Thursday, July 26, 2007

I don't know what brought it on, but I've been enjoying the uber-dramatic sounds of Magma a whole lot the last week. In fact, it's been avant-prog week 'round this household, a steady diet be had of Wyatt-era Soft Machine, Amon Duul 2, Twink, Gong, Art Bears, Battiato and, yep, Magma. Part Coltrane, part Carl Orff and a pinch of ludicrously conceptual sci-fi/prog gobbledegook, and that's France's best band of the '70s (w/ all due respect to Metal Urbain!). I was a total geekoid for these guys back in the mid '90s and managed to snap up most of their best '70s LPs dirt cheap on vinyl when I guess they were considered about as fashionable as pastel jumpers. Although they sported the fandom of the standard Three J's at the time (that's Julian/Johnny/Jello, if you must know), they were, and remain, an aquired taste. From what I can gather, by glancing around various music-retail web sites, the vast bulk of their catalogue is out of print, though if you're up for the challenge, I'd say you could do much worse than starting somewhere around their mid '70s Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh and Kohntarkosz LPs, the latter winding up in my Top 100 Albums Of All Time list you probably laughed at a few months ago. There's also main man Christian Vander's awesome "solo" album from 1974, Tristan Et Iseult, which, with Magma logos adorning its sleeve, is essentially a Magma record in everything but name, though it contains shorter, punchier pieces than normal, probably something to do w/ the fact that it also happens to be the soundtrack to a film I will likely never see. Or perhaps you'd like to try before you buy. There's some goodies on Youtube here and here for you to peruse. After that, you're on your own.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

MX-80 SOUND - Out Of The Tunnel LP (Ralph/1980)

I guess this guy probably figures he's the utmost authority on the genius that is MX-80, and that may be true since he has been tooting their horn on paper for over 20 years, but it certainly won't bar me from joining a chorus of approval in regards to their wares.
I have a long, sordid history in my fandom for the band. They first entered my radar in 1991 when they were cover stars on a then-current issue of Forced Exposure magazine. I moaned to a friend at the time - hey, I was 19, OK? - that FE had lost the plot putting such unknown-to-me non-entities on the cover, when they could (and should!) be putting the likes of, err, Helios Creed or Kramer front and centre on the news-stands. Well, somewhere between the years 1991 and '95, something happened, as I wound up placing this very LP in a Top 10 Desert Island Discs article I penned mid-decade for Year Zero fanzine. For some reason I had a change of heart, fluked scoring cheap secondhand vinyl copies of their Hard Attack, Out Of The Tunnel and Crowd Control albums 'round '92 and from there the obsession grew.

I've been playing this LP non-stop the last week, the first time I've given it a flogging since some time back in the '90s (much like my experiences w/ the Stooges and Miles Davis, I ran MX-80 so heavily into the ground at the time that they remained for a very long time a band I didn't wish to reaquaint myself with), and it certainly stands alone as a one-of-a-kind disc possessed w/ a unique vision and a sound certainly no-one else at the time had. Much has been made about the supposed "heavy metal" nature of MX-80 at the dawn of the '80s, but there's no denying it: if you were to typecast any band under the sun as "art-metal", you'd make it MX-80. Or perhaps Voivod, whom MX-80 are/were big fans of (see that FE interview for proof), but that's another story.

1977's Hard Attack, somehow released on the British wing of Island Records (coz their New Wave-friendly A & R guy dug MX-80's self-released debut EP and was looking for "another Devo" Stateside), suffered a mighty strange mix which has never really been taken care of in subsequent CD reissues; it remains w/ the vocals up way too high and the rhythm section buried under a mound of guitar slop. I dig it OK, though the real goods remain their two Ralph LPs from 1980 and '81 - Out Of The Tunnel and Crowd Control - respectively. Out Of The Tunnel is a compelling mixture of Rich Stim's deadpan, Lou Reed-esque vocal philosophising, the best post-Beefheart rhythm section at the time not known as Watt/Hurley and brutal, metallic guitar attacks which, frankly, wouldn't sound out of place on an early Metallica disc.

I'm not sure I'd still place Out Of The Tunnel in my top 10, though it was in my top 50 which I listed a while back and will probably remain there until I drop dead. Along w/ Crowd Control, it was something I taped onto cassette to take to friends' places back in the early/mid '90s for many evenings of booze/music-fuelled shenanigans, and along the way I managed to convert many, often singing along to the zombie-esque chorus on "I Walk Among Them" or shaking our grunge-length hair to the opening guitar crunch in "Someday You'll Be King", a magnificent, Ginn-like blend of post-punk choppiness and metallic prowess.

