The Freelance Mentalists.
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
  Gisèle Vienne’s new techno rave party dance extravaganza



“Color, song, posture:  these are the three determinants of art.  I mean color and lines – animal postures are sometimes veritable lines.  Color, line, song:  that’s art in its pure state.  

“And so, I tell myself that when they leave their territory or return to their territory, it’s in the domain of property and ownership.”

“What is fascinating generally is the whole domain of signs.  Animals emit signs, they ceaselessly emit signs, they produce signs.  That is, in the double sense, they react to signs.”

--Gilles Deleuze, “A as in Animal”, from “Gilles Deleuze From A to Z”



A Polish guy I know says that in his country many people don’t consider a party to have been really good unless a fight broke out.  In “Crowd”, Gisèle Vienne’s new dance production, there are several.

Except that these aren’t fights that are settled in the human, civilized way – i.e. through physical harm and bloodshed – but resolved more in the way that animals do, through fleeting gesture, signal, quick movement, and then establishing and holding on to one’s territory or abandoning it.  At points in the piece, glances are exchanged, brief skirmishes flare up, hostile encounters take place, and the conflicts are just as soon over.  The scheme of a dance party is being used metonymically to extend to society and to social interaction in general.

To sum up the underlying narrative:  over the course of 90 minutes, 15 young people enter a warehouse space, hold a techno dance party, and then leave (and leave an impressive layer of detritus and debris behind).



In her previous productions over the past 17 years, Gisèle Vienne has explored various kinds of liminality:  human vs. mannequin (Showroom Dummmies, 2001); zombies vs. mere Goths (Kindertotenlieder, 2007); reality vs. fantasy (I Apologize, 2004); and in general, choreography vs. puppetry (passim).  In “Crowd”, she presents several other binary oppositions, skillfully kept in ambiguous balance:

- pleasure vs. violence
- motion vs. emotion
- ritual vs. entertainment
- dance vs. theatre
- the purely choreographic vs. dramatic narrative
- musically, techno-rave dance beats vs. ambient chillout

The various ambiguities and displacements accumulate:  This is a narrative with no dialogue.  It is dance, but often executed in slow motion and/or start-and-stop repeated movements.  And these repetitions suggest loops, so that we’re watching a live performance that resembles a video recording, maybe with a technical malfunction in the replay.  The repetitions serve to both emphasize certain movements vis-à-vis the narrative and also create rhythms on their own, interacting with the dance beats.  These temporal distortions produce dramatic tension.

Thus, the breaking-down of movement, and breaking down of social relations.  Technical malfunction, and societal dysfunction.

And then there’s the ambiguity with regard to time:  the music is taken largely from the 1990s, but there’s nothing dated about the dancers’ clothing, so presumably all this is occurring in the present – or the past.  Is it ‘then’ or is it now, or in an indeterminate time-space?  And therefore by extension, is that ‘us’ back in the day, or it is a representation of what we are now or should or shouldn’t have been?  Is a spectator going to identify with one of the figures onstage?  After all, there are 15 people up there, and according to Myers and Briggs, there are only 16 possible personality types, so nearly all of us are covered.

The number of dancers is cleverly chosen in another respect.  Over the years, I’ve observed that 15 is the magic number.  Whether it’s an academic seminar or a corporate departmental meeting or a classroom of junior high school students or a yoga class or whatever, once the number of people reaches 15 or over, a certain organic unity is lost and the group starts becoming unmanageable:  different subgroups form, several conversations take place at the same time, alliances and rivalries are reinforced and elude control.  And therefore, the number of dancers onstage lends itself to a kind of managed chaos.



Here are some of the highlights of the show, the parts of the mosaic of activity that I was able to perceive and retain on a first viewing:


Music:  Underground Resistance – The Illuminator

A bare stage with a layer of dirt in places and plastic drink bottles littered here and there.  A woman in denim shorts, yellow hooded anorak, and silver-glitter trainers enters, VERY SLOWLY, as slow as the “ash walk” in Butoh.   At a distance of several meters, she’s followed by a guy in grey, drifting in at the same pace.  Much further back, two others follow.  Gradually, in slow motion, more arrive:  two of them wearing pink backpacks, another in a teal-and-purple windbreaker, a couple more in silver-spangled sneakers.  By the time the track is over, 14 people have emerged.  Various celebratory gestures in slo-mo:  one or two pour their drinks over their heads, or pour them onto the ground, as if libations.  Sometimes hands are thrust upward, like fans at a rock concert or charismatic Christians.  Two guys lift a woman into the air.  She falls to the ground, and someone elsewhere does as well.  By now a 15th figure has appeared, a woman in a green parka, mysterious due to her isolation and delayed entrance.


Music:  Vapour Space – Gravitational Arch Of 10

Each of the people has assumed an individual pose, and holds it.  All are motionless.  An eerie tableau is formed, like a live version of a photograph assembled and staged by Jeff Wall.  This continues for several minutes while only the lighting changes, sometimes spotlighting the figures in the center, sometimes flooding the entire stage.  The effect is startling.


Music:  Underground Resistance – several tracks from DJ Rolando’s “Vibrations” mix CD

The music of Underground Resistance, the secretive Black electronic-music collective from Detroit, comes on, with hardline electro beats taken chapter-and-verse from Kraftwerk (cf. “Numbers”).  The room explodes, with the entire group in coordinated mechanical dance moves (move, halt; move, halt).  Think Dieter from Saturday Night Live’s “Sprockets”, or the Asian guy who shows up in London Boiler Room clips and is nicknamed “The Dancing Misanthrope”.  Choreographically, this is where the show really comes into its own.

Then suddenly the energy changes:  here and there the rave threatens to turn into a rumble.  Is joy being channeled into hostility?  Two figures face off warily, like dogs sniffing each other’s scent.  Are they checking each other out (for sex), or scoping each other out (for battle)?   The action everywhere else comes to a halt.  This scene includes the first extensive use of repeated start-and-stop movements.

The group starts up again.  One woman pushes her male companion away, walks to the center of the stage, busts open a bag of potato chips and flings it all into the air.  The dance track is cut off, cut short.  Prolonged, suspenseful silence, while the figures hang in suspension in their various poses, their dance moves interrupted.


Music:  Choice (a/k/a Laurent Garnier) – Acid Eiffel

More than any other scene, it’s this one that plays upon notions of Desire.  “Acid Eiffel” is considered a landmark in European techno, and its blissful yet melancholy synth-strings probably already evoked nostalgia as soon as the record was released in 1993.  As the party starts back up, the question arises:  Does an audience member desire to be part of the crowd onstage, partying in the present? or rather to be part of a crowd, partying back in the mid-90s, somewhere in that person’s own personal history?  (Be careful how you answer:  remember that Faust will lose his bargain with Mephisto when a moment arrives that he wishes would last forever.)  Deleuze and Guattari, however, offer a way out of the dilemma:  a person never desires just one thing, they say, but rather an aggregate of things.  So in this case, the Acid Eiffel scene elicits desire for many things at once, including the unrealized remains from any of the other occasions when the viewer heard the record.

The party gradually starts back up, and at some point the group is again moving in coordinated fashion.  But by now, the party’s momentum is taking its toll:  there’s plenty of rubbish onstage, and two people are on the ground, passed out or maybe just in a K-hole.


Music:  Jeff Mills – Phase 4

The music of Jeff Mills, techno demigod and co-founder of Underground Resistance, comes on, at a furious, cranked-up BPM.  All of the dancers are throwing around clothing, spraying water, hurling dirt from the floor.  We witness the first real all-out fight, which is between two males of the species.  Gleeful frenzy elsewhere.  Pandemonium (a word from the Greek, meaning “all demons”).

One woman accosts another from behind, flees, breaks open a bottle, sprays the contents in all directions.

The music stops.  All but one of the figures sink to the ground.  LONG SILENCE.  The stage looks like a battlefield, with only 2 or 3 survivors who are sitting up, dazedly.  

One person finally rises – the first one to have arrived at the party, the woman in denim shorts.   Then the rest follow suit, slowly, one by one.


