December 28, 2015

Hiroshi Sato - Orient, 1979

Synth-funk exotica at its finest. Hiroshi Sato (sometimes "Satoh") seems to slip through the cracks, though he was arguably one of the most important Japanese keyboardists of his time. He played keyboards on almost every Tatsuro Yamashita record of the 70s and 80s, and contributed to much of Hosono's solo work, including the beloved Cochin Moon. Unsurprisingly, Hosono makes some appearances here on bass. Sato died in Yokohama on October 24th, 2012. His only daughter, Chirudo, had to say of her father:
His life’s work was pouring his everything enthusiastically into music. He also loved his studio in Yokohama, putting in speakers and installing the equipment and synthesizers one by one. He fell down and breathed his last breath in that studio while he was making music. He was sixty-five years old, and an acute dissecting aneurysm of the aorta was the cause of his death. However, this is the least important aspect of his passing. Despite an instant death, I believe he knew the time had come, because he was sitting cross-legged with his hands joined together, as if practicing Zen meditation. He was alone, but not lonely, because whenever he was surrounded by music he was happy, as if he were an innocent child. He lived life as a musician and lived as a musician with his whole life.
Orient is mostly instrumental, with vocals by Hiroshi Sato and Masaki Ueda on "Son Go Kuw," "Tsuki No Ko No Namae Wa Leo," and "Bright Wind." Cheeky and heady, with immaculate percussion. Lightyears ahead of its time. Thanks for everything, Hiroshi.

Note: Hiroshi Sato also makes an appearance on our OMG Japan mix.

December 23, 2015

Yoshio Suzuki - Morning Picture, 1984

This peaceful ambient jazz album from 1984 features the excellent taste of bassist and keyboardist Yoshio Suzuki. He steers away from showy musicianship, instead leaning towards sparsity. The drum machine and synthesizer programming lend momentum but leave plenty unsaid so your mind can wander, filling in the gaps and coming to your own conclusions.

Please share this wonderfully listenable album with friends and family as you gather this week. I'm hoping that it will promote clear and honest communication and pacify any familial angst that may arise during the holiday season.


December 18, 2015

15 Favorite Releases of 2015

In the spirit of the season, I wanted to share my favorite releases of the year. Happy holidays!

Bryan Ferry - Boys and Girls, 1985
buy / download
Cocteau Twins - Lorelei 12", 1985
Francis Bebey - Akwaaba, 1985
buy / download
Front 242 - No Comment, 1985
buy / download
Gervay Briot - Quintessences, 1985
Grace Jones - Slave to the Rhythm 12", 1985
Haruomi Hosono - Paradise View, 1985
Kate Bush - Hounds of Love, 1985
buy / download
Lena Platonos - Gallop, 1985
Prefab Sprout - Steve McQueen, 1985
Robert Wyatt - Old Rottenhat, 1985
buy / download
Sade - Promise, 1985
buy / download
Severed Heads - City Slab Horror, 1985
buy / download
Scritti Politti - Cupid & Psyche '85, 1985
buy / download
Zazou Bikaye - Mr. Manager EP, 1985

December 10, 2015

The Tallis Scholars - Spem In Alium, 1985

Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) is considered by many to be one of the most important English composers ever to have lived, and is definitively one of the most important composers of early choral music. His crowning achievement, "Spem In Alium," is a ten minute long 40-part motet that borders on psychedelic: ceaselessly shifting, simultaneously hyper-precise yet almost shapeless. From Wikipedia:
The motet is laid out for eight choirs of five voices. It's most likely that Tallis intended his singers to stand in a horseshoe shape. Beginning with a single voice from the first choir, other voices join in imitation, each in turn falling silent as the music moves around the eight choirs. All forty voices enter simultaneously for a few bars, and then the pattern of the opening is reversed with the music passing from choir eight to choir one. There is another brief full section, after which the choirs sing in antiphonal pairs, throwing the sound across the space between them. Finally all voices join for the culmination of the work. Though composed in imitative style and occasionally homophonic, its individual vocal lines act quite freely within its elegant harmonic framework, allowing for a large number of individual musical ideas to be sung during its ten- to twelve-minute performance time. The work is a study in contrasts: the individual voices sing and are silent in turns, sometimes alone, sometimes in choirs, sometimes calling and answering, sometimes all together, so that, far from being a monotonous mess, the work is continually presenting new ideas.
I've been listening to this album for ten years and it's still disorientingly beautiful. The other works in this collection are gorgeous in their own right, with "Sancte Deus" and "Miserere Nostri" being personal favorites. Not included are his "Lamentations of Jeremiah," cited as his other masterwork; I'm also a chump for "If ye love me"...there are plenty of other compilations worth seeking out. Happy December, but also, listen to this all year round.

buy / download

December 8, 2015

Futuro Antico - Dai Primitivi All'Elettronica, 1980

Guest post by Dru Grossberg

Jetting out their debut album in 1980, this runs a neat sonic parallel to Jon Hassell's notion of fourth world music, melding minimalism, ambient and South Asian classical tropes. Futuro Antico are an Italian group interspersed with Indian and African members, rather than another distant westerner's constructed exotic fetishism. They live up to their name, which renders the sound timeless. Often, it's tricky to decipher whether this is a product of childlike, spontaneous vulnerability, or calculated engineering. There's a host of indigenous instrumentation present, as well as synths, vocals, and maybe even a didgeridoo. 

