Wednesday, November 28, 2007
TORTOISE - s/t LP (Thrill Jockey/1994)
What brings on the synopsis for this? Prior to a couple of weeks back, I hadn't spun the thing in close to a decade. Two things: some jack-a-ninny indie band played a more recent (which actually could've been anything they've done in the last decade) clip of theirs on Rage a few weeks back, which I enjoyed; and secondly, a few friends of mine - friends whom I respect and who possess a love and knowledge of a wide variety of music, everything from pre-War blues right on thru to classic HC, Japanese psych and deep acid-house trance or whatever variety of dance-oriented horseshit I will never understand in a thousand lifetimes (though come back to me in 10 years...) - these people LOVE TORTOISE. And they tell me I'm being a jackass for throwing in the towel w/ the band right after the release of their thoroughly underwhelming 3rd album from 1998, TNT.
Fact is, I'll be upfront about this: I was one of the first kids on the block to cotton onto Tortoise... I think. Bought the debut after it was first listed in Tim Adams' Ajax catalogue back in '94 (and boy, what a tastemaker that guy was there for a while; when I hung w/ him for a day in Chi-town in '99 he was a burnt-out shell of a man... what ever happened to him??), and promptly hailed them as the new face of post-punk music in America, or something like that. I guess everyone else did, too. Much like, say, Minutemen, Swans or Sonic Youth back in the '80s, they were seen as some sort of logical progression from the HC baldies into more interesting musical territories, or, if you want to be cynical about it, you could say they were the prog-rockers of the '90s, w/ all the bad connotations such a term implies: old geezers who used to like it short, fast and loud, learnt to play their instruments, got all fancy-schmancy and proceeded to bore the shit out of everyone for a decade. Well, I don't believe in that synopsis, but it probably holds some weight in certain circles. They certainly inspired a sea of insipid dog manure in the wake of their success, though, much like the Descendents - another once-great band who released a monster of a debut album back in the day and seemingly inspired a few generations of lightwieght turdery to be foisted onto the public ever since - I won't blame them for their imitators. That's right, I just compared Tortoise to the Descendents.
What happened w/ my Tortoise fandom? In 1996 came Millions Now Living Will Never Die, seen by many - especially the UK press - as a godsend, probably because it was a bunch of yanks copping moves from the Limeys (dub, PiL-ish post-punk, Eno-esque ambience), but still, I'd be lying if I didn't admit it impressed the living bejesus out of moi. It did. Skip to 1998, and TNT is released. By then I was knee-deep in '70s Miles, Amon Duul, Cecil Taylor and all kindsa rackety-assed nonsense, and I can tell you that the bantam-weight fusionoid pleasantries of TNT went down like led zeppelin in my household. I proceeded to from then-on proclaim the band as dead on arrival, a bunch of washed-up nancy-boy muso-heads and something I wished to erase from my memory. Funnily enough, I saw them play in Melbourne a couple of years later - probably just for old-time's sake - and they left zilch impression on me.
