Friday, May 15, 2015

How Jaybee Almost Got His Groove (Which He Never Really Had in the First Place) Back. Sort Of.

When we last left off, Jaybee was trying to get back what passed for his mojo/groove/rhythm.

He never really had it in the first place - it all of that went to the kids - but you can't blame a guy for trying.

Like I said previously, I had a couple of reasons to sour on music at the beginning of the year. And avoiding music turned out to be not nearly as difficult as it should have been. It made me wonder if I'd lost my taste for it.

So I began to plot my way out. I’d look at the various year end best of lists for inspiration, where I found Wussy, St. Vincent, The War on Drugs piqueing my interest. But I knew I wasn’t in the mood for them at the time.

And the weird electronica and environmental sounds I was listening to led me to consider Aphex Twin, whose Selected Ambient Works, 85-92 might server as a halfway point back to normal, (Volume 2, its evil twin, was such a good companion during a very dark period. Like how you need a fellow drug addict around when you’re trying to quit.) Volume 1 is supposedly poppier, so I thought it would put me in the right direction, and lead me out, towards the records above. But it wasn't time yet.

Well, I finally passed those tests I was studying for, and then wondered if the music urge would come back.

It took about a day.

And what did I decide to listen to?  Why, that other great companion during that very dark time:

Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot 

Back then, this, and Aphex Twin, were the only two records I could listen to for a three month stretch. And I didn’t even love the record. It was just the only one that fit the mood.

But it does open with a number that reminds me of someone breaking out of cocoon (and then falling on his face, but at the time, I would settle for anything). And now, it seemed like a good transition to real life.

"I Am Trying to Break Your Heat"

The drumming is like how I dance, and it ends like my speeches do - in complete incoherence. But it was exactly what I needed.

I even brought the record to work where all dreams normally go to die. And they didn’t.

Well, by now I’d come out of the cocoon, and I had to take the next steop. Would I stumble?

My Bloody Valentine: Loveless

This was more like a volcano erupting. A dam breaking.  An explosion caught on tape. But, you know, in a good way.

When I first got this record, I found it so anarchic I had trouble finding where the beat was most of the time. Forget about melody.

This song doesn’t have that problem. The “melody” is a drunk slide guitar playing the same figure over and over (and over) again. The beat is basically a t-rex stomping on your head. By 3:23 you have to choose between going mad or just going with the flow. (Of water, not lava. Damn you, mixed metaphors!)

"I Only Said"

But, like I said, it was what I needed. 

So, I ended up feeling my version of normal, which I can’t recommend, but it’s all I’ve got.

Let's see where that leads.

Friday, April 24, 2015

I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore, Part Four: Drowned

‘What’s the hell is that racket?”

Mrs. Jaybee thought the computer was malfunctioning, but it was just me listening to a new CD. (This happens a lot.)

It was mid-January when a Christmas present meant for me finally came in the mail.  And again, it fit this weird, not-interested-in-music mood I was in. (Some mood. My third album and it wasn't even February.)

But those three records were near accidents. Neu! was a perfunctory buy. As You Like It a shot in the relative dark. And now an almost forgotten amazon Wish List item popped up out of nowhere.

David Toop is a, well, I’m not sure what the hell he is, exactly. But he did compile this collection of weird sounds only some of us would call music. He also wrote a book about it, but that’s for another time. Let's call him a musical anthropologist.

He's put together a wide array of recordings that differ in time, place, tone and instrumentation. Why Toop thinks they should sound good together will be something I'll discover once I read his book, but for now I'm left with only the actual experience of hearing it.

And it's quite an experience.

Toop jumps continents/decades/genres with each track. Hence we start with Jamaican dub, but then go to jazz fusion, (which, oddly, doesn’t suck) electronica, ambient, third world, fourth world, classical, shoegaze, and we’re only halfway through the first disc. 

The segue from Les Baxter to My Bloody Valentine is particularly striking. Usually you progress from chaos to beauty, this goes in the opposite direction, and still works.

