Monday, January 26, 2015


The lowdown on a handful of releases which are being spun...


In my bid to transform into Tommy Saxondale, I have been delving into the back catalogue (there is no 'current' catalogue to speak of) of British band of yore, Traffic. Traffic were an interesting and eclectic outfit for a nominally 'rock' band of some success, one who experimented with the form in unique ways whose catalogue, at different turns, reminds me of everyone from Jefferson Airplane to Soft Machine to Amon Duul 2. The group's Steve Winwood, fresh from the Spencer Davis Group at the time, later made a major name for himself as an AOR putz (though this slice of MOR gold still holds some pleasant childhood memories: deal with it), but back in his early days still held a pioneering sensibility, mixing his pop ambitions with a progressive brand of rock music taking cues from English psychedelia (Soft Machine/Pink Floyd/Fairports), jazz improvisation and Eastern exotica (as many did in a universe inhabited by George Harrison and his popularisation of the form).
Winwood was not the only Traffic member worth taking note of: their history is littered with line-up changes (starting in '67, they even folded in 1969 for a year whilst Winwood formed and dissolved Blind Faith for one album), though fellow members Dave Mason and Jim Capaldi also made serious contributions to the band's sound - and to complicate things further, Mason is not present on 1971's The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys, the album I will ostensibly discuss.
The 'Only In My Dreams' is the one which gets most of the attention, and its 12 minutes of descending piano lines and moaning of the great injustices of the music biz are lovely indeed. It's as English as a cup o' tea and dripping for breakfast, and the band's quintessential Englishness is of course part of their appeal. My pick is the opener, 'Hidden Treasure', a 'rock' song with whimsy and the major presence of flute which won't make you vomit. It's all rather lovely, as are a number of other Traffic LPs, such as its predecessor, John Barleycorn Must Die (progified white soul at its peak). The group took the basic template of late-period Beatles - when the band got really interesting - and stamped a particular brand of loose, jazzy English progressive rock (without being 'prog-rock') mixed with various 'world' influences on top. Signed to Chris Blackwell's Island Records label - a swell place to be - they fit in snugly next to their bucolic Limey cohorts, Richard Thompson, John Martyn, Nick Drake, etc. I can stand them, and then some.


Welcome to 2015, here's a 2012 album from Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti. I had largely ignored Mr. Pink's discography until 6 months ago. I had heard some of his earlier work a number of years ago when his name was first being made, and it wasn't so much his music which turned me off (his earlier albums are very rough, musically, almost like lo-fi mix tapes), but the silliness of the music press at the time, which as always was trying to codify a movement out of nothing, thus branding Pink and his cohorts as 'hypnagogic pop' (ask David Keenan about that - I don't believe anyone on earth has re-used such a term in the past half-decade).
Anyway, I didn't hold it against AP - I just ignored his music for a number of years, as I tend to ignore most things on earth (except for this track, which was omnipresent and undeniably catchy). So all of this takes me to 2015. No, actually, it takes me to the winter of 2014: somehow or other I heard a couple of cuts from his 2012 LP, Mature Themes, and the goodness, nay, greatness of what I was hearing took me back. This is that guy, adored my young people so much more beautiful, young and groovy I could ever expect to be at this stage in my life? It was. It is. Ariel Pink makes excellent music - let me say that. I rate him as the spiritual and musical heir to Kramer and the Shimmy Disc circus (Bongwater, Shockabilly, Dogbowl, King Missile, et al) he built around himself some 25+ years ago (an empire long gone, alas).
Certainly, the music 'Pink has been making for the last five years on the 4AD label - 2010's Before Today, 2012's Mature Themes and most definitely last year's Pom Pom 2LP set - bear some resemblances to that classic Shimmy Disc 'sound' (which you know I love). They are such perfect encapsulations of the freak-rock ouvre - think of a road map circling Syd/Ayers/Beefheart/Mothers mixed w/ a dash of Roxy art-rock and Bolan boogie - that I will say this: I'm surprised he sells as many records as he does. I've always figured that shit rises to the top, at least in the music biz of the last 35+ years, and Mr. Pink bucks the trend. Not that he sells zillions of records, but for an artist I rate as worthy, he does well for himself, and most unfortunately don't. I could, of course, discuss any of the three records mentioned, but since I just purchased Mature Themes in the LP format just the other day (another rare birthday-related indulgence, I'll admit), it is the one I'll focus on.
Dig the opening cut, 'Kinski Assassin': tell me that isn't an A-grace slice of unhinged pop music. Go on. Or 'Only In My Dreams': sunshine pop a la The Association/5th Dimension w/ a David Crosby/Dennis Wilson hash-imbibing gonzo vibe sprinkled on top. Or thereabouts. Lastly, I will pick side B, track 1, as a highlight: 'Schnitzel Boogie'. It's like Zoogz Rift if he actually made good records which went above and beyond pure schtick. I can't speak for Ariel Pink's slightly annoying public persona, nor do I really care to analyse or defend it - it doesn't interest me enough either way. I do, however, think he is currently in the thick of releasing a series of excellent slabs of eccentric rock music, and the fact that he has recently roped in Don Bolles (yes, thee Don Bolles, and if I have to explain who he is, then you probably won't care who he is) into his band as the skins man makes perfect sense. Ariel Pink's music is weird and wonderful and never merely whacky: its eccentricities serve as a reflection of its creator's personality, and I endorse these recordings without hesitation.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

