December 30, 2016

Mr Fingers - Ammnesia, 1988

Was on the fence about posting this one, as its origins are dubious, but it feels like the best full-length collection of Larry Heard's genius, and if I had to pick one record to dance to tomorrow night, it might be this one. Happy new year!

December 28, 2016

Piero Milesi - The Nuclear Observatory Of Mr. Nanof, 1986

Guest post by Adam

I found this lurking at the back of a box of records in a charity shop in a nondescript part of north London. I’d never heard of Piero Milesi, but was drawn to both the title and the image on the sleeve, which turns out to be a still from the film to which this is a soundtrack. It depicts an enormous engraving outside a Volterra psychiatric hospital by patient Oreste Fernando Nannetti, who referred to himself as Nanof-11, an "Astronautic Mineral Engineer of the Mental System." While I’m keen to track down the movie (which doesn’t even have an IMDB page!), in the meantime I make do with the music, which is characterized by lush synthesized themes interspersed with moments of meditative calm. Personal favourites are "The Presence of the City" and "Mr. Nanof’s Tango" (which really begins to soar about half way through, so stay with it). Originally an architect, Piero Milesi created musical installations as well as soundtracks, so you can see why the story of a vast stone book recounting life in a psychiatric institution appealed. Earth to Nanof-11, are you out there; can you hear us?

December 24, 2016

20 Favorite Releases of 2016

In the spirit of the season, I wanted to share some of my favorite releases of the year. Obviously not exhaustive; just some personal highlights. Let me know if links are broken. Happy holidays!

Arthur Russell - World Of Echo, 1986
Bill Nelson - Getting The Holy Ghost Across, 1986
Cocteau Twins - Victorialand, 1986
Cocteau Twins & Harold Budd - The Moon And The Melodies, 1986
buy / download
Coil - Horse Rotorvator, 1986
David Hykes - Harmonic Meetings, 1986
buy / download

Double Fantasy - Universal Ave, 1986
buy / download
The Feelies - The Good Earth, 1986
buy / download
Felt - Forever Breathes The Lonely Word, 1986
buy / download
Geinoh Yamashirogumi - Ecophony Rinne, 1986
buy / download
Hiroshi Yoshimura - Soundscape 1: Surround, 1986
Isabelle Antena - En Cavale, 1986
buy / download
Janet Jackson - Control, 1986
buy / download
Just-Ice - Back To The Old School, 1986
buy / download
Linda di Franco - Rise Of The Heart, 1986
Nu Shooz - Poolside, 1986
buy / download
Riccardo Sinigaglia - Riflessi, 1986
Toshifumi Hinata - Reality In Love, 1986
Virginia Astley - Hope In A Darkened Heart, 1986
Zavijava Orchestra - Rivers Of Light, 1986
buy / download

December 20, 2016

Interior - Interior, 1982

A classic. Interior was first released on Yen Records, then later issued on Windham Hill with two of the more post-punky tracks omitted, and the addition of the excellent "Hot Beach." Confusingly, both the artist and album title are written as "Interiors" in several of the later pressings, and when you try to purchase the mp3s on Amazon it presents you with an unrelated album by "The Interiors." Because of the un-googleability of the album title, I'm not actually sure if there's a current version for sale anywhere--please let me know if you know. The version you can download here includes all tracks from both the Yen and Windham Hill releases. As an aside, the group's lineup includes Toshifumi Hinata's brother, Daisuke Hinata.

Having said all that, holy cow, whadda record. This seems to have one of the stronger cult followings of the Yen catalogue, and with good reason. Still feels bonkers that this came out in 1982. It's about as icy slick as they come, with a synthetic veneer that steers just clear of being too cheesy. As the name would suggest, it's particularly evocative of certain spaces: Hyatt lobbies, futuristic elevators, waiting rooms. (The cover art for the Windham Hill pressings seems well aware of that, er, interiority.) There's enough acoustic guitar and piano to ensure that you can't forget you're listening to a Windham Hill release, although I don't entirely follow the insistent categorization of the record as "new age"--it's too plump and plastic, too winking and too done up. (All good things.) I can't really think of anyone who wouldn't like this. Enjoy!

December 16, 2016

Patricia Escudero - Satie Sonneries, 1987

Another one from the Grabaciones Accidentales treasure trove. Virtually nothing online about the artist or the record, but suffice it to say that these are synthesizer reworkings of Satie compositions, except the synths sound more like music boxes that have been splashed around in dirty puddles in a dark alley. Hard to say how much of the murkiness is a product of deliberately damp reverb vs the quality of the rip, but either way, the crackly, sinister nostalgia is a major selling point. For fans of synthetic reworkings of classical pieces in the vein of Tomita or Wendy Carlos, except this one is way less shiny and could easily score an art horror movie.

Note that I spliced this together from two different rips of differing quality, and the tracklisting on Discogs is a little confusing (and possibly incorrect), so let me know if you notice anything off about the song titles.

