Wednesday, December 16, 2009

V/A – Tumbélé! Biguine, afro & latin sounds from the French Caribbean, 1963-74

I just wanted to point out the existence of this amazing new compilation of 1960s-70s tunes from Martinique and Guadeloupe. I’ve been listening to it non-stop for days now and it’s been doing a pretty good job of warding away the winter gloom. I don’t want to upload the whole thing since it’s fairly new, but here are a few songs to check out. Mediafire/megaupload are fairly easy to find. Or you can choose to be a good person and buy it here.

Manzè Mona – Raphaël Zachille
D’Leau Coco – Les Leopards
Dima Bolane – Le Ry-co Jazz

Matingueiros – Pluri (2008)

A music and dance troupe from northeastern Brazil. My Portuguese is a little rusty and I had a hard time finding info online, but I really like their tunes. Check out their website for pictures.

Sadhu Sadhu – Live at the Hideout (2009)

Sadhu Sadhu are a noisy psych-rock three-piece from Chicago. This is a live recording that they released as a cassette/CD-R a while ago.
I guess monolithic is the key word when describing their sound. They’ll find a big groove and stick to it with few permutations throughout an entire song. The dramatic guitar riffs, hypnotic basslines and lurching rhythms remind me of a lot of 70s and 80s music that I like. Like a lot of sweet bands from that era, their music is bleak and somewhat devoid of colour, while at the same time hypnotic and exhilarating.
Their Myspace page says that they’re in the studio working on an album. This excites me. While I did enjoy listening to this, it’s a fairly messy recording, hard to hear a lot of what’s going on. I’d really like to hear what these guys can pull off with some actual production.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Boban Markovic Orkestar – Live in Belgrade (2002)

Gypsy brass band music is characterized by rapturous arrangements stuffed with beautiful, yet rocking, melodies against an often-pounding low-end harmonic backdrop, which, in spite of all the dizzying intensity, remains as Frank London describes it, “the unmistakable essence of funk.” (

Friday, October 16, 2009

Joe Meek

Joe Meek may well be the most important pop music producer there ever was. That’s not to say that he’s particularly popular or influential. Or that he ever recorded any kind of classic album. Admitedy, most of his recordings heard today sound somewhat cheesy and dated. But his legacy lies not so much in the quality of the music he produced, but in the way he revolutionized production itself.

In the late 50s and early 60s, when producers were almost always employees of the big labels, Meek was probably the first one to truly go independent. Back then recording was more about science than art, and these record company studios were inhabited by men wearing white coats who followed strict guidelines in attempting to replicate real life sounds as accurately as they could. Meek, however, was determined to explore new ideas and experiment with audio recording equipment. He chose to bypass working for the companies, and set up his own little independent studio above a hand-bag store in London. There, he set to work building all sorts of crazy contraptions, pioneering effects such as reverb, echo and compression. These tools, together with his unorthodox recording techniques (sampling found sounds, tape splicing, multitracking…) became his trademarks, and he was thus probably the first record producer to develop a signature sound.

All of this is on display in I Hear A New World, a 1960 album that he billed as an “Outer Space Music Fantasy”. Inspired by the then-nascent space programme, it’s a mostly instrumental record that tries to imagine what music would be like on the Moon (I guess folks back then still thought there might be Moon-people). Half a decade before George Martin began experimenting with tape loops on Beatles records, Meek’s vision was already fully realized, and the sounds and studio effects heard on I Hear A New World heralded the psychedelic era.

By the early 60s he had become an in-demand producer, and several of his tunes went to the top of the UK sales charts. The spacy Tornados instumental “Telstar” is particularly noted for being the first British record to hit #1 in the States. But by the mid 60s, despite big name producers like Phil Spector and George Martin praising him and admitting to his influence on their own work, he was clearly falling behind on what was hip. His records (which were still basically light pop music and often instrumental) lacked the depth of Dylan or Beatles albums, and the hits stopped rolling in. He sank into severe dept, which together with his personal problems (drug use, depression, extreme paranoia, being flamboyantly gay in a time when homosexuality was still illegal in Britain) led him to end his life in a distrubing murder-suicide.

