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Thursday, August 29, 2013

André Popp & His Orchestra - "Delirium In Hi-Fi" CD Album

André Popp & His Orchestra – Delirium In Hi-Fi
CD Album, Reissue, Remastered, Netherlands, 1997 (Originally 1957, France)

I bought this album to be a completest with respect to my collection that includes anything to do with Boris Vian. Which over time, leads one to strange places and times. André Popp is for sure in the strange category. Delirium In Hi-Fi is one of the many albums released in the late 1950's dealing with the wonderful world of home Hi-Fi. On one level it is used to test the sound of your new system at home, and on another level it is total perverse French pop music. Like the brilliant Alain Goraguer, who was around the same time and a buddy of Vian's, Popp was in the same line of business. Backing various French stars of the 50's and 60's – for instance Brigitte Bardot, among others. Compared to Goraguer, Popp is more commercial minded and more easy-listening. Except this album is border-line experimental with speeded up vocals and instrumentation. It is sort of like an over-sized or aged child playing in the recording studio. No wonder Boris Vian worked and liked him! The very devil even wrote the liner notes to this album!

But beyond Popp's trash sensibility, lurks a man who loves sound. One often thinks of Eno as a sound-breaker, but it is actually people like Joe Meek and Popp, and in a certain way Andre Hodeir were pioneers in the recording studio and how sound can be reproduced or thinking of recordings as a sepearate medium than live sound. Kitsch as hell, but fascinating as well.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Benjamin Biolay - "A L'Origine" CD Album France

Benjamin Biolay – A L'Origine
CD Album, France, 2005

He doesn't have the scope of Serge Gainsbourg (who does?) but Benjamin Biolay's music has been seductive, beautiful, tuneful, and grown-up sounding. Odd enough I don't speak or read French, which is weird because I have spent my adult life publishing French literature translated into English, but Biolay's music conveys the 1:00 AM essence of soul searching.

What I like about French pop music in general is their tradition of well-arranged recordings. Biolay is the real deal because his orchestrations are classy that serves the melody. His whispering vocals float over the music backing and he's not afraid of the brash guitar, which I think he plays. The slickness of the production doesn't cheapen the music, but it does convey an ideal environment.

Belle & Sebastian - "Dear Catastrophe Waitress" CD Album

Belle & Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress
CD Album, 2003, USA
Rough Trade

I love Belle & Sebastian's graphics, in fact if it was all in a book I would buy it. But their music leaves me cold except for Stuart Murdoch's side-project “God Help The Girl” which I think is great. It is what I imagine a Belle & Sebastian album should sound like. But their actual albums leaves me cold.

My friend Chris bought me Dear Catastrophe Waitress and it is produced by Trevor Horn, who handled the first ABC album, which is a record I really like. He's known for his big sound, big production, but it seems for this album he was sitting on one of his hands, because the sound of the record is very clean sounding and understated. Which I think serves the songs well, but the material to me is not that strong or memorable.

I like their sound, and I can tell that they have good taste in music, and its sing-along big folk-pop sound on paper sounds great. But the execution of the record is not what I think it is, and sometimes that works, but I find it a tad twee without the poison.

But even on the piles of trash one can find a silver lining, and that is “Lord Anthony” which has a beautiful arrangement that builds and builds. Nice tasteful strings and one would not think they would hear a banjo in this song. So there are surprises here, but not consistently. The opening track “Step Into My Office Baby” is cool, and it reminds me of of a combination of 10cc and mid-60's Beach Boys.

So in the nutshell, the album is frustrating to me, because there are places where I think 'ah ha' but it turns into a shrug.  

Monday, August 26, 2013

Bee Gees - "Idea" CD Album

Bee Gees – Idea
CD Album, reissue 1989

There are two golden eras for the Bee Gees. One is the “Saturday Night Fever” era of the 70's and then there's the first three albums by the Bee Gees in the '60's. Perfect baroque pop production with songwriting skills of a trained ear. All that plus the addition of the vocal skills of the Gibb brothers added up to a seductive package that couldn't possibly fail, and it didn't. What I find missing is a sense of genius or that one step beyond, that someone like Scott Walker did or even The Beatles at the same time and place. But this I can't fault the band, because what they do, they do it extremely well.

The quivering voice of Robin Gibb adds a great deal of 'personality' to the songs that he sings lead on. It is that series of moments for me that strikes me as that this is a personal take on whatever the subject matter of the song is. Whatever it is by design or just DNA, Robin was a magnificent singer. Barry and Maurice can't be faulted in the voice area at all, but when I rear Robin a light goes on in my ear, and it brilliantly shines on the material.