December 12, 2016

Roberto Mazza - Scoprire Le Orme, 1991

Lino Vaccina and Vincenzo Zitello collaborator. Bardic harp, oboe, and synth all composed and played by Mazza. I hesitate to call Scoprire Le Orme (roughly "discover the footsteps") minimal, though it does get thrown around as such--it feels denser and warmer than what I typically associate with Italian minimalism. To me it feels like far eastern baroque; very courtly--my guess would be that Mazza tuned his harp to scales more typically associated with instruments like the koto or even the sitar. There's a dusty exotica sentimentality that reminds me of Finis Africae. A lot to love here. Hope y'all are having a very harpy winter.

December 6, 2016

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 7: Voices Special

I made a two hour mix for NTS Radio of songs with vocals that are significant to me. I had originally set out to focus on experimental vocals, but I realized that so much of what might sound experimental to western ears—Tibetan chant, Inuit throat singing, Chinese folk—is deeply traditional, not experimental at all. Instead, I approached this as two hours of vocal milestones, be they from technical, stylistic, or emotive standpoints. It’s not possible to make a two hour comprehensive survey of strong vocal traditions, nor of the most important singers, though there are quite a few of both categories in here. Putting this together was hard, and while I could easily have spent years digging and rethinking, I set a month time limit to ensure that I would finish it at all.

As I was making this I also thought a lot about how Björk framed her almost entirely vocal record Medúlla as a response to September 11th--both the event itself and the subsequent wave of patriotism and xenophobia that she experienced as a foreigner living in New York. Making an all-vocal album was, for her, a coping mechanism and a means of trying to reconnect with what it means to be a human.

Lastly, a note that this isn’t as listenable or poppy as the mixes that I typically make, though I did try to arc it in a way that feels good. I’m not really sure what its ideal listening environment is--it probably involves headphones--so I hope that you enjoy it all the same! If you'd like an mp3 version you can download it here. Thank you for listening 💜

1. The Impressions - For Your Precious Love
2. Meredith Monk - Strand (Gathering)
3. Geinoh Yamashirogumi - Genesis (abridged)
4. Bessie Griffin & The Gospel Pearls - Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child
5. Philippine Madrigal Singers - Pamugun (comp. Francisco Feliciano)
6. Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes - Jusqu'à Ce Que La Force De T'aimer Me Manque (excerpt)
7. Emma Kirkby & Gothic Voices - O Euchari (comp. Hildegard von Bingen)
8. Björk - Pleasure Is All Mine
9. The Ronettes - Baby I Love You (Isolated Vocals) (excerpt)
10. David Hykes & The Harmonic Choir - Arc Descents
11. Unknown Artists - Sumi Yeinyo (Hani Crying Song) (Southern China)
12. The Beach Boys - Surfer Girl (Alternate Version)
13. John Jacob Niles - Go ‘Way From My Window
14. The Tallis Scholars - Spem In Alium, Motet for 40 Voices (comp. Thomas Tallis)
15. Geinoh Yamashirogumi - Doll’s Polyphony
16. Young Thug - All Over
17. Ghédalia Tazartès - Une Voix S’en Va
18. Yma Sumac - Taita Inty (Virgin Of The Sun God)
19. Arthur Miles - Lonely Cowboy, Pt. 2
20. Angkanang Kunchai With Ubon-Pattana Band - Isan Lam Plearn (excerpt)
21. The Hilliard Ensemble - Viderunt Omnes (comp. Pérotin)
22. Ustad Ghulam Ali & Asha Bhosle - Salona Sa Sajan Hai Aur Main Hoon
23. Patti Page - Confess (excerpt)
24. Monks of Gyütö Tantric College - Sangwa Düpa (excerpt)
25. Amália Rodrigues - Gaivota (excerpt)
26. Unknown Artist - Akazehe Par Une Jeune Fille (Burundi)
27. Anna Homler & Steve Moshier - Sirens (excerpt)
28. Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir - Stani Mi, Maytcho (Get Up, My Daughter)
29. David Hykes & The Harmonic Choir - Rainbow Voice
30. Lucy Amarualik & Mary Sivuarapik - Song Of A Cooking Seal Flipper
31. Dr. Octagon - Halfsharkalligatorhalfman
32. Judy Henske & Jerry Yester - Rapture (excerpt)
33. The Hilliard Ensemble - Sabbato Sancto - Responsorium 5 (comp. Carlo Gesualdo)
34. Linda Jones - Your Precious Love (excerpt)

December 5, 2016

Gino Soccio - Face To Face, 1982

Feeling heartbroken for peers, friends, musicians, and artists who have been affected by the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland. Like so many others, I'm unable to imagine what my life would be like without DIY, and often illegal, spaces for art, music, and living. These spaces are increasingly vital as cities become prohibitively expensive, and the news coverage that blames the victims of such a terrible loss is deeply upsetting. To echo others: this could have been any of us.

In the spirit of cultures that will, by necessity, continue to build beautiful things in marginal places, I wanted to share a favorite disco record (though to be fair, this record was a heavily produced chart-topper, not a homegrown experiment). This is one of my favorite records to dance to, and is also a rare instance of a disco LP that's solid all the way through. Impeccably tasty production--hard to say no to this one. Happy to keep dancing with y'all.

