Friday, December 21, 2007

Back from the dead and feeling a whole lot better. Thanks to the well-wishers, and to all the nay-sayers, tough shit, I'm still alive and doing fine. Will be on medication for the next few months and I will be having a long, dry summer - that is, no drinking (doctor's orders) - but not getting sloshed on a weekly basis is a small price to pay for good health. Let's not dwell on this too long; I feel like I've had a good 3-4 weeks zapped from my life and I wish to put it in the past. Instead, let's dwell on the past year and give you a BEST OF 2007 list, just like every other putz-publication on earth does at year's end.

One thing you gotta keep in mind in regards to this list: I have neither the time, money nor inclination to check out everything which may be up my alley. 2007 was a nappy-filled, sleep-deprived fog for me, and the vast bulk of what I heard was simply stuff associated w/ my work, so much of this is, err, kinda work-related in regards to what I was actually exposed to and liked. Ya know, I'm sure Neil Young's Chrome Dreams 2 is a killer, and the few tracks I've heard from the latest OM and Wooden Shjips CDs sound right up my alley, but the truth is, I haven't properly heard them yet, and it would be dishonest of me to put them here. So, on with the show...


Dad They Broke Me - Lack CDEP (Missing Link)
Scuzz-rock grind with the distortion pedals set to 11 from this local quartet.

Always - F.I.S.T. CD (Nervous Jerk)
I'm not sure how many times I'll really listen to this, but it's an excellent room-clearer which has my utmost respect. Vocal yelps and hollers looped into an awesomely annoying trance from this local wunderkid.

Throbbing Gristle - Part Two: Endless Not CD (Mute)
Back and sounding good. A surprisingly cohesive statement from these elder statespeople who are back to claim their thrones and pension cheques.

Winter Family - s/t 2CD (Sub Rosa)
Dark, piano/keyboard-driven ballads and misery from this new French duo, obviously taking a leaf out of the Nico/Patti Smith books of woe.

Savage Republic - 1938 CD (Neurot)
See " Throbbing Gristle".

Castings - Punk Rock Is Bunk Squawk CDR (Spanish Magic)
First-rate electro-buzz basement screams from this NSW crew. "I liked it so much I decided to release their next album!"

Magnetics - We Are the Mountains We Are the Fields CD (Sweat Lung)
Captivating heavy-duty drones from this local duo. Good music to nod off to.

Vocokesh - All This and Hieronymous Bosch CD (Strange Attractors Audio House)
Grade-A space-rock adventures from these beloved (at least by me!) Milwaukee vets.

David S. Ware - Renunciation CD (Aum Fidelity)
Recent live quartet recording from the best jazz crew currently existing on earth.

Robert Wyatt - Comic Opera CD (Domino)
Shoulda written about this months ago, but time caught up w/ me. Yet another great Wyatt album to add to his sizeable canon of song. Not his absolute finest, though better than 99.9% of music you will waste your life with.

Jordi Savall/Hesperion XXI - Francisco Javier: The Route Of The Orient 2CD/Book (Alia Vox)
My description of this magnificent set will not do it justice. It comes as a beautifully presented heavy-duty hardbound full-colour book with two CDs and is, for all intents and purposes, a musical accompaniment to the journeys of 16th century explorer Francisco Javier, as he made his way throughout the Orient. Played by famed "early music" virtuoso Jordi Savall (who owns/runs Alia Vox) and his ensemble, Hesperion XXI, if you only like your music to rock and/or roll, you can forget about this and skip to the next entry. If you like to keep your ears open to great music of all stripes, then I'd recommend you check this out. I only just discovered this a week or two back and I get a feeling my musical obsession of 2008 will be, yep, you guessed it: EARLY MUSIC.

The Budos Band - II CD (Daptone)
Second album of ecstatic, eccentric instrumental funk from these New York State honkies linked up w/ Sharon Jones' Dapkings. My quarter-assed description for the Budos Band: imagine the JBs playing the Ethiopiques songbook...

Anthony Pateras - Chasms CD (Sirr.Ecords)
Wall-of-sound prepared-piano from this local extraordinaire which blew my socks off earlier in the year.


Various - Savage Pencil Presents: Lion vs. Dragon In Dub CD (Trojan)
Best. Dub. Compilation. Ever. See a few entries below.

Various - Authentice: The Syliphone Years: Guinea’s Orchestres Nationaux And Federaux 1965-80 2CD (Sterns)
An eye-catchingly packaged collection of Guinean jazz and Afro-beat from the vaults of the country's "official" record label of its day, Syliphone. I dig.

Various Artists - Doom and Gloom: Early Songs Of Angst and Disaster 1927-1945 CD (Trikont)
Much like the Savage Pencil comp' on Trojan, if you're a fan of the genre there probably isn't a great deal you wouldn't already have here (Blind Willie Johnson, Carter Family, Bessie Smith, etc.), but it's the choice of tracks and sequencing which makes this such a joy to behold. A compilation whose compilers obviously lost sleep over the choice of material, but the hard work and sweat was all worth it. Misery never sounded this good.

Noah Howard - The Black Ark CD (Bo'Weavil)
Much needed reissue of this near mythological free-jazz classic featuring the first appearance on record by legendary "crazy-dude" jazz beast, Arthur Doyle. Noah Howard remains one of the great u/ground avant-jazz guys of the '60s/'70s.

Bruce Haack - Electric Lucifer CD (OMNI)
Dawn-of-the-'70s weirdness from this electronic pioneer. Comparable to and just as good as '70s Residents and early Cabaret Voltaire, and you know how good that is.

Chumps - The Problem With Saxophones CD (Afterburn)
First time on CD for these recordings by this brain-fried late-'70s DC crew linked up w/ Half Japanese. No Wave buffoonery of a very high order.

Various Artists - Psychobilly From the Vaults Of Big Beat Records 1981-1984 6 x 7” box (Munster)
Man oh man, this is a timewarp. When I was 14 a friend of my brother gave us a cassette with the classic Big Beat compilation of the day, Rockabilly Psychosis and The Garage Disease, and for a good few years we were quite entranced with this whole "scene". This 7" box set compiles all the debut EPs by the Milkshakes, Meteors, Vibes, Sting-Rays, Bananamen and the Guana Batz, and whilst this little bracket of bands all possessed the musical lifespan of a carton of milk (bar the Meteors, who toured here a few weeks back. Sheesh!) and the idea of Limeys trying to be The Cramps got old real quick, for a moment or two there was something pretty good happening here, and for anyone who thinks this is all just stand-up bass-player & quiff nonsense, the presence of Billy Childish and a 13th Floor Elevators cover by the Sting-Rays should alert you to the fact that this is a whole lot better than you might imagine it to be. Even the cuts by second-tier outfits the Bananamen and the Vibes have enough fuzz up their sleeves to make one imagine what the Cramps woulda sounded like w/ two Bryan Gregorys in their ranks. Absolutely one of the best sets of music I've revisited all year, and Munster has done a stand-up job in compiling it all together to remind me 21 years later just how great some of these bands were for a brief moment in time.

The Pop Group - Y (Rhino UK)
About friggin' time.

Various - Artefacts Of Australian Experimental Music 1930-1973 CD (Shame File)
A well-researched and nicely presented look into Australia's little-known (even by me!) experimental music scene from many decades past. Features some big names (Percy Grainger, Barry Humphries(!!), Tully) and whole lotta other stuff I gotta do my homework on.

Various - Columbia! The Golden Age of Discos Fuentes 1960-1976 2LP/CD (Soundway)
Archival Columbian party hits of the '60s and '70s from the vaults of Fuentes Records, w/ a bit of jazz, a bit of funk, a touch of Salsa and a whole lotta soul. This will make the seemingly undanceable strut their stuff! Just watch!

Tim Buckley - Starsailor LP (4 Men With Beards)
Again, it's about friggin' time... and where's the CD??

The Fugs - Tenderness Junction LP (4 Men With Beards)
There's been a whole stack of killer vinyl reissues on 4MWB this year, but since most of them are already widely available on CD, I won't mention them. Both Buckley and The Fugs get special mention due to their scarcity and utter greatness. Tenderness Junction, originally released in 1967, is the Fugs' finest album, and you need it.

