1999 Records To Die For Page 12
NIRVANA: In Utero
Sub Pop/DGC 24607 (LP), Mobile Fidelity UDCD 690 (CD). 1993. Steve Albini, prod.; Bob Weston, eng. (Scott Litt, eng. on "Heart-Shaped Box" and "All Apologies"). AAA/AAD. TT: 41:24
I'll never forget the first time I listened to Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral full loud, and Trent Reznor's dark images of pain and fear. When I put on In Utero directly afterwards, I felt the potential for stark, stripped human pain to be stamped on a black plastic disc. By the time Kurt Cobain screams "Go away!" on the second track, "Scentless Apprentice," I was so chilled and creeped I wasn't sure I could listen through to the end.
Now I can't get enough. This record is amazingly personal—12 sonic suicide notes of pure rock'n'roll. Cobain is not only the true poet of rock—he makes Jim Morrison look like an affected, posturing drunk—but he was a passionate guitar strangler, here at the height of his musical powers. So you don't have to listen to the lyrics every time. Just rock. The music is great, the sound is big, edgy, and punchy—the million-dollar studio version of raw, and it works. I bought the excellent MFSL gold CD so I can carry it with me wherever I go. This is the stuff that's gonna last. (XVII-1, 2, XX-2)
THE KINKS: Something Else by the Kinks
Essential ESM CD 480 (CD). 1968/1998. Ray Davies, Shel Talmy, prods. AAD. TT: 58:04
Of all the bands of the British Intrusion, the Kinks spun the most English on our music before selling it back to us. But beneath the eccentric dandyism of Ray Davies' song-stories there is always a hidden, sometimes sinister or unsettling subtext. Take the opener, "David Watts," a jealous lament about the guy at school who seems to have it all. None of the girls succeeds in going out with David Watts, "For he is of pure and noble breed." Hmmm. The record closes with the serenely beautiful "Waterloo Sunset," perhaps one of the two or three most nearly perfect pop songs ever recorded. Almost as a bonus, the album includes three soulful tunes by younger brother Dave, including his solo hit, "Death of a Clown," which features Ray playing a Steinway with a guitar pick. The new series of import reissues sound great, have returned to the original mono where applicable, and include a healthy dose of rare bonus tracks. As long as I listen to "Waterloo Sunset," I'm in paradise.
GUSTAV MAHLER: Das Lied von der Erde
Transcription for chamber orchestra by Arnold Schoenberg (1920) and Rainer Riehn (1983).
Birgit Remmert, alto; Hans Peter Blochwitz, tenor; Philippe Herreweghe, Ensemble Musique Oblique
Harmonia Mundi HMC 901477 (CD). 1994. Jean-Martial Golaz, prod., eng. DDD. TT: 62:40
Begun by Arnold Schoenberg but completed by Rainer Riehn in 1983 using Schoenberg's notes, this is an X-ray of Das Lied with all the fine detail laid bare. It is also an unveiling of the essence of the original work usually attained only with repeated listening and attention to the score. While Das Lied is the most intimate of all of Mahler's works for orchestra and voice, this transcription distills and concentrates the perfumes and passions to a heady intensity. The singers are more than adequate, the playing of the Ensemble Musique Oblique is precise and impassioned, and the recording is pellucid. The fine details of the entwined instrumental and human voices are presented with clarity and impact. The dynamic range is extremely wide despite the chamber voicing. If you don't know Das Lied or you aren't a Mahler fanatic, this should be a delightful discovery. However, if you're already one of us, you'll find it a delight for ear and soul. (XIX-6)
CARL NIELSEN: Symphony 3 ("Sinfonia Espansiva"), Maskarade Overture
Susan Burghardt, soprano; Ralph Bassett, baritone; Sixten Ehrling, Danish National Orchestra
Audiofon CD72025 (CD). 1988. Julian H. Kreeger, prod.; Peter McGrath, eng.. ADD? TT: 41:38
Sometimes everything just works! Here's a live performance, transcribed unedited from a concert at Washington's Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1984. From the anticipatory rustles of the audience and the surging opening of the symphony, this is a bracing and touching performance by forces that have the music in their bones. They sweep the listener along to the very end, where it's hard not to stand up and join in with the audience's applause. And the closing Maskarade Overture is a complete romp, the tasty dessert after the superb meal.
As he has so often, engineer Peter McGrath captures a real sense of occasion. Sure, there's audience noise and no really low bass, but the overall balance and spatial presentation are superb. The brass has real bite, and the strings are sweet and sympathetic. The audio analysis is irrelevant, however, because this is as close to being at a great concert as you can get.
NILS PETTER MOLVAER: Khmer
Nils Petter Molvaer, trumpet, guitar, bass guitar, percussion, samples; Eivind Aarset, guitars, treatments, talk box; Morten Molster, guitar; Roger Ludvigsen, guitar, percussion, dulcimer; Rune Arnesen, drums; Ulf W. Holand, samples; Reidar Skår, sound treatment
ECM 1560 (78118-21560-2, CD). 1997. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Ulf W. Holand, prod., eng. DDD. TT: 42:52 (plus bonus remix CD, 19:56)
Music is just like real life; there's no discernible direction in which things are moving. One thing seems sure, however: the beat is getting ever slower and more accentuated—Massive Attack, Portishead, et al have a lot to answer for. This makes for exciting new crossover records, however, and one of the most musically successful of these is Nils Petter Molvaer's Khmer. Imagine a cross between the aforementioned Portishead and the sound of ECM stalwarts like Jan Garbarek, then add a heavy dose of world-music polyrhythms, and you'll begin to get an idea of what this record is all about: propulsive, inventive rhythms, beautiful sounds, and scraps of melodies. The whole makes a surprising amount of sense, and was a surprise hit on the European jazz scene. It may not capture your heart on the first hearing, but after the third, you may well be addicted.
Bill Laswell, bass, beats; Zakir Hussain, tablas; Vikku Vinayakram, ghatam; Shankar, nadhaswaram
Axiom AXMCD 1 (862 395-2, CD). 1993. Bill Laswell, prod.; The Orb, Doctor Alex Paterson, Kris Weston, remixes. ADD? TT: 30:53
This CD "maxi single" stretches the R2D4 format a bit, but I've always wanted to recommend a true sonic spectacular, and Mantra certainly qualifies. On the very best CD players, it makes the best case for two-channel musical home theater I've yet heard: sounds swelling and swooning, going back and forth, left to right, up and down, and every possible permutation. Totally artificial but entirely convincing. Of course, sonic excellence would count for naught if the music weren't great. This disc actually shows Philip Glass a thing or two. From simple elements, the record constructs a captivating whole with a strong Indian flavor that I never tire of hearing. Awesome deep bass, too.