Sunday, January 30, 2005

I’m feeling slack right now and have way too much to do before the week is up, so this HIGH FIVE is a bit of a cop-out. I’m going to steal some old reviews I wrote for Amazon a few years back, and they can be apt descriptions for the discs in question. Some of them are fairly trite and dorky, but I figured I was writing them for the completely clueless. I think I’ll also note that I saw the new Blues Explosion video the other night, and it was the worst fucking thing I’ve just about ever seen or heard. Never been a huge fan of the guy, though Orange and Extra Width were two records I dug quite a bit 10-odd years back, but to see what they’ve devolved into… that’s a sad sight.

1) MILES DAVIS – Get Up With It 2CD
My favourite album of all time, seriously. There was no other artist on earth I played more in the years 1995-98 than Miles Davis. I’ve taken a long break from the guy, but now I’m back for more. Every home could use a copy of every recording the man made between the years 1969-75, and that means you!

Uh… this is what I said:

Without a doubt, one of the greatest albums of them all, a double set only comparable to the likes of the Stooges' Funhouse in its darkness, intensity and raw, funky sexuality. Now for starters let's get something straight: I loathe "fusion", and to even CONSIDER putting Miles' music of the '70s in that category - a genre filled with lilly-livered chumps like Return To Forever and the Yellow Jackets - is a great disservice to Miles and his music. From 1969 to '75, Mr. Davis pioneered and created his own unique sounds, a mixture of hard funk, psychedelic rock, avant-garde electronics and free jazz, that has never been equaled in regards to its sonics or its "vibe". There is NOTHING that can touch the raised-middle-finger jab in the guts felt when one puts on discs like Dark Magus, Live Evil, Agharta, Big Fun or On The Corner. The feelings of utter loathing and despair, the overwhelming EMOTION of these discs can be too much, yet nothing can prepare you for 1974's Get Up With It, a disc of such wildness and total lack of any commercial forethought (and thank the heavens for that) that it was granted pretty much instant deletion upon release and has mainly only been available from Japan for the last 25 years.

Start with the cover: a big, slightly unflattering, grainy photo of The Man. It's the sight of a man against the world, battling for his own identity. Hit the first track, "He Loved Him Madly" (a tribute to Duke Ellington), a 32-minute ambient piece only broken up occasionally by Peter Cosey's mumbling guitar lines. It's one of the saddest damn songs you'll ever hear, and you can bet yer booty that if it was made by a bunch of white guys in Berlin ca. '71, every Krautrock freak in town would be hailing it as a classic. Next track "Maiysha" is a schizophrenic one. For ten minutes in merely putters along like a lite Latin number, interrupted sporadically by Miles' Sun Ra-like organ, then it stops, gets into a hard groove and proceeds to move along to Peter Cosey's awesome guitar screeches for another five minutes. Hot. "Honky Tonk" is up next, a brief interlude of stop-start rhythms and noisy organ crunch. It prepares you for the next track the unstoppable "Rated X", THE peak of Miles' - or maybe anyone's - sonic capabilities. Part hyperdive breakbeat rhythms, part uber-funk, and nine parts pure noise, there is no other sound on earth as MOVING as this song. Get up with it.

Disc two starts with "Calypso Frelimo", another 32-minute piece that starts where "Rated X" finishes off. Ecstatic peaks of dark psychedelic jamming, aided by Miles' wah-wah'd trumpet, gel and compete. "Red China Blues" is a brief number that kicks it in a Chess-Records-meets-Ornette way, and the 15-minute+ "Mtume" once again takes you for a ride with its collision of Cosey's guitar (a highly under-rated player in a field with the likes of Sonny Sharrock) and about half a dozen percussionists. Finishing is "Billy Preston", more chilling mid-range avant-funk to close the set.

Get Up With It is the perfect summation of what was filling Miles' head at the time: the avant electronics of Stockhausen, the cyclical funk of James Brown, the wailing psych guitar of Hendrix, the improvised freeness of Ornette Coleman and as The Man himself put it, "a deep African thing". Many words have been written on Miles' music of this period, but to really GET it, you have to LISTEN to it. Not a word is spoken on GUWI, yet it speaks volumes on its creator's alienation and sense of despair. As far as so-called "out-rock" goes, this is about as "out" as you could get, and certainly about as purely "psychedelic" as music has ever gotten, so do the done thing and get with it.

2) CURRENT 93 – Thunder Perfect Mind CD
Another artist I used to listen to a whole lot, yet has been absent from my stereo for far too long. This is their best and you, of course, need a copy. Here goes…

Current 93 are admittedly an aquired taste. I myself do not like a good third of their material, but when they're on, they're on, and this is about as ON as they've ever gotten. Taking a huge musical swing with '88's Earth Covers Earth (also a C93 high point), where in which they dropped their creepy industrial tag only to steep themselves in a kind of strange, mystical folk netherworld inspired by the likes of the Incredible String Band, Comus and Shirley/Dolly Collins, the band was well traversed in the given genre by 1992 to make their masterpiece. This is it.

