Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Monday, September 24, 2007
Just finished reading Clinton Walker's Bon Scott bio - Highway To Hell: The Life And Death Of Bon Scott (Picador/Pan Macmillan)- which was given to me by a friend a few weeks back. The friend in question works for the publishing company, so I tend to get inundated w/ books from her on a monthly basis, most of which, I'm ashamed to admit, I barely flick through. And even more shame-worthy, I didn't even consider reading the Bon bio until I was bored out of my skull on a weeknight and needed new reading material to tackle. Well, I'm glad I made the effort. Clinton Walker is an Australian journo who first hit the fanzine circuit in '77 in cahoots w/ the likes of Bruce Milne before working for Rolling Stone in the '80s (the things ya gotta do), penning the classic Inner City Sound photo/text tome in '83 (which documented Australian punk/post-punk, and was basically the first book to do so), the rather less successful Stranded compendium in the '90s, which attempted to document Australian indie music up until the post-Nirvana "grunge" breakthrough into the mainstream (a book which, for me, lost the plot completely as it approached the mid '80s), as well as being a general talking-head for any rock doco the ABC cares to show. I've met the guy a couple of times at various do's and he's a stand-up gentleman and a rare example of a professional music journalist who actually appears to give a shit about music.... but on w/ the show!
Like any other Australian dunderhead of age in the year 1980 - though I was only 8 at the time - AC/DC's Back In Black hit the local schoolyard like a lightning bolt and was essentially the soundtrack for any budding young rock 'n' roll butthead for the next 18 months. My brother had a copy on cassette and we nearly wore the thing out throughout '80/'81, before the world of BMXs took me away from music for a couple of years and I kinda forgot the band - or any band - even existed. When I was 16 and getting hep to the sounds of Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer and local rock gods of the day such as Bored! and God, AC/DC made a reappearance in my life as I reappraised their works and came to appreciate their certain brand of mindless hard-arsed boogie-rock to be of great worth even to a young man who'd been completely lobotomised by hardcore. The no-frills approach they mastered in their heyday still holds great appeal simply because there was, and is, no other band on earth like AC/DC, and certainly not when they were at their '70s peak.
Walker's book is not only about Bon and his rough upbringing and failed attempts at stardom w/ '60s teenyboppers the Valentines or '70s progsters Fraternity - neither of whom really garner much praise from Clinton here - but an excellent insight into the sheer backwardness of Australian music throughout much of the period (he makes a good point that many '50s/'60s Australian stabs at "rock" blew simply because most Australians had never even heard a good American blues record - the backbone of the heavy rhythm in rock as we know it - as they were near impossible to find here until the late '60s) and the surprising hostility even a popular band such as AC/DC could face in their home country. Clinton also makes an interesting point in the introduction (this is an updated version of the 1994 original): nearly everyone who ever worked w/ Bon has nothing but good words to say about him, whilst nearly everyone who's ever worked w/ the Youngs - Angus and Malcom, who are AC/DC - have almost nothing good to say of them. Admittedly, Angus and Malcom come across as thick-as-a-brick, cold-hearted, shamelessly ambitious careerists from the get-go, though in fairness, they weren't interviewed for this book (they refused) and I can't necessarily fault them for simply having a mission - being the biggest, baddest rock 'n' roll band in the world - and seeing it through. On the other hand, Bon comes across as I suspected: #1 party animal who could barely see beyond tomorrow and would gladly blow a royalty cheque in 24 hours by shouting everyone at the pub for the night.
Bon-period AC/DC remain a tough band to musically pin down. They were way too casual in their attire, and too macho, to be glam; too economic in their musical approach to be heavy metal; too rough and uncouth to be arena rock (despite playing w/ the likes of Journey and REO Speedwagon in the late '70s); and they were way too traditional and bluesy to be considered punk (even though many journalists, especially down here, confused them as such at the time). Walker admirably never tries to dissect their music too heavily, because it really doesn't warrant it. If anything, it's simply an amplified take on the classic Chuck Berry/Little Richard sound, two of the very few artists the Young brothers appear to have good words for. Things start getting very depressing near the end of the book, as you can feel the band's biggest success, and Bon's demise, getting ever so closer. Back In Black, for myself and many others, remains AC/DC's crowning achievement, and yet Bon doesn't even appear on it. It is, however, still a Bon Scott album, even though the Young's never credited him for the songwriting. It has his cheek, wit and style all over it, a style they would never fully achieve in any of their subsequent recordings. Walker's Highway To Hell succeeds in three main areas: it gives a great insight into Bon and the mechanisations behind the band and what made them so great in their day; it kept me happily busy for the three nights it took me to read it; and it's had me whacking the likes of Dirty Deeds, Highway to Hell, TNT and Back In Black on high rotation ever since I closed the final page. I thought I was totally over rock biographies, but this might've just got me started all over again.
