Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Terje Rypdal “Odyssey” (1975)

Producer Manfred Eicher's ECM label has been a mixed bag over the years. Much of the output has been criticized for being homogenized, self-indulgent & dull as well as being praised for genius production, adventurous artists making groundbreaking recordings, with an inner fire underneath the slick recordings. Love it or hate it, there is a definite sound environment that Eicher has created, it's simply known as the "ECM sound". The use of space in music, as loud as silence, free improv without a million notes, composed chaos that whispers screams. When it works it is timeless & innovative, when it doesn't, it can sound like elevator music that was thrown aside because it sounded too much like, well, elevator music.

Odyssey is guitarist Terje Rypdal's fourth record for ECM & it works. A double album of low-fi fusion intertwined with progressive rock string interludes, distorted organs, hissy snare fills, groovy bass lines , ethereal horns, & of course, Rypdal's guitar playing, which sounds like a cross between Jimi Hendrix & an avant garde cello player. The melodies are dark, cold & funky as hell. Rypdal was definitely channeling Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" on this record but only softer, all the groove & dissonance, but less crowded, like someone whispering a hurricane in your ear. The record opens with "Darkness Falls". Rypdal's guitar screeching like an injured space bird along side organ stabs & chattering drums with the bass searching for a cohesive rhythm: a gentle panic within the group forms but slowly subsides as the sound fades & flows right into the second track, "Midnite". Warm, pulsating bass & drums lock into each other & they begin to groove with Rypdal's wah pedal over the top of moaning trombones & snaky organ lines in the background, holding it all together; quietly. Odyssey has it's heavier moments as well- "Rolling Stone" a twenty-five minute rock-funk gem that sounds as if Sly Stone & crew ran into the boys from Black Sabbath & said, "Let's jam". "Over Birkerot" would be perfectly comfortable on a mid- seventies King Crimson record. It does bog down a bit with a couple of almost contemporary classical string/synthesizer drone marathons that can get a little sleepy, but there's just enough smolder in there to keep the listener curious. The tracks heard on Odyssey still sound relevant. Manfred Eicher's production stamp make these tunes sound as if they could be on any modern down-tempo electronic record from today. –ECM Tim

Monday, August 30, 2010

Buffalo Springfield “Buffalo Springfield Again” (1967)

Just a little over 30 minutes long, and it goes in about as many directions. Neil Young's songs don't seem to belong on the same record as those of Stills or Furay; actually, they don't seem to belong in the same universe. Yet the record as a whole doesn't seem messy at all, but powerful, even focused, by its diversity. I used to love the Young songs -- even the psychedelic weirdness of "Broken Arrow" -- but these days I find myself attracted to the Stills songs, which are some of his best. "Bluebird" in particular manages to seem both sleek and cryptic at the same time, and the Stills-Young guitar team is a wonder (take that, Yardbirds!). Really, the only clunker is the Dewey Martin-sung "Good Time Boy", a fairly terrible Otis parody (but at least it adds soul to the band's armory). Everything else works, even "Mr Soul", on which Neil borrows a riff from the Rolling Stones. And not for the last time, either. –Brad

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pink Floyd “Relics” (1971)

This is a terrific collection of early Floyd stuff, some of it before Syd Barrett was catatonic, but most of it afterward yet well before Gilmour was growing so. Anyone interested probably has Piper at the Gates of Dawn (and thus roughly a quarter of this LP's contents), and anyone getting this for "Careful With that Axe, Eugene" should be made aware of a superior version on Ummagumma. But non-LP single "See Emily Play" alone is worth springing for this set, and nearly everything else is uniformly excellent. (Check out "The Nile Song" for evidence that the group could've gone in the direction of Heavy.) While anthologies don't usually work as albums, this one works better than most albums—even better than many Pink Floyd albums, which were generally very consciously made to work as albums. Just goes to show how consciousness can get in the way –Will

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Mahavishnu Orchestra “The Inner Mounting Flame” (1971)

Fusion has become a dirty word in most jazz circles these days, which have been thoroughly Marsalis-ised to the point of declaring that the only good jazz is acoustic jazz. And yes, there were a lot of crimes committed in the name of jazz-rock (I'd rather have my fingernails pulled out than have to listen to a Lenny White LP again) but a handful of classics did emerge from it. This is one. I'm tempted to say this is THE one, which wouldn't be correct, but you do tend to get carried away listening to McLaughlin and the boys in full flight. As opposed to their subsequent albums, the emphasis here is on virtuoso playing that still comes from the heart. And the all-acoustic "A Lotus on Irish Streams" is quite simply one of the most beautiful pieces of music to come out of the 1970s. In some ways Birds of Fire is a better, more ambitious and fully-conceived album than this one, but it just misses out on the questing spirit and beauty that makes The Inner Mounting Flame such a compelling listening experience. –Brad

