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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Perfume Genius - "Too Bright" Vinyl, LP, Album, 2014 (Matador)

I discovered Perfume Genius in Tower Records in Shibuya Tokyo.    It was the year of "Too Bright's" release, so it must have been in 2014.   I was intrigued by the album's front cover shot of Mike Hadreas.   I felt it had a connection to David Bowie's "Hunky Dory."   I put the headphones on and got to the second cut on the album "Queen," and thought to myself, "this is it."  When I got back to Los Angeles, I purchased the vinyl edition, and it is one of my favorite 'new' albums.  Keep in mind that I never bought new music anymore.  The fact is, the past draws me back to certain eras, not due to nostalgia, but because it's new to my ears.  When I hear French Musique Concréte of the 1950s, it just blows everything current away.   But to be honest, it's the past that brought me to Perfume Genius.  As mentioned, it reminded me of the old Bowie cover, but also a time when homosexuality in pop music meant something to me.  It was a forbidden world in the 1970s, especially being surrounded by macho rock icons like The Eagles and so forth.  I just wanted that world to go away, and therefore Roxy Music / Bowie/ Glam became part of my chosen language. 

Playing "Too Bright" from side one to side two, exposed the world that lived in shadows.  There is a low-key technique that Hadreas conveys in his expressionistic view of that planet, that I find intriguing.  The songs for one, are very short.  They're not The Ramones, except I felt that the shortness of the Ramones first album was a statement in itself.  I think "Too Bright" has a similar appeal to come into one's consciousness and then leave as soon as possible. It's like a dream that you awaken from in the middle of the night, but once you go back to sleep, you forget the details of that dream, but you're left with a presence of some sort.  "Too Bright" is that presence that stays like an aftertaste of a good mint chocolate candy. 

The songs have a quiet groove that at times, reminds me of minimal Electro Prince.  Yet there are moments of great majestic gestures that are glam like, but then goes back to a quiet mode of communication.  Adrian Utley, of Portishead fame, co-produced this album, and here he shares an ambiance that is very suitable for Hadreas aesthetic.  An excellent match-up of talent here.  

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Scott Walker - "The Childhood Of A Leader" Vinyl, LP, Album, 2016 (4AD)

I never separate Scott Walker by decades or music or his various albums.  I see his work as one whole piece from the first Walker Brothers album to his last album: "The Childhood Of A Leader."   In other words, there is no old or new Scott, just Scott Walker music.  From the very beginning, one could hear him from then to here.   He's the most consistent music maker who has now been making music for over 50 years.  "The Childhood Of A Leader" is a soundtrack album, but to me, that doesn't even make that big of a difference from his previous albums.  This is his first fully orchestrational instrumental album - but Scott always has done instrumental albums, with his vocals as part of the instrumentation of his recordings.  I can imagine some of the instruments here on this album replacing his vocal line.  The album is dense, with short pieces of music, but classical in tone, and in style.   I think Webern more than Bachrach.  Speaking of the devil (angel?) I have been listening to Webern's music, and it reminds me of Scott Walker's take on orchestration and intensity.   There is a lineage from Schoenberg, Berg, Webern to Scott Walker.   Walker is not only a great poet (lyricist) but also a fantastic composer.  

Thursday, July 27, 2017

10cc - "Sheet Music" Vinyl, LP, Album, 1974 (UK Records)

In the early 1970s, I was intrigued with the band 10cc, due that two of the musicians were very much part of the music business or scene of the 1960s.  Graham Gouldman wrote hits for The Yardbirds, The Hollies, and Herman's Hermits, while Eric Stewart was a member and writer for Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders.   The new guys in the band (at the time) Kevin Godley and Lol Creme came out of nowhere but soon became prominent music video directors as well as working with the group Art of Noise.  What made 10cc interesting is the creative tension between Godley/Creme and Gouldman/Stewart.   Generally speaking, the veterans had a classic songwriting approach to their material, but Godley/Creme always had a visual flair to their songwriting which was cinematic and ambitious.  

10cc at their weakest are sometimes a parody act, or a very pretentious reach to expand their pop sensibilities. "Sheet Music," their second album plays on both sides of the coin and succeeds greatly.  "The Wall Street Shuffle" and "Silly Love" are classic songwriting with a broad sense of satire and the Beatleastic (mostly on the Paul side of the world) touches of melody and production makes them a witty counterpoint to McCartney's blandness at the time. "The Worst Band in the World" and "Clockwork Creep" are fantastic pieces of pop fun, with "Creep" showing its sinister side of being a song about a bomb and that object's point of view.  

At the time, I purchased all the early 10cc albums, but "Sheet Music" stayed with me because it was fresh and it still sounds vital.  I think due to the intensity of four very creative guys working together to make a pop album that had serious issues but done ironically or humorously.  It's worth noting that Paul McCartney used the same recording studio as 10cc when they recorded "Sheet Music."   Paul was co-writing and producing his brother's solo album "McGear," which is a great Paul album.  There is a sound that goes back and forth between "Sheet Music" and "McGear."  For sure, a sense of adventure and playfulness. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Kevin Ayers - "Odd Ditties" Vinyl, LP, Compilation, 1976 (Harvest)

Kevin Ayers is an artist that took me years to appreciate.  A dear old friend of mine introduced me to his music around 1976 when this compilation came out.  Mostly b-sides and singles that never made it on an official album.  For the Ayers fan, this album is essential.  There are 14 songs here, and 11 are essential songs to hear and enjoy.  The last three songs lean toward his uncreative side of the world. Songs like "Fake Mexican Tourist Blues" is just stupidity at work.  On the other hand, you're not going to find a greater form of pop songs like "Lady Rachel," "Gemini Child," and others.  When Ayers was good, he's great.  The Harvest years expressed the best of his lengthy career.  

