THE BORDER 004
curated by Todd Berryman
…In Which Your Humble Correspondent Has Been Laid Up with a Cold That Has Pretty Much Made Him a Dribbling Human Wasteland for the Past Four Days. And Also, Work Has Been a Bit More Oppressive This Week Than the Usual, Which Adds to the Dribblingness.
(An attempt to beat Fiona Apple at her own game, in re: the title of her second album, or something else? You. Make. The. CALL.)
This edition of THE BORDER will be lacking a huge essay in the front, as between the sick and the work, my focus has been A LITTLE OFF. So, a realignment of focus is in order this time. Being laid out flat by the demon bug, and by various job-related fun, I’ve been finding myself rediscovering a few old friends that I haven’t thought about in a while, listening to the iPod while in assorted states of sleepy, and not so sleepy.
I apologize in advance, as the unifying theme this time is…that there really isn’t one. It’s just a selection of music I’ve found myself enjoying again, during the down time.
Here’s our architecture for our listening today. It’s the residence of the parents of architect Charles Gwathmey, built for them in the mid-1960s. The backstory here:
STACK ONE: SOME FELL-IN-LOVE-WITH-IT-AGAIN FAVORITES, THANKS TO THIS COLD
If this episode has actual theme music, this would probably be it, just because the title is such a good fit: “Music for No Reason” by Lucky Dragons.
The thing I find so interesting about this duo is that they build music with the barest of samples, often acoustic-based, but then manipulated into beautiful structures that might make Philip Glass proud. They’ll do things like play three notes on a mallet instrument (like, say, a wooden xylophone), maybe bang a couple of empty cardboard tubes together, and then use their computers and audio programs to conjure up a whole atmospheric texture, slowing the samples down or speeding them up, 2 and 4 and 16 times normal speed. They’ll fly different iterations of the structure in and out, bouncing the ball to each other, one person making a tweak in the live mix, the other responding. And suddenly, BANG, you’ve got music, a live performance of a basically non-existent world.
This video link is for the same piece, but illustrates – maybe – a certain sense of what these guys do when they build their music.
Sometimes, when I’m out of my element – one beer too many, or dazed by a cold – I’ll hear things in songs I’ve known for ages, but hear them through some new prism that seems to uncover things I’ve never noticed before. Take this one, the title track from the album Shelter by Lone Justice. I’ve loved this song since I heard it at the bright old age of 16 (and was EXTREMELY pissed off at Taylor Dayne and her producers for the blatant and similarly-titled ripoff, which likely explains why more people don’t know this, and why the Lone Justice track didn’t burn up the charts the way it should have).
A few things to listen for, as this is a great headphone song:
1) The ghostly opening, with the guitars being turned on.
2) The way the song sounds like pretty stock mid-80s pop, UNTIL the guitars come crashing in at the 35 second mark, then you KNOW they mean business.
3) Notice, especially, Shane Fontayne’s electric guitar work at that point (he’s on the left side), as he strums exactly four times in the 15 seconds following, then effectively clams up until 1:46, when he begins playing some great ambient guitar riffs that tie the song together. 2:17 to 2:19 is a great example, that being the riff he uses to underscore the chorus of the song, a little set of downsteps that don’t APPEAR to say much, but mean EVERYTHING. Between that and his solo at 2:59, it’s a masterpiece of restraint.
4) Now, the topping of Maria McKee’s amazing voice, which was described in a review of the first Lone Justice album as “the young Brenda Lee fronting the 1969 Rolling Stones.” (Stereo Review in the mid-1980s, specifically.) By this point, they may have lost the Stonesiness, but the Brenda Lee part I agree with. And the tradeoff is that this album features Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as a guest keyboardist, and production by Little Steven (he of Underground Garage and Bruce Springsteen fame).
We continue with the Maria McKee front, a great solo track from her album You Gotta Sin to Get Saved from the early nineties. “I’m Gonna Soothe You” really kicks in at the 30 second mark, a rock tune with a funky bassline that shouldn’t work, but does, like a great lost Stax single. There is something extremely…how should I put this?…HOT about this song. If I were making some sort of coming-of-age collegiate love story, this would be the song that comes up at the moment where the girl finally lets the boy know EXACTLY how interested she is in the two of them together. HOT, yes, but also springlike (as in the season). There is a humidity to this that could take you right back, if you let it.
A history lesson here: Maria McKee is the younger half sister of Bryan MacLean, one of the guitarists in the band Love. This is probably their best known single. If you haven’t heard “Seven and Seven Is” on a TV show (I think Sons of Anarchy may have used this) or a movie, it’s time you got acquainted with this one.
And if the name Love is ringing familiar bells…it was Arthur Lee of Love who discovered the Doors, and encouraged their signing to Elektra Records in 1967. Some Doors music would probably be appropriate here, and I picked this one because I’ve always love the late Ray Manzarek’s absolutely STOMPING keyboard drone on it.
Finally, to complete the stack, another song with a keyboard drone that just amazes me, in the last three minutes. Of course, you’ve gotta wade through the opening 5:40 to set it up, but when it hits that 5:40 mark, it’s a nifty little rocker (and you might also note it shares a bass progression with “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” by Steely Dan, among many other things). The drone stands on its own and is most obviously heard around 7:38, tipped slightly right.
The first time I heard that Tori Amos track and it really connected, I was suffering from another one of those colds that no soup will cure, and that you can’t sleep through. It was late fall, and this album was playing in the background while I was sweating it out in a waterbed. Something about this track was very shapely, coming from the next room, not dozing but not entirely awake. I have loved it ever since, whether I was sick or well.
As always…enjoy, explore, and keep your earspace open. Hopefully something a little longer next week…tb.