Thursday, July 3, 2014

Evening voices

Funny how there's so much piano + voice music out there occupying such a narrow spectrum of what those instruments can do. Which makes this kind of improvisation such a breath of fresh air. And a tender one given that it comes from a married couple in the studio just doing what comes naturally (musically, that is). It's all sweetness to me, and even more sublime for its wordlessness.

Keith and Julie Tippett — Evening Psalm

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Melancholic serenity

The title pretty much nails it. I usually associate Morricone soundtracks with the visceral, near-terror body sensations that their accompanying films try to achieve. Of course, the movies have the advantage of huge screens, while the maestro did it all with well-placed dissonance amid the hooks and momentum. This one is an outlier, with its breezy beat and sultry melody. Which actually seems to give it more tension. I haven't seen Il Mostro, but I suspect this track was used in a moment of calm before a murder or as an interlude of contemplation in which a terrible truth is glimpsed. Or maybe just during some sunset driving. I suppose it's worth finding out.

Ennio Morricone — Malinconica serenitá (Part 1)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A ballet for leisure

You know you've entered proper vacation mode when the days lose their meaning, and it's all just time that you pick up and play with or drop on the ground on your meandering way toward something else. That nice little interlude is now behind me, and aside from losing myself at the piano for a bunch of hours, I'm surprised that I didn't end up with a couple songs on repeat in my head (except for "Itsy Bitsy Spider", which is my baby daughter's feel good jam of the young summer). Having said that, this one came on one afternoon in a bit  of semi-siesta lethargy. Never thought Stravinsky would pair well with a food coma, but there you go. 

Igor Stravinsky — Apotheosis (Apollon Musagete)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The whistler

Some say you should never trust a man who whistles. That goes double if that man is a mysterious drifter with a dubious name and an ability to get a band to comp along behind him. This could be the soundtrack to every suspicious thing you do.

Billy Saint — Midnight Freeze

Friday, May 9, 2014

Burmese bang

Well, what's not to like about an ace modern music ensemble supercharged with spitfire percussion in a giddy cross-cultural musical meeting. In straight-up Western music, this would be spastic and nervous, but here feels much more elegant. I like how the manic, almost Zappa-like antics alternate with a folksy lilt. Leaves me feeling peaceful and amped up all at once. 

Bang On A Can All-Stars with Kyaw Kyaw Naing— Sein Chit Tee A Mhat Ta Ya

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Interior un-decorated

Here's a curiosity. Windham Hill Records (& Tapes) took a detour from their usual New Age pastoralia and veered into Japanese instrumental electronic pop. This tune feels like a half-finished skyscraper in a city that no one lives in yet. I probably wouldn't either, but I'd stand and watch as the sun sets behind it.

Interior — Technobose

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Balearic blue bounce

You'd think all songs would aspire to conjure up the sunset exit in a listener's mind. Who doesn't want the last word? Or be lucky enough to assume a weight that may be totally undeserved. I doubt these guys would insist that they're getting at anything profound with this tune. Just riding out on a lovely, if slightly ominous breeze.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Blurry mirrors

Curious song title. I usually think of mirrors as clear things. And I picture a planet of them reflecting reality perfectly into infinity. But this song suggests nothing nearly so brilliant. Instead, I'm hearing decay, orange rusting to brown. If it's a planet, I'm sure there's a lot of unfinished construction. And it rains all the time, which is fine because nobody leaves their spooky homes anyway.

Peter Scherer — Planetful Of Mirrors

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

High fidelity

You can always count on the Go-Betweens to deliver graceful pop moments that make you feel both adolescent-longing and adult-civilized at once. A song about the dizziness and doubt before marriage seems to fit that skill perfectly. Listening to them makes me want to set standards most other bands would never meet.

The Go-Betweens — Bachelor Kisses

Friday, April 4, 2014

The international language

is a sugary pop song. As long as the hooks are juicy, I'm happy to enjoy English as a very distant second language. I love that these rare Italo gems keep coming across my earspace. Hopefully, you do too.

Clio — Eyes

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

This bright hour

A good pop song says very little about its origins. Who knows whether the band spent years and albums studiously crafting their technique or simply flung themselves out of the seas of noise like an evolutionary jackpot winner. From what I understand, this Danish group would fall closer to the latter category. But I'm not here to affix labels. I don't care about the upbringing of my party guests. I just want them to put magic in the air.

Sort Sol — White Shirt

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Bullshit flowers

Psychedelically-inclined weirdo home recordists with exemplary pop genes setting a humble course through nicely-hummable proggish realms of the musical cosmos. Makes me happy in my headphones. Nice nod to "Ladies of the Road" in the chorus. I'm sure they knew at least 75% of their audience would catch that one.

The Chrysanthemums — Bullshit

Thursday, March 13, 2014

it's bad to be alone

From an oblique reference to Screamin' Jay, I can't help but put the man front and center. Right where he belongs. Sending my mind back to an age of tickled novelty, where deep, rusted out racism could be temporarily nudged aside by a more genteel prejudice. I wonder if the people of Hong Kong would've been offended by his puerile asides about egg foo yung and other gibberish in the middle of a blues about being separated from your baby in a strange land. If nothing else, it's a reminder to laugh out loud whenever you find yourself lost and alone. 

Screamin' Jay Hawkins – Hong Kong

Monday, March 10, 2014

Un cafe au lait, garçon

There you are living your adult life with adult concerns at the bus stop on a frigid morning when Nina Hagen careens across your headphones. Suddenly, it's an '80s musical foodfight, or three and a half minutes with the class clown doing her best impression of French culture cribbed from National Lampoon's European Vacation. Rivaling only Screamin' Jay Hawkins's geopolitical antics, Hagen collides the insipid with the infectious. More and more, I'm convinced that those heroic choruses only work when the singer is slapping herself in the face with a wet towel. Which is when my idiot heart melts.

Nina Hagen — Springtime In Paris

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Screedom rock

Some people think The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway was the apotheosis of early Genesis, while others point to its convoluted concept and lack of self-editing as evidence of mid-'70s prog bloat. Everybody's right, of course. But I especially love the humble little masterpieces hiding in its corners. Like this workout for the outer reaches of Tony Banks's technique. Coupled with a slinky/gawky 9/8 groove, you've got a strange little specimen from an unexplored world.

Genesis — Riding The Scree

Monday, February 17, 2014

Permanent blizzard dance party

I wouldn't have thought that Patrick Cowley's Hi-NRG stylings would pair well with the daily trudge through snowdrifts and the eerie quiet that these snowfalls bring each morning. Satie-style sparseness...sure. But full-on synthtastic, sweaty disco delirium? Well, that's why they play the games. I may just have to leave this track on repeat all winter long.
Patrick Cowley — Invasion

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Majestic dreams of session men

I'm sure you're wondering what a early-'80s California New Age supergroup might have to say for themselves. Turns out it's not as cheesy as you might think. Maybe that's more a comment on what I consider cheesy these days. Hearing a tune like this, I can't help but envision evening shadows cast across vast LA parking lots. Which is a form of sublime contemplation.

Group 87 — The Mask Maker

Monday, February 10, 2014

Foreign unconscious

My dreams lately seem like things out of other people's heads. Incoherent mystery plots in rural houses. Death of minor characters from years back. Long, slow, intense pursuit of nothing in particular. And barely a note of my baby daughter in any of them. Maybe there's a lot I don't know about my deep self. Reminds me how cosmically vast the unconscious can be. A thought that deserves the spacious song to contemplate along with.