My favorite Ayers albums are his first two: "Joy of a Toy" and "Shooting At The Moon."  After that, it gets spotty with fantastic work mixed with something forgettable.  Still, Ayers is a wonderful artist who gives more gems than sorrow.   I recommend this album to the die hard Ayers fan, because the selection here is essential (even for the weaker songs) and it exposes a remarkable presence that I wish was still on this planet. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Richard Wagner/George Szell, The Cleveland Orchestra - "Wagner Showpieces" Vinyl, Album, 1967 (Columbia Masterworks)

Unfiltered and pure Richard Wagner.   In no fashion in my life at this moment can I sit down or watch an entire Wagner opera.  One, I could care less for him, but on the other hand, I'm in love with "Prelude and Love-Death from Tristan and Isolde."  The intensity builds, releases a bit and builds again.  It never let's go and it's like standing on the ledge of a building and thinking about jumping.  But you don't!   "Tannhäuser Overture" and "Die Meistersinger Prelude" are just perfect melodic pieces of clouds floating over one's soul and ears.  

I bought this album for a dollar and to me, it's worth seven times that amount.  I even like the album cover.  The lightning over nature, just about to give the landscape hell.  Wagner is all about mood, and the overtures and preludes are just enough Wagner for me. I don't need anymore.  I also love Uri Caine's small combo versions of Wagner's set pieces as well.   That and this album is all the Wagner I need.  

Monday, July 24, 2017

Love - "Four Sail" Album, Vinyl, LP, 1969 (Elektra)

The fourth and last album for Elektra Records, Love narrows down in the arrangements with all new members, except for Arthur Lee of course.   As a producer, I feel he needed someone else to expand on the sounds.  The album is very two guitars, bass, and drums.  What makes it unusual is Lee's brilliant singing as well as his superb songwriting.  I've been avoiding "Four Sail" (the punning title is bad enough) due that I loved the first three Love albums, and I can't imagine an album without the original band.   Now listening to it, I do miss the guys in Love Mark one.  Still, songs like "Always See Your Face" is a classic Arthur Lee song/performance.  His sense of rhythm with a remembrance of the samba or traces of jazz overtures, he's a writer to me that is very close to Burt Bachrach.  I don't think it was an accident that Love recorded his "My Little Red Book," and that there is an aesthetic connection between the two songwriters. 

Song wise not that different from the early Love.  Lee's songs are hard to pin down, and they're highly sophisticated works.  A unique artist, who sounds like no one else. "Four Sail" is not my favorite Love album, but then again, just because it's Arthur Lee, it is a fantastic album in parts.  If he had full orchestration on this album, and recorded by someone who is more into textures of sound, this could have been another masterpiece by Love.  

Elvis Presley - "The Other Sides: Worldwide Gold Award Hits - Vol 2" 4 x Vinyl, Compilation, Mono, 1971 (RCA)

Since I own and play Elvis Worldwide Gold Award Hits Volume 1, I clearly need to have the four disk box set of Elvis' B-sides as well.  My theory is that the A-side is the conscious side of the music, but the B-sides express the inner workings of an artist.  Both sets are in Mono, which is a must for me regarding songs in the 1950s and 1960s.  There are famous Elvis cuts here, such as "(Marie's the Name) His Latest Flame" (wasn't this an A-side) and (You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care" but it's the songs I don't know that's the fun treasure hunt here. Oddly enough I don't think there is such a thing as a bad Elvis record.   Of course, there are the masterpieces, and then there are the 'others,' but in truth, he never gave a bad performance in a recording.   As mentioned playing the entire 4 album set is a trip to the artist's subconscious. There is always that feeling of regret that Elvis should have worked with David Bowie, or other producers and arrangers.  Alas, that obviously didn't happen.  Still, this is a very impressive collection of music.  Another highlight of the packaging is the inner sleeves show all the Elvis releases on RCA at the time of 1971, the release of this box set. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Mick Harvey - "Pink Elephants" CD, Album, 1997 (Mute)

Volume two of Mick Harvey's heroic tribute to the genius of Serge Gainsbourg. "Pink Elephants" is my favorite of the Harvey/Gainsbourg albums, due to the song "Scenic Railway" which is beauty captured in a glass jar.  A sad but such an observant song.  Gainsbourg's genius is that he can mix in the outrageous with the profound in equal quantities in one song. "Requiem..." is another wonder and Harvey again captures the essence of the original.   If you hear the original Gainsbourg recordings, Harvey is very respectful to its arrangements, but of course, he adds touches here and there.  There are no miss-steps in Harvey's approach to the Gainsbourg songs.  Gainsbourg's recording career was from the 1950s to 1990s, and on this album, Harvey covers material from the 50s to the early 70s which are the masterpiece years of Gainsbourg. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Bryan Ferry "Frantic" CD, Album, 2002 (Virgin)

For me, it's the last great Bryan Ferry album.  And I suspect that the album was recorded in different locations, as well as with various producers, and with lots of guitarists.  Perhaps all the musicians were not in the same room.  Still, "Frantic" is a remarkable album with some of the great (non)classic Ferry songs.  He covers two Dylan songs here, which seems to be an obsession with him for some odd reason.   I don't fully understand Ferry's take on Dylan's work,  but I suspect that the framework of the songwriter's music is a  huge canvas for Ferry to reflect and find endlessly textures within the veteran songwriter.  His version of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" is the absolute best.

The other interesting aspect of Ferry is that he consistently surrounds himself with strong individualistic musicians, who add their specific sound into the mix.  One finds someone like Mick Green who is a remarkable guitarist who worked with the legendary Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, mixing it up with Chris Speeding.   And Eno makes appearances here and there on "Frantic" as well.

The album is a sampler of the Ferry aesthetic, but a very well thought out and planned release. All the strengths are here, and none of the weakness.   I don't think the album sold and did that well, but I highly recommend that Ferry / Roxy fans check out this album.  There are a lot of jewels within its tracks.   

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Rolling Stones - "Beggars Banquet" Vinyl, LP, Album, 1968 (London)

I would think most people will think of "Beggars Banquet" as the classic Rolling Stones album, but to me, it's not as good as their previous albums.   "Sympathy for the Devil" is incredible, as well as "Street Fighting Man" (as a record, but as commentary?) and "Jig-Saw Puzzle" as well as "Salt of the Earth" are pretty fantastic as well.   This is the first album produced by Jimmy Miller after Andrew Loog Oldham left the Stones world.   A good solid record producer, but doesn't add the usual drama of a Stones recording, except for the opening epic "Sympathy for the Devil."  After that, I feel the Stones are mirroring their rhythm and blues angle, but not with the same conviction and passion of their early recordings.  Not a bad album by any means or imagination, but I wish there were a tad more of the Brian Jones magic within the grooves. Also lyrically, besides the songs I mentioned already, the rest of the tunes are slight with no great insight or observation sensibility.  On the other hand, Nicky Hopkins does fantastic piano throughout the album.  

