Prentiss Riddle: Music

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It don't mean a thing

Seela and Lala

Yesterday I made my first ever visit to End of an Ear to hear Seela and 3/4 of Torch do a record release show for their latest, Charmed.

I've been gushing over Seela's jazz work since I first heard her singing at the Elephant Room swing jam sessions before the formation of Torch. She's had a musical split personality for all these years, with her mid-20th-century jazz influences on the one hand contrasting with her singer-songwriter work on the other. She more or less stuck to using her own name for gigs outside the jazz vein and Torch within it.

With this CD consisting largely of originals, Seela seems to be bringing the two halves together. To me the songwriting sounds a lot like her solo work on Hard Times Hit and Something Happened while the performance moves in and out of expected jazz conventions. The standards on Charmed are planted a little more firmly on jazz foundations but much spacier than the trad swing settings where I first heard Seela. (The exception is "The Happy Song," a ditty Seela wrote for an unmade Old Navy commercial; it certainly makes me want to get grass stains on denim, so I think they should have bought the song.)

I'll always have a personal attachment to Torch's earlier work but I have to cheer as they find their own voice.

Torch: Charmed Chris Vestre group: Suburban Life

I can't believe I'd never made it to End of an Ear before. Although the emphasis is on vinyl, the store has plenty of lovingly selected CDs as well. I picked up a copy of Torch guitarist Chris Vestre's new one, Suburban Life at a reasonable price. I'll be back.

Speaking of reasonable prices, after several years recycling chunks of my CD collection as trade-ins at Waterloo, I'm trying something new: the online CD trading service At Waterloo I seem to average a fairly generous $4/disc for trade-ins (at least for the titles they accept); with used and sale-price CDs running $7 to $14 it takes me maybe three old CDs to come home with one new one. At Lala the ratio is one to one, with Lala taking a modest fee of $1.75 a trade. It works like Netflix: Lala provides prepaid mailers and has a nifty YASN-inspired interface for matching "haves" with "wants."

I'm tempted to spam all my friends with Lala invitations, but I'll refrain. For what it's worth, here are my own haves and wants. (Interesting that for all the social features in Lala there are no viral incentives; I don't get a bonus for recruiting new signups.)

music 2007.06.10 / link / 2 comments

¿Por qué? ¿Por qué, por qué?

This year the Christmas cards never got written but at least I managed to pull together my annual mix CD. If you're a regular commenter here, drop me a line with your snail-mail address and I'd be delighted to send you a copy.