If cascading pianos, howls of swinging creatures in the distance, or labelmates of Franco Battiato peak your fancy, click away.

December 7, 2015

Mix for Nu Feelings -- Breu Megamix Vol. 1: Smoke

Breu Resin, aka Breuzinho, is a medicinal substance extracted from the Almacega tree of the Brazilian Amazon and used by indigenous peoples in ayahuasca ceremonies. I made this mix for Nu Feelings, an online store where you can purchase incense made from Breu Resin. 

This ultra-heavy 50-minute mix was made for meditation and burning Breu incense sticks, which burn for a total of 50 minutes. It features new age and drone tracks from Brazil, Spain, America, Germany, Japan, and France.

December 4, 2015

Judy Henske & Jerry Yester - Farewell Aldebaran, 1969

Guest post by René Kladzyk

"Come ride with me
We'll gallop through the sky
The stars our road will be
On racing winds we'll fly" 

Aldebaran is a giant orange star in the Taurus constellation, and is one of the brightest stars in the nighttime sky. Farewell Aldebaran, a singularly bizarre and captivating album produced by Jerry Yester and Judy Henske over a couple weeks in the summer of 1969, is appropriately titled, existing in a musical space located far outside of its time and the trodden terrain of planet Earth. Each song sounds remarkably different, widely-ranging in style, instrumentation (with Yester playing over a dozen instruments and contributions from Ry Cooder, Zal Yanovsky, and David Lindley, among others), and the disparate contours of Judy Henske's incredible voice. 

Henske, who was known as the "Queen of the Beatniks," had cultivated a style of powerful vocal delivery singing at clubs in Greenwich Village, and peppered her performances with wild jokes and vivid story-telling (live performance recordings from this era are hilarious and amazing). In Farewell Aldebaran, her poetics and nuanced vocal delivery are at their most transfixing. Her voice ranges from sweetly lulling to powerfully wailing, as she sings stories of a bewitched clipper ship named Charity, church fundraisers, and lands beyond the edge of death. 

The musical arrangements travel just as swiftly along these outer space winds, merging folk and psychedelia in an inventive array of instrumentation (including toy zither, marxophone, Chamberlain tape organ, hammer dulcimer, bowed banjo, and heavy use of synthesizers).

My obsession with this album was immediate and very potent, and has only grown with repeat listens. I had the pleasure of recently seeing Jerry Yester play at a small venue in Northwest Arkansas, where he performed unreleased songs from the Farewell Aldebaran sessions and shared stories of his incredible musical career (he also played in The Lovin' Spoonful, Modern Folk Quartet, and New Christy Minstrels, and produced for Tim Buckley, Tom Waits, The Turtles, and The Association, to name a few). He was even sweet enough to let me sing "Rapture" with him accompanying at the end of his set, a moment forever etched in my memory. If you're ever driving through Northwest Arkansas, consider a visit to the Grand Central Hotel in Eureka Springs to hear Jerry Yester play, and prepare yourself for pure wonder. Until then, listen to this!

November 30, 2015

Ray Lynch - Deep Breakfast, 1984

A classic. Deep Breakfast was the first independently produced record to be certified gold (and later platinum) by the RIAA. Lynch is a classically trained guitarist and lutenist with a background in spirituality (the record's title comes from a line in a book by controversial teacher Adi Da Samraj, under whom Lynch has studied: "You must be starved, old friend. Come into my apartments and we'll suffer through a deep breakfast of pure sunlight.").

Deep Breakfast is meticulously produced and instantly likable from beginning to end, so much so that it's a bit of an eye-roller. From what I understand it served as a new age gateway drug for hordes of listeners, but it's unusually diverse for the genre. Opener "Celestial Soda Pop" is exactly what it sounds like: plump, bubbly, and candy-sweet with synthetic harp. "The Oh Of Pleasure" is sublime and sounds like what might have happened if Enya were more interested in electric guitar patches (you may recognize it from Grand Theft Auto IV). "Falling In The Garden" is ponderous and pastoral, whereas "Rhythm In The Pews" is unabashedly playful, almost naïve, with hyper-precious baroque-isms (this is one of several tracks in which Lynch's classical background is most obvious). Closer "Tiny Geometries" is another favorite, with a Charles Cohen-esque shattered crystal introduction that unfolds into more familiar arpeggiations and eventually a searing new age epic. An excellent on-repeat record, and hard not to love.

