Playlist from 9-19-10

1. Subliminal by They Might Be Giants.  John Henry, 1994 Electra.

John Henry was released following TMBG's most commercially successful record, Flood.  Though I don't get the impression from others that it's a fan favorite, I've always admired this record the most.  Like other TMBG albums, many styles/genres are pulled into the recording, but I really loved how much fuller the arrangements on this full-band recording became.  My favorite Giants song of all, "No One Knows My Plan," would make this my favorite record alone, but it's truly a solid play all the way though.

By the way, this song leads the playlist this week in tribute to the person or persons putting up the cell phone conspiracy posters downtown, such as this gem:

2. Here is Why by Mike Keneally.  Hat, 1993 Guitar Recordings.

I really adore this first "solo" album by Mike Keneally.  The songwriting is great, his guitar and piano playing and singing are technically impressive and deeply emotional, and then he still manages to interject some more abstract/goofy music like this track into the sequence.  I think it's great that folks like Keneally got to work with Frank Zappa, absorb some of his vibe directly, and then continue to evolve beyond the Zappa style as their careers continued.  Keneally might have been one of the last folks to make that journey, but he had great company like Steve Vai and Adrian Belew.

Here's a little taste of Keneally's more recent music, taken from his most recent album, 2009's Scambot:

3. Hymn by Cerberus Shoal.  Tailor of Graves/Hymn 7,’’  2010 Eternal Otter Records.

We covered Cerberus Shoal a few weeks ago, but I'll add that this track is part of a new 7'' release by Eternal Otter this spring.  Both tracks on this release are from the as-yet-unreleased "An Ongoing Ding" recording, which I'd sure love to hear in its entirety!

4. Quaalude to a Kiss by Stolen Kisses.  Motionless and White, 2003 self-released.

Stolen Kisses were an Omaha-based band in the mid 00s whom I really miss.  I first saw them play as "The Matt Foley," and a couple of tracks from that era made it to this full-length release.  Kramer has a great writing style, reaches for interesting melodies, and generally writes some of the best lyrics I've ever encountered in the Midwest.  Fortunately, he's still at it, though he's moved to Chicago and tearing through band names there:  his Kramer vs Kramer just became Slushy.

5. Working for the Man by PJ Harvey.  From To Bring You My Love, 1995 Island.

My favorite track from my favorite PJ Harvey album seems very minimal at first, but there are layers hidden in the near-silence.  Listen for subtle background guitars, some parts "picked" with paint brushes, and distorted tones that take basic blues ideas in new directions.  This track creates an incredible film noir kind of atmosphere, building tension higher and higher with, ultimately, very little in the way of release.  Which I love--not every song has to take us into rising action and lay us to rest just beyond denouement.  This one pulls you onto your feet, and you have to go out and finish the story on your own.

6. Forbidden Fruit (Variations for Voice, String Quartet and Turntable) by John Zorn.  From Spillane, 1987 Elektra Nonesuch.

One of my favorite compositions from my favorite composer John Zorn, Forbidden Fruit dates from Zorn's classic "file card" era, where many of his compositions were created as a series of related "images" or brief impressions set to music.  For the formalists among us, this piece does have a somewhat formal theme and variation format if you listen hard enough.  According to Zorn, there are four sets of 12 variations on 12 themes--a lot of activity for a ten minute composition. But some of these variations appear to happen stacked atop one another: The Kronos Quartet might be playing one set while Christian Marclay's turntable spins several others above them, or scratches them between them.  In many spots, it is difficult to decide what is "real" and what is pre-recorded, an idea that was probably more interesting in 1987 than it would be to listeners today.  Fortunately, the piece is simply amazing aside from those extramusical considerations, bouncing wildly from meditative to violent passages.  In contrast to the PJ Harvey track we just discussed, this composition takes the listener through a rapid, almost disorienting, series of tension and release arcs, more times than most folks are prepared to handle in a day.  I first heard this in high school, and it left a lasting impression that I still can't fully put into words.  Just listen.

7. Grow Sound Tree by OOIOO.   From Gold & Green, 2005 Thrill Jockey.

OOIOO is another wonderful Boredoms side project, this one run by percussionist Yoshimi P-We.  Like the Boredoms themselves, and other side projects like Omoide Hatoba, this group's music has evolved over time from a somewhat punk/noise-influenced beginning to more of a psychedelic/trance approach.  This album sits squarely in the center of that transition, with a few moments of aggression, but elements of long compositions with gradual transitions dominating the approach.  I especially like the moments of harmony singing on this album, including a few that happen in this song, as they're some of the most transcendent moments--well placed releases of tension--in any music I've heard.

Lucky us, there is an official video for this track!

Zip file of the playlist.

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