EXEK


By golly, you know you're truly a hopeless cause when you turn 43 and spoil yourself by purchasing a cassette from a local band as a way of patting yourself on the back for living another year on earth. But that's what I did this past week, and in hindsight, there are worse predicaments and habits for a middle-aged white man such as myself.

EXEK are a new-ish four-piece and I know next to zip about 'em. They have a pedigree of sort, I'm told. Haven't seen them live yet - I missed them by a minute or two when they played a city dive w/ the mighty CUNTZ a couple of months back - though my friends in attendance noted that I really would have liked them and that they exuded a dark and cold post-punk vibe one can only perfect (or even attempt) after a few hundred ingestions of Metal Box. Sounds like my kinda party!

I heard this cassette, 'limited' (as they all must be) and released on the Time And Space label, soon thereafter and have been streaming it a fair bit since right here. Despite my protests of late that I need no more physical product in my life, the allure of the tape hit me upon viewing the other day, and a purchase was made. I have been a staunch critic of the 'cassette revival' in recent years, that I confess, but an additional confession must be that I have been somewhat won over to the format in recent times, or at the very least more tolerant. My criticism of the format's pain-in-the-ass nature in regards to locating songs in a playlist has, in this attention-deficit day and age, become its advantage: one is forced to listen to a release to its conclusion, track by track, taking in every second. After all, the alternative will possibly drive you nuts.

This waffle aside, EXEK make an excellent racket, and that's a decision you can make for yourself upon hearing it. The opening cut, 'Submitted', has the stench of Lydon/Levene/Wobble all over it, but of course that is not such a bad thing, especially given the high quality of the guitar scratching throughout. The darkwave gloom continues for three more tracks, and a I sense a Euro-damaged (and almost Tuxedomoon/Ralph Records: and yes, I know they're not European) vibe throughout, and for a group of Antipodean delinquents with little track record outside of this 20-minute cassette, I'd say they've nailed an ace PiL/Cabaret Voltaire hybrid of sorts, and I need to see and hear more of what it is EXEK do.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

SPARKS



An ever-so-brief interlude... the music the brothers Mael - Ron and Russell - AKA Sparks, made betwixt the years 1971 - 1975 has kept the thunder out of my head the past 18 months. It's become quite an obsession, and I know I need to delve further. Operatic, schizophrenic, multi-facted glamoid circus music. It's a small wonder they were so big at the time, since their take on 'rock' is a skewed one indeed, but one perfectly suited for a Brit audience of the day (being LA-based Anglophiles as they were, eschewing the granola and brown shoes styles of their Angelino compadres). I actually thought Sparks were English, but that was apparently a common misconception and one the band were only too happy to encourage.



Their music was a sweet spot for smart rock folks in the mid '70s when it seemed like the genre itself might be going down the toilet. I can't help but note, as an aside which may be painful for some, their obvious influence on a young Jello Biafra. Mr. Boucher has noted many times over the years his teenage obsession w/ Sparks, and one spin of the likes of Kimono My House/Propaganda/Indiscreet albums and their frenetic, cartoonish tunes a-plenty, and you can hear the blueprint for the likes of Fresh Fruit.../Plast Surgery Disasters therein. Deal with it. Deal with Sparks. I certainly have been.
I have written here before of my first encounter w/ them as a teen, watching the fantastic B-flick, Roller Coaster, where the band rips out a destructive version of 'Big Boys' (from '76's Big Beat LP, a full-lengther produced by Rupert 'Pina Colada' Holmes!) in front of a crowd of dorks in a theme park.