Which now brings me to 2007. Their first album, some 13-and-a-half years later, sounds utterly bloody excellent. If I still had my copy of Millions Now..., I'd probably give it a similar conclusion, especially w/ that centrepiece track, "DJed", a 20-minute epic which bridged the worlds of dub, PiL and Neu! Those worlds are pretty darn close, I know, but just bear w/ me here. The centrepiece track for their self-titled album is likely "Spiderwebbed", eight-and-a-half minutes of slowly enveloping bass-drum rhythms which, like its namesake, weaves a web as it progresses from a simple bass riff to a jungle of percussion and interweaving melodies. It's still impressive, as is the bulk of the disc: cocktail jazz, Can-style acid-funk workouts, slabs of ambient sound. This is smarty-pants American rock from the 1990s, and a good thing it remains. My mind is now open again to the potential wonders of the band known as Tortoise.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Sunday, November 18, 2007
VARIOUS ARTISTS - Savage Pencil Presents: Lion Vs. Dragon In Dub CD (Trojan/2007)
Best. Dub. Compilation. Ever. Artist/writer Savage Pencil has outdone himself here. There's not that much in the way of hardcore rarities on this disc - heck, I already have a whole bunch of these tracks on other albums - but the sequencing and choice of material is truly what makes this so much better than the zillion other dub comps circling the earth (inc. many on Trojan!). The first two numbers are really what grab you: "Intro/Seventy Two Nations" by Dadawah, a long (like 10 minutes), slowly oozing meditation w/ chanting vocals and Nyabinghi finger drums, and the great Keith Hudson w/ "Man From Shooter's Hill", a track from his unbeatable Entering The Dragon LP from the early '70s, complete w/ fuzz guitar and the usual off-key caterwauling from the man himself. From then on you've got the likes of Augustus Pablo, Prince Jazzbo, U Roy, Bunny Lee, King Tubby, Blackbeard All Stars and a bunch more. 23 tracks, all killer, no filler: every track cuts the grade in deep, deep, deep freakified dub. Compilations aren't usually my bag. I rarely buy them. We'll make an exception w/ Lion Vs. Dragon because: A) it's got some cool liner notes and artwork from Sav X; and B) the guy must've sweated bullets for days/weeks on end thinking about the material and sequencing thereof. You simply don't come up w/ shit this choice by accident. Already deleted one month after release - Universal recently bought Trojan's parent company, Sanctuary, and have, at this stage, deleted Trojan's entire fucking catalogue - if you're going to take my word for it, I'd do a hop, skip and a jump down to the local record store to grab this one toot sweet before every copy is gobbled up for good.
SONIC YOUTH play here in February as part of Don't Look Back's "classic album" series, playing the entire Daydream Nation album in full, with the Scientists performing Blood Red River as support. Now, I'm old enough to've witnessed Sonic Youth the first time around when they were touring on the back of Daydream Nation (yeah, so stick that one up yer jumper), so could it possibly match up 20 years later? The last time I saw SY, I slipped into a deep coma. That was '04 or '5 on their Sonic Nurse tour. Perhaps this will cut the mustard, though should one really get excited over these shameless nostalgia trips? Is it not SY admitting defeat to their fans and saying, "Yes, we know, you like our old stuff better than our new stuff, so we'll give you what you want". A friend of mine said today that he thought it was merely an "indie" version of the Eagles getting back together so they can slay audiences worldwide w/ a back-to-back live rendition of the entire Hotel California LP. Hey, what the fuck, let's not analyse this too much: I dig the band, I dig the album and you know damn well I'm a nostalgic kinda guy, so you can count me in.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Since I'm in the mood for posting videos right now (or perhaps I should say "now that I've finally learnt how to post videos"), I give you this little treat. Many of you have probably seen this already, but it's a pleasure to witness the Travis Bickle of rock 'n' roll, psychic warrior and man-motivator, Chuck Dukowski, say his piece on LA television back in, say, 1980 or '81 (given the mohawke, it's gotta be around then). If you haven't seen it, it's well worth the price.
Now, does anyone have a copy of Jello tearing shreds off Sounds' Donnie Sutherland Down Under ca. 1983 live on TV, or the semi-notorious (mythical? bullshit??) interview w/ Tesco Vee on community TV ca. 1981?
