Monday, October 29, 2007

Essential Soundtracks: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg(1964)

Michel Legrand's abundantly lyrical soundtrack to Jacques Demy's 1964 movie musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg faithfully evokes the film's predominant theme of young love foiled by adult reality. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg's overriding melancholia finds a voice in two main melodic motifs Legrand uses throughout the soundtrack, the first from the Legrand jazz standard "Watch What Happens" and the second from his song "I Will Wait for You." Legrand's considerable arranging abilities are on display here as he works the recurring themes through a variety of settings: tragic duets cloaked in dramatic string passages, broken-down cabaret soliloquies, and even a tango piece à la Astor Piazzolla. A prevalent jazz waltz theme also seesaws its way through the score, providing a break from the gloom. As with his later Demy soundtrack, The Young Girls of Rochefort, Legrand does integrate jazz into the mix, but not in such pervasive fashion; occasional big-band outbursts and light jazz backgrounds ultimately take a back seat to Legrand's preferred chanson mode. Combining Debussy's opaque melodies and Richard Rodgers song economy, he transforms the whimsical French song of Piaf and Trenet into petite arias. For Legrand it comes down to the song, and there are plenty of good ones on The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. If that were not enough, the double-CD reissue also includes bonus tracks: a not so whimsical yet affecting Tony Bennett reading of "Watch What Happens" and a demonstration of Legrand's well-known jazz skills on trio, "I Will Wait for You," with big-band arrangements. With over two hours of music, extra material, and some of the most charming melodies written for the screen, this Sony Classical reissue is a must-have for Legrand fans and certainly one of his essential works.

get it here (pt.1) and here (pt.2)

Little Known Classics: Takako Minekawa- Cloudy Cloud Calculator(1998)

Takako Minekawa's fourth album, Cloudy Cloud Calculator, is one of her finest and most unique moments. Where Buffalo Daughter's collaboration on Minekawa's previous album, Roomic Cube, sometimes overshadowed her basically minimalist style, Cloudy Cloud Calculator gives Minekawa's songs room to breathe. "Milk Rock" makes the most out of a vibe bassline, breakbeats and her breathy vocals, and "Phonobaloon Song"'s deceptively simple vocals and keyboard arrangement covers a spectrum of emotions. Minekawa's sense of humor makes its presence felt on most of the songs, especially "Cat House," which features sampled kitties meowing to a bouncy synth beat. "Black Forest" and "International Velvet" create a lush, filmic mood, while "Cloud Chips," "Kraftpark" and "Kangaroo Pocket Calculator" suggest a slightly playful, somewhat ominous futuristic world. Minekawa saves one of the best tracks for last, a remake of Joe Meek and the Tornadoes classic "Telstar," redone with a Martin Denny-like arrangement and exotica beat. Cloudy Cloud Calculator's highly inventive, restrained pop shows that Minekawa has hit her stride as a songwriter and arranger.

get it here

Rosie Scott





Little Known Classics: Hawaii- The High Llamas(1996)

Sean O'Hagan has a gift for orchestral pop, creating lush soundscapes that are awash with sonic detail. He clearly owes a lot to Brian Wilson, and Hawaii, the High Llamas' third album, falls somewhere between Pet Sounds and SMiLE. Sonically, the rich, orchestrated production is reminiscent of the former, but Hawaii is paced like SMiLE, with brief instrumentals and song fragments framing the full-fledged songs. Each is carefully arranged and recorded, offering an inviting tapestry of strings, guitars, keyboards, brass, and percussion.

get it here

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mary Blair

Mary Blair(1911-1978)

Little Known Classics: Dimitri From Paris- Sacrebleu(1996)

Dimitri from Paris' debut is a breezy collection of what could be loosely termed house music, but is in fact indebted to a variety of intriguing styles reminiscent of the Continent around the mid-part of the century, including cabaret music, easy listening, and exotica. Besides the infectious singles "Sacre Francais" and "Dirty Larry," there are at least a dozen other good tracks, and though Sacrebleu would have fared better after an editing job (it clocks right in at 75 minutes), it's difficult to criticize this immensely enjoyable album.

get it here.

