Eddy Grant – Electric Avenue

Eddy Grant bnw

I absolutely, unabashedly, and enthusiastically love this song. Electric Avenue is one of those infectious singles that can and will lodge itself in your brain for extended periods. When you come upon another person listening to the song, you instinctively smile and nod. You’re both on that same wavelength and for a moment, everything is as it should be.

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Zach Hill – Astrological Straits

Zach Hill, one of the most prolific and varied modern drummers, has been involved with bands ranging from Hella, Nervous Cop and more,  to collaborations with Rob Crow and even left-field electronic artist Prefuse 73 on their combined Diamond Watch Wrists project.  In 2008 he finally unleashed his own solo debut – and to the surprise of many, it’s much more than the masturbatory percussion fetish expected when drummers go solo.  Instead we’ve got a progressive psychedelic mind-warp of a journey from fractured hard trance grooves to massive Black Sabbath-style epics to splintery noise jams, all wrapped up in a free-jazz melange that keeps shifting underfoot, subverting expectations as the ride moves along.


Starting with what sounds like an air raid siren filtered through a vocoder, Astrological Straits is forthcoming about the pressurized sonic onslaught being unleashed.  Despite avoiding the obvious perceived pitfalls about a percussionist’s album, the skins are beat mercilessly right out of the gate:  pummeling, shredding, and outright assaulting his set is what the man’s become known for, and he doesn’t disappoint.  The surprising element is the very arrangements themselves – sometimes moving in expectedly grandiose directions, sometimes twisting into a weird techno-jazz-crunch where the drums submit to the gathering maelstrom and become one with the mix.

Speaking of that mix:  for this album Hill enlisted the help of Tyler Pope (!!! and LCD Soundsystem), Marnie Stern, No Age, his own Hella bandmates, Les Claypool and many more interesting players.  This may give a hint as to the breadth and scope of the album, but certainly not its direction.  Growing from a jumbled, crushing stop-start tentative seed to Boredoms-inspired tribal hypno-grooves, through noise-pop freak-outs, then straight off the planet into a prog-funk-metal-fusion jam that ends the album over 9 breathless minutes.  It’s this restless enthusiasm for change and the ebb and flow of energy which clearly displays Mr. Hill’s jazz underpinnings.  He may be oft compared with high energy percussionists like Brian Chippendale of Lightning Bolt but his head (and prodigious ability) lies in another realm entirely.  This is so much more than impressive musicianship; it’s a new world being ripped open by an intellectually primal beat explorer.  I’ll leave you with a quote from the man himself:

Q: What’s in the future for you? Where are you headed?

A: I want to change the world of my instrument in a large way.  I want to get to the highest place with my instrument that I can possibly get and change the instrument for the better.  I want to innovate.  That ‘s what I set out to do and that’s what I’m going to do, whether anybody’s paying attention or not.”

Modern Drummer, August 2006

[get your hands on this overlooked gem at boomkat, insound, and of course amazon]

Alice Coltrane – Transcendence

Transcendence is my favorite Alice Coltrane album. In my humble opinion, it’s one of the greatest jazz albums of all time, by anyone. I’ll try to concisely extol the many virtues of this wonderfully titular-promise-fulfilling album.


“Transcendence is the key that unlocks the indelible mystery of Alice Coltrane’s music. It is the unerring creative mission statement, the irresistible driving force that pushes her soul towards your own.

Reaching the listener emotionally, psychologically and spiritually is an essential part of the endeavor but the act of going beyond conventional forms of communication, of acceding to a higher state of consciousness, is the ultimate raison d’être.”

Since the liner notes in my handy CD reissue lay it out so succinctly, I feel the need only to briefly describe the music itself. Divided into two distinct phases, the album starts off with meandering cloud shimmers of Alice’s effortlessly magical harp. At first nearly traditional sounding, emulating the first rumblings of a symphony, the amorphous harp-centric sound winds through the second, more abstract tune, before gathering into a purposeful rhythm by the ending of the third track. The final echoes softly give way to the low end hum of Coltrane’s sublime organ workout, which drives the rest of the album along a hand-clapping gospel singalong evocation of the various names of the gods.

This western gospel/eastern philosophy mashup feels so comfortably entwined that it comes across like the most natural progression of this idea possible. The sharp tonal divide would stand out more if it weren’t the perfect combination of contrast and duration: the buildup feels like meditation, being lost in thought and nothingness, before a moment of clarity snaps the world into focus. The local cohabitants emerge and reach towards the outer edges of the world as the gods’ names are chanted in the communal practice of Sankirtan, Alice’s favorite sacrifice. It’s an elated ride from introspection to vocal providence; such an enjoyable trip that we’re nigh unaware of the spirituality fueling the journey. Turn this on and let it get you high – or get high before turning it on. Transcendence is all that matters.

[purchase this truly essential album via cd universe or amazon]

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

I just had to share this.

For all you fans bemoaning the loss of Arrested Development and thinking nothing will ever replace it:  check this show out.  I won’t say any more because it basically speaks for itself.  One episode is probably enough to convince even the most discriminating connoisseur.

This is the best comedy on television.  You can quote me on that.

Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport

Fuck Buttons released one of the most interesting and polarizing albums of 2008, one of several named on my end of the year list (which would undoubtedly have been published here if Optimistic Underground was running at the time) and a perennial physical overload to unwitting passengers in my car.  This October the English duo are set to blow faces off and disintegrate non-believers with the sonic asteroid they’ve named Tarot Sport.


