Sunday, March 30, 2008

DIED PRETTY - Stoneage Cinderella
This is the band live (well, miming) on French TV back in '86. I only heard this song for the first time, via this clip, when it aired on Rage back in '99. Blew me the fuck away. I taped it and played it repeatedly for weeks on end. Of course I'd heard a bunch of Died Pretty before - you couldn't grow up in Melbourne in the '80s listening to public radio and not hear 'em - though I paid little attention. They were OK, I thought, but they were Old People Music, and not really for me. By the year 1999 I considered myself old, or at least old enough to check them out, and so I bought their recently-released Best Of. Everything from 1984-'91 is white-hot. Not everything thereafter is. But "Stoneage Cinderella" remains their highpoint, a scorching combo of Highway 61 Revisited and Funhouse. Watch this clip and tell me this ain't the shit.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


I've been thinking about this, pondering it and trying to figure it out: Husker Du were, when all is said and done, one really strange outfit. They were not your ordinary hardcore-turned-college-rock transformational excercise you may figure them to be. For one thing, their psychosexual and aesthetic make-up was one of a kind. Two gay guys in a punk rock band when that still wasn't talked about all that much; the only guy who looked gay as the breeze (that's Greg Norton, of course) in the group was the straight one. They began as a ferocious, pioneering hardcore act (and apparently Mould was a nihilistic, anti-music Throbbing Gristle fan at their birth), quickly switched to being a PiL-ish post-punk outfit for about two minutes at the dawn of the '80s (as heard on their debut 7"), then jumped back into mile-a-minute HC w/ a distinctly political bent before maturing into firstly, a kinda progressive, almost psychedelic punk rock act then a mid-tempo post-HC semi-college-rock outfit which died a fairly quick death at the hands of drugs and a label (Warners) which probably didn't give a damn, and wouldn't've known what to do w/ the band even if they did. That brings me to the two albums in question I wish to discuss: the debut solo albums by the two main songwriters of the band, both released in 1989: Mould's Workbook (Virgin) and Hart's Intolerance (SST). Do you have any idea of just how great these records are?

Lyrically, both albums tend to tread vaguely similar paths: an excorcism of all the bitternes brought on by the nasty break-up of their previous band, and a desire to move on. Musically, they couldn't be more different. Mould's is clean as a whistle and, production-wise, the slickest he'd ever been at that stage. I would be tempted to call much of this Adult Contemporary Singer-Songwriter... so much so, I will! His backing band has credentials up the wazoo, too: Anton Fier (Pere Ubu/Feelies/etc.), Tony Maimone (Pere Ubu/The Scene Is Now) and Jane Scarpantoni on cello (not sure where she's from, but her musical contribution here is quite key to the sound). The opening track, the instrumental "Sunspots", sounds like it could've come off an old Pell Mell disc: crisp, echo-laden and repetitive guitar lines with an instantly memorable melody. It remains, for me, possibly the best song on Workbook. Not that there's too many slouches, though; there's pop hooks a-plenty, and despite the depressing nature of the lyrical material, Workbook is no bummer. I bought both this and Intolerance in '89 when they first came out. They were, amongst others, the soundtrack for that very year, the final of my high school years, and call me a sappy sentimentalist if you will, but that means something to me. I cannot hear this record without somehow thinking of that year: 1989.

