All posts by Greg Bueno

Purchase log, 2018-09-18

[Aretha Franklin - Aretha Now]

I catalog my music purchases on Collectorz and Discogs, but they don’t give me a sense of change over time. So I’m noting them here weekly as well.

I went to Portland for a developer conference, and boy did I go overboard with the shopping.

Catalog

CD
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber / Tim Rice, Evita (concept album)
  • Aretha Franklin, Aretha Now
  • Aretha Franklin, Lady Soul
  • Bananarama, True Confessions
  • Bill Evans, Waltz for Debby
  • Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP (Clean)
  • Grace Jones, Nightclubbing
  • Midnight Oil, Species Deceases (Remastered)
  • Object Collection, It’s All True
  • Takaakira Goto, Classical Punk and Echoes Under the Beauty
  • The Pogues, If I Should Fall from Grace with God (Remastered)
  • Wire, Pink Flag
Vinyl
  • Clannad, Christ Chruch Cathedral
  • Living Colour, Shade

Vinyl find: The Human League, Crash

One of the first songs I learned to play on the piano was “Human” by the Human League, and I learned it out of a sense of survival.

“Human” was all over the radio in 1986, the year I graduated from eighth grade. I have no fond memories of junior high. I missed being placed in the honors class by a few test points, and the classmates with which I was placed didn’t appreciate my presence.

I was never physically harmed, but my social status was pretty obvious — I had none.

I didn’t have an aptitude for sports, and my school had no arts program. If I was going to turn things around in high school, I had to distinguish myself in some way.

So I learned how to play piano, and I learned popular music as a means to ingratiate myself.

It worked.

I knew I wouldn’t have impressed anyone with classical repertoire — not that I had developed sufficient skills to tackle it — but with songs you heard on the radio? I could at least not look too square.

I wasn’t looking to become popular — I was realistic enough to know that would be dead end — but I wanted to make myself a less-appealing target. My band teacher seized on my ability and kept me busy. Before long, people didn’t mess with me because I had a talent.

I never repaid the Human League this change in status by buying their album. I loved “Human”, but other singles from Crash failed to make a dent in the US. So I moved onto other music.

I picked up a vinyl copy of Crash more than 30 years later at the Lifelong Thrift Shop.

At that point in the band’s career, the Human League had difficulty following up some big hits from earlier in the 1980s. At the urging of their label, the band teamed up with Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, the producers who helped Janet Jackson break through with Control.

The resulting album is more Jam and Lewis than Human League, but it’s a rare instance where American funk rubbed against an English art school aesthetic. It’s actually an appealing convergence that deserves multiple spins on the playback device.

If I had listened to the album at the time of its release, I might have found it likable, but I’m not sure I would have appreciated the meeting of Sheffield and Minneapolis.

Crash is not a well-regarded album, not even by the band. “Great experience,” Phil Oakley said about working with Jam and Lewis,”but it’s not our album.”

I’m not familiar enough with the band’s earlier work to know what qualifies as a “Human League” album, so that probably allows me to have a more forgiving perception of Crash.

It’s an anomaly, for sure, but one that ought to be re-evaluated and maybe appreciated anew.

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Purchase log, 2018-09-11

[Grace Jones - Warm Leatherette]

I catalog my music purchases on Collectorz and Discogs, but they don’t give me a sense of change over time. So I’m noting them here weekly as well.

The KEXP Record Fair was on Saturday. I hadn’t known till the clerk at Jive Time asked me if I had gone.

New releases

CD
  • Jake Shears, Jake Shears
  • Renée Fleming, Broadway
Vinyl
  • Parquet Courts, Wide Awake!

Catalog

CD
  • Culture Club, Colour By Numbers (remastered)
  • Grace Jones, Warm Leatherette
  • Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert
  • Michael Jackson, Thriller (Special Edition)
  • Missy Elliott, Supa Dupa Fly
  • UA, 11 (Deluxe Edition)
  • UA, AMETORA (Deluxe Edition)
  • UA, turbo (Deluxe Edition)
Vinyl
  • Dead or Alive, Sophisticated Boom Boom
  • Doug E. Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew, Oh My God!
  • Franz Schubert, Die schöne Müllerin (Deitrich Fischer-Dieskau)
  • Janet Jackson, Dream Street
  • Joni Mitchell, Ladies of the Canyon
  • Julee Cruise, Floating Into the Night (original pressing promo)
  • Public Enemy, Yo! Bum Rush the Show

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Thrift Store Find: Carole King, Tapestry

[Carole King - Tapestry]

Carole King has been something of a straw woman here on Musicwhore.org. When her name was evoked, it was usually in service of describing milquetoast or overly sentimentalized music. Do a search for Onitsuka Chichiro on old versions of this site, and King probably shows up in a paragraph somewhere.

