soundstreamsunday #113: “Violence” by Parquet Courts

ParquetCourts_AndrewSavage_Kuti“Violence” erupts from Parquet Courts’ Wide Awaaaaake! (2018) in a riot of barbed slogans, proclaiming and exclaiming over everything from the “blazer of the Trail of Tears” to prison TV shows, against a dark drums’n’organ funk.  The band have drawn comparisons across their productive years to Pavement, Beastie Boys, the hyper-literate NY punk cognoscenti, but here it’s all about Fela Kuti, whose rage for justice could be so perfectly captured and balanced by song.  This has potential for ruin, but any clutter occasioned by the band’s first-world-problems environment — hipster Brooklyn, studied post-modern-punk hothouse — is swept aside by passion and presentation from the wordy, rappy, throaty first verse as it bleeds into chorus:

violencelyrics

It’s a powerful gut punch, coming off an album where the band varies tempos and styles enough to keep the hot sonic onslaught interesting instead of just relentless, a party rock record by a group going out on groovy African limbs, a get-down politics album (in the grand tradition).  Nothing here not to love — shake your butt, pump your fist.

*Image: Parquet Courts singer/guitarist Andrew Savage considers Kuti, from “Bands Buy Records – Parquet Courts”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqZTK_NneOA.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week (although…sometimes we miss one or two here and there), and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

soundstreamsunday #112: “The Poet and the Witch” by Mellow Candle (1972) and Stephen Malkmus (2003)

Mellow-Candle1The CD reissue spree of the early 1990s benefited those lonely, cobwebbed corner obsessives who thought the longhairs of 70s British Isles folk rock had something good going.  Those of us who scuttled after the bones the sinister Shanachie label threw to the U.S. through the ’80s were conditioned to nonexistent liner notes and brainwashed into believing the trad arr groups of the previous decade could be described by creative English anachronism on the one hand and Irish rebel songs on the other.  Also-rans, like Mr. Fox or Mellow Candle or Trees, who were allowed to make records in the wake of Fairport’s and Steeleye’s success, and were good for an album or two before promptly dropping off the map, were roundly ignored in the States, to the extent that first, and typically only, pressings of their albums fetched exorbitant sums.  So when the CD stamping plants got their head of steam and allowed for an economical digital reissue of Mellow Candle’s lone album release, Swaddling Songs (1972), listeners rejoiced and collectors, who’d dropped multiple benjamins for dog-eared decades-old vinyl, grumbled a bit but bought their infinitely copy-able copy so they could listen to the damn thing.

The album was rare but it was also more than just okay, meriting the whispered celebrations of the pre-internet folky cognoscenti.  Swaddling Songs is a folk-inspired progressive rock gem, the brainchild of Clodagh Simonds and Alison Williams, whose Irish roots inform the record but never sink it beneath the weight of Heritage.  And in this sense the album has more in common with Aqualung or Tubular Bells (Simonds, appropriately enough, would go on to work with Mike Oldfield) than The Tain or Morris On, as original, mostly keyboard-led tunes organically hang together around Simonds’ and Williams’ winding, commanding vocals, seamless, with contemporary touchstones like Joni Mitchell making themselves felt but also casting into the future toward Sinead O’Connor, Cranberries, Heidi Berry, Helium, Florence + the Machine.  Framed by solid songwriting, unfussy arrangements and production, and outstanding musicianship, there’s a comfortable cosmic warmth to the album’s entirety.  Of many prescient moments on Swaddling Songs, a favorite is “The Poet and the Witch,” the album’s rave-up palate-cleansing show-stopper, adding fierceness to the beauty.

