Monday, July 31, 2006

VON - Satanic Blood Angel CD (Nuclear War Now!/US)
This is a good one to put on when you're in one of those no-brains-allowed moods in need of nothing more than a good headrush. You've probably never heard of them - I certainly never had until a year back - though Von are in fact one of the most influential proto-Black Metal outfits of all time, if you're to believe the liner notes.

Von were an early '90s San Fran trio - that's Goat, Bill and Snake - who never actually released any vinyl or "official" release in their lifetime. Just two demo cassettes, then they disappeared into the ether. Luckily, a young deadbeat by the name of Varg Vikernes, AKA Burzum, bought one of their releases and promptly taped it endlessly and spread the word throughout Norway. That is where their legend lies. As the liner notes say, Von were the pioneering band of "minimalist trance-inducing Black Metal".

That's a good point. Both of their cassettes, Satanic Blood and Blood Angel, from 1991, predate the ultra-necro lo-fi basement scunge of Burzum and Darkthrone by a couple of years, so the historical value is there. But is it any good? By golly, yes! Local shop clerk Oren Ambarchi spun me this CD in the store in which he is employed about a year back and we both chuckled at the lyrical content. Here's a choice snippet:

Shall die in vain
Drink the blood
Sacrifice to the
Worship blood
Ink the sign
Worship to thee

Despite the pleas as to their great historical significance, I wasn't fully sold on what sounded like a gutteral, Satanic Shaggs and, if memories serves, blew the cash on some jazz nonsense instead. Still, that sound haunted me. Back in stock a month ago, I decided on the purchase. Maybe I was bleary on that day in question a year back, but this sounds a whole lot better in the year 2006, and for a BM demo cassette from 1991, and one which apparently pioneered the necro sound (I'm sorry, I must use the lingo), it's got the chops and power to really deliver a blow. Yes, this rocks. Of course the production would hardly please the average Toto fan, but at least it doesn't succumb to the depths of no-fi, in-the-red crud which hampers certain discs by the likes of Ildjarn and Belketre.

26 tracks in total, 14 in the studio, 12 live (which also sound good); 15 years later Von probably sound like the most generic Black Metal band on the planet, though keep this in mind: it was recorded 15 years ago. One more listen to this in my wife's company and I think she might just file for divorce, though for myself it's a pretty cool secret treasure, even though it pains me to consider the point that it mighta been a bunch of goddamn Yanks who secretly kickstarted the whole movement.

PS - you'll notice that the comments box is available once again - at least until it konks out for its fortnightly breakdown - so if you wish to tell me what a misinformed jerk I am, you'd better jump on it quick.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

VIRGINIA ASTLEY - From Gardens Where We Feel Secure CD (Rough Trade)
Here's an embarrassing confession: I bought this on the recommendation of an airline magazine. The first time, probably the last. Flying back from Sydney about 3 months ago, I noticed a review for this in the music section of the magazine in question (which must've been a Virgin publication) and was instantly intrigued. Firstly, it was because I'd never heard of Virginia Astley (and this was originally released in 1983), and secondly because the description of the music - a combination of meditative, piano-based hymns mixed with English barnyard sounds - made it sound rather interesting. Well, I bought this on eBay a few months ago and it more than lives up to expectations.

If you read Astley's All Music Guide entry, you may find some curious information: sister-in-law of Pete Townsend; one-time band member in the Ravishing Beauties w/ Kate St. John of the Dream Academy (yeah, them!); worked w/ Siouxsie and the Banshees in the late '70s, and an all round CV of Britannia tweeness to rival Kate Bush. In essence, not usually my bag. But this, her LP from 1983, one of only three made in nearly 25 years, is, as expected, something which is awfully pleasant to play on a sunny day.

