All hail the worship album! We're not talkin' religious music, but the albums that relish the sound or content of another artist, without necessarily trying to imitate. For the September collab blog, the T&E collective discusses some of their favorite "worship" albums in all their fanatic glory.
Artist: Joni Mitchell
Year Released: 1979
Joni Mitchell’s smoky, experimental jazz album Mingus is an exceptional work of art, not just for the compositions and lyrics, but also for being a permanent and cherished snapshot in time. The album’s first track, titled Happy Birthday 1975 (Rap), is a rough home recording of the great jazz composer Charles Mingus (whom the album is named in honor of), his wife Sue, and a collection of other guests apparently celebrating Charles’ birthday, and singing Happy Birthday to You accompanied by a piano and the clapping of hands. As the guests begin singing “How old are you?” to the tune of the song, Charles blurts out, “Fifty-four, motherfucker!” Then follows his wife, a bit giggly but annoyed, “Fifty-three! Fifty-three...” Mingus and Sue digress into a debate, and the track fades out. Sprinkled throughout the album are four other recordings of Mingus’ voice, the shortest being just four seconds of Mingus’ voice: “I was lucky man? God blessed me, you know! I was blessed by God!” Some of the tracks contain conversations among Mingus and others, the longest recording being only a little over one minute in length, titled Funeral (Rap): a discussion between Mingus and a man named Swede regarding the details of how Mingus wants to be buried: “Vedanta Society – India – I'm going to be buried in India!” After his death, his ashes were scattered into the Ganges River.
The second track, and the one and only song on the album composed by Mitchell, is God Must Be a Boogie Man, inspired by the introduction of Mingus’ autobiography Beneath The Underdog. The loose, buzzing guitar strings mingle with the slow and pondering words, which ask the question: what type of person was Mingus? Was he “one attacking so afraid” or “one that keeps trying to love and trust”; alternating between someone wrathful, or someone warm and caring, even vulnerable at the expense of heartbreak. The song ends on the lines: “Well, world, opinion's not a lot of help / When a man's only trying to find out / How to feel about himself”. Perhaps it’s that Mitchell, the musical genius who is known to dislike interviews, saw a bit of herself in Mingus: a person whole-heartedly absorbed in discovering every facet of their creative self, and not at all interested in the approval of others. Or equally as likely, Mitchell wrote a song about the ambivalence and irony one experiences when their hero doesn’t always act so heroic; Mingus was known to become violent and exceptionally irate on and off stage - punching a fellow musician in the mouth, and firing a shotgun indoors - and was referred to as “The Angry Man of Jazz”. Despite being written specifically about him, God Must Be a Boogie Man was finished two days after Mingus’ death; he never got the chance to hear it.
The rest of the tracks are originally composed by Mingus, but arranged by Mitchell with her own lyrics, all in the same smoky, jazzy fashion as God Must Be a Boogie Man, and accompanied by Jaco Pastorius (known for his solo work, and being the bassist for Weather Report), Herbie Hancock (a multi-talented musician and composer), and an impressive roster of other talents. Each song has the busy yet elegant feel of the music of Charles Mingus, but Mitchell contributed her own style and outfitted the songs her own way with almost every track featuring the stumbling dance of the electric guitar, a meandering and perky keyboard, and misty, rolling drums, all following the lead of her vocals: easily sailing up into the highest notes of the keyboard, and diving down to drown among the lowest bass tones. The album’s mood is perfection through loose expression: one track being permeated with midnight, smoke-filled club ambiance, and the next an upbeat scat ensemble; but every song has a funky, fluid atmosphere casting a special spell to placate its listener. The final track, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, is Mitchell’s own interpretation of the jazz standard which Mingus originally composed in 1959 as a sort of elegy for the late saxophonist Lester Young. She expands on Mingus’ original bass-driven and watery composition with her writing, in which she describes the era of Lester’s career where black musicians were barred entry to nightclubs, and punished for marrying white women. Mitchell’s voice emerges as an instrument of its own, following the sluggish ups and downs of the bass, and the twinkling keyboard keys dotted among the emotive chirps and warbles of the soprano saxophone. The last verses of the song celebrate a more welcoming city life, especially in the lines: “Now we are black and white / Embracing out in the lunatic New York night”.
The entire album is invaluable due to the stories and memories contained within it. The respect and adoration Mitchell has for the music of Mingus, and Charles himself, is so abundantly clear in each song. It’s not just a collection of music, but a heavily nuanced narrative of the bond between Mitchell and the composer Mingus. Every moment of the album is a luscious morsel of reverence for the history and sounds of the work of Charles Mingus.
Artist: Lust For Youth
Year Released: 2014
Lust for Youth is a Dutch band who aim straight for Depeche Mode - they hit the mark, though it can be a little one-note from time to time. There's been stiff competition for the title of Dark Prince of the Coldwave Revival in the last decade and Lust For Youth are contenders by virtue of their balance of Depeche Mode nostalgia and glimmers of new production and songwriting.
Artist: Shannon Lay
Year Released: 2019
This record came out August 2019, on Sub Pop, and made me listen to Joni Mitchell seriously for the first time. The crisp vocals, snappy guitar sounds, Lay's wonderful voice and songwriting smell like cedar wood. This album feels so indebted to Mitchell that it made me feel excited to push a little deeper into both artists, to my great reward.
Artist: Suzanne Ciani and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Year Released: 2016
Suzanne Ciani, one of the first and loudest proponents of Don Buchla's modular synthesizers, and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, who is using these systems today to create kaleidoscopic pop (see: The Kid), create a literal electronic umbilical cord between both of their enormous synthesizers and indulge in pure Buchla worship, and it's a delightful and shimmery listen. These two women have carved and are carving distinct niches of cerebral and beautiful synthesizer music, and they bring amazing energy to each other, celebrating what electronic synthesis is capable of.
Album: Wizard Bloody Wizard
Artist: Electric Wizard
Year Released: 2017
It’s safe to say that most modern doom bands are, in some way shape or form, a Sabbath worship band. Though English stoner metal group Electric Wizard have carved their own unique niche the doomy stoner genre with their intensely heavy and distorted sound, they’ve always kept a core Sabbath point of reference (even the name Electric Wizard comes from two Sabbath songs “Electric Funeral” and “The Wizard”). What I love about the band’s latest release, Wizard Bloody Wizard, is that it’s a completely self-aware reference to the band’s main inspiration. There’s no hiding the fact that it’s a Sabbath worship album, it’s right there in the album title. Electric Wizard took a far more conventional approach to doom for this record, which music journalist Josh Gray from Clash noted the irony of the tribute: "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is by far Black Sabbath's most experimental album, while this record is by far Electric Wizard's least.” Nonetheless, the record still fucking rips. It’s six fairly short songs of classic heavy rock ‘n roll, nostalgic of the early Sabbath era doom sound but not in a gimmicky knock off way. The songs are catchy, heavy, and truly what more could a stoner doom metal fan ask for?
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