Tag Archives: Rock

[158] Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band – Trout Mask Replica

22 Apr

As weird and as random as its title, there is much to ponder and perplex in this 80 minutes of avant garde something or other.

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Color me unsurprised that Zappa was involved (as producer.)

There is an aura of experimental wonderfulness throughout this recording.  It is certainly not for everyone, or for every occasion, but there is so much to interpret and explore that I do not think I will ever grow tired of hearing the Rock-y, Blues-y, Folk-y, Jazz-y, Spoken Word sounds that skitter all over the place on each play.

The vocals at time remind me of Shel Silverstein’s wonderful, not safe for work or kids interpretations of some of his stories – both engage in very much the same way.

The guitars are in constant motion, twiddling in concentric circles.  The horns when they are featured squeak and squawk and demand attention.  And every now and then a nugget of wisdom or a moment of sublime discomfort peeks through the stream of consciousness lyrics.

It is loose and messy and sprawling, and despite the potential for negative connotations in all these adjectives, I am a fan.

Next Week: The Caravans – The Best of The Caravans

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 158 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 158 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (132 of 158 = 84%)

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[156] Can – Tago Mago

8 Apr

Another week, another mish-mash of an album, cramming all sorts of sounds and feelings into its experimental 1970s frame.  (That’s five consecutive albums full of experimentation, for those keeping score at home.)

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This time it’s German Rock.  This time I love it.

There are the sweeping prog-rock jam tracks, noodling and soaring for minutes on end.  There is the borrowed punk attitude, at times so necessary in life, put to excellent use here as a sort of color commentary.  There is the ponderous, goth-flavored epic “Aumgn”, so effective that my wife and daughter requested I turn it off since (and I quote), “It’s freaking us out.”

Unlike moments over the last weeks where the experimentation has been too extreme, too uneven, Can manage to create a homogeneous sound from all the diverse parts, resulting in an album that (when my girls aren’t around) I want to listen to from beginning to end.

There is plenty that is familiar here, more than enough influences in common with the rock I already know and love from the UK and the US of around this era.  When the guitar solos you can hear Jimi Hendrix and Chuck Berry.  In the layers of sound, with the raw vocals buried way down in the mix, it is not a stretch to intuit the inspiration of the more out-there Beatles moments.  The jam band tracks even have a Jazz tinge, following the idea wherever it leads, allowing each band member the opportunity to solo in the spotlight.

Surprisingly I find that the discords – the at times almost atonal vocals – do not grate.  Rather they act as a pleasing counterpoint to the tightly coiled rhythm that rules every track.  The driving, endless beats remind me of nothing so much as Harry Connick Jr.’s wonderful attempt at a Rock album, She.

Yes, I acknowledge what a weird combination I am juxtaposing here – experimental German Rock of the 70s and popuar US Jazz of the 90s.  But just humor me.  Play Can’s “Halleluwah” (all 18 minutes of it) then follow it up with Connick’s “That Party”, and see whether I’m onto something, or just plain crazy.

I’ll accept either answer.

Next Week:  Nati Cano’s Mariachi los Camperos – Viva el Mariachi

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 156 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 156 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (130 of 156 = 83%)

[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.

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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%)

[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%)

[151] The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man

4 Mar

I came pretty close to upsetting a lot of people when I began organizing my thoughts on this inarguably seminal album.

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I love the Dylan-penned title track which opens the recording, and was excited to hear the rest, only to find the first few plays leaving me utterly cold.  I’ve heard it all before without seemingly ever having heard these particular songs.

So, I took a step back, playing other beloved Byrds singles – including the magnificent “Eight Miles High” and the moving version of Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn” – and I’m wondering what it is I’m missing, why it is Mr. Tambourine Man that gets such an emphatic nod while these “better” songs are left out.

I’m just not getting the love.

The high points of the album initially feel like little more than a tease – in the close harmonies and jingle jangle guitars I’m hearing mid-career Beatles and wondering why I shouldn’t just go back and listen to A Hard Day’s Night or Rubber Soul.

