Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Remember me raving about Dawson many a moon back? Not sure if anyone else cares, but here's a couple of photos (the first I've ever seen of the band) from my buddy Graham. If anyone's interested, you'll find more here, as well as some choice shots of the Dog Faced Hermans. When is the revival of all this great Scottish music of yore going to take place?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Rolas De Aztlan: Songs of the Chicano Movement CD (Smithsonian Folkways)
This was my favourite album of 2005. Go figure that one out. It came as a complete surprise to me, too. I mean, a compilation featuring "songs of struggle, hope and vision (which) fueled the Chicano Movement's quest for civil rights, economic justice and cultural respect"? Sounds like something of potential interest, much like that whacky LP box set of Mexican Revolutionary Songs on Folklyric I have hanging around here somewhere, but not necessarily a Top 10-er. Well, throw not a single dud in the mix, a fancy package w/ a 40-page booklet and 19 tracks of gold recorded between the years 1966 and 1999, and you've got a winner on your hands.

There's only one name here you'll recognise, that's Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles, who eventually mutated into Los Lobos (and started life gigging w/ many an LA punker), but the rest, sans the informative liner notes, would otherwise remain a complete mystery. Mainly folksy, some of it lo-fi, much of it Mariachi-flavoured, it's a disc I've had on heavy repeat for the last 10 months. There's two knockouts here which put it in first place: firstly there's Los Alacranes Mojados' "Chicano Park Samba", a 6+ minute number which brings to mind no-one else but the Minutemen ca. 3-Way Tie (I am one for drawing long bows, yes, though my wife actually thought this track was the Minutemen, so I guess I've kept reality in check here), especially so in the D. Boon-ish guitar strumming and that chorus "Under the briiidge" which floats around my head long after it finishes; secondly is the song which kills me, and yet what kills me more is the fact that I cannot find a single word or reference to the guy anywhere on the web. It's "Vietnam Veterano" by Al Reyes. Reyes is/was an award-winning journalist and musician who released an LP in 1983 by the name of California Corazon. That is all I can tell you. The song in question, over eight minutes in duration, collages his simple acoustic guitar and softly-spoken vocals with a plethora of sound effects: helicopters, gunfire, TV commentary. The result is surreal, somewhat like a combination of soaring, late '60s Tim Buckley and Cul de Sac's unique, collaged and sampled take on John Fahey's "The Portland Cement Factory at Monolith, California" from their epochal ECIM CD (a reference which probably falls flat, but if anyone remembers it...). I've played this to friends and they've either all been too polite and accommodating to offend me or they've told the truth: it's a knockout from start to finish.

Just like this CD as a whole. If you buy but one CD documenting the trials and tribulations of the American Chicano movement this year, make it this one. Nice work. Hunt it down.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

VARIOUS Artists - Creative Outlaws: US Underground 1962-'70 CD (Trikont)
One of the finest labels on earth: Trikont. I shouldn't be saying things like that in this kind of forum (I'll be honest: I work for their Australian distributor), but if you're from around these parts, or even overseas, don't take that remark as an advertisement, take it as a recommendation. Since I've heard just about everything on the label, I know my stuff when it comes to the world of Trikont. Whaddya looking for? Greek rembetika? Michael Hurley? Black cajun tunes from the '30s? African hip-hop? '70s Black Power anthems? You name it, Trikont does it: punk rock (England's Dreaming: compiled by the great Jon Savage), Vietnamese street music, funeral/death songs, decadent German oompah of pre-Nazi era, Texan polka, primitive blues, scorching '60s Southern soul, early female country singers of the 78 era. The only apparent qualification for the stamp of Trikont is a sense of cultural disenfranchisement on behalf of the artist. Punk rock or what?! Try selling that concept to the lily-livers at Epitaph some time.

