Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hellhound on my Trail

On Friday Nov. 23, 1936, a young African-American entered the Blue Bonnet Hotel in San Antonio, Tx, guitar in hand. Brunswick Records had set up an impormptu recording studio there, and the young man set up facing the wall, and proceeded to cut 16 tracks over the next 3 days. What passed between the man, the wall, and the microphone would echo down over 70 years and through countless imaginations.
The young man in question was Robert Johnson, probably the most infamous of the blues musicians. Much has been made of his mythical deal with the devil, at the crossroads at midnight, but his recorded legacy stands up, without hype or myth-making. His guitar chugs like a freight train, predicting the chicago blues sound, and his slide-playing sighs, slinks and soars, planted in the fertile soil of his Delta roots. His voice growlsl, keens in a sweet falsetto; ringing out, clear and pure. He is the crossroads, between the past of his lesser-known influences like Son House, Charley Patton, and Willie Brown, and the shape of things to come.
I've listened to these 27 sides so many times in my young adult life, mystified with its spooky ambience, and it continues to surprise and delight every time. The twisted, doomed romance of 'Kind Hearted Woman' and 'Come on in my Kitchen', and the infernal glow of 'Hell Hound on my Trail' and 'Me and the Devil Blues,' are personal favorites.
Above all else, here was a mean who lived and died for his music. Notoriously laughed off stage by Son House and Willie Brown, he returned a scant 2 years later, and blew everybody's heads' off. He travelled the South, the Midwest, and even the East Coast, as itinerant musician, only to supposedly be poisoned by a jealous husband with a tainted bottle of whiskey. These 41 tracks are a treasure trove, containing the essence of everything that is the blues. If you've never heard this, i highly recommend you check this out; and if you have, let this serve as a reminder of how fresh and vital and inspiring this music can be. disc 1 + ++ disc 2

Friday, April 24, 2009

Through A Scanner Darkly

If you told me, when i was a 16 year old goth boy, that in a decade i'd be madly passionate about Appalachian Hillbilly music, Delta blues, field hollers, and southern Baptist holy-roller gospel, i'd'a thought you were hitting grandaddy's moonshine. However, following the musical threads of my heroes and villains, most notably Nick Cave and his murder ballads, and his namechecking of Blind Lemon Jefferson, from the album The Firstborn is Dead.
When i was younger, i preferred sounds that were epic and melodramatic, but as I have gotten older, i have found those moments are few and far-between, and there's a helluva lot of details in between, aka human life. I became fascinated with more raw and real music, poignant vignettes of daily life, and in this fertile loam my love of folk music grew. Also, from a musical perspective, i love the lack of bells and whistles, the emphasis on skills and lyrics. There are no hollywood scrim to hide behind.
As my 20s have progressed, i have become fanatical about the old-timey sound, has become a gigantic influence on my life, my music, and my philosophy on living. A lot of this stuff is ridiculously esoteric, and name-checking early 20th century ragtime guitarists is a great way to earn blank looks at a party. So, it is one of my reasons for starting this oasis, was to post some of this shit which is so magnificent and hard to come by, and to perk up some ears.

Photobucket To start, i offer this magnificent and hard to come by box-set from folk visionary Alan Lomax, a 4 disc document of his field recordings made in 1959. Some artists featured went on to greater infamy, like Mississippi Fred McDowell and The Alabama Sacred Hard Singers, but the majority are more obscure and worthy of greater appreciation, like Vera Hall, who's 'Trouble So Hard' was sampled by Moby on Play. There's also some great examples of little known musical styles, like drum and fife music from Northern Mississippi.

