Archive for February, 2008

VA “Tropicália: Ou Panis Et Circenses”

Tropicalia

Tropicália, or Tropicalismo, was at once a response to military dictatorship and an attempt to expand Brazilian music by infusing ideas from all parts of the globe, even so far as an attempt to create a ‘universal music.’ This monumental compilation is the work of a like minded collective – radicals that would subvert and forever change the art and politics of Brazil, specifically Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Tom Ze, Nara Leao, and Os Mutantes. Leaders of the movement, Gil and Caetano, would be imprisoned and exiled for 4 years because of this record.

You can hear their urgency in the music itself. I can’t understand Portuguese, but this sound communicates through the language barrier. It’s a sound to make your eyes drop back in your head and swirl: a stirring blend of American psychedelia, traditional Brazilian music, African popular music, and English pop rock. Taken in by the rhythms and growingly addictive melodies, you will find yourself singing along in pidgin Portuguese before long.

The title of this record translates to “bread and circuses,” a phrase denoting cheap political handouts used to gather support. Makes me imagine the music was probably just an amusing distraction aiming listeners towards some higher cause. Regardless of your interest in the social importance of this record, I suggest you take the handout – it’s unlikely you won’t be carried away with Tropicália’s drama, intensity, stylistic range, and irresistible rhythms.

If you have any interest in the Tropicália movement, which was more recently popularized in the states by artists like Beck and David Byrne,  Panis Et Circenses is the place to start. I highly recommend you grab the 4 Men With Beards 180-gram vinyl reissue and spin it loud. Even if you balk at compilations, this is more, it’s the original and essential Tropicália comp. One that changed the world.

Gilberto Gil – “Geleia Geral”

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:) Vinyl Reissue | 2008 | 4 Men | Order | Search ]
😀 CD Reissue | 2002 | Universal | Buy ]

Off Track | 36 Chambers

Enter The Wu Tang 36 Chambers

This is a masterpiece, but really not too far off track here. The spirit behind this self-made debut is in sync with some of these obscure garage records. Instead of a guitar and amp set from Sears and a thrift shop drum kit, Wu Tang scrapped it together with an Ensoniq EPS, SP-1200, and a crate full of seriously good records. RZA stands next to Brian Wilson on my hero wall. This is off track so I’ll keep my mouth shut.

“Bring Da Ruckus”

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😀 8 Diagrams | Buy ]
😀 36 Chambers | Buy ]

:) 8 Diagrams | Search ]
:) 36 Chambers | Search ]

Sweet Shops *Best Record Stores* Rockit Scientist and Eat Records

Visiting NYC soon? Here are two recommended record buying locations that are easy to miss but well worth the visit.

Rockit Scientist Records
East Village, New York

Rockit Scientist

Down the street from Kim’s on St. Marks Place hides the gem of all NYC record dealers. Prepare for weakened knees when you first set foot in this shop with its expansive CD wall, boasting scores of album covers you never thought you’d actually find in a brick and mortar store. The CD shelves are well designed, making it easy to flip through some Yardbirds or Downliners Sect reissues seamlessly hopping back to the Byrds/Gene Clark section. The upper shelf highlights featured albums like Roy Wood’s Boulders and Odessey & Oracle; you can easily retrieve the case and inspect the liner notes, as all the actual discs are stored up front.

I mainly use the CDs as inspiration in the hunt for vinyl. The back section stores loads of HTF wax, originals and reissues mixed together. They know how much their records are worth at Rockit Scientist, but I find pricing to be about as fair as eBay or other online dealers (minus shipping). While flipping through, you’ll find a few jaw-droppers for ‘next time’ but the discerning taste of this shop ensures you can’t go home with a bad record. Vinyl is categorized by genre including rock, psych, prog, soul, jazz, Brazilian, punk, etc. Don’t forget to check out the walls and ceiling for some desirable gems.

Kudos to Rockit Scientist for their dedication to gems of the past and classic music in general. Fans of therisingstorm.net will easily spend hours in this sweet, sweet shop.

