New music: Cold Diamond & Mink, GoGo Penguin, Bill Frisell, Pixies
|Sep 17||Public post|
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Ric Ocasek as producer and solo artist
Ric Ocasek, lead singer of The Cars passed away on Sunday at the age of 75. Pretty much no one who was a teenager when their debut album came out in 1978 could resist the band's ultra-cool style and the way they were able to mix a Euro-electronic sound with pure American pop. The dichotomy was represented visually and sonically by the band’s two vocalists--Benjamin Orr, a dreamy blonde who crooned the band's most soothing hit, "Drive" and Ric Ocasek, the impossibly lanky, dark-haired weirdo in sunglasses who gave a mod Roy Orbison twist to songs like "My Best Friend's Girl."
The band's six original albums--The Cars, Candy-O, Panorama, Shake It Up, Heartbeat City, and Door to Door--contained a ton of hit songs that were played frequently on MTV as well as a shadow group of songs that were popular with FM radio listeners ("Bye Bye Love," "Moving In Stereo," "Heartbeat City").
Ocasek also had an amazing career as a producer, often working with younger, up and coming bands like Weezer, who he helped make the transition from the garage to a professional recording studio. He also worked extensively with electronic trance-pop duo Suicide, a band that was not only electronic but also outside the mainstream.
If you think you know all about Ocasek's production work, I suggest you take a look at this wonderful piece by Annie Zaleski. She does a great job of not only rounding up Ric's many production credits through the years but also providing a window into his relationships with these bands and his strong work ethic and sense of professionalism. Seriously, I had thought about writing something about Ocasek's work as a producer but Zaleski did it and there's no sense reinventing the wheel.
Ocasek also had a complete and generally ignored solo career that will no doubt invite some reevaluation. Beginning with Beatitudes, released during the hiatus between the Cars albums Shake It Up and Heartbeat City, Ocasek's solo work functioned both as an outlet for music that didn't fit the Cars sound as well as a laboratory for exploring the studio and experimenting. 1986's This Side of Paradise is the most Cars-like of his solo albums and features nearly all the members of the band on various tracks. By 1990's Fireball Zone he was shedding many of the Cars mannerisms, but it's probably the least interesting of his solo discs.
Quick Change World, released in 1993, highlights Ocasek's two sides: the power-pop genius and the electro avant-garde experimentalist. Originally meant to be a double album called Negative Theater, it was changed by his record company, who took seven tracks from Negative Theater and paired them with seven tracks recorded with Mike Shipley. Negative Theater was released in Europe with a different track listing. The contrast between the first seven songs, which could have come from a later Cars album ("Hard Times" was originally written for the Heartbeat City album) and the second seven, which are synth-heavy and full of nervous energy, makes this a high point in Ocasek’s solo career.
The 1997 release Troubalizing was produced by Billy Corgan, and it features some heavier guitar sounds than Ocasek had used in a while. The songs are recognizably Ric Ocasek joints, though, and he was energized enough by the experience to go out on tour for the album, his first live performances since the Cars.
He released his last album, Nexterday, in 2005. The album was self-produced, much of it recorded in Ocasek's home studio, and it benefits from a clean, stripped-down style. Ocasek worked with Cars member Greg Hawkes, Bad Brains bassist Darryl Jenifer, and also overdubbed many instrumental parts himself. For those who are feeling the shock of Ocasek's sudden death hitting harder than expected, Nexterday is a good listen that helps absorb the blow. To those unfamiliar with his solo work, there is a lot of good music from an old friend to be heard here.
Cold Diamond and Mink: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
Do you know what’s cool? When your band backs a great performer who brings back the heart of 1960s vinyl soul in a fresh way and then your arrangements and backing are so inspirational that you release the backing tracks as an instrumental album in their own right?
That’s the situation you’ll find with Timmion Records; artist Carlton Jumel Smith and Timmion house band/production team Cold Diamond and Mink. Smith’s album 1634 Lexington Avenue is a loving evocation of mid-1970s soul and R&B recorded on such classic labels as Stax, Curtom, and Hi Records.
Cold Diamond and Mink are definitely up to the task at hand, crafting a warm and authentic retro sound for the songs that Smith has written with a loving hand. While Smith can be an explosive singer and performer, he was encouraged by the folks at Timmion to explore his softer soul side.
1634 Lexington Avenue is the New York City Address of Smith when he was a child absorbing there music of artists like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Barry White, and the incomparable James Brown, who Smith portrayed in the 1999 film Liberty Heights. Located in the city's Spanish Harlem, Smith also grew up hearing the Latin music of performers like Tito Puente ad Celia Cruz.
Cold Diamond and Mink’s production includes a 3-piece horn section (Jukka Eskola, Jimi Tenor, Pope Puolitaival), Sami Kantelinen on Bass, Jukka Sarapää on Drums and guitarist Seppo Salmi, who provides a masterclass in rhythm guitar. Timmion has issued the band's instrumental version on the B side ot every 45rpm single they've released, a smart move guaranteed to help garner play among DJs and amateur playlist programmers alike.
The band's release is Here Today Gone Tomorrow (1634 Lexington Avenue Instrumentals) and it's a welcome classic sounding slice of vinyl to have on your shelf next to Smith's vocal version.
Of course we made a playlist that contains each song with the vocal and instrumental version back to back. You’re welcome.
GoGo Penguin: “Time-Lapse City”
GoGo Penguin has released a single, "Time-Lapse City", the opening track from the trio's forthcoming EP Ocean in a Drop: Music for Film. The five-song EP features music inspired by the band's live soundtrack for the 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi which they will perform in a final run of dates through autumn in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Berlin, Paris, London and their home town of Manchester.
The film's original soundtrack was composed by Phillip Glass, and GoGo Penguin hasn't tried to supplant that legacy. “People kept asking if we’d release the music as an album, but that didn’t feel right to us,” pianist Chris Illingworth explains. “The film has a great score already, but we really enjoyed the project and specifically writing music for film, so that provided the inspiration for Ocean in a Drop...We recorded the tracks together live like we have with our previous recordings, not overdubbing and layering individual parts together.”
Ocean in a Drop drops October 4, 2019. Blue Note
Bill Frisell: “Everywhere”
Also set to drop on October 4 is Bill Frisell's first Blue Note recording as a leader. Titled Harmony, the album features new Frisell compositions as well as some standards--"On the Street Where You Live," "Lush Life" and Pete Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"
Joining Frisell are familiar collaborators Lee Townsend (producer), Petra Haden (voice), and Hank Roberts (cello, voice) and relative newcomer Luke Bergman (guitar, baritone guitar, bass, voice). Harmony will be available in CD, vinyl and digital formats.
The album is the result of a commission by the FreshGrass Music Festival, an organization dedicated to the vitality of bluegrass and other American roots music.
The first track released, "Everywhere" is a dreamlike piece that stakes out a territory somewhere between a small jazz combo, a chamber group, and a rootsy folk ensemble.
Pixies: Beneath the Eyrie
Pixies' 3rd post-reunion album, Beneath the Eyrie, is out and is inevitably a disappointment to pretty much everyone who has reviewed it. This right here is the reason The Beatles never reunited. I'll just link to reviews from The Ringer and The Guardian here. You get the idea…when your band is legendary, there’s no way to live up to that legend in the long run. Even when you are the legend.
I'm also including the video to probably the album's best song "On Graveyard Hill" which is both visually appealing and has some good energy (and a good bass line, which is hard to come by since the departure of Kim Deal).
New releases playlist
Oh, yeah. NDIM now has a rotating playlist of new releases on Spotify. This is stuff you’ll see us mention in the newsletter or on the website or on Facebook. It’s another way for us to keep you informed of what’s going on out there that you might be interested in.
Take a look at the archive of NDIM newsletters. Feel free to send this link to anyone who loves music or who you think might be interested in reading it.
Thanks, and have a great week.