I’ve included I Hear A New World and a couple of my favourite compilations. The first one has most of his big hits, and I suppose is a good place to start. The other one compiles a bunch of tunes he recorded with female artists and girl groups. Not as far-out with the production, but some really nice catchy songs.

Also, if you’re interested, you can watch the recent biopic Telstar for free over here. It’s pretty neat. Kind of intense; mostly deals with his being a crazy jackass and brutalizing everyone around him. Good acting though.

I Hear a New World (1960)

It's Hard to Believe: The Amazing World of Joe Meek (1995)

Let's Go! Joe Meek's Girls (1996)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Holden – The Idiots Are Winning (2006)

"Here, aesthetically at least, Loveless and “Windowlicker” collide at exquisite velocity... His buccaneering, semi-slapdash approach gives these tracks stacks of personality, and he excels at interpreting current ideas in new and fascinating ways. On masterful opener “Lump” and its sisters “10101” and “Idiot”, he seduces with vogueish minimal sounds before unfolding wave upon curdled wave of woozy euphoric grunge." (Piers Martin, Uncut)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mix #3

Sometimes I like to pretend that I'm a DJ.

Eurythmics – Love is a Stranger
Gold Panda – Quitters Ragga
Virgin Prunes – Yeo
Jackson 5 – Pride and Joy
Daniel Rossen – Waterfall
Boris – Tokyo Wonderland
Fripp & Eno – Evening Star
Atlas Sound (with Noah Lennox) – Walkabout
Church Triumphant of Jah Rastafari And Haile Selassie I Theocracy – Fire Burn
Davy Graham – She Moved Through the Fair
Jean Yves Tourbin – Tiens, voila la Lune
Chihei Hatakeyama – Starlight Reflecting on the Surface of the River
Sly Dunbar – Herb
The Louvin Brothers – My Brother’s Will
Tim Hecker – Harmony in Blue I & II

Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man - Mysteries

Monday, August 17, 2009

African Head Charge – Songs of Praise (1991)

I’m a pretty big fan of just about everything I've heard off of Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound record label, and this is probably my favourite so far. African Head Charge usually gets classified as a dub or reggae band, but there's a lot more to them than that. Bandleader Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah was supposedly inspired by the cultural cut-and-paste of Brian Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts album, and by his vision of a psychedelic Africa. On this record he tried to reconcile the traditional with the modern; setting African, Jamaican and occasionally Western Asian religious chanting to multilayered and heavily effected rhythms that are informed by dub music.

Jorge Ben – África Brasil (1976)

Summer’s winding down, but it looks like we’ve still got plenty of hot smoggy days ahead of us (at least in my neck of the woods). So here’s an appropriate soundtrack, a steaming heap of Brazilian funk courtesy of Jorge Ben.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Sibylle Baier – Colour Green (2006)

German songstress records a stunning collection of intimate acoustic ruminations in the early 70s and keeps them locked away in her closet for some 35 odd years, until they are compiled by her son and handed over to J. Mascis, who in turn passes them on to the people at Orange Twin Records.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

V/A-Take the Subway to Your Suburb (1993)

