Rating: 8.1/10 Rated as: Album Album Status: Genre Recommendation Released: 1960 Specific Genre: Cool Jazz Main Genre: Jazz Undertones: Third Stream Label: Atlantic
1 Vendome 2 Pyramid 3 It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing) 4 Django 5 How High the Moon 6 Romaine
Cool, but not loungy, progressive, but not sonically avantgardistic
There are no fundamentally weak releases in the Modern Jazz Quartet’s catalogue, but which albums would you recommend as their absolute top picks? That’s no trifling matter. Discounting their live albums, Pyramid is a slight contender among their studio work, with its focus on sophisticated vibraphone-and-piano duels that draw their power from subtlety bordering on inconspicuousness. The Modern Jazz Quartet had entered their phase as elderly statesmen, and alongside their (in my view) epochal Third Stream Music, they were ready to further test out the possibilities to turn their jazz quartet format into a chamber music style that could have potentially broken loose from either jazz or classical – yet without strings or clarinet, they end up on the slightly conventional side of cool, sneaky swing once more.
As such, this is a terrific jazz release: cool, but not loungy, progressive, but not sonically avantgardistic, minimalistic, but not sparse. It works just as well as background music as it does for an intense listening. Given the fact they barely seem to touch their instruments, these guys put down one mean swing.
Rating: 1.6/10 Rated as: Album Album Status: of No Interest Released: 2005 Specific Genre: Electroclash, Electro-Punk Main Genre: Electronic, Electronic Dance Music, Punk Undertones: Techno, Dance-Punk, Industrial Label: novamute
1 Intro 2 Sick Like Me 3 All Systems Go! 4 Untitled 5 Diving in Whiskey 6 Rumpelkammer 7 A Mess 8 A Very Loud Lullaby 9 Der Grottenolm 10 3 Minutes Happiness 11 An Army of Watt 12 Patridiot 13 Blitzkrieg Pop
Honestly? It depends, you see.
Wobbling electro-thumps with fast-paced, violent shuffle beats between punk and techno, cackling aggressive sound effects, screamed vocals – okay, this supposedly comes from those dark underground caves with stroboscopic red lights and angrily painted faces, but translated into a very harmless mid-sized dance club environment. Why does this sound so much tamer than what 1980s industrial had to offer, while desperately doubling up on everything that seems so neat and dangerous when the older, cooler kids with their very scary skull-tattoos and their rattling teeth do it?
Rating: 2.1/10 Rated as: Album Album Status: of Zeitgeist Interest Released: 2011 Specific Genre: Indie Pop Main Genre: Pop Undertones: Indie Folk, Indie Rock, Folk Rock Label: Record
1 Dirty Paws 2 King and Lionheart 3 Numb Bears 4 Sloom 5 Little Talks 6 From Finner7 Six Weeks 8 Love Love Love 9 Your Bones 10 Lakehouse 11 Yellow Light [Bonus Tracks: 11 Yellow Light 12 Sinking Man]
The son was an okay guy
How many ways are there to make a twee sort of indie folk pop epic and larger than life after Arcade Fire and Mumford & Sons? In a style where cymbal clashes, the constant excited punctations of “HEY!”-choirs and the mandatory sudden shifts in dynamic from soothingly picked acoustic guitar / accordion / glockenspiel to thunderous brass sections have become stereotypes within half a decade, the debut of this band unadvantageously plays as if they had been veterans at this game for years, shipping in another one of those sure things to please the fandom. Aside from trivial melodies, they display musical skill, clever instrumentation, impressive performances – it’s all on point and we all should wish they don’t get stuck in the corner of epic indie folksters that self-imploded some short time right before or after the release date of this.
Rating: 10/10 Rated as: Album Album Status: Backdoor Classic Released: 1993 Specific Genre: Alternative Rock, Jazz-Rock Main Genre: Rock Undertones: Blues Rock Label: Rykodisc
1 Dawna 2 Buena 3 I’m Free Now 4 All Wrong 5 Candy 6 A Head with Wings 7 In Spite of Me 8 Thursday 9 Cure for Pain 10 Mary Won’t You Call My Name? 11 Let’s Take a Trip Together 12 Sheila 13 Miles Davis‘ Funeral
I think it’s time for me to finally introduce you to the Buena Buena Buena Buena: Good good good!
