Today is a big day for Culture Fusion: our efforts to expand to a wider range of writers and musical interests has hit pay dirt with the introduction of new reviewer Audrey. She enjoys exploring the realms of the strange and unusual and who’s innate understanding of music helps create an informative and enjoyable read.
Her first review delves into the strange and unusual world of Tim Buckley’s experimental period with the classic album “Lorca.”
I’ve found that it’s impossible to have a conversation with someone about Tim Buckley without the subject of his son immediately slipping into the dialogue. So, I will get this out of the way right now: I am not a fan of Jeff Buckley. There, I said it. Shoot me.
Don’t get me wrong: Jeff isn’t bad; I just don’t find him all that interesting. He has a nice voice, and 1994’s Grace had a few good songs on it (his cover of Hallelujah brings me to tears), but as an album, I find it to be completely unremarkable; this is a lot of why it enrages me when he inevitably gets brought up every single time I try to talk about his father.
Seriously, people – I just want to talk about one of my favorite songwriters, not his son. Jeff couldn’t even swim! (Okay, that was bad.)
Also, Tim was just so dreamy. I mean, look at those curls. Swoon.
When I listen to Tim’s output from the year 1970, I can’t help but wonder why he isn’t more recognized and revered. He released two of his strongest records that year: Lorca and Starsailor. The former of these two releases is not only the Tim Buckley album I enjoy the most, but also one of my all-time favorite records.
It was recorded during the same sessions as his 1969 album, Blue Afternoon but they couldn’t be any more different. Tim was trying to fulfill contractual obligations to his record labels during this period and was creating and releasing a lot of new material.
Perhaps as a response to creating so much at once, his music started becoming eccentric. Rather than writing catchy tunes, Lorca found Buckley completely abandoning the binary structure of his songwriting to explore a more free-form style: this led to his songs being much longer than on his previous records. Leaving behind the verse-chorus format allowed him to focus on creating immersive pieces that highlighted his astonishing vocal range and his poetry.
Not only did his lyrical approach begin to differ, his musical approach was similarly altered: this certainly wasn’t the hippie-folk sound that he used on his earlier albums. On Lorca, Tim started incorporating free jazz and avant-garde elements into the compositions, which undoubtedly alienated his fan base.
Fans may have also been alienated by the minimal levels of acoustic guitar on the album. It was no longer the musical focal point and driving force of the tracks. There is almost no percussive element on the record, except for congas in the background of a few songs.
With the exception of perhaps the track ‘Nobody Walkin’’, these songs don’t sound like traditional rock or folk. His voice completely took over and led the songs in much different directions. Largely owing to the unexpected nature of the record, the album was a financial and critical failure.
Side one opens with the title track, which is much more jarring than anything he had previously released. The song begins with the sound of various keyboards (including the pipe organ), an immediate and complete departure from everything he had done before. Tim plays in an unusual and uncomfortable 5/4 time signature, which creates an brooding atmosphere he maintains for 10 long minutes. This is easily the most difficult track on the record, and I’m guessing it probably scared a lot of his folk-oriented fans away from the album.
The other track on side one is called ‘Anonymous Proposition’. I get the impression that Tim must have been depressed when he wrote most of songs on this record: almost every track creates a strong feeling of isolation which is especially strong on this song. The track (which is easily my favorite on the album) features what I feel is the best vocal performance Tim ever recorded: the song appears to deal with an uncommitted relationship, and I cannot help but be moved by his authentic-sounding delivery of lyrics like “love me as if someday you’ll hate me”, knowing that his romance was doomed before it even started. When asked about the piece, Tim said, “It deals with a ballad in a totally personal, physical presentation… It has to be done slowly; it has to take five or six minutes; it has to be a movement. It has to hold you there and make you aware that someone is telling you something about himself in the dark”.
Side two of the record is significantly less challenging than the first. It starts off with the beautiful ‘I Had A Talk With My Woman’ which initially seems to be more uplifting than the rest of the record.
However, when you listen closer to the lyrics, the song reveals itself to be just as depressing as the rest of the album. The track has similar lyrical themes to ‘Anonymous Proposition’: Tim alleges singing about his love from the top of a mountain in one verse, but questions how long the love is going to last in the next. Fans looking for an accessible starting point on Lorca could do well to start here, as it features more similarities to his older work than anything else on the LP while still retaining some of the jazzy elements that are present on side one.