Rockit Scientist
33 St. Marks Place
New York, NY 10003
212.242.0066
http://www.myspace.com/rockitscientistrecords

Eat Records
Brooklyn, New York

Eat Records

Here’s a good visit for record hounds and foodies alike. Eat Records delivers what it sounds like, a bite to eat and shelves of used vinyl to flip through. The picture above shows Eat Records before they recently underwent renovation, cutting down on the amount of shelves and increasing the dining area. I find this to be a little unfortunate, but there are enough gems scattered throughout, and hardly any filler, that I will keep coming back.

Maybe it’s a little awkward geeking through a stack of records in a room filled with dining hipsters, but when you can get VG copies of Mendocino or Up Through The Spiral for around $10 AND a sandwich this good, Eat Records is just too cool to pass up.

Eat Records
124 Meserole Ave
Greenpoint, Brooklyn
718.389.8083
http://www.myspace.com/eatrecords

The Kinks “The Great Lost Kinks Album”

Great Lost Kinks Album

Issued by Reprise in 1973, and not to be confused with several boots bearing the same name, The Great Lost Kinks Album may not be a legitimate release, but it is one of my favorite Kinks albums.  Even though I know it’s wrong (Ray Davies knew nothing about it and moved to legally stop production of the record), I can’t help but fall for its charms.

Supposedly, the bulk of Great Lost was intended for a 1969 release entitled Four More Respected Gentlemen. The liner notes for the LP are hard to trust, however, since the ‘kronikler’ spends most of his time deriding the touring behavior of the ’73 Kinks and complaining about the songs on Muswell Hillbillies (by my account, a fine record in every regard). Pretty much all of this material (tracks that didn’t make the cut for Face to Face, Something Else, and Village Green Preservation Society) is available now as bonus material on the essential 2004 Kinks reissues (mostly on the 3CD VGPS package).

The track order on Great Lost Kinks feels like the real thing, and affords that rare pleasure rabid fans are always hunting down: the unreleased masterpiece. Great Lost is to Kinks fans what Smile bootlegs are to Brian Wilson devotees, maybe not a masterpiece, but it’s that extra dip in the Golden Age once you’ve already exhausted the best of their discography. Considering its release date, this was the first chance anybody got at hearing these buried gems, making Great Lost a considerable prize to collectors. If you do find this record out in the wild, pick it up immediately. The bizarre neon cover may have you believe this is a less than stellar 1980s outing or some mediocre compilation, but it truly sounds like that great, fabled record that never was.

There are no skippable tracks, but for me, Til Death Do Us Part is one of the perfect Kinksongs, a humble, laid-back march that sounds sweetly traditional. There Is No Life Without Love is a sleeper Kinks klassic with its subdued and gorgeous groove. I won’t go on. I’ll save the rest for that lucky day you find this for yourself. If you need to hear the tracks before then, get working on your Kinks reissues, they’re all there somewhere.

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“Till Death Do Us Part”

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“There’s No Life Without Love”

:) Original Vinyl | 1973 | Reprise | search eBay ]

The Contents Are “Through You”

Through You

The Through You lp was little more than rumor til a copy mysteriously appeared at a 2005 Austin record show. Contents Are were a garage folk-rock band from Quad City, Iowa that released two good 45’s and this 1967 private press album. It’s remarkable that the band were still in high school when they cut this lp as both the lyrics and musicianship are quite advanced.

In true DIY fashion the band pressed 100 copies of Through You and gave the lp’s away to eager fans who came to Contents Are live events. It’s a solid record to say the least, with influences coming from early Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds and Rubber Soul era Beatles. Through You is full of good, 3 minute pop songs and it’s the kind of record that saw the beat/garage and folk-rock sounds merge. One song, Peace At Last, has complex lyrics and a wonderful mid period Beatles-like chorus. No Chance To Choose is another excellent, dark folk-rocker that strongly recalls John Lennon’s Rubber Soul compositions and hints at psychedelia. There are a few hard rocking tracks such as the opening, fuzzy Country Roads but most of this record is predominately folk-rock. Other good standouts are the folk-rock downers Dream Of My Predictions and Reccuring Changes, which feel like lost Gene Clark compositions in lyrical content and sound.

