Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Shopping For Records #18: Tom Waits, Kraftwerk & Jawbox

"Fucking asshole!"

I'd first learned of the re-release of Tom Waits's Orphans box set from a friend of mine, his assurances that new tracks would be included and that it would be put out as a 7 LP vinyl set. After securing myself a copy of the 3-disc limited edition version of this album three years ago, the aforementioned vulgarity was my response to the news, simultaneously wanting a copy though aware that money’s already been spent on most of the album. Do I really want to buy the same album twice just to own six new songs? The angel of fiscal responsibility and the devil of fanboy allegiance are perched on each shoulder, debating vehemently.

A little digging on the Internet and the ever-reliable Eyeball Kid had all the info. There was also mention of a live album from the Glitter & Doom tour being released this Fall, which I’ll have less of an issue picking up.

Mute Records will be putting out Kraftwerk's 12345678 The Catalogue: Four Decades of Masterworks five years after news of its release had been circulated. Even promo copies of the original box set went out only to wind up on E-Bay a little while later.

Individual CDs and digital downloads will be available next week, but if you can wait till November 16th, CD and vinyl box sets will be released with booklets and new artwork.

I may be reviewing the set at a later date.

And though the above news may seem much more significant than Dischord/DeSoto’s re-release of Jawbox’s For Your Own Special Sweetheart, this to me is the sentimental gem of the bunch.

Released in 1994, For Your Own Special Sweetheart was the first major label release for Jawbox, being one of the many indie rock bands enjoying some of that Nirvana-spirited limelight.

Out around the same time, the band released an EP entitled, Savory +3, which was one of my teenage essentials. I found the EP at a hole-in-the-wall record store for $4 and it received many, many rotations and wound up featured on more than a few mix tapes, especially the track, “68,” which carries a high-timbered riff and murky bass line that still gives me chills. The EP will be included on the new treatment of the full album, which is itself underrated and will hopefully win the band some new fans.

For Your Own Special Sweetheart will be out in November.

Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, September 28, 2009

Justin Vernon & His Tepid Choir...

Volcano Choir
Released: 9.22.09

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Unmap would’ve been a better EP.

When first I’d laid ear to its first single, “Island, IS,” the Justin Vernon/ Collections of Colonies of Bees side-collective known as Volcano Choir sounded like an amorphous fount of ideas, a swarm of layered guitar strings and harmony that just… works. The song is a constant stream of experimental nuance and folky falsetto, gorgeous textures that build and build. It seemed a natural progression for Vernon particularly, his Bon Iver alter ego offered a not too grand departure from his signature tone, but an opportunity to expand on his abilities.

Naturally, I had high hopes for Unmap and it’s possible that my unmet expectations may generate an overt degree of bias. But, whether that’s true or not, Volcano Choir’s opus drowns its high marks with arbitrarily sequenced outtakes and it’s a bitch because this album contains one of the best singles I’ve heard this year.

For anything dubbed “experimental,” there’s an automatic allowance of creative leeway, specifically because the term denotes free reign and sometimes leads to moments of genius. With “Husks and Shells,” the ethereally naturist tone is enchanting, and the album begins with not one note out of place. With more of a rock approach and a snare beat driving its speed, “Seeplymouth” continues the album’s heavenly tone and leads directly into the more refined energy of “Island, IS.”

“Mbira in the Morass,” tinkering a bit with Tom Waits, slows the rhythm up to an eerie crawl before the underdeveloped “Cool Knowledge” pairs breathing exercises with simple percussion. Out of any snippet-length instances of filler in Unmap, “Cool Knowledge” does the most with a minute, six seconds. Otherwise, the swollen ambience of “Dote” and the clapped/yelped “And Gather” both seem like unnecessary and unfinished add-ons.

Most off-putting was the decision to include the Bon Iver track, “Woods,” (from this year’s Blood Bank EP), and repackage it as “Still,” expanding on what had once been purely vocal by making it fit into the album’s “heavenly” mold.

