Hello!

Well, although the RIAA and Sound Exchange are foolishly working their hardest to cripple internet radio, the beat does go on here at Pandora, which means it’s time for another Play Listen Repeat discussion.

This isn’t like fiddling while Rome burns, or like the band playing while the Titanic goes down; let’s think of it more like having a fascinating conversation while we’re waiting in line to dunk our grammar school principal in one of those dunking machines.

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Here’s what’s on the curator’s mind today: is the easy availability of music as digital files, and is the fundamental similarity those files have with other digital files like emails, taxes, word documents, and such, an aesthetic liability for the music?

In other words, are we seeing the supermodel without her makeup on? Or are we simply getting past the surface so that we can have a real relationship with the music, free of myths and posturing?

Do tell.

cheers,
mz

Greetings!

Another excellent set of comments from last week’s post. Thanks to everyone for such thoughtful and stimulating notions…. We’ll definitely get back to lyrics sometime soon.

I’ve been reading Andy Summers‘ autobiography entitled One Train Later (which I love by the way), and hearing those early Police tracks again has brought up that mysterious question of what it is about certain tracks that makes them simply work.

What is the magic?

Why is it that a virtually exact replica of, say, Can’t Stand Losing You,” wouldn’t be as good as the original? That song in particular is maybe not a masterpiece, but it’s full of raw power and intensity which seems like it couldn’t be repeated or imitated.

Anyone care to take a shot at explaining what’s happening there and with other irrestistable hit songs?

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cheers,
mz

Hello all,

When it comes to song lyrics, there is a lot to discuss. I have some plans for future posts on the subject, but first, as a kind of warm-up for the later questions, I’m wondering what peoples’ favorite lyrics are. I have many, but here are a few that stand out:

From Downtown Train by Tom Waits:

“The downtown trains are full with all those Brooklyn girls. They try so hard to break out of their little worlds, but you wave your hand and they scatter like crows. They have nothing that will ever capture your heart. Theyr’e just thorns without the rose…”

And from Houses in Motion by Talking Heads:

“For a long time I felt without style or grace, wearing shoes with no socks in cold weather…”

I’d like to know peoples’ reasons, either intellectual or emotional, for remembering and loving the lyrics they do. Very curious…

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Tom Waits

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Talking Heads

best,
mz

Hey folks,

Amazing comments last week on the production post. Thanks for the ideas. I’m sure we’ll continue that discussion in the coming weeks.

So this week I’m wondering something else. My friend Jen owns a small vintage clothing and goodies store, where she also sells used vinyl. I just bought two records that I used to listen to all the time: St. Dominic’s Preview by Van Morrison, and Meat is Murder by The Smiths. So good.

StDominics.jpg Meat.jpg

It got me thinking that it might be interesting to ask you listeners to share your most recent music purchases. Along with those two above, my most recent CD purchase was Paul McCartney‘s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.

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You?

best,
mz

Hey again, folks! Another week, time for another play listen repeat…

I’m in the studio for two weeks, making a new record. Since there have been tangential references to production and studio issues in some comments to the other play listen repeat posts, I’m curious to know where people are on these questions:

Do you like big production? Do you notice how something is recorded or is the music more of an overall experience that either works or doesn’t? Why are some things that are highly produced interesting and stimulating, and others just seem bloated and self-indulgent?

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cheers,
mz

ps. What a great set of comments from last week’s post! Thanks to everyone who posted.

Some good friends and I get together every few weeks to hang out, listen to songs and to talk about how we think they work. This past week we talked about several pairs of songs that sound similar but are still very different in mood or meaning. One of the examples was Good Old Desk by Harry Nilsson vs. Hummingbird by Wilco).

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After a while, the discussion about individual songs expanded into a general aesthetics nerd-off, and after reading up on the subject a bit (online – no book recommendations yet), I find myself wondering how you listeners evaluate the music you like.

What are the characteristics you look for in songs and artists? How many different ways can a song work for you? Do you distinguish between so-called “guilty pleasures” and music that is somehow “great”? If so, is the distinction a matter of taste, or a result of some kind of systematic philosophy?

Do tell…

best,
mz

ps – Wow, many new books for me to read now. Thanks to everyone for posting, even if it makes my bookshelf collapse…. I’m going to keep posting to that entry as I find more good music books, and I encourage everyone to do the same, if inspired.

Hello again everyone,

Thanks for all the great responses last week. It’s nice to have such a vibrant, participatory group!

On my desk right now, I have a bunch of books, including “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” by Jeff Chang, “Sound of the Beast – The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal” by Ian Christe, and “The Latin Beat” by Ed Morales. I have a very large stack of music books both here and at home, and I’m constantly nibbling away at them to find more great music for Pandora.

I thought it would be interesting to ask you folks what your favorite music books are. Do tell!

Meanwhile, to get things started, here are a few of mine:

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Emotion and Meaning in Music by Leonard Meyer

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Words and Music by Paul Morley

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Miles by Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe

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Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azarrad

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Can’t Stop Won’t Stop by Jeff Chang

cheers!
mz

nutrient.jpgIf music be the food of love, play on —Shakespeare

Harmony is meant to correct any discord which may have arisen in the courses of the soul… rhythm too was given for the same reason… —Plato

It is by the Odes that a man’s mind is aroused, by the rules of ritual that his character is established, and by music that he is perfected. . . . —Confucius

The Culinary Metaphor Pt. 1: Music and Nutrition

In my previous post I wrote about using food metaphors as a kind of oblique strategy for discussing music. Let’s get more specific, to explore the method to this madness. Today’s angle: nutrition.

Music: Nourishment and Poison

The American Heritage Dictionary defines nutrition as “the process of nourishing or being nourished, especially the process by which a living organism assimilates food and uses it for growth and for replacement of tissue.”

Plato and Confucius would have liked that. For them, music existed to guide and improve human beings, and the right and wrong musics created good and bad people, respectively. Medieval musical thinkers and composers avoided the tritone (the augmented fourth interval) because many thought it to be of Satanic and therefore dangerous origin. And in the 1980’s, Tipper Gore’s PMRC based their campaign to place parental warning labels on recordings on the idea that it is necessary to “protect” listeners from certain kinds of music.