Featuring the usual suspects of Balance/Wood/Stapleton/McDowall, etc., as well as the likes of Nick Saloman (that's Bevis Frond to you, sir), David Tibet has successfully created a simply mesmerising collection of songs that play on all the best aspects of his talents: the ability to tell creepy stories with a melodic, enchanting, yet often melancholy backdrop by his cohorts. "A Sadness Song" is probably the best song he's ever done, and the 10+ minute track, "Hitler as Kalki", contains some stunning psych guitar work from Mr. Saloman. Thunder Perfect Mind contains next to none of the insane ranting nor vapid pretensions that mar certain other C93 releases, and all that talk of them being "gothic masters" (and I loathe "gothic" music) is pure baloney: this is pure psychedelia the way it should be: a head trip without the drugs, just the sounds.

3) The DAMNED – Damned Damned Damned LP
And again…

As the year 1977 and its musical epiphanies become but a distant memory for some, it makes it easier to judge the musical merits of its respective bands from a long-term perspective, and if there's any disc from the period that seems to get better with age, it's the Damned's debut. Long-considered The Band Least Likely, or at best a footnote to the UK punk explosion, looking back, their dedication to truly anarchic music and their exuberant fandom for high-energy rock'n'roll - as opposed to social revolution and politics - certainly makes their records a whole lot more enjoyable to listen to than several of their compadres from the era.

As opposed to the Sex Pistols, Clash and the Buzzcocks, the Damned sounded American more than British, their music being a kind of MC5/Stooges/NY Dolls/Nuggets (and, yes, T-Rex) hybrid that, in hindsight, proved to be more influential on American Hardcore (especially the LA and DC scenes) than the more infamous Sex Pistols or Clash.

Or putting it simply, from a basic perspective of high-energy punk rock with the eternal themes of trash, love and teenage dreams, this record is near unbeatable. EVERY song here could've made a killer single. Of course there is the incredible twofer of "New Rose" and "Neat Neat Neat", both of which were classic singles of the day, but beyond that there's also such nuggets as "Born to Kill", "Fan Club" and "Stab Your Back". The performances, the trashy production, the guitar licks, Rat Scabies psychotic drumming and especially Dave Vanian’s Hammer-Horror vocals are all brilliant. It's something you'll probably never read about in any of the "official" books on UK punk, but the Damned made possibly the best UK punk album of 1977. Amen to that!

4) THE BAND – s/t LP
No Amazon review here. I’ve only been listening to this because I watched The Last Waltz for the first time this week. Reputed as a great inspiration for Spinal Tap, it’s easy to see why. Martin Scorcese comes across like a hopelessly earnest, yet drugged-out and nervous interviewer and the band seems to be permanently trashed. This album is one of those LPs you probably stumbled across many a time in your younger days in record stores, or at least I did, and, not knowing anything about them, I presumed that it sucked. There’s the unappealing brown cover, a photo of some ugly old bearded dudes and the lamest band name of them all: The Band. What’s more, the record’s self-titled. I put them in the same exciting basket as Bread and Poco and swore they were a band not for me. Naturally, I was wrong. I’m not sure they were tapping into The Great American Songbook, as Greil Marcus would have you believe (the fact that they were Canadians puts that into a weird light), though the songwriting chops are unbelievable – every track a scorcher – and even though a love for this album puts me fair and square in the MOJO/UNCUT-reading demographic I like to think I’m not a part of, it’s still OK by me. It also probably should’ve been in that Top 75 Albums Of All Time List or whatever the hell that two-part mess I indulged in a little while ago was, but at the time it slipped my mind.

I noted a little while ago that I gave The Pop Group a recent listen and was a touch underwhelmed by the experience. It came as a great shock, since they were, at a time many years back a favourite band of mine. I’ve given them another spin this week and I think the magic is coming back. Give it a few more weeks and I could be on a heavy Pop Group binge which will take months to recover from. Wish me luck.

The Amazon review:

In a day and age when just about every esoteric oddity from recorded history is given a deluxe reissue to bring it forth to new generations of keen listeners, it beggars belief as to why this 1979 masterpiece only exists as a rather expensive Japanese import, but onto other matters...

The Pop Group's debut will always have a special place in my heart and eardrums. I purchased my own secondhand vinyl copy as a 19 year-old back in 1991, and have never looked back. Y is simply one of rock's all-time essential groundbreaking albums. A motley crew of disgruntled Bristol teenagers who were inspired by everything from British punk (though perhaps not so much musically), Situationism, Fela Kuti, Jamaican dub, electric Miles Davis, John Cage, the Last Poets, Abbie Hoffman, Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, James Brown and many other gems, their anarchic stew of barely-together deconstructed rock, abstract funk, heavy dub reverb and chaotic, free-jazz-inspired rhythms still sends a chill down my spine today.