December 2, 2016

dip in the pool - Silence, 1986

Debut from Japanese duo dip in the pool. Fairly minimal, often baroque-leaning synth and voice arrangements, with deep, widely spaced drums that, in such a synthetic context, takes on a cyber-medieval quality. Standouts are the title track and the stunningly beautiful "Rabo del Sol," the music video for which is previewed below--it comes from their 1991 laserdisc release of music videos. Both those tracks evoke a similar mystical gravitas, a perfect vessel for Miyako Koda's straight-tone vocal sobriety. (Interestingly, though a handful of tracks pick up to a spronky trot--like "Hasu No Enishi" and "View"--and feel like obvious video game scores, it was a slower, more ceremonious track called "Ismeel" that was later used in the PlayStation game Omega Boost.) The duo recently released a collaboration with the Visible Cloaks geniuses on RVNG, and unsurprisingly, it's very good.

November 29, 2016

Paul Horn - Inside The Great Pyramid, 1976

I’ve been hesitant to share this record because I can’t tell if everyone already knows it—it seems a bit dadcore, and I think it sold a bajillion copies—but it’s something I keep reaching for when fall turns to winter, so maybe y’all will enjoy it. I mentioned Paul Horn in my post about Pauline Oliveros the other week, and have been appreciating it even more in light of her recent passing.

Paul Horn was a legendary jazz flautist, saxophonist, and composer, and considered to be a new age pioneer. Inside The Great Pyramid was part of his “inside” series, in which he recorded site-specific music in places of spiritual significance, oftentimes making him the first person to record music in those locations. In addition to sneaking a tape recorder into the Taj Mahal, he was the first westerner to be granted permission to perform in the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, considered to be the spiritual nexus of Tibetan Buddhism. This was the first recording made in the Great Pyramid of Giza, and I think that most or all of it was recorded in the King’s Chamber right at the heart of the pyramid. The story goes that Paul began by hitting the large granite sarcophagus in the center of the room with the flat of his hand, which emits a resonant tone of 438Hz, slightly lower than an A. (You can hear this in the opening track previewed below.) Horn tuned his flute to that and improvised from there.

As you might expect, the natural reverb and room tone is arguably the most interesting part of the record. Horn is an incredible flautist, and he vocalizes a bit too, but the weight and air of the pyramid steal though show, especially given that the pyramid's strong resonance was a deliberate feature of its architecture.

November 25, 2016

Bola Sete - Ocean, 1975

Swooning solo guitar. Sete’s fingerpicking is some of the best ever, and this release catches him at a particularly special moment: his samba, bossa nova, and jazz roots are out in full effect, but this was his first release on John Fahey’s label Takoma, and Fahey’s influence shows. Ocean dabbles in folk (seemingly from multiple traditions) and has that same expansiveness that marks much of Fahey’s work—music that, at the risk of sounding trite, seems to slip outside of time.

Side note: for those in New York, I'll be doing a guest set of Japanese pop heavy hitters with Evan Neuhausen on WNYU (89.1 FM) tonight at 7:30. Spoiler alert: there will be bird sounds.

November 21, 2016

Imitation - Muscle And Heat, 1982

A lot to be excited about here: dense, textural Japanese new wave with heavy funk and no wave influences. Tropical and African textures and a big band brassy sound bring Talking Heads to mind, while the playful cultural splicing and occasionally dubby production feel akin to Yasuaki Shimizu. In particular, “Watashi No Suki Na Kuni,” though much denser and more guitar-driven, suggests the relentless march and weightless, nonchalant vocal float of “Shinzo No Tobira.” While the bombastic and dance-oriented tracks are immediately attractive, I think the record’s hazier, more subdued moments are some of its strongest: the more pared down and moody “Exotic Dance” lets incredibly detailed percussion come to the forefront, and the closer, “Oriental Oriental,” despite acting as the final word on a very raucous record, has all the unhurried silvery chic of an Avalon-era Roxy Music instrumental. Try it; you’ll like it!

Note: though the music has held up very well, this recording is fairly beat up and will not sound good on laptop speakers.

November 18, 2016

Raul Lovisoni & Francesco Messina - Prati Bagnati Del Monte Analogo, 1979

Such a special record. Split between Raul Lovisoni, whose work I don’t know too much about, and Francesco Messina (there’s a track from his very strange and very good Medio Occidentale on this mix). The A-side is a 24 minute long synthesizer bath, with swaths of meandering piano on top (there’s definitely something harp-like happening too, though it’s not listed in the credits). It sounds like a hot spring in the wintertime, with synth pads acting as clouds of rising steam. The B side is two ~10 minute tracks by Lovisoni, both very different from the A-side and from each other. “Hula Om” feels markedly more “indoors” than Messina’s cosmic title track. It’s just a repeating harp motif, though at a few points you can hear bird sounds filtering through a window, something being dropped in the next room, clothing shifting around, and the creak of somebody’s knees, all of which feel fitting given the raw and warm spatial textures that bring three seemingly disparate tracks together. The closer, “Amon Ra,” also a Lovisoni composition, is mostly clear, ringing overtones courtesy of a crystallophone, with some sparse patches of vocal chanting. The embrace of truthful, unedited sound, both across the synthetic landscape of the A-side and the acoustic sparsity of the B-side, makes Prati Bagnati del Monte Analogo feel like a diary or a photo album: these are bare bones, beautiful songs as they happened, where they happened, and that’s more than enough.