In my own comings and goings I recently tried to play some music by an artist called Gnaw Their Tongues for some close friends, presenting it as one of the most interesting, disturbing and depraved recordings I’ve ever heard. With an introduction like that, it’s perhaps no surprise that they passed, but the vehemence with which they did, and their unwillingness to let even a few seconds of those threatening sounds enter their ears, seems to suggest, if only anecdotally, that music is something we consume at our own risk.

You Should Eat That

If music can be nourishment or poison, which music is which? How do we know? And who decides? And even if we can decide, does it follow that we should only listen to nourishing sounds?

These are all tough questions, to say the least, and I’m glad to say that I have no intention of answering any of them. I have my own views as to whether and how judgments of musical quality get made, but so do we all.

The questions I’m interested in are: can we tolerate the idea that some music is better for us than other music? And if not, why not? In other words, can we believe in musical nutrition?

You Can Lead a Horse to Broccoli, But You Can’t Make Him Eat

OK. Let’s do this, and let the culinary metaphors begin.

First off, let’s observe the obvious: to say that all music is equally good for you is to say that there’s no difference between what’s in different pieces of music. I think we’d all agree that that rings the crazy bells with vigor.

But hang on, let’s say to ourselves. No one would ever say that Help Me, Rhonda and Rock Around the Clock have exactly the same contents. Are you saying that one of those is better for someone than the other?

Good point, we congratulate ourselves. Suddenly it seems as though the whole idea is absurd (though at least Plato, Confucius and Tipper Gore disagree. That’s a lot of brain power – and a respectable political head of hair – thrown in for good measure).

But wait, we reply to ourselves again, just because it’s hard to see differences in musical nutrition (mutrition?) between similar music doesn’t mean the differences aren’t there.

It’s probably difficult to observe different health properties of two jelly donuts, but if we were to compare a jelly donut to a chocolate cake (or a song to a sonata), we’d have plenty of differences to discuss (ding ding, metaphor).

On the one hand, we definitely like certain kinds of music and don’t like others. Lollipops and licorice (ding ding). We are untroubled by this, even though these very preferences prove that the pieces of music we like and those we don’t like are in fact different in some way. If they weren’t, how would be be able to tell which was which?

If we say that all music is equally good for us, then we are saying that we only want those differences that serve our prejudices about music. We are saying that we want the music to have different flavors, but that we want taste to be the only nutritional value (ding ding).

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Intangible Nutrients

I find it somehow sublime to think that perhaps it is the same faith we have in real nutrition (this milk has calcium – that’s good for my bones) that allows us to dismiss Plato’s beliefs about music. We say: music cannot be healthy or unhealthy, because it does not have nutrients. It has no nutrients because it is intangible.

Such a belief is so absurd as to be almost charming, because although music’s lack of physicality prevents it from having actual nutrients, our vivid perceptions of the differences between pieces of music suggest clearly that music fashions real characteristics from the intangible, and therefore it is intangible nutrients that we should be looking for.

At the very least, we have to admit, until further investigation, that they might be there, and we have the culinary metaphor to thank for that.

Michael

(Music Curator)

Click here to listen to Balanced Diet Radio while you read

Picture 4.pngCompetitive Eating?

It’s hard to judge music, but I have to. It’s a necessary part of things for me. As those of you who have read my previous posts (here, here or here, for example) know, to be consistent when doing so may be impossible.

When I’m writing my own songs or making records, it’s at least possible to be definitive. I just have to do stuff that I believe in. Not easy, but possible. As Pandora’s music curator, though, it’s a whole different thing. I have to maintain a sense of aesthetics in general; a sense of musical quality that goes beyond my own opinions and tastes.

It’s a narrow path to walk.

On one side there is a kind of musical moralism which says: “this is good and that is bad; and therefore you should listen to this and not that.” On the other side is what you might call musical sociopathy, with its relativistic axiom: “there is no such thing as musical quality; everything is equally good.”

I don’t relate to either of those points of view at all, and I don’t want to.

Top Chef

Happily, though, I’ve found a strategy that is just imprecise enough to filter out esoteric pitfalls while allowing for some ideas to get through: I talk about music as if it’s food.

In my next post I’ll get into some of the specific ways I indulge in this intellectual costume party. Today it’s just about a mix tape and a general principle.

Food Groups and Pyramids

Some foods are high in sugar but probably won’t get you through a day in the mines. Other kinds of foods are not too tasty, but your internal organs really like them. And any kind of food is probably bad for you if it’s all you ever eat.

Is the same true for music? Picture 5.jpg

Lots of the time, if people get mad and say that popular music is bad music, they are really upset by how much of that music people are listening to. I mean, everyone likes a piece of candy now and then, right? But there’s candy and then there’s candy. If you have some every so often, lovely. But if candy is all that’s available, then some people might get sick of it (there’d be some happy kids though, at least while they still had teeth).

All Things in Moderation, Including Moderation

I bet we can all agree that, food-wise, a balanced diet is a good thing. This week’s theory is that the same thing holds for music.

Like any balanced diet, the one I’m serving up contains meats, vegetables, tv dinners, cakes, chocolate-covered insects, wine, fast food, gourmet experiments, regional cuisine, ripple, crumpets, juice, astronaut food, water, vitamins, chemicals, delicacies, gross reality show eating-challenge food, and of course, candy.

I’ll look forward to hearing how the station strikes you, and writing about it next time.

—Michael
(music curator)

sid_v_my_way.jpgThe Best Music EVER

In the comments to my previous post, a commenter wrote (in a long and very well-reasoned comment) that the craft of popular music from Tin Pan Alley and the American songbook “remains unquestionably the model to which all future song writing must be compared.”

Believe it or not, this made me think about punk rock. Here’s how.

