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Monthly Archives: October 2008

This short (28 minutes) album is primarily made up of outtakes from the sessions for Reigning Sound’s 2004 scorcher Too Much Guitar, but if that disc was too much rock and not enough soul for you, then you’re in luck. Home for Orphans is dominated by the sort of moody, low-key laments that are Greg Cartwright’s real secret weapon when he isn’t cranking his amp up to ten, along with a superb cover of Gene Clark’s “Here Without You” that fits this set like a glove. While “If You Can’t Give Me Everything,” “Funny Thing,” and “Medication” all appeared on Too Much Guitar, these versions turn down the volume and dig into the lonely heart and soul of these songs, and prove that there are few people who can write and sing modern-day soul with the same passion and skill as Cartwright. His band offers understated but solid support (especially Alex Greene on organ), and it’s hard to imagine why songs as good as “Find Me Now” and “What Could I Do” didn’t find a lasting place in their repertoire, given how good they sound in this context. Cartwright also gives his fans a bummed-out Christmas classic with “If Christmas Can’t Bring You Home” (the A-side from an out of print holiday single), and a roaring live take of “Don’t Send Me No Flowers, I Ain’t Dead Yet” closes the set with a solid dose of rock action. Reigning Sound’s throwaways are better and more satisfying listening than what most bands have to offer as top-shelf merchandise, and Home for Orphans is a fine collection of garage-shot soul that whets the appetite for the next proper Reigning Sound record.

-AMG

DOWNLOAD:
Reigning Sound-HOME FOR ORPHANS (2005)
192kbps

Anyone who’d been listening closely to the songs Michael Nesmith wrote while a member of the Monkees (or heard his hard to find 1968 solo debut for Dot) already knew that Nesmith had a soft spot for country music. But when Nesmith left the pre-Fab Four to form the First National Band, he dove head first into the twangy stuff, and if he wasn’t the first guy to merge country and rock (Gram Parsons easily beat him to the punch on that), he was certainly doing it well before country-rock became the next big thing, and Magnetic South made it clear he had his own distinct way of bringing the two genres together. Nesmith put together a top-flight band who sound at once relaxed and thoroughly committed, whether easing through a laid-back number like “Joanne” or kicking up some dust on “Mama Nantucket”; O.J. “Red” Rhodes’ pedal steel work is superb throughout, while bassist John London and drummer John Ware offer strong, unobtrusive support (the great Earl P. Hall also sits in on piano). And though the phrase “cosmic cowboy” wasn’t coined for Nesmith, it could have been; here, he indulges himself in a consciously poetic and philosophical lyrical style that’s a good bit more abstract than one would expect from a former Monkee, though Nesmith’s dry sense of humor is always lurking around the corner, ready to rescue him when he slips too deep into pretension. Mixing a country sound with a rocker’s instincts and blending airy thoughts on the nature of life and love with iconography of life in the West that brought together the old and the new, Michael Nesmith reveled in contradictions on Magnetic South, making them sound as comfortable as well-worn cowboy boots and as fun as a Saturday night barn dance. It’s a minor masterpiece of country-rock, and while the Eagles may have sold more records, Nesmith yodels a hell of a lot better than any of them.

-AMG

DOWNLOAD:
Michael Nesmith-MAGNETIC SOUTH (1970)
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Although the structures and the overall dynamics of the pieces are less complicated and less sophisticated by Vangelis standards, Spiral’s keyboard utilization is still extremely effectual, even if it does take awhile to get off the ground. The five tracks that make up the album aren’t as atmospheric or as elaborately shifting as 1975’s Heaven and Hell or 1976’s Albedo 0.39, but his musical movement does seem to transgress toward full, complete soundscapes, especially in “To the Unknown Man,” the album’s best example of Vangelis’ artistry. The album is based on a dancer’s appreciation of the universe and how it spirals into infinity, a concept which came to him through his own pirouettes. Both “Spiral” and “Ballad” touch ever so lightly on melody, appropriately relating to the album’s theme, while the lengthy “3+3” begins to unveil Vangelis’ creativity and sense of electronic exploration. After Spiral, Vangelis’ style changed somewhat, with more of a smoother, more melodic approach to the synthesizer, implemented to create a closer relationship between classical and electronic music. Albums such as Beauborg and China lay claim to this, also employing stronger ties between the theme and the music, while 1981’s Chariots of Fire has him merging the two styles completely.

-AMG

DOWNLOAD:
Vangelis-SPIRAL (1977)
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Every soundtrack fan should remove their hats and give a moment of respectful silence to San Francisco-based label Intrada. Their latest coup is the release of none other than one of the single most requested soundtracks of all time, David Shire’s lonesome and haunting piano score to Francis Ford Coppola’s seminal 70’s paranoia flick, The Conversation. How many other labels can claim that?

