Category: Catalog Releases

Alfred Schnittke: Concerto Grosso I / Concerto for Oboe, Harp and Strings / Concerto for Piano and Strings

For nearly 21 years, only one work defined my perception of Alfred Schnittke — his third string quartet, which Kronos Quartet recorded for its third studio album Winter Was Hard.

It took a long while before I got around to listening to the rest of his string quartets, but once I did, I became curious about his other works.

So off to eMusic I went to download a number of recordings on the Bis label, and the richness of his string quartets were amplified by the heterogeneity of his orchestrations.

Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso I is often cited as a major work, and it’s easy to hear why. His "polystylistic" writing can get dense, melody peeking out of clouds of harmony, dissonance giving way to consonance, only to dissolve back into a hazy texture.

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ABC: How to be a Zillionaire!

At the ripe age of 13, I declared to my family that ABC’s How to be a Zillionaire! was one of the best albums ever recorded.

Ah. Youth.

Of course, I would go on to expand my listening palette, and for a spell, I’d dismiss How to be a Zillionaire! as an exploratory detour of an immature music fan. Or was it?

How to be a Zillionaire! may not be the best album ever recorded — even less so compared to ABC’s bigger hit, The Lexicon of Love — but it’s not entirely bad either. Trashy, yes. Bad? Not really.

At the very least, the album cover art is pretty spectacular. (Best viewed in all glorious 12 inches.)

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ABC: The Lexicon of Love

My introduction to ABC was not the dapper Chic-meets-punk sophistication of The Lexicon of Love. No, it was the cartoon-y Chic-meets-DX7 trash of How to be a Zillionaire!

I bet if the order were reversed, I would find How to be a Zillionaire! thin, vapid and grudgingly appealing. As it stands, I still like Zillionaire!, but I question how I could have gone so long without knowing the wonder that is The Lexicon of Love.

It’s tough not to compare ABC with another band influenced by disco and punk — Duran Duran. Where the latter skewed its formula closer to the rock side, the former went for something more glamorous.

Between the lush strings, disco beats and funk guitars, The Lexicon of Love screams "fashion." Producer Trevor Horn’s imprint can be heard all over the album — a few more guitars and some gayer content, and The Lexicon of Love could have morphed into Welcome to the Pleasuredome.

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Duran Duran: Rio (2009 Collector’s Edition)

The story of the release of Duran Duran’s Rio in the United States is circuitous. If you were a preteen in 1983 — like myself — this story would not reveal itself till the advent of the compact disc.

When I cross-graded my copy of Rio from vinyl (and cassette) to CD in 1992, I was shocked and dismayed by the music that came out of the speakers. It was not the one I spent my junior high school years spinning endlessly.

The arrangements of the side one tracks were thinner, and many of them were shorter. Surely, this mistake was made at the pressing plant? Actually, it wasn’t. (Ed note: And don’t call me Shirley.)

Capitol Records told Duran Duran the album had to be remixed to make it marketable to American audiences. For the CD reissue, the band opted to use the original UK mix instead. Over time, I would get accustomed to the original mixes, but they didn’t hold a candle to the album I studied at great length.

Today, I’m old enough to be a sucker for the reissue market, and yet again, I repurchased Rio, this time with the remixes I know and love.

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Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane, Over the Sea

Back when I worked at Waterloo Records, I would stock Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane, Over the Sea and think, "This album looks really precious."

The ornate cover art struck me as indier-than-thou, and the mouthy title all but screamed pretension — and that may very well be the case.

In an attempt to burn through some eMusic credits, I downloaded the album in late 2008, and I haven’t stopped playing it since. I loaded it into my iPod, and I’ve not deleted it. It’s still in my CD wallet, and I always cycle out newer acquisitions with older ones.

Sometimes I’m skeptical of near unanimous critical praise. In this instance, I was wrong.

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Morton Feldman: The Viola in My Life / False Relationships and the Extended Ending / Why Patterns?

This entry is less a review and more of a reminiscence.

