Sunday, July 10, 2016

MASTER'S APPRENTICES


Better late than never, I guess. The Master's Apprentices have long been held in high esteem as one of this land's finest ever rock and roll combinations, and who am I to argue the point? They're right. Let me briefly discuss, in particular, their albums from 1971 and '72, Choice Cuts and A Toast To Panama Red, respectively, which they recorded in the UK as they tried to break it on the continent after dominating their homeland and producing two LPs of great beat/psych/pop. These last two LPs both currently remain out of print (except for possible 'grey area' issues c/o the Pig's Ear label from Germany), a ridiculous state of affairs, but a fairly typical one, too. They were reissued onto CD in the late '90s by the Sydney label, Ascension; hearing them for the first time, several friends of mine flipped their collective wig over their wares. I promised them I would get around to them one day, and I guess that day has finally arrived. I guess I've heard enough progressive/psychedelic hard rock albums in my life by now to state that these really are about as good as they get.




You can hear elements of various known entities in there - contemporaries they may or may not have even been aware of - such as Black Sabbath, Amon Duul 2, Groundhogs, Budgie and various Vertigo Records outfits - and I have just name dropped these outfits with a straight face and a serious intent: Australia's Master's Apprentices made albums on such a higher plane of consciousness. Choice Cuts boasts possibly the band's best-known song in 'Because I Love You' (used in an ad here for a number of years), but other than that, the two LPs consist of mainly deep cuts: prog-infused heavy guitar rock and roll. Jim Keays was an ace vocalist and a real presence in the band. He later contributed vocals to this cult underground Australian klassique from the mid '70s, and even produced two great albums of garage rock in his last few years (and I was privileged to be involved in the release of the last one), but for me what really catapults these discs into the stratosphere of greatness is the world-class ranking of the songs. It's all about the songs, man. And THE BAND. Master's Apprentices sound like a real band. What do I mean by that? I mean they gel, there's no hired hands here: the rhythm section works in total unity (that's Colin Burgess and Glenn Wheatley - the latter being a well-known 'industry' figure down here who actually served time on tax fraud charges a few years back) - and guitarist, Doug Ford, ebbs and flows between heavy powerchords of doom, spastic, Ginn-like solos and gentle, bucolic melancholy. Australia produced some hacks in the day - it's perfectly obvious that the Master's Apprentices were the real deal. So, so good.... and right under my damn nose the whole time.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

OSAMU KITAJIMA - BENZAITEN



Here is a rather fantastic LP from 1976 which I have only just become aware of. For collector-dorks of Japanese obscurities, it is a flamingly obvious classic. For dilettantes such as moi, it is a discovery one makes later in life. It is the debut LP by Osamu Kitajima, a Japanese musician, songwriter and producer who has spent the bulk of his life residing in Los Angeles and busied himself mostly with far less interesting fusionoid releases the past 40 years (although it is worth digging through for some moments of gold - I really am not familiar enough to make blanket judgments). However, this one from 1976, Benzaiten, is an experimental psychedelic gem, one strange enough to earn his name in the Weirdo Hall Of Fame List (AKA the Nurse With Wound List).

Firstly, there's this track directly below for your pleasure:



That was a track from Justin Heathcliff, off his self-titled debut LP on the Atlantic label in 1971. The connection? Justin Heathcliff is Osamu Kitajima. In '71, Kitajima lived in the UK for a year and, enamoured with the likes of Syd Barrett and the psychedelic works of pre-fame Marc Bolan, he took the nom de plume of Justin Heathcliff (a name which to me sounds more like a moors murderer than an acid-folkie) and somehow managed to score himself an album deal with the Japanese arm of Atlantic and recorded an album in a thoroughly British vein of psychedelic folk. You'll have to skip solid meals for a month to actually pay for a copy of this album, but you can hear the whole thing via Youtube, and it's well worth the effort. Certainly an unusual recording, given the circumstances.

