Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Best New (for me) Music in 2015 (while writing of course)

Like the 21st century itself, 2015 is a bit of a disaster and some success as in hand-in-hand, as they walk down the yellow brick road.  As I write or try to compose words on a page, I listen to music while I work.  There is music that is used as background, so I can just focus on the page on hand.  There is a dreamy aspect of composing a narrative, where I need to look out the window or against the wall, and project my thoughts on to it, like it was a blank movie screen.  Music is very much a tool as well, and I need it to take me from one place to another.    What I’m going to do here is list albums or music I heard in 2015.  Do keep in mind not all of this is new music, but at the very least, new to me.  Even, more important, its music I have used to compose words on a computer screen.  Therefore this is not vinyl, but MP3s or streaming through Apple Music.   In no special order:

Earth :  “Earth 2”

The drone has become my favorite sort of music to work within the background.  Sheets of sound allow me to think clearly and quite freely.  The music does set a mood, and I tend to like to hear the noise that is dark, and if it was an object, something that floats in the air.  The band Earth’s “Earth 2” is such an album for me.  With only three songs, that lasts over an hour. I’m put into a small cocoon or perhaps in a water tank, and I’m just floating on the sounds off this album.  

“Earth 2” was recorded in Seattle for the Sub Pop record label in 1972, and released on February 3, 1993.  The instrumentation is Dylan Carlson on guitar and Dave Harrell on bass.  Joe Burns plays percussion on one cut.  The sound one hears is basically the guitar and a very low bass sound.   I think to get its full effect, one needs to play the record/music extremely loud, but for my purposes, mid-level volume is perfectly OK.  The thing I like about drones or even so-called minimal music, is that I start hearing things that I don’t think is actually on the disk or in the music.   I can also shut it off for whatever I’m focusing on, but if I do focus on just the music, I can really hear things over the layers of sound.  Although, by my nature, I’m not a spiritual person, yet, listening to the last track on this album, I’m sent off to another world.  It is not that far from the Fripp & Eno world.  Almost the younger brother of those recordings. 

The beauty of the album, even though it has three songs/tracks, it never breaks between songs.  It is one large piece that keeps going on and on.  At a certain point, I lose all track of time, which is great while writing. 

The Velvet Underground “The Complete Matrix Tapes"

Four CD disc-set from a series of shows at the Matrix club in San Francisco in 1969.    Is there even doubt, that The Velvet Underground was from the beginning to the end, the greatest live band ever?  The Matrix tapes convey a band that is driven, willing to take chances, and brilliant inter-playing among the musicians.   The 36-minute version of “Sister Ray” is simply awesome.  These series of shows expose the tightness of the band, but also their natural groove.   Not only song orientated (which of course, these are an amazing set of songwriting genius godlike perfection in motion) but groove moving as well.  Maureen Tucker is truly a great drummer and the interaction between Reed and Sterling Morrison is like the Kray twins in action.   Doug Yale, the guy who replaced John Cale is a musician who is left out of the godlike genius category, but he’s so superb in this band.  Hypnotic trance like in one moment and then the heart breaking aspect of the lyrics.   It is just a great cocktail of noise, sound, and melody.   Lou Reed’s singing is also noted, as brilliant. 

David Bowie : “Blackstar”  (single)

The video to this song is a distraction.   It’s good.  But not as brilliant as the song.   Ten-minutes long, like the band Earth, time is totally destroyed while listening to this record.   “Blackstar” starts off as a North African riff, and it becomes a hypnotic rhythm with Bowie’s voice singing a hymn to what appears to be darkness.  The sax comes and goes throughout the song/mix, and the listener is crawling in the desert, somewhere out of Marrakech.  Then the song drifts into a beautiful R & B melody, and gets into a gritty groove, then gets back in the trance of North African sound.   Along with Sparks, Bowie is the only artist who can make the old sound totally new.  This is a gorgeous record. 

Lee Ranaldo : “Ambient Loop for Vancouver” 

Along with Alan Licht on guitar, Christian Marclay on turntables, and William Hooker on drums, Lee Ranaldo adds his touch on guitar and I presume the concept behind this beautiful and even quasi-spiritual work is a meditative hardcore listen.  I find this recording perfect for zoning out and using it as a writing tool of sorts.   My only comparison (like “Earth 2” above) is Fripp & Eno’s “Evening Star” album.  It’s a wash of electronics and clearly guitar sounds, with the brilliant Marclay adding sonic textures or samples.  

Oddly enough, this is my first Lee Ranaldo recording.  As of this time, I’m not that familiar with his solo work, only his Sonic Youth recordings.  I think I prefer this album than to the whole Sonic Youth catalog.  Probably more to my mood and needs at the moment, but I wish I had an expensive sonic set-up with speakers in every room of this house, so I can play this album at full-volume.   The mixture of organic sounds (a siren here and there, but muted as well as vinyl sounding recordings) with the dreamy electronic hums of the guitars is truly beautiful.  It also reminds me, in parts, The Beatles “Revolution No. 9.”  

