Khruangbin – A Calf Born in Winter

After putting out a few cassettes on their own, Houston trio Khruangbin released this track on an EP with the same name on LateNightTales in 2014, where it waited patiently for three years to be discovered by me. The group takes its name from the Thai word for airplane, which originally referenced the shared love of Thai surf and funk that brought Laura Lee (Bass), Mark Speer (Guitar), and D.J. (Drums) together, though it is doubly appropriate now that the band is split between the U.K. and the States. If you’re looking for an entry point in to the kind of Thai music they are influenced by, Sublime Frequencies has put out a number of great compilations of Thai rock from the 60s and 70s. Two good places to start are Thai Pop Spectacular and Shadow Music of Thailand. Khruangbin released their first full-length album in 2015 titled The Universe Smiles Upon You. They also put together a mix tape that highlights some of their other influences which you can find here. According to their website they’re playing a couple of festivals this summer, including Bonnaroo, Electric Forest, and Outside Lands. Because I’m a curmudgeon I won’t be able to see them live, but discovering this group is almost enough to make me take the plunge. Here are some links to purchase the releases I mentioned here if you are so inclined:

Labi Siffre – My Song

This song might be titled My Song, but it is probably better known as the sample used on Kanye West’s I Wonder from 2007’s Graduation. Labi Siffre was born Claudius Afolabi Siffre in Britain, and has had a long career in both music and literature. My Song comes from his third studio release, Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying, which was put out on Pye Records in 1972. It seems like Siffre is one of those artists better known for the work he inspired than the music he produced himself. Madness reached number 4 on the U.K. charts with a cover of It Must Be Love and Jay-Z, Eminem, and Wu-Tang Clan have sampled Siffre’s I Got The. While these may be more well-known, Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying deserves far more attention because it is a joy from start to finish, blending Siffre’s beautiful tenor with an excellent ear for melody and guitar that is as smooth as it is soulful. In particular, Cannock Chase and the title track are both excellent tunes in the vein of My Song. He recorded a number of albums in the 70s, including participating in the 1978 Eurovision context, and continued at a slower clip through the 80s and 90s. Perhaps that has something to do with writing three books of poetry in the 90s along with a play and a collection of essays. This album was re-issued in 2016 by new-wave label Demon Records, which has put out a number of records from Marc Bolan & T.Rex, Elvis Costello, and The Jesus and Mary Chain.

infinite bisous – past tense

infinite bisous is a solo project from Paris-based musician Rory McCarthy, and while past tense comes from 2015, he released an album about a month ago titled w_love. Before these solo recordings, he was one half of the duo Hot Horizons, which seems to have gone dormant since 2011 but not before producing a killer cover of Roy Orbison’s Crying. All of his music is released through a collective label called Tasty Morsels, which features other work by McCarthy released under other names, including Column and R. McCarthy along with material by Laurie Holiday and Dialect. Most of the output from Tasty Morsels seems to be on Soundcloud, though you can also download files from their site as well.

Spectral Display – It Takes A Muscle [To Fall in Love]

Michael Mulders was the primary engine behind Spectral Display when they were signed to a contract with EMI in 1980, though it wasn’t until he collaborated with Henri Overduin that they were able to put together this driving synth-heavy tune. Overduin wrote most of the lyrics and provided the vocals for It Takes A Muscle, which was recorded in Mulder’s home on his own equipment with the help of a few studio musicians. One notable if odd connection: the percussion for Spectral Display come courtesy of Kim Haworth, who did the drums on the America song A Horse With No Name. Though the song never achieved widespread success at the time, the group did follow up their 1982 self-titled debut with one more record in 1983 called Too Much Like Me. According to their site they are be recording new material, though that was in 2012 so I wouldn’t hold your breath. It was covered by M.I.A for her 2010 album Maya, proving once again that most of the things that have been good about mainstream music today can be found in even better form in the 80s.

