Another favorite from the Hosono canon. This was the score for the first animated adaptation of The Tale of Genji, a sprawling piece of 11th century literature written by noblewoman Shikibu Murasaki, considered by many to be the first modern novel in recorded history. (Isao Tomita later write his own symphonic adaptation of the story.) The anime was directed by Gisaburō Sugii, and while it only covers a small part of the epic storyline, the score is highly ambitious.
Unlike much of Hosono’s catalogue, here synthesizer mostly acts as an atmospheric texture and instead puts traditional Japanese instruments, particularly koto, flute, and drums, front and center. What’s really astounding about this soundtrack is the layering of instruments, piling them up until they become unfamiliar: droves of fingerpicked strings sound like a hive of insects, waves of gentle hand percussion feel like the swells of inhales and exhales, processed flute suggests the shrieking wind. Despite a pervasive mysteriousness, and even ominousness, this is unmistakably gorgeous music, and structured in such a way that it will appeal to fans of more conventional synthetic ambient music–but retains a feverish futurist-classical elegance all its own.
This post is a little out of character, as George McCrae’s Rock Your Baby didn’t exactly fly under the radar at the time of its release. The title track single was a massive chart-topper that sold 11 million copies worldwide, and is considered one of the early hits of disco. But I’ve been in a months-long habit of listening to “You Can Have It All” on repeat on my commutes home from work when I’m feeling deflated or overly cynical: it’s a song about deliberate and joyful vulnerability, delivered with infectious open-handed sincerity, and it always makes me feel better. As a record, Rock Your Baby is a relatively rare instance of a disco full-length that’s consistently solid all the way through, so I wanted to share it in the hopes that it might be new to some people.
The title track single came to McCrae somewhat by accident: though he had been a longtime musician, at the time he was largely acting as manager to his then-wife Gwen McCrae, who had been asked to contribute vocals to a track for Richard Finch and Harry Wayne Casey of KC and the Sunshine band because they were unable to reach the high notes that they had written in. The story goes that Gwen was late for the session so George recorded the vocals in her place, and his falsetto was so impressive that he went on to make an entire record with Finch and Casey, who produced and co-wrote Rock Your Baby.
I love the rough, almost winkingly dirty quality of the production, the effortless and smiling quality of McCrae’s vocals, and the irresistible percussion, especially on “I Get Lifted,” which has famously been sampled by everyone and their dog. Oh, and that famous title track is as gorgeous as its sales would suggest–sunny, relaxed, and tropical, more of a groove stretched into six and a half minutes than a verse-chorus disco banger. It’s enough to sell the full-length on its own, but fortunately there’s plenty more to love here. Enjoy!
Here’s my latest episode of Getting Warmer for NTS Radio. This one’s a bit loungey-slinky, with some some funk and new wave. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version of it here.
1. Spectors Three – I Really Do
2. Ichiko Hashimoto – Poinciana
3. Geoffrey Landers – Say You’ll Say So
4. Akofa Akoussah – I Tcho Tchass
5. Imitation – Watashi No Suki Na Kuni
6. Alessi Brothers – Seabird
7. Barbara Marchand – I Whisper Roll Over
8. The Jellies – Jive Baby On A Saturday Night
9. Letta Mbulu – Nomalizo
10. Maria Kozic & The MK Sound – Trust Me
11. David Astri – Safe And Sound
12. Angelo Badalamenti – The Bookhouse Boys
13. Cocteau Twins – Lazy Calm
14. Minako Ito – 一年ののち
A watershed moment in the career of an avant-garde giant. Takemitsu composed several hundred pieces of music, many of them massive and orchestral in scope; scored over 90 films; and published 20 books before his death in 1996. Interestingly, much of his early output was marked by his contempt for traditional Japanese (and, more broadly, non-Western) music, colored by his experiences of the war, during which Japanese music was associated with militaristic and nationalistic cultural ideals. In his own words: “There may be folk music with strength and beauty, but I cannot be completely honest in this kind of music. I want a more active relationship to the present. Folk music in a ‘contemporary style’ is nothing but a deception.” So severe was his enmity with tradition that he famously destroyed several of his own works upon discovering that he had unintentionally incorporated “nationalistic” elements of traditional Japanese scales. An early proponent of musique concrète, his work has often been cast as in synchronicity with Pierre Schaeffer; however, neither were aware of the other at the time (though Takemitsu was an ardent admirer of John Cage).
Still, despite his fierce commitment to avant-garde experimentation, by the 1960s he had started to more deliberately incorporate traditional Japanese scales, elements of folk songs, the tones and modes of Gagaku, and, as evidenced in Kwaidan, ancient instruments like the biwa.
A quartet of heavily stylized supernatural vignettes rendered in intensely saturated color, Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan was the most expensive film in the history of Japanese cinema at the time of its release. Takemitsu turned out a score ambitious enough to match, channeling his ambivalence towards tradition into a mangled, strangled take on the folk sounds of his upbringing. Silence acts as a prominent texture, but in between the strained gaps are twisted shakahuchi lines, shrieking winds, ghostly metallic clangs, splitting wood, an occasional distant drum, Noh-style vocals recalling a storied mass suicide on a battle ship, and a whole lot of that biwa, played with such venomous ferocity that one can only wonder how many strings had to be replaced over the course of recording. Sparse, horrific, and very potent. Enjoy, and happy Halloween!
Odd that this is my first Ichiko Hashimoto post, given how much I admire her work–though her catalogue covers so much ground that it’s hard to know quite where to start. A trained jazz pianist, composer, and singer, Hashimoto was one half of Colored Music (friendly reminder that this record is so great), made a slew of ambitious solo records, performed with YMO, collaborated with Belladonna of Sadness composer Masahiko Sato, and scored an anime series, all while establishing herself as an powerful and singular composer, arranger, and producer. Though she’s worked across many genres, she’s maintained a signature proclivity towards gently sinister and avant-garde arrangements, and lugubriouis, pillowy vocals (her love of chanson-style singing pops up all over her discography, not just here).
Mood Music might not be her most canonical record, but it’s a personal favorite and has been on repeat recently. Comprised mostly of jazz standards, the record cribs heavily from bossa nova, samba, and exotica, but Hashimoto quietly subverts these textures into something darker, and at times, less familiar. Her quavering, syrupy-swoony orchestration suggests a Scott Walker-esque approach to sentimentality, particularly on thick and headier arrangements like “Poinciana” and “Night and Day.” The record’s two original compositions, “Flower” and “Île De Étrange,” are its most interesting, with the former a white-knuckled, percussionless tower of taut-string urgency, and the latter a hypnagogic, dubby piece of acid jazz. Mood music indeed.
Many Hands Make Light, the last of four releases from the elusive Cauhaus Records, is an un-genrefiable conclusion to the mysterious solo discography of American artist Geoffrey Landers. With design appearing to be an independent family affair–jacket layout and cover artwork done by Kelley Jo and Benjamin Landers respectively–the 8-track album was released exclusively on CD in 1987. Written and recorded solely by Geoffrey Landers during what seems to have been the end of the Cauhaus era, this is the only of his three albums to credit no other collaborative efforts.
Being heavily involved in the Denver industrial/punk/new wave scene, Landers was inspired to create a recording studio “available to artists regardless of their financial circumstances.” He thus opened The Packing House Studio in 1981 at the site of a former slaughterhouse in the Denver stockyards. The analog 8-track recording facility was active until 1984, with the studio releasing recordings from only a few credited artists and groups, most notably Allen Ginsberg. It was during this time that Landers released his first two records, Habitual Features & The Ever Decimal Pulse, as well as his only single, a 7” titled Breedlove.
Cauhaus Records, Landers’s only label, was an “entertainment subsidiary” of Local Anesthetic Records. They appear to be the only two labels to have released music recorded at The Packing House, aside from a small cassette-only label named Endemic Music. Landers is credited with mixing on one of the releases on Local Anesthetic’s releases, which suggests that Landers might have mixed for Local Anesthetic in exchange for production and handling of his imprint Cauhaus (the name of which seems like a nod to the studio’s slaughterhouse history).
The silent years in Geoffrey’s discography span from 1984 to 1987 — with ’84 being the year in which output from the both The Packing House and Local Anesthetic seem to die down. This leaves me wondering what happened in those three years to prompt a final release from such a unique musical trajectory. Was this his final go at production after years running The Packing House? Does this release serve as a demo compilation of tracks from the studio’s golden era? Did this record take three years to make? Why was it only released on CD only? The questions are infinite, but the result is truly a masterpiece.
New wave guitars, voice pads, resonant post-punk bass lines, hip swingin’ drum loops–this thing has it all. The stand-out should-have-been-pop-hits come in “Camella” & “Say You’ll Say So,” the former of which is a unique DJ-friendly new wave infused boogie jam with a HUGE snare drum hit sure to light up any day party. The nostalgic feeling induced by tracks “Body Angel,” “The Alluring Pause,” “1 by 1,” and “Carry Me Off” lead me to believe that Many Hands Make Light is in some way a tribute to the golden years of The Packing House, with the title serving as a humble thank you and tribute to all the many hands making light at the studio and label.
A very special thank you goes out to Flo for introducing me to Geoffrey’s music earlier this year.
