Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Massive Attack, Heligoland

Massive Attack grew out of the soundsystem/DJ collective The Wild Bunch over 20 years ago.  Membership in the group has been flexible and they are known for having had a wide variety of vocalists fronting their often dense, well-crafted productions.  The original core members Andrew Vowles, Grant Marshall and Robert Del Naja were eventually reduced to just Del Naja.  Heligoland marks the return of Marshall.

The list of vocalists on Heligoland looks promising with Damon Albarn, Martina Topley Bird, and Hope Sandoval among others.  It all starts well enough with “Pray For Rain” which features  TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe on vocals.  Downtempo, somewhat menacing, with an astonishing vocal break that brings the Beach Boys to mind, it’s a terrific cut.   While the next few tracks aren’t quite at the level of “Pray For Rain”, they are sufficient to maintain interest and attention with intriguing production and revolving vocalists.

It doesn’t last.  Before very long Heligoland sinks under its own weight.  Similar tempos which become monotonous, aimless beats and needlessly obscure lyrics delivered in sing-song monotones quickly turn Heligoland into a set where everything sounds pretty much the same.  The changing vocalists helps somewhat but it’s not nearly enough.  Heligoland is unrelentingly dreary and well before it’s over you’re wondering if it will ever end.  A disappointment.

“Pray for Rain” with Tunde Adebimpe on vox


06/30/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Pantha Du Prince, Black Noise

Pantha Du Prince is German electronic music producer Hendrick Weber.  Black Noise is his third album and it’s gorgeous.

Pantha Du Prince’s music is usually categorized as minimal techno.  I don’t know if this is a good categorization or not.  To me, he sounds more interested in melody than the music producers and DJs who are usually given the minimal techno label and his music often doesn’t sound too minimal to me.  While Pantha Du Prince makes good use of space, there is a lot going on in his tracks.  It may be quiet, but there’s a lot there.

Weber often uses chime and bell-like timbres or percussion instruments like marimbas and xylophones to carry melody or provide texture which gives his music an ethereal, mysterious quality.  He also favors quiet, slightly discordant drones as textural devices.  Rhythm can be carried by a complex of changing instruments throughout a track.  This is music that is as much or more about listening as it is about dancing.

Black Noise is a quiet album and won’t satisfy during those moments when you want high energy music.  However. it’s also the kind of album that reveals more of interest the more time you spend giving it your attention.  It took me awhile to get into Black Noise but once I gave it several listens it began to reveal its secrets and Pantha Du Prince had me hooked.

Opening track, “Lay in Shimmer”

06/30/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: A-Track, Fabriclive.45

Okay, so I downloaded A-Trak’s Fabriclive.45 mix in WAV format.  Twenty-five tracks mashed up by A-Trak, looked like it could be pretty good.  Launched it in my music player and before I knew what was happening there was a party going on in my computer.  I tried to write this review while the mix was playing but the fucking letters kept jumping around the screen and making new words.  “We hear the bass and we say woah”, “BASS! (woah, that was Bootsy), “DO IT!”, “You know it’s gonna be alright – be alright.”  “Get down – unh”.  WTF??!!???  This is impossible.

Figured, fuck it, I’ll play a game.  Write the review later.  Had some of that recent DLC for Mass Effect 2 I hadn’t tried.  Check that out.  Loaded the game and there’s Shepard rolling with that blue-skinned alien chick.  This can’t be happening.  Well, Bioware’s cool right?  Maybe they got something goin’ with Fabric so you get this cool Easter Egg if you run the game and the mix at the same time.  Yeah, that’s gotta be it.

Heard that the Rise of the Godslayer expansion had turned Age of Conan from a disaster into an MMO worth playing so I thought I’d check that out.  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Conan?  Waving his hands in the air and shakin’ his ass like a fuck toy?  “I see you baby . . .”  Dude dances like an elephant and you don’t even want to think about him trying to do that LeBron robot thing.

