Weights

Now that the intervals are over, time to get my He-man on with some true He-man tunes, the ‘Masters of Reality‘ album by Black Sabbath.

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Honestly, it’s a marvel that I even have this album in my collection seeing as how the guys in high school who liked this band, adorned themselves in the bands three-quarter length concert shirts, and inevitably smelled like gasoline, nicotine and evil, all picked on me mercilessly between classes.  In fact, for years I thought Black Sabbath just sounded like a toilet being flushed and the rushing of water through my ears.

Sad but true.

Fact of the matter is though, it’s a classic.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, of course.

This is the shortest album of Black Sabbath’s glory years, and also their most sonically influential work.  Here Tony Iommi began to experiment with tuning his guitar down three half-steps to C#, producing a sound that was darker, deeper, and sludgier than anything they’d yet committed to record. (This trick was still being copied 25 years later by every metal band looking to push the limits of heaviness, from trendy nu-metallers to Swedish “deathsters” – yes, it’s a thing.)

Much more than that, ‘Master of Reality‘ essentially created multiple metal sub-genres all by itself, laying the sonic foundations for doom, stoner and sludge metal, all in the space of just over half an hour. Classic opener ‘Sweet Leaf‘ certainly ranks as a defining stoner metal song, making its drug references far more overt (and adoring) than the preceding album’s ‘Fairies Wear Boots‘.  The album’s other signature song, ‘Children of the Grave‘, is driven by a galloping rhythm that would later pop up on a slew of Iron Maiden tunes, among many others.  Aside from ‘Sweet Leaf‘, much of this album finds the band displaying a stronger moral sense, in part an attempt to counteract the growing perception that they were Satanists. ‘Children of the Grave‘ posits a stark choice between love and nuclear annihilation, while ‘After Forever’  philosophizes about death and the afterlife in an openly religious (but, of course, superficially morbid) fashion.  And although the alternately sinister and jaunty ‘Lord of This World‘  is sung from Satan’s point of view, he clearly doesn’t think much of his own followers (and neither, by extension, does the band). It’s all handled much like a horror movie with a clear moral message, for example The Exorcist.

Past those four tracks, listeners get sharply contrasting tempos in the rumbling sci-fi tale ‘Into the Void‘, which shortens the distances between the multiple sections of the band’s previous epics.  And there’s the core of the album – all that’s left is a couple of brief instrumental interludes, plus the quiet, brooding loneliness of ‘Solitude‘, a mostly textural piece that frames Osbourne’s phased vocals with acoustic guitars and flutes. But, if a core of five songs seems slight for a classic album, it’s also important to note that those five songs represent a nearly bottomless bag of tricks, many of which are still being imitated and explored decades later.  If there other ‘Paranoid‘  has more widely known songs, the suffocating and oppressive ‘Master of Reality‘ was the Sabbath record that die-hard metalheads took most closely to heart, most likely while flushing the heads of geeks and nerds everywhere.

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Interval (Hills) Spin

It’s Monday and that means hill intervals on the bike and a little He-man afterwards with the weights.

Go me! 

As much as I dislike this workout, I understand it’s value in building cycle-specific strength so I persevere through the 3 x (1 minute HARD / 1 minute easy) intervals with some moderate tempo bouts in between.

Go me! x 2.

This evenings listening pleasure then is the ‘Antipop‘  album by Primus.

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On the surface, all Primus albums seem to sound alike, especially to outsiders (read: anyone who either respects the group but doesn’t get them, or the minority that actively hates them, particularly Les Claypool‘s demented comedy schtick).  That’s not really true though, even if the same basic elements remain in place each time, no matter who is in the band.  And Primus has never tried to shake things up as much as they do on this, their 7th album.  Primus enlisted a dizzying array of collaborators – Stewart Copeland, Tom Waits, James Hetfield, Tom Morello, Jim Martin, Matt Stone, Martina, and Fred Durst among them – all in the purpose of challenging themselves to find different dimensions to its music.  Some play or sing, some produce, but it’s amazing how much each individual guest changes the tone of the music.  It’s not always for the best, but it keeps things fresh, if not necessarily coherent.

Though there are a couple of good lyrics here, this is by and large an album about music; it would have been even better if it had been primarily an instrumental album, actually, since the vocals get in the way occasionally.  By now, the popping bass, dissonance, and angular riffs don’t seem like schtick, but the lyrics and singing do.  Still, it’s possible to get past those and hear ‘AntiPop‘  as one of Primus’ most ambitious and best efforts. No, they’re not always successful, but no two songs sound the same, and some collaborations are among the best things Primus has ever recorded.