Let’s Not Talk About Forever

The idea that any kind of song writing will ever be “unquestionably the model to which all future song writing must be compared” is hyperbolic. Forever is a long time, and to say that people in 200 years, or 2,000 years, or 12,000 years will look ONLY to Tin Pan Alley for the ultimate in song writing standards is at best impossible to confirm.

At worst, it projects our beliefs onto the people of the future, presuming that they will not only understand everything better than we do, but that they will select what we value and confirm its ultimate superiority. In other words, it’s a fantasy.

Rowdy Grandkids

But never mind forever. It didn’t even take 40 years for the classic American Songbook to be lustily rejected, first by rock and roll artists, and then more completely by punk rockers like The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, and later by Minor Threat.

The clear musical differences between Tin Pan Alley songs and punk rock songs should not lead us to conclude that that there is no connection to be made. The story of how music went from Tin Pan Alley to CBGB’s is a story about the fundamental connection between peoples’ values and the music they admire, and between music and philosophy.

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There’s More to Music than the Music

When the punk rockers considered the world in which they came of age, they were appalled and angry; and, fairly or not, they blamed the bleakness of their world on the values that created it. As they took aim at the orthodoxy of Post-WWII American values, they did so in terms of the popular music of that time, believing that in attacking the values of the music (expertise, division of labor, graceful individual conformity to social mores and roles, and the fetishization of musicality itself), they would expose the failures of American values at large.

But punk’s attack didn’t use musical excellence as its main weapon, it did the opposite, using musical impoverishment to dramatize an idea: the idea that pretty music can cover up some pretty ugly things. The musical excellence of the American Songbook was never something that punk music questioned or even criticized.

Punk questioned the value of Tin Pan Alley’s embrace of form and beauty, in light of the world as it was in the mid-70’s. By doing so, punk music insisted that the most important dimensions of music were not its formal and expressive ones (the craft, so highly valued by Tin Pan Alley); they were the ethical and ritual ones.

My Way

Punk music’s emphasis on the ethical dimension of music and Tin Pan Alley’s expression of music as a craft are both valid as aspects of a musical style; but to exclusive fans of one genre or the other, both genres cannot be considered good music.

If you really believe, as the listener above does, that the American Songbook is the standard by which all future songs will be judged, then punk rock’s abandonment of musicality makes its excellence as music impossible. And yet, to many, punk rock is the real music, and American standards are fake, silly, elitist, authoritarian, and so on.

So it seems that to really like a style of music is to believe something, to make a philosophical claim, to make the unavoidable connection between a music’s characteristics, and the values which those characteristics represent.

As a listener and as someone who makes records, I can’t say that I know how this happens, or why, but I for one am glad it does. This is a part of the strange force that music, the mysterious art, brings to bear.

—Michael
(music curator)

ps – I love both of these kinds of music.

In Music, the Exception Becomes the Rule

In his book “The Classical Style,” Charles Rosen makes a cool point. He sets it up by saying:

“The history of an artistic ‘language’… cannot be understood in the same way as the history of a language used for everyday conversation. In the history of English, for example, one man’s speech is as good as another’s. It is the picture of the whole that counts, and not the interest, grace, or profundity of the individual example.”

In other words, together we all create what is known as the English language.

But music, he says:

“…stands the history of a language on its head: it is now the mass of speakers that are judged by their relation to the single one, and the individual statement that provides the norm and takes precedence over general usage.”

In other words, individual artists define what is known as the music of a particular time.

He makes his point in reference to Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven; but the same thing could easily be said about The Beatles and their definitive role in popular music of the 20th Century.

The Beatles: Masters

The Beatles’ recordings arguably demonstrate the limit of what is possible in their particular form of both songwriting and record-making, and so I was pretty skeptical when I heard that remastered versions of all of their records were coming out.

I find it hard to swallow the idea that new technology (that didn’t exist when the Beatles made their recordings) can somehow improve upon the work they did. The limitations that inhered in the original records can’t be looked at simply as obstacles; they were a part of the actual art. The distortions, flaws and frequency constraints of their technology were the very materials that made up the records, just as much as the ranges and timbres of the instruments or of the Beatles’ voices were.

Pre-Masters? De-Masters?

And yet, although I grew up listening to my parents’ vinyl copies, which came out during the Beatles’ career, I listened to second-generation cassette versions and 1980’s CD versions of the Beatles’ records more than anything else. So it’s not like I can claim that the versions I am used to are closer to some ideal original version than the new remasters are.

And to further complicate things, Apple has also released a box set of remastered mono versions of the albums. Since the Beatles’ generally only stuck around for the mono mixing sessions and let others handle the stereo mixes, should we consider these mono versions to be the definitive ones?

The deeper we go, the more distant an answer becomes. And if you want to get really serious about this, consider that each stereo system, iPod, or turntable performs the source material in a unique way; and so even if we could find the definitive version of something, it would never sound the same twice.

The Beatles: Good

I still don’t put much stock in the idea that today’s technology can improve on yesterday’s art, but I actually don’t think that point really applies here.

What strikes me more is this. There aren’t many artists whose recordings are interesting in the first place, and there are still fewer whose recordings can retain their power in so many various versions, whether the mono vinyl, the 80’s CDs, the 70’s cassette played in an old-fashioned tape player on the middle seat of a rented car on a summer vacation, or new remastered digital versions.

Whatever form is closest to what the Beatles heard (and it’s probably some version of the vinyl, since they worked exclusively on analog media), the recordings they made are pretty much spectacular in any form.

The remasters seem to have been done very conscientiously, and they are worth hearing for sure. I hear things that weren’t audible in the other versions I’ve encountered, and it’s interesting. Some mistakes and flaws are more apparent, actually, but the music retains its power and charm.

I suppose that’s how it works with any masterpiece.

Please click here to listen while you read

“All Sounds are Created Equal”

That’s a phrase I used to like to throw around. The idea is that all sounds are ultimately ripples in the atmosphere, changes in air pressure that our ears can decode; and as such the waves that radiate through the air carrying a Beethoven symphony are no different from the ones that radiate out from a car accident.

