Tuesday, December 30, 2008

TERMINAL CHEESECAKE - Angels In Pigtails LP (Pathological/1990)

There were only a handful other records - Half Japanese, Die Kreuzen, Chrome, Melvins and Bongwater spring to mind - I liked more than Terminal Cheesecake's Angels In Pigtails ca. 1991-'92. To me, it was the bomb, the ultimate collision of heavy-duty droned-out sci-fi rock 'n' roll a la Chrome/Helios Creed, industrial sound scapes a la the Limey school of noiseniks (Current 93/Nurse With Wound/Coil) and the crunching heaviness of the Swans and the Melvins (ie - my kinda bag). I didn't actually own this; it was my brother's. It's post-Xmas time... after a family lunch, I decided to "borrow" it for a while to see if it held up. It has. If memory serves me correctly, I believe this was purchased at the time on the strength of a rave review in Flipside mag, and when you're that young and eager to hear new sounds, you take the punt. The Blue Note rip-off cover (w/ liner notes by "Nat Jerkoff"... ho ho ho) made this an eye-catcher, and I do recall that at the time the Pathological label - headed up by Techno Animal/Ice/GOD dude Kevin Martin, who's recently made his name again in the highly-praised The Bug project (well, they won Album Of The Year in The Wire, if that counts for anything) - was considered kinda hot for this brand of misanthropic noise-rock duelling, that kinda weird netherworld at the dawn of the '90s in UK music which was just catching the tail end of grindcore, where all kinds of slo-mo musical slobberings were being offered up, equal parts Black Sabbath and Throbbing Gristle. Terminal Cheesecake, if you read the Myspace link attached above, actually stuck around for quite a while; I bought one or two of their later albums 'round the 1992-'93 period (when I was in Hong Kong, of all places), and frankly I never dug 'em a whole lot, but Angels..., it still sounds mighty fine to these ears. The production has just the right level of lo-fi crunch, huge walls of Skullflower-ish guitar squawls (there's some membership crossover in the long and sordid history of both bands, somewhere), barely discernable human wails and screams throughout, occasional forays into static-laden atmospherics and near-dub basslines and even a Residents cover thrown in. It's an awesome combination of guitar-overload rock 'n' roll and non-bogus industrial gloom. Many years later, I can say once again that my taste wasn't totally rotten as a young man: Angels In Pigtails is a lost gem of UK u/ground music, and from what I can gather, it remains out of print and out of reach for the masses. Do your searching!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

We're on the home stretch now, getting mighty close to the end of 2008... and I thought I'd have something profound to say, something to summarise the last 12 months, to tell a story of the highs and lows, but that's too trite for even a one-trick pony such as myself. Life can't be that neatly packaged. For me, 2008 was a mixed bag of stress and small triumphs. Organising a tour from an international band almost gave me a goddamn heart attack; it's like holding the biggest, most expensive party you've ever held in your life whilst you sit around wondering if anyone will show up. I'm mighty glad I took the leap, though I'm not so sure I'd make a habit of it. Releasing a few CDs was a small triumph. Actually holding onto a job in the ever-dwindling "music biz" remains a feat a few friends of mine lost a grip on recently. Good news for the US (and the rest of the world) was the election result. Less than a month left of the worst presidency on record: that's reason to celebrate. I expect no miracles from Obama, though he's a step in the right direction. I can't make any claims for great TV or cinema in 2008 since I pay little attention to either. I rented Tropic Thunder the other night and thought it was the funniest goddamn pic I'd seen in 12 months, so there you go: it gets my vote. Then again, I probably saw two other films made in 2008 and I can't remember what either of them were. Book-wise, I really dug Joe Carducci's Enter Naomi: SST, LA and All That..., though it's pretty obvious that a guy like me is what they call a "target audience". Was it just me or did I even detect a sentimental side to the great man in the tome? Seemed like he was nodding and tipping the hat to a few old friends, thanking them for a good time. Friends of mine didn't dig it a whole lot, figured it to be an unfocused mess, trying to tie in way too many disparate elements, part biography, part music history, part social commentary. It did the trick for me, and I only wish it had gone on a whole lot longer. Naomi Peterson was previously only a name I attached to the SST posse of the '80s, a staffer who'd moved on. I certainly never knew she died. Now I know the story, and a lot more besides. I hardly ever approach music books in this day and age as they rarely interest me beyond a page. Enter Naomi... kept me nailed throughout, and I'm hoping for another hefty thesis from the man in the near future. Another book which got my vote was Paul Drummond's Eye Mind: Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators. Again, this was actually originally published in late '07, though as I only came around to it early this year, it's an '08 release for moi. Drummond's bio should be used as an exemplar, a template, for how music journalists should approach their subject: a keen fandom balanced with a bounty of first-hand information gleaned from interviews and a first-rate knowledge of all background and related topics. His biography is near flawless in its attention to detail, but smartly keeps away from waffle and getting too off the topic at hand (he comes close in regards to his dissertations regarding psychedelic drugs. Boy, does he know his stuff...). Basically, if you wish to know the legendary story of Roky and the Elelvators - and the story is as good as you can imagine, just as good as the music - then this book is unbeatable, dishes all the dirt and wraps it in a strong narrative which makes it hard to put down. For my money, one of the best rock music bios ever written.
That photo above is of one Eugene Robinson from the San Fran art-rock dirge-metal band, OXBOW. I'll be investigating more of his work in the near future. His name has popped up on my radar a couple of times of late. Firstly, it was in an interview in the UK's Niche Homo zine (I wrote about that a little while back), and secondly it was when Gary Arce asked me, Dave, you ever heard of the band Whipping Boy? You know their singer, Eugene Robinson? Well, I'd certainly heard of Whipping Boy - San Fran art-punk from the '80s who were good buddies (and often played) with the likes of Minor Threat, DKs and Black Flag - though I had no idea that their singer was the same guy as the big, burly black dude from Oxbow, who had a series of albums spread out over 18 years on labels such as Pathological, Neurot, SST and Hydra Head. The same guy who's written articles for GQ, The Wire and Hustler, had written the book Fight, been a fighting champion himself, appeared on several TV shows and feature films, and... was quite obviously a renaissance man par excellence. Looks like he'll be doing vocals on the new Ten East disc, too, fingers crossed. Been listening to Oxbow's The Narcotic Story, from 2007, on the Hydra Head label. It's a more atmospheric affair, kinda late-night raspy stuff, almost in a kinda Birthday Party/Tom Waits mold, breaking into occasional stabs of he-man riff-rock (almost Zep-like!) and thunderous doom. I'll be investigating further...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

This is a pretty darn good way to start 2009. I shan't be attending the real deal - it's 3 hours outside of Melbourne up in the hills - and w/ kids it's a tough thing to organise, plus, to be honest, after Meredith a few weeks ago I came to the distinct conclusion that I'm way too old and grumpy for music festivals anymore. Still, if you're going to attend a music fest for an older, more, uh, sophisticated crowd, then this Nick Cave-curated bonanza likely couldn't be beat. The line-up is a scorcher: Kuepper/Bailey Saints, James Ulmer, Michael Gira, Necks, Harmonia, Silver Apples and load of bands I kinda know about and wouldn't mind catching on a rainy day, such as Afrirampo, Dead Meadow and Fuck Buttons. The mere concept that bands such as Silver Apples and Harmonia would be playing gigs - like, pub gigs - in Melbourne just 5 years ago would seem like a sick joke. Well, they will be, and I'll check a few of them out.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dang... back from tour and no outright disasters to report. No tour diary here, you can ask the guys from TEN EAST for that. I only have a few thankyous to throw out there: Luke and Kelsey, Lou Ridsdale, Woody, Tim Scott, Al and Dylan and Chops and all the good folks at the National Hotel, Dave Batty, Ben Wrecker, Russell Hopkinson, Ray and Blackie, Soph and Ash, Karen and Ryan and... I think that's it. And all the good folks who showed up. Despite my sleep-losing nerves regarding the whole tour, it was, except for the woeful turnout in Sydney (they had more payers in Geelong than our most populace city: go figure that! Sydney, you suck, truly), a smashing success for a first tour, and I actually didn't lose my shirt on the whole thing. Well, I lost my pants, since Gary Arce took a shine to a certain pair of denim jeans I used to possess and made them his own, but what the hey. The Meredith festival was a total washout - literally - but everyone had a blast, including me. To Gary, Bill, Bryan and Billy: thanks for the fun times.