But for me, Benzaiten, which has actually been reissued recently by the Victory label (as for whether this label has a royalties dept., that remains to be seen), is where the gold's at. It somehow scored itself both a Canadian and US release at the time (via Island/Antilles), and I'm guessing it didn't trouble the charts too much, because its exotic mix of traditional Japanese instrumentation and meditative Western psychedelia doesn't really render it 'the sound of '76'. In fact, given its proximity to the works of '80s/'90s PSF outfit, Ghost, I'd say it's more like the 'sounds of a Forced Exposure catalogue circa 1993'. I have spent a number of evenings staring at a wall playing this LP on repeat, and I can attest that it is a recording you should become familiar with.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

INVERLOCH


Here's an interesting album from 2016 which has taken my fancy, and the band known as Inverloch boast an interesting history. From 1989 - 1993, there was a renowned death/doom-metal band from Melbourne by the name of dISEMBOWELMENT. For followers of extreme underground metal, they require no introduction. They are legends in the field. But since this blog rarely covers underground extreme metal, and probably attracts few readers enthused greatly by it, some history must be given.

I first learnt of them in 1993 after the release of their sole album, Transcendence Into The Peripheral, which was put out on the fairly nascent Relapse label (now a big-deal metal powerhouse) at the time and which saw them garner massive amount of worldwide praise in the respective underground press. But they never played a single show, and then they split up. And, perhaps most strangest of all, some of the members hailed from fucking Ivanhoe. For those outside of the suburban confines of Melbourne that will mean next to nothing, but let's put it this way: Ivanhoe is a leafy upper-bourgeois epicentre where nothing much of any note happens, ever. Especially in the realms of interesting music.

So anyway, I heard about this mysterious band, heard the CD at a friend's place a couple of times, noted its interesting take on death/grind/doom, but didn't take it any further. There was other fish to fry. However, let's note this: dISEMBOWELMENT (yes, it's always spelt that way)'s take on the 'genre' was rather special. In fact, what they were really doing was forging a new genre. They can certainly be considered pioneers in the world of funeral (or funereal) doom music. dISEMBOWELMENT's music was richly organic, loose, downtuned to the point of limb-rattling, and rather abstract. Vocals were often mere grunts and groans - tuned down to a realm where they sound like they're emanating from Satan's anus), and the mixture of blast beats and truly slo-mo musical crawl, perfectly blended, was deft and artful. Songs sounded like they were collapsing and picking themselves up again. They were leaps and bounds beyond the thousands of cookie-cutter grind/death/doom bands popping their heads up throughout the universe at the time. There was a deeply gothic element to their music which makes them richly rewarding 20+ years later. Investigate.



In the mid '90s I found myself working with dISEMBOWELMENT guitarist/singer (that's Renata Gallina)'s brother, Fabrizio, in a music warehouse, and we became friends (though I haven't touched base with him for about a decade). At this stage, his brother was playing in the ethno-avant-ambient duo TRIAL OF THE BOW with ex-dISEMBOWELMENT member Matthew Skarajew. They released an EP and full-length CD on the Release label (Relapse's experimental sub-label) in the mid '90s, then called it a day. Heavily influenced by Dead Can Dance, Jon Hassell and the like, their output remains highly listenable. Coincidentally, they had a song called 'Inverloch'.



Inverloch, for those in the state of Victoria, is a slightly odd name for a band. While the name has Scottish heritage, it's also the name of a popular coastal town here where families spend their holidays. I have managed to procure myself an Inverloch - the band Inverloch - t-shirt from Relapse's distributor here, and when I wear it, I get peculiar looks. Is that an Inverloch t-shirt, the holiday town? No, it isn't, And that brings me to Inverloch the band. They are a newish outfit featuring one half of dISEMBOWELMENT: Skarajew, also one half of Trial Of The Bow, and Paul Mazziotta. They have yet to play a show locally, I believe, although this week they are performing at the renowned (and highly interesting and eclectic) arts/music festival in Hobart, Dark Mofo, and then they're off to Europe. They have their debut LP/CD out (after an EP from last year), yet again on the Relapse label, Distance Collapsed, and it is a perfect follow-up to the music of dISEMBOWELMENT which was cooked up in the northern suburbs of Melbourne some 25 years ago. It came out a couple of months ago, and I have flogged the proverbial out of it and then some. Like their former band, the sound is loose and organic, never getting too technical (way too much death metal relies far too heavily on the pitter-patter of double kick pedals), mixing up blast beats with funereal doom. You could argue that they've gone musically nowhere in quarter of a century, or you could argue that they've held true to the sound they pioneered. Or you could not argue at all and just enjoy the fucking record. There are 5 tracks in 40 minutes: short, sweet, mixing the epic with a slice of brevity. It's not a record for every occasion, but when this shit's done well, it moves my heart and loins. Inverloch do it mightily, and Distance Collapsed is a great thing.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