November 15, 2016

Kiki Gyan - 24 Hours In A Disco 1978-82

I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of David Mancuso, founder of the Loft party, disco enthusiast, instigator of the record pool system, DJ, audiophile, activist, and New York legend. Mancuso devoted his life and resources to creating safe spaces for many, but especially for the gay community, to dance to the best music in the best possible environment. He rejected beatmatching and mixing in favor of respect for sound quality and unaltered recordings played in their entirety, he prioritized dancing by refusing to overcrowd his parties, he avoided slavishness to genre, and he pushed back against inflated alcohol prices and club profiteering by instituting a BYO policy. He also fought in the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs' longest administrative trial to date against their insistence that he get a cabaret license (which he ultimately avoided by not selling food or beverages). He believed a DJ should have good taste, push the envelope, and use songs to spin narrative arcs, but not show off or get in the way of the music. He drew inspiration from time spent outside as a child, having grown up in an orphanage in rural upstate New York: 
“I spent a lot of time in the country, listening to birds, lying next to a spring and listening to water go across the rocks. And suddenly one day I realized, what perfect music. Like with sunrise and sunset, how things would build up into midday. There were times when it would be intense and times when it would be very soft, and at sunset it would get quiet and then the crickets would come in. I took this sense of rhythm…”
In the spirit of David’s work, I wanted to share a record that, though not a canonical Loft favorite, embodies the ecstatic, high energy disco for which the Loft is known. I wish very much that I could share Feeling So Good, the original LP that produced one of Gyan’s more famous singles, “Disco Dancer,” but it’s all but nonexistent ( if you have a decent rip you'd like to trade!). Several tracks from Feeling So Good appear on this compilation, though everything I’ve heard from the record is excellent. I’m realizing as I write this that it’s a bit odd to make two very remarkable, very different people share one post, so I hope this comes off alright.

Kiki Gyan was a Ghanaian musician and child keyboard prodigy who went professional at the age of 12, dropped out of school (“There was too much music in me, I couldn’t stay in school”) and was recruited to the British Afro-pop band Osibisa when he was 15. He toured internationally with the band until beginning his tenure as a very in-demand and expensive session musician in the best London recording studios before he was 21. His musical skill earned him a reputation as Ghana’s answer to Stevie Wonder, and he went on to make a series of very ambitious disco records, aiming at international stardom. Drug abuse interfered, and despite numerous attempts at intervention and rehabilitation, Gyan quickly declined, became unable to make music, and died at 47 from AIDS and drug-related complications. It was a terrible loss in many ways.

24 Hours In A Disco is entirely long tracks, befitting Gyan’s style—his wicked musicianship and joy predisposed him to long-form relentless disco funk jams that were tailor-made for the dance floor. These are songs that impossible to sit still through.

Thank you Kiki, thank you David—here’s to hoping that love saves the day.

November 14, 2016

Pandit Ram Narayan - L'Inde Du Nord: L'art Du Sarangi, 1971

Another favorite from the Ocora catalogue. Pandit Ram Narayan was the first internationally successful sarangi player, credited as responsible for the introduction of the sarangi as a solo concert instrument in Hindustani classical music. He’s also responsible for developing simplified sarangi fingering techniques, and elements of his tone and inflection have been widely mimicked and adapted by subsequent generations of sarangi players. There’s lengthier information about the ways in which he pushed the boundaries of both the instrument and the genre here.

The short version of the story is that this record is incredibly beautiful, and serves as a plain reminder of why the sarangi was traditionally treated as a filler instrument during solo vocal performances, meant to imitate the vocals. Ram Narayan’s sarangi is so expressive that it feels human: crying, lilting, taking melismatic nosedives and acrobatic leaps. It’s piercing but never shrill. It’s something you should hear before you die.

Note: I spent awhile wavering between sharing the original recording, which has some room tone, vinyl pops, and a sound that is both richer and muddier; and the remastered version, which is cleaned up and has a sound that is clearer but thinner. I settled on the original, but if anyone feels strongly about hearing the remastered version (which includes an additional râga), let me know and I’ll post it.

