Tuesday, July 31, 2007

To the Throne of Chaos Where the Thin Flutes Pipe Mindlessly (1975)

"It's Just Your Mind" This third of a 1994 Thurston Moore-sponsored box set of studio and otherwise scrapings from Destroy All Monsters is the one I can come closest to saying I "enjoy." Pre-Ron Asheton and enhanced musicality in the band's history were these children playing with their toys with the tape recorder running. Some of it, for example the above-mentioned track clocking in at 0:36, seems to be from a microphone pointed at a TV set. "Boots" is a cover of the Nancy Sinatra hit with a guitar break guaranteed to rip every face in the house off its head. Free jazz jams with wailing saxophones and feedback. Improvised percussion and sound effects. A lot of echo and reverb, clumsy double trackings. Kids giggling and goofing around. Home tape recordings from a tube reel-to-reel, I presume. I don't know exactly what makes this so unnervingly creepy. But a cold patch you can't ignore will pass across you even if you just play it quietly as background. Especially if you just play it quietly as background. I think they mean it with that title.

Monday, July 30, 2007

What Up, Dog? (1988)

I have a soft spot for the Was brothers and am really fond of their admittedly spotty releases. I think of them as the Steely Dan of another era , all studio sheen and deceptively laidback, perfectly professional funk shtick. Maybe it's the oddly mimicked "real" name of Don Fagenson. But what I like best are the choice pop gems and the way they can turn them out over and over again. They surprise me a lot. This one produced their biggest hits in "Walk the Dinosaur" and "Spy in the House of Love" but I don't think they're the best things here by a ways. I count at least four stone winners way in front of them: "Somewhere in America There's a Street Named After My Dad," "Love Can Be Bad Luck," "Anything Can Happen," and "Anytime Lisa." "Dad I’m in Jail" is just for the laughs, but it hurts too, doesn't it? P.S. I love the way "Out Come the Freaks" makes a cameo on most of their albums.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

If I Should Fall From Grace With God (1988)

From Shane MacGowan's croaking essays just at hitting the note to all the painfully trendy problems of presenting as an "Irish punk" outfit in the late '80s, about the only thing the Pogues arguably had going for them was a canny strategy of setting expectations low. Maybe that's why this hits with a wallop that can send you sprawling. No trick is missed: the title track briskly sets forth the terms and rocks good and hard while they're at it; "Metropolis" is an instrumental that puts James Bond in the drunk tank; "Thousands Are Sailing" genuinely stirring; and "Worms" the perfect note of nihilism on which to end. The turn by the much missed Kirsty MacColl on "Fairytale" is a nice touch, but it's MacGowan that sets the waterworks in motion and makes you want to bawl. Corny, sure – but still, you're crying. He has all of that ability and a lot more and it's all here.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Too Much Sleep (1989)

Another brief and intense infatuation, revisiting this now after so much time I suppose I have to concede that Bongwater is a bit of an acquired taste. Pairing a wannabe downtown NYC artiste (Kramer of Shimmy Disc) with a wannabe movie star (you would likely recognize Ann Magnuson's face, if not her name) produced a strange, messy, oddly alluring, often caustically hilarious studio-bound performance art act. It actually worked. I think most aficionados preferred the earlier, more ambitious Double Bummer, while the last of their four albums, The Power of Pussy, may be their best known, such as it is. But I like this one best. Everything about it plain sneaks up on you and so, loath as I am to pass along such advice (even more to get it), I suggest listening to this a few times before giving up on it. What may sound at first disorganized, meandering, sketchy, or pointlessly self-indulgent comes to cohere in impressive, even amazing ways.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970)

Perhaps best known for its cover art, in which Neon Park takes Roy Lichtenstein to the woodshed and then some, this one comes from the heart of Frank Zappa's pastiche-and-go period. Though arguably spotty, the memorable moments arrive fast and furious, whether it's Little Richard made bombastic by way of Sugarcane Harris's monster electric violin on "Directly From My Heart to You"; or one of Zappa's best and oft-used tunes here made into the sweetly sarcastic mockery of "Oh No"; or the lovely and beguiling wah-wah permutations of his guitar turn on "The Orange County Lumber Truck." The title song? Two minutes of blistering white noise. Sing along: "Rzzzzz!"