Year-end round-up time, just like every other schlep on the planet. There were tons of great records released this year, and I heard practically none of them, but the good ones I did hear are listed below. My head remains in the sand most of the time. I have neither the time, money nor inclination to hear all the hip 'n' happenin' records people tell me about. These are the ones I gave an earload.


BEACHES - s/t LP/CD (Mistletone)
Debut album from this hot-hot-hot as tar 5-piece all-female outfit from ol' Melbourne town. I've seen 'em live about a dozen times and this gem does 'em justice. I'd say they capture a sound somewhere in the universe of Goo-period Sonic Youth and Pell Mell. I doubt they've ever heard of the latter (I'll make them a mix tape), but that's my summation, since their instrumental jams possess an awesome psych-surf vibe which no one else, barring perhaps Yawning Man, have come close to. Naturally, YM/Ten East's Gary Arce was enraptured during the two performances of Beaches he witnessed down here. My hit pick for world domination in '09.

OOGA BOOGAS - Romance and Adventure LP (Aarght!)
I spoke of this just recently. Scroll down and you'll find. A whoppingly good effort from this local bumhole engineers.

Never really mentioned this one all that much. No need to when everyone else is! Some like their debut better, but I think this is an improvement on their first LP and they certainly made no effort to slicken their approach. Probably the most bizarre and unexpected semi-mainstream hit of '08, the fact that these guys can pack out a 700+ venue in a heartbeat is... uh.... an odd one. The backlash will probably hit soon, but since ECSR really don't give a fuck, I don't see why I should.

SAND PEBBLES - Ceduna CD (Sensory Projects)
Again, I mentioned this one a few entries ago. First-rate psych-rock dementia from a bunch of old gits, I'm shocked that practically no one from overseas has ever heard of these guys.

HOTEL WRECKING CITY TRADERS - Black Yolk CD (self-released)
Only in catching this local two-piece live did this CD make perfect sense, and really, now that I've played the thing three-dozen times and love the shit out of it, do I feel stupid for not really "getting" it beforehand. HWCT are one drum kit and one guitar: two guys jamming out a heavy, dissonant din heading for the stratospheres in a weird kinda post-metal universe. You can throw around names: Isis, Melvins, Pelican, Sunn O))), Jesu, Big Business and, yep, Ten East. They sound a little like all of the above and whole lot like themselves. I'm now convinced they're one of Melbourne's hardest-working and best-kept-secret juggernauts I'll be dragging my friends along to see in '09.

FABULOUS DIAMONDS - s/t LP/CD (Siltbreeze/Nervous Jerk)

This was written about 'round here in the half-year mark. Local two-piece made good who completed a successful US tour and won over hipster douchebags everywhere they went. Tribal post-punk broohahah from a coupla young folks w/ some Rough Trade vinyl in their closets. A lotta people in the 21st century try this schtick and fail. FB don't.


FENNESZ - Black Sea LP/CD (Touch)

Latest from this Austrian egghead sound artist much loved by Australians ever since he first touched base w/ a certain Mark Harwood a decade back. More stripped back and glacial than anything he's done before, this is an exceptional late-night meditative listen.

I know nothing of this release. It's a bunch of Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians striking a jam in NYC in the mid '70s and enjoys a healthy cult following from all lovers of rhythmic get-down-and-party Latin music. It was re-released by ther Spanish imprint Clave Latina a few months back and a friend drew me to its general direction. For some stupid reason, up until a year or so back, I dismissed most Latin music as "cheesy" and possibly not my bag. I was wrong, of course, and I'm on a new kick: point me towards the latest mind-blowing Latin ramalama mindblower reissue from yesteryear and I'm anybody's.

FLIPPER - Generic Album Flipper/Gone Fishin'/Public Flipper Ltd./Sex Bomb Baby CDs (Water)
Four of the greatest albums of their age - of any age - get a sorely-needed reissue from the finest reissuers on the planet. Now I can finally play these things in the car...

JOEL GRARE - Paris Istanbul Shanghai CD (Alpha)
The Alpha label usually specialises in all kinds of worldly pre-Renaissance music, the kinda fruity stuff my macho rock pals give me grief for listening to, and it stands as one of my favourite labels on earth. Let's take it outside and we'll punch on if you please. This release is a slight detour for the label, with modern composer Grare - influenced by everything from ancient Oriental music to fiery French sci-fi-rock behemoths Magma - and his ensemble dishing out an intoxicating mix of ethnic percussion and abstract, other-worldly sounds from centuries past. You'll dig it or you'll run for the hills. I like this stuff. A lot.

ASAD QIZILBASH - Sarod Recital: Live in Peshawar CD (Sub Rosa)
A recent live recording of blissful sarod drones from this Pakistani master on the ever-great - and never predictable - Sub Rosa label.

VARIOUS - Dr. Boogie Presents Shim Sham Shimmy LP/CD (Sub Rosa)
Written about on this blog many months back - or thereabouts - this is the second volume in Sub Rosa's archival Americana blues/R & B/hillbilly/boogie-woogie series, and remains the best collection of rough-assed electric blues stomp from the '40s released the last 12 months.

JAMBANG - Connecting CD (SST)
Greg Ginn hits the jamband scene! This CD is a whole lot better than that sounds. Think Wooden Shjips jamming it w/ the 'Dead and Spacemen 3. Most of all, don't think "Six Pack", the guy's moved on.

DUNGEN - 4 LP/CD (Subliminal Sounds)
The finest '70s Euro art-rock album recorded and released in the year 2008, this album is so good, and so convincing, it staggers me. Fucking impeccable. Really, if you dig Amon Duul 2, Eno-period Roxy Music, Scott Walker's monumental first four LPs or The Move the way I do, then passing this up ain't an option. I'm late to the party, but I'm mighty glad I came.

AWESOME COLOR - Electric Aborigines LP/CD (Ecstatic Peace)
The best Funhouse-period rip-off band I've heard since, like, you know, ever! My brain turns itself off these days when one recommends me a band "heavily influenced by The Stooges", so much so you had to practically force me Clockwork Orange-style to get me to listen to this. That Stooges/MC5 mimickry was all the rage back in the '70s/'80s, ya know, but if ever there's a genre butchered beyond all recognition and inspiration, it's good ol' Detroit, and I say that as a man who'll swear by Stooges/Funhouse/Raw Power/Kick Out The Jams/Back In The USA/High Time 'til the apocalypse hits. Awesome Color get "it" right. No macho swagger and no cock-rockin' good times; it's psychedelic weirdo freak-rock w/ a kickstart rhythm and a heart full 'o napalm. Whatever the case, this release made me feel that balls-out rock 'n' roll, in the year 2008, still wasn't a bad idea at all.

PHILIP JECK - Sand CD (Touch)
The latest and not greatest from this UK sound/tape/collage artist. Like everything the guy's done, this is worth a shot, but for true brilliance I recommend his Surf album from the early '90s. For some reason those Limey anus-scrapers at The Wire voted this the second-best album of 2009. Go figure. I must be missing something. Still, this remains one of the finer things I heard in 2009.

GORE - Hart Gore/Mean Man's Dream CD/LPs (Southern Lord)
Check down a few entries. Minimalist instrumental metallic dirges which never age.

