Tag Archives: polyrhythm

Talking Heads: More Songs About Buildings & Food As It Approaches 40

Physically speaking, More Songs About Buildings And Food was made by the same band that had thrown down Talking Heads: 77. Yet in terms of the music the flavor, style and attitude bare only the slightest resemblance. Of course, this is the beginning of the bands highly fruitful partnership with Brain Eno, a person even David Byrne (unique as he was) could never fully comprehend mentally. Along with Eno’s love of…well the best word would be painting abstract sound art the band themselves were fully indulging themselves in an all out rhythmic assault here.

The entire album is not percussive, but the whole concept is different; whereas the debut found a mildly quirky band really more or less exploring it’s “pop legs” this one is the birth of the Talking Heads classic sound in full form-top heavy, polyrhythmic,funky and as a result very spare underneath the clutter. The first six tunes on the album pretty much don’t let up-you have classics building a melody within the rhythm attack on “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel”, “Warning Sign” and my favorite “Found A Job”.

There are plenty of just out and out jamming on the one happening on “The Girls Want To Be With The Girls”,”With Our Love” and “The Good Thing”. Rick James may not have coined the phrase “punk-funk” yet but the world of…well funky rhythm rock would never be the same after this stuff! Once you get into tunes such as “Artists Only”,”I’m Not In Love” and “Stay Hungry” your in for music finding the Heads trying to make sense,if they truly ever can of all the rhythms around them to come up with some jerky new-wavish tunes-like the rest of it they’re not structured  “pop” per se but are  very singable.

Technically speaking, “Take Me To The River” is the slower tune here..it creeps up on you like a soulful monster but never attacks,just keeps creeping away until the end and it’s a nice little change.”The Big Country”….well if I read it right I can sort of relate; when I moved where we live now I found myself thinking some of the things Byrne speaks about in the lyrics. And even now I often think “you couldn’t pay me to live here”. I LOVE the blunt, freaky humor without any of the cynicism.

In terms of writing and melodicism, More Songs About Buildings And Food isn’t quite as strong as the debut. And that really isn’t the point. The songs here are built from the rhythms & beats Eno and the Heads create here. And they add up to a lot when all’s said and done. But again the remaster/re-recording really brings this music a whole new life! This will not be everyone’s favorite Heads album but considering how well they started, the masterpieces to come and the historical place this holds in their career, this is just what the doctor ordered.

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Taking Heads Naked- The Bands Grand Finale At 30

Talking Heads spent a good deal of the 1980’s concentrating on different aspects of what was basically guitar oriented pop. It was done in a purposefully simplistic manner. By the time the decade approached, it was apparent Talking Heads would soon be no more. David Byrne’s musical fascination had always remained in African type polyrhythms and funk. And in basic terms that is the approach he returned to with this album. On the other hand it was a combination of changes in the pop music world in the late 80’s and the maturity of the band that made the big difference here.

Production was no longer considered the be all and end all of crafting a good pop record. This resulted in a surge of creative energy that lasted the final few years of the decade. And decamping to Paris to bring this sound to life, Talking Heads made much use of this. Boiling it down to basics this album is a loose follow up to Remain in Light. The difference is the sound isn’t so penetrating and aggressive. This album is defined by rather spare and very live musical productionalmost devoid of the electronic sounds of that 1980 release.

“Blind” is a perfect example. It’s a great opener and some of the best funk the band made. But it’s out of the horn based James Brown school- with some great bass/guitar interaction. On “Mr.Jones”, “Totally Nude” and “(Nothing But) Flowers” there is a strong taste of South African pop mixed with the Afro Brazilian sounds Paul Simon dealt with at this time. “Ruby Dear” is a potent reminder how deeply the Bo Diddly’s “hand jive” beat was from old African dances. “The Democratic Circus”, “Mommy Daddy You and I”, “Big Daddy” and “Bill” all add more depth to these musical textures and darker melodies.

“The Facts Of Life” and “Cool Water” are the only songs that use any electronic effects. And it’s uses sparingly and more texturally. Conceptually, Naked is lyrically rather delightful. It finds a livable and reasonable alternative to the faux middle American nightmare presented in that metaphorical way on Remain in Light. In this case,that alternative would seem to be the African based music and their very way of life.

It offered a type of wisdom and knowledge that could enhance, rather than detract from Western society. This is told here in different type stories which ask questions about everything from materialism to organized religion. And it’s all done up in that distinct ‘Talking Heads’ way. So if this is the way in which the David Byrne led lineup of the band would have to go out,there was nothing to disappoint.

