Each year, at the height of the post-holiday comedown, Pitchfork issues a new installment of Found Sound. A more relaxed counterpart to our massively labor-intensive year-end lists, it allows our staff the opportunity to write about older records they discovered in the preceding year-- many of which meant as much to them as any record that qualified for our proper top 50. These records may not be easy to track down, but we assure you they're worth seeking out.
Wally Badarou: "Voices" [Island; 1984]
I first heard Parisian keyboardist Wally Badarou on blogger Matt Ingram's excellent 2007 mix, "Go Panda!". For all I know, he's the Mims or Fat Boys of the ethnic fusion world-- it's a province I never quite acclimated myself to. But "Voices", whichever genre it slots into, is worth digging for, the kind of instrumental with a globe-smearing, plinky-plinky melody big enough to carry it; one that first begs for snide chuckles and then for multiple replays. Not to mention that it makes the best case for fretless bass I've heard since Another Green World and does more for wooly panflutes smothered in reverb than either the first Enya album or any subway troupe I passed on my commute this year. [Mike Powell]
Danny Ben-Israel: "The Hippies of Today Are the Assholes of Tomorrow" [recorded 1968, released by Locust]
Poor Danny Ben-Israel. He didn't know how right he was when he recorded this in 1968. One of Israel's psychedelic pioneers, Ben-Israel's recordings never had much of a chance to make an impact. His one album, Bullshit 3 ¼, was released in a tiny pressing of 500, and his other recordings, including this one, weren't released until several years ago, on the Kathmandu Sessions disc (so named because he'd heard you could buy weed at sidewalk stalls in Kathmandu). This song is a 12-minute freakout of volcanic, violin-drenched psych and resigned spoken word. In the middle of 1968, Ben-Israel seems to have realized what almost no one else in the worldwide hippie movement understood-- that claiming you want change isn't enough if you can't follow through. He says it most tellingly in one brilliant line that's since been proven correct innumerable times: "the oppressors of tomorrow are the revolutionaries of today." [Joe Tangari]
John Bischoff: "Piano7hz"
John Bischoff was a music student at Oakland's Mills College when personal computers first entered the marketplace in the mid-1970s. Almost immediately, the composers centered around Mills took to the machines, linking the rudimentary devices-- "a board about the size of a sheet of paper with a tiny keyboard and a few chips," as George Lewis put it-- into networks where one program running on one machine affected the operation and output of another program running on another machine. Bischoff became a founding member of both the League of Automatic Music Composers and the Hub, two of the world's earliest computer networking bands.
"Piano 7hz", the lead improvisation from Bischoff's 2003 album, Aperture, reflects such interactions between man and machine. Triggered bells and staccato piano chords are the source material here, and they pass through programs that distend, chop, scramble, and smooth. Every new sound supplied by the man is a rock collapsing on a different wave of machinery, sinking at a different rate and returning to the surface whenever the current allows. Bischoff and his machines create a sonic symbiosis that teases with instability. He's almost 60 now, but with similar work by artists like Tim Hecker and David Daniell making inroads, Bischoff deserves more notice. [Grayson Currin]
Blindfolder: Adaptation [self-released] (download)
Patrick Herron is best known as a web artist and poet (insofar as poets can be "known" these days), but as Blindfolder he turned the techno-theoretical savvy of his poems toward sonic space. While creating his website proximate.org around the turn of the millennium, Herron discovered his PC's power not just to record music, but to create it. Armed with Audio Mulch, high on Brian Eno, Oval, and Terry Riley, Herron recorded Adaptation, which blends samples of Javanese field recordings and glossolaliac incantations with 8-bit sound beds and braided digital rhythms. In its seamless wedding of carefully manicured sounds with improvised ones, it has a sort of lively sterility: "Super Potty" is academic techno, a hummingbird flutter where drums misfire toward a beat. "Sneer" is an algebraic array for manipulated voices and bubbling hand percussion. "East Timor I" is a long-tone dirge, and "Tintinnabulation" is a sinister carillon of mechanical bells. This is tidy dot-matrix music by nature, but Herron's will moves through it like a hostile microbe, sowing chaos in a system designed for order. [Brian Howe]
Nuno Canavarro: Plux Quba [Ama Romanta; 1988; r: Moikai; 1998]