Actually, forget the moment of silence. Just go buy this CD. You won’t be disappointed. That is to say, you won’t be disappointed if you love scores drenched in mood and style rather than piled high with furiously empty orchestrations. Shire’s score to The Conversation is comprised largely of the composer himself playing solo piano, augmented occasionally by spare and shrill electronic effects that’ll send shivers down your spine. The main theme is truly unforgettable, sticking with this listener days and days after I first saw the film years ago. So if you thought The Firm was the first score to try and pull a stunt like this off, check again.

It was in the early 1970s when Coppola found enough time between the completion of his ultra-successful film The Godfather and its impending sequel to embark on making a much more personal film. Inspired by Antonioni’s Blow Up, he concocted the story of professional eavesdropper Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) and the series of events that turn his very private life inside out. The film was eerily prescient in its dealings with issues of privacy: Watergate was just around the corner.

Much talk has been made of the manner in which The Conversation was composed. You’ve probably heard about how Shire originally balked when Coppola didn’t want an orchestra, and how he relented when the director waxed rhetorical about the inherent “loneliness” of the solo piano and it’s appropriateness for the film’s central character.

But there is much more to the fascinating musical world of this film. In the liner notes, sound designer and supervising editor Walter Murch talks about how the body of the score was written before a frame of film was shot, and how it was tracked in later as he and Coppola saw fit, incorporating the aforementioned electronic effects to pull the audience into the crumbling mindset of Hackman’s wiretapper.

Coppola himself also talks here about how he had Shire write music to hypothetical scenes that weren’t even in the script, purely to evoke specific emotions. As Harry Caul is a stoic, taciturn character, Coppola understood that much of his underlying repression and sadness fell into the hands of the music. What the film ends up with, and it works like gangbusters, is a central character who refuses to say much of anything about his own personal life, but a score that tells you everything anyway.

And that score is presented here, every last classic note of it, sequenced slightly out of order to create a more listenable experience. Considering the amount of shrieking dissonance that invades the last act of the film, this is one case where this type of composer re-sequencing serves the album quite well.

The disc opens with the “Theme From The Conversation”, a bold statement of the central musical ideas in the picture and a fitting overture that does not appear in the film, but is quite welcome here. “No More Questions” introduces what will later become “Amy’s Theme”, a sad and undulating chromatic piece underscoring Harry Caul’s inability to communicate and isolation from his girlfriend Amy (played by Teri Garr). Also present are original source cues highlighting protagonist Harry Caul’s (Gene Hackman) love of jazz music, as well as another real treat: a full ensemble version of the main theme, never before released, rounding out the disc. While not at all bad, this track is a fascinating glimpse of the standard blues / thriller score Coppola and Shire worked so hard to eschew, and a true testament to how spot-on perfect their avant-garde approach was.

So take a bow, Intrada (and everyone else who helped make this spectacular album a reality). You have done amazing work here, immaculately preserving the work of several of our most gifted filmmakers at the height of their craft. The Conversation is music that not only sticks in your head, but music that influenced (and arguably created) a completely new kind of psychological thriller score.

-Matt Barry, soundtrack.net

DOWNLOAD:
David Shire-THE CONVERSATION OST (1974)
320kbps

Suspiria is the favorite of many a Goblin fan because it represents their sound carried to its most powerful and intense extremes. It was another score for their cinematic alter ego, director Dario Argento, and backed up the story of a girl who enrolls in a German dance academy only to discover it is a cover for a powerful coven of witches. The music is just as scary as the film itself, blending wailing electric guitar, whooping synthesizers, and screaming wordless cries into a spooky, bombastic sound that manages to be terrifying even without the benefit of the film’s gruesome images.

Suspiria has long been popular with heavy metal fans because it sports a hard-rocking edge equal in intensity to the scariest works of Black Sabbath or King Diamond: the title theme slowly builds a spooky riff on bells, acoustic guitar, and synthesizer until it erupts into a hard-rocking mid-section where nimble synthesizer solos spar with ghostly cries of “Witch! Witch!,” and “Sighs” mixes panting, wordless vocals with an array of furious power chords to create an unbearably high level of suspense.

Even when the score downplays the gothic rock theatrics on subtler tracks like “Black Forest” and “Blind Concert,” the group’s members still manage to create an intensely creepy atmosphere. The end result is an album that is guaranteed to please Goblin fans and is highly likely to appeal to fans of gothic and heavy metal sounds. [Collector’s note: the 1997 CD reissue of Suspiria sports four bonus tracks, consisting of three alternate version of “Suspiria” and a slightly different version of “Markos.”]

