I’ve been doing the very bare minimum in trying to get enigmatics released — my marketing plan is essentially bugging my family and co-workers — and it was still enough to keep me distracted from writing much here. I warned as much a while back, but even I wasn’t prepared for the amount of work that goes into getting a release launched. And I don’t even have distribution.
As a result, my playlist is once again crossing the threshold of a full work week in length. It’s time to prune the list, which means some of the entries I had vaguely planned are just not meant to be.
Bang on a Can & Don Byron, A Ballad for Many
Bang on a Can All-Stars, Renegade Heaven
Bang on a Can All-Stars, Terry Riley: In C
Guided By Voices, Propeller
Guided By Voices, Alien Lanes
In reality, I didn’t get these albums with the intention of writing about them here on the site. Rather, they’re research for a music project that somehow combines the instrumentation of Bang on a Can All-Stars with the fluid structures of Guided By Voices’ early albums. No, I don’t know what that’s going to sound like just yet, and frankly, I have no idea if this intersection will work. But I won’t really know till I try, no?
Even if I didn’t intend to write about these albums for Musicwhore.org, that doesn’t mean they should go entirely unmentioned.
Bang on a Can’s interpretation of In C doesn’t have the organized chaotic texture of the original 1969 recording, but it does have a very lyrical bent, as if the entire ensemble — which includes Wu Man on pipa — approached the piece as a canon. It’s a very quiet performance, bringing out a tenderness in the piece that I didn’t imagine it had.
Guided By Voices didn’t really exist for me till 1994’s watershed album, Bee Thousand, but Propeller from 1992 portends the creative directions the band would take. A mix of the band’s lo-fi work with a more solid studio sound, it feels oddly retrospective, probably because I’m listening to it so late. The latter-day GBV albums tended to scatter, but Propeller is very much prescient.
Cocteau Twins, Heaven or Las Vegas
I guess I must be more drawn to Robin Guthrie’s presence on a Cocteau Twins album. Heaven or Last Vegas is a fan favorite, but it’s also the album from which Guthrie was mostly absent, battling a drug problem. Elizabeth Fraser takes a more straight-forward approach to vocals, and the album is certainly beautiful in its own right. But I think the cryptic-ness of Blue Bell Knoll and Treasure appeal to me a lot more.
Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs
I think Death Cab for Cutie has been R.E.M.-ed. Before they moved to a major label, R.E.M. recorded their most vibrant music. After the move, they gradually and very publicly lost that vibrancy. Two albums into its major label tenure, Death Cab has already followed R.E.M. into that same creative valley.
Narrow Stairs attempts to sound ambitious but can’t shake its ennui. The songwriting hints at a broader palette of styles, but Ben Gibbard’s detached performance dulls the effect. Like Plans before it, a larger statement was trying to be made where none exists.
Chris Walla’s solo album, Field Manual, is far more interesting. Oddly enough, R.E.M. recorded its loudest and punchiest album in about a decade and a half. Perhaps they siphoned that vibrancy from Death Cab.
Elliott Carter, String Quartets Nos. 1 & 5 (Pacifica Quartet)
Wow, are these works harsh.
Gnarls Barkley, The Odd Couple
St. Elsewhere was a party record, even when Ceee-Lo entertained his darkest demons. With The Odd Couple, the party’s over. This album is dark, and it takes a while to adjust to the lack of humor which punctuated the previous album. On that level, it’s a bit of a sophomore slump, despite the fact Danger Mouse fashions a really fascinating retro-futuristic music. Still, there’s something refreshing about the confrontational lyrics of "Whatever", and the poignancy of "No Time Soon" is beautiful.
The Bad Plus, The Bad Plus
I think the cover of "Knowing Me, Knowing You" is my favorite.
The Hidden Cameras, Mississauga Goddam
An accidental download. I want my eMusic credits back.
The Reivers, Translate Slowly
I can understand why this album is considered a classic of the Austin music scene from the early ’90s. It’s got the tunefulness and grit requisite for the burgeoning alt-rock movement at the time, and it ages remarkably well. A quick recommended-if-you-like list would include the Go-Betweens’ 16 Lovers Lane and R.E.M.’s Murmur. In fact, the ringing guitar work on the album owes quite a bit to I.R.S.-era R.E.M.
Tracey Ullman, You Broke My Heart in 17 Places
There’s something charming about the ’80s synthesizers fashioning ’50s pop on this album. Ullman has a serviceable voice, appropriate for the bubblegum repertoire. It’s not an album that will change your life, but it is an album that’s easy to enjoy.
Varmint, Mr. Man in the Moon
Wayne Horvitz, Joe Hill: 16 Actions for Orchestra, Voices and Soloist
Wayne Horvitz/Gravitas Quartet, One Dance More
Wayne Horvitz/Sweeter than the Day, A Walk in the Rain
In retrospect, I don’t think I really wanted to write about these albums either. Something I haven’t really learned to do is set aside some of my playlist for myself, not to think about some albums in terms of how I’d write about them for this site. Perhaps I’ll start here.