If you missed Morphine, you missed out on a cultural branch and attitude connecting the defiantly subdued rebellion of the 1950s’ cool jazz with the brawling counterculture grandeur of rock. A fully developed band from the start, Morphine had cut out the curious niche of “low rock” with the mature jazz stylings of their debut Good, yet with their sophomore strike Cure for Pain they created an instant classic. The ingredients are the same, but compared to its subdued predecessor, Cure for Pain is a behemoth of groove and sweeping melancholia based in a jaded sort of bluesy jazz-rock with a beatnik’s cloudy fantasy of a rock cellar. Simply put, Morphine tried to make music for cool grown-ups with cool grown-up ailments like hotel bar seduction and cognac affliction, amidst a scene of anxious grunge kids, and they succeeded. This couldn’t have worked at the time other than going for a niche audience right away.
Morphine’s sound was and is unique. The potential of each element is caught at its most exciting in these tracks: With a surprisingly sharp and punchy tone, the compositions treat Sandman’s bass as a lead instrument as well as the bedrock of their groove (I’m not quite sure how), the two-string bass constantly shaking things up with its earthquake boom and its slinky underground slide. Jerome Deupree is one of the funkiest, most loosely swinging drummers in rock music (let’s not forget the equally great Billy Conway featured on some numbers here) and Dana Colley’s saxophone work is staggering – at will freewheeling (“Head with Wings”, or the upbeat roadtrip favourite “Mary”), confrontational (the aggressive stomp of “Thursday”) or ominously foggy (“Miles Davis’ Funeral”, or the trippy and hypnotizing come-down of “Let’s Take a Trip Together”). Sandman’s voice, much like his bass, has two strings and many frets: the beat sexy low-life or the gravelly soothing crooner, and he slides up and down the full emotional register of this potentially restrictive set-up.
Making the most out of a fixed set of possibilities, it is one of the few albums where practically each of the songs has been my favourite in a certain phase of my life, with „Cure for Pain“ being an ultimate anthem of anyone who’s remotely familiar with obsession. What makes this work is the mastery of a simple recipe with diversity in attitude, mood and emotivity: A record that can be equally depressing as it can be soothing, that is as hedonistic as it is mature – like a very peaty Lagavulin. It took me a few listens (even after already having been converted to the band), but once you get hooked, there’s no turning back.
Rating: 10/10 Rated as: Box Set Album Status: Definite, Complete Recordings Released: 2011 Recorded: 1965–1972 Specific Genre: Folk Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Roots Rock, Country Rock Main Genre: Rock, Psychedelia Label: Columbia/Legacy
Flow, River, Flow
Oh dear, it’s that rare beast: a practically perfect box set! How about that. This handily sized box collects the remastered bonus track–reissues of all Byrds albums put out by Columbia/Legacy. These reissues usually featured more than half a dozen bonus tracks each. The box thus contains, quoting AMG’s John Bush, „over 90-percent of their career, basically everything they released, all 12 albums (aside from their 1973 reunion album recorded for Asylum)“.
This isn’t entirely accurate, as it’s only 11 albums – but 13 CDs. Bonus-CD 7 is comprised of early Gram Parsons‘ International Submarine Band tracks and alternate tracks from Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Add another bonus CD called Unissued (CD 11) which collects excellent bonus material from their original (Untitled) album. This includes unreleased studio tracks that didn’t make the album, the studio version of the album’s live „Lover of the Bayou“, an additional interesting Little Feat cover marking the band’s way into the swampy and southern areas of roots rock. Notably, Little Feat’s debut album wasn’t even published yet when the Byrds covered them on their album. This is really all you might want from a box set like this, the missing reunion album notwithstanding.
With boxes, I personally prefer if the original albums are left alone on a CD and the bonus material comes on separate CDs. But since this collects remastered reissues that already had bonus tracks on them, that wasn’t an option. Well, so be it. I especially enjoy that the liner notes are not just dedicated to the nostalgia of some prominent fan or an attempt at further mythologizing: Every track is listed with essential information, recording date, previous releases, writing credits, et cetera. While each of the album tracks get a short informative paragraph providing context, the information is a bit scarce concerning the alternate takes of the bonus CDs. A little more historiography would have been nice there: I mean, why are there alternate Sweetheart of the Rodeo-takes with Gram Parsons on lead vocals that had been overdubbed with vocals by Roger McGuinn for the published album? Why is there zero context provided about the previously unissed studio and live takes on bonus CD 11 (titled Unissued)? I know you can read all about these things elsewhere, but these boxes are the decentralized mini-archives to collect such lore.