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Muddy Waters “Electric Mud” (1968)

This may be the most polarizing album ever to come out of the Chess empire (unless that Rotary Connection Christmas album really drives you batty); it's telling that they chose to release this on the more daring Cadet Concept subsidiary. It's funny to think that this album was intended to update Muddy Waters' image to appeal to the younger people and, 42 years on, that's exactly what it did for me, who currently fits the original demographic they were after: I have no quarrel with traditional blues, I even enjoy it when the mood strikes me, but this is the only Muddy Waters album that I beat the proverbial door down to acquire. And this album is ferocious! There's no session information given but I would have to imagine that it's the usual Chess/Cadet session crew backing him up. The bass rumbles along louder than I've ever heard John Paul Jones' or John Entwistle's. The drums, in particular the bass drum, are louder than those in any psych group I can think of other than maybe the Move. The most surprising aspect may be that, despite the fact that Muddy reportedly hated this album with a passion, his electric guitar playing is phenonmenal. I suppose this is expected from a great bluseman, but he also knows how to use its new-found volume and distortion to great effect. He growls through each monster track, achieving what Jimi Hendrix was clearly after in his formative days. As it is a late 60s Cadet Concept album, the ace in the hole is the arrangement, this time from the great Charles Stepney, in the midst of arranging the hell out of those Rotary Connection and Ramsey Lewis albums (the latter along with Richard Evans). Stepney actually displays quite a bit of restraint here, with his patented complex string and brass parts lurking way in the background, the exception being when "She's Alright" brilliantly morphs it's coda into the string-laden bridge from "My Girl".

Most blues purists decry this, which I suppose is understandable, but you have to admit that this is as convincing a psychedelic-blues album as anything Cream or Led Zeppelin could hope to come up with. Still underrated by most critics, this is truly a left-field masterpiece. –Mike

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Stooges “Raw Power” (1973)

“The raw power of Iggy Pop predated punk.” An anonymous quote I heard from some time back that sums up the very essence of what Iggy and the Stooges were about. And with their 1973 release, Raw Power, their muscle is in full-flex-mode. Famously produced by, David Bowie, and the band in a state of disorder - the combining couple crafted an album that, not only became a trailblazer, but also set the tone for what would come next, punk. Because of this, Raw Power, was molded into the blueprint of how rock ‘n’ roll should always be: dark, dangerous, and full of filth. The out of ordinary sound for its time has still never been equaled, many imitators came and went, struggling with the crass intensity, but they were all failed attempts. Iggy made a point to declare conventionalism was out, and in its place -- sleazy drug-fueled globs of noise. The Stooges remain one of my all-time favorite bands. And it has a lot to do with Raw Power. Some hipsters might declare, Raw Power, the weakest out of the holy trinity, due to its heavy praise, but there’s no denying its incendiary explosive strength. And on more than one occasion, I have been known to declare it my favorite album, ever. –Jason

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Caetano Veloso “Caetano Veloso” (1971)

Ironically enough, Caetano Veloso's almost entirely English language album is one of the most misunderstood of his classic 60s/70s period amongst English-speaking audiences (first place goes to Araca Azul, but that one at least gives you fair warning of its polarizability by the Caetano-in-bikini cover). Recorded while in exile in London, the album marks a dramatic musical departure from his first 2 solo outings that he would continue to explore up through 1977 or thereabouts. I must confess I don't know too many details of Caetano's (or Gilberto Gil's) exile in London. It seems like a bit of a missed opportunity on the part of the British, though there was probably no reason why anyone there should've known who he was. Apparently some Traffic members were big fans, and even helped out on Gil's sessions but if I were George Harrison or Twink or Jimmy Page or Bill Wyman or Jack Bruce or Marc Bolan or Mike Heron and someone told me that the leading light of Brazil's new underground rock movement was in my midst, I would totally be over there asking if he wanted to go bowling or split an appetizer or something. Or if I was Jimmy Page, I would ask if I could steal his guitar line from "Irene".

