Monday, October 25, 2004

A HIGH FIVE…

1) ROKY ERICKSON AND THE ALIENS – I Think of Demons CD
Discovering and eventually locating good music can often be a game of chance and good luck. Take Roky, for instance. 3RRR – the local public radio station here in Melbourne – had a really cool show on Sunday nights in the mid to late ‘80s whose name I can not remember for the life of me, but was hosted by Dave “Dogmeat” Laing (ie. NOT ME, and do not get us confused. I bumped into him the other day in [surprise, surprise] a record store and the first words out of his mouth were: I hear you’ve been dragging my good name through the mud all over the internet) and Bruce Milne (ex-Au-go-go honcho; man about town and the world). They’d play all kinds of oddities, or at least music which seemed mighty odd to me when I was 15: Stooges, Dead Boys, Electric Eels, Rocket From the Tombs and, yep, Roky Erickson. I used to tape the show when I could (along with the HC show on 3PBS), the result being the strangest mix tape you’ll ever come across. I still have evidence of this: a cassette from 1987, possibly the only tape on earth which features a really “tasty” mix of the Dead Boys, Weirdos, Roky Erickson and, ahem, Dag Nasty, Toxic Reasons and Negazione. It’s a keeper! So anyway, I can thank Dave and Bruce for getting me on the Roky trip at a young and impressionable age, and I can thank the whitebread a-holes of Camberwell for giving me this bargain a few years back, c/o their Dixon’s (secondhand chain-store), since Roky is in such little demand in their area that I was able to snaffle this out-of-print gem from their claws for a mere $5, it being in their shit-we-can’t-get-rid-of bargain bin.

I Think of Demons was Roky’s first solo album, originally released on CBS in 1980, and features some his best material. His patented howl can be heard on the mighty opener, “Two-Headed Dog” (anyone remember Antiseen butchering this song in the late ‘80s?) and other well-known – at least in some circles – faves such as “I Walked With A Zombie” and “Creature With the Atom Brain”. The Roky story is a strange beast, and it gets a whole lot stranger when you read the accompanying liner notes. Like, did you know that his career was resurrected in the late ‘70s with help from two ex-members of Creedence? News to me. Roky’s voice is one I’d like to die listening to, though I wish I could say the same for his backing band here. It’s not like they’re awful, but this, great as it is, would be a lot better with a more “sympathetic” sounding backing group, instead of the vaguely bar-band hackery which is present here in its weakest moments. Throw in a lesser vocalist without Roky’s lyrical finesse, and you’d swear you were listening to a Tom Petty/Cars bill at times. But that’s nitpicking. A fine album. Comb the bins and ye shall find.

2) SUN RA – Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy CD
After a 7-year break, I’ve hit the Sun Ra trail again. Why the absence? Probably for the very same reason you’ve taken a break from the man: come the early ‘90s, when Sun Ra’s massive Saturn catalogue finally received the deluxe CD reissue treatment c/o Evidence, I hit the bins and bought up big. I then listened and listened and listened some more. Then I bought more. Then I took a look at my CD shelf and said That’s enough! No-one, bar the absolute most fanatical followers of the man, need more than 25 Sun Ra albums sitting in their house. So I called it quits. I gave his discography a five-year flogging and took a holiday. Now I’m back. The Top 50 list I wrote months back features his Space Is the Place soundtrack album, but I still don’t want to hear that again for a while, just like I don’t need to hear Funhouse or Get Up With It for another decade. There’s no need: every note is already etched in my brain. So then there’s this, a 1963 studio album which runs a close second in the Sun Ra pantheon. With a scaled-down Arkestra behind him he went on to make probably the strangest platter released that year. Any competition? I didn’t think so. With creepy organs which sound like they’ve been lifted from the Carnival of Souls s/track, funky bass, echoed and distorted drums and various Middle Eastern rhythms weaving their ways in and out, I couldn’t think of a better second-place to start with the can of worms that is Sun Ra. Some of this sounds like an outer-space Martin Denny, most of it sounds like Sun Ra and none of it sounds like much else on the planet.

3) AGENTS OF ABHORRENCE – Covert Lobotomy 9”
I used to work at Missing Link, so they’re pretty good to me down there. In fact, so nice are they that a couple of the gents threw this in a bag for me a few weeks back and sent me on my way without a penny exchanging hands. Of course, this is actually a test pressing, so you wouldn’t pay money for it anyway, but I think the point has been made: good people. So what is this? Well, it’s the soon-to-be-released debut record on the newly re-launched Missing Link label, originally run by Keith Glass in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s and responsible for releasing fine discs by the likes of the Birthday Party, Go-Betweens (I think) and the Dead Kennedys. Now the young guns have taken over and they’re putting out a series of – gulp – 9” records. Now before you smirk at the seemingly commercially-suicidal nature of this endeavour – just like I did – think about it: these babies will be all gobbled up before you find time to start bidding for it on ebay. All those hungry 9” fans, especially the vinyl-hording grind types, will come out of the woodwork and prove you – and me – wrong.

