What Is Actually Happening: 2023
Dixon; Shakespeare

Some Music

This is another trip into the only partially explored territory of music I bought in MP3 format when it was very inexpensive at eMusic.com, and I could experiment in a way that I never could have before. 

His Name Is Alive: Livonia

To some of us, the phrase "4AD in the 1980s" suggests magic. 4AD, in case you don't know, is the name of a record company, and in the 1980s it released some of the most wonderful popular music ever made, including most of the work of the Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil. And that continued into the 1990s and beyond. (I'm not dismissing later releases, but I haven't heard many of them.) Most likely it was those associations that were responsible for my having bought no less than seven albums and/or EPs by His Name Is Alive, a band I had not previously heard of. 

I decided to start with their first album, Livonia, released in 1990. Livonia is the name of the town in Michigan where the apparent mastermind of the project, Warren Defever, grew up. From what I've read "project" is a better term than "band," as it seems to involve a constantly shifting cast of musicians with Defever as the only constant. You might expect--at any rate I expected--that an album named for the midwestern home town of the writer would be a rootsy sort of thing, an Americana sort of thing, straightforward light rock or folk-rock with lyrics reflecting on the writer's origins. But it's every bit as other-worldly and mysterious as anything else in the 4AD lineup. 

If you aren't listening closely much of it will seem simpler than it is, and fairly uniform throughout: a single female voice, usually with a noticeable amount of reverb, singing pretty tunes with lyrics that tend to run from the vague to the cryptic, though sometimes evocative. But when you turn it up and listen more closely you hear an elaborate background of mysterious and distant sounds: voices, instruments, noises. 

It's difficult to pick one track as a good example, but this one, "If July," will do.

They follow me here then I know what I have
If I swallowed it whole they'll show me the path
Pretending to pray this is missed once a day
Please allow faith to find what's new is her first name

I look forward to hearing more of their work. According to AllMusic, music meriting at least four stars has continued to be released under this name until at least 2015. Of the more than twenty albums listed, the most recent I have is Someday My Blues Will Cover the Earth  (I love the title), from 2001. There are over twenty albums altogether. There's bound to be some great stuff in there. 

One song on Livonia, "How Ghosts Affect Relationships," begins with a line from Yeats, "I dreamed that one had died in a strange place," from "Dream of Death." I wonder if I missed other literary allusions in the lyrics. 

Faith and the Muse: Elyria

This is not a 4AD release. But the second song on the album, "Sparks," certainly sounds like it could have been. Specifically, it sounds remarkably like the Cocteau Twins, so much so that you might mistake it for them if you heard it from across a room. But it's the only track that sounds like that. The rest of the album is as extravagantly varied as Livonia is consistent.

If it fits into any box, it would be the one labelled "Eclectic." It could quite justifiably be called progressive rock, if that term is meant to include complexity of any kind, not just the instrumental virtuosity with which it's often associated. It's big, romantic, dramatic, and ambitious, encompassing some fairly hard rock, the complex artsy work (musical and lyrical) of women like Kate Bush and Loreena McKennit, folk music (including one actual folk song, "The Unquiet Grave") and vaguely medieval-renaissance classical music. Goth and darkwave need to be mentioned in there, too. I've seen some photos of them in which they're seriously, almost comically, goth. 

One remarkable track is a song by the Elizabethan composer-poet Thomas Campion (an old favorite of mine), "When To Her Lute Corrina Sings." The tune, which I think is not Campion's, is straightforward, but the accompaniment is very dissonant piano and cello (I think) that sounds like it could have come from "Pierrot Lunaire" or some other early 20th century work.

Possibly the most effective description of the music is that it sounds like what you might expect of someone who looks and dresses like this (and is an extremely gifted musician).

Monica_Richards

(From Wikimedia Commons)

Why, knowing nothing much about this band, did I buy four albums by them fifteen or more years ago? I suspect it had something to do with their name. That's intriguing, isn't it? Faith and the Muse. Maybe I thought they dealt with Christian themes, especially as one of the albums is called Evidence of Heaven. But there's a simple explanation for the name and it has nothing to do with the noun or the concept "faith": the group is primarily two people, William Faith and Monica Richards, the latter (pictured above) presumably being the muse.

I'm not including a video clip because to pick one would not be truly representative. But there are plenty on YouTube. Some may find the music pretentious and overblown. Personally I like it very much. 

*

Speaking of music, the past couple of weeks have seen the deaths of two well-known figures from the '60s, Jeff Beck and David Crosby. Beck, if you don't already know, and if you don't already know you probably don't care, was one of that trio of flash guitar players who passed through the Yardbirds, and later achieved personal fame as very visible members of much better-known bands (Cream, Led Zeppelin), and later on their own. I strongly suspect that he was, in the end, the best of the three, as the other two (Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page) seemed to more or less rest on their accomplishments, musically speaking, of the '60s and '70s, while Beck continued to be adventurous. (By "best" I mean produced more worthwhile music over a longer span of time.) Much of his work was in the jazz-rock fusion genre, which is definitely not a favorite of mine. But if you fancy electric guitar at all you should hear, really should hear, Live At Ronnie Scott's.

