Monday, May 29, 2006

Wow, I thought I'd be the last guy out there in bloggerville to tackle this one, but I haven't found a single word scrawled in regards to the new recorded effort from Mr. Walker within spitting distance. I guess that's because it takes time to digest a good Scott Walker platter. I've now owned The Drift for 3 or more weeks. That's long enough. Tilt? I'm still working on it. Bought it in '97 and it still doesn't make any sense. Don't give me any lip about it being "difficult yet rewarding", either. I'll listen to just about any load of avant-nonsense you can throw at me: Tilt remains impenetrable. Which brings us to The Drift...

It's penetrable (Chris, you can insert a homo jibe somewhere round here; it really is funny, clever and demonstrates time and time again how undeniably heterosexual you are), listenable, enjoyable, bombastic, overblown and pretentious. It's all these things and more, and more importantly it's a shoe-in for a Top Ten list of 2006. The sound is not too far removed from that if Tilt: Scott's vocals still keen with a vaguely aristocratic, operatic warble (unlike his stone-dead classics from the '60s, in which he crooned like a Vegas showpony), the accompanying music still possesses the aura of a dark chamber orchestra and, yes, there is the occasional "industrial" flourish to the proceedings, though the songs are much more together. Tilt struck me as a collection of arty sketches played as a prank that gave the listener zero enjoyment in the process (though friends of mine disagree w/ me violently on that point). The Drift has the sense of songs fully fleshed out, composed and making sense, not some bizarre word-play or in-joke one is supposed to decode.

For me, the standout track is the one I keep on hearing on radio down here, track 3, "Jesse", in which (and just stay w/ me here) Scott has his own take on 9/11 (actually, that's 11/9 for civilised types): through the eyes of Elvis Presley, talking to his dead infant twin brother, Jesse. The opening line sets the scene: "Nose holes caked in black cocaine". Throught Scott's cries of "Jesse are you listening?" the music sweeps and soars with a full-bodied string section possessing a visceral force I haven't encountered since I wet myself over Penderecki's "Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima" all those years ago. Scott Walker is not for every taste. There's probably some people reading this nonsense right now who consider the man a tedious, pretentious bozo, so I will only say but one thing in the man's defence: I wish to god the likes of, say, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop still made records as risky, forward-thinking and genuinely enjoyable as Scott Walker does in the year 2006.

Maybe I should say something about Terry Riley playing here about a month back? I enjoyed it, though my expectations were minimal. Look, the guy is 70 years old or more - not at the peak of his game - so short of him coming out and doing interpretive dance or a series of Linkin Park covers on the piano, I wasn't going to hate the guy. Housed at the South Melbourne Town Hall, the audience was an exercise in hilarity. Not only was just about every music-dork hepcat of Melbourne in attendance (I couldn't help but note to a friend that if al Queda bombed the building that night, Melbourne's independent music scene would be left w/ a strange void bereft of pants-soiling music enthusiasts), but also present were the older wine-&-cheese crowd, ready for a good evening of chin scratching and pondering.

Riley played two sets. The first started with a bit of prepared piano which sounded so odd, and indeed "non-piano-like"(may as well be the first person to coin the phrase) that I thought he was playing with a tape machine or sampler. Sounded a touch cheesy and not altogether "good", since I thought he was using a sampler, though friends assured me it was simply the man, some piano strings and a bunch of clips and nails. I guess it was OK, then. The set was then rounded out w/ a series of minimalist piano ragas, sans screws and nails, which sent just about everyone I knew in attendance into a slumber. I myself took a quick kip whilst the urge hit me. That probably doesn't sound like much a complement, but in this case make an exception. Faced with the only visual stimulation being an old bearded guy hunched over a piano for kicks and you'd lay back and shut your eyes, too. The music (and the literally stuffy hall it was staged at) sent one into a coma. And then the set ended and I awoke to rapturous applause.

The second set got kinda weird. There was a touch of vocalese in the first set, when Riley chanted along to various passages like an Eastern guru, though the opening tune this time 'round was an honest-to-god song, with lyrics, verses and a chorus. It sounded like Randy Newman on heavy cough syrup, slightly screwy and a little flat, but not without its charms. I noted to nay-sayers later on that if the likes of Daniel Johnston had sung that exact song in the same way it'd probably be hailed as naive genius.

Terry Riley? I expected pretty much nothing and didn't walk away disappointed. I saw him back in '99 at the Knitting Factory in NYC (seated next to LaMonte Young, no less!) and though he tore the roof off the sucka, he had the added advantage at the time of accompanying musicians on tabla and soprano saxophone. This time he flew solo and didn't, no matter what anyone says, flat-out suck, so I guess I got my $25 worth. I witnessed a legend a good 30 years past his prime in my own backyard and he didn't blow. Why expect anything more?