TEST RESULTS

Approximately two years ago, myself and my pal Warwick Brown - he's the man who owns/operates Greville Records - made a pact with each other to listen to a series of self-selected artists for an assessment. Essentially it was to be a reassessment of various singers/bands whom we had loathed and/or dismissed due to our various musical prejudices (i.e. snobbery), which meant that we would finally and belatedly give them a proper earful and not let bigotry rule our listening lives. Essentially, we came to the conclusion that we're both old and pathetic enough not to give a shit about being seen as cool anymore, and the rule book is to be thrown out the window! It was a revolutionary gesture.

OK, the following are a series of bands and/or releases which I have given an earload these past couple of years, and come out with a surprisingly positive reaction. Your reaction will likely be one of two: 1) Pfft! What the hell took you so long?; or 2) You have clearly lost your mind. I am unfollowing you now.

On with the show...

THE CURE
There are a number of 'New Wave' artists here whom I would never have given the time of day to in my prior listening habits because, well, they're just so fuckin' NEW WAVE, you know? Growing up on the hardcore, NU WAVE was for fuckin' POSEURS and HOMOS. Well, I didn't really take such a strident stance on those grounds, but for me such things were an artistic compromise, a cop-out on the artists' behalf, and thus didn't serve total allegiance and dedication to the underground. Or some such shit. Anyway, now that I'm older and patheticer, I have, through some serious badgering, come seriously around to The Cure's first four LPs, despite the goth-gimp persona of one Mr. Robert Smith and all associated something or others. Seriously, the first four - Three Imaginary Boys (1979), Seventeen Seconds (1980), Faith (1981) and Pornography (1982) - the band's alleged 'dark' period before morphing into the hit machine they became, together create a rather beautiful array of crystal-clear, delicate and downright fragile collection of greatness. Which isn't to put them all in the one basket: the debut is much rawer and 'amateur' than what came afterwards (Smith apparently doesn't like it, thinking it was too premature); the second and third capture that spidery, fragile sound I spoke of; and Pornography ups the angst and noise for a last gasp before things quietened down. All fine discs. Next!



NEW ORDER
Speaking of New Wavers... New Order were a band whom various nudniks in my high school raved about as if they were the epitome of 'alternative sounds', and thus I would pay them no mind. Dance music for dorks. Guitarless wonders. Hacks still riding the crest of the one talented member from their previous outfit who decided to take a long walk off a shot pier. Not that I was a big champion of the Joy Division cause, either, mind you. In fact, I'm still not that big a champion of all things Ian Curtis. A fine debut slightly wrecked by neutered production, although it still has its merits, though the follow-up, Closer, I still rate as a big bag of disappointment (thin, joyless nothing) and strangely enough I can now say that I think New Order's debut from 1981, Movement,  is better than anything JD did. It was greeted by a lukewarm reception at the time (I'm assuming people just missed good ol' IxCx and couldn't believe the band would just pick up and carry on like that), but its skeletal, minimal electro vibe is something which sounds tastier to these ears than any of JD's doom and gloom sludge. It is a surprisingly stark, avant-garde piece of percussive greatness.  The follow-up, 1983's Power, Corruption & Lies sees them sickening up their approach and adding more downtown NYC dance vibes, but it's still a very fine thing. Over time, I will move further down the line to investigate. For now, the first two will do.



