The following is a guest post by Editorial Assistant William Helms on some sunny listening for busy summer work days.
In an older entry, I mentioned that I grew up in a very musical home. As a child, someone was almost always playing music on the stereo. One day it may have been Coltrane, the next it was the Police or DEVO. Or maybe an hour later it was Parliament Funkadelic or Donna Summer. And on the rare occasion music wasn’t being played on the stereo, someone would be humming or singing (badly). My mother still loves to tell my friends that when I was a toddler, I used to hum Miles Davis’ “You’re Under Arrest” all the time. (It usually brings a knowing smile to my friends, as though they’re saying “oh, that explains it!”)
In any case, the point is that music has played a rather important role in my life – along with sports. As I was sitting down to write out this post, I originally thought I was going to talk about my summer reading but it occurred to me that I needed to talk about the music I had been listening to all summer. I frequently played these albums while editing, going through proposals or just corresponding with authors and colleagues. Yes, I know, summer is almost over but these albums not only got me through the summer but I think they’ll be interesting enough to pull you through the rest of the year.
Echo and the Bunnymen “Heaven Up Here”: I had been vaguely familiar with Echo and the Bunnymen, remembering several popular songs of theirs I heard on the radio as a child but I had fallen in love with their moody, atmospheric sound. It’s a sound that reminds me of the extreme weather and portentous doom that seem to come up in Romantic-era literature. “Heaven Up Here” is probably one of the band’s most beloved and critically applauded albums and if you listen to it you can see why – the unusual syncopation, skittering guitar chords played with generous reverb and delay pedal, and bottom-heavy bass seem to work perfectly with lead singer Ian McCullough’s dramatic croon.
Although it wasn’t the original lineup, I saw the Bunnymen perform this album live and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since. Each time I’ve listened to it, it seems to reveal something different. Lately, I’ve been paying attention to the interplay between their late drummer Pete de Freitas, guitarist Will Sergeant and McCullough – it’s weird by they seemed to have an uncanny knack as to when to emphasize and punctuate McCullough’s phrasing.
Electric Cowbell Records “Electric Cowbell Records Presents 101 Things to Do in Bongolia”: Electric Cowbell Records is a Brooklyn-based label, founded by a former member of death metal band, GWAR. The label, which initially released most of the songs on this compilation as limited edition vinyl 45s and 7” singles before mass distribution electronically, has developed a reputation for releasing global spanning funk without regard for genre. You’ll hear someone like Boston-based Debo Band mix traditional Ethiopian music with what sounds like New Orleans brass jazz – in a way that sounds both familiar and exotic. Or you’ll hear the psychedelic-tinged funk of Brooklyn’s Superhuman Happiness which borrows liberally from New Orleans jazz, rock and Afrobeat. (Not a surprise as Stuart Bogie, the creative mind behind Superhuman Happiness is a member of Antibalas.) All of the tracks are synced in a way that you hear elements of each song respond to others. The horns from another track seem to speak towards the horns of another song two tracks later, for example. It’s an upbeat album that seems to work well for that late day lull.
The Funk Ark “From the Rooftops”: The debut album by the Washington, DC octet is an impressive debut as it’s equally influenced by the Afrobeat of Fela Kuti and his powerhouse, backing band the Africa 70, and the salsa of the beloved Fania All Stars. In some way it’s reminiscent of Cocehema Gastelum’s “The Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow” in the sense that it sounds as though it could have been released sometime in 1974. In any case, the compositions playfully mix Afrobeat and salsa in a way that you can hear their remarkable similarities. I’ve been playing this one a lot in the morning because it’s so smooth.
William Helms is an Editorial Assistant at AMACOM. He performs administrative tasks such as preparing contracts, but does editorial work, such as developing manuscripts. His first signed book is due out Spring 2012. Previously, he was an Editorial Assistant at Hippocrene Books, a midtown Manhattan and Jamaica, Queens-based, family owned, independent publisher of bilingual dictionaries, language guides, travel books and international cookbooks. He also did some freelance writing for a couple of publications namely Shecky’s and their now defunct Bar, Lounge and Club Guide, an Astoria, Queens-based publication Dish du Jour and music journalism and criticism for Long Island City, Queens-based Ins&Outs Magazine. He also started doing some occasional music writing for Glide Magazine, a great music magazine online. Check the Author Guidelines for Book Proposals on our website if you are considering pitching a book to Will.