Sunday, March 26, 2017

GONE TROPPO WITH CHARLES LLOYD

It's a pleasure for the world of music to throw you a curveball and have you scrambling for the least-expected things. Lately, for me, it's been what I would call 'tropical-psychedelic-era CHARLES LLOYD'. I'm as surprised as you are. Or maybe you have no idea of what I speak, so a quick introduction.

I have a number of Charles Lloyd CDs on the ECM label. I distributed and managed the label down here for a number of years, as you may or may not know (or care), and am very familiar with its catalogue. Lloyd has quite a few albums on the label, which he has been on since the beginning of the 1980s. The albums in question are 'OK', but I rarely ever play them (I didn't pay for them), as I find them to be fairly non-remarkable hard-bop discs with occasional avant flourishes which, by no means bad, don't spark my interest a great deal. But still they sit on the shelf, awaiting the beckoning.

My workmate is - god, as much as it pains me to say this - a bit of a boffin on the world of 'soul-jazz', that curious sub-genre which developed in the late '60s and was/is basically a concoction made up of jazz, soul, pop and occasionally dollops of psychedelia. It's a broad brush, but regardless, many old jazzheads from the day went down that route for a few years, some basically for commercial reasons (many old and stodgy jazz fans banishing them as sell-outs for doing so), and the results varied. Cannonball Adderley's albums from this period (particularly his David Axelrod-produced ones) are simply excellent - you must hear Zodiac - but this piece isn't about soul-jazz per se, as that requires a book, not a blog post, so let's talk about Charles Lloyd's contributions to this loose genre.

So, my workmate thrust a copy of Lloyd's Moon Man LP from 1970 in front of my face about a month ago and said, You heard this? I told him I knew nothing of it, only that Lloyd recorded various hippie-ish jazz albums in the '60s (he ingratiated himself heavily with the west coast long-hair scene, although he was born in Memphis in 1938) and then recorded heavily for the ECM label later on. I was told I must hear it. I did. You must hear it, too. An ear-melting blend of goofy spoken-word material, almost country-style boogie-rock, spiritual jazz and rambling psychedelia, I now - a month or so later - rate it as a lost gem waiting to be rediscovered. As are his other LPs from the early '70s.

Curiously, Lloyd also played sax for the Beach Boys during this period - the band's best period, might I add - and various members of the band helped him out on two other crucial records from this era: 1971's Warm Waters and 1972's Waves. The greatness of these two albums - or maybe it's just ME: the reviews remain lukewarm to this day - are something I would like you to familiarise yourself with. Both featuring the likes of Al Jardine, Mike Love, Carl and Brian Wilson - you know, the Beach fuckin' Boys - they are a truly weird and beautiful mixture of cosmic jazz, sweet harmonies and tropical vibes. They have the distinct smell of marketplace failure all over them, too, but that just adds a sweet twist to the story. They come from a lost time when labels just threw money at this kind of strange nonsense in the hope that it would catch on with The Kids. It clearly didn't.

And then there is 1973's Geeta to consider - and you should consider it. With Lloyd on sax and flute with a three-piece band consisting of guitar, bass and dholak (South Asian hand-drum, like the tabla), as well as sitar and cosmic vocals,  it sees Lloyd, like many of his contemporaries, getting all mystical in an almost Don Cherry-like way (an apt musical comparison, alongside Miles' Big Fun juggernaut). Am I partying in the wrong circles? Why is there no Charles Lloyd box set documenting this period? Why have I not heard the utterance, I'm really into early '70s Charles Lloyd right now. Well, you just did! Get on it.





Thursday, March 09, 2017

GRANDPA'S GHOST


I received an email recently from an Irish fellow now residing in Japan with a record label by the name of Transduction Records. He has a new 2LP coming out which he believed I would be interested in, given the bands and music I have given props to over the years, and given the band's association to the SST story (it's loose, but it's there). He sent me a link, but told me the 2LP package was something to behold and would give me a greater sense of what it was I was consuming. I'm never one to say no to a freebie, so I said, sure, send one over.

That 2LP set is the latest - their 12th album, by my count - album by Missouri's GRANDPA's GHOST, The Carnage Queen. They've been releasing material since 1996, and yet I'd never heard of them until 2 weeks ago. They released four full-lengthers on the Upland label in the early '00s - Upland being the imprint owned & operated by Joe Carducci and Bill Stevenson (if you need to ask, don't bother) - and this is their first recording in a decade. The package is indeed nice, and this epic effort, which by my count is around the 80+ minute mark, will take one some time to fully comprehend. I've been perusing the lengthy press kit, and it makes for a great read in its own right, and there are two peculiar aspects to that remark: firstly, the press kit stretches itself over 6 pages, and I've always held the golden rule that such a promotional vehicle should never extend over more than a single page (I should know: I've written hundreds of the things. It should simply state: who the artist is, what they sound like, and why anyone should buy it); and secondly, it's interesting! There's a page-long rundown from Carducci himself, rave reviews from Byron Coley, references to Souled American, Meat Puppets and Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Sometimes great bands simply escape your gaze.

