Avant-Pop… and Space Ghost

I took a trip out to my city’s antique mall this afternoon for the first time this year. When I arrived I was surprised to find two They Might Be Giants singles featuring exclusive tracks which were only otherwise available on the 1997 oddities compilation, THEN: The Earlier Years. (The set is fantastic – an absolute essential tour of the duo’s earliest recordings.)



But the greatest value of my trip was, as always, my conversation with my favorite vendor, Bob the Record Guy. He always knows what titles to pull for me. I chatted him up for his knowledge about the music scene between 1976 and 1984, particularly the better parts of new wave, essentials of no wave, post-punk, avant/art-pop, and gothic/ethereal wave classics. He was happy to make a number of recommendations and sent me home with a few albums to get me started.

I confess that many of the artists and albums listeners take it as read that I would know are entirely new to me at present. Born in ’81, I was a touch too young for it all the first go-round and by the time I hit the age of history-combing musical discovery in college, the all-consuming craze was experimental electronic, ambient, and post-rock music. So while I’m well-versed in late-60s/early-70s synth music and 90s indie pop, my knowledge of that seminally developmental decade in between is limited to my memories of MTV flashback syndication and of dollar bin comp cassettes of 80s radio pop. (And damn it, I’m sick and tired of “Always Something There to Remind Me.“)

Terrible cassette I purchased at a Lechmere department store in 1992.
From what Bob had immediately available, he sent me home with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s 1984 LP, Junk Culture, (with a startlingly-clearly labeled one-sided 7″ single). While the band’s first four LPs showcase OMD at the best, I was happy to pick up anything for starters.


But it was the next record I was given which became my favorite discovery of the day. While discussing no wave and other manic, atonal music of the 80s, Bob pulled out a copy of Lounge Lizards’ Big Heart – Live in Tokyo (1986). He explained that, while the album is certainly a far cry from the aggressive dissonance of albums like No New York, that it might serve as a fitting introduction to 80s exercises in what Ornette Coleman termed, harmolodics.


For those unfamiliar, wiki says, “Harmolodics may loosely be defined as an expression of music in which harmony, movement of sound, and melody all share the same value…” resulting in music which “…achieves an immediately open expression, without being constrained by tonal limitations, rhythmic pre-determination, or harmonic rules.” While I am well-acquainted with standards of free/avant-garde jazz, (I have many of the essentials in my record library), what I didn’t realize was how this philosophy had been embraced by Sonny Sharrock and utilized in his composition of the theme to Adult Swim’s Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Bob brought up the track as an example of harmolodics and spun several tracks from Big Heart which sounded quite similar to the theme. While the first two selections from Big Heart fall a bit flat, those patient enough to go deeper into the record will find that it is arguably the best effort of their catalog.

Home from our outing, I’m surveying my finds of the day and looking forward to more discoveries of albums I should have listened to ages ago. Bob also recommended that I explore the cassette-only label, ROIR (Reachout International Records) founded in 1981 for more great music. Thanks, Bob!

The Innerspace Labs Top 100 Albums

Recently a vinyl community I frequent held a month-long event where members shared their Top 30 LPs. I had a wonderful time coming up with my list and writing small reviews for each title. Unfortunately, I had a terrible time limiting my list to just 30, and it quickly grew to a Top 100. (And even then, I’ve cheated here and there with multi-disc box sets and discographies.)

But it all seemed too good not to share here at Innerspace so please enjoy a gallery of 100 of my favorite albums. Mouse over any thumbnail for artist and title info and click any image to expand and view the full-resolution photograph. All albums are presented alphabetically by artist.

Have I made any glaring omissions? Any indisputable electronic classics? Let me know! Perhaps we’ll have to push it to 200…


Revolution Starter Kit

I’ve just returned from antiquing escapades with my lady friends and brought home several groovy treasures!

I picked up my first-ever Pharoah Sanders record – a mint first press of the legendary Karma LP featuring “The Creator Has a Master Plan.”

I also snagged original copies of Jimmy McGriff’s deeply-funky Soul Sugar LP and a newly traded in first press of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s noise pop debut, Psychocandy from 1985.

Before I left I also grabbed a clean copy of The Trouser Press Guide to 90s Rock – a mammoth oversize reference text of 2300 of the greatest punk, grunge, indie-pop, techno, noise, avant-garde, ska, hip-hop, new country, metal, roots, rock, folk, modern dance, and world music recordings from the decade of my high school years.

It’s the first time I’ve considered buying a critical text on rock music (I usually prefer 20th century classical and jazz), but this seemed an excellent starting point.

AND as a nifty bonus, from the Devil’s Library section of the antique mall I picked up a (R)evolution: A Journal of 21st Century Thought zine from The Anarchists of Chicago in the early 1980s which features a piece by Aleister Crowley.




