Sufjan Stevens, Illinoise

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Sufjan Stevens, Illinoise

Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise

2005 – Asthmatic Kitty Records

 

Illinoise is one of my favorite records. With this being a double LP, there is much to dig into. This album is unique in that it mixes pop music with more sophisticated arrangements, instrumentations, and time signatures. Glockenspiel, vibraphone, string section, banjo, trumpet, oboe, and tons of other instruments mix to form a playful atmosphere for this outing. The use of trumpet throughout is great. Craig Montoro, the trumpeter, accents the compositions perfectly, whether that means playing a background line or doubling the melody. Without him, I don’t think this album would have worked half as well. Another aspect that I love, obviously, is the vibraphone. It is used in the arrangements in a way that accents its positive characteristics. The vibes shine through with moving lines that highlight the songs with its distinctive, cutting voice. If you know me, you know that I don’t ever listen to lyrics. I hear the voice just as an instrument so I have no idea what songs are about, even if I’ve been listening to them for years. A little while back, I read an article that highlighted some of the most disturbing songs of all time and “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” was on the list. After going back and listening to the lyrics, it truly is terrifying. I should dig into lyrics, but when I hear music, there is so much going on instrumentally to dissect that I can’t imagine analyzing the lyrics too. I know that is the opposite of what most people think, but that’s how I roll. Anyway, the artwork here is really cool as well. All around, this is definitely an album to own on vinyl.

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Chick Corea, the Leprechaun

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Chick Corea, the Leprechaun

Chick Corea – the Leprechaun

1976 – Polydor

 

The second side of this LP finishes with “Leprechaun’s Dream”, which is a 13 minute third stream masterpiece. I’ve loved Chick Corea for a really long time, there is something about his writing and playing that just gets to me. This one composition bundles up much of what I love about his catalogue. The musicians on here are great, with a rhythm section of Steve Gadd, Anthony Jackson, and Eddie Gomez, it would be hard to go wrong. Vocals, brass, and strings set this piece up in a playful way. It feels like an Alice in Wonderland type situation, a sort of demented dream world. The keyboard moves linearly through chords at a quick pace and then Steve Gadd kicks in….only he could play with the kind of feeling needed here. Joe Farrell jumps in with a great flute solo, which only hints at what is to come. The theme for the first part of this song is hypnotic, drifting in and out through different instruments and voices. When the strings hit again, the mood changes. It gets sort of frantic and intense. Gadd’s drumming is perfect (isn’t it always!) in that it is never too much. He sits out when needed and plays the perfect feel for everything. The two basses (electric and acoustic) offset each other perfectly. It is something I’ve never noticed on previous listens, but now that I hear it, it’s amazing and perfectly suited for this song. This whole tune is so intricate and well balanced. There is not much more to say about this except that if you haven’t heard it, you need to listen. It’s hard to imagine composing at this level. Chick Corea is a legend for a reason.

 

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Tom Waits, Alice

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Tom Waits, Alice

Tom Waits – Alice

2002 – Anti Records

If you have ever been around a campfire with me, you have surely listened to some Tom Waits. This is one artist that I come back to again and again. I first heard Alice a few years after it initially was released, but only recently have dug into it. I credit the deeper listen with owning the vinyl. This is a very laid back and slow album, but there is a lot to unpack. Having the vinyl makes you sit down and really listen to the music, which is what this album calls for. This album sounds like you have travelled to an alternate dimension, where everything is a little bit off. Looking through the credits, and knowing much of Wait’s music, there are many instruments mentioned that are not commonplace. Instead of going into each of these tracks, I thought it would be interesting to do some quick research on some of these instruments. Here we go:

            Mellotron – this is a keyboard instrument that works by using magnetic tape. If the tape is used in different sections, different sounds can be produced. This was used by the Beatles, Moody Blues, King Crimson, and many other prog rock bands.

            Chamberlin Vibes – this is a precursor to the mellotron. Waits apparently wanted the original sound, no reproductions would do.

