Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Music that Matters, Pt 21

210) Tom WaitsSwordfishtrombones album: He's a bonafide – if slightly coarse – genius so let's first get that out of the way. He may also be an acquired taste for some. (My pre-school daughter thought he was the Cookie Monster.) His canon is loaded with gargantuan gems that often fare well when covered by others (with a mite less of the Waitsian rawness – here's a nice example). As a poet, he's in Leonard Cohen's orbit but possessed of a humor the master doesn't have. And unlike Cohen, Waits was blessed with a beautiful low growl of an instrument. It's a voice imbued with a sludge-bucket of human disquietude and gritty passion and sounds as worn down as the brake pads on a New York cab. It's also a voice capable of considerable nuance when it wants to. His songs never just travel from A to B and back again but tour the underside of the urban existential angst. A brilliant record from a brilliant artist and for my money he was never better than this.

16 Shells From a Thirty-Ought-Six by Tom Waits on Grooveshark

Swordfishtrombone by Tom Waits on Grooveshark

Down, Down, Down by Tom Waits on Grooveshark

211) Killing Joke, Change: Simple, direct, and kinetic, Killing Joke powered down like the single hammer blow that drives in the rusty nail: total dark zen yin. All the little production flourishes hit right on the head too – the echos, the industrial drum bangs, the one chord flossing-your-teeth-with-razor-wire guitar solo, and Jaz Coleman's shredded bellows. This is where punk was supposed to go – violently danceable – before industrial – a sound KJ were instrumental in creating – took much of the heart out of it.

Change by Killing Joke on Grooveshark

212) Hooverphonic, 2Wicky: One of the many bands to come out of the Portishead era of producer wankered ProTools joints. Blame my vintage but most of them leave me cold with their robotic, slice-and-dice producer-driven sound: too scratch- and sample-happy, too rhythm loopy, and way too processed. While the formula seems to work well enough for Hops both Trip and Hip, it tends to brown like a peeled banana when used to prop up the subtleties of a ballad. Still, Belgian band Hooverphonic did the form justice, and to their credit, also managed to evolve it some (though a few of their earlier sides can sound a bit dated now). Proof that their material transcended its own studio wankery. Having an able singer like Geike Arnaert didn't hurt.

2Wicky by Hooverphonic on Grooveshark

213) Polvo, Beggar's Bowl: A carnivore's smoothie with the right balance of meat, juice, and fibrous bits of noise. Hailing from Chapel Hill NC and formed in 1990, some critics confuse their guitar intricacies as math rock but I don't hear it. Too much flesh on those riffs. Instead, what I hear is a noodling network of guitars listening to each another. Their interplay brings a narrative quality to the sound that produces an embroidery somewhat reminiscent of their grand elders The Doors (in embroidery, not sound). Their sound is both très American and as wide open as country interstate. Also, for a band to reform after a 10 year hiatus and bang out one of the best records of their careers is no small accomplishment. 

Beggar's Bowl by Polvo on Grooveshark

214) Billie Holiday, I'm a Fool to Want You: Billie embodied the ultimate in method torch singing and to prepare all she had to do was lay utter ruin to her life and voice. On I'm a Fool to Want You, her needle of buried pain is red lining. Indeed it's like the lyric's authentic kiss the devil has known – some chilling s**t this is. Marianne Faithful was another method singer, whose life of drugs, cigarettes, hard liquor and harder living brought an antiqued texture to her voice. But as good as Marianne Faithful is – and she is – she couldn't tie Billie's pumps. This is the heart splayed open and placed on a marble pedestal. For getting yourself supremely messed up for your art, Miss Holiday, we are ever grateful.

