Playlist from 8-29-2010

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.


    Playlist from 8-22-10

    In addition to album reviews and music/art/culture essays, I'm going to start putting the playlists of stuff I spin on the Other Music show on KZUM on here, along with some amplification (pardon the pun) about each band/composer/artist should you want to investigate further. So: here's my first playlist.

    1. The Diplomat's Shadow pt. 2 by Paul Sturm, from The Diplomat's Shadow. 2000, self-released. 4:12

    I heard about Paul Sturm's work while living in Bloomington, Indiana. Will Devitt, who is one of the guitarists featured on the album, gave me this CD. The music is microtonal electric guitars and percussion--if you like Rhys Chatam or Glenn Branca's works for large electric guitar ensembles, you are likely to truly adore this disc. Personally, I like this disc more than most of Branca's work I've heard--there are more intricacies to explore in the layers, and a much larger dynamic range. While using a similar palette, Sturm achieves many satisfying moments of thoughtfulness, and even peace, amidst moments of bombastic abandon. It's hard to find more information on Sturm, but fortunately he's maintained a website where you can order the disc: http://www.paulsturm.com/

    2. Futuro Futuro by Whales and Cops, from Great Bouncing Icebergs. 2008, High Two. 3:12

    Whales and Cops is a relatively new band from Philly, featuring some Man Man alumni. So far, they've just released this EP on High Two, but it's a killer, and I can't wait for more. They remind me of some of the brightest moments of the Philly avant-rock scene, with lots of fun and joy mixed with Krautrock and electronica influences. Highly recommended.

    3. Uai-Uai - Revolta Queto-Xamba 1832 by Tom Ze, from Danc-Eh-Sa Danca Dos Herdeiros Do Sacrificio. 2007, Tratore. 3:46

    I'm somewhat obsessed with the music of Tom Ze, and I'm sure I'll have more to say about him on this blog in the future. For now, just enjoy how this track manages to balance its Brazillian heritage with an almost Residents-sounding wave of sound. This album is perhaps not the most "representative" of the Tom Ze sound, but it's a great listen.

    4. Chicken in Your Face by SWEET SNACKS, from Submit to the Chip. 2009 Fridge Magnet Records. 2:31

    The Sweet Snacks are a side project of one of my favorite bands, the Japonize Elephants. Where the Elephants focus on bluegrass instrumentation and chanson-prog vibes, the Snacks play infectious electronica with hilarious lyrics. It's not a "deep" album, but it's a lot of fun. See for yourself:

    5. 14ourteen by Silencio, from Dead Kings. 2004 Mountain Collective. 3:15

    Silencio seems to have broken up several years ago. If you're into John Zorn's Naked City project, though, you'll really love their album. Maybe they could be contacted through their myspace?

    6. The Next Stab by Seductive Sprigs, from s/t EP. 2006 FNA Records. 2:54

    Seductive Sprigs dates back to the mid-00s, and was a collaboration between Charlie Looker and Matthew Hough, who were both members of Zs at the time. All they ever released was this 2-song EP, which is stylistically along the lines of Charlie's Extra Life band. It's amazing to hear how Looker continued to explore and further refine his approach in subsequent Zs and Extra Life releases.

    7. Copernicus by Power Animal, from People Songs. 2010 Waaga Records. 3:55

    I don't know much about Power Animal, but their album sounds to me like a satisfying blend of the Philly avant-rock scene with an introspective Animal Collective vibe. I'll be checking them out in the future, for sure.

    8.オハヨウ/Smiles→Fire Man by Omoide Hatoba, from Osaka Ra. 2004 Dako Vynal Fantastia. 3:36

    Omoide Hatoba is a side project of long-term Boredoms guitarist Seichii Yamamoto that ultimately developed a long life of its own. Their recorded history has loosely followed the stylistic arc of the Boredoms themselves, transitioning from noise and punk influences toward gentler textures with a psychedelic influence. However, Omoide Hatoba generally adheres to relatively conventional pop song formats and lengths. There's just something a little more approachable going on with Omoide Hatoba, and I've always preferred their discography to the Boredoms by just a little.

    9. Urine, The Money by Milk Cult, from Burn or Bury. 1994 Priority Records. 3:35

    Milk Cult was a side project of the 90s powerhouse Steel Pole Bathtub. Milk Cult's output, though, is much closer to my usual tastes. The "middle" Milk Cult albums, which I would count as this record and Love God, are a blend of samples, grunge, industrial, and creativity that I really enjoy. They don't sound as dated as that description might imply, although some of the samples used are redolent of the 90s for me: one track uses the drum intro from Nirvana's "Scentless Apprentice," for example. Nonetheless, I did my share of semi-coordinated bouncing around to this album over the years, and it still reveals an occasional secret on repeated listens.

    10. A Cloud No Bigger than a Man's Head by Cerberus Shoal, from Bastion of Itchy Preeves. 2004 North East Indie. 8:07

    Cerberus Shoal is/was one of my favorite bands, and I'm sure we'll be returning to them for further consideration in the future. I first heard this track playing through the house PA at Vaudeville Mews in Des Moines before a Kayo Dot/Frankenixon show (way back on the Choirs of the Eye tour, and before Frankenixon changed their name to The Sword of Exactly). What a great show that was, and what perfect intro music Cerberus Shoal proved to be. I think Cerberus Shoal really hit their stride on their last three records, and although they still exist as the folksy "Fire on Fire" band, I really miss the wild combination of influences that informed the Shoal at their peak: psychedelia, 20th C. classical, Krautrock, Canterbury, folk, Captain Beefheart and more all peer out through new eyes.

    11. Study No. 29 by Conlon Nancarrow, from Studies for Player Piano, Vol IV. 1999 Wergo. 4:02

    Conlon Nancarrow remains a best-kept secret from the post WWII-classical tradition. Though he did attain some attention near the end of his career, I think that a wider audience has yet to hear this stuff. If and when they do, his status among 20th C. composers will surely soar. The player piano "studies" are fascinating miniatures that manage to incorporate a bunch of music nerd technical ideas into compositions that are mostly fun to hear. If you're into counterpoint, these are essential: it's one of the few places to hear anyone attempt multiple meters and tempi at once, modulating tempi, etc. But if you're not into the technical side of things, just know that many of these pieces sound like mashups of ragtime and blues piano with sinister-sounding riffs that build toward glorious densities of 8-bit video game chaos--and all done with pairs of souped-up player pianos. The player piano approach was a creative approach toward the production of music difficult, and often impossible, to be played by human hands, and it's a fascinating antecedent to the kinds of issues electronic composers and computer musicians continue to address today.


    On the radio tonight...

    Well, it's been a while. I never manage to make this into a routine.

    Perhaps this will help: I'm gonna sit in with the folks on "Other Music" tonight, 10-12 PM, central time. If that becomes a regular occurrence, maybe I'll use this space to amplify some musical thoughts that originate on the show? Time will tell.

    89.3 if you're in Lincoln, or you can stream it online via http://www.kzum.org/

    More on the Other Music show specifically, which is my favorite show on KZUM by far:

    I lived in Bloomington, Indiana for a couple of years before moving to Lincoln, and I was a frequent listener to a show on their community radio station, WFHB, of a very similar format. I remember how frequently I ended up buying/ordering albums that were featured on that show (and I could conveniently order them from the show's host, Tom Donahue, who ran a fantastic music store in town). When I moved to Lincoln, I remember how delighted I was to learn that we had a community radio station of our own. There aren't enough of them around!