Tag Archives: 1980s

[172] Emmanuel Chabrier – Le Roi Malgre Lui

3 Sep

This could go a couple of different ways. I’m sick as a dog as I press play on this French Opera – will the cold meds enhance what I’m hearing, or is it all going to be too much effort?

[Note. This blog was written months ago, before the world paused. I’m fine today]

Once again, here is a recording that I can’t successfully listen to without constantly fiddling with the volume – it’s either too quiet to make anything out, or far too loud. I think that I might be enjoying the crisp orchestration and the clarity of the solo voices, but the chorus (at least through my generic speakers) sounds mushy and the quieter passages fade into inaudibility.

Which is a shame because the tunes that do peek through are lively and engaging, demanding proper attention. And it is the energy which continues to be the most noticeable quality of this recording as it plays and plays. I find that, although I do not know the particular words and melodies, there is a familiarity about the whole which is comfortable and comforting. Listening to an opera without following – or even attempting to follow – the plot is perhaps not fair to the music in question, but in this case I catch myself admiring passages, moments, without a clue or a care as to what they’re all making such a fuss about.

In all, everything I hear makes me want to pay attention more than I am, to lend all of my faculties to the structure and technique on display, not just the passing glance that at times is the lot of an unknown recording. A good sign for the longevity, for the likelihood of a recommendation.

The longer I listen, the longer I am struck by a thought. Is this so familiar, so agreeable, because this is the light operatic style that my first theatrical loves, Gilbert and Sullivan, were aping in English in the 1800s?

In the end this is an odd one. It is not inspiring me to run out and discover more Chabriet. It is not even certain that I will ever listen to “Le Roi Malgre Lui” again. Yet I have spent a number of pleasant hours in the company of these sounds, and I cannot say that it was time wasted.

I could ask more of the music I give my time to, but I have on occasion certainly also received less.

Next Week: Manu Chao – Clandestino

Owned before blogging? No (14 of 172 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No (23 of 172 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes (144 of 172 = 84%)

[152] David Byrne and Brian Eno – My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts

11 Mar

“It’s got a beat, and you can dance to it.”

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Names I know, a sound balanced somewhere between those I tend not to seek out and those I have actively studied, this experimental mix of found sounds and sampled beats is a wild mix of hit and miss, of cerebral and base.

Byrne and Eno had both already shown an ear for a cutting edge tune – separately and in collaboration – before this 1981 release, and it is that understanding of how listeners respond to rhythm and repetition which combines here to meld the weird and unexpected parts of each track into a coherent whole.

Beyond the looped guitar stabs and snippets of talk radio hosts and callers, sermonizers and exorcists, the pair also sample Middle Eastern vocals and African beats.  I don’t think Rock, certainly not Pop, and not even World when I’m listening to this sprawling and complex recording, but I do think long and hard about the sounds that are playing.

I think it is entirely possible that I don’t actually *like* this.  That does not stop me spending an engrossing week exploring and experiencing it, enough so that I have no problem recommending it.  I hear the experimentation, the craft, the artists’ choices.  I also hear the influence it had on the next decade plus of popular music, even if I did not always enjoy the sounds so influenced.

Would I rather hear “Psycho Killer” or “Once In A Lifetime”?  Absolutely.  (And I will, 18 letters down the line.)  In the meantime, I fall back on my longtime answer to the question, “What kind of music do you listen to?”

I listen to anything that took real passion and talent to compose and perform.  Also late-80s, early-90s Rock which I acknowledge at times took neither . . .

Next Week: Cafe Tacvba – Cuatro Caminos

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 152 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 152 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (127 of 152 = 84%)

[145] The Bulgarian Women’s National Radio and Television Chorus – Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares

22 Jan

Here is a masterclass in harmony.

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This traditional choir singing modern arrangements of ancient Bulgarian Folk songs provide harmonies as far as the ear can hear – some familiar, some quite unexpected, but all beautiful and unforgettable.

Unlike the Gregorian Chants which were supposed to sooth but ultimately infuriated several months ago, these sounds are meant to entrance and engage and achieve this with a simplicity which is astonishing.

Here is a wall of sound, just a surely as any Phil Spector recording.  It fills a room, fills your head, removes any other distractions, demanding attention.

Rationally, I am aware that there are at least some instruments playing here, accompanying the vocalists.  But in my heart and in my imagination this is an a capella experience, many women holding and wavering notes in fascinating combinations until even the occasional discord is gorgeous.

