I have been waiting for years to listen to this one in this format.
I will not try to explain what a Buchla synthesizer is. You’re going to have to look that up yourself. But know that the album intends to throw you into that world right from the beginning.
Swirling, bubbling treated vocals book-end the first track, a Leonard Cohen poem set to frantic solo acoustic music. The third track, “Better To Find Out For Yourself” is a rockier track than the two previous ones, up to par with the first Jefferson Airplane LP in a sort of safe but rough folk-rock way – ends with some squealing synth sounds. Or maybe rather track four starts with the noises. Actually, what you have here is a bona fide suite, a few songs longs, with the Buchla, organ & tape delay as the bridge.
I would recommend some 60s folk background for this, but not a purist type. You should have at least one early 60s Joan Baez. Buffy has a quivering vibrato that may seem strange to some. Certainly, Grace Slick is another touchpoint here.
The 4th song – “Adam” – is a Richie Havens song – and both a raunchy Aftermath fuzz bass and nice post-“Within You, Without You,” strings that appear intermittently inject a little excitement into this record.
My copy is a bit noisy, but side two’s quiet “The Dream Tree” would have made a nice Art Garfunkel spotlight or better yet, some kind of Joni outtake. It’s truly a beautiful melody.
Side Two starts with a purely emotional performance called “Suffer The Little Children.” Everything about it is pure, the shouts and muttering, the tempo changes and all. Another odd synth/tape bridge brings us to a softer tune called “Angel” with a surprisingly reverbed bed of vocals for a bridge and a soft organ carrying us to the conclusion of Buffy’s voice caught in the echo chamber.
The segues between the tracks and/or the lack of space between them is the secret weapon here. It gives everything a subliminal lift that carries the standard folk-rock production. But there are enough surprises, even without the programming touches. The screams in “With You, Honey,” and the intimate and almost whispered sexy voice in “Guess Who I Saw In Paris” are two good examples.
The penultimate track “He’s A Keeper OF The Fire” gives us another rock lift, this time with a raw Keith-Jorma rotating riff and more wild and barely restrained vocals peppered with quivering accents, near-yodels and a second voice cheering on the main one. It’s one of those songs you find on an album like this that your mind attaches itself to. Very addictive. And yeah, it starts with a very short Buchla burble and it ends with an edit of the guitar petering out.
Of course, “Poppies” is the title of the last track. This couples a sweet soft nylon arpeggio with an operatic vocal swirling in echo. The album ends with the same bubbling “god is alive” vocal Buchla thing that it started with.
Overall – get ready for something strange and different but don’t expect a synth extravaganza. You only get like 30 seconds of it over the course of 35 minutes of folk or folk-rock.
I will definitely come back to this for three reasons – the wilder and somewhat uncontrolled emotional performances, the cool and restrained psychedelic touches aside from the synth connective tissue, and honestly, the lyrics might be what sells this to me, because they mostly seem pretty strange to me. I never get the full impact of lyrics on the first listen but I suspect this to be true. Glad I got this record.
In the early 90s, this one snuck up on me and, as a result, was one of my first real meetings with jazz of this type. I had read nothing about this album at all before I listened to it. It was at a store and I bought it. It sat in a Foodtown milk crate for a while and one day; I decided it was great. Really great. The price for admission was getting past that 14 minute opening track.
If you like something a little more adventurous than the Atlantic albums – and yet not so way out like what was to come later – you might really like this album. I am not entirely sure, but this might be the first studio album solely by the classic quartet of Tyner-Jones-Garrison-JC. Africa/Brass had other people on it and there was a live album too. Apparently, because of Dolphy, that one was controversial. But this is not a drop back to some safe place. This band sounds both comfortable and adventurous.
Unlike many of my other favorite JC albums, this was a “real” release. Meaning at the time of release, Coltrane recorded songs for it and knew it was coming out. Following Coltrane’s discography is tough, with the only saving grace being that most of them are high quality, anyway. I only mention that because if you are someone who cares about that thing, I can only offer to suggest that maybe you shouldn’t.
This release includes a bonus track on each side. The tracks give us an original by McCoy Tyner and another by Coltrane. I came into this kicking and screaming because I don’t want to change the experience, but I think by not including any more covers or standards, it might make a great album even greater. The jury is still out. I might know in a couple of years.
