Tag Archives: 2000s

[168] Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

25 Feb

I was extraordinarily excited at the opportunity to explore this album, completely ready to be blown away. A drummer-singer-songwriter in the country-indie-punk world? Where do I sign?

168 case

But the first play through was neither what I expected nor what I wanted. It all sounds so safe and bland – an engaging voice which speaks of a mind that has listened to a lot of Patsy Cline, over wandering guitars and drums.

Where is the fire? Where is the attitude? I tap along to “Margaret vs. Pauline”, then carry on with my day without noticing that the music has continued.

It is clear very quickly that I am going to need to take a listen to the lyrics to see what it is Moon is singling out here.

And while the lyrics are unusual and interesting, I find them disconnected from the music. It is all very pleasant (even the moments of unpleasantness) but again I’m left wondering why Moon chose Neko Case over Tori Amos in his 1,000?

It’s not the first time that the omission of one of my Top 10 albums – Little Earthquakes – is perhaps unfairly coloring my response to an apparently important and seminal female recording artist who came after Tori.

I would be surprised if it is the last, and for that I apologize.

So, before finally posting this entry, I give Fox Confessor . . . another spin, and it appears that the songs made a little more of an impression on first listen, since each track is now comfortable and somewhat familiar, if still lacking the hoped for fire.

I think this one might be on me rather than Moon – overlaying unrealistic expectations on top of an album that is one thing, and blaming it that it is not something else.

Next Time: Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison

Owned before blogging? No (12 of 168 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No (21 of 168 = 13%)
Recommend? No (140 of 168 = 83%)

[167] Cascabulho – Hunger Gives You A Headache

5 Feb

From the very first beat (if you will pardon the easy pun) it is the hectic and insistent percussion that drives everything else on this fascinating album. The irrepressible, unending drums fly along at a healthy clip dragging the vocals and strings into their time and space.  More than anchoring, they actual author the shape of the music.

167 cascabulho

Stylistically we discover a wonderful mix of unbridled joy and angry edge, a juxtaposition of traditional instrumental sounds with touches of modern recording techniques. When a hip hop beat momentarily kicks in my attention is immediately recaptured, recalibrating the whole, making me reconsider what I am listening to.

This is not folk music despite similarities in instrumentation, in some of the endless winding contra-melodies buoying the vocals. It is vibrant and topical and entirely of today’s zeitgeist.

It is quite an achievement.

The call and response quality in the vocals between lead and chorus is hypnotic, and always there are the drums. There’s even a damn solo at the outro of “Clementina De Jesus No Morro Da Conceicao”.

I challenge you to sit still while it plays. I certainly can’t.

I wonder what my coworkers think while this plays, filling the office with South American flair. How does it compare to my steady diet of Dan Reed Network, The Wildhearts, Queen, Billy Joel, my occasional forays into otherwise embarrassing 80s pop? Cascabulho sounds different, but affects me at least as much as my standard listening fare.

As I remember from previous foreign language selections, I find myself curious as to what the songs’ lyrics actually say, but in this case not enough to do anything about finding a translation. The tone is almost chatty, a neighbor shooting the breeze on a street corner – sharing gossip, complaining about prices, discussing the weather.

All in all, the sound makes me want to explore some of the other forro artists that inspired this amazing sound, starting with Jackson do Pandeiro, to whom . . . Hunger is dedicated. So I do, and once more I am unable to sit still as the fluid vocals flow over the dreamy percussion. The pedigree of Cascabulho is obvious, with even songs not directly covered having the recognizable DNA of these earlier recordings. It’s like finding a hidden track at the of an album, only to realize it’s a whole hidden album!

Discovery upon discovery – perhaps the entire goal of my exploring the 1,000.

Next Time: Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

Owned before blogging? No (12 of 167 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No (21 of 167 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes (140 of 167 = 84%)

[153] Cafe Tacvba – Cuatro Caminos

18 Mar

Take the fire of post-punk, throw in a good helping of 60s melody makers, a dollop of world beats and you will come close to the recipe for this wonderful sound.

cafe-tacuba-153-l

The range of influences is impressive, from obvious Clash riffs, through No Doubt ska-pop and Beatles harmonies, to the catchiest video game soundtracks.  It is modern without sounding like it will become dated, since it is so anchored in other established sounds.

I can imagine rocking out to these tunes at a club even today, can understand how Cafe Tacvba could engage a teen encountering them for the first time the way that Queen and Bon Jovi captured my young attention.  There is a fresh earnest energy that goes hand in hand with the polished songcraft which results in a potent final product.