With ascending/descending Satie-esque piano lines carrying the bulk of the melodies, with occasional oboe and what sounds like a children's choir in the distance, I'll forgive you for thinking this to be New Age Hell at first glance. That is, if you haven't yet heard it. More to the point, this is much closer to the sublime minimalism of Eno's classic Ambient series of LPs (Discreet Music, Music For Airports, Apollo, etc.) than anything w/ a Windham Hill logo on its jacket, so excuse me whilst I make some cucumber and avocado sandwiches, guzzle lashings of ginger beer and enjoy the sounds of From Gardens Where We Feel Secure. As a guilty pleasure, the guilt is starting to wear off.

Some other goodies...

1) PEARLS BEFORE SWINE - These Things Too CD
More on these guys at a later date. I now have a far more accurate decsription for the Supreme Dicks: they sound like a PBS covers band.
2) HAZEL DICKENS & ALICE GERRARD - Pioneering Women of Bluegrass CD
3) CLUSTER - '71 CD
Superb reissue of this zone-out electronic Kraut gem of the mighty Water label.
4) VARIOUS - High Explosion: DJ Sounds From 1970 to 1976 3-LP box
Three LPs of the best toasting 'n' rapping ever from Jamaica's hotshots of the '70s. Not a dud in the whole lot, if I was a better written-word critic of reggae, I'd attempt a full-length rundown. Until that happens, I'd advise you get yer mits of this Trojan bounty.
One of those ESP catalogue-gaps I discussed below, now filled. And nicely, too. Hot 1968 free blast w/ Byard Lancaster and Sonny Sharrock on board.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


As an easy space-filler, I thought I'd list my dozen favourite jazz albums of all time. You know "jazz": all The Kids are talkin' about it. For better or for worse, my taste in jazz tends towards the "avant-garde": I like a squawl and a screech, but it also has to swing, too. Throughout the latter half of the '90s and a few years into the '00s, I was also a terrific enthusiast for "improvisation", though I must admit to've given it a wide berth the last couple of years. Huh? But isn't "free jazz" simply improvisation? Well, yes and no. I don't wish to debate definitions here, but for myself, a musical piece doesn't have to be fully improvised to be thrown under the banner of "free jazz"; it must simply possess a certain energy to it. Listen to any mid '60s Coltrane or Ayler disc and you'll see what I'm talking about. Most such songs follow a familiar pattern: set song structures - break down into an extended improvised solo - then back to the composition. Just because you could potentially anotate the musical score, doesn't mean it ain't "free". But anyway...

When I mean "contemporary improvisation" I speak of the drier, more Euro-derived music a la Derek Bailey, AMM, Evan Parker, Alexander Von Schlippenbach, etc. I could live the rest of my life w/out ever encountering another Bailey disc, though there's still a handful of albums by the latter three which I rate very highly... but at this point in my life, they never hit the turntable. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. Next! Gimme another 10 years and I'll probably want to hear them again.

I can't handle fusion at all, bar a couple of things which might slip under that heading by default. The two main examples here would be, obviously, Miles Davis' electric period from 1969-'75 - a body of work which still remains perhaps my favourite by any artist ever (indeed, Get Up With It, from 1974, rates as likely my fave album of all time, though I haven't listed it here as I consider it a "rock" album more than a jazz one); and Tony Williams' Lifetime, whose first two recorded efforts (Emergency! and Turn It Over) are a dynamite combination of what rock/jazz fusion should've been before it was taken over and ruined by session-muso idiots with cheesecloth shirts and five hours of endless noodling up their sleeves. That is: guitar-dominated rock with the freedom/improv principle of jazz. Of course, there's also a Herbie Hancock record or two from the early '70s, namely Sextant, which can be a whole lot of fun, too. But other than that, I ain't interested.

I am, however, becoming increasingly juiced-up in my elderly years by the tunes of Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Django Reinhardt, Duke Ellington, Art Blakey and even truly old-geezer wattage by the likes of Kid Ory, Harlem Hamfats and other varieties of 78-RPM jazz favoured by stinky men w/ exposed bumcracks at record conventions. To put it simply, I'm always learning...