The overall package of Y, its cryptic cover, its lyrical themes of corruption, lies, despair and alienation, the howling, desperate vocals of Mark Stewart and the amazing (and huge) fold-out poster that accompanies the LP combine to make up a truly alien piece of work that seems to exist within its own universe. Tracks like "Snowgirl" (part avant-garde show tune, part looming dirge), the anthemic "We Are Time" (7+ minutes of intense dub-inflected angst) and the closing screams of "Don't Sell Your Dreams" are permanently scorched on my brain.The Pop Group, like most groundbreakers, never made a dent commercially, though proved to be highly influential on the likes of Nick Cave's Birthday Party (Cave himself has repeatedly said that witnessing The Pop Group live for the first time twisted his brain in ways previously thought unimaginable, and has listed The Pop Group's "We Are All Prostitutes" 7" as the greatest song of the 20th century) and LA's seminal Minutemen (Mike Watt still plays Pop Group covers live to this day), as well as the Bristol scene of the '80s/'90s (Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead, etc.). A simply brilliant, essential, unforgettable debut.

Monday, January 24, 2005

I turned 33 last Friday. Hip-hip-hooray. That gives me the right to do this. Let me make a brief list of a few films I happen to really like. I don’t wish to comment on them. Rather, I’d like you to. Am I nuts for liking these movies, or even worse for owning them? You tell me.

1) URBAN COWBOY (1980)
The ultimate John Travolta vehicle/character study of working-class America at the dawn of Reaganism/pile of shit? I actually really dig this movie, despite the Charlie Daniels/Bonnie Raitt soundtrack.

Pretentious arthouse waffle? 90 minutes of profundities? A little bit of both.

‘80s romantic-comedy (or ROM/COM, as they say) with bad fashion sense and the Feelies. One of the finest films of its decade.

Existential action flick w/ Jon Voight and Eric Roberts in the hammiest performances to ever hit a screen. Based on a story by Kurosawa.

5) HIDING OUT (1987)
‘80s teen-movie territory here, with rent-a-putz Jon Cryer. A fine movie, and perhaps notable for its unusual soundtrack: Public Image and the Lime Spiders(!!).

Mid ‘80s cheese-in-a-basket from the creator of Miami Vice. Completely amoral and without point, it sums up that decade to a tee. Soundtrack contains Wang Chung and Rank & File. Go figure. Best car chase since French Connection.

7) LIMBO (1999)
John Sayles at the helm, in every possible role except on screen. For my two cents, one of the finest American films of the last 10 years, this is a novelistic story which slowly unfolds like a good book. You may be pissed at the ending, however.

Sidney Lumet piece about ‘60s radicals on the run for almost 20 years, family in tow. Totally believable.

9) HALLOWEEN 3 (1982)
I saw this, as a very young man, when it came out in the cinemas. Scared the absolute bejesus outta me. Nothing to do with Michael Myers, this is a thoroughly under-rated shocker I try to show to anyone who’ll sit on my couch.

10) AUTO FOCUS (2002)
The story of Hogan’s Heroes’ Bob Crane and his sordid downfall, with Mr. Smarm, Greg Kinnear in the lead role (an actor I like a lot, by the way). Willem Dafoe is terrific as his creepy porn buddy, John Carpenter. Directed by renowned screenwriter Paul Schrader, a complete creep in his own right.
GANG OF FOUR – Solid Gold CD
I bought this the other day at Dragonfly Discs, since it’s now readily available at the cheap-cheap-cheap price of $15. This is their second album, from 1981, and essentially the last half-decent thing Gang of Four ever did before sailing off into the land of New Romantic dance-pop. You know, there’s always a few curious reasons as to why you decide to buy a certain album. Maybe it’s a part of a “scene” you’re getting into, or just the artist, or perhaps it’s an album name-dropped by someone else you admire. In this case, my reason’s a mixture of the last two, since the Brit post-punk scene is something I flogged to exhaustion point – barring a few exceptions, obviously – years back. I have been playing Entertainment quite a lot lately, but really, what got me curious here was the fact that Solid Gold is considered an essential component to its predecessor, and also the fact that, (groan) Buzz from the Melvins once noted this as being a prime influence on his band.

There’s this interview with him somewhere on the ‘net (really, you’ll have to find it yourself) which I read last year some time, and he listed a curious group of releases as influences on the Melvins’ sound: Black Flag (especially side B of My War), Black Sabbath, early Swans, Meat Puppets ca. II, Public Image Ltd. ca. Flowers of Romance and Gang of Four’s Solid Gold. It sounds, at first glance, like a stupidly disparate set of influences, yet it makes sense: doomy punk/metal riffs wrapped up in percussive, abrupt, stop-start post-punk rhythms. That’s the Melvins in a teacup. So where does that leave Solid Gold?

