Various – Bombay Disco 2 (2014)

I think Bollywood music became sub-fashionable in the late nineties, starting with Dan the Automator‘s post-Dr. Octagon project Bombay the Hard Way(1998), as soon thereafter dozens of mediocre compilations followed.   But kudos to Motel records for introducing naive kids like myself to this pure joyful genre of music with it’s amazing bright melodies and fantastic beats, sadly only until then sampled into negative and violent rap tracks by medical imposters like Dre ; and so by 2002 Hip Hop crate digger culture propelled somewhat lame soundtracks like Bappi Lahiri‘s Jyoti to mega collectible status, and then mainstream pop music sampled Bollywood songs into Top 40 hits like Toxic (2003) (wherein Ms. Spears makes further cultural mis-inappropriation statements likening love to over consumption of drugs), then finally culminating with a bunch of stale smelling Black Eyed Pee Pee hits that made us all really hate music by 2005.   Adding to the pot, reissues of Ananda Shankar and kitchy records like Gabor Szabo’s Jazz Raga (1966) appeared, and later still Madlib came on board later to loop bass and drum samples with his Beat Conducta in India series (2007).

After harvesting all the psychedelic rock guitars and strip-mining funk breaks, Disco might be the last chapter of Bollywood exploitation.  Interestingly Disco was never really rejected by India culture, amid the late 70’s political turmoil and social reforms there was little time for self righteous dudes in India to rent out Football stadiums for the sole purpose of blowing up a pile of Abba records, and so the genre continued to evolve through the 1980’s and find unique forms in pop and film music.  Even when I traveled to India in 2008, remnants of seventies disco fashion were staying very alive.

Strangely 2014 saw the release of  three compilations: 1) a Rough Guide to Bollywood Disco, 2) Bombay Disco, and then 3)  Bombay Disco 2 which was curated by radio DJ Brother Cleve (whose past musical credits include the del Fuegos and Combustible Edison).  Irony prevails as the western world begins to explore/exploit Bollywood Disco,  a genre where popular 80’s era hits were based on liberally stolen Michael Jackson and Boney M riffs by Bollywood’s rising new superstar/composer Bappi Lahiri.   Lahiri became celebrated as the King of Copy, and though criticized for his derivative music, he was incredibly popular; his soundtracks were huge hits and all the once great film composer teams from the 1970s like Laxmikant-Pyarelal or Sonik Omi, either unsuccessfully tried to emulate him or gave up working entirely.

This comp predictably features a lot of Lahiri’s work along with a couple from my favorite Bollywood composer RD Burman, and his tracks are remarkably good especially given he was openly disinterested in disco and described it as a passing fad.  Standout track: Raamlaxman‘s Sweety Seventeen

Regrettably, the compilation starts with Saat Sumundar Paar a cheesy, sequencer based piece from the early 1990’s which sounds more suited to the Night at the Roxbury soundtrack*.  Let it be known Night at the Roxbury is one of my favorite films of all time, so this is not really a put-down, but rather identifying how out of place this track is; part of the appeal of Bollywood music is the rough-around-the-edges quickie production, tapping into an immediacy and authenticity not unlike early soul or late 1900s indie rock.   Thankfully, the remaining tracks (mysteriously mostly from the year 1982) successfully tread that super fine line between rough and lush that characterized the early eighties, wherein cheap 70’s funk met the increased production values.

Aside from the out of place first track and the rather horrible artwork/packaging, I think this record succeeds to pull together a solid trip.  Often Bollywood soundtracks have a couple tracks of note amid conventional ballads and filler to satisfy the film’s narrative, and so the strength of these comps is to carry a musical theme over an entire LP.   And while these comps tell only part of the story… I do appreciate them for highlighting some of the best material that is otherwise buried in mass of too many releases or just near-impossible to locate due to geography and the mists of time.

end note:

*Supposedly Saat Sumundar Paar lifts a melody/riff from a Pet Shop Boys song, and I have no idea if there are any PSB fans out there reading this that can confirm this by checking out the track here:


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Genesis – Trespass (1970)

eno-3652156103_466b03cddf_b.jpgRecently there was one of those obnoxious Facebook postings going around to challenge music nerds into identifying their favorite records for every year that they were alive, which is absolutely ridiculous when you include things from when you are only 1, 2 or 3 years old.  Strangely at age four my first musical interests developed with two records: Kiss Destroyer and a Mickey Mouse Club LP, both of which I played on my little brown foldout Califone record player at various speeds and directions, but now if I had to rewrite my personal history and pick a record from the year of my genesis, I would kinda predictably pick Brian Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy), and not just because of the great cover art where Eno tries desperately to hold onto his toupee.    Personally this is surprising due to a general disinterest in both Roxy Music and Soft Machine, and so the guest musical contributions of Phil Manzenera, Robert Wyatt and others carry no starry eyed influence, and moreso it was not an easy decision given that Sparks’ Kimono my house was birthed that same year.

Sadly I never heard this Eno record during my formative years from age 0-18, and I am pretty sure it was not playing in small town grocery stores in the mid seventies; I first heard this record when Mark Charleston loaned to me a box of his old records in college s.  Among others in that box were the Feelies, the Residents, Snakefinger, and other proto-alternative alternative things.  Among those great records in that box, this Eno record was a standout even then.  I wondered what happened to Mark, and when I looked him up on Facebook  he doesn’t exist, so I might have imagined him.

Back to the list, it is one thing to list a bunch of socially acceptable records in chronological order, but how you justify your responses is far more difficult and more interesting.  So why do I like this record so much?   Obviously it must be the presence of the jacket-less one himself, Phil Collins, who’s vital contributions to music history via the second Miami Vice soundtrack were likely predicted by Eno in his eternal search for future cred.   All kidding aside, and irrelevant to my justification, I kind of like early 80s Phil Collins – I think he has a pretty great pop music voice, with a sort of self-loathing, smart-ass fragility which especially effective on his darker songs.

Supposedly Phil and his drums appeared on Taking Tiger Mountain as payback for Eno “adding elements” to Genesis’ 1974 album the Lamb lies down on Broadway, but I highly doubt that was the full story – both records were released in November of the same year – I am guessing these dudes were all just hanging out, doing drugs in fancy studios and hoping if by pooling their talents the by-product might be a decent enough record.  While I haven’t heard the Lamb Lies Down…,  despite it having been credited as a great prog (is that an oxymoron?) record, the reason being their previous records, like Trespass and Nursery Crime, were so terrible.

In 1970 Phil Collins was not yet in Genesis, and as a result Trespass really sucks.  I bought Trespass from the used bin on  a particularly boring record buying trip, and after previewing it for 30 seconds it on  the store’s record player I was satisfied enough that it didn’t sound like the 1980s hitmaker Genesis of Invisible Touch. Admittedly, I know more about Colecovision then Sega or any other Genesis.    After taking the LP home and listening to it further I realized there is no atmosphere, no melodies, and no life.   Back when I was obsessed by 1970s Italian Prog rock, I was looking into “prog history” and part of my initial attraction to early 70’s Genesis was the backlash they often received as being “private school kids” – this petty, elitist psuedo-controversy is probably the most interesting thing about them.    The only redemption on this LP was how a rambling Peter Gabriel was credited not only with overbearing vocals, but also as playing “BASS BRUM”.   This album is stifled by prog form, and broken apart by an impulse to impress with ugly chord changes and filled (but not Phil-ed) with unnecessary time signatures.   Essentially it is math rock, but with horrendously whimsical accordions and harpsichords.


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Dean Ween Group – the Deaner Album (2016)

IMG_5033.JPGIf creativity were a measure of an album’s success then look no further within the uninspired album title meets predictable band name of this post-Ween solo album.  But suspend your disbelief briefly since creativity is only one part of judging an album’s full merit, other parts like songwriting play big part… but when you’d rather listen to an abysmal Beastie Boys’ track like “Heart Attack Man” over this album’s derivative hate-on “Exercise Man” we might be wasting our time here.   This record fails on almost all accounts except: a) if you like endless guitar solos and/or b) amazingly clear production.   In many ways this record is exactly how I imagined those cheesy sub-Joe Satriani or  Steve Vai “guitar genius” records that were advertised in Guitar Player Magazine back in the late eighties would have sounded like.