The one from Paul Schutze to the Velvet Underground isn’t as successful ("I Heard Her Call My Name" doesn't fit easily anywhere except right where it is - at the beginning of side two of White Light/White Heat - right before “Sister Ray”) but I give him credit for trying.

But overall, it’s miraculous how these disparate pieces hang together so well. I think the secret is that Toop doesn't try to make them hang together too seamlessly. He wants you to notice the differences, but at the same time realize how short a leap it really was.

There’s chanting, a Buddist ceremony and various “found sounds”.  My favorites are the Howler monkeys. Not the Monkees (this time), but actual monkeys. At one point, when a ship’s horn blows. Mrs. Jaybee joked “so when’s the train coming?” And sure enough, as if on cue, along comes the train.

Otherworldly, and yet so of this world - just some parts of it I’ve never been to. This is NOT Pure Moods. Not easy listening, either. More like Music to Listen to Alone. And some of it isn't music at all. But if you’re in the right mood it is nature itself.

You can listen intently, or ignore it and it’ll still sound like life is going on around you. 

One listener gave it a so-so review on amazon, and I can’t even argue with it. The review - like the record - makes sense on paper.  But unlike the review, the record also makes sense to my ears. The music. The sounds. Often both.

And like the last time I was in such a funk, and could only listen to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Selected Ambient Works, Volume 2, I stuck to this record for the better part of three months.


When to listen to it: At night. Preferably a dark night of the soul.

When NOT to listen to it: When everything's going great.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore, Part Three: Any Old Way to Choose It

So it’s mid-January and I’ve decided I’m “not into music anymore”.  The weather is cooperating, too. The cold and snow are beating any enthusiasm I had for beauty right out of me, and you, too, I’m sure.

But I’m still in the middle of my World History Project (some day I’ll explain what this is), and I’m up to around 1600, which means I’m reading and watching lots of Shakespeare. Okay, so it’s not a day at the beach, but under the circumstances I could be doing worse.

So I take Camille Paglia’s advice and check out As You Like It. There are lots of versions of most of Shakespeare’s plays, and since I’d already seen KB’s bitchin’ Henry V and entertaining-as-hell-even-at-four-hours Hamlet, I went with his version of AYLI, which stars Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron Howard’s daughter and Gwen Stacey from Spiderman).

And with a striking change of locale to 19th century Japan, it was almost as good as those other two efforts. One element that really added to my enjoyment was a lovely violin theme that ran with several variations throughout the movie. It deftly combined classical and eastern melodic ideas. Which is a bullsh*t (and maybe racist) way of saying it sounded nice and exotic at the same time.

So, somewhere in between SAD and sad, I broke down and bought it.

Patrick Doyle: As You Like It

And immediately regret it.

Impulse buys are like that.

Now, Jaybee, you might say, it really doesn’t count as an impulse purchase if you actually, you know, HEARD it.

But I would reply, Not So, dear reader!  Any record I haven’t thoroughly researched (,, complete background check on all contributing musicians, etc. - you know, what anyone would normally do) is by definition an Impulse Buy.

The dreaded IB risks diluting the pureness of my record collection! The last time said pureness was threatened was when I got married - when now-Mrs. Jaybee and I combined our record collections. (The Ohio Players? Shalamar? What the hell have I gotten myself into, I wondered?)  But with the help of a Marriage/Music Counselor we worked through it.

And the first listen doesn’t make me feel any better. My first listens are notoriously tone deaf to begin with, and what made it worse were the awful speakers on my crappy laptop.

So now I’m thinking: So this is what it’s come to. I’m now buying soundtrack albums? How sad is that? I’m not the guy who buys soundtrack albums! I’m the guy who makes fun of the guy who buys soundtrack albums, because he does it for the same dumb reasons I just gave above! Now I’m Him!

As you can tell, I’ve never been much of a fan of original soundtrack (OST) albums. Like rock and roll song lyrics that sound profound while being sung by Jim Morrison, let’s say, but look like grammar high poems on paper, soundtracks can rarely stand on their own, and are best left where they are, in the background of the movie, and forgotten at the end of it.

But this movie was so romantic, and the violin theme so lovely, that I thought I’d found a way out of my musical dead end. Maybe I was just getting desperate, grabbing at anything that caught my attention.

