danieltalsky | Albums | Wednesday, September 11th, 2013
You may be excited about the new Janelle Monae, and you should be, it's amazing. But you were going to listen to that anyway.
You might not have heard the astounding debut of Laura Mvula, however, and I recommend you do. Laura sings songs I would play for my (imaginary) children, and we'd listen to the songs over and over until the LP wore through. Laura takes a few phrases and then stacks them layer by layer to make a musical tower out of them.
Sing to the Moon has its strengths and weaknesses, but at its best it is utterly timeless. Like, Nina Simone timeless. This is one of those albums where I feel confident in hyperbole because I'm going to play you a few songs and I feel like they stand on their own for pure "wow" factor.
First of all, Green Garden, a love song so magnificent I need to listen to it almost every day. Only a few lines, but she does the most with them.
Then only Laura could make an angry song like That's Alright so exultant. She "could never be what you want and that's alright" but she'd like to ask "who made you the center of the universe?"
Lastly, I Don't Know What The Weather Will Be, the classic theme of love that fears commitment, made romantic as only Miss Mvula could:
Civilian came out in early 2011, and since then it's become like a broken-in leather shoe that fits me so perfectly that I can slip it on when I want to go down to the Bodega for a coconut water to soothe a hangover, but it still looks good enough on me that I can wear them out on a date. This is a metaphor. Wye Oak's Civilian is actually an album.
Civilian opens to sounds somewhere between the chatter and clatter of a party and the tuning of an orchestra and washes into the gentleness of Two Small Deaths. Jen Wasner's voice and gentle arpeggiated guitar create a warm wash of sound. Then she begins her story with:
Two small deaths happened today
With that she builds slowly to the crescendo in the song Civilian, and then takes the rest of the album to set me back down on earth. The production is like watercolor pencil, distinct in some places, fading into a wash of muted colors in others. It's the kind of sound that wraps itself all the way around me.
This is the kind of album some would call "overproduced" but I would probably call "well-produced". It's hard to believe this rich wall of sound is played by two people. Jen Wasner sings and plays guitar (and I think it's fair to say she shreds when she needs to), and Andy Stack does percussion and everything else.
When I put it on my headphones for a long train ride, I never regret it. Ever. And then what seems like a few minutes later I think, "Aw man, it's already over. What do I follow that with?" (Answer: Dum Dum Girls' End of Days EP).
The Alter shows off Jen's watery, Hendrix-like guitar playing
Dog's Eyes is one of the most playful tracks on the album, showing the big changes in feeling an dynamic even in a single song with guitar that's sometimes playful and sometimes lands like a crunching, squealing weight on your head.
Civilian is the core of the album, it's crescendo, showing all of Jen's delicacy and sonic wailing wall. I almost hate to include it out of context but it's a damn good song.
Holy Holy is all swollen with a soft passion, and I think where Jen does her best singing on the song. She sounds almost like a modern Stevie Nicks here. Possibly my favorite song on the album.
Doubt? The tender sign-off to the album. I love how it ends on this note of tender reassurance:
I'd like to do a little write-up in honor of the new album of mostly new and restored recordings of Jimi Hendrix. I have been a Hendrix fan for many years and have always felt like we were kindred spirits. I'd like to take a moment and talk about the Hendrix road less traveled The deep cuts. The amazing songs that no one knows about, presented in roughly chronological order. Of course this is not a real top 10, but I couldn't resist the urge to go for the cheap "listicle" format. People will read the top ten of anything.
Songs I will not be including: Foxy Lady, Manic Depression, Fire, Purple Haze, The Wind Cries Mary, Castles Made of Sand, Crosstown Traffic, or Voodoo Chile (Slight Return). Those songs are amazing, everyone's heard them.
Because of his hits, people consider Jimi some kind of superhuman voodoo sex machine (which he probably was), but these cuts point out the sweet, loving sci-fi nerd deep within Jimi. This is the Jimi I've always seen.