Tom Recchion - "Chaotica" CD, Album, 1996 (Birdman Records)

I treasure Tom Recchion's sensibility.  I tend not to separate his graphic arts work from his work as an artist and composer.  He takes second-hand information, in this case, music from another era, that held promise to the American imagination, which was exotica.   Recchion makes the old recordings and transforms them into new music, but not erasing the music's original purpose.  To transform the listener into another world.  As Exotica music is a tour of the outside world, "Chaotica" is a journey into the inner world.  Exotica brings relaxation, "Chaotica" brings relaxation but with an emotional edge. 

There were no overdubs or edits made during the recording.  Recchion used pre-recorded tape-loops and then improvised over the music using keyboards and various digital and analog effects.  "Chaotica" is a relative of Musique Concréte, but with a refined delicacy.   A great album from a brilliant artist. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Magazine - "After The Fact" CD, Album, Compilation, 1989 (I.R.S. Records)

For me, the band Magazine is or was the foundation where a lot of post-punk bands based their aesthetic on - especially Radiohead and The Bad Seeds.   It's very much an orchestrated sound surrounding the vocalist and lyricist Howard Devoto.   Therefore a real band where each member of the group contributes to the overall sound that embraces Devoto.  Think of it as a heist job where criminals get together to rob a horse betting track or a bank.  Each member of the gang is crucial in making sure everything works out together.   In turn, I think Magazine were influenced by Roxy Music.  

"After the Fact" is a compilation album of their 45 rpm singles and b-sides.  Magazine issued singles that were separated from the albums.  Not sound wise difference, but often the single wasn't on the 'official' album.  Perhaps they were the last traces of the 60s mentality of the importance of the 45 rpm single, and that it was a different medium.   There is not a bad cut on this album.  Magazine were a fantastic 'singles' band.  

Devoto singing "Goldfinger" is the perfect fit.  At one time, the group wanted to be produced by John Barry, which makes perfect sense with respect to their aesthetic.  Not in a campy way, because Magazine doesn't do 'camp.'   More to do with the John Barry sound of mixing strings with the voice. It's a shame that they never had the opportunity to write and produce a James Bond theme song. Nevertheless in the world of Magazine that are so many treasures to explore.  Also if the song is on the album, usually it's a different recording.  For example, "Shot by Both Sides" is an entirely different recording.  I believe the single, their first recording, didn't have any keyboards on it.   So if you do buy this album, you really don't have to worry about getting repeated tracks, except for their late single "About the Weather" and "A Song Under the Floorboards." 

"A Song Under the Floorboards," "Upside Down," and "Touch and Go" are Magazine classics.   The classic lineup of Barry Adamson, John Doyle, Dave Formula, and guitarist John McGeoch couldn't be better.   "After The Fact" came out after the band broke up, and it was a series of moments that became perfection, practiced by a gang of visionaries. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Nilsson - "Aerial Pandemonium Ballet" Vinyl, LP, Album, 1971 (RCA)

I have a "best of" on CD and this one vinyl album by Harry Nilsson.  My understanding that "Aerial Pandemonium Ballet" is an odd one by Harry.   With the success of "The Point" RCA wanted to re-release Nilsson's first two out-of-print albums: "Pandemonium Shadow Show" and "Aerial Ballet."  Nilsson thought else wise and decided to make a new album from songs from the early albums, but remixed and re-recorded in some cases.  So depends on how one looks at the original recordings and this updated collection.  I, on the other hand, can't make the comparison due that I only have this album, and never heard the first two albums by Harry.  

"Aerial Pandemonium Ballet" is an album full of promise but touches on heartache.  Nilsson knows how to walk the balance between observational narratives ("Good Old Desk") and painful past ("1941").   An incredible vocalist, while obviously a student/fan of The Beatles as well as an understanding of the Brill Building aesthetic; he's the bridge between those two worlds.  For me, I never followed his career after this album.   I think he evolved or moved on, and I pretty much stayed with this one album. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Jack Bruce - Songs for a Tailor" CD, Album, Reissue, 2003/1969 (Polydor)

Jack Bruce was my guy in Cream.  I never was a fan of Eric Clapton, even though as a teenager I fell for his "importance" due to my friends at the time.   Except for "Badge" and a few others, the Jack-Cream songs were it.  And as much as possible I tried to stay as far away from the Cream live recordings.  I hated them in 1968, and I still dislike them.  But Jack Bruce/Cream/Peter Brown part of Cream, almost perfect.   In 1969, I did buy the Jack Bruce song because I knew it had to be good.  And good it is, if not fantastic.  

Since Bruce is a bass player, the bass is way up high or part of the overall mix on this album, and I love that.  His playing embraces and holds the song as a frame, with the melody and the other stuff inside the frame.  An underrated songwriter, and the fact that he had an open mind with respect to different types of music - such as jazz and the experimental side of pop music making or unique collaborations.  Clapton never went there, and Ginger Baker, God bless him, also was an adventurer at heart.  Another artist that comes to mind is Mick Karn, who was the bass player for the band Japan. There is that jazzy, strong bass holding the material together.  Karn's first solo album is emotionally direct as well as his bass playing.  Perhaps a strange connection, but listening to the Bruce album, it brings memories of Karn as well. 

"Songs for a Tailor" is for me the next step after the studio side of Cream's "Wheels of Fire."  "Rope Ladder to the Moon" could have been part of the "Wheels of Fire" album.  It's cello/bass, and dynamic acoustic guitar playing (by Bruce) is dreamy but rhythmic.  One has to give notice to the poetic lyrics by Peter Brown, and it's interesting that Bruce worked with such a literary bent, then say "I love you do you love me" rhyme/sentiment.   Still, there is an emotional pull in their songs.  Brown's lyrics are baroque and visual, and Bruce treats them not only as a personal statement but also 'performs' these songs though his singing.   I can imagine Bruce being in a musical. 

