Archive for the 'Excess' Category

20
Aug
17

Ramal LaMarr “Omens, Oracles & Mysticisms of Dance”

It’s not easy to find anything about Ramal LaMarr on the internet, and though, of course, I could dig deeper, I’m not sure if I want to, because I’m looking while listening to this record and starting to get the heebie-jeebies, because it sounds a lot like the music one would listen to while performing human sacrifices. I don’t know why I think that, really—I must have seen too many human sacrifice movies, though I can’t recall ever having seeing any. That level of creepiness is not my thing, really, though it’s kind of fun thinking about in relation to this record. The cover looks creepily homemade, with cut-out images of a belly dancer and a guy (Ramal?) who is wearing what looks like some kind of Satanic garb. The images seem to have been cut out with a very sharp knife (sharp enough to cut out a human heart?) and placed on a background that looks like a wall mural for a Middle-Eastern restaurant. There’s a feeling of finality to it, like the name of the album sounds like it could be his first, second, and final record all in one. Also, it’s very long, like nearly an hour in length, which… I guess if you’re in the middle of a human sacrifice you don’t want to have to stop and turn over the record.

Though maybe I’m overthinking things—the internet says he put out a couple of records after this one, and they all do have “dance” in the title; maybe this is essentially belly dance music. Which is what it sounds like, though on the sinister end of that spectrum. It’s from 1983, and the label is “Lotus”—out of Milwaukee. It’s instrumental, consisting mostly of synthesizer and percussion. Credits indicate that Ramal LaMarr plays everything except “Zills”—which are credited to “Chandrani”—who I’m guessing might be the belly dancer on the cover. Besides synth and bass, there are Arabian Drums, Kanoon, and Mbira listed. A few songs end with a really kind of creepy and ominous gong. As I listen to the whole record again while typing this, it’s actually starting to grow on me; it’s somewhat soothing on one hand, and kind of trance-inducing on another, and kind of anxiety producing on another. I know that’s three hands—thus the anxiety, I guess. But really, I could see this as really good music for writing, making love, or preparing an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner while the in-laws sit nervously in the next room sipping Brandy Alexanders, wondering just who their daughter got herself mixed up with this time.

17
Jun
16

Silver Jews “Bright Flight”

I know something about this band Silver Jews, that it’s mostly this guy David Berman, and there have been a lot of collaborators, including Stephen Malkmus (in the past, not here), and they put out a few records and then broke up, or stopped playing, or recording (though I suppose that a band or person can just record a record again at any time, if they are still alive, and want to, no matter how much they are retired, so what does that even mean). Six albums, I guess, between 1994 and 2008, and this one is somewhere in the middle, 2001. But I’m pretending I know nothing, like I just picked this up out of a pile of random records (which I did, essentially) not knowing anything (which I don’t, essentially). The first song, the initial impression, is that this is country and western music (steel guitar, country piano, Nashville references, George Strait cover, picture on back cover wearing a too small western shirt with embroidered scorpions), that’s what it is, but something that would be considered “alternative country” in that David Berman’s singing has that quality that some people would call bad singing, but I call great singing—the closer you listen the more complex the person behind the voice gets. It also helps that the lyrics are at worst impossibly catchy and at best life changing poetry.

If one set out to create an uglier album cover than this one, just forget it, you’ve lost. It’s a flat, flash photograph of a nasty old couch with a tattered spiral bound notebook sitting on it, and there’s what looks like some colored stickers on the notebook creating an abstract design, and also what looks like the number “4” on the notebook. It occurs to me that it’s the 4th Silver Jews album and the cover photo and number 4 could be a reference to Led Zeppelin IV (if you squint, you can see a similarity between the two covers) (also, “Bright Flight”/”Stairway to Heaven”—get it?)—and now it occurs to me that IV is not just “4” it also means intravenous, and most likely “Stairway to Heaven” is about heroin. (If you ever find yourself on Jeopardy and the category is “popular song meanings”—just keep hitting the buzzer and saying, “What is heroin,” and you’ll probably come out ahead.) In fact, seeing how every other song on this record has a reference to horses, I have to assume either Berman is an avid equestrian or else it’s a lot about heroin.

