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Archive for the ‘Frankie Sparo’ Category

landSOUNDTRACK: SONG OF THE SILENT LAND [CST2 COMP] (2004).

silentlandThis is a great compilation of Constellation artists from 2004 and earlier.  What makes it so good is that 13 of the 14 songs are released here for the first time.  So it works not only as a sampler of the labels artists, it also works as a great rarities collection.

ELIZABETH ANKA VAJAGIC-“The Sky Lay Still” [stripped down version of album song].  This song starts with slow echoing guitars and Elizabeth’s voice which sounds a bit like Carla Bozulich (but cleaner).  Two minutes in, it shifts tones to an awesomely catchy section with great vocals.

DO MAKE SAY THINK-“Winter Hymn Winter Hymn Winter Hymn”   This is the entire Winter Hymn … album remixed into a 5 minute track.  I’ve often complained that I dislike remixes but this one is great.  It includes some big guitar chords, some quiet drums, some notes and maybe gives you a feel of the album, but maybe not.  The end of the track plays some very fast heavy chords and then gets sped up out of existence.

EXHAUST-“Wool Fever Dub” [from their self-released cassette]  This song has a big thumping beat and some cool echoed harmonics on the guitar. This basic song structure runs through a 3 minute instrumental with a different “chorus” and some intense drumming at the end.

HANGEDUP-“(Re)View From The Ground (remix)”  This is a very catchy, fun remix.  Noisy clattering drums and all kinds of feedback squalls keep this propulsive track moving—this is my kind of dance remix.

BLACK OX ORKESTAR-“Toyte Goyes In Shineln”  This track comes from their album Ver Tanzt? And is one of my favorite of their songs from this disc.  An Acoustic guitar and bass play a simple melody over what I assume is quiet Hebrew singing.

SACKVILLE-“This Machine”  This is an unreleased track from the band.  It is a simple downbeat folk song with a really catchy chorus.  I like Sackville a lot but haven’t mentioned their full length yet–coming soon.

SILVER MT. ZION-“Iron Bridge To Thunder Bay” This is an unreleased track from the Rusted Satellites session, it begins with squealing feedback that slowly changes pitch until the thudding drums and bass come in.  They play a rumbling rhythm underneath the otherwise noisy sounds.  After 6 minutes, the song ends in squalls of feedback until the last minute just echoes until the end.

SOFA-“String Of Lights” [from the self released cassette].  I really like Sofa and wish they’d released more music.  This song actually sounds a bit like the Black Ox Orkestar song above-a- slow broody acoustic piece, but I love the way the chorus brightens the song.

POLMO POLPO-“Dreaming (…Again)”  This track is described as “constructed of materials from the Like Hearts Swelling sessions”  It’s a pretty, upbeat song with some slide guitars and a groovy rhythm.

RE: “Slippage” [unreleased track from the Mnant sessions]  This song has clanging percussion and oscillating keyboards which make this soundscape interesting and compelling.

FLY PAN AM-“Tres Tres ‘Avant'” is an improvisation with Tim Hecker and Christof Migone.  There’s a funky bass and drums with some groovy keyboards.

1-SPEED BIKE-“Fair Warning” [ remix of “New Blue Monday” from their album].  The track starts with a person saying “Okay we’ll call this one Fair Warning.”  You can hear the music (primarily the guitar echoed) and the riff from New Order’s “Blue Monday” and then he starts reciting passages in a great Canadian accent: “heroin crop in Afghanistan is 3 times higher this year than last year because the Taliban got taken out and replaced with the Americans.”  “We don’t want funerals because people like to party too much, Capice?”  The second half of the song is a lot of swirling statics and noise with repeated notes.

FRANKIE SPARO-“See My Film” [working mix of an unreleased song].  This song has a sprinkling of guitar notes and Sparo’s mellow but rough voice singing a cool melody.  The addition of a violin melody really elevates the song.  The end is even better as he adds another vocal line and some da das making it even catchier.

GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR-“Outro” This is a live performance of a concert finale recorded in France on 14 May 2003.  This slow song opens with glockenspiel and strings–a slow, pretty melody that evolves over 7 minutes to add a bigger string section.  The last 2 minutes include a very nice violin solo that plays over the top of the rest of the band.  GYBE has never officially released a live album, so this is a good opportunity to hear what they can do live.

[READ: August 20, 2016] Land

This is a book about Anthony Gormley’s five statues on Landmark Trust Property.

The five statues in this book are life-sized cast iron sculptures installed in five Landmark Trust sites across the British Isles from May 2015 to May 2016.  Saddell Bay, Mull of Kintyre; South West Point, Lundy; Clavell Tower, Kimmeridge Bay; Martello Tower, Aldeburgh, and Lengthsman’s Cottage, Lowsonford.

The sculptures are by Antony Gormley, the photos of the sculptures are by Clare Richardson and the text is by Jeanette Winterson.  Winterson is the only person I’d heard of in this book but as soon as I flipped through the pages, I was instantly struck by the sculptures.