For many the highlight was In Trouble. This track is notable for beautiful back porch harmonies, jangly guitar and a distinct, rural Buffalo Springfield sound. It’s the kind of song that makes searching for private press records worth all the trouble and grief. Through You’s sound quality is a little muddy and probably will not be of interest to those who like clean, sparkling major label glitz. But to those wanting to explore buried local sounds, this is a great record that’s bound to grow on you.

In 2007/2008 Shadoks thankfully released both vinyl and CD versions of this long forgotten album.

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“In Trouble”

😀 CD Reissue | 2008 | Shadoks | Through You @ Amazon ]
:) Vinyl Reissue | 2007 | Shadoks | Contents Are @ ebay ]

Classic Gear: The Mellotron

Mellotron

The Mellotron will forever be one of the most unique sounding and groundbreaking keyboard instruments ever created. It was based on the Chamberlin, which was the world’s first sampling keyboard. When you press a key on the Mellotron, an 8-second piece of audio tape is triggered to run, and when you take your finger off, the tape quickly rewinds. By actually recording each chromatic pitch of an acoustic instrument (say flutes, strings, organs, or the legendary boys choir) and assigning each 8-second recording to its respective key, the Mellotron was a machine that could emulate any instrument or sound. (See the youtube clip below for a helpful demo.)

Some samples were recordings of an actual full-band rhythm track, kind of like pressing the demo button on your Casio, but with a sound leagues more impressive. Regardless of the soundbank being used, however, the ‘Tron has an eerie, wavery quality to its sound that has intrigued musicians, producers, and listeners since its inception.

The Mellotron is infamous for its lack of portability, requiring painstaking realignment of tape heads when relocated (actually, read the comment from Chris below for more on this, thank you Chris). Today, you might find them in rare studios with a knack for vintage gear but the best shot at getting your hands on these classic sounds is to grab some kind of emulation hardware or software. Though ‘Tron purists will scoff at the use of a plug-in, it is quite simply the most realistic way to approximate the otherworldly sounds of the Mellotron.

Check out till.com for further information, and don’t miss the excellent Planet Mellotron where you will find information on many recordings that employ this expensive, rare, technologically dated but much loved and legendary instrument.

Examples
The ultimate Mellotron example is the flute intro to the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever. This is an outtake (Take 7) that highlights the 10-piece street drumming team that hides in the outro rhythm of the final cut; though it’s not Mellotron, this fantastic texture always astounds me:

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The Beatles – Strawberry Fields Forever

Phenomenal Cat by The Kinks from VGPS is a great ‘Tron track. The regular flute sound is instantly recognizable, but take special note of the demented ‘rock guitar’ sample and the rhythm tracks:

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The Kinks – Phenomenal Cat

On David Bowie’s early classic, Space Oddity, Rick Wakeman was brought in to perform a placeholder part for what would later become orchestral strings. Apparently the magnificent warble of Wakeman’s ‘Tron part got the best of Bowie, because that is what we still hear today:

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David Bowie – Space Oddity

The Mellotron became an important instrument to the world of prog rock as it could create grandiose sound without the prohibitive costs involved with hiring an orchestra. Listen to this Mellotron drenched classic from King Crimson’s debut:

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King Crimson – Epitaph

(thanks to PlanetMellotron.com for the research on these notes.)

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The Blue Things (self-titled)

The Blue Things
The Blue Things were a great band from the Midwest. They had a Beau Brummels Volume 2/From The Vaults sound crossed with some Gene Clark era Byrds. While they were extremely popular in the Midwest, the Blue Things never reached fame at a national level despite a great folk-rock album and some groundbreaking early psychedelic singles.

The band started out releasing singles on independent (private) labels around 1964/65 with a strong Searchers/early Beatles flavor. Some of these singles such as Pretty Things-Oh! were very strong and deserved more attention. Eventually they evolved into a tight folk-rock band that strongly recalled Help/Rubber Soul era Beatles.

Val Stocklein wrote most of the compositions and his vocals are a world weary mixture of Gene Clark and Help era John Lennon. They released their only self-titled album (commonly referred to as Listen & See) in 1966 and by this time, the band had already been experimenting with a psychedelic sound. The album is one of folk-rock’s highlights. A singled released from the album, Doll House/Man On The Street was spectacular. Both songs dealt with subjects uncommon for rock in that era (or any era), prostitution and social injustice.They are both characterized by glittering guitars, thoughtful lyrics, great harmonies, tambourine and a driving beat. There is no doubt that this was one of the defining moments of the folk-rock revolution. Other album tracks highlighted the group’s influences. Honor The Hearse was very Dylan-like but still effective while High Life, I Must Be Doing Something Wrong, It Ain’t No Big Thing Babe and Now’s The Time were also really strong, classy folk-rockers.