When your teenage self originally falls in love with a band like Ween for the 4 track wonder that was the Pod (1991), subsequent amazing production is rendered pointless.  Over the years I quietly supported Ween on the strength of that brownest of all albums, even enduring their chocolate and cheese betrayals, believing there was more than just a joke band under the surface.  Wackiness is entertaining only for so long, and I heard none of that amazing creativity in their subsequent work except perhaps the nearly great Mollusk.

The genre of Joke bands have a long, but uncelebrated tradition in music history, from mainstream entertainers like Steve Allen, to the Smother Brothers, to crappy Zappa and losers like Beck: whether it is ironically rocking out, or making people chortle, or making them contemplative with nonsense, joke bands were especially big business in the nineties, when there were one hit wonders like Bloodhound gang, a couple funny songs about Sweaters (not just Weezer but moreso the trans gendered  Meryn Cadell), and even when Radiohead first appeared on the scene in what appeared to be a teenage angst joke song with Creep.

I patiently watched as Ween’s joke band contemporaries managed to grow and transcend their genre:  They Might be Giants‘ transformed from David Byrne thieving geek-rock and slid right in to fill the children’s education vacuum created by Jim Henson’s death, or Primus’ forays into cartoon TV but with credibility as Tom Waits’ backing band, or how Barenaked Ladies went from chubby fun, college rock to international soft rock chubbies;  and all this time Gene and Dean failed score with their expressed aspirations of a #1 hit song.  Sadly Ween’s music and their later incarnations only succeeded to morph them into a low rent version of Phish.  Maybe it was the guitar solos, or the promise of scoring good drugs at any of their concerts that cemented this career path.   Like most joke bands when their production got better, the songwriting became more erratic and drugs got harsher, which famously lead to Steven Paige spending his entire Million dollars not on Kraft Dinners and Emus, but on lots of Coke.    Breakups lead to solo albums, and then … useless things like the Deaner Album.

But later Ween was not limited to just joke band status, as they also fell into the also dreaded “stoner music” catagory, and by that I don’t mean stoner rock of the Kyuss/Fu Manchu type, but rather that inexplicable genre of music collectively endorsed by ganga loving dudes and providing the non-reggae backdrop to apartments of weed dealers across North America.   Also accepted in that mysterious bro-hood are: Ben Harper and Michael Franti; I suspect they all advertise in High Times or Maximum Yield magazine.   Or maybe there is a secret weed channel I just don’t know about where they play Sublime videos and teach you to hotbox your Xbox.

I am unsurprised that I hear a lot of Paul McCartney and Wings in this Deaner record, that is if Paul was really into sexist, dumbass humor instead of, uh… Running with his Band?   Tracks like “bundle of joy” or “Gum” are really is less classic Ween weirdness and more side-project Moistboyz level of spiteful humor.  Meanwhile Gene Ween’s work as Freeman, could easily be compared to John Lennon’s output, not like Imagine or anything, but more like something unlistenable like Rock N’ Roll (1975).   And so with the Deaner album, it is exactly how Wings’ records sound really great and are filled with super interesting details and melodies – but you never, ever want to actually listen to them in their entirety.  Four stars! (out of one hundred).

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Ennio Morricone – Revolver (1973)

Continuing down the twisted path of Morricone Soundtrack music has taken me through the boring desert of records like Sahara (a lame 1983 “Brooke Shields with a mustache” movie), or patiently sitting through the compelling but shockingly off putting Sacco & Vanzetti (1971’s three part showcase for Joan Baez‘s vocal range concluding on the electric chair).  Thankfully, it is in these not-so-great releases that a bleak space is created where a brilliant work like Revolver can shine.