Albums like these are challenging to write anything about, much less anything new. This is a renowned classic and also uncommon, since this band would not last in this form for long. So let’s go forward, but probably not for an excessive amount of time and not overly thorough.
Initially, somewhere around 1990, I probably had this as a CD. I remember reading an interview with Johnny Marr from the Smiths praising the guitar solo in “Kid.” Of course, I was pretty familiar with a handful of these tracks because they were all over the radio since the album’s release.
I will listen to the first side and come back to write…
Side One – At first glance, this sounds like an outstanding live band! The mix is beautifully dense and they tie the musical components up so securely. There’s a spark in Honeyman Scott’s playing, especially, and still no shame in leaning into a good feeling power chord. Little touches like the cleaner simple guitar arpeggios in “Tattooed Love Boys,” for instance, and well as the instrumental breaks that dance around expectations.
Chrissie is perfect on top of all this – sensual and possessing intelligence and perception beyond the norm. You can also tell with a minimal effort that her guitar is holding the maelstrom together and most of these songs would hold up fine in a simple acoustic guitar and voice arrangement.
The Kinks tune “Stop Your Sobbing” is incongruous in production, resting more on a bed of reverb than the drier sounds previously. The beauty of a vinyl record or even a cassette tape is that the end of a side is a perfect place for the outlier. I can also confess that I had never heard the Kinks’ version before I heard the Pretenders’ version, so this is the one to beat.
Flipping the record over and noting on the inner sleeve that this record is longer than most. Good to know, but so far, doesn’t feel like it.
Side Two – “Kid” demonstrates why the first song on side two is such a hallowed place – a new beginning or something like that. This song is still ahead of its time. Economically, it slaps you across the face and before you can write the license plate down, it is gone. I would blame no one for lifting the stylus and playing it again. “Angry tears are too dear and you won’t let them go.” – this is where you get in touch with Chrissie the songwriter, if you have not already.
The pacing on this side is so cool, because you focus on the vocals more at the onset and yet they tie it up with the big sound of “Brass In Pocket” midway and “Mystery Achievement,” at the end. Yet, they slip in between these, the overlooked (in my case), “Lovers Of Today” – a perfectly intimate example of a track I should have listened to more years ago.
I have not listened to this album in full for decades and I have to admit that I definitely missed something in the CD age by skipping to the more familiar songs and not letting the album play out, because it delivers just like people have been saying for some time now.
Like I said, much has been written about this one before. I only scratched the surface.
This came out in 2004, a dry period in my music learning. I was concentrating on my new career or learning how to incorporate computers and other tech into my own creations. I centered on any music encounters with all the mp3s of older albums I discovered on Napster.
This is a top rated album from a band I am not familiar with. Some claim this record to be their best. This was their 5th album since 2000 and they are still around today. There were two guys in this band, but were a quartet. So, maybe this work is not representative of this group overall. They started the record as a side project and later promoted it to an official album. Critics describe their music as experimental pop and akin to prog, until this album, which is described as Holy-Modal-Rounders-slash-Incredible-String-Band. They recorded this record on a Tascam 1/2 inch 8 track tape machine and mixed on a laptop and assembled at one of their mother’s houses. This offering is a double LP version of a single CD. I am going into this with some hesitation. My issue with most double albums that others would call “classic” is I find these too long for a single sitting. At the least, the sides are short, with lots of dead wax and lots of space for fidelity as well.
I am done with the first record. Home recorded, acoustic, heavy on interesting and easy to like visionary vocal harmonies, swell use of stereo. Creative percussion – clapping and, as I understand it, a door – sometimes so up-front to be disarming. The project feels outsider-adjacent in approach. We are not talking slick here. Lots of individuals shy away from exploring this because they have no reference. Mine here is lo-fi indie rock circa 1990, like Sebadoh or Guided By Voices, at least on the surface. Some correlations in my head with Sebadoh Lou’s early tapes, some components of collage, but clearer and less random, but still kinda strange. The song at the end of the first side – “The Softest Voice” – is beautiful and sprawling. In a great Residents kind of way. “Sweet Road,” which rounds up side B with a short little fun song, that wouldn’t sound out of place on The Feelies “Good Earth” LP instead of “When Company Comes.”
I should mention that I wanted to hear more when the first record was over.
