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.


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

You can't say I don't know how to party. For example, there was last Friday night. Pooped from an exhaustive day in the coal mines, I decided to stay home. Plonked myself on the couch, switched the brain off and watched American Pie 3: The Wedding on TV (true story). Got a call from Rich Dropkick, who was finishing work at 9 and wanted to come over and hang out. By all means, I said, but it'll be a quiet one. Suited him fine. So, what did we do? Well, my stupidly fantastic (or fantastically stupid) fanzine collection has been eating away every corner of the spare bedroom the last 5 years, so I've been in the mood of late to box them up and clear a bit of space. I drag 'em out for semi-regular toilet reads, but that's about it. Thing is, unlike my records or CDs, I have never - not once - sold a single music magazine or fanzine I have purchased since I was 14. Every goddamn issue of Maximum Rock 'n' Roll, Flipside, B-Side, Chemical Imbalance, Forced Exposure, The Pope, Your Flesh, Speed Kills, even Black To Comm and all in between (even free ones) I have kept stashed away, for a rainy day.

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!!