Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What Are You Listening To Lately?

Regrettably, few questions make me draw a complete blank more effectively than "what have you been listening to?" despite, or because of, the fact that I am listening to music more or less constantly and probably hear one or more new-to-me records a day. Perhaps trying to write some of it down will yield some useful results.

I know I listened to The War On Drugs' Wagonwheel Blues today – hardly more than an hour ago, and I enjoyed it just as thoroughly, more even, than every other time I have heard it. Adam Granduciel's unabashedly Dylan-esque lyrics and delivery duke it out with a wall of psychedelic-tinged acoustic and electric guitar, wheezing Al Kooper-ish organ and so on – a sonic rush that's kind of new and old at the same time. Much more exhilarating than the new Dylan album, though that has its keepable moments as well.
One of my favorite spots on Wagonwheel Blues is 3/4ths of the way through the 10-minute delirium of "Show Me The Coast" where the wide-screen sounding stereo mix suddenly collapses to mono and is slowly restored to stereo over the next half minute – subtle and hardly a footnote to the whole record but that spot (and the whole song) delights me every time.

Today and yesterday and the day before, I listened to copious chunks of this 17-CD Music of Islam collection. Too much to try to summarize it all but one of the high points I've gotten to so far is "Volume 5: 'Aissaoua Sufi Ceremony", recorded in Marrakesh, particularly the 40-minute long "Dikra Rebbania" which I'm guessing (based on musical intensity) is some kind of climactic point in the ceremony. Searching on the title phrase itself doesn't yield much other than links to the recording.

Without making any attempt to thoroughly bolster the claim, and very briefly acknowledging my own connection with the label, I don't think Chicago's Drag City Records puts out anything that is not good. Particularly high in my rotation of recent months have been the past two records by Bill Callahan (who you once knew as Smog), Woke On A Whaleheart and Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle. The latter gives perhaps a bit too much leeway to his more somnolent side, but the last 4 (of 9) songs have kept me thoroughly happy on their own. The closer "Faith/Void" (multivalent reference for you rock historians) is 9 minutes of subtly stunning repetitive bliss. Despite its ostensibly anti-religious message (the principal lyric is "It's time to put God away"), it is quite reminiscent of one of those rambling mid-70s Van Morrison mystic epics whose spirituality it echoes and simultaneously rejects.

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