Arthur Russell “Calling Out Of Context”

ArthurRussell

Joshua B.

Arthur Russell is a hidden treasure in the world of music. His music ranges from orchestral, to solo piano, to disco dance beats. The posthumous release of “Calling Out of Context” is rumored to have been created during the steep decline in Russell’s battle with AIDS. I read that this album was ultimately completed by fellow musician Peter Zummo along with the help of others.

Most songs start with cello and vocals then a layered upbeat electronic beat is added. The remaining songs are mostly solo cello and vocals. The songwriting ranges from the abstract shouting of “Calling All Kids” to the refined songwriting of “That’s us, Wild Combination”, and the haunting love song of “You Can Make Me Feel Bad” (the latter titles compete for my favorite on the album).  Although the recording is over 20 years it is as or more compelling than some of the music you hear today. The first time I heard Arthur Russell’s music it was like I found something I did not know I was looking for.

In 2010 Audika reissued “Calling Out Of Context” in a limited run of 1,000 lp’s for Record Store Day. Sometime later I was talking to a fellow music junkie at a local record store. He was wondering which record he should buy that day. I smiled, looked ahead and grabbed him a copy of “Calling Out Of Context.”  I said, “If you buy one record, do yourself a favor and buy this album”. It quickly went out of print again. Luckily on January 5th 2015 Audika is reissuing a re-mastered edition of the album. This is one in a series of reissues Audika is doing of Arthur Russell’s work. I highly advice you, the discernible listener, to give some time to Arthur Russell and his catalog. I don’t want these albums to go out of print leaving you wishing you had heard of them before they were unavailable. If you find yourself wanting more of Arthur Russell “World Of Echo” is a great cello and vocal offering.

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Millie & Andrea ” Drop The Vowels”

millie & andrea

Dave S.

To say that an album like “Drop The Vowels” is a lot to digest is like generalizing the Modern Love record label as mere ‘experimental electronic music’. Following a series of largely limited edition 12” releases, Millie & Andrea, aka Miles Whittaker (of Demdike Stare) and Andy Stott, have joined forces, once more, creating a 45 minute+ magnum opus of cohesive brilliance, sonically high-fiving devotees of both grating, nightmarish noise while patting the backs of low-end-craving drum & bass aficionados.
Searching for the origins and meaning behind a work as dynamic and spontaneous as this, fans are met with more questions than answers, scratching their heads as to how two electronic icons have fused their respective sounds into such a scalding cauldron of murky club concoctions. Reexamining Miles’ past work, crafting disorienting and downright haunting soundscapes as one half of the Demdike Stare duo, sheds light on his predisposition to explore space, texture, and mood, while Andy has maintained a long affinity for rhythm, vocal sample manipulation, and an emphasis on reconfiguring dance music fundamentals. With that, we are invited into the madness, being met with the embrace of a beguiling rhythm and chant, and just as we are swept up in its dizzying stupor, we are halted – awaking from our dream, or, perhaps, being redirected to a strange realm between dream and nightmare. Interplaying sounds of bells, pans, and strings clank, clatter, and strum, as a rewound tape loop begins to whir, and just as we begin to be swept up into this sonic cyclone, … an abrupt reverb snaps us back to reality – melodic hypnosis, in just over five minutes.
As the album progresses, we are taken into tantalizing modern dance territory, simultaneously in past and present, disquiet and ecstasy, horror and delight. It seems to make perfect sense that a record that bites off so much and unabashedly reworks old school sounds in new ways would materialize from a record label that similarly tricks and treats its fans. Similar in essence to work as Millie & Andrea, Miles and Andy’s collaborations have also expanded, incorporating label-mate Gary Howell, as a self-described ‘original junglist hardcore’ trio, known as HATE. Their project is said to have risen from the ashes of a previously unreleased, unidentified collection of early ‘90’s jungle and hardcore, and, in attempting to ascertain clarity and facts on such, many fans have considered such alleged beginnings as nothing more than hilarious (falsified) myth-making. Mirroring “Drop The Vowels’” essence, such a tale only adds to the confusion and wonder of a musical collective hell-bent on destroying definition and rules along its muddied path through dance music history.
As the album comes to a close, we are treated to the trademark enchantment and untraceable fantasy that both artists have honed over years prior. Similar to the introductory track, we first visit the swooning caress of a beautiful melody, before facing a haunting loop that evokes even more uncertainty, poses even more curiosity. As one music forum commenter posts on dubstepforum.com, “They’ve […] the most to gain by building up mystique!”, it is a relief to see that the more dedicated Modern Love followers are as unclear and perplexed as someone newer to their catalogue as I am, but I would have to argue that, perhaps, we, as listeners have even more to gain.

