Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Glenn Danzig turned 60 this week. If you want to get some real perspective on ageing punkers, consider this: Alan Vega just turned 77 this week! I had no idea until fairly recently that he was that old. So when he saw his life-changing Stooges shows circa 1969/'70, the guy was already in his 30s. Doesn't make him any less awesome. However, what does make Danzig slightly less awesome is the ridiculous figure he has devolved into the past 25 years or more. Friends of mine really dug those early Danzig records. God knows I heard them enough at the dawn of the '90s at various parties where bongs were passed and vast amounts of alcohol was consumed, but they didn't mean much of anything to me. Fact is, the Misfits never meant much of anything to me either, even when I was Hardcore Joe Kokomo as a young gent. Sure, I heard the records and knew all about the band (no great stretch: they remain one of the obvious entry points for young rockers globally), but they came across like a bunch of artless lunkheads and not really my cup o' tea.
Naturally, I own all the obvious Misfits (ca. 1976 - '83: not the circus which has been parading as the Misfits in the post-Danzig universe) LPs now, but big deal - I own a lot of records, and not all of 'em good. Still, I can crank up some primo 'fits on occasion and dig the shit out of it in my paunched middle age, and that's not a bad thing. Their story is an interesting one - a band basically considered a joke in the NY punk rock circuit until various midwestern teens (Necros, Meatmen, etc.), DC baldies and west coast aggros (mainly the 'Flag guys) sung their praises and word began to spread. I could be wrong here, but the impression I get is that they couldn't get arrested in their hometown but obviously turned a lot of heads when The Kids took notice throughout the land.
Samhain were a more peculiar proposition: Danzig's outfit from 1983 - 1987, one which slowed down the tempo and went for a more metallic, goth/death-rock angle. I don't own any of their records and never have. Right now they're out of print, even in the digital realm. I've heard 'em, though - there was a nice box set released in 1999 which I remember selling many copies of when I worked at Missing Link - and they certainly have their charm, even if they suffer from the most staggeringly fuckawful production just about ever heard on record (and if you think I'm out of line, listen to the studio version of 'Archangel'). Anyway, this live clip, at least for me, nails how good Danzig and co. could be when everything's nailed down tight. The live version of 'Archangel' above is it. Pure rock & roll weirdness delivered with a hostile snarl. It really is terrific. Watch. Learn.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
I can't let such an occasion go unnoticed: Ornette Coleman was one of the most important and innovative musicians of the 20th, and he has passed. He reconfigured the music of jazz as we know it. He's as giant a figure in American music as BB King, yet I didn't hear a whole lot in the major press about his death, but never mind - the music of Ornette never was and never will be 'for everyone' (and I don't say any of this to begrudge BB's coverage or his place in the musical pantheon: his many cuts for the Modern/RPM label are some of the best post-war electric blues you'll ever hear). Discovering Ornette's music in my early 20s was a big deal. His music - so varied yet so of a single mind - remains important to me. I wrote this pile of rambling guff on the man three years ago. Read it. Listen to his music.
Those folks at Light In The Attic - who have recently reissued this obscure gem from 1984 - sure know a thing or two about a thing or two. Sure, they've got all that Rodriguez cash flowing in and keeping things steady (I always say that every successful label needs a Koln Concert in their repertoire for steady cash flow: LITA have found their Koln Concert. That remark may mean absolutely nothing to you), but such a predicament allows them to indulge themselves with this rather deluxe 2LP edition (it was originally a longish - 50 minutes or thereabouts - single LP) of a long-lost self-released singer-songwriter platter. Which matters.
David Kauffman and Eric Caboor aren't exactly household names and never will be. Their collectives careers stalled (but didn't die) pretty much upon the release of this very album, and frankly I'm mystified by its failure. Well, not mystified, as many great albums sunk like a stone for eternity, but its complete and total marketplace failure was indeed a tragedy. Some background... Kauffman was originally from New Jersey and moved to California in the late '70s, hoping to make it as a singer-songwriter in the LA scene like his heroes Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Jackson Browne et al. Caboor was from Burbank. They met in 1982 and played regularly around the fLA olk/coffeehouse circuit at the time. No double bills with The Stains or Saccharine Trust have been confirmed (nor ever suggested).