But my heart and mind will always tend towards to whackier and the way-out. The dozen releases below, perhaps barring Sketches Of Spain and, to a lesser extent, Black Saint And The Sinner Lady, certainly fall into that category. My ears were first tweeked to the potential greatness of such as a teen when the Minutemen would namedrop the likes of Ornette Coleman and James "Blood" Ulmer in interviews, though I won't rewrite history and try to convince anyone that I was happily spinning a bit of Eric Dolphy wax back in high school. I was but a dumb punker. I didn't actually buy any "jazz" album (except for Naked City, which ain't "jazz") until I was 21 when a friend played me some Art Ensemble Of Chicago and compared them to the Boredoms (yes, that's a long bow, though Reese And The Smooth Ones is not a thousand miles off w/ its long passages of clunking percussion). From then on, I had a mission. First it was Eric Dolphy, then it was Ornette, then it was Ayler, then the ESP reissues came out via ZYX and then all those Impulse reissues started flooding the world and before you knew it even those long-gone and stupidly rare BYG/Actuel reissues once again made a library of glorious music available to the plebs. It never ends. And gladly so.

Add to that a series of excellent contemporary avant-jazz albums which were being released in the late '90s on American labels like AUM Fidelity and Eremite, and by 2002, after a near 10-year jazzathon, I decided to let it rest for a year or two. In the last 12 months I've come back for a second helping, even starting a pathetic mission to fill out my ESP and BYG gaps along the way, so it looks like the jazz kick is here to stay. Well hooray for that.

In the spirit of self-indulgence which is the world of blogs, below I list for you my favourite dozen jazz albums. Kind of a strange mix, I realise only now that a whopping five of them were released on the near unbeatable Impulse imprint and that some I have owned for well over ten years, one I've only owned for just over 12 months (Don Cherry's Orient) and indeed one I seriously only purchased approximately 3 or 4 months ago (A Monastic Trio). Still, I will say this in brief: 12 months is long enough to digest an album and figure its worth; Alice Coltrane, especially given the awesome power of her 1968-'77 catalogue, has very quickly become a favourite musician of mine; and the vast bulk of these albums are from the '60s/'70s simply because it was the golden era of avant-jazz. William Parker's Peach Orchard 2-CD monstrous epic makes the grade easy, and remains for me the finest American jazz album of the past decade or longer. It is a classic and will age as such.

By god, that is without a doubt the most longwinded introduction for a simple list of albums I have ever read. Ahem... in no partricular order.

1) MILES DAVIS - Sketches Of Spain LP (1959/Columbia)
2) ORNETTE COLEMAN - Crisis LP (1969/Impulse)
3) PHAROAH SANDERS - Karma LP (1969/Impulse)
4) DON CHERRY - Orient 2-LP (1971/Affinity)
5) SUN RA - Space Is The Place soundtrack CD (1972/released 1993 on Evidence)
6) CHARLES MINGUS - Black Saint And The Sinner Lady LP (1963/Impulse)
7) WILLIAM PARKER/IN ORDER TO SURVIVE - The Peach Orchard 2-CD (1998/AUM Fidelity)
8) ALICE COLTRANE - A Monastic Trio LP (1968/Impulse)
9) FRANK LOWE - Black Beings LP (1973/ESP)
10) ALBERT AYLER - Lorrach Paris 1966 2-LP (1982/Hat Hut)
11) JOHN COLTRANE - Live In Seattle 2-LP (1965/Impulse)
12) ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO - Fanfare For The Warriors LP (1973/Atlantic)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

SUPREME DICKS - The Unexamined Life CD (Homestead/1993)
Funny how things work out. When this originally came out in 1993 it was seen as a bit of an unwanted dog. Tim Adams, in his Ajax catalogue at the time (which is where I purchased my copy), hailed it as possibly the "sleeper" of the year. I can only assume that means it didn't sell a lot. I drooled over it at the time and wrote at great length of its brilliance. I even interviewed the band in 1995 for the last issue of Year Zero fanzine.

