Monday, April 26, 2004

I can't believe some friends of mine complaining to me about the lack of regular entries to this blog. Man, it takes time to really sit down and think up something to write about that I feel anyone should (or could) be interested in. Believe me, the day this turns into a personal blog about me getting up in the morning, having a shave and taking the dog for a walk whilst I reminisce about summer's gone, is the day you'll stop reading it. Gimme a break!

OK, let's have a brief talk on DOOM. Yep, as in the genre of music. I've been digging the hell out of some of this stuff the last couple of years, and I think I should tell you about a couple of gems. What is Doom? Well, if you're asking that question then you're probably reading this site by mistake, but for those feeling clueless yet interested, go to www.doom-metal.com

Good Doom must simply follow three important rules:

1) Is it "heavy"? That is, are the guitars caked in a sea of distortion and down-tuned to the nth degree.

2) Is it slow? That is, is the prevalent beat of a sloth-like quality?

3) Is the atmosphere of the given proceedings "doomy"? Does it lend itself a general vibe of drug-soaked, anti-social behaviour?

If "Yes" on all three counts, you could be on a winner. I'm definitely no expert on the genre and don't have a great deal of doom recordings (it is but one of many styles I go nuts over on a rotating basis), but I can give you three, more recent bands to check out.

ELECTRIC WIZARD
This UK trio of substance-abusing, Devil-worshipping layabouts have been at it for a decade or so and get my vote as one of the Top 5 Bands from anywhere of the last 5 years. Primal-burn sludge of a torturously low-end variety, they spice up the doom cliches with an incredible psychedelic edge that lends their sound a twisted Acid Mothers/Skullflower/Hawkwind feel which tips them over the cliff every time. With fantasic accompanying artwork to all their releases and an aura of near-psychotic anti-social leanings, these upstanding (now-defunct?) English gents are the cream of the crop. Get Dopethrone, Come My Fanatics or Let Us Prey. Now.

SUNNO)))
This Doom duo, who essentially owe their entire being to the pioneering early '90s outputs of the mighty EARTH (see reviews in the Sub Pop entry below), are one of Doom's Great White Hopes. With Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley on board, both Golden Boys of the genre, SUNNO))) fall somewhere in the "avant-doom" category (I mean, if you have to have one). With no percussion and just a wall of guitar, keyboards and effects-driven distortion behind them, SUNNO))) achieve a sound buried - just like EARTH - somewhere near power electronics, doom-rock, Ambient and Metal Machine Music. The perfect downer. Both 3: Flight of the Behemoth and White 1 (which features a hilarious Julian Cope rant) get my highest honours.

KHANATE
Pronounced "Con-Eight", this Doom supergroup is made up of various members from SUNNO))), Goatsnake, Burning Witch, Atomsmasher, etc. and have taken the doom rock genre to new, and utterly ridiculous heights. I only have their Things Viral double LP on Load (the CD is on Southern Lord), but if it's anything to go by, they're one of the best and most unique units currently operating. The drum pace is slowed to all new depths, the songs dragged to all new lengths, the howled - "howl" is the only way you could describe it - vocals bely a whole a whole new sense of desperation and the abstract, stuttering style of the riffs, which rarely grind into full power-chord mode, gives it a real sense of something new. Most peculiar of all is the guitar sound. Straying from the standard Sabbath-esque dulset tones most Doom bands stick to like a religion, KHANATE possess a less metallic texture that reminds me of nothing else but, well, Fushitsusha. A Doom-y Haino? You bet. Now that's a good thing.

Next time: Corrupted, Warhorse, Boris, Sleep.
BLAH BLAH BLAH...

Finally scored myself a copy of Walter Hill's Southern Comfort yesterday (that's a movie, by the way) at Northland Shopping Centre for a puny $8. What in God's name was I doing at Norflands? That's between me and my maker. Anyhow, it's fairly debatable as to how legit this videotape version is, but what the hey, I've been looking for a copy of this sucka for a good half-decade so I'll take just about any format I can get (at least a better format than the unbelievably crustatious made-in-1983 copies I've had to rent from video stores the last 10 years).

An oft-repeated late nighter on commercial TV in the late '80s/early '90s, this 1982 gem directed and co-written by Hill (The Warriors, Trespass, etc.) is one of those movies which falls into that all-too-common category of a film that next to no-one seems to have ever heard of, but those who have seen it swear by it. Yeah, I'm one of those guys.

