Thursday, December 5, 2013

Favorite Listening Experiences for 2013 (in no special order of course)

The Jazz Age by The Bryan Ferry Orchestra

When I first heard about this album, my first thought was two simple words "oh no."  But alas one must never underestimate the talent and genius of Bryan Ferry.  This is probably the most played album this year for me.  I like to listen to music while writing or thinking and this record hits that sport for me like if I am wearing a bullseye on the back of my shirt.

Everything he did here sounds terrible on paper, but when you put the vinyl (and this album must be heard on vinyl) it becomes magic.  Basically Ferry went through his songbook from mostly the Roxy Music years and had his songs arranged in a 1920's jazz style - with that added touch of the 78rpm sound level.  Being Ferry of course it nostalgic, but he treats  nostalgia as an art form.  Just when you think you got Ferry figured out, there is always a touch or a brief act of pure genius on his part.  Overall I think Ferry is strange enough, one of the great underrated artists in the pop music world.  Eno gets a lot of credit, but Ferry really did make wallpaper music (ambient) with some of the later Roxy recordings as well as the solo material.   

The Next Day - David Bowie

Just the fact, in this Internet NSA age, Bowie was able to keep the recording of this album a secret till his announcement on his birthday is amazingly amazing.  But then against all reason, it is a Bowie masterpiece.  In my opinion this albums flows from the first cut to the last song, and without a doubt it is an album by a man who is 66 years old (although smashingly handsome) and coveys interesting enough about the world around him.  Still glam, and always will be glam.  There is nothing about this album I don't love.  From the graphics to the baritone sax, a brilliant piece of work. 

Where Are We Now? - Momus

Within hours of the release of the first David Bowie video off "The Next Day," Momus made his own version of the already classic "Where Are We Now?"   When I heard this version I cried.  You can only get this song through YouTube, with an incredible video attached to it.  The Momus version is much more sinister, but it is also sadder to me as well.  When I hear this, it is obvious that Momus understands the Bowie thing and it is clearly a tribute to the artist.  But alas if I have to choose between the two recordings, it would be the Momus version.  Even Bowie, through his website and Facebook page acknowledged Momus' tribute/recording.  It is truly an amazing recording.

Turn On The Music Machine - The Music Machine

Normally I don't listen to new music.  I am still hearing stuff from the past which is almost totally new to my ears.  Of course I knew the song "Talk Talk" and loved it.   It wasn't till this Fall that I picked up on a vinyl mono copy of "Turn On The Music Machine" and got my head totally turned-around.  I didn't expect it to be this great.  The covers on the album ("96 Tears," "Taxman") are good, but the original material on this album are superb.  "Come On In" I think is one of the great songs I have ever heard.  That and "Masculine Intuition" makes this record a work of genius.  Also the slow burning sensuality of their version of "Hey Joe" maybe the best version  yet of that song.  The thing is I knew The Music Machine was good, but I didn't know they were great.  Sean Bonniwell the Machine here was a fantastic songwriter. 

The Beatles White Album - Rutherford Chang

About six months ago a friend of mine sent me a link regarding the artist Rutherford Chang and his project of documenting and collecting versions of the album “The Beatles” better known to the world as the “White Album.”   Chang has around 900 copies of the album, and as an exhibition he had a pop-up store of sorts in Soho New York, where he had a record store that only exhibited the “White Album.”   Some may find the concept humorous but I was almost moved to tears when I saw the images of this exhibition.  It made me think of the importance of the record store, and of course The Beatles themselves.  Specifically the importance of the “White Album.”

Chang took the next step and made a vinyl release of “The Beatles” which is the album overlaid 100 times.   Even the famous iconic album cover and packaging is overlaid many times over from previous covers over the years.   But how does this work as a listening experience.  Well, I have the album, and it’s a masterpiece.

First of all the album itself is beautiful.  The cover at first looks like the White Album, but re-done by some lunatic with an ink pen.  But then you realize the overlaid aspect of the cover and this is sort of a Frankenstein monster, where all the parts become something new yet familiar.  The album comes with a glossy poster of 100 White Album covers, which is worth the price alone for this incredible package.

One would think that the sound would be totally chaos, but alas, it is actually a meditative work of superb beauty.   The album works on so many levels.  There is the layer physical aspect of having this album in your hands and admiring the artwork.  It is both a tribute to the original source as well as seeing how art can move on from its source intro something else. That is part one of the enjoyment, the other big part is the sounds itself.

The layering of 100 recordings being roughly played at the same time makes this a dreamy utopia.  The vinyl sound of the needle and the clicks itself are so human and beautiful, then you hear something like Eric Clapton’s solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and it takes one into a blissful state.  Due to the delay there are no tracks between the songs, it is all one piece and the sheets of sound that comes up time-to-time is amazing.  “Helter Skelter” instead of being this harsh rocker, becomes a sonic wave hitting the beach and returning back to the ocean.  “Bluebird” which has a beautiful melody keeps that intact, but the textural aspect of the song comes out like you are underwater listening to music. 

Right now I have to imagine that this album won’t be around forever, but surely the remaining members of The Beatles as well as the estate surrounding the fab four (especially Yoko) will realize that Chang made an incredible tribute to their music, yet it goes beyond that.   This is the most impressive album I have seen or heard this year — or decade so far.  You can hear side one  on Sound-cloud, but even that, it doesn’t capture the beauty of this vinyl on your turntable producing these incredible sounds for your ears and yes, eyes as well.

For almost like all my entire life I have had troubles regarding Van Dyke Parks' first solo album "Song Cycles."   It took me a long time to appreciate this man's genius, due to the fact that I found that album impossible to get into. I never (to this day) heard such an original piece of work.   And then as soon as I got it, he released a sequel to that work (at least in theory).  It's a great album.  From the packaging and the idea of having the double album as 45 rpm, well it is sort of the nerd vinyl release.  Nevertheless it follows through the sounds of "Song Cycles" but updated to 2013.  Lyrically, not musically.  It is still a hard-to-define piece of music, but it is sort of demented Americana which makes it charming and challenging at the same time.  "Song Cycled" is simply a great album.

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