'Kiss Another Day Goodbye': one of the most awesomely depressing songs ever penned
They amassed a collection of songs, made demos, shopped them around to big-time labels and were promptly rejected by all and sundry. Reagan-era America wasn't in the mood for their feel-bad vibes. Bummed out by their rejections and feeling shut out by The Biz, they decided to record a collection of their most downer tunes on 4-track and release it themselves, if only to say Fuck You, of sorts. Thus Songs From Suicide Bridge. They pressed up 500 copies, gave a stack of them to radio stations and watched it fail. It's a glorious failure. Kauffman and Caboor were no Jandeks: homepsun heroes keeping the DIY spirit alive. They wanted to be stars. They would have signed to Elektra or Geffen in a heartbeat - it just didn't happen. But somewhere it that bitter failure lies the beauty of this release.
Both Caboor and kaufman share songwriting duties, mainly alternating tracks and singing lead vocals on their respective numbers. Their songwriting styles perfectly complement each other; until I checked the liner notes I assumed there were co-writing credits on all tracks. Musically, it's sparse and downbeat, but with a smart, crisp and lyrical musicianship. It's raw, but never sloppy. These dudes could play - it's just that no one gave a shit. One of the obvious comparisons is Springsteen's Nebraska, and it's in that ballpark, for sure, although both members have never suggested having been influenced by it. It remains its own beast, and a very LA one at that, with a maudlin feel gleaned from late nights studying early Tom Waits and Randy Newman sides. Kauffman and Caboor continued to write and record throughout the rest of the '80s and beyond under the name The Drovers, and I can make no judgments on this era of their music. I do know that Songs From Suicide Bridge is the sound of beautiful losers.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Oh dear god, it had to happen. I have finally been swayed by the madness of Lewis. Actually, the beauty of Lewis Baloue (AKA Randall A. Wulff) and his music hit me just pre-Xmas when an old friend who has a vaguely similar musical background to myself and has also been busy breeding and raising chill'uns the past near-decade recommended his music heavily to me on one of our regular playground/park dates (children are involved - don't even start). We had both come to the conclusion that we were looking for listening of the easy variety, that testing our sensibilities with the most outrageously challenging audio torture the past 20+ years had become a chore, and, to keep it brief, we both acknowledged our status as middle-aged white men who needed some smooth tunes to iron out the jagged edges in our lives. Music of a special banality which we could lose ourselves in.
I was aware of the 'Lewis discovery' which label Light In The Attic had taken on in semi-recent times, but I hadn't paid much attention. Sounded like a possibly interesting story, but it also sounded like a load of utter collector nonsense best left for people who don't really listen to the music, or, worse, a prank played on the gullible (something I could only assume LITA wouldn't partake in). Lewis is/was, of course, a Canadian of mysterious origin who released these albums at the time (using the photographic skills of Ed Colver with a bounced cheque!) and then disappeared back up to the Great White North. Regardless of all this, I only exposed myself to Lewis' music as music more recently than I should have been, and his music is worth your time and then some.
Indeed, his two self-released LPs, 1983's L'amour and 1985's Romantic Times, are albums of great beauty. The delivery of the material is so ethereal and lightweight it feels like they're about to float away. My friend who introduced me to these discs described them as sounding like Julio Iglesias produced by Angelo Badalamenti, and that's about as close as you're going to get to a perfectly accurate description. If I was going to throw in my own quarter-arsed description (and you know I must), I'd say the two albums - both of which are very similar, although Romantic Times sees the sound fleshed out ever-so-slightly with a touch of, err, romantic saxophone in the mix - approximate what might have happened if Alan Vega and Arthur Russell had collaborated at the dawn of the '80s. Or if Cluster and Eno recorded an album for lovers. That's two quarter-arsed descriptions, officially now making it a half-arsed effort. I'm available for freelance press-release work, by the way.