1. May This Be Love
This is Jimi's ode to daydreaming, and is basically a love song to an inner spiritual guide he calls "Waterfall". This originally only appeared on the US and not the UK versions of Are You Experienced, making it an ideal deep cut. Featuring some of the amazing, watery, mellow guitar Jimi excelled at. There's a plodding, thick drumbeat wherein he tells "Waterfall" why he thinks it is so damn groovy, and then an impassioned defense of daydreamers. Gorgeous and uplifting from the first moment to the last.
2. Wait Until Tomorrow
Jimi shows up atop a ladder to elope with his love, Dolly Mae, and she tells him that she thinks they should think about it one more day. With predictably fatal results.
3. Up From The Skies
This is Jimi's plea for aliens to contact him. Mitch Mitchell drops in a soft-brushed drumbeat while Jimi plays some of the grooviest and subtlest guitar while he tells the aliens that he wants to "hear and see everything". I said it was groovy and I meant it.
4. Little Miss Lover
Why this wasn't a single, I have no idea, since to me it stands right along other, more famous barn burners like Foxy Lady or Fire. This is, in my mind, the sexiest Hendrix song ever recorded.
5. Bold as Love
God knows how many drugs Jimi was on when he came up with the concept for the album Axis: Bold as Love. There's a line in Bold as Love (the song) where Jimi says, "I'm bold as love, just ask the axis," so presumably the title of the album (Axis: Bold As Love) is the response in screenplay format. Jimi goes through the colors a couple of times in the lyrics, and then finally, at the end, explodes into one of psychedelic rock's formative moments when he blows the whole world's mind by pioneering the "phase effect". I wish you could be high on LSD for just… just the four minutes and 12 seconds it takes to play this song so you could really, you know, get it man. And then get back to work cause it's not fucking 1967 anymore. Yeah.
6. Burning of the Midnight Lamp
Jimi Hendrix was so far out that he actually thought this paon to the depths of inner loneliness was going to be a hit song. It is a sincere and beautiful song with heartfelt lyrics describing his isolation at the time. It's a great song, I think, but the kids don't run out and buy albums written by Debbie Downer.
7. 1983 … (A Merman I Should Turn To Be) / Moon Turn The Tides … gently gently away
I'm pretty sure this song actually made a label suit actually cry at one point. It's a 14 minute multi-movement sci-fi epic about retreating to an undersea realm because of the horrors of war and includes a several minute long tone-poem depicting reality underwater. In the first movement (up to about the 3 minute mark) Jimi describes the sad state the world has got itself into and why the powers that be don't think going underwater is a viable idea. Then in the next movement, Jimi describes his lover and he making love in the sand as they prepare to say goodbye to the world they've known. Then, at about the four and a half mark, a soundscape begins as they go down into the sea with all kinds of eerie sounds. At the 6 minute mark, guitar and melody begin to come back including a drum solo (8 minute mark) and really gorgeous little bass solo played by Jimi himself (9:30). At about the 11 minute mark the next movement begins where Jimi and his love are now under water going deeper and deeper, chilling with Neptune and various mermaids and such. Hey this didn't turn out so bad after all. Finally in the last minute or so Jimi sends us out with one last shredding guitar solo which ends in oscillating bird sounding electronic noises which lead into (if you want extra credit) the next song, a one minute set of oscillating tones called Moon, Turn The Tides … gently gently away. Whew. And they pressed this to wax! In 1968!
8. Power of Love
By this point The Jimi Hendrix experience was over, and Jimi was jamming with blues great Buddy Miles. He owed the label one album and gave them Band of Gypsies, taken from two nights of recordings on New Years Eve '69/'70 at the Fillmore East here in New York City. I put this song on a mix-tape for a 4 year old once, and didn't have any idea what he was talking about when he referred to "the jellyfish song". Well, eventually I finally caught that part of the lyrics:
It's so groovy to float around sometimes
Even a jelly fish will tell you that
I said floatation is groovy, and easy
Even a jelly fish will agree to that
Yeah, but that old jelly fish
Been floatin' around so long
Lord he ain't got a bone in his jelly back
Floatin' every day and every night
Ridin' high is a risk
Sometimes the wind ain't right
Don't get put off by the pyrotechnics that start the song, it settles into a deep blues groove as he lays out the power of love. One of my all time favorite Jimi Hendrix songs.