Next, we find a moody piece called ‘Driftin’’. Like the rest of the album, this song reaffirms my belief that Tim was dealing with depression over a break-up or a stagnant relationship. It is a slow, dreamy song which features some very lovely guitar work. If I had to identify a low point on the record, I would say that this wonderful song is it.
The final track is ‘Nobody Walkin’’, which presents a musical change of pace. The slow moodiness of the rest of the album is broken by an upbeat, fast-paced groove which feels out of place in the context of the recording. As alien as it is, the song leaves the listener with much better feelings than that rest of the songs.
Lyrically, the song is also different in that it sees Tim take initiative by leaving his lover rather than wait to see whether or not she is going to leave him. This more proactive approach makes ‘Nobody Walkin’’ an appropriate, somewhat positive conclusion to the story of Lorca.
Much like the love spoken of in ‘Anonymous Proposition’, it seems Tim knew that the record would be doomed from the start. Larry Beckett, Tim’s early songwriting partner, said that he wanted to purposefully alienate his fans with his new direction. Tim was once quoted saying that Lorca is a record that “you can’t put… on at a party without stopping things; it doesn’t fit in.”
I would definitely have to agree with him. I’ve tried playing it for a group of friends and everyone in the room immediately stopped talking and started listening. It’s definitely a record that demands your attention.
For the time, there aren’t many albums to which you can compare Lorca. The 1970s weren’t a time when popular folk artists were incorporating avant-garde and jazz elements into their sound. Buckley’s use of the chromatic scale sets Lorca apart from the more conventional and melodic folk music which lived (and lives) as the norm. The most obvious contemporary of Lorca’s would be Nico’s ‘Desertshore’, but even that record doesn’t have the desolate and stark qualities of Lorca.
My opinion of Lorca, much like my opinion of Jeff, is the unpopular one. Most people I know prefer Starsailor. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on that album; it’s a fantastic record and certainly deserves all of the acclaim it receives. The two albums receive comparisons quite often since they’re both products of his avant-garde period and they have some similar qualities.
However, I think it’s unfair to compare the two as they have many important differences that separate them more than their similarities unite them. First of all, Starsailor is a much more adventurous and genre shattering album. Tim dove even further into experimentation on that record and came up some very interesting and unique songs as he moved further and further from the folk norm and format. Lorca does not dive as fully into the uncertain waters of the unknown and holds more strongly to traditional folk music formats.
While I usually tend to favor weirder albums, Lorca is my favorite album by Buckley. Starsailor is a fascinating listen, but it lacks intimacy, whereas when I listen to Lorca, I feel like I’m getting a better look at what Tim was like during this point in his life. It has a very atmospheric quality to it that few other albums I’ve listened to are able to achieve, and for this reason alone, it is worth your time and effort to enjoy.
The avant guard underground of the 60’s was alive with the progress of the unknown, the uncertain and the Cage-ian ideas of chance, non-music, improvisation, the bleeps of electronics and the whir of excitement coming out of the minimalist composers focusing on simple, repetitive mantras: the Phillip Glass, the LaMonte Youngs and the Terry Riley’s.
For the most part, the music these composers made was fascinating in theory, incredibly groundbreaking in sound and style while being very boring and/or difficult to listen to in practice.
Yes, there was perhaps a limited application of the endless “drones” and “under tones” and “over tones” and “mantra, drone state of minds” preached by Young.
Glass was a bit more conceivably enjoyable as his style was later co-opted by some rock bands, such as Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno as he himself simplified his approach to create minimalistic operas and soundtracks that diluted his approach for a more mainstream audience.
Admittedly, it’s a pretty big deal for somebody like Glass to “make the mainstream” such as he did (in a limited fashion) but there’s one composer who I think made an even bigger impact on the burgeoning rock/pop/soundtrack scene and who did so with one simple, easy to digest 40 minute album.
Of course, I’m talking about Terry Riley and his album “A Rainbow in Curved Air.”
I realize that it would have been easy for me to make a fairly lame joke there, such as “Of course, I’m talking about the eternal Axl Rose and his beloved masterpiece ‘Chinese Democracy’” but I’m not in the mood for such shenanigans and frankly am getting rather bored of such tired set ups.
