Monthly Archives: May 2001

Hmm, I really enjoyed listening to the Air ‘10,000 Hz Legend’ album on Tuesday night, but today I like it less. Here’s a few more track by track reviews:

5. Radian

Lasting a whopping 7 minutes and 37 seconds, this one opens with some cool spacey sounds; then a kind of world musicy wail comes in. Nothing much happens for a couple of minutes, and then we get some cool harp sounds and a drumbeat. The song proper starts after about 3 minutes. It’s a very pleasant instrumental with a flute sound joining the standard Air set up of electric piano and string synth sounds, guitar. It builds up rather nicely and atmospherically. It’s pretty much background music though. For the last couple of minutes, the keyboard sound is warped in a Bowie-esque way (not sure which song this is reminding me of; ‘ashes to ashes’ maybe?). Anyway, not a bad track, but too long.

6. Lucky & Unhappy

Opens sounding like Pet Shop Boys. Continues to do so, building up quite nicely; there is a female vocal in there as well. It’s pleasant, but sounds essentially like an understated and slightly aimless PSBs single.

7. Sex Born Poison

Opens with an slightly out of tune guitar. I presume this was deliberate, but why? Anyway, it’s a nice spooky little song with picked acoustic guitar and some echoey, watery sounds, reminding me slightly of some early pale saints b-sides. Until the vocals come in, that is. They add some more vocoder effects to the voice for good measure. There are some very pleasant strings later on, then the vocals come back in, accompanied by some ridiculous squeaky sounds. I don’t know why, but I really don’t seem to be in the mood for this album today! I guess this one just seems overlong to me. It becomes rather heavy and dark, almost goth/industrial near the end. As you can tell, my brain has really deserted me – I should go home!

To be continued tomorrow…….

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Picked up a couple of LPs last night – Enoch Light‘s ‘Brass Menagarie’ and a funny ‘Classical goes Latin’ album by someone called Ralph Font on the Westminster Satellite series.

The Enoch Light is quite cool; my first purchase in the ‘brass menagerie’ series. I’m confused though – my copy was sealed, but when I got the record out it was really flimsy and thin, and the pressing was pretty noisy as well. Nothing like what I’d previously experienced on the Project 3 label – I thought Enoch was a big audiophile?!

I bought the Latin-Classical LP for my collection. I find myself collecting both classical-pop/jazz (e.g. ‘the baroque inevitable’, ‘bacharach baroque’) and pop/jazz classical (e.g. Cy Coleman‘s ‘the ages of rock’, the Swingle Singers, and a multitude of generic jazz-clasical LPs) from the 1960s. This one is actually pretty good, with a jaw-dropping version of ‘Fur Elise’. I should really scan in the cover, which is a very cool set of colored shapes set around an unimaginative bust of Beethoven wearing a sombrero.

Anyway, one point to all this collecting might be to make a compilation of the sacriligious classical cover versions I enjoy most. Cy Coleman‘s take on Rachmanninov, Prelude in Black, would definitely be on there. Every time I hear this track it seems to get better and better.

So, the new Air album is finally out, and I’m listening to it now. I deliberately didn’t read any reviews so I could listen to it ‘cold’. It was an interesting feeling – going into Virgin (terrible store) of all places to buy a new album excitedly on the day it came out. Air are about the only group around today I would do this for.

mix of prog/80s/everything. Overall, I’ve enjoyed it very much.

Just so you can find out why I’m not a music journalist, here’s my track-by-track verdict – to be continued tomorrow

1. Electronic Performers

A dramatic, long, meandering, cinematic piece. Uses nice vocoderized spoken vocal and an assortment or bleeps and mechanical sounds as well as the group’s favorite guitar, piano and synth sounds. Far more dark and less easy listening than the opener on ‘Moon Safari’. Good though. The lyrics are funny: ‘we need to use envelope filters…to show how we feel’.

2. How Does It Make You Feel

Air’s version of a ballad, although in the world of Air, this is about a long distance relationship between across space. It builds gradually with some a synth choir int he background, before melting into a cliched sounding 70s anthemic chorus of ‘How does it make you feel’. The lyrics are again pretty humorous – the idea of our human insecurities being common to people from other planets (‘it’s very hard for me to say these things in your presence’) is entertaining.

