Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #519:
The Angelic Upstarts – Live
A high point of the classic punk era. Over the course of a long career and innumerable lineup changes, this captures the original 1981 edition of the band playing most of their best early songs. It’s a long album, 15 songs: the alienation anthems Never Had Nothing and Leave Me Alone; the kids-against-the-world broadsides Teenage Warning, Kids on the Street, 2,000,000 Voices and their signature song, I’m an Upstart; and the antiwar Last Night Another Soldier. Aware of what was going on in the outside world, they sided with the people of Poland in Solidarity; with the Afghans against the Soviets in the ironic-to-the-extreme Guns for the Afghan Rebels (which had absolutely nothing to do with Osama Bin Laden or the CIA); sided with the outlaws and the kids against the cops with Machine Gun Kelly, Police Oppression, Who Killed Liddle Towers (a West Indian immigrant who died suspiciously in police custody) and a version of the Clash’s White Riot that beats the original. Here’s a random torrent via Mirotvorce.
A genuinely classy move: for their September 10, 7:30 PM performance of Mahler’s Symphony #2, the NY Philharmonic is offering priority ticket access to the families of 9/11 victims, first responders and survivors. Members of this community may request a pair of free tickets in advance by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org by September 1, so hurry if you qualify and you like Mahler. If there are any remaining tickets, they’ll be distributed for free, first-come, first-serve, one pair per person at 4 PM on the plaza at Lincoln Center the day of the show.
There will also be seating on the plaza for those who prefer to watch a live projection outdoors. The concert will be conducted by Alan Gilbert and telecast in the U.S. on PBS’s Great Performances at 9 PM on Sept 11 (check local listings), and webcast at nyphil.org at 9 PM EDT on Sept 11 as well. A live concert DVD will follow in October.
More new stuff coming soon – after all, since the subway isn’t running, what else is there to do other than crank up some tunes? In the meantime, as we at least attempt to do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #520:
Noir Desir – Dies Irae
Often compared to Joy Division, these French rockers were actually closer to the Gun Club, with a twangy, noir, often Middle Eastern-tinged guitar sound and frontman Bertrand Cantat’s bitter, doomed lyricism. This blistering 1994 double-disc live set is the band at their most raw and assaultive, and contains most of their best songs, including the hypnotically galloping Mexican immigration epic Tostaky and the savage anti-globalization anthem Ici Paris. It opens with a signature song of sorts, La Rage, and closes with the bitter, cynical En Route Pour la Joie (Looking for Some Fun). In between, the 22 tracks include Les Écorchés (The Burnouts); the punked-out folk song Johnny Colère; the hallucinatory La Chaleur (Heat); the furtive À L’arrière des Taxis (In the Backs of Cabs); and dirges like Marlène and Sober Song (about the hangover from hell). Cantat is vastly more articulate in French than English, although he means well, as in The Holy Economic War. The band broke up in 2003 when Cantat murdered his mistress in a coke-fueled rage; a comeback after his release from prison generated considerable controversy. Here’s a random torrent.
Since the entire east coast of the United States has been shut down in anticipation of the apocalypse, it’s likely that millions of people are hanging out at home, nursing their supplies of bottled water and dehydrated tofu, bored silly and surfing the web wondering how just a little sprinkle of rain could portend such a momentous event. Meanwhile, the entire populations of Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican, Cuba, Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean are snickering as they watch the crisis unfold – or as it doesn’t unfold.
Hidden in an old building at the edge of one of the designated evacuation zones here in New York, we’re scrambling to play catchup. We knew that once our daily 1000 best albums of all time countdown started to fall behind, we’d have to get back on the horse quickly. Today is that day! Here’s albums #523 through #521 to bring us up to date through Saturday:
523. Woody Guthrie – The Complete Library of Congress Recordings
This isn’t all of them, but it was in 1940 when Alan Lomax recorded Woody solo, and as you would expect from Lomax, there’s an awful lot of traditional stuff – Rye Whiskey, Foggy Mountain Top and Going Down the Road Feeling Bad – along with the originals. While Guthrie was just as much an archivist as activist and performer, it’s his own songs that everybody wants, and this has most of the early classics. The 3-cd box set intersperses dust bowl ballads – Talking Dust Bowl Blues and Dust Bowl Refugee, to name just two – with less contemporaneous populist anthems like I Don’t Want Your Greenback Dollar, Hard Times and Pretty Boy Floyd along with modern day folk classics like So Long and a handful of instrumentals (Guthrie never would have been so popular if he hadn’t been such a great tunesmith, and a surprisingly good picker). The whole thing is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent via 0 Earth.