Those references aren't wrong, and Carducci's statement that the band's earlier comparisons to the likes of Wilco/Uncle Tupelo/Son Volt et al - all pleasant but utterly bland Americana outfits who push no boundaries - did the band no justice (nor was it accurate), and indeed they remain, as he notes, musical heirs to the likes of Neil Young and Crazy Horse and the deconstructed, falling-apart aesthetics of Souled American more than anything else. This is all true. What GG remind me of mostly is a whole lotta bands I did used to listen to in the early '90s whom I still have a sentimental attchment to, even if I don't spin their wares like I used to. I'm thinking of Ajax-catalogue regulars (one can't underestimate its importance, so I won't), greats such as Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, Trumans Water, The Grifters, Royal Trux, Gastr del Sol and I'd even have to throw in some very early Pavement in there, too, as well as first-LP Meat Puppets. In that sense, you could say this is a musical throwback, but that's merely my interpretation of its sounds. Grandpa's Ghost play expansive de/reconstructed roots music for the 21st century with unpredictable, non-obvious songcraft. I'm not sure who is really going to care that this 2LP set exists, as I have acknowledged my prior ignorance of them, but it seems that they have the right fans as it is, and since you've come this far, you really should check them out, as smart people require good music in their lives. This would've found a great home on SST in 1985 or Drag City in 1998, but since I'm always on the lookout for great recordings made in the here and now - well, this is one of them.

There is eff-all presence of the band on YouTube, certainly not from recent years, but this one from eons ago may give you a whiff of what they do.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

DIG!


Here's what I done over my summer break: I slogged my way through David Nichols' new epic tome, Dig: Australian Rock And Pop Music 1960 - 85 (Verse Chorus Press). 'Slog' may have you thinking I didn't enjoy the experience, and to that I say, au contraire! T'was a book I enjoyed immensely; but it's also a book which requires some dedication, being nearly 600 pages of small print which will chew up a number of hours and days (and weeks, in my case) as you consume all the information within.

Some background: David Nichols is a fairly well known musician/writer/raconteur both Down Under and abroad. He was a staff writer for Smash Hits(!) magazine down here for over a decade (my first exposure to his writing was via a live PiL review in 1984), also published the excellent Distant Violins fanzine throughout much of this period, played in the Cannanes and other outfits, published a major book on the Go-Betweens a number of years ago, now teaches at Melbourne University, etc., etc. And yes, he is someone I also happen to know, and we often find ourselves at the same social gatherings and BBQs in the area, due to mutual friends. Now that all that is out of the way, let's begin with Dig, a book which apparently took him a decade to complete, and given the sheer amount of information it contains, such a fact is surely understandable. I find Nichols a fascinating writer (and human being, if truth be told) because he has no sense of snobbery or real delineation between the hip and underground and the popular and tacky. He will find the good in Wa Wa Nee and Pseudo Echo just as he will in the Fungus Brains and Laughing Clowns. Which isn't to say that he possesses no critical faculties in discerning good music from bad, it's just that he doesn't possess the same innate sense of indie-retentive snobbery which, well, I have. And it's this broad appreciation which can lead up him some interesting (and perhaps dangerous) musical paths.

The book itself, as the title suggests, is a history of Australian popular music over a 25-year period, and Nichols is at pains to point out in the introduction that his assessment of things - both in his critical assessment of the music and what he chooses to cover and ignore - is purely subjective, as indeed all histories are. The coverage is still broad and sweeping, and pulls no punches in some regards. A sacred cow such as Johnny O'Keefe is shot down in flames rather quickly, dismissed as a hack and horrible human being to boot (he was both); INXS are frequently derided for their dull music and shameless aspirations (can't disagree there!); though I do have a major beef with David's rude dismissal of AC/DC's Back In Black (he loathes it; I certainly don't). Some of the major players in Australian pop and rock, such as the Bee Gees, Molly Meldrum, Lobby Loyde, Ross Wilson and even Johnny Young get a lot of pages covering their contributions, and love 'em or hate 'em, they have all played a major part in shaping Australian music, and Nichols isn't afraid to see the good and bad in what they have all contributed. In short, it's refreshing to read a book on such a subject which doesn't appear to have an agenda in regards to either fawning over the gods or dismissing them for controversy's sake.

