iv align="left"> Tales from New York: The Very Best Of... Simon & Garfunkel (Columbia)
I once read somewhere that many American critics feel that Paul Simon, as both a singer and a songwriter, didn't truly blossom until he turned solo in the 70s. Stop and consider that statement for a moment.
All right. That's long enough. Now let's be serious.
Let's talk about the sound of loneliness, the sound of a generation living under the shadow of a bomb, the sound of youth torn away from their parent's cradle and sent to kill and be killed in some foreign country they had absolutely no interest in. Let's talk about the 60s, and more specifically the genius, finely wrought harmonies of Simon & Garfunkel. I've never understood those who felt the Forest Hills duo sounded sterile or too polished: taken within the context of their times, their tastefully arranged orchestration and plucked acoustic guitars are truly chilling. Is it possible to listen to a song like the doom-laden "The Sun Is Burning" or voiceover classic "7 O'Clock News/Silent Night" without the chill of mortality reaching your spine? In Paul Simon's rounded vowels, in Art Garfunkel's choirboy harmonies, there's the sound of distant terror, of napalm falling, of a thousand lonely ex-schoolboys thrown to uncaring society. Fair enough, songs like "Peggy-O" and the dire "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" grate in their inoffensive blandness?but for every "Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall" there's a mind-bendingly good "The Boxer" or "The 59th Street Bridge Song."
Don't dismiss songs through over-familiarity. Sometimes the cream does rise. One listen to Aretha Franklin's cover of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" should prove the soul behind this most famous of folk-rock duos. Toward the end, Simon & Garfunkel even started to sound like the Zombies ("Hazy Shade of Winter") and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. "Mrs. Robinson" still sounds superfine after all these years, a magnificently chirpy reversal of the usual sexual stereotyping.
All this, and "The Sound of Silence"...
The Freelance Years Sonny Rollins (Riverside)
The Complete Columbia Recordings, 1955-1961 Miles Davis & John Coltrane (Sony)
Whole fucking boxfuls of reissues: from Riverside comes the collected works that tenorman Sonny Rollins dubbed for that label (as well as Contemporary, which has been usurped by Riverside, which has been usurped by Fantasy, who are really behind this set all along) between the years '56 to '58, before he stalked off to toot his lone horn on the Williamsburg Bridge and ponder the world that Coltrane (and Ornette) had created. On the other hand, you've got The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles & Coltrane, which is part of Legacy's immense Miles Davis reissues series that began last year with the Complete Quintet Recordings and the Complete Bitches Brew. Coltrane cut other stuff with Miles, for labels like Prestige, but his career with Miles was intermittent after a certain point (roughly 1957, when Davis fired him for the first time for nodding off onstage and eating his own booger). Trane appeared on the landmark Round About Midnight, Kind of Blue and Milestones and those are here in their entirety. He also appeared on about half of Jazz Tracks and Someday My Prince Will Come and several live dates and those are here also.
The Rollins set starts with the first album he played on for Riverside, Thelonious Monk's Brilliant Corners. The Riverside period was perhaps the last great era for Monk (the later Columbia stuff was kinda stolid) and Rollins' appearance in his band was a definite plus (he'd been playing with Monk, off and on, since 1948). On "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues Are" we get to hear good elliptical solos from not only Rollins but altoist Ernie Henry (who apparently faded into oblivion shortly thereafter), sandwiching a Monk piano tour de force. Rollins' next outing was for Contemporary, as a leader, and it's a classic. Way Out West has a double meaning actually: on the one hand, the title refers to the fact that Rollins cut it in L.A. when the West Coast seduction of "cool" stylings (Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, etc.) was in full swing. On the other, there are a lot of Western motifs on the LP ("I'm an Old Cowhand," "Wagon Wheels" and the title cut) and Rollins was clearly having fun on this one (he wore a 10-gallon cowboy hat on the cover). Playing with the sparse accompaniment of Ray Brown on bass and Shelly Manne on drums, Rollins gets to stretch out and Way Out West is arguably the best album he ever cut.