Pity the poet who suffers to give
Sailing his friendship on oceans of love
Strange harbour soundwaves break out of his reach
Love is a foreigner to the Queen of the Beach
Queen of the Beach

Moonfilled and thunderful star-staggered eyes
She broke away to be one with the skies
She feeds his love to the nightmare she rides
Suffers her hunger to inherit the prize
Queen of the Skies

Thunder-stricken tempest strikes fire in the sky
Beacons of flame for the Queen as she flies
Blind to his ocean and deaf to his cries
She’s blind and she’s deaf but she’s Queen of the Skies
Queen of the Skies

King of the Seabed he sleeps on his own
The fishes have found him, the seaweed has grown
He slipped through the waves and he sank like a stone
Queens who have nightmares must be Queens on their own
Queens on their own

I’d picked up my CD copy of Swaddling Songs sometime in the mid 90s, and it was on heavy rotation for a while, in and out and around Can and the Incredible String Band, Amon Duul and Lal Waterson.  Even as these pieces fit together in their way, Swaddling Songs seemed miles distant from anything approaching musical with-it-ness at century’s eclectic end, and yet as I stood at the back of the crowd at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina in 2001 and watched a muscular set by indie-rock cover boy Stephen Malkmus, late of Pavement, there was a deep, jaw-dropping sensibility to his cover of “The Poet and the Witch.”  It was a surprise and a gift.  Malkmus’s work is never less than genre-bending — he may be his own genre — and his sympathy for progressive rock is plain in both word (name-checking Geddy Lee in Pavement’s “Stereo”) and deed.  He thought enough of his jaggedly jumbled, charming Mellow Candle cover to release it as a live bonus track on 2003’s Pig Lib.  Leave it to Malkmus, and to a worldview acknowledging the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

soundstreamsunday #111: “The Gay Goshawk” by Mr. Fox

1200px-Mr.FoxBob and Carole Pegg formed Mr. Fox in 1970 in the wake of Ashley Hutchings’ early rehearsals for Steeleye Span (having I suppose not passed that audition), made two eccentric albums that writers on the British folk revival still can’t really sum, and were done in both their marriage and the band by 1972.  Critics claim it was uneven live performing, a hard-to-parse new music approach to folk rock, or lack of vocal heft that singers like Sandy Denny or Maddy Prior brought to their respective groups… I put my money on a general learned restlessness you can hear in the music itself, in their very Reynardine-esque name.  Oddball northern England raps butted up against drones, earthy fuzz bass and respirating bellowed instruments, and original songwriting.  Decades later these would earn the band a reputation among acid folk revivalists, but Mr. Fox were less Trees or Mellow Candle, more John Cale as filtered through the Yorkshire dales, even as Bob possessed the patented nasal drawl requisite to any respectable folk act of the period and Carole’s fiddling was appropriately rustic.

A gay goshawk came to my window sill,
The snow it fell fast and the stars stood still,
Oh, won’t you take me in from the storm,
Won’t you take me between your sheets so warm?’
Gold was the colour of his wings so fair,
His eyes they were bold and of silver so clear,
As I laid his brown body upon the pillow,
He became a man, live as a willow.

‘Don’t breathe a word, don’t scream, don’t shout,
Or I’ll turn the whole world round about,
I’ll lay the moon flat on the land,
Twist a rope out of flying sand.’
Whispering women say I have been beguiled,
Now the deed’s done, she must care for the child,
Jasmine’s the colour of his hair,
A nut brown boy with a silvery stare.

The night has gone and the seasons slip by,
Knowing seducers still give me the eye,
But on cold winter’s evenings alone I walk,
I watch and I pray for my gay goshawk.

Penned by Carole Pegg, “The Gay Goshawk,” from Mr. Fox’s self-titled 1970 debut, with its pounding tom and killer fiddle drift, is a lesson in folk-inspired songwriting and in shrugging convention.  No other British folk rock outfit could touch it in terms of both originality and faithfulness to the spirit of the tradition being upheld, although Brass Monkey’s “Fable of the Wings” dwells in a similar landscape.  Evidently the song had staying power for Carole, who recast it over four decades on with, naturally, Tuvan throat singer Radik Tülüsh.  Sly Mr. Fox.

*Image above, Mr. Fox live, circa 1970.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

soundstreamsunday #110: “Twa Corbies” by Steeleye Span

twacorbiesThe power in “O Fortuna” — last week’s entry on the infinite linear mixtape — is in its performative setting, the text from Carmina Burana, enlivened, engulfed, by Carl Orff’s score.  Liquored- and sexed-up Goliards may have written it, may have given it a chant or two in its 12th-century time, but it was Orff who saw its dark potential and thus defined it.  It’s the magic in the most successful pieces of music, and why the idea of performance (whether it’s a live rendering of a piece or a feat of studio engineering), the act of putting on a mask, is such an important counter to its parallel, authenticity, with its passing and uncaptureable fire.