            Swiss Hand Bells – this is literally what it says it is, bells held in your hands and rung. They are pitched. They are used very well in the music, it is hard to distinguish them, they are just part of the whole sound, which is great.

            Stroh Violin – these are those cool looking violins that have a sound bell coming out of them. I never knew what they were called. Listening to Wait’s music, the visual of these violins as opposed to the normal version, fits perfectly.

            Pump Organ – with these organs, you use your feet to pump air past a reed, which makes the noise. Again, the visual of this instrument fits perfectly with the music.

 

 

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Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

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Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

2015 – High Top Mountain Records

 

Sturgill Simpson is the real deal. He is a great singer, songwriter, arranger, and guitarist. Those who have read this blog, or know me, may be a little surprised that I am writing about a modern (metamodern) country album. While I am super picky about music, I don’t let genres bias my preferences. If music is well done, I can appreciate it. It doesn’t matter where it comes from, or what tradition it draws from, real musicianship is an easily definable quality. This doesn’t necessarily mean technical proficiency. The music needs to be genuine, and not made for the purpose to having a “hit”. In the modern country scene, there are very few artists that are putting out what I would actually call music, but Simpson is one. He writes great songs and his musicians are great. They all play with energy and the songs contain little twists and turns that make them interesting. In “Living the Dream” there is one measure of 6 that is just a subtle change in the norm that keeps this album interesting. This music is definitely rooted in the 70s country and bluegrass tradition, which makes it an interesting album to listen to for me, not really having those as direct influences on my music. If you haven’t heard Simpson yet, it is time to check him out. He had a great performance on SNL last year that is definitely worth looking up. Get to listening!

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Warren Zevon, Excitable Boy

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Warren Zevon, Excitable Boy

Warren Zevon – Excitable Boy

1978 – Elektra/Asylum Records

 

Abby picked out the vinyl this week for me. Many people know Zevon for “Werewolves Of London”, which is featured on this LP, but there is much more to his catalogue than that. He has an interesting perspective in his lyrics, but as usual, I’m not going to write about lyrics, just the music. The feel through these tunes is great. All the songs are well played and fit right in the pocket. There are some interesting (in a good way) chord choices and modulations. “Accidentally Like A Martyr” features some really cool key changes over a section in 7 that moves the whole song forward. Details like that are definitely not on all pop/rock tunes from the 70s.  Waddy Wachtel, who plays guitar throughout this LP is a high point for me. He is a big studio musician who has played with tons of people (Stevie Nicks, Keith Richards, James Taylor, and more). He is very tasteful and is just a great rock guitarist. The first track on the second side is decidedly funkier than the others, which makes sense when reading that Jeff Porcaro is on the drums. He was a drummer that had a distinctive style and sound. Overall, this is a really nice album from a songwriter that stands above many of his contemporaries.

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Stevie Wonder, Innervisions

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Stevie Wonder, Innervisions

Stevie Wonder – Innervisions

1973 – Motown Records

 

There is not much that I could write that hasn’t been stated about this album before. It stands as one of the greatest LPs of all time. Time hasn’t diminished any part of it. The songs sound fresh and are still completely entertaining. The thing that jumps out to me is that most of the instruments recorded here are played by Wonder! He is known for his piano, vocals, and harmonica, but I think his drumming should be recognized. The drums on “Living For The City” are SO funky. He has more feel than many “famous” drummers out there. *Just got to the end of the album and had to jump back in here, Stevie plays the drums on “He’s Misstra Know-It-All”….good lord* This album covers so much ground. Each song sounds different, but they all fit together. The atmosphere created is unbelievable (all the modulations at the end of “Golden Lady”). I am not going to go too in depth into anything here. Take this post as a reminder to listen to this album again (or if you’ve never heard it, GET IT). I’m about to go back to the top and listen again.

