Archive for the 'Growing On Me' Category

06
Sep
19

Electric Light Orchestra “Out of the Blue”

I’m pretty sure I had this record in high school—I had a few ELO records—though I can’t remember exactly which ones, now. I didn’t remember it was a double album, though, so maybe not. Also, I didn’t remember that the rainbow space station cover opened up to reveal the inside of the space station—it actually looks pretty cool, you’d think I’d have remembered that. As an insert, there’s an awkwardly vertical poster included, with these kind of creepy, black and white, almost photo-realist portraits of the band members—and I totally remember that—there’s something strangely off about the portraits—which kind of makes them both repulsive and compelling. In my memory, this was the record, or maybe the one after, when I stopped liking ELO—but now I’m thinking I was totally wrong about all this, or maybe my tastes have changed. (Obviously, both of those things are true—everyone’s tastes change, over time, and I have been wrong about nearly everything.)

Anyway, forget the past, because I’m really loving this record now, and you could even say I’ve become a little obsessed with it. I put it on kind of randomly while cat sitting, along with some others, and this became the one that defined the time there, away from home, this point in time. You never know if, or with whom, it will happen—but it’s kind of like falling in love (ha, if it [falling in love] was only that easy). Because of the space station album cover and the occasional aural buzzes and beeps, shimmering synth sounds, and restrained use of the dreaded vocoder, you kind of think it’s all a sci-fi theme, but it’s not—it’s all over the place, really, with a healthy amount of love songs. The funny thing is, when I glanced at the song titles, the only two I remembered were “Turn to Stone” and “Mr. Blue Sky” (hits)—so I’m glad I even put the record on, because those are my least two favorite songs on the entire album!

As it turns out, there’s one great pop song after another on this record—I’m not even going to list my favorites—just say, all of them but the above two. Then I noticed what I consider the most significant feature of this record—side three is kind if set off as its own thing—a mini-opera, called the “Concerto for a Rainy Day,” as there is a weather theme running through the four songs. Weather! Is there a subject I love more? So, then I had to read a little bit about it—and I didn’t find much, nor dig too deeply, but what I read was that Jeff Lynne went to a chalet in the Swiss Alps to work on this record (didn’t he ever see The Shining?) and it just rained and rained and he had writer’s block! He thought he was washed up, was likely on the verge of running amok, when the sun broke through and he began writing like a madman. Now, anyone will tell you, there’s an inherent bipolar-like thing that runs through the creative process, it’s all valleys and peaks, and sometime the low lows lead to the explosions of creativity—if you’re lucky—and he certainly was, here.

For me, though, the real find on this record is the song “Big Wheels”—with that one, I was immediately in love—so much so that I figured it had to be either a past life thing, or maybe the song was used in some really genius way by an opportunistic, manipulative filmmaker—servicing an emotional story with strong images and the enormous shorthand of this beautiful song. I looked it up but could not find any evidence that it was used anywhere, so I don’t know. I did see that “Mr. Blue Sky” was used like many, many, many times in movies and on TV. Everyone loves “Mr. Blue Sky”—interesting, because I wouldn’t wipe my ass with that song. I mean, it’s okay, but it’s jaunty as all fuck. It kind of highlights that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who like the jaunty and those who don’t. Those who like sunny skies and those who like stormy skies. Those who like happy songs—while a sad song brings them down—and those who live for sad songs. And I suppose, never the twain shall meet. Well, it’s not just sad songs I like, but sad and beautiful, and the two are often hopelessly intertwined. And this song, “Big Wheels,” is not only the most beautiful ELO song I’ve ever heard, but one of the most beautiful pop songs I’ve ever heard by anyone.