I have really been digging this compilation the past few days. To be honest I hadn't heard of the Subway Organization until a few weeks ago although I have been listening to a lot of their artists contemporaries for years like Primal Scream, the Jesus and Mary Chain and Felt. I guess the first time I heard anything from the Subway Organization was the Shop Assistants compilation "Will Anything Happen", even though they don't appear on this I would recommend checking them out. If you are into any of the bands earlier output I mentioned above than you will probably be kicking yourself as hard as I was for not finding out about the Subway Organization sooner. Apparently the label was active between the years of 1986 to 1989 releasing a bunch of great and underrated singles and full lengths by bands like the Shop Assistants, the Flatmates, the Rosehips and the Chesterfields. There is not a ton of information available about these bands or the label in general but anyone who takes the time to check them out will recognize a commitment to timeless pop songwriting as well as the incorporation of some of the best parts of modern Rock and Roll. From what I have read the Subway Organization kind of reminds me of Flying Nuns formative years, not just in sound but in the way it was run. If a certain track on this compilation stands out I would recommend keeping your eyes peeled because a lot of them are still in print on CD. Like a lot of my favorite musical phenomenon, it sounds like the Subway Organization was doomed from the get go to only exist a short time but from the looks of the amount of quality records they released they used their time wisely.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Broadcast - Tender Buttons (2005)

This record recently found its way back to my turntable after a few year long absence. I remember being really excited when "Tender Buttons" was released, luckily I was living around the block from an amazing record store so I could grab a copy on my way home from class. Although this is probably not their most popular record it is my favorite by far. Supposedly they are working on their fourth record right now but I haven't really heard anything about it. The music on this record is mostly electronic but it has a really heavy sixties pop influence. In this case the cold electronics and warm pop influences create a surprisingly organic sound. If you like this record I recommend looking into whatever else you can get your hands on by them. All of their records are great from start to finish and they have tons of EPs and singles out there which are all good.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

People Take Warning: Muder Ballads & Disaster Songs, 1913-1938

I'm going to be in Europe for the next few weeks, so there won't be much posting going on here. But here's a parting gift, a wonderful collection of early 20th century songs of misery and paranoia.

Hope everyone has a good month of July.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Just a quick little post here. More stuff to come soon.

I’ve been listening to a lot of old blues/roots music lately and figured I’d share some. So here are Barbecue Bob and Clifton Chenier.

Barbecue Bob – Chocolate To The Bone (1992)

Clifton Chenier – Louisiana Blues And Zydeco (1965)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Richard Manuel – Whispering Pines: Live at the Getaway 1985

"Richard Manuel was a whole show unto himself. He was hot. He was about the best singer I'd ever heard; most people said he reminded them of Ray Charles. He'd do those ballads, and the ladies would swoon. To me that became the highlight of our show."--Levon Helm

"He brought a lot of powers and strengths to the group. He brought in gospel music from his church upbringing. Plus, he loved to play and just come up with new things. It was like having a force of nature in the band."--Rick Danko

"Richard not only had the voice, he had this great rhythmic feel..."--Garth Hudson

While Robbie Robertson was their public face and Levon Helm sang all their big hits, there is no doubt that Richard Manuel was the Band’s heart and soul. His tale, though not atypical the annals of rock music, is a sad one: An enormously talented singer and musician, worshiped by fans and peers alike while somehow managing to remain genuinely modest and unassuming, he was nevertheless driven to despair by decades of drink and drug abuse, finally hanging himself in a cheap motel room following a gig early in 1986.

This album, the only one to be released under his name so far, captures an intimate live performance in the town of Saugerties, New York, five months before his death. His voice by now is hoarse and crackly, and the electric piano he plays has an annoyingly sharp sound, but he still manages to put in some absolutely stirring performances. The set includes songs he played with the Band and a bunch of R&B standards (including a few of his idol Ray Charles’ songs). Rick Danko guests on a couple of tracks, providing charmingly sloppy harmonies on “I Shall Be Released” and "Tears of Rage".

Then there’s a touching moment when someone in the audience calls for “Whispering Pines”, his haunting falsetto showcase off of the Band’s self-titled record, to which he chuckles and replies “I don’t know if I can hit that one”. He accepts the request after a bit of goading, but only after asking the audience to hum along if he screws up. The song is probably the highlight of this disk: a bit hoarse, a little off at times, but overflowing with emotion (that last line pretty much sums up the entire set).

