Bob Dylan – Bringing it all back home (1965)

bbiiallbbhhhPoetry is exactly what I don’t care about in both world politics and rock records.   So where to begin with Bob Dylan, or rather my distaste for the glorification of Bob Dylan?   I admit that as a 14 year old kid after burning through the discography of Billy Bragg, I thought the social political-ness of his Times they are a changing (1964) LP made for such a great record, and as such was disappointed with most of his subsequent discography – not for any narrow-minded “going electric” non-controversy, but rather his tunes were boring showcases for misguided lyrical ego.

And so at that time I resigned myself as being “too young to appreciate him”, and reserved a future date to “grow up” and one day like other Bob Dylan records.   Not that Bob doesn’t have some good songs buried among those records.  Then came his lame releases of the 1980’s (and the 1990’s (and the 2000’s (and the 2010’s…))) and/or the Traveling Dingleberries, and most recently that Nobel Prize – so that time will probably never come.

If ever there was a more over-appreciated idol in the baby boomer religion, Bob Dylan is it.   So deep is my contempt for Mr. Zimmerman that I even reluctantly laugh at the dreadful Simon & Garfunkel parody song : A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d Into Submission) … enjoyed mostly out of spite.

Over and over again we hear journalists, critics and history revisionists proclaiming the genius of Bob and his lyrics.  But when his career is best know for lines like “Hey mr Tambourine man, play a song for me”, or “Makes loooove just like a woman” or moreso that subtle masterpiece: “Eeeverybody must get stoooned”, how can you even?

David Crosby writes: “the thing about Bringing it all back home was his words, that’s what Bob stunned the world with.  Up until then we had ‘oooh, baby’ and ‘i love you, baby.  Bob changed the map.   He gave us really, really good words.'”   While I realize David and his generation are the centre of their universes, but have they never heard of the Blues? or maybe even Shakespeare?

And what did Bob do to change anything, as the “ooh baby” of the past only morphed into such pop music poetry as Beyonce‘s”I’ve been drinking, I’ve been drinking/I get filthy when that liquor get into me”, and/or we still have lots of “ooh babies” all over today’s radio.

Or was David just mad at Smokey Robinson and his 1965 song “Oooh baby baby” and thinks that pop music should really be about his songs like “Triad” which he uses to justify cheating on his then girlfriend, and then gaslight her and shame into polyamory?  In between his drunk driving, arrests drug and firearm possession, and creating 6 (ooh) babies, David Crosby and that liver that Phil Collins bought for him spend their time critiquing the songwriting ability of Jack White – why has this guy not gotten a Noble Prize too?

Back to Dylan and his “really, really good words”.    Clearly what Crosby is crediting him for is the great evolution of the  pop music term “Baby” into the word “Babe” – freaking genius.

Songs like “It ain’t me babe” or  “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” must have blown the minds of a generation brought up on Ed Sullivan.  A dozen Nobel prizes were due for lyrics like “You will search, babe At any cost /But how long, babe/Can you search for what’s not lost?” – taken from the tuneless out-take “I’ll keep it with mine”, which makes the grand poetic statements for a pre-Velvet Underground Nico, who tellingly after sex vacationing with him in Greece immediately looked up Jim Morrison.   And just when you thought “Babes” were the thing, he tricks you by going back to the word “Baby” on his cromag skull smash hit  “Just like a Woman” (1966).   Clearly, as Crosby says, this is “changing the map” level freaking genius.

And maybe that is it, as other past recipients of the Nobel Prize also “changed maps”: Henry Kissinger, Mikhail Gorbachev, etc.

 

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Masahiko Sato – Belladonna of Sadness Soundtrack (re 2017)

 

satohWho is/was Masahiko Sato? I first came across the work of Masahiko Sato (or Satoh) via Julian Cope’s Japrocksampler book, which  highlighted a list of the best records of the Japanese Psych rock genre, namely #7 was his Ammalgomation  LP.   Credited also to the Soundbreakers it was less of a rock record but more jazz, and it stood out from the Black Sabbath meets John Mayall vibe of the rest of Cope’s list.  Ammalgomation was an interesting record, but I only needed to listen to it once.  Conceptually I loved the tape collage machine gun fire drum beats but only for the first 20 seconds or so, but after 15 minutes I was done… forever.   Incidentally, all those Phoenix reissues of the Japanese psych rock were declared bootlegs and are now banned for sale on Discogs.   Does this mean official versions of Flower Travellin’ Band records are coming out soon?  I hope so.