Lewis' breathy vocals bring to mind a man with such romantic visions of life that he's on the verge of collapse. The basic synth-string and electric piano backing augments this passion perfectly. He sounds like he looks: a man in a white suit playing in front of a plastic palm tree in a sleazy bar - but don't ever confuse it with kitsch, because I'm too old and pathetic to be enthralled with such a cheap gimmick. He was obviously a man of very real intentions with his music - romantic balladry for lonely lovers - but the unintentionally kosmiche nature of the music (check 'Love Showered Me') pushes it beyond the sublime and into its own stratosphere. It is something to behold. I am likely the last person on earth to put this in print, but the music of Lewis is awesomely strange and strangely awesome. L'amour and Romantic Times are worth all the hype bestowed upon them and then some. I liked 'em so much I pur-charsed them in the physical format, feeling that I needed to own a little piece of the man as a sign of my fandom. They're on their way to being out of print permanently - Randall doesn't want them around no more - so if you're even more behind the times than moi, you should get on it, toot sweet.
There are but many fantastic tracks on both albums, and you can find them all very easily on Youtube, but below remains my favourite, 'Like To See You Again'...
Friday, March 13, 2015
There's plenty of footage of Mahavishnu Orchestra in their prime on Youtube, but I thought I'd share this one because I dig the rawness of both the footage and the performance itself. Jazz-fusion, much like prog-rock, has become a four-letter word in the post-punk universe, and perhaps for very good reason, but one should also take into account that both terms denote a rather broad frame of sound, and both, at least in this writer's opinion, started off as great ideas (with some exciting original practitioners) which ran amok - and down the musical toilet - within a couple of years due to the self-indulgence of many involved. More or less, there are similar stories regarding '50s rock & roll, R & B, psychedelia, prog, glam, punk rock, hardcore, post-rock, etc.: the great works of the early pioneers, the decline of said pioneers, the imitators and the dross which followed. The point: there is gold to be had in the pioneering early days of jazz-fusion.
I have spoken of the electric works of Miles Davis in this blog many times (his albums from 1969 - 1975 remains possibly my favourite catalogue of music ever released), and, despite my descriptive terms for these recordings handily avoiding the 'F' word (psychedelic astro-funk, acid/voodoo-funk, et al), they remain a collision between the worlds of jazz and rock: FUSION. And there is also the great early works of Tony Williams' Lifetime to consider - and once you've finished considering, you should give them a listen: 1969's Emergency! and 1970's Turn It Over are brain-bending clumps of organic, free-form sound (augmented with handy work from Larry Young, John McLaughlin and Jack Bruce) which fit in perfectly w/ the better soundscapes of their era (think Ornette/Beefheart/Soft Machine). And of course there's John McLaughlin's first two ensemble recordings under his own name, also from 1969 and '70: Extrapolation and Devotion, both molten slabs of high-energy guitar-driven mania. Fusion.
