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Jan. 4th, 2017

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Kaoru Abe - Lover, Come Back To Me

Mention the name Kaoru Abe and you'll probably associate it with his punishingly harsh solo alto sax improvisations. The man had a hard tongue, at it was put to use making some intensely dry and atonal tracks. But one thing he never lacked was passion. He always played with soul, even when what that revealed was perhaps not the most flattering.

This early recording from the 1971 album Akashia No Ame Ga Yamu Toki that he made with percussionist Yasukazu Sato is a different beast altogether. You can hear hints of the dramatic new style he was to adopt, but it's for the most part less abrasive, although if you're a fan of his overtone whistling you won't be disappointed by the audacity of his technique. What isn't lacking though is the sheer fire that Abe brought to his performance. This is big heart free jazz, the likes of which that have never been equalled. Absolutely devastating.

Kaoru Abe - Lover, Come Back To Me
(alt)

Jan. 3rd, 2017

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James Tenney - For Ann (Rising)

I can guarantee you'll have heard Shepard tones before. They're a sort of auditory illusion where rising tones overlap each other. The high ends fade past the threshold of hearing but they're constantly being renewed by new base notes. Everything progresses at a steady pace so that there's a constant interval between adjacent pairs, and the whole thing sounds as if it's forever rising in pitch. I think they were popularised by Douglas Hofstadter's book Gödel, Escher, Bach, but the first person to use them was Roger Shepard's colleague, the composer James Tenney.

For Ann (Rising) consists of nothing but Shepard tones for close to 12 minutes, each a minor 6th apart. To be fair, this is a tough listen. It's almost impossibly distracting, and yet any attempt to listen to it slides off the piece's glossy sonic shell. It reveals next to nothing and you are left with little but the sound of your own head. A genuinely challenging piece.

James Tenney - For Ann (Rising)
(alt)

Jan. 2nd, 2017

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Ought - The Combo

Ought are a post-rock band from New Hampshire who are often compared to early Talking Heads. Their spare, architectural musical shapes do have some similarity, it's true. But a far more apt comparison, especially on tracks such as The Combo from their 2015 album Sun Coming Down would be The Fall.

I can't say for sure that Tim Darcy spent his teenage years in his bedroom practising his Mark E Smith voice, but that's what teenage years are for, right? Computer programming, dealing with acne, and learning how to sing as if you were haranguing a bus driver. Time well fucking spent, I can tell you. Anyway, Darcy does that talky style of singing that's so didactic, so sure of itself that when he allows himself a little bit of tremolo, the implied doubt hits you right in the heart. Tight, angular post-punk, and bloody great.

Ought - The Combo
(alt)

Jan. 1st, 2017

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Headbutt - Steam Engine Fragrance

Happy new year to all those waifs and strays washed up upon these distant shores. Starting as we mean to go on, here's some glorious noise from 1996. Headbutt were a loose band of shouty noise merchants. I love this track from their album Shower Curtain, partly for the fact that it's forever sounding like it might become Margin Walker and partly for the now-incongruous '90s industrial percussion. Maybe the sound of Steam Engine Fragrance turned out to be a dead end, but it was a great one. Although maybe not what you need to hear with a New Year's Day hangover. Sorry 'bout that.

Headbutt - Steam Engine Fragrance
(alt)

Dec. 31st, 2016

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Protomartyr - Ain't So Simple

Joe Casey sings like Mark E Smith with a mouth full of mushed up bread. That's a compliment, in case you're particularly slow on the uptake. Mind you, if Ain't So Simple is to be believed, the band's drummer is a homunculus and the bassist needs to be eaten by bears. It's wonderfully dour and deadpan indiepunk from the 2014 album Under Color of Official Night.

Yeah, on the whole I reckon not believing them might be the better option.

Protomartyr - Ain't So Simple
(alt)

Dec. 30th, 2016

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Reatards - You Fucked Up My Dreams

Talking about garage punk it's easy to throw around terms like primal, raw and intense. They go with the territory so much that they after a while you could just stop noticing them. Maybe that might also become true of this track from the Reatard's 1998 release Teenage Hate too, but the one thing that could never be lost is just how committed the young Jay Reatard was to his music.

You Fucked Up My Dreams has all of the snarling and howling you could want. Inchoate and quite without irony it's the sound of a man discovering himself through his music. Sometimes you don't know what you believe until you've said it; sometimes you don't know who you are until you've sung it.

