Tuesday, June 20, 2006


I'm writing from Ann Arbor, site of my alma mater and a hop skip and jump from Belleville, the origin of the techno Triplets (Saunderson, May and Atkins), and only a further few minutes down I-94 in an armor-plated SUV from the Big D of p-funks, slam dunks, slum villages, eerie boulevards and gunshot echoes in the distance. I'll be back in Auckland (not Oakland as I have to keep reminding the natives) in a couple of weeks after dropping into Phoenix and the City of Angels.

Just thought I'd catalogue the music I've been travelling with--at least 25 kilos of the stuff!

Firstly, in a South Indian diner in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, the owner was selling his light jazz, easy listening and soundtracks, collected since the early 1960s. In their dusty plastic covers, and Ahmedabad is semi-arrid I assure you, I found an album of covers done on the zither, some Henry Mancini and Lalo Schifrin work, and other stuff I haven't heard yet but in the Vince Guaraldi kind of jazz territory. For Indian stored oldies these discs were in remarkable condition. A real muso had cared for them for decades. I scraped off the dessicated plastic sleeves and clingfilm covers and gave the covers a moist wipe. Don't you just love those LP covers made of card with extensive sleevenotes that strain for literary significance. I had an idli with sambar with my dad-in-law to celebrate. He'd spotted the albums in cardboard boxes near the exit on a trip a few days before. There were two or three B-movie noirish soundtracks too but I don't remember the titles. This was in May, two continents away and I'm exhausted.

In Londinium, the dollar was divided by three so I was very careful. I spent only a day music shopping, confining myself to Berwick Street in Soho and immediate environs. Sister Ray has taken over Selectadisc but the layout & vibe of the store and the prices seem the same, more or less.

Bought Scott Walker's album The Drift on 4 AD though I haven't heard it yet. I've got the last two and some of the 1960s work and they're always growers and ultimately rewarding difficult listening. He's just one of those guys I want around the rest of my life, like Robert Wyatt.

Also picked up the Boards of Canada Transcanada Highway EP on CD since they were giving away a free DVD of the video. I love the way the main tune Dayvan Cowboy has two parts--that really slow churning opening followed by the full Duane Eddy meets Blue Oyster Cult effect for the second part of the track. Not sure about the video though. Just saw it once. A bit like an Old Spice video crossed with an Apollo broadcast but I guess that's the essence of ambient--from outer space to an ocean of sound. Works off that cliché quite well. And the editing makes it match the sound pinpointedly.

I guess on this trip I've been compelled to buy more uneasy listening, so that I can snooze and study without being too distracted. Man, I've got a book to write in 2006 so I need me some background sounds. So I took a punt on the unheard but perfectly titled Music To Fall Asleep by Klimek on the reliably precious Kompakt label. It's been very effective, delivering sweetly on its promise. Bill Frisell is thanked in the CD booklet and there are bits and bytes of guitar that owe something to his style littered throughout the record. It loops and loops and loops until zzzzzzzz... Just sublime. Good music for the bath too.

This shop also has a selection of excellent music related t-shirts which I've never purchased from due to their high prices. I did succumb to a Cassetteboy number with a computer screen interface on royal blue. Cute since I'm working on understanding popular music in the digital age.

Strolled down and around the corner to Sounds Of The Universe, the record shop of the record label Soul Jazz. Loads to choose from in a small space. But had read about Burial (first album on the Hyperdub label) in the grime/dubstep column on Pitchfork and it was on a listening station, so got that one. It's also excellent for falling asleep but has a melancholia and foreboding about it that really captures part of the Londonistan vibe at the moment. I hadn't yet read all the other guff about this album yet so feel satisfied that I was there early in the game of critical hype around this classic of dubstep and beyond.

Also at SOTU, I tracked down Lovers Rock by the Love Joys (Wackie's label). I know one of the Love Joys sings on a Rhythm & Sound track of a couple of years ago, and the Berlin boys are responsible for re-releasing the Wackie's back catalogue, but I wasn't aware of these soulful Brixton songstresses until DJ /Rupture/Jace Clayton linked us to Auratheft's online mix of the Love Joys' phonolog. This is a terrific reggae album: strong grooves that are varied and extend dubwise in many directions, beautiful harmonies and horn patterns, and superb lyrics about relationships. Got to find me more of that lovers rock.

