Sunday, November 15, 2015


I fell over this YouTube clip yesterday, and it impressed me greatly. It's more than a mere clip, it's a two-part documentary on the Buzzcocks and Magazine totalling 40 minutes of your time, and worthy of your time it is. I posted a little while ago here a brief, and possibly lame, appraisal of the early works of Magazine, and my affection for the band - primarily their first three LPs: Real Life, Secondhand Daylight and The Correct Use Of Soap - increases as time goes by. They were a very peculiar beast of a band, but of course, Howard Devoto is a rather peculiar fellow. He sabotaged his own possible career as a 'punk icon' just as the Buzzcocks were taking off, claiming the 'movement' had become a cliche and he wished to move on (a truism, but still no reason to quit the band, so far as I can see it, especially since the Buzzcocks were most definitely one of the smarter/better/best practioners of the genre, but I digress...). There's a telling interview within the documentary, in which he notes that it's a basic part of his personality: sabotaging expectations.

 Regardless, this mini-feature was made/narrated by Tony Wilson for the Granada TV show, What Goes On (the first televisual show to give the Sex Pistols some air) in the UK, and he was certainly one of the smarter and more atuned television presenters of his or any time, but that's obvious. There's been a lot of mythologising regarding Tony Wilson and Factory Records the past two decades, but his accomplishments and what he brought to British life during the punk/post-punk era cannot be taken away from him. This documentary shows him as an informed and informative man, and it really does the chart the respective careers of the Buzzcocks and Magazine circa 1978 in an intelligent and interesting manner which never insults the intelligence of the viewer. The fact is this: you'd be hard pressed to find a documentary on two excellent bands as good as this on any television show ever.

It's interesting to note the difference between the two bands: the Buzzcocks stuck to a formula pretty tightly - admittedly it's a genre they pioneered - one of high-energy punk rock brandished with pop melodies, while Magazine went for texture, drama and more mixed tempos, mixing punk aggression with a heavy dose of '70s Eno and Berlin-period Bowie. The Buzzcocks kept it simple; Magzine didn't. In fact, the latter were downright musicianly, with dunderheads like journalist Gary Bushell writing them off as prog-rockers. That said, this clip of the band demonstrates their sense of musical grandeur quite perfectly, and if your idea of punk rock in 1978 was Sham 69 and their acolytes, then the sight of Magazine with their multi-keyboard set-up and mounted roto-toms on the drum kit may indeed been a thing of great horror.

The fact remains, however, that both bands excelled, and the Buzzcocks, similarly, made three LPs to stake your life on: Another Music In A Different Kitchen, Love Bites and A Different Kind Of Tension - the kind of consistent longplay action which left many of their contemporaries in the dust. Both Pete Shelley and Devoto are captivating figures in '70s avant-punk; Shelley, for instance, recorded an experimental electronic album way back in 1974 (released in 1980 on his Groovy Records label), and you can hear some of it here. Both men were pioneers, so pay some goddamn respect.
Anyway, sit back, grab a drink and enjoy. It's worth it...

Tuesday, November 03, 2015


Jim O'Rourke's Simple Songs LP/CD on the Drag City label has somehow turned into one of my favourite recordings of 2015. I have never claimed fandom for the O'Rourke cause, but then again, nor have I dragged his name through the mud. I have admired his work from afar, yet never taken his music close to my heart. His series of solo albums he released on Drag City many moons ago floated within my orbit at the time, and yes, I heard them all a number of times. The memories are pleasant, but they remain memories. I procured myself a promotional copy of this LP mid-year when I was in a deep funk - as indeed I had been in a deep funk all year. And that's not the kind of funk you can dance to. The worst of it is over now, but as it can be on such occasions: music was a great friend and provided some solace. This album hit me hard at the right time. Recorded in Japan with local musicians - the land where O'Rourke resides - it has a beautiful sense of isolation and despair. It's a lonely middle-aged man's recording, by and for. I like to refer to it as egghead yacht-rock. Musically it's very much in a '70s singer-songwriter vein: some Randy Newman, a dab of Jackson Browne, some of his beloved Van Dyke Parks in the strings and orchestration, Spector-period Dion, the musicianly dynamics of primo Steely Dan, and you could possibly throw in a dozen or so obscure/underloved/failures from the period whom O'Rourke rates highly but just have me scratching my head (I read a recent O'Rourke piece where he was spruiking the works of Rupert Holmes...). Simple Songs only has 8 songs, but they flesh out to make a wondrous whole. For a 'musical journeyman' (sorry...) w/ many a notch in his belt, it strikes me as a statement. It won't set the world on fire nor get the kids dancing, but for me right now it feels right.