Then there's four tracks Rollins did for a Kenny Dorham album in '57 called Jazz Contrasts. All and all it's kinda conservative (as Dorham's were wont to be) although Sonny's solo on "My Old Flame"?strictly in the smooch vein?is all right. The Sound Of Sonny, Rollins' first album for Riverside, follows. The band is better (Roy Haynes being a way preferable skins-man to the overrated Max Roach) and on tracks like "The Last Time I Saw Paris" Rollins shows he was definitely reaching his stride as a sax player, perhaps due to the competition of another up-and-coming tenor man, John Coltrane. "It Could Happen to You" is a solo piece that foreshadows another great Rollins solo improv from a few years later, "Manhattan." One imagines that during the ensuing layoff, the lone notes that Rollins was blowing nightly on the Williamsburg Bridge where he practiced sounded something like this.
Coltrane definitely benefited from his role as sideman during the period in which The Complete Columbia Recordings were waxed. Miles, after all, had the tightest band in the biz, and as such recordings as "Two Bass Hit," "Ah-Leu-Cha," "Budo," "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Tadd's Delight" (all on the first disc alone) prove it was the meter of this stuff, like a well-oiled machine, that made it such a suitable vehicle for the band's improvising. And they were moving in leaps and bounds (giant steps, as it were)?just listen to Coltrane's playing on a subsequent version of "Two Bass Hit," recorded a couple years later and heard on Disc Two, to see how far he'd come as an improviser. When Coltrane would form his own band a few years later, he would borrow many of the concepts first learned here: tight arrangements, melodic soloing and almost mechanically precise interchange between the various musicians.
Davis really hit his stride with the landmark Milestones in '58, and of course reams have been written about Kind of Blue. Both of those albums are here, with alternate takes. The 1958 live sides, from performances at the Newport Jazz Festival and the New York Plaza Hotel, respectively, show that Coltrane was soon to outgrow his role as sideman once and for all.
Live at Mother Blues, 1964 Terry Callier (Premonition)
Lifetime Terry Callier (Talkin' Loud)
After The New Folk Sound, Callier did some ace r&b songwriting for the Dells and other Chicago vocal groups. Then he started making his own solo records, which are almost psychedelic in their blending of folk intimacy, soulful vocals and full-blown jazz orchestration. He made three records for Cadet; left stranded by the death of his producer and mentor, Charles Stepney, he then signed to Elektra and made two terrible funk-fusion LPs before calling it quits in the early 80s to raise his family and?this is the part that always gets 'em?begin a career as a dedicated computer programmer, a job he holds to this day. After some British dance dudes started sampling his old songs, Callier started to get back into the game in the 90s, and in 1998 he played his first New York concert in 25 years.
Lifetime, released late last year by Talkin' Loud, the British acid-jazz label that has championed Callier for the last 10 years, is Callier's second new-era album, after TimePeace, which he recorded for a pre-Seagram's Verve two years ago. Lifetime is pretty much the same animal as its predecessor, no surprise there. It shows a Terry Callier who is trying to pick up where his career left off in the 70s, with confessional, poetic lyrics and a maximal approach to songwriting and arranging. When it's not intimate and delicate, there are forbidding bass and horn parts, twinkling percussion and unknown stringed instruments plucking radiant harmonic notes.
Thematically, it's just as quixotic. It moves like a sadly nostalgic old man from the quiet reverie of "When My Lady Danced" to a sermon on the evils of the world in "Sunset Boulevard." They're slight throwbacks to older Callier songs, especially "Dancing Girl," but in 2000 Callier is wiser, sadder and less libidinous. He sounds like a sage father figure on a lot of the album, when he isn't heading into some dangerous dinner-table pontificating about "blame," in "Fix the Blame" and "Nobody But Yourself" (to blame, of course). Cynics will call this lite jazz, but only if they ignore its emotional intensity. Beth Orton makes her umpteenth guest appearance with Callier on the album. She sings a nice, jazzy duet with him, "Love Can Do." They sing beautifully together, as always, but to me it doesn't make up for the way Callier was buried in the mix on "Pass in Time" on Orton's overrated last album, Central Reservation.
