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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Cowboys International "The Original Sin" Virgin Records, 1979 (Vinyl)

Every (little) once in a while one is exposed to pop music that is perfect.   Usually, it comes from the unknown, or one may just read a paragraph in a musical weekly, and somehow it captures one's attention.  For me, two things got my attention on Cowboys International's "Original Sin."   Keith Levene plays guitar on one song on it.  At the time, 1979, my life was totally devoted to Public Image Ltd. (PIL).  The Sex Pistols were of course, great, but what Johnny Rotten did afterward was the great adventure for me with respect to hearing new sounds.  Such a devoted fan of the first two PIL albums, that I purchased hard-to-find 12" singles by both Levene as well as recordings by Jah Wobble. So, obviously Cowboys International should be of great interest.  The second thing is the cover of the album.  It came in a vinyl plastic clear colored bag, where you can see the inner sleeve cover - which listed the name of the band, the songs, and credits.   The design was and is so smart looking.  No way in heaven or hell can this possibly be a bad album. 

In 1979, I put this album on my turntable and I think something in me changed a bit.  What I wasn't expecting was a perfect pop album.  I thought through the PIL connection, it would be noisy, chaotic perhaps - but no. This is a very proper pop album.  Electronic, guitar, bass, drums, and Ken Lockie's beautiful sad voice.  "Thrash" is clearly one of the great singles of the 70s that should have been called out as a classic.  The fact that the press and public missed the boat on this, is a tragedy in my mind.  The songs are so tuneful that if he wasn't singing in English you would think it was a classic French pop song.  Jacno or Gainsbourg level of genius pop.  But no, Ken Lockie, the headman of the band, is a brilliant songwriter.  

"Here Comes a Saturday" is just perfect.  Noel Coward meets Morrissey. Yes, but very much a Lockie piece of work.  Wistful, sad, and almost British sink level of misery, yet a song of great beauty.  This is music that has no trace of the blues, or even rock tradition.  Perhaps in British music halls as well as music that's rooted in strong melodies.   For the modern listener, I think the closest artists would be a Morrissey and Sparks combination.   The music, if eccentric, is mostly that it's due to wit, charm, and unforgettable melodies.   Clearly, this is a desert island must-have.  A lot of energy and beauty on this album.  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Associates "Q Quarters" / "Kissed" & "Q Quarters (Original)" 12" 45 rpm Single (Situation Two)

The 12" single from the late 1970s and early 1980s was the golden years of such object.   Always expensive, yet always desired, the 12" offers another way to hear a song from the album, or from the 45rpm single.  Drums louder, but clearly the bass is more out front.  Nevertheless, one of my favorite artists/bands, The Associates," knew how to make a proper 12" single.   For one Associates Mark One - the original band which was Alan Rankine on every noise, except for Billy MacKenzie who handled the vocals, and I presume the lyrics as well.  "Q Quarters" is a smokey hypnotic little electronic groove piece, which is beautifully textured with subliminal sounds.  These two guys in 1981 were at the top of the peak, with respect to their ability to make pop music that was a combination of Musique Concrete with Euro-Bowie like pop.  One can wonder and reflect on Billy MacKenzie's vocal abilities.  One of the perfect pop voices, ever!  

Johnny Thunders "Hurt Me" (10" vinyl album) Munster Records

Johnny Thunders all by himself.  Him and his guitar.  Recorded in 1983 and in the city of Paris.  Mostly acoustic guitar, with a touch of electric guitar here and there.  Ibe sure that there is an interesting tale about the making of this album, but alas, I don't know any.  Here he covers some New York Dolls songs "Lonely Planet Boy" and "Too Much Too Soon," as well as The Heartbreakers.  Also, a cover of my fave Stones song "I'd Rather Be With The Boys."  Very low-fi in sound and spirit, it's an interesting document of a superb and very much underrated songwriter.   Thunders is known for his love of narcotics and the look - but I think he is much better than all of that.  For one, his songs have a real heart.  He's the essence of a true rock n' roll mind.  Hearing him doing these songs - and most I do not even know off hand (by him), they're amazingly well-crafted, yet I suspect each one has ties to the pop history of the 20th century.   I can imagine him and David Johansen being Brill Building era writers, but alas, they missed the decade, yet they have honored it throughout their and Thunders (short) career.    An album for those who collect Dolls material, but more than that, it's a beautiful snapshot of Thunders spending that October and November 1983, in a studio, in a world of his own making. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Jean Dubuffet - "Expériences Musicales 1961" Vinyl (Jeanne Dielman)