November 24, 2015

Marcos Valle - Marcos Valle, 1983

Guest post by Wesley P. Allard

Marcos Valle’s Marcos Valle is a quintessential example of Brazilian boogie. Valle began writing and recording this record following his return home to Rio in 1980 after an extended furlough in Los Angeles where he met future collaborator and legendary R&B and Soul composer, Leon Ware (whose talents are demonstrated on this album a number of times, namely on linear party tracks like “Dia D,” which he wrote and recorded). The record’s single, opening track “Estrelar,” was successfully marketed as “workout music” by Brazilian record label Som Livre, which contributes to the kitschy allure imposed by the dazzling album cover.

This album is cooling exotic bliss in a sonic form. It flows seamlessly from tracks like “Naturalmente” to “Viola Enluarada” like some hyper-evolved liquid hell-bent on making you relax in ecstasy. Mentally isolate any one slice of this album (e.g. the production, arranging, melody, etc.) and you’ll be hypnotized by shimmering rays of sonic pulchritude. Overall this album is a consistently funky piece of jazz-infused soul that doesn’t compromise its Latin roots, and it definitely invokes the same dancing proclivity attached to those roots. From gliding and skipping bass, to elegant samba standards like “Samba De Verao,” to the warm embrace of a Fender Rhodes, this album is nearly perfect and requires not a single press of the “skip” button…devour in its entirety!

November 20, 2015

Hitomi "Penny" Tohyama - Sexy Robot, 1983

Guest post by Michael McGregor

Hitomi “Penny” Tohyama is a Japanese singer who had a string of hit records in the late '70s and '80s. The earlier stuff is disco-funk in the J-Pop style, with YMO/Tatsuro Yamashita influences — smooth, electro production, with great synth bass-lines, and superb melodies. Some of her stuff in the late '80s gets pretty cheesy, but Sexy Robot is a gem from front to back. 

I can’t remember how I came across it — probably in a Hosono YouTube K-Hole — but my ex-girlfriend and I used to jam this record every night while making dinner — dancing around the kitchen, pouring more wine, turning up the volume. It’s catchy, despite 90% of the lyrics being in Japanese, though every few bars she’ll drop a phrase in English — something as short as just bursting out “Sexy robot,” or some groovier vocal progressions like “Sparkling eyes…fall in love…I am so sexy.” It’s one of those records that makes you feel sexy inside, and fun(!). Even if you listen to pretentious ambient or noise or techno all the time, this one is undeniable. It's a reminder that despite all the awful things going on in the world, life is pretty great. 

To sum it up — when you title your record Sexy Robot and have a cover like this, it's hard to go wrong.


November 18, 2015

Midori Takada - Through The Looking Glass, 1983

Midori Takada is the percussive mastermind behind Mkwaju Ensemble, as well as a member of the free-jazz trio Ton-Klami. This is her only solo release, and it's gorgeous, comprised of percussion (mostly marimba, as well as what sounds like traditional Japanese drums), shakuhachi, and field recordings (mostly birds). It's not all as fluffy as it might seem, though--Midori Takada is first and foremost a percussionist, so the album peaks when she picks up steam, building up to ecstatic, drawn-out drum crescendoes (especially on the closer, "Catastrophe Σ"). It makes for a record that is alternately dreamlike ("Mr. Henri Rousseau's Dream") and fiery ("Crossing"), but always precise and beautiful (and with an album cover that looks like a leaked painting from Rousseau's secret hallucinogen phase, no less).

November 16, 2015

Sussan Deyhim & Richard Horowitz - Desert Equations: Azax Attra, 1986

This exquisite and challenging work is the 8th in a fantastic series of albums entitled Made To Measure released between 1984 and the mid-90s on the Belgian record label Crammed Discs. The series is an experimental music goldmine and effectively an ambient world tour, featuring the global exploratory sounds from many favorite composers such as Hector Zazou, John Lurie, and Arto Lindsay. 

Desert Equations: Azax Attra is one of the most exciting albums I've heard in this series, both for its singularity and its cohesiveness as a musical work (dare I say concept album?). It is the first release from the collaboration between New York composer and multi-instrumentalist Richard Horowitz and Iranian vocalist and composer Sussan Deyhim. A flurry of otherworldly sounds and driving beats in combination with Deynhim's stacked vocals and jaw-dropping Meredith Monk-esque shrieks make for an audio safari through some jungle that exists only in the nether-regions of the artists' existential angst.

PS: Richard Horowitz (aka Drahcir Ztiworoh) makes an appearance on Jen's Winter (Outdoors) mix, which works pretty well in fall too.

