Kelley Polar – I Need You to Hold On While the Sky Is Falling: A cool and special place that is good for thinking

Before the beginning of this year, I had barely heard of Kelley Polar or his music. Toward the end of ’07, I ran across one of his songs and checked out his debut album, Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens. I was hooked in short order. Color me exultant when I learned a new album would be coming out just as I was really getting into Polar’s music.

And that anticipation and excitement probably affected my initial reactions to Kelley Polar’s follow up record, I Need You to Hold On while the Sky is Falling, released earlier this month. Whereas I’ve only just begun listening to Polar’s music and at the most basic level had merely been wanting more, he’s had nearly three years to grow and change as an artist.

I must admit that I’ve been listening to this record for several weeks now and it’s taken a little longer than Gardens did to grow on me. Yes, the peculiar combination of classical, spacey electronics, disco and catchy pop gratuity that made the first album so compelling is present. I Need You to Hold On while the Sky is Falling is a very good follow up record, but in its first few moments, it becomes clear that while it is largely the same, it is also different, closer and more intimate.

Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens struck me with its expansiveness, by how much room there seems to be between its sounds. Falling, for the most part, feels like its standing right next to you. It’s also much more vocal. Kelley Polar has said in interviews that he’s spent some time actually trying to sing on this one and for the most part it works, though there are a handful of moments where it could have been toned-down a notch.

Appropriately for an album premised on the sky falling, the music feels much more serious and less carefree than an album of interstellar love songs. Chrysanthemum is downright foreboding and grim, talking about people being killed in bed.

It’s not all dour though. Entropy Reigns (in the Celestial City) is the most straight-ahead pop in the entire repertoire, while Sea of Sine Waves continues that early-career Michael Jackson danceitude that hooked me the first time.

All in all, I Need You to Hold On while the Sky is Falling is a worthy and eminently listenable sophomore opus.

Chrysanthemum video:

eMusic interviews Kelley Polar and they discuss the numorous classical influences on Falling.

Kelley Polar – Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens: Disco auteurship

Is that not a magnificent album cover? It’s almost worth picking up Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens just to have that, especially if were available on vinyl, which sadly it is not. The image is a generally well-regarded photo of the Eagle Nebula, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995. It’s a striking visual, but more notably, its use here is a near perfect metaphor for the immense space between the sounds of Kelley Polar’s 2005 full-length debut album.

Polar (aka Mike Kelley) is a bit of musical prodigy, having picked up the violin at age 3 and become an award-winning viola player by 18. He studied at, and was expelled from Julliard, but not for lack of ability.

He has a self-confessed obsession with 1970s-era disco orchestral music, particularly, for obvious reasons, their string sections. So it’s no surprise that this record has a heavy disco feel to it. Though you’re not likely to think Love Songs is a throwback or “homage” to polyester suits. Disco is very much present, but more as a foundation to be built upon, holding together tendrils of pop and house.

Make no mistake, at first listen, Love Songs feels like a classic “bedroom auteur” boy-and-his-keyboard style electronic album. But within the first ten seconds, it’s clear that its spiritual home is closer to Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall than The Postal Service.

That is to say the music is quite catchy; it pulls at you with pulsing with heady rhythms, ass-shaking grooves and a surprisingly high level of singability. The aspect that strikes me the most however, is how the music simultaneously seems to sound sparsely populated yet vast and teeming with activity. A bit like the seeming emptiness the heavens above, which when looked at closely is full of magnificent detail.

This is one album that is sure to be on heavy rotation for a long time.

KelleyPolar.com

The Polish Ambassador is Back from The Phantasmal Farm

The Phantasmal Farm

A short seven months after the release of his debut record, Diplomatic Immunity, the unfathomable intergalactic negotiator and groove machine has returned with a most urgent message. You see, The Phantasmal Farm is in danger and in need of saving. The pull of the 8th Dimension has that place of transcendental epiphanies in its grasp and only you, yes you!, can save it.

The Polish Ambassador implores you to download his new release in its entirety for free, and in doing so, rescue The Phantasmal Farm from a doom most certain. By the mere act of clicking “download” and opening your ears, you’ll get the satisfaction of the knowledge that you’ve helped save an entire metaphysical journey from extinction, plus you get the opportunity to kick your heels up with the most delicious grooves in any dimension.

As an album, The Phantasmal Farm doesn’t disappoint. While quite similar in style to Diplomatic Immunity, Farm shows a clear evolution in its more complex harmonies, its layered-upon-layered rhythms and its denser arrangements. Its pulsing electrobeats will bury themselves deep in your subconscious mind, the simplicity of its electronic timbres belying a cosmic sophistication. Don’t try and fight them, for those beats are your friends.

