Playlist for 11-21-2010

1. A Song for Krom by Conifer.  From Crown Fire, Important, 2008.

While doom/sludge bands aren't a primary listening area of mine, I do like the genre and try to keep up with new developments.  And Conifer's "Crown Fire" is a great example of evolution within the genre.  We get the long, epic arrangements, massive riffs, walls of distortion, layers of feedback, and long dynamic buildups one comes to expect from the style, but there are a lot of different touches, too: there are post-rock style melodies hovering a little bit from the top of the mix, made by tremolo-picked guitars, for example.  We get stacks of sophisticated polychords in breakdown sections, which have a huge pitch range courtesy of the guitar/baritone guitar lineup.  There are interesting rhythmic variations that remind me of classical theme and variations.  And in tracks such as "A Song for Krom," we get fascinating, almost Krautrock-sounding passages around the 7:30 mark, where flute melodies and samples take over the music, while the bass and drums hold down a subtle groove.  The guitars jump back in around 9:40 with subtle colorations before the next doom-ish section is introduced at 10:10.  The recording quality is excellent, too, with less reverb than many doom acts, and a sort of crisp "air" open in high frequencies that makes the whole project very listenable.

2. Gankino Horo by Farmers Market.  From Musikk Fra Hybridene, Kirkelig Kulturverksted, 1997.

Farmers Market is a Norwegian act formed among music students at the Trondheim Conservatory in the early 90s.  I first heard of them in music school in the late 90s, when a Norwegian trumpet player arrived in our midst (thanks, Oyvind!).  I was especially in love with the fast-changing montage and collage approaches of this band back then--they sounded like a more exotic and instrumental version of Mr. Bungle to me.  This album is still a lot of fun, but it didn't age as well for me as their other efforts.  They intended it to be a fun/funny album, though, and that's often what happens with those.  Nonetheless, short tracks like Gankino Horo can be a ton of fun, the whole record is one of the best-recorded experimental albums of all time, and they've matured stylistically on two subsequent albums.  I especially admire how they're able to incorporate the wild melodic ornamentation of Bulgarian/Balkan folk music styles into their music, like this:

3. Tropical Fish: Selene by Gong.  From Camembert Electrique, BYG Actuel, 1971.

I wanted to play a few classic "other music" acts tonight, and here's one of them from Gong's second release.  This band went through a staggering number of permutations over time, but my favorite period remains the first albums through the Radio Gnome Trilogy which concluded in 1974, when bandleader Daevid Allen left the band.  During this period, the band combined a high-energy psychedelic rock style with some of the melodic jazz/rock instrumental tangents of Zappa's earlier Mothers albums.  It worked incredibly well--some of this music sounds as fresh today as the day it was written.  I could do without the "Gong Mythology" conceptually, mostly related to "Pot Head Pixies" visiting the Planet Gong, but the music is awesome.

4. California Uber Alles by Duckmandu.  From Fresh Duck for Rotting Accordionists, Duckmandu, 2005.

Another short track to break up our evening, Duckmandu takes on an album of Dead Kennedys covers with nothing but an accordion and his voice--and it sounds fantastic.  It's eerie how close Duckmandu (real name Aaron Seeman) gets to sounding just like Jello Biafra.  He has the range, timbre, and weird warbly vibrato totally nailed.  And his accordion arrangements manage to capture the spirit of each song, something I wouldn't have guessed was possible.  Check out this live version, which also includes a little shamisen in the background:

5. K. A. I by Magma.  From K. A., Seventh Records, 2004.

The other "classic act" for the night is Magma, whom I've made reference to as an influence for several acts played on the show so far.  Most of their classic work was released in the 70s, and this 2004 release has an interesting story: the first two of its three movements were composed in the 70s, but for some reason they weren't recorded until 20+ years later.  Though this is a new album, it retains the sound and style of classic magma: lots of plodding basslines propelling the music, Vander's kinetic drums locking in with the bass while adding lots of conversational accents to the music, bits of piano to color the sound, and LOTS of harmonized vocals sung in Kobaian, Vander's made up "celestial language" found on Magma and even some other bands "Zeuhl" styled albums.  Since the release of K.A., another Magma album of old and new music combined has been released, last year's "Emehntehtt-Re."  Both come highly recommended.  Here's a glimpse at a the classic Magma lineup ripping through one of their most significant compositions, "De Futura":

6. Bach is Dead, by Idiot Flesh.  From Fancy, Vaccination Records, 1997.

This short track from Idiot Flesh, the Bay-Area act that eventually spawned Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, is a cover of a Residents track from "Duck Stab."  I love how organic they were able to make this rigid-sounding original, and how they turned the beat around for most of the track.  Here's the original for comparison:


Playlist for 11-14-10

1. String Quartet No. 2 Op. 64 "Quasi una Fantasia" by Henryk Gorecki.  From Kronos Quartet: Gorecki: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2, Nonesuch, 1993.

I'm glad to have been able to share this recording with people via KZUM, but I wish the circumstances were happier: Gorecki passed away last week.