Saturday, October 24, 2015


 I do love a label with a strong sense of graphic design, one where the releases feel like chapters in a book, telling a story with the music and associated visuals. There are obvious examples - ECM and Blue Note certainly spring to mind - as well as Tzadik and the Rune Grammofon label from Norway, although I feel that their releases starting flying way off the mark musically roughly half a decade ago. One such label, which I've only very recently become aware of, is the El Paraiso imprint from Denmark.

Owned and operated by musicians Jakob Skott and Jonas Munk, both of whom have solo LPs on the label and who are both members of the band Causa Sui, it's got a small but estimable catalogue of artists (all seemingly friends or inter-related through bands) who cut a wide musical path - stoner rock, psychedelia, folk, jazz, electronica - but all seem to be headed in the same vague direction of, dare I say, transcendent sounds. Headline act, Causa Sui, a four-piece rock outfit, often get lumped within the 'stoner rock' scene, although the music they create is often more eclectic and engaging than most acts I associate w/ the genre. Sure, there are recycled/regenerated '70s 'Sabbath riffs a-plenty, but the music, which includes kosmiche keyboards and sometimes sax, also lends an air of Soft Machine before they went off the rails, or the dynamic complexities and riff-making of early Mahavishnu. Apparently mostly improvised, they can make long song engaging, and the shorter ones sharp and to the point. You might want to try their Pewt'r Sessions or Summer Sessions series: they make for epic, enjoyable slogs, and the guitar/keyboard textures - did I mention that they are purely instrumental? - put them in the vein of Ten East and Yawning Man (two bands I plundered money and time into many moons ago), and while I'm on a roll, I'll throw this in: had they hailed from the US of A in the late '80s, they woulda fitted like a goddamn glove in the SST regime of the day.

Jonas Munk's Pan LP from 2012 is one to investigate. Guitars are mostly forsaken for driving electronics. There are obvious precedents for the sounds within: Manuel Gottsching, maybe even some of Steve Hillage's recordings. The interplay between the mechanical electronics and the fluid, organic guitar playing is what makes it work. It doesn't rewrite the songbook of 21st century music as we know it, but one demanding as such is asking for too much. Jakob Skott's solo ventures are also something to investigate, and there's two of them: Amor Fati and Taurus Rising, both of which display a heavy kraut damage on their sound, although they aim for a percussive, rhythmic bent and eschew ambience, for the most part. We're talking morotik beats occassionally interrupted by outbreaks of bombast, and they are records I will put my name to.

The Brian Ellis Group's Escondido Sessions LP was released quite recently, and is my pick of the bunch. And again, it goes to show that El Paraiso doesn't necessarily follow a given musical formula. Ellis is a Californian whose musical CV involves various psych-jam outfits, although his quartet takes its influences from the music of '70s Miles Davis and the early (and crucial) Tony Williams Lifetime recordings, which means that this disc is white-hot and not merely a regurgitation of Ellis' record collection. There's four exploratory jams here which meld the sounds of Miles, Williams, pre-vom Zappa and Soft Machine w/ Wyatt in tow (before they also crawled up their own backsides), which may spell prog-fusion to you, but to moi spells fun times. And indeed it is. The cover perfectly apes the sounds you may expect: it looks like a Limey jazz-rock album from the early '70s, or some obscuro fusion disc from a time before the genre blew, and that's what it sounds like, too. One of my fave discs of '15. Ellis has also recently released a a duo guitar recording with Brian Grainger, a quieter affair which sees them delving into a Brit-folk realm (think of Jansch/Renbourn, of course) on the El Paraiso imprint - At Dusk be its name - and it's also worth the time and trouble.

