Global Communications

76:14 (Dedicated 1994)

http://www.mediafire.com/?zbpv5lhpz3r8wz8

Sometimes I obsessively search for the “perfect” album to post here at the expense of countless ones whose brilliance is overshadowed by the filler that hinders its chance at greatness. That’s a shame since this omits so many beloved fragments just because they don’t quite complete the jigsaw puzzle I’ve built up in my snooty mind. These meanderings rambled through my noggin as I revisited Global Communications’ 76:14 album for the first time in a decade and literally became teary-eyed while listening to the opening strains of “14.31.” All of 76:14’s titles signify their length and I found myself wishing it could be renamed something approximating” infinity and beyond” as a deceptively simple trio of a circular keyboard pattern, waxing and waning waves of synthesizers and a ticking clock coalesce into the kind of aural experience that makes you feel like you are levitating a few inches off of the earth. It’s easily one of the true ambient records in that it changes your mood instantly and alters your immediate reality without ever quite rising above a whisper. If only I lugged a blood pressure cuff around for kicks so I could test my new theory that 76:14 lowers my blood pressure when the right tracks are played in my general vicinity.

Global Communication consisted of an English duo, Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton, who were an integral part of the 90s ambient scene popularized by The Orb, early Autechre, Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada. People tend to forget albums like the KLF’s Chill Out and Future Sounds of London’s Lifeforms and artists like Biosphere, Higher Intelligence Agency, Pete Namlook and early Black Dog which is a shame since many of the aforementioned artists released work that fits snugly against the discographies of Brian Eno, Roedelius, Cluster, Moebius and Tangerine Dream, let alone the swath of 70s synth loners that seem to get reissued and snapped up by folks turned onto these sounds by today’s kinded spirits like Emeralds, Oneohtrix Point Never and Steve Moore. Maybe it’s because the 90s ambient scene got lumped into the unfortunate genre of electronica that it gets snubbed due to its unfortunate association with such unfortunate genres as trip-hop and electronica and folks got blinded by the haze of glow sticks and MDMA, but there are so many gems patiently waiting for your discerning ears to validate their existence.

Anyhow, lets get back to the thesis laid out in the first sentence of this rambling mess of a review. 76:14 is by no means a perfect album as a few tracks dull its edge as Pritchard and Middleton let the beat take center stage at the expense of the pristine ambience that is meticulously crafted throughout the remainder of the album. However, even the stinkers are bearable in a mellow, shuffling and aimless way, but 76:14’s summits erase your mental chalkboard pretty quickly and you forgive them for their foibles. I’ve even grown to love “9.25” even though it is centered around a slow-motion breakbeat since it slathers on a healthy slab of 4ad inspired etherealness comlplete with angelic coos and a subliminal wash of whispers that make it just weird enough to pass muster.

Even though I sheepishly admitted that “14.31” nearly reduced me to quivering jelly, the true centerpiece of 76:14 can be found in its majestic finale “12.18.” During my admittedly amateurish research of this album, I consulted the sages at amazon.com who’ve reviewed this album over the past 17 years and was pleasantly surprised to see the litany of praise for this track as one of the most gorgeous ambient compositions of all-time. Yes, it sounds like pure bullshit and sheer hyperbole, but it is so goddamn true. This track sends that same shiver up my spine as Arvo Part, Steve Reich, Roedelius’ Lustwandel, Cocteau Twins’ Treasure, Lisa Gerrard’s Mirror Pool and countless other albums and songs that seem like they were plucked from an alien universe to teach us how life affirming, moving and goddamn radiant music can be when you aim for synchronicity. For once, I must pay tribute to those surprisingly erudite souls at amazon.com because they are right on the money. “12.18” honestly eclipses 99% of anything ever  it labeled as ambient music as qualifies as a spiritual cleansing through sound. It’s the kind of ethereal fog you want to dive into during times of distress as if it were an aural womb. It is a peaceful, calm place where all is right in your godforsaken world and it alone makes this admittedly uneven album a transcendent one.

World Party

“Put the Message in the Box” from Goodbye Jumbo

http://www.mediafire.com/?w2fle2z32z10o4j

It’s a pain in the ass to write long-winded meditations on whatever album stumbles into my psyche. Sometimes I just want to write about a single song. To be honest, family, fatherhood and teaching are the prime real estate in my life these days and rambling meanderings fall somewhere near the excavation of my cat litter somedays. Therefore, I plan on offering some miniature dioramas of whatever song digs a hole in my heart on a more regular basis than once a week. Considering the fact that I have disappeared for entire years from this blog, my word in swiss cheese, but optimism is my forte.

