   In the back of my mind, I have remembered the theme songs and often hummed them in my daily baths.  Someone either on Facebook or some other social media site brought the title theme of "Secret Agent" to my attention.  A super catchy face-paced melody that is the opposite of the slower-pace show.  Patrick McGoohan played John Drake, a British secret agent who travels the world for the Queen.   When I watched it as a boy, it seemed sophisticated to me.  It wasn't like "Wild Wild West, " or the other knock-off James Bond shows on TV.  It had its own gritty glamor.  McGoohan was cool in every sense or meaning of that word.  The music, on the other hand, is frantic, busy, with an orchestration that featured a speeded-up Harpsichord.  

"Roger Moore plays the Saint," and he's a combination of private detective and borderline criminal.  Simon Templar (his fictional, given name) as played by Moore, had a built-in charm factor.  He wasn't cool but was fun.   To be in the Templar/Moore world was to participate in the good times.  As he traveled around the world, us viewers went with him.  Even though most of the sets were fake (like "Secret Agent"),  one could feel the sense of exotica or a new adventure.  

The composer Edwin Ashley, who did both tv series, was very much into the British film soundtrack world.  He is also the father of Karen, who married Pete Townshend, and his other daughter is Virginia Ashley, a noted songwriter-singer.    The happy arrangements and melody of "The Saint" is very much like the mood of the series.  The British composer has this unique talent of doing something corny sounding, but great at the same time.   The one song that does it for me in a big way is the "Theme from Secret Agent" or known here on this album as "High Wire."  As I write, the title song goes through my head, and I think it maybe impossible for me to escape from its clutches.  The Harpsichord is the key here. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

T. Rex - "T. Rextasy: The Best Of T. Rex, 1970-1973" (Warner Brothers) Vinyl 1985

A compilation or even a best of an album is making soup.  The ingredients have to be there, but you have to taste it to make sure that all the herbs and spices work together to give you that 'ah-ha' moment.  "T. Rextasy" for me, is the perfect meal that is T. Rex.   My two favorite T. Rex albums are "Electric Warrior" and "The Slider."  As his work goes, and he made a lot more albums before and after those - give the classic T. Rex sound and aesthetic.  What makes "T. Rextasy" so good is that it's an album of great pieces, and selected very well for a one-disc record.  There are the hits of course, but more important the obscure songs are brought out to the listener.  Which means b-sides to singles and great tunes like "Solid Gold Easy Action" and Marc Bolan's version of "Summertime Blues."

Bolan was never a consistent record maker, especially after Tony Visconti left the fold, but his genius was always right on the button.   The Visconti touch is very much part of the recordings greatness, but Bolan had that 'it' quality that I think his material would have been great no matter who recorded him.   His love of 1950s rock, and mixed in with the glam sensibility is the perfect marriage.   Also, Bolan's ridiculous lyrics are incredible literature.   Again, like a great chef, he mixed Tolkien fairy tales with cars and an Eddie Cochran attitude.  A winning recipe of superb college making and aural pleasure.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Iannis Xenakis - "GRM Works 1957-1962" (Recollection GRM) Vinyl

I have the impression that Iannis Xenakis is a solemn thinker and composer.  There is a tension in his music that seems to be contained in a particular space.  To be corny his music can be used for a horror film, but the compositions can give one image in one's head without the visuals being projected on a screen.   It shouldn't be a surprise, but one of the pieces on this album "Orient-Occident" (1960) is a soundtrack to a film.  It's a documentary about a visit to a museum and comparing artifacts from different cultures.  The film may be wonderful, but the music I think is even better.  

Xenakis' work is a sonic/aural landscape.  Sophistication as an artform. There is nothing wasted, it seems all sounds have a proper place.  The first piece on side one is "Concret PH" (1958) commissioned by the huge company, Philips, it took place at the Brussels World Fair.   There were 400 speakers in the Le Corbusier's pavilion.  I have only two speakers, but have the volume up loud.  Xenakis thought very much of space and how to fill that area with music.  In a sense, one can imagine that he did sound poetry for that location.  

"Bohor" (1962) is the longest work on this album.  Almost 22-mintues of tension being built.  It's similar to "Concret PH" in that there are ambient touches, but in no is this a relaxing listening experience.   It's very urban with what sounds like crowd noises but more ghost-like than anything else.  The music on this album serves as a magnet where I can't help but be drawn into its world.  

Cheap Trick - "Dream Police" (Epic Records) Vinyl

I  have two friends who are devoted to Cheap Trick.  So I have to be very careful while writing about this band.  They love Cheap Trick.  I like Cheap Trick very much.   Like and love is close, but not the same thing.  I have the first four Cheap Trick studio albums.  "Dream Police" is my favorite.  First to give credit is vocalist Robin Zander.   Not only in the looks department but he clearly is a great singer.  If not for Cheap Trick, he surely could get a career in the theater arts.  It's not only his range, or tone of his voice, but his brilliant ability to capture the character in mostly Rick Nielsen's songs.  Although many are co-written within the band.  

The other aspect of Cheap Trick I like is that they are clearly guitar orientated rock band, but there is something orchestrational about their sonic landscape.  I don't know if they listen to orchestrated classical music, or more likely it's a Beatle influence, but there is something more than just two guitars, bass, drummer and vocalist about them.   And as I mentioned, their songs to me at least (I never read interviews with them) are fictional situations or characters.  

This is a beautifully programmed one-song-blends-to-the other type of album.  "Dream Police," the song is the full-on production that is candy-like in its pop intentions.  For me, the two songs that I play over and over again are "Gonna Raise Hell," and the beautiful ballad "Voices."  "Gonna Raise Hell" is nine minutes long, and it kind of reminds me of the intensity of the Beatles "She's So Heavy" on "Abbey Road."   Zander does some effective Lennon like screams as the music goes upwards never losing its tension in its 9-minute length.  "Voices" is a gorgeous melody made stronger by Robin's vocals, and the arrangements of the vocals alone is utterly superb. 

The beauty of Cheap Trick is that if you see their graphics/album covers it seems like they're a 'rawk' band, but again, there is another element to their work that's brilliant.  They may want to hide that aspect to their overall image, but I admire their subtle textures that run through their music.  Especially on this album.