Revolver was re-released in 2000 by Dagored records, a label dedicated to reissuing high quality records from various Italian soundtrack artists; back in 2000 Dagored caught my eye with a compilation entitled Morricone 2000 (2000) primarily because it had liner notes from Alan Bishop of my then-obsession the Sun City Girls.   Without those notes I might have not gotten past the initial pleasant, a waste of time, aka lounge compilation vibe, into the cache of his brilliance and wild inventiveness.  It has been a great guidebook into Morricone-world.

The big question about the Revolver soundtrack is: “could it be better than that other Revolver?”

If I had to choose between the Beatles’ or Ennio Moricone’s Revolver…. dare-i-say I would choose the soundtrack.  Not because I didn’t like the Fab Four’s early psych phase immensely (from the ominous intro to Taxman unto the last drum beat loop of Tomorrow Never Knows, Revolver really is their only great record), but rather that this Morricone soundtrack is just so amazing.  There is dark funk, beautiful ballads and strange interludes.   Of course there are tedious moments as the main “chase” theme gets played out in 3 or 4 versions, but it is within the little moments that the record is so good – there are small intro melodies, outro noises, a perfect the drum sound, a weird synth voice floating in the atmosphere, a bit of phasing here and there – subtle and yet direct.

The production from this era was so vibrant and full of life – when the compositions are good the records are astounding.   There is a magic formula where there is sparseness in which individual instruments are given prominence and a place to breath, but then these are supported by a distant lush complex backdrop of players behind them.

There is a part of me that is somewhat angry that I enjoy this so much.  It is the knowing that there are so many more Morricone soundtracks out there and I want to hear them all.  And so as I get older I will now have to decide, do I spend my remaining life catching all the Pokemon or do I spend my life listening to Morricone soundtracks?

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Philips Prospective Series (1967-72)

Between 1967 and 1972 a series of metallic cover LPs of unparalleled beauty emerged from France,  and although shiny things tend to attract a lot of attention these records presented a type of music so specific and limited in appeal that they quickly faded into the obscurity of the discogrosphere.   The Prospective Series records’ visual design ensured moderate collectability, despite the experimental music inside varying wildly from release to release (even as someone who really likes electroacoustic and avant-garde classical music, many of these records are extremely challenging to enjoy), but recently (sub) popular culture has shown re-interest in the series: especially when SubPop’s resident hip hop/noise band Clipping released a visual homage on their cover to Splendor and Misery (2106), and/or as the GRM Recollection label’s superb re-releases of INA GRM artists who first received their exposure through the Prospective series.   Philips not only makes amazing shavers and coffee grinders but also amazing 1970s experimental music, this series was initially released with French only texts, thereby adding to the mystery (but later a few were repackaged and translated for Spanish, English and Japanese markets).  After collecting a bunch and realizing how much they vary in quality, I thought it best to provide a little critical overview to my fellow listening travelers (bearing mind some omissions in the discography as some of these records are extremely rare & expensive):

Francois Bayle, L’Oiseau Chanter… (1968):

Although Pierre Schaeffer (aka Pierre #1) might have been the best place to start in this overview as he was largely responsible for the label existing at all, I have yet to acquire his singular entry in the series (Studies of Objects, 1971) and so instead it begins non-chronologically with the series co-curator Francois Bayle.    Bayle, like Schaeffer, helped carve out a new musical language based on cutting up prerecorded tapes of found sound, and then played back at various speeds and directions, and on this release he combined it with a sort of call and response using echoes of oboes and french horns  (do they just simply call them “horns” in France?)  to carry the electroacoustic elements forward.   How musique concrete was ever marketed to the classical music crowd is fascinating as the results had far more in common with the emerging psychedelic rock of the day, or the ambient or the underground noise scenefrom the past 20 years.  The results here (translated as: the Bird, the Singer) are less engaging musically as a whole,  but very interesting as a collection of studies.  **2 stars


Pierre Henry, Variations for une porte et un Soupir (1967)

Pierre #2 might be Musique Concrete’s biggest Superstar having worked beyond the concrete/avant-garde arena and into psych, prog and dance fields.   And it was probably Henry’s willingness to subvert his art with pop formats that created many of the much reported rifts between the pair of Pierres.   You would ever guess from this early release that Pierre #2 had any desire to be popular as the music crunches brains using only samples of a door and sigh as its  compositional elements.   Like Alvin Lucier, a dada-esque charm prevails, albeit things do get a little tedious.  **2 stars

Pierre Henry, Le Voyage (1967)

Clearly Pierre #2 was the most prolific artist on the label, and here is yet another release from him in 1967, based upon the Tibetan book of the Dead, but surprisingly not sounding at all like 1966’s Tomorrow never Knows.    Henry seems to be fascinated with these ancient texts of death, ironically he is still alive today at a ripe 89 years old. ***3 stars

Pierre Henry, La Noire a soixante (1968)

Yet another, at first listen Henry seems obsessed with drums sounds, cut up and rearranged snares and toms like a proto dnb track, but actually it is made from 1,415 beats of a metronome set to 60 bpm.  The B side features similar treatments but this time to a vocal track with terrifying and almost unlistenable results.   These tracks appear to date back to 1961-2, and seem more like a demo session – less like a finished composition and more of a playful study.  **2 stars.

Pierre Henry, Apocalypse de Jean (1969)

Available in either a 3 LP box set or as individual LPs, this bizarre religious work comes in French, English or German versions.   Is it three spoken word pieces with the same music layered between the three stoic readings?   I have been struggling to figure out if any of the LPs are different musically – so far the abstract density of the music leaks right out from my mind and memory – and as mountains fall there are some surprisingly eerie Skinny Puppy type moments.  Anyways, in case you can’t get enough of going to church, on this record you can enjoy your apocalypse sermon while you relax with some ear piercing experimental music at the same time.   **2 stars


Jean Guillou, Vision Cosmiques (1969)

A sort of anomaly in the series, as this is the most normal, non-noise sounding LP of the bunch.    Supposedly improvised by organist Guillou to honor the Apollo 8 mission (that highly rated TV special where the USA pretended to orbit the moon and fly home again.   Stanley Kubrick was busy on another project so they had to wait for him to wrap up before they could film the episode where they land on the moon.   Guillou was in negotiations to record the soundtrack for that one too, but instead NASA opted for a non-musical score by Bebe Barron). ***3 stars


Ivo Malec, sigma/cantate pour elle/dahovi/miniatures pour  lewis carroll (1969)

Yugoslavian born Malec found himself in Paris in 1955 and took up with Pierre Schaeffer, whose influence can be heard slowly creeping in as this record plays out.   Starting out somewhat normal sounding modern classical LP, as this record plays out it gets increasingly more weird and electronic: first beginning with “Sigma” a dissonant brass affair that would not sound out of place on any of the Planet of the Apes soundtracks, it then moves into the wonderful “Miniatures pour Lewis Carroll” a sparse Harry Partch sounding track where exotic percussion meets scraping violin, harp and flute.   Side B start with a soprano and harp duet that quickly adds electronic tape and devolves into a pre-glitch wonderland, until the final track of pure tape experiment electronics.   Fantastic in both form and function. *****5 stars


Francois Bayle Jeita ou murmure des eaux (1970):

Jeita’s  cascading crystal cover design reminds me of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude which is metaphorically where you will end up if you play this around your friends and family.  The subtitle translates as the Whispers of Water, which perhaps gives some context on the sound sources that were manipulated.    A deeper more deliberate work than the previous studies, and worth diving into (ouch).   ****4 stars

Ivo Malec 3L (1971)

