Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Ahem... merry Xmas and all that. A busy time of year and it's taken me until the 27th to get around to sitting in front of this computer to type something out. I'm off work until the 3rd, so I'll write something decent before I go back, but until then here's a pit stop. I have not much of anything planned for the week-and-a-bit off, though it looks like I could be one hell of a busy couch potato. The weather is unseasonably cool, the sky has actually dared to grace us w/ a few showers (note to foreigners: South-Eastern Australia is currently in the grips of its worst drought on record) and I have a ridiculous number of DVDs to watch: three seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm, two series of Deadwood and the final season of Six Feet Under. Since I can purchase CDs dirt-cheap through various connections - or even get them free - all friends and family members have obviously decided that buying myself music for Xmas is off limits, which suits me fine. So, DVDs it will be. Oh, there was one more DVD Santa bought me for Xmas: Gigli. Thanks for that.
But anyway, as a quick space-fill, here is the absolutely, positively final round-up for the Best Of 2006:
THE NECKS - Chemist CD (Fish of Milk)
THE MELVINS - (A) Senile Animal CD (Ipecac)
SCOTT WALKER - The Drift CD (4AD)
EDDY CURRENT SUPPRESSION RING - s/t LP/CD (Dropkick)
WILLIAM PARKER - Long Hidden: The Olmech Series CD (Aum Fidelity)
BRIAN TAIRAKU RITCHIE - Ryoanji CD (Thylacine)
ORNETTE COLEMAN - Sound Grammar CD (Sound Grammar)
TENGIR-TOO - Music of Central Asia Vol. 1: Mountain Music of Kyrgyzstan CD/DVD (Folkways)
TOM WAITS - Orphans 3CD (Anti-)
PORTER WAGONER - The Rubber Room CD (Omni)
JOHN D. LOUDERMILK - The Open Mind of John D. Loudermilk CD (Omni)
RUTHANN FRIEDMAN - Constant Companion CD (Water)
VARIOUS - The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of 2CD (Yazoo)
VARIOUS - Friends Of Old Time Music 3CD (Folkways)
SANDY BULL - Still Valentine's Day 1969: Live at The Matrix, San Francisco CD (Water)
THE KHAN JAMAL CREATIVE ARTS ENSEMBLE - Drumdance to the Motherland CD (Eremite)
Miami Vice (I didn't want to see it, and am sorry I did. An action-free action film: a whole new concept); The Departed (marginally pipped at the post by The Gangs Of New York as Scorcese's worst film yet)
AUSTRALIAN BAND OF THE YEAR:
Eddy Current Suppression Ring - for releasing an excellent record and not blowing their cool
WORST AUSTRALIAN BAND:
Ummm... I can't say this one without the possibility of assault next time I enter various local establishments
BEST TV SERIES:
Deadwood - hands down. As Leapin' Larry L noted: it's so good, you can't believe it's on television!
BEST MUSICAL BLOG:
Agony Shorthand - now deceased
WORST MUSICAL BLOG:
I don't waste my time reading bad blogs as I'd never leave the house otherwise. And don't expect me to put Blog To Comm in here, because in between the insults and tantrums I do actually find things of interest.
There ya go, that's my wrap-up for 2006. Perhaps I should get out more. Again, if I'm missing something, let me know.
I've been blissfully counch-bound the last 48 hours, and here's the soundtrack to a Xmas coma: Whitehorse - Caverns/Live '04 CDs; Opal - Happy Nightmare Baby LP; Universal Congress Of - LP; John Martyn - So Far So Good LP; George Harrison - Electronic Sound CD; Swans - Cop LP; Fripp & Eno - No Pussyfooting LP; Glenn Branca - Symphony #6 CD; Chris Smith & Justin Fuller - CD; Fairport Convention - Unhalfbricking CD; Seeds - Flower Punk 3CD; Pharoah Sanders - Black Unity CD; Sidney Bechet - New Orleans/Paris CD; Serge Gainsbourg - 5CD box; Saint Vitus - Born Too Late CD; Cluster - '71 CD; Pearls Before Swine - The Wizard Of Is 2CD; Slovenly - Riposte LP; Don Cherry - Where Is Brooklyn? CD...
Sunday, December 10, 2006
fIREHOSE - Ragin', Full-On LP (SST/1986)
What's the verdict on fIREHOSE in the year 2006? When this, their debut, first came out, Forced Exposure mag raved about it, finishing its last paragraph w/ a line which went something like this: "fIREHOSE may just prove to become a better band than the Minutemen ever were". Or something to that effect. You think Byron's eating his words? Perhaps so, though fIREHOSE, contrary to what many may think, were not a band worthy of dismissal. The beefs people had w/ fIREHOSE were manyfold: it was Minutemen-lite; they'd lost the overt politics of their former band; the music was too collegiate; Ed fROMOHIO was a no-talent putz not worthy of licking Watt and Hurley's boots, and so on. All points containing a hint of validity, though I still beg to differ. Their debut, in particular, holds up nicely two decades after its initial release.
Many of the songs here were actually written by Watt and his wife (at the time) Kira for their duo-bass project Dos, and some of these did indeed wind up in slightly different form (well, it was just two basses) on their debut from the same year, so it's really the most Ed-less disc they ever released. More to the point, if there is any, would the Minutemen, had they survived and continued on, actually have sounded much different from this in 1986? At a guess, I'd say no.
The material here is the strongest the band ever recorded. Take a brief tour of their subsequent work: If'n was their weakest SST effort, a hodge-podge which sounded like approximately half-a-dozen not particularly great bands playing on one disc (though it still has its moments); fROMOHIO was a terrific, rootsy return to form; and then they jumped ship like so many others at the dawn of the '90s and signed to Sony, releasing Flyin' The Flannel then Mr. Machinery Operator in '93 before calling it quits. I never heard those records at the time. I jumped ship from all things SST in 1990, too, and tried to put it all out of my mind for a few years: a 3-4-year overdose hit me hard. Only many years later did I purchase the Sony CDs secondhand for a belated look into what ever happened to what was once my 3rd- or 4th-favourite band under the sun, to see where they went right or wrong, or at least to figure out why it was they never sold any records to speak of. My guess is they simply got lost in the rush at the time.
Ragin'... is a collection of hit-upon-hits. Straight-out Buzzcocksian power-pop ("Choose Any Memory"), Beefheartian funk ("Under the Influence of the Meat Puppets"), more rockin' material worthy of a Minutemen disc ("Chemical Wire") and even a few soppy ballads which don't stink. If anything, I'd compare the sound of Ragin'... to Meat Puppets ca. Out My Way/Mirage: caught in one of the last gasps before the label and many of its bands drifted into a musical no-man's-land. You know I'm biased, but the verdict is in: fIREHOSE coulda been contenders. By this stage, however, I figure that just about anyone and everyone reading this has already made their minds up regarding fIREHOSE. A yay or a nay?
Some people are starting to tire of my penmanship regarding 1st-, 2nd- and nth-rate SST bands of yesteryear. I have but one thing to say: too fuckin' bad You think I get paid for this? Nope, it's a hobby for my own amusement. And in that spirit, I'll inform you that the next issue of Perfect Sound Forever will feature an interview I did w/ Chuck Dukowski, so keep yer eyes peeled.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
THE KHAN JAMAL CREATIVE ARTS ENSEMBLE - Drumdance to the Motherland CD (Eremite)
Certainly one of the best reissues of '06. The cover is a little deceptive, so don't let that put you off (Aquarius beautifully described it as looking like "some crappy new age CD you'd buy in an art gallery in New Mexico, while picking up some healing crystals"). This is in fact a first-time on-CD (or should I say, "first-time-out-of-Philadelphia") reissue of a hideously rare and much-sought-after LP from 1973, originally issued in a pressing of 300 copies and, I assume, sans cover (hence the garish-looking beast you are currently eyeballing).
The name Khan Jamal is not widely known outside of jazz-collector-dork circles - I only know him through a few other sideman appearances on Eremite - though he's obviously been kicking around for a while, and played w/ the likes of Sunny Murray and Byard Lancaster way back in the '60s, but anyway... Why is this release getting people like me all a-buzz out there? I guess you could say it's the constant "King Tubby-meets-Sun Ra" comparisons getting bandied about. Now that's enough to pique the interest of... well, just about any jazz-collector-dork you may care to mention, which puts me fair and square in the purchasing demographic.
Jamal plays vibraphone in a quintet setting here, recorded live at the Catacombs Club, Philadelphia, October 6 or 7 (no-one knows), 1972. Accompanied by glockenspiel, marimba, guitar and Fender bass, the first track, "Cosmic Echoes" has strong tones of Jewels Of Thought/Deaf Dumb & Blind-period Pharoah Sanders running through it, with a sea of clattering percussion and squawling reeds, though what sets the bulk of the album apart from other "cosmic jazz" releases of its day is the plain weird and other-worldly dub production its caked in. Everything echoes, sounding, as has been noted time and time again, like King Tubby or Lee Perry controlling the decks at a mid-'60s Sun Ra recording. Or Joe Meek producing Pharoah Sanders in a cave. Or Syd Barrett leading the Arkestra w/ Conny Plank at the helm. Ladies, I could do this aaall night, but I'll spare you the lazy comparisons. This is a gem uncovered, dusted off and available to you for a reasonable price. Couldn't ask for more than that!