AntiPop‘  is dense music that isn’t afraid to be goofy or fall on its face – and even if it’s not to your particular taste, it’s hard not to respect this.  It’s certainly better than a kick in the teeth which, truthfully, exactly what this workout feels like from time to time.

Having said that, oh what a kick in the teeth it is as this is my absolute favorite of all the Primus catalog of albums.

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Core and Other Stuff

It’s another Monday in Corporate Hell and despite the progress I make on my projects, there just seems to be an insurmountable accumulation of other crap to get to; each more important than the last crisis I was told to focus on.  Ah well.  At least it’s keeping me busy.

I’m taking a quick “breather” then (and I use that term loosely) to squeeze in my core workout before I have to join some business calls later on.  And, seeing as how I only have one more Frank Zappa album in my collection to listen to, I might as well get it over with now so I can better fully engage in an inevitable new direction for the next 1-2 weeks, the ‘Sheik Yerbouti‘  album.

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‘Sheik Yerbouti’ (get it?)  is a double album made up of material recorded in 1977 and 1978, but released in March of 1979 as the first release on Zappa Records.  The album represents a major turning point in Zappa’s career, emphasizing the comedic aspect of his his lyrics more than ever before, beginning a period of increased record sales and mainstream media attention. In fact, ‘Sheik Yerbouti’  remains Zappa’s biggest selling album worldwide with over 2 million units sold to date.

In order to finance his artier excursions, which increasingly required more expensive technology, Zappa recorded several collections of guitar- and song-oriented material in the late ’70s and early ’80s, which generally concentrated on the bawdy lyrical themes many fans had come to expect and enjoy in concert. Sheik Yerbouti was one of the first and most successful of these albums, garnering attention for such tracks as the Grammy-nominated disco satire ‘Dancin’ Fool‘, the controversial ‘Jewish Princess‘, and the equally controversial ‘Bobby Brown Goes Down‘, a song about closeted homosexual experimenting with “golden showers” and something called a “Tower of Power”.  (I don’t even want to know what that is!)

The song became a substantially HUGE hit in European clubs.

Go figure.

Needless to say, this is an album I’m choosing to listen to without the impressionable ears of HRH around to absorb it.

Sorry, Frank.

I’m all for freedom of expression n’ all, but choruses around ramming things up one’s poop chutes is a bit much to expose pre-teenage girls to.

Nuff’ said.

I will, however, give you full credit for that awesome guitar solo in ‘Yo Mama‘.

That shit is killer!

While Zappa’s attitude was even more politically incorrect than usual for him, it didn’t stop the album from becoming his second-highest charting ever. Social satire, leering sexual preoccupations, and tight, melodic songs dominated the rest of the record as well, as Zappa stuck to what had been commercially successful for him in the past.  The “dumb entertainment” (as Zappa liked to describe this style) on this album was some of his dumbest, for better or worse.  One has to wonder then about what Zappa thought of his fans in that he had to make “dumb music” in order to be successfully but, hey, that’s just me.  Zappa wasn’t known for being an overly lovey-dovey kind of guy.

While the satire is some of Zappa’s most scathing and unsympathetic, and the music is equally loud and unrelenting – especially when showcasing the talents of sidemen Terry Bozzio and Adrian Belew.  If I could skip all the gay and misogynist shit and stick with the awesome solos, this might be among my favorite albums but, unfortunately, this album is another of those Zappa offerings that rides the rails of hit and miss with me – landing somewhere in between.

Hey, it’s at least an interesting listen through my 20 minute core program on my mat this afternoon.  And, inevitably, it sure beats some of the shit I will inevitably have to suffer through later on today.

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Rainy Day Sunday Vinyl (Part 3)

I’ve finally finished my Zappa book, and not a moment too soon as I only have one last album in my collection to listen to.  But that will have to wait for another post because as I’ve learned, there’s only so much Zappa can take in one day.  Anyway, I’ve moved onto my next read, ‘Ready for a Brand New Beat: How “Dancing In the Street” Became the Anthem for a Changing America‘ by Mark Kurlansky.  Largely, it’s a book about the rise of Motown.  Sadly, I don’t own a lot of Motown in my collection as I’ve never really collected 45rpm records, so I’m listening to one of the records that I feel suits the new switch in gears this evening, the ‘What’s Going On‘ album by Marvin Gaye.

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This isn’t really Motown, true, but it was recorded at “Hitsville U.S.A.” and released on Tamla Records (1971), a subsidiary of Motown Records making it, in my books anyway, good enough.