Malec next record took two years to produce, according to the nearly incomprehensible liner notes, and in those two years his portrait photo went from well adjusted middle aged man to disturbed and disheveled artist, by hearing the intensity of his new music you can imagine why.   The three pieces recorded here all beginning with the letter L, and basically sounding like orchestral work created by malfunctioning Cylons.   We leave the planet immediately on the first note and are thrust into a brutal soundscape of electronics bubbling and melting as they explode in space, then organic strings return to rescue us, only to catch fire and engulf us in flame.   “LIED” the side long track on Side B, could easily be mistaken as a horror film soundtrack (think Bernard Hermann meets Stelvio Cipriani), mixing cello pulses with sinister string and haunting vocal slashes.   Not an easy listen, this beautiful record’s occasional harsh intensity is its only drawback.  ****4 stars


Norwegian Electronic Music (1968) and Japanese Electronic Music (1971)

These two notable compilations also appear in other formats on various labels worldwide, but are particularly interesting compared and contrasted against each other.  I find it fascinating to hear this early electronic music develop and hear modernist parallels from widely dissimilar cultures.    As with any compilation things are hit and miss, but also I feel “various artists” records allows more chances are taken when no one single reputation is on the line.  ****4 stars each.


Iannis Xenakis, Persephassa (1971)

I remember when I happened upon my first sight of a Prospective series record in the Music Library back at university, I was fascinated by the fragmented mirror artwork, (designed using “Procédé Heliophore” – engraved aluminum), and excited by the prospect of what music lay inside.   Unfortunately it did not live up to the visuals; this les Percussion des Strasbourg recording of Xenakis’s “Persephassa” is one of my least favorite Xennakis records – and exemplifying a major deficiency in the series, namely almost anything credited les Percussion des Strasbourg, by and large they are the most annoying, uninteresting chapters in the label’s output (minus a few excepts that I will highlight below).     Bang clang, silence, clang, clang is all you need to know here, it’s like an overthought version of the blue man group, perhaps best experienced live because on record there is no magic.   There is a Japanese version has a completely different foil cover, showing the ensemble playing in dried up river bank,  so different that I failed to not buy this mediocre record twice only to discover it is no less unrewarding to listen to. *1 star

Stibilj, Shinohara & Schat, les percussions des Strasbourg (1969)

There are a couple exceptions to les Percussion des Strasbourg curse, once you get past the spoken word part on side one this LP by little known composers all beginning with the letter S  is sometimes quite listenable. **’2.5 stars

André Boucourechliev, Les Percussion des Strasbourg with George Pludermacher (1970)

This ,however, is perhaps my favorite les Percussion des Strasbourg entry into the series, and suggesting the addition of piano was all that was required to take their music to a more enjoyable level. ****4 stars

Iannis Xenakis Persepolis (1972)

Here is an example of the later second edition pressings that were not done with foil, but rather substituting grey ink.  “Why bother?” you might ask. Well, because this Xenakis composition may be one of the beautiful pieces of modern music I have ever heard – foil, or no foil.    A special commission by the Shah of Iran to commemorate the 2,500 year anniversary of the Ancient city Persepolis – which is amazing considering: a) in 2017, Canada is celebrating a mere 150 years and I expect Bachman-Turner Overdrive will be most suitably commissioned to create our meager jingle, and b) that the Shah would even consider an experimental avant-garde composer for such an event, especially since American propaganda about the Middle East would have us believe that everyone shuns technology and lives in caves playing ouds.     *****5


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Heron Oblivion, self titled (2016)

As a big fan of Espers, how is it that I missed out on the debut record of Subpop’s Heron Oblivion, which in some ways is a supergroup re-envisioning of the darker directions Espers were taking with their cover of BOC‘s “Flaming Telepaths” on the Weed Tree(2005) LP or most everything of their II (2006) LP?

Meg Baird is finally back on track with vocals and drumming with this new band after thankfully deciding not to try being a low budget Sarah McLaughlin anymore, meanwhile half of the Comets on Fire members show up here to remind us why that band’s dynamics once made us care.  Their formula tends to repeat itself a little too often: the songs generally begin with a slow burn Cure like pop dirge, overlay some pseudo-Celtic Fairport Convention vocals, and end with dual guitar freak-out mayhem.   The formula is okay, but those guitar battles that first appear as lush and expansive,  later become rather tedious due to a wah wah pedal dependency.  Perhaps they featured them so high in the mix because they thought those guitars were the only thing saving this record from being the new Lummineers.

