Sunday, April 29, 2007

Gordon Lightfoot - Beautiful

Gordon Lightfoot - "Beautiful"

When it comes to Gordon Lightfoot, most casual listeners only know "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" or "Sundown," both huge hits in their day, still well-known today. The problem is, they never achieved any kind of longrunning catalog success for him like James Taylor or Jim Croce have enjoyed. Gord is still an icon, just not one that most classic rock-listening teens are aware of, and I shudder to think of what his presence on college jukeboxes across the county has become. "Wreck" and "Sundown" aside, he had lots of other hits too, enough to fill out two Gord's Gold collections and a pretty cool boxed set, too. Unfortunately, this is lost of almost everyone living south of Ontario.

"Beautiful," originally from his 1972 album Don Quixote, sounds far too mellow to be a single, but it actually charted at #58. It's a departure from his usual dusty folk sound, with a sparse, Nick Drake-feel in the gentle string arrangements that accompany his solo guitar playing. When I saw him almost two years ago, this was the song that opened the second half of his set. A full band accompanied him on most songs, but when he came out for "Beautiful," all he had was a stool and his guitar. I wish I had a recording of the performance so I could experience it again, and at the very least, I wish that I could describe how it made me feel without resorting to phrases like... it was shocking.

Apparently "Beautiful" was featured in Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny, which I haven't seen but already know much more about than I'd like to. It might even play during, well, that part, for all I know. What I do know is that someone needs to do a shoegazer version of this right now. Just imagine My Bloody Valentine covering this. It would sound like "Moon Song" but even better.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

video #04: Luke Vibert - I Love Acid

On second thought, this is probably as close to a real acid revival as we're going to get, and it's a lot more boring that I would have hoped. Granted, I really liked this when it came out, but probably more due to my Warp fanboyism than anything else. With every spin of the 2003 mix that I'd made at the time, it just sounded less and less interesting. Then again, most things would next to Dizzee Rascal, Superpitcher, tATu, or about a hundred other singles from that year.

Not much to say about the video that isn't already pretty obvious, as it tears away the final fragile layers of whatever ambiguity the song still possessed. It was included on the WarpVision DVD in 2004, where it looks and sounds a lot better than the Youtube clip above. Apparently, Delicious 9 produced a few other animated videos, most unseen by me so far.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Urban Hype - A Trip to Trumpton

Urban Hype - "A Trip to Trumpton"

The golden age of acid house and rave is an era that I've always pined for, but even though it was centered a few thousand miles away from me at the time, it didn't completely elude me. Crossover hits from Smart E's, Messiah, 2 Bad Mice, LA Style, Utah Saints, Alpha Team, and (gulp...) 2 Unlimited were common on pop radio in America (or at least in Chicago), so much so that they were easy to take for granted at the time, especially for a kid with no real knowledge or reference points to go by. Nevertheless, there were countless classics from this time that never came close to breaking through in America. Certainly nothing from Moby, The Orb, Orbital, or the Prodigy (at least until the late 90s, when they finally got their due, if only for the wrong reasons). Classics from Liquid, Quadrophoria, LFO, Sonz of a Loop Da Loop Era, and 808 State never really saw the light of day here, though I'm sure they all received minimal club play to one degree or another. But anyway, this is all old news, a story that's been retold thousands of times, and probably with actual authority, too.

I think that "A Trip to Trumpton" could have broken through in America, at least as much as "Sesame's Treat," "James Brown is Dead," and "Speed" did. It might have been maligned in its day as being a copycat track, or at least a track that paved the way for a lot of novelty songs, but I've always loved it for how much it tries to do in just three and a half minutes. The irreverent samples, the trademark of cheesy toytown, gives way to a swirling techno riff, pretty standard stuff at the time, but if there's anything more archetypical of that sound and the moment it took place in, I've yet to hear it. The track morphs yet again into what's either the most brilliant or the most shameless homage to the golden age of acid house ever made, complete with canned crowd noise and fantastic piano riffs/stabs. Maybe the real heads out there would call bullshit on this, but it blows my mind every time I hear it and makes me genuinely wish that I could have experienced it before it became a cultural artifact for people to pick apart and reminise over.

I eagerly await the eventual toytown revival, which I was sure was on its way following the death of "serious" IDM at the turn of the century. It never happened; it still could. But if the backlash that Klaxons received this year just for waving glowsticks was any indication, you could expect the authenticity police to swoop down on it like a swat team on an illegal rave. Actually, it's probably happening right now, but I probably won't find out about it until it's over.