Music:    Manuel Göttsching – E2-E4
    Sun Electric - Sarotti
    Global Communication – 14 31

The rest of the dance spectacle takes place in a long, post-cathartic state, beginning with revival and recovery that seems to grow organically out of the music (which at this point is optimistic, almost naïve).  A guy and a girl kiss, then collapse to the ground (“la petite mort”?).  Two persons walk across the stage in “real time”, while all else around them is in suspension.  In the midst of this collective swoon or dream-state, one male approaches another from behind, puts his hand over the other’s face (a come-on? an expression of affection? a gesture of aggression?).  He looks at the woman standing nearby; she’s distraught, even weeping.  By implication this is a sexual triangle and betrayal.  The male interloper sinks to the level of the groin of the other guy, then continues all the way to the floor.

To the lengthy ambient chill-out music, everyone seems woozy or in an altered state or just plain zoned-out.  Two or three same-sex pairs hold each other in a prolonged embrace.  All slowly, usually singly, leave the stage in the same manner that they arrived.  One figure remains, picking through the garbage on the floor, then he too departs.  Finis.



For each of the dancers, Dennis Cooper (American expat transgressional gay novelist and Gisèle Vienne’s frequent artistic collaborator) developed an individual personality.  And therefore, each dancer dances and performs gestures from within the personality assigned to them for the piece.  Certain subtextual storylines were devised.  And only then was the entire piece choreographed in detail.  Thus, we have “method dancing”, analogous to method acting.

Are the individual characters differentiated enough, and clear to the audience?  It’s not hard to figure out which person is supposed to be the Dealer, and that there’s a skinhead present who’s also gay.  After the show I spoke with two women who attended together:  one of them didn’t realize that the dancers had been given personalities, while her companion caught on to this aspect, but assumed that all but two of the women onstage were supposed to be prostitutes [?!].  I suppose one Hidden Advantage is that the production will hold up under repeated viewings, because viewers will be drawn more deeply into the characters and the narrative transmitted by sign, told via gesture.

Lastly, is there enough violence to justify the director’s stated intention in this regard?  For the average football hooligan, nowhere near enough – but probably a bit too much for a subscriber to the Royal Ballet.


__________________________


All of the music, except for the interludes that Peter Rehberg composed specifically for the production, can be found on YouTube.

The DJ Rolando set used in the show can be streamed here (as of this writing) and is most strongly recommended:
https://www.mixcloud.com/borisvragolov/dj-rolando-vibrations-2002/ 
The sequence in question runs from approximately 21:30 to 33:00.

There’s a preview clip, with narration in French, embedded here:
https://info.arte.tv/fr/crowd-danse-sous-hypnose



and a preview clip narrated in German here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVsSFgM1Irw
Questions as to Gisèle Vienne’s artistic intentions can be answered by consulting her website in English here:
http://www.g-v.fr/en/shows/crowd/

or, in French, here:
http://www.g-v.fr/fr/shows/crowd/



Thanks to Bob Montgomery for cawfee tawk, to Peter Rehberg for a couple of stray bits of information, and to blogmeister Don Allred for his patience.


                            --John Wojtowicz




 
Sunday, August 06, 2017
  The Deal Again?
So once again: not in the monthly archive link in right rail, here's direct link

https://thefreelancementalists.blogspot.com/2017/01/from-lifes-other-side-2016-releases.html

Now read John's dispatches (and my P&Jopus) if haven't already. Scroll down, you'll see those (for now).
 
Saturday, July 08, 2017
 


“In for a Penny, Out Like a Lamb”


By now I've listened to Henry Threadgill’s “In for a Penny, in for a Pound” (the title has a nicer ring than "Might as Well Be Hanged for a Sheep as for a Lamb", even if you're not a vegetarian, and even if you’ve paid not even a penny for your digital copy, and even if you’re frustrated by decades’ worth of Threadgill’s delightfully enigmatic titles) several times – usually not the whole 75-80 minute six-part composition without interruption, but nearly always one entire disc at once.  I'm giving it time to sink in because back in the day it took me a long time to 'get' Air, the pioneering trio that comprised Threadgill, Fred Hopkins, and Steve McCall, even though for years now I'd be happy having all nine Air LPs as my desert-island discs, and even though I 'got' the Threadgill Sextett and his subsequent groups (Very Very Circus, Make a Move, and Zooid) immediately, with each new release.  Compared to previous Zooid recordings, he's definitely taken a step forward with this one:  as though you’re wandering through a large art installation without being sure what the point of entry is supposed to be but all the while sensing that there’s definitely some large-scale organizational principle and plan at work, even if it’s chaos theory rather than linear development.  Henry Threadgill offers some tantalizing paradoxes here.  First of all, there’s the admixture of notated music and improvisation – the aspect of Air that confounded me for so long – so that, as with Cecil Taylor’s music, the listener is never really completely sure whether a given soloist or any other musician is playing something annotated/composed or improvised, and on the basis of what suggestions or constraints from the composer.  The 'epic' (his term, from the liner notes) gives an overall impression of hyperactivity, of having a restless, jittery quality perfect for a generation of people raised on Ritalin, Adderall, and Concerta; but on the other hand, lurking among the capriccios, with their lightning-quick flamenco-from-another-planet guitar runs and the cello somberly sawing away beneath it, there are indeed several medium-tempo, resolute, contrapuntal melodies, and quite a few slower, lyrical passages where all the musicians drop out leaving one unaccompanied instrument, or only one accompanying instrument.  In fact it would be easy to describe this work as ‘exhilarating’ if it weren’t for this ADHD aspect.  And it would be easy to sit back and enjoy the ever-changing kaleidoscope of textures if it weren’t for the insistently abstractual quality of the music.  So one solution is to grant Henry Threadgill his uncompromising abstractuality and devote your attention to the evanescent textures, as though this work by a ‘jazz’ composer were actually an unacknowledged mixed-race offspring of the classical tradition, scored for the so-called “Pierrot ensemble”, q.v.  Compare the instrumentation of Pierre Boulez’s Le Marteau sans maître – i.e. alto flute, percussion, acoustic guitar, viola, xylorimba, and vibraphone – with that of this Threadgill offering – i.e. flute/bass flute/alto saxophone, drums/percussion, acoustic guitar, cello, and tuba/trombone.  But then even with Threadgill’s resorting to the term “free serialism” to describe the method of this piece (in an interview with NPR), and even with In for a Penny and Le Marteau sans maître sharing the same mercurial-ephemeral quality, Boulez aims for stasis, a static energy, whereas Threadgill apparently can’t help but engineer a gleeful momentum into his musical epic, albeit in waves with pauses between them.  Another paradoxical touch is that Threadgill identifies each of the longer sections as being devoted to solo space for one of the Zooid instrumentalists; but on the other hand, within any given section, other instruments also get solo space, and probably just as much as the instrument ostensibly being featured.  For example, even though the concluding track is subtitled “For cello”, closure is achieved by a classy, valedictory statement from the trombone.  But because of the way the entire piece is organized -- like a mosaic, so that it's best to listen to large portions at one go, to see the forest and not just the leaves -- it takes several listens to differentiate one section from another (e.g. “this part has the cello solo that I like”).  And there are sections within sections, so that sometimes the music comes to a clear stop and then picks up with a different tempo and mood.  What kind of mood?  I’m never sure whether some of his melodic statements are too overly busy for me, or just busy enough to function as light, comedic soundtrack music; whether they’re inadvertently pompous, or satirically pompous, as though I’m not quite equipped with the vocabulary and short-term memory to figure out whether Professor Irwin Corey is serious or kidding.  And because instruments are constantly dropping out and re-entering in new combinations, the listener is treated to oodles of variety, but denied the luxury of slipping into enjoyment of any one thing for the extra minute or so that it would take to be sated.  And even though the instrumentation is virtually the same as on previous recordings of Zooid, I'm having a tough time relating the music to any previously existing genre, except for a chamber music of Henry Threadgill's own devising.  After all, where else can you hear trio passages scored for drums, tuba, and acoustic guitar?  The Henry Threadgill Sextett of the 1980s was clearly influenced by the New Orleans tradition, and this Zooid outing descends from Henry’s Sextett charts – but only via the most contrived argumentation could one make a case for this new music being connected to New Orleans jazz.  Meanwhile, forget everything I said above and keep just this in mind:  "In for a Penny, in for a Pound" would make great film music.  Now go have a listen, imagine what kind of film, and decide which director it would be for.  In conclusion, Geoff Dyer likes Henry Threadgill and so should you.

You can listen to the two introductory sections here:
https://henrythreadgill.bandcamp.com/album/in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound
                                                                       
                                                                                      ----John Wojtowicz

 
Sunday, April 23, 2017
  End of 0

One morning last September I got a text message from Peter Rehberg.  He had just arrived in town, booked on extremely short notice to play at an evening of electronic music here.  He was replacing the headliner, Mika Vainio (and btw that evening Peter ended up turning in a stunning, very tightly constructed set).



