June 30, 2015

Inoyama Land - Danzindan-Pojidon, 1983

Another one from Yen Records, the prolific label fronted by Yellow Magic Orchestra bandmates Yukihiro Takahashi and Haruomi Hosono, comes this gorgeous work. Inoyama Land was a duo of Yasushi Yamashita and Makoto Inoue, both past members of avant-pop ensemble Hikashu. Almost completely instrumental and very heavy on the synths, the beautiful simplicity of Danzindan-Pojidon feels like floating on a pond with nowhere to go and nothing to do. The record ranges from the rippling new-age ballet of "Wässer," to the more germanic and abstract "Collecting Net," to the pastoral flute on "Pon;" exploring repetitive and ambient synth patterns with just enough tension to keep this from being a squarely new age record. This album is not available for purchase anywhere.


June 26, 2015

Einzelgänger - Einzelgänger, 1975

One of the early electronic masterpieces from the wizard himself, Giorgio Moroder. Einzelgänger (roughly "lone wolf") was a one-off experiment. Moroder says that about a year after its release he realized that he didn't like the record at all, and personally bought all the remaining LPs to prevent anyone from hearing it. He seems to be warming up to it these days, in light of "some of his friends liking it very much" and "a fan once telling him that it was very futuristic and way ahead of its time" (that Moroder needed a fan to tell him this is very sweet; thank you facebook). Einzelgänger is sonically unrecognizable from the disco that made Moroder famous--the record lovingly riffs on German electronica, and unsurprisingly could easily pass for early, slightly rough Kraftwerk, replete with wandering synth noodles, sputtering vocoder, hazy cabbagescapes, and schnitzeling aqua beats. ("Ich bin der Einzelgänger/Habe keine Fans/es macht mir aber Spaß, Spaß, Spaß...", roughly "I'm the lonewolf/having no fans/but I'm having fun, fun, fun..." is presumably a play on Kraftwerk's 1974 "fahren fahren fahren auf der Autobahn," oft misheard as "fun fun fun on the autobahn" and probably a Beach Boys reference, so there you have it.) Only Moroder could pull off an experimental joke this skillfully. Make sure to bump this on your skateboard during your next underwater pastoral road trip, smoggy sunset viewing, automaton-themed biergarten, or post-dystopian wasteland picnic.

June 23, 2015

Popol Vuh - Hosianna Mantra, 1972

Hosianna Mantra is Popol Vuh's third release, on which Florian Fricke made a complete 180 from the synth-based music of the first two albums to a piano and harpsichord-centric sound. He is joined throughout the album by voice, oboe, violin, tambura, electric guitar and twelve-string guitar. 

Fricke set out to make a devotional record that borrowed from both eastern and western sounds and traditions, without dedicating itself to any specific religion. The results are breathtaking. He says, "Hosianna mantra is actually a combination of two different cultures, two different languages, two different lives. It has a dual meaning; ‘hosianna,' which is a religious Christian word and ‘mantra,' from Hinduism. Behind all of that I was convinced that basically all religions are the same. You always find it in your own heart. "

June 16, 2015

Arthur Brown & Craig Leon - The Complete Tapes of Atoya, 1984

A collaboration between performance artist and musician Arthur Brown and acclaimed producer (of The Ramones, Blondie, Suicide) Craig Leon. Originally released in 1982 under Arthur Brown's name, Atoya was reissued two years later as a collaboration with Leon, who wrote, performed, and produced it. The songs bear his signature starkness and mechanical synthesized sound, while Arthur Brown's vocals range between early rock-and-roll crooning, a Robert Plant-like style, and spoken word. With Leon's techno drumming and epic synth groans, Atoya takes some getting used to, but it's a beautifully bleak tapestry and weirder than the sum of its parts. The only purchases currently available are secondhand vinyl via discogs. Snag it!

June 13, 2015

King Sunny & His African Beats - Aura, 1984

Aura was the last album from jùjú music pillar King Sunny Adé before he left Island Records, purportedly because of increasing pressure to westernize his sound. You can hear it, too--Aura is much beefier than his other two Island releases, the classics Juju Music and Synchro System. It's plumped up and pulsing with drum machines, electro beats, and synth samples--arguably not a bad thing. King Sunny Adé was the first to introduce the pedal steel guitar to Nigerian pop music, and it shines here on top of a dense flurry of percussion, thanks to six percussionists and plenty of talking drum. Featuring a Stevie Wonder harmonica solo on "Ase," and Tony Allen on drums in "Oremi," this is not traditional jùjú music, but the endlessly rolling, meditative grooves and the joy are still there in full force. A perfect summer record. Thanks for playing this for me in your car, Kat!