Moby Grape - s/t LP/CD (Sundazed)
Deleted just one month after re-release this year, due to yet more legal tangling between the band's surviving members, Sony/BMG and MG's old management (Google it some day and dazzle yourself), it's pretty goddamn ridiculous that such a classic album of its period remains in constant semi-deleted status. The 'Grape's debut LP from '67 is a magical slice of rough garage rock spiced up w/ forays into country, soul and psych, amped up w/ a three-guitar membership that's like a mixture of the Byrds and Television. As good as the hype would have you believe all these years.... and I didn't even mention Skip Spence!

Bennie Maupin - The Jewel In The Lotus CD (ECM)
Former Herbie/Miles sideman Maupin was there at the dawn of "fusion" before it became a lame duck and the jazz equivalent of progressive-rock: virtuosic masturbation. And he released this album in 1974. ECM finally got off their butts and put it back in print this year, and that's a very good thing. Points off for no original cover art, though the music, which sounds like the missing link twixt Bitches Brew and the Necks - and some would say that isn't too much of a stretch - is what you need this for. Outward-bound cosmic electric jazz you need to get yer mits on. A work colleague turned me onto this 3 months back and it hasn't strayed far from the stereo since.

Harmonia - Live 1974 CD (Water)
Previously unreleased archival live stuff from this Kraut supergroup. Totally ace, off-the-board recordings which I actually dig more than their already-superific studio outings. Bong-hit Aryan trance vibes I can really soak in.


TV blows. You know it, I know it. The only television worth watching comes in the form of DVD box sets compiling seasons of shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Shield, The Wire and the sadly-defunct Six Feet Under.


I barely go to the movies at the quietest of times; with an infant it's near impossible. I saw Zodiac and enjoyed it immensely, even though it was too long and needed a touch of tightening up in the narrative, so I'm throwing that one in due to a distinct lack of any competition viewed in '07.


Pig State Recon. Absolutely the finest and most musically unpredictable blog out there.

OK, that's a take! No more "highlights" from me, since many of you probably already know what that was (and I'll save you the gushing). I'll be back soon. I've got 3 weeks off and some itchy fingers (not related to my recovering viral illness!) and I feel like blabbin'. Gary Arce has sent me some rough, unmixed/mastered takes of the new TEN EAST album due for release in March '08 and I can tell you that it will KNOCK YOUR SOCKS RIGHT OFF. No fuckin' shit. Bye for now.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

My absence is easily explained. It's called feeling like you're on death's door. I've suffered an absolute killer viral infection the last fortnight, which included several stays in hospital, and I'm only now, under the guidance of heavy medication (including steroids!), starting to see through the fog. When your body starts to fall apart like that, and there's nothing you can do about it - such as when you wake up to find that your lips look like a bad Botox job, your face looks like you've been punched around the night before, your wrists are swollen up and feel like they're broken and you look and feel like you have hundreds of peas under your skin throughout your neck, shoulders and back region - something is seriously starting to go wrong. Well, I don't want to go too much into it; suffice to say, things are on the mend and I'm starting to feel human again. I would not wish that anyone go through what I've been through the last two weeks, even though I'm all too aware of the fact that millions (billions, likely) go through much worse every single day.

The picture above is of good ol' Stocky, or Karlheinz Stockhausen, as he's more commonly known. He passed away on December the 5th, and I feel that it is my duty to acknowledge him in some way. Perhaps not because I believe he was a particularly wonderful human being. From all reports he was a cantankerous ballbreaker, though his contribution to 20th century music - his positive contribution, I should add - remains enormous. Not only is he responsible for perhaps my all-time favourite "avant-garde" (in a purely classicist sense) outing, 1967's magnus opus double LP, Hymnen - a collection of reconfigured national anthems, shortwave-radio bursts and tape manipulations which ranks as one of the best acid-trip soundtracks released anywhere - but his music was a pivotal influence on the increasingly strange (and interesting) music of the Beatles as they hit their stride ca. '67-'68, the Velvets, Jefferson Airplane and pretty much any Krautrock outfit worth a pinch of salt. I had a major hard-on for all the big-name avant players of the 20th century about 10 years back, just when I was really starting to delve into the worlds of John Cage, Penderecki, Morton Feldman, Iannis Xenakis, etc. It was all a great deal of fun for a while, and along the way I discovered stand-alone works of genius such as Feldman's Rothko Chapel and Penderecki's "Threnody For the Victims of Hiroshima" which will remain with me forever, but for me there's still that one standout: Hymnen. Stockhausen's life is not contained to merely one piece of music; there are, after all, others of his I like a lot and many more I'll probably never even hear, but I'm not writing a professional obituary here. I'll leave that for the papers. I'm simply glad the guy was here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

TORTOISE - s/t LP (Thrill Jockey/1994)
What brings on the synopsis for this? Prior to a couple of weeks back, I hadn't spun the thing in close to a decade. Two things: some jack-a-ninny indie band played a more recent (which actually could've been anything they've done in the last decade) clip of theirs on Rage a few weeks back, which I enjoyed; and secondly, a few friends of mine - friends whom I respect and who possess a love and knowledge of a wide variety of music, everything from pre-War blues right on thru to classic HC, Japanese psych and deep acid-house trance or whatever variety of dance-oriented horseshit I will never understand in a thousand lifetimes (though come back to me in 10 years...) - these people LOVE TORTOISE. And they tell me I'm being a jackass for throwing in the towel w/ the band right after the release of their thoroughly underwhelming 3rd album from 1998, TNT.
Fact is, I'll be upfront about this: I was one of the first kids on the block to cotton onto Tortoise... I think. Bought the debut after it was first listed in Tim Adams' Ajax catalogue back in '94 (and boy, what a tastemaker that guy was there for a while; when I hung w/ him for a day in Chi-town in '99 he was a burnt-out shell of a man... what ever happened to him??), and promptly hailed them as the new face of post-punk music in America, or something like that. I guess everyone else did, too. Much like, say, Minutemen, Swans or Sonic Youth back in the '80s, they were seen as some sort of logical progression from the HC baldies into more interesting musical territories, or, if you want to be cynical about it, you could say they were the prog-rockers of the '90s, w/ all the bad connotations such a term implies: old geezers who used to like it short, fast and loud, learnt to play their instruments, got all fancy-schmancy and proceeded to bore the shit out of everyone for a decade. Well, I don't believe in that synopsis, but it probably holds some weight in certain circles. They certainly inspired a sea of insipid dog manure in the wake of their success, though, much like the Descendents - another once-great band who released a monster of a debut album back in the day and seemingly inspired a few generations of lightwieght turdery to be foisted onto the public ever since - I won't blame them for their imitators. That's right, I just compared Tortoise to the Descendents.
What happened w/ my Tortoise fandom? In 1996 came Millions Now Living Will Never Die, seen by many - especially the UK press - as a godsend, probably because it was a bunch of yanks copping moves from the Limeys (dub, PiL-ish post-punk, Eno-esque ambience), but still, I'd be lying if I didn't admit it impressed the living bejesus out of moi. It did. Skip to 1998, and TNT is released. By then I was knee-deep in '70s Miles, Amon Duul, Cecil Taylor and all kindsa rackety-assed nonsense, and I can tell you that the bantam-weight fusionoid pleasantries of TNT went down like led zeppelin in my household. I proceeded to from then-on proclaim the band as dead on arrival, a bunch of washed-up nancy-boy muso-heads and something I wished to erase from my memory. Funnily enough, I saw them play in Melbourne a couple of years later - probably just for old-time's sake - and they left zilch impression on me.
Which now brings me to 2007. Their first album, some 13-and-a-half years later, sounds utterly bloody excellent. If I still had my copy of Millions Now..., I'd probably give it a similar conclusion, especially w/ that centrepiece track, "DJed", a 20-minute epic which bridged the worlds of dub, PiL and Neu! Those worlds are pretty darn close, I know, but just bear w/ me here. The centrepiece track for their self-titled album is likely "Spiderwebbed", eight-and-a-half minutes of slowly enveloping bass-drum rhythms which, like its namesake, weaves a web as it progresses from a simple bass riff to a jungle of percussion and interweaving melodies. It's still impressive, as is the bulk of the disc: cocktail jazz, Can-style acid-funk workouts, slabs of ambient sound. This is smarty-pants American rock from the 1990s, and a good thing it remains. My mind is now open again to the potential wonders of the band known as Tortoise.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