TALKING HEADS
I came around to Byrne and co. about half a decade back. Badgering from friends, who couldn't believe that I could worship at the altar of Eno and yet not like the Eno-produced THs rekkids, wore me down. I succumbed to peer pressure and wrapped my eardrums around 1979's Fear Of Music and 1980's Remain In Light. Well, duh, they're as good as everyone says they are. 1978's More Songs About Building And Food is also right up there. The debut from '77 still leaves me cold: no Eno and little musical dynamics on display - but those three, they're keepers. Given the fact that I always have liked Eno's Before And After Science and King Crimson's Discipline LPs, both of which strongly relate to these 'Heads LPs, makes this conversion very belated. What a fuckin' New Waver.



10cc and GENESIS
You like '70s UK art-rock? You dig the sounds of Roxy Music, Van Der Graaf Generator, Sparks (limeys by default), Be Bop Deluxe? Sure you do! Then why wouldn't you dig the sounds of 10cc and Genesis? Here's why: because you're a goddamn bigot, a highfalutin' holier-than-thou music Klanner who thinks those two untouchables stink like a dead mule because you've been told they do. Well, that was my excuse. 20 years ago when I was working in the manufacturing dept. of a certain record company, I became friends (still am) with a certain gent who was nearly a decade older than myself, a transplant from Ol' Blighty who introduced me to John Martyn, amongst other things. His head was in the same musical space as mine at the time: Can, Suicide, Miles, Stooges, Boredoms, etc. But - BUT - he held an inexplicable love for Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Loved the absolute shit out of the classic early albums and would constantly try to get me to listen to them. I wouldn't go anywhere near them. My excuse was thus: I don't want to be a Genesis fan. I DON'T WANT TO BE THAT GUY! That'll mean I've crossed the line. What if I DO like them? What's next? Do I start getting into Dire Straits (see below)?! Well, it took until approximately 24 months ago when I finally took the plunge - out of pure curiosity - into the fiery pits of Genesis and acquired myself a copy of their 1974 meisterwerk, the legendarily 'challenging' Lamb Lies Down On Broadway 2LP set, the ambitious epic which saw Gabriel split from the band soon afterwards. It is an immensely rewarding set: experimental, flowing, dynamic, radical and all of the above. And so I went backwards to Foxtrot, Selling England By The Pound, Nursery Cryme and Trespass - all of them have something to recommend. Let's make this clear: had the band known as Genesis ceased to be in 1974 upon Gabriel's departure, you would hold them in the same regard as Roxy Music, etc. Those records are fucking weird and beautiful, and often weirdly beautiful, and very English and very early '70s. And The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is angry.

10cc? See all of the above and substitute 'Peter Gabriel' with 'Godley and Creme'. 10cc's first four discs: 10cc (1973), Sheet Music (1974), The Original Soundtrack (1975) and How Dare You (1976) are smart, funny, weird, disjointed slabs of bizarro limey art-rock, the rot only setting in after Godley and Creme split from the band, leaving it in the hands of Graham Goldman and Eric Stewart (their material thereafter simply irks me). Also worthy of investigation is Godley and Creme's Consequences 3LP set from 1977, but that's another story. Who hepped me to 10cc? Oren fucking Ambarchi. 'Hey Dave, you got How Dare You? Top-10 desert-island disc, man. TOP 10!'



FRANK ZAPPA
Well, I've always held a fondness for the works of the Mothers Of Invention, and have in fact written about them several times before here, but my standard line in the sand was Zappa's Hot Rats from 1969. Weasels Ripped My Flesh from 1970 got a pass, as it was a compilation of slightly earlier material. For shame! Those Mothers records still rule the planet and the universe, but Zappa's records from 1970 - 1975 contain a bounty of goods I had wilfully ignored for far too long. Sure, Frank's smug persona weighs heavier on these platters (it was that element which held me off for two decades), and there's some awfully dazzling displays of musicianship on show, but they never overshadow what is an amazing run of discs of gonzo rock & roll. Burnt Weeny Sandwich, Chunga's Revenge, Waka/Jawaka, The Grand Wazoo, Over Nite Sensation, Apostrophe ('), Roxy and Elsewhere (my fave) and One Size Fits All make for a dynamite slab of head-rock in the pre-punk era. Sure, Zappa fans are deeply annoying humans and he inspired a sea of shit in his wake, but the original source material is a different matter: smart-arsed greaser-rock with a taste for the absurd.



