My Life In Records
With California's Crytacize releasing second LP Mythomania next week (May 4) on Asthmatic Kitty, guitarist and ex-Deerhoff Chris Cohen (on the left... clearly) tells Ragged Words about his life in records
Then in my mid-twenties, this band among other things gave me hope that I could write again - something simple but ambitious, just at the edge of my technical means but doable with whoever or whatever was around. Tori Kudo's songs are playful, but have such a wide range of emotions. I'll always look back fondly on the tour The Curtains did with Maher some years back, I felt incredibly lucky to spend time with such lovely and fascinating people.
In the mid-90's I suddenly found out about a lot of music that was currently happening or had just happened. I read magazines like Forced Exposure and Option and bought anything that sounded unusual, I was impressionable and had few friends who shared my musical interests... The Sun City Girls had just put this one out a few years earlier and I really liked all the different colors and moods on it, and the mixture of a free-improv approach and rock instruments. And it turned me on to a lot of the music they were quoting from around the world... In this category of improvising rock bands, I also really liked Fushitsusha and some of the other Japanese underground stuff, Fat, Caroliner Rainbow, etc.. This influence led me to give up writing songs for a while and try to be an improviser.
This is just one of many Sun Ra albums I got into during college and I still listen to the Arkestra all the time. I really love the creepy doo-wop harmonies in the background on this one, the weird plucked staccato bass strings and all the thick, close harmonies in the horns and his keyboard playing. Sun Ra is just so impossible to classify, he draws from so many different sources and yet it's all him.
I found this record in college and it's still really important to me. The Shaggs are so not like any other music, whether that's intentional or not. Besides the poetry of the lyrics, there is something technically really interesting about it to me too. It's poly-rhythmic, strangely melodic and it all kinda hangs together in a really weird way. I admire how The Shaggs created their own kind of music, appropriate to only them and it expressed their feelings and world-view directly and honestly. I don't see them as a joke or as some kind of justification for fake naivete, I see them as lovely people with a sad but hopeful story to tell.
I can't remember the personal context for this album, I discovered it in my teens, listened to it a ton in the car. I could share my interest in this music with other people which was nice. I went to see James Brown play and it was one of the best experiences of my life. It was so intense!! and James Brown's aesthetic is the opposite of most of what I previously knew - no one part contains the whole song, everybody's equal in the band (everybody except for James). I love the pacing of this live album, the brutal energy and the tender ballads. JB is the ultimate showman, hands down. The best bandleader, dancer, singer, composer - to me he's magic, like the best that the human race has to offer...
Believe it or not - another record in my parents collection! I got into it towards the end of high school, and like Pet Sounds, it was difficult at first but ultimately all the more rewarding. It was just so different, I couldn't put my finger on it exactly... every different instrument and person was doing something so unique and so independent. Also like Pet Sounds it taught me to listen to music in a new way, to hear each person and listen like with five brains. I loved how they all swapped their different roles too - as timekeepers, melody-players, harmonizers, etc. it was never the usual prescribed role that the instruments would follow. And their level of attention to detail - they strived to do things that no garage rock band would do. Almost like classical musicians, they were true virtuosos, but in a totally home-grown, self-taught way. That's still my ideal in music.
I owned this record for over a year before ever really appreciating it. If i remember correctly I thought it was just overproduced elevator music at first! but for some reason I'd put it on every now and then, and after a while it really started to grow on me. I was just out of high school, living at home and my mom had cancer. I drove in my car with it a lot and pretty much listened to it every single day that year. Nothing gave me greater joy than this record, and sadness too - it was so beautiful. I still find new things to love about this music when I hear it now and I think that is the sign of real greatness - these things that you can have with you your whole life and just keep on loving.
This same kid told me about Skip Spence - he thought I'd like him because I was into recording myself on a 4 track and playing all the instruments. Everything always went kind of out of sync with my music and my friend said Skip Spence was like that too. I did really love his music, it was so personal and sad. He was such a tragic figure, and that appealed to me for some reason - probably because I had such a hard time trying to get other people to play my songs. I began to romanticize the outsiders in the pop music world, like Syd Barrett, Rodd Keith, Gary Wilson, Jandek etc. - maybe there was a connection there with my dad being a music biz guy? I have to root for the underdog. There's a lot of great music like this, but it's also not always the healthiest example for a young musician to follow.
In junior high school I was into lots of the SST Records stuff. Living in LA there were always tons of this in the 99 cent bins. This Sonic Youth record was on SST so I gave it a shot - and I loved it so much. I listened to it over and over again on my sister's turntable. The jerky beats again, kinda like Devo, and the Sonic Youth guitars were so beautiful and exotic. The vocals and the bass lines were really dreamy and dark. I bought all the other SY records I could find (Sister, Evol, Confusion Is Sex, then Daydream Nation). I even sent away for a Sonic Youth t-shirt which I wore all the time! This t-shirt became my ticket into the world of playing in bands when a teenager who worked at the local grocery store started talking to me about Sonic Youth and asked me to join his band.
Around the time that "Whip It" came out, I was standing there on our driveway when a kid from across the street came over playing this song on his portable tape player and I loved it. Then I discovered that my parents had a Devo album ("Duty Now for the Future") in their collection! My dad was in the music business and got lots of promos. Anyway I liked the jerky but powerful beats and the anthemic guitar riffs and songs. My dad took me to see Devo in concert when I was 11 and bought me one of those red, plastic 'flower pot' hats at the show.