Prior to throwing this into the car stereo mix this week, it hadn't graced my presence in over 5 years, maybe not since the late '90s. What urged me on? A friend brought it up the other week and was green w/ envy by my ownership of its wares. He claimed it now goes for medium-sized bucks on eBay w/ indie geeks too young or clueless to've picked it up when it was in print (and don't ask me when it went out of print; I don't know. Is Homestead still around?). That claim kinda took me by surprise, considering I always thought the Supreme Dicks to be one of those no-name bands littering the vast Homestead catalogue which absolutely no-one on earth ever cared about, except for myself and a few other socially-challenged associates.

The 'Dicks, a Massechussetts ensemble who date back to the late '80s, were a smart-arse troupe of collegiate types who mocked the indie scene of the day yet were firmly entrenched in its world. Such a description sums up their music to a tee. That is, I won't kid you and claim this mini-masterpiece is anything but a strain of "indie rock", yet it possesses a sense of slightly detached charm that weathers it better than probably 90% of its contemporaries.

In my outrageously probing interview ca. '95, I asked the band for their alleged influences. Always start 'em off w/ the tough ones, I say. The response: "Willhelm Reich, St. Francis of Assissi, McKinley Moore, Joan of Arc and the Baal Shem... there's definitely a 'Floydian influence, and we also like Fairport Convention, Flying Burrito Bros., Nick Drake, Lou Reed, Buffy Saint-Marie, Bob Dylan, Alex Chilton, Tim Hardin, Beach Boys, Tim Buckley, Phil Ochs, Phil Spector, Mountain Goats, Sandy Denny, Susanne Lewis, Leonard Cohen, etc., etc.". Maybe you're starting to get the picture. Tim at Ajax compared 'em to late '60s Tim Buckley and even Miles Davis ca. In A Silent Way. Don't really know where that latter reference came from; I know In A Silent Way like the back of my hand. This album does not resemble it.

I'll throw in the two cents and state that if you like the fractured, crawling-from-the-abyss aura you get whilst spinning the likes of Skip Spence's Oar or Neil Young's On The Beach, then The Unexamined Life is a disc you need sitting pretty in your house. It possesses the slightly damaged persona of Oar (OK, maybe not as real as Spence's damage at the time, but it's a nice impersonation) and the sprawling song structures of On The Beach (esp. side B). Mostly quiet, "smart" and cynical, and in many parts sounding semi-improvised, if this platter had been released in an edition of 50 on turd-coloured vinyl wrapped in old fish-&-chip wrappers, it'd be seen as a hidden treasure by the hipster elite. It was released on Homestead and remains, I must now conclude, one of the better albums of Clinton-era America.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

EDDY CURRENT SUPPRESSION RING. Apparently that's the name given to a scientific occurance involving magnetic fields, conductors and some other crap I'll never understand, though it's also the name of a new-ish Melbourne band you'll be hearing a whole lot more of in the future. I caught them this Friday just passed at Revolver, of all places (yes, kicking and screaming all the way... it being a local chickenhead/yuppie a-hole haunt of some repute in Melbourne, if you don't know), and left so suitably impressed I feel it is my duty to inform you of their existence. Of course, I had seen them before on several occassions, but this time it really clicked: ECSR are one hell of a band, and in fact may just be the best currently operational rock unit in Australia today.

A four-piece w/ no apparent pretentions whatsoever, they've nailed a sound which no one in living memory has managed to perfect south of the equator. It's a weird beast to witness in the flesh. Singer, "Brendan Suppression", looks like Joe Blow on the street except he possesses the hilarious habit of always donning leather "singing gloves" on stage to screech with, yelps w/ an unfiltered Aussie accent and likes to do a great deal of his yelling off the stage. Like, in the audience. Bassist, "Rob Solid", looks like he should be playing in the Cockney Rejects, though he alarmingly plays his instrument arched at chest level - New Wave style - and with his fingers. It's a brave move, though his obvious enthusiasm pulls it off. Guitarist and occasional keyboardist, "Eddy Current", has the weediest guitar sound this side of Tom Verlaine, though w/ a booming rhythm section carrying most of the load, his rake-thin inflections serve a perfect decoration and, when needed, he strums out some hip-shaking power chords. Drummer, Dan Helada (and I believe that is his real name) makes me jealous w/ his skins prowess. Never too fancy with his fills, he is, as they say, the Human Metronome. He also has some nice tattoos. That's the band.

