The words "NPR commentator" fill some people with dread and loathing, and the reaction is not entirely undeserved. Andrei Codrescu is not among those who deserves such a brush-off, though — he comes equipped with the kind of grim, cutting wit that only seems possible for a direct-line descendant of H.L. Mencken — or, in his case, a Romanian emigre who's disgusted enough for any three lifetimes but somehow retains enough wonder for a dozen of them. No Tacos For Saddam compiles a number of monologues and essays from his NPR days, many of which were featured in print in his book Zombification, and the best praise I have for it is that while it inspired a lot of laughter, it was all with him and not at him, and some of it was more that I might not cry.Read more
I once read an interview with experimental percussionist Z'ev about the problem of making music with technology that's critical of the world that produced said technology — "you're like, stuck!" he quipped. The very act of trying to critique what's around you ends up glorifying it, making it seem cool — the same problem François Truffaut had with war films. But every now and then someone cuts through the crap: Oliver Stone made Platoon, and as Roger Ebert pointed out, it did not make war seem like fun. And drummer Keith Leblanc, of the original Sugar Hill Gang and its spinoffs, including the industrial-funk machine Tackhead, made the drum-machine and sampler workout Major Malfunction, and it manages the neat trick of being a product of the very technology it's designed to critique without seeming hypocritical about it.Read more
Tackhead's career has been so diverse and difficult to document properly that I'm not surprised one has to hunt and peck so much. There's the albums, but they're scattered across a number of different labels, sometimes sporting varying credits — "Gary Clail's Tackhead Sound System" or individual members like Keith Leblanc — rather than Tackhead proper. There's the early 12" singles, but they too are scarce, and also sometimes sport an entirely different name ("Fats Comet"). It's like using tweezer to pick sand grains off the ocean floor.
For a good long time, the Power Inc. anthologies came about as close as could be expected to picking up the pieces that mattered. There's still a lot missing from these two collections of tracks from across the best parts of Tackhead's career. But they touch on some of the most crucial moments, and if you combine this with Tackhead Tape Time and Keith Leblanc's Major Malfunction, you can assemble a good composite picture of one of the best bands to come out of the multi-way collision between funk, industrial, dub, and reggae that took place in the late Eighties.Read more
I'm drawn to specific record labels the way some people are drawn to specific cuisines or specific neighborhoods. If you say the words "Stax" or "Motown", you can communicate with those single words a whole flavor of music. Japan's long been a hotbed of indie labels catering to amazingly specific and narrow tastes — e.g., Hideo Ike'ezumi's P.S.F. label, immortal forever for having brought us the likes of Keiji Haino and Fushitsusha.
Now I'm delving — slowly — into the treasure trove that is Edition Omega Point, a label all but unknown in the West but deserving of wider appreciation thanks to its mission: to document the amazing electronic, experimental, and avant-garde music found in Japan's underground and academic circles. Catnip for an ecletic like me; the sheer unheard-ness of this music automatically makes it an object of fascination. Like many tiny labels, EOP presses few copies of each title — often no more than a few hundred — but that still makes those discs easier to track down than the original issues of that music. Assuming there was ever one to begin with, that is.Read more
How ashamed I always feel when I encounter, for the first time, an artist who has been making his mark for decades just out of the reach of my senses. I knew nothing of trumpeter and keyboardist Jon Hassell before hearing about this three-disc, expanded reissue of his widely lauded 1991 album, and now I have an irrepressible curiosity about his work, much as how reading a single Philip K. Dick novel triggered in me a thirst for everything else he'd done.Read more
If there is an award for The Saddest Music In The World, I present it now and forever to William Basinski's Disintegration Loops. This isn't music that makes you weep; this is music-as-weeping, the sound of the lament of the universe itself, sorrow on the order of Miles Davis's "He Loved Him Madly". Some of the impact stems from the concept, both in its scope and execution, but at the end of the day (or the end of days, ha ha), it's the sound itself here that causes the tears to be shed. Anything more lachrymose than this wouldn't leave an audience behind to appreciate it.Read more
Among my favorite records are the happy accidents. Out of some mistake, some fluke in the studio or some miscalculation, emerges an unduplicatable miracle. It happened with William Basinski's The Disintegration Loops (that's worth a discussion all its own), and it happened with Nurse With Wound's Soliloquy for Lilith, an album far, far out of gamut even for those purveyors of the cheekily strange. Steve Stapleton and his revolving crew of merry pranksters had long been making bunny ears and funny faces behind the heads of noise, experimental music and prog-rock. Now they ventured into a dreamtime with no sky above, no floor below, just an abyss unrolling without end in all directions.Read more
There's a curious arc that I take with some records: loathing, indifference, morbid fascination, paravritti, adoration. Paravritti is a Buddhist term for a kind of deep-seated turning-about of the soul, sometimes used as a synonym for enlightenment, the kind of total change of heart you couldn't ever see yourself having because you've transcended yourself in such a fundamental way. When Filth Pig first came out, I don't think I could have ever imagined a state of affairs where I liked the record, let alone loved it. But here we are, twenty years later, and it's my third-favorite thing of theirs behind The Land of Rape and Honey and Twitch.Read more
I will be blunt: The chief reason I ordered this two-disc collection culled from the bowels of the On-U Sound record archives was because of the presence of Tackhead. They were (still are, really) the funk-tronics collective that melded the backing band of the Sugar Hill Gang — as in, the actual members of the band — with an industrial-strength drum machine, the blaring vocal assault of On-U Sound leader Gary Clail, and the grimy studio malfunctions of Adrian Sherwood. Over the years, most of their catalog has been issued digitally, but even many of those discs have fallen out of print or grown hard to find; while their landmark album Gary Clail's Tackhead Tape Time remains available as a digital download — at least, for now — too many other bits and pieces that leaked out as 7" or 12" vinyl are still only found in DJ's milk crates.Read more
If we can credit Miles Davis for the birth of the cool, maybe we can credit Klaus Schulze for the birth of the drone. Strictly speaking, I know others got there first — La Monte Young, for instance, was producing "musical environments" a good decade before Irrlicht was waxed. But Irrlicht serves the dual function of being Schulze's first album proper — the start of one of the longest and most durable careers in electronic music — and one of the first works to point people at when they ask, in all innocence, so what's this "ambient" or "space music" thing all about anyway?Read more