I had never heard anything like it. A two-string bass, distorted, pulsing and bending under a finger slide ... rolling in time to the perfectly executed ryhthms of a jazz saxophone.
You've got to be kidding me
I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard "Buena": coding at "Medweb" - a renovated factory space over the top of a furniture store in downtown San Francisco. The dotcom thing was ramping up, it was 1997, and I was making a commerce site for Pioneer Electronics.
A friend gave me this interesting CD: Cure for Pain. I'd heard the name of the band before - but never had the chance to listen to them much - so I popped the CD into my machine and watched WinAmp kick into life.
The opening of the CD features Dana Colley on saxophone quietly playing a mounting, Miles Davis-y interlude (which I really think was intentional) - as if to say "This is something different. You will stop what the fuck you are doing and pay attention".
And then... Buena.
Low Rock. "Fuck" Rock Actually.
That's a quote from Mark Sandman, Morphine's front man, and how he describes their style. Sounds about right to me.
I have a number of songs that I'll readily say are my "favorite". But then eventually I'll get to Buena and stop. To me, it's a rare - dare I say "perfect" song.
The first time I heard Kind of Blue by Miles Davis was when I started to love music. It was a devotional - something so completely ground-breaking, so effortless, so ... musical.
The sound was true, the tones just right. It was disciplined with no ego. Jazz wreaks of ego and pretense - Miles Davis exploded that.
Morphine, to me, did the same thing to 90s rock. Self-absorbed and angst-ridden twitch-rock that grew old before the song ended. Cobain did it all in one album - the rest was really unneeded.
And then came Morphine with a sound that exploded in your ear, dense with style and ... meat. Unexpected, soulful and true.
Where... Does That Sound Come From
Cure For Pain (the CD I was listening to) didn't exactly "explode" onto the musical scene - they were the Decemberists of their day: great music, excitingly different, altogether puzzling.
The initial reaction from the general public ranged from rabid fandom to annoyance - trying to figure out what that instrument was laying down those rubbery, smokey beats.
In other words: it was art.
Morphine's peers (Ben Harper, Queens of the Stoneage) were captured in a film, remembering the first time they heard the trademark Morphine sound. It's a film about Mark Sandman, their lead singer, and I really can't recommend it enough - so watch it when you can.
The Sound of 3
When you listen to Morphine, you're challenged immediately. The meter, syncopated tempos, and orchestration rest on so many different styles. The video to the right is "Speak My Language" - a very fun song, but honestly not one of my favorites.
The reason I love this video is because of the progression of the song. In the beginning you have a typical rock signature with a dash of funk - "pounding the 1" and then picking it up on the second beat.
And then... rolls in a very tribal sound. The beat is completely broken and drops off and away... and then boom. Here's a swingin rockabilly syncopated rythm. What the f***?
Once you've heard the song - start it over again and listen to the drum progression. That's Morphine.
OK - still with me? Listen to Mark on the vocals. His voice is singing a rather typical country croon: "All around the world... every where I go..." typical country stuff.
Now listen to the bass lines and timing coming off his "guitar": I'd call that a dash of punk with some sped-up rockabilly/blues.
Some people love this stuff, other people can't find a musical footing and just get flat out confused. I'm in the former camp - it's just wonderful stuff.