A good thing this blog gets me to do is finally look up the meaning of song titles that aren't in English. I'm such a nut for getting lost in in the sounds that I often forget to investigate the meaning the music held for the artist.
Here, we have a beautifully sweeping Klaus Schulze-produced synth-stunner that translates to "That Sweet Summer on the Pianet". The pianet is a model of electric piano made in Germany, which I don't believe was actually used in the making of this track (it's not listed), and so the song is an ode to a summer spent with a specific instrument that we aren't hearing. I love that. To have such a strong feeling for an instrument that you have to express your feelings through music made on other instruments.
Barcelonian brothers take the developments on Spanish music that had been added in the Caribbean and New York to run it back through their own Romani perspective. In this style, referred to as "rumba catalan", they made songs that feel like an alternate take on the amazing boogaloo sound that came out of NYC's Puerto Rican communities in the 1960's. I could have posted almost any song off their first album, but this is the one that first attracted me to them and it has such a wonderful open sky attitude, so how could I resist?
Why even name songs when you can woo me with the list of instrumentation? The version I downloaded also included "and Rain", which made me say "yes, please" to no one in particular when I saw it.
While Craig Kupka's more new age oriented albums, Clouds and Crystal, are on Spotify, the album this is from, Modern Dance Techinque Environments is, sadly, not. They're all good listens, but this one has the best spiral, so much so that if you told me it was from a hypnosis record, I'd believe you.
Both unrushed and well paced, the track is constantly building variations just when you would want it to. And did I mention that great combination of instruments? Cause it's truly something special.
A proper vintage psychedelic ballad with cymbal swells and strawberry mellotrons doesn't necessarily have to do much too get my attention. Here we have a song that went unreleased in its day, but was dug out in 1991 to glide out into a very different world than it had been born in.
The thing that amazes me about psych-pop is how it presents such a transportive experience in such a small capsule. Staying true to its pop side, there's no time to waste in getting you hooked in to a pleasant melody. Staying true to its psych side, the perspective feels warped and the sounds may as well be a dream. Glad someone finally found it.
Came across this one in a record store, and haven't managed to find out much about it yet, but melodic steel drums mixed with furious funk drums are always gonna be a winner in my book. Some instruments just speak to you, and the way steel drums always seem to ring out with their unique sense of vitality makes them hard to let pass. Pair them up with another delightful element like they are with that kit drummer here, and, really, why would you even try to resist.
A gentle epic built out of piano and delay. These sort of minimalist/new age pieces, perhaps unsurprisingly, do a lot for me these days. They seem so private, but shared; expansive, but small. Maybe it's just nice to hear percussed strings fractalize all around you.
Performed during an LA radio show where Harry Nilsson live demoed some of the tunes he was working on for his upcoming album/animated film The Point, this is definitely my favorite version of the song. For my taste, the official version got a little over-produced for the simplicity of the song itself, whereas, here, we get Harry solo at the piano, which is always going to be tough to beat.
One of Harry's great skills was his ability to harmonize, as his incredible adeptness at overdubbing on his albums makes crystal clear, but here, with no multi-tracking to play with, you can still feel his harmonic sense in the way that he truly sings with his piano rather than on top of it. It's a subtle thing, but the loveliest things often are.
As a bonus, there are some other great song performances here as well as prescient warning about simplistic demagogue TV politicians from the host, Skip Weshner, at 58:38.
There are a ton of great versions of this Johnny Mercer song from 1944, the Pied Pipers original, Roy Orbison, Santo & Johnny, Little Stevie Wonder ... it's a good song. This run through of it comes courtesy of one of my personal favorites, Pete Drake, the man who hooked up a talk box to his pedal steel guitar and made some magic.
The combination of the saccharin Nashville choral vocals & strings with Pete's otherworldly distorted tones, all on top of a slow country swing, adds up to what may as well be a transmission from another timeline, perfectly fitting the song.
It's funny, on my iTunes playlist of things I might want to post on here, this is followed up by Frank Ocean's recent "Moon River" cover, which also happens to be a song by Johnny Mercer (co-written with Henry Mancini), which kicks off with what I think is a vocoder vocal. The lifelong through lines of taste are always sneaking up on me.
I remember hearing that Selected Ambient Works Volume II was a lesser album for Aphex Twin, but I was just beginning my dive into the world of electronic music and I picked it up anyway at Volume, the local used CD store in Virginia Beach. Inside that CD, I found none of the frenetic digital programming that had made me take wide-eyed notice of Richard D. James in the first place, and I imagine that's what turned a lot of people off. I loved it though.
