Aquarium Drunkard :: Mailbag, Vol. IV

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Aquarium Drunkard :: Mailbag, Vol. IV

Long time reader, first time caller? Welcome to Mailbag, our monthly column in which we dig in and respond to your questions. Got a query? Hit us up at aqdmailbag@gmail.com. In this month’s bag: Steely Dan haters, scratching that Van Morrison itch, music from the Sonoran desert, bandcamp reccs…

Why does Steely Dan suck so bad? – Sarah

As one of my all-time sacred cows, I love to see some old school hatred for the Dan as they have become much too trendy of late. So thank you, reader. True sickos, Steely Dan remain as one of the more polarizing groups to ever crack the Billboard top ten, let alone snag an album-of-the-year Grammy. Twisted, erudite, uncompromising subversionists to the end, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker wrap their warp in glassy cellophane sheen. The effect is either intoxicating or repulsive. There is no middle ground here, and therein lies part of the attraction. Any major dude will tell you. | j gage

I know there are some other Van heads in the house, so wanted to float a longtime personal song hunt. “When Heart is Open” from Common One is one of my all-time favorite songs, let alone of Van’s. But I have struggled to find much out there in the world that has that same magical quality that song has. It’s obviously New Age leaning, but it’s also still so lyrical and melodic. It might also be that it’s in English, so unlike an Alice Coltrane raga, I can understand all the words. The closest comparisons I can offer are Beverly Glenn Copeland’s “Ever New” or John Martyn’s “Couldn’t Love You More”. These songs aren’t new age per se, but they have this sort of transcendent, mystical, spiritual something that hits a very special spot for me. Do you have other suggestions for songs that you think would scratch that same itch? Many thanks and much love. – DJ Astral Weeks.

Astral Weeks, thanks for such a cool query. I think Van is indeed one of the most engaging spiritual singers you can find, particularly his records from that ’80s and ’90s zone, when things get New Agey but stay, as you mentioned, compellingly lyrical statements—even when they feel distinctly “channeled” in a spiritual context (see “Rave On, John Donne”). Your other two selections hit the spot for sure; both feel a million miles from each other musically and tonally, but feel like a kind of incoming cosmic signal. I believe BGC calls it “the Universal Broadcasting System,” a sort of sonic radio signal broadcasted by the universe itself. I definitely recommend the checking out 1984’s “Is This Clear,” a Richie Havens-esque early folk song from Laraaji, which expresses the universal but stays rooted in a hypnotic open strum. On the more pop-centric side, I’ve always found The Beach Boys’ TM-inspired spiritual “All This Is That,” from ’72’s Carl and the Passions, to be equally mystic sounding and genuinely affecting. | j woodbury

I’ve been increasingly using Bandcamp to source new music (in large part due to your column), and was curious as to what non-US based labels the AD crew regularly follows. Thanks for the good shit. – J.C.

Big question — you can definitely get lost in international waters as you explore various corners of Bandcamp. A couple come to mind, though. There’s the Tokyo-based WaJazz Series, curated by Yusuke Ogawa, with various killer comps of Japanese hard bop, fire music and beyond. There’s the French underground-focused La Souterraine, which is well worth digging into for unusual and alluring new sounds from Paris and beyond. There’s White Noise Records, based out of Hong Kong, which is documenting some of that city’s coolest artists, as well as branching out into Southeast Asia and New Zealand. And the UK’s Matsuli Music has been doing an amazing job with South African jazz grooves, both old and new. | t wilcox

I believe AD’s j. woodbury is a hardcore Arizonan. (Or is it Arizonian? Anyway, he’s a desert person.) Would love a deep dive on Arizona music/musicians from him one day. Love getting recs and insight from people who really understand and are deeply passionate about their locale. Always reveals cool stuff that no amount of digging can uncover. – Joe

I’m a hardcore Arizonan alright, born and raised. One of my first pieces of note for AD was actually a mixtape of vintage Arizona sounds: Range And Basin: Sonoran Roots, R&B, And Hard Rock 1966-1978. The desert strongly informs my own personal engagement with music, and to be sure, the Sonoran desert presents a vast sonic landscape: consider the theatrical desert twang of the Lee Hazlewood to the art punk of the Sun City Girls; or Link Wray’s 3-Track Shack and the full throttle soul of Dyke and the Blazers or Reverend Louis Overstreet’s gospel proto-punk. Plenty of Arizona music has been explored by myself and others here on AD, but I definitely dig the idea of some sort of Arizona-centric feature. Thanks for the nudge, more soon. | j woodbury

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