Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music: Aimee Mann - Lost in Space

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Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music: Aimee Mann - Lost in Space

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What is this now? This is a crazy little (well, not really little in scope) music project I thought up a while ago that I’m finally going to pursue. You see, music has one big problem: there is way too much of it. There is no keeping up with things that are coming out and then there is the huge legacy of music that already existed before I was even born. There are mountains beyond mountains of music and no way to seriously tackle it.

This year I have thought a little bit more about my music habits. The last couple of years, basically since becoming an active member of this forum, I have listened to more music than before, while at the same time perhaps pursuing my interests less. That has something to do with all the polls and games here. There are a lot of them, of which I don’t even play a fair lot, but still I feel I listen to more music ordained by these polls (especially the hefty Moderately Acclaimed game) than things I put on because I’m curious myself. When listening to many of my personal favorites for the current album poll I had a good time and noticed that indeed I might have missed staying a little closer to myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love discovering new music and these polls and games have been a valuable way of finding great albums in places I wouldn’t have looked. Still, I was thinking of a new approach.

There are all these canons with so much interesting music. This very site is of course a major canon, but there are many more. As of late I have come to be a bit fascinated with the RateYourMusic list. I may find the site itself a bit frustrating for discussions and reviews, but that list is a strange and quite wonderful beast. The RYM list can be brought to 7.500 albums (I see ranking until 10.000 appear, but don’t know how to access the final 2.500; not that I really need to at the moment) and AM currently ends at 3.000. A lot of albums appear on both lists of course, but they both have their flavor, with AM being more friendly to mainstream albums (the RYM community hates a ‘hit status’ with a passion), whereas RYM is better for finding hidden or idiosyncratic works. Both have their appeal and may I say charm. I wanted to use both lists combined for a new chapter in listening.

However, it didn’t appeal to me to just go down the lists in order. That would be too much of being guided again and would leave to little room for my own interests. I haven’t heard Michael Jackson’s Thriller yet for a reason: I really don’t want to. Besides, these lists are too long for such an approach. So I thought of something else. Work my way up the list and pick one album out of every ten I pass. Take for example the last ten albums of the AM list:

2991. Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man in the Universe
2992. Ol’ Dirty Basterd - Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version
2993. Led Zeppelin – How the West Was Won
2994. Julee Cruise – Floating into the Night
2995. Descendents – Milo Goes to College
2996. Bobby Timmons – This Here is Bobby Timmons
2997. Sonny Rollins – East Broadway Run Down
2998. Fatboy Slim – Better Living Though Chemistry
2999. John Martyn – One World
3000. The Prodigy – Experience

From these ten I would pick one that would at the moment of choice be something I would want to hear and listen to it a few times and write a review. How many times? As many as I feel like, probably spread out over several days. There are no other criteria for choosing an album besides that I want to. And after I’m done I move up to 2981-2890 and pick another one, and so on and so on. At the same time I will chose another album from the final 10 of the RYM top 7.500.

There was one thing bothering me, though. It would take very long to get to the top albums. So, to make things perhaps a bit more confusing for this explanation I decided to make even more alternations: I’ll first pick an album of the bottom of both lists, than one from the top, back to the bottom again, and so on until they meet in the middle.

Yes, this project is massive. I would end up listening to 300 albums from AM and 750 from RYM. We’ll see if I’ll finish it. To me it really is one of those journey-is-more-important-than-the-destination-things, like my earlier top 10.000 Songs project.

It is also a self-contained project, perhaps more something for a blog, but I post it here for now. Still, I like communication on this forum so if you want to take the journey along with me, either by listening to my choices or pick your own choices based on the same formula, I’d be happy to hear it.

A few little notes:
- When I use the RYM list I have live and archival albums switched on. I think these are vital types of albums that I want to check out, but note that this might explain why mentioned rankings differ from the ones you see on RYM in general.
- Also concerning RYM, the list is updated weekly, I believe somewhere around Tuesday. This means that an album might have a different ranking by the time I post a review in comparison to when I picked it (this has already happened with my first pick). Regardless of the update I’ll keep climbing the list in brackets of ten. If AM updates somewhere during this period I will likewise remain on the position I am in.

These are the first two albums I start with:
From AM: Bobby Timmons – This Here Is Bobby Timmons
From RYM: Neil Young – Sleeps With Angels

All the albums up til now, in alphabetical order:
10cc - The Original Soundtrack
Arcade Fire - Funeral
Neneh Cherry - Blank Project
Fishmans - 98.12.28 Otokotachi no Wakare
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Electric Ladyland
It's a Beautiful Day - It's a Beautiful Day
Jóhann Jóhannsson - Mandy
Julie London - Julie Is Her Name
Aimee Mann - Lost in Space
Van Morrison - Astral Weeks
My Bloody Valentine - Loveless
Nas - Illmatic
Planxty - The Well Below the Valley
Jeremiah Sand - Lift It Down
Slint - Spiderland
The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main St.
Subhumans - From the Cradle to the Grave
Bobby Timmons - This Here Is Bobby Timmons
Neil Young - Sleeps With Angels
Last edited by Rob on Wed Jan 13, 2021 10:31 pm, edited 8 times in total.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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Bobby Timmons - This Here is Bobby Timmons (1960) – AM #2996



The first question is, where to begin this series? What is a good first album? There were immediately multiple albums in the final ten of AM that had my interest. Still the choice was made easy when I saw the cover art of This Here is Bobby Timmons. It contains a profile of Timmons while a big arrow points at the tip of his nose, proudly claiming that this here is Bobby Timmons. Indeed, but that awkwardly positioned arrow also felt like a signal to me: this here is were you’ll start your climb up the musical mountains, at this man’s nose.

Now Bobby Timmons isn’t a name I was familiar with. After some more research I found he isn’t exactly a household name. In the history of jazz he is more of a supporting character, but he has done some work of note.

Timmons was a jazz pianist who first caught attention as a member of Art Blakey’s revolving door backing group The Jazz Messengers in 1958. It was there that between recordings Timmons would fill the time playing a few bars, when sax player Benny Golson suggested he should turn his musings into an actual song. Timmons had no experience in composing, but tried anyway and so brought his Moanin’ into the world, a composition that started with a call-and-answer response that Timmons got from his background as a church pianist in his youth were he played a lot of gospel. It was an unusual approach for jazz, but Art Blakey must have liked it as he recorded it soon with his Jazz Messengers (with indeed Timmons on piano) and surprisingly it became a big hit. Currently, Moanin’ is Blakey’s most played song on Spotify by far and the song ranks on AM. The composition is now a jazz standard.

A year later Timmons found himself in another backing group: The Cannonball Adderley Quintet. There he dropped a new composition titled This Here that Adderley decided to play live in a concert that would eventually become the influential The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Franscisco (just a little pause here to state that Cannonball Adderley is one of the great artist names of history). On the record you can hear how Adderley opens the show by explaining the concept of soul in music (note that ‘soul’ was not a named genre at the time) and uses the first song of the night, This Here, as an example. If Moanin’ put Timmons on the map it was This Here that blew him up. The recording with the Adderley Quintet, despite being 12 minutes long, became another big hit. Above all, it was a kick-off for the popularity of what was coined soul jazz, a real trend for a couple of years. And Timmons, as composer of perhaps the two most famous compositions of the form, was seen as one of it’s founders.

For the record, soul jazz has little to do with the soul genre that would become big later in the sixties. Instead it is now seen as something of a precursor to jazz-funk (or funk-jazz, whatever order you prefer). It’s a rather light, even somewhat danceable style of jazz that even if it keeps improvisations remains rather accessible and digestible. It’s good-time music, not something you’d let accompany a film-noir.

Having now two major songs as a claim to fame it was perhaps time for Bobby Timmons to become the leader of his own group. In 1960 he would form a trio with bass player Sam Jones (whom Timmons new from The Jazz Messengers) and drummer Jimmy Cobb. They would record Timmons’ personal debut album, the one we are talking about today. Predictably, the first two songs on the record are This Here and Moanin’. Yet both are very distinct from the hit versions I just talked about and their differences immediately make clear what kind of a performer Timmons is.

You see, it is pretty fitting that the album is credited to just Bobby Timmons and not the Bobby Timmons Trio, as this is very much the Timmons show. Whereas Moanin’ as done by Blakey and This Here by the Adderley Quintet are lengthy pieces that give multiple instrumentalists the chance to shine Timmons’ version are all about the piano and they are noticeably shorter too. The call and response start of Moanin’ at least gives Jones and Cobb the response part, but otherwise these two play a supporting role for most of the record, with little room for solo’s.

What is also noticeable is that with Timmons these songs sound even lighter. Timmons actually excels in fast paced, energetic and rather upbeat pieces. When he is playing in that mode he sounds the most alive and inspired, allowing him to become a good-natured companion whose jazz has an easy appeal. Whether or not his own versions of Moanin’ and This Here are better than their more famous forebearers is a matter of taste, but I find them good company.

After the two hits the album provides Timmons’ take on a few classic jazz compositions, plus two new pieces he wrote in between. The first of these two, Dat Dere, would also become a minor standard after Oscar Brown Jr. added lyrics to it and it is that version that is usually performed. In Timmons’ own hands it is another fine up-tempo soul jazz piece. The fourth Timmons original, Joyride, closes the album, but isn’t as memorable and is the only one that didn’t seem to have caught on.

Then there are his interpretations of other people’s work. Even a jazz newbie like me recognizes most of these titles: Lush Life, Come Rain Come Shine, My Funny Valentine, Prelude to a Kiss (or do I just know the Meg Ryan film of the same name in this case?). The quality varies sharply here. The faster, upbeat pieces are still very good and somehow Come Rain Come Shine became Timmons most played song on Spotify. However, the slower pieces sound strangely lifeless, especially Lush Life and My Funny Valentine. These bring the album down and show the limitations of Timmons.

After Timmons recorded this album his star faded as quickly as it rose. The soul jazz fad didn’t last long and he didn’t branch out beyond it. He himself admitted that he didn’t see himself as much of a composer and he never wrote something after his first three that made an impact. His subsequent records drew little attention, though the first few have their admirers. Increasing alcohol and drug use made Timmons also an unreliable supporting player. They also caused cirrhosis which ended his life at the age of only 38.

Basically, this album and specifically This Here, Moanin’ and Dat Dere make up Timmons’ legacy. It doesn’t exactly put him in the company of Coltrane, David, Ellington or Mingus, but it is still a nice legacy. I wouldn’t call the album a masterpiece, but if you like light, fast piano jazz you could do much worse.
7/10

One final note: for some reason the cigarette is removed from the album cover on Spotify. Is Spotify going the Disney route in censoring smoking?

Next Acclaimed Music pick: The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main St.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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What a worthy and lofty project, Rob !
I, for one, will enjoy reading your reviews, as I always have. I'm not a huge fan of writing reviews myself, although I sometimes play the game, I can't hope to go in so much depth and detail as you do. I much prefer rating albums after a listen and go back to it later - hence my love for instant gratification indie rock :)

When I read your "select 1 of those ten albums" I wondered how many I actually listened to...and rated. So it's a bit like you climb your mountains taking in and enjoying the beauty of the sights whilst I keep watching how I'm doing on my Apple watch :)

All in all, superb idea and will look forward to reading those reviews of yours !

2991. Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man in the Universe - 5/10
2992. Ol’ Dirty Basterd - Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version - unrated
2993. Led Zeppelin – How the West Was Won - 9/10
2994. Julee Cruise – Floating into the Night - 8/10
2995. Descendents – Milo Goes to College - unrated
2996. Bobby Timmons – This Here is Bobby Timmons - unrated
2997. Sonny Rollins – East Broadway Run Down - unrated
2998. Fatboy Slim – Better Living Though Chemistry - 8/10
2999. John Martyn – One World - unrated
3000. The Prodigy – Experience - 6/10
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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PS : I can't find Sleep with Angels (which is a great album) on the RYM chart at the position you seem to place it ?
Even with archival and live switched on, these are the ones I come up with

7490 Y.M.O. - Naughty Boys
7491 Bible of the Beast - Powerwolf
7492 New Orleans Street Singer - Snooks Eaglin
7493 Supper - (Smog)
7494 Alone - Bill Evans
7495 Little Birds Have Fast Hearts, No. 2 - Die Like a Dog Quartet
7496 Grobschnitt - Grobschnitt
7497 Do romance ao galope nordestino - Quinteto Armorial
7498 Galactic Zoo Dossier - Kingdom Come
7499 Beautiful Speck Triumph - Birchville Cat Motel
7500 Journey - Kingdom Come
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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spiritualized wrote: Mon Oct 12, 2020 6:06 am PS : I can't find Sleep with Angels (which is a great album) on the RYM chart at the position you seem to place it ?
Even with archival and live switched on, these are the ones I come up with

7490 Y.M.O. - Naughty Boys
7491 Bible of the Beast - Powerwolf
7492 New Orleans Street Singer - Snooks Eaglin
7493 Supper - (Smog)
7494 Alone - Bill Evans
7495 Little Birds Have Fast Hearts, No. 2 - Die Like a Dog Quartet
7496 Grobschnitt - Grobschnitt
7497 Do romance ao galope nordestino - Quinteto Armorial
7498 Galactic Zoo Dossier - Kingdom Come
7499 Beautiful Speck Triumph - Birchville Cat Motel
7500 Journey - Kingdom Come
Yes, but I already picked the album for myself a week ago, when the final 10 looked like this:

7491. Beggars Opera – Waters of Change
7492. Mats/ Morgan - Live
7493. Trust – Live (Répression dans l'hexagone)
7494. The Boys – The Boys
7495. Piero Ciampi – Piero Ciampi
7496. Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Sleeps with Angels
7497. Dewey Redman – The Ear of the Behearer
7498. Porcupine Tree – Atlanta
7499. Autechre – Untitled
7500. Neal Morse – Sola Scriptura

Now I have the same ten indeed as you have. Sleeps with Angels resides currently at #7451. I will always mention the ten I could pick from, for reference reasons.

The Neil Young review should be up today.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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Wow.
The variations at the bottom are amazing !
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Sleeps with Angels (1994) – RYM #7496



When it started I was a little mystified. When an album is billed as having Crazy Horse on it you can’t help but have certain expectations. Neil Young’s career is pretty varied, but when he brings the Horse into the race you know what you’ll get: distorted guitars. Usually in longwinded passages. Yet Sleeps with Angels starts with aching piano ballad My Heart, which would have felt right at home on this album’s predecessor Harvest Moon. Now I think Harvest Moon is one Neil Young’s masterpieces, but it was not what I came here for. I selected this album because it is one of the few high-rated Young works I did not yet know and also because it said ‘& Crazy Horse’. It’s another mood I was in for than sweet-country Young. However, it turned out to be a prelude to one of his most unexpected albums.

Before I can go on about this I have to address the dead elephant in the room. Almost every review out there calls this album a response to the tragic death of Kurt Cobain. Heck, even I who had never heard this one before have known this for years as the Cobain Requiem. It seems that all critics have been lazy parrots as Neil Young has never actually stated that the album is about Cobain. In an interview with Mojo in 1995 he was asked directly about this and he said rather obliquely that it was inspired by a lot of things and that he had no intention to ever reveal what exactly. He neither confirmed nor denied the Cobain connection. It is known though that this album was recorded over an almost six month period, in which Cobain was only dead in the last one. Make of that what you will.

I actually like that Young doesn’t feel the need to explain himself. Over five listens in about a week of time this album has resonated rather deeply with me and part of the appeal is that it is hard to get a complete grip on what it is about. It feels like an elegy for sure, but the other thing that seems to be commonly said about Sleeps with Angels – that is a bleak album – is only partially true. Some songs seem despairing or deeply sad, but others quietly optimistic or comforting. I do agree that the comparison with seventies classics On the Beach and Tonight’s the Night is apt, but it is no simple retreading of old ground. This is an artist still in search of meaning in dark times.

Along the trip Neil Young uses his whole musical palette, using Crazy Horse indeed sometimes to rock out like only they can, but also trusts them to accompany him on arrangements out of their usual comfort zone. After a few spins I found out that My Heart is not a disappointing opening, but a beautiful, gentle intro that softly sets the tone. It also has the imagery of a shepherd looking for a destination, a subtly Biblical element that fits strangely well as an entry point.

The second track, Prime of Life, adds some guitars but still stays restrained. Then on the third Driveby, we get into a harder gear, which culminates into the very grunge like title track. The lyrics don’t remind me of Kurt Cobain all that much, although the main guy dies, but the sound of this one is the easiest connection you can make. It’s a raw, harrowing song, almost shocking after the restraint of the first three tracks. By now you know things are serious. Something is bothering Young.

He quickly switches musical gears again on Western Hero, perhaps lyrics-wise the key piece to the album. It is an elegy for a western hero – first a frontiersman, than a soldier in Normandy during World War 2 and finally a vague figure with money whom people want to take out. Like the first song it sounds like something from Harvest (Moon), but with a much deeper sadness than I have found on either album. It also contains one of Young’s most beautiful melodies. He must have thought so too, because he shamelessly reuses the very same tune much later on the album in the equally successful Train of Love. Curiously, the melody sounds to me like it could turn into Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees any second, though I don’t know why.

After Western Hero we reach the epic centerpiece Change Your Mind, probably the album’s biggest claim to fame. This one is fourteen minutes long and is in true Crazy Horse style: long distorted, feedback-driven guitar solos seemingly without end. Every now and then Young’s voice crops up, singing about the importance of someone who can comfort you in times of despair. It may be a familiar approach for Young in this stage in his career, but even with my deep love for pieces like Like a Hurricane and Down by the River I have to say this beats them all. The song really does feel like it finds brief moments of reprieve in chaos. It’s dark and it’s light. It is a masterpiece.

There are six more tracks afterward, but I’m not going to continue this song-by-song approach of album reviewing, although I can say that Young and the Horse keep mixing things up every turn, with flawless results (indeed the second half may even be stronger than the first). What I tried to do is sketch the feel and may I say the journey Sleeps with Angels takes you on. It really sees grief or maybe loss as something that evokes many responses: sadness, anger, melancholy, the need for comfort or the ability to provide said comfort. Loss is pain, but it is more than that and few works of art I know have evoked this so clearly. Or maybe “clearly” is the wrong word as Neil Young and Crazy Horse are artists who naturally deal in a muddled vision, but that might turn out to be the way to see things as they are. A brilliant album that is perhaps somewhat overlooked because it came rather late in Young’s career and didn’t spawn any hits. It ranks with the best of them I say and the suggestion by the RYM community that there are apparently over 7.400 albums that are better strikes me as absurd.
10/10 (Well, that was achieved quickly in this series)

One final note: some people claim that the second to last song on Sleeps with AngelsPiece of Crap (about Neil Young being tricked into buying stuff that turns out to be indeed a piece of crap) – seems to belong on a completely different album. These people are right. There are also people who claim that this punkish rocker is a hell of a lot of fun. These people are even more right.

Next from Rate Your Music: My Bloody Valentine - Loveless
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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By the way, that we now have two days in a row of me posting a review here is not likely going to be standard practice. I just started and finished with these two around the same time. I have no set days of posting here, anyway. It will all depend on when I feel I'm ready to write the review and also have the time.

These two pieces have been on the longer side too. I'm not sure how that will develop, but some albums might get shorter reviews, especially some more obscure RYM-picks that have little information about them.
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It ranks with the best of them I say and the suggestion by the RYM community that there are apparently over 7.400 albums that are better strikes me as absurd.
10/10 (Well, that was achieved quickly in this series)
Rob, couldn't agree more.
And from the look of the AT lists in the soon-to-be-unveiled overall list, only Live in Phoenix and myself think the album worth a top 1000 albums-ever. (873 for me, 54 for Live in Phoenix)

Thank you for all the anecdotes and valuable opinions...Can't wait for Loveless - but surprised by your choice, surely this must be a staple album ?
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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spiritualized wrote: Wed Oct 14, 2020 12:25 pm
It ranks with the best of them I say and the suggestion by the RYM community that there are apparently over 7.400 albums that are better strikes me as absurd.
10/10 (Well, that was achieved quickly in this series)
Rob, couldn't agree more.
And from the look of the AT lists in the soon-to-be-unveiled overall list, only Live in Phoenix and myself think the album worth a top 1000 albums-ever. (873 for me, 54 for Live in Phoenix)
I'm not gonna update my list, but it would be top 100 for me now, for sure.
Thank you for all the anecdotes and valuable opinions...Can't wait for Loveless - but surprised by your choice, surely this must be a staple album ?
It is a big classic, but it is also the only of their top 10 that I'd never heard before, so it's about time.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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Rob wrote: Wed Oct 14, 2020 1:17 pm
It is a big classic, but it is also the only of their top 10 that I'd never heard before, so it's about time.
Wow !
I'm just a tad jealous - you can never re-live the feeling of discovering a masterpiece for the first time - although in the case of Loveless, it may take a few listens.
If this is not the case already, I strongly suggest you immerse yourself in MBV with a good pair of headphones. This album deserves nothing less.
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The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main St. (1972) – AM #9

These were the 10 albums I could chose from:

1. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
2. The Beatles – Revolver
3. Nirvana – Nevermind
4. The Velvet Underground & Nico – The Velvet Underground & Nico
5. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
6. The Clash – London Calling
7. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
8. Radiohead – OK Computer
9. The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main St.
10. Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde



When I shared my top 250 albums list for our All Time Poll recently I noted that there is a surprising lack of Rolling Stones records on there, despite me really liking the band. As I stated, the reason was that I had grown up with Stones compilations from my dad when I was younger. I know all the hits by heart and it never seemed necessary to pursue the albums. I did hear all their most famous albums at least once, but mostly as background music. So goes with Exile on Main St., an album I did hear only one time before, although I might not have paid too much attention to it back then.

That’s the best excuse I can come up with for not counting this one as a complete favorite yet. Because, damn…

This album rocks!

It is well known that Exile on Main St. is not the Stones album with their most famous songs. Beggar’s Banquet has Sympathy for the Devil and Street Fighting Man. Let It Bleed gives us Gimme Shelter and You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Sticky Fingers brings Brown Sugar and Wild Horses to the table. These are all songs that anyone with a little knowledge of rock music knows. Exile has… Tumbling Dice is reasonably famous, I guess. Not one of the, I don’t know, first twenty Rolling Stone songs I expect any average person on the street to mention, but it’s by far the most well-known thing here.

Make no mistake, though, as there is only one reason that not almost every single song here was one of the biggest rock records of all time and that is because we live in a crazy world. No other explanation can be accepted. Luckily our parent site Acclaimed Music with it’s vast song list does better, with 11 of it’s songs ranking in the main list and four others bubbling under. That leaves only four tracks completely absent and these are still very good. I guess it is a bit nonsensical to complain about Stop Breaking Down not being there, but that kind of nonsense is exactly my jam and I happen to think that Stop Breaking Down (a Robert Johnson cover) is one of the five best tracks on the record.

Exile on Main St. has a famous back story. Literal books have been written about it’s making and there is at least one documentary about it too. I don’t really want to use this space to go over that once again. What you should know is that it was created over a rather long period of inner toil in the band, a feeling of displacement due to tax-related exile and a with whole lot of drug abuse happening. Some hear this in the sound, which is very murky and rough, which possibly suggests a sort of drugged-out and weary haze. This is the Stones torn and frayed as the song title says.

Yes, but it is also very much alive. Jubilant, ecstatic, fiery and perhaps even their most shamelessly hedonistic. Both lyrics and music alternate between a sense of ragged defeat and an almost gleeful will to live. It manages to feel both ramshackle and expertly played. It’s a mess and a thing of beauty. It is most definitely evil and a needed shot in the vein. If this all sounds like meaningless hyperbole, I’ll remark that I chose every word very exactly.

The thing is that without going into anything private, the last week for me was particularly exhausting and trying. During all this, Exile on Main St. was the soundtrack of my evenings, pumping life back into me. It was exactly what was needed, rock in a mode that I like the most: wild, loose, lively, bluesy, hard and spontaneous. Together with Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods, Led Zeppelin IV, Who’s Next and Ty Segall’s Freedom’s Goblin this captures exactly what I’m looking for in rock and explains why I love the genre so much. And it was always there, right under my nose without me noticing it. Holding a great rhythm section, Mick Jagger as the ultimate irresistible sleazeball and Keith Richards going off-key as only a true virtuoso can.

The music is not just straight rock, but famously runs over many American genres like there is no tomorrow. There is gospel, soul, country and of course the blues, all bended in the personality of The Rolling Stones. That this is really one of their records is amplified when you look at the track list, whose titles almost all could fit as the name of a career-spanning book on the band. I already referred to Torn and Frayed (consequently probably my favorite song here), but also Rip This Joint, Rock’s Off, Soul Survivor, Stop Breaking Down, Tumbling Dice, Let It Loose, Shake Your Hips, Shine a Light and, yes, Turd on the Run.

It’s a double album, so it runs long, but it doesn’t bore a minute. If your worst song among 18 is Casino Boogie then you’ve done a very good job indeed. When listening to Exile on Main St. earlier this week the rather preposterous thought struck me that this is the album that made good on the promise of rock and roll. I don’t even know what that means. Then again, I am very comfortable in the knowledge that I may not really know what rock and roll promised us, as long as I know what the promise sounds like. This is it.
10/10 (Two tens in a row? Am I going weak?)

Final note: There is a song by song cover of this album by noise band Pussy Galore. It’s on YouTube and I’m listening to it while writing this. That album is… quite something.

Next AM pick: Neneh Cherry - Blank Project
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by Holden »

Exile has always been my favorite Stones record! It’s the only one I own on vinyl, and No. 3 in my All-Time list. However, I will say that Sticky Fingers is slowly but surely catching up! The other two of the big four are good, but aside from the songs you’ve mentioned above, they seem to have a lot of filler to me.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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I was nervous last week when you said you were gonna do Exile since it’s one of my favorites so I’m glad you liked it! :mrgreen:
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by Rob »

FrankLotion wrote: Mon Oct 19, 2020 11:32 pm I was nervous last week when you said you were gonna do Exile since it’s one of my favorites so I’m glad you liked it! :mrgreen:
Oh dear, I don't want people to nervous about the picks. My goal is first and foremost to pick albums I suspect I will like. That doesn't mean I can't be wrong in the assumption, but I fully expect mostly positive reviews here.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by Gillingham »

Nice write-up about Exile on Main St. It's also my favorite album of theirs, not a weak song to find and indeed a lot of fun too.

It's a pity your 'discovery' of the album is just too late for the AMF Albums of all time tournament. More so because it generally doesn't do as well as it's AM ranking. Jammer :)
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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Rob wrote: Tue Oct 20, 2020 7:42 am
FrankLotion wrote: Mon Oct 19, 2020 11:32 pm I was nervous last week when you said you were gonna do Exile since it’s one of my favorites so I’m glad you liked it! :mrgreen:
Oh dear, I don't want people to nervous about the picks. My goal is first and foremost to pick albums I suspect I will like. That doesn't mean I can't be wrong in the assumption, but I fully expect mostly positive reviews here.
I definitely don’t think you need to worry about what we all think, I was mostly kidding! I’m pretty sure most people wouldn’t be on this forum if they couldn’t handle differing opinions about the music they like ;)

Either way I always loved you’re album reviews so I hope you continue!
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by Rob »

Gillingham wrote: Tue Oct 20, 2020 8:32 am Nice write-up about Exile on Main St. It's also my favorite album of theirs, not a weak song to find and indeed a lot of fun too.

It's a pity your 'discovery' of the album is just too late for the AMF Albums of all time tournament. More so because it generally doesn't do as well as it's AM ranking. Jammer :)
Yes, it would probably have made my top 20. Jammer indeed.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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spiritualized wrote: Wed Oct 14, 2020 12:25 pm
It ranks with the best of them I say and the suggestion by the RYM community that there are apparently over 7.400 albums that are better strikes me as absurd.
10/10 (Well, that was achieved quickly in this series)
Rob, couldn't agree more.
And from the look of the AT lists in the soon-to-be-unveiled overall list, only Live in Phoenix and myself think the album worth a top 1000 albums-ever. (873 for me, 54 for Live in Phoenix)
It's a messy album, probably too long. (This is the first time that I've heard that the mess might actually be the point.) Regardless, a lot of it is mythological to me, musically and personally. There's maybe no other album that came to me with better timing. The album practically re-activates the fall and winter of 1994 if I start thinking about it again. It should probably be my #1 Neil Young album.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991) – RYM #7



These were the 10 albums I could chose from:
1. Radiohead – OK Computer
2. Radiohead – Kid A
3. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
4. Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
5. King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King
6. The Velvet Underground & Nico – The Velvet Underground & Nico
7. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
8. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
9. Radiohead – In Rainbows
10. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds

It’s hard when talking about Loveless, but let’s forget about the shoegaze genre for a minute. Instead, let us talk about that other genre that this album is sometimes categorized as: dream pop. I like dream pop quite a bit. At its best it earns its name not because it puts you to sleep, but because it evokes the feeling of a both a good rest and a nice dream. The best dream pop records seem to soothe the soul and I tend to imagine them in colors as warm as a welcome thick blanket on a cold night.

Every now and then though, for whatever reason you can’t fall asleep. You are tired, very tired and you feel like every moment you can blissfully pass out, but it doesn’t happen. You can’t think straight anymore, your thoughts are jumbled and sometimes surreal as if a dream is already happening, but not really. Maybe you fall asleep for a few seconds, but you always wake up way too soon. It is basically a semi-sleep state, a denial of being awake or asleep, even though you clearly want the latter. This is how I would describe the feeling of Loveless.

Maybe it is just me, but I find Loveless even after seven listens to be completely strange. It does feel like a dream pop record, but at the same time it refuses you to indulge in that dream feeling. Nonetheless, the album doesn’t feel awake enough, so to speak, to work as something more energetic. Like the almost-dream state I describe above I feel a sort of fight coming on, because dammit I want to sleep already, but perhaps because of the fight I am more awake than ever.

The only way to make peace with Loveless was to accept it for what it was. The sound to me remains really counter-intuitive, but by now I have come to terms with it. To explain what is counter-intuitive about it to me I have a good example. I noticed that a lot of fans of Loveless claim that the album is best enjoyed when played very loud. Since the album itself doesn’t feel very loud to me I thought that for once I could push the sound to a higher volume than I’m usually comfortable with. Basically, for a short while I played Loveless unnaturally loud. The effect was weird. My ears gave me a clear signal that I should turn it down again, like it was too much. At the same time the album still didn’t sound really loud. The overall muted mix made it still seem subdued. I finally had to note that Loveless is build on paradoxes, on several intuitions fighting with each other.

What you basically get here is a real pop album that at the same time embraces and denounces pop. Kevin Shields and his collaborators (I refuse to call My Bloody Valentine a band during the recording process of My Bloody Valentine, because Kevin Shield definitely did not use his colleagues as band members) have stated that Shields actually loves melodies and he was aiming for a pop sound. In a way you can hear it. There are clear melodies here, some surprisingly bright and in case of I Only Said even sexy. Heck, Soon feels like it belongs on the dancefloor, almost. As such Shields seems genuine in his love for a catchy tune.

At the same time he is in love with feedback, fuzz and an overall drowning of sound effects. That’s cool, you can make catchy songs with that too. Yet Shields does not use these elements in real tandem with the more conventional melodies, but uses it to drown them out. It acts as a sort of layer to make the pop song feel like it is at another plain, as unattainable as a dream. When listening more closely I did finally notice that the fuzz (which I use as a catch-all for all the special effects here) do in fact cohere with the overall sound. It’s not really a counter-element at all, but it does soften the sound. It makes everything feel far away. It’s not just that elements that are usually highlighted like the voice or elements that are naturally forceful like drums are being put at the back of the mix, it is more that there seems to nothing at the front. Basically, a mix with just the background sounds. The opposite of what a pop song would do.

The two year recording process of this album by now is the stuff of legend. Like with Exile on Main Str. I feel like enough has been written about it already, so I don’t want to go into it too deeply, but I do think some details about the recording process reveal the contradictions with which this record was made. In an interview engineer Alan Moulder (see link below) remembers fondly how Shields insisted on replacing the strings on his guitar three times a day because he wanted them to retain their “zing”. In the same interview Moulder recalls with equal fondness how Shields was enamored with pedals named Roger Meyer Octave Fuzz and Active Fuzz. With these two pedals together Shields could decay and even shut down the notes and he used these options frequently. So at the same time Shields loves the “zing” and he loves to remove the “zing”. It is clearly the latter tendency that won in the end, because there are a lot of ways to describe the sound of Loveless, but I doubt anyone would use “zing”.

What all this does is make me doubt whether Shields really knew what he was going for. Shields has now a reputation as one of the great perfectionists, someone who got unlimited freedom to make this one masterpiece that might have nearly bankrupted the studio. Yet the more I read about the making of Loveless and despite the insistence of all collaborators that Shields has a clear vision, it seems to me as a work made by someone who lost control of his goal and needed two years to figure out what he wanted.

Even if I’m a little skeptical about Shields as a sort mythological being I can’t deny that Loveless has come into it’s own. The final record has a very defined sound that is consistent and even among shoegaze feels truly unique. As such I can clearly understand why it has quite a dedicated following. The final question remains what I think about it. That’s a difficult one.

The fact is that especially the first few times of listening I really didn’t know what to make of it. I loved some parts, hated others and overall just felt that the album seemed at odds with itself. It was hard to get what it was going for and there was barely an intuitive connection between me and it. Still, I couldn’t deny some songs so I felt the need to return and accept the challenge this posed on me.

The hard part was the beginning. Only Shallow was a song that didn’t click with me at all, with it’s odd clear melody in counterpoint to what I guess are screeching guitars. I have warmed up to that one since and can hear the beauty in it. After that opening we get Loom, perhaps the most forgettable song on the album, followed by the less than a minute long Touched, of which I have nothing to say because I always miss the specific moment it starts and ends. Then we get to what I consider the low point of the album although it seems to be popular among fans: To Here Knows When. There is no soft way of putting this so I just state outright here that I absolutely hate that song. Seven attempts have not made me warm up to it. It just feels grating, with what sounds like two distorted guitars with rusted strings having a fight with each other. The effect is painful to my ears. Not painful in a metaphorical way, but in a real physical way: this song literally makes my ears hurt.

The upside to it is that it makes the next song all the more sweet. When You Sleep from it’s start feels like a burst of sweet sunlight. It is probably the brightest sounding song on the album and after To Here Knows When it is a true release. For me, this is were Loveless as a great album starts, after about 13 minutes. Nothing afterwards is bad and much of it is very appealing. I already called I Only Said sexy and Soon danceable and even if I’m not convinced that the fuzzy sound makes them better, they work very well and make me giddy. There is also Blown a Wish, the one track in which Belinda Butcher’s voice feels like it is allowed to really enchant and it is the one song that puts the dream back in dream pop.

Loveless is a real Album with a capital A and not a hits collection, yet for me I think there are just four songs I want to return to in the future: When You Sleep, I Only Said, Soon and Blown a Wish. These four tracks make me believe the masterpiece status of Loveless is deserved. I’ll avoid To Here Knows When like the plague and the remaining tracks I can take or leave. That makes this album hard to rate. It is a unique work for sure with moments of real beauty, but as whole I sadly don’t feel a deep connection to it. I should add that I listened to You Made Me Realize, Isn’t Anything and m b v too this week and although I only listened to those three once they clicked more with me. Don’t ask me why, My Bloody Valentine doesn’t work with reason.
7/10 (though the rating is basically meaningless)

Interview with Loveless engineer Alan Moulder: http://polymathperspective.com/?p=3305

Next time from RYM: Subhumans – From the Cradle to the Grave
Last edited by Rob on Fri Dec 11, 2020 10:53 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by spiritualized »

Hi Rob,
Great review, thanks for this !
Don't forget to add the link to the Alan Moulder interview, quite interested to read it.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by Jackson »

It's too bad you didn't enjoy Loveless more, though I certainly appreciate you trying. I ranked it #1 in our recent all-time album poll, like I've done every time I've participated. My personal connection with the album has existed for so long, and came so immediately after first hearing it, that's it's difficult for me to understand the perspective of someone like you who likes parts of it but can't connect with the whole -- though I'm sure the opposite is true for you!

To Here Knows When is one of my favorite songs on the album (I rank it third after Soon and When You Sleep). It is undoubtedly the most extreme song on the album, so I can see how you may not like it. It is one of the most truly psychedelic songs I've ever heard. If I close my eyes it can take me anywhere I want to go. The super-feedback-heavy rhythm guitar sound is absolutely gigantic, contrasting with the beautiful keyboard (or keyboard-like) riffs in the background to create a powerful and emotional experience. When the song hits me right, I'm almost moved to tears but its combination of beauty and ugliness. To top it off, the droning transition from this song into the gorgeous riff in When You Sleep is my favorite moment of the album. No matter how many times I listen to the album, I have no idea exactly what moment the transition will happen.

I totally agree with what you said about the unique sound of the album. I like to listen to this with headphones turned up to a level that would be uncomfortable for most other music, which increases the music's transportive effect but also does not hurt my ears.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by Rob »

Thanks, Spiritualized. I indeed forgot about adding the interview with Moulder, but it is now at the end of the review.
Jackson wrote: Fri Oct 23, 2020 10:53 pm My personal connection with the album has existed for so long, and came so immediately after first hearing it, that's it's difficult for me to understand the perspective of someone like you who likes parts of it but can't connect with the whole -- though I'm sure the opposite is true for you!
Actually, it's not. I feel like this is exactly the type of album where I would normally love (or hate) the whole thing, because it has such a consistent sound. If you have a deep connection to this particular sound I can fully understand that Loveless makes a great whole. It's always fascinating to me why some people relate stronger to certain sounds while others veer again to others. I wonder what inside of us makes it so, but there is no telling really. Even on a smaller scale I sometimes ask myself why one legendary guitar riff seems transcendent to me, while another equally legendary riff make me go "Yeah, it's kinda cool". I do think that Loveless, because it so unusual and so specific in it's sonic make-up is one of those albums that inspires more extreme reactions, both positive and negative.
To top it off, the droning transition from this song into the gorgeous riff in When You Sleep is my favorite moment of the album. No matter how many times I listen to the album, I have no idea exactly what moment the transition will happen.
This is my favorite moment on the album too. Not just because I don't like To Here Knows When, but also because When You Sleep's start just has such a feeling of release. That's probably why it's my favorite song here.
I totally agree with what you said about the unique sound of the album. I like to listen to this with headphones turned up to a level that would be uncomfortable for most other music, which increases the music's transportive effect but also does not hurt my ears.
I actually tried several set-ups here: two types of headphones and on speakers, loud and quiet, even several different streaming options. I never put so much work in an album as on this one come to think of it. My favorite setting was indeed on headphones on a loud volume.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by Honorio »

Excellent reviews, Rob! Great idea for a thread, I'll be reading every word of it.
About "Loveless" I always thought that it was a "love or hate" thing (count me as part of the not-exactly-hate-but-really-don't-enjoy group), but looking at the RYM rating distribution you can see that, at least among the RYM users, is a universally loved album. The amount of 5 rating double the 4s. And there are very few low ratings.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by Rob »

Honorio wrote: Sat Oct 24, 2020 3:09 pm Excellent reviews, Rob! Great idea for a thread, I'll be reading every word of it.
About "Loveless" I always thought that it was a "love or hate" thing (count me as part of the not-exactly-hate-but-really-don't-enjoy group), but looking at the RYM rating distribution you can see that, at least among the RYM users, is a universally loved album. The amount of 5 rating double the 4s. And there are very few low ratings.
Thanks Honorio.
I feel that Loveless is very representative of the type of people who vote a lot on RYM. Their top 10 consists exclusively out of records that I'd call ultimate studio albums. By this I mean that they are all albums that depend on a lot of production work that gives an end result that is very layered; full of bells and whistles so to speak, but in a very elegant, masterly way. None of these ten can be said to sound spontaneous or raw, let alone that anyone would say they tried to create a 'live feeling' in the studio. In short, the average RYM votes likes meticulously crafted studio wizardry a lot. And Loveless might just be the ultimate form of this.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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Neneh Cherry – Blank Project (2014) – AM #2982



These were the albums I could chose from:

2981. The Youngbloods – Elephant Mountain
2982. Neneh Cherry – Blank Project
2983. Godflesh - Streetcleaner
2984. Elvis Presley – Elvis Country (I’m 10,000 Years Old)
2985. Disco Inferno – D. I. Go Pop
2986. Band of Horses – Cease to Begin
2987. Gregory Isaacs – Night Nurse
2988. Booker Little – Out Front
2989. Naked City – Torture Garden
2990. Ali Farka Touré – The River

It may seem a little distant already, but I remember how there was more than a bit of excitement surrounding Blank Project in 2014. This was after all the real return of Neneh Cherry. Of course, two years before she recorded (the excellent) The Cherry Thing with jazz group The Thing, which already drew positive reviews, but Blank Project was the first real solo album by the former pop star since 1996! It’s not that she didn’t do anything in the in-between years. She had several side-projects, most notably CirKus, even if nothing drew any real attention, as well as a whole load of guest performances on other people’s albums. She also briefly had a cooking show on the BBC; just so you know. Still, The Cherry Thing and especially Blank Project marked the real return.

I remember being interested at the time, but never got around to actually listen to it. I knew Cherry of course from her late eighties and early nineties stuff. Her duet with Youssou N’Dour, 7 Seconds, was very big when I was a little kid and I relate it very strongly to my earliest memories. I also always had a soft spot for Buffalo Stance, her breakthrough hit. I wouldn’t say I’m hugely into debut album Raw Like Sushi, which is filled with cool attitudes and a playful mash-up of genres, but is also very dated and got some, ahem, naïve lyrics (Hearts is… unfortunate).

The thing is, 7 Seconds aside, all the songs I knew her from were very youthful, clearly the product of a young woman. It’s very hard to imagine a 49 year old (Cherry’s age by recording of Blank Project) singing Buffalo Stance or Manchild. So how would this style transform when entering a new phase in life? Simply, it didn’t. There is not a single trace of young Neneh in middle-aged Neneh’s music left. Without knowing I don’t think anyone could guess that Raw Like Sushi and Blank Project were by the same artist. Many artists evolve over the years, but because of the gap in her career Neneh’s development seems more like a schizophrenic metamorphosis.

It isn’t really so, though. You don’t need to listen to Cherry’s various side-projects to learn that she has a lot of musical baggage, even before she recorded her first album. I was somewhat aware that her stepfather was jazz artist Don Cherry and her real father was an African musician by the name of Ahmadu Jah, from Sierra Leone. That’s already some influence right there. Born in Sweden, she moved to New York with her family where she actually lived in a building for a while with Talking Heads and a band member of The Modern Lovers. Her first music gig as a teenager was as a background singer for The Slits (yes, those The Slits) and punk was her first musical calling, dropping in and out of several bands in her formative years. I’m not sure what process caused her actual solo debut to sound like a mixture of Prince and eighties hip hop, but that is what happened.

It was as a pop singer that Cherry reached success, but as we can see her roots are elsewhere and although Blank Project is not what I’d call a return to those roots, they reveal more about why it sounds like it does. Although Acclaimed Music files the album under the meaningless genre of Art Pop (one of those genres I can’t help but feel exists specifically to categorize artists that don’t belong anywhere), this has nothing to do with pop of any kind, as this is basically an electronic vocal jazz album, with a touch of trip hop. On the instrumental side we only have two guys supporting Cherry, the brothers Tom and Ben Page, better known as RocketNumberNine, who specialize in a mixture of percussion (courtesy of Tom) and electronics (by Ben). They also enlisted Four Tet as a producer, who guided this small group to a very sparse sound.

Basically it is Neneh Cherry’s vocals who set the scene. In many tracks she emulates old vocal jazz artists. Not so much the Ella Fitzgeralds or Billie Holidays of the world, but the type of singers that you sometimes find in the more political jazz. I’m not an expert on the genre, but I was reminded of Abbey Lincoln on Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite. A very free kind of singing, that doesn’t follow the melody so much as set the pace for the instrumentalists to react on.

The opening song, Across the Water, immediately sets a clear scene. It is just Cherry’s voice with Tom Page on drums. It almost sounds a-capella and creates a very dramatic sound. Although the remainder of the album is fuller, everything remains sparse, giving a sense of Cherry caught in a sort of stark void. It should be said that she never emotes broadly. There is a very tight control on her voice and although she shows great range, all of it remains subtle.

At first I thought the album was a little too measured to be considered great. It is undoubtedly all performed with great skill, but I felt it could use a bit more passion, rawness or spontaneity. The album did grow on me, however. The wise voice of Cherry, the way RocketNumberNine seem to fully match yet never overshadow her and the surprising melodies that do pop up in the end all have an understated beauty and power that in the right mood is really appealing. The lyrics are not very direct, but all reflect a feeling of uncertainty. Cherry explained the title as a sort of blank slate; an open project in which anything is allowed to happen and although the sound is not very varied, the concept comes across in the feel of the work.

It helps that there isn’t a weak song on here. The title track got the best vocal/ instrument interplay, closely followed by Naked. Cynical is a wonderful song of self-expression and a rare moment of real hope on the album. On Spit Three Times and the glorious Out of the Black (a duet with that other Swedish pop queen, Robyn) she has fun. Weightless is almost dream pop. The finale, Everything, is a subdued epic that fits perfectly. None of these songs are hit material (indeed, based on Spotify streams it is her least popular album), but for the patient listener they hold a lot of great stuff that reveals itself gradually.

I do think that the lack of anything that connects directly has hurt the album’s standing. I don’t feel many people, including critics, still think about Blank Project even six years later and it will inevitably fall of the AM list never to return. It will perhaps become a hidden gem, but a gem it is.
8/10

Next time from Acclaimed Music: Van Morrison - Astral Weeks
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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Subhumans – From the Cradle to the Grave (1983) – RYM #7482



These were the albums I could choose from:

7481. Joel – Super Ghostbusters
7482. Subhumans – From the Cradle to the Grave
7483. The Go-Betweens – That Striped Sunlight Sound
7484. Veniamin D’rkin - Крышкин дом
7485. Pharaohs – Awakening
7486. Nina Simone – Nina Simone at Newport
7487. The Rolling Stones – Their Satanic Majesties Request
7488. Nuovo Ensemble Italiano / Gruppo Musica Insieme / Aldo Brizzi / Michiko Hirayama / Maurizio Ben Omar / Federico Mondelci – Giacinto Scelsi
7489. Soft Machine – Backwards
7490. Tom Jobin – Matita Perê

The reason I chose Subhumans’ second LP From the Cradle to the Grave from the selection above is actually quite simple: I noticed it has a 16 minute long song. That in itself is not that remarkable, but this is a hardcore punk band. Although it isn’t unprecedented for punk to have a very long song, it has always been a rarity for the genre, which typically specializes in short and punchy songs. Yet I vividly remember hearing an extended, almost prog-like punk track for the first time: Jesus of Suburbia by Green Day. As some of you know, that one ranks among my favorite songs of all time. Green Day is easily mocked, especially by punk afficionados, but to me the way they keep reinventing that song every few minutes in several parts that flow together incredibly well, with lyrics that might be adolescent yet are also memorable, it keeps getting to me. Since then I’m always curious to check out a long punk song. There is something fascinating in the way it could melt those two opposites of rock music: prog and punk.

On Subhumans’ album the long song is the last one and it is also the title track. On vinyl it would be the whole B-side. To start with the bad news, it ended up being probably my least favorite song here. I certainly don’t dislike it, as it has a lot going for it, but in the end I thought it was more interesting in theory than in execution. The best part is the main riff that opens the song and keeps reappearing from the time to time, perhaps to remind us we are still listening to the same track. This riff has a lot of drive, which is needed as I think the song at times lacks this, especially near the slow ending stretch, when the band perhaps reaches too hard for profundity. For the most part Subhumans keep things going with just enough variety to keep things interesting, but there are moments the song just sags.

It doesn’t help that the lyrics are maybe a little too standard fare for punk. The system against the individual; you know the drill. It’s John Lennon’s Working Class Hero without the poetry but longer, or maybe Pink Floyd’s Animals without the metaphors but shorter. There is nothing wrong with these themes and they certainly suit the attack of the general punk sound very well, but I felt that in this case the lyrics were too basic to really grab my attention or warrant such length. Some quotable (shoutable?) lines would have gone a long way, as punk has always excelled more in memorable sloganeering than in poetry.

The relative failure of this final epic (and I really mean relative, it isn’t really bad) is made all the more clear because the A side is so effective. That side has no less than 9 songs and although one of them goes on for five minutes the rest is short, to the point and irresistible. Again, these aren’t the most original punk tracks you are going to find, but they are executed really well. As much as I’m all in for prog-punk, it are these songs that exemplify why I like the genre so much. Most tellingly, Waste of Breath manages to convey almost the whole message of the title track in under two minutes. More importantly, it does it with a melody, riff and a couple of catchphrases that better stick in the mind.

What this band really does well is creating a continuous stream of hard, loud and fast songs that at the same time are just varied enough. The songs really stand out from each other. It opens with a 44 second instrumental that is really nothing more than a punk riff that gets you in the mood. On Wake Up Screaming there is a big sounding guitar sound like doom metal and the blues have finally met. Where’s the Freedom? is almost cliché in lyrics and sound, but is exactly the kind of anthem you need for a good punk concert. On Reality is Waiting for a Bus singer Dick Lucas delivers his lines so fast I can’t really understand what he is saying, while the instrumentalists seem to want to outrun him; it’s pure energy. Speaking of Dick Lucas, did I already mention he has one of the most outrageously British accents in all music? He can’t sing at all, but like all great punk singers it doesn’t matter because he has character in spades.

My favorite song here is the wonderfully titled Us Fish Must Swim Together. Fans of Idles, pay attention, as this is really something that band might consider. It starts slow and wordless, only to develop into a very scrappy sounding rumination of our shared evolution from fishlike creatures. It’s humorous, catchy and oddly affectionate and like most songs here it knows exactly when to switch gears. I feel like this also a good moment to mention how good the band is. Many punk bands pride themselves in a total lack of skill, which is awesome, but these guys are clearly better than average, with Bruce Treasure cranking out memorable riffs (usually more than one per song) like there is no tomorrow and the drummer who is actually named Trotsky acting as the band’s wild card (as if it needed one).

As such I really like this record, even if I think it doesn’t finish as strong as it opens. I had never heard of Subhumans before, but it seems that among hardcore punk afficionados their first album The Day the Country Died is a real classic (but not big enough outside it’s target audience to make it to our Acclaimed Music list). I listened to it once and it is a more straightforward record, with fast, aggressive songs that frequently stay under two minutes. On the follow-up they clearly tried to branch out their sound more and to me they mostly succeeded.
7/10

Next from Rate Your Music: Fishmans - 98.12.28 男達の別れ (98.12.28 Otokotachi no Wakare)
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by Rob »

In other news, Rate Your Music has updated their website in a major way today. The formula seems to have changed and with it the rankings. That's not a big deal to me, but the new presentation of the list is. They added a lot of new features, so you can customize the lists in seemingly endless ways. That's cool, but two important things have actually been downgraded. Going to a specific page on a list can now only be done by starting at page one and going page for page, which is extremely cumbersome if you want to go to the last page. Luckily I have found a way around this by changing the page number in the url.

This does not change the bigger problem, however. The site now only allows me to view the list up to #1500. Suddenly I have to make do with 6000 albums less! I have found no way around this yet. Maybe it's an oversight of the new update that will be fixed soon, but for this project it isn't great. I'm not sure how I'm going to handle it yet.

Luckily my next pick comes from the top of the list. For those of you who want to keep track of my choices, you also have to keep in mind that next to my decision to include live and archival albums there is no also another feature that makes you chose a popularity weighting. I'm not sure how big the influence of that is yet, but I have decided to use the default popularity (the second option out five, basically).
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by spiritualized »

Hi Rob,

It looks like the charts have been restricted to 1500 for non-paying users.
I happen to have financially contributed to RYM a while ago so I get a permanent premium subscription (goodie !) where I can go up to 7500

If you want to, I can post the 10 next albums on this thread, but you'll lose the element of surprise ? If you wish, I can send it to you via PM, but you may have to remind me when you need it.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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Thanks for the offer spiritualized, but can you check whether you can also go to 7500 with archival and live albums included? After some looking around after posting yesterday I found I can access 7500 albums as long as I don't include these two.

I too have a paid subscription, but not the expensive one. I read that with my subscription I can get custom lists up to 1500. With the most expensive subscription I go all the way to 2000, which is still 5500 less than previously. 7500 is now only for the barebones all-time list (10000 for the best subscription). The problem is that in contrast to site before the update the list with live and archival releases now counts as a custom list. I think that you won't be able to get a 7500 album list which includes live and archival albums.

Although much of the site is an upgrade, this is a downgrade.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by spiritualized »

No, you're right, with live and archival, I can't go further than 1500.
That's indeed a bummer.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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Van Morrison – Astral Weeks (1968) – AM #15



These were the 10 albums I could chose from:

11. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
12. Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks – Here’s the Sex Pistols
13. The Beatles – The Beatles [“The White Album”]
14. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced?
15. Van Morrison – Astral Weeks
16. David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
17. Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run
18. Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
19. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
20. The Beatles – Abbey Road

Now, I have never been to Belfast and I certainly don’t live at Cypres Avenue, but on the rather cramped yet busy street I do live on are a couple of trees, two of which can be seen from my living room window. When I started Astral Weeks for the first time for this project and slowly settled into the sound of it’s opening title track I noticed for the first time that the leaves on the trees had turned to a complete bright yellow. Autumn had reached it’s peak and I quickly felt like I had just started listening to the ultimate Autumn record. It was a rare perfect moment and the astral weeks began.

It’s admittedly not just this record. Everything Van Morrison touches seems to turn Autumnal. He is the embodiment of that season. Maybe it is because nobody sounds like him that he has been able to keep that honor. And no album I know really ever sounded like Astral Weeks, expect maybe a few by Van the Man himself. It is odd that a classic and supposedly influential album has remained so strange and singular after over 50 years. Sure, there are artists whose work you can trace back to Astral Weeks and these range quite widely from Nick Drake to Joanna Newsom, but could you imagine even them covering this?

After reading some reviews and other takes on this classic I’ve noticed that one of the biggest clichés is quoting the opening sentence of the album: “If I ventured in the slipstream/ Between the viaducts of your dream”. How could you not, though? Rarely an album opens with such a statement of purpose. It is helpful as I consider this a difficult album, as did both the studio that released it and Morrison himself. The music is not catchy. There are no choruses. The lyrics are obtuse. The genre it belongs to is a rather vague and unlikely mixture of Celtic folk, American jazz, soul, apparently chamber folk and that rare essence that I can only describe as Van Morrison. Much of it rambles along. Yet, if you can get attuned to it, you’ll find yourself indeed as if you are going towards a dream. Your not in the dream yet, as Van Morrison’s voice by it’s very nature sounds too grounded for that. But you are going there, venturing in the slipstream.

So yes, this is difficult material, but my first taste of this went down surprisingly easy. Some years ago, before my time on Acclaimed Music I was listening to some playlist on Spotify. I don’t remember the nature or theme of the playlist, but it had Madame George on it. What followed was one of those moments were years later you can still recall your first reaction to a song. I wasn’t particularly listening to the music that was playing, it was background material. Still, after the song went on for a little while, I felt it gripping me, forcing me to pay attention. It felt like the singer, whom I only new as the guy from Brown-Eyed Girl, was getting into a trance and he was taking me along with him! It was such a strange experience, as if the singer was slowly developing a fever and I couldn’t turn away from it. I immediately knew I had heard something unique.

For a period I became somewhat obsessed with Madame George, especially the way it starts off in the first few minutes as a relatively conventional folk song, until Morrison seems to slowly lose it’s grip on it. Yet he continues on anyway, rambling incoherently some of the lines over and over again. Like all tracks on Astral Weeks there were violins added afterwards and even before knowing anything about the making of this I could tell that the big swelling of the strings at the end were artificially put there to make clear we have reached the end. It does end indeed there, after nine minutes, but at the same time it is a lie. You can clearly hear Morrison going on while the fade-out starts. This is a fever dream that never ends. The only big mistake of this album is that Madame George is not the final track, instead of Slim Slow Rider, which is arguably the most forgettable song here. It needs to end with the suggestion that Morrison will be singing his goodbyes to Madame George forever. Indeed, I like to think that he is out there still, walking Cypres Avenue where you can still hear him going: “Say goodbye, goodbye, goodbye…”

It would be logical to assume that my short obsession for Madame George made me turn towards Astral Weeks, but logic is not my business and at the time I wasn’t really an album listener. I only listened to Astral Weeks years later and at the time I wasn’t in the mood for it (maybe it was Spring?). I old myself to get back to it one day and it took until now to get around to it.

Basically Madame George is the most extreme version of the general sound of the album. With the exception of maybe What Young Lovers Do all these feel like they were sung in a trancelike state. The biggest surprise to me when reading a bit about the background was that apparently Morrison didn’t know anything about jazz when he began recording this. He was into soul, blues and folk, but according to the produced not into jazz. Nonetheless, he seems most of all to channel some of the jazz singers, with the way he sounds like he is improvising between the lines of the instruments. Apparently it was a sound that came spontaneously.

Another surprise was finding out that this was recorded not just in the US instead of Ireland or at least the UK, but that the session players where Afro-Americans with a jazz background. They sound so attuned to Van Morrison’s nature that I assumed they must have come from some Celtic folk scene. I really love how in the sixties and seventies you had these unlikely collaborations were cultures crossed over apparently effortlessly and even without predetermination. It’s truly something we lost along the way. Somehow this mix of a Northern-Irish songwriter with a penchant for Celtic mysticism and these Afro-American jazz people created a unique sound. Like I said, nothing sounds quite like it and it creates a wonderful land; at once quite real yet at the same time not quite Ireland or the United States.

The studio did not like it and felt it needed to add the strings to tie things together, like I described with Madame George. Van Morrison didn’t approve of this and he thinks it ruined the album. I can see his perspective, but I also think that the strings are wonderfully done. Just listen to the way they react to him during the final stretch of Cypres Avenue; it’s beautiful. Still, I’m surprised that no one at Warner Bros has seen the cash possibilities of releasing an Astral Weeks Raw (meaning, without violins). It might even meet the approval of Van Morrison, who is otherwise not prone to looking back (he isn’t even easily coaxed into releasing compilation albums). Then again, Morrison has already revisited the album himself during a concert series in 2008, which resulted in the live album Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl. Not quite string-less, but mostly. It got a lot of good reviews at the time and it is worth a listen, but it can’t quite touch that in-the-moment sense of hallucination that defines so much of the original.

If I keep repeating how much this album is trance-like, I should say that within that state it is rather rich and varied. Sweet Thing for example is a love song that even if nobody will every confuse it with Call Me Maybe is quite infectious. Beside You has a heart-felt directness of a typical singer-songwriter song, which it somehow manages to achieve despite me not having a clue what the lyrics mean (I make no claims of understanding any of Morrison’s poetry on this album). It is noted that the people at Warner Bros didn’t didn’t want to promote it or bother releasing a single for it. They signed Morrison because he made Brown-Eyed Girl and Astral Weeks was certainly not a record that reminded anyone of that huge hit. Still, there is one song here that actually feels close in spirit to it and might have had hit potential: the rollicking The Way Young Lovers Do. Some feel that this song falls out of tune with the rest of the album and is the weak spot, but I find it hard to resist.

It’s been over a week since I started listening and only slowly these song have entered my (sub)consciousness. I’m not done with it yet, but in the right mood I feel it strongly. I think this is one of those records I will now return to from time to time over the years and I could see my appreciation, which is great already, grow even further. In the meantime, the leaves on the trees in my street have completely gone, while Van Morrison basically continues on his own peculiar path. He says he is frequently frustrated by how Astral Weeks has overshadowed the rest of his work. Nonetheless, he also admits this was the first time he learned to “channel” his music and that he has been playing and singing in this way ever since, noting wryly that what were supposed to be astral weeks have become astral decades.
9/10

Next from AM: 10cc - The Original Soundtrack
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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Fishmans - 98.12.28 男達の別れ [A.k.a. 98.12.28 Otokotachi no Wakare] (1999) – RYM: #13



These are the albums I could choose from:

11. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
12. The Beatles – Revolver
13. Fishmans - 98.12.28 男達の別れ [98.12.28 Otokotachi no Wakare]
14. Talking Heads – Remain in Light
15. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
16. Black Sabbath – Paranoid
17. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
18. Radiohead – In Rainbows
19. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
20. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city

On RateYourMusic 98.12.28 Otokotachi no Wakare has quite some credentials. It is the highest ranked album not in the English language. The greatest live album of all time. For us here at Acclaimed Music it is also worth noting that it is the first album not to appear on our own Top 3000 of All Time (Henrik, if you read this, did this album ever get a single critic vote?). Indeed, Fishmans themselves are completely absent from the site. Our forum did little better. Although we at least acknowledged the Japanese band with an appearance of their Long Season on our recent Album poll, for us 98.12.28 is also the highest unranked album from RYM. Sometimes I feel there is a reasonable overlap between RYM and AM, but in the end we all too rarely move away from the critics.

That makes it all the more interesting to talk about Fishmans’ final non-archival release. This album really belongs to the age of the internet and to music communities on it. Sure, since the rise of the online world there have been plenty of artists who used the new possibilities to their advantage, but Fishmans are unique in that they are from the pre-internet era, but still have to thank their status to it.

The numbers in this album’s title are a date: December 28 1998. The day that they would hold their last ever performance, although they did not know it yet (and it was certainly not recorded with that in mind). More on that later. For now it matters that by this stage Fishmans were a seasoned band. The members were relatively young – in their early thirties – but since starting in 1987 they had quite a constant set of releases. Their earliest work never reached outside of the underground circuit. In the mid-nineties they had a couple of hits in Japan, but by the date of this concert much of the success had already waned. If the Fishmans Wiki on Fandom is to be believed, singer Shinji Sato once remarks during this concert that he had been able to see the audience numbers dwindling over the years.

Shinjo Sato would be dead three months later. Again a couple of months later this live album was released. Perhaps the recent death of the front man could help sell this release? Not really. It went by relatively unnoticed anywhere and the band would almost be forgotten everywhere.

Except on the internet, were in the mid-2000’s suddenly some music lovers started to share the music of Fishmans. RateYourMusic played a huge role in this. Indeed, look up any other website that reviewed this album and a reference to RYM is inevitable. I have a love/ hate relationship with the site, but certainly the re-discovery of Fishmans can be held in their favor. Once the critics start noticing this might be the most important re-discovery since Nick Drake, some ten years after his death. Anyway, by now Fishmans are perhaps still not among the most well-known bands worldwide, but apparently their standing in Japan has grown enormously and many music lovers seem to agree that they are something special. Almost their whole output has found love, but the most popular releases are Long Season and today’s subject, 98.12.28.

I do find some of the online reception of this record somewhat odd, though. It’s hard to find a review out there that does not make a little too much out of Sato’s death. He had long suffered from a heart condition that would kill him at only 33. Still, he had no idea he would die so soon and certainly did not know it while performing that day on November 28th. Nonetheless, our online writers can’t seem to help themselves in describing this album as some sort of elegy, a self-aware piece of funeral music. As if they have to make something important out of the death of the singer, even though there is nothing to find here. Sure, the Japanese subtitle Otokotachi no Wakare, also the name of the tour, translates as “A Man’s Farewell”, but that refers to the fact that this would be bass player Yuzuru Kashiwabara’s final tour, as he was to leave the music business (the death of Sato eventually inspired him to go on).

This is no Blackstar or You Want It Darker, where David Bowie or Leonard Cohen respectively knew their time was coming and made an album to reflect on it. I think this is the opposite of a requiem: it is a warm, joyous and lively album. It goes too far to call it a celebration of life, but there is definitely a sense of bliss. Maybe the long season is Spring? Of course I can’t speak for others how they experience music, but I think Fishmans works most in bringing some relieve to the soul.

Part of the appeal, as with much that ranks high on RYM, is also in dissecting the many elements here. I was surprised to hear some very clear reggae rhythms here and there, but apparently the band started off as a reggae band, branching more and more towards dub, which eventually lead them to stretch their arms towards ambient, space rock, jazz, psychedelic rock and what have you, only to end up in a sort of dream pop sound that doesn’t resemble any other band I know. The album itself contains songs from their whole career, but all of them are changed to fit what was their current sound: a warm, hazy form of progressive dream pop with a dash of dub.

Fishmans were a restless group keen on reinventing. After their first hit, いかれた Baby, they signed with Polydor who in an act of faith gave them their own recording studio named Waikiki Beach, where they would not rehash their past successes, but basically used their freedom to try out new genres and sounds. They also made it their goal to make every live performance distinct from the others and to keep reinterpreting their old songs. I have made a playlist on which you can directly compare these live outings with the original performances and it makes for some quite interesting comparisons.



It’s this clear love for music that makes them so endearing to music nerds, but you don’t need to obsessively pine over the intricacies of their albums or live performances to enjoy them. For me the key to the appeal is as much the easy-going nature of it. There is a lot going on when you pay attention to it, but it all sounds so effortless and accessible that you barely notice the length of most of their songs. I mean, Long Season contained only one track of 35 minutes, which is actually 5 minutes longer in this live rendition, but you could hardly tell. They’re an unusual band for sure, but there is a feeling that they might appeal to almost anyone, because their style ended up so likeable and unpretentious.

Having said all these positive things I am not sure if I would call 98.12.28 a real masterpiece myself. Or at least not the whole thing. The album is two hours long, divided over two “discs”, whatever that means in the streaming era. The divisions in discs suits me fine here, as I think that the second one is indeed a perfect 10 masterpiece, while the first one is ‘just’ above average.

Those first eleven songs are relatively shorter and basically an overview of Fishmans through the years, with many of their major singles present. It starts out great with Oh! Slime, a live-only song with which they open all their concerts (although under different titles, like Oh! Crime). It’s basically a roll call of all performers, but extended very broadly over a spacy seven minutes. It also includes the repeated line “Are you feel good?”, whose broken English never fails to put a smile on my face.

After that things get a little less inventive, at least for these guys. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the songs. They are all performed well and with soul. There is much to listen to if you pay close attention. Above all, the easy-going appeal of the band doesn’t flag for a minute. Still, I felt that even after five listens most of these songs don’t really distinguish themselves from another and whereas the second disc is an almost transcendent experience, this first half is mostly just nice. If the two discs were reversed it would almost be a disappointment. Nonetheless, there are highlights, including the two songs I for readability will call track 5 and 6, as well as the well-titled Walking in the Rhythm (although the studio recording is superior there). Let me also use this moment to appreciate the strange keyboard sounds by Honzi (if that is what I am hearing), as well as the vocals by Sato, whose squeaky-high pitch I had to get used to, but came to appreciate over time.

But the second disc is another beast, even if the sound remains consistent. It’s a little over an hour long and contains only three songs. One of them is a rendition of their biggest hit いかれた Baby. These make for some great five minutes, but don’t compare to the two epics that surround it. First, ゆらめき in the Air, feels indeed like floating in the air, albeit in warm clouds of many strange colors. If that one is already uplifting, just wait till you hear Long Season. That mammoth of a song is already transcendental in it’s original recording, but here they reinvent it and somehow make it transcendental in a whole new way. I already knew Long Season thanks to its inclusion in Moderately Acclaimed on this site a few years ago and I also included it recently in my top 100 albums of all time. It’s interesting to note that as much as I love that album I also thought it was brought down by some sound effects in the middle part that sound like somewhat is taking a dump in an echo chamber. Without it, the album would be top 50 for sure. On this live version these sounds are still there, but so far back in the mix that I can ignore them.

After that second disc I always completely understand why anyone would call this the best live album ever, or at least why it should be a contender. But it is only half the deal here and that makes it hard to rate, since the first disc is not that special to me. Let’s go with one of those compromise ratings that can never satisfy.
8/10

Next from RYM: Jóhann Jóhannson - Mandy
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by Jackson »

Thanks for this review. I listened to Long Season for the first time earlier this year and, like you, it more or less instantly made my AT albums list. Do you this album may grow on you? Anything else by this group worth checking out?
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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Jackson wrote: Tue Nov 17, 2020 11:07 pm Thanks for this review. I listened to Long Season for the first time earlier this year and, like you, it more or less instantly made my AT albums list. Do you this album may grow on you? Anything else by this group worth checking out?
It could grow, but don't make a mistake: much of this I already love.

And really, I would probably just advice you to make this live album the next Fishmans pick, as it seems to be the consensus favorite, even above Long Season. It's also a career overview of sorts. Outside of these two albums my knowledge is very surface-level so I'm not sure if I can advice you all that well, but the albums recorded for Polydor at Waikiki Beach seem to be the most popular. This includes next to Long Season also 空中キャンプ (Kūchū Camp) and 宇宙 日本 世田谷 (Uchū Nippon Setagaya). I've only heard them in full around the time I discovered Long Season and I remember liking them.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by DaveC »

宇宙 日本 世田谷 (Uchū Nippon Setagaya) includes the sublime studio version of Walking in the Rhythm making it automatically the second best studio albums after Long Season. Or you could just listen to Walking in the Rhythm on repeat.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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Rob wrote: Tue Nov 17, 2020 9:43 pm Our forum did little better. Although we at least acknowledged the Japanese band with an appearance of their Long Season on our recent Album poll, for us 98.12.28 is also the highest unranked album from RYM. Sometimes I feel there is a reasonable overlap between RYM and AM, but in the end we all too rarely move away from the critics.
I think the recent RYM update really shot the Fishmans albums up their charts. I personally don't remember Long Season being in RYM's top 100 before this year (and I hadn't heard that album before this year myself).
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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DaveC wrote: Tue Nov 17, 2020 11:47 pm 宇宙 日本 世田谷 (Uchū Nippon Setagaya) includes the sublime studio version of Walking in the Rhythm making it automatically the second best studio albums after Long Season. Or you could just listen to Walking in the Rhythm on repeat.
Walking in the Rhythm is essential!
Listyguy wrote: Wed Nov 18, 2020 12:07 am
Rob wrote: Tue Nov 17, 2020 9:43 pm Our forum did little better. Although we at least acknowledged the Japanese band with an appearance of their Long Season on our recent Album poll, for us 98.12.28 is also the highest unranked album from RYM. Sometimes I feel there is a reasonable overlap between RYM and AM, but in the end we all too rarely move away from the critics.
I think the recent RYM update really shot the Fishmans albums up their charts. I personally don't remember Long Season being in RYM's top 100 before this year (and I hadn't heard that album before this year myself).
I'm not sure about Long Season, but 98.12.28 only rose a little. I'm certain it ranked somewhere between 20 and 30 before the update. It has also most definitely been the highest ranked live album for some time now.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by Rob »

Rob wrote: Sun Nov 01, 2020 5:18 pm This does not change the bigger problem, however. The site now only allows me to view the list up to #1500. Suddenly I have to make do with 6000 albums less! I have found no way around this yet. Maybe it's an oversight of the new update that will be fixed soon, but for this project it isn't great. I'm not sure how I'm going to handle it yet.
I have made a decision. For my picks from the top of the list I keep including live and archival albums until I reach #1500 (not happening any time soon). For the bottom I'm sadly going to exclude live and archivals, unless RYM decides to change this again. I don't like the decision, but I do prefer going as far down in the list as I can.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by Rob »

10cc – The Original Soundtrack (1975) – AM #2977



These were the albums I could choose from:

2971. The Microphones – Mount Eerie
2972. tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack
2973. Opeth – Blackwater Park
2974. Television Personalities - …And Don’t the Kids Just Love It
2975. Orchestra Baobab – Specialist in All Styles
2976. Bill Evans and Jim Hall – Undercurrent
2977. 10cc – The Original Soundtrack
2978. Otis Rush – Right Place, Wrong Time
2979. Bob Marley and the Wailers – Survival
2980. Gerry Rafferty – City to City

The guys from 10cc love puns and other kinds of wordplay. That was my first takeaway from listening to The Original Soundtrack. There is simply no getting around it. If they find a theme for their song they will put as many word-based jokes in there as possible.

Just take the opening track, Une Nuit a Paris. As the title suggests it takes place in Paris. This means that not just about every stereotype of the French capital is present, but we also have to accept that we are going to have to listen to lines like “That’s the way the croissant crumbles after all”. A lot of French words appear, but only those a foreigner would know (gendarme, boudoir, you know the ones). Eventually, the question isn’t so much if the group will at one point incorporate the phrase “Ooh la la”, but when and how many times. And if you think these guys will resist the temptation to sing in fake French accents you have come to the wrong place. The song is 8 minutes long, so there is a lot of time to obscenely caricaturize Paris to embarrassing degrees. The only thing I don’t get is why the Eifel Tower is never mentioned. The Champs Elysees and the Notre Dame are present, so where is the city’s most famous landmark? Sleeping on le job, are we monsieurs?

The song also highlights the other element that is typical for 10cc: there is musically a lot going on. I have never heard anything live by them, but when you hear any of their songs you quickly notice that they rely heavily on studio trickery. Basically, they belong to a group of pop bands in the line of The Beatles, The Beach Boys and contemporaries like Electric Light Orchestra, that excelled at playing with studio ingredients to create songs that were both very accessible and musically expansive. Un Nuit a Paris is a sort of mock-opera, or is that an operetta through French vaudeville? It’s 8 minute length consists out of three movements, full of variations in instrumentation and vocals (in one part the guys even sing an extended female vocal, because they know no shame). Yet if this makes it all sound like prog excess typical of the seventies you will quickly find that this band sounds so light that nothing ever comes of as pretentious. Like especially The Beatles and The Beach Boys the key is that this band always manages to make the songs sound simple, even if they aren’t.

Having said that, I didn’t immediately enjoy Une Nuit a Paris, as I thought that the movements created too many breaks and honestly I thought the portrait of the city was perhaps a bit too cheesy. Over the past two weeks I came to appreciate the song more, but it were other tracks that made it easier to enjoy what the band was going for. On this album of eight songs, there are four that I feel form the soul of the album: Blackmail, The Second Sitting for the Last Supper, Life Is a Minestrone and The Film of My Love. None of these might sound familiar to you unless you are a 10cc die hard, but to me they are what this band is all about. If you know this band from hits from other albums you know perhaps what to expect, like for example The Wall Street Shuffle (a personal favorite by the way), I’m Mandy Fly Me or the eternal Dreadlock Holiday (which wasn’t big everywhere, but in The Netherlands has to be one of the most ubiquitous songs of all time).

Let’s start with Life is a Minestrone, as that was actually a bit of a hit in the UK, and an even more minor success in some other European countries. Maybe some old-timers actually remember it, but it has not become one of the bands evergreens. It is quintessential 10cc though. Apparently based on a misheard remark on the radio, band members Lol Creme and Eric Stewart started to write a song around the idea that life indeed is a minestrone. What else is there to do than think of more food metaphors for existence. “Death is a cold Lasagne/ Suspended in deep freeze”. There you have it. Not the whole song is like that, because the opening verse seems to be a collection of puns the group couldn’t fit in another song (choice moment: “Minnie Mouse has got it all sewn up/ She gets more fan mail than the Pope/ She takes the mickey out of all my phobias”), but eventually it becomes all about dining on life. My better judgement resisted the song at first, but the effortless chorus, the right amount of tongue-in-cheek and the all-around catchiness just made me succumb to what amounts to pure fun.

Blackmail is an amusing Coen-esque tale (before the Coen brothers made movies!) about a guy trying to extort money from a rich woman, by confronting her with photographs of an affair she has. Things do not go as planned. It’s sing in high-pitched voices and contains a sleezy, gliding melody. Once again there are a lot of bells and whistles, but only for those who pay attention. Otherwise it just helps set a dirty if comical atmosphere.

The band also has the audacity to take on religion with The Second Sitting of the Last Supper, a tale of a group of people who think the End is near and that the Second Coming of Christ is, well, coming. Every night they set the table for him as they want to be part of the real Last Supper of mankind. The thing is, they are getting impatient. How long is Jesus going to post-pone this resurrection? It’s not a topic you’ll find in most pop albums, but the boys of 10cc find exactly the right tone again. Would you guess from the story description this would be one of the most rocking songs on the album? Well, here you are.

Finally there is another pun-heavy song that gets to close the album: The Film of My Love. A mock-romantic ballad with a dash of Venice glamour about a guy who is so impressed with his love life that he is convinced it will make the greatest movie of all time (10cc songs are filled with dreamers). Yes, there are a lot of references to film lingo, something someone who works in the film industry for a living like me can appreciate: Cinemascope, superimposition, box-office, Pathé, censors, clapper boards, long-shots, close-ups and of course a well-deserved Oscar all make an appearance. It’s one of those songs that mocks it’s subject but has the right music that almost makes it work in an earnest way. A tricky balance that pays off here.

Not all is well, though. Right between these four songs there are two that don’t live up to them. Brand New Day is a sort of sarcastic precursor to Mr. Blue Sky by ELO in that it tells the story of a day from morning to evening, although it ends up a day uselessly spend. It’s got all the studio trickery and 10cc snark, but it ends up rather dull. It is followed by Flying Junk, which pretty much every reviewer remarks as filler and the album’s low point. I don’t quite feel that way, because I somewhat like the main guitar riff. Still it is the only straightforward rock song on an album that is anything but and therefore less interesting.

Astute readers might be wondering why the hell I have talked about seven of the eight songs, but not about that one. You know, the one song that made sure that 10cc is still remembered by young generations. No, not Dreadlock Holiday, because only the Dutch are deeply obsessed with it, or so it seems. I’m talking of course about I’m Not in Love. There is a reason I only come to that one now and it’s not a case of saving the best for last. It’s that if you try to describe this album it is very hard to fit this one in the narrative. Going a little further, after spending two weeks with 10cc it is hard to even consider this as a 10cc song.

That’s perhaps a bit of an over-statement. I’m Not in Love is typical for 10cc in one regard: it relied on a lot of production ingenuity. The song is very innovative and below this review you will find a large article on the creation process (it’s a treat for music nerds). In short, Eric Stewart was scolded by his wife for not saying “I love you” enough, which started his ruminations on the meaning of saying “I love you”, which in what perhaps is typical for his off-beat mind turned into saying it only in denials and other indirect ways. At first, the group tried to make it into a bossa nova song…

This failed miserably and then the idea came that if the group were to record an unconventional love song it had to be done in an unconventional way. They wanted to create a wall of sound with only voices, which through a complicated process lead to the recognizable back-ground symphony of voices that sound like synthesizers. These background vocals were done by Creme, Gouldman and Godley, while Stewart did the uncharacteristically earnest lead part. It sounded ethereal and strange, but also beautiful and the equally original lyrics had a sort of earthliness that kept things accessible and even recognizable for a wider audience. The song was a hit, even in the USA which mostly ignored 10cc (which I think is the main reason their critical standing isn’t that remarkable). I also feel that although the sound is hard to replicate, the general atmosphere of I’m Not in Love set a standard for a lot of ballads of the eighties and nineties. You know, the Ultravoxxes with their Viennas.

So from a musical perspective this song showcases the innovative nature of the band, but tonally it is something else entirely. The lose feeling is gone, the sense of speed and momentum too. The lyrics are great, but there are no puns or jokes. It actually sounds sincere! As great as it is, it doesn’t work on the album. After the wild ride that is Une Nuit in Paris it grinds the whole thing to a halt and right after I’m Not in Love we go directly into the perverse world of Blackmail and things switch gears a little too much. I think Une Nuit in Paris into Blackmail would be a perfect sequence. I really don’t see room for I’m Not in Love, except at the end, where the fake romance and elegance of The Film of My Love could segue into the real thing. Still, even then I feel like this is an album I would put on for the energy and the humorous nature. It’s like putting on an AC/DC record which gets interrupted with Ne Me Quitte Pas in the middle. Maybe I’m Not in Love should have been just a single?

In the end I think that what is left of the critical standing of The Original Soundtrack is actually because it does have I’m Not in Love. I was surprised this was the only acclaimed album by the band, as I though that Sheet Music was the more likely and more characteristic pick. The Original Soundtrack, while not quite a masterpiece, has a lot going for it, but I’m not sure if it’s real wacky appeal is really understood. But that’s how the croissant crumbles sometimes.
7/10

About the creation of I'm Not in Love

Next from AM: Arcade Fire - Funeral
Last edited by Rob on Fri Dec 11, 2020 10:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by Rob »

And although I'd rather talk about 10cc, I want to be ahead of astonished reactions regarding my next AM pick being Funeral. I'll go ahead and say it: I never heard it. In fact, although I heard all albums of the top 20 at least once, there are still five (!) albums from the group of 21-30 I'm unfamiliar with: Funeral, The Queen is Dead, Thriller, Electric Ladyland and Sign O' the Times. "Unfamiliar" is not completely true, because I know the most famous songs of all these albums really well so I have a general idea of what to expect, but never took the full plunge (although with Thriller I do actually know all the songs through radio play). I'm not completely sure about The Queen Is Dead, but if I'm not sure I count it as "not heard".

Funny enough, I have heard everything from the group 31-40. Don't know what it is with the twenties.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by Rob »

Jóhann Jóhannsson – Mandy (2018) - RYM #7471



These were the albums I could choose from:

7471. Jóhann Jóhannson – Mandy
7472. Painkiller – Execution Ground
7473. Thou – Tyrant
7474. Out of Focus – Wake Up!
7475. Pixies – Trompe le Monde
7476. Do Make Say Think – Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn
7477. Protest the Hero – Kezia
7478. Stephen Malkmus – Stephen Malkmus
7479. Why? – Elephant Eyelash
7480. The Moody Blues – A Question of Balance

WARNING: This review contains spoilers for the movie Mandy (2018)!!!


On February 9th 2018 Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson died, likely to a fatal mix of cocaine and flu medicine. I was quite shaken by this news, for as a both a film buff and a fan of movie music Jóhann had become my favorite new film composer of the decade. To add to that, I also deeply appreciated his non-film work, like Fordlandia (which I submitted to Moderately Acclaimed that year) and Orphée. A month before his death he finished what would become his final complete movie score, for Mandy. It has since become his highest ranked work on Rate Your Music and because he is totally absent on Acclaimed Music this has become the only chance for me to write about him. A chance I’d happily take (and glad I did, because one RYM on and the album has slipped out of the top 7500).

For those who don’t know him, here is a very brief introduction to Jóhann’s career in movie composing. For the first ten years of his music career he had little to do with film, focusing more on his own modern classical albums. He did a movie on occasion, but all his film work from the 2000’s remains rather obscure, like the Icelandic comedy Dís and an animated short named Varmints (for whom the soundtrack is not just longer, but also confusingly has a completely different title: And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees). In 2013 he suddenly found himself attached to a bigger project from Hollywood, the thriller Prisoners. His star rose even further with his romantic piano compositions for the very popular Stephen Hawking biography The Theory of Everything, for which he was nominated for an Oscar. He was nominated the next year again for his completely different, drone-leaden score for the war-on-drugs thriller Sicario. In 2016 he made what is my favorite work of his, the innovate, otherworldly music for the sci-fi film Arrival. By then he was a big name composer for prestigious projects. Just before his untimely death he signed on with Disney to write music for Christopher Robin, though he never could start on it.

If the movies seemed to become increasingly prestigious or at least big-money, we have to take into account that Mandy is definitely not that. It did not give him a post-humous final Oscar, because this film is as far removed from Oscar bait as you could get. For those who never heard of the movie a brief description. It’s the story of a lumberjack named Red (played by Nicolas Cage) and his artist wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) who have made an idyllic home in the woods. One day Mandy is spotted on the street by a deranged cult leader (Linus Roache), who convinces his followers that he should sleep with her. With the help of a drug-crazed biker gang in leather they break into the home of the happy couple and tie Red up. The cult leader fails to seduce Mandy. In fact, Mandy laughs at him. This leads the cult to burn Mandy alive and leave Red for dead. Red survives however and the second half is his long and very bloody revenge, first on the biker gang and then on the cult.

This might sound like the plot of several B-movies and it is most definitely based on them. The movie already nods at it’s inspirations by setting the action in 1983 and the whole thing feels like a hyper-charged version of eighties horror and action, as dreamed up by someone who took a very unsafe yet very potent hallucinatory drug. Despite the trashy foundation, the film itself is stylistically very assured, has an unusual slow-burning tempo and the first half is filled to the brim with references to all sort of occult ideas. Indeed, the biker gang – The Black Skulls – seem like real demons in the first half and are only revealed to be junkies in the second half, even if they are still probably the most menacing and dangerous addicts ever put on film.

Take all this together and you might expect Mandy to have become a cult film. You would be right. I would actually go a step further in saying it was already a cult hit before it’s release. A couple of friends of mine who are into this sort of thing where geeking out on it months before they could actually see it. They dragged me (not unwillingly) to the cinema when it got it’s very limited release (only two screenings in my city) and all promptly put it at #1 in their top 10 of 2018. All but me, it didn’t make my end-of-year list; I tend to appreciate these type of cult things more than that I love them.

Why would a composer like Jóhann become involved with stuff like this? Simple, he was a big fan of the director’s previous film Beyond the Black Rainbow from 2010. When he heard that this guy, Panos Cosmatos, was doing a new film he applied for the job before even knowing what the film was about. A phone call later and Cosmatos and Jóhann found out that they clicked and also that they had one musical interest in common: eighties metal music. According to an interview with Cosmatos on IndieWire, the two agreed that what Mandy needed musically is the sound of a disintegrating rock opera as performed by Van Halen…

Well, that’s not how I would describe the final sound. I don’t Van Halen would ever have come up with this score, not even a disintegrated Van Halen. During the opening credits we hear Starless by King Crimson and that one sets far more the tone of the final score, at least in ambience. Rate Your Music itself uses a couple of fancy-named genres to describe this soundtrack: tribal ambient, drone metal and – help us – horror synth. If you can imagine such things you can probably imagine what this sounds like.

What Jóhann basically does is maintain a sense of dread for almost the entire time. Like the movie, the first half is a slow build. In the film it takes some time before things escalate but we get the feeling early that something dreadful is coming (not in the least because Mandy reads the type of books you shouldn’t be reading when you are a main character in a horror-like film). The music during this phase isn’t very busy. Some subtle synths melodies swirl around some pulsing drones. These drones become heavier as time passes, but not before we have had the one peaceful song of the film, Mandy Love Theme, a romantic, soothing synth piece that sounds like it could have come from the original Blade Runner (and makes it all the more a shame that Jóhann was fired on the Blade Runner sequel). Mandy Love Theme has turned out to become the most popular track on the album, probably because of its appealing dreamy tranquility. And likely because it is the only song here without drones.

Those drones finally take on full force on the track The Black Skulls, where one huge drone basically takes up the whole middle part, like a terrifying, beastly wail that literally leaves the rest of the track shaken. This is a good point to mention that the drone guitar (basically the only metal aspect left from the original concept) is played by Stephen O’Malley from what is likely the most famous drone band in the world: Sun O))). If Mandy Love Theme is the highpoint of the synths, this is the highpoint of the drones. The terror to upset the ethereal. These two elements fuse on Death and Ashes, which in the film accompanies a broken Red looking at the remains of his burned wife, a moment of deep sadness and terror, perfectly captured in musical form. I see why some people prefer Mandy Love Theme, but to me this the real highlight of the album.

After that things kick in higher gear, with more and more menacing drones. Here things get a bit too repetitive for me. The music remains very effective in the movie, but on their own songs like Sand, Red, The Temple and Burning Church are just drone guitar pulse after drone guitar pulse. They do instill terror and on close listening you can hear how Jóhann finds a new twist for them every time. I appreciate that, but for me it doesn’t make a too engaging listen after a while. The fired-up electronics of Forging the Beast and the tribalism of Dive-Bomb Blues make a very welcome break, and I also like how Waste basically sounds like the Twin Peaks Theme has a drone guitar instead of a tuned down electric guitar. Yet they can not quite salvage an album that is sometimes a little too much of the same for me.

As a final track we have something different. Children of the Dawn is a tune composed for the film, but eventually not used. It is a more expensive variation of some of the main motifs of the score (especially Waste), but the sound here is much brighter, with more colorful synths and an overall feel that screams 1980’s. It could have been the credits track if you ask me, but the actual credits are silent except for some bird song. It’s quite a good piece and I’m happy it made the soundtrack release.

It should be said that the original physical release also had a bonus track named Chainsaw Fight, basically a more brutal version of Sand. I’m glad it is not on Spotify, as Children of the Dawn works better as a closer. Although if you ask me, if you have two similar songs named Sand and Chainsaw Fight, I would always go with the one named Chainsaw Fight. Especially with a movie like this.

In the end this is a film score that really seems to have reached its audience. It seems like fans of drone metal in particular are very fond of it. I noticed I don’t have a deep love or aversion for the genre, so I can take or leave most of this. I mostly appreciate it as another example of how Jóhann Jóhannsson tirelessly kept trying out new styles for various kinds of movies. He always really struck me as someone who was deeply into the material he was making a film for and that makes his work so striking that I can frequently imagine the movies before seeing them. This is no exception, even if I have seen Mandy. In the film it is wonderful. On album it is also very good, mind you, but not quite the type of stuff I will return to much. I’ll stick my holy Jóhann movie score trilogy of The Theory of Everything, Sicario and Arrival.
6/10

Bonus review:

Jeremiah Sand – Lift It Down (2020) – Unranked at both RYM and AM



What’s this, a bonus review? Why? Because this recent archival release is too important to ignore and I feel that this is the right place to talk about it.

You might not have heard of Jeremiah Sand, but you should have. He was an obscure folk musician during the seventies who never really broke out, but did manage to built a loyal following. Eventually, one of his richer fans managed to rent a recording studio for Jeremiah alone, where he could take his time to record whatever he wanted, undisturbed. For about five years – 1973 to 1978 (take that Kevin Shields) – he basically worked on this one album, Lift It Down, before Jeremiah abandoned the project because he felt he had another purpose in life, leaving this album unfinished and forgotten until now.

The continuing story of Jeremiah Sand is interesting to tell. He founded a religion with himself as a messiah and gathered a small following. Jeremiah started to believe that God built the world especially for him and he somehow convinced a group of people of the same. They travelled around the United States for several years, mostly causing chaos and doing little of importance. One day Jeremiah fell in love with a woman he randomly met and with his followers and some local criminals he broke into her house and forced her to love her. She did not comply and out of revenge Jeremiah killed her and left her husband – tied up until that point – for dead. The husband survived however and eventually tracked and murder the whole cult. Jeremiah died by having his skull crushed by the husband. Some way to go, right?

Hopefully, most of you all have guessed that this tale is connected to the movie Mandy. Jeremiah Sand is indeed the cult leader and main villain of the movie and I’m happy to say that he is entirely fictional, albeit clearly inspired by Charles Manson. Like Manson, Sand has a backstory as a failed musician. During a central scene of the film, Sand plays one his tunes to Mandy, Amulet of the Weeping Maze. This is a sort of psychedelic, medieval folk tune that would be totally mesmerizing if it weren’t for the awfully narcissistic lyrics in which Sand presents himself as a sort of half Jesus/ half Buddha. The song itself was left off the soundtrack of the film, probably because it wasn’t composed by Jóhann, but also because it would break the overall mood there way too much. It’s worth a listen as a curiosum, though.

The thing is that someone, somewhere decided that in the year 2020 we should be treated to a whole album of Jeremiah Sand music. Publisher Sacred Bones Record even concocted a complete backstory for Lift It Down of which I only gave a very short version. You can find the full version in the link below.

What is perhaps the most hilarious is that this release is shrouded in some mystery. None of the marketing of the album mentions Mandy, nor do they let know who actually made the album (though it seems Linus Roache, who plays Sand in the film, is doing the singing). You need to be a little in the know to understand what this album really is. I only found it because I looked up Amulet of the Weeping Maze on Spotify in preparation for this review and saw that there was a whole album under the name Jeremiah Sand.

It’s basically an extended version of the joke from Amulet of the Weeping Maze. All songs here a psych-folk cuts filled with horrible self-love and absurd religious imagery, all set to a musical parody of late-sixties/ early seventies folk. The religion that Sand preaches in these songs is at times disturbing (Taste the Whip especially is a nasty warning for naughty kids), but mostly a ridiculous front that Sand uses to get laid. If grotesque sex-through-faith metaphors are your bag than this is your album.

Of course it is all clearly a joke and it is a good one. I like that the album plays it fairly straight, without real gags. It seems like the type of awful album that gets genuinely made. Whether you will like it depends on if this is your kind of humor. Any attempt to appreciate this as music on itself will be severely hampered by how tasteless this is. I’ve had my fill after two listens, but at the same time I’m somehow happy it exists.
6/10
https://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/prod ... ft-it-down

Next from Rate Your Music: Nas – Illmatic
Last edited by Rob on Fri Dec 11, 2020 10:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by spiritualized »

Rob wrote: Wed Nov 18, 2020 3:14 pm
Rob wrote: Sun Nov 01, 2020 5:18 pm This does not change the bigger problem, however. The site now only allows me to view the list up to #1500. Suddenly I have to make do with 6000 albums less! I have found no way around this yet. Maybe it's an oversight of the new update that will be fixed soon, but for this project it isn't great. I'm not sure how I'm going to handle it yet.
I have made a decision. For my picks from the top of the list I keep including live and archival albums until I reach #1500 (not happening any time soon). For the bottom I'm sadly going to exclude live and archivals, unless RYM decides to change this again. I don't like the decision, but I do prefer going as far down in the list as I can.
Hi Rob,
Good news, it looks like RYM charts go up to 7500 including the live and archival releases.
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by Rob »

spiritualized wrote: Mon Nov 30, 2020 9:14 pm
Rob wrote: Wed Nov 18, 2020 3:14 pm
Rob wrote: Sun Nov 01, 2020 5:18 pm This does not change the bigger problem, however. The site now only allows me to view the list up to #1500. Suddenly I have to make do with 6000 albums less! I have found no way around this yet. Maybe it's an oversight of the new update that will be fixed soon, but for this project it isn't great. I'm not sure how I'm going to handle it yet.
I have made a decision. For my picks from the top of the list I keep including live and archival albums until I reach #1500 (not happening any time soon). For the bottom I'm sadly going to exclude live and archivals, unless RYM decides to change this again. I don't like the decision, but I do prefer going as far down in the list as I can.
Hi Rob,
Good news, it looks like RYM charts go up to 7500 including the live and archival releases.
Yes, I noticed yesterday and wanted to note it in my next review. Very happy with this!
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

Post by Rob »

Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004) – AM #27



These were the albums I could pick from:

21. Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks
22. The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead
23. Patti Smith – Horses
24. Television – Marquee Moon
25. Michael Jackson - Thriller
26. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland
27. Arcade Fire – Funeral
28. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV
29. Prince – Sign O’ the Times
30. The Doors – The Doors
Obviously this was before this weekend’s update.

Here is the moment you have long been waiting for: your debut album. Well, I haven’t made an album myself, but I suspect that releasing your first one must be a momentous day in your life. Arcade Fire called their first Funeral. Strange title to begin with. It might have made a good name for Leonard Cohen’s final record. That one definitely sounds like a funeral. You’d suspect calling your album that might pose a commercial risk, especially if you are trying to sell the music of young people who seem to be full of life and energy.

But Funeral we got, though it certainly doesn’t sound like any I attended. The music is not stately, not even all that mournful in a conventional way. The lyrics rarely seem to reminisce someone, except maybe the finale In the Backseat. Win Butler’s wails are not typical for giving a funeral speech and Will Butler’s antics might not even be appreciated.

Much has been made of the death of the grandparents of several band members just before the recording began. It was likely on their mind, but this album does not feel like an In Memoriam for old folks. The key to this album, and to Arcade Fire in general, is that it asks how we can enjoy our lives. Strangely, it seems to have found an answer.

It could just as well have been called The Suburbs, as it’s central dissatisfaction seems to come more from a feeling that it’s hard to live an emotionally fulfilling live in a western, “ordinary” home. Safety and even financial stability may have been achieved in a way, but it has not quenched old fears or sadness. Love may be the answer and this band happens to me more or less fronted by a couple. But above all it is about the love of groups of people.

The sound of Arcade Fire is big, but above all communal in spirit. Especially when you see them in concert you have the feeling that every member is both very individual, yet still working towards a common goal. I think it makes Arcade Fire such a popular live act, as this feeling of togetherness rubs off on the audience. You really have the feeling that you are witnessing people who have been able to live together and make something, without losing sight of who they are as individuals. At least during this phase; later on Reflektor and especially Everything Now the new direction felt frequently very forced to me and the magic was lost. But on Funeral Arcade Fire felt very real.

I think this is the reason why Funeral has become such a landmark and why it influenced the sound of indie in such a big way, for better and worse. The band was not without influences, nobody is, but still it’s hard to think of anything that quite sounded like Funeral before it came out. The almost martial feel without army connotations that lifts up Rebellion (Lies). The unlikely warmth of the sound that warms up the tale in the snow in Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels). The way Win Butler’s cries of existential angt are uplifted by the playfulness of the other members instruments on Neighborhood #3 (Power Out). It’s a cry for help we hear for sure, but a cry that is answered. Much music and much art in general seems to be build around the idea that every man is an island, but the members of Arcade Fire have build boats so they can visit each other.

That idea seems obviously appealing, so more and more bands tried to create this feeling that we are young friends who look out for each other, but the anguish on which Funeral is build was frequently missing, making the songs more twee and a little too squishy. The decline in the appreciation of indie rock after the 2000’s might have something to do with the way many bands oversimplified what made Funeral great. You can only make so many Young Folks until you notice that there are no lies behind the rebellion and things start to feel a little empty.

Funeral is the real deal though, a communal purge that makes us all feel better. It isn’t without flaws to me. Although the rough production has it’s appeal and keeps things feeling spontaneous, I also find myself frequently frustrated with how the voices are mixed. In fact, I couldn’t understand almost half the lyrics, despite them seeming important. “When daddy comes home you always start a fight/ So the neighbors can dance in the police disco lights” is superb writing, but I’ll be damned if I could ever understand it without looking it up. In fact, I have heard Rebellion (Lies) many times, but never known that the background chorus chanted “Lies! Lies!”; it sounds more “Aah! Aah!” to me. It may not be a dealbreaker, as the emotive vocals and the communal music get a lot of the job done, but I have start to wonder if Wake Up is my favorite song here because I always knew what Butler was going on about.

Criticisms aside though, this feels like an album that had to be made and I like how it belies the normal idea of art as something completely individual. No matter the course indie will take or where Rolling Stone Magazine will put this, I think this album will hold up, for behind the band’s hipster image lies the important notion that when in pain we need each other.
8/10

Next from AM: Julie London – Julie Is Her Name
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music

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Nas – Illmatic (1994) – RYM: #23



These were the albums I could choose from:

21. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
22. Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
23. Nas – Illmatic
24. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven!
25. Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
26. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
27. King Crimson – Red
28. Nick Drake – Pink Moon
29. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
30. The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead
“Check it out/ When I'm chillin, I grab the buddha, get my crew to buy beers/ And watch a flick, illin and root for the villian, huh”

Nas – One Time 4 Your Mind
For me these were some strange lyrics. Most of it makes sense. Just some guy relaxing and having a good time. But why does he grab the Buddha? What does Buddha have to do with chilling and why is he in the same sentence as buying beer? I’m not sure if Buddha was the type to root for villains in movies. This Buddha shows up in several places throughout the album and after a while I couldn’t help but think that Nas was not referring to eastern religion, but I’ll be damned if I knew what buddha did in fact mean here.

It’s cannabis.

Well, that makes a lot of sense. It’s kind of obvious once you know it. This misunderstanding does however typify a problem I have when listening to Illmatic: I sometimes simply don’t know what Nas is talking about. In fact, it took me until this very album to know that “ill” is another slang word for “cool”. I think it is dated by now, but thanks to this I always thought that the two Beastie Boys albums had odd titles, like they got a license to be sick and that their communication has been unhealthy. No, the Beasties have a coolness license and their communication is equally cool. I’m not sure what “Illmatic” means, but you can be sure it makes Nas the hippest guy around.

The whole album is filled with slang and references to specific people and spots in Queensbridge were Nas grew up, as well as very specific terms that belong to a lifestyle that is far removed from mine. Frequently I feel that a great work of art can make me feel completely a part of a world that is not mine at all, but Illmatic gets that job done only partly. That is not the fault of Nas. There is no doubt in my mind that he was not interested in making his stories accessible for someone who grew up in a small Dutch village. Illmatic is not just meant as a portrait of life in Queensbridge, it is a tribute to the place and it’s people. It sometimes even feels as a testament of sorts.

It is the specificity of Illmatic that makes it special. This is far from the first album – hip-hop or other – to describe Afro-American life on the mean streets of New York, but it way it feels lived-in and closes in on details might well have been revolutionary in the genre (though I admit not knowing all the classics that preceded it). The Message by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five already described ghetto life memorably, but it was also more overtly poetic and almost a parable. Public Enemy took a deep dive into the dark side of Afro-American lives, but painted in broader strokes to give it political power. Illmatic on the other hand has elements of protest coming from it, but that doesn’t seem the main point. Nas is hardly ever talking to politicians or outsiders. His writing is frequently described as journalistic, but I would say it resembles mostly a poetic diary, at least in it’s best songs. This is the place, these are the people, this is what is going on. Take a tour through Queensbridge, but beware that you are not treated like a tourist.

This approach may put me at a remove sometimes, because I am definitely not the target audience, but it also makes it easy to see why this specific album has remained such a touchstone among hip-hop crowds and why it seems to have resonated so particularly well with black communities of America. This album smells of real life and although almost only Nas is talking you get the feeling that you heard the people speak and saw them alive. The best songs here reflect that. N.Y. State of Mind is literally a location sketch. One Love is a moving tribute to incarcerated friends, where Nas sends letters full of details the detainees need to hear. Memory Lane (Sittin’ in Da Park) is even surprisingly nostalgic, remembering the good and the bad times in the projects that have been forsaken by the government.

What also stands out to me is how focused this album is. At 39 minutes there is no fat to it, especially for a genre that frequently gave us rather bloated albums running over 60 minutes, simply because they could. Outside of the opening there are no skits. Guest features are very limited, with only AZ and Q-Tip (who only sings "One love" in a loop) taking the mike at one point. It all makes the album flow smoothly and seem as a perfectly constructed whole.

It’s easy to admire what Nas does here. It did help for me to watch the 2014 documentary Time Is Illmatic, which is specifically about the genesis of this album and mostly focusses on Nas’ youth and the environment he grew up in. Thanks to that I could place some of the specifics of his lyrics more. But when I say I admire the album and also respect it’s place in music history, I do have to admit I find it personally hard to love. And this has something to do with something that doesn’t work for me in a lot of hip-hop albums and I think it is time for me to explain it.

I only noticed it recently. A friend of mine has recently decided he wanted to rekindle his old passion and try his hand at rapping again (he does this very well I might add). This got us to talking about hip-hop. He knew my passion for music and we share a lot of the same tastes, but he also noticed my lack of interest in this specific genre. I was aware of this, but never really asked the question why so much of the genre just didn’t click with me.

The answer came in a completely different conversation about dance music, when a colleague of mine simply said she liked a song because of the beat. This made me realize something I never noticed about myself before: I never liked a single song because of the beat. Not one. I couldn’t even think of a beat I found particularly appealing. In the months since I tried to pay attention to beats, but it would not help. I am never enraptured or captured by them. I don’t know why. In all frankness I sometimes struggle to even notice a beat; my ear is drawn to other sounds.

It was pretty much an eye-opener for me in understanding in how music works for me. I already knew that I didn’t like most funk because of the repetition, but now I notice I need melody, movement and variation. It also made clear why particular hip-hop acts do work for me. Outkast works for me because of their playfulness, Kendrick Lamar because of the epic scope of his musical vision, Beastie Boys because of their experimentalism and rock roots and A Tribe Called Quest because of their jazz feel. These are just a few examples.

Someone rapping over a steady beat though, that has never really worked for me, except perhaps if the rapper is particularly forceful or has particular oratory skills (Chuck D from Public Enemy and Kae Tempest come to mind). This is not really how Nas operates, he is more about the flow than about specific words. The beat-driven genre of Boom Bap is the form he has chosen and that’s a form that speaks to a lot of people, just not me. More and more I feel that you can’t force yourself to like every style and you don’t have to. With Illmatic I feel Nas found exactly the audience he wanted to reach and I admire that there is no pandering to anyone else. If I can’t love Illmatic, I can at least see it’s achievement.

6/10 (With a perhaps unnecessary remark that this note reflects my personal feel on the album; on a more historic or canon scale this deserves a 10/10 and a place on All-Time lists)

Next from RYM: It’s a Beautiful Day – It’s a Beautiful Day
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music: Nas - Illmatic

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Julie London – Julie Is Her Name (1955) – AM #2969



These were the albums I could choose from:

2961. Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer
2962. Band of Horses – Cease to Begin
2963. Tierra Whack – Whack World
2964. Laura Marling – Semper Femina
2965. Ted Leo / Pharmacists – Hearts of Oak
2966. Joe Lovano – Quartet – Live at the Village Vanguard
2967. Secos & Molhados – Secos & Molhados
2968. Handsome Boy Modeling School – So… How’s Your Girl?
2969. Julie London – Julie Is Her Name
2970. Lightning Bolt – Wonderful Rainbow

Julie was certainly her name, but not London. Her birth name was Julie Peck, but like many film stars (she didn’t break into music some ten year after starting a film career) she changed her name. Why London? She wasn’t British. I don’t know, but it gave comedian Bob Hope the chance of introducing her with the remark that London looks to be in better shape than Paris.

This joke, made when she was at the peak of her stardom, seems to be a reference to her physique. By then London must have been used to it, as her early career and grasps of stardom were based on her looks and not her now iconic voice. She was discovered in the 1940’s by a Hollywood agent when she was working as an elevator operator. The female agent, who did in fact book actors, did not see an actress in London so much as a potential pin-up model. This turned out to be correct, because the pin-up photos of London were very popular among American soldiers during the Second World War. Her modelling success led to her first film roles, starting with the 1944 exploitation adventure film Nabongo in which she plays – wait for it – a white queen in the middle of the African jungle with a gorilla as her bodyguard. The gorilla is of course played by a man in a suit; it’s that kind of film.

A series of minor films later she was married with actor Jack Webb and by 1950 she retired from film and modelling to focus on housewife duties. The marriage dissolved in 1954 and by then London had to almost start almost from scratch, her modelling and film work mostly being forgotten. She started doing film again in 1955, but in the meantime she was also singing in nightclubs, something she hadn’t done since she was a teenager. There she was spotted by record producer Simon Waronker, who signed her, although he would not produce the first album himself. That would be done by Bobby Troup, Julie’s second husband and lifetime creative partner. The album was Julie Is Her Name and perhaps more importantly it contained the song Cry Me A River.

This song was actually written by an old high school classmate of London, Arthur Hamilton, but he did not write it for her. He wrote it for Ella Fitzgerald, interestingly on suggestion of London herself. London contacted Hamilton because her then-husband Jack Webb was directing a film with Fitzgerald and they needed a song. It was not used for the film though and Fitzgerald only recorded it almost ten years later, in 1961. The song was subsequently offered to Peggy King, but her producer refused to let her record it, humorously because it contained the word ‘plebian’ (in actually the best put-down part of the song: “Remember, I remember all that you said/ Told me love was too plebeian/ Told me you were through with me and/ Now you say you love me/ Well, just to prove you do/ Come on and cry me a river, cry me a river” – wonderful stuff).

Somehow it then circled back to Julie London, now starting a recording career as a singer and she went on to be the first person to record what would become one of the great classics of vocal jazz, a sad torch song with a little sass to it. If for nothing else, this will be the song London will be remembered for. It was immediately popular, but got an even bigger boost because it appeared in the popular musical comedy The Girl Can’t Help It, where Julie gets to sing it in a scene that is very much worth a watch:
The film itself is now mostly known as one of the first movies to contain a lot of rock ‘n roll. The film was meant to parody this new music, but had the opposite effect, introducing or further popularizing young rock stars like Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, The Platters and Fats Domino. And in the middle of those wild rock performances is Julie London’s far more old-school crooner, Julie herself looking cool, classy and literally untouchable in between all the rock madness.

These would become her golden years; the highlight of London’s career was in tandem with early rock, but outside of that one movie she had nothing to do with that scene. She belonged to the older tradition of jazz singers that was still very popular at the time. Her big hero growing up was Billie Holiday and although the voices aren’t exactly alike, they clearly share the same musical taste.

As for the album as a whole, there isn’t that much to say about it. After you passed Cry Me a River you’ll notice that almost every song is very similar to that. They are mostly slow, somewhat languid songs on which London’s sultry and rather deep voice is accompanied by the unobtrusive, but tasteful backing by only two musicians: Barney Kessel on guitar and Ray Leatherwood on bass. Their sound is dark, not in the evil sense, but in the nighttime-in-a-romantic-movie sense (in one of the songs the moon is missing so it is extra-dark). The songs are mostly about love – usually positive, sometimes negative. They are pretty much all standards recorded over and over again.

I personally would have loved a little more variety. Perhaps I just don’t like vocal jazz and torch songs enough to take 13 of them in a row, especially since London is not the most versatile of singers. Her voice is definitely appealing, but it doesn’t go many places. Still, it attracted a lot of attention at the time because it sounded far more intimate than people where used to. London was aware of this, but saw it as a fault. In a rare interview she claimed to be embarrassed to be working in the same genre as performers she admired like Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald, whose range she knew she did not possess. According to London she could only make her voice sound good by staying close to the microphone and singing intimately into it.

It worked, as people fell for this lady who sounded like she was singing specifically for them. I see the appeal, but for my tastes I think two or three songs at a time will do, not a whole album. I can’t deny the whole album is skillfully done, with tasteful and simple arrangements, but there is also a lack of depth or any kind of tension in this. I did like to close in on the songs though, to listen if I could find any variations in the approach to the vocals by London. I discovered a few fun things, like how she basically allows her voice on I Love You to go higher than usual and you get the feeling she knows perfectly how far she could take it. ‘S Wonderful is also very welcome, because it is the only song that allows a more joyful, even jubilant side of her to come out, although it is just one minute and a half long. I’d have loved to notice more of the subtle smirk of Cry Me a River, but it was not to be.

Like I said, the albums is flawlessly done, but if I compare it with albums in the genre that I heard before, like some by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and of course her idol Billy Holiday, I feel those revealed more about the singers, they had a little more character. I started to wonder who Julie London was, what she felt, but it is hard to say. If we now go back to that biography I wrote before coming to Cry Me a River, you might find it a little dry on London’s personality. It’s the story of a woman who was for a long time encouraged to coach on her looks alone. Even the original marketing campaign of Julie is Her Name was unsubtly betting on her pin-up past as much as on her voice. That cover art was considered very risqué at the time. Only when she broke through with Cry Me a River the voice became as central to her public persona as her looks.

Most of her story has been told by others. There are very few interviews with London, not because she wasn’t asked, but because she mostly refused to give them. All the people who knew London well seem to have repeated the same fact about her and it might be a surprise when you consider that she was a pin-up model and even briefly an exploitation actress: she was immensely shy. Not just regular shy, but something I suspect was bordering on real anxiety. She was barely capable of doing interviews. She was actually uncomfortable being photographed and filmed. She could only sing on stage because of her love on music, but stage fright almost wrecked her. When at 44 her voice had been tainted by smoke too much (she was a chain smoker) she quit music altogether. She then did a tv-show called Emergency! with her husband, to great acclaim and popular success, but once that was done she quit and never went public again in the last twenty years of her life. You might think she was glad to put it all behind her.

It’s hard to speculate about someone who has revealed so little of herself and whose memory so much relies on testimony of others, but I wonder how much of her we find on her debut and subsequent albums. Perhaps vocal jazz experts hear a lot more depth. I just keep on wondering if Julie Is Her Name just refers to Julie London and not to the Julie Peck behind it.

Instead I got more out of her from the little I’ve seen of her as an actress. She kept acting even as she became a popular singer, oddly enough almost exclusively in westerns in the 1950’s (I mean, popular jazz singers and cowboy movies don’t make for the most obvious combination). I’ve seen two of these, Man of the West and The Wonderful Country. Both of these are not about female characters in the slightest, but in both London does play her role with a very mature toughness, a suggestion of life and dreams thrown away in a male-dominated frontier. Then I saw a clip of her in The Great Man, in which she plays a drunk singer whose talents are questioned by the main character. It just so happens that a song by her comes on the radio and she turns to volume up and points in drunken pride to the radio: “See, I can sing”. Indeed.

Yet the part that showed the most character was in that clip I shared from The Girl Can’t Help It. When she stands there on those stairs, looking at the male main character, singing the last part of the song and then suddenly smirks at him: that is a great small moment. After that she fades away like a phantom still asking the onlooker to cry her a river. It’s perfect.
6/10

Next from AM: Jimin Hendrix - Electric Ladyland
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music: Julie London - Julie Is Her Name

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Excellent review, Rob!!
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music: Julie London - Julie Is Her Name

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Honorio wrote: Sat Dec 12, 2020 8:29 am Excellent review, Rob!!
Thanks, Honorio!
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Re: Rob Climbs the Mountains of Music: Julie London - Julie Is Her Name

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It’s a Beautiful Day – It’s a Beautiful Day (1969) – RYM #7463



These were the albums I could choose from:

7461. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – B.R.M.C.
7462. Procol Harum – Procol Harum
7463. It’s a Beautiful Day – It’s a Beautiful Day
7464. Death Angel – ACT III
7465. The Divine Comedy – Casanova
7466. Wovenhand – Consider the Birds
7467. Roy Orbison – Mystery Girl
7468. Peter Green – The End of the Game
7469. Brygada Kryzys – Brygada Kryzys
7470. Anouar Brahem – Le pas du chat noir

Now there is an album cover. I’m not going to deny it; if this band’s debut didn’t use that image as the album cover I would most certainly have been writing about Wovenhand’s Consider the Birds today. Not that album art is all that important in my decision making process (I would definitely not have picked the Subhumans’ record based on that), but just look at this one. It’s gorgeous! It’s so full of promise!

It is also based on an existing artwork by Charles Courtney Curran, aptly named Woman on the Top of a Mountain. The image isn’t a direct copy though, it is slightly redesigned by George Hunter and painted anew completely by Kent Hollister. In the process they didn’t just make it fit a square format and add a title, but also gave even more space to the sky. This adds to the romantic feeling of the painting. The woman standing in what feels like a bright Summer afternoon suggests that, yes, it is a beautiful day. With such a picture I more than ever hoped that the music reflected the package.

And it did! Whoever chose that image knew what they were selling. This is a warm and romantic album, not without somber themes, but overall one that feels bright. We are nearing Winter when I’m listening to it and writing this, yet it is undoubtedly a Summer record in feel. Or maybe it just belongs to San Francisco, where the climates tend to be warmer than here. Make no mistake, this album belongs to San Francisco as much as anything. And it most definitely belongs in the 1960’s.

I really love this album, but I want to give a fair warning beforehand: it is absolutely not timeless. In fact, it’s appeal might very well be that it isn’t. If I had known nothing about this, but you had let me hear any random 10 seconds I would have without a doubt told you it was from the late sixties. To take it further, this belongs so much to it’s era that despite being released in 1969, you suspect that by 1970 or at least 1972 this would have been mocked as being horribly old-fashioned. I mean it is not just psychedelic folk rock with hippie lyrics, it also contains an organ. The organ is that one instrument that was ubiquitous in the sixties, but nobody outside church ceremonies has dared to touch since. Even the lute has had probably more success in rock and popular music in the last fifty years than the organ.

Still, I quite like psychedelic folk rock and the era, plus you can’t really keep good music down. I find it a delight to listen to. There are two obvious comparisons with more famous bands you can make. First of all Jefferson Airplane, who derive not just from the same scene, but had the same manager for a while (though by the time It’s a Beautiful Day started recording, this wasn’t already the case anymore). There is that same obsession with love and surreal yet romantic imagery, as well as the sometimes druggy feeling that is still bright as day. The other band is Fairport Convention, who as Brits were not from the same scene, but have a very similar approach to music, probably because they share folk roots. What both Jefferson Airplane and Fairport Convention have in common with It’s a Beautiful Day is that they all have both a male and a female lead vocalist.

With Beautiful Day they sing pretty much always in tandem. They are David LaFlamme and Pattie Santos, yet despite both being credited as lead vocalists, it is LaFlamme’s voice that feels like it is more on the forefront. It could be that his deep voice just draws more attention, but it is of note that he is both the main writer of the album and the group’s leader. A few of the songs were co-written by his then-wife Linda LaFlamme, who is also responsible for those organ sounds. David plays the most defining instrument though: the violin.

That’s what mainly sets the album apart from other, similar hippie bands of the time. The other instruments here are more typical, although Hal Wagenet frequently seems to prefer the acoustic over the electric guitar. Everybody in the band gets a moment to shine, without there ever being a mistake in that this is foremost a violin driven band. David LaFlamme was classically trained and for the most part he creates a very warm and bright sound, something to engulf you in. If some elements, like the singing and the lyrics, might be a little bit too dated, there is always the violin to keep you in. It just sounds as gorgeous as that cover art promises.

The songs are really good too and like a lot of bands of the time the group was not afraid to try different things. On the track Bulgaria for example David goes for a dark violin sound that some critics have described as Middle-Eastern, but considering the song title it is obviously based on Bulgarian gypsy folk (which admittedly, is among other things influenced by music from the Middle-East). Linda plays a very high-pitched organ here that is put far back in the mix and sounds suitably eerie. On Wasted Union Blues the band basically tries to do Jimi Hendrix, with a psyched out guitar part that sounds frankly like a rip-off of Voodoo Child (Slight Return), but somehow it works. The final track, Time Is, is a nine minute showcase of the band’s powers, starting as a ballad, but developing into a rocker with an extended drum solo by Val Fuentes and a freak-out for the violin.

All this keeps things fresh, but the best parts are the more straight psychedelic folk songs, where the band’s natural warmth is out in the open. Hot Summer Day could have been the album title and is probably everything you might think of when you say ‘hippie music’. Girl With No Eyes is a surrealistic tale where things get moody in a good way and is a dreamer’s delight. Particularly beautiful is the one instrumental track: Bombay Calling. I recognized this immediately: this is Child in Time by Deep Purple, or at least they share the same opening section. I wondered if this was a coincidence or that Deep Purple plagiarized the band. Turns out that Deep Purple have indeed admitted that they reworked Bombay Calling, but they did ask the band’s consent. As a trade, Beautiful Day did their own variation on a Deep Purple song called Wring Your Neck, which they turned into Don and Dewey on their second album (sadly not as fruitful a song a Child in Time).

It’s easy to hear why Deep Purple would want to do Bombay Calling, as it is a real stand-out. Child in Time is one of my all-time favorite songs, mostly because of it’s apocalyptic feeling, which is actually completely absent in the original. Whereas Deep Purple turned the opening into an ominous and slow piece, it is quick and lively on Beautiful Day. It might be celebration of life, where a classical ballad gets mixed with psychedelia and folk. Two completely different approaches to the same tune and if you ask me two masterpieces.

Finally we should talk about the opening song, White Bird. This is the only reason the band is still known somewhat, as most later reviews claim that this is still a classic radio staple. Perhaps in the USA, but I grew up hearing a lot of oldies radio – mostly focused on the sixties and seventies – and this is certainly not part of the Dutch radio DJ repertoire (it is also not famous enough to even appear as bubblin’ under on AM, whereas pretty much every oldie radio staple I know has at least that going for it). It is the band’s sole claim to fame these days though and that is fitting as no other song captures the whole sound of the album quite like this one. It grabbed me immediately and convinced me that I made the right decision picking this album for this series. The lush violins, the acoustic guitar, the organ: everything feels in place here. It feels like the type of song that should be part of every psychedelic rock compilation and yes, be part of AM’s song list.

It does bring up the question why this band and the album aren’t more famous. Most reviews claim it is mostly a forgotten gem, despite the presence of White Bird. “Forgotten” might be the right word in a way, as it was a modest success on the Billboard, as was White Bird. Not huge by any stretch, but by all accounts it did reach its intended audience (mostly hippies and like-minded folk). I wouldn’t want to overstate it’s forgottenness, as I found probably thrice as much writing on this than on my previous entry, Julie Is Her Name, which is a far more important album for it’s genre. That probably has to do with that psychedelic rock communities are a bigger presence online than those for vocal jazz, but the psych-rock fans seem to remember It’s a Beautiful Day quite well and by all accounts they are fond of it.

Outside of these genre circles it’s an unknown though. It definitely left the public conscious, that’s for sure. I hadn’t heard of the band or the album before it’s cover art had caught my eye. Strangely the cover art might have some role in why this album isn’t more well-known. You see, the band’s manager (and supposed producer of the album, although by all accounts all actual production work was done by David LaFlamme) Matthew Katz had some strange notions on how album art may be used. He is quite a character, who is rarely portrayed positively in any writing I can find on him and has made almost a career out of suing bands he once managed (including Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape).

Katz had the rights of the album in the USA, but wasn’t all that willing to release it abroad or license it to distributors there, as is usually the case. It started with the release of the album in The Netherlands, three years after it’s US release. Katz refused specifically the rights to the album art for it’s release there, so in The Netherlands they had to use another cover. Things turned more bizarre when after this odd display of power Katz decided that he could also decide which songs were allowed to be part of the album’s new prints in later releases or abroad. Why he would do that is anyone’s guess, but the following decades have seen moments when the album was not allowed to be in print and there were various lawsuits surrounding it, that I can’t get my head around. Basically, the availability of this record has been poor many times. It’s notably absent on Spotify too, as is more stuff Katz managed. Most owners seem to think you earn more money by keeping music in the public consciousness, but whatever Katz’ business plan is, that isn’t it.

As a side-note, fans also blame Katz for forcing the band into another sound on subsequent albums. None of these records seem to have defenders or fans and based on the little I heard that is deserved. It can’t have helped the band’s popularity in the long run.

Whether the album would be known better if it would have been available more of if the band made better follow-ups is anyone’s guess. Like I said, it is very dated, although not in bad way. I myself am happy to have taken the time to listen to it. If you have any interest in psychedelic music from the sixties this is a safe bet. No songs are bad and two of them – White Bird and Bombay Calling – are amazing.
8/10

Next from RYM: Slint - Spiderland
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