I’ve heard the entire album probably 10 times now, and that’s enough for a conclusion of at least some weight. It’s this: I think I prefer this to Entertainment. It’s gloomier, in a sense has a “heavier” sound and more interesting guitar textures, as opposed to Entertainment’s Post-Punk 101 guitar scratchings (which, of course, I do also like). More sonically similar to contemporaries like P.i.L., especially with its ambient production, this one takes the “party” atmosphere down a bit with a more depressive air. You’ll be a happier person for having experienced it.
THE CRAMPS – Songs The Lord Taught Us/Off The Bone LPs
I only bought these about 5 or 6 years ago, and perhaps only for nostalgic reasons. They were secondhand, surprisingly cheap, and I wondered what they’d sound like to a man in his late 20s. Y’ see, when I was about 14, I was a Cramps nut of a fairly high caliber. That’s not meant as a grand boast of what an uber-hipster I was at a tender age, since the Cramps were a goddamn obvious band to be into if you lived in Melbourne as an angst-ridden teen in the mid ‘80s. Maybe it was the same everywhere, I don’t know, but certainly in my home town it was kind of granted that if you lived in the inner Eastern/Southern suburbs and – AHEM! – went to a private school and considered yourself pretty fuckin’ cool, you were into the Cramps.

I blame Nick Cave for such a situation, or perhaps I should thank him. At the time, the Shadow Of Nick still loomed large over the Melbourne scene. That also unfortunately meant a dark cloud of Anglo/goth hoo-ha I never felt any affinity with (and also put off any love I may’ve developed for the Stooges or Birthday Party on the backburner until my early 20s), but there was also the Cramps to contend with. And contend with them I did. There’s still some appalling evidence of impressionable teens in my parents’ photo album; myself, my brother and a friend decked out in op-shop tuxedo jackets, black jeans, a homemade chicken-bone necklace and Cramps t-shirts, but I keep such things locked up in fear of future bribes. I only ever had these on cassette for years, lost them somewhere along the way, and thus I purchased these on a whim and a nostalgia trip.

I can’t say I feel any nostalgia for the band anymore – it seems like a lifetime ago I first heard these – so instead I just listen to them with my mind set on 2005. Having said that, they’ve aged like a fine wine, and that’s probably more than I could say for the rest of their output (bar Psychedelic Jungle and probably a few others). At this stage – and for both discs we’re talking roughly 1977-80 – the Cramps were quite unprecedented in their aesthetic, sound, delivery and overall package as a rock band. The idea of digging up old nuggets from the ‘50s and ‘60s – forgotten surf, trash, rockabilly, swamp rock, garage and psych-rock – and stewing them into a completely contemporary blend of punk/garage-influenced music was a goddamn brave move. That tends to be totally forgotten these days, since such a thing won’t raise an eyebrow in the 21st century. It also unfortunately inspired a generation of dimwits to take the Cramps aesthetic to its lowest possible denominator and run it through the mud with 25 years of worthless idiots, but for that I shan’t blame them.

However, I really do wish they’d split up some time in the 1980s and stopped dragging their own name through the mud (I care not what anyone says: the Cramps have been a walking shell for the last 20-odd years), but the rawness of their earlier works is something which still sends a bug up my backside. The layers of guitar murk on such tracks as “Sunglasses After Dark” and “Human Fly”, the lo-tech two-step drumming and the howl from Lux when he sounded like he meant it: it’s a mix for the ages. So, what happened? I recall Jeff Smith from Feminist Baseball fanzine once noting, in a negative review for a Cramps disc of 10 or so years back, that they by then sounded like a bad Frank Zappa impression of their former selves: all schtick, “zaniness” and no soul. I’ll second that.

Monday, January 17, 2005

So far as I can see, Rolling Stone magazine actually had one good music article published within its pages in the 1980s. That’s one more than expected. It was in the August 1985 issue, the one with rock musician Clint Eastwood on the cover. It’s also the only issue of Rolling Stone I own. I used to work for a sub-distributor of RS and I remember asking a workmate if he’d seen the latest issue. It was a stupid question, since neither of us ever read the thing. He summed up my attitude better than I could at the time: “I can’t read that thing, it’s just so dispiriting”.

My high school in the ‘80s subscribed to RS, so every month I’d read it anyway, even though I only found about 5% of it to be of any interest. That one article by Michael Goldberg entitled PUNK LIVES! stuck out like a sore thumb. I photocopied it and kept it in a file for years. I’d forgotten about it for a decade until a few years back when I was at a garage sale and spotted that same issue glaring at me. With a 20-cent price tag, I made the investment. I’m glad I did. I think Joe Carducci once noted it as being RS’s sole attempt to come to grips with rock music in the 1980s. If you look through the rest of the issue, you’ll no doubt agree.

The article in question covers the US post-HC underground scene in an intelligent and non-patronising manner, with Goldberg making the point that this “underground” music is not just some weird cabal of noisemakers, but is in fact the rock music of the ‘80s. I doubt Jan Wenner or whoever the fuck he is decided to give Zen Arcade a spin on that recommendation, but I’m glad the article exists. In it you will find interviews, photos and stories concerning the music of Black Flag, Minutemen, Flipper, Husker Du, Meat Puppets, Steve Tupper of Subterranean, the Replacements and even token mentions of such unit-shifting megastars as Saint Vitus, Tom Troccoli’s Dog and Saccharine Trust.

