Thursday, June 26, 2008


Banco de Gaia
Album: Maya
Released in: 1994
Provenance: outdoor CD sale in the mail room at college

SCENE: Exterior, somewhere in Central America, hot, humid and dazzlingly bright. Lush jungle is encroaching on beautiful stone ruins. A group of tourists mill about, including you, snapping pictures and chatting.

You duck behind an ancient pyramid, hoping for some relief from the sun. A sudden fatigue overwhelms you and you sink to the ground.................................................

When you open your eyes again, it is sunset. The rest of the tourists have gone. The sun behind the pyramid makes it glow, and it is blazingly hot to the touch. From far away, you can suddenly make out an eerie chiming, and then an ancient-sounding instrument playing a haunting melody. A man starts chanting, and bean shakers begin to beat out a steady percussion.

The music comes closer.... and closer... and then suddenly a mass of people chanting "hunta hata haaaaa!!" burst from the jungle and start raving to some trance-y beats.

Damn, I love this album.

For a sample, check out Heliopolis. It is less ritualistic than Mafich Arabi (which the above description is based on, and which probably uses Middle Eastern samples not Mayan, but whatever!), but you can still get the sense of it....

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Artist: Autechre
Album: Confield
Released in: 2001
Liner Notes: blank as usual

Confield allegedly requires close attention and multiple listenings to enjoy. It's a turn away from the melodic, essentially linear compositions of Tri Repetae++ into more forbidding territory: less bass, a splintered/scattered/disorganized quality to the beats, snippets of melody that never cohere. Pretty much a paragon of bad dish-washing music. Pitchfork ultimately enjoyed it; Allmusic is more hesitant. Although it certainly wasn't doing it for me yesterday, I abstain from more lasting judgment on its merits.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dance these Dishes Around

Artist: the B52's
Album: The Best of the B52's: Dance this Mess Around
Released in: 1990
Wigs: optional

Some bands you discover by yourself, and you enjoy by yourself (see Alexkid). Some bands you partake in along with the rest of your generation (see Air). Some bands you find via obscure recommendation, and discuss at length with your fellow enthusiasts of the obscure (see Autechre). And then there is music that is deeply connected to the fabric of your life (see Tori Amos). Which group do the B52's fall in? Surprisingly, the last one.

It must have been my older sister who introduced me to the B52's, but they will always be associated for me with my bff. In middle school and high school, we studied intensely every single song on Cosmic Thing. We brazenly belted out Roam and Deadbeat Club walking to school ("we are wild girls / walking down the street"). The B52's were empowering in their craziness. They sang about alternate universes, bushfires, and caffeine buzzes, not about relationships or the trials of adolescence. We loved it.

I had a VHS tape of B52's videos that we would watch over and over again. There were songs on it that we enjoyed but hadn't heard of otherwise, like Song for a Future Generation and Legal Tender. Sometime in late high school or early college, I picked up Dance This Mess Around, and it all became clear. DtMA is an excellent guide to early B52's - there's not a bad track on it. There's the epically silly Wig and Dance this Mess Around, hallmarks of weirdness like Planet Claire, as well as some of the best tracks that the B52's ever recorded (and some of my fave tracks of all time) like 52 Girls and Private Idaho (which, if I've ever made you a mixtape, you probably know about).

A tacit goal of this whole blogging enterprise is to determine which of my CDs I want to preserve for posterity (ha) by adding to my hard drive. So far, it's Little Earthquakes and Dance this Mess Around.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tri Dishes ++

Artist: Autechre
Album: Tri Repetae++
Released in: 1995, whoa
Rotation during college: heavy

More giant-machine, abandoned-factory, texturally-brilliant soundscapes from Autechre. This one made Pitchfork's top 100 albums of the 90's list (in a higher position than Selected Ambient Works 85-92). I almost feel like I couldn't do it justice though, by listening to it while washing the dishes. It's not about hummable melodies or dance-y beats, and I couldn't make out a lot of the detail in the layering. Autechre's Incunabula does a little better in this regard since it is less squelchy and more creepy - a bit more melodic than rhythmic. The significant other and I had a small debate about which is actually Autechre's best album -- Tri Repetae++ is more their prototypical sound, but Incunabula is more emotionally rich (although this could be due to its association with the movie Pi).