3. Radio #1

This was the first single from the album. It opens strongly, like a slowed down and superior version of ‘Sexy Boy’ from the first album. Then a 70s rock pastiche begins, as the ‘sexy boy’ bassline continues. It’s actually pretty cool, but as in ‘how does it make you feel’, I enjoyed the dark verse more than the chorus. Towards the end the song keeps dipping in volume as a rogue listener starts singing along, which made me laugh.

4. The Vagabond

Featuring Beck, this one opens with a harmonica and has a long, quiet intro. The song as a whole ends up sounding more like Beck than Air. It’s not bad, but not that special in my view.

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I just went out to a gig. This is slightly unusual for me these days. I went because Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce, the rhythm section of The Smiths were in the group, who were called Jason Specter. Alas, they seem to have taken the Oasis route (pretty rocky, vocals yelled), and while the group were very professional and tight, they didn’t impress me all that much. They did get better as the night went on, but I was actually more taken by the band before them, a complete Smiths wannabe band called Sadie. They reminded of me of how I used to be when I was in a band – the singer was singing badly, prancing around the stage to a nice jangly sound etc… Anyway, it was actually really nice to go out to see live music; I should do it more often…

I’ve listened to a lot of music today, and this morning I (sort of) wrote a song. An idea came to me in the shower, and I recorded an extremely rough version of it. I got a very nice tremelo guitar sound out of my amp, so hopefully I can polish it into something soon…

Oh, and concerning ‘not buying any records for a while’, I am a complete bullshitter – on the way home yesterday (I mean Friday) I had some serious record karma. As I was walking down 5th Avenue, I was trying to think of a reason why I shouldn’t pop into Academy Records. I couldn’t think of one, so I headed along 18th St, and then remembered that second hand bookstore across the street which sometimes has $1 records out front. I looked straight ahead and was drawn to a crate which was out front. I knelt down and immediately picked out 2 Ramsey Lewis albums on Cadet – ‘Hang on Ramsey’ and ‘Swingin’. I also (vainly, since my name is Jonny) bought an early 60s vocal record by Bonnie Baker called ‘Oh Johnny!’ with an incredible cover featuring a girl standing up in an open-topped jaguar near a country house, being ravished by some dashing gentleman. Pretty funny. Actually, the album was better than I had expected – it was in great shape and featured a track called ‘the bongo song’, about falling for a guy who plays bongoes in a band – cool, eh! As for the Ramsey Lewis LPs, ‘Hang on Ramsey’ is a live album recorded in 1965. It’s kind of cool, but my $1 copy turned out to be in pretty poor shape. ‘Swingin’ was actually a revelation though – the trio’s first recording (from December 1956; my copy is a 60s reissue), it’s an extremely cool, percussive album, with a lot of cool bass and drums – really pretty unusual to my ears, and not the straight ahead jazz I was expecting from looking at the song titles…

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Well, it’s working! I’m not buying any new records this week, or even listening to much stuff, so that I can focus on my own music.

The last 2 evenings I was up well into the night finishing off the themes and incidental music for my old mate Tony’s film, This is not a room.

If the other musical endeavors I have planned for the next 2 weeks are as hard to get out as these were, I’m in for a tough time. I originally wrote and recorded the theme in one day in February. It was really pretty good; just maybe needed better mixing and a few extra tracks. Anyway, I farted about with it for weeks, just making it worse, before Tony wisely slapped a deadline on me and gave me details of timings etc. It’s now pretty much done. I’m quite happy with it, but not exactly delighted. I think the theme is pretty cool, and I’m happy with the composition. However, the playing isn’t perfect, and I have a considerable way to go when it comes to perfecting recording techniques. Not quite ready to join Lalo Schifrin, John Barry and Henry Mancini in the soundtracks hall of fame yet, I’m afraid…..