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Kate Bush & 35 Years Of ‘The Dreaming’

Kate Bush’s 1982 album The Dreaming will be coming up to its 35th anniversary this coming September 13th. For years,I personally knew her only for her collaboration with Peter Gabriel. But none of her own music. It was from a YouTube anthology series Oddity Archive,hosted and created by my Facebook friend Ben Minnotte,did he process his love of the music of Kate Bush. So I sought out an album mentioned in one of his videos called Never For Ever. Interestingly enough, obtained The Dreaming for free in a CD grab bag I purchased earlier. Here is an Amazon.com review I wrote about it four years ago.


During a period where many of the record companies were desperately pleading with musical artists not to release any non commercial material? The age old plea from the artists themselves came into play: how to be creative and commercial at the same time. That wasn’t really a concern for Kate Bush.

Her first three albums tended to be singer-songwriter oriented as their core was focused on the material. With each release however her arrangements become far broader and more dynamic. So for her fourth album in 1982? She just flew with her own creative heart. “Sat On Your Lap”,”Pull The Pin”,”Leave It Open” and the title song, interestingly enough a single,are all built around percussively gated drumming and a number of digitally derived,synthesized effects creating vast seas of different tonal melodies.

Often times Aboriginal Australian and African rhythms come into play on the refrains of these songs as well. “There Goes A Tenner” and “Suspended In A Gaffe” are far closer to the piano based musical hall oriented uptempo 60’s type Brit-pop sound similar to her earlier music. “Night Of The Swallow”,”All Of Love” and “Houdini” all start out slower,piano based ballads before building into more stripped down rhythm intensity. “Get Out Of My House” is full of emotional fire-with an extremely percussive set of poly-rhythms.

It would seem that when this album first came out? It wasn’t exactly very well received. On the other hand later Bjork,an artist who is very clearly influenced by Kate Bush’s musical approach from even my under-trained ears,cited this as a favorite of her albums for her. Of course OutKast’s Big Boi also cited this album as a favorite. And listening to this album its easy to see how that interest is far from merely generational.

With today’s emphasis on pan ethnic rhythm oriented trip/trance-hop and different cinematic electronica/hip-hop hybrids? All of a sudden music such as what Kate Bush did,and wasn’t fully understood for in it’s time,suddenly made a lot of sense. Yet another example of how artists are often a bit creatively ahead of the listener.

So perhaps the pop/rock audience of the early 80’s weren’t sure what to make of these rhythmically and harmonically complex songs that populate the majority of this album. But another generation of musicians,as somewhat disconnected from the side of musical culture to which Kate Bush might’ve come from,heard something in what she did here that they could swing their own way. And in the end,that only makes this album all the more wonderful in terms of standing on its own merits.


With The Dreaming, Kate Bush brought in the then very new Fairlight CMI synthesizer computer to help her with this self produced album. One that took her original musical approach into the expansive world of world fusion. As well as accompanying musical tribalism. With one of its songs “Sat In Your Lap” originally inspired by Bush having attending a Stevie Wonder concert, The Dreaming stands as an example of an album that was (to some degree) an unexplored direction for early electronic sampling on a rhythmic level in what could be described as an early 80’s proto alternative album.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Jezebel Spirit” by Brian Eno & David Byrne

Brian Eno came out of Roxy Music in the early 70’s with a strong degree of musical and stylistic flair. With that bands variety of glam rock being highly jazz and soul informed,Eno left the band and turned his attention to a solo career. These included frequent collaborations with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. During the late 70’s,he began a musical relationship with Talking Heads front man David Byrne. Both men were fascinated with the idea of African polyrhythm-and the possibilities arising from it in terms of their mutual interest in funk and electronic music.

The idea of two European men totally embracing the idea of Afro Futurism was something that surprised me when my father first introduced me to Brian Eno and David Byrne’s 1981 collaborative album My Life In A Bush Of Ghosts well over a decade ago. This was around the same time I was exposed to Miles Davis’s On The Corner. This put funk rhythms into a very Afrocentric context for me. And made it the music that had the deep connection for me that jazz did with my father. One song from it really stood out personally as a superb example of this pan African funk ethic. It’s called “The Jezebel Spirit”.

The song itself is based on a vamp with a very phat body to it. It starts out with the bouncing polyrhythmic percussion -held together by an equally percussive guitar and melodic 60’s funky soul style slap bass. A variety of found objects clicking and clacking i rhythm and Eno’s high pitched synthesizer textures permeate this mix. A higher pitched rhythm guitar comes in along with sound samples of a gentleman performing an exorcism.  As this found dialog becomes more intense,the mix of bass/guitar,percussion and Eno’s bleeping, electronic melodic whistling synth fades out the song.