One aspect of Veloso's exile period is quite clear: he did NOT like it. The cover is amazing. Caetano looks like he's 50, he's cold, and you just told him a mildly offensive joke. One would assume this album is as bleak as Pink Moon but the first couple of songs might surprise you. "A Little More Blue" opens with a laidback, meandering acoustic figure that sounds a bit mellow but certainly not conducive to soul-bearing. The lyrics are about events that have made him sad, even though at the present moment "I feel a little more blue than then". Along the way he peppers in references to his own exile and some truly vivid lyrics ("her dead mouth with red lipstick smiled"). An odd, dichotomous opener. "London, London" is for me the clear standout. And, oddly enough, it's the jauntiest track, replete with playful flute like Donovan's 67-era acoustic sides. It's one of the most exquisitely beautiful songs I've ever heard concerning alienation, loneliness, and, above all, homesickness. In this respect, it can be seen as the post-traumatic counterpart to the desperate "Lost in the Paradise" from his previous album. And while I hold that song to be one of the best songs ever written, period, "London, London" offers the beautifully resigned flipside of that coin. And all this from a song whose refrain is "My eyes go looking for flying saucers in the skies". Things start to get a bit darker with the more-produced "Maria Bethania", a plea to his sister. "If You Hold a Stone" is an expanded, highly repetitve reworking of "Marinheiro So" from the previous album. I'm not going to pretend to know what he's talking about here (even though it's in English and he repeats it like 30 times) but I could listen to it all day long. The last song "Asa Branca" is the only Portuguese-language track on the album and as such it's an emotionally powerful return to relatively familiar territory for Caetano. The song, written by Luiz Gonzaga and Humberto Teixeira, is about a native farmer (presumably) of Northeastern Brazil having to leave the land and his wife during one of the droughts that often occur in that part of the country because he is unable to make a living. At the end he promises to return. Amazingly, if you really try to live inside this album, you don't really need to know Portugese to understand what this song is saying. A haunting, ethereal way to end perhaps the most personal album in Veloso's storied career.

This album is notable for several reason. Firstly, it marks a dramatic change in musical direction for Veloso. I've never heard an album with a greater sense of space. There is a lot of silence on this album and it itself is utilized almost as an additional instrument, a "symphony of silence" (mental copyright) if you will. His first solo album was lush and sprightly and full of subtle sonic experimentation. His second album made the sonic experimentation much more explicit and combined this with a panoramic feeling that made that album at times feel tense and murky (not a bad thing in this case). This album does a dramatic about-face with its spare, acoustic lines, occasional bass-and-drum backing, and lyric-centric approach. This formula would reach full fruition on Transa and continue up until 1977's African-influenced Bicho. The second notable aspect of this album is how well Veloso's poetry translates into English. That's no mean feat. Gil's more awkward English makes his equivalent album difficult to decipher emotionally but Caetano's only slightly accented English is perfectly suited to his prose that, though economical, are undeniably evocative and effective at relating emotional depth. Certainly not a place to start for Caetano Veloso, but you should try to find yourself here if you are willing to acquire more than 3 of his albums. –Mike

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Jackson Browne “Late for the Sky” (1974)

One of those artifacts that sort of sum up the 1970s for me, along with the films Annie Hall, Nashville and Three Women. Like those movies, Late for the Sky deals with the aftermath of a romance in dreamy, almost surreal style. If you're looking for rock, look elsewhere; but if you lean to the Nick Drake/Tim Buckley end of the singer-songwriter spectrum and you've been put off by Browne's reputation for cloying navel-gazing, then put your prejudices aside and listen to this record. –Brad

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tears For Fears “The Hurting” (1983)

Even though I was well past the teenage angst phase when The Hurting was released it still managed to strike a mighty big chord. If you thought that electronic pop was nothing more than lightweight froth, then this album will come as something of a shock. This is as close as music gets to defining the nightmare that is adolescence. It is amazingly depressing yet musically uplifting. The melancholic atmosphere is palpable especially on gruesome downer tracks like "Watch Me Bleed" and "Start Of The Breakdown" which are perfect fodder for manic-depressives. For my money this is the only Tears For Fears album worth owning. Here they revel in an unrefined talent combined with a pristine sound which would later be soiled by over production on the likes of Songs From The Big Chair. All the songs on The Hurting have been penned by Roland Orzabal and I read somewhere that the album is a reflection of his troubled childhood. So, while I could relate to this from a teenage perspective, Orzabal was suffering through this at a much younger age – which gives the album an even more harrowing edge. As he says “memories fade but the scars still linger”.  –Ian