But what’s wrong with it, I asked myself. Part of it was that - as should have been expected - the theme I liked so much wasn’t playing throughout the whole movie, as it turned out. If it was, I probably would have had my fill of it by the end of the movie. (For an example of a song - even a great one - being played too much during a movie, check out Muriel’s Wedding, where Dancing Queen must get played at least a dozen times. They could have fit the entire soundtrack on a single. All of which goes to show that “Dancing Queen” must be a tremendous song, because I still like it.)

So a lot of what’s left on the CD is the other stuff I didn’t really notice all that much while the movie was on. And it didn’t sound like it had much personality.

But a second listen - on better speakers - make it sound much, much better. The instrumentals are starting to grow on me, too. Yes, the actual songs with words still annoy me. But every time they do, that damned theme I love so much comes back on.

I still don’t like the soundtracky-ness of it, and what I like best is the same theme played about six different ways.  But you know, it’s real, real pretty.

But, so what? I’m not really into pretty in mid January.

And then it suddenly recedes into the background, as if swallowed up by an Ocean of Sound.


“Violin Romance”

To Be Continued...

Saturday, April 4, 2015

I Don’t Want to Hear It, Part Two: Happy Neu! Year

So, like I said, 2014 sucked, and 2015 was offering a compelling reason to just take a break from music altogether.

But sometimes circumstances call out for it. And after hearing about the untimely death of an old friend, I knew I’d need something.

We’d heard he was sick around Thanksgiving and found out he’d died right after Christmas. The wake was on New Years Day.

The next day, I needed to go for a long walk and along the way bought a CD, but my heart wasn’t in it.

The funeral mass was the day after that. We came home feeling drained and numb. I was off from work that week and finally gave myself permission to do nothing. I decided to just lie down and read for a while. I could have opted to listen to nothing, but since I’d just gotten a CD the day before I figured I’d put it on.

So I lay there reading, so tired I felt glued to the bed. I’d nod off occasionally as CD played, so before I knew it, it was over. So I put it on again. And again.

So it was - and I mean this as a compliment - a good substitute for nothing. In a way, it was an expression of nothing. Again, a compliment. I certainly didn’t want to hear singing, at least not in English.


Neu! (1972)

These guys left the pre-famous (if you’d call it that) Kraftwerk because they (the latter) weren’t weird enough. Neu! would eventually be renowned for a synthesizer sound that would later influence David Bowie’s late 70s sound (Low and Heroes, two of my faves) and Brian Eno in general.

On this, their first album, there’s more guitar than synthesizer. Still very drone-y though. And although the six songs are all rather long, and the guitar touches are pretty minimal, the drums keep you feeling like you’re getting somewhere. On paper, it all sounds pretty boring, but because they change up the beats, on the best cuts, it verges on hypnotic.

And they’re not afraid to make noise. And not just musical noise. Noise noise. Like a jackhammer. I mean it. An actual jackhammer. That one’s call “Negativland”. No sh*t.

At times quiet, for a cold cloudy day. And at others, an explosion of distortion and rage. Then it ends with a whimper. On purpose. Works for me!

But it may be music for people who don’t like music, or who are tired of it. Exactly what I needed.

I’ll have to try it again when I’m feeling better.

Neu! musik for the Neu! Year



When to play it: When you’re alone.
When NOT to play it: At a barbeque.

Friday, April 3, 2015

I Don’t Want To Hear it Anymore, Part One:

Winters suck in general, but the winter of 2014/2015 will go down as one of the suckiest of all time. You can look it up.

And the rest of 2014 wasn’t so hot, either. There were a couple of serious illnesses in the extended Jaybee family, and while everybody made it through it all okay, we did get word over the holidays that an old friend passed away.

I would typically be laying a little low (musically and otherwise) during the winter anyway. It’s a good time to sit back and listen to something more contemplative than pop music. Something that fits the cold, quiet Saturday afternoons in January. Jazz, Classical, Folk, World, Weird, but nothing too loud or raucous. 

But circumstances were dampening my enthusiasm even more than usual.

