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19 March 2010

Bongwater - 'Too Much Sleep' (Shimmy-Disc)

I'm not sure what's up with my bizarro version of Too Much Sleep, as it seems to have a different cover than anything I can find online, and is missing quite a few tracks from what Wikipedia/AllMusic reports. Which means I apparently miss a cover of 'Why Are We Sleeping?' but that's okay since the Slapp Happy tune 'The Drum' remains - probably my favorite of any Bongwater (or even Shockabilly) cover version. As if there was any doubt that these guys were into Blegvad! But they wear it well, cluttering up the lovely chord changes with sampled voices that are totally eerier instead of just superflous. But that's the name of the game with Bongwater. Too Much Sleep is a messy, goofy bundle of singsong flapping about, which has a lot of that Kramer reverb sound and enough double-tracked male-female vocals to totally drive a stake through the corpse of Sonny and Cher. There's a few tunes that have a proto-Chicks on Speed Eurotrash sound, like 'Talent is a Vampire', where Kramer seems to have calculated the right way to throw electric guitar shards in a way that conjures monster truck rallies, MA opening shows, and melting eyeliner. The spacey production occasionally works psychedelic wonders, particularly when keyboard/organ notes swell up and meander around the guitar-based rhythms. Dave Rick, who played in King Missile, shreds all over this record and I wonder if people would revere him the same way they do Alan Licht if he hadn't played in such goofy projects. 'Mr. & Mrs. Hell' is like an American reboot of the Mekons' 'Trouble Down South', and the electronic resonance has it's complement in side 2's 'Khomeni Died Tonight', a bit of Ralphy weirdness if I've ever heard it. 'One so Black', a Dogbowl-penned composition, has a lovely vocal arc and more of Rick's enlightening fretboard scratching. It all ends with the creepy, yet strangely affecting 'No Trespassing'. Overall I think this is Bongwater's most solid album though I can't say I've heard any of the others in recent years. The logo's designed by Gary Panter, who 20 years later has enjoyed a hipster resurgence though those kids probably wouldn't touch a Bongwater record with a 20 foot pole.

5 March 2010

Boards of Canada - 'Peel Session TX 21/07/1998' (Warp)

I'm going to save all of my hyperbole for when we get to Music Has the Right to Children; this Peel sessions EP is more of a teaser, presenting three songs from that album in slightly alternate versions. One side consists of 'Happy Cycling', the closing track on the album, which sets the eerie Dr. Who vibe that this whole EP carries. Of course, that classic BoC sound is here - obsessively calculated timbres, decaying atmospheres, and futurist nostalgia. 'Aquarius (' suggests spelunking, or at least exploring underground tunnels of some sort. There's something metallic around the edges and the vocal samples, of laughing children and random words, feel like a cheap IDM effect. I'm sure this will have the hardcore fans up in arms as 'Aquarius' is one of the more loved tunes, but the winner for me is 'Olson (version 3)' with it's warm keyboard shoulder shrugs and scratchy impulses. That all-too-familiar Boards of Canada beat doesn't crash in, leaving you wanting more. It's more of a feeling or a sketch than a full piece, but these guys are nothing if not impressionists, right?

3 March 2010

Hamiet Bluiett - 'Birthright' (India Navigation)

This is "a solo blues concert" and that's always a bold move; solo saxophone records are not an everyday thing and presenting yourself as this type of soloist in concert is often demanding. Hamiet presents here what I assume is an unedited concert, with extensive liner notes in a cursive font that is too hard to read. Here's what I like about this record: it's diverse, and the recording is such that you really get the live feel. You can hear the room, and you can hear him moving around different parts of the stage. Bluiett is definitely rooted in melodic and blues-based forms, but there are some excursions into circular breathing and heavy affectation that usually accentuate the intent of the piece. 'Doll Baby aka Song Service', the 10 minute opener, is a tribute to his grandmother; it introduces the theme of family and history that carries through the album. The piece moves through a few different movements - slow, placid tones at first, and then a more sinewy speedrush through the higher registers of his instrument. Side two's counterpoint is the 'My Father's House' 3-part suite, which is fast, free, and chunky. This and the subsquent 'In Tribute to Harry Carney' are both described as "free-form telepathic", which me question how a solo performance can involve telepathy. Unless he means his instrument has a mind of its own. I love the way baritone saxophones sound; if I played saxophone, it would be my choice, except I think it's too heavy. Heavy as in carrying it, I mean; the sound of the instrument can certainly carry some gravity too, but his pieces avoid being overbearing. The conceptual, personal nature of Birthright is a nice complement to Endangered Species' more mind-based strategies. Bluiett got his start playing in the Mingus band -- well, actualy he got his start in a St. Louis grade school under George Hudson,who gets his own ballad at the end of side one -- but you can feel the eternal Mingus swing underneath some of the more dazzling runs. There isn't really any point where I am overdazzled though - I'd never point to this as an example of technical mastery, though he is more than competent - for me this is a record that showcases the range of his voice amplified by the range of his heart. There are some squeaks and squawks, but they don't take away from the color of his tune.

2 March 2010

Hamiet Bluiett - 'Endangered Species' (India Navigation)

Hamiet Bluiett is a pretty excellent baritone saxophonist, but we'll really hear his 'extended technique' on our next entry. This is to showcase his compositional skills, and his ability to lead a band. Now I almost wrote "smokin' hot band" because I'm prone to jazzbo cliches but that's actually a very terrible descriptor for this record - even given my usual gutter standards for music journalism. This isn't really one for fire, and it's oblique enough to avoid mourning bluesy clichés as well. The opening track is called 'Between the Rain Drops' so that should give you some idea; it lets space build, with balafon (you know, that frame thing Hamid Drake plays) accentuating the drumset but not overdoing it. Olu Dara's on trumpet here and I might even say he steals the show, at least on side one. Though there are fallbacks into traditional solos, etc., we do have a lot of thoughtful, Braxtonesque harmonies and the tendency to gaze into the structural elements of jazz composition instead of the emotional once. But then you flip it over, and get 'The Other Side of the World' and 'Ayana Nneke' which stick very closely to folk forms, and they do it nicely. I remembered it's this side that particularly struck home with me when I first heard this, because this was at a time when I was turning away from the whole super aggro loft-style ESP blowout and looking for something lyrical in avant-garde jazz. New York in the late 70's is probably, if anything, an understudied field. I dig baritone sax as well because it just sounds so different, in terms of its hue/palette, than what we're used to. This is a great one for when the classics just aren't doing it; a change-up, but one with a pretty killer vision.