Speaking of reasonable prices, check out this sucka on ebay. As I write this right now, the Velvet Underground acetate disc I speak of is hovering at just over the US$128,000 mark. My mother always had a saying about a fool and his money, but I'll spare the sermonising.
Monday, November 27, 2006
MELVINS - (A) Senile Animal CD (Ipecac/USA)
The Melvins have become so ridiculously prolific over the last decade, their longevity and number of releases almost puts them at risk of becoming a 'Stones or Pink Floyd of the alterna-set (see: Sonic Youth). That is, a long-running band whose best work quite obviously lay amongst their earlier recordings and who is now set to merely coast for a lifetime on such glories, in the meantime releasing disc upon disc of good/mediocre/awful product for the diehards. All that would be true if they didn't actually continue to release such fine product, and this is one of them. In fact this is, at least to my thinking, their best effort since 1999's stupendous The Maggot opus.
There's been so little fanfare regarding its release, I can only assume that their bombardment of recordings has wearied all but the truly committed. Either that or I'm just not keeping my ears close enough to the ground. I see that the chin-scratchers at The Wire magazine have dared to put the band on the cover of their December issue, so maybe they're up for a hipster revival and I'm just out of the loop. Whatever...
(A) Senile Animal is by no means any kind of great musical departure from the sound they perfected some time back in the early/mid '90s during their Houdini/Stoner Witch phase, which I guess actually makes it a bit of a throwback in sound, especially given the wildly variant nature of their output the last 10 years. Examples? The crunching metallic punk blast of The Maggot, the frighteningly non-heavy 'Floydian ambiance of The Bootlicker, the unfocused eclecticism of Hostile Ambient Takeover, and the "industrial/rock" crossover of their collaborative disc w/ Lustmord a couple of years back. Keeping it simple and back to the fast/slow, stop/start hijinx of Stoner Witch, with a similarly rough production and wall of guitar fuzz, (A) Senile Animal has seen the band come (almost) full circle, and I dig it a lot.
Now joined by the two gents of noise/rock/hardcore/math-metal (or whatever... I ain't heard 'em yet!) outfit, Big Business, lending bass and an extra pair of skins to the duo of Buzz and Dale, they've been put to excellent use, anchoring the sound in a wall of fuzz bass and two drummers who don't merely mimic each other, but spice up the rhythms w/ multiple fills so impressive I feel like I should be penning this for Modern Drummer magazine.
Best tracks here are #3, "Civilized Worm" (I'll use the American spelling only in respect for the band), a slo-mo crawl w/ fully-realised pop harmonies which actually get me singing in tandem, and similarly "A History Of Bad Men", another dirge caked in layers of guitar noise and Buzz's half-parody/half-serious soaring vocals. If the Melvins released 12 albums in a row which sounded exactly like this, you could say they were coasting. Nothing they've released since 1994 comes close, so I'm calling it a return to their roots. Not a return to form - there's been too much good stuff in between to denote any drop in quality - but it is the band getting back to the basics.
Whilst not quite up there with the holy trinity of Ozma/Bullhead/Lysol, (A) Senile Animal is a more than respectable outing from one of the great American rock bands of the last two decades, and I'll be chucking it in my end-of-year's Top 10, that's for sure.
And a few other things...
San Fran's Water label have put out a few interesting reissues of late, one being by DON CHERRY and electronics wiz, JON APPLETON. It's entitled Human Music and was originally released in 1969. After living in Europe throughout the latter half of the '60s, Cherry came back to the 'States and was eagerly pursued by the music professor at Dartmouth College, Jon Appleton, who wished him to teach. In the meantime, they got together in the lab's studio and knocked this out for the faithful. Appleton had a background in avant-garde electronics, which he'd used for everything from serious compositions to radio commercials (a la Raymond Scott), and the idea was to marry his bleeps and whoops with Cherry's otherwordly mix of trumpet, flutes, drums, finger cymbals and kalimbas.
Was the result a success? Well, yes and no. I'm a committed Cherry fanatic - everything he laid to tape from the late '50s to 1975 should be sitting in your house, too - and whilst this isn't a complete waste of time, it's probably not something I'll be spinning a whole lot. Sure, I'll pull it out on occasion to impress friends and inform them in my weekly lectures of the amazing and eclectic recorded output of The Don Cherry, but I can't exactly see myself flogging this whilst lighting up a bowl, cruising down the highway, doing the gardening or other such pursuits. Right side of the brain music; if you can sit through the completely abstract noodlings present here on repeat for days, you're a braver man than me.
One Water reissue well worth checking out is RUTHANN FRIEDMAN's Constant Companion CD, which has become a fave in recent weeks. The comprehensive booklet tells the story: daughter of a Bronx union organiser, Friedman hit the west coast in the '60s and proceeded to ingratiate herself w/ the LA music mafia. Lived w/ Dave Crosby, dated Van Dyke Parks, earned the praise of Frank Zappa and wound up w/ this sole LP on Reprise to her name. It sunk like a brick for no particular reason except that Friedman (and Reprise) didn't push it much and split from "the scene" soon thereafter. Since Water has made a bucket w/ the new-found interest and success of Judee Sill's back catalogue, I can only assume they're hoping to do the same w/ Friedman (a pre-LP demo recordings CD has just come out, too), since her sound is remarkably similar. Take away the string section from Sill and perhaps some of the occasionally grating lilt in her voice and the music of Ruthann Friedman is awfully close. I've heard about three Cat Power songs in my life, but the three I've heard also sound a whole lot like this album. I can only assume that's an OK thing for everyone involved. Reprise balked at suggestions of strings adorning the songs, something I'm glad for, the starkness giving the songs extra staying power. The anomaly here is the bonus track, "Carry On", produced by Van Dyke Parks, which is completely incongruous w/ the rest of the material but a nice reminder of where she might've gone had she stuck around and deepened her sound further.
Those prone to sobbing like a baby over the musical crimes committed in the '70s by various hippie-holdover flunkies before punk hit are advised to stay away. There's still a scent of hot tubs in the air here somewhere. But if you're partial to good songcraft and spectacular female vocals, this could be one of your best musical discoveries of '06. And anyway, that was 35 years ago and I'd party w/ a wildman like David Crosby any day of the week. Get over it!
Went to EDDY CURRENT SUPPRESSION RING's LP/CD launch this past Saturday at the Central Club in Richmond, a venue I hadn't attended since some time way back in the early '90s. Observing the posters of recent years adorning their walls - Dragon, Margaret Ulrich, Weddings, Parties, Anything, Grinspoon - I quickly understood why I've given it a wide berth for so long. Well, it's under new management now, hoping to hippen up its image (no stretch there) and get The Kids back within its doors. They could start by sacking the chef. I made the fatal error of attending the special "dinner and show" event and paid a whopping $38 for the privilege. For that kind of bread, I expect Tony Bennett to hit the stage for a song-&-dance routine. Instead I managed to get a dry chicken breast, boiled vegetables and some straight-out-of-a-can tomato sauce caking the lot. The dessert was a sub-Sara Lee out-of-the-freezer piece of cheesecake you'd probably pay a dollar for on a good day. So, the show on its own was only $10 entry, which I guess means I forked out $28 for the previously-mentioned and a complimentary beer. Bargain.
I'm not a food critic (and I've probably just managed to find myself barred from their establishment for the next decade), so let's talk music. Supporting were new-ish outfit, The Dacios. Hype has been surrounding them in recent months and I'm still scratching my head as to why. The vocals nail it - it's the girl from shite-hot mid '90s Tasmanian outfit Little Ugly Girls (one of the great lost Australian bands of the 1990s) whose name escapes me - and she can howl and scream in my face any time she pleases. Her screech peels paint and melts brains. But the band surrounding her sound like they're in a coma, the bog-ordinary Rock Band sound they're either aiming for or simply effortlessly achieving not doing anyone any justice. I wanted to love 'em, but I didn't.
The Pink Fits I skipped, so that leaves the headline. At this point, I'm waiting for the ECSR backlash. It'll happen, just give it time. Too many "right" and "wrong" people like them. I'm too old for backlashes. I'll do my own thinking, regardless of anyone else's verdict. For now, ECSR have got the sound I'm after. An energetic "rock" completely bereft of the two prime elements so inherent in much of today's stomach-churning sorry excuses for rock 'n' roll: the bluesy, macho denim-clad "swagger" and the no-testicles-allowed gutless foppery of the haircut crowd. It's clean, simple and tight, deftly pushed along by an airtight rhythm section and a guitarist who never cares to clutter a song up w/ unnecessary guitar chords. It's a completely refreshing and economic take on songwriting, one which, at least to my ears, lends itself to strong comparisons with The Feelies, Wire and Television, but avoids being simply derivative by its uniquely Australian bent, caught somewhere 'twixt X and the Saints. Those are merely momentary flashes; ECSR have blended the ingredients properly and hit their own sound. And the new songs they performed on the night show they're not out of ideas just yet. They still get my vote, even though time is moving awful fast for ECSR right now. People are waiting for them to trip; so far I'm enjoying the trip.
