Various Artists(Compiled by David Toop)

Ocean of Sound (Virgin UK 1996)

links are down, but will be reposted tomorrow.

Although it sometimes spends too much time sniffing its own arse, The Wire, a British magazine, has helped turn me on to new horizons during the thirteen years I have read its pontifications. Yes, I could do without its testimonials to grime and its ill-fated interludes with post-rock, but no current magazine delves into the nitty gritty of oddball musics like they do. Although he doesn’t seem to write for them anymore, David Toop’s meanderings on music warped my mind in new directions. To be honest, I read them now and find less to love, but his articles and book Ocean of Sound provided the context for why I found whirrs, buzzes and drones to be such a wonderland. In 1996, Toop wrote a book entitled Ocean of Sound which attempted to trace the history of ambient music as well as the motivations behind those who devoted themselves to its creation. He touched on Satie, Terry Riley, Eno and Aphex Twin and how supposed background music became an artform. I still kind of dig this book, but years have hardened me and I no longer have the same bright-eyed and bushy-tailed look as I read the words. However, this book really gave my musical loves a sense of place. It connected dots and made sense of things that my young mind didn’t grasp until then.

A double cd was released in conjunction with book and I’ll be damned if there isn’t a better compendium of music to correlate with the book’s explorations of the ability of music to create an atmosphere. Now the book and compilation do not limit themselves to mellow bubbles and chirps since Peter Brotzmann and Ornette Coleman play a role as well as My Bloody Valentine and Jon Hassell. I love the diversity of this collection because its field recordings of howler monkeys and rain songs just melt into the more austere terrain of Harold Budd. At heart, it is just an excellent mix tape devoted to the power of sound by a man who put all of his love into each selection.

Ben E. King

Spanish Harlem/Don’t Play That Song (Atco 1961/1962)

http://www.divshare.com/download/5396815-043

Ben E. King’s rendition of “Spanish Harlem” has always sparked a fire in the romantic side of this jaded fuddy-duddy due to its uncanny Vulcan mindmeld of 50s pop orchestration, 60s soul and simple, but poetic tales that never fail to inspire memories of lost loves. It is a perfect song. Maybe this has something to do with Phil Spector’s involvement in transforming simplicity into complexity, but I always believed that this was King’s only foray into Spanish/Latino influences and Les Baxter inspired exotica. Thankfully, I was painfully wrong and picked up this two-fer of his early work that contains moments that delve into the cha-cha while delivering flawless fakeries that suggest a night in Spain without an ounce of truth. This is not an insult because King delivers some really moving performances of love struck tales over some really dramatic instrumentation that attempts to deliver infinite variations on the mood of “Spanish Harlem.”

The songs occasionally pay a little too much lip service to senoritas and siestas, but this collection makes my heart ache for the days of songwriting teams devoted to the craft of pop.  Lieber & Stoller, Goffin & King among others contribute to the creation of a gloriously square interpretation of Spanish soul that renders me disgusted by today’s version of the hired hand.

The other side of the two-fer, Don’t Play the Song, mostly abandons the Latino trimmings and aims straight for Sam Cooke territory. However, it lacks the sweaty grit of Cooke’s live recordings and aims for the silky-smooth moments of his most popular tunes. It is more “You Send Me” than “Don’t Fight It, Feel It” as he enters crooner territory with all the velvet, suede and whatever smooth substances I can muster in these fleeting moments.  It belongs alongside the many moments recorded by the Stax, Atco and Motown labels that break my heart with a forceful cry, tale of woe or smooth enticement towards the wrong decison. If you only know Ben E. King from “Spanish Harlem” or “Lean on Me” then listen to this and discover why he deserves to be placed alongside James Carr, Solomon Burke, O.V. Wright and other geniuses of his time.

Grenadine – Goya

June 30, 2008

Grenadine

Goya (Teenbeat/Shimmy Disc 1992)

http://www.mediafire.com/?oma0m1n3kdm

I know I keep saying that each album is one of my favorites, but each album posted occupies a special place in my heart. Grenadine is no exception. The cover and artwork of the album is pure schtick. Its imagery predates the lounge revival which brought Martin Denny, Les Baxter and Esquivel back into circulation and the liner notes falsely claim the songs are Sinatra and Cole Porter tunes. Thankfully, the band only gives passing nods to the easy listening of the 50s and 60s and reminds me more of Robinson’s angelic harmonies of the title track of his Imperial fffr album.

Consisting of Jenny Toomey of Tsunami, Mark Robinson of Unrest and Rob Christiansen of Eggs, Grenadine was a supergroup in a shaggy dog sort of way. At least, my lonesome sould thought so. Outside of moments on Unrest’s last albums, Goya contains the best performances any of these talented, but inconsistent artists ever recorded. Tsunami had a few great songs, but relied too heavily of Toomey’s husky, moody voice to carry lackluster tunes. Mark Robinson always had too many ideas and genres to explore. Eggs fell victim to the same miscues as well. Goya’s strength lies in the fact that the source material is already classic and their quirky sensibilities elevate instead of dilute the finished product.

It doesn’t hurt that Toomey and Robinson possessed two of the most more interesting voices in 90s indie rock. Their voices never sounded so good as when covering “I Only Have Eyes For You” as Toomey belts it out in such a manner that it makes you take a second look at the song and realize the beauty of its lyrics.

My love must be a kind of blind love
I cant see anyone but you
And dear, I wonder if you find love
An optical illusion, too?

Are the stars out tonight?
I dont know if its cloudy or bright
cause I only have eyes for you, dear
The moon may be high
But I cant see a thing in the sky
cause I only have eyes for you.

I dont know if were in a garden
Or on a crowded avenue
You are here, so am i
Maybe millions of people go by
But they all disappear from view
And I only have eyes for you

She transforms it into a moody meditation instead of blind-eyed devotion. I forgot how wonderful their cover was until reevaluating it for this review. It jangles like indie-pop, it sounds like indie-pop, but it transcends its littler corner and becomes something much more lasting.

Mark Robinson follows up with a one-two punch as he sings “In a World Without Heroes” A good friend who was interested in astrology found this song to be romantic as the lyrics relate his ability to discern the meaning of her star signs and horoscope to find a common bond between them. He seems worries that he doesn’t truly know her, but shows confidence that love can be derived from this celestial moment. It is sweet and tender in the nerdiest way possible. It still arouses a bit of mist in the ol’ eyeballs.