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Heat Warps

Visit The Heat Warps
Here's one that falls on the short list of any best of the best music blogs dedicated to the era of approximately 1968-1973. Owned and operated by JR Heatwarp – who bears an uncanny resemblance to Burt Reynolds – the focus is on the rare, out-of-print, and/or bootleg. Some artists whose treasures you can find here: Dennis Wilson, Link Wray, Sun Ra, Harry Nilsson, Miles Davis, Captain Beefheart, Van Dyke Parks, Dion, and Neil Young. In a word, essential. Full albums available indefinitely. Archives worth browsing.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Adventure (1978)

There was a time when I was willing to argue that this second outing from Television was even better than the first, although I don't think so any more. But, if you have to stop and think about it even for a second, you know that makes this good. The edges and burrs are rubbed down to dreamy, floating textures that I'm convinced are closer to where Tom Verlaine intended his music to go – certainly it's closer to most of his solo work. Where Marquee Moon is a product of a band honing the songs and the jams in live venues, this is more fruit of the studio and songwriter Verlaine. The visceral immediacy of that classic first may be severely diminished, but what remains is gentle and lapping and eternal, like waves pounding rock into sand on a shore: a product of the times of gods, ethereal, immortal, chameleon, with the sweetest inflections. No time is ever the wrong time to hear this.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Make It Funky: The Big Payback (1971-1975)

"Stoned to the Bone" James Brown started his funk strong in the '50s, scaled it to heights thentofore unknown in the '60s, and continued strong into the '70s. The latter is nicely documented on this baker's two dozen package. The jams are not only longer, they're more nuanced and textured, and the rhythms never get out of your body or head. Transfixing and transcendent. Funkerrific. Some of the greatest music of all time. The privilege is entirely yours.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Weld (1991)

Yeah yeah, the tour was basically a reprisal of the Neil Young/Crazy Horse Rust Never Sleeps tour, down to the oversized amplifier stage design. Twelve years later is a long time to be doing the same thing, but when you consider the careening of Neil Young's career between, the times at hand and the war of the moment, and the brilliant addition of a cover of "Blowin' in the Wind" to the repertoire – I mean, it was like they were literally blowin' in the wind as they performed the song. Oh, that was giant fans they were using? Anyway, what really works here is the unabashed appreciation for the sonics of rock 'n' roll as it emerges from the crucible. In fact, I think it was because the exuberant, prolonged turns toward feedback of those shows sounded so good that a 35-minute selection of them was compiled for a throwaway disk, called Arc, included in original releases of this set. Didn't quite work isolated that way, but somebody's heart was in the right place.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Soldier (1980)

Fairly called the first Iggy album only a fan could love – I think Kill City is the better candidate there – you could do a lot worse than this one (and may well have – think of all the choices). On an entirely different tip, anything you or I eat that goes into a bowl might fairly be called "dog food for humans," which to my mind is cereal and milk or casserole. I don't count soup. These are the kinds of conversations people have. I made the connection one night several decades ago with the above-mentioned song playing as I ate a bowl of Kraft macaroni and cheese with hot dogs cut up into it. What followed was not pretty, but I have not eaten any such fare even once since. The life lessons come from the strangest places.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

we are the brainwashers

Visit we are the brainwashers
As basically an ignoramus on just about anything after maybe 1994? I rely on the candle-specks of light I get from music blogs like this, where I have found such semi/demi-recent shots in the dark as Beulah, Yoko; Band of Horses, Everything All the Time; Antony & the Johnsons, I Am a Bird Now; and Cat Power, The Greatest. Evaluations pending. YMMV. Full albums available indefinitely. Archives worth browsing. (Apologies for outdated banner detail.)

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Submarine Bells (1990)

My brief and intense infatuation with this glittering collection of Chills songs coincided with the onset of the first Iraq War and also, as it happens, initiated me to the CD format, which until then I had resisted. I had to listen to this one every day for several weeks; that's what the pleasure brought me to. From North America, New Zealand is so far away that it might as well be another fantasy planet, a place where all problems are solved and joy reigns supreme. Actually, I know better than that (as does principal songwriter Martin Phillips). But the brilliantly fresh sound of this album and its pop concoctions can often seem undimmed by the events of human history, large and small – even when the stories they contain belie at least the latter. The melancholy remains resolutely sweet.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bandwagonesque (1991)

If Teenage Fanclub is a Big Star sound-alike, they have also taken pains to update the sound for the era of the loud and crunchy and they make noise like you-know-who never did (dare we say, "could"?). Point is, if anything this band looks more forward to Oasis than back at anything, constructing a slightly dust-obscured furious din of fray over and through which piercingly aching guitar and lilting vocal lines float and dart. Even harmonies. It's all very lovely and deliberate, and not a note or shriek of feedback is misplaced. Plus you can hum along with most of the songs – that's what makes it power pop, after all.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Stuff (1985)

Alex Chilton's EP Feudalist Tarts is a subset of this package, which also includes another EP, a single side or three, and various bonus tracks. Following Chilton's move to New Orleans in the early '80s, Feudalist Tarts marks a wonderful retreat to his Memphis instincts. I don't think any of the releases in this compilation, or even the compilation itself alas, did so well commercially, but then neither did Pleased to Meet Me and this is the real thing. Chilton gives Carla Thomas a run for her money on the pouty cover of "B-A-B-Y," has some fun acting all slick on Slim Harpo's "Tee Ni Nee Noo / Tip On In," and brings a breathtaking degree of sardonic, venomous contempt to Willie Tee's "Thank You John." Knocks it right out of the park, in fact. Like I said before, I appreciate Alex Chilton most the closer he gets to Memphis. Moving to New Orleans was good for him, if this set is any indication.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

