Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Avant Tuesday: Miles Davis, 'Black Satin'

Jazz purists had reluctantly followed Davis from be-bop to hard-bop on his seminal album ‘Bitches Brew’, but with the onset of the Seventies the jazz fraternity
would have to endure another painful shift in a new direction. This era saw Davis attempt to incorporate the funk grooves of Sly Stone and James Brown with jazz, the kind of thing Herbie Hancock would do so effectively the following year on ‘Head Hunters’.

Needless to say the quality of personnel on board are a testament to the respect Davis commanded; Chick Corea, Hancock and John Mclaughlin all happy to play minor supporting roles. For the underlying rhythm tracks Davis used repetitive bass riffing and robotic precision drumming mixed with a heavy dose of Indian Tabla to produce the requisite dense jungle sound he was searching for.

These tracks were then surgically grafted to several hours of jams by Davis and his producer Teo Macero. This subsequent cut ’n’ paste technique is perhaps the first instance of a remix. The similarities with early hip-hop or drum ‘n’ bass are clear but comparisons with the extraterrestrial Krautrock sounds coming out of Germany at the time are more apt. This is raucous street music, unmistakably New York in a sweltering blurry heat haze. 'Black Satin' is essentially a microcosm of what Davis was trying to achieve on the album.

The track employs an early synthesiser colouring with the de rigeur layers of Fender Rhodes and Davis’ squealing wah-wah trumpet licks. He produced two more albums before exhaustion led him into self imposed exile and his underwhelming eighties return. The album was poorly received at the time but the passage of years has revealed its embryonic genius.

Where to find: On The Corner (1972)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Metal Mondays: Megadeth, 'Holy Wars...The Punishment Due'

Since the ‘Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying’ album in 1986, the band had endured several years of chaotic upheaval, surviving amongst other things, substance abuse problems and a revolving door band membership. Though this would have shattered a lesser figure, Dave Mustaine has proven himself to be one of the great survivors of metal.

After his bitter ousting from Metallica, he ploughed his own thrash metal furrow, achieving nothing less than excellence but never coming close to knocking his erstwhile partners from the top of the mountain. He convened the latest aggregation of the band for his next album ‘Rust In Peace', armed with a stupendously talented new lead guitarist, Marty Friedman. Friedman was cast into the spotlight and rises to the occasion with aplomb adding a third dimension to the rampaging landscapes. Friedman’s neoclassical textures singlehandedly broke the stranglehold of the Randy Rhoads/ Eddie Van Halen cluster style which had dominated much of eighties metal.

‘Holy Wars... The Punishment Due’, is a two-part song, ‘Holy Wars’ which threads a familiar Mustaine theme of apocalyptic jihad is something that only he can do with a semblence of credibilty. ‘The Punishment Due’, on the other hand, is about the Marvel comics character ‘The Punisher', and is classic revenge fantasy stuff. Adding his usual abrasive rhythm guitar to conjure up fury, Mustaine leads his mercenaries with wild vigour, like a man having exorcised his past demons, creating a masterpiece to rival anything in the genre. Now it was time for the competition to play catch-up.

Where to find: Rust In Peace (1990)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ambient Sundays: Burial, 'Ghost Hardware'

Although Burial is strictly classified as a dubstep artist, his dark heart occasionally slips into the ambient genre. Adding a mixture of atypical pop music samples and video game soundtracks to his own atmospherics and beats, he has written the first great ode to London of the 21st Century. Prior to a few months ago Burial was just another anonymous bedroom producer gaining notoriety within dubstep circles before his most recent album started to open new avenues, leading to the obligatory tabloid hunt for the man behind the music and lazy comparisons with the similarly mysterious artist Banksy.

Now, for what its’s worth we know that Burial is in fact William Bevan who produces music on his computer using Soundforge. Putting that into some perspective, creating an album of this calibre with Soundforge is the equivalent of Radiohead making Kid A with a cassette recorder and a banjo.

