LISTENER’S DIGEST #2: YOUNG, FOCUS, SEA AND CAKE, TPOTUSA, SCHOENBERG

Having been doing the single parent thing for well over a day now, our appreciation of Ms Connection’s contribution to the good life at chez Vinyl Connection is shooting up the charts with a bullet. Amongst the chores, errands, boy-wrangling and general infrastructure maintenance there has, nevertheless, been space for spinning a few discs. Here are the highlights.

Schoenberg Piano Music

Paul Jacobs – Arnold Schoenberg Piano Music (Nonesuch 1975) – Portrait by Egon Schiele

This morning’s first spin was a recent acquisition. That the complete piano music of Arnold Schoenberg fits on one album tells you that keyboards were not a major focus for the controversial Austrian. (Yes, another one). But, as the cover notes tell us, he turned to the piano at key stages in his development as a composer, making this small canon very interesting listening. Now I won’t pretend that I can adequately decipher —let alone explain— all that is going on here, but within reason, I enjoy being stretched and challenged. What I find is this. By listening to an ever-expanding diversity of music, my aural horizon extends and new territory opens up to explore. That’s particularly true of composed music of the twentieth century, an area I’m actively seeking out at present. These piano pieces have great variety of tone and mood though all explore —to a greater or lesser extent— serialism. I’d like to spend time with this record (but probably won’t).

Schoenberg Piano

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Focus 3 US Aus

Focus – Focus 3 (Polydor / Sire 1972)

Dutch band Focus were a group I enjoyed a lot early in my progressive rock explorations. So when I saw a US copy of their 1972 double album, named with admirable language-busting simplicity, I thought it would be nice to have it join its Aussie cousin on the shelves. Especially as the Sire version has this lovely colour-shifting holograph thing that cannot be properly seen in the rubbish photo.

Sadly, I have to report that although I enjoyed 3, there was less invention and exploration here than I recall. Perhaps that is the peril of extending the boundaries over decades — you end up a long way from where you started. Still, an album that has both ‘Sylvia’ and ‘House of the King’ isn’t one to disparage. Though I really do wonder about two copies, even with different covers.

Focus 3 T-t

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The Presidents of the United States of America - II (Columbia 1996)

The Presidents of the United States of America – II (Columbia 1996)

There are albums you regularly see in bargain bins, flicking past them countless times until one day, on a whim (or in a Scrooge kind of mood), you take pity on the disc and buy it. Such was the Op Shop purchase of the second number-titled album of this post (hey, maybe that is a theme worth revisiting!) by absurdly named American power-pop-punks The Presidents of the United States of America. It’s full of moderately hooky guitar based songs that zoom past the windscreen without ever out-staying their welcome. Rocky, a bit funny (I mean, look at the cover), I liked half the songs quite a lot. Stand out was ‘Mach 5’, which is also fun on the bonus live disc. Recorded in Melbourne too! ‘Twig’ on the live CD is good too (Canberra, in case you were wondering). Overall, a bit like Weezer, but not quite as focused. I’d probably pay a couple of dollars for their debut on the basis of this 1996 sophomore effort.

IMG_0374

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Larry Young - Lawrence of Newark (Perception 1973)

Larry Young – Lawrence of Newark (Perception 1973)

Got the vinyl at a recent record fair (and posted it in the Vinyl Hunter-Gatherer report) and very happy I was too. It is a wonderful, loose but soaring jazz album that bastes Larry Young’s organ with lashings of percussion and has a terrific contribution from an uncredited Pharaoh Sanders on sax. Contrariwise, you could say that the squawks and yelps of Larry’s organ season the saxophone and percussion meanderings. This is exploratory but not alienating, tribal but with its own identity, distorted —sometimes tortured— yet earthy too. The binding effect of the organ and bed of percussion mean that it sometimes sounds like Amon Düül I and sometimes like Hawkwind goofing off in a tent with a couple of serious guests. If you like the jazz-funk trip-outs of Miles in the 70s, this album is highly recommended. You may be stretched, but in a good way.

Larry Young T-T

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The Sea and Cake - Car Alarm (Thrill Jockey 2008)

The Sea and Cake – Car Alarm (Thrill Jockey 2008)

When Ms Connection and I saw Tortoise live in Melbourne a few years back I also saw a number of people I recognised from around the record collector circuit. One was a dude who works in the town’s largest second-hand music shop and with whom I got chatting about the excellence of the concert next time I was browsing there. Hearing my lament that I had acquired the entire Tortoise catalogue (not all on vinyl, alas) he recommended The Sea and Cake, the drummer for whom is none other than John McEntire from the band of the afore-mentioned slow-moving herbivorous dome-shelled land dwelling but sea-friendly reptile. (Ah, the lengths we’ll go to to avoid repetition. Shit. Two times to. Damn).

Back to The Sea and Cake. I have several, and this one, 2008’s Car Alarm, was both on turntable and in CD player today. I guess you’d call them post-rock in that this is clearly a band, but not with the usual tropes and modes. There is pervasive and very subtle use of electronics, great drumming from McEntire and a guitar sound that has more of the subtlety of jazz than the bombast of rock. Now, to enjoy The Sea and Cake you have to be able to embrace the whispery, breathy voice of main man Sam Prekop. As with Eric Matthews, it imparts a somewhat effete feel to the songs and how you respond to the band will depend entirely on how you react to Sam’s singing. In the right mood, I like the cool detachment and echoey intimacy. And, hey! the CD version has a bonus Australia and New Zealand track too!

Sea & Cake T-T

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Anything tickle your earbuds here? Or something you already know and like? Do tell.

28 comments

  1. I have never in my years seen a double CD of Presidents 2. Nice find!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mike. I think it cost all of $5!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s a sweet deal in any country. Is it an Australian “tour edition” or something of that nature?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Spot on. THat’s exactly what it is. A five track live EP recorded around Oz. Haven’t checked the chronology, but presumably it came out after the tour!

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  2. douglasharr · · Reply

    I enjoy Focus in limited doses. Prefer newer Swedish band Dungen these days – still with flute but mostly less frenetic. Back in the day when Focus hit, and thru to today, I like the first two albums from Ragnarok

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    1. With you on Dungen. Terrific contemporary band! Must be a post in there somewhere…!
      Thanks for dropping by.

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  3. You’ve made me dig out my Schoenberg CD now! I’ll listen to it before I go to sleep! My recollection is that the music is a little ‘strange’, but nothing wrong with that.

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    1. Spinning the Schoenberg LP again this morning, I found myself wondering whether you had enjoyed your listen…

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  4. More after I can spend more time with this post, but I am honestly amazed at the coincidental appearance of Focus 3. I was moved to listen to it just yesterday (Sunday) for the first time in years and thought about eventually writing something about it having been my first real intro to progressive rock way back when in my youth. My reaction was much like yours, enjoyment – much of which was nostalgia based – but not finding it quite as “epic” as I remembered it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fascinating. I plan to spin ‘Moving Waves’ soon – apart from ‘Hocus Pocus’, I hope that might hold a bit more interest.

      ‘The danger on the rocks is surely past. Still I remain tied to the mast’.

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    2. PS. Do write your piece on prog. We love progressive music stories ’round here!

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  5. A friend gave me a copy of ‘Casper Babypants’ – the lead singer from the Presidents of the USA is now a children’s entertainer. It felt like a logical progression and as with your reaction to this ’96 disc, funny, I like half the tunes a fair bit – the cover of Nirvana’s sliver was a surprise!
    And cheers to supportive spouses!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I too came to Sea and Cake through Tortoise, but I just can’t do that voice. I have tried.

    The first POTUSA album is loads and loads of fun, especially on yellow vinyl!

    The Jazz one intrigues me.

    Nice post Bruce.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is a well proven fact that yellow vinyl always makes things more fun.
      Lawrence of Newark (though orange of cover) is terrific.
      Shame about Sam’s voice, eh? I wonder if that’s what they mean by ‘acquired taste’?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I never saw that POTUSA double disc either. I loved that band when I was younger and even saw ’em a couple times as an adult. Just fun, catchy rock n’ roll that’s not even a little serious. For the record I always thought II was their weakest disc, hence why you see so many used copies. Their debut is always gonna be their calling card so if you’re interested in the band at all I would definitely pick that up (and you can probably get it for like, a buck)

    Good to see the Sea and Cake here – IMO they had one of the best first album, first tracks ever – “Jacking the Ball” which I’m still obsessed with so many years later. Search that one if you don’t know it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for that. I have four Sea and Cake albums, but not the first. Will certainly keep and eye out for it. Debut albums are usually worth having!

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  8. The Lawrence of Newark LP intrigues me most. It’s just got one of those covers, hasn’t it?

    If you like that PotUSA disc, I expect you’d like the first album. I haven’t listened to it in years, but I remember that one very fondly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure I’ll pick up the debut PotUSA at some point. As noted above, the Larry Young is recommended (and not just because of the brilliant cover; haven’t checked, but I suspect Newark is not in the vicinity of Arabia).

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Unusual for me but I wanted music with words and lately a bit of Sinatra has been playing (A swinging affair, Close to you, Songs for Swingin’ lovers and Someone to watch over me – all good). Thanks for the provocation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sing-a-long-a-Frank is an excellent form of therapy. Cheers, DD.

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  10. The Schoenberg LP looks amazing! Damn Nonesuch. Classy. They were like the Deutsch Grammophon of the US. Nice.

    Loved POTUSA, the second album not as much as the first. But “Mach 5” was a great song. Chris Ballew, the lead singer has gone on to make children’s albums which seems like a perfect fit for him. Their cover of MC5s “Kick Out The Jams” always seemed like a Sesame Street version of that song to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Schoenberg is a welcome addition. A mate referred me to the Amazon reviews (which are both positive and helpful) suggesting this version by Paul Jacobs is the one to have. Lucky chance! And I’m with you on Nonesuch. What a great label.

      A couple of votes for the first PotUSA album; now filed for bargain bin diving!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. POTUSA is just fun stuff. First record definitely worth having at the right price.

        Gonna have to find that Schoenberg.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Given it is solo piano, worth considering the CD I reckon!

          Liked by 1 person

  11. I dig Larry Young(Seen your Shirley Scott album on lat months takes) sucker for the organ. Sounds like a good one. Same trip as you with Focus. Heard a lot of the ‘Presidents’ from the people who defy me (kids). Catchy.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    “The C in Cake.” There you go…and Tortoise. One of my favorite albums of all time is Stereolab’s Dots & Loops, which you might know, they did with Tortoise. Ah, this is good. Glad to have found your blog and vice versa. You can spin the autumn music and we’ll do so in reverse, here in the Pacific Northwest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like a very fine idea, Bill.
      Yep, Stereolab are faves round here. Though I didn’t know ‘Dots and Loops’ featured members of Tortoise. There are two hypotheses. (1) Having been into Stereolab long before Tortoise, the names meant nothing when I was initially spinning D & L. (2) the type on the CD slick is so minuscule and contrast-poor, I gave up trying to read it. Irrespective, thanks for the connection!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. […] The title of this piece was yet another series idea, this time to celebrate Vinyl Connection’s fourth anniversary with a series of multi-album posts. This is not a new device, of course. The Decade Diving series did much the same thing. But the twist this time was much less random than ‘What I’ve been listening to this week‘: […]

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