Neverending Randomplay #321-#330
Neverending Randomplay is a feature in which I let my J-River Media Center choose what we get listen to. My collection currently stands at 18,914 titles. The lion's share are rock of all genres, with a mix of pop, blues, country, pre-rock, jazz, reggae, soul, electronic, avant-garde, hip-hop, rap, bluegrass, trance, Afrobeat, J-Pop, trip-hop, lounge, worldbeat, commercial jingles, etc. filling it out. I don't influence the track selection in any way; whatever comes up, comes up. Rated 1-5 stars.
321. Silver Apples: Fractal Flow *****
One of the strangest acts in rock history, Silver Apples (along with the United States of America, and Fifty Foot Hose) were one of the very first bands to fully embrace electronica. A duo consisting of drummer Danny Taylor and vocalist Simeon, they employed two instruments; Taylor's drums and Simeon's homemade invention, also called a "simeon", which was a contraption that included nine oscillators that were played by hands, elbows and knees. The bass oscillators were operated by foot. The pair released two albums for Kapp, Silver Apples and Contact, in 1968 and 1969 that were utterly incongruous-for-the-times collections of sleek, spacey, electronic weirdness full of whirrs and bleeps, that almost nobody bought. Both albums became prized trophies for obscurro collectors, and undeniably had an influence on some of the more outre electronica and space rock pioneers of the early 90's (Spacemen 3 and Laika come to mind). Silver Apples, who seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth returned in 1996 and released three more albums. Simeon was gravely injured in an automobile accident in 1998, breaking his neck and Taylor died in 2005. What they've left behind is a wholly original body of work that is a much easier listen than one may expect. "Fractal Flow" is one of their most obscure, appearing as a single in 1996 and not appearing on any album. Taylor is absent, replaced by Xian Hawkins (Taylor would return in 1998), but he's hardly missed here. A lo-fi recording to be sure, but Simeon's simeon is in fine form, the drumming is crisp, and the lyrics either intensely intellectual or utter nonsense depending on your mood. While it's hard to find in stores, it appears on file sharing networks a lot.
322. Eric Clapton: Let It Rain [live] ****
Eric Clapton's career has never really been in too much trouble, although there was a point in the early 70's where he appeared hellbent to join his buddies in what Courtney Love famously called "that stupid club" of deceased rock stars. His heroin addiction, which pretty much precluded his recording between The Concert For Bangla Desh in 1971 and Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert in January 1973, was by all accounts a heavy, debilitating one. Pete Townshend deserves credit for helping Clapton back from the shadows by organizing the Rainbow Concerts, an all-star extravaganza that played three shows with a lineup that included Clapton and Townshend, plus A-listers Ron Wood, Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Rick Grech, and Rebop. The shows were a success, and Clapton began the long road to recovery (unfortunately, once he got off heroin he developed a serious alcohol problem, but Townshend may have had a hand in saving his life); in 1974 he had pulled it together enough to finally get a new studio album out (his fist since 1970). The original album of the Rainbow Concert was a skimpy 6-song affair; in 1995 a full-length 14 song album was issued, which included "Let It Rain", originally from his first solo album. It's a good version, if overlong at 7:46; if Clapton isn't quite up to his own standards, he's still better than most. The percussion interlude never quite gels, and the vocals aren't quite in tune, but for the most part this rocks very well.
323. The Beach Boys: Barbara Ann ****
"Barbara Ann" has, over the years, become one of the Beach Boys' better known recordings, although it was recorded in an offhand manner for the simulated live-in-a-beach-house Beach Boys' Party in 1965. It was originally a top-20 hit for the Regents in 1961, who have what is arguably the superior version. Beach Boys Party was a quickie knock off album (the Boys' 11th in just over three years) thrown together in time for Christmas at the nagging of Capitol records. Except for the bass, the instrumentation is acoustic, consisting of guitars, tambourine, handclaps, and an ashtray used as a drum. The vocals sound very polished and were most likely done in a studio, but they contain some offhand remarks and laughs to make it sound like it was recorded at a party. In truth, this bears none of the sophistication of the groups regular studio creations, but it is offhandedly charming in its own way. The rest of the album, which consists of cover versions, is of a similar sound, and isn't very consistent listening, although it too has its charms. "Barbara Ann" made it to #2 in 1966.
324. Jefferson Starship: Tumblin' ****
"Tumblin'" is an album cut from what was considered a major comeback album at the time, Red Octopus in 1975. Red Octopus was the first Jefferson Starship album to feature the full participation of Jefferson Airplane's three principle singer/songwriters, Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, and the newly rejoined Airplane founder Marty Balin. Indeed, it was the best album from any of them since the Airplane's last masterpiece, Volunteers, in 1969. While the Airplane's old reckless experimentalism had been replaced by a slicker, more conventional sound that spanned from hard rock to adult contomeporary, the quality of the songwriting was at a peak it would never again come close to attaining; in some respects this was the last hurrah. It reached #1 on the charts, a feat the Airplane never managed, and spawned a monster hit with the middle-of-the-road "Miracles", a Balin song. "Tumblin'" is another silky, seductive Balin adult contemporary number, but it has character. Grace Slick's backing vocals are unusually winsome, and Balin conveys some real soul. It's not a classic, but it is a pretty good overlooked song from the album. If you like "Miracles", this one is better. If you hate "Miracles", you'll hate this one less.
325. Joni Mitchell: Both Sides Now *****
This well-known chestnut, a huge hit for Judy Collins at the time, closed Clouds (1969), Mitchell's second album and the first in her string of classics that ended after Miles of Aisles in 1975. Like the rest of the album, it's recorded solo, with Mitchell accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. Mitchell, who wrote the tune, does a far better version than Collins did; where Collins' version had a slick pop production, Mitchell's is more ragged. This helps bring out the regret and disappointment inherent in its loss-of-naivete lyric, while avoiding the sentimentality Collins' version is awash in. Mitchell's playing is surprisingly original, and her voice is just coming into its own here. The album peaked at #31, a giant leap from the #189 her 1968 debut registered; by the mid 70's she was a regular top-10 fixture, but her willfully uncommercial albums after that saw less and less chart action. She says Dreamland, from 2004, is her final album.
326. Tortoise: Ry Cooder *****
Tortoise was part of Chicago's post-rock movement, centered around the Thrill Jockey label. Like many of the Thrill Jockey bands, Tortoise is almost impossible to comfortably pigeonhole. On one hand, they are supurb musicians, capable of playing a cool jazz and improvisation with an unconventional lineup that included two vibraphone players. On the other hand, they were an electronica band, who willfully experimented in the studio with a variety of unusual approaches to sonics and texture. "Ry Cooder" is from their 1994 debut Tortoise, and is a drums, bass, guitar, and vibraphone workout that is wholly organic, and worthy of its namesake. It has a lumbering forward momentum, like a train going uphill, and its richly textured guitar sound almost oxidized; the overall effect is a weird vacuum tube ambiance. Their later albums veered from the electronica side of the spectrum to the cool jazz one, with mixed results, but they've always been worth a listen.
327. Primal Scream: Loaded *****
"Loaded", and the album it comes from, Screamadelica (1991), were club hits in America, but for the most part Primal Scream has been overlooked in this country. A pity, because Primal Scream was one of the very best British bands of the 1990's, and still do fresh, innovative work. The band had evolved from a goth noise band in much the same way My Bloody Valentine evolved, but unlike MBV, Primal Scream never turned to shoegaze. Instead, "Loaded" is a mix of electronica, house, and a Rolling Stones vibe, thanks to its slowed-down "Sympathy For The Devil" rhythm. Supposedly, it's a remix of a 1989 Primal Scream song, "I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have", but little of the original remains beyond the bassline and some piano. There are no lyrics; just fragments of movie samples (Peter Fonda in The Wild Angels among them), a wholly synthetic horn section, and a fat, danceable groove. It was sneakily subversive at the time, and has dated very well.
328. Hoodoo Gurus: Poison Pen ****
From Australia, the Hoodoo Gurus were an 80's band that specialized in a cross between roots rock, jangle pop, garage rock, and 60's psychedelia. In the right hands, that's a surefire mix, and Hoodoo Gurus did it better than most. "Poison Pen" is from their 1985 masterpeice Mars Needs Guitars! and benefits from a Standells/Chocolate Watchband style stomping hard rock, complete withbluesy harmonica and great snotty vocal from Dave Faukner. And this is one of the album cuts, not even one of the better known ones. Unfortunately, this album marked the band's high point; it was a college radio hit and the band toured with the Bangles, seemingly ready for a real breakthough. Blow Your Cool in 1987 failed to find an audience however, and lineup changes sapped the band. They kept going until 1998 until breaking up, and most of their stuff is good, if not transcendant. In 2004, the band reunited for Mach Schau.
329. Eels: The Other Shoe *****
Eels is mainly just E (Mark Oliver Everett) and hired hands. They've been around since 1996, although it wasn't until 2005 that they began to find an audience beyond a handful of college kids. Blinking Lights and Other Revelations was one of the best releases of the year; a double album with 33 tracks, yet a surprisingly consistent one. "The Other Shoe" demonstrates what's so interesting about them (him). A lo-fi sensibility, but a melodicism that growns into a tremendous wall of sound on the barest of bones; it takes on the feel of an epic before it's over. E's gravelly voice sings, yells, and whoops with abandon; the lyrics are manic depressive, but with an almost joyful perversity to them. At 2:32, it doesn't overstay its welcome. Much of the album is like this; ragged guitar textures, bells and percussion, personal lyrics and raw vocals. Once written off as a hack when he signed with Dreamworks, he's gotten interesting again since being dropped.
330. Miles Davis: Solea *****
And then there's this gorgeous piece of music that makes all the others seem almost amateur in comparison. "Solea" is from Sketches of Spain from 1959, one of Davis' most realized albums. Based on an Andalusian folk song about a woman who encounters the procession taking Christ to Calvary, it is Davis at his most lyrical. He enters with a muted, forlorn trumpet and is joined by a flamenco-styled backing with orchestra, which despite its overt Spanish flavor is jazz nonetheless. Through it all, Davis' trumpet goes through a range of melancholy, at times defiant sounding, other times almost defeated. It's the kind of music that is so remarkably evocative, not a single word is needed to tell a whole story. Newcomers who fear jazz and are bewildered by Davis' many albums can start right here; I never met a person who wasn't profoundly touched by this piece. This was recorded almost a decade prior to Davis' rock experiments; his position in jazz at this point was as towering (and controversial) as Jimi Hendrix was to rock.
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