Saturday, November 19, 2005
Anytime a rock band with high-art ambitions (and/or fruitfully delusion-inducing drug problems) gets the chance to pen a horn chart or a string arrangement, the chances increase of lucky clutter, outsider art dissonant weirdness and unintentional brilliance. Writing for violas and clarinets can be tricky business. All those confounding clefs and key signatures. Here are what you might call two late-60s failed attempts at adding horns and/or strings to things. Except that there’s no success like failure.
The 13th Floor Elevators are often credited with pioneering psychedelic music. Janis Joplin wanted to join up. When asked by Dick Clark who was the head of the group, frontman Roky Erickson allegedly said “We’re all heads.” Some fans of the jug-tooting proto-psychos from Texas seem to look with scorn on Bull of the Woods as being one of the band’s weaker efforts. Maybe because of the absence of the DIY-oscillating burble of the jug-tooter. I'm especially fond of it because of the burlap background on the cover. On "Dr. Doom" the wrong things go very right. If play-four-Beethoven-sonatas-at-once composer Henry Brandt was a beard-monger this is what he’d have come up with.
And then there's the Left Banke, one of many bands billed as "America’s answer to the Beatles." Before the advent of the term chamber pop, this was called "baroque and roll." Taxonomy is a dangerous business. You may be familiar with LB’s "Just Walk Away Renee" or the spooky "Pretty Ballerina." I don’t think you’ll stumble on any of their other tunes on oldies radio. Evidently there was some deep Mick-Keith-Marianne -like inter-band romance angst, with one of songwriters penning love songs to one of the other guy’s girlfriends. Not cool.
On "Ivy,Ivy" what's even more troubling than the horn arrangement is the strangled, fighting-for-air, accidentally shamanic, high vocal harmony.
I wanted to try and get the head out of the history books breifly and point toward the now.
Here's a link to a tune by Mazarin; it's great, very Eno-ish, with just enough fake Britishisms.
Also, wanted to recommend Colleen. Click on "sounds" and you can listen to both of her records. She's French, ambient but not cold.