I've neglected listening to just about any Syd-period Pink Floyd or Barrett solo discs in the 21st century thus far... until this week, that is. Really, the 'Floyd I've liked (and played) the last 7 years has been the first few post-Barrett albums: Saucerful Of Secrets, More and Ummagumma. That's probably because I wore Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett into ground throughout the '90s and needed a break, and also because I belatedly - and reluctantly - discovered that the subsequent 3 albums the band recorded w/out him are actually really, really good. Who'da thought that? The written history in undieground circles tends to dictate that the band blew donkeys the moment Syd skipped town, though such is a historical falsification. Post '69 is when they hit the skids for me. Not because they got fat, rich and famous - though that likely fits into the equation somewhere - but because they lost all remnants of their psychedelic past and mutated into a shit-boring progressive-rock band w/ not an ounce of "rock" in their collective body. '70s 'Floyd plods and plods and plods... I don't say that because I'm a punker. After all, there are far worse offenders in bad '70s rock than 'Floyd, and the band did at least carry a sense of urban angst right up until... now, I suppose. It's a certain strain of English public-school angst, sure, though it still beats the poncified whimsy of a bunch of bedwetters like Genesis. I say all this because I actually purchased Meddle and Atom Heart Mother some years back, figuring I was missing a few pieces in the rock puzzle that is Pink Floyd (and being suitably impressed by the previous 3 LPs), only to find that the band hit the musical skids at the tail-end of the 1960s and - for me at least (and quite obviously not for the zillions of people who've purchased and enjoyed Dark Side Of The Moon) - never recovered in the slightest. They were sold right back to the store post haste.
You can see that the songwriting of the band changed drastically after Syd left, from a very white, English psychedelic pop not unlike Ray Davies or even Lennon/McCartney through to a more gravelly, psych blues-rock interspersed w/ a highly experimental instrumental angle which the band pretty much perfected throughout the rest of the 1960s. I mean, if you're into "noise" shit like Swans and Throbbing Gristle - two bands who've openly professed their love for post-Syd 'Floyd from the '60s - I don't see why you wouldn't enjoy the freaked-out clang of the intrumental passages on More and Ummagumma, or the hard-as-nails rock aggression of "The Nile Song". Stoner/burnout cliches, for sure, though so is Barrett for the rimmed-glasses-and-cardigan crowd, who've ripped off every move he made since Rough Trade first started releasing 7"s 30 years ago. No need for justification here: this is either falling on deaf ears or I'm preaching to the converted.
So, what brought on the sudden need for Syd? Probably the fact that I just read the cover story on him from the latest MOJO mag, and gave the very decent free CD a spin and decided I'd actually keep it (as opposed to the dozens of MOJO samplers I've thrown away or given to friends) and play it. The only other MOJO CD I've done that w/ was the Iggy-curated gem from 6 months back. I don't mean to be so flippant, but I just don't play the things. But this one's a goodie, and has a few people who influenced Syd (AMM, Blind Boy Fuller and Floyd Council and Pink Anderson... hence their name), those who were influenced by Syd (Spacemen 3, Jennifer Gentle, Acid Mothers Temple, Wooden Shjips) and his contemporaries (Hawkwind, Kevin Ayers, Soft Machine, Mothers Of Invention). Why am I telling you this? Not sure. In short, it's spurred me into placing Piper At The Gates Of Dawn at the top of the pile again, their uber-masterpiece and an album I probably should've put in my Top 100 list, but for whatever reason escaped my mind at the time. It is truly one of a kind, w/ its mixture of Duane Eddy/Shadows-influenced guitar twang and white-as-white Brit-psych experimentalism, and whilst I won't hate you for looking no further into the band's canon of song - such a reluctance is somewhat understandable, naturally - I will say that you're also missing out on something almost as good and a lot better than most.
YAWNING MAN's Vista Point CD is now out exclusively on Lexicon Devil. It contains their now-deleted Rock Formations LP and Pot Head EP on one CD w/ brand new artwork: 12-page full-colur glossy booklet, the whole deal. If you like anything from Syd's 'Floyd to Dick Dale to early Meat Puppets to F/i to Can, you may just dig their sounds. I'm putting this out for one reason: it is, along w/ TEN EAST's Extraterrestrial Highway, the best collection of rock music I've heard in 5 years. It's a fuckin' honour, truly.