Indescribably Beautiful: Ogurusu Norihide- Humour (Study and I)

Collecting songs from two self-released CDs of home recordings, Humour (Study and I) displays the brilliance of using computer processing as a means, not an end, for production and musicianship. Ogurusu Norihide concentrates mostly on quiet guitar or piano ruminations and tampers with them only occasionally (and brilliantly). When the second track pauses after several minutes of guitar normalcy, the subsequent effects only heighten the mood. Norihide eventually invites some unidentified instruments into the game, but the air of forced minimalism remains throughout. Other pieces are reminiscent of Erik Satie or John Fahey with a primitive drum machine for accompaniment. The dark chords and isolationist feel of the sixth track make it a highlight.

sample tracks:


get it here.

Essential Soundtracks: The Civil War

Rarely does a soundtrack so convincingly create a mood for a work of this magnitude and duration. The historical content and the music blend together flawlessly, augmenting each other while adding a new dimension to the experience. I can not praise nor recommend this CD strongly enough.

get it here.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Little Known Classics: Incredible String Band- The Chelsea Sessions (1967)

Among the many surprising musical hybrids that emerged during the late 1960s, the Incredible String Band had to be one of the strangest and most wonderful. The Chelsea Sessions consists of 13 pristine studio demos that Robin Williamson and Mike Heron recorded with Joe Boyd shortly before they laid down their landmark album, The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion. Included are alternate versions of six songs that made it onto 5000 Spirits, notably a solo take of Williamson's "First Girl I Loved" and a spry reading of Heron's "Little Cloud." The other seven tracks include the first ISB versions released of "Lover Man" (a vivid, ornate piece of pastoral chamber blues that Heron gave to Al Stewart for his first album) and "God Dog" (a spooky tome that Shirley Collins released, recorded here with her sister Dolly on pipe organ). Unlike many archival demo recordings, the tracks on The Chelsea Sessions are fully realized renditions of some of the duo's most compelling music and are essential listening for those who have fallen under the ISB's spell. -Michael Parrish
key tracks: Lover Man, First Girl I Loved
Get it here

(even if you've heard ISB's other stuff and didn't like it, give this a try. Its actually the only ISB album I like!)

Indescribably Beautiful: David Darling & the Wulu Bunun- Mudanin Kata(2004)

This one-of-a-kind collaboration matches field recordings of the Wulu Bunun's ancient a capella songs with the modern ambient leaning music of cellist David Darling, who took the present-day field recordings and added musical accompaniment to the songs for the first time. Darling does a masterful job merging his moody studio-recorded string arrangements into the polyphonic singing of this indigenous Taiwanese tribe. Of particular note is the song "Pasibutbut," which is reputed to be inspired by the sound of humming bees. While most of the songs are a simple folk tunes about everyday life, this one starts out with a singer hitting a low sustained note with others coming in at intervals to create eight-part harmony that goes on for several minutes. Sometimes Darling structuring the songs, which may only have a single verse, adding instrumental breaks, but on the above song he comes in at the top, finishing off the song in the same circular polyphony with which it was started. -Tad Hendrickson

Get it here

(seriously, this is maybe the MOST BEAUTIFUL music I have ever happened upon.... EVER... please give it a try.)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Indescribably Beautiful: Erik Satie- The Best of(2000)

'Best ofs' rarely do justice to classical music composers; the compilations' limited space often results in selections which are cut from their context, short excerps of longer works, etc. This Naxos release has none of these problems. It wisely offers complete opuses (i.e. all three Gymnopedies, Sarabandes and Nocturnes, all six Gnossiennes), and its focus on pieces for solo piano (the only orchestrations included here were not done by Satie himself) gives the disc a lot of cohesion. It doesn't sound much like a typical 'Best of' - this isn't a drawback but a virtue! - and rather is a thoughtful selection of some of Satie's most interesting works. The playing is also excellent: I was personally accustomed to slower Gymnopedies, but these faster versions are worth hearing; the beautiful Gnosiennes are also nicely rendered. This recording emphasizes the 'openness' of Satie's music: the (interior) spaces it evokes can become a springboard for reflexion, relaxation, or both depending on the listener's mood. Those who are new to Satie should definitely purchase this disc.

