Friday, August 27, 2004

REIGNING SOUND - Too Much Guitar CD
I've been a real slow coach coming 'round to this one, that I'm willing to admit. I was given a copy of this about 3 months back and, much as I love In The Red as a label, I didn't give it any kind of priority listen. The scenario was all-too-typical: a spin or two, a nod of the head and a barely-informed opinion of "It's OK". In the meantime, more straight-down-the-line rock 'n' roll friends of mine were gushing its praises and appeared a bit put off by my nonchalance regarding The Greatness of Too Much Guitar. I figured they were sniggering at me and probably uttered lines behind my back like, I bet Dave would like it if it had a long-lost, sadly impoverished black guy wailing away on sax, or maybe if the guitarist was known for attacking his instrument with a chainsaw. Wrong on all counts, kids!

I like rock 'n' roll as much as, well, the next rock 'n' roller, and when it's done this well, I like it a whole lot more. As stated in my pro-Cheater Slicks rant you probably skipped over, my beef with Rock (you know, the capitol "R" shit) per se is more pointed towards the C-grade fluff that seems to get all the attention and even more so towards the brain-dead, narrow-minded fans who persistently hail this godawful waffle as the Second Coming and dismiss anything that falls out of their two-inch-wide boundaries of what constitutes "great rock" as "hippie" and/or "fag shit". There are two (related) streams of rankness of concern here: all that in-fucking-describably woeful post-Hellacopters European cock-rock garbage which, for whatever reason, still has a big following down here, and the whole faux white-trash/redneck/hot-rod "garage punk" scene cluttered with an abundance of trucker caps and bad tattoos. Bring 'em all together and throw 'em in the trash can, I say. On the other end of the scale exist a band like the Reigning Sound.

I've never heard any of their previous releases or even anything from the Oblivians' (one of Greg Cartwright's pre-RS outfits) highly-praised catalogue of the '90s (I was too busy listening to long-lost, impoverished sax players and guitar-destroying art-fag combos at the time), but maybe one day I'll come around to them. My sole exposure to any Oblivians-related ephemera would be Eric (Oblivian) Friedl's great, sadly defunct fanzine from 10-odd years back, Wipeout!, an awesome collection of smart-arsed bagging & praising which covered everything from the latest garage trash to Japanese noise to all the free jazz reissues which were coming out at the time. You see, that's what separates the great rock bands from the imitators: the gents from the likes of the Oblivians could wax lyrical on anything and everything from Howlin' Wolf to John Cage (or whatever). Try discussing anything but, ugh, the Hellacopters or Nashville Pussy with a band like the Flaming Sideburns (or the thousand fucking bands who sound exactly like them) and you'd probably get a big, Daffy Duck-style question mark over their head. But I digress...

The weather's clearing in ol' Melbourne town and Spring has sprung. At this time of year I start pondering what may become The Feel-Good Hit of the Summer, and I get a feeling that Too Much Guitar may just hit the mark. This had made a pretty comfy home for itself next to the work computer of late, so yesterday I decided to put it to use and gave it a spin. Out of laziness I gave it another. Then another. Before you knew it I was blasting this out the office window and, damnit, I felt alive! Two songs in particular struck my fancy, so strongly written were they with hooks a-plenty, I figured they must be covers: "Funny Thing", a mid-tempo weeper with husky vocals and a chorus that won't let up, and "I'll Cry", a party stomper of Animal House proportions that makes me want to join the nearest booze-lovin' frat house, and fast. Both are Greg Cartwright originals. That, dear readers, is a sign of a Really Strong Release. Add to that a couple of real covers (Isaac Hayes, Hank Ballard, Carpet Baggers) and a bevy of originals which are no slouches themselves (not a runt in the litter, in fact), and you've got a bonafide hit on yer hands.

Reigning Sound know how too "rock" without resorting to stupid cliches. They won't change your life nor are they re-writing the rules of contemporary songwriting as we know it, but as far as Rock in the year 2004 goes - Rock of the loud guitars, short songs and Everyman Lyrics variety - the Reigning Sound are probably just as good as some of my friends claim them to be. As far as I can tell, they don't sing about their motor vehicles, crazy monsters or B-movies, nor do they engage in guitar heroics or the kind of clueless, frat-boy antics that those of I-can't-believe-people-actually-fall-for-this-Z-grade-dumb-as-a-box-of-hammers baloney various contemporaries of theirs engage in. The verdict's in: Too Much Guitar is a "loose, sloppy, beer-drenched" rock 'n' roll album which is a whole lot better than that description may imply.

lexdev@yahoo.com.au

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

As per usual, I've spoken too soon. If you're a fan of Tim Kerr and his many musical projects (Big Boys, Poison 13, Now Time Delegation, Jack O' Fire, Lord High Fixers, etc.), just like I am, then go here for a site dedicated to the man. Uh, yep, it's got the obligatory blog/diary aspect to it, too. The whole world is just nuts about self-documentation! God forbid we should live a life without everyone reading about it.
Old punkers never die, they just hang around the 'net writing blogs. For proof of this, I'll direct you here to none other than Bob Mould's!! Man, what's up with this world?! Have I been taking my crazy pills again? OK, I jest; it's actually a pretty good read. Bob covers a wide variety of topics and still (vaguely) has his fingers on the pulse regarding his music-listening habits (well, at least he still spins the odd Germs disc - something I didn't quite expect). I haven't dug (or been remotely interested in) anything the guy's done since his Workbook solo effort from the late '80s (a really good - no, GREAT - album, no matter what anyone says), but for sentimental reasons I'm glad to see he's doing OK. Now, all we need is a couple of blog sites from the likes of Ted Falconi, Chuck Dukowski, Tim Kerr, Greg Sage, Gary Floyd and Dez Cadena. Then I'll be real happy.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

AN ALMOST COMPLETELY NON-DESCRIPTIVE HIGH TEN OF ALBUMS TAKING MY FANCY AT THE MOMENT...
(for those who care... I've got a busy week ahead of me and this is likely all I'll get to write for the next 5 days or so)

