a classicist's songs
by Howard
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.

 

[Ed. - Howard Bilerman is a gracious human being, a skilled musician, and an exceptional producer - most notably as he helps to run Montreal's famed Hotel 2 Tango studio. He has recorded/mixed albums by bands including Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Wolf Parade, The Dears, Tricky Woo, A Silver Mt. Zion, Elizabeth Anka Vajagic, Jordi Rosen & Rufus Wainwright, and the Arcade Fire. The Peter Laughner track he's picked is absolutely amazing. And stay tuned for a live version of "Notorious Lightning," from another guestblogger, later this week.]

(Update: On September 30, 2009, Howard Bilerman issued a correction for one of his comments here.)

I confess, for someone who has recorded over 150 records in the last decade, I don't listen to much "modern" music. Most of the popular stuff I hear these days references something else out there in a way that makes it far too derivative to enjoy. Maybe I'm just getting old... or maybe I simply expect more from music than I used too. In any case, I have become a big stickler for good lyrics as of late, and I think a good deal of lyricists are lazy & aren't saying all that much.

Bob Dylan - "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)". I'll start with something "old". I do believe that Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde is as close to a perfect record as there is out there. That stretch of songs starting with "Visions of Johanna", followed by "sooner or later one of us must know", followed by "I Want You" & then "stuck inside of mobile with the memphis blues again" is flawless. Each of those songs makes me wonder how in the world someone wrote something so perfect... let alone a whole double-album's worth (minus "rainy day women #12 & #35," which I'm afraid is the weakest lead off track to ever grace a masterpiece). It's a coin-toss?but here's "sooner or later one of us must know"... just for that perfect triplet drum fill in the chorus... and his spine-tingling phrasing at 2:23... "how young you werrrrrrrrreeeehhhrrrrrrr". Dylan is the tree that grew branches like elvis costello, beck & bright eyes... but for my money, no-one has yet to surpass him. [buy]

Destroyer - "Notorious Lightning". I have yet to listen to all of Destroyer's Your Blues... mostly 'cause I keep on needing to go back to the top and listen to "notorious lightning" again & again. I know some people have trouble with this record ?cause of all the midi'd instruments, but I think it's fantastic. Bejar blends real guitars with mostly synthesized music, and manages to make it sounds organic. This song is an amazing journey, and to me it's lyrical perfection. Many reviewers have compared him to bowie, and I can see why, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and say this song is miles better than anything bowie has done in the last 25 years. [buy]

Peter Laughner - "Amphetamine". I don't know much about Peter Laughner. I believe he was in Rocket From The Tombs, and I know that he died pretty young. When I was living in new york 9 years ago I saw Gerard from matador records perform this song at an "all covers" evening. I remember asking him who wrote it, and it took me 7 years to find the original. Most of the record was pretty standard 2nd generation Dylan-y stuff, but "Amphetamine" alluded to the kind of genius he would have achieved were he to stick along long enough. [buy]

The Jesus & Mary Chain - "The Hardest Walk. I discovered The Jesus & Mary Chain's Psychocandy in one of the best summers for music in my lifetime. Companied with Costello's Blood & Chocolate & The Smiths' The Queen is Dead, it was one hell of a year for new music. Hearing "the hardest walk" on late night radio (CHOM FM would you believe?!) gave me goose-bumps. I didn't know what it was all about (I still don't), but something in my 16 year old brain told me it was sexual, and that I'd never heard anything quite like it. I despise My Bloody Valentine's Loveless primarily because it is a soul-less, low-rent, overly produced rip-off of something that the jesus & mary chain crafted years before. This record still gives me chills. [buy]

Posted by Howard at August 23, 2004 12:50 AM
Comments

Thanks for this, Howard. Peter's track is great, despite the quality. He sounds really pissed-off about a party he didn't get invited to.
Great classic tracks.

Posted by Matthew at August 23, 2004 5:43 AM

yes Blonde on Blonde!
What about "Brand NEw LEopard Skin Pill Box Hat"?!?!
Dylan also excited and influenced all of his contemporaries from Hendrix to The Beatles. That just does not happen these day.

And Amen on the lyrical shortage these days. I am trying my best though.....

Posted by bmr at August 23, 2004 10:25 AM

hey - thanks for the destroyer track.

