The ones that nearly got away: Blur, Parklife

[Blur - Parklife]

The first time I heard “Boys and Girls” by Blur, I was incensed.

It was 1994. Duran Duran had its first bonafide hit album since its peak in the 1980s. It would be another decade before the lifetime achievement awards would get handed out. Despite a cocaine problem, John Taylor was still going strong.

So who was this upstart band blatantly ripping off a John Taylor bass line? The synth work barely rises to the level of Human League, let alone Nick Rhodes. And this whiny singer with the heavy middle-class accent is no Simon Le Bon.

To borrow the word of Elizabeth Bennett — delivered with such aplomb by Jennifer Ehle a year later — insufferable!

“But give it a try!” my Duranie friends would remark. “Blur is really a good band, and the rest of the album sounds nothing like ‘Boys and Girls’.”

I eventually caved in some time in the late ’90s, and I gave Parklife the old college try. Everyone was correct — “Boys and Girls” was the anomaly. The rest of the album was quite English, very eclectic and remarkably tuneful.

Problem was, my tastes were shifting away from Duran Duran, and rock music at the time was in some serious doldrums. I liked Parklife, but it was too arch for my taste. So out of the collection, it went.

The title track of the album re-entered my life in 2014 when Twitter users would reply to comedian Russell Brand with the hashtag #PARKLIFE whenever he went on a rant. If I had to nominate a favorite track from the album, it would probably be “Parklife”.

That made me crave to hear the song again, an impulse on which I wouldn’t act till the Friends of the Seattle Public Library held its annual book sale in 2016. I found a copy of Parklife selling for $1.

I’m not sure how 20 years could make such a difference in perspective. All the dopamine triggers the album should have hit in 1996 struck with more accuracy in 2016.

It was similar to how I experienced Different Trains by Steve Reich. The first time I heard the work, it bored me to sleep. Four years of classical music training later, I listened to it again and was deeply moved.

Did something similar happen with Parklife?

I admit my exposure to English culture the first time I encountered the album was limited to Duran Duran and a smattering of Ivory Merchant and Kenneth Branagh films. Since then, I went through a heavy Celtic phase with Enya and Clannad. I’ve read a number of novels that would appear on an English literature class syllabus. And, of course, there’s Downton Abbey, Sherlock and a bunch of documentaries spelling out the inequities of the British class system.

The archness that eluded me? I get it.

And now that everyone is copying John Taylor, I’ve mellowed out considerably over the slinky bass line in “Boys and Girls.” Heck, I’d like to hear Nigel play it himself one day.

When, exactly, is the birthday of Musicwhore.org?

[Musicwhore.org avatar]

If I were to be technical about it, Musicwhore.org was born on Sept. 21, 2000, when I registered the domain name.

There’s a few problems.

I had already been writing music reviews online for at least a year before hand, and some of those entries can be found in the earliest archive. This review of Freedy Johnson’s Blue Days, Black Nights dates back to Aug. 1, 1999. But it was published when the site was called The Soloist’s Notebook, and that date isn’t very accurate because that entry in particular was written before systems such as Movable Type and WordPress came into widespread use.

In that case, Musicwhore.org didn’t so much launch as it did re-brand.

I’m inclined to consider the domain registration date as the official starting point for the site, since no other record seems more definitive.

That means this site is 16 years old. The web itself is only 25 years old. I’ve been building web pages since 1995. Let’s break down those stats.

  • I’ve been working on the web for 21 out the web’s 25 years, or 84 percent of the web’s life time.
  • I’ve been writing for this site for roughly 16 of those 21 years, or 76 percent of my web career.

I’m old.

Because I haven’t taken down any of the old versions of the site, I’ve got 16 years bad and half-baked opinions out there for search engines to crawl and for readers to ignore.

It’s probably time to take a look back at some of that stuff to see how badly off-the-mark I was. I might do so in addition to the weekly entries.

Should be fun.

P.S. Happy Birthday, Musicwhore.org! You’re not old enough to be drafted, but you may get your driver’s permit just yet!

 

Sept. 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. I went to the record store.