Based on a fairly typical Samurai theme (like much of Hill's output) of the "noble warrior", Southern Comfort puts a nice (relatively) contemporary spin to the tale by placing the band of warriors - this time a unit of mostly loathsome redneck National Guardsmen - in the Louisiana swamps ca. 1973. On a weekend hiking exercise, the group encounter a local Cajun hunting port and, being literally caught up shit creek without a paddle, decide to steal the locals' canoes. Everything goes haywire when the stupidest guy in the crew fires blanks upon the Cajuns (as a "joke") and promptly gets the unit's leader (Peter Coyote, he actually being a real-life first-wave San Fran radical/Yippie back in the '60s) shot and killed with real bullets in the return fire.

OK, so amongst all this idiocy, who the hell are you supposed to barrack for? Well, not the Cajuns - at least not these Cajuns - these guys are just a French swamp version of the same inbred yahoos that make up the NG troupe. Thankfully, there are two guys here to root for, played by Powers Boothe (usually a dreadful ham, but he's great here) and David Carradine (ditto), the former an educated, non-conformist Chemical Engineer from Texas, the latter a more practical, street-smart Good Ol' Boy sidekick to Boothe. These two are the "noble warriors" who aren't willing to sacrifice themselves or their beliefs to the idiocy of the mob.

Suffice to say, things fall apart pretty soon for the gang as they're hunted down by the Cajuns and proceed to spend much of the film fighting amongst themselves. Any film student - something I've never been - will likely tell you two basic points about the film, and much as I hate to admit it, they're probably right: 1) the entire movie is an attempted parallel with the illegalities and moral bankruptcy of the Vietnam War (as the Americans bluster their way into a foreign land and very quickly stir up problems with the locals); 2) the film bears various similarities with Deliverance. A valid point, as Southern Comfort does bear resemblance to Deliverance in its portrayal of a bunch of city boys getting caught up in various backwoods trouble, though I think the comparison stops there. The "victims" in SC are trained to kill, whilst Burt, Ned and co. in Deliverance have to learn it on the run. Anyway, if you want a massive, in-depth thesis on these flicks, go elsewhere because I'm not a man willing (or likely able) to complete such a task. At least not in this format (gotta try to make these sound bites brief).

I will, however, give Southern Comfort my highest recommendation. The pacing is perfect, the Ry Cooder score purchase-worthy, the acting mostly great (give or take the odd bit of over-acting from all involved), the atmosphere of the dank swampland incredible, and the last 20 minutes is just about the most gripping 1,200 seconds ever committed to celluloid. Set in a small Cajun village where the two last survivors wind up, they slowly get hunted down whilst trying to take cover at a local street party (filmed in a real-life back-of-nowhere Cajun village with excellent musical accompaniment), which is a nice contrast to the film's 'til-then portrayal of Cajuns as merely a buncha French-speakin' hillbilly moonshiners.

Southern Comfort is, in this man's opinions, one of the best American films of the 1980s, and its obscurity I can only blame on either the incredibly bad taste of the general movie-going public, or its Anti-American/anti-military sentiments sinking it like the Titanic upon release, which was at the height of Reagan-mania. Or maybe Walter Hill isn't considered enough of an auter by the Arthouse crowd to gain valuable Critic's Choice kudos. Maybe he is a hack, but a darn good hack he be. Beg, borrow or steal, I say.


Thursday, April 22, 2004

TOP 50 ALBUMS OF ALL TIME: # 42

ROBERT WYATT – Old Rottenhat LP

There are people who probably think Old Rottenhat to be a peculiar entry for a Top 50 list, not because it’s Robert Wyatt or because it’s a bad album, but simply because there aren’t many people who hail this as Wyatt’s best. It’s seen as the equivalent of listing Desire as your favourite Dylan album or something. I mean, it’s not a bad disc, but why the hell choose that?! Maybe so, but Old Rottenhat is still the Wyatt album for me.

Now that last comment is a pretty big statement from myself, coz I’m a Wyatt fan par excellence and, much like Brian Eno, I’ve somehow managed to amass nearly everything he’s ever done: all the solo albums and EPs, the Soft Machine LPs, the two Matching Mole discs and even similarly great records he’s appeared on, such as Eno’s Music For Airports. Not to toot my own horn (like the rest of the goddamn world really cares about Robert Wyatt), but I think that at least gives me a fairly educated view on the man.

Roughly ten years ago was when I first began investigating the world of Robert Wyatt. After reading incessant namedropping of his music from the usual suspects (Vertical Slit’s Jim Shepard, Ubu’s Dave Thomas, Chris Cutler/Fred Frith) for many a year, I was lucky to spot a cheap, secondhand vinyl copy of the old Virgin twofer, Rock Bottom / Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard. Upon the initial couple of spins, neither disc made much sense to me. It was definitely strange, unique, but what the hell to make of it? Looong songs, barely any percussion, all accompanied with lots of keyboard drones and Wyatt’s patented, falsetto wail. Damnit! Aren’t I supposed to really dig this guy? Of course! So I stuck to the program and drilled the records into my head over subsequent weeks. I’m lucky I discovered him when I did, because I simply don’t have that kind of patience (or “attitude”) any more. If music doesn’t make any sense to me within the first minute – and believe me, I’m a pretty tolerant guy: you should hear the godawful shit I listen to – it’s out the window.