Then some fool in the mix starts goin’ on about his dick.  Daniel Woodis doing “I’m the Ish”.  The mix drops dead like a corpse fell out of an airplane and landed in the middle of the dancefloor.  Splat.    Conan looks embarrassed and tears a Pictish warrior apart with his bare hands.  By Crom!   “I’m the Ish” killed the mix.  wtf was A-Trak thinking?

But wait.  The computer don’t like it either and the words stopped jumping around the screen.  I can get the review written.  Yeah, okay, I’ll describe what just happened and then list the good tracks.  Okay, the mix starts out with . . . oh, shit.  Here it comes again.  Alexis Latrobe’s “Aurora”.  There go the words on the screen.  “Get Down”.

I open up the panel on my computer and my motherboard is a motherfucker.  All those little gizmos jumping around waving their little wires.  “Do it!”

Fuck this review shit.  You want a party?  Check it out.

Opening segment from Fabriclive.45 which begins with A-Trak’s version of his own “Say Whoa”.  Compare with DJ Spinna’s remix on A-Trak’s mix CD Infinity+1

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06/28/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: M.A.N.D.Y., Renaissance, The Mix Collection

M.A.N.D.Y. are Berlin-based DJs and producers Patrick Bodmer and Phillipp Jung who are known for their superb mixing skills.  One story has it that an estimated half a million dancers were so deep into M.A.N.D.Y.’s groove at the 2008 Love Parade that they refused to come in out of the pouring rain.  Okay, drugs were probably involved, but still . . .

The kind of mixing skills that could keep a half mill dancers, stoned or straight, going in a downpour are on ample display in M.A.N.D.Y.’s Renaissance The Mix Collection.  They excel at virtually every aspect of creating a mix.  Tracks flow seamlessly both in terms of the choice of which track comes next and the segue between cuts.  M.A.N.D.Y.’s additions are integrated so smoothly into the sequenced track it’s difficult to separate the two sources of music.  They mix styles, rhythms and vocals/instrumentals so that the flow never seems to become repetitious or boring.

Although both discs are on the mellow side, disc one is more downtempo and disc two is uptempo.  Both discs are very easy to listen to and are likely to appeal to both newcomers to electronic dance music and experienced listeners.  These guys are very good.

We listen to and enjoy a lot of DJ mix CDs and have built up a large collection of this type of music.  Typically a mix comes into the house, stays in our rotation for as long as we enjoy it and then gets racked and forgotten.  A very few are returned to a time or two.  And then there are the select mixes that we come back to again and again.  M.A.N.D.Y.’s Renaissance The Mix Collection is one of those.

06/28/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

If having an abundance of talent, the ability to write and perform fine, sometimes great, songs, and working relentlessly on the touring circuit were enough to bring success in the music business, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals would be a household name.  They started strong and have gotten better over time.  This is a first-class band fronted by an exceptionally strong singer, songwriter and musician.

The band’s 2007 album This is Somewhere opened with the spectacular track “Ah, Mary”.  On the one hand, I don’t think that anything on Grace Potter and the Nocturnals is as good, on the other I think the new album is markedly stronger overall than This is Somewhere.  In my review of the earlier album I described the band as primarily country-oriented with a somewhat thin rock overlay and wished these emphases were reversed.  Grace Potter and the Nocturnals doesn’t do the reversal but it brings the country and rock elements much more in balance with each other which is probably a better idea.  I also noted in the earlier review that my lack of enjoyment of the country aspects of This Is Somewhere reflected my own tastes and that many listeners would probably prefer the band just as they were.  Those listeners might not be as happy with the shift toward rock on Grace Potter and the Nocturnals but I think the balance makes for a stronger album.

Potter sings, writes or co-writes their songs, and plays acoustic and electric guitars, piano and Hammond B3 organ.  Although comparison of the album photos on Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and This is Somewhere might give you the idea that she may be trying to market herself  as a Hot Blonde© in the band’s continued search for the widespread recognition they deserve, all you have to do is listen to the album to know she isn’t this month’s pitch-corrected bimbo with plastic tits & great hair.  Potter’s song craft and musician skills are rock solid and she is a very powerful singer.  Actually, “very powerful singer” doesn’t quite get the idea across – how about King Kong in heels?  Potter can not only rock and roar but she can sell a ballad which gives the band exceptional range.

