Album of the Week – Cocteau Twins: Heaven or Las Vegas

Shimmering guitars, echo-y vocals singing other worldly lyrics with haunting harmonies, Heaven Or Las VegasCocteau Twins’ 1990 release is on constant rotation on my home-friendly play lists. Elizabeth Fraser wrote many of the songs about her newborn daughter so it’s not an accident that the album has a bright and dreamy sensibility. The album is the group’s most most accessible of their career and the most successful – topping out at #7 on the British charts. While their earlier works – such as Treasure or Garlands are more goth than pop – Heaven of Las Vegas has less dark and ominous sounds with layers of rich and lush melodies layed down by guitarist Robin Guthrie. It’s hard to believe that the album is nearly 20 years old yet it still feels fresh and new. Heaven-Or-Las-Vegas-(Remastered)-by-Cocteau-Twins_Vn6c6zhBjagx_full

What draws my son to the songs besides the evocative music are the unintelligible lyrics (a trademark of the Twins musical style) which encourages him to decipher what is being sung. Conversations about what a particular line means is an exercise in imaginative interpretation.  I love the fact that he can now pick out a Twin’s song on his own (even ones not from HOLV).

Fotzepolitic and the title track are sublime with soaring sweeps of sound and driving rhythms – while Wolf in the Breast and Pitch the Baby are highly melodic songs with the signature evocative yet mysterious lyrics. My favorite – Cherry-Coloured Funk is a lazy, hazy and beautiful track that takes me on a ride every time I hear it.

Cherry-Coloured Funk

Fotzepolitic

Heaven or Las Vegas

Wolf in the Breast

Pitch the Baby

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Album of the Week: Music Has the Right to Children by Boards of Canada

I can’t really say that I discovered Boards of Canada’s first album Music Has the Right to Children(MHTRTC) more so than it discovered me. I remember clearly in Spring of 2000 coming back from lunch one day and finding the CD placed squarely on my desk at work. It was a small office – about 15 people yet apparently no one fessed-up. After the initial listen (with headphones – which I highly recommend), an entirely new world of music opened up. I had been familiar with electronic-based music but BofC’s approach (which I now know was/is rooted in work by Aphex Twin, Brian Eno and other pioneers in ambient compositions) was something that I had not heard before.

music-has-the-right-to-childrenThe mysterious cover with its washed out imagery of faceless parents and kids circa 1970s, gives more than a hint of the hazy and ominous yet sometimes eerily cheerful analog-synth tracks enclosed within. Released in 1998, the duo Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin from the Northern coast of Scotland had previously released several EPs, so they had developed a signature sound and style, and they took that sound to a new level creating what is considered a landmark recording spawning countless copycats and effectively establishing a sub-genre of ambient music.

For those of us older than say 4o or so, we can all remember watching film strips in class with the Pavlovian “dings” heard from the cassette or record that was playing in the background to signal forwarding the strip the to the next frame. The name “Boards of Canada” is inspired from those documentary films specifically from the National Film Board of Canada, which produced the educational filmstrips in the 60’s and 70’s. This music subtly conjures up, from our distant memories, those grainy images and fuzzy background music that serve as a backdrop for themes of childhood and nature and the tension between innocence and its loss as children inevitably experience the “real world”.

The album has a mix of short vignettes that melt into longer substantive pieces that range from dark brooding, almost creepy – “Eagle In Your Mind” to the trippy and somewhat medicated cheer of “Turquoise Hexagon Sun” or “Aquarius”. “Olson” is a brilliant short track that elicits specific imagery for me every time I hear it… I leave it to you to have your own experience.

An Eagle in Your Mind

Turquoise Hexagon Sun

Aquarius

Olson

The combination of hip-hop beats, analog and digital samples and keyboards creates a rich, evocative otherworldly soundscapes that I’ve not tired of listening to repeatedly for almost a decade.

When asked by my son what kind of music BofC had made on this album, I’ve described it as background music for a movie about the future that was made before we were born. This stops the questioning but doesn’t provide a real answer – which is the way it should be. Music this ethereal and magical shouldn’t be neatly categorized.

I love this album.

Click here to get it: Music Has the Right to Children

As a bonus… although not off of the album MHTRTC, this track “In a Beautiful Place in the Country” epitomizes everything about BoC that I cherish… haunting, beautiful and slightly disturbing – the one line of lyric in the song (which is rare in their music) is actually from a recorded interview with Amo Bishop Roden – the wife of a leader from the Branch Davidians (the cult founded by David Koresh whose camp was burned to the ground in the infamous FBI raid in Waco, TX) talking about their camp and inviting people to “come out to live in a religious community in a beautiful place in the country”. Lush, dreamy, weird. Beautiful.

In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country

 

Album of the Week: Sarolta Zalatnay

I find that  playing music sung in languages other than English helps my kids understand that there are places other than the United States and bands other than Black Eyed Peas that can crank it out. So, let’s pick a country…  say Hungary and let’s pick a time – say 40 years ago – with that let me introduce you to Sarolta Zalatnay. Discovered amid the staff picks at Green Apple Bookstore in San Francisco (arguably one of the best – if not the best, book store in the city) – it’s a fav on our play list rotation. Sarolta Zalatnay

So, if you like killer hip-hop back beat, fuzzed-out wah wah guitar, lots of big crunchy power chords and a major dose of Janis Joplin with a pinch of Geddy Lee via Budapest circa 1969 then you’re gonna love her. Check out the grooves in Itt a Nyár and Hadd Mondjam El or the haunting Adj Egy Percet). I’ve tossed a few of her songs into some iPod play lists where several fellow musically discerning friends were clearly intrigued… and stumped. They would first look vacantly towards the sky as if they were trying to place the sound, then look quizzically at me – with expressions of delight yet wonder – their well honed databases of all things musical clearly unable to call up the artist. Click hear to get the album: Zalatnay

Egyser Itt a Nyar Adj Egy Percet Hadd Mondjam El

I have to admit that, even at my advance age of forty-something, discovering a random golden nugget like Sarolta still makes my day.

Album of the Week: Dandelion Gum by Black Moth Super Rainbow

black-moth-super-rainbow-da

A favorite in our house, Dandelion Gum is BMSR’s third album and is laden with trippy, psychedelic and highly melodic songs that sound like they were written and played by a group of martian kids on too much cough syrup.  It’s electronic/rock that’s played and recorded live – no sequencers were used, which explains the warm, child-like feel to the songs. Check out “Drippy Eye” and “When the Sun Grows On Your Tongue”. Weird, fun, kid friendly… and its got a great beat! Check it out.

When the Sun Grows on Your Tongue