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This is a beautiful collection of recordings made in Yogyakarta in Java, Indonesia between November 1976 and January 1978. Jack Body and Yono Soekarno sought out street musicians and captured their songs to tape. Although they interviewed the musicians about their craft, the names of these artists are unfortunately not provided in the extensive liner notes. The A-side is mostly female musicians and the range of styles is simply amazing. From high pitched and higher paced to a slowed down piece whose vocalist may remind you of Joanna Newsom, it’s an entrancing listen. Guitar, drum, ukelele, soap-box zither, tube gong, 3-stringed cello, and homemade instruments are all utilized. Translations of lyrics in the liner notes show themes of love, flirtation, anxieties (spiritual possession, money woes) and the words can be quite poetic, including:
“The mangoesteen fruit is very black/Its taste also is sweet/Black is truly sweet to behold/And sweet to the character.
The black dove/Even though black, is attractive./the palm sugar is black/Even if black, sweet is the smile.
Smoke Javanese tobacco/Its smoke has the fragrance of flowers/If I may ask/You who are black and sweet, what’s your name?”
This is a blast from the past (circa 1991) from Atavistic Records. This box set, “Out of Their Mouths and Into Your Head” is made of of 4 brightly hued 7″s (yellow, robin’s egg blue, sea green and cherry red) and features rock/pop stylings from 20 years back. There are heavy sounds from Plastic Jesus, Schwah, and Chrome Cranks; a bit of an Echo and the Bunnymen-ish quality to the song by The Wolverton Brothers, pop from Ass Ponys, and some female representation by the Murkins (nice, low vocals 90s style that reminds me of some East Bay bands of that era) and Sugarhead (slow, pleasant song with a girl group feel to it).
From 1972, this self-titled album by Brazilian producer/composer/guitar player Arthur Verocai is full of groovy, funky, soulful tropical energy. While listening I felt like I was tuning in to the soundtrack for a Charlie’s Angels caper from the 1970s, so it’s not too much of a surprise to hear that Verocai crafted soundtrack music for TV (eventually becoming a music ad exec). There are lots of effects, strings, keyboards, percussion, sax, trombone, and some singing. I was especially taken by the B-side opener “Seriado,” which featured female vocals fom Celia.
On this 2011 LP “Strange Cacti” (a reissue of a cassette release), Chicagoan Angel Olsen lulls us with her sweet, old-fashioned voice. There’s spare guitar and quavering vocals that at times remind of Mia Doi Todd and Paula Frazer. In fact, there’s a teensy tiny hint of country jangle in a few places. Out on Bathetic Records (perhaps you remember Thom Anks’ Mayhem special on the label this year?)
In my immediate family there’s a bit of an obsession with the poetry of Omar Khayyam. I’ve trolled numerous used book stores for differently illustrated copies of his masterpiece, “The Rubaiyat,” so it was exciting to see this release inspired by Khayyam’s work. These compositions (Ivresses: Le Sacre de Khayyam or Rapture: The Rite of Khayyam) by Ali Ghamsary are described in the liner notes as “the first musical cycle based on the quatrains of the great Persian poet,” although the 1970 Dorothy Ashby LP “The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby” seems to certainly be a contender.
This is a lovely album of middle-eastern sounds, with both male and female vocals bringing Khayyam to life. Strings (both plucked and bowed), percussion, and vocals both mesmerize and wail, at times reaching a frenetic (party-like?) pace and at others leading to deep contemplation.
Music takes us to another plane, stirs up emotion, and can be transcendent. Jazz, in particular, always reminds me of a conversation amongst the players and as a listener I often feel like I’m eavesdropping on their interactions. In this 2011 release from a session recorded in May 2008, The Louie Belogenis Trio hashes it out as the late Belogenis’ tenor saxophone battles it out with Michael Bisio’s bass and Sunny Murray’s drums. It begins with fluttery dramatic bass on “When Darkness Fell,” and is accented by the tension of the drums and sax. Sax stars on “Blind Prophecy,” as drums fill out the piece, building to a crescendo as the bass peeks out of the shadows. “Divination” feels a bit saucy like a ’50s jazz dive and there’s even a cover of Coltrane’s “Alabama.”