satoh

 Then I stumbled upon a Toshiyuki Miyama and the new herd‘s record:  Canto of Libra  Reportedly a sequel to another somewhat difficult to find New Herd LP called Canto of Aries.   The cover credits this to : New Herd + M.Sato (aka Masahiko Sato),  unlike the previous Satoh record this LP offers many surprises and actually warrants repeated listening.   Satoh is masterful pianist, and subverts his sound with ring modulator effects. Great low end strings, layers of trumpets and other unidentified instruments, the different parts seem to be recorded in parallel universes.  Strangely cohesive but separate.

bellaFurther down the mysterious rabbit hole there was an amazing Finders Keepers reissue of the soundtrack to Belladonna (aka Belladonna of Sadness), a 1973 film by Eiichi Yamamoto.   Playfully referred to on the hype sticker as an “Italian” soundtrack, with a quote by the eternally respectable Jim O’Rourke (who might be Sato’s contemporary American version).   Not much weirdo free jazz here tho, as we get bachelor pad lounge meets soft psych a al Curt Boettcher.  It plays out like a mix tape, shifting stylistic gears sounding either late sixties pop or distinctly early seventies, and ultimately not unlike that Vampire Lesbos record (a late 90’s downtempo phenomenon which may have originally been released in 1969 as Vampires’ Sound Incorporation‘s‎ Psychedelic Dance Party).   Now I just have to track down a video of this, if only for the rumored flying penises.

 

 

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Sun Ra – Singles Volume 1: Definitive 45s Collection 1952-1961 (2016) and Singles Volume 2: The Definitive 45s Collection 1962-1991 (2017)

 

sra0095696040_10It is a great ,but expensive time to be a Sun Ra fan.  Case in point the recent collections of Sun Ra Singles Volume 1: Definitive 45s Collection 1952-1961 and Singles Volume 2: The Definitive 45s Collection 1962-1991.   Ignore the misnomer of having multiple volumes of a definitive collection, these releases total six exhaustive LPs of somewhat unheard material.  Leave it to an eccentric like Sun Ra to release 30-40 obscure Jazz singles from 1950-onward; an unusual format for the jazz genre as the 7″ format was largely a disposable promo tool for pop, top 40, or rock and roll – whilst Jazz was a serious genre served best by the 12″ record.   But fear not all you serious, bearded, middle age men, he has a lot of those too.

Volume one in this definitive collection series might shed a light on his choice of this format, as many songs veer into Doo Wop territory, assumingly suitable mostly for jukebox and radio play.   It seems he was making an effort to record hit songs, with a sort of just keep throwing stuff against the wall until it sticks philosophy, but time showed it still to be too slippery for general consumption.  The closest he seems to get to a hit single is the cuss filled “Nuclear War”, which won him new fans in the post-punk/pre-alternative, college radio crowd of the eighties, and possibly even more converts when Yo La Tengo covered it in 2002.

While shocking in the amounts of smooth jazz normality and song convention, Volume 1 as  a whole is tedious and uninteresting – the abundance of lame vocals drives my indifference home.   Songs repeats in different versions throughout.   While I am glad to know this era of Sun Ra existed, it is kind of like the Beatles prior to Revolver, I have no time for this pop pap.  *** (3 stars)

Meanwhile Volume 2 is fantastic.  Spacey jazz numbers, electronics, chants, plus an amazing version of what is essentially his other hit song “Rocket number Nine” (originally from 1966’s Interstellar Low Ways) and then re-recorded on Space is the Place (1973), and sampled/re-used by Lady Gaga on “Venus”.   Being definitive part 2 means it is far from perfect as there is no curation nor selection, so even the dreck gets full exposure… the aforementioned “Nuclear War” is there in a tediously long repetitive version, followed by some strange rambling poetry through a loudspeaker tracks (coming across like a failed Shadow Ring record).   Strangely a few of those doowop songs even show up in mutated forms on this volume too, in addition to a song about unmasking the Batman.  ******* (7 stars)

But the question remains:

Is there actually a definite Sun Ra record?  I had spent a large part of recent years giving deep consideration as I make my way casually through Sun Ra’s giant discography.   And so as I continue to search for the best Sun Ra records, I should probably update my previous post with more reviews : https://shelfdwindle.wordpress.com/2016/07/31/sun-ra/

In the meantime I  developed a formula to score the best of a sprawling discography:  (P+J) x (E (B-M)) – (V/C x F) = for a total possible score of 314,159,265

