Rock

Popol Vuh “Hosianna Mantra” (Pilz, 1972)

MI0002982480Florian Fricke pioneered the use of synthesizers in German rock, but by the time of Hosianna Mantra he had abandoned them (eventually selling his famous Moog to Klaus Schulze). While In den Gärten Pharaos had blended synths with piano and African and Turkish percussion, Hosianna Mantra focuses on organic instrumentation. Conny Veit contributes electric guitar, but other than that, Fricke pulls the plug and builds the album around violin, tamboura, piano, oboe, cembalo, and Veit’s 12-string, often with Korean soprano Djong Yun’s haunting voice hovering above the arrangements.

As the album’s title suggests, Fricke conceived of Hosianna Mantra as a musical reconciliation of East and West, a harmonization of seemingly opposed terms, combining two devotional music traditions. That notion of cultural hybridity resonates throughout. On “Kyrie” droning tamboura, simple piano patterns, ethereal, gull-like guitars, and yearning oboe ebb and flow before coalescing in a passage of intensity and release. The epic title track adds another dimension to the fusion, emphasizing a Western rock sound with Veit’s spectacular playing to the fore, simultaneously smoldering and liquid, occasionally yielding to Djong Yun’s celestial vocals. Above all, Fricke envisioned this as sacred music, intimately linked to religious experience; however, as his musical synthesis of disparate religious traditions indicates, he was seeking to foment a spiritual experience beyond the specificity of any particular faith.

Indeed, Fricke called this album a “mass for the heart” and that aspect can be heard most succinctly on the melancholy “Abschied” and the gossamer-fragile “Segnung,” which blend an austere hymnal sensibility with a more mystical vibe. Julian Cope has said that Hosianna Mantra sounds like it was made in a “cosmic convalescent home” — an excellent description underscoring the timeless, healing quality of this music, which is far removed from the everyday world and yet at one with it. -Wilson

Mi Ami “Watersports” (Quarterstick, 2009)

homepage_large.a4031480Mi Ami have an ability to execute aural peaks and valleys like few pop groups have ever known how to do. Within each individual song is a crescendo, from the whispered and paranoid panting of Martin-McCormick and subtle metal beating from Palermo, to a racket of all the brutal parts looking each other in the eye and screaming. Just as quickly, though, they can drop it down and develop a groove, usually with the assistance of the bass, that envelops one’s sense of rhythm, all-encompassing.

A brilliant example of this is the two-song assault of “The Man In Your House” and “New Guitar.” “The Man In Your House” begins understated and disconcerting; an effects-laden guitar line covers the track in an odd, quiet blanket. From there, Martin-McCormick’s whispers grow to shouts of sex and sadness, while his guitar screeches and wail. The suspense grows as the track gets louder, and then it immediately segues into “New Guitar,” a jittery, stilted statement of seemingly nothing, carried out with Martin-McCormick’s competent hands manhandling and tearing at his guitar. The song’s beginning is a brilliant resolution to the song before it, and once this primal energy beams out, the trio jumps back four steps and carries out a mid-tempo groove, complete with a bass line rooted in funk and dub.

So much of Watersports’ appeal is in its embrace of the physical, but the album’s final third is a dirge into the mental abyss. Indeed, the album consists almost entirely of the members going ballistic on their respective parts, but this happens so sparingly, if at all, in the final two tracks. “White Wife,” a manifesto towards sincerity and honesty, is quiet, sad, and slow. Here, the trio is exploring their sonic workspace in a very profound way: not through flexing their chops, but through creating space. The song, probably the most cerebral track on the album, dips and undulates until you get to “Peacetalks/Downer,” which, like the best of shoegaze music, creates volume in lines that should be quiet. It all builds without changing, until the album slowly fades into oblivion.-Tyler

Amon Düül II “Wolf City” (United Artists, 1972)

Wolfcity1The most noticeable difference between this 1972 release and classic albums like Phallus Dei (1969), Yeti (1970), and Tanz der Lemminge (1971) is the shift from lengthy “freak outs” to shorter pieces that emphasize melody and harmony. In fact, most of the seven pieces on Wolf City are in the 3-6 minute range with only Surrounded by Stars reaching 8 minutes in length.