1) DIE KREUZEN - October File LP
I must be the only guy on the 'net who actually prefers this to their mighty debut from '84.
2) BIRTHDAY PARTY - Prayers on Fire CD
Reading a Nick Cave article in the weekend edition of The Australian made me pull this one out...
3) THE SAINTS - I'm Stranded CD
...and then I went here. First two Saints discs: absolutely unbeatable.
4) DAWSON - How To Follow So That Others Will Willingly Lead LP
Read below for the spiel on this. Room-clearing noise/punk/funk/jazz/dub racket of a very high order. Hunt this down!
5) SOFT BOYS - Only the Stones Remain LP
Just borrowed this off a friend today. Live LP w/ a killer cover of the 'Floyd's "Astronomy Domine". Sounds good after, well, one listen so far.
6) PINK FLOYD - Umma Gumma 2LP
Speaking of which... it took me many years to get over my post-Barrett PF phobia, but I'll now stand by the awesome musical canon of this, More and Saucerful of Secrets. But the buck stops there.
7) LOS ANGELES FREE MUSIC SOCIETY - The Lowest Form of Music 10-CD box
Got this a few years back in a trade with Ron at RRR, and before I croak I promise to listen to the whole thing. For now, just one disc a year... but what a package! The liner notes and booklet alone should've earned someone a Grammy.
8) THROBBING GRISTLE - Heathen Earth CD
TG's high-point and the most musical album they ever did. Live, improvised, trance-inducing and pretty darn scary. They meant it, man.
9) MY BLOODY VALENTINE - Isn't Anything CD
Like I noted in some other entry: this band, and the entire hoo-ha and press surrounding them back in the day meant nothing to me at the time. UK indie was simply not on the radar. It still isn't, but this, and Loveless, are good enough to make an exception.
10) SAINT VITUS - Born Too Late CD
The original stoner/doom titans, strutting their flared wares back in the mid '80s. Yeah, so the vocals aren't so hot, but the swinging looseness, fuzzed guitar (and bass!) and sublime cover of the 'Flag's "Thirsty & Miserable" are good enough.

Monday, August 16, 2004

A HIGH FIVE...

1) TELEVISION - Live at the Old Waldorf, San Francisco, 6/29/78 CD-R
It's nice to have friends who'll go to the trouble for you. Take this CD-R a friend burnt for me during the week. When I told said friend that I was looking for a copy of this limited Rhino CD released last year, and, being a tightwad, was not willing to pay "collector" prices for it, he leapt to the rescue and offered to burn a copy for me. Now this guy - a fuggin' saint, I tells ya - is a music nut of the highest order, and is pretty particular about his goods, so instantly upon his offer he started sweating about his colour photocopier not being in such hot shape and therefore the cover he'd print for me probably wouldn't look that good. "Huh? Cover?", I quizzed. "Don't worry about the cover, just the disc is fine". "Sorry, Dave, but if I'm making a burn for someone, I want it to look good, like the real thing". "Yep, uh, cool". I caught up with him during the week and he presented me with this: a perfect, jewel-case replica of the original Rhino digipak, full colour print job, even a beautifully typed-out print on the disc. Now, I'm impressed. Oh, the music! Whaddya think?! This rocks! Primo TV splitting up tracks from their two late '70s LPs, a "big" rock sound that rakes out some of the weediness from their studio recordings and the obligatory epic rendition of "Marquee Moon". A great thing, if you can get it.
PS - I don't approve of people burning commercially copyrighted and available music - indie, major, whatever - but if Rhino insist on making such releases of a stupidly limited nature, cutting out the possibility of a fan purchasing the disc for a reasonable price if they just so happened to miss the boat first time 'round, then it's burn, baby, burn. Ahem...

2) THE SCENE IS NOW - Burn All Your Records LP
Again, let's put our hands together and sing the song: "That's what friends are for...". I hung with my old pal Scotti yesterday out in the green valleys of Wattle Glen and spent the afternoon kicking back, spinning his records and talking absolute bollocks for hours on end. It was, in short, a pleasant way to spend a Sunday. Whilst browsing through his LPs and flicking through the myriad Salvation Army bargain discs clogging his music room (one must have a music room), one LP in particular leapt out at me and begged for its attention. I willingly gave it attention and we committed a beautiful, mutually consenting act. After the first spin of Burn All Your Records - an album I'd been looking 12 goddamn years for - I proceeded to bore Scotti with what an amazing and under-rated band I thought TSIN to be. He nodded to keep me satisfied, announced his surprise at me not owning the record in question (he knew I was a fan, but figured I had all their albums) and offered to lend it to me. I accepted. 24 hours later and now he's offered to give it to me, and in return I shall throw something his way. Now that's a story.
Anyway, Burn All... is TSIN's first album, from 1985, and a much wilder and weirder affair than their straighter efforts of the late '80s (all of which I love, too; check the Top 50 Albums of All Time list). An army of instruments battles dada art-rock in NYC ca. '85 and we all come off winners. Think: 'Ubu, Beefheart, Red Krayola, Television, Minutemen and you're getting there. Scorchin' stuff.

3) THE KINKS - We Are The Village Green Preservation Society LP
I never had any solid opinions about the Kinks until I was 23 or '4, since, outside of the obvious hits (all of which I "liked"), I'd never heard too much of their music, good as I'd heard it to be. That all changed when, working in the Shock warehouse in the mid '90s, we in the manufacturing department (it's as glamorous as it sounds, believe me) were given a box of cassettes to either destroy, throw away, keep or give to friends. It was all deleted stock and mostly rubbish, though I took some Peter Hamill and Holger Czukay solo tapes and a Kinks Best Of. I figured it'd make a good driving tape. It became more than that: for six months they turned into an obsession and this tape a daily ritual in the workplace (luckily the two other guys in the warehouse similarly fell under the spell of Davies and co.). I think the cassette eventually got chewed up by the player, so I bought a cheapie 2LP Best Of featuring pretty much the same tracks and then started buying a few "real" Kinks albums. ...Village Green Preservation Society remains the real keeper, an almost perfect psychedelic pop album, it's the cliche of MOJO readers worldwide, but really: Ray Davies is possibly The Great English Songwriter of the last 40 years.

