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!