Their sound is a tough one to pin down, if only because it falls into approximately three different categories. Most of it falls roughly into a late '70s, minimal and aggressive punk vibe not too dissimilar to the debut long-player efforts from Wire and the Saints. It's clean and disciplined a la Pink Flag, though the 'Strine drawl has me thinking of no one else but a young Chris Bailey. The second element of the band sees them taking on a more conventional, though occasionally HC-paced, take on '60s beat/rave-up raunch of the Easybeats/Yardbirds mold. You'll stomp, shimmy, shake and have yerself a good time. Lastly, there are the moments when Eddy Current - that's the man, not the band - drops the guitar and takes up the keyboard. I drew a long bow to a friend on Friday night and told him such moments bring to mind the Screamers. I think I was full of it. Let me retract that statement and tell you that the third element of the band sees them delving into chintzy old-school keyboard-driven garage rock of the Seeds/? And The Mysterians ilk. That clears that up. They excel at all three.

So excited was I by the performance, the exhilaration of seeing a local Rock Band who not only wrote and performed such strong material with real guts, passion and lack of any pretention whatsoever in my own backyard, I hopped on down to Missing Link the next day and purchased one of the two 7"s they now have available. I would've bought them both, but one was out of stock. I settled for their self-titled 3-track EP on Corduroy, which deftly shows up all three elements of the band just discussed within its grooves: the art-punk, the freakbeat and the organ groove. Attending the show w/ Richard Stanley from Dropkick, who has just signed the band to release their just-recorded full-length debut on his label, I turned to him after the last chord was struck and said, "You know, I think you may just have a hit on your hands". He nodded his head and said some comment about the last song being a killer. I had to set him straight: "Not just that song, but the whole band, they're great! You should hassle Larry at In The Red about licensing them. Americans will love them". Of course I've been full of shit on many occasions before, but this time I think I'm right. ECSR are a band of perfect ingredients, all in the right doses. I don't write about contemporary "garage rock" much in these pages, because I rarely, if ever, listen to it. That's Jay over at Agony Shorthand's bag. He has the knowledge, the recordings and the writing skills to give the better bands way more justice than I can. I'm writing this as a wake-up call to all you foreigner types: your future favourite Australian band will be Eddy Current Suppression Ring.


1) COMUS - First Utterance LP
15 years of Current 93 fandom, and I've finally cracked and bought their greatest inspiration!
2) ALICE COLTRANE - World Galaxy LP
Yes, bought a cheap, slightly beat-up copy from eBay last week. Still not available on CD in the West, this is another great early-'70s outing from the First Lady of Psychedelic Ethno-Jazz (after all, somebody has to be). Features the great Frank Lowe on a couple of tracks, the man responsible for my all-time fave ESP jazz platter, 1973's epochal Black Beings.
3) BETTY DAVIS - This Is It! 2LP
4) NEW YORK DOLLS - All Dolled Up DVD
Recently released doco put together by photogropher/blowhard, Bob Gruen, with him following the band on their first west coast tour in '73, Beta camera in tow. The LA footage, especially the nightclub scenes in Rodney Biggenheimer's English Disco, floor me; the live stuff and recent spins of their two studio LPs have me convinced they may have been a better band than the Stooges. Really.
5) ZOMBIES - Odessey And Oracle CD
It's taken me a long time, but this saccharine slice of airbrushed psychedelia has finally won me over. A perfect moment of west coast psych-pop in the Byrds/Love vein from a group of bespectacled Limeys.