Category: Rediscover

Soul Unhinged : The Art of “Melisma”


At some point in the very late 80’s a vocal plague spread across R & B and pop music. The name of this affliction was “Melisma”. “Melisma” is of course defined as singing a single syllable of text while moving between several notes. And while Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston, 2 outrageously gifted singers, were the initial purveyors, to these ears Boys II Men were the real starting point as far as spreading the plague, the true guilty party ( “Motownphilly” excepted, because shit, who doesn’t love “Motownphilly”). Anyway, they employed the technique on literally every track they released, and once they hit it big, that was it. It was the signal for every up and coming R & B group to feature ” the Melisma” on what felt like every single song on the radio. Screw economy and grace, gratuitous vocal runs became the norm. And people loved it. “I Will Always Love You”, “What A Girl Wants” and of course the Boyz/Mariah collaboration “One Sweet Day” ( and an interminable number of others) were all beyond massive hits. The standard was set forever. The pop delicacy of a Mary Wells vocal, like the kind you’d hear on “My Guy” was instantly an artifact from a bygone era.

The style reached it’s peak of manifestation on American Idol, and a little bit later, on The Voice, and continues to fester to this day, generally in the most predictable, immaculately produced, and technically manipulated ways. Now I know this all sounds very “get off my lawn” but I honestly don’t hate “Melisma”, it’s just that this slick, show-offy version of it feels like just that . The only thing I can liken it to is a painting that looks just like a photograph : it becomes all about technique and not so much about content, which makes the art feel kind of empty…the fact is “Melisma” coupled with unbridled, unrefined, imperfect emotion can make for some amazing, spiritual, mind blowing listening. Let’s go back in time for a minute….

Linda Jones was both Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight’s favorite singer. Linda’s recording career was short, running from 1964 to 1972, when she unexpectedly passed away at the far too young age of 27. Within that time, she achieved only middling success ( couple of hits on the R & B charts in the late sixties , the biggest being “Hypnotized, which was also top 20 on the Billboard pop chart). While she never made what would be considered a classic album within that time, she did kick out some incredible singular songs that positively beggar belief. As in, the vocal performances were nuts. Listen to this insanity :


I know, that thing should come with a warning attached. In less than 4 minutes Linda has crushed the entire earth into a dust like powder. I’ll be honest, the first time I heard this, it made me laugh because it was just soooo over the top…but I immediately loved it, because it felt lived. You believe Linda. That’s “Melisma” in the hands of a master. That’s technique and content in one giant heart-shaped mass.

Then there’s this. McKinley Mitchell’s vocal on “Town I Live in” starts oh so sweetly, full of longing, and lonely love…but then about halfway through it turns into this raw, raspy, desperate monster and obliterates everything in it’s path. It happens so suddenly, and jarringly it’s like being woken up from a deep sleep by someone throwing cold water on your face.  This song was recorded in freakin’ 1962, and still sounds weird and off kilter in 2018: a perfect marriage of rough and smooth that transcends time. Check it out:

I know. It’s nuts right? 19-freakin-62.

Screw the visuals. These were records. And yes, in some way the relics of a bygone era…but lord, aren’t they beautiful ? Has anything on The Voice/Idol ever come near these ? Okay “East Coast Family”, as you were….

Johann Johannsson 1969-2018


I discovered Johann Johannsson by complete accident. It was 2008, and I was working in the buying department at Virgin Megastore in New York City. We’d just gotten the usual box of promotional cds, and forthcoming releases. And I did the usual thing, putting them on one after the other, mechanically listening for anything with sales potential and all that. One of those cds was Johann’s “Fordlandia”. It blew my mind. It obliterated everything I’d played before it. It was classical, but it wasn’t classical music. It was as melodic as pop, but it wasn’t pop music. All I knew was that I couldn’t wait to get it home and hear it on headphones.

