Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Flyin' Ryan Brothers

Ryanetics Music
13 song CD

When it comes down to it, The Flyin' Ryan Brothers are all about guitars --- two to be exact. Brothers Johnny and Jimmy compose and execute their instrumental music with dual lead guitars being the prime focus. The influences range from progressive rock to world music to jazz, all combined into a magnificent melange. Throw in a motley mix of instrumentation, such as lap steel, glockenspiel, and theremin, and you have an album that is as entertaining as it is challenging.

The brothers Ryan approach their music with an earnestness that boats of a highly capable, all-pro backing band, and a high production quality that gives the music the perfect timbre and feel for what they are trying to accomplish. Their guitar playing is impeccable, the two guitars merging as one in perfect harmony. In all respects, the album lives up to its name.

MISH MASH Mandate: Totally Awesome
The Flyin' Ryan Brothers Website

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tony Palmer's Film About Callas
30th Anniversary Edition

Directed By Tony Palmer
Tony Palmer Films

30 years after its initial release, Tony Palmer has re-released his documentary biopic about the legendary Maria Callas, who died of a heart attack in 1977. Whether or not you love opera, the tragic story of Callas is captivating and heartbreaking. The documentary follows her rise to stardom, and the subsequent downward spiral of her personal life that resulted in her early death at 53 years.

Callas was a volatile and controversial figure much like the characters she played, with the drama on stage being almost a mirror of her real life. The film does not pass judgment, but instead presents Callas as somewhat misunderstood and in need of sympathy, at least in terms of historical perspective. She is shown as the tortured artist who gave her all to her audience, perhaps even using her troubled life as a catalyst for her unique artistry. As the film proceeds, we see a constant back-and-forth switch from personal life stories to her performances on stage, and by the end they've wrapped into one. Callas becomes tragedy personified, creating a moving and touching true life story, one that Hollywood could only hope to create.

MISH MASH Mandate: Original Diva
Callas DVD @ Naxos

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Various Artists
Compilation #3
The Almighty Father

VUF Records
Free Download

The third time is the charm, as VUF is back once again with another brilliant (and free) compilation download. This one is just as gripping as the first two, featuring a wealth of Euro electronica tracks from the likes of Astrid Engberg, Bokal, and Eloquent.

One of the more danceable upbeat cuts is Pof Pof by ElectroJuice, a track that is pumping and full of energy, while Juxx rips it up with the bouncing beats of Solo. In contrast, Engberg's Awake (Nabo Remix) runs with a gentle-yet-quirky groove that never settles down, while Mockin' Bird's Effort drones away with untiring intensity.

MISH MASH Mandate: Block Rockin' Beats
VUF Records Website

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

500 Lost Gems Of The Sixties
by Kingsley Abbott

Ovolo Publishing
208 pages
Softcover or limited edition hardcover

500 Lost Gems Of The Sixties is an ode to relatively obscure UK 45s from the 60s, lovingly and painstakingly documented by Kingsley Abbott. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the book lies in the presentation, a full-color tour de force that wraps info snippets within an overwhelming amount of photographs. Record labels and band photos grace every single page, giving the subject matter an almost tangible feel, as if you could reach out and touch each one as you read about them.

Abbott has done his homework, taking us on an incredible off-the-beaten-path tour of 60s pop music, chronologically documenting each year with a stack of recordings that would make any collector drool with envious desire. Of course, the only obvious drawback here is the lack of an actual running soundtrack, which in any practical sense would be downright impossible given the vast number of singles covered in the book. In that case, it is left up to you, dear reader, to start tracking them down. This must-have addition to your summer reading list will immediately become the guide to your summertime scavenger hunt.

MISH MASH Mandate: World Record
500 Lost Gems Page @ Ovolo Website

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Cello Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2
Maria Kliegel, Cello
Nina Tichman, Piano
13 song CD

I've always felt that among classical composers, Fauré has been one of the more underrated and under-appreciated. Outside of his more well-known Requiem, many of his other works seem to get short shrift.
As part of the Impressionist movement of the late 19th and early 20th Century, Fauré created wonderfully simple themes that were romantic and poignant, and remain stunning to this day. His chamber music works, along with his music for piano (including the wonderful Barcarolles) are among his best, and many releases are sadly hard to find at times. I have a few LP sets that have been long out of print, and they hold a special place in my collection.

One of my favorite Fauré recordings is the 1995 RCA CD release Complete Works For Cello by Steven Isserlis and Pascal Devoyon, so I was excited to see this new Naxos disc featuring Maria Kliegel and Nina Tichman covering much of the same ground. Both releases feature the two cello sonatas, along with a number of other short pieces by Fauré. As the RCA disc was done by two males, I thought it would be interesting to hear the interpretation of many of the same songs by two females. Kliegel and Tichman approach these works with an emotional passion that fits perfectly with the romantic style of the composer, playing off of each other beautifully throughout each tune.

The strongest tracks on the album are their takes on Romance and Sicilienne, two short
Fauré compositions that allow the cello to open up in most dynamic fashion. Here, Romance is deep and overflowing with passion, and Kliegel's cello hits the climactic low notes with fervor. The duo plays Sicilienne a little quicker and happier than I'm used to hearing it, making it almost playful and light to the touch. Perfectly done, and it certainly lives up to the passionate legacy of Fauré.

MISH MASH Mandate: Passion Punch
Fauré Cello Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 at Naxos Website

Friday, June 13, 2008

1000 Music Graphics
A Compilation Of Packaging, Posters, And Other Sound Solutions
By Stoltze Design
Rockport Publishers
Flexi-bind, 320 Pages

While you may already be quite familiar with album and poster art from the classic eras of rock and jazz, you may have overlooked some of the more recent works in the world of modern music graphic design. This incredible new book from Rockport Publishers and Stoltze Design compiles some of the best music graphic offerings from a number of current designers from the past few years.

