tunequest week in review

for the week ending may 20, 2006.

stats: a superlative week here at tunequest. 394 songs played over 25 hours and 40 minutes. a further 5 songs were removed from the library for a net progress of 399, a new record. frankly, i'm surprised by the results. an afternoon braves game and a couple of extented meetings cut into my normal office listening time and i didn't really expect saturday's listening to be able to compensate. not that i'm complaining about it. i'm thrilled.

highlights for the week include sharing the chicago symphony's performance of mahler's no 6 with the neighborhood, revisiting some  grunge and post-grunge rock from nirvana's bleach and soundgarden's down on the upside, appreciating the smooth grooves of the well-pollished idm of to rococo rot's hotel morgen, getting funky with morton steven's very compelling tv score to hawaii five-o (best tv theme song ever!), and finally finally finally finally getting through all those babylon 5 scores* (it took 7 weeks, but i did it), as well as enjoying a host of other really great music.

also mixed in this week were a couple of james bond scores (john barry's diamonds are forever and david arnold's die another day. both excellent) and william shatner's has been. now don't laugh at this, but that shatner album is some powerful stuff. he's got a very engaging spoken-word delivery as well as some respectable collaborators. the result is 11 songs that pack more heartfelt sentiment than all the songs on top 40 radio in the past 10 years combined. i mean that.

it was also apparently "records that time forgot week" here at tunequest. i only covered 7 albums in that short-lived series, and 3 of them managed to pop up this week: can's ege bamyasi, louis and bebe barron's score to forbidden planet and martin denny's space-exotica extravaganza exotic moog. as soon as i track down that file, i'll post it.

see this week's complete list of albums in the extended entry.

*technically, i have one album left, a compilation called 'the best of babylon 5.' it's currently not eligible for play because the tunequest-ipod is into the I's and it's not smart enough to ignore the "the" at the beginning of album names. artists yes, albums no.

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the day of rock

started the day off with pearl jam's live show in katowice poland, from the group's massive bootleg dump in the year 2000. in high school, i collected a number of pearl jam shows (including one i had been to–what a treat!), but petered out after no code as my teenage devotion transformed into adultly-casual fanhood. when those bootlegs were released, i thought it would be a good idea to try to collect them all (like grungy pokemon). i think i got about 10 of the shows before it dawned on me that i really didn't need 25 nearly identical concerts cluttering up my music space, so i cut the list down to 3 shows: london, katowice and milan. then just last week, i further trimmed the lot by removing the london show; that recording just felt a little flat.

which brings me to katowice. this show is amazing, from the choice of songs to the gravity of the performance to the quality of the recording to the energy of the crowd. the show is more than 2 hours long and packs in nearly every great pearl jam song as well as the ol' standby: rockin in the free word.

update 3:44pm: continuing that seattle sound with soundgarden's down on the upside. it's a good record; too bad they broke up.

and if that's not enough rock for you, hum's electra2000 was next on the playlist. while not as complex or sophisticated as you'd prefer an astronaut or downward is heavenward, that album has some very good pounding, straigh-ahead rock. 'scraper' will blow your doors off.

rounding out the day was nirvana's classic debut, bleach, featuring 'love buzz' and 'about a girl.' i don't think anything else needs to be said about that one. 

Hum – Downward is Heavenward: gotta go down to get up

Hum’s Downward is Heavenward is a lost gem among rock records in general and 90s rock records especially. Those of you with particularly acute memories might recall that Hum scored a minor US hit in 1995 with the single Stars which is actually one of the weaker songs imho from You’d Prefer an Astronaut.

Even so, I really enjoyed that album and, during that year, Hum became one of my top tier bands for the remainder of high school and the beginning of college. Devoted fan that I was, I eagerly awaited the band’s next album. On the cold January morning in 1998 that Downward is Heavenward was released, I remember leaving school between classes and waiting for the mall to open so I could buy it.