While maybe not a great album in itself, this is an essential document, not only of the man’s substantial raw talent but also of his genuine kindness and modesty. If you didn’t know any better, the goofy, self-effacing banter between songs would make you think he were just playing a batch of tunes for a bunch of friends.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

V/A - I Learned It All the Hard Way (2007)

I just wanted to give you a quick introduction before I start posting here.  My name is Matt and as I have read ZZYRUS in the past I have came across many records here that I never heard of but quickly became favorites as well as a good amount of records that I already own and love.  Hopefully you will find that my posts compliment the quality sounds already discussed here.  

This is probably my favorite tape that I have come across in the whole Mississippi Records tape series.  I have heard there are around twenty eight volumes out there.  This particular tape is titled "I Learned It All the Hard Way" and its a collection of early soul music.   If you are familiar with Mississippi records you know that everything they put out is amazing due to their dedication to rescuing of out of print and hard to find obscurities and hand assembled artwork.  I think the first time I heard of Mississippi Records was in an article where Jason Pierce of Spiritualized/Spacemen 3 was profiling several of their records that he considered his favorites out of their catalogue.  I even remember that the author of the article included a little scene from hanging out with Mr. Spaceman during their interview in which Pierce was playing the records and holding their sleeves in the air proclaiming his love for them.  Another thing that I especially like about the tape series is that all of the tracks are hand picked which to me seems like kind of a stark contrast to what Mississippi records has done in the past.  Usually I find their releases so interesting because they stay devoted to giving a true representation of the original record.  It almost feels like they give you a second chance to buy records in their original form that you might have missed. I know that in the past they have released compilations containing songs that might not have appeared on the same record like The Clean anthology and The True Story of Abner Jay but I feel like the tapes in this series give us a more intimate glimpse of the record collections and collectors behind Mississippi Records.  Some of the songs on this record might be familiar and some you have never heard before making it really fun to listen to anytime.  

New Contributor

Welcome Matt.

Be sure to check out his site, Pacific Radio Fire. Lots of cool stuff to be found there.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Can – Future Days (1973)

Probably Can’s mellowest album; a surprising direction after the Stockhausen-inspired garage rock of Tago Mago and chaotic future-funk of Ege Bamyasi. The album is made up of four long, hypnotic tracks that are founded on repetition, slowly expanding and contracting in a way similar to ambient music. The ambient music comparison is deceiving though, because while the songs here are easy to zone out to, they're really dense and packed with ideas.

It’s also the last Can record to feature vocalist Damo Suzuki. He doesn't figure as prominently here as on previous albums, but does put in some really strong performances. And while his vocals on earlier albums consist mostly of rambling and bellowing like a rabid homeless person, here he matches the laid-back music with some really pretty and understated singing.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

In Heaven and You – Vena Cava Parts I & II (2008)

Here’s a reader submission that I’ve been enjoying quite a bit. In Heaven and You are a group from Washington D.C. that play brooding, nocturnal folkish tunes. Emotive vocals and nimble, accomplished fingerpicked guitar that occasionally erupts into cascading flamenco-like passages. Check it out.

Hideo Shiraki Quintet + 3 Koto Girls – Sakura Sakura (1965)

Here’s a really cool little Japanese jazz record that I found on Soulseek a while ago. The band is led by drummer Hideo Shiraki and features three girls playing the koto, which makes for an interesting combination of sounds. The kotos tend weave in and out of the mix, figuring prominently on only a couple of tracks (notably “Sakura Sakura”).
Most of these tracks are done in a sort of airy hard bop style, though there are also some definite modal Miles Davis-ish influences (parts of the last track “Suwa” sounds eerily similar to “So What” off of Kind of Blue).
Anyway, it’s a pretty good album. Great drums, really spirited trumpet playing, and an interesting melding of musical traditions. Recommended.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

BT – This Binary Universe (2006)

Here’s an electronic album that just about anyone can enjoy. It covers a lot of ground, effortlessly shifting from ambient soundscapes and ephemeral melodies to jazzy breakbeat passages, to full blown orchestral workouts, often all within the same track. It’s more about ambience than anything else and works really well as background music, but also rewards attentive headphones sessions.