Monday, November 20, 2006
If you're looking for some high comedy, check out this clip at YouTube.
I'll be back in full blogging mode soon... my computer's been on the fritz the last week, so I haven't been able to do shit or shinola in the writing stakes. In the meantime, at night when the sun goes down, I've actually been cuddling up to old issues of... Answer Me! magazine. Is that lameness in a basket or what?! I mean, next thing you know I'll be spinning a few Sub Pop Singles Club platters to accompany the wordfest. BUT - and that's a big but - Answer Me!, at least the first three issues (I never bought the 4th, the "Rape" issue, which was pulled from the shelves pretty quick down these here parts), hold up to great scrutiny 15 years after athe fact. Jim Goad, no matter what a complete and total asshole the guy will always be, is funnier than a fart in a spacesuit when it comes to penmanship. The 3 issues in question have recently been republished w/ a stack of bonus material. I won't be buying it, but perhaps you should. I have no time for misanthropy, unless it makes me laugh, and JG MAKES ME LAUGH. Seemingly disappearing from view for roughly a decade, you can read about what he's been up to at his web site here. It's not a pretty story. Keep in mind, I usually have zero time for "shock culture" or "extreme culture" or whatever you wish to call it - I gave up on that in the mid '90s when I sold all my Whitehouse LPs - but I can only say this: Answer Me! made a huge splash at the time for a pretty good reason. Can't say the same for the old issues of Ben Is Dead I've been thumbing through...
Speaking of big splashes, I have the debut CD by Melbourne's Eddy Current Suppression Ring right in front of me. It's on Dropkick and entitled "Eddy Current Suppression Ring". Every man and his dog has been salivating over it in the local press and radio, so much so I almost want to hate it. Why? To quote Larry Livermore (yeah, well, someone has to): "When I'm in a crowded room and find everyone agreeing with me, I figure I must've said something wrong". But I don't let others dictate what I like and don't like, and I like this a lot. The first impression wasn't overwhelming, the premature verdict being that it doesn't capture the energy and excitement of their live shows. That may still stand, but it doesn't detach from the strength of the actual songs.
I had to go on a hellish daytrip last week for work: Prahran, Frankston, Narre Warren and Dandenong. That'll mean dick to anyone outside of Melbourne; suffice to say it was a monster of a journey through the bumfuck outer suburbs of the city. On such trips I bring my CD wallet along and often find myself playing up to a dozen albums in a single trip. Not the whole albums, mind you, just selected tracks until I feel like playing something different. I played ECSR from Coburg - home base - all the way to Dandenong. That is, for about 4 hours straight, which means I played it nearly eight times in a row. Didn't skip a track, didn't feel like listening to anything else. It simply played through to the end and went right back to track one, started again and I didn't flinch until I hit the gosdforsaken burg known as Dandenong (no offence to the good people of Dandenong, but you really should move) and realised I needed a change of tuneage. That's not only a compliment, that's a fuggin' miracle given my usual attention span for music.
Best Australian album of the year? I'll say yes. If there's a better Australian album released in the year 2006, I haven't heard it. Nothing else I've heard on the radio comes close, and it pips The Necks' The Chemist CD by only the tiniest of margins (and perhaps only because The Chemist is slightly less revelatory than the pure genius of their Aether/Drive By/Mosquito-See Through trilogy). There is nothing I dislike about ECSR: they've got the right songs, the right influences, the right attitude and a perfect sense of individualism in a sea of lessers trying way too hard to succeed without ever considering the question of whether they're actually any good. No-BS Australian "garage rock" in the grand tradition of X and the Eastern Dark I can get my head around, proving it's not a toothless tiger just yet. This time I'm voting w/ the crowd, however begrudgingly: ECSR is a record you'll probably love as much as I do.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
SUNNO)))/BORIS - Altar 2CD (Southern Lord)
Could this be the MinuteFlag of 2006? What is a MinuteFlag? Other than being a collaborative EP from 1985 w/ both the Minutemen and Black Flag in the control room, if you check your Rocklapedia Britannica, you'll also see it listed as "a deeply disappointing joining of forces between two titans of the contemporary music scene". So, I'll ask the question again: is this the MinuteFlag of 2006? My answer is an unequivocal Yes and No. It disappoints, but not on a MinuteFlag level.
I don't have any particular beef w/ this recording. I'll swear on your life on the utter terrificness of every single SunnO))) release there is. They've taken what at first could appear to be a threadbare concept - let's call it "minimalist avant-doom" - and proved themselves, time and time again, to be one of the 21st century's best and most consistently adventurous and challenging bands. And then there's Japan's Boris. Friends of mine are much greater experts on their vast and eclectic recorded output than I, though two of the three recordings of theirs I own - Absolutego and Amplifier Worship - rock this world and the next. The third, Akuma No Uta, I'm not convinced holds the key to the kingdom.
So, I guess the assumption is this: put them in the studio together and you'll have a righteous combo of what makes both bands tick: SunnO)))'s guttural feedback and doom-laden weirdness crossing paths with Boris' slightly more rock-oriented aktion AT THE GATEW-A-A-A-YS OF HE-E-E-E-LL! Such moments are achieved, but for myself, the record never really gets kicking into overdrive until the 3rd track, "The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)". The opener, "Etna" is a near 10 minutes of Doomus Genericus Maximus - nice, but I've heard it all before - whilst the 2nd ditty, "N.L.T.", simply sounds like a leftover track from the last two SunnO))) albums. None of this is bad, mind you; just nothing to write home (or in a blog) about.
"The Sinking Belle...", on the other hand, it easily the most "pop"-oriented piece I've heard from either band and works perfectly for both. With whispered female vocals accosted by reverbed guitar and piano, it could possibly pass itself off as a pleasant piece of shoegazer "slow-core" (yes, it does hurt to use such a term, but a point must be made), though the context of the piece keeps it a distance from dangerous saccharine levels. Also mighty is the next number, "Akuma No Kuma", a glorious 8-minute rock dirge aided and abetted by that most excellent of instruments, the vocoder. With a swathe of keyboards (and even trombone) during the track's "battle scene", it reminds me of that absolutely ridiculously bombastic opening song on Celtic Frost's To Mega Therion LP, and if that statement means zip to you then I guess there's at least one more record you should buy in this lifetime. In short, it's an album highlight.
Rounding out the disc is the atmospheric and pleasant "Fried Eagle Mind", then the closer, the 14-minute somewhat industrial-sounding crawl of "Blood Swamp". Now I've stated all the facts and put them on the table, I've finally realised why I'm not blown away by Altar, and anything less than being "blown away" is a disappointment: a lot of it doesn't really sound like a collaboration. The atmospheric tracks sound like SunnO))); the rockier ones like Boris. Really, only in "The Sinking Belle...", "Akuma No Kuma" and parts of "Etna" do I truly hear two bands beating as one (you know what I mean). Is it a dud? Nope, not by a long shot. I'd still rather hear this on loop for a month than a second of most other music released this or any other year... but unless it proves to be a grower over the following months, I can't see myself revisiting it too often. Me, I'll stick w/ SunnO))) and Boris when they're performing and recording in separate rooms.
As a last note, I listed this as a 2CD, didn't I? The copy I have is the limited (5,000 copies! Sheez!) version w/ a bonus disc featuring one, 28-minute track, "SatanOscillateMyMetallicSonatas", a concoction of heavily-twanged guitar (that's Earth's Dylan Carlson) and thunderous doom which is so damn impressive they really should've cut some of the fat off the official album and included this instead. Lots of shit-hot guests abound, the packaging is worthy of an exhibition and just about every young hepcat on the planet probably owns this already, but for myself, I'm left w/ a decidedly lukewarm feeling.
Monday, November 06, 2006
TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE...
Here's some links back to old LexDev articles you may care to read and comment on. The choice is yours!
Speaking of The Feelies, which I know we really weren't, I'll just note that only a trainspotter knee-deep in the pits of neuroses such as myself would pick up the following piece of trivia: last night I watched the recently-released movie, The Squid And The Whale. Dean Wareham of Luna/Galaxie 500 was its musical supervisor. It stars Jeff Daniels, is set in New York ca. 1986 and features The Feelies on the soundtrack (a track from The Good Earth). 20 years ago - that's 1986, folks - the very same Jeff Daniels starred in Jonathon Demme's Something Wild, which not only featured The Feelies on the soundtrack, but also had them playing a high-school-reunion band in the actual movie. You can start w/ that amazing factoid at your next dinner party.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
SONIC Youth - Goo deluxe edition 2CD (Universal/EU)
Bought this a few months ago and barely even gave it a decent spin until last week. Why the purchase? I can only assume that Universal - either in Europe or Australia - is currently sitting on a warehouse full of these "deluxe editions", coz they're now flogging them off dirt cheap. In fact, they're roughly half the price at the moment, and there's some good-to-great titles in the series, too: Marvin Gaye, Coltrane, Who, Cream, etc. Lo and behold, there's even some Elton John and Eric Clapton in there, if you're feeling in a particularly masochistic mood. But anyway, what brought on the sudden spurt of airtime for Goo? Well, other than the fact that one should obviously bother listening to the music they spend their hard-earned cash on, it was also spurred on by hearing "Dirty Boots" on the Tote (local music establishment frequented by Melbourne's landed gentry and high society) jukebox last week. Fleeing the band-room in horror w/ a compadre after witnessing yet another musical atrocity, we hugged the bar in stunned silence for a minute then turned to each other in perfect unison and stated in awe, Man, how good does this sound in comparison?! It rocks! Yes indeed, time to listen to that Goo 2CD gathering dust next to the stereo...
