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.


Kawai Kenji- Ghost in the Shell OST (1995)


Soundtracks are tricky because they often don't stand on their own, without the images and dialog that they are supposed to support. I'm a bit dubious of soundtracks that play like entire albums-- they should be more evocative, leaving you wanting for a little bit more.

I recently re-watched this film and was struck by the music. It feels like the soundtrack to Blade Runner--both minimal and completely essential to the film's noir feeling, tinged with philosophy, sadness, indifference, anxiety, and wonder. 

The soundtrack is always somehow "empty" even in the fullest numbers (the title credits, which repeats periodically). The idea is to convey the ghost, or the spirit, that is somehow present in the materials that it shouldn't be--namely technology.

It's made me want to view the rest of this series. Plus, it's a killer soundtrack to a bike ride home. Wow.

An incredible live performance of the opening credit song ("Reincarnation"): 

Kawai Kenji in the studio, in a knit sweater and mullet.
I don't know if this makes him more awesome or just cringe-y.

jj- No.3 (2010)

jj are a Swedish pop group, and if you can mentally squish together your notions of the singer Lykki Li with the stellar vampire movie Let the Right One In, you could come up with something like jj.

I know, right? What the f*** kind of band name is jj, in lowercase letters? Grr. Those swedes (writes the guy named after a viking).

No.3 is their third (!!!) album that sounds shimmery and perfect. It's cheeky and cheesy and classy and catchy. Sometimes high schoolers can really nail that "heartbreak" thing right on the head.

If you're up for something poppy and youthful, but somehow tasteful, give it a try.

Langley Schools Music Project- Innocence and Despair (1976, 2001)


Imagine a gymnasium full of elementary school kids singing and playing songs by The Eagles, Beach Boys, David Bowie, the Carpenters, Paul McCartney, Neil Diamond, etc in the 1970s. It'd be off-key and peppy. But you might not guess at the level of pathos that they'd also strike, by singing words and melodies written by adults who think they have experienced heartache.

That's what this album is: an inexperienced music teacher who taught his elementary school classes a bunch of contemporary pop songs and recorded them in a giant gymnasium. There has been much mythologizing around this double-LP-turned-cd compilation, but I can honestly say that there's a good reason for it. The Langley Schools Music Project still hovers in my top five albums of all time. One of the saltiest men i have ever known told me that when he listened to this version of "Desparado," it was so devastating that all he could do was lay on the floor. That's how the album is.
The best review I have read of this record comes from Frieze Magazine:


New Pornographers- Together (2010)

Wouldn't it be annoying to be part of a "supergroup" that was a bunch of bands that most people didn't know of? And to always have to explain to people why your band was so super and who you were?

Anyway... in a nutshell: New Pornographers make very, very good power pop/rock music with rock instruments. Nothing fancy. But they consist of (now) seven incredible musicians, including 2 songwriters/ guitarists, bass, drums, and four lead vocalists. That might sound overwhelming to have four singers, but they make you wish that every band did the same thing.

This disc won't surprise you or make you cry at midnight with a belly full of gin. What it makes you want to do is dance or drive really fast along Columbia Parkway with the windows down. Great, great, great summer record. Also, one of the coolest videos I have ever seen that is both badass and ridiculous. I'm not kidding. Please watch this.

All New Pornographers records are good, but this their latest and my favorite. I'm also posting it because my three year-old son has rediscovered it and wants to hear it every day.


Thao and Mirah (2011)


Estrogen overload? or TALENT MADNESS!!!

I was greatly looking forward to Thao & Mirah, a collaboration of two totally talented, quirky, innovative, experimental, and versatile singer/ songwriters who defy that categorization. Gone are the days--at least I hope so--of the Sarah McLaughlan/Sheryl Crow Lillith Fair aesthetic. *shudder* Welcome to the new generation of women who make great music. In fact, how about this slogan-- GIRLS DON'T JUST MAKE MUSIC FOR GIRLS ANYMORE.TM .

The album is pretty all over the place. Ended up being a bit dancier than I would have expected, which maybe came from their ridiculously wild producer Tuneyards. I'm not sure yet if it's an instant classic, but I'll say it's one of the coolest records I've heard in the last month or two. 
Besides the range of styles, my absolute favorite part is how Thao and Mirah trade off the lead in the middle of the song. I love LOVE LOVE groups that do this. It's not exactly a new trick (See the Beach Boys, circa 1960) but it's so effective when it's employed well. Also love how the songs really defy any easy categorization. Not only is it hard to tell what genre each song is, but it's hard to tell who is writing which song. Not a lot of ego involved.

My one critique: The only Tuneyards-written piece, Eleven, appears first and it KILLS. The rest of the cd doesn't quite reach that level of sheer adrenaline.

Listening to this album makes me feel that young indie women are finding a great niche in music--some kind of a dance/indie/quirky/songwriter space that was blazed by weirdo alt-divas like Bjork Sinead O'Connor decades ago. When I was younger, women were always either the singers, the keyboard players, or the bassists. And they were either sexy and quiet or sexy and brash. It's so nice now to see more women stepping forward who are much more complex, diverse, and physically "honest." It makes me so elated to watch someone perform with weird makeup and flowers in their hair, or cowboy boots. Why the hell not!

I wonder if this last generation's work didn't directly allow this new wave of subtle and interesting female artists, whose music i generally prefer to their male counterparts (Andrew Bird, Bon Iver). ? I also wonder if the ladies don't feel a little more freedom to be as bizarre, eccentric, and wild as they want to be?
Shut the f*ck up, men! I'm awesome!

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Another musician, interested in and inspired by music from different times, different cultures, and different intentions.