Tag Archives: music reviews

Staff Picks #2 – selected by Philippe Bronchtein

For this installment of Staff Picks, please welcome today’s guest blogger, Philippe Bronchtein, ’10. Philippe works at the circulation desk in the Music Library, and is a Dance and Music joint major at Middlebury.

If you’re interested in this disc, or would like to see what student and full-time music library staff are listening to these days, stop by the Music Library in the CFA and take a gander at our staff picks rack near the Reference Desk!
Jim O’rourke – Insignificance
Jim O’rourke is a composer and producer whose worked with a huge variety of artists in several different genres. He was in Sonic Youth for a few albums in the early 90’s, He was in Loose Fur with Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche, and has produced albums for bands and artists like Stereolab, Joanna Newsom and most notably Wilco.

So needless to say, the guy has an ear for good music and how to make it. I was first introduced to Jim O’rourke through the Sonic Youth album Murray Street which while incredibly melodic at times, still holds on to the invasive timbres Sonic Youth pioneered. I was surprised to find such a different sound on O’rourke’s solo efforts. The first O’rourke solo album that i heard was Eureka, a shiny pop album with receptive lyrics and wonderfully catchy hooks. It’s stood the test of a few years and different phases of genre interests as one of my favorite albums. It’s well conceived and well executed.

Jim O\'rourke\'s Insignificance

Insignificance taps into O’rourke’s alt-country tendencies with appearances from both Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche.

The songs are pop songs at heart with a spacious production palette. The rock tendencies of Tweedy are heavily present with the guitar licks sprinkled over every song. Glen Kotche’s unique drumming sensibilities keep the tracks moving without ever allowing you to ignore the grooves he sinks into.

O’rourke’s voice is all over this album. While his voice isn’t the most incredible sounding thing around, his witty lyrics make up for it: “Those holes on your face could be used in better ways / breathings a distraction when your chattering away.” Lyrics like that coupled up with some impressive guitar work and clean production make for a really interesting recording.

Here is a youtube video with Jim O’rourke talking about his philosophy and technique concerning electronic music. He’s kind of a weirdo as you can tell from his interview, but he really knows his stuff.

Standout tracks:
4) Memory Lane
6) Get A Room
7) Life Goess Off

Other Great Albums by Jim O’rourke:
I’m Happy and I’m Singing and A 1,2,3,4
Halfway to a Threeway

Staff Picks #1

Some of you may have noticed a “staff picks” section near the reference area in the Music Library. These are interesting, noteworthy, or just favorite CDs selected by the full-time and student staff. This irregular series of blog posts will highlight certain individual staff picks, and hopefully I’ll be able to corral some of the other Library staff to contribute their thoughts on why their pick is somehow special.

To kick things off, a few words about my most recent pick, Manhattan Research, Inc. by Raymond Scott.

Manhattan Research, Inc.

Raymond Scott was a pianist, composer, and inventor of electronic instruments, and is perhaps one of the most widely heard yet least known of American musicians of the last 50 years or so. He started out writing tunes for his jazz band (the “Raymond Scott Quintette”), and several of these — Powerhouse, The Penguin, and Dinner Music For A Pack Of Hungry Cannibals being perhaps the best-known — were later used in the Warner Bros.’ Loony Tunes cartoons. I think almost everyone is familiar with the 2nd theme of Powerhouse, even if, as is likely, you never realized who wrote it. (Carl Stalling sometimes gets credit for Scott’s music, because he’s the one who adapted and arranged Scott’s works — and other composers’, as well as writing some of his own themes — for Warner Bros.)

YouTube has a great performance of Powerhouse by the Quintette. Check it out. The famous 2nd theme starts about 1:35 in.

Scott eventually desired more control over the performance of his music than he felt he could get from his Quintette — as a composer, he didn’t seem to care much about his musicians’ need to express their own creativity. So he turned to inventing electronic instruments (some of which he worked on with Bob Moog) and composed music specifically for them. This is where the Manhattan Research, Inc. disc picks up. It has a great assortment of Scott’s electronic bleeps and bloops, many of which were composed for use in television ads in the ’50s and ’60s. Sponsors who used Scott’s music in their advertising included Sprite, Hostess Twinkies, Bufferin, Vicks, and GM. More recently, some of these pieces were recycled in a couple of ads for Tic Tacs:

Scott’s career was fascinating and a bit sad. The Manhattan Research, Inc. disc is bound with a booklet that provides a thorough overview of his life, and has some fabulous photos of his electronic instruments. If you’re looking for something a little off-the-beaten path, stop by the library and pick up both this disc and the other one we have, Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights, which features his earlier jazz band recordings.

