Sunday, November 3, 2019

Toto for All It Deserves

If you’ve had enough of this once favorite of lite-FM – does anyone even know what that is anymore? – then you’ll agree that Africa, the song, finally gets its due.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Everybody Knows #$%&’s @*$#ed

Succinct, to the point, no fluff or puffery and in all of 16 seconds:

Everything that needed to be said, was said above. If you want more context, see below but you already got to the muscle; the rest is just cellulite.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The End Is Nearer Than It Was Yesterday

And we’re doing it to ourselves.

This song is completely A.I., from composition to recording. The voice is virtual. In fact, they’re blithely calling these generated bytes of doom “virtual musicians,” but that’s not what it is; this is the moment we open the gate to allow our machine overlords to take over. This is like Tea Party dupes voting away their own healthcare and social programs — the moment this becomes acceptable, human creativity is irrelevant. What jobs are going to be left?

The evil minds behind this are Auxuman, an artificial intelligence startup based in London.

Plead for mercy!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Music That Matters, Pt 26

With my previous 25 installments of Music That Matters, I’ve tried to make the case for the way music acts on us like a stream of emotional triggers, through my own well-chosen examples—while it arouses the pineal gland. (More on that in a moment.) A song, or more often, a piece of a piece, offers the listener some seductive lingerie to draw you into the boudoir, backseat, against a tree, etc. of a song. Sex first, then love: as you’re increasingly smitten, you learn to love everything else about it along the way. And often the reasons why don’t even make rational sense: It’s something that happens beyond both consciousness and free will. It’s not unlike the way we find ourselves attracted to other humans—it’s not something we choose. What it does is excite a whole suite of things that may trigger you – experience, chemistry, proclivities, memories, colors – but in the end it doesn’t even matter: It’s magic.

Like Crazy, which may be one of the best pop songs composed in the last 20 years: When CeeLo was on Live from Daryl’s House, Daryl Hall said something similar. Why is that song so good? Is it the skipping vocal melody, the hooky choruses, the atmosphere, the church backgrounders, the traditional ballad strings, that major and minor chord sound shift? Maybe, but whatever it does, it binds you in a multitude of ways like Lilliputians capturing Gulliver. And yet, the song is a slight confection. It’s no Bohemian Rhapsody or A Day in the Life. Crazy’s whole is so much greater than the sum of its simple parts: That’s the magic that pop music does like nothing else on Earth.

(A shame CeeLo poisoned the song by revealing himself as a rapey asshole. Ah, well...)

All of which many believe excites the pineal gland, the contact point between mind and body according to Descartes. It's said that when excited, the gland channels health, longevity, harmony, and spirituality. Search pineal gland and music and find all kinds magical thinking about how it may be activated with music – or a tuning fork and crystals: kits are for sale! Actual research tells us its primary function is the nightly release of melatonin which affects sleep-wake cycles and not much else.

Music can, however, create a bevy of intense emotional effects and, for some of us, it can transform us with a religion-like passion. Forget the pineal gland. Listen up (below) and go to church (or temple, ashram, synagogue, mosque, or whatever) and worship. Like the slogan of old Stiff Records, “F*ck art. Let's dance.”

263) Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters, (1973) Chameleon: While electronic keyboards in various forms had begun in the late 40’s with Fender pianos, Wurlitzers coming in the mid 50’s, and Moog synthesizers and Clavinets in 1964, it wouldn’t be until the early 70’s that they’d storm pop music. And this had much to do with who was playing them: I’m going to guess a young Herbie Hancock’s hearing Ray Charles’ banging What’d I Say (1959) was probably a turning point. Though, probably no record did more for electronica in pop music than Headhunters. The sounds were otherworldly, ethereal, and transcendent and Hancock was just the captain to take us there. By the time of the 80’s and digital sounds came along, electronics would become trendier and more ephemeral. But even now, it’s the analog sounds of the vintage ’boards that still drive deep into our dreams. Some manufacturers even regained their licenses and started making those analog ’boards again more recently, but there probably won’t be anyone creating such a worthy spaceship for going into the heart of the sun as Headhunters again.

