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The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin

This album is GOD.

I haven’t been back to Optimistic Underground in a while.  There has been a lot going on in life but as always I’m continuously immersed in music.  Lately, with a few notable exceptions, I’ve been listening to a lot of my personal favorite albums in an effort to tap into the exhilaration of something I know I love.  I think I’m also looking for inspiration, and answers.  What elevated these particular pieces of music to a realm of formative life experiences?  These are the albums I used to burrow into for months, knowing every nook and cranny, knowing the texture and contours like my own skin.. and yet they’re a revelation once again with the right mixture of time, decay, perspective, distance, environment and attitude.  It’s probably more than that.  My ears have changed, not to mention my tastes.  Yet the true greats will always have a place; it takes at least time to sort them from the intense but short love affairs with slightly lesser albums.

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One of the most striking moments in my listening life happened the night I heard The Flaming Lips‘ 1999 masterpiece The Soft Bulletin, driving though rural back roads with a friend who had just purchased the CD blindly.  He’d picked up Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots and asked if the band was any good; I replied with some half thought that I’d heard “their older stuff was better” without any clue if I was even thinking of the right band.  In response, my friend bought the only other CD available and inadvertently changed my (musical) life forever.  The warbling tape orchestra, the out-of-nowhere bass thunder on the second track, and that melody on The Spark That Bled had me instantly.  I was distracted to the point that I remember images of my stereo, the booklet in my hands, the music and exclaiming about it, and not the drive itself.  The friend wanted a blank CD and I gave him one on the condition that I borrow this new Flaming Lips thing for the night.  I listened half a dozen times before bed.  I scoured the band’s website, where the entirety of Yoshimi and a handful of earlier album songs streamed free (this was extremely novel and rare at the time, about 2002).  I became a total diehard fan in a matter of weeks.

This is all to preface the fact that when I dug through my collection after moving – when the cds and vinyl are all out in the open like that, it’s easier to become excited about certain albums – I had a lurch in my heart toward this album.  I needed to hear it.  My soul was calling to it, or being called.  The next thing that happened was.. despite never having had much of an extended break from hearing it, I was getting the fresh, brightening outlook, rising sun, open chakra, wide eyed feeling all over again, a decade later.  The thing that meant most to me at the time, I believe, was this feeling of new possibilities and opportunities everywhere.  This adventurous, brave, open and attentive nature was overtaking me and my outlook on life literally widened in scope.  It was a confluence of events and life changes, but The Soft Bulletin crystallized that feeling in a single disc I could grasp forever.  It was exciting; all the rough, unnerving bits that hit me by surprise like sudden deer in the headlights became the very signposts for the change I was seeking.  This album is not only different from what the band was doing, what was accepted and loved in pop music, and what I’d been into until that moment, it actually embodies that jarring, eye-popping thunderclap of sudden and real change in life.  The songs each take off like a homemade rocket, reaching space against all odds in some miracle of ingenuity and love.  This is not something I take lightly.

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I came here today merely to share the following documentary but was overcome by my continent of feeling for this album.  I could drift for days on how this makes me feel.  I know it was released last year but I only came upon it during my recent binge and was blown away by the reverence and passion the band still have for this masterpiece.  It not only delves into the nuts-and-bolts creation of the music itself but also dissects a bit of what makes it such a personal touchstone for a certain set of folks.  If you’re already a fan, be prepared to have your nostalgia drive working overtime and keep the album handy for an inevitable post-viewing listen.  If you are unfamiliar, I kind of envy your position.  This is beautiful new territory, and in my view the documentary will make a perfect introduction.

I must note for the diehard fans that the audio used in most of this appears to be from the 5.1 and/or recent vinyl issue of the album.  If you’re as irredeemably familiar with this music as I am, it’ll be a nice experience to get hands on either of those releases and hear this music rendered in a slightly different (clearer?) light.

Flying Lotus – Tiny Tortures (video featuring Elijah Woods)

This arrived today and it is beautiful.  Echoing Akira (and Tetsuo) and some of the brilliant, creepy videos from Aphex Twin, it’s a dark, cinematic corkscrew in psychedelic miniature.  There are few videos so evocative of their namesake, working as a perfect thematic foil to the song.  Now watch, as Elijah Wood has a fucked up night.