MAGMA live in 1973. How could you not like a band this ridiculous?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Savage Pencil Presents: Lion Vs. Dragon In Dub CD (Trojan/2007)
Best. Dub. Compilation. Ever. Artist/writer Savage Pencil has outdone himself here. There's not that much in the way of hardcore rarities on this disc - heck, I already have a whole bunch of these tracks on other albums - but the sequencing and choice of material is truly what makes this so much better than the zillion other dub comps circling the earth (inc. many on Trojan!). The first two numbers are really what grab you: "Intro/Seventy Two Nations" by Dadawah, a long (like 10 minutes), slowly oozing meditation w/ chanting vocals and Nyabinghi finger drums, and the great Keith Hudson w/ "Man From Shooter's Hill", a track from his unbeatable Entering The Dragon LP from the early '70s, complete w/ fuzz guitar and the usual off-key caterwauling from the man himself. From then on you've got the likes of Augustus Pablo, Prince Jazzbo, U Roy, Bunny Lee, King Tubby, Blackbeard All Stars and a bunch more. 23 tracks, all killer, no filler: every track cuts the grade in deep, deep, deep freakified dub. Compilations aren't usually my bag. I rarely buy them. We'll make an exception w/ Lion Vs. Dragon because: A) it's got some cool liner notes and artwork from Sav X; and B) the guy must've sweated bullets for days/weeks on end thinking about the material and sequencing thereof. You simply don't come up w/ shit this choice by accident. Already deleted one month after release - Universal recently bought Trojan's parent company, Sanctuary, and have, at this stage, deleted Trojan's entire fucking catalogue - if you're going to take my word for it, I'd do a hop, skip and a jump down to the local record store to grab this one toot sweet before every copy is gobbled up for good.

SONIC YOUTH play here in February as part of Don't Look Back's "classic album" series, playing the entire Daydream Nation album in full, with the Scientists performing Blood Red River as support. Now, I'm old enough to've witnessed Sonic Youth the first time around when they were touring on the back of Daydream Nation (yeah, so stick that one up yer jumper), so could it possibly match up 20 years later? The last time I saw SY, I slipped into a deep coma. That was '04 or '5 on their Sonic Nurse tour. Perhaps this will cut the mustard, though should one really get excited over these shameless nostalgia trips? Is it not SY admitting defeat to their fans and saying, "Yes, we know, you like our old stuff better than our new stuff, so we'll give you what you want". A friend of mine said today that he thought it was merely an "indie" version of the Eagles getting back together so they can slay audiences worldwide w/ a back-to-back live rendition of the entire Hotel California LP. Hey, what the fuck, let's not analyse this too much: I dig the band, I dig the album and you know damn well I'm a nostalgic kinda guy, so you can count me in.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Since I'm in the mood for posting videos right now (or perhaps I should say "now that I've finally learnt how to post videos"), I give you this little treat. Many of you have probably seen this already, but it's a pleasure to witness the Travis Bickle of rock 'n' roll, psychic warrior and man-motivator, Chuck Dukowski, say his piece on LA television back in, say, 1980 or '81 (given the mohawke, it's gotta be around then). If you haven't seen it, it's well worth the price.

Now, does anyone have a copy of Jello tearing shreds off Sounds' Donnie Sutherland Down Under ca. 1983 live on TV, or the semi-notorious (mythical? bullshit??) interview w/ Tesco Vee on community TV ca. 1981?

Killin' time on a hot, lazy Sunday afternoon. Somewhere along the line I stumbled across this old Voivod video. What a song! What a ridiculous clip! Great stuff, no?

I've neglected listening to just about any Syd-period Pink Floyd or Barrett solo discs in the 21st century thus far... until this week, that is. Really, the 'Floyd I've liked (and played) the last 7 years has been the first few post-Barrett albums: Saucerful Of Secrets, More and Ummagumma. That's probably because I wore Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett into ground throughout the '90s and needed a break, and also because I belatedly - and reluctantly - discovered that the subsequent 3 albums the band recorded w/out him are actually really, really good. Who'da thought that? The written history in undieground circles tends to dictate that the band blew donkeys the moment Syd skipped town, though such is a historical falsification. Post '69 is when they hit the skids for me. Not because they got fat, rich and famous - though that likely fits into the equation somewhere - but because they lost all remnants of their psychedelic past and mutated into a shit-boring progressive-rock band w/ not an ounce of "rock" in their collective body. '70s 'Floyd plods and plods and plods... I don't say that because I'm a punker. After all, there are far worse offenders in bad '70s rock than 'Floyd, and the band did at least carry a sense of urban angst right up until... now, I suppose. It's a certain strain of English public-school angst, sure, though it still beats the poncified whimsy of a bunch of bedwetters like Genesis. I say all this because I actually purchased Meddle and Atom Heart Mother some years back, figuring I was missing a few pieces in the rock puzzle that is Pink Floyd (and being suitably impressed by the previous 3 LPs), only to find that the band hit the musical skids at the tail-end of the 1960s and - for me at least (and quite obviously not for the zillions of people who've purchased and enjoyed Dark Side Of The Moon) - never recovered in the slightest. They were sold right back to the store post haste.
You can see that the songwriting of the band changed drastically after Syd left, from a very white, English psychedelic pop not unlike Ray Davies or even Lennon/McCartney through to a more gravelly, psych blues-rock interspersed w/ a highly experimental instrumental angle which the band pretty much perfected throughout the rest of the 1960s. I mean, if you're into "noise" shit like Swans and Throbbing Gristle - two bands who've openly professed their love for post-Syd 'Floyd from the '60s - I don't see why you wouldn't enjoy the freaked-out clang of the intrumental passages on More and Ummagumma, or the hard-as-nails rock aggression of "The Nile Song". Stoner/burnout cliches, for sure, though so is Barrett for the rimmed-glasses-and-cardigan crowd, who've ripped off every move he made since Rough Trade first started releasing 7"s 30 years ago. No need for justification here: this is either falling on deaf ears or I'm preaching to the converted.
So, what brought on the sudden need for Syd? Probably the fact that I just read the cover story on him from the latest MOJO mag, and gave the very decent free CD a spin and decided I'd actually keep it (as opposed to the dozens of MOJO samplers I've thrown away or given to friends) and play it. The only other MOJO CD I've done that w/ was the Iggy-curated gem from 6 months back. I don't mean to be so flippant, but I just don't play the things. But this one's a goodie, and has a few people who influenced Syd (AMM, Blind Boy Fuller and Floyd Council and Pink Anderson... hence their name), those who were influenced by Syd (Spacemen 3, Jennifer Gentle, Acid Mothers Temple, Wooden Shjips) and his contemporaries (Hawkwind, Kevin Ayers, Soft Machine, Mothers Of Invention). Why am I telling you this? Not sure. In short, it's spurred me into placing Piper At The Gates Of Dawn at the top of the pile again, their uber-masterpiece and an album I probably should've put in my Top 100 list, but for whatever reason escaped my mind at the time. It is truly one of a kind, w/ its mixture of Duane Eddy/Shadows-influenced guitar twang and white-as-white Brit-psych experimentalism, and whilst I won't hate you for looking no further into the band's canon of song - such a reluctance is somewhat understandable, naturally - I will say that you're also missing out on something almost as good and a lot better than most.

Shameless self-promotion...

