Category Archives: Listening Project

the Iphone Blues 5/6/2013

Where I load 7 albums onto my iPhone, listen to them for a week (or more) and then write some stuff.

Artist: The Benevento Russo Duo

Album: Play Pause Stop

Comments: I’m not going to write about this album because it’s too good. Just listen to the single Play Pause Stop and draw your own conclusions.

 

Artist: The Black Crowes

Album: Before the Frost

Comments: Boring. Like listening to a Stones cover band. There’s even a “Black and Blue” rip-off sleazy disco song. Gross.

 

Artist: Caribou

Album: Swim

Comments: Very good. I dig Snaith. Dance music that you can’t dance to. Perfect for a bourgeoisie coffee shop.

 

Artist: Galactic

Album: Carnival Electricos

Comments: This has its moments but a Brazilian costume doesn’t really suit the New Orleans funk maestros. Also, I still miss the Houseman.

 

Artist: Giorgio Moroder

Album: From Here to Eternity

Comments: Giorgio has a big, creepy mustache and this album sounds like a big creepy mustache using technology to seduce Italian girls. I like it a lot.

 

Artist: Joey Beltram

Album: Live Mix

Comments: Old school hardcore house. Very awesome. You can hear Joey’s hands manipulating the decks. Energy Flash might be the best thing ever (at least it is right now).

 

Artist: Sally Shapiro

Album: Disco Romance

Comments: Every single note, every drum beat, every breath “Sally” sings is perfect. Perfect pop music.

 

 

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The iPhone Blues: April 22nd

Wherein I load 7 albums on my iPhone, listen to them for a week, and write something about each record.

 

Artist: Alice Coltrane

Album: Journey in Satchidananda

Comments: A meditation on life and death. Pharaoh Saunders. Harp. Om. A deep record, you should listen to it late at night.

 

Artist: Brian Eno

Album: Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy

Comments: Art-punk before punk existed, Eno used a deck of cards called Oblique Strategies to mimick the randomizing effect of the I Ching. The results are weird, moving and incredibly influential. Repetition is a form of change.

 

Artist: Dr. John

Album: The Sun, Moon and Herbs

Comments: Gris Gris. Voodoo. Funk. Death and magic lurking everywhere. A criminally underrated Dr. John record. Zu Zu Mamou might be the most terrifying thing ever, in a very good way.

 

Artist: James Blake

Album: Overgrown

Comments: No one else sounds like James Blake. You can trace his influences–Burial, R&B, Gospel–but Blake somehow blends them into something way more interesting than “spot the influences.” Overgrown is close to a perfect album. It has 9 songs that are basically a window into Blake’s bittersweet head-space. But (and this is a big but) Overgrown is marred by the absolutely horrendous RZA collaboration “Take a Fall for Me.” It is hard to over-state how terrible this song is. It weighs down Overgrown like sack of rotting potatoes, damning the entire record. Deleting it from iTunes doesn’t help either, because you still know it exists.

 

Artist: STS 9

Album: NYE.ATL.08

Comments: I like STS9 a lot but this record is missing something. It’s culled from a New Year’s Eve run, but it lacks the narrative of a good STS 9 show. I highly recommend downloading an STS9 show from either the band’s website or archive.org.

 

Artist: Stuart Duncan, Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer and Yo-Yo Ma

Album: The Goat Rodeo Sessions

Comments: Since leaving pop bluegrass favorites Nickel Creek, Chris Thile has been concocting a strange fusion of Bluegrass and Classical Music with his band the Punch Brothers. The Punch Brothers records are close to good, but show their seems a little bit too much. The Goat Rodeo Sessions, however, represents a seamless blending of the American Folk tradition and Baroque romanticism. This is a great a record for a Sunday afternoon if you have a very, very intellectual front porch to sit on.

 

Artist: Tom Waits

Album: Glitter and Doom (Live)

Comments: It turns out a circa 2009 Tom Waits show is basically a freaked-out, lysergic blues revival carnival. The band is super tight and Waits is “in good voice.”  This is definitely not a “greatest hits live!” album, it’s like a post-card from the road. If you like Tom Waits, you’ll like Glitter and Doom. If you aren’t sure, this probably won’t help you make up your mind.

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the iPhone Blues: April 15th

7 days, 7 albums loaded onto my iPhone. Here’s what I listened to and what I have to say about it.

 

Artist: Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Review

Album: Live 1975, the Rolling Thunder Review

Comments: For me, the best part of this record is Rob Stoner’s bass playing. The pocket is huge and he is tirelessly inventive, turning the basic structures of most of Dylan’s songs into a strange canvass for melodic bass playing. Scarlet Rivera’s violin playing is also melodic and biting, giving most of the gig a similar feel to Dylan’s other 1975 masterpiece “Desire.” Dylan isn’t in great voice but he brings a lot of energy to the table. Live 1975 is a treat for Dylan fans but its not for everyone.

 

Artist: David Bowie

Album: Young Americans

Comments: A Philly Soul rock record, there aren’t many of these. Somehow, the Thin White Duke pulls it off, intricate MSFB arrangements stacked against dystopian lyrics about the pitfalls of fame. Philly Soul had a short run, with disco quickly supplanting it as pop music’s flavor of the week, but it’s a shame more artists haven’t looked to the genre for inspiration.