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King Crimson - Red

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King Crimson - Red

King Crimson – Red

1974 – Island Records

 

This album is heavy. King Crimson has gone through many lineups and directions for their sound through the years since their inception in 1968 (they are still on tour right now)! This album came right before a temporary hiatus and featured the trio of Robert Fripp, John Wetton, and Bill Bruford. There are guest musicians throughout the tunes as well, but the core trio really hammers it home. John Wetton’s bass playing holds together the arrangements and gives it the dark, sinister sound that I love.  As usual with King Crimson, time signatures change pretty regularly, but never in a way that is jarring. They all flow together nicely. Tunes like “One More Red Nightmare” feature super heavy riffs that transform, at least in this tune, into a demented dance track under the vocals. There is a live improvisation called “Providence” that was recorded at PPAC before it was called that. The real highlight of this album, to me at least, is “Starless”. This tune encapsulates all that is right with this LP. It starts as a nice standard tune with a cool guitar/alto sax counterpoint then devolves into one of the heaviest points on the album. Fripp repeats a single note in a cool pattern while Wetton sneaks in with a slow, but propulsive bass part. The way that the bassline interacts with the guitar is awesome and totally sets the mood. Scraped, bowed, and rolled cymbals mix with various percussion to signify the change in atmosphere. As the drums build in intensity, everything starts to open up a bit more. I could be wrong, but I think it’s in 13 (which makes it even cooler). It jumps to a doubletime for the sax solo, then recycles the vocal line from the top of the tune with the guitar over different chords. It all builds in the end, mixing everything together. This is such a well written song, as is the entire album. I’m sure I’ll review another King Crimson from another era another time, so stay tuned for that!

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Nick Drake, Five Leaves Left

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Nick Drake, Five Leaves Left

Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left

1969 – Island Records

 

Five Leaves Left was Nick Drake’s first album (he only released 3). As I’ve talked about before, the arc of albums, especially trilogies, is very interesting to me. In this case, the first album features a small ensemble playing through the tunes. For his second album, Bryter Layter, the ensemble is expanded to feature brass and a larger string section, very heavy on production. For his final album, Pink Moon, that is all stripped away and most of the album is just Drake’s voice and guitar (with piano on one tune).  Five Leaves Left, though, is probably my favorite. The mood that is set by this LP is one of its best features. Drake battled serious depression through his life and this album could be viewed through that lens, but there is much more to it. Yes, the songs are laid back, sparse, and feature minor keys, but there is a string of hopefulness that runs just beneath the surface. For some reason, this album reminds me of the Fall, with is relief from Summer heat and the promise and uncertainty of a new school year. Perhaps this is where the hopefulness comes into play, drawing upon personal experiences removed from the music. In addition to the tone of the album, the musicianship stands out as a high point. Drake was known for unusual tunings of his guitar, but I don’t know enough about the guitar to hear if he utilized that on this album or just on his later ones. His voice is unique and completely calming. The string arrangements are great and the studio musicians do a great job of playing for the song. The sequencing of tracks was well crafted. The album flows up and down all leading to the final track, “Saturday Sun”, which is the first and only occurrence of vibraphone on the album. This closer is perfect in that is sums up the album as a whole. If you were to pick one track to describe this LP to someone, “Saturday Sun” would be it. The back cover features a picture of Drake standing against a wall gazing at an out of focus man running past. This is the photographic embodiment of the album. Drake was focused and sure of his musical identity as the world passed him by. He was not popular during his lifetime, but has had a posthumous recognition by fans and critics alike. If you haven’t listened to him yet, do yourself a favor and check him out. You won’t be disappointed.

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Bjork, Vespertine

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Bjork, Vespertine

Bjork – Vespertine

2001 – One Little Indian Records

 

This album sounds completely unique. I’ve never heard anything else that remotely sounds like Vespertine. All these tunes take place at whisper level, but still retain a forward motion and dynamic range. The beats don’t knock you over the head, they creep in and slowly change. They aren’t made with traditional drums or an electronic set; they seem to be constructed from little sound clips that are put together. On top of that, the songs feature strings, chorus, and all kinds of bells, chimes, and toy pianos. The vocals are quiet and breathy (which works perfectly). Perhaps my perception is biased by the cover, which features a black and white photo of Bjork with a swan drawn on top, but this album feels like a wintertime album (why I’m writing about it in the middle of summer, I don’t know). The progression of songs on this album is great as well. It is a double LP, and across all four sides it builds up and lets down again and again, always moving forward. If you’ve never listened to Bjork, this is a great one to start with. It is completely original and never boring. If you haven’t guessed by now, it is one of my favorite albums of all time!