In addition to Potter the band features Scott Tourney on lead and lap steel guitars, Benny Yurco on rhythm guitars, Catherine Popper on bass and drummer Matt Burr.  As you would expect from a band that tours as hard as this one does, they are a very tight unit that superbly complements and supports Potter in her role as front woman.

The history of popular music is littered with great bands who had everything they needed but who didn’t make it for no discernible reason and ended up giving up in frustration.  Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are a great band who have honed their skills the old-fashioned way on stage after stage in club after club.  It must drive them out of their minds every time a group that has been together for a couple of months gets a glowing Pitchfork review and becomes the darlings of the blogosphere for 10 minutes until they are forced to play in front of an audience and it becomes clear they can barely play their instruments, let alone work together as a band.  Grace Potter and the Nocturnals is a very good album from an accomplished professional band.  Listening to it you get the sense that as good as they are, they could get even better.  The world ain’t bad now but it will be better if they achieve a level of success that is commensurate with their ability and reach those heights.

“Paris (Ooh La La) from Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

And – please – go to the review of This Is Somewhere and listen to “Ah, Mary”

06/27/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Review: Toro Y Moi, Causers of This

Toro Y Moi is Chazwick Bundick, Causers of This is his first album.  His music seems to combine an interest in 1980s synth pop with low fi production, weak warbling vocals, and heavy effects processing.  Toto Y Moi is sometimes cited as a practitioner of chillwave.

When novice music producers first figure out how to add effects to a track they tend to make one of two common mistakes.  The first is to load so many effects onto a track that it gets lost in noise.  The other is to become enamored with an effect and lather it on everything.  This is the  mistake Bundick makes.  It sounds like he fell in love with a pulsing effect that operates in a steady, monotonous pattern, thought it sounded trippy, and used it to excess on most of the tracks on Causers of This.  What could have been a nice effect if used judiciously and sparingly very quickly turns into a major annoyance.  Beginning to wear out its welcome by the end of the first track, it’s enough to make you consider turning the CD into a coaster for your next glass of iced tea well before the album ends.

You need more than one effect coupled with some fairly by-the-numbers synth-pop to make an album.  With more growth and experience Toro Y Moi might develop in an interesting direction but for now he’s not quite ready for prime time.

The title track from Causers of This

06/26/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Review, Danny Howells, Choice

The idea driving Azuli’s Choice series is interesting – ask a well-known DJ to compile and mix a collection of the tracks that are their own personal all-time favorites.  Danny Howell’s Choice includes two discs of music and a DVD (which I haven’t watched).  The set also has a booklet with an essay about Howells and a brief commentary on each track by Howells.

Howells arranged each of the two music discs as a continuous mix.  Disc 1 tends toward tracks that he used often in the early stages of his career and because of this, it hangs together pretty well as a dance mix.  Disc 2 is where things start to get a little squirrelly.  Howells includes tracks that have personal meaning for him outside the club interspersed with the more typical club-oriented tunes.  At one point we get one of those spoken/sung, poem/song, loungey/sound effect things from Japan (“Ghosts”) followed by 3.5 mins of the drum break from the live version of Iron Butterfly’s “In a Gadda Da Vida” followed by Howell’s remix of The Temptations “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”.  This sounds like it ought to be a mess but Howells is so good at putting together a mix that he makes it work.  The transition from Iron Butterfly to The Temptation is especially sweet.  The set ends with a Carly Simon track.

As interesting as the idea behind Choice is, collections like this usually end up sounding like someone else’s mix tape – a collection of tracks that mean a lot to the person who put them together but just sound like a random collection of songs to everyone else.  While the nature of the project means Choice will speak more clearly to Howells than you or I, Howells great skill as a sequencer and mixer largely avoids the somebody-else’s-mix-tape problem.  As a result, we get a collection of tracks that’s mostly enjoyable, always interesting and unlike any other mix you’re likely to hear.

