January 11, 2016
All of music has lost some of its luster today. David Bowie died at the age of 69. Suddenly, the album he released, just a few days earlier, on his birthday no less, makes a little more sense.
“★” (pronounced “Blackstar”). It’s tempting to listen to “‘Heroes'” or “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” now, but play that album in his memory instead. It was a brilliant example of his continued vitality in music. Today it just got more vital with this new layer of resonance. It’s a twist of fate that Bowie must have foreseen considering it turned out he was battling cancer for the past 18 months. Only Bowie could have pulled this off, so kudos to him on his way out of this mortal realm. His last great trick in rock ‘n’ roll.
To repeat his achievements would be redundant, so let’s leave that to the other obit writers. Just jump through our David Bowie tag to understand how important he was to this blog (as soon as I get the vinyl, expect a review for “★” with what is now a clearer perspective than most reviews out there).
No, today this writer will share something more personal. How and why I credit my love of David Bowie’s music for kicking off my writing career.
It began in ninth grade, at a school in the Kendall suburb of Miami called Arvida Middle School. It was 1987. My English teacher, Ms. Stinson, was a wide, round-faced black woman, who was the most intimidating instructor I had in that grade. I remember that classroom being very quiet, and if there were any bullies and smart alecks in that class, they must have stayed quiet too.
One day, we were assigned books to read and then present to the class. Ms. Stinson had a list of famous names on a sheet of paper she passed out to the class, and we were to pick from the list who we wanted our presentation to be about. I sat toward the back of the final row in class, having to pick from the leftovers. I got Janusz Korczak’s book Ghetto Diary. I never heard Korczak’s name until this assignment. Needless to say, I did not feel invested in this topic. I remember struggling to get into the book, which we had to check out from our school’s library. I don’t think I ever read the entire book, just skimmed through it looking for some distinctive bits to regurgitate in class.
Some days later, when it came time to head to the front of the class to stand by Ms. Stinson’s desk, I was rattled with nerves. I had barely a notion how to pronounce my subject’s name, much less any recollection of anything I gleaned in his book. It’s a closed off memory as to what exactly happened. Maybe students laughed at my stuttered, unsure pronunciation of Janusz Korczak, maybe all I could recall from the book was when Korczak spoke with God, as he headed off to a death camp. I might have failed to answer any questions that my teacher asked after that “presentation.” It was a haze and remains so to this day. I just remember how scary Ms. Stinson seemed.
Well, she frightened up until the end of class. Sometime soon after the botched presentation, she pulled me and a few other students aside who didn’t do too well on our presentations to offer us a do-over. This time we could pick the topic. She said to bring a book into the next class featuring a person we wanted to discuss. I had been reading Nicholas Shaffner’s The British Invasion: From the First Wave to the New Wave. I still own that book:
I brought it to class the next day and showed her the section on David Bowie. “You want to do David Boowie?” she said, mispronouncing his name but with a smile. I didn’t correct her. She suggested I play some of his music to the class during my presentation. The ease I felt after playing the opening part of my cassette of Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture dissolved any stage fright. My curiosity of what Bowie did during that fateful 1973 concert where he appeared as an alter ego in bright orange hair, the brashness of his backing band, The Spiders From Mars, flowed out as I schooled my classmates on Bowie.
At that age I had a pretty clear grasp of who Bowie was and what he meant in rock ‘n’ roll history. I hardly had to cite my source. At about 15 years old, I learned I could be an authority on David Bowie, and I would later go on to review several of his releases for local music publications. Because Bowie’s music over the years was so diverse, featuring influences from Little Richard to Neu!, he opened my musical interests wide, as well.
Bowie’s image, especially in the early ‘70s, played a great part in converting fans. Many speak of seeing him on the BBC show Top of the Pops doing “Starman” in a jumpsuit with that orange mullet and cozying up to his guitarist Mick Ronson. But I got into Bowie via his clean-cut Let’s Dance era via MTV, around 1984. As a young teen, I had only cassettes and no large-form, gatefold albums to be overwhelmed by the images of him as Ziggy, which was then also used to sell earlier albums like Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold the World. His image, which was so important to his career then, was reduced to surreal, small, square portraits on cassette covers, which had no inner art.
It was a strange way to get into Bowie: almost purely through his music and only his enigmatic cassette covers to guide the way (there was no YouTube back then, and I went to the library to look at music history books to find pictures of early Bowie). As I traced Bowie back through his back catalog via tapes bought at a local record shop with allowance money, I mostly latched on to the small, weird musical bits like the whooshing, oscillating intro of “Station To Station,” the strange little organ fills that gave “After All” a weird bounce, the muffled, layered, chugging guitar that hardly relented below “Joe the Lion.” I would have never sought out the music of Brian Eno, King Crimson or Faust were it not for David Bowie. I could have never appreciated the music of Bauhaus, Swans or Deerhunter without having taken apart the music of Bowie all those years earlier. He did his duty, and I will miss him till the day I die, too.
Some of the best things that have come of this blog have been immaterial experiences. This is a labor of love and not-for-profit. Beyond the interviews, early film and album previews are the like-minded interactions with independent artists. Once in a while an incredible discovery arises. Thanks to interaction with members of the legendary Krautrock band Faust, their collaborators and fans, a couple of interesting albums I would have never otherwise have heard have appeared on my radar.
This morning it was a thing unabashedly called Kösmischen Hits! by a duo called Couvre-Feu from France. But the influence is undeniably German, as revealed by the title of the opening track: “Viva Düsseldorf!” It sounds like the best parts of early Kraftwerk and Neu! had been placed in a blender. A pulsing motorik beat is augmented by repetitive guitar lines, constantly shifting in sound by effects. It builds to a freak-out level as screeching electro solos and more repetitive melodies pile on. All the while the beat just goes steadily on.
The creativity and indulgence in all that’s Krautrock is shamelessly on display across the first half of Couvre-Feu’s instrumental album, created from improvisations. But it also has a freshness that will appeal to fans of Kraut-influenced artists like Brian Eno and Robert Fripp. The second track, “Ammoniac,” brings to mind the duo’s collaboration on Evening Star.
The final track, “Part of a diagram for Alpha Centaury,” has a decidedly more experimental side and carries on for almost as long as the first four, more bouncy, tracks do altogether. It indulges in phases and noise, meandering through moments of drone but mostly deconstructing any craft to the strangest sounds to repeat and pile up and then veer away from in surprising left turns. There are enough shifts in tone that also make it the most dynamic track on the record, and quite possibly the most interesting.
You can stream the entire album for free just below, and visit the band’s bandcamp site for a free download and link to their blog (get to following them for upcoming information on a limited edition cassette release of Kösmischen Hits!).
Another decidedly more experimental release I heard about via the same source came out last year, but I have not forgotten it. I’ll add another post about something called “Normal Music,” a collaboration between a Brazilian experimental artist and an avant-garde Serbian musician, tomorrow.
December 12, 2012
It’s been a while since a true vinyl record review has appeared on this blog, and what better time to start an ongoing series on Independent Ethos than … whenever (or when you, dear reader, might just be sick of all the year-end lists?). I own many albums collected over my 20 years of writing about music that I believe still hold up to this day (and there have been many purges over the years). Since I began writing about music in the early nineties as a freelance music journalist, many albums came out that I regret never having had the opportunity to review. Some I discovered much later, others I just never wrote about but still continue to give me listening pleasure, never going out of style in their timeless quality. These are records I would consider both touchstones of a certain era but that also exist beyond their time and should be considered classics.
One musical movement born in the early nineties that still continues to this day is post-rock (see my review for Mogwai’s last album). Fusing elements as diverse as jazz, electronic, rock and even hardcore, this mostly instrumental form of music was one of the few true original movements that defied simple pigeonholing during that decade. When music critics began banding about the term— short for postmodern rock— it even ruffled the feathers of some of the low-key pioneers of the genre. They preferred anonymity to stage presence. They started no fashion trends (flannel? Screw that, T-shirts and cargo shorts do fine). They had minimal lighting on stage and never encouraged audience participation. In fact, their music was anti-audience-friendly. The bands often took odd left turns in their music, exploring intense dynamics that sometimes forced the listener to reach for the volume knob, to either raise it for a closer listen to the more hushed passages or lower it during the more intense moments that could pounce with little warning.
One album in particular marked the height of the post-rock scene: Tortoise’s 1996 album Millions Now Living Will Never Die released by Chicago’s Thrill Jockey Records (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the vinyl on Amazon.com). I stumbled across a vinyl copy at my local indie record haunt, Sweat Records, at a great price. $25? Better than I thought I would ever make out paying for this record now long out of print. It was only the Chicago-based outfit’s second full-length release, but it has come to epitomize the post-rock sound. When I first bought the CD version of this album soon after its release, it was while following the influences of Stereolab, whose key members (Tim Gane, Laetitia Sadier and Mary Hansen) were featured on the acknowledgements page but otherwise had little presence on the album:
Stereolab had appeared on the scene during the revival of fifties and sixties Bachelor Pad style, or “lounge,” music, which is probably best recognized today in the style and ambiance of the “Mad Men” television series. The London-based band released an EP in 1993 entitled The Groop Played “Space Age Batchelor Pad Music” on their own UK-based label Duophonic Records (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the vinyl reissue on Amazon.com). Despite jazz influences like Martin Denny, Stereolab also heavily incorporated noisy elements of Krautrock. The record is probably best compared to the droning sounds of bands like Faust and Neu!, despite the title’s sly reference to the music of Denny and Juan Garcia Esquivel*. The electronic burbles of the Moog synthesizer and the presence of analog keyboards like the Farfisa also figure heavily on the EP. That same year, Tortoise released its debut EP “Mosquito” on Torsion Music (see the Tortoise discography). However, to my delight, Tortoise were indeed another animal from Stereolab. There was a mutual DNA in the abstract, noisy influences of the guitar-based bands of Krautrock. Often regarded as the band’s figurehead, Tortoise drummer and producer John McEntire would later produce several of Stereolab’s future works.
Though McEntire, a classically trained percussionist, often received credit as the band’s leader (maybe because the credits on Millions begins with his name as producer), the band began with bassist Douglas McCombs, who played in Eleventh Dream Day before Tortoise, and multi-instrumentalist/drummer John Herndon, formerly of the Poster Children. I was a fan of those two bands at the time, as well, but their albums of that era sound dated in comparison to the otherworldly groove and din of Millions Now Living Will Never Die. The collaboration of McCombs and Herndon started the seeds that would form Tortoise, which began as a studio experiment. McEntire came in soon after, along with guitarist Bundy K. Brown after meeting while working with David Grubbs in Bastro (Grubbs and McEntire would continue working together in Gastr del Sol, when that band’s songwriting took a more atmospheric and experimental turn, creating amazing music of the era in its own right). But Brown departed after Tortoise’s self-titled debut album. Slint bassist and acclaimed multi-instrumentalist in his own right David Pajo stepped in to replace Brown. Finally, forming the core group that recorded this album, is percussionist Dan Bitney who found himself in the band in its early beginnings after the hardcore band Tar Babies broke up (see Tortoise’s bio on the All Music Guide).
I have recently been playing Millions Now Living Will Never Die on my turntable, a luxury that was not available to me in my college years, and this vinyl sample I found at Sweat has proved an amazing revelation. Despite having some worn corners to the jacket, the vinyl inside sounds near pristine. It came complete with the insert featuring the track-listing and acknowledgements shown above. Most importantly, however, it offers a super clean sound. Besides, finding this years-old release with worn corners is inevitable, as the jacket is made from a very soft cardboard material, unique to the release, a material I have otherwise not seen used on LP jackets. If you have the CD, it’s the same soft, flimsy stuff.
Speaking of the cover art, the swirling silver fish on a duo-toned blue background offers an appropriate visual representation of the majestic soundscapes inside. The album evokes not only wide spaces but depths that capture some of the more sublime aspects of the Tortoise sound. Like the band’s self-titled debut, which had some mumbled words on one track, this album only has one track with barely discernible human voices. It’s all about abstraction. The only thing evocative of intelligible language are the track titles**.
The album opens with the daring, 21-minute “Djed” (pronounce “Jed,” as some of the band members once told me), a track that seems to come up and out of the profundity of the ocean. A dark throbbing bass, accompanied by the churning, almost muffled explosive sounds of a super-reverbed stick beat kicks off the piece. A subtle vibraphone accompanies the bass-driven melody. The wash of effects and reverb that affect the music makes it feel as though the music exists in a weightless space, like the currents that travel through, over and under one another throughout the expanse of the ocean. About two minutes in, electronics whistle and crunch, as organs swell from the depths of the din to overtake the piece, and a decidedly brighter and warmer feel takes over. It’s almost a comforting relief from the dense beginning of the track.
As luscious organ hums fill the track, about three minutes in, a true drum kit appears to propel the piece along, as the bass, more felt than heard, is joined by the low melody of a guitar that seems to offer a syncopated contrast to the drum bashing. The bass throbs below the mix of organs, on a mechanical drumbeat that owes its debt to Krautrock stalwarts Neu! Layers of different melodies wander into slight solos, but always return to a uniform groove, as the track continues. For Tortoise, even melodious instruments can take on the rhythmic properties of drums. Meanwhile, beats can morph into melodies. It can sound busy, but the repetitious drones of the passages will catch the close listener by surprise. The music constantly intrigues, always offering layer upon layer of abstract musicality, as the instrumental trots along offering various transformations in tone.
As instruments fall away at about the 10-minute mark, a hyper metallic pulse that seems spawned on a digital device fades in. There’s a buzz and the first beat seems to go dead, and a second beat phases the track into a slower pace. Marimba rumble in the almost inaudible distance (thank you vinyl and Bose headphones for the tiny detail that I otherwise never noticed). An analog organ offers a luscious, slow, churning melody, as a muffled, watery, reverb-effected guitar offers a rhythmic hook. More melodies are spread over the rhythmic melody as rapid marimba, vibes and bells are offered one layer after another. Again, the band explores tonal shifts in rhythms. A fit here, a squeeze there, a return to rhythm, until, at just before the 14-minute mark, during what sounds like the split-second collapse of a chord, something unsettling and completely out of the realm of instruments happens. It almost sounds like the skipping sounds of a CD (a technique later highly influential in the world of “glitch” music). The sudden, jarring deconstruction of the music pushes out all the melody to only leave struggling pulses and throbs that quiver and rumble, shaking off layers of luscious muck.
The rumbles and squishy electronics continue and fade in and out as an ominous hum ebbs and retreats in what seems a calm undercurrent. Electronics zip and oscillate over the din, as the marimba return, fading in at around the 17-minute mark. They seem to hammer away at the din in a glorious calm of melody that brings to mind the great use of marimba by Stewart Copeland on the Rumble Fish soundtrack.*** The marimba fades away as a high-pitched, flat, slurred honking organ fades up, echoing the marimba melody. Meanwhile, the squishy electronic-affected rhythm swells then disappears to make way for another tonal shift, about a minute and a half later. The section comes to a rattling end. It makes way for a dragging, patient rhythm, and up from the ether bubbles up a melody the hums and buzzes like cables in the wind, offering the piece’s memorable refrain. This section of the “Djed” refrain is extraordinarily spaced out and almost unrecognizable. It sounds like pulses and throbs for the most part, but there is much hidden melody, as if it’s occurring in the waves on some distant horizon. There are calls and responses among these electrified melodies, sparking and echoing off one another as if they are distant, slow-moving lightning strikes, like “St. Elmo’s fire spitting ions in the ether.” And so ends Side 1, offering an incredible journey into the expansive possibilities of instrumentation few musicians dare explore with so much rhythm and melody but also frayed noise and chaos.
Here’s some bonus, watch the band re-create the piece in a video recorded on July 8, 2009, at KCRW’s studios for its ”Morning Becomes Eclectic” show:
The second side of Millions Now Living Will Never Die almost feels anticlimactic in comparison to “Djed.” However, even though these five shorter instrumental pieces that use similar instrumentation may feel tempered by comparison, they should not to be underestimated. The vinyl brings out the acoustic instrumentation of the first track on Side 2, “Glass Museum,” much better than I have ever heard on CD. That also means one can hear the electronic guitars crunching much crisper than on the CD. The piece begins slow and meandering, growing hushed to allow the distant swell and ebb of what sounds like a synthesizer, or maybe some warped string instrument, to howl high-pitched chords underneath the languorous guitars, sluggish drums and luscious vibes, which offer a celestial, skipping melody. Despite all that activity, what gives the piece its shiny glaze is that hum of the subtle high-pitched howl of a chord, which may not even be a synth or a string instrument but the slow exhale and inhale of a melodica, an instrument I have seen the band incorporate live. The wonderful mysterious quality of that decorative sound from an almost subliminal instrument is key to this track.
At around the two-minute mark the vibes and percussion pause for some other distant creature to hum and hoot from what sounds like a distance, while the guitar is calming strummed. Before you are given a chance to figure out what that is, the song returns with the drifting marimba and guitar. Like “Djed,” this track also has the feel of the ocean, and stirs up into a storm of noise about halfway through as congas and marimba pile up and drive the piece on a frenetic impressive shift in tone as an electric guitar crunches along. But this explosion of frenzy soon comes to a grinding halt, with on last, exhausting crunch of the electric guitar. The shift is handled gorgeously as the section melts back into the calm it opened with: a sparkling marimba melody with the contrast of a buzzing synth for a few more refrains, until the piece comes to a reverberating stop.
You can hear the track for yourself (for the time being) with this YouTube clip, still you may be hard pressed to truly hear the subtle luscious quality of the array of instrumentation that come out so clear and colorful on the vinyl:
The next track, “a Survey,” feels more atmospheric. The piece is coated by the sound of crickets, as a rhythmically strummed bass offers the bottom to the quiet interplay of a sporadically licked guitar. The two stringed instruments play a sort of call and response between two channels. The strings seem to also release a metallic hum that drones along underneath the track. It carries on for less than three minutes until it simply fades away.
The third track on side 2, “the Taut and the Tame,” features a whipping beat with a sharp edge and also features the low-end, characteristic guitar work and accompanying marimba that seem to exemplify this album’s signature sound. The drums are inhumanly kinetic and sometimes seem to fray with electronic effects but never give way to full electronics, like so much of the music did back in the day of the album’s release, as house and breakbeat rave music seemed to have been petering out around that time.
The fourth track, “Dear Grandma and Grandpa,” finally seems to feature a voice, but it’s a young girl’s voice, seemingly coming from a distant dimension and another time, from somewhere unknown, as electronics lethargically pulse, hum and waver through the speakers. A man’s voice responds in an almost sing-song quality. All the while, electronics continue to pulse along and shimmer with shifting variety. It remains rhythmic yet chaotic but so hushed and relaxed that it never grows annoying. The distorted trill of a flute can be heard in the background, from what might be an old television set. It fades away and the bass offers one final, dreary melody with languorous drum and cymbal accompaniment. Here begins “Along the Banks of Rivers.” The track’s cool quality is brilliantly set up by the hushed cacophony of “Dear Grandma and Grandpa.” This track almost recalls the music of Ennio Morricone. Beyond the atmospheric hum of some organs, this is the most traditional of all the instrumentals on Millions Now Living Will Never Die, and makes a perfect album closer. If a sunset over the ocean needed a soundtrack, this piece would offer the best accompaniment.
Millions stands the test as not only a fine example of post rock but the art album that spawns vivid imagery and creates luscious atmosphere. The musicians gel amazingly together, and a testament to that is the fact the band still exists, despite line up shifts, to release an album here and there, though all the members have other groups to occupy their time. Tortoise has since evolved to create albums that swing more concretely while also relying on electronics more than ever. But this album remains a true favorite. The analog quality of the instrumentation is downright primitive compared with today’s standards, but the fact the album sounds so vital will always stand as a tribute to the creative minds behind the instrumentation.
Up-date: Thrill Jockey reissued Milions Now Living Will Never Die on vinyl earlier this year, as part of its 20th anniversary, but it has already gone out of print. Other Tortoise albums remain in-print, however, including its masterful follow-up TNT as well as several long-out-of-print 90s-era Sea and Cake albums, McEntire’s other band. For those in Miami, Sweat Records received a shipment of these reissues and more just in time for this post (like them on Facebook).
If you live in Tortoise’s hometown of Chicago, Tortoise, the Sea and Cake as well as Man Forever will perform a free show on Dec. 20 (details here).
*I had a chance to interview Esquivel for a lengthy profile piece in the record collector’s magazine, “Goldmine.” He had heard Stereolab’s EP but was quite perplexed with comparisons, as Stereolab were probably most influenced by the sounds of Krautrock, at least during that more noisy, droney period of their sound, which has since evolved to a more effervescent, poppy sound.
**I once interviewed Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker (he came in during the recording of the band’s third album, TNT) and Herndon. They explained they pull their track titles from whatever they might be reading. When they see phrases that interest them, they note them as possible titles.
***During my interview with them, Parker and Herndon both said they were fans of the Rumble Fish soundtrack. That interview might appear on this blog at some point. If it does, I will update this post with a link.
May 22, 2011
I have seen many live shows in my years appreciating alternative music, including some loud ones. Ever since EMF left me in so much pain at the Cameo Theater in Miami Beach back in the early nineties that I had to leave the show before the first encore ended, leaving my ears ringing for a week, the ensuing years of damage to my ears has continued with barely noticeable side effects. In other words, more often the not, I leave live shows with little, if any, ear ringing, as all those little hairs inside the ear were mostly wiped out by a damn one-hit-wonder.
Friday night at Miami’s Vagabond, however, Crocodiles worked voodoo on my eardrums with their appropriately spooky, dense pop rock, leaving my ears ringing into the next morning. Not that it gives me something to celebrate, it just offers some insight into how loud this band was. Adding to the surreal quality of the music, the five piece of three dudes and two gals from San Diego, dressed in mostly black and made little effort to connect with the audience just a foot from the stage beyond offering a whoosh of music played at maximum volume. It was an assault on an audience that ate it up with abandon, particularly the gyrating young women who flanked either side of the stage decked out in their finest ironic hipster outfits, at times rubbing up on each other. Despite a fine sampling of what only Miami can offer in a female audience, lead singer Brandon Welchez, hid behind classic Ray Bans and posed on stage with swaggering but distant cool. He said nothing to the crowd except “Apocalypse!” and “Doomsday!” ahead of the following day’s prediction by some Christian fundamentalist minister who has built a religious empire on the idea that May 21, 2011 would mark the arrival of the rapture.
On to the music and a little on how it translated live: The loudness was not all to the band’s benefit, as a lot of the band’s catchy quality disappeared in the white noise of the volume. However, it allowed for an aural hallucinatory experience as only the loudest music can, and I can appreciate that. However, the price you pay for droning noise is a loss in dynamics that chased more than one audience to the patio to listen to Alex Caso spin the “weird stuff.”
The experience of Crocodiles live is quite different from listening to their newest album Sleep Forever (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the vinyl on Amazon.com). The opening track, which you can hear in the video uplaoded to YouTube below, translated particularly nice live.
Whereas “Mirrors” opens the album with a looping almost Krautrock-like drone with a drum machine and quietly swelling feedback, as keyboards noodle out an entrancing melody, live it becomes a whole other beast. Alianna Kalaba beats the skins in an entranced state doing a decent Klaus Dinger (of Neu!), while keyboardist Robin Eisenberg breaks out a droning high-speed organ melody. The mouth-open expression of guitarist Charles Rowell as he choked his instrument for the decorative feedback and the closed-eyed stillness of bassist Marco Gonzalez, showed they were into the din, too. Welchez added to the bombast by picking up a guitar for the song. It was a nice five-minute exploration of entrancing rhythm and noise, but for the band to truly live up to Spacemen 3 comparisons would have demanded a little more self-indulgence.
It was moments like that which best suited the loudness of the show, and it was best experienced with full attention, hence my lack of usual videos that accompany my live reviews. Though I never made a video of “Mirrors” that night, there is a great full live show by the Crocodiles at a music festival in Germany here. “Mirrors” starts 15 minutes in, so you can have an idea of its live translation.
I also might fault the sound to the venue. The opening act, West Palm Beach’s the Band in Heaven voiced their concerns, as they struggled with the sound throughout their set. On stage, the lead singer protested about an hour’s worth of sound-checking for a shoddy end result (not his words verbatim), and he also assured the audience the trio sounded better on CD, offering audience members a free CD for the taking.
Despite the sound issues, I stand by my personal experience of enjoying the short set of psychedelic-influenced dream pop produced by Crocodiles during a set that ended way too soon. I was able to video one song, one of their poppier moments called “Hearts of Love,” thanks to my friend Kristen who leant me her camera and uploaded the video on YouTube (it actually sounds better on YouTube than it did live, as the camera must have one heck of a smart microphone). Watch it here:
Crocodiles’ only up-coming live date is in their home state of California, according to their blog page:
June 5, Oceanside, CA @ 94.9 Independence Jam
After nearly a year’s worth of anticipation, the reissue of David Bowie’s vital 1976 album, Station to Station, has been scheduled for release (Sept. 20). David Bowie’s official website revealed the details yesterday of the two versions of this reissue, which include a 3-CD special edition and a 5-CD/DVD/3-LP deluxe edition, which will probably cost more than $150.
Will it be worth dropping the money on a fancy version of what was a mere 6-track album when Station to Station first dropped in January of 1976? There are many reasons it will.
First, consider the historical context of album. Bowie, seen pictured above in a mug shot of that area due to his trouble with drugs at the time, was on the cusp of revolutionizing pop rock, setting the ground work for countless of new romantic/post-punk/new wave artists to come. The influences of Kraut Rock artists like Kraftwerk and Neu! had begun informing his music, which was mutating from his prior fascination with blue-eyed soul into something much more interesting.
This was also the height of Bowie’s cocaine-fueled days of oddball behavior. Taking on the persona of the Thin White Duke– as eluded to by the title track of this album– he would wear his hair slicked back and dress in minimal black and white suits while on tour for the album. He also made the unfortunate decision to exploit the fascist imagery and sometimes mentality, of Germany’s Nazi past, including the Hitler salute. But that was the punk rock thing to do at the time (let us not forget Sid Vicious would wear T-shirts with the swastika painted on them and Joy Division and later New Order took their names from the Nazi lexicon).
But Station to Station transcended all that. What has really endured is the strength of the music, even as experimental as it was at the time. It was the literal precursor to his much more popularly influential, if not stranger 1977 Bowie album Low. Musically, Station to Station does not contain the rambling instrumental ambient pieces that made Low’s B-side so famous nor does it have the shorter, quirkier pop/anti-pop songs of Low‘s A-side. Station to Station does however feature Bowie shedding the plastic soul of 1975’s Young Americans and exploring more progressive elements, like the long epic majesty of the title track and the layers of melody and din in “TVC-15,” a song that explores virtual sex through technology that long pre-dated its actualization. There are also truly soulful bits that still connect Bowie to Young Americans, like “Golden Years,” a single he performed on “Soul Train.”
As for the quality of extras tacked on to this reissue, this by far seems to outshine any previous Bowie reissue in the history of his catalog, including his more famous the Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars album, a mere 2-CD set reissued in 2002, marking its 30th anniversary. Though this reissue of Station to Station does not feature any studio outtakes, demos or B-sides (there were none for this album), there are two major aural aspects of this reissue to herald: the use of the original analog master tapes for the album (which will probably sound awesome on the vinyl version) and the first official release of Bowie’s much bootlegged Nassau Coliseum show from March 23, 1976.
There are a ton of paper extra goodies, too, as seen in the image on Bowie’s site, and which I have borrowed to illustrate here:
Again a shout-out to Bowie’s official website, where you can read the full details of these extras. What’s most important beyond these extras is the significance of the masters that will supposedly be used on this reissue.
Bowie’s catalog has suffered many so-called remasters since the early 90s, which, for the most part, were the albums with louder volume and this high treble quality that sometimes irritated the ears of the close listener. Only the original and short-lived RCA CD editions of 1985 came from the original stereo analogue master source and remain quite collectible for audiophiles to this day. I once owned the RCA CD of Station to Station but succumbed to the high collector’s prices it was garnering at the time, content to stick with my vinyl version. Here is that original CD, scanned for auction on eBay (I think it sold for about $60 or more):
As seen in the image for the Deluxe box, EMI has restored the original black and white cover art longtime Bowie fans have grown up with. Later reissues by Rykodisc and EMI had changed the cover to full color art, which, if I recall correctly, had been the original intended presentation for the cover art. But the original actual first release, in 1976 was the stark black and white image, a still of Bowie as the alien in the 1975 Nicholas Roeg film, the Man Who Fell to Earth. Maybe I am biased, but to me, its stark quality best suited the music inside. Here is the revised full color cover art:
But back to the music, the deluxe edition will feature the album on heavyweight vinyl (most likely 180 gram) and presented from the same analog masters, which will probably sound even better than the CD, as vinyl, many audiophiles will argue, is the only way to fully appreciate the warmth and depth of analog recordings. Unlike EMI’s earlier mistake to reissue Space Oddity on its 40th anniversary earlier this year on vinyl from the same digital masters Ryko used for its vinyl 1990 reissue, EMI has taken the proper steps to present the Station to Station vinyl as it should sound. Still, it remains to be heard by these ears, as the official release remains a couple of months away, but that’s for another post…
Yes, there is also a DVD audio version of the album, which should be neat to hear in its various forms. It includes a total of four different mixes: a new 5.1 surround mix and stereo mix by Harry Maslin, and the original analogue mix in LPCM stereo and 96kHz/24bit LPCM stereo. But I still see myself going to the vinyl over these mixes, personally.
The other audio aspect worth highlighting is the inclusion of the Nassau Coliseum show, which will also be featured in the more affordable, though not as comprehensive, 3-CD set, as pictured here (again, image from Bowienet):
The only thing that seems exclusive in the special edition are the three period photocards. There will also be an exclusive digital download of the special edition featuring the full length version of “Panic in Detroit” from the live show. Anyone who has heard the many bootlegs of this show will know that means the extended drum solo in the middle is left fully intact only on this digital version, where as the CDs will have it edited back.
The show has been widely regarded by Bowie bootleg collectors as one of Bowie’s greatest live shows, but the quality of these illegal pressings never did the audio justice. The only hint we had of the potential audio quality of this show appeared on the Ryko CD reissue of the 1990s, which featured the two live bonus tracks of “Word on a Wing” and “Stay” from that show. Now, finally, after those two quality live tracks were revealed in 1991, collectors can have the full concert in officially-sanctioned, high quality audio and, as can be seen in the image of the deluxe edition, on vinyl to boot.
Beyond the inclusion of the Nassau Coliseum show and the analogue masters as source material for the album, everything else is icing (oh, the final CD included as an extra in the deluxe edition is an EP of single mixes of five Station to Station tracks, which should prove an interesting curiosity).