DIRE STRAITS
Fuck. I mean, this one's embarrassing. I was bullied into giving this one a spin by various hep - yeah, HEP! - friends of mine who'd told me that, no matter what I had always thought of Dire Straits and their shithouse brand of tepid, banal, brown-flavoured Dad-rock, I should give their self-titled debut from 1978 a listen, as it was somewhat of an anomaly in their catalogue of musical mush. Yes, it is. I will paraphrase what I said about Genesis and 10cc: had the band known as Dire Straits called it a day immediately after the release of this album - or had they all died in a tragic car crash or some such - your opinion of the band, which would be based solely on this one LP, would probably be very different. The band were zeros at this stage: mere pub-rockers in a sea of punkers, a functional guitar/bass/drums/vocals band, a low-key, Dylan-damaged folky one at that. The recording is fairly raw and sparse, the songs are mostly hooky gems (there's 'Sultans Of Swing' in there, perhaps the only song you may recognise if you're not familiar) and fuck a duck! If this was the only thing they did - I'll say it again - it'd be a cult UK folk-rock one-off from a bunch of odd ducks stuck in the punk era. If it had been issued privately in 1973 AS IS, drooling collector dorks would probably skip a few meals to pay for an original pressing. All of this isn't to imply that it's amazing - it's simply a very solid limey folk-rock LP by a band who devolved into one of the fucking lamest musical propositions this planet has ever known. But don't hate on 'em for it.



Over and out.

SOFT OPTION

Over the month of May, myself and my pal Josh were given the honour of a late-night two-hour slot on Melbourne's 3RRR radio station (the land's most widely heard community radio station, don't ya know?). OK, so it was the midnight - 2 AM slot on a Friday evening/Saturday morning - waaaay past my usual bedtime, if you need to know, but it was not an opportunity to be knocked back. The show was entitled SOFT OPTION.

A little bit of background information may be required here. I've known Josh for approximately a decade; we worked together for just under a year or so, but he lived nearby and we kept in touch. We both had children around the same time and would have Dad play dates at the park, as you do (that's where parents stand around at a playground talking BS whilst their kids play). Josh's musical tastes veer strongly in the areas of classical (modernist and not) and electronic music (the danceable and non-danceable kind), while mine are whatever they may be. About a year ago we found that we were both listening to quite a lot of 'soft' music, and particularly it was Lewis (whom Josh got me into) who had become a musical obsession for the both of us. We took it upon ourselves, each time we caught up, to inform each other of a new, musically pissweak discovery: the softer, the better.

A show was pitched, the rest is history. There were four airings in total, and you can stream them all below, if you care. You will hear limp disco, bantam-weight singer-songwriters, ambient pioneers and hacks, ECM fuzak and the light banter of two pathetic middle-aged white man wondering what on earth they're doing. Take the Soft Option.