The sound is pristine on these recorings, and the performances are sublime. This is a smorgasbord of roots music, and this collection is not as well known as the Anthology of American Folk Music. There are many rewards in here, for the devoted collector as well as the unitiated or merely curious.

disc 1
disc 2 disc 3 disc 4

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Leisure Society

This luscious slice of orchestral folk music is the perfect score for Spring awakening, irises and orchids blooming from the banjos and glockenspiels that adorn its framework.
The title track, The Sleeper, seems to be the Rosetta Stone for the album, with natural lyrics of rising and falling, worms and roots and flowers overtaking the cobblestones. Singer Nick Hemming takes these themes over the course of the album and personalizes them, spinning tales of leaving and returning to hometowns, relationships failing, things dying and growing. The following track, The Last of the Melting Snow, is the standout track of the album, with its saccharine strings, which for some reason reminds me of old Disney documentaries. It is lush and gorgeous, sounds great with the windows open.
The only downfall is that this album shoots its load too quickly, the first 3 tracks are the best, and it sort of falls into a homogoneous lull that persists for most of the rest of the album. However, the lyrics and the arrangements are always interesting, the sound fleshed out with all manner of interesting instruments, like harp and strings and ukulele. It is deeply indebted to Classic Sounds, sounding in turn like vintage Simon and Garfunkel, 'Yesterday' by the Beatles, and a very optimistic take on 'Summertime Blues' by Blue Cheer on the final track, Love's Enormous Wings, which is grandiose and ends on a high note.
All in all, this album's got a lot going for it, and it stands up well to repeat examinations, always unearthing a new nugget or gem. Let it be the soundtrack to yr thawing.

The Sleeper

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Lately Listening

This is pretty widely available, but its been gracing my ears for the past week or so, and its actually pretty damn good, so i thought i'd put it up. Bibio is English musician Scott Wilkerson, and Vignetting the Compost is his 3rd full length. He's been working in the field of folky electro-acoustic music, and has been getting more melodic and tuneful as time goes on. Vignetting brings his acoustic guitar playing, which is rather accomplished, to the forefront, adding ambience and electronic textures, as well as other instruments like trumpet and flute, to flesh out the sound, to hold the attention and make it more engaging.
Vignetting the Compost is an enjoyable listen from start to finish, atmospheric but also attention-grabbing, and above all else, melodic. The melodies are strong and catchy, particularly the trumpet fanfare from 'Weekend Wildfire', which will become lodged firmly between yr ears all week. The overall effect is gentle and idyllic, calling to mind scenes of childhood, lying on the grass or between the roots of yr favorite tree, cloudgazing. Sonically, it sounds like John Fahey or Jim O Rourke with Boards of Canada providing the backdrop.
Very good, indeed, and it will grow on you like a healthy curtain of ivy.
Vignetting the Compost Thanks to Incomplete Tales for the link.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fire Walk With Me

Photobucket When i was about 15, my friend Joe would come and spend the night, in the days before he lived with me full-time as the official 'dude on the couch'. At this time, i was living in a ghetto-rigged bedroom in the basement, with bedsheets from the '70s as wells, and a moldy box-spring where i laid my head at night. It was grimy and kind of depressing, but these were magickal nights, where he could get away from his fucked up home life, and we would have no time constraints, all the time in the world to talk about everything under the sun, percolating pots of coffee over candle-flame and smoking forbidden menthol cigarettes.
On these nights, he would bring homemade dubbed tapes, full of mystery. Peter Gabriel, Slowdive, James, The Cure, The Smiths. All the usual saints of depressed suburban youth. One of these was the soundtrack for the Twin Peaks movie, Fire Walk With Me. I don't think i had seen the film or any of the series at this point. However, the music gripped my imagiation and filled me with some of the earliest feelings of 'I've got to find out what this is! I need to find more!'
What it did, was introduce me to the world of twilight jazz, slow and mellow beyond belief, atmospheric, romantic, all to the good for a young proto-goth like myself. It was these seeds that would flower into a love of Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Morphine, and Bohren and der Club of Gore. Also, the heavenly voice of Julee Cruise would predict my love of The Cranes, My Bloody Valentine, and all things shoegaze. To this day, anything that sounds remotely like the music from Twin Peaks fills me with an adrenaline rush, and a need to hear MORE! It also fills me with the intimacy of those evenings, of whispered secrets, of brotherhood. Of youth and possibility, and i am glad to say, all these years later, i still have that feeling.
This album, and the others that will be released in this series, were fundamental in creating the creature that i have become. Sacred listening, this is what my soul sounds like.