[Ozomatli - Embrace the Chaos]

Sept. 11, 2001 was not a great day by any measure, but for me personally, 2001 was turning out to be a pretty awful year.

The end of August 2001 put me in the ranks of the unemployed, one of many casualties of the dot-com bust. So for the week preceding Sept. 11, I would get up and … well, that’s it. I didn’t really have anywhere to go, and since no one was hiring in my sector of the tech industry, looking for work was alternately pointless and fruitless.

I remember watching a lot of Law & Order during those lean days. A lot of Law & Order.

Cocco released a retrospective on Sept. 4, after having announced she was retiring from her music career. That news didn’t improve my mood. In contrast, Do As Infinity’s third album, DEEP FOREST, would arrive the following week.

In between those releases was Embrace the Chaos, the second album by Ozomatli. The band’s self-titled debut was a favorite among me and my friends, and seeing them live a few months before made that anticipation more pronounced. I planned to pick up the album when Waterloo Records opened that day.

I woke up and turned on the TV. My first reaction upon seeing the news was, “Again?”

I lived in New York City for two semesters on an inter-college exchange program from 1992 to 1993. I was running errands for my record label internship when I heard murmurs about the World Trade Center being attacked.

A car bomb exploded in the parking garage with enough force to collapse a number of levels and to disrupt subway service. That was February. By May, the towers had reopened, allowing me to play tourist before I moved back to Honolulu.

So I pretty much was in denial about the severity of the 2001 attack. New York is a resilient city, I said to myself. The Towers would be OK. I switched on my VCR and watched a rerun of Star Trek: Voyager instead.

After a few minutes, my subconscious finally parsed the implications of the report I saw on TV — it wasn’t just a garage bomb. The towers had fallen by the time I stopped the tape.

Broadcast news, of course, replayed the video of the collapse on repeat. I’m not sure when I decided to switch away from the news reports to the banality of daytime cable programming.

At 10 a.m., I went to the record store to pick up the Ozomatli album.

The Waterloo Records TVs, which usually played videos, was tuned into the news. Since the system was connected to a cheap antenna, the picture was fuzzy. Yeah, it was pretty absurd — big terrorist attack on the US, and I’m shopping for music. The other customers in the store were probably thinking the same thing.

But we also acknowledged that life — for us — had to move forward. Going to the record store was a bit of normalcy on which I had to cling.

It turned out the album didn’t really appeal to me.

My tastes had already shifted drastically to Japanese indie rock, and the album itself felt like a classic sophomore slump. The events of the day did little to improve my perception of the album.

As my unemployment stretched the following nine months, Embrace the Chaos would get traded for cash. I stopped following Ozomatli after that.

 

Looking ahead: September-October 2016

[John Adams - Scheherezade.2]

Well, Frank Ocean finally dropped his much anticipated album Blonde. I think the fall 2016 release schedule can get drunk and go home now.

John Adams, Scheherezade.2, Sept. 30

John Adams brought Scheherezade.2 to the Seattle Symphony last season. Leila Josefowicz must have dropped some mean gauntlet for Adams to create a work of such athleticism. I’m not sure if I absorbed enough of the piece in the concert hall because that was a lot of music.

Steve Reich, The ECM Recordings, Sept. 30

From what I can tell on Amazon, this reissue of Steve Reich’s albums on ECM won’t split the movements of each work into individual tracks. That would seem to be an important oversight to correct on a reissue.

MONO, Requiem for Hell, Oct. 14, 2016

Reports indicate the orchestras are on their way back on this album.

Nico Muhly and Tietur, Confessions, Oct. 21

Songs inspired by YouTube comments performed by a Baroque ensemble — if anyone can make this premise work, it’s Nico Muhly.

Shaprece, COALS, Oct. 28

Shaprece’s performance with Seattle Symphony was riveting, and I’ve been looking forward to this album since.

Ty Herndon, House on Fire, Nov. 11

Ty Herndon announced this album was to be released back in May when he performed in Seattle back in February, but now it looks like he has some label interest. No date has been specified for the release. UPDATE, 09/11/2016: Herndon announced a release date of Nov. 11, 2016, with pre-orders starting on Oct. 11, i.e. National Coming Out Day.