It’s so poppy, so much fun, and it is only my chauvinism that makes me wish it was in English.  Imagine how much more I might enjoy this if I could genuinely sing along.  But still, it is easy to recommend such an eclectic and accomplished recording which is also so undeniably enjoyable.

Next Week:  Uri Caine – Urlicht/Primal Light

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 153 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 153 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (128 of 153 = 84%)

[150] William Byrd – Harpsichord Music

26 Feb

The harpsichord has such a distinctive sound, the proto-piano, at once ancient and refined.

byrd-william-150-l

The performance here is careful and calculated, every note given its proper time and space and consideration even when the fingers occasionally offer a trill or an allegro run.  Byrd’s compositions highlight the limitations of the instrument, and in doing so uncover a quite charming sound, the delicacy of the individual notes worked together into a solid and indestructible structure.

There is an architectural quality to the music – functional, even workmanlike, but also beautiful.

Here is music which does not disturb my co-workers, which I can play at my desk while I work, which nonetheless does not disappear entirely into the background.  It is such a specific sound, so melody driven yet dominated by the instrument itself, that whenever my ear does catch a moment, it is pleasing and intriguing in equal measure.

While not a sound I would have sought out, nor one I expect to revisit often, Harpsichord Music is a recording which in some ways reminds me again why I began this quite ludicrous undertaking, almost three years ago to the day.

It is an excuse, an opportunity to spend some time with an artist, a genre I would otherwise have passed by, enjoying it in the moment, expanding my palette, growing my experience.

Next Week:  The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 150 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 150 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (125 of 150 = 83%)

[148] R L Burnside – Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down

12 Feb

From the first, there is a tension between the ancient music and the modern recording techniques here – Burnside’s old-as-the-hills voice captured in stereo, high fidelity clarity.

burnside-r-l-148-l

The sound is of the turn of the most recent millennium, far more than merely the one man with a guitar aesthetic of another hundred years past.  While the songwriting is simple – classic even – the instrumentation is full of synthesizers and drum loops mingled with the expected guitar wails and harmonica bleats.  And while this might alienate purists, it surely opened wide the door to the Blues for a generation and an audience which might otherwise have dismissed it.

Some of the scratching – for example in the upbeat “Miss Maybelle” – would not have sounded out of place on an 80s Hip Hop record, yet Burnside’s deep, measured voice anchors the feel of the whole in a less fleeting, more enduring and endearing place.

And I can see “Got Messed Up” – a sleazy, grooving jam with lilting guitars and moaning horns over a mechanical backbeat- finding its way onto any number of morning after playlists.

I can get excited by the muddy slide guitar, the underwater vocals and just when it starts to sound like any other talented Blues ensemble, a modern sound intrudes, capturing attention, integrated just enough so as not to distract from the whole.

And if you’re going to cover “Chain Of Fools”, you better have something up your sleeve to avoid less than flattering comparisons to the definitive Aretha Franklin version.  Burnside’s disaffected, almost industrial take is completely unlike any I have heard before, a valiant exploration of this beloved standard.

Once more, Tom Moon is highlighting a sound I have never heard before, but it is different this time.  I have heard all of the component parts before – enjoyed some, endured others – but in combining them together, Burnside has created a new sound, almost familiar, almost alienating, entirely fascinating.

Next Week: Kate Bush – The Kick Inside

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 148 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 148 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (123 of 148 = 83%)

[146] Solomon Burke – Don’t Give Up On Me

29 Jan

It is not clear to me why I haven’t heard Solomon Burke before, but then it’s not clear why he wasn’t better known at the height of his powers in the 1960s.

burke-solomon-146-l

Tom Moon’s choice of his 2002 “comeback” album, Don’t Give Up On Me, is inspired.

The complex and textured voice is cast in the role of seen-it-all-done-it-all elder statesman, as he sings songs at times written especially for the project by some of the best singer-songwriters to follow in the footsteps of Burke and his Atlantic cohorts.

The pedigree is undeniable, both on and off the record.  Songs here are penned by Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Mann and Weill.  No surprise then that, once the interest in the tempo and tone of this old soul voice starts to lose its initial wonder, the songs themselves keep the listener hooked and rapt for spin after spin.

And, in one of the highlights of this disc foll of highlights, The Blind Boys of Alabama join Burke in going to church on the soulful and haunting “None Of Us Are Free”, finally bringing attention to a song which had disappeared despite releases by artists as varied as
Ray Charles and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Under and around and through it all, the polished session musicians build a sound that is consistently crisp and enveloping, crafting the net in which the gem that is Burke’s voice lays on display for all who care to hear.