Oh, there's also the Danish collective known as Shiggajon, whose Sela LP floats my boat in serious ways. They claim influence from the likes of Don Cherry and Alice Coltrane, and I'd say there's a heavy tip to the former there (esp. his early '70s Swedish gonzo period), and while they don't reach the spiritual plains of either (who possibly could?), possibly due to the whiteness of its sound (sorry, but it's true), there's an improv/hippie vibe here I dig a lot. I'd put 'em more in the bracket of The Necks or the communal-jam vibe of Amon Duul more than the spiritual jazz aura to which they aspire, but that's an OK place to be, too. Ya dig?

All of these albums can be sampled at the El Paraiso web site, and for the record: I am not on a retainer from the label. I simply share because I care. I have but scraped the top of the barrel here. There is more to investigate under the EP roof - these are simply the highlights. This is great music in the here and now. Over, out.

Sunday, October 04, 2015


Sometimes even the greatest marketplace failures enjoy a second life. The sole LP from LA's Stains, released on the SST label, has never fully enjoyed the life of a full revival and reappraisal, but it should. Some label such as, say, Superior Viaduct or Southern Lord (who have done a good job w/ Bl'ast!'s catalogue) should get on the case, but then again, you'd have the iron will and ninja legal team of Greg Ginn to contend with, and one would probably get nowhere fast.

The band's roots go all the way back to 1976, though the one album they recorded - all 21 minutes of it - didn't see release until 1983, two years after it was recorded. Look up any old LA flyer ca. 1980 - '83 and you'll undoubtedly see their name pop up. They played w/ all the greats and not-so-greats, and from all reports were a scorching live act. Circa 1983, SST was getting all 'heavy', digging into the worlds of '70s hard rock and metal with the likes of Overkill (their debut 7" from '82 is actually pretty straight 'punk', though once Merrill Ward took over on vocals they became worshippers at the altar of Lemmy), Wurm (Dukowski's pre- and then post-Black Flag outfit, who released a great 7" and equally great LP which deserve reappraisal [and reissue]), Saint Vitus and Black Flag themselves. SST made kind of a deal of the Stains' 'proto-crossover' fury and the metal angle, though to my ears it does them a disservice, nor does it accurately describe their music. I guess, for one, when I think 'crossover' I think hardcore mixed with speed/thrash metal with flashy riffs and double-kick drums (and I hated that shit), and the Stains didn't partake in such shenanigans. One spin below and you'll hear and rough and ready LA PUNK w/ some hot leads straight out of the Ginn handbook. Actually, the influence between guitarists Robert Becerra and Ginn went both ways.

Whatever. The album didn't set the world afire, and I remember seeing a secondhand copy of it for a ha'penny back in the late '80s - when I was knee-deep in my teen SST fixation - and I didn't buy the fucking thing! I think I suspected that it would be second-rate clobber of the SWA/DC3 variety and passed it up for an Always August 12" or something. Now it'll set you back a hundreds bucks or two, its reputation grown beyond the obvious. Wrangling rights out of the House Of Ginn to reissue such a thing, I imagine, would be more trouble than it's worth. You may just have to enjoy the Youtube link below for now.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


The pointless minutae of life can be, uh, fascinating. That's what this blog exists for. You want the big issues?? Forget about it. Life's tedium is documented here. For instance, let's belatedly talk about the NURSE WITH WOUND LIST (lookee here). This was brought up in discussion on a certain well-used social media platform just the other day - brought up by myself, in fact - and took a couple of entries before it succumbed to the kind of fiery debate you could only expect from seasoned music dorks with an axe to grind and nothing better to do w/ their lives.

