Monday, December 30, 2013

Homeless Virtuoso


Her name is Sunni, she's 18 and has been homeless since the age of 13. And she shreds the acoustic blues. See her play at 8:47:

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Xmas with the Pistols


The Sex Pistols showing they could put their little dark hearts in the right place when they wanted. Good on 'em.



Via The Washington Monthly.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Setting a Proper Holiday Mood


Charlie Brown and Bad Brains:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Music that Matters, Pt 20





200) Lou ReedRock and Roll Animal: Reed hires Alice Cooper's future band, hardens up his sound, and takes the proto-acid folk pop songs of the Velvets mainstream. At times, the band's egocentric playing is a bit overdone but one could make the argument that Sweet Jane, Heroin, and Rock and Roll would never have become what they are without Rock and Roll Animal. This is the cherry-flavored, easier-to-swallow version of The Velvets. Walk on the Wild Side made Lou Reed an AM radio star, but it was this album that provided the wake that would pull the legacy of the Velvets and Reed forever out of the cult ghetto of the margins. And his voice never sounded better.

Lady Day by Lou Reed on Grooveshark



201) PavementConduit for Sale!: Once, these Stockton CA-sprung upstarts were the darlings of '90s college radio. They were the indie pedestal band back when that still meant something. Their sound bespeaks thrift shop wardrobes and pawn shop guitars and an originality based on suburban arrogance (in a good way) and a disregard for indulgent technique. I'm not a big fan of talk-over songs, generally – most often the effect is like a shovel of pretension to the head with a message from the sponsor. But the riff out of the gate is so seductive, and its cocktail of irreverence and impertinence so in the spot, that whatever they're selling I'm buying.

Conduit for Sale! by Pavement on Grooveshark




202) Janis Joplin, Move Over, Summertime: She's been maligned as a raider of the troves of blues singers. Hers was a voice that could've been used as a cat scratching post but it's a gift that comes across as wholly unforced and uncontrived. Even the detractors have to admit it was a gift like no other (and, man, those harmonics!). Every song she sang was bloodied with every tear in her heart. The fact that she didn't look like the battalion of cute chick singers now crowding our pop cultural zeitgeist was to her favor. Janis's songs were loaded with authentic hurt that tumble deep into our own resonance fields. Her pain is rich but it doesn't whine. And her Summertime belongs in the gallery with the greats, no small feat for one of the greatest songs ever written.


Summertime by Janis Joplin on Grooveshark

Move Over by Janis Joplin on Grooveshark



203) King Crimson, Satori in Tangiers: Near the end of the first millennium, when harmony begin to evolve in music, certain intervals were considered dark and diabolical, the so called Diabolus in Musica: The Devil in Music. The devil's chord was the augmented fourth (a sound so vital to the blues) and early Western music was designed to avoid such dark harmonies, lest they'd provoke lewd and libidinous thoughts. Flatted seconds were also suspect which lead to certain world musics being considered savage as well as satanic. Gamelan was one (built on a scale similar to E to E on the piano using only the white keys, AKA the Phyrigian mode.) Fortunately, musicians stopped listening to the ravings of the clergy and got with the sounds of the East. Satori in Tangiers is an example of what is possible when East meets West. It was no accident that Hendrix was a big fan of Robert Fripp. Satori in Tangiers presents the kind of territory where only Fripp can go.

A blistering live take:








204) Fleetwood Mac, Oh Well, The Green Mahalishi: Under Peter Green, Mac was the blues band stretched to the future. And as it turned out, they were prescient. They also may well have produced two of the best singles of the late '60s, IMHO. Go here for more on the Mac and Peter Green story.

Green Manalishi by Fleetwood Mac on Grooveshark

Oh Well, Part 1 by Fleetwood Mac on Grooveshark



205) Hugo Largo, Second Skin, Turtle Song: Two basses, violin, no guitars, no drums (except for accent on Second Skin), and the voice of the extraordinary Mimi Goese (GAY-see). The Guardian included their first album Drum on a list of 1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die. Hugo Largo (1984 - 1991) is somber mood music that drifts and undulates like kelp in a tide. On its surface, it sounds deceptively alpha wave-like but the energy is in its intensity, thanks primarily to Goese. But in a crescendo like on Second Skin their sparse accompaniment proves to be all the orchestra you'll ever need. As rock it's much more cerebral than glandular, better suited to the excitement and refractory cycles rather than the orgasmic one. A good record to put on while you're waiting for the wet spot to dry.