Get it here


Essential Compilations: Lee "Scratch" Perry vs. King Tubby 7x7

This is not, as the title suggests, any kind of dub-fire showdown between Jamaica's two most prominent innovators, but a compilation of tracks from 1973-1977 presented side by side. Tubby's five tracks come from his studio and are far from obscure. They include his "Crazy Baalheads" dub and "Dub Experience" as well as the amazing "Daylight Dub." Perry's tracks are almost all Upsetters cuts, including the flipped-out "Love & Devotion" dub, "Strictly Rockers," and the spooky "Murderer Dub." While this is really nothing more than a repackage, the music on it is of interest to anyone interested in bare-bones, tripped-out, steaming dub from the vintage era. Perry and Tubby collectors will have most, if not all, of this material, but as a budget-priced introduction or for a burning party, this is tough to beat.- by Thom Jurek

Get it here

Seriously, even if you "don't like reggae", this will change your mind...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Little Known Classics: Pizzicato Five- Sister Freedom Tapes(1997)

From the first chords of this tiny gem from the Pizzicato Five, the group's distinctive sound pulls you into an alternative time line in which the Sixties never ended and Tokyo was the hippest city in the world.
Get it here

Riffing off 60s French Pop, Bossa Nova and Brill Building melodies mixed with the demented 90s dance rhythms of Deee-lite and Betty Boo.

Formed in 1985 Pizzicato Five were one of the originators of the 'Shibuya-Kei'
sound, a frothy, upbeat, 60s inspired dance music.

In 1990 the lovely Nomiya Maki joined as their permanent lead vocalist and P5 really took off.

Part Diva, part muse to songwriter/producer Konishi Yasuharu, Nomiya was the Cindy Sherman of J-pop with her many wigs and costume changes.

Matador records released a few compilations of their work in the west during the 90s but it's worth tracking down their Japanese releases, if only for the lovely packaging

Little Known Classics: Jim Carroll- Catholic Boy(1979)

Jim Carroll delivers his finest work, out of three releases, here on Catholic Boy. Everything about this album is perfect: sharp songwriting, great lyrics, and playing that scorches. In a sense, Carroll has created an album that is direct, to the point and eloquently captures the lives of the downtown NYC outsider; it's an album that Patti Smith should have recorded but didn't. Catholic Boy somehow is not mentioned in the pantheon of punk classics (due to the fact it was released in 79-80 not 1977)but it is deserving a greater merit.
Get it here

The Musicians of Bremen

These samples are from the Little Golden Book version of the Brothers Grimm classic The Musicians of Bremen, 1954.

Little Known Classics: Jane Birkin et Serge Gainsbourg(1969)

I would recommend anyone who is looking to purchase their first Serge Gainsbourg album to start here. J'Taime is the most well known song but is definitely not the sole success. The whole album is a fun, sexy and often humorous affair. Both Gainsbourg and Birkin do well with their vocals and the music is very well done orchestral, rock influenced, pop music. This was Gainsbourg's first collabortion with Jane Birkin and it is more accessible than the equally acclaimed 1971 followup, Histoire De Melody Nelson. (The Comic Strip compilation would be another good choice, but I generally feel albums are the preferred way to go. Compilations are often choppy and the songs seem to lose their distinction, whereas albums have context and flow.)

Get it here

Destined To Be A Classic: The Flaming Lips- The Soft Bulletin(1999)

The crazed genius of the Lips comes to full flower on the sonically massive and majestic The Soft Bulletin. Head Lip Wayne Coyne compounds the band's penchant for psychedelic freak-outs with a symphonic extravaganza. The result is nothing short of magnificent, not only the best rock album of the year, but among the best recordings of the decade. In 30 years, your grandkids are going to think you're pretty damned cool for having The Soft Bulletin in your collection. -Tod Nelson
key tracks: Race For The Prize, Waiting for Superman
Get it here

Alain Gree


Essential Soundtracks: Charade(1963- Henry Mancini)

Reflecting the European setting of Stanley Donen's 1963 comedy thriller Charade, Henry Mancini's soundtrack provides an easy listening tour of continental musical history: Parisian café songs on "Bistro," Eastern European gypsy music on "Bateau Mouche," Schubert quartets on "Bye Charlie," and some beer barrel polka on "Punch and Judy." Thrown in for variety's sake are dashes of Bond soundtracks, Cossack songs, and Strauss waltzes. With Mancini's typically cohesive approach, though, Charade doesn't become a messy pastiche (even with his mix of Latin rhythms and classical music on some tracks). And in the spirit of inclusiveness, Mancini also shows his south of the border touch on "Mambo Parisienne" (picture Perez Prado sporting an accordion), "Latin Snowfall" (transcendentally gorgeous bolero, one of his best), and "Mégève" (bossa nova for the Biarritz set). Also don't overlook one of his biggest hits and finest melodies, "Charade" (done here in instrumental, vocal, and carousel? versions). A great Mancini recording made during the same fruitful, early-'60s period that produced two other fine soundtracks of his, Breakfast at Tiffany's andThe Pink Panther.