Once more, Tom Moon has effortlessly and pleasingly expanded my range and scopr of musical knowledge, reminding me how much I di not know, how enjoyable finding out can be.

Next Week: Solomon Burke – Don’t Give Up On Me

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 145 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 145 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (120 of 145 = 83%)

[143] Buckwheat Zydeco – Buckwheat’s Zydeco Party

8 Jan

The instrumentation and flavor of the Cajun southwest paired with the structure and musicality of classic blues makes for a fun and fiery ride.

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It is impossible to hear these sounds and not sway and tap, bob and weave.  It’s damn near impossible not to sing along even on first hearing of a song (each with its own “first line of the blues is always sung a second time” adherence).

The second time through the album, and I’m stuck with earworms for weeks!

The crazy whirl of sounds may be the first thing that a listener notices, but it is the melodies – simple, memorable, magical – which star throughout.  They are so immediately familiar that it is utterly disconcerting when the band flies into a genuine cover – a drum driven, high octane rendition of Tutti Frutti.  It is a shock to realize that everything else has been a new discovery, not in fact a long forgotten favorite.

Both band and music are feisty and energetic, party fare for a decidedly offbeat party.  But I have long thrown parties which, thanks to “Weird” Al Yankovic, included people dancing hard to the accordion, so perhaps the leap was not so great for me as it might be for others.

It is a leap I heartily recommend!

Next Week:  Buffalo Springfield – Retrospective

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 143 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 143 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (118 of 143 = 83%)

[131] Chuck Brown and The Soul Searchers – Any Other Way To Go?

9 Oct

A little bit of Soul, a splash of Hip Hop, a touch of syncopated Jazz, plus a healthy helping of Rhythm and Blues, this album is a whole lot of good times.

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Here is a weird and wonderful fusion of all kinds of sounds and traditions, constantly in motion (hence the designation Go-Go), hugely inventive and inevitably toe-tapping.  The vocals are decidedly non-traditional, but always engaging with some fun scats and warm sung tones whose melody at times appears heavily improvised.

There is an obvious 80s feel on display throughout this live recording, despite the classic era of many of the compositions.  Much of the drum work was surely soon co opted by those programming drum machines and the production has the slick and polished veneer that is so recognizable.

The multiple percussionists keep up the all-day groove that anchors this collection of diverse covers, allowing the guitars to noodle, the horns to stop by for a cup of coffee, the vocals to rap or croon as the mood strikes.  And mood is very much at the forefront here.

There are unique takes on a number of old chestnuts – from Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing”,  through  Sly’s “Family Affair” all the way to the Woody Woodpecker theme! – but the highlight for me is the hypnotic and unstoppable “Run Joe”.  It is worthy of  spot on the 1,000 all on its own.

I am glad to have been introduced to this fascinating sound – I have never heard anything quite like Go-Go.  It appears to have been well respected, but never quite commercially successful, which is a shame.

Better late than never . . .

Next Week:  Clifford Brown and Max Roach – Clifford Brown and Max Roach Quintet

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 131 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 131 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (107 of 131 = 82%)

[124] Johannes Brahms – The Four Symphonies

21 Aug

I listened to these pieces for 14 hours yesterday.

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And while I did at times notice moments of elegance and interest, at the end of the day the whole thing just washed over me unlike waves on a beach.

Yes, unlike – the beach is gradually changed by the water.  I was not.

Perhaps, once more, it is timing.  These large, abstract pieces fare poorly in comparison with the stunning and intimate piano and cello pieces just past.

Or perhaps it is just my mood.  Maybe I’m not feeling symphonies today, or at least not ones which I do not recognize.

And this is the final straw – this lack of recognition, the fact that after hearing each piece half a dozen times and more, I do not find myself humming passages, am not anticipating favorite moments as I did throughout the Beethoven Symphonies, both familiar and new to me.

In picking this Recording for the 1,000 Tom Moon praises the subtlety of the composition and performance.  I guess sometimes I don’t want subtlety.

Sometimes I just want to be hit in the head.

Next Week: Johannes Brahms – Violin Sonatas, Opp. 78, 100, 108

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 124 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 124 = 15%)
Recommend? No. (102 of 124 = 82%)

[114] Boogie Down Productions – By All Means Necessary

12 Jun

“When some get together and think of Rap
They tend to think of violence
But when they are challenged on some Rock groups
The result is always silence.”

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I don’t hate Rap, and in hindsight it seems I never did.

But perhaps more Rap music turns me off than not thanks to the perceived subject matter – too much of it glorifies a violence that I cannot relate to, one that is a little too grim, too real.