As the song undeniably benefits from instrumentation, (especially at the level these guys provide), it also seems like the group just ran out of ideas. And, while I realize that a lot of this material was written before Vernon gained notice with Bon Iver, recycled tracks still sound recycled. “Woods” or “Still,” (whichever came first), now seems like the “go to” for thickening an album.

Ending with the “Amazing Grace”-styled “Youlagy,” Volcano Choir’s debut generates mixed feelings. There are aspects to it that feel genuine to the album and other points that feel half-assed, song attempts that barely rate next to something like “Island, IS” or “Husks and Shells.” As one perception seems to state “strength in numbers,” for Volcano Choir it becomes a matter of “quality over quantity.” A minor trim and you’d have one of the best releases to come out this year. At the very least, they still wrote one 2009’s best songs.

Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What I Heard This Morning: Exploding In Sound

More than a week or so ago, I got an email from a gentleman by the name of Daniel Goldin who sent me a press release regarding a FREE compilation of music entitled, Exploding In Sound: Future Legendary. Exploding In Sound is a series of promotional compilations that feature the creme de la creme of the relatively unknown, a labor of love for Mr. Goldin.

You can download it here.

A lot of the bands featured are 90s-centric, psych outfits, a mostly energized array of well-produced rock n' roll/alternative music. Nothing about the compilation says "indie darling," so these are bands working their way up from nothing and gaining some notoriety.

And, as he's a promotional spirit, Daniel Goldin also keeps a very up-to-date rock blog.

I've listened to the compilation a couple times and I think it's worth checking out. There are some very cool bands, (most notable for me were Zuu and Skeleteen), and, honestly, the price is right.

Letters From A Tapehead

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Mailbox Giveth: Library Catalog Music Series

Music For Lubbock, 1980

Law of the Least Effort
Music for Measurements

Casey Foubert/James McAlister
Music for Drums

Asthmatic Kitty
Released: 7.7.09

Things may be improving a little bit, but we’re still in the midst of a recession. Earlier this year, once Touch & Go Records became a casualty of our economic decline, it was suddenly apparent that any sort of artistic or cultural bastion would be threatened and possibly forced to disappear or modify itself into a lucrative co-identity. The independent music industry is still surviving, but who knows for how long. Pessimistic view perhaps, but it’s difficult to accept the absence of underground or alternative outlets without preparing a little bit, even if it is by taking a mostly defeatist view on matters.

Asthmatic Kitty Records is breaking into an interesting part of the music industry, becoming a pseudo-music stock house with their new series, Library Catalog Music. In what I imagine to be a mostly humorous explanation, the Series is explained to be instrumental music “designed for possible use in films and television,” but it’s mostly soundtrack music for your daily tasks; y’know: driving, walking, working, cleaning, cooking, surviving the economic collapse… etc. So, it’s music to buy for personal use, and music to license for corporate use; better grade muzak that could potentially add some artistic appreciation to the otherwise capitalist outlook that music is only meant to sell shit.

You can take it as a Moby-ist ploy, the generation of revenue through commercial exposure, even if it is being delivered from an independent platform. But, to be honest, I would have a hard time imagining any of this music being used in ANY commercial function, except maybe as potential score music for some film, which would mostly likely also be from an INDIE film house. And that’s simply because this music is not dry enough to be outshined by some glitzy product, and would likely be a distraction to mainstream filmgoers who’re really trying to figure out the twists on some unimaginative A-lister’s vanity project. The non-potential for this music in a mainstream marketplace so blatantly exposes the vapidity of the average consumer that the Series almost works as a reaction AGAINST the compromise of independent art and music and its possible licensing seems somewhat of a “fuck you” to the whole machine.

Or, I’m just not giving the public enough credit. But, I think I’m right.

Anyway, so far the Series is comprised of three volumes and two musicians, with three more volumes slated for release at a later date. The first volume is Music For Lubbock, 1980, IDM/techno/remix music by 900X, an alter ego of musician James McAlister. With an Eno’s worth of ambience and experimentalism, McAlister incorporates live instruments with sampled beats and synthesized tones, sort of a John Carpenter-inspired collection of music sans the impending dread.