I for one do not mind the change at all because it turns out that Amon Duul II was just as good at writing shorter pieces as they were at writing the longer pieces. The major selling point for me on Wolf City is the haunting, drifting melodies that are developed on this album – they are simply wonderful and make me forget the pieces are only a few minutes long. Furthermore, the interesting thing (and this is really clever) is that spacey, instrumental preludes and interludes are worked in here and there to create the illusion of a larger piece. The use of loads of synthesizers does not hurt either.

All in all, this is a very good album that is recommended along with Carnival in Babylon (1972) which is somewhat similar. -Jeffery

Jimi Hendrix “Midnight Lightning” (Columbia, 1975)

JHMidniteLiteSo this is interesting… The idea of a rock producer bringing in session dudes to fill out the sound on collected, unreleased recordings of a dead man’s tapes. The sixth album released after Hendrix’s death, these sessions have been tampered with after the fact by Alan Douglass, a record producer who controversially turned down Hendrix’s original accompanists and brought in his own talent.

These days the idea of remixing and retrofitting old material seems like a non-issue. And it has to be said that the work presented here is strong; it doesn’t smell like a quick cash-in by Douglass at all. Original bass and drums (with only one unmolested Mitch Mitchell track) disappear… and new guitar overdubs are placed as well! But these additions don’t take away from Hendrix’s lead, hardly fiddled with, only on demos where his repeated phrases were obviously unintentional. In a way I’m reminded of Teo Marceo’s album work for Miles Davis, but Miles was alive then and agreed with his studio ideas. Depending on what your opinion may be on his work, it may reflect about what you’d think of the Douglass edits. Is it so wrong to string such strong performances together in a studio? Or would you rather have the demos with some obvious blemishes? Serious questions when the music created originally needed so little studio tampering. These people were geniuses without it.

But then maybe Douglass was a fitting studio-head, the one able to handle such bold work with a legend’s material. He saw an opportunity to wrap up loose ends and executed it how he saw fit. The results are striking and worth hearing, especially when you hear the power of “Machine Gun” and the rest of side two to follow. It’s a trick, but a good one. -Wade

Meat Puppets “Up On The Sun” (SST, 1985)

220px-MeatPuppets_-_UpOnTheSunFrom Simon Reynolds:

One of the strangest, fastest mutational odd-yseys taken by a single band, from the thrashadelic punk of the debut through the countrypunk furore and dewdrops-on-cobweb delicacy of Meat Puppets II to Up On the Sun ‘s brutal plangency and frenetic speedfunk (a manic, flashing secateur snip’n’clip, a dragon-fly shimmer like sunbeams chasing each other through your veins, a peyote-and-desert-sun crazed Talking Heads with Jerry Garcia and Tom Verlaine as dueling lead guitarists). Awesome.

Say no more? By “Up On The Sun” the Puppets had gone away from breakneck hardcore speed and cooled down, guitar work improving to the point of jam band virtuosity, still keeping tracks within relative rock brevity. I can’t help but mention that SST insider Joe Carducci saw a period between albums where they resembled Steppenwolf and he (we) have yet to hear that phase of their career on recording.

Until then, third effort “Up On The Sun” remains their strongest stud in their discography, before they started playing around with drum machines you know… Unswinging funk bass with perfectly meshed frantic-sounding guitarwork, and a drummer that keeps time because someone had to keep their feet on the ground. And oh yeah, they are earnest and joyful. -Wade

Blue Cheer “Vincebus Eruptum” (Philips, 1968)

BlueCheerVincebusEruptumMade up of blues covers half this album may be, but what a new way they had to warp and distort such standards! Key words there, as Blue Cheer were pioneers of the Metal genre we all have come to associate with the monoliths… Zeppelin and Sabbath, somewhere, they stand in between.