I could just leave it at that, but I can’t—I need to listen again and look at it a little more closely—why does this particular song affect me like it does? And what’s it about?—sitting there in the middle of this mini-opera, as it is, in-between songs about weather and love? First of all, what does “Big Wheels” mean, anyway? And why don’t people love this song? First of all, it doesn’t refer to the plastic toy that the kid’s tearing through the hallways of the mountain chalet where Jeff Lynne’s trying to write. My first thought is, because of the album cover, is it’s the space station, as the music has that smooth, slow-rolling feeling, but I don’t know—then what does the space station mean? I suppose it’s the Earth turning, and, you know, “I let the Earth take a couple of whirls,”—the patience that comes with maturity, knowing that things will change. I suppose the song does have a lot of sadness in it (“It was not enough for you” / “It’s rather sad” / “I think I’m gonna have to start again”), plus, there’s the silent tear, cold dark waiting days, and lots and lots of pouring rain! Plus, my favorite: “no one knows which side the coin will fall.” There is the sense of not being in control—that your fate is in others’ hands. And that the other side of “tomorrow is another day” might be, no matter how good things are going, it’s no guarantee they’ll continue. Most sad songs start with the sadness, but has anyone ever written one that says, tomorrow will likely bring heartbreak—it’s as inevitable as death. I guess this one. The more I listen to it, the darker it becomes—it really is kind of an amazing force of nature, the sadness in this song, right up there with the weather. But it’s just so beautiful.

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04
Sep
19

Michael Dinner “The Great Pretender”

I bought this record, used, because I had never heard of it, or him, Michael Dinner, nor could I recall any person, living or dead, having the name of “Dinner” (or Supper, Breakfast, or Lunch, for that matter). When I looked him up on the internet I found who I thought was another Michael Dinner, a successful director and screenwriter, still working—but it turns out it’s the same Michael Dinner! I guess he put out a couple of records in the mid-Seventies (this one is 1974) and then no more. Without further biographical information, I don’t know if his recording career died and then he went into pictures (looks like mostly TV), or if he went into pictures, found success, and was too busy to continue his recording career. We’ll have to ask him to clear that up. (Though, of course, sometimes, that kind of stuff is not very clear, even for the person involved.) You also might wonder why he ended up behind the camera, because if this album cover is any indication, he was pretty hot.

He’s what you’d call, I guess, a singer-songwriter, and the music is, I suppose you could call it, LA country, or California country—it was recorded in LA, and the list of musicians is impressive, lots of familiar names (I’m not going to list them, but it includes Linda Ronstadt). The songs are good, and I have the feeling that they will grow on me after a few more listens. Now it’s a week later—that’s the way things go here at the unpaid, under-appreciated, overly-emotional HQ and Center for Misfit Culture. We don’t care much what you think, but we love you anyway. Anyway, this is definitely a record in which repeat listenings are rewarded, and aren’t those the best kind? “Sunday Morning Fool” is a standout. Dinner has a pretty interesting voice, I mean subtly interesting… he’s a good singer, but more than that, there’s something there that reminds me of Willie Nelson—maybe I’m imagining that, it’s not really pronounced—but I hear that.

Another interesting thing, to me—I feel like I can divide the songs up between the sad and the jaunty (okay, this goes for everyone) and I just really like the ones that are a little more melancholy. I often wonder if the jauntiness is not sometimes coke-fueled, and remember, the years I seem to often focus on—early Seventies—is when the coke flowed like bad puns on grandpa-time. Or so they say. Another interesting observation, Dinner’s two albums were called The Great Pretender (this one) and Tom Thumb the Dreamer. One wonders if he never felt quite at home in this world—and that had something to do with him moving into pictures. But really, this record is pretty good (I’m curious about the other one, now) and you have to wonder about him walking away from a career—if this felt like a career to him, anyway. Also, you have to admire his restraint with respect to not naming this or any other record something like: “Dinner Time,” or “What’s for Dinner,” or “(Call me anything you want, just don’t call me) Late for Dinner.” It probably took great resolve to resit that temptation, and who among us can honestly say they’d have done the same.

23
Aug
19

Dave Major & the Minors “Second Record Album”

I did not expect much from this one, just based on the cover—which consists of the band name printed repeatedly in a sports-bar font with bright colors—so bright, in fact, that I would have guessed it was a few years old—but it’s 1972! On a tiny local label, and recorded in Milwaukee. Inside the sleeve there’s also a couple of color glossy band promo photos with the management company on the bottom—one fairly close-up, the other a wide shot of the band surrounded by a music-store-worth of musical instruments. They are wearing dried-blood-red, wide lapel blazers, and matching ties big enough to use as curtains. It’s so perfect that I also assumed this was contemporary—and also ironic—but no, it’s the real thing. Before even putting the record on I looked them up on the internet and the first thing I find is this story about how, later—not sure when—band leader Dave Perry broke into the house of an ex, shot her husband and his mother, and then tried to shoot it out with the police and was killed. That just depressed me so much I didn’t even want to put the record on. And then I noticed one of the photos is signed by Dave Perry, which frankly kind of creeps me out. I don’t find homicide the least bit interesting (or whatever even more fucked up qualities people attribute to heinous acts—entertaining?)—and it really makes it hard to write about this record. These were real people, with their lives ended stupidly, and there were kids involved, and a tragedy like this partly shapes your life, whether you want it to or not.