Anyway, I’m pleased to have got most of the film stuff off my plate so I can work on my instrumental pop masterpiece, ‘ ‘Impossible Music’. Let’s hope it’s a masterpiece, eh…

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Julie-mania

Today I’ve been listening to Julie London‘s sublime and wonderful ‘Julie is her name’ and ‘Julie is her name Vol 2′ albums. I’ve hardly listened to them in the last couple of years, since my peak of Julie-mania, which was in late 98/early 99. They really are superb though, and it’s not hard to see why ‘Julie is her name’ is commonly hailed as a landmark album. Julie’s voice manages to sound beautifully musical at the same time as heart-breakingly frail and vulnerable. The incredibly clean and minimal arrangements featuring Barney Kessel on guitar are also superb. I was amazed to find out that this US EMI 2 on 1 CD is now out of print. Perhaps all their remaining copies were bought up after Julie died last year. Either way, they should really repress it. I was pretty sad when Julie died, but at least felt glad that it meant something to me. Too many great people (e.g. Antonio Carlos Jobim, Henry Mancini) died just before I figured out how great they were…

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I’m trying not to buy any new stuff this week so that I can focus on my own music. With that in mind, it wasn’t very clever of me to go to Academy records on my lunch hour. I managed to buy three new CDs:

Claude Nougaro – ‘Petit taureau’. This is very cool French jazz with a male vocal from 1967. I first heard of Claude through a 7″ EP belonging to esther’s mother. I have a great LP from 1960 which he recorded with Michel Legrand, so I was pleased to see this one used. It’s very jazzy and quite wild, but with the mildest hint of rock influence, particularly on the first track. Claude’s vocals are something of an acquired taste – slightly over the top with a lot of rolled ‘r’s.
Howard Roberts – ‘Something’s cookin’/Goodies’. I was very pleased to find another of these 2-on-1 CDs used. The material here is from 1964 and 1965. It’s frivolous and fun jazz quartet stuff, with as much prominent organ work (from Charles Kynard and Henry Cain) as guitar. Overall I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as the ‘Guilty/Jaunty Jolly’ CD, but it’s still pretty cool.
Paul Revere and the Raiders – ‘Hard’N’Heavy (with marshmallow)’. Hmm, why did I buy this? It seemed quite cheap, it is from 1969, and it had a cool name which made me think of Mama Cass’s ‘Bubble Gum, Lemonade and… Something for Mama ‘ album. Unfortunately, it sounds nothing like that, as anyone who know anything at all could probably have told me. It’s not too bad – just simple, bluesey, rocky pop songs, many of which are simple ‘Louie Louie’/’Wild Thing’-style three chord numbers. There are a few spoken word intros; the band seem to have been up for a laugh. Another reason for buying it were the bonus tracks, one of which is an advertising song for the Pontiac Judge GTO, and another called ‘Theme from It’s happening’. All in all, I have to say I prefer softer 60s bands with fuller arrangements – stuff like Harper’s Bizarre, The Association, Spanky & our Gang etc. Interesting to have though.

I must stop buying stuff.

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Quite enjoying Kenny Burrell‘s ‘Ode to 52 Street’ on CD today as I work. I admit, I bought it in the (misguided) hope that it would be funky because it’s on Cadet and produced by Richard Evans. But funky isn’t everything, you know. It’s an unusual and varied jazz album. Some of it is a little pedestrian for my taste, but there are some great moments. It’s one of those albums which is best heard all at one time.

I also listened to Da Lata again. This one has never made it home, which generally means I don’t like it. It’s really not bad, actually, just very *adult* somehow. Quite pleasant, but somehow not my thing.

