Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Shopping For Records #7: 4 Discs from the Village Vanguard

Amazon purchase:

John Coltrane
The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings Box Set
Released: 9.23.97

I think I picked this up around April. Amazon.com had cut a decent amount of loot off of the asking price, so I figured I’d shell out the bucks. When the box set arrived, I cleared as much room from my iPod as I could and managed to get all four recordings on there. Then it was all I played for about a week or two straight.

While reading Ben Ratliff’s book, Coltrane: The Story of a Sound, I really felt the absence of the first Village Vanguard recordings from my album collection. These recordings were considered to be controversial for their time as Coltrane was in the process of breaking away from his Atlantic work and beginning his personal quest to find God through his saxophone. It would sound harsh, possibly irritating to some, and would cement Coltrane as a figurehead for the Avant movement, which was in its relative infancy with Ornette Coleman’s The Shape Of Jazz To Come and Free Jazz.

Live! at the Village Vanguard brought Jimmy Garrison into the fray, him being the bassist for what would later become known as the John Coltrane Quartet. Drummer, Elvin Jones and pianist, McCoy Tyner had already been a steady part of Coltrane’s personnel, though for this album, the notable accompaniment of Eric Dolphy was the album’s focal point.

Coltrane’s next album, Coltrane, which is easily one of the best records I’ve ever listened to in my lifetime, would solidify the quartet and bring about a very creatively prosperous era. A Love Supreme, Coltrane’s best known masterwork, emerged from this quartet. Coltrane’s eventual leaps into anti-structural power and chaos would alienate the quartet and his Vanguard follow-up, Live at the Village Vanguard Again!, (which I consider to be underrated), would showcase his newest partnerships with Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Rashied Ali and Emanuel Rahim. Garrison continued to play.

Anyway, the 60s hadn’t even really been officially inaugurated yet with the colossus of Beatlemania or Kennedy’s assassination but you can feel the entire decade all over the Vanguard concerts. Having been recorded over the course of four nights, Coltrane juggled line-ups, carried out tunes to the twenty-minute mark in a lot of instances and really screwed with his song structures. He repeated songs during his stint, but no two sound alike at all. “India,” for instance starts off pretty tame in relation to what it’s turned into by the fourth night, with the addition of oud player, Ahmed Abdul-Malik and contrabassoonist, Garvin Bushell, giving eerie hints as to the part Sanders will be playing in Coltrane’s work only four years into the future.

I’ll admit that The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings is a lot to sit through at once, but it really is the saxophonist’s Good Word being spread throughout a hall where a bunch of minds were either being repulsed or blown. You have to wonder if the audience knew they were watching history being made on that stage, and if they ever looked back with grateful hindsight. As you’ll hear, they at least respond with gentle applause.

Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, September 29, 2008

No Ripcord: Fucked Up

Fucked Up
The Chemistry Of Common Life
Releases: 10.7.08

No Ripcord review

Letters From A Tapehead

Sunday, September 28, 2008

No Ripcord: Japandroids

All Lies EP/Lullaby Death Jams EP
Released: 2007 (All Lies) & 2008 (Lullaby Death Jams)

No Ripcord review

Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, September 25, 2008

MTV On The FM Radio

TV On The Radio
Dear Science
Released: 9.23.08

Rating: 8 out of 10

So, I’m apparently in the minority. Having read the mostly unanimous wave of acclaim Dear Science, latest album from TV On The Radio, has received since the album hit American shelves Tuesday, I’m wondering why I’m the only one that’s a little disappointed. I’ve either lost my taste, or my copy of Dear Science is damaged. Or, I’m just not one for sugarcoated follow-ups to veritable masterpieces.

When I’d first listened to Return To Cookie Mountain, TVOTR appealed to me as more of an Art band, an updated encapsulation of a vision shared by the likes of Eno, Byrne or Bowie. Their melodies recaptured Motown better than modern-day R&B has in the last twenty years while also employing some of Brian Wilson’s brilliant vocal arrangements and they seemed to perfectly sum up the last fifty years in Pop music, but in a very contemporary and distinguishing way. They grabbed genres, mixed them together and created this blissfully atmospheric soundscape that essentially absorbed all attention. It was the album that made you thankful someone came up with the idea for headphones.