The Portuguese electronic album Plux Quba is quintessentially obscure: Its importance is loudly and occasionally trumpeted by a very small number of people, there's almost no information about it, and, until a repressing last year, it was about as easy as a live fish to get a hold of. Its distinction-- 20 years later as much as I'd imagine it was when discovered by Jim O'Rourke, Jan St. Wenner (of Mouse onMars) and friends in 1991-- is its eerie innocence: Static hums backlight digitally manipulated whispers, rhythms contort and fall over on themselves like tired puppies toying around on a rug, and tiny blobs of synth noise slide around, bumping into each other. This is especially liberating and oddly sweet-sounding in an era when most electronic music-- however brilliant, and with some exceptions-- feels quantized to death. [Mike Powell]
Betty Carter: "Sounds (Movin' On)" [from The Audience With Betty Carter; Bet-Car/Verve; 1980]
For years I believed fervently that the only person who should be allowed to scat-sing was Ella Fitzgerald, and that was mostly for her 1958 cover of "Blue Skies" with the Paul Weston Orchestra. On a good day, I might pardon Louis Armstrong, but in general, scatting is like fingernails on a chalkboard. But this year, I watched Betty Carter performance "Music, Maestro, Please" and "Swing Brother Swing" on the "Saturday Night Live" Season 1 DVD and, my curiosity piqued, sought out more of her material from that period. I dug up an old copy of The Audience With Betty Carter, a 2xLP album that chronicled her 1979 shows at Bradshaw's Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. On the energetic "Sounds (Movin' On)", Carter proves herself the high priestess of scat spontaneity, an artist on par with Coltrane and Monk despite having no physical instrument other than her voice. She wraps her vocal cords ecstatically around the wordless notes, trading runs with her agile backing trio and sustaining an interpretive looseness for nearly half an hour. And that's just the first track! On the covers and originals that follow, she mixes scat syllables intuitively into written lyrics, turning these songs inside out and folding them into new shapes. [Stephen M. Deusner]
Marcel Cellier: Presents Mysterious Albania [Arc; 2002]
Albania is not Algeria or Iberia or Alberta. Albania is a coastal country wedged between Montenegro and Greece. In the late 70s and early 80s, the Swiss ethnomusicologist Marcel Cellier took field recordings of folk music made there. I don't fetishize difference in music, per se-- it can be as pointlessly alienating as it can be alluring-- but the first time I heard this record (at a friend's apartment in Bosnia, two countries away), I was fascinated by how unique the music sounded-- and how good some of it was. The hypnotic flute chorales are more fluid than the loops on the Panda Bear record, the tricky meters of the folk dances are the kind of equations we leave to drum sequencers (but Albanians might play at the local bar every night), and the polyphonic vocal pieces sound like they've been threaded by a computer, full of abrupt entrances and exits. Sadly, it's out of print, but, well, I won't pretend readers here don't know how the internet works. Goes to show that exotic listening experiences don't have to be packaged or presented like they'll blow your mind-- just pick a country you can't find on the map. [Mike Powell]
Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen: "Everybody's Doin' It" [from Country Casanova;
Songs come to us in many different ways but one of the best may be a friend's recommendation. A musician pal of mine in Los Angeles recommended this to me by saying, "It may well be the greatest song ever written." That's enormous praise, but "Everybody's Doin' It", from Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen's third album, Country Casanova, is at least in the running. Best known for their fluke hit "Hot Rod Lincoln", the Ann Arbor-based band merged jazz, boogie, and Western swing (there's even a Bob Wills shout on "Everybody's Doin' It") with a particularly hippie sensibility and a wild humor. Cody says they're "dancing" in Berkley: "Everybody's swingin'/ Truckin' truckin'/ Everybody's doin' it/ Fuckin' fuckin'." At first, those jaunty f-bombs are startling, then funny, then celebratory. Cody rolls them devilishly off his tongue, reveling in the staccato syllables, easy rhymes, and batty transgressiveness, while a saxophone Charlestons wildly throughout the song, evoking the physical exuberance of both truckin' and fuckin'. It's all fun and games until you get it stuck in your head and start singing it to yourself at the Christmas dinner table. So thanks for that, Brady. [Stephen M. Deusner]
Patrick Cowley: Mind Warp [Unidisc; 1982]
