Saturday, 2 January 2021

Raymond Scott ‎– Soothing Sounds For Baby (1999)

Style:  Modern Classical, Experimental 
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Music On Vinyl, Basta, Epic

Volume 1 (1 to 6 Months)
01.   Lullaby
02.   Sleepy Time
03.   The Music Box
04.   Nursery Rhyme
05.   Tic Toc
Volume 2 (6 to 12 Months)
06.   Tempo Block
07.   The Happy Whistler
08.   Toy Typewriter
Volume 3 (12 to 18 Months)
09.   Tin Soldier
10.   Little Miss Echo
11.   The Playful Drummer

Producer – Sonny Lester
Reissue Producer – Gert-Jan Blom

Soothing Sounds for Baby was supposed to help relax young children but reviews in the ’60s called it “skull splitting”. Copies have been available abundantly for decades so with a limited edition coloured wax reissue on the way, Jonny Trunk wonders where the free nappies are?

My oh my, haven’t things changed. The way we see music, the way we hear music, the way we buy music. The recent news that Soothing Sounds For Baby (Volumes 1-3) and some more Raymond Scott albums were being repressed made me think about this again.

The origins of these recordings go back to 1963, and a collaboration between the Gesell Institute of Child Development in Connecticut and cartoonish composer Raymond Scott. Scott had made a fortune selling his original swing jazz composition to Warner Brothers and then slowly started sinking all his dollars into machines that would / could make music.

He simply believed that the future of music lied with man computers that hadn’t been invented yet. In his vast Manhattan studios (known as Manhattan Research) he’d invented new music making machines – such as the Clavivox – and recorded miles of odd experimental sounds for himself, for short films and for advertising.

By the early 1960s his studio was in full electronic swing, trading in circuitry, collaborating with musicians, scientists, doorbells, even marketing men. One such collaboration, with doctors at Giselle and Epic Records brought three new electronic LP into the world, just for babies. Well for parents of babies.

Called Soothing Sounds For Babies, it’s simple idea of three volumes – aimed at the first 6 months, 6-12 months and finally 12-18 months of development – was to educate as well as calm new borns with a series of repetitive electronic rhythms and melodies, that grew in subtle complexity as the baby grows.

Needless to say the LPs were a flop, and as the decades rolled on, Scott’s mania for music and invention grew, as did his paranoia and privacy.

By the 1980s he was all but forgotten, until writer, collector and commentator Irwin Chusid found him. A reissue programme of his classic swing music began, but it wasn’t until Dutch label Basta started repressing his unissued electronic tapes did things really start to take off.

Basta’s timing was accidentally brilliant, as a whole generation of adventurous easy listeners had got into Moog, Perry, Radiophonics and anyone manipulating a tape over the last decade. Then came along Raymond Scott and blew everyone away with his commercial spin and distinctive electronic charisma.

The 2-CD set Manhattan Research went ballistic on release in 2000 – it became a true crossover and genuinely groundbreaking retrospective album. One result along with mass CD sales and TV syncs was that one of Scott’s more obscure pieces for Lightworks Makeup became the most recognisable sample in Dilla’s Donuts.

Reviews for Soothing Sounds and especially Manhattan Research were both long running and formidable, people realising that Soothing Sounds was anything but; Savage Pencil writing that Scott’s Lullabies were “skull splitting”. Eventually Basta started pressing these successful CDs onto vinyl, but at a time when no one was really into vinyl. I picked up all the Basta represses in the early noughties – the 3 LPs of Soothing Sounds and 3 LPs of Manhattan Research in sale bins at a fraction of their RRP. I’ve never played them.

And here we are today. Fifteen or so years on. And news breaks of Raymond Scott represses. I’m not surprised. In our new vinyl hungry state everything everywhere is being repressed. And yes, you guessed it, on coloured 180 gram wax. I’m surprised Soothing Sounds aren’t coming with a free nappy too. How the market has changed.

But what I find more fascinating is the sound babies are being played nowadays. Go to YouTube and you will see hours of white noise, the all new soothing sounds for babies. Here, 17 million hits. Go to iTunes, Spotify, there are years of white noise, pink noise, every colour noise, enough to send a nation of babies to sleep for decades.