4) DESTROY ALL MONSTERS - 1974-1976 3CD
I bought this from Forced Exposure when it came out in '94 or whenever, played it a bunch of times, figured it to be a pretty cool item to hang onto, and have dragged it out on a more or less yearly occasion since. This week its number's up and I've given it a brief skip over, and it really has to be a "skip", since three discs of avant-garde/free jazz/electronic noise of a fairly structureless variety can test a man's patience, even ol' Iron Ears Lang. I still don't think that three discs was entirely necessary for this kinda stuff, but Coley/Thurston did such a nice job with the packaging and booklets (chronicling the members, the art, the music, the drugs - everything), I figure it's an important document detailing post-Stooges Detroit avant-rock which I should really hang onto. And people tell me suckers are paying outrageous amounts for this thing these days... Is that true?

5) RIVER'S EDGE / SUBURBIA DVDs
I had to order both of these from Amazon, since the genius' at all the Australian DVD companies have never bothered to license these two, um, "classics" for the local market. OK, so Suburbia ain't really a "great" or even "good" film, by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, here's some ingredients which could put a man off his feed: the presence of not only Flea (of RHCP) in an acting role, but also appearances by three of the worst punk bands in all of California at the time (1982): D.I., Vandals and T.S.O.L. Yeah, well, sometimes you just gotta laugh at these things. The live performances are all so over-the-top in a really bad way they'll have you in stitches: D.I.'s Casey looks like he just stepped out of the Quincy "punk" episode; T.S.O.L.'s Jack Grisham, in the height of their "goth-punk" phase looks like, to quote an old Gene Simmons[!] saying, "a footballer in a ballerina's dress"; and the Vandals... well, they're still going and The Kids actually like them, and that's no laughing matter. Anyway, I hadn't seen this in over ten years, but figured that, as a budget DVD, it'd make a funny item to show friends when they came around, so threw it in the cart at the Amazon supermarket. The first time I saw Suburbia I was an obnoxious 14-year old Biafra/Lydon-worshipping twerp who didn't know his ass from his elbow. That guy thought Suburbia was the coolest fuckin' movie of all time, man. I'm older and a little wiser now, so I can honestly say it is in fact an appallingly acted, stilted, shoddily directed wreck of a movie with the momentum of sloth, but by god, it's a fun thing to watch, and an interesting period piece I still gain great enjoyment from.
River's Edge, on the other hand, is a really good film. No irony here, buckaroos, this is the real deal: a quality pic. Watching it now, for the first time in a few years (I have an unplayably crusty copy on video), it's striking how, dare I say - yes, I'll take that dare - "proto-grunge" it is. The spikes, flannel shirts, army coats, rip-roaring music (The Wipers, Reign In Blood-era Slayer and a few flunky, B-grade punk and metal acts), gloomy Northwestern landscapes, listless, apathetic teens - Grunge America of the early '90s stole this movie's act! I thought this flick was the bees knees in high school, and I'd like to restate that claim: the best thing Keanu Reeves ever did (that's a certainty), another great, whacky Dennis Hopper role to add to his CV, and Crispin Glover's performance as a drugged-out white-trash burnout (donning the funniest, and most convincing, hesher mullet ever seen on screen) should've earned him an Oscar. I give it a 4 and a half. You?

lexdev@yahoo.com.au

Friday, August 13, 2004

For every music fan, much like myself, there are various "scenes" one can claim fandom to: clusters of bands and musicians in certain geographical locales and points of time who managed to create a distinct regional sound. Well, off the top of my head, I could throw at you a few names and places of which I'll claim allegiance to: DC ca. '80-'83; LA ca. '77-'84; Germany ca. '68'-'74; Ohio ca. '74-'79; Detroit ca. '67-'73; Milwaukee ca. '82-'90... you get the idea. I've been fumbling around with some old records of late, and whilst I won't put a definite period of time on it, I'll stake a claim on the Scottish underground scene of the early '90s. After all, someone has to.

At the time of said scene I was a loudmouthed champion of its cause, interviewing the likes of the Dog Faced Hermans and Dawson for a rag I was doing at the time, and so, ten years later, I've revisited some discs in question for a reappraisal, and so let me just say with a sigh of relief that this stuff has held up well. I say this because it can be a real ordeal revisiting musical loves of the past, only to shake your head with horror and disgust a decade later and ask yourself: What in the hell was I thinking? I did this just recently when I attempted to play a Derek Bailey CD all the way through, getting roughly 5 minutes in before I had to stop chuckling and have it taken out of my sight. I used to get excited over this kinda stuff? Who was I kidding? In a word: myself. Come back to me in 10-12 years time to see what I think about Acid Mothers Temple and SunnO))). Don't worry, though, I think the news will be good. I can happily and honestly say that I'm not embarrassed about a single album I've bought since I was about 13 years old. Not that there haven't been some real turkeys in there - of course there has - but I can blame them on being blind stabs in the dark as opposed to something really horrible I was actually into. Then again, maybe your definition of an "embarrassing" record is just different to mine.

Anyway, the point is this: if I take a look back at the music I was into in the early '90s, I'd say a lot of it, good as it may have been, was also fairly disposable, literally - but since I've never disposed of any of my Dawson, Dog Faced Hermans, Stretchheads, Badgewearer or Whirling Pig Dervish records, I'll throw them into a different category and get on with the show...

Hmmm.. now I haven't been to Scotland since I was 8 years old (my Dad's a proud Glaswegian), so I can't make any claims as to how the landscape or political climate gave sway to the unique sounds that came from its lands, but since the whole North of the UK has been in general decline since Thatcher hit power, let's simply blame her for the desperate, awesome sounds given birth by these bands. Maggie, just like Reagan - what an inspiration.

I first heard about Dawson, Whirling Pig Dervish and Badgewearer in a 1992 edition of Maximum Rock 'n' Roll[!!] (back when it was still remotely readable and at least had the likes of Jeff Bale writing for it), in which the reviewer name-dropped the Minutemen, Big Flame and Gang of Four in all three reviews for these bands on the curiously-named Gruff Wit label. I didn't know shit from shinola, but I threw some change in an envelope, asked them for some goods and sent the package on its way. Back came a pile of records crammed with lyric sheets, posters, flyers, photos and all kinds of DIY ephemera and I was sold. And then I decided to put the records on...

Badgewearer I know nothing about. I'll assume their name's taken from the Minutemen song "Badges", since their sound is heavily indebted to Boon & Watt, with its scratchy guitars, obtuse rhythms and blink-and-you-miss-'em songs. Their lone LP, F.T.Q. - that's Fuck The Queen to you - is a real gem. 14 songs in roughly 20 minutes, paste-on sleeve and, lyrics and rants aside, next to no info on the band, it's a curio item I'll hang onto 'til the next life. Heavily political in its angle, your interest, or lack thereof, in the squatting rights of Scottish peasants will not affect the pleasure you'll gain from its skittering sounds. A few months later I found a copy of Badgewearer's debut 7" sitting in the bargain bin in Au-go-go for a few shillings and hightailed it, record in hand. The This Bag Is Not A Toy 7" EP may look like a Crass disc, but it's far more listenable. Donning the kind of black-&-white anarcho artwork perfected by snot-nosed Limeys in the early '80s, it's much in the same vein as the LP: a barrage of slogans, cluttered agit-punk and the kind of uber-angst I reveled in as a hopeless young man at the time. A keeper!

Whirling Pig Dervish... well, I wish I could give you more information, but, again, I own one 7"on the Gruff Wit label which gives you nothing on the band at all, other than a thank-you list (featuring DFH, Stretchheads, Dawson, etc.) and lyric sheet. Housed in a smart, hard-cardboard sleeve with stark graphics and a photo of a young kid holding a watermelon (yeah, well, whatever...), their Full Feather Lovesuit 4-track 7" EP definitely possesses that scattered, angry post-punk sound you're likely to find on a dozen Rough Trade discs in the late '70s, and I for one ain't complaining. Think of the twang 'n' treble of early Fall and mix it up with the funkified antics of The Pop Group and you're getting there. Throw in a bit of brass, a couple of angry Scots and you've almost got Whirling Pig Dervish. Before the other night, I hadn't played this since last century, but I'm glad I never discarded it: coming out of nowhere and going right back there, WPD left a stamp on me somewhere.

Dawson were probably the linchpin of this "scene", as their guitarist/vocalist, Jer, was also the owner/operator of Gruff Wit (Scottish slang, don't ask) and a guy I was in regular touch with at the time. Weirdly enough, I fell out of touch with him in the mid '90s, only to have a friend tell me about 5 years back that Jer actually lived in Melbourne for about a year 'round 1997 or so. Huh?! Is this true? Can anyone verify this? I've got no idea what happened to the guy (he'd be in his mid '30s now) or his cluster of bands, but I can say for sure that Dawson - named after a teacher of his, apparently - released three fantastic albums: Barfmarket: You're Ontae Plums ('91), How To Follow So That Others Will Willingly Lead ('92) and Terminal Island ('93). Being a Scottish update on the "classic" Rough Trade sound, the three platters contain a smorgasboard of young-man angst, thousand-miles-an-hour twists and turns and, most of all, that awesomely lumbering, and occasionally funky, bass which sounds like it's been lifted from an old Birthday Party disc.

Barfmarket mostly comes across like a Gang of Four 33 on 78 - not a fuzz pedal in sight - though it's spliced up with what sounds like a DC Go-go band on 4-track, dance rhythms intact. It's got a zillion songs, all over in the blink of an eye, and they still sound great.

How To Follow... has always been the top-shelf Dawson outing for these ears. Housed in a spray-painted/hand-designed sleeve (oh, those were the days...) and containing a myriad inserts detailing everything from IRA terror to fox-hunting laws, it shows Dawson up to be the air-tight demolition unit they surely were. Crossing the boundaries of Boredoms-style noise, post-punk, Pop Group-style agit-rock, hip-hop and even African drum rhythms, it's their strongest legacy and statement. When the sampled "You don't give a fuck to be free" comes overhead, you're moving. With the more concise "rock" elements contained on the first side and the more "abstract" moments on the flip, it's divided up perfectly to complement each other. Later released as a twofer with their first album by God Is My Co-Pilot's Making of Americans label, there has to be copies of this long-deleted nugget laying around somewhere.

Dawson's swan song was '93's Terminal Island, a more dense and noisy affair, but certainly one still worth chasing down. With longer songs, walloping bass riffs and a guitar buzz that lays it on thick, TI twists and turns like the Boredoms ca. Pop Tatari, juices it up with some rants 'n' rhetoric and comes up trumps. You wouldn't want to start here, but if you've made the journey from A to B, then naturally you've got to finish it off with Terminal Island.

The Stretchheads somehow managed to coax the high-profile UK indie Blast First label into releasing their 1991 LP, Pish In Your Sleazebag. As to how that happened, well, I can only assume they had some friends there, or that someone at BF HQ really liked them, because I'd be willing to bet good money that its sales figures were barely above zilch. Which, of course, is not saying that it's a bad album - far from it. In fact, giving it a belated revisit this last week, I can only say that if this much-neglected recording was released in this day and age on a label like, say, Load, you'd probably get every undie hipster/tastemaker/trouserstain under the sun singing its praises and a queue of bedroom label-heads lining up to release the inevitable 8" box set (coloured vinyl, no less). The 'heads were simply at the wrong place in the wrong time. Less political - actually, judging by the song titles, not political at all - than their kilt-wearing brethren in DFH, Dawson, etc., the Stretchheads laid the distortion on thick, kept the pace lightning quick and let the rhythms fly every which way but loose. Compared at the time to the Boredoms (a fair enough assessment), if this was released yesterday I'd imagine a Lightning Bolt/Black Dice/Stretchheads tour hitting your town pretty quick.

