ANOHNI – Hoplessness


ANOHNIHoplessness Secretly Canadian SC333 (2016)

ANOHNI’s (formerly Antony Hegarty) solo debut is a resolutely political work inhabiting a space not unlike P.J. Harvey‘s The Hope Six Demolition Project, with many of the same pluses and minuses.  Harvey’s album railed with righteous indignation against the Tories and the cold, heartless class war they are waging in England.  ANOHNI is from the U.S. and her focus is instead located there.  And both deliver blunt, progressive political messages in ways that don’t seem particularly musical, in the sense that the musical backdrops in each case seem almost ready-made and conservative.  Hopelessness combines familiar glitchy electronica while the vocals invoke the catastrophes of the contemporary world.  “Drone Bomb Me” and “Obama” are direct indictments of murderous wars of aggression and the depraved madness of the political servants of the ruling class.  “Four Degrees” is a stark testament of complicity in the environmental destruction of the anthropocene era.  This is a juxtaposition of poppy beats, with all the implied escapism and feel-good utility, with grave and discomforting texts, with all their heavy political weight.  It is an awkward juxtaposition, and meant to be such.  This music is an overt attempt to rattle listeners out of the complacent acceptance of the status quo — to make them confront the banality of evil in their lives.  All this may well be true, but is Hoplessness effective?  That may be an impossible question to speculate on, but suffice it to say this is a difficult listening experience meant to make the listener uncomfortable.  And the problem is the very conceptual nature of the album — often a bit too binary and simplistic and even formulaic (a problem generally avoided by the likes of, say, Laurie Anderson).  There should be few doubts about ANOHNI’s good intentions, but those intentions only go so far.  Perhaps that’s even the wrong way to put it.  The intentions of this album are inescapable, like being confronted by someone doing political canvassing, and often Hoplessness is no more artistically memorable.

Sun Ra – Oblique Parallax

Oblique Parallax

Sun RaOblique Parallax El Saturn IX SR 72881 (1982)

A very synth-heavy live set recorded in Detroit circa 1980-81.  This is very reminiscent of Disco 3000 and Media Dreams but with more of a focus on Ra.  Compared to similar recordings this is not exactly top-tier stuff, but it’s still full of good vibes (AND crazy synth noise) for the Ra fan.  “Journey Stars Beyond,” which takes up all of side two, is definitely the highlight.

Sun Ra – The Solar-Myth Approach (Vol 1)

The Solar-Myth Approach (Vol 1)

Sun Ra and His Solar-Myth ArkestraThe Solar-Myth Approach (Vol 1) BYG 529.340 (1971)

Like Space Is the Place and Soundtrack to the Film Space Is the Place, The Solar-Myth Approach (Vol 1) is a very broad and eclectic sampling of various musical forms Sun Ra and his Arkestra had developed up through the early 1970s.  Early on there is a short space chant with “Realm of Lightning” (better known as “Outer Spaceways Incorporated”).  “Seen III, Took 4” is a somewhat rare look back to the abstract experiments of the group’s early days in New York City, something akin to Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy.  “They’ll Come Back” starts with more exotic sounds and a very persistent bowed bass, but eventually transforms into “Ancient Aiethopia,” a song the band had been performing since the 1950s.  The rest is mostly pretty percussion-heavy, with the soloing tending toward the difficult.  The sound here is a bit lo-fi, and the performances may not quite be top-tier, but despite those potential concerns this would still make a fairly good introduction to the work of Sun Ra, especially for more adventurous souls — with the caveat that there are even better recordings out there from the group ready to be heard.

Thelonious Monk – Thelonious Monk Plays the Music of Duke Ellington

Thelonious Monk Plays the Music of Duke Ellington

Thelonious MonkThelonious Monk Plays the Music of Duke Ellington Riverside RLP 12-201 (1955)

Okay, but somehow lacking.  Though Clarke and Pettiford make up an A-list rhythm section, they don’t seem to bring their “A” game to this recording.  People often note how Monk softened the edges of his playing during his tenure on Columbia Records, but even here on Riverside he was doing that already.

Sun Ra & His Arkestra – Live at Montreux

Live at Montreux

Sun Ra & His ArkestraLive at Montreux El Saturn MS 87976 (1976) [pictured is the 1978 Inner City reissue]

A pretty good live set.  This is one of the most high fidelity live recordings of the Arkestra pre-1980, and it features everything from Cecil Taylor-like piano pounding (“Of the Other Tomorrow”) to synthesizer freak-outs (“Gods of the Thunder Realm”) to afro-futurist space chants (“We Travel the Spaceways”) to big band sci-fi exotica (“Lights on a Satellite” and “El Is the Sound of Joy”) to a loose rendition of a standard (“Take the ‘A’ Train”) to plenty of songs with free soloing (“For the Sunrise,” “The House of Eternal Being” and “Prelude”).  It is somewhat interchangeable with a lot of other live Arkestra recordings of the era though.  Personally, because of the slightly showy, programmatic nature of these performances, I prefer the wild yet stately late 60s recording Pictures of Infinity, some of the more intense early 70s live discs like Nuits de la Fondation Maeght, Vol. 1, It’s After the End of the World: Live at the Donaueschingen and Berlin Festivals, the intimate late 70s sets like Disco 3000 and Media Dreams, the lively mid-80s live sets, Live in Nickelsdorf 1984 (and its counterpart Live at Praxis ’84), and even the coarse Egyptian sets like Live in Egypt 1 and the autumnal Live at the Hackney Empire.  If that seems like a lengthy list, then the point is made.  Live at Montreux is not bad at all, but faces stiff competition from so many other Sun Ra live recordings that it doesn’t merit any special attention.

Sun Ra Arkestra – Live at Praxis ’84

Live at Praxis '84

The Sun Ra ArkestraLive at Praxis ’84 Golden Years GY 5/6 (2000)

The Arkestra has more polished performances on record, as well as numerous live sets that were recorded better.  Yet this collection of the three original Praxis volumes that documented a show in Greece still offers a uniquely comprehensive view of the basic template for late period Sun Ra.  There were noticeably greater numbers of standards, something likely driven by a number of factors including heightened confidence from recent successes, Sun Ra’s advancing age (he was about to enter his seventies), and even overtures to changing commercial tastes (the Eighties being known for a “conservative” movement in jazz).  The band was frequently recreating Fletcher Henderson recordings like “Yeah, Man!” too.  These were not just performances of Henderson’s signature songs with their original arrangements, but actually live, note-for-note recitations of the old recordings in their entirety.  If you dig this, note that a concert from two weeks later is available on Live in Nickelsdorf 1984 that is at least as good (maybe better).