The box comes in a minimalistic and nice (very affordable) package, sports vinyl replicas and fits in your shelf next to other CDs. Even if you’re not an absolute fan, this is the box to get – they are an extremely important band going through several interesting phases which make for a nice journey here: from sand-bleached, mellow pop folksters to psychedelic Westcoast rokoko to Creedence Clearwater Revival-inspired roots & desert rockers. All phases have stellar highlights. So: here it is, the quintessential psych-folk-roots-rock band represented in a near perfect setting, at least for box set standards.
Rating: 8.6/10 Rated as: Album / Live Album Status: Genre Recommendation Released: 2021 Recorded: 2020 Specific Genre: ECM Style Jazz, Minimal Jazz Main Genre: Jazz Undertones: Avant-Garde Jazz, Post-Minimalism, Modern Classical Label: Ronin Rhythm Records
1 Intro 2 Mon Bijou 3 MM
Echolocation for emotion
Did you ever hear someone enjoy the space around them? You can now. Recorded in the vast hollow interior of the box girder bridge Monbijou in Berne (CH), Sha’s solo debut – just him on bass clarinet, some sax work – lures you into a literal acoustic and social off-space.
The interior of a box girder has no uses. It has no function other than to create an exterior, supporting the structure of the bridge, carrying its traffic. The dimly, if at all lit 300-plus meter corridor of the Monbijou bridge is not a space open to the public, it isn’t even a room by the social meaning of that word. It is cold, it is dark and about the only noise in there is the faint booming of the motorized traffic washing over it. Sha’s decision to record there, gives away some clues what this kind of solo performance has to deliver in even a more familiar setting.
There are no co-musicians to react to here, there is no audience to the proceedings: Who lives under a bridge? In a way, the cavern echoes and the sound of the motor vehicles replace a band and audience on this record, or at least that musical sense of community achieved through exploring solitude. The structure of the piece, with long stretches of improvisation, gives Sha the option to incorporate the outer-world noises into the composition – that is, to use the bridge and its space as a partner for interplay. This becomes acutely evident almost seven minutes into the centre piece, where Sha floats on an ebbing drone, momentarily lost in an eastern-influenced melody – and a rumbling thunder (by a truck or some deep-sea leviathan) crashes loudly into a pause, perfectly timed, causing Sha to spiral into the first of two frantic parts, built around the beat of tone-hole slaps. This coincidence and its sound couldn’t be replicated in any planned way, and the effect is stunning.
Monbijou consists of several distinct vignettes, composed throughout the years and woven into a 30-minute suite. They are part of the same drift. Their coherence is partly due to the monumental setting, of course, but stems mostly from the spacious but clearly articulated sound Sha developed for the performance in the bridge.
This sound keeps the technical gadgetry to a minimum. Sha does use loops, but they mostly consist of a slight drone that only seems to emphasize the faint wave-crashing of the traffic above. A similar effect of tidal movement – ever moving, never changing – is created through the alternation of long, diligently structured phases of circular breathing with pensive, melodic parts, stretching out into the cavities of the bass clarinet and the surrounding tunnel.
While the former compositional elements can become almost hectic and flickering with their hypnotic arpeggios, sharp clicks and percussive slap tongue technique (especially spectacular in the third act of the ‘suite’), the latter create the emotional foundation of the album: whenever the soothing, meditative drone ebbs away, the invisible world above the bridge responds from a distance. While the very idea of a solo performance might evoke images of an internal monologue, Monbijou reaches outwards and is essentially a work about the hidden space around us, as defined by the sounds we make. Echolocation for emotion, if you will, beaming through a 300-meter instrument and its inhabitant.
PS. This text is basically the online „liner notes“ Sha uses on bandcamp etc. I conceived that text as a review from the beginning, even though it has a sort of PR-function, I guess. It’s just a really excellent live album, check it out.
