Top Ten Picks for 2018

 

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Year end lists are a great way to prompt me to clean up and organize those random piles of records propped up and around my record player.  Not only to encourage me to organize my record collection and vacuum in the corner, but to pull out those records I bought and filed away this year and make sure I actually listen to them.   And so here is yet another: Top ten records of 2018 (sort of).

10.  Spacemen 3Dreamweapon (1990, 2018 reissue), and almost all the other excellent Spacemen 3 reissues that came out this year on Space Age recordings and/or Superior Viaduct.  Dreamweapon is perhaps the most simple but most difficult of all the Spacemen 3 recordings, (not counting  the raver Madchester leanings on Reccuring (1990) which, like those 90’s Fall records, are just simply horrible).  The best part this Spacemen reissue campaign is that since I had stupidly sold my taking drugs to make music to take drugs to LP to pay bills a few years ago, I am more than thrilled to have a copy to listen to again.  Plus in 2018 I got to interview Byron Coley on the radio and reference/praise his rad liner notes.

9.  SpectrumHighs, lows and heavenly blows (1994, 2018 reissue), ditto to any of the praise from the above.  After Spacemen 3 broke up Pete “Sonic Boom ” Kember really developed a unique sound as Spectrum , at times it is both perfect hypnotic pop and experimental noise, his albums are so underappreciated.   I used to think they were boring, but my mind is changed forever.  I can see why MGMT at their peak plucked him from obscurity and hired him to produce Congratulations.   On that note : Spiritualized’s And Nothing Hurt (2018) was almost a great record, it was nice to hear J Spaceman essentially remake a bunch of his old self-loathing space rock stunes into new forms of gratitude, but sadly there a few duds on the record that killed its own momentum.

8.  Silver Apples Contact (1969, 2017 reissue).   So being obsessive to my detriment, I started to hunt down more Spacemen 3/Spectrum records, which lead me to the sole Sonic Boom record called Spectrum (1989), a strange rockabilly ambient record.  Strange in that somehow it works (and strangely not reissued).    And then an interesting but mediocre “Spectrum meets the Silver Apples” LP from 1999.  But fortunately this reminded me of how great the Silver Apples’ homemade synth, garage rock was, and so it made sense to finally pick up the 2017 reissue of Contact on Portland’s Jackpot records.   It is a shame that the plane crash incident killed their promising career; I wonder perhaps if they would have rewritten electronic music history pre-Kraftwerk?  Anyways, aside from this LP, if I was going to include something from my traditional “best record of 2017 that I didn’t hear until 2018” category: Six Organs of Admittance finally delivered one of his best records ever with Burning the Threshold (2017).

7.  LambchopWhat another Man spills (1998, 2018 reissue).  see # 6.

6. The Kinksthe Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968, 2018 reissue) see #5.

5.  The FallI am Kurious Oranj (1988, 2018 reissue) : Three more reissues on a list for 2018?  It begs the questions: What is even the point to any new music when there is so much superior stuff from the past is waiting to be re-discovered?  Or am I really stupid enough to keep buying my favorite records from the past over and over again in new and different formats?  Answer: Yes and yes.   Couldn’t you have just settled down and enjoyed something new from 2018 like Low‘s glitchy double negative?    Other honourable mentions in the categories of reissues:   Joe Henderson featuring Alice Coltrane ‎– The Elements, and the dark confusing mess that is Wire‘s 154.

4. Unknown Mortal OrchestraIC-01 Hanoi (2018), if it is less than half an hour and plays at 33rpm is it an LP or still an EP?  Either way I was not expecting an instrumental record from this band, let alone a fun one, especially given how much I disliked their “real” 2018 release Sex and Food.   

3.  PrincePiano and a Microphone (2018).  Only Prince can sit in front of a piano in 1983, press record, and make a better record than almost anyone else in 2018.  It’s like time travel.   Unstoppable.  Expect a ridiculous 2pac collaboration from the afterlife.   Does this even count as a 2018 release?  Yes and barely.   And speaking of time travel : worst/most disappointing record of year award goes to Dr. Octagon for Moosebumps, who for some reason returned from the future to give us this stupid overcooked metal inspired hip hop record.