522. Quincy Jones – In the Heat of the Night: Original Soundtrack
This 1967 psychedelic soul classic is more of a collection of songs, some of them without words, than it is atmospheric mood pieces. Twenty tracks in all, many of them clocking in at barely two minutes apiece: detective Tibbs’ confrontation with the cops; a tense jail scene; and edgy, noirishly funky chase scenes galore. Ray Charles sings the title theme and Mama Caleba’s Blues. There’s also jaw-droppingly silly, satirical C&W from Glen Campbell and Boomer & Travis and Gil Bernal’s It Sure Is Groovy, which sounds like one of the Vampyros Lesbos tracks. Reissued in the 80s as a twofer with Jones’ soundtrack to the long-forgotten 1970 followup flick They Call Me Mr. Tibbs, here’s a random torrent via Banana Spliff.
521. The Violent Femmes’ first album
When Chrissie Hynde discovered these snotty acoustic punks in Milwaukee in 1983, little did anybody know that they’d be able to base an entire thirty-year career on this one album. The catchy intros to Blister in the Sun and Add It Up blare over sports stadium PA systems these days, which is especially amusing since the lyrics that always get faded out quickly are so filthy. Brilliant acoustic bass guitarist Brian Ritchie plays the leads behind Gordon Gano’s petulant, smirky whine as they move from post-Velvets angst (Please Do Not Go, Prove My Love and Good Feeling) to belligerence (Kiss Off) to bluesy pop (Gone Daddy Gone) to more menacing stuff like Promise, The Kill and Confessions that could be the real deal, or just a spoof. Still a great party record after all these years. Here’s a random torrent.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown is supposed to continue all the way to #1. We should be caught up by the end of today; after all, when a terrible, apocalyptic hurricane strikes, there’s nothing else to do but blog, right? Wednesday’s album was #524:
Black Fortress of Opium’s first album
Led by a charismatic multi-instrumentalist who goes by Ajda the Turkish Queen, the Boston noir rockers’ 2008 debut alternates between assaultive, noir anthems and more hypnotic but equally dark stuff. Martin Bisi’s raw yet rich production blends layer upon layer of reverb guitar in with Ajda’s mandolin, banjo, wind instruments and “field recordings,” creating an irresistible sonic tar pit. The gothic-titled House of Edward Devotion sets the stage for what’s to come with its eerie overtones, the melody only baring its fangs in the quietest moments, followed by the savage Black Rope Burns. The most stunning moment here is the seven-minute Ari (dedicated to the son Nico had with Alain Delon) with its ferocious sheets of distorted slide guitar and an earth-shattering plummet into the abyss at the end. There’s also the wistful Crack + Pool and its reprise; the Nina Nastasia-esque Twelve Gross; the jarringly percussive Your Past; the sad, sarcastic lament Model Café; the sultry, bluesy soul ballad From a Woman to a Man and the trance-inducing, ominous, nine-minute Dulcet TV. Most of this is streaming at the band’s myspace; AWOL from the sharelockers, it’s still available at cdbaby.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Today we’re playing catchup. Tuesday’s album was #525:
Melomane – Glaciers
This eclectic 2007 release captures the lushly lyrical New York art-rockers at the top of their game. It opens with the blackly amusing Hilarious, a breezy Crowded House-ish art-pop tune, frontman/guitarist Pierre de Gaillande blithely chatting up a girl while the climate and the arms race heat up on all sides. Unfriendly Skies is Elvis Costello’s Radio Radio for the millennial generation, followed by the darkly romantic Open Invitation and then Nobody, which takes a turn into tropicalia with its bossa rhythm, trumpet and strings. The real classic here is The Ballot Is the Bullet, a quietly ferocious, stately funeral march in advance for the Bush regime. There’s also the defiantly populist, catchy Little Man’s Castles; the quirky, psychedelic mini-suite This Is Skyhorse; the clever satirical, Gruppo Sportivo-esque Pistolla di Colla (Italian for “glue gun”) and the pensive Thin Ice. The whole thing is streaming at myspace, of all places; strangely missing from the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from Melomane’s site. In the years since this came out, De Gaillande has gone on to equally gripping projects including the Snow (see #890 on this list) and his Bad Reputation project, which plays witty English translations of classic Georges Brassens songs.