I moved right over to the third side and into the odd strummy mumbled piece “Visiting Friends” which is punctuated with odd deep sounds similar to an upstairs neighbor dragging furniture around, yet bassy enough to be a little disturbing. At 12 minutes, this occupies the entire length of this album side. The strangest track on the album may be this one. Yet, given the room given, the piece all becomes quite familiar and warm at the end.
Side D starts with a possible “Our Prayer” reference in the snippet “College” which leads into the cascading & delirious “We Tigers.” I know I will treasure this last album side very much. The last track with the very odd wah vocal thing was especially interesting.
I will need to play this several times to get to know it. I will want to explore this further.
Some aspects of my musical journey in the 1980s are a bit fuzzy, but I will try my best to reconstruct some of this here. At least 75% of anything I listened to was based on something I read about. Magazines and later mail order catalogs and stores on St Mark’s place were my “internet,” for lack of a better term.
My first magazine of choice in the early 80s was Creem, followed by Circus, especially when I was discovering lots of metal-ish music. By 1986, Creem was losing my attention and Circus had stopped being something I was interested in, with any further metallic inclination being fed by Metal Blade records and even then, not for much longer. Some of this change in interest was due to the establishment of Spin magazine in 1985, which spoke to some sort of post-punk lineage that peaked through the pages of older Creem writing and available as reprints in the early 80s.
In the first two years, Spin was especially wild. They even had a column to review homemade tapes and…sidetrack…because of that, I wanted to release music on tape. I bought my first 4-track and electric guitar in 1987 and started working on an album with a friend. By the end of the year, I found a loose set of people to anything-goes-improvise with on college radio.
Spin dropped that column by the end of 1987 as I recall and streamlined itself by the very late 80s and met up with competition in newer and slicker magazines and left the grimier soon-to-be-indie-rock stuff to zines. In those first few years of Spin, I discovered lots of cool “college-rock” bands that had risen in the wake of the collapse of the Police and the last vestiges of new wave – the velvet strums of Feelies, the impossible wordplay of 10,000 Maniacs, the kumbaya of Guadalcanal Diary, the tinny Husker Du, the last bits of naive REM, Replacements and U2 & the snide and beautiful Smiths. By 1987, I had also been reading the Village Voice, and here enters Sonic Youth.
My reconstruction includes a pretty well-informed guess that it was the Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop critics poll of Feb 1987. The #1 album was Prince’s Sign O’ The Times and I look down this list today and I had a good 60-80% of those albums. One of the albums on there (#12) is Sonic Youth’s “Sister.” I distinctly remember someone (Christgau maybe?) writing that theirs was “pigf*cker music” and lumped SY in with Swans and Live Skull, bands I still am not familiar with to this day.
“EVOL” was my first Sonic Youth album, and probably only because I couldn’t find “Sister” until the next year. I bought the LP. It came with a photocopied insert that reminded me of older punk albums by Dead Kennedys.
In fact, I noted that it was on SST Records, the label of Black Flag. Other bands at the time on SST were Dinosaur Jr, Meat Puppets, Husker Du and the great Minutemen. So in my mind, there was an “SST sound” and Sonic Youth were part of it. Unfortunately in hindsight, SST were really mostly about Black Flag and there are tons of stories about not getting paid and things of that nature. Similar to what happened with Homestead in the 80s. Anyway, when I spun this record the first few times, I am sure that I was either thinking about or talking about some sort of SST “sound.”
It’s probably also worth it to note that to the best of my recollection, the term “alternative” did not exist in popular writing yet, much less “grunge” – and also keep in mind that 1987 was the same year that Seattle’s Green River put out their first EP and I had no clue about it until at least 1990. By then, Sonic Youth was signed to Geffen, had left SST and then the Enigma label behind and were telling A&R at Geffen about all the cool bands we and they were missing. It snowballed from there until Cobain shot himself in the head.
All of the above is probably worthy of talk elsewhere, so let’s talk about this record now…
“Tom Violence” starts the record with chiming guitars, Stoogesque bass and Bam Bam drums. Lyrics are pretty abstract with punk touch-points, droned by Thurston – “I left home for xperience, carved suk for honesty on my chest.” It sounded like a secret world to me. Still does. The track is held with a single suspended pulse and heads into a second verse. Ends with single guitar chime.
