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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

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

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

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

Thursday, January 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 23, 2017

Kevin Ayers and the Whole World - "Shooting at the Moon" (Music on Vinyl) 180 gram vinyl

My friend Gary introduced me to this album sometime in the late 1970s.  He had the entire Kevin Ayers catalog on vinyl (of course), and as I listen to it now, I think of him.  Beyond that, the album is one that stays with me but often disappears into my life.  It was till very recently that I purchased a vinyl re-issue of the album.   Kevin Ayers was once part of The Soft Machine. Left them for reasons that I know nothing of, and made a classic solo album "Joy of a Toy.   He then formed a band behind him to tour and record.  The Whole World is a super band of its time. Featuring the teenage Mike Oldfield on bass, David Bedford on keyboards, and the great Lol Coxhill on saxophone. And the mysterious Mick Fincher, who seemed only to make recordings with Ayers.  

"Shooting at the Moon" is a combination of pop, musique concrete, french pop, and psychedelic freak-outs.  In a nutshell, the perfect album to come out of the 1970s.  The beauty of the album is that one can't predict where it's going.   "May I" is a classic.  It reminds me of a beautiful Lou Reed song.  "Lunatics Lament" wouldn't sound strange on an early Eno album.   The perfect leased breaker is "Pisser Dans Un Violon" which to call it an experimental track would be accurate.  It's what sounds like a violin with an electronic squeak and the humming of an electric guitar.  Personally, it's one of my favorite songs on the album.   The charming aspect of "Shooting at the Moon" is its playfulness and mixture of pure experimentation and gorgeous pop songs.  Ayers is a musician/songwriter who played with tension in its many forms.  Here on this album, with an incredible band, totally succeeds in making aural magic.  

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Cramps - Gravest Hits (Drastic Plastic Records) Vinyl 12", 45 RPM Red Vinyl

The Cramps are perfect.   Perfect as a concept, and perfect sound.  This five-song E.P. is a fabulous introduction to one of the great American bands.  So American, I often think they came from France or another foreign country.  I write that because it seems to me that they came from the outside to comment on their culture.  Which are a world of horror and obscure rockabilly recordings.  The Cramps are very much about curating and collecting as well as making music.  At the time of this album's original release, 1979, I only knew "Surfin' Bird."  Although the other songs are now well-known, for instance, Jack Scott's "The Way I Walk" and Ricky Nelson's "Lonesome Town." At that time I wasn't familiar with the 1950s rock world.  Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman" of course, but his Sun Records version of "Domino," no.  So this particular E.P. not only introduced me to this band but also a whole music culture that I wasn't aware of.  I suspect that many of their fans and listeners were in the same boat as me.  Ignorant! 

Alex Chilton's crazed production that was both a tribute to the original recordings, as well as a new sound - at least for me, was a huge 'oh wow.'    The genius real life couple of Lux Interior and Poison Ivy, plus the additional guitar (no bass!) of the goth-like Bryan Gregory, with the minimal drumming by Nick Knox, was a force that hit me in the stomach hard - but in a somewhat healthy way.  As I mentioned, total perfection.  

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Karlheinz Stockhausen - ELECTRONIC MUSIC "Song of the Youths" / "Contact" (Deutsch Gramopon)

Karlheinz Stockhausen's first electronic piece, which he wrote in 1955/56.  What I have read is that it is a personal, even spiritual music for the composer.  "Song of Youths" have children singing in German, with intrusive electronic sounds  - cutting in and out of the children's chorus.  Abstract, and quite remarkable in scope.   The live version was supposed to take place in a church, but due to the electronic/speakers issue, it never happened.  Still, the original set piece is five speakers.  This recording was reconstructed for two speakers.    My first listen to this piece I found it cold, but by the second time around, I find it emotional.  There is a Wagnerian feel, in that it's quite grand.  Still, big sounds can bring deep emotions to the table. 

The score to "Song of the Youths."

"Contact" (Kontakte) was realized 1958-60.  A more meditative piece of music than "Song of the Youths."  Still, there are loud krangs among the hums, so it keeps one's toes in operation.  To me, Stockhausen's music deals very much with space.  The actual space that the music or speakers are placed as well as the sound becoming either a sculpture or architectural model of some sort.  In other words, I don't think this music would be good on YouTube or through your computer speaker.  You need two big speakers, nice room, and a glass of wine (of course).  