Herbie Hancock did a series of highly listenable hard-bop discs on Blue Note in the '60s before spending time in Miles' Quintet and then releasing a trio of terrific, abstract fusion discs in the early '70s: Mwandishi, Crossings and Sextant (that's '70 - '73). The last platter to matter there is particularly the one to get: Sextant is a mass of outer-space gonzo psych-tinged avant-funk on a par w/ Miles' On The Corner. After that Hancock made it big w/ Headhunters and a series of jazz-funk albums which went off the musical rails for me, but whatever musical pitfalls followed, those discs are worth the time. You could also throw in Weather Report's second LP, I Sing The Body Electric, from 1972, in there, too. Their self-titled debut from the year previous is a fairly limp snoozefest, although the follow-up is a suprisingly intense fare w/ some distinctly angular avant-jazz/rock moves which stands in distinct contrast to the dull, noodling chopsfest they would soon devolve into. There are, of course, many other examples to divulge, but I guess the point has been made. As with just about any codified genre (barring hard trance: I haven't found anything there I could yet tolerate in this lifetime), 'fusion' has its gold. It was a good idea which simply went sour quickly. Let's finally cut to the chase and discuss McLaughlin's post-Lifetime ensemble, Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Mahavishnu hit it big w/ the college/'head' scene in the early '70s, and w/ Columbia's backing became a mainstay on the more progressive FM stations across the globe (they even made a dent in hillbilly Australia at the time, influencing the likes of Melbourne's MacKenzie Theory, whose 1973 debut longplayer, Out Of The Blue, is an essential slab of antipodean jazz/prog weirdness) - but really, the first two albums, 1971's The Inner Mounting Flame and '73's Birds Of Fire, are the only two you need. After that, the group's ouvre became lighter and less interesting and, by mid-decade, as dull as many of their fusion contemporaries. However, those first two offerings present the listener with - as I'm prone to utter to disbelievers - some HVY FKN JMZ. Sure, the presence of the likes of Billy Cobham and Jan Hammer (both names which would soon be uttered in fusion purgatory) meant there was musical flash galore, but the energy and intensity of the music being made meant the result added up to more than a day out at a drum clinic. It was a genuine fusion of rock instrumentation combined w/ the looseness of jazz arrangements and the exploratory nature of psychedelic rock. And need I mention that these discs remain Ground Zero for any admirer of the estimable guitar talents of Greg Ginn and Joe Baiza? Of course not. Do it.
Thursday, March 05, 2015
Much to the horror of some of my contemporaries who witnessed The Great Ry Cooder Tangent of 2014, my love for his work remains undiminished. Of course, there is the theory that one starts 'getting into' the likes of Ry Cooder once a certain middle-aged banality takes hold and one starts wearing earth-coloured hiking outfits and/or yoga pants and attending 'roots' festivals. Au contraire, you young bucks: Ry Cooder's finest work - and it ebbs and flows over 4+ decades - is fine work indeed, and anyone interested in great music of many a stripe are missing out if your nose is turned up at his great body of work.
Cooder, of course, was a child prodigy who, as a 19-year-old, played on Captain Beefheart's debut longplayer, Safe As Milk, having already spent time w/ Taj Mahal in The Rising Sons. He then went onto a lifetime of session work w/ the good (lots of the good), the bad and the ugly (yes, a few of those, too), soundtracks (Southern Comfort being my fave: both as a soundtrack and film), million-selling production work on the likes of the Buena Vista Social Club, an excellent collaboration w/ Malian great, Ali Farka Toure and a lot more besides. But really, let's keep this brief...
The first Cooder LP which turned my head, surprisingly, was a more recent recording: 2012's Election Special, given to me by a friend from the label. Highly political and left of the dial, this was Cooder's ode to the US election of that year, and it's a terrific collection of mainly raw & short roots/blues songs and ballads, reconfigured a la Tom Waits but played simply and to the point (try here and here) which took me by surprise, turning into one of my fave discs of that year. In turn and in time, I went backwards and explored his best '70s recordings - discs I would see vinyl copies clogging up secondhand bins en masse in the 1990s for a ha'penny a shot, but ones which are now, thanks to the fucking 'vinyl revolution', often going for more than I can be arsed doling out for.
Anyway, I have them now, and in the unfashionable compact disc format, since such future landfill can be purchased at but a ha'penny a piece: Ry Cooder, Into The Purple Valley, Boomer's Story, Paradise & Lunch, Chicken Skin Music and Jazz. These are the goods. There are many reinterpretations of standard tunes - from Blind Willie Johnson to Woody Guthrie, Joseph Spence, Sleepy John Estes and Skip James - to covers of more recent songwriters (at the time), such as Randy Newman and Dan Penn's 'The Dark End Of The Street' (one of my favourites tunes ever); and 1978's Jazz is Cooder's tribute to/history of JAZZ as a music, covering the likes of Jelly Roll Morton and Bex Beiderbecke. And a white guy pulls this all off with aplomb. Cooder is a master slidesman - such an observations seems trite - but his approach to the material, particularly on this great run of discs, is inspired.