I hated Goo when it first came out in 1990. At the time I had been a bonafide SY fanboy for a good 3 years. I bought Sister the week it came out (it was licensed locally to Au-go-go at the time), screen-printed "Sonic Youth" on the front of my grey hoodie and figured I was just about the coolest cat in North Balwyn. Well, let's face it, I was probably was, but that's not the point. Skip to 1990, and I was an insufferable twit w/ my head up my anus knee-deep in that special brand of midwestern asshole/noise-rock a la Die Kreuzen/Killdozer/Laughing Hyenas which was all the rage at the time. Goo hit the racks and I recoiled in horror. Had my once-favourite band just been permanently sissified for the purpose of general consumption? My response was a big YES. Firstly, they'd sold their soul to Geffen (back in the Us Vs. Them days, a big no-no); secondly, they'd released "Kool Thing" as a single, what still stands as possibly the worst song SY has ever written (and their pee-thetic breaking-bread-with-the-homies move of including Chuck D. in the mix struck me as beneath contempt); and thirdly, what the hell was w/ all those day-glo fashion shoots the band was splashing over every glossy mag in town? Were SY being "sexed-up" by The Man in an attempt to appeal to The Kids? Sheez, SY are goddamn bookworms, dorks, collectors, aesthetes, not pin-up material. I threw in the towel and wrote 'em off like a bad debt. Time to find a new favourite band.
So, it's 2006, and how does Goo stand up? Disc one here includes the album in full. Outside of "Kool Thing" (sorry, I still don't like it; if you're looking for why SY-detractors label them as smug and contrived, look no further than this song), it holds up really well, and only now is my mid-'30s brain starting to understand the concept of why it seemed like everyone else on earth - except for me - went so apeshit over it at the time. Maybe I should've listened to the thing. Firstly, this is by no means any kind of departure, musically speaking, from their universally lauded Daydream Nation meisterwerk of '88. As Byron Coley's liner notes tell the story, the vast bulk of the album was actually written right after Daydream Nation when the band didn't even have a record contract, so I can only assume that Geffen bean-counters weren't hanging over their shoulders at the time trying to mould a "hit" (perhaps not through lack of trying, though). Then you've got the individual songs in question: "Dirty Boots", "Tunic (Song For Karen)", "Mote", "Titanium Expose", all as good as Sonic Youth are ever going to get when attempting to write some sort of "pop" tune. I could take or leave a few of the shorter tracks, especially the likes of "My Friend Goo" and "Mildred Pierce", in which they attempt to "punk out". Still, the hit/dud ratio is in their favour. I'm backflipping on the words I spilt as an angry 18-year-old: Goo is an honest-to-goodness fine rock 'n' roll album.
This is also well worth getting if only for all the bonus material. Disc 2 contains a wealth of 8-track demos which, perhaps predictably, sound better than the finished product. Devoid of any studio gloss, the dual-guitar interplay from Moore and Ranaldo sounds more Ginn/Cadena than, say, Verlaine/Lloyd or Reed/Morrison. The elastic spasticity (whooaah!) and spikiness of the solos really shine through, rocking it harder than the relatively shiny-sounding album which hit the stores at the time. There's also a bunch of B-sides, demos, out-takes and even a piece of promo nonsense included in an issue of Sassy mag at the time which you'll probably never listen to all the way through, but given its current price, the album itself, the hot-hot-hot demos, the always-informative and witty Coley liner notes and the all-round swishness of the package - candy-assed photos included - it's certainly a sound investment for the discerning consumer. Purchase at will!
Monday, October 30, 2006
PORTER WAGONER - The Rubber Room CD (Omni Recording Corporation)
A couple of things you should know here... Firstly, I wrote a few paragraphs the other day reappraising the recorded works of Slint, saved it and have now abandoned it for the time being. Who gives a fuck about Slint in this day and age? You only need to know this: their first album was an OK-ish work-in-progress effort which, in hindsight, sounds like a zillion other records from the era; their Spiderland LP and posthumous self-titled EP still sound fantastic and like no other band before or since; they inspired a gazillion douchebags to pick up instruments and imitate their moves with a slow/loud/quiet schtick and none of them quite matched it. Australia had a glut of such bands throughout the mid '90s, as I'm guessing your country/city/town did, too, and thankfully not too many of them are still actively recording. Case closed.
Secondly, I'd like to urge you to check out this Porter Wagoner CD. I'll come clean about this CD, since I've recently been informed that I do indeed have an Australian readership (for whatever reason I figured no-one from this great land even knew about this blog). The confession: it is my day job to sell this CD to stores. That is what I do for a living, and the company I work for pays me well. There, it's been said. I have, over the last 3 or more years, written about many such releases on labels like Smithsonian Folkways, Yazoo, Revenant, Trojan, Water, etc. Never take such reviews as being part of a press junket. I simply write about the music which engages me, excites me and makes me want to tell the world about them. Fact is, 95% of the music I'm exposed to is the stuff I have to sell; there's only so much room in this head of mine to absorb this thing called music, and it's mostly used up by the time I consider actively going to record stores to search out something new. Glad that's out the way...
Omni is a terrific new-ish label owned and operated by local electronic/experimental/soundtrack dude of some repute, David Thrussell. It's a new imprint designed for him to indulge his love of weird and/or forgotten country/singer-songwriter music of yesteryear and give it the deluxe reissue treatment. So far his roster has been so spot on I'm tempted to name it as one of my favourite new labels of the last 12 months. Only 6 releases thus far, but they're all worth your time and trouble: Henson Cargill, Jimmy Driftwood, Jack Blanchard & Misty Morgan, Bobby Bare, John D. Loudermilk and Mr. Wagoner.
The cover and title is a good indication of the musical direction of the CD: anxious, eccentric, surreal, corny, earnest and perhaps affected by too much booze and drugs. Wagoner was big news in country music in the '50s and '60s. He had a few huge hits in the '50s w/ his tunes - a strange mix of "authentic" Hank-derived boogie and showbiz-tinted dross - though it was his TV music-variety show in the '60s which really made him a star. Later on he boosted Dolly Parton's career into the lofty heights which it still enjoys and even appeared in Clint Eastwood's 1981 flick, Honkytonk Man, though to cut a long story short, he's essentially been missing in action for a good 30 years now.
The Rubber Room curates his best material from 1966-'77 and, whilst it took a few listens to sink in, is now flying high as one of my favourite reissue releases of 2006. If you're a country purist (do you know any?) who simply wants the grit w/out the glamour, then look elsewhere. His best material here, such as the truly demented title track (w/ reverbed vocals as he hollers "the rubber-r-r-r room-m-m"), "George Leroy Chickashea" (the story of a man, part white, part black, part Indian, hence the make-up of his name), "Shopworn" (a great metaphor for enroaching middle age) and "Out Of The Silence (Came A Song)" (more loneliness and despair) possess a piercing honesty which, though at first they may make you chuckle w/ their cornball kitschiness, repeated listens bring to light the absolute gut-level honesty and sense of personal expression these songs possess. I won't attempt the longest bow-draw in written history and hail this as street-level proto-punk, though I will state that, beneath the bad jumpsuits and hilarious album covers (featured in the booklet), Porter Wagoner was a pretty right-on confessional singer-songwriter w/ a bizarre and brilliant lyrical cache, and with no bow being drawn whatsoever, if you're as terminally obsessed w/ Scott Walker's first four LPs as I am (the closest musical/lyrical comparison I can orbit here), then The Rubber Room may just prove to be the musical revelation of 2006.
1) THURSTON MOORE IS OK BY ME. Why? Because he's personally picked the roster for what may just prove to be the music festival of the goddamn century. Dig the line-up for the Nightmare Before Christmas here. Stooges, MC5 (OK, possibly not so exciting in the year 2006), Sun City Girls, Negative Approach(!!!), Melvins, Nurse With Wound, Flipper, Dead C., The Haters (sheez, I used to love those guys) and much more. If you can book a ticket, do it now.
2) ARIA AWARDS. If you speak in a funny accent you may not know what the ARIA Awards are. They are, in essence, the Australian Grammys. Yeah, that good. One piece of good news came in last night, drowning in a sea of misery: The Necks won Best Jazz Album of 2006 for their Chemist CD. Hooray for them, seriously.