1) ALICE COLTRANE - Monastic Trio CD
Monster 1968 debut from Ms. Coltrane w/ Pharaoh Sanders in tow. The extended, minimal piano drones make this terrific background noise when demolishing a bowl twixt friends.
2) SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES - Once Upon A Time/The Singles LP
I can't believe it's 2006 and I'm listening to this. Prior to a few months ago, I had not heard this for literally 20 years. In the midst of my '77 punk/'Pistols obsession as a 13 year-old, my brother bought this and it was a dead-on fave for 12 months. Once the US HC fixation picked up I dropped it like a hot potato, never to return. Until I read Simon Reynolds' post-punk tome of last year, Rip It Up And Start Again, that is. Didn't think much of the book at all (skip back a few months for the review; it's somewhere in here), though I guess I can thank the guy for re-alerting me to just how good Siouxsie and co. were for at least the remaining few years of the '70s (and indeed a year or two into the '80s). Forget everything you know or associate w/ Siouxsie as The Queen of Goth and all other associated musical crimes: these singles represent one terrific slice of teenage Velvets/Can/Roxy-damaged post-punk which few of their peers ever achieved.
3) KRAMER - The Guilt Trip 2CD
1991 epic masterwork from the Shimmy guru. Fucked and fried psychedelic rock from a guy still kicking against the pricks (check his web site for the rants of an angry man).
4) VARIOUS - Tropicalia: A Brazilian Revolution In Sound CD
Great, another genre I need to exhaustively investigate before I drop: Tropicalia. Os Mutantes has already been done... now I need some Gilberto Gil, Tom Ze, Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa... Will it ever end?! Another prize-winning comp' from the good people at SoulJazz.
5) ROKY ERICKSON - Gremlins Have Pictures CD
Have I wrote about this before? I think so. It's made its way back into the car stereo again. Primo live stuff and offcuts from Roky and his gang, featuring the best ever version of "Heroin", a track so good I'd (to paraphrase Steve Earle) stand on Lou Reed's coffee table in my cowboy boots and tell him that.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

DEATH SS - The Horned God Of The Witches 2LP (Black Widow/Italy)
This is the best discovery I've made of late: Italy's horror-metal "legends", Death SS. Highly regarded in collector-dork circles by various socially-challenged individuals, Death SS have been around since the heady days of 1977. If you want the complete story, with footnotes and broken English intact, please visit their web site. They've split up, reformed and lost members like I change my socks over a near 30-year period, and in their current line-up resemble a middle-aged Sigue Sigue Sputnik, so let's stick to their early days, 'k? This double LP covers their early demo material and is indeed twice as good as the belly-laugh-worthy photos which accompany its swish gatefold sleeve.

You see, Death SS liked to dress up. Not just yer typical rock 'n' roll gear either; rather, they went for the full Hammer House Of Horror get-up: corpsepaint, robes, daggers, fake blood, the whole deal. Kinda like Kiss w/out the glamour. The bassist donned himself in a goddamn mummy's outfit, head to toe. I first read about these guys when none other than Jello Biafra raved about 'em in one of the Incredibly Strange Music volumes RE/Search put out in the early '90s. You can bag Jello and/or the RE/Search posse 'til the cows come home, but I will eternally lay credit at their door for at least awakening me to some great tunes by the likes of Les Baxter, Yma Sumac, Magma, Joe Meek, Scott Walker, Os Mutantes, etc. at the time said volumes were released. But anyway...

This platter arrived in my hands during the week and when I got home that night I placed the needle in the grooves with great caution. Was I about to be seriously burned? Would their outrageous attire and ridiculous song titles add up to a big zilch? Were they indeed nothing more than Record Collector Rock, good to show off but not to listen to? Were they merely an Italian version of Skyhooks or, even worse, Judas Priest? Thankfully, neither. If anything, at least in their early days, Death SS were more like an Italian version of Venom or even the Misfits, with Steve Sylvester's raspy vocals and Paul Chain's fuzz-laden, doomy guitar riffs lending this a proto-Black Metal feel I can get my head around, easy. Not just a record to show off, but one to play, too. Alright!

The two openers, "Terror" and "Zombie" are total uber-energy punk rockers, an urgent combo of early '70s HM a la MC5/Stooges/BOC w/ a down-tuned guitar sludge worthy of a dozen Southern Lord bands. Flip it over to side B and you get "Horrible Eyes", total Master Of Reality rip-off dirge w/ Sylvester's Alice Cooper howls in the chorus, but what's next? "Cursed Mama"! Like the title, love the song. Take this track, whack it on a ltd.-edition purple-wax 7" and tell your friends it features the roadie from the original line-up of, I dunno, the Bunny Brains or the Brainbombs, and wait for the eBay bids to roll in. It is TOTAL ROCK DESTRUCTION. Garbled, distorted vocals, lumbering rhythm section and a wall of guitar noise perched somewhere twixt Flipper and Harry Pussy, suffice to say, it does not sound like a bunch of typical Italian teenagers of the period. Or any period. Killed By Death geeks, take note!

I'm still finding my way through the second disc. From a brief spin, it appears to be up to par. Akarma, Get Back, Earmark, Black Widow: you know these labels well. Between the lot of them they've unearthed just about every "lost gem" of the '60/'70s you'll ever care to hear in a lifetime. I've heard a whole bunch of 'em, and a lot of them, I never care to hear again. This LP belongs in a different basket. You can, if you like, ignore the costumes, time frame and sense of reference for Death SS and simply listen to this double set for what it is: a mother of a collection of lo-fi, basement-dwelling destructo-rock right up there w/ all those other names of the period we love and cherish. I don't mean to get anyone too excited, and I'm not sure I'm even capable of such a thing anyway, but really: Death SS and their monumental double-LP collection of late '70s demos, The Horned God Of The Witches: believe this hype!