“Shadow Of Doubt” – starting with a lovely web of harmonics, this was the track that made me fall in love with Sonic Youth and Kim Gordon. Whispered lyrics about bumping into a stranger on the subway. She swears she didn’t mean it. The lyrics on the insert are placed next to a religious tract panel – “if I had a soul left to give.” For the bridge, several Kims are screaming against a half-step two-chord rotation, an early SY staple along with flat 5ths. The harmonics sound like an orchestra as the track begins to die.
“Starpower” is a list of ironic pop girl dreams. Kim’s bass leads the way in the mid-section and a nice Rat pedal guitar (I imagine Lee, but who knows) takes the tension to another place. Sonic Youth at this stage were textbook examples of raw art moves and punk uncaring postures and a drummer that was capable of all the emotion that we’d normally get from a singer. That said, from my point of view, Kim’s voice went into another direction by the 90s and these two tracks might be her best.
The next track, “In The Kingdom #19” is what probably tested my patience at the time. It’s a pure noisefest, lead by the drums or a lack of drums through various sections for 3 and half minutes. Lee Ranaldo poetry on top. Think of “Lady Godiva” by the Velvets. The story is entertaining, but it took my love and wonder for the next track to push through it after the first few listens in 87 and not get up off my bed and move the needle to the next track. I didn’t know it at the time but Mike Watt of Minutemen is playing bass on this one.
The last song on Side One “Green Light” is a naive, dissonant, Thurston Stooge-fest. Certainly not in any standard notation – its common knowledge that SY tuned all their guitars differently and carried tens of instruments on tour – but it is simple strummy and yummy goon-spank. It seems to fall apart in the middle – again, an early SY staple – but a simple tremelo-picked four note phrase moves the track forward and also opens the door for even more guitar noise. To sit and listen to this last track on side one enough to appreciate it, is to probably start feel what this band was all about at the time. It’s either all filler or no filler – it’s up to you! It’s also important to note that the track ends with what sounds like a guitar being detuned while the rest of the band throbs to a finish. This is something that comes up more dramatically on Two.
If you are listening along, feel free to leave the record spinning for about two minutes in inner groove static after this track ends. It kinda fits in. This would also prepare you if didn’t listen to Side Two and switched over to Pavement’s 1991 “Perfect Sound Forever” EP, known for static and yet another Pazz and Jop prize for me a few years later. Another time, another story.
I can honestly say that Side Two did not have as big of an impact on me in the 1980s but I did love the last track. I’ll come back to all of this later but I intend to move forward and pay a bit more attention to this side today. Also worth mentioning is that when I made mix tapes in the 80s, I could never figure out how to get Sonic Youth (or Joy Division) to “fit” into the tape. It seemed impossible for a few years. Sonic Youth just sounded so different to me then. I had trouble with jazz too, but I headed over to free jazz almost immediately after I bought any jazz, so that was that.
Side Two – the instrumental “Death To Our Friends” – Nice chimey guitar start to this side, too, and right into some multi-part sculpture that sounds more like something off of 1988’s groundbreaking “Daydream Nation,” truth be told. Powerful and energetic, it hints of things to come.
“Secret Girl” – starting with some metal clanking on guitar strings and a dungeon door of a drum beat, after a little feedback, a piano enters and a breathless Kim Gordon references some sort of existential orgasmic state brought by very good advertising – “pleasures everlasting,” “must be dead and gone to heaven.” Lyrics not included on the sleeve, this track is a small suite unto itself and perfectly placed after the last track as it serves to gently draw us back into the world we caught a glimpse of on Side One.
“Marilyn Moore” – a lyrical collaboration with Teenage Jesus’ Lydia Lunch, who doesn’t appear on this track like she did on the 1984 “Death Valley ’69” single. This one starts with yelps and distorted screams and quickly into a very catchy & simple two guitar slide and scrape thing. Heavy drumbeat comes in, again bringing us back into the first side’s world. First verse by SY and second by Lunch. Thurston stitches the two lyrics together over a fantastic guitarscape, eventually chanting calmly and helping to bring the track to a peaceful end. Early Sonic Youth were nothing if not a marriage of ugly and beauty.
