Friday, June 29, 2012

Music Review: Jim Coleman, TREES

Jim Coleman's Trees is a bit like those meditative "sounds of nature" CDs, wherein the sound of a babbling brook or the love call of a mating whale is intended to cleanse the mind and soothe the soul. This Coleman release, however soothing, is not quite tranquil, as there is an ominous and foreboding measure to the sound of trees, perfectly captured in this music that is omnipresent, lumbering and eternal. It is neo-classical Brian Eno-esque music for mood mongering.

Often, the music composes the spaces between trees as the wind gently passes through them. Soft percussive wind chimes via piano and keyboard, tinkle and glisten in a forest glade and a cello anchors the very breath and weight of an aged tree. The human voice morphs with violin and wind instrument to create an eerie sound as if ancient Druids are present to offer homage.

These ten tracks of meditative music is post-industrial noise with a hint of jazz accents. The sonic landscape paints a picture of nature repossessing an apocalyptic catastrophe. A synth keyboard crawls over a desolate landscape as the occasional horn, violin and voice enhance the emergence of the majestic trees. More like one piece of music over 10 tracks, the theme-titled songs - "Rain", "Dawn", "Summer Heat", etc - differentiate only slightly.

This is the first release from Coleman's own Wax and Wane recording label. It rises above the legion of independent, ambient, producer-on-a-laptop CDs that flood the market, by creating a distinct sound that is as intriguing as it is relaxing. In composing music encompassing the life history of trees, Coleman nails what a tree might convey in a musical language. Like the numbered rings designating age in the trunk of a fallen redwood, the music encircles and solidly defines its subject.

Interpretation aside, Trees is simply a pleasing sound experience. Meditative like a mantra, it is also thoughtful in its imagery of an ancient forest boldly advancing into the unknown. Or if you just want to kick back and groove to some cool sounds, it is absolute.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

HIT SHUFFLE - 10 Random iPod Songs

The Wicked Widget of The West has stolen my widget. I could direct traffic (both of you) to a playlist away from this page to hear some songs from my HIT SHUFFLE list, but I'll let it go for now. Widget be damned.

I get my iPod. I hit shuffle. I listen to the first 10 songs. I cower under the government sky as I plot to employ another illegal download device.

1. The Beatles, While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Eric Clapton plays lead guitar on this George Harrison composition from The Beatles (The White Album), although he is not credited on the album and it was years before The Beatles acknowledged Clapton's contribution. The word in my old neighborhood was, Harrison was not the most accomplished guitarist and he would often bring in session players to smooth out his rough edges. Clapton adds a fluidity of stinging guitar to this Indian music influenced song that is Number 7 on Rolling Stone Magazine's 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time. It's the kind of familiar radio song that makes you obediently stop, listen, and gaze into the future whenever, wherever it is playing.

2. David Bowie, Eight Line Poem

A funky countrified guitar and Bowie's hard-edged, stop-and-go piano guide this eight line musical verse that is philosophical, poetic and utterly charming. If you held a gun to my head and forced me to decide which Bowie album is best, I think I'd cry out Hunky Dory.

3. The Beatles, When I'm Sixty-Four

Sixty-four doesn't sound so old anymore. Written by Paul McCartney when he was a mere 16 year-old, When I'm Sixty-Four is a passive little ditty about aging into that dark night with your lover who is "sincerely wasting away", as if its a pleasant stroll down a garden path. A trio of classical clarinets add a leisurely Sunday drive buoyancy to this ultra familiar song which surprisingly, was never released as a single. From Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

4. Pink Floyd, Nobody Home

An artless TV soundtrack including a sound bite from, of all things, Gomer Pyle USMC, crawls in the cellar on this haunting, orchestrated and piano driven song from Pink Floyd's classic, The Wall. A  ghostly narrative sings of a life, presumably just ended, that possessed "a bag, a toothbrush and a comb", and "a silver spoon on a chain". One pictures a hobo with a cocaine addiction in an afterlife. Said to be the final song written for Floyd's brilliant psychological odyssey which remains one of the best-selling albums of all time.