November 12, 2015

[In Memoriam] Patrick Cowley - Megatron Man, 1981

The best. Alongside Giorgio Moroder and maybe Kraftwerk, Patrick Cowley can be said to be the most influential figure in electronic dance music. A hero in the west coast gay club scene, and a hero to everyone who likes to dance. Megatron Man is relentless, orchestral, high-energy perfection, sure to induce a natural high on any dance floor it graces. "Sea Hunt" might be my favorite song in the world to dance to. This music is so joyous and unabashed that it made his successive and last record, Mind Warp, all the more hard-hitting as a dark disco concept album about succumbing to the effects of HIV, which claimed his life 33 years ago today at the age of 32. (One of the few useful things that Gawker has ever done is this beautiful piece about Mind Warp.)

Had he not left us too soon, Patrick Cowley most certainly would have continued to dominate the electronic dance underground. Still, he's left his mark on an endlessly grateful community, and he would no doubt be happy to read YouTube comments on his songs like "OMG! I remember! YES! I was getting PHUKED in the East Village, NYC rooftops when this song was hot on the Disco Floors! Dam I miss those Gay Anonymous Hookup Days! ;-)" and "I met Patrick at The Hexagon House where Sylvester was performing. He was one hot man. We were both staying in cabins at The Woods Resort and briefly hooked up while partying the entire weekend away. I would often see him in the clubs around town after that and we'd party and dance until dawn. I never realized until now but I kind of miss that era." Thanks for everything, Patrick.

November 10, 2015

Nando Carneiro - Violão, 1983

Named after the Portuguese word for classical guitar, Violão is the first of only two solo albums by Brazilian guitarist Nando Carneiro. The work features singer Beth Goulart, guitarist André Geraissati, and über famous musical god Egberto Gismonti on percussion, synthesizers, and flute. A consistent bed of soft swirly synth and blazing classical guitar. Lots of surprises too (samples of a baby?). Enjoy!

November 6, 2015

Bridget St. John - Ask Me No Questions, 1969

Peak British folk. Bridget St. John is most well known for the trio of excellent records she released between '69 and '72 on John Peel's Dandelion label. This, her debut and the first in the series, is the most bare-bones and raw, with guitar that's alternately sunny and somber. It's also blessedly absent of the goofy optimism that made many of her peers less palatable (and, unlike many of its contemporaries, all the songs on it are self-composed). Her voice is remarkable not just for sitting in a notably low alto range, but for its consistency of non-expression, as if she preferred to let her androgynous bard quaver and her direct lyrics speak for themselves. The follow up to this record, Songs for the Gentle Man, is also worth seeking out, but it's more padded out with instruments, and feels somehow less pure for it--I love how Ask Me No Questions is unabashedly moody, dappled with the occasional patch of sun (the eight minute long closing title track is dense with field recordings of birds and church bells). Perfect fall soundtrack.

November 5, 2015

David Parsons - Sounds Of The Mothership, 1980

Recorded to tape in 1980, this album features the often quite dark private musical explorations by New Zealand space music goliath David Parsons. The first of numerous solo releases, Sounds Of The Mothership begins a lifelong journey exploring the sounds of instruments as well as field recordings collected from all over the world. His own liner notes introduce the music best:
"This music is played on electronic synthesizers and classical Indian instruments. It was composed primarily as an aid to meditation. Please listen in a relaxed frame of mind; let the sound gently transport you like a leaf floating down a river - sometimes in the main flow, sometimes caught in little eddies by the banks."
This release was reissued in 1991 in combination with his second (amazing) release, Tibetan Plateau. I would recommend it if you want to hear this music with sound quality improved (dusty old tape rip here) but the reissue is missing one of the original tracks included here.

November 2, 2015

Toshifumi Hinata - Reality In Love, 1986

Guest post by Travess Smalley

I’ve been keeping a playlist with my partner Kaela for the last few years called “Home Listening.” It's all albums, about a hundred now, that can be played at almost anytime, and allow us to work or read, to let our listening drift in and out of focus. The albums tend instrumental and spiritual--Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Alice Coltrane/Turiyasangitananda, Eberhard Weber are some of those who make repeat appearances. There’s a familiarity and comfort to most of these albums now that warm the environment whenever they’re played. I made a zine of the album covers in the playlist for Kaela while on an extended lakeside residency in the mountains of southern Austria last spring. The music was a reminder of our home 3000 miles away, of morning coffee, and reading in bed. You can see it here.

Toshifumi Hinata's Reality In Love is the most beautiful addition to our playlist. At turns melancholic, nostalgic, ambient, and atmospheric it reminds me of the Japanese film scores from the 80s and 90s I know--or at least, imagine I know. The piano compositions, like in “Passage,” reverberate against taped strings like a vague memory of an emotion. Reality in Love’s consistency and completeness have made it a routine soundtrack to my walks around the city, or while reading on the train. Every piece holds, it’s a record that never needs a track skip and it feels complete, softly ending with a reprise of the first song, where it started. 

