1. 2 by Basilica. From theforevervictoriousunfathomablegreatightyone, self-released, 2007
Basilica is a fascinating project from Bloomington, Indiana featuring twin violin attack for melodies over a brutal prog-style ensemble. The violins really add a lot of variety to the style, with quarter tone slopes and wild glissandos. Other than this short EP, they have yet to release many recordings. But check out this great live work:
I used to work with drummer Steve Weems during my 23 month residence in Bloomington. I'm so glad they chose him for this project: his sophisticated style and ability to play really crazy parts make him the perfect match for this band.
2. Pray by Book of Knots. From Traineater, Anti, 2008.
I admire this track for how well-suited its composition and arrangement is for guest singer Tom Waits. Roughly contemporary with his "Real Gone" album, this track perfects the guitar-based vibe of that album maybe even better than Waits' own efforts. And Carla Kihlstedt's backing vocals are the perfect foil for Waits' rusty voice.
3. Le Bon Matin by the Japonize Elephants. From 40 Years of Our Family, TZME, 2002.
I guess I'm in a Bloomington mood tonight: though I missed them by a few years, the Japonize Elephants started in Bloomington before heading to the West Coast, where they've subsequently hung with the Bay Area weirdo scene including the Sleepytime Gorilla Museum folks. Starting life as a kind of avant-garde bluegrass project, this track highlights many elements of their mature style, which has evolved to incorporate more prog-ish and French chanson passages. They also sing with much more confidence and variety over time. The JE family, headed by multi-instrumentalist Sylvain Carton, has also grown to incude a variety of potent side projects including Mega Mousse, Spaceblaster, Aphrodesia, and the Sweet Snacks From China who we featured a few months ago.
4. Welcome to the House of Food by Spookey Ruben. From Modes of Transportation Vol 1, TVT, 1995.
I was fairly obsessed with this record in college. The whole thing is a beautiful specimen of eccentric pop, with a wide range of influences and approaches. Strong songwriting and memorable melodies, though, remain a high priority throughout. Ruben has an incredible vocal range, and he does a strange thing on occasion where he intentionally glisses across a break in the high ranges of his voice, which creates a strangely enjoyable little "squiggle." You can hear a touch of it via a sweep across an octave from falsetto to his full voice in this song, around the lyrics "Open up a box" in the chorus.
Here's a video produced for "Wendy McDonald" from the same album, where you can hear that trippy "break think" on "what you get" in the chorus, too:
5. Sad Song by David Byrne. From s/t, Luaka Bop, 1994.
This is my favorite song from one of Byrne's most understated--and underrated--solo albums. What this album lacks in over-the-top arrangements is made up in great songs and great lyrics. I like to think this record represents what the Talking Heads might have sounded like if they had stuck it out a little longer. Byrne's quirky voice was probably at its best around this time, too.
6. Hey Hockaloogie by Joey Baron. From Raised Pleasure Dot, New World Records, 1994.
Joey Baron is a truly gifted and versatile drummer, whom I've particularly enjoyed in John Zorn's bands over the years (Naked City, Masada quartet, Moonchild, etc). For a while in the 90s, he had a drums/tenor sax/trombone trio that played some really fun, minimalist jazz. They play intentionally sloppy in many places, have "bad note contests" where each musician tries to play a phrase more dissonant than the last, and generally make joy out of chaos. This track switches from marching music to latin music, and has a particularly long, funny, and enjoyable "bad note contest" in the latin section. I wish Baron had done some more recordings with this band, as they're a great way to get people into somewhat "out" jazz while still having some fun. At least we have three excellent albums...
Check out the amazing chemistry of this trio:
7. 3 by Colin Marston. From 200220032004-computer music. Self released, 2007.
Colin Marston can make excellent brutal prog from any music-making device placed before him. Well known for his work in Behold the Arctopus and Dysrhythmia and more, as well as his work as a producer and owner of Menegroth recording studio, these tracks remind me of a combination of Colin Nancarrow's player piano compositions with Weasel Walter's sense of rhythmic suffocation.
8. Glisten by Skin Chamber. From Trial, Roadrunner, 1993.
I don't know a lot about Skin Chamber, but if a combination of the Chicago Albini scene with the sludgy onslaught of Godflesh sounds intriguing to you, check these guys out.
9. Pay it Away by Super Collider. From Head On, Epic, 1999.
Jamie Lidell and Christian Vogel, known more for avant-electronics, try their hand at "pop" on this record. While not the kind of material one would ever find in the top-40 or on a dance floor, the music does manage to bridge the gap between melodic pop and pointillistic electronica like Aphex Twin.