Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Venopian Solitude – unique voice from the global village

We are definitely living in a global village. If you don’t believe it, give a listen to The Venopian Solitude, one of my favorite recent discoveries. I don’t think there could’ve been a musician like her before the net. If there had been, I certainly never would’ve found her, which would’ve been a damn shame.

The Venopian Solitude is a one-woman band whose sole member is Suiko Takahara, a young lady in Malaysia (Suiko is another pseudonym. She’s not really Japanese — she’s just very fond of Japanese culture). I was very surprised to find out just how young — 18 last time I checked, just about to head off to college. Based on her music, I expected to find someone a lot more experienced. Her voice has a nonchalant sophistication that’s well beyond her years. She has a slight vibrato on some of her songs, which I like a lot.

Suiko refers to her music as anti-folk. I’m not 100 percent sure what anti-folk means or if her music truly fits, but her philosophy basically comes down to composition over execution. She doesn’t want to be a virtuoso. She wants to make songs that express what’s in her heart and mind. It strikes me as almost a DIY punk rock ethic. Her songs could be described as loose, at times sloppy, always charming.  She plays guitar, ukelele and other instruments and records her music on a laptop herself, laying down tracks and sometimes harmonizing with herself. Some of her songs are catchy and I liked them instantly. Others turned out to be growers. She generally sings in English, but sometimes sings in Malay, or other languages. Her songs are witty, sad, joyful, funny, sometimes challenging. Her songs on the web are usually accompanied by little doodles – more DIY ethic, more charm.

She has a delightful self-deprecating sense of humor and is a lot of fun to talk to (best way to do that would probably be through her MySpace page, or her artist page on Uvumi. Also make sure to visit her blog. It’s interesting to see what’s on her mind.). She doesn’t seem to realize just how gifted she is and keeps acting surprised at how much people like her songs. I think she’s starting to get the idea, because she keeps putting out new songs and making them available — and they keep getting better. She has a real knack for songwriting.

Suiko has made quite a few albums available on Bandcamp. You could spend a very long time listening to them all, an exercise I encourage. If you find some of her songs a bit challenging, just give them time. They’re bound to take over your brain sooner or later. Here are a few of my favorite Venopian Solitude songs from different albums (or maybe they’re EPs?):

P.S. Suiko informs me that she’s actually 19, going on 20 in December. Positively elderly.

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Thrift store finds

Found a nice one at the Goodwill last weekend. “The Best of the Andes” by The Inka Kings. Good traditional Andean music, some instrumental, some with vocals. It was still wrapped in plastic, since 1993. Out of print, but you could probably rustle it up on the Internet some way or another. This is the real stuff, by the way. I’ve heard way too much Andean pan flute incorporated into New Age music, which does nothing for me. Despite the subtitle “The New Music of the Andes,” this comes across as authentic and traditional.

I also got a collection of songs from James Bond movies, which were good, but when I got home I discovered a scratch that I didn’t notice at the score. Couldn’t even rip the whole thing to my computer 😦

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Heading south for some banda music

Here’s what I’ve been listening to this morning, a hits collection by Los Muecas, singing with one or more banda groups (it doesn’t say on the cover, but I know from poking around on the web that at least on some songs they are singing with a banda group called Los Coyonquis). Fiery stuff isn’t it? It will definitely wake you up!

I don’t know how it is in other states, but with the large number of Mexican immigrants in Texas, compilations like the one I’ve been playing are cheap and plentiful. I often find racks of them at the grocery store and sometimes I’ll pick one out at random. Sometimes I like them, sometimes not, but they tend to be less than $5 each, so it’s worth the risk. I’ve found some real gems that way.

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‘World Music’ – thanks for giving me a new set of ears

A few days ago I heard a BBC News report on the local NPR affiliate that a British DJ named Charlie Gillett had just died. I’m not British and I never heard his radio show, but I quickly realized that I owed Gillett a huge debt of gratitude. So do a lot of others around the world, whether they know it or not. Gillett and three other music enthusiasts were the ones who came up with the term, “world music.” It seems trivial until you think about the implications. Lots of wonderful music would remain virtually unknown without the term.