SAWII, as it's shorthandedly known, took more influence from Brian Eno's work with tape delay, such as Discreet Music, which I wouldn't come across for another decade or so. As an album, it sways between lush, loving pieces and those that dwell in a feeling of unsettling spook. I tended to go through the forgotten routine of programming my CD player to skip the one's that brought unease.
Looking back, it makes sense that it's probably my second favorite of his albums (all praise to ...I Care Because You Do), as it was my first glimpse of the world of the genre's of ambient & new age that I've grown a strong appreciation for over the years. It's also an album of songs that take their inspiration from photographs, which is a commonality shared with the previously discussed Arthur Russell's "Instrumentals" and definitely makes me curious to find other albums that employ the process.
I say all that to get to the point that this track was not on the double CD album of SAWII that I bought and played over and over, it was, unbeknownst to me, only on the LP release, so I only found out about it last year when it was included on the digital re-release. Hearing it for the first time, I was floored. It fit in so well to the collection and stands out as one of the best pieces from the project. It's such a lovely meditation that I think I'll stop waxing nostalgic and just give it another listen.
I'm not sure when this was actually recorded. The cover of the Vintage Palmwine compilation says that all the songs were recorded at Bokoor Studios in Ghana, which opened in 1982, and Kwaa Mensah died in 1991 at age 71, so presumably somewhere in there? But also the song appears to have received covers from other artists in the late 70's, so it's unclear to me when it's actually from.
Regardless, I love getting caught up in Kwaa Mensah's deeply felt eddy of percussive blues. I believe the title is a slang term for "corruption", which illustrates the stark emotional wages paid by the citizenry when they are let down by those who hold power. Disappointment in one's society get be just as crushing as any heartbreak, and Mensah makes that abundantly clear.
A little piece of soulful space-rock composed to sit nicely next to Pink Floyd on the soundtrack to a surf movie called "Crystal Voyager", but it could sit just as nicely next to some Galt MacDermot. The electric piano has been doing a lot for me lately, and this is just the kind of track that makes me want to dig up every last discarded artifact of underground and outsider culture and see what's inside.
Combing through the collection, looking for something interesting to post, I found this record of Anatolian Funk (ie Turkish Funk) but didn't remember what had led me to it initially (though it could have just been the amazing cover).
As soon as I threw this track on though, I thought, "Oh, this is the sample source for the bass line ing Jurassic 5's 'A Day At The Races' and I must've tracked it down during my sample-hounding days."
But the weird thing is, that while it REALLY sounds like it is the source ... it's not. "A Day At The Races" samples David Axelrod's "Urizen". So I guess it was just that wild ass album cover after all. Anyway, this album is full of excellent funk instrumentals and however I ended up with it, I'm happy to have it.
So ... I've gotten kind of into obscure Moog cover albums recently. The Moog synthesizer lended this goofy, chunky charm to the world of futuristic sounds, and there's something about that view of the world to come that I find endearing. Over the course of my life, I've oscillated between being hopeful for the future and worried for it, and we're certainly at one of those times where I'm more worried for it, so these Moog records are a little bit of a break from that.
Well, that's the self-analysis on it. The facts about the track are that you've got a cover of a T. Rex classic that's here to have fun, put together by a pair of guys for the always out for a quick buck Music For Pleasure label. I'm not mad at Music For Pleasure at all; more fascinated by what other fun oddities might be sitting in their discography. Oh, but that's a rabbit hole for another day.
This is one of the albums I found by coming up with the sound I wanted to hear and worked backwards to find an album that did it. I wanted to hear psychedelic effects laden punk and figured that there must have been a prog-rock band from the 70's that tried their hand at punk and made just what I was looking for.
Well, in 1977, Daevid Allen of mystical prog-rock icons Gong, formed an offshoot of the group with members of Here and Now and created this one-off live recording that runs on a punk energy but processes it all through a prog-ish predilection for tangents and phasers. It's the sort of thing that was fairly antithetical to the world of punk, so you wouldn't get it from groups out of that scene (though nothing would make me happier than to be proven wrong via a new group to check out), but lucky for us, a few old proggers tried to get hip. I love it when older musicians try to get hip cause every now and then they make something that goes beyond and fuse otherwise disparate worlds.