Much as with Miles Davis’s aforementioned On The Corner, this song functions as a funky soundscape as opposed to a structured pop song. It’s rhythmic and often melodic vamp serve to hold up the then highly innovative use of vocal sampling,which is now a standard for electronic music of all sorts. While the song and it’s accompanying album had more music lowers in awe at the time,it does surprise me a Rolling Stone article accused Eno and Byrne of trivializing exorcism with their sound sample. Considering the music’s overall embrace of tribalism, the nature of what is present on it goes right with the whole groove.

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Talking Heads Celebrated on Andresmusictalk: ‘Remain In Light’ (1980)-2006 Remastered DualDisc Edition from Andre’s Amazon Archive

Remain-in-light duel disc

In the history of recorded music there are a long series of recordings that simply forever stand the test of time for one reason or another.Sometimes they’re referred to as a bands “Sgt.Pepper”,in reference to the famous Beatles album but if it influences and inspires the entire creative scene in music for decades to come…….it goes beyond that cliched “classic” status.This would be one of those albums that fits easily into the latter. Throughout the 70’s the genres of funk and disco had embraced the concept of African inspired percussion was used in different ways in music.

But with the exception of a handful great funk bands such as Earth Wind & Fire and Mandrill not all of them completely realized the potential of this element in their music. During the late 70’s Fear of Music sessions the Talking Heads and Eno began integrating the concepts of polymeter and the musical concept of “communalism” into their music. It had always been boiling over since the beginning of their work with Eno. On this one the door broke all the way open.The addition of new musicians actually helped out:especially Adrian Belew and Jon Hassell.

Adrian’s “zoo guitar” style,using  his axe to crow,growl and snarl in a number of different ways created the impression of this great musical…safari.This is one of the first Talking Heads albums where the whole is more important then the parts:the cycle of songs (running in no particular order) from “Born Under Punches”,”The Great Curve” and “Houses In Motion” in particular are this glossy,echoed,almost beyond modern electronic mix of percussive funk,avant garde new wave sounds and…..some things you just have to hear to believe.

The greatest thing about this album is it isn’t some self indulgence that alienates the listener;it is based on musical communalism and it invites you to join right in.The fact that most of the lyrics have to do with body parts,movement,conformity or just the sounds of life in general you cannot help but feeling welcomed by this album.”Crosseyed And Painless” is,flat out one of the funkiest thing the Heads’ ever recorded,not to mention the fact it’s funk/rock combination worked far better then I am sure even they expected.”Once In A Lifetime” is one place where everything that makes this album great comes together all in one.

It was David’s self proclaimed “preacher song” questioning without resolution the things in life we value.The pure liquid thump of the song itself is really appropriate when the lyrical focus shifts to water.The most captivating song here is “Seen And Not Seen”-it reminds the funk fan listening to this record that one of the elements that made the best and most genuine funk recordings were the sound of being more like a ritual then a mere R&B/pop song with rhythm out front.To a thumping beat David chants a lyric that speaks of all the false values people often put into their surface features (hello Michael Jackson?).

“Listening Wind” keeps up a similar concept but there is more of a “techno drone” to that one,which of course goes in perfectly with the closing “The Overload”,somewhat dirge-like in a way compared to the heavy rhythms of the rest of the album.On to the bonus cuts well….it’s nothing BUT rhythm,from the NASTAY electronics on “Fela’s Riff” to the heavy Afro-Funk of “Double Groove” these keep kicking out the jams,where “Unison” and “Right Start” contain the embryo of some of the regular albums most important songs.

The most important thing about this album is that everything from the sound to the approach is completely ageless;to the point where,if you were to put this album on for me today and I didn’t know who made it and when it was I would actually think it was brand new.When I first heard this album…some eight years ago in fact I have to admit it felt very…familiar to me to hear this music.I am sure many others will have the same experience with this. Everyone today from Franz Ferdinand and every polyrhythmic,funk based rock outing one can think of owes itself to this album in some way. But the intermixing of ancient communal musical polyrhythm and modern electro funk still finds it’s true flower on this thoroughly excellent collection of music.

Originally posted on May 27th,2009

LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE*

 

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Filed under 1980's, Adrian Belew, Afro Funk, Brian Eno, David Byrne, elecro funk, guitar, Jon Hassell, polyrhythm, Remain In Light, Talking Heads, zoo guitar