Bryan Ferry: “Olympia”

Posted in Dancing about architecture on February 11th, 2011 by bill

Bryan Ferry spent a long time establishing the Bryan Ferry brand, and he’s not going to do anything to jeopardize it now. Olympia is not a collection of Woody Guthrie covers strummed on a battered old acoustic guitar; it’s 10 sophisticated dance-pop tunes redolent of genteel luxury and glamorous heartache, delivered in an appropriately weathered version of the lizard croon Ferry’s been perfecting since the first Roxy Music album in 1972.

Of all the Roxy/Ferry styles then and since, Olympia perhaps most resembles Roxy Music’s Avalon, Ferry’s most commercial (and some might say safest) incarnation. His old bandmates Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay make several appearances, and even Brian Eno – who was edged out of Roxy in a Ferry power grab back in 1973 – shows up on 4 songs. Actually, the guest list at this party is pretty impressive: David Gilmour, Nile Rodgers, Flea, Dave Stewart, Chris Spedding, Steve Nieve, and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, among others. And of course that’s Kate Moss on the cover, reclining in nothing but an expensive-looking necklace.
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The Fall: “Your Future, Our Clutter”

Posted in Dancing about architecture on February 9th, 2011 by bill

I don’t know how Mark E. Smith does it. Since the Ford administration he’s been the leader of a band whose distinguishing characteristic is forward motion – always changing sounds, always changing members (with MES the only constant), always recording, always touring. Sonically, too, their signature is relentless drive – they find a groove and hammer it until they’re done with it, however long that takes, with Smith not so much singing as spewing his opinions on, well, pretty much everything. He’s probably said something about you and/or your mother at one point or another.

The relevant numbers go something like this:

  • 35 years: Smith formed the Fall in 1976 with Martin Bramah, Una Baines, and Tony Friel.
  • 28 albums: This is the number of official Fall studio releases as of 2010, according to Wikipedia.* Add live albums, compilations, and bootlegs, and the number goes way up.
  • 66 people: Another Wikipedia page contains an extensive list of everyone who’s ever played with the Fall. This number, 66, includes guest appearances and one-offs; limit it to actual members, and it goes down to a relatively modest 39. That’s still a lot of coming and going; there’s even a book out about former Fall members (The Fallen: Life In and Out of Britain’s Most Insane Group), which I intend to read after the Deathmarch is over.

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Roky Erickson: “True Love Cast Out All Evil”

Posted in Dancing about architecture on February 7th, 2011 by bill

That Roky Erickson continues to live and breathe, much less make records and tour, is nothing short of a miracle. Back in the 60s, he was on top of the world, or maybe all the worlds, as the handsome and charismatic leader of the 13th Floor Elevators, perhaps the original psychedelic rock band. Then he was targeted by Texas police for, as far as I can tell, having too much fun; he went to a psychiatric hospital as part of a plea bargain, and it was all downhill from there.

Roky was never the same afterward, due to some mutually reinforcing combination of mental illness, incarceration trauma, and truly excessive amounts of LSD. He continued to make music, some of it quite good, but always had the haunted look of a man struggling with demons, which were often the subject of his lyrics – along with aliens, the bible, vampires, zombies, walking in the graveyard with a two-headed dog, etc. After several decades of sporadic releases and public appearances, by the late 90s he had dropped out of sight entirely, living with his mother and seemingly spiraling downward into a vortex of madness.
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Brian Eno: “Small Craft on a Milk Sea”

Posted in Dancing about architecture on February 5th, 2011 by bill

I haven’t been keeping much track of what Eno’s been up to since he released his last vocal album, Another Day on Earth, in 2005. I do know that he cozied up to Coldplay, serving as producer of both their last album and the one currently being recorded, which I think consists of collecting large amounts of money to sit on a comfortable chair in the studio and tell them which of their songs suck the least.

Pardon my cynicism. I just finished reading a great biography of Eno called On Some Faraway Beach, and it reminded me of a) just how amazing and innovative he was up until the early 80s and b) just how little of interest he’s done since then. OK, he did seemingly coax U2 into making their best albums (for the record: Achtung Baby and Zooropa), Another Day on Earth had its moments, and his 1990 collaboration with John Cale, Wrong Way Up, was a keeper. But for the most part he’s seemed less and less interested in communicating with us, his fellow humans, and more and more in exploring some abstract landscape of his own devising.

Small Craft on a Milk Sea doesn’t exactly reverse that trend. It’s another instrumental album, which I always find a slight disappointment, even when forewarned, so fond am I of Eno’s voice. Like much of his ambient work, it’s self-consciously cinematic – occasionally suggesting Morricone and Badalamenti and probably others with whose styles I’m less familiar – but a little edgier than most, i.e. less placid, with a wider range of emotional textures. One song, “2 Forms of Anger,” even features loud electric guitar.

But while Small Craft is definitely thought-provoking, and may even be brilliant on some plane beyond my monkey-brained level of musical sophistication, I just can’t find any way to really connect to it. Perhaps heard while floating in an isolation tank, on the third straight day of zen meditation, or under the influence of the right combination of psychedelics, it would yield up its secrets to me. But in the meantime, next time I put on an Eno album, it’s likely to be Another Green World or Taking Tiger Mountain, as usual.