But it seems I may have been the only person who did that, because this album tanked… big time. The album barely made a splash and no one seemed to take any notice of it. Sales were abysmal and the record label (RCA) dropped the band later that year. The group split up shortly thereafter.

I once had a short-lived newspaper column called ‘records that time forgot’ where I would find old, nearly forgotten records at used stores, thrift shops, etc, with an eye toward resurrecting lost masterpieces, and then write about them. Downward is Heavenward almost became the subject of one, even though the album was barely 3 years old at the time, because I felt it hadn’t had the chance to be remembered, let alone forgotten. And that’s a real shame, because this thing is smartly put together and executed by expert musicians.

Like its predecessor, this album features some very tight and complex songwriting, with a brilliantly clean distortion that overlaps shrouded and oblique, but thought-provoking lyrics delivered with such earnestness by Matt Talbot. Then there’s that guitar riff that never seems to end in Ms. Lazarus, I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard anything so intriguing.

April 11-13

wow. a whirlwind of music the past couple days. i guess that’s what happens when impending deadlines force you to stay at the office into the wee hours of the evening. who says publishing isn’t a rewarding field?

some great music this time around:

  • alan silvestri [back to the future ii]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: the ragged edge]
  • string theory [anhedonia]
  • hum [downward is heavenward]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: lines of communication]
  • medeski, martin and wood [combustication]
  • john barry [across the sea of time]
  • stereolab [dots and loops]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: the coming of shadows]
  • daft punk [discovery]
  • at home with the groovebox
  • mikhail pletnev performing tchaikovsky’s morceaux (18) for piano
  • mouse on mars [distoria ep]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: no surrender no retreat]
  • oslo philharmonic performing tchaikovsky’s manfred symphony
  • yoko kanno [cowboy bebop: vitaminless]
  • orbital [diversions]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5 volume 1]
  • man or astroman? [destroy all astromen!]

dots and loopswhile we’re on the subject of leaps-above-the-bar music, i must also mention both stereolab’s dots and loops and hum’s downward is heavenward. though i’ve been a stereolab fan for quite some time now (i’ve even been to 2 shows), i didn’t realize until i was preparing this write up how highly rated dots and loops is. stereolab is a great band, but it can be very uneven. on most albums, every 5 star song is countered by a 3 star song (the lowest on my ratings scale; 1 and 2 stars are reserved for organizational purposes), but not dots and loops. every song on that album is either 4 or 5 stars. ‘miss modular, ‘prisoner of mars’ and ‘parsec’ stick out as particularly outstanding works.

i remember my first stereolab reference. it was my senior year of high school and i was on a road trip with 2 friends and my mom, scouting colleges in central florida. we were walking around the campus of the florida institute of technology when my friend roy mentioned that he was getting into this new band stereolab (of course, the band had been together about 6 years at that point, but it was new to him). now, i never really trusted roy’s musical recommendations. our tastes overlapped for the most part, but not enough for me to heed his opinion. nothing really came of it, but i do remember seeing dots and loops laying about his room. it wasn’t until 2 years later when i heard cobra and phases that roy was vindicated in that regard. the rest, as they say, is history. •

a note about the babylon 5 music: i’ve gotten about 60% though my collection of it and i still can’t make head or tails of it. it all just sounds so… the same. the 30+ albums that make up the more than 17 hours of music is a lot to digest, particularly when it’s all a similar style. that’s not to say that it’s not good. each season’s theme is excellent of course, and some choice cues are great, such as the classical guitar work that i heard in the ragged edge today. but there’s a lot of more ambient ‘mood setting’ music that kinda blends together from album to album, which makes it hard to decide which tracks to take special note of.

then of course, there’s the coming of shadows, which also made the playlist today. the entire production team was firing on all cylinders for this episode, including christopher franke, who has written some very tense music for a very tense episode. if i had to recommend any of the babylon 5 albums, it would be this one. •

some smooth slacker jazz from medeski, martin and wood.
the surf-inspired stylings of man or astroman?, including a rendition of the MST3K theme.
some competent electronic work from orbital.