roundup on cheap-ass vinyl from music millennium, 3158 east burnside
Bartók, Mikrokosmos (excerpts), Contrasts For Violin, Clarinet and Piano. What? Bartók hung out with Benny Goodman? Apparently; there's a photo of them together on the cover, Benny politely crossing his legs clad in some amazing plaid pants, while Béla looks on from the piano in his professorial European vest. I want to learn to play some of the Mikrokosmos pieces, but I fear the Hungarian dance rhythms are beyond my current flailing piano technique.
Love and Rockets, self-titled. Shout out to Uncle Z here. This one will be for my nude California parties. If you would like to attend, the password is "Fidelio" followed by two hours of undramatic meandering.
Louis Armstrong at Carnegie Hall (1947). This should have been greatit has "Black and Blue," which Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man has forever invested with significance for me, but whoever recorded it apparently didn't know how to mike Carnegie Hall. Wouldn't they teach you how to do that at some point, if you're a recording engineer? I guess not. It sounds like you're sitting in Carnegie Hall's bathroom with a serious intestinal problem, listening to the distant concert through the door and cursing your fallible bowels for denying you the experience.
Fats Waller, The Real Fats Waller and African Ripples. My first real exposure to Fats was when Frank Conroy, under the nom de guerre of Dr. Jazz, would DJ while intoxicated on Iowa City public radio and liked a Waller song so much that he played it twice in a row. And he was entirely justified in doing so. Listening to Fats makes you feel like you're in the city's best speakeasy, about to do something you'll regret the next morning, but you're young and the century is young and the sidemen on horns are happy to blast away any remaining qualms. Dig it.
Debussy, La Mer and some other stuff. I think I wrote Debussy off too early. In high school I decided for no apparent reason that I didn't like him, kind of like how I decided I didn't like Haydn and only now as a grownup have discovered that he kicks ass and I was missing all this lovely music during my tender formative years. I don't know if Debussy's that good, but La Mer is more exciting than I remembered it. It would be good bathtub music.
Bruckner, Symphonies Nos. 1, 4, and 7. I couldn't stop grabbing them. They were so cheap! Like sweet candy! It seems like these days everyone's first exposure to Bruckner is through people making fun of him or pointing out that Hitler played him on the radio or whatever, but we must learn to separate late German Romanticism from the poisonous history it engendered, because it's such wonderful melodramatic overbearing stuff. Every time Bruckner picked up his pen to start another symphony you know he was telling himself, "All right, it's time to shake the towers of heaven. Again. How you like that, motherfuckers?" For this alone he deserves recognition.
Calexico, Hot Rail. I'm told this is not Calexico's best. And our mutual hometown of Tucson isn't half as romantic as the spacey mariachi instrumentals imply; all the same, I'm happy to subscribe to the illusion. It certainly beats living in Tucson. The songs are slight, but the point of this record is the atmosphere, which is high in methane. Like Titan's atmosphere. A heady brew.
Palace Brothers, There Is No One What Will Take Care Of You. Is this the record that showed up anonymously at the Drag City office and "took the indie world by storm"? It was around that time. It really does sound like someone just dropped a microphone in the corner of the room during a drunken revival meeting with a couple of beat-to-shit guitars, but I find it lovable just so. Someone described these guys as having an "inauthentic Appalachian vibe," which I like. Authenticity is so cultural-studies.
Bonnie "Prince" Billy, I See A Darkness. Famous of course for Johnny Cash covering the title track on American III. The whole thing is really strong, though, much better recorded than the Palace stuff and with Will Oldham finally getting some kind of rein on his voice. Every song is soft and brooding and about mortality. Fun for the kids!
Schubert, Quartets Nos. 13, 14, 15. Performed by the Budapest String Quartet and recorded by the Library of Congress in cozy warm mono in 1953, which my sources say is like three years before the USSR really cracked down on the Magyars, so I guess it's not that surprising to find them performing in D.C. They are so good. They sound like a single sixteen-stringed instrument. I am learning to appreciate these things much more as I continue my fumbling adventures with the cello.
Charles Ives, the four symphonies. There's a great progression here, from "subtly weird" to "utter madness!" The American Symphony Orchestra under Stokowski (with two assistant conductors) does the Fourth, and as far as I can tell they flog the score as it was meant to be flogged. Good thing the apartment next door is vacant.
Elvis Presley, worldwide gold singles, Vols. 1 & 2. I hadn't listened to any of these in a while, and I'd forgotten how raw they were. Elvis's voice is cloaked in reverb and smooth when he wants it to be, but half the time he just howls. The backing band is recorded with some major crunch and compression too; the guitar solos will break your face if you look at them cross-eyed. I limited myself to the first two volumes because I didn't really want to deal with "In the Ghetto," but America needed this.