King released her landmark album, Tapestry, a year and two months before I was born. I would have encountered her music on the radio as I was growing up, probably on KSSK alongside Joni Mitchell and James Taylor.

By the time I was old enough to explore music on my own, King’s music had become fodder for TV commercial jingles. A burgeoning art fag such as myself couldn’t help but hold her in disdain.

Gilmore Girls was one of my favorite shows, but when it aired, I had to mute the opening credits. The overly earnest cover of King’s “Where You Lead” is aural treacle.

But Tapestry shows up on critics list everywhere, and it’s not hard to find old vinyl pressings of the album selling for no more than $10. Before it could be jingle fodder, it had to achieve a level of success to warrant such ubiquity.

So when I spotted a copy of Tapestry selling for $1 at Lifelong Thrift Store, I bought it.

And I like it way more than I expected to.

King’s performances are gritty. Subsequent covers and reimagining of Tapestry’s tracks all polish off those rough edges. Onituska inherited that unfortunate legacy, although her own voice brings back some of that burnish.

I imagine Tapestry was the Jagged Little Pill of its day — an album where nearly every track could have been considered a hit single. While Alanis Morrisette’s breakthrough album took a raw, emotional look at heartbreak, King’s Tapestry holds together with an exploration of camaraderie. In both cases, they’re strong performances driven by an artistic clarity.

But it’s taken me nearly most of my lifetime to appreciate Tapestry. In that sense, the album is also a cautionary tale of music commercialization. Exploit a copyright too much, and a listener with little context may not realize that catchy jingle was actually intended to be art.

 

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Purchase log, 2018-09-04

[Jayne Cortez - Everywhere Drums]

I catalog my music purchases on Collectorz and Discogs, but they don’t give me a sense of change over time. So I’m noting them here weekly as well.

Labor Day sales at thrift stores are a dangerous combination.

New releases

CD
  • Blood Orange, Negro Swan
  • Troye Sivan, Bloom
Files
  • Molotov, MTV Unplugged: El Disconecte
  • Santigold, I Don’t Want: The Gold Fire Sessions

Catalog

CD
  • Anonymous 4, Love’s Illusion
  • Bob Marley and the Wailers, Legend
  • Boris, Akuma no Uta
  • Edgard Varèse, The Complete Works
  • Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes
  • Giovanni Palestrina, Palestrina Masses (Tallis Scholars)
  • Iron and Wine, Around the Well
  • Jayne Cortez, Everywhere Drums
  • John Coltrane, Soultrane
  • Joni Mitchell, Hejira
  • Loretta Lynn, Country Music Hall of Fame
  • McCoy Tyner, Echoes of a Friend
  • Midnight Oil, Scream In Blue
  • Miles Davis, Sketches of Spain
  • Moby, Everything Is Wrong
  • Semisonic, All About Chemistry
  • The Books, The Lemon of Pink
  • The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Axis: Bold as Love
  • Various Artists, If I Were a Carpenter
  • Various Composers, la Quinta essentia (Huelgas-Ensemble)
  • Various Composers, Musica Nova (Consort Veneto)
  • Vivian Green, A Love Story
Vinyl
  • Bananarama, True Confessions
  • Giovanni Palestrina, Missa “De Beata Virgine” (Chorus “Jeunesses Musicales”)
  • Madonna, You Can Dance
  • Rupert Holmes, Partners in Crime

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You Got What?: Cameo, Word Up

[Cameo - Word Up]

Teen-aged me would be very disappointed in mid-life me.

Cameo was all over the radio and MTV in the mid-80s with “Word Up”, and while the first few plays of the hit single were novel, the remaining billion over the course of its shelf life weren’t. That overexposure, of course, made me vow never to buy its namesake album.

But what did I do at the Friends of the Library Book Sale some 30 years later? I picked it up for $1.

What would compel me to turn back on my younger self’s resolve? The answer: “Candy”.

“Candy” was the follow-up single to “Word Up”, and it too became a hit, albeit without the excessive airplay. It was an unlikely candidate for a single, possessing a strange bass line that starts simply but shifts rhythmically in unpredictable ways.

