Warren Zevon – Warren Zevon

Warren Zevon - Warren ZevonIt wasn’t a concept album, although it just as well could’ve been. 11 songs about the dark, seedy underbelly of Los Angeles and its inhabitants make up this eponymous album by Warren Zevon, his first release for a major label (although he released his first album, 1969’s Wanted Dead Or Alive prior to this). Not only does the album recall California lyrically, but the sidemen and guest vocalists read like a who’s who of the music scene in that area: Jackson Browne, Lindsey Buckingham, Don Henley and Glenn Frey, Bonnie Raitt and Carl Wilson just to name a few.

The album starts off with “Frank And Jesse James”, a song about the various exploits the two brothers ran into and setting up the scene for the rest of the album. “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” notes on Zevon’s wild lifestyle with a keen sense of irony. “The French Inhaler” tells the tale of a woman down on her luck while waiting for that one big break in Hollywood. “Mohammed’s Radio” talks about the impact music can have when there’s nothing else to turn to, with lyrics that eerily hit home even today (“You work all day/you still can’t pay/the price of gasoline and meat/alas, their lives are incomplete”).

The album closes with “Desperados Under The Eaves”, a stark look at the hopelessness that pervaded throughout the rest of the album. Here, Zevon delivers his immortal refrain: “And if California slides into the ocean/like the mystics and statistics say it will/then I predict this motel will be standing/until I pay my bill”. But while multiple harmonies sing “Look away down Gower Avenue…”, one feels that there may be a glimmer of hope, no matter how small, still left to discover in this forlorn urban landscape.

4 out of 4Although not well received upon release (it barely scratched the Top 200), Warren Zevon has since become known as one of Zevon’s finest outings as a songwriter. All the songs here are tightly written with nary a clunker or throwaway, containing copious amounts of Zevon’s trademark wit and humor. It remains catchy without being “radio-friendly”, and set the stage for his career as one of the best songwriters of his day. This album should not be missed.

Order this CD

  1. Frank And Jesse James (4:33)
  2. Mama Couldn’t Be Persuaded (2:53)
  3. Backs Turned Looking Down The Path (2:27)
  4. Hasten Down The Wind (2:58)
  5. Poor Poor Pitiful Me (3:04)
  6. The French Inhaler (3:44)
  7. Mohammed’s Radio (3:40)
  8. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (2:56)
  9. Carmelita (3:32)
  10. Join Me In L.A. (3:13)
  11. Desperados Under The Eaves (4:45)

Released by: Asylum
Release date: 1976
Total running time: 37:45

Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The SeaInspiration is a tricky thing. It can show up in all possible ways and when you very least expect it. Jeff Mangum, the lead singer of Neutral Milk Hotel, wrote and composed most of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea after being inspired by reading The Diary Of Anne Frank, coupled with dreams he had about the girl and a Jewish family. Although the album isn’t explicitly about Frank, her presence lingers, either through the lyrics (“Anna’s ghost all around/hear her voice as it’s rolling and ringing through me”) or song titles (“Holland, 1945”). Like his inspiration, Mangum’s musical world is dreamlike, but also by turns jarring, soft, boisterous and confusing.

The album starts off with the song “The King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. One”, in which the narrator describes having an intimate relationship with an unnamed person (“The King Of Carrot Flowers” (?) ) while living under a dysfunctional family (“And your mom would drink until she was no longer speaking/and dad would dream of all the different ways to die/each one a little more than he could dare to try”). By contrast, the next track, “The King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. Two” has Jeff Mangum yelling loudly, “Jesus Christ, I love you!” If you were looking for any clear interpretations, you won’t find them in this album.

In the title track, acoustic guitars are backed by horns and a musical saw, giving it that “barely waking” feel. “Holland, 1945”, arguably the album’s catchiest track and also the album’s “single” (if you can call it that), starts with Mangum counting in the song before fuzzed out guitars explode with a driving drum beat while Mangum’s obscure lyricism continues: “The only girl I’ve ever loved/was born with roses in her eyes…Now she’s a little boy in Spain/playing pianos filled with flames”. “Untitled” has been described by some as “psychedelic bagpipes” and that’s not too far off from the truth.