New studio albums on the label coming in '08 by: TEN EAST, YAWNING MAN, EMBERS and CASTINGS.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Lemme find some damn inspiration before I start a-spurtin' off at the mouth with this blog. Real life is becoming too much of a blur of late for me to bother. I feel like I can never satisfy everyone all of the time, and sometimes that feeling has me stumped. Ya got me? If I talk about some old hardcore disc, I feel like I'm too much caught in the past... and really, I rarely ever listen to HC at this point in my life, so I don't really like to hit upon it too much. If I touch upon an avant-jazz platter, I know freakin' well I'm alienating a good portion of folks who may tend to read this on a semi-regular basis. How do I know such a thing? They tell me so. SST? I'm sounding like a broken record. I could talk about some recent things, but you know what? Outside of items I have a hand in, err, getting out to the public, I don't hear much of anything else, so it feels too self-indulgent to bother w/ those things. I could tell you about the John Cale performance I witnessed just last Saturday night, but really, it wasn't very good. Dreadful sound quality (too loud and clunky in general, the kick drum dominating everything in the mix), too many recent songs (an admirable trait if said songs are any good, though Cale's recent tres moderné material sounds like it fell off the back of a truck at a Laurie Anderson gig ca. 1985), and the slick-dick hotshot muso backing-band hit every note perfectly, though lacked any guts or soul whatsoever. Oh well, I will go to this grave saying one thing: I saw John Cale in the flesh. Wasn't very good, mind you, but he was there... The new William Parker CD is pretty OK, though it hasn't set my world on fire as of yet. And that's a pity, coz he is one of my dead-on fave musicians currently inhabiting planet earth, and has been so for nearly ten years. It's entitled Raining On The Moon and is released on the Aum Fidelity label. There's some regulars involved (Rob Brown, Hamid Drake), though he has vocalist Leena Conquest on board, attempting a kinda soul-goddess avant-jazz croon a la June Tyson, and for me it doesn't work 100%. Some of the vocals are a tad clunky, and the band doesn't break out quite as much as it should. Nice 'n' all, though I wanted my head expanded by such a disc. Better yet is David S. Ware's latest, Renunciation, also on Aum Fidelity. Recorded live last year in NYC w/ Matthew Shipp, Guillermo Brown and William Parker on board, it's Ware going back to a basic '66 Coltrane quartet sound. Giving the band room to breathe and the chops to pull off the occasional blast into outer space, the man has hit paydirt once again: one of the year's best, of course. Northwestern Black Metal trio, Wolves In The Throneroom, have a new CD on the usually-rather-good Southern Lord label, and I guess you get what you pay for: nice-as-pie oversized hardboard digipak packaging housing yet another fucking Black Metal album. Actually, this is pretty good. Four long songs, suitably necro in approach and not in any way rewriting the book of BM as we know it. 's OK if you're feeling kinda grim, but for top-shelf BM entertainment, I'll probably be sticking w/ my Leviathan, End and Darkthrone discs. Still, looks good on the shelf... One of my favourite labels on earth, Belgium's Sub Rosa, has struck gold w/ their latest release, a double CD entitled Persian Electronic Music: Yesterday and Today 1966-2006. Yeah, Persia, as in Iran (or Eye-ran, as you Yanks like to call it). Prior to the Ayatollah taking over in 1979 and rescuing millions of Iranians from the tyranny of a corrupt, Western-friendly regime willing to tolerate mini-skirts and rock 'n' roll, in the meantime dragging the nation back to the Dark Ages, the country was no mere cultural backwater. Witness the wonders of this exquisitely-packaged 2CD set and you will likely agree. One disc is made up of electronic pieces by electro pioneer Alireza Mashayekhi, spanning the years 1966-'82, whilst the other is made up of more recent works by Ata Ebtekar, AKA Sote (he has some stuff available on hipster UK electro label, Warp). No mere excercise in simply making a bunch of whacky noises for the sake of it - much like a lot of early electronic and computer music sounds in the year 2007 - there's some very fine (and listenable) tunes going on here. Some of it sounds like Arabic drones filtered through a Commodore 64; some of it sounds like a John Carpenter soundtrack; and some of it sounds like it shoulda been released on Industrial Records back in '79. It all sounds good, and thus I recommend you investigate. Speaking of Industrial Records, the one band in Australia who "musically" speaking remind me of Throbbing Gristle, that's Castings from NSW, I mentioned a few entries back. They really do have many fine things on their own Spanish Magic label, and perhaps when I have more time I'll tell you about 'em all. I am so goddamn impressed w/ Castings' most recent effort, Punk Rock Is Bunk Squawk, that I shall be releasing their new album on Lexicon Devil some time early in the new year. Funny, eh?