Sparks actually toured Down Under approx. half a decade ago, to the wild delight of nearly zero people, which is a pity. I didn't even attend. I found it a curious spectacle that they would make the effort, and was well aware of the band's place in the grand scheme of things and their hep resurrection c/o In The Red Records, but I didn't feel like forking out the coins and passed. Few others did, although the shows were apparently fantastic. So be it. The Sparks revival has began in my abode 18 months back, and it's still going strong. More in the future...

Monday, January 05, 2015

DAVID BYRNE - The Catherine Wheel, a New Wave 'dance project' soundtrack you should hear. Really.


What a New Waver. This David Byrne score from 1981 is quite something indeed. I had, until recent years, pegged Mr. Byrne as a pleasant gentleman but one whose reputation as a Man Of Quirk rendered his musical career of little interest. Sure, he has a pretty cool record label responsible for some mighty swell reissues by the likes of William Onyeabor, Tom Ze and Os Mutantes, amongst others - and who hasn't performed a herky-jerk dance to 'Psycho Killer' at a party while inebriated? You?! - but I figured Talking Heads, a band who sold an awful lot of records, to be one of the less interesting acts which found their feet in the mid '70s NYC rock & roll renaissance centred around CBGBs. Of course, that's piffle. The Heartbreakers and Richard Hell & the Voidoids, for instance, only made about one great album between the two of 'em, and Talking Heads made at least two really great albums: Fear Of Music and Remain In Light, from 1979 and '80, respectively. Produced by Eno - el naturale - they could easily pass for Eno discs themselves, and their mixture of butt-tight funk, ethno forgery and Frippian guitar noodling (from Fripp himself) make 'em worthy additions to your collections. Fugg knows it took them long enought to be added to mine.

And thus thar be The Catherine Wheel from 1981, Byrne's soundtrack to Twyla Tharp's dance project which was probably all the rage in the Downtown district. I know next to nothing of it, except for this accompanying music. Roughly 70 minutes in length, The Catherine Wheel was originally released as a 2LP set, then on CD, and for now remains out of print in any format outside of digital (I've been spinning it via streaming services. Fuck you, too). I'm on a strict No Buying policy right now - haven't purchased an ounce of music for 4 months (a situation brought on by the fact that I can barely even enter the dreaded 'spare room' without tripping over piles of LPs, CDs and yes, cassettes) - but if I stumbled over a vinyl edition of this baby tomorrow, I may just make an exception.

There's 23 tracks present, a couple being under a minute and some surpassing five minutes. If you didn't know it was a score for a live dance presentation, you wouldn't guess. It possesses no real 'soundtrack' feel, but its mixture of moody instrumentals, muscular funk and abstract No Wave-isms make it a highly listenable and eclectic brew. As with the previous two Talking Heads LPs (and even Byrne/Eno's My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts LP, a record I know a lot of people like but one I always found to be the least interesting effort from Eno's 'classic' [1971 - 1983] period - however, I need to revisit it), its angular, faux-Afro rhythms played by a bunch of college-edumucated honkies (albeit accompanied by ace players such as Yogi Horton, Bernie Worell, Adrian Belew, Eno, etc.) sounds like a more avant take on the sound the 'Heads had perfected on their previous two LPs. Some cuts even wound up on subsequents 'Heads platters, in modified form. You want tracks? I'll give you tracks... 'Big Business' and 'Dinosaur'. Follow the links to the side and you'll hear the whole thing. Yep, the whole damn thing. The world's at the tip of your fingers, no effort to be made. Sometimes the goods are right under yer nose. Why even write about it? Just listen.

Monday, December 22, 2014

100 FLOWERS


Another essential slice of West Coast post-punk given the reissue treatment c/o Superior Viaduct... have I recently been employed as their international marketing and publicity manager? No. There's no hidden agenda here: just a desire for folks to get their listenin' gear 'round only the best sounds. 100 Flowers' sole self-titled LP from 1983, originally released on their own Happy Squid imprint, is one such release.