Second Skin by Hugo Largo on Grooveshark

Turtle Song by Hugo Largo on Grooveshark


206) Henry Threadgill, Ambient Pressure Theraby: The cool tuba is a possibility not much explored in music history. This song is it's most convincing dissertation. The beat holds this joint together stunningly like rivets on a glimmering fractal. The band spreads like a radioactive flower, going in several syncopated directions but orbiting around a solid center. Threadgrill is the future of jazz, free and more new music than old school and with a generous appreciation of a sexy downbeat pulse.

Ambient Pressure Thereby by Henry Threadgill on Grooveshark



207) Polyrock, Romantic MeYour Dragging Feet: The minimalistic arrangements and tightly structured rhythms almost foreshadowed the sounds of Hip Hop in their skeletal sparsity. The choice of Philip Glass as a producer was an ingenious one. The resultant sound was clean without being sterile, building from sharply outlined layers, skin tight rhythms, and lots of space. Within those layers are simple repeated figures that taken altogether form a groove salad with enough urban fidgetiness at the edges to lend the sound some angsty mystery. The sound also remains refreshingly current: Bands like Stereolab, Ladytron, and The Killers owe them an enormous debt. 

Romantic Me by Polyrock on Grooveshark

Your Dragging Feet by Polyrock on Grooveshark






208) Eyeless in Gaza, Continual: Like songs from a dream – not those of unicorns and dancing vestal virgins but one from a surreal landscape with camels on stilts and midgets speaking backwards where you find yourself at school, naked and having just missed finals. There's a wound-up, ethereal intensity in the performances – two things that aren't usually found traveling together. Continual is from Eyeless in Gaza's first album and there's a sharpness and rawness here that'd be missing from subsequent outings, as is often the case with first albums. There's also a bounty of idiosyncrasy you can take or leave – vocals pushed into mild histrionics, the Outer Limits electronic sounds, the austere percussion, the lack of the usual verse-chorus-verse template, and its oh so Britishness. Taken altogether, it was something special.






209) Be-bop Deluxe, Sleep that Burns: Be-bop Deluxe was too illusuive to categorize: They had proggy elements, heavy chops all around but they didn't swim in them. What they did so adeptly was take technique and proggy layers and squeeze them into more traditional pop song structures. It was obvious from the songs that leader and guitarist Bill Nelson had a garage full of records and he wasn't afraid to crate-dig for influences. Deluxe could channel jazz, caberet, movie soundtracks, MOR, and filter it all through a sometimes heavy, sometimes smooth lead guitar. It's a rare album that lives up to its nudie cover.

Sleep That Burns by Be Bop Deluxe on Grooveshark



210) Steely DanAja: This is one of those rare songs where an instrumentalist is so thunderously good their work jumps to the forefront and steals the whole joint. It's not that there aren't a number of impressive performances here – the orchestrally fat piano chords of Michael Omartain, Donald Fagen's synthesizer, and the rich guitar textures (I don't know who's playing here, there are many guitarists listed on the album), but the spotlight goes to the drums of Steve Gadd. His rolls, breaks, and polyrhythms are so stunningly ingenious and Olympian in their understated power that everything else here is merely secondary. And that tennis-balls-in-a-dryer rhythm he takes on the fade out is a friggin' wonder of nature.

Aja by Steely Dan on Grooveshark

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Old Guard of the New Wave


So, how're they wearing the old age? Some graceful, some not: Some head shaving, some face lifting, and lotsa dye.



Gary Numan:









Lene Lovich:



Cocteau Twins:



See the lot of 'em at djrioblog.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Crimes Against Rock and Roll, Pt 1: The Gelding of Louie Louie (and others)



Whatever popular music was before the rock and roll era, it was generally considered adult music. Even with the rise of the first teen idols in the '20s, pop music was still jazzified music your grandparents could pop a finger to. By the thirties the bobbysoxers had discovered Swing and Sinatra and the rift of the so-called generation gap began in earnest.

