Thursday, April 28, 2005

music: Scritti Politti, B-sides and other hidden gems

I post a lot about overlooked music from the 70's, but everybody knows music peaked in the 80's.

I found and joined the Scritti Politti group on Yahoo to try to track down a quote about Green and David Gamson having the microscopes turned to 100x for "Cupid & Psyche 85" and "Provision", but only to 10x for "Anomie and Bonhomie". Unfortunately no one came through, but it's interesting to follow the upswing in interest on the 20th (gulp!) anniversary of "Cupid & Psyche 85".

Another topic that came up was "World Come Back to Life", my favorite B side of all time. There's no experience finer than discovering a hidden gem. I always wonder what other songs got away, transcendant songs I'll never hear because I didn't buy the 12-inch import single or the rarities compilation or whatever. It's easy to get obsessive and track down obscure tracks just in case one turns out to be the one; in the case of Scritti Politti I bought Al Jarreau's distinctly average "L is for Lover" album just for the Green/Gamson track, and it's not that good despite Nile Rodgers production.

In no particular order, here's a list of killer B sides and rarities. These are why God and Roy Gandy created the Rega Planar 3 turntable, so you can flip the vinyl over and unearth buried treasure.
World Come Back to Life, Scritti Politti
B side of "Boom! There She Was". The nastiest kiss-off lyrics Green ever wrote, probably why it wasn't on "Provision".

(Don't) Turn Me Away, Rexy
I heard it twice on Radio One, I had to special order it. The saddest strangest song, ending with the chant "It's a fact. that I live. with" Their album has another great song, "So you wanna be alien too".

Love's Taboo, Cube
An Italian 12-inch. Amazingly atmospheric

The Yearning Loins, Prefab Sprout
I got this as an extra track on the USA CD of Two Wheels Good (aka Steve McQueen). Buy that record! for Paddy McAloon's songs and the masterful Thomas Dolby production, then keep listening for this insanely syncopated and energetic track. And it's from 1984, the high point of Western civilization.

Don't Throw My Love Around, Cooly's Hot Box
This is on a fine compilation of acid jazz tracks, "Giant Steps, Vol. 1". The funkiest percussion (timbales?) I've ever heard. I've bought several really average acid jazz compilations since, hoping for the same magic.

Radio Arabesque, Arabesque
Goofy, vaguely atmospheric song, I heard it once on the radio and it stuck in my mind. I think it's by Arabesque, but there's no clip available.

The sad thing is that no extant rating system can find these songs. By definition they're unpopular because of their rarity, meanwhile Amazon has degenerated into 90% 5-star ratings from rabid fans, 5% 4-star ratings from honest fans, and 5% 1-star ratings from people who never liked the artist or have a grudge.

The sweetest sounds you've never heard... sounds like a Green lyric.

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Saturday, April 23, 2005

music: Still Yes

I turned on the telly to a nice surprise: Yes - 35th Anniversary concert. Disconcerting to see so many balding guys in the audience. They played a fine selection including a cool acoustic shuffle reworking of the war-horse "Roundabout". I was hoping for insane fireworks from Steve Howe, the most underrated guitar god with his unique "clattering wail" style, but Rick Wakeman impressed me the most.

It's so easy to make fun of progressive rock: singing along to "And You and I" I realized I still have no idea what the words mean, and you can see the inspiration for big chunks of "This is Spinal Tap". But what's so great about confessional lyrics of trite emotional problems? These folks are trying to be great musicians, trying to write complex music, and mostly succeeding. Pop has such reduced horizons now. Who is the best guitarist on American Idol? Who is Justin Timberlake's bass player?

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

music: Hejira, Joni Mitchell, Jaco Pastorius

I used to listen to my cassettes in alphabetical order, out of a nearly perverse loyalty to the artists. I would get anxious when the 'M's came up, because that meant Joni Mitchell and I knew I'd be an emotional wreck, climaxing with "Hejira", her moody masterpiece of isolation and travelling.

On re-listening, it's not quite as great as the musical Kryptonite of my memory, though the iconic pain of "Amelia" had me sobbing gently. But Jaco Pastorius' fretless bass playing is fabulous. On songs like "Hejira" itself, the acoustic guitar just builds and builds, but there's never a trite release into a "rock-y" guitar solo, instead he plays such liquid, musical lines. It's like a submarine or a whale making its presence felt and briefly seen.

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Sunday, April 3, 2005

snow: Demo Snowboard Heck

For decades I've snowboarded about 6 days a year. 40% of the time I really enjoy it and am not thinking "I could be having a lot more fun skiing". I ought to buy a board, but despite renting the performance package from many shops, I've never liked any board. Unlike skiing I'm not good enough to know whether what I'm feeling is what's good for me. I'm not even sure what angle to set the bindings -- angled forward, but how much forward.

Earlier this season I finally had a great experience, on a Burton Bullet with their Mission bindings. It just felt fabulous: creamy ride, smooth transitions. But Mountain Mike wouldn't sell me the demo board, he needed it for rental. So I pored over the Burton catalog, and found out the Bullet is for big-footed riders! I shouldn't be enjoying it? The catalog made the Malolo sound like perfection for a non-park, non-switch rider, but snowboard shops talked me out of it. Instead I tried the Burton Custom, their legendary all-round mountain great. And... right back to having an average experience. My calves hurt, I couldn't link turns, the same Mission toe "Capstrap" kept lifting off. I really needed to demo that board back-to-back with the Bullet and the Triumph to make sense of what I'm feeling.

Even when you know what you're doing it's hard to get the right equipment; when you're merely an advanced rider it seems impossible. When in doubt, buy the cheaper stuff!

Update 2005-05-31
I tried a Volkl Pulse 162, not bad: some chatter, OK feel. With the bindings set at 18 and 13 degrees forward, my heel-side turns were easy and my toe-side turns were difficult. I'm sure it's a combination of board width and geometry.

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