The conceits of performance make any “folk” revival possible, and while the makeup may be thickly applied at times — whether it’s a young Bob Dylan doing his best to carry himself like Woody Guthrie or Gillian Welch’s plaintive approximation of Appalachia — it’s a path to something deeper, a striving towards the elemental.

When Ashley Hutchings left Fairport Convention in late 1969 to form Steeleye Span, something like this may have been on his mind.  In bringing together two couples rooted in Britain’s folk music scene, Maddy Prior and Tim Hart, and Gay and Terry Woods, Hutchings was continuing a search to find a balance between the traditional and contemporary, which would soon lead him to form another keystone of the revival, the Albion (Country) Band.  The Woods’s left after the first record, 1970’s Hark! The Village Wait (Terry would go on to be one of the essential Pogues), and increasingly over the next decade Steeleye would be vocalist extraordinaire Maddy Prior’s vehicle, but the debut captures the spirit of the BritFolk moment, with Hutchings and Fairport drummer Dave Mattacks giving a rock anchor to traditional flights.

“Twa Corbies” brings the darkness, recounting a conversation between two crows about making a meal of a dead knight.  Based on “The Three Ravens,” the song was first published in 1611 but in all likelihood has a far deeper past.  Steeleye makes the most of it, Prior’s clarion call washed in the ragged-but-right chorus of her bandmates.

As I was walking all alane,
I heard twa corbies making a mane;
The tane unto the t’other say,
‘Where sall we gang and dine to-day?’
‘In behint yon auld fail dyke,
I wot there lies a new slain knight;
And naebody kens that he lies there,
But his hawk, his hound, and lady fair.
‘His hound is to the hunting gane,
His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame,
His lady’s taen another mate,
So we may mak our dinner sweet.
‘Ye’ll sit on his white hause-bane,
And I’ll pike out his bonny blue een;
Wi ae lock o his gowden hair
We’ll theek our nest when it grows bare.
‘Mony a one for him makes mane,
But nane sall ken where he is gane;
Oer his white banes, when they are bare,
The wind sall blaw for evermair.

The chunky lo-fi crash apropos a murder of crows murks in the background, conjuring its medieval vibe as baldly and surely as Orff might, electric guitars not detracting from the proceedings.  We’re there, with the band, with the corbies, pikin’ at the bonny blue een.

*Image above by Sam Black.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

 

soundstreamsunday #109: “O Fortuna” by Carl Orff

carminaburana_wheel-1When your local symphony wants to fill seats, a good bet after the annual Star Wars night is a performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Its pop power lies in a percussion both brawny and nuanced, and the clean melodic lines of the 23 songs bracketed by the thunderous chant of the opening and closing piece, “O Fortuna.” Orff’s success with Carmina Burana (1936) made his career, but its legacy is — must be — shaded by Orff’s less than courageous behavior in the Nazi era. The piece is thus endowed with a taint, a stink, and some feel this extends to its overt distillation of Stravinsky’s thornier Les Noces (1923) into symphonic ear candy.  Historians have judged Orff’s cowardice and originality to an uncomfortable draw, but listeners remain enthusiastic, sensing in it I think the same elements enriching Orff’s and Gunild Keetman’s Schulwerk project:  a simplicity of melody empowered by a rhythmic focus accenting drama.  Smart but not brainy, easy on the digestion but also moody around the edges, maintaining enough emotional mystery to keep things interesting.

Orff’s adaptation of the Goliardic text was in itself a meditation on life’s uncertainties — his successes were few at this point — and a statement of non-conformity in a fairly heavy-handed academic music scene.  The resulting hour’s worth of songs, combining the words of punk drunk monks and a faux medieval vibe, carries an anti-authoritarian ethic embraced years later by rock.  If you first heard “O Fortuna” waiting for your band to come onstage you’re not alone.  Goths and metalheads love this stuff, and Ray Manzarek, god bless him, went so far as to actually attempt the entirety of Carmina Burana on record.  Oh, fortune, indeed….