Excuse my gross simplifications and glittering generalities here. I was pretty drunk when I wrote most of this.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

video #03: Bjork - I Miss You

By the time that "I Miss You" was released as a single, Post had already inspired three videos from Michel Gondry, as well as contributions from Spike Jonze and St├ęphane Sednaoui. It's probably safe to say that the entire Directors Label series would have never even gotten off the ground if not for these groundbreaking videos ("Possibly Maybe" aside). John Kricfalusi was called on to produce a video for "I Miss You," the sixth (!) single from Post and one of his first works after being strongarmed off "The Ren & Stimpy Show" by network executives. Judging from the DVD commentary I've heard, his removal was hardly a decision that he gracefully accepted. The plummeting quality and ratings of the show in subsequent seasons may have vindicated him, but at the cost of one of the funniest television shows ever made.

No Ren or Stimpy here, but George Liquor makes a quick appearance in the video. His nephew, Jimmy the Hapless Idiot Boy, gets significantly more screen time, where he dances with Bjork and puts acorns on his ass. When I first saw this video almost ten years ago, I assumed he was doing this for a reason that was beyond my young virgin mind, but even now I don't have the slightest idea what this is supposed to mean. Not that much else in the video makes sense. It all might just be John K making up for lost time, running through every idea that had been stonewalled by the censors at Nickelodeon and then some.

Three more weeks until the release of Volta. I was amazed by the proposed cover art that was announced on her website (I know it was on April 1, but it seemed pretty clear that it wasn't a joke), although it looks like another cover was chosen for the final release instead.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Amoco Renegades - Pan in A Minor

Amoco Renegades - "Pan in A Minor"

I upped a massive and lossless .wav file for this song because a compressed mp3 file just won't do. All that I need now is the proper surround sound stereo system that it deserves to be heard on. Computer speakers can't do this justice.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

video #02: Nobukazu Takemura - Sign

A few warnings in advance:

1. This isn't a snack-sized, 3-minute video. It's almost 10 minutes long!

2. Nothing but mild animated violence for the first 8 minutes, after which there's some fairly NSFW material that you wouldn't want your supervisor at work to catch you watching. It's nothing compared to "Metal Fingers In My Body" or anything, but comes as a surprise in this otherwise kid-friendly eco-fable. Okay, maybe it's not quite kid-friendly but the blood and gore is less graphic than anything on, say, South Park.

3. It's Nobukazu Takemura going pop, which isn't quite as annoying as some of his folk-styled children's songs on Songbook, but it lacks the warm glow of his best drone pieces, like "Kepler," "Icefall," or the rest of the Sign EP.

I guess he has a new album out, but I've read nothing about it and have no idea who Zu are. It's on Atavistic, not Thrill Jockey, so I can only imagine what it could sound like. Maybe he's been wanting to collaborate with others more, but I prefer it when he plays alone. Too many hands in the pot makes his ideas less interesting.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Ryuichi Sakamoto - Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence

Ryuichi Sakamoto - "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence"

Aside from his work with Yellow Magic Orchestra, his excellent 2005 album Chasm, and his recent collaboration with Christian Fennesz, cendre, I haven't heard very much of Ryuichi Sakamoto. I've long intended to remedy this problem but it remains sadly unaddressed. Seeing some of the films he's worked on would be a good start, probably starting with The Last Emperor, which is probably a no-brainer considering the reviews that I've read of it, and actual recommendations from people I know. The reviews I've read of Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence are decidedly more mixed; I don't know if it's even available on DVD or not, so it's not exactly at the top of my list to rent.

I heard a piece from the soundtrack on NPR late last year, the title track, if you will, of Ryuichi Sakamoto's score. As part of an hour-long program of stories on 21st century Japan (this gaijin finding the piece on hikikomori culture especially intriguing), different pieces of Japanese music were played as interludes, transitions from one report to the next. Near the end of the program, a gentle piano melody was introduced, a simple motif that began gently, like falling snow... or did the flurries outside my window bring on that metaphorical cue? It was a familiar melody, not that I'd ever heard it before, but the bittersweet solitude of it was something I know I'd felt, though perhaps never as eloquently. But this wasn't a sad song. Instead, it possessed an ineffable, nostalgic quality that always affects me but that I rarely experience with such a traditional approach.

Some songs have always taken me to different places, sometimes ones that I've never even seen. I can't say where, it's just too personal and far too embarassing. It's just something I'd prefer to keep to myself, and not taint with mental images of a film, no matter how good it might just be.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

video #01: Tom Tom Club - The Genius of Love

I'm probably going to post a video here once every week or so, with the hopes that if anyone has come this far and is actually reading, they wouldn't be opposed to watching something for three or four minutes while they're at it. That's probably an arrogant assumption on my part. I've watched as embedded Youtube clips have been massively overposted on message boards and blogs over the past year, and I suspect that by now it's probably impossible for any one person to actually view every single one that they come across in their daily websurfing.