McCalister later teams up with Casey Foubert for the third volume, Music For Drums, which is exactly what it says it is. An all-percussive showcase, it’s the anti-melodic component of the series, which comes to full realization with the second volume, Music For Measurements.

Operating under the name Law Of Least Effort, Foubert is a one-man band, creating funk and soul tinged instrumental music. The Bar-Kays would be proud: it’s very existence owed to late 60s/70s Stax output. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it completely emulates the bow-chika-wah immediacy of 70s film or television, but it plays similarly with song structure and relies heavily on funk-laden bass rhythm. Foubert does go a little Western at times (“Blu”), and flirts with Link Wray (“Law 13”), though, so he does at least attempt to capture various moods, as any good “life” soundtrack should.

Asthmatic Kitty’s attempted plunge into the stock house market is probably too ambitious to become reality. Though appealing, the Series doesn’t possess the sort of lifelessness that one can ignore, the pleasant dullness with which one can subconsciously boost consumer morale and enhance product attractiveness. Instead, the Library Catalog Music Series will likely do more to expose the talents of some of the label’s artists, and maybe show up on a film or two. Either way, times being as they are, it’s telling that an indie label would try and position itself into such a sterilized sector of marketability, attempting to find new ways to fund their artists’ endeavors. What I appreciate is that compromise, no matter how tempting, still seems thankfully off the table.

Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What I Heard This Morning: Tempo No Tempo & Railcars...

Tempo No Tempo. Not so much vocally, but their song, “The Rat (Part One),” sounds like Goo era Sonic Youth meets Fugazi, sort of Ranaldo/Moore quality guitar shrieks kept in line by a thick, funk-drive low end. Their self-released album, Waking Heat, will be released 10/20.

”The Rat (Part One)”

And while we’re on the topid of “shrieks,” noise pounders Railcars could quite possibly be the resultant offspring of a courtship between Alec Empire, Wavves and Animal Collective. Weird? Yeah. The album Cathedral With No Eyes will be available on 10/6. In the meantime, check out “Castles.”


Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, September 14, 2009

Shopping For Records #17: Japanese Heavy Rock Hits...

Fans of Japanese drone rockers Boris will be intrigued to know that a series of three 7” albums entitled, Japanese Heavy Rock Hits will be released over the course of the upcoming Fall. I don’t have any additional information and I haven’t heard any of the music, but Boris is a safe bet for quality and the elitist appeal of something like a 7” series sort of speaks for itself.

Japanese Heavy Rock Hits Vol. 1
Side A: "8"
Side B: "Hey Everyone/ねえエヴリワン"

Japanese Heavy Rock Hits Vol. 2
Side A: "H.M.A. - Heavy Metal Addict"
Side B: "Black Original/黒い点滅"

Japanese Heavy Rock Hits Vol. 3
Side A: "16:47:52… /16時47分52..”
Side B: "… And Hear Nothing/きこえない"

Images courtesy of Southern Lord

Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rashied Ali (1935-2009)

I’m not sure how I missed this one.

Yesterday afternoon, I was listening to an episode of Henry Rollins’s Harmony In My Head radio show that had been recorded on August 22nd. In it, Rollins mentioned that Rashied Ali, Coltrane drummer and Philadelphia native, had died on the 12th. As tribute, Rollins played an instrumental excerpt that he had produced with Ali and saxophonist, Charles Gayle, during the sessions for an audio book entitled, Everything.

Actually managed to find an excerpt from Rollins’s Everything

Everything was my introduction to Rashied Ali, before I’d even laid hands on any John Coltrane album. I would throw on my thick, ear muff JVC headphones before going to bed, and drift off to sleep listening to Rollins speak while Ali and Gayle improv’d in the backdrop, cityscapes and traffic alive behind them if you listened closely enough. And, I really hadn’t been exposed to too much jazz at this point, so the avant/free stuff was beyond me. But, the album made still resonated with me, its wild, though somewhat muted, sax tones sputtering atop Ali’s sticks while Rollins cheerlessly spoke his piece(s). Though grey with time and carbon monoxide, you could see those city walls grandstand in the face of humanity, and feel the cold air pollute your lungs with every inhalation. And, yeah, it doesn’t sound great or romantic, but the grit at the time seemed attractive, me hauled up in my suburban nightmare with my whole life a possibility.