06/26/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: The Cars, Complete Greatest Hits

I spent a long day buying a new car today so it seemed appropriate to finish the day off with a brief review of The Cars’ Complete Greatest Hits.  The Cars aren’t going to need an introduction for anyone interested in this review.  From the release of their first album The Cars in 1978 through their penultimate Heartbreak City in 1984 they were ubiquitous.  With their signature synth/pop/rock sound and Ric Ocasek’s vocals they were instantly identifiable and sounded like no one else before or since.

If buying our car had been as easy as choosing which Cars compilation to buy, we would have been finished in 10 minutes.  If you’re interested in a concise Cars collection the 20 track Complete Greatest Hits is a no-brainer.  It contains every one of their classic songs beginning with “Just What I Needed”  which launched their career when a Boston DJ began playing the demo on the radio and it became a huge local hit and carrying through to “You Are the Girl” their last single from their last album Door to Door.  Their best selling album Heartbreak City is represented by “You Might Think”, “Drive”, Magic”, “Hello Again” and “Why Can’t I Have You”.  Complete Greatest Hits is put out by Rhino who have a well deserved reputation for definitive collections just like this one.  An identical album called The Very Best of the Cars was released by Warner Brothers with different artwork on the cover.  The Rhino version is still in print.

Deep fans of The Cars will want more than the hits and Complete Greatest Hits won’t satisfy them.  However The Cars were pretty much a singles band and all of their great singles are here.  The only thing missing is an extra disc with all of those outstanding videos from Heartbreak City (hey Rhino, how about an updated version with the videos?).  If you want the Cars in all their glory, Complete Greatest Hits is it.

“You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”  originally released on The Cars

“Drive” originally released on Heartbreak City

06/26/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review, Matias Aguayo, Ay Ay Ay

Ay Ay Ay is something you don’t come across all that often in dance music – an album that doesn’t sound like anything else.  Matias Aguayo is a DJ and music producer from Buenos Aires and he has built a unique and intriguing set of tracks for Ay Ay Ay.

As the music on Ay Ay Ay doesn’t fit neatly into the typical categories of dance music, it’s difficult to describe.  First, it’s definitely dance music.  Danceable rhythms predominate.  Often the rhythm is twisted toward the more complex and interesting grooves of latin music.  Aguayo also relies heavily on his vocals as both a rhythm and a weirdly melodic instrument.  “Weird” is actually a good descriptor for certain aspects of Ay Ay Ay as Aguayo is constantly inserting odd sounds, timbres and rhythmic flourishes.  The result of all this is music that is both unpredictable and wholly groove saturated.

When you listen to something like Ay Ay Ay it’s hard to avoid the realization that, even with its seemingly endless catalog of minutely differentiated sub-genres, dance music is only scratching the surface of what can be done with today’s production tools.  Software for making electronic music is so powerful, flexible and easily available that dance music – indeed any kind of electronically produced music – is only limited by the imagination of the producers.  The more people follow Aguayo’s lead and step outside the accepted boundaries, the richer dance music is likely to become.  If you like dance music and have open ears, Ay Ay Ay is worth checking out.

Menta Latte from Ay Ay Ay

06/25/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Groove Armada, Black Light

Groove Armada  are Andy Cato and Tom Findlay a pair of dance producers out of London.  Their 1999 album Vertigo featured one of their best known songs in the Fatboy Slim mix of “I See You Baby”.  In a sense, they’ve been trying to get back to those lofty heights since.  They didn’t make it with Black Light.

The CD opens with some guy screaming at you about something or other.  I suppose it’s supposed to be attention getting but it’s just annoying.  The guy with his panties in a twist is Nick Littlemore and the track is “Warsaw”.  Littlemore appears on four of Black Light‘s  eleven tracks  and they’re uniformly terrible thanks to his “vocal” contributions.  What he does is kind of shout, scream or talk with a great deal of overwrought quasi-hysterical emotion.  I’m guessing his style is intended to convey deep feeling, what it in fact conveys is that he can’t sing.

Groove Armada are known for working for a variety of vocalists and Littlemore is joined on Black Light by Bryan Ferry, Will Young, Jessica Larrabee and Saint Saviour.  Interspersed with the songs where Littlemore handles the vocals, their tracks come as a relief.  Ferry’s “Shameless” is one of his standard wobbly vocal mid-tempo numbers.  “Paper Romance” with Saint Savoir on vocals is especially good and if you’re going to download one track from Black Light, this is one to consider.

With one good track, several awful ones, and the remainder not much more than serviceable dance music made by skilled producers Black Light doesn’t have much to recommend it.

“Paper Romance featuring Saint Savoir on vox

06/24/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Review: Various Artists, Elevator Music

Elevator Music is a collection of music from various artists that is intended to illustrate the range and variety of music that is either being influenced by dubstep or that maybe dubstep is morphing into.  It is a very interesting collection that has more – much more – than its fair share of winners.

Casual listeners can be forgiven for thinking dubstep is no more than the current hot blonde of the dance music scene.  Another month, another arcane genre.  While dance music tends to spawn genres and subgenres like a politician spawns lies, dubstep is looking more and more like the real deal.  Dubstep tends to emphasize sub bass frequencies coupled with irregular rhythms and, at least in the beginning, the use of samples.  It is largely instrumental.  Listeners interested in an introduction might be interested in the two disc 5 Years of Hyperdub collection from one of the labels that led the way in releasing dubstep.  The approach has proven remarkably adaptable and more and more often is being integrated with other types of dance music.

Elevator Music provides an excellent window into the exciting things electronic music producers and DJs are doing with the musical ideas and production techniques of dubstep.  The most familiar artist to me on Elevator Music is Martyn based on his recent mix Fabric 49 mix which I very much enjoyed.  His track “Friedrichstrasse” is the only one to appear on both Elevator Music and Fabric 49.  While the other musicians on Elevator Music aren’t as familiar to me now, they will be in future because  pretty much every track on the album is interesting.  The CD opens with Hot City’s “If That’s How I Feel” which immediately breaks the mold by incorporating vocals (albeit as rhythmic elements).  It’s a terrific track that sets up high expectations which are then fulfilled by the rest of the set.  The second track is Xxxy’s “Sing With Us” which repeats the word “listen” as a commanding refrain over a rhythm track that both stumbles and has a deep forward-moving groove.  The demand that you listen is perfect for Elevator Music as every track has something to tell you.

Elevator Music is released by Fabric Records who are calling it Volume 1.  I have no idea what they may have planned for Volume 2 but based on what we have here, it’s something to look forward to.  Elevator Music is a very good collection of cutting edge music.

Untold’s “Bad Girls”  – the “ooh!” knocks me out every time I hear it

06/24/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Review: Various Artists, Bang Gang 12 Inches Presents a Radicool Compilation

Ok, I’m a sucker for this kind of thing.  Bang Gang 12 Inches Presents a Radicool Compilation is a two-disc label compilation from Bang Gang 12 Inches a small record label out of Sydney.  Some of it is really good, some of it is really not, and a good amount of it is highly derivative (like “let’s make a track that sounds exactly like” derivative) of bands like Justice and Daft Punk.  It doesn’t hurt that I really like Justice and Daft Punk but the key thing is that BG12″ sounds like it’s an outfit run by guys who just love music.  Everyone in the business end of the music business from the sleaziest company exec on up and down says “Oh we just love the music” but BG12″‘s Radicool Compilation sounds like it’s real.

A Radicool Compilation is all over the place.  Disc 1 is a collection of unmixed tracks and disc 2 is a mix by label bosses Doom and Hoodrat.  They lean toward the kind of driving dance rock that Daft Punk and Justice do so well but they recognize quality and publish tracks over a much wider range of music than that.  Disc 1 opener “Hello Cat” by Shazam sounds like ’70s slow funk updated for the oughties.    Golden Bug’s terrific “Assasin” is what happens when hip hop and dance rock have a love child.  Damn Arms “Destination Pt. 1” is an old-skool disco cut. zZz’s “Lion” features a chiming, ringing keyboard that sounds like  a titanium piano until the band says “Hey, let’s do Justice now” midway through the track.  And so it goes.  Collections like this are a prime reason why it’ll be a bad thing if the whole music world goes to downloading individual tracks.  You need the 75 mins or so of a CD to allow the range of music BG12″ is into to have its effect.

