Dead Can Dance – S/T LP (1984)

In 1989 while perusing through my older brother’s box of cassettes I came across this TDK SA-90 that had two albums by some group called Dead Can Dance. Pre-internet, so I had no clue who this was. Reading the song titles I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Chant of the Paladin”. “Host of Seraphim”. “The Arcane”. Since I have absolutely no clue who this, I naively ask him if it’s his band. We all played Dungeons & Dragons and those sounded like serious D&D-inspired titles so it wasn’t that huge of a stretch, right? He says listen to it, so I did. And I knew for certain this was DEFINITELY not his band. Nor any whose like I’d ever heard before. The Serpents Egg was on the B-side and today’s subject, the self-titled debut album, was on the A-side.

For one album and one EP Dead Can Dance were a straight-up goth band, replete with chorused-out reverby guitars, chorus bass, big drums, and an overall dark quality to the music. Of course, we’re not talking “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” goth. But gothic as in sepulchral, dark as a 16th century church facade at twilight. This music sounded best at night. The album hinges on the interplay between the two principals, Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry, two Australian expatriates in London. Brendan was a veteran of the Australian punk and post-punk scene; Lisa was a burgeoning ethnomusicologist. The two mixed post-punk chimey guitars and big drums, the medieval sound of the yangqin (a Chinese dulcimer), Brendan’s gloomy baritone, Lisa’s glossolalia and that very goth preoccupation with darkness. It is only natural that British post-punk label 4AD released all of DCD’s 1984-1996 output, and DCD had a bit in common with the post-punk chimey guitars and made-up vocal sounds of labelmates and contemporaries Cocteau Twins.

What set DCD’s first release off from other so-called “goth” albums at the time was that world music bent that could be heard from Lisa’s influence. An influence that the band would pursue headlong after this first album, leaving the trappings of the rock band largely behind in favor of African percussion, ancient European string instruments, and Gregorian chant. I love those albums too, but I really dig on their first album as to me it is easily one of the best Five Goth Rock Albums of all time (included in such company as Joy Division, The Cure, Bauhaus, and Modern English).

I make this post the same week that I will see Dead Can Dance for the first time ever, as they have reformed and are touring on the backs of a brand new album. I have not heard the new album yet, but I understand that it is in the same vein as work from the latter period of the band. I would so dearly love to hear the band tear through one of these early songs (I won’t be surprised if they play “Frontier”) but alas, I know the goth rock band period of the band was over and done with rather quickly. But this is still my favorite Dead Can Dance LP, and I share it in celebration this week.

SOURCE: A recent 180-gram U.K. pressing of the LP -> Sony PS-T22 turntable with the V series cartridge -> Technics SA-EX310 stereo receiver -> Lexicon Lambda USB i/o -> Adobe Audition. No EQ, no cleaning up, no click removal, etc.


Filed under Goth

The Swing – Meaningless

From 1986 to 1991 I lived in Nashville, and during that time I learned a great deal about “college music” as an avid listener to college radio (the dearly departed WRVU out of Vanderbilt University) and as a budding musician, playing shows around town at places like Pan’s Starship Trooper, The Cannery and Elliston Place.  In February 1991, right after turning 16, I was forced to move back to my hometown of Owensboro, KY.  It was a bit of a culture shock.  Owensboro in 1991 had no all ages clubs and nothing the likes of what I was accustomed to.  Owensboro had one show a year, a multi-band Earth Day show that was like a miniature Lollapalooza with bands and booths from Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund and Planned Parenthood and the like.  And all the local bands would come out, but the rest of the year bands just practiced, and people saw bands at those bands’ practice rooms.  If we wanted to see live music that wasn’t cover bands at the bars, we had to drive two hours to Nashville, an hour to Bowling Green or 40 minutes across the river to Evansville, IN.

Evansville had a little bit of a scene back then, what with Inverted Nipples, The Gerunds and The Outhouse Spiders.  A little bit of metal, a little bit of punk rock, a little bit of college geek rock, and then there was The Swing.  A band of four individuals who looked an awful lot like goths.  Dyed black hair, black lipstick, black clothes, etc.  Musically, well, they weren’t really gothic exactly, but it’s not that inaccurate of a descriptor.  Their drummer, Mark Emge, was rumored to have been a drum corps guy, and I’d believe it.  Mark played with a technical virtuosity and sheer inventiveness that had more than a taste of Budgie’s work with Siouxsie & The Banshees and Boris Williams’ playing with The Cure.  Lots of odd patterns incorporating his bevy of drums and effect cymbals.  Guitarist Tommy Weder laid down a solid chorused-out wash of Simon Guthrie guitar that was never showy, sometimes finger picked, sometimes downstroke heaven and always immersed in modulation effects.  Bassist/keyboardist Marc Chevalier played some serious Simon Gallup bass and his basslines carried the melody, in effect switching places with Tommy, letting Tommy carry the basis of the song while Marc ran all the filigree.  The synth work was always more in the manner of light touch here and there, and never really took over the music.  And vocalist Christina Wiednagel, who was probably the band’s weakest link.  She couldn’t sing very well live, and was usually buried in the mix.  All together, The Swing sounded to my 1991 ears a lot like The Cure and Siouxsie & The Banshees.

To my 2012 ears, listening back to Meaningless, the band’s self-released cassette, it was a bit more than that.  They were kind of like a live band version of Cocteau Twins with Simon Gallup and Budgie along for the ride, and with more than a hint of late ’80s dream pop bands like Lush.  They were definitely an English band stuck in the middle of Indiana.  This cassette was recorded at home by Marc, and features nine fairly long songs, the cassette weighing in at nearly an hour.  The instrumentation is definitely the strength on this recording, and Wiednagel’s vocals are kinda shaky throughout.  Her style is reminiscent of Elizabeth Fraser so the lyrics are near incoherent and there’s no pop structure in sight.  Lots of interesting moods and twists and turns, with the bass lines and the Steve Jansen-esque drumming carrying the hooks of the songs.  “Lack Thereof” has that definite combination of Cocteau Twins guitar with The Cure bass and drums.  “Conversation With a Storm” begins the second side of the tape with a rock song that definitely could have been on Tinderbox.  “Teardrop Dreams of Ms. D. Shore” is my favorite song on the cassette, with delicate arpeggiated guitar and off-kilter drumming.  “Just Be” rocks out and lets Mark show off some of his Terry Bozzio-esque rhythmic cluster fills.  And the last song on the album, the title track, is the most produced of the set.  “Meaningless” is mostly guitar noise, menacing synthesizer pads and a circular tom-tom beat played with brushes.  It’s darker than anything else on the album.  The other eight songs are mostly melancholic, the last song though is real dark.

The Swing broke up some time in 1992.  Tommy went on to play in Stop The Car.  Marc opened a club, DJ’ed raves and I nearly started a band with him (the drive to Evansville for practices turned out to be a non-starter so Marc and I never played together).  He wound up in Nashville and has become a touring soundman, having worked some for Ben Folds.  As for the other two, who knows.  What I do know is that I have listened to this cassette (now digitized) probably once a month for 20 years.  And even though it has its weaknesses, what’s charming about it has never ceased to dazzle me.  So rather than share with you some weird vinyl record I found, I figured I’d share this cassette with you of a band that was pretty important to me.  There were probably hundreds of bands like them around this country in the late ’80s and early ’90s that no one outside of their home scene ever heard of.  This band deserves to be heard, then and now.  Here’s your chance.

SOURCE: The original 1991 cassette release -> Tascam Portastudio 484 MKII cassette recorder -> Lexicon Lambda USB i/o -> Adobe Audition. No EQ, no cleaning up, no click removal, etc.


Filed under Dreampop, Goth

Happy Metal Day! Ozzy On Vinyl

Today is 11/11/11.  Veterans Day to most people (and to me too), but also this day has been designated Nigel Tufnel Day.  You see, because this day goes to eleven?  Geddit?

Well, I’ve been listening to metal music all my life.  Quite literally.  My earliest childhood memories involve my nascent love for KISS.  The Christmas of 1979 I got a Gene Simmons doll AND the Gene Simmons solo album under the tree.  The music made me so berserk that I laid waste with badminton racket guitar to the bedroom I shared with my older brother.  This got both of our KISS records taken away from us permanently.  But by then it really was too late.  My brother (being 6 years older than me) hit puberty and it was all about METAL for him, so he listened to lots of stuff in our bedroom that made an indelible mark on me.  Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne, Rush, KISS, Night Ranger, Iron Maiden, etc.  But Ozzy…those first two Ozzy albums are probably the ones that loom largest in my metal legend.

The other night whilst watching a special on the 1980-1982 era Ozzy on VH1 Classics my wife casually destroyed the Ozzy myth for me when “Crazy Train” popped up.  “You know, that just sounds like pretty much all the other radio rock from that period, like Boston or something.”   Pheweeeeeeewwwwwwww goes the sound of the air out the balloon.  Because she’s right.  “Crazy Train” is classic rock.  But there’s so much more to those first two albums that Ozzy made with Randy Rhoads, Lee Kerslake and Bob Daisley, especially once you get away from the songs that have been somewhat overplayed and get to the meat of those records.