Plus, it turned out I would be studying for a professional certification - one of those things that you value less the closer you get to it. (Sort of the Groucho Marx effect: Who’d want a certification that I can get?) So I knew I’d have some studying to do, and music with vocals would be a distraction (unless it’s Leonard Cohen). 

And when I set out on such a course, it's not enough to simply study. I must do so in the most ascetic, humorless way possible. In other words, No Fun. Fun normally takes the form of music, movies, books, friends. You know, Good Times. But I was abstaining. (Somehow beer and wine make the cut, though.)

It stems from reasons both practical and nonsensical.  On the practical side, I get easily distracted. "You've got a lot on your mind." my Mrs. Jaybee says. But she’s being kind. My head is filled, but like a hoarders apartment, it’s mostly crap.

And while young peoples’ brains are like sponges that soak up whatever knowledge is around, mine is like the stained and crusty one by your kitchen sink that you’ve been meaning to throw away because it's starting to smell funny.

So I had a lot of good reasons to not listen to music in the new year. 

The weird thing this: I didn’t miss it. 

I barely wanted to hear music at all. If anything, the sound of music would just annoy me. (Let’s put aside for the moment that 95% of what I hear annoys me anyway.) 

This would go on - with some minor interruptions - for nearly three months. No iTunes at home, no radio playing while driving, no songs floating through my head during conversations with my boss. 

I began to think I'd reached a new phase of my life. As I said in a recent post, I’d made a resolution to experience a little more life and a little less music. Little did I dream how easy it would turn out to be.

So this was the state of my music obsession. Or in this case, my now non-obsession. 

In the spirit of “less is more”. I opted for silence. 

To be continued.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Talent vs. Genius, Roung Two, or Bad News Bear Hug:

As I’m sure you remember (right!), last year I wrote about the Dandy Warhols and in particular their album Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia, which I liked a lot.

I was prompted to get it because of the documentary “DIG!”, which was about the friendship/rivalry between the Dandys and their idols, the Brian Jonestown Massacre. One couldn’t help but be interested in both of these bands.

As 13 Tales confirmed, the Dandys were the professional ones, who were maybe a little more balanced and career-focused. And indeed, part of the tension between the two bands comes from the Dandys eclipsing the supposedly more talented BJM.

And what about BJM? As you can tell from their name, they’re bad news twice over. Worshipped by the Dandys, they were brilliant but mercurial - drugs, fights, breakups, all usually taking place right on stage - led by genius/megalomaniac Anton Newcombe.

In my younger days I would have immediately gravitated to this obviously misunderstood, greatly maligned gift to Western Civilization, but I’ve since come to believe where there’s smoke there’s fire. So I went for a surer bet - The Dandys - and 13 Tales turned out to be one of the best records I got in 2014.

Plus, the BJM made lots of records. And if I were younger I probably would have jumped into their catalogue head first, getting each one of them. But now I’ve got to be more selective with my time, and I’ve learned that geniuses are prone to inconsistency so why wade through all the records they made on their off days?

So I decided to hedge my bets by getting their 2 CD retrospective. Which, since xgau trashed it would be a hell of a hedge if it turned out to be awful. So it took until my birthday, and an excuse to get someone else to potentially waste their money, for it to be time to jump into the abyss.

And people, let me tell you It. Is. Just. Great!  

In what is becoming an increasingly rare occurrence, this record hit me on the first play. Each song - all 38 of them - had something to offer.

Review the Review:

How could something so obviously good have been trashed so thoroughly? So I went back to the xgau review.

“… Newcombe gets a no doubt small, no doubt excessive cash advance to prove his genius…. the world passed on the first time. The world was right, and will be right again every time Newcombe revives.”

Well xgua clearly dislikes this guy. Not just the music. The guy. He’s probably right. (Please watch DIG! to form your own opinion.) He never did have much use for drug people. As the former roommate of one, I can sympathize.

So they’re not role models. But I suspect that many of my heroes wouldn’t stand close scrutiny, either. Gandhi was a great man but I wouldn’t buy any of his records.