I just want you the reader to know I could have made the joke. But didn’t. You’re welcome.
Anyways, Riley’s album was probably THE break through avant guard pop album of its time. David Crosby worshiped it and played it endlessly. Pete Townshend named “Baba O’Riley” partially in honor of him. Curved Air took their name from the album.
Hell, even Ritchie Blackmore and Dio got into the act!
Okay, so “Rainbow” is not named after this album. Sue me.
Why did this album take off in such a (minor) way? Probably because it’s completely listenable, light hearted and even fun while also maintaining a strict experimental edge. Riley is pushing the envelope and attempting to change the musical world but doing so in a way that many more people can enjoy.
He does all this while maintaining strict allegiance to the idea of chance music and “found” sounds. It makes the album a fascinating listen from beginning to end and it sounds ahead of its time even now.
Naturally, it consists of two side long tracks, the first of which is the title track. The basic approach of this track can be summed up by…well, you know how Townshend named “Baba O’Riley” after this track?
Think of the first minute or so of that song with the repeating synthesizer figure. But a lot more complex.
A basic riff enters into the scene that holds down the fort for Riley’s improvisation, the first of which is perhaps the most memorable: the ascending sequence of notes that turns into a radar “call and response” tone that increases in speed to a fever pitch.
Every instrument on the album is played by Riley painstakingly overdubbing and it creates a fascinatingly dense layer of sound that never becomes over powering. Instead, the synths and organs pulse in repetitive but ever changing ways.
And no dissonance: he isn’t blasting out ugly noises or barraging the listener with untenable noise: it’s all listenable and if you threw a drum beat under it, even danceable.
The one complaint I feel you could lodge (fairly) at the track is that it can become rather tiresome by the end. It feels like Riley has run out of completely amazing ideas by the last…three or four minutes of the track. By then, however, one should totally be in the “trance” state of mind described by LaMonte Young and it won’t matter.
The second track, “Poppy No Good and the Phantom Band” isn’t quite as good because it’s nowhere near as dynamic. It’s more of a “drone” piece with Riley overdubbing a lot of saxophones on top of his sustained keyboards.
However, Riley is a competent and at times even great saxophone player so it isn’t worthless. Sometimes he plays some interesting repeated saxophone riffs that are overlaid with intriguing keyboard parts. That doesn’t stop this track from being a bit of a harder sell when compared to the first.
In spite of the relatively difficult sound of the second track (which does at times approach dissonance) it’s still a solid achievement that brings a little diversity and a slower pace to the album.
What I find so fascinating about this album is how often it’s been copied by other artists in not just the sound but in the structure. How many two track Tangerine Dream albums are there on the market? How many of them start out with a faster, dynamic piece and then slow down for a more drone based tone poem?
For that matter, how many Ash Ra Tempel albums follow that same format? How many ambient albums?
Of course, repeating synthesizer figures weren’t exactly invented by Riley or even perfected by him. Although I generally find the album to be pretty timeless, it can feel a bit “thin” by today’s electronic music standards, even with all of Riley’s mad overdubbing.
But it’s still a groundbreaking, endlessly listenable and heavily enjoyable album. Find it, if you can.
Songs to Youtube:
“A Rainbow In Curved Air” should tell you all you need to know.
After a series of increasingly intense and haunting albums that explored deeper and deeper realms of emotional torment, outre singer Diamanda Galas released “The Singer” a relatively restrained collection of piano and vocal covers that showed her debt to blues, jazz, standards and other roots oriented music. It was perhaps her most easily listenable album she had released up to that point and although it received some confused reviews (this was before she had established the cover routine as part of her repertoire) it can be seen as somewhat “lighter” style which may have helped lead her to the nearly accessible John Paul Jones collaboration “This Sporting Life.”
This Sporting Life…needs organizing…
Such a collaboration may seem incredibly bizarre on first glance: the First Woman of Avant Guard Shrieks collaborating with John Paul Jones, bassist of a DEDLY DUM heavy metal group with blues under pinning? A disaster.