All of my nonsense here is an attempt to not try and fail to express just how good these lyrics are, and how catchy these songs are, and how lovely it all is. I think this is my new favorite record of all time, no exaggeration. I think I just joined the club of nerdy, pathetic music fans who have “Silver Jews” tattooed on an important part of their brain. Now I know how people felt about JD Salinger. (Oh, wait, I was one of those people, too.) And it’s even worse with the internet. Look, I consider myself a songwriter, or former songwriter. I feel like there is no worse feeling in the world than to know you’ve come up with some kind of wonderful song, seemingly out of nowhere, and then not be able to do it again. It’s a wonder that any songwriter survives past the age of thirty. I guess the only thing to do, sometimes, is reinvent yourself. But then you probably already know all this. But if you don’t believe me, find a couple of these songs, like “Slow Education” or “I Remember Me” or “Tennessee”—and if they aren’t the best songs you’ve ever heard, go get yourself a new set of friends.

16
Jun
16

Nicholas Frank “Greatest Skips”

Not denying the irresistibility of a title such as “Greatest Skips”—my overwhelming hope was that inside this album cover with six pictures of people getting their picture taken (the inside sleeve is six corresponding pictures of people taking the pictures of the people on the cover, presumably) I would find a dozen well-crafted, personal, heart-wrenching songs performed by Nicholas Frank, perhaps with the help of additional musicians. For a moment, then, when immediately the familiar sound of a skipping record assaulted my ears, I thought PERHAPS this record has a skip right at the beginning, either coincidentally or as a kind of initiation joke, after which you’d move the needle onto the dozen well-crafted songs. But no. It’s a an entire record consisting of a collection of record skips. After looking around for a Nicholas Frank substitute to throw through the wall, for awhile, I relaxed a little and soon found myself enjoying the sound for what it was, as well as thinking about a few things.

I’ve never really thought about it, but the length of a record skip should be exactly the time it takes for the needle to get around the record once, right? And the record is turning at 33 1/3 times per minute, or so we’re led to believe. But when the needle gets down to the inside of the record, where it has less distance to travel to get around the record, shouldn’t it take less time? So how does that work? Why don’t records get progressively higher-pitched as they go along? It’s bad enough I’ll never REALLY understand what’s going on in those grooves, now I’m even confused about the speed. Anyway, it then occurred to me that in that this is a collection of record skips, played in succession, Mr. Frank had to make a decision on just HOW MANY skips (normally, one hears the number of skips it takes for you to realize the record is skipping, pull yourself out of the beanbag chair, spill your beer, and get to the turntable) he was going to allow us to hear before moving on to the next one, as well as the order they are presented. One wonders if the skips are a collection he compiled over a period of time or if he was able to manufacture or re-create record skips at will. And if, upon repeated listenings, I would be able to discovers a narrative or a message, or even a deep, weird secret, or instructions to unearthing a treasure.

I have to admit, I have my own collection of record skips, on a cassette tape that I kept handy for many years, available to pop in the recorder any time a skip randomly happened. I never listen to it, of course, but wouldn’t sell it for a million dollars. I also have a cassette tape I made from Lee Ranaldo’s lock-groove experiment record, “From Here to Infinity.” It would have been better to just buy the record, but cheapie that I am, I illegally home-taped it, but was then met with a decision to make on each track: how long to record the lock-groove? Now I’m thinking, how many people put lock-grooves on the end of their records, throughout history? There must be a list on the internet somewhere. And one more thing, it just occurred to me. What if THIS record gets an ACTUAL skip in it sometime? What exactly would that be like? I mean, besides annoying, would it blow your mind, if even for a few minutes? How does one create a skip in a record… peanut butter or something? But no, I won’t do it, this is not my record. I’m cat-sitting. But I suppose I could pick up my own copy somewhere, and figure out how to make REAL skips. It could be a project for a rainy day.

19
May
13

Traffic “Mr. Fantasy”

I’ve been aware of the band Traffic without knowing a thing about them for my entire adult life, so when I let the needle hit the vinyl and the room filled with aural imagery, I thought, wow, there’s probably a few experiences for me left in this fully lived life if I bother to open my mind and somehow come up with the money to pay for it all. Nowhere on this record is a date, but my sources tell me it was released in 1967 and was indeed the band’s first album. This is one of those album covers that open up, and inside there are a lot of pictures – what looks like a misconceived photo session with a jester, and then portraits of the band members. Dave Mason’s is the most pretentious of the four, sitting in a stark room, back to the camera, playing some instrument (he’s credited with sitar, tambura, shakkai, and “meletron” – as well as guitar, vocals, and “bass guitar.” The photos of Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood are classic “hey girls!” dude-in-band pics. The fourth photo is uncredited, but process of elimination tells me it must be Steve Winwood; he’s in a meadow, an axe held high above his head, about to take a vicious swing at something just off camera – one might assume the art director, or jester, or perhaps Dave Mason.