The beauty of "Songs for a Tailor" is Bruce expanding his canvas or landscape and filling it with a strong essence of wonderful songs, but again, his voice and bass playing is essential here.  It's obvious to me that he needed to get out of the Cream framework because I think it became too confining.   It's a great album to revisit time-to-time.  "Songs For a Tailor" still sounds strong and mighty. 

"Henri Salvador Alias Henry Cording and his Original Rock and Roll Boys" CD, Album, France, 2002/1956 (Philips)

The first French Rock n' Roll and it may have been a joke, but alas, it does rock.  Henri Salvador is a jewel in the French music world.  Entertainer, incredible jazz guitarist, songwriter, and humorist.  Also a great pal of Boris Vian, who signed him to Philips, in his later career as an A&R man for a record label, after a career in writing, translating, singing, songwriting, and of course, engineer.  Vian and Salvador wrote what sounds like a parody of rock, played by French jazz musicians.  This originally 10" release (Oh, how I wish I own that version) in 1956, saw the presence of rock entering the French market place.  My guess is that Vian, a total Jazz-head, probably liked the Black American elements of rock n' roll and not that crazy about the commercial push of that genre.  But that's just an educated guess on my part.  Half the album is Salvador/Vian, and the other is Vian/Michel Legrand songs.  Big band, honking horns, excellent cutting electric guitar, and Salvador singing the absurd lyrics by Vian.   Superb music. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Billy Fury - "The World of Billy Fury" Vinyl, LP, Album, 1971 (Decca)

This once good-looking young man was the best to come out of the United Kingdom/Pre Beatles.  A Liverpool citizen who can rock like Elvis, but made more hits by singing perfect pop songs.  Billy Fury (incredible name) was the real deal.   A lot of British rock/pop singers before the Fab Four came on the scene, were manufactured by various managers.  Fury was part of that school, yet he also wrote his own songs as well.  I can never understand why Fury wasn't a star in the States, except perhaps the presence of Elvis kept others out of the U.S. market.   

Decca throughout the years has put out "The World Of..." series.  Mostly cheap or budget best hits type of albums, but all of them had a formula graphic design, and in actuality, quite nice.  Morrissey, of course, is a fan of these series of albums that came out during the 1960s and 1970s.  This is a very pleasing collection of Fury's major hits from the early 1960s.   Fury had a lot of drama, both in his life, due to a poor working heart, and the song choices.  "I'll Never Find Another You," "Nobody's Child," and "Like I've Never Been Gone," have a tragic presence that is heightened by Fury's vocal delivery.  Women must have wept at his shows. 

The standout track for me is "Nobody's Child."  A simple arrangement, almost like a movie cowboy song, yet the lyric is almost painful to hear.   An amazing song that I'm surprised no one in the modern pop world have done a cover yet - at least as far as I know.   There are better best of Billy albums out there (mostly on CD), but this one is an excellent introduction to the wonderful Billy Fury. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Fleetwood Mac - "Then Play On" Vinyl, LP, Album, 1969 (Reprise)

I discovered this album late in my life.   Fleetwood Mac when under the control or influence of Peter Green was something magical.  The beauty of the lineup of Green, Kirwan, Spencer, and the dynamic rhythm section, Fleetwood and McVie made an impressive amount of noise.  This album is the perfect blend of blues, pop rock, a touch of surf, and impressive songwriting.  What's pleasing to me is to hear three separate guitars with their individual style, and all blending into the mix.  The dynamics of this particular line-up, when together, is bigger than any person in the band.  In other words, "Then Play On" is a work by a band.  

Kirwan I feel is an underrated songwriter at this time.  There is a sweetness but tinted with sadness that really gives his songs a real soul.  Green I feel was exploring the blues to find a new angle in approaching that category.   The combination of all gives this album a majestic sound.  To my ears, it reminds me a bit of Television -especially with the difference between Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd on their instruments.  This Fleetwood Mac album leaves a great aftertaste, but alas it was the last of this particular lineup.  By listening to this album, I would think for sure there would have been more.  Unfortunately, that wasn't meant to happen. 

Pete Shelley - "Homosapien" Vinyl, LP, Album, 1981 (Arista)

One cannot ever underestimate the greatness of The Buzzcocks.  For one, Pete Shelley is one of the great songwriters of the Punk/New Wave era.  What gives Shelley that extra edge is his interest in not only rock n' roll, but also contemporary classical music and electronics.  When The Buzzcocks went to sleep for whatever reason, Shelley reinvented himself as a solo act that's focused on his songwriting, but also electronic pop.  It was nice that Shelley could express himself with the two guitars, bass, drums of The Buzzcocks, but also into the world of computer technology (at the time of 1981) and the so-called "modern pop.  

"Homosapien" is a great album, but the title song is a classic.  A piece of music that flirts with the idea of homosexuality in a song format, and under Shelley's brilliant skill as a lyricist.  I have the album version, but I also have the numerous remixes of this song, and it never fails in its dynamic getting out of the closet approach.  

The technique of Shelley both in The Buzzcocks and his solo material is that he often builds tension by just repeating the phrase or chorus till the breaking point.  There is also a circular motif in his work where it starts off but meets again in the end.  The listener feels like that they are surrounded by the song, and basically, you are trapped or motivated to go to the circle.   Besides Philip Glass, I can't think of another composer or songwriter who has this approach to their songwriting.  Songs like "Qu'est-Ce Que C'est Que Ca," "Guess I Must Have Been In Love With Myself," and " Don't Know What It Is" makes one feel that they are being pulled by a giant magnet to the song, and the lyrics are often mantras served as a lyric.  The songs are of heartbreak and love, but there is also a strong eastern philosophy or religious aspect as well. 