MX-80 sunk from view for a number of years after Crowd Control, though have been more or less active again since the late '80s. They've got a web site here (where you'll read the sad news that their long-time drummer, Dave Mahoney, passed away last year), they're still playing, recording and releasing music, and indeed there's a swag of post-'81 recordings from the band which are well worth searching out, but... you know where I'm heading here. Much like their fellow Ralph Records-associated oddballs in Chrome, it's their second and third LPs you really need, and if you're at all into the kind of rock music I like to consider the absolute pinnacle of human audio achievement - Stooges, Pere Ubu, Black Flag, Captain Beefheart - then do not for a second consider Out Of The Tunnel to be a superfluous purchase. Readers, it remains goddamn essential.

Monday, July 16, 2007

"Life is a jet plane/ it moves too fast" - Bob Dylan.

Wow. Poetry, dude. Life has been moving pretty damn fast of late, and I haven't been able to catch up. Who'da thunk having a kid would be so much work? Well, of course it is, but as of late, it's meant much less time to commit to this blog. Just as I'm settling in for a good session of wordsmithery, l'il Bessie gets all antsy and I've got to drop my keyboard aktion and play Father again. So be it! Like I said to a friend the other day: it is simply impossible to bum out a new parent of a healthy, happy baby.

There's also other things occupying my life of late. The label was fairly inactive in regards to even thinking about releasing anything new whilst the prospect of fatherhood hung over me, but now that things are going swimmingly, I've decided to dive headfirst back into the label game and dedicate a lot more time and effort to it. There's a few very exciting things coming out hopefully before year's end. Firstly, if you've been reading this blog over the last 6 months you would no doubt have heard me breathlessly praising the good works of Yawning Man and Ten East, specifically the former's Rock Formations LP and Pothead EP, and the latter's Extraterrestrial Highway LP. Both were previously available through the Spanish label Alone Records, but are, as of now, deleted. In the future they will be on Lexicon Devil (w/ Pothead and Rock Formations on the one CD), and I will be exclusively releasing their brand new studio efforts, both being recorded and worked on as I write this. Even more excitingly, Ten East now feature GREG GINN(!) on bass, and Gary Arce from the group (my contact for both bands) assures me that their new direction is in a total free-rock Process Of Weeding Out vein. Excited? Good. I sure as shit am. I wasn't lying when I said that the recorded efforts of both bands were the most exciting rock music I'd heard in the last couple of years.

Ever read any books from the 331/3 series? You've probably seen them around. There's two new volumes you may be interested in grabbing yer mits on, if you're at all partial to the audio nonsense I'm prone to shout about: the new entries in the series attempt to document Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation and, more importantly, the finest American rock album ever recorded, the Minutemen's Double Nickels On The Dime. I've read the first 20 pages of the latter, and to be honest, I'm really not too confident as to where it's heading, but I'll reserve my judgment until I've truly digested it and give you the full spiel then.

Some other fine things? Let me kill some space...


I've prattled on about this at length before. Perhaps you weren't listening, or perhaps you should just listen to this instead. This is that esteemed UK psychedelic hard-as-nails blues-rock outfit's 1970 LP, and it's distorto-rock headfuckery of the highest order. So far as visionary and completely atypical dawn-of-the-'70s rock 'n' roll goes, this is on a par w/ High Time-period MC5, Amon Duul II ca. Yeti or Hawkwind, that's for sure. Give 'em the respect they deserve.

2) PEARLS BEFORE SWINE - everything

I've become completely consumed w/ everything Tom Rapp ever recorded, namely the six Pearls Before Swine LPs - the two on ESP and subsequent four released on Reprise - and the 2003 double CD, The Wizard Of Is, released on the terrific Water label out of San Francisco, which documents Rapp and co. during the '60s and '70s w/ various live and demo recordings. A perfect combination of Dylan's nasally whine and Tim Buckley's occasionally soaring vocalese, Rapp was and remains an American original ignored by way too many, and that includes me for longer than I'd care to admit.

3) CLUSTER - Cluster II LP

Nice reissue on the Russian label Lilith, also responsible for putting one of the great headfuck albums of the 1970s, No New York, back in print a couple of years back. II is, ugh, Cluster's second release from the early '70s, a seamless, shiftless and utterly perfect combination of outer-space keyboard drones that's an ideal late-night listen after another day on earth feeling completely wiped out. I'm about to give it a spin... right... now.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

CHUMPS - The Problem With Saxophones CD (Afterburn/2007)

Yeah, I know, I said just two or so entries back that I wasn't in the game of propping up the careers/bands/labels of close friends with a killer review (if I'm at all capable of doing such a thing), but when the results are this good, well, damn those rules! This is a contender for best reissue of 2007, and the saddest part of that statement is that, it being a reissue from Australia, most people reading this probably won't manage to get their hands on it. Well, make the effort!

The Chumps were a white-hot late '70s combo from Washington DC who featured Rob Kennedy, later of the Workdogs, and the Dreyfuss brothers, who also made up the brass section at the time for the newly-expanded Maryland-based version of Half Japanese. And if you, like me, worship at the altar of that period of Half Jap', then the sounds of the Chumps will light a fire in your part of the neighborhood. The Chumps sounded a lot like Loud-period HJ: all scratchy guitars, half-step rhythms, No-Wave sax bleets, a sturdy backbone in classic garage rock a la Stooges/Troggs and total geekoid lyrics about hanging out at the shopping mall w/ nothing to do. Hmmm... you know, that sounds exactly like Half Japanese from the time, and musically, you could probably stick a Jad vocal track on much of this and you'd fool even the most die-hard fan, though the Chumps had a bit more punkish angst in them than Jad, the delivery and style a little less rooted in a romantic pop sensibility.

Best of all, the songs here really stick in your craw. Primo rock 'n' roll with roaring sax throughout, spilling off frequently into free-jazz chaos, sometimes going off the deep end, sometimes reining back in. This kinda music is my idea of a good time: a bridging gap between the worlds of ecstatic jazz and no-frills garage noise, and I ain't saying this is as good as Funhouse - if I did you wouldn't believe me (because for one, it wouldn't be true), and I'd blow my cred with such a ridiculous comment - though it's obviously borne from the same template as that wondrous disc, and if you are partial to classic American '70s rock of the No Wave/Stooges mold, then this high-calibre ripper gets a 5-star recommendation from me.

This is by no means a mere curiosity in late-'70s punk-rock Americana and deserves a higher status than it's previously been afforded (after all, even I had but merely heard of the band before being handed this very CD): it's a CD I've been playing all week and shall for a long time henceforth! Super-nice full-colour fold-out digipak, extensive liner notes, flyer repros, the whole nine yards. A nice bloody job, if ever there was.

RANDOM NOTES:... the Bo'Weavil label outta the UK has put one of the great obscurities of American free jazz back into circulation. Hell, I've been searching high and low for this for a dozen years. It's Noah Howard's Black Ark LP from 1969, now again available on LP and CD. Well, I'm getting lazy (and cheap!) in my old age, so I opted for the CD, and half-a-dozen listens have convinced me it's been worth the wait. Howard did a couple of terrific LPs on the ESP-Disk label back in the '60s (and another killer I wrote about here), though this LP, originally released on Freedom, has achieved a kind of revered infamy for being the very first recording featuring free-jazz savant/genius, Arthur Doyle (who cut some hot platters in the '80s/'90s you all need, including some w/ Rudolph Grey's Blue Humans). I really dig Howard's Ornette-ish sound; he doesn't really blow out in an Ayleresque fashion too often: he mostly leaves that up to Doyle, who sounds like he's trying to blow the goddamn roof off w/ his squawl. Some groovy conga-aktion from "Juma" (who played w/ Hendrix at Woodstock) and a line-up I can dig: alto and tenor saxes, trumpet, piano, bass and two percussionists. I've got a lot of '60s/'70s free-jazz blowouts from various Americans of the period, and I question myself as to why I really needed this, though, much like Howard's own Patterns/Message to South Africa CD, or drop-dead-dynamite obscuros like Frank Lowe's Black Beings, the occasional spin it will receive, and the pleasure it gives, will justify such a purchase. Liner notes by some guy called "Oren".

Pig State Recon blog has hit the jackpot again! Dig the latest entry mining the SST family tree a little further, this time branching into the music of Tom Watson (Slovenly/Overpass dude), The Unknown Instructors (who have new CD on Smog Veil I'll review later on some time), the incredible Ten East and more. I've said it before, I'll say it again: I like this man's style!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

OK, empty your wallets, it's time to bid on a slice of history. Up for grabs on eBay is none other than Darby Crash's high-school ID card. Which wealthy rock celebrity w/ a penchant for LA punk and a wad of cash burning a hole in their pocket will win the prize? Will it be Flea? John Frusciante? Dave Grohl?? Thurston Moore??! Only time will tell...

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I've been fairly dedicated (relatively speaking) w/ the blog lately, and in the meantime real life has caught up w/ me. For now, I'm swamped w/ other duties and won't have time for any entries for the next week or more. Stay tuned, I ain't goin' nowhere...