O Fortune,
like the moon
you are changeable,
ever waxing
and waning;
hateful life
first oppresses
and then soothes
as fancy takes it;
poverty
and power
it melts them like ice.
Fate – monstrous
and empty,
you whirling wheel,
you are malevolent,
well-being is in vain
and always fades to nothing,
shadowed
and veiled
you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back
to your villainy.
Fate is against me
in health
and virtue,
driven on
and weighted down,
always enslaved.
So at this hour
without delay
pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate
strikes down the strong man,
everybody weep with me!

There is no lack of recordings of Orff’s masterwork, and this primer by Jeremy Lee is highly recommended.  Including here the last two songs in the cycle, “Ave formosissima” building to the return of “O Fortuna,” as recently rendered live by the Munich Percussion Ensemble under Adel Shalaby.  It has a lean, un-stuffy quality that I think complements the spirit of the work.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

soundstreamsunday #108: “Many Mansions” by Sonny Sharrock

sharrock1Sonny Sharrock’s Ask the Ages (1991), with its depth-defying groove and meet-up of ambition and gravitas, is the portrait of a maturing artist hitting his stride.  Sharrock was 51 and riding a creative wave — one foot in the free jazz he brought his guitar to in the 1960s, one in the “collision music” envisioned by musical partner and producer Bill Laswell — when he made this record with a sympathetic band of jazz leaders:  drummer Elvin Jones, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, and bassist Charnett Moffett.  A pleasurably melodic challenge, Sharrock’s last record before his passing in 1994 manages to be both a ripping rock guitar album and an American jazz classic, steeped in themes of race, religion, and identity.

The participation of Jones and Sanders is key to creating this mood, their link to John Coltrane making for that ghost’s heavy presence, but Sharrock’s post-Hendrix tone and attack works a territory not dissimilar to Pete Cosey’s and Reggie Lucas’s contributions to Miles Davis’s live records in the 1970s, or Eddie Hazel’s Funkadelicisms.  There is a lot of satisfying growl here.

The penultimate tune in the set, “Many Mansions” takes John 14:2 across a droning chord sequence, a woozy blues backgrounding Sanders’ shrieking solos and Sharrock’s responses.  The deft touch of Jones and Moffett keeps us wading in the water, moving towards an undertow of deep meditation.  Original album version here as well as an incendiary performance from Frankfurt in 1992.

Powerful, spirited, spiritual.

Note: the image of Pharoah Sanders and Sonny Sharrock is in all likelihood from a Sanders-led tour in the late 1960s, when the two initially collaborated.  It’s just too good an image not to use in description of the music.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

soundstreamsunday #107: “Dada Was Here” by the Soft Machine

softmachine1Given his breadth of tastes, it’s reasonable to think that Jimi Hendrix‘s invitation to the Soft Machine to support him on his tour of the States in 1968 was a calculated act of subversion, upending the guitar god cult and the power trio temple he’d built along with Cream.  The group was an underground darling, the French loved them, and although a rock trio — guitarist Daevid Allen’s departure in 1967 didn’t seem to faze them — they operated on a different kind of wattage, preferring the lower registers of distorto bass (Kevin Ayers, then Hugh Hopper) and organ (Mike Ratledge), beasts that closed in around Robert Wyatt’s peerless drumming.  What lyrics they used tended towards the surreal, either in delivery or meaning, as opposed to the era’s psychedelicisms, and along with their monster chops betrayed the members’ schooling.  They would come to be regarded as the core of the Canterbury Scene, even as they rejected the notion of any such thing, and while key to the development of progressive rock in Britain, their first records, with Wyatt, are diverse affairs defying categorization (hence, doubtless, their influence).  As the band drifted away from jazz experimentation in a rock setting and increasingly towards a watered jazz fusion — its more powerful form they certainly helped to invent — their power diminished.

But for a while, dada was there, and “Dada Was Here,” from 1969’s Volume 2, is an exact explanation of prime Soft Machine, working freely and with a wry, concealed grin.  Sung in Spanish, it is a series of queries with the inevitable answer of i-don’t-know, backed with a breezy post-bop (fuzz) bass, piano, and typical outta-this-world drumming.  There’s a hint of autumn to it, of turning leaves and melting clocks, and in that parallel world where things are as they could be and we appreciate grasp equaling reach, it’s a hit record.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.