VARIOUS - Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-Rock and Fuzz-Funk in 1970s Nigeria LP/CD; Various - Nigeria Disco Funk Special: The Sound Of Underground Lagos Dancefloor 1974-1979 LP/CD (both Soundway)
UK label Soundway (currently on summer hiatus as the owner treks around Australia) has raised the bar in regards to obscure African discoveries from years gone by, and one listen to either of these releases will convince even the most staid, boring and socially-challenged rock purist of that fact. One is kinda funky, one is kinda rocky, though let's face it, many of the tracks could be interchangable for either release. They both rock out in a funky way, and remain essential.
... and that's not counting the two-dozen releases I've forgotten about! That's my musical roundup for the year, perhaps in a few days I'll attempt to tackle some other issues from '08 clawing my brain. Adios...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Off for 4 days of mayhem w/ the lads from TEN EAST. Tomorrow: Geelong. Thursday: Northcote Social Club. Friday: Meredith Music Festival. Saturday: Annandale Hotel in Sydney. Sunday I come home and collapse. Next week I may regal you all w/ tales of triumphs and disasters. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wow, this is the surprise reissue of the year. None other than Southern Lord have done a very good thing and reissued '80s Dutch power-trio titans GORE and two of their albums - Hart Gore and Mean Man's Dream (plus a wealth of bone-arse material) - on a double CD (you can also get 'em as individual double LPs w/ all the fancy-schmancy packaging one has come to expect from the 'Lord). Funny thing is, I was looking into reissuing these suckers about 12 months ago and searched high and low throughout the 'net for some kind of contact point or remnants of the band... to no avail. Southern Lord have the connections, and I certainly can't fault 'em for doing such a fine job. I've raved about Gore in entries past, namely their Hart Gore 2LP, but so far any kind of real details regarding the band have remained scant. Now the holes are filled, the gaps plugged. The exhaustive (and exhausting) liner notes within, by bassist Rob Fey, have set the record straight: Dutch HC kids turned on by Bad Brains, Minor Threat et al., along w/ No Wave, Swans and, eventually, the hard-assed riffery of primo Metallica and Slayer, get together a metallic, proggy, No Wave/Minimalist instrumental powerhouse, set a few minds afire throughout Europe in the late '80s/early '90s, complete a few tours, almost get signed by SST (didn't know that! Mega-fan Hank Rollins dragged one of them over to the US to shop some tapes around the office but struck out just as 'Flag split and relations soured between Hank and Greg) and eventually call it a day, having achieved some acclaim in their time, mostly in the US via Hank, Steve Albini and some of the Forced Exposure crew. This is the first time I've ever actually owned anything by the band - my brother has the Gore stuff and has always refused to sell it to me - and boy does it feel good to really play this shit loud and pummel my senses. Gore were propelled by a powerhouse drummer, a sludgy, metallic stew of repetitive guitar riffs and a really non-standard sense of song structure. Often compared to Gone, I'd also throw in a heavy dose of the Swans, Voivod and Tweez-era Slint (who apparently dug 'em). The production occasionally lacks a bit of bottom end, but the rawness lends it an ace Euro-garage feel, and their ability to take a riff and drag it into the mud is something I find mighty appealing. Epic, brutal and ugly, though not without its charms. Typically hot packaging, more extra tracks than you'll probably listen to in a lifetime, and now the puzzle of Gore is solved and the world can welcome them to a whole new generation of fans. This is a reissue you should grab yer mits around.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

OOGA BOOGAS - Romance and Adventure LP (Aarght!/2008)
Stranger things have happened, but somehow these local no-getters have managed to crawl their way to near the top of the pile the last 6 months. Collect together the scraps from such outfits as The Sailors, Onyas and Eddy Current Suppression Ring and you get a quartet known as the Ooga Boogas. In the last 12 months, purely from their own hard work (really!), they've released a 7", toured the US and even put out a self-released vinyl-only LP on the Aarght! label. I know these guys well, even played, ever-so-briefly, in a band or two of theirs in years past, but if I thought they blew I'd ignore them. Wouldn't even go to their gigs. Certainly wouldn't give this a spin. Which is not the case. Firstly, that cover! Gatefold, thick stock, ace graphics from percussive bandit Per Bystrom (I'm impressed by his renaissance-man skills, honestly), and a truly hideous photo of the band in the gatefold. Nice. I was given a CD-R of this release months and months ago and played it half-a-dozen times then, like most CD-Rs, lost the thing. I dug it, and the first thing that struck me was how little it sounded like the band live. In the flesh, the 'Boogas are deadpan, occasionally coma-like and crystal-clear in their musical attack. Zero distortion in the guitars and an ass-tight rhythm section make 'em a curious beast. I told 'em the first time they played that they were the only band I'd seen who truly reminded me of Crazy Rhythms-period Feelies: all herky-jerky beats, extended jams abetted by Reed-y twangery w/ a real geekoid punk-rock energy. I expected the same here, though I guess the recording process, which judging by the rawness present within, involved a 4-track and a toilet bowl, has the band sounding like something completely different. For one, the guitars contain actual, gen-u-ine fuzz. You don't hear that in an Ooga Boogas live set. What this sounds most like is, uh, a late '90s In The Red band. I'm stretchin' here, but I'm a-thinkin' Cheater Slicks meets the Necessary Evils. Or something in that orbit. Not a bad place to be. I've spun this LP - now "out of print", apparently (they only pressed 500 and have been teasing the masses about leaving the pressing at such for "collectable reasons") - a good dozen times the last week and I think I like it more each and every time. The lyrical matter features the kind of inane twaddle possibly lost on most folk, such as the Bermuda Triangle and its greatest mystery (that mystery being why it has disappeared as a curio item the last 20 years as its deadly powers have dissipated... after a few drinks it's pretty amusing, believe me), and the music is a very cool mix of the short and sweet (the opener, "Ooga Booga II", has a rather terrific Can Of Bees-period Soft Boys boogie-beat happenin') and the elongated jam-band length (most notably the two songs which round out both sides: "Ooga Booga I" and "Kiss Your Rocks Goodbye", the two best songs here, I say). Even what I thought to be their worst song, one I told the band to drop from their set some six months ago coz it "sucked", sounds good here. That song is "Fannie Mae". Second song here. Sounds good to me. It all sounds good to me. You fucks. I should hate you for it. You've made a more-than-fine LP and every douchebag in town will kiss your buttocks for it. Enjoy it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Huh.... 3 1/2 weeks between entries. That's pretty woeful. Let's see what needs to be said. I entered a record store last week and purchased a CD. I hadn't done that for quite a while. It's a lost art disappearing at an alarmingly rapid rate in the 21st century. Within 5 years, I hate to admit, it'll be a niche pasttime. I get a lot of stuff for free, and lately my life and house have been so cluttered w/ audio goods that I said to myself I would not purchase anything 'til year's end. Considering I've forked out cash for FA the last 3-4 months, I figured I was doing pretty well and rewarded myself with the latest CD by the Sand Pebbles, Ceduna (Sensory Projects). You foreigners have probably never heard of 'em, though if you're a 'Strine and have the vaguest clue, they've most likely been orbiting your planet somewhere the last 5 years. This is their fourth album, their first, Eastern Terrace, being released on the ace Camera Obscura label back in '02 to great acclaim, and their subsequent two slipping off my radar somehow. Caught 'em live a few times over the years, most notably supporting Love back in '03, but it's taken until now to really sit down again and enjoy the wonders of this band. They feature a couple of old geezers - one-time script-writers for Neighbours, even (seriously, their contributions to the show, which included references to Peter Bagge and the Devil Dogs, made it a hoot to watch for a few years) - and a few younger guys in the ranks. Old-school collector friends of mine w/ too much time on their hands don't dig 'em much. They think the 'Pebbles' brand of psychedelia is tepid in the extreme, and to that I say they speak from the wrong orifice. There are, for instance, different brands of psych. There's your freakout/let's-make-a-racket genre as practiced by Acid Mothers Temple, Amon Duul, etc., there's the minimalist drone variety as perfected by Spacemen 3 back in their hey-day, and on the flipside is the type indebted more to pop songcraft balanced w/ a sense of the loopy. It's the latter that the Sand Pebbles perfect. I can think of half-a-dozen bands off the bat they remind me of: Byrds, Moby Grape, Dream Syndicate, Love, Yo La Tengo, Neu!, Television, Jefferson Airplane, '80s Died Pretty, etc. But seriously, they don't really sound like any of these bands. Not in total. Bits and pieces are stolen and borrowed and thrown into a stew which absolutely no-one else is doing (or at least doing this well) south of the equator. I guess I'm getting old, but this album has been the perfect piece of company which never talks back the last week and a half. When the fuzz guitar breaks out on the opener, "Red, Orange, Purple and Blue", mid-song, there's no going back. The metronomic pulse of "Wild Season" has me thinking of the ultimate meeting point twixt Neu! and Younger Than Yesterday-period Byrds, and the rest of the album never takes a break from the quality. I dig this a whole bunch. I heard it on the radio (3RRR/3PBS, thanks) a fair bit before purchase, took the plunge and glad I did. It came around to me the old-fashioned way. I'm prone to having my head in the sand when it comes to anything contemporary (and esp. local!) which is worth giving a fig about, but I'm glad to say there's a whole sea of disparate shit in Melbourne town which is worth lending an ear to: Sand Pebbles, Ooga Boogas (uh, really), The UV Race, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Beaches, The Fading Fires, Jane Dust, Pathetic Human, etc. Yeah, I'm buddies w/ most of 'em, but that's not relevant. Seriously. Whatever the case, Ceduna is one of the best albums released this year, here, there or anywhere.