So, that brings us to Creative Outlaws, the latest installment in compilations from the label in question. I must admit, when I first read the line-up featured, it seemed way to broad to make any kind of musical statement whatsoever. It looked more like a hodge-podge of barely-related artists whose sole reason for being on the comp' was Trikont's ability to license their song. But I was wrong. Can you imagine Tiny Tim, Nina Simone, Blue Cheer, The Fugs and the Stooges being on one disc? At first it seemed a mess, but I stand corrected. A dozen listens have set in my mind one simple fact: this is one of the best compilations I (and perhaps you) will hear all year. Of rare tracks there are few; you and I have heard much of this time and time again ("Summertime Blues", "1969", "Kick Out The Jams", "Dachau Blues"), but not in this kind of context. Whack 'em next to some blowouts by the likes of Exuma; Moondog (now there is a can of worms I've had on hold for a good decade or more now; hearing the track in question here, an awesome bongos 'n' horns workout w/ street sounds intact, I really need to delve into his world); West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band (whose albums I would rate as "fine" and "quirky" but generally unexceptional); Lothar and the Handpeople (a one-joke gimmick outfit from the late '60s whose Silver Apples-ish electro vibe here is a whole lot better than a mere joke); Canned Heat (a band whose output I've tried and discarded as worthless, but where the hell did "Sic 'Em Pigs" come from?! Anti-cop punk-blues almost like it was the straight from the mouth of Gary Floyd!); Grace Slick and the Great Society (no, really... you must hear the raging live version of "Somebody To Love") and, of course a whole lot more. You'll know the names when you see them.

If there's one track I would have omitted, I'd vouch for Tiny Tim's live medley of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips"/"Highway to Hell", which was recorded in 1995 and doesn't work for that reason. AC/DC? I don't remember them playing at the Democrats Convention in '68 on the back of a flatbed truck. Still, what at first appears to be a mess starts to make beautiful sense after a couple of listens: angry America in all its shades and stripes in the '60s. This ain't no Big Chill, kiddo, it's been put together like a guidebook of sound from an era, and by a couple of Marxist Germans at that!

Where are the Mothers of Invention, Red Krayola, Love, Sun Ra, Impressions, Monks, Velvets, James Brown, Michael Hurley, 13th Floor Elevators or Tim Buckley? Hopefully in a second volume some time. Sit back, enjoy, have a laugh at the awkwardly translated and heavily stilted liner notes and let the freak flag fly.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

I have never in my life owned a Misfits record. Never had the urge, and unless something strange, new and exciting happens to me in the future (like the show I'm about to mention being a corker), I probably never will. Even in the thick of my Hardcore Joe days as a teenager, they never went within my radar. Perhaps it was their wilfully dumb image and/or the hordes of pimply-faced Metallica fans who donned their t-shirts, but for whatever reason, I figured they weren't my bag. Sure, I've heard their records over at friends' places many times... a track here, a track there. So shoot me down: they never made a dent in my consciousness, and still don't. BUT - and that's a big but! - they're touring here next month with this truncated, absurd and mightily curious line-up: Jerry Only, Robo and Dez Cadena!! Dez fuckin' Cadena! Ro-fuckin'-bo! Should I bite the bullet? Is the opportunity to see Dez - my fave 'Flag screamer - in the flesh no matter what half-arsed context he's in worth it? I missed him in San Fran in '99 when he was playing w/ Loaded (a short-lived outfit he had w/ Duff from Guns 'n' Roses[!!]), so it looks like I'm forking out some cash on the punk rock karaoke hour that is Misfits 2006.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Well, I've certainly waited long enough for this. Made in 1992, it showed ever-so-briefly - about once, I recall - at the major film festival down here in 1993, then disappeared for nearly a decade (the back cover says copyright/2000, so I guess I'm a bit slow). I stupidly missed it at the time, but now it's finally stumbled into my hands, and what a hoot it is.

Take a timewarp back to 1990-'93 and you would've met a young man named Dave Lang who was pretty darn close to obsessed with everything Half Japanese. The obsession still lingers and lurks in the back of my mind, occasionally leaping out for a brief revival and resurgence, though I tend to keep it in check most of the time in this day and age. I'd like to think that's a mark of maturity, though if anything's going to bring out the beast, it's repeated viewings of The Band That Would Be King.

Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig, who also made The Devil and Daniel Johnston (which is apparently similarly terrific), TBTWBK is one hell of a snapshot of a place and time now probably lost forever: the pre-internet/pre-major label days of Underground Rock, when we all let the freak flag fly and The Man didn't give "our music" the time of day. You know, the Good Ol' Days, when you'd thumb through issues of Forced Exposure, B-Side and Your Flesh to get the latest tip on what's happening in the worlds of Homestead and Touch & Go and just about flip your wig if you encountered someone who'd even heard of the likes of Flipper. Of course, I'm being facetious, though the bulk of the interviews here, which are from the years 1989-'91, are a fairly hilarious trip into a period of time when even the likes of Gerard Cosloy seemed like a pioneering crusader carrying his well-worn bruises in his never-ending battle to kick against the pricks. I guess he lost that sense of fight after he made his first million or two.