264) XTC, All Along the Watchtower, Are You Receiving Me?, The Rhythm (1978): This first album by the band was also while the first wave of Thatcher era punk was still raging. By the time the album White Music was in the stores, there was already a growing legion of players out there that appreciated punk’s energy but found the crude structures too limiting. By then, XTC and many others were being tagged with the post-punk label which suited them less as time went on. In the case of early XTC, their chords were Chuck Berry, if chunkier, but the keyboards lent them a more sophisticated Music Hall cum sci-fi bent. Keyboardist Barry Andrews’ work remains some of the most innovative in rock history, in my mind. A journey he’d quickly abandon for his dancier and immediately more successful enterprise Shriekback. XTC’s leader Andy Partridge gives a vocal workout that may make this cover of Watchtower even harder than Hendrix’s.

Crappy audio on the next two but images are worth it:

265) The Birthday Party, Cry (1981): Why this was left off of their Hits collection is a mystery. If there’s any truth to that pineal gland business, this ditty would be would kick the wind out of it. The more formalistic version of psychedelia on the lyric sheet may’ve been entered into a word spinner app and set to abstract-o-vize. And then all was propelled into hyperspace on the afterburners of that scream: Cry! F--kin’ bingo! The words are kooky and obtuse – and the drums are right there with them – and among them are a few profoundly nestled sugar cubes to blow up your face: “...I’ll dig myself a hole and fill up that space with I’ll fill it up with flesh and I’ll fill it up with no flesh...and I’ll fill it with tears...” Truer words have never been written.

266) Bob Dylan, Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine) (1974): Another installment in Dylan’s gallery of voices. This one as heated and insolent as any in his career and could’ve easily served as the model for Johnny Rotten who’d start his own band a year after this album’s release. The Band’s playing is ferocious and Garth Hudson’s purgatory string-like organ sound is an ominous counterpunch to the Hammond sound the many Highway 61 Revisited imitators used to pollute the air in the world after. Whatever Dylan’s original intentions of Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way, this rendition adds far more lemon juice and jalapeƱo.

Bob Dylan & The Band - Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine) from Not Dark Yet on Vimeo.

267) The Sound, The Fire (1981): More post-punk: This would be their most brilliant moment. Sadly, history tells us their commercial prospects were only brief and dim as proven here, From the Lion’s Mouth, that’d ultimately cash out at 100K units. By the late 80’s, leader, singer, guitarist, and songwriter Adrian Borland would be displaying symptoms of clinical depression. By 1999, he’d take his own life. I bring this up because this ultimate expression of existential pain does offer the work much more poignancy, as the singer laments his youthful emotions jacked of their free will for desire, as is often the case with the young and, if you’re very lucky, old. The Fire is a banging’ little number the dashes right out of the gate with simplistic brilliance and a relentless punctuation of bass and guitar that pump turbo into every cylinder. A powerhouse to decorate your time.

268) Billie Holiday, I'm a Fool to Want You (1958); Your Mother’s Son-in-Law (1933): Billie also had her vocal transformations. Hers may’ve been less a choice than hard and desperate living. (And as we now know, she was targeted for destruction by the government.) The sweet exuberance of her early sides were overrun by a freight train of livin’ by the time of her Lady in Satin album era – it’d be like the difference between Greta Thunberg pigtails and a pre-surgical shaved head. Every terror and soul-freezing moment of her adult life is rendered in her singular take on I’m a Fool to Want You. Frank Sinatra took a ponce’s swing at this too but his was a Disney remake next to her Hitchcock-like original. This is adult music that throws a full spotlight on the scar tissue. It’s not for the squeamish.

269) Prince, Loose! (1994): For my money, Prince got better in the 90’s. The songs were less programmed, the sounds more analog, and nothing in his very deep catalog matches this track for sheer power. According to Wiki, Prince had little love for the album at the time. He called it “old material.” The songs were dirtier even than the adolescent porn of Dirty Mind (check Come), which is saying something, and the sheer muscle of them kicks the shit out of any of his 80’s output by far.

