The Raincoats – The Raincoats

The Raincoats

The RaincoatsThe Raincoats Rough Trade ROUGH 3 (1979)

The Raincoats’ debut album is about being at a certain place in life. It captures a certain feeling. It isn’t a feeling that everyone can relate to, but the Raincoats delicately paint it with crafty precision. The Raincoats is ominous without the pretense that normally accompanies such works.  This is an album of distraction. Yet, it is effective because the ‘Coats readily admit this. The essence of the feeling is like opting to play hopscotch instead of being depressed. There is a careful avoidance at work. Darkness may be all around but there isn’t any time for it with such amusing diversions.

The focus here is on triumph. The Raincoats’ major contribution was combining a deep-seated, gut-level awareness with a generally upbeat attitude. In terms of songwriting, they created modern folk stories. Fairytales. The Raincoats work more from daydreams than reality. You could even call them precocious. “Life on the Line,” particularly Vicky Aspinall’s violin, has that humorous Bo Diddley strut to it. And guest Lora Logic adds her sinuous, throbbing sax to “Black and White.” Every part makes so much intuitive sense. They pull together all the right elements. It’s that spice they add, though, that makes The Raincoats so hard to put aside.

You have to look at The Raincoats in connection with musical collectives like The Slits to understand what important contributions The Raincoats made. Though they were an all-girl group by the time they recorded, they didn’t start that way and that probably wasn’t even their intent. They did end up with a sound far from the punk stereotype. The folk-influence vocal harmonies confirm that. Since this album had little success on release, most people have heard Nirvana‘s version of this sound first (perhaps recognizing the ‘Coats from Kurt Cobain’s liner notes homage). The Raincoats’ debut is the very sound that inspired countless bands through the 1990s.

The Raincoats can fool you into thinking they are just a fun little band playing stripped-down rock songs. Don’t get tricked into thinking so narrow mindedly! Actually, there are no traps. The Raincoats were a pretty inviting band that only slowly revealed their nature. You could talk about how their elemental melodies allowed greater shading with harmonics and rhythms, but this is unnecessary to enjoy the ‘Coats. They were out to make great music, and they are completely unguarded on this recording. Masters of the obvious indeed. With this debut, The Raincoats were off to a great start.

John Coltrane – Blue Train

Blue Train

John ColtraneBlue Train Blue Note BLP 1577 (1958)

Well, I’m willing to argue that Blue Train is not really that special.  Maybe I might reconsider someday (it has been some time since I have listened to it), but for now, it strikes me as kind of boilerplate hard bop overall.  Maybe it’s that boilerplate aspect that draws so many people who wish to dabble in jazz to this album, because it is relatively uncomplicated, it adheres to most expected formulas, it is widely available, and it is a pretty even album.  But as a reviewer on RateYourMusic put it, lots of other tenor players could have made this album.

One argument I recall having about this album started when I commented that it wasn’t really offering anything new when it was released.  In response, what I heard was something like, “But in like 1957-58, this was cutting edge for the day!”  Well, I’m afraid not.  In the same time frame, Sun Ra was years ahead of this, even if a lot of Ra’s contemporaneous recordings wouldn’t be released until a few years later.  Let us not forget that Coltrane was to be heavily influenced by Ra’s tenor John Gilmore in the years to come.  But aside from Ra, there also was Cecil Taylor with albums like Jazz Advance, or Ornette Coleman with albums like Something Else!!!! or even Lennie Tristano with precious few recordings but outsized influence.  The cutting edge stuff might not have been that well documented, and may have continued to evolve, but it was out there being played around the time Blue Train was recorded and released.  Just because the late fifties were a relatively slow time for innovation in jazz recordings doesn’t mean I need to handicap this disc.

Now, I don’t mean to rag on Trane that much.  My point is merely that he hadn’t achieved greatness yet.

David Graeber Explains the Life-Sapping Reality of Bureaucratic Life

Link to an interview with David Graeber by Elias Isquith:

“’I Found Myself Turning Into an Idiot!’: David Graeber Explains the Life-Sapping Reality of Bureaucratic Life”

Bonus link: The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (“I think Kafka was right when he said that, for a modern secular non-religious man, bureaucracy, state bureaucracy, is the only remaining contact with the dimension of the divine.  It is in this scene from Brazil that we see the intimate link between bureaucracy and enjoyment.  What the impenetrable omnipotence of bureaucracy harbors is divine enjoyment. The intense rush of bureaucratic engagement serves nothing.  It is the performance of it’s very purposelessness that generates an intense enjoyment, ready to reproduce itself forever.”)

