Sunday, September 11, 2016

ORANSSI PAZUZU


This is one of my favourite albums of 2016, and it's by Finland's ORANZZI PAZUZU (which means 'Orange Demon', I am reliably informed). The name of the album: Varahtelija, released on the excellent SVART label out of Finland (certainly one of my fave imprints on planet earth, reissuing all kinds of stoner, Black Metal, Nordic hardcore, free jazz, weird prog/fusion, psych and all in between. I am not on a retainer for stating this: what they do is a very good thing). And then there is Oranssi Pazuzu (excuse me if I simply refer to them as 'OP' from now on). They're a Finnish quartet, and this is their fourth album. I've also been getting myself familiar with two previous efforts, 2013's Valonielu and 2011's Kosmonument, and to me they represent one fucking great band evolving, progressing and getting better with each release.

OP are nominally a 'Black Metal' band, but such a genre now carries such a broad umbrella of sound under its wing that it can be almost impossible to peg just exactly what a BM band is. I used to cover a fair bit of BM in this blog about a decade ago - and nothing too wildly outside of the big names (Darkthrone, Burzum, Immortal, Enslaved; as well as US BM such as Weakling and Leviathan), other than some detours to the likes of End from Greece, Idjarn and Striborg (the last two I haven't listened to since BC - Before Children) - but I must admit I've barely given the 'genre' a listen in the last 9 years. Fatherhood may've been a deciding factor in that (you can't play that shit in the house when you have infants - it just doesn't work), but it could also be just a part of my listening habits: I tend to go through phases of a certain genre/sound, beat it into the ground for a few years then move onto something else, only to revisit that sound again years down the track (the same thing has happened with my total obsession with post-war R & B/blues/rockabilly from a number of years back - that obsession will come back).



So! To kick back and ensconce myself in some real-deal BM, even if it is of the 'arty' variety as slung by OP, almost feels like a breath of fresh air. OK, let's call OP a 'psychedelic BM band', for whilst grimness abounds, blast beats are had and growls can be heard, it's mixed up with a *gulp* almost post-rock sensibility, some of this sound like the orchestral sheets of sound you might get on a Godspeed disc, with Hawkwindish synth swirls, Flippery dirges and a hypnotic, cyclical churn not one thousand miles removed from the acid-fried goodness of a Miles ca. Agharta/Pangaea. Christ. Now that description probably just makes OP sound like a mish-mash of record collectors' wet dreams, but for the record: I am not and never have been a record collector; and 2) these comparisons are merely projections from my mind and very likely don't reflect the influences nor intent of the band. In other words, their ideas are their own. I still like noisy, anti-social shit when it's done well (and boy, it's the worst when it's done poorly), and OP appear to be serious in intent. They're not out there being 'extreme', 'radical' and trying to offend: it's simply about beautiful noise. They are one of the best things you will hear in 2016.

Below is an older dirge which you should sink your ears into...

Friday, September 09, 2016

DAVID BOWIE - Blackstar



'tis nearing mid September in the year 2016, and yet I still haven't heard a better album this year - or one released this year - which betters DAVID BOWIE's Blackstar LP. If you'd told me on January the 1st that I'd rate David Bowie's imminent and much-touted release as my favourite record of 2016, I'd have called you a smoking joker, and likely much worse. As with just about anyone and everyone I know with a modicum of discerning taste, I hadn't rated anything Bowie had done - bar maybe a single or two - since the late '70s. He went into mersh overload in the '80s (and, in my opinion, had a number of great pop singles in the first half of the decade), but slid considerably into nowheresville by the latter half of the decade, spent the '90s in some sort of faux industrial/drum & bass hellhole and then piffled around in the 21st century trying to play catchup with a handful of 'okay' musical endeavours (I 'liked' the The Next Day, but not enough to want to hear it more than twice).

Bowie is one of those characters who divides opinion amongst the rock cognoscenti, or at least the hardcore rockist elements of it. For some, the mere mention of him as a 'pioneer' or even a 'rocker' is something which brings out the guffaws. Wasn't he merely a musical thief, an opportunist and careerist who stole from other, far more worthy musical entities, and regurgitated it with a sheen for the masses? I give him more credit than that. I have never considered myself a hardcore Bowie fan, but his output circa 1969 - 1979 - just about any of it from that period - is something I can listen to and enjoy and appreciate, and surely that's enough. Bowie himself was at least self-deprecating enough to acknowledge that he totally sold out in the '80s, and for me one of his great mistakes in the '90s, when trying to get 'hip' again, was him hanging out and collaborating with a gormless Bowiephile nudnik like Trent Reznor - but this is all academic. Sometimes those with a great vision of what they want to do and who they are lose it and never get it back.