The variety of music presented on A Radicool Compilation is wide enough that everybody is likely to find something they don’t like.  Some of it really isn’t very good and some of it is too derivative of other bands for it’s own good.  But the hits far outweigh the misses and if you like Justice or Daft Punk you will enjoy a lot of what A Radicool Compilation has to offer.  If nothing else, labels like Bang Gang 12 Inches that are still doing it because “it’s all about the music, man”, deserve some love.

“Assasin” by Golden Bug

and WhiteNoise’s “Harlequin”

06/23/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Ripperton, Niwa

Ripperton is a Swiss DJ and producer who chose his music moniker based on his love of Minnie Ripperton. Niwa (which means “garden” in Japanese) is his his first solo album although he has released numerous singles in the house, minimal and techno genres both as a solo act and as part of Lazy Fat People.

Niwa is a very laid back album.  The tracks that have a house groove, and many do not, tend to be the kind of mellow, calm house you play when you want to come down and gently hit the flow.  This is more about appreciating how the quiet sounds providing rhythm and accent work together than it is about shaking your ass.  Several of the tracks are little more than a simple melodic riff laid over a pad or a sound effect like falling rain.  As befits an artist with a strong background in techno, rhythm often predominates.

There may not be a lot of energy on Niwa but there is talent.  Ripperton has a good ear for timbre and an better ear for rhythm.  His tracks are carefully constructed so that attentive listening is rewarded with a sense of appreciation for a quiet sound carefully and precisely placed for effect.

Niwa isn’t likely to be anyone’s idea of a party album but for quiet background music that is much richer than the bland pablum that is often marketed as ambient mood music and which will reward your time when you give it your musical attention, it might be just the thing.

“A Simple Thing”, one of the more uptempo tracks on Niwa (the track begins with 11 seconds of silence)

06/23/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Various Artists, Deutsche Elektronische Musik

Deutsche Elektronische Musik is a two disc collection from Soul Jazz Records.  The set’s subtitle, Experimental German Rock and Electronic Musik 1972-83, provides an accurate description of what it’s all about.  English-speaking listeners may be familiar with the term “Krautrock” as a category for this music.  As explained in the excellent booklet that accompanies the collection “Krautrock” was a name coined by the UK music press that many of the practitioners of the music found offensive.  Whatever you want to call it, Deutsche Elektronische Musik is a superb collection.

Today the most well known bands from this period of German music are probably Can, Neu!, Faust and Tangerine Dream, all of whom are represented in Deutsche Elektronische Musik, and, of course, Kraftwerk, which is not.  I assume Kraftwerk’s absence stems from licensing issues.  If so, whoever is responsible for deciding not to allow Kraftwerk to appear on Deutsche Elektronische Musik made a mistake  because the set is not only excellent but likely to become definitive.  Kraftwerk really should be here.

In addition to the aforementioned, Deutsche Elektronische Musik includes selections by Popul Vuh, Amon Duul II, Michael Bundt, Kollective, Cluster, Ash Ra Temple and Ibliss among others.

Deutsche Elektronische Musik comes with a 35 page booklet that is very well done.  Along with pictures and short biographies of the different bands it includes an excellent essay about the social, political and cultural conditions that gave birth to and shaped this music.  This isn’t the kind of pompous airy-fairy sociological theorizing about the symbolic relationships between music and culture written by people who wouldn’t have a clue about how to actually gather and evaluate evidence pro and con about the ideas they are blathering on about that is characteristic of a lot of writing about popular forms of music.  It is a clear headed description of social, political and cultural conditions in Germany in the 1960s and how these circumstances were viewed by many young Germans at the time.  The essay provides valuable context with which to listen to the music.