3) R.I.P. IAN RILEN. X front dude and all-round rock good-guy, Ian Rilen, passed away this morning from cancer. It was a long time coming and not exactly a shock since it was widely known, due to various recent benefits, that his health was in dire straits, though his musical output, if only for the first two X LPs (and the Live At The Civic release on Dropkick - well worth getting), is well worth paying tribute to. It's a shameful confession, but in all the years I loved X - and that's 20 - I only ever saw them once. That was January 1999 at the Greyhound Hotel when they played a headline extravaganza on a stinking hot night. The crowd was so drunk, so raucous, so hot and so pumped up for the headline act - and you can put me under all 3 banners, too - that the entire venue completely erupted when they crashed into their set of classic, older songs. It still stands as the only gig I have ever attended where I actually, literally, swung from the rafters of the venue. A-fuckin'-men to that!
OTHER FINE THINGS:
1) X - X-Aspirations LP
2) George Harrison - Wonderwall Music CD
3) Yoko Ono - Fly 2CD
4) Charles Mingus - Live in Antibes CD
5) Fairport Convention - Unhalfbricking LP
6) Flamin' Groovies - Shake Some Action CD
7) Nurse With Wound - Spiral Insana CD
8) Junior Kimbrough - All Night Long LP
9) Melvins - Bullhead LP
10) David S. Ware Quartet - Wisdom of Uncertainty CD
Thursday, October 19, 2006
2006 is nearly over - musically, at least. Nothing of any note ever gets released in December, so that leaves us w/ just over a month of goodies (and otherwise) to peruse. I'm in the queue for a ltd., deluxe version of that Boris/SunnO))) CD when it hits town next week, and I'm expecting it to slay (either that or I'm just wasting my time and money), and there's still the soon-to-be-released Eddy Current Suppression Ring full-length LP/CD (I heard an unmastered version months back - being down w/ the fucking kids as I am - though I'll give it the full spiel upon release... needless to say, it'll be in this list by year's end, 'k?) and Ornette disc I'll have next week, but other than that I think the bulk of my faves for the year are already set. Then again I'm drawing a blank and my memory is getting faulty these days. Let's see if this list changes and/or expands...
VARIOUS ARTISTS - The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of 2CD (Yazoo)
Super-rare country/blues/roots for the geeks, as collected by the good people at Yazoo
THE NECKS - The Chemist CD (Fish Of Milk)
Not the best from this Australian trio, but still miles ahead of the pack
WILLIAM PARKER - Long Hidden: The Olmec Series CD (Aum Fidelity)
SCOTT WALKER - The Drift (4AD)
Triumphant return from this Yankee-turned-limey elder statesman. Best disc from him since Scott 4, says I
BRIAN TAIRAKU RITCHIE - Ryoanji CD (Thylacine)
Here's one waaay out of left field: a solo (or trio, perhaps) album from the bass player of the Violent Femmes. Am I kidding? Nope. Never been a fan of the 'Femmes, even as a young man, but this is a simply incredible album, self-released by the man. The set-up: Ritchie on shakuhachi (a 2-foot-long Japanese flute, if you will) w/ acoustic bass and drums playing otherwordly "jazz" w/ a heavy Far Eastern bent. Throw in some unexpected covers of both Steve Lacy and John Cage and you've got a hidden gem. I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but if you're partial to the sounds of Eno, Don Cherry, Alice Coltrane, etc., don't be afraid to take the trip.
TENGIR-TOO - Music of Central Asia Vol. 1: Mountain Music of Kyrgyzstan CD/DVD (Folkways)
I don't mean to be so esoteric, it's just that sometimes it comes out that way. Throw into the blender a steady mix of Jew's harp, village chants, loopy percussion and various stringed instruments I'll never be able to pronounce correctly, wrap it in a package to rival Revenant in its beauty and - hey, what the hell - throw in a bonus DVD disc giving the viewer the history of the given music, and that's this release in a long, convoluted sentence. There's 3 in the series and you need them all.
MOONDOG - The Viking of Sixth Avenue CD (Honest Jon's Records)
Excellent overview detailing the long and eccentric career of NYC's greatest and only Viking poet-musician. A fair bit of this is culled from other, readily available releases, though there's still a good dozen tracks never before encountered, and the sequencing and all-round attention to detail make this a 2006 winner.
Now, tell me: was there any good rock 'n' roll released in 2006? Of course there was... it just didn't manage to reach these ears. I'll update this on December 31st at 11:59, that I promise! Until then, this is a forum, so remind and/or inform me of all the great fucking music I'm blissfully ignoring.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
I've been on vacation for the last 3 or more weeks. Not a real vacation, just a vacation from the 'net, blogs, etc. Also, my computer has been rooted and I'm in dire need of upgrading my account, since it's obvious now that w/ a heavy schedule of YouTube viewing being par for the course, I'll need to get more bandwidth post haste.
An absolutely stupid pile of stuff has landed on my doorstep of late. Maybe one day I'll get around to doing them some real justice. In the meantime, I'm going to breezily skip over a couple of them in brief summaries.
DINOSAUR JR. - You're Living All Over Me/Bug CDs (Merge)
Time to feel like I'm 16/17 all over again. I foolishly sold my LP copies of these years back, after being so disheartened by the sad (and fairly quick) decline of the band and figuring I'd never want to hear even their good, earlier albums ever again. All is forgiven. When was the last time I heard these? '94? '95? I only received these in the mail 24 hours ago and I'm reconverted all over again. Powerhouse hardcore/psych/metal/goth/sludge rock which, so far as that genre goes, has never been surpassed. And for the record, I think Bug is the better of the two, no matter what lame crap I may've spouted in that goddamn SST article years back, one which will haunt me 'til the day I die. Yes, Ginn did write to me to call me an asshole. True story.
ARTHUR RUSSELL - World Of Echo CD (Audika)
Blow me the fuck down. This one has sent me in a tailspin. Arthur Russell is a name I've been hearing a lot over the last few years, especially since the good people at Soul Jazz released a comp' of his works a year or two back. When he was summed up as being a now-deceased gay avant-garde musician from '80s NY who dabbled in performance music and disco, I was prepared for the worst. What would I get? Kid Creole and the Coconuts meets Laurie Anderson w/ perhaps a smidgen of Quentin Crisp? His music is, from all reports, a schizophrenic mixed bag, though the bag featured here is one I'll be keeping. This does not sound like it emanates from '80s chi-chi post-No Wave downtown NY. In fact, it doesn't sound even remotely American or '80s. World Of Echo concentrates on Russell's avant-pop, accompanied mostly by only a cello and a bevy of effects pedals. I'm reminded vocally and stylistically of both John Martyn and Nick Drake, with the instrumentation sounding like it could've been handpicked from an old '60s Euro avant platter likely residing in Stephen Stapleton's vast collection. More to the point, the tunes are achingly beautiful, catchy and awesomely stark. His output may be infuriatingly eclectic, and I won't give a verdict on his other records, but this one gets a definite thumbs up.
WILLIAM PARKER - Long Hidden: The Olmec Series CD (Aum Fidelity)
Jazz album of the year! Mr. Parker keeps everyone guessing and no-one gets the question right. This time around he's pulled together a totally unexpected mix: solo bass, both plucked and scraped, and a series of pieces played w/ the Olmec Group, a combo of musicians who... ugh, well, if you want the whole story, read here, as on that very page you will read the whole story: musical and cultural barriers being crossed and melded, the great civilisations of Western African and the Mayan people and much more. It's a nice story, but more to the point, there's this CD and the music contained within. It is, if anything, a musical update on the ethno-jazz Don Cherry was pioneering in the late '60s/early '70s (the Mu/Orient/Eternal Rhythms/Blue Lake/Organic Music Society group of albums I've attempted to champion throughout the last 18 months), in which Parker mixes up avant-jazz w/ traditional African and Olmec (re: native Central American) instrumentation. Therefore, all you need to know is this: if you ever popped a cork to this aforementioned Cherry discs, or a good half-a-dozen titles from the Ethiopiques series, then you may wanna make the purchase. I haven't heard too much jazz actually released in the year 2006, but if there's a better one than this, I'd like to hear it.
GUN CLUB - The Las Vegas Story/Mother Juno CDs (both Sympathy)
I attempted to court controversy a few months back when I hailed the Gun Club's Miami as infinitely superior to their widely-hailed debut, Fire Of Love. Due to the total lack of outrage amongst the general populace, I can only assume that A) everyone agrees or B) no-one cares or C) no-one read it. But anyway, now we head on to the band's 3rd and 4th albums, from 1984 and 1987, respectively.
The Las Vegas Story is the pick of the two. Musically it's not too dissimilar from Miami, except to say that the guitars are a bit "heavier" (possibly due to the fact that Chris Stein didn't produce this, a man who was supposedly averse to "hard rock") and the songwriting perhaps one tenth of a notch down the totem pole of its predecessor. Which of course is not insinuating this to be a dud by any stretch. It features some first-rate material: the upbeat slide-guitar romps of "Eternity Is Here" and "My Dreams", the uber-'80s Big Chorus yelp on "The Stranger In Our Town" and the mid-tempo piercing guitar screeches on "Bad America"(best track here). There's also a kinda mediocre take on Gershwin's "My Man's Gone Now" and a not-entirely-successful attempt to convert Pharoah Sanders' masterful "The Creator Has A Master Plan" epic into a 2-minute rock song, but I admire the courage and the fact that they even bothered (Pharoah being covered in 1984 by a Rock Band?! I thought it couldn't be done). Hate to get all Christgau on you, but I'm giving this an A-.