I understand that this may be a part of the appeal for fans of the genre.

The casual sexism, the profanity, the posing and posturing I could always get past, if I’m honest, when it was done with a wink and a smile.  The Rock that I regarded as my own was guilty of the same often enough.

But I never accepted the culture of gun worship which seemed to underscore so much of the Rap that found my ears.

It is with this background, and the understanding that this recording was inspired by the shooting death of BDP founder member, Scott La Rock, that I come to By All Means Necessary.

Here is the follow up to Criminal Minded, the 1987 album considered to be the herald of the Gangsta Rap wave soon to follow.  There is an irony here since – while both albums portray a grim, gun drenched reality of the South Bronx of the day – the intent was not the glorification of this culture as seen in later artists.

Songs like “Stop The Violence” and “Illegal Business” are frank and uncomfortable discussions of the balance of socio-economic power.

That said, even just a glance at the album covers makes it is easy to see where the less nuanced and responsible messages which followed might have taken their lead.

But what about the music?  That is, after all why I’m here.

It turns out these ten tracks are varied and innovative, full of long and flowing lyrical vocals over sparse yet complex beats and samples.  While I find them uneven, with some engaging me far more than others, each song is fascinating in its own right.

I even get used to intentionally flattened tones when singing rather than rapping.  This is especially noticeably on the repurposed song snippets such as in “Part Time Sucker” (riffing on Stevie Wonder’s “Part Time Lover”), but the phenomenon occurs throughout.

It is as if KRS-One is actively highlighting the importance of the intricate and at times rambling rap verses while undermining the traditional conventions of the sung chorus.

It is strange to spend so much time listening to an album so steeped in a genre which I have actively avoided for decades, but yet again, stepping outside of my comfort zone has proved to be its own reward.

The difficult questions of political and musical revolutions which BDP leave me with are fair exchange for my dismissing this sound out of hand for so long.

Next Week:  Booker T. and the MGs – Melting Pot

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 114 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (17 of 114 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (94 of 114 = 82%)

 

[106] Paul Bley – Fragments

17 Apr

Described by various reviewers as “cold” or even “frigid”, Fragments is a very different Jazz animal to much of what I’ve discovered to date in the 1,000.

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The best moniker I have come accross to explain what it is I’m listening to here is “Chamber Jazz”.  Here is music for an audience, serious music to be examined and appreciated, to be enjoyed intellectually rather than intuitively.

Once I recognize this, there is much to enjoy in these reflective, measured compositions.

Bley apparently ascribes to the truism that the only thing that practice makes you better at is practicing, so these recordings are apparently hugely improvised, although planned and discussed at great length before instruments were ever picked up and tapes set to roll.

The result is an intriguing mix of structure and spontenaity, of unexpected chords being presented, then deconstructed by piano, guitar and sax in fascinating ways.

This is in no way background music, not something that will pleasantly set a mood over food or drinks.  It demands attention and is quite unlike anything I have heard before.

The closest analog would perhaps be the Minimalist works of Reich and Glass that I devoured at University, but Bley and company are somehow more tonal – more musical – than those experimental works.

Fragments at once welcomes you into an embrace while inviting you to keep a respectful distance.

The one exception is the vigorous and almost Rock-like “Line Down”.  Guitar develops some distortion and the drums drive the piece forward, but still without ever being the instrument to kep the beat.  Here, I can all but smell the smoke, taste the bourbon.

Here is the Free Jazz (in every definition of the word “free” you care to choose) which I have been exploring and enjoying – indeed, enjoying exploring.

It just goes to show the huge range of styles and philosophies which begin to make up the four little letters that spell JAZZ.

This may not be my favorite style – I find the Hard Bop of Blakey and the Free Jazz of Threadgill more actively enjoyable – but there is undoubtedly a time and place for listening to these carefully constructed, painstakingly unrehearsed fragments of Paul Bley.

Next Week:  The Blind Boys of Alabama – Spirit of the Century

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 106 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (16 of 106 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (87 of 106 = 82%)

[100] Black Flag – Damaged

6 Mar

I was never this angry as a teenager.

Black Flag fronted by Henry Rollins

Black Flag fronted by Henry Rollins

I love hard rock, heavy metal, rock ‘n’ roll – whatever you want to call it.  I have always loved the sounds of a loud guitar or two, of pounding drums, and a growling / wailing / posturing vocalist.  I love the energy, the attitude, the release.

