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by Dylan Nelson

10 Sep 2010


Heart of the Congos is widely considered a landmark of the roots era. It has had a loyal following of aficionados and fans since its limited Jamaican release in 1977, but that same year, when Lee Perry sent the master tapes to Island, the label decided not to issue the album. What ensues is a long and somewhat hazy history of reissues and interpersonal intrigues driven by the mounting frustration of artists and audiences alike that the recording was so hard to find. Not least among them is the story recounted by Lloyd Bradley in his book, This Is Reggae Music, that Perry, frustrated by the album’s neglect, broke into an office somewhere and actually stole back the original tapes. Some claim that the LP was just one among many victims of a conspiracy to promote Bob Marley at the expense of lesser-known artists, and David Katz has speculated that the dreadful state of the masters (which included the remnants of another previously recorded song on two channels) contributed to Island’s regrettable decision. One thing is certain: Blood and Fire’s loving 1997 reissue came as a relief and a blessing to a generation of reggae lovers who had spent years searching for rare copies or had endured the low-quality versions that came before.

I’d like to imagine, though, that the obscurity and the impurity of the recording as it existed for so long was an almost serendipitous fate for Heart of the Congos. There’s something akin to the sonic compulsion of noise rock’s senseless crescendos or ambient electronica’s diminutive abstractions in the way that Perry clutters these tracks with interference, like the lowing cow that punctuates “Ark of the Covenant” and “Children Crying” or the explosions of tape hiss which are used as a rhythmic device on “Can’t Come In” and “Sodom and Gomorrow”. The album can be off-putting at first because the simple, repetitive songs are veiled by the sheer amount of noise in the mix. So the thought that Cedric Myton, Roy Johnson, and Watty Burnett had to somehow make themselves heard through shoddy remasters, scratched vinyls, or the fog of scarcity on hi-fis around the world is fitting, because belting it out on Heart of the Congos they were already competing with Perry’s manic orchestrations.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

9 Sep 2010


The Canon. The Greatest Albums of All Time. For decades, they’ve been analyzed, ranked, charted and graphed—so much so that a Swedish statistician has developed a mathematical formula to enumerate them for posterity at Acclaimedmusic.net. But after so many years and so many lists and so many spirited arguments in pubs and record shops around the world, one question remains: do these critics’ darlings really hold up, or are they just hyped up?

Enter Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger. For years, Mendelsohn and Klinger toiled through a tag-team article called Counterbalance, hashing out the relative merits of new releases for their local Chicken Dinner Newspaper. But that was a long time ago—before the economy crashed, sending their frivolous Arts & Entertainment section down in flames.

After wandering in the wilderness, lost and directionless, Mendelsohn and Klinger have returned to take on their most challenging assignment: the Greatest Albums of All Time. They begin with the Granddaddy of Them All—the Beach Boys’ 1966 opus Pet Sounds. Hang on to your ego!

by Sean Murphy

8 Sep 2010


The year 1959 was a watershed for jazz music (arguably the greatest single year for jazz in all history—which is saying a lot). Here’s a taste: Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, and Charles Mingus’ Ah Um. That is like the holy trinity of jazz music, all from the same year. But in the not-so-silent shadows a young, relatively unknown alto saxophonist was poised to cause a stir that still reverberates today: Ornette Coleman, who created the provocatively titled The Shape of Jazz to Come.

Kind of Blue is correctly celebrated for establishing modal music and as a genuine evolution from bop and post-bop; Giant Steps is the apotheosis of the “sheets of sound” that John Coltrane had been practicing and perfecting for a decade; Ah Um is an encyclopedic history of jazz music, covering everyone and everything from Jelly Roll Morton to Duke Ellington. Each of those albums were immediately embraced, and remain recognized as genuine milestones today. But The Shape of Jazz to Come was incendiary and complicated; it inspired as much resistance as it did inspiration. Some folks (Mingus included) bristled that it was all so much sound and fury, signifying…little. But what Coleman (along with trumpet player Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins—representing as solid a quartet as any that have made music, ever) achieved was, arguably, the most significant advancement since Charlie Parker hit the scene.

by Evan Sawdey

7 Sep 2010


Photo: Junko Otsubo

Adam Pierce is one cat that’s tough to peg.

First off, the Mice Parade mastermind has had an extensive recording history, starting his Mice Parade project (who put out their first album back in 1998) while still finding time to perform with artists like the Swirlies, HiM, and múm. Pierce has also set up Bubble Core Records, which has had a hand in virtually every Mice Parade album since the group’s inception, along with having put out albums by the Notwist, Philip Jeck, and more. 

Yet Mice Parade remains Pierce’s baby, and what makes the band so good is its lack of adherence to typical indie norms.  Mixing a post-rock aesthetic with modern folk guitars and a distinctive worldbeat influence, Mice Parade is extremely hard to pigeonhole, and its latest album—What It Means to Be Left-Handed—only adds to the groups fantastic allure, mixing out-and-out guitar rock numbers with electronic experiments and exotic acoustic guitar flourishes, sounding defiantly sprawling and thematically unified at the exact same time.  It’s a thrilling listen wherein no two songs sound even remotely the same.

by Jason Cook

7 Sep 2010


It’s difficult to mention anything musically related to The Exorcist series without first recalling prog-meister Mike Oldfield and what his theme from “Tubular Bells” did for the series’ antecedent entry. Oldfield’s excerpt did something honest for the horror genre; it delivered a clear mood, one clear of the tense strings that mired many soundtracks then to-date. Ennio Morricone, prolific trafficker in beautifully sleazy lounge and synth-funky giallo soundtracks in the 1970s, did something different for the Exorcist series’ second entry: he brought us clever smatterings of Les Baxter; he brought us surf-jazz funk, he brought us atonal clusters. The man brought everything he could bring.

Morricone’s name is not quite a household one, but his music, through its influence, reuse, or appearance in Grammy-winning soundtracks, is instantly recallable and nearly a filmic entity unto itself. Recently, Morricone’s music was sourced for use in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and other films. And just over ten years after Morricone’s landmark work on The Good, the Bad & the Ugly and the rest of the Dollars trilogy, he wrote music for John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), featuring a vinyl-only release often shadowed by Morricone’s thin margin of spaghetti western work.

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