Idea conveys a sense of promise or adventure that serves Bee Gees well. Their form of pop is more majestic than say the baroque small chamber sound of the band Left Bank. But I would think that it would be impossible to dislike a Bee Gees song from this period (or any period really, but that's another essay) because their work has a vision and it follows through due to the talents of the Gibb brothers. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Bee Gees - "Bee Gees' 1st" CD Album

Bee Gees – Bee Gees' First
CD Album, Repress 2004 Mono & Stereo, US

I remember buying this album, as it was the son of Sgt. Pepper in the summer of 1967. And now listening to it in 2013, it still sounds 1967, which is not a bad thing at all. “Red Chair Fade Away” always reminded me of early Traffic, and that was the sound during that year. Baroque strings, strong melodies, and soulful vocals. Which is the Bee Gees in the nutshell. The beauty of their work is that it sounded effortless in their hands. I never felt they had a strong identity, even in their early years. One would or could admire them, but there is a lack of passion, and maybe because they're so skilled in what they do. Which can't be easy.

The Beatles, at least on this album, is the foundation for their first album. Some of the songs remind me of Revolver period, but what is remarkable to me is their sophistication, especially since this is their first album. This doesn't sound like a first album from a band. And alas it isn't because the Gibb Brothers have been making music their whole lives. But the beauty of their aesthetic is that they are always in tuned to the culture that is out there. Even in the 70's when they got on the disco/RnB thing, it seemed natural, and not a forced move on their part. And that is their genius.

Their first album is a must for anyone who even admires the sound of pysch-pop. And of course “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” “To Love Somebody,” and “Holiday” is on it. Sort of essential you know!

The Beatles - "The Beatles" (White Album) Vinyl Canadian

The Beatles – The Beatles
2 x vinyl LP, Reissue, Canada, 1976
Capital Records

The first thing I think of when I hear the words “White Album” is Rutherford Chang, who is an artist that only collects The Beatles' The Beatles, better known as the White Album. He even opened up a shop in Soho New York featuring his record collection. The beauty of it is that he doesn't sell his copies, but buys them from people who come to his shop/gallery. What a wonderful way to pay tribute to The Beatles.

Beyond that this is another iconic album cover from the Fab Four. British to the core, they had Richard Hamilton design and make the artwork for this incredible minimal package. If Sgt. Pepper was the maximum of packaging, then this album will be the totally opposite, but here less is way more than Pepper or any other Beatle album.

And since it is a minimal package (of sorts) it is ironically the largest Beatle album, because it's a double vinyl album with 30 songs. The Beatles is a supermarket of Beatle sounds and concerns. It's a shame that this wasn't their last album, because it says everything that is possible regarding a Beatle world. Let It Be and Abbey Road always represent a house cleaning of sorts. Just getting the left-overs, and of course The Beatles' left-overs are someone else's gourmet meal. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Beatles - "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band"

The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Vinyl album, Mono, 1967
Capital Records

Around the summer of 1967, a cultural bomb went off that was called Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Was it the greatest album ever made, no I don't think so. But it was the album of that year just by its presence. Either the stars were alined perfectly or there was a cultural shift happening, this became the soundtrack of that moment and place.

I knew of the album maybe a few months before it was released, because my dad Wallace Berman is one of the faces on the cover. I was home alone and in the mailbox was a giant envelope from London England. I opened it and out came this black n' white photograph of the album cover. At first I couldn't make out what this was a photograph of. With the image was a letter from Brian Epstein asking for my father to sign a document, within the envelop, and to send it back as soon as possible. I called my Dad who was at a friend's house, and told him about the package. While I was talking to him that I realized that it came from The Beatles, and they were asking his permission to use his image for the cover. It took me awhile to find the image of Wallace, because the letter to my father wasn't really that specific. Also keep in mind that The Beatles were rarely or never publically photographed with beards or mustaches on their faces. So that too took me awhile to figure out the four figures out front were The Beatles themselves.

It was one of the first albums I heard where it seemed that the songs were not separated from the rest of the package. In one sense it was a musical or even a narrative of sorts, so it had a beginning and an ending. At least that is how I read the album when it first came out.

The dream quality of the music and the so-many cultural references on the album cover made people's head swim in those days. 45 years later it is still an iconic piece of work that is still debated whatever it is a masterpiece or not. For me personally it is not my favorite album by them, but at the same time it is foolish not to accept it as a major 20th century iconic piece of art.

Without a doubt there's beautiful music here, that reinforce The Beatles as major players in the pop music format. In a sense they built a wall with this album, and ever since then people have been trying to either tear it down or climb over it.