I remember there being a whole lotta hoopla over Mother Juno back in '87 when it first came out. I was but a 15-year-old putz, but I heard it plastered all over 3RRR in ol' Melbourne town at the time, dutifully wore the needle out on my collection of fist-shaking hardcore instead and happily ignored the buzz. Those Cramps wannabes are still around?! Hmmph... who cares? Apparently a lot of people did. This was considered a "return to form", after all. Huh? Like there was something wrong w/ the previous two albums? I think not. This is pretty OK, helped along by a couple of outstanding tracks early in the piece, though also weighed down by a bit of light-weight foppery in the middle. First thing you need to know: Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins produced this, and his nancy-boy hands are printed all over it. This is especially so in "The Breaking Hands", a track which caused my workmate to turn to me as it played and utter with a sarcastic grin, "This must've been the period when Jeffrey Lee Pierce discovered the majesty of Morrissey". Yeah, it's got that icky, thin-as-a-rake '80s schtick happening w/ the guitars and I don't like it one bit. It's only one track, but if I was Long Gone John I would've released this - sans that number - and marketed it as a "Special Edition" or some such nonsense. Would've made for a more pleasant listen. But in fairness, I absolutely love the first three tracks, "Bill Bailey", "Thunderhead" (15 years after the fact, I finally realise that The Onyas didn't write this song) and "Lupita Screams" (JLP trying to cop a Hendrix groove, and it's pulled off nicely), and things pick up again near the end. Not essential, but if you want to be a completist for the '80s stuff, this is worth the gamble. That's a B from me, thanks.
Monday, September 25, 2006
Bummer to see this site go, as it stands as the best music-focused blog page on the planet, and Jay's military-like discipline in being able to fire out up to half-a-dozen excellent, informative entries a week remains an inspiration to lazy, uninspired buttwipes like myself (even if I don't necessarily act on that inspiration). There's no way Jay can turn his back on the insular world of music-obsessed dorkdom, so I figure he'll be back. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
NEW ORNETTE COLEMAN CD IS OUT!!
Can you believe it?! I barely can, and what's more, it sounds good. Recorded live in Italy last year w/ Ornette on sax, trumpet and violin, his son Denardo on drums and two bass players (one plucking, one bowing), this release may just renew my faith in music for the next 24 hours. Check out a few samples here, and if you like it, then fuck downloading, buy the thing! The guy is 75 years old(!) and deserves your respect and money.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
RAYMOND SCOTT - Reckless Nights and Turkish Delights CD (Sony/1992)
One of those CDs I purchased during the dizzying heights of that "Incredibly Strange Music" hubbah of the early/mid '90s, a time and place no one cares to mention much these days. Was it really that embarrassing? I never purchased any tiki art, took up cocktail drinking or bought a leisure suit, so I think I came out relatively unscathed. A handful of Yma Sumac, Carl Stalling, Les Baxter, Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny CDs and LPs and that was it. And this. Forgot I even had the thing until a friend brought up his music in conversation last week. Good thing I didn't flog it off in a cull of yesteryear, coz it's a real goodie, and one which has made for a great driving soundtrack the last few days. You probably know the story already, so does it need explaining? You'll know most of these songs, maybe all of them. You probably grew up hearing them and didn't even know it. Arranger Carl Stalling took pretty much every track featured here - all recorded in the 1930s - and reworked them for Warner Brothers cartoons in the '40s/'50s. I have the relevant Stalling recordings around here somewhere, too, though I much prefer the originals. Stalling's arrangements are brilliant, but way too bombastic and overwhelming to listen to w/out any visuals, whereas Scott's, at least in comparison, are fairly stripped down and easy to digest. If anything, the music featured here sounds like nothing more than eccentric, energetic, cartoonish jazz from a bygone era, and that is by no means an insult. By golly, it sounds like an insult, though, doesn't it? If ya dig your mid period Sun Ra - think Magic City or Atlantis - when the great one was really starting to hit his stride, then this collection of Dada-infused jazz (song titles: "Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals", "War Dance for Wooden Indians", "At An Arabian Houseparty", etc.) is a perfect place to start. Coming around to this a good dozen years after its original purchase, my mind is once again blown.
Scott was also a pioneering electronic composer in the 1950s, much like Robert Moog, and there exists an amazing double CD documenting these recordings. Check it out right here. Better yet, you can head right to Raymond Scott's MySpace page, where you'll notice that his archives' Advisory Board features the unlikely combination of, err, Mark Mothersborough, Leonard Maltin and Henry Rollins. Nice to see Hank so busy w/ other people's music for a change. I hope it stays that way.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
TOM WAITS - Black Rider CD (Island/1993)
If you're reading this and enjoy the kinda music I do - an eclectic mix of the weird, wonderful, beautiful and brutal - there's no earthly reason why you shouldn't like this CD. That is, of course, unless you happen to really dislike Tom Waits. He is, after all, a man who divides opinions. I myself used to dislike the man w/ a lukewarm intensity. To me, he summed up middle-brow contrived weirdness of which I wanted no part of. I'd leave that to the Primus fans. Naturally, I held this opinion when I had never really ever sat down and listened to the guy's music. I'd encountered the man's '70s piano balladry and found it bearable - and somewhat admired his desire to be a modern-day Noel Coward/Hoagy Carmichael in a sea of '70s denim - but ultimately they were friends' records, not mine. And never would be.
Then back in '99 a work colleague put on his Swordfishtrombones CD from 1983 - the album which saw his musical direction take a swift left turn - and when it finished I begrudgingly told my fellow listener that I, ahem, thought it was "pretty damn good". A few years later I was subjected to Waits again, this time his 1986 recording, Frank's Wild Years. Again, I was forced to admit it didn't blow. Next thing you knew, I went out and bought Swordfishtrombones, then Frank's Wild Years... and then it was all on: Mule Variations, Bone Machine, Rain Dogs, Black Rider and the then recently-released Alice and Blood Money albums. I was then ready to rewrite my own history: I stood as a proud fan of the man. You can either embrace the theatricality and take it as That Is Tom Waits Is, or you can reject it. For myself, the music in itself is so damn good that no matter how affected you may take the "weirdness" to be (and I don't think there's anything "affected" about it: Waits is flat-out a pretty eccentric guy), there's no doubting how intriguing the mix of sounds he puts together is. Take, for example, The Black Rider.
This is the soundtrack for the operetta of the same name, some of which is written is collaboration w/ William S. Burroughs (who also appears here) and Robert Wilson. As an "album" in and of itself, it probably isn't entirely successful, though as a series of musical sketches it's excellent to listen to in short bytes. Waits, much like Lou Reed, could probably be accused of being only as good as those with whom he surrounds himself with. With Lou it's Cale, Tucker, Quine or even Bowie. With Waits, as long as Ralph Carney or Marc Ribot or even his wife Kathleen Brennan (the one person who truly inspired his 1983 musical detour) are nearby, there's going to be something worth listening to. Well, there's no Ribot here, though the sheer depth of mixture of sounds present make up for the lack of any spiky guitar jabs.
At the start I remarked "there's no earthly reason why you shouldn't like this CD". I said that because Waits wears his influences on his sleeves like no other. In other words, if you are partial to the sounds of Captain Beefheart, Residents, Carl Stalling, Bernard Hermann, Howlin' Wolf, Ennio Morricone, Moondog, Django Reinhardt, Charley Patton, Eastern European gypsy music and Harry Partch - like Waits is, like I am - then The Black Rider's patchwork of all of the above should appeal. I'll even go out on a limb and state that if you hanker for the percussive clang of Amon Duul 1 or the Godz, then something within The Black Rider will float a boat. This is the wildest, wooliest and most far gone Waits has ever traveled, and it's a really good thing. Unless, of course, if you happen to still really dislike the guy for some reason. I now own and semi-regularly listen to all his '83-and-onwards recordings and can't figure out why you'd hold such a bogus opinion. Either you haven't yet heard all those great records, or you're not listening enough. New triple CD out in November. You can read about it here. Sounds tasty.
FRED ANDERSON, HAMID DRAKE, "KIDD" JORDAN, WILLIAM PARKER - 2 Days In April 2CD (Eremite)
Lemme tell you a story. I've probably told it before, but I'll tell it again. Back in the US summer of '99 I spent a week and a day in New York. I stayed w/ my good pal Jason Gross (of Perfect Sound Forever and now The Wire, MOJO and various other mags I probably I'm probably unaware of) in his miniscule apartment (sleeping in his hallway, so confined was the space) and made it my duty to not waste a spare second in seeing what NYC had to offer a rube from Down Under. Up at 7 every morning and out 'til the wee hours of the night for a week straight, I explored every nook and cranny of the city (except, ironically, the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. Observing the massive queues outside, I said to myself, "Well, there's always next time"). Browsing the gig guide every night as an outsider was a task of salivating joy. I mean, do New Yorkers ever stay inside? The list of jaw-dropping shows - even on a Monday night - available to the average punter was a goddamn smorgasboard. Will I see Terry Riley? How about the Dictators supported by Joey Ramone and Ronnie Spector? Well, I managed to catch all of that, but later in the week Jason tried to drag me to a goddamn Pavement show. I drew the line. Firstly, I wasn't a fan (and still aren't), but secondly I decided to brave it alone and see what the Knitting Factory had to offer. Jason assured me that the KF was bound to have at least something which may pique my vague interest, since they had three floors of performance space and the likelihood of a NYC jazz great playing on any of those stages any given night of the week.