There is simply way too much music covered within to go into detail here - that's what the book's for. You get pre-Beatles '60s pop through to the Easybeats, Zoot, Masters Apprentices (whom I would've liked to have seen more on, especially their peak early '70s phase - but that's me being subjective), Pip Proud, Aztecs and the whole Sunbury scene, the rise and raise (then fall) of two of the biggest bands of the '70s, Daddy Cool and Skyhooks (and both of their stories are fascinating, even though I don't rate their music), Saints/Radio Birdman, Rose Tattoo and X, Go-Betweens and Triffids (two highly-praised bands - by everyone! - whom I just can't get a grip on), the Carlton scene of the mid/late '70s, The Models (another band whose highly-worshipped early recordings totally leave me cold - perhaps you had to be there) and more, more, more.

My favourite parts in the book - perhaps because their histories/stories were largely unknown to me and have since garnered in me quite a belated and curious fandom - would be the extensive coverage of the Carlton scene of the late '70s, particularly that of The Sports, as well as En Zed ex-pats, Dragon. Yes, you heard me right. The Sports' first two albums, 1978's Reckless and 1979's Don't Throw Stones, are magnificent collections of New Wave/pub rock/power pop anthems, skewered by sharp writing, a great frontman (yup, that's Stephen Cummings) and a raw, powerful delivery. I had always dismissed such outfits as unbelievably naff - a half-arsed compromise between what punk should have been and shameless pop ambition - but when put into context (the context that such players had been around the scene creating all kinds of radical and interesting music for a number of years before punk hit), their high-energy, urban brand of hook-filled non-hippie pop/rock makes sense. My pal David Laing (yeah, that guy) has reissued very nice 2CD editions of those two albums with a ton of great bonus material, and I urge all and sundry to give them an earload.



Dragon is a band which David Nichols has long had a fondness for, and hence he gives them a lot of coverage in Dig, just about more than any other band. Dave Graney writes an interesting introduction to Dig, and he makes a great point, one he borrows from an unnamed friend of his (that person happens to be J**** W***s, an old workmate and good friend of mine), which is this: every great music book must have the author championing at least one artist/band which has you scratching your head, furrowing your brow and saying to yourself, REALLY??!! Them?! I think that is a good litmus test for a great music book. Of course, David Nichols champions a whole number of bands here to varying degrees for whom I either can't stand or have no interest in (Cold Chisel, Reels, Australian Crawl, Sherbet), but his cheering for the recorded works of Dragon had me curious, particularly because I'd become aware of their mid '70s NZ days when they were a prog band who recorded two very rare (and highly desirable) albums for the famed Vertigo label: 1974's Universal Radio and '75's Scented Gardens For The Blind. Both are on Spotify, and the former has been reissued nicely (with David Nichols liner notes, natch) by the Aztec label, and hopefully the second will get a similar treatment one day (I should hassle Gil). I have, over the course of the last few months, upon reading this book I immersed myself in these two LPs repeatedly, become a huge fan of these two albums, although I should warn you that if you're allergic to 'prog' and all its extended-song/Hammond-organ glory, then these recordings are not for you. But for myself, there is something very special about these albums, being nascent yet highly sophisticated - with great songs! - recordings from a young band stationed at the arse end of the world in the mid '70s. Of course, the band soon moved to Australia and became a very successful pop/rock act with a number of huge hits (overseas types will surely know 'April Sun In Cuba', a big AOR hit around the world), although the band's history is more perverse and twisted than the average punk band. Firstly, the group had a long-running fascination with the music of Lou Reed and the Velvets, and covered 'White Light/White Heat' in their live set for decades; singer Marc Hunter was a punk enthusiast and can be seen in the book wearing a Residents t-shirt in 1978 whilst wrestling a woman on stage; the band actually kicked Marc out of the band between the years 1979 - '82 for being an insufferable shitbag and drug fiend, though members, including Dragon leader Todd Hunter (yes, his brother), contributed to Marc's solo recordings during this period; the band were voracious drug users (and, in some cases, dealers) and were named in a government enquiry into drug abuse in NSW; and hey, they did write a number of great pop songs - that is something I will not deny.



So, in fear of turning this review into a book of its own, it should be stated that Dig is never a boring read. Nichols covers music I love, loathe and am frequently indifferent to, but never is it a dull to read about such topics. As he is in person, his writing is as dry as the desert sun, with deadpan witticisms scattered throughout. The cultural background and context to what is covered gives the reader a great insight into why the music turned out as it did (there is much to be said for the fact that, at least in the '60s and '70s, the vast bulk of notable music eminating from Australia was in fact made by migrants) and what life was like at the time for a music fan: the press, the radio, the concerts et al. I have a number of bones to pick with David regarding Dig next time I see him, and that is a sign of a good book for me. If you're reading this blog - and I do believe you're reading it right now - then this is a book which will interest you.