Some Brit by the name of Nick sent me an A5 fanzine a few weeks back. It's called Niche Homo and I dig it a whole lot. Reminds me of some of the better 'zines from the great boom of the early '90s: Superdope, Wipeout! and Feminist Baseball. Pure, raw fandom for all the best u/ground shit currently happening w/ zero doubt on their mind. Information, reviews, interviews, rants. You get the hep contempo stuff like Pink Reason, Times New Viking, The Shitty Limits, Oxbow (and Whipping Boy!!)'s Eugene Robinson (a good read) and even some goods on Dawson and The Scene Is Now. Aw, shucks. Reading this makes me feel about 100 years old, but I'm all the better for it.

My listening habits have gone haywire the last 12 months. Lately it's been medieval music, Jacques Brel, Dr. John, Thelonious Monk, old Jamaican rocksteady, Michael Rother's excellent series of solo albums in the '70s/'80s, Ali Farka Toure and Bob Wills, but the biggest surprise has been my sudden conversion to the greatness of The dBs. I previously had them written off as a load of '80s college-rock twaddle all too closely aligned to the REM school of putzery, and boy was I wrong. Their first two LPs - 1981's Stands For deciBels and '82's Repercussion - are A-grade art-pop caught somewhere in the netherworld of Big Star-style Memphis power-pop and the cerebral art-rock of Television or '81 period 'Ubu. Whilst it doesn't possess the grit of the best u/ground sounds of its day, the hooks a-plenty combined w/ often totally unexpected twists and turns in the songwriting department have me thinking the band were more than just a bunch of major-label failures. Both of these are combined on one CD on Collector's Choice, and you need it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The fact that I've been listening to this album, Galaxie 500's On Fire CD from 1990, is a slightly odd turn of fate. When it came out it was licensed to Festival Records down here (from Rough Trade/US, just before it went bust), and Festival, in attempting to push shit uphill in the pre-grunge landscape, did at least give 'em a push or two. I saw a clip on Rage a couple of times, but that was about it. The band barely registered a blip on the radar of the general public, nor mine. I only knew about 'em (or vaguely cared) because of the Kramer connection - he produced this - and because they had some tracks on various Shimmy Disc comps at the time (most notably the super-ace Rutles Highway Revisited LP). I guess being a bunch of American fops didn't sit well w/ most people at the time. That was left to the Limeys. So, it's 18 years later, Damon and Naomi are somewhat certified u/ground elder statespeople w/ a swag of (apparently) great albums under their belt and Galaxie 500 are now hailed as a "classic" band by some folks I know, a sorely-missed outfit who criminally never went anywhere in their day yet whose recorded legacy moves mountains. Kinda the same shit I rave about in regards to bands such as Slovenly, Pell Mell or The Scene Is Now.
I bought this CD secondhand about 6 months ago for no particular reason. It was there on the rack - cheap - and I had not thought of the band much the last decade. I heard most of the album back in the day on the radio or at friends' places, but that was it. It's fitting in perfectly w/ my current love of middle-brow u/ground rock which doesn't tax my brain too much and doesn't upset those around me. I'm talking Pell Mell, Feelies, Cul de Sac, et al. No Drunks With Guns or Peter Brotzmann for me right now. I'm comfortably slipping into a rut of musical niceness and melodies for the time being. You can call Galaxie 500 "shoegazer" if you will; it won't upset me too much. The barely-registering pulse of the music, all slo-mo guitar strums and kinda on-the-mark vocals, are a bit like "Sweet Jane" on cough syrup for 45 minutes. There's a nice cover of George Harrison's "Isn't It A Pity" at the end, and Kramer's patented production style - you can hear it in the bass sound and guitar licks - lends this a slightly wintery, off-kilter feel which is a perfect late-night listen when one's brain is fried and wants to be horizontal. On Fire hasn't changed my life one iota, though that's not the criteria I require to hang onto it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Lexicon Devil reissue of this li'l mini-classic, Tonight We Ride by THE SCENE IS NOW, fully remastered by the band, will be out November 1st. A swish package w/ a 12-page photo-filled booklet and liner notes by a certain blowhard known as Dave Lang. Read 'em and weep...

"I first heard of the band known as The Scene Is Now in 1989 when I read a review of their Tonight We Ride LP, penned by the great James C., in issue 23 of B-Side fanzine. The review in question had my curiosity piqued. Early in the lengthy piece he made allusions to Mellencamp(!) and Springsteen(!!) in regards to the band's ability to pen seemingly "straight" rock/pop tunes, yet as the review progressed he then began to note that the band's apparent simplicity was disarmingly deceptive and that repeated listens brought to light a group of great uniqueness. His summation at the end of the first paragraph put it perfectly and succinctly: "...by the third song, "Full Fathom Five", you start to realise that you've become involved in something VERY ODD INDEED...". After listing a motley crew of TSIN's cohorts (Fish & Roses, Chain Gang, Mofungo), he ended the review with this line: "You probably won't find any of their recs in yr local store, but you'll be missing out on some of the most unusual and best US crap being put to vinyl these days. Do what you know you must".

"I did: two years later when I discovered a copy of Tonight We Ride for $8 in the sale bin at Exposure Records. The first time I took it home and put needle to vinyl, it made perfect sense. There were no shortage of pop hooks interspersed among what at first appeared to be a seemingly straight-playing rootsy indie-rock album, but then the magic of the band's unique interplay took hold. Guitar lines weaved randomly throughout, keyboards came to the fore at unexpected moments, and, despite the fact that much of the material sounded like two bands playing at once, pulling at times in opposite directions, each song came together at the right moment to deliver a knockout punch. I tried to think of comparisons, and the ones I came up with, I later found out, had been used many times before: Slovenly, Red Krayola, Beefheart, Pere Ubu, The Feelies. I announced them to friends at the time as the great post-No Wave harmolodic pop band. After all, somebody had to be. No one would listen, and the cult of TSIN remained a well-kept secret, even if Yo La Tengo did record an old songs of theirs.

"By 1995 the album had become such a stalwart favourite that I wrote about it in the fanzine I was producing at the time, Year Zero, in an article detailing the top 10 LPs I would take to a desert island. Alongside the likes of iconoclastic faves of the time (and now!) such as Die Kreuzen, Chrome, Minutemen, Electric Eels and MX-80 Sound, I noted that the music of TSIN may shock some listeners who believed I only wanted abrasive racket in my audio pleasures. I said something dopey along the lines of "the music of TSIN probably won't upset your average Fleetwood Mac or Eagles fan", but then noted that such a comment was only meant to imply that TSIN wrote great pop songs. Indeed they did, and still do.