I excitedly told my co-worker Marvin about this new discovery and upon hearing it, he too became completely obsessed . We soon embarked on a mission to hear/own everything Johann had released: it was absolute love. And so when his first U.S. tour was announced in 2009, including a date at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC, we had no choice: we had to be there.
It was June 25, 2009, a gloomy, rain-sodden and humid evening. While standing in line to get in, to finally see Johann, the door guy offhandedly mentioned to me that Michael Jackson had died. This was staggering and shocking, and at that moment impossible to fully absorb. And now I was about to go into this dark room and hear Johann Johannsson play some of the saddest, most epic music on the planet. Music, that more often than not, I’d tended to use to soundtrack the darkest of times.
It was a pretty weird emotional experience. Thinking about Michael, and my own internal rubbish simultaneously while listening to this otherworldly sound.
The show was brilliant, and just cemented how important Johann and his music were going to be to me, for what I knew would be a long time to come.
Marvin and I were now officially “fan girl & boy” keeping tabs on releases and collecting Johann catalogue in all formats. And in keeping with our mania, went to see him again at LPR in 2010. In the lobby was a small merch table. And in the empty lobby, behind the merch table was Johann himself. Looking shy and unassuming. There he was trying to make change for me after I’d bought a cd. “You know I’m going to ask you to sign this now”, I smiled at him, and again he shyly smiled back and obliged. And then he went onstage and conducted and played the most beautiful and heartwrenching music you’re ever going to hear.
I only realize now how fortunate we were to experience him at that time in such a small place.
And so Johann died today. Only 48 years old. And I’m writing this only having heard about it like 20 minutes ago. Just crying…because this guy was such a genius and so incredibly gifted, and created music that’ll be beautiful for as long as the earth is turning.
There’s so much to recommend but for the sake of brevity, wanted to share a little homemade “best of” playlist below to get you better acquainted if you haven’t explored his work. It’s pretty subjective of course, as in it doesn’t feature any of the mega film soundtracks Johann has done over the past few years, but I think it’s his best stuff : it will all take you somewhere far away. What a genius.

2017- Songs of the Year Playlists !


I’m not going to rant about what a great/bad year it’s been in music because really every year, since lord knows when, there have been brilliantly, wonderful, and transcendent songs being born into the world, as well as, you know, less than transcendent ones, and to qualify a year as “unparalleled”, or “bad”, or “disappointing”, well, it’s all pretty subjective, and yes, I’ll save you a seat here on the fence next to me.


” Round numbers are overrated…or I’ve decided they are for a minute”

Okay, there are an odd number of tracks because I opted for honesty over cleanliness but I aspire to like a perfectly round number of songs in 2018 ( editors note: good luck with that). And also these songs aren’t ranked in any particular order…and there aren’t a lot of mega-hits in the conventional sense ( except in some magnificent alternate universe light years away in which case all these songs were # 1, for a day each at least). And a bunch of these artists haven’t “blown up” quite yet so to speak, which makes it a real joy to exult them here, from amongst the millions of others. And hey, did also include a few standout tracks from some of the bigger names we already know, and maybe love, so it’s one big authentic “Rocks” overview of 2017.

I was going to write a line about each song, but that seemed insane, and so I’ll just leave you with this : within this list are songs to enhance any daily activity including crying, staring out train windows, pondering existence, plotting a better 2018, performing manual labor, or screaming your head off.

Lastly want to say love to all these ridiculously wonderful bands for making these ridiculously wonderful songs: you all rule. And one more thing, thank YOU to anyone reading/listening, or in anyway acknowledging this very, very small blog. I’m gonna keep going even if there’s only one of you because dammit, it’s worth it. THANK YOU !

* The lists are slightly different as not all tracks are offered on both Soundcloud, and Spotify i.e. just a tiny handful of difference, mostly the fact that the established tend to be  only on the Spotify, while the up and coming tend to be mostly on the Soundcloud, so try ’em both. Okay, go turn it up !

Soundcloud: Best of 2017 ! Right Here ! :

Spotify: Best of 2017 ! :


William Brittelle & the Blessed Dunes…


“I think this is what it must sound like in heaven”

Okay so, that is an actual vintage quote from my “young person’s” diary upon hearing the Cocteau Twins for the first time, and the song “Lorelei” in particular. That’s not hyperbole, I admit I totally, teenage-edly meant it from the core of my angst ridden soul, yup. See I’d never come across anything quite like it before, and hearing it emanating through the speakers gave me a total physical rush, as in I had to stop what I was doing, and just stand there and be awestruck and overwhelmed by it’s plush beauty… so of course that meant it had to be aligned with the ultimate place and space. The #1 song in heaven, for real.


“Are you there God ? Judging by the sound of this record I think you are.”

And while there are loads and loads of wonderful things out there, that transcendent feeling is still a pretty rare occurrence…which brings me here. William Brittelle is a composer, and multi-instrumentalist as well as the co-artistic director of the New Amsterdam label in NY. Back in 2010 he released a gorgeous, something else pop song called “Dunes of Vermillion” which is a whole lotta things at once: Beach Boys heavenly, late 70’s West Coast Am radio windy , and epically classical in construction. It also features the most regal and sweetest use of autotune you’re ever gonna hear. Plus the guitar solo is a siren song within a siren song. That’s a lot, I know. I was completely obsessed with it for a long while, and it still ranks high in my  horrifyingly geeky “best records of the century” list. The album it ultimately appeared on, “Television Landscapes” also turned out to be a pretty special thing, all wonderfully weird, tuneful, and orchestral.