So anyway, gradually my brain evolved to the stage where it comprehended Wyatt’s music. It soon liked it and then became rather obsessed with it. There’s really nothing to “get”, it’s just Bob’s shtick: a beautifully weird blend of psychedelic rock, free-form jazz, “avant-garde” composition and good ol’ pop songsmithery. I don’t know how much he really thinks about his music when he’s writing it, because there’s no-one else on the planet who sounds like him, but for some reason I can’t imagine a Robert Wyatt disc sounding like anything other than an album of his very own. He’s certainly had his aesthetic contemporaries, people like Tim Buckley, John Martyn, Can, Miles Davis – artists trying to make a “One World” musical blend where every genre – though namely acid-rock, free jazz, African and electronic sounds – blend into one, but then again, I’m never going to mistake a Tim Buckley or Can LP for one of Robert Wyatt’s.

Over the following years I developed a further taste for Wyatt’s ouvre: Nothing Can Stop Us, Shleep, Dondestan, his incredible debut, End Of An Ear, though it wasn’t until 1999 when I stumbled across this. I was due to leave for a possibly extended trip to the US that week and had boxed up just about everything valuable I owned and promptly offloaded it all at my parents’ house. Record buying was not on the menu… but wait a sec, let’s just see what’s in this Secondhand bin… Hmmm, only $5… Well, I really shouldn’t… Sir, it’s a deal! So, yeah, you can’t keep a good man down, or maybe you just can’t stop me from blowing wads of cash on goddamn music, but I buckled under the immense pressure of a Bob Wyatt disc I didn’t yet own sitting there in the corner looking all lonely with only a $5 price tag to comfort it, so I let it out of its misery and gave it a nice home. In my parents’ spare room for a couple of months.

I don’t think I actually came around to listening to this ‘til probably four or five months later (even though I was only in the ‘States for just over two months), but it hit home instantly: this was the Robert Wyatt album I’d been waiting for. Though recorded and released in 1985 – Oh, what a horrible time for British music (and kind of a weird flashback year for me; I mean, my ear-candy ca. 1985 was the Sex Pistols and the Return of the Living Dead soundtrack(!). Hey, you gotta start somewhere) – this is Wyatt at his best. Not only is it his peak blend of Rock Bottom-style extended song structure with more concise pop leanings, but it also contains his two best ever songs: “The British Road”, a political polemic pepped along with a motorik, metallic beat, and “P.L.A.” (or “Poor Little Alfie”) his stripped-back ode to his long-time partner/wife(?), Alfreda Benge. Much like Neil Young’s On the Beach, in which I keep on coming back just to hear “Ambulance Blues” one more time, these songs are always the first to touch needle. The fluff surrounding it’s pretty damn cool, too.

PROS: Put a stack of Robert Wyatt LPs in a pile and take one out. Very likely, you’ll have a great album in your hands. Along with the likes of Mark E. Smith, Scott Walker and Stephen Stapleton, he’s one of the very few Brits from the last 25 years I can really rely on.
CONS: Your enthusiasm for Labourite Marxism may gauge your love for some of Wyatt’s lyrical matter, though for me it’s not really an issue. Wyatt’s music also ain’t easily graspable. Rarely are there any instantaneous pop hooks or seething slabs of noise: his music cuts somewhere down the middle.
RELATED RELEASES: For my two cents, you absolutely need the following: 1990’s Dondestan (now released on Ryko as Dondestan (Revisited)); his amazing 1970 debut, End of An Ear (a staggering cut-up in spirit with Sun Ra, Tim Buckley ca. Starsailor and Can’s Tago Mago); and the 2003 Cuneiform compilation, Solar Flares Burn For You, which features old demo material and various extended experimental pieces
CABARET VOLTAIRE – The Original Sound of Sheffield ‘78/’82: Best Of CD (Mute)

Johnny-come-lately time here…

I never bothered investigating the world of Cabaret Voltaire until I bought this last year, and what wasted years they’ve been! I guess my reluctance came from my pegging of CV as, at best, a second-tier Industrial group who rode the coat-tails of Throbbing Gristle, or at worst a glorified electro-disco combo who probably did some early recordings of minor interest before deciding to the spend the bulk of the ‘80s (and beyond) as a bunch of fop-haired disco lightweights beloved by fans of the Smiths and Shriekback. Wrong on both counts.