A little ways into opener “Summertime Blues” you get a confirmation that yes, things will be forever different, as a break becomes filled with masochistic riffs unheard prior. On “Rock Me Baby” the use of guitar distortion reaches new heights, and the interplay on “Doctor Please” hits you like scorched earth, molten lava running and tumbling downhill.

More blues covers and an original number follow, but the reinvention heard here is absolutely notable. When you hear some metallers discussing roots, this will probably be one album cited in conversation. -Wade

Iron Butterfly “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (Atco, 1968)

In-A-Gadda-Da-VidaIron – Symbolic of something “heavy,” as in sound.

Butterfly – Light, appealing and versatile… an object that can be used freely in the imagination.

On the back of their LP sleeve is this statement, and it’s fitting for a group that shows their varying chops on either side. Their particular brand of psychedelic rock on side one works, but it does seem to allude that a change in style was coming. Erik Brann’s vocals are deep and don’t really bring flowers to mind, even during the groups more flourishing numbers. Organ sounds rip holes through the mix and give a slight ominous tone to everything. Late bassist Philip Taylor Kramer (mysteriously found dead in a car at the bottom of a ravine) gave a warm tone that brings Grand Funk to mind. (EDIT: Kramer joined after the recording of I-A-G-D-V, but was most know for it in performance.)

Side one has moments of beauty with “My Mirage” and “Termination” but it’s the all-encompassing title track that really gives Iron Butterfly their claim to fame. A heavy opening with an unforgettable riff, it later turns into a psychedelic wind tunnel of driving instrumentals; guitar, drum, bass and organ-led mayhem to serenity. Along with Blue Cheer and Steppenwolf, Iron Butterfly are one of those groups that show interesting tangents from garage and psych to the world of heavy. -Wade

The Descendents “Milo Goes To College” (New Alliance, 1982)

SST142_thumbNo other punk band to my knowledge has had their style emulated by hordes of lesser groups than The Descendents. But who could blame those groups for trying? Once they chugged a pot of coffee and played out this great molding of melody and speed set with “Milo Goes To College,” they probably didn’t have a choice…

Hearing their “Ride The Wild / Hectic World” single and jumping into this album can be startling. A capable rock band before, once they brandished new vocalist Milo and went hardcore they were just too damn good to be entry level punk hop-ons… They led the pack. And Milo was their ace in the hole, a wholly new style of rock vocalist; one that wasn’t concerned with having sex, scoring drugs or looking cool. And he rains fire on those that do, severing many a rock cliché. “I’m Not A Loser,” “Tony Age,” “Hope,” “Marriage” and “Bikeage” show that this group is 1) a powerhouse instrumentally and 2) ready to wreck the glamorized foundations of rock culture, with their own raw power.

Most songs don’t make it to the two-minute mark but each one has so many great changes and twists that none are alike, and each one has meat on it. Many of the subjects covered from rent to girls to love to fashion to drugs are standard pop punk material now, but The Descendents crammed it all in to this one, heavy, positive tumult. Play often and you’ll feel better, really. -Wade

The Rolling Stones “Emotional Rescue” (Rolling Stones, 1980)

51H8tGhuOkL._SY300_Along with The Who pulling an “Eminence Front,” the Stones made some undeniably catchy tracks for more straight-ahead dancing. “Emotional Rescue” is the most blatant album example of this, and if you aren’t such a rock purist, it’ll sound pretty good to hear them put four on the floor in their opening tracks.

It’s all still The Stones though, even with their great chicken scratch rhythms and drum patterns squared off for tracks like “Dance” and “Send It To Me.” With less solos and almost no psychedelic intrusion, they still come off as an organic group, not sterile studio sessioners making a few bucks from Studio 54. Not all of the numbers are for the dance floor obviously, but then again “Indian Girl” doesn’t really scream for repeated listens the way their tackling of dance tunes do.