By the sixties this rift would become revolutionary. Rock acts were ghettoized to spots on the occasional variety show or special or the few dedicated radio stations. Ed Sullivan would make a point to introduce The Beatles and The Stones as for "the youngsters." Most mainstream shows like Johnny Carson shunned rock acts entirely. All was emblematic of the elder generation's reluctance to warm to the new sound. So to bridge the rift, the genre of pablum rock was born.

This is rock rubbed smooth as a soap remnant, engineered and neutered to gently swim in your earholes and drop the listener into a deep chill like an aural elephant dose of Prozac. It’d also became the ubiquitous background music of shopping centers, elevators, and dentist offices. It wasn't all just musical wallpaper, it had a sinister purpose too: Research showed such music could also have a psychological effect: ... slower, more relaxed music tends to make people slow down and browse longer.


A prime, insidious example is this battered and baked cover of Louie Louie. Exoticized with Spanish lyrics, novocained with a hymnal tempo, and beaten into soft submission with the lilting voices of the popular '60s group The Sandpipers (active from '66 - '75). Who would've imagined this once beloved garage classic and smutty tale of shore leave (I go over Louie's legend here) could be fashioned into something softer than Justin Beiber's chin? 



Bachelor pad music for those not quite ready to rock – slightly modernized sounds to go with your newly grown mustache and sideburns. 

The jazzy vamp lent Light My Fire to some buttery arrangements. This one by Swing Era band leader Woody Herman possibly desperate to sell some records:




Ananda Shankar, the nephew of Ravi known for fusing Western music with Eastern styles, goes a little south.



These arrangements stay close to the originals which makes one wonder, does adding horns or sitar or ethereal female choruses where the vocals should be really make the pill so much easier to swallow?




Multiple offenses here: Sterilized MOR rock cum disco and the pixieish sounds of a flute stripping away any vestiges of a wild side: While his peers struggled to sell jazz in the rock age, Mann made a fortune pablumizing popular rock hits.


Ella goes (awkwardly) psychedelic:



Then came the Age of Irony:






Sebadoh's Lou Barlow does Foreigner with more respect than irony, folding it back on itself and in the process bringing more nuance to the song than we ever knew existed:




Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ice Drumming


Better than the drum circles at Venice. 'Nuff said:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Fly for an Old Guy: Christopher Walken's Dope Dance


Who's cooler than Christopher Walken?

Nobody.

Monday, November 18, 2013

So Monday, we meet again...




We will never be friends—but maybe we can move past our mutual enmity toward a more-positive partnership.  Julio-Alexi Genao

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Music that Matters, Pt 19


190) The Slits: Hung would've been a great name for a punk band, I always thought. The next dickheaded machismo yet quintessentially rock/punk rung on the ladder up from The Heartbreakers. A close second would be The Slits (even better than Pussy Riot) a name as layered and in your face as there ever was. The Slits also may've also been the ultimate expression of the punk ethos – taking limited musical skill and constructing a truly innovative sound without the limits of technique or pretension. It was a sound that was mostly a melody-free, boundary-pushing free-for-all that owed huge debts to dub reggae, No Wave, and sheer English impertinence. A band of rare sophistication from an era of punk when dumbed down dickheadedness was de rigueur. In this, the music of The Slits songs offered a depth and craft that even brilliant wankers like Sex Pistols couldn't approach. And unlike many of their peers, The Slits' music still holds up. Their latter day offspring like the Savages and Sleater-Kinney should cross themselves out of deference.

Typical Girls by The Slits on Grooveshark



191) Patti Smith, Break It Up: Her reimagining of Gloria on Horses got all of the attention. Land and Birdland were gassed up with all her poetry and ambition. But Break It Up was the song that established a Smith as an island of her own – highlighted by the ethereal opening piano chords, a great weeping guitar sound and interplay by Tom Verlaine, Smith's chest-beating intensity, and all that talk of sex and death, it was the whole of Patti Smith's brand squeezed into one joint.