By 1981 hard rock had gone underground.  We’d been through punk and new wave and were just getting the first taste of MTV, the New Romantics and synth pop.  The next wave of metal was a tape traders’ circuit.  Ozzy was considered a has-been, having been kicked to the curb from Black Sabbath, pretty much the penultimate heavy metal band, and replaced by former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio, then proceeding to reinvent themselves for the metal ’80s.  If you’ve watched The Osbournes you pretty much know the story of how Ozzy’s former Don Arden tried to drop Ozzy, only for his strident daughter Sharon to take over Ozzy’s contract.  Ozzy hooked up with former Quiet Riot guitarist Randy Rhoads and the rest is pretty much history.  The template for modern hard rock was set with these two albums.

You cannot take them separately.  Both albums were released in America in 1981 and feature the same lineup of players.  The songs were a group collaborative effort, and what songs these were!  Blizzard of Ozz fired the first shot, introducing the world to a more animate, less doom-laden Ozzy sound and to the singular guitar work of Randy Rhoads.  These albums set the cast for what the 1980’s version of the fret-burning guitarsmith would sound like, as much so as Eddie Van Halen.  The classical guitar flourishes, the ungodly finger speed, the one-handed hammer-on runs, the pinched harmonics, etc.  It was all right there from the beginning.  I look at Blizzard as more of a pop record.  It has “Crazy Train”, which is pretty much the biggest hit Ozzy has had, plus the romantic ballad “Goodbye To Romance”.  I don’t know if I’ve just heard “Crazy Train” too many times, but I just really can’t handle that song anymore.  And it is for that reason that I might possibly not rate Blizzard as highly as I should, or it could be that the pure excellence of Diary of a Madman overshadows it for me.  Because once I’m passed that song, I love this album.  “Dee”, the beautiful neo-classical solo piece for Randy; the rocking and misunderstood “Suicide Solution” and “Mr. Crowley”; the somewhat gothic one-two punch of “Revelation/Mother Earth”; and the good times rocking on both “No Bone Movies” and “Steal Away (The Night)”.  But man, when I reach for one of these it almost always for Diary of a Madman.

We talk so much about the impact of Randy Rhoads, but this album really feels more like a band thing than Blizzard, and you get it from the very first blast of drums in the intro to “Over the Mountain”.  That song still just floors me.  It has much of the cosmic hooey in the lyrics that I love so much from Ronnie James Dio, but perhaps not so fantastical.  The guitar solo just slays and even has a little tongue-in-cheek quote of “Black Sabbath”.  This was back when guitar solos were orchestrated, melodic and every bit as important to the song as the chorus.  “Flying High Again” is perhaps not the hit that “Crazy Train” was, but I can handle this one better (though I usually skip it) because from there on out the record just steamrolls.  “You Can’t Kill Rock & Roll” is probably my second favorite Ozzy solo song of all time and is most certainly my favorite rock & roll song about rock & roll.  Talk about a rebel song, kinda wrapped into a ballad, but then it starts to rock, and Randy just burns all over the coda.  And then into “Believer” with one of the most bad-ass bass guitar intros of all time (usually attributed to journeyman Rudy Sarzo who toured this album with Ozzy but that one is all Bob Daisley).  Dark, gothic but in a neoclassical way, not unlike the latter ’70s Black Sabbath albums (which I find are unfortunately maligned by most fans but I farking LOVE Never Say Die).  “Little Dolls” is a great lighter hearted rock song with another awesome Lee Kerslake drum intro.  Listening to that one on headphones today I noticed that Kerslake double tracks that drum intro.  No wonder it sounds so mighty!  “Tonight” is the “Goodbye To Romance” of this album, but I don’t think it as potent, but the guitar solo smokes.  “S.A.T.O.” right after just burns a blue shuffle with that gothic darkness and operatic largess that leads you up to the title track, which is pretty much the point of having this album.  It is easily the best song Ozzy has ever recorded, and is perhaps one of the top 10 Metal Songs of All Time.

