Wednesday, August 30, 2006

My (Doomed) Morning Jacket Compilation CD

It can't be done. The dark forces that lie within will thwart your plans to make the perfect compilation CD of My Morning Jacket. What are these dark forces? Sony rootkits? iTunes? Fucked up store-bought CDs?

No. I think it's more than that. I think it's the supernatural MMJ Muse who says, "No, my son. Don't do it. You can't fit all their good songs onto one 80 minute CD. They have too many good songs, too many long songs. Don't even try. If you do try, then I will make sure tracks 11-13 will not rip correctly on your computer, nor play on your mortal car stereo."

That's the way it happened to me. I was inspired by their killer performance on Austin City Limits, and I took a shot at putting together a future greatest hits for MMJ. I put an emphasis on the newer rockers and the shorter acoustic-flavored numbers. I just wanted something that would sound good in the car, something I could share with friends who hadn't been introduced to the brilliance of MMJ.

Here's the song list, re-ripped and ready to roll:

1) Anytime
2) Off The Record
3) Gideon
4) Golden
5) One Big Holiday
6) Mahgeetah
7) X-Mas Curtain
8) Wordless Chorus
9) It Beats 4 U
10) Bermuda Highway
11) How Do You Know
12) Lowdown
13) Come Closer
14) They Ran

I know. The Tennessee Fire has been criminally under-represented, etc, etc. I'll have to get started on Volume II now. Wish me luck.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Miserablism, Canadian Elements, Acid-Damaged Chinoiserie, Time-Warp Face-Melting, and Italian Cantata Abuse

I’m breaking with the anachronic approach normally followed here. As Sam Beckett said, "No one really knows what an ostrich sees in the sand," or something like that. Anyway, here’s some new, recent and forthcoming stuff. All very good, go buy it.

Fading Trails is the new one by Jason Molina and Magnolia Electric Co. Parts of it were recorded by Steve Albini, if you care about stuff like that. But Molina is a master of miserablism, and even more saturated with despair is Molina’s new solo vinyl-only release Let Me Go, Let Me Go, Let Me Go, from which come "It’s Easier Now" and "Alone With the Owl." It’s a beautiful downer. Like Antony and the Johnsons, this stuff can just make you weep and weep, or at least think about weeping. Molina’s songs are short and to the point, skeletal at times. Here he’s whittled his language down to a bare essence, with moonlight, ocean, owls, wolves and horizons populating the songs, giving them the elemental feel of myth. There’s a bit of the melody of "It’s Easier Now" that reminds me of the Carpenters’ "Superstar."

Richard Buckner is another bleak master. His voice has the craggy wind-blown, water-eroded feel of a barren cliff. The singing reminds me of Richard Thompson a little, there are those same micro-fluctuations of pitch on any given syllable, sort of a George Jones effect, via Jay Farrar. I’ve grown to appreciate the way the drums push the songs almost past the tempo where Buckner’s vocals seem to want to keep it. These are from his latest, Meadow. If I’m not mistaken, I remember reading that the guy spent some time in Alberta, which somehow seems to explain everything. The winds sure do blow lonely out there.

The Archie Bronson Outfit explodes generic expectations pretty successfully. The pow-wow beats, the ecstatic non-verbal vocal refrains, the gritty blues slidework, the generally freaked-out feel and the sort of acid-damaged chinoiserie all make me think of Captain Beefheart. But these guys are from London, they’ve been soaking in their art-school post-punk, too.

And while we’re at it, let’s throw one in from the forthcoming Akron/Family disc. Many bands grasp and grope toward the transcendent, but few actually grab hold of the beyond. Here Akron/Family – the bearded ones, the bird-watchers, the sea-chanty backing outfit -- conjure thrift store vision quests, liberal arts satori, they shed what few inhibitions may have remained, they get their Heidegger on. "Blessing Force" travels through worlds of Dark Star-like cosmic riffage, communal group-singing catharsis, Eno-ish egg-head pure realms, free-jazz face-blasting, hocketting pygmy festivities and into dark tunneling vortexes where matter, space and time warp.

And just to clean out the plumbing, we’ll conclude with a little bit of Ennio Morricone, from the two-CD set Crime and Dissonance that came out earlier this year on Ipecac.

"It's Easier Now" - Jason Molina

"Alone With the Owl" - Jason Molina

"Mile" - Richard Buckner

"Window" - Richard Buckner

"Kink" - The Archie Bronson Outfit

"Cuckoo" - The Archie Bronson Outfit

"Blessing Force" - Akron/Family

"Ricreazone Divertita" from Cuore di Mamma - Ennio Morricone

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sweet Cheese

It’s by no means scientific, but I’ve conducted a little inquiry, using the limited inventory of my brain, and I’ve concluded that Lou Reed’s "Wild Child" contains the best opening line of any song, ever:

"I was talking to Chuck in his Genghis Khan suit and his wizard’s hat."

I’m open to reconsidering this verdict, if any of you have any other contenders.
"Wild Child" comes from Lou’s largely disappointing solo debut after the demise of the Velvets. I think Lou holed up in Long Island to work on this one. For evidence of the general wrongheadedness of the record one need only learn that Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe play on it; members of Yes joining members of the Velvet Underground doesn’t make for rock supergroups, it makes for some forbidden depressing chemistry. The record has a number of at-the-time unreleased tunes – "The Ocean," "Lisa Says" and "I Can’t Stand It" – that the VU had already recorded much better versions of. Still, "Wild Child" is a master stroke of early 70s downtown New York late-night sociological reportage, with lines about theater auditions, organic soap, pills, racing cars, suicide and sweet cheese.

"Wild Child" – Lou Reed

Sunday, August 13, 2006

On My Cloud

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake, beneath the trees
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: -
A poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company:
I gazed -and gazed -but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought.

