Wednesday, January 31, 2007
CUL DE SAC - Ecim CD (Northeastern/Lunar Rotation/1993)
This was possibly my favourite album of the 1990s, or most certainly in a Top 5 somewhere for that decade. The good people at Strange Attractors Audio House have recently reissued it, which is partly news to me, since I wasn't aware that this had actually been out of print for some time. This album was such a big deal at the time of its release that, if memory serves, Forced Exposure magazine hailed it as the finest functioning CD currently available, or words to such effect. The grunts/grumps at FE weren't prone to gushing, so w/ such a review one can only assume that it knocked them off their feet. Well, it did for me at the time, too.
I interviewed Glenn Jones from the group in early '95 for Year Zero zine at the time, and I think his answers - humourous, lengthy and considered - rate as the possibly the best correspondence-based interview I've ever conducted (probably no thanks to me; he just happens to be a well spoken and erudite kinda guy). In between bullshitting about his teenage background in the music industry at the dawn of the '70s (he claimed to be a member of Zager and Evans, the one-hit-wonder duo responsible for "In The Year 2525"; I swallowed his BS hook, line and sinker), he waxed lyrically on CDS's musical influences and the sound they were trying to achieve. Remember: 1992-'95 was the height of "grunge" and Jones wouldn't have a bar of it. CDS were aiming for a blend of '60s surf music, "American Primitive" guitar a la John Fahey/Robbie Basho, '70s Krautrock and the soundtrack music of Morricone, Nino Rota et al. In fact, his list of influences was so diverse, it had me scouring the record bins for the next half decade trying to fill my shelves w/ everything he mentioned (some I already had - of course[!] - nya nya nya). For a (still) impressionable lad of 23 years, it struck a deep chord.
Here's a rundown..."Can, Faust, Neu!, Ash Ra Tempel, Guru Guru, Amon Duul... Pere Ubu... John Fahey... Indian ragas...electronic and musique concret, pre-war blues, Miles Davis' early '70s electric stuff, Hawaiian, Barrett-era 'Floyd, American, European and Japanese avant-garde... (Frank) Sinatra... Hendrix...the American Kaleidescope, the Velvets, surf stuff - Ventures and the like, Ennio Morricone, Stooges/MC5, Beefheart, the Godz, Hans Reichel, Robbie Basho, et al...".
And so off I went on a 3-year Miles-Sinatra-surf-blues-Partch-Stockhausen-Barrett-Morricone-Fahey-Reichel-Basho binge... and I have Mr. Jones to thank! I interviewed Jones again for Perfect Sound Forever a few years later and you can read it here, but let's talk about ECIM. It's stands as a perfect distillation of their stated influences. Most bands obviously up to their eyeballs w/ flagrant record collectors as CDS are/were - and you don't make such a list unless you are - flail about hopelessly burdened by the head-expanding factual minutae they carry around their heads whilst attempting to make listenable music. In other words, I'm usually in Joe Carducci's camp in believing that record collectors don't make good musicians (which is why he refused to allow Sonic Youth to be signed to SST whilst he was at the label). But, the fact is, Sonic Youth made some pretty good records in their day, and CDS, w/ their bulging shelves of records, managed the mighty achievement known as ECIM.
One of the great aspects of this disc - and there are many - is that the songs sound so fully realised and "composed". Most bands going for the space/psych/krautrock angle too often fall back on improvisation which, as much fun as that can be to play (like the last few bands I played in), it can be a real chore for everyone else (ask anyone who attended our shows). CDS never cluttered the songs up w/ too much distortion or farting about; the songs are mostly sparse and crystal clear, aided by original (and their best) drummer Chris Guttmacher's metronomic drum pulse and Jones' guitar twang, an awesome and truly unique take on the instrument which, as he (and I) stated before, lies somewhere in the stratospheres of Hendrix, Dick Dale, John Fahey and an old Spaghetti Western soundtrack.
There's two fantastic covers here, too: Fahey's "The Portland Cement Factory at Monolith, California" (from my fave Fahey platter, As Days Gone By, Vol. 6) and Tim Buckley's soaring, melodramatic masterpiece, "Song to the Siren", where old scene vet (and Forced Exposure pin-up boy) Dredd Foole hams it up like a man possessed. There have been so many bands since the mid '90s who've name-dropped the artists Jones threw about in the interview - 'Ubu, Beefheart, Can, Miles, yadayadayada - and none of them made a record as confident, listenable and brimming w/ ideas as ECIM.