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The United States of America (1968)

I first discovered this LP in a Capitol Hill thrift store in the mid-90’s, when it was still fairly easy to find such LP’s in thrift stores. Thumbing through the Broadway musical soundtracks and Herb Alpert LP’s, I came across a battered copy of this curiosity. Its cover suggested a bunch of M.I.T. graduate students performing research on how to be in a rock band, and the musical credits listed on the back were even more perplexing. The bassist played a fretless; there was no guitarist but there was an electric violin player (and just what the hell was a “ring modulator” anyway?). I couldn’t tell how old the record was, but the hairstyles and packaging suggested about 1968 (I turned out to be right). The $3 sticker was enough incentive, so I bought it. Playing it when I got home, my reaction to its aural content was that of even more bafflement. It was a strange and shifting cacophony from start to finish: calliopes, pounding drums, tape loops, haunting ballads about clouds and deceased revolutionaries, Gregorian chants, chamber strings, Zappaesque satire, Salvation Army brass bands, and a barrage of otherworldly electronic bleeps and warbles. At first I wanted to throw it across the room, but within a few days it was all I was listening to and all I would listen to for the next month. We all know about these records, records that we happen upon by accident and which we initially don’t understand but which end up changing the very core of our being and defining our musical tastes. For these records, “love it or hate it” isn’t an apt descriptor. Like organ transplants, they are either violently rejected or they become a part of us. For me, The United States of America’s sole LP is one such record. –Richard

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fairport Convention “Unhalfbricking” (1969)

While Liege And Lief may very well be a more revolutionary and influential album than Unhalfbricking, I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking the latter even better than the former. As both their last album as "England's Answer To Jefferson Airplane" and their first to move decisively towards traditional folk (and to feature Dave Swarbrick), it straddles both camps effortlessly. Of course both Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny contribute two excellent songs each, of which my favourite has always been the jazzy "Autopsy" (what a wonderful drummer Martin Lamble was!). Of course, "Who Knows Where The Time Goes" isn't exactly a throwaway either. There's no less than three Bob Dylan tracks, all of them unreleased by Bob in 1969, including the very moving "Percy's Song", featuring ex-Fairporter Ian Matthews on harmony vocals. (While this song had been recorded while he was still in the band, it began a tradition of ex-members making cameo appearances on new Fairport records that has made them see less like a band and more like a family.) The stunner, though, has to be the wonderful performance of the traditional song "A Sailor's Life", reputedly recorded in one take. I'll take this one over all of Liege And Lief, thanks. Unlike some of Fairport's other records, this one hasn't aged a bit, and there's absolutely no filler tracks. –Brad

ZZ Top “Eliminator” (1983)

Whilst I admit to only having heard some of ZZ Top’s early albums, I fail to see how Eliminator could be considered a radical change in direction or why loyal fans should be so vociferous in their condemnation. Okay, the odd synthesiser has sneaked into the mix, the singles and videos were played to vomit-inducing levels on MTV and the band found themselves permeated into the mainstream, but is all that really worth getting your knee-length beard in a knot over? If compromises have been made, the result is a high-class exhibition of Texas boogie suffused with sex and booze and….T.V. Dinners. It was the album which put ZZ Top on my map and, if the band were in the business to make money, Eliminator was the licence for the band to print their own. The only downer I can think of was the videos were on such high rotation I eventually suffered from total burnout and had to hide the album away for fear of mental breakdown. Coming back to this today highlights how badly Eliminator has aged. There is no doubting which decade the album was released. Bill Ham has over-produced the album to such an extent that all blemishes and rough edges have been eradicated. The problem is, by doing so, he's leeched away some of the individuality and quirkiness that made ZZ Top the bearded wonders they were. It's the equivalent of a model's face being airbrushed after a magazine photo-shoot only for the process to have been taken to extremes and all her facial features being wiped clean. That said, this is still an enjoyable album. "Gimme All Your Lovin'", "Sharp Dressed Man", "Got Me Under Pressure", "I Got The Six", "Dirty Dog" and "Bad Girl" bounce along with all the verve of a sweaty roadhouse on a Saturday night but "Legs" has become a victim of its own success; over-exposure has completely removed any enjoyment. Eliminator is no classic but it retains a sense of nostalgic charm that can't be overlooked. –Ian

Monday, August 16, 2010

Townes Van Zandt “Townes Van Zandt” (1969)