Monday, September 17, 2007
THE EX AND GETATCHEW MEKURIA AND GUESTS CD PRESENTATION AND TOUR
19 - Vera, Groningen
20 - Paradiso, Amsterdam
21 - Rasa, Utrecht
22 - Vooruit, Gent (B)
Getatchew Mekuria -Tenor Sax; The Ex: Katherina - drums, Terrie - guitar, Andy - guitar, and GW Sok - voice; Colin McLean - bass, Xavier Charles - clarinet, Brodie West - alto saxophone and Joost Buis - trombone.
ALICE COLTRANE - Huntington Ashram Monastery CD (Impulse/Japan)
Due to the fact that major American recording companies appear to be heavily populated by clueless assholes, this prime slice of AC hasn't been readily available for years. Well, it's still not readily available in the West, and I kinda paid through my nose for this Jap version the other week, but at least I finally got the thing! This was her second album, originally released in 1969, right after her world-beating A Monastic Trio LP, and continues pretty much exactly along the same path: a basic avant-modal jazz setting featuring bass, piano, drums and her patented harp, with a heavy influence from the East, as you can probably gather from the title. No surprises, no disappointments; now that I have this and Lord Of Lords from '73, I've got the set and can die a happy man. Hoo-fucking-ray for that. Vale to the good lady.
IAN MATTHEWS - Valley Hi/Some Days You Eat The Bear And Some Days The Bear Eats You CD (Water)
Another slice of MOR folk-rock I have found great affection for the past 12 months. Let's make this quick: Matthews was briefly a member of Fairport Convention before going solo and heading for the West Coast of the US of A in the early '70s. He also headed up the short-lived outfit Plainsong, who released an excellent album on Elektra in '72 (also reissued as a 2CD on Water w/ a ton of bonus tracks), which I would highly recommend to fans of Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, before cutting this LP in '73. His voice and delivery is light and breezy and he'd obviously been hanging around w/ possibly one too many Laurel Canyon hippies at the time, in which case I would not recemmend this album to anyone whose taste in music runs the full gamut from Discharge to Negative Approach. It comprises mostly covers from the likes of Jackson Browne ("These Days", also covered by Nico on her debut), Richard Thompson, Steve Young, Randy Newman and Michael Nesmith, and whilst such a cover-heavy disc may denote a certain lightness of approach, Matthews interpretations really make this his album, and the opener, "Keep On Sailing", a Matthews original, is a standout. Water have tacked on his Some Days You... LP from '74 as a bonus, which, despite some good moments, including a reworking of "Keep On Sailing", as well as Gene Clark and Tom Waits covers, possesses a super-slick yacht-rock sound which ruins some otherwise great material. On top of that you get a version of Steely Dan's "Dirty Work" (a guilty pleasure, I might add) and none other than Jeff "Skunk" Baxter on electric and pedal steel guitar. Keep on sailing, indeed! I tend to skip most of the second album here, though the consistent greatness of the first makes this a definite keeper.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
It's a nice feeling to dig an old chestnut out, blow the dust off its sleeve, give it a spin and still be impressed with its sadly-ignored wares. Such a fate certainly became of this release just today. Here's a great blurb from Aquarius Records regarding Atmospheres Of Metal:
"In our experience a lot of the best (and, of course, worst) cds released end up languishing in a forgotten corner of some distributor's warehouse, or under the label owner's bed... It's quite possible for something great but obscure to get released in an edition of 1,000 and then ten years later there's still 700+ copies gathering dust in a closet somewhere. We suspect that this Dumb And The Ugly cd is an example of this (though that's just a guess, maybe it sold well and has been re-pressed [no it hasn't!]). What we do know is that this came out in 1992 in Australia and we liked it then and it's still great and we somehow just got a hold of a few copies. Despite the title, this isn't a "metal" album per se. It IS quite atmospheric, its eight tracks almost alternating between sheer sinister ambience (shortwave sounds, distorted operatic singing, underwatery drones) and heavy-duty guitar riffage a la Helmet or Circle. It's lumbering thud-rock with definite weird arty dark psychedelic pretensions, successfully so. We've only got a few but presumably there's more where these came from...".
