Unlocking the Fragments
Sometimes life and everything it encompasses gets so fragmented that it's easier to talk about favorite moments than favorite albums or even favorite songs.   Moments within songs, certain fragments, often very brief, where everything seems to come together, everything coalesces at just the right time and the music is propelled into something utterly divine, some completely other level of transcendence. For example that lovely little turn around phrase that opens the Association's "Never My Love." I recently heard an otherwise forgettable group stick this on loop for an entire song and it worked basically because that part is just so beautiful that it stands up to that kind of repetition.  I think part of the initial, if not lasting appeal, of hip-hop, house and their offspring is the ability to recognize and use these great moments as the building blocks or structural basis of whole songs. 

A favorite fragment right now is the guitar motif which begins at approximately 3:28 into Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band's "Kandy Korn" (The Mirror Man sessions version 1967) and again at 6:51, where after stating the basic lyrics of the song which includes among others "well they look so good, I want to eat them" and "be reformed, be reborn, kandy korn", the band goes into a kind of holding pattern: tension builds between the guitars' circular riffs, teasingly dropping in and out of synch with each other, the bass starts to gallop and John French's drums back off a little, then start to pound, cymbals crash and some kind of vaguely gothic sounding chant enters briefly, with the band still holding the riff taunt behind it and then suddenly like a dam breaking the brittle shards of Jeff Cotton and Alex St. Clair Snouffer's guitars join together and dive into a simple but beautiful repetitive pattern that ebbs slightly in and out of focus, with the bass providing movement underneath and the whole band moving together in a tremendous sway and a grand release  It feels like a school of dolphins swimming in sky blue water and white surf, darting in patterns, together and over and all around each other.  The whole band at that point has become one, they have created a living thing, identities dissolved into the whole.  It's not that the whole song doesn't make it, cause it does, but these are the parts where things really take off, the peak to which the song builds, twice actually.    These sections also seem to point the way for much of the guitar work picked up on a decade later by Television and then the no wave groups and even later by Sonic Youth.  ("Kandy Korn" is also worth mentioning as a side note for its main melody, which sounds a very likely culprit for the inspiration behind the Buzzcocks' "Why Can't I Touch It.")  

On the same Mirror Man sessions another similar but even more transcendent moment happens on "Moody Liz", right around 3:34 where the guitars begin a joyously ebullient interlocking passage, with one picking a simple melody that has already been stated in the song, but this time the other guitar starts to chunk out thick distorted chords that follow the descending bass pattern behind it, the whole band locks onto this part and joins together bringing the final minute or so of the song to a tremendous climax.  It's pure magic that, though almost assuredly planned, sounds like some great pattern stumbled upon after 3 minutes plus of examining a lock, or dicking around with a combination, searching, suddenly all together at once the band discovered the key, the magical formula, and bam it all opens up!  The whole piece takes off at this point into the ether, it would be the perfect accompaniment for the final scene of a film where everything seems like it's gonna be alright forever, that ride into the sunset velvet(s) feeling of evermore.  It gives chills and brings a smile to your face, maybe even a tear.  Though much of the Mirror Man Sessions is worthwhile these are the two absolutely beautiful, no holds barred moments on the c.d. that make it a must own and which live up in every way to the appellation, Magic Band. 

© 2004 William Crain