She's been described as an iconographer. Her study and emulation of the greats was an integral (and one could argue, co-dependent) component of her work (Morrison, Jagger, Dylan, Burroughs, Rimbaud, etc). She saw it only as part of a universal language to be shared and re-spoken. Her earlier work as a rock scribe made her more of a critics darling than she might've been otherwise. Even in those moments when Horses' material tips toward the banal, the performances raise them up to something else. In the tree of rock history she may be one of its glorious dead ends – no rush of poetry wranglers followed in her wake – but her bravery as an artist was heroic. Anyone who's going to stand for poetry and so nakedly borrow from her heroes is sure to to take their lumps. She wasn't just a copycat, though, she added much of her own to the vocabulary, and not unlike The Slits, she was able to innovate using modest technique. An innovation built almost entirely upon passion.

Break It Up by Patti Smith on Grooveshark


192) Sun Ra, Lanquidity album: His legal name was Le Sony'r Ra (nee Herman Poole Blount). He was a cosmic philosopher, poet, self-described angel from Saturn, UFO contactee, afrofuturist, composer, player, pan-jazzer, and bonafide eccentric. Drop the needle anywhere on a Ra's records and find yourself in the middle of a continuum of a disoriented and alternate universe, littered with a great clouds of interesting debris. I particularly dig the snaky horn arrangements, the science fiction sounds, the afrocentric beats, and the sheer space he allows for it all to dance naked together. But for all his outre-ness, Ra's music is also concrete and earthbound, always strapped with a spider's egg sac of past and future possibilities.

See a film in which the myth is revealed here.

Twin Stars of Thence by Sun Ra on Grooveshark



193) Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn, Strange Feeling: I think this version tends to shortcut the melody a little but the song itself is a neglected masterpiece. From the longer work The Perfume Suite (1945), Duke described the song as a musical demonstration of the violence of love. This may explain the psychedelic lyric and the Twilight Zone arrangement. It's also miles away from other work they did together (e.g. Take the A Train, Lush Life). It's a strange piece, as much a jaunty Requiem as Swing Era noodle. Diamanda Galas would do well to cover it.  
I walk, I try to do so without reeling 
I talk, and someone answers from the ceiling 
This strange feeling is roughing like a knife 
this strange feeling is snuffing out my life 
but I can't stop this savage, ravaging of this strange feeling





194) Funkadelic, Standing on the Verge of Getting It On, Alice of my Fantasies: This is steel-toed, thigh-high boot funk, guitar spiked and all laced-up together tighter than a leather corset. Listening to this c. '74 jam should make you pine for the golden age with its real-time raging and unself-conscious cross-culturalism. And despite its ripe old age, the sound is fresh – not like retro-mushrooms growing from some anachronistic corpse but something vital and timeless. Territory that someone, somewhere should be exploring now. The kind of funk that no amount of loops, samples, or autotune will approximate. No silicon chip is ever going to get to the core of sweat and passion that vintage Funkadelic oozed all over the place.

Standing on the Verge of Getting It On by Funkadelic on Grooveshark

Alice in My Fantasies by Funkadelic on Grooveshark


195) Lena Horne, Poppa Don't Preach to Me: The Horne, her voice was a cocktail of the sweet and the smutty but always with a large dose of taste. Her power was not one of technique but of attitude. She could give a lyric a wanton spin on her tongue like a well-trained burlesque dancer with tasseled pasty. Yet, it was only suggestive, never overbearing and always with a wink. Listen to the way she reads a line like "let me fling until my fling is all... flung!" With a sweet bit of growl and a modulating swell in her voice that swells in all the right places, she makes the much more technical Ella and Sarah seem like cankled schoolmarms by comparison. Hot stuff, this is.




196) Dr. Feelgood, Another Man, Back in the Night: This is the band the first wave of Brit punk was listening to when they dreamed of starting bands of their own: A pub rock's version of the blues. It was a sound sculpted from Lee Brilleaux's subtly menacing snarl and Wilko Johnson's percussive ching-chongy guitar. This was blooz rejuvenated with a much needed collagen injection. Unlike the thundering noodlings of the Brit-invasion bands that were wearing thin by this period, Feelgood's sound was mercifully compact, concise, and without any of their forebears epic self-indulgence. This is blues as refreshing as your first beer.