In terms of consistency and of how often I want to hear it, this is hands down, the best record I’ve gotten in 2014. The fact that it’s a best-of is the only thing that kept me from putting it at the top of my album list.

But deep down, I suspect I’ve been conned. These guitars may only sound so good because they’re so familiar. But if they’re so familiar why do I keep playing them?

So, back the the xgau review:

“His recombined riffs rarely break the shambolic surface...“
To me, those riffs sit real pretty right there on that surface. Plus I really like the riff, so when it gets recombined, I like that one, too. And I prefer the BJM’s shambolic to the Dandy’s commercial sound.

“and whenever two consecutive lines of lyric grab and hold, they complain.”
Well, yeah. Drug people are like that. Everyone’s against them, all the time. It’s never their fault. Newcombe's voice is nasally whine, so it’s actually pretty well suited to the words, which he's not really emphasizing anyway. Plus, I was never a big word guy, either, especially when the music is this good.

And finally, xgau goes on to contrast the Dandy’s “panache and professionalism” with BJMs (Newcombe’s, really) “heroin and lies”. Harsh, yet true. I really did hate that roommate by the time he moved out.

Did He Hear What I Heard?:

I heard these lovely, echoing guitars. Retro but you can’t tell from where (most of the time). It may be the best “lost sixties album” ever. When you were fifteen, if you ever half-heard a song on the radio and never found out who it was you could do worse than to get this record to make up for it.

On the other hand, when you do eventually track those obscure records down, they rarely live up your recollection. And in a couple of years I may look back on this record with some embarrassment. But for now, I’m basking in that shambolic, druggy, whiny, retro, probably-non-as-good-as-it’s-pretending-to-be record.

Like the Warhols, the BJM aren’t above, ahem, “borrowing” things, but where the DWs grab actual riffs and run, the BJM prefer to just wear the general aura of sixties on their sleeves. I should object on principle, but I just smile.

How many 2 CD sets (38 songs!) can you put on and listen to all the way through?

Brian Jonestown Massacre vs. Dandy Warhols: A Technical Decision:

So, who wins? Well, BJM, but it’s not really a fair comparison. This is a compilation afterall.
It’s also sit around and get high music. If you don’t partake, it’s probably sit around and get depressed music. Or be mad at the world music. Teenage music. Music for losers.

Derivative. Morally wrong. But I’ve never been able to resist music that I shouldn’t like for some theoretical reason.

When things got really heated between the bands - BJM did a song called “Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth” and the Dandys threatened to write a song called “You’re Not Sixteen, But Your Girlfriends Are”. So does this mean Newcombe’s a pedophile, too? I prefer to not think about it. The guitars help me do that.

Sixties style guitar rock is right up my alley, so God (along with James Brown, Art Tatum and Monteverdi - the other compilations I got in 2014) forgive me, this is the one I keep playing. Three months after getting it was still going strong. A

When to Listen to: When you’re in kind of a dark place and might otherwise take drugs. This will substitute.

When NOT to Listen: When your roommate has just stolen your rent money to buy drugs.

“Prozac vs. Heroin”

Friday, January 30, 2015

Fourth Annual Jaybee-bies:Or, Up Yours 2014

How Many Times Do I Have to Explain Something Just Because It Makes No Sense?:

I’m looking back on my own personal musical year, which is what I got to hear in 2014, as opposed to what may have come out in 2014. What do I care about stuff I haven’t heard yet? I’ll get to that in my own good time.

It’s kind of sad to no longer be so in sync with current music but that’s a young person’s game. We just don’t all sing together anymore.

But no matter old the music I got in 2014 was, it was all new to me. So, my musical year is unique. As is yours. How about yours, anyway?

2014 Resolution Fails:

Sad to day, I’m doing no better with my resolutions.

No CDs? - I’m lucky if I can’t keep it down to half of what I get.

More Music from the Current Year? - Only one. Beck. I’m just too damn cautious. I need a little more Nutboy in me.

More Music Books? I did great, I think. Now I just have to read them.

Less Music? - I failed utterly, and so have officially given up. That’s just the way it is now. What, with gift cards and $5 amazon mp3s, what’s a guy to do?

