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.

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