Monday, November 01, 2004

Inspiration has not really been flying my way the past week, so I’ve not been bothered to write a whole lot, if at all. I could give a belated farewell to John Peel, but it seems a bit redundant at this point in time. He was, needless to say, one of the good guys and a man responsible for bringing so much great music to the heathen masses. So there ya go!

I bought a CD on the weekend, so let’s give it a quick run through the wringer… EARTH’s Sunn Amps and Smashed Guitars compiles their live LP on Blast First from ’95 and a few demo tracks from 1990/’91. It was the last of the Earth discs I needed to get and, if anything, remains an album only necessary for those who insist on owning the complete Earth discography, such as myself. It contains one 30-minute live track recorded at the Disobey club in London, which I could gladly live without (“Ripped on Facist (sic) Ideas”), as it sounds like the “band” (that’s Dylan Carlson and Ian Dickson at that point) simply plugged their guitars in, set them up next to the speaker to feed back, then spent the remaining 28 minutes at the bar. It’s OK, but not a whole lot more than that. The remaining 4 songs are of much more interest: archival demo material featuring a more sludge-rock sound featuring Melvin Joe Preston and even Kurt Cobain on “Divine and Bright”. Despite the use of a drum machine (an instrument I loathe in just about any context) – though there’s some “real” drumming here, too – this is the stuff I crave. Doom, gloom, repetitive riffing and a pace that barely registers as a pulse, these lo-fi numbers move the heavens. It’s news to me, but Earth are actually still an ongoing entity, as Carlson keeps the name alive (in between bouts in detox and rehab) and plans on a Southern Lord release in the near future. People, do not start with Sunn Amps… - go to the four incredible Sub Pop albums instead: they’re all completely different from each other and stand as amazing documents of a band creating something entirely new with each and every title – but if you’ve been there and done that and still have an Earth craving that won’t quit, you could do worse than blowing your bucks on this.

A quick HIGH FIVE

1) LOVE – Forever Changes CD

Beloved by everyone and their dog, you don’t need me to tell you anything about this. I saw Arthur Lee and the gang here when they visited our shores early last year and it would undoubtedly rank as one of the finest live shows I’ve ever laid witness too. Like Ralph Malph, he’s still got it. However, I don’t know how anyone else originally felt about Forever Changes when they first heard it, but for me, well, I’ll be honest: I thought it stunk. Of course I was young and stupid, but when I first heard this about 7 years ago at a friend’s place (on my insistence), all I could hear were strings, a sappy vocalist, acoustic guitars and mariachi horns. And lots of songs which seemed to trail off into meandering directions, never following a standard verse/chorus set-up. Now you can take all those derogatory descriptions I just threw at them, turn them around and use them as a complement instead. Nifty or what?

2) THE CONTORTIONS – Buy LP
Snow-white funk/jazz/punk by and for obnoxious NYC art-fag upstarts. Again, that’s both an insult and a complement, but I like this nevertheless. Most No Wave does not budge me an inch, though this, at the best of times, moves me a mile.

3) 13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS – Easter Everywhere CD
I seem to be on a bit of a Roky trip of late, for no other reason than he is a perennial fave who gets the dust-off every 6 months. No reappraisal is necessary here: for myself this remains one of the half-dozen best rock albums released in the ‘60s and the high watermark for American psychedelia any time. Funnily enough, my favourite song here is not sung by Roky: it’s “Nobody to Love” with Stacy Sutherland on vocals. The fuzzed, ascending/descending guitar line, which runs the length of the whole song and never stops, is the key here: it is a Great Rock Riff we should all bow to. Not a dud to be seen, and the version of “Baby Blue” brings a tear to the eye and beats Dylan’s original by a mile. An embarrassing confession: I smoked a big joint early last Saturday evening and put this CD on to measure its pot-album potential. Halfway through “Nobody to Love” I think I saw God and he looked like Roky. True story.

4) THE SOFT BOYS – Invisible Hits LP
A friend gave me this a few weeks back, generous gent that he is. It’s a compilation from 1983 which puts together a whole bunch of early (‘78/’79) material from the band on one, excellent disc. A musical anomaly at the time, the Soft Boys make more and more sense as the years go by. If I’d seen them as, say, an 18-year-old back in ’79, I probably would’ve bottled them and cursed their name to anyone within earshot. After all, what the fuck do Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, Syd Barrett, Captain Beefheart and the Kinks have to do with punk rock? Well, case by case, some have a whole lot and some very little, but that’s not the point. The Soft Boys created a brilliant, very English punk/new wave take on late ‘60s Brit psychedelic pop, stewed it up with the demented rhythms of the good Captain and did good. Contrary to popular belief, I enjoy a solid pop tune just as much as the next guy, and the Soft Boys straddled that line between straight pop and more expansive, psychedelic ambitions perfectly. The two highpoints here are the rambling choogle of “Wey-Wey-Hep-Uh-Hole”, which sounds like a lost track from Clear Spot, and the instrumental medley of “The Asking Tree/Muriel’s Hoof/The Rout Of the Clones”, a multi-faceted epic romp that sounds like it was zapped straight out of ’67 London, part Piper At the Gates of Dawn and part Liege & Leaf. The rest ain’t bad either.

5) BURZUM – Filosofem CD
…and now for something completely different. What you may need to enjoy this album, is to throw any context it exists in out the window. Like, forget about the murders, the church burnings, the corpsepaint, the dodgy politics and the general idiocy that is Norwegian Black Metal. I say this because I can’t imagine any fan of, say, Flipper, Drunks With Guns, Boredoms, early Royal Trux, Damaged-era ‘Flag or Solger not liking this album purely on its musical merits. It's lo-fi hate-rock of the highest calibre. If that’s what it takes to enjoy this disc, then so be it. For me, I think context is half the matter which makes it more enjoyable. Not that I think killing your friends over petty matters and scene politics is a laudable act, but if this was made by a group of NY art-school scenesters and not a lone nut who currently rots away in a Norwegian prison cell, it probably wouldn’t have the same visceral impact. But why would I – or you – even want to enter the headspace of such a guy? Does it make for enjoyable listening? In a word: YES! Don’t ask me why. I figure the music of Burzum is on the same level as a good horror flick: it’s a scary place to be, but it’s nice to visit every once in a while.

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