Curiously, I owned the original of this at one point - purchased at the dawn of the 1990s - and stupidly sold the darn thing at the tail-end of that decade when I culled a pretty major chunk of my collection in an attempt to 'clean house' (didn't work). So I foolishly sold 100 Flowers, and now I've bought it back. 100 Flowers, as you perhaps should know, were basically the Urinals under a different moniker. The Urinals made some of the most inspired American documents in sound during their era, and you can read a quarter-arsed article penned by moi on the outfit here, one penned and published 15 years ago(!). That decade and a half came and went like it never happened. Phew!

The Urinals' primitive art-brut raunch was a thing of utter beauty, inspired everyone from the Minutemen (obviously) to Yo La Tengo (who covered 'em) and will live in the hearts and minds of all with a clue for eternity. 100 Flowers took a slightly different approach, and probably never quite reached the same critical/cultural kudos of their predecessor, but that's no reason to ignore 'em (or sell your goddamn copy of the original pressing). The trio - that's John Talley-Jones, Kjehl Jonanson and Kevin Barnett - took the basic minimal template of the Urinals but embellished it slightly with a more pop sensibility and eclectic approach. If I was going to dumb it down to a soundbyte - and I will - I'd say the band is caught somewhere between the sounds of the Minutemen ca. 1983 and The Feelies ca. Crazy Rhythms. There's a jagged, tight-assed approach and herky-jerky sensibility - hopped-up punk-inflected rock which is neither 'rock' nor 'punk' - combined with an LA art vibe which hovers around the same quarters as the likes of Boon & co. and Pagan Icons-period Saccharine Trust. None of this, of course, is a bad place to be. 100 Flowers would've fit in snugly in the SST roster, but you'd have to wait for Kjehl Johanson's next outfit, Trotsky Icepick, before that would happen (and the first three 'Icepick LPs are pretty fab, in a more pronounced and expansive Angloid Magazine/Chairs Missing manner). 15 short, sharp tracks, and the opener, 'Without Limbs', had it been released in an alternate universe, should've been a hit. It wasn't.

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Below is a magnificent clip of the band playing the old Urinals chestnut, 'Surfin' With The Shah', with D. Boon and Keith Morris, joining them on stage. Alas, I was not there, and surely neither were you.


MONITOR



Let's take a brief skip through another Superior Viaduct art-punk/dark-wave/whatever release from the past couple of years. This ain't the first word nor the last on this one: just my word, which likely counts for zip outside of this blog. The quartet known as Monitor is one which has orbited my brain for well over 25 years - you'd read about 'em in Flipside, Hardcore California, LAFMS-related shenanigans and their links to the Meat Puppets, but you couldn't find their sole self-titled LP for love nor money Down Under. In keeping w/ SV's resurrecting-the-dead activities, their LP from 1980/'81 is one well worth wrapping your ears around.

Linked up w/ the LA-based art collective known as World Imitation Enterprises, Monitor had been on the scene, creating 'happenings' and performance-art gonzoid goings-on since the late '70s, skirting the peripheries of the very happening Los Angeles punk scene (a fantastic magnet for art weirdos citywide), claiming brother/sisterhood w/ the likes of Nervous Gender, B People and Boyd Rice, yet somewhat existing in their own universe. They also apparently shared management w/ the Meat Puppets, which is where their associations sprung from (more on that soon). All of this is terribly interesting - it really is - because for me, as you well fucking know, the LA underground scene of the late '70s/early '80s holds a perpetual fascination. But all of this context for Monitor's existence probably wouldn't amount to a hill of beans if their one, solitary LP wasn't worth more than a cursory spin and a quick filing in the collection, only to be bared and exhibited when hep friends come to visit. Such is not the case.