The last track of the album – “Expressway To Yr Skull” – Moore is referencing “California Girls,” “Mystery Train,” and the Buddy Miles album of almost the same name while the guitars dance around Hawaiian sounds and a plunging neckline of a Zeppelin slide. The lyric section of this track is short. From here, this track continues as an instrumental and it gets pretty wild before too long, lead by a seemingly obviously off bass note, then heading back to the intro. This is short lived, however, as the bass again takes the track elsewhere – Kim detunes slowly down one note per bar. Before we know it, the bass notes are unrecognizable and the entire track sounds like an ambient piece performed on scrap metal. A vinyl scrape becomes apparent about 4 minutes past where the lyrics end and we are treated to a locked groove. Look at the record itself and note that the track time is ∞. Not something that was carried over to the CD version, which was further muddied by the inclusion of bonus tracks, another 90s mistake.
If you look on the back of the record sleeve, you won’t see this song title, (and as I understand it, the cassette too), but instead will see “Madonna, Sean & I.” On the insert, this track is listed as “The Crucifixion Of Sean Penn.”
As a final note, let’s also remember that in 1988, with the help of Mike Watt & Dinosaur Jr’s J. Mascis, Sonic Youth picked up the pieces of some Madonna covers released as far back as 1986 as Ciccone Youth and released the Whitey Album, using a fair share of sampling tech as only some arty punks would do it. I considered that a throwaway album but maybe some day I will give that another shot.
What I am struck with most as I listen to this 1986 album today is how purposeful the band actually was. I really thought it was more random noise back then. It’s very well done – a gentle massage that a soft-bristled toothbrush would be jealous of. I am really impressed. I would have preferred the drums to be drier but this is not a gated reverb big-80s sounding album. It sounds like something out of a small studio with a bit of a budget for a nice Yamaha digital reverb and some good mics.
Today is especially hot in Long Island NY and I just retreated from the sun to cool off indoors with my next album on deck by the Meters.
This was released when the Meters were opening for the Stones, who had just released the somewhat forgotten Made In The Shade comp. Their jerky mesmerizing drum heavy raw 60s singles, (“Cissy Strut” for one), have since been a focus when looking back at this band and have been sampled by Tribe, Dilla, and many many others.
According to everything I’ve read, The Meters by this point were difficult to sell – they weren’t really a funk band or an instrumental band or interested in the kind of consistency that Warner Bros was looking for or interested in promoting. As they matured, they took the original Professor Longhair synthesis of New Orleans, mambo & rumba that had inspired everything from Dr John to ska and reggae and grew their own unique mixture, as creative artists and synthesists of their own Meters style.
I’ve also read that their 70s output should be described as “simmering” and that’s not entirely wrong. Moving to Warners and retaining Allan Tousssaint as producer, the drums receded into the background sometimes and the band painted entire albums instead of high-impact singles. They leaned more on the scratchy guitar rhythms and tasteful solos of Leo Nocentelli for rhythm, but when Porter’s bass and Modeliste’s right foot, (a beautiful warm kick drum sound), were in sync, like in the breaks in “Going To The Country” or the in title track’s verses, things certainly came closer to a boil.
The album starts with something that sounds like a Hi Records’ Ann Peebles mood piece, “Going To The Country.” It sets the tone for everything that follows and the next track, the title track, keeps my head bobbing and waiting for the next bass fill, grounding the organ stabs and percussion conversations. This album was percussionist Cyril Neville’s first album with the Meters and with his brother Art, the Meters’ keyboardist and vocalist. They eventually started the Neville Brothers, but that is a story for another time.
“Love Slip Up On Ya” is a great example of the type of synthesis this group were capable of. The main riff is something that Sly Stone could mumble in his sleep and indeed, the vocal delivery is a bit reminiscent on Stone’s “Riot” persona, but smoother, yet my head is still moving here, shoulders in tow, slow and simmering. The backing vocals, a unified but loose construct, support and shape the instrumental parts and indeed complete the synthesis. More than the sum of its parts and only enhanced by Art’s wonderful electric piano solo here.
“Talkin’ ‘Bout New Orleans” brings in the big horns in the chorus/intro. A tempo increase shapes the verses, adding some pep between the choruses. Again, a good synthesis of different things into a funk-pop melting pot. I’m not gonna say “gumbo” but you are free to think it.