Unfortunately, CDS never really followed it up w/ anything quite as good. The demos/outtakes follow-up on Flying Nun, I Don't Want To Go To Bed, and the next studio album, China Gate, definitely had their moments of glory, but for myself they never fully gelled the way they did on ECIM. They've released a couple of records on Strange Attractors the last few years which friends, colleagues and total strangers inform me are artifacts of great worth, and perhaps one day and I'll get around to them, but for now the verdict has been announced and the Jukebox Jury agrees: ECIM still stands as a mini-masterpiece of '90s undieground rock 'n' roll.
CORRECTION: A few entries back, in my Redd Kross rant, I stated that Teen Babes From Monsanto had never been released on CD. Wrong! How do I know? I just got the thing today for $12 at Dixon's Secondhand Emporium For Socially-Challenged Dorks. Thing is, it was only ever released in Australia(!), of all places, and not under its proper title. Insipid (fly-by-night '90s indie label linked w/ Waterfront, somehow) released it in its entirety on their Redd Kross 1992 Australian Trance Tour CD, a title I've seen clogging up bargain bins (and my brother's CD shelf) for years, but only realised now that it in fact features the Holy Grail of '80s trash rock: Teen Babes. If you see it around, grab it.
OTHER HOT DIGGITY NONSENSE FLYING AROUND:
1) THE FALL - Slates 10"
2) JOHN COLTRANE - The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions 2CD
3) LOU REED - Blue Mask LP
4) THE FIX - s/t LP (finally out on Touch and Go: GET IT!)
5) CHRIS BELL - I Am The Cosmos LP
6) DREAM SYNDICATE - The Days Of Wine And Roses LP
7) THE NECKS - Athenaeum, Homebush, Quay & Raab 4CD box
8) GLENN BRANCA - Symphony #1 (Tonal Plexus) CD
9) JOHN ZORN - Iao CD
10) fIREHOSE - Flyin' The Flannel CD
Sunday, January 28, 2007
THE STORY OF CRASS - George Berger (author); book - Omnibus Press, 295 pages, 2006
I am truly baffled as to how this book came to be. Not how or why it was written, mind you, but how this book in particular came to be known as a "finished product" published by a sizeable book company whom you'd imagine would at least have a spell check and semi-competent editor handy for a basic review of its contents. I am by means a Wordsworth when it comes to the ability to quip and pen sentences which dazzle minds: that I am aware of. However, I have never been properly "published", and I hope to god that if I ever do, I do a better job of it than Mr. Berger.
The story of Crass, the UK anarchist band from the UK ca. 1977-'84 is a fascinating one, whether you are a fan or their politics/music or not. They were no simple rock band, and certainly not your average punkers. For starters, half the band were in their 30s when they played their first gig, drummer and main-man Penny Rimbaud being 34(!). By 1977, this hardcore group of hippie-punks had been living at Dial House - a country farm property which dated back to the 1500s - for nearly a decade. Penny had been an art teacher; Phil Free had 3 children; Gee Vaucher had worked as a straight journalist in New York; several had been crucially involved in the formative stages of the infamous Stonehenge Free Festival in the early '70s, and has also organised an experimental music festival which had the likes of John Cage and Japan's Taj Mahal Travelers visit and play the UK. Much like Throbbing Gristle, a similarly-minded group of slightly older English miscreants who were allowed a rebirth w/ the advent of punk, members of Crass had spent a good deal of the early '70s mired in the post-hippie radical underground. TG had Coum, Crass had Exit, an improv outfit inspired by psychedelic rock, free jazz and Mahuvishnu Orchestra (first two albums, I presume!). Any tapes out there? I'd like to hear them.
Now that makes for an interesting story. If you have the vaguest interest in post WW2 "rad" culture related to rock 'n' roll and/or art-school buffoonery of the McLarenesque stripe, it is a story well worth hearing. Crass remain enormously influential, despite my cautious appraisal of them as a "fan". My beefs? My main problem w/ Crass is that, for a musical group, they appeared to be remarkably disinterested in music per se. Outside of the youngest member of the group, Steve Ignorant, they seemed to be so disinterested in the actual music of punk that it makes me wonder why they even bothered sounding as damn "punk" as they did. Although originally inspired by the outrage and excitement which accompanied the 'Pistols/Clash et al at the time, most of the band, from what I can gather here, were far more interested in avant-garde and classical music, although Rimbaud displays an enthusiasm for Patti Smith and Television (as well as Coltrane and Zappa). The point? I think this explains the complete awfulness of some of their music. Crass were not punk "rockers" by any stretch. That's why some people love them; that's why I think they probably shouldn't have bothered w/ rock music at all, since most of their attempts aren't that successful.