The spectacle of Stockhausen's compositions is a big part of the overall experience.  In that sense, I think he shares that quality with Wagner.  The 1950s, which is often thought of as a conservative era, brought electronics into music in a very thoughtful and serious manner.  Stockhausen and others were truly the light coming out of the 20th-century headlights.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Léo Kupper - "Electronic Works & Voices 1961-1979" (Sub Rosa)

Léo Kupper had an interest in making music that was totally from electronic sounds, and not with or the addition of 'real' instruments.  What his music is a landscape of some style that makes an aural statement that in turns can be scary sounding.  The electronic noise often sounds like a form of nature to me.  I hear dolphins (not in a new age fashion), electrical storms, birds, crickets, waves hitting the beach, and perhaps noise of passing vehicles - either an automobile or train.  There is something human about Kupper's work, in that it's not about electronics specifically, but how those sounds interwind within the natural life.  

There are works on this double album that features vocals.   Not singing mind you, but female voices that are either speaking in a foreign language or used as a texture to the overall music.  These pieces remind me of Luciano Berio's work with the Swingle Singers.  The Italian composer made a lot of vocal music that were either based on literary text or poems.   On one of the works here on this album, "L' enclume des forces" features text by Antonin Artaud.  Overall there is a sinister quality to the music.  Kupper captures a sense of dread or anxiety.     

François Bayle - "Les Couleurs de la Nuit" (Sub Rosa)

impressions of the dark night.   The translation of Les couleurs de la Nuit is "The Colors of the Night."  French composer François Bayle puts the mood and the visual of the nighttime in his composition.   Sometimes intense, with touches of tenderness.   The music here is machine like with the string section (at least I think there are real strings on this piece) holding one note or two to add a sense of menace.   Composed in 1982, and commissioned by the great INA-GRM, this is a work that is bold, forceful, and impressionistic with its subject matter of what the night brings.  A great vinyl to play very loud.  

Monday, January 9, 2017

Ennio Morricone "Quando L'Amore é Sensualita" Cerberus Records, 1982

Never seen the film, nor have I heard of it.  It's hard for me to pass an Ennio Morricone on vinyl when I see it used.   Once you put it on, it's clearly Morricone.  Which means, one can tell it a distinctive sound of how he uses piano, wordless vocals, and horns used as sound instruments.  I'm amazed at the range of his abilities to make music.  Not quite avant-garde, or musique concrete, but traces of that sound is on this album. 

Oddly, this soundtrack hasn't been reissued (as far as I know).  It's an incredible piece of work.  I find it odd that listening to it, I think of Brian Wilson era "Smile."  Wilson's sensibility in arrangements (especially in that time period of recording "Smile) matches the spirit of "Quando L' Amore é Sensualita.   Well, clearly the Morricone sound is more sinister.   

The first cut on side two "Luce Chiara Per Vergine "Curve Oscure," is a combination of pop, but in a very strange version of it.  This piece of music can easily fit into a current Scott Walker album.  I listen to this vinyl gem, and I can't imagine how he does it?  To call him a genius is somehow an underestimate of his creative worth.  Anyone who has even the slightest interest in composition or arranging needs to hear this album.  

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Yardbirds - "I'm a Man"/"Still I'm Sad" 45 rpm Single (Epic Records) 1965

I distinctly remember that my first 45 rpm single that I purchased was The Yardbirds' double sided A-side hit "Still I'm Sad" and on the other side "I'm a Man."   I must have been around nine-years-old, and since I didn't have a job at the time, I'm going to presume that one of my grandmothers gave me the money to purchase the record.   "I'm a Man" (written by Bo Diddley) to this day gives me goosebumps in my lower back.  The way it starts off with the ugly sound of the guitars, and then slowly building up to this intense rave-up where it becomes noise.  Without a doubt, one of the first recordings that had a strong effect on my sensibilities at the time, and still, today. 

Then when I turned to the other side, the music is not only sad (of course) but also scary.  I heard this song on the radio as well as "I'm a Man," and it's the ying-yang or either/or of the pop music world of 1965.  Usually, for me, the album gives me the full narrative picture, but this 45 rpm single had a full narration for me.   One is very sexual, and the other is pensive.  

There are a lot of guitar bands that I like, but none sounds like The Yardbirds -except Television.  The Yardbirds went through three legendary guitarists in that group's history.  Eric Clapton.  Jeff Beck.  Jimmy Page.   By far my favorite is Jeff Beck.  Flashy yet detached.  I'm presuming that it's him playing on "I'm a Man," and not Clapton - but I'm not super sure about that. But I like to think it's Beck, because of the noise, in the end, seems so much up his alley.  Violent, sexual, and cool at the same series of seconds.  

The forgotten hero of The Yardbirds are not any of the three guitarists or even the singer Keith, but their bass player Paul Samwell-Smith.  He arranged the songs and did some of the engineering/production as well.  He worked with Mickie Most and Simon Napier-Bell. Eventually, he produced the classic hits of Cat Stevens in the 1970s.   I recently bought this single again for $1, and it sounds like a $1,000 to me.  Excellent record.  