Intolerance? When this first came out, I heard a local blowhard (too well-known to mention here!) on 3RRR describe it, upon first listen, as about "as impressive as a three-legged goat". But wait, he was getting somewhere, and I must concur to agree: he then went on to say that, upon the 3rd or 4th listen, things started to sink in. What at once appears to be a dog's breakfast of styles patched together under the guise of an album, an opening statement by a songwriter fairly well respected in many circles, begins to make its mark with a bit more weight. Intolerance jumps everywhere; there is no symmetry of approach as heard on Workbook (which sounds like it was written in a single afternoon). Hart delves into simple pop, rootsy, almost Springsteen-ish rawk, bar-room sea shanties ("The Main", a strange piano/vocal romp about copping drugs), anthemic rock 'n' roll obviously cut as the single ("2541": it was), organ-based instrumental drone-rock (the aptly-titled "Roller-Rink) and even dashes of musique concret. To be honest, if you're going to hear only one of these albums for the very first time in the year 2008, I'd make it Intolerance. It's weathered the years mighty well, its patchwork of styles fitting in perfectly w/ the short attention span of today's youth. Not that old man Mould didn't strike gold w/ Workbook. It remains a sentimental fave, its cheezeball heart-on-its-sleeve sense of earnestness and betrayal, not to mention sophisticated songwriting, earning it a permanent place on my shelf, no matter how uncool you may consider that to be.

I didn't even think about Husker Du between the years 1991-'97. Man, I was over it. Time to move on. I barely even knew Sugar existed at the time, and I had zilch interested in listening to them. Ten years back I came full circle, gave everything from their first to their last a thorough hiding and walked away smiling. Husker Du were way more unique and edgy than people tend to give 'em credit for these days, and both Workbook and Intolerance are similarly worthy additions.

Friday, March 28, 2008

There are two artists of late who've been taking up mucho time in the listening dept., and you really couldn't come up w/ two more different approaches to "rock" than these two acts. Let's talk about late '60s San Fran "ballroom" psych outfit, MOBY GRAPE, and more specifically their fourth and highly under-rated third album, '69. Every critic and their grandmother has already hailed their '67 debut as a masterpiece. Not many people have ever heard it - hell, I hadn't until Sundazed briefly reissued the thing late last year - though it remains a fine one to namedrop at cocktail parties when speaking of great debut albums. Their follow-up, Wow, is usually considered along the lines of the typical kinda-like-the-first-just-not-quite-as-good scenario, whilst its "companion" album (released simultaneously with Wow), Grape Jam, which is, uh, a collection of bluesy "jams" the band farted around with in the studio, is most often considered disposable at best ('s OK, though not essential). Then came '69, which is where most people dropped off. Skip Spence had left - yep, that Skip Spence - and the band, like much of their mustachioed, long-haired brethren of the day, decided to "go back to the country". Not that '69 is flat-out country-rock, though a lot of the material has that wistful, post-psychedelic take on Americana which was pretty much perfected by the likes of The Band and Neil Young (and if you wish to argue that point, let's make it bare knuckles, 'k?!). This is no match for their awesome debut - a surprisingly "heavy" and aggressive multi-guitar-pronged attack that it was, and I love it - though there's some really good tracks here in a more subdued vein, most notably the acoustic "It's A Beautiful Day Today". There's also some first-rate boogie chooglin' rock w/ "Truckin' Man" and "Ooh Mama Ooh" (no stretch w/ a goddamn song title like that), and Skip turns up for the last track, his final contribution to the band, "Seeing", something whih sounds like it coulda turned up on his mighty Oar. The band followed '69 up w/ Truly Fine Citizen, a record people usually hold in the same esteem as latter-period Blue Cheer (ie. - not high at all!), though again, despite the mellowness of the album, which is obviously a comedown after the raucousness of their debut, the songs sure ain't bad. '69 is earthy, loose and positively alive listening, and you should grab this one before yet more lawsuits start a-flyin' and it gets the instant-deletion treatment afforded to their first three albums (see the Sundazed website for details).
Which brings me to MICHAEL ROTHER's first four solo albums: Sterntaler, Katzenmuzik, Flammende Hertzen and Fernwarme, released between 1978 and 1982, and now all reissued on CD via the excellent Water label (and I'd send you a link, but their website has temporarily disappeared whilst Runt's site is "under construction"). Fresh from Neu! as Rother was, all four of these discs borrow heavily from Neu!'s patented metronomic Aryan beats - fact is, they never stray from it - though one could only describe these as Neu!-lite. Believe it or not, that's not to be construed as an insult, though those who dismiss these albums as dross would say so. This is, as a friend described it, truly anaemic music; so crisp, tight, clean and non-organic it's as if it was conceived in a lab w/ coats and white gloves. There's no room for error: simple instrumentals, most with a constant 4/4 beat, some lavished w/ the chintziest keyboards this side of a Goblin soundtrack (which some of this resembles) and near-exotica guitar lines which sound like they were pinched off an old Martin Denny Hawaiin LP. My wife - often the ultimate BS detector if I'm spinning something dodgy - gave me the "what's this you're playing?" line a few weeks back when I was on another Rotherthon, and I felt like I had to justify myself. Really, on first listen, and w/out the Neu! context in the back of your mind, you might just think these four albums to be the cheeziest slabs of Kraut muzak you've ever encountered, but slowly and subtley, they've worked their magic on me. So simple, so clean, everything is note-perfect to the point of sterility, though it works. Fernwarme remains my favourite, though they're all worth a shot.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Holy mother of cripes! Who woulda thought this existed? Well it does, so enjoy! So far as I know (and tell me if I'm wrong, hopefully w/ a copy of the LP attached), Cherry never released anything w/ Ulmer, though they were obviously playing together in Sweden in the early '70s, where I assume this studio set was recorded, since Cherry was living there at the time and the subtitles feature a whole lotta umlauts and crossed "O"s, and the audience is a rag-tag collection of liberal, blonde and existentially-challenged young folks. Now if you can't get into this, then I don't wanna know you!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