Sandy Denny – Sandy (1972)

Since I posted those Fairport Convention albums I figured I might as well post some Sandy Denny. For those unfamiliar, it’s pretty much accepted fact that she was the best female singer of her era. She spent little more than a year with Fairport, over which time they recorded three (!) classic albums. She's also credited as the driving force behind the band’s shift to playing electrified versions of British folk songs (which they are still doing to this day). Ironically, she left the band mere months after the recording of their classic Liege & Lief in 1969, having quickly grown tired of that style of music, and wanting to write more songs of her own. Between 1970 and her accidental death in early 1978, she recorded a series of stunning albums, none of them commercially successful despite tons of critical praise.

This one here is her second album, generally considered to be the best of the bunch. I don’t know if I agree with that, but it’s definitely the easiest one to get in to. The songs are all solid and there’s plenty of variety (acoustic folk, melancholy pop, country, blue-eyed soul), the production is glossy but uncluttered, and the singing is spectacular as usual.
Guest musicians include “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow of the Flying Burrito Bros, who peppers a couple of tracks with his trademark fuzzy pedal steel; and former Fairport bandmates Richard Thompson and Dave Swarbrick, who plays a haunting fiddle solo in the otherwise a capella take on Richard Farina’s “Quiet Joys of Brotherhood”.
Anyway, a really nice little album, and a good entry point if you’ve been wanting to get in to her music. (11-15 are bonus tracks)

El-P – Fantastic Damage (2002)

One of my favourite producers of late. His newest album I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead is pretty sweet too, but I think I prefer this one.
While hip hop producers generally tend to mine the past (sampling records from the 60s and 70s) and often aim for a lo-fi aesthetic, this album has a definite futurist feel to it. The beats are dense, cold and relentless, with lots of harsh robotic sounds and bleepity-blooping synth lines. The vocals are typically delivered at a rapid-fire pace. I have a hard time telling what he’s talking about, but he sounds pretty pissed most of the time. Anyway, it's really nice stuff. Check it out.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Volcano – S/T (2004)

I was going through my old CDs looking for “summery” albums, and stumbled upon this, an old one-off band headed by Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets and former Sublime drummer Bud Gaugh.
This was a really low-key release, with a limited pressing distributed online through Little Dog Records. If memory serves me well, I was having trouble with my Paypal account, so they offered to send it over free of charge. Really nice people over at Little Dog.
Anyway, except for the thick guitar riffage of the first track, it’s a fairly straightforward little pop album, with some country and light reggae overtones. Nothing too cerebral, but pretty fun and groovy, with kind of a nostalgic 90s-ish vibe to it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fairport Convention – Full House (1970) & House Full (1976)

By calling Fairport an English equivalent to the Band, I meant that they have soaked up enough of the tradition of their countryfolk that it begins to show all over, while they still maintain their roots in rock. If you’ve ever been thrilled by British folk music (and if you haven’t, perhaps it’d be worth looking into), you’ll love Full House immediately. If not, it’ll probably take a little time, but it’ll be well worth the wait.
(Ed Ward, Rolling Stone, 1970)

Fairport Convention’s early years can best be described as a sequence of transitional periods. The years 1968 to 1970 saw a dizzying amount of line-up changes, stylistic shifts, and personal tragedy (a deadly post-gig van crash after which they nearly called it quits). In that span of two years they also managed to record several classic albums, each with it’s own distinct vibe due to the revolving door of key band members. While their early sound was inspired by West Coast psychedelia and singer-songwriters like Dylan, Richard Farina and Joni Mitchell, they gradually abandoned those influences in favour of a repertoire of electrified British folk songs. This culminated in the 1969 recording of Liege & Lief, by far their most celebrated album. That record (which I’ll admit I find it a little bit underwhelming) was touted as the birth of British folk-rock, and was highlighted by the celestial tones of singer Sandy Denny, and by spirited arrangements of traditional songs like “Tam Lin” and “Matty Groves”, till then unknown in the rock world.

