Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Music that Matters, Pt 23

232) Vladimir CosmaDiva Soundtrack: Romanian composer Cosma was born into a family tree fruity with starched-collar music folk. He may be a bit of a starched collar himself as his forays into rock and pop have the sound of being approached with an academic's forceps, but his tastes and sonic instincts are sound. Keep in mind this is 1981, a time when digital sounds and gated drums were nearly as exotic as throat singing. Both are used to impressive effect on Ground Swell. Dead End sounds a little like The Buggles channeling Peter Gabriel but the unaccompanied piano piece Sentimental Walk  is a minor masterpiece. The choice of the La Wally aria (ca. 1892) with its searing high notes and juicy operatic histrionics tosses a capital "M" musical IED into the bulls-eye.

233) Ethyl Meatplow, Close to You: Back in the day they were criticized by peers like Kim Gordon for their processed live sound and nude female dancers. By today's standards Ethyl Meatplow's sound is practically organic. Featuring a pre-Geraldine Fibbers Carla Bozulich heaving an indelicate vocal performance that hits its notes with a hammer. Helped along to great effect by ex-Magazine Barry Adamson, the latex-tight arrangement all but strangles the last vestiges of Burt Bacharach and The Carpenters out of it.

234) Choir Invisible, Choir Invisible: Theirs was a kind of caffeinated proto-shoegaze sound that earned its pretentions. Their tight and florid rhythm section – an anomaly in new wave of the time – was propped up on the lead boots of their songwriting. Released on the tiny indie So CA label Frontier Records in 1981, the album was destined for obscurity and that was a shame. By the early 80s their kind of Bauhaus/Cure/Siouxsie guitar theatrics were sweeping the suburbs – with its flange and delay heavy atmospherics – a trick that allowed even marginal players to blow out effects-laden clouds of etherium. Call it Prog-punk. Or, a poor man's version of Bauhaus – I think they're actually better. They're miles spunkier than The Cure of the time. A few more drafts on the lyric sheet might've helped them deforest some of the inscrutability from their lyrics, though they were probably no worse than many of their peers. And the band's chops were leagues better.

Download and judge for yourself:
Choir Invisible, The Distance From...
Choir Invisible, Playing Cards

235) Ruth BrownHe Treats Your Daughter Mean: Raw in the way that only the 50s could be (released in 1953) from this so called Queen of R&B. You have to love the way her voice squeaks up at the end of "mean." It's a voice that's sweet-girly at its center that ruffles tough at the edges. It's a rasp well-worn from a young woman's want of hard loving. The song itself isn't much more than a trite confection but the devil is always in the details and Brown brings the details like a Von Dutch paint job.

236) Traffic, John Barleycorn Must Die: By the time this album was released in 1970, Stevie Winwood – having already tendered time with Spencer Davis, Traffic 1.0, and Blind Faith – was merely aged 22. Regardless, this album is an astonishingly accomplished and mature work. Every song is a jewel. The album is considered an early entry into the genre of "jazz-rock," a form not much explored by 1970 – ironic given rock's roots in jazz (but that's another discussion). As ever, Winwood's voice is as brilliantly garbled and nearly indecipherable. As good as Traffic was, their every album before and after Barleycorn was only a means to this: A masterpiece.

John Barleycorn by Traffic on Grooveshark

Freedom Rider by Traffic on Grooveshark

237) Rammstein, Ich Will: Admittedly, this is slicked-over teenage rage at its most rudimentary and I'm way too old for it. But Rammstein (pronounced Ram STINE) is just so goddam infectious I can't help myself. I won't pretend this is anything but basic dumbbell metal – everything is on the metronome click, cliches spew like chunks at a frat house party, harmonies are of the strict basic power five-chord kind, and the lyrics (the English ones anyway, I don't speak German) are pure pablum. Pitchfork describes them as "Marilyn Manson with early '80s production techniques" and "style over substance."  The songwriting chops are pure early period Ramones with half the melodic content, but the Ramones blown through a jet engine. When the vocals are kept at a low technocratic growl things are fine. When they're sung, on the other hand, they come off like an "r"-rolling Robert Goulet. I can think of a hundred other reasons why I shouldn't like Rammstein and yet I do. Not all of it, mind you, but there's enough bratwurst amongst the tripe to make it blast-worthy for the car. And that's all I'm looking for.

Ich Will by Rammstein on Grooveshark

238) Jandek: Let's say there are two kinds of music makers in the world: those who want to make music that sounds like the music they love, and those who don't. This Don't category is exceptionally small. Jandek is a Don't. It may not be that Jandek doesn't want to sound like someone else, he probably couldn't if he tried. His muses won't let him. Often called an "outsider" musician, there does seem to be a strain of madness in his work, whether it's actual or a coy imitation it's hard to know. His muses seem to be transmitting from Neptune. His technique can bounce from child-like to childish and at times his ear seems to be pure tin. The songs have an improvised off-the-top-of-the-head quality and at times it brings to mind the music of The Shaggs. You have to give Jandek, nee Sterling Richard Smith, his rightful due. Anyone with a pretty voice can find an appreciative audience. It takes real courage to get up in front of people and make these kinds of sounds.

Tell Me When by Jandek on Grooveshark

239) Clifford Brown, Yesterdays: Brownie, as he was called, jumped this coil at the tender age of 25 and left behind only 4 years of recordings. Considered a major influence on the many trumpeters to follow and one of the three greats of the modern jazz age (along with Miles and Diz), he was easily the most melodic. Probably best remembered for standing sweetly before a string section, Brownie could blow it hard when he wanted to. Probably one of the best instrumental renditions of Yesterdays ever recorded.

Yesterdays by Clifford Brown on Grooveshark

240) Al Green, You Ought to Be with Me: Sure, Al Green is great. Undoubtedly. Who else stands his class? Marvin Gaye, maybe? That aside, imagine how disappointed I was to learn of Green's history as a wife beater. (Admitted, without contrition, by Al himself in court.) Because Reverand Al is an asshole in his personal life shouldn't change his standing as a singer or his deep catalog of great 70s era work. He had the whole package – passion, great songwriting, the ultimate sex groove of a band, and great production. Al never oversings or resorts to musclely histrionics. He just doesn't seem capable of singing a fake note. Only wish he wasn't such an asshole.

You Ought to Be With Me by Al Green on Grooveshark

241) Three Thirds: Buffalo Skinner: Clearly, Three Thirds were Jandek fans. Woody never sounded so abstracted.

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