June 11, 2015

RAH Band - Mystery, 1985

Undoubtedly the best full length from English arranger, conductor, and multi-instrumentalist Richard Anthony Hewson (RAH), who has worked with such luminaries as James Taylor, The Beatles, Herbie Hancock, Supertramp, Diana Ross, and Carly Simon. The funky, expansive Mystery presents jam after immaculately orchestrated jam, laden with sweeping synths, samples, strings, horns, and the sultry-innocent vocals of Hewson's wife Liz. 

The opener, "Clouds Across the Moon" (below) rose to no. 6 in the UK singles chart. Even so, it seems to have gone mostly unnoticed by US audiences, as not enough Americans know about this absolute classic. 

June 9, 2015

Yello - You Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess, 1983

It was difficult to pick just one Yello record, but Gotta Say Yes seemed like a good place to start since it's the last LP to feature Yello co-founder Carlos Perón (above, right; forthcoming Dark Entries reissue of his EP here). Composer and audio engineer Boris Blank (above, left), famous for building an original sample library of over 100,000 named and categorized sounds, had recently acquired a Fairlight CMI, which he masterfully exploited in the production of a very distinct brand of slick 'n sleazy sonic embroidery. This is not trigger-happy kitsch pop--the songs are carefully structured and musical (sorry), stretching the limits of electro towards tribal, drum and bass, and techno. The songs are narrated by millionaire industrialist, poker player, golfer and Dada performance artist Dieter Meier (above, center, of course), though Yello went on to collaborate with a handful of vocalists, including Billy Mackenzie and Shirley Bassey. Perpetually surprising, throbbing, and creepily funny, Gotta Say Yes is one of my favorite dance records to listen to in headphones. 

There's an amazing video below of one of their only live performances ever (theirs wasn't an easy sound to reproduce live, to put it lightly) at the Roxy in '83, immediately after the release of Gotta Say Yes, here. The video below is a nutso extended version of the title track, not included on the album.

June 5, 2015

Stephan Micus - Wings Over Water, 1982

German multi-instrumentalist Stephan Micus giving us music for over 40 years. Instrumentation:  acoustic guitar, ney, sarangi, flowerpots, Spanish guitar, Bavarian zither, suling, all played by Stephan himself.

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June 2, 2015

David Hykes & the Harmonic Choir - Hearing Solar Winds, 1983

"This recording was made in L'Abbaye du Thoronet, a 12th-century Cisterian monastery in Provence, where I had previously brought the choir in 1978. The simple harmonic geometry of the abbey seemed perfectly proportioned to magnify the choir's music and let it resonate within its sacred space. Working there was an incredible challenge: our sensations, our breathing, and even our thoughts and emotions became intensely amplified."
--David Hykes, liner notes
Hearing Solar Winds is a milestone for the human voice. Much of Hykes's work originates from Tantric Tibetan Buddhism and western Mongolian khöömi, or overtone singing. Yet in this context, recorded live in a French abbey over the course of two evenings, it's a completely different beast from traditional throat singing. It's less active and more drawn out, less human and more ghostly. It shimmers--did a songbird get trapped in the abbey, or was someone playing an unimaginably tiny glass flute? "Telescoping," and of course "Rainbow Voice," quite literally sound like light being split through a prism: when producing harmonics, "the voice acts as a kind of sonic prism, 'refracting' sound along a frequency spectrum which extends upward from the fundamental tone."

Elsewhere, Hearing Solar Winds is as much about sonic illusion as it is overtones. Several tracks employ the Shepard scale, which is a "sound consisting of a superposition of sine waves separated by octaves, with the base pitch of the tone moving upward or downward. This creates the auditory illusion of a tone that continually ascends or descends in pitch, yet which ultimately seems to get no higher or lower. It has been described as a 'sonic barber's pole.'" Upon first listen, the effect is disorienting and even a bit nauseating, as it's difficult to understand where you are, tonally. If you don't mind losing track of your body, Hearing Solar Winds Becomes less of an album and more of an hour long meditation--cosmic not because of shimmering synth pads or floating arpeggiation (there are none) but because of its direct sonic verticality. This is the real deal.

Incredibly, Hearing Solar winds is David Hykes's first album. He went on to release five more albums with the unbelievably precise Harmonic Choir, and five more without them. (Side note: "Rainbow Voice" was featured in the soundtrack for Dead Poets Society.) He's worked extensively with sound healing and spirituality, developing a comprehensive approach to "contemplative music" called harmonic chant, about which there's a nice interview with him here. I would highly recommend a rainy day listen of Hearing Solar Winds on good speakers, without doing much of anything else.

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