Berglind Ágústsdóttir – “Just Dance / Party Angel” (2015)

I got a box in the mail from Reykjavik’s Lucky Records a few months ago, and among the assorted randomness was a truly random item – a pink cassette in a plastic case with no J card (the image to the left is from Bandcamp). It had “Just Dance” written on one side in black marker; the other side said “Party Angel”. That’s it. I had no idea what it was. But a little internet digging revealed it to be a 2015 release by the eccentric Berglind Ágústsdóttir, who’s 2014 re-mix album Walking In Heaven I wrote about for ROK – Icelandic Music Review a while back. Just Dance / Party Angel came out in 2015 and is available for free listening HERE, though I haven’t seen any references to it coming out on any kind of physical media… so not entirely sure the story with this tape.

What I am sure about, though, is that this is some pretty interesting electronic music. It opens with a very experimental “They Love The Way I Ride The Beat” before kicking in with some great dance jams in “Dream Lover” and “Johnny,” a pair of more traditional female vocal pop tunes that will make you wish there was a disco ball in your living room. I’d been kind of putting off playing this, but now I’m kicking myself because these songs are great! “Just Dance” takes a more experimental turn, like something Nico would have been performing back in the day. “Don’t Be A Hater Be A Creator” gets us out on the dance floor again before we flip the tape and jam to the 20+ minute “Party Angel Radio Tape Mix New York 2013”.

I made an effort to follow along on the Bandcamp site, and all the songs listed there appear on the cassette in the same order. However, following “Party Angel Radio Tape Mix New York 2013,” the tape includes two additional tracks. I have no idea what these are or why they aren’t part of the digital download… just a little extra bonus if you can find the physical media.

Good stuff!

Sir Mix-A-Lot – “I Want A Freak (Remix)” 12″ (1987)

I had no intention of writing about this 12″. I bought it this weekend because it was some pre-Swass Sir Mix-A-Lot. I’d heard “I Want a Freak,” but not the B-side track “Electro Scratch,” so I figured I’d pick it up.

Then I played “Electro Scratch”. And my brain melted.

Mix’s voice is done like a robot, more precisely like he’s channeling Twiki from the 1980s TV show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. For real. It’s every bit as amazing (or awful, depending on your feelings about Twiki) as I just described it. Plus it has some wicked old school scratching on it. There isn’t even anything more to say. Fortunately some enterprising soul has burned it to YouTube, so check it out. Just wow.


John Coltrane – “Blue Train” (1957 / 2014)

Dave is probably one of my first “adult” friends, one of the first friends I made post-college and out and about in the real world. We first connected sometime in the mid-1990s due to a common interest in, of all things, Seattle hockey memorabilia, and over the last 20+ years we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well. So imagine my surprise when he asked me the other day what I’d been up to, and I told him I’d just gotten back from the record store, and he replied with “did I ever tell you I have a big collection of jazz records?” Um, no Dave, you hadn’t. And how am I just hearing about this now??

Long story short Dave was into jazz as far back as high school (he’s a few years older than me) and used to frequent all the used record shops in Seattle, scouring the jazz sections and used “new arrivals” on the never-ending hunt for first pressings. We chatted about this for a while and I confessed my general ignorance about jazz – the majority of what I have is Miles Davis, which is like saying your entire experience with reggae is Bob Marley. So to help me with my education Dave sent me a list of his 10 favorite jazz albums (excluding the Miles records I already have….) and over the last two weeks I managed to pick up a couple of them. The funny thing is in some ways he’s more excited about this than I am, telling me that he’s jealous that I’m going to get to hear these amazing records for the very first time.

I opted to start with saxophonist John Coltrane’s 1957 Blue Train. Coltrane was already a veteran then, having appeared on well over a dozen recordings, but earlier that year Davis fired the saxophonist from his touring ensemble (and not for the first time), finally growing tired of the impact alcohol and heroin had on his playing. It didn’t take long for him to catch on with someone else, though, and in short order he was playing with Thelonious Monk. By the fall he was ready to record with his own six-piece orchestra, banging out the entire Blue Train album in one day – September 15, 1957. When you think of how long it took to record some rock albums, the ability of jazz musicians to do something like this in a day or two in studio is awe-inspiring. I realize it’s a different style of music and all, arguably more organic, but that’s still impressive.