The first Marvin Gaye album credited as being produced by the artist himself, ‘What’s Going On’  is a unified concept album consisting of nine songs, most of which lead into the next. It has also been categorized as a song cycle; the album ends with a reprise of the album’s opening theme. The album is told from the point of view of a Vietnam War veteran returning to the country he had been fighting for, and seeing only hatred, suffering, and injustice. Gaye’s introspective lyrics discuss themes of drug abuse, poverty, and the Vietnam War.  Coincidentally, he has also been credited with criticizing global warming before the public outcry against it had become prominent.

Essentially, this album is not only Marvin Gaye’s masterpiece, it’s the most important and passionate record to come out of soul music, delivered by one of its finest voices, a man finally free to speak his mind and so move from R&B sex symbol to true recording artist.

With ‘What’s Going On‘, Gaye meditated on what had happened to the American dream of the past – as it related to urban decay, environmental woes, military turbulence, police brutality, unemployment, and poverty.  These feelings had been bubbling up between 1967 and 1970, during which he felt increasingly caged by Motown’s behind-the-times hit machine and restrained from expressing himself seriously through his music. Finally, late in 1970, Gaye decided to record a song that the Four Tops’ Obie Benson had brought him, ‘What’s Going On‘.  When Berry Gordy decided not to issue the single, deeming it uncommercial, Gaye refused to record any more material until he relented. Confirmed by its tremendous commercial success in January 1971, he recorded the rest of the album over ten days in March, and Motown released it in late May.  Besides cementing Gaye as one of the most important artists in pop music, ‘What’s Going On‘  was far and away the best full-length to issue from the singles-dominated Motown factory, and arguably the best soul album of all time.  In fact, my Bible (Mojo, August 1995) ranks it at #6.

My favorite track however is the last one on the album, ‘Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)‘ is killer.  Honestly, I could listen to that track over and over again if I thought for one second Kelly would let me.

And with this infectious injection of sweet soul into my veins, I’m settling down before bed with a plateful of homemade brownies and the last episode of ‘This Is Us‘.

See how incredibly urban I am?

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Rainy Day Sunday Vinyl (Part 2)

I finished my core workout (thank Christ!) and now I’m back in the EZ-Boy, hopefully, in the words of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air:

Where I’ll spend most of my day.

Okay, so I took a little creative liberty there.  Sue me.

Anyway, my new Frank Zappa indulgence is actually the first Zappa album I ever owned even prior to that stack of albums I got for a buck, the ‘Roxy & Elsewhere‘  album.

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After his affair with jazz fusion (‘Waka/Jawaka‘ and ‘The Grand Wazoo‘, both released in 1972), Frank Zappa came back in late 1973 with an album of simple rock songs, ‘Over-Nite Sensation‘.  But the temptation for more challenging material was not long to resurface and, after a transitional LP (‘Apostrophe‘, early 1974), he unleashed a double LP of his most complex music, creating a bridge between his comedy rock stylings and Canterbury-style progressive rock.

Three-quarters of the album was recorded live at the Roxy in Hollywood and extensively overdubbed in the studio later.  Only three tracks (‘Dummy Up‘, ‘Son of Orange County‘,  and ‘More Trouble Every Day‘), taken from other concerts, are 100 percent live.  The band is comprised of George Duke (keyboards) – who steals the show on several tracks – Tom Fowler (bass), Ruth Underwood (percussion), Bruce Fowler (trombone), Walt Fowler (trumpet), Napoleon Murphy Brock (vocals), and Chester Thompson (drums) – drummer Ralph Humphrey, keyboardist Don Preston, and guitarist Jeff Simmons appear on the non-Roxy material.

The sequence ‘Echidna’s Arf (Of You)‘/’Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?‘  stands as Zappa’s most difficult rock music and provides quite a showcase for Underwood. Other highlights include ‘Penguin in Bondage‘  and ‘Cheepnis‘, a horror movie tribute.  And let’s not forget the souped-up funk of ‘Pygmy Twylyte‘.  In other words, all the pieces here were premiere recordings and mark highlights of the Mothers performances through the early 70’s, making this album a “must have” for most Zappa fanatics.  Actually, this might well be Frank’s greatest live album, and he has more live albums than most groups have albums. 

That’s probably why I purchased it way back when because I was into live albums and this came highly recommended…and rightly so.  Having said that, this is about as much Zappa as I can handle in a single day.

Time for some good ‘ol fashioned soul-sucking, mind-rotting television.

Sorry, Frank.

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Rainy Day Sunday Vinyl (Part 1)

Now that all my workouts for the day are in the can (minus one core workout that I’ll do later on), there’s nothing left to do on this rainy Sunday afternoon but sit back in my EZ-Boy, be lazy, and plow through a few more chapters of my ‘Zappa: A Biography‘  (Barry Miles) book.  This afternoon’s listen then is carrying on with the recent Frank Zappa exploration I’ve been making lately, with ‘Joe’s Garage (Acts I & II)‘.