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.

– William Wordsworth

Here are some songs that, as it happens, have a sort of atmospheric, barometric cloud theme running through them. And a few other unrelated tangents are thrown in. Obviously, one could have included "Both Sides Now" and "Off My Cloud" and others, but that's not how we roll.

As Lefty mentioned a while back in his post about Audience, some bands have names that now elude easy detection in the Google Age. Type in “Audience” and, unless you know more about the band – a song, a band member, a record title or label – you’re not likely to have any luck tracking them down in the electro ether. Same with The United States of America, a late-60s avant-psychedelic group of grad students from LA. The band mixed an early ethnomusicological bent with a little John Cage-style uncertainty, electronic experimentation, and some “white collar conservative pointing his plastic finger at me”- variety hippie attitude. The record, recorded in 1967-68 for Columbia, was one of the label’s bigger flops. It was reissued on by Sundazed in 2004 with a bunch of bonus previously unreleased tracks. “Cloud Song” is just beautiful. It’s like futuristic lieder as composed for Woody Allen’s Sleeper. The other USA songs don’t have a cloud theme, but they’re worth a listen, too.

The Clientele are jazzy jangly sleepy English indie rockers. I saw them play in Northampton not too long ago. There may have been a dozen people there. Live, it’s clear that the guitarist has some serious sneaky jazz chops, with all kinds of crazy oddball augmented, nine, seven, diminished and whatever else chord voicings. “House on Fire” is one of the lovelier songs from The Violet Hour, an almost completely beautiful record. It’s hard to think of who to compare them to. Like My Morning Jacket, the Clientele go in for the majestic cathedrals of reverb, but there’s no sour mash. Instead it’s afternoon tea, crisps, some tobacco and perhaps a splash of scotch. At times the Clientele bring to mind early weird stuff by the Kinks. Like “See My Friends” “Strange Effect” and “Fancy.”

“Big Sky,” off of The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society, isn’t really about clouds. And it’s not even really about skies. It’s more about an aloof all-knowing god. I always loved the scatter-shot Beefheart-eque drum rolls on this one, the insistent high, one-note drone on the chorus, and the backing vocals.

And one more. “Charm (Over ‘Burundi Cloud’)” from Jon Hassell and Brian Eno’s Possible Musics Fourth World Vol. I.

My laptop doesn't seem to be able to upload pictures to Blogger anymore. That's why I couldn't post cloud paintings by John Constable or a great picture of Chief Red Cloud. Anyone have any suggestions?

“Cloud Song” - The United States of America

“Where Is Yesterday” - The United States of America

“The American Metaphysical Circus” - The United States of America

“House on Fire” The Clientele

“Big Sky” - The Kinks

“Fancy” - The Kinks

“Charm (Over ‘Burundi Cloud’)” – Jon Hassell and Brian Eno

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Beach Music

From Bruce Handy's New York Times review of Catch A Wave, The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, by Peter Ames Carlin:

But is there really anything “new,” as they say, to say about Wilson and the Beach Boys? Not really, at least on the evidence here — don’t go looking for revisionist theories about Al Jardine being the group’s real genius — though Carlin seems to have spoken to everyone close to Wilson who’s still alive, and some who aren’t. He has also dug up some illuminating new documents and recordings, transcripts of family squabbles, druggy parties and such, that flesh out the story more fully than earlier tellings did.

Well .... not so fast Mr. Handy. I'm not gonna go out on any limbs about Al Jardin, or Mike Love, but on listening to my double CD of Sunflower and Surf's Up I was surprised to realize that a few of my favorite tunes were by Carl or Dennis Wilson or maybe even Bruce Johnston. I had always approached these post-Smiley Smile records by more or less just listening to the tracks by Brian Wilson, but I'm learning now that that was a short-sighted approach. I know, serious Beach Boys fanatics have probably been through all this. But it took me a long time. The band had better luck with their next record, Surf's Up, which featured a few tracks from the abandoned Smile album. Bruce Johnston's "Disney Girls" and Carl's "Feel Flows" are from that one. [You can see Johnston perform "Disney Girls" solo on piano on the second volume of the Old Grey Whistle Test DVDs (far-inferior to the first). I don't understand why the BBC doesn't just released the entire series of this show instead of making questionable anthologizing decisions.]

We learn from Keith Badman's exhaustive and comprehensive The Beach Boys, The Definiteive Dairy of America's Greatest Band on Stage and in the Studio, that Sunflower was the first Beach Boys record on which everyone shared production duties. After having initially been rejected by their record label in February 1970, it was reworked and eventually released in August, but Sunflower went on to be the worst-selling Beach Boys record to date. We also learn that during this time Mike Love, who had been following the instructions of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, had grown thin, weak and delusional from an extreme fasting regime (you'll notice that the awful "Student Demonstration Time" from Surf's Up is not inclulded as an example of the BB's unsung genius). As a result, Love had skipped out on a few performances, and Brian Wilson rejoined the band, briefly, for the first steady stage appearances with them since 1964 and the famous breakdown.

Surf's Up did far better than Sunflower, in terms both of sales and critical response, but it's a record about which the Beach Boys had some considerable regrets. In the 1990s, Brian Wilson said it was a "piece of shit."

I learned from Mojo that the surviving members of the Beach Boys put their famous differences and often litigious tendencies aside to gather this summer in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the release of Pet Sounds.When asked if the band had buried its hatchets, long-suffering but still plainly evil and gross Mike Love, a man who obviously hasn't benefited enough from all the meditation and fasting, pointed to his back and said "The hatchets are all buried here."

"Forever" - Beach Boys

"Disney Girls" - Beach Boys

"Feel Flows" - Beach Boys