The first side unfortunately ends (with “They All Ask’d for You”) leaning a bit too much for my tastes on New Orleans’ tourist appeal. Abandoning their musical mixing pot for a tuba oompa and some lyrics about the zoo, the deep blue sea and some mumbling about crawfish, this serves to take away the shimmery focus of the first four tracks. It’s my sincere hope that repeated listens will alter this for me, because I really did enjoy what was going on before this song. The finger-picked delicious guitar sounds wonderful, but still couldn’t rescue it for me. Not that I don’t like a good oompa New Orleans number, but so incongruous with the rest of the side. Cheapens things for me.
With “Can You Do Without?”, side two begins with a wonderfully addictive bass line, smooth beat. It then leads into a nice repetitive chorus that early-70s George Clinton might be a little jealous of. After a nice bridge interlude ending with a cascading guitar overdub, it heads back firmly into the pocket. Production-wise, this track also alludes towards their 60s work, with a nice natural snare that sounds like it is in an actual room, mainly because of the sparer arrangement.
The second tune on side two is an Argent cover, “Liar,” and allows Art Neville a chance to stretch out – relative term here because the Meters are musical economy personified – with a nice Hammond Booker T-ish solo and tasty vamps throughout.
We get a nice ballad in “You’re A Friend Of Mine,” that has me looking up how much Daryl Hall was influenced by this band. Maybe I am wrong and I don’t know enough about the Meters or Hall to definitively comment, but I heard something. Slows things down a little but but enough variety to keep things moving.
The extended instrumental, “Middle Of The Road,” is a late highlight here. Part Wes Montgomery double-stops, part easy-flowing Steely Dan vibes, the track ebbs and flows seamlessly, guitar and piano weaving in and out of a great bass/drum groove, with subtle chord extensions mapped out by the bass fills and the stop-time-inspired interludes lead by the drums and guitar.
As side two comes to a close, “Running Fast,” at less than 90 seconds, is a bit of a shock after the nearly 8-minute instrumental that came before. It’s an odd programming choice. I would have left it out or extended it, perhaps instead of the last track on side one.
This is followed by a mirror image of side A’s New Orleans ending with a more successful pinch with “Mardi Gras Mambo” which fits perfect here. Nice cap to what sounds like an album that I will come back to for more.
At the time I wouldn’t have said so, but I feel that Plant’s first album is better than Led Zeppelin’s last album, In Through The Out Door, especially when considering it was done by 1/4 of the band and their one non-instrumentalist. It’s also especially modest in its goals and it could be said that it was the first adult album of Plant’s career.
It came out in 1982 and avoids most of the overblown 80s production that started to permeate rock and pop at that point and that even Plant succumbed to with his second solo band, starting with 1988’s Now & Zen – an album which is nearly unlistenable to me now.
This first band is very cool and as a 16-year old, I was secretly sure that Jimmy Page was actually playing on this, which I can now plainly hear as a big slight to the inventive guitar work of Robbie Blunt, which conjures a quieter more thoughtful hybrid of late-70s Page and Blackmore, adding the obligatory “80s guitarist with a chorus pedal” in different vein than Summer or Stuermer. Even saying that doesn’t really do Blunt justice and I would have liked to have seen this collaboration go a few more years more and see what they would have come up with, but the mid-80s mainstream market was not going to bear the development that it would have ten years earlier – development which proved to be the secret weapon of the alterna-indie-college-post-punk market by the dawn of the 90s.
The bass and the keyboards here are minimal, with gentle nods to John Paul Jones. Phil Collins, (and on two songs, Cozy Powell), does a much better job with restrained drums than his slightly later Live Aid festival appearance would have you believe. The next two albums from this first band did better commercially later on but this one is an underrated gem by making all the right connections with the later Zeppelin work while wisely avoiding any old-school metal moves. Bonus – love the cover’s “future 80s” font work, although otherwise the cover is a pseudo-Hipgnosis mess, IMO.
Reprinting a review which appeared on another one of my blogs in May 2018 –
Listening to Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest. Thoughts.
This is a pop album…“classic pop”…so in other words, the Ancestry DNA results would turn up a high percentage of Lennon-McCartney…mix in some prog sensibilities, a dose of whatever Williamsburg gave us last decade and some lyrics that suggest great emotion without ever spelling it out. So many other fine points – a fuzz bass here, a jerky beat there, chopsticks piano there, a quiet acoustic guitar interlude there, a sick mellotron here.