Callier collectors have recently been given a gift from heaven, and should snatch it up as soon as possible: Live at Mother Blues, 1964, a live gig at a Chicago coffeehouse, is a fantastic document of a side of Callier that is little known but perhaps musically superior to his later work. Until now the only way to hear Callier's extremely innovative folk side has been through a hard-to-find CD reissue of his impossible-to-find 1964 Prestige LP. The disc is an overlooked masterpiece in 60s folk, and an unexplored direction in music of the same degree as his later soul-jazz material. In Callier's hands, traditional folk ballads like "Cotton Eyed Joe" and "Promenade in Green" are merely the raw matter for long, probing, mesmerizing singing, and the songs themselves are transformed by the instrumentation of two stand-up basses and an acoustic guitar. (He was inspired by Coltrane's Olé Coltrane, legend has it.) The same lineup is in effect here and the results are stunning. Even as a 19-year-old, Callier's fatherly baritone was fully developed, and in some ways more powerful than ever, since the instrumental sparseness of the music forces his voice to carry so much emotional weight. He comes across as a timid, earnest young man whose inner emotional burning comes out in a strong, slow stream as soon as he begins to strum his guitar. In an odd way, Live at Mother Blues is a prescient summary of Callier's entire career, right at the moment where it began: wise, gentle, inward-looking and doomed. As such, it may be his greatest.
9.11 Zzz? The Codfish Suit Leif Elggren & Thomas Liljenberg (Firework Edition)
These are three of the oddest discs I've come across in some time, by conceptual artist Leif Elggren, who's responsible for the imaginary Kingdoms of Elgaland-Vargaland and last year's Ghost Orchid, a spoof on supposed celestial voices lurking in household electronic appliances. For these latest efforts, Elggren and fellow brainiac Thomas Liljenberg take up the entirety of two discs, sleeping on one and laughing on the other. On a third, The Codfish Suit, they read dadaist letters they've sent to various celebrities around the world. These guys have been working together since 1978 and self-publishing slews of offbeat books and recordings all along, but until recently they haven't been available in the States.
The Codfish Suit, from 1996, is a sound version of Elggren and Liljenberg's book Experiment with Dreams. The texts are hysterically funny. In 1995, for example, they wrote the following letter to Brigitte Bardot: "We are planning to start a fish factory in Lofoten, Norway. Our plan is codfishing, but we are not interested in the fish, but what's in the stomach of the codfish. So we will have a lot of fish-refuse that we now will offer you. We know that you are a great friend of animals and perhaps this could serve as catfood? Looking forward to your answer." Similar letters are written to Elton John, Neil Armstrong and Yasir Arafat, among others. The CD is these letters read aloud during a gallery performance in affected voices, treated with primitive echoes and electronics. It's a low-tech outing and makes a better read than it does a listening experience.
9.11 and Zzz?, on the other hand, are wonderful audio documents. Had Andy Warhol done sound pieces, this is what he might have conceived of; but this isn't what they would have sounded like. Elggren and Liljenberg are not really sleeping and laughing?they are only pretending. As such, its fiction is more akin to hysterical Artaud-inspired theater than to documentary. Both discs start off straight enough: the beginning of Zzz? simply sounds like two people sleeping, a snore here, a cough there. But as the work progresses, the snoring gets more theatrical and obnoxious until, about halfway through, it turns into a snoring opera, with the two protagonists taking turns belting out twisted arias of snorts, yawns and honks. Same goes for 9.11 (desperation is the mother of laughter): The first few minutes are just two guys sitting around laughing. Thirty minutes into it, it's obvious the exercise is verging on the absurd and the laughter becomes forced and sinister. By the end of an hour, it's positively painful to think that two men have been laughing as hard as they could for such an extended period of time.