Vinyl

Angelo Badalamanti, Music from Twin Peaks, Sept. 9

I can’t hear that descending/ascending bass line without picturing the dancing little man.

Madonna, Something to Remember, Sept. 13

Ray of Light seems to have dropped off the release schedule for now with Something to Remember taking its place.

Emmylou Harris, Red Dirt Girl, Sept. 23

Like Wrecking Ball before it, Red Dirt Girl was a pivotal album for Emmylou Harris, marking her transition from interpreter to songwriter.

Kronos Quartet, Pieces of Africa, Sept. 23

I’m hoping this release is the first in a series of Kronos Quartet vinyl reissues because I’m not yet in the financial straits to track down the European pressing of Black Angels.

Duran Duran, The Wedding Album, Sept. 23

This reissue was actually listed for a March release, which came and went without notice. Then it popped back up for September.

Sting, The Studio Collection, Sept. 30

Brand New Day and Sacred Love make their first appearance on vinyl, but the only album I’m really interested in is Ten Summoner’s Tales, a European release of which I can still snag online.

Philip Glass and Kronos Quartet, Dracula, Oct. 28

In time for Halloween!

 

Musicwhore.org goes on summer holiday

By the time you read this announcement, I would have wrapped up my vacation in July. Because I write my entries ahead of time, you wouldn’t have noticed a thing … until now.

I took a week off to visit family in Hawaii, and another week to recover from that visit. Now I’m facing a large project at work starting to ramp up.

So I’m taking a break from updating this site, which means August will be a barren month.

Entries should resume in September.

 

Looking ahead, August-September 2016

[Madonna - Bedtime Stories]

UA released a new album earlier this year. Cocco will release her next album in a few weeks. Utada Hikaru is on the release schedule for September. Would it be too much to ask for Shiina Ringo to drop some news about new album as well?

The Bad Plus, It’s Hard, Aug. 26

Covers have always been a special treat from the Bad Plus, and this album marks the second time the trio dedicates an entire album to other people’s music. Or third if you consider The Rite of Spring a “cover”.

Jack Ingram, Midnight Hotel, Aug. 26

First, Jack Ingram was a part of a new generation of country rebels that included the brothers Charlie and Bruce Robison. Then at some point, he traded in the rebellion for a spot at the top of the country charts. Now he’s back to his indie roots.

Eluvium, False Readings On, Sept. 2

I’m still looking forward to a new album, despite not warming up to the last two albums.

Pansy Division, Quite Contrary, Sept. 9

Pansy Division isn’t the first punk band with gay members, but they managed to go further than most, opening for Green Day and Rancid during the ’90s. New albums from the band are few and far between these days.

Utada Hikaru, Fantôme, Sep. 28

When Utada Hikaru announced she was taking a break from pop music, I figured she was making good on her promise to retire early. So her return is a welcome surprise.

Pixies, Head Carrier, Sept. 30

Well, maybe they worked out the kinks since Indie Cindy

Vinyl

Madonna, Bedtime Stories, Aug. 16
Madonna, Ray of Light, Sept. 13

A 2013 European reissue of Ray of Light might still be floating around online merchants for a not-so-exorbitant price, so the real treat is the reissue of Bedtime Stories.

My sister’s albums: Pebbles, Always

[Pebbles - Always]

I’ve talked a lot about my brother’s influence on my music collecting. I haven’t written much about my sisters for a good reason — they never took up collecting music.

I have two sisters, and they each had started buying up a few albums when we were all kids. The sibling rivalry competition had started out as a four-way race, but by the end of the ’70s, both sisters dropped out.

One sister, however, has had an indirect influence on my collecting. She would be the first to cotton to something cool — Duran Duran, Janet Jackson, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam — but she would leave it to my brother or me to bring it into the home.

If she felt strongly enough to buy a physical copy of an album, she would play it for a while, and when she got tired of it, the album ended up in someone else’s collection. It was usually mine because she and my brother didn’t get along.