Anyhow, I always loved this song. At the time of its release in 1991, I was a misbegotten teen who somehow chased down the divergent pathways of Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, Eric B. and Rakim as well as a maudlin fascination with the Smiths, Galaxie 500 and the Cocteau Twins. Those are just the good bands I listened to. I make no claims to premature cool. God knows I also owned albums by MC Hammer and the Dead  Milkmen too. Anyhow, I found myself immediately transfixed by this song whenever it reared its derivative noggin on 120 Minutes on MTV one night. I purposely avoided all classic rock out of some misguided aesthetic of cool that was ill-defined and its eminently hummable 90s alt-rock take on Bob Dylan seemed like something kaleidoscopic and fantastical to my undefiled ears.

“Put the Message in the Box”is a paean to optimism. It is an ode to speaking your mind no matter the consequence. God knows it is a timely theme that should be revisited today. However, the instrumentation transforms the hippie sentiments of the band into something more transcendent than mere encouraging words set to song. World Party is basically made up of one man, Karl Wallinger, and he was quite an effective chameleon for awhile. He basically summons all of the anthemic power of early 70s Dylan and marries it to country-rock by way of 120 Minutes and it somehow works despite itself. It’s a beautiful sentiment married to an equally beautiful song. That’s all I ask for in this world.

Meredith Monk-Facing North

September 14, 2008

Meredith Monk with Robert Een

Facing Norh (ECM 1992)

http://www.mediafire.com/?0uxdfn4s2mz

Although I now classify myself as an agnostic, thirteen years of Catholic schooling and four spent as an altar boy instill a love of the hushed reverence of the Catholic mass. From the scent of incense rattling around the burning thurible to the towering candles, I was a born sucker for the rituals and the choral works that pervaded my Sundays. I was never one for the sermons, but the hymns always kept me coming back throughout my childhood. I still find myself humming many of them and reliving those moments where the entire neighborhood joined together in song. There was a communal, ritualistic aspect of it which spoke to me even when I realized that the tenets of Catholicism weren’t going to jive with my emerging beliefs.

Obviously, music has played a major role in my upbringing and everyday existence, otherwise I wouldn’t feel compelled to spend my free time penning these pieces. Looking back, I feel as if many of my favorite albums hearken back to the ethereal choruses of my Catholic upbringing. Since I no longer found solace in Catholicism, I searched out secular music that tapped into the mysticism and ritual that appealed to me as a child. Therefore, there has been much time spent listening to Arvo Part, John Tavener, Cocteau Twins and Lisa Gerrard in an attempt to tap into the parts of mass that I loved as a child.

Recently, I have revisited the music of Meredith Monk and feel as if her 1992 album Facing North achieves that same sense of the sublime. I bought in a cut-out bin ten years ago and dismissed it as a bunch of wanky vocal acrobatics and smarmy artsy-farsty twaddle. However, I thought the Meatmen and Killdozer were pretty swell at time and probably wasn’t in a mood for self-reflection at that time in my life.

Facing North was inspired by her time spent in rural Canada during the most dark and frigid months of winter. Her inspiration comes through in the minimal nature of her work and one gets a feeling of isolation, detachment and a touch of madness after listening to the entire album. Monk is best known for her ability to manipulate her voice in unbelievable ways, but Facing North sees her toning down her act for a more restrained approach. The results are so goddamn gorgeous, occasionally ridiculous, but always riveting in its single-mindedness. Facing North reminds me of an absurd and playful version of the choirs of my youth and takes me back to time when I believed and sang my little heart out in praise of something larger than myself.

Fonica-Ripple

August 22, 2008

Fonica

Ripple (Tomlab 2003)

http://www.mediafire.com/?moytga39yum

Let’s get all of my overused adjectives out of the way before discussing Fonica’s Ripple LP. It is pastoral, soothing, mellow, gorgeous, ethereal, otherwordly among other suitable ways to describe the music of this Japanese duo. I’m being a bit of a wiseass about adjectives because it seems like all of my favorite albums attract such descriptions. Fonica puts me in that that blissful place that Stars of the Lid, Fripp and Eno’s Evening Star, Cocteau Twins’ Victorialand and William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops never fail to inspire. Never heard of the band in my life, but picked it up for two bucks in a local budget bin due to the fact that it was released by the excellent German label, Tomlab. It seems as if many folks sympathetic to the sound of drones and whirrs haven’t yet encountered what may be one of the unsung classics of the genre. That’s a shame since Ripple is a special album that sounds like its contemporaries, but repeated listens reveal layers upon layers of intricacy that push it beyond the reach of its peers.

