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.
“What’s the worst album you’ve ever heard in your life?” As a reviewer, I often get asked this question. The worst album I ever heard? There are so many ways one can define bad music! One could go the completely subjective route and say all music is based on taste and that there is no way you can objectify taste.
However, one could also go the ultra objective route and rate music based on the notes played, the construction of the songs, the quality of the playing and the quality of the lyrics (if it’s song based music to which you’re listening) as well as the memorability and harmonious nature of the music.
Well, if one wants to rate music on such an objective scale, I’d have to say that “Half Gentlemen/Not Beasts” the triple (!) debut (!!!!!) by the Michigan-born Fair brothers would undoubtedly be, objectively one of the absolute worst albums I’ve ever heard.
This is an album with six sides of ridiculously written, out-of-tune music played on out of tune instruments by two idiot-savants that obviously barely know what they’re doing. The lyrics are the absurd droolings of a permanent man-child with a touch of autism. Objectively, listening to this album from start to finish is absolute agony.
Subjectively, this album is also one of the best albums I’ve ever heard in my life.
Okay, here’s where things start to get a little too intellectual (and perhaps more than a little stupid). David and Jad Fair are infamous for their naivety, crude approach and their dedication to never, ever getting better. Ever.
This can be viewed as a crime against music or as a refreshing breath of fresh air. There is nothing else in the world that sounds like this…except for perhaps the Shaggs which I won’t get into right now. Jad (usually) plays guitar like somebody who just picked it up for the first time. David (usually) plays drums in the same manner.
Both scream childish gibberish that focuses on girls they like, bands they love, girls they hates, bands they love, things they like doing, things they hate doing and an unending obsession with Jodi Foster, of all things.
Does this album sound a bit “serial killer” to you? Well, the Fair brothers are genuinely harmless but I think with a tad more insanity they’d be on some kind of watch list: both are rather nerdish, nebbish weirdos that have to be hovering near Asperger’s.
The music is always loud (cept when it’s not) and always noisy and sounds like a barely in control improvisation session: every song sounds the same but every song sounds different. The band tries their best to make each song stand out but over three sides of vinyl (including two complete concerts indexed as one track!!!) one starts to get a headache.
Basically, it sounds like the worst garage band ever (skills wise) playing whatever pops into their head and trying to create a diverse, unique experience and failing most of the time.
However, as one listens to the album, it starts to create its own unique soundscape and world view. Yes, it’s endless and the songs basically sound the same but you start to hear little weird touches…the kind of thing a real musician would have never included or “fixed up” to make it sound “better.”
This includes single note, endlessly repeat riffs, go nowhere solos, guitar tuning that’s done by “string tension” rather than actual notes played (or sometimes even stringing it with the same string six times) and a complete lack of care and abandon.
It all starts to make sense which can (and should) become terrifying: am I becoming a nerdy, nebbish, Asperger based potential serial killer too?
No: you’re just experiencing the unique sensation of absolute musical freedom. Kind of…I mean, as naive as the band wants to present themselves as being they still have a musical philosophy which guides them…that being that knowing what you’re doing is inherently limiting.
The basic concept is that if you “know” how to tune and string a guitar, how to play the “right” chords, all the “right” scales and how to “properly” write and arrange a song, you are falling victim to rules created for you by somebody else…rules that should not apply to you as they are rules you did not create and which will lead to music inherently limited by those rules.
I’ll admit it: this philosophy is intriguing to me and I agree with it to a certain extent. I have found that musicians simply have to play and write as if they know no boundaries. Try out new things, different sound combinations that they’ve never played and hopefully they can create something that’s somewhat unique and free of the “limitations” of the correct way to do things.
Which is why this album is, subjectively, one of the top 10 albums ever created. Because it’s music created with absolute freedom by two lunatics that are barely able to bash out anything even accidentally coherent on their instruments (they swap instruments a lot and both sing so it’s hard to know who is doing what and when).
But here’s the thing: completely unhinged and unschooled creativity such as this ultimately leads to…everything sounding exactly the same. As the band “expresses” themselves “absolutely freely” they end up making everything sound like everything else as they lack the skill to…differentiate their playing or “composing” approaches in anyway.
This is another reason why the album is objectively awful: a completely uniform sound palate.
But then there is the personality factor, the charisma and the charm which are impossible to define and bottle and which will vary from person to person. One person’s “charming masterpiece” will be another person’s “incoherent gibberish.”
So, long story short, the album is simultaneously the best album ever made and the worst. Both opinions are completely, perfectly, 100% valid and both can be proved using both subjective and objective definitions.
Which is why you should buy it and listen to it once a day for the rest of your life. And it’s been re-released on CD!
Songs to Youtube:
You kidding me?!