You also get a hefty wad of Byron Coley right in your face, waxing lyrical on everything from the bogusness of Rolling Stone and Sgt. Pepper's to his original sense of astonishment at hearing the first Half Japanese 7" in '77 at the offices of New York Rocker magazine. Listening to him at length here, it only makes me wish the makers of We Jam Econo (the Minutemen doco) had given him more than just a soundbyte or two in their pic. He can mouth it like he pens it (which is, very well indeed). You also get notables like Phil Milstein (who comes across completely different to what I expected; why was I anticipating a fat guy with a beard?); Moe Tucker (and at this point in time, she really is the coolest and most clued-in ex-VU member); magician/comedian/actor Penn Jillette (it really is weird to know that a guy whose TV specials air down here in prime time is also the person who bankrolled some of Half Japanese's finest records, and he did it w/ the money he made from appearing in a season of Miami Vice!!); and David Greenberger (comic whiz extraordinaire), but most of all you get reams and reams of killer Half Jap footage: 1975 practices in the loungeroom; early '90s rooftop performances in NYC; the legendary Duplex Planet retirement-home gig from some 25 years ago and some absolutely mind-blowing footage of the band appearing on public access TV in the mid '80s. The DVD extras show the TV performances in their entirety, and lemme tell every man, woman and child reading this: you can not watch the classic 1984 line-up in all their glory, David Fair in tow, and not be moved by the awesome, primitive power they exuded. David Fair: give that man a cigar! There's no need for any instrumental prowess on his behalf; just give him a microphone to bark into occasionally and watch him dance. A party-starter, for sure.

Whilst the film isn't really the penetrating analysis it could have been, one must remember that Jad is a man of very few words ( I should know: I traveled for a week with the guy in a minivan in 1997 and chewed his ear off non-stop), and any history of the band is going to be covered verbally by the more outgoing David Fair or by the commentators mentioned above. The only thing I feel which is missing is perhaps a sense of context in which they were working in. Whilst brief mentions are made of the late '70s punk explosion and the indie scene of the '80s, if you were totally clueless about the band you'd think they were existing within a total musical vacuum, which of course they were, to an extent, but the full picture isn't really given. Maybe if they'd chucked a microphone in front of a couple of famous, loud-mouthed fans like Jello Biafra or Thurston Moore, the film makers might've given a better picture of where Half Japanese stood in the musical landscape. As it stands, if you were to show this flick to your uncool cousin, the only response would be a likely "So who the fuck is this band, and more to the point, who the fuck is Gerard Cosloy or Byron Coley?!".

Nevertheless, TBTWBK is an excellent, fascinating look into the musical world of a band who to this day stand vastly under-appreciated amongst music dorks worldwide, and a triumphant glimpse at how even the most awkward, hopelessly shy and "musically inept" geek can come out on top with a full-length movie documentary to prove it.

POSTSCRIPT: If you purchase this DVD, there is a "bonus feature" you absolutely must see: the "director's commentary" version of the film. I've only watched about half of it so far, though the first 45 minutes has already left me in stitches. Not only do you get Feuerzeig commenting on what's actually happening on screen, but he's got none other than Johan Kugelberg in tow to butt in and pontificate on such matters as: the late '70s DIY tape scene in the UK (you can tell he's just bursting at the seams to go off on a 20-minute tangent on the history of Fuck Off tapes or the Desperate Bicycles), SST's "Corporate Rock Still Sucks" bumperstickers and its cultural ramifications; Who's better - Beefheart or Zappa?... and tell me why in 2,000 words or less; and who truly was the first punk rock band (was it really Half Japanese in Michigan ca. 1975... or was it that obscure harp player from the '30s... or perhaps that hillbilly wildman from Kentucky in the '40s who made series of 78s in editions of 2? Perhaps we'll never truly know). And don't forget to mention Vertical Slit and Debris! Wait, he did mention them. Of course. I'm not knocking the guy; Johan probably has a legion of people he's pissed off over the years, though I'm not one of them. I laughed, you'll laugh, we'll all laugh. Why? Because it'll remind you so much of yourself.