Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Ahem!... Been busy, you know... that time of year. Maybe I'll get back into this thing once life settles down in mid December. So many good things to talk about. There's the new Ennio Morricone 2CD entitled Crime and Dissonance compiled by the Sun City Girls' Alan Bishop, released on Ipecac, of all labels (whose head honcho, Mike Patton, will never overcome his audio disgraces committed w/ Faith No More and Mr. Bungle, but I get a feeling his heart is in the right places these days). I don't think this is actually out and about yet; I fluked a free copy by accident, but having spun it a good two-dozen times the last week, I'm happy to report this is well worth laying hard moolah down for. Haven't done the Morricone "thing" since the late '90s, though I think I'm about due for a revival, coz the bounty here is a near-Holy Grail for Morricone dorks. And count me in! Including a multitude of tracks from a plethora of unpronounceable Italian flicks from the '60s/'70s, this is the best non-Spaghetti Western mix of The Man's tunes compiled thus far. Ya get the kit, kaboodle and kitchen sink: funkified psychedelia, screeching strings, ooh's and aah's, experimental electronics, Jew's harp serenades and even a track from Gruppo Di Improvvisazione Consonanza (a kind of improv/electro-acoustic outfit Morricone was linked with). Fuckin' A! This is one of the best things you or I will hear all year.
Speaking of weird-ass comps, Jason over at Perfect Sound Forever has done it again. OHM: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music is a beautiful package - 3 CDs and a DVD w/ a swish booklet and plastic slipcase rounding it off (did I mention it was actually co-produced and compiled by Jason?). This was available a couple of years back as a 3CD pack but went out of print as the label, Ellipsis, shut up shop. Now it's back w/ a bone-arse DVD and I'll be gobbling it slowly for a good 6 months. I listened to a LOT of this kinda shit from approx. 1996-2001; you know, "avant-garde electronic music". Stockhausen, Cage, Riley, Reich, Ferarri, Schaeffer, Xenakis, you name it, I devoured it. I've been on a break ever since. This might just do the trick and get me back on the horse, though if you're a dilettante or newcomer, you couldn't ask for a better start.
The Raincoats... how did I ever let these ladies slip through my fingers? I recently won a copy of their Odyshape CD on ebay for a few pennies - that'll arrive sometime soon - though until it arrives I have their The Kitchen Tapes CD on ROIR to amuse myself with. This is a bit of an embarrassing confession, though I can probably thank Simon Reynolds for finally raising my brow to these lasses. Rip It Up and Start Again (see below) may possess a smorgasboard of faults I'm too lazy to go into detail with, though it did at least give me a checklist of Limey-rock previously ignored by moi which I've made it a mission to educate myself on. The Raincoats aren't really all that dissimilar to a lot of other UK post-punk, a combination of bloodless, anti-rock Britishness and earnest passion bound to light the fire of art students worldwide (kinda like they did, I guess), though their mixture of disparate influences not usually touched by their brethren makes them something to cherish. There's generic Slits-y dub, for sure, as well as your standard Miles/Ornette/Cherry swipes and faux-Africanisms which The Pop Group made a brief career of (not a bad thing, mind you), though it's that real sense of Englishness which appeals. Look, I'm new to the Raincoats, so bear with me, but listening to The Kitchen Tapes, the band doesn't sound a million miles removed from a Robert Wyatt/Steeleye Span/Henry Cow/Slapp Happy/Derek Bailey hybrid, a peculiar mix of the early '70s stuck in the early '80s. I guess we can all thank that Kurt guy for something now.
The Meat Puppets' Monsters LP was generally considered a turkey upon release and I know of many fans who hate it. Me, I've always loved the thing, and I can say that as a longterm fan who distinctly remembers buying it in an excited flush the day it arrived at Au-go-go (RIP) back in '89. Aaah.. memories. The beef? Well, I'll quote them, the dissers and nay-sayers: Monsters, first of all, sounds like a heavy metal album, and secondly, sounds like a sell-out. Huh? Compared to the clinical slickness of its predecessors, Mirage and Huevos (the former I've never dug), if anything, this shows the 'Pups returning to their grittier roots: clouds of muddy guitar distortion and songs which drop the funk in favour of "rock". Heavy metal? Sure, there's more than a few 'Sabbath (and even 'Zeppelin) riffs lurking in here, though you wouldn't mistake any of this for a Whitesnake platter (and if you did, you'd be a fucking idiot). I'd call Monsters an ace combo of psychedelic, heavy metal and country influences, and if that sounds perfectly dreadful, I'll simply direct you towards its two best songs, the last on both sides: side A's "The Void" (total early-'70s rifferama w/ phased-out vocals to match) and side B's "Like Being Alive", a droning ballad w/ intertwining acoustic/electric guitar parts not unlike their best songs on II. After much umming and aahing, I just (belatedly) bought myself the CD reissue on Rykodisc and am once again enjoying just what a great fucking album this is. Turkey? Not on your life!
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
EARTH - Hex; Or Printing In The Infernal Method CD (Southern Lord)
Friends of mine - big Earth fans at that - have informed me they hate this record, Earth's first studio album since 1996's awesome Pentastar disc. I'll loosely quote the mumblings of one associate: It's really cool that Earth have tried something different; it would've been even better if they did something good. Ouch! What's all the grumbling for? This is a fantastic record, one w/ faults, for sure, but certainly nothing to moan about.
Earth, you say? You know 'em, we all know 'em. By some sort of weird accident of history, or, to be more generous, through years of unrewarded, messianic, artistic visionary-like pursuit, a good fifteen or so years after their recorded debut, they're the godfathers of a whole genre which is so damn hot right now I dare not touch it: let's call it "avant-metal" (AM). AM is doing the rounds worldwide these days; even the pencilneck geeks at The Wire write about it, I'm told (I haven't really read an issue "properly" for a good 3 years, so don't ask me).
So, to capitalize on this whole fandangled fad taking The Kids by storm, what do Earth do? In their never-ending pursuit to grab defeat from the jaws from victory, they take a 180-degree turn and rip out a disc w/ nary a hint of "doom", but instead one which sounds like it probably should've been released ten-odd years ago. You know, the Good Old Days, when frothing-at-the-mouth u-ground hepcats were blowing dole cheques on things like Morricone reissues, Dirty 3 LPs, Neil Young's Dead Man soundtrack and all those "atmospheric", "post-rock" albums you haven't played (and in the meantime sold) since the mid/late '90s. If you're now expecting a big slagging, you're wrong.
Hex... is by no means a milestone album, no matter who's behind the wheels, but after a good dozen listens, I'm convinced: a turkey this is not. It's Earth. It's different. It's good. Aiming for some kind of sunswept, "American Gothic" feel (just check the booklet and the glorious black and white photos within for confirmation of that), the approach here can be frustratingly minimal and slow-going. The downtuned guitar of yore is missing, only to be replaced by a mighty Duane Eddy-like TWANG. Add to the mix some banjo and lap/pedal steel and you have a genuine Americana recording which'll have the longhairs and doom-sayers screaming in horror. The comparisons have already been thrown around (by me, too, of course): Dead Man and Morricone's Spaghetti Western soundtracks, so I thought I'd throw a curveball into the mix: anyone ever buy an album by the post-Savage Republic outfit, Scenic? A dozen years back, I did. I think I still own it, though I can't be bothered looking. From memory, it sounded like this. That grand, expansive, desert-scorched sound. Earth even throw in a bit of near-Allman Brothers-style "classic rock" grandeur in the mix (especially in "An Insect Concerning Teeth"), crescending guitars to the fore, but there's still one track hinting at that patented Earth sound of a decade back: track seven, "Raiford (The Felon Wind)". It may just keep the naysayers happy for its seven-minute duration. Based on a sub-'Sabbath riff, it's the only song present with any kind of, dare I say, "heaviosity", and it's also the best track on the album. Down-tuned yet not in the least bit "metallic" in any traditional sense (the guitar texture is all fuzz w/ no real "sharpness" in its tone), this is as good as anything Earth has ever done.
Only real complaint: did this seriously take 9 years to put together? I doubt it; Dylan Carlson probably spent at least 5 of those missing years in a drugged haze. But still, there could've been more. Hex... is a mere 46 minutes long. That's a great length for a rock 'n' roll disc, but Earth are not rock 'n' roll. The Grand Statement, which is what this should have been (in the meantime knocking their thousands of imitators on their collective ass), requires a double-LP length: 65 minutes or more. Back to the drawing board, but for now, this is good enough.