"TSIN were formed from the ashes of NYC No Wave outfit Information by Chris Nelson and Philip Dray at the dawn of the '80s. They went on to produce three albums in that decade - Burn All Yr. Records, Total Jive and 1988's Tonight We Ride - and to me they demonstrate a brilliant evolution in sound from one of the great unknown bands of the era, a three-disc evolutionary bender from ramshackle beginnings to slick songsmithery and musicianship rivalled only by the Meat Puppets. The former two will be reissued by Lexicon Devil in due course throughout 2009 (don't ask me why I'm going backwards; perhaps it's because their third LP is the most accessible of the three), and are musically much different, and perhaps more abrasive, affairs. Added to the band for Tonight We Ride were ex-dB Will Rigby and Tony Maimone from Pere Ubu. The sound was much more streamlined but still unmistakably The Scene Is Now. It's the band's combination of the avant-garde and the traditional which makes them so special. The fact that the band can claim influence from the likes of Bob Wills and Hoagy Carmichael, as well as Sun Ra and DNA, speaks volumes of their synthesis of disparate influences. I always thought their sound encapsulated that wide-open-space Americana sound many reached for, even a picturesque midwestern-cornfields vibe, though now that I listen to it again, and ogle the Coney Island photos the band just sent me to accompany the booklet (taken the same day as the front cover), I see their sound as pure east coast, even urban. Or perhaps not. Now I'm just confusing myself. I'm reminded of family summer holidays in Coney Island and yet I've never even been to the place. TSIN evoke a sense of old-time romanticism in me. Their oblique lyrical references, which include lines taken from Shakespeare, and occasional forays into right-on political radness, make them a curious beast indeed. The comparisons have been made, yet there remains no band on earth like The Scene Is Now. It's 17 years later, I'm now reissuing the thing on my own label and it still sounds so goddamn good. Enjoy."
Fugg this blog sabbatical shit when one hears an album this good. I just have to tell you about it. Never mind the fact that I also happen to work for the company which has licensed this album for Australia. That's not relevant. I only like to waste my time and yours in telling you about the good stuff, the records which moves your loins, put ants in your pants and make you wanna dance. And in this case, this album makes me wanna boogaloo 'til the cows party on down. Or something like that. I'm speaking gibberish. Maybe I've lost my mojo w/ this blog-writing, or perhaps I shouldn't've just swallowed that last glass of red... Don't take this as a press release. Frankly, I don't care if you do. I'm clocked off and not getting paid for this rant. The band is DUNGEN and they're from Sweden. The album is 4. They're an underground phenomenon who went almost semi-overground Down Under a few years back. They release the goods on the awesome u/ground Swede imprint, Subliminal, but somehow or other caught the attention of the folks at Ivy League (kinda faux-indie label linked up w/ Universal or something) w/ one of their discs mid-decade, had it licensed and toured the country in support of Wolfmother (Yeah... them!! Then again, Ten East supported 'em on a bunch of German dates last year, so, for a bunch of no-talent douchebags, I can't fault their choice of supports), but have now returned to true indiehood w/ this. That's the background. All you need to know is that Dungen is Swede wunderkind, Gustav Ejstes, and whoever else he feels like bringing to the party. They are unashamedly "psychedelic" in a tributory fashion, but they pull it off better than anyone else in recent memory. They sound like the ultimate Euro art-rock band plundering the best audio vaults of the '60s and '70s. I'm talking about art-pop shenanigans butchering the likes of The Move, Amon Duul 2, Syd's 'Floyd, Eno-period Roxy Music, SF Sorrow-era Pretty Things, Scott Walker, Marc Bolan and all those other continental faves which probably made life bearable back in the late '60s and early '70s. 4 is flat-out one of the best albums of the year of any genre, and I feel like a putz-and-a-half for having only given the band the nod in the last 6 months, ignoring the pleas of friends to lend them an ear those years ago when I figured them to be a flash-in-the-pan load of Nordic blowhards riding a wave of undeserved success. I am eating my words. This record has reminded me, just at a time when I need it, why I have wasted my adult life w/ all this music shit. My faith has been restored.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Resting, relaxing, planning, scheming... and taking a break from this blog. I'll be back.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Nothin' like some brainless thud-rock on a sunny afternoon, but then again, the Dictators perfected the art of stupid-as-smart dunce-rock better than anyone back in the day, so don't think for a second I'm actually accusing these guys of being bonafide knuckleheads. Some friends of mine are kinda surprised when I announce my keen Dictators fandom, as they figure them to be the type of band who wouldn't appeal to an egghead boffin such as myself, but it's good to always keep 'em guessing.
When Au-go-go reissued their debut, Go Girl Crazy, on LP back in '89 (was it '89? Maybe late '88?), my brother bought it upon the day of release and it very quickly became a Lang household fave. It was dunderhead rock of the top shelf variety. Somewhere along the road of the next decade, I, too, bought myself a copy. Then I found myself in New York in the summer of 1999. Playing at Coney Island High - ironically, a venue in Manhattan, not Coney Island - that week was the Dictators, supported by Ronnie Spector and Joey Ramone (and, unannounced, headlinging over the Dictators were Murphy's Law(!!!), but that's another story). I was there. I succumbed to the thunder of Manitoba. And left when it became apparent that the music of Murphy's Law inspires their audience to want to kill each other with their fists and feet.
So now it's nearly a decade later and I have finally landed myself a copy of their third album, from 1978, Bloodbrothers, which has been reissued by the Wounded Bird label. A little while ago, when reviewing the Dead Boys' second album, the highly under-rated We Have Come For Your Children, I remarked that the NYC punk scene of the 1970s had a bad strike rate when it came to sophomore albums. I also remarked that the second album by the Dictators, 1977's Manifest Destiny, wasn't half bad. I was wrong. I have played it the last week and it's a clunker fully worthy of its rep as a turd in the band's discography. Why on earth they decided to release such a leaden, uninspired hunk of wannabe AOR rock right in the height of the punk explosion remains a bit of a mystery, but at least they corrected their misstep w/ this ace follow-up. The production, by longtime buddy and BOC third-wheel Sandy Pearlman is rough as hell and perfectly suits the rambunctious and surprisingly uncommercial nature of the music. The Dictators were caught in no-man's-land at the time: too "rock" for the punkers and too "punk" for the rockers. Their sense of commercial suicide was everyone's else gain. The opener, "Faster And Louder", is a blazing heart-starter which sounds like it's semi-ripped a riff or two from the MC5's "Call Me Animal", and from then the action never stops. "Baby Let's Twist" is hot AM pop put through a Detroit blender (w/ a riff later stolen by Turbonegro); "The Minnesota Strip" has a descending metalloid guitar line which I swear has been stolen from someone else (Iron Butterfly??!!); and the big-chorus non-hit of "Stay With Me" has me thinking but one thing: every single song on this album has been pilfered by someone else in the last 30 years, and yet half of the songs the Dictators ripped off elsewhere! Is any of that a bad thing? Nope, not by a long shot. That's what makes the Dictators such a great band: it's a peculiar brand of rock made by and for fans. It's not fan-boy rock, even though the band was birthed from the geekoid fanzine scene of the early '70s; it's music willingly open to wear its influences on its sleeves - Stooges, MC5, Beach Boys, The Who - yet it never comes across as smarmy or an in-joke only for those whose record collections have reached a particular girth and dimension. Speaking of influences, there's a hot, hot, HOT cover of the 'Groovies' "Slow Death" which closes the album, in my opinion the best ever version of the song put to tape. Bloodbrothers doesn't need any kind of reappraisal - most fans dig it anyway - though it definitely needs more people buying it and hearing it. It remains a dynamite collection of late '70s east coast punkaroo rock 'n' roll.