YAWNING MAN's Vista Point CD is now out exclusively on Lexicon Devil. It contains their now-deleted Rock Formations LP and Pot Head EP on one CD w/ brand new artwork: 12-page full-colur glossy booklet, the whole deal. If you like anything from Syd's 'Floyd to Dick Dale to early Meat Puppets to F/i to Can, you may just dig their sounds. I'm putting this out for one reason: it is, along w/ TEN EAST's Extraterrestrial Highway, the best collection of rock music I've heard in 5 years. It's a fuckin' honour, truly.

New studio albums on the label coming in '08 by: TEN EAST, YAWNING MAN, EMBERS and CASTINGS.

Dig it!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lemme find some damn inspiration before I start a-spurtin' off at the mouth with this blog. Real life is becoming too much of a blur of late for me to bother. I feel like I can never satisfy everyone all of the time, and sometimes that feeling has me stumped. Ya got me? If I talk about some old hardcore disc, I feel like I'm too much caught in the past... and really, I rarely ever listen to HC at this point in my life, so I don't really like to hit upon it too much. If I touch upon an avant-jazz platter, I know freakin' well I'm alienating a good portion of folks who may tend to read this on a semi-regular basis. How do I know such a thing? They tell me so. SST? I'm sounding like a broken record. I could talk about some recent things, but you know what? Outside of items I have a hand in, err, getting out to the public, I don't hear much of anything else, so it feels too self-indulgent to bother w/ those things. I could tell you about the John Cale performance I witnessed just last Saturday night, but really, it wasn't very good. Dreadful sound quality (too loud and clunky in general, the kick drum dominating everything in the mix), too many recent songs (an admirable trait if said songs are any good, though Cale's recent tres moderné material sounds like it fell off the back of a truck at a Laurie Anderson gig ca. 1985), and the slick-dick hotshot muso backing-band hit every note perfectly, though lacked any guts or soul whatsoever. Oh well, I will go to this grave saying one thing: I saw John Cale in the flesh. Wasn't very good, mind you, but he was there... The new William Parker CD is pretty OK, though it hasn't set my world on fire as of yet. And that's a pity, coz he is one of my dead-on fave musicians currently inhabiting planet earth, and has been so for nearly ten years. It's entitled Raining On The Moon and is released on the Aum Fidelity label. There's some regulars involved (Rob Brown, Hamid Drake), though he has vocalist Leena Conquest on board, attempting a kinda soul-goddess avant-jazz croon a la June Tyson, and for me it doesn't work 100%. Some of the vocals are a tad clunky, and the band doesn't break out quite as much as it should. Nice 'n' all, though I wanted my head expanded by such a disc. Better yet is David S. Ware's latest, Renunciation, also on Aum Fidelity. Recorded live last year in NYC w/ Matthew Shipp, Guillermo Brown and William Parker on board, it's Ware going back to a basic '66 Coltrane quartet sound. Giving the band room to breathe and the chops to pull off the occasional blast into outer space, the man has hit paydirt once again: one of the year's best, of course. Northwestern Black Metal trio, Wolves In The Throneroom, have a new CD on the usually-rather-good Southern Lord label, and I guess you get what you pay for: nice-as-pie oversized hardboard digipak packaging housing yet another fucking Black Metal album. Actually, this is pretty good. Four long songs, suitably necro in approach and not in any way rewriting the book of BM as we know it. 's OK if you're feeling kinda grim, but for top-shelf BM entertainment, I'll probably be sticking w/ my Leviathan, End and Darkthrone discs. Still, looks good on the shelf... One of my favourite labels on earth, Belgium's Sub Rosa, has struck gold w/ their latest release, a double CD entitled Persian Electronic Music: Yesterday and Today 1966-2006. Yeah, Persia, as in Iran (or Eye-ran, as you Yanks like to call it). Prior to the Ayatollah taking over in 1979 and rescuing millions of Iranians from the tyranny of a corrupt, Western-friendly regime willing to tolerate mini-skirts and rock 'n' roll, in the meantime dragging the nation back to the Dark Ages, the country was no mere cultural backwater. Witness the wonders of this exquisitely-packaged 2CD set and you will likely agree. One disc is made up of electronic pieces by electro pioneer Alireza Mashayekhi, spanning the years 1966-'82, whilst the other is made up of more recent works by Ata Ebtekar, AKA Sote (he has some stuff available on hipster UK electro label, Warp). No mere excercise in simply making a bunch of whacky noises for the sake of it - much like a lot of early electronic and computer music sounds in the year 2007 - there's some very fine (and listenable) tunes going on here. Some of it sounds like Arabic drones filtered through a Commodore 64; some of it sounds like a John Carpenter soundtrack; and some of it sounds like it shoulda been released on Industrial Records back in '79. It all sounds good, and thus I recommend you investigate. Speaking of Industrial Records, the one band in Australia who "musically" speaking remind me of Throbbing Gristle, that's Castings from NSW, I mentioned a few entries back. They really do have many fine things on their own Spanish Magic label, and perhaps when I have more time I'll tell you about 'em all. I am so goddamn impressed w/ Castings' most recent effort, Punk Rock Is Bunk Squawk, that I shall be releasing their new album on Lexicon Devil some time early in the new year. Funny, eh?

Friday, November 02, 2007

ROLLING STONES - Their Satanic Majesties Request LP (ABKCO/1967)
Up until I was in my mid 20s, I loathed the Rolling Stones, and I'm talking about the kind of loathing one usually reserves for something one actually might have the faintest idea about. To me they encapsulated all that sucked about mainstream rock 'n' roll. In essence, they were rock music which didn't "rock" made by a bunch of spoilt, rich obnoxious a-holes who lost all inspiration soon after making their first million dollars. My conversion to them as a "rock" band didn't really come 'til I nearly hit 30, when I finally and belatedly purchased Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed and realised they did in fact release some really fine records at some point in their career, though my attraction to this album was spurred on by two very different reasons. Firstly, since it was considered the 'Stones album which all boring, stodgy old 'Stones fans hated, it must have some peculiar attraction (much like Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music or George Harrison's Electronic Sound), and secondly, I have none other than Glenn Jones from Cul de Sac to thank, a good sort and unmitigated music geek who turned me onto all kinds of cool music when I used to correspond w/ him back in the early/mid '90s. Sincerely, I can thank the man for switching me onto an eclectic brew of artists, from the Ventures to John Fahey to Blind Willie Johnson to Frank Sinatra to Sol Hoopii and right on through to Harry Partch and rough 'n' ready Rembetika cuts from the '30s. But really, all that isn't relevant right now; what is relevant is that ten years ago he placed this very album in his "Top 20 LPs of All Time" list which he pained over for days on end (I asked for a top 10, and he said he simply couldn't do it - he'd have to give me 20 and I'd do the cutting). Since everything in that list sounded pretty damn enticing, I figured it was my duty to purchase every single one of them. I started my 'Stones collection with this, the band's "failed" attempt at jangly peace-and-love psychedelia. Many folks say the band were never cut out for this schtick. After all, they were rock's "bad boys". Well, big fuggin' deal on a popsicle stick, I'll take this faux-avant psych-pop nonsense over their bad-boy "get ya rocks off" baloney any day of the week. The 'Stones made for a damn fine twee-pop outfit in their day, and despite the fact that both Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed are still streets ahead for me as records, outside of that glorious twofer canon of song, I'll take my Satanic Majesties Request over anything the group released after the 1960s, and that includes Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street (both of which I "like", but not nearly as much as others do). Song for song, this is a vastly under-rated psychedelic album, for sheer weirdness, songcraft and willingness to experiment, I'm placing it up there w/ the likes of Love's Forever Changes, Easter Everywhere and After Bathing At Baxter's. Outside of a few tunes which ramble on needlessly, such as "Sing This All Together" (an "experimental" track someone should've had the good sense to edit down to a few minutes at most), this one runs a tight ship: "Citadel" (gloriously covered many moons ago by Redd Kross, as you know), "2000 Man" (as covered by, uh, Ace Frehley on his first solo album, the first cassette I ever bought), "She's A Rainbow" (now used on an ad for Kodak, I think) and "2000 Light Years From Home" (covered by F/i, don'tchya know). In short, to anyone who thinks this album is horse manure, I say compare it to: A) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band (in the 'Stones Vs. Beatles debate, I am a Beatles man, though I like this a whole lot more than Sgt. Pepper's; not because I'm contrary, but because it has better songs); and B) anything the band have released for the last 35 years. If I was in the band, I know what areas of my back catalogue I'd be most embarrassed of, and it wouldn't be this!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Allow me to skip through a landmine of goodies here like a dilletante dandy and give some brief spiels on what's passed through my hands the last few weeks...

