Saturday, February 14, 2015

Music that Matters, Pt 25

Apologies to the reader but the music player featuring the song being discussed in this article has since disappeared. Blame Grooveshark. If anyone has any alternative suggestions for music players (that aren't too complicated to implement) please let me know.
Illustration: Jean Giraud Moebius

253) Jimi Hendrix, Little Wing: Little Wing is the ultimate Concerto for rock rhythm guitar – rhythm guitar being a generally overlooked and sorely undervalued proposition in rock music. The texture of his rhythms were loomed with golden-threaded filigree and atavistic riffing blowing in from the dark wilderness of jazz, R and B, and versions of funk and metal that were yet to exist. Obviously, Hendrix was no bitch as a lead player either, but as a poet of the chord, he was rhythm guitar's Jesus and Little Wing was his Synoptic Gospel. By the time he hits that G ninth before the turnaround his hands are walking on the water. Go to YouTube and watch guitar players break it down and try to demystify its ineffability: It can't be done. There's a magic in the notes here that can't be duplicated. This is the master's voice and we're all just Nipper tilting our heads at the Victrola.

A live version:

06 jimi hendrix - 06 - little wing.mp3 by Jimi Hendrix on Grooveshark

254) Ellen McIlwaine, Toe Hold, Jimmy Jean: Maybe it was McIlwaine's exotic early life and polyglotism that allowed her music a range and a gene-splicing of styles that enables her to overrun boundaries so effectively (Nashville born, growing up with missionaries in Japan). While the bulk of McIlwaine's work is folksy blues with stabs of jazz, it's her excursions into a kind of spunky, joy-leaking vamping of energized bliss that are truly sublime. Toe Hold and Jimmy Jean are masterpieces of the form.

We should all set our alarm clocks to these:

Toe Hold by Ellen McIlwaine on Grooveshark

Jimmy Jean by Ellen McIlwaine on Grooveshark

255) Thin White Rope, Red Sun, Mr. Limpet: I love this band – in my book, one of the most underrated bands, ever. None of the women in my life ever seemed to care for them much, though, and I can't for the life of me figure out why. Maybe the voice was a little off-putting? It couldn't have been the songs. Every track was built on a bedrock of a solid hook, the melodic guitar figures fly like a handfuls of ninja stars, and the temperament was pure wrought iron. Maybe it was the wrought iron that kept Thin White Rope from reaching gold or platinum status but, still, you owe it to yourself to invest in this band. That they were destined to be forever buried in the underground and that is a crime most foul.

Red Sun by Thin White Rope on Grooveshark

Mr. Limpet by Thin White Rope on Grooveshark

256) The Residents, Pardon Me: Much of their output could be well used as background music for cinematic bad acid trips – part horror movie, part modernist music for the salon, and a whole lot of silly. They can bounce from nightmarish vibes to Doctor Demento, hallucinatory Spike Jones, Ennio Morricone, and Morton Subotnick, Oompah bands, Neu!, and any open mike night at a coffee house near you. If those references are too old for you then how about Pee Wee Herman meets a 'shrooming Danny Elfman scoring Saw IV?

They were also pioneers electronica, ambient, dark wave, new wave, and few other sub-genres for which they'll never get credit. Like I said, much of their music is just plain silly. Still, there's a kind of genius to it that deserves our attention.

They were also pioneers of the music video. They must've poured a lot of money into these:

Pardon Me by The Residents on Grooveshark

257) Sadistic Mika Band, Nanika Ga Umi Wo Yatte Kuru: Their wonderfully irreverent moniker was a response to the name The Plastic Ono Band and, for better or worse, their sound isn't nearly as whimsical or edgy as the title suggests. What they do sound like is jazzy funk with a flourish of mid-to-late 70s proggishness, albeit Japanese-style – meaning technical, highly proficient, and a bit math-y. While much of their output can sound like generically ethereal music for the dentist's chair, when they choose to, as in the track below, they can burn like a burrito-sized blunt. Considered one of the great Japanese bands of the 70s.