DONALD TRUMP RECORD REVIEWS


Hey folks. Sorry I've been slack around here. Real Life and others things have taken precedence. I've also set up a new laff-out-loud blog, DONALD TRUMP RECORD REVIEWS, which is also a Tumblr site. Today, the non-laughs are on me! More things to come...

Sunday, January 01, 2017

DOM DAR

Many, many moons ago - as many moons as there have been in the past 12 years - I posted about a 7" by the Swedish band, DOM DAR. This single still haunts me, it still eludes me. I guess I could buy a copy on Discogs, but maybe I'm just waiting for a copy to fall from the sky and into my lap. 25 years after first hearing them, as I lumber into middle-age, they still take my fancy. My reborn obsession comes from belatedly hearing their other recorded works, most of which looks to be collected here on the CD entitled Machine Way. I know next to nothing of the band, and am finding it difficult to scoop any information on them. Their recorded history is curious, since they released music in 1984/'85 and 1990/'91, yet not in the years between. A Swedish friend saw them play in their homeland during their latter period. They were an awesome blend of Discharge-style d-beat hardcore and sludgy, Melvins-ish trudge. In their faster moments, they mostly remind me of Holland's BGK - a classic Euro take on the Discharge-style thrash of the early '80s (and their Nothing Can Go Wrogn! LP from '86 remains one of the finest European hardcore discs of the 1980s) - and the organic, loose miasma of Melvins ca. Bullhead. That's a fine place to stand. I am goddamned shocked at how good the music on this CD is: tight, surprisingly well-recorded 'crust-punk' which is melodic, eclectic (even a goddamn violin thrown - and not just because they could) and 'heavy' without being metal. The CD in question was released on a Japanese label in 1994, and you can bet I searched high and low for it when I was in that very country just a few weeks back. To no avail. Yes, I could just buy one via Discogs... but again: I'm hoping one will just fall from the sky. In the meanwhile, I have the whole thing on the thoroughly unsatisfactory format known as YouTube. You could start your 2017 in worse ways than this.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

IT'S A ROUND-UP!!

Yes, it's a yearly round-up of the *cough* RELEASES OF THE YEAR. As always, this is predicated with the knowledge that it's essentially based on what I've heard throughout the year and is not definitive by any means. For instance, it was only after last year was finished that I became aware of Julia Holter's utterly magnificent Have You In My Wilderness LP, a release which absolutely should have been on top of my pile for '15, but alas, it came to my lazy ears far too late. I am also aware of the fact that I am in somewhat of a priviliged position, in that my job dictates that I should try to keep up with what interesting sounds are being released.

Whilst all and sundry are hailing 2016 as The Worst Year On Record, I won't lie and will confess that mine was certainly above average. Both work-wise and with the family, it was my first year in approximately half a decade which wasn't frought with huge dramas (bar one) and sleepless nights; I managed to make it to Japan twice (yes, just got back from another trip a few weeks back), after having not been overseas for over a decade. Still, I'm not gloating about this, as I have friends who suffered grevious losses (and we're not talking about celebrities they didn't actually know) and had a much less fun time than I did in 2016.

In regards to bad news and the election of Trump... I don't usually go near politics in this blog, but let me share one or two thoughts. Trump is a dangerous, ignorant, impulsive nimrod (and I hated the guy years before it was fashionable!) who will probably be impeached within his first term due to some scandal or other (he's simply too wreckless not to involve himself in such things), but the Democrats fucked up majorly by having the truly horrible Hillary Clinton as their candidate (no, I am not a fan), and if there's any silver lining to the result it's that hopefully the Democrats will cleanse out the Clinton factor from their party, go back to the drawing board and start formulating policies which will actually benefit ordinary working people and not just their wealthy donors. My candidate of choice was knocked out early on in the game, if that gives you a clue. In relationship to this topic, I recommend you read Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal, which was published earlier this year and is a remarkably prescient tome on where 'liberal' politics in America (and elsewhere, ultimately) have gone horribly wrong in the past 30 years. Frank used to publish/edit The Baffler, which I believe is still running in some form, a cultural periodical which I used to read back in the '90s and was one of the best publications of its day. Word yourself up on it.

OK, onto the musical frivolities....

DAVID BOWIE - Blackstar
I wrote about this previously below, so you can peruse there for the rundown. It remains my favourite release of 2016. It is very possibly the best thing the man ever did.



IGGY POP - Post-Pop Depression
Much like Bowie's effort, this is the best thing Iggy has done since the 1970s. Other than The Idiot and perhaps a few songs here and there, I have never been a fan of Iggy's solo work. It's been mostly de-fanged New Wave or clunky rock/metal since his Stooges days, and very little of it has been listenable. This album, which sees him backed up by lunkheads from such questionable outfits as the Arctic Monkeys and Eagles Of Death Metal, as with Bowie's Blackstar, completely knocked me sideways with just how good it is. The band is in perfect sync with the downbeat-sleaze vibe of the material, Iggy doesn't waste his time and yours simply being 'Iggy Pop' (he's been resting on those laurels for far too long), and the songs are simply excellent. I flogged the heck out of this disc throughout 2016, as you well should, too. It is shockingly good.