File these discs with your artists' albums: they'll go nicely with Terry Fox's recordings of 11 cats purring for half an hour, Erik Belgum's "opera" of people screaming obscenities at each other for 60 minutes, Lauren Lesko's squishy contact-miked vagina and Roman Opalka's lifetime project of counting from one to infinity. (The 40-minute LP excerpt from 1977 is all you really need to hear.)
Flamingo Flamin' Groovies (Buddah/RCA)
Teenage Head Flamin' Groovies (Buddah/RCA)
Released in 1970 and '71, respectively, these albums help make a good argument that a bee was definitely abuzz in the bonnet of hippie complacency. Along with groups like the Stooges, the MC5, Mott the Hoople, Slade and a handful of others, the Groovies were all about reversing the more rarefied (not to mention pompous) tendencies rock 'n' roll had taken on during those years of arty experimentalism in the late 60s. In the Groovies' case, this couldn't have been easy, considering that they hailed from San Francisco (whose organic music scene no doubt energized them in a positive way). Although they were looked on as outsiders to this scene (as were Creedence Clearwater Revival, to whom they were closer in spirit than any of the other SF bands), their proximity to it helped secure them a contract with Epic in 1969.
The Groovies' first album, Supersnazz, was a quirky, energetic record with a retro spirit. A lot of bands from that era, fed up with psychedelic foolishness, were spearheading a kind of back-to-the-roots revival (check out how many records in '68-'69 had a title or subtitle about "Good Old Rock 'n' Roll" or something similar). Supersnazz featured covers of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran and other 50s icons. Although they soon left Epic, after being persuaded by super-hip New York underground producer/journalist Richard Robinson to come over to Buddah, the band never abandoned its roots. However, the influence of Robinson coupled with the Groovies' observance of the wild antics of Detroit contemporaries like the Stooges and MC5 led to a general toughening-up of their sound. This was first evidenced on Flamingo. They've turned up the guitars a notch, and there's more general attitude (read: "punk"). They've also, despite one exception (Little Richard's "Keep a-Knockin'"), traded the oldies for an album full of smoking originals that showcase a broad range of influences, from rockabilly ("Sweet Roll Me On Down") to country ("Childhood's End") to psychedelic ("She's Falling Apart"). Lead singer/guitarist Roy A. Loney was establishing himself as a composer of considerable merit, particularly on the breathtaking "Second Cousin," which took all of the group's 50s influences and turned them into forceful high-energy rock on an almost MC5 level. "Headin' for the Texas Border," meanwhile, was an instant classic, with its pounding riff and lyrics about going home to see Mom and Dad, but not telling them about the parties, or the women or "the nights I had to sleep out in the rain." Material like this was quickly establishing the Flamin' Groovies as one of the true "underground" sensations of the day. But the best was yet to come.
Teenage Head, their second and final LP for Buddah, was an even more fully realized opus. With Robinson once again at the helm, the band had finally come up with the perfect union of roots and punk influences. The album seems particularly informed by the kind of rustic overhang that had overtaken the Stones around this period with albums like Let It Bleed. Apparently, Mick and Keith liked it enough to supposedly remark: "Oy, it's better than Sticky Fingers, init?" And whether that was actually true, one look at the list of dedications on the back of the album?Lenny Kaye, Lisa Robinson (Richard's wife), R. Meltzer, Danny Fields?proved that the band had "arrived."
They heralded their coming-out with the most solid set of their career. Alternating between pulsating rockers like "Have You Seen My Baby?" (written by Randy Newman, who was supplying songs to just about everybody) and bluesy material like "City Lights," rockabilly like "Evil Hearted Ada" and pure Stones rips like "Yesterday's Numbers," there's nary a wasted note on Teenage Head. As Mike Saunders once put it: "That squashed plexiglass rhythm guitar sound?totally unique." It definitely influenced Mike, who parlayed its influence stylistically in the "canoe guitar" he utilized in later incarnations of the Angry Samoans. Another person who caught wind of it was John Felice of the Real Kids, who went so far as to quote verbatim the "too many crazy people here" line on Flamingo's "Comin' After Me" in his own "Outta Place."