¿Por qué? ¿Por qué, por qué? Stuff I've been listening to in 2006
Marcos Valle
(with Anamaria Valle)
  1  Crickets Sing for Anamaria (Os grilos)
M & U's favorite tune of the year. I made them promise they'd never emulate Anamaria. (1968)
Edson Frederico e a Transa   2   Bobeira
I haven't deciphered the lyrics yet, but a bobeira is a silly mistake. (1975)
buy buy hear
Billy Preston   3   Let the Music Play
RIP. Catch him in the amazing opening of the documentary Before the Music Dies. (1967)
buy search watch
James Brown   4   Out of Sight
RIP. (1964)
buy hear read search watch
Esther Phillips   5   Home is Where the Hatred is
Galveston-born singer applies personal experience to a Gil Scott-Heron tune. (1972)
buy hear read search
Sly and the Family Stone
vs. Devin Lima
  6   If You Want Me to Stay
From the remix/duet compilation "Different Strokes By Different Folks". I'm not sure why Devin would feel the need to tinker with Sly's original, but the result is still pretty tasty. (1973/2005)
buy search
Goldfrapp   7   Ride a White Horse
One of those tunes that inexplicably grabs me and I'm almost afraid to know more about the band it came from.
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The Hard Lessons   8   Milk and Sugar
As the Ear Candy DJs like to say, it's got a crunchy rock exterior and a gooey pop center. Yum.
buy hear search watch
Broadcast   9   Michael a Grammar
This is not your sawtooth wave.
buy search
Barbara Morgenstern   10   The Operator
Serious German synth pop.
buy hear search watch
Gigi   11   Hulu-Dane
Gigi sings a fusion of Ethiopian traditional music and jazz, in the footsteps of Aster Aweke. Here Bill Laswell gives her the full orientalist treatment with sarangi, tabla and electronics. In his hands it works.
Dizzy Gillespie   12   All the Things You Are
Why this particular tune? Dunno, maybe it's the bowed bass hook. (1947)
buy search
King Pleasure   13   Moody's Mood for Love
Another M&U favorite. King Pleasure was an early practitioner of transcribing jazz solos and writing lyrics for them. This is a remake of his 1952 hit, minus the soupy strings and turning it into a duet. (1960)
buy read
Betty Hutton   14   Blow A Fuse
Another favorite straight from the MP3 blog Soul Sides. And yes, Björk did what is now the definitive version, but the original is just as amazing. (1948)
buy read
Gecko Turner   15   Limón en la cabeza
Okay, you have my permission to hate me for infecting you with this earworm. Gecko Turner is from Spain and to me sounds like one part Manu Chao and one part Macarena, if you can imagine that, with a squeeze of the lime and the coconut.
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Los Super Elegantes   16   ¿Por qué te vas?
Another earworm, a cheese-pop cover from an LA band that deserves to be this year's Brazilian Girls. You gotta see the video for their song "Sixteen", linked below. In that moment I felt so abandoned that I ran out into the streets shouting, why, why, why?
buy hear search watch
Julieta Venegas   17   Andar conmigo
Leave it to Julieta to wring the significant from the banal. There are so many roads to walk, tell me if you'll walk with me.
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Tom Jobim with Astrud Gilberto   18   Só tinha que ser com você
Two monumental but sometimes uneven performers, here in fine form. (1964)
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Moacir Santos with Zé Nogueira   19   Coisa nº 5 - Nanã
A little story: surfing Flickr, my eye was caught by Tom Jobim's banyan tree in the Rio botanical garden; after following the lovely meditative photos of Zenog for a while, I learned that he is a saxophonist and producer; poking at his site I found this gorgeous piece. (2001)
buy look read watch
Maria Rita   20   Minha alma (A paz que eu não quero)
Peace without a voice isn't peace, it's fear. Sometimes life asks me, what kind of peace would I not put up with to try to be happy?
buy search watch

Happy listening in 2007!

music 2007.01.11 / link / 2 comments

New frontiers in cowkitsch

This is a few months late, but check out the official German entry in the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest.

What a pity real Texans can't enter! Kelly Willis or Hot Club of Cowtown would have whupped their little popos. Or any SoCo happy hour band, for that matter.

Language geek notes: Wikipedia reports that Eurovision's language policy has flipflopped over the years as to whether contestants must sing in their own national languages. When the rules are loosened, English dominates, but a couple of entries have even been in conlangs.

Texas Lightning's other big hit is a country cover of Like a Virgin. Hear more at Hype Machine or (Via Chilango.)

music 2007.01.02 / link / 3 comments

Quem mora no Brasil?

Moro No Brasil (I Live in Brazil) is an explicitly Buena Vista Social Club-inspired film about the roots of Brazilian music. It is structured as a road trip from the Amazon through the Northeast and down to Rio de Janeiro, taking in a dozen musical styles along the way. The movie pointedly avoids the two Brazilian musical movements most familiar outside Brazil, bossa nova and tropicália, focusing mostly on older practitioners of traditional music.

The more folkloric scenes are great but I have to admit that the highlights for me are the artists I already knew, specifically Margareth Menezes, and - worth the price of admission all by himself - Seu Jorge hanging out and performing with the self-described old guard of the Mangueira samba school. Ivo Meireilles' staging of a James Brown medley on favela rooftops is fun, too, but it doesn't sound anything like the much more hiphop-influenced funk brasileiro I've run into elsewhere, and when a voiceover makes the doubtful claim that funk bands have led to a huge drop in narcotrafficking in the Rio slums it hurts the movie's musicological credibility as a whole.