197) The Rolling StonesMoonlight Mile: Sticky Fingers is another one of those rare albums that radiates an elusive quality of gorgeous pain. A proposition that, when improperly undertaken, can result in laughably lugubrious and self-pitying opera. Here, the result is the nakedly authentic capsule of their drugged up humanness – a sound of devastating truth. It also stands as one of the most vulnerable albums in The Stone's canon. A number of songs on the album wrestle with the theme, but Moonlight Mile scratches the deepest. More than Exile on Main Street, this is The Stones at their peak. This album is most consistent from beginning to end, less experimental than some but a triumphant end of the road. This was their ultimate destination: Everything else was either approaching or heading back.

Moonlight Mile by The Rolling Stones on Grooveshark



198) Neu!, Negativeland: Erstwhile Kraftwerk-ers and Krautrock progenitors, their influence on synth and avant rock might be considered epic. I used to have a friend that described bands that traded in noisy dins of sound as mersh and mersh may be the best description of Neu!'s sound. Technically, it's akin to a bratty savant twirling knobs on his first synthesizer with the volume up to 10 just to piss off the neighbors. I'd argue that at the heart of all avant garde art is an aching desire to piss off the neighbors. But unlike so many generic bands of mohawked teen punks shouting inchoate nihilism at the world, this isn't just bilious spit. Playing dumbed down Chuck Berry doesn't begin to provide half the insolence of good Neu! Ten minutes of Neu! purging themselves with streams of synth mersh is the true heart of what the punks wish they were doing – kind of like Metal Machine Music or The Shaggs with a heart and an aesthetic conscience. But still being eminently listenable at the same time: That's the genius of it.

Negativland by Neu! on Grooveshark



199) Dead Can Dance, Anywhere Out of the World, Enigma of the Absolute, Avatar: Maybe we can blame them (along with the Cocteau Twins) for much of the shoegaze '90s when their looping, sweeping walls of phased sound became the template for the flanged bands in their wake. Call it Ren Faire stoner music with bits of ambient and goth––but goth the way it was intended, medieval style. On top of that, add a plateful of Gregorian chants, liturgical and world music (they're big on Middle Eastern), the Velvet Underground, Swans, the mathy sounds of Steve Reich, and a parsley garnish of '60s baroque pop. Their sound would gain in worldliness and the medieval as they went along until at last it barely resembled rock at all, eschewing drums, beats and anything resembling a verse-chorus-verse. A more slick and ambient sound resulted that'd leave their first two albums as the only real experiments with more conventional rock. Shoegaze was fine, but the source material was best.

Enigma of the Absolute by Dead Can Dance on Grooveshark

Avatar by Dead Can Dance on Grooveshark

Mesmerism by Dead Can Dance on Grooveshark

A Passage in Time by Dead Can Dance on Grooveshark

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Iron Man Sings!


Robert Downey Jr. joins Sting on stage (and kisses his hand). I suppose we shouldn't be surprised, he's pretty good.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mo' Dancin': Au Go Go


For you oldsters, see if you can spot Joey Heatherton, Teri Garr, and Toni Basil. Reportedly they're in there somewhere.



Thanks to Art Chantry for the alert.

Slammin' Dancin'


This has been around the world a few times but it's still worth seeing. There's a certain element of violence here that makes it almost uncomfortably intense. And brilliant. 



Compare it to this rather polite description of Jitterbugging.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Whitey Powers

We spend much of our time on Jelly Roll touting music of a certain vintage. But we also listen to more contemporary music on occasion. (I'm a father of a teenager, I'm subject to hearing all kinds of, er, product. Especially on long car rides.) And once in a while we come across something we like:

His name is Nathan Joseph White, his nom de musique is Whitey. His recent demurral written to a large production company wanting free use of his music free went viral. (His music has been featured in films and television shows like Breaking Bad and Grand Theft Auto IV.) He tried going the traditional music industry route with the release of his album but in his disgust decided to go his own way with Bandcamp. We like what we're hearing (admittedly, it does have a kind of retro appeal). Maybe you will too. The album for your delectation is linked below. Buy it from Bandcamp here.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pushing


Tom Thum: The Michael Jackson is corny but the didgeridoo is brilliant.




