UGLY THINGS #25
Every time there's a new issue of Ugly Things on the stands (that's about once or twice a year), I get all excited, race out and immediately buy it and yet, more and more, I find myself filing it away months later w/ large chunks of it unread. Jay wrote about his problems w/ the mag in Agony Shorthand a year or two ago, and I must admit my sentiment echoes his to a degree. My main beef w/ UT, if there is any (and believe me, it's still the finest underground mag being published today), lies w/ its indepth "cover story" pieces which tend to run for 30-odd pages. There was the Misunderstood epic which ran for four issues (#19-23) a while ago and probably clocked up 120 pages (of which I probably read 10 pages at most), and this time around we have a 30-page exposé on the Music Machine. I like their "Talk Talk" song just fine, and I bet there's a bunch of other material from them I'm yet to hear which rocks socks off, but I don't need the no-holds-barred story right from the cradle to the grave. I'm not knocking it - if you're a MM fanatic you'd probably cherish this issue like a sacred text - but for anyone else, it's a bore, and I'd be quite curious to know the percentage of UT's readership who do actually slog their way right through such interminable texts from A to Z.
UT is much better when they keep the pieces to a sane and digestible length: the article/interview with the great Jon Savage is a highlight (now there's a subject I could've handled 30 pages of), as are the articles on the origins of the Kingsmen's version of "Louie Louie" and Radio Birdman (on their first US tour), and I even found myself glued to the Rubber City Rebels piece, even though I'm willing to bet their still-unheard-by-me combination of '70s punk, hard rock, skinny-tie New Wave and midwestern bar-band buffoonery likely wouldn't budge me an inch (except to maybe take the needle off). And then you have the "footnote" bands, as some may call them: exposés on the likes of Freedom's Children, The Light, The Attack, The Namelosers and more. You know 'em? Me neither, but I can't fault nice-guy editor Mike Stax for giving us the juice, since I've always believed the role of the fanzine to be, to use such fire and brimstone terms, to convert heathens. Before I drop dead, I promise to at least hear one track a piece by all of the above.
You've got your usual smorgasboard of DVD/book/record reviews, all of which cut the mustard in a fairly no-nonsense manner, except for the fact that I do not need to read anyone's opinion on Pet Sounds ever again, nor do I really care to read about differences in audio subtleties regarding mono and stereo version of various '60s gems.
The only article which stuck in my craw (in a bad way) was Johan "The Record's In The Mail" Kugelberg's Times Ain't Like They Used To Be: Good Records From The Suck Years 1983- '97, which is mostly a load of horn-tooting for various records Kugelberg had a hand in releasing (like Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, indeed a very good band), as well as some raves for the likes of feedtime, The Mummies, Gories, Zip Code Rapists, the totally over-rated Chain Gang and others. There were many great records released in this "lame" period in history, and I find it baffling that Kugelberg insists on attempting to rewrite his own history nearly every issue of UT, bagging many of his former faves like a jilted lover. OK, Big Black sucked and I wouldn't touch 99% of that misanthropic, collegiate, school-of-'88 "pigfuck" music with a very long pole in the year 2007, but big deal, I don't feel a need to tell everyone about it every second paragraph! Kugelberg is far more grating than he is entertaining.
It's 226 pages, it's a labour of love and it probably stands as the last great, regularly-produced professional "fanzine" in the 21st century. Mike Stax seems like a hell of a guy who never peppers his pages (outside of Kugelberg's rants) with mean-spiritedness and bitterness: it's always about The Music. For that I salute him.
1) Ethiopiques Volume 21: Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guébrou - Piano Solo CD (Buda Musique)
The Ethiopiques series' latest offering, and one of their best, and since I blew a wad of cash on every single title in the series a couple of years back, I can actually make such a remark with a grain of authority. I'll still state my faves as being volumes 4 and 14 (that's Mulatu Astatke's cosmic lounge-jazz and Getatchew Mekurya's Ayleresque blurts, respectively), but this one has thrown such a musical curve ball and succeeded so tremendously, I may just rank it a third place. I originally heard this described as "Ethiopian boogie woogie" from yesteryear, a description which, quite frankly, frightened me. Now, I'm a pretty liberal guy and keep an ear open to just about any genre of sound there is, hoping to sort wheat from chaff, but boogie-woogie piano music: now there is a music form which bores me. This is not it. For one, Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guébrou (boy, say that five times fast) is a woman, and an Ethiopian Jew at that. Her music consists of solo piano pieces of a plaintive, quiet variety, certainly not unlike Debussy or Satie. Except this is much more than mere furniture music. Any fan of the Ethiopiques will need, crave and enjoy this bookend (thus far) to the series.
2) TONY ALLEN - Jealousy/Progress/No Accomodation For Lagos/No Discrimination CDs (Afrostrut)
These four albums come (or came) as 2CD packs w/ two albums a piece. Luckily for various folks in Melbourne, roughly seven years ago, their Australian distributor (I'll assume) was so overstocked they dumped them throughout Melbourne, and I wound up purchasing both of these for $3.99 each. That's approx. $2 an album. Not bad. When such a bargain confronts you, you can only do one thing: purchase for yourself and friends, which is what I did. As was the case when Warners dumped a truckload of the Boredoms' Vision Creation Newsun CD all over town 5 years back for a ha'penny a piece, I gobbled up a bunch of 'em and gave 'em away to friends. This is not only because I'm a helluva nice guy, but because such fine music is to be heard, not dumped. Which brings me to Tony Allen. He was Fela Kuti's drummer for many years and cut these fine, fine, fine albums in the '70s. Not straying too far from the Fela formula of finding a cool, funkified Afrobeat riff and driving it into the ground, Allen's discs from the period have a bit more room to breathe, as his line-up of musicians was much more sparse (which, of course, wouldn't be hard) and the music not so clogged. Of course I love the way Fela crammed a dozen musicians into every single track, but Allen's similarly-minded LPs make for a nice change of scenery, if not pace.
3) DAD THEY BROKE ME - Lack CDEP (Missing Link)
And now for something completely different. When I was given this CD by one of the ML crew a few weeks back, I was thankful for the freebie, but to be honest, I expected to play it once or twice, file it away and maybe forget about it. Such is not the case. DTBM are a local outfit friends of mine swear to me I have witnessed live in the flesh (during my debaucherous pre-parental phase), though I can only assume that my levels of intoxication at said times blocked out the experience. Now that my lifetsyle has been somewhat tempered for the better (for everyone involved), I may just have to see them again, if only to, you know, actually appreciate them. The press blurb for this rattles on about the Birthday Party and the Swans and Anal Cunt and all manner of things. I hear a bit here and there, but mostly what I hear is a hugely layered cake of guitar distortion and a bottom end heavy enough to sink a ship. The production on this is quite fucking impressive, I must say. DTBM play roughly two paces: very fast and very slow. The singer sounds like he's torn his throat up gargling safety pins. The band keeps it loose and swinging. The judge's verdict is in: this is pretty hot - DTBM play a very messed-up rock just the way I like it.