Sunday, October 30, 2005
I'm overwhelmed, truly overwhelmed. I'm drowning in a sea of CDs and LPs. I've acquired so much music lately - through silly buying binges, ebay, work freebies and stuff sent to me by kind readers - that I barely have the time to listen to them all, let alone write about them. I've amassed a smorgasboard of greats: Hasil Adkins; Ethiopiques (yeah, the whole damn series - all 20 of them - in one hit! I can get this stuff at the right price, don't ask for details. For starters, I'd recommend volume 14: Getatchew Mekurya, a veteran of the Ethiopian jazz scene who was apparently squawking his brass way back in the '50s. His recordings presented here are a godsend, a sublime mix of stumbling percussion, other-worldly organs and bleeting baritone, you could whack a Saturn sticker on this and people would swear it was the great Sonny Ra ca. Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy); Royal Trux; a massive Stax singles box which will take me a lifetime to digest; some killer Roky Erickson reissues on Rykodisc (Gremlins Have Pictures boasts the greatest version of "Heroin" ever, VU included); Woody Guthrie 4-CD box on Smithsonian Folkways; Meat Puppets reissues on (again) Rykodisc (I held off forever in purchasing these, since I've owned the LPs for 17-18 years, but finally bit the bullet with those bonus tracks dangling in front of me like a carrot on a stick); The Ex's singles collection on Touch & Go; Sun Ra's Space Is The Place DVD (one of the strangest damn films ever made; I don't know what is in fact weirder: the film itself or the fact that someone actually funded and made it); the Killer's Kiss CD (thanks for that, by the way; righteous r 'n' r caught somewhere between the Heartbreakers and Crime and the hooks to boot. I'm sure someone else has said this before, but In The Red really oughta sign these guys); Don Cherry; Cabaret Voltaire; Sunn O))) (maybe I'll write more on this at a later date. It deserves it. I think I said something like this w/ the last disc of theirs: it'd be so easy for them to simply put a guitar in front of an amp, record the feedback and leave the room for an hour to smoke a bowl, come back, press "stop" and release the recording to an adoring fanbase. That is not what they do. Black One is an immensely layered, textured and well-thought-out piece of work, and, in my opinion, the best thing they've ever done. When it comes to Top 10 time later in the year, it's sure to be there); David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name CD (yeah, that David Crosby, the butt of all your rock 'n' roll jokes, that pathetic, washed-up, has-been cokehead whose claim to fame resides somewhere between all the '60s starlets he laid and, well, that fact that he was there, man. Me, I don't mind the guy: he was in the Byrds, one of the great bands of the '60s (or any time) and was also responsible for writing (or co-writing) some of their finest tunes, and this solo album from 1971 is a scorcher, a perfect post-hippie downer disc for those lonely nights when you can't be bothered reaching for your John Martyn or Skip Spence platters. Anyone willing to pull their head out of their ass will enjoy If I Could Only Remember My Name for what it is)...
Phew... that above paragraph looks impenetrable... best break this up. Electric Wizard played here on the weekend. I saw them. They were pretty OK, though it's hard for me to judge them w/out putting them in the context of the night. I'll put it this way: when seeing a band from overseas, it truly is not necessary to make it a "night of nights" by having roughly 10 support bands on the bill, especially when a good 80% of those bands sound exactly alike or, more to the point, like bands who appear to be pulling a page out of the headliner's songbook. If the 'Wizard are going to "doom me out" like no other, then I don't need to sit through 3 other bands (I got there late, though 3 was enough) with the same Xeroxed 'Sabbath riffs deafening me for half the night before the headliner hits the stage. What about some variety? A jazz band, mime troupe, tortured singer-songwriter, a goddamn juggling act! By the time EW hit the stage, I was over it, and that's not their fault; it's the old saying: repetition breeds contempt.
I've just finished reading Simon Reynolds' new book, the monstrous 400+ page grand epic, Rip It Up and Start Again, which is a history of post-punk, mainly UK-based, ca. 1978-'84. The verdict? You are not likely to learn much of anything new here; if you know the topic like I do, then everything's already been covered elsewhere, and Reynolds makes the deadly mistake of trying to cover waaay too much ground, the end result being a shallow skimming over of too many bands and musicians, but - and that's a big BUT - I enjoyed the book immensely, flicking through it like a man possessed. It has its natural faults, like the ones mentioned, plus the woeful lack of coverage of the US scene (he does cover No Wave, Residents, Flipper and Mission of Burma and even has a chapter on SST [yes, I did skip straight to it upon purchase]), though it beggars belief as to why he never even mentions the likes of the Wipers or Half Japanese, two pretty crucial bands in the post-punk canon if ya ask me (which you didn't, so I'm telling you).
Reynolds knows his shit and possesses the good sense to be a longtime pal of Joe Carducci (he's not yer typical wet-blanket Limey music journo, in other words), though his writing tends to lack any kind of moral authority, the kind which makes the likes of Carducci and Bangs such a riveting read. Fact is, he doesn't appear to pass judgment on just about anyone in his book. The likes of Green Gartside from (the totally over-rated) Scritti Politti gets away with murder; the man is an absolute prat of the nth degree and should've been crucified for his wrongdoings and hypocrisy, but in the hands of Reynolds gets off scot free. I'm also not too sure that he should've delved into the worlds of ABC, Thompson Twins, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Duran Duran et al for the last few, gruelling chapters either. Cutting it off when "post-punk" was actually referring to something a little more, shall we say, "cutting edge" would've left a less sour taste in my mouth (and as a pre-punker 12-year-old bona fide New Romantic, I LOVED all that horseshit, but I don't need to be reminded of it). But anyway... it's out, it's about, you'll probably pick it up no matter what I say. And don't forget that priceless check-list of pre-punk faves from the Meat Puppets' Cris Kirkwood: "tasty fuckin' lick-meisters" such as Gong, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Al DiMeola, Gentle Giant and ECM guitarists John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner!
Thursday, October 06, 2005
A TOP THREE JOTTED OUT IN RECORD TIME (for me)...
1) V/A - No New York LP
I wrote a little while back - it mighta been on Tim Ellison's Music Chamber blog - that I thought No Wave, in general, to be a whole lotta hot air over nothing. A movement which was dead on arrival, with all the musical legacy of a fanzine flexi-disc. Of course, I could've been describing myself. This gem is finally back in the public eye and ear... via Russia. Yep, Russia. It's on the Lilith label (who apparently also do a Lynyrd Synyrd LP!), and as for how legit it truly is (despite the credits saying it's licensed from Universal Music/Russia), I guess that's open to debate. For the record, it's out on LP/CD, with the liner notes in... you guessed it: Russian... but it's nice to FINALLY OWN THE THING. My brother bought a copy of this about 11 or 12 years back a flea market down here for a mere $5 or so and has rubbed my face in that conquest ever since. Hey, if it had been readily available on CD, I wouldn't've given a fuck. But it wasn't. I had to make do w/ borrowing his LP every 6 months, flogging it to death, then handing it back, tail between legs. So, to make a short story short, how is it? Fucking pure aceness in a basket, if one must be so bold. The Teenage Jesus and the Jerks trax are probably the most disposable of the lot here, though the Sonic Youth-via-Roxy Music vibe of Mars is unbeatable, the art/jazz/punk/fuck/kill (sorry, went into Weasel Walter mode there for a sec) of DNA sounds a whole lot better than I remember it being (haven't heard this in 2 or 3 years) and, after flogging a lot of post-No New York James Chance in recent years, ít's amazing how flat-out noisy the guy was prior to his detour into a vaguely straighter jazz/funk/punk realm. A lot of hoo-ha has surrounded this disc for eons, and the hoo-ha holds up. I'm usually pretty allergic to downtown NYC douchebags who are quite obviously too fucking cool for the English language to even comprehend - and No New York is full of those types - but this is a great, timeless snapshot of a scene which was over in the blink of an eye, but probably a drug-filled blast whilst it lasted. Produced by Brian Eno, of course. He went from this to The Unforgettable Fire in 5 or 6 years. A frightening statistic.
LED ZEPPELIN - Physical Graffiti 2CD
No fuckin' shit. You can skip this part if it's going to offend you. I'm beating this sucker into the ground of late. If you're reading this - well, of course you are - you likely think I've lost my mind. Led Zep? Isn't that music for guitar-tech cheesedicks and MOJO readers? Probably, but they're none of my concern. Fact is, I never even heard a Led Zep song properly (like, all the way through) until I was 30. Prior to that, fuggedaboudit. Who the fuck could care about such dinosaurs when there's a world of classic punk rock, noise, space-psych, free jazz, garage, etc., etc., etc., to explore? Not me... and, of course, that's why I waited 'til I was 30. 's funny, Black Sabbath have a rep in "the underground" as a righteous combo of Satan and heavy rifferama, yet the average noise/garage clod still poo-poos 'Zep as a quartet of indulgent, A-level assholes who wrote the template for why punk was such a good idea. Wrong!