Great band, great songs, good (bad) reputation. So what happened? Same thing as ever: the record label got impatient waiting for them to break big, and inter-band squabbles broke them up (they were probably tired of waiting as well). Over the years their reputation would continue to grow until the big moment when punk happened, and history came to reclaim them. But by then it was too late. The moment had passed.
Joe S. Harrington
Plus Forty Seven Degrees 56' 37" Minus Sixteen Degrees 51' 08" Christian Fennesz (Touch)
Get Out Pita (Mego)
The Magic Sound of Fenno'berg Fennesz, O'Rourke, Rehberg (Mego)
These three important new albums from core practitioners of the glitchwerks movement represent the next step in the genre's evolution. While the first batch of glitchwerks releases (reviewed here a year ago) tended to stress the formal aspects of the music, these new offerings begin to take the cold digital source material and add emotion and warmth to it. It's fascinating to witness the melding of a didactic approach to computer-based work?some genuinely personal statements emerge.
Out of the thick waves of white digital noise, melody begins to appear. Christian Fennesz's latest begins with a soft atmospheric track?an electronic Satie-esque tune awash in sensual, transistor-radio-like static; it's a thick, calming, digital fog. The fourth track starts out with standard skipping glitches but soon shifts focus to a piano, which is digitally mangled, creating a savvy binary update to Cage's prepared piano?think of it as a "processed piano." The piano serves as a melodic basis for the piece, which is constantly interrupted by mechanical noises of every stripe. It's a great metaphor for the way electronics are altering the function of traditional concert hall instruments, giving them entirely new leases on life. A track in the middle of the disc at first sounds like a sheer assault on the ears, but as the piece progresses and your ears become accustomed to the volume, a gorgeous melody emerges from the density. It's a bit like listening to Morton Feldman?once you get on Fennesz's wavelength, small, unexpected occurrences leap out of every nook and cranny of the recording. It's a complex, varied and luscious landscape, echoing the cover art, which features photographs of lush, green landscapes that have been altered in some way by man and machines.
Peter "Pita" Rehberg's new release, Get Out, pretty much sticks to the agenda of first-wave glitchwerks esthetics of abstract computer-generated noise, but one 11-minute track makes an incredible break from what would otherwise be a rather typical endeavor. Using what sounds like an alternating electrical current as a rhythm track, Pita weaves a sensuous melody in and out. It's plaintive and sweet, and has the heroic, monumental feeling of Jack Nitzsche's "The Lonely Surfer" or the Nitzsche-produced tracks from Neil Young's Harvest, "A Man Needs a Maid" and "There's a World"; in fact, this piece owes a lot to Young's eponymous first album and cuts like "I've Been Waiting for You" and "The Loner." It's wonderful to see Neil Young return as an influence in the most unlikely of places: he had a revival early in the 90s as the godfather of grunge, now electronic artists are picking up on his post-Phil Spector density and sensuality.
This influence is equally pronounced on The Magic Sound of Fenno'berg, a collaboration by Fennesz, Pita and Jim O'Rourke that is easily the most enjoyable and listenable disc to emerge from the glitchwerks movement yet. Improvised and recorded live using three PowerBooks and mixing decks, Magic Sound is awash in great samples and melodies. Beats are twisted out of shape, voices are sped up and shredded, Macintosh voices give historical lectures about the history of computer music, kitschy cartoonlike marimbas dance amidst groaning computers, samples from Led Zeppelin's Presence are radically distorted through computer patches, snatches of what sounds like the Beatles' "Revolution #9" and bits of Wendy Carlos' "Switched on Bach" are thrown into the mix. One could spend days extracting all the familiar-sounding samples from this work. The CD ends with the "Fenno'berg Theme," which is built on an obscure 1995 Grantby single called "Timber." Like the 11-minute Pita cut, it's a thick, orchestral, cinematic melody that keeps repeating itself amid ever-accumulating glitched crashes and digital disruptions. I never thought I'd be using the words "melodic," "romantic" and "fun" to describe avant-garde computer-based music.