Sadly, I can attest to the fact that there are many copies of this very release sitting in a dark corner somewhere, as I helped Dr. Jim himself move all his excess stock into his attic about 6 or 7 years ago, though he's since moved, so I can only assume two scenarios: he forgot to take his overstocks out of his attic in the move (unlikely), or he's moved them into his roomier riverside mansion where they can collect dust in a comfier abode. Such is all too typical in the world of independent music production (ask me about it sometime... lucky I've got a warehouse to store my overstocks in!), and such is sadly typical of many a great release, of which this is one.
Dumb And The Ugly, that's: Michael Sheridan on guitar, who was also once in No and the Michael Hutchence-helmed Max Q (if anyone remembers them); Dave Brown on bass, who has since established himself as one of the greats of contemporary Australian avant-garde/noise/improv music w/ the likes of Lazy, Bucketrider, Morpho, Candlesnuffer, Pateras/Baxter/Brown, the too-talented-to-live, quickly-extinguished Lang/Lang/Brown trio, etc.); and the "legendary" John Murphy on drums and "noise", he being one of Australia's more talented, amusing and eccentric musical exports, who also did time in the early '80s w/ such notorious outfits as Current 93, Lustmord, Nurse With Wound, Whitehouse and about 50 other bands, and currently resides in the UK, some of the time collaborating w/ Boyd Rice. The band existed from some time in the late '80s and called it a day 'round '93 or so. I saw them play a bunch of times from '91-'93 and befriended them when they realised I was probably the only gormless young aspiring fanzine dork in Melbourne who was willing to give them column space. Y' see, DATU are one of those classic great rock bands whom I happen to love, and they might've had all the right connections and the right overseas fans singing their praises in all the right places (Byron Coley being one of them), though that didn't necessarily add up to diddly-squat in regards to CD sales and/or gig attendances. Their non-generic sound and lack of a vocalist to focus on (this is before "post-rock" [shudder] made instrumental music palatable again for indie geeks), as well as the individual members' ages (mid 30s at the time) and backgrounds in experimental music probably made them a little difficult to swallow as a "rock" band for many. Maybe not for you and me, but we're talking regular joe-schmoe "alternative" putzes who can't seem to get their respective brains around a band lest it be shoved down their throat by the powers that be.
So, all that brings us to Atmospheres Of Metal, their debut full-length CD released sometime late '92 or early '93. Prior to this, the band had released a 7" and 12" EP, both also on Dr. Jim's, and both also very highly recommended. The 7", which I know I own but is currently buried underneath a pile of junk and I can't be bothered locating it, was recorded live and has a thick, downtuned and murky sound perfect for the repetitive grime within its grooves, whilst the 12" possesses a much bolder and accessible sound with the kinda catchy riffs that makes me wonder why they never found a wider audience at the time. Atmospheres Of Metal is caught somewhere between the two. John Murphy was the king of musical references in his day, and if you were to ask him for the sound the band was after, he'd always have a ready-made list of influences to throw your way. It went something like this: "We're trying to combine the hard psychedelic free-form sounds of Hendrix and Cream with the contemporary thud of Swans and Gore with perhaps a pinch of instrumental Black Flag thrown in for good measure. Mix that up w/ the dark soundscapes of early Current 93 and Lustmord, and that's DATU". I'm fairly sure John said as such, and that sums up their sound perfectly.