When we met up, Peter told me that Mika was apparently having problems and wasn’t making it to all his gigs.  Mika was living in Berlin then; I’d heard rumors of episodes where he would begin drinking and sometimes disappear for days at a time, incommunicado and whereabouts unknown.  People who knew him were alarmed by this development, clearly something beyond just overconsumption of alcohol.


Anyway, this morning I got the news that Mika Vainio passed away on 13 April.


His massive contribution to the music finally dawned on me when I learned – only very recently – that he, both solo and with his group Panasonic, began recording in the 1990s, whereas I’d always thought that they were already releasing records by the early 1980s.  To my ear, Panasonic (who later decided to change their name to “Pan Sonic” as a result of a cease-and-desist letter from the Japanese electronics conglomerate) were contemporaries of Throbbing Gristle, and constituted a minimalist missing link between Suicide and Richie Hawtin.


Anachronistically, their music sounded less like a form of techno than an experimental forerunner of it, while uncovering something atavistic in it.  In their focus on pure waveforms they seem to have discovered principles of physics from which minimal techno could emerge as a natural, logical extension.  


It was as though one of them scrawls a mathematical ratio on a scrap of paper, they set their analog equipment accordingly, add a simple click throughout, and voilà, a track is born.  Then sometime later, a DJ elsewhere hears the resulting pattern, puts a Roland 909 under it, and the musical idea reaches the rave and dance club in an only slightly mutated form.  The one time that I saw Pan Sonic live, at Vienna’s legendary dance club Flex, they and their two modest electronic boxes totally rocked the house, while offering virtually zero melodic material.


And then there’s Mika’s producing just plain noise, as a member of that inner circle of pioneer noisemeisters that includes Merzbow, Russell Haswell, and the late Zbigniew Karkowski, churning out blocks of apparently random hiss, rumble, crackle, and hum played at deafening volume.


But in addition to the quasi-techno miniatures and the in-your-face industrial confrontations, there are his ambient works, the ones that appear on Mika’s solo recordings – often released self-effacingly and somewhat self-destructively under the name “0” (try searching this ultra-minimal pseudonym in any digital database and you’ll see that his using it was nearly as self-defeating as having chosen “Panasonic” as the name of his duo).  For my money, the placid soundscapes on “Oleva” (from 2008) are easily better than nearly all of Brian Eno:  simple, elegant, clearly drawn lines as opposed to vague, ambient washes of pastels.


Among Mika Vainio’s vast output – 33 records under his name alone, and 32 with Pan Sonic, plus his collaborations with Alan Vega and many others – I accord a special place to his outstanding work on “the Vladislav Delay Quartet”, where he joins his Finnish compatriot Sasu Ripatti and is responsible for much of the sound design, including those ominous and at times oppressive electronic textures.  (The socialist-realist woodcut images on the sleeve are among my all-time favorite album cover art.)


Pan Sonic’s minimalism in music carried over to their mode of existence as well.  Their being a duo, often requiring just a couple of analog boxes, allowed them to play pretty much anywhere, resulting in gigs in far-flung places like Easter Island(!).


This guerrilla approach could also be seen in the fall of 1998, when they were invited to perform at the prestigious Ars Electronica festival in Austria.  As their venue, Pan Sonic played on a train that rolled around, into and through the huge Vöest-Alpine steelworks of Linz.  


On the following night, at the Rhiz in Vienna, Mika Vainio did a DJ set that has been uploaded here, and proves that he really was one of us:
https://soundcloud.com/editionsmego/mika-vainio-dj-set-19989898-rhiz-vienna



Mika Vainio (1963–2017)





Rob Young has written a fine tribute for The Wire:
www.thewire.co.uk/in-writing/essays/mika-vainio-rob-young


There’s an excellent history here:
http://www.phinnweb.org/panasonic/history.html


Pitchfork has put together a nice selection of 7 tracks.  The video of “Endless” (Pan Sonic with Alan Vega) shows the similarities between their sensibility and that of their fellow Finn, Aki Kaurismäki:
http://pitchfork.com/thepitch/1486-7-songs-perfectly-capturing-pan-sonics-mika-vainio/


                                                               ----John Wojtowicz




 
Sunday, January 29, 2017
  Nothing Can Hut Me: 2016 releases, Pazz & Jop ballots & comments

(made-up category & comments follow):
ALBUMS, ten points each (just in the order they came to mind, except Bowie):
  1. David Bowie, Blackstar (Columbia)
  2. A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic)
  3. (various artists) The Rough Guide To Ethiopian Jazz (World Music Network)
  4. Tanya Tagaq, Retribution (Six Shooter)
  5. Beyoncé, Lemonade (Columbia)
  6. PJ Harvey, The Hope Six Demolition Project (Vagrant)
  7. Mekons, Existentialism (Bloodshot)
  8. Wussy, Forever Sounds (Shake It)
  9. Blood Orange, Freetown Sound (Domino)
  10. Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker (Columbia)
SINGLES
  1. Big Star, "Lovely Day (John Fry Rough Mix)" (Omnivore)
  2. 75 Dollar Bill, "Cummins Falls" (Thin Wrist)
  3. 75 Dollar Bill, "I'm Not Trying To Wake Up" (Thin Wrist)
  4. Procedure Club, "Lunar Eclipse" (Safety Meeting)
  5. Bonnie Raitt, "I Knew" (Redwing)
  6. Robyn/Kindness, "Who Do You Love" (Wolfgang Voight New Romantic Mix)" (Konichiwa)
  7. Lydia Loveless, "Heaven" (Bloodshot)
  8. Marc Ribot/Young Philadelphians, "The Hustle" (Yellowbird)
  9. Allen Toussaint, "Danza Op. 33" (Nonesuch)
  10. Notekillers/Shelley Hirsch, "Misslebones" (American Bushmen)
************************************************************************************
Hon. Mentions:
Sun Ra: Singles---The Definitive 45s Collection 1952-1991(might have been Top 10 if heard it before sending ballot)  Big Star: Complete Third, Leland Sundries: Music For Outcasts,
Margaret Glaspy: Emotions and Math, Bob Dylan: Fallen Angels,
John Renbourn & Wizz Jones: Joint Control,
Caustic Resin: All The Medicine Is Gone,
The Coathangers: Nosebleed Weekend, Lydia Loveless: Real, Anderson Paak: Malibu, Seratones: Get Gone, Muffs: Bigger and Blonder , The Heaters: American Dream: The Portastudio Recordings, Deerhoof: The Magic, Kate & Anna McGarrigle: Pronto Monto, Notekillers:Songs and Jams Vol. 1
*************************************************************************************
COMMENTS:

David Bowie, Blackstar :
the embattled vitality and resourcefulness and  sure-footed economy of this! His strongest album, I suspect (even Station To Station always requires deciding whether I really want to hear "Wild Is The Wind" and/or "Word On A Wing" one more time). Vibe-wise, the title is his classic disguise, in a way, one more time for the Artist Formerly Known As The Thin White Duke AKA another white rocker from Thee 60s now plugging into and through the recombinant resource, the revisited, rigorously science-fictional-to-factual soundscape of blackmusic heaven (emerging, tiny figure in the spotlight, piping, insisting, claiming, "I'm a blackstar! I'm a blackstar!"---"too", he seems to imply---maybe hoping for a moment of escape, transcendence, alternative history,  some twists and turns in the cold bare facts). Black music as source, standard, guiding star, now reflected and refracted through the  implosive momentum synthesis of this blackstar-blackmusic by  customized pressure and implementation, played by distinctive jazz pros, all of them, along with Bowie, reportedly(no obvious lifts to confirm) listening to Kendrick Lamar  etc. between takes, also applying rock and r&b---all of it drawing from and drawn into fast last generation of mutant blues with no time to waste,  between unmistakable Bowie cuts in the flung tropes, clues, private references ripped and read:  gotta be masked because he can't give it all away, never could, foreseeing death and being told don't change that sort of thing, the music and band make his way, in extension: something more creative than beating your head against and even through a wall, but not totally unrelated (that drummer, yow)



A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here . . . Thank You 4 Your Service:
So much to take in on A Tribe's last-minute return and farewell, but initially I'm struck by the  subtle shifts behind  robust guest Ja Rule's well-grounded assertions; also, here and elsewhere certain changes in headphone air pressure when not those of rhythms and/or beats, of genre, subgenre, stylistic elements in reliable recombination, shifting just a bit---are we on an escalator here? An elevator, or did I just now open my eyes to what's been here all along? (That guitar lick there, these words right here, passing by). Not that they're ever coy or hedging bets, but life is like that, and also they want us to keep listening, I gather.




Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker:
"As He died to make men holy, let us die to make things cheap." Although El Cohen already mentioned "the ruins of the altar  in the mall", among the stuff he's urging us to "Steer Your Way" past---though how can we, since it's all in The Great Chain of Being (And Nothingness), which he can't help mentioning, can't forget, even though forgetting and all other loss is part of it too, "thought by thought" indeed---still, I find this an inspirational or at least perky reminder that cheap thrills and other bargains worth hunting (as he demonstrated),""things" including affordable objets d'art, like this tenacious tunnel of love, You Want It Darker, on the free version of streaming services near you---are valuable, necessary: consolation prizes, and our daily bread, always in danger of being overlooked and overcooked by the distracting Big Fence  of "Cosmic Pain" he also wants us and him to steer our way past, in found, hoarded
moments. Maybe I should call this magpie eye for the cheap (as well as the classy) his saving grace, just because  that's the kind of spiritual-y cliche he might pocket  for future use.
Not that it always saves his arty ambitions and manners even charm-wise: the clunker here is "If I Didn't Have Your Love", the formally doom-y do-me greeting card verse of which is dead boring, and feels oddly forced---why and how  does he feel obliged to deliver this to whomever? Is he  making the last rounds, settling his affairs, "making his peace"? That's not what this album is about; he's still in the midst of life, and yes he's letting us/somebody know this is as far as he's gotten, and probably will get, but  nothing is resolved, no "closure." What would failure to mail the notice matter, at this point? What will happen if he doesn't? Did he lose some kind of bet?  In context, it's almost intriguing. Almost, but not quite. Well, okay, kind of, at least to scribble about, while no longer listening to this thing.
So even his  failures can succeed in soliciting glints of attention, precious moments of our consideration, once we get hooked. (As I have, though this is the first Cohen album I've heard in its entirety, several times, since the  flatline-monotone Songs From A Room, in 1969.) Because that's  the kind of cunning, compulsive  underdog he is---present tense, safe in the afterlife of recorded song for 50 years, and paperback print for several years before that----always with another slightly soiled dove and/or ace in the hole, leaving no stone unturned, or unrolled:  still hungry after all these years, and opening this set with a round of  cosmic one-upmanship, successful as any dog can be, yay, and he follows that by remaining competitive even/especially in the  weary, magnanimous-in-victory"Treaty", where he confides/confesses/advises that only one opponent can be real, so "You're the ghost", so sorry. Which might seem sorrowfully ironic now, but again, who is on all those records? Probably not you, unless you're his muse/deity/frenemy/lovah, but you always knew you were not the only one, and if you made it this far, you're probably with him now, calling for another round.
This is the guy, after all, who  first showed up on vinyl with "Suzanne", via Judy Collins' artisanal pipes, moving Greil Marcus to compare the results, as written and crooned, to arty softcore porn, sweet gooey atmospheric religious-erotic imagery, "And the Sun pours down like honey on Our Lady of the Harbour",  and all. Robert Christgau long ago mentioned "studied vulgarity" as another arrow in Cohen's quivering quiver, and  El always did have a good nose for cheap perfume too, so where once we got "rages of fragrance", on You Want It Darker he finds/fine-tunes just a twilight whiff of "crazy fragrance" even "in the temple", where "Mah 'don't' was sayin' 'Ah do.' " This pronunciation of this pronouncement,  along with  sneaky piano  serve as reminders that devil-or-angel dichotomies, maybe especially re the female of the species, were all the basically toxic valentine candy rage in the 50s of Cohen's youth, and yes, your "heart deserves a medal", also a cookie,  for rejecting such trashy icons, you dirty old man (still summoning your don't-you-dare-call-them-angels -now, male and female, unobtrusively singing on the head of a pin, and perfectly on cue). Oh yeah, and he beyond-shamelessly plays the  beyond-old man card, the hints-that-he's-more-mortal-than-ever card, even,  in "Leave The Table", which also plays the most seductive vocal here---seductive or seduced; what is she doing to him, or what is he thinking about----better to leave it to the canny-as-uncanny, perfectly poised sound, deploying hairline strings, suggestive bass lines, times Halloween mask-echo---and the writing and the conception and other still sufficiently moving parts behind and inside it all (O Baby).


PJ Harvey, The Hope Six Demolition Project :
It took a while---had to make myself listen a second time----but now I'm really enjoying most of her tragical reality tour (though not tracks 1 & 2). She sounds startling and startled, by the details and sheer weirdness of these times, as her voice veers and finds purchase in the dark heavy shiny spiky curves, suggesting a garden, sometimes of wrought iron ---initially thought it was all from DC, so this would be the long fences of Georgetown----or big black vehicles, limos or four-wheel-drives, cruising and bouncing through the various neighborhoods and becoming the architecture, monuments and housing developments and parks and gutted areas and demolition equipment---for renovation, yay: involved framework, as the people surface and flash by, fade away once, again, in her snapshots and notes.
I could go to her site and get all the words, but think they're better this way, for the most part Calling it the Vietnam Memorial, leaving "Veterans" out, somehow ricocheting off "Lincoln Memorial", making me think more of the associated bloodbaths: stark profusion, more sheer weirdness, also rebounding off her chirpy vocal, leading a children's expedition around the grounds.
Quite an emotional range here, but I also like the one bit of straight-up lightning up, when she's tromping along, carrying on about all those groovy traditional "Medicinals", 'til she comes across "an old lady in a wheelchair, with her Redskins cap on backwards", who is taking some kind of de facto medicine from its newspaper wrapping, as I hear it: the folk process continues, y'all. And she follows it, for her own purposes.
Which reminds me, re old and contemporary musical elements (including Balkan beats for horn grooves, gospel harmonies and free jazz sax cries)mashed into personalized, stylized expression  without hogging the foreground, that she now seems like a colleague of Tuneyards.
And the personal expression of the artist/tour guide also invites personal responses of listeners; the show hasn't stopped yet, not for some of us, anyway.  As my I Love Music message board colleague Lee (quoted here by permission) posted on the ILM thread re Hope Six :
"Whenever I've had to drive through DC in the last half year, I get this uncontrollable urge to sing "The Community of Hope" but with new lyrics about whatever random shit I happen to see out the window...."
― Lee626


