Vinyl Album design by Rex Ray. Limited edition of 300 copies
A nice surprise came through the mail the other day, an album by Matthew Edwards and the Unfortunates. The LP is called 'The Fates" and its a collection of beautifully crafted pop pieces - almost baroque-like in its arrangements framed by Matthew Edwards' vocals. He sings with the most intimate manner, almost whispering, but not. While listening to this album I think of late Zombies for some reason. There is nothing retro about it, except its taste lies with the classics. And anyone who names his band after the great British Novelist B.S. Johnson novel can't be possibly be a disappointment! Nice production work by Eric Drew Feldman, who played with Captain Beefheart and Frank Black/Pixies - a man of great taste and skill. Fred Frith adds tension on certain tracks. An album to treasure. Oh, and the album sleeve is beautifully designed by Rex Ray.
I just found this album by Serge Reggiani today. He knocks me out. Imagine a Bryan Ferry if he was French and had a smokey voice - and that is sort of close to Reggiani's vocal style. This is my favorite album of his. The arrangements serve his voice superbly. The songs covered here are by Boris Vian, Georges Moustaki, and Serge Gainsbourg. And there is one song that is credited to both Vian and Gainsbourg - it must have been a Vian poem that Gainsbourg set to music - "Quand J'Aurai du vent dans mon crane."
Reggiani worked with class artists - Melville the filmmaker, Michel Legrand as well as Gainsbourg and I imagine he must have known Vian as well. Hardcore Left Bank post-war pop.
Adding the finishing touches to my book "Sparks-Tastic: Twenty-One Nights With Sparks in London." It is hard to say goodbye to the writing. If I had the choice, I would like to work on this book for the next 20 or so years. But alas, I have a date with destiny by the name of A Barnacle Book - my publisher. The book will come out this Spring 2013.
The cover is a painting by Lun*na Menoh, and it's a portrait of Ron Mael and Russell Mael (Sparks) from the album cover "Big Beat." The painting is one of a series of portraits of rock n' roll figures with dirty white collars. Lun*na collects men's dirty white collars and what she does with them is document the collars by its brand and country. And afterwards she either makes individual sculptures of each shirt collar, or make an oil-paint portrait of them. Lately she has been using her collection of dirty collars and making wearable clothing. For instance she made a formal wedding gown, as well as accessories such as purses, motorcycle helmet, jackets, pants, and so forth. including a bed, tea cups, and furniture - all made my men's dirty white collars.
The book will have 21 chapters, each one devoted to a specific Sparks' show and album. But keep in mind that this book is not a biography of the band. It is more about my love for their music and culture. Since the shows took place in London, there is a lot of information and commentary on that great city as well as Paris. The book is a journal, but it goes into the world of Sparks as well as my mental state at the time of the shows. More information later!
A mere song perhaps, but nevertheless it was the shot that was heard all over the world. David Bowie made an surprise announcement on his birthday about not only a new song, but also a new video and the announcement of a new album called "The Next Day." The single "Where We Are Now"" strikes me as one of the great Bowie songs. One, because of Bowie's performance of that song, but also the remarkable version that was made within hours of its release by Momus. And as much as I love the Bowie original, the Momus version hits me quite hard.
But back to the original, Bowie's concept of releasing this song is uber-special. Genius-like. I and the world pretty much accepted his retirement, and I truly thought that there was zero possibility of him doing another 'new' album. But then on his birthday (of all days) he announces not only a new single, but the album with the song list, and ...even the album cover
When I saw this, I thought 'oh god this is too good.' I think this album cover will be up there with Sgt Pepper, Elvis' first RCA album, Never Mind The Bullocks, etc. and etc. A classic. At the age of 66, Bowie is doing something genius like. He has his groove and moment back! And then there is his video
The perfect storm. A piece of work that has tons of Bowie's past as a reference. One can study this forever and perhaps what is there is something that leads to his past (besides the German/Low reference). But nevertheless, we have the single "Where Are We Now" which is superb and so subjective Bowie, and the beauty of the song is him announcing a certain amount of feelings that we 'know' his part of his history. Therefore we have an immediate reaction to this song, knowing that there was no new Bowie material for the past ten years, and accepting the fact that this was that. But no, the surprise of it all was 'wow,' and then hearing something that sounded so personal as the first piece of music from Bowie in ten (exactly) years - no, a statement in fact - was incredible. And to be honest the people who will be effected the most are from my generation - and we fell in love again with the Bowie myth, his taste, and just the great talent that he is.
