Over the last six months or so I find the list of records that spend the most time in my music player has evolved yet again. Some of this stuff is material I want to review at length, but a cursory rundown should do:
- Van Morrison, Astral Weeks: I can scarcely believe the man who recorded this music was in his very early twenties when he entered the studio; as Lester Bangs once said in his famous essay about the album, it sounds like there are lifetimes behind it. There are days when I can't bear to put it on because it's so painful, and days when I can't listen to anything else because it stands like a wall between me and whatever pain is in my life. If that's not a sign of artistic greatness, I'm not sure what is.
- Klaus Schulze, Irrlicht: The title means "Will O' The Wisp", and it's a fitting name for a record that seems to conjure up, out of nowhere at all, the most frightening energy and presence of menace I've heard in an album since some of the stuff on Miles Davis's Get Up With It (which is about half dross and half seething horror). Most of the album isn't even electronic, per se; it's regular instruments transmuted through studio technique and made to sound otherworldly, in the sense of what another world might sound like if we landed on it.
- Philip Glass, Symphony #4, "Heroes": The gimmick here is that Glass took David Bowie's album of the same name, or at least major chunks of it, and created a trademark-arpeggiated cover version of it. Well, that's not what he did, and that's the beauty of it: he created a symphony that uses the album as a starting point for his own departures, and didn't simply reiterate what you already heard, but transformed and built on it without ever quite leaving it completely behind.
- Holy Gang, Free Tyson Free!: A thoroughly despicable piece lyrically (go read about Tyson's career in Richard Rhodes's Why They Kill for a fresh perspective on the man's propensity for violence), but the musical combination of Front 242's Richard 23 and fellow Belgian industrialists La Muerte is bracing at best. It's the kind of record I feel distinctly ashamed for enjoying in a totally mindless way (like Prodigy, when they weren't singing about rohybnol or such drivel).
- Bryan Ferry, Bête Noire: What I like most about Ferry (and Roxy Music) to boot is that even when they're "slumming it", emotionally, they're not slumming: there's always something in there that feels halfway authentic, even if it's just in the form of Ferry realizing how in-authentic it must all seem when he puts it into a mere song. (Talk about convoluted.) That and as far as this record goes, there's really only one bad song on it — the rubbery "New Town", and even that one grew on me after a while.
- Otis Rush, Essential Collection: This is what the Groaning the Blues / Cobra sets were repackaged as, and they serve as the best all-in-one introduction to the bluesman who got treated with such utter disdain by the recording industry that it's a miracle he got anything waxed at all. Then you put the needle down on this stuff and wonder how they could not have recorded him. Play this stuff back-to-back with the first couple of Public Image Limited albums for the starkest musical contrasts imaginable in some of the same emotional territory of dread and disgust and disdain. Survive that and you'll live through anything, I think.