Posted by alan at August 23, 2004 1:16 PM

That Dylan track is just super. In defense of Arab Strap's Aidan Moffatt, Sean once claimed that Bob Dylan sings badly, too. But I think the difference is that Dylan sings purposefully-- plus, that scratchy harmonica would just sound ridiculous with any voice but his. I love it.

Posted by Andrew at August 23, 2004 1:50 PM

Laughner and Dylan. You, sir, are a fine temporary replacement for Sean! I could write a book on either or both of these brilliant artists, but instead I'll keep it short and thank you for exposing them to the stg readership.

Posted by Paul at August 23, 2004 1:51 PM

see the thing is though...i don't think dylan sings "badly"....i think after 1 or 2 albums where he was singing like woody guthrie, he finally found his own voice...and to me, singing in your own voice as opposed to ripping off someone else, actually wins him a whole bunch of points. my big problem with people saying other people sing "bad", is what (or who) is the barometer? does "good" mean singing perfectly on key? how boring! does "good" mean sounding like thom yorke who sounds like bono? i dare say the world already has enough people who sing like that. for me, "good" means i feel shit...a seemingly obscure lyric makes me want to cry....another makes me want to scream "yes, yes!!! the world is like that!!!". obviosuly this starts with a good set of lyrics...but imagine dylan's lyrics being sung by some vocal acrobat...or even someone like sting or bowie...it just wouldn't work. so...yeah, i know many people can't stand the way he sings (my wife included), but to me, he's one of the best singers of the last 50 years....'cause he has conviction...and i believe him. i believe him! and that makes me not give a hoot about notes or key or nasality or the fact that one song might sound like another. thanks for all your kind words....can't wait to see what other guests bring to the table!

hb

Posted by howard at August 23, 2004 2:34 PM

I gotta disagree about "Loveless." Maybe at one time My Bloody Valentine could've been accused of ripping off the Jesus and Mary Chain (although both bands were formed at around the same time.), but by the time their second album was released, Shields and company had long transcended that Velvet Underground-based sound and achieved an eclectic and ethereal rock drone that exposed the Reid brothers as The Beach Boys wannabes that they were. "Loveless" is every bit a singular classic as "Psycho Candy."

Posted by Matt at August 23, 2004 3:12 PM

yeah...but the drums sound like shit, the vocals are unitelligible, and aside from "sometimes", the production completely overshadows the songs. "isn't anything" is a much better album...to me. and that's the great thing about music...to each their own!!!

hb

Posted by howard at August 23, 2004 3:26 PM

The Jesus & Mary Chain track is cool (and is the tip of the iceberg, I'm sure--I know nothing about them).

Posted by Tuwa at August 23, 2004 6:51 PM

At last!

Some quality music!

At last!

Posted by pete at August 23, 2004 8:35 PM

I had a similar experience with Psychocandy.. one of the first tapes I ever owned and one of the first tapes I wore out from repeated play.. sowing seeds was my fav. but as you say, the whole thing is great.

Posted by bw at August 24, 2004 12:09 AM

there's a Destroyer cover band a.k.a morning spy.
i keed. i keed. but the influence was too obvious.

oh yeah, nice track.

Posted by k-a-t-h-i-e at August 24, 2004 1:43 AM

Yeah, this bugged me more as I thought about it during the day. I have to disagree with you on Loveless. I love both Psychocandy and Loveless, and I think your comparison is a bit too simplified to really ring true.

Posted by peter at August 24, 2004 4:53 AM

all i'm saying in regards to "psychocandy" & "loveless", is that from the 1st time i heard anything from "psychocandy" i was in love. numerous people have played "loveless" for me...i have heard it top to bottom about 6 times now, and i just does nothing for me. i don't like the production....i find it a bit thin, and a bit dated...and it reminds me of all the british "shoe-gazer" bands who ripped off that whole sound. apart from "sometimes", i think the rest of the songs aren't really so strong. it just seems like some feable attempt to trump the jesus & mary chain that took far too long to record (a year and a half in the studio i believe), cost far too much, and yielded luke-warm results. i believe the impetus behind the record was to make a textured loud guitar record....and for my money, that record is "psychocandy"...or any of the early dinosaur jr. records. but people LOVE "loveless", and like i said before, whatever rocks your world...

hb

Posted by howard at August 24, 2004 11:21 AM

Loveless is so much more than a "textured loud guitar record," I think that's the problem with your comparison. It sounds like you were looking to hear something Jesus and Mary Chain-like in it, and when it failed to live up to "Psychocandy" excpectations, you dismissed it as "low-rent" (whatever that means). But it moves way beyond the white noise/guitar rock aesthetic to encompass dance, drone and density (a la Phil Spector or Spiritualized). And, as far as "shoe-gazing" goes, the J&MC are credited with originating that whole movement by playing early on with their backs to the audience. I trust the "luke-warm results" are your opinion, because you'd be hard-pressed to find a negative review of Loveless.