It also raises some questions about how well Deutsche Elektronische Musik may serve as a survey of the music created by these bands.  The key lies in the dates – 1972 to 1983.  Many of these bands began their musical careers either before 1972 or before the date of their song which is included on Deutsche Elektronische Musik.  Some of the early work of these bands was created from the theoretical viewpoint that politics, culture and art, including music, was so shattered and corrupted that the solution was to begin anew with something completely different.  The essay in the booklet gives a compelling description of the conditions in Germany that produced the degree of alienation that gave rise to this type of view among these German musicians.  Many turned to the musique concrete movement along with the music and teaching of Karlheinz Stockhausen.  The result was music that is easily perceived as harsh and demanding or as nonmusical noise.

The people at Soul Jazz have not included these works in their survey of German electronic and rock music and they give fair warning of this with the dates given in the collection’s subtitle.  While this may count against Deutsche Elektronische Musik as an even-handed and thorough survey of the music, it has resulted in two discs worth of very musical selections that are a joy to listen to.  Once these bands had purged their need to destroy established forms and genres with noise they turned to building musical compositions using new technologies and new types of arrangements.  The result, as is amply evidence on Deutsche Elektronische Musik, was a wealth of terrific music that is highly listenable.

A good deal of the music on Deutsche Elektronische Musik owes a strong debt to the psychedelic rock that was pioneered by the San Francisco bands in the mid to late 1960s.  In some cases, such as Ash Ra Temple’s “Daydream” which sounds like Jefferson Airlane with a different style of female vocalist, the connection to the Haight Ashbury bands is obvious.  In others, like the extended psychedlic jams represented by Ibliss’ “High Life” or Neu!’s “Hallogallo” the connection is more one of spirit than mimicry.  In all of these cases the resulting music is great.

It may be difficult at first for modern listeners to hear the “electronic” in this experimental electronic music.  The 1970s were the early days of portable synthesizers and their sound, and more importantly the range of sound they were capable of producing, was primitive by today’s standards.  Synthesized sound has become so essential a part of current music that it can be difficult to hear how different and experimental some of these timbres sounded in the mid 1970s.  It may not sound like it to modern ears, but these German bands were blazing new trails in the sounds that could be used to make music.

That’s not true of everything to be heard on Deutsche Elektronische Musik.  Michael Bundt’s amazing “La Chasse Aux Microbes” is obviously synthesized music that still sounds intriguing 30 years later and Tangerine Dream’s “No Man’s Land” is a fine example of their “Cosmic music” that introduced many to the new musical possibilities inherent in synthesized sounds.

There’s so much good music on Deutsche Elektronische Musik it’s hard to pick out one track or another for special mention.  Popul Vuh’s “Aguirre 1” from the soundtrack of Wernor Herzog’s film Aguirre, The Wrath of God is likely to stop you dead in your tracks with it’s profound and compelling combination of choral singing and electronic keyboards.  Conrad Schnitzler’s “Auf Dem Schwarzen Canal” is one of the best “Kraftwerk” tunes not done by Kraftwerk I’ve yet to hear.  Gila’s “This Morning” is lovely, sunny power pop.  Kollectiv’s “Rambo Zambo” is a flute-driven psychedelic rock-out.  The list could go on and on.

Deutsche Elektronische Musik is an exceptionally good collection.  If you enjoy the type of psychedelic rock that was being played in the late 1960s, you will thoroughly enjoy this album.  If you like electronic music there is a great deal here you will enjoy.  If you like musical creativity unfettered by traditional forms and structures and songs that reflect the joy and excitement the musicians felt in playing them, Deutsche Elektronische Musik is not to be missed.  Highly recommended.

Kollectiv’s “Rambo Zambo”

and Popul Vuh’s “Aguirre 1” from Deutsche Elektronische Musik

06/21/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: The T.A.M.I. Show

One time I saw James Brown play in a theater.  It was the kind of place that has a U-shaped corridor between the doors into the theater and the seating area.  You buy your tickets and enter the theater, walk through the corridor and find the door that opens into the part of the theater where your seats are located, and then enter the seating area, find your seat and sit down.  After we had been sitting for awhile waiting for the show to start we heard this ghostly sax coming from somewhere else in the building.  We thought it was the band starting to warm up but it was only one sax and it didn’t sound like it was coming from behind the curtains.  As the sax continued to play more and more people in the audience heard it and quieted down.  Soon everyone was quiet and it became clear that the doors to the theater from the corridor had been closed and the sax player was walking back and forth through the corridor.