I’ve heard reports that upon first listening to this album, some people have broken down and cried. Although I 4 out of 4cannot admit to such happenings, it doesn’t surprise me at all. I have never more raw emotion packed into a single album before In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, and I’ll doubt if I’ll hear it again. After the release of In The Aeroplane… Mangum broke up Neutral Milk Hotel and disappeared from the public eye. Released ten years ago, it still sounds as fresh and bold as the day it was written. This album will stay with you.

Order this CD

  1. The King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. One (2:00)
  2. The King Of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two & Three (3:06)
  3. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (3:22)
  4. Two-Headed Boy (4:26)
  5. The Fool (1:53)
  6. Holland, 1945 (3:12)
  7. Communist Daughter (1:57)
  8. Oh Comely (8:18)
  9. Ghost (4:08)
  10. (2:16)
  11. Two-Headed Boy Pt. Two (5:13)

Released by: Merge
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 39:51

The Peter Br̦tzmann Octet РThe Complete Machine Gun Sessions

Peter Brötzmann Octet - The Complete Machine Gun SessionsThere are three different types of people who will listen to this album. The first person will plug their ears after 10 seconds and turn it off. The second person will continue listening, not out of the respect to the music, but out of morbid curiosity: “Is this a joke? When does the music start?” The third person will listen to the album, listen to it again, and keep on listening. Digging deeper with every nuance of Brötzmann’s music, the listener will find himself faced with the unknown derived from familiarity. It is harsh, brutal and unforgiving — but also captivating and mesmerizing.

As the story goes, three things in particular make this album unique. First, Brötzmann employs an octet for the recording of this album. While octets in jazz are not new, they are uncommon (7 years later, Ornette Coleman used an octet for the recording of his album Free Jazz, but he split it up into two quartets who played simultaneously rather than eight musicians playing all at once). The second thing is that they recorded the album not in a studio but rather at a nightclub in Germany, which provided poor acoustics. This worked in Brötzmann’s favor, however, as it added to the “dense”-ness of the album. The third thing that is unique about the record is the music itself.

Yes, it is chaoctic. Brötzmann and Co. play their instruments to the breaking point, with blasts of drums piercing the wails of saxophones and basses. Yes, it is dissonant. There seems to be no trace of melody. In fact, the only time a semblance of song structure creeps in is about 15 minutes into the title track, but the walls of noise soon overtake it. Nevertheless, this is not music that is made simply to be listened to a couple times. It’s something to reflect; examine. It is music that has to be felt.

This new 2007 remaster by Atavistic includes the original LP, and adds two more alternate takes from the same session. There is also a live version of the title track performed two months prior to the studio sessions at the Frankfurt Jazz Festival in 1968. The original LP tracks are great by themselves, but the added material really adds more to the album. The live version in particular is sensational.

Overall, it is a simply astounding piece of work, and one that has few peers in the music archives.

4 out of 4

Order this CD

  1. Machine Gun (17:19)
  2. Responsible/For Jan Van De Ven (8:20)
  3. Music for Han Bennink (11:29)
  4. Machine Gun (Second Take) (15:01)
  5. Responsible/For Jan Van De Ven (First Take) (10:08)
  6. Machine Gun (Live) (17:40)

Released by: Atavistic
Release date: 1968 (re-released 2007)
Total running time: 79:53

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade – music by John Williams

Indiana Jones And The Last CrusadeIn Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, John Williams composes the music for the last film in this famous series (or at least, we thought back then). In my review of Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, I said that the album had an overall majestic feel. In this album, Williams decides to go for a more orchestral feel, with heavy usage of stringed instruments. It almost feels ambient in certain places, with very quiet sustained notes and light dynamics in the piece, like in “The Penitent Man Will Pass”.

The album starts with “Indy’s Very First Adventure”, a calm track that soon breaks into strings and flutes and then later on picks up in excitement and dynamics. “X Marks The Spot” builds up the usage of horns, but soon falls into the aforementioned ambience.

In “Scherzo For Motorcycle And Orchestra”, John Williams shows off his classical chops. “Scherzo” is an Italian word for “joke”, and usually used as a term for a single movement in a larger symphony. Williams lives up to the title by giving the song a playful feel, with a return of the Indiana Jones theme throughout the song. Unfortunately, there seems to be no motorcycle included in the piece.