Tenebre occupies an odd place in the history of Italian prog rock legends Goblin: Although this isn’t an official Goblin album, it was crafted by three of the group’s four members under the moniker Simonetti, Morante, Pignatelli. Ironically, it has a stronger Goblin-esque feel to it than the last few official Goblin scores that proceeded it. It’s no coincidence that this 1982 score marked a reunion with Dario Argento, the director who discovered them and pushed them to create their most memorable work.

Tenebre covers the same gothic-inflected prog rock territory that Goblin pursued on previous Argento scores, except this time the sound is updated with an electronic edge that keeps its eye on early-’80s pop music trends. This newly updated approach is nicely defined by the title track, a pulse-pounding rock instrumental infused with an almost dance-friendly edge: It has the slashing guitar riffs and gothic organ swirls one would expect from a classic Goblin track, but also fleshes out the sound with new touches like vocoder-filtered vocals and programmed synthesizer riffs. Another standout track in this style is “Waiting Death,” a reprise of the “Tenebre” theme that allows Claudio Simonetti to take center stage with his impressive chops on the organ. Other tracks take it a step further by taking a completely synthesized approach: The best of these is “Flashing,” a densely layered synth epic that begins with creepy washes of spacy synthesizer and explodes into a gothic-sounding programmed synthesizer melody spiked with insistent drum machine beats. In short, Tenebre presents an ideal balance of horror atmospherics and rock muscle, and this makes it the finest post-’70s Goblin-related work.

-AMG

DOWNLOAD:
Goblin-SUSPIRIA & TENEBRE (1977 & 1982)
192-320kbps

Germany’s Bohren & der Club of Gore are a black metal fan’s lounge jazz act. Or, for those driven by the more extreme side of noir-ish ambient material, these cats lay it out with musical instruments (and a Mellotron), painfully slow and muted tempos, and a relentlessly gloomy atmosphere worthy of the first Black Sabbath album. Originally issued in 2002 on Wonder and now re-released by the great Ipecac label, Black Earth is, by the very nature of what it is, a classic. Black Earth is a wrenching, turtle-like crawl through the vast darkness of jazz balladry and unreservedly bleak nihilism. The song titles say it all: “Midnight Black Earth,” “Crimson Ways,” “Maximum Black,” “Vigilante Crusade,” “Grave Wisdom,” “The Art of Coffins” — you get the idea.

All of that said, however, this music is infectiously delicious, darkly sensual, and the only tonic for a lonely brooding night. The quartet of drummer Thorsten Benning, saxophonist and pianist Christoph Closer, Mellotron operator, pianist, and Rhodes piano king Morten Gass, and double bassist Robin Rodenberg began life as a death metal hardcore act in the 1980s. Seeking a more original sound, they gradually gravitated to this incarnation of musical brilliance and mysterium organum. On most tracks, a shimmering Rhodes piano plays repetitive lines and chords and receives a deathly kiss from snares, cymbals, and the occasional bass drum before being adorned with the sparsest of Mellotron lines, paced with an excruciatingly tense groove by a low-tuned plucked or bowed double bass, and finally sung over with mournfully sensual tenor saxophone à la Ben Webster. The tunes are all long, drawn-out affairs, with aural images of abandoned streets and buildings on foggy nights, or steamy sewer grates inviting only the most desperate lovers and recreational killers and thieves out to roam through the blackness together. It’s so delicious, so overwhelmingly intoxicating and sickly sweet that it suffocates the listener with the twin scents of sex and death. Indispensable macabre listening.

-AMG

DOWNLOAD:
Bohren & der Club of Gore-BLACK EARTH (2002)
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Might be best ambient album of the year -Ian!

Fabio Orsi (collaborator on last year’s ‘Wildflower’s under the sofa’) returns with a double disc effort that is at once a highly satisfying 2 hour entry in the ambient genre. Although LVD’s catalog often leans toward noiser, less melodic works, Audio for lovers shows both the same modernistic and minimal sensibilities that we’ve heard from Fabio in the past, while also drawing on the earlier, atmospheric work by Eno, which is to say that the album does precisely what most of us would like out of an ambient work. The tracks are highly melodic and memorable, the nature of the music is experimental enough (at least in theory) that I think a lot of fans of the label will enjoy it, and most importantly, the environments created here will please just about everyone–this might even be the LVD release to please your non-LVD listening acquaintances. Purchase the soundtrack to your new life today!

DOWNLOAD:
Fabio Orsi-AUDIO FOR LOVERS (2008)
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