Once the audience had completely settled down one of the doors from the corridor was opened and the sax player, who was Maceo Parker, stepped into the room while he continued to play.  By this time he had been playing for awhile and the motherfucker was wailing.  The door opened, Maceo’s sax burst forth and the audience exploded which drove Maceo to new heights.  For the next ten minutes or so he walked through the audience, playing alone and on fire.  He tore the place up and as good as James Brown was,  Maceo had upstaged him.

Upstaging James Brown is no small thing.  Brown played at the T.A.M.I. show in 1964.  He didn’t have Maceo Parker to deal with but he faced an even greater challenge from the other acts on the bill.

The T.A.M.I. Show is a film of the concert which took place over two nights in late October 1964.  Free tickets were distributed to local high school students and the best bits from the two shows were combined in the film.  The acts ranged from The Barbarians, basically a novelty act featuring a one-armed drummer who played with a prosthetic limb, to the Rolling Stones who headlined and closed the show.  Jan & Dean were the emcees and they performed “Here They Come (From All Over the World)”.  Jack  Nitzsche was the music director who led the house band which included Glenn Campbell on guitar and Leon Russell on piano.  All of the music was performed live.

In order of appearance, the bands and groups were Chuck Berry, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Leslie Gore, Jan & Dean, The Beach Boys, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, The Supremes, The Barbarians, James Brown and the Famous Flames and the Rolling Stones.  Think about that line up for a minute.  James Brown wasn’t likely to have too much trouble with the Barbarians, Leslie Gore or Jan & Dean.  But Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones on the same bill?  Are you kidding me?

The concert took place relatively early in the careers of some of these artists.  The Miracles weren’t yet Smokey Robinson and the Miracles although watching their electric performance you can see and hear why they soon would be.  The Supremes were not yet Diana Ross and the Supremes even though they performed their two current back-to-back #1 hits “Baby Love” and “Where Did Our Love Go?”.  The Rolling Stones still had Brian Jones in the lineup, Keith Richards was the pretty one, and “Satisfaction” hadn’t happened yet.  Their big numbers were “Time Is On My Side” and “It’s All Over Now”.  On the one hand, maybe these groups hadn’t realized the full extent of their powers, on the other they had to work the audience to make it on performance alone, not reputation and inflatable stage props.  These are the performances that made them what they become.

The Beach Boys performance which had been removed from previously released versions of the film after its initial run in theaters is restored in this new DVD version.  Almost all of the performances are terrific.  This was a special event that was designed from the ground up to be released as a feature film.  The bands approached it as just what it was intended to be, a marketing tool which could have very positive and very lucrative consequences.  They wanted to shine and they had to do it sharing the stage with some of the most accomplished performers of the day.  They had to bring their A game and they had to bring it live.  They did.  The show is tremendous.

So what about James Brown?  The Stones had the choice spot closing the show but Brown came on right before them.  Could he outshine the likes of Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Beach Boys?  Could he put on a performance which the audience would still remember once the Stones took the stage?

It was no contest.  James Brown owned.  He owned the Stones, he owned the Supremes, he owned all the other groups, he owned their entourages, he owned their mothers, lovers and pets.  In later interviews Keith Richards would say that following James Brown at the T.A.M.I. show was the single biggest mistake of their careers.  No matter how well they performed, they had no chance.  If you’ve ever wondered why James Brown was called “the hardest working man in show business”, watch this movie.  His performance alone is worth the price of the film.  And he puts this on with only a short spot to work with.  Imagine what it would be like after an hour’s show where he left 10 lbs of sweat on the stage before he got to what you see in the T.A.M.I. show.

If you like the music from this period, see this movie.  It’s great.

06/20/2010 Posted by | DVD reviews, film reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment