Milk Music-Live at WFMU

July 27, 2012



Milk Music

Live at WFMU

Sorry it’s taken so long to begin posting vinyl rips from my collection, but the results kind of sucked, so I am waiting on a new pre-amp that my lovely wife purchased for me as an anniversary present. In the meantime, here is a blistering live set by Milk Music recorded for Brian Turner’s excellent program on WFMU. The picture kind of sums up the vibe. If you are unfamiliar with their work, please purchase their album, Beyond Living. However, I kind of think this live set is probably the best place to start as it succinctly encapsulates their obsession with the most sloppy, rollicking licks of the 90s via Dinosaur Jr. mixed with a bit of Thin Lizzy and the end result is one of those combos where you wonder why no band tried to combine the two before now. Actually, if you mix those two bands with the Wipers circa Youth of Today, then you might get a gist of how they float that boat. Since all three of these touchstones inspire a grin on my face, you might infer that I am kind of enamored with Milk Music, and you’d be right as rain.

I’m going camping next week, so expect little from my end until my return in a week or so. At that point, I should have my system hooked up to begin posting vinyl rips on here.

Ed Askew-Imperfiction

July 20, 2012

Ed Askew

Imperfiction (Drag City 2011)

Imperfiction is one of those obscure footnotes in musical history that deserves much greater than the backhanded compliment of a “lost classic” or whatever else people use to describe to describe albums that fall through the cracks. To be honest, most of the albums that fall under this umbrella kind of deserve an eternity regaled by a smattering of applause because their exquisite parts never quite add up to a sumptuous whole. That is the lot of the lovable losers in our musical pantheon. To be honest, Ed Askew is a lovable loser of sorts too, but Imperfiction possesses a fragility that kind of beckons the listener to embrace each song in a mutual empathy where he kind of knows where you’ve been lately and you knowingly nod your head because you’ve gone that road a few times too many yourself. This is a deeply intimate album that relies on the interplay of Askew’s voice and instrumental backing of guitar and harpsichord and all three paint the most bleak landscape with golden hues framing its edges as Askew plumbs the depths, but never lets himself of the listener lose sight of the fact that hope, optimism and ecstasy are still parts of our daily existence even if they do not happen everyday.

The lonesome streak runs a mile wide through Imperfiction. It’s kind of symbolic that Imperfiction stands in chronological isolation from the rest of his discography as his most well-known album, Ask the Unicorn, was released on ESP-Disk in 1968 and its follow-up, Little Eyes, came out in 1970. Little of note was released until Askew, a painter and teacher, decided to self-release a collection of tunes, recorded in a basement apartment, in 1984. Ask the Unicorn is a pretty amazing album in its own right, but Imperfiction has a weathered and wizened quality that suits his muse far more than the 60s imagery and outlook of his debut.

Imperfiction sets the weary, but wise tone in the opening strains of “Boy with a Hat” where Askew sings along to the accompaniment of a harpsichord, “The new man in my life is a child too, I’m drinking by myself watching the news, They’re setting fire to Beirut, and I’m sitting here waiting for you.” I absolutely am in love with how the album starts because it it perfectly combines nihilism, cynicism, hope and longing all in a few stanzas. It’s all about how the world can crumble down around you, but there are glimmers of light that yank us from the proverbial ledge, even if it may not be the best path to pursue.

“At Home in the Factory” is a symbolic tune that kind of represents his artistic and personal struggles. Again, the song gains its majesty from his harpsichord playing as the opening chords make the song seem far more orchestral and vast than a gentleman and a singular instrument. It begins succinctly as Askew sings, “The heart and head and head try to understand national insanity, but I can because everyone seems a little bit crazy, so I am sitting here at my harpsichord writing some words, playing some chords and outside of Congress Avenue, it’s raining on broken glass. What can you do in a crazy world, write another song, sing it well.” Then he breaks into a heartbreaking series of “la, la la’s” that somehow make this simple observation about oneself into something transcendent. It’s a perfect summation of what makes Askew tick and is consummated in the most humble, endearing manner in song.

I guess that I love Imperfiction so much because it somehow melds cynicism with romanticism, which is kind of a beautifully practical outlook to have. He freely acknowledges all of his flaws, yet dreams for a better place in which to rest his head at night. Isn’t that what we all should aspire toward in our own lives. Shouldn’t we all accept our faults and foibles, yet aim for the stars? Imperfiction encapsulates these common sentiments and sets them to song.

Things have been a bit quiet lately since I finally bought a new Macbook Pro and now have oodles of space on my hard drive to digitize my collection of vinyl for future dissemination here.  The halcyon days of music blogging have gently waned and it is time for a new direction since I only buy vinyl and it’s no longer a breeze to download whatever I feel like proselytizing about on a given night. I’m still working out a few kinks as I familiarize myself with the various programs available for digitizing vinyl, but be patient and a slew of worthwhile endeavors will become readily available on this ramshackle blog of mine. I promise you’ll be a happy camper. Then again, I might find this all to be one massive pain in the posterior and slink back to old habits. Only time will tell which way the moon shall glow.

Brian Eno and John Cale

Wrong Way Up (Warner Bros 1990)

It took quite a long time for me to appreciate this one. It’s the most middlebrow, mature and accessible release by either gentleman and those three adjectives weren’t exactly the most endearing to me when I initially immersed myself in their respective discographies long ago.  I foolishly looked at the 1990 release date and the garish cover art and never gave Wrong Way Up its due since it sounded a bit slick and lacking in the drifting stasis of 70s Eno or the unsettling, orchestral gravitas of Cale’s early string of solo albums. I wanted them to be obtuse and challenging, but that was my shortcoming because these two brilliant musicians had mellowed and now traveled along a different pathway than those that inspired their colorful origin. This was their attempt at a pop album and I now see the beauty and mastery that lurked behind its superficially slick sheen.

Wrong Way Up opens with the familiar strain of Cale’s viola playing on “Lay My Love” as Eno croons a cosmic yarn about the inherent power of love to transcend time and space. It’s a sentimentally hippie sentiment couched in cyberpunk imagery and its somehow touching despite the revulsion I feel at tying those two disparate genres together in one untidy knot. It’s a perfect synthesis of their musical outlooks as Cale’s viola lends it a stately grace to counteract the clunky electro-pop of Eno. It’s kind of like the pop songs on Another Green World with an orchestral bent. That’s a quite a combo in my book.

“One Word” was the commercially released single from Wrong Way Up and there is no way in hell that it ever had a chance at the top 40. My snarky cynicism isn’t due to poor quality control, but because it is way too bright, witty and impressionistic to ever capture the imagination of the dullards of our imperfect universe. This song is like a microcosm of the album as the two men trade stanzas establishing competing viewpoints as one argues for the power of words to derail any sense of camaraderie in this combative world while the other paints an idealistic picture of a world where words have the power to unite us all under the same banner. For some reason, this setting for this existential debate skips from the Louvre to Cologne and drops allusions to oil paintings by Welsh painter Augustus John, but these idiosyncrasies are what make this such a lovably unlikely stab at commercialism. It’s just another reason why I believe Wrong Way Up belongs in the same discussion as Cale and Eno’s accepted classics when you take a long listen to it and pay attention to the little eccentricities that define it.

“Empty Frame” is a head scratcher in the best possible way as Eno tries his hand at melding his 70s pop aesthetic to 50s pop music as the song rises and falls on a wave of “whoa, whoa whoas” like he’s aiming for some stoned, avant-garde take on “Runaround Sue.”  It sounds so uplifting, but listen closely and the song is really about a crew of unwitting sailors headed towards their demise by a clueless captain as they are slowly driven insane looking for signs of safety and survival. It’s a saccharine sweet tune laced with a tale full of arsenic. Again, these contradictions and literary flourishes are the lifeblood of Wrong Way Up and explain why a cursory listen is destined to obscure the brilliance that lies under its surface.

What would an album full of contradictions and idiosyncrasies be without a oddball honky-tonk number by John Cale?  “Crime in the Desert” tackles familiar country and western themes of women in love with broken hearted souls, tumbling dice and murder in the murky moonlight. However, Cale’s rollicking piano playing is juxtaposed over Eno’s enthusiastic bleeps and it somehow takes on a post-modern flair of its very own. It’s a bizarre, yet infectious twist on Americana that tweaks familiar themes and makes it into something wholly unique that could only be created by these two weathered crackpots.

Don’t make the same mistake I did. Just because it is rarely mentioned in the same hallowed breath as Paris 1919 or Here Come the Warm Jets doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pour yourself a glass of wine and get very familiar with Wrong Way Up. It is the most poetic and literary effort by both men and boasts some of their best lyrical work. Yes, the production kind of mucks things up a bit when you approach it as a backseat listener, but Wrong Way Up is the sound of two geniuses navigating their way through their middle ages and pondering love, life and mortality in their own peculiar way.