Patrick Cowley, like Arthur Russell, was an experimental dance producer/composer who died too young of AIDS. This was a good year to discover Cowley, however, as both space and Italo disco labels like Smalltown Supersound and Italians Do It Better owe plenty to his sinewy electro-trance (his "Primitive World" made an appearance on influential comp Mixed Up in the Hague, Vol. 1). A programming wiz who cut his teeth with underappreciated San Francisco disco maven Sylvester James, Cowley also released three solo albums. Composed and released in Cowley's final months, Mind Warp's preoccupation with invasion, abduction, and returning home makes it easy to read mortality and alienation into the album, though maybe not as easy as it is to forget those things and goof out hard in your bedroom. For anyone in need of a traumatic, narcotized, synth-mad dance fix, though, well, yeah. [Andrew Gaerig]
Paul Desmond: From the Hot Afternoon [A&M; 1969]
This guy will always be somewhere in the back of your mind-- he was the sax player for Dave Brubeck's quartet and wrote the indelible "Take Five". Here, his West Coast Cool sound is augmented with fluttering orchestral flourishes and Brazilian percussion, which informs the rhythm of the record. His smoke-like tone dances across it all with lithe grace-- it always amazes me the way guys like him and Art Pepper were able to cut straight through their chemical dependencies and rough lives when they picked up their horns. Anyway, this record sent me on a quest to scoop up as much solo Desmond as possible and I've yet to be disappointed. [Joe Tangari]
Die Anderen/Apocalypse: Kannibal Komix [Ariola/Colossus; 1968]
This band hailed from northern Germany, with one Italian member, and they apparently had two names: Die Anderen (the Others) for Germany and Apocalypse for the U.S. This, their debut album, was produced by Giorgio Moroder (!), and it sounds totally cutting-edge for its era. The band's main strength is their astounding vocals, with huge harmonies on every song and some interesting layering techniques. It's all backed by complex, widescreen production replete with orchestration and the occasional studio effect. Drummer Bernd Scheffler was also excellent-- his sense of rhythm and when to take a quick fill prefigures a lot of the prog rock drumming that would come in the next 10 years. They only recorded one more album after this, which is a shame, because they were phenomenally great together. [Joe Tangari]
El Rego et Ses Commandos: "Dis-Moi Oui" b/w "Cherie Lucia" [L.A. Aux Ecoutes; 1973]
El Rego was one of the great bandleaders in Benin during the 1970s, producing a number of excellent rumba, funk, and soul sides with his Commandos; this particular 45 is a Nigerian pressing, probably from 1973. The A-side is a smoking Afrobeat cut with a clacking drum beat, dimestore organ, and a monster guitar intro-- it's funk with a psychedelic edge and fantastic feel. The flip is a drifting ballad with some really nice sax, great slow-motion highlife guitar, and languid harmony vocals underpinned by an odd, cricket-ish organ part. I haven't found any compilations of El Rego's stuff, but the several tracks of his I've heard have convinced me he needs one, and soon. [Joe Tangari]
Fairuz: Andaloussiyat [Voix de l'Orient; 1966]
Lebanese singer Fairuz is revered by her fans (seriously, check the comments on her many YouTube videos) and still going strong at age 72. This recording stems from the middle of her long and extremely fruitful collaboration with the Rahbani Brothers-- they made literally hundreds of recordings together and she ended up marrying one of them and having a son who now does all of her arranging and producing. She sings in a melismatic, Arabic style, and the brothers back her with a huge symphony orchestra, hand percussion, oud, sax, and the occasional choir. It's a big, emotional sound full of sweeping themes, interesting pentatonic melodies, and surprisingly small moments where Fairuz sounds like she's singing directly to you. Which makes sense-- this is after all a singer whose music was once banned for six months in Lebanon because she refused to sing in private for the visiting president of Algeria, preferring instead to "sing for the people." [Joe Tangari]
Franco & le T.P.O.K. Jazz: "Kinsiona" [available on the Franco compilation 1972/1973/1974 on Sonodisc; 2000; or the Music In My Head compilation on Stern's Africa; 1998; originally 1972-4]
The Congolese rumba guitarist and band leader Franco had a younger brother and fellow guitarist named Bavon Marie Marie, who bleached his skin with mercury and looked horrifying for it. In August 1970, Bavon and Franco supposedly got into an argument over Franco's girlfriend, Lucy, who Bavon probably should not have slept with, but might have. Bavon and Lucy ended up in a car, and the car ended up crumpled against the side of a truck. Lucy lost both legs and Bavon died immediately, and Franco, well, he took a break.