Every so often I get into arguments with people over “world music” – one of the many types of music I love. Isn’t it Anglo-centric? Isn’t it insulting? Aren’t America and England part of the world too? Shouldn’t music be designated according to style, no matter what country it comes from? All very good questions, but in the end pretty much irrelevant. It might be overgeneralized and imprecise, but the concept of world music was created for a reason, and I’m grateful to the people who came up with it.

What does it mean exactly?  To me it means basically “stuff that’s based on different folk traditions than those I’m most familiar with.” I think it’s a way for people who don’t want to be quite so anglocentric to open their minds and explore. It isn’t really a genre, per se. It’s a marketing term. A way to reach – and help create – people with a “generalized sense of musical xenophilia.”

When I walk into Waterloo Records in Austin, they have a specific section for World Music (I think they call it International), where the music is in turn divided up based on countries and regions. I might go through that section and see a country I hadn’t even thought about and pick up a CD out of curiosity. I like being able to do that. If all the music got split up into its various genres, I might not be able to find it. It would get lost among the more familiar American and British groups.

I first got into World Music through the Luaka Bop label, founded by David Byrne – which has a lot of authentic folk-based music from primarily Latin countries; Peter Gabriel’s Real World label, which has African and Asian artists, which put out some great albums by Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan; the Hannibal Label, which has released a lot of African pop, Celtic music, and Eastern European folk-based stuff; and Bill Laswell’s Axiom label, which combines “world music” with genres like hip hop, dub, rock, jazz and funk. Rough Guide and Putumayo have also put out some great World Music compilations, all mixed up and broken down by region. I’ve never heard one of those I didn’t like. I’ve also discovered a lot of good stuff through a World Music show on 90.5 KUT, the local NPR radio affiliate.

World music did something else for me: It opened my ears to the traditions I grew up with. Even though I grew up around it, I never gave country, folk, or anything remotely like that a chance, until after several years of listening to “world music.” It also taught me to appreciate the conjunto music I had heard all my life before that–as I tuned past on the radio–but never liked.

This Guardian article from 2004 explains how the concept of world music came about and why: We created world music.

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Black Mountain serves up sweet mix of hard rock, prog & psych

It’s great to find a young band whose members have been listening to the right stuff. Black Mountain is obviously one such band. I found them online and was so impressed I looked them up and ordered two albums and an EP. I have really enjoyed all three – the self-titled Black Mountain (featuring a song you might remember if you used to frequent T61, “Druganaut”), In the Future (featuring “Tyrant”) and the Druganaut EP (with an extended mix of the song, plus three others). They’re like a whole bunch of my favorite bands all rolled into one.

I’ve seen them compared to Black Sabbath (maybe because their name starts with “Black”?) and I’m sure that’s part of the mix, but they remind me of a whole slew of bands from the ’70s that fell into transitional period between the hippie music of the ’60s and what would later evolve into hard rock and heavy metal. They could sound extreme, and engage in dark imagery, but at the same time delved into the mystical and philosophical – the roots of progressive rock.

Some of the bands that spring to mind include Deep Purple, Iron Butterfly, early Rush, very early Scorpions (as in The Lonesome Crow album, which sounds nothing like the Scorpions you probably know), early Judas Priest (as in Sad Wings of Destiny, back when Rob Halford had long hair like a proper hippie).

These guys (Stephen McBean, Amber Webber, Matt Camirand, Jeremy Schmidt and Joshua Wells) have similar inclinations. Their songs rock hard, slow down into trippy dirges, then rev back up into solid kickass. Powerful stuff. Lots of bands are doing psych, lots are doing metal or even classic-sounding hard rock. Not too many are able to mine this particular vein of rock ‘n’ roll. Perhaps it’s because they’re Canadian. Lots of great rock of the style I mentioned came out of that country – Triumph, Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush, and the aforementioned Rush.

Check out this video of Druganaut. Doesn’t it do a great job of capturing that druggy era of the late ’60s/early’70s?

Visit Black Mountain’s website and consider ordering some of their music. (They’re on a nice independent label, Jagjaguwar, so no indie guilt, if that matters to you.) The band is also on MySpace and Facebook.

And btw, there is a band featuring many of the same members called Pink Mountaintops that is more psychedelic and experimental. I have yet to check it out, but you bet I will.