I don't own Incunabula on CD, but there still is one more Autechre album to go. I might skip ahead since I'm getting a little weary of idm.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dishes Session

Album: Peel Session (EP)
Released in: 1999
Liner Notes: utterly blank

I like IDM. Really, I do. And I like Autechre so much better than Aphex Twin. I never listened to this CD much, but for once, I can say that I should have listened to it more. It's very classic Autechre -- the thudding, giant-machine-like percussion with a counterpoint of gently weaving melody. Peel Session of course refers to John Peel, the iconic British radio DJ. The three songs here were recorded on his show in 1995.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Music for Imaginary Dishes

Arling and Cameron
Album: Music for Imaginary Films
Released in: 2000
Liner Notes: copious

Arling and Cameron are two very silly Dutch producers. They wrote some amazing songs for some other very silly bands (Pizzicato Five - Arigato, Fantastic Plastic Machine - Bachelor Pad). They also write their own rather silly material (Voulez-Vous, How About the Boys, both successfully used in national advertising campaigns... which means they are two very silly rich Dutch producers). And then there's this album.

It really is a collection of music for imaginary films and television shows -- the liner notes provide posters, casts and tongue-in-cheek critical discussion of each extremely silly fake flick. There's 1999 Space Club (70's disco), Le Flic et la Fille (60's French noir), Hashi the Drug Sniffing Canine (action TV series), W.E.E.K.E.N.D. (70's teen TV series with a sugary theme song that I can't get enough of), etc. The actual music is surprisingly cohesive (the drum tracks are standard late 90's / early 00's breaks), often witty (the parody of dub in the Hashi theme), and really great to dance to. The songs also hold up well outside of their original context - I've successfully used two of them on mixes: Le Flic et la Fille on Hey Daddyo (a mix for my dad - Happy Father's Day!) and Zona Sul (cocktail mix) on Cocktail? (a mix for cocktail parties). There's no denying that this is a novelty album, but it remains a joy to listen to because of its sense of fun and its fearlessness about being utterly silly.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Selected Ambient Dishes Volume II

: Aphex Twin
Album: Selected Ambient Works Volume II (Discs 1 and 2)
Released in: 1994
Listened to: approximately never

I wasn't a big fan of this album back in the day, but I couldn't remember why. Now I know. Ready? APHEX TWIN IS REALLY CREEPY. I admit there are some nice songs sprinkled here and there (especially near the beginning of Disc 2), but otherwise, many of the songs strike me as the proper soundtrack for sociopathic behavior... strike that, the soundtrack to being inside a sociopath's head. When a baby in a neighboring apartment started wailing halfway through Disc 1, it made the album almost unbearably chilling.

Thank goodness the next CD is hyper-cheerful.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

To Dishes and Back, Part 2

Tori Amos
Album: Still Orbiting (Disc 2 of To Venus and Back)
Released in: 1999

Still Orbiting is a live album, recorded in 1998, and it represents the best of Tori: visceral emotion, musical virtuosity, quirky charm. The song selection is excellent, featuring classics from all her records to date (stand-outs: opener Precious Things, Hello Mr. Zebra, Cloud on My Tongue) as well as some lovely rarities (Cooling and Sugar). It makes me wish I could have seen Tori live, to be part of the crowd cheering and screaming when they recognize each song from the first few bars.

And thus ends our Torifest, on a welcome note of appreciation and enjoyment.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

To Dishes and Back, Part 1

: Tori Amos
Album: Venus Orbiting (Disc 1 of To Venus and Back) and the Concertina single
Released in: 1999 and 2000
Liner Notes: present, for once

Venus Orbiting is, dare I say it, the bland album. It sounds ostensibly like a Tori Amos record, but something is missing. There's still the fuller-band/electronica sound from Choirgirl, but there are no more freak-outs like Hotel and it all just sounds so..... accessible. I am a big fan of the song Lust (probably because it sounds like older Tori), but that's it. Don't even get me started on Datura and 1,000 Oceans, though -- the former is a trip through pointless free association meander-land, and the latter has such cliched lyrics and chord changes it makes me want to scream (These tears I've cried / I've cried 1000 oceans... and I would cry 1000 more / if that's what it takes/ to sail you home).