So while it took a decade for this sort of psych rock to be as un-exotic and prevalent as it is today, has it really been so long that we need a New Weird America retro movement?   Will Devendra, Lake and Palmer tour again?  Will Free Folk become festival-ized to Pay Folk now that those boho kids of the mid 2000’s have their crappy yet steady jobs?

I first heard about this record for an email listserve for Three Lobed records (home also to similar pedigree like Steve Gunn and Bardo Pond*); ahh listserves… that promotional format which has surprisingly become a sort of new not-so old school version of the printed newsletter catalogue, and so I probably would have stuck this into my top ten list of records for 2016 had I heard it earlier, which suggests that my old methods of new music hunting are digitally failing me in the wake of campbands and media socials.   And so late-March 2017 seems like an appropriate time to discover all the best 2016 music.   The amount of time that has past since makes me feel a little misguided when I look back at my “best of 2016” list from December when I had then already displayed some reluctance to listen to Nick Cave‘s rather bleak Skeleton Tree, and now without the context of it being a new release – I am really disinterested in touching it.   I have yet to listen to that Iannis Xenakis record again either, so maybe it is already time to re-write that best of list, or at least resolve to ditch the concept entirely this year.   It does seem ridiculous to list my actual favorites which were all reissues of LPs recorded and/or released in the 1970s (Lee Hazlewood‘s Cowboy in SwedenPiero Umiliani & I Suoi Oscillatori’s Il Mondo Dei Roman,  Stelvio Cipriani ‘s The Bloodstained Shadow, etc).

  1. Nevertheless, this Heron Oblivion record takes the fresh spirit of the mid-00’s past into a jaded middle age middle class world view.   It lacks any of that great dirty optimism that I felt back then in one of those good Espers records, or for that matter anything from Feathers, Wooden Wand or even early Sunburned Hand of the Man, instead replacing it with passionate standoffishness.   But this might be expected since Espers were always closer to the adult contemporary side of freak folk of bands like Vetiver than they were to SBHOTM or something like Kemaillest Ystavat.   It is kind of strange that Heron Oblivion’s appeal lies in a 2016 retro response to a 2005 retro response to late 1960 -early 70s’s psych, which itself could also be a retro response to pre-1950’s religious, tribal & drug music especially of non-first world cultures.

end note:

*Speaking of which I am looking forward to see how that 2017 Bardo Pond record is (not released on their previous home of Three Lobed but on their New European Home Fire records).    I expect to find it in my mailbox any day now, and while I don’t often fall for pre-order promotions – sometimes I get a special quiet vibration in my core that says “pay attention”, and at this point I mostly want to see if my gut was right, more than I need to actually listen to it.

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Ennio Morricone – the Thing, 1982 (reissue 2017)

2017’s first LP in the category of crazy vinyl reissue fiascos began this February with a fetish object re-release of John Carpenter’s The Thing 1982 on Waxwork records.  Waxwork sold out of both their “deluxe” and “first” editions on Valentine’s Day in about an hour (suggesting that lonely record collectors everywhere had no-one to make love to), and then the label followed up with an apologetic blog post stating how they were going to crack down on the orders to prevent dealers from flipping them online, meanwhile dozens Discogs and Ebay listing continue to be posted (some for as much as $170), beginning  prior to the record shipping out; and so Waxwork decide to do a “magical” second pre-order for another limited edition release the next day ( and thereby negating any credibility they were hoping to preserve, while pressing plants are supposedly backed up with re-issues of the Beverly Hills Cop soundtracks), and again sold out in mere hours.      Needless to say as a ridiculous, lonely vinyl addict, I could not resist buying one.

