Saturday, February 4, 2017

2016 Leftovers:

Oh, how I long for the days when Donald was just President-Elect and not yet Actual President. Then I only had my fears of what could be – and music – to contend with. Now that I know what will be, I am feeling nostalgic for last year when it was all just theoretical.

Plus, there were a bunch of records I never got around to, what with Car Seat Headrest blowing everything else away and all.

But these records are pretty good to excellent - you might even love some of them - arranged roughly in descending order of quality:

Go Betweens.jpg
Go-Betweens: The Friends of Rachel Worth

Their first record after a hiatus of several years. So it’s sort of a reunion/comeback album, but with members of Sleater-Kinney as backing band. Sounds weird on paper but they provide perfect support. They drive at least as hard as the GBs of old. And why not? Lindy Morrison was their drummer for the longest time, and she banged it out as well as anyone, female or otherwise.

And it’s interesting to hear this current powerhouse incarnation paired with some of the more melodic songs they’ve ever done. “The Clock” shows how well it all goes together. That insistent beat and hard as nails guitar powering a lovely song.

I’m beginning to think I like the post-reunion GBs more than the pre. I find this record and Oceans Apart more satisfying that anything prior to the 1979-1990 best-of. Robert Forster used to go out of his way to sound out of tune. Now he’s calmed down a bit and the results are striking. Everything comes together here. Highly recommended.

A-

“Magic in the Air”


Robbie Fulks.jpg
Robbie Fulks: Upland Stories

Sometimes I think all you need to understand that you’re listening to a great record - besides your ears - is a quiet Saturday morning. That’s was put this one over the goal line for me. I could finally luxuriate in Fulks’ voice, lyrics and tunes all at once.

Nice and easy folk and country  The tunes are perfectly suited to his voice.  The lyrics - when I hear them - are very worthwhile.  And the accompaniment is perfect.

Some great songs came out of 2016 and several of them are here.

A-
“Alabama at Night”


Angel Olsen.jpg
Angel Olsen: My Woman

It’s not just because she slightly resembles Laura Palmer that this is my nomination for the soundtrack for the next Twin Peaks. It’s also that the music has the weird vibe of Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. But where Neko Case’s voice cuts through the wilderness like a fog horn, Angel Olsen’s despair is right out of Fire Walk With Me.

Her exaggerated, emotive singing - at a high enough volume to push the needle to red - is a bit too much for Mrs. Jaybee, who asked that I not play it when she’s around. The weirdness even got to me when I heard a perfectly nice song almost ruined by a rumbling distorted guitar underneath the otherwise smooth sound – seemingly calculated to make things unnecessarily weird yet again – until I realized it was the sound my fridge was making. So I'll own that one.

After that, the rest kicked in nicely, with both the songs and the band playing them not letting up. She’s got the talent and the courage to back up her craziness.

A-
“Not Gonna Kill You”


John Prine.jpg
John Prine: In Spite of Ourselves

Remember this guy? Back in the seventies he was considered one of the “New Dylans”, and he made several classic albums to almost back that claim up. Since then he’s continued down his own path, maybe not at the level of his early work, but still better than most.

This time around he does a duet album of country covers, which sounds like a really bad idea. After all, he’s a great songwriter. Why not do his own songs?

But he never had a great voice, and he’s got some great co-lead singers like Lucinda Williams, Iris DeMent, Trisha Yearwood, Connie Smith, Fiona Prine, Melba Montgomery, Emmylou Harris, Dolores Keane and Patty Loveless

The odd thing is that I originally assumed he wrote these songs. Shows what I know about country music. It turns out he only wrote one. But with Prine that’s the type of mistake one can make, he’s that good.

But you know how these things can go. You put it on once or twice, enjoy the “gimmick”  and then file it away because when you get down to it, it’s all a bit dull.

But not here. And it’s all in the execution. He picks high-quality songs that don’t demand too much of his voice, and the co-stars shine.

A grower.

A-
“In Spite of Ourselves”


Mitsky.jpg
Mitsky: Puberty 2

She’s got a lovely deep voice. And sounds way more normal that Angel Olsen. But when the music kicks in, she’s like Bjork-lite. And I mean that in a good way, because Bjork gets on my nerves.

These are “insinuating” melodies. They take a little longer to resolve but they do so just in time - before my ADD kicks in.

But because she’s more normal than Angel Olsen, she leaves less of an impression. I think.

B+
“Happy”



Red Headed Stranger.jpg
Willie Nelson: The Red-Headed Stranger

Years ago, when my mom said what good a voice Willie had, I didn’t take it as a ringing endorsement. I’ve lived to regret that.

I alway thought it was a woman thing to admire a guy’s voice. But it’s becoming more apparent to me that it’s Willie’s voice that really puts a lot of songs across. Stardust, for instance, might have been unbearable by anyone else. Now I can say I really like those songs.

Here, he’s doing country proud. Much more bearable than almost any country album I’ve gotten in years.

But it is about murder, so there’s that.

And there are a lot of melodies here that sound borrowed, but this record is over forty years old so it might just seem that way.

I think this one just got bowled over by the events of 2016. I’ll probably like it more as time goes on.

B+

“Hand on the Wheel”


AMC Everclear.jpg
American Music Club: Everclear

AMC started out as an obscure late-80s alt-rock band and turned into a slightly-less obscure early-90s alt-rock band.

I first heard them way back then while driving home from work. I have no idea what song it was I heard -  it isn’t on this record, or the other one I have by them - but it was off kilter enough to catch my attention.  It started with a minor chord based melody (misery is my favorite company) and then went into an instrumental break dominated by an aggressively strummed acoustic guitar. Pretty cool, I thought.

So I sought them out, first getting Mercury from 1993, which is pretty good - one of those records with a few very striking songs, a few annoying ones and a bunch in the middle.

Everclear is it’s predecessor from 1991. It’s more consistent, more melodic, but like Mitski, not quite strong enough to grab your attention.  Those same pretty melodies and arrangements make it harder to tell some of these songs apart.

They are/were led by singer/songwriter/alcoholic Mark Eitzel, whose voice isn’t pretty but pleasant enough when he’s not straining too much. Then he sounds like Elvis Costello with a sinus infection. (And Elvis already sounds like he’s got one.)

He does strain a couple of times here, but if the band keeps up with him it’s not awful. They pay his tab and drive him home safe.

I get the feeling this one will be a once-in-awhile-go-to record I’ll enjoy quite a bit.

But then I’ll file it away for a while before I need to hear it again.

B+
“Rise”


Either Or.jpg
Elliott Smith: Either/Or

Elliot didn’t suffer fools gladly, himself included, and he’s having none of it here. Lots of songs about drinking and the ramifications thereof. You could find yourself humming a pretty tune with lyrics that will eat through your speakers.

But lurking beneath this is a very Beatle-y sense of melody and arrangement. Which doesn’t fully emerge until XO.

But this one’s got a bracing effect, like a person you respect who’s just thrown a cold drink in your face.  It makes you sit up and take notice. He may be mad, but you know he cares because he really wanted that drink.

Plus it’s got the right vibe for the times. Not giving sh*t. At least some of the time, right? Otherwise we’d all go mad.

B+

“Rose Parade”


Ulmer.jpg
James “Blood” Ulmer: Odyssey

Kind of strange: guitar, drums, fiddle, but no bass. And the stuttering rhythms make me wonder if the CD has a scratch in it.

It’s really hard to pin down the genre here. Sometimes jazz, sometimes rock, and weird, weird blues.

And then the gruff, ancient voice. Jimi Hendrix from Hell?  No, more like Purgatory.

B+

“Are You Glad to Be In America?”



ATDI.jpg
At the Drive-In: Relationship of Command

Shrieky, and not at all what I had in mind for Thanksgiving, when I got it, but maybe what I need for the next four years.

Kind of like, Rage Against the Machine (Or was it System of a Down? I’ll have to ask my son.)

At first it nearly unbearable, but that was before the election. Now it sounds about right.

Compressed, focused, powerful. And maybe more than I can take.

B+

“Sleepwalk Capsules”


Gavin Bryars.jpg
Gavin Bryars: Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet

Holy sh*t, does this go on. The same musical phrase for nearly an hour and a half. How dare I recommend such a thing? I can’t in good conscience. But I will tell you that I like it a lot.

Absolutely insane in its serene hour-plus of the same refrain over and over and over (and over) again.

At times, it’s quite beautiful, and I’ll probably put it on when no one else is around. You may not have time for all that, though.

B+

“Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet”



Joy of Cooking.jpg
Joy of Cooking

This is old-style early-seventies blues played by white people. But that makes it sound really terrible. It’s not that bad. It is quite dusty though. I hear bits of Ani DiFranco, but it’s a little corny. That organ, ugh!

I hear enthusiasm but it’s hard to get past some seventies cliches.

The further back you go, the more time you have to give something.

B-
“Hush”


Libertines.jpg
The Libertines: Up the Bracket

Loud obnoxious British louts. Produced by Mick Jones of the Clash, who was pretty obnoxious himself, so he ought to know.

But me? I don't know yet.

“Up the Bracket”



Music For the Age of Trumpy:

A lot of this and other music will have to get me through the next few years.

Most of the above is quite diverting, but maybe not useful for this moment in time.

Gavin Bryars is meant for “special” occasions.
At the Drive-In are good for rage, but I’m too old for that.
Glassworks is for Solace.
The Chills are Endurance.
The Libertines are F*ck It.
Elliot Smith is F*ck You.  (Not you. But you get the idea.)




And they will all be needed.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Sixth Annual JBBs: 2016, or Holy F*cking Sh*t


Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest


For once, I’m going to get this done before the Voice does their Pazz and Jop poll.

Anyway, it was the best of times (music) and it was the worst of times (everything else). You get the idea.

Unlike prior years, in 2016 there always seemed to be a really good record to listen to. Alas, like most prior years there didn’t seem to be any outright great ones (except one). But overall things could have been a lot, lot worse.


Resolutions:

I’m always trying to cut down on the CDs in favor of mp3s, and out of a total of 32 albums, only 15 were actual CDs. So I did pretty well not overfilling the house with plastic jewel cases, but I kind of miss the liner notes.

And in my struggle to stay more current, I’m treading water. As in 2015, I managed to get four albums from 2016. I’ve still got to work on that, since I can’t compete with Nutboy, who can spin off a Top 5 list and still say that Car Seat Headrest is great without including it. So I know he’s got a few more up his sleeve. I must do better!

And eat more vegetables.


Nutboy:

And speaking of Nutboy, here’s his list:

1. Bob Dylan: The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert 
2. Radiohead: Heart Shaped Pool
3. Sturgill Simpson: A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
4. Drive By Truckers: American Band 
5. Angel Olsen: My Woman

Now I have no doubt Nutboy can listen to the six CD Dylan The Bootleg Series, Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965-1966  in a single sitting, and I wouldn’t put it past him to enjoy a collection of outgoing messages from Dylan’s answering machine, and good for him I say. But I’m guessing he’s onto something here.

Angel Olsen is the only one that I’ve got and I can understand why it made his cut. It kind of made mine, too.

And the rest have been on my radar, and now that they have the NSA (Nutboy Seal of Approval) I can proceed, but, as usual, I’m a dollar short and a year late.


Overrated, or Disappointments:

Without dwelling on it, I’ll just say that Elliott Smith’s Either/Or is Neither, and Joy of Cooking
stinks to high heaven of 1970. It’s not a bad smell, mind you, but it should have worn off by now.


Top Ten:

So here’s my list, which I’ll remind you contains whatever I got acquainted with last year, and is thus not limited to 2016 releases.

1. Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial

2. Erroll Garner: The Complete Concert by the Sea

3. Chills: Kaleidoscope World

4. Fairport Convention: Liege and Leif

5. Kinks: Lola vs Powerman and the Money Go Round

6. Philip Glass: Glassworks (Expanded Edition)

7. The Go! Team: Thunder Lightning Strike

8. Bach: The Well Tempered Clavier/Art of the Fugue/A Musical Offering

9. Apples in Stereo: New Magnetic Wonder

and tied for 10th
John Coltrane: Afro Blue Impressions
Robbie Fulks: Upland Stories 
The Go-Betweens: The Friends of Rachel Worth 
Angel Olsen: My Woman


Top Songs:

This is just some of them, and I’m sure I’ve missed a few:
Car Seat Headrest: "Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales"
Car Seat Headrest: “Vincent”
The Chills: “Cosmic Drift”
The Chills: “Rolling Moon”
The Chills “Doledrums”
Fairport Convention: “Come All Ye”
The Kinks: “Top of the Pops”
The Kinks: “Strangers” 
Philip Glass “Opening”
The Go! Team: “Bottle Rocket”
The Apples in Stereo: “Beautiful Machine Part 1-2”
The Apples in Stereo: “Seven Suns”
Elliot Smith: “Rose Parade”
Gavin Bryars: “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”


Most Awesomest:

Bach: The Well Tempered Clavier/Art of the Fugue/A Musical Offering: 7 CDs, after all


Most Funnest:

Car Seat Headrest: It’s got everything I need.

Bestest First Cut:

Fairport Convention: “Come All Ye”

Best Last Line:

I'm cheating, because there’s short “coda” after this, but Car Seat Headrest’s “Connect the Dots”  ends with F*ck All This!!


Thoughts:

So how could Car Seat Headrest be better than Bach or an album with "Lola” on it? The shock of the new I guess. And I have to learn to trust that more.

It’s amazing that the election didn’t ruin Kaleidoscope World for me. That makes it rank pretty high.

I considered not listing Erroll Garner at all since I’ve had the original album for years, but it turns out that more EG is better EG.

How the hell did Philip Glass end up making one of the more emotional records I heard this year?

This has nothing to do with any objective musical quality, otherwise Bach would be at the top. This is about subjective experience.


The Year of….

If it’s an artist (and it usually is):
Bach? Maybe. I mean, 9 CDs worth just this year? So if it was an artist, it would be him.

But maybe it’s a thing.
World History Project? No, this is just getting started, musically.

A Concept? 
Disappointment? Not musically, though.

Maybe it’s the year of Things More Important Than Music, and Not In A Good Way. That’s probably it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still need music. As a matter of fact, it’s what gets me through it all.

And for the next four years, I’m gonna need a lot of it.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Holy Toledo!

I’ve spent the year wandering all over musical maps and past eras. This turned out to be a good strategy since 2016 itself was such a turd of a year.

But something was missing and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

There are a whole bunch of records I’ve gotten this year that were either fun, educational, deep, wide, etc. And as good as they all were - and there are a few I haven’t bothered to mention yet - there haven’t been any that I’d call great. Or Great.

Then it hit me. How about something new?  How about something from THIS year? I might have thought of this before but the whole year’s been like kryptonite so why would I bother with its music?

So I finally broke down and got something that I hoped would be worthwhile. What I got, though, is undeniably Great.

And I’m glad I got it after the election. Otherwise, it might have been ruined. It would have added to my depression with me blaming myself for getting distracted by a record instead of oh, participating in our democratic experiment.

Instead, I got it at exactly the right time. And now, I can enjoy it as pure “deal with the sh*t with a shout” music.

Car Seat Headrest.jpg

Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial (2016)

Will Toledo is a nerdy-looking young man:

Will Toledo.jpg

(see?) with a nasal voice a la Jonathan Richman, although I do hear a stressed out Ray Davies, too. In other words, not what you'd think of as a typical rock n' roller.

He writes lyrics about depression, boredom and drunk driving, and attaches them to great rock and roll music. He’s got a tight little band that is very sympathetic to those musical and lyrical leanings.

There is nothing revolutionary here.  But the tunes have the deft chord changes that you know in your bones but haven’t heard put to such good use in decades.

Lyrics filled with pain and insight and even humor. Surges and swells in all the right places. And even the rock n roll cliches (organ swells, shouted refrains, etc.) sound fresh.

Oh, it’s caused some controversies.  It was playing during a tense thirty-minute "family discussion". And it refused to play in the car a couple of times.  I have a sneaky feeling my son hates it, and that my wife thinks I love it more than I love her. (Not true, sweetheart!)

And everyone in the house is either talking to me when I try to play it, or telling me to turn it down when I do.

Ah, but it’s the troublesome ones that you love the most, isn’t it?  (Not really, but in this case, oh so true.) Plus, Mrs. Jaybee is coming around.

This is the best rock and roll record I’ve heard in ages, and the best record, both of the year 2016 (like I’d know) and my year, including all the other stuff I’ve gotten from 1725 through 2015.

In this time when there hasn’t been all that much to be joyful about, this record gives me hope. And that’s all I want.

I find myself wanting to shout some of the choruses in public.

And what better recommendation is that?

A
“Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”





Saturday, December 24, 2016

World History Project: Semi-Christmas Edition, or, Handel and Vivaldi Strike Bach!

So, in keeping with the holiday spirit (not really), here are a few more classical records - two out of three of which are God-themed, but only one of which is, oh, joyful! But that’s a better batting average than usual.

There’s one each by Bach, Handel and Vivaldi. I keep comparing these guys when there’s really no valid reason to. These just happen to be records I have where the compositions were written around the same period (1725-1750 or so). But from that point, I’m just making sh*t up.