5. Pink Floyd, Goodbye Blue Sky

Monotone industrial sound waves, perfectly blended vocal harmonies, and a lightly plucked acoustic guitar combine effortlessly to paint a sedate, frightening and post-apocalyptic image of Germany's air attack on England (The Blitz), but any war torn zone would suffice. The song opens (after a staple Pink Floyd industrial introduction), with the young voice of bass player and Floyd founder Roger Waters son, Harry, observing, "Look mommy, there's an airplane up in the sky". And then, it would seem, everybody dies. The now grown-up adult Harry Waters has been playing keyboard on his father's The Wall Live tour since 2002. On the 2010-2012 Live tour, animated bombers dropped not bombs, but dollar signs, euro signs, religious symbols and corporate logos when this song was played. From The Wall.

6. The Bealtes, Martha My Dear

From The Beatles (The White Album), it's a lilting, jaunting, regal sounding song from Paul McCartney with Beatlesque brass and violins, that depicts a romantic impasse with just a tinge of subdued threat in its constant reference to "Martha" as "a silly girl". McCartney is the only Beatle heard on this recording.

7. The Association, Everything That Touches You

Pop heaven. A beautifully crafted and romantic 1968 hit single from a band that were just a shade darker than their easy listening peers The Letterman, even The Beach Boys. Echoic vocal chambers, a crystallized flute, and a complex multi-layered arrangement all combine to make this a perfect pop recording. Derided by rock fans for its deliberate Beatles' All You Need Is Love rip-off closing verse, the Beatles' reference is fitting for an American band that fought with the likes of The Fab Four and The Rolling Stones for a position in The Top Ten singles in 1968. I saw The Association live just a few years ago, (they joked that if they weren't at the concert playing, they'd be home watching Jeopardy), and the new, younger by comparison keyboardist (not sure of his identity), led a hard edged version of the song that rocked.

8. The Blues Magoos, We Ain't Got Nothing Yet

A downbeat upbeat garage rock classic from 1967 with a psychedelic Eastern influenced guitar, rip-off riff organ, and infectious drive. Its indebted to grass roots rock and sounds a bit like The Rolling stones, if the Stones were American and penniless. The hail from The Bronx (and sound it), and this is their one big hit. This year, The Blues Magoos have announced plans to release their first new album in 41 years, Psychedelic Resurrection.

9. Stevie Wonder, As

When I received an iPod for Christmas a few years ago I stared at if for several months thinking, "What the hell am I going to do with an iPod?". I had a strict music listening regiment that didn't include a tiny metal device stuck in my ears playing Led Zepplin, and causing me to be oblivious to all else around me.  I have an unreasonable latent paranoia of not being able to hear the cops busting down my door should they ever decide to do so. Stevie Wonder's As from Songs In The Key of Life, was the first track I downloaded. It seemed like a good headphone kind of song. It's a breezy bit of Wonder love-passion with snappy bongo and cymbal laden percussion, a modest electric piano, and a merry-go-round hand clapping vocal chorus, that evolves into a fever pitch, in which Wonder reaches into the far depths of his alarming and aggressive baritone, for peace, love, and the whole shebang. It's a great record.

10. Steely Dan, Bad Sneakers

Over decades of time, this song has quietly risen to the top of my favorite Steely Dan tracks. It sits rather passively among the great, bolder tracks from the Katy Lied album, but it is a subtle powerhouse of jazz influenced syncopation and pop killer melody. At 3:16 minutes, it accomplishes a lot with SD's signature guitar break solo, by session player Hugh McCracken, and beautiful rainy day psych imagery that boasts the lyric, "I'm going insane", as if its a desirable state of being. That's Michael McDonald of The Doobie Brothers on backing vocals.