Laurie Anderson- Homeland (2010)


As an artist and a violinist, I am unabashedly infatuated with Laurie Anderson. And if you are reading this, I don't need to talk about how awesome she is.

"Homeland" is interesting in that it is a document of a performance that she performed on tour for awhile. I love that idea--the "tour" first with the album later. And Homeland is also interesting because it's just weirdly dark, but also really accessible. It's clearly about the entire 9/11 paranoia.

Musically, it has songs that could allllmost end up on the radio, though most of it is pretty atmospheric. At times it feels like an "Americana" soundtrack, with lots of lonesome fiddles playing together and against each other. And the awesome voicebox is back, which makes at least one song in particular feel wonderfully creepy.

"In America, we like solutions. We like solutions to problems. Companies with experts ready to solve these problems. Only an expert can solve these problems."

Can you comprehend that she's married to Lou Reed? That still seems so strange to me. Also kind of funny that Art21 just featured her. Hey Laurie, thanks for being an amazing artist for 30 years. It's cool if we throw you a bone now, right?


Leif Fairfield- The Infamous Sun Drips Extended Play Disc Written by The Sleeping Sea (2011)


Cincinnati-based Leif Fairfield plays as a member of the band The Sleeping Sea. When he joined, he was given an EP of songs that were to be recorded "in the future," but being impatient, he created his own versions of these songs before the whole band could do it.

Sun Drips EP sounds like a cross between his solo recordings and his alias I Do. The disc features the usual violin and layers of voice, but with plenty of internet found sound, dub music leanings, and video game references. In true Fairfield fashion, it goes from ridiculous to pretty in a matter of minutes, and his covers range from respectful to complete re-interpretations (including his "cover" of "Rain Drips" that posits David Bowie-like vocals over the opening theme for the Nintendo game The Adventure of Link). It flows together as a single disc, and songs have multiple versions.

Check out the band photo!
Also a graphic designer, he created the album artwork. Yay!


The Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders (1968)

"There was an article in the LA hippie paper about a confrontation between two local guru types in MacArthur Park. Their followers--by this time, there were tens of thousands of young and not-so-young people following hundreds of self-styled gurs du jour, from Mei Lyman to Charles Manson--were looking for a peace and love-style version of the old west shoutout on Main Street. Both would-be avatars were about thirty. One was swaddled head to toe in robes, diffraction gradings, body paint, beads and peacock feathers. The other one was completely naked, except for an incense-on-a-stick-thingie that he had stuck up his asshole and lit. It had gone out.
The two avatars faced each other, smiling.

'You're beautiful, man,' said one.
'No, man,' said the other. 'You're beautiful.'
'No, I'm not,' came the reply. 'You're beautiful.'
'No, brother. You're the one who's beautiful.'
'I think I'm going to throw up,' said one of the cops.

Doomed as doomed can be."
-Peter Stampfel

Nina Simone- Wild is the Wind (1963)


Nina Simone: a marketing nightmare.

Jazz/Soul/Blues/Broadway singer, both vulnerable and abrasive. Outspoken against discriminatory practices and against African-Americans who seemed to fall into stereotypes. Outspoken agains the white audiences that supported her career. A classically-trained pianist who could improvise with the best jazz trios and pound a piano like she was trying to kill it. Contradictory, brash, and powerful. Beautiful and ugly.

I was in love with Jeff Buckley before i ever heard Nina Simon's earlier version of Lilac Wine (neither of them wrote it). I far prefer her version. It's one thing for a person with a lilting, beautiful voice to make a lilting, beautiful song. But Simone--whose voice was deep, resonant, and brassy--sang this song with such vulnerability and tenderness that I don't think Buckley's version can touch it.

Also recommended: Nina Simone Sings the Blues.

Yamaguchi Goro- A Bell Ringing in the Empty Sky (1967)

Original cover. Fussy, but still stunning.

Remember the 1960s, when people would release records just because they were interesting?

Japan's designated Living National Treasure, Yamaguchi Goro, played the shakuhachi (bamboo flute) on a series of lps throughout his life, though this one was picked up by the massively exotic Nonesuch Records Explorer Series in the 1960s. It's one of the few LPs to have been rereleased on cd in the early 2000s.

If you've ever wondered what a solo bamboo flute sounds like, you don't have to imagine too much. It sounds empty, plaintive, sad, lonesome, faraway, and fragile. And lovely.
New artwork. Actually matches the music better.

This is a perfect album to play while you're doing something seemingly unrelated. For instance, i love to listen to it while gardening. It makes picking tomatoes seem so fleeting and sad. Totally recommended.

