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.
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 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.
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.
You might not guess it from the humble design, but this blog is but a small corner of a massive data accumulation and analysis system. A dedicated team of scientists, programmers, and physicists are hard at work using mountains of data to answer the most pressing question in music: what is the best year for music in the 21st century? After months of data cleaning and analysis, our team is pleased to announce our answer: 2004. This result is especially surprising because the team’s research was in no way influenced by the fact that this blog’s hyper-successful founder was a teen in 2004. Here’s a sampling of the releases from that year in no particular order:
- Modest Mouse – Good News for People Who Love Bad News
- Scissor Sisters – Scissor Sisters
- Kanye West – College Dropout
- Animal Collective – Sung Tongs
- The Killers – Hot Fuss (come fight me about this)
- Iron & Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days (I’ll fight about this too)
- Arcade Fire – Funeral
- Usher – Confessions
- Petey Pablo – Freek a Leek
- Ruben Studdard – Sorry 2004
I didn’t know about Electrelane until recently, but when I looked up when The Power Out was released I was not surprised to learn of yet another good album from 2004. The Power Out was the group’s second full length release, and was produced with help from producer Steve Albini. While their first album was primarily instrumental, The Power Out introduced vocals in three different languages, making use of a 16th century Spanish sonnet for the lyrics to Oh Sombra!. The group released two more albums, also on Too Pure, before going on permanent hiatus in 2007.
In case people like the music but don’t want to comb through all the pages, I’ve made a Spotify playlist with all the Tracks of the Day I’ve done so far. I’ll add more as I go, and there were some things that weren’t available on Spotify yet. If time allows I’ll make a YouTube playlist as well because I know not everybody uses Spotify. If that happens I’ll add it to this post as well. Enjoy!
With many old blues and gospel 78s it can be difficult to pin down details about the recording or even the artist, but you often have a good idea what instrument is being played. The same cannot be said for Washington Phillips. He was born in 1880 in Freestone County, TX and farmed some acreage near Teague, and when he wasn’t farming he became known as a “jack-leg preacher,” meaning he was not ordained by a particular faith but would often attend churches with the hope of speaking. If that didn’t work, he spoke to gatherings on the street or in shop-window churches. Though it was long argued Phillips played a novelty instrument called a dolceola, but fans of his work and of zither music have debunked that theory. Eyewitnesses to Phillips performing said that he played an instrument that he assembled himself and since the dolceola was commercially sold at the time it would not have to be assembled. So where did these dreamy sounds come from?
An article from the Nov. 8, 1907 issue of the Teague Chronicle describes the instrument as a 2′ x 3′ box that is 6 inches deep which Phillips called the “manzarene.” Being a Texas newspaper from the early 20th century, there was some racism thrown in for good measure which I won’t repeat here.
It is unclear whether the instrument described in the article is the same one which appears on this and other recordings which Phillips made for Columbia records between 1927-1929. You can read more about the research into Phillips instruments in this blog post from a harp guitar enthusiasts’ site. He doesn’t reach a conclusion regarding what instrument Phillips used, but he did list some possibilities, which include
a giant homemade box zither, a secondhand Phonoharp and gizmo-less Celestaphone that were possibly assembled into some giant super-zither, and at least one, but possibly multiple, additional homemade zithers, smaller and eventually played with just one hand.
Regardless of what instruments he played, it’s amazing these recordings survived all the way to the present. They were first re-issued by a Dutch blues imprint called Agram Blues in 1980. An American roots label called Yazoo Records has reissued recordings by Phillips twice, once under the name I Am Born To Preach The Gospel in 2003 and then again under the name The Key To The Kingdom along with recordings by Blind Mamie and A.C. Forehand. Mississippi Records also released a compilation What Are They Doing In Heaven Today in 2006. In November 2016 Dust-to-Digital released the most comprehensive version of Phillips’ music entitled Washington Phillips And His Manzarene Dreams. Along with remastered recordings, it also contains a 72 page booklet which collects the research of Michael Corcoran of the Austin Statesman, who probably knows more about Phillips than anybody. The history of Phillips is fascinating, but I’ll warn you before you dive in: you may learn more about zithers than you thought was possible.