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

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