Despite the fact that I haven’t done a full “album post” about Flying Lotus‘ latest opus, Until The Quiet Comes is easily one of my biggest repeat listens of the year.  It’s the living, breathing incarnation of what I’d always kind of hoped his work was pointing towards.  Its growth from 2010′s Cosmogramma is more organic and inevitable than the sudden leap that album made from its predecessor, breathrough lp Los Angeles; naturally, it’s less surprising how radically good this is.  I feel like I took it for granted at first: “Of course this is good.  Well there it goes in my car to stay in rotation for weeks.”  Only a handful of albums have spent so much time as regular, near-daily listen this year, and if it weren’t for Kendrick Lamar’s new release, I could have, possibly, worn it out.

Thankfully this video came along today.  Not only my favorite track, Tiny Tortures was due for some recognition.  On an album crowded with standout moments between sublime guest vocals and dizzying synth work, its sparkling meditative cascade can be mistaken as a gentle interlude.  It’s more like a brief exposure of Quiet‘s spiritual heartbeat.  It reaches transcendence in the emotive dance of its guitar and bass (by second time MVP Thundercat) over a pulse hinting at great-aunt Alice Coltrane’s organ work on one of her masterpieces.  If you haven’t listened to the album yet, here’s your chance to embrace one of the warmest electronic albums in years, a possible masterpiece of jazz and electronic music.

Interesting Blogs / Blue Crystal Fire

My list of connected blogs should change more frequently, and now is a great time to start.  There are a couple I have in mind, music blogs with vast knowledge and interesting subjects.  I need more.  Not only to spread the word here, but for my own benefit.  I find it easy to slide into routines and some fresh perspective is a necessary punctuation.  So:

What are your favorite music blogs?

Any type: essays, reviews, videos, original material, file sharing, etc.

Please leave a comment and then listen to this absolute stunner from Robbie Basho, Blue Crystal Fire.

This song resides at the center of Visions Of The Country (1978), the only Basho album I have.  Having discovered his music this month I’m not experienced enough to convey much more than the notion that this is an essential listen for fans of guitar music and/or incredible voices.  It is.  I literally cried during my first listen.

Great cover artwork, too!

Thank you for the replies!!

Until The Quiet Comes Comes

Just because.

This has been out over a week and the leak for half that, but tonight, alone, listening to the proper stream on NPR, my excitement is reborn.  There are details, sharp edges and vocal snapshots bursting out at me, entire stretches brimming with instrumentation I haven’t noticed.  I listened to the leak ten times and haven’t heard the album like this.  My thought confirmed:  the vinyl leak is muffled, distant and compressed sounding.  Everything’s in there, buried then rendered in high fidelity.  I kept wanting to lean inward and focus on the elements I knew were inside.  It’s a treat to know that what I’ll be receiving in a couple weeks is even better than what fans have been going nuts over.

Stream the entire album here:

Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes

[NPR stream]

Thanks, NPR.  Also a question: why can’t your player embed?

Also here is the video for first single Putty Boy Strut.  Regardless of how you feel about this song, remember that with this man’s work, it’s all about context.

[Pre-order the album from Bleep, especially if you want the ridiculous collectors edition like I do.]

Gang Gang Dance – 4ad Session

This video is old and I haven’t written a post about Gang Gang Dance in a while, but neither fact matters.  This is a freewheeling ode to getting high on your music.

I really can’t say more.  Watch the video.

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Diamond Terrifier – Kill The Self That Wants To Kill Yourself

Having already introduced Diamond Terrifier here, I’ll strike the heart of the matter: Sam Hillmer’s debut solo album is one of the most transcendent pieces I’ve heard all year.  Simultaneously an abstract yet tactile experience, Kill The Self That Wants To Kill Yourself is dark and beautiful and weirdly refreshing.

The first sound heard on the titular opener is a warming synth pad straight from Brian Eno‘s playbook.  Dream sequence, loving eulogy or triumphant reunion; it’s a lifting wind over which Hillmer solos to melodic catharsis.  Arresting in its direct simplicity, this track eases us into the unshackled gravity of romantic disorientation.  Slipping on a shattered cloudy fabric Oneohtrix Point Never might wear, he never lets the human presence or real instruments drift out of mind.  As the album deepens it never loses grip on the tangible reality of its construction: guitar, handclaps, cymbals and the commanding saxophone are practically visible, yet even the drone swells and programmed drum bits crackle and hum right before me.  There is so much life stabbing outward from the perceptual dervish at the center of this album.  Kill The Self That Wants To Kill Yourself, beyond being one of the greatest titles ever, feels like the beginning of a new fruitful path for Hillmer.  I just hope this doesn’t preclude growth (and future albums) in his main band.  Zs are, after all, one of the most interesting bands I perpetually neglect to share.

