Anime Diary. Titles rented recently: The Wings of Honneamise, Video Girl Ai, Patlabor 1, more Blue Seed. Saw my first bloody nose (in Video Girl Ai), a "uniquely Japanese [symbol of] sexual frustration," according to Clements & McCarthy's Anime Encyclopedia (the book's example--to the right--is from Tales of Sintillation, 1990). Wings is fantastic! Slow-moving but insanely detailed depiction of an alternate, Nippon-like world. Lovely score by Ryuichi Sakamoto. The Omake Theatre segments at the end of Blue Seed are often more interesting than the show itself. One features Momiji lying around her apartment in her underwe4r on a rainy day. P4nty shots aside, it's a moving, wordless meditation on nature, and loneliness. On the big screen: Escaflowne, Metropolis, and Vampire Hunter D. Escaflowne scores highest for visual poetry: shots of the Magic Moon (Earth), partially occluded by a Luna-like moon with a giant hieroglyphic eye, looming over the film's parallel Earth; scenes in a pristine mountain village that sparkle.
Techno Diary. Geogaddi, the new Boards of Canada CD, is good, but I actually prefer their four-track release from 2002, in a beautiful place out in the country, with its herky jerky rhythms and subtle allusions to David Koresh and Waco. The standout track from the new CD is "1969," with its Stephen Sondheim-like vocoder duet, ending on the repeated phrase "1969 in the sunshine." Meaning "1969 basking in the cathode rays cast by a dreary after-school special from the Canadian Film Board, waiting for the Big One to drop." Three late ('97-'98) CDs by Larry Heard, "house music's one true bona fide genius"--an assessment from Mixmag I'm inclined to agree with. Heard processes Sly Stone, Pat Metheny, and Happy the Man's Kit Watkins through house's 4/4 thump and arpeggiated loops, pulling the warmest imaginable sounds from those machines of his in Memphis. Heard rules! Finally getting around to early '90s Alec Empire, when he was still a My Bloody Valentine-meets-ambient groove machine. Limited Editions 1990-94 is highly recommended and still available. The first third of John Tejada's Backstock is a nice self-mix of his own tracks; gets a little dull and then perks up at the end. More consistently exciting is Roni Size's mix of recent Full Cycle tracks on Through the Eyes. Yes, I still like Drum and Bass. Some stuff bought blind off Forced Exposure: Electronic Cosmetics on Salo (a nice comp of recent, tuneful Berlin techno) and Monolight's Free Music, a bit more abstract but very listenable selection of three-synths-and-an-effects-deck chittering.
never heard of Happy the Man
Thanks for posting that. It's all accurate. Happy the Man was the music of my youth; I saw them many times live, and even promoted a concert for them at the University of Virginia's Cabell Hall. That theatre was used for classical concerts; I had to convince the student government that HTM wasn't a rock band. I remember describing the music to them as "primarily jazz with rock instrumentation and classical complexity" (a half-truth--it ain't jazz) and getting a bunch of blank looks. I put up posters all over town and ordered saturation advertising at WTJU, where I was program director (the station thought the show was a fundraiser but I gave 90% of the door to the band). The concert filled the house with an appreciative and well-behaved crowd--the only mishap was finding a broken bottle of Rebel Yell bourbon lying in a pool of vomit. The next year, Arista announced that it had signed HTM and the student government was calling me, asking how it could get in touch with the band. As if!
Crafty Hands, HTM's second and best LP, came out the same year as DEVO's first; new wave was in and prog was out. Also, the band's music was largely instrumental, and the fusion market was already devolving into Spyro Gyra-type crap. Nevertheless, it is a great prog record. Unfortunately the band and most of its fans are still stuck in that era, or worse: a couple of band members have put out solo CDs that I would describe as New Age. The appeal of the band to its fans is based on really stupid criteria like how fast they solo and how much counterpoint and tricky time-signature changes they put in the music. For me that was never the issue; in fact, I still think producer Ken Scott (the Tubes) "slicked up" their sound to an unnecessary degree. What I liked was the Van Der Graaf Generator side of HTM, as opposed to the Yes/Gentle Giant influence. The emphasis is on mood, and emotion: Frank Wyatt, in particular, wrote some truly eccentric, haunting music. You can hear this best on Beginnings, a CD of their early demo tapes.
Anyway, to bring this rambling discussion full circle, I was intrigued to read in an interview that Larry Heard is an HTM fan. I can really hear it on a couple of tracks, like "Saga of the Evil Queen" on Dance 2000, with its pitch-bending minimoog solo. Unlike HTM, however, he's moved on. Working within the minimalist template of house, he takes everything that's interesting about prog and fusion--the layering of musical voices, the vibe, the touch--and discarded what's bad: the baroque excess, the egotistical soloing. I've read interviews with HTM where they admit knowing very little about current electronic music, and that's a pity; their sound (then and now) could use more of techno's discipline, edge, and street smarts.
A thoughtful, but ambivalent, review of the new Boards of Canada can be found here: the reviewer loves the previous recordings, questions whether BoC is repeating itself, but then wonders whether it's just that "particular sub-function of electronic music that makes the listener demand 'advancement' in a new release." The piece is especially good on the Film Board of Canada connection: "For those who don't know, Boards take their name from the National Film Board of Canada, producer of many a filmstrip and projector reel on the life cycle of the sea otter and the story of photosynthesis. The soundtrack to many of these semi-mythical productions (Americans - and Canadians I would assume - must remember at least one from their elementary school days) were synthesizer tracks, obviously designed to sound New and Now but whose cheapness (and tape decay?) make them seem unintentionally eerie to our ears twenty or thirty odd years later. And not entirely dissimilar to the ambient backings of many a BoC track."