The group emitted a mighty listenable and tasty stew of minimal, slightly No Wave-ish tribal rock - jagged keyboards and thumping toms - which surprisingly never goes off the deep end into Art Heck, but instead is fairly melodic and song-based. They woulda fallen off their collective chair at the time had the comparison come up in print, but a bunch of this reminds me of Pink Floyd ca. More/Umma Gumma, and I would contend that that's not a bad thing. In the spirit of the times, however, there's too much existential dread of display here for Monitor to be mistaken for hippies, and had this been released on Rough Trade at the time, interspersed with slightly similar outings from the likes of the Raincoats and Scritti Politti (when they were dreadlocked agit-rockers), it might have found its place. Closer to home, I'd also file 'em next to Savage Republic, minus the Arabic flirtations. 'Pavillion' is one of the best tracks, and a good representation of their sound. The Meat Puppets actually contribute a number here, 'Hair', and it must be heard to be believed. Apparently Monitor let the band contribute the song in question as a gesture that they themselves couldn't reach the dizzying heights (and pace) of the brothers Kirkwood, but for some reason felt it needed to be slotted amongst Monitor's more mannered drones. 'Hair' is a total anomaly on Monitor, but it's a good one. At this stage, the Pups were an absolutely ferocious power-trio who could even the most boneheaded HC outfit a run for their money, but of course, you've heard their 7" EP from the time. I have spun Monitor a lot the past 12 months: it is so much more than a mere curio item. Get it. As for what its members are up to now, I'd like that question answered, please.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

IN PRAISE OF... SOME DESCENDENTS ALBUMS PEOPLE DON'T OFTEN PRAISE

What the fuck. Blogger tells me my visitation stats go up when I discuss PUNK ROCK, so I'll give the punters what they want. The past three months has seen my heavily revisiting the Descendents' mid- to late '80s catalogue, and if you can give me a reasonable explanation for this strange turn of events, outside of a pathetic midlife crisis, then you can inform my therapist. I can't quite pinpoint the exact moment when this all began, but you can possibly blame Spotify - that's right, blame Spotify for everything - and the random nature in which I frequently use its wares. The urge hit me, the urge became a daily compulsion, and lo and behold, within 2 weeks I had purchased, as a man of 42 years of age (getting awfully close to 43), the band's I Don't Want To Grow Up, Enjoy! and All LPs from 1985, '6 and '7, respectively.

Y' see, I had never actually owned any of these discs. I previously only owned Milo Goes To College, and that was it. My brother had/has the latter Descendents discs, and as I have explained time and again - as was the case with the Cramps and Ramones - when a sibling owns the catalogue of a certain artist when you're growing up, and you ingest said catalogue a lot during your formative years (enough for a lifetime, in some cases), it can take a good 20-year period before you wind up owning the records of your own will at a later date. Anyway, this is all very fucking fascinating - the crux of the matter is that I bought 'em, Greg Ginn can continue to get high off the sales and now I'd like to discuss 'em.


I Don't Want To Grow Up was originally released in 1985 on Watt/Boon's New Alliance label (later issued in 1987 on SST, when the imprint was sold to Ginn and co.), and was the band's first reformation album, after they went on hold for two years while Milo Aukerman went to college and drummer Bill Stevenson travelled and recorded like a man possessed with Black Flag. It's definitely a different sounds to its predecessors: Milo Goes To College possesses a raw, punchy garage-rock sound not unlike Angry Samoans (the 1981 Fat EP is an even rawer and more hardcore affair, an awesome slice of SoCal teen-punk damaged by Jealous Again), but the follow-up, certainly influenced by Stevenson's time in the 'Flag fold, saw the band develop a slightly 'heavier' and musically sluggish approach. Not that it's bad by any stretch, but the music's tempo sometimes sounds a tad askew, such as on the opener, 'Descendents' (am I wrong in saying that it sounds like the music has almost been cut at the wrong speed?). Anyway, this is by no means a turd on any level, featuring A-grade cuts like 'Can't Go Back', 'My World' (Milo channelling Loose Nut-era Hank there), 'Silly Girl', 'Good Good Things' and more. The one odd duck is 'In Love This way', which trades the heavy rifferama for a light twang and upbeat pop tune, recalling the band's roots ca. 1979 with their very embryonic 'Ride The Wild' 7" (when they were a Devo/Beach Boys-influenced New Wave band). Back in high school I thought the track in question sucked, even comparing it to The Smiths (the ultimate insult of the era), but that was a statement opined from a clueless teen and not an audio fact. I Don't Want To Grow Up is a good, good thing. I'm giving it a B+.


