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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Guernica - 電離層からの眼差し CD, album, Japan (Teichiku Records)

In my year-long exile (1989) in Japan, I discovered this remarkable CD I think at the Wave music store in Roppongi.   I was immediately intrigued by the graphics on this CD, and thought to myself, how can this possibly go wrong?    It's a masterpiece. 

Guernica is a musical project with music by Koji Ueno, lyrics by Keiichi Ohta, and most remarkable of them all - Jun Togawa singer.  She is like every great new wave singer from the 1980s rolled into one body or mouth.     The music is highly orchestrated with real strings, horns, and it's so retro that it's basically an avant-garde pop album.  The album even has tap dancing, which I think is real.  The roots go back to the 1930s, with a touch of Busby Berkeley.  Togawa's vocals are operatic, to small Judy Garland "Wizard of Oz" era vocals to the vocal range of someone like Yma Sumac.  

This is not easy listening music.  It's very much in your face and totally doesn't take any prisoners.  The closest thing I can think of is "Song Cycle" by Van Dyke Parks.   It's a militant aesthetic that looks toward the past but to make something totally new.   This album is totally unique.   Hard to find, even in Japan, but worth the hunt.   I strongly recommend this album to anyone who is interested in orchestrated pop, baroque pop, and experimental music. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Robert Wyatt - "Rock Bottom" Vinyl, LP, Reissue (Domino)

Is it possible for anyone on this planet to dislike Robert Wyatt's "Rock Bottom?"  The album is very much the definition of "classic" or better yet, perfection.  The dreamy textures, the hidden melodies that come bubbling up from the mix, and the beautiful playing by Robert and company, it's just a superb work.  The balance of humor and tragedy is walking on a highwire.  At the same time, the music is very sad but hysterical at the same time.  "Rock Bottom" is a very unique listening experience.  The production/recording by Pink Floyd's Nick Mason is exquisite.  Not only one of my favorite all-time albums, but I suspect that many feel this way.  

Thursday, March 23, 2017

David Bowie - "Live Nassau Coliseum" 2 x Vinyl (Parlophone)

What an odd occurrence to purchase this live album today, that was recorded on March 23, 1976, at the Nassau Coliseum - and today's date is March 23.  I didn't realize that till I was half-way listening to this record.   So that is one surprise, the other shocking thing to me is that I never heard these recordings before. I know it's on the recent boxset that came out last year, as well as part of "Station to Station" package that included the original album as well as this live recording from the same period.   The third 'sort of' surprise is how much Bowie was influenced by American Black music.   Of course one hears it on "Young American," but for some weird reason, I never thought about it regarding the "Station to Station" album.
There is a strong funk element to these songs.  I have always thought that the material was 'rock,' as the foundation that has 'funk' or 'soul' touches, but I was totally wrong.  "Station to Station," the album, is very much a soul/funk work with rock touches.  'Word on a Wing" is a classic soul ballad, and of course "Stay" is a funk workout with these incredible textures mixed in with the overall sound.  The live recording of this album is very different from the studio versions.  The band here is fantastic.  

Carlos Alomar on rhythm guitar, Stacy Heydon on lead, George Murray on bass, Tony Kaye (one prog rock guy) on keyboards and the great Dennis Davis on drums.  They are not credited on the album sleeve, although Bowie acknowledges them on the disc/concert.   A good purchase for one's Bowie collection. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

V.A. - "Electronic Music IV" (Turnabout) Vinyl, LP, U.S., 1968

I have been exposed to Electonic music for my entire life.  It was about two years ago that I started to seriously purchase 'electronic' works from the 1950s and 1960s on vinyl.  On my journey of record buying and music listening, I discovered a name, Vladimir Ussachevsky who consistently turns up incredible music.  Along with Milton Babbitt and George Balch Wilson, all three were judges in a contest devoted to electronic music.  This album "Electronic Music IV" is the results of that competition.  Five winners.

The winner is Olly W. Wilson, a composer I know nothing about, except that he's African American, and known for establishing the TIMARA (Technology in Music and Related Arts) at Oberlin Conservatory, the first program devoted to electronic arts.  His winning piece "Cetus" (1967) opens the album, and it's a beauty.  Pure electric sine wave which slowly evolves into something dramatic. 

William Hellermann's "Ariel (1967) is a work that is a live performance, not a composition.  The source of the sound was a gong, and after that, it is anyone's guess.  This piece was realized in the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, which is where the great Ussachevsky made his recordings.   To me, this is the Sun Records of Electronic Music.

"Dixi" (1967) composed by Eugeniusz Rudnik is a highly textural work in electronics.   Recorded in Poland, it's an intense listening experience.  The tone changes and I found the music to be very visual.  Not all music is visual to me, in fact, this album is mostly an aural experience - but this particular cut has an additional flavor to it.  Outside of Poland, he seems to be an obscure music figure.  He just passed away last year.  For sure, I'm going to hunt for his music. 

Pril Smiley, a great name, and the only female composer/performer here on this album have a composition "Eclipse" (1967) that is also recorded at Sun Records, I mean at Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center.  85% is electronic sounds, but she added pre-recorded percussion to the mix as well.  Moody and very efficient work.  

