I Was Born, And I Was Dead

On Sundays I usually head over to James’ place to play boardgames with him, Al, Quinn, Sean, and whoever else wanders into the place. It’s always a good time. There’s games, there’s beer, there’s food, and there’s tunes.

For the most part I like my music pretty straightforward. I’m a sucker for a catchy tune, and I’m bowled over by pure power pop — three minute songs about cars, being in a band, and the girl you could make happy if only she knew you existed. James’ tastes run more avant-garde than my own, and I’ve been hearing a lot of things there that I wouldn’t normally have heard.

I met James through BoardGameGeek, where his avatar is the album cover for the band Can’s 1971 album, Tago Mago. He’s a huge fan and really talked it up, so I decided to check it out. The first track I heard was this one:

Can — Mushroom (mp3)

and when I heard it I thought, “I’ve heard this before.” Sure enough, it was covered by the Jesus and Mary Chain on their album Barbed Wire Kisses.

I’m not very good at describing any music, much less this stuff. It’s not so much about melody and harmony as it is about soundscapes, emotions, and tension. None of it is at all straightforward, and often things get very chaotic, but there’s usually still a sense of control discernable in it all; it’s not just random noise.

You may disagree. I admit, not all of the stuff James has introduced me to has been my cup of tea, but even if it’s something that doesn’t really grab me, at least I can say it’s interesting and, like I said, not something I would have ever heard anywhere else.

The next band, The Books, came to Northampton recently and James invited us to go see them. We were unable to at the time, but they’re coming back to the area in May and I might try then. The band consists of two musicians with acoustic instruments accompanying spliced, recorded vocal snippets. The result is a strange, hollow, lost sound. It’s kind of like wandering through an antique store filled with items you can’t identify but seem familiar. I know that sounds weird, but as I said, I have a hard time describing it. This is from their album Thought for Food.

The Books — Read, Eat, Sleep (mp3)

We were in the middle of a game of Ra, I believe, when this next track came on. I didn’t really notice it at first and then I couldn’t ignore it. The driving percussion and chanted lyrics caught my ear and I had to ask who it was. It’s The Liars, and it’s from their album Drum’s Not Dead. The whole album is very rhythm-heavy, but you’re not going to hear it in a dance club.

The Liars — Drum and the Uncomfortable Can (mp3)

James will often just send me a random mp3 or link to a band during the middle of the day. This next one just showed up in my inbox, out of the blue. I don’t know anything about the band or the record, and when I first heard the track I was not too keen on it. But then I listened again, and again. It’s not something I’d put on a mix tape, or particularly want to hear a whole album worth of, but there’s something to it that I find intriguing. The band’s called Metalux and if you click on the link and read what’s there you’ll know everything I know about them.

Metalux – Airplane (mp3)

(I should point out that not everything James has turned me onto has been as “weird” as all this. He also steered me towards The Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, and other stuff that sounds positively tame by comparison.)

If you’re one of the half-dozen or so people who actually download these mp3s I post, let me know what you think (about these or any others.) I’ve been letting my interest in music, shallow as it is, atrophy in recent years, and with good sources like KEXP, mp3 blogs, James, and others I’ve been rediscovering a wealth of new and new-to-me-music.

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One Response to I Was Born, And I Was Dead

  1. pronoblem says:

    Sure I’ve introduced you to some music that certainly could be considered painting outside the lines by the Western / popular notion as to what is music. I am glad that you put “weird” in quotes. I certainly don’t think any of what is listed in this post is truly weird. In fact, I find it very much what I’d expect from music. I feel that what most people call “weird”, “chaotic”, “disorder” or “discordant” are simply observing what they are hearing with an ear trained to a certain expectation… I think it is the duty of an artist to challenge notions of the form and break new ground. Though there is nothing wrong with imitation and playing to form. I too love a good dose of power-pop…

    A few thoughts on each of the artists listed here:

    Can – The first line of All Music Guide’s review of Tago Mago makes this claim: “With the band in full artistic flower and Suzuki’s sometimes moody, sometimes frenetic speak/sing/shrieking in full effect, Can released not merely one of the best Krautrock albums of all time, but one of the best albums ever, period.” Pitchfork media lists Tago Mago as #29 in the top 100 of the 70’s http://pitchforkmedia.com/top/70s/index8.shtml (another Can album Ege Bamyasi is listed as #19). My friend Rickey put it to me like this in his colorful language: “This album sticks a twig up Sir George Martin’s ass and snaps it right off”. He’s speaking to Martin’s credits to the sound production of the Beatles as well as his feeling as to the overrated Beatles as compared to the 1971 release of Tago Mago from Can. I will not debate the Beatles’ influence on modern music, however Tago Mago is still postmodern and timeless – and was at its release one of the hallmarks of studio production… many critics would agree with this. They are also credited as influential by a long lists of other artists, yet Can is still an “underground” band. I forget what internet forum it was, but it was high traffic… the forum was proposed with the question “what album exists in every music geek’s collection?”. After sever hundred replies a list of the top 50 were compiled. I forget where Tago Mago was, but it was no surprise that it made that list.

    The Books – These guys are pretty fresh. This is new music that has very little reference points while at the same time, like you say, seems familiar. The albums do stand quite well on their own, but their performance art is multi-media that includes video. What you hear as “sound samples” on the album are in fact from video clips that they use in their live performances. Much of that footage is films of them as youths or odd pieces selected from public domain National Archives that is then manipulated. The live performance with video is hypnotic.

    The Liars – This is pop music in my mind. This might be a breakthrough album for an relatively unknown indie act. It is getting a lot of press.

    Metalux – I don’t know much more about them than you do… Former members of the Centimeters, a West Coast act they recently toured with a local freak act from Western Mass called Fat Worm of Error. They played the Flywheel, PACE or the Eagle’s Nest (I forget which) a while back on that tour. I missed that show and now wish I had seen it after hearing this song. If I remember correctly, the write-up in the copy for the local show was about as informative as what you point to online, probably the reason I had missed it.

    Next up on deck for you is Dr. Irene Moon ( http://www.begoniasociety.org/ ) and Philip Kent Bimstein ( http://www.bimstein.com/ ).