That’s true, I think; but it’s not the whole truth, because each wave is perfectly unique as well. No two can be identical. And it is precisely because of this that it’s been possible for us to connect different meanings to these waves. Words, car horns, music, and so on would be indistinguishable if all sounds were the same.

These two truths seem to coexist as a kind of double helix, with one strand standing for the unity of all sounds and the other standing for the uniqueness of each. Sound is comprised of both.

Falling Hammers
Most of us only call certain sounds music. If a hammer falls off of a table, say, most people would not define the resulting clatter as music. But, happily, there are some of us who would hear music in that falling hammer, and it is the music made by these people that is the subject of this post. The station I’ve been working on this week, named “Ovals,” is the soundtrack. Listen.

Some of the music it plays is made from the sounds of machines malfunctioning (a genre known as Glitch). Some of the other music it plays (referred to by the genre name Minimal Click) has been described by Torben Sangild as “the frailest dance beat ever heard” (See his essay in “Bad Music: The Music We Love to Hate”). It will also play Noise music, which is comprised of hisses, scrapes, white and pink noise, and similar things.

If the station works right, tonal sounds (pitches and chords) will be rare, as will traditional Western musical syntax or form. There will rarely be any regular beat or pulse in the music, and if there is a pulse, it will be unlike the rhythms heard in other popular music.

There is an emphasis on timbre and texture in these pieces, either by strict limitation of timbres or by inclusion of unusual and possibly “unmusical” ones.

There is often a strong sense of dimension and landscape, as if music is all about the collisions and arrangements of shapes and masses. These are compositions of blocks, holes, slices, and motes of sound.

There is also a sense of vacancy in this music. The world is crowded, but here in this music, entire buildings, parking lots, valleys, and continents seem uninhabited.

Beyond these values and charms, there is the fact that these pieces present most of us with sounds and contexts that are new and unknown. That may be an inherently artistic quality. Hard to say for sure, but it can feel that way. With few associations to bring to these sounds, we are free to make our own. We engage with experience in a way that makes us beginners again. We see the world differently.

If there is a house of music, it has a door that most of us have never noticed before. It is rarely used and coated with dust, and in that dust I have written the word “Ovals.”

See you on the other side.
mz

Hyper-ballad by Bjork. A song with a chorus that’s too beautiful for words, really. For those of you who don’t know Bjork, she’s an Icelandic art-diva with a huge, distinctive voice and a brilliant artistic vision. I wish she were President of Everything, and I bet I’m not alone in that.

Hit by Sugarcubes. This is the band from which Bjork sprang into worldwide acclaim. It’s a strange but addictive 90’s melange of Bjork’s already-distinctive melodic sense and a slicker rock sound, punctuated by the ravings of her bandmate Einar Orn Benediktsson. This song has turntablism, icelandic chanting, and great melodies.

I Wanna Destroy You by Soft Boys. The Soft Boys were a very short lived and hugely influential band that Hitchcock co-founded. Basically, no one ever paid any attention to these guys while they were making these records. Amazing. This song is a glorious, richly harmonized triumph that sounds like Heroes by Bowie, but with Hitchcock’s razor wit slicing through it all. All hail the spirit of punk crossed with the creativity of psychedelia! I believe I could not live without this song.

I Wanna Be Sedated by Ramones. One of the first gigs my hgh school band ever did was at a mental hopsital – New Year’s Eve 1986, baby! We ran out of songs to play and briefly considered doing this one, but thought the better of it. Looking back, I bet they would have loved it.

Little Water Song by Ute Lemper. Oops, more grimness. It’s the third day of summer and all I can post up here is a song about a woman being drowned by her lover? What can I say? I just finished watching the last episode of Six Feet Under last night. Ute Lemper is a German cabaret singer and an underground icon. Just want you all to know what the fuss is all about. Oh the pathos, drama, and such.

Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed by Silver Jews. David Berman, luminous American poet and early mentor to Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus, is also a titanic songwriter. In my opinion, no one can be so disengaged and simultaneously so compelling as Berman; and for my do-re-mi, this song demonstrates his comedic, existential-ninja style. Sometimes a pony gets depressed. I don’t know how or why, but please let me know when you figure out how this works. This song makes me so very happy. Plus it’s funny, which helps this list transition from the grim to the less grim. [Note: this song contains a tiny bit of profanity].

Brokedown by Slaid Cleaves. I heard earnest, folksy songwriter Slaid Cleaves play a show last week, and this song kind of crushed me. Very well written, classic country-ish singer songwriter stuff that I would think would be a great starter point for contemporary songwriter stations on Pandora. Please let me know if this makes a good station if you try it before I do!!

I’m a Yogi by Free Design. I always have to get my sunshine fix, especially now that it’s summertime, and plus if I can point anyone to this absolutely astounding easy-listening/psychedelic band, I’m happy. This is also a super happy song, so this week’s list is rebounding from its earlier gloomery (probably temporarily though). Dig the extremely sophisticated musicality, perfect singing, and charmingly dated yet happening sounds. We have lots of these kinds of goodies in Pandora, so try this song as your personal musical time-travel vehicle. See you yesterday!

911 is a Joke by Public Enemy. Public Enemy. What can you say? They are simply one of the greatest bands ever, on the level of the Stones, Earth Wind and Fire, Elvis Presley, etc. This is off the “Fear of a Black Planet” album, and decries the unequal response times for 911 calls made from poor parts of town. The rap is by Flava Flav, and not Chuck D, who usually leads the charge. Don’t miss the music, either. Public Enemy was and still is intensely musically innovative, working in samples and sounds that surprise and deeelight.

Pyramid Song by Radiohead. I know, Pyramid Song is an obvious choice, but it’s so beautiful and stunning that it’s always in style. A bunch of us are going to see Radiohead tonight at Berkeley’s Greek Theater. As the song says, we’re “all going to heaven in a little rowboat.” See you soon!

That’s it for this week. Have fun!
best,
mz

Smoker by DMBQ. If you even so much as have a passing interest in Zeppelin, you might want to bend an ear to this spiky, crushing masterpiece by the Japanese improvisational hard rock / experimental band. It’s one of the best things I’ve heard in a long time. LOVE IT.