Wherein a definitive Sun Ra record might contain one or more of the 7 elements:

a) lo fi primitive energy (listeners certainly don’t go to Sun ra for high precision chops as they might for say for the soul-less hi-fidelity vacuum of a perfect Miles Davis performance), b) exoticness (good Sun Ra records always have an exotica vibe, not a Hawaii-vacation cocktail schmaltz, but a laid back loungy groove, with ballroom ambience that is mildly tribal in nature), c) Jazz, and obvious element, some listeners come for the groove and solos, d) electronic elements (Sun Ra used moog keyboards early on, but he also introduced spacey effects like delay and feedback),  e) chants (vocals are often my least favorite parts of a Sun Ra record – but I assume some people like this, hence the popularity of his SNL costume ensembles, or 70s Funkadelic-ish records), f) Free Improv (but not too free!) a mild/wild sax/keyboard solo is always grounded in some kind of traditional framework, as is to say there is still humans born of gravity albeit floating in the dark void, or g)  Surprises (good as in Strange Strings, or ungood as in the doo-wop/do-whaap of the aforementioned volume 1).

And so we can insert some kind of spreadsheet, chart with all this data and score all his records into eternity and beyond.    On that chart you would see high scores for My Brother the wind pt. 2 (occasionally unlistenable******), angels and Demons (too predictably diverse*********), and Magic City (too predictably undiverse *******) and low scores for Universe in Blue (ugh***), Bad and Beautiful (blah**), or Super Sonic Jazz (meh***); who is bothering to reissue the mediocre anyways, when there are dozens of really good records?

But Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy  (1967) might be the definitive Sun Ra record – it has all the elements above in perfect balance, but not so perfect as to overshadow the totality.   It fits at a perfect middle point of chronology with greatness and terribleness both behind it and in front of it.  It is hard to write a review on perfection, except to say it has: Bleep, bloop, skronk, chill, whoa, whoosh, ahh and blap.   ********** (ten stars)

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Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody (2017)

oczyAre the Flaming Lips now so devoid of credibility that I might enjoyably listen to them again?  The short answer is: no.  The long answer is: no, not yet.

The last few records did next to nothing for me.   For years I cringed every time I saw photos of Wayne Coyne in his Hamsterball in mainstream magazines.  But I will shamefully admit  I occasionally find myself enjoying Oczy Mlody as it weaves further inwards with smooth electronic keyboards as if to channel Steely Dan , or at worst to coldly parody synthpop of Still Corners or Alison Wonderland.  The Reggie Watts spoken word segment is abysmal but forgivable, but then the record completely tanks at the wanky bass solo near the end of side one.   Things pick up again on side two, with aSoft Bulletin formulaic piece “the Castle”  but when that record already exists, what’s the point of more?

The prominence of synths and drum machines on this record is an interesting development but a terribly predictable one.  Keyboards showed up on darker albums like the John Carpenter-isms found within the Terror (2013), or on the rough around the edges Silver Apples vibe from the often brilliant Embryonic (2009), but now with Oczy Mlody we are left with few blatant but decent references, just a low end thump and the empty pop of Miley Cyrus as a reference point.  There is a cold childishness that defines this record – but it lacks any exuberance; kind of like when you take more Ecstasy not because you have any serotonin left inside you, but just cuz there is nothing better to do this weekend.

And so Oczy Mlody combined with its fake live album companion Onboard The International Space Station Concert For Peace, suggests something in the band is about to break.  Hopefully badly.   There are so many reasons to hate the Flaming Lips these days:  infidelity controversies, a racist drummer, festival overexposure, a desperate christmas record, a confetti crowd surfing excuses for performance,  a failed out-takes LP disguised as the Electric Werms,  a waste of time movie, but the most disturbing of all is the ongoing heroin-on-a-stick dangled in front of their highly functioning musical addict Steven Drozd.

But I cannot help but hope if their popularity could only wane far enough, perhaps a glorious rebirth will occur.  I fear not though, as they probably have their investment portfolios all in order and they will never be hungry enough to be relevant again.

 

 

 

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10 favorite things of 2017

Last year I rambled on about year-end lists and/or hating music, so much so that I swore I would not write another such list for a blog that almost nobody reads.  But having said that, I really did enjoy a few things this year:

#10 “Velo” by Four Winds brewery was the best drink of the summer and the best thing in cans.   You would be correct to think a salted lemony beer is a horrible idea, but it wasn’t.   It made those tedious days sitting outside in the sun barely tolerable.