More than any other of Van Zandt's albums this reflects how unhappy the man must have been with his debut “For The Sake Of The Song.” No less than four of the tracks on here first appeared on that earlier work and, without exception, all are better for the reworking. The lovely Spanish guitar refrains of "For The Sake Of The Song" and "(Quicksilver Daydreams Of) Maria" bring out the best in the plaintive, lovelorn lyrics. "I'll Be Here In The Morning" is reborn as a tale of a lonesome cowboy heading back home to his true love and "Waiting Around To Die" simply stands as one of Van Zandt's finest songs. In fact I can give this no more praise than it bears comparison with Dylan's early folk albums - because, have no doubts, this is a folk album not a country album. And a very sparse one at that. The fact there is so much emotion and feeling on display is down to the voice and the words rather than the music. For instance I have no idea what "Lungs" is really about but it is poetically intense in its imagery and compelling in its tale of loneliness and failure. Equally the depiction of nature as an extension of the human condition in the likes of "Columbine" is both moving and powerful.

After listening to a number of Van Zandt's albums, I've come to realise that sometimes the word underrated –although hackneyed and simplistic – is appropriate. To a certain degree, the word undiscovered is also extremely apt in this case because there are a great deal of revered singer-songwriters performing in the same field who don't come anywhere close to having the sheer emotive power and impact of Van Zandt. He deserves all the plaudits thrown in his direction and I will definitely continue to mine his back catalogue. –Ian

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Airto Moreira “Free” (1972)

By now, Airto must have released about 30 LPs and played on and spiced up countless albums, yet Free may still be his best. Simply because the conditions were perfect: there are Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett on piano, Ron Carter on bass, the master himself on drums and percussion, Hubert Laws and Joe Farrell on reeds, George Benson on guitar, Don Sebesky with exceptionally good arrangements directing a big band of super-professionals and Rudy van Gelder making sure the recording sound is crystal clear. There's a very good version of Return To Forever, there's this little gem, Lucky Southern on which Keith Jarrett plays a wonderful solo, and there's the highlight, Flora's Song and again, it's Keith Jarrett who along with Don Sebesky, gets the crown. Airto himself? Not just his percussion is top, but also his drumming. A joyful event, whenever the record is played. –Yofriend

Connect The Dots

The seemingly infinite number of vintage record jackets that convey their message with simple shapes like circles and dots never cease to amaze and amuse us. Project Thirty-Three is our personal collection and shrine to these expressive shapes along with their slightly less jovial but equally effective cousins; squares, rectangles and triangles, and the designers that make them come to life on album covers. Other categories include arrows, lines, abstract shapes and instruments, and typography-only. Dates and design credits are listed when available. Check back soon as we’ll be adding covers to the gallery regularly. Enjoy!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Teardrop Explodes “Kilimanjaro” (1980)

It's amazing to think that one of the great eccentrics of popular music, Julian Cope, originated from what, on an initial listen, appears to be a straightforward post punk, electronic pop band. Delve a little deeper beneath the swathes of synthesised sound however and those original impression begin to subtlety alter. The lyrics carry an esoteric intelligence which belies their frivolous accompaniment and the unusual inclusion of a brass section is a masterstroke. But, as someone far smarter than me once said, "Just because you don't understand it doesn't make it profound". What gives this album it's cutting edge is the combination of all these elements which come together to form a frenetic, catchy, cohesive whole. The Teardrop Explodes were cut from the same cloth as Echo And The Bunnymen but their use of synths gave them a far more radio-friendly edge. I love the dumb chorus for "When I Dream" and the pounding drumbeats on "Bouncing Babies" and the way the keyboards seem to jog along with Cope's voice on "Brave Boys Keep Their Promises". The brevity of the brass on both "Ha Ha I'm Drowning" and "Treason" is both unexpected and uplifting. In fact the whole of Kilimanjaro can be treated as just an uplifting pop album but there's far more going on than that. The problem is that whatever is going on is securely locked inside Cope's mind. Yes there are references to television series The Outer Limits in "Sleeping Gas" and that song also mentions Rafferty, a seventies series staring Patrick McGoohan which was a precursor to Hugh Lawrie's House, but I've no idea why those things are namechecked. Like a line in another song says: "Poppies are in the fields, don't ask me what that means". The thing is, you don't need to know and maybe it's even better not knowing because you never know what to expect with Cope. Kilimanjaro is often overlooked when discussing post-punk music – it deserves better. –Ian

