April 28, 2015

Eddie Kendricks - People...Hold On, 1972

People...Hold On makes me excited to have kids so they can remember growing up hearing this around the house. A former frontman of The Temptations, this was Eddie Kendricks' second solo record and cemented his solo career: the (slightly problematic) "Girl You Need a Change of Mind" was widely circulated in east coast clubs, and Kendricks went on to release 13 full-lengths and record a live album with Hall and Oates. People...Hold On is an immaculate classic. Funky, disco-flecked soul, bathed in sunshine and wah-wah, with a slow-burning politically charged title track. Eddie Kendricks' trademark falsetto is effortless. A perfect spring soundtrack. Enjoy!

April 17, 2015

LFO - Frequencies, 1991

Arguably one of the most important UK techno LPs ever. Just as happy to be heard in headphones as in a grimy warehouse. Gorgeous, heart-skittering, crunchy sci-fi futurism rendered in perfect detail. Perpetually surprising and joyful throughout. A fully-realized prediction of two decades of electronic dance music. Mark Bell died six months ago and I've been thinking about him a lot recently, partially because of the Björk retrospective (he co-produced Homogenic, among many others), but largely because of this record, which is a gift.

April 15, 2015

Osamu - Benzaiten, 1974

A seamless blend of traditional Japanese music with jazz, prog rock, and funk, Benzaiten takes off into new age, with sparse electronic drumming, bells, and synth sweeps. Hosono on synths. Benzaiten takes its name from the Buddhist equivalent of Saraswati, "goddess of everything that flows: water, words, speech, eloquence, music and by extension, knowledge." Epic.

buy / download

April 14, 2015

Dorothy Ashby - The Rubáiyát of Dorothy Ashby, 1970

Singular! Alongside the likes of Alice Coltrane, Dorothy Ashby was one of the first to bring the harp to the jazz scene. Most of her work is generous, harp-centric, free-flowing soul jazz, sans vocals (totally enamored of her take on "The Windmills of Your Mind"); the kind of music to make any social gathering feel like a movie, and any poolside feel like the swankiest lounge. 

Rubáiyát was a radical departure from all of that, and not just because she sings throughout (a shame she didn't sing on more records; her vocal delivery is terrifically elegant and ghostly). Ashby composed Rubáiyát around the poetry of Omar Khayyám, a twelfth century Persian philosopher, and the resulting sound is a sweeping, psychedelic global mash-up, only occasionally veering into kitschy territory. Koto, mbira, flute, timpani, vibraphone, a few searing streaks of guitar, and of course, heavy harp throughout. Swirling, heady, and expansive. Good speakers a must. Also a personal favorite album cover.

April 9, 2015

The Beatniks - Exitentialism, 1981


Guest post by Mark Dwinell  (Forma / M Dwinell)

The Beatniks, featuring Yukihiro Takahashi of YMO fame, released this record in 1981, the same year as Takahashi's very excellent Neuromantic. The production here is more sparse, with that perfect combination of live instrumentation and synthesized sound that fans of YMO and Sakamoto expect. Standout track is the baroque "Now and Then...". Dramatic piano, lush strings, filtered synth, and a voice announcing "Now and then I feel I'm sinking in a stagnant pool..." So deep! The best find of my trip to Beijing.

Below are the music videos for the first four tracks of the album.

April 7, 2015

Jon Hassell - Earthquake Island, 1979

Steamy ambient jungle jazz rife with heavy, loosely woven 4th world grooves and playful instrumentation. This preceded Hassell's 1981 collaboration with Brian Eno. Fans of Joe Zawinul's Dialects will like this. 

April 4, 2015

Van Dyke Parks - Song Cycle, 1967

Another one from the canon. Song Cycle is deranged. It riffs on all things Americana: gospel, bluegrass, orchestral ballads, folk, show tunes, marching bands, movie scores, ragtime, waltzes, girl groups, and pop rock, but it never settles into any of these shapes. People call it impenetrable, but I think it's, ahem, too penetrable, too open and slippery and rife with forks in the road. It's psychedelic insofar as every measure seems to want to tug away and break off into several different songs, leaving the listener in many places (and times!) all at once, volatile and hanging off of a musical precipice. It's nauseating, beautiful, and a tiny bit misanthropic.

As a teenager, my first dozen listens left me unable to remember anything about what I had just listened to, what had just happened, and yet despite it being so elusive, you can't stop listening, trying to grab hold of it. I'm sure this is a pretty typical response, and Parks himself sums it up best in this anecdote:
When I played the album for Joe Smith, the president of the label, there was a stunned silence. Joe looked up and said, "Song Cycle"? I said, "Yes," and he said, "So, where are the songs?" And I knew that was the beginning of the end.
A massively expensive commercial flop, the record was originally supposed to be entitled Looney Tunes, and it does feel cartoonish and larger than life. Most of it is accompanied by Parks's reedy, androgynous vocals--he sounds like a jaded, aging chorus girl who's smoked a few packs too many, singing sardonically to an empty theater. Clearly he's amused by this whole thing. The opener, "Vine Street," is Steve Young covering a Randy Newman song, and it fades in midway through the song and fades out before it's finished. Track six, the cheekily titled "Van Dyke Parks," is a minute long clip of a gospel hymnal, almost completely masked by what sounds like a helicopter making a water landing. The closer, "Pot Pourri" (probably another joke title, given that it's the least hodgepodge track in the cycle), finds Parks alone with a piano, padded by a thick hiss of room tone, and the song doesn't exactly end so much as stop--presumably leaving it open-ended and the cycle unbroken, ready for another go round.

April 2, 2015

Makoto Matsushita - First Light, 1981

Anthemic, sweeping, funky, and lush. This bass-slapping, orchestra-swooshing Japanese "city pop" album rides the slippery-sweet line of definite corniness. I included both album covers because they are both pretty slick. In fact, "slick" is probably the best adjective for this work....really really slick.