“Ah, Rats!!!” returns to Williams’ use of dissonance, using it to punctuate deep dark tones and create a sense of anxiety (most likely to Indiana Jones’ loathing of the aforementioned rodents). “The Keeper Of The Grail” starts with sustained notes and again, a sense of ambience, but soon breaks into a slow emotional piece. On the other hand, “Keeping Up With The Joneses” is an up-tempo track, brassy and dramatic.

3 out of 4Williams again upholds a fine standard for film music, and give The Last Crusade a worthy send-off. It will be interesting to hear what he has up his sleeve for Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, but one can almost be assured that it will fall neatly with the rest of the music from this series.

Order this CD

  1. Indy’s Very First Adventure (8:13)
  2. X Marks The Spot (3:11)
  3. Scherzo For Motorcycle And Orchestra (3:52)
  4. Ah, Rats!!! (3:40)
  5. Escape From Venice (4:23)
  6. No Ticket (2:44)
  7. The Keeper Of The Grail (3:23)
  8. Keeping Up With The Joneses (3:36)
  9. Brother Of The Cruciform Sword (1:55)
  10. Belly Of The Steel Beast (5:28)
  11. The Canyon Of The Crescent Moon (4:16)
  12. The Penitent Man Will Pass (3:22)
  13. End Credits (Raiders March) (10:37)

Released by: Warner Bros.
Release date: 1989
Total running time: 58:40

Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom – music by John Williams

Indiana Jones And The Temple Of DoomJohn Williams. Steven Spielberg. Two great tastes that taste great together. Ever since Williams worked on Spielberg’s first theatrical film, The Sugarland Express, the two have been nearly inseparable. So, again they pair up for Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, Spielberg’s 8th film (and Williams’ 47th).

This soundtrack album starts off, interestingly enough, with a Mandarin rendition of the famous Cole Porter song, “Anything Goes” sung by the Kate Capshaw, the female lead of the film. This is from an early part of the film where our hero sees her for the first time. Later on, in “Fast Streets Of Shanghai”, Williams employs Oriental influences (as the name suggests) and a dramatic flair that Williams is well known of. Bits of the Indiana Jones theme carry throughout the piece.

On the track “The Temple Of Doom”, chanting is used to give the song a dark, ominous feel as we come across the temple for the first time. “Bug Tunnel And Death Trap” has brief moments of dissonance, underlining the horror of the place. Melodies reach higher and higher, creating a sense of anxiety and confusion. On the other hand, the track “Slave Children’s Crusade” is loud and majestic, with booming cymbals and a strong string section serving as the anchor of the piece.

An interesting thing to note is that John Williams often employs leitmotif in his scores. That is to say, he composes and assigns themes to certain characters or ideas in the films. For example, in the Star Wars series, he composed separate themes for the characters Princess Leia, Yoda and Darth Vader as well as others (although it is Darth Vader’s theme that everyone usually thinks of). On this album, Williams downplays that aspect a bit. Even though the character Short Round has a theme, most of the music is incidental music and not specifically tied to a character. Even Indiana Jones’ own recognizable theme doesn’t make a full appearance until the finale. In my opinion, not having a “stand-out” piece detracts from the work as a whole.

3 out of 4The soundtrack carries a dramatic feel. One of the recognizable strengths of John Williams is that he very much as a unique styling in his music. You can listen to a piece by Williams and immediately sense that, even if you don’t know explicitly that it is Williams’ work, you know at least it’s meant for a film or a similar endeavor. Overall, a fine score that stands up well on its own apart from the movie.

Order this CD

  1. Anything Goes (2:51)
  2. Fast Streets Of Shanghai (3:44)
  3. Nocturnal Activities (6:01)
  4. Short Round’s Theme (2:32)
  5. Children In Chains (2:44)
  6. Slalom On Mt. Humol (2:26)
  7. The Temple Of Doom (3:00)
  8. Bug Tunnel And Death Trap (3:33)
  9. Slave Children’s Crusade (3:29)
  10. The Mine Car Chase (3:42)
  11. Finale And End Credits (6:27)

Released by: Polydor
Release date: 1984
Total running time: 40:29

Yoko Kanno – Be Human

Yoko Kanno - Be HumanIs there anything that songstress Yoko Kanno can’t do? Starting out as a video game composer in her 20+ year career, she quickly moved on to other avenues such as anime series and films. Her ability to combine styles and influences such as jazz, classical, electronic, and rock music give her a unique and delightful sound.

Be Human, which serves as the 4th (!!!) soundtrack album for the anime series Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex, contains more of Kanno’s signature sound. This album, however, focuses on the robots of the series, called Tachikomas, and carries this underlying theme throughout the whole album. For example, the leadoff song, the titular “Be Human”, is a dreamy pop song complete with mechanical whirring and beeping. “Trip City” shows off Kanno’s rocker side, with lyrics from longtime Kanno collaborator Tim Jensen. “Cream” combines a drum-and-bass rhythm with violin strings, while Japanese hip hop lyrics are sung over that. “What Can I Say?” instantly brings to mind the slow, moving songs from the old musicals of yore. But those are the good parts.

The rest of the album, quite frankly, feels like it consists of filler. Although the music itself is very good (and it’s hard not to like an album that jumps from the techno of “Patch Me” to the whimsical “Tachikoma No Iede (Runaway Tachikoma)”, which includes a flute solo), it often feels incomplete; like fragments or snippets of actual songs instead of a full soundtrack. And that’s what Be Human ultimately is, a collection of B-sides punctuated by an actual song or two.

2 out of 4Be Human, then, should be recommended to fans of the show or fans of Yoko Kanno (who, in all honesty, are probably to be the one and the same). Otherwise, people who are just starting to listen to Yoko Kanno’s works should probably get a Seatbelts album to find out why Kanno’s music is much lauded in the anime world.

Order this CD

  1. Be Human (4:05)
  2. Trip City (3:55)
  3. Patch Me (1:33)
  4. Tachikoma No Iede (Runaway Tachikoma)
  5. (1:55)

  6. Osanpo Tachikoma (Tachikoma Out For A Walk)
  7. (2:03)

  8. Bang Bang Banquet (2:00)
  9. Fax Me (1:26)
  10. Rocky Wa Doko? (Where’s Rocky?)
  11. (4:25)

  12. Spotter (5:56)
  13. Let’s Oil (0:45)
  14. Cream (3:54)
  15. Spider Bites (0:44)
  16. Good By My Master (2:09)
  17. Piece By Ten (2:50)
  18. What Can I Say? (1:11)
  19. Hi! (0:05)
  20. I’m Not Straight (1:23)
  21. AI Sentai Tachikomans (AI Combat Team Tachikomans)
  22. (1:05)

  23. Pro Bowler Tachikoma (Professional Bowler Tachikoma)
  24. (0:38)

  25. Don’t Sponge Me (0:36)
  26. Po’d Pod (1:02)
  27. Ciao! (0:07)

Released by: Bandai Entertainment
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 43:47

The Best Of Godzilla: 1984-1995

The Best Of Godzilla: 1984-1995 is the second disc in a two-part set of the music of Godzilla (the first disc covered the years 1954-1975). This album contains selections from the films The Return Of Godzilla to Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, which also serves as the second “era” of Godzilla movies. Astute readers may notice a gap of 9 years between discs: This wasn’t a decision on GNP Crescendo’s part not to include those years, there just simply weren’t any movies being made then.

This compliation starts off with The Return Of Godzilla, which (as the name implies) marked the return of Godzilla to the big screen after a 9 year break. The first thing you will notice about the music is that, even though it was composed in the mid-80’s, it doesn’t contain the slick production style that marked so much of the music that came from this decade. The composer, Reijiro Koroku, also decided to keep the musical style of the earlier Godzilla films intact. This is a welcome change from the ’70s pop/disco-infused music that marred such films as Godzilla vs. Megalon.

This would not last, however. In the next film, Godzilla vs. Biollante, composer Koichi Sugiyama uses electric guitars and a heavy rock beat on the song “Bio Wars”, which makes it feel more like Cheap Trick than Godzilla. Needless to say, it’s sorely out of place, considering also that the other two songs that were taken from this film are more of a standard orchestrated style. Video game buffs will also recognize Sugiyama’s name — he’s the principal composer of the Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior series.

Out of the remaning five films represented on this disc, four of them contain a nice surprise: original composer Akira Ifukube is back on board, and it’s easy to see why. His music is so quintessentially “Godzilla”, it’s hard to think that anybody would try to take his place. This stuff is easily the best on the disc, although he does occasionally lapse into a case of “of the times” and uses synths and other modern sounds and techniques (his remake of “Mothra’s Song” from Godzilla vs. Mothra sounds like it could have easily been performed by Todd Rundgren). Of particular interest is the song “Requiem” from Godzilla vs. Destoroyah: after a dissonant piano/string part, a lone instrument slowly builds up with a few strings until an entire string section plays while a female vocalization sings over it. That description really doesn’t do it any justice — it’s very beautiful, and shows how Ifukube was capable of putting not only suspense and action into his music, but also emotion as well.

This disc is a bit different than its precedessor. Since this compilation only covers 9 years of Godzilla movies, more selections from each movie were included, giving the disc a better overall feel. One wishes that GNP Crescendo could have split the first disc into two parts and not had to include 21 years worth of music on just one disc. Another thing I thought was strange, but welcome — the SFX that were liberally peppered on the first disc are nowhere to be heard here. Maybe it’s because the SFX from these movies weren’t as memorable, but I was glad they decided to focus on the music this time around. One thing, however, that I wish they would have gotten rid of: The closing track, a remake of “Monster Zero March”, once again performed by Neil Norman And His Cosmic Orchestra. Like the first disc, its addition seems wholly arbitrary, and adds no real value (especially on a compilation of the original soundtrack).

3 out of 4So, if you could only buy one of these discs, which one would it be? I would have to give the nod to 1954-1975 because it contains the original Godzilla music, but listening to that disc alone paints an incomplete picture. Both discs are essential to each other to give a complete overview of the music of Godzilla, and both casual Godzilla enthusiasts and hardcore kaiju fans will find this collection enjoyable. One wonders if GNP Crescendo will be onboard to give us a 1999- compliation sometime in the near future…

Order this CD

  1. Main Theme (Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah) (3:18)
  2. Main Title (Return Of Godzilla) (1:49)
  3. Take Shelter/Godzilla vs. Super X (Return Of Godzilla) (2:15)
  4. Japanese Army March (Return Of Godzilla) (0:47)
  5. Godzilla’s Exit (Return Of Godzilla) (1:51)
  6. Ending (Return Of Godzilla) (1:47)
  7. Scramble March (Godzilla vs. Biollante) (4:27)
  8. Bio Wars (Godzilla vs. Biollante) (4:36)
  9. Ending (Godzilla vs. Biollante) (5:00)
  10. Main Title/UFO Invasion (Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah) (2:57)
  11. King Ghidorah Attacks Fukuoka (Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah) (0:37)
  12. Get King Ghidorah (Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah) (1:41)
  13. Main Title (Godzilla vs. Mothra) (1:25)
  14. Mahara Mothra (Godzilla vs. Mothra) (0:55)
  15. Mesa March (Godzilla vs. Mothra) (1:55)
  16. Rolling Title Ending (Godzilla vs. Mothra) (3:40)
  17. Mothra’s Song (Godzilla vs. Mothra) (3:47)
  18. Main Title (Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II) (1:35)
  19. G-Force March #1 (Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II) (2:50)
  20. Prologue/Main Title (Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla) (2:35)
  21. Bass Island (Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla) (1:21)
  22. MOGERA vs. Space Godzilla #1 (Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla) (1:28)
  23. MOGERA vs. Space Godzilla #2 (Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla) (2:37)
  24. Crystal (Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla) (5:33)
  25. Main Title/Hong Kong’s Destruction (Godzilla vs. Destoroyah) (3:09)
  26. Attack Of Super X-3 (Godzilla vs. Destoroyah) (3:00)
  27. Mesa Tank Super Freeze Attack (Godzilla vs. Destoroyah) (1:55)
  28. Requiem (Godzilla vs. Destoroyah) (3:49)
  29. Ending Title (Godzilla vs. Destoroyah) (2:48)
  30. Monster Zero March – Neil Norman And His Cosmic Orchestra (3:04)

Released by: GNP Crescendo
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 78:31