1. Sometimes You've Got To Be Happy by Dominique Leone. From Abstract Expression, 2009, Important Records. 4:36.
Dominique Leone's s/t LP really bowled me over, and he's kept up the energy and creativity on his 2nd full-length, Abstract Expression. He's writing a powerful blend of synth pop with influences peeking out from the 20th C. classical composition world, heavily composed pop like the Beach Boys, and noise/psych acts like the Boredoms. There's something for a wide range of listeners in this music: the lyrics are well considered and walk a great line between serious and self-depricating. The music is plenty accessible for most folks, yet there are all kinds of interesting harmonic motion joyrides to follow, strange riff/ostinatos that venture into RIO/prog territory, and a generally "whatever it takes" creative approach that makes for an exciting first listen. But he retains a melodic sensibility that brings you back for more and more.
2. Czerudmuntzail by Sax Ruins. From Yawiquo, 2009, Ipecac Records. 3:39.
Ruins has been around since the mid-80s in various forms. Drummer Tatsuya Yoshida is the only stable member of the group, which existed as a drum/bass duo for the 80s and 90s. From roughly the mid 90s onward, the duo has also captured a number of collaborations on record with a wide range of musicians from Derek Bailey to Ron Anderson. However, it's been a while since any bass/drums Ruins work took place: since 2004, Tatsuya has mostly performed as Ruins Alone, featuring himself on drums and vocals along with a synth module for occasionally musical support:
Sick, sick stuff. For Sax Ruins, Tatsuya plays with Ono Ryoko on saxophones (mostly alto), and they attack a bunch of Ruins classics.
If you end up loving Ruins and need to hear more stuff like this, I can't say enough good things about Tatsuya's larger ensemble, Koenjiyakkei. And to check out some of Tatsuya's influences, look no further than Magma, another drummer-fronted band that has existed in various forms in France since the late 60s.
3. Sharing Orb by Dirty Projectors + Björk. From Mount Wittenberg Orca, 2010, self-release. 2:48.
Dirty Projectors and Bjork probably need no introduction for most folks reading this blog. A quick note on the Mount Wittenberg Orca project, though: for as little as a $7 donation, you can be listening to Bjork and Dave take turns singing over some of those great vocal hocketing textures that Dave has been exploring in his last few records. It's not a collaboration I ever would've predicted between these two camps, but it works very, very well.
4. Eating People by King Missile. From The Psychopathology Of Everyday Life, 2003, Instinct Records. 4:08.
King Missile was a sort of one-hit wonder in 1992 with "Detachable Penis," but I always thought that it was a shame they didn't get more attention for the work they'd already done up to that time. Sure, John S. Hall's mostly spoken word approach often tended toward juvenile humor, but his phrasing and the tone of his voice could also create this oddly naive-sounding character with whom you can share a sense of wonder about the seemingly simplistic issues troubling the fellow. And the 2nd incarnation of the band, which was from the "Detachable Penis" era, was a really good band.
King Missile III is a looser, more free-form ensemble than the 2nd band, but they're also much more accomplished and varied musicians than the first King Missile (Dog Fly Religion). This makes for plenty of space where John can do his thing, while the musical textures can be modulated if he needs to stretch out.
5. Much Too Old by New York Gong. From About Time, 1979, Charly. 2:47.
New York Gong kind of cracks me up. The record features Daevid Allen, founder of the original Gong, on vocals and guitar, along with a band made of early-period Bill Laswell & friends. While other albums this crew made, like Laswell's Baselines album, are jazz/fusion affairs, Laswell and company manage to sound almost NYC street-tough on most of this recording. I find this entertaining when you consider that Daevid Allen might be the world's most gentle hippie fellow, not exactly my first choice for assuming the role of a Lou Reed frontman in a band.
6. Snake Alley by Ronald Shannon Jackson And The Decoding Society. From Decode Yourself, 1985, Island Records. 3:46.
As it turns out, Bill Laswell produced this album as well. I added it to my playlist this week because I just found a vinyl copy at KZUM's book and record sale this last Friday/Saturday. The Decoding Society was one of many NYC downtown scene bands in the 80s that was combining jazz approaches with rock and world music, and this record is an excellent specimen of the scene featuring Vernon Reid, later of fame as guitarist and principal songwriter in Living Colour. Melvin Gibbs, who later went onto play bass with the Rollins Band, is also in the band. Ronald Shannon Jackson was trying to further explore some of Ornette Coleman's ideas about "harmolodic theory" with this band, and for the most part, it works, though some sections necessarily get chaotic as players continue to work their own melodic ideas to independent ends.
7. If You Are An Aggressor, Keep Slowly And Certainly by Tipographica. From Tipographica, 1993, God Mountain. 5:46.
While I was listening to Ruins, I spun a little Tipographica for the first time in a while. For whatever reason, this band doesn't quite make it to the level of amazing for me, but they are quite good. Where Tatsuya Yoshida's projects have a clear influence from Magma, Tipographica has a similar relationship with the late 60s/early 70s Frank Zappa era, ala "Uncle Meat." While they do take that approach into some new territory--especially rhythmically, with some very strange stuttering rhythms--I think other bands like Henry Cow have explored similar territory to much greater effect. Still, there aren't many ensembles that have taken on such challenges, and I'm glad to hear a few Tipographica tracks every now and then.
8. Coma Cluster by Zevious. From After The Air Raid, 2009, Cuneiform Records. 4:42.
Zevious is a sort of post-jazz guitar/bass/drums trio. I don't know if this is intentional, but their music reminds me a lot of instrumental Primus material. I really adore Primus, so this is a good thing in my book. And maybe it's not intentional, but they get into some really deep grooves that remind me of Frizzle Fry-era Primus, and they explore similar harmonic territory and things like metrical scales and somewhat mathy harmonic motion at times. But they do have a subtler touch and they've obviously been steeped in the jazz tradition in terms of interplay, dynamic control, and SWING. Most of their reviews I've seen mention the predictable power trio/quartet jazz-rock bands: Last Exit and Tony Williams Lifetime, King Crimson, etc, which must have played some influential role, for sure. But I do hear something a little more contemporary, if you can call Primus contemporary. Kudos to Cuneiform for continuing to find and release such interesting music from young bands.
9. The Melancholy of Departure by Mark Isham / Art Lande. From We Begin, 1987, ECM. 6:36.
Another score from the KZUM book/music sale. In the last 20 years, Mark Isham is better known as a prolific and successful film composer, but in the 80s, he was one of the ECM records folks, who collectively wrote and recorded a lot of really interesting-yet-mellow music that explores lines between minimalism, new age, and world music. On this release, there are elements of classical minimalism and occasionally almost baroque melodies on trumpet. Some of the synth and drum machine sounds they chose haven't aged well, but in spite of that the music breathes well, and maintains a certain dignity in spite of cheesy synth patches.
10. Sex with You by King Missile. From The Way to Salvation, 1991, Atlantic Records. 3:37.
Since we already covered King Missile above, I'll just mention that I chose this song because it shows off what a great band King Missile (II) could be. What a fun song.