Record Lection #70-Flipper “Generic Flipper” Before you even lay a needle on the black grooves of Generic Flipper you are already confronted by their nihilistic sentiment. Pull it’s sleeve out of the bin and you are met with the cynical words “Album” “Generic” and “Flipper” written in the most basic of fonts on a field of safety yellow, perhaps the most antagonistic color in our spectrum. Even the oversized barcode in the corner seems to be laughing at your misguided consumerism! However, that facetiously iconic fish logo swimming in the corner reveals that there is definitely more of a sense of humor to this band than their relentlessly agit-propist reputation would suggest. Unlike Rage Against The Machine, who claimed to be fans and torch-bearers, Flipper weren’t beneficiaries of schooled musicianship, bored jocks, or major label sound production to obscure the necessary messages they were trying to convey. RATM also didn’t live in the Reagan 80’s where disillusionment, Cold War threats, and unconscious consciousness like We Are The World were the status quo, a time where incendiary thought provoking was desperately more essential (no internet!). They also didn’t have lyricists like Bruce Loose and Will Shatter, who are perhaps the most skilled arbiters of Neitschian poetry in the 20th century and should be studied and seen as such. Try to find a more hopeless song than “That’s The Way Of The World” or a bleaker sentiment than “Life is Cheap-sold a decade at a time”… the icy delivery gives me pure chills every time. In spite of all of this rhetoric, Generic Flipper will always be best known for it’s most “danceable” track Sex Bomb, which while being an excellent song, might contain just enough fun to obscure their overall message. Tons of punks got the memo loud and clear though, and then recorded countless albums dedicated to its influence and aesthetic. I love refreshing nihilism when I hear it!
Record Lection #69-Ella Fitzgerald “Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George Gershwin Songbook Vol. 1” In today’s era of disposable music accessible technology, there is the generally accepted idea that anyone who is passionate about music has the ability to write their own songs. This attitude is a relatively new one historically and didn’t rear itself en mass until The Beatles and their contemporaries introduced the attainability of the shabby self contained unit of misfit teenagers. Up until then, popular music was the work of studied artisans and highly educated literati who went to prestigious schools. If you played guitar or piano, often times that skill was passed down through your family and you began studying that instrument at an extremely young age. Being a songwriter or composer meant being well versed in poetry or theory and both jobs required different temperaments. Perhaps sensing the cultural shift away from this archaic type of specialization in the late fifties, Verve Records embarked on an incredibly ambitious project that paired perhaps the best singer in recorded history with the most decorated producer/arrangers of the day and had them perform what was considered then the most beloved songs from the greatest of songwriters. The resulting time capsule became known as the “Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks” and these LPs could be considered the end of what we would call classical music. Every volume is an absolute 5 star calvacade of ubiquitous american songcraft but here I am highlighting vol. 1 of the Gershwin collections because of the distinctive urban-chic cover art by illustrator Bernard Buffet. The REAL artist here though is Ella, effortlessly and beautifully embodying the disparate personalities and moods concocted by the pantheon of masters presented and injecting her own glowing life into each performance. Anyone who isn’t seduced by her timeless charm is probably just not taking time to listen or probably just hates music.
Record Lection #68-Growing “The Sky’s Run Into The Sea” Most popular music is dominated by space and time. Drums and machines loudly tell the audience when to clap their hands and wiggle their legs while aural detritus divebombs at the listeners ears and nervous system for 3 to 5 minutes at a time. If you are lucky there might even be a pretty face or image to manipulate your eyes and create an absolute sensual distraction. The most progressive of minds might stand back analytically and start to question this type of accepted militarism. For example, what if we threw away the linear metronome and concentrate on the space BETWEEN and underneath the sounds? What if we create music that emphasizes power and tone over melodic content and tempo? The essence of the Drone/Ambient ilk is to not only ask these questions but wholly exemplify the answers. Nonetheless, Growing separate themselves from the rest of this seemingly monochrome pack by including rich emotional content and a harmonic accessibility, for lack of a better term. While the music of Sunn is like a colossal black hammer pulverizing your senses into submission, and Earth’s can sound akin to a slow roiling cauldron of anxiety, Growing is more like a glacier in not only pace and spirit but in the fact that you can see through its music and light can thrive within it’s corners and angles. There are also complex emotional explorations here, like the sounds of pensiveness, pleasant ambivalence, and even quiet malaise, feelings that are rarely attained within a pop or even a drone hemisphere. There is a long legacy of music of this style in a recorded context dating back to Charles Ives and up through Dylan Carlson and beyond, but I wasnt really paying much attention to it until I started seeing and understanding their performances, which by the end of their residency in my town were total revelations. Any knowledge of, or passion for, dark cerebral vibrations starts with those dusty basement shows.
Record Lection #67-Kinks “Kinda Kinks” Mick Avory could possibly be one of the most underrated musicians in recorded history. He was prolific, powerful, and perfect at propelling and dominating his incredibly gifted band. Yet there is nary a mention of his gigantic contributions on the glossy front pages of most American drum mags and elaborate fanzines mythologizing the 60’s British Invasion. Ringo, Charlie, and Moon are grabbing all of the drummer spotlight, Yet here he is, in all of his frilly dandyness, providing the dirty punctuation to all of Ray Davies blue collar folk art invocations. A lover of incendiary percussion sounds could do themselves justice by rethinking his contribution to rock drumming. An unfortunate brush with US immigration may have kept him and his band of Edwardian stompers out of the top shelf of English blues pilferers and relegated them to couple-hit wonders in US rock n roll lore, but the proof is in the bread pudding, and a Kinks record always has the power to make your spirit move, especially when those vicious sounds are in the masterful hands of Shel Talmey, arguably amongst the top beat producer/reverb wizards of his day, with the skills to challenge the likes of Joe Meek, Shadow Morton, or even Phil Spector. Like Charlie Watts, Avory was an every-drummer, seeming able to emulate the full spectrum of styles and rhythms available throughout is career, but his most endearing work lies within that early methamphetamine blues period where The Kinks mastered the art of the shrill three chord firebombs raining shiny white hot chords of pop pain through your rib cage. Mr. Avory is guiding that chariot of fire with his angry metronome. Whether they were writing flawlessly hypnotic hooks, or combining their voices into a harmonic buzz, The Davies brothers (and bassist Peter Quaife) never wasted a minute of tape, and to pick just one record from their 1960’s output seems just as neglectful as forgetting about the drummer who supercharged their proto-punk mini-operas and made them immortal.
Record Lection #66-DJ Shadow “Endtroducing” England is so good at selling our product back to us with a different face (see 60’s English Invasion). Mixed race DJ collectives, most of whom had been spinning black dance music for years, suddenly became enigmatically beat heavy ensembles called Portishead and Massive attack and, helped by the healthy english drug culture, rapidly started to take over mainstream radio. Dj Shadow’s nocturnal sounds fit right in with this collective and fans in the UK thoroughly agreed, pushing this album onto its Billboard charts. Now, DJ Shadow isn’t English, but his record label Mo’ Wax was and they weren’t as obsessed with racial profile as most American record labels, or most Americans for that matter. No, the blank generation that had Jamaican dreads and Caucasian punks join together in perfect harmony gave birth to kids who saw nothing wrong in mixing their black and white sounds, bringing exotic styles like hip hop, reggae, and rock together into odd chemical reactions like Two Tone, drum & bass, grime, and perhaps most notoriously trip-hop, the media-invented genre DJ Shadow and Mo’ Wax are largely held responsible for popularizing. With Endtroducing it was now OK for rock bands to assimilate urban sounds into their repetoire without retribution. The album is very cool and “collected”, with psych-rock organs and guitars stabbed and cut with Primo-like efficiency, and Breakbeats that are presented like dirty screams, an effect almost David Lynchian it’s towering darkness. The esoteric picture on the front precedes the mysterious sounds inside, and the omission of any artist image on the front coupled with the lack of singing or rapping takes appearance out of the the equation, forcing the listener to decide on quality of the music instead of the “authenticity”. Not everything influenced by this record was good, but Shadow is very skilled at his craft, and his breakthrough changed the landscape of hip-hop on a variety of levels.