Rating: 5.9/10 Rated as: Archival / Live Album Album Status: Obsolete Released: 1991 Recorded: 1970 Specific Genre: Psychedelic Rock Main Genre: Rock Undertones: Blues Rock, Hard Rock Label: Polydor
1 Intro / God Save the Queen 2 Message to Love 3 Voodoo Child (Slight Return) 4 Lover Man 5 Machine Gun 6 Dolly Dagger 7 Red House 8 In From the Storm 9 New Rising Sun
… and the man with the guitar!
Note: this review and rating refers exclusively to the extended yet incomplete Live Isle of Wight ’70 1991 re-issue.
This is not a bad or boring entry in the never-ending stream of live-Hendrix releases. It’s just that there are so many live releases, and so many issues, re-issues and re-re-issues of so many concerts that there are bound to be better performances captured elsewhere, statistically speaking. As some of Hendrix’ live works are pretty frustrating though, this specific version of the Isle of Wight concert still holds up as one of the comparably decent live albums. There are numerous versions of this with wildly differing content, so watch out for the specific tracklist of prospective acquisitions. This CD is a heavily edited and shortened version, obviously going for the approach to deliver the less erratic versions of the set, and even go as far as to edit „Machine Gun“ from 22 down to 12 minutes. This is neither the original six-track LP version Isle of Wight released in 1971, nor the complete concert Blue Wild Angel, released 2002/2004: It falls in between the two, as it is longer and more satisfyingly representative than the short 1971-version, but it’s not the whole ordeal, skipping historically (if not musically) interesting bits like the „Sgt. Pepper“-opening.
This is a typical release of the CD-era: doubling the run-time of the Vinyl-release, aiming for an actual “concert” experience, while containing the unfocused concert with Hendrix disgruntled by technical problems and unwilling to play his „old numbers“. Hendrix often complained about similar things on stage, sometimes more, sometimes less jokingly. Here, you can really tell that the stoned rock festival environment held him back from delivering the kind of music he was interested in, and he hates it. Weirdly, this might be my favourite constellation of his co-musicians – in theory: Billy Cox on bass is simply groovier than the (otherwise excellent) Noël Redding, and while Buddy Miles contributes to my favourite Hendrix-live album, the Band of Gypsys (1970), as much as Cox and Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell’s nervous hyper-jazz-hard-rock percussion will always be the perfect counterpart to Hendrix’ more experimental musings. But the two don’t mix and no one here lives up to their potential.
Anyhow, this particular issue is strictly not a recommended buy anymore. If you’re not enough of a Hendrix-fan to want the complete Blue Wild Angel, this edited version won’t add anything to your experience.
Rating: 6.7/10 Rated as: Collection / Live Compilation Status: Must for Fans Released: 2002 Recorded: 1972–1980 Specific Genre: Experimental Rock, Blues Rock Main Genre: Rock Undertones: Blues, Psychedelic Rock, Avant-Prog Label: Viper
1 Click Clack 2 Old Black Snake 3 Grow Fins 4 Peon 5 Golden Birdies 6 Electricity 7 Sugar Mama 8 Orange Claw Hammer 9 Gimme Dat Harp Boy 10 Dalis Car 11 Beatle Bones ’n‘ Smokin‘ Stones 12 Flavor Bud Living 13 Nowadays a Womans Gotta Hit a Man 14 Abba Zaba 15 Hothead 16 Safe as Milk 17 Drop Out Boogie 18 Kandy Korn
You know I’m gonna do exactly what I want
These are previously unavailable live cuts of Beefheart gone wild from seven shows between 1972 and 1980. While these are all tinny and unequalised bootleg recordings, through all the hissing and static, there’s enough left to let you hear these must have been truly magnetising performances.
There is no track here where the terrible sound quality truly ruins the aura for me – even the jurassic cackling of “Sugar Mama”, stomping along at eight minutes, is a bit like finding a dinosaur fossil: not the real living thing, but how cool is that skull? Besides the tracks that are relatively tolerable to the ear and well-performed (a fierce „Grow Fins“, „Nowadays a Woman’s Gotta Hit a Man“ and a deadpan „Drop Out Boogie“), there’s a mind-blowing definite instrumental (!) version of „Electricity“ – six ferocious minutes of pure blues-goes-prog fury delving into a riff section that wasn’t on the album cut and worth every cent of this whole CD. A huge bass, barb-wire guitar riffs and wild harp jamming.