I'm a Fool to Want You by Billie Holiday on Grooveshark

215) The Move, Blackberry Way, Tonight: Contemporaries of The Beatles (Blackberry Way was said to be a response to Penny Lane) and loved by Cheap Trick (California Man), unless you're an ardent anglophile you probably don't remember The Move. It's a shame because they were friggin' brilliant masters of the three minute pop symphony (for better or worse this was the feeder band for ELO). When my kids bring me their Imagine Dragons, Bastille, All-American Rejects, or Portugal The Man and ask me to share their enthusiasm, my mind slips into reveries of The Move – or Small Faces or, hell, even Cheap Trick or a thousand other mostly neglected bands of olde. I cry into my beer for what these kids today will never understand. Let's see if they're crying into cups of their own decades from now. I doubt it. In fact, I'd bet the farm on it.

Blackberry Way by The Move on Grooveshark

Tonight [U.S. Edited Single] by The Move on Grooveshark

216) Ambitious Lovers, Quasi You: The sound was a combination of Arto Lindsey's modest vocals and guitar noise-making (Wiki calls it untrained guitar mangling) borne out his No Wave and Brazilian roots. Layered with this was partner Peter Scherer's reductive Bossa Nova piano hammering. Being that this was 1988, after all, we might forgive them their enthusiasm for all things programmed – the synthetic Jerry Seinfeld bass, the fake gated drums, and the soulless automated keyboards. To the song's great fortune are the female back ups and Lindsey's snaky guitarisms which add some much needed analog substance. And a hook that pulls you in like a 60 gauge wire through the septum.

217) Thelonious Monk'Round Midnight: Simply one of the best melodies ever written. It just is.

'Round Midnight by Thelonious Monk on Grooveshark

'Round Midnight (B-Side) by Amy Winehouse on Grooveshark

'Round Midnight by Ella Fitzgerald on Grooveshark

218) Graham Parker, Squeezing Out Sparks album: It's a cruel world we live in and the maker only laughs at our pitiful injustices. To wit: Johnny Cougar Mellancamp, bouffanted heartland singer and radio staple whose earthly rewards include sprawling lakeside mansions and supermodel ex-wives, spends his days painting thrift shop quality canvases between amatory dalliances at Meg Ryan's apartment. Meanwhile, the brilliant Graham Parker is left to busk for change and play musty clubs in an oblivion with names like Nottingham and Bournemouth. As Johnny Cougar massaged fortunes from mediocre boilerplate ditties like Hurts So Good and Little Pink Houses, Mr. Parker banged out a masterpiece like Squeezing Out Sparks before slouching undeservedly toward obscurity. It shouldn't have to be that way but what else can we expect from such a cold and indifferent creator?

Protection by Graham Parker on Grooveshark

Nobody Hurts You by Graham Parker on Grooveshark

219) Pentangle, House Carpenter, Cruel Sister: Murder ballads have a tradition as old as murder itself. In the mid-17th century they  were all the rage in the Scandanavian, British, and Scottish parts of the world. Many songs we know today have roots from that period, Cruel Sister (also known as The Twa Sisters) being one illustrious example. The song has a tradition that extends across cultures and languages, but the gist is generally consistent: Uglier sister covets prettier one's boyfriend and so kills her. Bones of dead sister somehow magically reveal their secret to all. As in Pentangle's version, several hypnotic repetitions of the catchy refrain and the ugly sister gets her comeuppance. Similarly, House Carpenter is the story of an uppity pretty mother of three who leaves the kids and roughneck husband behind to sail the seas with a wealthy prince. A fatal storm and she finds herself pining for the lowly carpenter and her daughters. More byzantine justice exacted. So much better than syrupy broken-hearted love songs that litter our landscape today. Both songs feel as well-worn and comfortable as flannel sheets even as Pentangle decorates them with exotic flourishes like sitar and banjo and jazzy sparkles. Bert Jansch and Jaqui McShee set the proper ambience with vocals blowing with the cold winds from the North Sea. Murder just never gets old.

Cruel Sister by The Pentangle on Grooveshark

House Carpenter by The Pentangle on Grooveshark

220) Lena Horne, You're My Thrill: Billie did this one too but I find this arrangement to be the better one. The Horne's young voice is a cool, sexy splendor that licks that minor key shuffle into a loin tickler.

No comments: