Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Vehicle for the Road Not Taken

August 2014:

It was a beautiful late summer day and we were riding home from lunch on City Island.  Alas, traffic was backed up. Me and Mrs. Jaybee were tired and, frankly, getting on each other’s nerves.  

It was Mrs. Jaybee’s turn to choose the music. She picked an old favorite - The Chills’ Submarine Bells.   

Listening to an often-played record can be wearisome. But today - maybe because the weather and the date were a near match of the day in 1990 when we got the CD - the flood of memories it invoked brought tears to my eyes. (This is an odd thing to have happen when you’re bickering.)

Oh, and it sounded great.


August 1990:

It might not come as a surprise to you that I used to spend my birthdays in record stores. I’d go during the year, too, but on my birthday I’d give myself permission to go nuts. And this one would prove to be a legendary trip. (A good trip, by the way, looks like me holding an armful of CDs, and Mrs. Jaybee looking on wondering why we were indoors on a perfectly beautiful day.) Why?

First, because I’d gone through a record buying drought for a few years. I’d held off on getting a CD player until 1989 so the selection of vinyl albums in record stores was getting slimmer by the week. But now I had the CD player.

I’ve often (well, maybe twice) said how when I go to a record store my eyes are bigger than my ears (or wallet) I pick up lots of potential CDs to buy and end up putting back all but a handful. And 1990 trip was the very epitome of this. At one point, I had 30 CDs in my cart. I would eventually prune it back to nine or ten.

But before I did, somewhere in that pile of 30 were Submarine Bells by The Chills and Vehicle by The Clean - both new CDS by alt-rock bands from New Zealand. I’d heard very good things about both, but now, having to make some hard choices, I thought one NZ-alt-rock band would have to suffice for the time being.

So, how did I choose?  The cover, of course.

Here's the Clean:

Clean.jpg

And here's the Chills:


I much preferred the pretty blue and weird marine life Submarine Bells. A dumb reason? Sure, but look at this expert advice that says otherwise.


1990 and Forward:

Another reason this trip would be memorable was that we had just bought a house, and were thus starting a new chapter in our lives. This virtually guaranteed that the music we were listening to - assuming it was any good - would forever be associated with that time.

We only had Theresa - two years old - at the time. Michael hadn’t arrived yet. So you can imagine how many memories were to follow.

And I didn’t regret Submarine Bells one bit.  It was the the best of the many CDs we got that day, and would end up being one of our all time favorites. And like the best music, it would go beyond being mere background music for those times. It would become part of them.

While I never exactly looked back, I’d kept Vehicle on my list, occasionally see it on subsequent record store trips and wonder what I might have missed not getting it.

Why didn’t I just get it? Well, it would show up less and less frequently, and when it did, it would be in the form of a pricey import. So it would never quite make it through the pruning process, and The Clean would eventually drop off the map. Plus, I’d already gotten the great CD, didn’t I?


April 2014:

Record Store Day in Other Music and there it was. A brand new copy with bonus tracks, and almost reasonable priced. The time seemed right.  

I would get a chance to hear the road not taken.


Clean.jpg


First you get the guitars chiming, ecstatically welcoming in the Spring of 2014 like the chirping of (giant prehistoric) birds . Then the bass and drum foundation that is so strong I don't care that they really can't sing for sh*t. 

It’s a bit harder-edged than the Chills and weirder. But it’s such a striking sound that it provided the most high points of any CD so far this year, I played it non-stop for six weeks.  Even the Chills didn’t do that. Granted, there were nine other CDs it was competing with. The Clean only had two, which I’ll deal with at another time.

So what would it have been like if I got the Clean instead of the Chills? Well I probably wouldn’t have played the latter as much for dinner guests. But I suspect it would have attached itself to our memories almost as indelibly as the Chills.

But just to be certain, check in with me in 24 years or so. A



Saturday, September 6, 2014

Almost (Record) Clubbed to Death

So what did I get next?

Well...

First and foremost, I feel I must make it absolutely clear that it wasn’t Mantovani! That must be understood from the outset.

Who he, you ask?

He’s the guy whose records would be peppered throughout the Columbia House Record Club ads like these:
columbia-house_records.jpg

when you (or at least I) would be scouring them for 12 pop records to justify a membership. I’d always find three or four, but they’d tempt you with things like “Mantovani Does the Beatles” (which sounds like this) hoping to catch the kids who didn’t know better.  Well I did know better, but not much.

Typically, this isn’t the type of clarification I’d feel compelled to make. It’s pretty obvious that I never cared for superficial pop music that (then) “old people” liked. I much preferred superficial pop music that (then) young and (now) old people prefer. You could tell the difference between the two because the latter had a beat and you could dance to it.

So what did I get?

Monteverdi.jpg

Okay, I guess this nonetheless requires some explanation. It all has to do with my World History project which I’m waiting to end so I can write the definitive post about it. So I guess I can’t explain it after all.

Who he, you ask (again)?

An Italian dude from the seventeenth century, actually, who more or less invented madrigals around the time of the Renaissance. They represent a major development beyond the religious chants that popped up around 600 AD or so. And if you ask me, they're a vast improvement. It only took 1,000 years.

Yeah, I know Chants were a fad for about five minutes about twenty years ago. And I say it was still boring. I have the tenth anniversary of the original Chant record that was such a big hit. Meh.

It contains about thirty of them, and while any single one of them sounds nice enough, taken together they kind of sound the same.  Just a bunch of guys (and not even Fun guys) sitting around, singing kind of slow and straight. Not a single drinking song. And the only ones about girls are about the Virgin Mary.

Monteverdi was having none of this. He said (in Italian) hey, let’s mix it up a bit. Instead of a glee club on quaaludes, he gives each singer something different to do, and it’s a dramatic improvement. And the odd instrument here and there doesn’t hurt a bit either.

Supposedly these are songs about love and war but I’ll be damned if I can tell which is which.

This one’s also got about thirty songs, and sitting through all of them at one time is  bit much. But it’s the type of record you put on first thing in the morning. Especially good during the dead of winter.

Added bonus: After playing it, I get to feel like I went to Mass. (The Chants just make you feel like you live in the church and can’t ever leave.)

Additional added bonus: When asked what kind of music you like, you get to say things like “I’m partial to madrigals”.  Just be ready to run. B+

Monteverdi: "Altri canti d'amor, tenero arciero"

Saturday, August 23, 2014

I Know You Are But What Am I?

Arctic Monkeys.jpg


I put off getting this for a while, thinking the title pouty on the order of Pee Wee Herman.

And when I finally did get it, it was on the same day I got Live at Leeds which I ended up enjoying so much, I almost forgot I had this.

And how could it not suffer in comparison? After LAL, this came across just a bit too busy for me. I was expecting something punkier. It turns out to focus more on rhythm and words than power chords. Almost a ska-less, rockier but less tuneful Specials.

So I miss the tunes, but grew more respectful of what I was hearing once I saw them slow it down enough to do a cover of Tame Impala’s “Seems Like We Only Go Backwards” and realized I’d need to give these guys some more time.  And every time I’d put it on I’d hear another good line I missed before.

The words concern young British louts hanging out. And they’re pretty articulate about it, too, in that lower class British but pretty smart anyway way. So much so that it helps makes the music come across less generic than it seems.

But the band it tight! I admire how taut each song is. You can imagine them impatiently waiting to spring forward into into the next song. They must be great live, where all of their strengths would be on full display.

But admiration is not love, and I just don’t find myself coming back to this, like say the Parquet Courts, who are not quite as tight (or articulate) but a lot more tuneful (if you count riffs as tunes, that is)  

And it only fits certain moods, like when you want to burn down your neighbor’s house. Which I only want to do sometimes.  And only the one with the barking dog.

B+



Saturday, August 9, 2014

On First

Back (from India), not only to rock ‘n roll, but to ultra familiar rnr.

Who Live at Leeds.jpg

Okay, raise your hands if you haven’t heard this album.  

Bueller?


Sexist Digression:

By the way, I suspect this is a “boy’s album”. The reptilian core of my already small brain harbors an old prejudice that girls (now women) preferred the more polished Who, while the boys (alas, still boys. At least mentally) liked this rough and ready version. But then again, I’m beginning to think Gone Girl is a comedy. Not a funny one, mind you, but a comedy.


Back to the Past:

Why buy an album - even an expanded one - when you’re already heard almost every song? After all, Mrs. Jaybee has the vinyl (so much for the above theory) as did every friend I ever had. So I was very familiar with it.

‘Cause I just got the expanded version on amazon for $5, that’s why!

You’d think it would all sound so very anti-climactic. And yet, it’s wonderful!  Which only goes to prove that you can really only enjoy “classic rock” if you NEVER listen to it on the radio.

Not only was it great to hear Pete Townsend’s er, classic, rock guitar riffing again, the added songs are excellent (“Heaven and Hell” and “Fortune Teller” in particular, since they’re it’s hard to find versions of them) and provide a different yet welcome picture of the Who as equal parts pop and rock.

Although the American release was a famously lean, mean, minimal audience interaction affair, and even looked like a bootleg, this one opens things up a bit. There's a bit more audience interaction, so it does lose a little of its mysteriousness. 

But it's great hearing them explaining the theme of "A Quick One While He's Away". So I guess it’s still a boys album. And while the boy is much older, he’s as juvenile as ever. I don’t think the Who would have it any other way. A

Sunday, July 27, 2014

India Song

So out I go again, and like Columbus before me, I think I find India. Not west of the Atlantic, mind you, but in the Amazon. Dot com, that is, at $5 a shot.


Ravi Shankar.jpg

And after all, don’t we owe it to George? George sure owes it to Ravi.

Typically, when you add a little dab of third world music to your pop song, it inspires interest in your listeners to try out said TWM. Oftentimes, though, they come running back, realizing it was the pop music they liked all along. And that little dab of TWM was all they really needed.

But here, if anything, Ravi’s music sounds quite familiar. And even though it was released a decade before Sgt. Pepper,  I keep expecting George to pop in and break into We were talking…. from “Within or Without You”. I mean that as a compliment, because this is not at all hard to hear right away. 

Not for all occasions, obviously, but not so exotic as you might imagine. Which I guess means that pop music and classical Indian music worked better together than anyone could have reasonably expected. I even hear blues in some of the bent notes. I kid you not.

These three long pieces run nearly an hour, so this is good for early morning when no one else is up yet. And in that way, it's far more familiar and welcoming than The Knife, whose music is designed to get you alone so that it can give you the creeps.  A-

When to Play It: When you’re studying

When Not to Play It: Spring Break

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What Could Be Simpler?

Again trying to make up for my pathetic year-behindness (ie, rarely getting music from the current year), and patting myself on the back for my explorations of different genres, I quit while I’m ahead and come running back to some simple rock n roll.

And it's hard for it to get any simpler than this:

Parquet Courts.jpg

Most of the songs begin with the simplest of guitar riffs which is then wrapped up snugly with a perfectly complementary bass line and beat. The yelping is right out of early Meat Puppets.

My copy also includes their EP Tally All the Things That You Broke, and I’ve been too lazy to figure out where one ends and the other begins because it’s all of a piece. (Okay, the EP starts with "You've Got Me Wondering Now")

Rough and powerful, it’s the complete opposite of the Dandy Warhols - nothing smooth or commercial about it. They keep things moving, changing tempo just enough to keep you from getting bored. And I’m not! Not in the least.  You’re up to track 10 before even you know what hit you. A

When to Play it: After you’ve had your coffee.
When to Not Play It: When you’re around any adult whose respect you crave.

And By the Way, How’s the Year Going So Far, Jaybee You Ask?