Pete Shelley is a very unique writer, and it bugs me that at least in the media, he is sort of this classic punk rock guy, but the fact is, he's much more than that.   He has a genius sense of having the perfect melody touch, as well as an emotional punch.   The Buzzcocks/Shelley rocks yes, but they also give the listener a feeling of bliss that for me, borders on meditation.  The Punk Era, both in the United States and in England, has produced a lot of great songwriters, but Shelley I feel should be on the top of the pile.  "Homosapien" is the essential listening experience. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Jimi Hendrix Experience - "Electric Ladyland" Vinyl, LP, Album, 1968 (Track Records)

I was 15 years old when "Electric Ladyland" came out.  The original British cover spoke to the teenage heterosexual in a manner that was very direct, and perhaps more so than any other album cover of its time.  And the music wasn't bad!   I originally had the American version with Hendrix on the cover.  No way or in fashion would the British cover be allowed in the American market at its time.   If it was one naked lady, then that may have passed, but to have a dozen or so, on the front and back (fold out) cover, that is clearly a no-no.   Reportedly Hendrix hated the British cover.  In my teenage mind, I thought this was very much the lifestyle of Hendrix.  Perhaps the cover was taken in his home or bedroom.   It wasn't, but to a 15-year old, the fantasy outlives the reality. 

The music on this album is superb.   The Jimi Hendrix Experience was progressing from the first to the last album, which to me, is "Electric Ladyland."  I never bought any albums after his death, because I felt the unfinished work was not meant to be heard because Hendrix couldn't give its proper blessing due to his untimely death.    "Electric Ladyland" is both looking back, but very much a forward album.  Here, he works with other musicians and the music is more of a bigger canvas than the first two Hendrix Experience albums.    

Hendrix without a doubt is a genius guitar player, but he is also a fantastic arranger, lyricist, and record producer.  Technically an Experience album, but apparently Hendrix is thinking like a solo artist here.  The dreamy side of him such as "And the Gods Made Love" (goes with the British cover in my opinion), "Rainy Day Dream Away," "1983.." are all impressionistic paintings set to music.  One cannot separate the visual aspect of Hendrix, not only in his dandyism but also the colors that reflect in his music.  My favorite Hendrix song "The Burning of the Midnight Lamp" is perfection.  Psychedelic but holding on to the melody if life was about to be stamped out.  A great record, a great single.   Or was it ever a single?  

"Electric Ladyland" is a very sophisticated album.  When I first initially heard the album back in 1968, I felt it was opening up to new avenues, and I was excited to follow that Hendrix road.  His death was a major disappointment to me because I felt he would have gone on to make very interesting sounds.   And I have to add the importance of Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell in the band.   In fact, Mitchell as a drummer is simply amazing.  More jazz-like than rock n' roll.   Mitchell's professional life as a musician sounds incredible.  From having a rifle pointed at his head by Joe Meek to working with Jimi.  How perfect is that?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Michael Nyman - "A Zed & Two Noughts" CD, Album, Original Soundtrack Recording, 1988 (That's Entertainment Records)

In the late 1980s, I became devoted to the films made by Peter Greenaway.  I loved his approach to his subject matters which were always questioning the process of nature and science, which leads to human sexuality as well as the structure of culture and politics.  That's a mouthful I know, but Greenaway is nothing else but a Maximalist.  His films are total overkill of images, sound, and thought.  The fun of seeing his films in a public movie theater were the people who walked out during the screening.  I have never been in an audience where so many hated what they were watching.  Even in the lobby after the film, strangers have come up to me to express their displeasure of viewing his works. I imagine being an artist, this is highly complementary to his films.  It's obvious that Greenaway is not for everyone, and nor is the music by Michael Nyman.   One of the great director/composer relationships ever.  Similar to Fellini/Nino Rota or David Lynch with Angelo Badalamenti.  When Nyman left Greenaway, I stopped watching his films. 

I discovered the soundtrack to "A Zed & Two Noughts" at "The Wave" record store (non-existent now) in Roppongi Tokyo.  For whatever reason, Nyman's entire catalog at the time was available at this store.   My first reaction when I heard this soundtrack album as well as seeing the film was that the music was speeded up to a ridiculous level.  After a few minutes in, I grew to love it.  Nyman is one of my favorite contemporary composers.  This particular soundtrack is stunning.   I never heard Harpiscord keyboard played as a speed metal piece or I should say, speed chamber music work.  At the same time his melodies are humingable.   He is also excellent in buildng up tension and then adding a sense of sweetness on top of it that floats in and out of the pace or beat.  Beautifully orchestrated, with layers of textures, and its music that looks back to Baroque chamber music but clearly contemporary in its scope. 

New York Dolls - "A Hard Night's Day" CD, Album, 2000 (Norton Records)

Perfection.  Paul Nelson when he signed the New York Dolls to Mercury he brought the band to a studio, and in one night recorded 21 songs as demos, to be picked upon by producer Todd Rundgren, at a later date.  These recordings are the best representation of the Dolls.  The band is sloppy in parts, but it is also part of their genius in that they had amazing songs, and their covers they did at the time, represented their trashy aesthetic and love for vintage rock n' roll.  It's interesting to note that the Dolls must have liked British Invasion bands like early Who or The Kinks, yet all their covers are American, based on the blues, or Atlantic Records-era rock recordings, or Chuck Berry.  So in a nutshell, the ultimate American rock band.

When I first heard the Dolls, which was their first Mercury album, I thought to myself, 'yes.'  At the time, The Stones were creatively spent, and there was a need for a younger band with great songs.  The Dolls were it.  On the other hand, the commercial music world disagreed with me.  Still, history will show that The Dolls were very much part of their decade, and the songs they wrote "Trash," "Personality Crisis," "Frankenstein" and others, were rooted in their social lives at the time.  It's a great snapshot of New York City subculture at work.  And "A Hard Night's Day" is very much that photograph or series of photos conveying the energy, sound, and genius of that time.

The Dolls wrote songs that were observational.  In that sense, they resemble Ray Davies of The Kinks.  Or even early Bowie.  David Johansen is a brilliant lyricist and through his solo career one can see that he is also a great music historian, but the same can be said for Johnny Thunders and Sylvain Sylvain as well.   And the rhythm section of Jerry Nolan (great drummer) and Arthur Kane were extremely important to their overall sound.  So to me, a perfectly balanced band.  

Paul Nelson captured the excitement much better than the official two studio Mercury albums.  This album is an important document but beyond that journalistic/studying approach, this is music to celebrate an independence that was greatly needed at the time.  

