Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Music

There's a habit on the board (it's not really consistent or old enough to refer to it as a "tradition") for a couple years now in which people post Youtube videos of bands they're currently listening to or have recently discovered or just think that the majority of the regulars won't know and might enjoy. There's a fairly diverse set of tastes and interests there, so it's usually a decent introduction to new and generally good stuff. The few times that I've participated (where I'm working now makes Youtube a bit of a challenge), I've usually posted 4 or 5 items largely because I tend to be listening to multiple new things (just today I dropped another $40 in new mp3s over at the commerce overlords (aka Amazon)) or have enough varied things on my mind that people might be interested in that it's easier to just do an information dump. Since I was home today (hooray for pointless religious observances that have nothing to do with the religion (or lack thereof) of the majority of the population!), I was ready to spam my usual output, but in thinking about what to post, decided to bring it here instead.

I've been listening to a lot of North Mississippi All-Stars lately. I'm fond of Delta Blues and these guys are the genuine item; plus they put on a helluva show because they're very enthusiastic about their music and their fans and that's always fun to see. Two overriding themes in many of the bands/performers that I regularly listen to is: a) Fearlessness. They try different stuff on a regular basis and aren't afraid to grow, even if they know that will piss off a segment of their audience that doesn't want to change; and, b) They're audiophiles. Part of that willingness to try new stuff is because they like taking sounds and making music with them, regardless of source or connection to their own assigned genre. NMAS are definitely in that vein, even if they stick to their Delta roots. The multiple layers of percussion in Goin' Down South makes it stand out from its more conventional blues guitar work. There are several rhythms going on here and you can bob and weave with any or all of them.

Speaking of awesome shows, my friend, Nathan, traveled down to the Majestic in Detroit with me a few weeks ago to see one Les Claypool and his current project, Duo de Twang:

I've enjoyed stuff by Claypool ever since Primus because, again, he's one of those aural experimenters. His song are bass-focused, as you might expect, but he's all over the spectrum in terms of rhythm, melody, and style. The problem is that, unlike more electronically-focused performers like The Orb or The Crystal Method, his music doesn't really jump off the disc to me when it's prerecorded. There are some performers that just do better on stage than in the studio and, based on what I saw at the Majestic, he's one of them, as his show completely blew me away. He and Bryan Kehoe just sat on stage with nothing but a blue light on them the whole time and just tore it up. I kept trying to follow his hands on the bass and kept losing him because he was doing more with it than most other players that I've ever seen (the only person I can remember who struck me as similarly talented is Melvin Gibbs, who I saw a couple times with Rollins Band.) It didn't hurt that they had a hilarious opening act ("Hello. We are reformed whores... and, uh, that is the name of our band, too.") and I happened to be the crossing point for two different groups of people passing some really good stuff back and forth (since I was helping, I was duty-bound to take a hit; Duty. Bound.) I pulled up some regular tracks on Youtube the next day and it just didn't have the same energy, so I'll wait 'til he rolls into town again but I will definitely be going. EDIT: Of course someone recorded the Majestic show, the first part (of six) of which I've now included.

Speaking of electronic bands, I've been a long-time fan of the Dutch techno producer, Speedy J, who originally engaged in the more flowing style that emerged from Detroit in the 90s and became prominent with groups like the aforementioned Orb and Aphex Twin, but later switched into much heavier rhythms and more complex sonic arrangements that often leave a tonal memory in your head precisely because of their lack of melody. He's using sounds to create an image in the same way that musical scores do for film, TV, and stage. What I really like about this approach is that it hearkens back to the industrial sounds of the early 90s that bands like The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and Atari Teenage Riot were using (albeit in drastically different ways) and, again, keeps with that thought of using new and interesting sounds to make music that a wider audience can still appreciate.

Soundtracks aren't confined to just performed art anymore, either, as there's a great amount of really good music turning up in games.

This is the background music for an area of the World of Warcraft called Booty Bay. As you might expect from the name and should be able to tell from the sound, it's where a lot of pirates tend to hang out. It's clearly soundtrack music designed to generate a certain image and atmosphere and does so in a rather phenomenal way, IMO. Even though the location is some distance from the regular cities where the majority of players tend to stay because certain services are easily available, I've left a couple characters here upon signing off just so that when I logged on, I could hear the background theme because it was so inspiring and exciting. Having a full orchestra to make game music certainly helps with that endeavor and, as any viewer of shows like Game of Thrones will tell you, having an innovative thinker like a Ramin Djawadi can go a long way toward making your show/game/play a compelling draw for years to come and leave your viewers/players/audience humming your theme songs as they go about their day.

On the orchestral note, I figured I'd end with a favorite composer, George Philipp Telemann. Telemann was a German baroque composer of the late 17th to mid-18th centuries and a contemporary of JS Bach and his sons, as well as Georg Friedrich Handel, among others. He was one of the most prolific composers of history and tended to stay at the cutting edge of musical development and led a lot of that change himself by his willingness to experiment with underused instruments (like the viola) and new arrangements. I have a collection of his trumpet concertos that's a favorite because of the compelling sound of the horns breaking free from the supporting music around them. This piece, the Concerto for 3 trumpets, 2 oboes, and timpani in D, is probably my favorite from that collection. Unfortunately, the arrangement in the above performance is a bit shaded toward the strings and less toward the horns, which are much clearer in the one that I have listened to most often (and which occasionally compels me to abuse Shakespeare's sonnet style, to the chagrin of everyone around me.) But the music still embodies the phrase "clarion call" and is one of the more compelling that I own. I gave a copy to my friend, Juscha, a few years back and she emailed me the next day, saying that she "woke up today to the sound of beauty."

Bonus extra!:

In the course of the last 45 minutes of writing this I've actually been listening to none of these performers but instead to Trixie Whitley. She's the daughter of semi-known blues guitarist Chris Whitley, whose one significant charting hit from the 90s was a track called "Big Sky Country":

Sadly, Chris died about a decade ago but his daughter has been carrying on with her own career after performing on several of his albums. She did some work with a group called Black Dub, which is kind of a blues/dub/rock fusion with some supporting sounds, but recently released her first full-length offering, Fourth Corner. This is one of the gems from that:

In short, she has dad's voice which kinda makes my knees go weak every time I hear it (but I'm odd like that; I've been talking a lot recently with a friend from the political past who speaks Dutch and my knees wobble just at the thought of hearing that...) Plus, it was a good excuse to bring this back to its blues beginning. Now on to some Lydia Loveless...

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