Posted by Matt at August 24, 2004 2:14 PM

Thanks for those tracks. You've finally convinced me to add Blonde on Blonde to my list of CDs to buy, and, as I only have it on tape, I must get Psychocandy again too.

Posted by Phil Gyford at August 24, 2004 2:33 PM

ah, the old "loveless" debate. i've had this one for years...some are on my side, some don't see eye to eye, and that's cool. it just doesn't do it for me. but i will give it another listen tonight with "fresh" ears, and see. i guess i just have an aversion to records where the drums don't sound like drums. the difference between the "loveless" production & any spector stuff is that spector places the voices right up front, and the music battles it out behind the singer....an amazing alchemy...same with spiritualized. the guitar textures on "loveless" swallow the song. i hear that record & i go..."lots of guitars & reverb & buried vocals....woo-hoo". again...my opinion. in any case, i'm open to give it another listen...

hb

Posted by howard at August 24, 2004 3:15 PM

Well, I'm not sure what a 7th listen to Loveless would yield for you; your opinion sounds firm in its disparagement, and that's fine. I'm not a sound engineer, but I was taken aback by the original comment you made which seemed to go out of its way to negatively compare Loveless with Psycho Candy, two albums which, to my ears, have little to do with each other. MBV in '90-'91 were tripping on a different sound, channelling a different aesthetic and putting albums together in a totally different way to The J&MC in '85-'86. It struck me as an absurd comparison; like saying Blonde On Blonde is a perfect record, therefore I despise Bitches Brew for its superficial, jazz-rock tendencies.

Posted by Matt at August 24, 2004 6:16 PM

no no no..."blonde on blonde" & "bitches brew" exist in 2 totally different paradigms....they come from entirely different places, and that's why they are different. "loveless" & "psychocandy" use the same ingredients....loud guitars, bass, drums, vocals, 4/4 time. the fact that they are different is akin to giving 2 chefs some tofu, a red pepper, an onion, some tamari & a frying pan...and my guess is that their meals would taste different. i am still under the impression that the impetus behind both of the records was the same, even though their outcome was not....to create a left-of-center pop record with unconventional guitar sounds. although the JMC record succeeds in my opinion because, despite it's experimental production, it manages to remain a song based record, while the MBV disc relies more on it's production than the songs at the heart of it...again, both have their place...but i'll always choose the record with kick-ass songs to that with kick-ass production.

hb

ps...as a recording engineer the snare on "loveless" drives me up the wall...i find it's tuned way too high, and has that horribly dated digital gated reverb on it. the "psychocandy" snare is also bathed in reverb, but somehow it manages to sound more organic...to me.

Posted by howard at August 24, 2004 8:38 PM

I see, so it's the lack of conventional song structure on Loveless that you can't stand (among other things); you prefer the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-chorus of tracks like "Upside Down" or "Never Understand" to the breathy abstractions of "Only Shallow" or "Come in Alone." Simple. But that's why I would maintain that MBV and the J & MC were after very different things (despite using similar instruments - you didn't mention synthesizer, which is all over Loveless , while Psychocandy, not so much) and what the former achieved was not your cup of tea, that's all; which makes it all the more unfair that you would accuse the orange of ripping off the apple.

