Over a post-lunch wander around the park a work colleague told me a tragic tale. Not only had he and his family moved house recently, but as if that wasn’t stressful enough, when they did move, the Wrong Box made it to the charity shop. That box contained a chunk of Ed’s CD collection including a bunch of those special albums picked up in teenage and university years, you know, the ones that really meant something and had all sorts of memories and stories attached to them. By the time the mistake was realised it was too late to retrieve them and a very sad and dejected Ed resulted…
Luckily though, it turns out that some particularly thoughtful Christmas presents can turn things around. This Christmas Ed was given a turntable and has now taken up a new and truly wonderful challenge. One record a week for the year (with roll-overs allowed if no record was purchased the week before) as a chance to repopulate (and maybe even expand!) the music collection… The big added complexity is that the wife has veto if the the chosen record of the week is not to her taste (something that would not be stood for by either party in the Lampy and Fox household – that’s why there are headphones!). How eclectic and accepting the household musical palate really is and thus, how much of an issue this truly is remains to be seen…
Some purchases are going to be obvious – there are favourites that need replacing (Pearl Jam, Nirvana etc…), but the question came out, “What should I be listening to?” This is, like religion, an incredibly complex, subjective, and at times horribly divisive subject to explore. I’m not really sure that anyone has the right to tell anyone else what they should be listening to, and it’s worth realising that your own perfectly balanced opinion only as valid and meaningful as far as the listener wishes to value it.
So much about music selection depends on the transience of the listeners mood as well as ingrained musical tastes, and even the most entrenched melodic palate can evolve and be swayed by a particularly evocative track that introduced you to new musical geographies… Perhaps the safest way to suggest something is to go down the tried and tested route of: “If you enjoy this artist, perhaps you’ll like this band too…” but that relies completely on the assumption that you perceive and value the same aspects of the artists work as the person your recommending it to and will only really work effectively if you know what the special connection between listener and the music being played really is. You’ll need to understand who you’re recommending the music to to suggest something that fits. To be fair I don’t know what music Ed really likes (as I noted earlier, Pearl Jam and Nirvana were mentioned, but so too were NWA and Cypress Hill so there’s potential for significant diversity in Ed’s taste!) so where would I even start? It’s an approach that also means the musical experience of the explorer will only ever evolve gradually in small incremental steps. Where’s the challenge? Where’s the new and unaccustomed external stimuli that whets the aural appetite and triggers the adaptive radiation in the diversity of the musical experience?
All of that over-thinking of things leaves me in somewhat of a quandary. What can I suggest to Ed?
After a little thought I’m actually going to ignore most of what I said above and try this: Not a series of top album recommendations, but perhaps a series of albums that are a gateway to a genre, or a thematic set of artists or albums all somehow tenuously linked in the twisted geographies of my own personal (and perhaps a little deranged) musical landscape. In effect, each album is a Musical Wormhole you can choose to fall through and explore what’s beyond… There’s no particular order to things. When I started I thought I’d just do a Top Ten, but that went out the window when I reached 15 albums I just had to share. Instead we’ll start with 5 or 6 albums and perhaps do a Part.II if this goes well.
These aren’t necessarily recommendations as such, more vignettes of little musical journeys I’ve personally taken. You could choose to follow the same path, but given your frame of reference is almost certainly different to mine you’ll experience it differently. You might choose backtrack and try and other starting point, or veer off wildly as your exploration unearths sounds you find exciting. You might find nothing that lights your fire and perhaps that is just as valuable as finding a new favourite artist!
Stating safe with Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression. This is an album born out of collaboration and introduces the arch-collaborator himself, Josh Homme. But Mr Pop and Mr. Homme are not really the link here. It’s the theme of collaboration and the Rancho De La Luna studio in Joshua Tree, California where Post Pop Depression was recorded. A broad range of artists have recorded and worked together at Ranch De La Luna (including PJ Harvey amongst many others) making for album sleeve-notes that seem more than a little musically incestuous with everyone popping up on tracks on everyone else’s albums. Perhaps that’s why there are sonic threads that interweave to form a distinctive Desert Rock sound that loosely binds many of the resultant albums together. Josh Homme has a long association with the studio and notably for the distinctive sound realised during the Dessert Sessions that eventually evolved in to Queens of the Stone Age. An incredible range of artists were involved in the Desert Sessions and as you trace the lineage you’ll encounter Mark Lanergan, and also Dave Grohl – look beyond the Foo Fighters and you’ll find another king of collaboration including the unashamedly good super group Them Crooked Vultures, and Sound City, the saving of another iconic music studio. Or of course you could just look and see where Mr.Pop pops up in a cameo role. Such as in La Uva with Le Butcherettes where his vocals really add a sinister twist to the track.