I headed down, paid a nominal entrance fee and noticed a billing for the New York Saxophone Society, featuring William Parker, Sabir Mateen and Jemeel Moondoc, an all-star band of long-time free-jazz hotshots I not only knew about but actually owned several recordings by (not the band - which I gather is/was a thrown-together group which played for a kick and a gig - but the individual players). I purchased a brew and planted myself down near the front. A sparse crowd gathered and the band hit their strides. I sat in awe for a good 90 minutes, interspersed w/ regular trips to the bar for a top-up. Once it was over I dawdled around the venue then noticed a guy up the back of the room w/ a stall selling CDs. I went to approach him when he caught my eye and said in that classic American drawl, "Nice t-shirt dude", noticing my slightly ragged Minutemen "Buzz Or Howl" apparel. I asked him what he was selling and he told me he was the guy who ran the label which was releasing CDs by most of the guys who just played: Eremite. First words out of my mouth? "Dude, are you Byron Coley?!" The flabbergasted response"? "Umm... no, but he helps me out w/ it sometimes". Not a good start on my behalf.
So anyway, soon enough I discovered it was in fact Michael Ehlers, the brainchild behind the label and, weird enough, an old scribe for Forced Exposure. He used to write reviews for the mag back in high school, and if you trawl through any ancient issues of the rag you'll find them scattered throughout (I spotted a couple in the issue w/ Gibby on the cover). We yacked aimlessly until he said he had to pack up. I purchased a couple of CDs for my troubles and was about to leave when he asked me if I'd like to meet the band backstage. Hmmm... I wasn't sure. I mean, were these guys going to pull an old Archie Shepp/Miles Davis trick and ask me what the fuck a hillbilly cracker like myself was doing backstage on their turf? Michael assured me they were cool guys...
Well, of course they were, and I have the drunken photos to prove it, though they're too embarrassing to print. Anyway, finally we made our way out the front of the KF, where I noticed what looked like a kind of haggard old scruffy gent talking away to Michael. I was about to butt in w/ some moronic comment like "Sorry, we haven't got any spare change" when Michael interjected w/ "Dave, this is a good friend of mine, Alan Silva". Thank fuck I kept my mouth shut. The Alan Silva?! The man who played on a thousand ESP and BYG discs? The man who played w/ Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler?! Yep, that guy. I chewed his ear off about a load of nonsense, took a few family snaps and said my farewells. I flew back to the apartment on a goddamn cloud.
When I arrived back in Melbourne I made it my sworn duty to track down every Eremite release I could. I did just that. A few years later I was even working for their Australian distributor (we don't carry the label anymore... long story). So, why the long, rambling, hopelessly name-dropping story? That's my introduction to this Fred Anderson 2CD on the label. I'm back on a jazz kick, and one of the best places to start w/ contemporary jazz is Eremite HQ.
For myself, if you're going to take a dip into their expanding catalogue, I wouldn't start here. Want a Top 6? OK, here goes:
NOAH HOWARD - Patterns/Message To South Africa CD
Two '70s Dutch/Parisian sessions from this ESP dude. Highly recommended to fans of Pharoah Sanders' '60s/'70s Impulse discs and Ayler's gonzo-gospel forays.
RAPHE MALIK - The Short Form CD
Now deceased ex-Cecil Taylor sideman's awesome quartet recording.
WILLIAM PARKER AND THE LITTLE HUEY CREATIVE MUSIC ORCHESTRA - Raincoat In The River CD
Big band shenanigans from The Man.
JEMEEL MOONDOC AND THE JUS GREW ORCHESTRA - Spirit House CD
Terrific big band recording from this under-rated alto player.
WILLIAM PARKER CLARINET TRIO - Bob's Pink Cadillac 2CD
Stripped-down trio venturing into near-Don Cherry territory w/ a swagger of gongs, bells and trap drums.
LIVE/TEST - CD
Test is the name of the band; this is them recorded live. This is simply known as "LIVE/TEST". There ya go. Features the likes of Tom Bruno, Daniel Carter and Sabir Mateen, so you know it's good. Improvised blowouts which find their feet early on and never let go.
OK, there's a consumer's guide to Eremite for you. They've also recently released an-as-yet-unheard-by-me 1972 recording by the Khan Jamal Creative Arts Ensemble, one which apparently bridges the music gap between Sun Ra and King Tubby, but I'll give you the lowdown on that in a few weeks. Fred Anderson? Sheez, time to get around to the topic at hand.
Anderson was one of the founding members of the AACM (Association For the Advancement Of Creative Musicians) in Chicago back in the '60s, along w/ Anthony Braxton, Joseph Jarman et al, but fell out of sight for almost 20 years whilst he set up a bar in the Chicago area and raised a family. Rediscovered by several collegiate hepcats in the '90s, he's been highly active ever since. With a tenor sound not too divorced from that of Coltrane's he rarely delves into the squawking, room-clearing squeals of Sanders and co., but has a steady energy level on a par w/ prime '60'/'70s Ornette, and in this setting he glows. Accompanied by stalwarts Parker and Drake, as well as the obscured figure known as "Kidd" Jordan (actually a New Orleans-based music professor who, when not dabbling in the avant-garde, has played w/ everyone from Ray Charles to Fats Domino), two CDs is an awful lot to get through, but a treat to hear in 20-minutes grabs. My sole complaint regards the rhythm section which, great as it is, sounds a bit buried in the mix. Parker's bass should be carrying the momentum, but here is often too inaudible to give it the power it fully needs. Nearly 100 minutes of blazing free energy to behold, I'd like to see Wynton Marsalis strapped down and force-fed this on a daily basis.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
If you're passionate about your music, yet are still able to retain a sense of humour regarding sounds of a lesser stature, then I highly recommend you check out Yacht Rock. I blabbered about You Tube roughly six months ago, figuring I was the last guy on earth to discover their wares. I was wrong, so I figure I'm wrong in thinking I may just be the last man standing to've come across the hilarities at Yacht Rock. What is "Yacht Rock"? It's a genre, stupid! Think beards, power ballads, soaring choruses, keyboard guitars, possible cocaine addictions, games of golf and men on yachts. In other words, think Toto, Steve Perry, Boz Scaggs, Doobie Brothers, Kenny Loggins, Christopher Cross and other favourites. A friend and I have had a bit of an obsession w/ this stuff of late, as our too-talented-to-really-exist duo, Anal Birth, have already set to tape a pipin' version of Toto's "Africa". We're also working on covering Boz Scaggs' "Lido Shuffle", Eric Clapton's blues-rock scorcher "It's In The Way That You Use It" and maybe a Bruce Hornsby song or two. I'll let you know when the MySpace site is set up. Until then...
Monday, August 21, 2006
PATTY WATERS - You Thrill Me CD (Water)
Many a year ago, whilst in the thick of a mid-'90s ESP binge, I purchased Patty Waters' Sings LP. Huh? Why all the hoopla? I was expecting gonzoid freakouts of Godz/Fugs/Cromagnonian proportions, but was calmly greeted with the soothing sounds of a pretty female vocalist accompanied by a piano. Just to throw salt into the wound, the lady could really sing, too! I poo-pooed it as a misfire and returned to my Yoko Ono CDs instead. My expectations were amiss, though Patty is not a talent I should've so easily dismissed.
Skip a few years and her College Tour CD, also on ESP, found its way into my hands. In a free-jazz haze at the time, it was right up my alley. Though a mostly quiet affair, it's punctuated w/ bursts of screaming avant vocalese, accompanied by a who's-who of east coast ESP jazzbo all-stars and fit my regular diet of audio torture nicely, thanks. In the year 2004 popped up this rather terrific comp', put together by the good people at Water.
A collection of pre- and post-ESP odds 'n' sods from the lady, culled from her own collection of tapes, it makes a perfect evening of listening for a man coming into his mid '30s who's becoming less and less afraid of admitting his fondness for music of an outstandingly pleasant nature. Fact is, ten years ago this disc would've sent me into a coma, pronto. As it stands, it's a regular spinning wheel which soothes the savage beast. Again, this is fairly minimal indeed: there's not much here which wouldn't fall under the banner of "vocal/piano", though the starkness and warmth of Waters' voice does the trick. The opening track, taken from a Jax Beer Commercial in 1964, is a hoot and works outside of its gimmicky context, and the Billie Holiday (an obvious reference point for Patty, if you must) and Hoagy Carmichael covers round out perfectly a host of originals which, quiet as they seem, just go to show you don't need to scream and shout to grab my attention. Nice package and liner notes by Ghost's Masaki Batoh and the ever-present Byron Coley, too. I might just get a copy of this for my Mum - a self-confessed Nina Simone fan, if you will (which of course is a good thing... and about as cool as my Mum gets by approximately a thousand miles) - and make her the hippest dame in squaresville. She'll thank me.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
THE HOWLING HEX - All Night Fox; You Can't Beat Tomorrow CDs (both Drag City)
These two CDs ably demonstrate who the real talent behind Royal Trux was. Line 'em up next to that horrendous Jennifer Herrema-helmed RTX disc of last year and you'll get the answer. I heard Neil Hagerty's debut solo album about 5 years back when I was working in music retail and thought it was OK, though its frequent spins in the store in question were c/o a co-worker, not me. Sounded like some sort of slightly half-baked bubblegum prog and I paid it no mind. I may have to go for a revisit soon.