So, on the morning of the day he passed away, I was on the phone to a certain Warwick Brown, Greville Record proprietor and avid Bowiephile. He was raving to me about the new album, pleading for me to give it a ago, telling me about its avant-garde jazz leanings and its absolutely-no-doubt-in-the-world status as a RETURN TO FORM. I'd heard that before, as we all have, regarding various artists who once paved the way but have been coasting on a whole lot of nothing for decades (prime offender being the Stones, for which a 'return to form' amounts to an album which isn't totally fucking dreadful). I sat down on the toilet - true story - did my business, and streamed the first, self-titled 10-minute track in the meantime. I agreed that it was indeed quite good, but I had other things to do. I was not working that day, the sun was shining and the kids were on summer break, so I went to the beach for the day, vowing to listen to the rest of it when I got home. As I got in the door later in the afternoon, I received the text from a workmate that Bowie had died, social media went nuts and you either cared a lot, a little or not at all. I spent the evening quietly listening to Low, Aladdin Sane and Hunky Dory and, while not wanting to get caught up in some sort of mass mourning for a fellow I never even knew, had to acknowledge that life on earth would have been a whole lot more dull had 'David Bowie' - that character of creation from middle-class post-war Blighty - not been invented.

 A few days later I came back around to Blackstar. I streamed and I streamed. I found myself devouring every bit of information I could regarding this mysterious album. It was a cryptic parting gift, for sure, but it was also musically the most interesting thing he'd offered the world since I was in short shorts and he'd even roped in some genuine 'jazz musicians' as his backing band, not as a simple gimmick, but because their musical contributions counted. Interestingly - well, it's at least of interest to me - there's some musicians from the ECM fold present, notably guitarist Ben Monder, who released an album on the label earlier this year. Bowie had a knack for much of his career in hand-picking a good band, a talent which shouldn't be dismissed. The vinyl edition went out of print immediately, so I had to wait a good month before I could procure a copy. I'm not a big advocate for format snobbery, but in this case, the vinyl edition is the way to absorb oneself in the release. This is not only because of the ridiculously lavish nature of the packaging (gatefold die-cut sleeve, embossed ink, deluxe booklet with beautifully extravagant ink work), but because the album itself - a mere seven songs in 41 minutes - has a side A and a side B. It doesn't sound like a release of the CD or streaming era. Whether this is accidental or deliberate, or whether I'm just reading that observation into it is up for debate, so feel free to do that amongst yourselves. At the very least, barring a few displays of modern technology, it sounds like it could have been recorded 40 years ago. Would I have found this album quite so fascinating had the man himself not passed away a couple of days after its release? Probably not, but context is much of what we hear when we listen to music, and in the light of what took place, Blackstar is one fucking special record, one which has brought me great peace of mind in 2016. For those with an open mind and a pair of functioning earholes, there is simply no reason why you shouldn't give it a listen.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

JOHN SURMAN / BREMEN - just because...



Welcome back to me. In the time I've been away, I've been doing... stuff. Well, I took a brief sojourn to Tokyo - on a record-finding mission - but all of that really relates to 'work', so it likely won't be discussed here. I would, however, like to briefly discuss a couple of records which have lit a fire under my ass. The first is JOHN SURMAN's Morning Glory LP. This one has certainly taken me by surprise. Norway-via-England's Surman has been releasing records for almost 50 years, starting off in the big band's of Mike Westbrook in the late '60s, but is probably most well know for his many records on the ECM label. I am, of course, very familiar with them, and indeed there's a stack of them I'd recommend you check out: The Amazing Adventures Of Simon Simon from 1981, 1985's Withholding Pattern, Private City from 1988... Surman, on these discs would play a kind of pastoral, minimal form of 'jazz' using synthesisers and reeds (bass clarinet, saxophones of various stripes, even a recorder), creating a hypnotic, looping effect not a thousand miles removed from the likes of Terry Riley, but with an end result which is oh-so-English, and yes, oh-so-ECM. This may sound like I don't like these albums, but that is far, far from the case. Surman is an interesting character whose music has broached many forms: avant-jazz, jazz-rock, Minimalism, 'future jazz' and more, yet perhaps because he's never really stuck to one form - such as the 50+ years of art-brut from Brotzmann, Schlippenbach and co. - he doesn't enjoy the profile he should.

