Sunday, October 28, 2007

Cheap Bin Voodoo

When visiting a used record/cd shop I usually avoid the clearance bins. You just know what they are filled with: cheapo compilations of dance and "alternative" music, forgotten Boy Bands, the store's overstock of New Country, Matchbox 20 cds and other items that might, just might sell with a sticker price of five for five dollars. What is more likely is that they will eventually end up in a landfill.

So last week I decided to see what She Said Boom! (a Toronto shop) had in the three-for-ten-dollar bin.

I snagged a copy of Wall of Voodoo's The Index Masters which I would have paid $10 as a single item. If you are unfamiliar with them, they performed a kind of neo-noir clickety-clack sounding futurism, almost as if Eraserhead was scored by Ennio Morricone. The cd contains their debut EP for the Index label plus ten bonus live tracks, nine of which are previously unreleased (the previously released track is their medley of "The Good the Bad & the Ugly/Hang 'Em High"). Another aspect that made them distinctive is that Stan Ridgway must have been one of the few new wave musicians who told stories in their songs. I can't think of anyone else who did.

What else? A disc by 00-Soul caught my eye. Entitled The Solid Sounds of the 8-Piece Brotherhood I initially thought they may have been a late addition to the lounge/surf revival. Why did I think this? Some of the song titles are "Cosmic Voodoo", "Squad Car", "Intoxica", "Jungle King" and "Super Agent Steve". Nope, no Tiki sounds here, rather very tight, very fine latin-flavoured funk played on real instruments (as opposed to bits of 70's albums with reverb and computerized beats added). This one was a most pleasant surprise.

One more item to get my money's worth. I picked up a copy of the United Future Organization's self-titled cd. I have had a copy of their Third Perspective release for years that I still like: a mix of trip-hop, acid jazz, Goblin samples (OK, one sample) and James Bond suaveness. This cd is similar, but less developed. Still, pretty good in-a-bits-of-70's-albums- with-reverb-and-computerized-beats-added way.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Now Sound of the Juche All-Stars

I had my eye on a copy of Radio Pyongyang: Commie Funk and Agit Pop from the Hermit Kingdom [Sublime Frequencies CD SF023] for some time. I had a notion of what to expect: a strident and heroic sound praising the revolution and the leadership of Kim Jong Il. And that's what I got, in spades, or rather a spade connecting with my skull. What was surprising was the relentless and oppressive cheerfulness of it all...or maybe not. What else would one expect from the Orwellian nightmare of North Korea?

When I first played the CD at home, my wife mentioned that the music sounded like clowns and circuses. Yes it does have a cheesy karaoke quality to it and I would put it down to the ever-present electronic keyboard, an instrument I usually associate with 80's synthpop or DIY outsider recordings. Not that the music particularly sounds like the aforementioned genres, but it is odd, very odd all the same.

Kudos to compiler Christiaan Virant for creating a mixtape from the real-world Airstrip One. I can only imagine what life would be like if this was the only music one could hear.

Note: The disc appears to be out of print at the Sublime Frequencies website, but it should still be available from several on-line retailers.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Open Your Ears

I've been listening to Takes on Words' second release Incredible World [Ordnung & Hartman Records] regularly over the last two weeks. For those not in the know, Takes on Words (a modal song project) is a collaboration between vocalist and multimedia artist Aja Waalwijk and veteran of the German Rock underground Uli Trepte.

Anyone who knows me will be aware that I've been a fan of Trepte's music since the 70's when I bought a copy of Guru Guru's UFO which was a mind-bending sonic assault. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Uli has remained true to the promise of the underground and this has shaped his musical projects since that time: Kickbit Information, Spacebox and his solo works (of which there are many).

From the Incredible World liner notes:

"Their new song creations here minimalize the sound, groove and form of the pop song, while the words have the complexity of an art song. Especially the lyrics of Aja possess a poetic flair that is unique, and those of the Dadaists Hans Arp, Christian Morgenstern and Paul Van Ostaijen are still contemporary as flipped out."

Special mention should be made of the other musicians involved: Edgar Hofmann on reeds and violin, Ben Waalwijk on keyboards and Tapsi Kim on djembe. Their contributions are perfect for the crystal clear sparseness of the arrangements: nothing cluttered, but full of colour.

I've also been spinning Gétatchèw Mèkurya's Negus of Ethiopian Sax [Éthiopiques #14] which is awe-inspiring as so much of late 60's/early 70's Ethiopian music seems to be. What makes so much of the music appealing is its unique take on western musical styles blended with local forms. Mèkurya adapted the shellèla vocal style to the sax. Historically, shellèla was sung before a battle to "galvanise one's troops".

From the notes:

"Beyond the military references, here we encounter a musical form that is daring, improvisational, angry and impetuous, where each melisma spirals dizzyingly towards less structure and greater freedom in the playing."

Remarkably hypnotic sounds. Like I said, open your ears and be amazed at what you can hear.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

E & I

As you may, or may not, know, "Ebony and Ivory" has been voted the worst duet in history. Personally I've always disliked the song for its cloying naïveté. Admit it: the tune wouldn't be out of place in an Up With People stage show.

This of course reminded me of Culturcide's legendary 1986 album Tacky Souvenirs of Pre-Revolutionary America where the song. OK, not really a cover as such, more in line with the Situationist concept of détournement.

The remarkable thing about Tacky Souvenirs is that once you hear the Culturcide version, the originals will forever fade away from your consciousness: "We Are The World" becomes "They Aren't the World" [There are people dying/whooaah and they just noticed] and "We're An American Band" becomes "We're An Industrial Band" [On the road for two days...last night in Reno we didn't play/The club got itself shut/We ate dinner at Pizza Hut/"What kind of music do you play?"/It's a cross between Cyndi Lauper and early S.P.K.].

Someone has quite wisely attached Culturcide's song to the video original. Enjoy!

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