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This is likely the most Frank Zappa I have ever heard in my life; especially in one go.  And as I’ve said before, I don’t necessarily dig all of it but, hey, at least I can say that I know about it than I did before.

And the fact that Kelly still hasn’t divorced me yet is a good thing as well.

Anyway, two months after the release of ‘Act I‘ , “Uncle Frank” completed ‘Joe’s Garage‘  with this two-LP set, meaning that, counting the two contractual albums ‘Sleep Dirt‘ and ‘Orchestral Favorites‘, he released seven LPs’ worth of new material in 1979.  Maybe that’s why this album – to me anyway – seems so thin and thrown together, musically and dramatically, especially on its second and third sides. I liked ‘Act I‘ well enough, but this is definitely more on the miss’ side of the spectrum.  I mean, ‘Sy Borg‘?

Really?

The album relies heavily on what Zappa termed “xenochrony” – previously recorded guitar solos transferred onto new, rhythmically different backing tracks to produce random musical coincidences. Such an approach is guaranteed to produce some slow moments as well, but critics latched onto the work more for its conceptual substance.  So they claim anyway.

This album continues with the “The Central Scrutinizer” satirizing social control mechanisms, consumerism, corporate abuses, gender politics, religion, and the rock & roll lifestyle; all these forces which conspire against the title protagonist, an average young man who simply wants to play guitar and enjoy himself.

Even though Zappa himself reputedly hated punk rock and even says so on the album, his ideas seemed to support punk’s do-it-yourself challenge to the record industry and to social norms in general. Since this is 1979-era Zappa, there are liberal applications of his trademark scatological humor (the title ‘Keep It Greasey‘ on this album is self-explanatory).  Still, in spite of its flaws, there’s enough substance here it to make it a somewhat listenable experience albeit not as good as ‘Act I‘, nor does it rank with his earliest Mothers of Invention masterpieces I’ve listened to already.

It’s certainly not more of that ‘200 Motels‘ bullshit, that’s for sure.

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“Long Run”

I’m putting quotation marks around today’s workout because it wasn’t really a “run”, per se.  Instead it was a long, slow shuffle around the track at my local gym just below the threshold that makes it uncomfortable (click HERE for the plan).  There was no cardio, no intervals, no real wear and tear of any kind actually.  Just remaining on the balls of my feet and shuffling forward on the inside of the track for 60 minutes.

My listening pleasure then was nothing short of, “hey, what’s going to kill 60 minutes?”, so I went with a rather odd disc in my collection, the ‘Live from the Bug Jar‘ by the Peachey Neachey’s.

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Who are the Peachey Neachey’s you ask?  Beats the shit out of me honestly but I think they originated from the Rochester, NY area.  In fact, this show at the Bug Jar (recorded December 8th, 2001) is a now retired concert venue in Rochester and the band spent a considerable amount of time talking to their audience throughout the performance as if they knew them well so, yeah, I’m going with they’re local.

How do I know the Peachey Neachey’s?

Good question.

In 2001 (I think) I attended the Scottypaluza festival (also in the Rochester area) with a group of friends.  Late at night we were tweaking off our gourds and walking around the festival grounds when we happened upon the Neachey’s performing a 45 minute version of Pink Floyd‘s ‘Echoes‘ complete with ambient screeches, whistles, moans and what have you.  In other words, my poor drug-addled lizard brain was blown wide open.  And while I don’t remember specifically purchasing the album afterwards I must have because, well, here it is.

This particular disc (a “Do-It-Yourself” album by KY-Tell Records, no less) also recaptures the same ‘Echoes‘ live performance (here, however, it’s only 23 minutes long).  It was still cool, of course, but let’s just say I was lacking the significant chemical stimulants in my system to stop me in my tracks this time around.

Having said that, despite my slow shuffle pace not being beyond anything even remotely resembling challenging (I didn’t work up a sweat), do you have any idea how hard it is to maintain your slow shuffle while allowing yourself to be lapped by old ladies?

Talk about discipline!

It’s tougher than you think.

Fortunately, as per my hopes with this new injury program I have myself on (see above link), this slow shuffle didn’t result in any pain or discomfort and I even transitioned into the pool for another 20 minutes of running afterwards, meaning that I “ran” for a full 80 minutes which is about where I was when this whole bullshit injury started in the first place.  So I’m confident then I’m on the right track (no pun intended) and providing I can maintain my patience and stay smart, I should be able to return to my usual run form outside in another week or two.

*fingers crossed*

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