So from Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression you might head for: Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork; The Desert Sessions 9 & 10; Mark Lanergan Band – Bubblegum; Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked Vultures; Sound City – Real to Reel; Le Butcherettes – A Raw Youth
From the rockier end of the scale to something altogether different. Bad Bad Not Good – IV the best in contemporary jazz blended with hip-hop grooves and deeply funky rhythms that lurk just beneath the surface. If you don’t feel the need to move to this then you may have deep seated issues that require ongoing therapy. From there you can work back to days when Bad Bad Not Good took up a little less space on the stage (ie: pre-saxophonist), or if you find the beats infectious then you should check out what Portishead did next and Get the Blessing. However if it’s the sax that does it for you, then there’s only one album to reach for, the aptly named Epic by Kamasi Washington. The Epic is an exercise in honouring, but also going beyond tradition and bringing a freshness and edge back to jazz – an album that repays the time invested!
Travel back from IV to Bad Bad Not Good – III, chase the beat with Lope and Anitlope – Get the Blessing, or glimpse the future of jazz with Kamasi Washington – Epic
You could choose to head to another dimension with Thee Oh Sees – A Weird Entrances and An Weird Exits. Twin albums that potentially represent THE Albums of 2016 and are their own personal wormhole to an other dimension inhabited by songwriter John Dwyer. Famed for legendary live performances of psychedelic noise rock rich in 80’s post-punk flavours and the almost as legendary way they’ve frustrated Six Music’s Mark Reilly who, despite playing Thee Oh Sees every night and becoming somewhat obsessive about the band, has yet to get them to visit the studio for a live session. Perhaps the only way the band could better this achievement would be to snub Mark completely and do a live session for Gideon Coe’s annual “Shedcast”! That being said, should you decide to take the Red Pill and continue down this particular rabbit hole, then you could do worse than to explore the other works of John Dwyer such as Damaged Bug or branch out in to the world of the ever productive Ty Segall and Fuzz…
Thee Oh Sees – A Weird Entrances and An Weird Exit; with Damaged Bug – Hot Cold Plumbs; Fuzz – II if you choose your medication carefully…
Chill out in the Sound Engineers playground with Joe Gibbs – Africa Dub Vol.2 (three other volumes of African Dub are available!). Dub and Reggae go hand in hand. Whilst the former was derived from the latter when ingenious sound engineers were left to experiment with heath-robinson kit to create loops and echoes from tapes of reggae original recordings, dub distills a concentrated essence of underlying rhythm and soul from the track. A dub track is a glorious reimagining of the root reggae tune so what might be a minor accent in the the reggae recording can become a major component in the dub version.
Each engineer has their own style, a dub fingerprint if you will… So you enjoyed grooving, or just chilling to the fruits of Mr.Gibbs’ labours then you could explore the works of other behemoths of the genre such as: King Tubby (the Dubmaster) – Presents the Roots of Dub, or the mighty and prolific Lee Scratch Perry (as the Upsetter) – Mr Perry I Presume, or Yabby You and the Prophets – Beware Dub.
Take a journey to the edges of known musical space with Preoccupations – Preoccupations This band explores the margins of art rock experimenting with arcing melody and subtly building repetitious beats and rolling baselines shot through with incredible guitar solos. There’s an infectious, and mesmerising intensity to the band’s live performances and they’re simply one of the best acts out there to see. This Canadian band started life as Viet Cong, a choice that led to a very difficult period of time for the band. This translated in to a detached introverted edge to their spectacular performance at Green Man in 2015, but that has been left behind with the name and when Preoccupations played at the Oval Space in November last year there was a joyous playfulness to the way the band interacted that really made the set sparkle. The Preoccupations fill quite a lonely musical space there are a few bands that compare. Suuns definitely operate in the same quadrant of the musical galaxy, but the band to keep an eye out for is Dogfeet… This band makes its music (and its instruments!) the way it does because it needs to, and it doesn’t really care what you think and their sound is as distinctively intense as it is spectacular.
Immerse yourself in Preoccupations – Preoccupations, dive deeper in to darker waters with Viet Cong – Viet Cong before resurfacing into Suuns – Hold/Still, all the while keeping an eye out for releases by the marauding Dogfeet.
Hit the road with Calexico – Algiers. This is the finest mariachi infused Tex-Mex desert rock. It invites you to journey across the wide open spaces of the southwest US under an epically wide blue sky. In short it’s music that transports your mind to a place far away and appears especially designed for long, unhurried voyages. The raw, stripped back blues rock of early Black Keys reminds me of the long straight roads and stunning scenery of Utah and Arizona where I first heard it played. Whereas the glittering Springsteen-inspired guitar of War on Drugs feels much more like Pacific coast road material, perhaps Route 1 heading south past Monterey towards Big Sur. Maybe the deep south is more you style? The perhaps the North Mississippi All Stars could be what you’re looking for. Or you could look closer to home and listen to Terry Reid for a wonderfully rich CCR-infused sound that could have come from a very similar bayou.
A long unhurried road-trip from Calexico – Algiers , via The Black Keys – Thickfreakness and War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream towards North Mississippi Allstars – Shimmy She Wobble and Terry Reid – The Other Side of the River.
That’s my starter… Maybe if Ed likes it there’ll be a Part.II!