Late for the Future Galactic (Capricorn)
Dial M-A-C-E-O Maceo Parker (What Are Records?)
Funk used to be a bad word. And in a lot of ways, real funk still is. At least if a group craves bigtime popularity. The Red Hot Chili Peppers aren't funky now. They used to be, but they didn't live in mansions back then. The days where acts like P-Funk, James Brown and Rick James could take over the airwaves and pop charts are gone.
But just because you're funky doesn't mean you can't get paid. Take Galactic. This New Orleans quintet must make a pretty good living touring and playing for most of each year to college kids and Phish followers (by no means mutually exclusive). A mostly instrumental outfit with a solid rhythm section, a great saxophonist and an analog-obsessed keyboardist, their strong new Late for the Future documents what they do best?funky, gritty soul that's more old than new. They borrow liberally from the new-jack soul jazz juggernaut of immediate forebears Medeski, Martin & Wood, but Galactic's is a more classic, grounded sound, inspired by funky, greasy Prestige and Blue Note jazz sides of the 60s and 70s, the Stax empire and even James Brown's angular instrumental workouts. "Bakers Dozen," "As Big as Your Face," "Doublewide" and "Hit the Wall" flex their chops, giving a clear idea about the funky magic they can work live. Galactic's secret weapon, though, is vocalist Theryl de Clouet, heard here on five cuts. On tracks like "Thrill" and "Century City" his gritty, plaintive tones melt in your ears like butter and do justice to his vocal descendants Al Green, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, adding two tons of legitimacy to Galactic's street cred.
Maceo Parker, meanwhile, remains one of the most distinctive saxophonists of all time. Dial M-A-C-E-O is the follow-up to 1998's Funk Overload, and while he treads dangerously close to the "smooth jazz" side of the scale on a full third of the album, there are still several nuggets. "Coin Toss" (featuring Ani DiFranco) is exemplary of Maceo's live show, with lots of grit underneath, silky soloing in the middle and just enough slick frosting to make it all work. "Simply Tooley" is a tiptoe funk number, wafting along with a lightly sprinkled hint of dirty soul; a cover of the Isley Brothers' "I've Got Work to Do" is a hip-shaking tribute and a nice collaboration with the idiosyncratic musician I'll still call Prince; "Baby Knows" (the hidden track at the end, not the touted "Greatest Romance Ever Sold," which is painfully sappy) round things off. As anyone who's seen him live recently can tell you, Maceo's still got it, and with new blood like Galactic both paying homage to his funk lineage and opening doors and minds for the younger generation, it's all good. Maybe funk ain't such a bad word after all (again).
Bluebird Sarah White (Jagjaguwar)
Every now and then there'll be a record that sounds like it dropped out of the sky with no accompanying context, no obvious influences or antecedents, no preconceived notions of what scene it's supposed to fit into. That's the situation with Bluebird, the excellent new album by Virginia singer/songwriter Sarah White?the record sounds so disconnected, so isolated, that the presskit actually goes out of its way to note that White "isn't a hermit."
You'd be hard-pressed to find a record that sounds more austere than Bluebird. But austerity isn't always such a bad thing, and in this case it's just fine?the stark arrangements and deliberate pace highlight the songs' depth. The weird thing is that Bluebird isn't really as stripped-down as it initially sounds. Superficially speaking, it's a folk album, with White's acoustic guitar at its center, but other instruments show up to fill out the sound: a cello or viola here, an accordion or dulcimer there. But the arrangements are so spare that they almost sound naked?there's never a wasted note, much less a flourish, and the drums, when they appear, drag heavily on the beat. It's an incredibly reserved approach?think of it as sonic laconic?and it plays particularly well with White's vocal style, which is often a bit indirect, as if she's not quite looking you in the eyes. She's not so much emotionally detached as emotionally ambiguous, a tendency she exploits in her lyrics. When she tells an estranged lover, "I got you back," for example, it's not clear if she's means that she's reclaiming him or exacting a measure of tit-for-tat revenge, and she milks the tension between the two possibilities for maximum effect.