The general consensus seems to be that the three records they released in 1969 (What We Did On Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking and Liege & Lief) are the band’s best, and that what followed was a slow and steady decline. Certainly, the departure of Sandy Denny (their key attraction at that point) was a major blow, and the band’s infatuation with esoteric traditional material ensured that it wouldn’t have much more than a cult following. Still, they released plenty of solid albums in the 70s, most of which made little impact at the time, and are today only beginning to be rediscovered. Case in point: Pitchfork reviewed the reissues of What We Did On Our Holidays and Unhalfbricking, giving them high ratings of 8.8 and 9.3 respectively, without so much as mentioning the 10 or so other albums of theirs that had also been reissued.

One particularly overlooked period of their history (though cherished by diehard fans) is what is referred to as the “Full House era”. This alludes to both the album, Full House, which followed Liege & Lief; and to the line-up that recorded it, which was revered for its instrumental prowess and spectacular shows.

While this album lacks both the diversity of their earlier ones and Denny' breathtaking voice, I would argue that it’s probably their best. It is simply in a world of its own. It's timeless in the truest sense, sounding at once ancient and modern. A seemingly simple album that’s charming in its humility, but surprisingly powerful when it wants to be.
Compared to Liege & Lief it sounds less affected - earthier maybe. It might have to do with the singing, which, following Denny's departure, was taken up by the previously non-singing instrumentalists. The voices are rough and plain, but work well with this kind of material. The performances are jaunty and hard-edged, but you can tell that the band doesn’t take itself too seriously. While maybe not as important as its predecessor, the album is definitely a lot more fun. It’s also among the most hard rocking and viscerally satisfying records of the band’s career, in no small part due to the chemistry between demon-fiddler David Swarbrick and impossibly-talented-beyond-his-years guitarist Richard Thompson.
Their duets on the jigs and reels are always impressive, even when those tracks last a minute or two longer than they should. The album’s centerpiece is definitely “Sloth”, a cryptic little anti-war dirge punctuated by ferocious group improvisations. An epic slow-burning track, it combines power and finesse in a way that manages to keep you riveted throughout its nine-minute length.

House Full, a live album recorded in 1970 at the Troubadour in LA, captures the band in peak form. This 12 minute long take on “Sloth” is even more beastly than the album version, with plenty of tense build-ups, jagged, downright frightening guitar improvisations, and apocalyptic drum rolls. Good stuff. Other highlights include a spirited version of “Matty Groves” (to this day their most popular song), a poignant take on the stately pipe song “Battle of the Somme”, and a goofy little exotica track, “Yellow Bird”.
These records probably aren’t for everyone, but I recommend doing what the Rolling Stone guy said at the top of this post. Give a couple of listens and see if they grow on you. They're definitely worth it.

Full House (1970)

House Full (1976)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Charles Mingus

The Mingus megapost. It’s been a long time coming. Here are my five favourite albums of his. It’s late in the evening and I’m too tired to bother writing a rambling paragraph about why these albums are important, so here’s a bunch of haikus instead:

Tijuana Moods (1957, Released in 1962)

Feeling uninspired?
Rowdy trip to Tijuana
Write songs about it

Mingus Ah Um (1959)

Gospel shouts and stomps
Holy shit, the melodies…
Overflowing soul

Oh Yeah (1962)

Now it’s time to sing
Nuclear war on my mind
Roland Kirk, you’re nuts

The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady (1963)

A free-jazz ballet?
Voices from the depths of Hell
Peaceful interludes

Let My Children Hear Music (1972)

Latter day big band
Classical music can swing
Probably his best

Friday, June 12, 2009

Gaudi & Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Dub Qawwali (2007)