Weird Fears:

And as I get more and more music, one of my great fears rears its head again. It goes like this:

For each record I get, I give that much less attention to all the rest of the music I already have and all the other other potential music out there waiting for me. Does the existence of all this great music actually end up cheapening it?

I have to resign myself to the fact that there are musicians out there right now who are making great music that I may not ever hear. I also have to get it into my head that Great Music is not a finite resource. Every day there’s more and more, but that doesn’t make any of it less great.

It speaks to my prejudice that what is valuable must also be rare.  I’m working on it.

How About a Resolution to Get to the F*cking Point?:

The end of the year was dominated by Harry Nilsson.and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. You heard me. 

Harry shows up a number of times on the songs and album lists below. BJM’s record is a compilation of their work from the mid-ninties on, and in need of a whole explanation in and of itself, so I won’t even try here.

But in the spirit of brevity - as in I couldn’t wait for this year to be over - I’ll cut to the chase.


Each year brings hundreds of new songs, and if you rate them in iTunes like I do, you’d be awash in three star songs. Those are the ones that are perfectly fine and pass the time pleasantly enough without distracting you in a very negative (or positive way). I heard hundreds of these in 2014. You probably did, too.

The four star songs really get your attention, though. They’re superior to the\others either in melody, lyrics, execution or a combination of the above. And the best albums of the year are filled with them:

There are some of my faves:
and "Rowboat" - Beck which is not even on Morning Phase (Stereopathic Soul Manure, if you gotta know, and I do)

And then there are those rare songs that are so striking that they just stop you in your tracks. These are the ones that have a hold on you and always will.  They tend to end up on future top 100 Whatevers lists, if you know what I mean.

Like, “1941”, “Daddy’s Song” and “I Said Goodbye to Me” all, astonishingly enough, by Harry Nilsson. These three songs take the qualities I described above but in addition hit a depth of feeling I rarely hear these days and with a brevity that makes them all that more remarkable.  Don’t let that sweet melody or peppy rhythm fool you. They’re all devastating. All written over 40 years ago.


Let’s just call this Revenge of the Puppies, shall we?

  1. Morning Phase - Beck - Pretty isn’t enough. You have to love her/him/it, too.
  2. Stardust - Willie Nelson - Freshness, consistency, and from an unexpected source..
  3. Vehicle - The Clean - Those chiming guitars!
  4. Aerial Ballet - Nilsson. Often brilliant songwriting and singing.
  5. Aerial Pandemonium Ballet - Nilsson - Almost as often brilliant songwriting and singing
  6. Same Trailer, Different Park - Kacey Musgraves - Country music redeemed via voice and words.
  7. Before Hollywood - Go Betweens - Raw talent beginning to coalesce into brilliance.
  8. There’s Nothing Wrong With Love - Built to Spill - Rough, noisy but full of feeling  

Most Plays:

Morning Phase - 41 Plays
There’s an aspect of this I must relate. We’ve got a small house. The computer (where I take the play count from) is in the middle of everything, and since I’m not big on headphones, what gets played here gets heard by everyone. And when you impose something on everyone, they better like it, too. So not only is this something that I like. It’s something everyone here likes.

Artist of the Year:

Harry Nilsson.
I always thought that Harry was a bit overrated. He peaked “early” with Nilsson Schmilsson, etc. But then there was the wonderful The Point. Harry and Son of Schmilsson were pretty damned good, too. But now that I’ve delved a bit more deeply I can see that Harry - despite some bad habits that probably sabotaged his career - was everything people said he was, and more. RIP Harry!

And 2014 Overall? Maybe Even Suckier Than 2013:

A couple of people who are very close to me got very sick in 2014. They recovered, thank god, but it kind of colored the year.

And music? Very good, but not quite great. In a word. Frustrating. Even Nilsson, who could write such great songs, could also do too many covers, or attempt too many styles to make a truly great album.

Perhaps I expect too much. Music can’t fix life. Some events are just too big. And we had our share of them this year. You probably did, too.

So my only resolution this year will be to love music a little less, and life a little more.

It’s all we’ve got, after all.