Dear Science isn’t so much a deviation from what they’re known to do as it is a danced up and tidier version. Dave Sitek, main production entity, still ably supplies a slick backdrop for singers Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone to wax harmoniously atop, hitting smooth highs and lows like some hipster barber shop quartet. Listening to the first track, “Halfway Home,” it doesn’t initially sound like much of a departure from Cookie Mountain, although it’s a cleaner mix employing a larger, more extensive bag of tricks.

Throughout Dear Science, TVOTR further blur the line of delineation between Art and Pop music, crafting a more accessible and pleasant mixture of dance-friendly constructs and power ballads. So much do they blur this line that they almost exist on the other side of it, potentially residing outside the comfort of their credible, formidable and artistic integrity. A song like “Crying,” were it not for TVOTR’s established identity as an Alternative act, could put them dangerously close to TRL rotation. With “Crying,” it has to be pondered, that were this record put out by another band or performer, would it deserve any attention? Or, would it effortlessly be lumped in as disposal Pop-manufactured dreck?

Maybe it’s an unfair question to ask. The fact that TVOTR, like Talking Heads, make as much of an effort to expand the public perceptions of what Pop or Rock is deserves kudos. But, in a time when producers seem to be the ones adding credibility to Pop stars and starlets, stretching their mostly-limited range and integrity into new realms of appreciation, (fooling people, basically), it’s difficult anymore to know when you’re being caught up in a bad case of “bait n’ switch.” Sitek, now being one of the more established and relatively renowned of his ilk, and having already helped add some credibility to Scarlett Johansson’s album of Tom Waits covers, is in a position to keep his band on top of their game no matter where he takes them. That being said, Dear Science makes me paranoid, like I’m being sold a lie.

But, the outwardly enhanced aspects of Dear Science notwithstanding, TVOTR have still pulled together a decent record that resonates with the present day and age. Overt political overtones tear through the nearly-rapped “Dancing Choose” and Latin-flavored “Red Dress.” “Stork & Owl” gets emotionally weighed down by an abundance of stringed instrumentation, almost taking on the life of DeVotchka’s “How It Ends.” Still, Kyp Malone sings it beautifully. “Golden Age,” a song that defines catchy, marries Prince with Sly in a symphonic dance track that is sure to gain some admiration. “Family Tree” is like the “She’s Leaving Home” of Dear Science, sung over echoed piano notes and what sounds like a fleet of graceful violins.

For me, the album’s highlights come into being with “Love Dog,” whose elements unite in a beautiful and seamless array of vocal harmony, plucked strings and light brass. Gerard Smith’s deep low end takes on a life of its own toward the end of the track, almost to techno proportions, but serpentines around Jaleel Bunton’s drum machine, like pronounced current gliding through static. “Shout Me Out,” builds up slowly and then shifts into a quick reminder that these guys use guitars and the mood goes somber for fuzz and beat-heavy, “DLZ.”

“Lover’s Day,” (Because what’s a soul-based album without a jam about banging?) puts Kyp Malone on a parade float with backing vocalist, Katrina Ford, (on loan from the band, Celebration), long enough to threaten, “I’m gonna take you/I’m gonna shake you/I’m gonna make you cum.“ The beats march on, trumpets blaring, till the album ends.

Realizing while writing this that Dear Science may not necessarily be a “sugarcoated follow-up to a veritable masterpiece,” it is, nonetheless, somewhat of a regression. Being too kind to the ears, no matter their content, TVOTR will appeal to a wider audience now and put themselves in a position to either sink into the Pop abyss where they may alienate their fanbase, or continue to tread in familiar waters. As much as growth is necessary for stability, TVOTR are in risky territory. But, they’re gaining a lot of positive feedback and there is some consolation to a band like this being a part of the otherwise plastic and unremarkable world of Popdom. Maybe they can restore its worth. Either way, they’ve definitely left Cookie Mountain.

Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dig Yourself

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!
Released: 4.8.08

Rating: 9.25 out of 10

As of this writing, Nick Cave is almost 51. Having said that, when you listen to something like Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!, you realize that Cave is more of a performance artist than a frontman these days, expounding heavily into a microphone with adult-themed fireside tales, or reporting with a flamboyant flair for the dramatic that brings relevance to the most minute of details. You also realize that the Bad Seeds, this being their fourteenth album in their twenty-four year existence, are still a musically complex outfit that has grown wiser with its audience.

Basing its title track upon the miracle that probably gave George Romero the inspiration he needed to gain his fortune and fame, Lazarus (“Larry”) stars as a malcontent, unhappy with the fact that he was brought back to the land of the living. Cave casts Larry as a would-be celebrity whose rise and fall from glory ends by ultimately repeating his physical demise. And Cave tells the story with such exaggerated poise you almost wish every news reporter got this much joy out of relaying information. Cave, in this instance, is playing paparazzi, but he’s a much better writer.

Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!, the Bad Seeds’ first album since 2004’s Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, follows the emergence of Cave’s Grinderman project, which garnered high marks from music fans and critics last year. With Grinderman acting as more of a vehicle for seeming want of raw rock n’ roll, the Bad Seeds do seem lighter, less amplified and more introspective. Hearing the backdrop for the title track, there’s a remarkably jollity that interestingly, and ironically, coincides with the otherwise not-so-happy tale Cave tells. In past albums, even with an air of irony or black humor, the tone might’ve been a little different. It’s possible that Grinderman has become the new outlet for vitriol, leaving the Bad Seeds with more of an opportunity to expand on their sound. Or, this is just a natural progression for them.

That’s not to say though that Cave spits poetic the entire album. For “Today’s Lesson,” over buzzing organ, Cave smoothly and confidently sings lines, “Mr. Sandman, he has a certain appetite for Janie in repose/He digs her pretty knees and that she is completely naked underneath all her clothes/He likes to congregate around the intersection of Janie's jeans, yeah/Mr. Sandman the inseminator he opens her up like a love letter and enters her dreams…”. Nary a red cheek to be seen, Cave follows up the erotic with the noir-based “Moonland,” a nighttime road song.

“Night Of The Lotus Eaters,” which comes off like a Suicide track with depth, features Cave in off-rhythm narration over an instrumental loop that is broken up here and there by drum sounds and howling feedback. ”Get ready to shield yourself,” he warns over eerie bursts of echoing strings. Simple, but effective.

“Albert Goes West” goes a little Dinosaur Jr., throwing a little more feedback into the mix before “We Call Upon The Author,” an intellectually charged series of observations and questions for the Big Guy, (“God” for all you atheists out there), throws out priceless lines like,”Bukowski was a jerk/Berryman was best/He wrote like wet papier mache/huh-uh and then he went the Heming-way…”.

In the midst of all the intellectual inquisitions and literate journalism, “Hold On To Yourself” and “Jesus Of The Moon,” lighten the cerebral load a bit for some emotional and engaging storytelling. “Jesus Of The Moon,” a rather red-eyed and somber account of a break-up told overtop some saloon piano and weeping violin, allows Cave to deliver this gem, ”…‘Cause people often talk about being scared of change/But for me I'm more afraid of things staying the same/'Cause the game is never won/By standing in any one place/For too long.”

The bluesy mood of “Hold On To Yourself” and “Jesus Of The Moon” sandwiches straight-ahead rocker, “Lie Down Here (& Be My Girl),” and then is followed up by the church organ whine and steel drum flurry of “The Midnight Man.” “More News From Nowhere,” a soft and appealing closer, goes on a little too long but ends the album nicely.