TERRY - HQ
Local band featuring the omnipresent (and seemingly omnipotent) Al Montfort and other notables on board. The name 'Terry' is ridiculous, but they aren't. I saw them a couple of years back when they were going for a more folky sound, but they've seemingly changed course and become a more fully-realised unit who attack in a kind of jagged (yet still folksy) post-punk vein. There's shades of Raincoats, The Fall and Swell Maps in here, though the approach to the material is strictly 'Strine, so such comparisons do no real justice. Regardless, their laconic brand of no-frills 'rock' is music to these ears.



BREMEN - Eclipsed
I wrote of this a couple of months ago. Swedish two-piece with Brainbombs connection. Cosmic space-rock drone w/ elements of F/i, Necks, Cluster and other good things. Terrific band, killer release.



TYRANNAMEN - s/t LP
Local quintet who've been around for a number of years and have connections/overlapping members with about half-a-dozen other bands moving and shaking in the scene. The release of this disc took me by surprise. For one, I saw them play about 5 years ago - or it seems that long ago - and a debut longplayer seemed like a seriously belated act of, err, activity. But the wait was worth it. I had to write a sales blurb on this recently, and I said something to the effect of it filling the hole twixt Eddy Current and Royal Headache. They possibly find that an insult of obviousness, or a sales pitch which does their individualistic approach to soulful garage-punk/urban blues no justice whatsoever, but it is no insult and, to these ears, remains an accurate musical description.



INVERLOCH - Distance Collapsed
Another release I wrote about in detail earlier this year. Organic, crunching and ever-shifting death metal/doom from this Melbourne band who very belatedly sprang from the cold ashes of '90s death/grind/doom 'legends (indeed, they are), dISEMBOWELMENT. Excellent.



ORB - Birth
Geelong three-piece with Frowning Clouds and other connections. I've seen this crew a number of times over the past few years and they never fail to impress. There's a few things I like about them. Here goes... Firstly, there is the music itself. Their level of Sabbath worship is boundless, sure. There are riffs here which sound wholesale lifted from early BS efforts, sure. But there is more than that to what they do. There's a cosmic, Syd-like angle to the material which most other stoner outfits completely miss, and their approach in a live setting is what really wins me over. They look like three skinny short-haired dweebs who should be playing Feelies covers. They don't swagger. They emit a sexless nothing and that works in perfect tandem to the heavy-duty sounds they blast, because there is no flash. The drummer never raises his arms above shoulder height. There is a sense of musical restraint and, dare I say, constipation, which saps their music of macho aggression but still lets it cut loose and 'rock'. Orb are something special. I hear they've recorded a new LP which is in a more Kinks vein - whatever that means. I eagerly await.



THE DOUBLE - Dawn Of The Double
The Double's Jim White is, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit of a legend in Australian and now international music circles. Venom P. Stinger and Dirty Three are where he made his name, but he hit the skins for a number of other, lesser-known Aussie post-punk outfits (Feral Dinosaurs, for one) and of course also travels the world banging drums for everyone from Will Oldham to Bill Callahan to Cat Power to PJ Harvey. And much more. When in town, he likes to drop into the shop from whence I operate my place of business, buy some discs (always a man of impeccable taste) and chew the fat. He came in earlier in the year and told me about this new LP he'd recorded with Emmett Kelly from Ty Segall's band. With a sly grin on his face, he told me he'd invented a new beat. Yes, a new drum pattern. And this album was recorded totally within this new time signature. In fact, it was a tribute to it. I was intrigued. 'It's called The Double, and is going to come out mid-year on In The Red'. I was, of course, even more intrigued. Much has been written about this record, and I will add little to the discussion. The standard line used - even by me! - is imagine the missing link twixt Glenn Branca and Bo Diddley. Or, perhaps, let's say it's like 'Sister Ray' w/ a shuffle beat. It's something special.



XYLOURIS WHITE - Black Peak
Speaking of... this is the latest/greatest from the Jim White/Georges Xylouris duo, which once again melds Jim's off-kilter jazz beats w/ Xylouris' lute riffing, creating a kind of Cretan intercontinental free-rock without precedent. And if there is a precedent to this, I would certainly like to hear it. The interplay between the two is magical, White's always-unpredictable beats somehow bringing the two together just when it sounds like it's coming apart. Even better than their Goat album from last year, I would like to see these recordings become an annual event for many years to come.