November 11, 2016

[RIP] Leonard Cohen - New Skin For The Old Ceremony, 1974

I was deeply saddened to learn last night of the death of poet, novelist, and musician Leonard Cohen. For the countless fans that have connected with his music over the course of his 50 year long musical career, Cohen has served as equal parts companion and court jester, writing lyrics that were usually equal parts beautiful and cynical, mixing barbed love songs with enigmatic social commentary and plenty of self-deprecation. This was all packaged in his distinctively conversational lilt, a voice that I used to love to fall asleep to until I spent some time with his post-Songs From A Room work and realized just how biting and angry he was. Around the same time I started to suspect that his feelings towards women might be more complicated than I had thought--after all, he came of age in the 50s. All of this is to say that he wasn’t just the love-worn troubadour that the "general listening" CD collection staple The Best Of Leonard Cohen would have us believe. He was messy, cryptic, and seemed to contradict himself readily.

I wanted to share New Skin for the Old Ceremony today for a couple of reasons. It houses some of his more potent political songs, specifically “There Is A War” and “A Singer Must Die”—songs that are lyrically vague enough to be timeless, and as such feel apropos on a day as bilious as today. It also marks a turn in instrumentation for Cohen, incorporating new percussive textures, violas, mandolins, and jazz inflections—still minimal, but more orchestrated than the bare bones guitar-and-vocals of his previous records. From there, it’s easy to see a mostly straight line building up to the unabashedly synth-pop critic’s darling I’m Your Man. Finally, New Skin is the Cohen record to which I feel most attached: in particular, the brutally worded “Why Don’t You Try” has been a reproving reminder to ask uncomfortable questions about loneliness and codependency after every break-up I’ve gone through since I was a teenager. As with much of his music, New Skin offers new insights with every listen, so we're all the more grateful for his large and generous body of work. Thank you for everything, Leonard.

November 9, 2016

Nina Simone - In Concert, 1964

November 7, 2016

Gail Laughton - Harps of the Ancient Temples, 1969

You might already know Gail Laughton from the inclusion of “Pompeii 76 A.D.” in the canonical I Am The Center compilation, or from the same track’s inclusion in the Blade Runner score. Alternately, if you’re big on 1940’s rom-com, you may have heard Laughton’s harp recording pantomimed by Cary Grant in The Bishop’s Wife—Laughton also instructed Grant in harp-syncing and apparently served as a body double for some close-up shots. Though Laughton worked in Hollywood and played on many cartoon and film soundtracks—John Wayne, Looney Tunes, etc.—Harps of the Ancient Temple was his only solo release, and a radical conceptual departure from his typical work.

Harps uses ancient sacred rituals, each catalogued by year and location, as jumping-off points for his neo-classical and heavily impressionist-influenced interpretations. “Japan 375 A.D.,” for example, seems to mimic a koto played in a Japanese pentatonic scale. Much of the record is exactly as pillowy and perfumey as you might hope for from a harp record that’s regularly slung around by new age devotees. Still, many tracks lean into dissonance and spin out ominously, building to what feels like like an unobstructed fall down a very long spiral staircase in the closing track, “Atlantis 21,000 B.C.” Lots going on here, but happily this works well for both active and passive listening. Fans of Joel Andrews will appreciate this, and similarly it’s cloaked in a dense hiss of room tone.

November 3, 2016

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 6

Listen to my sixth episode of Getting Warmer for NTS Radio below. I thought a lot about musical migration as I was making this: cross-pollination as a result of colonialism; exotic fantasy, escapism, and essentialism; and Brazil, both as a place of origin and as a source of inspiration. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version of it here. Enjoy!

1. Carpenters - Invocation
2. Fé De Sábio - Crepúsculo 
3. Isabelle Antena - Otra Bebera 
4. Yellow Magic Orchestra - Shadows On The Ground 
5. The Beach Boys - Til I Die (Alternate Mix) 
6. Caetano Veloso - Gua 
7. Mudd - Summer In The Wood 
8. Orchestre Raymond Droz Avec Pierre Cavalli Et Son Orchestre - Passarinhos 
9. Light House - 南太平洋 
10. The Coconuts - If I Only Had A Brain 
11. Googoosh - Sahel Va Darya 
12. Brenda Ray - Another Dream 
13. Miharu Koshi - 逃亡者 
14. Nightingales Recorded by Jean C. Roché - In A Waste Ground Beside A Stream In Provence, June 
15. Mariko Fuji - 雪 
16. Aaliyah - At Your Best 
17. Mike Oldfield - Into Wonderland

November 2, 2016

The Hilliard Ensemble - Carlo Gesualdo: Tenebrae, 1991

Another expert overview of a favorite composer's work from the venerated Hilliard Ensemble. Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613) was an Italian prince, count, and renaissance composer, who is mostly known for his madrigals, particularly those that disregarded the tonal conventions of the time and explored extreme chromatic progressions and unprepared changes of harmony, i.e. changes without a harmonic bridge. This was arguably without precedent, and wasn't really seen again until late 19th century impressionism. The music is notoriously difficult to perform live, with careening harmonies making it particularly easy to veer off-key. In spite of the daredevil compositions, the songs are stunningly beautiful, if a bit nervewracking. Stravinsky was a big fan. Aldous Huxley, who once listened to Gesualdo while under the influence of mescaline, wrote the liner notes for a 1956 LP of Gesualdo's work. Herzog made a pseudo-documentary about him called Death for Five Voices.

