Ten-ish Albums

Credit: Unsplash  License: CC0
Credit: Unsplash
License: CC0
The rant against social media will happen, but until then, a meme challenge of the sort that used to be blogging’s bread and butter:

List 10 (or so) albums that made a lasting impression on you as a TEENAGER, but only one per band/artist. Not in any particular order. FYI- it can be an “old” record you discovered in your teens.

My teen years were ’88-’94. In no particular order, I came up with:

Dramarama — Vinyl

I’m actually writing a weird monograph using this album as a lens on the early ’90s, popular culture, the fickleness of popularity versus the staying power of true quality, and possibly whatever other random thoughts enter my head.

Dramarama, and this album in particular, are important in my life. I “discovered” them myself, and they were the first band I got quite annoying about trying to get other people interested in. Their sound, especially here, ran almost precisely contrary to the just-about-to-explode grunge sound from Seattle, which was a typical circumstance in the underappreciated band’s career. People who love them, love them. People who don’t get weirded out by the passion of fans, because their sound is deceptive.

And, unless you’re a very devoted Rolling Stones fan, you’ll probably miss the fact that one of the songs is a Stones cover — Dramarama nearly always did a cover song, and it was nearly always a very obscure song from a well-known act.

Mary’s Danish — American Standard

Another unjustly obscure band, this album was Mary’s Danish’s closest brush with hitting it big — they played the Letterman show, got at least some press coverage, and even got a cover song onto the Buffy the Vampire Slayer soundtrack. Why that didn’t translate into their becoming a big name act is beyond me.

American Standard was the album where the whole band began to work together, instead of in two or three subgroups, and it delivers fully and completely on the promise of their two earlier studio LPs. There’s not a bad song, not one moment out of place, unless you really want to get nitpicky and include the cover of “I fought the law” (a good, energetic cover, but which just doesn’t fit the mood of everything that went before), which wasn’t even listed on the album art. Several songs here are on my permanent Life Soundtrack, and a few I quote frequently, without anyone ever catching on.

Social Distortion — Somewhere Between Heaven & Hell

Seriously, who can say “no” to rockabilly punk?

Cowboy Junkies — black-eyed man

Not only is it haunting and sad and hopeful and perfect, this is where I first encountered the genius of Townes van Zandt’s songwriting. “To Live Is To Fly” is one of my favorite songs, and the Junkies’ cover of it is the definitive version, to my mind.

Lou Reed — Magic & Loss

I vaguely knew Lou Reed prior to this album, being familiar with “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Dirty Boulevard” and probably a few other songs. But this was the first time I ran face-first into the sheer emotional power he could infuse into his words.

And a good thing, too. A year or two after absorbing all the thoughts and feelings of this meditation on losing two friends to cancer in the space of a year, I myself lost a high school friend to cancer. This album helped me cope with that.

3rd Bass — Derelicts of Dialect

I generally don’t care for rap. I still freaking love this album, juvenile diss tracks and all.

Nirvana — Nevermind

I was a teenager in ’91. Duh.

REM — Automatic For The People

“I will try not to burden you
I can hold these inside
I will hold my breath
Until all these shivers subside
Just look in my eyes”

It spoke to me then, it speaks to me still.

They Might Be Giants — Apollo 18

What’s that blue thing doing here?

Frank Allison & The Odd Sox — Hokey Smoke

The most obscure album here, since the Odd Sox were a regional band that, despite getting a positive record review in the New York Times, never got a record deal with a major label.

I saw Frank Allison perform live many times, sometimes solo in very small rooms, other times at the Blind Pig with his full band. His tunes were unique, his lyrics were bracingly smart and weird, and his view of life was amiably downtrodden and funny.

And if that doesn’t sell you, well, it seems to be a well-known fact that Frank Appreciation is a “you had to be there” sort of a thing:

Cracker — Kerosene Hat

“I know the whiskey, it won’t soothe my soul
And the morphine won’t heal my heart
But if you take me down to the infirmary
Oh yeah
I won’t have to sleep
Or drink alone.”

Jesus Jones — Liquidizer

Not even going to lie: I am still disappointed that this isn’t what Future Music sounds like. I’ll take this album over almost any techno.

Yeah, yeah, that’s twelve. Be happy I didn’t list thirty.

#Writing #MusicMonday: Partly Cloudy by Jazz Alliance

750-partly_cloudy-cd_frontAnd suddenly we’re in the middle of an unplanned jazz streak on Music Mondays. Last week, this week, and next week you get three very different jazz albums.

It’s me. There will be jazz, with occasional other styles thrown in for variety.

Anyway, Jazz Alliance is a quartet (on some songs, they play as a trio). As far as I’ve seen Partly Cloudy is their only album, and it’s a good one. It was recorded live in two cafe concerts, and you can hear the espresso machine, clinking of cups, and a hint of crowd chatter, to give you the full ambiance. Listening to this in preparation for the post, I realized that I hadn’t been to an actual café concert in more than fifteen years. Live music in bars, yes, mostly when I lived in Shanghai, but in a cafe? Not since before I moved to Shanghai, let alone since I came back. And that’s all a long time ago.