Annihilation Time are a band from California who've been pushed heavily onto me - some would say forced - by the incessant rantings of Dan from Distort zine. Both in the printed word and face to face, the man has been most insistent: you must check out AT. And that I have. They're a five piece and have their schtick down pat. The schtick? Kind of a hit-from-the-bong/party-'til-you-puke hesher/hippie-punk deal with obvious SST damage. Dan described them as being to Bl'ast! what Bl'ast! were to Black Flag. Which probably makes 'em sound like a load of third-generation baloney, though it ain't the truth. Equal parts My War/Slip It In 'Flag with a heavy nod to first-generation HM (the good stuff) - Black Sabbath, Led Zep, BOC, Blue Cheer and a touch of Thin Lizzy - this is a party disc par excellence. They've even got the good sense to cover the Pink Fairies w/ a buttocks-scorching take on "Teenage Rebel". Best of all, their inspiration lies beyond a mere impressive record collection. Despite all that I've just written about them: Black Flag, Bl'ast!, SST stoner-punk, '70s boogie-metal, they sound like all of the above and none of the above. Good tuneage, for sure. My life hasn't been changed, though given my overt cynicism for any rock music of supposed worth in 2007, and the fact that I plonked down the cash for this and have spun it a few dozen times in glee, you could say it's a winner.

If you'd told me 20 years ago that the legendary LA art/drone/avant-punk outfit Savage Republic would be around in the year 2007 and release an album on a label owned by the members of Neurosis, I'd've called you a smokin' joker, but whaddya know, the joke's on me! They are back - minus Bruce Licher - and sounding surprisingly good. Real good, in fact. The essential SR blueprint hasn't changed a bit: take a vaguely Arabic-sounding motif, add some drone and paste it on top of a rhythm orbiting the universes of Krautrock, Joy Division and Wire, and stir, but if it ain't broke... Given the absence of Licher, there's no fancy print-press packaging w/ this release, which is kind of a drag, though the music holds up a lot better than expected, and the heavy use of violin throughout adds a whole new dimension to their sound, the bulk of this sounding like, uh, let me draw a bow and say "Yawning Man meets the Dirty Three". Along w/ Throbbing Gristle's rebirth, one of the better surprises of '07. The album's name? 1938.

There's a new zine - a printed one - in circulation, and you need it. I sense a blog backlash from the luddites a-comin', and despite what I happen to be writing on right now - a computer screen - I'm fully behind a second revolution of the printed word. Heading the charge is Scott Soriano and Ryan Wells' Z Gun mag. Both write for Terminal Boredom, and Scott pens Crud Crud and runs S-S Records, so I can't figure for the life of me where on earth the guy gets the time to dedicate himself to the masochistic pursuit of publishing (I figure he either doesn't have kids or is the current holder of the Greg Ginn Hipster Work Ethic Awards of '07), but my hat is tipped. I'm not a believer in detailed fanzine reviews; the rag in questioned should simply be read or not. Suffice to say, along w/ Distort, Z Gun is the best way-underground music read I've encountered since Arthur got all boring a year or two back, and a visual devouring is mandatory. It's printed on tabloid-sized newsprint and features an excellent article on early '80s San Fran art-punk (fitting, since Z Gun reminds me a whole lot of Search & Destroy and RE/Search in its compiling together of various strands of radness), Sweden's scuzzbags the Brainbombs, '80s San Fran art-weirdos Black Humor, a profile/interview on DIY label Not Not Fun, a piece of the hot-to-trot Pink Reason (whom apparently, from what I've heard, I will "dig"), and a stack of reviews which span the musical worlds of everything from bedroom CD-R noise dorks to Washington Philips LPs. It's out, it's about and I'll be buying every issue from here on!


1) CASTINGS - Punk Rock Is Bunk Squawk CD-R ( Spanish Magic/2007)
I saw these Sydney-based gents a year or two back at the Tote and kinda fell asleep. They came across like another generation of bedroom-bound tape/CD-R label hermits making a racket for them and their friends, and my interest in such things had hit rock bottom by the late '90s and had yet to recover. My dismissal may've been premature. Shaun from Spanish Magic sent me a bunch of things they've released of late, this being one of them, and it's a corker. No-fi electro-scuzz from the basement which doesn't wallow in needless "noise" but gives the various blips and whoops a little room to breathe. Think Cab Voltaire from their monumental '74-'78 box and less so Wolf Eyes and you're in the neighborhood.

2) MAGNETICS - We Are The Mountains We Are The Fields CD (Sweatlung/2007)
Another uber-undieground Australian label doing very fine things. Sweatlung is run by Missing Link stooge and man-of-a-million-bands, Pete Hyde. He's released a whole series of no-budget smartly-but-cheaply-packaged CDs in the last couple of years by the likes of Justice Yeldam, Whitehorse, Justin Fuller and Chris Smith, Ian Wadley, Blarke Bayer, etc. and everything I've heard I dig. Magnetics is Ben Andrews from My Disco/Agents Of Abhorrence and Sarah Heyward from various smelly punk outfits. Jarrod from Fabulous Diamonds also plays sax on one track. The sound is minimal, moody, echo-laden and prone to occasional outburst of earthly rumble. My idea of a fun time. I like. You need.

3) WINTER FAMILY - s/t 2CD (Sub Rosa/2007)
New French piano/organ/keyboards 'n' vocals duo whom I will write more extensively about in the future. This is a debut I like, a lot. Think Nico's Desertshore hammin' 'n' jammin w/ Patti ca. "Piss Factory" w/ a distinctly Gaelic bent. Teee-riffic. More on this at a later date...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

THE CRUCIFUCKS - Wisconsin LP (Alternative Tentacles/1987)
The first time I heard a track from this album, it was "Pig In A Blanket", was in late 1987 on 3PBS. It was the famed '80s mainstay, the imaginatively-titled "Punk Show". The DJ in question - still on air on a weekly basis, by the way - is well known for his strangulation of the English language, and when he back-announced the track he was trying to say the band's name without, you know, dropping the "F" word (still a no-no in those days). What did he say, after the mandatory couple of stumbles? "That was the Cruci-... err... the Cruci-intercourses, if you know what I mean". I still chuckle at the memory. I used to sit by my stereo on such evenings w/ the tape machine set on "record" and "pause", always ready to tape a killer track or two and edit out the filler later on in the evening. I taped the song, flogged it into the ground over the subsequent next couple of weeks and made it a mission to get the album said track sprung forth from: Wisconsin.

The Crucifucks were one mother of a band, and one of the finest "anti-HC" hardcore bands of the 1980s, a bracket I would place other greats such as No Trend, Flipper and Culturcide in. You might think they either blew or were of no interest to you, possibly because of the Alternative Tentacles association and their habit of releasing quite a lot of really bad music, but you're missing out. Big time. Deliberately offensive and quite obviously in some sort of cultural brotherhood w/ the baldies, the Crucifucks still kept their distance by dint of their sheer fucking oddness. Singer, Doc Dart, was (and is) a good 10 years older than many of his HC brethren, a professional baseball-card collector (he has/had a shop dealing in such things) and has a voice that'll likely make your skin crawl. Like others from the Alternative Tentacles fold, there's some Jello damage in the windpipes, but rather than warbling, he screeches like a dying animal. Putting it mildly, the Crucifucks are/were an aquired taste.