SHOW ONE: HERE
SHOW TWO: HERE
SHOW THREE: HERE
SHOW FOUR: HERE

Thursday, May 12, 2016

MARC MOULIN


This previously-unheard-of gem from 1975 has really taken my fancy the last 6 months. Its name is Sam' Suffy. Original copies will likely put you in the poor house, but relax, oh collector-dork, there is a very nice reissue on the Music On Vinyl label (do your Googling, I'm not here to promote their wares). Marc Moulin is an interesting cat whose discography I was woefully ignorant of just a year ago. He passed away in 2008, but was somewhat of an identity in his homeland of Belgium. Along with his sporadic solo career, he was a member of three crucial Belgian groups in the 1970s: Placebo, the jazz fusion outfit who released three excellent albums in the first half of that decade (and are obviously not to be confused with those Limey nudniks of the same name); Aksak Maboul, who were an interesting avant-rock band linked up with Henry Cow and the RIO crowd in the late '70s, and one whose name can be found in the infamous Nurse With Wound List; and Telex, the synth-pop band of the '70s/'80s who were, if need be, the Belgian equivalent of Kraftwerk and even had a few minor hits down here at the time. On top of that, he was a renowned journalist and broadcaster who also released several 'jazz' albums on the Blue Note label. This week's candidate for Renaissance Man? I'll vote for him.

Here's a Placebo cut.



And a Telex number.



Telex performing at the 1980 Eurovision contest.



Some choice Aksak Maboul.



A number of from his Sam' Suffy LP.



And another...



Where does Marc Moulin's Sam' Suffy fit within the musical universe? It is nominally a 'jazz-fusion' recording (I've learnt not to be afraid of throwing around such a term: there is good fusion and there is plenty of bad fusion). In fact you might even call it proto acid-jazz or proto trip-hop and all other manner of frightening names. To my ears it's quite a brain-bending mix of cosmic jazz-rock, ambient and lounge sounds, a more laid-back, concise take on the classic Bitches Brew sound, if you will. If you must. Listen to all of the above. It was a life well lived.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

SOULED AMERICAN



Another unexpected musical detour which has taken my fancy the past 6 months. I recall when Souled American were fairly active in the late '80s/early '90s, and their existence didn't register beyond a blip on the radar. There was enough hope from someone somewhere that they would amount to more than a hill o' beans, since a couple of their LPs were even licensed here in Australia (to Festival Records - though I'm assuming that was possibly due more to a deal between the US Rough Trade office and Festival: if you're going to distribute our label, then all priorities get a local release).

So anyway, Souled American existed from roughly the mid '80s until the mid '90s and are often considered pioneers in the alt-country genre. But you're allowed to like them regardless. My ears were originally piqued to the idea of there being something curious about the band when the Tumult label reissued their first four albums as a 4CD set back in 1999. Tumult was/is owned and operated by Andee Connors, who also happens to be a co-owner of Aquarius Records in San Francisco. Its roster usually hovers around the musical realms of black metal/stoner/doom/punk/noise and other ear-bleeding music forms. But Souled American, a largely forgotten countrified indie band from Chicago, were so highly regarded by Andee (one of his favourite bands of all time!) that he felt compelled to piss money into the wind and release a goddamn 4CD box set by a band few people gave a shit about in the first place. Well, that box set sold out years ago and actually goes for a bit of money now, so I guess some must have caught on. I was inspired to investigate their wares by that situation, and also because their 5th and 6th albums - which were released in 1994 and 1997, respectively, and only in Germany - happened to be included in this list of Jim O'Rourke's favourite music (it's an approximate list, one collated via some diligent research, and a fascinating buyers' guide, if you care).



I have managed to tumble across vinyl copies of their first two LPs: 1988's Fe and '89's Flubber, both in such mint condition at a suburban secondhand barn that I figure the original owners never even gave 'em a chance (fair enough - few did), and both of which are Australian editions. I don't recall the band ever getting airplay down here on community radio at the time; in fact, I don't recall a goddamn ripple, so I'll make the wild assumption that most copies were trashed upon marketplace failure. Certainly the US branch of Rough Trade wasn't a particularly exciting place to be, musically, during this era, and in fact it was a terrible place to be by 1992, when it went bust and burnt a number of its artists. It managed to released some fine recordings from Galaxie 500, but other than that, the only release which springs to mind is one of the Butthole Surfers' worst (1990's Pioughd). And in amongst this was the Great White Hope of college radio at the time. The obi strip on my copy has a quote from some such putz which compares 'em to the Violent Femmes, Meat Puppets and Camper Van Beethoven (whom they toured with). OK... But really, if you dig deeper, and if you give them time, Souled American had layers of sound beyond the obvious to offer.