‘Ghost Hardware’ drags us down to the London underground, subsonic bass seems to suggest a passing train on a distant platform Every inch of the track feels like it’s in imminent danger of being consumed by the darkness, but this is not the hustle of rush-hour, this is the loneliness of the big city. A sample of Christina Aguilera’s ‘Beautiful’ is twisted out of shape into some obscure Arabic instrument, coming and going like a half-heard melody spilling out of the earphones of a passer-by, while the trains continue to growl in an uneasy manner. Bevan shunned the limelight again at the recent Mercury Prize awards, "I'm a lowkey person and I just want to make some tunes, nothing else", whatever it takes to make a haunting vision like this.

Where to find: Untrue (2007)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Saturday Classic Rock: Steely Dan, 'Babylon Sisters'

Throughout the Seventies Walter Becker and Donald Fagen wove a elaborate fabric of jazz-inflected breezy rock with wry, and sometimes acidly cynical lyrics that had the tendency to illuminate dark corners not usually delved into by mainstream songwriters. The obsessive detail of their work habits has become legendary, for every musical shading an army of session musicians were traipsed through the studio in the quest for some sort of audio ambrosia.

The music could so easily have descended into an aural mush but thankfully the pair had the requisite nous to make every record exude spontaneity like the sound of musicians playing a relaxed jam at a Californian pool-side. The album ‘Gaucho’ sounds like a world-weary band teetering on the brink of collapse but achieves a peerless burned out elegance. Becker was literally on the edge of physical and mental collapse after the exertions of the previous decade, while Fagan comes across as a man who is in imminent danger of having his soul devoured by L.A., all the while feeling compelled to document the episodes of moral decay.

It’s one of those great contradictions the band was capable of, that the instrumentation on ‘Babylon Sisters’ is so polished while the lyrics are so tarnished. The intro is a thing of rare beauty, a sun bleached piano that seems to drop like warm cream from the clouds supported by a deliberate, almost frighteningly stark beat and guitar line so minimalist in execution that it allows those liquid keys to luxuriate all over the space between. They didn’t follow this for 20 years, perhaps awestruck by the intensity of their creation.

Where to find: Gaucho (1980)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday Floorfillers: Brian Eno & David Byrne, 'The Jezebel Spirit'

Brian Eno is not a name that immediately comes to mind when you think of clammy dance floor anthems. But his work with David Byrne both in the role of producer or in collaborative work like this, have led Eno to abandon his natural inclination towards the calm while losing none of the alien otherworldly nature of his best work.

While the twosome look more like they should be doing your accounts, they manage to breed a frankly out of control funk beast, appearing like two crazed children with a cheap chemistry set pouring ingredients into the test tube without fear of the cataclysmic results.The track is built around an arrresting vocal sample of an unidentified exorcist going about his work with spiritual fervour bolted to vast layers of african drumming which underpin, making this a downright feverish experience.

The percussion sounds less like any conventional instrument and more like the contents of your pots and pans drawer being emptied onto the floor by some giant earthquake and promptly rattling down the street in a random manner with a preposterously groovey bassline sounding more like some kind of cosmic rubber-band being plucked by the gods themselves. Massively influential DJ Larry Levan saw the future and installed the track as a peak set mainstay, recognising the equal parts of raw genius and art school daftness that make the track a true original.

Where to find: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Modern Sounds On Thursday: The Kings Of Leon, 'Crawl'

So 'The Kings Of Leon' have a new album out and it's quite impressive. Needless to say jaded critics everywhere have dubbed the album a clear evolution in their sound, and for once they might be right. The band are now poised to rule over the indie rock scene for the next six months like some kind of U2/ Coldplay hybrid without the bombastic moments that cripple each of those tepid naval gazers.

So why not get a headstart on the inevitable and download some songs from 'Only By The Night'. You haven’t been living under a rock I take it, so you've heard the lead single 'Sex On Fire' and loved it, once you've tired of it's slick rhythms why not move onto the likely next single 'Crawl'.

It comes on like grinding industrial drill and builds to an utterly blinding chorus leaving you a sweaty mess on the floor, pondering the enormity of it all. With buzz-saw guitars and a pulsing steel groove still burning your ears you'll be left wondering just when our friends from Tennessee learned to ditch the southern rock leanings and drag us with them on a post-punk trip into a new intoxicating landscape. Transcendent.