The band also has a self-released LP from '88 entitled Five Fingers Four Thingers A Thumb A Facelift And A New Identity (oh, the zaniness!) which I somehow managed to find at some record-fair dorkfest at the time for a dollar or two, and almost makes their Blast First album sound tame in comparison. Forced Exposure praised their efforts in the late '80s, throwing around names like Venom P. Stinger, The Fall and Beefheart (or something like that... my copy of the issue in question is buried under a pile of mags somewhere) and hailed them (and the Dog Faced Hermans) as part of a new dawn in ass-kickin' Scottish music, and whilst next to zip caught onto the rush, I'm glad to say I managed to scoop up a copy of this headache-inducing monstrosity (that's a complement) and don't plan on parting ways with it anytime in the future. The band also released two EPs on Blast First: Eyeball Origami Aftermath Wit Vegetarian Leg and Barbed Anal Exciter - both of which I'll probably stumble across before I drop dead - and I can only assume the band drifted off into the sunset sometime in the early '90s.

Dog Faced Hermans I don't feel I need to really introduce (or necessarily write about), since they were kind of "popular" in the mid '90s due to a couple of US tours and the licensing of their albums on the Alternative Tentacles label. The most "accessible" and musically adventurous of the Scottish clan, the 'Hermans used a bevy of exotic instruments, ace musicianship and the occasionally atonal vocals of "Marion" to their advantage, the result being a kind of midway compromise between the scratchy hurk 'n' jerk of NYC No Wave and the funkified bombastics of The Pop Group. I interviewed them back in '93 and they said their original intention was "to be like the Art Ensemble of Chicago", and whilst such a statement would come across as a cringe-inducing slice of willful name-dropping in the hands of most musical outfits, for the DFH it makes sense. Hum of Life, Bump and Swing and Those Deep Buds - three albums you need.

There are other bands from this "scene" - like Archbishop Kebab, Glue and the Keatons - whom I've never been able to trace, along with higher profile (very relatively speaking) bands like Longfinkillie, who released a few OK, slightly poppier discs on the Too Pure label in the mid '90s, but hey, this a blog, not a thesis. For that, and I have to laugh at the irony of this situation, I'll direct you here. Once again, there's no real need to write articles on these kinds of topics, since Harvard graduates are furthering the causes of humanity by doing exactly that and posting it for the world to see. In short: whilst swept under the carpet of obscurity for nigh on a decade, these groups together made up a "scene" of music which delivered on its promise: eclectic, noisy, adventurous, DIY. A cliche, for sure, but the results speak for themselves. Whilst the rest of the UK was in a musical coma, the Scots led the way for the few to see. If you have any interest in the sounds of The Fall, Pop Group, No Wave, P.i.L., Minutemen, Boredoms, etc., you owe it to yourself to investigate these bands. Like I said: they were simply stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

BOB DYLAN - Blood on the Tracks LP
I had a rather inebriated conversation with a colleague a little while back, remarking as to what a major hoo-ha the death of Bob Dylan will undoubtedly cause once he shuffles off this mortal coil. I mean, it's going to be BIG, perhaps more so because at this point in history he remains one of the few truly legendary performers in music still alive, who also appears to be somewhat remotely "relevant". I mean, look at the kerfuffle made over George Harrison, and that guy - and let's be brutally honest - hadn't made a halfway decent disc in almost 30 years at his time of departure. There's also the case study of Frank Sinatra to consider, too; whilst he was without a doubt a giant of entertainment in the 20th century, by the time he died he'd barely engaged in any unembarrassing art - music, movies, theatre, whatever - for as long as I've been alive (and I'm being generous). It'll be interesting to see how history judges the likes of Paul McCartney - nice-guy philanthropist whose post-Beatles career has mostly been a disgrace (no matter what Tim Ellison says) - and even more so Mick Jagger, a truly revolting human being without a shred of humility, who also just happened to be, many moons ago, a particularly captivating front man. Anyway, I'm off the beaten track...

What I usually say to any clueless person enquiring into the career of Bob Dylan - and this happened often when I was working in music retail (I don't pull this shit on random members of public in the street) - is that anyone who could make a record as astounding as Blood on the Tracks, no matter what other screw-ups they made in their life - is not only OK by me, but someone worthy of immense respect. And you know that, much like the rest of them, Dylan has made some major errors of judgment in his life that most people would be lynched for (start with the Michael Bolton and Mark Knopfler collaborations and work your way up or down from there), but since it was Dylan, the man responsible for such Earth-moving deities as Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blood On The Tracks, all has been forgiven... or at least swept under the carpet.

Blood On The Tracks, a Top 10 album of mine, has, in the past, been a disc I've been prone to simply play the A-side of, in the meantime ignoring the rest of the album. This I can only attest to the amazing depth of material in its first five tracks, songs of which I've revisited countless times since I first bought this sometime nearly 10 years back. This has been amended of late, as I've had this spinning on high rotation in the car and now Blood on the Tracks is seeping into my brain as a more fully formed body of work. And what a fucking amazing thing it is.

I've never been through a bitter divorce or break-up and, touch wood, probably never will, though if the time comes, BOTT will either be a godsend to comfort me or the piece of news that sends me over the edge to the local funeral home or mental asylum (yeah, OK, a little dramatic, but allow a little room for exaggeration here). That is, of course, because BOTT is Dylan's "divorce album", and easily the best thing he ever did. I don't believe I've heard another album that directs you through the course of a relationship as well as BOTT, or an album that tells a single story of two people quite as succinctly and honestly. This is truly one of the few "adult" albums of an utterly serious nature I would recommend to anyone: the incredible beauty of "Tangled Up In Blue", the ugly rage of "Idiot Wind", the sadness of "If You See Her, Say Hello". I've spent so many years of my life listening to music of such a negative, pointless nature that Blood On The Tracks hits me like a rock every time. I hate joining any chorus, but they're right when they tell you how good Dylan once was.

Monday, August 09, 2004

A HIGH FIVE:

1) NEIL YOUNG - Chrome Dreams CD-R
This a well-known Neil Young bootleg a friend burnt for me last week, and whilst I'm against the whole CD-burning schtick in general and in principle, when it comes to bootlegs I could care less. If the artist doesn't want to release it officially and do a better job of it themselves, then fuck 'em; until they pull their finger out I'll burn 'til the cows come home. Chrome Dreams is a mixture of '70s studio recordings Young put down on tape, only to scrap for either later, cleaner versions on albums like Comes A Time, or as live renditions on the Live Rust double LP. Whilst not an official album, Chrome Dreams stands as probably the best Neil Young disc I own, even surpassing previous life-changers like On the Beach and Zuma. The studio version of "Like A Hurricane" is one of the greatest pieces of music I've ever encountered, the looping guitar lines and cagey, claustrophobic sound quality possessing an unearthly feel I can't fully express. It is simply a fucking stunning slab of avant-garde rock music, the sinewy guitar lines moving throughout like a heavenly combo of Eddie Hazel, Tom Verlaine and Keiji Haino. You gotta hear it. I saw Neil Young in concert last year and it was one of the most brain-expanding experiences of my pathetic life, his encore set being a 40-minute noise jam/medley that'd give every Krautrocker or Jap-psycher you care to mention a serious run for their money. I never thought I'd hear anything from him that could top such a performance. Maybe Chrome Dreams doesn't, but it comes mighty close. Beg, borrow or steal.
2) SUNNO))) - White 2 CD
I was a bit hesitant about this release. Much as I love all of SunnO)))'s previous outings, putting out yet another album of guitar feedback and barely-structured amp drones sounded, well, just a little too easy. It seemed like a rent-paying exercise, but I'm glad to report that the worrying was wasted energy. White 2 is possibly the best SunnO))) release yet. Again, three long songs, a horde of evil guests from the fields of noise, doom and Black Metal and a white-hot combination of acidic power chords, abstract groans and sheets of gloom. As for how much longer they can keep this kind of shenanigans up, that remains a triviality to ponder; for now, the well is not yet dry.
3) MEAT PUPPETS - II / Up On the Sun LPs
Back in high school, I had a Holy Trinity of bands whom I'd bore anyone within earshot senseless with: Black Flag, Minutemen and the Meat Puppets. For me, they were pioneers, nomads, heroes, gods and icons of whom I stood in absolute awe. Then the '90s happened, life started and I hardly listened to any such nonsense for over half a decade. It wasn't like I didn't still dig the 'Flag and their cohorts; it was just that after a thousand spins and a world of music to explore outside of the SST stable they fell by the wayside. I'm glad I had that break, because spinning these two gems in the year 2004 is a pleasure I didn't anticipate.
4) THE FALL - The Real New Fall LP (Formerly "Country On the Click") CD
Umm, yeah, it is the real new Fall LP, or CD at least. Prior to my purchase of this about a month back I hadn't investigated any new Fall album since '97's Levitate (a fine disc), but after some incessant pleading from a friend who said with absolute earnestness that "the new Fall album is really good, believe me", and then hearing it being played in a store and mistaking it for the Flesh Eaters (seriously!), I figured I'd take the plunge. You know, to state the obvious, The Fall will never make another Hex Enduction Hour or Dragnet, but this is a pretty good pale imitation and probably better than 98% of the garbage you or I will consider buying in the next 12 months. I don't think Mr. Smith even keeps track himself of who's in the band anymore, which unfortunately results in the rather sterile, inorganic sound they've suffered on and off from over the last decade, but at least the keyboards are turned down, the guitars up, and the opener, "Green Eyed Loco-Man", is a Fall classic in the making. Too many people say it already, but Mark E. Smith truly is one of the coolest dorks rock music ever produced.
5) ORNETTE COLEMAN - Crisis LP
Much like my collection of LPs and CDs by Eric Dolphy, Cecil Taylor, Coltrane, Miles and Sun Ra, I've got a shitload of Ornette discs and I haven't bought any since about 1997. It's the old story: impressionable douchebag discovers "jazz"; said douchebag spends five years of life buying every disc in sight from "legends of jazz"; douchebag then realises that owning at least a dozen albums a piece from all said legends is enough to keep him happy for a lifetime; douchebag is content. One day it'll be a feature-length film, believe me. I bought Crisis off a friend for a pittance back in the mid '90s some time, and it remains one of my favourite Ornette outings. Recorded live at NYU in '69 with the classic Quintet (Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Ornette Jr.) and Ornette himself screeching away on violin on the amazing "Space Jungle", Crisis is an album the geniuses at Impulse have decided not to reissue so far.

ELECTRIC WIZARD - We Live CD
A triumphant return from everyone's favourite drug-abusing psychedelic doom merchants, if ever there was. Now, with an opening sentence like that, I guess we need some back-tracking and explanations. Electric Wizard, possibly the best UK ensemble of the last decade, have three previous releases out which you absolutely need: Come My Fanatics, Dopethrone and Let Us Prey, all primo examples of A-grade, seat-of-yer-pants, cannabis-soaked, fuzzed 'n' fucked-up, life-affirming rock 'n' roll of a near God-like order. Put that one in yer bong and smoke it!