While not a household name, and without a signature hit of the kind that his stablemates – Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett – could hang a career on, Solomon Burke is now firmly on my radar as a talent to explore, to seek out, to hear more of.

The album is well named . . .

Next Week: Burning Spear – Marcus Garvey

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 146 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 146 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (121 of 146 = 83%)

[128] Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

18 Sep

I have been watching a loving bands like Bright Eyes in small venues with even smaller crowds for years.

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

So I want to like this, I really do.  The small budget sound, the faux-acoustic indie rock is intimately familiar in a way that takes a while for me to recognize – I may never have seen Bright Eyes in person, but I saw many truly similar acts who never received the attention and acclaim of this new millennium sensation.

Bright Eyes seems to have been selected almost arbitrarily as a placeholder for a genre, for a generation.

And this in the end is one reason I can’t bring myself to recommend . . . Wide Awake – how can I when I could be using this platform to highlight any number of others bands I followed devotedly for short periods of time?  (Usually he time it took for them to move away from New York, or break up, or both.)

There are so many more worthies I am sure Tom Moon has never heard of, with names like David Kirby, Todd Deatherage, Amplify,  More.

I am unsurprised that my most recent guest blogger has a powerful connection to these songs, this album – his own band (the aforementioned David Kirby) had a strikingly similar sound several years before . . . Wide Awake was released?

But Avi had something that Bright Eyes does not – an actual singing voice.

As I spend time with . . . Wide Awake I am put off by the weak wavering vocals and weird breathing placements, seemingly affected but more likely covering up a genuine lack of talent.  Unlike with other affected artists, rather than growing on me, I find myself growing more and more irritated.

. . . Wide Awake has that folk-rocking Americana sound that critics – including Moon (see Ryan Adams) – seem to love so much and which tends to leave me cold (see Ryan Adams . . .)

And then take the deeply meaningful, obviously important lyrics

We must memorize nine numbers and deny we have a soul

or

My ashtray’s overflowing and I’m staring at a clean white page

The too simple naivete of youth is surely just too twee to be real, but I never catch the nod or the wink which would confirm this, so I am left with the depressing thought that every word is meant in the original, literal sense.

And it makes me want to throw something.

Not in a rock revolution, burn it all down, ACT UP kind of way.  More just general despair for humanity and the state of the world today.

Lawn.

Next Week: Benjamin Britten – Peter Grimes

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 128 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 128 = 15%)
Recommend? No. (105 of 128 = 82%)

Guest Blogger Avi Glijansky: Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

14 Sep

I met Avi through my AADA-attending roommates soon after moving home to New York at a Midtown dive bar where he and his band used to play music I loved (and still love).  I was cranky when he moved to LA.

—–

OK, full disclosure: A song from this album was performed during my wedding ceremony this past October. I tell you this up-front, because it seems only fair that you get a hint of my biases before reading on.

But here’s the thing; when a friend first shared this Bright Eyes album with me, I really expected to dislike them. Honestly, some of my personal prejudices at the time made me want to dislike them. But then I listened, and despite myself I became a fan.

Bright Eyes aren’t exactly a band. For a long time it was just the name that Singer/Guitarist/Songwriter Connor Oberst recorded under with whomever he was making music at the time. Oberst is an indie rock wunderkind, hailed by The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, and others as a significant “new” artist when he released his 2002 album LIFTED, OR THE STORY IS IN THE SOIL KEEP YOUR EAR TO THE GROUND at the age of 22. “New,” was a relative term though, since he’d already released 3 albums as Bright Eyes by that point.   He was part of the influential Omaha Music scene of the early 00’s (his brother co-founded Saddle Creek Records), and a member of the indie rock in crowd. Oh yeah, and when he was 23 he dated Winona Ryder.

For all the above reasons, I really wanted to dislike the guy. It was a chip on my shoulder owing something to the fact that we’re the same age and he had done all that, while I was a film student with a Rock ‘n Roll habit in the form of a band that didn’t seem it would ever amount to much (nor did it). Boy geniuses writing political protest songs just rubbed me the wrong way.

But like I said, then I listened.

Oberst and the musicians he brought together for this album are terrific craftsmen. The arrangements on the album are minimal, mostly acoustic guitars and other folk instrumentation; pedal steel, mandolins, Rhodes, and often only a couple at a time. Despite that, the songs don’t feel spare or barren. They feel vibrant, full, and when embellishments pop up (a trumpet that helps carry out Land Locked Blues or one of Emmylou Harris’ pitch perfect turns as an additional vocalist) they don’t feel showy or gimmicky. The choruses may not be arena-sized, but there are plenty of deceptively ear-wormy hooks. It’s easy to catch yourself singing along and tapping your feet. Oberst’s voice isn’t classically strong or pretty, but it’s an emotive instrument and he knows how to use it best on each song.