At the risk of turning into a self-parody (or worse, a parody of someone else), I'll make these points in defence of Led Zeppelin:
1) The first 6 albums - that's 1, 2, 3, 4, House Of The Holy and Physical Graffiti are exceptional and essential. Really, you need them.
2) Other than a few, token, and occasionally dodgy "blues" tracks, Led Zep were an uncharacteristically economic band who knew when to rein in the bullshit. Indulgent guitar-wank? No more than Hendrix, and less "wank" than the best Can discs (and I say that as a fan of all of the above).
3) Nothing wrong with heavy metal, of course (of the pre-punk variety, not the spandex/poodle/LA nonsense), though you'd be a fool for saying the 'Zep were simply a HM act. Me? I'd say they were a blues-influenced hard rock band with a heavy dose of British folk and World influences.
4) Robert Plant's vocals were never much chop (and his lyrics just about the worst in the history of rock), though he remains one of the few '60s/'70s survivors who isn't a completely embarrassing shadow of his former self. Plus, he remains a fanatical collector and has pretty fine taste in music, too: Skip Spence, Roky Erickson, Seeds, Tim Buckley, Fairports, Husker Du, Black Flag(!), etc. Steve Albini - you know him - was absolutely shocked to find, when producing a Page/Plant CD a few years back, that Plant had a deep and appreciative knowledge of '80s American underground rock. Huh... betcha couldn't say the same for Sir Mick Jagger.
5) Other than Plant's vocals, which can grate (and occasionally soothe), the band was a rare combination of the three elements in a band - the drums/bass/guitar - gelling into a perfect whole with almost scientific precision. You know, like Can or the Minutemen. I don't read music-instrument magazines, nor do I listen to jazz fusion. So now you know where I'm coming from. When the musicians are hot and work it to their advantage, who the fuck am I (or you!) to hate 'em for it? 'Zep nailed the art of The Hard Rock Riff, the perfect syncopation of thunderous drums, funkified bass and downstroke guitar, to almost comedic levels. The fact that they've subsequently influenced a few million clueless chowderheads to form bands and dilute this beauty to utter worthlessness is something I won't blame them for.
That brings me to Physical Graffiti, their mid-'70s stoner-rock meisterwerk, a double album which not only features some of their finest songs but, unlike their other discs, not a real dud in the pack. Skip to side 3 (that's disc 2 in CD-speak) and maybe even the greatest non-believer won't hate me. You'll hear "In The Light" (total mid '70s bong-hit headband-&-skateboard dude-rock), probably my fave LZ song of them all, 10 minutes of gloriously muddy and constipated riffing complemented by Plant's restrained and calming vocals. The band kinda blew their artistic wad w/ this effort (the album, not the song)and it was all downhill from here, but those first 6 'Zep platters, man... smokin'! You can stop laughing now. Led fuggin' Zep, man, they're pretty OK by me, and if you think not, then please, throw in your two cents and let's fight like men.
THE NECKS - Aether / Drive By CDs
I was a big fan of this much-lauded trio back in the '90s, though have kinda let them slip from my consciousness in recent years, and, having been given these recently by a friend and spinning the life out of them, more's the pity! Who'da thought: The Necks sound better than ever. The Necks are a fairly unique outing for all involved: a minimalist piano/keyboards, drums and bass unit who encompass all kinds of musical ideas and styles from the likes of Can, Eno, Terry Riley and '70s Miles Davis, yet not in the kind of trite manner you'd expect your average indie collective of cardigan enthusiasts to engage in. Fact is, The Necks don't really sound like anyone else. And what a weird pedigree... touring keyboardist for Midnight Oil back in the '90s, Chris Abrahams... one-time touring drummer for Wa Wa Nee, internationally renowned free jazz/noise percussionist extraordinaire, Tony Buck... That WWN bit is true, too. If you're from o/s, just picture an even more atrocious Blancmange/Duran Duran hybrid and you're getting close. They were big Down Under for approximately 2 minutes in the mid '8os and thankfully called it a day before public outcry.
Ugh... I'm getting tired... Drive By, from 2003, is the pick of the litter. One 60+ minute track of scuffling drums, bare-boned bass lines and swirling keyboards drifiting in and out. The Necks stick to a pretty steady beat; 10 minutes can go by and not much changes, but they're a rewarding band to really sit down to, not for quick soundbytes. Songs slowly but steadily evolve and take shape, and by the 40-minute mark, you know you're listening to something really special. Patience is expected, but even the journey there is pretty fun. Whack Drive By on after a heavy schedule of Tago Mago and it'll feel just right.
Aether, from 2001, remains their most minimalist recording in their whole catalogue. No real steady beat to speak of, just shimmering washes of cymbals, looming bass and Terry Rileyesque keyboards floating throughout. If you figure this is too lightweight for your muscle-bound musical aesthetics then I suggest you work it off at the local gym. Aether is a record of intense beauty and if it had been made by a bunch of Krauts in the early '70s with a Brain or Ohr label slapped on its sleeve, you'd probably be bidding for it on ebay at this very moment. Haven't seen these guys live since '98 or so, and I'm kicking myself for not having checked out their gigs here last month. There's always next time...
There's too much music swimming 'round my brain these days. I'm happy to report I've had to pay for very little of it. Some other great things: Washington Phillips' Key To The Kingdom CD on Yazoo ('20s/'30s gospel-blues from this unique, obscured singer who accompanied his Godboy rants with nothing but zither. Achingly beautiful stuff); the Scientists' Blood Red River CD on Sympathy (hadn't heard much of this in many, many years... got off to an exceedingly shakey start, but has grown on me immensely); V/A - Rolas de Aztlan: Songs of the Chicano Movement CD on Smithsonian Folkways (a-fucking-mazing comp of Chicano music from the '60s-'90s. Solo, bands, ballads, angry protests, school choirs and my fave of them all, "Vietnam Veterano" by Al Reyes, 8+ minutes of Buckleyesque scorn and groan w/ a hefty dose of musique concret a la helicopters and bombs. You must hear it).
Sunday, September 18, 2005
MARY LOU WILLIAMS - Mary Lou's Mass; Black Christ of the Andes CDs (Smithsonian Folkways)
Just when you think the well has run dry, you accidentally stumble across an artist you've never even heard of before, and quietly, steadily but surely become obsessed with their work. For myself, lately, that figure has been the jazz pianist known as Mary Lou Williams. Her recorded debut stretches all the way back to the year 1930, she played or wrote with everyone from Duke Ellington to Cecil Taylor (even recording a disastrous album with the latter in 1977, a messy, completely unrehearsed live set which I must hear... anyone land me a copy?), spent almost 20 years in the semi-wilderness whilst she dedicated nearly all her time to working with the Catholic church, and then passed away in 1981. Her style, which encompassed everything from gospel to modal to hard-bop to borderline avant-garde, reads like a history of 20th century jazz. Her recordings for the Folkways label are an incredible grab-bag of all of the above, a truly eccentric mix of funkified gospel, Monk-ish piano trio opuses, bluesy dirges and occasional flurries of cluttered, abstract solos which clash glaringly with the bulk of her work, but paint a complete picture of a really unique artist.
Mary Lou's Mass, from 1974, is (obviously) the most outright religious offering and more of a gospel disc than anything resembling "jazz". I have no beef with God-botherers of any stripe (though I remain an unconvinced non-believer), so the religious angle is something which doesn't bother me at all, though the occasional cheeseball choral singing brings in the cringe factor at times. Nevertheless, this is simply such a strange and wonderful mix of funky rhythms, stomping hymns and rollicking piano strides that, if you're going to go on a MLW binge, you might as well throw it in the pile.
The pick of the litter is her Black Christ of the Andes opus from 1964. Dig those song titles: "Anima Christi", "Dirge Blues", "A Fungus A Mungus". The opening track, "St. Martin de Porres", sits somewhere between a barbershop quartet, doo-wop and the kind of ridiculous vocal histrionics you'd expect from a Magma disc, before things settle down to a series of quieter piano pieces, only to be broken up by a couple of soulful R & B numbers. I'm way past the stage now where my diet of "jazz" listening has to equal nothing more than a giant headache. Yes, I willingly own and love a rather large collection of albums by the likes of Evan Parker, Peter Brotzmann, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor and others like them. Their music is a room-clearing world of joy I shall ever bask in, but there comes a time when even noise idiots like myself come around to enjoying jazz of the non-screech variety. That day, at least for me, hit home roughly five years back after the purchase of a Thelonious Monk box set, and I've been making a steady headway ever since (recently even exploring the hinterlands of goddamn ragtime! Ghostworld, here we come!). The point? MLW's reputation as a vaguely "avant garde" jazz artist is right on the money, though her music is, for the most part, not likely to upset your parents to any great extent. "A Fungus..." is the strangest thing here, a solo piano piece which aimlessly clunks around the keys to jarring effect (that's a good thing, by the way), though for me, what makes the music of MLW work so beautifully is her completely unconscious mix of styles. MLW's music must be listened to as a whole, and as a concept, as opposed to the typical track-by-track basis. Or, to make a short story short: her music is conceptual, or at least her albums on Folkways are, and these two platters, as well as her Zoning and Zodiac Suite LPs, are well worth investigating.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Back from the dead... a few good things I've managed to land my hands on of late. Perhaps I should tell you about them.