Like most acoustic singer/songwriters, White occasionally succumbs to lyrics that read like bad junior-high poetry ("If I had a fancy sash/My love would find me fair"?ugh), but for the most part she avoids this problem and does a good job of investing her songs with small details that stand out amidst the music's bare sound. The high point is "Bride," where she sketches the scene of a gorgeous country wedding and then, in the last verse, sings, "The weather, it came down"?this simple line is so devastating you can practically see the groom in his rain-drenched tux. Like almost everything else on Bluebird, it's a great example of White getting a lot out of a little. (1703 N. Maple St., Bloomington, IN 47404; www.jagjaguwar.com.)
Shanty Town Determination Trinity (Blood and Fire) Sometimes a second-string performer can illuminate the ethos of a music better than the star. If you wanted to learn something about the Jamaican music scene of the late 1970s, for example, you surely would do better to listen to this disc, most of which was originally released in 1977, than to, say, Bob Marley's Exodus. Marley isn't the appropriate comparison anyway, since Trinity is a deejay in the Jamaican sense, a toaster, basically a freestyling MC, rather than a singer. His major influences are Big Youth and Dillinger, the friend who got him into music.
Trinity has a powerful voice and rides the roots cuts here with assurance, delivering a lot of straight-up Rasta content that that flirts with the line between conventional and cliched. He sometimes lets loose with endearing, not to say alarming. gasps and moans and falsettos ("Oh my God, my God") and on some tracks he plays with the rhythms in a most impressive manner. At other times he seems to be fumbling a bit, disjointed, lyrically and musically, and the production follows suit. There are terrifically dark and reverb-heavy horn tracks recycled from earlier hits. Then there's "Quarter Pound of Ishens," in which Trinity complains about coke making him soft. The tracks not on the original LP generally feature a slightly more melodic delivery and lusher production. A couple are others' songs followed by the Trinity version, or Trinity and a dub.
Blood and Fire is a UK label dedicated to rereleasing lesser-known Jamaican artists, like Cornell Campbell and Children of Jah, who had one or two hits and are probably known in the U.S. only to hardcore fans of the genre. Shanty Town Determination isn't the product of a master, but producer Vivian Jackson knew enough to recycle the best of the time and place, and Trinity knew enough to model himself on them. Its very lack of originality makes it great fodder 20 years on. Better than being forgotten, I hear them say.
The Death of Quickspace Quickspace (Matador) My memory plays tricks. Was Tom Cullinan in the ferocious, unfocused Silverfish in the early 90s? No. He was part of the same gang, the same enthusiasts who used to drink from the same lager bottle and dance in the same good-natured, manic way. He was good-looking, friendly, disarmingly charming. Had a real grin. Silverfish were too psychobilly-influenced, too grungy (pre-grunge)?great attitude, great band to crush a few heads to stage-diving from the ceiling, not so hot in the tune department. Cullinan was in the first band I ever reviewed, the forgotten X-Men, who came along cherishing ace Scottish garage/trash band the Rezillos and with obvious comic influences. Creation Records signed them early on, hoping to cash in on some revival or other.
When Cullinan surfaced next, he was fronting the brilliant Faith Healers, one of London's most underrated bands at a time when most folk were looking to the tired Bowie mannerisms of Suede and Blur for their cheap thrills. Faith Healers was an odd band. I could never work out if they ever had any structures (that was probably the experimental Sun Ra jazz influence coming to the fore), or indeed songs. Yet they were so great. Whatever. I had the chance to pick up a single of theirs for $5 (NZ) in Auckland recently, and failed the acid test.