The Feeding of the 5,000 is an entirely generic and unlistenable slab of bovver-boy punk, with Penis Envy and Stations Of The Crass fairing a little better (especially the former). Yes Sir, I Will gets a walloping from Berger here, though I don't think it's as bad as he paints it to be. For "anarcho-punk", I'll take some Rudimentary Peni or early Discharge any day of the week, and The Pop Group managed to combine rad politics and truly engaging music like Crass could never hope to. David Tibet (of Current 93), a long-time friend/fan, makes a particularly accurate criticism of the band when he attacks their completely over-the-top use of expletives in song. I have no beef w/ the odd "shit" or "fuck", though anyone who's glanced over a Crass lyric sheet must admit that the swearing adds nothing to the message, and ultimately does the band a great disservice in making them to appear much dopier than they in fact were.
I have friends who claim that Crass spoke to them like practically no other band did. Good people, smart people, people I hang with. Back in high school there was a cool guy in the year above me who was heavily into Crass (since there was about 5 people in a school of 1,500 people who were into hip music, this is noteworthy); he used to lend me their LPs and tell me how much they opened his eyes to the world and the way it worked. I listened to the records, studied the lyrics and promptly returned them, thanked him and wondered what on earth he was talking about. Crass' lyrics meant nothing to me, and still don't. Lyrically they were completely trite, overwhelmingly negative, accusatory, condescending, devoid of any humour (or at least any funny humour, since the band themselves still claim there was humour in what they wrote... really?) and, occassionally, guilty of outrageous stupidity. Nail me to a cross if you will, but I'll take Never Mind The Bollocks any day of the week.
But still, they're a band I admire simply for what they did: they walked it like they talked it. There's a few good-to-great records in there (esp. Penis Envy), they admirably refused to curry favour from the Right and Left in the music scene, and, well, they did have some pretty cool artwork. All of the above is my opinion, but I haven't just written a book on Crass, George Berger has. Where does he go wrong? I'll put it in point form...
1) This book is littered with spelling mistakes. Really, really dumb spelling mistakes.
2) It is full of grammatical errors and the kind of waffling run-on sentences which last full 10-line paragraphs.
3) This is the opening line to the last chapter: "In 2007 it will be 25 years since Crass got together for a bit of a laugh and something to do". Spot the error? Did anyone at Omnibus actually proof-read this book at all??
4) Berger makes some rather silly and flippant judgement calls regarding other bands, deriding Discharge as a one-note group who, "it became obvious", wrote the same song over and over. But what a song!
5) There's way too many quotes taken from Rimbaud's tract, The Last Of The Hippies. Whole pages, especially in the last 3rd of the book, where it appears Berger is attempting to take up space w/ someone else's quote because he hasn't done the proper research or interviews himself.
I read The Story Of Crass in a couple of nights. I was given it as a birthday present from a friend who works for Omnibus' distributor here. The story itself carries the book, not the writing and certainly not the narrative. It does succeed in shedding light on certain characters within the band: Steve Ignorant, probably the most likeable of the lot, comes across as a Sid-with-brains larrikin who preferred a shag 'n' a beer to reading Bakunin and sipping tea, and came to resent the rigidity of the Crass lifestyle (the band was so under the microspcope from the authorities they had to live like monks to avoid busts or negative publicity of any kind), whilst Penny Rimbaud is brought to life as an intelligent and motivated individual embittered over the years by Crass' sorry lack of credit from the mainstream media for their "achievements". Brought up in wealth and well educated, he still lives in Dial House to this day, sharing it w/ any like-minded drifter who cares to stop by for a day, week or a year or two.
I reviewed a couple of Crass records in this blog a few years back (they're in the archives somewhere) and my original opinion still stands: the story surrounding the band is far more interesting than the actual music or, indeed, their lyrics. The band deserves to have a book written about them. A really good book, a well written, thoroughly researched book w/ an author the stature of, say, Jon Savage. This is most certainly not it.