9. My Friend
A world-weary Hendrix wrote one of the most hilarious of his songs, about being out on the road. The conversation in the beginning is simulated, and you can even hear Hendrix himself jabbering a little in the background pretending to be a regular joe at one of his shows. A the beginning of the song, a lady of the night (bourbon and coke possessed words) recognizes him and says "haven't I seen you somewhere in hell?" and "before [he] can ask, 'was it the east or west side?'" he's run over by her cart. In the third act he "just got out of a Scandinavian jail, and I'm on way back home to you". Then, he ruefully reminds us in the refrain that his only friend talks, sees, looks and feels like you, and you do just the same as him. What happened to "waterfall" right? I truly love this song, and if there was any justice in the world it would be in every karaoke book in the world.
I will end with a beautiful love song about an angel.
I liked but never quite got into Parenthetical Girls, but when my friend Glockabelle told me she was opening for them I thought I'd give it a shot.
Glockabelle is Annabelle Cazes and whatever awesome musicians she happens to be working with. She plays everything from surf rock to classical on her Glockenspiel, and then plays twin little keyboards and sings in French. Her stage banter is awesome, she'll say, "This is a song about a gazelle" and then launch into madness. Here's two great samples:
We stayed for Parenthetical Girls and they blew us away. Lead singer Zac Pennington is a charismatic demon and stood on amps, came out into the crowd, and performed all over the venue. It's a good thing he has a long mic cord. In the most intense moment, he came over to the bench we were standing on, grabbed a rolldown movie screen, and pulled it down in front of us so only me and a couple of other people could see him performing for a few minutes. It was so amazing and intimate that I couldn't resist giving his scrawny arm a little kiss.
It's been a long time since I saw a show with such panache and engagement. Their recordings don't quite capture the same spirit but have a listen anyway! Check out the amazing song The Pornographer and its (NSFW if armpit hair is not cool at your work) video:
Anyway, thanks to Glockabelle and Parenthetical Girls for an amazing New York experience!
Then, in my dreams are television, he sets up a hilarious hip-hop cut up out of human voices and scratching, and then does a slow, creaking sing/rap over it. I love it.
Then there's just lovely, pretty singing and songwriting like he walked on the water, which brings me to the fact that kissed her little sister just released a brand new album: sailor, which is much more focused on the pretty singing and guitar than all the sonic experimentation of his last album. I've only given it a few listens, but I think it's worth a few listens. And, since you can listen to both albums on his bandcamp page: sailor and high&low for free, streaming on the web.
Bandcamp is a really cool site, and it's nice to see bands have a good alternative for self-releasing albums and band pages now that myspace is just too dorky to even use anymore. Bandcamp lets you put up your music for streaming and lets customers purchase it in a variety of high quality digital formats.
Anyone have any other good Bandcamp finds? Isn't that album cover awesome?
When I was in Seattle on vacation I discovered the coolest new column in the weekly paper The Stranger. Anna Minard just started writing Never Heard of 'Em. The premise is that Anna doesn't know that much about the "essential" albums her friends and fellow writers pass her. She listens for the first time, and then writes a review of what it's like to be exposed to the album for the first time.
Another cool project is NPR's All Songs Considered's new project called Why Can't We All Get Along. They're trying to find the top 10 albums everyone can agree on. They're posting a bunch of universally liked albums every week and letting people vote all summer to populate the semifinals. One thing I find funny is that for every album "everybody loves", someone hates it just to be contrary.
Paul Simon's Graceland, Bob Marley's Exile, AC/DC… I think it's kind of funny to come up with a list of music that's least hated. I know some people who REALLY can't stand Exile though.
(note: None of the songs are actually ON the Jazz and 80's album, I just think it's a cool cover. Also sex sells. Not that I'm selling anything.)
I was just listening to this brand new Jazz album by the Vijay Iyer Trio, and on it they have a great cover of Micheal Jackson's Human Nature. I love how they keep the song recognizable, but then evolve into their own exploration of the song's musical themes. I think that a good jazz cover respects the original song, but still tears it apart and puts it back together again somehow.