Grouper “Ruins”

Grouper

Eli K

Grouper’s new album, “Ruins,” opens on nothing more than a deep drumbeat, like that of a heart. For the next two minutes you get a simple repetition of this beat and little else to wrap our ears around, only the momentary interruption of a bird call. Only when Liz Harris’ voice and piano finally lead does this turn into a proper song. It feels less like you turn away from the intro’s quietude and more like you’re delving further into it.

Besides the recurring field recordings: frogs, storms, even a microwave beep, the music is remarkably bare; just Harris singing and playing piano. Both of her instruments she plays slowly and simply. Her voice glides gradually over soft piano tones. She is often content to let both fade all the way to silence before taking up the song once more. The songs, as a result, take a while to wash over or pass through you. You could speed them up and sing them a little more forcefully and maybe you’d end up with pop ballads, but Harris is keen to let you (or make you) savor each note individually.

It’s a wonderful vibe to get lost in. It’s hushed, and sublime. I could see myself maybe falling asleep to it, but I mean that in the best way. It’s thought-provoking, emotional, and well-crafted. It’s probably Grouper’s best work. It’s definitely worth listening to.

Arca “Xen”

Arca

Eli K

Venezuelan producer-musician-rapper Arca has already made a name for himself. Besides several excellent EPs, he’s got production credits on both Kanye West’s “Yeezus” and FKA Twigs’ “LP1.” With his debut full-length, though, Arca has literally made another name for himself: “Xen.” The eponymous figure on the album’s front cover is apparently some sort of loopy androgynous alter-ego for the musician.

This is fitting, since Xen’s glistening, oddly-proportioned body is an apt descriptor of the album’s style. Here, squishy synths brush up against distended vocals and phased-out rhythms, all stopping and starting and intersecting at odd angles. Tones seem to spread across audible frequencies like fungus. Huge gaps in sound are balanced by moments of hyperactivity. Even a moment of faux-classical music, complete with violin-like tones, falls prey to the musician’s weird sense of rhythm and tonality.

Arca is the only musician I can think of who could pull off something like this without surrendering to total chaos. Somehow, he manages to impose a kind of order on these tracks, so that each one feels like a separate – equally intriguing – musical idea. In fact, a couple of the songs could even be described as relaxing. “Thievery,” the lead single, definitely grooves for most of its duration. For those looking to subsume themselves in Arca’s unique soundscapes, this is where I’d start.

The Radio Dept. “Pet Grief”

Radio Dept.

Joshua Daniel

Music meant to stare at your shoes to? I would say, “Yes please” to anyone offering me a record from any shoegaze band. And The Radio Dept. is no exception. The Radio Dept. is so much more complicated than a simple label would suggest.
The songs are mostly introspective, focusing on uncomfortable life situations. The lyrics are quirky and extremely witty.
On “Pet Grief” The Radio Dept. weave hazy guitars and synth with an upbeat tone and minimal vocals. The vocals are so faint it seems the singer is whispering. A steady electronic beat heads up the background. Songs fade together and complement each other. Even with the beats reaching to the point of pop music, you still get the shoe staring time with distorted guitars and well-timed melodies.
The Radio Dept. has released three equally good albums. “Pet Grief” is my choice to get you started with this Swedish band’s music.