I owned Scrabbling At the Lock and And The Weathermen Shrug Their Shoulders, both by The Ex and Tom Cora, back in the early '90s when they first came out. At the time, The Ex were near the top of the pile for moi. The '90s dragged on, they slipped down the ladder of priorities and next thing you knew I traded the fucking things in. That was a mistake. I re-bought these again a little while back and, nostalgia trips aside, they hold up as some of the finer, if not finest, recordings of the day. I wrote a spiel on The Ex earlier in the year after giving the band a spin for the first time in, well, what must've been almost a decade, and my reaction was decidedly non-plussed. Mr. John Righter set me straight pronto, and I've made it my mission ever since to wrap my ears around everything of theirs I can find. That ain't so easy, since much of it is near impossible to find (barring their recent albums on Touch & Go), but the stuff I've aquired has set the record straight: The Ex are, were, and likely will be for some time, a band to be reckoned with. The discs w/ Cora - that's the NY avant-garde cello player, by the way (y' know... part of the "downtown" set) - are some of their more sparse recordings, and thus their strongest. The songs have room to breathe, the melodies come to the fore, the exotic percussion rattles and chimes and the political polemic is kept to a minimum. The Ex are their own genre now. There's elements of The Fall and Sonic Youth in their music, if you wanna call the obvious shots, but in this case, The Ex stole some from the former and have been often shamelessly ripped off by the latter. Scrabbling At The Lock, And The Weathermen Shrug Their Shoulders: 5/5 for each, they'd make a believer out of the greatest of cynic, myself included.
We Jam Econo, the film documenting the story of The Greatest Band There Ever Was, the Minutemen, has been doing the rounds in the film festival circuits of Europe and the US, and I've been lucky enough to land myself a copy of it on DVD, c/o the producer, Keith Schieron (don't ask me how... long story, but thanks, Keith). Other folks have given this the praise it deserves; I'll add little to the argument. Suffice to say, I didn't budge from the couch for 90 minutes, and my wife has become so fucking sick of me playing the thing she noted the other night - after another viewing - that she feels like she's now stuck in Minutemenland. The makers of this fine pic should take that as a grand compliment: it brings you right into their world. Amongst the myriad footage of the group - and I had no idea they were ever documented this much in their lifetime (why didn't more people bring video cameras along to 'Flag gigs?!) - you also get every underground celeb you can name joining the chorus of approval and waving the flag for the band. It's a hoot seeing the talking heads of folks I've only imagined for too long: Byron Coley (in a room cluttered w/ books; Thurston is buried in a sea of vinyl... you get the picture), Richard Meltzer (who kinda sounds like he just took some heavy sedatives, or perhaps that's just the way he talks), some Slovenly folks, some Saccharine Trust folks, Dez Cadena, Joe Carducci, etc. There's also a heavy serving from the likes of Hank Rollins and Ian MacKaye, not to mention Jello Biafra (never knew he was a fan) and even Flea, for fuck's sake, though no-one trips up with a stupid comment or idiotic statement of enthusiasm (including Flea, who comes across well, like his music or not). I was surprised by the lack of a Mould or Kirkwood in the picture, though the real DVD, when it comes out, promises a wealth of extra footage, so maybe there'll be more to chew on there. One ommision: no mention of the gruelling tours they embarked on, surely a central crux of the legendary work ethic of all the SST bands of the day. Never mind, watching Boon hop around on stage like a 150kg jumping bean to "Corona" is enough to keep me happy for months on end. Worth all the hype and then some.
Don Cherry is a name which has floated around my head like a myth for a good dozen years. Ornette Coleman sidekick, collaborator with Coltrane, maker of some fine discs in the late '60s/early '70s... I filed it away until mid 2005. Now the can of worms is open. It took my exposure to the incredible trio of discs he recorded from 1978-'81 on the ECM label under the trio named Codona to spark the flame of purchases. Codona? That's Cherry, Colin Walcott and Nana Vasconcelos. With a wealth of instruments from every corner of the globe, their three platters - that's 1, 2 and 3 - are a glorious blend of exotic, Fourth World sounds (think prime-era Jon Hassell, Eno's On Land and Pharoah Sanders' early '70s Impulse offerings) and Cherry's tempered, muted trumpet howls bringing the focus back to earth. It's not jazz, it ain't "world music", and I promise not to use the term "Fourth World" ever again, if I can help it. If, like me, your musical pallate likes to indulge in Indian ragas, gamelan, sufi chants and African tribal rhythms, and you're not scared for those sounds to mix it with "jazz", of the loosest form, then the three Codona albums will start a party in your neck of the woods. Scorching.
But really, maybe you should start with Cherry's Orient double LP from 1971, which sees him teaming up w/ Euro avant-jazz stalwart percussionist Han Bennink (he's done time w/ The Ex, too, by the way) and indulging in a form of "exotic" "jazz" of a far more free-form nature. With his mind set on bringing the worlds of traditional Oriental music and improvised jazz together, you'd be forgiven for thinking Cherry's records from this period are a "bit of everything for everyone" fusionoid mess. That is, of course, until you hear them. With a bevy of worldly instruments on hand and a penchant for eccentric vocalese and chants, Cherry created a bong-hit late-night masterpiece of stoned, barely together trumpet blowouts, low-register throat drones and percussion-based, near Amon Duul-like jams. You'll hit the fucking roof! One of my fave discoveries of 2005.
If you wanna go even further out, try his Blue Lake double LP from the same period, a glorious, sprawling mess which sounds like the template for the last 15 years of Sun City Girls recordings (I ain't drawing a long bow there; play this side to side and check the comparisons), and if you wish to go for a tighter, slicker, but no less monumentous sound, dig your heels into 1975's Brown Rice: the best Can or Miles Davis disc not made by either artist. There's a wealth of Cherry discs from the same period hailed by folks I can trust which are said to equal or better the above-mentioned albums, and before I leave this mortal coil, I will have heard them. Every goddamn one of them!
I've just finished reading Bret Easton Ellis' latest book, Lunar Park. You think I'm an asshole for even mentioning the guy? That's an understandable response. Ellis is, after all, a flaming asshole of the nth degree. However, much to his credit, he's only too willling to describe, in glorious detail, what a complete and total a-hole he is. Given that, I can't recommend Lunar Park highly enough. My exposure to Ellis has been minimal. I, like you and all your friends, read American Psycho when it came out. It left no great impression except one of nausea and a sense of relief that the '80s were finally buried. Skip to 2005 and Ellis has penned a book which is one fucking weird blend of autobiography (though I suspect much of this is in fact complete fiction), paranoid family drama (as Ellis attempts to settle down, live a normal life and be a father to his kids... in between banging his students and snorting half of Peru up his nose) and supernatural horror novel. Things start getting real strange halfway through, and when the "supernatural" element comes in, you may be wondering where the hell Ellis is taking the storyline, but as things get stranger, and you realise that Ellis is dragging you into a world of horseshit as a grand metaphor or simply to fuck with your head, the ghosts and mythical creatures sit far more comfortably in your mind. As you can tell by the above paragraph, I am certainly no literary critic, but like Montgomery Burns once said, "I know what I hate, and I don't hate this". I did not hate Lunar Park. I read it with an enthusiasm I usually reserve only for punk-rock history books, and since it's a contemporary piece of fiction, which is something I just about never read, I couldn't think of a higher compliment. Bret Easton Ellis: an A-grade asshole with a mountain of talent I will no longer deny.
I will get off my ass and contribute to this non-entity known as a blog more often. Í'm making that as a promise to myself, if no-one else. When I get a minute, I'll be putting finger to keyboard on such topics as Washington Phillips, the spate of Roky Erickson reissues on Rykodisc, Mary Lou Williams, Led Zeppelin(!!) and the brand, spanking new issue of Ugly Things. Really.