I know – I’m going to issue a White Noise Baby LP. Just 2 sides of White Noise, Call it White Noise for Babies. On White “nappy coloured” vinyl, no, maybe baby blue (for boys) or baby pink (for girls) with some free baby wipes with the first 500 copies. Right, I’m on it.
Jonny Trunk / Vinyl Factory

John Foxx ‎– The Golden Section (1983)

Style: New Wave, Synth-pop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Edsel Records, Virgin

1-01.   My Wild Love
1-02.   Someone
1-03.   Your Dress
1-04.   Running Across Thin Ice With Tigers
1-05.   Sitting At The Edge Of The World
1-06.   Endlessly
1-07.   Ghosts On Water
1-08.   Like A Miracle
1-09.   The Hidden Man
1-10.   Twilight’s Last Gleaming
2-01.   Endlessly (Single Version)
2-02.   My Wild Love (Early Version)
2-03.   A Long Time (Alternative Version)
2-04.   Annexe
2-05.   Sitting At The Edge Of The World (Alternative Version)
2-06.   A Kind Of Wave
2-07.   Twilight's Last Gleaming (Early Version)
2-08.   Running Across Thin Ice With Tigers (Extended Mix)
2-09.   A Woman On A Stairway
2-10.   The Lifting Sky
2-11.   Shine On Me
2-12.   Young Man
2-13.   Wings And A Wind
2-14.   The Hidden Man (Alternative Version)
2-15.   Dance With Me
2-16.   Endlessly (Extended Mix)

Bass – Jo Dworniak
Drums – Paul Wickens 
Keyboards – John Foxx, Zeus B Held
Producer – John Foxx, Zeus B Held
Guitar, Vocals, Words By, Music By – John Foxx

Foxx's third album, The Golden Section, was yet another change of direction, this time leaning towards a more radio-friendly sound. 
Unlike its predecessors, The Golden Section today sounds very much of its time, largely due to the production style and occasional use of female backing vocals.However Foxx's song writing is excellent, and somewhat different to any of his previous albums.

The Golden Section sees Foxx going back to his teenage influences of the Beatles, Roxy Music and 60s psychedelia – particularly early Pink Floyd – and he's not afraid to let that influence show. Many of the songs glisten with Beatles-style harmonies and lyrics packed with emotion and feeling. All this is set against many layers of music, with the synths present as ever, against a backbone of typically 80s sounding electronic drums and guitar.

Immediate standout tracks include "The Hidden Man", "Twilight's Last Gleaming", and "Ghosts on Water". The songs “Your Dress” and “Like A Miracle” were obvious choices for singles, but are not perhaps completely representative of the album's style. “Like A Miracle” goes back into familiar “grey suit” territory, and was originally written in 1979. That early version eventually featured as a bonus track on the 2007 reissue of Metamatic, although somewhat different to the final version recorded for The Golden Section.

Vocally, The Golden Section is stunning. Foxx's vocals are given utmost prominence in the arrangements and production, with rich harmonies and huge choruses. However musically, this album is much less adventurous that Metamatic or The Garden, with many tracks sounding similar to one another. Foxx's 60s roots would also be a clear influence on later albums, in particular, 1997’s Shifting City.

As the mid-1980s became swamped with bands that sounded the same, and an increasing demand for commercial success, The Golden Section was perhaps the first indication that John Foxx didn't intend to stay long.

Although The Golden Section stands clearly apart from Foxx's earlier work and current style, there is really a lot to this album, which you only start to fully appreciate after several plays.

The 2008 remaster of the album comes with a bonus disc containing many alternate or extended takes of album tracks, plus the previously unreleased “Shine On Me”. The sixteen-track disc demonstrates that this period was clearly one of Foxx’s most productive, and goes to show there’s more to The Golden Section than meets the eye.