Many years later at a record show, I picked up Coltrane’s Live At The Village Vanguard Again!, and had my perception of music beaten to a pulp, this being one of his late-year music experiments. Alice Coltrane and Ali were in the line-up, and together they shocked and awed an insane rendition of “My Favorite Things” that took up an entire side of the LP. And, then of course Interstellar Space, Coltrane’s duet with Ali, spent months on my iPod, a suitable jab into consciousness during the morning’s commute.

Listening to Ali, he and Coltrane obviously shared a similar vision, the intensity with which each played almost comparable in terms of their instruments: disciplined in their improvisation, high energy and exploratory. Definitely a creative kinship that was unfortunately under-tapped due to Coltrane’s passing.

Being a fan, I was saddened to hear of Ali’s passing, especially since I was unaware until almost a month after it happened. The afterlife’s been picking up a lot of talent lately.

Mourn, Philadelphia: You’ve just lost one of your best.

Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Breakfast at Sulimay's: Episodes 28 & 29

Jay Reatard and BBU

Amanda Black and Radiohead

Ann's starting to look a little Joan Jett these days.

Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Shopping For Records #16: The Only Music You’ll Have Time To Hear Is That Of Miles Davis…

Miles Davis has been very good to Columbia/Legacy. While his body of work, as essential as most of it is, deserves all the attention it receives, (i.e. box set after box set after box set), you can’t get around the fact that Davis has been a reliable moneymaker for the label. He certainly left enough material behind for Columbia/Legacy to produce and reproduce while coming off sensible and respectful about how they treat the material.

With Kind Of Blue having recently received the Legacy treatment in honor of its 50th anniversary, Columbia/Legacy are taking advantage of his current posthumous spotlight and going in for the kill:

70 CDs?!?!

Initially, I barked “exploitation!” A 70 CD (1 live DVD, but who would have time to watch it?) box set is as unnecessary as it sounds. As Columbia/Legacy have been releasing and rereleasing Davis’s material for decades at this point, a 70 CD box set entitled, The Complete Columbia Album Collection, means the reacquiring of whatever you’ve already purchased. This happens of course, but when you’re me and you’ve already spent $100-something on a very ornate and intense On The Corner Sessions set, you really want to smack a Legacy bitch.

As it is I own about 20 of his albums, which barely dents Davis’s very extensive discography. As much as the music of Miles Davis means the world to me, I realize that there are other things I want to hear and that that something as exhausting and final as a 70-disc box set would feel like more of a listening obligation than an enjoyable experience.

Box sets work conceptually, meaning to house the extent of one’s career depending on that career’s extent. I like owning the entirety of Ozzy Osbourne’s output with Black Sabbath, I like having all of Sly & The Family Stone’s albums, the Talking Heads Brick set is also a thing of beauty. But, as far as Miles Davis is concerned, he’s a musician that I strive to keep new, box sets of certain albums a better investment than an entire career retrospective would be. His evolution is worth the examination that an overwrought box set would likely deprive a listener.

In light of Kind Of Blue’s anniversary, I can almost imagine an album so struggling to breathe amidst 69 other CDs that it no longer seems as meaningful or important. Just because it’s “complete,” doesn’t mean its necessary.

Take your time with Miles Davis. It’s worth it to let his works exist as something to discover.

But, if you’re interested, it’s actually a bargain: It retails for around $365, which isn’t bad for 70 CDs and 1 DVD. The Complete Columbia Album Collection will be available 11/10.

Letters From A Tapehead

The Mon: "Doppelleben"

Acting somewhat contrary to his normal work with the doom metal colossus Ufomammut , vocalist/bassist Urlo performs as The Mon , whose new...