Their music was loose, disjointed and only became more so over their career. Both Fe and Flubber  as do all their recordings - feature the bass playing of Joe Adduci, and it's this instrument and the way it's played which really adds to their sound. Their music is often sparse with drawled, stoned-sounding vocals, and amidst this is Adduci's clunking, almost funky six-string bass work (on a Fender VI). Now, I don't mean to say that his bass playing is 'funky' like the guy is slapping and popping to within an inch of your sanity, but there are big, abrupt and quite intrusive bass notes throughout which add a new and rather peculiar dimension to their music. Like two of my other favourite bands of the era - Slovenly and The Scene Is Now - repeated listens to Souled American show them to be a deceptive band at first listen, enveloping their material with all kinds of non-standard extras which add extra layers to their songs. There is a definite non genericus element to their music which has had me coming back for more.




Now, the other interesting aspect to Souled American is this: they released two more albums on Rough Trade - 1990's Around The Horn and 1992's Sonny (neither of which I've procured yet) - both of which sold less than the previous two (the band's history was one of declining sales), before regrouping mostly sans-drummer for 1994's Frozen and 1997's Notes Campfire. Of the latter two, I have the former and not the latter. Got me? These last two, as noted, were only released in Germany on the Moll Tontrager label, which I guess hints at their fortunes falling even further. But they are equally excellent, if not more so. By the time of Frozen, their music had become a gooey sprawl, almost formless. Drawled vocals, guitar notes flying slowly at whim, those meaty bass notes giving an anchor when there's little to no percussion to be heard. It is truly a beautiful thing to behold. A decade prior, the band was pipped and primed to be the latest College Rock Sensation, and somehow it came to this. And that's not a bad thing, because unlike most Great White Hopes of 1980s college radio, you'd actually still want to listen to Souled American, whereas most you'd never want to hear at all. I need to fill in the gaps, of course, but having now ensconced myself in various areas of their discography, I'm convinced they were a band well worth giving a shit about.




Monday, May 02, 2016

GOD BULLIES. YES, THE FUCKING GOD BULLIES.


It's been some time. There are several explanations, none of which are particularly interesting. It's guilt which brings me back to this blog. Not Catholic guilt... perhaps it's Protestant Work Ethic Guilt: the sense that I should be doing something creative, laying my thoughts onto screen for no other reason than pure selfishness (and audience adulation, let's face it). But here I am. I hope your 2016 has been kind to you thus far. It has been very gentle with me., and that is sweet relief.

I haven't really ever written about this on the blog before - frankly, because it's none of your damn business - but the story may be a reasonable segue way into music open for discussion. So, for the past 8 months I have been a partner in a record store in Melbourne: Round And Round Records in Brunswick. When I left my previous position at a record company last July - walked out that damn door - I was left with my dick in the breeze, so to speak, and no idea what to do. My two good friends who owned/operated the shop - my favourite musical retail outlet in Melbourne, I should add - offered me a stake in the business, and I took it.  There are many other details to add, but this is not a confessional. I am happy, scraping a living from it and it would be nice if you'd drop on by. My head is in a very good place, and I'd like to use this opportunity to get more regularly, uh, 'creative'.

The shop is a mix of 50/50 new and secondhand vinyl; there was a time when it sold CDs (and even DVDs!), but since at some point many in the general public decided they didn't want such things, those formats were stripped from the shelves. The market did the talking, although we (or at least I!) remain unfazed regarding musical formats, as for myself, the music itself is really the only thing worth discussing.

So, approximately 6 weeks ago, an old friend of mine came in and sold off a box of old records. I've known this gent for roughly 15 years, used to play in bands with him and generally know his taste in music. It was a big pile of punk/goth/noise goodness, and right in the pile was, gulp, two LPs by God Bullies. I hadn't given them much thought since Bill Clinton was President, but I was happy to purchase them for the shop, figuring the Great Grunge Revival was/is right around the corner and that some 40-something putz with the weight of the world on his shoulders and a head full of worry would grab them, toot sweet. The Great Grunge Revival is yet to hit, of course, but in the meantime, I wound up purchasing the two LPs in question, and hopefully that's the strangest fucking thing I do all year.