Monday, January 15, 2007
REDD KROSS - Neurotica CD (Five Foot Two Records/2002)
I can tell you w/out a hint of BS and irony that I loved this record like no other back in high school. For some reason, Redd Kross enjoyed quite a substantial following in Australia in the '80s, the McDonald brothers being almost up there w/ the likes of Lux Interior, Jello Biafra and Nick Cave as an obvious starting point for apprentice hipsters to aspire to when they're just finding their feet in the world of non-mainstream r 'n' r. And I was one of those kids. My brother bought this record when it originally came out in 1987 (and very quickly disappeared soon thereafter, as the label, the shonky fly-by-night Big Time, went bankrupt and left this gem in deleted limbo for 15 years) and it was a perfect record for the time. Steeped in classic LA punk, but paying hommage to other cultural icons like Charles Manson, the Partridge Family, Kiss and George Harrison, Redd Kross at this stage - along w/ the similarly godlike Teen Babes From Monsanto mini-album they released in '85 - were a band who perfectly understood the junk culture they grew up on and were able to regurgitate it without simply coming across like a gimmick band a la Bloodhound Gang/Fun Lovin' Criminals/Scissor Sisters (excuse me whilst I take a rest...).
Opinion is still divided on this era of the band. There are those who prefer the garage-punk trash of Born Innocent or even their earlier works, and I do distinctly recall this album getting a few bum reviews at the time (some of the negativity being launched at the thin production, though this CD sounds a whole lot better than my brother's paper-thin vinyl version he still owns), though most of the bad reviews were penned by ageing punkers disappointed that the band didn't still sound like a junior-high version of Black Flag, or clueless dolts who simply didn't get the cultural vein the brothers McDonald were tapping.
10 songs, none to sneeze at, even the semi-atrocious "Love Is You", the acoustic ballad which finished side A at the time. "Janus, Jeanie and George Harrison", "What They Say" and "Frosted Flake" help make up what must be one of the best American underground rock albums of the late '80s. Now, if there is one band whose entire career has been completely fucked up by bad management and even worse record deals, it would have to be Redd Kross. Not a single CD of theirs is currently in print. From what I can gather, this CD is deleted (though in print on Sympathy vinyl; I won this CD on eBay), as is Teen Babes, Born Innocent and their early EPs. Not only that, but their Atlantic LPs from the early '90s are also out of print, including the pretty damn decent Third Eye album from 1990. Sounds like time for a Rhino box set to me.
Other cool shit flyin' around:
1) RHYS CHATHAM - An Angel Moves Too Fast To See 3CD box (Table Of The Elements)
2) fIREHOSE - Live Totem Pole EP CD (Sony/Columbia)
(the band covering Wire, Public Enemy, Buttholes, Blue Oyster Cult and Superchunk... sounds potentially awful, I know, though the results are much different)
3) PRINCE FAR I - Under Heavy Manners 2CD (Trojan)
4) SCIENTISTS - Blood Red River CD (Citadel/Shock)
(along w/ Kim Salmon's guitar/drums duo performance recently in support of Japan's Teengenerate. 45 minutes of Scientists tunes which sounded real good)
5) ALICE COLTRANE - Universal Consciousness/Monastic Trio/Transcendence/Eternity etc. CDs
FANG - Landshark/Where The Wild Things Are CD (Boner/USA)
It's the year 2007 and here I sit with my new-ish Fang CD I bought from eBay a few weeks back. I can't believe I just said that. I turn 35 next week, and yet it's taken me 'til now to discover the awesome musical majesty of the band Fang. I've known of the band for a good 20 years. Read the old Flipside interviews, saw the Maximum Rock 'n' Roll ads. I figured they were some nth-rate dumbo punk/metal combo and gave them a wide berth. How wrong was I!
In recent times I seemed to've seen their name pop up in unusual places. Name-dropped by hipsters and noise freaks, even that Kurt Cobain fellow apparently liked them (along w/ Mudhoney and Metallica(!), all of whom covered a Fang song here and there). This CD combines two EPs from the early/mid '90s, adding up to a 40-minute slab of degenerate fun. San Fran's Fang, much like the musically/philosophically/aesthetically similar Flipper, have a troubled history. Rather than the singer ODing, Fang took the route of the main guy, Sam McBride, going to the clink for several years in the early '90s on a manslaughter charge. You can read an interview with him from June '93 (conducted by Shane Williams) here. In it ye shall find such pearls of wisdom as this...