Sunday, August 21, 2005
Hmmm... this barely-existent blog is beginning to read more like an obituary column than a musical "diary" of sorts these days. Anyway, more bad news from Texas: Randy "Biscuit" Turner, singer of the Big Boys and one of the most electrifying, charismatic and right-on-the-fucking-money frontmen of the original HC era, passed away just this past Thursday. You can read about it here. You can also read myself prattling on about the greatness of the Big Boys both here and here. One of the good guys. R.I.P.
Monday, August 01, 2005
OK, the sad news is out of the way, so onto a few lightning-paced mini-reviews...
WIRE - Chairs Missing/154 CDs (EMI)
What brought on the sudden Wire fetish? Dunno, but it hit me like a bullet. I've heard these discs over at friends' places for years, though it's taken me until now to bother investing in them. The real winner is CM, their sophmore effort from 1978. Like a perfect combination of the more punkish material on Pink Flag, and a heavily Eno-damaged sound (ca. Here Come The Warm Jets) rolled into one, art-student wank-rock doesn't get much better than this (barring those 'Ubu records from the same period). I once read that Britpop nancy-boys Blur claimed Wire as a central influence on their music. I laughed. Not anymore. Is it just me, or does "I Am The Fly" sound remarkably like that "Girls Who Want Boys" (or whatever that song was called) track Blur hit it big with in the mid '90s? Un-fucking-canny.
My pal Robin just posted below re: 154... he's an argumentative man, so I'm not sure how to judge his take on this platter. Devil's advocate again? 154 is nowhere near as good as CM, though I'd still rate it as an essential purchase if one is to get a grasp on where Wire were heading with their sound. It's a touch too New Wave-damaged in parts for my pallate, veering awfully close to shonky Bryan Ferry territory in parts, though just when things sound like they're getting a touch too mincy, the band dirties the waters again with a bit of grime and extended excursions into non-lyrical drones. Have I mentioned the fact that I saw them play last year when they toured here and were in fact one of the top 5 best live bands I've ever seen? Well, I've done it now.
SUNNO))) - The Grimmrobe Demos CD (Southern Lord)
This is actually a reissue of an early, out-of-print album, but let's ponder this: SunnO))) could release a CD a month, sully their name in a year with a glut of drivel and destroy their illustrious career in no time, but they're smarter than that. How would that be possible? I can only assume because they make this drone/doom schtick looks so damn easy. Maybe it isn't... Really, couldn't the lads just line their instruments up in front of a few Marshalls, record the feedback, go out the back to smoke a bowl, re-enter the studio in 45 minutes, press stop on the recorder and herald it as another masterpiece to unleash on their slavish fanbase? They could, but thankfully they don't. The proof is in the pudding: they haven't released a turkey yet. There ain't much going on here: just a handful of songs with the trademark bong-rattling doom riffs interspersed throughout. Every five minutes or so the riff even changes a beat or two. Sounds boring, doesn't it? It ain't. On a particularly hungover day, this shit can clear a head like nothing else on earth.
Picture this: SunnO)))'s Greg Anderson shooting basketball hoops with Snoop Doggy Dogg. Sound crazy? It happened recently in Europe when they were both playing a big festival bill together. Crazy fuckin' world.
PHILIP JECK - Stoke; 7; Surf CDs (all Touch)
That's three CDs all in a row from Brit sound manipulator, Jeck. A good strike rate of quality, too, coz I've been spinning these suckas like a motherfucker the last month. The name may seem familiar to you; I've seen it littered throughout issues of The Wire mag the last decade, thus I'd never - until a month ago - given the guy a minute of my time. That was my loss; don't let it be yours. A "turntablist" musician, I guess it was that very description of his music which sent me into a coma every time his name was mentioned. Another goddamn limey cut-up artist for the New Wave of Electronica? Big fuggin' deal on a popsicle stick. How wrong I was. Jeck uses turntables, old records and assorted other sources to create a genuinely organic sound which resembles the best of Eno's ambient discs of the '70s, yet has enough tricks of his own to throw it into a more contemporary post-everything perspective. Not a dud note is hit; little subtleties are placed at just the right moments: notes, drones, analog samples. I thought I was over this kinda stuff by '99, but my interest has just been piqued once again. Nothing is gained from having your head in the sand, so like the great composer said (was it Charles Ives?): Use your goddamn ears like a man!
ENDNOTE: Not to make a fuss about it, but since some people asked, I will end with some good news: against all probable hope, the seemingly impossible happened last week... PayPal refunded the money - US$1400 - stolen out of my PayPal account about a month ago. Can you believe it? I barely can. I guess a persistent letter campaign can still count for something these days.
VALE DIXON COULBOURN!
I was deeply saddened to hear today that my good buddy Dixon Edge Coulbourn from Austin, Texas, died on the weekend due to an unspecified (at this point in time) swimming accident. Dixon was one of the good guys. Maybe you've never heard of him, though he'll always be remembered by me for two things...
The first is the amazing web site he maintained for nearly a decade. Split into various offshoots, his site is a one-stop shop for any information you may require on such essential topics as The Pop Group (the best site dedicated to them anywhere on the web) and the early '80s punk rock scene in Austin (ditto). My praise is irrelevant. I can only assume you'll check it out and thus agree wholeheartedly.
More importantly, what I'll always remember about the guy is the week I spent with him and his partner at the time, Jenni, in mid 1999. The overwhelming heat and massive consumption of booze makes my memory hazy, though that week still stays in my mind as an awesome blur of sweltering mid-summer Texan humidity, seeing ST37, Don Walser and Daniel Johnston play live at various venues around the city, watching Nicholas Roeg's Walkabout (Dixon's all-time fave flick), scouring flea markets, being amazed by Dixon's remarkable capacity to write cheques for absolutely everything he bought (whether it was dinner or a newspaper), searching for Stacy Sutherland (13th Floor Elevators)'s grave in the middle of nowhere, visiting Jenni's family in the hills (and before you feel tempted to call me a lardass, I'll let you know I've lost 35 kg since that photo was taken...), checking out the sites where Dazed And Confused was filmed and... a whole lot more.
Dixon wrote to me just last month, excited by the fact that an old photo of his was to be on the front cover of an upcoming book detailing the history of Austin punk. A decade older than myself (that makes him 43), his death is a massive shock and hits me as a stark reminder that you just never know when your number's going to come up. Maybe this isn't the forum for this kind of talk, though it needs to be said. The work he did in his life, and his warm and giving personality, need to be paid tribute to somehow. He'll be missed.
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
In the meantime, you should check out these people. Between the lot of 'em, you've got all bases covered anyway...
Letters Have No Arms
What We Do Is Secret
Sex Kittens Compare Scratches
When you're finished with them, read Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (the Please Kill Me of '60s/'70s American cinema; the mind boggles at the debauchery and egos), Our Band Could Be Your Life and England's Dreaming; watch The Shield (flip you, too, man! Am I the only one who absolutely relishes watching this show every Wednesday night? It's just about the best cop show I've ever seen: nasty, violent and completely non-judgemental of its characters. Every cop in the station is a crook, and for some reason you actually want to see them get away with it), Sideways (best flick of the year) and Shaun Of The Dead (best flick of the last 5 years) and listen to every Enslaved disc, Barre Phillips' Mountainscapes, every Food CD, Krakatau, Back From The Grave volumes 1-4 (give 'em time, you'll be converted), Wire's Chairs Missing (c'mon, this leaves Pink Flag for dead!), Essendon Airport's Sonic Investigations (of the trivial) CD (terrific compilation of this '70s/'80s Melbourne combo's early works on Chapter), Rudimentary Peni's Cacophony (featured in this month's MOJO as a "musical epiphany" for one of the douchebags from Mars Volta. Go figure that one out), some SunnO))) and chill the fuck out.
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Are the rumours true? Are the Sex Pistols really playing at Live 8, the totally unnecessary sequel to Live Aid? If so, it's time to pack the suitcases and move to Mars.
