If you've been reading my year end summary posts, you know by now that summer begins with Father's Day and ends with my birthday. In other words, it's All. About. Me.
I use these occasions to get some exploring done. I mean, why take chances with my own money when I can get my wife and kids to spend theirs? As usual, I put them up to getting me some esoteric (for an Irish Catholic boy in his fifties, anyway) music, by thoughtfully adding it to my Amazon (and in case they miss it, Barnes and Noble) wish list. Then I clear my throat a lot.
That's how I get things like Terry Riley's In C. Classical music? Who knows? Strange? Of course. And thank you, Brian Eno - "rock musician" - for getting me here. It's not so much that Eno's music is like Riley's. It's more that Eno can be a portal to the unknown. Which begs the question, when was the last time I got something by Eno anyway? I'd better add something to the old wish list. (Hmmm. Music For Airports? Apollo?) For the life of me I don't know what to say about this record, other than that it is forty five minutes of various themes in, guess what? The key of C! It's a little more static than Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, but it's also like a calm pool of water that, when you bother to look, you'll see things further and further down. Thanks kids!
And then there's king Sunny Ade of Nigeria - a superstar on the order of Frank Sinatra in Africa but not famous here in the
US. The Best of the Classic Years is a compilation of his output from 1967-74 and it's really remarkable. Simultaneously spacey and groove-y. The last time I'd run into the King was in the early eighties with Juju Music, which while good was a bit too slick for its own good. This one has a hint of rawness that lets that spacieness go down easy. Great for late hot summer nights.
Charles Mingus's Ah Um is one of the best jazz records I own, but I'd held off on getting his highly regarded Black Saint and Lady Sinner because I kept reading words like "difficult" and "inaccessible". So I took the plunge and gathered my strength for a daunting listen. Now I'm not really sure what all the warnings were about. The best way I can describe it is that it sounds like soundtrack music to a late fifties crime drama. (No, not my late fifties. The late fifties. Don't rush me.) I'd file it under "Education" but I'm already enjoying it. B+
And Franco, whose Francophonic, Vol 1 is also just a mere scratching of the surface of recordings by this African master. This collection covers 1953 to 1980, and ranges from folk-like short songs to Grateful Dead-like guitar jams. There's a moment about halfway through "Minuit elecki Lezi" that bursts out into such an ecstasy of guitar sound that I can't help but think that the Dead heard it way back when.
But summer's not just for schooling, so around this time I finally succumb to Amazon’s $5 download enticements. I get my first download album – W H OK I L L by tUnE-yArDs. Led by the remarkable Merryl Garbus, this is easily the most perfect balance of tunefulness, funkiness and weirdness I’ve gotten all year. Maybe album of the year. And it actually came out this year, too! A
When I picked up Michigan, the check out guy at Other Music, perhaps recognizing another Catholic, suggested Sufjan's Seven Swans to me. So I put it on my wish list and it miraculously appeared for my birthday. It's a quiet, lovely meditation on faith. (Now why the fuck would I write a sentence like that? Well, I guess because it is.) It's less sprawling than either MI or IL. The songs are of a more uniform length and the instrumentation is very spare, which suits the material perfectly. SS has just got the knack for coming up with great melodies, again and again. Not quite Illinoise, but just about as good as Michigan. A-
Somewhere around here I also download Miranda Lambert’s Crazy ExGirlfriend. And like I said, these downloads are easy to forget about, so I'm only listening to it now. This is Contemporary Country music, so the singing is great and the lyrics are a lot of fun. I love when a woman says she needs a beer. I appreciate the muscular rockish music, even though I like it a little more jagged myself. But it's growing on me. Not sure yet.
Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians Greatest Hits was just so magical that it motivated me to get the less than brilliant Soft Boys Underwater Moonlight, which I promptly lost. It might have been great, who knows? So this year, I try Fegmania! and again, it's good, but not great. Oddly, it's the bonus cuts that keep bringing me back Some great moments, though. Robyn may just be a Greatest Hits kind of guy… B+
Pavement specializes in confounding old folks like me with their noise for the sake of noise (Slanted and Enchanted) and weird tunes that take a minute to even resolve themselves (Brighten the Corners). Both are ultimately very worthwhile, but I just don't like being made a fool of. The musical equivalent of a bunch of kids playing slapball in front of your house, and you are forced to confront the fact that now you're the cranky old man. Anyway, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain takes all that is great about Pavement and puts it all in one place. The tunes are more straight ahead, the noise only comes after a great surge of in-tune guitar, the crappy singing isn't quite as crappy. Even my wife hums along to this one. A-
Speaking of which, Modern Times is the first Dylan record my wife actually sings along to. Yet, it pisses me off. Someone please explain to me how Dylan's any better than Led Zeppelin in regard to his "carelessness" in songwriting credits. To me, he's a creep and a lowlife. Oh, and a genius. A-
So summer ended up being a perfect balance of styles and accessibility and by the end of it, I was feeling much better. Like I said, all about me.