The only hook in the song is the phrase, “It’s like candy”. The rest is a mishmash of an asymmetrical monotone melody and a punctuating guitar riff. Of the eight tracks on Word Up, it’s hands down the most complex.

Over the years, the catchier “Word Up” could be heard piping into public places more often than “Candy”, and as such, “Candy” receded into distant memory … until it appeared on the pre-show playlist at a concert by the Revolution.

When it came on, the oddness of “Candy” struck me, and I appreciated it on a level far more than I could as a teenager. A month after the concert, I found myself at the book sale with a copy of Word Up in my stack of purchases.

It turns out the title track and “Candy” are the most anomalous tracks on Word Up. The remainder of the album’s seven tracks are journeyman funk tracks that would not have sounded out of place a decade earlier, save for all the analog synths.

Word Up front loads its most remarkable tracks, then pulls back and becomes a different album altogether. If I bought it at the time, I wouldn’t have understood it, let alone appreciate it.

And I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed it the way I do now.

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Purchase log, 2018-08-28

[David Bowie - Scary Monsters]

I catalog my music purchases on Collectorz and Discogs, but they don’t give me a sense of change over time. So I’m noting them here weekly as well.

Catalog

CD
  • Band of Horses, Everything All the Time
  • Darren Hayes, The Tension and the Spark
  • Enigma, The Cross of Changes
  • Mary J. Blige, What’s the 411?
  • Missy Elliott, Miss E … So Addictive
  • Scissor Sisters, Scissor Sisters
  • The Zombies, Odessey and Oracle
Vinyl
  • Alphaville, Forever Young
  • Cliff Richard, We Don’t Talk Anymore
  • David Bowie, Scary Monsters
  • Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
  • Television, Marquee Moon

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The ones that nearly got away: Shudder to Think, Pony Express Record

[Shudder to Think - Pony Express Record]

On paper, Pony Express Record by Shudder to Think ought to be an album I adore. It has complex rhythms, angular melodies, dissonant riffs and lots of distortion. It even arrived at time in my life when modern classical music started occupying my wheelhouse.

But for many years, I could muster at most an intellectual appreciation for the album. Something about it prevented me from internalizing it the same I would music by, say, Wayne Horvitz or Meredith Monk.

Part of the problem was the fact I never paid for it — Pony Express Record was an assignment for the student newspaper. I listened to the promo and found the album had potential. Because I didn’t discover it the way I did with Jayne Cortez or Bang on a Can, I didn’t feel invested in my opinion.

And because I was a snob where avant-garde music was concerned, I couldn’t take Shudder to Think too seriously. Just what were their bona fides anyway?

That ambivalence meant Pony Express Record would not survive a purge for cash. I don’t even know at what point it left my collection.

But it has always nagged at me. I felt I was missing something about that album, something that made it difficult to dismiss.

I’ve tried at different times after subscribing to Google Play Music to give Pony Express Record another shake, but my attention would drift, and it would end without my realizing I had it been playing.

When I spotted a copy at Lifelong Thrift Store for $1, I welcomed it back into my collection, and I gave it the attention I couldn’t afford it in the past.

As it turns out, my inability to embrace Pony Express Record comes down to my tolerance for odd, angular music — which is pretty high. For all its weirdness, Pony Express Record sounds quite normal to me.

I call this my Beck affect. When Beck released Odelay, critics couldn’t stop tripping over themselves to praise his whiplash cuts. I thought it was just poorly-executed John Zorn card pieces.

Pony Express Record is strange, but it’s not the strangest thing I’ve heard. It doesn’t stop it from being a good album, even an important one.

Shudder to Think made a loud, noisy album that relies on precise musicianship to pull off. Rather than dial up the metal influences of grunge the way nü metal bands would eventually do, the band made the punk influences veer into something a whole lot brainier. And they do it while throwing in an occasional hook over mountains of crunchy distortion.

I’m a lot more familiar with Pony Express Record now, and I’m OK with not being able to hum more than a few measures of “Hit Liquor.”

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Purchase log, 2018-08-21

 

[Julee Cruise - Three Demos]

I catalog my music purchases on Collectorz and Discogs, but they don’t give me a sense of change over time. So I’m noting them here weekly as well.