So, for me, there was a certain amount of nostalgia in listening to this.

In fact, my only complaint is that it’s far too short. The whole album is only about thirty minutes, and I keep wanting more.

Still, I suppose I should just be grateful there’s this much, since good jazz in the Creative Commons is relatively rare (as compared to, say, techno).

Download Partly Cloudy by Jazz Alliance free from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License
Partly Cloudy by Jazz Alliance is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 International License.

#Writing #MusicMonday: Voices of Christmas Past – 1898 to 1922 by various artists

vocpYou know, this year, I was all set for Christmas, as I noted previously. I not only had all my November Music Monday posts picked out ahead of time, I had three out of the four weeks leading up to Christmas all accounted for, and in the mood of the season.

But I suddenly got all indecisive about what to post the week of Christmas. Should I go traditional, or ultramodern? Free Culture or anything goes? Instrumental, or vocal? A collection of various artists that already has been selected, or put together my own selections? (That last one tempted me, sorely.)

Finally, after listening and exploring quite a bit, I narrowed in on two collections I first found at the Free Music Archive. One was a collection of electronic instrumentals meant as new, replacement Christmas music, since the curator felt too many of our seasonal songs are too old. 1 The other was this, a collection of public domain 2 recordings from the early 20th Century.

What tipped the balance was finding the website of the organization that was the source of the collection, which pointed me to their uploads to the Internet Archive, and finding that you could download the lossless FLAC files, as well as MP3s and Ogg Vorbis. The fact that you can get the lossless files and make a CD from them without any (further) degradation of sound quality did it for me.

In 1998, vintage recording website Dawn of Sound released a compact disc collection of public domain early recording artifacts called Voices of Christmas Past. The recordings were cylinders and acetates from 1898 to 1922. Every year after the release, the website was inundated with requests for the CD. Once it was out of print, Dawn of Sound released it online for free.

From the original liner notes of the CD:

On October 30, 1889 banjoist Will Lyle made history by recording “Jingle Bells”, the very first Christmas record. Although no known copies of this record survive one of the earliest vocal examples of “Jingle Bells” does survive on an Edison brown wax cylinder entitled, “Sleigh Ride Party”. It was made a decade later and is reissued here for the very first time in this collection. These songs and monologues from the original vintage recordings capture the essence of the Christmas spirit as it was in the opening two decades of the 20th Century.

If, like me, early 20th Century Americana just automatically gives you warm fuzzies, then this is an hour and fifteen minutes of pure joy. If you’re not like me, give it a listen, and see if it doesn’t put you in a warm, nostalgic mood anyway.

I bet it will.

Download Voices of Christmas Past – 1898 to 1922 in multiple formats, including lossless FLAC, free from the Internet Archive.

You can also get it in MP3 format from the Free Music Archive.

Voices of Christmas Past by Various Artists [Dawn of Sound] is licensed under a Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.

  1. I do not say that I agree with him, since there are any number of 20th Century songs already considered classics, from “White Christmas” to Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. 
  2. I am posting this with the CC license the organization claims, but frankly, since the recordings themselves are public domain, I fail to see how they can reasonably claim copyright on them, simply for digitizing. However, the case law (as I understand it) currently favors allowing copyright on any alteration, including simply transferring something public domain into another medium, so I’ll let it stand. The recordings themselves, however, are public domain. It’s only the files themselves that have the restrictive CC license. 

Xmas Music Too Soon (not actually)

Boy, would I like to be her Santa Claus.
Boy, would I like to be her Santa Claus.
So I’ve been doing a thing that, when it’s forced upon me, I detest.

I began listening to Christmas/holiday music the day after Halloween.

It drives me nuts that stores start Christmas on 1 November. There are logistical reasons for it, and I get that, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

(The logistical reasons, basically, amount to: customers expect Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — to be the kickoff of the Christmas season, and complain if the stores aren’t “festive” for the day. But, with Thanksgiving right before, and businesses to run, they simply cannot do the decorating and arranging and all that just the week of Black Friday, so they do it a few weeks in advance.)

It may seem strange, but this atheist, even though he’s prone to depression, loves Christmas. Adores it. That said, two months of the thing is entirely too much.

However, in this case I can’t complain. It’s all my fault. I don’t generally plan Writing Music Mondays more than a week in advance, but for NaNoWriMo, I selected everything for the month ahead of time so I would have less reason to procrastinate on actual writing. (Not that it’s worked, but that’s a different story.)

And once I had November taken care of, I thought, “Heck, why not try to find some appropriate Creative Commons holiday music?”