OTHER NEWS: If anyone cares, the Lexicon Devil CD reissue of THE SCENE IS NOW's uber-masterpiece (a Top 10 Desert Island Disc for moi, ya know) Tonight We Ride LP from 1988 will be out in a couple of months, as I'll be getting the (re)master in a week or so. Hopefully a swish package w/ liner notes by Jon Dale, myself and whoever else I can rope in. There will also be an album before the end of the year by YAWNING SONS, which is Gary and Mario from Yawning Man playing w/ UK instrumental doom-rockers, SONS OF ALPHA CENTAURI. I've got a rough mix w/out various overdubs, and already it sounds like an excellent combination of, oh, I dunno, Yawning Man's surf tendencies, Slovenly, early Sonic Youth and the more whacked-out end of Syd-era 'Floyd. Should be ace. Keep yer ears peeled.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The second volume in Sub Rosa's Dr. Boogie series from their new roots imprint, Fundamental... The first, from last year, dug through the vaults of Canned Heat fat-guy/vinyl fiend/vocal warbler/party animal, Bob Hite, and gave us all an ace collection of tracks by the likes of Elmore James, Bill Haley and others. It was a mix which made my Top 10 of last year, if that counts for anything (and I ain't saying it does!), though this one trumps it hands down. Belgium's Sub Rosa, one of my absolute fave labels on the planet, usually deals in all things electronic, avant-garde, Dada-esque and "ethnic", though they're doing everyone a favour by opening the vaults and compiling party-starters like this. Not really sure what the given theme to this mix is - the liner notes, by "Dr. Boogie" himself - tell some sort of story of artists from the South who electrified their instruments between the years 1945-'50 and pioneered a whole new style of boogafying shim-sham-shimmy, and whilst there's a zillion albums out there telling roughly the same story (especially so since public domain laws in Europe have made this late '40s hard-assed R 'n' B omnipresent amongst reissue labels the last 5 years), I've not heard one as good as this. And, believe it or not, I have actually listened to a lot of this stuff the last half-decade.
When a friend, just the other week, asked me what I thought of this album, I sarcastically answered back w/ a "Maaaaate, best gutbucket blues comp' ever!". It's not like the sentiment was BS, but I used the term "gutbucket" coz it seemed like such a cliche used by blues afficianados, and yet such an accurate term. I hereby name this shit the best gutbucket blues collection of tunes of the last 12 months. Gutbucket? I don't think Wikipedia has made an entry yet, so I'll define it: raw, gutteral and untamed by commerce or social grace. Every track here sounds like it was spat from the mouth of a deviant and recorded at the back of a toilet block. Even folks who later etched out careers as well-mannered guitar-slingers of the Miller-lite variety during the Reagan years, such as Albert Collins, contribute songs of greatness here (though I should note that lately I've been bowled over by hearing some old BB King cuts from the '50s, realising just how great the guy once was, an admission which woulda killed me 10 years back considering how much he disgraced himself by buddying up w/ Bono and co. back in the '80s). The oddest track is undoubtedly Slim Gaillard's "Fuck Off", an utterly bizarre near-a'capella number w/ Slim making chicken noises which one slowly starts to recognise as a subtle bleeting of its title. Not necessarily "great", but a true oddity of its time. Cussing aside, there ain't a dud track present, and there's 30 of 'em! Champion Jack Dupree's opener, "Shim Sham Shimmy", a no-fi stomper which coulda been recorded yesterday (it wasn't), sets the pace for song upon song of desperado genius. Artists? Joe Hill Louis, Ramblin' Hi Harris, Bobo Jenkins, Moses Williams, Jake Jackson, Eddie Snow, Guitar Slim Green, etc. I ain't ever heard of any of 'em, but I'm here to learn. Lonnie Johnson? I know him. He's here. Song titles: "I'm Gonna Kill That Hen", "You Better Heed My Warning", "She's Taking All My Money", "Screamin' 'n' Cryin'", "Life Gets Hard", etc. Eddie Snow's "I'm Off That Stuff", in which he proclaims his freedom from booze, drugs and bad women, is my personal pick of the litter. Primitive as can be, Snow barks his lines out like a caveman. As always, a slick package from Sub Rosa (now also released as a 2-LP set, for you vinyl geeks), and I can only hope that this is merely the second release in a long line of 'em. Like the inside cover says: put a nickel in the juke and boogie 'til you puke.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Bought this one - Labradford's Prazision CD on the Kranky label from 1994 - when it first came out. I hailed it in print at the time as a masterpiece. Flawless. An incredible mass of work. I'd never heard anything like it at the time. The mixture of star-bound soundscapes, stillborn atmospherics and quietly evolving acoustic tunes blew my head clear off. Mind you, this was just before I discovered the likes of Cluster, Neu!, early (good!) Tangerine Dream, Eno's mind-melting run of ambient albums from '75 to '83 (start w/ Discreet Music and work yer way up to Apollo: you'll be so glad you did) or even Spacemen 3 beyond a track or two (I found it simply impossible to believe at the time that Britain was actually capable of birthing a rock band worth listening to in the previous decade). Perhaps that explains my growing disenchantment w/ the band throughout that decade. By '96, at which point I had discovered all of the above and flayed them high 'n' dry, Labradford couldn't get arrested in my household. I'd bought their subsequent two albums, 1995's A Stable Reference and '96's self-titled effort, and... I liked 'em OK, though the dent they made just couldn't compare. Seemed like way too much water-treading, and besides, at that point in my life I was much more keen on listening to Agharta or Space Ritual or an early Marc Bolan outing than anything I would blithely dismiss as "indie-dork music".
Even saw Labradford play here in '00 or '01. Damn near put me to sleep. And so now I play this CD, just as I have been quite a lot the last month. The ten-year gap between listens has served it well. Rather than melting my brain at this point, this now strikes me as a quaint piece of nostalgia from the period, a time when post-punk indie schlebs finally discovered the joys of music which in many ways didn't "rock" in the slightest. I was right there w/ 'em, fightin' the good fight for about two seconds before I realised the huge chunk of bands who immediately followed in Labradford's wake (this disc was pretty big news in a miniscule way at the time) were simply busy establishing another boring cliche I very soon tired of. Still, I'll give it to 'em: this is a supremely crafted album, from the distended electronic pieces such as the opening track, "Listening In Depth", which glides along like a scene from 2001, to the more song-based pop lushness of a track like "Soft Return", a near comatose opus w/ a hook. I couldn't fault this as a record if I tried. And, being the crotchety old fuck that I am, lord knows I tried. We have a verdict: like it or not, this is a classic.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