On this summer 2011 release of recordings from 2010, Dublin (Ireland) guitarist Cian Nugent tells a lovely story in 2 lengthy pieces. The first begins as a beautiful wash of guitar. There’s some Eastern flair (raga? a brief belly dancing interlude?) as we hear twinkling and plucking leading to increased tension ending with drone. The second piece also begins with guitar, but adds other elements, including cymbal crashes, bells, horns, reeds, and organ. It gets much jauntier than the first piece and has a different type of majesty to it. Yet it also returns to the same mesmerizing style as the first track as it evolves.
On this languid record “We Creeling” from March 2011, Seattle project The Curious Mystery presents a seductive blend of psychedelia and desert twang (think spaghetti western soundtrack style). The percussive start to the record also has a bit of an eastern, raga-like flavor that’s very appealing. There are both female and male vocals from Shana Cleveland and Nicolas Gonzalez on this guitar-based project. Organ, piano, cello, and violin round things out on this lovely release.
As part of his limited edition 7″ series (KFJC’s Ophelia Necro previously reviewed his collaboration with Champagne), Detective Instinct (aka Englishman Oli Heffernan) collaborated with various artists. On this release from 2008, he worked with Mike Watt. Watt provides the spooky poetic vocals over Heffernan’s loops and field recordings that are both intense and twinkling. Watt’s low, suave voice recites the poetic lyrics on this short, but deep journey.
This March 2007 release, “Now It’s Time,” from Paula Frazer and Tarnation takes me back to the early 1990s in San Francisco, when Frazer was the toast of the town with her unique take on country-ish music (she started Tarnation in 1991). It always impressed me that with her genre-spanning musical history (from church choirs to jazz groups to the punk band Frightwig) she was able to turn goths and romantics on to a country-tinged project. This release from 2007 continues in that tradition. Frazer’s wavering vocals might remind you more of her former 4AD labelmates from back in the day (think Cocteau Twins and Throwing Muses) than of a traditional country singer. It’s a subtle, gorgeous sound, accented with pedal steel, violin, viola, cello. slide guitar, auto harp, banjo, hammer dulcimer, pump organ, etc. She’s working on new material, so this LP from a few years back is a lovely taste of more to come.
Released in March 2011, this debut full length from Norwegian band Megaphonic Thrift definitely calls to mind the hectic beauty of bands like Sonic Youth. The Bergen-based outfit (which began in 2007) utilizes heavy percussion at time, lots of fuzz, and male and female vocals. It ranges from pretty and toe-tapping to noisier with feedback and layered sounds.
Recorded live in Montreal in 2010, this new 2011 release “Coin Coin…” by Matana Roberts will take you on an intense journey back to the closing days of slavery, when the narrator had to “hustle to survive.” It starts out as clearly a jazz album (albeit, a challenging jazz album with hectic instrumentation), but quickly morphs into something all together different, as Matana’s voice (which at times mirrors her sax, as it wails) and storytelling shine through. Blending jazz, folk, blues, spoken word, and acapella singing; it’s a deep ride through a painful past full of challenges (“I watched my parents die of yellow fever”) and triumphs (“I bought back all my children…and we worked that land…I now own 12,000 acres of land…I hustle to survive”). Often there are buried voices in the distance, perhaps ghosts of the past battling to be heard as their utter incantations in a foreign tongue (French? Creole?).
This release from 1994 culls together compositions from 1959-1974 from Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. This is classical music for those who are not the faint of heart. Dramatic, intense, scary, stormy, and cinematic–I am not surprised to hear that Penderecki’s work has appeared in such films as The Shining and The Exorcist, as well as in several David Lynch movies. There’s a satisfying tension in each piece that certainly calls to mind horrors both real (“Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima”) and imagined. One of my favorites is “Canticum Canticorum Salomonis,” which utilizes prettier sounds and instruments that pleasantly ring through the piece (celesta, harp, harmonium). Yet at the same time that composition also has a looming darkness as if one is in a haunted mansion. It’s beautiful and creepy. Perfect for KFJC.
