Alright, I'll post them soon.
Wow. I fucking love this SFA album. I've never listened to them before, despite seeing their name all over. Thanks.
I'd also love to do this one week! Great write-up dude, I grabbed that High Llamas album as well; don't know them either.
The first time I heard The Lemon of Pink by The Books was in 2004; at the time I was downloading massive amounts of music using SoulSeek, and some guy I used to download from and occasionally chat with recommended I check it out. I enjoyed their music well enough, but it wasn't until I went to see the band live that their unique cut-and-paste approach really clicked for me. At one point in the show Nick Zammuto talked a bit about their process, explaining that a lot of their audio snippets, as well as the videos which they were played during each song when they performed live, came from buying unmarked VHS cassettes at thrift stores while touring. The band, Zammuto (guitars, bass) and Paul de Jong (cello), then launched in to The Lemon of Pink highlight “Take Time,” the video for which I've attached below. As they performed this track, building layer upon layer, I remember marveling at the way in which the audio samples, Zammuto and de Jong's frenzied playing, and the synced video all came together to conjure an almost palpable sense of unbridled and unabashed joy. I left feeling like I had just seen something quite special, and from then on I began to appreciate and approach The Books' music in an entirely new way. It can be a bit easy with their work to just sit back and let it play in the background, but a close listen (or seeing a performance) will really help to reveal all the care and effort which went into making these intricate and detailed songs.
There's really not a lot of mystery about what you're going to get with an album by The Books (as their songwriting approach has essentially remained the same over the course of their career with a few minor wrinkles from album-to-album), and the two opening tracks of The Lemon of Pink demonstrate both sides of the their rather idiosyncratic approach to music. "The Lemon of Pink, Pt. 1" is very much sample-based, all found sounds and snippets of guitar and cello (along with some lovely vocals by Anne Doerner), while "The Lemon of Pink, Pt. 2" focuses more closely on Zammuto and de Jong's playing in what feels almost like a one-take cello/guitar "jam" over a subtle background track. This instrument-based style is seen again in "Don't Even Sing It" and demonstrates the pair's ability to let their skills as "traditional" musicians take center stage as the samples present are used more as an ambient, textural background drone rather than the foundation with which to build a song around. Instead, the focus is devoted to de Jong's mournful cello and Zammuto's acoustic strumming and plucking, all looped and cut together to heighten the song's plaintive tone.
While strong on their own, these two approaches (the patched together sample-based pieces and the tracks focused on the two playing live) are put to best use when melded together, a process which results in some of The Lemon of Pinks. This combination can be most easily seen on the stunning “Tokyo,” the Japanese-inspired/sourced samples and vocal bits serving as the perfect platform for Zammuto and de Jong's staccato guitar and cello parts. Another wonderful example of this blending between a pre-recorded track and the pair's live playing, and one truly meant for some close headphone listening, is “There is No There.” The highlight of this song is found in the sound collage which serves as the track's foundation, as its wonderful aural textures is built upon expertly with the band's intertwining guitars and string tracks, and vocals from Zammuto and de Jong which bounce from ear to ear. "This Right Ain't Shit," the album's penultimate song, is another fine example of The Books' unique amalgamation of found sounds and classical instrumentation, and I find these three tracks produce some of the best moments on the album.
A final intriguing element of the album I'd like to touch on is in the nature of many if the vocal samples used throughout the album; more specifically, they seem to be based primarily on pronunciation, and are used as a kind of percussive tool by the band to drive the track forward. This trick is used sporadically in many of the album's tracks, but there are three pieces on The Lemon of Pink where this kind of experimentation with spoken language is the focus of the track itself, with de Jong and Zammuto providing minimal (or in some cases no) backing with their live instrumentation. “Bonanza” uses the vocals of an elderly man playfully saying some common Dutch words ("thank you very much," "yes," "no," etc.) with some layered humming or "tone singing" (not really words, but more of a consistent note) in the background, “Explanation Mark” is constructed solely of chopped up and pieced back together vowel and consonants sounds from an Italian(?) pronunciation guide, and the finale "PS" finds a couple giggling and almost tripping over their "uhs," "ums," "His," "heys," "yeses," and "nos." While not necessarily an integral element of the album itself, these tracks make me believe that The Books conceptualize spoken language and music in similar ways, and these tracks go a long way to highlight the inherent rhythmic and musical qualities of the spoken word - or something like that.