The Mekons,  Existentialism :
Finally got to the album, though still not the video or book---but it def stands on its own while invoking not to mention flaunting associations with other media, starting with that in-your-face-duh title, Existentialism, ooo-wee. Hear now the brainy Brechtians of Bloodshot ((also shouting out "Adventures In The Skin Trade!" for Welsh homeboy Dylan Thomas and their own claimed exploits, of course): it's rough and slick, theatrical as hell, a series of scenes linked by grabby nuanced mood and attitude and tone, mainly of voice, since this is mainly voices + or x rhythm section with other sounds coming in on cue, but zinging by: dabs of dub, also kind of a skiffle feel at times, and other old rock tie-ins, from the Caribbean influence, and punk---this is all stuff the Clash liked too, and the male voices sometimes make me think of Strummer (and this set reminds me that the Mekons contributed to The Sandinista! Project. wherein many different artists took different kinds of adept re-shots at the Clash's sometimes chops-challenged(outward-boun yet self-and-inner-circle-anchored/limited) three-LP adventure).
(for more about the remarkable Sandinista! Project, see https://myvil.blogspot.com/2016/06/clash-stash-actually-cuts-crap.html
And[ctrl+F] http://thefreelancementalists.blogspot.com/2008_02_01_archive.html)
So the Mekons are still doing what they can to make existence worth continuing, and/or killing time, providing sing-along entertainment on the train, in the lobby, maybe the hipster rest home (ending with, "You seen it all, but ya don't---remember!" But then ya do, then ya don't, and a mention of history at the very end). Getting under my skin, among my nerves at times, but in a gooood way, and also "Bucket" seems like it might be a Masked Marauders-type parody: bootleg of that (mythical) time that Marianne Faithfull met the Mekons. Not to be outdone culturally, "Nude Hamlet" has smoked The Complete Basement Tapes Raw and the Clash continuation, before being killed in youth (short-ass track for such a killer, damn) by ("These are our orders, sir!") the hearty, dusty, galloping, and otherwise action-packed pageantry of "1848 Now!" Meanwhile, "Simone On The Beach" is "riding naked through the town to expiate the burden of her guilt"--- tell it, Sister! Yes, it is a well-preserved wood of justified and ancient exclamation marks, wherein Sally Timms and Susie Honeyman  and Lu Edmonds ride through the lines  of male Mekons' hurlyburly often enough, thank goodness.
Or, as I Tweeted:  Don Allred ‏@0wlred      Mekons, Existentialism: rough & slick, Brechtians of Bloodshot demonstrate punky pop flair x grubby light=getting through tho' not off lists
Wussy, Forever Sounds:
Wussy's Forever Sounds earns its name--which, if they didn't consciously make from Forever Changes and Pet Sounds, might as well have, cos it's that kind of vibrant sonic monument, made of Grade-A Collector's Guide Catnip---but so far can't hear why xgau says it's more the sound than the songs; to me it's the sound of songs, of detail curving in through the wide windscreen strata of perspective (doesn't seem all that overdubby though, even on headphones: think they could get a lot of the same effect on stage, or recording live in the studio).
Title also related to the mythopoeic power and ambition and hope and compulsive urge in their surge, x fatalistic or morbid themes: they're off to see thee wizard, even though we're all gonna die sometyme--so: folk music, and big loud catchiness too; sounds like they still like the Who as well as Richard and Linda Thompson, and this is what we get after Attica! and Public Domain Vol. 1(harmonium and piano from the splintered parlor show up on intro of last track, even).
This pulled me in right away, which isn't absolutely necessary but always favored.
Lisa Carver and Hungry Chuck Cleaver: owner-operators of Wussy combo, Mom 'n' Pop ov Dragons (Midwestern loose meat sandwich ones, of course).
The Coathangers, Nosebleed Weekend: took me awhile to get closer to the carefully distanced yet v. personal verses---pointedly addressed to whom it may concern, but let their present and former associates sort it out ("Does she me mean me? Or my roommate? Oh shit, g-r-r")---but always got the surging choruses: ceremonial, almost ornate, but totally functional mesh of bass and drums, with cogent comments by guitar, and even chanted semi[harmonies on the title track, though more often a thin, incisive, sly "girly" solo voice, with ruder, deeper one more occasionally. Not exactly hooks, but fascination in details and overall (turn it up, listen on headphones, give it several chances; took four times to sell me on every bit of almost all; could still live without "Dumb Baby" I guess).
Seems like they've learned from the early Doors, maybe Pistols' "Submission": kind of a bluesy quality in the concision, prob learned much more from Sleater-Kinney, but not operatic; they've already developed their own variant. I wanna see their show.
Seratones, Get Gone: commentator on NPR mentions "blues" (well-assimilated), "classic rock," and even "punk": the latter two most relevant re Pretenders' s/t debut, which got a surprising amount of radio play, even on Top Forty or whatever that was called in the late 70s, here in the boondocks. So: smooth-then-sharp-edged vocals (minus Hynde's trademark touches of vibrato or melisma or whatever it is), even a little lush occasionally, but not wallowing in it, just self-confident (commentator says she started out in gospel, which I wouldn't have guessed, except for the bit about learning to sing without "amplification," which relates to the self-confidence). Fast strumming, lightning fills and solos, also making me think of Pretenders; they might well like Mother's Finest, Stone The Crows.
Haven't got all the lyrics yet, but so far, don't *think* this will inspire essays about the dark drama lurking in certain lines---so not that much like Pretenders, re "Tattoo Love Boys" etc. She/they might have to change it up that way or some way (maybe something bold, re Alabama Shakes' second full-length), cos this seems fairly definitive in its approach.
Starting on the Trad Gras Stenar box: so far so good, re dark x light themes distilled from Velvets and Dead; got the soulful vibe, with solos a bit cautious, but doggedly preceding uphill at the moment; keep at it, guys. Info here: http://www.anthologyrecordings.com/albums/tradgras/They do have some variety so far: the opening VU/pre-Plastic People-type subway mood groove, the "Estimated Prophet" uphill venture, the hearty juice harp hop-around, now the proto-metal-boogie---but I won't live-blog the whole thing, I promise (uh-oh, kind of a "Gloria" riff-based fade-in, nice). But will they do anything really distinctive in these 4'46''? Got the spirit, anyway.
After many diversions, I'm on the home stretch of the  Trad, Gras box; it's pretty strong now. I dig that they get into shaping one note, with enough sustain, twangbar etc. for carving, without worshipping thee thing. When they do that and keep a groove, can be fairly involving. But as an overview, as I said on their own ILM thread:
Been making my way through the box for several days, off and on--so far (heard about 3/4), about an hour's worth really grabbed me, but the rest either starts well, then loses the momentum, or fades out too soon, or seems utterly predictable, in that jam band way, from any era--or just seems inconsequential, at least to non-specialist ears (that nevertheless have listened to lots and lots of jams, in my case). But I'll keep listening; it ain't painful (I've heard much, much worse). Going to be more like 90 minutes than an hour of personal keepers after all, but out of 4 hrs.-plus---so still rec more to confirmed fans than newcomers, unless there's a sampler coming up, or reissues of individual albums.
The Muffs: Bigger and Blonder: Kim Shattuck's rough, dry, take-it-or-leave it vocal comes off flat here, more often monotonous than signifying tuff cookie pre-emption, though yeah yeah,she don't want you to think she's vulnerable and girly and trusting, just because she's venting; we get it already. Also, bringing it down to a trio---this trio, that is--- keeps the backing from adding a little variety. Nevertheless, "Red-Eyed Troll," "Ethyl My Love" (a good demo added to the reissued debut reissue) and a few other finished tracks really work. But as with the reissued debut, the breathing room demos (9 here, incl just a couple versions of the original album's cuts) really make the whole thing worth having, or hearing, anyway. Things get just a bit more flexible---and some of the initial release's tracks should be rescued by somebody with a few more musical shrewds.
Still, I'd start with the debut; here's what I said about it last year:
The Muffs' s/t debut reissue w bonus tracks: "pop-punk," some call them, and I've seen comparisons to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, but Kim Shattuck sometimes relies more on on vocal scrunchies than hooks---still, good some good chord changes and textures, with a few guest sounds, like theramin and organ: part of the variety of arrangements *eventually* shaking up the 16 tracks of the original album.
But the 10 bonus tracks, mostly four-track demos, provide a lot more breathing room for vocals and guitar, like maybe the studio sessions were more labored, sometimes (not so many direct comparisons; several of these songs didn't show up on the finished product). It might help that most of the demos have only a tambourine behind the slightly echoing, gnarly jangle (but one of the best, "Ethyl My Love," has what sounds like a full trap set). I'd say that, if you like the original album or the band as you knew them, or, even if you haven't heard them, but are into what turns out to be indeed pop-punk, with even a bit of power-pop---but more get-lost gusto than moony romance---then the demos make this worth checking out, for sure.
THE RAVE-UPS,  TOWN + COUNTRY:  def has that blue jean jacket mid-80s ambitious, mostly friendly but sometimes morose and often wound-tight been-around boondocks sound---also rec to fans of Jason and the Scorchers (for the guitars more than the front man), Drivin' & Cryin', Chuck Prophet's solo ventures, Cracker, the Kinks' Muswell Hillbillies, Wussy---but, while most of the original album had to grow on me (and still ain't all the way here). most of the demos are immediate grabbers (that/those guitars never let me down, when they get a reasonable amount of room, which they usually do).
"Positively Lost Me" is the most inspired song, leading off the original album (a bit downhill afterwards): like one of Wussy's bent muffler folk-slammers of the present century, each verse adds more stuff you lost when you lost me, empty bottles and a broken tree, but even better stuff too, all the way up the hill and out the window. Favoring the bonus tracks, but  prev. released LP tracks still growing on me though. Especially "Better World," where he's skeptical of progressive and Greatest Generation claims, as a given, not getting shrill about it, but his parents dead and brother not doing so well, but he's marching on but also to a sinuous, even backwards-seeming but as written, no retro gimmicks, riff. So he's got the Beatles legacy too, carrying on amidst (offstage but prevalent) 80s musical & other glitz.
Also like "Class Tramp," which starts off like it's gonna be a Kinks mockery of Mr. Middle Class Salary Whore, but then turns the mirror: look out now, he might be your Dad. Okay though, be a hip classy Class Tramp too. Very cheerful, like celebration "In My Gremlin" (can't afford no "Mercury" of course, though trying to hotwire the same tune). Some are grim, but need those too.
Kate & Anna McGarrigle's  Pronto Monto starts strangely, with olde folkie warbles over  tasty yachty licks. And these top-paid studio pros should never be asked to play a straight-fwd guitar shuffle. But in terms of at least gettin' concise-if-not-always-down sounds, and thematically appropriate melodic-harmonic explorations, Kate McG. is the Lennon figure here, with Anna the moonier McCartney. Then again, her "Park Fixture" is dynamically *about* an obsesso romantic, as written and performed from that POV. (And she tries to get more concise, "I love my kid" etc.) So far seems like about half of this album works pretty well after all. Do like Kate's solo voice more than the duets.
Pylon, Live:  haven't heard a lot of their shows, but clear sound, music's cool & rough, not too dry, best for dancing, incl. vs. and with "Gravity": "Yew can't. Yew can't." Yes I can, Vanessa! Bumping into counts. dizzy among "Reptiles," drawn into wet tunnel of pedals & bass On headphones, now think they're all fingers, fingers, fingers...they always reminded me of the barnstorming gypsies of aviation in Faulkner's novel, total pros in the face of weird weather over Depression-era New Orleans and Faulkner's prose, with eventually revealed inner turmoil providing countervailing winds behind a seemingly stoical, unified front (not forever of course). In an interview promoting this album, they say the name actually came from the safety cone, because they were into Industrial Art. And this is often a no-nonsense march through low-budget clubland, resonant as plumbing and metal beams. More exciting than that at times, as my notes above indicate, but they never become airborne; for that check all their studio albums.
John Renbourn & Wizz Jones, Joint Control: somehow not yet into the opening and closing instrumentals---though appreciating the latter's it-ain't-over-yet diligent picking-as-digging as an end---but the one in the middle, Jones's "Balham Moon," is pretty cool, and the singing x playing of the others also bring several cycling shades of blues-as-a-feeling vs. purism, even in the Renaissance Faire come-on, "Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning," JR's notes got thee pangs. Mostly, though, it's closer to the relatively expected sort of UK and American rare birds, "Buckets of Rain" aside. Distinct approaches, but very cohesive (think Renbourn plays most of the solos).