While these are different incarnations of the Magic Band, you couldn’t really tell from their sound and repertoire: Abstract instrumentals, croaky interludes of blues shouting, hard hitting psych-rockers. There’s some entertaining stage banter, but mainly this is interesting because of its raw and unpolished quality. The lengthy primitive blues stomp of „Sugar Mama“ is interesting in this aspect as Beefheart wouldn’t do this particular thing on record after 1972 (or more precisely, after the Mirror Man sessions) anymore. Not that it is a great blues or any such thing, it’s just intriguing to hear how he gets the audience to clap along to the rhythm as all the instruments stop and he dives into a witch doctor blues persona, working his own voice like a synthesizer, squeeling, murmuring and chanting to an audibly mesmerized audience.
One note about the repertoire: The compilation shows us a programme of early 1970s material, with actually just one track dating from later than his 1972-albums (it’s „Hothead“), even though more than half of the tracks date from perfomances later than 1975. Now, given the fact that he took a forced break from releasing between 1974 to 1978, this isn’t really surprising. Still: Seven songs from a show late in 1980, meaning this is the Ice Cream For Crow band, and, except for „Hothead“, they basically play Safe As Milk . And: It’s all great! Even the sound quality for the 1980-show is quite decent. Anyhow, it is absolutely worth seeking out for fans, to get a picture of live-Beefheart during his lost mid-1970s period, to get some unholy blues shants, and to be blown awa by that “Electricity”-take.
Trivia: I don’t know if the two things are related, but the amazing (and definite) other live album available titled I’m Gonna Do What I Wanna Do might have taken its title from an incident here: After „Flavor Bud Living“, a guy from the audience calls out for „Glider“ (just pause a minute and imagine being at a Beefheart-concert. Is that what you’d request? No offense though, „Glider“ is great), to which the Captain replies: „You know I’m gonna do exactly what I want!“
Rating: 2.6/10 Rated as: Album / Remixes Album Status: for Completists Released: 1997 Specific Genres: Downtempo, Drum&Bass, House, Ambient House, Progressive House Main Genre: Electronic, Electronic Dance Music Label: Spoon
1.1 Brian Eno – PNOOM (Moon Up Mix) 1.2 Sonic Youth with Wharton Tiers – Spoon (Sonic Youth Mix) 1.3 François Kevorkian & Rob Rives – Blue Bag (Inside Paper) (Toroid Mix) 1.4 A Guy Called Gerald – Tango Whiskyman (A Guy Called Gerald Mix) 1.5 Bruce Gilbert – TV Spot (Bruce Gilbert Mix) 1.6 U.N.K.L.E. – Vitamin C (U.N.K.L.E. Mix) 1.7 The Orb – Halleluwah (Halleluwa Orbus 2) 1.8 Sunroof – Oh Yeah (Sunroof Mix) 2.1 Hiller/Kaiser/Leda – Unfinished (Hiller/Kaiser/Leda Mix) 2.2 Carl Craig – Future Days (Blade Runner Mix) 2.3 Westbam – …And More (Westbam Mix) 2.4 Pete Shelley & Black Radio – Father Cannot Yell (Pete Shelley/Black Radio Mix) 2.5 System 7 – Dizzy Spoon (System 7 Mix) 2.6 3P – Yoo Doo Right (3P Mix) 2.7 Air Liquide – Flow Motion (Air Liquide Mix) 2.8 Secret Knowledge – Oh Yeah (Secret Knowledge Mix)
Paralysis and peer-recognition
Well, if your band directly influenced any given genre from ambient techno to tribal house or zoological worldbeat-funk to the point of receiving co-credit for each without being reducible to a single convention of those genres, a collection like this was always bound to happen: Who was hip in their respective electronic genre three decades after the big bang? Who gets to serenade the ancient gods of groove psychedelia, the creators of kraut-funk, the elders of rhythm&bleeps El Dorado? And as rituals rarely ask: Why? Of course, these kinds of tribute albums tend to be one long parade of performing and out-performing Harold Bloom‘s anxiety of influence: How to pay tribute to a band as unassailed by time as Can without sounding like an idiot fan? Without sounding like a trie-hard? Or like wannabe-above the situation?