OREN AMBARCHI - Hubris
I've known Oren for over 20 years. He is a nice fellow with a wickedly self-deprecating sense of humour. Everyone down here knows Oren, although he is rarely in the country these days. His music career seems to have hit a vertical trajectory the past few years, his international jetsetting and recording going into hyperdrive, and Hubris is one of the results of this lifestyle. It's also, in this writer's non-humble opinion, possibly the best thing he's ever done. Of course such a statement is born from ignorance, since I have not heard all of the voluminous recordings he appears to release on a monthly basis. But I've heard enough to at least claim that this is near the top. It sees Oren and a few of his famous friends (there's Arto Lindsay and Jim O'Rourke in there) engaging in a kind of minimal techno on the opening cut (all called 'Hubris', by the way). It sounds like it could have been lifted from an old Kompakt disc or Basic Channel cut. That's good. Next track is a slightly briefer guitar interlude which evades the obvious trappings of sounding like a John Fahey tune. Then there's another long one, a lengthy track which melds percussive, rhythmic clutter with electronics and guitar noise. It is elongated Krauty goodness, crisp, danceable and highly listenable. Hubris, as a whole, is highly listenable. It should be a hit. Relatively speaking, I think it has been a hit.



CAUSA SUI - Return To Sky
Return To Sky is by no means Danish psych/stoner trio Causa Sui's finest moment. In fact, it's possibly their weakest moment; but of course, it must be added that their weaker moments are still better than most people's worst, and it is by no means a bad album, which is why it is here on the list. A while ago, late last year, I believe, I gave a bit of a rundown on the goings-on at the El Paraiso label, the imprint owned and operated by Jonas Munk and Jakob Skott from Causa Sui. If you haven't periused this, then I encourage yo to do so, toot sweet. That will save me from having to wax lyrical here. Causa Sui play largely improvised psych-damaged 'stoner rock' which is free of the cliches and limitations which many practitioners in the genre operate. That is, their sonics add up to so much more than a lukewarm stirfry of recycled Black Sabbath riffs. Their high watermarks remain their Summer Sessions and Pewt'r Sessions series, and Return To Sky is a step down in quality, but for free-form boogie with an additional slice of Soft Machine/Mahavishnu fusion-boogie thrown on top, no one can top these gents.



LUKE HOWARD - Two Places
Latest/greatest from this Melbourne-based (yet globe-trotting) composer and pianist who, of course, is also a friend but also a hell of a talent. His discography has traversed the fields of trio chamber-jazz of the ECM variety to Eno/Budd ambience (his fantastic Sun, Cloud LP from a couple of years ago) to more avant offerings of a jazz stripe to this one, his magnus opus available as a handsomely-packaged CD or 2LP set. Luke is a big fan of the Erased Tapes label, as am I, and perhaps this set is him making his pitch for a signing, and I can't fault him for trying. Herein lies a blend of ambience, restrained chamber piano jazz, modern composition, even a pinch of post-rock, if you don't mind the language. Of course, it would fit the Constellation or Erased Tapes stables like a pink rubber glove, and that's certainly no reason to dislike it. Of all the releases listed here, I think this one is the most underrated and underheard in 2016.



JASON SHARP - A Boat Upon Its Blood
OFF WORLD - s/t
AUTOMATISMA - Momentform Accumulations
Speaking of Constellation... here are three titles on the label which were released just recently and have rarely left my music-player of choice since I first heard them. I was bemoaning to a friend just recently how hard it is to convince, let alone sell, anything on the Constellation label other than the obvious heavy hitters (Godspeed, Silver Mt. Zion, et al... or maybe that pretty much covers it), because everyone has it in their minds that the label is full of esoteric and/or unlistenable French-Canadian art-rock bullpiss. Which, of course, it is. But in amongst said bullpiss lies an occasional valley of gold. Let's make these ones brief. Jason Sharp is another player in the Montreal scene centred around the label, has guested on releases by the likes of A Silver Mt. Zion and Sam Shalabi, and oftens plays the saxophone in a drone-like manner (a bit like his label mate, Colin Stetson). A Boat Upon Its Blood sounds a little like all of the above, which means it's a darkly dramatic, semi-orchestral slice of all-encompassing sound-art. Off World is Constellation veteran Sandro Perri's latest ensemble who play an organic brand of electronica which alternately reminds me of the sonic experiments of Hassell and Eno in a Fourth World capacity and the other-worldly drones of Coil during their minimal phase when they perfected their craft (think Ape Of Naples/Musick To Play In The Dark), which means I'm heaping high praise upon it. Mostly, it reminds me of nothing else. Automatisma is the nom de plume of Quebec-based producer, William Joudain, and his offering for the label is an atypical one: mostly organic and acoustic in its origins, it plays out in a certain vein of minimal techno. With real-time percussion and electronics, they mesh together beautifully to create something which sounds like it came out of the Berlin scene of the mid '90s. Which of course is a half-arsed way of putting it, but its dub-heavy mix of beats and electro-acoustic experiments works a treat.