Instead of having the classical guitar thing kinda be out on its own like “Dee” or the occasional mind-boggling Bach-esque solo run, “Diary of a Madman” gets started with a rubato classical guitar intro that turns into a waltzing 6/8 dark, droning riff that drops the 6th note at the end of each run and then the band kicks in on it, and this song turns into a mini-orchestral gothic prog metal masterpiece, complete with violins, orchestral bells, and a choir.  The bridge gives me goosebumps “a simple minded spirit/the mirror tells me lies/could I mistake myself for someone/who lives behind my eyes?”  Who knew Ozzy could really write lyrics.  I mean, most of Sabbath’s lyrics were written by bassist Geezer Butler (it has long been rumored that most of the lyrics for these two albums were written by Daisley rather than Ozzy).  Then it kicks into that last little 8-bar run where Randy reminds you why his genius has never been replicated and then it stomps into the last bit with the strings and the choir slamming it at you full bore until the song just cuts off.

Less than four months after the release of this album Randy Rhoads would die in a freak airplane accident, silencing an incredibly gifted musician and pretty much wounding Ozzy’s music to the core.  It wouldn’t destroy Ozz, his career would go on and he would make good albums.  I happen to like The Ultimate Sin quite a bit and bits and pieces of stuff from the Zakk Wylde era.  But no more would Ozzy make the sort of masterpieces that he did in 1981.

Which leads us to today’s curated selection, both Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman as captured from the original U.S. Jet Records vinyl pressings.  For nearly ten years vinyl was pretty much the only way to hear the albums as originally recorded.  In the mid ’80s both Kerslake and Daisley sued manager Sharon Osbourne for the songwriting royalties due to them, as all those 16 songs recorded on those two albums were written by the band, not just Ozzy.  To get back at them, Sharon had touring bassist Robert Trujillo (now in Metallica) and drummer Mike Bordin overdub over Kerslake and Daisley’s parts, supposedly at Ozzy’s behest.  Yeah.  Pretty much every fan pitched a fit and refused to buy those reissues.  A few months ago 30th anniversary editions of the albums were issued restoring the original masters.  For me though, these are the definitive versions of the albums.  So, Happy Nigel Tufnel Day!!

SOURCE: The original 1981 Jet Records pressings of both albums -> Sony PS-T22 turntable with the V series cartridge -> Technics SA-EX310 stereo receiver -> Lexicon Lambda USB i/o -> Adobe Audition. No EQ, no cleaning up, no click removal, etc.

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Filed under Old School Metal

Sir Mix-A-Lot – I Just Love My Beat

I love hip-hop.  I have been a fan of hip-hop since the first time I heard Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five in 1982.  I had moved into town after my parents divorced.  We lived in “the projects” of Owensboro, KY on Pennbrooke.  I heard lots of rap blaring from the other apartments around me.  I was fascinated with breakdancing, and even gave that a shot too (though rather poorly).  But the music stayed with me.  In 1986 my family moved to Nashville and I was excited that I found the soul radio station that played one or two hip-hop songs an hour on the radio!  I had never heard that before.  Eventually I discovered the New Life Records radio show on WRVU (R.I.P.), the college radio station out of Vanderbilt University.  All hip-hop for four hours every Saturday night.  The first place I heard Ice-T, N.W.A., Mark The 45 King, Eazy E, MC Shan, Public Enemy, Ghetto Boys, Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest and so many classic hip-hop singles.

One of the more curious jams that I liked quite a bit from that time period was called “Posse’s On Broadway” from Seattle rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot.  The track was dead simple: a steady electro drum machine beat, a vocal sample that sounded like it came from my Casio SK-1 (ie. REAL lo-fi), and I dug the weird lilt to Mix’s voice.  I eventually got a copy of Mix’s first album Swass and was treated to interesting rhymes mixed with metal from Puget Sound righteous headbangers Metal Church and the seriously weird country rapping of “Buttermilk Biscuits”.  Interesting stuff.  Eventually Mix became a household name with “Baby Got Back” but I knew Mix as one of the more original voices of old school party hip-hop.

Fast-forward to 1999 when I first moved to Seattle and found myself driving/walking the streets and getting all the references in “Posse’s On Broadway”.  The track big-ups Rainier Valley in a major way.  I also found myself seriously impressed that one of the part-time radio producers at the radio group I worked for ran with Mix-A-Lot and can be seen on the back of the Swass album cover.  Was nearly as cool as meeting Kris Novaselic!  But really, you can’t just credit Nirvana, Heart and grunge for introducing the Puget Sound to the national musical melange.  Sir Mix-A-Lot had hits a good three years before Nevermind blew up, and if I was hearing him in 1988 in Nashville I’d say others were too.  There’s a lot of blogofiling these days about the renaissance of Seattle hip-hop, what with Macklemore, Blue Scholars and Shabazz Palaces blowing up.  Mix laid the foundation for those dudes, and should command the respect of the hip-hop community (but doesn’t).