There were a few raw covers of old rock standards as well, that recalled their club and bar days. Ain’t That Lovin’ You Babe is particularly noteworthy for a blistering guitar solo. Desert Wind, an outtake from this era, is another great melancholy folk-rock winner. The Blue Things would eventually release two classic psychedelic singles before Val Stocklein left, effectively putting an end to the original group. Orange Rooftops Of Your Mind was their creative zenith, an explosion of sound, featuring violin-like fuzz guitar tones, echoed vocals, a great folk-rock bridge and an organ rave up. The B-side, One Hour Cleaners, was almost as good, with some strange lyrics and a good beat. This single was released in 1966 just when psychedelia was beginning and may have been the first genuine Midwest acid-rock single. You Can Live In Our Tree, another good A-side paired with a great psych version of Twist and Shout was more of the same.

The inability to sell records or become commercially viable frustrated the group and left them bitter. One more single was released in 1967 after Val’s departure and without his involvement. Yes My Friend paired with Somebody Help Me did not recall the band’s heyday in any way and was actually pretty weak. The Blue Things soldiered on for a while playing live but eventually decided to call it a day before the end of the decade.

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“Doll House”

😀 2CD Reissue | 2008 | Cicadelic | Buy @ Cicadelic Records ]
reposted from March, 2007. Check out the brand new 65-song reissue.

Double Zappa |FZ| 1973-74

Over Night Sensation (left) Apostrophe (right)

Throughout the years 1999 to 2003 or so, I collected and devoured just about every official Frank Zappa release. It’s time to let it out of the brain, and hopefully you can use these posts as an introduction to this man’s incredible body of work.

I’ve found that FZ albums tend to come in two’s, so here’s our first double shot of Frank. These years contain his most commercially successful works and act as a fast and bulbous starting point.

Over-Nite Sensation (1973)
Zappa liked a tight band. The players on Over-Nite Sensation (notably featuring George Duke, Ruth Underwood, and the Fowler Brothers) would comprise the cleanest and strictest sounding rock ensemble yet. Nothing shows this more than the insanely detailed changes and synth, horn, and melodic percussion runs to one of my early favorites, Zomby Woof. The gnarly guitar lick and morally condemning lyric to I Am The Slime kinda says it all about his classical/satirical approach to rock music. And the succinct guitar solas throughout this record are both introductions and solid proof of his out-of-this-world modal guitar mastery. Dinah Moe Humm and Montana are bona fide Zappa classics and I remember even steadfast Zappa haters admitted to liking Camarillo Brillo.

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“Camarillo Brillo”

:) Vinyl Search | Over Nite Sensation @ eBay ]
😀 CD Reissue | 1995 | Over-Nite Sensation ]

Apostrophe (‘) (1974)
Zappa had the extraordinary ability to create unheard new sounds, rhythms, and textures with each of his bands. The opener to Apostrophe, well known favorite Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow, has one of these rare grooves. Turned up loud it’s this killer double guitar riffing that alternates with a fantastic disco hi-hat rhythm. Without changing time signature even, this groove still manages to entrance me today. See, it’s not the goofy, sometimes embarrassing lyrics and jokes tucked away in every Zappa piece that I seek out (though strangely comforting they are); it’s the treasures of complicated movements and studio /conducting genius that made Frank Zappa the transcendental composer and producer we know him as today. Get this one for a perfect development from Over-Nite Sensation, featuring even zanier movements, and of course that sick guitar lick on the title track.

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“Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow”

:) Vinyl Search | Apostrophe @ eBay ]
😀 CD Reissue | 1995 | Apostrophe (‘) ]

Note: serious fans won’t want to miss the new Classic Albums Series DVD: Apostrophe / Over-Nite Sensation.