270) Urzula Dudziak, The Cats (1979): Polish born Dudziak was doing Bobby McFerrin harder and long before the squishy jazzer ever turned pro. (They’d later work together.) Her cred was impressive – extensive work with countryman Krzysztof Komeda, Archie Shepp and Lester Bowie. Vocally, she was a gymnast, a labiodental percussionist, uvula cacophoniest, and Coltrane snake-handler, unabashedly taking intricate melodic lines and singing them at a pace that few could take on without a plug. Late 70’s funk may’ve been the ideal launch pad for her wordless excursions.

271) The League of Gentlemen, Inductive Resonance, Dislocated (1981): On this record Robert Fripp would begin developing the style he’d utilize for the rest of his musical life including future versions of King Crimson. (A style I’ve written about before.) It’s mathy and meticulous and influenced by avantists like Steven Reich but Fripp takes it somewhere more melodic and kinetic than anything the avantists would’ve imagined. And yet, it’s a sound completely controlled and restrained giving it a kind of white knuckle tension.

Also: Barry Andrews (post XTC) is the one beating out tantrums on the organ.

272) The Isley Brothers, Livin’ in the Life (1977): The era may’ve been disco but the Isleys decided to return to some of the sweaty vein-thumping rage of Fight the Power. The sound is vintage, the tempos and grooves more subdued, and the subject matter more mature and toned down—still cynical and mystified but changed: Go for Your Guns this was the long contemplative email after the angry drunk texts of The Heat Is On. I wish they had of worked this angle more.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Dylan Goes Hard

Evolution is an act of defiance. A defiance of order that’s necessary to create change and progress—this is true whether art or biology. (Whether the change is good is another matter; it’s also completely inevitable.) The birthing of evolutions, like childbirth, can have profound labor pains.

In regarding the particular evolution of Bob Dylan, he was evolution squared: He evolved “folk music” while blithely battering it as we knew it—yet doing it with love. Clearly, he was a fanboy of folk and traditional American musics. Even called himself an acolyte of Woody Guthrie. But he could never bring himself to simply pay it homage. His evolution of the art he loved birthed something far more radiant and radioactive. Especially when he went electric. As we know, the loyalists were vociferously appalled. In recent interviews, Robbie Robertson addresses this issue explaining how audiences were beyond disappointed; they were shocked and enraged. (Note the performance of Like a Rolling Stone from 1966 below, a time before The Band even began calling themselves that.) Booing wasn't enough—people charged the stage and threw objects. One audience member in a video on YouTube screams “Judas!” As the song begins, Dylan responds by calling him a liar.

According to Robertson, Dylan was never discouraged. He was only more defiant and utterly convinced his path was the right one. Eventually, the audiences relented.

His songs became the gold standards of generations. The only evolution he couldn't surmount was age. So instead, the aged Bob would be bestowed the Nobel Prize and his career at last set in marble and parchment for immortality: He was canonized as an institution.

And a traveling companion to this evolution was his voice: a chameleonic instrument he’d change like a mask. With his very first album, as heard on Gospel Plow, he offers himself in a conventional gospel growl and sounds uncharacteristically tuneful. By 1966 that was all gone as evident in Like a Rolling Stone. Here, he replaces the tuneful with an atonal insolence, aggressive in a way even Johnny Rotten couldn’t match. It’s defiance rendered in a kind of agonized beauty. And the songs: always surprising just how melodic they were when you hear other people singing them.

Dylan was more punk than Elvis ever was.

The Rolling Thunder Revue of Maggie’s Farm is Olympic and yet again, his voice is more conventionally dynamic. It’s some of the hardest music of his career. It also sounds as if he’s aware of the punk that was happening at the time. Even he seems to realize how significant a cultural moment punk would be, though not commercially and not nearly as significant as his own moments beginning 15 years before.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019