But since these same three guys keep popping up I considered giving them a humorously inappropriate nickname, like "The Three Amigos" (especially since, like Beethoven, Steve Martin actually lost some hearing during the making of that movie). But I’m not talking about Beethoven right now, am I? (That was a test.)

There’s also a part in the movie Don’t Look Back where poor Donovan plays a pretty song only to have Dylan blow him away with “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. In other words, your song sucked. Christ, what a prick.

But I didn't have a third guy, so forget that.

Then there's the Three Stooges, but who is who? I mean, up until now, I could see Bach as Moe, slapping both Vivaldi

Vivaldi.jpg
who reminds me of Larry
 Larry.jpg

and Handel (which makes him Curly or Shemp. You pick) across the face in one swing, because he keeps being better than them.

Does that situation apply here?  Not exactly, but it’s funny how, no matter what Handel or Vivaldi do, Bach’s always there to outdo them.

But not today!


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Bach: Mass in B Minor

So Handel’s doing his thing with Messiah which is a bunch of people singing about Jesus, and of course, Bach says I can do that! and writes Mass in B Minor.  (Yeah, he's really reminding me of Dylan at this point.

And well, it’s kind of what you’d expect at Mass, which is a bunch of people singing together kind of slow - occasionally midtempo. And if they’re having a good time, I wouldn’t know because they’re singing in another language.

But let’s face it, even with the language barrie, you can usuallly tell when there’s a party going on. And it ain’t here.

Now I admit, I should have known what I was getting into. I already have Requiems by Mozart and Brahms and, well, they’re requiems. That word translates into “not quite as fun as Mass”.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised.

But they do occasionally pep up, but that’s really only when they’re kissing God’s ass, which is what people spent a lot of time doing back then.

So, I can’t say that it’s bad, because it’s not. But I’ll go to hell if I only give it a B, so

B+

Here’s the whole thing. Play it on Sunday, and you won’t have to go to church.


Messiah.jpg
Handel: Messiah

I mentioned this one before in comparison to another George (Harrison) because I like to play bother of them on Christmas.

For my money, Messiah beats Mass in B Minor, mainly because the latter IS IN B MINOR! Not the cheeriest key.

Meanwhile Messiah is a bunch of people singing (in English!) about how happy they are about said Messiah. So there’s really no contest.

And there’s usually someone singing lead, whereas in Mass it’s a bunch of people trying to convince you that, despite the key we’re singing it, it’s all good. (Actual lyrics!)

I’m not buying it.

The worst you can say about Messiah is that they like to repeat lines over and over, so a song with five lines may go on for ten minutes, a la:

BeHOLD a virgin shall conceive and bear a son!
Behold a VIRgin shall conceive and bear a son!
Behold a virgin SHALL conceive and bear a son!
Beho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-hold… etc.

You get the idea.

But one great thing is that there are individuals singing.

First, there's the bass dude, going on for a while about the good news, instead of actually delivering it.
And then, the lady - probably his wife - singing Will you get to the f*cking point? Praise the Lord!
And then the chorus comes in to take sides.
First the wives with He’s such an ass! How'd you let yourself get knocked up by him? God Bless Us!
Then the husbands come to his defense with Hey, she’s no bargain, whatever and ever amen

So it’s more entertaining. Like a family gathering. But as you can see it takes some time before the, uh ACTUAL MESSIAH shows up.

And while I’ve had this record for, oh 25 years now, I couldn’t be positive I’d know it when it’s on. But if you drop the needle on it somewhere I’d find myself enjoying it. (Mass not so much  It makes me feel like I should be sitting up straight.)

Oh, and on Messiah, I can hear people having a good time.

A-

Enjoy!


Vivaldi Mandolin.jpg
Vivaldi: Mandolin Concerto
Vivaldi: The Mandolin Concerti: Concerto in G Major for Two Mandolins, Strings, and Basso Continuo, P133; Concerto in C Major for Mandolin, Strings and Basso Continuo P134
Concerto in C Major for Two Mandolins, Two Theorboes, Two Flutes, Two (are you really still reading this? Okay, I’ll keep going) P16; Concerto a due Chori in B-Flat Major “Con Violino Discordato” for Strings and Basso Continuo P368

Which you probably can’t find anymore, but any of these should do.

Not much God here, this is just a really good album - maybe my all time favorite classical record.