I will rectify this.

Here’s a track from the album.  Like I said yesterday, it works best as a single piece..  this is still great.

Buy this at Northern Spy.  As I said before, they are quick with help and priced beyond fairly.

For fans of: Zs, Don Cherry, Fennesz, John Fahey, John Coltrane, Sun City Girls, Coil

The Necks – Sex

Long ago I was shown The Necks.  The internet was not such a hospitable place and my search for an album to sample was fruitless.  Alas, after the buzz wore off they were forgotten.  Now, thanks to a helpful soul on a forum, I was reintroduced to what is quickly becoming a new addiction.  Here is their first album in its entirety.

The band, comprised of Chris Abrahams on piano, Lloyd Swanton on bass and Tony Buck on drums, unspools boundless jam fireworks outside of any specific genre or time.  There’s the interplay of jazz, an often motorik pulse of krautrock, and space based atmospherics of kosmiche all woven together in a pristine spartan construction.  They make an hour disappear without breaking a sweat.

I don’t like doing research simply for the sake of posting on here so I must return at a later date when I’m fully immersed in The Necks.  For now, enjoy the debut and seek out more if this is your kind of thing.  And please, buy their music if you enjoy it.  Everything they’ve released is available on their site:

thenecks.com

Cleanse Your Brain

Here.

The title says it all:  Miles Davis Live Electric and Brutal.

Just hit play, turn your volume up to an uncomfortable level, and let this thing blast the top of your head off.  You will feel like a new person after watching this, and go forth into your day with fresh energy and a skyward gaze.  Your life will be that much closer to completion.  Seriously!

the fuck?

Demdike Stare – Elemental

Demdike Stare hit my radar when a friend insisted I listen to The Stars Are Moving because it was totally my sort of thing – and a massive understatement.  Liberation Through Hearing was not only on my Best of 2010 list, but part of the Tryptych compilation serving up a universally praised 160 minute slab of deep nocturnal bliss across three albums and discs.  Having so much aural brilliance to chew on felt like an embarassment of riches before the craving for new material hit well before a year had passed.  Thankfully the duo of Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty were busy interlocking the pieces on an even more audacious free fall into the abyss with a 4 EP / 2cd set which stretches their sound in increasingly hypnotic new directions.

The music here is given more space to move and to sit still.  There are great leaps beyond their established spooky dub dream style into riots of kraut percussion, melodic poems buried in noise fields, and climaxes of bloody tribal warfare.  This is nothing short of the full realization of their shamanistic trance ritual ethos, both more explicitly sculpted and expansive than all prior work combined.  Songs cover wildly varying grounds – from beatless waves of digital grain to mountains of swarming disembodied vocals – while retaining a unified identity that would make the cover artwork jealous.  Elemental strikes this perfect duality of technical bass mastery and unhinged manace, igniting every dark pleasure center in my auditory complex.  It’s a soundtrack to my strangest apocalyptic dreams and the kind of art we could only wish more artists knew how to craft.  This is a self contained cult in album form, a ritualistic palate cleanser which will make other music obsolete for a while.

Elemental, in its 2cd form, is fully streamable on soundcloud, right here:

For those lacking time or attention span, a couple highlights:  cinematic Mephisto’s Lament and steamrolling Erosion of Mediocrity both destroy worlds and illuminate vastly different aspects of this set.

The fidelity is great but buy the real thing to fully absorb the meticulous near-chaotic detail in Demdike Stare’s work.  If you’ve got the fetish and the cash seek out the extremely sold-out 12″ vinyl set from sellers on discogs or ebay.  If you want to hear this masterpiece in optimal form for a reasonable price, grab the 2cd set, featuring alternate edits and new cuts fleshing out the experience; believe me, they’re essential and can’t be considered bonus.  Keep in mind that this is selling out quickly as well!

For fans of: Shackleton, Actress, Oneohtrix Point Never, Coil, David Lynch, Joseph Conrad, exciting nightmares

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