Wednesday, January 22, 2014

In search of the new, new wave.......

John Cale – Paris 1919

        I’ve been meaning to pick up the speed a bit on my quest to get everything John Cale ever released (which is a pretty sizeable catalog at this point). Letsee……I got his first album – Vintage Violence – when I was just getting out of high school.
About 25 years later I bought my second John Cale album – the second release of his – the duet with Terry Reily – The Church of Anthrax.
Whoah! I liked that a lot better than the first one. Then I saw this clip of John Cale live:
Well, that threw me for a loop and a half! I never saw any other footage of a John Cale performance ever in my life. Apparently this song / performance art piece was a steady feature of his live shows of the era (and not just a one-off spasm). Still, pretty shocking stuff! I ended up with my third John Cale album this weekend when I bought a reissue of his well-regarded classic “Paris 1919”. I’d had World War I on my mind lately, so it was a combination of influences for me – picking up the pace on John Cale and a bunch of WWI thoughts in my noggin.
I played this record for the second time tonight. I really like the music - beautifully orchestrated. The tracks that feature the orchestra (The UCLA Symphony Orchestra to be exact) were organized by a guy with a familiar name to me: Joel Druckman! Mr. Druckman has the unlikely distinction of having played bass for The Bonzo Dog Band during the period of time when they recorded their seminal LP “The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse”. He was the “American Bonzo”. Then he apparently became involved with orchestral music in LA where he still lives (I think?). He is credited on the back cover of the Cale LP. Aside from the orchestra, the main backing (rock) band on the disc is none other than – Little Feat! Quite an unlikely assemblage of characters! So the music is top notch.

Ah, but the words. This is another lyrically inscrutable piece of work. John Cale is really a brilliant talent. Yet, when I read along with the lyric sheet, I’m left to wonder who he’s singing to because I can’t make much sense from his references. There’s a vague thread relating to Post-WWI Europe. Yet it’s mixed in with all sorts of other obscure stuff – I just haven’t got much of a clue. So, my critical mind is thwarted and my intuitive mind has to take over. Intuitively, there feels like a sense of uneasy resignation in this music. The words, however obscure, are replete with strangely beautiful imagery. On the title track he refers to a coffin as an “iron drum”. At least that’s what I think he’s getting at. An odd mix of the cheerful and the morose.

Listening to “Paris 1919” again tonight, the record ended and left me with a loss over what to listen to next. I was left feeling so disconnected and drained there was only one record that made sense:

Sun Ra and His Arkestra – Bad & Beautiful

The copy I have of this record is the early 70s ABC / Impulse reissue that supposedly Sun Ra himself eventually disowned (along with the rest of the reissues that came out on Impulse! of his earlier recordings). I don’t know – somehow the “fake stereo” isn’t as offensive to me here. Well, considering how funky the original recording is anyway – it’s not that big of a deal! Yet, it is precisely the sound of the record that pulls me in. There is some great jazz playing here, but the entire album sounds like you are listening to a band playing in a big empty room, but from down the hall and out of sight. It’s an eerie sound. And the music has a ramshackle groove adding to the general sense of alienation going on. Yet! There is at least one totally beautiful blues here – Search Light Blues. I think the soloist is tenor man John Gilmore (one of the least heralded giants of the instrument) – his solo here is especially inspired and memorable. So, while the sound may be BAD, the music is BEAUTIFUL. Heh!

So anyway I’ve also been looking for the new, new wave………

This whole notion of profiling some new music releases is a lot more complicated than I’d bargained for. Sure, I can download anything easily enough. The real question is – what? I know I recently spent some time listening to The Black Keys on spotify. I thought the music was pretty good, but I had no desire to purchase the album since the stream sounded good enough for me (surprise!). If I wanted to hear it again I’d just as soon stream it from spotify again. This must be why a growing number of artists are starting to question the whole free streaming music server thing. Yet, for me there is another angle – so much modern music is readily available for free in other places like supermarkets, stores and the good old radio. Not that I’m a big radio listener, but I feel like I hear plenty. (Why would I want to own a Ke$ha CD or download? I hear enough of that already.)