You get to hear a string instrument you like and the style of playing is in a sweet spot between classical and pop. Some nice riffs and melodic turns, so it doesn’t feel like work at all.

It’s almost like the Grateful Dead doing an acoustic album.

A

"Concerto in G Major"


So, in your face Bach (or Dylan, or Moe or whoever you are)!

For the rest of us (rhymes with?) this Christmas, I suggest getting Mass out of the way early, rejoice for the coming of the Messiah, and then just kick back with a drink, and enjoy those wailing mandolins!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

World History Project: Bach Around the Clock

I was thinking of including this in my Music for Catastrophes series. I’d been playing it pretty regularly since June. It’s seven CDs - which was just enough to get me through this very f*cked-up year we’re in.

And well suited musically. After all, back when this stuff was composed (1722-1750) disaster was a daily occurrence. But people, come on! It’s not a competition! They couldn’t help it back then. Ours is self-inflicted.

But aside from that little happy coincidence, it’s really part of the World History Project.

First prompted by a reference to A Musical Offering mentioned in Godel Escher and Bach, and then numerous other references to The Well-Tempered Clavier, and finally, Radar O’Reilly being partial to the Fugue, I managed to find it all in one place.

I mean, how could I say no?

So here it is. The big magilla.


Bach Harpsichord.jpg

Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier (Das Wohltemperierte Clavier) / The Art of the Fugue (Die Kunst der Fuge) / Musical Offering (Musikalisches Opfer) Import, Box set, Collector's Edition
Johann Sebastian Bach (Composer), Davitt Moroney (Performer), Janet See (Performer), John Holloway (Performer), Jaap ter Linden (Performer), Martha Cook

You like how I put the German title in there, too? Pretty classy, right?

Anyway, there were a lot of talented people before Bach, but jeez, this guy is just off the charts. Great musician, great improviser, great composer. Their Prince, maybe?

So let’s break this all down.


The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 (CDs 1 and 2) and Book 2 (CDs 3 and 4):

Funny story: Back then the clavier (or to us, the harpsichord) was more or less just invented and people were tuning it in all sorts of different ways.

Along comes Bach, who says Enough of this different tuning sh*t. Listen, assholes! Here’s my way - the right way - to tune the damned thing, and by the way, if you don’t believe me, in my spare time, I wrote 24 tunes - each in a different key -  just wrote to prove it. So everyone just shut the f*ck up, okay?

And that’s a direct quote. (Okay, I’m lying about that.) But what a badass!

And he does it very methodically. First C Major, then C Minor, then C sharp major, and then C sharp minor.

And you can just hear him thinking as he goes along What? Still don’t believe me? How about I do D Major and then D Minor? Here you go! Want more? Okay, here’s E, etc. all the way to G, and then back to A and B because you illiterate b*stards didn’t notice I didn’t start with A!

And if you think age may have mellowed him out, no. Twenty years later and he does another 24. Really, he was kind of an asshole.

But I guess you want to know what it sounds like.

Amazingly enough, not annoying. And Davitt Moroney can really play. He’s no Elton John or anything, but he’s not bad.

And it’s not too “fussy”. And you know what I mean by that. It doesn’t come with all those trills and flourishes that would me want to punch poor Davitt in the mouth. It helps that he’s not wearing the big wig. (A recurring theme in this series.)  He just looks like a regular guy.

This music is peaceful (probably why I keep going back to it). Kind of like the Beatles “Because”  played at various tempos and keys, except without the voices.  That may not sound like much, but in classical music less is usually more.

A-

“Prelude & Fugues in C major”


The Art of the Fugue (CDs 5 and 6):

This is designed music. Experimental if you will. And yet, he could just improvise it on command. I’ll assume he wrote these down first. Each one is made up of two separate melodies that weave around each other and sometimes combine to make a third one.

What a show-off.

But again, they’re not pompous or overbearing, just exploratory. You get the feeling he could have made it more complicated but he wanted to make sure you could follow.

And it hits that sweet spot of holding your attention if you want it to or letting you go do something else while it’s on while providing a perfect background.

So maybe the guy was mellowing.

A-

J.S. Bach "Little" Fugue in G minor, BWV 578 


A Musical Offering (CD 7):

This one’s more varied than the others. It’s actually got some other instruments on it. And simply lovely.

Nuff said!

