Lou Reed, “I’m Waiting for the Man – May 1965 Demo” (Light in the Attic Records)
Sometimes the phrase in this column’s header, “Best New Music,” actually means “Most Historically Important Old Music.” That’s the case with “I’m Waiting for the Man – May 1965 Demo” by the late Lou Reed, main songwriter for the greatest American rock group ever, the Velvet Underground. The song’s destined to appear on Words & Music, May 1965, the first title in Light in the Attic’s Lou Reed Archive Series. The album comes out August 26, but you can pre-order it now.
Recorded with future Velvets violist/bassist John Cale, Words & Music, May 1965 includes three embryonic versions of songs—“Heroin,” “Pale Blue Eyes,” “I'm Waiting for the Man”—that appeared on Velvet Underground albums. In addition, there are tracks that reveal Reed’s brief flirtations with folk and blues, including covers of Bob Dylan’s “Don't Think Twice, It’s All Right” and the traditional (as adapted by Eric von Schmidt and Dylan) “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down.” Astonishingly, the tape containing these 17 songs remained in a sealed envelope for nearly 50 years; Reed had mailed it to himself as a “poor man’s copyright.” Light in the Attic worked with Lou’s widow, the experimental artist Laurie Anderson, to bring this previously unreleased work to the public.
On Words & Music, fans can glimpse a songwriting genius in his rawest state and hear trace elements that would bloom into iconic and iconoclastic forms a little over a year later on The Velvet Underground & Nico. In a sense, Words & Music allows for an interesting comparison with the 2022 Record Store Day release I’m So Free: The 1971 RCA Demos: You can hear how Reed evolved in the ensuing six years—and retained his core songwriting attributes.
The 1965 demo version of “I’m Waiting for the Man” bears scant resemblance to the proto-punk chugger about copping smack in Harlem that dirtied up side one on the Velvets’ 1967 debut LP. Instead, it’s an easygoing, acoustic guitar-based ramble with a rough-hewn harmonica lament, augmented by Cale’s backing vocals and mannered Welsh intonations in response to the protagonist being accused of chasing the neighborhood’s women (“Oh, pardon me, sir/Nothing could be further from my mind/I’m just waiting for a dear, dear friend of mine”). This is some historic, revelatory shit—okay, Boomer?
Twïns, “Something About Alice Coltrane” (Earth Libraries)
Twïns (aka Berlin-based musician Miro Denck) is one of those rare modern one-person bands with the special sauce that elevates his work from the mediocre throngs. Generally speaking, his music’s singer-songwriter-esque bedroom pop, but it’s bathed in an unearthly glow and imbued with complex emotions that reward repeat listens. (If you literally only have a minute, you could do worse than to check out his 2021 track “Velvet Dreams” for proof.)
Denck’s voice may be limited, but that doesn’t keep it from conveying a keen sense of forlornness and yearning. His vocal limitations actually complement the intimate, vulnerable character of the music. Not everyone can be Tim Buckley or Nilsson on the mic; sometimes the earthbound monotones of your Lou Reeds and Leonard Cohens are just what the occasion calls for.
Twïns’ forthcoming album The Human Jazz (out June 29) is subtitled “an ode to transience,” which, if you’re working in pop, is practically a given. It might be a stretch to say that we’ll be listening to The Human Jazz in 20 years, but for now, its eight songs resonate deeply amid a sonic style that has become numbingly overfamiliar.
The Human Jazz really excels when Denck forgoes singing, as with the too-brief “Transcend”. On tracks like it and “Foliage,” he lets his exceptional ear for winsome tonalities and poignant melodies shine through with a retro-futurist panache.
As fine as The Human Jazz is, the non-LP track “Something About Alice Coltrane” lifts Twïns’ game to an even higher level. First, we must encourage anyone—especially musicians who appeal to young listeners—who draws more attention to the astral-jazz harpist/keyboardist Alice Coltrane, who passed away in 2007. Her cosmic excursions have only come to sound more relevant in the years since her death. Second, Denck has genuinely captured the sound and spirit of Coltrane’s entrancing compositions on her most popular album, Journey in Satchidananda. This is a brilliant surprise coming from a German musician young enough to be Coltrane’s grandson.
Denck festoons “Something About Alice Coltrane” (a reference to her track “Something About John Coltrane”) with that sidewinding “Satchidananda” tamboura purr, an icily beautiful piano motif, and Cecil McBee-like bass feints. The addition of miniaturist wah-wah’d guitar calligraphy puts Denck’s distinctive stamp on the piece. This is a perfectly pitched homage to one of the most justly revered musicians of the last century, and I hope it inspires people to seek out more releases from Alice Coltrane—and Twïns.