December 31, 2014

Cerrone - Supernature (Cerrone III), 1977

Nothing challenging or high-brow here, just 34 minutes of string-streaked, four-on-the-floor delirious disco perfection. Opens with the epic ten minute classic "Supernature," and while the album slows down for a few breaths ("In The Smoke" is straight-up new age with a muted heartbeat drum pulse), there isn't a weak spot to be found. Make sure to take a good, long, hard look at that album art. Happy dancing, and happy new year!

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December 27, 2014

Mark Isham - Vapor Drawings, 1983

Vapor Drawings is the phenomenal solo debut of trumpeter, synthesist, and prolific film composer Mark Isham. Over the years, Isham has been credited with scoring many films we know and love. Part of why this album so enchanting is that you might already have a relationship with Isham's music without even knowing it. A rework of "On the Threshold of Liberty" (probably his most familiar-sounding song, and named after a 1929 Magritte painting) was used as the theme song to Rules of Engagement. This is unconfirmed, but a YouTube commenter said that CNN used it as background music for the entire gulf war? I guess Mark tapped in to the new age patriotism vibe...feelin' it!

The music is slippery, as the tracks open up out as developing motifs rather than songs. It's wrought with melodramatic filmy feelings, with each motif calling upon different familiar plot lines. It's simultaneously comforting and chilly. Isham's influences here are obviously wide-ranging and equally hard to pin down as the music itself.

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December 19, 2014

Black Devil - Disco Club, 1978

Black Devil's Disco Club falls in the heavily mythologized, mysteriously resurrected music-of-nebulous-origin category, in the vein of Lewis or Charanjit Singh. Purportedly released in 1978 by Bernard Fevre under pseudonym "Junior Claristidge" (cool), Disco Club went completely unnoticed--was the world not ready for deep, dark, sublime disco hypnosis?--until Aphex Twin rereleased it on Rephlex Records in a series of 12"s in 2004, to the sound of critics tripping over themselves to make sweeping statements about this being one of the most important electronic records ever released, et cetera. The music was so ahead of its time both in structure and in production that many cried foul, suspecting an Aphex-Twin style hoax. Fairly so: I'm still skeptical of the release date every time I hear it. It's too tasty, too prescient and too perfect.

All six of these tracks are similar in length and feeling, differing in a few BPM, shifting drum patterns, and vocal lines--but several of them move seamlessly between each other, making this a half hour disco meditation track rather than an album. You can hear "The Chase"-era Moroder all over this thing, but this is (dare I say it) less cheesy, slicker, and with a contagious, restless percussive spinal chord stretching throughout. So much dark Italo-style disco is trampled by heinous vocals, and gleefully so, but Disco Club's vocal treatment is restrained, effectively lyricless, and often totally absent, excepting a mantric chorus of skittering "dee-dee-doo-doo"s. Everything is exactly where it should be, fleshed out in high-resolution with heart-racing textures, laser-sharp synth pads, and thrilling percussive ornamentation. There's a huge, dark, beastly thing throbbing just beneath the surface that never quite rears its head. The tension is there, simmering, and in hopes of exorcising it all you can do is hit repeat again and again.

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December 18, 2014

Zavijava Orchestra - Rivers of Light, 1986

Rivers of Light is an unusual combination of acoustic and electronic instruments: Roland Juno-60, the Yamaha DX7, Ensoniq Mirage, and Oberheim Xpander and OB-8 and DSX, as well as an acoustic piano, harp, double bass, and violin. From the heavily arpeggiated opener "Morning Mists" to "Magnetic Dreamscape," the expansive but intimate finale, the album is more dynamic than traditional ambient music but still lets your mind drift. Released by Pennsylvania music label Mu-Psych, an imprint of biofeedback company Futurehealth, which only put out seven albums (including an awesome work by The Ghostwriters, a group that includes Buchla synth legend Charles Cohen). According to their tastefully antiquated website, the music is "specifically for use with meditation, hypnosis, biofeedback, relaxation, guided imagery, etc." A Crystal Vibrations and Body Actualized classic!

December 11, 2014

Haruomi Hosono - Cochin Moon, 1978

The soundtrack to a non-existent Bollywood movie. This was supposed to be a collaboration between Hosono and illustrator Tadanori Yokoo, but the story goes that during the trip to India that spawned the record, Yokoo had a prolonged and incapacitating bout of digestive woes and the project ended up as solo Hosono, with Yokoo illustrating a killer album cover. Interestingly, this came out the same year as YMO's debut, but Hosono had already been making music for over a decade. Not only was he already a seasoned musician, but he had long been interested in musical subversion, in ways both flagrant and covert.

