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.