Hear and maybe see, as it's available as both audio and video. The benefit of the latter is that you get to see Beck and a very impressive band at work; the drawback is that Beck has some annoying physical mannerisms. And, as he was 64 at the time, I suspect that black hair is not all his. And why is a guy at retirement age still wearing that sleeveless shirt-vest thing? It's funny, really--as adventurous as he was in his music, he seemed to want to continue to look exactly like he did in 1970 or so. 

Guitarists and guitar fans sometimes talk about the great music Jimi Hendrix might have made if he hadn't died so young. Maybe he would have. Or maybe he would have been one of those '60s stars who faded after the age of 30 or so. That's more or less how I think of David Crosby: for me he is significant mainly as a member of the Byrds. Personally I prefer their work and Buffalo Springfield's to anything I've ever heard by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and/or Young, together or separately, with the exception of some of Young's solo work. CSN and CSN&Y made some undeniably brilliant music, but I never really cared about it in a way I did that of their earlier bands.

This brief obituary of Crosby at The American Conservative contains a strikingly accurate summary of what happened to the hippies: "the counterculture‚Äôs collapse into Clintonite politics." I can't think of anyone I knew from those days who isn't now a conventional, often near-fanatical, Democrat. 

Comments

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As much as I am a very huge music fan, and of mostly classic rock, I don't really know much about either of these guys. In the Byrds, CSN, CSN&Y universe I have mostly listened to Neil Young solo stuff. With Beck, though I have always known who he is, not very much at all that he's ever been attached to. I suppose that is mainly because I don't go looking for instrumental guitar work. Chrissie Hynde has always said he is the world's best rock guitarist. She tends to be right about that sort of thing. He plays lead on one Pretenders song off the Viva El Amor album. RIP to both.

I've heard of His Name is Alive but did not know they were a 4AD band. I thought they were some sort of metal band, perhaps confusing them with another group with a similar name? Will definitely check them out. Hadn't heard of Faith and the Muse till now, as far as I know.

I've never been a fan of Goth, but some of the post-punk stuff I like comes somewhat close to it. It tends to be in that gray area (ahem) where Goth and new wave overlap. I like the music but some of the associated trappings just make me roll my eyes.

I was never a huge fusion fan either, but I always appreciated Beck's talent. Not long before he died I heard something about him from another guitarist, I forget who, who said that he was one of the few guitarists who are almost impossible to copy, because his style and ability to improvise were so unique. His solos didn't sound like anybody else's, because he thought of things that wouldn't occur to most other guitarists.

Chrissie said it, I believe it, that settles it. :-) I still haven't listened to that album where she sings Dylan, which is probably very good.

I just added a note to the post saying that I didn't include a Faith and the Muse video clip because no single one would really represent the album. But there are a lot on YouTube. Here's a 1994 live performance of the CT-like song that I mentioned, "Sparks."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwzVpSPEQMM

Here they are in full goth mode. The song is fairly straightforward rock, not from the album I discussed here. Comments say the video is from 2010.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Voijt_Dp2lw

Burt Bacharach RIP.

I had been listening to a lot of his stuff over the past month or so, due to a friend finding a greatest hits record from around 1970, and I was struck by how really good a lot of it is. I was saddened by his death, as it marks something of the end of an era, but he did live to be 94, so he had a long, productive life.

Oddly enough, on Tuesday night at my local the owner was playing a bunch of old 45's from the 60's and 70's and Bacharach's tunes figured prominently. Then the next day he passes away.

Last night at the bar at last call we played "Close to You" and raised a glass to him.

He was indeed extremely good. As a rock fan in the '60s I classed his music as uninteresting commercial pop, beneath my notice, but later on I recognized his brilliance. The clever and very well-crafted lyrics by Hal David helped a lot. End of an era, yeah. It's hard to imagine music like that catching on again in a big way, even if there were someone who could produce it.

There's a mention in one of Aimee Mann's songs of "listening to Bacharach" and the implication is clear that it's a pleasure.

"I classed his music as uninteresting commercial pop, beneath my notice, but later on I recognized his brilliance."

Same here. After I got more familiar with jazz I started to notice how much more sophisticated his "pop" was than a lot of the other commercial music of that period. I think the song that really made me first sit up and take notice is "This Guy's in Love With You" by Herb Alpert. Bacharach not only wrote it, but I think he may have arranged it for Alpert as well. I've liked it since I was a kid, but only in the past few years did I come to see how extremely well-crafted it is.

I'm not sure why but "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" is always the first one I think of. "This Guy" is a great tune. There is however one that I actively dislike: "Raindrops", as made into a huge hit by B.J. Thomas. The song is ok but there was something about the way he sang it that got on my nerves. Wouldn't have mattered except that I worked in a record store and heard it 50 times a day.

I remember buying the 45 of "Raindrops..." when it came out mainly because I liked the little horn tag at the end. Didn't care much about the rest of it one way or another.

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