This CD proves “the Cabs” (as they’re lovingly called by gruel-sipping UK rock journos) to be one of the finest “experimental” units of their time, and a groundbreaking act on a par with similar heavy-hitters Chrome and Suicide. Far more song-oriented than their depravity-dwelling compadres in TG, and more Earth-bound in their outlook than Chrome, CV still manage to hit a basement-dwelling electronic/garage/punk/kraut/noise vibe that appeals and then some.

This is admittedly pretty grim stuff – you can just about smell a depressing late-‘70s kitchen fry-up in a 30-second sound bite – but depressing times always call for depressing music, so let me take a stab in the dark: being an art/punk/noise/electronic/Dada freak in Sheffield, in the mid ‘70s, probably wasn’t a barrel of laughs. Lucky for everyone else, there’s still a great deal of “joy” one can garner from CV’s music.

Track four, “Nag Nag Nag”, is an insanely great mix of Stooge-ian guitar squalls with a Kraftwerk back beat; “Silent Command” [somehow] effectively mixes up reggae-style guitar strums with distorted “scary” vocals (and whilst such a description may send shivers [of dread] up your spine, here it works); their version of the Seeds’ “No Escape” is as weird and otherworldly as the original, yet within a totally different context; though my favourite track here is “Split Second Feeling”, a droning instrumental number drenched in Velvets-y guitar lines. Fact is, it’s all good! 14 tracks, not a dud in the bunch. Even the later, slightly “funky” songs have a claustrophobic, Pop Group-ish feel that increases the aura of intensity CV set forth. Unfortunately, their musical sophistication and song-writing skills – these lads could write a damn good, creepy song – proved to be their undoing, as from what I’ve heard of their latter material, their levels of “slickness” gradually fell out of my listening comfort zone.

With a chunky, graphics-filled booklet and semi-informative liner notes, The Original Sound of Sheffield comes very highly recommended. If you’ve ever had your mind melted by Chrome, Residents, Suicide, Throbbing Gristle or Faust and are looking for something just as good, don’t sit around like a putz for a decade waiting for written instructions like me, do the done thing and get on it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

RANDOM RANTS...

I gave the KINSKI CD on Sub Pop a bit of a backhanded complimentary review a little while back (see way below in the Sub Pop piece), essentially coming to the conclusion that it's a by-the-numbers space-rock-in-a-can album I enjoy, yet have no need for. That original assumption was wrong. Having given it a high-rotation flogging in the car stereo I can now undoubtedly state that it's a SCORCHER everyone should check out. Sure, they haven't rewritten the songbook of rock, but for now a great version of a well-worn path will suffice. Two thumbs up!

Who the fuck are the SCISSOR SISTERS? Are they a new low point in contemporary music? In a word: yes. I know little about them except for the mandatory major-label push they're receiving and their apparent Darkness-style camp/retro schtick, but I can smell a turd a mile off, and when I witness it, all doubt is removed. Saw their video the other morning and nearly spat my breakfast all over the dog. Unbelievably putrid, they're like a "wacky" mix of No Doubt, ELO and Chocolate Starfish. I rest my case. Just make sure your gun's loaded when the timing's right.

I've been flogging the deluxe 2-CD edition of SONIC YOUTH's Dirty LP lately, which is a pretty funny place to be for me in 2004. Why? Because I detested this album when it came out. In fact, I recall seeing the video for "Youth Against Fascism" at the time (1992) and shaking my head in horror at the dopey "grunge" monster my once-fave band had become. Seriously, between the years 1990 and 2002, I barely gave Sonic Youth a minute of my time, whilst from 1987-'89 I barely stopped listening to them. Over the last 18 months, after giving their 2002 effort Murray Street a stereo hiding, I've come around for a re-evaluation of Sonic Youth's '90s output, and so far it's sounding good. Both A Thousand Leaves and Washing Machine are firm frontrunner favourites, though NYC Ghosts and Flowers isn't without its charms, even though I found the usual Ranaldo Beat poet references (and quotes!) laughable at first. It's either the worst thing SY has ever done or possibly one of the best. I'm still deciding. Dirty? It kicks ASS and then some! What at the time sounded like merely another jackass attempt to cross over into the "rock" market with flannel-waving riffs now licks my eardrums like the perfect mixture of art-rock pretentions wrapped up in Detroit-style guitar antics. Not a bad place to be. Ace packaging, great liner notes by Byron Coley, plenty of worthy bone-arse material (including NY Dolls and Alice Cooper covers), this one's a keeper. To top it off, I'm actually going to see the band this coming June, the first time for me since their January 1989 show at the Corner. The revival is on!