The songwriting credit is spread around and the songs are all over the place, exercising show-off virtuosity while maintaining a whimsicality that pushes the message: “We don’t take ourselves all that seriously, we’re just having a good time! Though actually, you should take us seriously.” False starts, Cheech and Chong joint lighting sounds, wacky lyrics (“My bed is made of candy floss, the house is made of cheese”). Each song is a new adventure. “Dear Mr. Fantasy” steals that riff from the Jimi Hendrix version of “Hey Joe” – though, who knows where these things originated. Maybe Hendrix is Mr. Fantasy! We needn’t assume “Mr. Fantasy” means “drugs.” Though side two does start out with a song called “Dealer” –  a bit of a corny “south of the border” thing. The song “Coloured Rain” starts out sounding just like “Pinball Wizard” (which didn’t come out until a couple years later), but then it goes into a really nice, heavy saxophone, organ, and percussion dominated jam that’s my favorite thing on the album.

You’ve got to wonder about the name of the band, as I generally don’t think of “traffic” as something in any way good or unique. It would be kind of like naming your band “Headache.” Which I’m sure someone has done. I wonder if back in 1967 they thought of traffic differently, like how they would always have the photo of the huge highway “cloverleaf” in the grade school social studies books, like those were the coolest things ever, and not the ecological and aesthetic nightmares they are. Then again, there is drug “trafficking” – not to keep on about the drug references here. Oh, and the final thing – the album cover is a pretty remarkable photograph – and it’s one of those that opens up, so it’s like 24″ x 12″ – with a fire blazing in a brazier on the left side (or back) and the band members on the right, with candles in Chianti bottles. The band members are all looking at – seemingly in awe – in the middle of the photo – a guy sitting cross-legged with an acoustic guitar – and if I’m not mistaken, it’s “Papa” John Phillips! Now why would these guys, Traffic, put John Phillips on their album cover? Hey, this was The Sixties.

 

11
Apr
09

Black Sabbath “Vol. 4”

Why I never had this album, which came out in 1972, in my adolescent record collection, is beyond me, since I had “Master of Reality” from the year before and I loved that one—particularly the song “Sweet Leaf.” Even as a lad, I thought it was both funny and awesome, simultaneously, though I’m sure I didn’t use the word “awesome” at that time. I probably thought it was “bad”— which in 1971 meant awesome.

So I’ve never put this one on a turntable until now, and it’s pretty satisfying. The first song, “Wheels of Confusion” starts out with some guitar excess that sounds just like Pink Floyd, and you have to wonder if it was a joke. Pink FLOYD… Black SABBATH—get it? Then it goes right into that super heavy, super slow, simple guitar heavy metal that I love so much, and it’s like eight minutes long, too! The next song, “Tomorrow’s Dream”—if you were ever going to put a heavy metal song into a time capsule and send it out into space—to represent “Heavy Metal”—this would be the song. “Changes” kind of brings me down, even though it’s so obviously pretty and an allowable step in a different direction. “Supernaut” brings you back to where your heavy metal brain wants to be—insane!

Side two is much of the same, with Ozzy working the brain/insane rhyme which he had been, was, and would continue to make a career out of. Actually, I don’t know how many times he or anyone else used that rhyme, and I’m sure not going to pursue it! There are some pretty obvious drug references—a clue: if someone in rock music mentions “snow” it has nothing to do with weather. Everybody back then wrote about drugs a lot… you’d think they were IN LOVE with drugs! Try to find someone from 1972 who WASN’T writing songs about drugs—that is the real challenge.

The cover is a classic high contrast photo of Ozzy that’s as boring as it is iconic. The inside cover is nicer, with, apparently large color photo pages of the band—most of which are missing in this tattered copy—though there is a good picture of Tony Iommi, who was one of the more cool looking guys in rock from that time, in my opinion. The band wishes to thank, in the credits, “COKE-Cola”—apparently they were the first ones ever to make that Coca-cola/cocaine connection, and for that we owe them a great debt.

08
Feb
09

Jeff Beck “There and Back”

Trying to write about these five or so Jeff Beck albums is the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do– it’s kind of like the aural equivalent of scaling a virtually unlistenable replication of Mount Everlast or something, made especially difficult without an oxygen tank or being allowed to overuse the “W” word. This record from 1980– was ever there more deadening, time to stop reading and do the crossword puzzle, words as “this record from 1980?” (Unless it’s “this record from 1988.”)

I just checked my statcounter and my readership has fallen to ONE PERSON– who I suspect is Mr. Beck himself. Fortunately he is also checking my statcounter or we might end up in quite a “row.” Seeing how he virtually invented the sleeveless look, I suspect he still works out– something I ceased to do long, long ago, unless you count working out Lil’ Ray.

I’ve never been to the Rock’n’roll Hall of Fame, but I wonder if there is a Disney Animatronic version of a guitar store complete with the annoying customer running though every guitar cliché known to man, sponsored by Applebee’s America’s Favorite Neighborhood Grill. Free downloadable Hollywood bad girls nude wallpaper free flat tummy tips and debt counseling I found you a job! Is there a large electronic billboard like the stock market or something with the top selling records of all time, or at least the “Dark Side of the Moon” ongoing sales statistics, and the Rolling Stone greatest guitar wankers of all time, Jeff Beck currently ranked at 14 but looking to crack the top ten with continued collaborations with unlistenable contemporaries. But I like Jeff Beck, don’t get me wrong. I love the man. He doesn’t make me listen to these records, and he sure as hell isn’t the one paying me $9 an hour to review them!

One big, huge complaint. The album cover, which is simply the name in white, in stencil letters on a black background in fake leatherette (meaning it’s a fake version of a fake version of a fake version– how self-aware is that?) is one of like A MILLION record album covers (if you don’t have records and would rather hear me complain about CDs, stop reading NOW) that have an image and/or words on the cover and then some other image or words on the back cover set SIDEWAYS– that is on a 90 degree difference from the front. As record albums are SQUARE, it is hard or impossible to tell, when this happens, which side is up, and which side faces to the right, where the opening is where the record is inserted. Sometimes, even, the record goes in the top rather than the side. And sometimes, as in this case, the printing on the back is presented sideways, at least in relation to that of the cover. I’m sure the people designing the records find this playful. I find it incredibly annoying.

24
Nov
08

Be Bop Deluxe “Axe Victim”

I listened to this record with great anticipation, not having any recollection of what this band sounded like, even though I remember the name well, from my youth. To my surprise it sounds more like David Bowie than anything, though not quite, kind of like that parallel universe Bowie created for the movie “Velvet Goldmine” by a lot of musicians, but most notably Brian Eno and Bryan Ferry. And I suppose you could say this sounds a lot like Roxy Music, but I never listened to that much Roxy Music, it was Bowie for me. I never listened to ANY Be Bop Deluxe– how did that happen? I would have loved this record had I bought it when it came out in 1974 when I was a huge glam rock fan and really into the whole androgynous sci-fi thing, and still a little afraid of the Rolling Stones. I pretty much know for a fact that guitar excess didn’t bother me as much then as it does now– and there is plenty of excess here! This is pretty much Bill Nelson’s band– not the Bill Nelson who is the Florida Senator who flew on the Space Shuttle– though this Bill Nelson has just as effectively seen the heavens firsthand on his six-string rocketship. The title “Axe Victim” could very well refer to the ears of the listener who is not somehow immune to this sort of thing. I mean, if you removed about two fingers on one hand and three on another, this guy could be a great guitar player. This record could be convincing argument for religious leaders not to condemn masturbation, just so young boys will have something to do with their hands besides practice, practice, practice. I’ve just got to say, if you really want to play with the London Philharmonic, get a fucking violin!

But for all that, somehow, perhaps against my better judgment, I really like this record! Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, as it comes out of my favorite era of rock, the early seventies. And that should surprise no one– just look at my hair! Okay, I admit, I’m stuck a little in that time period, forever trying to relive the weird trippy sensation I had when I brought home that “Diamond Dogs” album from the Ontario store. Anyway, I’ve been listening to this thing over and over, and the more I listen to it the more I like it. The guitar still sounds tremendously overdone, like 300 notes where you could get by more effectively with one, but the singing is quite compelling, and most of the songs are great. Actually, the songs are all over the place, some much better than others, but together as a whole, and specifically as a record album with two sides, they really work together as a whole. The album cover is better not mentioned– I won’t describe it, and if you don’t remember it, believe me– don’t go searching it out. The back cover, however, is classic– a picture of the band– looking more goth than glam, almost– and there is every indication that if you were Bill Nelson’s lover, you’d always be in second place.

But really– I love this record– this is just the kind of thing that finding in some dingy basement could really make you have faith in the idea that there are still great things out there that you have somehow overlooked. I am going to go so far as to go out and buy myself a cassette tape device and record this in a lovely analogue fashion. I might ever go a little further and look up Bill Nelson on the internet. Well, actually I already did, a little bit. It kind of makes me happy, for once, that he’s still out there, maybe in space, making music.




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