The first time I listened to this collection of Morton Feldman’s work was in 1992. I was on a student exchange program to New York City and having a rough time with homesickness. I was also nowhere near coming out of the closet, and on the night this album was playing on my boombox, a fellow exchange program participant approached me and said maybe I should come out of the closet.

That talk was the first time another person voiced what I had been thinking, but before we entered that discussion, he remarked the music sounded like some horror movie soundtrack.

The album, titled American Masters: The Music of Morton Feldman, was on loan from CRI, where I worked as an intern that year. I brought it back and considered buying a copy for myself, but I never got around to it.

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U2: War (Remastered)

It was the cover article in Time magazine about U2 back in 1987 that got me curious about War. The writer repeatedly proclaimed it the band’s best album before The Joshua Tree. Being a neophyte U2 listener at the time, I sought the album, thinking I’d get the same transporting experience I got from The Joshua Tree.

No such luck.

I actually enjoyed Boy way more than War, and it was War that pretty much killed any curiosity I had about October or Under a Blood Red Sky. In short, I blame War for shutting me out of a pretty important part of the U2 repertoire.

But I was 15 at the time and not an experienced listener. Two decades should be enough time for opinion to change, right? I mean, Steve Reich’s Different Trains put me to sleep the first time I listened to it in 1989, but today, I hum along with the piece. Perhaps a remastered release of War in 2008 may reveal nuances I missed the first time.

So I listened to War again. And I still think it’s U2’s most overrated album.

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U2: Under a Blood Red Sky (Remastered)

I had forgotten about this live album till it was reissued in 2008. It’s something of a punctuation mark in the U2 ouvre, a snapshot of a band at the apex of its youthful vigor. I never got around to listening to Under a Blood Red Sky when I was first exploring the U2 discography 20 years ago, and a remastered release was the perfect opportunity.

It has since revised my perspective about the band.

As previously explained, I didn’t get into U2 till far into its career, and my remembrances of the band aren’t as linear as anyone who’s been a fan since day 1 or day 3. I couldn’t take anyone who seriously who couldn’t take The Joshua Tree seriously. But after listening to Under a Blood Red Sky, I can totally understand, if not agree on some level.

Producer Steve Lillywhite does an admirable job capturing the vitality of the then-young rockers in the studio, but Under a Blood Red Sky finds U2 in its best element — on stage. If staples such as "I Will Follow", "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "The Electric Co." felt urgent on record, they became blisteringly so in the arena.

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U2: Boy (Deluxe Edition)

By the time I was introduced to U2, the band had become polished musicians and seasoned songwriters. The Joshua Tree left me with the wrong impression they were always thus. Boy demonstrated otherwise. The streamlined arrangements and simplistic riffs were a far cry from the atmospheric sophistication of The Joshua Tree.

My initial disappointment grew to glowing admiration, as the simpler songs allowed for more passionate performances. U2 of the Boy era exemplified the thematic youth of the album — enthusiastic, unbridled, open.

U2 cannot unlearn what it has learned, and the band’s latter-day works cannot help but be stadium efforts, super slick and ultra commercial. (They are the biggest band in the world, after all.) Retrospectives of the band’s work glosses over the early years in favor of the more widely popular. Must it be? It must not.

The deluxe edition of Boy reminds listeners of a time when U2 didn’t know what the fuck they were doing. It’s actually comforting to hear them actually, well, suck.

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The Dead Betties: Nightmare Sequence

After being disappointed by The Advocate’s choices for emerging gay artists, I decided to flip through some old issues of Out to see if I could find something more interesting. Even though music coverage in Out is even less pronounced than the Adovcate, the editorial judgment aligns far better with my own taste.

And so it was I ran across a one-paragraph review of the Dead Betties’ Nightmare Sequence. I sought the band’s music out, and it spoke to me immediately. Finally — a mostly gay punk band that sounds closer to NUMBER GIRL than the Dead Milkmen.

These guys sound like they can kick the living shit out of you.

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