But still, I had to listen to it—I figured maybe once, and then to the thrift store—but it turns out the record is so fascinating, I’m kind of instantly obsessed with it. So I’m going to try to pretend I never heard about these tragic events. After all, I only saw this story one place online—maybe it’s one of those obscure urban legends made up by some neo-dadaist smart-ass like that one about Morrissey drinking Rolling Rock with kids in Ohio. Still, though, it’s probably going to color my experience—but it really is an interesting record. First of all, it’s kind of schizo and all over the place—a good example is in a two minute version of “Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah” which is pretty hot while also being corny, and listenable, except for the Uncle Remus impression at the end. This is a lounge act, after all, and on some songs they sound like it, just in the cheesiness of the approach and the absolute erect jauntiness. But on the other hand, the playing is all not only tight and accomplished, but also really pretty inspired. If you were going out to see this band at some supper club, consider yourself not only lucky but also probably spoiled for all time. This is the kind of band that musicians like, I think—you’d have to, unless you were just jealous. But also, the casual fan, or Saturday nite dancer, or Friday fish fry eater—everyone’s going to like this band. From what I read, and a few online videos, the band put on a great show—they’d have 40 or 50 instruments on the stage with them, then keep switching off instruments—right in the middle of songs, even—with well-rehearsed choreography and highly entertaining and sometimes humorous showmanship.

There’s a big block of liner notes on back that, if you just read, you’d probably say, holy shit, and then dismiss it as someone’s manic attempt at a band description parody. I mean, it just goes on and on about the band members and all the instruments they each play. As impressive as this bit of writing is, it’s even more impressive when you believe it’s all true—and then some. They can sing and they can play! “Proud Mary” almost sounds like a typical lounge band cover, but on subsequent listenings you hear more, there. Most stunning is their version of the “Theme from Fistful of Dollars”—done well enough that it could have been used in the movie. Also, there’s a cover of a favorite of mine, “Sonny”—a fine version. But most notable of all are the original numbers by Dave Perry (one’s co-written by Steve Joyce)—there are five originals interspersed with the covers—that’s half the record—and they’re all good—all reminiscent of other stuff, naturally—but good, compelling songs and performances. In fact, as you listen through the record, each of the originals is better than the previous one—they kind of oddly build on each other. I’m really loving this record by this point, and I’ve listened to it a dozen times! But then, it occurs to me—do I really like it that much, or am I being seduced by the lore of the tragedy—the very thing that initially put me off? I know that sounds contradictory, but then contradiction is the foundation of appreciation, of infatuation, of desire, of love. Can you really ever trust your feelings about anything—even a 47 year old LP by a local lounge band? Oh this world.

14
Aug
19

Sharon Van Etten “Tramp”

The black and white photo of presumably Sharon Van Etten on the cover of the LP is blown up so much you realize it’s almost abstract, maybe only makes sense with a little distance. Her head is about twice as big a normal person—in effect, you’d never see her this close up, even if you were making out with her. It’s a very beautiful photo, and album cover, but it really accentuates the quality of her eyes—it’s hard for me to describe—it’s more of a feeling, but for some reason I never feel like I can trust someone with eyes like that. My feelings like that are usually wrong, which becomes evident within one minute of meeting a person, and longer meetings further prove that, but since I’m not meeting SVE anytime soon, I’m just going to make the assumption that I’m wrong and chalk it up to the powerful—and often totally misleading—quality of photographs. There’s a lot of musicians and collaboration going on, but especially with a guy named Aaron Dessner (I’ll have to look him up), and there’s a picture of SVE and a guy (might be him?) on the inside cover, sitting on a bench, presumably outdoors, neither winter nor summer, pleasantly blurry and smiling, slightly disheveled, wearing every tasteful shade of blue known to man, their white hands looking like alien beings. In tiny white letters at the bottom it says, “for John Cale.” That could lead me to many, many more words, or I could just let it go.