I hadn't even thought about 'The List' for many years, but it had come up in conversation with a couple of friends lately, and there was one thing I observed. THERE'S NO SUN RA! How did that ever happen? How does a teenager from London become aware of, say, the Debris' LP (proto-punk glam-damaged rock/limited private-press monster/Screamers associations) or Sonny Sharrock or the Reverend Dwight Frizzell (whose 1976 LP was in an edition of 200 copies) the dozens of ridiculously obscure European art-rock outfits which litter the list, and yet Sun Ra - the great American avant-garde innovator of the second half of the 20th century - not get a guernsey? There were three trains of thought here contesting my befuddlement, none of them satisfactory...

 1) Sun Ra was perhaps too obscure for Stapleton. I'll call a huge BS to this claim. Look at the esoteric nonsense on the list! Have I already mentioned Debris'? Yes. Lard Free? Check. Le Forte Four? Check. Supersister? Check. Sun Ra was on the cover of Rolling Stone in the early '70s. He and his Arkestra played throughout Europe and (I can only assume) the UK in the '70s. This argument doesn't hold any water. 2) Sun Ra was too obvious to list. A pox on this bogus line. Also in the NWW list is Frank Zappa, Kraftwerk and King Crimson. They all had Top 10 records. King Crimson were big news in the UK in the '70s. Kraftwerk charted high in the US with 'Autobahn'. Both the Velvet Underground and the Stooges also make the NWW grade. By 1979 they were already part of The Punk Canon, their stock raised to a new level. Their obviousness - or at least the obviousness of their greatness - was well known, even if that meant they still didn't have platinum LPs to line their walls. This argument is a crock. 3) Maybe Stapleton just didn't like Sun Ra. Maybe he didn't. In which case he had tin ears. Maybe he also didn't like Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Art Ensemble and Don Cherry either - all of whom made brilliant avant-garde records - in which case he had ears made of shit.

Anyway, perhaps one day this mystery will be solved. I have nothing against Mr. Stapleton. Au contraire: I am still in possession of about a dozen and a half NWW albums to prove my point. This discussion has spurred me on to take them off my shelf for the first time in a long time for a re-spin. The very early albums really aren't all that good. A Chance Meeting..., the debut from 1979, is an amateurish collage/kraut collage mess which sounds like it was strictly the work of young people who had little idea of what they were doing (it was), but it's not without its charm. For my two cents, the albums I always return to are Soliliquay For Lilith from 1988, an epic 3LP/3CD ambient set designed for getting his daughter to sleep (hence the title), which to me is a great update on something like Tangerine Dream's Zeit (again, little happens in there, too, but it's a pleasant place to be); 1986's Spiral Insana, a mixed cut-ups of ambience and audio clutter which is a perfect combo of the two and is probably overall my fave NWW album; and especially his 'sell-out' records from the late '90s and thereabouts - 1996's Who Can I Turn To Stereo, 1999's An Awkward Pause and 2001's Funeral Music For Perez Prado. The 1st and 3rd were strangely viewed by some as pandering to the 'dance' crowd, though all I can hear w/ my tin ears are two terrific avant discs with rhythm, and An Awkward Pause is mostly straight-out Kraut-rock in a twisted Amon Duul 2/Ash Ra Tempel sense of the word. All three are quite excellent.

I haven't followed what SS and co. have been up to for a decade or more. You can see a pretty cool doco on the man here, which is him giving the viewer a guided tour of his abode in Ireland, where he has lived w/ his partner and children since the late '80s (and it's worth a look), and the Nurse With Wound List, a list derided by a good buddy of mine as 'the ultimate wankers' list', is still an item of great beauty, and must be placed firmly within the context of its time: it was the ramblings of an uber-nerd attempting to spread the gospel in the pre-internet times. It helped give such artists as the Hampton Grease Band and Agitation Free a second shelf life in the post-punk universe. It sparked a genre unto itself. What the hell have you done with your life?