Abbess Hildegard von Bingen- A Feather on the Breath of God (1993)


Let me introduce you to another CD that i purchased based on visual interest: Abbess Hildegard of Bingen.

Hildegard von Bingen was a self-taught Christian mystic who created music, poems, visual art (iconography), and religious texts during the 12th century. Her music is amazing--serene, surreal, haunting, evocative, and blissful. The title of this collection, A Feather on the Breath of God, is meant to convey the role of mankind in the earth-- floating at the whim of the supernatural. It's also a perfect description of this music.

Her artwork/iconography is also unbelievable. I hate to add to the piles of internet knowledge, so i'll refrain and just say how incredible the music is. I think of cds like this when i think of Michael Stipe's quote that "Music is proof that god exists."

Please just download it and listen to it.

Some of Bingen's sensational--and academically neglected-- visual artwork. 

A beautiful self-commissioned holy icon.

R. Crumb- Hot Women: Women Singers from the Torrid Regions of the World (2003)


There have been a few times that I have purchased an album based on the sheer promise of the artwork and song names on the back cover. HOT WOMEN was a very memorable one.

It was compiled by illustrator R. Crumb (and his under-credited wife Aline Kominsky-Crumb) from an impressive group of 78s.

The music is all "traditional," as iTunes calls it. Women, sometimes with their children, all singing around the mic, hisses and all. After being bombarded by Rebecca Blacks and Lady Gagas, i love to hear the flawed crackle of outdated recording technology and the additional talent that performers had in order to adapte to the medium. As a result, the album is beautiful and diverse.

The main reason to purchase the cd is to hold the fantastic artwork in your hand. But the music is good, too.

Complaint: A few of the titles are listed as "Title in Hindustanese" or something similarly lazy. If you're going to put out a compilation, why not bother to ask someone who reads a language to translate it for you??
Big pet peeve. 
Crumb probably thinks it's part of the charm, but i call it lazy at best (and culturally arrogant at worst). Your call. 


Alice Coltrane- A Monastic Trio (1968)


I know nothing about Jazz. Nothing. Really, honestly, nothing.

It's tough to write about jazz, inquire about jazz, and sometimes listen to jazz. It's just hard to do. I understand it to be a vast universe that exists inside a little box. Most people--like myself--don't really venture to open that box, instead happy to stay inside their little land of pop/experimental/choral/opera or whatever music.

I found out about Alice Coltraine through MC Schmidt and Drew Daniels from Matmos, who played one of her cassettes for me on the way to Salvadorean food. I didn't look her up for many years, but recognized it off the bat.

What to say--she leads a jazz group both on piano and harp. She plays with precision, as Nina Simone can, but ventures off into strange and beautiful territory. She became very interested in meditation, and her latter albums (i am told) veer off into this territory even more.

Slowdive- Pygmalion (1995) and Pygmalon Demos (1994)


While i listened to a lot of embarrassingly bad music in high school (inevitable, but especially so growing up in an isolated small town), i managed to make friends with a gal in--ironically--east Ohio who turned me on to brit pop, shoegazer, and noise rock.

One of my favorite high school bands, believe it or not, was Slowdive. I heard their UK-only final release Pygmaleon early on in college. I paid $18 for it on a whim  and it was one of the best musical finds of the year. Their signature album "Souvlaki" is pretty cool and it has that seminal shoegazer sound--dreamy, reverby, epic, melancholic. But Pygmaleon was different--sparse, uncomfortable, disjointed, and eerily pretty.

This is the kind of album that happens as a band breaks up. Some members want to go in a new direction, the others don't like it, so you get an incomplete band making a record in pieces without the same commercial enthusiasm or backing of the label. Sometimes great things happen in that space (see Big Star: 3rd).

Fifteen years later, and it still stands out as an interesting listen. Might i also add that i would take this CD over any Mojave 3 record. 

If you find yourself especially smitten, or a bigger-than-average Slowdive fan, listen to the Pygmalion Demos:

Aaron Martin- Worried About the Fire (2010)


Aaron Martin made one of those records that i wish i had made. It's moody, airy, deep, creepy, breathy, and beautiful. Very sparse instrumentation that somehow feels both ethereal and Appalachian. Think of bowed saws, looped violins, nebulous electronics, and sparseness. Or, imagine "Brian Eno: Music for Tall Forests in The Snow."

This is one of those amazing albums that can be listened to actively or passively, as background music or meditation music.

Highly recommended. I need to check out more of his stuff.

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