The late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the most celebrated Qawwali singer in the history of recorded music, getting a remix treatment of sorts at the hands of London-based producer and dub music enthusiast Gaudi.
On paper this sounds like it would be a disaster. The appeal of Nusrat’s early recordings is in the looseness of the arrangements: bare-bones harmonium, tabla and handclapped rhythms, over which his and his group’s voices are able to soar clear and unobstructed. Gaudi’s recent work, however, favours dense, new-agey arrangements. But, surprisingly, the combination here works pretty well. The album is organic and lush, without in any way sounding contrived or gimmicky. Gaudi’s skanky electronic dub rhythms are a great fit for the mellow but passionate vocal performances, which were culled from unused recording sessions from the 60s and 70s. If you want a more authentic Nusrat experience, you can find his Shahen-Shah album in the archives here. But don’t pass this one by, it’s surprisingly good.

Hector Berlioz – Requiem (Grande Messe des Morts) (Ainsley-Dutoit-Montreal Symphony Orchestra, 1999)

When I was around 19 or 20 I went through a phase of being totally obsessed with sacred choral music, namely classical composers’ renditions of the Latin Mass. I’m not particularly religious, but there’s something about this kind of stuff that really gets to me: the emotional intensity, the humility, hope and longing simultaneously expressed by so many voices. It somehow makes me feel better about humanity. Among my favourites were Verdi’s Requiem and Mozart’s amazing unfinished Mass in C minor (which you might remember from that famous scene in Amadeus). But for my money, it’s Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts that stands out as the most intense, over-the-top, transcendental work in the genre.

Commissioned by the French government to write a piece in memory of the soldiers killed in the July Revolution of 1830, the flamboyant young composer decided to pull out all the stops and set up as “big” a performance as was humanly possible. Berlioz was among the first composers to put a lot of thought in acoustics, the matching of space and sonority, and wanted the arrangement and orchestration to contribute as much to the overall experiences as the notes that were being sung and played. Knowing that it would be premiered at Les Invalides, the giant-domed cathedral of the military hospital in Paris, his aim here was to create a huge block of three-dimensional sound that would wash over and completely overwhelm the audience. The orchestra and choir were accordingly large. The arrangement calls for roughly 400 performers, including 210 singers, 4 brass enssembles, more than a hundred strings (including 18 double basses), 18 timpanis and two bass drums.
Despite the logistical difficulties of such a large-scale performance (and a bitter, resentful conductor who went out of his way to sabotage the premiere), the Requiem was a resounding success and established itself as the highlight of the composer's patchy (but often brilliant) career.

This is a recording of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Dutoit. It’s probably not the best one out there, and for some reason has a reputation for being a slightly “colder” performance than others. I think it’s pretty good though. But then again, I don’t really know anything about classical music recordings, so what would I know.

Jay Bennett – Whatever Happened I Apologize (2008)

Just wanted to point out that his final album Whatever Happened I Apologize is available for free download here. It's quite good.

Rest in peace.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares (1975)

"Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares" is an ensemble of a rare artistic gift and enormous popular appeal. Its story is a story of a success. Created fifty years ago, its goal was to enrich the heritage of the Bulgarian solo folk song with harmonies and arrangement that highlighted its beautiful timbres and irregular rhythms.
They transform sounds into strange vocal colors as if something other than the human voice, perhaps some strange instrument is playing. They jubilate, shout, ornament, form fast and perfect glissandos, let one crazy rhythm follow another and make their voices build the most darling chords. And suddenly the folk cliché does not apply any more. A listener believes he has heard” an archaic world of sounds from times long ago”, another –“the marriage of avant-grade and the middle ages”. With their bell-like voices that seem to float lightly trough space, these women have become international stars, whose hypnotic chant circles the globe." (*)