Tracks of Note: “Tokyo,” “There is No There,” “Take Time,” “That Right Ain’t Shit”
See Also: Lost and Safe (2005); Thought for Food (2002)
That song has seriously gotten under my skin. In the good way. Thanks for sharing that Jason.
Missed yesterday, so there will be two today; here's the first.
In keeping with the approach seen on Black Eyes’ self-titled debut, I’m going to make this write-up short and to the point.
You’ll probably have one of two reactions to this album: you’ll either find yourself thrashing around uncontrollably while gleefully slamming your fists into your face, or you’ll throw off your headphones in disgust after “A Pack of Wolves” starts thinking “What the fuck kind of garbage is this?” There is a lot to dislike here – the near-constant guitar abuse/noise, the fact that there are two vocalists with extremely loose definitions of what it means to sing (and that they are often attempting to do so at the same time) – but that’s mainly a function of the band being granted the creative freedom to fully and explore and inhabit their peculiar sound (thanks in no small part to producer Ian MacKaye). Black Eyes is aggressive and thoughtful and confrontational; it’s about thirty minutes long, and it simply does not give a fuck whether you like it or not. If you want a jumping-off point in terms of the album’s sound, imagine a no-wave/free jazz version of !!!, or They Threw Us…-era Liars ala “Loose Nuts on the Veladrome,” fronted by two barking and convulsing madmen and you’re half way there. The focus is firmly fixed on the rhythm section (there are two bass players and two drummers, after all) and there’s all kinds of weird and wonderful guitar-based noises thrown in as well, but really this is an album which you just have to hear for yourself.
Tracks of Note: “Someone Has Their Fingers Broken,” “Speaking in Tongues,” “Deformative,” “Day Turns Night,”
See Also: Cough (2004)
It can sometimes be intimidating to begin exploring the work of a musician with an extensive catalog, if only because you may have little to no frame of reference in terms of where to begin. I suppose the normal process is to seek out the albums which are the most critically acclaimed, as they can give you a sense of the artist at one of their creative peaks and can help you to gain an appreciation for the various styles or approaches which are taken from release to release. In my mind Miles Davis certainly falls into this category, and albums like Kind of Blue, The Birth of Cool, Sketches of Spain, and Bitches Brew (the list goes on) are a very useful way to explore the work of a musician who was at the forefront of many genres of jazz for over thirty yeras. After you’ve processed these foundational pieces, the exploration task then shifts to seeking out the almost-masterpieces, ones which perhaps don’t get as much attention but which are still an essential piece of their discography.
In a Silent Way, released in 1969,has an interesting place in Davis’ catalog, as it marks the point at which he finally jump head-on into the “electric”/fusion work he would develop over the proceeding 2-3 years. While Davis’ previous three albums also only contained one other brass player (saxophonist Wayne Shorter), part of what sets In a Silent Way apart is the presence of three different sets of keys: Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea on Fender Rhodes, and Joe Zawinul on organ. While Hancock (along with Shorter and drummer Tony Williams) had been a long-established part of Davis’ second great quintet, In a Silent Way was the first in a string of successful fusion albums which featured Corea and Zawinul, as well as guitarist John McLaughlin, all three of whom would go on to play important roles during this period of Davis’ career. Artists as restless as Miles need fresh perspectives to view and interpret their art through, and that is what these three new faces brought with them to the studio. In a Silent Way gave Miles the opportunity to ground these new inspirations with a core group of players, people he had an almost telepathic musical relationship with, and is also release which prepared him to record the seminal fusion album Bitches Brew the following year.