SKULLFLOWER: 1988-1993, An Appreciation Thereof
The band known as Skullflower, helmed by guitar destroyer, Matthew Bower, are still going. I haven't heard anything they've done since 1996, yet others speak highly of their last half-dozen albums. I won't speak of them, of course, but I will tell you about the 5 CDs of theirs I still own which span the years 1988-'93 as, back in the early/mid '90s, they were albums I'd swear I'd take to the grave. Well, I'm still alive and I still own them, so I guess I wasn't that far off course.
Skullflower originally breathed life in the UK back in the late '80s, a "collective" of sorts made up of various people linked w/ the Broken Flag label, one of the premier imprints dealing in that whole post-Throbbing Gristle world of Limey noise. Sounds kinda dated now, but back in the day, believe me, collecting cassettes full of "power electronics" w/ references to Charles Manson and various mass murderers was a whole load of fun. I wasn't doing it back in the '80s, but ca. '91-'95 I collected more of such cassettes than I'd usually readily admit. Skullflower's twist in that regard was that they were essentially a "rock" outfit w/ guitars, bass and drums, ditching the outrageous histrionics of some of their brethren.
I first read about 'em in Forced Exposure back in 1990 or so, and since they were being compared to F/i, my curiosity was piqued. Still, back in the pre-internet days, their albums, mostly released on Broken Flag or Stefan Jaworzyn's Shock label (he, too, was in the band for a while), proved impossible for a guy stuck in Melbourne to locate. That all changed when I was in Hong Kong for a month back in January '93 (my parents were living there for a year), and managed to stumble upon their Ruins and Xaman CDs in a record store (I can't tell you what an eye-opener it was to browse what appeared to be fairly mainstream chain record stores at the time and find huge sections for the likes of Merzbow, Whitehouse, Current 93 and Nurse With Wound: that's where my headspace was at the time). They fucked my mind but good.
Both collect earlier, vinyl-only material from the band, share Savage Pencil artwork and both probably remain their highest artistic zenith. Ruins, in particular, which is a comp' of their self-titled 12" EP and Form Destroyer LP, is a major stab at post-industrial rock 'n' roll swamped in layers of psych-guitar racket and it's head and shoulders above any other band from the period (barring perhaps F/i, but I'm biased) attempting such a feat. Like a hybrid of Spacemen 3, Hawkwind and Merzbow, their ability at the time to take a basic riff and strangle it over a 5-10-minute period, increasing the intensity and noise w/ each cycle, is beyond reach. Right from the first track, "Eat The Stars", which dives straight into a wigged-out space riff and envelopes it in keyboard whoops and bleeps throughout, you know you're in the hands of professionals. The song titles make 'em sound like cliches straight from the AmRep school of '90s angst - "Black Ass Bone", "Birthdeath", "Thirsty Animal", "Woodland Death March", "Solar Anus" - but every one of those songs just mentioned heads straight for the sun and reaches it. Colossally brilliant astral drone I could never recommend too highly. This mofo has been out of print for a dog's age (I'm pretty sure Andy at tUMULt spoke of reissuing it a few years back), a fate which has also befallen its brother release from the time, Xaman. Unfortunately my copy suffers from "disc rot" - a condition which decays the CD, making it turn yellow and the music within turn to static and noise - something which befell many World Serpent titles from the period (WS was the manufacturing/distribution house [now bankrupt] which distributed [and reportedly burnt] the whole C93/NWW/Coil family of labels back in the day), so I have to turn to my increasingly terrible memory in an attempt to discuss it. I'll say this: similar sound and approach to Ruins, though perhaps not quite as god-like. Doesn't mean for a second you shouldn't search it out.
Up next was '92's IIIrd Gatekeeper CD, originally released on Justin Broadrick's Headdirt label, it saw the band take a different approach. With slicker production and a sound less cosmic and more dirty grind, at the time I was initially disappointed before three-dozen listens revealed its layers of beauty to me. This one sees the band going for a more bludgeoning sound, pre-empting the likes of Earth and Sunn O))) w/ a hipster slo-mo metallic psych squall (it was recorded in '90/'91), which I guess is why this one has recently been reissued by Crucial Blast for a whole new generation to enjoy. I played this just the other day after a decade's break, and the sound has weathered well enough for me to figure I'll be hangin' onto it for life.
The last two Skullflower discs which floated my boat back in the day were '93s Obsidian Shaking Codex, released on Ron Lessard's RRR label outta Massachusetts, and Last Shot At Heaven ('93? '94?) on the long-defunct (and now resurrected??) Noiseville label outta NYC. The former saw the band taking a decidedly non-rock approach, w/ 5 of the 6 tracks concentrating on layers of atmospheric guitar drones and doom-ridden soundscapes (again, Sunn O))) had to've been listening to this stuff at the time), as well as a redone version of "Diamond Bullet", a song which... if my memory isn't totally faltering, I believe was originally released as a 7" on the Sympathy label. Still, it's a good 'un, and the violin drone throughout lends this a fairly awesome Velvets-y drive lacking in their noisier material. The dreamier, more bong-hit side of Skullflower, a side it's good to bathe in for a while.
Last Shot At Heaven saw the band returning to the more rough 'n' ready, over-the-top vibe of Ruins and Xaman, and remains right near the top of the Skullflower heap for me. Recorded totally in the red with guitars and cheap organs rattling throughout, this one has the same desperado, junked-out vibe which made their earlier albums such a revelation - equal parts Amon Duul 1 and Whitehouse - and the sonic overload of a track such as "Rotten Sun II" will convince any noise-loving putz friends of yours or mine - and we're speaking of a wide berth here: My Bloody Valentine, Black Sabbath, Burzum, Flipper, Dead C. or Harry Pussy - that at least at one stage Skullflower were the shit and the bowl all at once. They were fucking relentless in their pursuit of the ultimate mind-bending riff.
What happened? Their subsequent couple of releases thereafter, on labels such as Sympathy, Freek and VHF, left me totally cold and I lost the scent. The band disappeared from view for what appears to be a decade or so, started releasing material again in the mid noughties, and yet I still haven't caught up... or even started! Who knows, maybe in the next ten years I'll get around to their last few albums and once again flip a wig. For now, I've still got these, and they're not going anywhere. They remain mind-fryers of the highest order.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Yawning Man European tour dates!!
September 4th at the Azkena Rock Festival in Spain
September 5th Katharinenstr. 11-13, Dresden 01099 Germany
September 6th Spielbudenplatz 5, Hamburg 20539 Germany

If you happen to be in the area, there's no other place you should be...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

And here's another event I expect to see you at. It's been organised by a few buddies of mine and promises to be a fun day out for all. Bands! (Good bands!!) BBQs! DJs! Booze! Record stalls! Actually, regarding the latter, I'll be holding one there selling all kindsa goodies on labels such as 4 Men With Beards, Sundazed, Water, Trojan, Munster, Lilith, etc., so come on down to say hello, buy some records and/or call me an asshole. Venue: Corner Hotel. Date: September 6th. Cost: $30 (+ b/fee). 2PM start.
You'll notice I've been rather quarter-arsed w/ the entries of late. Can't explain that. Busy w/ life. Not listening to that much music. No time nor inclination. Gotta get my mojo back...

TEN EAST Australian Tour December '08
That ain't the "real" tour poster; rather, it's just a handbill my brother knocked up at a moment's notice so it could be handed out last Friday at a gig to alert people of the UPCOMING TOUR BY TEN EAST IN DECEMBER. The "real" poster will happen soon. Can you read those dates above? OK, thought not. They play at the Northcote Social Club on Thursday the 11th of December (w/ Beaches and Hotel Wrecking City Traders); at the Meredith Music Festival on the Friday evening (along w/ a host of other bands... you'll be hearing a lot about that in the future); and on Saturday the 13th at the Annandale in Sydney w/ Nunchukka Superfly. It'll be the Arce/Lalli/Giles/Stinson and they promise to knock socks off. I expect to see you there.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Damn... what a slack bastard. A week and a half goes by w/out me even thinking about this dang blog. Feeling kinda uninspired in the writing stakes, plus I'm swamped w/ other duties right now, one of which I'll be announcing later this week (it's good news, by the way). For the time being, I defer you to that album above, Yo La Tengo's 1987 sophomore outing, New Wave Hot Dogs. I got it in the Au-go-go bargain bin for $10 back in 1991. Don't ask me why I remember that kinda shit; we'll leave that to the therapist's couch. The point is: what a great, almost flawless, album it is. Along w/ Sonic Youth's early work and The Feelies' three albums from the ' 80s, and perhaps even Opal's Happy Nightmare Baby and Dream Syndicate's debut, it stands as the great Velvets-inspired excursion by an American rock outfit in the 1980s. And when I say "Velvets-inspired", I don't necessarily mean "in the spirit of the Velvets" or a limp-noodled nod to the band a la U2 or REM, but a band who flat-out sounds a lot like the Velvet Underground. The vocals, the mannerisms, the guitar drones, the metronomic tempos. YLT did their homework, and it paid off well. It also features my favourite ever YLT track, "Shy Dog", a hardy garage "rocker" w/ the most perceptive and literate lyrics ever concerning what was the bane of my existence at the time: shyness. It took me years to be able to speak up, and I haven't shut up since, but at the time I - like most music obsessives/fanzine dorks - possessed a crippling lack of social skills (hard to believe!), and that song, it spoke to me, man. YLT's sound at the time was crisp and twangy, as opposed to the near-shoegazer lushness they've delved in the last 15 or more years, almost making them sound like a completely different band to the one you hear today. I haven't really dug YLT's last few albums all that much - something hasn't clicked - though I'll stand by the bulk of their back catalogue like the rabid fan I guess I must be: President, Painful!, Electr-O-Pura, I Can Hear The Heart...., etc. That's a good run. Who woulda thought that this now hugely popular "alt-rock" outfit was once almost solely drool fodder for such hard-to-please folks as Forced Exposure mag and even that Stigliano fellow who no longer sends me Xmas cards.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Boy, I've been a little slack of late. It's called being back at work. My pal Richard from Aarght! came over last Saturday night for dinner and an evening of hardcore music dorkdom. He'd commented to me a couple of months back that, even though I'd made the seemingly outlandish statement a while ago that the American underground/independent music scene went through a boom period ca. 1991-'94, he felt that right now we were experiencing a similar golden age, and yet I appeared to be barely even aware of it. He wished to rectify that situation and spin a few discs he possessed of contemporary outfits from the US of A who cut the grade and then some.