I have been delving into, for the lack of a better term, Great American Music, the past 12+ months - and that's encompassed the likes of The Band (covered here in this blog before), Little Feat (first 2 - 3 LPs make perfect sense now), and even Los Lobos (a belated appreciation; some of those SST gents liked 'em a lot, and the one to get is 1992 'experimental' album, Kiko), but Cooder's '70s output is at the top of the pile. The self-titled debut from 1970, 1972's Boomer's Story and the aformentioned Jazz get my Hit Picks. If you've ever flipped a wig over the Meat Puppets' II - and if you haven't, you're reading the wrong blog - then particularly the former two remain essential purchases. They are desert-fried meisterwerks which deserve a home on your shelf.
Wednesday, March 04, 2015
I have never once bandied around the name MAGAZINE with any kind of enthusiasm in the decade-plus existence of this blog - a blog, fer chrissakes, how antiquated is that? - and there's no time like now. My brother has owned an LP edition of the band's 1978 debut, Real Life, since the early '90s. Back in the day - the early '90s, that is - I would occasionally borrow it to spin, mainly because I wanted to hear 'The Light Pours Out Of Me' (ably covered by Trotsky Icepick on their El Kabong LP, of course) and 'Shot By Both Sides' - both bona fide post-punque classiques. But the rest of the album never made much of an impact on me. Compared to the likes of The Pop Group or PiL's more righteous moments (or indeed the great works of the Buzzcocks), it all sounded a little tres boringue to my short/fast/loud ears. Now that I've entered middle age and am willing to give just about anything a shot, Real Life has become a fixture. This reignition of interest was borne from a mere Facebook sharing c/o a friend of the above track: a blindingly good slab of angular punkified rock, one which Mr. Howard Devoto would probably take great pains in explaining it not to be 'punk rock' (and not to split hairs, but it really isn't.
Magazine are/were an odd entity: Howard Devoto left the Buzzcocks - one of the finest Brit '77 punker outfits, w/ or w/out Devoto at the helm - just when they were about to break big, claiming that 'punk' had become a bogus entity and wanted nothing to do w/ it. Given the tabloid nature of the yoof movement in Ol' Blighty by that point, he may have been right. A gutsy move which showed such integrity it bordered on career suicide. He held such sway as a burgeoning cult figure that Virgin Records pretty much signed his new outfit w/out having heard a note of their music (they were certainly signed prior to their first live show). Eschewing the visceral snarl of his contemporaries, Magazine were a very deliberate and even mannered take on 'art-rock', but one with enough rock energy under its individual players' belts to not wind up a snoozefest.
Firstly, there's guitarist John McGeogh (since deceased), who later spent time w/ Siouxsie & The Banshees (on their best discs) and PiL (on some of their worst, but don't blame him for that) - one of Limey post-punk's finest string-hitters; bass player, Barry Adamson, who later made a name for himself w/ the Bad Seeds and as a solo artist, whose nimble fingers really do add to the rhythms in Magazine's tuneage; and skinsman, Martin Jackson, a flashy player with more mounted toms than the average '77 punker (almost bordering on 'flash'), but one whose dexterity really added to their sound.