Black Box was a 90's Italian house act best remembered for their work with Martha Wash on the iconic piano-house singles "I Don't Know Anybody Else" and "Everybody, Everybody", but here they stretch out into more of an ambient wash that comes suspiciously close to presaging the synth whistle of the X-Files theme song in my book (add in the connection that "Dreamland" is a nickname for Area 51, and I'm ready to go to court with fifty bags full of letters to Santa).
Anyway, while it has the feel of an interlude, I always end up playing it a few times in a row when it comes on as it so well taps into that 80's-90's synthetically cosmic soundscape that I grew up swimming in.
*The woman in this shot was not in the group, but, controversially and, to me, very shittily, the men in the group hired her to lip-sync Martha Wash's vocals in music videos and pose for photos on the group's release artwork. I believe everyone ended up well compensated, but it still rubs me the wrong way, though less so than the 60's track I was originally going to post today that I realized at the last minute was essentially a story of repeated harassment followed by a kiss of unclear consent. Yuck.
*Originally posted an edit I'd made, but re-listening to the original track made me wonder why I'd made the edit in the first place, so I'm switching out for the original.
It's really an experience to watch this wave of keyboards rise higher and higher, threatening to crash down, and at the last moment turning out to be a passing daydream. This year in George Duke's discography, essentially his albums Feel & Faces in Reflection, should be a prime study for fans of Thundercat & Flying Loutus, as I'm not sure I've heard anyone who influenced their sound aesthetic more.
Horace Silver & Salome Bey, and it would clearly behoove me to investigate that era of vocal jazz more closely, as the focus on spiritual self-care is an influence that I always appreciate.
I've been a bit obsessed with electric pianos recently, and this track's piercing Roksichord has become my baseline mind music of recent weeks -- which is to say that when I don't have something else on the brain, this song starts playing. I'm not a Sun Ra expert, so I can't say how this compares and contrasts with the rest of his extensive discography, but there's an unrushed meander to the melancholy of this piece that keeps me coming back. A lot of the magic of music is the right melody meeting the right instrumentation, and this is an excellent example.
I had no idea things got this funky in the early days of jazz, but this one has me making faces and breaking my neck like I was Jay-Z hearing the "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" beat for the first time. There's even a hint of boogie woogie-esque left hand in the mix, which I find difficult to resist. For millions of years people were making music of all kinds, and then one day we figured out how to record, and this just happens to be where we were at. A sudden new beginning marked atop a mountain of musical evolution.
Neu! inspires me to be a more passionately honest version of myself. Their music injects fiery, unflinching momentum into the world, as a sort of psychedelic cleanse, that taps something both rawly animalistic and cosmically expansive. These are songs for achieving, for purging, and for letting go of anything holding you back from being you. What Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother built here out of drums and guitars will always stand among that handful of tracks that get me thinking "this might be the best song I've ever heard."
Um, yes, I will listen to this vintage electro-afrobeat record with a 7 year-old boy for a lead singer. Oh, it was made in France but the lyrics are in English? No, that won't be a problem for me. What's that? It's over twelve minutes of jamming you say? Look, I need you to step out from between me and that record immediately.
I could do with a lifetime of this. An incredible marriage of expansive psychedelic minimalism and the most soulful spiritual jazz, from masters of each. Together they explore the far out and the innermost as the same thing. It's hard to imagine that they performed this and didn't just hole up in a studio for a decade or two, but then again, maybe they said it all here.
Rap music is so beautiful. I rarely hear it described that way, but it struck me the other day while listening to this song. While much of it was born from unjust necessity, the image of young black men looking to the albums of their parents & grandparents to build a sonic background for their own paradigm shifting innovations in language is among the most impressive achievements in American culture. It takes extraordinary vision to see the whole of recorded music as a palette with which to paint new works. There's reverence and irreverence, pride and rejection all at once, and it doesn't get nearly enough praise for how lovely it really is.
Take a drift down that pedal steel stream. Few sounds can soothe my soul like these sliding string blues. Part of the pedal steel's secret is that the instrument begs the player to take the journey through all the tones between a song's notes, letting the listener tap deeply into the ebbs and flows of the music. And what a river this one is.
Hiroshi Yoshimura made music to think by. He didn't seek to overwhelm or open a door to escape. Instead, he found a way to give the listener a microscope, a mirror, a telescope, and the space to observe what was already there. It's raining right now, and I think he would like that.