1986's Enjoy! was an even better thing, and certainly their most eclectic disc to date. The band's rampant misogyny and toilet humour went unabated and unchecked, and I'd be far less forgiving of some of the record's stupidity and lame fart jokes if the music itself wasn't so great. Milo Aukerman and Bill Stevenson remained in the band, as did guitarist Ray Cooper, and for the album they roped in Doug Carrion, who only ever played on this Descendents longplayer. Produced by Stevenson, it has a fairly dry sound with a super-tight rhythm section and a guitar which bleeds no warmth, but the almost tight-assed, sterile sound works to its advantage. There's some more metallic stews happenin' here, such as 'Hurtin' Crue', which sounds to me like more of a metal pisstake than the real thing, as well as mid-tempo Hard Rockers like 'Days Are Blood', which again saw Milo delving into a Rollinsesque life-is-pain schtick, the kind of thing which would be a riches of embarrassments in lesser hands, but in the case of mid '80s Descendents, it showed the world they were growing up. There's some primo New Wave-influenced punker aktion on display here - 'Get The Time' and '80s Girl' - and the cover of the Beach Boys' 'Wendy' is owned by the band, fitting in perfectly with the proceedings. Enjoy! remains an excellent example of  underground American rock & roll from the mid '80s. Amen. I'm giving it an A-.


For some, All is where everything went pear-shaped. Carrion and Cooper were out, and Stephen Egerton and Karl Alvarez were in. It was also the first album from the band to be released on the SST label at the time. After the disc's release (and a tour), Milo went back again to college, the band recruited Dag Nasty's Dave Smalley in as singer and they changed their name to All. All were too sugary-sweet for my likings: I saw them play here live in 1990 when they toured (with singer Scott Reynolds) and I thought they blew chunks, but that's a different story. By 1987, the band had transformed into something quite different. I recall this disc getting largely negative reviews at the time by the likes of Maximum Rock & Roll and Flipside, and I'm pretty sure that Byron Coley slagged it in Forced Exposure (he'd previously been a big supporter), and whilst All's sound is a thousand miles removed from the simplistic 4/4 punker angst of Milo Goes To College, it's mega-complex, muso-damaged approach is nothing to sneeze at. Then again, I never sneezed at Black Flag's Family Man LP - a record many people openly laughed at - and that's what this album largely resembles, albeit w/ a SoCal pop edge and no spoken-word segments breaking up proceedings. Egerton does an ace Ginn impersonation - that's probably why FLAG hired him to play leads just the other year -  and since Stevenson played on Family Man, his contribution is no stretch. Fact is, if any record is going to claim the throne of the great '80s Californian pop-punk jazz-metal disc, then All is it, and if you want to debate the point, the comments box is willing and available. A track like 'Van' is an obvious case in point. But for straight-up hooks, you also get 'Cameage', 'Coolidge' and the perennial 'Clean Sheets'. For heavier material there's 'Iceman' and the epic 'Schizophrenia'. What sounded like a stinker on legs 27 years ago - 27 fucking years ago! - sounds fresh to me. It sounds great to me. All is absolutely one of the best things they ever did, and I mean that. That's an A from me.

One thing to keep in mind regarding the Descendents is that, to ever-so-loosely paraphrase Winston Churchill: never before has a band so great inspired so many bands so horrible. I will lay the blame quite fairly and squarely at their doorstop for inspiring much of the crud which passed for pop-punk from the late '80s and beyond, especially the particularly virulent strains of Fat Records and Epitaph guff (they recorded two albums for the latter when reuniting in the '90s/'00s - 1996's Everything Sucks is actually pretty damn good), and for this reason they can be a tough band to recommend to those who, err, weren't there, man, because a first-time listen in the 21st century could be a frightening and possibly off-putting experience, especially for these three platters. But for veteran arseholes like, perhaps, you and me, they're worth reinvestigating and reappreciating, or, for those who never gave a shit about anything they did after their '82 debut, the eclectic brew of I Don't Want To Grow Up/Enjoy!/All are well worth sticking yer snout into.

Monday, December 08, 2014

TUXEDOMOON



Better late than never, I guess. And late I often am. I've known of the band Tuxedomoon since I was but a wee lad - 14, in fact, when I was the recipient of the Hardcore California  tome for Xmas. That weighty slab of pictures and words was a godsend for myself and many others around the globe, and one of the very few widely available books giving the early Californian punk/hardcore/new wave/experimental scenes a serious look-at. Actually, it was possibly the only one, too, but it remains, as they say, 'a classic of the genre'.