While not spelling it out in literal words, the book does a great job of visually showing off the independent spirit of today's music and the art that packages and promotes it. It's a stark reminder that the Internet and modern software have leveled the playing field for the musician and the artist, taking the creative task of making music and graphic design out of the hands of corporations and into those of individuals. Much of the book focuses on independent music, and the art reflects that attitude with intensity. 1000 Graphics presents page after page of album/CD covers, posters, logos, and paraphernalia by various design teams, representing a number of musical artists in various genres. It's a visual feast for art and music lovers, and it's the perfect accompaniment for your music listening this summer.

MISH MASH Mandate: Artful Dodger
Rockport Publishers Website

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Jumbling Towers
Classy Entertainment EP

6 Song Free Download

Jumbling Towers comes across as a quirky lo-fi indie band that has its musical roots buried loosely in the soil of post-punk and early 80s New Wave. Their synth-based songs on this are poppy in nature, yet self-consciously performed with a pout and a preen, almost glam in initial approach.

The music has a healthy dose of early Bowie thrown in for good measure, ending up with a neo-classic sound that doesn't depend on pure retro for retro's sake. The focus is instead on attitude, revolving around a dramatic lead singer that draws complete attention from first listen.

MISH MASH Mandate: Quirky Oddity
Jumbling Towers Website

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Karlheinz Stockhausen
Helicopter String Quartet

Directed by Frank Scheffer
Medici Arts DVD

There is experimental music, and then there is music that goes to the next level into something more extreme. Back in 1995, Karlheinz Stockhausen went to such extremes with his Helicopter String Quartet, a piece of music that was created specifically to be performed live by a string quartet while flying in four separate helicopters.

Stockhausen's quartet was written to mimic the sounds of flight, built around frantic strings that shift up and down like birds screeching or insects buzzing, and constructed to blend in perfectly with the throbbing sounds of the helicopter rotors. Scheffer's documentary follows the
preparation and production of this fascinating work, from rehearsal to public performance. The production was intensive and complicated, as it included video and audio being transmitted live from the helicopters while in full flight, all synchronized by Stockhausen from his mixing position in the performance hall, surrounded by television monitors and speakers in front of a live audience.

The documentary doesn't just cover the performance itself, but it also examines Stockhausen's motivation behind it, delving into the thought processes and imagination that brought it into being. Scheffer also gains insight from the players of the and their contributions to the piece, following them from initial practice sessions through their performance flights. Instead of showing us only the end product as a whole, Sheffer builds intensity by building upon each step along the way, taking all the elements of rehearsal, pre-production and final production as a whole, climaxing with the final moments of the peformance as the helicopters land and the strings go quiet. The last few minutes are intense and captivating, seeing all the efforts by the Stockhausen and his players pay off in the end.

MISH MASH Mandate: Flight Plan
Helicopter String Quartet DVD @ Naxos

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Paul Weller
22 Dreams

21 song CD/LP

I suppose we can consider this Paul Weller's stab at a White Album to call his own. This two disc set is a sprawling epic and a glorious mess, and much like the Fab Four's classic, this album is filled with hits and misses, along with moments of strange curiosity.

Ranging back to the days of his confusing switcheroo from the mod punk of The Jam to the flamboyant New Wave of the Style Council, Weller has always managed to throw audiences (and critics) for a loop just when they think they have him all figured out. 22 Dreams is way out there, a psychedelic adventure that visits every nook and cranny of pop music from the past half-century, warping and melding various sounds into little song nuggets that are a departure from the more straightforward rock of his more recent efforts. In fact, this album seems to have purposefully included all the outtakes and one-offs that seem to usually end up on his b-sides and bootlegs, making a patchwork quilt of music that lacks a coherent theme, yet somehow making it all work with sheer audacity.

This is definitely a bold move by Weller, and the good thing is that he's at a point in his career when taking chances is more of a sure bet than it was 25 years ago. Here's to an older and bolder Weller; it's good to see he still has some rebellious fire in his soul.

MISH MASH Mandate: Rebel Rebel
Paul Weller Website

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Grand Opening
Beyond The Brightness

Tapete Records
9 song CD

John Roger Olsson, aka The Grand Opening, approaches his music with a melancholy mindset, much like Joe Pernice at his most woeful. The songs on Beyond The Brightness (it even sounds like a Pernice title, doesn't it?) are beautifully somber and slow, quietly drifting along while Olsson sings in a gentle half-whisper.

The standout track here is Secrets Revealed, where a bluesy guitar meanders through a lazy drumbeat while Olsson sings at his depressing best. It's poppy and catchy, yet able to drill a hole into your subconscious with its dark edginess.

MISH MASH Mandate: Melancholy Meandering
Tapete Records Website

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Emily Asen
Proof LP

Violet Maiden
11 song CD

Emily Asen's folksy cover art for her Proof LP has an otherworldly and abstract feel, almost like an ocean scene as viewed through a hazy window. At the same time, it has highly defined, post-modern lettering mixed right in, complete with faux paint stains, a touch that reminds me of early R.E.M. album covers. It's a fitting way to package the music within, as Asen presents her hazy, folk-tinged pop with an indie rock sensibility.

Asen sings in a quiet mid-range tone, always unassuming and never overpowering, using a subtle approach throughout. The instrumentation is simple and straightforward, and she lets her voice to flow along with the instruments. It's in this simplicity where Asen finds her strength, allowing her songwriting to take center stage.

MISH MASH Mandate: Impressionist Folk
Emily Asen Website