Overall, and for the more then casual listener…what makes a good album are a few things –
a) loose unity
c) moments, many of them
d) mystery, to keep you coming back
e) interesting textures, drum sound probably most importantly
We hit all the marks here.
I can say that I did not favor their next album, mainly because there were much less beautiful vocal harmonies there. I may need to return to that and I have their newest queued up on my phone, so I reserve the right to change my mind at any time.
For example, here’s the first song…
“Southern Point” – starts off with a great lost Doors groove. Pleasant enough. 1 minute and ten seconds in we are a treated to glorious fuzz bass. You start thinking what would have happened if the Moodys met Phil Spector…We get a nice suspended Byrds-ish interlude that we hear often enough, but much more carefully done – like Jimmy Page in 1973. “In the air. You’ll never find me now.” Tremolo guitars slip in some gentle Link Wray into the opening groove…extending into some tapdancing harpsichord and orchestral coloration. NICE BRIDGE…
We are then allowed to breathe for a millisecond until we get a phased out hammer on simple solo – another go around “Never say it’s the last one / It’s not the last one / I’d never find any other.”
That gentle interlude I mentioned earlier? Solo acoustic? It comes back, extends into other areas briefly and resolves the tune at 5 min. Good 5 minutes spent.
Search around for their music. Make up your own mind. Released May 2009.
Looking back at classic Dylan, one might be tempted to overlook this quiet & mysterious gem. Even though the years have revealed much more about the activities of Bob after his motorcycle accident on July 29, 1966, it’s still a unique body of work with a language of its own.
I think anyone with even a casual interest in Dylan knows that starting with Another Side in 1964 and especially after “going electric” in 1965, he presented the world with four or so albums worth of an all-new stream-of-consciousness, wordy, irreverent approach that synthesized a perfect balance of folk and blues and left us with hits such as “Like A Rolling Stone,” “I Want You” and the unforgettable “Positively 4th Street” alongside album cuts like “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Motorpsycho Nightmare” and “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands.”
The last album in this series was “Blonde On Blonde” and less than a week after it hit the top ten, Bob was hurled from his cycle onto the ground in circumstances that begin the mystery – no ambulance, no hospital, didn’t release music over a year, (which in the sixties was basically unheard of) and didn’t tour for almost a decade.
Like the contents of John Wesley Harding, we find that the actual details surrounding the event may not matter and instead we hear possibly an account of withdrawal from stress, the questions asked as we go down and ultimately the finding of a sureness that we thought we had lost.
Maybe presentation is everything – all we really get for most of the album is Dylan’s softly strummed acoustic and relatively restrained harmonica backed by a slightly sloppy but quite agile bass and drum set, all presented in a dry direct way without any effects or diversions. These factors all have colluded to provide no barrier between the listener and what was spilling out of Bob’s guts/brain/mouth.
It was revealed via leaked tapes that Dylan had been recording with most of the members of the Band in a basement of a house they shared in West Saugerties, New York and shortly thereafter Dylan went to Nashville to record John Wesley Harding. What’s interesting is that Dylan did not at this time use any of the songs that ended up on “Basement Tapes” bootlegs but a whole new batch of songs.
Quietly intoned religious allusions presented in powerful statements of drifters and hobos and most importantly martyrs are delivered so purely that once you really get inside this album you may find as I have that there was never anything like this before or has been since. The closest I can think of in the music world is Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and in cinema perhaps…there is a scene in The Thin Red Line by Terrence Malik (who himself had not made a film in 20 years) where a soldier goes AWOL to visit a South Pacific island and live the simple life of the indigenous people there and he takes in the beauty of the place – the calmness is hard to miss.
We can pick out songs like the title track, “All Along The Watchtower” or “The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest” and talk about them but instead I’d like to stress that these songs flow in and out of each other seamlessly and effortlessly yet with enough highs and lows to keep any fan of the more “classic” period of his work interested and intrigued. The humor is still there but its much less overt in favor of a clear-eyed vision and a snapshot of someone who had been through something and made it out stronger. That’s about as simply put as I can put it.
I first came across Dino around 1989, a friend of mine had one of their albums and not long after that, I saw them play with John Cale at The Ritz in NYC maybe that same year. We stood right in front of the speakers. They were noisy as hell. Brutal. Didn’t like it. A tape loop played “thank you thank you” throughout the set and was audible between songs. I didn’t latch onto the album.