I just looked up the Rolling Stone web site and, in between the gratuitous articles on important and influential rock artists like Gwen Stefani and Sum 41, I couldn’t find an archival section to refer to. I guess you’ll have to scour a garage sale near you.
BUTTHOLE SURFERS – Rembrandt Pussyhorse LP
PERE UBU – Song of the Bailing Man CD
I think the standard doctrine goes a little like this: the Butthole Surfers were once an amazing, totally “fucked up” band who set the standard for drug-imbibing psych-punk throughout the ‘80s, and then slowly lost their way into becoming the embarrassing half-arsed mess they currently are. It is also said that Pere Ubu have followed a similar trajectory: hitting their peak in the years 1975-78, they then slid off the rails with a series of ho-hum discs in the early ‘80s before constantly resurrecting themselves from ’88 onwards, no matter what resemblance, or lack thereof, they may have to their original incarnation. The conclusion is this: both bands are now a complete joke. I think the conclusion is correct, but the story leading up to it isn’t.

I borrowed Rembrandt Pussyhorse from my brother’s collection the day he was leaving last week. He saw me grab it and said, “Why are you taking that? You know it’s garbage”. Well, I hadn’t heard it since the dawn of the ‘90s, so I figured I’d give it a chance. Really, I thought I’d conduct an experiment. After all, how does “prime-era” Buttholes stand up in 2005? I’ve only ever owned one Buttholes LP: Locust Abortion Technician. Bought it in ’87 when it came out. Songs About Fucking and Sister were the two other big indie releases that year, and I got ‘em all (they were licensed locally to Au-go-go). I’d rather eat a bowl of dog turds than suffer through another Big Black record in this life time, Sister still stands as SY’s finest moment, but Locust…? I sold it 10 years back. I‘ll take “Sweat Loaf”, thanks, but leave the rest for the pigeons.

Rembrandt Pussyhorse was originally released in 1986 on Touch & Go. It was perhaps the album which started getting the band some serious notice from the press. A freakshow on wheels, the band was on a winning streak. Listening to this LP, right now, has me wondering what the fuck everyone else must have been on to brandish the band with such acclaim. This is weak. This is lame. This is tame. There’s nary a hint of genuine wildness within a single groove herein. Mostly, this is tepid, “zany” geek-rock with hardly any punch, a dreadful drum sound (some of it’s obviously electronic, and some of it I think tries to be), and nowhere songs with little in the way of beginnings, middles or ends to place a reference to them being actual “songs”. If they really were a freaked-out improv band, they could get away with it, but the striking theme here appears to be aimlessness, not improvisation. First song on side B, “Perry”, I can live with it. With its droning organ and relentless rhythm, it sounds like the circus the Buttholes were reputed as. The rest? It might as well have been released on Wax Trax for all I care.

Believe it or not, I would’ve loved to have said this: "You know what? I never really liked any Butthole Surfers before. They were, I thought, over-rated: but now their ‘80s material makes sense". Well, it still doesn’t. It makes less sense than ever before. Here’s a short list of artists from the ‘80s and before who made “wild”, “fucked up” music a whole lot better than them: Throbbing Gristle, Captain Beefheart, Nurse With Wound, Chrome, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu, Public Image, Yoko Ono, This Heat, Faust, Sun Ra, etc. That doesn’t prove anything, nor does that in itself say that the Buttholes stank. But listening to Rembrandt Pussyhorse, I can’t think of a contrary opinion to espouse. Why would you ever want to listen to them when the music from the above artists is so much better? Looks to me like the Buttholes were a particularly ordinary band back in their hey-day, and things have only gotten worse since. I can only assume they were a killer live band to compensate for this dreary MOR muck. Case closed!

My copy of Song of the Bailing Man is from the Datapanik In The Year Zero box set released in the mid ‘90s. I’ve listened to it on and off throughout the years and always enjoyed it, but it’s never been a mainstay on the stereo. For the next six months I’m driving my brother’s van, and I’ve leant my car to the Mrs. The van has a CD player, and this opens up a whole new world of sound to me. All those albums I’ve been too lazy to tape for the old car stereo – at least the ones I have on CD – I can now give a relaxed flogging in the van on those long work trips or pleasant drives to the country. It really does tap into a part of my collection I’ve been ignoring for way too long.

I said at the start that many fans poo-poo ‘Ubu’s later efforts before their temporary split in ’82. It’s not that they get a pummeling from the cognoscenti, it’s usually just a shrug of the shoulders and an admission the band went downhill after the first two albums when they lost their “rock” edge to meandering, indulgent art nonsense. It was as if the influence of Peter Laughner had finally been shaken off – the Velvets/Stooges angle which was so integral to their earlier works – only to be replaced with the domineering personality of David Thomas and all the Zappa/Beefheart-isms which come with it. That’s probably true, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Laughner may have been a man of reasonable talent, but let’s face it: had he lived, he probably would’ve had ‘Ubu doing Springsteen covers by the dawn of the ‘80s. His inherent cheesiness and cornball “bad boy” antics would only have steered the band up a dead end in no time, so I don’t complain that Thomas took control.