Nanika Ga Umi Wo Yatte Kuru by Sadistic Mika Band on Grooveshark

258) John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman: Johnny Hartman, the quintessence of The Romantic Balladeer, possessed a voice smooth and mellow as sip of hundred year old scotch. His baritone was a lavender cloud, gentle as a caress, and more velvet than even Mel Tormé. Critically acclaimed but not widely known, at least until he made this record with Coltrane.

He sings with the cool unperturbability of Mr. Rogers. You can imagine him singing in a recliner lounger with a argyle cardigan and a steaming cup of spiked chamomile. The ultimate soundtrack for candlelight repasts and major post-prandial sexy-time.

They Say It's Wonderful by John Coltrane on Grooveshark

259) Pere Ubu, Rounder, Misery Goat: As Eno once said, "Avant-garde music is sort of research music. You're glad someone's done it but you don't necessarily want to listen to it." Like The Residents, which they must've surely been familiar, Pere Ubu was a vigorously anti-commercial, and sometimes unlistenable, venture. Still, there's a kind of genius to their pursuit of such an uneasy sound. Singer David Thomas's unhinged and skronky honk of a voice is like a fart-blown alto sax. It's a voice that seems aimed at your tolerance threshold by design. Add to that synthesizer layers of noise, dual fist-fighting Captain Beefheart guitars, and sundry other sounds – all of this cascading around the straight forward bass and drums. To his credit, figurehead and singular oddity Thomas, the only consistent member of the band, is still carrying the flag – he's recorded an album as recently as 2014.

Most critics argue the album Dub Housing is their best but of the albums I've heard, the Art of Walking is one of the more accessible: A good place to start.

Rounder by Pere Ubu on Grooveshark

Misery Goats by Pere Ubu on Grooveshark

260) Louis Prima and Keely SmithJust a Gigolo: Smith and Prima were one of the hottest tickets in Vegas during the 50s. Prima discovered the gifted Smith when she was a mere 17. She'd tour with him at 18 and married him at 21. (She'd be Prima's fourth wife.) Prima was said to be an inveterate flirt and womanizer which may've led to their divorce although Smith, who admitted this only after Prima passed, had a torrid affair with Sinatra. (Sinatra asked her to marry him. He'd later marry 17 year old Mia Farrow instead.) An example of their club schtick can be seen in the video below. The great horn arrangement is the work of saxophonist Sam Butera. While this may've been the model for much of the '90s retro lounge big bands, the source material is better by far.

261) Bee Gees, I Started a Joke, Holiday, To Love Somebody, Words: The early Bee Gees hits were built from a cathedral of tears. Their songs were pathetic and lugubrious and also completely sincere in a way that only a young person without too much perspective can apply. All of the songs below dig deep on indigo strokes and are fueled by the tremulous falsetto of their voices. At this stage they were often favorably compared to The Beatles, also capable of pitch perfect constructions of insidiously infectious radio ditties. Forget the late '70s mega-platinum disco monster that they'd eventually become, this is where their creative nuggets most brilliantly shined.
Till I finally died/Which started the whole world living/Oh, if I'd only seen, oh yeah/That the joke was on me, oh no/That the joke was on me, ohh

I Started a Joke by Bee Gees on Grooveshark

Holiday by Bee Gees on Grooveshark

To Love Somebody by Bee Gees on Grooveshark

Words by Bee Gees on Grooveshark

262) Mimi Goese and Ben Neill, Roma: Mimi Goese was a member of the '80s two-bass-guitars-and-no-drums outfit Hugo Largo. If you're familiar with Moby's  Everything Is Wrong album then you've heard her impressive renderings of this and this. Always a brilliant and understated singer, her sweet and dark tone is wonderfully adept in both upper and lower registers. Elegiac is a word critics like to use and it suits her. Unlike the seamless tone of someone like, say, Johnny Hartman, her sound is perforated on every side with the memories of experience. Now that she's firmly into middle age I'd argue that her tone has only gained more depth, assurance, and character. When her voice soars, as it does in Roma, it is truly ascendent. There are no grandiose notes here; it's more of a pocket drama, subtle and contained but at the same time bold (in a polite way).

As I'm often saying on this blog, I love it when musical grayheads do good work and Songs for Persephone is an exemplary work from seasoned artists.

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