Gormley works with the human form in very heavy sculptural designs.  There’s another book about his work called Human that shows even more of his sculptures. (more…)

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dec20133SOUNDTRACK: FRANKIE SPARO-Welcome Crummy Mystics [CST023] (2003).

sparo3It’s a shame that Welcome Crummy Mystics proved to be Sparo’s last album, because it is by far his best.

This album has more sounds, sounds that accentuate the simplicity that Sparo has constructed.  So there are all kinds of unexpected instruments on th opener “Hospitalville” including horns and bass, And the whole thing has a noir feel that pervades much of the disc.  It was was completely absent on the debut (intentionally obviously).  There are harmony vocals on “Sleds to Moderne” and “Akzidenz Grotesk” has electric guitar and Sparo’s voice mixed a bit louder.  There’s more rocking out on “Back on Speed.”

But it’s not all uptempo.  “Bright Angel Park” is a pretty  instrumental with lots of piano while “My Sistr” is a menacing slow piece that begins with just bass and voice.  Although as more instruments are added the menace is replaced by a kind of jazz feel.

“Camera” is sung in French and has interesting electronics throughout and “City as it Might Have Been” has beautiful strings layered on top of each other as it builds to an epic conclusion.  “This Lie” ends the disc with piano and organ an excellent accompaniment to his lyrics.  And on this album you can really hear what a great lyricist he is.

It’s amazing what a change this is from the debut and that he packs all of this great music in to a mere 37 minutes.

[READ: April 15, 2014] “Loving Las Vegas

I felt like I had read something else from Whitehead about gambling and it turns out he wrote an article for Grantland about the World Series of Poker in Atlantic City.  This essay is an excerpt from the upcoming book that he is writing about said World Series.

This is a story about Whitehead’s appreciation for Vegas from when he was young and dumb (well, not so dumb, really).  His friend Darren got a job writing for Let’s Go, the funky travel guide.  And the assignment was Vegas.  In 1991.  They were Gen X and they were going on a great road trip.  So naturally, the first thing to do was get new speakers for the crappy car.  [I have often felt a strong connection to Whitehead, feeling that we could have been soul mates if I were a little more daring and had lived in NY instead of NJ].

They go on a great road trip (Colson hadn’t gotten a license yet so he was a navigator).  They went to Chicago and saw the Sears Tower, they went to New Orleans to visit an old friend whose frat buddies wanted to know why he was “bringing niggers and Jews” into their chill-space (yikes).  Then they got out of there and went to the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead (which they wrote about).   And then it was on to Vegas. (more…)

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dec20133SOUNDTRACK: FRANKIE SPARO-Arena Hostile (VPRO Radio Recordings) [CST017] (2001).

sparo2I didn’t love Sparo’s debut album, but a year later while on tour with A Silver Mt. Zion (whom I do love) he went into a studio in Amsterdam to re-record some of those songs.  I’ll let the Constellation site tell you what this EP is and why I like it so very very much,

In January 2001, Frankie Sparo toured Europe with a Silver Mt Zion. Musicians from the latter group worked on new arrangements of songs from Sparo’s debut record My Red Scare, adding strings, organ and electronics to Frankie’s guitar and beatbox compositions. Some of the results were captured in a live studio performance recorded live to 2-track at VPRO radio in Amsterdam, where a feverish flu found Sparo in a ravaged, hallucinatory state – which only added to the dark magic of these recordings. The four songs on this EP are all first takes, beautifully recorded by the good people at VPRO. Along with 3 songs reworked from the debut album, the EP also includes a heartbreaking cover of the Rolling Stones’ “I Am Waiting”, which Sparo performed solo a number of times in concert.

“Diminish Me NYC” is great in this version with an off-kilter electronic arrangement and strings. “The Night That We Stayed In” which I singled out on the debut album has two violins, turning the song into an even cooler number (although the “throw your hands in the air” line seems moderately less comical now).  “Here Comes The Future” has an almost dance beat—a slow dance mind you, but still, a good one and ends with some organ waves.  And the cover of “I am Waiting” must be the slowest cover of a Stones song ever.  I don’t know the original, but I bet it sounds nothing like this.

I really like this EP a lot and it makes me want to like the debut album even more–if I had more patience with it.

[READ: April 15, 2014] 3 book reviews

noveltyThis month Bissell reviewed non-fiction three books.

The first is Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North.  In this book North argues that newness, that novelty, has always been a problem: “one of the very first ideas to trouble the consciousness of humankind.”  This dates all the way back to Aristotle who argued that nothing came from nothing; that everything came from something else.  Even the Renaissance, that period of great exploration and creativity was really just mimicking classics (hence the word renaissance).  The new tends to be looked at askance, so we get terms like “novelty act.”

North says that one thing which is genuinely new is our proclivity to turn everything into information as gigabits or as abstract knowledge.

I’m intrigued by the premise of this book but not enough to want to read it and frankly, Bissell doesn’t make it sound that compelling.