Reatards - You Fucked Up My Dreams
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Dec. 29th, 2016

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Adam Buxton - Help The Police

When you want your family to think you're cool because you're into gangsta rap, but you're also incurably middle class and want your children to grow up with respect for authority: that's when it's time for an NWA Day. A brilliantly funny song from the always excellent Adam Buxton.

Adam Buxton - Help The Police
(alt)

Dec. 28th, 2016

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Jerry Van Rooyen - The Great Bank Robbery

For years the great cliché about indistinct music was that it sounded like the radio stuck between two stations. That's a bit useless now that nobody listens to medium wave radio. How about we simply say it sounds like two songs streaming at once?

It's odd to think of The Great Bank Robbery as indistinct, seeing as it's a punchy bit of crime jazz soundtrack music. Yet like several other pieces by the Dutch film composer Jerry van Rooyen, it does have that level of confusion about it. You're expecting something fun and straightforward, but someone's left a door open and sound from an entirely different movie is intruding. Maybe it's maximalism, maybe it's just a lack of privacy, but it's fascinating stuff.

Jerry Van Rooyen - The Great Bank Robbery
(alt)

Dec. 27th, 2016

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Volta Jazz - Air Volta

Here's some amazing old African jazz from the 1970s. In those days Burkina Faso was still known as Upper Volta, and the government was yet to decide that banning musicians from charging for their services was to be a thing of the past. So it was that an entire nation came to associate Marxism with a lack of music. Nice one Thomas Sankara, you jerk. He'd been a jazz guitarist himself and clearly learned nothing from the experience.

Anyhow, Air Volta is great. Is it a rhumba? I think it might be. Whatever it is, it's rather too fast, it's done in the popular pan-African call and response style and it opens with some utterly righteous discord that might be deliberate or might just be the tape recorder playing up. Brilliant fun.

Volta Jazz - Air Volta
(alt)

Dec. 26th, 2016

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Marvin Gaye - Purple Snowflakes

Let's round off Christmas with this lovely little number. If you're anything like us, you'd probably go through life contentedly ignoring Marvin Gaye. It's an easy mistake to make. This little-heard seasonal song though is a real charmer. I've no idea why the snowflakes might be purple, and if I'm being honest I doubt Marvin did either. Doesn't matter though. His voice is so innocent and sweet that you're willing to forgive this sort of nonsense. It also keeps the cheese at bay: slight but really rather special.

Marvin Gaye - Purple Snowflakes
(alt)

Dec. 25th, 2016

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Shonen Knife - Space Christmas

1991 was a good year for Shonen Knife. They released their 712 album, played CBGB's, and toured with Nirvana. Sadly it was to end with an unsuccessful attempt at a Christmas number 1 with their endearingly daft single Space Christmas. '60s girl group pop meets trad punk in this tale of Santa, marshmallow and festive spaceships. It's a little pocket of joy.

Shonen Knife - Space Christmas
(alt)

Dec. 24th, 2016

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ShiSho - Get Behind Me Santa

But he turned, and said unto Nick, "Get thee behind me, Santa: thou art an offence unto me: for thou frolicest with elves and whatnot and that beard's clearly just stuck on with glue. I can see it peeling off, mate! You're not doing yourself any favours."

ShiSho are the sisters Vivian and Midge who have been performing since they were 7 and 4 years old respectively. I know, it sounds precocious and terribly hothousey, but trust me it is adorable. What's really disconcerting is the way that they totally nailed the tropes of indie music at such a young age. Get Behind Me Santa (not the Surfjan Stevens song of the same name, though they do a cover of that too) was recorded in 2005. Even if you've got no time for this sort of thing the rest of the year, I reckon you're going to enjoy this.

ShiSho - Get Behind Me Santa
(alt)

Dec. 23rd, 2016

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John Zorn - Blues Nöel

Oh man, this is the real fucking deal. This is prime era John Zorn filing card music with all of those abrupt genre changes you love. Crucial avant-garde stylings, dirty blues from a drunken bar band, and SLEIGH BELLS. What else could you possibly want? Even radical musical pioneers like a bit of Christmas every now and then.

John Zorn - Blues Nöel
(alt)

Dec. 22nd, 2016

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Jubal - God Rest Ye Merry Gentledude

Midwinter is here, and with it the Christmas season. Time for a few days of shameless pandering. I shouldn't really like God Rest Ye Merry Gentledude, but I kind of do. Jubal is an alias of Richard Jonas and he makes the kind of electronica that I just don't have time for. It's music with a tracker aesthetic, technically proficient but with not much in the way of original vision. But that's why he's such a great candidate to make Christmas music - you want something familiar. You want tunes that you know combined with cartoon drill'n'bass. Genuinely good fun, from the self-released Kerst Shissles EP.