I discussed this quartet on Words on Sounds a few years ago in some detail--if you're interested, click here. For today, I would just like to add that this recording/composition made a huge impression on me, causing me to change my major to classical composition in college, and I'm grateful for hearing it.  Rest in peace, dear Henryk.

2. Romance by Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man.  From Out of Season, Go Beat, 2002.

Beth Gibbons is well-known for her work as vocalist for Portishead, a favorite of mine.  Portishead has truly created their own musical universe, and it's interesting to hear Gibbons outside of that context.  In contrast to Portishead, this music is more based in folk and Motown styles, and it doesn't feature the characteristic trip-hop percussion stylings so particular to the Portishead approach.  While most of these songs feature relatively sparse arrangements, a few songs such as "Romance" have slow-build Billie Holiday-meets-Motown style arrangements that work wonderfully.  Check it out for yourself:

3. Taut by John Parish & Polly Jean Harvey.  From Dance Hall At Louse Point, Island, 1996.

This is my favorite track from the first of two collaborative albums from PJ Harvey and John Parish.  PJ uses almost every vocal approach she has in this song, from whispers and gentle, faux-child moments to belt-it-out, plaintive wailing.  I especially like the drum approach, both in terms of the playful performance itself and for the mixing style that places them in a different sonic space from the rest of the music, and then drops them back into the same environment at particularly emphatic moments.

4. Absolute Zero by Faith No More.  From Digging the Grave CDEP, Slash, 1995.

This is my favorite song from Faith No More, which tragically only saw release through B-sides and Greatest Hits/Rarities compilations.  Dating from the "King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime" recording sessions, "Absolute Zero" represents the perfect combination of Faith No More-esque elements: we get the chugging heavy guitars.  A great tribal drum beat holds everything together.  Roddy's keyboards enrich the incredibly memorable choruses.  And we get a great vocal performance from Patton, along with a great set of lyrics in the grand absurdist tradition of "The Real Thing."  There's even a great false ending.  I'll never understand why this wasn't placed on KFAD proper, or pushed as a single.  I think it could've been their second "Epic," popularity-wise.

5. Kitchen by Sex Mob.  From Dime Grind Palace, Ropeadope, 2003.

This is the opening track from the first Sex Mob album to feature all original compositions.  Bandleader Steven Bernstein uses Sex Mob in as a kind of workshop for "fun" jazz ideas--the sound and sentiment sometimes remind me of Joey Baron's trio that we listened to last week.  Bernstein always features his slide trumpet playing on Sex Mob albums, which I really love.  The whole band perfects that same kind of tight-but-loose style that makes the downtown scene so fun.

I think of groups like Sex Mob and Joey Baron's Barondown, and bands like the Lounge Lizards who came before them, as a more nutritious version of the retro-swing acts that had some commercial success in the 90s like the Squirrel Nut Zippers.  If you were/are into that style and want to go deeper, the Sex Mob is a great place to start:

6. O Canto da Ema by Cyro Baptista.  From Beat the Donkey, Tzadik, 2002.

Another downtown scene regular, percussionist Baptista's ensemble works brings various Latin American styles to NYC through lots and lots of percussion.  I find this album and it's successor, "Love the Donkey," to be a great compliment to the Sex Mob records when I'm in the mood for some fun-yet-out jazz.

7.  Birthday (Justin Robertson 12'' Mix) by the Sugarcubes.  From It's It, Elektra, 1992.

This one was played for Eric, former DJ with Other Music, who celebrated his 40th B-day with an awesome party at the Zoo Bar the same night.  Generally, I'm a bigger fan of Bjork's later work than the Sugarcubes material.  That said, this remixed version of "Birthday" is marvelous!  I like it way more than the original.  This is a great example of a remix that actually becomes its own composition, adding so many new layers of sounds, textures, dynamics, and rhythmic pulses that it becomes a whole new song.  If you like Bjork's solo stuff or the Sugarcubes, the "It's It" album is a double-disc of remixes that split the conceptual difference between those camps.  There are a few duds here, or tracks that didn't age well, at least, but most of it sounds better to me than the proper Sugarcubes albums.

8.  Pontificate by The Matthew Herbert Big Band.  From There's Me and There's You, K7, 2008.

The Matthew Herbert Big Band is a project that deserves more attention.  Herbert has described his personal approach to music in a manifesto you can read here, and it's worth reading.  For a fellow who mostly produces music sold as "electronic music" of various varieties, it's a compelling list: no drum machines, real instruments wherever possible, only personally-made samples (not of others' music), etc.  For the big band project, have some sampled sounds added to the live-band mix, and they're mixed in really creative ways that can create those "hyperrealism" soundscapes we discussed before.  Some of the samples apparently originate from field recordings done at Parliament!  Highly recommended.  Check 'em out live:


Important Records Day!

Good lord. I hope you fine folks took advantage of the Important Records sale I mentioned a few weeks ago. My package just arrived today. I took the "conservative" route, with the "small" order:


Not so small! It'll take a while to ingest this much music, but with a such a great label involved, it's nice to know in advance just how nutritious the audio meals are likely to be.