New releases

CD
  • Duran Duran, The Ultra Chrome, Latex and Steel Tour
  • Perfume, Future Pop
Vinyl
  • Steve Grand, not the end of me
  • Julee Cruise, Three Demos

Catalog

CD
  • Claude Debussy, Images (1894) / Estampes / Images, Series I and II (Paul Jacobs)
  • Led Zeppelin, untitled (fourth album)
Vinyl
  • Aretha Franklin, Who’s Zoomin’ Who?
  • Soundtrack, Who’s That Girl?

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Exploring the record stores of Honolulu

[Hungry Ear Records interior, Honolulu, HI]

I joked with my mom that I didn’t want to travel anywhere in 2018 because I had gone to Victoria, BC and Salem, OR in 2017. Then I ended up going to Alexandria, VA in June and making a family visit to Honolulu in July.

Having lived in Austin, Seattle and New York City, I’ve noticed the health of a city’s music scene is reflected in the state of its record shops. By that measure, Honolulu is in passable health. The local shops dedicate significant shelf space to artists performing Hawaiian music, but since the scene itself doesn’t support much beyond that, Honolulu’s music retail options are limited.

That’s not to say you can’t find gems in Honolulu, but it usually takes a lot luck and some restrained expectations.

Hungry Ear Records

Hungry Ear had a prime location in Kailua, which it had to trade for a less-than-prime location near the University of Hawaii. It had to move again, this time to a far more spacious and pleasing spot in Kaka`ako.

As much as I miss the Kailua location, the Kaka`ako space is nice.

Hungry Ear has always been conscientious about organizing its stock well, and it’s a breeze to jump from genre to genre. Newly pressed issues take up a separate set of racks than used, and CDs form the perimeter.

Honolulu’s isolation means the stock is only as good as what happens to be on the island, but Hungry Ear somehow manages to find some winners, such as an original pressing of The Pogues’ Rum Sodomy & the Lash or a mid-80s reissue of McCoy Tyner’s The Real McCoy.

Idea’s Books and Music

On the day I visited Idea’s, a fellow customer asked whether the store was in the old location of Jelly’s Books and Music, not knowing he was posing to the question to the proprietor of both institutions.

Jelly’s has a long history in Honolulu. It flourished in the 1990s, then sold its locations to the Cheapo’s chain. It reopened again with locations in `Aiea and Kaka`ako, before downsizing again to a single location and rebranding as Idea’s.

Idea’s Books and Music is a far smaller operation than Jelly’s in its heyday, but the rustic charm is still in place. Idea’s stock reflects the taste of Honolulu in general, so it’s unlikely you’d find something esoteric.

But a bit of digging can uncover some surprises. On this last trip, I snagged an old rental copy of Tomosaka Rie’s Murasaki, a J-pop idol album renowned for including three early songs by Shiina Ringo.

Barnes and Noble

The compact disc boom of the 1990s allowed Honolulu to support three locations of Tower Records, two locations of Borders and the first Barnes and Noble location in Kahala Mall.

Today, a single Barnes and Noble store remains in Ala Moana Center.

The music section of Barnes and Noble has survived by adapting — first by including DVDs and Blu Ray, now by supporting vinyl.

The only time I’ve ever bought vinyl from Barnes and Noble in Seattle was for the exclusve release of Enya’s Dark Sky Island, but I make it a point to visit Barnes and Noble in Honolulu because of the difference in sales tax. In Seattle, it’s 10.1%. In Honolulu, 4.172%.

So I pretty much go to Barnes and Noble not for selection but for a 5.928% sales tax discount.

Book-Off

In the early 1990s, Shirokiya had its own music section. As the music industry fortunes turned, Shirokiya sub-leased the space to Book-Off. When Shirokiya relaunched as a food court, Book-Off moved to Don Quioxte. (Yes, there is a department store chain named after a Spanish novel, and it’s based in Japan.)

My friend Jen dislikes Book-Off because it makes terrible offers to people selling their books, and when I visited the Ward Warehouse location of Book-Off in 2016, the store was trying to sell fair- and poor-condition vinyl for upwards of $20. The Ward location was razed earlier this year.

So no, Book-Off isn’t the most reputable of retailers, but it was the place I could go to buy used Japanese rock and pop CDs.

Until this year.

I went to Don Quixote to find the CD stock completely replaced with Western artists. Honolulu no longer has a retail location that caters to J-Pop fans, a development that shouldn’t have been surprising given Kinokuniya’s move in the same direction.

You could say I was disappointed.

Photo credit: Hungry Ear Records Facebook page

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