(at 320 no less!)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

electronic music round-up

Recently, i have found a lot of electronica albums waiting for me in my queue, thanks largely in part to the rather excellent Double Avenue blog, which seems to be sadly dormant. I'd get home from work, late at night, reverentially slip on my ear-muff headphones, and go sight-seeing. What i have found is a bevy of new, excellent albums that rock body and mind simultaneously, and i was transported to a time when techno imbued every molecule of my life. Tripping out to Coil in the dark was the holiest of holies to me, in my adolescence, and the exploration of interior landscapes still thrills me.
What these three records have in common, stylistically very different, is magnificent production sound design. Every detail, and particularly the beats, are crisp and clean and clear, this sonic alchemists pay so much loving detail to how their albums sound. Perhaps the intention of playing their music through loud-ass systems at clubs makes them extra careful, but i have recently been blown away by the amount of creativity and care existing in this scene.

Photobucket Witchman - Explorimenting Beats
First up is a release from Witchman, the alias of John Roome. Here, he takes you on a guided tour of all things dark and dirty and dangerous, effortlessly gliding through genres: dubstep, d'n'b, hip-hop. The beats are the tenuos silver thread that keeps the vision cohesive, and they are stunning! I can't figure out why this isn't better known, being screamed from the rooftops along the likes of Burial or Kode9. The bass is ferocious and nasty, heavy yet oddly soothing, twitching yet graceful, pummeling and caressing in equal measures.
This album is just one long string of awesomeness, each track more staggering than the last, unfurling like a perfect strand of black pearls. The epic trilogy that makes up the torso of the body, 'Hammerhead', 'Chemical Noir', and 'Order of the Dragon', are the best initiation into the mystery, and would sound at home on any nocturnal mix or on the floor at 3 am.
I am completely and under his spell. Get this now!
320 kbps part 1 part 2

Photobucket Byetone - Death of a Typographer
Next, we have a more minimal affair, brought to you by Olaf Benders, the graphic designer for the Raster-Noton label. Apparently, his taste and economy apply sonically as well, and every element seems in place. Thankfully, the presence of some sawtooth oscillation, some analog equipment, gives a refreshing body for this intellect to reside in, and gives it more immediacy than much minimal house music, which sort of streams by, without leaving much of an impression.
The album starts off with 'Into bios', with about 40 seconds of field recording before bleeding into the single, 'Plastic Star (session)', that is truly a dancefloor anthem (djs take note). The rest of the album sort of blends and blurs, at times succumbing to a warm, analog drone, suggesting the influence of chemicals taking hold in the heat of the night, at the club; finally winding down into the trail-out, 'Heart', a womblike fluttering pulse, like coming home to clean sheets and daylight, at the end of the night. Very impressive, and original. Can't wait to hear more from him.
get it

Photobucket V.V.V. - Endless
Last but not least, V.V.V. is Alan Vega of Suicide pairing up with classic minimalists Pan Sonic. "How do these old guys school kids these days so easily," one of my friends wanted to know. A good question. Chalk it up to life experience or something. Thankfully, age does not seem to have mellowed Vega one bit, and this album is full of his razor-sharp criticism of almost everything, his vitriol mostly aimed at aspects of American life, politics, religion, etc. The wonderful thing about his work is his ability to humanize social themes, like the classic Suicide single 'Frankie Teardrop', telling the story of a factory-worker caught in the rat-trap of a grinding, repetitive life, until he snaps, killing his family and himself in the end. There are moments on this album that are almost as harrowing.
Some have accused Pan Sonic of merely providing 'Backing Tracks' for Vega's rambling on this project, and i think that's unfair. I think, if anything, Vega is providing a human accesibility to their stark noisy world. The added lair of vocals provides a foundation, something else for the ear to latch on to, and lets them stretch out and get downright MEAN at times, degenerating into almost formless noise. Again, i think the addition of analog equipment and effects give their normally sleek, chilly sound some warm-blood, and makes it that much more menacing, not to mention raw. Its great to see such accomplished musicians stretching out, not giving a fuck, loose and ragged and organic, in an otherwise clean and clinical scene. Stands up well to repeated listening, creeping into yr subconscious, drilling down into yr id. Bring some nightmare into yr night life.
320 kbps part 1 part 2