But then something happens.

A couple of the tracks which had previously just flowed past me without any affect began to leave an impression, and it was a childhood in England that offered the band a way into my head and heart.

It turns out I have heard some of these songs before, just never like this.

At first unrecognized by my ear, suddenly I am singing along with the playground chant “Bells of Rhymney” all grown up in its psychedelic splendor.  Soon after, I realize that this may be my favorite version of the wartime standard, “We’ll Meet Again.”

And I find myself reevaluating my every listen to this album to date.

Heard on its own merits, unencumbered by expectations and comparison, Mr. Tambourine Man is a fun and breezy ride, full of new Dylan lyrics and old folk favorites.  Once I recalibrate my ear to the Folk end of the spectrum, from my anticipated Rock assumptions, the acclaim becomes so much more understandable, the music so much more enjoyable.

And I get to remain friends with those few people who are still with me after failing to recommend Pet Sounds and Heartbreaker . . .

Next Week:  David Byrne and Brian Eno – My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 151 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 151 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (126 of 151 = 83%)

[144] Buffalo Springfield – Retrospective

15 Jan

I, like so many others, was first introduced to Buffalo Springfield by the magical cover of “For What It’s Worth” on The Muppet Show.

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If that were the sole output of the band, there would still be an argument for inclusion on Tom Moon’s list.  That the rest of this Best Of album is as accomplished and enjoyable as it is makes this one of the easiest recommendations to date.

The guitar attack that anchors the entire record is at times laid back melody, at times frenzied distortion, and always foreshadowing the guitar innovations that were to follow – it inspired the sound that I discovered and adored a more than a decade later.  That the music also calls to mind earlier Beatles harmonizing as well as an older Folk aesthetic places Buffalo Springfield at an important crossroads in Rock, and musical, history.

The songwriting is varied and inspired, not surprising considering the personalities doing the composing.  The Folk sensibilities are toughened up by Rock edges, jam band noodling made relevant by the righteous anger of youth.

Buffalo Springfield almost sound like a proto-version of the bands and artists I idolized in my own angry (but not overly so) youth.  I may have leaned to slicker, less earnest iterations of this everyband, and certainly never explored beyond “For What It’s Worth” at the time.  But, thankfully for me, those bands certainly knew Buffalo Springfield and soared from their lofty foundations.

“Everybody look what’s going ’round . . .”

Next Week: The Bulgarian Women’s National Radio and Television Chorus – Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 144 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 144 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (119 of 144 = 83%)

[142] Tim Buckley – Dream Letter: Live in London, 1968

25 Dec

At the crossroads of Folk and Rock, Tim Buckley uses his voice more as instrument than lyric delivery system.

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In this long and winding live recording, Buckley whines and wails in unfettered and unapologetic sweeps, showing astounding vocal range and control.  It is quite fascinating to hear the things he makes his voice do.

Unfortunately – despite its unique character, its originality and style – I find that this aspect of the album quickly fades into the background, along with the rest of the music.  As impressive as the tone and talent on display from all on hand may be, I find myself constantly tuning out.

Nothing here holds my attention once the novelty of Buckley’s voice falls to familiarity.

It is a shame, because I really want to enjoy this.  There is certainly nothing wrong, nothing I dislike to be heard.  But it seems odd to recommend a recording as indispensable when I consistently forget all about it even while it is playing.

It is, I fear, perhaps a reflection of the songwriting aesthetic that it is only when a snippet cover of the hugely familiar “You Keep Me Hanging On” reaches my ears that I notice there is music on at all . . .

Maybe the studio albums are tighter, more engaging than Dream Letter.  But it is far more likely that in walking such a tightrope between Folk and Rock, Buckley has watered down both, served neither.

Which makes me sad.

Next Week: Buckwheat Zydeco – Buckwheat’s Zydeco Party

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 142 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 142 = 14%)
Recommend? No. (117 of 142 = 82%)

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