Monday, September 07, 2015

GODFLESH - Streetcleaner

What's old is new again. I originally bought the Streetcleaner CD in 1990, as many did around that time. It came out the year previous, but it was a bit of a creeper, a slow-burn release which appealed greatly to a certain breed of music fan who missed the old Swans of yore, was enjoying the Melvins of the Ozma/Bullhead days (ie. the records the Melvins were releasing right about then), the then-current school of UK heaviness a la Head Of David, Terminal Cheesecake and the first couple of longplayers from Napalm Death and Carcass (both of which are fucking essential, whether you know it or not).

Having been through the HC wringer for a half-decade, being out of high school and actually having a disposable income of sorts due to warehouse/office jobs throughout breaks in higher learning, I was going off in a thousand different directions: grindcore, noise, hip-hop, AmRep sludge, Shimmy Disc, the last dying gasps of the SST empire (both Pell Mell and Slovenly still had something up their sleeves), NZ sounds, Touch & Go's then still fine output (Didjits, Killdozer, Slint) and more. Some of this stuff has aged like last week's bread, and some of it still lights a fire under yer backside in a most amenable manner.

And then there were Godflesh, then a trio formed by mainstay Justin Broadrick. As a young gent, Justin spent some time in a nascent Napalm Death, was briefly in Head Of David and has since enjoyed an unlikely career as some kind of Godfather Of Heaviness dabbling in all manner of projects (the first Jesu album, self-titled as it is, I covered in this blog about a decade ago, and for me it remains the finest thing he ever did - or at least the finest I've heard). Godflesh were the first band to really make his name a name, if you get my drift, and Streetcleaner made a major splash at the time and is now herladed by all and sundry as a 'classic'. Indeed it is.

After Streetcleaner, Godflesh kind of changed tact and veered off into a number of musical directions, none of them particularly good, I must say. I heard some of the post-Streetcleaner material at the time - I think my brother made an error of judgment and purchased a CD of theirs - and it was some variety of shitawful 'techno-metal' which had, as you'd expect, metal riffs intertwined w/ techno beats, and whilst that's obviously some people's idea of a good time, it ain't mine. In the late '90s they 'went back to their roots' a bit and even recorded an album or two with an acoustic drummer (can I recall these album's names? No), and I recall them being kind of listenable. Perhaps. Anyway, I speak of the debut...

I sold my CD copy some time in the '90s, and, as can sometimes be the case, found myself repurchasing a special 2CD remastered edition a couple of years back, which contains a fancy foldout digipak sleeve with a ton of liner notes, and a bonus live/demos CD which I think I might have listened to once or twice. I find myself enjoying the album a lot more now than I did a quarter of a century ago. I recall that, as a young man, I would play the first two or three songs, get bored by the middle of the album and skip to the bonus EP at the end, their self-titled four-songer from 1988, which is slightly rawer than the album (still w/ a drum machine) and contains four impeccable tracks: 'Tiny Tears', 'Wound', 'Dead Head' and 'Suction' (Youtube and ye shall find). All of those songs are worth hearing. In fact, if you only hear four Godflesh songs in this lifetime, make them those. But what's also worth spinning, now as I stroke my paunch in middle age, is the rest of Streetcleaner. That middle section of the album - tracks like 'Dream Long Dead', 'Head Dirt'... whoah, dude! - sound much less meandering than they did in my impetuous youth - almost composed, and fitting to make Streetcleaner a goddamn album to be reckoned with.