I did the 44/44 deal last year, too, so besides the substantial numbers of Important albums I already had, there's a pretty ridiculous number of their releases floating around in my mind...


Playlist for 11-7-10

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.


Halloween! Playlist for 10-31-10

1. A Hymn to the Morning Star by Sleepytime Gorilla Museum.  From Of Natural History, 2004, Mimicry.
Props to Bad Robot Brain for reminding me of this track!  Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, the incredible aggro-prog band formed in the ashes of Idiot Flesh, starts us off with this devilish delight:

2.  Pusher by Bloody Panda.  From Summon, 2009, Profound Lore.
My neighborhood goes crazy for Halloween--we really make the kids work for their candy.  At my house, I drag my rehearsal PA system onto my porch, and blast scary music along with playing a theremin.  NYC's doom band Bloody Panda makes frequent appearances in my playlists for this, as their terrifying female vocals and guitar/organ doom attack keep many trick-or-treaters heading right on down the street...where the guy on stilts steps out from behind his tree and sends them running!

3. Vox Auris III by Tertium Auris.  From Vox Stridens, 2008, Dharma Sound.
This electroacoustic record is built entirely of human voice samples, with the exception of dolphin and whale sounds on one track.  The result is a dark, brooding atmosphere that can be pretty intimidating when you spin it disc on All Hallows Eve.  On a friendlier note, it's a free release that you can check out for yourself from Dharma Sounds website.

4.  The Dead Rise...Andrun Rampant by Raz Mesinai.  From The Unspeakable, 2001, BSI Records.
Here's another electroacoustic composer, who sometimes works with Dub  music as well.  Apparently, this album was inspired by his work as a film composer for Hellraiser 6--in which his music was mostly not used in the final cut because it was too scary!  After hearing this track, maybe you'll see why...

5.  Halloween by Secret Chiefs 3.  From The Left Hand of Nothingness/Halloween 7'', 2007, Mimicry.
Former Mr. Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance's ongoing SC3 ensemble take on the John Carpenter soundtrack classic here.  I think I like the clarity and precise attitude of this rendition even more than the original.  Here's a live video of their version, too:

6. F__cked by God.  From Possession, 1992, Caroline.
I first heard this record in high school, where I bought it because of John Zorn's participation in the band.  It's much more closely associated with the industrial/metal scene of the time musically, though.  The brainchild of Kevin Martin, more recently of Ice (whom we'll explore later in this playlist), Techno Animal,  Curse of the Golden Vampire, and The Bug, God's first album featured three saxophones on most tracks (and a fourth on the couple of tracks featuring Zorn).  In many compositions, the saxes are used collectively to play heavy chords, somewhat taking over the role of the electric guitar.  Justin Broaderick of Godflesh fame does add guitar as well, but the saxes dominate the mix. I had been aware of the notion that distorted electric guitar and saxophone produce very similar waveforms (though their articulations are very different), but this was the first time I heard someone consciously exploiting that fact to create "power-chord stacks" with saxes.  There are also three bass players, creating a sludgy bottom line.  The overall effect is like a jazz combo assuming the role of an industrial act.  Intimidating stuff, but very well-conceived.

7.  The Voice of the Devil, Plate 4 by Ulver.  From Themes from William Blake's "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell," 2006, Jester Norway.
We looked into a bit of Ulver's career several years ago at Words on Sounds.  Like many black metal-related acts, they've gone through a metamorphosis from a raw, lo-fi black metal project to an atmospheric, musically inclusive ensemble.  This album was recorded well into their transition into a stylistically diverse ensemble, featuring acoustic instruments and drum programming.  A very accomplished interpretation of "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell," most of this album could be described as "beautiful," even in the occasional moments featuring metal textures.

8.  The Omen (Ave Satani) by Fantomas.  From The Director's Cut, 2001, Ipecac.
Another ex-Bungle ensemble, Mike Patton and Fantomas offer their take on Jerry Goldsmith's theme for The Omen.  I love how Patton overdubs himself to create his own chorus--and I love how the track turns into a very Slayer-ized version courtesy of Dave Lombardo's drumming!

Here's somebody's YouTube video for the track using footage from the film.  Creepy!

9. God of Emptiness by Morbid Angel.  From Covenant, 1993, Giant.
This was the first death metal album released on a major label, and in interviews around the time of this release, the band was ultra enthusiastic about becoming a higher-profile act. And it remains the best-selling death metal album of all time.  At the time, I was especially excited about this track, as it was a really interesting use of the 7-string guitar for a low, intimidating riff (this is over a year before Korn's debut album was released, and several years before the Korn-fueled conversion of the guitar market into 7-strings).  And, as a major label release, it features one of the few professional videos created for a DM track:

10. Devils by Ice.  From Bad Blood, 1998, Reprise.
Ice shows Kevin Martin's dance and hip-hop side--interestingly, many of Martin's projects have existed and matured simultaneously, so it's not a situation of evolving from one style of music to another.  Instead, his work with any of his projects seems to impart a sense of growth and exploration to all of them.  The Bad Blood album remains one of my favorites in the Martin catalog, in part because of Blixa Bargeld's vocal contributions to the record.