There are two major sides to the composer Ennio Morricone: 1) amazing, and 2) awfully boring, sappy pap.   I am not a collector, but I really appreciate his music and have quite a few records buried in my collection.    Far too many… now that I start counting I need to do a cull; and so, I find it very handy to assess his records using a sort of “Good, the Bad and Ugly”type pie chart diagram, as rarely do his records entirely fall into either good or bad, but more often other times they contain elements of both.  It is also within this dichotomy that his records create excitement, anticipation and joy in the heart of all Morricone fans for you never know what you are going to get, and it is without the bad that there can be not the good.

Take the example of Duck, you Sucker! (aka Fistfull of Dynamite, 1971), it is great film and he takes a lot of chances on the soundtrack, but the record itself only consists of fun, exciting experimentation 38% of the time and relies too heavily on cheesy themes, and lush sappy strings to its detriment 60% of the time (meanwhile the neutral ugly factor doesn’t really come into play in this example at only 2%, but could have helped to make the LP score better).

Most composers tend to come from a classical piano training, so I suspect some of Morricone’s  versatility as a composer might be due to his background as a jazz trumpeter, as he was able to quickly shift gears throughout his career: first from mundane gangster films scores, to dynamic spaghetti westerns that brought him fame (though firstly under the safe pseudonym Leo Nichols), to the avant-garde dissonance, and to Bossa Nova.   It was his ability to fuse dissimilar elements that garnished recognition giving him the affectionate nickname of the Maestro*, taking lush orchestra conventions in film soundtracks then fusing them with rock riffs, jazzy bass lines, and vocal abstractions.  Most remarkable is that he was able to churn out hundreds of soundtracks all the while continuing to experiment, evolving and defining the conventions of sound in so many film genres.   It seems that as he gained acceptance in each genre, his works reached a breaking point by becoming unnecessarily beautiful and predictable,  he then shifted into another genre or phase of his career in sound.

I definitely have prejudices against his more accepted soundtracks like Zamfir-esque soundtrack for the Mission (1986) or Once upon a Time in America (1984, actually featuring Zamfir)**.   Furthermore, I am not a fan of his lush baroque excursions into Bossa Nova like cult favorite Veruschka (brilliant as a single, but not over a whole double LP worth of blah blah, la, la,las), and although I am likely to enjoy the sparse darkness of the currently in vogue Giallo soundtracks,  I am not really interested in summoning the visuals of bloody torture that boutique reissue labels like  Death Waltz records seem to exclusively market to.

Instead I prefer the over-intelectualized, avant-garde and sometimes free jazz inspired material.  For this side of the multifaceted Morricone, he was blessed with a great peer group of collaborators who in their own rights were composers of equal ability and have a legacy of stunning soundtracks and library records.  Not only in those early 70’s collaborations with Bruno Nicolai (among my favorites of his work; the story goes that Morricone wrote out a lot of the music and handed it over to Nicolai to direct the ensembles, a partnership that yielded great “100% good” works like Lizard in a Women’s Skin Nicolai’s soundtrack albums are often fantastic (especially All the Colours of the Dark, 1973) suggesting his contributions to the partnership were significant)  but also his collaborations with artists like Egisto Macchi, Fredrich Rzewski (of MEV fame) and Roland Kaye in the Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, which seemed to inform Morricone of a “freedom in sound” that extended into his music in seemingly endless directions.

Back to the topic at hand, The Thing soundtrack was reportedly not so well received by Carpenter who only used a portion of it for the film and inserted some of his own material, while all of Morricone’s unused segments are restored on the LP.   The work is informed by that prior avant-garde aesthetic, but is filtered though that big production sound of his 1980s work.   Luckily, it is phenomenal:  icy, haunting and is at both times subversive and heavy-handed.   But it is particularly interesting as a sort of parody/homage of John Carpenters’ regular dark synth formula – at times he pretty much perfects the Carpenter’s style of synth and orchestra, almost letting us know the Emperor has no clothes– which may explain why Carpenter might have received it so coldly.  Percentage wise it is 70% good, 10% bad, and interestingly 20% ugly (to it’s benefit).

end notes:

*although they look the same,  he is not to be confused with the rather limited 1999 WCW wrestler also named the Maestro.

**I would score both those LPs at 10% good, 90% bad, 0% ugly.

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