Partial Arts — Telescope

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Muscle relax

Been feeling a curious muscular lethargy in the evenings of late. I doubt there's anything medical going on, but that doesn't stop my mind from having all sorts of projects, which may explain the bizarre layering of dreams over those same nights. Coincidentally, Papas Fritas's swan song album has been stuck in the stereo, quaintly enough in actual CD form. Their benign '90s college pop has been a fine complement to these wispy moments. 

Papas Fritas — Girl

Thursday, January 30, 2014

I dreamt Kate Bush was a Japanese cowgirl

Yellow Magic Orchestra is one of those bands I've liked more in theory than in fact. Combining Kraftwerky roboticism and a playful riff on Western notions of Japanese exoticism is a conceptual winner, even if the music doesn't always pull it through. But then they unleash a secret weapon in Akiko Yano, who I wish they made their frontwoman for more than just the occasional tour. I'm totally smitten with everything about her on this tune — the voice, the dancing, the headphones, all wrapped in a delicious synthy dream.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Straight swingin'

Funny how different ears hear music differently. Top shelf hard bop trumpeter Freddie Hubbard jumps out of the jazz crates into mid-'60s grooviness with this jam. To the non-jazz kids, this is infectiously swingin'. And yet you can hear the band practically straining to iron the swing out of the beat, like the curls out of their hair. No judgments, and certainly it's a hot one. Just funny, is all. And best enjoyed inside a tight turtleneck.

Freddie Hubbard — The Return Of The Prodigal Son

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

An all-starry night

OK, just one more from the extended Can family. All-star dream team bands are usually a dicey proposition. Just ask many a prog rock outfit or the Brooklyn Nets. The egos in the room tend to suck the life out of the music. Or everyone has a different idea of what's going on. The solution seems to lie in not taking things too seriously. 

I'm not sure who put this band together, but who can help but be intrigued by this assemblage, especially considering Jaki Liebezeit is on drums and Arthur Russell wrote the lyrics. Despite his early technical innovations, I enjoy almost nothing The Edge has put his name to, so this company is a nice surprise. This tune sounds like nothing any of these guys are known for. It's like they met up on the bandstand at a German nightclub and improvised something that works for both dinner and dancing. All in all, a very pleasing way to spend the next 8 minutes of your life.

Jah Wobble, The Edge, Holger Czukay — Hold On To Your Dreams

Friday, January 17, 2014

About Schmidt

Now this is why I've always been a bad completist. No completist at all, really. Obsessed as I have sometimes been with Can, I've spent precious little time digging into their not-too-intimidatingly-large solo catalogs. And even there, I've privileged Holger Czukay, who seemed to be the most interesting one (and I say that despite my highest admiration for Jaki Liebezeit's divine beatkeeping). So, happy surprises upon recently absorbing some albums by keyboardist Irmin Schmidt. 

It's impossible to tell who contributed what to Can's totally unique stew. But on his own, Schmidt seemed much more melodically inclined. I'm especially digging his Musk At Dusk album (does the title sound better in German?), and this tune gives a sense of what Can might've sounded like if they'd tried to go be a straight-up pop rock band. Which is of course, not straight-up at all, but just weird enough to ripple the pleasant waters.

Irmin Schmidt — Roll On, Euphrates

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Out of the can

Ahh, reminded again of how the Can men are such masters of sounds to get oneself into some far innerspaces. In this case, light tremolo riffing and soft disco drum phrasings lead the way to a few minutes of ghostly magic. And here I thought Czukay had only one solo masterpiece. Good to know he had some more stashed away in that 'stache.

Holger Czukay — Fragrance

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Baby dreams

The first workweek of the year presented a not-so-easy return to reality. Life is easier when you can carve out a little domestic cocoon and stay busy with all the maintenance tasks of a baby-centric household. But it seems all stresses can be absorbed, and there's no reason why cleaning up milky messes can't become an acceptable start to the workday. Still, there's nothing better than watching the little lady coo and gently stir in her sleep. I'm sure her dreams are amazing in ways no one will ever understand. Maybe some of them sound like this.

Plone — Plock