So fast forward even farther to yesternow…and this interesting 12″ single I unearthed at the local used record store.  I didn’t know it existed, but I knew immediately it had to be Mix’s first single, and I was right.  Half the 12″ single was recorded at home on Mix’s four-track cassette recorder, the other half in a nice studio.  It’s 1985 by now, and Seattle is pretty much the farthest you can get from NYC and still be in the lower 48…so it’s no surprise that the production quality is REALLY dated, even by 1985 standards.  By that time the hip-hop game was enthralled with the hard, spare drum machine beats and scratching from Run-DMC and LL Cool J.  Mix’s 12″ sounds like it was produced by Afrika Bambaataa in 1982.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing now, because the production features some dynamite synthesizer work and with nostalgia for all things 1980s and day glo, time is a little kinder to “I Just Love My Beat”.  But I bet it was a liability in 1985.  One cool thing about Mix is that his style of rapping was very much in place.  He messes with his voice a bit, pitching it down, but the trademark almost Southern drawl is already in place, and his rhymes are DEFINITELY a lot dirtier sex-wise than most stuff out at that time, a definite precursor to the Mix that hit it big commercially at the start of the 1990’s.  Even the pitched-up redneck hick-hop rapping is already representin’ on her too (“Square Dance Rap” even got its own release as a 12″ single the following year).  The lyrics are almost embarrassing, but it’s good party rap and the production is pretty interesting if you dig Mantronix or Arabian Prince.  And remember, Ice-T and Dr. Dre started out sucking on the Soulsonic teat too.

This 12″ is fairly rare, a time capsule of the sort of weird self-released regional hip-hop that was going down in the mid ’80s.  The kind of thing the MP3 blog was made to unearth and share.  So that’s exactly what I’m a do.  The 12″ single fetches northward of $15 or more and is unreleased on CD.  Try it out here before you commit on the Evilbayz.

SOURCE: The original 1985 Nastymix pressing of the 12″ single -> Sony PS-T22 turntable with the V series cartridge -> Technics SA-EX310 stereo receiver -> Lexicon Lambda USB i/o -> Adobe Audition. No EQ, no cleaning up, no click removal, etc.

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Filed under Old School Hip-Hop

Return To Forever feat. Chick Corea “Where Have I Known You Before”

From the outset of this music blog I have set out as a curator to remember interesting albums that someone else turned me onto, usually from another MP3 blog or from other sources.  I describe the blog as “the ideal A/V section of your public library, helping to chronicle unheard, rare, forgotten or challenging music and offer it up for research”.  It is the A/V section of the public library that somewhat inspires today’s post.

In 1990 I was a sophomore at Hume Fogg High School in Nashville, TN.  Hume Fogg is a magnet school, a school that attracts the best students from the entire metropolitan school district.  I have always tested well and I was able to fool their board into thinking I was an appropriate student.  I am a drummer from a family of drummers, but by 10th grade I had mostly played in orchestra and school band, with the occasional foray on my oldest brother’s drums.  I knew what to do with them when I sat behind them, but did not own my own.  Hume Fogg had as an arts elective a rock & roll band class called Pop Ensemble as well as string orchestra and band (no marching band as the school had no football program).  I so desperately wanted to be in Pop Ensemble but the school did not provide instruments, I had no drum set and another kid named Ian Plummer was already the drummer.  In 1990 I got my lucky break.  Ian broke his leg in a soccer match and was unable to play drums for six weeks.  I was called upon to play with the Pop Ensemble for the fall concert in Ian’s place on his drums.

One of the songs that Pop Ensemble teacher Mr. Myrick wanted us to learn for the performance was “Take Five” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.  I didn’t really know jazz all that well and had not heard the song.  Mr. Myrick suggested I visit the public library to find the recording.  So one Saturday I took the Number 3 bus from home into downtown Nashville and visited the main branch.  I walked upstairs to the A/V department and had my life change.  Though I didn’t really know it at the time.

The A/V librarian was, as most music geeks are, kind of unkempt, bespectacled, and happy to share his vast knowledge of his music collection.  I walked in with my bad long hair (the metal mullet) and glasses, wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt, asking him if the library had a copy of “Take Five”.  Of course it did, the librarian informed me, and then proceeded to ask me if I was a fan of Zeppelin.  I said you betcha, and he walked over to the shelves and pulled out Time Out, the Brubeck album with “Take Five” on it and then handed me three other albums.  He said, “If you like Zeppelin, give these a try and let me know what you think when you come back”.  The three albums were Weather Report’s Heavy Weather, Billy Cobham’s Spectrum and Return To Forever featuring Chick Corea’s Where Have I Known You Before.  I didn’t much care for Heavy Weather but I was completely blown away by the other two.