But I’ve often stepped away from the angrier end of the pool – when it comes to punk, I prefer the Ramones to the Sex Pistols.  Initially I couldn’t even understand why Axl Rose felt the need to curse all the time.

I’ve since learned that there are times and places where anger is appropriate, even required, but this was not where I lived in the 80s.  All of which probably explains why I’ve never sought out Black Flag before, and why the initial sonic attack takes me somewhat by surprise – I’m not immediately sure what the hell just happened.

The story behind Damaged is one of those “too unbelievable for Hollywood” moments, a young fan jumping onstage at a show and taking over the mic from the then-frontman.

The fan was Henry Rollins and, true or not, the story is punk rock history.

I quickly recognize the tradition behind these tunes, albeit played a little louder and faster than I’m used to.  And by the second time through the album I’m recognizing much more – specific melodies and choruses.

The effect is simpler, more primitive than the slick sounds I tend to default to, but the craft is still clearly on display – the simplicity is a case of choice rather than lack of talent.  It is intentionally raw and exposed, with no guile or deception, as is the mind driving it.

The discord is carefully, painstakingly rehearsed.

Eventually I can pick out some humor under the pain and anger, especially in the first few of the 15 short and punchy tracks.  But it is the disaffection, the alienation, the need for an outlet – healthy or otherwise – that comes through loud and clear here.

I never danced to Black Flag at The Hungry Years.  I don’t believe they were ever played in that happier, more tongue in cheek party time and place.  However, I can easily imagine rocking out to “Room 13” or “Rise Above” as a change of pace from Love/Hate and Bang Tango, Poison and Aerosmith.

Real pain and despair was not a part of the story in my formative years, so Damaged will never have the affect on me that it had on others, will never move me in the primal way the artists I connected with as a teen did and still do.

That is not to say that it does not have an affect today – there is something extremely honest and immediate here, and I am glad to explore it for a while, to dance around my living room blowing off some steam, realizing that this could have been a part of my narrative (and being thankful to my family and friends that it was not.)

I love that Black Flag is on the list, and that they follow Bizet and Bjork . . .

The scope and range of the music that we listen to every day remains endless, and I need to remember this when I complain about the latest talentless, auto tuned “celebrity”:  there was plenty of dreck and dross in the 1980s (and the 1870s, and the 1990s), but there were also moments – like Damaged, like Carmen and Homogenic – that will last forever.

Next Week:  Black Sabbath – Paranoid

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 100 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (15 of 100 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (82 of 100 = 82%)

 

Guest Blogger Marc Rentzer: Black Flag – Damaged

2 Mar

Marc “Spike” Rentzer has a musical palette as eclectic as my own, and a playing career far more illustrious.  Although we have only known each other for a few years, we have determined beyond a reasonable doubt that we were in the same loud sweaty rock venues for the same gigs a decade before our official first meeting. 

This week’s Recording is squarely in his wheelhouse . . .

—–

Black Flag’s Damaged, is a hardcore punk album from the 1980’s. It’s one of the most respected albums of the genre. No other band really sounds like Black Flag, because Greg Ginn, the founder, guitar player and main songwriter, has one of the most unique styles inside or outside of the genre. When he plays, it’s unmistakably him, period.

Very few guitar players are like that.

While it starts off with a very positive statement in “Rise Above”, the devastating ending on this album is like no other. What is the real message? Is it to “Rise Above”, or to wallow in torment and keep people away from seeing the real you?

Damaged is an album of anxiety, fear, anger, loneliness, hatred, mental illness and depression. It is about an inner life of agony. Mind you, the most popular songs on this album, “Rise Above”, “Spray Paint” and “TV Party” – have nothing to do with the rest of the album, thematically (or are perhaps tangentially connected.)

Compared to the most hellish track of inner torment, “Damaged 1”, which is the final track on side two, “TV Party” is like a joke. It’s a good song and it’s about the nothingness of an unexamined modern life, with people just drinking their lives away while watching other peoples fake lives on television. But it is one thing that “Damaged 1” is not:  accessible to more listeners.

“TV Party” is funny/dark like a weird carnival in a way. By contrast, “Damaged 1” lays bare a raw, damaged psyche, hurt and vulnerable – but dangerous.

Picture a wounded beast who has been deeply tortured, pacing in its cage, in horror.

When not pacing, it’s in a fetal ball, in the corner, moaning and licking it’s wounds.

Then you walk in: The beast jumps up, but stays in its corner, back to the wall. It bares it’s teeth at you and roars at you and reaches out to claw at your throat. Imagine it’s on a choke chain and you get to come as close as you dare – and watch the beast for as long as you dare.

