Music Review

Lonely Space Boy

klaus_nomi_coverKlaus Nomi: Za Bakdaz (Heliocentric)

The joy of popular culture is its ability to occasionally manifest something unique, unsettling, and strange. The Gothic fearsomeness that is Diamanda Galas. The mannered madness that was Leigh Bowery. Candy Darling ghosting through Madonna. These refugees head for the metropolis, fleeing staid suburbia and its stifling confinement. Not mere entertainers, they had an ability to unsettle. Read more »

A Slow Decline to Lasting Silence

second_chapterDanny Kirwan: Second Chapter (Warner, UK)

When Danny Kirwan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, he was absent from the proceedings in New York. In terms of his contribution to popular music, this is a near-perfect act of symbolism. He was living a mundane routine of homelessness, a regular at a hostel for alcoholics in Soho (London), his semi-permanent address since his life had taken a downwards turn at the end of the Seventies.

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Columbia's LPs Rock, 1967-87

columbia_eye_logoHere's Part Two of my celebration of the 60th anniversary of the LP, which has turned into an exploration of one the greatest labels of all time. (Click here for Part One.)

1967 Clive Davis, who'd been working his way up the corporate ladder, became President of Columbia, and the label's attitude towards rock changed immediately. Read more »

In Praise of the New Sobriety

charlatans_cross_my_pathThe Charlatans: You Cross My Path (Cooking Vinyl)

There is a commonly held and much venerated myth in rock that creativity is enhanced by hedonism. Sometimes it is, but an exact dictum this isn't, although an exacting one it most certainly can be. Was Janis Joplin any better a star for being a druggy drunk? Was Jim Morrison? The doors of perception can be slammed shut shockingly early, or may incarcerate revelers in Sid Barrett-like suspension. Kurt Cobain blew his mind out when it was upsetting him, and Richey Manic took himself to the bridge, or so it seems. Read more »

Columbia Introduced LP Sixty Years Ago

LP_logoOn June 21, 1948 Columbia held a press conference to announce the introduction of their long-playing (LP) 33-1/3 RPM record. There had been earlier attempts to take this step, but finally the time was right (not being in the middle of The Depression helped). A week later, on June 28, Columbia released its first LP. Within a few years, the combination of the LP and the 7" 45 RPM record (introduced by RCA to compete with Columbia's new format) made the 78 RPM record obsolete and changed the way artists thought about presenting their work to the public.

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Faking It Like Porn

viva_coldplayColdplay: Viva La Vida (Parlophone)

It seems that all men have their price, and Coldplay have obviously found Brian Eno's. Crossing his palm with silver, and much of it, can be the only excuse for his lamentable excursion into the pretentious world of Christopher and his dull friends. Tastefully done, with Eno using many of his trademark touches to elevate the mundane nature of the proceedings, it remains a divine exercise in turd gilding from a man who obviously knows better. Read more »

Captain Beefheart Album Survey, Pt. 3: Low Yo Yo Stuff

beefheart3Having complained that his first few albums hadn't been hits because producers had interfered, corrupting his pure musical vision, Beefheart then wielded nearly complete control over Trout Mask Replica and Lick My Decals Off Baby. But despite critical praise, these had also not achieved the big sales he wanted (they did reach 21 and 20 on the album chart). He then took his finely honed musical process and equally honed Magic Band and journeyed back from the heart of weirdness into regions closer (if only slightly) to the musical mainstream with two albums released in 1972 (and now available together on one CD). Read more »

William Kapell Recordings Resurface After 55 Years

kapellWilliam Kapell
reDiscovered: The Australian Broadcasts
(RCA Red Seal/Sony BMG Masterworks)

William Kapell (1922-1953) died in a plane crash at the age of 31, in the midst of the twelfth year of his recording career. He was one of the few great American-born and -educated pianists of that era, and had already firmly established himself as a star by the end of the 1940s. Read more »

Jazz Vocals with Philippine Flavor

clamorCharmaine Clamor: Flippin’ Out (FreeHam)

This Filipina jazz singer lived in the Philippines until age 16, when her family moved to the U.S. Long based in Los Angeles, she has progressed from karaoke hostess to adored torch singer, and now has made her second album.