Badfinger “Wish You Were Here” (1974)

Simply put Badfinger's best album, contains no hit singles and was surprisingly pulled from the shelves (which can't have helped Pete Ham's fragile mind) but everything here has a cohesion and quality control lacking on other albums. 'Just A Chance' is a fabulous rocker, amongst the best of the band's career, 'You're So Fine', 'Know One Knows', 'Love Time', 'King Of The Load' could all quite conceivably been hit singles, all show the band's poppier style to fine effect, 'Got To Get Out Of Here' and 'Dennis' show off a more acoustic, reflective almost countryish style whilst 'In The Meantime/Some Other Time' and 'Meanwhile Back At The Ranch/Should I Smoke' are pure power pop, lavishly arranged, musically and melodically as inventive as the band was ever to get, it lacks one of Ham's gorgeous ballads but otherwise this is as good as they ever got, shame then that it was to be the band's final album before Pete Ham's suicide, they could have gone on to even better things. –Derek

Captain Beefheart “Trout Mask Replica” (1969)

The Captain's best known album really divides opinion. Some see it as utter unlistenable garbage others see it as some sort of musical nirvana. In truth it probably falls somewhere between the two extremes. It is indeed hard to listen too and it takes time to fully absorb the music. It is like the blues has crashed into an Albert Ayler gig and the two don't make easy bedfellows. Still there is some incredibly complex and impressive playing contained within. The Rhythm section must have had nightmares when Beefheart turned up with the score, yes every note was written not improvised. Also if possible the lyrics seem even more out there than usual and reside firmly in the leftfield. The album does however contain two of my favourite Beefheart tracks in “Moonlight On Vermont” and “Dachau Blues.” –Jon

Free “Free” (1969)

From the moment I heard the opening chords of the funky Stones-like strut “Trouble On Double Time” I was hooked on “Free.” Free’s self-titled second LP is a bit more retrained than Tons of Sobs and more soulful than their breakthrough album, Fire and Water, making it my favorite, and one that holds up to repeated listening. Side one kicks off with the ominous classic “I’ll Be Creepin,” followed by the aforementioned “Trouble” and closes with the hypnotic “Mouthful Of Grass,” a memorable, mostly instrumental track with a choir supplying wordless vocals. Side two doesn’t disappoint as it begins with the heavy blues-rocker “Woman” and ends with the melancholy “Mourning Sad Morning.” For those most familiar with Free through their overplayed hit “All Right Now” or through lead singer Paul Rodgers’ stint in equally overplayed Bad Company check out this early LP and their equally fantastic debut, Tons of Sobs. –David

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lou Reed “Lou Reed” (1972)

Yes, a couple members of Yes do perform on this, the first solo album by the so-called godfather of punk, but thankfully you rarely sense it. And no, I suppose this isn't essential Lou Reed; but minor Lou is better than no Lou, and better than most other music, too. These are barebones arrangements, tentative and sketchy, but they point the way to his incredibly strange 70s career as well as taking a rather bleary look back at the last couple of VU records. That is to say, this sounds like the burned out leader of the Velvet Underground has to borrow some of his old band’s tunes in order to get a full album out; but it also sounds like a rock ’n’ roll original busy reinventing himself in new times. So “I Can’t Stand It” gets the 70s guitar-rock treatment, while the version of “Lisa Says” is the same arrangement that we hear on the VU Live 1969 set, injected with even more sleazy soul. There are some real missteps, particularly when Steve Howe makes his presence felt: the first incarnation of “Berlin” starts out well but gets a little goofy, with flourishes thoroughly out of step with Reed's aesthetic; and "Ride into the Sun" sports a guitar solo that's simply tasteless. "Walk and Talk It" is another Velvets' remake that doesn't come off particularly well, with a Stonesy riff that sounds tossed off and limp. And there's no question that the take on "Ocean" here is deeply flawed, with tympani and cymbal swells that don't adhere to the rest of the album's low-key vibe. But there are at least two lost classics buried here too: the infectious “Wild Child” and the wistful “Love Makes You Feel” seem to me just about essential Reed songs. And yes, it also sounds shitty, production-wise—especially the drums, which sound like ice cream buckets. But this lends the album a trashy Lower East Side feel that I find irresistible. All in all, this is a fine, fine little record that is unjustly overlooked even by his biggest fans. –Will

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Modern Lovers “The Modern Lovers” (1976)

