of the Week #18
By Beppe Colli
and more often, I find myself intent on trying to assess the ratio between the
amount of music I own and the sand that's still in the hourglass. But since I
can't seem to see very clearly the amount of sand that's left, my estimates vary
greatly, according to circumstances, and my moods.
the odds appear to be in my favour, I like to shoot the breeze pondering the
quality of this or that album: quite often, these are not the albums that I'd
place in my personal pantheon, but they are of a kind that presents quite a few
positive traits, and so they are definitely worth a (re)listen.
it happens that I hear myself saying out loud "What was I thinking?",
which can both mean "How could I spend my money on this rubbish?", or
"How could I possibly be blind to this album's many qualities?".
also a specific category: the "outliers" (yep, I studied statistics),
meaning those albums that differ greatly from those in the same group or set. And
since the environment varies greatly, so do the albums.
just had a look, found those (it's just a first batch).
Rabbit Songs (2000)
almost sure I bought this album after reading a short review in U.K. music
monthly Mojo. There was obviously something in that review that I found quite
persuasive, and here we are. My first impression wasn't that great: to me, this
was the kind of album one listens to late in the morning in order to soothe a
spectacular hangover, after a great night out. So much calm; measured, varied,
instrumentation (piano, strings, winds); female vocals of the "folk"
variety (no vibrato, no melisma).
listening sessions later, I had to admit my judgement had been quite
superficial. While a more advanced CD player made it easier for me to enjoy the
orchestral timbres. To me, the music appeared to resemble that of the Penguin
Cafe Orchestra, especially in the sonic quality of the whole, where all instruments
appeared played by self-taught gifted amateurs, so giving the music a friendly
dimension that avoided any sense of rigidity.
basic line-up (guitars, mandolin, piano, glockenspiel, vocals) was augmented by
drums, double bass, violin, and also - when needed - by a string section,
clarinets, flute, oboe, and by an excellent pedal steel as
melodies were "old-fashioned", in an "American" way, the
episodes were quite brief - sixteen tracks for a duration of a vinyl album -
while lyrics managed to be both simple and profound. Just like the music, the
booklet slowly revealed tiny objects hiding behind the main features -
sentences and portions of sheet music hiding in full view behind lyrics and
music press I read at the time never mentioned Hem again, so I assumed the
group had split due to the lack of commercial success. In fact, the opposite
was true: Rabbit Songs (which I bought as a CD on the Setanta label, out of
London) had been re-released by mega-corporation Dreamworks, thus receiving
enthusiastic reviews. After Dreamworks went belly-up, Hem found asylum in
"indie" territory, later writing and performing the music to a few
acclaimed theatre productions.
recent history has given me the chance to appreciate this album all over again,
as a balm for my fried nerves. A recorded sound whose beauty was
"normal" at the time, but that is nowadays a rarity, adds a lot to
the album's considerable charms.
OP8 featuring Lisa Germano
it, bought it, Slush was a title released by Thirsty Ear and distributed by a
major. The main deciding factor for me was the name of Lisa Germano, a singer
and violinist that I had already read about in the U.S. "mainstream"
press (Rolling Stone, Musician). I was completely unaware of anything released
by the other featured members: John Convertino, Joey Burns (who in a short
while would start the group called Calexico, to much acclaim), and Howe Gelb.
Collectively, they were already known under the name Giant Sand (a group I was
completely unfamiliar with), and this appeared to be the real selling point of
the whole enterprise.
"opium"-named group (readers are invited to pronounce the OP8 name
aloud) offered a lot of music in many styles, all easily placed under the
umbrella name "Americana". The recorded sound featured very
"natural"-sounding instruments - violin, vocals, the bass drum, the
drums especially sounding at times quite hyper-realistic - while also featuring
a few more "abstract" moments. A few bizarre moments, too, provided
one knew where to look (check the group cover of Sand, the famous duet by Nancy
Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood here featuring the same lyrics, but as sung by a
person of the opposite sex).
really think it's the contributions by Lisa Germano that take this album quite
higher than what provided by the members of Giant Sand, which is of good
quality but not really astounding. While Lisa Germano offers fine songs and
instrumental performances that are technically average but of very good taste.
