Ramble About Records Vol. II
Steve Benbow– Songs of Ireland (Folk, 1966)
I heard a song off this album called “She Moved Through the Fair” about four years ago real late at night on a local FM radio station in my car during a weekly world music program that would play an assortment of folk music types. I was completely blown away by the how haunting the song was. I tuned into it about midway through the song and the DJ didn’t say the name of song or the artist afterwards, so I had no real way of finding who had recorded this version of the song, seeing as it was a traditional tune with many different recordings available. I gave up the search for it and eventually forgot about the song completely. That is, until recently when I found the album on Spotify by total chance. Needless to say, I was ecstatic that I could listen to that song again, and the rest of the album is great as well! Benbow has a great voice and the Strawberry Hill Boys, who would later go on to form the Strawbs, also play on the album. Benbow apparently made a whole lot of other albums but this is the only one I could find that was available for streaming. But, even with only this one easily accessible, I consider myself a fan of Steve Benbow.
Fugazi– The Argument (Punk, 2001)
This is the final album by possibly the greatest punk band of all time, and it’s most definitely their best. And while it’s true that Fugazi stretch their sound to the very limits of what you can actually call punk, it’s that willingness to incorporate so many different elements into their music is what puts them above most other punk bands. Many people would cite the band’s 1990 debut Repeater as the band’s most immediate and accessible record, The Argument represents Fugazi at their most avant garde and minimalistic, but also at their most melodic. The album has a unique dynamic arc in that it starts off as a loud punk album and gets progressively quieter as it goes on, before building back up to full volume in the final few tracks. It’s these quiet tracks that separate The Argument from the rest of the band’s catalogue. The track “Life and Limb” in particular is one of the tensest pieces of music ever written. It feels like it’s going to bust out into a really loud finale at any moment, but the best part is that it never does, sort of like the fuse going out on a bomb just before the flame hits the gunpowder. This is one of my favorite albums of all time so I may be biased, but to me it really one of the pinnacles of rock music.
The Velvet Underground– White Light/White Heat (Experimental Rock, 1968)
I don’t think people appreciate just how disgusting this album is. The Velvet Underground aren’t exactly known for making pleasant music, but this is just ridiculous. White Light/White Heat is one of the nastiest, most reprehensible collection of songs you will ever come across. The fact that this was allowed to be released in the sixties just blows my mind. The lyrics tell stories about cocaine, a botched sex change, and a guy who gets killed after trying to mail himself to his girlfriend. But the pièce de résistance is the seventeen and a half minute closing track “Sister Ray”, song telling the story of a transvestite smack dealer that starts a drug fueled orgy and accidentally kills someone, only for the police to arrive and join in on the orgy. This is truly the antithesis to the late sixties hippie mentality, and it is glorious. The production is all sorts of horrible, to the point where it can difficult to tell any of the instruments apart. It’s just a big wall of noise, but it only adds to the degenerate feel of the record. Proceed with caution.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds– Murder Ballads (Singer/Songwriter, 1996)
Nick Cave is one scary motherfucker. I don’t know a whole lot about him as a person to be honest, but if his music is to be taken as any indication, I might walk to the other side of the street if I seem him coming towards me. But the man is an absolute genius nonetheless. He has such a natural charisma as a performer and is such a compelling lyricist that you literally can’t help but hang on to every word the guy says through his deep baritone. Murder Ballads is one of the most frightening albums I’ve ever heard, and Cave’s penchant for storytelling makes for a harrowing experience. The title is the concept of the album, each song being about a murder. They unfold in a creeping Poe-esque manner, with Cave broodingly telling these dark stories with such theatricality that it borders on hammy at points, but the sheer darkness of what he’s actually saying keeps it from becoming cheesy. Just take opening track “Song of Joy”, where Nick Cave spends the first half setting up how happy the life of the character is, just to have it spiral out of control in the saddest of ways. This is not an album for the faint of heart, but if you have an obsession with really dark stuff like I do, this is essential listening.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor– Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven! (Experimental, 2000)
GYBE’s second studio album is one that you need to set aside some time for. It’s just under ninety minutes long, and it’s structured as one long piece, broken into four movements. I have it reserved for long road trips, especially at night. Antennas is a work of sweeping majesty and eldritch horror. It rides multiple peaks and valleys across mountainous crescendos and ocean sized soundscapes. The word “epic” is overused, but this record is epic just in terms of pure scope. Starting with a militaristic fanfare in the first minutes of the “Storm” movement, you get the feeling of setting out on an adventure. The creeping pizzicato violins of “Static” give the impression of being followed, and becomes straight up scary once the violins start wailing like the screams of the damned in the second half. The haunting dirge of “Sleep” is only heightened by the strange monologue taken from an interview of an old about Coney Island in the opening, culminating with the now infamous line “they don’t sleep anymore on the beach”, which gives the whole piece an air of lament, about how you never can get back to what is dead and gone, and about how your experiences will only fade and blur with time. Yeah, I think it’s safe to say this record puts me in a weird headspace.