1. fireflower by Astroid Power-up! From Googleplex, self-released, 2003.
All kinds of unorthodox elements come together beautifully on Googleplex: compositions are built with sine waves using just intonation instead of the equal temperament we're used to with most "modern" music. There's a bit of a Bach-ian fugal approach compositionally, but drummer Deantoni Parks goes absolutely crazy with the music, pulling it toward a sort of post-bop meets free-jazz direction. A few tracks, such as the track featured here, offer composer/project leader Scott Bruzenak on saxophone as well, but many tracks create their mesmerizing territories with nothing but sine waves and drums. I find myself returning to this record year after year and always hearing new elements, or listening from a different perspective. It's impossible to catagorize and even harder to forget.
2. The Weird Revolution by The Butthole Surfers. From Weird Revolution, Hollywood Records, 2001.
As I understand it, most Butthole Surfers fans dislike this album. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the rest of their work, but I love this record. To the extent that this music is an experiment with electronica by a fairly straightforward guitar-punk band, I found it to be an incredibly successful experiment. Almost every track is danceable, well-written, and funny. There's quite a story behind the record, too: an entirely different version of the record was finished with most of the same songs (After the Astronaut), but after an ugly dispute between the band and their label at the time, Touch and Go Records, they re-recorded the album for release by Hollywood. Having heard the earlier unreleased version, I'm glad they took the opportunity, as they considerably improved the punch of the whole project.
Hollywood didn't push the album as much as I would've hoped at the time, but there is a great video for "The Shame of Life:"
3. Prospero's Curse by Michael Nyman. From the Prospero's Books soundtrack, 1991, London/Decca.
Nyman is a hugely underrated composer who works in a sort of modular/cellular format related to the minimalist movement. In fact, he's often credited with coining the term "minimalist music" in the early 70s. The graduallly-changing modular nature of his music has made him a natural choice for film music, and he had a long history of composing for Peter Greenaway films as well as having his music featured in commercials and television shows. This recording is from the score to Greenaway's Prosperos Books, which was a bizarre interpretation of Shakespeare's Tempest. This film was the last collaboration between Nyman and Greenaway. For your viewing pleasure, here's the opening of the film via YouTube, which includes a famously complex panning shot that starts around the 7:10 mark:
4. Rollin' Down (To My House) by BlueBob. From BlueBob, 2003, DavidLynch.com.
BlueBob is a collaboration between filmmaker David Lynch and John Neff, a guitarist and studio engineer who Lynch hired to build and operate his home studio. Lynch described the project as "industrial" for the year or two leading up to its release. The record does feature some drum programming, but I think it's closer in spirit and sound to a mix of 50s and 60s rock music filtered through the surreal atmosphere often composed for Lynch films by Angelo Badalamenti. Guitar sounds are more overdriven than would have been expected in classic rock, but not the almost metal tones favored by pop-industrial bands of the late 90s/early 00s like Ministry, Skinny Puppy, or Nine Inch Nails. As one might expect, it's a very cinematic record, often featuring strange spoken vocals that are very dry in the mix compared to guitars in washes of reverb.
5. Timido by David Lee Roth. From Sonrisa Salvaje, 1986, Warner.
This track was released as "Shy Boy" on DLR's US release "Eat 'Em and Smile." Apparently a decision was made to translate and re-record the entire album in Spanish, hoping to capitalize on Mexican record sales. The idea was a commercial failure, but it's very interesting to hear how well Roth adapts his vocals to the language--and how enthusiastic he sounds. Rumors still exist about a Portugese-language version of the album, too (go Brazil!), but no recordings have ever surfaced.
6. More Noise Please by Steven Jesse Bernstein. From Prison, 1994, Sub Pop.
We'll definitely be discussing the work of Steven Jesse Bernstein more in the future--he's one of my favorite writers by a large margin. And, as his album Prison attests, he was a gifted oral interpreter of his own work. His raspy, snarling voice is balanced with a great sense of phrasing and lyrical delivery. Tragically, Bernstein took his own life shortly after his performances were recorded for this album, and he only heard one track, "No No Man," before his death. The project was completed by composer Steve Fisk, and released by Sub Pop.
7. All Mine by Tom Jones. From Reload (UK version), 2003, Universal.
As covers go, it doesn't get much more bizarre than this. Tom Jones, arguable one of the most extroverted performers of all time, takes on a Portishead track, one of the most introverted, even reclusive, acts of all time. But it's not bad--his huge voice may stomp all over the intimacy of Portishead, but "All Mine" does have the kind of dramatic potential to survive its transition into a big-band volcano. You just have to be in the right mood.
There's no performance clips of TJ doing this song, but Portishead's original video is a good example of their minimalist-noir approach: