Archive for the 'Frightening' Category

11
Jan
19

Black Sabbath “Master of Reality”

A record that made a huge impression on me as a kid—I don’t remember when I bought it, but pretty close to when it came out in 1971. The first chords of “Sweet Leaf” still send me right into the time machine. And this was three full years (an eternity to a teenager) before I first smoked marijuana! Those had to be some yearning years—or maybe Carly Simon said it best (interestingly, from the same year)—“Anticipation”—which is about waiting for that damn ketchup to come out of the bottle—so a similar sentiment. We all know what “Sweet Leaf” is about—it’s the best song ever written about my favorite plant, thing that grows, food, smell, and God’s creation: basil. I love basil so much, if I could, I’d marry it—but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon because straight people are just so small minded. Anyway, this song! Whoever wrote these lyrics is of a like mind, though, obviously. At the end of the second verse lies what I consider one of the greatest lyric lines in all of rock music: “I love you sweet leaf—though you can’t hear.” Indeed.

“Children of the Grave” may be the first song I ever heard where the guitar does that thing that I can’t really put into words—but it’s kind of like chugging along, you know—chug-chugging along—dum-di-di-dum-di-di-dum-di-di… I’m not crazy about it. But then there is also this really weird kind of percussive sound that I have no idea what it is—I mean, it’s most likely drums, but it doesn’t sound like any kind of normal drums… it’s this kind of flapping noise, like the rear quarter panel of your car is loose. Or maybe it’s like some old gothic church shutter is hanging by a nail and flapping somewhat rhythmically to Satan’s whim. It also makes me think of the sound those androids made—I mean when you saw them alone—maybe it’s what they were hearing, actually—in the original Westworld movie (1973). It’s got to be drums, though, right? And I did listen to the conversation with Sabbath drummer Bill Ward on Joe Wong’s The Trap Set podcast—but I can’t remember if he shed any light on that song, so I’m going to have to listen to it again.

It really is one of the best stoner records of all time, regardless of what you’re smoking. You don’t even need to be high to appreciate it—it will make you high. I wonder, like back when this came out, how much really inferior weed got a free pass just because this record was doing all the heavy lifting. I’m pretty sure there’s one of those 33 1/3 books about it, and I might consider reading it—those books are all over the place, so you’ve just got to try each one. And I forgot to mention the cover—it’s one of the best album covers ever. I don’t have to describe it, do I? The wavy, block letters, slightly raised, on a black background. BLACK SABBATH in this really kind of low-key purple, and then MASTER OF REALITY in black—so it’s black on black! I think I’m as impressed with it now as I was when I was 11. Though maybe I’m still 11.

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03
Nov
18

Herbie Hancock “Headhunters”

I’ve never been a huge Herbie Hancock fan, though I’ve always liked him more or less, but kind of a lukewarm love (Herbie Hancock fans don’t want to hear this)—like, I’ve owned a few of his records over the years, but I’m not usually burning to put them on. But this one has such a weird cover that it kind of screamed out to me (not necessarily a good scream, but a loud and got my attention scream). Anyway, I think HH has done some soundtracks over the years (can’t be entirely sure with no internet to reference) and I can really imagine a lot of this music as a soundtrack—but a really strong one, like, I’d watch that movie just to see a guy driving an early-Seventies LTD thru Harlem with this music playing. In fact, I’m guessing a 1973 LTD, gold with a green faux fabric top—a lot about this whole scenario says 1973 (I’ll see if there’s a date on the disk when it stops spinning…)

The cover is a kind of photo collage of HH at the keyboard with his band behind him in blue shadows, but it’s not HH really—or it is HH, I guess, but instead of his head there’s a huge orange circle, that from a distance looks like an orange with eyes and a mouth and some kind of insect pincers on the top of the head—but upon closer examination it’s evident that the eyes are knobs and the mouth is a VU meter. I can’t tell if the pincers coming out of the tip of the head are like antennas, or grabbers, or if it’s organic or mechanical—regardless, it’s all kind of creepy. I’m listening to the record a few times through as I’m writing, and I’m actually liking it more and more—maybe this is the HH record for me. It’s got some weird instrumentation and some pretty hardcore repetitious grooves (I mean as opposed to all the stopping and starting kind of stuff I don’t like as well). I’ve been working at a grocery store where the muzak system plays such a bizarre mix of about a dozen or 20 songs (seems like less, but is probably actually more) that it could have only been selected by a computer algorithm. But what if they just played this record? I wouldn’t be working, I’d be partying—couldn’t have that.

01
Nov
18

Silver Jews “The Natural Bridge”

This record feels very contemporary, maybe because I just heard it, but it’s 22 years old—I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the idea that 1996 is twenty-two years ago—by the time I get used to it, it will be 30 years ago. And by that time either I’ll be dead or need ten more years to get used the idea that it’s a third of a century ago. This could have been my favorite record any given year of my life, and had I heard it in 1996 maybe it would have inspired me to take musical direction in my life rather than a cinema direction; maybe it would have inspired me to take a poetry direction rather than just all work, work, work, making millions—what good does that do me now? I blame the invention of the CD with destroying my appreciation of music over the years. But it’s not too late to get back to the magic.

This record is as sad as the saddest George Jones and Tammy Wynette, and as catchy as the Beatles at their catchiest, and as clever and twisted as the Reediest Lou Reed. Once you get the songs ingrained in your mind, at low-level, late-night, secretive, intimate liaisons (there is some music you don’t want to play loud, it just seems too dangerous), you can put it on for cleaning, if you want to, or cooking, or before or after work, I suppose, but it might be best if you have a day for it once a month or so. Every song is good—some songs are better than others, but it plays best as an album. Eventually, if you’re strong enough, you might want to listen to the lyrics, but watch out, they are kind of devastating. David Berman is as good of a song lyric writer as anyone who has ever written song lyrics.

24
Oct
18

Link Wray “Be What You Want To”

In the half century that I’ve been alive and aware of appreciating awesome things, the fact that not one of my scores of friends and hundreds of acquaintances (not to mention all the rock critics and makers of the “best of all time” lists) had enthusiastically encouraged me to listen to this record points out a fundamental failure in my life. Or maybe I just don’t listen to people. I guess there is the likelihood that the failure is all on me. Whatever the problem was, it’s been resolved in regard to this Link Wray album from 1973. (Which I know I’ve said a hundred times is the most awesome year for culture in my life—though I haven’t figured out yet if it’s something about that year, exactly, or just my relationship to it—maybe because it’s the year I started drinking?) All of these songs have huge, overblown arrangements, some of which might have swallowed up the immediacy, but Link Wray’s singing has a way of not only cutting through all the instruments and production, but bringing it right back to the edge of a garage band. I might easily go on and on, but sometimes the less said the better—just heed my A+ and 5 Stars (of 5) and my rating of 11 on a scale of one to ten, and listen to the record, and if you don’t agree with me then go fuck yourself!

11
Sep
18

Fleetwood Mac “Tango in the Night”

Now, I know better than to ever put the needle on ANY album released in 1987 (unless I already know it’s one of the very few good ones), but I thought I’d take a chance and against all odds this would be the underrated Fleetwood Mac record of all time. And it is quite remarkable, but not in the way I’d hoped; it is maybe the worst thing I’ve ever heard. How can this even exist? It’s the same lineup on those two classic F.Mac records—there is a picture of them on the back cover looking like they stepped out of the movie, St. Elmo’s Fire (except for Mick Fleetwood, who seems to have grown another foot and is wearing a hat that looks like it’s about to fly off to its home planet)—interesting, because the stoner cover painting of a tropical paradise also features a UFO, no bigger than half a Valium, indeed so small that the same pic reproduced on the CD cover would reduce the UFO to microscopic size.

After suffering through an eternity of songs—each one a punishing barrage of what I guess is the 1980s production style (which reminds me why I stopped listening to ANY popular music in the 1980s)—the last song was actually halfway catchy and kind of pretty, and so against my better judgment I’m putting it on again and taking a look at the lyrics sheet; after all, these are what must be interesting and decent people who wrote some great classic songs, and maybe there is something revealed in the lyrics about what they are going through here—whether it be insanity, drug impairment, or some kind of cultish trip we need to know about. Oh, no—that was a mistake. I won’t get through a second listening. Any record that makes me get up from my chair and remove it from the turntable isn’t likely to see daylight in this lifetime. Right now I’m regretting this brutal sound memory of the most horrible decade, culturally, I’ve yet endured.

21
Jul
18

Silver Jews “American Water”

There is more minimal packaging, I suppose, but not much—the cover looks like a computer drawing (or could be a painting, but as a reproduction it looks like computer art) of a Western landscape with a pink highway extending to a butte strewn grey horizon. All letters are in a font called “not my favorite font”—the same font on other Silver Jews records, I think. Fonts were never a big deal until there were choices, and then came the problems. This record, on Drag City records in Chicago, is from 1998 (I only know that later, when the one thing I’m later using the internet for is the dates, because inexplicably, a lot of records contain no date whatsoever, which really kind of drives me crazy). There is absolutely no information on this record except the name of the band, the name of the album, the song titles, and their times. Oh, wait, I just discovered a one page insert (I swear that it wasn’t in there before—is someone fucking with me?) with lyrics, some drawings, copyright date, recording info, and five names of band members. There’s David Berman, of course, and this incarnation of the band included Stephen Malkmus, who co-wrote a couple of songs. I’m not sure where this record sits in the Silver Jews timeline, but it’s not the first and not the last.

This is a remarkably good record, and the only reason it’s not my favorite is because I’m pretty sure I like that Bright Flight one more, but that could change the more I listen to this. David Berman’s lyrics are so good it’s worth your time listening for awhile (you can generally understand them when he sings) then going back to read along while listening, because it’s probably going to increase the depth of your understanding. Try “Buckingham Rabbit”—holy shit. A couple of songs are co-written by Malkmus and you can tell, they sound like his kind of songs, and I think on those they sing together, like a duel lead vocal. I might be wrong, I wasn’t there. My favorite is “Blue Arrangements”—listen to the first two verses, the lyrics with the sleepy singing, the guitar, and if you don’t fall in love with that combination of words, images, sounds etc., you and I aren’t going to be taking a cross-county car trip anytime soon.

25
May
18

Richard Harris “The Yard Went On Forever”

First of all I’ve got about five Richard Harris albums, which is four or five more than normal people. It’s hard for me to explain his appeal to me—I guess it starts with him not being afraid to be way over the top, even ridiculous, and without irony, or if there is irony, a very convoluted version of it. Part of it is Jimmy Webb—it’s probably more accurate to call this a Harris/Webb collaboration than a Richard Harris album—but R.H. does almost equally as well with Tony Romeo (but that’s another record). This one is Jimmy Webb, sounding like he’s trying to recreate the MacArthur Park glory on the very first song here, “The Yard Went On Forever”—of course it does’t come close—but perhaps what it is is an allusion to it—indicating that this record is a continuation of MacArthur Park—for all those people (like me) who, as epic as M.P. was, wanted more. I believe this was R.H.’s second album, the first being from earlier the same year (1968, a half century ago!)—A Tramp Shining. There are those who found MacArthur Park the “pinnacle of human achievement” (that was me), as well as a fair continent who, if time travel was invented, would get around to eradicating that song only after assassinating Hitler.

For some reason I’ve listened to this Richard Harris album less than the other ones I own, so I’m happy my random system chose it on this evening. I’ve probably been mildly scared off by it because it’s so confusing, pretty much on every level. After I write this, I’ll be curious to see if anyone on the internet has tackled it. Just the cover makes no sense at all; I won’t even try to explain it. Find a thrift store and see for yourself. In the gnarly profile photo on back, R.H. looks like he’s been rolling in the dirt with several layers of historically accurate movie rolls (remember, he’s even more well-known as an actor). If that’s not enough, the cover opens to reveal a giant-size portrait of R.H., full cop-look, and the photo is so huge I got out my tape measure to measure his ear—over eight inches! I wonder how many people got high, over the years, and focused in on that photo? The ear is one part of the human body that you really don’t want to isolate and think about too much.

No printed lyrics, but maybe that’s just as well, as it lets me off the hook a little, interpretation-wise. You can understand them anyway—this guy enunciates like someone with theatre training. The songs are apparently all by Jimmy Webb, who is also the producer; he’s a great songwriter, as you know, and even his non-hits sound like they’re probably hits somewhere, or should have been. This record has full arrangements, backup singers, strings, horns, and a lot of atmosphere. Only four songs per side—I love how they used to do that—there’s enough space between the grooves and the label that you could grow crops there. I can usually listen to a record once through and pretty much get it, but this is going to be a two day project—and I’m going to go song by song. This mammoth achievement deserves that, and it’s fun to do that once in awhile. Plus, I’ve always loved, as an expression, “the yard went on forever”—without knowing what it means. I borrow it, as a non-sequitur, from time to time.

The title song is first (I like when they do that) and it starts with an angelic choir sounding kind of ominous (“Has everybody got a place to hide?”) and then R.H. sings “Can you hear them singing, the women of Pompeii, with Kansas City housewives…” If that doesn’t baffle you, the song fades to silence, two minutes in, and then starts up again with him singing about “The volcanoes and tornados on doomsday.” Then the angels again, but now R.H. is standing with the Nagasaki housewives. Then the angelic choir singing something I can’t understand—is it Esperanto, or Latin? This is not a song, it’s an art film! “Watermark” then is equally hyper-dramatic, with full strings, and I have no idea what this is about either, but this line jumps out: “I keep looking through old varnish at my late lover’s body.” This is heavy stuff. Then “Interim” which sounds like a convoluted lover’s lament (addressed to “you”) with lines like: “We were wound about so tightly that we couldn’t touch each other with a straw,” and “I have several lives to live/and each one of them continues without asking/it’s all that I can do to count my skeletons/and take my paid vacations.” Insane. Finally, “Gayla” which I believe is a woman’s name (not “Gay L.A.”)—the song starts out quiet and sentimental, and then turns on a dime and goes into another show-stopper chorus (for the fourth song in a row), then back to being quiet—then again to an even bigger finale, singing “God damn you, God damn you, and your dirty joke.” Somewhat bitter and sad? And then a reprise of the angelic choir: “Is everybody safe”—all this in three minutes.

If all that wasn’t enough drama for one LP, the second side starts off with a monster nine minute epic called “The Hymns from Grand Terrace.” It’s another movie, a love story, lush and emotional, that begins with, “He married her…” and he’s not speaking in the second person, if you know what I’m saying. That’s interrupted by a jaunty western traveling sojourn, then some truly happy imagery of happier times: “Cars would pass, we were out of gas, and didn’t care.” Then a total fade-out followed by a kind of song-length bridge with a really cool guitar part that could have been the foundation of a hit song if it wasn’t in service of this monumental epic. Then back to the drama, of course: “If I could face the fate that waits to cast me into shambles/and sit across the velvet boards from God, then I would gamble.” And when the song ends you’re not sure it’s over, because the next one, “The Hive,” starts right in like it’s part of the previous song. I’m listening closely, trying to figure out what this “hive” is—it’s not real happy. “And now they’ll all get roaring drunk/pretending they’re essentially alive,” and “God blessed our happy cubicle/keep it safe and sanitized/homogenized and pasteurized/there’s no place like numb.” There’s an orchestral segue into “Lucky Me”—a sad song masterpiece: “Lucky me, there’s no more we,”—that post-breakup justification that it’s better now—“No more I love you’s I could not return”—not fooling anyone, of course. Maybe one of the purest expressions of misery known to man, how much happier he is now, without her. And we end with “That’s the Way it Was”—a totally corny lament about a past time, a far off town, an idealized childhood, with each image punctuated by “And the honey bees would buzz”—which—after just a song ago, sinking into the horror of the hive—is hardly convincingly happy. And it ends with an overlapping of the angels, now singing part of the chorus from the first song, while R.H. barely holds back the tears with, “There once was a town… where a man could fall in love,” and finally, “And the yard went on forever.” At which time it’s supposed to all make sense. And it does!




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