Five unusual discs for your workout

Mark Greif is a splendid, irritating and contrarious man. As a master polemicist, in his latest collection of essays Against Everything (Pantheon Books, 2016) he explains pretty well why we should stop exercising. Going to the gym, says Greif, makes us aware of the fact that we are machines, nostalgic for the times when real machines controlled our working life. Thoughts that are so vague they can’t be denied, but anyway we wouldn’t even have time to discuss the matter: we have cardio training in half an hour, Mark.
However there was a passage that we did like. Greif praises physical exercise done at home, in private, without method: a type of exercise that, according to him, is a revisitation of "certain eccentric  liberties typical of the personal technique.  Similar to a dance”. True, so why can't this apply to any type of exercise? Dance and self-discipline have always gone hand in hand, and we have never seen eccentric traits forbidden in the gym.
Long story short, here’s a list of five albums to listen to during your workout. Not a trivial adrenalin fueled compilation (Song #2) by Blur has already been suggested to you one time too many), but an eccentric soundtrack for your personal "dance sessions". Music by artists that love taking risks, capable of elevating your mind and taking it elsewhere while your body remains on the bike and does all the hard work. Have fun!

Derek Bailey, Carpal Tunnel

(Tzadik Records, 2005)

Terrible disk, but still you have to listen to it. Derek Bailey is an avant-garde guitarist who doesn't like songs: every record is a total improvisation with no half measures, from the first pinched string to the last. In 2005 he was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, a neuropathy that affects the median nerve, and consequently the index, middle and ring fingers. Bailey can no longer hold a plectrum, his ability is compromised. He replies by producing a new album: Carpal Tunnel, precisely.
Skip the first track, where Bailey sums up his condition. The next five tracks are 6 to 9 minutes long and have strange “personal-diary” or “medical records” types of titles: After 3 Weeks, After 5 Weeks, After 7 Weeks... And it is actually something halfway between a diary and a medical record: the tracks consist in the guitarist turning on and off the recorder, strumming and checking his own improvements.
For the record, the diagnosis was wrong: Derek Bailey was actually suffering from Gehrig's disease and passes away at the end of that year. In a sense, it is the motivational disc par excellence.

David Bowie, Earthling

(Virgin/BMG, 1997)


Playlist
We miss David Bowie enormously, so let's take him on board. However, this is a controversial Bowie: the one who rides around the British rave scene in the 1990s with a shopping bag in his hand, borrowing a bit of electronic drum' n' bass and running home to corrupt it with his unique “middle-class brit style”.
The result is nine storms in a glass, explosions of restrained energy, masterpieces of control and discipline. Nervous tracks, but of a twilight nervousness dressed in tweed. Like Dead Man Walking, a techno gallop (you should try it on the treadmill) with bittersweet lyrics dedicated to Neil Young and perhaps even to Bowie himself, stars "older than movies". The critics underestimated the record, accusing it of being juvenile; but just a couple of years later those very same critics applaud Blackstar, the farewell record, of which Earthling is the closest relative.

The Residents, Diskomo

(Ralph Records, 1980)

Artists, provocateurs, musicians only by chance. You will probably know the Residents on account of that famous photo in which they are wearing tailcoats, top hats and eyeball shaped masks: the main characteristic of the group is in fact the absolute secrecy regarding the identity of its four members. In 1977 they produced Eskimo, an album that is actually a documentary: while elsewhere punk culture is exploding, they tell us about traditions, superstitions and the impervious lifestyle of the Arctic peoples, through six musical landscapes - calling them songs would be reckless - mostly made of blowing wind, trampled snow and ritual invocations.
We can’t ignore that a workout sound track must contain at least a minimum of rhythm. Therefore, to you on the bike we propose Diskomo, a mad self-parody that takes Eskimo and remixes it in a synthetic-dance key, halfway between Kraftwerk and a Black Mirror episode. The fury with which the Residents scribble a moustache on one of their own cult discs should not come as a surprise: if you listen well to the original track, you will discover that at a certain point the chanting eskimos, pronounce the slogan Coca Cola is Life.

St. Vincent, Masseduction

(Loma Vista, 2017)


Playlist
Masseduction is above all the promotional architecture that St. Vincent, a.k.a. Annie Clark, builds around her fifth album: from personalized interviews in unusual situations (she will converse with a journalist while both are lying on a massage bed) to her tour, which sees the singer and guitarist alone on stage, engaged in little more than a suggestive karaoke version of her songs.
St. Vincent is putting the body back into the centre of the music scene, after the body – both feminine and masculine - had lost itself in a thousand trickles between one streaming platform and another. She does it by warning people about the excesses of hedonism (take a look at the video of the single Los Ageless) and she does it with all the irony that it takes today to wrap a sincere gesture. In the same way, Masseduction is a physical and carnal synthpop disc that invites movement. Filtered and deconstructed certainly, with authentically clever texts full of nuances. But still, Annie Clark is one of the best contemporary pop artists: so oblique, so literal.

Frank Zappa, Uncle Meat

(Bizarre/Reprise, 1968)

Frank Zappa in eight words: a composer who couldn’t afford an orchestra. That's why in 1964 he brings together an unlikely amateur rock band, The Mothers of Invention, and makes them sweat over London Philharmonic scores. And then rest with some 50's pop songs. Because yes, Zappa  likes those too.
Uncle Meat is probably the summa of the “Zappa-philosophy”. A collage of cracking marches on the cover shows the number 1349, the year of the black plague in Europe: some people have even sensed a sort of skeleton dance in the marimba and wood beats that are the base of most of the songs. We think it’s a nice cheeky sound (that seems tailor-made to accompany you during your spinning class) and surreal mini-tracks here and there, that, coincidentally, seem to deal with  the theme of nutrition.
In their own way, of course. Eat your vegetables / Don't forget peas and celery / Don't forget to bring your fake ID, (for some mysterious reason) are sung for some strange motive in Mr. Green Genes. There’s plenty of notes to take, for a nice post-workout smoothie.

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