And so I offer an an eternal bow to at least the # 2 song in heaven: thank you, and please explore below, hello, hello, hello….

p.s. I want to know what tune (s) you think are otherworldly, so please share if you feel so inclined and hey, maybe we’ll print your story. Don’t be shy…

Here’s “Dunes of Vermillion” :

Here’s the amazing “Television Landscapes” album in it’s entirety, go get your headphones :

And lastly, here’s the Cocteau Twins “Lorelei” that I crushed on to ludicrous extremes :


The Dynamic Superiors = Life

Here is some medicine to relieve the stress, pain, and tears that this seemingly worldwide mayhem has caused over the past year for all of us. The Dynamic Superiors were a latter era Motown act, who recorded 4 albums for the label from 1975-1977. Their lead singer, Tony Washington’s sweet falsetto was every bit as beautiful as that of his contemporary, Russell Thompkins Jr., of the million selling Stylistics i.e. utterly angelic, and not of this world. Still the Dynamics never achieved near the Stylistics level of success. They did however have 1 shining moment in the sun, releasing one of the most perfect slices of seventies soul ever, “Shoe Shoe Shine”, written by the legendary Motown songwriting team of Ashford & Simpson. And so, we invite you to please watch this sublime, and insane performance by yours, The  Dynamic Superiors from “Soul Train”, December 21st, 1974 because there is so much bad sh*t happening right now and we could all use a little medicine. As long as the earth is turning, these guys will be here for us, in all their yellow suited glory. And for 3 minutes and 30 seconds, that slow spin will make everything feel okay.

Album Review : The Cravats “Dustbin of Sound”

Settle in children, as Ed Zed brilliantly tells of the maniacal genius of The Cravats

cravats 2

Rarely is it a good idea for punk bands to return with a new album following a few decades’ absence. All too often that vital vim, venom and raw energy become deadened over time or else extinguished completely, so that a band may be able to play a bit better but ultimately have fuck all to say and sound glaringly obsolete saying it.

The Cravats, however, are different. Very, very different. And indeed, to label these sax-bleating Dadaist psycho-geniuses merely as a punk band would be to do them a cruel disservice.

For those unfamiliar, The Cravats began life in the unassuming English town of Redditch in that fabled year of 1977, operating in something of a vacuum of their own making – which is to say they flagrantly defied the more rigid of punk’s pieties to become something more akin to a jazz-damaged, absurdist theatre troupe – almost a genre unto themselves.

Having infected the post-punk milieu with some of the most outlandishly exciting music it had yet seen, The Cravats went on indefinite hiatus around 1985, not to be heard from again (at least not under their sartorial banner) until the hoverboard-festooned superfuture of the 2010s, when they re-emerged with ‘Jingo Bells’, a growling gob in the face of Tory-‘led’ Britain.

The record picked up almost seamlessly from where the Cravs left off 30 odd years ago, with a blistering sound as temporally unclassifiable in the 21st century as it was in the 20th. And so, ladybugs and gentleflies, they were back.

And now in 2017 they bring us a new album ‘Dustbin of Sound’, a work whose strangeness and charm seem once again exempt from shelf life.

‘King of Walking Away’ (the intro to which is pleasingly reminiscent of John Coltrane’s ‘Acknowledgement’) operates as a lyrical and musical mission statement – angular, discordant, earnest yet playfully political, and dosed to the eyeballs with time-honoured Cravatian absurdism, which features beauteous head boy The Shend crooning what must be one of the lines of year: ‘when you bathe that desire I’m an electric fire balanced precariously on your porcelain rim’.

From here on, Shend and his crackpot company lead a stentorian charge through The House that Cravats Built – starting with a party in the parlour of the ‘Batterhouse’, then up the stairs to race around the mutated surf rock corridors of ‘Motorcycle Man’, ‘100 Percent’ and ‘Bury the Wild’, before pausing on a moonlit landing to observe an evil child pushing a naive parent down the stairs to the cuckoo strains of ‘Whooping Sirens’, saxes blazing all the while.

The rompingly sardonic ‘Hang Them’ and frenzied ‘Big Red Car’ segue beautifully into the album’s closer (and one of my personal favourites), ‘All U Bish Dumpers’, which finds The Cravats’ Dadaist preposterousness in full flight (‘the squirrel’s role was to goad idiots toward an unidentified trestle montage’).