"Kinsiona" was the first song he released after his absence. The floating, rubato exposition and horn squall that soars over the final half of the song would've sounded nearly unintelligible to Congolese dancehall goers used to his bubbly rumbas; even the characteristic rhythmic tug of a triplet against a duple-- the pattern that marks almost all classic Afro-Cuban dance music-- feels disjointed here. Franco's ballads-- and there weren't many-- always displayed the showman in his voice; the sobs of "Kinsiona" sound taut, internal, cathartic. He never recorded another song like it. [Mike Powell]
Abdel Halim Hafez: "Qariat el-Fengan"
Egyptian singer/actor/composer Abdel Halim Hafez was one of the true giants of Arab pop music, responsible for a slew of recordings and star of dozens of films, including 1956's Dalila, the first Egyptian film to be produced in color. I don't know a whole lot about this particular track, which I stumbled across in cyberspace, but it appears to document a full 57-minute concert somewhere in Egypt in the 70s, near the end of Halim's life (he died in 1977). "Qariat el-Fengan", a tribute to the fiancée he lost to disease before they could marry, is one of the songs performed, though I confess I'm not sure which one of these songs it is (my Arabic is lacking). I'm pegging the year mostly from the wild microtonal synthesizer solos that buzz in over the swirling string sections from time to time. Halim's voice was very precise and he leads the huge ensemble with deft showmanship. What really does it for me, though, is the strange, intuitive funkiness of the music and the unstable elements, such as the totally unexpected interjection of Hawaiian guitar in the second song. I wish I knew more about this recording, but I'm still plenty happy to listen to it. [Joe Tangari]
Joe Harriott: Free Form [Jazzland; 1960]
While Ornette Coleman was working out his free jazz blueprint in the U.S., Jamaican-born saxophonist Joe Harriott was across the Atlantic in Britain coming to similar conclusions. Harriott referred to his creation as Free Form, and rather than pit two jazz quartets against each other in open, squalling war, Harriott provided loose themes for his players and a general harmonic picture to guide them as they explored their way through a swinging groove toward a less tethered form of expression. The free passages hit in bursts, like little bits of joy jumping out of the speakers between composed moments. It's remarkably prescient, and prefigures a lot of modern jazz's best stuff, including recent work by William Parker. This is some of the swingingest free improv ever recorded, and could easily appeal to a lot of people who don't generally enjoy free jazz because of its clear harmonic structure and insistent sense of rhythm. [Joe Tangari]
Haruomi Hosono: Tropical Dandy [1975; r: Crown; 2000]
Before co-founding the synth-pop band Yellow Magic Orchestra in 1978, Haruomi Hosono recorded, of all things, faux-exotica. As a character sketch, though, the Tropical Dandy is weirdly prescient. Hosono plays the drunk Japanese tourist swaddled in an oversized Hawaiian shirt, belching through Elvis and Irving Berlin karaoke (the sleeve boasts "MADE IN TIN PAN ALLEY") before stumbling off stage to belly up on white sands. Besides his hilarity and pointed awkwardness, Hosono deserves distinction for prefiguring stuff like Pizzicato Five and Momus and Stereo Total-- without being arch and obnoxious. [Mike Powell]
Jean Michel Jarre: Equinoxe [Dreyfus; 1978]
Jarre's 70s music-- superserious, technophilic keyboard soundtracks to non-existent sci-fi movies-- has always struck me as music more abused as a hip signifier than actually appreciated by human beings. A quiet nod, then, to my friend Dan, who comes home from his respectable job as a project manager for a small company in Boston to hammer away at old Moogs and Prophets and Juno synths in a carpeted room littered with cables and old records of stuff like Equinoxe. I now realize that Jarre probably was-- or, at least, it makes me feel better to believe that he probably was-- an imaginative nerd, a guy a little less turtleneck and sunglasses than the austere Equinoxe sometimes suggests, and a little more like Dan, combating boredom by making fictional worlds (admittedly, fictional worlds often full of robots). [Mike Powell]
Joseph Lamb: A Study in Classical Ragtime [Smithsonian Folkways; 1960]
Last year, I had the pleasure of discovering that the Smithsonian's entire catalog is available on its website, including releases like this one that have been out of print for decades. It's a publish-on-demand system that presses up a disc any time you order it. I first became interested in Joseph Lamb when his "The Ragtime Nightingale" was included on the soundtrack to Terry Zwigoff's 1994 documentary Crumb, in a haunting version played by David Boeddinghaus. Lamb was one of the three major ragtime composers (along with Scott Joplin and James Scott), and he was the only one to be recorded playing his own music. On the disc, Lamb talks about his life, Starks Music Publishing, Scott Joplin, and writing a few of the pieces he plays, and though his piano skills had greatly diminished by the time of the recording, he plays more than well enough to convey the power and sophistication of the music he wrote. [Joe Tangari]
I spent the best part of my fall traveling with Megafaun, Greg Davis, and Akron/Family, seven dudes who know more about world music than I do. Appropriately, in Toronto, someone bought a Ghana hat, and in record stores from Guelph to Manhattan, most every piece of vinyl someone found on the Lyrichord label became an auxiliary tour member. I got in on the act late, but I'm glad to have been inducted just the same: Buddhist Drums, Bells and Chants-- still with its original plastic wrap mostly intact-- was my best find, with its sounds of devotion and context-driven liner notes offering a specific view of something largely unfamiliar.