As an introduction I’d recommend the album’s climax “光と水.” A brief and isolated piano transitions into a melody so lush it shimmers. Chimes and triangles lightly reverberate and fizzle as a harp flutters around a structured melody that feels pulled from the ballroom procession of a film you’re sure you’ve seen. I always visualize a gold color during this part. It’s truly transportive. 

October 30, 2015

Monks Of The Monastery Of Gyütö - Tantras Of Gyütö: Sangwa Düpa / Mahakala, 1988

The most frightening thing I've ever heard. Makes the entire pretense of heavy metal look like Sesame Street. Recorded at Gyütö Tantric University, one of the great colleges of the Gelugpa, the Established Church of Tibetan Buddhism, by David Lewiston, protégé of Thomas de Hartmann, decade-long resident musician at the Gurdjieff Foundation, impetus behind the Nonesuch Records Explorer Series (fans of the Voyager Golden Record are familiar with his work), and responsible for a huge body of recordings of world music made in the very small window of time during which lightweight portable recording equipment allowed for high-quality recordings to be made in remote places and traditional music hadn't yet been ravaged by globalization. Happy Halloween, y'all.

October 26, 2015

Severed Heads - City Slab Horror, 1985

We try to focus on records that appeal to a wide range of people and are super listenable, on-repeat records. This is an exception. Severed Heads was (for the most part) the brainchild of Tom Ellard, and their early recordings are experiments in tape looping, distorted synth, and proto-techno drum machine backbones. The results are way ahead of their time, a body of work that belongs in the same sentence as Throbbing Gristle, Coil, and the Art of Noise. In addition to being musical pioneers, Severed Heads boasts a collection of bitingly clever song titles ("Hello Donald, Merry Xmas," "Mambo Fist Miasma," "Larry I'm Just An Average Girl," "Now, An Explosive New Movie," etc.) and a daunting collection of psychotic video work, largely thanks to Stephen Jones, who developed the analog video synthesizers that he used to make music videos and manipulate live footage of Severed Heads performances. (Hard to know where to start with these, but here are a few favorites.)

City Slab Horror features plenty of tape looping, but Ellard's growing taste for pop structures and more cohesive rhythms make the record more song-centric and less noisy, though dissonance and gritty textures still run rampant. Standouts are "Ayoompteyempt" and the luminous classic "We Have Come to Bless the House," though the record as a whole functions as a tunneling trip through a cynical morbid fascination. Buried in frenzy are moments of sublime joy ("Guests"), though I can confidently say that I'm happy to be a tourist and not a permanent resident in the deranged world of Severed Heads.

Note: This version includes additional tracks from a 1989 reprint on Canadian label Nettwerk, which are advertised as "tracks from Blubberknife," though in actuality only "Umbrella" is taken from Blubberknife, with the rest pulled from the 1985 Goodbye Tonsils 12" and the 1985 double LP, Clifford Darling, Please Don't Live In The Past. I chose to share this version rather than the original release because it includes the monstrous "Acme Instant Dehydrated Boulder Kit."

October 23, 2015

Tim Blake - Crystal Machine, 1977

The first in a total of 8 solo albums by Tim Blake. An influential synthesist and composer, Blake worked on all three albums in the Gong trilogy. He had a critical role in the formation of another formative space rock band, Hawkwind. Blake is also credited with being one of the first musicians to bring the synthesizer out of the studio and on to the stage on his 1972 tour with Gong. Interestingly, when he began touring as Crystal Machine with the release of this album, he became the first artist to introduce the use of lasers to live entertainment. 

Named after the moniker he assumed when playing live, Crystal Machine is a synthesizer tour de force. Newly emancipated from the collaborative confines of Gong at the time of this partially live recording, you can hear Blake's youthful energy as he blasts off into space. Give a listen and if you close your eyes, he'll take you along.

October 21, 2015

Joe Hisaishi - Curved Music, 1986

Gorgeous album from Joe Hisaishi, the mind behind the massive soundtracks to Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess MononokeSpirited AwayHowl's Moving Castle, and around one hundred other things, which is to say that if you've ever watched anime you've probably heard his work. (Fun fact: Hisaishi, née Fujisawa Mamoru, takes his stage name from a Japanese re-transcription of the name Quincy Jones: Quincy is pronounced "Kuinshi," or "Kuishi," which can be approximated in Japanese using the same kanji as "Hisaishi.")

Curved Music alternates between new wave-tinged synth pop songs and shorter instrumental vignettes, often employing more traditional Japanese folk and classical instruments. Highlights include the aching, anthemic “The Winter Requiem,” Sakamoto-esque rolling synth-organ on “Tsuki No Sabuku No Shoujo," and the minute long plastic violin cream puff “White Silence.” Elsewhere, find a baroque faux-flute interlude (the brilliantly titled “Classic”) and what might be a Terry Riley homage (“A Rainbow In Curved Music”) that seems to nod more explicitly to Art of Noise and Depeche Mode. Ignore the album artwork and enjoy!

October 14, 2015

Joël Fajerman - L'aventure Des Plantes, 1982

Classic! The opening track of this record, "Flowers Love," was used as the theme for the French documentary series L'aventure des Plantes--it's unclear whether any of the other tracks were included in the series, though the whole record is excellent. Joël Fajerman is a classically trained French keyboardist who was apparently nicknamed "Flangerman" (no mystery why). Ranging from baroque organ lines to towering, sinister synth arpeggiations, L'aventure is cosmic, dense, and cinematic. For fans of Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, or the beloved Plantasia! (Note: pictured above is the Spanish reissue; hi-res images of the original French cover don't seem to exist).

October 12, 2015

Mkwaju Ensemble - Mkwaju, 1981

This group of Japanese percussionists, led by Midori Takada and Yoji Sadanari, only released two albums, both in 1981. They're joined on their first release by Joe Hisaishi (more from him soon), who's credited as keyboardist and producer, as well as Hideki Matsutake (of Logic System, though he's often referred to as the "fourth member" of YMO) as computer programmer. With such forward-thinking musicians, Mkwaju (the Swahili word for tamarind) takes you for quite a ride. African rhythms and instrumentation combine with synth sounds in a repetitive but ever-evolving flurry stopping just short of cacophony. More information here; listen to the expansive proto-house "Tira-Rin" below. 

October 9, 2015

[Mix for Self-Titled] OMG Japan: Rare & Experimental Japanese Pop

cover image by whtebkgrnd

We're so excited to release this mix of experimental Japanese pop, up today on Self-Titled Mag.
"This is a mix of Japanese pop songs, most of them with a synth funk backbone. The most exciting aspect of this era of music, though, is how unafraid these musicians were to push the limits of genre: They loved Van Dyke Parks, Kraftwerk and Martin Denny, but they were never confined by any one sound, nor were they afraid to poke fun at western constructs of the 'oriental' or Japanese fascinations with Western cultural novelties." Read more HERE, and if you like it, download it HERE.

1. Chiemi Manabe - Untotooku
2. Miharu Koshi - L'amour...Ariuwa Kuro No Irony
3. Hiroshi Satoh - Say Goodbye
4. Colored Music - Heartbeat
5. Minako Yoshida - Tornado
6. Ryuichi Sakamoto - Kacha Kucha Nee
7. Mariah - Shinzo No Tobira
8. Yukihiro Takahashi - Drip Dry Eyes
9. Sandii - Zoot Kook
10. Haruomi Hosono - Ohenro-San
11. Osamu Shoji - Jinkou Station Ceres
12. Kisagari Koharu - Neo-Plant
13. Inoyama Land - Wässer
14. Aragon - Horridula
15. Asami Kado - 退屈と二つの月
16. Tamao Koike & Haruomi Hosono - 三国志ラヴ・テーマ
17. Hiroyuki Namba - Hiru No Yume

If you like this, check out Clandestinations, the mix
we made for Mexican Summer's Anthology Recordings.

October 7, 2015

The Congos - Heart of the Congos, 1977

It's a little weird for me to write about what is arguably the greatest roots reggae record of all time. I avoided reggae for most of my life after too much exposure to some pretty uninteresting reggae at the hands of my pretty uninteresting adolescent stepbrother. The Heart of the Congos is the first reggae record that I connected with, and while I'm no aficionado, this is unlike anything I've ever heard (more knowledgeable writeup here, nice interview here). It's odd that the exaggerated stoner aesthetic that reggae got saddled with has clouded the recognition of the music itself as an intensely mind-altering experience, sans drugs. This serves as an excellent reminder of its psychedelic nature, in the more honest sense of the word. With dense, melted reverb, Heart sounds as if it was recorded under a few feet of water. Brilliant vocal interplay and amazing diversity of sound, from the sprawling aquatic bass groove "Congoman" to the sinuous, fizzed-out "Can't Come In," with the famous robo-cows lowing throughout. The range of emotion is equally bewildering, from cripplingly pointed mourning to the peaks of joy with intense spiritual potency in between. The title means business: this is thick, this plumbs deep.

Note: there are quite a few different versions of this floating around--apparently Perry himself was unhappy with the original mastering and made some dramatic changes, and of course there have been a slew of reissues. Of the versions I've heard, I'm pretty happy with this one.