Picked this one up over at Mono Records in Glendale the other day after cueing up this track at the listening station and damn near cracking my neck to the beat. Dick Hyman was a jazz pianist who got caught up in the space age pop craze, eventually venturing into the world of experimental electronics. Here, he has the electro-funk grooves cranked all the way up and gets his Moog to replicate an incredibly believable whistle. The fact that it kicks off with the lead sample for Beck's "Sissyneck" is just the avocado on the toast.
Just a funky little German noodle-guitar breakbeat with a splash of fireworks and metal overdrive. It feels more like a successful experiment than a full blown song, but that doesn't mean there aren't rewards to be reaped. It reminds me of the excited, endearingly unsure music my friends were making on four-track recorders back in high school, which, in all honesty, is one of my favorite genres. Not enough can be said about the warm charms of demos and doodles.
I'm such a sucker for the Trolley Song. It makes me feel the dumbest of blisses, and this might be my favorite version. The stripped back nonchalance that Gilberto brings to it only adds to it's private charm as it bounces about, untouched by the world around it while still able to soundtrack whatever may happen. A great Sunday song for watching the city spin.
Noted New York jazz & session guitarist, Eric Gale, falls in love with a seaside village in Jamaica and records a one off album there of prime roots reggae with Peter Tosh and Aston "Family Man" Barrett of the Wailers, Paul Douglas of Toots & The Maytals, among other luminaries of the scene. The results on this track are particularly interesting to me, as it feels like it takes whatever my emotional state is and shows me the other side. In the grooves here, there's both peace & tension, bliss & sadness, focus & relaxation, and it always seems to reflect back the one I'm lacking at the time. A special little cut.
One of my absolute favorite things in music is popular musicians of an older style trying out the new sound. While very often it's just a captivating jumble of fumbles, every now and then you come across a hidden stunner. The 50's King Of Mambo giving 70's funk a spin is one of those stunners. Adding a hot little Catfish Collins-type guitar lick and some manic drumming to his music makes it sound like James Brown himself is gonna jump in at any moment, but Perez's adeptness at punctuating with guttural exclamations fits the role perfectly. A brief moment in his discography, but for me a real high point.
Coming out of the wonderfully reverberating El Cometa De Madrid record series, which were united by Luis Delgado's loving production, this track radiates that sort of coastal contentedness that I'm always looking for. The guitar seems to run up and down the beach as we sit back and let our thoughts take us wherever they might want.
And come on, look at that picture. That's a b-shot from the album's cover and I don't know if anything could make me pick up an album faster than someone sitting at a bank of old ass computers holding an electric guitar.
I have to get to the Iberian Peninsula. I keep coming across shimmering guitar music from there that sets me off tumbling on a breeze. I don't know what it's like there, but based on this lovely piece, I have a feeling one breathe of their morning air will make it all make sense.
I floats with this one. Arthur Russell and his little chamber band bring an airy wistfulness that never settles, propelled by its improvised mutations. The musicians, which include Rhys Chatham, Peter Gordon, Ernie Brooks (Modern Lovers), Andy Paley, and others who I'm sure too look deeper into in the near future, seem to do more than simply play the music, instead finding something of their selves inside it and playing that instead.
A lot of singers reach dizzying heights, and I love hearing them do it, but what separates serpentwithfeet is that before he reaches those apexes we're used to, he shows you the struggle to get there. I've yet to catch a song of his that does anything less than give me a complete emotional journey through pain and peace, and with this as the first release from his upcoming debut album, soil, I don't know that I ever will.
I love music I can get lost in. The other night, I turned off all the lights in my little apartment, sent this into my little earphones at a nice high volume, and closed my little eyes for the full hour it lasted, all so I could see this music at the massive scale it was meant for. A swirling whirlpool of Terry Riley-esque organ that took me deep inside myself, all the way down to where we stop being just ourselves and become part of everything.
Led by French singer-songwriter, Isabelle Antena, this short-lived electro-samba trio delivers one that truly feels designed to make the air molecules around you party. The rhythm and percussion bubble, the guitar and vocal glide, and we all get that little urge to bop and wiggle. Definitely the kind of track that makes me think that there must be at least an albums worth of Stereolab tunes that I'll completely swoon over.