There's a new magazine starting up Down Under very soon, tentatively titled Secret... or is that What We Do Is Secret? I'm pretty sure it's the former. I mean, pfft, Germs references in magazine or record-label titles, that is so 2001. The young gents behind this potentially commericially suicidal venture will be making it a free mag, printing up 5,000 copies for the debut then upping it to 10,000 thereafter, distributing it nationally, scouring their money from lots of ads and, in their own words, hoping to make an intelligent alternative to Vice magazine and the woeful excuses for journalism which litter the free weeklies nationwide (and don't get me started on them). Sounds like an honourable pursuit to me, so I've thrown in my two cents with a Gary Floyd interview rounded up by a Dicks/Big Boys piece (which will probably just plunder the half-dozen or more articles I've written on those bands in the last 10 years), and my pal Richard is diving into the deep end by conducting an interview with the Saints' Chris Bailey (which I was originally offered, though my fear of Bailey's legendary crankiness had me handballing it to Rich, who was only too happy to take it on). Secret needs you. If you wanna help, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Due to my work situation changing, I now have unlimited daily access to the discographies of such labels as Document, Yazoo, Shanachie, Folkways, Proper, Ocora, Hat Hut, Touch, Trikont and, yes, ECM. I'm going nuts. In between diving headfirst into doo-wop box sets (really... when it's good, it's good), Russian medieval chants, North African trance music, (almost) the entire recorded works of Augustus Pablo and every Kentucky fiddle music and Roscoe Holcomb CD I can lay my hands on, there's always a pleasant surprise thrown one's way. This has been mine the last week...
BARRE PHILLIPS - Mountainscapes CD (ECM, 1976)
Who'da thunk this'd blow my head off? ECM, let it be known, is actually a label I have tremendous respect for. However, out of its massive discography there is, if truth be told, very little I would rate as being "my bag", such items being that spectacular Circle 2-LP set from the '70s, some early Terje Rypdal, Krakatau (astonishing early-'90s guitar-led outfit helmed by Raoul Bjorkenheim, Norway's answer to Sonny Sharrock/Rudolph Grey), Art Ensemble, a few Evan Parker and Don Cherry CDs, the odd Arvo Part disc and a few other things I can't recall right now, but this gem has thrown me for a tailspin.
Barre Phillips is a veteran bass player in the European scene; he's done the stretch from fairly straight jazz to Brotzmann ensembles right through to a Keiji Haino duet CD released years back on PSF (or was it Incus?). Why did I put this on? Why not? It was sitting there, it's from '76 when ECM still had its hand dipped firmly in the avant-jazz scene, and my ears had a spare 45 minutes to kill. With a typical '70s cast including the likes of John Surman and John Abercrombie on sax and guitar, respectively, and a Mr. Dieter Fiechtner on synthesizer, there's nary a hint of pleasant Northern European chamber jazz in sight. Track one (all tracks - 8 of them - are simply numbers) blasts straight for the orbit, screeching horns, outer-space keyboards and Phillips scraping and scratching away on his bass strings. Throughout the next 7 numbers the music jumps in a dozen different directions, from abstract soundwaves to rollicking, skittering guitar skronk to almost Gong/Hawkwind/Krautrock-like cosmic-jazz, and every time I hear it - and I'm listening to it right now - it reminds me of those killers discs you accidentally stumble across every once in a while, albums which make you want to ring up a friend and tell about your discovery. Man, I though I was over that kinda shit years ago, but I found myself doing exactly that with Mountainscapes just this week.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
And then there's fucking PayPal. Fuck them in the ear and fuck them hard. I finally got ADSL broadband for the computer last week, and within 12 hours of it being set up, with myself being too stupid/ignorant to realise that one MUST get a "firewall" protector for their system if they have it, a couple of dickheaded hackers made their way into my PayPal account and stole all USD$1,400.00 I had sitting in there. Will I ever get it back? Judging by PayPal's nothing-but-automated responses thus far, in which they claim they're "looking into it", I'd say my chances are slim. I should probably be mad at myself - hell, I am - though I can't help but feel that a company as big as PayPal should have the sense, smarts and financial clout to be able to afford themselves a state-of-the-art security system which doesn't allow slimy shit like that to happen. I gotta ask the question: has it happened to anyone else you know?
OK, to make matters worse, my car broke down during the week - again - so I paid a small fortune to get it fixed, promised myself I'd put it on the market this weekend, left it out the front of a friend's place last night whilst attending a friendly BBQ, only to return to it later on and discover it the victim of a hit-and-run. Some motherfuck-on-a-stick smashed into the side, to the point where I can't even open the driver door properly anymore, and drove off.
I FUCKING GIVE UP.
Well, not yet. Before I do, I highly recommend that everyone on earth hear these albums:
FOOD - Last Supper CD
New CD on Rune Grammofon. Food are a kind of avant/jazz/experimental/electronic supergroup featuring trumpet extraordinaire Arve Henrikson. They plunder and steal from the likes of '70s Miles, ambient Eno, Krautrock and perhaps a bit of prime Don Cherry, though the atmosphere they create is their own. Along with Jesu, AluminiumKnotEye and a bunch of other shit I forget, this will be high in the pile for best CDs of 2005.
SHINING - In The Kingdom Of Kitsch You Will Be A Monster CD
Ignore the stupid title; listen to the CD instead. Another Aryan supergroup c/ Rune Grammofon, Shining are about as far as I can handle "rock" these days. They "rock", but they don't sling guitars or pose in matching suits. Fact is, I have no fucking idea what they look like. But what they sound like is this: the bombastic crunch of early '70s King Crimson (you know, the good stuff, if you were to take away the horrific vocals), the post-punk experimentation of This Heat (ca. Deceit), the cut-ups of primo Krautrock (think Faust Tapes/Tago Mago) and perhaps a dash of the "big band" stylings of Mingus or some of William Parker's ensembles. You could probably throw a bit of early Swans in there, too. Play it loud and annoy everyone around you. Another goodie.
DARKTHRONE - Transilvanian Hunger CD
I bought this a while ago - after my entry into the world of Darkthrone via Under The Funeral Moon - and was pretty disappointed. I mean, ...Funeral Moon, that baby is the shit and the wipe all in one. A friend from Sydney recommended TH as perhaps the archetypal Norwegian Black Metal album. I poo-pooed such nonsense, telling him it was just a friggin' pain in the arse to listen to, sounding like it'd been recorded in a toilet bowl placed in a windtunnel. No, no, no, you've got it all wrong, my friend said. "You're listening to it like it's a rock album; it's not. It's an ambient album. It's all about feeling and textures. The recording and musicianship are way too sub-par to pass for rock'n'roll". I figured he was being a typically antagonistic/contrarist asshole and ignored him... until I gave it a listen with new ears a week or two later. That a-hole - sorry, friend - is right. Amon Duul: Half Japanese: Solger: Harry Pussy: Darkthrone. That's a beautiful lineage of Primitive Shit Music I can get my ears around.
Monday, June 06, 2005
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Now that reminds me: does anyone out there have the footage of Tesco Vee being interviewed on a similar show of the era being rather less well-behaved? Or a videotape of Donnie Sutherland's atrocious interview with Jello Biafra on the Sounds program when the DKs visited here in '83? It's the stuff of legend.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
This was bought on the insistence of a friend who works in a record store. I’m sure you know the type: indie-store music-Nazi who pops a boner over something and then hounds you every time you subsequently walk into said store until the purchase is made. I know the type: I used to be one myself. For now, I’m taking a break from that role. I may well return to that position in years to come, though I’m glad to say that no-one need suffer me behind a counter whilst entering a record store in Melbourne ca. 2005.
JESU is the new band comprising of Justin Broadrick (ex-Godflesh/Head Of David) and Ted Parsons (ex-Swans/Prong). I gather you’re as excited as I was when I first heard their musical pedigree. That is, not very. Why is this? Perhaps I’m not being fair, but I do recall buying Godflesh’s Streetcleaner CD back in 1990, digging the bejesus out of it for approximately 12 months – at the time that whole Swans-esque pummel/pain/agony/angst schtick was all the rage – and then discarding it in horror after listening to a subsequent release from the band. Can’t remember its name, but it appeared that the band had decided to go into a “techno-metal” vein and thus I jumped ship. Friends, colleagues and strangers on the street inform me they found their feet again in the late ‘90s when a flesh ‘n’ bones drummer joined the band, but I’d be lying if I said I could care less. And Ted Parson? Sheez! He did some good things w/ Swans (most notably Children of God), though Prong’s entire discography, barring that Stranglers cover I dug (“Get A Grip”), stunk like year-old milk, and I should know: I once worked in a warehouse full of Prong fans, and boy did I suffer for their music.
That leaves Jesu. And that left me last week leaving a record store with a disc in my hand which I was far from convinced I should have purchased. My mind is now changed. Jesu are onto something, and much like that Kinski disc on Sub Pop I reviewed last year (whom they somewhat musically resemble), they’re not onto something particularly original or groundbreaking, though their treading of a well-worn formula is still good enough for me to want to leave it on repeat for days on end. The sound is this: take the basic template of Swans ca. Cop – those painfully slow, lurching drum beats, the thick-as-a-brick bass chords – and mix it up with a slightly spacier, dare I say “indie”, guitar/vocal moan ‘n’ fuzz a la My Bloody Valentine/Spacemen 3, and stretch eight songs out to a full (and I do mean full) CD length and you’re probably listening to the latest Jesu disc. None of that is a complaint, mind you; track 3, “Tired Of Me”, with its layered/delayed vocals, repetitive, descending guitar chords and keyboard loops gets my vote as the fuzz-doom “ballad” of this and every year. And the rest is far from shabby. “Sun Day” drags its sorry bones along for a whole ten minutes, though if the idea of a musical cocktail combining the best elements of Loveless, Perfect Prescription and Cop sounds like a drink you’d like to sip, then by all means go ahead. I’ve been sculling it all week long.
The only anomaly on the whole disc is song number 7, “Man/Woman”, which takes the aggression levels up a notch, screams its vocals out like its 1991 all over again, and for me doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in the context of the rest of the album, which is mostly steeped in fairly blissful and easy-to-consume drones, and doesn’t work for me in 2005, full stop. Maybe it’ll float your boat, but I wish they hadn’t included it on the CD. That’s my sole complaint. The production, the artwork and packaging (which must be seen and felt to be appreciated; I won’t do it justice here) and the rest of the songs which make up Jesu all come together to comprise a release which’ll undoubtedly wind up in some blowhard Top 10 of 2005 list I’ll be roped into compiling at year’s end. Mr. Broadrick, Mr. Parsons, all is forgiven.
Monday, May 23, 2005
Another 7” I recently borrowed from my brother’s singles collection. This was purchased via Spiral Objective in 1992. Anyone remember Spiral Objective? Of course you do. They were, in effect, the Australian version of Blacklist mailorder (the San Fran co. linked up to MRR… are they still going?), which meant for every young punker in the early ‘90s only one thing: a ton of cheap records within easy grasp of anyone with a letterbox and a bit of spare cash. God bless ‘em. So, then there’s this 33RPM two-tracker from Sweden’s Dom Dar…
It gets me wondering: why was this purchased? I think the catalogue description mentioned the Melvins and Dom Dar’s penchant for lumbering, dirge-y crust-punk. Sounded good to us, throw it in the pile. I’m glad the purchase was made. 13 years after the fact, this is still a ripper, and even more perfect when played at wall-shaking volume. The A-side sounds uncannily like BGK’s slower tracks from their amazing Nothing Can Go Wrogn! LP; kinda like a Discharge 78 played at 33 with a thick, Northern European accent grunting out grim verses like “How can you fight a faceless spirit / When nothing is in the light / Where truth is all hidden / Lies passed down generations” before that apocalyptic one-word chorus hits: “Revolution!”. I’ll be sure to play it at my next disco swing party. It’s long (no, I haven’t time it, but I’m guessing it’s up somewhere near the 6-7 minute mark), though never wears out its welcome. There’s a glorious mixture of heavy, low-end, slo-mo riffage – which never crosses over to the Metal zone – and twangy second guitar providing a killer hook in the verses. Things do get fast for a minute or two before collapsing under a sea of strange guitar effects. Flip it over.
“Stench of Decay!”… don’t forget that exclamation mark! I might even prefer this to the A-side. The pace is up a notch, vocalist Ricke barks out his lines like a gargling Cal from Discharge and that riff! It almost approximate sa Bullhead-period Melvins recorded in a Scandinavian basement. I’ve said this before: I could give a fuck for the 7” format. I know there are folks out there who swear by it, but it’s not me. The pleasure, if there is one, is too fleeting and brief to be fully satisfying. In fact, they’re frustrating; if they’re bad, you find yourself never playing the thing again (and you can’t even get diddly-squat for it secondhand!), and if they’re good, like real good, like this Dom Dar disc, it only leaves you wanting more. Did Dom Dar ever release anything else? Beats me. “Crust-punk”, if you want to throw a term at it, is hardly a genre I’ve bothered investigating much at all in my life – barring Rudimentary Peni, Amebix and early Discharge – though I guess, just as those three bands showed, it’s got its little surprises which’ll just knock you out. I mean, fuck, an old Swedish crust 7” still flooring me in 2005? I can hardly believe it myself.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Sometimes these crazy urges just take over your body and you find yourself doing the strangest of things. I had that urge last weekend and found myself purchasing not one but two Crass LPs. What in the hell was going on? It seems a peculiar thing to do… I mean, I’ve only ever owned two Crass discs before, and they were bought when I was 14 and 18 (Sheep Farming In The Falklands 7” and their Best Before 2LP, respectively). I don’t even own the latter anymore. Well, I figured they were a band well worth investigating, even though I’ve always previously dismissed them as a band with cool record covers in search of some listenable music to place within those very sleeves, but...
Crass are an excellent example of an aesthetically perfect band, an outfit with a single-minded vision who stuck to it against huge odds right until their dissolution (and this is whether you agree with their stance and politics or not: it’s an admirable trait and one I even begrudgingly admire in knuckleheads like Skrewdriver); their lyrical content is at least always engaging and worthy of reading – again – even if you don’t agree with a word they say (the same reason I can get a kick out of reading Ayn Rand); and their music is a whole lot better than I remember it being. Or perhaps my brain wasn’t ready for this kind of tuneless, vaguely avant-garde punk-noise onslaught as a teen (I don’t know how that figures, considering the godawful racket I listened to at the time). Musically, at least, these two albums are pretty darn hot. Aggressive, propulsive noise-punk which barely lets up for a breather (except for the “experimental” pieces which break up the barrage), there are more than a few moments which strongly bring to mind such godsends as Rudimentary Peni, The Fall, Venom P. Stinger (especially in the constant marching-style drum-rolling a la Jim White) and Flipper (dig that bass rumble)… and then the vocals come in and ruin everything. Anyone got any dub mixes of Crass’ best works?
Sunday, May 08, 2005
I know next to nothing about this band, and in fact don’t even own this record (I pinched this from my brother’s collection today, which is residing at my folks’ place whilst he’s away), though it’s a stone-dead KILLER which more people should rave about breathlessly and slavishly in nerdbag music blog sites worldwide. Guess it’s my turn.
The Endtables, from what I’ve heard, were the toast of Louisville, Kentucky’s late ‘70s punk scene and didn’t in fact release anything during their short existence, but did at least manage to get a few songs on tape before disbanding. For the details, you should probably contact Robert Nedelkoff or David Grubbs or whoever, because I’m likely not filling you in on a million interesting tidbits regarding who the Endtables were. All I know is this posthumous 7” from 1991 on the Self Destruct label and the cold, hard fact that it remains one of my all-time favourite ‘70s punk rock singles from the US of A.
I wrote a quarter-arsed review for this in a fanzine in 1993. Don’t look for it, it’s disappeared into the dumpsters and bathroom reading racks of the universe, but my gist was this: imagine a hyperactive, jittery combination of Wipers ca. Is This Real?, throw it in with the nasally whine of a late ‘70s Dave Thomas and you have these two mighty songs right in your hand. I can’t pick the better of the two. “White Glove Test” is the A-side and the opening riff will slay you in your tracks. It’s got the perfect powerchord slow-mo build-up before it tears into a rollicking riff which could’ve been lifted off the Damned’s first LP (and that’s a good thing, whether you think so or not), and then Steve Rigot’s uber-nerd vocals hit the fore. This is the shit I live for. I could play this number to anyone reading this, and assuming you’re not a total flake (and I am assuming that), it’ll knock you dead.
But the B-side, man, the B-side… that’s where the goods are. “Trick Or Treat”: file it next to any fave Dangerhouse 7” you own or covet, it belongs there. There’s a nervous energy present which makes me want to move every time I whack the needle on. This kind of force can’t be faked or easily replicated. It’s a visceral, non-quantifiable energy which only exists within the most top-echelon musical combinations. That feeling is so fuggin’ rare that when you experience music this good you sit up and take notice. The Sage-like guitar fuzz, Steve Rigot’s crazy bark, that sense that the song is about to completely fall apart before it reins itself back together again and dives headfirst into the next verse… Goddamn it, I’m a man gushing over this thing. I hadn’t heard this for a good 6-7 years, but boy, it’s gonna be tough giving this one back when the time comes and my brother notices the thing missing.
Thursday, May 05, 2005
I’ve just finished reading Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s PLEASE KILL ME for the second or third time. I first bought it 6 or so years back (as a cheap remainder, actually) and found myself laughing out loud at the stories within. Third time around, it still doesn’t fail to make me guffaw at the amazing stupidity, bullshit and brainless antics which all involved engaged in over roughly a three-decade period. Who are these people? You probably know the story: the book is an “oral history” of punk rock in America, from roughly 1965-1996 (though it mostly cuts off during the NY No Wave period, one of its weaknesses, and one which shows the narrow-minded prejudices of the authors/compilers), and features the usual array of talent: Velvets, Stooges, MC5, NY Dolls, Suicide, Patti Smith, Television, James Chance, Dead Boys, Richard Hell, Ramones, etc. As Legs was one of the editors/founders of Punk magazine in NYC back in the mid-‘70s, it’s heavily NY-centric and fails to mention just about anything of worth after 1980, but that’s to be expected.