It made me think of several songs that do something similar that I've come to appreciate over the years.
The Bad Plus is probably the most famous for their Smells Like Teen Spirit cover, which is great, but I'm partial to their amazing cover of the Tears For Fears song, Everybody Wants To Rule The World.
Of course I had to have a Beatles song, and there's no lack of Beatles covers of any genre in this world, but I particularly like the somewhat insane version of A Day In The Life by Grant Green.
Charlie Hunter's Come As You Are cover starts with the Smells Like Teen Spirit riff, but is in fact a groovy cover of the (slightly) lesser known song.
The rest, just enjoy. I think every one has a little something special.
Listen as a playlist:
Or listen to the songs individually:
Human Nature (Micheal Jackson) as covered by the Vijay Iyer Trio
Everybody Wants To Rule The World (Tears For Fears) as covered by The Bad Plus
A Day in the Life (The Beatles) as covered by Grant Green
Live To Tell (Madonna) as covered by the Bill Frisell
Come As You Are (Nirvana) as covered by the Charlie Hunter Trio
Day is Done (Radiohead) as covered by the Brad Mehldao Trio
Isobel (Björk) as covered by Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
California is probably the most normal and approachable album Mike Patton (also of Faith No More) ever made, which is to say, it's one of the oddest and most off-putting albums most people will experience.
Mr. Bungle was Mike Patton's high school band, but me and my teenage friends didn't find out about him until Faith No More's epic song and video, Epic came out. things explode, Mike Patton punches himself in the head, and a fish (evidently given to them by Björk?!) flops about in exquisite suffocation. This song blew our minds, and it wasn't long before someone had a copy of the self-titled first album by Mr. Bungle.
Mr. Bungle (the album) is an insane free-jazz heavy-metal carnival. We loved it mostly as a novelty album, with its hilarious porn samples and rollercoaster ride music, but it wasn't until years later that I heard California.
I think the two biggest influences on California are cheesy lounge music and surf-rock, but as always, Mr. Bungle sometimes (d)evolves into pure avant-garde noise. While some of the songs are truly purely beautiful, most are some kind of wild ride.
Air-Conditioned Nightmare – This is a great song to start with because it inhabits all the madness, beauty and tormented Beach Boys ethos that the album creates. The song begins with clattering percussion, and Mike Patton doing some singing that would have fit in on Pet Sounds. Then, at about the :40 minute mark, it gets twisted, and there's a rapid-fire change to some perverse doo-wop-ing / surf-metal guitar / mechanical pleas to "get me out of this air-conditioned nightmare". Then at about the 3:00 mark, acts sincere, as if he were just trying to sing a beautiful song the whole time, finally introducing the final theme of the song, asking sweetly "where's my rainbow? where's my halo?"
Pink Cigarette – Possibly the most straightforwardly gorgeous song on the whole album, Mike croons over vocal choruses and gentle surf rock, a tale of a cuckolded man contemplating impending suicide after his wife leaves him with only a pink cigarette on the bed: "How can I forget that your lips were there?Your kiss goes everywhere, touches everything but me." So perfectly pathetic and campy, but perhaps marred by the obvious heart monitor sounds at the end.
Goodbye Sober Day – The album's closer, it's notable for it's appropriation of an Indonesian chanting style near the end. After a spooky song cycle, all the air is sucked out of the song at about the 2:10 mark, and Mike Patton does his approximation of Kecak, a Balinese chant used partially to depict a war between Rama and the evil king Ravana (only like a heavy-metal version).
None of Them Knew They Were Robots – I wish I knew enough about music to know what the hell is happening here. I won't suffer to narrate all the twists and turns of this song but there's a lot to listen here, including a doomish chant of Deus absconditus and Deus nullus deus nisi deus. It's about science, religeon, nanotechnology, gnostic wisdom, god knows what else.
Vanity Fair – I'll go out on a sweet note, cause "you're not human, you're a miracle!"
