Saturday, October 27, 2007
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!
OTHER FINE THINGS...
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
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?