Bissell connects this attitude about newness and novelty to the rock world (and rightly so).  Where we (well, some people) value novelty and criticize anything that is derivative.  Which leads to the second book (another one I don’t want to read but for different reasons).  Beatles vs. Stones by John McMillian.  The Beatles were arguably the most original band ever since no one did what they did before them.  And then, bvssarguably, the Rolling Stones came along and did just what the Beatles did a little bit afterwards.

Some easy examples:

  • The cover of the Rollings Stones’ first album is compositionally similar to the cover of The Beatles’ second album.
  • A few months after the Beatles released their ballad “Yesterday,” the Stones released their ballad “As Tears Go By.”  (The song was recorded earlier but was initially dismissed as not Stones enough).
  • After the Beatles used a sitar in “Norwegian Wood,” the Stones used one (in a different way) in “Paint It Black.”
  • And quotemaster himself, John Lennon, once said, “Everything we do, the Stones do four months later.”  [The Stones did still released some great music after The Beatles broke up, of course, even if now they play nothing they wrote after 1981 on tour anymore].

And this Lennon quote is typical of this book which is a gossipy casual look at the differences between the Beatles and Stones [Beatles when you’re writing, Stones when you’re jogging; Beatles when you’re alone, Stones when you’re with people).  But in addition to comparisons, he includes scenes like when the Beatles attended a Stones show and when Jagger and Richards were at Shea Stadium for The Beatles’ arrival.

There are many similarities between the bands, although the biggest different seems to be that the Stones never really became friends, while The Beatles were friends till the end.

Of course, the Stones has always been cooler than the Beatles, which is a nice segue into Bissell’s third book: The Cool School: Writing from America’s Hip Underground by Glenn O’Brien.

coolschoolO’Brien’s thesis is the seemingly obvious one that “cool” is not a new thing–that early tribes doing war dances had cool people playing syncopated drums in the corner.  But he is not arguing about coolness, he is collecting “a louche amuse bouche [that must have been fun to write]…a primer and inspiration for future thought crime.”  The book includes works by the likes of Henry Miller, Delmore Schwartz, LeRoi Jones and Eric Bogosian.  I like some of these guys, but as soon as I see them assembled together, I know I’m not going to be going anywhere near this book.

Bissell says that there is some cool stuff here: Miles Davis writing about Charlie Parker for example, but most of the cool seems to be trying too hard.  Like the “charmlessly dated” Norman Mailer piece, “The White Negro.”

I appreciate the way Bissell sums up what comes through from the book: “to be cool…is to make the conscious choice, every step of the way through life, to care about the wrong damn thing.”

It is comforting to come away from one of these book reviews without wanting to read anything.

 

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harpoctSOUNDTRACK: FRANKIE SPARO-My Red Scare [CST013] (2000).

sparo1Speaking of early Constellation Records releases, Frankie Sparo was everywhere in the early stages of the label.  And then he just disappeared.  That proves to be quite literal as he was the pseudonym of Chad Jones (who i don’t know from anywhere else).  Frankie released two albums and an EP and then Chad retired him.

This debut is perhaps the most deconstructed and un-musical album of songs that I can think of.  It’s as if Sparo wrote songs and then decided to take four of every five notes out of the song.  And then he sings in a style that accompanies that spareness.  It’s actually too much of such littleness.  If Sparo’s voice filled the song the minimal accompaniment would be interesting.  If there was more music, his slow singing wouldn’t sound quite so… flat?  There’s talk of his lyrics being good, but I honestly find his singing to be so slow that I can’t really follows any of the songs.

And it’s a shame because his voice is plaintive and longing and the construction is very interesting, it just doesn’t really pan out for me.

The final two songs start to add more to them and I like them better.  I especially like the final tack “The Night That We Stayed In” which has without a doubt the slowest rendition of the oft cited phrase “throw your hands up in the air and wave them like you just don’t care” (imagine falling asleep while saying that).  But the music is fuller, bringing in a new and interesting style to the end of the album .

I suppose that in the right frame of mind this would be exquisite, I just hope I’m never in that frame of mind.

[READ: April 18, 2014] “Near-Death in the Afternoon”

I’m not  huge fan of Ernest Hemingway–I just don’t like his macho schtick.  But this piece–which is a comic story (I don’t know who the person he’s talking about is) is not only quite funny, it seems to be turning his macho image on its head.  Although perhaps I am oversimplifying Hemingway.

Anyhow, this comes from a collection of his letters, although it is considered a story and what submitted to (and rejected by) Vanity Fair in 1924.  The full title is “My Life in the Bull Ring with Donald Ogden Stewart” which implies to me that it is a longer piece, although it feels full to me.

It begins with Hemingway saying that he often encounters Donald Stewart in the bull ring (which make me laugh).  But he’d often ignored him.  Yet on this occasion the crowd is going crazy for him: “Don Stewart!” they chant.  Ernest wants to get into the ring but the crowd is insistent and, indeed, someone even throws a tomato at him (and hits him right in the face). (more…)

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