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1) Group Bombino - Tenere (from Guitars from Agadez Vol. 2)
2) Bob Dylan & The Band - Million Dollar Bash (from Basement Tapes)
3) Tall Dwarfs - Think Small (from Fork Songs)
4) Yo la Tengo - Moonrock Mambo (from Summer Sun)
5) The Olivia Tremor Control - A Sleepy Company (from Black Foliage Animation Music Vol. One)
6) CAN - She Brings the Rain (from Soundtracks)
7) Alice Coltrane - Spiritual Eternal (from Eternity)
8) Stereolab - Margerine Rock (from Margerine Eclipse)
9) Oneida - Preteen Weaponry Pt. 2 (from Preteen Weaponry)
10) Talk Talk - Ascension Day (from Spirit of Eden)
11) Pink Mountaintops - Cold Criminals (from Axis of Evol)
Coming back from vacation, I felt like I was going through a desert of the mind/soul. Too much enjoyment of life? Distinct lack of liver function? Either way, I was in a pre-fall funk, a quiet mood; this playlist is reserved even when loud.
"Tenere" begins in the desert, literally, with the call of a camel. Group Bombino recorded the acoustic numbers live in the open air...somewhere in Niger. Released by the always spectacular Sublime Frequencies, the dry, hypnotic guitar chords mingle with a wash of handclaps and atmosphere---meditation through sound.
The inestimable guitar skills of Group Bombino soundtracked my visit to...Batesville, IN, of all places, for a wedding in the casket capital of Indiana.
"Million Dollar Bash"...oh Basement Sessions, how I ignored you for so long. High on humor and harmony, this shambles of a gospel sing-a-long is just about perfect. This is the record that invented alt-country, and I don't think anyone's topped it since.
Long-running Kiwi collaborators Tall Dwarfs usually wrap their pop gemstones in harsh blankets of keyboard skronk, acoustic hi-speed strumming, drum machine, and layered nasally vocals. "Think Small" is an aberration of their catalog, a plaintive melody backed by a single-tracked vocal take that ruminates on being, "Like life is nothing at all...I will think small." Autumnal sentiment, for sure.
"Moonrock Mambo" is YLT in silent/slinky funk mode, a melange of small sounds wrapped around witty wordplay. Colored in around the edges by squiggles of guitar feedback, marimba, piano, and tape loops; this is an exercise in minimalism and humor. With the inestimable Georgia providing just the right jazzy shuffle of a beat, this is a connect-the-dots that you can put your pencil down and just smile at.
On the other side; maximalism. "A Sleepy Company" wants every sound inside of it. Vocal harmonies are in-front here, but behind the mirror is a circus of brass, sound samples, distorted bass, fractured strings, and God-knows-what-else. Restraint isn't a strong point, but I trust OTC in their maximalist ode. When the violin hits double-time just before the static-loaded bridge, the hairs raise on the back of my neck.
CAN without the mighty Jaki Liebzeit...is it really CAN? This track would appear to answer, "Yes." Malcolm spins a typically fractured tale about some sort of rain goddess, there are ravens, magic mushrooms, and yellow men, naturally. Anchored by 4 notes from bassist Holger Czukay, and some spidery blues from guitarist Michael Karoli. The only experimentalism present here is the distorted guitar that seeps in from somewhere in the background. This is CAN at its most relaxed; you can almost visualize them leaving the tracking room one at a time after a 3 a.m. session.
I first heard Alice Coltrane while driving across the Pennsylvania wilderness in the middle of the night, my caffeined-brain being washed over by swells of harp, scattershot drumming, funky bass. "Spiritual Eternal" is Alice on electric organ, playing notes in such a way as to almost render them robotic, monochromatic, synthetic. When just over bass and drums, it is almost overpowering in its note-heavy measures. When the orchestra comes in; it is relief by numbers, the swell-and-pulse swinging slowly through time, battling her single organ. Beautiful.
Cover for Alice Coltrane's Eternity. Note the dichotomy between the luridly blue sky and pale, dry grass; the electric organ on the album reacts in the same way to the rest of her usually-organic sound.
Masters of the vintage organ, Stereolab accelerate through "Margerine Rock" with a staccato organ riff into beautifully sing-song choruses. The song lives at the edge of blast-off; finally reaching the point 2-plus minutes in, with a single note guitar solo bending and pitching like a kite in the wind. Rather than let it run its course to the ground, they break it off.
"Preteen Weaponry Part 2" is part of a 3-song album that itself is part of a 3-album cycle. Which makes "Part 2" the absolute middle, the hazy mid-ground, which begins with a distorted blast of electronic something-or-other. These distorted blasts, like a nearing industrial giant, like a factory collapse, like an approaching banshee; this is the tone of the song, omnipresent over slowly-thickening tribal drum-and-guitar stew. It is oppressive and haunting, yet free and purging at the same time. Go ahead; breathe.
Operating in a similar realm of experimentation and space, "Ascension Day" is an exercise in lush restraint, from the percolating stand-up bass, to the retreating, skittering drum-beat that leads into the song. Jagged guitars slash and retreat, leaving only vocalist Mark Hollis howling over a rhythm-section and gospel organ. In place of a chorus, we get a strangled instrumental of vibrating strings and distant brass. Talk Talk is often a rhapsodic exercise in exorcism; demons be gone in this room where righteous sound vibes are all that remain.
Cover for Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden. Fantastic.
Go: acoustic strum-a-thon backed by skree-feedback, thumping bass notes, school of Mo Tucker drum-stylings, and a "beep" that sounds like a trash truck is putting it in reverse...and you're in the blindspot. "Cold Criminals" builds to a religious fervor via a gradually increasing static swirl, and Stephen McBean's drawl that moves from lackadaisical to prophetic as it raises in pitch and volume. Pink Mountaintops make it sound so easy; but pop genius this dirty and inspired and so damn simple sounding is anything but easy.