|music that makes my ears wiggle|
The Future Sound of London "Lifeforms" 1994 Astralwerks
What is considered by many to be the "newer school" of ambient music allows considerably more groove and various elements within its genre than the "older school" of ambient, such as Eno's classic "On Land" music. Of the newer ambient music, FSOL are among the best I've heard. Mixing sound, voices, drum loops, atmospheric and crystalline keyboards, and other elements into a seamless whole, this is music that you may put on "repeat" and have your room swimming in delicious sound. Like the best ambient music, new or old, this is music that is interesting on different levels, capable of rewarding intensive listening or functioning as aural wallpaper.
Djivan Gasparyan "Ask Me No Questions" 1994 Traditional Crossroads
Djivan Gasparyan plays a wooden flute-like instrument called a duduk, which has a warm, ever-so-slightly nasal timbre, and has a sound as ancient and timeless as the instrument itself, which dates back in ancient Armenia to possibly as far as 1200 B.C. The duduk is accompanied by a tonic drone called "dam", played by another duduk player ("damkash") using a difficult circular breathing technique to keep the drone going underneath Gasparyan's playing. Gasparyan is the foremost master of the duduk, and somehow manages to pull from the instrument a sound that feels like the human soul laid bare. Music like this feels as if it could have been recorded yesterday or a thousand years ago. Equally beautiful are Gasparyan's previous releases, "I Will Not Be Sad In This World" and "Moon Shines at Night".
Ted Hawkins "The Next Hundred Years" 1994
Ted Hawkins, for many years, could be found sitting on his trademark milkbox, playing songs on the Venice Boardwalk that dealt with the coming to terms with aging, hatred, rejection, and trust. The music is mostly acoustic, warm, and, well, the aural equivalent of a favorite old shoe. Hawkins weather-worn voice follows in the tradition of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, only scratchier, rawer, and bigger than life. It is sensually recorded by Tony Berg, and filled out by some impressive talent, including Jim Keltner on some very sparing drums and percussion, and Patrick Warren (of Michael Penn fame), providing tasteful organ shadings. Cellos, lap-steel guitars, and bass all swirl around Hawkins' acoustic guitar and voice. A lot of people were surprised that I fell for Hawkins' simple folk melodies/music, but this was my favorite album of last year, and to me, a complete treasure. Ted Hawkins passed away on the first day of 1995 -- his music will be sorely missed.
Emmylou Harris "Wrecking Ball" 1995 Elektra/Asylum
New Emmylou, completely reinvented, courtesy of Daniel Lanois. In fact, this album sounds largely like Emmylou singing on a Lanois solo outing, only with stronger songs. As is often the case in a Lanois recording, many of the songs glow with a church-like aura of hymns sung. It is a loose, atmospheric album dripping with interesting guitar textures and snaky guitar lines. In addition to Lanois producing, singing, and playing mandolin, guitar, and percussion, "Wrecking Ball" features Larry Mullen, Neil Young (who also wrote the title track), Daryl Johnson, and Malcolm Burn, contributing Enoesque keyboard textures. And Emmylou? Her voice is personal, intimate, singing to you alone in a dark room, her voice frequently dropping or trailing off. This is a lovely album that has the people in the rec.audio.pro newsgroup salivating over the production, and the people in rec.music.country.western scratching their heads (one guy's email: "This is really weird!"). It's definitely a departure from how country music is usually recorded and arranged. Excellent.
Marta Sebestyen "Apocrypha" 1992 Rykodisc/Hannibal
This pretty collection of songs is a tasteful reinterpretation of traditional Hungarian melodies. Karoly Cserepes' warm and open arrangements highlight Sebestyen's already gorgeous melodies in what is one of the most successful marriages of "indigenous" music with modern electronics. Duduk, flute, violin, chime bells, recorder, and other instruments add spice to the gentle grooves. Considerably more interesting than her efforts with Deep Forest, and far prettier.
Cesaria Evora "Cesaria Evora" 1995 Nonesuch
Earthy and mournful, this all-acoustic music transports you to lonely late-night cafes. Evora is from the island of Sao Vicente, off the coast of West Africa, and sings a bittersweet, slow song-form known as "Morna" which expresses love, sadness, and longing. Her rich, gentle voice, along with a seductive band which includes 12-string guitars, accordion, and violins, is exquisitely produced in Paris by Paulino Vieira, who produced and arranged her last record, "Miss Perfumada" (1992, Lusafrica) as well. Evora can also be heard on "Trance Planet Vol. 1" on Triloka Records, and on three previous outings, which are available on import only at this time.
Garbage "Garbage" 1995 Almo
Fresh and invogorating MTV-ready rock, with fuzzy guitars colliding around vocalist Shirley Manson's snotty vocals, who spouts lines such as "I'll take you out with a flick of my wrist" and "let me dirty up your mind". Recruited by Garbage when they saw her with her band Angelfish on "120 Minutes", she immediately reworked the band's lyrics, because they were "crap". Produced by Butch Vig of Nirvana and Sonic Youth fame (who also plays drums!), Garbage sports Vig's requisite loops -- which are interesting in the context of a rock band -- as well as dynamic soft-loud-soft passages and some cool guitar textures. The fun photo of Manson on the back of the CD booklet wins a couple of extra browny points. Not transcendental, but good dumb fun.
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