He Poos Clouds by Final Fantasy. Astounding orchestral arrangements framing theatrical songs, sung by a thin-voiced genius. This record was released about a month ago. It’s cool and odd.

Rock and Roll Records by J.J. Cale. A typically perfect, understated gem from the low key master.

Avalon by Mississippi John Hurt. Delta blues acoustic guitar picker Mississippi John Hurt is a great example of a guitarist with incredible technique who chooses to use his powers for good rather than evil. The song is king, but the guitar playing is rich in all the right ways.

Splidium-Dow by Mal Waldron. I met Mal Waldron in a record store in Northampton, Massachussetts a long time ago. An underrated jazz pianist in the US, he lived in Germany for most of his adult life.

Holiday by Bee Gees. Lots of people don’t know about the Bee Gees’ pre-Saturday Night Fever work. If you like colorful 60’s pop, you’re in for a treat, because there are a bunch of totally lovable early Bee Gees records out there to be discovered. This is just one melodic and bitterweet gem among a great many. Early Bee Gees, people, check em out!

Half a Million Miles from Home by Diane Cluck. This particular song starts with these lines: “Have I told you how I like to see a man submit to ecstacy, with all his inhibitions free and moaning like his mother? Close his eyes and float from me, ecstatic in his buoyancy, cut loose and warm as he can be, adrift in beatless wonder.” Nope, but I guess now you have. It’s not easy to say things like that while keeping the music engaging, lovely, and even sing-along-able. She’s a leader if you ask me. Great record.

Internal Crash by Loquat. This super-lovely piano ballad comes up on my Pandora stations a lot, and is so dang beautiful that it just has to be heard by more folks. Loquat is a local band that’s on the Jackpine Social Club label. They are starting work on their second album these days.

Baby Blue by Badfinger. The tragic tale of Badfinger is almost as well known as their huge hit “Day After Day.” This is a great, fuzzy pop song that showcases their great vocal harmonies, cool guitar riffs, and lovable ear for melody.

Money-Man by Poo Poodles. A bit of outsider lo-fi joy. The songs are incredibly short, funny, and if you ask me, charmingly nihilistic. Titles include “Freddie Mercury is Punker Than You, Punk!,” “Little Flower (Please Don’t Eat The),” and “Little Bastard Girl.” Kind of like Ween or The Shaggs.

Brandy by O’Jays. Touching soul tune which I’m pretty sure is about his dog. I like the hook.

and in the coveted last spot:
Mandy by Barry Manilow. Awesome. Seriously. If you don’t like this, you really need to get more in touch with your feelings. It does have one of those 1/2 step modulations at the end which is just unnecessary, because it’s pure swoonabililty from start to finish.

see you next time!
mz

La Negra Tomasa by Compay Segundo. This legendary Cuban guitarist is still making records 99 years after his birth, and they’re more vital and authoritative than most records made by artists who are 1/4th his age. He’s an alumnus of the Buena Vista Social Club sessions, so any fans of that will dig this, but he’s been active since the 20’s. This is a new record, and I chose a traditional song accompanied by a clarinet section, among other delicacies. Been listening to lots of Latin music lately as we build the catalog and I try to keep up. Everyone should hear this for sure!

Outgoing Behaviour by Crystal Skulls. Here’s a great piece from a current Seattle-based indie band. It’s got a little of that cool clean Death Cab for Cutie vibe, but as Allmusic says, it has more “airy melodies and AM radio hooks.” I like the slight dissonances and harmonic adventures in this song. There’s lots more going on than meets the ear on first listen. Check it out!

Silver Screen Shower Scene by Felix Da Housecat. There’s something about this repetitive, lean synthy track by Chicago-based house music producer Felix Da Housecat that gets to me. Four on the floor people…

Cold Day In Hell by Gary Moore. Changing gears to represent an overlooked blues boy. This is a fully orchestrated (some might say overproduced), horns, background vocals, kitchen-sink style blues. Kind of in the Robert Cray or festival circuit BB King mold, there’s a cool solo in this song, kind of like a turkey sandwich snuggled into the middle of a banquet. Or something… go there…

Life On Mars by Happy Rhodes. First of all, anyone named Happy Rhodes gets a listen from me, and in this case it’s quite worth it. Her voice is lovely and lilting in this minor key, vaguely gothic song. It’s like “Greensleeves” meets “Space Oddity:” traditional ballads about outer space. Right on! Might make an interesting station.

The White Arcades by Harold Budd. Ambient composer Harlod Budd has been making great music for decades. This is a simple piece, synths, pianos and similar fare over a rich, low pad. Not much “happens,” from one point of view, but the effect of that is sometimes more powerful than something more active and catchy. This is catchy like the sea is catchy.

The Sword In The Stone by Kayak. From the record “Merlin – Bard of the Unseen.” Yes, that’s “Merlin – Bard of the Unseen.” This is priceless fantasy prog rock that is so far out you can’t believe it. For serious fans of dungeons and dragons. This tells the story of King Arthur and the Sword in the Stone. Not subtle, not allegorical, just thick, energetic, gleeful, completely wholehearted hobbit rock! By Gandalf’s beard, I love it!

Tire Swing by Kimya Dawson. Careful, transitioning from the last song to this one might give you whiplash. This is lo-fi, twee indie folk from a member of the Moldy Peaches. It’s cute, unassuming, and dedicated to magnifying life’s minutiae. Her voice is hoarse in a really charming way. I find this very fresh.

Damascus by Nerina Pallot. This is a song with one of those immediate voices that seals the deal from the start in many ways, and where the voice is really well-matched to the song. The writing is pretty traditional, and there aren’t the kinds of surprises that I like best, but there’s something to this one that I sort of like.

Big Eater by The Bad Plus. Allmusic calls these guys post-bop, but questions where they fall on the pop-to-jazz spectrum. I have an answer: they fall on the part of the spectrum that is “cool.” At times, mathy, punky, jazzy, this stuff always stays tasteful, which is hard. It’s like juggling chainsaws. Brilliant!