JAMES BLOOD - Tales Of Captain Black LP (Artists House/1978)
I've probably run the Ulmer thing into the ground after that entry the other week, but when I get obsessed, I really get obsessed, so as of late I've been revisiting my Ulmer discs on a highly regular basis, and for me, this 1978 No Wave outing still remains his masterwork. Musically, it's much different to the records he was releasing in the early '80s, which were more "rock" and far more aggressive in approach (having flogged Black Rock for the last 2 weeks solid, it baffles me more and more that a label like Columbia actually let him explore his punk-funkisms for three straight albums). Not that ...Captain Black ain't pretty darn out there: w/ Ornette and his son Denardo play in this quartet, the approach and result is almost identical to the godlike grooves present on Ornette's own No Wave punk-funk discs from the same period, such as Dancing In Your Head and Body Meta, and you (oughta) know that that's a fine thing. The songs here don't really sound like they have a beginning or end; merely musical sketches which give themselves the freedom to play around each other, as if each player is jamming in a seperate room. That probably makes this sound like a shambles, but it ain't. The playing is crisp and clean, and feel is, as said, of a band playing around each other, and not over each other. Sounds pretty damn obvious that the likes of D. Boon and Joe Baiza were definitely giving this a spin at the time - well, they were, as was even resident SST hardarse, Joe Carducci, and that counts for something! - and it's a crying shame that this remains out of print in the West to this day. There is a version available on Japan's DIW label, though it unfortunately doesn't replicate the original, stunning art, or the psychedelic gatefold comic, or even any of the terrific booklet featuring sketches, rants and music notes from the original 1978 LP. Much like their version of 1980's Are You Glad To Be In America?, they've designed their own fuggawful sleeve for the benefit of no one. More's the pity.
DREAM SYNDICATE - The Days Of Wine And Roses LP (Slash/1982)
In the last few months I've finally broken through: the greatness of this album has clicked, seeped its way into my brain, and become something of great pleasure. I've owned this LP for a good ten years or more; found it cheap second-hand and figured it my duty to own a record held in such high esteem by the cognescenti. I knew all about the band, of course, but had never really kicked back and taken them in. And so I did. I was not overwhelmed. Sounded like (to paraphrase what Joe Carducci once wrote of the band) just the kind of mediocrity bound for major-label failure (and the band did, later on, prove to be a major-label failure, as they attempted the leap and missed). I filed it away, let it sit on the shelf to impress anyone who might happen to stumble upon it (I'm pretty sure that Richard Onya once remarked on its greatness many a year back), and blissfully ignored it. What, after all, was the appeal?
If you were one to listen to Byron Coley's words as gospel (and, let's face it, there was such a time), the Dream Syndicate were the ultimate Velvets/drone/noise-rock ensemble to beat all others, their crushing freakouts legendary in the LA club scene of the day, and their early material was the meeting point of Velvets/Byrds psychedelic drone, LA punk and Fall-style garage-art nonsense.
A long time ago, upon playing this, I figured them to be a critic's band whom no-one really liked or listened to, and all this praise was a bunch of baloney cooked up coz Coley was buddies w/ Steve Wynn or Chris D. or whoever, and somehow everyone else towed the line and the band's alleged greatness was all based on a bunch of shuck 'n' jive. Well, let me say that The Days Of Wine And Roses - an album I pulled out again after having read Clinton Heylin's "definitive" punk bio, Babylon's Burning, and having spun Opal's Happy Nightmare Baby LP for the 10,000th time - is not, so far as I can see, an example of raw genius, but a very superior take on a sound which bridges the gap between classic early LA punk and some more "mature" antecedents of its day, namely the Velvets, Byrds, Dylan, Chilton and the Modern Lovers. Wynn claims he was just ripping off The Fall most of the time, saying that critics missed the mark when they deemed him a Lou rip-off. Whatever the case, this really is a fine album, a definitive LA classic in its sound and approach, one I'd be proud to place next to other, similar outings, whether it be Waiting For the Sun, Younger Than Yesterday, (GI), Damaged or Born Innocent. Damn, it's taken 10 years, but it feels worth it.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A reader of Lexicon Devil has alerted me to the fact that there is a blog entitled X-Ray Barbecue where one can actually download Dawson's excellent How To Follow... LP in its entirety. Go here and hit click! In fact, X-Ray Barbecue features a pretty cool mix of tunes, and has the dubious honour of being the first blog I've encountered which basically replicates much of my record collection ca. 1991-'97: Dog Faced Hermans, Dawson, Stretchheads, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, Hands To, Noggin, Sun City Girls, Pork Queen, Trumans Water, Crawling With Tarts, Kenny Process Team, etc. Still, much of this is still good listenin' in the year '08, so start yer perusin', pronto!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Mr. Greg Ginn has yet another new ensemble who'll soon be releasing their debut album. They go by the name of (gulp) JAMBANG... and ya know what? They're good! You can hear some tracks at their MySpace site here. Yeah, OK, you hear the term "jamband" and you think white-boy frat kids w/ dreadlocks, bongs and 'Dead posters on their wall; or perhaps you think Dave Matthews Band and the John Butler Trio. Whatever the case, it's probably not good. Jambang sound more like a droney, elongated take on 'Flag ca. '85, or late-'80s Meat Puppets: lots of intertwining guitar lines playing off each other like Verlaine/Lloyd w/ a creepy piano backdrop. There's even a drugged-out psych groove throughout some of the jams, as shown on their standout track, "Of The Moment", and you try to telling me that song hasn't got a total Velvets/Spacemen 3/Wooden Shjips vibe running throughout its veins. I dig it, a lot. The album's out soon, and I'd say it's highly likely you'll be able to download the whole thing for free via one of Ginn's sites, much as you could w/ the Gone, Mojack and Texas Corrugators (a great platter, by the way) discs from last year. I think you'll be surprised...