This albums flawlessness is unparalleled. Jonathan Richman has crafted an ideal record that is filled with exceptional songs. "Pablo Picasso" has to be one of my favorites. I can never get enough of it and "Hospital" is right there alongside it. Just beautiful love stories told with such panache and Richman's voice is perfectly suited with each spoken word. Listening to "Hospital" is heartrending, but when reading the lyrics it's almost like a six year old wrote it. But, this album is anything but ordinary. It's a candid masterpiece that ranks at the top of all my lists. –Jason

Monday, August 09, 2010

Jethro Tull “Stand Up” (1969)

First off, let me confess that I don't particularly like Jethro Tull. I find their output longwinded, pompous, tedious and dull ... except for this record, which I inexplicably adore. There's a light, airy feel to even the hard rock numbers here, while the music effortlessly fuses elements of rock, folk, blues and classical. The rhythm section -- Glenn Cornick's melodic bass and Clive Bunker's steady-as-she-goes drumming -- anchors the songs, which are gentle, wistful and delicate ... not generally words I'd associate with Ian Anderson. Everything works -- the bouzouki-driven "Fat Man", the gorgeous ballad "Look Into The Sun", the intense rock of "A New Day Yesterday", the Bach arrangement "Bouree" ... Yes folks, there was a time when Tull "had it". Sadly, apart from a couple of singles recorded around the same time (notably "Living In The Past"), the band would move onto other (in my opinion, less rewarding) territory. Fact is, not even their next album, Benefit, sounds like Stand Up. By far their crowning achievement. –Tom

Sunday, August 08, 2010

David Axelrod “Song of Innocence” (1968)

Trying to put a tag on the music of legendary producer David Axelrod is almost impossible as his music, especially [when] early offerings such as this, straddles so many genres. You get funk, jazz, classical and rock all thrown into the melting pot to create a rather unique sound that has had a large influence on many people. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in hip hop and trip hop where this LP has been heavily sampled. If you are a fan of those two genres prepare to hear a lot of familiar breaks when you hear this record for the first time. The LP itself was heavily influenced by the poetry of William Blake hence there is a dark brooding feel throughout and Axelrod uses layers of strings playing minor keys to obtain this mood. The drums and percussion drive the music on and there are some fantastic guitar breaks. –Jon

Saturday, August 07, 2010

They Might Be Giants “They Might Be Giants” (1986)

Quite the mixed bag, but the goodness is really good ("Don't Lets Start", "Youth Culture Killed My Dog", "Boat of Car") and the badness is gone before you know it ("Rabid Child", "(She Was) A Hotel Detective", "Chess Piece Face"), washed away in the swift flow of quirky tunes and strange ideas that make up TMBG's debut album. And you'll likely disagree with my choices for good and bad, as well, since everything here is so eclectic. It's hard for me to take any of this too seriously, because the band clearly doesn't, but as usual, they always sprinkle in enough food for thought and maybe-profound lyrics that it doesn't desolve into complete camp. In this early stage of their career, they kind of sound like a mix between the Residents and Weird Al. Only better than that description sounds. Soon, they would refine their aesthetic and make more fully realized statements. –Lucas

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” (1967)

Released only a few months after Sgt. Pepper’s, Magical Mystery Tour had mighty big shoes to fill. Despite its expected chartbuster sales figures, many felt let down by what seemed a musical afterthought. Being guilty by association with the only truly lame Beatles film, sporting an unbecomingly goofy cover, and appearing to be yet another Capitol Records “hatchet job” release, it seemed doomed to a lifetime of disrespect from the start. But over time this lovable underdog has solidified itself both as a fine collection of songs and an essential document of a band just moments away from the most dramatic artistic shift of its career. MMT represents the triumphant last hurrah of the “Psychedelic Beatles”. While the iconic “I am the Walrus” is certainly its most famous example, Harrison’s lost-in-the-fog dirge, “Blue Jay Way”, delivers its most profoundly surreal moment. In fact, it’s the seldom-heard-elsewhere obscurities that propel MMT to greatness: “Your Mother Should Know”, a nugget of Macca’s sterling pop songcraft; the dreamy “Flying”, the only instrumental to ever make it on to a proper Beatles LP; and “Baby You’re a Rich Man”, their catchiest-ever non-hit. Sure, there are the hits too, but these somehow coexist with their less radio-saturated counterparts. While “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” were released as a double A-side over a year before, their absence here would be unthinkable, and “All You Need is Love”, originally not planned for inclusion at all, ends up providing one of the greatest album closers in history. UK fans remain critical, perhaps justifiably; they got a much shorter EP version. Years later, when reconnoitering the British albums for release on CD, Apple decided that this superior version of MMT would join the ranks of the Beatles’ “Core Catalog” thus conceding that - just this once - Capitol got it right. –Richard