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Why the new layout and font? Why not?! The original look was pretty clunky, with the writing being way too big. You may strain your eyes a little, but at least the site looks pretty now.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

TOP 50 ALBUMS OF ALL TIME: # 43

THE BEATLES – S/T (“White Album”) double LP

If someone at MOJO magazine was to write about this album, I wouldn’t be interested in reading what he or she has to say. It’s considered such an obvious entry into their canon of predictable “classic rock” it seems pointless even mentioning it. So what kind of interesting spin can I put on the Beatles? What makes me any different? Well, maybe not a hell of a lot, but the reason my perspective on the Beatles might be slightly skewed is because, probably much the same as most people reading this, my attitudes towards “classic rock” are not quite as reverential as the likes of MOJO. That’s not to say I don’t actually like a lot of it – the exact opposite: Rolling Stones, Kinks, T-Rex, Hendrix, Doors, Led Zeppelin, Byrds, (’67-’70) Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan are all people whose music I enjoy immensely, though to be honest I didn’t really get into any of these artists until much later on, having never purchased a single record by the Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan until I was 25 and having never even properly heard an entire Led Zep song until I was 30! The only exceptions were the Byrds, Creedence and Neil Young, all of whom I bought into as a teenager, and all of which I only got into because various loudmouths from the SST stable sung their praises. The reason for my late showing is simple: growing up on a steady diet of punk rock and various independent music, “classic rock” was not on the radar at all. “Classic rock” for me was the Stooges, New York Dolls, Roky Erickson and Captain Beefheart, and that’s not the kind of stuff you’re likely to hear on an oldies station any time soon.

Anyway, you get to a certain age and finally come to the conclusion that you can’t necessarily blame bands for their annoying fans, and even though I find the whole concept of “classic rock” fascistic, as it assumes that people like Robert Wyatt and the Seeds are less “classic” because they didn’t sell as many records as The Who, popular music from the ‘60s and early ‘70s was kind of a weird anomaly in the sense that many of the greats were also very popular and sold a lot of records. Of course, like I said, many bombed, too, though I can’t resent the Rolling Stones for all their success when they were good: any band who can make records as incredible as Beggars Banquet or Let It Bleed deserve to be millionaires (and any band who’s released as many bad records as they have in the last 30 years also deserves to be shot, but that’s another story). Anyhow, I’m way off on a tangent here; I think the point I was trying to make was this: the writers at the likes of MOJO seem to have this in-built assumption of what is “good” music and what is “bad”. I do, too, but I’m usually coming from the opposite side of the fence: the vast bulk of music I consider “good” is probably considered the worst shit in the world by most humans on Earth. So be it.

Which brings me to the Beatles. You love ‘em or hate ‘em. I have friends who think they are indeed the lamest, most over-rated steaming pile of dung that ever hit the planet (I’m talking to you, Rich!). I also know people who think they’re literally the greatest musical unit of all time, pure genius, a band who rewrote the rulebook for making music as we know it. I understand and appreciate both points of view, though my personal feelings towards the Beatles veer far closer to the latter. To state a basic fact: I think the Beatles were the shit, and the canings they often receive from various underground taste-making hipsters I find ludicrous and often without any foundation. Yes, there are negative points to be made: the tweeness, various dreadful songs usually penned by McCartney and Ringo Starr, their seeming lack of any bad-boy rock antics and most of all the overwhelming opinion from most people of how great they were (I guess my estimation of most people’s intelligence is so low that the moment everyone agrees on something I instantly assume there’s something wrong).

Now let me state why I like them. Firstly, I totally appreciate them for their massive contribution to the idea that a rock’n’roll band is a self-contained unit who should write and perform their own material. Prior to the Beatles, this was an almost unknown phenomenon in popular music. Secondly, they’re possibly the first and most important example of a popular band who, upon initial success, didn’t simply write the same song over and over in an attempt to replicate that success, but used it as an opportunity to grow and develop as artists. In short, they took risks and always saw the music as the main motivating factor. Thirdly, they had a great sense of humour and didn’t feel a need to act like a group of self-destructive flaming assholes a la Keith Richards/John Bonham to prove their rock’n’roll credibility. And fourthly, they wrote a hell of a lot of really good songs. For me, that’s enough reasons to say that the Beatles were indeed a great band.

The reason I originally got heavily into the White Album is more than a touch embarrassing. I first heard it when I was 16 when my brother came home with a second-hand copy. Why did he buy it? Because we were both big “fans” of Charles Manson. Blame it on Black Flag, blame it on suburban, white-boy angst, call it a stupid phase or just call us a couple of knuckleheads, for us Chuck was The Man. We’d gobble up any bit of information we could on the guy, and of course one of the first titbits we dug up was his deep fascination with the White Album. For Manson, this double set was almost a holy document which spoke the The Truth. Hell, he even named his killing spree after one of its songs! Naturally, we had to get our hands on it. For us, the White Album delivered on its promise: not only was it a fairly weird and uneven – in the good sense of the word, if there is one – set of songs which contained lots of Manson-isms (“Piggies”, “Sexy Sadie”, “Helter Skelter”), but regardless of any stupid Manson fascination, it also featured a lot of killer material (believe me, there was no pun intended there), and that’s certainly the only reason I still play it today (even framing the damn collage poster that comes with it and hanging it in the living room).

I was discussing this set with a work colleague a little while back and my rationale for hailing this as the Beatles’ strongest work was thus: what makes the White Album work so well is its peaks and valleys, its inconsistent and scattered approach. It contains many of their best ever songs – “Dear Prudence”, “Cry Baby Cry”, “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” – some of their most ridiculous experiments – “Revolution 9” – and very possibly the worst track they ever put to tape: “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, a prancing, witless waste of time from McCartney which was, unfortunately, used down here as the theme music for Play School when I was growing up (not in itself a bad memory, but not one befitting any rock music I’d care to take seriously).

And amongst all this mess is a glorious mixed bag which, whilst one may tend to describe it as “incoherent” and “meandering”, I like to term as “expansive”. The sheer variety of material is staggering, and, like the best of double albums, shoots in a radically different direction almost every song. There’s the token cheesebag Tin Pan Alley tune from McCartney (“Wild Honey Pie”, actually a pretty good tune); two killer George Harrison numbers (“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and the haunting “Long Long Long”); a couple of throwaway gimmicks (“The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”, “Rocky Raccoon”); hard-hitting ROCK (“Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except For Me and My Monkey” and “Helter Skelter”, the latter of which kicks it just as hard as any MC5 song I’ve ever heard); and, of course, a whole bunch of songs probably playing at a mall near you (“Revolution”, “Back in the USSR”). But it works. The fragmented nature of the double set, which often sounds like four members of a band agreeing on very little, is what makes the White Album so brilliant. Maybe I’m trying to see something that really isn’t there, but to me the White Album, within its own context, sounds just as weird and radical as Trout Mask Replica.

I didn’t actually buy my own copy of this until I was 25 when I decided it was high time I took my head out of the sand and go purchase some Beatles, Bob Dylan and Rolling Stones records just to prove that I knew what I was talking about. Hearing it again for the first time in probably five years, the songs flooded back. Aaah, long gone were all the horrible memories of Chuck, Sadie, Tex, The Ranch, Bugliosi and that dreadful night in ’69…

Pros: A staggering, stupefying, scattershot, barely-together masterpiece from the most popular band of all time. No kidding.
Cons: This one’s a loaded gun. It totally depends on what you consider a “con”. If you like to let millions of other squares decide what you won’t listen to, then you can consider that one.
Related Releases: Oh man, go call that guy from MOJO

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

ANOTHER FUCKING CASSETTE REVIEW or INSIDE THE DEPRAVED MIND OF A 21 YEAR-OLD JERKOFF

Yes, it’s another goddamn cassette review, but this is one with a difference: it’s a compilation cassette I made when I was 21. Again, I’d forgotten about the mere existence of this tape until last week when I dug it out of a dust-ridden box, but since it’s been doing the rounds in the car stereo over the last 7 days – and since it’s a spectacular curio item needing of some serious over-analysing from yours truly – I feel that it’s worth the trouble to give you all (yes, all three of you) the low-down…

Whilst listening to this tape the other day, I couldn’t help but to be reminded of two, hopelessly obvious films: High Fidelity and Ghost World. High Fidelity was brought to mind for the reason that this cassette – let’s call it “Tape Five”, as that’s what is written on its label – is in fact a compilation I made for my girlfriend at the time (now my wife, believe it or not), in the hope of “introducing” (re: brainwashing) her to some cooler-than-thou tunes I was a-diggin’ at the time. Ghost World sprung to mind for a less obvious reason. It wasn’t the collector-geek factor that runs rampant throughout the film, but instead Steve Buscemi’s classic response when he’s asked by Thora Birch if there are any girls out there with the same interests as him: “I don’t want to meet a girl with the same interests as me! I hate my interests!”. I think that sums it up perfectly. God forbid I would ever meet a girl on this planet with a rabid enthusiasm for such pathetic topics as classic US ‘70s/’80s punk, ‘60s free jazz and kosmiche space-rock: we’d probably bore each other to death.

There needs to be that slight “interest barrier” within every male-female relationship (or male-male, female-female… hey, loosen up, it’s the naughties!), that fine balance between a psychotic enthusiasm and complete and total disinterest in each others hobbies. I was simply lucky to strike that balance. For instance, when I’m lying on the couch reading a fanzine and espouse an amazing bit of trivia (this is, sadly, a true story) like “Did you know that the Germs and Love actually played a gig together in LA in ’78?”, I get neither a “Do I look like I fucking care?” or a “Holy fuckin’ shit, that’s insane: please tell me the details. Are there any recordings? Do you wanna check the ‘net for bootlegs?”. No, I get a “That’s nice, dear”.

Still, having a listen to this tape, you can’t say I didn’t give it a valiant effort, for this is called “Tape Five” for a very good reason: I made five of the goddamn things! Yes, five cassettes, 90 minutes a-piece of the most ludicrously esoteric, noisy, hopelessly obscure anally retentive music most people on this planet will never give two hoots about. Come to think of it, it’s a wonder she didn’t drop me upon first listen and enquire about a restraining order the next day. The contents of Tape Five aren’t really so offensive, though having scoured the box and retrieved the covers of previous volumes (the cassettes seem to be “missing”), I could only emit a howl of laughter as I browsed my choice of tunes for wooing women. Isaac Hayes, anyone? Maybe some Al Green or Marvin Gaye? Nope. How about some Current 93, Merzbow, Skullflower and The Haters? Not to your liking? Perhaps some Three-Day Stubble, Caroliner or Thinking Fellers Union Local 282? OK, let’s see what Tape Five from 1993 has to offer…

MX-80 – “Someday You’ll Be King”
This is the first track, taken from their life-affirming Out of the Tunnel LP, and it still sounds mighty fine to these ears. Can’t say I’ve seen the wife checking the bins lately for MX-80 boots, so it didn’t really work the magic in that regard, but in the year 2004, MX-80 hold up stupidly well. Scorching metallic art-rock ca. 1980 worth every bit of hype they’ve ever garnered, you’ll hear much more about ‘em in a forthcoming Top 50 Albums of All Time entry, so I’ll call it quits on them right now.

SLOVENLY – two tracks from Riposte
I swear, I really am trying to cut back on the SST thing ‘round these parts, but it just keeps on rearing its ugly head. But hey, there’s nothing ugly about Slovenly, they’ve always been on the A-List in my book. Two “ballads” from their beautifully sombre 1987 meisterwerk, Riposte, this is music for gents and the ladies.

THE SCENE IS NOW – four numbers from their brilliant Tonight We Ride LP
I wrote about this in my first entry of the Top 50 Albums of All Time saga, so go there for a brief if you’re feeling clueless. My taping skills were obviously honed by my bedroom-bound teen years, as the segue way from Slovenly to TSIN is nearly seamless, with both bands sharing a very similar aesthetic base. I’m blushing just thinking about it. But was my taping in vain? Did the lady dig the boss tunes? Take a wild guess.

THE WIPERS – a whole bunch of songs off Youth of America, Follow Blind and The Circle
Greg Sage would be proud. These selections paid off – he now has a #1 Wipers Fan in Australia: my wife! She’s such a fan, she even has a home screen-printed t-shirt and sings along at the top of her voice to all the songs off Is This Real? in the car. This is almost unprecedented in the history of partner-musical conversions: her fandom is now, 11 years later, possibly even greater than mine. Hear that noise? That’s the world spinning upside down. Mr. Sage, let me buy you a beer!

TELEVISION – “Marquee Moon”
I was surprised to find this one included. I mean, it’s a song I’ve always liked – hell, it really is one of the all-time greats – but I don’t usually associate it with the kind of head-up-backside snob-rock I was indulging in as a 21 year-old. In fact, I was such an insufferable asshole at the time, I’m shocked I included such an “obvious” classic that, you know, everyone knows. Still, it’s a pretty good litmus test for potential mates: if they don’t like “Marquee Moon”, drop ‘em at a moment’s notice. Yeah, that’s my relationship advice for the day. Take it or leave it, sunshine!

THE POP GROUP – “We Are Time”
Woah! Here’s a fave of candle-lit dinners worldwide! Man, I was NUTS about this band at the time: they were the fuckin’ shit, the bee’s knees, the band I’d been waiting to discover my whole life, the goddamn Second Coming. So what do I make of them now? “Feh, they’re OK”. I hate to admit it, but The Pop Group, despite the volumes of shameless praise I dribbled out regarding them back in the day, don’t really nail it for me at this point in my life. I gave their complete discography a hardy spin a few months back – the first in probably 5 years – and was left surprisingly nonplussed by the experience. It’s not like I didn’t enjoy it: much of the music is still fantastic, though it just didn’t move me the way it used to. The Pop Group, whom I discovered when I was 20, were definitely the right band for the right time: smart-alec noisy post-punk for alienated, insecure, pretentious Uni types with an almost claustrophobic sense of disgust in the world at large. Call me a boring old fart if you will, but once you grow up a little, get over yourself and come to the realisation that the world isn’t quite as scary as you first imagined, a band like The Pop Group can seem a little, well, silly. For the record, however, “We Are Time” is still a great song, Y will still rate a Top 50 mention somewhere down the track and I doubt the old lady could care less about them one way or the other.

THE DEAD C. – a couple of songs from God-knows-where
What in the hell was I thinking? Was this my idea of a good time with the chicks? Maybe a nice dinner, an opera and straight home for a bit of Dead C.? Last time I looked, New Zealand noise-rock wasn’t rating so high in the What’s Hot lists in the gossip mags, but back in the day, there was quite a hype a-buzzin’ around these NZ layabouts, and listening to these three tracks (which I think are taken from a Forced Exposure 7”), I’m kinda scratching my head and wondering why. Stumbling, noisy rock with mumbled vocals that mostly sounds either hopelessly incompetent in a contrived manner or, well, just hopelessly incompetent. Either way, it doesn’t particularly float my boat at this stage of my life, but still isn’t without its charms. I’m not sure if I’ll be pulling out my long-dormant Dead C. LPs anytime soon, but for now, I’ll hang onto them just in case.

ROYAL TRUX – Hero Zero 7” (both sides)
This is another strange inclusion, since it’s literally the only Royal Trux vinyl I still own, having (foolishly) sold off my early Royal Trux LPs some time in the mid/late-90s (and just like death and taxes, buying them all back again before I croak is something I simply can’t avoid). Must say, though, having not heard these songs for a good 8-9 years, they sound incredibly strong, and even had me dangerously fiddling with the rewind button in heavy traffic to get another earful of their sounds for repeated listens. Hero Zero, if I’m not mistaken, was actually the ‘Trux’s first ever vinyl output… or was it their debut LP then this 7”? Not sure, and more to the point, who the fuck cares?? The awesome Chrome-meets-Beefheart shenanigans on display here are enough for me to ignore the more anal debates I could engage in, even getting me curious about all those boogie-rock albums they released in the late ‘90s (all of which I happily ignored, despite pleas for tolerance from loved ones). The ladies may be saying “Royal who?”, but I think I’ll be too busy blowing precious cash on Amazon.com to listen.

JONESTOWN – two anonymous lame tracks
Err…Jones-who? Jonestown, man! Jones-fuckin’-town! Where the hell were you in ’93, listening to Sub Pop or something? Well, for better or worse, I wasn’t, and to distance myself from the “grunge” phenomenon taking the world by storm, I was busy ensconcing myself in the kind of scratchy, tuneless racket personified by Jonestown, the short-lived Minneapolis bunch who were aligned with similar agit-punk/No Wave outfits of the day like Dog Faced Hermans, The Ex, God Is My Co-Pilot, Dawson, Badgewearer, etc. And whilst the likes of the Dog Faced Hermans (whose early ‘90s efforts were a formidable poke in the eye) and Scotland’s righteous-yet-horribly-obscure Dawson still stand the test of time, to these ears, Jonestown come across like the runt of the litter. It’s not like these two tracks are bad, they simply elicit no reaction whatsoever. Mixing radical politics with a jazzy, vaguely Fall-ish backbeat sounds good on paper, though Jonestown’s vocals are way too polite and collegiate to be effective, the result being a kind of smarmy, over-educated vibe from a bunch of guys who sound like they’ve never toiled a day in their lives. Add to that their association with the AmRep label – anarchos rubbing shoulders with a right-wing ex-marine? – and Jonestown sound to me, in the 21st century, like a ghastly college prank gone horribly wrong. Still, if you’re 21 with a fistful of hate and a completely useless Uni degree near completion, this may just be your ticket to ride…

PERE UBU – a couple of choice cuts from The Modern Dance LP
‘Ubu need no introduction or explanation. I loved the shit out of this record back in the day and continue to do so. I guess the only strange anecdote I can add here is the bizarre fact that, for such an allegedly “eccentric” “art-rock” outfit like Pere Ubu, my taping of these tracks managed a conversion of the opposite sex. There’s even photographic evidence of this amazing feat: a lovely snapshot of a drunken Desiree Lang cuddling up to Dave Thomas at Pere Ubu’s 1999 Melbourne show. A portrait of the ages, I feel it stands testament to the fact that my youth was not just one great, spectacular waste of time.