As much as I love the book, I can’t help but come to one conclusion upon closing the last page, again: what a parade of fucking morons, dipshits, assholes and utter fucking lowlifes. So far as I can tell, there are approximately five people in the entire book who didn’t come across as complete creeps: Debbie Harry (always a very cool lady, regardless of what you may think of her music… and I do think little of it), David Johanson, Joey Ramone, Alan Vega and Ed Sanders from The Fugs. You could probably throw Handsome Dick Manitoba in there, too. The rest? Would you actually want to ever hang out with slimeballs like Danny Fields, Wayne/Jayne County, Terry Ork, Nico, Stiv Bators, Dee Dee Ramone, Richard Hell, Jerry Nolan, Cheetah Chrome, Bob Gruen, Johnny Thunders, Bebe Buell, Leee Childers, etc.? After reading this book, you may not want to. And what about Iggy and Lou? Richard Lloyd from Television? Who’da thunk such a great band hid the mind of a Grade A deadbeat as he. Man, don’t even get me started on the lunkheads in the MC5. Their “revolutionary” stance was and is about as convincing as the Clash or Billy Bragg, though at least – and this is the one saving grace of all the above – THEY MADE SOME GREAT RECORDS. It really goes to show you have to divorce the personal traits from the musical contributions these people made, because as human beings they come across like a collection of basket cases, but maybe that's the key.
And then there’s Legs… Can’t say I ever dug Punk the magazine; for me it was a hokey collection of in-jokes with a typically inbred NYC aren’t-we-the-centre-of-the-universe kinda outlook, though his bitterness regarding the “success” of UK punk at the time, which he quite obviously saw as either a joke or a “rip-off” of the NY ideal (like that one great idea – PUNK ROCK – could only come from one city on earth? Yeah, right), whilst many of his fellow New Yorkers fumbled and stumbled and died out by decade’s end, makes him look pretty pathetic. Music “sucked“ in the ‘80s? Says who?! Did this guy ever hear a single song by Black Flag or the Wipers or Half Japanese or Swans or the Minutemen? I doubt it.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Then there’s the ongoing saga of Chris Stigliano over at Blog to Comm. I’ve kept silent on this for a while, even though he seems intent on attempting to drag my name through the mud at every opportune moment. Chris: go for it. Use up all your energy for the rest of your life on slagging me off. I could care less. I personally think there are better things to do and write about, but I get a feeling you disagree. It only makes you look foolish by rattling on about it. I could go on a rant here myself, but I’m not interested enough to bother. This paragraph, which says little at all about the matter, I fully expect will spur on yet another tirade from the man, and so be it. I promised myself I would never again add fuel to the fire, but since it looks like the fire will never go out in Chris’ mind, it can’t hurt too much to say what’s just been said, can it?
All right then… what’s been floating the boat musically, and what is to discuss? I could firstly go on about the absolute worthlessness of the current Australian music scene, with nudniks like Shihad and Grinspoon touring the country this month, but I get a feeling that won’t interest anyone, least of all any non-Australians reading this. Here’s a side-splitting triviality for anyone who cares: when I was in Portland, Oregon for a week in mid-1999, none other than Vanilla Ice was playing at the local medium-sized venue in the city. Who was supporting The Ice Man? Grinspoon. I had to laugh. We can all only thank the heavens they never broke the US market.
ENSLAVED – Mardraum CD
Just when you thought I’d given up on writing anymore on this Norwegian Black Metal nonsense, I go ape for the Viking kings Enslaved. I wrote about these gents further down a few entries, regarding their Below The Lights CD, and in the meantime I’ve purchased a bevy of their product – Eld, Monumension and Mardraum – and they’re all insanely good. There’s a certain part of my brain – the one marked “Good Taste” – which tells me I shouldn’t go near stuff like this, but there’s also the irrational side which can’t help but boogie to the hep tunes. Enslaved, part of the original inner Black Circle of the Norwegian crew of bullet-belt crazies, are one of the few bands of that era still making records you’d bother crossing the road the urinate on. Whilst Emperor went to the dogs with keyboard-laden pomposity; Mayhem just continue to get worse and worse; Burzum rots away in a prison cell ripping out laughable Casio albums of Nordic hymns; and at least Immortal called it a day before they truly blew, Enslaved are holding the fort with an actual sense of musical quality. OK, there’s Darkthrone, too, though they’ve done nothing but repeat themselves every single album since 1993. That’s not a bad thing, though a little musical progression wouldn’t be out of order.
Enslaved have cut the rampant fuzz’n’buzz out of their guitars, upped the studio techniques and even roped in a whole smorgasboard of smarty-pants rhythmic changes since their early days of 4-track primitivism, and the musical results are here to behold. Read that last line: every single “positive” aspect I just mentioned in relation to Enslaved goes against any typical musical sense I inhabit, and indeed sums up why I’ve always considered “metal” in general to be a lame, no-go genre filled with tight-pants-wearing, musical-virtuoso douchebags. That is true. It remains true. But there’s always the exception. Enslaved are it. Much like the oft-compared Voivod, Enslaved avoid the clichés of their musical compadres and create something different. The odd Viking chant may make you cringe, but in between is a seamless mixture of unique riffery, blistering blast beats and those unearthly, raspy vocals only a Norwegian could truly pull off. They have a new album out entitled Isa. I need it.
Again, if the following description brings the bile to your throat or makes you slap your head and utter to yourself, Dave, Dave, Dave, what are you thinking?, then don’t bother, but if a concoction brewing up the best elements of October File/Century Days-era Die Kreuzen, Tweez-era Slint, Killing Technology-period Voivod, early Hawkwind and the monstrous stupidity and aggression of primal Burzum and Darkthrone sounds like a fun night in, then the helmet-clad world of Enslaved awaits you. Truly.
BACK FROM THE GRAVE Volumes 1 & 2 LPs
I was over at Richard Dropkick’s place about a year ago, sitting around one afternoon chewing the fat as one does, when he pulled out one of his Back From The Grave LPs (he has the whole set, he proudly noted [sorry, Rich]). I quickly urged him to put it on, and noted that I’d never heard any LP from the series. He seemed dumbstruck. How could I have not exposed myself to a single note from this essential series? Like, didn’t I buy all this shit 10 years ago?! Well, no, it simply passed me by. My interest in ‘60s US garage punk has always been relegated to the monumentally awesome Nuggets 4-CD box and the big guns (Love, 13th Floor Elevators, Seeds) and little else. Last week I figured this dire situation needed amending, so I invested in these two.
I really should spend more time ingesting them before coming to any conclusion, so don’t consider this one. For now, I think they’re “OK”, and I fear I’ll be crucified and told to smarten up for that comment. Nothing on these two LPs so far has bowled me over, save for The Rats’ excellently ridiculous “Rats [sic?] Revenge”, parts one and two, a shambolic, rambling, two-part tribute to Eric Von Zipper and the Rats Motorcycle Gang. The band themselves sound like they were more of a studio creation than anything else (though were morphed, according to the liner notes, from a “real” instrumental group from Akron, Ohio called the Decades), though the result is a classic, hilarious, lengthy studio fuck-around by a band of yahoos who sound drunk or high or possibly both. I’ve got music coming out of my earholes right now, give me a spare day to properly digest the goods: the rest might be just as good.
…and as for Tim Warren’s liner notes. Is he copping an Ed Asshole/Archie Bunker-type persona or is he really that obnoxious? I’ve heard of the guy for years, and used to laugh at the Crypt ads he’d place in old issues of Forced Exposure (which would denounce faves of mine, like SST and Shimmy Disc, as hippy swill), though I don’t know if he’s putting this schtick on like a suit or not. I mean, cutting out nearly all rock’n’roll post-1966, doesn’t that kinda limit your musical options a bit? “Like, lighten up, dude!”
Other things to discuss soon: Dog Faced Hermans’ Humans Fly LP; the musical career of Husker Du; “Bands Who Just Won’t Fuck Off”; Richard Thompson; more Rune Grammofon titles; a buncha other shit.
Monday, April 04, 2005
Whilst you're at it, check out the rest of Dixon's site, Idle Time. In it ye shall find a myriad cool photos documenting the early Austin punk scene as well as the web's best source guide for the mighty POP GROUP. Dig it!