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Thrift store finds

Got three CDs at Goodwill yesterday:

Cool Blue Outlaws. A compilation from Sugar Hill Records (Sarah Jarosz’ label). Pretty good stuff, if a bit harrowing. It consists of bluegrass murder ballads and tales of what guys did to wind up at the gallows or in prison breaking rocks for life. One thing I find interesting is the contrast. To me, the banjo is a happy-sounding instrument. It’s kind of amusing to hear that sound coupled with stories about killing and retribution. Some of those songs – traditional in folk music I realize – make no sense to me, but I suppose it happens: What’s up with the guy who was making love with his sweetheart down by the creek and just kills her for no apparent reason, then sings about how sad it was that he lost his beautiful bride? The ones where he catches her fooling around and kills her and her lover – those have a certain logic. Guys get pissed off and do things they later regret. But the ones who do it for no good reason other than that they were alone and she was beautiful, WTF? I guess the idea is you have a character who has done something so heinous that he knows he’s going to hell after the hangman gets through with him. Kind of a cautionary tale for society. Come to think of it, maybe it’s meant to scare young girls away from making out with guys down by the creek before they get married. He might love you, but he might kill you in addition to knocking you up, so you better hold onto that V-card or else.

(I’ll list the artists from the comp in the tags.)

U2 – Pop. I already had this one, but it was out of its CD case and all scratched up. This was a good clean copy. I could just download it of course, but I like having the CD on hand to play on the road and don’t feel like ripping and burning. That’s worth a couple of bucks. For some reason a lot of people don’t appear to respect Pop, but it’s one of my favorite U2 albums. I know they had problems getting the album out on time and didn’t sell as much as they hoped, but I thought their creative powers were at their peak.  I like it better than the Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby. Zooropa and Pop are my favorites.

Gladys Hardy – I Love Jesus But I Drink A Little. You might remember the old lady who called into Ellen DeGeneres’s show a few years back and had Ellen and her audience laughing hysterically. Supposedly she’s an Austin woman who is “88 years old and holding,” but I understand there’s some doubt about whether she’s for real or not, some speculate that she might be a professional comic pulling some kind of hoax. Anyway (she?) can be pretty entertaining. She has called in to local radio stations, read her commentaries and bantered with the hosts, and sometimes her phone calls will turn up in radio commercials for Rudy’s BBQ. There were tons of these at the Goodwill. I think some church group was giving them away and wound up with a bunch of leftovers. It features a bunch of phone calls (including the one to Ellen), commentaries, and recordings of her talking to her family. Not all as funny as the Ellen episode, but still fun. Definitely worth $2.

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Jango – my Internet radio till further notice

I might have found the Internet radio to carry me through the busy times ahead at work: Jango. I’m still giving it a test run, but at this point, I am extremely happy with it. Almost as happy as I was with Pandora before they pissed me off. Just made two stations that compared very well with a couple I made in Pandora: Dark Electric Dreams (featuring artists like Legendary Pink Dots, Coil, Severed Heads and Gary Numan) and Smooth Soul (featuring a lot of Philly Soul by the likes of The Dramatics, The Spinners, Blue Magic and the Delfonics.)

I have a feeling their algorithms aren’t as sophisticated as the one Pandora uses. No mention of anything like a “Music Genome Project” and when you rate a song – don’t like, like or love – it tells you whether it will play that song again, not whether it will play songs “with similar qualities.” Also, you can share via e-mail and by posting a link to the station, but you can’t embed on Facebook or Twitter. Still, I’m getting the mixes I want so far, and they have artists like the Legendary Pink Dots and Paul Schütze, so there’s a decent selection.

They don’t have Flaco Jimenez or Texas Tornados, which is a WTF, but they have Fela Kuti. Pandora didn’t have him, which was a bigger WTF.

No mention yet of any “free music limit,” but then again, it’s still early. Right now I’m happy. Will I stay happy? Will this radio make a devil’s bargain to stay in business? Can any online radio stay in business without one? Time will tell.

Here’s a link to my Dark Electric Dreams station, and one for Smooth Soul. Give ’em a whirl and see what you think.

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