Professor Cave and Co. basically get the award for “Smartest Album,” but Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!! also benefits from a perfectly honed and eclectic mixture of music, layers of arranged sounds that cultivate the tonality before Cave’s even begun talking. And, it’s more than realized that this is the primary function of every band, to create the mood and enhance the song’s content. But, realize that, after twenty-four years, the Bad Seeds haven’t completely run out of ideas. In “More News From Nowhere,” Cave asks,”Don't it make you feel so sad, don't the blood rush to your feet/To think that everything you do today, tomorrow is obsolete?” I think they would be happy to know that this hasn’t happened to them yet.

Letters From A Tapehead

No Ripcord: Ten Kens

Ten Kens
Releases: 9.23.08

No Ripcord review

Letters From A Tapehead

Friday, September 12, 2008

Letters From A Tapehead is cheating...

Recently, while finding new ways to win friends and influence people to come here and read what I have to say, I came across a writing opportunity at No Ripcord, an independent online magazine that specializes in music and movie criticism. They were looking for writers, so I figured I'd fill out an application and send them a sample.

I was hired. I know: Shocking.

I submitted my first review yesterday: a rather unhappy mix of words and phrases thrown at the latest release by The Brian Jonestown Massacre, an unfocused and sloppy album called, My Bloody Underground. If you're interested, you can find that here.

In the meantime, for those of you who still read Letters, I'm not bailing on this. I still plan to keep this up on top of the No Ripcord stuff. It was just an opportunity that I couldn't pass up.

So, now I can be found in two outlets. I plan to spread like a virus .

Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Marnie & The TV coming up...

Over the last couple years that I've been busily pounding keys and madly spewing my point-of-view for others to read and, hopefully, appreciate, I've been on an exhausting rampage for anything new that I can discuss. It's not easy staying on top of many genres, which I try to incorporate throughout this blog in the hopes that people, music fans especially, will never corral themselves into any corner of appreciation regarding genre.

That being said, Letters From A Tapehead has awarded me the opportunity to find and fall in love with two albums in particular: TV On The Radio's Return To Cookie Mountain and Marnie Stern's In Advance of the Broken Arm. Over the next few weeks, both Stern and TV On The Radio will have new albums out. Be on the lookout for:

TV On The Radio
Dear Science
Releasing: 9.23.08

Unfortunately, I don't have much information on Dear Science and I haven't heard any released singles or leaked goodies. But, I've heard that it's supposed to be more of a dance record, less Eno and more James Brown. Considering the rather solemn and mesmerizing Young Liars EP and then the not-so-upbeat nature of Return To Cookie Mountain, it'll be interesting to hear how TV On The Radio interprets "dance" and "party."

Marnie Stern
This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That
Releasing: 10.7.08

Marnie Stern's first single, "Transformer," from her latest and lengthy-titled album, shows a lot of promise. Stern's propensity for high-speed Van Halen-licks amidst her unique brand of rocking chaos is completely intact despite sounding a little more refined this time around. October will not come fast enough now that this album is on the horizon.

Letters From A Tapehead

Friday, September 05, 2008

Ummm...Death Magnetic?

You attract "death?" That would explain Cliff Burton. Poor bastard never had a chance.

Metallica, in an effort to promote their upcoming album, Death Magnetic, and possibly come off as somewhat Internet-friendly, are streaming six new tracks that you can listen to and chew on before you spend your hard-earned green.

Listening to this new output, and keeping in mind that Rick Rubin is at the helm and hopefully undoing the light and fluffy knob work that Bob Rock had been applying to this band since the overrated Black Album ruined a good thing, it sounds like the band is finally trying to fill their mostly empty, untouched and airy scrotums with some actual pound-for-pound strength and refortified huevos. They seem to be retracing their steps for a long overdue return to what made them great in the first place. Granted, Metallica will never exude the fire, pain or passion with which they used to destroy audiences, but at least they're aware of how far they've fallen in terms of what they may still be capable of and are trying to make amends. Either their couples counselor told them to go this route, or they're just tired of Dave Mustaine making them look like a quartet of post-heroin Claptonites.

This will probably be the comeback album that St. Anger was intended to be before it failed miserably.