October 2, 2015

Hildegard von Bingen - A Feather on the Breath of God, 1984

Saint Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 17 September 1179) was a German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, poet, doctor, visionary, Christian mystic, and polymath. She founded the practice of scientific natural history in Germany, lived to the age of 81 at a time when the life expectancy was early 40s at best, and wrote the oldest surviving morality play (sometimes called the first musical drama). Despite having no formal musical training, she was responsible for some of the most hauntingly beautiful and enduring music to come out of medieval Catholicism. Her compositions broke many of the existing conventions of plainchant, using extremes of register, dramatic leaps of pitch, melismas and flourishes to express rhapsodic, overflowing emotion. Sublime delivery of this collection of her songs by UK ensemble Gothic Voices and soprano Emma Kirkby, globally renowned early music specialist. Perfect hurricane soundtrack music.

September 30, 2015

Michael Brook, Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois - Hybrid, 1985

The quintessential ambient underwater groove. Mysteriously, this is our first Brian Eno post. So murky, so primordial, so DEEP.

September 28, 2015

Judee Sill - Judee Sill, 1971

Guest post by Cora Walters

The more I listen to Judee Sill's music, and specifically this album, the more I come to think of it as a church. The perfect soundtrack for finding your way. Her earnestness and skill as a singer and lyricist certainly rank her among the sweet sirens of the seventies - Joni Mitchell, Vashti Bunyan, Karen Dalton, Linda Perhacs, Bridget St. John, Nico - but what sets her apart is her constant craving. Surreal parables swirl around, clutching to make contact or to make sense of the world and her place in it. Each song is a hymn of her own mystical making. Even at its most baroque ("The Archetypal Man"), twangy ("Ridge Rider"), or pop ("Jesus Was a Cross Maker"), she's driftin' and "lopin' along" some serious terrain - the rocky road to salvation.

September 25, 2015

Steve Reich - Music For 18 Musicians, 1978

To celebrate our having posted 100 albums, I wanted to share a record that's so canonical that it would feel silly to post any other day. Steve Reich needs no introduction, and the influence of Music For 18 Musicians can't be condensed. Instead, here are Reich's liner notes that explain a bit about how the piece "works," including an interesting mention of borrowing the Balinese gamelan technique of using a distinct audio cue to call for a change in pattern. Here's a nice overview of the "building blocks" of the piece.

To keep it brief, I'll add that as a vocalist, the most exciting part about Music For 18 Musicians for me is its treatment of human breath and mechanization. The limits of human lungs (both for wind instruments and vocals) structure the pulse of the piece, and the other instruments are written to mimic the natural arc and fall of breathing patterns. Despite being built around such an organic phenomenon, the music is highly mechanized, a musical hybrid of human and machine. I'm always surprised that this is considered "minimalism," when in truth it's dizzyingly complex sonic embroidery. Sublime and light-dappled. Try it in headphones if you haven't before. Wild that this only took Reich three years to compose. Cheers!


September 22, 2015

Mariah - うたかたの日々 (Utakata No Hibi), 1983

Mariah was the brainchild of saxophonist Yasuaki Shimizu, who is most well-known for his solo performances of Bach's cello suites in acoustically interesting spaces (he recorded in a mine, he did some work with Ryuichi Sakamoto, we love him, etc.). His work with Mariah was a far cry from the rest of his career, though--Utakata No Hibi, the band's fifth and final LP, is loosely woven, big and wide open and facing skyward. The album is built around percussion, which ranges from traditional Japanese to tribal to Talking Heads-y, pencilled in with simple synth textures and spikes of brass. The songs are mantric, with vocals in both Armenian and Japanese that act more as an instrument than as a focal narrative. The definitive high is "心臓の扉" ("Shinzō No Tobira/Door of the Heart"). No filler, though--all the less poppy moments are a joy, and manage to simultaneously feel futuristic and medieval.

Maria gave me this record years ago, and it's been in heavy rotation ever since. We're really excited that it's being reissued on Palto Flats, a label run by personal DJ hero Jacob Gorchov. It's an important record that speaks to a wide range of people, and the attention it's attracting is well-deserved. The New York release party is tonight, with vinyl for sale. Sample the remasters below, or listen to "Shinzō No Tobira" in its entirety here.

(Side note: watch Yasuaki Shimizu's "Human Cuckoo Clock" installation, in which he did hourly performances of saxophone renditions of Bach's cello suites for eight hours in the Tokyo International Forum, here. A really beautiful, playful use of acoustics.)


September 17, 2015

Sivakumar Sarma - Santur: Inde Du Nord, 197-

Perfection. Pandit Sivakumar Sarma (also Shivkumar Sharma) was the first musician to play Indian classical music on the santur (a hammered dulcimer traditionally used as a folk instrument). Sarma has had a hugely prolific career and has worked with the most legendary classical musicians, but I have yet to hear very much of his catalog because I can't tear myself away from this. Achingly beautiful work from the master of the instrument. 