Finally occurs to me that my foggy notion of what Big Star might sound like, before I heard 'em (not knowing that Chilton's voice was no longer Box Top), is sort of like Ian Curtis, already reaching past Brit-tries-to-sound-US-Southern, to something shared in the slightly halting I-can't go-on-I'll-go-on reporting.


Big Star, Complete Third:
Vol. 1 Demos to Sessions to Roughs
73 minutes, what I've heard so far:
Careful sedation of the post-midnight mind keeps several of these now-familiar songs affectless, via smoove solo voice & guitar (nerf 12-string, quite a feat). Opener "Like St. Joan (Kanga Roo)" does kinda work (sonically) as a junkie children's song, not too long after *Vice* President Spiro "Nolo Contendere" Agnew had described "Puff The Magic Dragon" that way, and "Lovely Day" glides like it should, o yes, and "Downs" is a crisper, Lou Reed-Dorothy Parker campfire sing-along. But then "Femme Fatale" is limpid, ditto the following "Thank You Friends"-"Holocaust-"Jesus Christ" sequence, although they do hitch up some kind of diverted-milk-train-to-score-settling-day subtext (I think, although they're also nodding me
out). Bland vocals especially useless on "Holocaust", unless you want to think about it more than listen, in which case the impression of "You're not even worth pissing on/singing about with any degree of effort or giving a shit" rules conceptually, I guess--and the piano is startling, both for finally showing up, and more for eerie gravity, suggesting the surfacing of a previously unknown John Lennon Plastic Ono Band outtake.
However, that subset is followed by a much more appealing one, listening-wise: the tender (!), watchful, very nocturnal "Blue Moon"-"Nighttime"-"Take Care", then the pre-Cobain codeine classic "Big Black Car" moves as slowly as possible, but certainly does move, and is immediately followed by "Don't Worry Baby": Jesus wants him for a sunbeam and got him, got several multitracked Alexes, apparently, just chirping away in pre-dawn harmonies, and even before that, we finally get *two* guitars, showing me stuff about the chords etc. I hadn't noticed before.
And then! We get two tracks, back to back credited to Alex & Lesa, which really should be the other way around, because she's the one who keeps them going, or is really ready to, while he keeps fumbling around---"Aw, now I've got my guitar in the wrong position"--sabotage? Notes claim the album and "album" have a lot to do with their relationship: "Scott and Zelda" even get invoked---welp so far it def seems about keeping some kind of chaos on the minded and mined sidelines, so guess it might be some kinda love too---coming from "Situations arise/Be-cause of the weathah", but even more obliquely so far; maybe they saw/nodded in and out of Renaldo and Clara? Edited sketches and happenstance, so maybe---
Anyway, Alex & Lesa try their hands at Beatles' "I'm So Tired", a bit haphazard but/and very enjoyable, also contextually perfect---and even better, "That's All It Took", which I thought was gonna be, "Just one look, that's all it took", the pop-rock-r&b song, but it's a country song, *not* campy: we get an on-it duet x ace guitar solo---adding up to a perhaps unique artifact in the AC pantheon (see Edd upthread* on Chilton trashing a good Gary Stewart song).
That's as far as I've gotten, will check back in after making more time (though not seeing many unfamiliar Big Star titles ahead, on the rest of this disc or the other two.)
*referring to this Big Star thread on ILM, gloriously revived in 2016 by the approach of Complete Third
Vol. 1---Demos to Sessions to Roughs:
"Pre-Downs": somewhut asymmetrical grove-to-jam thang finding its way sometimes, with prob Dickinson shouting Beefhearty-Dr. John jive through the control booth mic, occasionally following it with his steel drum, Chilton with his indolent aristo laugh--some potential here, but more on "Baby Strange", which i wish they'd nailed for the finished album or whatever it was. A third version of "Big Black Car", this one marked (Demo # 1/band), and yeah they're finding their way, but it's distracting, especially after the intimate confidence of the lights-out acoustic demos: he knew just what he was doing, where he was going and not-going--"Heroin" and several Townes Van Zandt tracks come to mind, but no nudge-nudge with the important influences etc---here, the confidence eventually becomes arrogant, then too indolent for that, "Sun-ny day, ", etc etc.---which would be more involving if the musos, incl. him, weren't poking this way and that---but then! his guitar becomes astringent, probing, in a way I can't defend associating with the Byrds--but maybe I'm right, because damn if it doesn't go over this little arc, surrounded by Byrds-y, starry
and I guess Star-ry notes, twinkling as the car cruises on (Jody's so patient, he knows it'll work all work out eventually).
"KIzza Me", already in progress, is the first band track completely in focus, and "Til The End of the Day" even gets its Alex guide vocal kept for the final version, but these, and especially "Thank You Friends", really are rough, dry, kinda dull-edged mixes. "O Dana" and "Dream Lover" mostly absorb the roughness into their own juices and keep going, winning me over pretty quickly. End of Vol.1.
(I referred to that the xpost acoustic solo demo of "Big Black Car" as "pre-Cobain codeine classic", and the more I listen to all this stuff again, the more I think of how it fits between Lou and Kurt---did either of them ever mention Alex or Big Star? KC has been quoted to the effect that his original idea for Nirvana drew on the Beatles and Black Sabbath, so they've got the former in common at least.)
Complete Third Vol. 2: Roughs To Mixes starts with a Dickinson rough mix of "BBC": Alex's guide vocal has the self-awareness, confidence and indolence, now without lolling around in complacency, and/or no sonic distractions; the band knows the song now. Guitar sounds a little warped sometimes, but fittingly. Fry's mix immediately rivets attention on the vocal, which sounds like he's singing through a--pipe? Exhaust pipe? Opium pipe? Meerschaum? A tight focus, maybe eventually too tight, despite the more vivid bandscape: it might become more about the sound he's getting, less about the song itself (thinking most about that vocal effect); JD's mix is more transparent--would like to hear something that uses elements of both.
More of a sustained success (though still a little distancing), Fry's mix of "Take Care" adds a cool, thin, slightly dirty echo-mirror to Chilton's voice (good staircase-type ambience on the word "stairs", and was already thinking he might be singing to himself. Also, it enhances the (eventually slightly over-underlined) suggestion of Lennon, as does and did the piano, which was mentioned as most effective aspect of the solo demo of this song. Again, vivid, resonant band sound, though *kinda* prefer how on Dickinson's mix I first became aware of Bill Cunningham's upright bass when it starting grinding away at the piano, during a little interlude between verses---in Fry's version, bass is even the first thing we hear (although yeah it sounds real good all through, and never showboating).