I had by this time begun to absorb progressive rock.  I grew up with Rush, at that point my acknowledged FAVORITE BAND EVER, and some friends in school had turned me onto Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, Gentle Giant and King Crimson.  Thanks to that bit of background I was prepared for these three jazz-fusion classics.  Heavy Weather sounded cheesy to me then, and still does to this day.  A bigtime sellout by Joe Zawinul and company that was actually several albums in the making.  It took me years to discover that the earlier Weather Report albums are not only just better than the later ones, but were pretty awesome impressionist post-Bitches Brew albums.  Spectrum was kinda rockist and featured the “Hot For Teacher” heavy metal boogie made famous by Van Halen, obviously stolen from Cobham’s “Quadrant 4”.  But Where Have I Known You Before…it reminded me of some of the instrumental passages from ’70s Rush albums but rawer, weirder with stranger chords, no lyrics and a heady dose of that “8th grade science class movie soundtrack” sound.  Meaning, it sounded like the 1970s.  Fender-Rhodes electric pianos, wah-wah guitars, cardboard drums, Moog synthesizers, phase shifting, and the most mindbending structural turns and soloing.  To quote Michael Stipe, “It. Spoke. To. Me.”  I recorded this album on one side of a 90-minute cassette, with Spectrum on the other side, and returned the albums the next week.  That librarian sent me home with so many crazy albums over the next five months…Live-Evil, Black Sabbath’s albums (to that point I’d only heard the greatest hits We Sold Our Souls For Rock & Roll), Camel, Amon Duul, and so many other weird musicianly albums.  It is to this unnamed librarian that I owe a distinct debt for turning me onto music that to this day continues to fascinate and affect me.

This post is also timely.  In two days I fly back to Nashville to meet up with my brother to see Return To Forever in concert at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, almost exactly 21 years after I discovered the band’s music.  In celebration, I present the album that kind of started it all, the first domino to fall that led me along the path I’ve followed since.

A note about this album.  In December 1990 I got my own vinyl copy of Where Have I Known You Before at a flea market near the airport in Nashville for the princely sum of $3 (I also got their next LP No Mystery at the same time).  Two months later my parents divorced and I moved away from Nashville back to Owensboro, KY where I am from.  In the fall of 1991 I was visiting my oldest brother who still lived in Nashville near Centennial Park and I walked from his apartment to the Circuit City that used to be right outside the park and purchased Where Have I Known You Before and No Mystery on compact disc, you know, to “upgrade”.  These were the West German pressings (as by that time no one cared for fusion and the CD’s weren’t in print yet in the U.S.) and, honestly, weren’t an improvement on the vinyl.  But it was 1991 and vinyl was dead, y’know?  I still have that CD (or at least a CD-R of it…I sold nearly all my CD collection in 2006 but not before I CD-R’ed the good stuff) and just this year found another vinyl copy.  Listening to it again proves the lie that CD’s always improve on vinyl.  I’m no analog snob.  I don’t always think vinyl is better.  I do think the mastering job on that first CD pressing was lousy (as are many early CD pressings, usually mastered from the mix for vinyl or cassette and not remastered to take advantage of the wider bandwidth of compact disc) and this particular copy that I digitized up for you sounds much more full and richer than the very flat CD I’ve been listening to since 1991.  I will certainly be trading this one out for it in my iPod.  Anyhow, I hope you dig on this recording.  It’s my Ground Zero as a serious music nerd.

SOURCE: The original 1974 Polydor pressing of the LP -> Sony PS-T22 turntable with the V series cartridge -> Technics SA-EX310 stereo receiver -> Lexicon Lambda USB i/o -> Adobe Audition. No EQ, no cleaning up, no click removal, etc.

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Filed under Jazz Fusion

Meco “Empire Strikes Back (Medley)”

Whatever happened to the good ol’ fashioned medley?  It seems that by the turn of the 1980’s the style had run its course.  Before that…you had some wicked ill charts from Stars On 45 and an Italian producer known as Meco.  This was the music your parents were completely okay with you listening to, since it was G-rated, mostly instrumental or “updating” older material and mainly it wasn’t KISS or some other devil worshiping rock.  Which is sad, because there’s some good music left on the table as “kitsch” from yesterday.