I believe Fonica is no more, but Keiichi Sugimoto continues to mine similar veins with his work as Fourcolor, Minamo and Filfla. I like the Fourcolor and Minamo albums quite a bit and they are worth investigating, but his work on Ripple has this childlike quality to it. Each song is simplistic, repetitive lullaby that slowly reveals more elements until you are entranced by each creation. The title of this album is apt because each instrument, drone and muffled beat does indeed ripple outward in minsicule gestures and waves. On my most hectic, hair-pulling days, I can always count on Ripple to loosen the knots and focus the mind on better places and states of mind. I hope it can do the same for your troubled soul.

Ecstasy of St. Theresa

Fluidtrance Centauri ep

http://www.mediafire.com/?zy0tmxlyyym

During the heyday of shoegaze, there were many more classic eps than actual albums. Slowdive, Ride, Swervedriver, Moonshake, Telescopes, Moose and others had their brightest achievements on their first eps, not their full length albums. Yes, Pygmalion, Mezcal Head and Nowhere are great albums, but their singles and eps just encapsulate all that was excellent about these bands in a consise statement. All of the aforementioned bands had bright futures in which they delivered on their potential to varying degrees, but there was one band that only had that one great ep and not much else.

Czechoslovakia wasn’t exactly a hotbed for musical innovation, but it did spawn Ecstasy of St. Theresa. the band was named after St. Theresa’s vision of a handsome angel that appeared at her bedside to pierce her with a spear and set her her heart afire with passion. I always loved the sexual nature of this beatific image and it fits the hazy, sensual air of their ethereal music. The ep is derived from a Peel Session and stands as the pinnacle of their short career. Later albums found them embracing early 70s Pink Floyd and the ambient scene of the time, but these three songs tapped into the majesty of the Cocteau Twins at their most ornate moments circa Treasure and mated it to the woozy feedback of My Bloody Valentine. It is a combo attempted by most of their contemporaries, but none of them succeeded except this band. The first track”Fluidum” is so perfect and such a distillation of all that I loved about the few years this genre thrived. It is oozing with a lazy sexuality that reminds one of a day spent in a bed exploring the birds and the bees.

The Breeders

Pod Demos

http://www.mediafire.com/?xkeytnkyt0i

At the time, The Pixies were my favorite band in the universe. The Smiths and Cocteau Twins were runners-up. My teenage mind latched onto Frank Black’s primal screams on Surfer Rosa and loved the eclectic smorgasbord of Doolittle. This teenage mind liked Bossanova and told Trompe Le Monde to talk to the hand. I saw them with the Ciure and Love and Rockets and my heart swooned at the possibilities of music. Now I am much older and calloused and I look back and wonder why I thought their first two albums were a door to all that was new. I still view Loveless, Queen is Dead, Heaven or Las Vegas and Viva Hate as impeccable gems, but the Pixies just haven’t aged well with me.

The Breeders’ debut, Pod, is a horse of a different color. It still gets played regularly and it grows more loved with each listen. I like First Splash a lot and find something to love on the other two, but the overall legacy is weak except for Pod. I used the term “supergroup” already today, but here we go on our hackneyed path again. In my mind, the Breeders were much more than Kim Deal. The band included Tanya Donnely of Throwing Muses, Josephine Wiggins of The Perfect Disaster and Britt Walford of Slint, who recorded under the alias of Shannon Doughton to preserve the all-girl flair. When you listen to the demos for Pod, it becomes apparent that they had a lot more to do with its success than you may think.

Pod was produced and engineered by Steve Albini. Known for his work with  Big Black, Rapeman and Shellac as well as production credits on albums by Nirvana, Superchunk Page and Plant and Pj Harvey. It was always obvious that he beefed up the sound of Pod, but one listen to the demos and it points to how Albini and Britt Walford made this album a great one instead of a good one. The demos include all of the Kim Deal tracks and excludes the Beatles cover as well as a few others. The demos are a great insight into the creation of the album and stand on their own as an album, but it lacks the forboding, metallic guitars and creepy atmosphere of the finished product. Yes, this is the case with most demos, but the contrast is schocking.

In the finished product, Walford’s drumming is pushed to the forefront and is recorded higher in the mix than than Deal’s vocals at times. In addition, Deal and Donnely’s guitars sounds more abrasive and harsh while Wiggs’ bass is prominent and drives each track with an air of aggression. The finished product is genius while the demos sounds almost twee. There is no Pod as wel know it without the pounding drums of Walford and Albini’s raw reconstruction of these songs. You may say this is unfair since these are demos. However, the band’s direction after Pod shows that they were always a catchy pop band with rough edges instead of the infinitely more interesting band which recorded Pod.