The initial sound of these songs is, to me, entirely unfairly, off-putting, even though I like the sparse, subtle, and tasteful instrumentation. Maybe too tasteful. And sometimes blatantly eclectic, some with annoying arcane sounding instruments that only exist in Civil War museums and recording studios in Brooklyn. Sharon Van Etten’s voice has this liquid quality, both thick and thin, that just pours between the edges, and fills all cracks, sounding like it’s desperate to cauterize not only her wounds but those of everyone she comes in contact with. It’s a bit much, and I can’t say I’m enjoying it, but I know from experience that that’s a hasty, first-impression opinion, and I really need to listen to each song more closely, and listen to the lyrics, as well, before I make any judgment. So I’ll do that, and also, it seems at first glance that a lot of these might be love songs, and sad songs—and that’s something I’ve been kind of into lately. That’s a joke—for those people who know me.

The first song is a love song, a sad song, addressed to “you”—unless it’s a metaphor for a political situation, but I’ll leave it be. The next song, also addressed to “you,” has a tragic tone to it, along with this kind of devastating lyric that we can all relate to: “You’re the reason why I’ll movie to the city or why I’ll need to leave.” Another song addressed to “you,” called “Serpents,” even more fraught, and this time she hopes “he” changes. Don’t hold your breath, SVE. Next is “Kevin’s”—which is the only use of a possessive version of a name without an object as a song title I can think of. No mention of Kevin’s what?—in the song—or Kevin—unless he’s “you” (in which case maybe means that she belongs to Kevin—in which case I hate him). Anyway, it’s a beautiful sad song, with some nice “ooohhhs”—long, drawn out—that sound like “yous.” Next is one about “Leonard” who eventually becomes “you” by the end of the song. I may be wrong, but it sounds like this Leonard was a pretty okay guy, but she fucked it up this time. So it goes. Finally, “In Line” is quite a haunting song, and I don’t just say that because the word “ghosts” is in it. I have no idea what it’s about, but it’s not about domestic bliss and talking about your future while in line at the Court Street Trader Joe’s.

New paragraph, second side, this is vinyl. I didn’t mean to go on this long with this, but once I committed to it, I was kind of sunk. That’s commitment for you—when you don’t have it, you’re sunk, and you’re sunk when you do. The first song is killer, one that probably sold me on this record (as if I needed to be sold, or anyone cares). It starts out quiet and slow, and then just builds in volume and intensity, with the line “we all make mistakes” running through it like veins of gold through the darkness. “We Are Fine” is an interesting title to a song, especially where the sentiment is “I’m alright”—another pretty and harrowing one, which could be about hypochondria, or hypochondria as love metaphor, or the other way around. “Magic Chords” just confuses me—it sounds like a funeral march, with the repeated lines: “You got to lose sometime” and then “Nothing to lose.” That’s too general—I mean, we’re all going to die, but I need to focus on something else, occasionally. “Ask” makes my stomach hurt, and I mean that as a compliment, as in, SVE can land a punch. Addressed to “friend” and “man” and, it feels like, me, the line, “It hurts too much to laugh about it” hurts too much to laugh about it. “I’m Wrong” asks to “tell me I’m wrong.” I don’t think you’re wrong. With a line like, “tell me all the miles that you put on your car,” I’d have to say you’re probably right, as sad as that is. The last song is slow and haunting, and I guess I want it to leave me with a positive note, at this point, sucker that I am, soft in my old age, wanting things to work out between her and one of these “you’s.” I think: “I could do better, couldn’t I?” In the romance department. Men are little boys, with tantrums, and egos, that want everything, but are just destined, you know, to either be kicked under a shed, or else allowed to be a monster. Anyway, it ends on a grim note, but it feels like truth, at least, and the light dims.