On this cassette release simply titled Demo, we get a chance to hear solo demo recordings recorded at home by Marnie Stern back in 2006. Released just a few months back in January 2011, this cassette showcases Marnie Stern’s talents before she was signed to Kill Rock Stars in 2007. Instrumentation can be quite hectic, calling to mind Melt-Banana’s frenetic guitar genius in places. Yet it can also be poetic with spoken word-style lyrics, along the lines of Miranda July or Bongwater. There are also more melodic parts to this, illuminating her lovely voice.
On this release from Summer 2010, Santa Cruz’s Ugly Husbands gives us some lovely lo-fi, hazy, and atmospheric sounds. “The Dairy Belle” was recorded on 4-track between 2008 and 2010, this cassette release (the band’s 2nd full length) benefits from its lovingly-crafted hand-made origins. Bits have a dusty, pleasant, country feeling (I even heard crickets, frogs), but other places feel more like the early, minimalist, DIY experiments by Smog (with more noise and harder edges, but equally satisfying). Keys wander through, as does wind, a bell tolling, and some subtle experimentation.
There are certain voices that seep into my soul like a laser and Mirah’s is one of them. It’s crystalline, crisp, and cozy and if I had the poetic skills of my preschooler, I might even say that I am “romanced by it.” Her 2009 release (a)spera includes fuller arrangements than some of her earlier albums, but it’s never overdone. The range of instruments include guitar, drums, piano, viola, violin, cello, bells, kora, dobro, trumpet, pump organ, and hammer dulcimer. There’s even some sax, vibraphone, and double bass on “Gone Are all the Days.” Mirah’s voice plays the starring role throughout, with the backing instrumentation providing the perfect accent or counterpoint that never detracts. Simply lovely.
What a crazy ride. This fall 2010 release from Foetus, “Hide,” is a concept album “informed by the culture of fear.” It feels like an insane rock opera, with its opening operatic vocals from a real opera singer (Abby Fischer), crazy industrial Tom Waits-ian carny croons on “You’re Trying to Break Me,” and weird left-turn into a spaghetti western on “The Ballad of Sisyphus T. Jones.” It’s a demented soundtrack-feeling opus, with high drama, prog rock influences, classical moments, creepy violin, videogame sounds, and a heavy dose of psychedelics (especially in the relatively calm closer “O Putrid Sun”).
Somber and pretty.
On North Sea’s 2010 release, “Bloodlines,” there’s a beautiful interplay between seemingly opposing moods, forces, and sounds. Brad Rose is the mastermind behind this project (as well as the Digitalis record label and magazine), and he crafts music that is not only dark and foreboding, but is also pleasant and contemplative. Bells chime, something revs, another thing crackles and a third hovers. If you are looking for genre descriptors, there may be a smidgen of industrial, a dab of dark ambient, and a smattering of noise; but the result is greater than those parts and is not nearly as scary as the influences might suggest. It’s a fascinating melding of electronic and acoustic elements.
Hailing from Glasgow, the Vaselines had a short, but influential run in the late 1980s, releasing only one full-length album before breaking up in 1989. After a reunion tour in 2008, they ended up recording this new album “Sex with an X,” which coincided with their recent tour in Fall 2010. I caught them live last fall and it was an amazing romp through their repertoire of old and new songs. This release captures the fun, energy, passion, and humor that I loved during their live performance. It’s timeless pop with girl/guy vocals and treatises on love, days gone by (“I Hate the 80′s”), and sex….
Released in 2005 on Columbia out of Japan, this is an incredible collection of Japanese psychedelia and garage rock from 1965 to 1971. It’s fun, garagy, funky and full of 1960s psychedelic energy. Think groovy go-go dancers, more so than the “punk” mentioned in the title. Plenty of keys, guitars, and lovely ladies doing vocals on several tracks. There’s even a little Beach Boys-ish harmonizing on a track by Five Candles. Artists include Jackie Yoshikawa and the Blue Comets, Amy Jackson, Jacks, and Flower Travellin’ Band (with apparently their first single).
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