You can get a CD of this and their 1984 self-titled debut on one CD. The debut features Steve Shelley, later of Sonic Youth (duh), on drums, and has its moments, though the more expansive sound of Wisconsin, featuring multi-tracked guitars (acoustic and electric), piano and even a "ballad" or two, not to mention the sheer strength of the material, is what makes it so special. Really, if you took the screeching vocals off this and had someone step in w/ a voice perhaps more palatable to the general public, I see no reason why this couldn't have been some sort of small-scale indie "hit". Musically, this runs the gamut from Buzzcocks/Fall-style art-punk through to folky stomps and a kind of near "industrial-rock" sound, sans drum machines and eyeliner. If they were from Finland or Japan, you'd all love them.

I'm looking at the back cover right now, glancing at the songs, trying to pick out a favourite... damn, the consistency has me stumped. I'll take the last track, the acoustic "The Saviour", as the stand-out, since Dart refrains from screaming 'til the last coda. There's also an unlisted bonus track at the end which you should wait around for, what appears to be a love song w/ Dart crooning on piano before a guitar comes in and jolts it into an almost REM-ish pop number. Did I just put you off? Fuck you very much. I have some zines from the timeframe giving Wisconsin a bit of verbiage, and the reviews are telling. Your Flesh was more honest and announced it as one of 1987's finest platters, whilst Forced Exposure felt almost embarrassed to admit that a band still strongly related to the hardcore scene - in spirit, if not musically - and one on A.T., no less, could actually make a record of such middling interest to the art-fags of FE. Hey, I liked FE as much as the next guy, though I sensed a whiff of dishonesty the moment I glanced the review. Just admit it: Wisconsin is a great, great record.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

There's a new issue of Distort fanzine out. I wrote about the rag here a short while ago, though the new issue is well worth picking up, as it stands as perhaps the only meat 'n' potatoes hardcore punk rock 'n' roll 'zine on the planet I would bother to waste precious minutes perusing. Writer/editor/publisher/head cheese Dan is one obnoxious bastard, and whilst I wouldn't agree with everything he says (the White Album rocks, the Beatles rocked, and George Harrison and John Lennon's first few solo albums beat anything Iggy's ever done since the Stooges called it quits back in '74), the musical bringing together of Lex Dev faves such as Roky, VU, Pere Ubu, Black Flag and Discharge under the banner of a printed fanzine in the year 2007 is cause for celebration, whether you realise it or not. More to the point, Distort is a punker zine about music. No vegan recipes, no street-protest photos from last month's rally. It's about tunes - not collecting records and the colour of your 10" - it's about how the beat makes you want to dance, kill, maim and/or destroy. I'm a little too content in my current state of tragically blissful existence to share Dan's anger towards the world, though I can dig on the vibe. He's trying to get this out once a month, so jump on the gravytrain now, coz if you're an insatiable zine dork such as myself, you'll be kicking yourself in years to come when the glory days of Distort zine become a myth. As Dan would say, nice work, fuckhead.
I witnessed a few live bands this Friday evening just passed. I decided to give DOA(!!!) a miss, especially so after hearing of the $30 entry fee and woeful line-up of support bands, and instead went down to the Old Bar to see the Ooga Boogas. The Oogas feature various deadbeat musical celebrities from Melbourne, mostly people I'm very friendly with, so take this review with a grain of salt (though if I thought they were useless, do you think I'd even bother writing this?), but they contain members of such illustrious outfits as Eddy Current Suppression Ring, The Sailors, The Onyas and Anal Birth, and in a musical sense have their shit wired very tight indeed. I saw them play whilst I was under the influence of alcohol - a lot of it - at the start of the year or thereabouts, and they struck me at the time as a band who lacked focus but had the potential for something great. Their sound was a mixture of Back From The Grave-influenced '60s garage beat-rock and sinewy, elongated Velvets-rock which sounded like it'd been directly lifted from The Feelies' Crazy Rhythms LP. Witnessing them two nights back, they've improved tenfold. My complaint w/ them the first time was that the shorter, more directly "rocking" tracks simply weren't that good, and were too faithfully "beat" sounding to move any loins outside of the moptop 'n' sharp-shoes retro crowd. I don't know if there's been a rethink, or if it was my sobriety that cut through, or perhaps it was their recent appearance at the Goner Festival in Memphis that's put a strut in their step, but the sound is now sharp as a knife, the short songs possess the necessary oomph and are over quick, and the longer tracks, where they hit an ace '69-Velvets groove, are where the goods are at. An ass-kicking rhythm section with one or two expressive but not overly flashy guitar players is all a good rock band needs. They have a 7" out on this label - a new imprint run by three members of the band - and if you've bothered reading this much of my nonsense there's a better-than-good chance you'll dig it.
After the 'Boogas there was Hand Hell, whom I kinda missed altogether, then a Perth band by the name of Bamodi. It was late and I was about to split until my compadre Richard ('Boogas bassplayer, by the way) noted to me that an old friend of ours, a "friend" whom neither of us had ever actually met but had been in touch with the both of us on and off for probably nearly 15 years when the printed word was all the go, was a member of the band. His name is Pedrag and it suddenly struck me that he had left a note on this very blog a month back that his band would soon be in town. Well, it'd only be the polite and civilised thing to stick around and at least catch a few songs, especially so since they came all the way from Perth for only a couple of shows. I mean, imagine it's 1980, you're in California and a bunch of barely post-pubescent punkers from DC by the name of the Teen Idles take the trouble of travelling from one coast to the other for a show or two and you pass it up! Well, OK, that's a different story, but stick around I did. And I'm glad I did. By the end of the third song I turned to Richard and gave a two-thumbs-up, Fonzie style. He then mimed a bit of keyboard action back to me, smirked and said, "I can see a bit of bloggin' going on over this one". Damn right! Here I am, hunched over a keyboard on a sunny day telling you about Bamodi! A three piece, they comprise of this: a shite-hot drummer whom I watched in envious awe as his arms spastically moved around the kit at the speed of light, his style hovering somewhere 'round a Joy Division/Rey Washam nexus; a tall, looming bassist - that's Pedrag - farting out basslines in a nonchalant manner not unlike Venom P. Stinger's Al Whateverhisnameis; and a singer/guitarist, small in stature but with a yelping, screaming voice that sounds alternately like a screaming child, a cat in pain and Rudimentary Peni's Nick Blinko. In fact, after the show I talked to Pedrag and let him know that the band reminded me of none other than Rudimentary Peni - frighteningly so, in fact - and that they must be influenced by them. He gave me a quizical look and just said something like, "They were linked up w/ CRASS, weren't they?". Whatever. Bamodi were a shock to the system, a goddamn musical force and an excellent way to finish the night. There ain't nothing on this earth like witnessing a band you have zero expectations for and promptly having any preconceptions of blasé been-there/done-that/seen-it-all-before BS thrown out the door as they blaze through a short, sharp set w/ nary a break in between. By show's end, I was gushing. As I am now. I was given a free CD for my troubles, some of which you can hear on that link above, and whilst it doesn't contain the absolute drive and nerve-shattering wall of sound of the live experience, it's something I'll be hanging onto. Nice bloody work, is all I can say...
Vinyl reissue label 4 Men With Beards is on a roll! Believe me, I have no real commercial interest in touting the label beyond getting people to spend their money on high-quality vinyl product. Besides myself being friendly w/ the guys who run the operation, and it kinda, well, being my job to sell the things, you could do far worse than spend your hard-earned bread on such 180-gm platters as... John Cale's Paris 1919, The Fugs' Tenderness Junction and It Crawled Into My Hand, Honest LPs, 3rd/Sister Lovers by Big Star, Chris Bell's I Am The Cosmos, Cluster's '71, Cluster and Eno's 1977 self-titled LP, Tim Buckley's Starsailor, the Flying Burrito Brothers' debut, Nico's Chelsea Girl and especially the Velvet Underground's VU and Another View, both of which I had never previously heard (figuring them to be simply collections of tracks I had elsewhere on the various VU boxes and bootlegs I already own) but am now kicking myself for only coming around to them at this sadly late stage of the game. Now that is a catalogue of hits. If you want a What-Am-I-Currently-Listening-To? list from moi, then "All Of The Above Mentioned" would suffice. That was a public announcement: no more, no less...
WAIT!... If you want comedy, do not go past the new-to-DVD flick, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, starring none other than... ta-da!... Henry Rollins! In this low-budget/low-rent/low-quality horror flick, Hank plays a retired sergeant on a Survivor-style reality TV show who's on the run from cannibalistic hillbillies. It's surprisingly nasty and gory, even making a hardened horrorhead such as myself flinch in certain scenes, though Hank gets an A for effort, if not for results. In all fairness, the guy was pretty OK, with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek throughout. The bonus element of the DVD has an unintentionally hilarious interview w/ Hank, in which they ask him, "What are you afraid of?". His answer? "Unemployment. Not having a job." Now, I can only assume they cut out the bit where he said, "... which is why I decided to appear in this piece-of-shit straight-to-DVD shot-on-digital-camera bargain-bin horror movie, so where's my fuckin' paycheck so I can get outta here!"