But who cares about these questions if the remixes are exciting in any way? Let’s try to treat it as if the tribute-framing wouldn’t add the element of showcasing (the double-disc does after all feature some of the most prominent electronica names of the late 1990s): While most of these remixes simply have no idea what to do with the source material (in a mix of paralysis and peer-recognition: why remix something that already does everything I do?), this or that track here finds some way out of the project’s conceptual obstructions: „Yoo Doo Right“ by 3P Mix applies a sort of downtempo-esque ambient wooziness à la Moby to the piece and successfully fuses the original’s paranoid hypno-grooves with breezy synths and bright moods: this is an actually transformative piece. Congrats! And Sunroof’s „Oh Yeah“ does the opposite, it recognizes that a Liebezeit-beat can’t be exactly topped and goes with the simplest solution. No messing with the structure, no extra-ideas – just take the original and paint brightly over it, flesh out some drum&bass beats (that the piece arguably already had, in a way) and basically leave it at that. The synths soar, that bass fucking bounces and everything’s good! At least good enough.
But if you want to hear over-ambitiousness gone completely wrong, check out the „Spoon“-remix. It tries to cram everything grand about a Can-track (hypnotics, freak-outs, inner space texture, agile avant-excitement) into the mix with no sense of improvising dramaturgy – it’s a completely helpless approach. And since most other pieces here sound preprogrammed, like paint-by-structure, this collected huge amounts of dust in the last two decades, coming off as a contractual obligation by the involved genre stereotypes.
Rating: 7.1/10 Rated as: Archival / Live Album Status: Must for Fans Released: 2011 Recorded: 1972 Specific Genre: Krautrock Main Genre: Experimental Rock, Rock Undertones: Ambient, Free Improvisation, Psychedelic Rock Label: Spoon 40SPOON6/7
[Disc 1: 1.1 Paperhouse 1.2 Mushroom 1.3 Oh Yeah 1.4 Halleluhwah 1.5 Aumgn 1.6 Peking O 1.7 Bring Me Coffee or Tea] Disc 2: 2.1 Mushroom 2.2 Spoon 2.3 Halleluhwah
Love me! You gotta love me!
Tago Mago is – at least in recurring intervals – my favourite album. But let’s talk about the live bonus material from the 40th-anniversary edition. The bonus CD with the live material contains three tracks from a live performance in 1972. Unsurprisingly, the sound quality isn’t quite up to snuff – aside from being murky, especially Karoli’s guitar suffers from being buried in the mix, sounding as if he played from down the hallway. Well, we do with what we can get. I’ll go into the details, but what you get it is what you want and expect: Anxious, extremely rhythm-driven nightmares, amazing examples of free form tension-and-release, some chaotic nonsense, irresistible grooves: bleak, hypnotic, riveting. Well, it’s Can. What did you expect?
Two main points: The rather murky sound quality doesn’t really damage the enterprise, because it fits the claustrophobic, future-noir sound. But besides a riveting second track and an at least interesting mini-version of „Halleluhwah“, there is nothing to learn about Can here that can’t be experienced as good or better on other available live material. Secondly: The reason to get this is the 30-minute second track „Spoon“ which features everything you want in a Can jam: disorientation, paranoia, exploration and a beautiful, ethereal ending in an ambient-style hinting at 1973’s Future Days. Only half of this jam is available on The Lost Tapes (as is the less interesting opener „Mushroom“, a rare jam where they lose focus and decide to run the thing into the ground). The third track is a brief nine-minute „Halleluhwah“, in an interesting version where everything happens slightly too fast, it plays like a one-act-version of the epic original and fades out before the climax – I can only assume due to some technical error or scrambled tapes.
PS. The cover art hasn’t been changed. The photograph you see on the cover is a detachable carton sleeve to protect the gatefold vinyl replica inside, featuring the famous original head and is very nicely done all in all. Complete with several interesting liner notes by fawning fellow musicians but little historical information, it is a beautifully made reissue, less informative than it could be.