AOA are a two piece guitar/drums outfit featuring two young lads (I know Max the drummer, though the guitarist dude, also in the highly rated [not by me] My Disco, is a stranger to these shores) who specialize in totally off-the-wall power-violence/grind which benefits not only from its shit-hot musicianship but its ace combination of non-generic songwriting and fancy-schmancy guitar heroics. You know, I can take this whole genre or leave it, it doesn’t phase me, but when people do it right and spice it up with enough oddities and left turns to hold my attention, I’m all ears. Such as here. I saw them live once – at a Missing Link instore, in fact – and found myself floundering and embarrassing myself with praise for their wares to all my that-shit-don’t-grab-me cooler-than-you music-dork associates the following week, and so I think I’ll do a repeat performance here. With Max ripping out an unrelenting storm of wayward percussion and Guitar Dude tearing into a myriad spastic riffs in split seconds, if I was a lesser man I’d make a really lame comment like “they’re the Captain Beefheart of power violence”. Which they’re not, because that would mean nothing. What they are is very good. The guitar tone is stuck on a permanent treble – this ain’t no death metal – and if the song gets boring, don’t worry about it, it’ll all be over within 30 seconds anyway. Unlike the b-side, which is one, long sludge track caked in distortion and effects. Most nifty of all with AOA is the way the guitar track in a song won’t change at all, but the drums will slide in and out of varying rhythms. It’s a neat trick. They’re whacky, zany, unrelentingly brutal and in no way sound a thing like Mr. Bungle. Now that’s a good thing!

4) NOW TIME DELEGATION – Watch For Today LP
This is the party platter to beat them all, and probably my favourite “rock” album of the last few years. With an all-star cast which features members of the BellRays, Blacktop, etc. and guitar hero Tim Kerr on full-time axe duty, the combination of lo-fi recording, steaming soul – especially from awesome vocalist Lisa Kekaula – and garage trash is near perfect. It’s so good and so damn confident in its delivery it’s tempting to almost label it as smug, but it ain’t. More than anything, this sounds authentic; not like a bunch of contemporary garage-punk yahoos attempting to mine the soul songbook of yore, but the real thing. With a host of covers, best of which is a version of a King Floyd b-side, “Handle Me With Care” (the original of which I’ve never heard, though it’s got me mighty curious… and it was only a b-side!) and a smattering of Tim Kerr originals, these guys ripped out this corker in a moment’s notice then called it quits upon release, or thereabouts. Great liner notes from Don Waller, cool package which somewhat replicates the look of an old ‘60s LP (minus any silly bowl haircuts or obvious references to the time), I don’t hear too many people rave about this disc a whole lot, but those who do get real vocal about it. Notch up another one for In The Red.

5) RUDIMENTARY PENI – Death Church / Cacophony LPs
One of the best and most fascinating British bands of the last 20 years, ‘Peni are a band with a small yet absolutely fanatical following. Ignored by head-up-backside music elites (much like myself until my mid 20s), most likely because people confuse them as being either a group of lame, Crass-affiliated “peace punx” or mohican-sporting lager drinkers (which they’re most definitely not), RP inhabit their own universe and let no one else in. And that’s what I like about them: a self-contained unit with nary a concern for anything else in the popular or unpopular music world around them. Formed in the late ‘70s by the three lads still carrying the flag to this day, and headed up by one of the more eccentric individuals of UK punk, Nick Blinko, RP brewed up a storm in the early ‘80s with two 7” EPs of headstorming avant-punk before making the Grand Statement in ’83 with Death Church. Beloved by now-famous indie-rock types at the time – most notably Steve Albini and Mark Arm – it took them a full four years to follow up with Cacophony. Earmarked as leaders of the, err, “deathpunk” movement of the ‘80s (which I guess isn’t to be confused with the non-existent “deathpunk” scene of the ‘90s spearheaded by Turbonegro), RP’s sound wavers from disc to disc, which makes their modus operandi kinda hard to pin down. Death Church is fairly political in its lyrical topics, though it’s smothered in such a deathly aura of Dickensian grimness and recycled ‘Sabbath and Joy Division riffs that you’re not likely to confuse it with their more spiky-haired brethren anytime soon.

Cacophony took a major detour both musically and lyrically, and for my two cents ranks as their high point. Dedicated to the writings of gothic horror master HP Lovecraft, its lyrical concerns are centred squarely on the man and his words, a “concept record” for cider-sculling crusties, if you will. Musically, the band ups the ante and tears into song upon song – that’s 30 in just over 40 minutes – with riffs and drum rolls flying every which way but loose. Blinko screams and howls like a man possessed – he has been in and out of mental institutions the last two decades – and the band hammers and nails it at every turn like a powerhouse, amped-up trio. Dig the opening riff to the first track, “Nightgaunts”, a descending wall of guitar chords with treated vocals over the top: it sends a chill down the spine. Intermixed amongst all this madness are even a few spoken-word segments. Dude, this is some zany shit. Various pundits over the years have compared the band to the Minutemen, which I guess makes some sense. Not that RP actually sound anything like them, but in the ranks of non-conformist three-piece punker outfits making up their own musical rules, RP share some similarities. More off the mark are the remarks I constantly hear of ‘Peni being a “proto-speed-metal” outfit, a description which makes no sense at all, no matter which way you look at it. Firstly, outside of the odd ‘Sabbath sludge present on Death Church, there’s not a hint of a metallic riff in them, and secondly, how the fuck could they be “proto” when the speed-metal scene was in full swing by the time they were releasing records anyway? Sounds more like a case of music journos desperately grabbing a catch-phrase out of thin air to me.

RP have released a swag of discs since these high marks from the ‘80s – they in fact recently put out a 10”/CD – and, “good” as they are, they haven’t grabbed me the way these did. Blinko also released a semi-autobiographical book in the mid ‘90s entitled Primal Screamer, which won various literary awards at the time, and if you ever come across it (I’m pretty sure it’s out of print), grab it quick, give it a quick read and please send it my way.

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