Thanks so much to Double Avenue for the killer tunes. I do hope you come back someday.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Flavor of the Week


I've been on a heavy dream-pop kick this week, kick-started by this British shoegazer band. Part of the second wave of shoegaze bands, they bear accurate comparisons to Lush, as well as the likes of Ride, Chapterhouse, Swervedriver, etc. The most important thing, however, is the mixture of heavenly voices with sweet saturated guitar scapes! Soothing and dreamy, but it fucking ROCKS! at the same time, which was always my favorite aspect of Shoegaze music. This music makes me feel floaty and dreamy, yet revs my engines at the same time. It is also a fine soundtrack to making lattes, for yr information.
I can't seem to get enough of this, and it stands up well to repeat listenings. Also, i had never heard of these guys, a fine blast from the underground. I love it when something comes from left-field and blows me away! Reminds me why i spend all my time digging through unknown and esoteric releases. And then i pass the blessings on to you.

Bleach - s/t Killing Time

Thanks to Stonerrrockmountain for turning me on!

For mah boy... jed

Kraftwerk - 1
Kraftwerk - 2
Jacaszek - Pentral

i highly recommend everyone check out that Jacaszek album, which is new and is a tasty slice of ambient minimalism. Also, if anyone has Microstoria, 'model 3 step 2', and could post it, i'd be much obliged. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Micachu and the Shapes

Careening. Cavorting. Shambolic. Schizo-effective. All of these modifiers spring to mind, describing the debut album from Micachu and the Shapes, Jewellery. Ramshackle and ragged as a favored sweater, yet tight as a suit of leather armor, this album is all over the place, yet the average song length is around 3 minutes. The sound of Mica Levi's tiny tinny guitar is supplemented by beefy, fuzzy synths, and clattering test-tube percussions, ranging from phat dirty beats to found junk sounds, and her garbled grimey voice. This record is full of surprises and is full of teeth. It will snag you, hook you, and drag you into their luminous playground.

This was recommended to me by my friend Serge, it sounded cool but i didn't get it straight-away. One or two more careful passes while working, enhanced by about 8 shots of espresso, and i got it! Now i can't get away! So do yrself a favor and get some more Fun in yr life!


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Arthur Russell

Charles Arthur Russell, Jr. (May 21, 1951 – April 4, 1992)[2][1] was an American cellist, composer, singer, and disco artist. While he found the most success in dance music, Russell's career bridged New York's downtown, rock, and dance music scenes; his collaborators ranged from Philip Glass to David Byrne to Nicky Siano. Relatively unknown during his lifetime, a series of reissues and compilations have raised his profile in the 2000s. - from Wikipedia

I discovered Arthur Russell, via the recent documentary Wild Combinations, like many others. I had heard the name, and a couple of random tracks on New York mutant disco compilations, but it hadn't really hit me. After the watching the movie, i was moved by his gentle beautiful spirit and constant adventuresome nature, his non-stop production of music. I had heard a number of comparisons to Nick Drake with a cello, and i think they both possess an otherworldly grace, that i totally adore. Resolved to research further, and found an incredible body of work, that is vast and diverse, life-affirming and completely inspiring.

I first got into the singer-songwriter material of Love is Overtaking Me, which is totally great, very accessible and totally real. Then moved into the more avant-garde material of World Of Echoes, which is totally astounding, atmospheric and haunting, standing up well to many repeat listenings, to become a static soundtrack of life. Lastly, started to get into his avant-disco productions of the World of Arthur Russell and the new Sleeping Bag sessions, which are also great, but very different; for me of interest more as a historical document than actually musically fulfilling.

I decided to up this shit, cuz i had a few friends that had not experienced the grandeur yet, so i thought i would sing praises, and spread the good word.

Photobucket+-+-+-Love is OverTaking Me pt. 2

Photobucket+-+-+-World Of Echo pt. 2

Photobucket+-+-+-Another Thought

Photobucket+-+-+-Calling Out of Context

Photobucket+-+-+-Sleeping Bag Sessions

Thanks to Glowing Raw and Exp Etc and others for the links!