Using the word epic to describe this music is beyond moot; it’s simply a given at this point.  Yet this fact does little to temper the unshakeable urge to invoke it – and feel it – on every listen.  This is the sort of thing epic was coined for.  Kicking off with the dancefloor earthquake of Surf Solar, expanded to 10 minutes from its early incarnation as a 7″ single, the album shouts its thesis from a mountaintop and gets moving at a breakneck clip.  With an insistent four on the floor beat and stocatto-spliced vocal clips there’s no wonder which of debut Street Horrrsing‘s tracks was the launch point for this sophomore triumph: shining, atmospheric, ass-shaking standout Bright Tomorrow.  Every track, though submerged in the same industrial crunch mana Fuck Buttons are known for, feels more breathable, open, dynamic and most of all catchy, than anything they’ve yet created.  Third track The Lisbon Maru gently (and subtly) conjures the pulsing power-surge key stabs from the debut’s stellar opening (and most popular) track Sweet Love For Planet Earth, swaddling the backbone in vacuumed reverb and what sounds like hundreds of damaged violins compressed into a small wind tunnel and dialing up the velocity throughout its run.

After this point the album transforms into pure, blissed out, pounding noisy nirvana.  Fourth track Olympians blasted its way to the top of my list, where it reigns with impunity, after only my first two listens.  Not content with merely teasing their dancefloor intentions or continuing to shy away from unabashed melody, this striking 10 minute centerpiece showcases everything Fuck Buttons do well and then some.  Finally delivering on the ambitious promise suggested all along, the moment is a revelation: a band fully coming into their own as artists and hitting an undeniably assured stride.  Nothing feels remotely tentative about the syncopated big beat drums beamed through the tonal cloud this song is born in, nor the manner in which every element seems to gather up, tightening into a coiled rhythmic outburst in anticipation of the mythical organ swells beginning three minutes in.  It’s a gorgeous night sky colored with soaring waves of heartrending resonance and shimmering supernovas, exploding out of the mix like galactic pop rocks – a transcendent meteor shower as close and tangible as the ‘play’ button.

Topping that monster would be difficult, if not impossible; the guys instead turn and unleash a funky blast of head clearing noise bop in a (relatively) concise 5 minutes, before diving into sonic rollercoaster Space Mountain (appropriately titled) with driving tribal percussion and twinkling keyboards ablaze.  A nearly-clean guitar tone drives the action, disintegrating in the atmosphere, enveloped in feedback, before giving way to the final push:  closer Flight of the Serpent and its destructive martial stomp.  Swooning UK post rock guitar moves over a clattering speed-march rhythm section, bursting with feedback at just the right moments and sharing the spotlight with a romantic organ pulse grown from Olympians‘ seed.  Feeling almost like a burly reprisal of that apex, the swarm of drone flies suddenly drop away at the halfway point, exposing the skeletal drum pattern and letting it hang, galloping along unadorned for several moments.  Thankfully, majestic crests of oceanic keyboard melody and shattering light beams of narcotic bliss return to guide the album to a satisfactorily dizzying end.

Watch this clip with the volume cranked to whet your appetite if my words haven’t already.

[and make sure to preorder the album at boomkat, norman records (vinyl!), or rough trade – or make your purchase at a local record shop when it drops on October 12]

For my mother.

My mother’s been in the hospital for a few days now.  Nothing catastrophic or life-threatening, thankfully; she’s doing relatively well at the moment but has more procedures and tests coming up and has been stuck in a room on the 4th floor for days.  So I’ve got a little tribute, her self-proclaimed favorite song ever:  The Righteous Brothers‘ eternal You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.  I don’t know if anyone could enjoy it as much as my mother does, though, but try if you’d like!

[regular posting will resume shortly]

John Cale & Terry Riley – Church of Anthrax

John Cale & Terry Riley, two of the most important names in 20th century composition, formed an unlikely alliance for this one-off project in 1971. The result was one of the weirdest entries in either sonic titan’s personal oeuvre.


First of all: look at that cover art! After dozens of listens, I still don’t know the significance of this, yet have grown more fond each time I see it. The care and attention put into this is a small signifier of the music within; the big picture may seem obviously grand on first glance, yet astounding little details emerge during close inspection and bring the project into focus when one returns to the wider view.

Instead of performing a balancing act between Riley’s spacey minimalism and Cale’s avant-rock nature, each artist seems to pull the other in a direction previously unexplored. Of course, it’s not entirely surprising if you’re familiar with the output of both geniuses, but the sound is defiantly no exact split down the center of their respective sensibilities. From raging textural passages to alien placidity, through jazz whispers and on to a straight up vocal number, there’s more variety in these five tracks than a good portion of the rest of their careers.

The opening features Riley-an organ tones riffing over a krautrock groove of moaning guitars and intricately barbaric drumming, the whole jam subtly erupting and then sighing to a close. Second track The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace at Versailles hews closest to Riley’s minimalist nature with an appropriately meandering, lost-organ and woodwind shuffle while the short closer, The Protege, feels almost like a lost bluesy instrumental from The Velvet Underground‘s golden days (when Cale was in the group). Everything in between veers wildly between these extremes and even, in the epic centerpiece Ides of March, shoots for the moon in a song so neurotically busy with busted drums and ticklish piano that it manages to evoke one of my favorite turns of phrase: maximized minimalism.

The project seems to have been such an exception for each artist that, by all accounts, neither was satisfied with the end result. Luckily for those of us with an outside view, the work stands on its own as a unique hybrid, a historical artifact, and an eclectically bopping good listen.

You can unearth this brilliant jewel of a buried treasure at cduniverse or amazon.