25 April, 2014

The Desert Island Post or Life Affected Albums - Part Three

It's getting a bit harder to pinpoint these. New one's keep creeping into my thoughts, and then I feel guilty because my intention was to keep this to a list of 10. I don't feel like I can keep this to a list of 15 at this point. I've been revisiting a lot of the albums I have on my hand-written list, and I don't know if I can simply say that I love them anymore, I think a few of these changed something, or introduced something for me. Let's just see what happens...

The world of blues, Chicago Blues, Delta Blues, wasn't foreign to me, I'd exposed myself to a variety of artists over the years that I'd appreciated. It was hearing, "Like A Bird Without A Feather" on WMNF late one night that shifted curiosity into passion. As painful or sad as all predecessors had been, nothing struck me like the lyrics and playing of R.L. Burnside. I was lucky enough to catch a documentary one afternoon, in which a young, white guy made it his passion to track down delta blues legends and record them. R.L. Burnside was prominently featured, and his captivity over me swelled into full blown infatuation. Stripped down, or electrified, his humble approach to a life most would consider not worth living, translates musically into a beautiful, rhythmic tragedy. It seethes and pulses, and probably made the ladies hungry. Maybe not a pioneer in the genre, but an inspiration to all that followed. His visceral retelling of pain via Son House, Bukka White and Robert Johnson is as if a man possessed by their wrecked ghosts.

Yes, it was "Sour Times" that urged me to buy this disc. I was captivated by the atmospheric, film noir, haunted approach to the song. I really had no idea I was going to be treated to an entire album that essentially came from no recognizable direction. There was an element familiar to me, but that had been years earlier - and no part of me was ready to equate Portishead with Neneh Cherry's, "Homebrew". The only way I could describe Portishead to anyone, was to paint a picture of an immense space station floating through the nether regions of the galaxy, and Portishead as the lounge act that has performed every night for the past 20 years, playing the same songs, tired and withdrawn. I had no idea the achievement I unlocked was my own self-discovery of trip-hop. It was the moment I pieced it together, Geoff Barrow was the common denominator, producing many of the tracks for Neneh Cherry, and responsible for the inescapably beautiful and haunting, "Dummy". It wasn't just that the music was an alien lifeform to me, Beth Gibbons' vocals cut straight to the heart and stirred the phantoms of sorrow, loss, and love. I forgive the exhaustive brainwashing of "Sour Times", it gave foundation for the albums that followed, and without it, my path through the world of trip hop may never have been ventured.

This was a purchase on a whim. I had no idea the band was fronted by Kim Deal, or that the $19 I paid for it would translate into roughly 75 Cents per minute of listening time. What I immediately realized was that "Pod" was the most beautiful, cohesive collection of music I'd ever heard to that point. Every song was infectious, and the lyrics were a mysterious, innocent swathe that at times bore talons. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I was so enamored with this release, that I shared it as my own music to friends and family. It's a devastatingly short album that tugs and tugs at you for more, and sadly, the band never came close to achieving such delicate brilliance again. I want there to be no other Breeders than what offered such intoxication as "Pod". It serves me as a beacon to which nothing could follow. Nothing else in my collection parallels what I discovered on "Pod", it stands alone in it's brilliant beauty.

I used to work with Mike Ness at a wind-chime factory. Well, not really, but he looked like him, and drove a '67 Falcon, and a Harley, and he loved music. And he was Scottish - which really was the only indicator that he may not be Mike Ness. We developed a report and began sharing music with one another. One Monday, he presented me with a stack of Caster U.S.M., Candyflip, a bunch of other horrid crap, and DCD's, "Aion". Until that moment, I'd had zero exposure to Neo-Classical, so needless to say, I was floored. I sat in my tiny bedroom playing the disc over and over. I couldn't figure out how I'd lived 20 years on the planet and didn't know about Dead Can Dance. It was a beautiful mélange of traditional (and not in the folk sense - but the medieval sense), dance, tribal, and the most powerful, chill-inducing voice my ears had ever heard. If Lisa Gerard isn't an immaculate conception of a choir of angels - then such a thing simply can't exist. Never before had such a procession of history and culture passed before me, leaving me to seriously question my love of music. If something so stunning existed without my ever knowing, then certainly my grasp of music was far too narrow and jaded. To this day, hearing Lisa Gerard sing ushers back the flood of emotion and wonder from my first listen to "Aion". This is a band that has it's mimics, some of them finding success, but no one presents history and culture with an authenticity that Dead Can Dance does. And more importantly - no one else can play with the same authenticity that Dead Can Dance does.