Alongside pics and blurbs on punker heavyweights like the Circle Jerks, Germs, Fear, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag et al, there were reams and reams of text, praise and impressive black & white photography dedicated to the more art-damaged spectre of the punk diaspora which hit the west coast at the time, folks like the Residents, Chrome, Monitor, Factrix, Boyd Rice, the Los Angeles Free Music Society and the types of miscreants floating around the Ralph and Subterranean offices, or maybe even Joe Rees (RIP) and his estimable get-up at Target Video. This artwave scene - yes, let's call it that - has always held great fascination for moi. The stayers & players, movers & shakers seemed a different breed to the jackboot & bandana crowd, although their more, err, sophisticated sense of rage and loathing still placed them somewhere within the punk rock gene pool, only distanced by perhaps a few more years at some Cali art-school under their belt (and hard drugs consumed). Of course the other aspect of great fascination here remains the sense of crossover and musical cross-fertilisation between the seemingly bumpkin/suburban hardcore scene and its more urbane, artier cousins, with labels such as Subterranean and Alternative Tentacles up north and SST and New Alliance down south being the great documenters of both sides of the coin.

The Superior Viaduct label - you surely know of this operation - has and continues to be the great 21st-century documenter of this peculiar and highly interesting strand of American post-punk, and you should snap up pretty much everything they do, and pronto. Of course their reissue programme cuts a wide and impressive swathe, also bringing other left-field notables into the fold, from Alice Coltrane to Heldon to Glenn Branca to Peter Jefferies to Leslie Winer, but for me, the label's identity is built on keeping the flame of early Californian art-punk alive in a world which largely doesn't give a shit but should (that's OK: the world didn't give a shit back then either). In the SV catalogue, you'll find some choice noise from the Residents, 100 Flowers/Urinals, Black Humor, Noh Mercy, Factrix, Monitor, Negative Trend, Sleepers and more - and in due time I will run through a few of these titles in greater detail - but for now let's quickly summarise the worth of Tuxedomoon's first two 12" EPs.

They would be No Tears from 1978 and Scream With A View from a year later. Tuxedomoon were formed in the mid '70s by San Fran artheads Steve Brown and Blaine Reininger and, having seen umpteen photos of the ensemble they led decked out in theatrical settings with electric violins and stacks of keyboards and electronic gear, and given the fact that they made it semi-big in Europe and relocated to France for their troubles, I figured they were tre boring and gave them short shrift for the past 25+ years. Who'd wanna waste time with such lightweights when you've got the likes of Alien Soundtracks and Fingerprince to consume? Well, there's room for all. Superior Viaduct don't waste your goddamn time with foppery, and these two EPs are simply ace examples of synth-punk coldwave and other nonsense terms understood (or cared for) only by folks like you and me. Rather than sounding like some sort of austere and utterly uninvolving art-fartery - which is what I had Tuxedomoon pegged as - the sonics here are raw and dynamic and an absolutely crucial link in this period of post-punk west coast rock & roll. Yes, I just used the R & R term, and for these discs, they are indeed applicable.

No Tears' title track is the clincher here, perfectly encapsulating the spirit of the desperate times, and the other four cuts present provide enough atmospherics and grime to make me wonder why, after nearly 25 years of rabid Chrome fandom, I never bothered taking the slightest leap in the Tuxedomoon direction. Scream With A View has a slightly fuller and cleaner sound, but only marginally so, and the primitive analogue warmth still seeps through. These are goddamn essential recordings. 20 minutes each: that makes for at least one great album's worth of material (and a subsequent stream of their debut LP from 1980, Half Mute, which buzzes at a nice Metal Box/Cab. Voltaire angle, has me convinced there's at least TWO albums worth of great material there). If nothing else - and it's not worth much of anything else - use this blog as a buyers' guide: these two recordings are well worth buying. Glorious art brut from a lifetime ago. The sound has been replicated and approximated time and again since (this local Melbourne band is currently doing it very well indeed), but the 1970s recordings of the outfit known as Tuxedomoon still sound fresh and exciting in this universe. File next to: Screamers, Chrome, Residents, Metal Urbain and other worthies.