21
Jun
19

Paul Horn “Visions”

I should have known who Paul Horn was, or maybe I did, kind of, but forgot or wasn’t thinking about it when I picked up this record. I was drawn to it because it looks like someone made the album cover while either on acid or in a therapeutic situation while being detained—whether it be by the authorities, caregivers, or cultists. Apologies to cover designer Glen Dias. That sounds too harsh—and it really is quite stunning and beautiful, but also kind of fucked up. It’s really pretty bizarre, and not slick, and if it wasn’t for the prominent “Epic” logo in the corner, I might think this record was totally homemade. That’s a compliment. There are liner notes on the back, by producer Henry Lewy—neatly typed, not scrawled in blood or anything, but laid out in the shape of a butterfly (or a bat? Or a concretion?—anyway, I can’t read it). There’s a reason that writing—which is just an already rather difficult-to-translate code of communication—is laid out with the end of each line continuing on a justified left margin. These liner notes are telling me they want to be admired as a design, but not read. Or maybe it was just someone’s—over there at Epic—bad design idea.

Another record from 1974—I seem to be drawn to that year without even trying. I’m not sure what to make of this record, actually, some of it sounds just right on, with a mellow groove, and some fine playing, and of course some really nice flute by Paul Horn. I could imagine putting this on quite regularly. But then it will get to a part that sounds just kind of insipid to me. It’s interesting, this record is all cover songs—David Batteau, Joan Baez, two by Joni Mitchell, three by David Crosby, and three by Stevie Wonder—but it sounds like a real unified band sound—so you kind of recognize the songs, but the style is Paul Horn (or his band on this record—I don’t know enough Paul Horn to say if this is a deviation). I’ll have to pay more attention to see whose songs translate best to this style. But right now, I’m having trouble paying attention to anything. Still can’t sleep, headache every day. The headaches are getting worse. Can’t concentrate. Where was I? Oh, yeah, I started to imagine putting this record on with a dinner guest over. Maybe I’ve just cooked some, I don’t know, some quinoa, kale horseshit. Borrow a corkscrew from the front desk and open the best bottle of red $12 will buy. If I started drinking again, I think the last thing I would be able tolerate is red wine. Like, for some reason, I really associate red wine with depression. Anyway, one song comes on, and it’s prefect mood music—and yeah, I guess I’m talking about a date. Then the next song comes on and creeps me out! I guess one song will make me feel like a very suave guy, kind of liquid, mind and body as one. And then the next one will make me feel like I’m in a commercial for a 401(k) Plan. It’s totally schizo, this record. I’ve heard movie soundtracks this schizo—in fact most movie soundtracks are, which is why I rarely listen to movie soundtrack records. Maybe I won’t write about this record now. But then, I might put it on a year from now and have the same exact reaction—so maybe I should write about it, get it over with, as a kind of warning, or an antidote… for my future self.

07
Jun
19

Jon Astley “The Compleat Angler”

Official title is “Jon Astley : The Compleat Angler.” (Colon between artist and album name, Angler italicized, complete spelled “Compleat”—as in the 1653 book by Izaak Walton). I was working on one of my own songs the other day, in which I stole the sentiment from the song “Glad to Be Unhappy”—one of my favorite standards, so I listened to a version by Sinatra, and then Billie Holiday, thinking about the essence of the song—which I’m not going into right now, as this is a review of Jon Astley. But also, I thought, who wrote this, by the way? (I don’t always remember who wrote a lot of standards), and it was, no surprise, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Then I picked a record to write about, with my random system, and it’s this one I know nothing about, maybe listened to once, or never? I put it on, painfully clear lyrics, and in the fifth line he says, “You’re not Rodgers and Hart.” This is the kind of thing that happens in my life all the time. I no longer think of it as a coincidence, or a random thing, but also I don’t even make a big deal out of it. It’s about being connected, tuned into the rhythms of the world. It’s like, when you’re not tuned in (I’m not, a lot of the time), you walk into a lot of walls. When you are tuned in, you can walk through walls. But it’s not just an all or nothing thing, either. I spend a lot of my life not tuned in, and it’s okay. You work through it. And it’s usually more a matter of degree, sometimes sharper, sometimes duller. Most of us couldn’t deal with being totally tuned in all the time, anyway, because you’d be reading minds and sometimes seeing a little more than you can handle.