"The distinctive sounds of Bulgarian folk singing come from many cultural influences, as a country that was under the rule of the Tartar from central Asia and the Ottoman Turks. Many Asian elements can be heard in the use of modal scales, dissonant harmonies and rhythmical and metrical variety. The diaphonic singing tradition of two voices moving in parallel seconds, sevenths or ninths along with the metallic vocal timbres is preserved in the many arrangements. To western ears, this style of singing seems very strange. The a cappella singing is occasionally accompanied by traditional instruments. On this recording can be heard the flute-like kaval (Pritouritze Planinata), and the fiddle-like gadulka (Brei Yvane). The Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir is led by Philip Koutev and Krasimir Kyurkchiyski who were the forefathers of the Bulgarian folk movement. From the dissonance of "Pilentze Pee" to the beautiful melody of "Polegnala e Todora" this music is simple and enormously diverse." (*)

Deradoorian – Mind Raft (2009)

An amazing little release by the Dirty Projectors bassist/vocalist. Alternates between sparse, dirge-like acoustic tracks and denser, brooding R&B-ish numbers. I really like her voice.

Françoise Hardy – Soleil (1970)

Really nice little album by the French singer. “Fleur de Lune” is an amazing song.

Strange Wikipedia Findings: Installment 3

Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico

One of my favourite historical figures.

Strange Wikipedia Findings: Installment 2

Sir Nils Olav, Colonel-in-Chief of the Norwegian King’s Guard

Yup, he's a penguin.

Monday, June 8, 2009


1. Kandia Kouyate – San Barana
2. Funkadelic – Can You Get to That
3. Paul Parrish – Walking in the Forest (of My Mind)
4. Thom Yorke – And It Rained All Night (Burial Remix)
5. Mikey Dread – Rockers Delight
6. Iron and Wine – Freedom Hangs Like Heaven (Live)
7. Karen Dalton – Katie Cruel
8. Bert Jansch & John Renbourn – The Time Has Come
9. Animal Collective – Daily Routine (Phaseone Remix)
10. J Dilla – In The Night (Owl N Out)/While You Slept (I Crept)
11. The Crystals – He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)
12. The Supremes – When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes
13. Akron/Family – Running, Returning
14. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – Over the Rainbow
15. Konono N°1 – Kule Kule Reprise
16. Sibylle Baier – Remember the Day
17. Das Bierbeben – Abschied
18. Lindsey Buckingham – Bel Air Rain
19. Alèmayèhu Eshèté – Tchero Adari Negn
20. NOMO – Banners On High
21. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Shams-Ud-Doha, Badar-Ud-Doja
22. David Bowie – All the Madmen
23. Horace Andy – Spying Glass

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Upsetters – Upsetters 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle (1973)

One of the very first dub records. A tremendous album, full of deep, hypnotic grooves. And what a cast of characters…Lee Perry is the ringmaster here, but King Tubby acts as co-engineer. Then you’ve got, among others, the Barrett brothers’ rhythm section, and even Augustus Pablo drops in to contribute some haunting melodica lines.
There are a bunch of different versions of this record floating around, and this one probably has the best track selection. The only problem is the way that it’s mixed. It sounds great coming out of speakers, but the way they’ve panned the bass and drums to one side and everything else to the other makes it hard to listen to with headphones. But whatever, that’s a small gripe.

Richard Thompson – Small Town Romance (1984)

1982 was a year of both tremendous highs and lows for Richard and Linda Thompson. After a decade of critical praise but abysmal record sales, they managed to break into the American market with Shoot Out the Lights, their best selling album to date, and completed a triumphant tour of the U.S. Their brush with success was to be fleeting however, as it coincided with the breakup of their marriage and the end of their artistic partnership. So in an effort to cool down and gather his bearings, Richard Thompson embarked on a low-key solo-acoustic tour of the States. This album contains recordings from two of those shows, both in New York. The song selection is varied, but for the most part he chooses to perform slower numbers, many of them songs that his ex-wife had sung on record. Other than that there are a couple of older tunes dating from his time in Fairport Convention, a Hank Williams cover, and bizarre but funny little song about a person who may or may not a drag queen.