 

Artist: Flower Travellin’ Band

Album: Flower Travellin’ Band

Comments: The Flower Travellin’ Band are a Japanese psychedelic rock band from the 70s (?). I don’t have a ton of info about them, but their music is an apolcalyptic combination of heavy riffs, banging drums and fiery guitars. Fans of Black Sabbath should check them out.

 

Artist: Fuck Buttons

Album: Tarot Sport

Comments: I liked this album a lot when it was released in 2009, but I couldn’t really get into it last week.

 

Artist: Miguel

Album: Kaleidoscope Dream

Comments: A lot of people think this was the best R & B album made last year. In terms of production quality, hooks and vibe I agree with them. But (and this is a big but) Kaleidoscope Dream is filled with lyrical clunkers that I just can’t deal with. The worst offender is probably “Do You Like Drugs” which juxtaposes that line with do you like hugs? What’s sad is the synth bass underpinning the song is so hooky its warbling around my head while I’m trying to pan this record. I’m conflicted.

 

Artist: Miles Davis

Album: In a Silent Way

Comments: Fusion is a genre that was horrendously abused by people wearing headbands and berets. The word fusion evokes solos, lots of notes, chops and record executives trying to find jazz for white people. I hate Jaco Pastorius. I hate Return to Forever. I hate the entire genre. But for some insane reason critics like to call the electric music Miles Davis made in the late 60s and 70s “fusion.” This is wrong. There are no berets and there aren’t many solos. The playing is collective and strange, beautifully lyrical and completely unhinged. Miles is the anti beret: there’s no mental masturbation here.

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Listening Project: Welcome to the Letter B

The Listening Project is my quixotic attempt to listen to every album on my 120 gig iPod in alphabetical order.

 

Artist:

Glass Candy

Album:

B/E/A/T/B/O/X

Comments:

Meh. Pretty damn forgettable hipster dance music. 80s pastiche only goes so far. Would be good to work out to. Maybe.

 

Artist:

Baby Charles

Comments:

Baby Charles

Comments:

Meh. The letter B you are off to a week start. Baby Charles is one of those revival soul acts from Britain. They hit all the right notes and ape all the vintage sounds, but it’s a pretty damn soul-less affair.

 

Artist:

Bloodkin

Album:

Baby, They Told Us We Would Rise Again

Comments:

Bloodkin are a neo-Southern rock band that gained a little notoriety in the 90s because Widespread Panic liked to cover some of their tunes. Apparently the guys in Bloodkin liked to do a lot of drugs and drink lots of bad whiskey. Turns out that’s not good for your career, especially if you’re not popular enough to warrant the filming of a VH1 Behind the Music. Baby, They Told Us We Would Rise Again is Bloodkin’s Behind the Music in album form. Actually it’s not nearly as bad as that sounds. The boys have an interesting turn of phrase and an understanding of how to write catchy rock songs. “Rhododendron” is a killer song. The album is probably worth stealing if you’re really into southern rock.

 

Artist:

Bob Marley & the Wailers

Album:

Babylon by Bus

Comments:

I’m stunned there’s only 1 album on my iPod that starts with the word baby. I was expecting between 3 & 17. Frankly I’m relieved. Maybe all those babies were 90s R & B or something.

Back to Babylon.

I’m not a huge reggae or Marley fan, but I love this album. Babylon by Bus is a live album, but don’t hold that against it. Ashton “Family Man” Barret’s bass playing is astounding and highlights the record. The groove is so simple but so deep, it’s impossible to ignore. Marley’s voice sounds a little bit torn & frayed but that just makes Babylon feel more authentic.

 

Artist:

Trombone Shorty

Album:

Backatown

Comments:

Meh (again). I should love this album. I love New Orleans music and the Trombone Forum follows me on twitter. I also like Shorty in Treme, despite the fact Treme is basically a 2 year long hectoring PSA. But Backatown just didn’t do it for me. The arrangements were very stock and I thought the groove was way too square. I’m sure I would enjoy the hell out of Shorty live, but he needs to step up his game in the studio.

 

 

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Listening Project: It’s All Bold as Love.

Artist:

Pink Floyd

Album:

Atom Heart Mother

Comments:

Very trippy early Floyd. If you’re only familiar with “Comfortably Numb” or “Money” you’ll be in for a shock. Bookend-ed by 2 massive psychedelic suites: “Atom Heart Mother” & “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast,” Atom Heart Mother is the sound of swinging London melting into a bitter early-morning comedown. The bittersweet “Fat Old Sun” is my favorite track.

Artist:

Kraftwerk

Album:

Autobahn

Comments:

Way less cheesy then I remembered it being, Autobahn was an awesome listen. You should listen to it while stuck in traffic. I did. Fun, fun, fun on Dong San Huan.