…living on a knife’s edge…
However, it actually makes sense once one realizes that Jones is a restless musical soul who has done more for good music than Jimmy Page ever did once he left the over rated bloat monster of Zeppelin. Sorry, I can’t rate “The Firm” or the “Death Wish II” soundtrack as anything more than the tattered idiocy of a former junkie who wasted all his talent at a young age, chasing 13 year old girls while on tour.
And please say ANYTHING of his pathetic collaborations with Plant (no quarter given to pleading, poorly thought out nostalgic cash grabs) or his praising Puff Daddy ever for any reason at all.
This Sporting Life’s forever changing…
Enough Zep bashing though: it’s boring and designed to shock. I do have a lot of respect for certain aspects of Zeppelin but Jones has long been my favorite member as he seemed more prone to…change and experiment. His solo album “Zooma” sounds a lot like prime Primus while he produced such great works as “Independent Worm Saloon” by the Butthole Sufers.
Plus he’s a king of bass I always forget about because I never, ever listen to Zed Leppelin.
Are you bored? Are you jaded?
Easy questions with obvious answers: what does this album sound like? Well, the first track “Skotoseme” sets the mood immediately: Diamanda chants underneath a light drone and then Jones comes in playing his dunderheaded metal bass line while Pete Thomas of the Attractions bashes out “Better than Bonham” drums. Galas shrieks over top, babbles, raves and screams in her best tradition.
It sounds a little goofy sometimes but I feel that’s the effect: Galas showcasing her wonderful sense of humor…wonderful in the sense that it’s darker than the darkest gallows humor. You know, the kind of jokes that make staring at the dead body of your once beloved swinging from a gallows pole while you’re being buried alive seem light hearted in comparison.
As light hearted as the album cover which has Galas splayed across the front of a car driven by Jones with a crazed expression on her face and a knife in her hand as if she was moments away from either murdering Jones, holding him up for cash or demanding crazy, crazy sex.
Is it hot? You bet but a special kind of hot that perhaps reflects more about me than the album cover.
Has all enthusiasm faded?…
Not yet but that’s because I like this album. Not a LOT a lot as it’s not really too emotionally moving like Galas’ best work but it’s simply a gas. That’s right, a gas. Even in song’s like “This Sporting Life” which sounds like a gang of mad woman plotting somebodies rap and murder (if contemporary interviews are to be believed, it’s Snoop Dogg) of some dude.
Then “Baby’s Insane” comes on and you know Galas is having a laugh: it’s much too over the top to be serious. In fact, when performing this song, she’d always tell a story about how some critic slammed her for the song at which point she climaxes the story with “he’s trying to ruin my fun.”
Are you one of those people?
And then “Hex” comes on and you really feel like THIS is the moment the whole album’s been building up to (appropriate as it’s the last song) as it really combines the furious rock and roll drive of Jones and Thomas into an enchanting groove while Galas puts on her best performance yet: chanting, shrieking, improvising and building, building, building to a climax that puts much of the rest of the album to shame.
This is the bad Samaritan…
One should take a minute to appreciate the diversity of this album: Galas sometimes hitches a ride on a metal monster bass riff groove and sometimes babbles and babbles on top of each other in songs like “Do You Take This Man” that feel like streamlined version of past hits. Sometimes she seems to nearly croon only to remind listeners of the fact that she is perhaps the finest and most daring vocalist of her generation.
Make sure there’s a crowd below…give a little when you go…
One last thought: this is as close to a pop album as Galas ever produced. Of course, it’s as pop as water but it features a focus on simpler song structures, actual melodies and diversity in a way she never really approached throughout her career.
This makes it a good album with which to introduce her to your friends but it lacks the emotional punch of her best work. It’s fun and has great musical ideas but never stuns or surprises you.
Perhaps the best way to approach the album is the way Galas and Jones obviously are on the back cover: driving a convertible care free through the streets of a big city, roof down, laughing your ass off and blasting the strange noises to annoy the city folk.
Songs to YouTube
“Skotoseme” will tell you all you need to know but find the live version on David Letterman or Jay Leno or whatever show it’s on. It’s surreal seeing her there.
Tomorrow we’ll look at something as equally avant-guard and accessible. Stay tuned!
Noise is noise and music is music but sometimes noise is music and music is noise. Nothing but grinding sounds crashing against each other in discordance. Scrapes. Moans. Bashing out a stupid rhythm on a snare drum. Plucking out a few notes on a sitar (which you’ve never played). Feedback. Rumbles. Looping everything or playing it live. Pretension. A guy reading religious texts. Expressing something with nothing and nothing with everything in the room.
No light. No melody. No style but that which comes naturally with no effort at all.
Kluster may or may not have been three wild eyed Germans who created noise from 1970 to 1971. They may not or probably didn’t (or did) release an album called “Klopfzeichen” in 1970.
But the truth is something named “Klopfzeichen” exists in the world: it’s an album two record sides of the future of music (circa 1970) according to three unschooled, wild eyed Germans: a complete amateurish abandonment of all conventions, musicality and thought processes influenced by philosophers, composers and philosophies far above their heads.
A brooding German voice reading a disjointed, confusing text which often contradicts itself and which wasn’t really in the original plan. Nobody minded the man, standing nervously in the room, reading a strange speech while Conrad Schnitzler, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius ran around a room randomly working up an extensive and noisy drone on instruments, trash, sheet metal, ball bearings and various other incidental items that they had gathered up for the purpose of…creation.
The Man Reading the Text no doubt had ear plugs in as the microphone rolled, captured on track as it occurred with little to no editing interrupting the style, the sound and the feel of an endlessly rolling boulder crushing all offenders that stand in the way.
Nobody could convince the three (even if they’d wanted to try) to stop playing and another endless track was made out of metaphoric cardboard boxes and string. The German Text Reader ran away before this track even started, never to be heard from again.
“Let’s do it again!” somebody must have said as the band once again gathered up a reader (a woman this time) and made her read some type of strange, religious texts forced upon them by their label.
The three unskilled (but skilled) impatient (but patient) crazy (but focused) Germans shook obelisks at the sun (metaphorically of course) for another 40 or so minutes (the text reader fleeing after the first 20) and said “hey we should stop now.” And they never did it again.
The second 40 minutes of noise is “Zwei-Osterei.” It has two pieces (songs doesn’t work) and they sound in no discernible way different from “Klopfzeichen.” Aesthetic or limitation?
The band never recorded in a studio again but they released a live performance called “Eruption” which is 60 minutes instead of 40 and has no singer.
This time, our three German anti-heroes glided around a stage instead of a studio and really “let their hair down” to “rock and roll” in a way unheard of on the first two albums. Which is to say it sounded exactly the same but with no singer ruining the flow.
Play any of the tracks by this group and stop it at a random point. Edit a small portion out, save it and then do the same with another track. Edit these two together: you have a hit single.
Kluster ditched Conrad Schnitzer (and the K) to become “Cluster” and found a home blipping out random disturbances on synthesizers until they finally became skilled enough to be ambient, where all the music sounds the same on purpose.
The box set of Kluster music is the way to go because a) you can’t find them any other way and b) you can play all three albums in a row without stopping and spend over two hours listening intently.
Because even if it all sounds the same and seemingly never ends, each groove is like the Genome Project in that there are endless variations and permutations in each track that give it identity, life and a personality.
One moment its ball bearings rolled in a bowl of jelly. The next it’s the endless grunt of synthesizer feedback and a German grunting monosyllabic odes to joy.
Is it good? It isn’t good or bad. It simply Is. I wouldn’t listen to it if I were you but you probably should listen to it anyway.
Now, to break up the monotony of reviews on either a) classic 60’s pop bands or b) classic 80’s-00’s era pop bands I will review one of the most avant guard performers to ever get a deal with a reasonably big record label and who pushed the boundaries with her vocal and instrumental intensity.
I am, of course, taking about Amy Grant.
Wait! No. I’m talking about Diamanda Galas. Does the name not ring a bell? That’s okay: her peak period was in the early 80’s to about the mid 90’s and she never hit any sort of commercial success.
That isn’t so say that she wasn’t infamous: former drug addict, prostitute, classically trained pianist who wrote album length mourning pieces to AIDS victims, the insane, beaten down women, marginalized prisoners and more she was also arrested for blasphemy for performing “The Plague Mass” nude from the waist up, shrieking “Sono L’Antichristo!” and being bathed in sheep’s blood in a CHURCH.
However shocking Galas may have been (she once remarked she wanted to “rape Snoop Dogg” in an interview and wrote a (playful and light hearted) song about women ganging up to kill a rapist male) she has always stood out amongst the crowd for her sense of righteous MORALITY not immorality. She cavorts, shrieks and shocks to bludgeon her audience with a stunning sense of right and wrong and of the amorality of the treatment of the victimized.
In other words, there’s always a POINT to her work beyond simple noise making. She’s saying something.
I realize I’ve gone 300 words without mentioning her singing voice. Galas was actually forbidden by her parents to study vocal work in college so she would perform her own unique style when she had the chance.
Basically, Galas has something like a four octave vocal range: she goes for the deep, dark spots when singing the kind of heart wrenching blues that make up her numerous cover albums. But she can also shriek (and I mean shriek) in a high, high soprano tone that should send shivers up and down the spine of even the toughest man.
And her vocalization goes beyond simple singing: she babbles, stretches out her vowels, strains her vibrato to the stretching point, gasps, grunts, mumbles and chants all for the sake of expressing the inner torment that lies not only in the heart of all of her work but within heart own heart.
That’s 408 words without mentioning the album, her debut album called “Litanies of Satan.” This album, released in 1982, was released before the moment that helped focus and define her career for decades: the AIDS related death of her brother, renowned playwright Philip-Dimitri Galas in 1986.
Diamanda and her brother were intensely close and influenced each others work and his death (the painful, dementia suffering wasting away that took early AIDS victims) shocked, troubled and appalled her in that nobody seemed interested in helping; millions of people turned their backs, plugged their ears and sang hymns as thousands and millions died agonizing deaths, murmuring under their breaths that perhaps these victims “deserved” their fates for their sexual deviancies (remember, AIDS was primarily thought of as a ‘homosexual’ problem at the time).
Okay, okay fine: that’s all great to know but what about this album? What is IT’S concept? Well, honestly, it’s basically an adaptation of “Litanies of Satan” by Charles Baudelaire, the celebrated decadent poet and semi-satanist. Naturally, he was Galas favorite poet.
This adaption is a 17 minute (not 12 as indicated on the CD reissue which messes up the titles of the TWO tracks on the album) tone-poem that…well, it truly sounds like the Demons of Hell are crawling out to Kill You.
It starts out with muted, looped Diamanda babble-screams that slowly build in intensity, overlaid with other sounds. Incredibly, she did this type of material live (with multiple microphones linked to various effects, leading to the incredible sight of her clutching three microphones and screeching) but one wonders about this particular track.
As it builds in intensity it eventually stops with a percussive “THUD” as a loud, slow, slow percussive beat begins. Galas begins reciting the poem in a mock demonic tone as if she is, indeed Satan Him (or Her) self.
Then she begins chanting a specific passage (I don’t know French) over and over again as deep, deep, bowel moving, pitch shifted voices layer underneath her basic chants as a synthesizer swirls in the background, low, deep and moaning.
Yes, there are variations throughout the track but this is its basic pitch: hellish, twisted, boiling, turning and sounding like a particularly GREAT horror movie soundtrack (as there are times when it locks into a truly scary groove) that mimics the ideas of the power of chants (Galas spends minutes at a time repeating key phrases) the hair raising power of a true, guttural shriek and the seemingly instinctual revulsion at deep, deep bass tones.
It keeps doing this till the end.
The second track, “Wild Women With Steak-Knives (The Homicidal Love Song for Solo Scream)” (seriously) couldn’t possibly live up to that as the looking effects are minimal and its mostly just Diamanda screeching out insane lyrics about wanting “steak! Steak steak steak steak steak” and exploring the furthest possible limits of her voice.
So is this worth hearing? I think so but with some serious reservations. If you’re a religious person this may somewhat offend you (but I think you’d have to be pretty fundamentalist for that to occur) or may even truly terrorize you as a truly satanic work.
It may also give you a headache.
But if you’re looking to get into some of the most “out there” music released in the last 40 years, you could hardly go wrong with ANYTHING by Galas. Later albums bring in more music, more composing and even a weird flirtation with “rock” starring John Paul-Jones that got her onto late night television.
However, her basic sound, approach and singing styles are completely realized on this debut. Listen it with the lights off.
Tracks to YouTube:
Honestly, you can find the whole album on YouTube. Give it a listen. You can even find her performing this LIVE though the quality is shoddy at best.