Category Archives: Sine Macula

Sine Macula – Hunky Dory

sinemacula2.jpgIn 1970, David Bowie was dropped from his label after the sales of The Man Who Sold the World and David Bowie were less than desirable. So he took his recordings for his next album, and, upon hearing the tapes in early 1971, RCA immediately signed Bowie to a record deal, releasing the album only two months later.

The album, Hunky Dory, is an oft forgotten one. The most well known track from it, “Changes”, only gets occasional radio play, and the next most well known, “Life on Mars?” hasn’t been the subject of any sort of radio play since around 1973. The album is a crucial one for Bowie, though. Musically, Bowie rounds up where he’s been with the singer-songwriter pop gems “Kooks” and “Fill Your Heart”, where he’s going “Queen Bitch” and “Oh! You Pretty Things”, and what’s getting him there, “Andy Warhol”, “Song for Bob Dylan”.

The album is a bit broad–lots of ideas, all over the place–but it’s unified by Bowie’s singular voice, and operatic style. It may not be the “definitive” David Bowie album, but there’s excellent work representing nearly every album until from his debut through Young Americans, and hints of what comes after that.

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Sine Macula – In The Aeroplane Over the Sea

sinemacula2.jpgNeutral Milk Hotel’s history is fairly well-known among the indie music faithful. They came onto the scene in Georgia in the early 1990s. Their music was a lo-fi mish-mash of folk, indie, noise rock, and any other bits of music they could grasp onto for a fleet moment. They gained some attention to a larger audience with their brilliant, but very strange, On Avery Island and finally gained a huge following with this album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Shortly after the album was released, and its attentions gathered and swelled, Jeff Mangum, NHM’s principal member, their singer and songwriter and leader, decided he has had enough, and disappeared.

Since then, he’s released an CD of field recordings in eastern Europe, he’s appeared playing instruments on his friend’s albums, and he’s appeared on stage with Apples In Stereo and The Olivia Tremor Control. Every time his face appears in public, or anything related to music has his name attached to it, people come running, desperately hoping for the next Neutral Milk Hotel album. Such was the power of Aeroplane, released in 1998. It asked every question that every frightened, ignorant youth had, and evoked every emotion. It provided very few answers. In this sense, the album is absolutely devastating. That Mangum would open this door for us, and that he would never follow it up. I can’t blame him for it. But I can’t help but wonder at the album that will never be.

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Sine Macula: Friday Night in San Francisco

sinemacula2.jpgFor roughly the the past decade, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani pick up some guitarist with blazing fast electric guitar skills, and they go around touring as “G3” in front of adoring fans. I’ve never seen the tour, nor been particularly inclined to, but it’s not hard to imagine that they got the idea for G3 from this album. Friday Night in San Francisco is the 1980 release of Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin, and Paco DeLucia. It’s (mostly) a live album, and it features nothing more than 3 of the world’s greatest guitarists playing an unmatchable acoustic set in front of an enthusiastic audience.

All three guitarists, especially DiMeola have a reputation for being highly skilled, technique-oriented clinicians. DiMeola himself has said that, in the studio, he personally writes out all the musical parts for himself and for each of his complementary performers. This is no small task, given the speed and duration of the music–a lot of little black dots to appear. Nonetheless, this album is as loose and spontaneous and enjoyable as you’ll find any of these greats, and, with such unmatched skill on their instruments, it’s an inimitably dynamic and brilliant performance.

For the record, if you’re going to pick it up, it’s worthwhile listening to this on a good pair of headphones, as it’s more than worthwhile being able to distinguish one guitarist from the other.

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Sine Macula: Bone Machine

Tom Waits is a brilliant musician. This album, Bone Machine, is not his best, nor his most well-known, and yet this still qualifies, with ease, for Sine Macula.

Bone Machine was released in 1992, Waits first proper album since 1987’s Frank’s Wild Years. In the years between the albums Waits did a bit of acting, and the only albums of music he released were a score to a Jim Jarmusch film, and a live album. Waits’ musical career can be easily divided into three periods: 1973-1982, in which Waits wrote albums of mostly piano music, focusing mostly on bluesy tunes and ballads; 1983-1991, in which Waits stripped down his music, and started utilizing a lot of different styles of music, most famously the influence of gypsy music in Rain Dogs; and then 1992-present, in which Waits’ instrumentation becomes both barren, and unusual to the point unrecognizable, sometimes. Bone Machine is the first and, probably, the greatest of his albums in this third period.

It’s an apocalyptic album. The world is bleak, dark, and twisted. Waits weaves narratives of misery and suicide, but leaves the listener, as only he can, with a sense of hope at the albums finale.

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Sine Macula: Doolittle

sinemacula2.jpgA repeating, thumping sort of bass riff begins Doolittle’s first track, “Debaser”. A lean guitar riff crashes in, and shortly thereafter, a sort of surfer-rock riff on a second guitar. The opening track to the greatest of the Pixies albums is a movie recommendation. “Got me a movie, I want you to know”, howls Black Francis. Only the Pixies, perhaps, could make something so innocuous sound for furious and desperate. Of course, most bands don’t write songs about movies with girls cutting their eyeballs with razors. Pixies weren’t most bands, though.

The next track, “Tame”, is a hot nightmare. The song has a distorted, shuffling beat, and Black Francis is whispering the lyrics during the verse. It’s tense and taught, until with the single word chorus, with Francis screaming out the song title, and everything explodes. After the second verse, this scream repeats and increases in intensity, becoming hard breathing, with bassist Kim Deal offering backup harmonies for Francis’ breath, until Francis explodes with screaming again.

That’s the Pixies’ signature move: taught, quiet verses, and explosive screaming choruses.

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Sine Macula – The Hottest New Group in Jazz

sinemacula2.jpgI want desperately to make you want to own this album. Not only is it on the short list for my favorite album, but it’s, perhaps, the album on this list you’re least likely to find on your own. I was introduced to it a number of years ago from a friend who has a master’s degree in Jazz Vocals. It was spring of 2000. She puts this album on a stereo while we’re eating breakfast together, and I’m completely blown away. I bought the album as soon as I could afterward. I have not yet met another person who has even heard of this band. It is for that reason, that I want, fervently, passionately, hysterically, to impress on you how good this album is.

Lambert, Hendricks and Ross were a jazz vocal trio, consisting (quite obviously) of Dave Lambert, Jon Hendrick, and Annie Ross. Their style of music is called “vocalese”, and consists of singing the music played by an instrument. Vocalese differs from scat in that scat consists of nonsense words (“bap ba doo dweeba da habba da bop da dop” and the like, according to Wikipedia) whereas vocalese consists of actual words forming phrases, forming lyrics. No one was better at this than LH&R.

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Sine Macula: Armed Forces

sinemacula2.jpgNo one has ever quite loved ironic double meanings as much as Elvis Costello. It’s appropriate, therefore, that his music career would start with remarkable brilliance, and that his third album in 2 years, Armed Forces, would open with “Accidents Will Happen”, beginning with the words, “I just don’t know where to begin”. The opener is three minutes of double meaning where Costello sings about a young couple committing a hit-and-run, but the song is an metaphor for a failed relationship.

Costello’s first two albums were based steeply in blues and punk, and it’s on this album that he begins to open up his musical stylings to other genres. The second track on the album, “Senior Service”, is a prime example of one of Costello’s most well known traits: his absolutely bloodthirsty lyricism. The song has a mocking, syncopated, schoolyard sort of melody. After beginning with the chorus, he brings out the venom: “I want your neck/I want the seat that you sit at/I want your cheque/Because they told me I would get on/I wanna chop off your head and watch it roll into the basket”. For two minutes, Costello wishes murder on some poor middle manager. Tom Waits, a friend of Costello, once said, “I’d hate to be bawled out by [Costello]. I’d quit first”. We have to wonder if this poor sap shouldn’t have done the same thing.

The third track is by far my favorite. “Oliver’s Army” is a radical departure for Costello as the song sounds, well, jubilant. The lyrics, however, offer his usual threats, but this time, they’re highly political. Costello harmonized with himself about the army recruiting poor, young men to fight battles with no interest for the common man. The piano bangs throughout the chorus, and Costello gives low warnings through the verses: “But it’s no laughing party when you’ve been on the murder mile/Only takes one itchy trigger/One more widow, one less white nigger”. The song soars to crescendo with Costello dripping sarcasm, “But there’s no danger, it’s a professional career/Though it could be arranged with just a word in Mr. Churchill’s ear”.

The album continue on its rambling, punk/new wave path, with highlights in the paranoid “Good Squad”; the template for every Gin Blossoms song, ever in “Busy Bodies”‘; and the slow-building, enigmatic “Chemistry Class”, before concluding with two of Costello’s finest songs: “Two Little Hitlers”, and Costello’s arrangement of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understand?”

The music in “Two Little Hitlers” is slightly over the top. The verses recall 1950s pop, while the verses perfectly pile on a schmaltzy organ. The “Hitlers” of the song’s title are an intentionally thin metaphor for a lost couple. Costello makes some of his finest use of rhythm and rhyme scheme in this song: “Dial me a Valentine/She’s a smooth operator/It’s all so calculated/She’s got a calculator/She my soft touch typewriter/And I’m the great dictator”.

One of Costello’s few covers ends the album. His rendition of “Peace, Love and Understanding” is an obvious member of the highest echelon of covers. The original was about, well, hippies. Flower power was, ahem, wilting, and looked silly compared to the raw power of the music that followed, like Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath. Costello wasn’t saying his farewells to anything. His rendition is an anthem about world affairs–about war and conflict, as with much of the album–and the expressive nature of Lowe’s lyrics coupled with the impassioned singing of Declan MacManus, give the song a range from the heavily political, to the deeply intimate. A fine close if there ever was one for such a perfect album.

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