Also good Dickinson rough of "Whole Lotta Shaking" and a couple takes of "Take Care."
Oh yeah, and Fry's mix of "Nighttime" does improve on or is even better than Dickinson's, at least in terms of getting the "grain of the voice", which in Chilton's case can incl. fleeting nuance, flickerin' thought, even though in the notes he claims to have written most or all of these songs w no great conscious intent---in performance, he starts to get it/let it slip, little bit.
Dammit! If we could just have Dickinson doing the treble, Fry doing midrange and bass---how about it, Mr. Albums That Never Were? D..'s "Thank You Friends" has a whole lotta shakin' shiny wires, excitable female backing voices, some kind of curvature too, all going with Ray Davies Chilton mash-up of arch excitement x poise, mentions of "Kayyyy-os", like he's serenading somebody, and how if not for his friends, the winds would take him get him high, o heavens. Fry's mix keeps the dry wit, but brings it down to earth; nice bass of course as always.
But the tight focus on the voice really works on "Nature Boy", drying out the so-what room sound of Dickinson's version, making Chilton sound more committed, masterful, even, though he still isn't Nat King Cole*, of course--ditto (inspired BS LP cover photographer) William Eggleston when it comes to his (nevertheless apt) piano---but the latter sounds better here too, even though it was already good enough to practically steal the show from Alex-Boy on the JD version.
*Cole sounded awed and awesome, but it ain't that much of a song otherwise, incl. here. Still, Fry's presentation is surprisingly damn good.
In both mixes, AC comes to a point where he obviously wants to laff, which doesn't help (if you're going to record and issue the thing at all, do it straighter than that). But he gets past it.
Just another l'il flicker of impulse and then control, so thank you again, friend.
Some of these *may* be different takes as well as diff. mixes, but they're certainly close enough for comparison. Like diff piano at one point on the Fry version? Anyway it's a keeper.
(mention of Bread upthread totally apropos: the more I listen to these sessions, the more flashbacks to Top 40 narcotic satori, discreetly stoned at and by the Pizza Hut jukebox: "Nuthin can, hhhhhuuut me...")
the rest of Vol. 2: Roughs to Mixes:
So (spoiler), several subsequent Fry rough mixes *do* 'llow Dickinsonian treble hijinks atop the lucid layers of rhythm, which are also getting bolder. The notes have AC auditioning Dickinson with the brand new "Kanga Roo", and finding the results very educational. So at some point, he may have been more assertive with Fry about taking the music further(and/or more credibly articulate, having understood what JD showed him---along with what Fry had already taught the Big Star crew about running the board).
However it happened, Fry's rough "Lovely Day" swirls and swoops all around the crisp rhythm farmers, and his "Kanga Roo" is jangle-dub, with orchestral tendrils drifting by, teasing the chaos, Lady Alex Davies trilling and trailing fingahs in the thin paisley currents, thee whole pre-channeling Mad Professor's re-channeling of Massive Attack, just a little, la-la-la.
Fry's rough of "Downs" is a pulsating puzzle palace, "After Hours", sung by Lesa, sports pre-ska skiffle-ish, kinda Mungo Jerry casual catchiness, with a bit of clarinet sometimes. She sounds less confident singing lead (Alex in the background) on an alt of "At The End of The Day", which detracts from the momentum a little (though might not notice if there weren't an Alex-led take nearby).
Alex glides through "Femme Fatale" with Lesa repeating the chorus in French---notes have him erasing some of her tracks "in a fit of pique", but Dickinson scolds him into keeping this one (at the end, after nice warm wry delivery, he suddenly gets peevish and atypically Southern, like "Aw, whah on Earth should we do another tayke). This and "Blue Moon", like xpost "Nature Boy", show that Fry can do ballads too, without sticking in all that rocknroll stuff.
For Disc 3, we should keep in mind that  Dickinson quote in the booklet
"The Rykodisc people asked me if I wanted to sequence
it," he recalled, "but when I went back to my production notes, I realized
that my ideas and Alex's were so different that it wouldn't be fair. There is
no sequence."
Finally got to xpost Vol.3: Final Masters just now, during the caffeinated workday, and found its phosphorescent after midnight vibe not at all dependent on mere circadian rhythms or other reality/irreality crutches. Beale Street Green would indeed have been a good title (picturing green odd-cornering three-storeys,also around bus shelters, if any, in smoggy parklets and medians and alleys and pipes). Latest remastering makes this just a bit more vivid, without getting into Guiliani York Time Square shine jobs.
I haven't counted up the outtakes I like or the ones I suspect may grow on me, but so far seems like this might be one of those rare boxes I wouldn't want to be without, almost in its entirety: the collector bait now takes its place alongside the canonical edition, or versions, in this case.
Since the booklet emphasizes the lack of any definitive intended sequence or even contents, we can make our own, and mine goes something like this:
All of Vol 3 as listed above, except I'd substitute the aforementioned "pulsating puzzle palace" Fry alt mix of "Downs", or maybe the crispy solo version.
If I knew how to pull Fry's echo around the vocal into the Vol. 3 version of "Holocaust", I'd do that, but otherwise, I'd let this 'un alone.
No "Femme Fatale": AC is oh-so-gracefully superfluous, kinda preeny too, Lesa's long-distance French chorus is just anxious (secret insecurity of la "Femme Fatale"? Conceptually acceptable, but currently vaguely annoying in actual listening). Steve Cropper is out in the hall, notes tell us: uncomfortable with the setting and/or material, and just kinda poking at it.
Prob no "Nature Boy" for me, though I do like Fry's mix, and Eggleston's piano.
I'll have to compare Vol. 3 version of "Lovely Day" to Fry's Vol. 2 rough, but they're both mighty fine.
Maybe reprise "Big Black Car" via one of those mesmerizing acoustic solo demos, though mainly cos I love the effect of going from that to
"Don't Worry Baby", multiple Alexes x unaccompanied guitar
"I'm In Love With A Girl", solo
Alex & Lesa:
"I'm So Tired"
"That's All It Took"
Lesa & musos:
"After Hours"
maybe the version of "Til The End of The Day" with her singing lead, but her lack of confidence does seem to drag the momentum a little.
maybe the Fry alt of "Kanga Roo" I mentioned as incl. "jangle dub."
Maybe the Big Star 2.0 live in Columbus MO version of "Baby Strange", because the attempt here did seem like it could have fit.
Ditto that show's version of "I Am The Cosmos", re grandiosity vs. reality, but not cringing away.
(Others from Complete Columbus? Must check.)