The Barstow Sizzler by Happy Apple. More contemporary creative jazz. This piece by Happy Apple is more in the traditional jazz idiom as far as instrumentation, but in general they share lots of characteristics with the Bad Plus, including a vaguely rock attitude and a willingness to go where the music takes them. Superb.

Svefn G Englar by Sigur Ros. This album was huge a few years ago, and deservedly so. When I first heard this song I listened to it 5 times in a row, which is a lot considering it’s 10 minutes long. A heartbreakingly lovely, slow, dark bit of scandinavian midnight. Exquisite.

See you next week!
mz

The Empty Boat by Caetano Veloso. I looked for this record for a few years and finally found a copy. I love Caetano Veloso, and had heard that this record, which he recorded in prison (the backing tracks were added later) is early work that’s partly in English. This particular song is mesmerizing and sad, repetitive and dark, with an ostinato acoustic guitar riff embellished with all kinds of minimal and subtle reeds, percussion sounds, and the like. It expands into more of a classic early 70’s fuzz guitar freakout. Contains the line: “My hand is empty from the wrist to the nail….”

Break This Time by Alejandro Escovedo. Damn straight! This is like something off of “Some Girls”: straight up, roadhouse, crowd-pleasing rock music, but happily Escovedo brings a sensibility to the music that keeps it from devolving into pandering (anyone who knows the work of this great American songwriter knows to expect nothing less). This is “pulse-check” music: hard to deny the power of this kind of chugging I-IV thing in the typical American reptilian brain. Throw the kids in the back of the pickup and meet us up at the lake! We’re havin a bonfire!!

Fly by Blind Guardian. Uh oh! Like Queen meets 80’s Yes. Super clean, technical, German “fantasy-tinged power metal” (All Music Guide). This song poses the tired old question: “will there be fairies or things to feel?” If I hear that one more time… Excellently, Allmusic.com gave the EP from which this song is taken 1 measely star! Sweet! I don’t know, I somehow love this song because it’s both hilarious and refreshing. It’s also incredibly, ridiculously well-done.So I guess there’s some irony in my fond feeling for this song, but it’s also just a matter of giving in to the cheesy tsunami… and the guy can sing like Geddy Lee!

A Night on Earth by Brave Combo. This is funny and cheerful polka-fusion music, which is much better than that description makes it sound. The songwriting is good, the melodic sense is quite nice (starting with a major 7th in the melody always wins points with me, anyway…. Nerd alert.) This blends the faintest tinge of Ray Davies’ genre pieces with a more low-key American attitude.

Wrestling Match by Carolyn Edwards. Interesting piano pop, with intelligent chord changes and melodies that manage to avoid intellectualism. Some of the lyrics are a bit arch, but that’s part of the schtick here, I think. This is a really strong record that deserves to be listened to in its entirety. Check it out!

Deep Safety by Chas. Mtn.. Bedroom droney acoustic guitar groove that manages to be both appropriately narcotic and also abrasive enough to keep the mind engaged. Like Nyquil spiked with a bit of no-doz. Or something… Anyway it’s cool, right?

Steel Guitar by Chris Smither. Some guitar-based, rootsy Americana. There’s a fine line between being generic and being traditionally authentic, and Mr. Smither is clearly on the right side of that razor’s edge.

Makeba Revisited by Mumbles. From the excellent Sound in Color label, this is Mumbles, spooling out elegant, sensual downtempo instrumental hip-hop / electronica that will slow you down in the choicest way. So much attention to texture in this stuff, it’s incredible!

Panis Et Circenses by Os Mutantes. More Brazilian perfection, this time in the form of a colorful psychedelic song in English from the greatest Brazilian psych pop band, and in fact one of the greatest Brazilian bands ever in any genre. This one’s charmingly simple, with recorders, lots of vocal harmonies, and organ. It sounds a bit like Nico-era velvets, but it sounds warmer and sunnier. mmm. The best part, though, is the lyrics: “I sent the lions to my neighbor’s back yard, but all the people having dinner inside are very busy with their food…. I told the man to make of stainless steel a very sharp sword to kill my girlfriend… and I did at five o clock at that same crowdy bus stop but all the people having dinner were very busy with their food.” Oh dear, it’s all about violence and murder. Beautifully subversive. I LOVE this.

Cha Cha Cha by The Little Ones. Pretty much every song on this new band’s strong 6-song EP is incredibly smart and also super memorable. Very much in the vein of The Shins and similarly melody-oriented indie songsters, this band is doing excellent work and really should be heard farther and wider! Pass the word!

One Day You’ll Dance For Me, New York City by Thomas Dybdahl. Fingerpicking guitar, a dark and swirly sonic field, a beautiful voice set into a rich, tasteful (nearly too tasteful) arrangement. Pretty impressive start. Things get a bit lush (and dangerously saccharine at points), but the sonic beauty of this recording somehow justifies all of that for me. Dybdahl is big in sweden but not well known here.

Construcao by Chico Buarque. Finishing things up with an absolute stunner: one of the most incredible songs I’ve heard in a long time. First of all it has the typically irresistible coolness and beauty of so much Brazilian music, but touches of dissonance emerge in the harmonic and melodic choices, and foreshadow the astounding orchestral and vocal james bond touches that jump in later. Holy Rio di Janeiro, Batman! Magnificence.

until next time,
mz

Hoover Factory by Elvis Costello & the Attractions. Somehow, amidst all the others, Elvis C has sort of been my center of the wheel, and this 1:46 song was (and maybe still is) my favorite choice gem of them all. When I was in my early teens, this song fascinated me endlessly. It sounds faster to me now than it did then (how trite and symbolic!) A slice of b-side heaven for everyone….

The Spirits And I by Royal Wood. This is a new record from a new artist who sings like Andrew Bird and writes pop songs that are both endearing and good. Melodies and hooks, people. I love the phrasing in this one.