Individual tracks can be sampled at Last.fm, but really, you should just grab the whole thing from The Polish Ambassador’s website. The seductive llamas and neon wheat will surely send you dark matter rays of everlasting gratitude.

Here’s a early favorite of mine, When The Robo B-Boys Just Kill It:

Play: The Polish AmbassadorWhen The Robo B-Boys Just Kill It

Spirtualized: Ladies and Gentlemen we are floating through space

From the album Ladies and Gentlemen we are floating through space (1997).

Composed in “round” format, where each sung line overlaps another in a recursive way, Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen we are floating through space is a science and technology-era mantra, a chant to the lords of pharmaceutically-inspired altered states and a wistful, strung-out love song.

This is seriously space out, and transcendental, trance-inducing music, but it trades in new-age ethereality for the cold science (exemplified by the interspersion of NASA beeps) of modern progress. In steep contrast though, the lyrics reveal a tenderness and longing for love.

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What I Love: The song’s out-of-focus dreaminess.

Nine Questions for The Polish Ambassador

the polish ambassador

Anyone who’s been around tunequest for a while surely knows of my fondness for The Polish Ambassador, the Earth’s greatest half man, half cyborg, all electro-groovin’ diplomat. Anyone who is new around here should get up to speed by reading my write-up of his debut album, Diplomatic Immunity.

After posting that review, I sent a list of questions to the Ambassador, inquiring about his species, his adventures, his artistic methods and, of course, his jumpsuit. Read his responses below and learn about this enigmatic officer of good will and intergalactic dancetasticsm.

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Mr. Ambassador,

Are there other Polish Ambassadors bringing good will and electrogrooves to other planets, or are you the last of your species?

I choose the name “Polish Ambassador” merely so humans could better relate to me. My true name and profession exist in an ethereal sense that humans do not possess nor understand. There are many of my kind traversing throughout the far reaches of the galaxy.

Sometimes we pass each other on our cosmic voyages spreading good will throughout the universe. We’ll stop for a little while and say hello. It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to share a hot cup of mate, perhaps eat some toast covered in the finest organic mayonnaise, and reminisce about the old days and the aural orgies we shared at The Academy.

You’ve recently moved your consulate from Chicago to San Francisco. What diplomatic opportunities do you hope to uncover there?

One thing I didn’t expect coming to this planet is the havoc that the atmosphere would wreak on my delicate, boy-like skin. Most people don’t know this but I have severe psoriasis and the moist climate of the Bay Area was mandated by my dermatologist, Dr. Friezenberger. Plus, the hilly topography will only further the development of my robust quadriceps. Thusly, I will be better able to perform my diplomatic duties. “Soft skin and huge legs are what make a man,” is what my hermaphrodite wet nurse always said.

polish ambassador in times square

What’s the greatest diplomatic incident you’ve ever had to deal with? Did it bring you glory or shame?

Once, while rollerblading along the Pacific Coast Highway, I witnessed a rainbow trout named Mohammed and a coho salmon named Isaac arguing about who has been the most influential Canadian of all time. Mohammed argued it was Mike Myers and Isaac retorted that only a trout brainwashed by celebrity culture could believe such a thing and that Mark Messier was the greatest Canadian to have ever lived. I quelled this debate by letting them know that they were both wrong and that the correct answer is, “Who is Alex Trebek.”

They both immediately recognized that I was right, copulated at once, and began to produce a super-race of fish known today as Trebekian Troutmon.

Glory this brought to all. No doubt.

Where can all the kids get their own Polish Ambassador Jumpsuit?

You must collect 10,000 proofs of purchase from Cap’n Crunch Crunchberry cereals (part of a complete breakfast), send them into General Mills, and then in 6 to 8 months you’ll get your very own one-size-fits-all Ambassador gear. Easy, right?

Any chance of a fact finding mission with live show dates?

Yes. I will connect with Earth people at the end of this summer if the Orb of Fortune aligns with the blue diamond of Pestulan.

What kind of advanced technology goes into creating your jams?

Harnessing the infinite.

Does that bonus track at the end of Diplomatic Immunity have a name? If so, what is it?

Yes. Internet Electrocution.

Speaking of song names, there’s a little irony in that the titles to your purely instrumental songs have a certain lyrical quality. What goes into your naming process?

Where I’m from there is no such thing as free will. The names of these tunes have been ordained since the birth of time and are not up to me.

Tell me something cool about Poland.

Here’s a cool thing about Poland: It’s full of Poles. Sometimes you’ve just got to face facts. Polish folks are the ideal specimens of the human race.

They also have sublime dirt.