Bohdan Mazurek, another Polish composer, has "Bozzetti" (1967) is another artist here where I want to check his other works.  This music is four pieces, and of them has a violin that is almost shocking to hear in the context of electronic music.  I like the mixture of real instruments and electronic effects.  One of the reasons why I really love Ussachesky is his ability to use instruments with the dials and switches.  The tension between wooden or metal instruments with the electric is a fabulous cocktail to me.  "Bozzetti" is mostly if not all electric, except for that violin and I think voices. 

Jozef Malovec from Czechoslovakia ends the album with his "Orthogenesis" (1966-1967) is pure hardcore electronic and the tape machine.  The purity of the two is another version of a classic cocktail.  A splendid album.  A good one for my collection. 

V.A. - "Oh! You Pretty Things - The Songs of David Bowie" CD, UK, (Castle Music) 2006

A well-thought out curated CD of music written by David Bowie, but performed by other artists.  Some directly under his influence or hand, and others dependably from the Glam King.   It's a great mixture of time periods of Bowie's music career being represented in this collection.  There is a focus on the early pre-glam, pre-fame Bowie, with songs like "Over The Wall We Go" by Oscar and The Beatstlakers' Silver Tree Top School For Boys" for example.   The only weird choice here is Lou Reed's "Wagon Wheel" which is a song produced by Bowie, but not written by Bowie, but by Lou.  I have to presume that the record company wanted a Lou recording on this compilation CD, but with respect to the theme of the album, it shouldn't be here. 

The picture you get from this collection is Bowie as a working songwriter in the mode of a Brills Buiding artist who presents songs to other artists.  So these are songs that Bowie wanted to be recorded or in high hopes of being huge or medium sized hits - but alas, that didn't happen.  The big surprise here is "Man Who Sold The World" performed by John Couger Mellencamp.  I never heard or realized that this recording existed before purchasing this CD.   On a listenable plane, this is a wonderful collection of music. It's another way of hearing Bowie, but the focus on him as a songwriter.  I personally like all the recordings on this CD.  It represents the Bowie magic quite well. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Kinks - "Till Death Do Us Part"/"People Take Pictures Of Each Other"/"This Is Where I Belong"/"Do You Remember Walter?" Vinyl 7" EP, 2016 (Sanctuary Records)

Throughout the 1960s The Kinks had a series of perfect moments.  This EP release is perhaps my favorite moment in the Kinks' world.  Two of the songs are from the great "Village Green Preservation Society" album, one from "Something Else" and the other, or title tune is for a soundtrack TV show.  Limited edition of 2500 was made, and I'm one of that number that has this in their collection.

I never heard "Till Death Do Us Part" and it's a fantastic piece of music.  It's classic Ray Davies stating he's only him, and not better or even good.  In the years 1964 thru 69, they could do no wrong.  I don't know if there was something in his diet, or what sounds to me on the verge of an emotional breakdown, but Davies proved to be the best of the greats.  In my young life as a pop lover, Ray was the first pop star who had a questionable sexuality that I couldn't put my finger on.  But what I hear from him and the band was something personal, and I never had that experience with pop before the Kinks. 

The other three cuts on this EP are classics, but probably only known to those who drank the liquid that is The Kinks.  "Do You Remember Walter?"  is my favorite cut from "Village Green," and again, it has an intimate aspect to it.  The singer to the other character, or is that character the audience?  It is probably one of the most moving songs I have ever heard. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Françoise Hardy - "C'est a l'amour auquel je pense"/"Ca a Rate"/Le Temps de L'Amour"/J'ai jeté mon coeur" (Disques Vogue) EP, 7" 45RPM, 1962

Is there a more perfect recording than "Le Temps de l'Amour?"   I suspect the hand of Jacques Dutronc is part of the songwriting, but it's the Hardy magic that makes it work.  Her iconic coolness slips off the vinyl and she is a unique artist in the French pop music world.  Since I don't understand the French language, her approach to her singing is a mystery to me.  The four song EP is a perfect format, and I'm sorry that it doesn't really exist anymore as an art form for recording artists.  The French seemed to have a thing for that format in the early 1960s.  Hardy had released a lot of her great material as an EP, and it's like a brief time with a great lover.

"Le Temps de l'Amour" and the three other songs on this EP are exceptional.  It's like a well-balanced meal and I'm fully satisfied as a listener.  The orchestration behind her is just guitar, percussion and perhaps an electric bass - it's very simple sound, but it's all there to support her voice. French pop music of this time, like France Gall, is an aural sculpture to me.  I feel I can walk through the sounds and look at it from a distance. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Bryan Ferry - "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes"/"Another Time, Another Place" (Island) 45 rpm 7" single, 1974

I bought this single in 1974, sold or lost it through the ages, and recently purchased again, in Tokyo.  1974, and especially anything dealing with Island Records, was an exciting time for a record fan or listener.   I discovered Sparks that year, and that is a gift that keeps on giving.  Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music is another cultural importance for me.  Ferry went on to have this duo-career of being the head thinker for Roxy Music while doing solo recordings.  I don't fully understand his need to do solo work, where he clearly wrote or co-wrote all the Roxy Music songs.  If he strictly just did covers, I can understand that for being a solo artist, but the fact he started to add original songs under "Bryan Ferry" is a mystery to me.   

"Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" is a classic American pop tune from the early 1930s.  Depression era, and to Ferry a romantic time.   At this time, Ferry was mining the past, but he was making it into a Roxy re-make, where it seems at times he wrote the song himself.  It's love, but a love that is damaged and leaves the after-effects of smoke after the burning heart.  It's a beautiful bitter-sweet melody with lyrics that sting.  A perfect cocktail for someone like Bryan Ferry.

The b-side is a great Ferry composition "Another Time, Another Place."  Why this wasn't recorded for Roxy Music is a mystery.  It's a hypnotic piece of aural delight.  The importance of sound to take one to another place - that is basically the motif of the Bryan Ferry method of making art. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Honeycombs - "All Systems GO!" CD, Mono, Japan (Parlophone) WPCR-16842 (Recorded in 1965, CD 2015)

First of all, ignore this cover.  This is from an early CD release.  The one I have is Japanese and it has 11 bonus tracks.  Re-released in 2015 and remastered at that time in Japan as well.  So, a classy package of the second Honeycombs album, produced by the legendary and great Joe Meek. 

The first album by the Honeycombs (same title as their name) is a masterpiece.   All the songs were written by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, who worked as a team and sometimes known as "Howard Blaikley."   The essence of The Honeycombs is Denny D'ell's vocals, which has traces of vintage Gene Pitney, but very much his own voice that conveys emotional breakdown and disappointed.  A British soul voice that doesn't adopt from the Black American, but from a crooner's fate in its own hell-hole.   Their drummer Honey Lantree, who besides being a female drummer (unique at that time in the early 60s) is also a good vocalist as well, when she takes a solo vocal time-to-time, and third, and perhaps most important is the contribution by the record producer, Joe Meek.

Listening to a Honeycombs recording from the early 60s is very much like listening to a band produced by Brian Eno in the 1970s.   Meek takes all the aural ingredients from the band and transforms the sound into something compressed and highly electronic.  The vocalist echo effect traces back to the croon via Phil Spector, but Meek makes it totally unique and of course, the sound is from outer space.  There is also the weird electronic keyboard that comes through their recordings which I believe is a Clavioline or Univox.

After the success of The Honeycombs' first single "Have I The Right," they pretty much toured the world, so the second album I imagine is what is left over from the first or material put together quite quickly.  "All Systems GO!" sounds very much like a second album.   Still, a fantastic album, that is not a masterpiece like the first, but it does show a band with a future (which, didn't happen).   One of the great beauty tracks on the album is "Emptiness" a song written by The Kinks' Ray Davies.   A beautiful song that is totally classic Ray.   There are classic performances here.  "Something I Got To Tell You" is a Honey lead vocal, and she is the classic British pop girl singer.  Why she didn't make recordings under her own name is a mystery of sorts, but nevertheless her work as a percussionist/drummer as well as occasional lead vocalist and back-up is always superb. 

"I Can't Stop" is a classic Honeycombs single.  It should have been a mega-hit, but alas, it didn't happen. There are five solo Joe Meek compositions on the album, and all are either great, or of interest.  Meek's work as a songwriter always has a yearning for a better romance or life - it's moving when you know his actual life and what he went through.   For me, I feel The Honeycombs was a perfect vehicle for Meek to do his magic.   The band itself is great, with a wonderful guitarist in Alan Ward, but even the throwaway b-sides that are on this album is enticing as well.   A great find for me in Japan. I bought this CD at Pet Sounds in Meguro Tokyo. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Manfred Mann - "Instrumental Assassination" (Fontana) vinyl 7", 45 rpm, EP 1966

This 45 rpm EP can be seen either as a goof, or an exploration from Manfred Mann (the band) into the shadowy world of jazz, pop and arrangement.   Recorded in 1966, Manfred Mann was between lead singers when they recorded this fantastic music.   Although it is an instrumental release, there are 'vocals' on it - not clear whose voice it is, but it could be Mann (organ and piano) or Mike Hugg (drums and vibraphone).   Mann/Hugg stand out, but also the double bass playing by Dave Richmond is incredible throughout and is very much the instrument that really hooks the listener to the grooves. Beatle friend Klaus Voormann contributed recorder as well.

Manfred Mann, the band, does mostly covers or use material from other songwriters.  They have written songs, but I think their genius is in the arrangements.  Their original singer Paul Jones is one of the great British vocalists from that era, so it must have been an odd moment for them to be without a vocalist and an iconic on top of that.  Here without Jones, they cover the great RnB song "Sonny," as well as two Troggs tunes.   Their arrangement of "Sonny" I think is better than the original recording.  That I know is something that I can be shot on the spot for, but the way they play with the melody and the instrumentation is a perfect mood cocktail.  There are touches of The Modern Jazz Quartet, especially on the Mod side of the street.  I have been looking for this EP for awhile now, and I found it at HMV in Tokyo.  A great find and an amazing EP.