Jubal - God Rest Ye Merry Gentledude
(alt)

Dec. 21st, 2016

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Screamin' Jay Hawkins - Whistling Past The Graveyard

In this pre-Trump era it's time to think about normalisation. Kids will never get the nuance of the media they grow up with. I must have heard Screamin' Jay Hawkins singing I Put A Spell On You from a very early age, and never once thought of him as anything other than just another r&b or blues singer. You don't notice how profoundly warped his performance is, and you certainly will never understand that he was so drunk at the recording that he had no memory of the event.

Forty years on from the event, and he was sounding as deranged as ever. This cover of Whistling Past The Graveyard comes from his 1994 album Somethin' Funny Going On. You can definitely hear his operatic training on this one, his voice a sinewy bullroarer, and just a few degrees oblique from the rest of the world. Don't make the mistake of normalising Screamin' Jay.

Screamin' Jay Hawkins - Whistling Past The Graveyard
(alt)

Dec. 20th, 2016

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Alex Chilton - Downtown

Here's one by the late Alex Chilton. I never had the pop love to properly get into his music, but this cover of Downtown is great. He corralls of the jazz and the blues and the lust of the original and then lets them all out with just a guitar, a bass and some drums. Not at all radical, understated even, but the balance of beat and syncopation is just perfect. That's talent.

Alex Chilton - Downtown
(alt)

Dec. 19th, 2016

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Ramones - I Don't Wanna Grow Up

I Don't Wanna Grow Up might be the Ramonesiest song that the Ramones ever recorded. In its original form it's a bit on the sentimental, maudlin side. For most people it's a bit undignified to be singing about this kind of thing, but the Ramones are not Most People. They were the original Peter Pans of punk, as ageless as their leathers and their All-Stars. Every shred of irony and longing gets stripped from the song. It is what it is: 100% reliably true and suitable for birthdays for kids of all ages. From the 1995 album ¡Adios Amigos!

Ramones - I Don't Wanna Grow Up
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Dec. 18th, 2016

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Bomb The Music Industry! - Anywhere I Lay My Head

I'm always going to be suspicious of people who include video game sound effects in their music. Maybe it's because all of that chiptune 8-bit arcade nostalgia comes from an era when I had particularly awful taste in music. Looking back though, I'm sure there was never a time when I didn't love something that turned out out to be bloody unlistenable. Anyway, chances are that in a few months or after a few listens you'll never want to hear Bomb The Music Industry! ever again, so make the most of that brief window where they're fun.

The band normally applied their retro gaming keyboards to punk and ska, but on this track from their 2006 release Goodbye Cool World they're going full Tom on us. Jeff Rosenstock overemotes like a fucking champion, although it'd debatable as to if he's convincing or clownish. Doesn't matter in the end: bitstreams of discordancy parade by to a finale of digital fireworks and a .sid tracker victory march. Utterly crazed.

Bomb The Music Industry! - Anywhere I Lay My Head
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Dec. 17th, 2016

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Yaron Ben Ami & Noa Golandski - Kapayim

Kapayim is a cover of Clap Hands sung in Hebrew by this Israeli duo. Ben Ami is no Marc Ribot but still brings some satisfyingly crunchy guitar. Golandski adds little more than backing vocals, and there's an odd heavy-footedness to the rhythm. All of which makes it sound as if this is mediocre, but it's anything but. Truth is, this is a brilliant arrangement: Ben Ami is surly and guttural which is perfectly accentuated by the dull sinister thud of the music, and Golandski leaves wispy sonic barbs to catch the unwary. Captures the daring spirit of the original very nicely. From the compilation album Shirim Meshumashim, which features 22 Israeli artists covering 22 different Waits songs in very different ways.

Yaron Ben Ami & Noa Golandski - Kapayim
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Dec. 16th, 2016

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Lydia Lunch feat. Nels Cline - Heartattack and Vine

Do you think we've got time for a few Tom Waits cover versions before Christmas? I do hope so. This take on Heartattack and Vine comes from the album New Coat of Paint - Songs of Tom Waits, so you know you're on to a good thing already with it. For most of the track Cline keeps the guitar part faithful to the original which gives space for Lydia Lunch to drawl and slide all over it. It's 5am and she's too wasted for this shit, and would you get that light out of her eyes? When she slumps into the corner between verses, that's when Cline really cuts loose though - some really crunchy stuff here. This one certainly feels like it's part of the Waitsiverse.

Lydia Lunch feat. Nels Cline - Heartattack and Vine
(alt)

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