…Bailing Man was originally released in 1982 as a 45RPM 12”, though the band insisted it was an LP: they only made it as a 45 for better fidelity. It also saw the recording debut of Anton Fier (ex-Feelies) with the group, and the continuing presence of the Red Krayola’s Mayo Thompson on board. This is way more percussion based than any other ‘Ubu disc. Fier is a mother of a drummer, and his jazzy, rolling style, lots of tom fills throughout, is the basis of the sound. Add that in with Ravenstine’s synth noises and a dash of xylophone, there is no doubt this does remind me mostly of one album in particular: Zappa/MothersUncle Meat 2LP set. I read once that Uncle Meat was the first album Thomas ever bought. I guess it took a few years to digest and finally come out in his own music. “A Day Such As This” holds centre stage here: all 7+ minutes of it. It's a sea of scattered drums and Thomas' wailing, nonsensical vocals. Song Of The Bailing Man will make rock purists run for the hills, and that’s fine by me: they can stay there. It’s no Modern Dance, but it’s well worth having nonetheless.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Strange time of year round these here parts. Everyone’s gone away, the shops are quiet, I’m desperately trying to get these Tar Babies and Oil Tasters CDs out before I reach retirement age, and now I plan on going to Vietnam for the bulk of the month of February. On top of that, my brother just left for 6 months of travel throughout Asia and dumped all his records at my parents’ place to store in their garage. My brother – two years older than myself – and I grew up listening to similar sorts of music, mainly rooted in punk fuckin’ rock. However, whilst I was more inclined towards obsessing over US hardcore (which he also liked, a lot), Andrew was more drawn towards the Australian side of things with bands like Feedtime, X, King Snake Roost, Lubricated Goat, etc. It made for a nice balance. On top of that, whilst I trailed off into the catalogues of Shimmy Disc, SST, Swans, Helios Creed, Sun City Girls, John Zorn, etc., from approximately 1988-1993 he amassed a huge collection of American u/ground rock on labels like Sub Pop, Am Rep, Touch & Go, Sympathy, et al. Since the mid ‘90s he’s bought few records of the underground variety and pays little attention to contemporary music of any stripe, instead indulging in the worlds of old country/blues, rockabilly, ‘60s garage rock, etc. In short, at the age of 35 he is now officially an old geezer.

What’s the point? No point, except that I went over to the folks’ place the other day to rummage through his collection and find a few discs to borrow. If I’m going to be traveling, I can’t afford to buy anything for a while, so I’ll get my kicks with a loan. Browsing through his records – and let it be known: he never sells his vinyl, no matter how lousy it might be – I had to laugh at some of the stuff he had: a Coffin Break CD, fer chrissakes!! Loads of dodgy Am Rep LPs, a bevy of justly forgotten Sub Pop bands (I do believe I spotted a Dickless 7”), why, there was even a SWA LP or two. I pulled out a few things I thought would tweak my interest and got outta there. Let’s see…

GIBSON BROS. – Big Pine Boogie LP
This is the one everyone raves about. I had their Man Who Loved Couch Dancing LP in the early ‘90s, thought it sucked and sold it. You know, it did suck. I also had a pile of ’68 Comeback LPs in the mid ‘90s and very foolishly sold them a few years ago. I get a feeling I’ll be buying them back before I drop dead. And then there’s Big Pine Boogie, their supposed meisterwerk. I’ve given it a good hiding and it holds up well. For myself, it’s no masterpiece or forgotten gem, nor would I swear by it in a blue fit, but I’ll always have a soft spot for Don Howland, a punk rock renaissance man, if ever there was, so I’ll probably tape this sucker before I give it back. If I ever do. The copy I have in my house has a very complicated history: it doesn’t belong to my brother. It’s actually Dave from the Sailors’ LP, my bro’s ex-housemate, who now lives in France. Dave, if you’re reading this, I have your Gibson Bros. album, come by any time and pick it up.

THE EX – Blueprints For A Blackout 2LP
I was surprised he even had this double set, since Dutch anarcho post-punk never seemed to be his strong suit. Still, it was there, I hadn’t heard it in a decade or more, so I thought I’d give it a new home for a month or two. Boy oh boy, did I ever used to love these troublemakers back in the dawn of the ‘90s. Their Scrabbling At The Lock LP w/ cellist Tom Cora was a firm fave at the time and at a certain stage I felt like the gods were smiling on me for bringing the world such bands as Dawson, Dog Faced Hermans, Badgewearer and… you got it: The Ex. I’ll still swear by Dawson and DFH any day of the week. You ask me the question, I’ll swear by it: great, GREAT bands. But The Ex? Feh. Much like Crass, their sleeves are far more interesting than their music, which I can only assume is the main reason why I sold my CD copy of this 10 years ago. Don’t get me wrong: The Ex are pretty OK, and there are some moments here that rub me the right way like I didn’t quite expect. But what rubs me the wrong way? The same feeling I get with Crass: the music is there as an aside to the political rants, and the in-your-face lecturing never lets up. Musically, I can give a good 50% of this a thumbs-up, but I’m way too old to be screamed at the way The Ex do.