Electric Wizard, it must be noted, are an aesthetically perfect unit: the music, the lyrics, the artwork, the interviews. The message is always thus: loathing, hatred, despair, disgust, anti-social behaviour and a bucketload of drugs. I don't personally recommend any of the above in the real world, but rock 'n' roll, let's face it, as much as I've tried to deny such a thing with my punk-lobotomised mind of the last 20-odd years, is a fantasy land where one can say and do things that no rational person would even consider in the larger outside world. If the 'Wizard wish to hate, loathe, despair and gobble drugs by the truckload, and hurt no-one else in the meantime, that's OK by me! Just keep on releasing a disc every couple of years and they can keep my name firmly attached to their fan base.

Hailed (by themselves, no less) as "the heaviest band in the Universe", I'd usually scoff at such claims, either for the sheer bogusness of exclaiming "heaviness" per se as a worthy trait in and of itself, or maybe because of the stupidly competitive nature of the statement (kinda like when D.R.I. and their ilk hailed themselves as "the fastest band in the world" back in the mid '80s... who fuggin' cares? Pushead??), but in this case I tip my hat and admit defeat: Electric Wizard are the heaviest band on Earth - musically, conceptually, aesthetically - they are indeed heavy as led, stoned to the bone, a goddamn crushing weight of noise that brings pleasure to the ears.

As a sonic concept, da 'Wizard can be a tough beast to pin down, but if I had to throw a few names around I'd say they're the missing link between Skullflower, Black Sabbath, Merzbow and Spacemen 3, with the raging misanthropy of a Boyd Rice thrown in for good measure. They've taken the essential doom styling pioneered by Sabbath, mixed it up with the over-amped attack of Skullflower, the space/psych-rock churn of Spacemen 3 and the trebly shards of noise of Mr. Akita and spat out a beast. Electric Wizard are a world of feedback, endless clouds of guitar distortion, layers of distorted, barely-comprehensible vocals and songs you never want to end. I'm sure there are many bands existing right now who'd gladly place such a description of themselves in a CV. Most said bands are worthless and none of them, bar maybe Acid Mothers, do it as well as Electric Wizard.

EW main man Jus Osbourne ditched his two previous band mates a year or so ago and has reassembled the band as a four-piece, even comprising of a female(!) on second guitar. With such a radical shift I approached with extreme caution, but such worrying was for naught: Osbourne and gang have kept the EW stamp intact. Six songs in 55 minutes, We Live is one of 2004's audio highlights. That's all you need to know.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

DAVE'S HIGH FIVE FOR THE WEEK
(Sorry, but I intend on pulling this lame "High Five" shit every week from now on.)

1) WILLIAM PARKER/IN ORDER TO SURVIVE - The Peach Orchard 2CD
1998 meisterwerk from the perennial man-on-the-go bassist, this gets my vote as the finest "Jazz" release of the last ten years or more. A quartet recording with the perfect balance of space, clutter, melody and noise.
2) ROXY MUSIC - First Kiss 2CD
Uh, read below.
3) GANG OF FOUR - Entertainment CD
Always been a little luke-warm about this one, but it sure is sounding good this week. Must be the weather.
4) BOREDOMS - Super Ar CD
One day the world will pull its head out of its ass and recognise the genius of this album. A perfect combination of the Beefheart-ish, spastic experiments of their earlier works and the cleaner, trancier efforts of late, this is flat-out one of the best - if not the best - "experimental rock" or whatever-you-care-to-call-it albums of the last decade. A work of cut-up genius on a par with Chrome's Alien Soundtracks and Faust's Tapes, this 1998 platter leaves me gobsmacked. I was a lazy turd when it came to grasping its greatness: don't let it happen to you.
5) ROYAL TRUX - s/t CD
Commonly known as the 'Trux's "3rd Album", due to the fact that their 1st long-player is also self-titled, I bought the LP of this upon release in '92, sold it sometime in the late '90s (when I was about to travel overseas, it was a brutal record cull not seen since the likes of...) and, of course, bought the same fucking thing just a few weeks back on CD cheap as a secondhand item. Great driving music, in a 1993 review of this I threw the "'Stones" word at them as an insult. Now it's 2004 and I can use the same word as a complement. I think that's called "growing up", or so I've heard. Cool-as-fuck junkie blues with just enough riffs 'n' hooks to stop it from making a slow crawl up its own backside. I'm hanging onto this this time around, that's a promise.
Bought the brand new Electric Wizard CD, We Live, yesterday and am in the process of letting it swim around my brain, awaiting the Ultimate Conclusion which will take a couple of days to fully digest and mature. Or, to speak plain English, I'll get back to you in a few days with a verdict.
ROXY MUSIC - First Kiss 2CD-R bootleg
When I was in primary school, Roxy Music's "Avalon" was a big hit. In reaction to their perceived bogusness by myself and my dorky compatriots, they were referred to as "Poxy Music". That Lang wit, it's a killer. Then again, I was too busy grooving to the ass-kicking sounds of Culture Club and Duran Duran at the time, so maybe my judgment was a little off. Still, there was something about a middle-aged buffoon in an Armani suit poncing around with models half his age that struck me as, well, a bit lame.

Skip a couple of years and I'm in the midst of an early-teens obsession with the Sex Pistols, only to discover the alleged "massive influence" the likes of Roxy Music had on the whole early UK punk scene. To put it bluntly, I was a little confused. Like, what relevance did the likes of Roxy Music, with their beards, bad hairdos, ridiculous outfits and glam-lite have to do with punk rock? I put them in the back of my mind for another ten years, figuring it must be some early '70s British thing I didn't yet understand.

By my early '20s there were too many people throwing their name around for me to ignore any longer: Pere Ubu, Television, Simply Saucer and a gaggle of US post-punkers, and, most of all, my ears finally woke up to the enormity of a man named Eno and his music. So, I bit the bullet, bought the first two LPs, played them roughly half a dozen times and filed them away for the odd twelve-monthly spin. In other words, they were on the periphery of my audio pleasures, a pretty OK piece of fluff to occasionally indulge in, but not a priority.