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Jim Croce, Life and Times

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Jim Croce, Life and Times

Jim Croce – Life and Times

1973 – ABC Records

 

Jim Croce wrote some catch tunes, was a great storyteller, and great mustache wear-er. I didn’t really know much about him, but when looking him up, I found that he died at age 30 in a plane crash after a gig. We’ve all heard some of his music (and if you haven’t, check it out now!), but I had no idea about any of the musicians on these iconic tunes. So I thought that I would do some quick research on the guys that made these songs come to life. For this album, Croce used Gary Chester on the drums. He was a big studio drummer on the East Coast who was featured on hundreds of hits! He was the drummer on “Stand By Me”, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, “Up on the Roof”, “It’s My Party”, “Sugar, Sugar”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, and “Brown Eyed Girl” as well as tons of others. He obviously was able to quickly hear a song and understand exactly what it needed for its feel. Kenny Ascher, the organist on this recording, co-wrote “The Rainbow Connection”. During his career, he has worked with John Lennon, Carly Simon, John Prine, the J.B.s, Meat Loaf, Rod Stewart as well as many others. He also wrote many jingles during his career. Michael Kamen, who played synthesizer on the Croce album, wrote scores for many movies, including Die Hard. Eric Weissberg, who played violin, was the banjoist the recorded “Dueling Banjos” for Deliverance. There was so much talent on this session. Listening to this album, there is nothing out of place, the instruments serve the music. With so many talented guys on the session, it would be easy to overplay, but that is not what happens here. It is clear that they were all great studio musicians, who were able to put egos aside and play what was called for, nothing more. Life and Times is a really enjoyable record to throw on while you are cleaning, or cooking, or any kind of household chore where you can dance around. Jim Croce had some great stuff, and it is sad that he didn’t get to progress any more in his career, the results would have been interesting!

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Punch Brothers, Ahoy

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Punch Brothers, Ahoy

Punch Brothers – Ahoy!

2013 – Nonesuch Records

 

This EP has some really great stuff packed into its short run time. Although only one song on here is an original from the band, they have a way of making covers sound like their own songs. A great example here is “Moonshiner” which has been done by Bob Dylan, Eliott Smith, Cat Power, and tons of others. The Punch Brothers effort sounds nothing like these versions, but still retains the traditional elements of the tune. The mix of straight bluegrass with darker harmonies and virtuosic playing is present on this EP, all adding up to a supremely fun album to listen to. There is a breakdown/solo instrumental section in “Icarus Smicarus” that needs to be heard to believed. I’ve seen this band many times live and they always put on a great show. All the members are always busy with side projects that it is hard to fathom how they can make such great music on a consistent basis with this band. Their ability to take traditional tunes and re-orchestrate them to sound fresh and interesting is amazing. Definitely a band that is worth checking out!

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Mr. Bungle, Disco Volante

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Mr. Bungle, Disco Volante

Mr. Bungle – Disco Volante

1995 – Plain Recordings

 

Mr. Bungle released three official albums, this one sitting in the middle. I’ve always thought about the progression between the albums, the first being brash with the band throwing in everything they could think of, and the last being more refined in a sound. This second album finds the band progressing to their final sonic destination, but retaining some of the insanity involved in the first record. In some ways it is more focused, but in others it ventures into more experimental territory. “Carry Stress in the Jaw” is a mixture of free jazz and metal…seriously…and it works! “Desert Search for Techno Allah” mixes Middle Eastern music with dance music. On top of all the mixing of genres, they pump out a tune like “The Bends” that is some of the scariest music I’ve ever heard recorded, listen to that in a dark room and you will be trembling. The musicianship here is crazy and they are so tight. If this kind of music was sloppy at all, it would be terrible, but Mr. Bungle makes it super interesting and fun. If you’ve never listened to them, I would probably suggest checking out the third album, California, before you listen to this one. I personally love Disco Volante but realize it may not be for everyone. The album title is named after a yacht in a James Bond movie and means “Flying Saucer” in Italian. I just learned that and I’m not sure it is helping me understand the album anymore, but it is interesting. I feel like I will still be finding nuances throughout this LP for years to come, which is, to me, the fun of listening to music!