JACK BREWER BAND – Rockin’ Ethereal LP
Ha! Had to grab this one. Just when I thought I hadn’t played this in a decade, I whack it on and it floods back like I heard it just yesterday. Perhaps I did listen to this a whole lot more in the early ‘90s than I recall. Mr. Brewer, as you may or may not know (or care) was/is the singer in Saccharine Trust. My bro went to the US throughout December 1990 and beyond for a 2-3 month journey with a friend. First stop was LA, and the first gig was the Jack Brewer Band at the Anti-Club. Drunk as only a young, annoying Australian backpacker can be, he approached Jack after the gig and proceeded to yell in his ear regarding what a fan he and especially his brother back in Melbourne were of his work in the ‘Trust. Jack, being the gent that he is, invited Andrew and his friend back to his place to crash at his pad for a few days whilst they were in LA. They did exactly that: sat around playing with his dogs, drinking beer and watching lots of music videos (like Kira and Mike Watt’s wedding). Before Andrew left, Jack handed him this, an autographed test pressing of his latest album. Now that probably means dick to just about anyone reading this, but I just about hit the freakin’ roof when he came home with this under his arm. Still, he wouldn’t give it to me, or even sell it to me, and still won’t. My compensation was an autographed copy of Pagan Icons and a Chris D. poetry book.

Rockin’ Ethereal made all the impact of a pin drop among the rock community upon release and has remained out of print for more than a decade. That’s understandable, though unfortunate: this is an excellent album. Released on New Alliance, Brewer’s band featured ‘Trust bassman Bob Fitzer and a few others whose names ring bells, but not enough to make a reference. The sound is way more straight ahead rock than the jazz swing of ST, a point which I recall earned it a slightly negative review in Forced Exposure at the time (the reviewer – probably Coley – missed the acidic freakouts of Joe Baiza). But whatever, this is kinda “rock”, but reminds me of Pagan Icons-era ST more than anything else, and that’s the kinda “rock” I can dig.

What the fuck, a HIGH FIVE

1) ROXY MUSIC – For Your Pleasure LP
Funnily enough, one of the most-played discs in this household in 2004 was the Roxy Music First Kiss 2CD bootleg Jay Hinman burned for me mid-year. It reopened my eyes to the greatness of the band, and especially their official albums which had been happily lying dormant on my shelves for over half a decade. For the Roxy neophyte, I recommend jumping to side 2 and spinning it first. Three wigged-out space-rock tracks which sound like the missing link ‘twixt Hawkwind and Pere Ubu ca. 1980.

2) FEELIES – Only Life LP
The much-neglected bargain-bin-filler LP from 1988. The Feelies are apparently getting a deluxe CD reissue treatment in 2005, but if you can’t wait til then, search the secondhand bins and ye shall find. For a band with a next-to-zilch following Down Under, I sure have spotted a ton of these things 2nd-hand the last 10 years of my life. Does that mean people bought it en masse, thought it sucked and traded it in? I can only assume so. Fools, damn fools! This is more Velvetsy greatness from a “critic’s band” even non-critics should listen to.

Others have raved about this elsewhere, search it out. Anyway, back in print c/o the good folks at Chapter Music, the CD also features a stack of bonus material, a cool booklet and a video (which I haven’t watched… yet). There was a great launch for this at the Cherry Bar about a month back, which featured a slide show from the “little bands” scene; ace music from DJ Alan Bamford (who originally recorded this disc as the LP in 1979, and played nothing post-’79 on the night of the launch, to keep with the feel. That meant a tasty brew of Nuggets rock, Suicide, Television, etc.); a set from a Primitive Calculators “tribute” act featuring various scenesters whose name I forget, though they were good; and even a short set from young locals, Oh Belgium, whom I’d heard of for yonks but had always been put off from seeing them, figuring they’d be so tre hip I’d want to vomit. I’m happy to report that I did not throw up. Sure, they’re way too cool for school, though their No Wave-meets-Rough Trade ca. ’79 DIY racket is undoubtedly good, and I may just buy that 7“ they recently put out. What else? A speech from Guy of Chapter Music, and even a ‘Calculator or two. Add to that a sea of 40-something hepcats doing the rounds for probably the first time in a decade, and that’s a good night out. The CD? Primo Aussie electro-punk, caught somewhere between the Seeds, the Godz, and the “cold wave” of ‘Ubu and Suicide. Pretty furgin’ tasty brew, daddy.

4) BYRDS – 5th Dimension CD
Mr. Tambourine Man, Turn! Turn! Turn!, 5th Dimension, Younger Than Yesterday, Notorious Byrd Brothers, Sweetheart Of the Rodeo, Byrds Untitled. Now that is an awesome, unbroken line of killer releases, one after the other. That is what I call a BODY OF WORK matched only by a few: Minutemen 1980-’85, Miles 1960-’75 (really, you can start with Sketches of Spain and end with the Agharta/Pangaea albums if you want), The Fall ’77-’86 (after that things got seriously hit & miss), and… you get the point. Fuck the Beach Boys and their sycophants: the Byrds were the great Californian pop/rock outfit of the 1960s.

