Category Archives: Experimental

“Barracking, blundering, pillaging, plundering”

imagine that its standing on top of a radio.

imagine that it's standing on top of a radio.

TV on the Radio – “Dreams” from Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes (2004) & “Shout Me Out” from Dear Science (2008)

TV on the Radio are one of those bands that people 25 years from now will listen to and say that’s what the ’00s were like. TVotR’s “life-during-wartime bellow that nailed our post-post-9/11 ennui” has been well-documented, not least because the band formed just after 9/11, but the epoch-defining quality of this band goes further than their evocation of dread, suspicion, ambivalence, and boredom. They are the first (pop) band I know of to use inorganic sounds (that is, electronic sounds meant to sound like they emanate from no instrument played with hands; possibily the buzz and hum in the foreground of so many TVotR songs is the White Noise of Don DeLillo) to do some other than evoke dread, suspicion, etc. They use the growl and hiss and chatter of dial-up modems and dead phone lines and blown tube amps and on-the-fritz iPods and overheated laptops and interrupted cell phone service to call forth, sometimes, joy, pleasure, regret — the big-time sweaty heavy-breath emotions. The ones that wear you out. No coincidence that “Wear You Out” is the final track on their first full-length.

And, in world where more and more pop music seems to be defined solely by what influences it has combined (as if making worthwhile art were as easy as mixing up a batch of frozen margaritas in a blender; would that that were true), TVotR seem like their own men. It is curious when you can spot the influence, where TVotR seem to pull from an alternative canon: David Bowie, Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, Pixies, Talk Talk, barbershop quartets, Brooklyn noise (am I the only one picking up heavy TVotR vibes on the new Animal Collective record?), even Tom Petty (listen closely to the verse on “Shout Me Out”). Plus, what they do just sounds so right. At their best (these tunes, “Staring At The Sun,” “Blind,” “Wolf Like Me,” “I Was A Lover,” “A Method,” “Tonight,” “Golden Age”), it’s hard to believe that these songs haven’t always existed.

In conclusion: TV on the Radio fucking rules.

TV on the Radio on the Colbert Report

Interview with lead singer Tunde Adebimpe (includes the money quote: “Or these scientists who are working on making a self-contained black hole—how short is that victory party going to be? And how quickly is someone going to turn that to the worst application? It’s like, “We made a black hole!” “Oh cool, can we watch sex on it?” “No, not really.” “Can we kill someone with it?” “Probably.””)

Buy it here (uh, and how come when I search for “tv on the radio” on amazon, the first thing that pops up is Steve Harvey’s relationship advice book?)

Posted by Glenn


Filed under 2000s, Experimental, Post-rock, Rock

Harmonica Favorites, Pt. 3

Yes.  Yes, please.

Yes. Yes, please.

Talk Talk – “The Rainbow” from Spirit of Eden [1988]

Talk Talk used to be another Duran Duran until they holed up in a church and refused to let EMI hear anything from their fourth LP (Spirit of Eden).  Imagine, if you will, a horrified record executive listening to this commercially unpalatable nonsense, flabbergasted at a lack of anything resembling a single and no way to put on a successful world tour.

In any case, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock (their final LP) are important records, the products of fertile and talented musical imaginations (most notably that of Mark Hollis), records that transcend genre and time.  If someone put out this record last year, it would be hailed as a triumph.  If they had put this album out in the seventies, it would be a hidden gem.

But this is a post about harmonicas, and I have never heard a harmonica sound like this.  All distorted and anguished and writhing, a beast of a thing, a perfect introduction to this brilliant “fuck you” of an album.  I mean seriously, harmonicas from a band that used to be just another new wave band?  Brilliant.

Buy it here

Posted by Phil


Filed under 1980s, Experimental, Jazz, Post-rock, Prog Rock

Humble Acceptance

Moaned and groaned and rolled my bones

Moaned and groaned and rolled my bones

Marquis de Tren and Bonny Billy – “81” from Get on Jolly [2000]

Many apologies for my lack of input on the old blogosphere. I’ve been in the middle of an intra-city move and a job switch, so the last month or two have been pretty stupid busy. But I have been listening to some good musics and found a bunch of represses in Chicago (Sam Cooke at the Harlem! Can you believe it?).

In any case, it’s February and I’m sort of sad and I can’t stop listening to this song. I picked up this cd in Indianapolis at Luna Music maybe a year ago and just started listening to it in November. It’s everything a great collaboration should be in that it highlights the strengths of each participant and allows both players to push the other creatively. Since I’m a stupid fan of Mick Turner (the Marquis de Tren, for this album) and I quite enjoy Will Oldham‘s stuff, it makes perfect sense for me to get into this collaboration.

Regardless, Oldham does some amazing things with these words and melodies, dovetailing them into Turner’s heartbreaking acceptance of Oldham’s offering. This song wrecks me. And I’m completely okay with it.

Hope you enjoy this one.

Posted by Phil

Buy it here


Filed under 2000s, Experimental, Folk

On John Coltrane and “Burning Out”

Coltrane on soprano sax, Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet.

Coltrane on soprano sax, Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet.

John Coltrane -“India” from The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (1997)

John Coltrane – “Jupiter” from Interstellar Space (1972)

I’ve wanted to do a post on John Coltrane for a while now, and given our recent discussions of “Burning out vs. fading away,” I figured now was as good a time as any (Coltrane died at age 40 of liver cancer). I’ll start by talking about Coltrane’s music.

