Monday, January 2, 2017

Past Greatness: December '16

Welcome to the first installment of Past Greatness, a new monthly series I'll be doing showcasing great, older works. The one pre-requisite I have for this series is that I must have first listened to the album within the past month, or close enough to it. All albums listed below are of 8+ quality. This month's albums are Carl Stone's Mom's, an under-recognized Tape Music recording from 1992. Sly & The Family Stone's There's A Riot Goin' On, a 1971 seminal Funk masterpiece. And The Angels Of Light's How I Loved You, a 2001 Swans side-project drenched in Neo-Folk. Links to the albums will be provided if they're readily available. 

Carl Stone | Mom's | Listen
1992 | Tape Music

Back in the day, before I dissected entire albums for my listening pleasure, singles were the way to my heart. This meant early streaming sites like Pandora were at the top of my bookmarks. A few weeks ago, as I laid in bed, bored but not yet tired, I stumbled upon Spotify's version of this; Discover. It was sensational, stocked to the brim with relevant songs based on my listening habits. Anyways, one of those songs happened to be Carl Stone's 'Mom's.' Almost immediately I was entranced, curious as to the genre present and its similarities to other looping Tape producers like The Caretaker or William Basinski. But here, more work was present, as if Carl Stone created the sounds themselves and then spliced the best moments.

Then I come to discover it released in 1992, and the impressive stature by which Mom's existed grew even more so. The album, as its namesake and cover implies, sets to capture the feeling, mood, and jubilee of a local Bar-B-Q establishment on the outskirts of Los Angeles. This is best captured on the defiant title track, but that's not to say the other four pieces don't feel somehow connected to the sensations at hand. 'Banteay Srey,' for example, invokes a foggy, early morning for me, as if the daytime workers are just coming in as the sun begins to rise. While that opener, and the closer 'Chao Nue,' are largely Ambient pieces without much fine-tuning, 'Shing Kee' is a shining beacon to what looping samples can achieve. Initially uncategorizable, slowly but surely a Japanese voice comes into view, being pulled and stretched with each new instance. It's an intoxicating listen and one that doesn't wear on you despite the 15-minute duration.

Sly & The Family Stone | There's A Riot Goin On | Listen
1971 | Funk

Even though I was already well-versed in George Clinton's work with Funkadelic and Parliament, I never ventured far into the recesses of Funk. That was, curiously enough, until Childish Gambino decided to reinvoke their spirits with "Awaken, My Love!," an album that draped its influences all over its body. One of those, I was told, was Sly & The Family Stone. Previously, I had known of the group through Pitchfork's Top 100 Albums Of The 70's list, where There's A Riot Goin On sat stoically at number four. A good enough starting place, I presumed. And boy was I right. After a few listens I knew it was good, great even, but the impact never fully dawned on me till I scoped out the tracklist, song by song, to find not a single one that could be classified as subpar. There's A Riot was a never-ending carousel of Funk majesty, both familiar and creative, traditional and out there.

Those parched horns and female falsettos on 'Luv N Haight,' the trembling, hushed vocals of Sly Stone on 'Just Like A Baby,' the squelching cacophony of "Timberrrrrrrr" on 'Africa Talks To You,' the album is filled to the brim with memorable moments like these. I can keep going, and so I will. The flushed, roused state of love affairs on 'Smilin,' the clairvoyant harkening of Sly on 'Time,' the funky, country-bred roots of 'Spaced Cowboy,' they truly are endless. People talk about the political nature of There's A Riot Goin On, and how it shaped the scene of Funk and black music in general. While the writing's certainly on the wall, and the distancing between The Family Stone's former albums are clear, I don't find it all that engaging if I'm being honest. To me, that success comes in at the subconscious level, as you can feel turmoil bubbling underneath the surface of these inescapable Funk hits. Some more obvious than others, but it's that dance between happy and dejected that truly gets to me.

The Angels Of Light | How I Loved You | Listen
2001 | Neo-Folk

Ah, Gira. Quite convincingly, there is no artist on this planet I've done more than a 180 for than Michael Gira and Swans. In 2014, I listened to To Be Kind without questioning why, only to get a severe headache two hours into my ride back home. It was awful, and still is. However, something, somehow, drew me back. And after being told their older material wasn't similar to that ear-curdling noise torture, I dove in, and came out baptized in the blood of essential 90's Swans. Every record I loved, some more than others, including the under appreciated Burning World, which saw the group make their first mighty shift, fully embracing the Neo-Folk angle they often sought. Come and went, I was told, once again, that the side project, Angels Of Light, reimagined that Neo-Folk scene for the new millennium. How I Loved You is the byproduct, a magnificent work capped off by two of Gira's most prophetic creations; 'Evangeline' and 'Two Women.'

While nothing is beating 'Blind,' which has climbed my top 100 songs list quicker than any track not named 'Heroes,' 'Two Women' decisively falls behind Gira's masterpiece as the second best thing he's ever created. Even at nearly 12-minutes, I wish it would never end. Poetically saturated, vocally devastating, and emotionally taxing, 'Two Women' is just Swans incarnated. Elsewhere, surprisingly, you'll find fragments of what was to come a decade down the road. 'My True Body,' 'New City In The Future,' and 'New York Girls' all feel as if they could've come from third-gen Swans, with their aggressive repetition of Experimental Rock. This makes How I Loved You, quite easily, Gira's most encompassing project. It's not his best, but it is the one piece that succeeds the most at describing Swans in ten 'easy' steps. Neo-Folk, Gothic Country, Experimental Rock, all sewn together with strips of human flesh.

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