The Beatles - "Revolver" Vinyl LP, Mono

The Beatles – Revolver
Vinyl LP, Mono, 1966
Capital Records

The emotional favorite for a lot of Beatle fans, but for me there are few surprises on this album anymore. The only songs that are fresh to me is “She Said She Said” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
Also keep in mind that there are no bad songs on this album, even “Yellow Submarine” is imaginative and witty. But, this is one of the few albums where I can just look at the cover and all the songs come to mind – recording, voices, just everything. Most of the Beatles albums have that affect on me. I grew up with them, and after awhile I just say 'ta-ta.'

But the funk of “Tax Man” and the two Lennon songs still give me that goose-bump feeling in the back of my neck. Also this is a very sophisticated album with respect to where they were two years ago when they recorded this material. It is kind of amazing to me that bands or artists these days make an album every four or five years or even longer, and it basically has the same sound as their last album. But The Beatles changed so radically over their career, that what they did was really unique. Beatles For Sale turns to Rubber Soul and then Revolver. How did that happen?

If someone came up to me and told me that Revolver is the greatest album ever made, I wouldn't disagree. But funny enough the visuals of this album is stronger than actually listening to the record. Similar to Proust eating that cookie that brought up memories, this album does the same for me.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Beatles - "Magical Mystery Tour" Vinyl Album

The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour
Vinyl Album, Stereo U.S. 1967
Capital Records

Another timeless album for me, Magical Mystery Tour, which actually is really an EP, with singles on it. So in a sense this album is just a cash-in for the film. But in my book the throw-a-way cuts are always the most interesting. If not mistaken six of the songs are from the film, better known as the A side, and the b-side is the stuff to fill up a 12 record.

First of all “Baby You're A Rich Man” is such a great title, and the song isn't bad either. A put-down? What I do know is that I love the noise that's in this recording. Moroccan melody played against the bouncy tune, this is a record that is beautifully and adventuresomely arranged. “Strawberry Fields Forever” is still a haunted piece of work and the sinister sounds of “I Am The Walrus” is still a thrill

The problem that people have with Sgt. Pepper is that it is almost too precious and special. Magical Mystery Tour the album, is loose with surprises like the instrumental “Flying” and the drone-pop of Harrison's “Blue Jay Way.” There is a lot of adventure here, and it all fits well on this album. From McCartney's nostalgic “Penny Lane,” wishful “The Fool On The Hill” to the Utopian “All You Need Is Love.” Which have been less moving if it didn't have the darker songs on this album – and the mystery tour is both darkness and lightness combined.  

The Beatles - "For Sale" Vinyl LP, Mono

The Beatles – For Sale
Vinyl LP Mono, Reissue, Remastered, Gatefold sleeve, 1995, Europe
Apple Records

As a child I was a Beatle fanatic, but now an adult I can barely listen to them. Not because I dislike their music, but because it was so much part of my personal soundtrack while growing up. I think there are people like me out there, but still, I do have some faves from this band, and For Sale to me is a masterpiece that still delivers the goods.

The emotional punch of “No Reply,” “I'm a Loser,” and “Baby's In Black” still hits me hard. It has to be one of the best sequencing of songs ever on an album. And three songs about being a loser on top of that – how can a child not be affected by such pure honesty in an aural way? The other two songs that nailed me down to the wall is their version of Buddy Holly's “Words of Love” and their great “Every Little Thing.” Their vocals are so superb on this album, but especially John Lennon. This is the ground zero of Lennon's angst that showed up on his first solo album. In fact this is the first Beatles album where I felt the music was cutting me deep. The others were fun, but here I was introduced to depression via the Beatles world. Perhaps this is their first grown-up album.

Also recently I became obsessed about getting Mono editions of their recordings, because I believe this is what the guys heard in the studio. I'm trying to capture the original sound or approach, but it is hard to capture a memory that way. In the end it is all illusion.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Beach Boys - "U.S. Singles Collection: The Capital Years 1962-1965"

The Beach Boys - U.S. Singles Collection: The Capital Years 1962-1965
16 x CD, Compilation, Limited Edition, 2008
Capital Records

The packaging by Tom Recchion is the real star of this Beach Boys collection of early singles.  You almost get the feeling you're buying a collection of E.P.'s but alas, you're not!   They're CD's and it is also in mono and stereo mix.  To be honest this is a great selection of Brian & Company's music.  In many ways the music fits better as a single.  "Little Honda" is a beauty of a song, from the first word 'Go!'  