I Am the Cosmos (1974)

When Rykodisc brought out this solo Chris Bell album in 1992, there was cognitive dissonance. Bell was a member in good standing of Big Star on the band's first album, more of a ghost member on their second, and gone for Third. But with this album the relative contributions of Bell and Alex Chilton, or the way we understood them anyway, perhaps required some revision. The songs here are gorgeous, soaring, painful, introspective, melodic, depressing, and always, always deeply felt. Not, perhaps, to the levels of Third. But they sound enough just like the Big Star we know and love to alter the way things seem. It's not just Chilton holding the keys to this kingdom. I mean, talk about recovering lost masterpieces. This is brilliant stuff.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Third/Sister Lovers (1975)

Big Star's more or less last album traces a tortured history—many covers, many release dates, many tracking sequences, many names—which I suppose is "ironically on point" for an album whose music traces a tortured history of relationships gone foul and all life bitter and meaningless. Ptooey on your good times, etc. I have to laugh about it because otherwise I'm crying, etc. When you can sing along word for word with "Nightime" (please, accept no other spellings) and hit all the notes, you have just gained a level in despair. Congratulations. Music this dark and so honestly acknowledging of pain is paradoxically a joy to hear, albeit perhaps a cathartic joy. It's Big Star's best, I think. Don't miss the Christmas carol, "Jesus Christ," or the cover of "Femme Fatale." Winners.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Letter/Neon Rainbow (1967)

"Neon Rainbow" An album like this is not supposed to sound as good as this one does. Named slash-wise for not one but two Box Tops hits, and otherwise filled with covers of the day: "Trains and Boats and Planes," "Whiter Shade of Pale," "I'm Your Puppet," and like that. That's not fair because there are a few more original songs here (thanks mostly to Wayne Carson, also the author of "Always On My Mind"), but you see my point. It's doing business in the Herman's Hermits fashion, the albums purely afterthought to hit singles. Oh, and by the way, that's really Alex Chilton on lead vocals, and he really is 16 at the time this was recorded. "The Letter" was the big hit but "Neon Rainbow" was the better song. Not only does it sound more like the voice of the Alex Chilton we came to know, it's more his sensibility too: the wide-eyed kid and the dirty, thrilling city at night. The key to Alex Chilton, always, is understanding how everything there always comes back to Memphis. And on this Box Tops debut he gets his share of gems to work, and he acquits himself well. A promising debut, you might say, with little indication where it would ultimately go.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Visit Lost-in-Tyme
Warning: Anyone considering a visit to the Lost-In-Tyme suite of music blogs should ensure they have adequate hard disk space before venturing. With some 30 or so contributors across four blogs the updates come fast and furious, and a fair share are necessities. You can't say you weren't warned. Full albums available indefinitely. Archives worth browsing.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Moondance (1970)

This is what comes of return to home and recovery from trauma: Joy, and the lessons of faith. This is not only the best Van Morrison album, it's one of the best ever. Ev-AR. And I say that as someone principally concerned only with the first five songs (or the first vinyl side... the second side is good too). Every second of them is utterly and completely lived and inhabited and felt and communicated. You know the water let it run all over me. You know it's a marvelous night. You know she give him love love love. You know turn it up. Radio. Turn it up. Little bit higher. He turns his top 40 tricks spectacularly on the title song. The radio stations overplayed it, but I never got tired of it. "Crazy Love" – kinda corny, but if this is the weak song we should all have such weaknesses. Words completely fail "Caravan" and "Into the Mystic," but you keep time with them in the center of your soul. I insist that this is the tail end of a trilogy that turned out amazingly well.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

L.A. Woman (1971)

Between a bubblegum knock derived from "Light My Fire" (or more likely "Hello I Love You") and the alleged presentation by Jim Morrison of his dick to a Miami audience, it's easy to forget that the two best Doors album were their last, when they had already officially failed and humiliated themselves and slunk away to lick wounds. This one, the very last, was released only a few months before Morrison died. It's as loose and freewheeling as anything they ever did, with plenty of small and happy discoveries along the way, and it sounds good loud too. Sure, we all got as tired of "Riders on the Storm" as we did of "Stairway to Heaven" and "Maggie May." That's a no-brainer. But who could have guessed how well "The WASP" would stand up over the years against the Gun Club and various assorted psychobillies?

Brian Auger's Oblivion Express (1971)

Another big fave from high school era this somehow ended up being the one and only Brian Auger album I ever cared for. Not even sure it's really his debut, though maybe so for the band. The artist he reminds me most of nowadays is Todd Rundgren playing with Utopia, post-Bitches Brew fusion with a decidedly pop flavor and little of the steaming atmospherics of Miles or the Soft Machine, instead erring on the side of martial and tidy. Kept his tempos nimble and quick. Played a reedy Hammond that nicely provided a variety of moods and layers of sound and dimension. Went to the right elements: Weird time signature, check. Cover of John McLaughlin, check. Majority stake in future members of Average White Band, check. What do you do? Rock it.