Paisley Underground: I was a fan. Redd Kross, Jellyfish, Rain Parade... it was a scene full of talent and influence. But it wasn't paisley I was seeking when I picked up this album, I was looking for something brooding and dark and I believed from the title and the cover photos, I might be on to something. Like many of the albums on this list, I was completely unprepared for what happened next. Opal was perfection at psychedelic and the elements that made up the paisley scene, but there were no rainbows or fields of marigolds here. "Happy Nightmare, Baby" was a black & white pictorial of loss, vices, and simply existing. If Opal were a mood ring, they'd be black and cracked. Fuck your incense, your body paint, your wanting to be naked in public - this is naked in a fetal position with a bottle of wine and the curtains drawn. Broadening your mind here means seeing the horrid reality by which we barely exist, withdrawn and unimpressed, which is exactly what solidified this album as a part of my self-awareness within the world around me.

Part four??

22 April, 2014

The Desert Island Post or Life-Affected Albums - Part Two

Picking up where we left off.

Generally, when it comes to compilations, it's an ugly affair. A hit or miss hodgepodge of artists of all genres that fit together like flat-head screwdrivers and Phillips head screws. If I was completely honest, this compilation probably falls precisely into my generalization. However, this label from El Segundo under the guise of Enigma, Restless, Pink Dust, Fever... provided an avenue for some of the earliest indie bands, and offered an array of such talent that they solidified a place in musical history (unfortunately, many have forgotten or chosen to ignore it). They were fearless in providing contracts to everyone from Stryper to GG Allin. It was precisely the focus on talent over image that made "Enigma Variations" such a tremendous collection. I was introduced to Redd Kross, Leaving Trains, Green On Red, Naked Prey, T.S.O.L., 45 Grave, cowpunk... on and on. It's at times hilarious (John Trubee), at times dark (T.S.O.L.), at times, mesmerizing (Redd Kross). This collection of music single-handedly started an expensive and tiring search for so much that was happening below the mainstream. This was my first glimpse at the undercurrent of music, and it was love at first sight. And any label responsible for the original release of "Daydream Nation", or The Dead Milkmen catalog, or bringing Poison into the world (scratch that) is worthy of my love and affection... I was so sad to see you go. And yes, the irony doesn't escape me - being the compiler of music that I am.

Eric Snyder was a local music journalist writing in the Tampa Bay Metro Area, and it was his review of this album that sent me seeking it out. Little did I know, how difficult a quest that would be. I wound up having to order it through a local chain, and when it arrived (a month later) - that moment was my "import prices deflowering". I took this home and listened to it 3 times without pause. My brain struggled to define it, though it's effect on me was quite palpable. Sparse and haunting, and emotion punctuated by the Scottish wail of Gordon Sharp. It was a number of years before I pieced together his participation in This Mortal Coil, even more years before I discovered he was invited to be the vocalist in Duran Duran. "In This World" presented a suggestion that poetry, abstract, and art can be textures within music; transforming the expression from just listening to also feeling, seeing, and hearing. Though, by no means "post rock", without Cindytalk, that exploratory journey into Mono, Sigur Ros, Godspeed You Black Emperor many years later may not have happened. Of all the items on my list, this truly has, is, and will likely always remain utterly and painfully unique. It's not beautiful journey; it's equal parts desolation, abandonment, and fear; but "In This World" is breathtaking in it's prolonged approach to illicit expression. Perhaps it's why it took 30 listens to piece it all together, but only 1 listen to know I didn't want it to end.

It was, oddly enough, my Dad that brought this home. It was likely a mistake or an auto ship from a music subscription club, but regardless, it was captivating to me. I was familiar with Billie Holiday, but not on an intimate level, and this recording brought me front and center to her live performances. Our relationship from that moment on tread a delicately woven line of fragile and fail. Understanding the tragedy of her life did not unravel a tapestry of admiration or respect, it did however serve as a muse to the bleakest aspects of my personality. A life-coach for self-loathing and self-destruction, and a love affair with absolution from heart. The disc transgresses, and initially, Billie Holiday's voice snuffs the clamor of the audience and ushers them deep beneath her wave. She is a siren that victimizes the heartless, and slays the wicked. As the recordings draw to a close, Holiday is a collapsing sun; a piercing light stretching across a blanket of darkness. Her voice impassioned by alcohol, sickness, and heroin; she steps away a much fiercer beast; beaten by the wounds but much less forgiving.  It was, incidentally, a very difficult choice here. MILES DAVIS': KIND OF BLUE perhaps had a greater impact upon me musically; but weighing that in comparison to how I physically wore Billie Holiday, and impressed her upon my veins made my decision.