After a spoken intro (more on that in a few), At the Bottom of Everything kicks things off with a prime example of Oberst’s style of protest song. Musically, the track sticks close to the form, 4 chords and a melody that uses repetition to lend the lyrics an air of mantra-like purpose. It’s a survey of our society’s failings (materialism, inequality, religious fundamentalism, etc.) and could be an Occupy anthem penned 6 years early. But just because the subject matter isn’t novel doesn’t mean it’s not worth writing about, and the turns of phrase he employs are interesting and effective.

“And in the face of every criminal/Strapped firmly to a chair/We must stare, we must stare, we must stare,” Oberst sings at the end of the first verse. It’s not a particularly poetic line; it’s kind of awkward and uncomfortable. But then, so is topic.

From that track on, I’M WIDE AWAKE IT’S MORNING, blends broadscale political/social commentary with deeply personal storytelling in a way that feels both carefully crafted and completely organic.

Over the first four tracks, Oberst and his band slide from that initial protest rallying cry, to a questioning of the values of those same protests (directed both at others and himself on We are Nowhere and it’s Now and Old Soul Song (for the New World Order) ), and finally, in Lua, to candid reflection on a doomed relationship. What stands out about Lua and much of Oberst’s writing on the album is that it manages to make something beautiful and melancholy without glorifying the self-destruction it chronicles.

While the soapbox is never entirely gone, its appearances become entwined with the personal narratives. On Landlocked Blues Oberst sings of making “…love on the living room floor/With the noise in the background of a televised war.” Elsewhere, during raucous album closer Road to Joy (which musically riffs on the Beethoven composition its name spoofs), Oberst equates the way his parents cling to their religion to his own reasons for drinking.

That blending is what I love about this album. It seems to me, a reflection of something fundamentally true about the world we live in these days. If you’re going to write songs about love, fame, drinking, fighting, you know, all the stuff Rock n Roll is made of, how can it not be colored by the issues of the day. Surrounded by 24-hour news cycles, social-media, and cloud-based everything, any distinction between the political songs and personal songs, the public and the private, seems increasingly false.

Now, I admit that it’s not entirely unfair to accuse I’M WIDE AWAKE, IT’S MORNING of pretention. For starters, there’s the fact that it was released simultaneously with an electronic album (seems everyone goes through that phase) called DIGITAL ASH IN A DIGITAL URN. Then there’s that spoken intro to the album’s lead track. Oberst, with phrasing that feels oddly like an Ira Glass impersonation, tells a story about two strangers on a plane that’s falling out of the sky. I still don’t get it.

But ultimately, all of these songs, and the album as a whole, just feel honest.

Which brings me to The First Day of my Life, the album’s 6th track and the song our little cousin sang at our wedding. It’s a love song and perhaps the only song on the album that you could argue really is 100% personal. If the Bright Eyes soapbox is present, I’ve never spotted it. But while it’s sweet, it’s not saccharine, and it sure is honest.

Because, it’s a love song that celebrates grand romantic notions (“Yours is the first face that I saw/swear I was blind before I met you.”), even while acknowledging that love isn’t a sure thing (“With these things there’s no telling/We’ll just have to wait and see”). The song ends on what at first seems like an underwhelming line: “Besides maybe this time is different/I mean I really think you like me.” Doesn’t exactly sound like a Shakespearean sonnet, but I think it’s even more romantic.

Being in love is one thing. Liking the person you’re in love with, really liking who they are as a human being, I’m pretty sure that’s what makes love last.

So yeah, I give this one a recommend. And even if Bright Eyes turns out not to be your thing, I’m going to bet that you’ll at least understand where I’m coming from with regards to The First Day of My Life. If not, I’ll try and sell you on it one last time. Or rather, I’ll let our 9-year-old cousin Sophia, and her father Mike do so.

(Also, just for fun, here’s a Buzzfeed list which takes all the reasons I wanted to hate Connor Oberst, and presents why I might just as well have wanted to be him.)

—–

Avi Glijansky is an independent Writer/Director/Producer of shorts, web series, and other moving pictures based in Los Angeles.

His work includes the IAWTV Award-nominated shows “The Further Adventures of Cupid & Eros” and “The Social Drinker”, as well as the Celebrate The Web-Winning “The Silver Lake Badminton and Adventurers Club”.