Readings in Modern Music

Anyone who follows this blog with any frequency knows how much of a stretch it is for me to dig a contemporary recording, let alone a modern track by a “band” instead of a composer.  Even scarcer still are the selections I enjoy which contain lyrics and any sort of verse structure akin to rock.

The above is particularly applicable at present as I’ve spent the past week delving deep into the masterworks of musique concrete and electroacoustic composition – recordings which not only abandon contemporary pop structures like lyricism and melody, but forgo the entire tonal system itself, instead favoring abstract and atonal plunderphonics!

So it is with immense surprise and satisfaction that I state the following – A user contacted me on last.fm this week and shared  an unsigned band’s recent video… and I absolutely loved it!

They call themselves Museum – four gents from Berlin who self-released their album, Traces Of on their own label – beat is murder.

museum band
Traces Of followed the release of two EPs – Exit Wounds and Old Firehand but the 2012 single “The Law” is the fan-recommended track which introduced me to their work.  (They actually do the whole lowercase-sentence-fragment thing but I’ve capitalized their releases here for the sake of readability.  Sorry lads.)

Their official site is inactive, simply stating that the album’s release is scheduled for Jul 6, 2012, however the band appears to be active with a performance scheduled at FiestaCity 2014 on Aug 29th – Place du Martyr, Verviers, Belgium.

This recording came onto my radar at quite an opportune time.  The first thing I noticed from the first 20 seconds of the tune’s music video was that the band had incorporated elements of tape music and musique concrete as the very foundation of the track.

The lyrics did not detract from the layering of minimal, looped sounds, as they too were cut up in a fragmented presentation which would have made Burroughs proud.  And while the kaleidoscopic video effect is nothing new, it works well with the track.

Check it out for yourself – “The Law” from Museum.

I began the week with the discovery of a historic jazz release in the Netherlands which should arrive in the post in the next 10 days (Stay tuned for a special feature with high-res photos once it arrives!)

I had been compiling data on the milestones of free jazz and was very happy to find one of them re-issued by Impulse! Records in 2011 – the same label which released the original recording in 1968.

Archie Shepp - Magic of Ju-Ju

The psychedelic cover art commanded my attention when I found it in a local record shop, and while I had never listened to Archie Shepp before I knew I had to check out this record.

I previewed it for a mere 30 seconds – whetting my sonic appetite with Shepp’s free jazz psychedelic tenor frenzy accompanied by five (count ’em – FIVE) talking drum percussionists.  30 seconds was all I needed.

I instantly purchased the record and added it to my jazz collection, delighted by my discovery but slightly irked that there was no mention of this album by any of the free jazz essentials lists I had compiled.  That’s just further evidence that you’ve really got to get out there and dig.

But on to today’s theme – Music Lit.  I knew it was going to be an intellectually stimulating week when I found Julian Cope’s legendary music crit, Krautrocksampler offered up on the Web in PDF format.  As you’re probably aware, this title is long out of print and the author has sworn never to reissue it.  Copies surface on various marketplaces for hundreds of dollars.   Thankfully, a dedicated fan painstakingly scanned every page of the book, and while it is hardly archival quality, it is the only way most of us will ever see the book.


This will be a pleasure to peruse over the coming weeks, even in its crudely-photocopied form.

I picked up another jazz book from a local used bookshop as it was only a few dollars and I was curious to see what a writer would have to say about jazz in the middle of the era. The bulk of the text was written in 1962, with the “jazz-rock” chapter at the end likely added for the 1975 and 1979 printings.

What Jazz is About
Erlich’s perspective of jazz is hardly academic, and clearly it is not intended to be. The book’s approach is that of a simple love of the genre and acts as a guided tour through the history of its greatest influences, from African drum music to field hollers all the way up to the Third Stream and jazz-rock era.

From a historical context the book successfully builds a fundamental framework of jazz’s legacy. The language is elementary and makes for an effortless read, with a circular structure of artist introductions, childhoods, development, and lasting impacts.

However there are many titles available which better-examine what will soon be a century of jazz culture. There are very few references to What Jazz Is All About anywhere on the Web, and even fewer reviews. I’ve since moved on to better-known resources for further exploration of the genre.

History of Jazz

The History of Jazz by Ted Gioia is Amazons’ best-selling jazz text.  I’m enjoying it thus far, and was happy to see that it included a Recommended Listening index at the end of the book.

I also ordered two highly-acclaimed guides to 20th Century avant-garde music – The Rest is Noise: Listening to the 20th Century and Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music.

The Rest is Noise and Audio Culture

The Rest is Noise was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist and cracked the New York Times’ Top 10 Books of the Year.  Audio Culture is a compiled volume of manifestos and writings from every music theorist from the first discussions of noise by Jacques Attali and Luigi Russolo to a piece about post-digital tendencies in contemporary computer music by microtonal composer Kim Cascone.