Something like this:
1. Light Up Gold/Tally All the Things You Broke - Parquet Courts (2013)


P.S.

I feel I need to explain. 

In case anyone, God forbid, acts on a recommendation of mine.

I can understand why any upstanding citizen of similar age would question the quality of the Parquet Courts’ music, and why I'd choose it over the other records I've heard this year.  

Well, there are two reasons:
First, simple rock n’ roll will always be one of my favorite genres.
Second, the PCs pursue their admittedly limited goals as relentlessly and with a single-mindedness worthy of the early Ramones. And they unquestionably reach those goals.

Perhaps the Dandy Warhols are more ambitious. Lauryn Hill certainly is. But the first are more polished than I'd like and a bit too obvious about what they steal. And poor Lauryn - as talented as she is - just isn't as much fun to be around.

After all, when someone starts a song off with:

I was hanging round Ridgewood, Queens,
I was flipping through magazines,
I was so,
Drunk and starving

.… as they do on the slightly mis-named “Stoned and Starving”, well it just brings me back, although not to Ridgewood. (But then again, who knows?)

And there’s really no defending the first guitar solo here, except to note that, after all, they are drunk, etc...

I guess the point, is that mood trumps notes. Although the guitar duel at the end of this live version shows that some folks get drunker than others.  

And it’s really just as simple as that.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Right In the Back!

So, for once, country didn’t disappoint me. Emboldened, I took another chance.

Or to put it another way, a 2-CD set of well regarded but quite edgy music I nearly bought for $20 on last year’s record store day, suddenly became available as an mp3 on amazon for $5. I can get pretty adventurous at that price! Yeah, that’s me (in the corner). Livin in the fast lane…

The Knife.jpg

The Knife are a brother sister duo from Sweden, and I can just see you now imagining a young blonde couple smiling in their white turtleneck sweaters while perched atop a snowbank. A Swedish Donnie and Marie, if you will.

Or, at worst, two earnest young people with black turtlenecks, right out of an Ingmar Bergman movie (black and white, of course), looking off into a cold, desolate landscape, reading poetry and contemplating suicide.

You should be so lucky.  These two - who look almost as weird as their music sounds - make Daft Punk look like the Beverly Hillbillies.

See?

The-Knife.jpg

And...

The Knife 2.jpg

Frankly, I find the second one scarier.

I hate to sound so damned ignorant about their appearance, but I wanted to prepare you for the music.

Guaranteed to elicit a reaction of what the f*ck from your friends and neighbors, this is unabashedly weird music. Mixing trance/ambient/dance/electronica with wails, shouts and, well I just don’t know, it’s more “foreign” than any third world record I’ve ever gotten (although not the weirdest. Thank you Pere Ubu and Captain Beefheart!).

It’s also long - 100 minutes worth of music - in that let’s get really lost kind of way, with a 19 minute trance number plopped down right in the middle of it, just in case you were having too good a time. It's a beat-y equivalent of Sonic Youth’s A Thousand Leaves. In other words, something strange with big wide open spaces and sudden jarring changes.

The first time I heard this Mrs. Jaybee and I were stuck in the house on a cold Saturday in January. We would have been looking out onto the desolate landscape but we had chores. So I put this on and it fit our mood perfectly.  

Which gave me high hopes that I would come to love this. And I may still. But the vocals remind me too much of Ruth Buzzi. It's hard to contemplate suicide when you're giggling. 

But it’s just so freaking DAUNTING that I keep coming back to it.

This is very apt for those times when you're feeling disconnected from the outside world. As an experiment I tried it again in the Spring when I was in the backyard potting some plants. I guess I wanted to annoy the neighbors and scare their children. But by then I had gotten used to it. It was no longer weird enough.

In any case, it’s pretty enjoyable if you’re up for a 100 minute trip to god knows where, but maybe not striking enough to really impress (or scar) you.  B+

When to play it: January 15th
When to not play it: At the beach.