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Varese, Lazarof - Nocturnal, Ecuatorial, Structures Sonores

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Varese, Lazarof - Nocturnal, Ecuatorial, Structures Sonores

Varese – Nocturnal, Ecuatorial

Lazarof – Structures Sonores

1968 – Vanguard Cardinal Series

 

Side 1: Varese

 

Like many of the other Varese compositions I have heard, “Nocturnal” is heavy with percussion (perfect!). Space is used effectively here. There will be long tones, then a ramping up of quick rhythms on percussion, and then deep voices that crescendo in. It reminds me of the soundtrack to “the Omen”. It just feels creepy, like what you would expect a ritual sacrifice to sound like. The interplay between the percussion, vocals, and horn swells really sets this composition apart. They feed off each other to give structure to the mood of the piece. “Ecuatorial” features an ondes martenot, which is an early electronic instrument similar to the theremin (I had to look it up). It functions perfectly in cranking the creep factor to 11. Please note that I don’t mean the comparisons to horror movies as a dig, I really love that music. These pieces seem to take that style and mix it with some modern classical music concepts to make a finished product that is awesome!

 

Side 2: Lazarof

 

I am not familiar with Henri Lazarof, but after listening to this piece, I will definitely be searching out more of his work. This composition is a perfect B side to the Varese pieces. It has some of the same characteristics; use of space, percussion, and creepiness. This piece, unlike the Varese, is based on pitches and tonality, however dissonant they may be. It relies on a full orchestra, as opposed to the percussion/vocal/brass ensemble. Some of the chord choices here are brilliant, after quick passages, a chord will be held out by the strings that chill you to the bone. There is a point near the end of the piece, where the piano trades runs with the rest of the orchestra. There is so much tension that is built and released in the 10-15 seconds while this happens. Also, the last chord features all 12 notes in the Western scale played all at once, which is pretty cool to hear. There are some really cool things that have been done with music in a classical setting within the last 50 years, this piece is one of them!

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The New Percussion Group of Amsterdam, Go Between

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The New Percussion Group of Amsterdam, Go Between

The New Percussion Group of Amsterdam – Go Between

1987 – EG Records

 

The title track starts side one, with guest Bill Bruford (who’s work with King Crimson is amazing) on drums. After an introduction features an assortment of mallet instruments and the drumset, it breaks down to a single marimba. There is a repeated pattern that slightly changes as other instruments come in and out. This piece reminds me of a Reich composition at points. Unlike a Reich composition, though, it moves through sections relatively quickly. The dynamic range on this performance is epic, they get so low and so high! The next piece, “Redbone”, is written for five log-drums and peacock gongs. The repeated patterns are hypnotic. As we flip the record, we are greeted by the other special guest artist on the recording, Keiko Abe on marimba. “Marimba Spiritual” takes its time to materialize, it starts off very sparse. When it does start to pick up, it doesn’t disappoint, building tension and complexity. The patterns played on percussion fly by underneath blazing marimba lines. This piece is the highlight of the album for me. This album concludes with “Maenaden” which feels like a culmination of work that came before it. Three marimbists and a percussionist trade lines back and forth, making an interesting and fun track to listen to. I really like listening to percussion music (as you could probably guess). The wide variety of percussion instruments give so many possibilities for combinations, melody, rhythms, etc. This album is a good intro to percussion music so go check it out!