I should clarify here: I rarely ever take home secondhand LPs from the store, for two simple reasons - 1) It makes sense that the good secondhand arrivals should hit the shelves for the customers and not for my own gratification at home; and 2) I need more records like I need a hole in the head. But in this case, something odd happened. I kind of laughed when the records first arrived: Dog Show?! Fuck! I bought that when I was 18 and sold it by the time I was 25! The late '80s/early '90s... they could be a cruel period. Yes, I do recall buying Dog Show when I was 18 and being distinctly under-impressed by it, although I desperately wanted to like it, given the good press it had received and its label Amphetamine Reptile's then-rep (this is 1990, folks) as one of the world's great taste-making recording imprints. Its mixture of sample-heavy clunk-rock with thin production and tastelessly metallic guitar sheen left me colder than a fuckin' iceberg and I dismissed it as a whole lotta hype about nothing much at all.

Despite this questionable history with its wares, I found myself, over the ensuing weeks, giving them some serious air time when I was in the shop. My workmate found its hilarious, if perhaps a bit disconcerting. He did, at the very least, promise me that if a totally boss collection of Surgery and Chokebore LPs came in, I could get first dibs. I felt a curious sense of nostalgia for a record I thought was a steaming pile of shit 25 years ago. And I haven't even mentioned my fondness for their debut full-length, also in the secondhand pile, Mamawombwomb, which I was giving similar airing on the stereo system. It came to be that no one bought them in the (mere) three weeks I gave them shelf space - and in fact no one paid any interest in them whatsoever - and I decided I would purchase them and give them a home myself. It was probably some point around here when I lost my mind.


God Bullies formed in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the mid '80s, and released four LPs before splitting in the mid '90s. The last, Kill The King, was released in 1994 on the Alternative Tentacles label, while War On Everybody from 1991 was similarly released on the AmRep label and for me ranks as their best (though I don't own the thing - I streamed it via a certain platform [take a wild fuckin' guess]). Their guitarist was David B. Livingstone, who also happened to be an editor/published of Your Flesh magazine (one of the better post-Forced Exposure rant mags of its day) and indie band booker in the midwest. Their singer was 'crazy man', Mike Hard. I don't know much about Mike except he was apparently 'craazee' in a rock-singer kinda way, but, you know, everyone was back in the day. There's this clip here you can see, which has the band in full flight, but I'd recommend you don't watch it, if you're at all partial and/or curious about the band. I know, it's so tempting, but honestly, it's a hamfisted, overcooked semi-embarrassment which looks like a band trying too hard. Correct me if I'm wrong, dear readers, but quarter of a century later, from the comfort of the other side of the world, it looks like a parody of a grunge-era noise-rock band. I'm sticking to the audio side of things.


Mamawombwomb goes lighter on the sampling and possesses much better production than Dog Show, and it's the stronger of the two. If I was to dumb it down to a catch-phrase, and you know I will, I'd say that they approximate some sort of meeting point twixt the Melvins, Buttholes and Killdozer. From the first, there's the rifferama; from the second, the psychedelic 'crazy' angle; and from the latter, a thick slice of midwestern sludge. I think the Melvins, Buttholes and Killdozer are all streets ahead of God Bullies in terms of musical, innovative and creative endeavours, of course, which might prompt the question - why fucking bother? - and I can't really answer that. Why bother getting out of bed every day? I don't know. Maybe there's more God Bullies records to buy. Overcome with a sense of nostalgia from when I was young, dumb and full of cu- hope for the world? That's a distinct possibility. No, it's a probability. But there remains those two LPs: Mamawombwomb and Dog Show. I like 'em. The clunkiness and thin production of Dog Show don't grate me like they used to. Instead, what I hear is a basement-level midwestern shit-rock which I'm giving a B+. Right now, that's good enough.