If this appeals to you at all, please get and listen to this whole album in all of it's gorgeous glory. As far as I'm concerned, it's one for the ages.
danieltalsky | Reviews | Thursday, April 5th, 2012
I'm always so goddamned positive here on the Snob. I don't usually like to bother to write about things unless I love them, but I think it's worth mentioning that I don't in fact love everything. Plus, it's a critic's job to be contrary so, I'm going to give it a shot.
I could tell that he loved the song, and knew every word and inflection, and hit every single one of its incredible high points. It's not the first time I've thought "I should give Elvil Costello a chance" though.
To me he just sounds hopelessly dated, and nothing really makes his songwriting or performing stand out for me in a way that makes me want to listen to it.
Song I do actually like: Alison
OK, now I know this is going to be a divisive one. There's definitely some Radiohead I like. I know they're the ultimate in modern rock brilliance. I've really loved a lot of what they've done.
Who would have every guessed that a band destined to become a one-hit-wonder from Creep, would switch it up and become one of the most universally acknowledged rock success geniuses ever.
When I put on OK, Computer, one of their undisputed masterworks, all I can think is "Goddamn, can this dude whine!" I feel like he generated this whole generation of first world problem whiners who think intelligently howling about the injustices and plastic-ness of the world is the highest of art.
Sometimes liking music has to do with wanting to inhabit the psychic landscape it creates. I rarely seem to want to live in Radioheadland.
Song I do actually like: Reckoner
These guys blew my mind when I was first aware of them, which wasn't until I was 15 and videos started popping up on MTV. I wasn't sure whether to like or hate Losing My Religion when it came out (ended up liking it) or Stand / Shiny Happy People (ended up hating it).
I've tried to go back and listen to some of their classic College Rock era albums like Eponymous and Life's Rich Pageant. Much like Elvis Costello I just felt like these guys were outdated by the time I got to them. I liked it, but people seemed to regard their old stuff with a certain level of worship that I just could never comprehend.
Song I actually like: Fall on Me
I didn't actually realize how huge and ubiquitous Jay-Z was until well after his prime. Now, his sad, late career verses sound pretty pathetic next to Kanye West at the absolute top of his songwriting game. There's Kanye talking absolutely insane shit, always something new, while Jay-Z is still playing up the fact that he used to sell crack in another lifetime and that he's really huge.
Yeah, back in the day he wrote some good songs on Blueprint and The Black Album for sure. But even then, I just can't quite fathom how he managed to become this unbelievable multi-platinum success. He does have that wide, expansive voice, and his lyrics are never too challenging.
Song I actually like: Takeover
I want to love Queen, I really do. I love the idea of flamboyant gay rockers doing operatic imaginative way-before-its-time rock and blowing apart the world. I love plenty of their anthems. I, too, watched Wayne's World and thought, "Holy crap, I've heard that song before I but I didn't realize what a mega-world-destroying beast it was!"
I love all the talk about fat bottomed girls riding bicycles. I love that a band with a gay lead singing became the stadium stomper for America's most red-blooded manly sport.
However, when I listen to an actual album, the pomp and bombast just overwhelm the actual songs for me. They're vamping and camping with a million things going on at once like some grand poncy circus.
Song I actually like: Killer Queen
I tried to find this old comic from Seattle's The Stranger newspaper where Neil Young says something like, "You business fellas worry about doing what you're best at: making money, and I'll go back to doing when I'm best at: warbling like an old goose."
There is no doubt that Neil is a prolific and powerful songwriter. I hear his recent album about an electric car was really good.
He is clearly a passionate and insightful hippie who's worked with some incredibly talented people and can obviously make magic with just himself and a guitar.
Only one problem, I could just never bring myself to put on one of his albums again. He is someone I have actively tried to like and "get". I had Harvest Moon on vinyl, I tried to get into After The Gold Rush and Tonight's The Night, but I couldn't quite get over the goose warble.
Song I actually like: Heart of Gold
Win Me Over?
Do you want to change my mind on any of these artists? Pick me out a 3 song playlist and send it to me for any of these artists and I'll give it a shot.