Decided to limit myself to buying CDs because I just didn't want to carry vinyl in my luggage. But the big haul in London was the bulk of my brother's record collection. He only listens to Sufi Muslim discourses on his iPod these days, so he said I could have all his Jamaican pre- 7" singles, some twelves, and loads of dub albums on CD and vinyl. I've got a box of 45s--one of those plaggy ones that fall apart really easily--forming the central bulk of one bag. The singles include many post-punk and mid 1980s records in great condition--stuff I sold my brother about 15 years ago when I was skint but still hoping that the archive would remain in the family. These include the Smiths singles and the Jesus and Mary Chain and Take the Skinheads Bowling by Camper Van Beethoven, three Husker Du's and a bunch of other gems.

The reggae stuff is the product of years of visiting Reggae Revive in Portobello Road and stalls at Camden Market. Then there are loads of Blood and Fire dub albums and early hardcore and electronica from the Prodigy and Orbital et al. One suitcase is almost full with bubblewrapped CDs. I had to do this after much time spent calling postal services and couriers about how to send the music by air or sea to New Zealand. It's fucken expensive either way in the UK. Don't even think about it. I therefore spent even more time stressing about which albums and twelves and sevens to leave behind until the next time I visited the UK. Anyway, versions galore for The Basement in the coming months. The Crowning of Prince Jammy is one of the special ones. I love the crackle you hear on those Jamaican B-sides. Fat We Fat!

In Ann Arbor, there are several good music stores, and mainly independent and secondhand at that. At Wazoo, which I frequented from 1988-91, I bought Slowdive's Souvlaki. The shoegazing classic and its wash of post Bloody Valentinian sound (extra tracks on the US release) has been on my list for a while since I was reminded of the glory of 40 Days by a friend and Nick lent me an electronic tribute to the group on Morr records of Germany.

With somnambulant purpose, I also bought Bibio's Fi on Mush records. What a perfect name for the label. I'd downloaded a couple of tracks of Bibio's after being alerted to him over a year ago. The titles evoke minor geographies of the city and the suburbs.

Found cheapo secondhand copy of Asa-Chang & Junray's Junray Song Chang on Leaf Records. Vicky lent me this some time ago, and I loved Hana off it, so 8 bucks appeared a bargain.

Another album on my wishlist for a while is Akufen's My Way. Had heard the phenomenal and awe-inspiring Skidoos on Nick's copy of a Sonar festival CD, and downloaded one or two other glitchy radioscans from the album, but this was 8 bucks too.

Still searching for Akufen's (under real name of Marc Leclair) album Music Pour Trois Femmes Enceintes (Music For Three Pregnant Women) which has been reviewed well by Philip Sherburne and others and promises to be another great snoozy ambient electronic feast. Saw it in HMV's megastore, Oxford Circus, London but the thing was pricey so decided to try in North America since it's a Canadian release. No one in Ann Arbor has it, but I figure I'll order it off Amazon when I'm in Phoenix. It's there along with the UK also-overpriced release of Betty Swann's compilation album on Honest Jon's. I downloaded one Betty Swann track and was completely blown away by the Muscle Shoal blues of it. Put that on a soul playlist 'Ooh Betty' (homage to 70s sitcom Some Mothers Do Ave Em) which features other Betty(e)s: Davis and Lavette, amongst other soul gems.

In Schoolkids in Exile, a basement record store on State Street, I came across another gloomy ambient record, the appropriately titled Melancholia by William Bazinski, in an unmarked curvaceous and snug CD case.

Almost bought Spacemen 3's Dreamweapon, but resisted it in corporate Border's Ann Arbor flagship store.

That's it so far.

Musicians have left holes and tears since they departed after I left the shores of Aotearoa:

RIP Grant McLellan of The Go-Betweens--we 'part company' but your songs and voice linger
RIP Desmond Dekker--the Israelites need to hear you breaking down that wall of heartache in the west bank
RIP Billy Preston--vital organ intact and in the groove of sundry tracks

That's it for now. I'll be back with more by the time I get to Phoenix. Bu-bum. Peace.

1 comment:

Peter said...

oh, you got me all excited now - I'm off to the US in 11 days, planning lotsa record shopping in San Francisco. maybe in LA too, if i get time. Happy travels!