Apart from weeks where I’ve skipped posting all together, in 2015 I’ve done a very good job of sticking to my personal mission with Music Mondays. Every single piece of music I’ve posted has had a Free Culture license. Which means that not only can you download it and listen to it while writing (or whatever you wish to do) for free, you can also use it for any purpose you want. Put it in a Youtube video, use it in a soundtrack for your indie film, make a book soundtrack, record a cover version, use it as a sample in your rap masterpiece — anything. The licenses are already there, so you’re covered (as long as you abide them).

As December appeared on the horizon, I began to think that I was just going to have to give it up for the final month. It might seem a bit odd, but in my experience, virtually all Christmas music in the Creative Commons is not Free Culture. Yeah, the most giving season of the year, and even free-sharing artists tighten up. Weird, right?

But, between not having a wide selection left to choose from in my personal collection, and Jamendo betraying its users in its latest redesign (and possible death-throes), I went exploring. And found lots of possibilities.

The first two weeks are set, already, and are Free Culture. One is an artist who has been releasing music to the Commons since before Jamendo existed, and his earlier work is all Free Culture. His musicality is amazing, whether he’s creating techno or piano solo work, and this upcoming holiday album is all piano.

The second was an artist new to me, but the album I’m sharing was released four years ago, and I missed it somehow.

So I’ll be able to keep the Free Culture streak going for those two weeks, at the very least.

The third week, I have an album tentatively selected that has a Non-Commercial requirement, rendering it non-Free Culture, but it’s holiday jazz, so I’m leaning toward it, even if it’s not the best ever. (If you want the best ever, go get last year’s share, the non-Creative Commons Christmas with The Believers. I’m not joking. It’s that good.)

That leaves the week leading up to Christmas itself wide open. I might share somebody else’s collection of CC Christmas music (I have a few such collections bookmarked, but haven’t really explored them yet), or I might do up a holiday collection of my own, or I might find something else entirely that works perfectly. We’ll just have to wait and see how things shake out.

The Monday following Christmas might be non-holiday–related, or vaguely holiday–related, at this point I have no idea. That one I’m going to wait and see what mood hits me.

Writing Music Monday: Kogani by Suerte

[cover] Suerte - KoganiHere’s more jazz (try to contain your shock) from a French quartet, and again it has a Middle Eastern flavor.

The adaptability of jazz is a constant source of interest to me. Here it is being clearly Middle Eastern (clear to my ear, anyway). I also know many wonderful pieces that are in fact Chinese folk melodies, yet they sit within the jazz language with perfect comfort.

But back to Suerte’s album, Kogani. It is thirty-six minutes of jazzy goodness, though a few tracks may be a bit modern for non-jazz fans. Nothing so aggressively difficult to follow as Bitches Brew or “In A Silent Way”, but they wander in that direction. Apart from that, if you don’t like that sort of thing, it’s very good, professionally played, and works very well to set a mood.

Download Kogani from Jamendo.

Creative Commons License
Kogani by Suerte is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Writing Music Monday: Indigo by Flembaz

Indigo CoverWell, I crapped out for a few weeks, so this week I’m going to post three albums. Here’s the first.

Flembaz is a Portuguese duo who specialize in electronic music, and though this album bears the dreaded labels of “techno” and, worse by far, “dubstep”, it works for me as background music for writing. It works very well. (One does need to overlook the assumed political overtones of having George W. Bush’s voice used in a track called “Empire”, but that’s actually fairly easy to do.)

We produced 11 tracks of different genres like progressive house, techno, electro, dubstep, and glitch-hop, trying to cater to different dance floor tastes, because we, as listeners, like several different styles and dynamic albums as well, able to provide different emotional states.

I had no idea that all those were different genres of music, and it all sounds much the same to me. But, as I said, it works.

You can download “Indigo” from Jamendo, from SoundCloud, or from their own site (scroll down, it’s there in several formats).

Creative Commons License
Indigo by Flembaz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Writing Music Monday: Tin Hei ( 天氣 ) by Dylan Tinlun Chan


This collection of piano improvisations by Dylan Tinlun Chan is soothing and lovely. Here’s what the artist himself has to say about Tin Hei:

Tin Hei ( 天氣 ) is my first album, it contains ten pieces of my piano improvisations. The title of the album is the Chinese character 天(sky) and 氣(air/spirit) which translates into the meaning of “weather”.

Living in Ottawa, Canada, I find the nature here magnificent and the ever changing weather is an inseparable part of life. My feelings are naturally moved by this pattern of ‘air in the sky’ and I find it appropriate to name my first album after it.

The album is available on both Jamendo and through Bandcamp, and comparing the two sites shows why Jamendo is waning, while Bandcamp thrives. I still have a place in my heart for Jamendo, but at this point it’s more nostalgia than related to the actual experience of using the site.

Creative Commons License
Tin Hei ( 天氣 ) by Dylan Tinlun Chan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.