#9 Nino Nardini: ‎“Musique Pour Le Futur” (WRWTFWW 2017).  a reissue of the almost unavailable 1970 experimental French record.    It has a glow in the dark silk screened cover from my favorite Swiss record label whose beauty was matched only by the spacey electronic musique concrete pressed into the grooves – if I had watched the eclipse earlier this year I would have chosen this as the soundtrack.

#8 Ennio Morricone‘s Un Uomo Da Rispettare (Superior Viaduct reissue 2017) the updated cover design pictures Kirk Douglas looking like molten aluminum, and the soundtracks runs through a bunch of dark jazzy suspense themes.   Tense but beautiful, kind of like a cab ride through a dystopian urban future.

#7 Fieldhouse brewing “Dark Saison” (subtitled Sour Fennel and Hyssop Farmhouse) the best thing I drank all year.  Complex, fruity, sour.   I have tried a number of the Fieldhouse products since and none of them are even half as good as this was.

#6 Advance Wars (2001), for the Game Boy advance – when you move out of your house and put everything into storage and then live in an old abandoned house on your girlfriend’s parent’s property, you are grateful for any obsolete, battery powered, non-wifi electronic distraction –  also playing Dr Mario, Rampage Puzzle Attack and Bookworm on the gameboy were how I spent those four months in limbo, but this game was the best of the bunch.

#5 New Kingdom – Paradise don’t come cheap, (Gee Street 1996).   My favorite hip-hop record of all time was not re-issued, but 21 years later I finally found myself an original vinyl copy.   If you don’t know it, think Cypress Hill meets Killdozer at 16 RPM.  One day the future world dwellers will discover how brilliant this hazy piece of non-ganster, golden age hip hop is. ( https://youtu.be/JhaqZEfbHGs )

#4, #3, #2  Lee Hazlewood: Forty, Cowboy and the Lady, and Requiem for an almost Lady (2017).  Those three Lee Hazlewood reissues on Light in the Attic are all so great.  Why anyone ever dissed the Ann Margaret collaboration is beyond me?  Sure, Nancy Sinatra was an irreplaceable fox, but Ann Margaret is pretty great in her own right.   I love Lee’s grand showbiz/showtune aspiring songs delivered with a tight budgeted rock fervor.  I imagine this is what old fat Elvis would have sounded like if he worked with old fat Rick Rubin.  I might have reserved a 3,4, or 5 spot for (or at least given honorable mention) to other reissues like Lucio Battisti or those Califone LPs, but they all turn to meh in Lee’s shadow.

#1 Alice Coltrane : The Ecstatic Music Of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda (Luaka Bop 2017), not quite a reissue, unless it really did get released on a new age cassette in the 80’s, regardless this music is phenomenal.  Electronic spiritual trance jazz.   I am a huge fan of all her work, but tend to be disappointed by anything after her 1971 Journey into Satchidananda LP, so this “unreleased” gem came as a total surprise, it might be my second or third favorite of her entire discography.  I love David Byrne more than ever now.

 

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Yoko Ono – Fly, 1971 (reissue 2017)

There was a pile of recently reissued Yoko Ono albums released on Secretly Canadian this year, which were received with a mix of  joy and apprehension.    I had been searching in vain for a copy of Fly for about 15 years, after I reluctantly passed up on a copy at a little used record store.   I only had so much money that sad day and I thought I needed to buy some underground hip-hop records that would go out of print – whether in hindsight this was a blessing or a mistake remained unresolved until a reissue of Fly appeared in the new bins at my local shop three weeks ago.

First scanning the back to make sure it wasn’t a dodgy “4 Men with Beards” product – I snapped it up without a consideration to the price.   It features a nice gatefold sleeve, poster and white vinyl pressing with a defiantly grapefruit label design.  Great package.

I’ve been slowly playing one side of this record per day for about three weeks now.  So much so my partner told me this morning that she could put up with 6 months of only listening to the Fall, but will not put up with 6 months of Yoko:  Then she said: “I like her as a visual artist, but her…”

(Interrupted mid-disclaimer)

“Yeeyeeyeeeyeeeyeyeyeeeyeee!!”

(a strange yodel shriek leapt from the speaker)

“Oh, Come on! See what I mean?”

And while I agree somewhat with her statement/review, there is actually a lot to enjoy on this record.  Each side presents a different side of “Yoko the musician” – from her John Lennon associated rock and roll on side A (interestingly much of the record was recorded simultaneously to Imagine and features Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman, etc.),* to the avant garde tracks composed on custom Fluxus instruments (bringing to mind Harry Partch)then almost proto electronic ambient music (the aptly named track “Fly” is just that, a buzzing fly vocally interpolated by Yoko for about 22 minutes).  As a whole, it is a strange but occasionally very listenable record, one that lands somewhere between Can‘s Tago Mago and the No-Neck Blues Band‘s Intonomancy.  