::

There, if this hasn’t sated your appetite for all things Polish Ambassador or it simply made you hungry for sausage, continue exploring the farthest reaches of diplomacy at polishambassador.com, his MySpace page or get Diplomatic Immunity at the iTunes Store.

If that’s not expedient enough for you, just check out The Lonely Perch and you’ll get a general lay of the land:

 

Air – Premiers Symptomes: Like in a lounge on the Moon

Air [french band]’s first album in three years, Pocket Symphony, will be released in a handful of days. In preparation for that event, I thought it would be fun to take a trip through the French band’s back catalogue, starting with their earliest works, which range from the 1996 early singles to 1997’s debut album Premiers Symptomes.

::

Imagine it’s 1969 and your thoughts are aimed toward the future. Not your own personal future, but the future of mankind. Think thirty years or so, to that far off time known as 1999. In your mid-century mind, you picture the fantastic possibility that the frontier of human exploration lies beyond the Asteroid Belt and that people will be making regular trips into Earth orbit. You even think that the fringe of exotic vacations take place on the Moon, which is bustling with low-grav attractions. Swanky hotels, rover expeditions, high-jumping sports, perhaps a theme park and a casino (with blackjack of course).

In the evenings, after a day of enjoying all the leisure activities that the Moon has to offer, people gather in the Lunar Lounges to sip cocktails and make sophisticated conversation about how groovy it is to be on the Moon. As you picture all this, you hear an equally sophisticated music accompanying the chatter. In your head, it’s laid back and jazzy smooth with dreamy sparkling Mellotron melodies, which is of course the way music will sound in thirty years’ time…

 

That scene pretty much sums up the aura that surrounds Air’s early years, especially Premiers Symptomes. At just 5 songs and 27 minutes long, the record is short on length, but makes up for it by packing much groove. It’s nearly half an hour of perfectly sublime music. And the notion of being a spaced-out futuristic jazz ensemble on the Moon is epitomized with the album’s third song: Les Professionnels, which astute listeners will recognize as a proto-version of All I Need from Moon Safari.

Compared to the band’s later works, Premiers Symptomes’ songs are much simpler in form. There is less complex layering of sounds and the arrangements are more straight-forward. But it does a very good job of establishing Air’s distinct sound.

The 1999 re-release features two additional tracks Californie and Brakes On, which some people claim ruin the mood of the album. I can see their point, because those songs are as close to rock as Air has ever gotten and they do tend to take away from the disc’s ethereal atmosphere. But hey, it’s Air and despite being oddballs in the catalogue, those songs are pretty good. Brakes On, in particular, might make that late-60s futurist think, instead, of a discotheque on the Moon.

If you’re unfamiliar with Premiers Symptomes, check out the video for one its singles, Le soleil est pres de moi. It’s got nothing to do with the Moon, however:

Les Professionels

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Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆
7.9 / 10

It’s the Orpheus Express and we’re heading right down to Hades, ladies

japanic

One cold night, during the very cold December of 2000, I found myself at the original Handle Bar myspace warning in downtown Pensacola. Dilapidated doesn’t even begin to describe the place, but its rundown condition gave it the perfect character to be a favored destination for the town’s surprisingly robust hipster set, until it burned down in 2001. don’t worry, the handle bar was rebuilt in a new larger building in the same location that’s actually a much better music venue.

The venue was, and continues to be, an iconoclastic home to PBR drinkers and is one of the handful of places in town where independent, unsigned and local musicians can perform their music. On this particular winter’s night, I and a friend from high school (as well as some of her friends) were in attendance of this band who were touring in support of their debut album. Their name was Japanic, a strong enough band name, though I had never heard of them. That night, I wasn’t all that interested in live music, as I was enjoying a mellow hang out with friends. So I was a bit irked when the band started playing and my companions started moving away from the corner Gauntlet machine and toward the stage. Though, the performance space was so small that it was only a matter of steps from the arcade to the stage.

The band rocked pretty well, a quintet producing a kind of keyboard/synth-laden funk rock, like if The Breeders were new wave and danceable with perhaps a hint of Pink Floyd sprinkled into the delivery.

At one point during the set, while the band was breakin’ it down, Tex, the singer, hopped down from the stage and started dancing among the 20 or so gathered people. He also happened to be dancing right next to me. The beat was infectious, and so was the fun he seemed to be having. But I can’t dance, at all. So I upheld the dignity of us both by maintaining my “stoic music appreciation” headbob-and-stare.

All in all it was a very good show, but as is the case with so many upstart bands, I expected to never hear of them again. Thus, it came as quite a surprise that, a week later, I was riding with another friend and discovered Red Book, Japanic’s album, while flipping through the CDs in her car. She was bummed when told her that they’d been in town and she had missed the show, but she let me borrow the CD, a favor for which I am infinitely grateful.