Remember these guys? Wow: Seattle, WA — 1989

Letters From A Tapehead (still rocking his Master Of Puppets proud)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Taro Tarot and Wet Zoo

These Are Powers
Taro Tarot EP
Hoss Records
(out of print, being reissued by Dead Oceans, 10.17.08)
Originally released: 4.1.08

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

These Are Powers released two albums on Hoss Records earlier this year: Terrific Seasons and the Taro Tarot EP. Both these albums are being reissued as the band has signed with the Dead Oceans label, so neither are available at this time unless you want to find a copy on E-Bay or see what they’re going for over on Gemm.com. I can’t speak of the LP, but I can tell you that the Taro Tarot EP will be worth the wait.

These Are Powers, a trio comprised of ex-Liars Pat Noecker, Anna Barie and Bill Salas (who otherwise makes wikkee-wikkee scratch beats under the name Brenmar), is a well-oiled and precise machinelike force of No Wave cacophony and Industrial demolition. Taro Tarot offers up six tracks that encompass atmospheric drum-circle testimonial (“All Night Service”), undulating and thick beasts of low end burden (“Chipping Ice”), and even moments where Enya collides with Lydia Lunch (“Cockles”).

Possibly more rehearsed and arranged then anything you may have heard from No Wave era NYC, (please, if you haven’t, score yourself a copy of the Brian Eno compilation, No New York) These Are Powers seem to embody the offbeat, artistic and chaotically conceived spirit that bands like DNA or Teenage Jesus and the Jerks brought to the table thirty years ago, but they couple that with the accuracy of a program, or the perpetual motion of a swinging pendulum.

Wet Zoo EP
Canvasback Music
Originally released: 4.1.08

Rating: 6 out of 10

So, concept: Basically, Annuals and Sunfold are the same band. One just has a little more estrogen.

Adam Baker, mastermind behind the Sunfold spin-off, (Sunfold was originally called, Sedona, a name that was abandoned due to a legal issue...thanks, Google), provides another sound-alike in the already overflowing Indie folkster cup for all the whine-tasters out there. Beginning with the successively increasing passion of “Sore,” and following that with Smiths/Rusted Root-lifted “Around Your Neck,” it becomes obvious that THE TEMPLATE is being utilized. “Just Stay In” at least makes a couple interesting decisions with bowed instruments and sounds not so directly Nick Drake, not so exactly Elliot Smith, not so INSERT FAVORITE INDIE SAD ROCKER HERE.

The Sunfold tracks, beginning with the Pinback flavored “Between The Worlds” sort of prove to be more engaging and thought out. “Watering Pail,” J. Robbins/Jawbox in full effect, works in some Dischord-based emo before the band calls it quits.

It’s an interesting concept but Baker needs to come up with his own material.

Letters From A Tapehead

EDIT: Glaring mistake on my part. Sunfold is led by Kenny Florence so all songwriting credits go to him, as do the excessive rotations of Pinback and Jawbox LPs. Adam Baker is the drummer for this line-up. Very sorry for the error.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Brother, Where Are You?

Yesterday morning, I was channel surfing while my daughter was rolling around on her play mat, yelling at her various stuffed animals, when I happened upon a documentary on Oscar Brown, Jr..

As documentaries go, it's very engaging and fascinating. A lot of it was filmed while Brown was still alive, so he's interviewed throughout and it's peppered with a lot of archival footage. The energy with which this man performed, even at 79 years of age, is unmatched. I've seen hip-hop shows where twenty-somethings performed and could barely catch their breath after throwing out a couple lines. This man's work ethic was enviable and inspiring.

If you get a chance, find out when it's playing and check it out.

Letters From A Tapehead

New Selections — Emma Ruth Rundle, Tropical Fuck Storm, Primitive Man, Private Life, Uniform, Erika Wennerstrom, Djrum, Windhand

Starting August off with some new singles. Emma Ruth Rundle:  " Darkhorse " (via Rarely Unable /  Sargent House  / YouTub...