Vol. 2, Issue #11 June 22nd - June 28th, 2007

Tiger Bear From Hell at NONzine.com

By: Wilhelm Murg

Sole, Shoegaze, and Pop

Soul – it’s that liquid smooth quality in Smokey Robinson’s voice that makes women scream, the cool stroll of an Isaac Hayes orchestral arrangement, and the tug at your heart that makes you believe everything James Brown ever grunted. It’s indefinable, and it can’t be imitated, or appropriated – you simply have to relate your raw emotions every time you sing, which is not an easy trick – it wore Janis Joplin right down to the bone.

In these days of “American Idol,” where screaming is substituted for soul, the style is almost a forgotten art, but there are people out there who still believe. Soul has been on my mind, as this last week marked the 40th anniversary of the historic Monterey Pop Festival, where electrifying performances by the virtually unknown Joplin, Otis Redding, and Jimi Hendrix pushed soul way out into the forefront of psychedelic music. Redding’s old label, Stax Records, also celebrated their 50th year anniversary this past week by announcing that they are going back into the business of creating R&B music, with Hayes, Angie Stone, and Soulive as their first three signed artists. The label has not released a new recording since 1974.

One of the neatest CDs to come in lately is “Soul Sides Volume 2: The Covers” (Zealous Records). SoulSides.com is a blog about soul music and they programmed this CD of cover songs. It’s all great, but there are also plenty of outstanding moments, like Al Green’s driving, razor sharp reading of Lennon/McCartney’s “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” Esther Phillips’ blaxploitation arrangement of Gil Scott-Heron’s brutally descriptive “Home is Where The Hatred Is,” and Marcia Griffith’s sultry take of Green’s own “Here I Am (Come and Take Me).” There are also two great instrumental tracks; the mysterious Cold Grits’ super funky 1969 organ lead version of The Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing,” which was their only release, and El Michels Affair’s instrumental take on Isaac Hayes’ epic arrangement of “Walk On By.”

In these times of unlimited downloads it seems almost old fashion to have someone choose a soul compilation. Modern technology has democratized the old vinyl/CD compilation s; now everyone has multiple files of their own digital “mix tapes” in whatever interest them on their computers, burned discs, and iPods. But what’s interesting about soul it that it’s best experienced as a single, as it comes out in inspired bursts of emotion rather than an extended concept that you can go back to tinker on. This is actually the best soul compilation I’ve heard since Groove Armada’s underrated “Back to Mine” remix album and I never knew of any of these recordings before encountering this compilation. It’s worth investigating.

Depeche Mode’s Alan Wilder is about to release his fifth Recoil album, “subhuman” (properly written in lower case for some reason) on the Mute label. The album is a strangely comfortable mix of voodoo blues and shoe-gaze music, due to his two singers, Louisiana bluesman Joe Richardson, who comes out of the John Lee Hooker/Frank Zappa School of straightforward testifying, and the angelic voice of Carla Trevaskis.

Wilder’s non-stop trip hop journey goes into a deep and dark sound texture that owes equal credit to Reverend Gary Davis and Tangerine Dream. The song “5000 Years” is a moaning, pessimistic blues that sounds like it was over-produced by Trent Reznor or Tom Waits, which is really the point of the album. At times, Richardson’s wails seem almost cartoony because they are so stereotypical of what people thinks the blues sound like, but it’s that sense of overkill that makes the album work. Wilder was obviously heavily inspired by real blues, but this CD is not so much about authenticity as it is reinterpreting the structure through his own industrial style (and if industrial isn’t some kind of blues, I don’t know what it is). Trevaskis’ songs are almost as swampy, but she gives them a classic new wave delivery. Overall, it’s a fascinating experiment with ambient blues. Both the CD and the 5.0 DVD versions will be available in July.

Leaving soul behind and going totally into the shoegaze trance, the mysterious German producer, Ulrich Schnauss, has released his first album in four years, “Goodbye” (Domino Recording Co.), and it may be the most beautiful disc ever recorded. Schnauss is one of those master producers, like Phil Spector on “River Deep, Mountain High,” or Trevor Horn on “Kiss from a Rose” where the sound is dense, yet the echo splatters like water in a cave.

Schnauss’ only problem is getting his music too beautiful, like the opening of the otherwise fine “Einfeld,” which crosses over to the sappiest side of Constance Demby’s “Music From The Hearts of Space” territory. However, the piece rights its path and redeems itself by the two-minute mark, at which point it becomes completely hypnotic through it’s drones, light rhythms, and disembodied voices.

Ultimately Schnauss is giving us a state of the art pop music; this is where everyone should be, but few would take such a bold chance. At the very least this album should assure Schnauss a place among the prophets of techno before him, like Jean Michel-Jarre’ with “Zoolook,” Kraftwerk’s “Electric Café,” or The Art of Noise’s “In No Sense Non Sense” – at the very least it should become an underground classic that connoisseurs know about.

It might seem like a strange combination of music, but these three albums mix very nicely together. The ethereal and the blues are not that far apart.

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