A-

“Musical Offering BWV 1079 XVII. Ricercar a 6”


Bach to the Future:

This little adventure could have been a big waste of time. It had all the earmarks of being “work” - a huge rabbit hole I dug for myself that I could neither relate to or enjoy. If that had been the case, though, I would have discretely put it aside by now. But I still find myself putting it on.

So while I don’t love it like the best pop music, it does, in its way, stand as my album of the year.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

More Music for Catastrophes, or, Heart of Glass:

Friend-at-Work-Andrew and I talk a lot about music. It sure beats talking about work.

We have a lot of common interests, and when I told him about my delving into classical music via my World History Project, and Bach in particular, he pointed me in a couple of very fruitful directions.

But my favorite of his recommendations is more contemporary.

Like Phillip Glass, by way of our common admiration for Brian Eno. I’d already gone down the contemporary classical path with Terry Riley and Steve Reich.

Glass never had the obvious record to buy, other than the triple record Einstein at the Beach, which I was - of course - too cheap to try.

So Andrew pointed me to this record one instead:


Glassworks.jpg
Philip Glass: Glassworks (Expanded Edition) (1981)

One of the reasons I kept putting off getting something by Philip Glass is that the description adjectives I’ve read of his music were complimentary but alienating: repetitive/rhythmic/minimalistic. These are not the words that typically trigger my interest. I’m more of an emotional/melodic/joyful/suicide inducing kind of guy.

So, in finally relenting, I braced myself for something academic and dry, but instead got a very emotionally charged record.  Son Michael - a rock n' roller asked "What’s this?" while the very first song played.

We then go back and forth between what you’d expect based on the dry compliments above to unexpectedly lovely interludes.

By itself, I’d judge Glassworks about a B+, but what really puts it over in this expanded edition is the inclusion of selected cuts from In the Upper Room - a dance piece he did with Twyla Tharp back in 1983(?) - which turn out to be just as good as - and sometimes even better than - Glassworks itself.

And by “Dance II” we are taking off! And here is where I begin to notice that Glass isn’t above using pop-like minor chord changes, just enough to keep idiots like me focused.

So not only do I get to feel superior to people by listening to this kinda highbrow stuff, I get to actually enjoy it too!

And “Opening” is the perfect solace for these trying times.

A-

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Music For Catastrophes

Whenever I’m severely depressed, or dealing with some sort of “Major Negative Issue” I would avoid new music, fearing that it would just get the stench of the crisis and forever be tainted by it. I’d use similar logic to deprive myself of other fun things during those times, but now I’m beginning to think that approach only made things worse. This time around, I’ll do good things for myself to keep up my strength, and one of those things will be to listen to good music. Another rule worth breaking now is my No More Than One CD by an Artist rule. Which is, when given the choice between two records to buy, I’d get the one by the band I didn’t have anything by yet. Its original intent was to cut down on those instances where I’m getting the eighth or twelfth record by one artist at the expense of hearing something new by another. After all, unless you’re Dylan or Neil Young, there’s little reason to think your twelfth record is as good as your first. But everyone once in awhile, I wise up and ask myself why I never bothered to go back to the well for a band that made a record I loved? Which brings me to the Chills, who made one of my all time favorite records, Submarine Bells (1990), which was definitely one of the best records of the 90s. Chills.jpg The Chills: Kaleidoscope World (1986) This time it’s their first album (Submarine Bells was their second) which is really a collection of singles. Now I know what you’re thinking. I’ve never even heard of these guys. Well, like the Clean before them, they’re from New Zealand. Most of the key characteristics of the band are here, if in more embryonic form. The songs with rhythms or melodies like old sea shanties, but modernized via echoey organ and guitar textures that provide a haunting, out of reach quality. Their music hasn’t yet taken on the bright sharp production of SB, but if anything, it’s even more haunting for that reason. The songs are as melodic as ever, but this time they sound both modern and mythic at the same time. Martin Phillips’ vocals may seem nondescript but they fit the mood perfectly, only adding to the overall atmosphere. The lyrics deal with major themes like death and love and leather jackets, so you know they’ve got their priorities straight. And they’re just vague enough to keep me intrigued. Somehow they manage to rock out more, too. And the good news is that they’re pretty good at it. The brilliance is not yet in full focus but it’s here nonetheless. So, while I’d recommend SB first, if you like that one, proceed on to this one. You won’t be sorry. I hope the music here will help me through some of this awful time. As far as getting the stench of the time on it, only time will tell. A- “Rolling Moon”