I just finished reading a David Toop book called "Into the Maelstrom," regarding the history of improvisational music.  Toop listed two categories: those who are master of their instruments or the very least have a concept to go on as their platform to do such music, and there's the artist Jean Dubuffet.   Who is like a child, and more likely goes with the first thought is the best thought school in music (sound) making.  His "Expériences Musicales 1961" was originally released as four 10" albums in 1961.  With the assistance of the great Asgar Jorn (founder of COBRA and an early member of The Sitauationsts), he made these incredibly charming, yet at times horrifying sounds by using obscure string, percussion, and wind instruments, with the addition of piano.  Mostly instruments that came from the shop of Boris Vian's brother, Alain.  It seemed his shop specialized in instruments from all over the world. 

Both Dubuffet and Jorn were fascinated with the art of the outsider.  Meaning those who made art that is not part of the art academy or schooling.  A lot of the art was produced in various hospitals, and some were made by children.  Dubuffet had a term 'art brut' meaning "raw art."  Musically speaking, Dubuffet and Jorn's work has a mixture of vocal work from the Letterists, as well as at times sounding very African or Moroccan sounding.   Also I suspect that their use of the tape machine was not only to record their music, but is also an additional instrument, among the others. 

Easy listening it ain't.  Still, if you allow yourself be pulled in Dubuffet's world, it's incredibly pleasing aural experience.    For those who are conducting an inquiry into the sounds of the 20th century avant-garde, "Expériences Musicales 1961 is a must. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Angus MacLise "“New York Electronic, 1965” Vinyl, Sub Rosa

You have every album by The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, John Cale and even Moe Tucker, yet you haven’t yet purchased or heard Angus MacLise?  That’s a shame.  On the other hand, it’s not too late!   MacLise (1938-1979) was the first drummer for the Velvet Underground.   Not only the keeper of time/beats for that band, but also a composer, poet calligrapher, and occultist.   MacLise was an early member of the legendary Le Monte Young’s band, Theater of Eternal Music, which also had Marian Zazeela, Tony Conrad, Terry Riley, and future Velvet member, John Cale.  

MacLise is very much of a shadow figure in those days, due not only to being part of the Avant-Garde scene, but also according to Cale, he lived in his own time-zone, which he Cale commented as “living on the Angus calendar.” In other words, he wouldn’t show up for recordings or live gigs, and often disappeared for days.   The Velvets were offered a paying gig, and MacLise quit the band, claiming that was selling out.   And Moe Tucker replaced the drummer, and history was recorded.   

MacLise moved to Berkeley where he met and married Hetty McGee and they soon had a son, Ossian Kennard MacLise, who oddly enough was recognized as the reincarnation of a Tibetan Saint and became a Buddhist monk at the age of four.   This, of course, leads the family to Nepal.    Tragically, MacLise died in Katmandu at the age of 41.  A true adventurer on many accounts, and basically what we have left on this planet is various artworks, some writings, and the vinyl record album “New York Electronic, 1965.”  

1965 was the entrance for many amazing things happening in Manhattan.  The arts were exploding in different directions and in many mediums. Film, painting, poetry, literature was the ingredients put into the big bowl of soup.  Some artists took all the ingredients to make their own art, and MacLise was one of those artists who knew no wall or boundaries when it came to art making - or working in a laboratory of his own making - to record sounds.  With the assistance of John Cale and Tony Conrad, these insane artists came up with some pure magic.  The thing is, as you can gather, MacLise was not the most organized person on this boho planet Manhattan.  It took years for those who loved or in fascination with MacLise to find these tapes.   So, “Electronic, 1965” is very much an enjoyable document of a time, when things were really shaking in the creative landscape of New York City.

The essence of these recording, for me, is the adventure of exploring the unknown.  It has a relationship with what was happening in France, with respect to the Musique Concrete scene, but here, it is almost like a punk rock version of that world.  It’s music made by young men, who are enthralled with the world in front of them.   For me, listening to this album doesn’t represent 2016, but more of a beautiful snapshot of the past, when things were very new.  Artists like Jack Smith, Ron Rice were making independent 8mm/16mm films, and MacLise and company were supplying the soundtrack to these cinematic works.  

The sounds on this album are very organic.  Reels of tape speeding up/down, electronic blips, glass hitting against glass, percussion, feedback, gongs, ghost-like sounds, piano chords, string instruments, kitchen tools, various sci-fi sounds and what one would imagine would be the whole world of Angus MacLise.  At times, I imagine if one put their head under water, some of these sounds would be heard.  The echo and far-off aural delights that come and go on this album.  