Note: Nobody seems to know exactly when this record was released, but based on a few hints I would guess mid-70s. This never made it to CD and to the best of my knowledge, has never been reissued (cough).

September 14, 2015

Woo - Into The Heart Of Love, 1990

UK music collective Woo delivers a masterpiece of microcosmic proportions with their under-heard landmark Into The Heart of Love. Although they use easily identifiable instruments, the music is truly hermetic, coming from nowhere and made with feeling instead of genre or artistic points of reference.  The work flows together with the soft bumbling beauty of a field at night with stars so bright you can see the path ahead.  

It's predominantly an instrumental record, peppered with a few welcomed lyrics that beckon casual listeners to listen closer. "Make Me Tea," for example, will make anyone feel the warm and fuzzies. 
The group has remarkable finesse with synthesizer and effects. Although almost every track uses synth, rather than letting it take center stage it acts as a kind of textural enabler, often disappearing into the background or morphing into a soft bed supporting the intimate sounds of the other instruments. There are even moments where the synth acts as a hammer dulcimer. 

Woo makes new age (secularly spiritual) music which the one can't help but hold with care and reverence, but they maintain an element of fun, curiosity, and experimentation that is missing in a lot of new age. This is exemplified most obviously in a burst of laughter at the end "When You Find Your Love," reminding the listener to not take life or music so seriously, that people are just playing, just as Woo is playing song after perfect song. If I ever have kids, this will be on heavy growing-up rotation. Essential.

September 9, 2015

Colored Music - Colored Music, 1981

Anomalous! This was Colored Music's only release, and there seems to be very little information about them online, except that this was rereleased by a Japanese reissue label in 2008 and that female member Ichiko Hashimoto was a somewhat prolific jazz musician who once collaborated with Masahiko Sato, who scored the cult favorite Belladonna of Sadness.

Sinister and strange throughout, Colored Music defies genre, ranging from the scronky, free-jazzy "Anticipation" to the spaced-out, reverb soaked "Sanctuary" to the more explicitly new wave "Too Much Money," flirting briefly with progressive rock along the way. Vocals include a haunted, warbling mermaid choir, sputtering Broadway theatrics, and faraway pirate chants buried deep in the mix. The standout is the shimmying, agitated "Heartbeat," held together by a warped and weird house beat that gets shredded in half by an almost unlistenable piano meltdown. A little challenging, but totally worth it.

September 7, 2015

The Ghostwriters - Remote Dreaming, 1986

Released on the relaxation music tape label Mu-Psych Music, this is the dreamiest and definitely the rarest recording from modular synth guru Charles Cohen and musician Jeff Cain. Filled with sparse beauty, the album only really becomes "active" halfway through on the pentatonic  swirler "Rococco Rondo"-- then right back to ambient with "Slow Blue in Horizontal." The last track, "Botticelli Rewind" is also very full sounding, with some driving percussion and baby grand twirling.  Really love this one!

September 2, 2015

Virginia Astley - Hope In A Darkened Heart, 1986

A favorite that doesn't get the attention it deserves. Virginia Astley is a British musician who put out a small slew of full lengths and EPs in the 80s, but seems to have flown under the American radar. Her music is distinctive for its sing-songy, little boy church choir vocal delivery, and her lyrics, while sometimes indistinguishable, are as dark and ruthless as they come ("I've tasted your tongue like a worm from the grave / Had you inside me, then like a rock beside me"). She also used her extensive collection of field recordings to make a gorgeous instrumental concept album chronicling a summer day in the English countryside, which is way more expansive and less twee than it sounds.

My sister first played me Hope In A Darkened Heart a few years ago and it's stuck with me since. While the songs are effectively pop in structure, the record defies the specificity of genre: it truly sounds like nothing else. Astley wrote all the songs except for the opening track, which is a duet with David Sylvian. Ryuichi Sakamoto and Astley co-produced the record, and it feels very much like both of them: Astley's lilting, pastoral nostalgia on top of Sakamoto's mechanical, off-kilter synth chug. Its darkness is belied by how damn pretty it is. Well overdue for a re-release.

August 31, 2015

Ken Boothe - Everything I Own, 1974


Chills. This album strikes me right to the core. Everything I Own proves to the world that Ken Boothe is obviously the ultimate lovers rocker. Keeping it incredibly real in the grooviest way, the work centers on themes of separation and divorce. The album also has a political message with anthemic songs like "Time Passage" and "Impossible Dream," but all songs seem to cry out in funky protest. Vibe-wise, it has a cool, dark, soulful feel that can be likened to contemporaries like War and Richie Havens, with a judicious amount of synth swooshes. This particular version was released by Trojan for the UK and Germany, but I would recommend seeking out other versions which contain classics like "Is It Because I'm Black" and the cover of Bob Marley's "African Lady." In any case, it doesn't get any better than this Jamaican crooner classic!