now playing march 2004

by Ben Ramsey

Brian Eno - Taking tiger Mountain (by Strategy) (1974, EG) / Discreet Music (1975, EG) / Before and After Science (1977, Island) / Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978, EG)

These four albums, released over the course of 4 years from 1974 and 1978, show different aspects of the man we in the modern day know as the penultimate producer. If the drumming sounds famliar, that's because it's Phil Collins. These albums don't quite yet feature Jah Wobble, David Bowie, or even Robert Fripp.

The first here, Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy), was released just a year after leaving glam-rockers roxy music, and is reminiscent of that band's high-concept, pre-progressive rock -- but there's more there, even though it's not fully fleshed out. small synth lines and studio manipulations creep up in the mix and many of the arrangements are kind of difficult to get your ears around, while the vocals, which center largely around a double-agent scheme involving communist china, are at times ridiculous, Thankfully they aren't asking to be taken too seriously in the first place. Eno's later production work on David Bowie's albums is predictable here.

Discreet music, on the other hand, is Eno in his ambient master phase we most closely identify him with. With the Music for Airports album still being 3 years off, Discreet Music shows that Eno was well ahead of his time when dealing with sound on a purely sonic level. Dense yet melodic and quite beautifully arranged, this is the prototype of ambient music as it's come to be known today. 4 tracks over 55 minutes, the first track being just over 30 minutes long . . . great stuff.

Before and After Science is a combination of these two albums, almost reminescent at times of a 1977 version of Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden album. There are vocals, and they at times sound more at home in early 90's Manchester Acid House, but then the music they are laid on is entirely ethereal.

Ambient 1: Music for Airports is exactly that, total background muzak music. period. while discreet music intended to create sonic pastorals, music for airports was meant to disappear.

DJ Spooky - Optometry (2002, Thirsty Ear)

I admit, I bought "Songs of a Dead Dreamer" back when it came out and i hated it, with the exception of galactic funk. My respect for Spooky didn't diminish, it just wasn't my thing at the time, and I haven't really given Paul Miller much room since then.

This Optometry disc, at least 3 tracks in, is a good reason to go back and re-examine some of his other work. The only other thing I've listened to from him was the "Under the Influence" mix disc, which has 3.7.8. from ebn on it, and then a few tracks here and there.

I will say that at this point, 8 years on from 96 when Dead Dreamer came out, I've got a much greater grasp of Jazz, and I mean that in many senses of the word. This disc has had a few moments of "wonky" jazz which is hard for me to stomach, unless the wonkiness is immediately turned on its ear into something interesting and i guess "melodic" or at least pretty. Beauty out of chaos. I don't like contrived chaos but controlled chaos at the hands of a master isn't a bad thing at all.

Van Morrison - Astral Weeks (1968, Warner Bros.)

For a long time, I hated van morrison. I had a college roommate that i wish i could apologize to now in regards to Van Morrison. I still contend that The Pixies are over-rated though. This album doesn't have the hits that Moondance did, it didn't even have "Brown-Eyed Girl" on it, but there is a reason why this album is easily in the upper echelons of most greatest hits lists, and I will say it is there on mine. I listened to this and the Miles Davis album "Kind of Blue" at the same time, and the pure improvisational style of both is incredible.

Mercury Rev - Deserter's Songs (1998, V2)

Mercury Rev was, to me, "the private psychadelic reel" from the Chemical Brothers' otherwise terrible Dig Your Own Hole Album. The Flaming Lips were, to me, a horrible one-hit wonder band which I'd dismissed entirely. The band was always just Bob Dylan's backing band, except for when Robbie Robertson, Neil Young, and Rick James were in a band together and made some demos for motown, which were rejected.
This album prominently features the bowed saw, and i appreciate that.

Various Artists - Gimmie Indie Rock (K-Tel, 2000)

Yes, K-Tel. If you don't get that joke, then there's no problem, because this is worth getting anyway. This is a nice two disc set of what are ultimately essential classics and if you do get the K-Tel joke then basically, it's just as good.

Much like Rykodisc Releasing Bob Mould Records, this set is worth checking out. Of course, who should be on here is an easy argument, but who shouldn't isn't quite so simple. Never heard the original Vaselines' version of "Molly's Lips" (turned around entirely and made oh so famous on nirvana's bleach album)? Current GBV guitarist Doug Gillard is in Death of Samantha. Yes, Black Flag, Husker Du, Minutemen, Flaming Lips, Meat Puppets, Spaceman Three and this band called Giant Sand that keeps popping up everywhere.

Various Artists - Beyond Nashville: Into the Twisted Heart of Country (2001, Manteca)

This is easily the best thing I've heard in quite a while. Two discs again, the first classic roots country songs ranging for Jimmie Rodgers to the band doing "Long Black VeiL.". This disc shines the most on the older tracks, the Hank Williams, or Hearing Bill Monroe do "Blue Moon of Kentucky" for the first time, or the best track arguably on the whole set, Johnny Cash with the Carter Family's "Where you There". The harmonies on that are absolutely stunning.

The second disc is newer, with Lambchop, Smog, Sparklehorse, Gillian Welch, who is awesome on "Orphan Girl", Willard Grant Conspiracy, and the incredible Emmylou Harris as well. Tthe older tracks provided a welcome, familiar new sound to me.

Grateful Dead - So Many Roads (5 CD Set)

I hated the Grateful Dead more than I hated Van Morrison. As of this 5 disc set, there's a lot going towards making that permanently past tense. These largely live, by a vast majority rare even by Grateful Dead standard, songs are awesome. Some of these cds only have 5 or 6 songs on them and some have 8 or so. The level of craftmanship in these songs which range from the early Warlock days to the very end of the Jerry Garcia years, is never questionable, and that ultimately, leads me to why I all of a sudden find myself loving this band.


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