A friend of mine who was lucky enough to experience the Cravs in concert several times during the early 80s once put their lack of broader appeal down to the fact that they were ‘too punk for the new wave crowd and too new wave for the punk crowd’. One would like to think that these days the two are far from mutually exclusive, and that cross-pollinators in a class of their own like The Cravats would now receive the adoration they so deserve – though if they don’t, I doubt it will matter to them very much.

Some are made for the margins, and that is why these fine gentlemen of the squonky cloth remain as timeless, savage and brilliant as ever.

Now tie a Cravat about your scrawny neck and feel it constrict until you’re forced into a hangman’s dance in the Dustbin of Sound. You just might enjoy it.

Glorious Plastic Love Rubbish: A Love Note

“My songs are like Bic razors, they’re for fun, for modern consumption. People can discard them like a used tissue afterwards. They can listen to it, like it, discard it, then turn onto the next. Disposable pop.” 

Freddie Mercury speaking in interview circa late 70’s.9af6df87fe2902b04376683f5379ebc4--s-punk-s-style

I love that quote. Can totally imagine Freddie delivering it, and adding a “do you understand Darling?” with a flourish after he says it. It describes the true core essence of pop music…buuuut of course some songs are more disposable than others. I mean, there are very few people on earth who would label the average Queen song as disposable (although, we could ostensibly nominate “Body Language”, and I’m pretty sure Freddie would agree). Fact is, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, and ” some girl’s mothers are bigger than other girl’s mothers”…which lands us here. One of the great things about the 80’s and early 90’s was that any crazy piece of whatever could end up in the chart. No matter how off the wall, cheesy, unapologetically ludicrous, drowned in lush earnestness, or buried in chocolate coated jellybeans and sprinkles something was, if it had a chorus, an eye-catching video, or a picture sleeve it had the potential to become a hit, especially in the UK. Throughout the 80’s especially, there ran a seemingly endless stream of shameless tunes in garish colors, that if they weren’t pop songs would have been action figures, anime characters or bowls of multi-colored, sugared cereal. There were twisted-tacky euro-tastic anthems ( the earnest WTF*ckedness of Falco’s “Sound of Musik”), frothy fat-synthed joys with anonymous female vocals literally built for the radio ( Maisonettes “Heartache Avenue”, Rah Band “Clouds Across the Moon”), and belligerent teenage girls, chanting homemade slogans, and giving you the finger ( Shampoo, Annabella of Bow Wow Wow). It was all cheese to the core, but like really, really good cheese.

Screenshot 2017-09-30 23.36.15“A bip bam-boogie and a booga-rooga, my cassette’s just like a bazooka”. HELL YES IT IS GIRL.

We no longer have to live in the vacuum of coolness. As a result of streaming, and YouTube, we now live in a musical world without context. There is no need to hide in the closet anymore. If you like trashy pop music, you can like it openly. You can love it out loud. You don’t ever have to start a sentence with ,”I know it’s cheesy/bad/lame but I really like (insert song you hate yourself for liking here)”. You can say, “know what, I f*cking love Mambo No.5″ …actually no, don’t say that, because in no universe is it okay to like that song, but anything else you got, OKAY. Take ownership, you are free.


No, it will never be okay to like this song.

And with that here is a Spotify playlist featuring the aforementioned wonders plus a some other equally magnetic pop things from back in the day when the charts were truly the wild west. And hey, I’d love to hear what your favorite cheese tune is, and why the hell you like it. I promise I won’t tell anyone.



Fire to the Stars “Wholesale Slaughter”

Okay so, a bit late to this party, but this is too pretty not to spread the word about. This track appeared on Fire to the Stars “Keep You Safe” EP back in 2014, and was then included on the band’s 2016 “Made of Fire” album, so it’s been lurking around for a bit…but we digress. All that needs to be said is that it’s a beauty, somehow managing to be both funereal and pop, starting as a slow dirge dressed in black, with a keening vocal, then suddenly turning the corner onto a sunlit street, courtesy of a beautiful guitar led hook. And while it brings to mind both Patti Smith, and Marianne Faithfull in parts , the glorious spectre of Stevie Nicks hangs over the whole thing, like the dark, dancing around the fire Stevie, the one that consumes all of us earthly beings during the last minute of “Gold Dust Woman”.