So, we kicked back and enjoyed the aural pleasures of the Wooden Shjips (my fave of the evening), Thomas Function, Eat Skulls, some bands on the S-S label and a few others whose names escape me. It was highly educational. I'd probably throw another one on the pile, a 4-track 12" EP I received in the mail from Nashville trio, Heathern Haints, a nice coloured-vinyl outing w/ a hand-screenprinted sleeve, in an edition of 300 copies. Thank the lord for the corporate behemoth known as Myspace. The band contacted me via the site, proceeded to blow a load of hot air up my backside and before you knew it I was pestering for a freebie (the shamelessness of it all!). Good thing I did. They belt out a super-nice basement-vibe combo of their acknowledged influences - Spacemen 3, Amon Duul, Ghost, Pink Floyd, Charalambides, etc. - and spice it up w/ some semi-soaring vocals and doom-rock theatrics, when the occasion warrants it.

There must be something in the water in Tennessee. I checked out some of their "top friends" and stumbled across a bunch of fellow weirdos by bands with names such as Hollow Ox and Mass At Dawn, and was similarly impressed. No one's reinventing the wheel here, but they're recycling a well-worn path in a very pleasing manner, and I'm always up for some lo-fi, atmospheric psych-rock from the backwoods of anywhere, and Heathern Haints fit the bill. The Kids are still doin' it for themselves...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

That lounge 'n' cocktail trend from the '90s, with the wisdom of hindsight, sure strikes me as an international embarrassment of the highest order, and whilst I never got suckered into wearing Hugh Hefner-style robes and decking the house out in Tiki art, I was not totally immune to some of the musical goods it revived. In short, I bought into the Incredibly Strange Music broohaha... hook, line and sinker. You can blame Vale at RE/Search for that, but still, I wear no shame. There's some goods in them thar hills: Ennio Morricone soundtracks, Yma Sumac, Martin Denny and a zillion other thrift-store finds. Good music, all of it. On top of the heap lies Les Baxter. Well, actually, I don't think the guy is anywhere as otherwordly, surreal and as genius-like a figure as Morricone - that's a given - though his exotica discs from the 1950s hold up dang well. Fer instance there's this CD on the Rev-ola label, which finally reissues two of his albums I've been searching high and low for the last dozen or more years: Ritual Of The Savage from 1952 and Passions, originally issued as a 10" in '54.
The former was one of his first major forays into the world of exotica - part lightweight orchestral pop and part faux world music, featuring the standard jungle drums, tribal chants (probably voiced by white session dudes in a Hollywood studio) and that certain, indefinable musical key which makes these records work. I can't pinpoint it, I'm simply not trained in that sphere, though if you've heard one of Baxter's albums from this period, then you know what separates it from a Mantovani disc. The best Baxter is about sheets of sound which layer the music like a Spector production, and Ritual Of The Savage really is one of his best.
Passions is a mighty weird outing, and it still baffles me as to what Baxter's motivation was to record it. It features seven tracks w/ titles such as "Despair", "Ecstacy", "Terror", "Hate" and "Lust". You get the idea. Musically it's closer to a film noir soundtrack than anything else, though it's augmented by vocalist Bas Sheva's wails, heavy breathing, screams and ecstatic groans. A nice trip. It's 2008 and this stuff still sounds good to these ears, and since writing and listening about this shit is about as fashionable as last decade's milk, feel no fear of being branded a hipster. It's all about the music, remember?

Monday, July 21, 2008

DEAD BOYS - We Have Come For Your Children LP (1978/Sire)
...not that I'm reviewing an original LP copy here. No siree, got me a freebie of the brand new reissue CD on the Noble Rot label. First time I ever heard the album in question, too. I mean, you know the story, right? New York punkers in the late '70s had a bad case of DSAS (Difficult Second Album Syndrome), and the Dead Boys were no exception. File 'em right next to the Dictators, Suicide, Television and Richard Hell. Of course, over time these sophomore efforts have been reassessed, and the passing of said time has allowed us to be a little more generous than the critics were in the day (for the record, I like the second albums by all of those people), and no band was more savaged by the critics than the Dead Boys. After all, they were just a bunch of Midwest lunkheads/junkies/boozehounds/deadbeats/glam-flunkies who hitched a ride on the punk-rock gravy train, right? Seen the photo of proto-Dead Boys, Frankenstein, from '76 or so? Long hair, platform boots, those guys were a joke, right? Well, you may be as surprised as anyone to learn this, but when I was 15 years old, I thought the Dead Boys were the dog's bollocks. You heard me right. Heard "Sonic Reducer" on the radio (played by the other Dave Laing on 3RRR) and decided I'd better take the leap. Purchased their Night Of The Living Dead Boys LP and nearly wore the grooves out. I haven't played that disc for over 10 years - haven't pulled it out to even look at it, in fact - but so ingrained in my brain it be, that I'll take a punt w/out any research and say that it was a reunion LP the band recorded on Halloween, 1981. If I'm wrong, let me know and I'll spank my memory. The record in question had red-hot live versions of the best tracks from their two late-'70s studio albums, which I guess makes it all the more remarkable that it's taken me over 20 years to belatedly hear their second studio effort, considering how much I liked all of the material from that record.

But anyways... I didn't get hooked on a terminal Dead Boys wave and we all move onto different things. Here it is now, out in shiny, digital form... and the hanging judge has arrived. What do you think I'm going to say? I'm not prone to wasting this blog writing about records you shouldn't bother listening to, so on that note I'll say that I really like We Have Come For Your Children a lot. A whole lot. Possibly more than Young, Loud and Snotty. Just possibly...

There is what is great about this album, and there is what is not. The greatness all lies in the songs; at least half of the ten songs are fantastic. There's my absolute fave DBs track, "I Won't Look Back", a total power-pop rocker which is like early-'70s AM pop beefed up for the '77 crowd with a killer chorus; the punkified "(I Don't Wanna Be No) Catholic Boy", w/ its genius-like lyrics, "I don't wanna be no Catholic boy, I wanna beat my meat right on the street..."; "Flame Thrower Love", with its tight-assed drum rolls and Zep-like guitar heroics; the grinding "Son Of Sam"; and the somewhat legendary "Ain't It Fun", their "ballad" later covered by hair-rock superstars, Guns 'n' Roses (which the DBs stole from their old band, Rocket From The Tombs). The rest I'm giving a B+. The Dead Boys were always way more rock 'n' roll than many of their '77 brethren, more like a high-energy '70s heavy metal act than a genuine safety-pinned punker outfit, so if you're not into the Dictators and their kinda he-man rock-animal schtick, then this ain't gonna be up your alley, and that's your loss. The appalling soft-focus cover photo goes to show how badly the band had their balls in a vice c/o one Seymour Stein, who wanted them to go New Wave (though it looks more REO Speedwagon to me!), and the fact that they managed to make a second album which "rocked" at all is testament to the fact that the men - and let's call them "Men" - who made up the band knew a lot more about what made rock "rock" than many of their contemporaries.

Which now brings me to what is not great about the album: the production. Whilst not nearly as bad as I'd been lead to believe all these years, it's also nothing to brag about. Produced by none other than Mountain's Felix Pappalardi(!), who, according to the liner notes, had no idea what to do w/ the band, the sound is crisp and punchy, and the rhythm section sounds tight as hell and ready to knock down walls, though the guitars are mixed way down, giving it a fairly sterile sound in places, and frustratingly not delivering the punch in songs when they warrant it. I can't figure it: those early Mountain albums rock, and yet the guy couldn't turn a few knobs to the right to make the guitars crunch a little heavier? The guy either had his balls in a vice as well, or he was just plain incompetent.

Better than the debut? Hmmm... I'm not going to enter that debate. Best leave that to the self-professed experts. I like 'em both, with all their faults. Like the liner notes say: a band as fucked up as the Dead Boys weren't ever destined to stick around for a long time; they crashed and burned pretty quick, but did it w/ more style than many of their contemporaries. However, those who were as cautious as I regarding the dreaded and widely loathed second album by the Dead Boys may just be as surprised as I was when they actually hear the thing. Not bad, not bad 't'all...

This is for all you young punx in Melbourne town. This weekend my good pal Pat O'Brien opens up his new record store, Sunshine & Grease, specialising in all matters of avant platter, both in audio form and the written word. To celebrate such an occasion, he's organised a two-day fest comprising of all sorts of musical nonsense, as you can see above. If you read this blog and live in Melbourne, attendance is mandatory. That address: 117 Little Lonsdale Street in the big, bad city.