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Ennio Morricone "Danger: Diabolik" CD, Album, Unofficial Release, 2001 (Sycodelic)

The legendary and lost soundtrack album from Ennio Morricone.  "Danger: Diabolik" is the ultimate late 1960s (or is it the 70s) hero/villain film made in Europe.  A combination of The Phantom meets James Bond mixed with Fantomas, Diabolik is the ultimate of the ultimate masked heroes, who embraced the sexual revolution with great passion.  Actually, he has a true love that is more Eros than keeping a home together.   The soundtrack is equal to the film, and the story is that the master tapes were destroyed in a fire.   So the soundtrack has never been released officially, only in the shadow world of bootlegs.  

The album is great. It does have a classic Morricone song "Deep Down," which I believe is known to all those who love Retro Lounge Culture.   The album is a mixture of electronics, sound effects, and sharp bursts of melody that runs through the entire soundtrack.  This particular package also has a lot of dialogue, which I suspect that they just recorded everything from a film print or VHS tape.  So, entirely listenable, the sound quality is not the best in the world.  Still, it's a fantastic album, and important for those like me who collect Morricone. 

Mick Harvey "Intoxicated Man" CD, album, 1995 (Mute)

In 1995, Mick Harvey put out his first album of Serge Gainsbourg songs.   This is not an easy process to do because Gainsbourg's lyrics are very tricky to do in English.  There are many layers of puns, jokes, and something meanings in his songs.  Very textural work, and it takes a master to translate the lyrics from French to English.   Harvey does the job swell, as well as my translator for the Gainsbourg biography I published (TamTam Books) by Gilles Verlant.  Paul Knobloch catches the layers as well.  But here we concentrate on Harvey's album of Gainsbourg tunes.

Gainsbourg as a songwriter, singer, arranger is a vast canvas.  Harvey doesn't just focus on the hits here on 'Intoxicated Man," but also the 'deep cuts' of this songwriter.   Also Harvey, perhaps due to his lifetime association with the world of Nick Cave, he automatically has a sense of sophistication.  So Harvey matching up with Gainsbourg is a great fit.   A wonderful introduction to the world of Serge's songs, but also the French Jazz/Pop culture as well.  

Harvey has done five Gainsbourg albums, and "Intoxicated Man" is his first of the series.  The hits are here as well as some of the more obscure songs - but the Bardot/Gainsbourg combination is well represented with "Ford Mustang," "Bonnie & Clyde," and "Harley Davidson."  Harvey stays close to the song's purpose and melody, but he adds his own unique arrangements to the works here.  This is very much of an album by a musician who is quite talented, perhaps brilliant as an arranger.  I have always imagined that Harvey was Cave's music director in The Bad Seeds, and here he uses his talent in that sense by the selection of the songs, but their production/arrangement as well.  Exceptional work.  I can't imagine any Gainsbourg fan would find fault in these recordings.   There's not a bad cut here because Harvey is an excellent editor and a man of great taste. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

György Ligeti - Ensemble Intercontemporain, Pierre Boulez -"Chamber Concerto"/"Ramifications"/"Aventures"/"Nouvelles Aventures" LP, Vinyl, 1983 (Deutsche Grammophon )

Side one is beautiful orchestration that slowly and seductively leads to tension that is released little by little.  Pierre Boulez's conducting the orchestra and György Ligeti's intense score is an amazing listening experience.   His music seems to hold energy into a small space, and once it dispels into the ears or listening room, it's a release that is almost sexual.  The harpsichord comes in and out of the orchestration or mixes in a very efficient manner.   Great music.

Side two is "Nouvelles Aventures," and it's mostly vocal work with a touch of instrumentation here and there.  Again it's a tightly held piece of intensity which keeps the listener on their toes.  DADA or Letterist like in performance, I have a feeling that there is a visual side to "Nouvelles Aventures."  

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Fred Astaire - "The Astaire Story, With The Stars of Jazz at the Philharmonic" 3xVinyl, LP, Reissue, 1953 (DRG Records)

A superb box set of three discs plus booklet.  A recording made in Los Angeles, December 1952, with Jazz musicians Oscar Peterson, Barney Kessel, Charlie Shavers, Flip Phillips, Ray Brown, and Alvin Stoller.   And our Fred Astaire as lead vocalist and tap dancer (or percussion for this album).  Astaire is an iconic dancer of films made from the Depression 1950s to the atomic age 1950s.  He is also an incredible vocalist, and in fact, Cole Porter has commented that Fred is his favorite singer of his songs.   This album exposes that sentiment as well as his role in modern Jazz.   

Astaire sings the classics that he's known for through his various film work, but for the first time, the setting is him being surrounded by Jazz players.  "The Astaire Story" is very much a jazz vocalist album with the additional highlights of him tap dancing as a percussionist of sorts.  What one would think this would have been an alien landscape for Astaire is actually a natural playground for him.  He sings like a great jazz vocalist, who due to his sense of rhythm, totally makes him one with the arrangements on this album.   The gentleman in hand is a sophisticated figure, and this album reeks of sophistication and style.  Brilliant package with an excellent booklet of photos and drawings done at the time of the session.  

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Philip Glass - "Mishima" CD, Album, 1985 (Nonsuch)

Now, this is a very nice cocktail.  The subject matter of Yukio Mishima, filmmaker Paul Schrader, and music by Philip Glass all in one package.  Well, the music is here.  This is one of my favorite soundtrack albums, because it serves the purpose of the narrative and images of the film, and stands on its own as an album.   Also, I have heard the melodies on this album on other works by Glass, so I suspect that this is music that he comes back to time-to-time.  

Consistently beautiful, but the dynamic is a subject that is very Japanese (Eastern) made by an American filmmaker and sounds by an American composer.  They didn't exotic it up.  As someone who writes, "Mishima" the film is one of the great movies of a writer's  life.  Usually, cinema fails in the writer biography due that we get scenes of the author behind the typewriter and sweating and drinking in despair.  Due to restrictions made by Mishima's wife, she didn't allow any mention of his homosexuality, his politics, and his suicide.   Which all Mishima fans know those three subject matters are what makes Yukio Mishima a fascinating figure and artist.   At times, he was a performance artist as well as a prose writer. Mishima did make films, both as a filmmaker and an actor.  He was the king of media when alive.   Schrader did a fantastic thing.  Instead of shooting the author's life, he had to go somewhere he wasn't restricted, and that is his books.  Schrader had the film rights so he could mine the material on Mishima through his writing.  This can be dangerous ground, but Schrader picked and chose the right pieces to tell the Mishima narrative.   

The exquisite music is delicate as well as coming like a powerful wave to the listener.   On one cut it sounds like a surf melody with an electric guitar.   So, there are surprises here and there.  A masterful soundtrack for an excellent film on a remarkable writer. 

John Cage & Lejaren Hiller/Ben Johnson - "HPSCHD" / "String Quartet No. 2" Vinyl, LP, Album, 1969 (Nonesuch)

Of all the compositions of John Cage, this has to be the most intense or insane piece in his catalog of goodies.   Co-made and written with Lejaren Hiller, this is Cage's first adventure in the computer world that existed in 1969.   First of all the title, HPSCHD (1967-1969) is the word harpsichord reduced to the computer's six-word limit at the time.  It consists of 51 electronic sound tapes and seven solo compositions for harpsichord, all played at once.  If you have the means, you can hear the album on the left channel or the right channel, or in this case both.  This is not only the weirdest stereo/hi-fi adventure but one that is a challenging listening experience.  The irony is that the music is written for an old keyboard concept, but done in the most advanced manner in 1969.   What I get here is clearly what sounds like four or five harpsichords with various sheets of electric sounds, that at times sound like a generator or bits and pieces of melody, but very faint.  It's a noisy, full volume lease breaker of a record.  I think with respect to Cage's works, HPSCHD is the most extreme in its attack, noise, concept, and in general, Nonesuch was a brave label of its time.  The total opposite of Cage's famous 4:33.  Silence and noise.   It's 21 minutes of a relentless attack, yet, listening to it the time goes quickly.  I love it. 

Flip to the second side, and we have Ben Johnson's "String Quartet No. 2"(1962) and performed by The Composer's Quartet.  It's a work that reminds me of Schoenberg.  It's a moody work and emotional compared to Cage and Hiller's concept of making music.  It's work that is dissonant in tone, yet the sound is very sculptural to me.  I hear, but I can see it as well. It's interesting to note that Johnson was a friend of Harry Partch, and helped him build his instruments.  And he also studied with Cage as well as Darius Milhaud.  Johnson was (or still is) working on the foundation or perhaps storm, where the contemporary composition and practices took place.  "String Quartet 2" is demanding but pays off well, especially in its ending which is very serene and quiet.  Unlike the other side!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Sex Pistols - "Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols" Vinyl, LP, Album, Reissue, 2008/1977 (Warner Brothers Records)

My first impression of when I first heard of the Sex Pistols is ho-hum.   At the time I was totally in love with the New York City Punk/No Wave scene.  The British side of the Punk world seemed to be more fashion orientated (which is laughable on my part, because clearly, NYC had that as well) and more bullshit media attention than anything else.   It wasn't till I bought the original single of "Anarchy in the U.K." that I went "oh my god."   For the reasons above I suspected that this song or recording would be so-so.  I didn't expect it to be a sonic masterpiece on a higher level.  Lyrically, theme wise, melody and just the production of this song became a huge wow for me.  Clearly up there with "My Generation,"  "Psychotic Breakdown" and "Talk Talk" of the 1960s.  Yet though the roots of the song were in those recordings, "Anarchy" is very much the sound of that moment or time.  There are a few records for me that yell out a moment and becomes a snapshot of life then.  

It's fun to know the story behind this album, and the relationship between band members and their manager. As well as the entire British music scene of the time - but I will also like to distance this album from that world, and listen to it as music.  Is that possible?  In my opinion, no.  It's very much of a product/artwork from 1977. 

Johnny Rotten's lyrics are like journalism.  He's reporting the world through his eyes, and his work is very unpoetic and straight forward.   In that sense, it is very much part of the social world of Punk, but not only is he making art here, but also reporting it at the same time.   Sex Pistols could have wrapped this album around a British newsprint, which would have made great sense.  It is also a work where you don't need a second album or further thought.  The band did all their work on that one disc, and there is no reason why there should be another album.   Them breaking up makes perfect sense in the Pistols world.  In my opinion Rotten's next adventure, Public Image Ltd. is a much better band (with Wobble and Levene) and vision.   Still, "Never Mind The Bollocks" is a great rock album.  A classic like the first Doors album.  And like that album, it fits perfectly in that year or decade, but the power doesn't last.  The music still sounds good, but it's not an essential sound in my life anymore.  Like a flower that blossoms, we love the instant second that happens.  A lovely memory of that flower, but once gone, it's gone. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Lewis Furey - "The Humours of :" CD, Album, Reissue, Japan, 1976/1990 (A&M)

This French Canadian (now living in Paris) is an amazing talent and songwriter.  I had the vinyl back in 1976 but lost it through the ages.  This is his second album and although the material is basically the same, the production by Roy Thomas Baker is huge.  Huge as in over-production, and treating the songs here as Broadway tunes.  The first album by Lewis Furey is quieter, yet theatrical, but in an off-Broadway manner or in a small theater.   

Furey reminds me a bit of John Cale's solo recordings with a mixture of early Lou Reed.  Furey's songs tend to have street life tattooed on his aesthetic, but with a Bertolt Brecht distance and one gets the feeling he's writing a narrative than saying something out of his personal life.  It's interesting that I found the first and second album in Tokyo in the 1990s  At the time it seems that A&M released all their 1970s titles into the CD format for the first time.  It was like going to Tower Records in the 70s.  

I love Furey's music.  Although I do have a problem with the production, it still is a fantastic album.   The way "Cop's Ballet" emerges into   "Rubber Gun Show" is a great opening for an album/CD.  The songs are all catchy, and again, I suspect Furey is writing a musical, although I don't feel there is a running narration, it still feels like a Broadway or big budget show.   CD is very difficult to find, but the vinyl comes up once in every little while.  Get it. 