Thursday, January 5, 2017

John Cage - Christian Wolff "John Cage/Christian Wolff" (Reissued; Jeanne Dielman)

With respect to John Cage, his "Cartridge Music" (1960) is probably one of the most extreme noise pieces ever.   What one can do with a phonograph pick-up!   Without a doubt, this album is a lease breaker and is also brilliant and of course, fascinating.  Cage and his right-hand man, David Tudor, which I have to presume they are probably like the Bowie/Mick Ronson team.  Cage visualizes the piece, and Tudor makes it happen.   Tudor generally a pianist, but one who not only plays on the piano but also inside and outside the piano.  Here on this recording, he and Cage do a rave-up that must have been awesome to see as well as being so forward of a sound/presentation in 1960.  
The other side of the album is three pieces by Christian Wolff.  Compared to the Cage side, this is easy listening music, but, with an edge.   David Tudor plays on two of the pieces.  The first work is "Duo For Violinist and Pianist" (1961).  The violinist Kenji Kobayashi.  It's an interesting work because it's about the relationship between the two instrumentalists.   It seems that Wolff instructed the musicians to start when they want to start, and the other makes responds to that sound.  The silence between the two players is also significant. It's like having a deep conversation with someone, and there is silence due that the person is thinking what the other is saying.  "Duet for Horn and Piano is the same as the above, but with Howard Hillyer playing the horn.   "Summer for Spring Quartet" (1961) is with a string quartet.  

There is a sense of theater with both the Wolff and Cage piece.  It works on an aural level, but I imagine to hear these pieces live would be awesome.  The conceptual aspect is interesting as well.  This is music that thinks, and then acts on the concept created by Cage and Wolff.  The musicians have to be in tuned to the composer's sensibility as well as trusting their own ability at the same time.   
The album cover design mirrors the much later Beatles' "White Album." One wonders if Richard Hamilton (the designer of the Beatle album) was influenced by the Cage/Wolff cover.   This is very much a fantastic piece of vinyl.   The original album came out in 1961, and it's great to hear music that was made by the composer or they were around during the recordings.  Essential. 

Brian Eno - "Reflection" (Warp Records)

I thnk most of us who have been familiar with Eno's work, can tell what this album is just by its title "Reflection."  Clearly, this is an ambient 50-minute piece of music that doesn't stand out from the other ambient works by Eno.   Still, I have been playing this album (by streaming) every day since it has been released on January 1, 2017.  Considering that we are heading towards unknown and scary territory this year, it seems a nice gentle way of easing into the new mood of the world.  

First of all, this album is available on various streaming platforms as well as CD and vinyl.  The vinyl is a double album, which means one has to change the record every 20 something minutes, which is perfectly fine, but I wonder if it works for this album.  I think it is the type of recording that one just pushes a button and forgets about time. I subscribe to Apple Music, which I use as a radio, or when I'm curious to hear new music. "Reflection" works best when it is not interrupted by the changing of the sides.  The flow here is necessary, and this recording is made for the CD and streaming format.  The one thing I don't know if the music sounds better on the vinyl format.  Nevertheless, I use this music to block out the outside world, especially when I'm writing.

One can also take a very satisfying nap to this album.  I tried it on the second of January - and the length and the soothing sounds is a perfect gateway to the dream world.  Yesterday, I went to the Echo Park library to do work, and the music does it magic in that context as well.   The big question is this better than the other Eno ambient works?   I think the album does its work, and comparing it to other works by Eno is almost a trivial task.   "Reflection" is what it is.  A bridge between the waking life and into the dream world of one's thoughts and feelings.   It's only essential if you need a sound, and "Reflection" works well in that sense.  Eno's "Discreet Music" is a masterpiece, and "Reflection" is just pretty good and does it job well.  

Sunday, January 1, 2017

John & Scott from The Walker Brothers "I Only Come Dance With You"/"Greens" 45 rpm Japanese Vinyl

For a Christmas present, my sweetness in life purchased this record in Japan for me.  It's not exactly a Scott Walker solo recording or even a Walker Brothers release.  It's a recording made my Scott Engels and John Maus before they formed The Walker Brothers.  And to make it even more confusing,  the record list John as "John Stewart."   It's not.  Although Scott, I believe, was a good friend of John Stewart in those days (the early 60s.).

Maus and Scott Walker must have recorded this not that far off from the Walker Brothers.  It has a strong Phil Spector production sound, and I think it's more Maus singing lead than Scott.  But the Scott presence is very much part of this recording.  The flip side is an instrumental with a strong Jet Harris type of bass sound.  That, I have to presume is Scott playing the bass.  A cool record, with even a cooler record sleeve, which sounds incredible for a vinyl from 1966 - which I'm sure was released, both in Europe and Japan, due to the popularity of the Walker Brothers.