And while those comparisons are two bands I adore, I am not sure it is anywhere near as good as either.   This record is certainly better than her later efforts like feeling the space or Double Fantasy… so when my partner is not home I am going to keep  listening to this record because I feel like there is still something wonderful waiting to be found.

end note:

*I still like to insist that Yoko broke up the Beatles, if only for the irony that Love might have destroyed them, especially in an age where baby boomers have proven time and time again that all you need is greed.

 

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Fela Kuti – the Knitting Factory reissues

In 2015, a series of Fela Kuti reissues began to appear from Knitting Factory records, and I picked up a bunch hoping to discover some strange anomalies within his vast catalogue of beasts unto their own; his LPs follow a stubborn template of side long tracks (or a single sprawling pieces divided across two album sides), a format employed by free jazz artists (from John Coltrane to Alan Silva), or psych-improv records Sunburned hand of the Man or NNCK;  but in the case of mid 70s Fela it is often more like 12″ EPs with only 12-15 minutes per side, so with some editing and the addition of a couple short songs, he could have transformed these sort of “one take” records into a something more, say like the earlier preferred the four song format of the Fela Kuti/Ginger Baker – Live! (1971) LP, but I get it… the subsequent template was mostly Fela’s smart marketing plan to sell more units.

Roforofo Fight (1972) – this oft praised release begins with rambling scat and builds to a quick groove, horn stabs, and a nice call and response section, but then more unwelcome scat and a crude organ that sounds exactly like a Mark E Smith one note drunken keyboard solo.    The best thing about this record is Felas’ amazing jumpsuit on the cover.   Side B’s  “Go Slow” starts out with a great, but too brief, overlay of minimalist horn patterns simulating a traffic jam, with organ and shaker sections added before the whole band jumps in for the next 17 minutes of uncharacteristically fun funk.  **** 4 stars (mostly for side B).

Na Poi (1971?) Listeners got something slightly different here, but sadly not interesting, unless you like smooth sexy sax.   This it the sort of record that a World Music enthusiast like Ian or Ray or whatever-the-hell-he-calls-himself from High Fidelity will put on to show his above average white dude savage side and tries to seduce you while he plies you with those take-out samosas he bought, pretending he made them from scratch.    *** 3 stars

Confusion (1974) – side one opens with a spacey organ synth solo then quickly drums, crash and rumble in  – a nice Sun Ra -esque dark beginning – then after 4 cosmic minutes an appropriately confused bass line attempts to locate a groove, eventually pulling in the organ and drums – soon the full afrobeat orchestra arrives – this is clearly one of his more interesting LPs.  The weirdness continues on Side 2, taking up the beat abruptly, and then adds a strange delay effect response to Fela’s chant, this echo is so delightful it makes him chortle despite the serious political subject matter – this is the sort of epic record I was looking to discover.   ********* 9.5 stars

Everything Scatter (1975) – is a point in his discography where the style and groove were all established, so now get a little cleaner production, adding some more keyboards and a sort of disco beat.  Side B’s “Who Know No Goes Know” continues the sound but at a mellower, hypnotic pace;  Fela’s deliberate use  of Nigerian pidgin English in his vocals and song titles is fascinating both for politically incorrectness and in it’s exotic-ness, so while nothing new, it solid.  ******* 7.5 stars

Alagbon Close (1975) – another nice keyboard intro, another great rhythm track… often times the drum beats are fairly monotonous and not unlike those ubiquitous 1970 Roland drum machines on the “Rhumba” setting with the tempo set too high.  The vocals succeed with a great urgency, whereas other records might otherwise tend to ramble.  B Side’s “I No get Eye for Back” is almost an instrumental piece with the standout feature of Tony Allen’s exquisitely chugging drumbeat.  ******** 8 stars

Beasts of No Nation (1989)  Fela of the 1980s is fairly dull musically but understandably given his prison stints, so the Knitting Factory reissues skip over a decade of titles until we get to an anomaly like Beasts of No Nation.    BONN’s crude drawings of a satanic Ronald McReagan and Margret Thatcher remind me of SNFU or TSOL cover art.  The slower than typical Fela sound (credited to the upgraded Egypt 80) is marred by a cheesy flamenco-ish guitar solo on Side A, but on the stronger Side 2, the mellower music contrasts with an increased political anger; the results are not bad, but clearly it is a “past the expiration date” release.  ***** 5.5 stars

 

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