On that note, I bring you his Morning Glory LP from 1973. At this stage, he had released a string of albums with collaborators such as John McLaughlin, Jack Bruce, Michel Portal, Mike Westbrook, Karin Krog, et al. Enough of a discography for the Island label to bankroll this non-seller. As for whether the artist itself is 'Morning Glory' or whether it is 'John Surman and...' appearing on the LP entitled Morning Glory - I've seen it referred to as both. For convenience sake, I will simply refer to it as Surman's Morning Glory LP. It seems odd that Island would throw money at such a project, but those were different times, money was there for the taking, and Island's roster was about as good as it got for a semi-major at the time. You can see the lineup of players on the front cover: fellow ECMers John Taylor and particularly Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal are ones to note. Terje later made his name with a zillion albums on the ECM label - some are good, a number aren't - but was, at this juncture, still indulging in outward-bound sounds (his old trio, Min Bul, released an incredible avant-jazz screecher in 1970 which was briefly reissued last year. It's well worth searching out; an original copy will set you back stupid amounts of money).

When this album was first recommended to me a couple of months back, I was told it was a 'spiritual jazz gem from Surman'. I haven't noted too many others referring to it as such, but if it must be pigeonholed, that's as good as any other hole to pigeon it with. There are elements of melodic, modal jazz throughout, fiery excursions into freeform noise - Rypdal really shines here, ripping out spiky, abstract notes in a Ray Russell/Sonny Sharrock mode - and elements of the kosmiche w/ Surman's synth (otherwise it's bass clarinet and soprano sax for him), but ultimately it's the sound of searching, of yearning - and that's about as spiritual as I get. Four lengthy tracks, one full-length long player. Jesus... there is so much to learn, so many stones left unturned. Surman also released the terrific Westering Home LP on Island in 1972 (minimal, synth-accompanied reeds, much like his ECM albums), as well as following up Morning Glory with two excellent free-jazz trio albums and I need them all. Morning Glory is a fantastic British jazz LP from the 1970s released on a major label. You heard it here last.




Sweden's BREMEN: where the hell have they been my whole life? Under m' damn nose, apparently. They've released three LPs since 2013, all three of 'em doubles: Bremen from 2013, Second Launch from 2014 and Eclipsed from this year. All black and white artwork, all instrumental. They also happen be a duo comprising of two gents from the 'legendary' noise-rock band of yore, Brainbombs. Hey, I used to like those guys! In fact, I even had their first three 7"s - purchased via Spiral Objective mail-order, in fact - but sold them a couple of years ago when I came to the conclusion that I would likely never play them again, anti-social racket that they be (actually, BB made a fine racket, in a kind of Stooges/Flipper/Whitehouse zone, but I was offered good money, so off they went). Bremen are something different: they are cosmic 'rock' of many different shades, encompassing ambient drones, Krautrock, space-rock, Necks-like piano minimalism and all in between.

Now, you may be shaking your head and saying SO WHAT? - as such things have been achieved, recycled and driven into the ground the past 40 years of recorded sound - and that is true. But Bremen do it better than most. In fact, in 2016, I can't think of anyone who does it better. This style of musical is prone to facelessness (I would accuse the Kranky label of being guilty in fostering a number of mediocre acts in this field upon an unsuspecting, and unwilling, public), but Bremen have identity, and most importantly, they know when the song is over. Over the space of three albums, they just keep on getting better and better, broadening their musical horizons yet still sticking to what it is that made them so good in the first place. Parts of what they do - quite a lot of what they do - reminds of me of F/i, and if that doesn't sound like a recommendation, then please remove the shit from your ears. No vocals required: it's just riffs, repeated motifs, delicate pianos, electrified feedback. Songs know when to cut, tracks develop and move over extended time zones. These two Swedes have done this to perfection. My highest recommendation regarding everything they've done.


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