After that, the rest is history. I never did hear anything more of Japanic. At this point, it’s incredibly hard to dig up info about the band, but Space City Rock’s Houston Band Graveyard tells me that the group broke up sometime in 2003, after releasing a second album titled Social Disease. i’ll have to track down a copy of that.

Still, these six years later, that short-lived band continues to fascinate me.

::

Presented for your enjoyment, Japanic’s signature tune: Orpheus Express, which sounds like the funnest damn trip to hell and back there ever was:

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Download a live version of Orpheus Express, found on Austin’s KVRX’s “Unlimited Bandwidth” Local Live Vol. 6.

Red Book at Amazon
The Social Disease at Amazon

Leonard Nimoy – Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space

Part of the Musical Star Trek Actors Series

  1. Shatner Rapping: No Tears for Caesar
  2. Leonard Nimoy – Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space

From the archives: I wrote the original version of this article for a newspaper column about 5 years ago. So it reads more like a newspaper column and not so much like a the informal blogginess that’s usually found around here. It’s from the Records that time forgot series that I hope to revive in 2007. This version corrects a couple awkward sentences and updates the formatting, but remains largely unchanged.

nimoy strums guitar

::

Actors want to be rock stars and rock stars are increasingly actors. It’s all theatrics. But it is by no means a recent phenomenon. Stars from Marlene Dietrich to Frank Sinatra to Snoop Dogg have crossed the line between audio and video for decades. That’s okay; they all had the talent to do it successfully yes, even snoop dogg.

Then there is another class of star who, no matter how talented in one field, fail in the other. You’ve got your Jennifer Love Hewitts, your Keanu Reeves I know, I use “talented” loosely and your Leonard Nimoys.

Nimoy was part of an explosion of such entertainers that occurred in the 60s. They were known as “Golden Throats,” popular screen actors who were way out of their element in front of a microphone. That description is not entirely fair to Nimoy though. He has a distinct and decent enough voice, which he uses to greater effect on his later albums. But this, his first, pretty much defines the word “doozy.”

Judged solely on its musical value, Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space would show few bright spots. Most people might even argue that it is a record best left forgotten. But 30 years and the age of ironic reinterpretation have added an entirely new dimension to Nimoy’s recording career, firmly entrenching this album in the novelty camp. This is a record for hardcore Star Trek fans and fans of junk culture kitsch alike.

Time has made this album into pure comedy gold.

Opening with a swingin’, go-go, Austin Powers-esque version of the original Star Trek theme, MSMFOS goes where no Star Trek actor had gone before, the recording booth. Released in 1967 to cash in on Star Trek’s, and Spock’s, growing popularity, MSMFOS edges out William Shatner’s own recording debut, The Transformed Man, by a year and is the first of Leonard Nimoy’s dozen-plus records.

MSMFOS is at once hilarious and completely non-cohesive. Like the variety shows of the era, the album veers erratically round the moons of Nibia and round the Antares maelstrom in a torrent of lounge, spoken word, and crooning before finally giving up.

Parts of the album even seem to have been put together without any input from the actor at all. Music to Watch Space Girls By is a nifty lounge-pop instrumental as is the included version of Lalo Schiffrin’s Mission: Impossible theme. In a strange turn, Nimoy would join the cast of that show three years later. Still, these pieces are obviously filler.

Of the vocal tracks on the record, most are presented from Spock’s point of view, casting his alien observations on humanity in spoken word and swing vocal form. Imagine that, Vulcan poetry.

But pop culture re-visioning can’t make up for everything on the disc. Twinkle Twinkle Little Earth is a horrendous essay on the use of the word “star” full of Gordon-level puns while Visit to a Sad Planet attempts to preach against nuclear violence in a narration with an eminently predictable twist that’s all too expected in a post-Planet of the Apes (1968) world.

For the most part, if you’re into novelty, the record is a treat if not overly rewarding. Like Halloween candy, it’s enjoyable is small doses, but don’t overdo it.

“Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space” remains out of print in both vinyl and CD formats. But if you can manage to find it, set your phasers to fun and prepare to be stunned by the vocal stylings of Leonard Nimoy.

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Addendum: No, this is not the record that features The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins, but if you’re desperate enough to experience that hilarity, watch this disturbing video. You’ll have nightmares for sure.

Openning trade talks with the Electronians


Originally uploaded by The Polish Ambassador.

The Polish Ambassador has posted four downloadable electro-musings on intergalactic negotiation tactics.

Partake of them slowly and acclimate yourself to the Ambassador’s power. Though he is on a mission of peace and synthesized grooves, these treatises are but a prelude to the all out assault that will be Diplomatic Immunity which launches December 15.