But while Bitches Brew is a strange, almost bewitched collection of extended jams, In a Silent Way adopts a much more subdued approach. It’s an elusive album, one which always seems to be shifting and sliding on you the moment you find a foothold. A groove is settled upon and then abandoned almost as fast as it appears; melodies and counter-melodies are tossed back and forth seemingly for fun; and over the course of each piece you feel as if there were an almost infinite number of avenues which could have been explored. There isn’t necessarily a lot of structure in the album’s two songs themselves beyond some minimal and repetitive drum and bass work (a feature found in Miles' other fusion work), but this basic rhythm allows the others to play off of each other in new and often breathtaking ways.
In a Silent Way consists of two pieces, each over 16 minutes in length. Opener “Shhh/Peaceful” is the more up-beat or “funky” track, and a more direct decedent of the increasingly raucous and spaced-out sound heard on Bitches Brew , Live/Evil , and On the Corner. However, the real stunner here is the title track, a beautify arranged song with three distinct pieces. The first part is essentially an ambient track, McLaughlin’s guitar providing the forward momentum and the keys creating the texture which he, Davis, and Shorter float through. Part two returns to the funky, groove-centered approach heard on “Shhh/Peaceful,” but outside of a couple fantastic solos from Davis and Shorter most of the focus is on McLaughlin’s scattershot playing and the varied styles and tones produced by Hancock, Corea, and Zawinul. This more up-beat middle section then gives way to a return of the ambient sounds of part one, allowing the track to seemingly drift back to where it came. This shift and repetition in tone and tempo is another characteristic of his later fusion albums, and is another reason why this album marks such an important moment in Davis' career. However, I think what's nice about In a Silent Way is that, while it certainly helps to have the proper "musical" context in order to fully appreciate what it has to offer, it is also an album which can be listened to and enjoyed on its own terms, as it stands as a fine example of one of Davis' many stylistic adventures.
Track of Note: “In a Silent Way/It’s About That Time”
See Also: his AllMusic page
Love your first two choices.
Going back to The High Llamas, I'm still amazed at how different the two bands spawned from Microdisney were. The Fatima Mansions were so intense, whereas Sean went down this Steely Dan route.
Chris may differ, but I'd go with either of Microdisney's first two albums (Everybody is Fantastic and The Clock Comes Down the Stairs). My intro to The Fatima Mansions was Viva Dead Ponies, which kind of blew my 18-year-old mind.
I'm late to the party and just getting into Mirror Noir's picks.. holy shit, this Springsteen is awesome. Always admired and liked the dude, but never really dug into his work. Roulette is a jam!
YOU KILLED THE THREAD
Thanks Bryan - while a bit time consuming, putting these write-ups together has actually been a lot of fun.
I didn't get a chance to finish my last one yesterday, but I'll definitely be doing so by the end of the day today. Looking forward, is there anyone willing/ready to go next?
I think I’ve kind of run out of steam, but don’t let this short write-up deter you from taking a listen to it – this is a wonderful record, and one which is very near and dear to me.
“I swear I’d never kiss anyone/who doesn’t burn me like the sun/And I will cherish every kiss like my first kiss.”
Jens Lekman’s masterful 2007 album Night Falls Over Kortedala is an unabashed pop record, one which is packed full of wonderful melodies and clever, heartfelt lyrics. One of Lekman’s strengths as a songwriter is his ability to describe the small details of a moment in time, and to surround these snapshots with a wonderful blend of looped samples and live instrumentation. It can be a bit hard at times to discern what is sampled and what is played by a live within a given track, but Lekman has a wonderful ability to seamlessly synthesize the two in order to craft just the right mood to pair with his lyrics. The main focus on Night Falls Over Kortedala is about love – both romantic and platonic, found and lost. And while the lyrics above, taken from the album’s opening track, could seem sappy and a bit trite taken on their own, when backed with a massive orchestra and Lekman’s passionate delivery you somehow feel like he’s making all the sense in the world. This combination – honest and endearing lyrics backed with smartly arranged and expertly crafted backing tracks – is consistent in each of the album’s twelve tracks, and is a feature which makes repeated listens a very rewarding experience.