In addition his work behind the camera, Avi used to stand in front of a couple of rock bands that may or may not have been considered “promising” but were certainly “local.”

Should you care to, you can check out his work at highway9pictures.com and listen to his music at davidkirby.bandcamp.com & lostcityradio.bandcamp.com

[107] The Blind Boys of Alabama – Spirit of the Century

24 Apr

Talk about a genre I would never choose to listen to.  And the track record of the Gospel recordings on the list to date has not been good.  But the rich, experienced vocals and the wonderful musical choices of these artists make Spirit of the Century a pleasure to listen to.

Spirit of the Century

Spirit of the Century

The absolute standout track is the genius reorchestrating of “Amazing Grace” to the melody and backing of “House of the Rising Sun”.  It works far better than it has any right to.

New life, nuance and color is found in the familiar and at times overexposed classic, with an blues rock aesthetic providing an edge that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go.

This unexpected orchestration is a techniques used again and again here, with some tracks sounding like straight up Blues standards until the lyrics are factored in, holding attention and breathing life into a genre that so often seems to fall flat for me.

There is a modern sensibility, a cool swing throughout, highlighted by great blues guitar work and harmonica wailing that would stand out on any number of exceptional secular records.

I am somehow unsurprised when I learn that some of these songs of praise were in fact penned by Tom Waits and the Rolling Stones.

The vocals are all appropriately raw and worldly, but none more so than on “Run On For A Long Time”, where the singer rumbles and grumbles at almost sub-audial levels while the drums and close harmonies keep the whole thing moving forward.

I play this track again and again.

It just goes to show – if you want me (or anyone else for that matter) to listen to religious music, you need to put the music, not the religion, first . . .

Next Week:  Blondie – Parallel Lines

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 107 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (16 of 107 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (88 of 107 = 82%)

[91] Hector Berlioz – Les Troyens

2 Jan

Color me arbitrary.

John Eliot Gardiner conducts the  Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique

John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique

Despite long moments of soul-searching and of intellectual reflection, I am unable to explain to myself – let alone anyone else – why one recording instantly captivates where another by the same composer provokes an instant and opposite reaction.

From the opening notes of this huge and sweeping Opera, I am caught up in the vigor and excitement of the piece which quickly coalesces into an enormous choral refrain.

I enjoy the first two minutes of this more than any moment of the Symphonie Fantastique, and it only seems to get better from there.

At once intimate and powerful, the chorus gives way to soloists who each give their all for the performance.

In a coming together of desire and instruction, Moon has selected an audio-visual rather than strictly audio version on this occasion so I do not have the feeling that I have articulated on previous Operatic selections that I am somehow missing out.

But although watching this BBC production clearly helps me to follow the plot, I feel certain that this time I would be enjoying these tunes and performances just as much without the moving pictures.

Of course, I’ll never know.

Experiencing the heightened emotion and the melodrama played perfectly straight, I am reminded how much I have loved my every moment on those few occasions when I have visited the opera.  Both the music and the spectacle are big and beautiful and impossible to tear your attention from.

I may default to Musical Theater, but I am regularly reminded – every time I attend anything else, in fact – that the Theater is my love,  not just one facet of her, be it straight plays, opera or even good improv.

But back to Troy.

The music throughout is clear and crisp and gorgeous, easily accessible, effortlessly enjoyable.  There is always a flourish from the orchestra, lightening the dense intensity of the vocals, particularly heavy through the first two acts.  These embellishments buoy the whole, highlight and magnify the massive emotions being displayed.

No theme outstays its welcome, yet each is carefully established, introducing itself into the listener’s awareness until it becomes a certainty that a phrase or beat must return at some point over the following hours.

And again, I am at an utter loss as to why Les Troyens effortlessly appeals whereas Symphonie Fantastique was incapable of doing so.

Despite my High School French and helpful subtitles, it is not the plot which holds my attention – indeed I find myself allowing the somewhat familiar Greek myths pass me by without fully engaging.  The spectacle and grandeur are breathtaking, but it could as easily be a story-free Classical piece and I would enjoy it as much.

Perhaps this is the result of the extra step of remove, the bedroom setting in which I am watching my TV rather than the majesty of the Metropolitan Opera House.  Or perhaps I tune out plot in person, too.

I do not recall, and in all honesty do not care . . .

Next Week:  Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim – West Side Story

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 91 = 10%)
Heard before blogging? No. (12 of 91 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (73 of 91 = 80%)

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