Nearly everything which makes up the album - the dark lyrical matter focussed on decay and death, pounding drum-machine rhythms, downtuned guitars and barked vocals - became a bad cliche almost upon release; lord knows, Australia suffered a small outbreak of similar bands in the first half of the '90s, and they were tough times, but as an album, Streetcleaner works and delivers as promised. You could say it's strictly a perfunctory album of 'heaviness' - I play this loud in the car when I want a dose of badassness as I'm going to pick up the kids from school or whatever - but it's got more depth than that. Hell, I'm all grown up now, and Godflesh's Streetcleaner sounds A-OK to these ears.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

THE WHO - Total Rock Power

Lordy, I am getting old and pathetic as time goes on. I am literally getting older and patheticer. The past 12 months has seen me in the thick of a Who phase. That's not too surprising: along w/ the Kinks and the Beatles, I rate 'em possibly the best of the Brit Invasion bands of the 1960s. I'll be generous and even throw the Stones in there, too. The Move should be there, too, but they're more a second-gen Brit band who made their moves (fnar) in the early '70s, even though much of what they did was a '60s throwback. Plus, I've been a massive fan of the Who-produced Quadrophenia film since I was but a wee lad: I still view it annually, and it stands up as one of the greatest UK youth-cult pics of all time, a terrific movie about the pre-hippie '60s made with a real punk energy. And The Who - at least their main songwriter and brain's trust, Pete Townshend, did like punk a lot, even though he was initially jealous of it stealing his thunder (and his thunder was getting creaky by the mid '70s, anyway). He wanted John Lydon in the film's lead role, but Mr. Rotten reneged. A friend of mine saw Townshend play on a CND bill in a small venue in 1979 with the Undertones and The Pop Group supporting. Huh...
As with most of their contemporaries, The Who blew their artistic wad by the early '70s and it was all downhill after then. They still cut it as an ace live unit, but most of the recordings thereafter aren't items you should spend your free time listening to. I like the Quadrophenia LP set from 1973 a lot - another pompous thematic epic from Townshend telling a grand story - though my sentimental attachment for it may be born from my love of the movie. But play it I do. I've slogged through the entire Tommy set a handful of times, and it remains exactly that: a slog. It's one of those albums which clueless types hail as the band's best release, their meisterwerk, much like Sgt. Pepper's (the Beatles' worst album by far), Exile On Main Street (solid, but it's no Beggar's/Let It Bleed) and Pet Sounds (again, it's good, but Holland and Surf's Up are better). They figure they're supposed to make such a claim without even thinking about it. I'm not here to debate The Who's best album (The Who Sell Out probably gets my vote), but certainly the most untamed is their Live At Leeds recording from 1970. By then they'd let their hair grow out and adopted a 'heavier' musical approach which wasn't a thousand miles removed from the likes of Cream or Led Zep - both of whom they'd undoubtedly influenced - and whilst I used to be of the opinion that this era in the band sucked (epic blues clunkers, Roger Daltrey with that denim and that fucking hair), for a couple of years this incarnation of the band absolutely blew the roof off. There was no greater rhythm section than Entwhistle and Moon. No more smart mod suits and three-minute ditties about East End life: it was about Total Rock Power. Well, before they started to blow, the band was always about TRP, but the loose and expansive nature of the band ca. 1969 - 1971 was indeed something to behold, and beholding it is what I've been doing.
I even found myself reading Townshend's rather epic autobiography, Who I Am, from start to finish. By midway through I was starting to feel the conviction that the guy was an utter fucking creep and jerkoff, but by story's end - when he'd acknowledged what a creep and jerkoff he'd been - he had redeemed himself in my eyes. Well, above is a clip of the band covering Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues" from their Isle Of Wight concert. It's rippin', scorchin' and other good things. You can see why the likes of the MC5 and the Dictators - and myself - held/hold 'em up in such high esteem. The Who's candle of greatness blew out pretty quick, as did many of those making their mark in 1960s Britain, but people made a bunch of noise about them for good reason.