As a bandleader, Brooklyn drummer Tim Kuhl has made a name for himself for accessible, free-spirited, guitar-based melodic jazz with some neat and unexpectedly extemporaneous twists and turns. His new album Doomsayer – streaming in its entirety at Kuhl’s bandcamp – is a radical departure for him, at least as far as recordings are concerned. It’s like what Kid A was for Radiohead – except that Kuhl’s previous albums as a bandleader, 2009’s Ghost, and King from the year before, are both good. Is this burp-and-fart music, as Maria Schneider derisively calls some free jazz? No. It’s not very accessible, but it’s full of interesting ideas and melody that pops out, sometimes at the last possible minute. Kuhl’s committed and remarkably cohesive supporting cast consists of mostly New York-based free jazz names including Michael Formanek on bass, Ben Gerstein on trombone, Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Frantz Loriot on viola and Jonathan Moritz on saxes.
It’s not clear why the tracks are color-coded – Red, Green, Gold, etc. A spaciously thumping drum solo kicks it off. Later on there are a couple of extremely cool tone poems of sorts, the group peeling back a bit from a central drone for a doppler effect of sorts. Except for a skronky-tinged solo on the next-to-last track and some gingerly ominous foreshadowing on the final number, Goldberger’s guitar is limited to providing oscillating loops or drones. Kuhl is the bad cop here and he has a great time with the role, particularly on the second cut, Gold, an almost sixteen-minute suite that hints at blues – it’s like a blues on Pluto, verrrrry slow – before a lull accented with creepy, creaky input from various bandmates, followed by a fox-in-the-henhouse routine that eventually works its way into a bracingly atonal swing shuffle.
Kuhl’s smoke-signal accents contrast potently with a wary shout or two from the sax or trombone, and Loriot’s suspensefully rustling viola, on the next track, titled Green. Formanek gets a couple of chances to play tersely yet rather majestically a bit later on. An eleven-minute excursion features some thoughtful conversing between Gerstein and Moritz followed eventually by an artfully layered, classically-tinged shift of textures from one voice to the next before they collapse in a crazed tumble. And the disembodied, ghostly voices against a guitar drone, in White, are a real treat. The album ends with what sounds like a long study in how to hint at coalescing with a circular rhythm: where it goes is the surprise. There’s also a vividly plaintive hidden track that recalls Kuhl’s earlier work, if a lot more rubato. Easy listening? Hardly. Good listening? Absolutely: it’ll get you from Bushwick to midtown and back again, literally if not figuratively, and it’ll keep you awake the whole time.
Over the years, Brooklyn “historical orchestrette” Piñataland has staked out an elegantly manicured piece of turf as purveyors of an inimitable brand of historically aware, hyper-literate chamber pop. Their new album Hymns for the Dreadful Night – streaming in its entirety online – is their hardest-rocking effort to date, their least opaque and by far their best. Their previous one Songs for a Forgotten Future, Vol. 2 contemplated a Manhattan without humans, and the still-smoldering ghost town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, among other places. This one skips in a heartbeat from the American Revolution (a recurrent milieu) to various eras of New York, across the country and back again. The driving rhythm section of Ross Bonadonna on bass and Bill Gerstel on drums give the louder songs here a mighty majesty – there are plenty of warmly inviting string-driven pop bands out there, nobody who attacks those songs with as much verve as Piñataland. Violinist Deni Bonet is a one-woman orchestra, showing off sizzling Balkan, country and classical chops, frequently contrasting with Dave Wechsler’s pensive, rain-drenched piano and organ.
The title track, which opens the album, is exactly as advertised, a gospel prelude of sorts. From there they leap into Island of Godless Men, a bouncy fiddle-driven Irish rock tune a la Black 47 with a clever trick ending and then a delirious reel to finish it off. An American Man is like Mumford & Sons on steroids, a rousing homage to Thomas Paine delivered via a team of archeologists (or graverobbers?) gone out into the darkness to find his grave.
A violin-fueled anger drives The Death of Silas Deane, which commemorates the Continental Congress’ first ambassador to France, later brought down (and possibly murdered) in the wake of an embezzlement scandal of which he was quite possibly innocent (and was officially exonerated, forty years after his death). “Let my reputation crawl through the mud of this unforgiving land,” the onetime Revolutionary hero rails at the end. The real classic here is a country song, Oppie Struck a Match, which recasts the detonation of the first atom bomb as the creepy tale of a rainmaker in a small town fifty years previously. Gerald Menke’s dobro ripples blithely as singer Doug Stone recalls the dreadful moment where Robert Oppenheimer, the “master from the other side” gave the order: “Will he open a cage to a heavenly age or set the skies onfire?”
The rest of the album is more allusive. Robin Aigner, who lights up many of these songs with her harmonies, knocks one out of the park with her lead vocal on the lush countrypolitan shuffle Border Guard, and plays her cameos to the hilt against Menke’s big-sky pedal steel whine on Hiawatha, a surreal, theatrical cross-country radio dial epic. The most chilling song on the album, musically at least, is The Oldest Band in Town, a bitter, Balkan-flavored requiem set in a Lower Bowery of the mind. The album closes with the towering, bittersweet, death-fixated anthem Cemetery Mink. Pinataland play the album release for this one this Friday the 26th at Barbes at 11; another first-class tunesmith, Greta Gertler kicks things off at 10.