This was another difficult choice. Torn between this release, and DAISY CHAINSAW'S: ELEVENTEEN, I chose "Taxidermy" for a handful of reasons. Both albums had a psychological effect on me, but it was Katie Jane Garside's acceptance of her sickness (whatever that may be); her seething swathe of ferocity; and utterly wrecked fragility that coaxed me to find this album iconic. I believe it was an utterance of Chris Graves, "check out Queenadreena" that pry loose the nails of this coffin. My first glance at, whatever video it was, wove a rather pernicious spell. The noisy, post-punk, glam Daisy Chainsaw had resurrected into a socially-conscious, lush, beautiful, noisy, post-punk Queenadreena. "What-the-fuck just happened?" was my only utterance. I really had no way to relate to what the band was doing - but I knew it was a musical amalgamation of many bands I adored (Daisy Chainsaw included), beyond that - I really had no where to go. Garside's anger was on par with Zach De La Rocha, but at times her vocals presented a serenity and calmness that could lull a child to sleep. They've been called riotgrrrl - which of course is a label I get. Perhaps Garside's stage persona does fringe upon the genre, but from an album standpoint, it can't be dumbed down to one easy answer. The lyrics are strikingly personal (or are they?) - presented with such passion and intensity, you simply can't believe it can be faked. That's part of the enigma: interviews that are few and are trainwrecks; a stage presence so self-deprecating it's resulted in being molested by the crowd; an artist that recalls innocence and the sort of renderings a child might do for a police investigation; and a vocalist whose other projects are borderline folk music. It refuses an understanding, and if you venture here, you accept the abuse, the beauty, the anger, and the fragility as a whole.

The most recent addition to this list. It's an album I've always loved despite the heavy rotation of singles on the radio and MTV, but it was always an album that would have traveled with me to the deserted island, not a selection that would be emotionally impactful. That transition came about on a Friday night, 2 years ago, sitting in I-Bar rather hurt, rather depressed, and mentally, a hundred miles away from the people I had journeyed with. "(I Am) The Resurrection" blared, quite unexpectedly into the crowded club - immediately, my already dour mood sunk to the point of tears. I knew quite certainly, that what I'd been forcing myself to not accept as real, was indeed my heart letting me know that I was in love; and quite unfortunately, not with that love. There hadn't been hours of bonding over The Stone Roses, but it was "our album", an offering upon which our paths merged. Lyrically, it's a poignant selection, the title's of each track alone could outline our time together. In that respect, it will always be a milestone upon which a new chapter was formed and continues to write itself.

I feel it's probably necessary to do a Part Three....

18 April, 2014

The Desert Island Post or Life-Affected Albums - Part One

Any music-lover, or casual music appreciator has them; those indispensable items in your music collection that either opened you to a whole new world of creativity, or profoundly developed into the soundtrack to an emotional span of time. I've tried for months (mentally for years) to pinpoint those releases for me; many were obvious, others far less. Then I found myself with a much-too-long list, and realized what I had created were albums that impacted me and changed me, and albums that I would carry with me forever (quite literally), and still yet, others that bled into both areas. Below; are those that presented a moment when my brain, my heart or my body were impacted and offered a new path of discovery, or a vessel within which to collect my pain. These aren't presented in any particular order, after all, who can catalogue the moments of their life into a top ten?

The story really begins here. Prior to this, I was sort of a non-musical child. Despite growing up in a household omnipresent with music, I didn't really identify with music personally until 1983. I think the first song I ever blared out of my father's stereo was "Shout", and I don't really feel at all embarrassed about it. But, I went to school one day (5th Grade) and met new student, Tony Boupha. A very tall for his age, Asian American, who murdered everyone on the dodgeball court. He was the first person I ever exchanged music with, and in our first encounter, he lay in front of me this album. I wasn't unfamiliar with metal or hard rock, but I certainly had no adolescent preparation for how much my world would be consumed by Motley Crue. My room was adorned with posters of "ugly women" (my dad's description), and I still have that collection today. Hearing Motley Crue didn't simply open a door of exploration, it kicked it in. In my early years of music collecting, it was hair metal heaven. Ratt, Quiet Riot, Loudness... the fondness for metal music has never waned. Granted, my tastes have changed quite a bit since 5th Grade, but I will never forget the mark the music of 5th Grade left with me, and if my passion for music had a prophet, it came in the form of Vince Neil's leather-bound crotch.