Thinking about the construction of “Wholesale Slaughter” led me on a typically geeky tangent. Specifically, I began contemplating the ascent of the 1982 song “Ghosts” by Japan. It was a morose, skeletal dirge that was about as far from a pop song as you could get, yet somehow, beyond all reason or logic, it managed to reach the top 5 in the UK charts that year ( have a listen below, and you’ll see what I mean).
Japan, starring singer/ songwriter, and still legend David Sylvian, were the thinking fangirl’s band of choice back then, but still, would it even be possible for pop this dark, weird, and slippery to rise to those kind of heights again ? Hmmm, I wonder. I’m thinking our collective lack of patience, introspection, and empathy makes it pretty unlikely that an oddball like “Ghosts” will ever be a “hit” at that scale again ( though I remain hopeful because hey, you gotta).  Still, love the idea that it was so mega, and it remains a properly lovely weirdo tune.


The System That Started it All…


I was working my very first summer job at the “One Hour Photo Lab” wearing a blue lab coat the first time I heard the System. Just doing my ordinary shift, mixing a huge vat of film developing chemicals ( not fun), with the radio on when “Promises Can Break”, their new single off the “X-Periment” album came bursting out of the junky boombox we had there. The song was soul, yeah, but it was fueled by a fat synth, so it sounded kind of different, modern. It also featured a dizzying hook, and downright swoon-worthy ascending vocal line. I was instantly in love. I went and bought the album from which it came, “X-Periment”, the very next day and discovered that track was the tip of the iceberg, and that the whole thing was full of tunes with lush electronic heartbeats, and every one sounded like a single.

The band itself consisted of David Frank, Mic Murphy w/assistance from Paul Pesco, and their singular, hard-earned moment in the sun came with their 4th album, “Don’t Disturb This Groove” whose title track was a mega-hit, and is still justifiably beloved today (with over 2 million Spotify plays and counting, not bad). Now while that album is pretty fine, the bands charms and gifts shine the brightest on the aforementioned “X-Periment”, and it’s follow-up “The Pleasure Seekers”. Both feature plush, melodic, electro-soul pop of the highest order, all melodic, edgy, anxious, and emotional, and are absolutely worth seeking out.

And with that let’s raise a glass to these guys, the true pioneers of electro-soul, they still deserve a lotta love , and all of our ears.

Have a listen/look at these sweet things:

And here are the “X-Periment” and “The Pleasure Seekers” albums on Spotify if you wanna go deeper:

The Glorious Sorrow of Sade…

Beyonce is not my queen. “Love Deluxe” is an actual cult. And this is no ordinary love…


As musical terms go,”baby-making music”, is a particularly execrable one.
Okay, we all know that every situation in life, can be, let me see, “enhanced” or “benefit”, from a finely tuned playlist…but throwing Sade onto “The Ultimate Babymaking Playlist” is actually the height of laziness…because while there’s soft focus love in some of the songs in her canon, like say “By Your Side”,  the most common features of a typical Sade song are unadulterated pain, misery, and loss ( cumulatively known as “the good stuff”). Fact is apart from a handful of tracks spread over her 6 studio albums, she is the true embodiment of pop despair, the veritable Queen of Sad ( or as she once sang, and declared, the “King of Sorrow”). As emotionally distraught as Ian Curtis, Nico,or Kurt Cobain. Desperation, obsession, and complete mental unrest : those are the main features of the average Sade song. Not I’m so happy and in love, or do you take this man or woman. Nope. It’s don’t doubt me, I keep crying, the war is still raging inside of me. You can’t really put on the “Love Deluxe” album, and party. You can cry, drink too much, beg for another chance, or an actual chance, or contemplate earthly existence.That’s what Sade can provide the soundtrack for. She’s here to envelope you in glorious sadness, and you’re gonna like it.
 One of the cooler things that’s happened over the past 10 years, is all the open faced praise and worship that’s been thrown at her emanating from the rock and indie universe…and for the contents of “Love Deluxe” in particular.  The Rosebuds went so far as to cover the whole damn thing in 2012, and Iron & Wine, Pink, and Deftones are among the artists, who have done cover versions of tracks from it . What is it about “Love Deluxe” that so perfectly encapsulates what she’s about? It’s the sparseness, the melodies, the infinite space of the whole thing. It’s the way the way the guitar leads into the chorus of “No Ordinary Love”, which itself is 7 minutes of the most beautiful despair. It’s that 7 of the 9 songs are not happy ones. Sade is here to hold your hand, and compare war stories. It’s gonna be okay.
And so a communal bow to the queen of sad, poet of the rain, and all that. Ain’t nobody like her.
Here’s a handpicked playlist of Sade’s deepest and darkest if you feel emotionally up to it. Go get the headphones.

And here’s Love Deluxe on the Spotify :