Tom Waits ‎– Alice (2002)

Style: Alternative Rock, Experimental
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Anti-, Epitaph

01.   Alice
02.   Everything You Can Think
03.   Flowers Grave
04.   No One Knows I'm Gone
05.   Kommine Zu Spat
06.   Poor Edward
07.   Table Top Joe
08.   Lost In The Habour
09.   We're All Mad Here
10.   Watch 'Em Disappear
11.   Reeperbahn
12.   You Haven't Looked At Me
13.   Fish & Bird
14.   Barcarolle
15.   Fawn

Producer – Kathleen Brennan, Tom Waits
Written-By – Kathleen Brennan, Tom Waits

Tom Waits' Alice is a wonderfully balanced record about an unbalanced mind. Veering, almost in sequence, between wistful ballads and shakin', rattlin', rollin' tubthumpers, "Alice" is arranged and performed to perfection.

Like the simultaneous Blood Money, this is previously unrecorded music from an opera production by Waits, his wife Kathleen Brennan, and longtime collaborateur ("The Black RIder") avant-garde theatre director Robert Wilson, from their 1992 Alice, which explored the obsessive relationship between Lewis Carroll and the little girl who inspired Alice in Wonderland, Alice Liddell.

At first glance, you'd be forgiven for thinking that a story of Alice in Wonderland's creator would be the gentler record of Waits' double-whammy. But this is Waits World; a land where little is what it seems at first. The first track further lulls you a false sense of security; a lovely, candle-flickering tune, drums brushed around a breathy sax and gently chiming vibes. But the feeling that this might be closer to David Lynch than Stan Getz is quickly confirmed with "Everything You Can Think", hot on its heels. All Mexican border town edginess, a demented waltz careening around the fairground looking for a fight, Waits' aural Hall of Mirrors hemmed in by blowing smokestacks and puffing, wheezing steam trains, his voice suddenly transmogrified from reassuring whisper into scabrous, growling barks. Then comes "Flower's Grave", a sentimental song so naively sweet as to wonder about the funeral arrangements of flowers. Yet Waits is one of a select few balladeers who can get away with plain-speaking declarations of love and whimsical, sugary arrangements. It always feels genuine, or rather, his delicate balancing-act means you let him get away with it, time after time.

And so it continues, breathtakingly lovely ditties countered by galumphing, sinister songs of Hell and nightmares and full moons, where everybody is either six feet under or heading that way at a rate of knots. "Kommienezuspadt" is utterly extraordinary, Waits revelling in a funky German accent, slavering over his raunchy rock'n'roll band as if they were a korps of George Grosz-etched Weimar Berliners, suddenly risen from the grave. By the same token, "Poor Edward" is a dark fairy tale to frighten the children, yet this time pegged up on a washing line of achingly bare violin.

Credit should also go to Kathleen Brennan, as Waits repeatedly states, describing how her initial inspirations are then realised by his musical instincts. This time round, those instincts lead him in predictably unpredictable directions, employing bizarre instrumentation and some inspired arrangements. Little or no guitar is evident - strange, given how brilliantly Waits has used the likes of Marc Ribot in the past. But the "skeleton chamber orchestra", as Waits describes it, is so beautifully balanced that the thought of what Ribot can do doesn't even occur. So whilst regular sax cohort Ralph Carney is also not present and incorrect, the frontline of Matt Brubeck, Bebe Risenfors, Colin Stetson, Carla Kihlstedt, Ara Anderson and Nic Phelps eradicates any sense of loss. Theirs is a swaggering, unruly gait; a mini-Mingus band, blues and roots and lord knows what else.

Whether we learn much specific information about Carroll and Liddell's relationship is neither here nor there - I'm just happy to be along for the ride. Either way, Wilson, Brennan and Waits have conjured a vivid impressionistic portrait of dark obsession and childhood innocence, and as ol' Tom says, "conformity is a fool's paradise".

What he's done here outstrips the fine but slight Mule Variations, which had something of a Waits-by-numbers feel. This, and Blood Money, are both unequivocally inspired, unique, and impossibly good. Awesome, scary, tender, funny, lovable and foreboding, often in the space of a few minutes. Only Tom Waits can do this.
Dan Hill / BBC Review