Though I will probably never get to meet the men behind this jam, this fact from a section of their site called 5 Things You Did Not Know About Your Body suggests we would get along swimmingly:

“3 -The Storage capacity of human brain exceeds 4 Terabytes. (That makes 400,000 MP3’s. So, there’s no way to learn the entire Prince catalogue by heart).”

If only all click-bait was this relatable.

Phil Cordell – Red Lady

After a few unsuccessful stints with groups in his native London, Phil Cordell began recording material on his own, starting with this infectious psych jam released as a single in 1969. As with most of his recordings, he recorded all the instruments and vocals for Red Lady himself. In addition to releasing one full length album under his given name, he also released albums under the names Dan the Banjo Man and Springwater throughout the 1970s. He scored a minor hit in Germany and Switzerland with I Will Return from his Springwater release and then topped the charts again in Germany as Dan the Banjo Man with a song also titled Dan the Banjo Man. All of that is precursor to the creation of the video below, which remains one of the most beautiful and bizarre things I’ve seen on the internet for a while:

Sandy Bull – No Deposit-No Return Blues

Sandy Bull emerged from the acoustic folk and fingerpicking revival of the 1960s, and while his first release, a collaboration with Billy Higgins entitled Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo, hinted at his later experimentation, 1969’s E Pluribus Unum showcases his innovative blend of fingerpicking techniques and electric experimentation. He was a master of many string instruments including the banjo, pedal steel, and the oud, which he’s holding shown in the album cover for E Pluribus Unum.

Another remarkable thing to keep in mind listening to No Deposit-No Return Blues is that Bull is playing every instrument on the record, including percussion. Not only did he make use of overdubbing in the studio, but he also performed with pre-recorded tracks when playing live, as demonstrated by the live record Still Valentines Day, 1969 put out by Water in 2006. While the oud is featured on No Deposit-No Return Blues, to get a better idea of what it sounds like I’d suggest giving a listen to this improvisation from that live record.

Vanguard has released a number of compilations of Bull’s work from the 1960s, including improvised material, classical pieces by Bach, and more blues-oriented stuff like this track. One of my favorite labels, Drag City, put out a live album by Bull which also credits the Ace Tone Rhythm Machine, thought to be the first commercially-sold drum machine. To hear Bull perform live with his oud and this early drum machine check out this track from the Drag City album. In 2010 his daughter KC released a documentary about her father also called No Deposit No Return Blues that I couldn’t find a full version of online but which I would definitely want to see.

Pinback – Tripoli

Tripoli was the second single off Pinback’s self-titled Pinback, which was also released with the equally descriptive title This Is A Pinback CD. The one thing that you do glean from the alternative title is that this indie tune came out at a time when “a CD” was the primary unit of commercially released music: 1999. It was released on Ace Fu Records, who put out a number of indie releases in mid- and early-aughts. Though Ace Fu is probably better known for releasing material by Man Man and Annuals, for me they’ll be remembered for putting out a CD called What The Hell Do I know?, which I bought on a whim at Indy CD and Vinyl in Indianapolis and proceeded to wear out throughout my adolescence. Anyway, enough with the personal revelations.

Pinback is primarily a collaboration between San Diego multi-instrumentalists Armistead Burwell Smith IV and Rob Crow, who have collaborated with many different artists since their debut in 1999. Both have also had a number of side projects over the years, and while I’m sure that Mr. Smith’s projects are good, he could learn a thing or too from Rob Crow in terms of titles. Crow preforms as Lord Phallus with a metal band called Goblin Cock, has a grindcore project called Anal Trump, and released an album of indie rock material more in the vein of Pinback called You’re Doomed. Be Nice under the name Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place. Leave some names for the rest of us, buddy! Though both men have moved on to other projects, Temporary Residence LTD is re-issuing some material from EPs that Pinback released around 2003 under the name Some Offcell Voices. In addition to the vinyl and CD releases from the label, it is also available on Bandcamp.