Atmospheres... is divided up into two distinct parts: the rock tracks and the ambient/experimental tracks, w/ each angle of the band alternating these different sides of their sound track by track. Murphy was/is a shit-hot percussionist in a classic Mitch Mitchell/Ginger Baker mold, Brown possesses a forceful, aggressive and slightly funky (though not "funkay") bass style, and Sheridan had an armload of killer riffs which combined elements of "classic" hard rock a la Zep/Sabbath w/ a more improvisational angle lifted from Ginn, Ulmer, Sharrock and all the usual suspects. The band had a great knack of taking a monstrous riff and letting it expand and evolve before taking reining it back in for the punch. I'd say they were more like a psychedelic take on the classic Gore/Gone sound of the mid/late '80s - two bands they were undoubtedly aware of - whilst mixing up the riffery w/ power electronics and various tape fuckery. The only oddity here is perhaps the second-last track, "Baby Bites Back", which features the vocals of Jason Vasallo, who was singing for Christbait at the time. Christbait were a sludgy metal/rock behemoth at the dawn of the '90s, somewhat in the Melvins/Godflesh/Fudge Tunnel vein which was all the rage w/The Kids, and were big news down here for a year or two. Jason had a hearty yelp and I can dig his style coz I can see where this was coming from at the time, though first-time listeners may dismiss the song as sub-Rollins Band buffoonery. It's better than that, of course, though it does possess that Angry Dude of '92 Rollins/Helmet feel which I didn't dig at the time, though also felt that DATU pulled it off better than their peers.
I dug the hell outta DATU back in the day and saw some mind-blowing gigs at the time - a dark night at the Arthouse ca. late '92 certainly stands out - and it's good to see that, 15 years later, I wasn't wrong in my judgments. Atmospheres... suffers from a slightly thin and flat sound (whereas their previous records sound sharp and bold as hell), though that's only a slight criticism. Jim still has a few boxes of this sitting around somewhere, of that I'm sure, so I shall simply restate a very basic sentiment I first wrote of the band 15 years ago: do yourself a favour and get hip to the (long-gone) sounds of Dumb And The Ugly.
Friday, September 14, 2007
OK, OK... time to get down to business. Sometimes life just gets away from you, and in between playing in a quarter-arsed rock band, running a label (Ten East's Extraterrestrial Highway CD OUT NOW!), being Mr. Family Man and working a full-time job - much of which involves writing about music - I have not been in the right state of mind to even consider sitting down in front of a computer at night in my spare time in an attempt to pontificate to anyone who may care about this thing called... well, music. So, where to begin...
In relation to the last post - Nervous Jerk's E.S.P. compilation CD - I would like to henceforth restate my previous sentiment that it's good to see The Kids doin' it for themselves. Take Distort fanzine, for instance. It's done by this young local chap by the name of Dan. Actually, I think he's in his early/mid 20s, but once you hit 35, like I did this year, such an age is considered "young", almost just post-pubescent. Dan digs his old-school American hardcore, as do I, and he likes to tell the world about it. He also digs a whole bunch of contemporary hardcore which I could give two figs for, but that's OK. I'm a grumpy old fugg and well past my prime. Even when I was but a young buck, I could barely care for any hardcore made after 1986, coz for me that was when it hit its use-by date as a genre. OK, OK, email me and tell me about all the unbelievably terrific HC bands of today I am sadly missing out on and watch me care.
Distort is a printed fanzine, and for that I hail a salute. In the age of blogs such masochistic dedication is to an ancient form is highly admirable. From what I can gather, every single issue (and there's 15 of 'em) is dedicated to high achievers such as Darby, 'Sabbath, Black Flag, Void, Discharge, Stooges and Poison Idea. Ditto to that! Inside the two issues I received, there's some good rants, retrospectives and photo spreads on the likes of Black Flag, The Stalin, Gism, Subversion and newer bands like Voorhees, Smash 'n' Grab and Cold Sweat, as well as rambling editorials bemoaning the state of music and the world which only serve to remind me of my own youth spent whinging in the printed word. That's a good thing. The opening sentence to each editiorial begins as thus: "Hey fuckhead. Welcome to Distort issue...". Nice.
Distort passes the fanzine test - does it adequately pass the time whilst planted on the shitter - with ease. Fact is, I'm going to hassle Dan for back issues to add to the pile. Hardcore fanzines in the 21st century w/ half-a-brain and a clue are a rarity; a zine like this from Melbourne town in 2007, one which reminds me of the great anger and desire to convert that made Touch and Go or even Search and Destroy a terrific read in their time (and now) is a breath of fresh air. Of course an old art-fag like myself will have to state this: that there's nothing on God's sweet earth as hardcore as an old Cecil Taylor or Fela Kuti or Hasil Adkins track - and such things could (and should) easily find a home in the world of Distort - but like their byline says: "Punk and Hardcore... Not For Everybody".