Pierre Bachelet & Hervé Roy - "Emmanuelle: The Original Sound Track" CD, Album, Reissue, Japan, 1974 (Warner Brothers)

At the age of 62, I'm the ripe customer for Emmanuelle and that whole European soft-porn era of the 1970s.  Even as a teenager I found Emmanuelle sexy.  The combination of exotic locale with a white European woman being surrounded by danger and various men, including an older gentleman - it seemed so perfect to me.  Is it correct to feel this way?  I don't know.  I keep this pretty much in my head and rarely share this information, till now, of course.

Also "Emmanuelle" is the most absurd film track album ever.  It's basically the one theme done in various music styles over and over again.   Come to think of it, "Emmanuelle" the film is just as absurd.  I want to say it's fun, but it brings up too many issues.  Racism, sexism, and probably even more "ism" then that I am aware of.  On the other hand, I love it.  I don't say this with great pride, but with a tad amount of embarrassment. 

Oddly enough I was introduced to the soundtrack by a beautiful blonde girl that I went to Junior High School with.  This was in the early 1970s, and her main music interest was in Donovan (she owned and played the Live Donovan album all the time) and Joni Mitchell's "Blue" album.  She had sophisticated taste, and on top of that, she was a beauty.   She was a strange girl in that she kept her own company pretty much all of the time.  We shared another friend of hers, and that is why we became friends.  Beyond the Joni and Donovan record, she also had the Emmanuelle soundtrack.  She played it for me, and it was at that time, the weirdest album I have ever heard, but beyond that, I was sexually attracted to my blonde friend, and her playing this album for me was almost a sexual act.  We never connected on a physical level, but many years later I found this album in Tokyo, with additional songs.   Like one needs additional songs on this album!  It's the same song over and over again - but of course, different arrangements each time. 

The other great discovery is that there is an English version of the theme song on the CD, and the lyrics were written by Howard / Blaikley, who wrote all the classic Honeycombs album as well as Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick & Tich's material.  What a strange discovery that was!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Doors - "The Doors" Vinyl, LP, Album, Mono, 1967 (Elektra)

I first saw The Doors at the Whiskey sometime in late 1966.  They opened up for Van Morrison's era Them.  I went there with my dad to see Them because I couldn't get enough of "Gloria," or "Mystic Eyes."  I must have been eleven years old at the time.   The Doors made a huge impression on me, due to the songs, but also the unusual instrumentation of the band.  No bass player!  I found it psychologically disturbing at the time.  Guitar, Electric Organ/Piano, drums, and voice.  Morrison was the voice. A great voice by the way.  What I remember from that set was Morrison wearing the iconic leather pants, but not moving a muscle while singing.  He held the mike close to his mouth and was hypnotizing me and the audience.   I bought their album when it came out, or perhaps my dad did.  I played that album to death and beyond.  I actually loved every Doors albums except "L.A. Woman."  At that point, I got tired of the band, and I felt the band itself was exhausted as well.  

Pretty much throughout my late teens and adulthood, I pretty much ignored listening to The Doors, even on the AM Radio.   I was turned off on the whole "Lizard King" motif, as well as his official poetry, which was not as good as his lyric writing.   I found other bands to feed my urgency for sound and words, for instance, David Bowie, The Kinks, and the whole Punk explosion of the 1970s. 

Recently I found a Mono version of the first Doors album at Mono Records (no pun intended) and bought it.  I was curious what my adult ears will hear compared to my childhood's listening experience.  In ways, the album holds up.  The songs are still terrific and the performances are faultless.  What is missing is the essence of the band, the mystery.  When I first saw them and purchased their albums when they were originally released, it was still a mysterious process.  Once they hit the huge mainstream and became iconic, I feel the mystery was diluted into the pop world and culture.  In no fashion or way can they match up with The Velvet Underground, who to this day captures the essence of poetry/horror/beauty.    They never date, but The Doors do have an expiration date - at least for my ears and sensibility. 

Still, this is a ROCK classic.  A great album.  But it's an album that has no real importance for me anymore.  

Halfnelson (Sparks) - "Halfnelson" Vinyl, LP, Album, 1971 (Bearsville)

The first time I heard Sparks' music was in 1974, and the album "Kimono My House."  It was like someone shot me in the heart, and I survived the bullet wound.  One of the few albums that had such a strong effect/influence over me, that to this day, is hard to shake off.  Once I bought this album, I immediately tracked down the first two Sparks' albums.  Both (all) are excellent.  

"Halfnelson" is Sparks, but before they changed their name due to Albert Grossman's request to do so.   A good record company/manager type of decision.   Halfnelson (Sparks) from the very beginning showed an off-beat vision of pop.  The genius level of Ron Mael's songwriting was apparent from their first album.   "Wonder Girl" "Fletcher Honorama," and others show a sophistication that's a mixture of wit and the perfect melody.  Russell Mael's songs were a total winner as well.   Also when we think of Sparks, we mostly focus on Ron and Russell Mael, but in the early days, before they hit the U.K. (Kimono and afterward) they were a functioning five-man band. One can't ignore the importance of Earl and Jim Mankey, as well as the drummer Harvey Feinstein.  A perfect unit at the time who found the perfect producer Todd Rundgren.  As the producer, he kept the Sparks/Halfnelson eccentricity in place and allowed a sense of exploration within the band's arrangements and sound.  The album to me is very tight as if it was recorded in a room with no windows, and therefore perhaps they were stranded in the studio, with nothing to do, but to make this fantastic album.  

Listening to this album in 1974, (and recorded/released in 1971) it struck me as a work of originality, and it was like getting music from Mars from actual Martians.  I always felt Sparks were outside artists, in the sense that they didn't belong to any scene or music moment.   One can think of them as the Los Angeles band or glam (Kimono), but the truth is they went beyond those categories.  Love the band, is Los Angeles.  The Beach Boys are Los Angeles.  Sparks live in Los Angeles, but the music they made came from another world or culture.  European perhaps?   They could easily be a band from France, Germany or Sweden.  Ziggy Stardust came from Mars, but Sparks/Halfnelson actually do sound they came from another galaxy.  

It is now 2017, and they are still that band from 'somewhere' else and are releasing provocative and excellent music.   

On a side note, I did write a book "Sparks-Tastic" (Rarebird Books) about my experiences of seeing this band play 21 concerts in London, each show devoted to one of their albums.  It was a life-changing experience for me, and, hopefully, my book expressed that sentiment as well as the adventure.