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

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