Perhaps somewhat relatedly, Gesualdo was also known to exhibit characteristics of serious mental illness, was a repeat murderer, and a masochist, leading some to suspect demonic possession. After the murders, the story goes that he was so paranoid that he went on a tree-cutting rampage around his castle so as to be better able to see potential threats from far away. It's also believed that he may have ordered his own death. He's become a vampire-esque figure of fascination for many (I can't help but think of Gilles de Rais), an interest that seems a bit fraught to me--but I can't argue with the music. Enjoy!

buy / download: disc 1, disc 2

October 31, 2016

Michele Musser - Eye Chant, 1986

Celebrate Halloween this year with the strange surreality of Michele Musser's Eye Chant. Recorded in the mid-eighties in Harrisburg, PA, the album takes you on a sample and synth-based odd-yssey where the only constant is freaky. Her sound palette includes synths, drum machines, a baby crying, animals, ship horns, waves, thunder, children laughing, bubbles, a clock ticking, plenty of vocal samples, and a spoken word passage. Experimental, with scattered elements of Berlin School (especially on the opening track) and new age synth.

Several tracks are cynical with regards to romance. "100% Bridal Illusion" discourages a prospective spouse, containing vocal samples communicating the triteness and misery of marriage. "Proteus and The Marlin" tells the story of a pathetically devoted woman who sleeps with a stuffed marlin for the rest of her life after her crazed, megalomaniac husband--who believed he was the Greek god Proteus--throws himself off the Golden Gate Bridge.

The album finishes with what is obviously the "hit" and the track that most makes this apropos for today. Check out the spook-funk groover "Too Much" below.

October 27, 2016

Jabir - Vuelo Por Las Alturas De Alhambra, 1988

Hazy old-world meanderings from Spanish artist Jabir. The songs are simple, composed of repeating sand-swept synthesizer motifs and improvised violin, ney (flute), bendir (frame drum), and acoustic guitar. An intimate record from the rich hotbed of synth-based music that arose out of Spain in the 80s. All the instrumentation and tunings were inspired by Al-Andalus's Arabic culture. Released by the label named after the infamous industrial band Esplendor Geométrico (who incidentally went on their first US tour last year).

October 24, 2016

Scott Walker - Scott 4, 1969

Very deep love for this record, and a very big crush on Scott Walker (no, not that Scott Walker). Walker’s career has been wholly singular, and it’s impossible to accurately describe him, his work, or the thematic ties between such seemingly disparate records--the only way to make sense of it is to listen to it. Walker started out in an LA-based pop trio called the Walker Brothers, though confusingly Scott Walker was born Noel Scott Engel, another member of the group was named John Maus (no, not that John Maus), and all three used Walker as their stage names—though for Scott, it bore out over a long and strange career. The group attained enough chart success in the UK that they were briefly considered a sort of inverse Beatles export, with screaming mobs of fans and a Tiger Beat cover to prove it.

As their brief window of fame closed, Scott Walker had embarked on a series of solo records, all called Scott, and all vessels for dark, heavily orchestrated and meticulously arranged pop. Though the music felt traditional and baroque enough to be almost regressive—this was the 60s, after all—the subject matter of the songs was dark and heavily referential. Walker wrote about Joseph Stalin, venereal disease, poverty, addiction, child abuse, and Bergman movies, and he sung the songs in a theatrical, almost Sinatra-esque baritone that belied their subject matter. The joke was always on us: Walker was able to pass off drippingly sentimental delivery as sincerity while barely masking his biting cynicism. His music appealed to the elderly, to the suburban, to those who wanted to cling to tradition as the world and its sounds were being lit on fire. Walker was the Carpenters’ evil twin, with a similarly surgical approach to arrangement and production, and the Bacharach pedigree to back it up. Bowie was a huge fan. I imagine that Van Dyke Parks, sharing a penchant for thematic exploitation of traditional orchestration, was also a fan. Leonard Cohen too.

But for Walker, the real god was Jacques Brel, Belgian master of theatrical showmanship and literary lyricism, and arbiter of chanson as the world knew it. Brel paved the way for Walker’s Trojan horse smuggling of a tortured psyche under a palatable, market-friendly facade. Walker covered Brel nine times on the first three Scott records, with 4 serving as his first entirely self-written release, and it was arguably the best and strangest of his 60s releases. Despite the weight of Walker's persona bearing down on it, 4 attains glimpses of very direct beauty—the weightless "Boy Child" comes to mind—and it readily winks at Morricone's spaghetti Americana. Yet when 4 failed to chart, unlike all his prior releases, Walker asked his label to delete it from their catalog, tried to swing more commercial, failed, and churned out a slew of half-hearted records just to get out of contract. He then all but disappeared for twenty years, reemerging in 1995 with the left-field Tilt as challenging and abstract proof that he had finally allowed his inner demons to break from the confines of polite genre. 2006's even more mutinous The Drift was my introductions to Walker when I was 16—it was the most explicitly avant-garde record I had ever heard—so I can’t listen to Scott 4 without hearing the early inklings of sonic assault, and I love it.