Moro No Brasil DVD Moro No Brasil CD

Moro No Brasil is to be commended for bringing attention to styles and artists that haven't made it into the world music bins, but as a film it has some shortcomings. The conceit of the road movie and the first-person title suggest that we should learn something about the personal journey of the filmmaker, but all we get is that he's a Finn who left the snow behind and owns a night club in Rio. Nor do the musicians' personal stories add up to quite a dramatic arc to match the remarkable history of Cuba's Buena Vista Social Club. So what's left is a grab-bag of concert footage, interviews and impressive Brazilian scenery. Certainly could be worse!

And meanwhile I'm still waiting for the Brazilian music documentaries of my own dreams: a full-on Ken Burns treatment of Ruy Castro's history of bossa nova followed by something similar for MPB. They're long overdue.

music 2006.07.23 / link / 2 comments

I Got Tired of Being Sexy

This is the 11th or 12th edition of my annual mix CD that goes out to friends with the xmas cards. As before if you're a regular here, send me your snail-mail address and a copy is yours. (iTunes addicts: if you prefer I'll send you an MP3 CD with metadata and bonus tracks! Just let me know.)

I Got Tired of Being Sexy Stuff I've been listening to in 2005
Cansei de Ser Sexy  1  Acho um Pouco Bom
Best band name of the year, from São Paulo.
Cessna  2  Book
I just bought it to make me feel wiser.
mp3 buy
Ray Bryant  3  Up Above the Rock
Jazz piano veteran funks out. (1968)
Cathy Davey  4  Clean and Neat
Like a pure white cotton sheet.
The Mountain Goats  5  Palmcorder Yajna
It will be too late by the time we learn what these cryptic symbols mean.
Dealership  6  All the Kids
I found this band through a member's blog and it's hard not to speculate who the song could be about, You're So Vain-style.
Torch  7  Peel Me a Grape
Either amuse me or lose me.
Juana Molina  8  Tres Cosas
It won't be anyone's fault.
mp3 words
Brazilian Girls  9  Corner Store
Bet they wish they had a nickel for every time someone said "they're not Brazilian and only one of them is a girl".
Julieta Venegas  10  Fe
It would be so easy to throw myself out the window, knowing you were under it with open arms.
Thievery Corporation with
Patrick De Santos
  11  Sol Tapado
I'm a new listener to Thievery Corp and I can never figured out what they've recorded, remixed or simply compiled.
Sun Ra  12  Transition
Sun Ra on a good day makes me think of Mingus. (1957)
The Mexicos  13  Lofi Referee
Loud-soft-loud still works in my book.
mp3 buy
Anthony Rochester  14  Métropolitain
Vocalese like a Star Trek theremin.
mp3 buy
Cibelle  15  Sereia, Amor d'Água
This is from the Suba tribute but she's got her own stuff out now.
Thunderball  16  Vai Vai
More recycled Brasiliana of uncertain origin.
Torch  17  You Came a Long Way From St. Louis
Too good not to include two tracks, this one a capella with Seela's beau Jon Green on the skins.
John Benjamin Band  18  What We Need More of is Science
Be sure to check out MC Hawking's entry in the same SongFight! contest.
Frump  19  Vasectomy
Vasectomy is a parody of Frump's song The Library which is a parody of the Ramones' song Teenage Lobotomy, or is it the other way around?
La Bionda  20  Wanna Be Your Lover
Italian bubblegum synth-pop answer to Major Tom. (1982)
The Dishes  21  The Perfect Nanny
As heard on This American Life.
Yoko Kanno & the Seatbelts  22  Tank! (TV Edit)
Not that John and Yoko. (1998)
Seu Jorge  23  Rebel Rebel
David Bowie, favela style. Moda na gringa é feliz natal.

Again I am indebted to Fluxblog, Webjay and the MP3 blog scene in general.

