Saturday, April 16, 2011
I just caught the end of 'Gentlemen Prefer Blonds'. Jesus Christ Marilyn Monroe was a simpering idiot. Sure, she was an iconoclast and admittedly not unattractive but fuck me is she painful to watch 'act'. I would say 'I wonder how she got her big break' but I don't need to, I'd imagine those sculpted legs and sit up and beg chest defined the casting couch pre-req for an entire decade. What I will say is 'I wonder if those morgue slab rumors are true'.
It's interesting to see how certain ice-berg sized chunks of our cultural heritage seem alien in their uselessness here in 2011.
'Gentlemen Prefer Blonds' is perfect Saturday matinee fodder, brain-dead vintage pulp from a bygone era, a time of stuffy suits, airs and graces and plot-lines so contrived that they appear a parody.
Luckily for those of us stuck in the present, much of that popular culture flotsam of yesteryear does translate. We have the Rolling Stones, to a lesser extent The Beatles and other heavy hitters such as The Beach Boys. A funny group of chaps The Beach Boys. They didn't surf and they were grown men. What they did do was leave a hell of a cannon of work, one often hidden behind a deluge of very average tracks about cars, girls and surfing.
Amongst their more interesting work are the aft lorded 'Pet Sounds' (It's alright) and 'Smile' (we should get the final version at some point over the next couple of months). What they have two albums after 'Smile' (more accurately 'Smiley Smile' the unfinished 'Smile') is an unbroken run of three absolutely stellar albums: '20/20', 'Sunflower' and 'Surf's Up'.
Lets talk about 'Sunflower' because that's the album that I put on to drown out Marilyn's idiot voice. The title of the album and ever cheery sleeve are misleading. This isn't the seemingly sunny proposition that it presents itself as, the darkness that reverberates throughout the follow-up (Surf's Up) is also evident here. In fact the albums closing shot 'Cool Cool Water' dove-tails perfectly into the foreboding opener of 'Surf's Up'.
I inherited my copy of 'Sunflower' from my dad. Out of interest he bought it from 'Brierley's' (I would imagine of Brierley Hill near Birmingham England) for 62 1/2p in 1970. I don't remember him ever playing it but do recall it sitting tucked down the side of a silver Philips all in one surrounded by white shag-pile carpet.
That's not all that makes it special. The cover looks like an ill- rehearsed family portrait or team-shot and despite the great rainbow of colours and logo that frame it, this has to be contender for one of the most average album sleeves ever.
What saves it is the pictures on the gatefold. The group appear to have taken it upon themselves to don fancy-dress. Most interestingly of which are Alan Jardine's choice of dressing like a street peddling monkey grinder and more sinisterly Mike Love's decision to dress like some kind of bearded and potentially sinister deity surrounded by children. Anyway, rather than over analyzing this I will talk about the music.
'Slip on Through', 'This Whole World', 'Add Some Music to Your Day', 'Tears in the Morning' and 'Forever' are the standouts. What do they sound like? You know the drill: Vocal harmonies, considered slightly grandiose instrumentation and catchy as fuck. But 'Sunflower' has the added bonus of a slight twinkling of the darkness that reflected the often turbulent and fragile inner workings of the group at this time, one that would be fully realized on 1971's 'Surf's Up'.
They do not make them like they used to.
Friday, April 15, 2011
If I said this was Earth's best album would you hold it against me?
I can almost sense a hoard of 'Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version' fans battering down my door and demanding some kind of redaction.
Truth is, as painfully unhip as it is to say. 'Earth 2' is a fucking tough listen. Yes it's instrumental in the state of modern metal. Sunn(o))) would not be without it. In retrospect it could be that had Dylan Carson not made us all sit through a 73 minute double album of tiresomely slow guitar chuggery that our metal brothers might have gone the way of Yngwie Malmsteen or other Dragonforce like widdly-diddly idiots. And I suppose that 'slowest band in the world' would make a nice addition to anyone's resume.
So on to the album at hand. The opener lay's out the bands game-play from the outset. It's faster than anything they have done before - Which is to say it is still very slow, but at least within the realms of listenability. I'm being harsh, it's better than that. It's solid, down-tempo Sabbath type riffage. Hypnotic and ever so slightly bluesy.
'High Command' treats us to more of the same but with the added treat of lyrics, actual words!
The third track 'Crooked Axis For String Quartet' is something else entirely. When I first heard this back in 1997 I thought it was just one chord. I put this down to my shitty stereo. Listening to it today it's as if some of Steve Reich's 'Phases' era work has bled through from the other side of the tape. It's actually very pretty, not a word you often associate these son's of Seattle with.
'Tallahassee' is pretty much the blue-print for where the band would see themselves just under a decade later. The twang of Americana bathed in the kind of fuzzy distortion with which they are synonymous. It kills and is the only track they did that ever made it onto a mix tape for a girl. (NB despite my best efforts the relationship did not go very far)
There is something of a far Eastern feel to 'Charioteer (Temple Song)' and were it not for the inescapable metallic sheen that Earth produce it could almost find a home on something by Popol Vuh.