Artist:

Roxy Music

Album:

Avalon

Comments:

Very slick, very tight recording from the “British Talking Heads.” More like Steely Dan than synth pop, Avalon is a great example of how a band can use the studio as 1 big instrument. “More Than This” is also a truly stunning pop song: part existential crisis, part sexy groove and one of the best songs of 80s.

Artist:

STS9

Album:

Axe the Cables

Comments:

The 3rd STS9 album reviewed in the listening project and we’re just coming to the end of the letter “A.” Axe the Cables is STS9 live at a theater in Colorado playing an all acoustic show. “Electronica” bands playing acoustic shows, especially bands with 4 mac book pros on-stage, is basically a recipe for disaster. STS9, however, pull it off. Turns out if you take away the synth swirls and vocal samples, STS9 sound like a jazz band playing post rock. Yes, that’s a good thing if you’re me. Highly recommended.

Artist:

the Jimi Hendrix Experience

Album:

Axis: Bold as Love

Comments:

Jimi making funky-soul music. Yes that’s a good thing. If you have a pulse. Wish Jimi had lived long enough to explore his soul side a little bit more. Imagine Jimi playing with Marvin Gaye or Sly Stone, or even stretching out on “Miles on the Corner.”

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Listening Project: Improvising in the Key of A

This was a damn good run on my iPod. An embarrassment of improvisational riches.

Artist:

STS9

Album:

Artifact

Comments:

A solid studio effort by STS9 who are better known for live dance-floor melting grooves and hypnotic synths, Artifact is beautiful album that features well-structured ambient grooves. Would sound great at the end of the night coming back from the club.

 

Artist:

John Coltrane

Album:

Ascension

Comments:

Not for the faint of heart, Ascension is an incredibly moving improvisation that is equal parts melodic and chaotic. I wouldn’t want to listen to this everyday, but Ascension is one of the records that freed modern music from rules & conventions. After free jazz, everything was possible.

 

Artist:

Van Morrison

Album:

Astral Weeks

Comments:

Simply one of the most beautiful things ever set to wax, Astral Weeks features unbelievable orchestral improvisation and Van Morrison’s cryptic but heartfelt lyrics. Van’s voice might be the most beautiful instrument on the album, moving from heart-stringing quiver to guttural juke joint growl. Astral Weeks is one of the reasons we still lionize the 60s.

 

Artist:

My Morning Jacket

Album:

At Dawn

Comments:

At Dawn is a gorgeous record. If you’re only familiar with MMJs later rocking funk pop, you should definitely check out At Dawn. Like M Ward but floating on wisps of smoke to the rafters of an old Kentucky silo. The evolution of MMJ is an astounding thing. How do you get from X Mas Curtain (At Dawn’s standout track) to Highly Suspicious?

 

Artist:

The Allman Bros. Band

Album:

At Filmore East

Comments:

At Filmore East is the essence of rock music.

  • It’s a blues record
  • It has the single most awesome bass intro ever (Whipping Post)
  • Duane Allman’s slide playing is so biting, so brilliant it defies believability
  • There are  immaculately constructed instrumentals that are technical & soulful (Hot Lanta & Liz Reed)
  • It’s live and the mistakes just make it better

If you’re playing rock music, you should learn every second of At Filmore East. If you’re listening to rock music, you’re listening to echoes of Duane somewhere in the mix.

 

 

 

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The Dead, Eno, Hendrix and Boring Indie

Artist:

The Grateful Dead

Album:

Aoxomoxoa

Comments:

Aoxomoxoa has a lot of great songs on it, but it just doesn’t quite work. Like a lot of studio Dead it is over-produced–stuffed full of ideas that basically add nothing. The highlight is Mtns. of the Moon which is an other-worldly psychedelic English folk ballad that somehow manages to be about nothing and everything.

Overall the album has a certain “English-ness” to it that somehow weakens it. On American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead, the GD found a way to incorporate folk music by highlighting their connection to the “old, weird America.” Aoxomoxoa is a step in that direction but is probably only interesting for Dead freaks like me.

Artist:

Brian Eno

Album:

Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks

Comments:

One of Eno’s ambient masterpieces, Apollo benefits from Daniel Lanois’ emotive, evocative and gossamer pedal steel playing. The combination of pedal steel and ambient noise is incredibly visual and pastoral, conjuring post-modern train music. Apollo is one of Eno’s most moving and organic albums and serves as a nice introduction for listeners unfamiliar with ambient music. Someday I want to listen to it riding on a long slow train from St. Louis to San. Fran.

Artist:

Wolf Parade

Album:

Apologies to the Queen Mary

Comments:

A very boring, very dated sounding “indie” record from the mid-aughts. File under “forget.”

Artist:

the Jimi Hendrix Experience

Album:

Are You Experienced?

Comments:

Are You Experienced? Sounds like a come-on. Like Hendrix is asking you, “Have you gotten laid?” Listening to Are You Experienced in 1967 must have been like trading in your v-card. Nothing in the history of popular music had ever sounded like this before. Jimi’s guitar was a cry of pain baked by the blues, soul, rock n roll and jazz. He was out of tune but in-time with something deeper. To break Hendrix down any further isn’t right. You just have to listen.  Jimi wasn’t meant to be heard in words.

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