Keiji Haino, Mitsuru Nasuno and Yoshimitsu Ichiraku - “After Seijaku” 

As I was wandering around the Japanese rock section of Tokyo’s Tower Records, I came upon this album.   The packaging was minimalistically fantastic, and I really wanted to hear new Japan based music.  Another zone-out piece of genius work for me.  This, I think works best as headphone music, because I played it over my speaker, and didn’t like it as much.  The music is best when self-contained in a small area.  That area that is between the two ears.  

This double-cd set was recorded by Keiji Haino (electronics, voice, guitar), Mitsuru Nasuno (bass, electronics) and Yoshimitsu Ichiraku (electronics).   A live recording, but you could fool me.  It sounds like it was made in a very cold freezer, with air being pumped in.   Recorded almost exactly a year ago, this is a beautifully layered sound of electronics coming in and out like a wave in the ocean.   One can call it ambient, but the sounds are more forceful, and really grabs one’s attention.  Each CD is about 60 minutes long, so a perfect zone-out time to listen, and reflect.    Seijaku is truly a great music listening experience.  

Sparks - “The Final Derriere” (From “The Forbidden Room”) 

The genius of Sparks (and they are truly in that bracket) is how they can convey something like the obsession of women’s asses, and yet, makes it into a moving almost “I’m in tears” type of pop song.  Written for Guy Maddin’s new cinematic masterpiece, this is a stunning piece of work   The over-layered vocals by Russell Mael conveys the sadness of one man’s obsession, and is hoping that he’s reaching the final destination : the last derriere.  Or butt.  But one sense that this will not happen, even with the brain surgery to cure the ‘disease.   Sparks is very much like a silent film, where the hero, in a comical manner, is acting funny, but actually dealing with a serious issue.  The balance between pathos and humor is very much in the works of Sparks.  “The Final Derriere” is a song that bites, but leaves a sense of sadness as well. 


For fuck’s sake, it’s Franz Ferdinand and Sparks making an album together!   Every song on this album is so catchy and pop-tific that it seems like a hit & run crime.    It is a throw-back to an era when pop music used to be profound, catchy, and very commercial.  But it seems that wit has left the building and we’re left with the dreck of the 21st century.  FFS is the window of opportunity coming in brash sunlight.   16 brilliant pop(alar) tunes to make the listener float, tap their feet, and sing along.   When Russell is not singing magnificent  lead, he backs up Alex’s voice as if he is like Ali throwing punches at Sonny Listen.   He taunts him, leads him, and due to that, Alex as a singer really shines on the album.   To my ears, this is basically a Sparks’ album with assistance from Franz.   The one stand-out track from Alex is “Little Guy from the Suburbs” which is based on Jacques Mesrine’s narrative.  

Twink - “Think Pink”

For at the very least, I have heard of Twink, the drummer.  The impression I got was that he may be a cult version of Keith Moon.   Due to the Apple Music app, I finally heard his first solo album he made in 1968, called “Think Pink.” My impression is that this album will be sort of the drummer’s solo album, where friends would jam on very long tracks.  The truth is a bit different.  It’s very 1960s, and British underground(ish), but also tuneful and very pop as well.  This is not a messy solo album by a band member, but a strong statement of musical independence.   I’m shocked at myself for not picking up on this album years ago.   With a name like “Twink, ” how can it be possibly bad - especially when the album is called “Think Pink.” 

Perfume Genius - “Too Bright”

Listening to this album, I feel like I’m listening to David Bowie’s “Hunky Dory” when it originally came out in 1972, and I know Perfume Genius’ next album will be his Ziggy.  Till then, I have been listening to this album almost non-stop for the whole year of 2015.  The melodies are so beautiful, and this ‘twink’ of a young man (I think he’s in his 30s?) is a brilliant updated glam pop star.   He clearly understands the language and history behind it all, and the surprise thing that this is not nostalgia, but a forceful look at today’s concerns and life.  “Too Bright” should have been no. 1 in every part of the world - with “Queen” being the national anthem of my state of the country as well as yours.   This album is exciting to me, because I feel we’re going to hear a lot of great music from Perfume Genius from years to come. 

Keith Richards - “Crosseyed Heart”

Since it’s 2015, it would make perfect sense for me to stay away from anyone in the Rolling Stones who is doing a solo album.  Especially Keith, because he kind of pissed me off with his very selective memory of a certain Brian Jones that was in the Stones - and the fact that the band is basically hardcore Corporate Rock, but alas, his new solo album is wonderful.  “Heartstopper” is a great song with a fantastic melody.   And there are more superb songs on this disk.    In an odd way, it reminds me of later Serge Gainsbourg.  He will never out master the master that’s Serge, but he also shares a timeless quality.  There are dandy touches here and there, and the production by Steve Jordan is over-all superb.    A surprise hardcore like for me. 

Tosh Berman
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