Best of all, Audio Culture includes a hefty index with a chronology of noteworthy recordings, a glossary and a Select Discography.

I also enjoyed watching a documentary film this week titled, In the Ocean – A Film About the Classical Avant Garde which sparked my further exploration of musique concrete.

One of the interesting things I took from the film was the discovery that Cage was really interested in Finnegans Wake (his 1979 mesostic composition, Roaratorio is entirely based upon the novel both in structure and in content.)  And by delightful coincidence – what very title arrived in my mailbox just one day earlier?

Finnegans Wake

The Law of Very Large Numbers is a beautiful thing in practice.

All these new music books inspired me to print up some appropriate bookmarks, so I made these… (extra points if you can name the jazz record which featured the Jackson Pollock print.)

Bookmarks 06-14-14 sm

So pick up the music books I’ve featured, check out Magic of Ju-Ju and I’ll be back next week with a fantastic new box set!

Journey into Jazz

Inspired by a lady-friend jazz-fan (who found Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music captivating upon first listen!), I decided it was time I ventured further into the world of jazz.  Until now I had steeped comfortably in my hot kettle of Miles Davis’ electric period and Sun Ra’s psychedelic avant-garde trips like Space is the Place.  I was ushered into this flavor of fusion by Herbie Hancock and his electro-funk jazz classics like Headhunters, Thrust and Sextant.


But I knew full-well that the 50 years which led up to these electric freak-out albums were rich with milestone recordings which demand to be heard.  Every “must-hear” jazz list is brimming with albums from 1922 to 1970, so I went to work compiling a list of albums to introduce me to classic jazz.

I constructed a starter-set of 65 essential jazz records from 1925 to the 1970 and have been experiencing them one record at a time.

I explored resources such as r/jazz’s sidebar of essential jazz, I conducted an RYM search for highly-rated LPs in the jazz genre from 1920-1965, and at the recommendation of some friends I ordered a copy of The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, LP and Cassette.  I was delighted to find a first-edition available for $1, so I ordered it right away.

Beginning chronologically, I sampled The Hall of Fame 5-disc collection of Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens (1925-1930), The 24-disc Duke Ellington Centennial Edition (1927-1943), and the undeniable jazz classic – Ellington at Newport (1956).




I enjoyed the fast-paced bebop stylings of Dizzy Gillespie.  It had a similar energy to what I would soon hear on Coltrane’s Giant Steps (1960).  Blue Train (1957) and A Love Supreme (1965) followed shortly thereafter in my first-listen journey.

Next on the recommended list was The Quintet: Dizzy Gillespie / Charles Mingus / Charlie Parker / Bud Powell / Max Roach – Jazz at Massey Hall (1953).  The album is clearly one of the finest examples of a live jazz recording – a collaboration of the biggest names in jazz at the time of the session.  It adds a great energy to the room when it’s played, and I’m certain that I’ll be revisiting this disc often.

From there I picked up four of Charles Mingus’ most memorable recordings – Blues & Roots (1959), Mingus Ah Um (1959), Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (1963) and the classic – The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, also from 1963.

But what really grabbed me at first-listen was a strong fascination with the more experimental free jazz LPs like Ornette Coleman’s boldly-titled releases including The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959), Free Jazz (recorded in one single take in 1960), Change of the Century (also from 1960) the spacey Science Fiction (1971) and Body Meta (1978).  From Coleman I branched out further and listened to Eric Dolphy’s 1964 classic, Out To Lunch.  As avant-garde as it is, the album has quite a mellow feel and I left it on repeat for three full plays through.

I already have 75 Sun Ra albums ripped from vinyl in my library, but I have yet to really explore them beyond The Heliocentric World and Space is the Place.  Now that I’m really getting into jazz it seems appropriate that I add his library to my listening list as well.

Bill Evans’ albums between 1958 and 1961 were next on my list, along with Cannonball Adderley’s Something Else (1958), the Complete Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington Sessions, Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto’s 1963 classic, Getz & Gilberto, and Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane from 1961 (recorded in 1957).


That disc secured my certainty that I needed to hear more from the biggest names in jazz, so I was very happy to find a 54-disc archive of Ornette Coleman, and three 24-bit vinyl rip discographies of John Coltrane, Duke Ellington and of Thelonious Monk.

I have no doubt that I’ll enjoy the Ornette Coleman library, and I will wait a few days to receive my copy of The Penguin Guide to Jazz… before sinking my teeth into the 24 bit vinyl archives of Coltrane, Ellington and Monk.  (A fella could get lost in there without some direction.)