Wasn't my first Christian Death album, but it was the one that consumed my heart and soul. Rozz Williams' lyrics burned through me and ignited all of my passion and creativity. Large chucks of my life have in one capacity or another been linked to the artistry of Rozz Williams, and that tree is firmly rooted in and around my mind and heart. The difference between the impact of this album as opposed to the others in this list - is that it became much more to me than just music. It opened more doors into art and literary extremes than it ever did on a musical level. That's the brilliance of Rozz Williams - influenced by Dadaism, Surrealism, and stark reflections of hypocrisy, it was perhaps the most educational journey of my life. I was 15 and everything had just been changed. A piece of vinyl became more than anti-social, teen-angst, self-loathing rebellion. Love or hate me - this album became much of who I was and continue to be to this day.

Jon and I decided 3rd period constituted a long enough school day. We drove in his 1983 baby blue Celica towards Tampa, and found ourselves at Fashion Square Mall. On that journey, my music mental checklist was the usual, but included a new entry. I had been struck by a promotional photo I'd seen some months ago of Jane's Addiction (a poster of which adorns my hallway), and an article mentioning their release on Warner Bros. After hitting all of our normal haunts, we arrived at Tracks, a music chain that provided me more rarities and gems than I've ever encountered in a chain store. I found my two choices for the afternoon, and waited in line to check out. Jon asked, "Did you find that one band you mentioned?" I almost let it go, but an especially slow register clerk prompted me to go find "that one band". My reaction to seeing the cover for the first time must have been a Kodak moment. I dropped what I was holding and proceeded back to the counter with "Nothing's Shocking". I really had zero idea what to expect, I'd heard nothing by this band - I just knew that they looked the way my head wanted to hear. We climbed into the baby blue Celica, which I feel compelled to mention was adorned with an Alpine deck and a back seat that basically consisted of a box containing to 18-inch Cerwin Vega woofers. In went the tape - lulling us into a false sense of bliss. We arrived at the main entrance to the mall just as the emotionally-soaked "HOME" tore across the asphalt: terrifying children, scattering pigeons,  and sending the elderly into cardiac arrest. The sincerity of Perry's vocals, and the ferocity of the music gave me chills. It was my first social commentary; "Nothing's Shocking" was my folk music. It was okay to not be A or B or C, and it's okay to present that awkwardness on a loud, spastic level. The other realization I had on that ride back home was that my emotional impact was my own... Jon was less than overwhelmed by Jane's Addiction - but I applaud him on allowing my weirdness to flow and have an outlet. "Hello, English Class taught by a former Catholic Nun - this is my new Jane's Addiction shirt, and yes that is Mary holding a plate with eyeballs on it, and that's okay." "By the way - I'm addicted to heroin now..."

Hello, life-crushing, emotional, hell of my own creation starring Julia Lewis. If your world revolved around someone unattainable or happened to value your heart on a sliding scale - then this was your soundtrack to that pain. Dripping with hurt, anger, lust - if an autopsy had been performed on my heart at the time - inside would have been this cassette. Not since very recently, has an album tied me so emotionally to a very finite period of my life, and so quickly transports me right back to it with even a passing listen. Trent made everything I was feeling so visceral, that I could only believe, that he too was dating Julia Lewis. It's not Nine Inch Nails' darkest, or purest, or most personal album, arguably, not their best album either - but it was at a perfect time in my life to give voice to feelings I felt consumed and suffocated by.

I sat in my living room late one night, going through a box of treasures that my closest friend, Shawn had sent me. I was, honestly, feeling a little jaded - nothing had profoundly impacted me musically on an emotional level in quite some time at this point. Certainly, I had found bands I liked, and others had shared amazing artists with me - but nothing that stuck me in the chest repeatedly like an inmate targeted by the Aryan Brotherhood. In this box lay a series of videos, the last of which I played, were two live performances of Shannon Wright. The first, at Coney Island, I believe, was a little underwhelming. The videographer was more interested in asses in the crowd than the show on stage (might I mention - he was there with a woman and a stroller-bound child). The second performance however took place in a small theater (Kentucky-I think) and then that assault on my senses happened. This banshee, beating the life out of her keyboard while drums thrashed violently made my blood run cold. I don't remember if Shawn sent me this album or if I obtained it on my own - but every emotion that was tore out my body watching Shannon Wright live was succinctly preserved on "Dyed In The Wool". Here again, a seemingly tortured, ravaged wreck of a human being, wrapped in this seething, pernicious ferocity was screaming out in an effort to exorcise pain and memory. If ever I could write again, I know it would be because of Shannon Wright. She's a muse for the fragility of weathered hearts. I missed my one (and apparently) only chance to see her live... I won't ever make that mistake again.

So, that's it for Part One. I'm going to try and piece together Part Two this weekend. Thanks for reading.