The last 1/3rd of the album's a bit of a miss, it smarts of the group desperately trying to stretch the proceedings from EP to LP territory, there's a pretty 'by numbers' Hendrix cover, an instantly forgettable piano excursion and a reprise of the opening track to end with. Were it not for the fact that the last song on the album takes the theme somewhere else completely you might feel a bit short changed but as it is it's a solid pillar to end on.
I got this from Relay records in Bristol during my final year at college, sold it about ten years back, re-bought the CD from Everyday Music in Portland OR and then got a new copy of the LP from Music and Video Exchange in Camden about three months back.
Which reminds me. Tomorrow is 'Record Shop Day', so go out, join the lines, buy a load of limited shit by bands you don't really like and put it on Ebay... Then with the money you make, buy three copies of this and play then simultaneously and at slightly different speeds because that would be fucking awesome.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
I am reviewing this because it's been on my work desk and staring at me for the best part of 5 months. Also because I am not entirely sure that the fawning and in-depth write up I want to give Deftones 'White Pony' would be appreciated by anybody apart from me (Just to say it's in my top 50 albums and if you don't own a copy get over that Nu-metal labeling and treat yourself).
I've had this in and out of the CD player (also on my desk) since around Christmas and it's really grown on me. To be honest I hadn't been sure what to expect. The personnel listing wasn't exactly inspiring: One person (Nika Rosa Danilova) with a keyboard. It could quite easily have fallen flat like a Jamie Lidell gig with a broken sequencer. But it doesn't. Given the lack of other instrumentation it's a surprisingly dense piece. It's brooding, dark, haunting, it's all of those other words that appeared in reviews of the record when it came out in the middle of last year.
The whole album is like an elongated study of This Mortal Coil's version of 'Song to a Siren', and if you ever saw that track used in the trailer for the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre then those visuals add even more credence to that line of thinking. It comes from a very black and pained place, somewhere close to death.
Another thing that undoubtedly every review of this so far will have pointed out is how close her Nika's vocal range is to that of Siouxsie Sioux. At first her delivery was massively grating but like the music that accompanies it, in time you find yourself immersed.
Despite all of this and my repeat listening at work, I am trying to think of circumstances where I might choose this as a soundtrack and I am coming up short. You can't really have sex to it unless that sex involves ropes and potentially knives. I wouldn't want to drive to it, unless my driving culminated with a high-speed and slow motion chase resulting in my untimely and messy crash based death. It's not ironing music unless I am contemplating ironing my hand and or face. You get the picture - It's very emotional, borderline wallowing music or like I said, maybe something you play when you are having knife sex.
So given I don't intend for copious amounts of blood to feature in any love making in which I might partake I will leave this on my desk, safe in the knowledge that it's a suitable accompaniment to putting together elongated and over-styled Power Point presentations.
Monday, April 11, 2011
This guy is German. (At least I think he is German)
He's a piano player.
He does not have a Wikipedia entry.
If I could stretch to more than a dozen words in German there would be some clues as to the man's history and background on the rear of the sleeve. Sadly the comprehensive notes, probably outlining the making of the record and the chief protagonist's history are a series of 'k's, 'z's and umlauts.
Given this I shall take my customary tact and make something up...
Jan Fryderyk discovered the world of Jazz after being admitted to Ansbach Military Hospital as a child. He had complained of a chronic stomach pain and on examination doctors removed approximately 4oz of human hair from his stomach and intestinal tract.
Jan Fryderyk had a hair eating problem, unlike most people with this affliction the hair was not in fact his. At weekend Jan would roam from barber shop to barber shop with an eye to scoring a snack and had been doing so since an incident involving a wig on his seventh birthday.
It was whilst he was recovering from the operation that Jan heard some G.Is stationed there playing John Coltrane's 'Blue Trane' and he was hooked.
To this day nobody knows how or why the hair eating problem started. What they do know is that despite a relapse in the early 80s his passion for the jazz piano has all but cured him.
Sound wise, this is obviously piano led, but don't let that put you off. It's not a painful Cecil Taylor excursion into the land of the solo plinkity-plonk. The other players here do a fantastic job of filling in, covering for and adding to Fryderyk's key-happy ways.
I need to single out Alan Skidmore formerly of Kieth Tippet's 'Centipede' here for a special mention. He's an exceptional saxophone player and he has a tidy beard. He does soft, distant and gentle AND 'I'm having a shit-fit' both surprisingly well. I say surprisingly as he's a Brit and despite evidence to the contrary I still firmly believe that 'Jazz' is the realm of the dead (with a few exceptions) American.
Quite who to thank for rest of it I do not know as Peter Giger(Pictured above), Doug Hammond and a guy called Trilok Gurtu all contribute percussion of some type or other. The sheer amount of skin beating gives you some idea of how good this could and does get.