As regular visitors to this site have no doubt realized, there’s been a decline in activity here over the past ten days or so. The reason is that Lucid Culture’s co-founder and main contributor at present has been busy getting our new sister blog New York Music Daily off the ground. To give you the lowdown on how this will affect Lucid Culture, here’s an uncensored interview:
Q: First of all, what differentiates New York Music Daily from Lucid Culture?
A: Let me explain first what the two blogs will have in common. Like Lucid Culture, New York Music Daily will cover music from all over the map – both stylistically, and globally. But some of Lucid Culture’s coverage overlaps with places like NPR, and other blogs. With the new blog, I want to get back to what I was doing five years ago, covering great music that nobody else on the web or in the media was paying attention to because it was too smart, or confrontational, or just plain weird. I’m going back to my roots, in small clubs and the distant corners of the web where all the action is. What this means for fans of Lucid Culture – and I really appreciate your support over the years – is that the New York-centric features here will be migrating to New York Music Daily starting in September. The monthly live music calendar is going to make the move, and so will a lot of my live music coverage. The rest of the content – the more lucid, cultured stuff – will stay put.
Q: There must be a thousand music blogs in New York. Do we really need another one?
A: Yes. Why? Because New York doesn’t have a blog that consistently covers music that’s intelligent, and fun, and transgressive, and shifts the paradigm a little further to the left. I’ve been doing that since I first started writing about music for newspapers and magazines, then with the e-zine I published for seven years, and then at Lucid Culture. Since my days as a college radio disc jockey – notice I didn’t say DJ! – I’ve been fortunate to be a magnet for good music. I think it would be pretty irresponsible if I didn’t share what I know with the rest of the world.
Q: You mean to say that there isn’t a single other blog in New York, Lucid Culture included, that covers music which is challenging, and fun, and intelligent?
A: I want to create a blog that does something new and interesting every day, across all conceivable boundaries – like European pirate radio. There are plenty of blogs where you can find out about good music, but most of them seem to specialize in one particular style. It seems to me that there are three kinds of music blogs out there. First the specialists – who can be really excellent. In my opinion, those people are the heroes of music on the web. There’s blogs for Afrobeat, desert blues, punk rock, Greek psychedelia, oldtime gospel and pretty much every other style of music ever invented. I owe a lot to all those bloggers and I intend to draw on everything I’ve learned from them at New York Music Daily.
Q: But how about people who like more than one single style, Afrobeat, desert blues, punk rock, or whatever?
A: That’s exactly the audience that New York Music Daily is designed for. People tell me that my taste in music is pretty eclectic, but I don’t think I’m any different from anybody else – when you look at pretty much everybody’s ipod, you see a very wide variety. New York Music Daily is aimed at intelligent listeners – some who are obsessed with finding out about new music, some who aren’t – who are open to new ideas and sounds.
Q: Don’t all the Bushwick indie blogs already do that?
A: LMFAO. The Bushwick blogs, most of them anyway, are about clothes, and grubbing for status, and pretending to be a celebrity. It’s I Love Lucy all over again – they all wanna be in show business. Those bloggers don’t have anything to share with anybody except their crappy photos and videos – and they only make those to prove they were somewhere that’s been pre-approved for their peer group. It’s all about conformity, not about having fun. And that brings me to the corporate bloggers, because they’re not exactly obsessed with music either.
But they are obsessed with selling advertising.
And to sell advertising you have to convince advertisers that you get a lot of web traffic. How do you do that? The same way content farms do, with keywords and popular search terms. Because they’re going for the broadest audience possible, the corporate music bloggers’ coverage is pretty much identical to what’s on free tv – Journey, American Idol, Lady Gag, Justin Bieber. There are plenty of people who listen to that stuff, but most of them are still in grade school.
Q: You’re ranting.
A: Damn right. I intend to do a lot more of that. One of the reasons I wanted to start my own blog is that I’ll be able to address some issues that Lucid Culture hasn’t covered much lately. After all, music doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s a reflection of society as a whole. On one hand, I am very much aware that people don’t like strident political screeds. On the other hand, this is an incredibly exciting time to be alive. What started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, and Greece, and now the UK is going to start happening stateside, and I’m not going to miss the boat. Sometimes people need a kick in the ass – and I do too. So I’m not going to hesitate to give people one if I have to. Besides, right-wing politicians are a 24-hour source of good comedy.