2. Freak Heat WavesBeyond XXXL (2018)  Canada’s fourth greatest band delivers the most unsettling Talking Heads meets cough syrup versus a “still depressed, fat, middle aged Joy Division” record than you could have ever possibly imagined.  The sound is muddy and brown and the melodies are so forgettable – which is refreshing in a world where everyone is focussing on making crystal clear earworms.   This sounds more like Bauhaus than anyone will be comfortable enough to admit.   Speaking of unmemorable: Beck‘s Colors (2017)might be the best slice of bland I have never tasted, I am secretly enjoying it for it’s complete lack of any flavor, I mean plain, not even vanilla.  Background music is the new interesting.

  1.  TBA.

 

 

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Low – Double Negative (2018)

lowDoes a double negative mean something is twice as bad, or is it more like Run DMC once said : ”…not bad meaning bad, but bad meaning good”?  The appearance of this record on many critic’s year-end top-ten “best New Music” lists would point to the later, but I would have to say the opposite, or I mean the former, er what I am really trying to say is that I don’t never not hate this record completely.  Totally.

And everytime I listen to this record I feel like I am teleported to a bizarre dimension where up is down, and – apologies…. high is low, and only this double negative zone could possibly explain the accolades showered over this.  And while I applaud the challenging “new” direction, ultimately this sounds like yet another one of those dodgy remix records from the late 1990s; wherein art rock bands got an overhaul from electronica DJ types, for instance that Flying saucer attack vs third eye foundation LP, or that remix record from Kranky label mates Bowery Electric (Vertigo, 1997), or even that 1998 remix record called owL, by …uh, Low?  (https://www.discogs.com/Low-owL-Remix/master/39750)

Sonically it covers the same bold new territory already covered by  Otomo Yoshihide, Pan Sonic or David Kristian:  loops of ambient slow melodies are made glitchy and then horrible sounding where ironically the low frequencies are too low, and the high frequencies are too high.  The only difference between Double Negative and 1998’s OWL, is that this time it is is without the “funky drummer” beats.    I have no problem with the electronic elements of the record I mostly object to the dynamics: the louds are too loud and quiets too quiet.   I don’t want to be bombarded by digital distortion, just to find the vague melodies buried underneath.

Low had a reputation of making great underappreciated records for many years, often lacking a kind of quality control that left a couple dud songs on an otherwise perfect albums (Secret Name and Things we Lost in the Fire).    They are kind of the bizarro world Yo la Tengo,  a less popular version of  the “married couple”, post-Sonic youth, adult oriented indie band.  And although they captured the respect of many maturing music nerds of my generation, they did so without building a fanatical fan base.   Dedicated listeners yes, but crazy fans, I would argue no.

Yo La Tengo had the same concept for a record this year, an ambient diversion from their perfected melodic indie rock formulas.   But while YLT’s 1998 release There’s a riot going on attempted to be a pleasurable gentrified experience for wine and cheese parties, Low’s abrasive record clearly is not.   These two records are at polar opposites but going for the same prize, YTL’s record was great sounding but so boring, and Low record is not great sounding but so exciting.   It is laughable and probably should go without saying, neither record is as some critics would have you believe, their KidA.

The mistake both records make is that they are neither a good indie rock records nor  good electronic records, and regretfully they hang out in a no-man’s land in between.

Songs are modularly messed up in post production, far too simplistic to be interesting, as if to disguise half finished songs that were lacking in the first place.   I don’t hear a band taking chances, I heard a band going through crisis – saying fuck it, and lighting fire to their past.   Often it’s more like metal machine music: an unlistenable record that is at the same time praised, remains largely unheard.  Equally misguided and desperate for appreciation – I predict next year #1 collaborative mash up record will be called: Low La Tenglow.

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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 known 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”  birthed all over today’s radio.

Or was David just mad at Smokey Robinson and his 1965 hit song “Oooh baby baby” and thinks that pop music should really be about his songs,  like “Triad” in which he tries to justify cheating on his then girlfriend, and then gaslight her and shame into polyamory?  In between his drunk driving, or arrests drug and firearm possession, and creating 6 (ooh) babies, David Crosby and that liver that Phil Collins bought for him spend their time these days 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 its grand poetic statements for a pre-Velvet Underground Nico, who tellingly after a sex vacation with Dylan 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 recently 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.

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 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 totally 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 film, 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 a Soft 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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