For years, obsessed fans and collectors clamored for a domestic re-issue of French-duo Air‘s five-track EP, Premiers Symptomes. In 1999 they got more than they had bargained for. While the original European release pulled together five early Air singles of dreamy consistency, the US release mindlessly tacked on two funky "bonus" tracks that many believe clashed with the original vibe. To settle the controversy, I recommend programming your disc player for only the first five tracks. That way you may better experience Nicolas Godin’s and Jean-Benoit Dunckel’s lullingly tranquil soundscapes without the jarring wake up call of newcomer closing tracks "Californie" and "Brakes On."
“In France, and maybe the rest of the world, I am not considered like a real hip-hop DJ–and I don’t want to be considered a real hip-hop DJ, because I love so many different styles of music. My way of working came from the hip-hop, but I try to expand it.”
– DJ Cam
The number of people who ought to concern themselves with the musical innovations of DJ Cam runs into the millions. A former Parisian graffiti artist, Laurent Daumail (aka DJ Cam) has released several undeniably hip-hop records that radically rewrite the rules of the genre. Neglected in his native France, audiences in the US, UK, and Japan have embraced his envelope pushing style of downbeat hip-hop, helping to amplify the global impact of such kindred artists as DJ Shadow and DJ Krush.
It’s August 18, 1969, and Jimi Hendrix takes the stage playing the Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock. In doing so, he puts the entire tenor of his times through his guitar. You can hear it: Vietnam. Civil rights. Riots. People dying in the streets. People dying in a far off land. Now compare this to a performance of the Boston Pops done that same year for the Fourth of July. It’s the same song, right? So why do we remember the Woodstock performance and not the Boston Pops? It is because music moved on. It moved beyond the sheer recitation of notes on a page into intangible qualities of texture. Through distortion, chorus, flanging, and a myriad of other guitar tricks, you had for the first time in music, synthetic sounds that directly approximated natural ones.
Bill Laswell, a controversial maverick in the “remix scene”, stirs into his musical caldron the work of Miles Davis, concocting a new and fresh brew: Panthalassa. Laswell’s remix project judiciously employs state of the art studio technology to expand the radical break from the traditional jazz cannon that Miles spearheaded during his electric years between 1969 and 1974. Laswell interprets music from In A Silent Way, On The Corner, and Get Up With It to shape a dreamlike mosaic of Davis’ trumpet sweeping through Laswell’s ambiant soundscapes.
Bombay the Hard Way plays like the soundtrack to some imaginary 1970s B-films with names like Shaft’s Bad-Ass Pilgrimage To India or Ganges Ghetto Payback. Featuring the music of Indian composers (and brothers) Anandji and Kalyanji Shah, who wrote and produced soundtracks for the so-called “Brownsploitation” films made in India’s “Bollywood” during the 60s and 70s, this saffron-funk project is the brain-child of Dan “The Automator” Nakamura, Bay Area producer / remixer of Dr. Octagon fame, with additional beats provided by the immensely talented DJ Shadow. The end product is a potent cross-pollination of Secret-Agent-Man guitar themes, Blaxploitation grooves, jazzy horn and flute riffs, hip-hop beats and loops, and traditional Indian instrumentation.
Life is a journey. Sigur Ros’ second album, Agaetis Byrjun (“Good Start”), provides the mystical soundtrack for that journey. Having heard about the album but at the time unreleased in the United States, I found Agaetis Byrjun in Edinburgh at the Scottish independent music store, Fopp. The search for the album was well worth the effort. The experience the album provides is complete, whether observed in an ancient cathedral, coaxed as a lullaby, or played on a train ride across the Scottish plains. The sound defies simple classification. Neither rock nor pop, Agaetis Byrjun creates sensation and longing without the usual tools of universal lyrics and chords. The music flows over and around the body, as if simultaneously lifting and pressing its vibrations against the skin. With its Icelandic lyrics (and no current translations) and invented words, Agaetis Byrjun directs the mind into the mind’s own interpretation and emotions, not dictating, but gently guiding with powerful vocals and sounds. The music envelopes. The eerie, unintelligible words may lack in concrete definitions, yet they surge with meaning.
In modern recorded music there has always been a section of sheer pop marketed to the masses. Every year we are shown beautiful faces that are soon lost in next years’ tide of the new. While some of the music might be catchy, it’s sadly just a part of a wider culture based on surface sheen. Only a handful of individuals born of this world have been able to break away and redefine themselves as true artists, listening only to their muse instead of the bottom line or the fashion of the times.
In 1982, British tabloids ran headlines featuring David Sylvian as “the most beautiful man in all of Britain.” A scant 5 years later, he would alienate the fans he had gained as the lead singer of the glam/early electronic band Japan. He was to do so by creating a work that was only about music, only about lyrics with such depth, complexity, and texture, that it remains a complete ‘must hear.’
Spirit of Eden’s potently eerie but beautiful aural textures is worlds apart from the bubbly synth-pop hits—”It’s My Life” and “Talk Talk”—that typified Talk Talk’s early-’80s new wave sound. After scoring a bestseller in 1986′s The Colour of Spring, EMI gave the band (Hollis, Friese-Greene, Webb, and Harris) a hefty recording budget for their next effort. Moving into an abandoned church, Talk Talk embarked on a lengthy 14-month recording session. When the group finally delivered Spirit of Eden, EMI execs—who had been refused advance access to the recordings—were shocked: The album’s classical and freeform jazz influences and art-rock leanings broke from traditional pop expectations, resulting in something utterly uncategorizable!