October 21, 2016

Jacques Dudon - Lumiéres Audibles, 1995

"In his 'photosonic' process, Dudon shines light through a series of semi-transparent, rotating discs that slow and modify the light waves’ frequencies; the resulting waveforms are picked up by photoelectric (solar-power) cells connected to standard analog amplifiers."
- Kala Pierson, review in 'The New Music Connoisseur'

"I discovered these very particular waveforms from the beginning of my disk experimentations. Their sonorities, both complex and transparent, are among the oddest, reminding those of inharmonic tones or hisses. Their audition is often accompanied by very powerful psychic effects, the ear recognizing precise textures, paradoxically without being able to give them any determined fundamental pitches. This comes from the fact that graphically, and by analogy with the fractal images, these waves are generated by laws of geometrical development, putting in action the same organizing principles whatever the scale they are being observed at. The synthesis, on a disk, of a white noise, sets a very interesting mathematical problem, which can't be resolved by shapes thrown in a hazardous way, neither by other aleatory parameters, which would only produce a buzz, while a white noise is the undifferentiated mixture of all frequencies. Fractal waveforms are up to this date what I found the most successful for a white noise imitation. In this CD are explored three of these fractal waveforms, with their related intonations: the "Clar" fractal waveform, and its first developments, in "Hexagrammes" (track 8); the "Phi" fractal waveform, starting point of "Fleurs de lumière" (tracks 1-2-3); and the "Mohajira" fractal waveform, at the basis of "Sumer" (tracks 4-5-6-7)."
- Fractal waveforms (excerpt from the "Lumières audibles" booklet)

October 19, 2016

Osamu Shoji - Night Flight, 1979

Album artwork says it all. Exotica-tinged, phaser-heavy Japanese library music, with a whole lot of new age-inspired arpeggiation and sci-fi synth pads. All credits go to the very prolific Shoji, with a note that the Synthesizer "Space-Sizer 360" was invented and supplied by Noriyasu Fukuda. I can't find anything about the synth or its inventor anywhere. Shoji put out a cool 39 records between 1971 and 1987, including what appears to be an entire album of Bee Gees covers--does anyone have this? I need it. Shoji also makes an appearance on our OMG Japan mix. For fans of Hiroshi SatoTomita, Joël Fajerman.

October 17, 2016

Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster & Panaiotis - Deep Listening, 1989

Iconic improvisational collaboration by a trio also known as the Deep Listening Band--a play on words, as this album was recorded 14 feet underground in the disused Dan Harpole Cistern in Port Townsend, Washington. The cistern, originally built to hold water for fire-fighting, was drained in the 50s, leaving a space more than 200 feet in diameter with a reverberation time of 45 seconds. The trio brought a trombone, didgeridoo, accordion, garden hose, pipe, conch shell, and their voices, and allowed their sounds to stretch out slowly, like sonar, as if nodding to the chamber's original two million gallon contents. The resulting sounds lose touch with their origins, becoming barely recognizable, what the shifting of tectonic plates or the millenia-long carving of water channels might sound like if they were rendered into music and hit with some heavy reverb. That otherworldly (or perhaps subworldly) quality brings to mind artists for whom space is integral to the sound--David HykesYasuaki Shimizu, Paul Horn (reminder to self to post Paul Horn), and yet Deep Listening is spacious enough to expand into something cosmic. 

Thanks to John Schaefer's New Sounds, which brought me to Stuart Dempster's (also excellent) In The Great Abbey of Clement VI a few years ago, and is also indirectly what brought me to the work of Pauline Oliveros, who's become a personal hero.

October 13, 2016

The Blue Nile - Hats, 1989

To celebrate Listen To This’s 200 album anniversary, I wanted to share a record that feels too big to share on any other day. I mean “big” both in the canonical sense and in terms of its size and weight. The Blue Nile’s Hats is, for many, an all-time favorite and a regular aesthetic reference point, and yet for others it often flies under the radar. I was only introduced to The Blue Nile a few years ago when my housemate BK played “Tinseltown in the Rain” for me in passing one morning when we were taking turns playing YouTube tracks. Had that not happened, it feels very probable that I might still never have heard Hats. I never see it in definitive best album lists, Discogs recommendations, or YouTube playlist crawls, and yet so many music lovers talk about it with the kind of reverence reserved for the most formative, awe-inspiring records. It seems that in spite of an embrace of a new new sincerity and an endless fascination with synthy hi-fi 80’s textures, there’s still a lingering uncoolness about The Blue Nile—or maybe it never made it across the pond in the way it should have. (Incidentally, Hats will be turning 27 years old on Sunday.)