Those of us from that era will certainly wax nostalgic about the sort of record i’m linking today.  I’ve had any number of albums of the like from The Electric Moog Orchestra covering music from Star Wars or Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  These movies had iconic music and, importantly, kids AND adults bought them.  I bought a Meco single or two at the local Big K or Wal-Mart growing up ($1.89 per 45!) and loved them.

Now onto this particular single.  It has a bit of disco and AOR rock flavor to it, and Meco as an arranger does a pretty neat job weaving in some of the familiar though less obvious themes from the “dark side” of John Williams’ score.  This is the stuff high school jazz bands were made of.  Goofy maybe, but the band frickin’ smokes this stuff, and you have to admit, you love the music of Star Wars.  This 45 is long out of print.  You could either find a copy gathering dust in someone’s back closet or pull it down here for nostalgia’s sake.

SOURCE: The original 1980 R.S.O. Records pressing of the 45 -> Sony PS-T22 turntable with the V series cartridge -> Technics SA-EX310 stereo receiver -> Lexicon Lambda USB i/o -> Adobe Audition.  No EQ, no cleaning up, no click removal, etc.


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Filed under Soundtracks

Walter (Wendy) Carlos – Sonic Seasonings

Walter (Wendy) Carlos was perhaps the first famous synthesizer programmer/performer.  At first rock & roll didn’t quite know what to do with synthesizer technology as it began to become commercially available in the late 1960’s.  The synthesizer was borne from the college campus and research laboratory, so I suppose it was only natural that the high-brow world of avant-garde classical music became the earliest users of the new technology, followed shortly by foley artists and jingle/commercial composers.  Walter Carlos was one of the earliest users of the Moog modular synthesizer and created a runaway smash, Switched On Bach, by painstakingly programming, tuning and multitracking the finicky instrument.  The album remains one of the best-selling classical music CD’s of all time.  Since Carlos was able to make so much quan off that recording, record execs saw the potential for their own Moog recordings and voila, you had a whole slew of Moog releases.  While some of those recordings are charming, none would have the effect of SOB. Shortly thereafter the Moog began to make its way onto popular recordings by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Monkees and a little known prog group called Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Fast forward to 1972.  Carlos has had success with the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange, which featured more reworkings of classical music plus the first appearance of an original composition, “Timesteps”.  The following year would see Carlos’ first release of all original compositions, Sonic Seasonings.

In this double album Carlos assigns one season thematically to each side of a double LP.  Those familiar with SOB will be surprised to discover a more conventional synthesizer album (meaning more atonal and avant-garde) than they are accustomed to from Carlos.  (S)he used lots of found sound, field recordings and nature sounds combined with the state-of-the-1972-art Moog modular and multitracking.  It’s not as hardcore “sound effect-y” as Subotnik or some of the minimalist 20th century musique concrete composers, but had more of a melodic flair and was arguably a commercialization of the 1960’s laboratory synthesizer composition style.

Carlos would go on to soundtrack Tron and record many other albums, but none quite like Sonic Seasonings.  It’s still in print on CD with bonus tracks. Have a listen to it hear first and then buy the CD if you like it.

SOURCE: The original 1972 Columbia Records pressing of the album -> Sony PS-T22 turntable with the V series cartridge -> Technics SA-EX310 stereo receiver -> Lexicon Lambda USB i/o -> Adobe Audition.  No EQ, no cleaning up, no click removal, etc.

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Filed under New Age, Soundtracks

David Lange – Return of the Comet

David Lange is an independent film maker and space music/electro composer.  This album is one of Hearts of Space’s earliest releases (1985) and Mr. Lange performed the album live to digital tape in a San Francisco studio with a Yamaha DX7, a Korg Polysix and a borrowed E-mu Emulator.  Hearts of Space, for those that don’t know, is a syndicated radio show that has been championing ambient and new age music for decades, airing on public radio stations and XM satellite radio.  Anyhow, Lange also recorded the material for a second album Mars Rising during the same sessions but, due to the limitations of vinyl, could not unite the session’s output until several years later when Mars Rising was added to the CD reissue of Return of the Comet.

The music itself…well, it’s new age alright but on more of a space vibe.  Lots of ethereal pads, LFO’ed washes that spread out like shooting stars, etc.  It is definitely on more of an early Vangelis tip than on a Yanni sort of thing.  This is the sort of album one would find in a POP endcap in some incense and candles New Age tarot sort of shop.  While most of that shit is R. Carlos Nakai or such vaguely ethno-world hooey this album still has enough of that initial Berlin School/ambient space vibe to keep it from getting positively corny.  One thing is for certain.  The longer I collect these odd synthesizer records I have learned that there are definitely differences in new age.  Something I didn’t understand at 16 when an English teacher was foisting Ray Lynch on us to help us focus on creative writing.  All it aided me in doing was having an unfounded 15+ year hatred of new age!