Anyway, here's a video from the Tom Tom Club. Yeah, it's "Genius of Love," which you already know and love. It's a beautiful video, though, and worth watching again. The animation is by James Rizzi, whose music video resume apparently only includes this and one other Tom Tom Club video, "The Pleasure of Love." Several years ago I mistook the latter for the former and bought a used 12" of it on vinyl. Oops. It's sat in a crate during most of that time while I've continually intended to buy a decent needle for my turntable to play it on. I know that's a modest request but like most of my vinyl pursuits and longrunning but fruitless DJ aspirations, I don't think it's going to happen.

The Tom Tom Club outlasted The Talking Heads, though not quite by popular demand, with Tina and Chris also taking part in the much-maligned, Byrne-less reunion of sorts that was The Heads. I vaguely remember "Damage I've Done" being better than anyone gave it credit for at the time or since, but I think I'm alone in this. Apparently Tina and Chris have also played in Gorillaz at some point, but who can really say just what their role was in that.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Sonic Youth - Anagrama

Sonic Youth - "Anagrama"

Sonic Youth released SYR 1 in the summer of 1997 with next to no advanced notice. When I found it in the store, I had no idea what to make of it. Sonic Youth was my favorite band, and being into them for the better part of two years, I had almost all of their albums and was eagerly waiting for the follow-up to Washing Machine. Obviously, this couldn't be it. Or was it? I bought it on impulse, having no idea if it was even a Sonic Youth CD or not. The cardboard digipack sleeve listed all the song titles in another language. Were they in French? Was this an import? It wasn't a Geffen product, that was for sure.

I remember this moment and my feelings so clearly because there have been so few like them since then. I can safely say for sure that when the next installment in the SYR series is released, it will be announced several months in advance through various independent media outlets, and will probably leak at least a few weeks before hitting stores. Nothing short of a complete exile from the internet (and the magazine rack at Borders that I'd inevitably turn to in its stead) could ever allow me to experience the feeling of being caught off guard like that again.

Unfortunately, I don't remember anything about the first time that I slipped the CD into my 101-disc changer (still kicking after at least 12 years now), except that I was probably freaked out by the ear-splitting opening moments of "Mieux: De Corrosion" (and still am today). No, I still have no idea what that or any of the other titles translate to. I'm not sure that I really want to know, actually. It's just part of the impenetrable mystery of this record that still fascinates me. But even if the cover art hadn't suggested that things were changing for the band, beginning the record with a nine-minute instrumental (their first "true" instrumental piece since "Death to Our Friends" on Evol) was enough to seal the deal.

"Anagrama" is deceptively simple, so simple that it's almost a wonder that no other band had stumbled upon it before. There are chord changes, but no real hooks or melody, just recurring themes. But I guess that's just what improvisation is, right? Still, there's a kind of reflexive impulse at work in this song that separates it from the cinematic, crescendo-laden compositions of Mogwai, Bardo Pond, GY!BE and every other "epic" band that would follow in the coming years. The natural build-up and rhythm in the track is infectious and joyful, not stoic and bleak by design like so many bands aspire to. Inevitably, this helped further their reputation as a jam band of sorts; I'm just saddened to see that they didn't play it at Bonnaroo last year (or apparently anywhere at all since 1999).

I followed Sonic Youth through the rest of their self-released EPs, including the pure feedback of The Silver Sessions and the total madness that was SYR 4. None would really approach the radical highs of "Anagrama," though each would have its moments (for the record, "Slaapkamers Met Slagroom" from SYR 2 is full of more sample-worthy sounds and funky breaks and beats than anyone has given it credit for). I still love "Candle," "Sugar Kane," "Genetic," and "The Diamond Sea" as much as ever. More recently I've had "I Love You Golden Blue" kicking around in my head for almost three years now. I feel "Anagrama" just as much as those. Maybe even more. And maybe it is just an improvised toss-off that caught me at a vulnerable and impressionable moment. I don't know. I'm older and a bit more cynical than I was ten years ago, but there's a bit of naive hope in me that's rekindled every time I play this.


Rather than starting up yet another blog, I'm just going to pack this one with more updates. So I'll still be posting my favorite songs, but there will be other stuff during the week, too. Expect lots of videos. The common theme will reveal itself soon enough.