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Electronic Pioneers: Louis & Bebe Barron “Forbidden Planet”

Forbidden Planet

In 1956, MGM released the science fiction film, Forbidden Planet. The picture stars Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Neilson and the brilliant Robby The Robot. How exciting it must have been to experience this film in the theater in 1956! Technically speaking, the film is remarkable, featuring sophisticated visual effects and a visionary musical score.

For Forbidden Planet, married NY duo Louis & Bebe Barron produced one of the very first wholly electronic movie scores. The music was created using custom electronic circuits built by the Barrons, circuitry that they claim was influenced by cybernetics.

Louis and Bebe Barron:

“In Scoring Forbidden Planet – as in all our work – we created individual cybernetic circuits for particular themes and leit motifs, rather than using standard sound generators. Actually, each circuit has a characteristic activity pattern as well as a ‘voice.’ “

These “cybernetic circuits” were used to build multi-musical sound layers, as well as most of the film’s “inorganic” sound effects. This is a wonderful achievement: the basic connection created between the sound effects and the sound music. The SFX and the musical score are interwoven to create a neat, all-electronic union between diegetic and non-diegetic sound.

Tape echo and reverberation seem to be used widely as a sound processor within this production, helping to further a “space-like” or “far-out” atmosphere. All-together, this pioneer production is a fine example of pre-synthesizer electronic music making!

This score might not be the easiest to listen to on its own. I would recommend viewing the movie first, paying special attention to how the electronic music influences the film, and vice-versa. Later, listen to the soundtrack alone, preferably with headphones (there are some excellent uses of stereophonic sound within). I can assure you you won’t be disappointed, or un-moved. This soundtrack is a must have for those interested in early electronic music and electronic music history. A memorable release!

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“Battle With The Invisible Monster”

😀 CD Reissue: 1995 | Small Planet Records | Buy From GNP Crescendo ]

Don Covay “See-Saw”

Seesaw

I’ll forever be indebted to British R&B bands like the Rolling Stones, the Pretty Things and the Downliner’s Sect for not only changing my life with their incredible music, but for also infecting me with an incurable obsession with American roots music. Noticing that their early albums were almost entirely comprised of cover songs sent me scrambling all over the place to track down the raw blues of Howlin’ Wolf and Slim Harpo, the trailblazing country of Hank Snow and Buck Owens, and lots of Southern soul.

Mick Jagger was no Solomon Burke. Well aware of his limitations, he found a way to make it work by studying less technically accomplished singers like Don Covay. One listen to those falsetto notes he hits and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Covay was a prolific songwriter who penned an impressive string of hits for the likes of Aretha Franklin, Burke and Wilson Pickett. He was also one of the most overlooked soul singers of his generation. His first single, “Bip Bop Bip,” is a frantic ‘50s shouter wild enough to make Little Richard (who he once chauffeured for) sound like Fabian. After releasing a few more sides that were a bit derivative but great nonetheless, Covay finally hit his stride in 64’ with the genre blurring cut “Mercy, Mercy.” A solid R&B groove was intact, but the prominent raw guitars (rumored to have been played by a young Hendrix) and crashing drums gave it a strong rocknroll edge, anticipating the garage boom that was just on the horizon. His pleading vocals convey a sense of desperation that even surpasses Pickett’s stellar rendition of the song.

This single along with some equally crude tracks from the same era were collected on the 1966 LP See Saw. “Everything Gonna Be Everything” is an all-out stomper that’ll make you to wonder if he’s not being backed by the Pretties. Also included are some more straight-ahead soul songs he cut at Stax, featuring the tight, horn dominated sound and Steve Cropper licks that made the label famous. On the title cut and “Iron Out the Rough Spots” we find Covay neck and neck with best talent on the formidable Stax roster.

See Saw is the epitome of a great mid-‘60s Southern soul album, perfectly balanced with the right amount of dance tunes and ballads. It was reissued on CD as a twofer with his terrific first LP Mercy. Razor and Tie released a decent anthology, which includes some of his earlier and later efforts.

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“Mercy Mercy”

😀 CD Reissue: 2000 | Koch Records | Buy Mercy!/See-Saw @ Amazon ]
:) Vinyl Reissue: 2000? | Atlantic | Search eBay for Don Covay See Saw ]

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