Well, I did this for years, when I listened to this album. I listened by putting two speakers on the floor facing each other, only 3 feet apart. I laid down between them and listened to this album over and over again at full volume – to squeeze out every last bit of truth!

“Damaged 1” is the climax of the album. On the way there, we’ve got padded cells, depression, a life of pain, sitting there like a loaded gun waiting to go off, problems so huge that maybe an atom bomb is the best answer and a part of life so agonizing that the lyrics are  shouted and begged to “make me close my eyes!”

Let’s play a game. Here are some of their lyrics:

I want to live/I wish I was dead
If I don’t get out I’m gonna die
Its hard to survive. Don’t know if I can do it
I need help before it’s too late
Earths a padded cell, defanged and declawed
Put the gun to my head and I don’t pull. I’m confused.

Now – how do we solve a problem like that? When we experience awful, life shaping pain. The pain of betrayal. The pain of early life experiences that you know will effect you for the rest of your life.

One way to solve a problem like would be to create art and have a cathartic experience.

Playing in a heavy band – and I know this – can be perfect for that sort of thing. But, there is a danger. Reliving it over and over again and defining it on your terms can be healthy, but it is a second away from wallowing.

If it were only about a sculpture, or a painting, or the cover art of this album: a dark photograph of a man with a shaved head, punching the mirror, right where his face is, with the mirror shattered and blood pouring down the fist, which is still connected to the broken, shattered mirror – that photograph could be cathartic and could hang on a wall in a gallery and be discussed.

But when it’s the songs, which are played over and over by the band in rehearsal and on tour – it can go toward wallowing  – or at least spending time within a self created world of a lot of pain. While it is healthy to face our personal pain – to focus on it all the time and with such intensity will keep ones psyche in a challenging place…because of course, filling ones head with positive uplifting thoughts does a lot more to create a happy person.

Or….were they just able to compartmentalize the feelings they brought out in the songs from the rest of their happy lives? It’s possible, because Black Flag was one of the most positive examples around, in terms of DIY. They lived it. They created their own band, wrote their own songs, learned to play really well and to tap into and express feelings most artists could never do.

They created their own record label and signed many other bands. Greg Ginn is responsible for most of this and was certainly the visionary – but I’m told it was a team effort in many respect with members of the band working at the label, his brother doing the album and flyer art, etc…

They toured and were part of a network that created clubs where there were none [no club in your town? Rent out a VFW hall!], created their own magazines (usually mimeographed or photo-copied) and artwork (flyers, posters, etc..). So for all the focus on hellish agony – they moved forward with a vision of relentless DIY with a fanatical work ethic. Few bands toured or practiced as much as Black Flag.

Black Flag touched me like no other band and it was specifically this album, Damaged. I wanted to feel the pain. I wanted to get into Rollins’ head and see what was there because I knew I felt that way sometimes, but couldn’t tap into it or describe it so vividly.

More than any other album, it  made me feel so alive.

Black Flag’s primal scream was in the same frequency as my own. Before I knew what mine was I heard Damaged and I recognized my inner self and the unique wavelength I shared with the universe. But their screams were more evolved because they had taken matters into their own hands and were pushing the universe back, in that dark alley. They were conscious, like Neo and his team of rebels in The Matrix [A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers.] and of course, once you are awake, you can never go back to sleep.

It was my rush and my salvation to hear them shouting at me.

What is my “TV Party” which keeps me passive and unaware these days? What is my current representation of spray painting the walls, to subversively beautify what’s around me and to assert my identity and come alive as my true self? Who are the “jealous cowards” in my life who “try to control”? Are they external or internal demons? Do I “Rise Above”?

Have I?

When resistance is futile, as in the Black Flag song “Police Story” or when total freedom is elusive, to what extent do I make peace with “control”?

This is an album of existentialism and deep questions. How do I give my life meaning? How alive am I? How alive…and awake, do I want to be?

—–

Spike is a punk rock guitar player from New York. He played lead guitar in New York’s legendary Letch Patrol, strongly associated with the Tompkins Square Park Riot of 1988. He went on to join Iron Prostate and Furious George. He has played stages such as CBGB, the birthplace of Punk Rock, where The Ramones, Blondie and The Talking Heads took the world by storm in 1977 and was a member of the New York Hardcore scene in the 80’s. His bands have appeared in books (fiction, autobiography, encyclopedias), movies (documentaries, Hollywood productions) and television. 

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