All but one of Blue Train‘s five compositions are Coltrane originals, while “I’m Old Fashioned” was originally written in 1942 by Johnny Mercer and Jerome Kern. When Coltrane was asked about his favorites of his own albums during a 1960 interview with Carl-Eric Lindgren, he pointed first to Blue Train, specifically complimenting the quality of the musicians who played on the session. These included guys he played with while with Miles Davis, drummer Philly Joe Jones and bassist Paul Chambers, as well as veteran pianist Kenny Drew. The other horn players were a pair of young up-and-comers, 22-year-old trombonist Curtis Fuller and 19-year-old trumpeter Lee Morgan. There’s a hint of sadness about this brilliant ensemble in that three of the six men didn’t live past the age of 40, with Chambers and Morgan both dying at the age of 33 (♠) and Coltrane passing at 40 due to liver cancer. So many jazz greats left us way too early.

I recognized the title track instantly, probably from film scores, though there are only segments of “Blue Train” that sounded familiar – the solos (<- probably the wrong word to use, I know, since the rhythm section keeps playing… but I mean those parts of the song where a specific instrument comes to the forefront to express itself) were completely new to me and impressive. To my ears it breaks down into three sections – the first and third are generally ensemble, while the second middle part is reserved for each instrument to step to the forefront for a bit. Those first and third parts are intriguingly structured. The bass and drums provide a linear path for the song to follow; the piano, trumpet, and trombone give the whole thing shape and keep it more or less contained like a huge malleable soap bubble; and Coltrane’s sax is allowed to run free within, and sometimes pushing the outside edge of, that overall framework. It was fascinating to truly pay attention to the interplay of the musicians.

The thing I came away most impressed with was Kenny Drew’s plano work, which is nothing short of brilliant. Drew understands when he only needs to contribute a quick burst and does so, not feeling compelled to take up space needlessly. And when the emphasis switches to the piano… man, he just kills it, especially when it’s just him and the rest of the rhythm section. I will definitely need to seek out some of his albums.

This was a great way to dip my toe into the pool of classic jazz, and I’m looking forward to working my way through he rest of Dave’s list.

(♠) Chambers died due to an untreated case of tuberculosis, with alcohol and heroin use as possible contributing factors impacting his general health. Morgan struggled with drug abuse for years before getting cleaned up with the help of his common-law wife Helen Morgan. Unfortunately when he was back on his feet he still couldn’t resist his old habits, both with drugs and women. Lee and Helen were talking during a break between sets at a club called slugs when another woman came up to them and said that she thought Lee wasn’t with Helen any more. This led to a verbal altercation between the Morgans that ended with Helen shooting Lee in the chest, killing him.

Thomas Andrew Doyle – “Incineration Ceremony” (2017)

To say that I don’t own much in the way of classical music would be an understatement. The classical music in our house is limited to a couple of Three Tenors CDs and the track “Carmina Burana: Introduction” that appears on the soundtrack to the movie The Doors. I’m pretty sure that’s it. So in many ways, if not most, I’m not exactly the target customer for Thomas Andrew Doyle’s new album Incineration Ceremony, a modern-classical (♠) album if there every was one. But there is one very specific reason why a guy like me, with little to no experience in classical, was intrigued enough to buy this CD as soon as it came out, and that is the man himself, Thomas Andrew Doyle. You’re probably asking yourself, “OK, so who the hell is Thomas Andrew Doyle?” Well friends, he put out some pretty great albums in the late 80s/early 90s, a few of which just got re-released by Sub Pop. Because, you see, Thomas Andrew Doyle is probably best known to his music fans by his initials. T. A. D. As in Tad Doyle. As in TAD.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re trying to come to grips with the fact that the guy who gave us songs like “Wood Goblins,” “Sex God Missy,” and “Jack Pepsi,” the last of which was literally about getting drunk on Jack Daniels and Pepsi and driving out onto a frozen lake in a truck to do 180s before breaking through the ice and almost dying, a guy who’s most recent album Brothers of the Sonic Cloth was heavy as fuck, put out a CD of original classical compositions. Well, he did. Deal with it. Or better yet, go get yourself a copy of Incineration Ceremony, because it’s pretty damn good.

This is a lot to digest. I understand. By you need to listen to this music. It certainly carries a lot of the weight we’d expect from Doyle’s music, at times heavy and dense, at others sparse and more than a bit frightening. And he knows his stuff – he studied classical and jazz in college, and he plays almost all of the instruments you hear on Incineration Ceremony, with just a bit of percussion help from Peter Scartabello on two tracks.