obvious reasons, the album didn't have a sequel. Still worth a (re)listen,
Salt Peter (1995)
perfectly remember where I saw the name Ruby for the first time: on the cover
of the U.S. music monthly Keyboard, which featured it as the main item of that
issue, as a "hard disk pop masterpiece".
really don't know about "pop masterpiece" - I think
"masterpiece" is a bit too much; while "pop" has so many
different meanings as to become totally meaningless. But the main selling point
was the fact that the album had been recorded and mixed on "hard
disk", which meant "with no use of tape", i.e., on a computer
(equipped with Pro-Tools): something that nowadays is not even mentioned
anymore, which will give readers the perfect measure of the time elapsed.
with strong industrial traits" should be an adequate description of Salt
Peter - a.k.a. potassium nitrate, "used for preserving meat and as a
constituent of gunpower" - if one forgets the usual melodic dimension of
trip-hop, adding a lugubrious, almost horror-like, dimension, in its stead;
even the most captivating moments - there are two or three tracks that could
work fine in a club, provided it's of the "dark" variety where people
take lotsa pills - don't sound "normal".
Rankine came from Silverfish (never listened to them), while Mark Walk operated
in the vicinity of Skinny Puppy. As expected, this is the division of labour:
vocals and lyrics by Rankine; synthesis, samples, and sonic organization by
Walk; melodies by both.
commercial future of this CD (and the group) was implicit in the sound of Salt
Peter (the only guy I knew who was aware of the existence of this CD was a DJ
who was part of a DJ collective). Today, the whole album is technically
"dated", and so any over-dubbings, slices, and timbres sound
"old". But listening to it proves that the musical concept was
The Ten Commandments And Two Territories According To
perfectly remember something quite funny: Since the CD cover didn't mention the
names of the featured players, not the instrumentation, a few years after I
bought this CD - by that time, I had both a computer and an Internet
connection - I sent a message to Southern Records, located in London, asking
"I'd like to know more about Slow Loris". The answer? "Well,
we'd also like to know more about them."
they were being facetious or not I can't say, but while at the time the only
thing I knew was that the group was from Toronto, today it's possible to find
online four groups all called Slow Loris (which should be the name of an
animal, while at the time it was said to be the name of a "catch"),
and it doesn't take much to know which is which.
guitars, bass, drums, a pinch of keyboards, trumpet, the group's repertory
sounding as the "skeleton" version of some old-time jazz, with a few
sonic "explosions" appearing here and there as a "modern"
touch, for that kind of climates where it's not really clear how skilled the
players are, and what maturity they possess.
would have liked to see them live - at the time, I happened to watch many new
groups, most of them quite horrible, but I'm of the opinion that "it
stinks!" is something that sounds better as pronounced in front of a
stage, not in the comfort of one's home - but I don't think the group ever
played outside the walls of their city.
album that still sounds odd.
Five Ways Of Disappearing (1995)
the time (so called) "Paisley Underground" was (for a brief moment)
all the rage, I was already an old man listening to different stuff, so I completely
missed the Dream Syndicate; and so the circumstance that Kendra Smith had been
part of that line-up was for me just a piece of information, with no special
liked the simplicity of Five Ways Of Disappearing, both the songs and the
instrumental moments sounding quite "folk", with a
"neo-psychedelic" bent, in a "hippie" dimension that
sounded positively "bucolic".
vocals, acoustic guitars, a touch of synth, bass, harmonium, a few
"psychedelic"-sounding electric guitar solos, with and without a
wha-wha pedal, at times the whole reminding me of 60s California groups such as
Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jefferson Airplane, also Amon Düül II in
their "Californian" mode.
music on this album totally lacks any "spectacular" moments, so any
expectations of loud, bombastic moments have to be abandoned. Something I found
strange at the time, a few people to whom I had recommended this album as
potential listening material refused to do so, their refusal based only on the
reason "I'm totally sick of the 4AD sound", even though the last
thing one could say about Five Ways Of Disappearing is that it sounds
"like a 4AD album" (whatever that means).
too long ago I had a look on the Web and I saw that a quarter of a century
later this album is still the last one released by Kendra Smith, something
which adds meaning to its title.
Beppe Colli 2021
| Apr. 21, 2021