Saturday, August 30, 2014

Diary of Musical Thoughts Podcast Episode 20

"Some of them in the name of national self determination founded their own mixes", 75 min

I've been sitting on this mix for about four months, and at the time I wasn't completely sure what I wanted out of it, besides something new to listen to on an upcoming plane ride.  I was aiming for something mellow, but not particularly spacey and chilled to minus-40 like the last podcast (Episode 19).  The Lustmord, Jacaszek, Ishay Adar, and John Massoni/Sonic Boom discs were new purchases, and new discs provide my typical excuse for making mixes.  The entire tracklist was pretty much improvised.

Somehow, out of this vagueness of purpose, came a nearly perfect mix.  Whatever it is, I don't think I could have done it any better, if that makes any sense.

What I remember most about making the mix was my stunned reaction to Talk Talk's "I Believe In You" and how the mix nearly fell apart completely after that because I had no clue how to follow it up.  That might be the last time I look to "Spirit of Eden" during an improvised mix.  If you're thinking that the John Massoni/Sonic Boom track sounds like a chance to catch one's breath before the mix shifts gears into something with a more aggressive pulse, you're right.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

Woob, "Lost 1194"

Bob Dylan's "Bootleg Series" albums have been huge hits with fans because they allow them to take a peek behind the curtain, offering insight into creative process of an artist who has always been somewhat shadowy about what he does and how he manages to do it.  We can hear how tracks developed through demos and live versions.  We've heard acoustic tracks go electric, electric tracks take on new life during live revues, and the unearthing of songs from his ignored or underappreciated periods.  The series is still going strong after twenty years.

If only we could open the recording vaults for electronic musicians too (no, the "bootleg series" equivalents for them are not remixes).  I'm not comparing Woob's catelog to Dylan's much more extensive one, but for  whatever reason, he seems to be at the forefront of prominent 90's electronic artists revisiting/reworking their material ten or twenty years after the originals.

Much like "Repurpose",  his earlier trip into the vaults, "Lost 1194" does pack many surprises or relevations.  Overall it's a bit heavier on beats and percussion -- the long intros to "On Earth" are scaled back and the dubbier portions extended on "Lost On Earth", and the final portion of "Lost Odonna" adds a drum part that was missing in the original.  Many of the samples are different, which doesn't affect the final product much, with the exception of the bone chilling screams that shifted "Strange Air" into a nerve-wracking deep freeze that are missing in "Lost Strange Air".  Only "Lost Emperor" serves up a different mood than its corresponding original.  Rather than the swampy hell of the bass heavy original, "Lost Emperor" seems tranquil, taking its cues from Eno's early ambient work rather than dub.

The key thing I've learned, having now heard both "Repurpose" and "Lost 1194",  is that "Woob 1194" may be the biggest fluke in electronic music history.  The alternate takes and everything Frankland has done since then (e..g as Journeyman) can't come close to what he captured live, with no editing, when he recorded "Woob 1194".  It gives me a greater appreciation of how difficult it is to come up with quality live improvisations and mixes night in and night out, and how important it is to know your music inside and out, let your instincts guide what you're doing, and record almost everything you do.  The stuff that spills out of you, seemingly without trying, may be impossible to duplicate no matter how hard you try.  

Monday, August 04, 2014

It’s Time to Revisit All 38 Soundtracks to Hit No. 1 Since "Purple Rain"

The title is rather self-descriptive, and call me crazy, but this is my favourite bit of music criticism of the year thus far.  Kudos to Dave Holmes.  It's not too often that the most insightful lines in a music article are consistently the funniest as well.

Breaking down the list further, we can see that the distribution of these 38 albums has been highly irregular:

1985-1989 (six albums, 44 weeks at #1)

Each of these albums was a cultural phenomenon and their core songs remain staples of "do you remember the 80's?" compilations up to the present day.  Multiple songs from each of these soundtracks dominated pop radio at the time and each was responsible for making at least one or two careers.  In the case of "Dirty Dancing", nearly everyone who appeared on it had a first or second career that they owe almost entirely to the soundtrack.  There was even a "Dirty Dancing" tour, featuring the performers and music from the soundtrack, and an accompanying live album from the tour.  And you thought this kind of brand-name cash-in started with the "American Idol" and "Glee" summer tours?
1990-1991 (zero albums)

Just like that, the soundtrack album gravy train dried up.  It's not clear why -- were Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer really so invincible?  The "Pretty Woman" movie and soundtrack were huge hits in 1990, and Roxette's "It Must Have Been Love" hit #1 on the pop charts, so maybe the lack of #1 soundtracks in these years is just a fluke, rather than a shifting of the guard, especially since ...

1992-1998 (sixteen albums, 72 weeks at #1)

Yep, soundtracks were back.  There's no bunching happening here either, these albums are uniformly distributed over these six years.  This works out to an average of four weeks at #1 per album, but that's misleading because six of them were in the top spot for just a single week, and four others were #1 for exactly two weeks.  Most of the rest were mega-gigantic blockbuster hits with radio exposure to match, especially "Titanic" and "The Bodyguard".  This is just further proof that although some people remember the 90's as a time when alt-rock and nu-metal were dominant, the truth is that sappy soundtrack ballads in the vein of Berlin's "Take My Breath Away" never went away, and were in fact bigger than ever.

1999-2001 (zero)

I'm not sure what happened here, but I took a closer look at 1999, and it was a weird year for music.  Teen pop, country, nu-metal, and hip-hop swapped in and out of the #1 album spot without any rhyme or reason.  As for soundtracks, there was almost nothing of note.  I suppose the most significant was the "Austin Powers II" soundtrack and it's radio hit, Madonna's "Beautiful Stranger" (Lenny Kravitz's "American Woman" also performed well).

2002-2003 (three, 10 weeks)

"8 Mile" was a phenomenon because Enimen was an unstoppable commercial force, and "O Brother Where Art Thou?" may have been the most unlikely Album of the Year Grammy winner ever, but otherwise you can't really say that soundtracks made any kind of comeback in these years.  

2004-2005 (zero)

Again, I can't find any notable soundtracks in these years.  There were a lot of #1 albums in 2005 -- a majority of them spent only a single week at #1, so you know that soundtracks were ice cold if not a single one could ride a big opening weekend into a first week sales boost and a short stay at #1.  The most notable soundtrack in these years would appear to be "Hustle and Flow" and its Oscar-winning track "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp".  Yeah, yeah, here's the link.  Enjoy.

2006-2013 (twelve,17 weeks)

Soundtracks came back over night, thanks to Disney successfully targeting the tween demographic and young adult fiction making a jump to the big screen ("Hunger Games", "Twilight" saga).  There were plenty of dead spots for soundtracks during these eight years, and most of these albums only spent one week at number one.  Soundtracks were bankable but forgettable.  None of these albums had a huge, breakthrough single.

2014 (one, 14 weeks)

"Frozen" gets its own category because no soundtrack has dominated the album charts like this "Titanic" in 1998.  Every generation has its own Disney soundtrack to call its own I see.