Reggie Watts is a genius and proves that music is much more and much less than you think:




"Three Beats for Beatbox Flute" by Greg Pattillo: Going new places.











Guy turns kitchen into giant synthesizer:




That fusty old tool of lederhosen-wearing oompah bands, ultra-square band leaders, and other musical misfits, just got totally sexed up. 

Meet Greek babe Zoe Tiganouria. Before Zoe, you may not have noticed the accordion required so much spreading of the legs to play – a point made very clear here. While she may be pushing perceptions of the accordion, her boundaries aren't musical: where that's concerned you'll find she's firmly in the middle-of-the-road. That aside, she's a lot more than a spike-heeled and pouty-lipped tart – she's got chops. If her larded résumé is any indication, she's played with a who's who of Greek musical elite and has even clocked some time with James Brown (!). She may be the instruments first superstar, at least for the Cyrillic parts of the world. 




A little off theme but I just love this piece: Horowitz and Sriabin proving that the piano my be the best drum ever created: the beatbox abstracted.



Saturday, October 26, 2013

Benjamin Franklin, the Robert Moog of His Day


Ever run your wetted finger on the rim of a wine glass? It produces a sound. Cover a table with wine glasses tuned to various pitches and it's called a glass harp. Benjamin Franklin heard someone play a glass harp and, because he was Benjamin Franklin, invented the Armonica, a kind of 18th century Theremin or Georgian era synth. An explanation of the curiosity below:



Sounds like a pipe organ with a single high stop pulled. No matter what's played on it sounds like a funeral. In any event, it's curious.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Momma, can you hear me yell, Your baby boy's gone back to hell: Jacques Brel in Spirit and Word


I've made my case for Jacques Brel before (here and here). Brel ( 1929-1978) was the Belgian singer/songwriter capable of wringing more expression from his teeth than a legion of vocal contestants from The Voice/American Idol/etc. His performances were a masterful balance of black comedy and heart shattered pathos delivered like a meth-crashing Pagliacci. And if the vocal and facial intensity weren't enough, watch him sweat buckets enough for a menopausal squad of Tina Turners. Intensity was his meat.





But what of the songs? Even in their English "translations" his lyrics are the opposite of cloying and sentimental. He seemed incapable of seeing love as anything other than humiliating, doomed, or worse, cancerous; or, as in Mathilde, all three together. (Not ironically it was lung cancer that took Brel's life at 49.) Purists have argued that the only way to understand the true depths of Brel is to hear him in his original French. No doubt this might be the preferred vehicle for the French enabled but that's not to say that some of the third-party English reworkings don't have a power of their own. (The title of this post is a line from one such translation.) As representatives of the translations, both Dusty Springfield and Shirley Bassey make cases of their own, understatement in the former and eye-shifting displays of power in the latter.

See Brel in action with a series posted at Network Awesome.


Below, Scott Walker—who famously recorded a hefty number of Brel translations—takes a crack at a reworking of Mathilde.



It's been argued that Michigander creative writing professor Dr Arnold Johnston may be the best translator for locating the truest spirit of Brel. As he notes in the video below, after Ne me quitte pas was voted Love Song of the Century in Europe, Brel asserted that it was not a love song at all but a description of one man's humiliation. Vocally, Johnston's performance will never suspend beliefs that he's anything but a professor singing in a small town library, still, he manages to get his point across.

Below, two Brel chestnuts offered with a little perspective and translations that promise to be more in the maestro's spirit:



Thursday, October 17, 2013

Music that Matters, Pt 18




178) Savages: From their website: "... music and words are aiming to strike like lightning, like a punch in the face, a determination to understand the WILL and DESIRES of the self."

Well, they're nothing if not ambitious. This London-based unit is a sound salad of Sonic Youth, MBV, Joy Division, and Siouxsie/Banshees with shades of shoegaze and a socio-political bite: They're post-punk all grown up. Unlike others who've worshipped at this altar—like vacuous posers She Wants Revenge—Savages have something to add to the legacy. With a presence that is surprisingly mature, they may just be one of the best girl bands that ever was—though, limiting to the status of a girl band is unfair; they're a powerful force regardless. If anything they beg the question, if this is what it sounds like when women pick up the (post-punk) weapons, why aren't their more bands like this? Their branding has been exquisite. Check their videos, they look like teched-up French New Wave. MTV's 120 Minutes could've used some of this. This is a band to watch.

Shut Up with a Fight Club style intro:



This is what they sound like live:




179) Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out, Everything: More great gynocentrism that transcends the novelty of gender. This is thoughtful female crotch rock from a crotch that makes best use of its cleft. Unlike their male counterparts, their guitars aren't just extensions of their phalli—or clitori, as the case may be—but are more like rocket effigies set to launch Corrin Tucker's impressive voice. Their fundamental, bass-free, low budget arrangements and cheap guitars only help to make their sound more pure and concise. The effect is one of deceptive simplicity, like a Picasso on a cocktail napkin. This is the power trio as it should be, without all the indulgence and instrumental wanking and just enough filigree to keep things interesting.




Everything by Sleater-Kinney on Grooveshark


180) Swans, Love of Life: Swans love repetition. Their grooves are industrially hypnotic, like the sound of the machines that smash cars into scrap. (It's a sound spiked with striking metal, be it a clanking hammers or scratched violins.) I prefer their peppier tempos as their slower ones can be numbingly plodding and Love of Life is peppy. This is music that drifts on a gray cloud and seeks the skull beneath the skin, dripping into your brain like a faucet leaking battery acid. Abrasive was one critic's description. If there's any way to wrench beauty from such mordant elements then Swans have done it. Its mechanicalness lends it a symmetry that feels urban but with undercurrents of a restless, caffeinated zen—groovy poetic noise that's always anchored with solid, basic thump, no flights of meter or syncopations. The howler monkey low registers of Michael Gira's voice come at you like the dark side of your conscience, or a horror movie announcer, even when he sings about the subject of (the ambiguous) Love of Life. This is hardcore dinner music.

Love of Life by Swans on Grooveshark



181) Jarboe, I've Got a Gun: Swans alumna and extreme eccentric: When Jarboe La Salle Devereaux wasn't adding idiosyncratic dimension to her former band, she proved she could stand well enough on her own. There's enough restrained torture in her voice that her songs should come with endnotes—when she sings I've got a gun, you want to believe her. It's a voice that's assertively intense, severe, vulnerable, and frightening all at once. She can bank from pretty to evil with equal adeptness and can swell her vibrato like Anthony Newley with palsy. Her music tends to linger in the dark territories (notice her album cover at left, of her 13 masks, none are smiling)—she was a Swan after all—but she's never comes off as shrill or inauthentic. Judging from her subject matter and execution (pun intended), I imagine she lives alone.

I Got A Gun by Jarboe on Grooveshark



182) Tower of PowerSo Very Hard to Go: A horn section that was pretty much the best in the business and frequently bursts into the orchestral like a horny supernova. Underneath, a rhythm section that could've anchored the Titanic while swindling out the funk proper. So Very Hard to Go is an Otis Redding scaled ballad with an epic arrangement to match: strings, horns, voices, and melody to push all into the classic with a singer up to the task. There's no zirconium in this bag; this is all finely polished jewel.

So Very Hard To Go by Tower of Power on Grooveshark





183)  Etta JamesSomething's Got a Hold on Me, Trust in Me: She's the singer Janis Joplin listened to, a voice raw and frayed in the right places. A voice raw enough to power through shouters and smooth enough to massage ballads into wedding staples (e.g. At Last): A bluesy singer who could slam dance and soft shoe with equal skill. Perhaps James never got her proper due for never having scored the big pop hit (though she does own I'd Rather Go Blind), nor was she as technical as some others (say, like Joplin or Franklin). More refined, she didn't overuse the histrionics either. Nobody could shred a scream like Joplin and by comparison James might even sound demure but don't mistake that for subdued. James was strapped with a chrome-plated raspy shout that could easily throw some knives when needed. And unlike Joplin, hers was a voice that demanded intimacy—not one to be lost in the cavernous arena: scaled down but still a killer.