PS - Distort even features a reprint spread of an old comic from Black To Comm, of all sources... I said I'd never bring it up ever again, but I think that Chris, judging by his behaviour over the last few years, is begging for the attention, so... Chris, just remember the old saying: the best revenge is simply living well. I say that not in relation to me, for I desire no "revenge" and have no enemies (that I acknowledge), but in relation to the way you live your life.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
VARIOUS - E.S.P. (A Nervous Jerk Compilation) CD (Nervous Jerk/2007)
The Kids are doin' it for themselves. Nervous Jerk CEO Michael K. is one of those obnoxiously precocious kinda guys you occasionally meet in the music scene who's been around the block a few times by the tender age of a man who's barely scraped past 20 years of age. Worked in record stores, toured some overseas bands, done a radio show, executed a record label or two. I say that all as a compliement, since I'll state for the record that he's also a heck of a nice guy who does it all for one reason: The Music, man. Well, there's probably an element of ego-stroke in there, too (and any zine/band/radio/label/tour/blog/scenester slob out there who denies such a thing is a dishonest asshole), but ultimately I'd place him fair and square in the Good Guy department.
And so, after such an introduction, I present you w/ the latest release on his new-ish label, E.S.P., a compilation of bands he's been involved with either in touring, booking shows or having released previous product by. It's an eclectic mix, to say the least. There's some kinda big-ish (relatively speaking) international names on show here: DC's Weird War (a whole lot better than their ex-Make-Up pedigree may suggest; didn't Neil Hagerty have sort of involvement in them? This sounds a lot like Royal Trux/Howling Hex, which is a good thing), Calvin Johnson, Kelley Stoltz (a guy I recall enjoying immensely when I saw him play a few years back), Little Wings (North-West popsters I actually had a fondness for about 5 years back when stuck in an indie-retail ghetto), folkster Josephine Foster, Paul Flaherty and Chris Corsano (who were set to tour here last year then pulled out at the last minute due to illness) and more. Locally, there's some great tracks by Always (one-man-band circus act featuring hand claps, tape loops and various chants, last years' 7" on Chapter was a fave), Eddy Current Suppression Ring (another goodie from our fair land's best rock outfit not featuring myself), Fabulous Diamonds (local "buzz" duo who, on the one occasion I've seen them, impressed the shit outta me w/ their dub-inflected Rough-Trade-ca.-'79 tunes and have an LP coming out soon on Siltbreeze), My Disco (local Fugazi/Shellac worshippers who usually don't budge me an inch, though the tight-assed rock grooves on their "Calling Cure" track here had me possibly rethinking my previous stance), Crayon Fields (great, great, great local outfit who rip out a kind of Zombies-esque psych-pop, a far cry from what I saw of them in their very early days, when they struck me as the only Australian outfit in living memory who truly sounded like they'd been influenced by Television and Slovenly. They hadn't), a cool bit of gonzo trance-rock from Melbourne's premiere avant-drone performance-art freak ensemble, the Hi-God People, and even a number from local arse-monkey pomp-rock dynamos, Superstupid, featuring The Wire magazine page-3 pin-up boy, Oren Ambarchi.
The schizophrenic mixture of artists might not fully make sense for anyone from overseas approaching this and trying to find heads or tails of a common thread between the artists. The extensive liner notes will help one connect the dots comprising a scene of international and local acts who've all been brought together on plastic and metal because of one man: Michael K. Vanity release? Yeah, probably a bit of that, but it makes for an excellent snapshot for anyone who's been trawling the pubs and clubs, record shops and radio dials of Melbourne in the 21st century. Listening to this certainly reminds me what the hell I've been doing w/ my life the last 7 years, and I must admit it doesn't involve too much outside of music and family. Like any compilation featuring 23 tracks and artists, you won't want to hear every one of them a whole lot (there's a couple here I probably would've dropped), thought to demand a kind of uniform greatness would be absurd. E.S.P. paints a picture of a community of likeminded individualists and weirdos who've found a nice home here, and the excellent booklet and artwork round out what will likely be one of the best local releases of '07. I dig...