Concertina is one of the most accessible songs on Venus Orbiting, with a sweetly jingly chorus and a hummable melody. The single doesn't have much on it, though: the album version of Concertina, a live cover of a Leonard Cohen song, and a live version of Twinkle. Nothing too memorable -- I probably bought it just for Twinkle (one of my favorite Tori songs).

The last Tori post is coming up!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Selected Ambient Dishes

Aphex Twin
Title: Selected Ambient Works, 85-92
Released in: 1993
Liner Notes: Missing, but not because I was studying the lyrics

Pitchfork raves. AllMusic calls it a watershed of the ambient scene (I would say idm, but why split hairs). There's no denying how influential this album was, but there are only two tracks that hold my interest now: Xtal and Ageispolis. A lot of the album sounds like it was recorded under water and/or far away (AllMusic blames this on bad cassette transfer and an encounter with a cat). A lot of the drum tracks sound like slowed down 90's rave beats and/or Enigma (probably because they were made on the same equipment). Still, you gotta give respect where it's due, and the sound palette for the album remains rich (squelches, teeny plinks, expansive swaths of synth, etc.). And at least Richard D. James wasn't dabbling in highly disturbing imagery yet.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

From the Dishgirl Hotel

: Tori Amos
Album: From the Choirgirl Hotel
Released in: 1998
Liner Notes: missing - what happened to all my Tori liner notes?

My tolerance for Tori is plummeting, and this album was never my fave.

Track-by-track breakdown:
  1. Spark - the big single. blah.
  2. Cruel - I put this track on the A side of a mix tape for a good male friend (who I should have dated) in high school. The B side was one of the best mixes I've ever made (if I do say so myself): we talked on the phone often and it represented a phone call between us complete with songs representing me, him, our love interests, his mom (who would tell us to go to bed), typical topics of conversation and even a sampled telephone ring and greetings. Maybe one day it will show up at this site.
  3. Black-Dove (January) - black duuuuuuuhve. black duuhhhhhhhhve.
  4. Raspberry Swirl - Scene: girl's bathroom in a high school. Me: washing hands. School's bad girl enters singing 'If you want inside her, well, boy you better make her raspberry swirl.' Me: I know that song! Bad girl glares, leaves.
  5. Jackie's Strength - the one decent old-school Tori song on the album.
  6. Iiiieeeee - forgettable
  7. Liquid Diamonds - One of my high school yearbook quotes is from this song. I was just that angsty.
  8. She's Your Cocaine - ugh.
  9. Northern Lad - memorable for the great break-up line: "Girl you've got to know when it's time to turn the page."
  10. Hotel - Tori one-night-stand freak-out!
  11. Playboy Mommy - pitiable because of the circumstances (Tori had a miscarriage) but otherwise boring.
  12. Pandora's Box - Paaaaaaaaaaaaaandoraaaaaaaaaghhhhhhhgghh
Thankfully, the end is near with Tori albums. Choirgirl was one of the last ones I bought.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


Various Indian electronica musicians you've never heard of except Talvin Singh and State of Bengal
Title: Anokha: Soundz [sic] of the Asian Underground
Released in: 1997
Recommended by: denizens of the Underworld mailing list

Good dish-washing music: energetic, clearly audible above running water, dance-inducing. Will I listen to it again sometime in the next ten years? Unclear.

This album is a smooth and surprisingly cohesive compilation of Indian-influenced drum'n' bass and techno, but it's a little boring. Even though I used to listen to it while studying, I was only ever able to remember the first two tracks distinctly (1 - Amar Singh - Jaan : really lovely, 2 - State of Bengal - Flight IC408 : grating samples, too long). And that's still the case even though I just listened to it yesterday.