Something's Got a Hold on Me by Etta James on Grooveshark

/>Trust in Me by Etta James on Grooveshark


184) Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection: There's a kind of desolate loneliness that permeates this album that makes Tumbleweed such a unique moment in John's and Taupin's careers. The kind of moment they'd never attempt to scratch at again. The characters drawn here are as sepia-toned as the album cover and its restless heart offers the kind of depth and authenticity that wasn't usually their gig. Even John's voice has warmth that would never be heard again. For both, their great commercial successes were still ahead of them (John would become the highest paid recording artist in history) and when it arrived these kinds of scaled-down gems would be forever lost. Taupin's lyrics here use the Amercian South as a metaphor for a shifting world that may've been a mirror to their own rising fame. As John's life became more diamond encrusted, so did his schtick. This is the Elton John album for people who don't like Elton John––raw and unvarnished. For me, it's easily the best work of both of their careers.

Where to Now St. Peter? by Elton John on Grooveshark

My Father's Gun by Elton John on Grooveshark




185) Eddie Heywood, Soft Summer Breeze: This is the kind of musical tryptophan your parents would've thrown on to give their dinner parties ambience. That is, if your parents were really old like mine. Heywood may be best known for backing Coleman Hawkins and Billy Holiday and as the composer of the catchy '50s confection Canadian Sunset. Soft Summer Breeze was hit in 1956 when your Swing Era parents were listening to radios as big as Buicks. Heywood was an able pianist as his earlier gigs would indicate, but left to his own he tended towards the lightweight and other catchy sentimental ooze. Breeze was all of that but still manages to hone right into to the squishier part of your brain's music receptors, like hummingbirds to a feeder. You may think it's piffle but I'd argue that all the notes are exactly the right ones. I lament the long gone era of the well tuned instrumental. All we can do now is dig the crates to seek the musty nuggets like this one.

Soft Summer Breeze by Eddie Heywood on Grooveshark


186) Siouxsie and the Banshees, Spellbound, Head Cut: Siouxsie had already impressed us with her throaty, dominitrix-like voice, and drummer Budgie was probably the best stickman to ever wear Kajagoogoo in his hair. Earlier, Join Hands was the album that made them post-punk players—but then John McGeoch came on board. Recently departed from the great Magazine, McGeoch was by Siouxsie's admission the best of the Banshees to strap on a guitar and this, Spellbound, was his showcase: It's a complete departure from his playing of the much more psychedelic middle-period Magazine. Here, his playing is riffier, tonier, more sophisticated and artfully restrained: his sound flying at you in buttery-thin sheets of fine pastry. Head Cut is Siouxsie taking her immaculate tone and mirroring McGeoch's effected guitar screech. This may be the moment when both the Banshees and McGeoch peaked.

Spellbound by Siouxsie and the Banshees on Grooveshark

Head Cut by Siouxsie and the Banshees on Grooveshark



187) The Quick, Hi Lo, Pretty Please: A criminally overlooked band to come out of Los Angeles's New Wave before there was one. Being very much of its time (1976) their sound had the vestiges of glam stuck all over it like pieces of toilet paper after an abusive shave. (Check their not quite post-Ziggy Stardust hair.) Quite likely the only band to integrate early Sparks as well as Ziggy so thoroughly and to such a great effect—well written songs with scope and lots of dynamics. They threw in some corny covers (Rag Doll, It Won't Be Long, Somewhere Over the Rainbow), and at times their sound pandered a mite too desperately to get on the radio, but all these many years later it still holds up. Two or three albums in and they might've been contenders had they gotten the chance.

Hi-Lo by The Quick on Grooveshark

Pretty Please by The Quick on Grooveshark


188) Steely Dan, Countdown to Ecstasy album: This album is a pure meat salad, no lettuce or croutons to get in the way of what you're really after—every bite juicy, every song a nugget. Before the Dan became an industrial showcase for the best musicians for hire, they were a band and very tight one at that. Two skilled guitar players and whatever Donald Fagen lacked in skills as a keyboardist he made up with taste and vision. And that voice—wry, whimsical, astringent, and utterly original. Throw in a batch of their best songs ever and a classic is made.

Your Gold Teeth by Steely Dan on Grooveshark

King of the World by Steely Dan on Grooveshark