This record has historically been hard to talk about. There aren’t many immediate features to hone in on. The songs are slow and they build slowly, picking up just to a trot on the the album’s centerpiece, “Headlights on the Parade,” which might be one of the best songs ever recorded. Hats evades much traditional verse chorus structuring, instead moving in long, linear arcs. On first listen, you could call it austere, or even minimalist—you could say that there’s not much going on. Slick synth pulses, a drum machine, singing, a bit of guitar. But after a few repeats or a pass in headphones (please, please do), it opens up generously, saturated with silver and blue, dazzlingly hi-fi. The devastation is in the details: when the music does less, you can hear more. It’s as sophisticated as sophisti-pop gets. A prim drumbeat is actually a turn signal indicator click, a snare starts to sound like a pipe clang in a parking garage, a horn gets submerged in water mid-quaver, an isolated synth tone acts like a ripple. 

This is what I think of when I think of “cinematic music,” with slews of critics pointing out its painterly qualities, how evocative, falling somewhere between film noir and a graphic novel or even the nighttime bird’s eye of anime. Both Hats and its predecessor, A Walk Across the Rooftops, are sketches of a darkened city with streaks of neon reflected in wet pavement, anonymous buildings, headlight beams leaking through your bedroom window. The residues of people more than the people themselves. Though the record seems to be about a fantasy-noir version of Glasgow—and this is explicitly referenced in the lyrics—it digs at a very specific but ubiquitous breed of late-night melancholy that someone who’s never seen a Cassavetes movie might spend their whole life believing to be unique to them. Songwriter Paul Buchanan wasn’t shy about that intention, referring to their work as dealing with “that four a.m. feeling.” In a much later interview, in which an aged Buchanan walks around Glasgow pointing out landmarks from the making of The Blue Nile’s first two records (including landmarks that no longer exist), he added that “what was so interesting to us was the universal nature of cities, that much of what you would see, intersections or so on, were the same…because Glasgow obviously is not the same scale as New York, but if you just shrunk it down to a corner, it could be anywhere.” Similarly, these feelings could be anyone's, anywhere.

The band famously insisted that all their songs were love songs. Yet for Buchanan, this kind of love is never a straightforward A to B thing—he sings with a tired optimism, knowing full well that he pre-emotively sabotages himself. His love falters, doubtful even as it springs into existence, predestined for failure but still happy to fling itself off a cliff again and again. It’s a lot of questions with muddy answers: “Who do you love?/Who do you really love?/Who are you holding on to?” and “Where is the love?/Where’s the love that shines?” are genuine uncertainties rather than rhetorical devices. I think of halting declarations on A Walk Across The Rooftops (which I keep referencing because it's such an explicit prequel to Hats): “Do I love you?/Yes I love you!/But it’s easy come, and it’s easy go” and the mantric, unbending “I am in love, I am in love with you,” which aims to convince the speaker just as much as the recipient.

And yet for the listener, the melancholy of Hats doesn’t need to be explicitly lovelorn—this could easily soundtrack the life of somebody who travels too much for business and spends a lot of time in bad hotel rooms. Had I had this my freshman year of college when I completely alienated myself with the excuses of terrible social skills and anxiety, I would have skulked around campus listening to this instead of the Jesus and Mary Chain. It's prime raincoat music, with the silvery chic of Bryan Ferry at his best, the lyrical mythology of Prefab Sprout, the synthetic string sentimentality of OMD, and a razor-sharp specificity all its own. Johnny Black of Q rightly said that “if Hats has a flaw, it’s only that it’s too perfect, too considered.” The band’s engineer, Calum Malcolm, similarly recalled that “they were always particularly sensitive to not doing the wrong thing and making sure it had absolutely the right emotional impact: there were times when I’m sure everyone else felt something was done and then someone would throw a spanner in the works over some little thing.” It’s surgically precise music made by people who, owing to their lack of musical background, invented a language all their own, and the language is still perfect to this day. By the end of “Saturday Night,” the last of seven expansive and heartbreaking tracks, you want to cry, both because of the record and because the record is over. Thankfully Hats lends itself particularly well to repeat listenings.

From “Tinseltown in the Rain”:

One day this love will all blow over
Time for leaving the parade
Is there a place in this city
A place to always feel this way?

October 11, 2016

Beverly Glenn-Copeland - Keyboard Fantasies, 1986

Pastoral, intimate meditations in the gentlest tones from a Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer. Vocals are sparse, but Glenn-Copeland's deep gospel-opera timbre is still what keeps me coming back. Keyboard Fantasies was lovingly recorded in Glenn-Copeland's tiny home town of Huntsville, Ontario, where he lives to this day. Please consider purchasing this album directly from the artist.

October 6, 2016

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 5

Listen to my fifth episode of Getting Warmer for NTS Radio below. I wanted it to feel like an ideal limousine fantasy soundtrack. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version of it here. Image by whtebkgrnd. Enjoy!

1. Cantoma - Maja
2. Interior - Hot Beach
3. Paul Hardcastle - Return of the Rainman
4. Tabo's Project - Feel
5. Ice Choir - Unprepared
6. Regrets - L'avion
7. Colin Blunstone - Touch
8. Joan Bibiloni - Sa Fosca
9. Billy Mackenzie - In Windows All
10. CFCF - Fleurs Laisses Dans Un Taxi
11. Software - Island Sunrise