That’s how I came to inherit Always by Pebbles.

It’s the type of album I wouldn’t be caught dead listening to in high school, which put me in an odd spot since it was released during high school. Since my sister only ever owned a single album or CD at any point in time, it would be housed among my albums since I had the devoted space for it.

In short, both of us forgot it was there on my shelf.

I’ve had numerous opportunities to purge the album from my collection, the first of which was when I moved from Honolulu to Austin in 1997. But it survived each review, even when cash flow got tight. After a few years, I had to admit — I actually liked it.

L.A. Reid and Babyface gave the album a busy, aggressive sound. The singles from the album merited their chart-topping status, and the non-single tracks don’t wear with repeat listenings. It’s a strong album, perhaps a classic among listeners familiar with it.

These days, I study the album for the sound of its synthesizers. The cold analog sound sounds dated, which makes it a perfect document of its time. In fact, that’s probably why the album survived in my collection for so long — it’s so emblematic of a period and a style that it ought to be preserved.

Also, I was subjected to a lot of bad popular music during high school. The fact I’m still listening to this album after 25 years attests to its endurance.

 

How Amadeus became my favorite movie (it was a technical glitch)

[Amadeus - Soundtrack]

There’s a reason I can pretty much recite the film Amadeus all the up till the maid hired by Antonio Salieri to spy on Mozart begs the maestro to quit her job.

My parents never wanted to pay for cable, let alone a subscription to a video rental store. Nor did they like going to movie theaters. So it was many years before anyone in my family watched Amadeus, when it finally aired on broadcast television.

Being such a thrifty family, we taped it off the TV, pausing the recording to cut out commercials. Let me mention now that my parents decided to hitch our home video options to BetaMax instead of VHS. I was trying to get them to buy a LaserDisc player.

The BetaMax started going haywire after a few months, but instead of replacing it, we developed coping mechanisms. That meant rescuing tape caught in the rollers whenever we ejected a cassette, and it meant dealing with a distorted picture when we would play those same damaged tapes.

Our first few viewings of Amadeus went all the way to the end. Subsequent viewings would not be so kind. The picture and sound cut out just as the maid, played by the timeless Cynthia Nixon, sought to end her employment.

We tried rewinding, then fast-forwarding. Nothing.

On another attempt, my brother discovered it would play to the end so long as we didn’t advance or rewind the tape — we had to let it play from start to finish without interruption. That worked a few times, but then it stopped.

It became a contest. Would the damaged tape once more deny us the conclusion of the movie? Or would it be cooperative and play to the end? Most times, it was a game we lost. It was also a game we played multiple times.

When it became apparent BetaMax was obsolete, my brother bought a VHS player, and I bought a copy of Amadeus on VHS. By that time, I had lost the contest so often, I was reciting the lines before the actors.

I borrowed the soundtrack from the library and played it so often, I eventually bought my own copy. Now, the only ensemble I want to hear perform Mozart is the Academy of St. Martins-in-the-Field.

Peter Shaffer’s story fascinated me, of course, despite its tenuous connection to history. Salieri’s rants against God mirrored my own questioning of religion, and the scene where Mozart and Salieri work on the Confutatis in Requiem served as a crash course on arranging.

Some musicians don’t see Amadeus in a very good light, but without it, I probably wouldn’t have dove into classical music as deeply as I have. And so it sits on top of my list of favorite movies.

 

Favorite Edition 2016 Year Half

[Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide to Earth]

It’s half way through the year, and I’ve listed all but three of the new releases I own this year.

That’s 13 albums from 2016.

So while I can technically create a favorite 10 albums of the year so far, that doesn’t actually mean I feel very strongly about most of this list.

  • Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth: Simpson aimed to make this album his What’s Goin’ On, and he pretty much hits it.
  • Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 4: Don’t expect a sequel to Górecki’s chart-topping Symphony No. 3. This work goes back to the modernist style he forged on his second symphony.
  • Colvin & Earle, Colvin & Earle This pairing is counterintuitive but kind of inevitable, and it works.
  • ANOHNI, HOPELESSNESS: ANOHNI trades in the chamber pop of Antony and the Johnsons for an aggressive electronic sound, something she’s already done before with Björk.
  • Santigold, 99 Cents: Santigold goes for a sunnier sound on this album, and while it may not be as fascinating as her previous albums, they’re tuneful as hell nonetheless.
  • Explosions in the Sky, The Wilderness: After the predictability of Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, The Wilderness is a definite zag to its predecessor’s zig. It’s probably the most adventurous Explosions album to date.
  • Ben Watt, Fever Dream: Watt builds upon the post-Everything but the Girl vibe of Hendra with a stronger set of songs.
  • Colin Stetson, Sorrow: A Reimagining of Górecki’s 3rd Symphony: I should hate the idea of a post-rock interpretation of Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, but I don’t. I like what Stetson does here.
  • UA, JaPo: Nope, UA hasn’t returned to her pop roots, but she does provide enough hooks to temper her more avant-garde tendencies.
  • Prince, HITnRUN Phase Two: Recommended if you like classic Prince.

Looking ahead: July-August 2016

[Blood Orange - Freetown - Sound]

The Favorite Edition 2016 list will be published next week, and if it’s any indication, the release schedule for the rest of the year will probably not be terribly impressive.

James Blake, The Colour in Anything, July 1

Blake dropped this album many weeks back, and I’ve listened to it enough times to make me question whether I would really want to own a physical copy of it. Does it really need to have 17 tracks and be more than an hour long? A lot of interesting things happening on the album, and as many things that induce sleep.

YEN TOWN BAND, diverse journey, July 20

I wonder what prompted YEN TOWN BAND to reunite after 19 years. The band is actually fictional — CHARA played the role of Glico in the film Swallowtail, in which she led a group called YEN TOWN BAND. MONTAGE is probably one of my favorite CHARA-related albums.

Faith No More, We Care a Lot (Deluxe Edition), Aug. 19

I’m hoping a reissue of Introduce Yourself becomes an eventual reality.

Blood Orange, Freetown Sound, Aug. 19

I think Dev Hynes is responsible for softening my decades-long dim view of Michael Jackson.

Cocco, Adan Ballet, Aug. 24

Cocco has added stage and screen to her résumé as author and singer. So it’s no surprise the gaps between albums have gotten longer in the last few years. That makes Adan Ballet remarkable for coming out a year and 2 months since Plan C.

De La Soul, And the Anonymous Nobody, Aug. 26

I haven’t gotten through that backlog of De La Soul albums the trio offered for giving them my e-mail address.

Vinyl

Dead Can Dance, Dead Can Dance, July 8
Dead Can Dance, Spleen and Ideal, July 8
Dead Can Dance, Into the Labyrinth, July 8

I can haz Aion and Spiritchaser reissued on vinyl?

Madonna, Like a Prayer, July 12

Second-hand copies of the self-titled album, Like a Virgin and True Blue can be found for reasonable prices. Like a Prayer, on the other hand, is a bit harder to find, which makes it probably the only recent reissue worth getting.

XTC, Skylarking (Deluxe Edition), July 12
XTC, English Settlement (Deluxe Edition), July 12

Andy Partridge’s reissue label APE House is not messing around with these reissues, and the prices for them reflect that.

Sonic Youth, Murray Street, July 15

The release date for this reissue is a moving target. I imagine it will show up the next time I write this round-up.

Prince, Sign O the Times, Aug. 23
Prince, Lovesexy, Oct. 18
Prince, Graffiti Bridge, Nov. 22
Prince, Love Symbol Album, Dec. 13

I know I want to get the Love Symbol Album on vinyl. I’m partial to getting Lovesexy if I don’t find a used copy before then. I’m on the fence about Sign O the Times and Graffiti Bridge. And I’m disappointed The Black Album reissue was canceled.

John Zorn, Naked City, Aug. 26

I won’t tell you how much I spent on an original pressing of this album. So if you want it on vinyl, place your pre-order now!