Posted by Matt at August 24, 2004 11:18 PM

it's more like i accuse the macintosh of ripping off the red delicious...the 2 bands are speaking the same language with suptle differences in dialect. they are birds of the same feather, whereas one is concerned with mood, and the other songs. "only shallow" & "never understand" are virtually identical in their musical make-up....they are both apples...but different apples. and it's not so much the lack of verse/chorus convention on "loveless" that i don't like...it's the fact that it meanders in no obvious direction....or maybe it just drives in circles? whereas there is just as much musical "all over the placeness" on "psychocandy", but the lyrics ground it so that it means something to me...on an existential level. but that's me...and yeah, i need a song to hit home with me on a lyrical level...so i'm biased that way...

i really can't say with any authority that MBV were ripping off JMC directly...that's just my hunch....kinda like how nirvana sorta sounded like the pixies...a bit the same...a bit different...but certainly nirvana knew what the pixies were up to...and their music grew out of the sound that the pixies popularized. that's how i feel about "loveless"...that it used "psychocandy" as a refrence point....albeit, maybe just a starting point. i agree with you that the 2 albums are different...but to me it's a subtle stylistic difference...not night & day...

ha, ha! next we debate why "sgt. pepper's" is the most over-rated album of all time. by the beatles own admission, a failed attempt at a concept album that loses it's concept by song #3. ok, "a day in the life" is brilliant, truly...and so is MBV's "sometimes" for that matter. and both are supposedly considered landmarks in recording. and both critically aclaimed...but still...i can't see what all the fuss is/was all about...

me...i'm a "psychocandy", "white album" kinda guy...
hb

Posted by howard at August 24, 2004 11:51 PM

As long as you're expanding the comparisons, would you say that Pavement's Slanted & Enchanted is a soul-less low-rent rip-off of The Fall's 1985 masterpiece, This Nation's Saving Grace? Same instruments, same musical objectives and Pavement were definitely aware of The Fall. Same time difference too, for that matter.

Posted by Matt at August 25, 2004 8:59 AM

i would say that it was certainly harder to listen to pavement & the strokes once i heard the fall. i only discovered the fall a few years after "slanted & enchanted" came out, and felt that pavement ripped me off a bit with some of the more fall derivate parts of their music. still doesn't change the fact that "summer babe" is pure genuis, just maes pavement less original that at first i thought they were...

hb

Posted by howard at August 25, 2004 9:10 AM

So, by that reasoning, if you'd been a MBV fan, and heard Psychocandy for the first time after Loveless, you would've felt a little disappointed in MBV. But you're not a fan and you heard the J & MC first, so therefore you despise Loveless. Fair enough?

Posted by Matt at August 25, 2004 9:37 AM

no...hearing the fall after pavement made me like the fall more, and pavement less. i suspect that if i heard JMC after MBV, i still would have liked the JMC over the MBV...because aethetically i don't dig the recording of "loveless", and think "psychocandy" is brilliant...

hb

Posted by howard at August 25, 2004 9:46 AM

Let's call the whole thing off. Thanks for the back and forth, hb.

Matt

Posted by Matt at August 25, 2004 11:32 AM

my pleasure! i can talk music all day long!

hb

Posted by howard at August 25, 2004 11:47 AM

i love it when sacred cows get attacked and everyone runs screaming from a dissenting opinion (though i enjoyed matt's heartfelt defense).
i'm totally on howard's side: loveless is exactly that. and sweet jesus, if i read one more phil spector reference by someone who has never listened to phil spector, i'm gonna shoot someone... no wait, phil already did that himself. the adjective "phil spector" should not simply mean "big sound bleeding into one."

and yes, give dan bejar another five years and he will easily outstrip bowie's legacy, even if he only sells a fraction of the records. bowie has maybe five amazing albums and a cd's worth of good singles, but is easily one of the most overrated icons since... uh, dylan.

oh yeah, and i've never read this anywhere, but how come no one notices that a mid-song verse in wilco's "misunderstood" rips off the opening line of "amphetamine" wholesale? no credit, no props in interviews, no nothin'.

Posted by barclay at August 25, 2004 1:13 PM

i think there is a credit to laughtner on that record...

hb

Posted by howard at August 25, 2004 1:46 PM

I don't wanna get into a whole big thing with anyone about Phil Spector, but I have heard the man's work and believe I referred to the sound correctly as "dense," regardless of how clearly the vocals are mixed in juxtaposition.

Posted by Matt at August 25, 2004 3:46 PM

sorry, no offense to you personally; i'm sure you have listened to phil spector. it just seems that lately it's one of those references dropped by know-nothings to prove they have some historical knowledge of pop music, along with Eno, Wilson and a few other common culprits
and, uh, yes howard yr right... wilco did credit laughtner. i hadn't read those liner notes in a long time. i was wondering how they got away with it!

Posted by barclay at August 25, 2004 8:25 PM

howard, love this. music and discussion. please do start a blog.

Posted by rb at August 31, 2004 12:33 AM

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