John Fahey – City of Refuge

City of Refuge

John FaheyCity of Refuge Tim/Kerr 644 830 127-2 (1997)

Spooky.  John Fahey mounted something of a comeback in the late 1990s.  City of Refuge was the first album of that comeback, and it was his most experimental offering in more than twenty-five years.  From this evidence there should be no doubt what the likes of Gastr del Sol saw in Fahey.  Most of this is pretty dark stuff.  “The Mill Pond” is a misfire.  Yet “Fanfare” and “City of Refuge III” are outstanding.  The former finds Fahey plugged in and playing some effective electrified guitar against industrial sounds and Stereolab samples.  The latter is an acoustic epic, but sounds more ominous than what you might expect based on his past recordings.  Not an easy listen by any means, but a welcomed return to more challenging music by a fascinating guitarist.

Johnny Cash – Johnny Cash Is Coming to Town

Johnny Cash Is Coming to Town

Johnny CashJohnny Cash Is Coming to Town Mercury 832 031 (1987)

As Columbia Records lost interest in Cash’s career and fading sales, he jumped over to Mercury Records.  His first album for Mercury, Johnny Cash Is Coming to Town, teams him again with producer “Cowboy” Jack Clement.  The approach is basically the same as the pair’s most recent work together on The Adventures of Johnny Cash (1982).  The material is patchy, with a few good choices but many more that are far less interesting.  The biggest problem, though, is that Clement makes this sound cartoonish, like a caricature of country music.  It adopts the worst elements of the contemporary Nashville sound.  The results are just more of the same with diminishing results.  There is a scene in the movie The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014), in which Woody Harrleson‘s character Haymitch tries to explain what is wrong with a propaganda film (“propo”) starring Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) made by Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s character Plutarch, and Elizabeth Banks‘ character Effie gives some examples of Katniss at her best after which everyone quickly agrees that Katniss is most charismatic when she speaks freely on her own without anyone telling her what to do.  Well, people most often like Johnny Cash because of these same qualities.  He was at his best when he did his own thing, the “rules” be damned.  He did not work to reshape country music from the inside out, like Loretta Lynn.  He had to work from the outside, as an outsider.  Johnny Cash Is Coming to Town has Cash trying to play by all the rules and follow a script closely.  For those reasons it seems to lack most of his strengths.  This one is a tad boring and too lacking in any nuance to make it anything of note.

Johnny Cash – Live From Austin TX

Live From Austin TX

Johnny CashLive From Austin TX New West Records (2007)

Live From Austin TX was recorded on January 3, 1987 for the long-running public television show “Austin City Limits.”  The 1980s were disappointing times for Johnny Cash in terms of recording.  It wasn’t that he was washed up as a performer.  It’s that he often recorded studio albums full of every conceivable gimmick, none of which has aged well at all.  Some see this as a tension between his early outsider image and the clean-cut family man one that arose from his TV show, something he resolved decisively in favor of the former in the early 1990s with great success.  A straightforward live album like this proves a nice counterpoint to his studio recordings of the 80s era.  There are still some unfortunate electronics slapped on the guitar, but they aren’t too overbearing.  Cash sticks mostly to a “greatest hits live” format, so you know you at least get to hear some great tunes.  He even brings along a horn section for “Ring of Fire” and “I Walk the Line (outro)”.  Shortly before this show, he had been dropped by Columbia Records after almost 30 years.  He then signed with Mercury Records, and some of the songs here are from his first Mercury album Johnny Cash Is Coming to Town, released in April following this show.  Later in 1987 he went into the studio to re-record a lot of his old hits on Classic Cash: Hall of Fame Series, which is minimally adequate but doesn’t have quite the energy of this live set.  No, this doesn’t compare to the famous prison albums of the 1960s, and it’s no real revelation.  But it does possibly surpass anything Cash released in the 1980s, at least for consistency.