But by far the most interesting and my favorite of this package is the Christmas songs.  "The Man With All The Toys" (almost sounds like a David Bowie title) is a superb song.  It's Christmas but with a sense of dread.  I can't imagine what Christmas was like at the Wilson household.   I don't need to go there, but I will go to this song on a regular basis and on any day besides Christmas.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Beach Boys - "The Beach Boys Today!" Vinyl album Mono

The Beach Boys – The Beach Boys Today!
Vinyl Album, Mono, 1965
Capital Records

The Beach Boys Today everyday! At this time they're walking towards their more complex future arrangements, but saying that, one can hear a Ramones type of minimum sound on “Good To My Baby” that has a riff that is so incredible. In fact at this time and earlier the Boys had a remarkable minimal thing going with the guitars, piano, drums, and god knows what else. It is sort of like a wave that comes to the shore and then leaves. If there is rhythm in life, then the same for The Beach Boys. The introduction to “She Knows Me Too Well” goes in and out like a wave.

If you leave out “Bull Session With 'Big Daddy'” you would have a classic Beach Boys album. Why is it on this album? Nevertheless Beach Boys Now is a bridge between the old world to another.... perhaps world?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Beach Boys - Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) Vinyl LP

The Beach Boys – Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)
Vinyl LP, Reissue, 2010
Capital Records

Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)reminds me of The Beatles Rubber Soul album or maybe Beatles For Sale, not in the sense of sound but in maturity due to the themes on the album. Also for an odd reason it reminds me of New York City more than Southern California. Beyond their cover of Phil Spector's “Then I Kissed Her” it has that master's touch over these recordings. It is almost if The Beach Boys re-invented themselves as the male Ronettes. This and The Beach Boys Today are my favorite early albums by the mighty five. The songs are between child-like and adult. So maybe this is their most teenage album of them all!

We know the famous cuts here “California Girls” and “Help Me Rhonda,” but my favorite songs are “Girl Don't Tell Me,” “Let Him Run Wild,” and “You're So Good To Me.” Those three songs are masterpieces. For one, the singing on these cuts are incredible and so emotional. Great performances from the studio band, and it is just a beautiful production. But there are no bad cuts on Summer Days, it is basically a perfect album doing what it does best, which is capturing the inner-world of The Beach Boys.

But saying that there is one song here that is extremely disturbing, now that we know the facts between the Wilson boys and their father. That of course is “I'm Bugged At My Ol' Man.” Humorous till you realize that they must be singing about their grand ol' dad. The Beach Boys biography is a very sad one. When you come to think of it, it's amazing that Brian Wilson is still with us, and still working!

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Beach Boys - "Smile Sessions" 2 x vinyl LP

The Beach Boys – Smile Sessions
2 x vinyl LP 180 Gram, 2011
Capital Records

For an album that caused so much anxiety, madness, and a world being torn apart, is ironically so happy sounding. I would even call it happy-go-lucky. But the truth is it is anything but happy – at least life outside this vinyl or music. But when I put the needle on the record I am transformed into a weird landscape that is for sure America, but America that is transformed into a combination of Walt Disney, psychedelia, and the brash corny humor of “Hee Haw.”

This vinyl set as well as the Smile box set is the official release of this remarkable album. First of all it is hard to grasp all of this after so many years of hearing the bootlegs of these recordings. I have heard so many different versions of this work, that it is sort of like Kenneth Anger, who have consistently tinkered with his films over the years. But what's amazing is that the different mixes, the out-takes, and even the banter while recording the album is equally fascinating. The only people I know who likes Smile are people who have all the bootlegs or just huge fans of Brian Wilson and the boys.

Nevertheless the new (and final?) version is sort of a musical theater placed in one's head. Way more abstract than Pet Sounds which is basically straight forward pop songs, Smile deals with the enjoyment and love of everyday objects and things. “Wind Chimes,” “Vega-Tables,” and even “Good Vibrations” deal with pleasure either through objects, food or spirituality. The lyricist Van Dyke Parks really gets into Brian's head. I know on paper and probably work wise, Parks was a big part of the foundation for these series of songs. But still, I feel it expresses the inner-world of Wilson, a man-child tasting the vegetable for the first time and listening to the wind chimes – and putting on a focus on that act of appreciation. Its really unique in that sense.

Also there is this tension between being healthy and sort of losing it. Almost a hyper attention to getting it together, but of course the sanity of it all is in question. Smile to me is not a downer, but it does expose the dark tinge of disappointment or UN-fulfillment of dreams. But every dark cloud still has that hope attached to it, and Smile is very much a positive outlook on life and how one leads that life.

Smile is very much a set-piece and it has its own narrative, so it's important to hear it from beginning to end. The ambition and scope of this album is pretty grand, and I miss the days when artists went all out to achieve that type of work.