I’ve been a fan of Doyle’s since the Salt Lick and God’s Balls days, and was fortunate to see him once live with his post-Tad project Brothers of the Sonic Cloth. I played the hell out of those records and 8-Way Santa, so while I’m hardly a superfan I’ve spent a fair amount of time listening to his music. And so far I’ve played this CD about 10 times because I just can’t get it out of my head. I keep going back to it again and again, trying to unravel its mysteries while mentally floating along the surface of the somewhat gloomy soundscape Doyle creates. I feel like there are answers there if I listen hard enough, hints to some kind of epiphany that disappear like wisps of smoke on a dark night just when you think you’ve finally found them. Incineration Ceremony isn’t “easy” music; instead it rewards the listener for his/her attention to detail and mood.

It’s difficult for me to try to identify a favorite song on Incineration Ceremony as the album is more a cohesive whole than a simple collection of individual songs, more like one complete composition with many parts. I guess I can pick a favorite section, and that would be the tail end of the album, with “Meditations in Null,” “Born Into Sorrow,” and the closer “Prognati Ignis Ignis” providing a sort of climax to what Doyle had been building towards with the first two parts. If there is a message to the listener, a unifying principle or concept, it is found on that last track which opens with the words of the brilliant Carl Sagan as he waxes philosophical about all of human history having taken place on Earth, the pale blue dot, which is nothing more than a speck of dust in the vastness of the cosmos. Sagan’s dialog launches “Prognati Ignis Ignis” into the atmosphere like a rocket, before it eventually settles into the sereneness of the cold dark void, setting the stage for Sagan to come back to us to bring it all to an end. Fantastic.

You can listen to Incineration Ceremony at the Yuggoth Records Bandcamp page HERE, as well as purchase a digital download for just 10 bucks. The CD itself appears to be limited to 100 copies, and it looks like they’re almost sold out, so if you want one you better get on it (because you can’t have mine!).

(♠) Yes, I realize this is an oxymoron. But it works.

Sonic Jesus – “Neither Virtue Nor Anger” (2015)

sonicjesusneithervirtueThis is the last of the Sonic Jesus albums that arrived in the mail the other day from Fuzz Club, and while it’s the last one we’re listening to it’s actually their first full length album. And it’s a doozy because it’s a double, 16 songs on four sides of wax, complete with a trip-fold gatefold jacket. Sonic Jesus obviously impressed the hell out of someone over there at Fuzz Club to warrant this kind of investment.

Whereas the other Sonic Jesus releases I listened to and blogged about recently had a certain unceasing relentless to them, Neither Virtue Nor Anger seems to be of a somewhat different breed. It opens with “Locomotive”, the kind of plaintive song that reminds me of Þórir Georg before picking up the pace and moving into more industrial territory. That leads into the full-bore “Triumph”, which also appeared on a 7″ single I wrote about recently and one of my favorite Sonic Jesus tracks, a aggressive driver of a number. By time we get to the tripped out “Sweet Suicide” to close out side A, I’m hooked.

The intensity seems to continue as we flip over to the B side, but it could just be the effect this type of psych has on my brain. At times it can wear me down, flattening me underneath a thick layer of fuzz that seems to surround me from all sides at once. Fortunately they bring it down a bit with a very Velvet Underground-y “Paranoid Palace” with it’s slow jangly guitar, a welcome respite to the sensory-numbing pounding of the previous four songs. It does build to a bit of a crescendo, but that initial breather is all I needed.

The one thing that differentiates Neither Virtue Nor Anger from the other Sonic Jesus albums and EPs I’ve listened to over the last few weeks is the vocals – while they continue to be effects-laden as they are the other releases, there’s more variance here in how the vocals are treated and that gives the songs a bit of variance, even when the guitar pedals are threatening to punch a drill bit into your brain. It gives everything a certain nuance that was lacking in the sheer weight of the later efforts.

Side C opens with “Monkey On My Back,” which originally appeared on Sonic Jesus’ self-titled 2012 EP, a song that reminds me a bit of the Brooklyn-based Imaginary Friends, and not only due to the monkey reference. (♠) In fact the C side in toto has a different vibe to it than the first disc did, more sparse at times in a way that gives more power to the meatier parts. And the D side kind of brings in a whole Eastern thing, so good on Sonic Jesus for managing to give us 16 songs that have an certain consistency while also mixing it up enough to keep things fresh.

(♠) But it does not remind me of Peter Gabriel’s “Shock The Monkey,” something that just sounds needlessly cruel especially when he goes on and on about shocking the monkey.