It isn't indispensable by any means but when the repetitive percussion gels with the piano 'Faun' comes alive in a wholly entertaining and mostly enjoyable way.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
After a failed evening of trying to get people to witness the power of my fully operational Hi-Fi system courtesy of an array of old favorites, I thought I'd try putting it through the paces with something new.
I can't help feeling a little disappointed that after months of research, waiting, saving and spending the reaction to my new stereo was mixed at best.
'There's not much bass'.
I took this to bed but said nothing until my wife mentioned it again on a trip to the supermarket.
'There's not much bass on that new stereo of yours is there?'
This came in the middle of an unrelated conversation about grass strimmers so maybe it had been playing on her mind as well.
Sound is a very personal thing, some people like it rich, others analytical, others still tainted or tweaked with an extra helping of bass or a cranked up high-end. What do I like? Jesus, I don't know, I just want my stereo to sound half decent. GIven the amount of money and time I spend on finding the software it's common sense to invest a proportional amount of money in the thing that makes the sound come out.
I hadn't had an issue with the lack of low end until it was pointed out by a room full of people. What to do? Well I could ignore it, get on with my life and dedicate the man hours to something less dull... Or I could start looking for a couple of concrete slabs to place under the stands with a hope of somehow capturing some of the vibrations that may or may not be dissipating through the heavy pile carpet.
I am not educated enough in the ways of classical music to try and work in any similarities here, but it reminds me of the 'Music For Egon Schiele' album by Rachels although I'm pretty sure that's a cod reference to make.
The first time I heard it, the music accompanied the film and it worked in the context of the particularly dreary and miserable as a motherfucker images. Without them much of the mood is the same. This is not 'get up and go!' music. It's the sound track to a particularly long and painful day. It's music for heavy reflection. Lets not forget, it's also music for the end of the world, for cannibalism, fields of fire and pushing a supermarket trolley into the mouth of oblivion.
The slow, meandering string led sound aside for a second, let's look at the protagonists.
Warren Ellis, is not the man who wrote some of the finest comic books of all time but rather the multi-instrumental guy with the colossal beard who played with the Dirty Three. His talent and ear for musical drama is obvious.
Nick Cave needs no introduction and I won't say any more about him than these recent forays into the world of movie music have done him nothing but favors. They have rounded off his CV in the way that most maturing musicians can only dream of. If only Madonna had taken a leaf out of his book rather than attempting to remake and reclaim that same faded glory album after album (they are only months apart in age). If only she had thought to trade just one leotard for a shred of the dignity that surrounds Cave's work but no, Ciccone will die on that treadmill, gaunt, unloved and living in the past.
So where was I? The soundtrack to The Road. If it weren't for the occasional metallic screeches, obviously there to underline certain points of the films sheer horror this could be an every day listen. As it is these very occasional hideous early period Einstruzende Neubautenesque shrieks take the edge off a bit challenging me when all i want is to sit back and go,
'Mmmmm, nice strings, lovely arrangement....shame about the bass'.
Well worth a listen this.
Monday, April 4, 2011
We had already watched most of the WW2 submarine film classic 'Up Periscope' in which a young James Garner (of 'Rockford Files' fame) attempts to single-handedly sabotage a radio station based on a Japanese island whilst the crew of his sub anxiously await his return. At least I think that's what it's about as the sound was mostly down in favor of that last Bruce Springsteen album.
Either way it looks like films about submarines are a hit with my son. I suppose at 4 months old what's not to like right?
He started to get a bit antsy towards the end so we moved to his brightly coloured and ridiculous play mat. It's one of those things with two ajoining arcs crossing over it. The idea is you hang all sorts of different toys from it for him to chew and or play with... mostly chew.
What might make an interesting soundtrack to these proceedings I thought? After a brief rummage in the CD cupboard I pulled out an unopened CD copy of this album. It made the cut not because of the band's association with Animal Collective but because of the sleeve. The colours matched the play mat perfectly so it seemed silly not to see if I could exploit that marriage further.
The little guy on the mat seemed to greet the sound pretty well. I placed him at equal distance between the speakers to make sure he could appreciated the full stereophonic picture. 8 songs came and went and I have to say it was not the worst soundtrack to an afternoon spent shaking rattly toys in the general direction of my son.
Prince Rama used to be part of a Hare Krishna commune. I know this because I looked on google. Without this insight I had already decided that I was going to describe this as 'Death Yoga' music. I have in the past dabbled in the ways of the Yogi and was familiar with many of the lyrical chants. I hadn't however ever expected to hear them married with a dense and dark multi-layered soundtrack that at times brought to mind Goblin and other such synth-pounders. For some reason and I cannot for the life of me put my finger on this, It also brings to mind 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'.
The plus point of their sound is that it conjures a sense of ceremony, of a worshipping, a large group of people concentration on a common cause. direction.
The downside is that as I listened crouched on the floor in my son's general direction, soft-toy scale model of Spongebob Squarepants in my hand I kept getting this over whelming urge to go into Downward Facing Dog or Cobra Pose.
Yeah, why the fuck not?