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Mahavishnu Orchestra - Apocalypse

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Mahavishnu Orchestra - Apocalypse

Mahavishnu Orchestra – Apocalypse

1974 – CBS, Inc.

 

I found this gem at the record store the other day, for $4, so even though I wasn’t familiar with this particular album, I had to buy it. Mahavishnu Orchestra is awesome, and I have a few of their other records, but hadn’t heard of this one. Apocalypse features the London Symphony Orchestra playing with the band and it was produced by Sir George Martin! I love prog rock and I love orchestral music, so this seemed like a perfect album. After listening, I am not disappointed. Many times, if an artist uses an orchestra, they seem to use it as a background instrument, just to enhance parts already written. On Apocalypse, the orchestra is used differently (better in my opinion). The songs were written, or at least arranged, so that the orchestra is an integral part. If it were taken out, the songs wouldn’t work. This is the second lineup of the band, so no Billy Cobham unfortunately, but the drummer Michael Walden does a great job in his place. This album is a perfect mix of the raucous Mahavishnu, heavy orchestral punctuations, and creepy soundscapes. There is a lot to unpack on this album, and I’m sure it is going to take several listens to really appreciate everything that is going on. That is exactly what I plan on doing!

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Andy Narell, Stickman

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Andy Narell, Stickman

Andy Narell – Stickman

1981 – Hip Pocket Records

 

I’m a big fan of steel drums as well as Andy Narell’s use of them. I first heard about him around the time of his collaborations with the Flecktones, but this album predates that. Side one starts with the title track, which sets the tone for the whole album. It’s got a great driving beat with a catchy melody. The bassist sounds like he comes from the Jaco school of sound, which works really nicely on these tunes. From there, the album moves into “Jig” and “Celtic Folk Song”. It is really cool to hear these tunes played on steel drums, an instrument that is not traditional for the sound. Though it is different, it works perfectly. Out of all the tunes on the album, I like the ones written by Narell the most. He has a great grasp of melody, groove, and tension. At points the chords move by quickly and others they hold on to set the mood. Tempos and feels change frequently and keep you guessing. Sometimes the sound of steel drums conjures up a summer scene and may come across a little cheesy. This is NOT the case here. The compositions and complexity of playing take the steel drums out of their normal setting and push them past their gimmicky-ness. They become just another instrument, that in this case, is being playing beautifully and with amazing technique. This is definitely an artist worth digging into!

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Andrew Bird, I Want to See Pulaski at Night

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Andrew Bird, I Want to See Pulaski at Night

Andrew Bird – I Want to See Pulaski at Night

2013 – Grimsey Records

 

This album is subtle. Nothing knocks you over the head, it’s reserved at times, but much still happens. The texture created by layering violin upon violin upon whistling is enchanting. Andrew has an ear for knowing how the different techniques and attacks for playing his instrument will blend to create a fully engaging soundscape. The songs here are mostly instrumental, with the title track containing lyrics. The structure of these tunes strays from a normal rock or pop setting (verse, chorus, etc.) and falls more into classical theme and variations. He builds upon what is already there and shows the different ways that the same figure can be interpreted depending on its’ context. This album shows confidence in his ability as an instrumentalist and composer. Mr. Bird didn’t clutter things up, or try to show off his chops, he just played what was called for in the music. The album artwork fits perfectly, it is simple, yet effective. I love all of Andrew Bird’s work, but this album really stands apart from the rest. It sets the tone for a late, quiet, summer night (which come to think of it, matches many of the other albums that I’ve reviewed). This is a great place to start your exploration of the work of Andrew Bird.

 

* Even though this is a full size record, it runs at 45 rpm instead of 33 1/3 (which has caused me confusion a few times, where I’ve listened to half the first song too slowly). I made sure to have it at the right speed for review though.