The beauty of this song is in the melody, but the added textures (and pop is all about the extras) brings it to a specific time in one's life - and for those who are long-term Bowie fans (which is basically my social group, and those who are not, I have no interest in you). The song lists specific spaces that Bowie has a strong feeling for. Not people, but locations that is almost his Proust eating a cookie feeling. And I feel strongly for this song lyrically wise, because I too have a strong feeling of location or placement more then people. The 'dead' you feel the traces but you see the locations. And the locations survive or exist beyond the 'dead.' And that's the sad beauty of "Where We Are Now?"
Within hours of Bowie's surprise release, Momus put his version of the song up on YouTube:
i suspect Momus as being in my family of Bowie fanatics, but his cover goes beyond the song itself, and lands right in Bowie's lap. He takes it to a more personal level, and one can think that he was totally moved when he heard the original version, and therefore here's his love letter to not only Bowie, but acknowledging the greatness of the song and reacting to it. And that he does well. His version of
"Where We Are Now?'" is amazing.
And we should acknowledge the Associates also released a Bowie song the same day of the master's release.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog http://tamtambooks-tosh.blogspot.com/2012/11/richard-hendersons-song-cycle-book.html Van Dyke Parks' "Song Cycle" is probably one of the weirdest albums I have ever heard -and one that I keep coming back to. I must have bought and sold this album so many times, because it was always a record that goes over my head. And believe me, I like a lot of strange albums, but this one really 'huh' for me. And its not Parks doing, it is me getting my head wrapped around the album. And now, today I once again bought "Song Cycle" on vinyl. Which I think is the best format for this album because you really have to sit in front of the speakers and put the volume up.
As anyone who follows my blogs, knows that I am a mega-Scott Walker fan. And today, it dawn on me that there is a tad of the Scott Walker feeling in this record. Scott always uses historical information but relayed in a very poetic and some times shocking juxtaposition. Van Dyke does the same for "Song Cycle" as well.
The lyrics are poetic, abstract, but deals with images of early Southern California. Randy Newman's "Vine Street, is an odd cover because it sounds like a Van Dyke song - but saying that it strikes one as a weird song for a musical - in fact this whole album has a visual sense that maybe it can work as a theatrical piece. But then again, listening to it brings images to the head - so maybe that is not necessary.
The arrangements are off-the-wall, but one thing comes clear to me is that this is very much a work by an American. It has roots in the avant-garde, but also rooted in a mixture of Southern California and slightly Southern gothic sensibility. Bruce Botnick, who I believed worked with the Doors, is credited as doing 'Stereo & Monaural compositons,' which means he worked with the material and perhaps added the sound affects and echos that comes up on this album in the most unexpected moments. In many ways its a Looney Tunes cartoon but written by a visionary - and Van Dyke Parks is truly an original recording artist. 1968, what was in the drinking water?
It starts off with footsteps following its victim, and then a female scream. Welcome to the world of Screaming Lord Sutch and Joe Meek. A beautifully scratchy (it adds to the horror) 45 rpm of a classic disk by two insane people. The beauty of the music is because its simple and in many ways the history of British dread - a touch of mania to let the poison out. The B-side is just as bugged out as the A-side. "Don't You Just Know It" is garage rock made by madmen. A perfect combined four minutes or so.
My favorite type of novel is one that is about mood and has very little narration or story. "Paris Trance (A Romance)" fits that category perfectly. Two couples who are best friends and then eventually they separate, especially one of the male characters - who ends up drifting off to London to ...do nothing. The one consistent aspect of this book is characters who do nothing except exist. Paris is the perfect background to this type of world where one travels from sex to love to eating to eventually nothing.
In many ways "Paris Trance" is very much like a French new wave film. Charming, but a sadness takes over the (non)narrative. Also it deals with the nature of change, and when and if changes happen. This is my second Geoff Dyer book. The first one I read was his essays on jazz figures "But Beautiful." Both books reflect on a time that is perfect, but there is a mood shifter around the corner...