Last year I had to omit Morningwood's "Take Off Your Clothes" to maintain a family listening experience. This year it was Alice and the Enemies' "Touching Boys in Supermarkets" (follow that link for a listen) and, even moreso, the Brazilian Girls' "P***y P***y P***y Marijuana".

There. Now I can start my playlist for 2006...

music 2005.12.13 / link / 5 comments

Torch MP3s, grab 'em while they're hot

Seela and her aptly-named band Torch are my current jazz favorites in Austin, especially on the lucky occasions when Ephraim Owens sits in on trumpet.


So I'm happy to report that they have a page of MP3s for your downloading pleasure.

Seela's playing every Tuesday this month at Cedar Street happy hour in various musical combinations. She has two very different musical personas: the dark singer-songwriter doing original material, and the cool-yet-hot jazz chanteuse putting her own spin on standards. Is it heartless of me to say that I like the former but love the latter? Another case of hating to pigeonhole music and yet it would be nice to have a subtle clue as to which to expect before making the trip downtown.

music 2005.06.18 / link / comment?

Not that John and Yoko

I was listening to the MP3 blog Flugblog this morning via its WebJay stream when something came on that took me back to the dying days of big band jazz.

In the mid-70's I was last trombone in my high school stage band and just getting into jazz. The gateway drugs at the time were Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears, followed closely by big bands like those of Maynard Ferguson (favored by the trumpet players) and Woody Herman (who I liked better because his work was arrangement-driven rather than hanging entirely from Maynard's lip). It was awful stuff -- lame covers of pop tunes, trying to wed the bandleaders' obsession with big harmonic piles of reeds and brass to the electric bass and chucka-chucka guitar required by the kids. Even the jazz fusion I graduated to was an improvement, followed thank heaven by ECM, early Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, Getz/Gilberto, Mingus, Monk, and Miles.

So when I thought I was half-listening to a Maynard Ferguson track -- like Hawaii Five-O stretched out past the commercial break -- I wondered, where did Fluxblog dig that up?

Turns out it wasn't Maynard at all, but one Japanese soundtrack goddess Yoko Kanno. Fluxnlog explains all with a comic by M.E. Russell, an alternate-universe John and Yoko.

John and Yoko by M.E. Russell

Now I totally dig it. Amazing what just a drop of ironic hipster context will do. Gotta rent the anime.

music 2005.05.25 / link / 3 comments

Frump is coming to Austin

Thanks to everybody's help, my sister's band Frump (the all-mom garage band) will be playing not one but four gigs during SxSW. (At unofficial sideshow events, of course.)

Saturday, March 19, 5:00 PM
Moxie & the Compound
2120 Oxford Avenue, Austin

Saturday, March 19, 9:00 PM
Austin Daze Headquarters
1300 East 4th Street, Austin

Sunday, March 20, 1:00 PM
Cafe Mundi (family show)
1704 East 5th Street, Austin

Sunday, March 20, 8:00 PM
Alligator Grill
3003 South Lamar, Austin

Their next goal is to get to Mamapalooza in New York in May.

music 2005.03.11 / link / 1 comment

Help bring Frump to Austin

My sister's band Frump wants to play in Austin during South by Southwest. Does anybody know of any sideshow events or non-SxSW venues which would be interested in booking an all-mom garage band from Dallas? They've been getting a lot of press lately and you can hear a very brief audio sample.


Two years back I blogged a short list of counter-SxSW festivals (South by South First, South by North Loop, Yeast by Mouth Beast, etc.). In 2004 the site South by So What? compiled a full schedule of alternative events. It doesn't seem to be updated yet this year.

So... Anybody have any suggestions, or know of a comparable list for 2005?

music 2005.01.22 / link / 11 comments

Tsunami Dealership

Blog heartthrob Jane of Umami Tsunami must be feeling funny about her blog name today.

But as consolation, her band Dealership has a nifty new music video you can watch from their latest CD Action/Adventure. And a pile of tasty MP3s in their archive, too.

Dealership video: All the Kids

Addendum: I forgot to mention this pic that Jane links to from a Thanksgiving party at a club where she plays. Note the iPods lined up on the turntable. Great idea; is that standard practice these days? Does the iPod sound good enough for a club sound system?

The pic brings to mind a new form of key party where you toss your iPod in a bowl and draw someone else's at random for some promiscuous listening pleasure.

music 2004.12.28 / link / 1 comment

Music from the mutant city

On a surfing expedition that started at Webjay I came across this wonderful snapshot of music from São Paulo 2004, Cidade Mutação. It's part of the larger site for a cultural festival that happened in November and includes art and writing as well.

Cidade Mutação

The music page seems to authorize downloads as there's a Baixar a MP3 button on each band's popup, but downloading just generates errors. So I've extracted a list of the MP3s and created a Webjay playlist to make them streamable:

  1. Mamelo Sound System - Manifesta
  2. Parteum + Rua de Baixo - Selva
  3. Nego Moçambique - São Paulo Overture
  4. Junio Barreto - A quem Glória posso ser
  5. Hurtmold - Amansa louco
  6. Geanine Marques - Special Flavor
  7. Forgotten Boys - Godstrashcan
  8. Benzina aka Scandurra - 25/01/2025 (Psicon)
  9. DonaZica - Cadência
  10. Cansei de ser sexy - Acho um pouco bom
  11. Instituto+Z'África Brasil - Mutações

I'm especially taken with the track by Cansei de Ser Sexy, which has one of the better band names I've heard lately ("I Got Tired of Being Sexy").

music 2004.12.27 / link / comment?

Seu Jorge's aquatic Bowie

I saw The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou this afternoon (fun fun fun) and one of its many surprises is a bunch of David Bowie covers rendered in Portuguese by Brazilian musician and actor Seu Jorge. I don't know how they'll stand up on their own, but as used in the movie they're great. Jorge plays a crewmember who always seems to be perched in the crow's nest with his guitar at just the right moment for a little acoustic glam-samba.

I'm still scouring the web for MP3s to link to, but meanwhile here's a BBC piece on Seu Jorge. I didn't realize that he played Knockout Ned (Mané Galinha) in Cidade de Deus.

music 2004.12.25 / link / 8 comments

More Mosquitos and A.M. 60

The Mosquitos, my personal favorite discovery of 2003, have a second release out, Sunshine Barato. It's pretty good but has that second-effort syndrome, just three stars to the first album's four.

Mosquitos - Sunshine Barato A.M. 60 - Big as the Sky

Meanwhile I've just learned of Mosquitos founder Chris Root's prior project, A.M. 60, which also has a record out, Big as the Sky. Apparently A.M. 60 is the proverbial "we're big in Japan" band, and in the UK, where it first appeared. So while Chris and Jon and Juju were bombing around the US as the Mosquitos, Chris's records as A.M. 60 were raking in serious profits abroad.

A.M. 60 sounds like what you'd expect, the Mosquitos minus the Brazilian musical component and with Juju moved to backing vocals. I'd say it's another three-star effort, worth a listen but not a religious conversion. You can hear it for yourself on the A.M. 60 site.

Having just ended a Mosquitos tour, they're climbing back into the van for AM60's first American tour (scheduled to be at Stubbs on December 11). Makes you wonder why they didn't just schedule a joint tour for both bands at once...

music 2004.12.03 / link / 1 comment

Gonna Kill Me a Cupid

It's time for my annual audio holiday card, a mix CD of what I've been listening to lately. As in previous years, if you're a regular here, drop me a line with your snail-mail address and I'll be delighted to send you a copy.