A friend played me You Can't Beat Tomorrow when we were both slightly intoxicated at his place a few weeks back, preparing to hit the town for a major night of liver destruction. This friend in question is officially the Biggest Neil Michael Hagerty Fan In Melbourne. He even read Hagerty's book, fer chrissakes. When he placed the CD in the stereo and excitedly explained to me how Hagerty was a 21st-century equivalent of Skip Spence or Roky Erickson and his latest work was a modern-day slab of pure genius, I greeted his comments w/ great skepticism. After all, coming from Hagerty's Biggest Fan, such words could mean diddly squat. Two drinks and half a dozen songs in, I was convinced. Not of genius, but certainly of something very good indeed.
Both of these albums come from the year 2005. That's what it says on the back cover. I can't be bothered right now in researching the dates any further. The discography of Hagerty and the band known as The Howling Hex is too convoluted to investigate (given there being a series of obscure, LP-only releases as well). There is also a "solo" album from Hagerty from 2003 entitled Neil Michael Hagerty and the Howling Hex, though according to the All Music Guide, that's really a solo album. D' ya care? Thought not. However, that album, which I now also possess, is also well worth gathering and features a rather different set-up and sound to the latter two. W/ an extended band line-up comprising of organs, viola, saxophone and melodica, it possesses a more expansive array of audio delights. 21 songs and over 70 minutes of music, it's a fairly goddamn staggering piece of work, and what'll hit home more than anything else is what a hell of a songwriter Hagerty is. With an awesomely backwoods, basement vibe, there is a strong scent of Roky, Skip and Jandek in the ear, though unlike a zillion other spuds copping a "loner-psych" box-tick on their CV, Hagerty's songs drill themselves in your head to the point where the only logical move to make when all is finished is to hit repeat.
The two more recent HH efforts sport a slightly different sound. Stripped back and minimalist in sound (despite the long list of musicians who apparently play on them), songs concentrate on a kind of repetitive psychedelic blues caught somewhere between the jukejoint mantra rhythms of Junior Kimbrough (and if you've never checked out his Fat Possum discs of yore then get on the fuggin' case!), the acid-funk licks of Eddie Hazel and the jerkiness of prime Beefheart. Throw in a little late '60s West Coast psych a la Jefferson Airplane/Quicksilver/Moby Grape and you're getting warmer. Most of all, they sure don't sound much like Royal Trux, or at least anything they did after Cats & Dogs. Hagerty has found a sound and I dig it a lot. In fact, I'm going to go out on a another rash limb and state these as some of the most instantly impressive pieces of American underground rock I've stumbled across in the last half decade. I might wait another 10-20 years before I start throwing the "genius" tag around, though for now I can say this: if you, like me, are looking for a 21st-century equivalent of Roky or Skip or Great American Music in the tradition of Meat Puppets ca. their first 3 classics or Half Japanese in their prime Charmed Life/Music To Strip By/The Band That Would Be King period, The Howling Hex are gonna blow your goddamn head off. New album out next month, too.
OTHER SHIT FLYING AROUND
1) DON CHERRY - Organic Music Society CD-R
Thank the heavens for the internet. A collector/dealer pal told me I would not find this out-of-print gem from 1973 for less than (AU)$200. I informed a friend last weekend of my predicament: where does one find Don Cherry's lost psych-jazz-ethno 2-LP Swedish gem and not part a small fortune for its wares? Go straight to Soulseek, he said. I'm a techno-tard, so my friend did the deed and gave me the CD-R the next day. You need this.
2) SOFT BOYS - Can Of Bees CD
Thank the heavens for the 'net once again! Must've been a slow week for Soft Boys fans worldwide. Got this out-of-print slice of beauty for a ha'penny on eBay.
3) JEFFERSON AIRPLANE - After Bathing At Baxter's LP
There's no "We Built This City (On Rock'n'Roll)", but this "uncommercial" (as the liner notes say) album from '68 is a good thing nonetheless. All those Amon Duul 2 comparisons are only now beginning to make sense.
4) BOB MOULD - Workbook CD
Am I the only person on earth who still thinks this to be an unsung masterpiece? Bob's solo debut from 1988, stripped back and acoustic. Song for song, it's unbeatable. Really. This is probably considered a bogus listen by the hipster cognoscenti at this stage in the game, so...
5) NURSE WITH WOUND - Who Can I Turn To Stereo CD
One of those mid-'90s NWW platters which horrified the noise-hardcore, since it possessed a little-known trick called "rhythm". Phewy to the purists; this is one of Stapleton's best in a 25+-year career, and fits nicely amongst an evening of blissing out to Can, Neu!, Amon Duul 2, etc.
Monday, August 07, 2006
So anyway, Rich and I were up for a nostalgia trip after I mentioned to him that I'd just finished laying cable to an old issue of Eric Oblivian's uber-fantastic Wipeout! from '93, and he asked me to bring out a pile of zines to peruse. I obliged. You see, Rich and I met through the fanzine-dork grapevine some 15 years back when we were still gormless teenagers living at home w/ our folks. He lived in Brisbane. I resided in Melbourne. We both wrote reviews for Perth's Marcy fanzine, exhanged a letter or two then met up that summer when he headed south for a holiday. People, that's the power of music, bringing people together. Melbourne: Perth: Brisbane. Count 'em: three states. Anyway, sticking to a wad of A5-sized wonders, I laid them out like a poker player and asked him to pick his king. He went straight to the Wipeout! (it was, after all, an issue he didn't own) in question whilst I perused a motley collection of Superdopes, Modern Rock Magazines (even one w/ a letter from me!), Ujakus, Feminist Baseballs and more. I even swelled w/ patriotic pride (or cringed in embarrassment) as I glanced over the odd issue of Woozy, Detox, Ms. 45, Thrash Out, Pagan Grind(!), Stumpy, Kickback (oh, boy... it's too easy), Sure and Circumstantial Evidence. Three things struck me:
1) The early '90s were a Golden Age of Fanzines, perhaps the last great period of the printed word in underground circles
2) Fanzines can be hilarious time capsules into a past world
3) Many of the great fanzine writers, editors and producers of yore are still going strong, in some form or other
For every Modern Rock Magazine, there's a Music Chamber, for every Superdope there's an Agony Shorthand, and then there's Eric Oblivian still allowing jams to be kicked w/ Goner Records, Mark from Ujaku still letting eardrums bleed locally in all manner of outfits, Tom at Siltbreeze now has Siltblog and has restarted the label, Richard Detox has had his name legally changed by deed poll to Richard Dropkick, and more. Some of us have burnt out and faded away, but most fellow fanzine geeks I knew and befriended in the early '90s have refused to bury their heads in the sand.
The time capsule element: drag out any hipster zine from, say, 1990-'94 and you will notice various similarities. You will see ads, interviews and reviews for the following: anything on Majora or Siltbreeze; most things on Shrimper and perhaps a Dennis Callaci cartoon or two; lots of talk on the godlike power of Keiji Haino and PSF Records; mouths a-foaming regarding anyone and everyone who ever picked up an instrument in the nation known as New Zealand, especially if they once bought Bruce Russell a beer; and word upon word upon word on Skullflower, Caroliner, Boredoms, Harry Pussy, Dog Faced Hermans, Finland's Bad Vugum Records, pre-major label Royal Trux, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, Cheater Slicks and The Mummies, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments and mostly anything on Datapanik/Anyway and... well, just check your pile. You will also read breathless rants on the two great pre-punk revivals of the early/mid '90s: Krautrock and '60s free jazz. Oh how excited we all were! Skip to the late '90s and you will see things have changed. How many times can you say "Harry Smith" or "John Fahey"? Pick up an issue of say, Popwatch, from the period and you tell me.
Times have changed. The internet has killed the fanzine star. It's 2006 and no one appears to care for the printed word. I do, but I likely won't be producing them again and nor, judging by the empty fanzine racks I used to find bulging w/ rants 'n' raves in various indie record stores around town, will anyone else. It's a bummer, but an understandable bummer. God knows I do not intend on ever again dragging around boxes of 'zines to snooty record-store clerks, or ringing interstate stores in the vain hope of receiving the $9.65 owed to me for publications sold. But on a positive note, Richard and I had such a blast w/ our cordial-fueled fanzine binge (dude, we stayed up 'til 2 AM!) that we've decided to stage a '90s Revival Night w/our socially challenged music-enthusiast friends. It'll be an evening of Bag Of Hammers and In The Red 7"s! New Zealand lathe-cut 10"s! Ltd.-edition Sun City Girls 78s! Out-of-print Mike Rep and Jandek LPs! Refrigerator and Bugskull cassettes! And we're gonna party like it's 1991-'94!!