The Infinite Jest Deathmarch, Stage 18

Posted in The Infinite Jest Deathmarch on February 5th, 2011 by bill

This photo – taken, I'm told, in Alberta, Canada – put me in mind of the AFR.

Begin: Page 795 (“The most distant and obscure Tuesday P.M. Meeting listed in the little white Metro-Boston Recovery Options booklet…”)

End: Page 845 (“It’s like a big wooden spoon keeps pushing pushing him just under the surface of sleep and then spooning him up for something huge to taste him, again and again.”)

Start Date: 2/5/11
Finish Date: 2/11/11

Note Profile: 11 short notes (333–343), most of them about pharmaceuticals

And here we go – only three weeks left after this one, major revelations coming left and right, the writing moving along at a hallucinatory gallop. If you’ve been lagging behind, now is the time to rally the forces and mount a charge.

The Congos: “Back in the Black Ark”

Posted in Dancing about architecture on February 4th, 2011 by bill

In 1977 the Congos released Heart of the Congos, produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry at his Black Ark studio in Kingston, which is generally considered one of the top 5 or 10 reggae albums of all time. Perry, at the height of his considerable powers at that time, created a swirling, throbbing backdrop atop which the vocals of Cedric Myton, Roydel Johnson, and Watty Burnett soared into the stratosphere.

But that was long ago. The golden age of roots reggae came to a close at the dawn of the 80s, coinciding roughly with the death of Bob Marley and the destruction of the Black Ark, never to return again in this world, I’m afraid. Many of the players live on – both Perry and the Congos have continued to tour and make records – but they are like small ships adrift in a vast sea.
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Broken Bells: “Broken Bells”

Posted in Dancing about architecture on February 3rd, 2011 by bill

I’ve had an ongoing argument with a friend for a few years now re: Danger Mouse. Is he the real deal or a clever charlatan? I say his work on the Gray Album, Gorillaz’ Demon Days, and Gnarls Barkley qualifies him as a producer to be taken seriously. My friend says he’s a serial plagiarist whose greatest gift is for self-promotion. (This same friend, by the way, is the founder of

We enjoy these little arguments over coffee, and never expect to have them really settled. New data is always welcome, though, and Danger Mouse if nothing else keeps busy; in 2010 his name was attached to three major releases. One was the Black Keys’ Brothers, which I never found time to listen to cause I was too busy blasting their 2009 rock/hip-hop fusion project Blakroc. The second was Dark Night of the Soul, a collaboration with the late Mark Linkous (a/k/a Sparklehorse) and David Lynch, which was actually leaked back in 09 and, with all due respect to the dead, not that great. The third was Broken Bells, which teams D.M. with singer James Mercer of the Shins, a band about which I know exactly nothing.
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Black Francis: “Nonstoperotik”

Posted in Dancing about architecture on February 2nd, 2011 by bill

Charles Thompson has been making music under the name Black Francis, or its converse Frank Black, for 25 years now. Think about that one for a minute. I’ll wait.

How’d it go for you? Anyway, for the first 8 or 9 of those years he was a bona fide genius, writer and singer of many superlative songs in a style recognizably his own, first with the Pixies and then as Frank Black. After 1994’s magnum opus Teenager of the Year, though, he seemed to run out of steam. He disappointed us for the first time with The Cult of Ray, then started releasing a series of “live in the studio” albums with his backing band the Catholics; the first of these was quite good, the rest were pretty hit and miss. Still, he kept them coming, apparently thinking that sheer quantity ought to count for something. By the turn of the millennium I’d stopped buying his records, frustrated by the lack of quality control.

After playing with a reunited Pixies in 2004, he reclaimed his old stage name and seemed to find some measure of his old inspiration. 2007’s Bluefinger and 2008’s Svn Fngrs were, for my money, his best work since Teenager. So I was cautiously optimistic about Nonstoperotik, both despite and because of this spiel from Mr. Francis that preceded it:
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Aloe Blacc: “Good Things”

Posted in Dancing about architecture on February 1st, 2011 by bill

I first heard Aloe Blacc’s music in Amoeba Records on Telegraph. There was a dramatic swelling of strings, then a soulful, buttery voice singing familiar words: “Here she comes…you better watch your step.” I knew I knew the song, but the arrangement was so different it took me a minute to figure out I was listening to a cover of Lou Reed’s “Femme Fatale,” originally sung by Nico on the first Velvet Underground album.

Listening to Blacc’s version, it seemed obvious that this had always been a soul song…I couldn’t believe I’d never noticed before. Anybody who can do that has something going on, so I walked over to the appropriate section and picked up a copy of the album, Good Things. I’ve been happy with the purchase; this is the best album of new soul music I’ve heard since, I don’t know, Macy Gray’s first record? The sound is not self-consciously retro like, say, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, but more like Mark Ronson’s productions for Amy Winehouse: sleek and crisp with a classic feel but lots of modern touches. (Hmm, I wasn’t thinking of Amy when I said that thing about Macy Gray…. Poor Amy. Will she live long enough to deliver that follow-up to Back to Black?)
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