Quickspace, who were formerly Quickspace Supersport, have been around for several years. Hardly new, unless you want to take the description as a reflection of their sound: Quickspace have never stopped sounding totally in love with music and totally like they're having fun, even as they fuck with conventional time signatures and catharsis. For example: how good is the theremin sound on the second track here, "They Shoot Horse Don't They"? Please note the singular. It's like minor key melodic magic had never disappeared.
Don't read anything into the album title. It's perhaps a reference to the way the mysterious North London quintet often sound simultaneously astonishing, ravishing and most becoming on this, their third album, fusing heartache and Space Age moog synthesizers, engorged female/male vocal interplay and old-fashioned guitar dissonance, usually within one song. Death takes on its old-fashioned meaning as "minor orgasm." (As in.: I died a thousand tiny deaths listening to the resigned, warped opus "Gloriana" on the new Quickspace album.)
Here's a quick checklist of bands you might want to compare and contrast Quickspace with: Supergrass, Stereolab, Faith Healers, Clara Bow, Van Morrison. Here's a quick checklist of tollbooth baskets you might want to deposit your head in afterwards, for being so simple: the one between Newark Airport and Manhattan will do. This is such a wonderful, spirited, heartening album...and I haven't even mentioned the finest track, the country-ish "Rose" yet. Now I have. And now you have no excuse.
Complete Recordings, 1987-1989 The Donner Party (Innerstate) Back in the mid- and late-1980s there was a very bad New York indie label called Cryptovision, which released generally awful records by generally awful bands like Lyon in Winter and Mod Fun. Between the lousy music and the label's indifferent promotion and poor distribution, few people on the indie scene knew that Cryptovision existed, and those who did know didn't care. So it's not surprising that nobody really noticed when Cryptovision released the self-titled 1987 debut LP by an unknown band called the Donner Party. Like most Cryptovision LPs, it was poorly packaged and wasn't carried by many stores, and nobody raised an eyebrow when it went out of print about five minutes after it was released.
Which is a shame, because The Donner Party is a truly sensational album, full of dynamite guitar hooks and some fantastically warped songwriting that favors topics like decomposing bodies and Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth. In fact, when you consider the record's consistently high quality and the abysmally small number of people who've heard it, it probably qualifies as the great lost indie album of the 1980s. The only reason I ever got to hear it myself is that I was publishing a music zine in 1987 and had landed on Cryptovision's mailing list. I knew how miserable the label's releases tended to be, but I was in one of those naive periods when I'd listen to anything at least once if it came in the mail for free, and I can still remember how surprised I was when I stuck my promo copy of The Donner Party onto the turntable and discovered how terrific it was.
The Donner Party, which broke up in 1989, was led by Sam Coomes, who later surfaced alongside Elliott Smith in the Portland band Heatmeiser and now fronts the deservedly lauded duo Quasi. The Donner Party is at least as good as anything he's done since, and now it's finally available again as part of this double-CD collection of the band's work. The anthology also includes the group's mediocre second album, which was released in 1988 on Camper Van Beethoven's Pitch-A-Tent label (and was also self-titled, which probably added to the obscurity of the Cryptovision release, since some people might have asked their record store for "the self-titled Donner Party album" and ended up with the wrong one), as well as a third album that was never released and a handful of live tracks.
Frankly, much of the material after the first album is uneven, but the 15 tracks that comprise the band's debut LP are worth the price of admission all by themselves. The songwriting?mostly cheerily absurdist rants with titles like "Godlike Porpoise Head of Blue-Eyed Mary"?bears no resemblance to the morose black-humor tunes that Coomes now writes for Quasi, but it works. The swirling, buzzing guitar sound owes a lot to other mid-80s indie bands like the Volcano Suns, and at times also feels a bit like the great New Zealand band the Clean, with some occasional banjo or fiddle tossed in to give the proceedings an appealing hootenanny feel. But comparisons do a disservice to a record as fully realized as this one?it's a tremendous album that's gone unheard for far too long. Get it before it falls out of print again. (PO Box 411241, San Francisco, CA 94141; www.innerstate.com.)