If you want to read more, there’s an extensive page of review excerpts on the Raymond Scott website extolling the virtues of Manhattan Research, Inc. Happy listening!

Most Popular CDs in the Music Library

Ever wonder what the most popular CDs in the Music Library are? Yeah, me too. Below are the most popular discs from the last 3 years or so, since we moved to the new library system.

Hit me, drummer, and pass the envelopes…

5. Sonatas and partitas for solo violin / Bach (CD 15478)
4. Rite of spring / Stravinsky (CD 13021)
3. Spanish guitar favorites / John Williams (CD 16760)
2. Complete works for solo piano / Ravel (CD 2699)
and the winner is…

1. Masters Of The Piano Roll: Debussy Plays Debussy (CD 14359)
Debussy Plays Debussy

This last disc is a fascinating document. It consists of early piano rolls, including several made by Debussy himself, newly re-recorded on a high-tech reproducing piano. It provides a wonderful glimpse into what some of the most highly regarded performers of the early 20th-century actually sounded like, without the poor sonics that mar most recordings from that era.

5. Possibilities / Herbie Hancock (CD 15871)
4. Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall (CD 15170)
3. The Cellar Door sessions 1970 / Miles Davis (CD 15321)
2. Seven Steps: The complete Columbia recordings, 1963-1964 / Miles Davis (CD 14602)
and the winner is…

1. Kind of Blue / Miles Davis (CD 11741)
Kind Of Blue
Not much to say about this one, really. If you love jazz, you probably already love it. If you don’t know anything about jazz, but want to learn, this is a good place to start, with memorable themes and world-class improvisers. A true desert island disc for a lot of us.

If you want to explore this recording in-depth, check out these 2 books…

5. Garden State: Music from the motion picture (CD 14128)
4. Blonde on blonde / Bob Dylan (CD 7927)
3. Begin to hope / Regina Spektor (CD 16125)
2. Chutes too narrow / The Shins (CD 14177)
and our final number 1…

1. In yo’ face, vol. 1 (CD 11581 v.1)
In Yo' Face, vol. 1
It does my middle-aged heart good to see a slice of old-school funk take the top spot. Great great stuff here – James Brown, Sly, Curtis Mayfield, Parliament, Charles Wright… If you like this, check out the other volumes in the series. Also, the anthology What It Is (CD 16166) is another stellar, maybe even superior, package.

Black Grooves

There are probably, oh, 800 billion CD review sites out there, but one that I particularly like is Black Grooves, a monthly site hosted by the Archives of African American Music & Culture (AAAMC) at Indiana University. They focus, as the title might suggest, on “gospel, blues, jazz, funk, soul, and hip-hop — as well as classical music composed or performed by black artists.”

The December issue includes the usual assortment of funky Christmas tunes (although, to be honest, I can’t for the life of me figure out how Bela Fleck and Spyro Gyra made the list). At any rate, Black Grooves covers good music and usually includes some in-depth commentary on the important historical releases of the month.

Free mp3s and year-end reviews

Greetings On that Note readers!

To help spread some holiday cheer I thought I’d tip everyone off to Amazon.com’s offering of 1 free mp3 download per day through December 25th. They’re all holiday-related and some of the recent artists featured include the ever-popular Mannheim Steamroller and the Barenaked Ladies with Michael Bublé (wow!)

It’s also the season when the music pundits start offering up their year-end best-of lists. One of my favorite indie-type online music magazines is offering its year-end best-of lists from regularly contributing writers. Dusted Magazine publishes daily (M-F) reviews of new music, artist interviews, and show reviews, covering a variety of genres. It was co-founded by Otis Hart, a fellow Middlebury Alum, to boot! End of the year reviews for 2008 and previous years are in the Features section.

Happy listening and reading!