Tweedy’s “Sukierae”

Tweedy

Joshua Daniel

Tweedy’s, “Sukierae” is the newest project from Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy. Joining him on this endeavor is his son, Spencer Tweedy. Given that Spencer Tweedy is young you might think that this is his debut, but Tweedy’s list of credits include work with White Denim, Mavis Staples and Johnny Irion.
“Sukierae” acts as a sort of songwriting exercise for Jeff Tweedy. Many of the songs on this record are like short sketches, and although brief in length, each song holds a lasting value. The songwriting contained on “Sukierae” is some of the best I have heard out of Jeff Tweedy, even considering the 10+ records Wilco has put out.
Much the album comes off as a folk record. Instrumentation runs bleak. Imagine a minimalist version of Wilco, specifically, the technical guitar & drum playing and noisy discordant notes of “A Ghost Is Born.”
I have been unable to stop playing this album since winning a promo copy from Silver Platters. Pick this record up! Your ears will be graced with an hour and eleven minutes of bliss.

The Vinyl Junky & The Infamous Butcher Cover

Butchercover

The Vinyl Junkie

All true record collectors will want to also view a newly acquired butcher cover at SoDo.

As you know, the Beatles released their seminal Yesterday and Today album with a cover of themselves in a butcher aprons surrounded by raw meat and pieces of baby dolls scattered around them (pictured below). Session photographer, Bob Whitaker hoped to make a conceptual pop art statement about the condition of the world at the time through the cover art. Paul McCartney aggressively pushed for the photo as the cover of the album as “our comment of on Vietnam War.” John Lennon also defended the photo as “relevant as Vietnam.” Capitol Records initially agreed to the cover art and pressed 750,000 copies of it in four major locations – Los Angeles; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Jacksonville, Illinois,; and Winchester, Virginia – for distribution nationally. The label also intended to use the same image for the British sleeve of the single, “Paperback Writer.”

Capitol Records wisely released only a few of these grotesque covers to the general public on its first day of release, June 20, 1966. Today, collectors refer to the untouched versions of this cover as the First State Butcher cover, which sells for a thousand dollars or more. One of the First State butcher covers of then-Capitol President Alan Livingston sold for $39,000 in 2006. After June 20th, the label recalled the record after outcries from fans and retailers.

To save money, the company decided that they would reuse the remaining butcher covers by pasting the more familiar “trunk” cover of the album (the Beatles pictured on an opened steamer trunk) over it, though the Jacksonville plant destroyed most of its First State copies. This pasted-over version of the album became known as the Second State cover. The cover art switch cost Capitol more than $250,000, though the company undoubtedly long-term saved money by the strategy. You can tell that the trunk cover has been pasted over the original butcher cover by looking carefully on the right side and observing the outline of Ringo’s black turtleneck through the new cover.

trunkcover

Because of the difficulty of removing the second cover to reveal the first and original butcher cover, collectors now value the unpeeled Second State version higher than a peeled version of the cover. Collectors call the peeled version of the cover “Third State” butcher covers.

For a mono unpeeled second state version, values have been assessed at $250 to $500. For a stereo version, the prices catapult to $500 to $1,000 because the company released only 10% of the stereo version compared to the monophonic LP.

Many butcher covers have surfaced around Seattle over the past few years, but Silver Platters just bought a stereo version from a Capitol executive that has no observable faults – no seam splits, no soiling, no writing. It looks perfect! They have placed a VERY reasonable price on the record. If you don’t have a butcher cover yet, get this one. I already have two of them, so I’ll let someone else snatch this gem.

As you all know, by the end of July 1966, the Yesterday and Today hit the top of the chart and stayed there for five weeks on the merits of such classics as “Drive My Car,” “We Can Work It Out,” “Nowhere Man,” “Day Tripper” and the title tune. The butcher cover has become one of the holy grails of collecting due to the stature of the band and the quality of the album. Don’t miss out!

More next week . . .

Dr, Dave Szatmary

Author Of

Rockin’ In Time