The autumn season has two paid weeks of vacation in store for me, and I plan to spend them reading, researching, and listening to these ~250 new records and will have a blast picking out a handful of titles for which I’ll order original pressings to finally expand the jazz section of my library.

Fall is coming – warm your home with beautiful music!

A Journey into Electro-Jazz, Future Jazz, and Dark Jazz

A week ago, I finally started listening to my archive of the first 154 releases on the legendary Ninja Tune label.  From the early 90s forward, nearly every artist with a progressive electronic sound and a touch of jazzy flare was on Ninja Tune.  

I was already a fan of the big names in Future Jazz like Jaga Jazzist, Bonobo, Funki Porcini and St Germain.  The first LP I bought after being bitten by the electro-jazz bug was St Germain’s classic Tourist album on Blue Note Records.

Here’s “Rose Rouge,” a classic example of electro-jazz.

That album instantly reminded me of LTJ Bukem’s Journey Inwards double LP (released in ’00 – the same year as Tourist) so I picked up a 94-disc archive of Intelligent D’n’B records, including Bukem’s Good Looking Records label, the Earth series, and several  others.  

My favorite album from that new selection was Big Bud’s Late Night Blues, which I’ll be ordering on vinyl soon.

But as I continuted to research the Future Jazz genre, a few artists clearly stood out from the crowd.  

From Hidden Orchestra’s official profile:

Hidden Orchestra combines two live drummers and deep basslines with strong jazz and classical influences, to make cinematic, emotive, percussive, next generation music using traditional instrumentation and organic samples.

I was similarly entranced by the stripped-down rhythmic and melodic jazz loops of The Cinematic Orchestra, particularly their earlier LPs, Motion (1999) and Remixes 98-2000 (2000).

For example, listen to “Channel 1 Suite” from Motion. (A possible nod to Buddy Rich?)

Or for a taste of electronic free-jazz from the very same LP, “Blue Birds.”

And from the album, Everyday – the slow and bassy “Burn Out.”

That’s when I hit the brick wall of harsh reality surrounding the family of Future Jazz LPs –

They cost a small fortune.

What I soon learned was that Ninja Tune is a small, independent label and they pressed very limited numbers of these fantastic albums in the 90s and early 2000s.  As such, many of these discs command $50 – $150 per album if you want the real thing.

And I wanted the real thing.

But two days of searching yielded the most wonderful discovery I could have ever asked for.  There is a site called BeatDelete.com.  Think of them as a Kickstarter for all your favorite, out-of-print records.

Ninja Tune was offering all their greatest albums from the 90s to be pre-ordered for reissue on BeatDelete.  100 orders locked in the re-pressing, and then they’d take it off the site.

I couldn’t throw money at the monitor fast enough.

I locked in pre-orders for two of my favorite Cinematic Orchestra double LPs and tracked down an original copy of Remixes 98-2000 from a private seller who also had a mint copy of DJ Food’s Kaleidoscope (another of my new-found favorites from the Ninja Tune archive.)

Kaleidoscope is the magic album I hinted at in my last entry.  DJ Food samples both the Del Close & John Brent How To Speak Hip LP from ’59 and features the smokey vocal legend of the 50s and 60s – Ken Nordine.  

And that jazzy upright bass plucking you hear is Benny Golson’s “Wink” from ’67.

The “thinking man’s” track he’s introducing at the end of “Ageing Young Rebel” is the reason I had to buy this record.  Here it is – “The Crow.”

And then, I discovered darkjazz.  Call it what you will – darkjazz, doomjazz, noir jazz, funeral jazz… It’s magnificent stuff.

From last.fm:

Dark jazz is a form of modern jazz characterized by the fusion of downtempo, minimalist ambient music with jazz. The term is often used interchangeably with doom jazz, and is comparable in feel and mood to dark ambient music.

There are approximately 100 contemporary artists which fall into the category of darkjazz, but there are three names among them that you need to know: Bohren und der Club of Gore, The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation and their other half – The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble.

For those who understand silence to be the most beautiful song the in the world, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble’s 2011 LP, From the Stairwell will take your breath away.

Almost literally, in fact – as I found myself holding my breath throughout my entire first listen, perhaps from fear that my breathing might interfere with the hauntingly fragile sounds coming from my studio monitors.  The album is full of half-audible frequencies – whisper-soft percussive tones, electronic sounds who’s source the listener can scarcely place, and gently-played fragments of jazz solos which vanish as subtly as the appear.

From the Stairwell is a contender which could challenge Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way for the quietest album ever recorded.

And if The Cinematic Orchestra’s Motion is an evening in a smoke-filled jazz club, then From a Stairwell is the intoxicated alley-walk home when the night is through.

In the age of the loudness war, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble is a beacon of hope that delicate and well-produced records will survive the millennium.

Here is Kilimanjaro’s “Cocaine.”