From Horace Silver's brief psychedelic/spiritual phase in the early 70's, this track kicks off with a perfectly at peace melody bed of electric piano and quickly layers on empowered vocals from Salome Bey. The song's focus on finding balance and control of oneself sets it apart from the crowd and provides a great perspective on the importance of recognizing your problems instead of running from them. I could do with a million more records like this.
Woke up with this one in my mind. Celestine Ukwu's version of highlife could be as gentle as morning light, so it makes sense why it caught me early today. According to Google Translate, the title means "The King Died", but there's another track, "Ife uwa adi agwuagwu", on the same album that strikes me as a perfect description of Ukwu's delicate and sensitive sound. It translates to "Love of a Terrifying World".
I weirdly found the original Doobie Brothers version of this late in life, and don't get me wrong, I love it, but I also love this one for all the charm and skill Aretha brings to it. One of those tracks that always manages to get me out of my chair and dancing by myself, though I would also dance in front of people if it came on because dancing is fun and we should all do it more often.
Was originally too busy to write much the day I posted this song because I was putting on a show with my old sketch comedy group, Olde English, at San Francisco Sketchfest. But I got to come out to this track during the intro to the show and dance around on stage and I had a blast doing it.
Field recordings are always a different kind of listen. It's music as document and document as music. Where songs often live in an abstracted space of sound and emotion, field recordings exist in a specific place at a specific time. There's a gravity in them that won't let you float off into harmony and rhythm.
Alan Lomax's recordings of work songs from the Mississippi State Penitentiary stand out among the genre as some of the most painful and captivating. Made at the prison's Parchman Farm, which operated essentially as a continuation of slave labor, the music here isn't simply a means to artistic satisfaction or the entertainment of an audience, but rather a temporary salvation from constant suffering.
This is music where the percussion of axes hitting against wood isn't just a rhythmic element for its own sake, but rather the whole reason the men are there singing at all. They build their songs around it to survive the pain it brings them. It makes me feel guilty to have access to someone else's misery, but it would also makes me feel naive to ignore it.
I didn't have Solange on my radar until her incredible 2016 album, A Seat At The Table, knocked me straight on my ass with its ambitious vision and perfect execution, which means that I missed her 2012 EP, True on initial release. Thankfully, her FYF Fest this past year included this fantastic track that had me digging into her back catalog as soon as I got home.
Touching on the same synth R&B ballad sweet spot that Alicia Keys did with 2009's "Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart", "Losing You" strikes an impressive balance between pain and progress. The ranks of my favorite songs are filled with those that don't let limit themselves to expressing a singular emotion and instead explore the mess of feelings that a specific moment can bring, which is something I'm only now starting to realize since I started this blog :)
It's not surprising that James Murphy & Pat Mahoney of LCD Soundsystem used the two halves of this track to bookend their Fabriclive mix as there's rarely a moment where Murphy's vocals wouldn't slot in perfectly. The song is filled with big city dreams; that feeling when you climb out from the subway underground, only to see the skyscrapers rising high above you. There was never enough disco rock, so for me, things like this are always an exciting find.
Lorenzo Senni's work puts me right on the edge of sanity, capturing that feeling of staying up so late into a new day that my mind starts to skip. Razor sharp sound design married with jittering melodies and an obsessively looping rhythm keeps me riiiight on the safe side of a panic attack where I'm able to see the beauty in it without succumbing to its power. Tension is so often the hallmark of a darker sort of music, but here is one of the best artists to ever work in that feeling, and he's using the brightest neon lights to achieve it.
I'm sorry, but finding an Americana-twanged cover of a Krautrock classic from the seventies is one of those things that make me wonder if I'm living in a dream of my own creation. That it absolutely burns is just the bonus on the bonus. Guitar wiz William Tyler takes the autobahn energy of Michael Rother's original and brilliantly sets it on the open highways of the American West. What had been born out of a collaboration between Neu's guitarist & Can's drummer gains a second life in Tyler's hands, and we're all the beneficiaries.
Human beings make for amazing instruments. Here, Benjamin Bligen (3rd from left in the picture) leads his fellow Moving Hall Star Singers through a burning gospel chant. The small group from Johns Island, South Carolina (just south of Charleston) use their voices to raise a mountain out of pained devotion, with their handclaps providing an organic percussion that gains beauty from its natural imperfections.
It's the easiest thing in the world for people to get stuck in themselves, and perhaps that's what makes full-bodied worship so entrancing; we know how much we have to let go of to reach that freedom and magic of transcendence.