Get it here

Destined To Be A Classic: Antony and the Johnsons- I Am a Bird Now(2006)

It’s not often that an album released in January gets called one of the best of the year in near-unison, but the second full length by Antony and the Johnsons is so startlingly beautiful that it simply has to be. Like his friend and compatriot Devendra Banhart, Antony is a super-talented singer-songwriter with a flair for dramatic artsong. But the cherubic Antony is so original he must get mistaken for an alien quite often; he sings like a bluesy opera singer and switches timbre from masculine to feminine in the space of a breath. The only vocal comparison that comes close is Nina Simone. Antony’s honest lyrics deal with deep wounds and troubled desires with matter of fact poetry and subtle humor, as in a short story by JT LeRoy. Aided and abetted by a versatile band that’s often closer to chamber orchestra than rock act, Antony delivers a visionary album with I Am A Bird Now. Oh yeah: Rufus Wainwright, Devendra, Lou Reed and Boy George all appear on here, too. -Mike McGonigal
key tracks: Hope Theres Someone, My Lady Story

Get it here

Great Songwriters: The Mountain Goats- The Sunset Tree

There has always been something about John Darnielle’s lyrics; even when you’re not exactly sure what he’s talking about, it always feels like he’s telling it like it is. Not that metaphor is a major player on The Sunset Tree, the latest album from the Mountain Goats (of which Darnielle is the founder, frontman, and once only member.) Songs like "This Year," "Dance Music," and "Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod?" are painfully honest about his traumatic childhood and abusive stepfather. You might think that an album about child abuse would be hard to listen to, but as always, hearing Darnielle's lyrics is an honor and a privilege. Trying experiences are captured with deceptively simple statements (is there any better expression of determination than "I will make it through this year if it kills me"?) On this CD, Darnielle also remembers revered (yet cocaine-addled) reggae star Dennis Brown. ("It took all the coke in town to bring down Dennis Brown. On the day my lung collapses, we’ll see just how much it takes.") Though the Mountain Goats have apparently done well enough for Darnielle to quit his day job as a nurse, they don't yet have all the fans they deserve. Don't wait to join the fold. -Leah Weathersby
key tracks: This Year, Dance Music, You Or Your Memory

Get it here

You Or Your Memory

I checked into a bargain priced room on la cienaga,
gazed out through the curtains of the parking lot.
walked down to the corner store just before nightfall in my bare feet.
black tarry asphalt, soft and hot.
and when I came back I spread out my supplies.
on the counter by the sink,
I looked myself right in the eyes

st. joseph's baby aspirin,
bartles and james,
and you or your memory.

I ducked behind the drapes when I saw the moon begin to rise,
gathered in my loose ends switched off the light.
and down there in the dark I can see the real truth about me.
as clear as day, lord if I make it through tonight
then I will mend my ways and walk the straight path to the end of my days.

st. joseph's baby aspirin,
bartles and james,
and you or your memory.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Great Songwriters: Jarvis Cocker(2006)

A decade after he first set an impossibly hard act to follow, Jarvis Cocker has returned with an album that knocks not only his ageing contemporaries, but many of his descendants, for six. It strikes me, on the twentieth or so listen to 'Jarvis', that this ability to spy on society and then fix a wry commentary with a gimlet eye and dry wit, is indicating that Jarvis Cocker is turning into the music world's Alan Bennett. There can surely be no finer accolade to a magnificent album, and - that rare thing these days - a true hero, and legend in his own time.
key tracks: Don't Let Him Waste Your Time, Cunts Are Still Running The World
Get it here

Charley Harper

Charley Harper (b. 1922-2007).
Online Exhibit.
Flickr Gallery.
New Book.
Previous Book (much cheaper!).

Via Cartoonbrew.
& Eric Sturdevant.

Mr Harper passed away on June 10th of Pneumonia, he was 84.
Ward Jenkins has written a fitting tribute to the great man here.