Tracks of Note: “Sipping on the Sweet Nectar,” “A Post Card to Nina,” “If I Could Cry (It Would Feel Like This),” “Kanske Ar Jag Kar I Dig”
See Also: Oh You’re So Silent Jens (2005); When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog (2004); Maple Leaves EP (2003)
Pick #1: The Wedding Present – Seamonsters (1991)
I stumbled across The Wedding Present in 1989, thanks to some music magazine I've long forgotten. I want to say it was an early iteration of Alternative Press, but was that magazine ever good? Anyway, their 1989 album Bizarro had just been released, and the magazine was touting them as "the next Smiths." As a 16-year-old kid heavily into angst, and distraught that I had discovered Morrissey & Marr only after they had broken up, this sounded like it was right in my wheelhouse.
Turns out, the "next Smiths" label was a misnomer. The Wedding Present's early records (pretty much everything up through Bizarro) were frenetic things – all hyperkinetic C-86 jangle courtesy of guitarist Peter Solowka and singer, guitarist, and sole band mainstay David Gedge. The only Smiths comparison I could hear was in Gedge's lyrics. They broached the same lovelorn territory as The Smiths' songs – infidelity is one of Gedge's pet themes – only without all of Morrissey's fey melodrama and literary pretensions. Instead, they were full of dry humor and easily recognizable relationship details sung in Gedge's vaguely croaky vocals. I immediately fell in love with Bizarro and their 1987 debut George Best. The energy of those rapid-fire guitars was infectious, and the plainspoken, Everyman quality of Gedge's lyrics was less depressing than the Morrissey and Ian Curtis quagmire I'd been marinating in for over a year.
The majestic Seamonsters was released two years later, and nothing could have prepared me for it. The album starts quietly with "Dalliance," Gedge singing over a simply strummed guitar: "You've told him lies now for so long/Yet still he's ready to forgive/He's got you back and that's all he wants/It's a lot more than I'm left with." It continues in this vein for over two minutes, seemingly leaving behind the runalong rush of earlier albums for more sedate pastures. But then the 2:45 mark hits, Gedge snarls, "I still want to kiss you," and the song erupts in the roiling, churning sea of Gedge and Solowka's guitars. It's a moment that still gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.
"Dalliance" immediately establishes Seamonsters as a wholly different beast than the previous two albums. Produced by Steve Albini, it's a darker and slower collection of songs, the ramshackle riffing of earlier albums replaced by guitars that snarl and roar, in some cases darting in and out of the mix (such as "Carolyn," built around an acoustic guitar for most of its running time until a buzzsaw hacks the song to glorious pieces in its final minute). They haven't completely left behind their signature sound – "Dare" is a propulsive, crackling beast of a song and the outro of "Rotterdam" jangles merrily – but Seamonsters is the sound of a band stretching itself beyond what could have been a stylistic dead-end.
The biggest change is that Seamonsters is the first (and only, really) Wedding Present album to have an undeniable groove, all ten songs propelled by Simon Smith's monstrous drums. "Lovenest" is Exhibit A, entering on slithering feedback before the drums push Gedge's vocals (a simple, perfect lyric: "I heard another voice this morning on the 'phone/But just the other day I thought you said you slept alone/And yes I knew that laughter, okay, now I see/You wouldn't even know him if it hadn't been for me") to the chorus and a sudden torrent of feedback and percussion. "Lovenest" ends with a full 90 seconds of crackling feedback before plunging headlong into "Corduroy's" tribal drumming and thunderclouds of distortion.
The album ends on a moment of quiet beauty. "Octopussy" slowly dissolves into gently strummed guitars as Gedge sings, "We don't have to do anything/We don't have to do anything except watch the leaves/Turning in the wind." It's a dark album whose brilliance the band never quite matched in subsequent releases. But man – for 42 minutes I'm convinced this is as good as it gets.
Since Seamonsters the band has gone through various lineups with Gedge as the only stable member. He shelved the band in 1997 to launch Cinerama for a few albums, then revived the Wedding Present name in 2005 with a revolving coterie of young sideplayers. Quality control has remained remarkably high, and any of their ten albums is worth your time.
Cream of the crop: George Best (1987); Bizarro (1989); Watusi (1994); Valentina (2012)
Love that album, Roberto. I got to tell Albini how it was favorite Wedding Present album, before he took all my money playing hold em'.