Friday, November 02, 2007
ROLLING STONES - Their Satanic Majesties Request LP (ABKCO/1967)
Up until I was in my mid 20s, I loathed the Rolling Stones, and I'm talking about the kind of loathing one usually reserves for something one actually might have the faintest idea about. To me they encapsulated all that sucked about mainstream rock 'n' roll. In essence, they were rock music which didn't "rock" made by a bunch of spoilt, rich obnoxious a-holes who lost all inspiration soon after making their first million dollars. My conversion to them as a "rock" band didn't really come 'til I nearly hit 30, when I finally and belatedly purchased Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed and realised they did in fact release some really fine records at some point in their career, though my attraction to this album was spurred on by two very different reasons. Firstly, since it was considered the 'Stones album which all boring, stodgy old 'Stones fans hated, it must have some peculiar attraction (much like Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music or George Harrison's Electronic Sound), and secondly, I have none other than Glenn Jones from Cul de Sac to thank, a good sort and unmitigated music geek who turned me onto all kinds of cool music when I used to correspond w/ him back in the early/mid '90s. Sincerely, I can thank the man for switching me onto an eclectic brew of artists, from the Ventures to John Fahey to Blind Willie Johnson to Frank Sinatra to Sol Hoopii and right on through to Harry Partch and rough 'n' ready Rembetika cuts from the '30s. But really, all that isn't relevant right now; what is relevant is that ten years ago he placed this very album in his "Top 20 LPs of All Time" list which he pained over for days on end (I asked for a top 10, and he said he simply couldn't do it - he'd have to give me 20 and I'd do the cutting). Since everything in that list sounded pretty damn enticing, I figured it was my duty to purchase every single one of them. I started my 'Stones collection with this, the band's "failed" attempt at jangly peace-and-love psychedelia. Many folks say the band were never cut out for this schtick. After all, they were rock's "bad boys". Well, big fuggin' deal on a popsicle stick, I'll take this faux-avant psych-pop nonsense over their bad-boy "get ya rocks off" baloney any day of the week. The 'Stones made for a damn fine twee-pop outfit in their day, and despite the fact that both Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed are still streets ahead for me as records, outside of that glorious twofer canon of song, I'll take my Satanic Majesties Request over anything the group released after the 1960s, and that includes Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street (both of which I "like", but not nearly as much as others do). Song for song, this is a vastly under-rated psychedelic album, for sheer weirdness, songcraft and willingness to experiment, I'm placing it up there w/ the likes of Love's Forever Changes, Easter Everywhere and After Bathing At Baxter's. Outside of a few tunes which ramble on needlessly, such as "Sing This All Together" (an "experimental" track someone should've had the good sense to edit down to a few minutes at most), this one runs a tight ship: "Citadel" (gloriously covered many moons ago by Redd Kross, as you know), "2000 Man" (as covered by, uh, Ace Frehley on his first solo album, the first cassette I ever bought), "She's A Rainbow" (now used on an ad for Kodak, I think) and "2000 Light Years From Home" (covered by F/i, don'tchya know). In short, to anyone who thinks this album is horse manure, I say compare it to: A) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band (in the 'Stones Vs. Beatles debate, I am a Beatles man, though I like this a whole lot more than Sgt. Pepper's; not because I'm contrary, but because it has better songs); and B) anything the band have released for the last 35 years. If I was in the band, I know what areas of my back catalogue I'd be most embarrassed of, and it wouldn't be this!