The 'sound' of '70s Magazine is one w/ obvious roots: early '70s Eno, specifically Here Come The Warm Jets/Taking Tiger Mountain (Devoto looked a whole lot like his hero, too) and the Berlin recordings of Mr. Bowie (primarily Low). In lesser hands, such allegiances to that kind of musical foppery (foppery I do indeed like a lot) might result in a decidely non-rocking affair not worth my time or yours, but 'rock' they did. Much like Wire's 2nd and 3rd LPs - which Magazine resemble in no small part - Real Life (and its follow-up, 1979's Secondhand Daylight: also well worth your time) show a sense of 'composition' and musicianship which appear above their station, but the musical sophistication never becomes a bore, the dynamic rhythms and textures of the songs, combined with the inherit energy of the material, making for a thrilling listen. Devoto is one odd duck, but he made some of the most exciting English music of the era. Solid.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
My introduction to the music of US '70s hard rock/heavy metal outfit, Mountain, came through a predictably roundabout route via a (fucking) SST record: The Blasting Concept II. On that very record from 1986 - and I believe I've repeated this story over the years to delighted rapture from no one - there was and is a cover of the Mountain arrangement of Jack Bruce's 'Theme From An Imaginary Western'. Here's a confession: up until Jack Bruce's passing late last year - and, boy, those first bunch of solo Bruce LPs are a gas - I didn't even know the damn song was penned by him. I always figured it was a Mountain original, and I was wrong. For that slight, I apologise. I would tell all and sundry of DC3's magnificent Mountain cover, sticking my foot in my mouth year after year, but really, no one noticed or cared, and Mountain's heavy-rock reimagining of Bruce's song is truly their own take on it, and obviously the better-known version. Onwards...
Much less known is DC3's. There's not even a Youtube link for the track, but for moi it remains the definitive version. DC3 - that's Dez Cadena's post-Black Flag outfit in the '80s, as if I need to say it - were pretty patchy, but on occassion delivered the goods. But back to Mountain: in their prime, which is from 1970 - '72, they were a monstrous musical proposition. Formed by bass player Felix Pappalardi and guitarist Leslie West in 1969, and joined by ace skin-hitter Corky Laing, they had 'form' and hit the heights in a heartbeat. West had been in the garage outfit the Vagrants and released a solo LP called Mountain; Pappalardi was classically trained and made his name as an arranger and particularly as a producer for Cream (hence the Jack Bruce connection). Throughout Mountain's on/off career in the '70s, Pappalardi continued to produce bands, notably the Dead Boys' flawed-but-still-great second effort, We Have Come For Your Children (and in this case, the flaws are all Pappalardi's: the band claimed he didn't get what the band was about and fudged it completely. I tend the agree, his gutless, guitar-lite production kills it), but had to cut back his musical duties by mid decade due to hearing problems caused by excessive volume (mostly c/o Mountain). He was later tragically shot by his own wife in 1983.
Much like Hawkwind and Black Sabbath, and the music of Mountain sits comfortably between the two, Mountain created a loose, fluid and organic blast, one based in 'the blues' but not bogged down in bogus white-boy appropriations thereof. The result is an absolutely crunching and particularly American-sounding brand of hard rock, despite the fact that their musical inspirations (outside of the blues itself) were obviously from Ol' Blighty (Cream, The Who, Hendrix - I'll include him and his Experience as Limeys by default). They sold a lot of records in the first half of the 1970s, when such a band could do such things, and such a predicament always gets me thinking: why did Mountain work in the record-buying market, at least for 3 or 4 years, while the likes of the MC5 and the Stooges tanked? Mountain's first two albums, the best ones, 1970's Climbing and '71's Nantucket Sleighride don't sound a whole lot different from the MC5's High Time LP from '71 (that band's finest hour, too) - high-energy rock & roll with some boogie, garage and primal metal in the mix - but Mountain made the FM waves and the MC5 sunk. Whatever. If you feel the urge to listen to a 'classic rock station' (I don't) playing the hits of yesteryear, you might, just might hear Mountain's 'Mississippi Queen', but ironically the likes of the Stooges and the MC5 now probably hold a higher public profile than Leslie West's band of yore. Ask anyone under the age of 30 about Mountain and wait for the response.
All this waffle brings me to an eventual point: Mountain were/are worth the time and trouble. Those first two LPs, and indeed 1974's live opus, Twin Peaks, are some of the great American hard rock/heavy metal albums of the pre-punk era. The band could rip out a 10-minute track simply called 'Guitar Solo', one which surfaces on several live albums of the time (there's a series of them worth a listen) and varies in form and substance from performance to performance, which actually doesn't make me want to skip the FFWD button. That's saying something.