 

BITCHIN BAJAS AND BONNIE 'PRINCE' BILLY - Epic Jammers And Fortunate Little Ditties
The outfit known as Bitchin Bajas have themselves a rather flawless discography thus far. The 'band' is made up of Cooper and Rob from the awesome Chicago cosmic-rock outfit, Cave, and indulge in more outward-bound, synth-heavy (and often beatless) shenanigans, which means their pairing with bearded folkster slob, Will Oldham, makes for a mighty weird pairing, at least on paper. But Bill is just musically flexible enough as a performer that his aches and groans work perfectly within BB's free-form, minimal electronics, as they are soaked up beautifully in the atmosphere and bring out the melodies to a tee. Two bloody records of it. It sounds like overkill, but it surely isn't. I could do with a few more recordings just like this one.



ORANSSI PAZUZU - Varahtelija
I wrote of this a few months ago. Head there for the juice. Finnish space-rock/Black Metal hybrid of the Nordic gods.



KRAKATAU - Tharsis Montes/Apogean Tide
This is a recently-released 12"/mini LP from a Melbourne quartet whom I was utterly unaware of until a few months ago. They released an LP on the Trouble In Mind label in 2014, play shows around town - allegedly - and yet I never knew they existed until very recently. There you go. Upon hearing that there was a local jazz-fusion band known as Krakatau, my first thought was, Are you smarty-pants's aware of the Norwegian jazz-fusion band of the same name from the 1990s, featuring the celebrated guitarist, Raoul Bjorkenheim, at the helm? And then I heard the local band in question and concluded that surely it would be impossible for them NOT to have heard the Scandinavian outfit... So why the name? No idea. I saw the band play last month when they supported Severed Heads at the big festival gathering at the State Library. I was watching them with a friend who happens to play in about three-dozen bands himself, when he turned to me and said, 'Let's go to the bar; Krakatau are a band best heard and not seen'. I had to agree. I like this recording a lot, but in a live scenario the band emits a certain goose-necking smugness which can be mighty hard to tolerate. They have the aura of well-studied VCA graduates who are getting high off the smell of their own piss. Regardless, they are probably nice fellows, and I did also highly enjoy the '70s ECM vibe of what it was they were playing. This record in question is a slightly different beast. I would place it within the category of 'Record Collector Music', as it is most certainly the product of gentlemen who spend inordinate amounts of time thumbing their way through crates of records. If they have not heard the sounds of Marc Moulin's Placebo or Klaus Weiss' Sunbirds, then I will eat my hat with a suitable garnish. But again: THAT'S OK. I like records, too. And they've put their knowledge to good use, because this record, along with its beautifully garish cover, sounds like it came out of the European continent in 1974. It sounds alien to its origins, and it sounds perfect to me.



PS - I will undoubtedly recall about a dozen omissions from this list within 10 minutes of pressing 'publish', but there you go. OVER/OUT, for now.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

DANNY 'FUCKING' WORSNOP



Well, fuck... don't thank me for this. Don't thank anyone. This new release was brought to my attention by a friend who grew up on the early stable of Earache artists, notably NAPALM DEATH, CARCASS, BOLT THROWER, ENTOMBED, GODFLESH, MORBID ANGEL et al. For him, Earache was his SST, so to speak; and, like SST's demise, Earache's decline in quality is so fucking obvious you could chart it on a bar graph.

It's not like I've been following the label. Hell, outside of Digby Pearson and his accountants, I don't think anyone has been following the parade of embarrassments Earache has been dragging out the past 15 - 20 years. I was well aware of Earache's standing in the grand scheme of things back when it was at its peak as a label and tastemaker (that'd be approximately 1987 - 1993) - and I heard (and in some cases owned) and enjoyed those crucial early records by Napalm Death, Carcass, Godflesh, etc. - but it was a dabbling and diversion for moi, and not something I focussed on as a steady musical diet. In the mid '90s I found myself working for their Australian distributor, and in some cases licensor, and so was very privy to what was going on with the label. The woeful outfit known as Dub War, who sounded like a bogus heavy metal stew of The Police and I Against I-period Bad Brains, made quite a splash and toured here at the time (I saw them - then again, I had freebies and saw just about every international act I could get freebies for; PS - they sucked), and some of the more purist metalheads I worked with bemoaned the unmetallic nature of Earache's venturing.