But while I encourage scouting this stuff on vinyl, you can also spend several afternoons roving Lyrichord's web site, whether or not you have a turntable. Lyrichord was founded in 1950 by Austrian immigrant Peter Fritsch, who died in 2004. In five decades, Lyrichord released hundreds of titles, from 1977's Folk Music of Iran to 1990's African drum odyssey Rhythms of Life by Ephat Mujuru. Many of the titles are nearly impossible to find in playable condition; online, however, Lyrichord provides digital samples of its entire catalogue, plus the original text of the liner notes. The label's new, ever-expanding Lyrichord Archive Series also feature affordable ($19.98 per disc) CD-R copies of some of the most rare titles, complete with high-resolution PDFs of the original art. [Grayson Currin]
Patricio Manns: Entre Mar y Cordillera [Demon; 1966]
Man, the transfer from old tapes to CD on the version of this album I have is lousy. The sound is badly muffled and Manns sounds like he's calling from the next star, but let's put that aside for a second and talk about the music, which is brilliant. Manns is a Chilean folk singer, novelist, poet, and journalist associated with the leftist Nueva Canción Chilena movement, and was one of a handful of musicians-- along with Victor Jara, Rolando Alarcon, Angel Parra, Isabel Parra and others-- who worked tirelessly to create a new folk tradition from Chile's musical past. The title of this album could scan as somewhat nationalist, even-- between the sea and the mountains is where nearly all Chileans live. The opener, "Arriba en la Cordillera", is one of the most stunningly gorgeous things I heard last year, a simple arrangement of guitar and voices backing Manns as he calls out an aching melody that obliterates the language barrier between him and me. Manns had to leave Chile for 27 years after the coup that brought in Pinochet, but he continued to work to preserve Chilean folklore and, now back home, is still at it today at age 70. [Joe Tangari]
Midi, Maxi and Efti: Midi, Maxi and Efti [Columbia; 1992]
They were three teenage girls, refugees from Ethiopia and Eritrea, living in Stockholm and making a Europop album with Alexander Bard, the visionary behind such high camp high concepts as Army of Lovers. He riffed on the trio's background for a sound you might call "flatpack Africa"-- a hazy mix of hit factory hooks, programmed polyrhythms, and a dubby roll reminiscent of Trans-Global Underground or the Orb. There's also a much wider range of sound sources than Europop usually admits: Amongst the cheerfully blocky keyboards you'll hear flutes, banjos, organs, and a surprising number of guitar solos.
What makes the record so bewitching, though, are the three vocalists: thickly accented, unschooled, heartbreakingly sincere. Their rawness takes them nearer outsider art than manufactured pop, and the clumsy lyrics-- about boys, sticking together, the war their homeland was engulfed in-- reinforce the feeling that you're listening to bedroom tapes given star treatment. How much of that is Bard cleverly playing up to stereotypes of immigrant naivety I'm not sure, but even if the whole project was born from cynicism he couldn't have found more enchanting co-conspirators. [Tom Ewing]
Meredith Monk: Turtle Dreams [ECM; 1983]
It'd be lazy to call Meredith Monk's music "obscure." Turtle Dreams is art music, undeniably-- barely identifiable words howled, whimpered, and categorically warped by four singers (including Monk) over simple church-organ accompaniment-- but it's also, in its own gnostic way, purely emotive. Whether Monk's emotions really exist-- whether her mannerisms correspond to real feelings, exaggerations of them, or distillations too powerful for people to actually have-- hasn't ever been clear to me.
But her expression isn't without force or skill; and with its streaks of of medieval song and playground hysteria, only obscure insofar as its constant, unflinching intimacy is something most listeners won't-- or possibly can't, for whatever reason-- understand. [Mike Powell]
Jackie Moore: Sweet Charlie Babe [Atlantic; 1973]
Jackie Moore was a Florida soul singer who got to the party too late to ride the crest of the Southern soul wave but nonetheless made some fantastic records for Atlantic in the mid-70s. Sweet Charlie Babe has that thick groove that typifies the best of Muscle Shoals and Stax, but tempers it with orchestration that points toward the coming shift to disco. The string arrangement on "Clean Up Your Own Yard" slips into a quote form Aram Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance" at one point, "Darling Baby"-- originally a Holland-Dozier-Holland production for the Elgins-- is given a great country soul treatment, and Jay-Z sample source "If" delivers the obligatory "the world is going to hell" social soul track with aplomb. Then there's "Time", a mind-blower that splits the difference between psychedelia and disco. This has slowly become one of my favorite soul LPs. [Joe Tangari]