In 1991, I read a bad review of their 4th album, Green Mind and on a whim I bought it – many of my choices are based on well-written negative reviews – and I played it over and over and over, (look for a review in the future). When I read about these guys, I found out their bassist had left, and they now had a new one. I bought all their other albums and almost immediately fell in love with the album that my friend tried to play me a few years before – You’re Living All Over Me, released in December 1987 on SST records. Later, I went by myself to see them play with My Bloody Valentine at the Ritz (again) and – screaming all the songs along with them – had one of the best times I had ever had at a show. This whole “indie thing” was amazing to me. How did all these other people find out about this stuff? Where did they come from? No matter, this was “our music” and no one was going to watch this on MTV. Or so I thought.
One thing about Dinosaur Jr and singer J. Mascis in particular, it is not always easy to pick out what he’s singing or what he means but there is a profound sense of take-it-or-leave-it sadness in the songs and the performances. He is very confident that this is his lot in life and here it is. Make of it what you will.
Another thing about their SST albums – the sound quality. This is not an album with a crystal-clear sound. In fact, it is downright murky. Overbearing wah, closet drums, multi-fuzzbox effects paths, a hard-strumming bassist and I swear a vacuum cleaner on the second side of the 3rd album – not to mention what sounds like a hissy tape collage to end it all on the original release of this, their 2nd album – and maybe you will realize something very important. This is so freaking good, that even under 4.6 ft of mud, it is still better than anything almost anyone else was doing in the “hard rock” space. It makes Guns ‘n’ Roses sound like Raffi. You should realize this by the time you get to “The Lung,” the side one closer that is part surf, part metal and part mantra, (lyrics comprise two lines “No way to collapse the lung / breathes the doubt in everyone.”) and gallons of sloppy 70s guitar diddle that might make you think, “oh, THIS is what a ‘guitar hero’ is!” Here’s a guy whose mom probably still made lunch for him when he wasn’t on tour but HEY here’s a guy who figured “now I want to play guitar and I will not waste energy to conform to what anyone else thinks is ‘right’” and he did. That’s a hero.
From what I know about Dinosaur Jr, some of them were in a hardcore punk band called Deep Wound, where Mascis was the drummer and Lou Barlow was the guitarist. They put out an EP that included a song called “Video Prick.” In the mid-80s they had reformed as Dinosaur, using what I can only describe as a metal-rock approach and put out an album on Homestead. I’ve never got into that album and I think the band has forgotten/disavowed it themselves. At some point, a boomer-age band called The Dinosaurs comprising Jefferson Airplane members got upset at the name and J. & Co tacked on the “Jr.” Then they put out the masterpiece which is the subject of this review.
After that, they put out a 3rd album called Bug that was almost as good as this one, but just without that magic, you know? This was the tour I first saw them on. I have since learned that Barlow and Mascis were no longer communicating and they forced Barlow to leave or he left on his own. Mascis went on with other members, recording all instruments himself and in 2005, this band reformed to become virtually the ONLY late 80s indie rockers to make fantastic reunion-era albums.
The last track (“Poledo”), from what I understand, was very polarizing for many fans and indeed it took me years to figure out what it was doing at the end of the album. It’s a tape collage recorded on what sounds like a very cheap Lebotone cassette that was bounced between two decks. Later, I realized it was straight out of what bassist Lou Barlow was then calling “Sebadoh” and later it was “Sentridoh” when Sebadoh via evolution had honed its pop chops. So Lou got to add his future solo project to the end of a Dinosaur Jr album. The lyrics – as they arise over the tenor guitar (or uke?) strummed sections are pure beautiful 90s Lou, years before he was out of that shell (“I know I’m guilty / My stomach always hurts / Milking your attention / For the little it is worth”).
Part of what drew me to Dinosaur Jr was a hollow premise – that this was a band aping all these “ironic” metal-rock guitar moves in the name of irony or perhaps this was just “Neil Young in a metal band” (because of Mascis’ yowl)…now I know to say so is to miss the point. There is not one ounce of irony here, which was very rare in the late 80s indie scenes (plural because back then there were many things growing at the same time in different places, sometimes unaware of each other). As far as I can tell, Joseph Donald Mascis meant every word, or at least he sounds like he did. He never lost that ability either, no matter what shape his band or career was in.