[You can learn more about Peter here.]
Víkingur Ólafsson, Johan Sebastian Bach (Deutsche Grammaphon, 2018): When Ólafsson released his extraordinary versions of Philip Glass’s piano pieces in 2017, I became a committed fan. So much poise. His Bach double LP is so forceful, so good, such a refreshing tonic. It’s accompanied by Bach Reworks, full of appealing electronic versions and remixes by a host of mostly Icelandic artists. Ólafsson just released another double LP putting Rameau, the late-Baroque French composer, in conversation with Debussy. Also: So photogenic!
Susan Howe/Nathaniel Mackey, Stray: A Graphic Tone (Fonograf/ROMA, 2018): Neither Howe nor Mackey, two of the greatest living American poets, is a stranger to recording and performing their poetry. For years, Howe has ingeniously collaborated with David Grubbs to create soundscapes of language and pattern repetition. Likewise, Mackey, who has issued a CD of readings from “Song of the Andoumboulou,” one of his two ongoing serial poems (the other is called “Mu,” named after Don Cherry’s series), has taken to performing his poetry readings with improvisers. “Stray: A Graphic Tone” makes use of archival and more recent recordings to give a sense of these poets’ excellence. In an age of poets’ recordings proliferating on the internet (which is very much a good thing), I gotta say, nevertheless, it’s nice to have poetry on vinyl.
Laurie Spiegel, The Expanding Universe (Unseen Worlds, 2018): I prefer to listen to repetitive, minimalist, and ambient music when I work – by which I mean, when I am grading student essays, which pins me to my computer. I discovered Spiegel’s groundbreaking work from 1980 thanks to an algorithm on Spotify. My gratitude for that artificial semi-intelligence is immense. These grooves are hypnotic. In a lucid self-interview printed on the cover this vast triple LP, Spiegel, who worked at Bell Labs, describes, “This music is for listening.” This prompts her to ask herself, “When I asked that, I meant what instrument is it for?” To which she replies to herself, “It’s composed specially for record players, and I made it on a computer.” “Patchwork,” the opening track, “consists of relationships among four short melodic motives and four rhythmic patterns.” It’s deep – and hard to stop listening to. Here’s an interview with Spiegel from 1984. “A synergistic oscillation.”
Kamasi Washington, The Epic (Brainfeeder, 2015): I love this album, which Zach encouraged me to buy when I met him at Dusty Groove a few years ago. Of epic, Georg Lúkacs wrote that epic creates distances and that epic distance “means happiness and lightness, a loosening of the bonds that tie men and objects to the ground, a lifting of the heaviness, the dullness, which are integral to life and which are dispersed only in scattered happy moments. The created distances of epic verse transform such moments into the true level of life.” Washington’s “Epic” contains everything I want in an art of grand distances and minute perceptions. I had the good fortune to see Washington and his band perform at the Riviera in Chicago on November 3, 2018, one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. I was especially struck by how attentively Washington listened to his bandmates – he was so focused on their solos and collaborations. He was the consummate visionary bandleader, and reflecting on that concert, he offered a model of how to proceed during these tumultuous times: leading with imagination, performing when called on, and listening always.
Rush, various singles (1970s/1980s): Rick Wojcik, Dusty Groove’s proprietor, gave these singles to me as a Christmas gift. They came from a juke box collection. Rick knows – and shares – my deep love of Rush. You don’t necessarily get to choose what encounter at which time in your most formative and impressionable period is going to alchemize your elements and transmute them into art, but for most artists this happens rarely. Awkward kid alienated from his suburban surroundings with a love of fantasy and sci-fi turns into an artist (a poet in my case) is not in itself so unusual. But how fortunate to have had Neil Peart to initiate that transformation! When he died back in January, I felt a pang of loss which compelled me to listen repeatedly to the music and to watch all the documentaries one more time. (“Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage” is so good.) One song that’s been running through my head repeatedly in the past month is “Natural Science,” the track that concludes Permanent Waves. Specifically, these lyrics (and forgive the long quotation), “Art as expression, / Not as market campaigns / Will still capture our imaginations / Given the same / State of integrity / It will surely help us along // The most endangered species / The honest man / Will still survive annihilation / Forming a world / State of integrity / Sensitive, open and strong.” Okay, very proggy, but can you think of another rock song that uses “sensitive” as an adjective of praise?
Knapsack, “Twelve Degrees,” (2020): Knapsack plays all of the instruments on this song, except the drums, which are played by underscores. Note the glockenspiel in the opening. This choice is extremely prejudiced. Knapsack is Gabriel O’Leary, my son. In his own words, he’s studying how to be a pop musician at the Clive Davis Institute for Recorded Music at NYU. It’s okay!
[You can hear Roman’s work here.]
Coriky, S/T: I just got this, so I’m still figuring it out. Every time a new Fugazi album would come out I’d think, “Not digging this one!” and a month later I’d declare it a masterpiece that leaves the rest in the dust. This one feels so comfortable right away that I’m suspicious of it! I don’t trust my middle-aged self completely, but man oh man, it is making me so happy. Have a fucking cup of tea and just let it happen, Mars.
Linqua Franqa, Model Minority: I was in Athens, GA for the first time in nearly 20 years and I asked the clerk at Wuxtry what LP I needed from the current Athens music scene and he sold me this one. The record is both urgent and chill and Linqua Franqa has charisma to burn. She is one of those artists that you can’t understand why they haven’t conquered the world.
William Tyler, Modern Country: This is my reading music. It has drama and melody that keeps my brain buzzing and then it combines with the text I’m reading to create these aleatoric compositions that bring out new meaning. I listen to it and Impossible Truth over and over.
Beauty Pill, Please Advise: I’m so in the tank for Chad Clark it’s just embarrassing. I heard an early cut of Pardon Our Dust and it basically built a second home inside my brain. When the EP came out, the new revelation that bowled me over was the cover of the Pretenders’ “Tattooed Love Boys.” It has such an immediate, grab-you-by-the-collar clarity in the middle of a kaleidoscopic maelstrom of stereo panned beats and bleeps. I don’t know how he does it.
The Shutups, Every Day I’m Less Zen: This could be the greatest pop punk rock debut record of all time. I’m not being hyperbolic and I’m not using “pop” as a pejorative. They are not wasting your time. They are not resting on style. You can feel their confidence and competence. This is another one where I’m like, why aren’t you playing in stadiums to 20,000 screaming teens? I listen to it straight through when I’m boxing and it never lets me down.
The Feelies, Only Life: Here’s the deal with this one: it’s not on Spotify or Bandcamp or anything.1I have the LP and that’s my only way to access it, so it’s on my record player more than any other piece of vinyl. It’s a candidate for one of the greatest records of all time. There’s not a single bad track, but it really excels as an album. There’s an art to creating the flow of an album and this one nails it. It’s best when listened to all together.
The link in the title of this entry is to a YouTube upload of the album.↩
Anand Giridharadas: The danger of side salads – The.Ink