Clamor starts it off with a sociopolitical rewrite of “My Funny Valentine” that turns it into “My Funny Brown Pinay,” an exhortation to the brown-skinned women of her native country to not be ashamed of their color. Read more »

Captain Beefheart Album Survey, Pt. 2: Weird Scenes

beefheart_troutTrout Mask Replica (Bizarre/Straight)
Beefheart's weird genius was finally unleashed to the fullest in 1969. It came partly thanks to a switch to his pal Frank Zappa's label but mostly, it would seem, because Beefheart found a new way to make his music. On Strictly Personal, intricate structures of intermeshing motifs had alternated with hippie-jam slackness. Now he took complete control and made the music largely consist of composed modules. Beefheart later explained to Lester Bangs that his compositional process involved recording demos of his pieces himself, "usually on a piano or a Moog synthesizer. Then I can shape it to be exactly the way I want it, after I get it down there. It's almost exactly like sculpture." Read more »

An Intensity of Exile

american_gothicDavid Ackles: American Gothic (Elektra)

"Absence lessens moderate passions and intensifies great ones, as the wind blows out the candle but fans up a fire." Le Rochefoucauld (1630-1680) expressed a subtle sentiment that uncannily enfolds the strange scale and scope of the third album David Ackles delivered to Elektra Records in 1972. That a dusty aphorism by a dissolute French nobleman should be evoked to suggest the essence of a record so essentially laced with Norman Rockwell interludes, but of a darkness that master of idealism never allowed to enter his sententious world, might seem needlessly perverse. Read more »

Heavy Texture and Tone

kloot_cdI Am Kloot: Play Moolah Rouge (Phantom)

Strange fruit is I Am Kloot. A heady mixture of hurt and defiance, self-loathing and self-belief, tenderness, compassion and snarling rage, this maverick combo has just released Play Moolah Rouge, a tour-only, ten-song collection, as various as the previously listed traits.

Recorded over three days of intense sessions, it shows what can be done with quality songs, accomplished musicianship, and a distinct absence of prissiness. Read more »

Captain Beefheart Album Survey, Pt. 1: Beginnings

beefheartAs promised in my review of the Knitting Factory's tribute to Captain Beefheart, I'm going to take a walk through the many high points of the Beefheart discography. Altogether, this will add up to a Beefheart Top Ten, but since it'll be more in-depth than I usually go in such pieces, we're serializing it. First up, a look at his 1967-68 output, encompassing his first three LPs.

Safe As Milk (Kama Sutra/Buddah)
There's earlier material eventually collected as an EP titled The Legendary A&M Sessions, which includes a legendary "Diddy Wha Diddy," but it's safe to start the Beefheart story with Safe As Milk, reportedly a favorite album of John Lennon's. Read more »

A Small Portrait of Absence

shelagh_mcdonaldShelagh McDonald: Let No Man Steal Your Time (Castle)

The debut album by young Scottish singer songwriter Amy MacDonald is housed in a retro-style sleeve that suggests it has been scuffed and dented by years of careless sifting and neglect. She is garnering enthusiastic reviews, has the grit of the late Kirsty MacColl, and seems assured of long and major success. Read more »

A Garage Scrapbook

paul_martinPaul Martin: Paul Martin (Distortions)

If finding brings joy, then seeking permits that beguiling whisper of reward. Paul Martin's extremely select excursions into the vinyl wasteland are alluring items of suitable cachet, Two singles in '66 and '67, then not a whisper till 1996 when Distortions issued an album, limited to 1000 units, compiling these and fifteen other lost songs culled from acetates and four track demos. It proved to be an Aladdin's Cave of well-crafted garage pop; the ripples it created quickly vanished, and the record is now sadly deleted. Read more »

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