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

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Sounds from the polar vortex

Color me impressed. The weather division has finally caught up to the kind of yellow journalism that the rest of the news media operates by and managed to turn every climate variation into an invitation for social panic. What started with the schoolyard simplicity of Snowmageddon has evolved into the exquisitely named and more apocalyptic sounding villain known as the Polar Vortex. What will become of us once we enter this vortex? Will we ever shake its icy grip? For this week's bit of weather porn, I can't help but think of Stereolab and how they could/should easily have titled a song along similar lines. But for real, it's damn cold, so everyone huddle up next to this cozy little number.

Stereolab — Neon Beanbag

Friday, January 3, 2014

A silvery day

Some days are made for staying home and digging back into an artist's deep catalog. And many thanks to holiday staycations for supplying such days. Not to reduce a life's work into a few hours of concentrated listening, but there's great pleasure in letting a full personality unfold as the hours pass. Hard bop heavyweight Horace Silver had no shortage of memorable tunes, but this one caught my ear and help tight with the grip of a crying newborn.

Horace Silver — Kathy

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Galloping at sunrise

Happy New Year! Really, it is a very happy one. It's amazing how eventful a span of twelve months can be. If you had told me a year ago that there'd be fundamental change in nearly all aspects of my life by now, I would be hard-pressed to envision that new world. And yet, here it is. And I'm as optimistic about living it in it as I could hope to be. So here's a toast of gratitude to the universe for that. And here are a couple tunes to kick off a year of forward momentum. Or at least one that does that and then another one that pulls over after a long day of driving through an Arizona highway and decides to throw a couple back at a dusty roadside bar and watch the beautiful evening light dissolve.

The Friends of Dean Martinez — All The Pretty Horses
The Friends of Dean Martinez — Blood Of The Earth (Or The Sun Sets Red In The West)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A sunset for Christmas

I'm never sure if Christmas is the year's most unplugged day or a time to get lazily lost in digital places when "the most wonderful time of the year" becomes simply too much to bear (probably by early afternoon or so). In either case, if the 'blague is on your Christmas agenda, consider this tune your humble present. And let its groovy sunset vibes (or is that a marimba?) carry you gently to the threshold of 2014. This could be end-titles music to almost any cut of your cinematic year.

Letta Mbulu — Down By The River

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Electric surrender

There's something gentlemanly about giving a longtime backup singer her moment in the sun. Say what you will about the power dynamics of patriarchal largess, but David Bowie did sidewoman Robin Clark a pretty nice solid when he put some celebrity muscle behind her effort as a frontwoman. As you might expect, the results are mixed, but then again her moment happened to fall in the mid-'80s. And it doesn't get much more 1985 than this. Not very healthy, but full of addictive additives.

Robin Clark — Surrender

Monday, December 23, 2013

Abba zabba

I like to think of myself as a pretty eclectic listener. And yet I could never squeeze much enjoyment out of Abba. If there's a variety of cheese I can't gobble up, it's them. So imagine my happy surprise when I recently stumbled on singer Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad's post-Abba solo album, produced by Phil Collins, and bearing nearly all of his early-'80s hallmarks that I enjoy entirely without reservation. The album is a mixed bag of pop approaches, most of which are weirdly flawed. But as batches of half-successes go, it's a pretty addictive listen. Especially this tasty niblet of regatta de blanc, with groovy guitar/organ call and response and Collins's very airdrum-worthy turn at the kit. God bless that man's left foot.

Frida — I See Red