Drink To Sher by Tanakh. Getting into some deeper waters here, this is a beautiful song that combines the sensibilities of orchestrated indie rock with larger, more grandiose rock idioms. Somehow, it’s both dry and lush, and always very tasteful. A lovely balancing act that just needs repeat listens, not in order to be enjoyed, but in order to be savored.

Bazooka Tooth by Aesop Rock. Changing course, here’s the brainy and zany Aesop Rock with some deliciously cluttered and crazy wordplay over gritty samples and beats. More killer hip hop from Def Jux. Warning: Contains “embargo piggybackers… bumper bolt monster mash… tim libby’s lava lamp… lobster hands… nocturnally orchestrated car alarms…”

Degradation of Tapes by Merzbow. Merzbow is the most important artist in noise music, a fearless pioneer, invincible genius, sonic wizard, and crafter of slabs of hideous, grating, hellish pieces like this 19 minute crusher. The beauty of this music requires faith and dedication in order to be discerned. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that it isn’t there….

Manzanita (First Variation) by The Tony Rice Unit. From the storm to the calm, here’s the flatpicking titan Tony Rice with a bit of newgrass. A breezy intro of typically crisp picking detours into some modern bluegrass. As always, the appeal here is greatly connected to the instrumental facility of the players, which makes it seem a bit technical to some. Decide for yourself!

Cowboys Lost At Sea by For Stars. When I first heard this record, it was maybe the first thing that a friend of mine had done that really worked as a record from start to finish. It stands up, with gorgeous melodies and a commitment to mood and focus that can teach any record-maker important lessons about how to eliminate everything but the essence. And the songs kill, too.

Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow by Strawberry Alarm Clock. Ah, my sunshine psych pop (maybe people are starting to figure out that I have a bit of a sweet tooth for this stuff…). Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow?? Are you kidding? I’m SO listening to a song called that! This one has some great harmonies, and the usual charming innocence and technicolor instrumentation that characterize the genre. We have lots of this stuff in Pandora, so make a station with this one and see what you find!

Indian Giver by 1910 Fruitgum Company. This song is borderline offensive (I do like to provoke you now and then – you know that, right?). It’s called “Indian Giver,” which is really unfortunate, because it’s an interesting song. But it’s kind of cool because 1) it’s by the 1910 Fruitgum Company for cry eye! and 2) it somehow sounds a lot like mid-period Elvis Costello even though it’s from 1968. Wonder if he ever listened to these guys.

Metallic Sonata No. 1 by The Lothars. Just when you thought it was safe to start singing along… here are The Lothars, with 3 theremins, one electric guitar, and great patience. This is drone-licious. Dark. Beautiful. A great new world of sound awaits you, should you choose to enter here…

Lost Diamond by Gregory Paul. This is a solo record by the man behind The Autumndivers, and this particular song is epic, mysterious and very very cool. The narcotic melody and good singing lead the soft charge here. Touches of strings make it even heavieer, and the reckless use of reverbs somehow manages to avoid cheesiness entirely. Right on!

Bears by Steven Fromholz. I guess Lyle Lovett covered this song, but this is the original, with banjo and (in an inspired moment of wacky genius), clavinet. It’s always interesting to listen to the songwriter’s version of a song that someone else made famous, so here ya go. Love that clavinet.

Whatcha Gonna Do by Peter Tosh. Love that clavinet so much it reminded me of the classic Peter Tosh sound from back when – I wore this record out when I was in high school in the 80’s.

Five Years by David Bowie. And finally, as a closer, here’s the classic Bowie tune that opens Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. This was on the other side of the tape that had the Peter Tosh on it. I will forever associate the two records with each other, and with my walkman, backpack, and long walks through my beloved suburban Maryland commercial and residential wastelands.

happy listening!
mz

Nudes by Rites of Spring. My brother and I listened to this record “end on end” (danger: nerdy insider rites of spring reference) back in the early 80’s. Guy Piccioto’s band before Fugazi. Absolutely essential.

Gotta Have You by Weepies. This is a (borderline) guilty pleasure, but it’s really SUCH A GOOD POP SONG. I fully expect to hear this song in 30 tv commercials before the year is out, and as the title music for a major motion picture. There’s something really brilliant about the marriage of the phrasing and the melody that elevates the fairly familiar chord progressions. I love this one. I confess.

Night Riders by Mahavishnu Orchestra. wow, some 80’s synth fusion. Let’s go there. This stuff has NOT aged well, but I still like it. Kind of like U2 (oh, SNAP!) relax, everybody, I’m just kidding.

Lila’s Dance by Mahavishnu Orchestra. OK, here’s some redemption for Mahavishnu. Although this one’s also a little saccharine, it’s also total brilliance. I used to listen to this before getting on the bus to go to high school. And no, I was not smoking anything! (I was a super clean kid!) It took me a while to figure out how to play that guitar riff, which is in 5/4, or in 10/4 (good buddy), depending on your mood. strictly speaking it’s 5.

Odessa (City On The Black Sea) by Bee Gees. Believe it or not, this song was one of the central initial inspirations for the record my new band just finished. Don’t knock the early Bee Gees. Even though this record (it’s called “Odessa”) is like a thrift store that’s full of really fun junk, none of which you really want to buy; the singing is perfect, and the arrangements and general doofy scope is adorable (although Maurice’s vibrato is almost in joan baez territory…).

Naima by John Coltrane. ok, here’s one that’s just impeccable (since some of my other picks this week are all dangerously cheese-tastic). Is there a lovelier melody than this? As they say in France: “non.”

Blue Lake by Don Cherry. with a charming spoken word intro, this is a spare piece don cherry plays on a borrowed native american holy flute. You can hear the lovely purity that is at the core of don cherry’s appeal. Good stuff.

Take it So Hard by Keith Richards. We’re all thinking about Keith these days, hoping he’s ok. Here’s a recorded version of one of the songs that usually signals a trip to the loo at most stones shows. Get well soon, Keith!

Matte Kudasai by King Crimson. King Crimson fans are going to hate me for picking this softy instead of one of the great epics from court of the crimson king or red, but I think this is an under-represented one. It’s so 80’s! but adrian belew manages to transform his guitar into seagulls, and the way the melody works in the chorus is just cool.

