The Doors – “L.A. Woman” (1971 / 2008)

Out here, we is stoned… immaculate.
— “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)” 

L.A. Woman marks the last stop in my journey through The Doors’ catalog courtesy of The Doors Vinyl Box.

I only recognized a couple of songs on each of the last few Doors albums I listened to, but L.A. Woman includes a number of the band’s most popular recordings – “Love Her Madly,” “L.A. Woman,” “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat),” and of course “Riders On The Storm” are all bonafide classics that would likely be on any greatest hits compilation.  But even with these four well-known entities, I still find myself surprised to find there are six songs on L.A. Woman that I’ve never heard before.

It’s interesting… Morrison Hotel struck me as very much a blues-rock record, and while those influences certainly exist on L.A. Woman with songs like “Been Down So Long” and “Cars Hiss By My Window” (the later of which is absolutely amazing!), The Doors didn’t maintain the same consistent sound they had in their prior album.  Right from the opening track, “The Changeling,” it was obvious that the band had again expanded their horizons, producing a song that sounds like almost pure funk to me.  I don’t even know what “L’America” sounds like, other than it has a very martial drum beat, something the band used on a handful of other past songs as well.  And certainly their most well-known songs stray from the blues sound to a very great extent – though Morrison sings like a possessed, amped-up blues singer on the album’s title track.

L.A. Woman is absolutely solid, and probably rounds out my top three Doors albums following The Doors and Morrison Hotel.  All in all I was both surprised and impressed with the depth of The Doors catalog once I got outside of their mainstream “greatest hits” songs.  Their blues chops are unquestionable, and they certainly weren’t afraid to explore some unusual musical places along the way.  It’s too bad we lost Morrison so young – I’d like to have seen what he would have produced as he grew more mature.  But it wasn’t meant to be, so we should be happy that he and The Doors left us behind six studio albums.  Even though it still doesn’t seem like enough…

KSMB – “Rika Barn Leka Bäst” (1981)

I always make it a point of doing some pre-work whenever we travel to a new country.  I’m a history geek, after all, so I make a point of knowing a bit about where we’re going, interesting and potentially relevant things we may want to see, and stuff that looks just plain fun.  I also do some research into that country’s music scene and put together a list of bands to be on the lookout for, as well as shops where I might be able to find some vinyl.

Last year we found ourselves in Finland and Sweden, two hotbeds of early punk rock.  Helsinki was, unfortunately, a bit of a bust – I didn’t buy a single record, though I did pick up a handful of cool CDs including the debut from the previously reviewed killer punk band LAMA, who are one of my all-time favorites.  I fared better in Stockholm thanks to a nice haul at Trash Palace, though the one band I was really hoping to track down was KSMB and I’d struck out on that front.  On our last day in Stockholm, however, Holly suggested a walk south of where we were staying and that, my friends, is how I happened across Pet Sounds Records.  And not one, not two, but three KSMB records!  I should listen to her more often.

Rika Barn Leka Bäst (“Rich Kids Playing Best” according to Google Translate) was the band’s second full length album.  Released in 1981, Rika Barn Leka Bäst is said to represent KSMB moving away from classic punk to a more pop-punk sound, and I’d certainly agree that these songs are pretty melodic and probably resemble either more of a rock sound or sort of The Clash “lite”.  There are some songs here that have a bit of swagger to them like “Blått & Guld” (though it does feature horns…) and “Klockan 8,” but even these have a pop-punk feel to them and seem a bit too… I don’t know… competent?  Clean?  Produced?  Don’t get me wrong, I like KSMB.  But it’s hard to think of it as punk, especially with the very un-punk-like and gratuitous guitar solo on the six-plus minute “Drömmar,” even with them trying a very punk-hip reggae-influnced song in “Jag Är Ingenting”.

KSMB kind of played second fiddle to Ebba Grön during their hey-day, but they were still very popular in their native Sweden.  They broke up in 1982 with just two full length studio albums and one live record (which I scored as well), and though they reformed in 1993 and released a new album a year later, it wasn’t particularly noteworthy.  They also released a compilation in 1989 called Sardjentpepper (the other record I picked up…) that includes four of the ten tracks from Rika Barn Leka Bäst.  Certainly worth a listen if you can find ’em.

PPpönk – “PP.ep” (1997)

I’m sitting in a hotel room in lovely Aurora, Illinois, and I’m kind of bored.  I have meetings to attend all day tomorrow, but no prep work to do tonight, so I thought I’d find something cool on the iPod to rock out to.  After some scrolling I came across a PPpönk album that I bought on CD during our last trip to Reykjavik, and remembered how much I liked it.  While I don’t have the actual CD with me, it also seemed like good blog fodder since we’re less than a week out from our trip to Iceland for Airwaves 2013.  So here goes nothin’.

At just eight songs and about 20 minutes, PP.ep appears to represent the bulk of PPpönk’s recorded output, a virtual musical postcard.  But what a gorgeous, exotic postcard from Iceland it is, a pop-punk masterpiece that makes you wonder why the hell this band didn’t catch on and put out more albums.

The style is basic punk rock – short songs with sharp and jagged sounds that have some funky basslines.  But the truly distinctive feature is the vocals.  The “main” singer is female, and her style has a very Japanese punk-pop feel to it, with alternating high and low pitches and a very playful cadence.  It’s her captivating voice that defines the band’s sound, though there’s also a male singer who appears on a few tracks, giving those a very early B-52s kind of sound to them.  Which is cool if you like the B-52s (and I do), though to be honest it would probably become annoying if it went on for the length of an entire album, so we’re saved here by this EP’s moderate run time.  Supposedly the bass player later went on to play drums for Singapore Sling, though I really don’t have much info about this band other than their music to go by.

For some reason there’s one song in English, “Kurekabugi,” which appears to be a quasi country-punk song about some kind of dance step.  Arguably (by me) the best track is “Geislabio,” which is probably also the most clearly punk song on the EP, reminding me just a bit of the Cramps with it’s sort of goofy, screaming ending.

If you can find a copy of this and you like early punk (or the B-52s), you won’t be disappointed.

King Britt – “Adventures In Lo-Fi” (2002)

Philadelphia DJ and producer King Britt (yes, that’s his actual birth name!) is well known in some circles for his brand of electronic jazz/soul and his wide-ranging collaborations with other artists.  In 2003’s Adventures In Lo-Fi he presents an all-collaboration double album – 22 tracks featuring 17 different singers and MCs laying vocals over his jazzy hip hop musical creations and beats, with enough variation to keep it interesting throughout its more than hour and ten minute duration.

I’ve been listening to a bit of acid jazz and funk lately, things like Brooklyn Funk Essentials and James Brown, plus some different hip hop stuff that I found on the Eleven Phases compilation, and King Britt promised to be a blend of all that and more.  What I got was a great mix of funky, jazzy, slow to mid tempo electronic and beats, with some fantastic vocals.  Side A sets the tone after its brief instrumental introduction, with Rich Medina’s very Barry White-esque spoken word delivery on “Planetary Analysis” followed immediately by female rapper Bahamadia on “Transcend”.  Britt adeptly uses both male and female voices to give the album a unique flow, preventing it from falling into a rut and becoming little more than background noise.  It stays fresh the whole way through.

Normally I’m not a fan of female rappers (something that probably says more about me than it does about the skills the ladies obviously possess), but I have to say that the tracks on Adventures In Lo-Fi that feature women, whether singing or rapping, are probably my favorites.  If I were hating on this album I’d label it something like “adult contemporary hip hop,” and maybe it sorta is.  But the music has a lot of sensuality to it, and I think that’s why I prefer the female vocals since, after all, I’m a dude.

To me Adventures in Lo-Fi is the best of both worlds.  The tempo is up beat enough that it can get you moving, but slow enough that you can just as easily sit on the couch and chill with a cocktail.  To some people that might be a criticism, a description of an album that doesn’t know what it’s trying to be.  But personally I think Britt knew what he was doing and got exactly what he wanted, and I for one am glad he did.

Gusgus – “24/7” (2009)

A while back I wrote that Gusgus’ 2011 release Arabian Horse was flat out the best album I’ve ever heard.  Better than Led Zeppelin II.  Better than Dark Side of the Moon.  And I stand by that statement.  After all, it’s simply and expression of preference.  And my love of Gusgus started with 24/7.

I fight fire with fire when I’m in this state,
If I can’t find love I guess I’ll hate.
— “Hateful” 

On Sunday, October 18, 2009 at about 11:40 PM local time I got my mind blown in a Reykjavik venue called NASA (which sadly is no more at the time of this writing) when Gusgus hit the stage to close out Iceland Airwaves 2009.  I knew zero about them going into that show, but their set was incredible and consisted primarily of material from 24/7.  NASA was packed to overflowing, which was probably somewhere around 700-800 people, and much of the set done with minimal to no lighting other than green lasers and a stripped down small stage.  Even at our spot in the back corner away from the action of the main floor we still got caught up in the vibe.  Within a few weeks of us returning home 24/7 was in constant rotation on the iPod and we’d picked up much of the band’s back catalog on CD and through iTunes.

On the job,
24-7 never stop,
Always getting better on the job,
On the job.
— “On The Job”

A lot of reviewers are critical of 24/7, which is somewhat understandable given what a significant departure the album was from previous more up-beat dance albums like Attention and Forever.  But for me I went into it with no expectations, and it hooked me.  The beats are low, the base is heavy, and the pace is slow for a techo-dance record.  And at 52+ minutes and only six songs, almost every track is a long, drawn out experience – the instrumental “Bremen Cowboy” is the second shortest song on the album and it clocks in at 7:58!  There’s plenty of time between the sparse vocals to explore the beats, with Gusgus adding in minimalist synths and echo.  This isn’t high tempo dance music; this is low tempo, slow burning grooooove music, the kind that will put you into a trance and make you realize that you have no idea what happened over the last four or five minutes.

I burned this to CD for my buddy Tristen who is really into electronic music because I was so excited about it.  When I asked him later that day if he’d listened to it, he said he had; “But that guy is angry.  I didn’t get all the way through it.”  And I had to admit, when I stopped and thought about the lyrics he kind of had a point (though he became a fan of the band and saw them with us at Airwaves in 2012).  This is not an uplifting album, neither musically nor vocally.  But it’s real and it’s emotional, even if it does come from a somewhat dark place.

Through the pain of the snow,
Is there nowhere to go,
Like I’m stuck in a state
Of no state at all.

As I wandered alone in the darkest night,
Heard this song at the rave
And it saved my life.
— “Add This Song” 

The Gusgus live shows I’ve seen since the release of Arabian Horse consist primarily of the band’s newest material, with the notable exception of “Add This Song” which appears to be a staple of their sets.  Daníel Ágúst also covered a version of “Thin Ice” on his self-titled solo album in 2011, albeit in a much shorter and more radio friendly version that was retitled “Feel Like Dancing” (which is a lyric in the song), so he certainly had some strong feelings about at least that one track.

Louder than fear,
About to hear,
My emotions,
Echo… in emptiness.
— “Thin Ice” 

Ágúst’s voice is hauntingly beautiful throughout 24/7, and he’s one of the truly great singers  of today.  The emotional tone of the album is a bit challenging to be sure, but the music and vocals are truly fantastic, so if you’re looking for something new in the kind of darker side of electronic, pick up a copy of 24/7, turn the lights down low, and just listen….