What I’m interested in are artists who are out there doing something great that should be more popular or at least connected to a larger audience. That’s the kind of thing that fascinates me more than the usual stuff on popular radio. Unfortunately, I’m no John Peel. He was known for listening to stacks of cassettes sent in to his radio program – literally sifting through the proverbial haystacks for the golden needles. And he did find them, but that’s a lot of listening time spent getting the good stuff sorted out from the dreck.

The best new music exposure-filter for me has been the “word-of-mouth” filter. There was a time I listened to radio. There was a time I had a subscription to a very hip and vibration-diverse magazine. Well, the rag done quit and radio ain’t the same no more. Even the local college radio station has turned into the Fake Reggae station. Puke-tastic! I get the best tips from friends – both from the “meat zone” and the “inter-zone”. So what I’m gonna do is this:  THE BATTLE between the new sounds. One contestant from the mainstream – purportedly the BEST the mainstream has to offer. Then, the challenger from the OBSCURE, UNDERGROUND, MARGINALIZED and (egads!) LOCAL zone.  The two bands / artists / yodellers are gonna duke it out right here and I get to be the ref. Got that? Good, lets go………

First up :

Young the Giant – s/t  - 2010

This is their first album (do albums really matter to “new” artists anymore – that’s a whole other discussion….). I would have played their new release – listed at the #2 spot on amazon's mp3 chart – but it isn’t on spotify yet. The first one is, though. According to wiki, the debut got lots of stars – 5 stars, 10 stars…whatever. People liked this. Know what? I like this too. Hard not to like finely crafted, sonically pleasing rock/pop. Even the vocals are non-annoying. Slightly quirky even. Yet, not at all offensive. That is both the strength and the weakness of this album. The music sounds like a band – a modern band. I really hope what I’m hearing are actual instruments. Hard to tell since the production has that sonic “airbrushed” stamp to it. I do like rough edges. Mistakes. It could be an illusion though. Maybe a little more chance-taking would spiffy this up. This record sounds good, but maybe too good. I’m not reaching to turn it off. But I’m not reaching to turn it up either. I am not offended. I have no idea about the group’s image – they could be dressed up in alligator costumes for all I know. Yet, how new is this album really? I’m actually interested in the new one now. Is it better? Worse? More memorable (beyond being non-offensive)? Is this music for aging hipsters? I need to hear something more obnoxious next time – this is too damned friendly! I refuse to quote lyrics. I’m not a lyric guy anyway. This album was designed to be commercial.

The Challenger:
TriBeCaStan – New Songs from the Old Country  - 2013

   If there is any doubt about the authenticity of the human element in a new music release, this new album from TriBeCaStan lays those fears to rest post haste, squire. This is one heck of a motley assortment of whistle-blowers, clay pot-bangers, zither strummers, pied pipers and wobble-board wobblers the likes of which th’world hath not visaged befor’n. Yea, this is no mere Scottish klezmer polka improv and Chinese opera ensemble for the helluvit. There’s magnificent melodies and Siamese-cat-like interplay between and betwixt aforementioned talented musicians abounding. The overall aesthetic is easily summed up by a provocatively titled track – the fifth down from the top – “Corned Beef and Sake”. Indeed the Celtic and the Japanese doth compliment each other quite well. In the hands of lesser artists, all of this Persian-ocarina and sitar-funk banjolele bashing might sound forced or trite (or simply flat-out bonkers). Worse still, it could resemble an awkward and cold cocktail party full of total strangers from different nations all standing around avoiding each other awash in alienation and suspicion, sheepishly peering over their exotic beverages and wishing they were somewhere else. But, no! Lo! This is the multicultural party album of the year! The music is the star of the show with the textures of the instruments carefully blended as a master chef knows how to bring out the most delicious flavors from just the right blend of spices and juices. I can only imagine how the music must come to life in a personal appearance – a pleasure I look forward to in the hopefully-not-so-distant future. Is this music “commercial”? Perhaps for real human beings – organically connected to the earth and stars. All earthly and interplanetary beings can groove on these vibrations – just sign up for TriBeCaStan-ways incorporated, corporeal, cornucopia and calliope-bound!

The Verdict?    TriBeCaStan wins by a wide margin of creativity, humanity and mad-crazy flava!

Keep seeking and grooving!

No comments:

Post a Comment