Words of Advice by Material. William Burroughs dropping science over a Bill Laswell – curated funk groove, including a perfectly placed sample of Ornette Coleman’s “The Blessing.” I have taken these words to heart: “If, after having been exposed to someone’s presence, you feel as if you’ve lost a quart of plasma, avoid that presence. You need it like you need pernicious anemia….” SO true. [this sample contains profanity]

Ravishing Grimness by Darkthrone. This is black metal, a genre in which bands are criticized for being “not as evil as they used to be.” sweet! This is the real thing, from Norway via you know where. Part of the fun of metal is not knowing whether it’s evil for evil’s sake, or if it’s just “Fun-evil.” horns up!

Look Back and Laugh by Minor Threat. Full circle from Rites of Spring back to the source, here’s Ian Mackaye’s classic DC punk band Minor Threat. I recently ordered everything we didn’t already have from Dischord, but this is where it all began. The Dischord label has consistently put out excellent music while remaining true to principles that become more important to fight for every day. Ian went on to form Fugazi weith Guy, and now has a great new band called The Evens. [this sample contains profanity]

see you next week!
best,
mz

Imogen Heap Hide and Seek – one of those fascinating and frighteningly catchy pop songs… for everyone who thinks autotune and noise gating are cheating, check this out.

Tyrannosaurus Rex She Was Born To Be My Unicorn – oh, how I love Tyrannosaurus Rex. this song is full of weird magic.

Those Transatlantics Boys and Children, Sing for Summer – I don’t know if this record is even out yet. intelligent, orchestrated indie-pop from the midwest. look em up.

Euros Childs Circus Time – one of the most deeelightful songs I’ve heard in a while. I guess Pitchfork mentions it in a review, too, so maybe this one’s going to get some attention.

Spunkshine Jambic Reel – propulsive and kind of heavy groove stuff with sampled vocal bits. this was an indie submission that came in a few weeks ago.

Itals In a Dis Time – heard someone say they hate reggae the other day. I dare you to hate on this .three part vocals, joyous, with just enough grit to keep it feeling real…

One Ring Zero The Ghost of Rita Gonzalo – this is a song from an interesting project wherein well known writers write lyrics to pop songs. I’m not sure why people think that just because someone can write prose, he can write songs. It’s not as easy as it appears to be. but that’s kind of why it’s cool to listen to. This lyric was written by dave eggers.

Mozart Rottweiler Back Stabb’in Ma Ma – this is one of the oddest indie submissions we’ve received so far, and it somehow fascinates me. I don’t even know if that’s good or not. this is like rainy day women #73 or #96405… It’s from 1992 but it could be 1972. I like to think of them rehearsing.

Townes Van Zandt To Live is To Fly – “days up and down they come, like rain on a conga drum. Forget most remember some, but don’t turn none away.” “I’ll miss the system here, the bottom’s low and the treble’s clear, but it don’t pay to think too long on things you’ll leave behind.” “You’re soft as glass and I’m a gentle man, we’ve got the sky to talk about and the world to lie upon.” “we all got holes to fill, and them holes are all that’s real. some fall on you like a storm sometimes you dig your own.” hmm. let’s just say that this is some part of what people mean by “good lyrics.” if you’re not hip to townes, you’re not hip. happily, his records are easy to find. a must for all would-be song writers, and for everyone else as well.

The Stares From the Sky – a slow, lovely song replete with stunning strings. The Stares are a current, Seattle based band. so good. and I hear they are working on a new record right now.

The Id The Inner Sounds of the Id – ah, 1967! Spoken word, sitar. contains the initial incantation: “come, Id. Rise from the depths. The deep one. The one deep down inside now crawling slowly up the spine…” ok it’s not exactly leaving much to the imagination (how ironic). it starts like snake charming (kundalini is mentioned) and goes god knows where. priceless!!!

Skalpel 1958 – nice analog samples collaged into a sort of nu-jazz (but good!) electronica mashy mash!

Ron Sexsmith Summer Blowin Town – just a great, good old song. Ron Sexsmith is excellent, and I especially love this album (the self-titled one).

enjoy, and have great weekends,
best,
mz

Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra * Bollywood – I love this track! bliss out to bollywood-based, extra-groovy electronica, with tablas, sitar, synths, and much swirl…..

Boom Bip * Third Stream laid back, bass-heavy, chilled electronica. fall into your weekend… [warning: the sample contains one *harmless* f-bomb].

Busdriver * Unemployed Black Astronaut – first off, this features the opening line “it’s the return of the happy black rapper.” what’s not to love? for fans of Aesop Rock and such. and if you think you don’t like hip-hop (you probably actually do), maybe try this one…

Oriole Quartet * Brother Michael, Won’t You Hand Down That Rope. From 1895! You can hear the 78 scratching on this one. A curiosity from waaay back. Kind of disturbing in some ways…

Penguin Cafe Orchestra * Flux. Most people classify this incredible ensemble as new age, but that’s lazy. this is groundbreaking acoustic ambient stuff from 1981 that anticipated both The Books and Animal Collective. a stunningly lovely piece.

Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Co. * Cloudscape for Peggy. Ambient ‘scape from what most people agree is the world’s first synthesizer ensemble. from 1970.

Ray Wylie Hubbard * Dust of the Chase. Quality songwriter material from this underrated progressive country artist. He’s got lots of great songs, this is just one… for fans of Jimmie Dale Gilmore and such.

APSE * Leer. This is a brilliant new band (who are playing tonight in NYC with the great Charles Atlas by the way), doing interesting post-rock music that is epic, sad, beautiful, and smart.

Machinae Supremacy * Elite. This is a very urgently requested band around here, so we’re happy we’ve finally gotten them into the Genome. the music is a blend of (get ready) metal and video game music. They hail from Sweden. Let the Norsemen rule (at least at Madden 2005).

and finally, I have to go back to the soft spot…

Cat Stevens * Trouble. I heard an Elliott Smith version of this yesterday, and it made me really want to hear it again.

until next week!

best,
mz