I thought it was a good idea for the label to wander outside its musical comfort zone, but only if the results were what I considered 'good'. One such release was Scorn's Gyral from 1996. Featuring ex-Napalm Death skinsman Mick Harris at the helm, the band/project known as Scorn had drifted from being a Swans/Head Of David/Godflesh-style 'heavy' rock outfit to a minimalist, percussion-based electronic proposition whose sounds prefigured Burial and other progenitors of what is known as 'dubstep' (you may have heard of it) by a couple of decades. I have been informed that his minimal success with Scorn, who pioneered a sound which was hugely popular decades later, has embittered him to no end - that may or may not be true, however. Gyral was Scorn's last release on Earache; they continued on for several more excellent releases on other labels, and Mick also had the ultra-minimalist, 'isolationist' project, Lull, who also did some fascinating recordings. But I'm losing focus here: the point is: Scorn's Gyral was licensed for the Australian market - and sold zip. And there were the Industrial Fucking Strength compilations and the equally woeful forays into 'hardcore'/'gabba' XTRM dance music with Ultraviolence and Johnny Violent, none of which took off; and by the time they released the debut by the now utterly forgotten Janus Stark - a band who - get this - featured the guitarist from The Prodigy - it was all over. Well, I recall liking those Iron Monkey albums they did, but nothing else springs to mind. I saw Napalm Death play in, was it 1997? Another freebie. They were fucking terrible. I left before they finished. ND made a great 'grind' band, but as a 'death metal' band, they were an utter failure - musically, if not commercially. I do not consider the terms 'grindcore' and 'death metal' interchangeable. I also saw Cathedral during this period. By this stage (that's probably 1997 or '98), their recordings were horrible, but as a live band they could still cut it in a to-the-point 'heavy' Sabbathian manner, something their records could definitely no longer achieve.

Approximately six or seven years ago, I found myself reappraising and hugely enjoying some of the groundbreaking recordings from the earlier days of the label: the first two LPs by Napalm Death and Carcass (these four albums are totally essential for anyone with a taste for noise), Godflesh's Streetcleaner, Scorn's output, Bolt Thrower's first 3 or 4 discs (a band who were a human punchline back in the day, but those records are great), Cathedral's Forest Of Equilibrium and others. In the pantheon of rock music, these are important recordings. What will never be important is the entire recorded works of Danny Worsnop. I know nothing of him, except that he is also the vocalist in two bands with improbably awful names such as Asking Alexandria and We Are Harlot. The former is a 'metalcore' outfit (excuse the language), the latter is a 'hard rock supergroup' featuring some other dickheads. What in the fucking fuck Digby Pearson is doing releasing a record by Worsnop is possibly something which can only be discussed between himself and his therapist, because I can't locate a logical reason for it. Earache has released some utter tripe in recent years - hello Massive and Rival Sons - but this is a new low. I'm not sure why I care. I'm not sure I do. I just thought you should know that Earache, nearly 30 years after the release of Scum, is about to release a recording which sounds like the missing link between Sugar Ray, Uncle Kracker and Alan Jackson. Knock yourself out.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Some random nonsense...

I heard the song below, The Animals' 'Outcast', recently in a film I watched. For the life of me, I cannot recall what the film was. It was a couple of months ago, and obviously not memorable. But the song in question was. I found myself freeze-framing the credits at the end so I could find out who sang the track in question. Like many of the 'original' Animals' singles (before the band lost half its membership and split for California in '66), it's a cover of a soul/R & B tune, this one penned by Eddie and Ernie, a duo I must claim ignorance of. Anyway, the sheer psychedelic soul-power of Eric Burdon and co.'s rendition, with that wicked fuzzed guitar, is the sound that puts a skip in one's step. It's one of the best things I've heard this year.



And in regards to some belated SST worship - it's been a week or two - there's this footage of Saccharine Trust and Minutemen at the Anti-Club in '82. Oh yeah, there's Turds In Space thrown in the mix, too, which is some Spot avant project I kinda skipped through. But the 'Trust and the 'Men - oooooh, boy! - at this stage of the game they were writing a new rule book to tear up. It's interesting seeing just how low-key this whole mythical scene was back in its earlier days. Word is - according to someone, maybe Watt or Carducci - that the Minutemen never really got themselves an audience outside of their immediate peers, friends and gushing critics until Double Nickels was released and won them a wider audience. That may indeed be true. The 'Trust have never won themselves a wide audience, but you can't blame me for trying.



Lastly, there's Frank Zappa and his band of longhairs circa 1973. I noted a few posts ago that early '70s Zappa - which I had previously poo-poo'd - has been quite an obsession of mine the past 12 months, and it hasn't abated yet. This is a pretty excellent example of the freak show he and his band were at the time, and gathering by the number of Zappa-influenced bands who came out of Europe in the early '70s (I am fond of saying - oh, so fond of saying - that 70% of the Nurse With Wound list is merely made up of European art-rock gimps trying to copy Zappa and Soft Machine), I can only assume he made quite an impact. Enjoy. You've earned it.