Sammy's definition of punk rock: "Punk rock to me is a state of mind. It's walking down the street getting into a rumble because people don't like your clothes or hairstyle or earrings. It's slamdancing at 10th St. Hall, stage-diving at the On Broadway, fucking a punker betty from the valley backstage at the Elite Club, shooting speed in the Mab's bathroom, brawling in the parking lot next to the Sound Of Music".
Right fuckin' on!
But let's get to the music. Fang's music deliver where Drunks With Guns only ever promised. Hey, you own their records, too, right? Me too! Haven't played 'em in over a decade, but I've still got 'em. Sounded good on paper, kinda bored me in the flesh. Fang take the scuzzbag/fuck-up/junkie/punker persona of Flipper and musically tread a similar path in a kinda downbeat mid-tempo scuzz-punk manner, though it's mixed up a bit w/ some raging punker action in the form of such gems as "Destroy the Handicapped" and other family favourites. Their most well-known song (apparently) is the opener, "The Money Will Roll Right In", a crude ode to raking in the cash in Hollywood, a song which, as mentioned, has apparently been covered by Nirvana, Metallica and Mudhoney (anyone ever heard these versions?). I'm pretty sure the Melvins took a few notes out of Fang's book, too. Musical similarities aside, they did also release their first three or four albums on the same label, which, coincidentally, happens to be run by Tom Flynn, Fang's guitarist.
Fang have/had a killer logo. See it? A crudely drawn skull with the name "Fang" scrawled underneath like, err, fangs. Then there's the band credo: We Are Cool / Give Us Money. The verdict's in: Fang were one pretty fuckin' OK bunch of punker psychos, and this CD kicks my ass into next week.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
SOLAR ANUS - Skull Alcoholic 2CD (tUMULt/USA)
tUMULt is a rather terrific label owned and operated by one Andee Connors, the man behind one of America's finest music outlets, Aquarius Records in San Fran. I stopped by there in my US travels in '99, and, despite being initially put off by the volumes of Black Metal picture discs, posters and CD lining the walls (this is before I really cottoned on to it, OK?), was impressed enough to blow about $60 in 15 minutes and figured I'd better get the hell out of there before I blew half my dough on my first week in the country.
His label possesses a similar A & R/commercial ethic to mine: release whatever the fuck you want, no matter what genre, and if it sinks, well, you've always got insulation for the roof in the colder months. Which brings us to Solar Anus. SA were a Japanese four-piece from the latter half of the '90s whose name I remember seeing splattered throughout various 'zines at the time, probably interspersed w/ a few Ajax and Forced Exposure listings, though I never took the plunge. To make up for this lack of foresight, tUMULt has put together this impressive-looking 2CD which compiles absolutely everything they did, plus a previously unreleased track.
The front sticker says something about the band being the missing link between the Boredoms, Black Sabbath and Hawkwind. I'd probably take the Boredoms out of the equation and add that they were more like a combo twixt 'Sabbath, Hawkwind, St. Vitus and various Krauts of high repute: Amon Duul 1 and 2, Guru Guru and a touch of bongo-bashin' period Popol Vuh. The liner notes, which are all in Japanese sans their list of influences, naturally mean squat to moi, though the list in question is a hoot and may give you a clue as to where they were coming from: Electric Prunes, Twink, Amon Duul 2, Church Of Misery, Budgie, Beatles, Cathedral, St. Vitus, Gong, Funkadelic, Brutal Truth, etc. Oh yeah, I also forgot to mention Dark Angel, Pungent Stench and Sodom. No death metal actually present here, but if they dig 'em, who am I to argue?
The songs featured fall into three basic categories: metallic doom-sludge, much of which could pass for an early Saint Vitus or Electric Wizard track (especially given the unfortunately flat production some of the songs suffer from); more Kraut-influenced freak tracks which go for a gonzo Gong/Amon Duul vibe; and a couple of "experimental" pieces which make for a nice break between the former two. I've been giving this a spin whilst baking in the heat the last few days, and it's given me a much-needed slice of guitar-fuzz OD and even made me pull out a few doom platters to augment the proceedings. Now, when it comes to doom, the kings will always be Electric Wizard (nobody has ever surpassed Come My Fanatics or Dopethrone); for guitar-OD space/noise-rock, one can never go past early Skullflower (their Ruins and Xaman CDs should be in each and every household reading this) or F/i (sorry, but that's why I released 'em), so Solar Anus could never reach the top of the pile at this late stage, but their efforts are more than appreciated, their drones a pleasure to drown in, which is why I'm giving this a belated yet honourary entry into my list of Best Reissues of 2006.