Monday, October 15, 2007

GOD... The band, not The Man. God were a big fuckin' deal to a teenaged Dave Lang. OK, scrap that last statement; I promise to never speak of myself in the third person ever again. To folks overseas - probably somewhere 'round, say, Spain - God remain an almighty musical force from 1980s Australia, still spoken of in hushed tones as if they were a deity; to many Americans they're probably a footnote Aussie band from the '80s who eventually spewed out members into more highly-rated outfits like Hoss, Bored! and the Powder Monkeys. For a kid from Melbourne's inner Eastern suburbs ca. the late '80s - that's me, by the way - they were the bees knees and then some, and it kinda galls me when I hear the high praise heaped upon them by revisionist members of the press in the 21st century - usually done in eulogies for now-deceased members Tim Hemensley and Sean Greenway - since they were the object of much derision in their hey-day. They were a band who split the camps: those who saw them as a load of no-talent hype foistered on the world by an eager record label (that was Au-go-go), and those of us who saw them as, well, I'll dumb it down to the nth degree and sum it up in a soundbyte: Australia's answer to Born Innocent-period Redd Kross. That is, teen punkers weened on HC who took a backstep, lapped up the sounds of Kiss, Thin Lizzy, Stooges and a whole lotta trash and spat out an inspired musical stew.
All four band members - Joel, Matt, Sean and Tim - rank as some of the most shockingly precocious teenagers not known as McDonald brothers the '80s saw. Both Matt and Sean had been in Foot And Mouth as 13-15 year-olds, a local "funny-punk" outfit who even managed to release a 12" EP in their day, whilst a 14-year-old Joel had already managed a few issues of his own fanzine (Man Cannot Live On Eno Alone... was that the title?) and a public-radio show, whilst Tim had already hit wax (on a compilation at least) with his pubescent punker outfit, Royal Flush. Somehow, these four minds came together and created God.
I first heard 'em on 3RRR's Danger: Lowbrow programme in mid 1987, being interviewed by the most undervalued (and underachieving, given his sharp wit) media personality in Australia, Leapin' Larry L, and I heard the guys in the band - all my age or thereabouts - joke, giggle, talk about Kiss, Redd Kross and punk rock and generally take the piss out of everything, and I decided right there and then that they were indeed the business. The "legendary" - and I say that because it's hard to spend a night out in a "hip" rock club in Melbourne these days and not have the DJ spin a copy at some point throughout the night - "My Pal" 7" came out at about that time, my brother grabbed a copy and we nearly wore the grooves out on it. Around this time, they also appeared on the Saturday-morning ABC "youth" programme, The Factory, performing the song, and you can bet yer ass I taped it and wasted a good deal of time watching it on repeat. You can witness it here...
God were also on the bill of the first live show I ever witnessed: in March 1988 I managed to bluff my underaged self into the Prince Of Wales Hotel to see Massappeal (hot on the heels of Nobody Likes A Thinker, so they were a-firin'), My Heart Bleeds For You, The Dorks and, yep, GOD. They rocked, they rolled, they were out of control. Goddamn it, they moved my loins. Smart-assed middle-class high-school a-holes both rocking and mocking a room full of straight-faced HC-bots, angering some, disinteresting most and winning over a few. I saw them a couple more times over the next 12 months at various all-ages shows - an afternoon gig at the Richmond Town Hall w/ S.I.C. and the Extremes springs to mind, if only for the sheer awfulness of the other bands, not to mention the awesome shambles of God's set, in which they spent the bulk of their stage time arguing w/ each other and fixing broken equipment.
God also released a poorly-received 12" EP, Rock Is Hell, which saw the clueless douchebags coming out of their hovels and deriding them as a one-trick pony (fuck the critics, it rocks), and by the time their one LP hit the shelves, For Lovers Only, the band was pretty much on the skids and the record stiffed.
Band members fled to other projects pretty quick and the days of God were gone. Maybe you had to be there to really give a shit, but allow a man to get all misty-eyed like an old geezer about a band who mattered. Back in high school I didn't give much of a damn for most Australian music; I liked the American stuff. Outside of the likes of The Hard-Ons and Massappeal, Australian HC totally sucked, and whilst I dug the likes of X, feedtime and Lubricated Goat, nothing had the visceral impact of hearing and seeing God in the flesh. Fellow teenagers giving the world the finger and having a laugh. I can sum up God only as thus: divine inspiration.

SACCHARINE TRUST - We Became Snakes LP (SST/1986)
There's a bunch of bands who shoulda made the grade w/ my Top 100 Albums Of All Time list a while back - y' know, perhaps there shoulda been Gun Club's Miami LP, Fugazi's Repeater, Fairport Convention's Liege & Leaf, the first Big Boys LP, Junior Kimbrough's Sad Days Lonely Nights, Happy Nightmare Baby by Opal, the first longplayer by Universal Congress Of, Cabaret Voltaire's The Mix-Up... hell, I'd even be tempted to throw Springsteen's Nebraska in the mix - and Saccharine Trust's We Became Snakes is surely such an entry which was hovering around that list and cut at the last minute for no particular reason. They remain musical and sentimental faves. I first dug this back in high school, buying it secondhand (as I did all ST releases: there's just no love here!), but then found a second life after my brother wound up staying w/ singer Jack Brewer for a week in LA sometime 'round December 1990. How did that happen? I guess that if you're the only Australian Jack Brewer/ST fan in attendance at one of his gigs - and make such a fact drunkenly known to the rest of the audience - it's likely that a nice guy like Jack will put you up for a week as you backpack your way around the country. My bro came back w/ some autographed goodies from the man (look, when you're 18, it's 1990 and you're from Australia, an autographed Saccharine Trust LP rates as the most priceless example of countercultural exotica one could possibly own, OK?), along w/ some Jack Brewer Band discs on New Alliance (both LPs are well worth searching out) and I'd set it in stone that I would remain vocal as the most loud-mouthed band-toting Saccharine Trust fan in the southern hemisphere for all time. I remain that man.
The band are still around - and have promised me an album for a dog's age - though their high watermark remains this LP, the last they released before their long break throughout the '80s/'90s.

I wrote this shit about 'em 10 or so years ago...

"The name SACCHARINE TRUST probably doesn't mean much to you, but for all the early, seminal SST groups, ST would have to rate as one of the best, and certainly the most underrated by critics and audience alike. Throughout their lifespan (roughly 1980 to '86) they recorded music of unequalled terror, beauty and expression, even though I'm sure their sales history never reached above miniscule. Such is the way of the world, though I'll attempt to do them some posthumous justice, nevertheless.

The core of the band (LA natives, by the way) was essentially vocalist Jack Brewer and guitarist Joe Baiza, with a succession of drummers/bassists going through the group throughout its history (though Tony Cicero stuck behind the kit for a long time). Their sound was an unholy combination of Brewer's gutteral, emotional growl spat into '50s beat poetry, and Baiza's simply awesome six-string plucking, which, much like Ginn, combined the best of John McLaughlin's spidery twang and Hendrix's dense, wah-wah'd power chords. The term "jazz-rock" may conjure up images of fusion-hell to you, though much like Miles Davis' '70s period, early Tony Williams' Lifetime, or perhaps even the MC5's assimilation of Albert Ayler and Chuck Berry, ST combined the two with a punk aggression and aesthetic that still make them stand out as innovators today.