So, at this juncture, I feel I must play the devil's advocate and paraphrase a certain British magazine (OK, it was Uncut), who wrote a rather hilarious slag piece on RM a couple of years back: "Eno was the best thing about Roxy Music, and the first two Roxy Music albums featuring Eno are also the worst things he's ever done". You know, that's not all true: Eno was the best thing about early Roxy Music, though they ain't the worst things he's ever recorded (it's simple: U2), but I get the point, I think: Roxy Music really weren't all that. The first 4 or even 5 albums are a mild pleasure, but there's still something so, I don't know, trifling and mediocre about them: they don't possess the teen-anthem boogie of T. Rex, the avant-rock experiments of Can, the raging blast of noise of the Stooges nor the seemingly accidental eccentricities of Hawkwind, but somehow do contain small elements of all of the above. And thus, in that sense, Roxy Music fill a void.

Now, you probably think I'm slowly in the process of attempting to tear apart the entire musical legacy of the band known as Roxy Music, but I'm not. Roxy Music still don't click with me the way they probably should, but for now this 2CD bootleg (sent courtesy of Jay Hinman) is very quickly making amends to what could amount to a slow and steady conversion. Kids, this could take months, maybe even years, so stand back and observe.

First Kiss compiles over 100 minutes of radio and TV performances from '72/'73 and features versions of pretty much every track off their first album, a couple from For Your Pleasure, and the rawness and energy of everything contained on these two discs has me floored. This time you can really hear it: the whirling keyboard mania of Eno, the James Williamson-style guitar attacks c/o Phil Manzanera and that killer combination of glam camp, minimalist garage stomp and avant-rock meld together to create something really new. In particular, the versions of "Pyjamarama", "Editions of You" (with its ghostly, Joy Division aura) and "Do the Strand" are pure magic, capturing a certain essence of decadence, disgust and re-invention that finally makes sense. Let's put it this way: if I was a teenager in '73, I probably would've been a Roxy Music fan. Come back to me in 6 months time to see if the conversion really is a success.
THE GRIFTERS - So Happy Together LP; One Sock Missing LP; Crappin' You Negative LP
Now here's a band no-one is talking about, which is a pity, since these three albums hold up as some of the finest recorded works of the early '90s. From 1992-'94 - which so happen to be the three years in which these LPs were released - I was ga-ga 'bout the Grifters, even going to extent of interviewing them for some rinky-dink fanzine I was doing at the time. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, I was often heard, in my quest for The Great Hyperbole, hailing them as Possibly The Greatest Rock Band On Earth, but then again, I said that about dozens of people, so I guess no-one paid any attention. As luck would have it, they toured here in '95 (or was it '6? Can't remember...) - in support of Jeff Buckley, of all people (the band were hanging w/ Buckley the day he drowned, or so legend has it) - and played a solo show at the Corner Hotel which I laid witness to, knocking my proverbials off in the meantime. They were fuckin' ACE. And, of course, I managed to corner a few members of the band after the show and drunkenly ear-bash them in regards to how fantastic they were. Very cool guys, and very tolerant, too.

Funny thing is, Memphis' Grifters were the classic case of a band who, just on the verge of a "breakthrough" with their signing to Sub Pop at the time (that'd be '95), then took a radical nosedive in quality and released a couple of stinkers that both commercially and critically bombed and sent the band packing. Still, there's these three out-of-print gems to contend with, and, having given them their 18-monthly spin on the turntable, I'm happy to report back with the good news: they're still sounding mighty fine.

So Happy Together was released in 1992 on the Chicago fly-by-night label, Sonic Noise, who also released a Tar Babies platter at the time, and is a murky, lo-fi pop masterpiece. Y' see, the best thing about the Grifters and these albums in question is that none of them sound alike. SHT approximates a weird hybrid of rocking, Mission of Burma/Wipers-style anthems, plodding, sludgy dirges and no-fi fuck-abouts, the hooks hitting hard and the more experimental pieces breaking up the record perfectly. Track three, "Tat", is one astonishing slab of juicy pop layered in slabs of distortion, and when the divebombing guitars silence and you hear that lonesome voice, it's impossible to resist. At the time I played this song to anyone who'd give me the time of day and the vote was always unanimous: it was, is and forever shall be THE SHIT.

One Sock Missing was released in '93 on Memphis' Shangri-La Records (apparently the uber-hip store for all Memphis-ites) and possibly improves on SHT's high standards. With a more rootsy, honky-tonk approach, they sharpened their tunesmithery to a fine point and delivered the goods in spades. Lumped at the time into the goddamn Lo-Fi Movement (remember that??) with the likes of Sebadoh, Guided By Voices, Pavement, Thinking Fellers Union, Royal Trux, etc. by press types (myself included, I'll admit), the Grifters, it must be said, shared elements with all of the above, though put their own stamp on every song they penned. To be honest, the thought of sitting down and listening to any Sebadoh, GBV or Pavement in the year 2004 makes me want to jump off the nearest bridge; the Grifters do not elicit such a reaction.

Crappin' You Negative, released in 1994 and again on Shangri-La, was probably the Grifters' last truly great moment. With some ultra-snazzy cover art and much punchier production, the band really hit a short-lived stride and knocked together an album with nary a dud in the bunch. The blues-damaged thumper, "Junkie Blood", with its twanging guitars and aching vocals is a song I'd like to take to the grave, and "Bronze Cast", released at the time as a single, is staggeringly good, a combination of slapped-together pop charm a la early Pavement with the swaggering, rustic beauty of Cats & Dogs-era Royal Trux. When it hits a new apex midway through and you hear that line "If I fall asleep don't photograph me" (yeah, well, whatever that means) you'll feel like you're levitating. The best of music has that effect on you.

When I said at the start that the Grifters were a band no-one in the year 2004 was talking about, I wasn't being a smart-arse. It's a fact and a pity. Another great band lost in the deletions lists. If you're lucky enough to have these albums I'd be willing to place a bet that you agree with me here. If you don't, and haven't yet heard 'em, then do the done thing and get on the case. 10 years have passed since their release and they still sound mighty ripe to me.