The first track is “India,” recorded in 1961 at New York City’s Village Vanguard jazz club. I love the instrumentation here — Coltrane on soprano sax, Eric Dolphy (another premature death, 1964 at age 36) on bass clarinet, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison and Reggie Workman on bass, Elvin Jones on drums, Ahmed Abdul-Malik on oud, and Gavin Bushnell on oboe. Now, until hearing Dolphy’s bass clarinet solo here, I thought bass clarinet was the domain of unpopular girls in high school bands, but I now know better. The liner notes to The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings say that the oud is providing the drone heard throughout the piece, but I don’t know much about the oud, and don’t know how it can create a drone (the liner notes also mention that there is indeed some confusion as to exactly what instrument is being played here). Any string players care to enlighten me? Also I have a hard time telling the soprano sax and oboe apart, but I think the first solo is Coltrane, and the third is Bushnell, but I’m not sure. Both sound equally squeaky to me. They both could be Coltrane. The second solo is the bass clarinet.

This music was revolutionary in 1961, a mere two years after Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (which featured Coltrane) was released. Compared to this, Kind of Blue, which is a great bop album, sounds relentlessly structured. These Vanguard concerts, recorded over four nights in November of 1961, showed Coltrane already moving away from the hard bop style and into the free jazz exhibited on his later albums.

The second track is “Jupiter,” from Interstellar Space. This is a particularly interesting album, as it consists entirely of duets between Coltrane on tenor sax (and sleigh bells, as heard at the beginning and end of this track) and Rashied Ali on drums. This was the result of one of Coltrane’s final studio sessions, recorded in February 1967 (he died in August of that year). The album was released posthumously. I like this album quite a bit. It is as “free” as Coltrane ever got in his soloing, and yet it is never overwhelming like Ascension (Coltrane’s msot famous and most ambitious free jazz album) can sometimes be with its eleven musicians.

The Coltrane myth, as most every early-death-of-a-musician-myth does, centers on the question of what he would have done had he not died when he did. And the answer, plain and simple,  is that we will never know.

Now, on the question of burning out versus fading away, which Jordy’s recent post raised. I have been thinking about it in terms of why we tend to give artists who die prematurely more notoriety than those whose lives are not cut short. Glenn mentioned in a comment to Jordy’s post that premature death is good for the myth of an artist. I think that is true, but I’d like to take the discussion a bit further. The reason artists (not just musicians) oftentimes get more attention if they die prematurely is due to our society’s attitudes about death. We are afraid of death, in part because it is the great unknown. I think that we look to the work of artists who have died prematurely for insight into the big black hole of death. We think that maybe, because they died “before their time” (whatever that means), their art holds they key to understanding the one thing that no living person can truly understand. Of course, when these artists were alive they were just as clueless as we are, but we listen to their music or study their books or paintings in hopes that they will have some kind of  insight into this whole death thing.

I’m speaking entirely about Western traditions here — I know next to nothing about Eastern traditions regarding these matters. Can anyone out there shed some light on how these things are viewed in the non-Western world?

Buy the Trane

Posted by Adam


Filed under 1960s, Americana, Experimental, Instrumental, Jazz, Live

“I live sweat, but I dream light years”

The Minutemen – “Boiling” from The Punch Line (1981) and “The Glory of Man” from Double Nickels on the Dime (1984)

It’s been said plenty of times before (including here), but the Minutemen were really, really great. One of the smartest punk bands, the ‘Men were almost completely bullshit-free and had an innate sense of what just plain works in rock music. This is music that is totally human and encourages humanity; its genius improv and deep in the pocket grooves make me want to make art instead sitting on my ass whining about X, Y, and Z. The “three prole dudes jammin’ econo” mythology kept up by Watt is alternately cheesy and embarrassing and totally inspirational. The Minutemen, to paraphrase Kafka, are three axes for the frozen sea within us. I’m going to start tearing up if I write any more; instead, I’ll put the Minutemen on at full blast and rock the hell out.

Buy the Minutemen

Posted by Glenn


Filed under 1980s, Experimental, Punk, Rock

“Shine in/Shine on”

Boredoms – “Super Going” from Super Ae [1998]

Here is some mind-expanding minimalist drone punk to laze away a summer Sunday with. Boredoms at 2006 Intonation Festival (pictured above) blew me away with volume and rhythmic attack, but they lacked the tunefulness (albeit in the loosest sense of “tune”) this song soars with. Enjoy.

Can’t buy me Boredom

Posted by Glenn


Filed under 1990s, Experimental, Post-rock, Prog Rock, Psychedelic, Punk, Space rock

“For the sake of future days”

CAN – “Future Days” from Future Days (1973)

Imagine sitting in on a jam session with Can in the early 1970s. That must have been something to witness. Even their studio recordings attest to their unCANny unity as a group. They sound like one, highly coordinated machine. Yet what separated Can from Deutschen contemporaries like Kraftwerk was their ability to sound eminently human. Borrowing from jazz, they took German precision to groovy depths that put their music in stark contrast to the intentional alienation of more automated, electronic artists.

For CAN beginners, I recommend Tago Mago (which contains “Halleluhwah,” the single greatest jam of all time, I shit you not) or Ege Bamyasi.

Can you dig it?

Posted by Jordy


Filed under 1970s, Experimental, Rock