On the topic of ‘quite pleasant’ and not my thing, I listened to the Shuggie Otis – ‘Inspiration Information’ CD yesterday. You’ve probably seen or heard of this CD, which seems to have had more aggressive press and marketing than any other reissue in recent years. Anyway, I gave in and bought it (at the enormous Amoeba records in San Francisco, about the only place I got to visit when I was there), and …………. It honestly doesn’t really do it for me. Why did I buy it? A mixture of the enthusings at Dusty Groove and the fact that Sean O’Hagan or Tim Gane or someone had gone on about how it showcased ‘a whole new direction popular music could have gone in’. It’s not that it’s bad exactly. It’s just a little meandering and soul-ey for my taste. And I don’t exactly love the production on it. There are some really nice sounds (e.g. the sparkly warm sound at the beginning of the track ‘happy house’), but these soon give way to stuff I find cheesy. One track – I think it’s the extra poppy and catchy ‘Strawberry Letter 23′ – contains a riff which was either sampled or borrowed by the group Color me Badd in their early 90s hit ‘I wanna sex you up’. Anyway, the bottom line is this CD leaves me feeling as if I’ve been taken for a ride by the marketing men more than anything else. If you can enlighten me on Mr Otis, please do so

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Yikes, I’m all alone now…

Anyway, a record arrived in the mail today to cheer me up: Brother Jack McDuff‘s ‘The Natural Thing’. And you know what? It’s pretty good. It’s from 1968 on the cadet label, which was always going to be promising. Side A is nice and funky (reminiscent of, but not exactly like Ramsey Lewis and Dorothy Ashby‘s LPs from this era on Cadet), while side B is more jazzy. This was produced by someone called Lew Futterman, as opposed to Richard Evans, who instead is credited with ‘Album Supervision’. The sound is reminiscent of Evans’s work, but not the same, so perhaps Futterman was some kind of apprentice. Either way, it’s very cool, and the tracks are nice and short, more managable than the long tracks on some of Brother Jack’s earlier LPs… This is actually only the second LP of his I’ve ever bought my own copy of – a couple of years ago I bought a ‘best of’ on Prestige which was very cool…

The Lalo Schifrin ‘Insensatez’ LP is quite superb, and I can’t quite believe I had gone this long before getting a copy. It’s superbly atmospheric, and almost every track has a madly strong and insistent bossa beat, always audible over the layers of strings and piano. Very highly recommended.

Other than that, I don’t believe I’ve bought anything for a few days, although I admit I just drowned my sorrows at being left alone for a few weeks by indulging in a frenzy of ebay bidding.

Oh, and the ‘surfer’s mood’ compilation is very cool as well. Many of tracks have a Joe Meek type of early 60s sound on them; a couple of others sound incredibly like some late 80s indie, in particular a great number called ‘Mr. Miff’ by the July 4.

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My copy of Lalo Schifrin‘s ‘Insensatez’ (an ebay bargain) arrived this morning. It’s a 1969 reissue of his ‘piano, strings and bossa nova’ bossa/orchestral album from 1962. I know this after consulting Doug Payne’s site. If it wasn’t for Doug’s excellent discography, I would have bought a copy of the original ‘piano, strings…’ LP this morning; I didn’t realize they were the same album! Anyway, I’m looking forward to hearing it – a couple of tracks featured on the German motor music ‘Mission Impossible and More’ compilation are excellent.

Doug’s site is really excellent – he writes liner notes for actual reissues, some of which are duplicated on his site; he also does meticulous discography research, covering interesting subjects like Roy Budd, Gary MacFarland, Shirley Scott, and the A&M; 3000 series (the ones with the insanely cool gatefold covers).

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I am feeling blue today. Outside it’s overcast, and inside it’s overcast. Anyway, I tried to right things by ………….surprise – buying some records. Only one. Well, I got my batch of McCarthy and Popguns stuff in the mail from musicweb. One of the McCarthy 12 inches had mold stains on the sleeve, but at $1.99 I guess I can’t complain. Well, I could, but I won’t.

The record I bought today was from Midnight Records on 23rd st at 8th Avenue, which seems to be a rock’n’roll/surf specialty store. Odd store! Anyway, after weeks of typing in song recommendations on my musical taste page, I realized that I should really branch out from ‘beautiful lush string-laden bossas’. I do like other stuff, but I think I have become obsessed, like at 15 when I would only listen to the Smiths. So, I bought ‘Surfer’s Mood vol IV’ an interesting-looking vinyl compilation of early 60s latin-influenced West coast surf music. It was about time I took a gamble, I think. It looks very cool, and includes a version of ‘moon of mankoora’, which is a great tune.

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