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Gentle Giant - Playing the Fool

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Gentle Giant - Playing the Fool

Gentle Giant – Playing the Fool

1977 – Capitol Records

 

This record (it’s a double LP) spends a significant time under the needle, as I listen to it all the time. It seems to fit all different moods, weather, and situations. Perhaps that is because there is so much going on throughout each song.  Each musician jumps between multiple instruments while showcasing virtuosity on each (there are 5 musicians listed and 29 instruments!). Gentle Giant’s music is complex, epic, and thoroughly entertaining. There is something about British Prog Rock from the 70s that I love. The historic music of the area plays a big part; mixing medieval music with rock and jazz. It is not all minstrel music, there are some of the best head bobbing grooves scattered about throughout the album. The track “On Reflection” showcases both the classical and modern influence perfectly (and includes a 5 part acapella section which is augmented by vibraphone). This live album is a perfect introduction to Gentle Giant’s catalogue, all studio albums (save one) are represented with the song selection here. I don’t know how popular this band was during their time, but they definitely have fans now. They were sampled by Madlib on the Madvillian LP. Karriem Riggins also seems to use their work as samples regularly. Their writing style and arrangements have influenced many, I’m sure. Complicated prog rock, medieval sounds, vocal harmonies, vibraphone solos, grooves for days, keyboard solos, crazy counterpoint, odd time signatures….do I need to keep writing? Or are you going to go listen to them now?

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A Troop of Echoes, The Longest Year on Record

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A Troop of Echoes, The Longest Year on Record

A Troop of Echoes – The Longest Year on Record

2015

 

Providence has a great history of interesting and fun bands. A Troop of Echoes is definitely one of the most energetic and enigmatic genre bending bands to come out of this city. It is hard to categorize them into one style, which is fine by me. They have blended their influences together to form an immediately recognizable sound that is all their own. At times it is heavy, others relaxed, but always grooving like crazy. The songs are dynamically nuanced and slowly morph between sections naturally. This album feel as though it is alive and growing; listening to it gives you a front row seat to witness it mature. The lineup of bass, drums, guitar, and sax conjures up thoughts of jazz groups, which is a direction this band could have steered towards (based on the musicianship present). They instead decided that they wouldn’t let conventional structure define them, they forged ahead to make their own sound. I’m not going to musically analyze this album like I usually do, just note that there is vibraphone present! I just want to spotlight a highly entertaining band. I love supporting local artists, and groups like this make that easy. I’m sure I would be listening to them even if they weren’t from right here. Definitely get a copy of this album and check it out!

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Deerhoof, Fever 121614

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Deerhoof, Fever 121614

Deerhoof – Fever 121614

2015 – Polyvinyl Record Co.

 

I’m surprised it has taken me this long to write about Deerhoof. By shear probability, I should have gotten to them before now, I have more of their LPs than any other artist (I think Chick Corea and Tom Waits come in second and third). Fever 121614 is a live recording that features so much energy that I’m surprised it could all fit on the vinyl! The songwriting for this band is what has always hooked me. The weaving guitar parts and the chord choices are always interesting and inventive. One listen to “Buck and Judy” will show you what I mean. Many of the chord changes and extensions remind me of all the free jazz recordings that I listen to. Deerhoof has a way of taking a punk rock energy, mixing it with complex chord structures, creative drumbeats, and churning out something that is immediately recognizable as theirs. This is not to say that their sound has stayed the same, quite the opposite, each of their albums follows a different direction musically. Even so, there is something so uniquely Deerhoof-y about all their tunes and this album features songs from a few different records. Musically, with their energy output, the songs should rush, but they don’t. In fact, they sit far back on the beat. Greg Saunier, the drummer, slays the kit and comes up with some of the most inventive fills I’ve ever heard. He is one of the best drummers out there in any genre at the moment. Satomi Matsuzaki’s vocals and bass-playing are creative and always fit into the musical scheme perfectly, never over or under playing. John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez take the guitarist positions, but simply calling them guitarists seems cheap. They use different sounds and textures to play off each other and make a lot of the harmonic material really shine. If you haven’t checked this band out, you need to. This album is a good introduction, as it covers much of their material and showcases them in a live setting. Deerhoof is, and has been for years, my favorite current band. Go listen now!

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