For Stones devotees, “Emotional Rescue” isn’t too bad to see them moving further sideways after the “Some Girls” punk reaction, into dance territory… and they avoid rubbing shoulders too much (ahem, title track) with white-soul New Wave, which is a blessing here. “Down In The Hole” helps confirm that they were exploring, and not drifting too far from their roots. -Wade

Tim Buckley “Greetings From L.A.” (Straight, 1972)

51jJnF-3yOLTim Buckley’s seventh album effort left quite an impression on me after I heard it’s centerpiece “Sweet Surrender” on the Johnny Rotten Capital Radio show from 1977. The whole show was great, mixing Celtic folk songs into Dub into Soul into Progressive Rock, Velvet Underground-affiliated solo projects, Beefheart, Can even… What a way to get hip quick!

But “Sweet Surrender” was the opener for his show as well, and it was the track that lingered longest in my head. So before exploring Buckley’s complete discography I jumped straight into “Greetings From L.A.” and I still think it’s his personal best. After albums of straight folk gave way to albums of avant-garde instrumentation and aural experiments using his impressive vocal range, he did an about face and moved back into a more conventional form; this time closer to Funk, Rock and Soul.

Buckley’s band is groove oriented whether quiet or busy, and in places they employ lush strings that fly as high as his voice can carry. He was not a limited singer. Actually, all that time making avant-recordings helped develop his voice as instrument approach, and when he belts out numbers like “Move With Me” or “Devil Eyes” he can really imitate those dirty bedroom yelps perfectly… No one saw this coming in his career arc, Buckley party music, but then again by the time he made it to this album he may have figured his audience wasn’t getting any bigger. Might as well have some fun, and it’s the most fun you’ll have listening to Tim. Try this one first. -Wade

The Byrds “Mr. Tambourine Man” (Columbia, 1965)

MI0000506004The debut album by The Byrds charged forward with that jangly guitar sound, tambourines (of course) and woven harmonies that would become the template for many a folk or heartland rock band. Guitars are intricate with vocals complexly joined, bringing roots to rock format without substantial loss of the prior form.

Whether folkies see their rock and folk union as a watering down of tradition is another matter; as a rock exploration it opened doors. Their work of co-opting Dylan songs may have even helped lead Dylan to pick up an electric guitar, to most of his fans chagrin. But that’s just theorizing, since the only real connection is that this album and his infamous amplified set share the same year in history.

The album itself is in fine stereo presentation, and it sounds pretty close to a document as you’ll get from them before psychedelics and acid rock lead to more adventurous work in a studio vein. You can almost hear it coming in retrospect but with this album you have the best performance culminations of the Beatles and Dylan, with care given to the humble forms they lift up into rock celebrity. -Wade

10cc “Deceptive Bends” (Mercury, 1977)

10cc-Deceptive-Bends-427028I could hardly tell that half the band left by the time 10cc (or, 5cc) started work on “Deceptive Bends.” A studio band that worked the angle quite well already, this time around they were only a two-piece. Consider the opener, “Good Morning Judge”… it’s pretty much a companion piece to their earlier “Rubber Bullets” and shows that they weren’t suffering from their crumbling line-up in terms of production.

But then again, they open with some of their strongest single releases. It’s not a bad thing but most of their best work is right out of the gate. “The Things We Do For Love” comes in at track two and it’s an infinitely playable single. Try it! After that however, they go into their own studio-slow jams until they reach the art-rock of “Modern Man Blues,” all blues licks and synthy tones, but the blues still seem pretty work-and-woman oriented. Tongue in cheek I’m sure.

Side two opens with all the quirk you’d want from the remaining duo; it’s post-Sparks and pre-Devo. “Honeymoon With B-Troop,” with that righteous sanitized guitar, gets weird with playful piano propulsion and stereophonic use of panned vocals. Even with only two original members, “Deceptive Bends” is proof that 10cc could dish out singles and make a mostly memorable step forward on record. -Wade