I’d never heard of Jon Astley, and I suppose I picked up this record for one, because of the cover: a super high-contrast color photo of an Eighties-looking dude holding a really big fish and looking up to either God or something about to fall on him. It’s evocative, especially if you’re drawn to images of fish, for whatever reason. Also, the title is taken from the old meditation on fishing that I used to have a copy of, but never read… lost somehow. I wanted to find out if this famous, enduring book was really about fishing, and if it was, what are the hidden charms of fishing that have thus-far escaped me. Or if it was a metaphor—what was it about. Did it have anything to do with Ricard Brautigans’s Trout Fishing in America? And if so, what it that about. (Also, I suppose, in part, to carry on the fish tradition. I made an epic 6 hour long video, called Seafood, while I lived in Portland, Oregon, in the late Nineties. It is the major accomplishment of my time there, and will likely disappear entirely with the loss or degradation of the single VHS copy that exists.)

It’s interesting, the LP label (Atlantic), instead of saying, Side One and Side Two, it says Digital One and Digital Two. I guess in 1988, we hadn’t had “digital” shoved up our asses for several decades, right? The thing that’s kind of weird is that, since I’m stuck in the Seventies, to some degree, this record sounds hopelessly futuristic to me. As in a future I don’t want to walk into. But it’s actually old, by most anyone’s account, and I think: while I’d never have put on a CD of this record, because it’s vinyl, there’s a certain charm that’s making me pay attention. The lyrics are crystal clear, provocative, and sometimes funny. The songs are catchy. The whole thing is about 20 times cleaner and tighter than my neighbors are used to hearing come out of Room 432, and I’m worried someone might come by and ask to borrow a cup of sugar, or Jägermeister. I’m kind of making fun of it, but actually, these are some very good songs, so even if it does sound like they’re being played by robots, I’m rather enjoying it. Bravo Jon Astley! (And no, that’s not actually my room number.)

11
May
19

Average White Band “Cut the Cake”

I like AWB’s 1976 record “Soul Searching” so much I wrote about it twice on this site, so it made perfect sense to me to pick up a copy of this previous record (from 1975), which was the one I no doubt remembered (not with any particular fondness) from high school. So, the first thing I see is a dedication on back, a little photo of Robbie McIntosh—so I was curious how he died at such an early era of this band. According to that internet (and citing Time magazine) he and bandmate Alan Gorrie ODd on heroin that they thought was cocaine at a post-show LA party in 1974. Somehow Gorrie was saved by Cher, who was there at the party, but this McIntosh died. That whole story is bizarre, and at one time I guess I would have thought it was interesting, in a kind of truth that’s stranger than fiction sense, or made some kind of bad joke (Average White Powder), but now, just thinking about this kid from Scotland dying in such a pointless way, just kind of made me sad, even a little depressed. So it was with that frame of mind I put this record on.

The first song, “Cut the Cake,” is maybe their most well-known song—it’s one of those I’ve heard countless times over the years, not really knowing it was AWB (the song is essentially a permanent, annoying monolith). I’ve heard that song accompanying (I’ve tried to redact the exact references from my memory) no doubt heinous products, promotions, sporting events, and other landscape destroying billboards to obscene wealth and soulless consumer greed-culture. I mean, it’s a hot tune—these guys might not be able to dial 911, but they can find a groove. It’s also the most pointless use of a lyric sheet I’ve ever seen. I’d like to interview the person at Atlantic records who had to type with word “gimme” (I’m not going to count) times. The cover, by the way, is not album covers’ finest moment—what’s supposed to look like a cake, from above, looks more like (I don’t know what it looks like)—I don’t want to just say the obvious, and say “shit”—but when you make that ass-rendition with the “W” in AWB, and put it prominently on something that resembles shit more than it resembles a chocolate cake, can one help where one’s mind goes? This whole record is listenable, but it’s not “Soul Searching” (maybe I should listen to that one again and see if it holds up for me?)—I mean, when it comes down to it, it’s the songs that make or doesn’t make something good, great, or ho-hum, and some songs become in-extractable ear-worms, and some dissipate like mist, and some take some time, sometimes many, many, many listenings, and it’s possible some of these are those, but they haven’t, at this point, happened for me. But hey, I’ve gone this far, so I’ll keep trying.




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