Q: Can I ask you why on earth you’d want to abandon Lucid Culture? Millions of hits, popular blog, what’s up with that?
A: I’m not leaving Lucid Culture, at least for the time being. Lucid Culture will continue, and I’ll be part of that. But after almost five years at Lucid Culture, it’s time I had my own blog. Don’t you agree?
Q: Maybe so. Other than Lucid Culture, is there another blog that inspired you to create the new one?
A: Not really. My models for New York Music Daily go back before the days of the internet. One is European pirate radio. Some of their segues are ridiculous, but they take chances nobody else does. Pirate radio is fearless. For one, it’s against the law. And they don’t care about ratings, what people think, they’re doing it because it’s fun.
My other model is – you’re gonna laugh – the New York Times. Or at least some ideal Platonian concept of the New York Times.
Q: I am laughing. You’re going to imitate a dying daily newspaper? That is funny.
A: What’s always intrigued me is the idea of having a central, definitive record. New York Music Daily is designed first and foremost to be a source of information. And over time, that information becomes a historical record. The New York Times has claimed to be the quote-unquote newspaper of record – but that record is the version brought to you by the thieving dukes and abbots and the gentry of the land, or their 21st century equivalents. Official histories are always full of lies because they serve the ruling classes. Secret histories always have the juicy stuff, the real deal. One of the things I’m shooting for here is to create a reliable if somewhat incomplete People’s History of Good Music in New York.
Q: Isn’t that what Wikipedia is?
A: You’re kidding, right?
Q: Actually, yes. Um, where was I…Lucid Culture has a general policy of not doing bad reviews. Does this mean that you’ll do bad reviews along with good reviews now?
A: I reserve the right to do whatever I want at the new blog. I’m going to try not to be gratuitously self-indulgent: we’ll see how that goes. And I think that ninety-nine percent of the time, bad reviews are a waste of time. But they’re an awful lot of fun to write!
Q: How about the blog format? It looks like you’re sticking with a text-only format, just like Lucid Culture…
A: Yes! That happened with Lucid Culture, completely by accident, and I’ve grown to love it. It’s a distinguishing characteristic. It makes me different. It’s the furthest thing from trendy. Trendoids don’t read, they look at pictures or watch video. This format will scare off the publicists who represent all those lame twee bands, who are always emailing me.
Q: You mean you’re not going to post audio and video?
A: Just like Lucid Culture, there’ll be links to streaming audio and video and free downloads – more of them, I hope. But remember, not everybody has screaming broadband 24/7. The fewer bells and whistles on the page, the faster it loads, the faster you can get the information that New York Music Daily has to offer.
Q: But why not just upload a video?
A: I’ll link to the video so everybody can watch it. But in the time it takes for that video to load, and then play all the way through, you can read a couple of paragraphs at New York Music Daily which will not only give you an idea what the song sounds like, it’ll also give you insight into a particular band or artist and whether or not you might enjoy their other stuff.
Q: Aren’t you worried that if someone clicks off the site, they won’t come back?
A: That’s the freedom of the internet. Let freedom reign. If someone is freer away from this site, that’s fine with me. Let them leave. They’ll come back. Look what happened with Lucid Culture. We went from invisible to being a major force in no time at all.
Q: You know as well as I do that the circumstances that made Lucid Culture so popular don’t exist anymore. How do you hope to survive without Twitter and Facebook and…
A: Stop. You’re still on Facebook? That’s so 2007. Facebook lost sixteen million American accounts a couple of months ago, which speaks for itself. Outside of Asia, corporate-style social media is toast. Finito. I’m all for technology that empowers people – look at how Twitter has helped the freedom fighters in Iran, for example. But let’s not forget why social media was created. It wasn’t designed to empower us. It was designed to disempower us, to give corporations the kind of data on us that they couldn’t get otherwise, to sell us stuff we don’t need – or to deny us healthcare, or a job, or housing, because of something on Facebook. Look, I’m prepared for the eventuality that those of us in the US, along with the millions and millions of Syrians, and Greeks, and Egyptians, and British people who are doing genuinely heroic things to make their societies a better place, may all eventually have to go offline or find some alternative to the web. Maybe we’ll all end up in line at the mimeograph machine.
I watched Lucid Culture grow from barely a handful of pageviews a day to thousands, organically, without any publicity whatsoever. Other than my one upcoming publicity stunt at New York Music Daily, I’m looking forward to watching the new site grow, and to see where it all ends up. There’s a revolution taking over the world – this is the soundtrack.
Q: You’re doing a publicity stunt?
A: I’ll explain the whole thing tomorrow at New York Music Daily.