5) BRIAN ENO/HAROLD BUDD – The Plateaux of Mirror LP
Serious Desert Island Disc territory here, folks, so hang onto your seats!! OK, you can relax now. This 1980 collaboration between Eno and avant-piano maestro Budd (who actually started off as a jazz drummer w/ Ayler in the army, ya know) rates, alongside Apollo and Here Come the Warm Jets, as the pinnacle of Eno’s output. What is it? It’s ambient piano soundscapes. Now, before you decide to bring up your lunch into the nearest possible facility, you only need to know that this is Eno at the wheels, and not a New Age shuckster. ‘Nuff said? Thought so.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The following is a letter I recently received from Jason at Perfect Sound Forever regarding an article I wrote on the Stooges back in the Dark Ages (or 1997, to be more precise). It's also a good example of: A) why I will be moving to Mars at the first available opportunity; and B) why a self-professed "entertainer", drummer, songwriter, producer, jackoff, etc. should be sterilised so the chances of any offspring are minimised.

Now, I know what you're thinking: give me this Peter Cross guy's email address so I can write him a really abusive letter which'll knock him upside the head. Too late for that. I'm suffering nicotine withdrawals right now (in keeping with a New Year's resolution) and am rather unbearable to be around at this point in time. He caught me on a bad day, and thus I've already sent him a nice letter back.

Dear Dave

Please read everything I've taken my time to write to you:

"Groan all you want" is an understatement for what I have to do with you now. I won't bicker about what an off base opinion you've got because everybody is entitled to their opinion even if it's wrong, but I need to lecture you because you simply wouldn't even think about those boring Stooges as "the best rock and roll band ever" if you had some real rock and roll experience under your belt. I've been in the thick of rock and roll all my life as a drummer, songwriter, singer, producer, and entertainer, so I've got the credentials to back up my opinion and to give you this lecture. First of all, Iggy was the best thing about the Stooges because at least Iggy knew how to entertain an audience, but as a singer he just rasped and screamed - he didn't actually SING at all. And all the Stooges ever could do is bang "crash chords" away through big amps. There's absolutely no possible arguement that Led Zeppelin is the best rock and roll band EVER and here's why:

1. Best Players:

A. John Bohnam was the best rock and roll drummer ever to walk the face of this planet. John played double bass drums like no one else ever did or does. John had complete independence in all four limbs. He > slammed his drums harder than anyone else and with more precision and creativity than anyone else and he never once dropped the beat. Remember, I was a drummer who also played double bass drums so I know whereof I speak here.

B. Jimi Page has always been one of the best rock guitarist ever, and as a songwriter, Jimi used his incredible ability to play lead guitar to create actual song structure. Led Zep's songs use not one or two of Jimi's incredibly powerful, complicated and unbelievably SEXY riffs in each song, but Jimi's riffs vary within each song and also from song to song.

C. John Paul Jones (who was really a guitarist) became a bass player who attained the same level of brilliance as Paul McCartney. No one at all can touch those two on bass, and John also played excellent keyboards.

D. Robert Plant, like him or don't, had the most incredible range of any male rock singer ever. And just like Dylan was for his own music, Robert's voice was perfect for Led Zep's music and there's no other singer who could possibly have fit in. And Robert co-wrote with Jimi too. Most of the time you can't understand his lyrics and that's Robert's intent because all he cared about at that time was that you connect with the emotion and the sexual energy. But when you can get the lyrics like in Stairway to Heaven (their tribute to Janis Joplin), you find a great piece of poetry there.

2. Unique songwriting: Nobody covers Led Zep songs for very good reasons. Their structure is based on their vastly superior playing abilities and no one can actually play what they played. I'm talking about songs that are not based on simple chords at all like all other rock and roll is. Jimi and Robert based their songs on Jimi's riffs and on his chordal tonalities that to this day stand alone as being unique.

3. Shear body of immortal work: Here they outdistance even The Beatles and the Stones. I'm talking about 9 albums chock full of brilliant songs - I don't know how many hours of great listening that is. There's hardly a single relatively weak track among all that work. Their debut album is still the best one of all time. And Coda, their "swan song" is equally perfect.

4. Stage Presence: If you'd ever seen these guys in action, Dave, you'd have seen TRUE rock and roll STARS with true charisma, and you wouldn't even think of those average Stooges who have none at all. Led Zep was there when the concept of "rock and roll star" was still evolving. I will admit that the Stones at least partially deserve the label as the best rock and roll band ever, but it's mostly because of Mick's superstar stage presence and his ability to put on a great show every single time he appears, and he's still doing it at age 60 for Christ sake! But they can't hold a candle to Led Zep's ability as brilliant players and unique songwriters. Certainly Mick and Keith wrote a lot of great rock songs, but their songs are very simple and similar to each other.

I could go on but I don't need to. Those four categories do enough to qualify them as the best rock and roll band of all time.

Peter Cross