Gonna Kill Me a Cupid Stuff I've been listening to in 2004
Eli Goulart e Banda do Mato  1  Sunny
Samba saves another piece of 60's pop from itself. Goulart was a Germany-based Brazilian who died in 2003 just as his career was taking off.
The Brunettes  2  Loopy Loopy Love
Gonna kill me a cupid, 'cause a cupid causes love.
Racey  3  Kitty
I thought this was a switcheroo cover of the hit "Mickey" but it was the other way around. (1979)
Spek  4  Smell the Coffee
Whatever you're thinking, that's a floating home. Desi hip-pop from Toronto.
Skalpel  5  1958
Jazz reassembled from 50's Polish samizdat tapes, when swing was a crime against the state.
Barcelona  6  I Have the Password to Your Shell Account
I tried your mom's first name, I tried your cat's name. I don't think you're smart enough.
Momus  7  I am a Kitten
My girls ask me, daddy, has that ever really happened? (1996)
Emilio Santiago  8  Bananeira
What's the right way to see a banana tree? (1975)
Trio Mocotó  9  Onde anda o meu amor
The old guys get together with the young cats of Zuco 103.
Single Tear  10  Jugando joqui con el mono
All the scientists are looking for the monkey, but he's playing hockey with the children.
Los Ocho de Colombia  11  Cumbia del beso (Por cuánto me lo da)
How much for a kiss? Twenty pesos. Where? In the kitchen. When? After the dance. (~1982)
Grupo Fantasma  12  Utility Rock
It's hard being a broke slacker by day and a cumbia god by night.
Ghandaia  13  Odara
Let me sing so the world becomes beauty, Odara.
Bersuit Vergarabat  14  Perro Amor Explota
Love explodes.
Orquestra Jean Kelson  15  Berimbau
One string becomes six, six become an orchestra. (1965)
Lemon Party  16  Spalding Gray is Missing
A sad theme for the songwriting contest at SongFight.
Barbara Morgenstern  17  Kleiner Auschnitt
I am a very small excerpt.
Shane Bartell  18  Don't Believe Everything
Hurry up and grab the money and nothing needs to change.
Franz Ferdinand  19  Take Me Out
Sometimes the art history nerds do good stuff.
Heloise and the Savoir Faire Dancers  20  Odyle
Love the song, love the choreography.
Scanty Sandwich  21  Because of You
The scary sampled voice is that of a young Michael J.
Bobby Conn  22  We Come in Peace
Theme song for W's second inauguration.
Thalma De Freitas  23  Tranqüilo
I am not afraid of the world.

This year developments like MP3 blogs and Webjay have made a big difference in my listening habits. I'm hearing lots of new things I never would have heard any other way. You can tell from all the indie pop and DJ/electronica/dance creeping onto the list, normally not "my" genres. I like the novelty, but the downside is that I'm a sucker for a lot of one-hit wonders: when I manage to track down additional material by these people it doesn't always match my expectations. Not a good sign for the "give them a taste for free on the net and they'll buy the album" school of thought. Oh, well.

My one regret about this list is that I had to leave out what might be my favorite tune of the year, Take Off Your Clothes (click there! that's an MP3!) by Morningwood. It's missing strictly because I was shooting for a PG-13 rating, not NC-17. The sacrifices we make for our children. Sigh.

What else? If you know anything about Single Tear, please please pass it on; they elude my Google skills. I thought about trying to track down videos for these songs but the ones I found were pretty dismal except for the must-see Odyle and the would-be-better-in-hi-res Take Me Out. [Update: Grupo Fantasma also has a great video out for Utility Rock.] Finally, Momus and Thalma de Freitas both have blogs which are worth a look.

There. Now I can start my playlist for 2005.

music 2004.12.02 / link / 10 comments

Cut Me Out

If Max Ernst did music videos, he'd have done the one for Franz Ferdinand's Take Me Out. Catchy tune, too.

Franz Ferdinand: Take Me Out

This interview doesn't credit Ernst directly but close enough. Unfortunately not even the "high res" online version can do the video justice. It's a small miracle that I happened to catch it on TV at 3:00 AM, the only time slot these days when MTV actually plays music videos. There are more FF videos to squint at if you're so inclined.

music 2004.11.01 / link / 1 comment
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