“It takes time, I — I know that you know I’ll get to you”
Note that while this is long out of “print,” Music From Memory is about to release a compilation of Landers’s work which includes most of the tracks from Many Hands Make Light, and, if the track they’ve previewed on YouTube is any indication, features some gorgeous remastering. With the hope that you’ll pre-order the compilation, I’ll be removing this mp3 download link after a few days.
Gorgeous minimal classical guitar on the first of three full-lengths from the largely self-taught Linda Cohen. Her fingerpicking pulls from folk, baroque, and blues, and given that she opened for Joni Mitchell, John Fahey, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott at Philadelphia’s Second Fret in the late 60s, I would imagine these were influential artists for her. Though she was an active musician through much of her life, Cohen was most passionately a teacher, teaching classical guitar for 35 years at the Classical Guitar Store in Philly, where she was a fixture in the music scene. Her life was sadly cut short by cancer in 2009.
Leda is an exercise in restraint. Meticulously fingerpicked, just barely fleshed out with synth, theremin, celesta, tapes, and percussion. Much of the additional instrumentation is so subtle that it might not register without headphones–this is very much acoustic guitar music. Warm with room tone and (at least on this rip) crackling vinyl pops, it’s also prime cold weather, indoor listening. It includes instrumentation and effects from Charles Cohen (no relation), among others; with cover art by Milton Glaser. Sparse and masterful. Thank you Chad for the tip!
A less-heard but very deserving later work from the master, Hiroshi Yoshimura, by multiple requests. Though you’ll recognize a familiar fascination with water sounds, here the focus is on synth rather than piano. A love for pastoral, rolling keyboard motifs is still very present. If anything, by 1993 Yoshimura had burrowed even further into the tension between the natural and the artificial: though Wet Land is clearly preoccupied with visions of nature, here they’re rendered in hyper-synthetic, heavily produced language, and are all the more beautiful for it. Though this is busier than his earlier material, much of it feels in keeping with the hope Yoshimura and his peers had for “environmental music”–which, according to Ashikawa, was
…music that could be said to be an object or sound scenery to be listened to casually. Not music which excites or leads the listener into another world, it should drift like smoke and become part of the environment surrounding the listener. In other words, it is music which creates an intimate relationship with people in everyday life…Also, [it] is not the music of self-expression or a completed work of art; rather it is music which by overlapping and shifting, changes the character and the meaning of space, things, and people.
This is long out of print; however, if you’re interested in Yoshimura’s work, his Music for Nine Post Cards (the first installment in the Wave Notation series) was recently reissued by Empire of Signs and is available for purchase here.
Nkono Teles was a Cameroonian-born multi-instrumentalist and producer based in Nigeria. He worked under numerous pseudonyms on projects that spanned multiple genres, from disco and reggae, to work with huge artists like King Sunny Adé and Fela Kuti. Fiesta Dancin‘, his first solo record, stands alone as a superb African synth disco masterpiece, on which Teles was responsible for bass, drum machine, electric piano, organ, guitar, synth, lead vocals, production, and writing. Every song is bubblegum roller boogie perfection, guaranteed to fill any dance floor with irresistible electro joyfulness.
A note that this really suffers on laptop speakers, so save it for better speakers or headphones please!
I was lucky to have a very sweet conversation with Hayley at The Le Sigh, a website dedicated to the work of female-identifying and non-binary artists. We talked about early electronic music, the rise and fall of the album download blog, and the politics of music writing, among other things. I also made a 90 minute minute mix of music made by women (though to be clear, men contributed to many of these songs in different capacities). As you can imagine, this was way too much to fit into one mix, so I focused mostly on synth pioneers, experimental, and new age, with a few wildcards thrown in. The mix opens with Wendy Carlos giving a verbal walkthrough of some technical aspects of her synth process, and ends with Nina Simone ripping our hearts out. You can download an mp3 version here.
1. Wendy Carlos – Electronic Pointillism & Hocketing (from Secrets of Synthesis) / Sonata in G Major, L. 209/K. 455 (Scarlatti)
2. Phew – Expression
3. Delia Derbyshire – The Wizard’s Labratory
4. Pauline Oliveros – Wolf
5. Michele Musser – In The Air
6. Pauline Anna Strom – The Unveiling
7. Laurie Spiegel – Drums (Excerpt)
8. Deutsche Wertarbeit – Auf Engelsflügeln
9. Virginia Astley – I’m Sorry
10. Laurie Anderson – Kokoku
11. Miyako Koda – A Story Teller Is The Sun
12. Björk – Come To Me
13. Kate Bush – Delius
14. Bridget St. John – Many Happy Returns
15. Joanna Brouk – Winter Chimes
16. Alice Coltrane – Er Ra
17. Claire Hamill – Winter: Sleep
18. Suzanne Ciani – The Third Wave: Love In The Waves
19. Gal Costa – Volta (Live)
20. Nina Simone – Don’t Smoke In Bed (Live)