Besides this album, there have been other recordings put out by various people.  Sub Rosa also put out a CD collection of his music, but now is out-of-print. Boo Hooray in New York City also have made vinyl editions of MacLise’s music.  He’s an important figure in New York underground world.  For one, he knew everyone who had the legendary touch during those years.  And he himself is a man of mystery.  We know when he was born and where he died, but the essence of him is very much like his music.  Hypnotic, ghost-like, and yet, a very positive presentation he left on this planet.   He rules the universe, even in death.  “New York Electronic, 1965, ” is a very essential recording.  Those who have an interest in the New York culture of the 60’s or have a deep interest in the avant-garde world of that time, must have this album.  Beyond that, for today, it is still as fresh as the sun arising.   

Best of 2016 (What I listened to in the year 2016) by Tosh Berman

Without a singular doubt, the year 2016 was a disaster on many levels.  Yet, I heard great music this year.  Mostly re-issues of old music, or old music in general.  When I think of the best of whatever year, it is always what turned me on, and not necessary a new album by a new artist.  Therefore the albums down below are the one's that really inspire and gave me a great deal of enjoyment.  And in no special order:

John Cage - The 25-Year Retrospective Concert of the Music of John Cage (Vinyl) Recorded in 1958.  Modern Science, 2016

Luc Ferrari "Programme Commun"  Sub Rosa, 2013 Vinyl

The Scratch Orchestra - London, 1969 (10" Vinyl) Die Stadt
Scott Walker - The Childhood of a Leader, Vinyl, 4AD, 2016
Ennio Morricone - Spasmo (The X-Ray Version) Vinyl, Dagored
Vince Taylor and his Playboys - Le Rock C'est Ca! Vinyl, Rumble Records, 2015

Otto Luening / Vladimir Ussachevsky - Tape Recorder Music (Vinyl) Cacophonic, 2013  (recorded in 1952)

Maurice Lemaître - Poémes et Musiques Lettristes et Hyperphonie, Vinyl, Alga  Marghen  (Limited Edition)

V.A. - Musique Concrète Vinyl, 2016 Cacophonic (recorded in 1960)
Miles Davis - Get Up With It, Vinyl, CBS, 1974
The Rolling Stones - Necrophilia, Vinyl picture disc, bootleg, Limited Edition

Jacno - Tant de Temps, Vinyl, Gonzai Records, 2 x Vinyl 45rpm, 2016 (recorded in 2006)

Brian Eno - The Ship, Vinyl Warp Records, 2016
Milt Jackson - Wizard of the Vibes 10" Vinyl, Blue Note, 2014.  Recorded in  1952
Michel Legrand - Qui êtes-vous Polly Maggoo? Vinyl, 45rpm Single, We Release What We Want  Records,  2015.  Recorded in 1966

Earth - Earth 2 Special Low Frequency Version, Vinyl, 2006 Sub Pop

David Bowie - Blackstar ISO Records, Vinyl, 2016

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Karl Appel - "Musique Barbare Van" (Sub Rosa) Vinyl

The visual artist and poet, Karel Appel, was one of the founders of the art group COBRA, which lasted from 1948 to 1951.   The group was the first burp for the oncoming Situationist International, as well as the Letterists.  Beyond that, Appel had a long career in the arts, and even made an album.  Which is "Musique Barbare Van."  It's a soundtrack to a documentary on Appel by Jan Vrijman.  The music / recording made with Frits Weiland, is classic Musique Concrete, circa. 1963.  Percussions of all sorts, a piano/organ here and there, as well as Appel yelling and doing vocals. 

I'm fascinated by painters or visual artists who do something else besides the visuals.  For instance, making an album or making music.  We have five senses, and an artist should be free to appeal or use different mediums - such as the use of ears or making sounds for the ear - which also has a theatrical aspect to it as well.  Listening to the album, one gathers Appel just went amok in the recording studio - and he used it as an extension of his painting studio, perhaps, or in theory.   

And as theory goes, COBRA was very much attached to the idea of children looking at art.  In other words, they strip away the sophistication of an adult and jump into the playground that is in their mind.   The music or sounds on this album reflects that attitude.  There are moments (especially with the electric organ) that is quite beautiful.   This album is a must for those who are interested in avant-garde Europe of the mid-20th century.   Look at it as a document, or a work of art - it works in both positions. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Philip Glass: "Music in Twelve Parts: Parts 1 & 2" Vinyl (Virgin)

Due to finances and just hard-to-find in used record shops, I can only afford Parts 1 & 2 of Philip Glass's "Music in Twelve Parts."  If one purchased all 12 parts, the music would last for three hours.  Time is an essence in my life as well.  Still, better than nothing, and with respect to minimalism, nothing doesn't exist here.  

"Part 1" is really beautiful.  One hears the three electric organs, but it's the voice and the horns that sneak and embrace the organs, that really grabs the listeners attention.  Reflective and not a mood changer, but more of a platform to sit and contemplate one's destiny.   Also this particular track has a way of destroying the awareness of time.   I like the idea of being somewhere that is not confronted by a clock or a reminder that time is very much a presence in one's life.  Just the listener and the music.  No life beyond that. 

"Part 2" is much more of an intense listening experience.  It's faster, and therefore more demanding for the listener.  The thing about this work is that it lures one to presume it will be all the same. Yet when something dramatic happens, and that becomes an ah-ha moment.  What seems simple in execution, is actually complex - and it plays with one's emotions as well.   It's a great piece of work.  

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Luciano Berio / Swingle II -"A-Ronne" / "Cries of London" (Decca) Vinyl 1976

Not only am I a Swingle Singers fan, especially when they are performing Bach via only their voices - but also admire the fact that the group broke off, went to London, and became Swingle II.  Here they team up with composer Luciano Berio to do two vocal pieces.  

"A-Ronne" is based on words/poetry by Italian poet Edoardo Sanguineti.   But also includes works by Karl Marx, James Joyce, Dante, Goethe, the Bible, T.S. Eliot, Samuel Beckett, and a quotation of Roland Barthe on Georges Bataille.  According to Berio, this is a documentary on Sanguinity's poem.  Nevertheless, since the work is mostly in Italian, I may be missing key elements, but still, it's a great piece of work.  The layer of voices at times reminds me of classic Beach Boys, but of course, in a very different manner. There are moments of great beauty, and at times it has a Fluxus touch in being absurd.  Over-all, even though it is only voices, the piece is very melodic and one does not need to read or understand Italian to enjoy this recording.  Without stating the obvious, Swingle II is quite magnificent.  Their range and them being open-minded in approaching new music are pretty amazing.  

Side two is "Cries in London," and it is in English.  In fact, it's very much a documentary of sorts on London merchant life perhaps centuries ago - or in 1976 (the recording of this album)?  Merchant life on the streets of London hasn't changed that much.   I suspect that Berio had an interest in Marx, and I have to imagine that "Cries of London" deals with the merchant class, and their daily struggle to survive.   To quote the liner notes: "the text is essentially a free choice of well-known phrases of vendors in the streets of Old London." It's an amazing piece of music for 8 voices.  

Friday, December 2, 2016

Tony Conrad/Faust "Outside the Dream Syndicate" (Caroline Records)

One of the remarkable albums that I own, is Tony Conrad and the German band Faust’s “Outside the Dream Syndicate.” Two separate pieces on the vinyl edition, a side one and a side two.  Both around 26 minutes long, and basically a long drone with a hypnotic drum and bass beat.

It’s a beautiful work as well as a great ‘groove’ music.  Tony Conrad was a composer, musician, filmmaker, video artist, and a man of great wit and charm.  His film “The Flicker” is the iconic minimalist work that still holds up on repeated viewings.  Like his film, Conrad took his aesthetics to sound/music, where he joined up with a young John Cale, LaMonte Young, Angus MacLise, and Marian Zazeela, in a music collective called “Theater of Eternal Music (pretty good description of their sound) better known sometimes as “The Dream Syndicate” (not to be confused to the 70s guitar-orientated band).

“Outside The Dream Syndicate” is very music that takes one to another plane or level.  Psychedelic of course, but also very level headed in its execution of sound, beat, and for me it is like a wave hitting the beach and then pulling back into the ocean.  Which makes it sound like a ‘new age’ ambient recording, but far from it.  It’s demanding music that one has to pay attention to.   Side one “"From the Side of Man and Womankind” is very structured, it is like holding energy in a tea cup and you got your hand covering the top.  You want to contain it in a small tight space.   Side two, "From the Side of the Machine, ” is more expansive and flowing.  There is more instrumentation on this track - specifically an electronic keyboard that backs Conrad’s violin, as a foundation, and the drums and bass adds a certain weightlessness.  A superb work, and clearly a classic album.