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Cannonball Adderley “At the Lighthouse” (1961)

Cannonball Adderley is a tremendously joyful performer. It’s the trait that makes him such a great foil for melancholy Miles on their collaborations. It’s also the trait that makes At the Lighthouse such a beautiful album. A lot of jazz music is aimed at expanding boundaries, or breaking them down entirely. A great deal of the most highly regarded work is exploratory in nature, and that exploration can be breath-taking. There is something to be said, however, for simplicity. The musicians on At the Lighthouse never force a note. Each solo is in complete service of the song, rather than taking the first opportunity to bust free of the song’s framework. The rhythm section of Sam Jones and, particularly, drummer Louis Hayes are economical and straight-forward. Adderley and his brother Nat deliver lovingly crafted solos and have a precise but easy-going chemistry when playing together. The real stand-out, in my mind, is pianist Victor Feldman. He always waits patiently for his solo (always third) and accentuates the rhythm section. Then, he takes the reigns and delivers these long, eloquent solos while still helping to propel the song along. Really lovely stuff. If your thing is Ascension and The Shape of Jazz to Come, and you’re only interested in the outer edge of jazz, then this album may not be for you. If you just love great music, however, then this magical, casual recording of a night at a club in 1960 will make you smile, guaranteed. –Lucas

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Rolling Stones “Sticky Fingers” (1971)

The Stones in peak form, having with this album reached the point where everything always seems just on the verge of falling apart (listen to that lazy backbeat on "Sway," easily one of their greatest songs; the chorus of "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," with its vocal declamation/piano vamping/guitar sliding just off-kilter enough to be note-perfect). One of the few rock albums to utilize horns and strings with proper contextuality (only to be outdone with their next release...): rather than filling in space or adding some "mood" or "colour," these additions flesh out the emotional range of the songs themselves (as does the Santana-lite jam at the end of "CYHMK'ing", with its suspenseful repetition and restraint). Despite being nearly killed by FM radio, "Brown Sugar" remains a perfect opener, with that fantastic electric/acoustic guitar interplay and the castanets, which burst in through the saloon doors and swagger on up to the bar, but only hint at the brash, swaggering shitkicking that the listener gets from this album. "Moonlight Mile" is a perfect closer, sleepy, resigned, yet ecstatic. The sleaze factor also helps (packaging and all), what with the sex and drugs and generally foggy malaise over the whole thing, letting the highs really rise in contrast. They couldn't consciously make an album this good - it ain't about consciousness, it's about guitar, bass, and drums. –Will

Centipede “Septober Energy” (1971)

This ominous double LP has been sitting there in my record collection since 1973. I don't know why I haven't played it for ages, I used to play it a lot. So, the first of October is an apt day to play and review Septober Energy. It is a project assembled by Keith Tippett and produced by Robert Fripp (both members of King Crimson at the time). These two gathered virtually the entire creative British music scene - a who-is-who of some 50 musicians, horns, brass, strings, singers, Alan Skidmore, Elton Dean, Ian Carr, Alan Skidmore, Paul Rutherford, John Marshall, Robert Wyatt, Ian MacDonald, Boz Burrell, Julie Driscoll (Tippett at the time of recording), just to name a few. The music sounds as if Tippett and Fripp were struggling to find a home for their jazzier, freer ideas which they couldn't incorporate into the King Crimson concept.
There are moments of grandezza, pathos, Jazz-Rock passages, Free Jazz - both loud and aggressive and soft and gentle, Bolero-like crescendos, concert music, sheet music, smashing arrangements and orchestrations, all of it played live in the studio and simultaneously recorded. Of course, due to the concept, there are also passages which don't succeed or which are too long - I'm thinking of the finale. Septober Energy has been put down as megalomania, usually from King Crimson fans. I don't agree. It's difficult music, certainly. You have to make an effort to follow the music. It might just not be your taste. But that doesn't make it a flop. Septober Energy is like nothing else from the early seventies, it's an important musical document from one of the most exiting musical phases in the twentieth century. I'm glad I re-discovered this album. It's out on CD and should not be overlooked. –Yofriend