This is his first all-electronic album, and is one of his most progressive and expansive works. In 43 minutes he moves through swirling cosmic synth meditations, sputtering swamp glitch, and a krauty synth raga, and closes with a nine minute long proto-acid track, all bound up with the sounds of fountain bubbles, insect fizz, and harp swirls. A fair warning: a lot of this record, especially long stretches of the first three "Hotel Malabar" tracks, sound like meandering synth whine and bird screech, but listening through headphones is a gamechanger. This isn't background music--give it at an attentive listen, loudly, on good speakers. It's worth your time.

PS: We're gonna try really hard not to turn this blog into a YMO fanblog, but it might turn into a YMO fanblog.

December 10, 2014

Tomita - Snowflakes Are Dancing, 1974

I'm posting this jewel in celebration of the first real snowfall we have had this year in Brooklyn. 
Considered an early example of proto-synthesizer-pop, Snowflakes are Dancing is Isao Tomita's fantastical renditions of Debussy on a Moog synthesizer. It's a masterpiece. For a bunch of interesting facts like all the Grammy awards this record won and how influential it is, check out the Wikipedia article.

I wouldn't recommend this for casual listening. Put on some headphones, close your eyes, and let Tomita take you on a journey to whatever planet he's from. So happy to share this with all of you.

December 8, 2014

N.A.D. - Dawn of a New Age, 1990
Guest post by Dru Grossberg

In 1990, Mustafa Ali had little under his belt before he began recording his sole 8-track LP as the perfectly suited nom-de-plum New Age Dance. Predicting several of the new decade's themes and tones for Detroit, it's not hard to imagine this as the precursor to Drexciya's subaquatic sensibilities; here, however, synth washes that would be reserved for diving instead mimic interstellar flight. Displaying an otherwise distinctly American sound for a British record, Dawn of a New Age cameod his native isle's bleep techno before Warp established a serious audience. It was prime for reissuing on Rush Hour, following the like-minded Virgo Four, Larry Heard, and Dream 2 Science.

On Dawn of a New Age, disillusionment with the modern world, primarily its spiritual state, runs rampant. Each composition opens and repeats a bar emulating archaic visions of cosmic technological disclosure in sound, strewn with a variety of samples from dinosaurs to the day the earth stood still. Tracks like "Everything Seems Different" and the eerie coda "Let There be Light" emulate the hauntingly simple NES sci-fi side scrollers. "Soul Search" delivers even bleaker synth waves, yet also draws attention to how N.A.D.'s narration co-dependently pairs to its musical counterpart: his repeated mantras weave in and out of the track's minimal flourishes.

Much of this album plays like a disaffected, dystopian sermon in one's own private diary. At its end, Dawn of a New Age leaves you exasperated, carnal, and dispirited. While the masses may never sip this brew, part of Dawn's ambitious thesis has triumphed by predicting spiritually imbued curation all throughout dance music culture. Mustafa left behind the sense he'd die more than happy pouring his soul into this recording, placing it as an unknown artifact never to be found again. Lucky for us that wasn't the case.

December 4, 2014

The Hilliard Ensemble - Pérotin, 1989

When I was in high school, a burned copy of this CD made the rounds among the "cool" choir kids. It was passed discreetly with knowing nods, intended for the ears only of those who would "get it." This compilation is still one of my favorite choral works, but I think it speaks to a much wider range of people than a few self-aggrandizing choir dorks might have imagined. Performed by the venerated/veteran Hilliard Ensemble* (they mostly perform early music, but have also dabbled in Gavin Bryars and John Cage, and have collaborated a lot with Arvo Pärt), this is a collection of works written by the legendary Pérotin, who lived sometime in the late 12th and early 13th century and was responsible for some of the earliest polyphonic music of which we have written and attributed documentation. (Gregorian chant is earlier and is monophonic.) All that aside, this music is spacious, vibrant, and dovetailing. It doesn't mind if you're uninterested in Christianity or choral music or even the western tradition.

*If anyone's going to be in London around Christmas, the Hilliard Ensemble's last performance ever will be on December 20th at Wigmore Hall. They'll be performing Pérotin's "Viderunt Omnes," one of the few existing examples of four-part organa, among others. It will be a seriously historical moment, so don't miss it. Tickets here.

December 3, 2014

Steven Halpern - Spectrum Suite, 1975

This album is a close tie with Iasos' Inter-Dimensional music as the first new age album ever, both released in 1975. There are a zillion versions of this record floating around; the version linked above was released in 1979. The first side is simply Steven on the the Fender Rhodes. On the b-side, he breaks out the Orchestron and the Prophet 5 and is joined by Iasos on the flute. Shimmering, perfect arpeggiation.