First in the essentials list is their debut 12" EP from 1981, Pagan Icons. Like many of their SST compadres, their debut finds them still in a very primitive, elementary stage, and this time the extreme rawness really works to their advantage. Sounding essentially like an arty punk band - perhaps a mix of Wire's minimalism and Television's sense of expansion (if you can imagine a mixture between two such opposites) - the EP is classic concoction of primal, near juvenile angst ("Mad at the Company", "Community Lie") and a more ambitious - dare I say - existential yearning ("A Human Certainty", "We Don't Need Freedom", "Success and Failure"). One crit even hailed Brewer as LA's new Jim Morrison in the rock-poet stakes.

As with many of their label partners, the stark primitivism was also soon lost and a sense of musical exploration took over. Skip the excusable Worldbroken LP from '85, a totally improvised shambles with Mike Watt temporarily stepping in on bass, and head straight for 1984's fantastic Surviving You, Always LP. This is where the "jazz-rock" elements have come to the fore, and the results are awesome. I don't tend to have "guitar heroes", and I don't intend on having any in the future, though if anyone come close, it's Joe Baiza. The sheer howl and wail he tears from his strings is incredible, and why on earth he isn't some sort of modern-day Guitar Player god just goes to show how severely retarded that little boys club is. The sound of 'Trust at this point is hard to pinpoint: the rhythm section is like a hopped-up be-bop combo, Baiza does his Hendrix thing on guitar, Brewer spits out his words in an enounciated manner somewhat reminiscent of Mark E. Smith, and the combination evolves into something not unlike a more progressive and fully expanded Minutemen. As would more so be the case, some brass slipped into the line-up, and the Doors' comparisons would be buffered more by a cover of their own "Peace Frog".

Last but not least was their final statement, 1986's We Became Snakes. This time sporting some snappy full-colour cover art, ST went the whole hog with a full-blown psych-jazz-rock killer, and the fact that this never broke them into a bigger audience in even the independent music scene of their day says more about people's taste than I ever could. "Effort to Waste" is simply an instant classic, and the general feel of the entire album - a sense of desperation in a decaying city, redemption only coming through their music - is so spot on I'd be tempted to say that ST were truly one of the great "lost" bands of the '80s. The production is much cleaner, and so if you can imagine a sparser Miles ca. Bitches Brew or Ornette with his Prime Time combo being fronted by an American Mark E. Smith, you might understand what this sounds like. Soon after this they called it quits, Baiza formed the incredible Universal Congress Of (more on them later) and Brewer released some great solo discs on New Alliance, though also worth searching out is the posthumous 1989 double LP live collection, Past Lives, which gathers good quality live recordings of the band in their prime (even abolishing Black Flag's "Six Pack"). Rumour has it Saccharine Trust has been playing the odd gig around the LA region again of late, and whether that's true or not, they were true originals, and like the best of them, their music - at the time scorned for being uncool in a sea of angry white-boy rock - has weathered well into the '90s, as their musical references - Miles, Ornette, Hendrix - have found a more appreciative audience in the rock underground."

Now, that's probably either the biggest load of waffling bulltwang you've endured in your short life, or, perhaps, you relate and also acknowledge the genius of Saccharine Trust. Either way, I will continue to gain/lose your respect w/ my incessant pro-Saccharine Trust rantings for eternity.

Friday, October 12, 2007

THE NECKS - Townsville CD (Fish Of Milk/2007)
I can't figure for the life of me why the band felt this gig to be such a mind-blower that it needed to be documented as a live album. Townsville was recorded on the 15th of February this year in, well, Townsville (way up the far North, for you foreigners, the "far North" being somewhat like the Deep South in the US: hot and backwards), and it strikes me as a particularly unengaging and pedestrian affair from a band I consider to be one of the best live units on the goddamn planet. Saw them two nights in a row earlier this year (check out the archives, the reviews are there somewhere) and they fried brains from wall to wall at their Corner Hotel shows: a three-piece piano-bass-drums who peeled paint w/ a humungous sound caught somewhere twixt Cecil Taylor and a Gamelan orchestra. They shoulda recorded those two shows and released a box set! Townsville is mellow and extemely minimal in the rhythm section - a fair bit of this sounds like a solo piano disc - and whilst it's OK by most standards, somewhat like an old Terry Riley platter, given the Necks' tracks record in the 21st century thus far, w/ albums such as Aether, Hanging Garden, Drive-By, Mosquito/See Through and last year's The Chemist - a collection of just about the greatest recordings by any band anywhere from the last 7 years of life on earth -you may understand my disappointment in not having my senses once again rearranged by the genius of The Necks. Completists will want this one to throw on the shelf, though dilletantes need start elsewhere.

Monday, October 08, 2007

SWANS - White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity 2LP (Young God/1991)
I wouldn't recommend to anyone that this 1991 magnum opus be the first Swans disc they buy, but I'd probably tell them that if they're bitten by the Swans bug, then they should certainly add this to the purchase pile at some point in their life. In that laughable Top 100 Albums Of All Time list I published a few months back, I did mention a Swans platter: 1984's Cop. It remains one of the most single-minded, aesthetically perfect and utterly brutal albums ever released. For unrelenting grimness, I recommend it highly. 's funny... as much as I love Cop, there are two things I must say about it in the year 2007: A) I rarely listen to it all the way through, as it's simply too much for one sitting; and B) it's pretty goddamn hilarious that an album which was considered one of the most extreme takes on "rock" ever upon its release, a disc (and sound) which would find no audience reach beyond NYC art-fags and their imitators/worshippers worldwide, now sounds a lot like a plethora of doom/death-metal releases currently selling 100s of 1,000s of units as I write this, possibly also in a shopping mall near you. Somehow the "sound", in the 20+ years since its release, has also found itself a home in the 'burbs. But that's another story...
White Light... was one of the first Swans albums I investigated, right after my purchase of Cop back in '91, and, of all reasons, I could pinpoint my curiosity being piqued by a goddamn Mykel Board review at the time (published in his Nothing But Record Reviews zine), in which he stated that whilst much of White Light reminded him of Barbra Streisand and would probably disappoint old-time Swans fans looking for a dirge, it still remained possibly the best-produced album in his collection. I'll second that. The sound here is massive and incredibly dense, multilayered and powerful. I am no audiophile, but before I drop dead I wouldn't mind giving this a spin on a $20,000 stereo system.
White Light was the first album the band released after their disastrous Bill Laswell-produced major-label stinker, Burning World, and it's likely safe to say they needed to prove they hadn't totally lost the plot. Michael Gira produced this himself, and for me this is the first Swans album in their "redemptive" phase (that is, after the mid '80s when they dropped the misery act and started to sound like a bunch of Born Agains) which really captured the musical power they were seeking. Children Of God is a fine set, for sure, but the production still suffers from a slightly tinny, '80s feel. I wouldn't say that Jarboe sounds anything like Streisand, though I guess Board's smart-alecry had a point: there's a heavy element of melodramatic cheese here and a level of bombastic pomposity that would make Magma blush, and it's all the better for it! Gira's songwriting is at its peak, doing his best Leonard Cohen impression on "Love Will Save You", and the album's opener, the pummeling "Better Than You", is absolutely one of the best songs he's ever sung. There's only 12 songs here, most of them a fair length, and not an ounce of filler. Of all the Swans' output, White Light remains the one album I certainly play the most, from start to finish, too.
Gira stands as one of the few '80s u/ground survivors still doing something worth giving a shit about (running a fine label and still playing and recording w/ the Angels Of Light), and for my money the Swans' artistic trajectory, from downtown drug-addled doomsters through to Born Again life-affirmers right on through to their failed rock-star phase and their ultimate realignment and readjustment as a self-managed/produced rock band making a series of excellent records in the early/mid '90s surely makes them one of the best and most interesting rock 'n' roll outfits the US of A has spat out in the last quarter of a century, don'tchya think?