Judy Henske & Jerry Yester, Farewell Aldebaran: Foreboding yet outward bound, folk, olde verse, and mid-20th Century romantic and Romantic (idealistic, fatalistic) imagery X concerns ("Age of Anxiety" Auden called it; Bomb Culture Jeff Nuttall titled his life studies of UK para-Beat etc. activities/mindset), further times expert chamber folk-pop-rock focus---crisp, fluid, but not "snarling rockers" or particularly "guitar-driven" in the rawk sense----otherwise, just as advertised above.
Although Henske maybe has even more vocal range, and male vocals (mostly Yester's deceptively gentle, Nesmith-ish clarity, and Yanovsky's unpretentious support) are occasionally featured, otherwise the vibe & polish remind me of Michele's studio-aces-in-space Saturn Rings, another 1969 release, and produced by Curt Boettcher, with hip guests, though Henske and Yester did almost all of this themselves*. Some of it also suggests the more expansive tracks on John Cale's pastoral-post-country gothic Vintage Violence, released in 1970. And it sails by the wilder shores of early English folk-rock too.
Title track is esp. rec to fans of Laser Pace, what with synthesizer (incl morphing of vox) by Paul Beaver (I gotta check Beaver & Krause, right? Bernie Krause added electronic mirrorshadings to one of my favorites, Link Wray's mid-70s The Link Wray Rumble).
Fun instrumental bonus versions, incl. "Moods For Cellos," very different from scary swooping LP use: this seems like a wordless Beach Boys lullaby.
Lots to wrap brain around, but so far only the opener, "Snowblind," seems a bit awkward, as written. It's more about the overall effect, anyway (attitude w musical smarts also re with United States of America's '68 s/t).
PS: The instrumental bonus tracks on Farewell Aldebaran stand on their own, sometimes *very* different in vibe etc. than the corresponding tracks w vocals and other elements using these in various ways.
Still got some doubts about some of the opening tracks on Farewell Aldebaran: the mix seems too crowded at tymes, though 60s enthusiasm would do that, and better than too sparse; also the aforementioned mid-20th Century romantic and Romantic (idealistic, fatalistic) imagery X concerns can seem dated and predictable (like a lot of dystopian science fiction, then and now), but the musical enthusiasm and freshness does take it further than a lot of other artistes managed. "Three Ravens" pulls and pushes like that, though thought it was gonna be a draw, for a while. Don't know why I referred to this finished track as "scary and swooping," but it sure is different enough from the bonus instrumental source, "Moods For Cellos."
I may have confused "Three Ravens" for "Raider," which is my fave now, with the calling voices I mentioned, like an Appalachia-to-British Isles ballad ritual the Velvet Underground might've dug: " 'Raider,' she cries, 'you got tearrrs in your eyes, oh you're dreeam-ing mmmeee." Excellent bass by Jerry Scheff, bowed banjo and hammered dulcimer by David Lindley and Solomon Feldthouse of Kaleidoscope.
*I shouldn't have said that "Henske and Yester do almost all of it themselves." Yes, Yester does a lot, but, as well as Zal and some Kaleidoscopians, jazz bassist Ray Brown shows up, ditto Tim Buckley's sometime co-writer, Larry Beckett, and the splendid session/touring drummer Fast Eddie Ho (who played on Buckley's Yester-produced Goodbye and Hello, also with the Mamas and Papas and many others).
Anybody heard Rosebud, Henske & Yester's later group? Still wondering about Modern Folk Quartet too.
The Heaters, American Dream: The Portastudio Recordings
Re the press sheet:The band's explosive stage technique, visual smarts, great pop songwriting, and Mercy Bermudez's soaring lead vocals — the sound of Phil Spector mixed with the energy of punk seems plausible after to listening to these vintage demos (occasionally clunky as played, though never ever as sung). Although the 60s meets 80s thing, such a thing in some of the 80s, mostly obviously comes across in the first and last tracks: "I'll Meet You There" is stately, swaggering sincerity, jangle-to-twangle and even maybe a Moog briefly improving on 50s-60s-to-80s sax: Bangles-worthy, if not Bangles-challenging (nah, they could handle it now).
"American Dream" seems like a de facto parody and celebration of 60s-80s, high-stepping like "Uptown Girl" (though here's where some of the clunking comes in), serenading someone whose smile is like a new car, "Your hair is like an airport," and even changing faster than "a color TV"---hmmm changing colors, a passing ziiing---little bit of everyday science fiction-reader's snidery there, like xpost United States of America's 60s s/t. By the same token, it's a bit we-get-it-already as written, though proud and fine singing, even ditto final instrumental flourish.
Other lyrics are mostly played 60s-girl-group straight---which also means healthy emotional range, which can incl. flamboyant as hell, from the daze when Ellie Greenwich and her mostly female competitors (yeah, sorry Phil) were concocting AM radio chartbusting showstoppers, not waiting for Broadway to finally cough up Grease and Hairspray.
Oh, one more 60s-80s lyrics exception (and I guess this is the one where "punk" is the closest to applying, re if and where it might get radio/video play): "Sandy" starts like maybe a cover of the Boss's song, but it's another original serenade, girl-to-girl, though also like the cute-friendly-girls-dressed-as-boys-dressed-as/for-girls British Invasion-power-pop publicity pic, she's playing a guy maybe, like in Shakespeare's time, OK---but then suddenly she's explaining, in thee midst of this midsummer night's cold call, "He's in love with his own feelings/He doesn't really see-ee you, he just wants to bee-ee you," and then the full-group chorus really spells it out: "That boy wants to be a girl/That boy wants to be a girl!" Punchline adds another surprise, but still.
60s-wise,rec to fans of the Shangri-Las etc., their influence on early Laura Nyro, also other very belatedly resurrected girl groups like Honey Ltd., who had their own cosmic harmonic thing, incl. in more country-pop reincarnation as Eve.

60s=>80s-wise, yeah the Bangles a bit there at the very end (right before that, they do pick up the pace and the guitars a bit more than previously). Otherwise, Cyndi Lauper's early 80s (early 60s-minded) group Blue Angel maybe, though think Lauper did all the belting, maybe--- Annie Golden & Shirts? Don't think I ever heard them, but back in the day said to have a bit of early 60s/Broadway influence (and before that, same was true of early Blondie, esp. with Shadow Morton, who did the same for Noo Yawk Dolls and actual early-mid 60s groops). Other examples worth hearing--??
"Right before that" (re "they do pick up the pace and guitars a bit more than previously"): tracks 8 and 9.
Sun Ra's Singles---The Definitive 45s Collection 1952-1991:  63 tracks, a lot more than the one on the Evidence label (this is on Strut), and from the original masters, while at least some of the Evidence collection was from the low-budget 7" vinyls. Sounds great, and while the guest singers (who gradually disappear, as Ra and the Arkestra speak and sing up, occasionally but very assertively),  are uneven, they all shine sometimes. My favorite is Yochanan, AKA The Space Age Vocalist and The Man From The Sun, who belts 50s novelty free r&b numbers "M uck M uck (Matt Matt)" and "Skillet Mama" and also delivers the word from further afield. Hattye Randolph presents Sun Ra & His Astro-Infinity Arkestra  with a seemingly unlikely gift, "Back In Your Own Backyard", and they return the favor, simultaneously: this little blue mirrorverse is singing after supper, totally at home, knowing we travel even sitting back, and everywhere is outer space, and vice-versa, like/in music maybe especially.
the two opening songpoems by Mr. Ra are instant grabbers."I Am An Instrument" is very sweet and humble, waiting for the player; "I Am Strange" begins in the midst of a man's amazed and somewhat apprehensive self-awareness, his vibrations, then moves through the window to the wind's imploring, perhaps lamenting regard of the man, whom the wind cannot approach too closely; can only wait and call for the man's contact, must submit to this desire, for windy powers are too great for initiative (this seems like the genesis of My Brother The Wind).   
The rock 'n' roll/r&b appeal of some vocals and more instrumentals,  including the original Sun Ra single versions of "Rocket No. 9"  and "Love On Outer Space", both of which are covered on NRBQ's 2016 monster box High Noon (see  this listed as Related Reissue, with comments, in Life's "Other" Side, post re country, countryoid etc releases, posted sep) and reminding us that Q-pilot Terry Adams long ago declared that his band was the child of Sun Ra and Sun Records) can also come across kinda Latinoid, in a way that could attract the soul jazz club-goers, Chicago electric bluesters---all of it fitting into what some older customers of my Deep South music store in the 90s meant by "blues", sometimes. And, early on,  some straight-up swing---nice, sometimes a little neat for my taste--and some tentacles extended, but soon assimilated, though not forgotten---this is Disc I, on II things def get out, though "The Bridge", which is cosmic and must be walked after "fire is poured on dry leaves" and one way left to go, is immediately followed by "I'm Gonna Unmask Batman" and it keeps zig-zagging like that. And the catchier pop-blues-jazz approaches stuff can pull in darker rays, like on "Nuclear War": "Radiation breeds mutation" (group singers repeat), "And when they push that button, you can kiss yo' ass bye-bye, bye-bye, bye-bye." ("Bye-bye, bye-bye, bye-bye.")
After several appearances by a frequently angry angel, the aforementioned sweet and humble "I Am An Instrument" returns, now pointing out that man is an instrument too, waiting for the plucking of his heart strings: "The heart can speak more than the mind" (thus providing a reminder of the mind passing the conductor's bation, as demonstrated recently on "On Jupiter/Cosmo Drama (Prophetika 1)" by the angel, who may be  fate and certainly sounds in a pleasant mood, on this occasion, with good news:"Something is, but nothing is too",and while positives include "The life you liiive, and the thoughts you think, and the death you die", negatives include immortality, because that's impossible---"Election Day is coming, which one will you vote for? If you care to reach for thee impossible, that's my department.")
                                                    Don Allred
(update: John W.'s comment on Ra collections follows below)
 

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