Anyways…this one’s fairly common on cassette but the original vinyl fetches $100+.  Have a listen here before hefting the mighty coin.

SOURCE: The original 1985 Hearts of Space pressing of the album -> Sony PS-T22 turntable with the V series cartridge -> Technics SA-EX310 stereo receiver -> Lexicon Lambda USB i/o -> Adobe Audition.  No EQ, no cleaning up, no click removal, etc.

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A Flock of Seagulls Live 1982

A Flock of Seagulls are probably best known for their awesomely bad hair and awesomely bad VH1 comeback.  In 1982 though A Flock of Seagulls were no joke.  “I Ran” was a big hit for MTV and radio.  Great, a big hit.  What was awesome about it was that AFoS hit it big on the back of a concept album about modern alienation that sounds still fresh today.

I don’t understand why more post-punk/semi-goth peeps don’t dig on that early Flock of Seagulls sound.  It has all the ingredients.  Big pseudo-disco drums, upfront melodic bass, the super-chorusy chimey guitar thing, booming and brash vocals and a wash of synthesizer on top.  I definitely hear the influence of their contemporaries on A Flock of Seagulls’ sound, especially Killing Joke.  I don’t think the band had much in them past that initial debut album.  While the first album has that stridently doomy sound, their subsequent work was crafted to maintain a certain level of fame.  I have friends that will disagree with me about that, and will swear that the follow-up album Listen is just as essential, but I am not one of those.  It is all about the artificial claustrophobia of their debut that seals the deal for me.  A Flock of Seagulls’ debut self-titled album belongs on the shelf of every red-blooded gloom pop/post-punk fan.

At the time a lot of attention was paid to lead singer Mike Score’s one-finger synthesizing in the video for “I Ran”, and that somehow was the metaphor for their lack of musicianship.  Ya see, these synth pop bands got no talent!  Look!  That dude plays his instrument with one finger!  Yeah, ok.  But A Flock of Seagulls were actually a decent live band and were able to present the album live effectively.  Hear them live from that tour here on the King Biscuit Flower Hour, from the Metro in Boston, August 4th, 1982. Post-punk’s last hurrah as a commercial entity.

SOURCE: Hard to say.  The ultimate original source was an on-air broadcast of this professional recording.  It sounds like it was captured on cassette before it made its way to me via CD-R.  Ripped @ 192k with iTunes.

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Vangelis – Ignacio

Yeah, Vangelis.  I first became curious about his music 20 years ago when I went through my first wave of prog rock obsession.  When I would comb through used vinyl I would often run into copies of the Jon And Vangelis albums and, being a big Yes fan, thought I’d give one of them a try.  Yawn.  Big yawn.  Super disappointing.

Fast forward 15 years and at that point I had become an electronic musician.  I started to pay more attention to classic electronic music from sources that I had previously disdained.  Jarre and Vangelis in particular.  It took until a couple of years ago that i finally found the right Vangelis era, with a used vinyl copy of Heaven and Hell.  Then I began to find the right Vangelis.

I say that as though there’s something wrong with his music.  I think it’s more a matter of Vangelis being a somewhat singular musical talent.  He straddles the fence between groundbreaking New Age electronica, impressionistic orchestral tone poems and over-the-top Wagnerian bombast, sometimes really cool and sometimes really cheesy.  And that’s sometimes in just one side-length song!  The album I present today consists of Vangelis’s soundtracks to what I think are a couple of European films from the late ’70s.  The album compiles “Ignacio” on one side and “Entends-Tu Les Chiens Aboyer” on the other side.  The music is definitely in the film score vein, more mood than song.  Side one is much more 20th century, side two has more piano and a serious prog rock intro.  If you liked Heaven and Hell then I think you’ll dig this album too.  It looks like both the vinyl and the CD are long out-of-print and run for serious coin online so try ‘er out here before you buy.

SOURCE: The original 1977 EGG Records French pressing of the album -> Sony PS-T22 turntable with the V series cartridge -> Technics SA-EX310 stereo receiver -> Lexicon Lambda USB i/o -> Adobe Audition.  No EQ, no cleaning up, no click removal, etc.

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Filed under New Age, Soundtracks