Saturday, March 08, 2008

This clip is part of a shite-hot collection of tunes the band recorded for a local community-broadcast station in Milwaukee back in '83. I got the full deal on videocassette from one Keith Brammer years back, though my copy is a bit crummy in places, so it's a damn good thing someone has decided to put the whole deal onto YouTube for the world to witness. You'll see - under "Die Kreuzen" on Youtube - that the person in question has also put the band interview up (which is quite hilarious in a clueless-but-well-meaning-PBS-broadcasters-tackle-punk-rock kinda way) and the rest of the band's live set. Enjoy!

SPINANES - Noel, Jonah and Me
This is from Manos, in case you're not convinced. Perhaps you'll be less convinced after witnessing this, but hey, that's your problem, pal.
SPINANES - Manos LP (Sub Pop/1993)
Well, strike me down and call me a nancy-boy: there are albums you cherish, worship and get all fire-and-brimstone over, and there are records you find yourself defending as simply damn good examples of songcraft and musical execution. The Spinanes LP - this Spinanes LP - from 1993, entitled Manos, is one of them. I bought this at the time coz they were being bandied about by the likes of Feminist Baseball mag, Tim Adams and all those other icons(?!) of early '90s undie-rock I looked up to as superb practitioners of song. Nothing more, nothing less. Uber-noise jerk-off hipsters won't be ripping this out at their next krautrock/power-electronics record party, but on the sly, they'll slap it on, kick back and very damn likely dig the tunes within. I took the plunge and, well, I guess the fact that I still own this LP 15 years later speaks volumes for the fact that I certainly never regretted my decision.
The Spinanes were a Chicago two-piece outfit from the '90s comprising of singer-guitarist Rebecca Gates and drummer Scott Plouf. They released a couple of singles on the Imp label (lo-fi hepcat label of the day and brothers-in-arms w/ Shrimper and all their brethren) before jumping ship to-then Grunge Central, Sub Pop. They released two albums as a duo on the label, before Plouf left and Gates kept the Spinanes moniker as a solo project for one last album. I have not heard the subsequent LPs after Manos, but I can state that the level of songcraft and the guitar-drums interplay on Manos are quite stunning. Plouf hits his skins hard and always keeps the beat basic and surprisingly heavy in approach, almost like a cardigan-wearing Jon Bonham. He accents every riff to perfection, never clutters a song up w/ unnecessary fills, and lets Gates' guitar and vocal delivery work in perfect synchronicity w/ his beats. Now, before you accuse me of dissecting their music like a scribe for Modern Drummer magazine, I will state that I'm only saying all this because one must get the point across that their minimal line-up works so frighteningly well. Gates never gets flash w/ the guitar licks - just power chords and strums straight from the Indie Rock 101 Handbook - though her sweet voice and surprisingly cynical and bittersweet lyrics (am I wrong here in assuming that some of the songs from Manos are political??) give it an edge which actually makes me remember the record once the needle's left the groove.
I'm not going to say you should rush and out get Manos; it's a record which will simply fill the gap when you feel like hearing some really well-penned pop music, and let's face it: there is nothing wrong with that. There are 12 songs on Manos and they're all good. Case closed.

Friday, March 07, 2008

JAMES "BLOOD" ULMER - Black Rock LP (Columbia/1982)

The second of Ulmer's three LPs on Columbia from the early '80s, all of which stiffed amongst the general record-buying populace - would you expect anything else? - and had him dropped by the label soon thereafter. Still, three albums of avant-garde jazz-based guitar music on a major at the dawn of Reaganism ain't a bad effort. There musta been someone at Columbia who really loved the guy, so I'll thank someone for their persistance, patience and faith in the man when the rest of the A & R schlebs were probably too busy trying to scout out the next Toto to bother even knowing the guy existed. Like his other albums from the period - starting w/ 1980's Are You Glad To Be In America? and finishing w/ '83's Odyssey - this has some vocals from Mr. "Blood", and the man possesses a set of pipes much like the oft-compared Mr. Hendrix. Frankly, I wouldn' take that as too much of a compliment. Much as I love both for their guitar-wrangling skills, I've always held the opinion that Jimi mighta been better off handing the microphone over to someone else, if you get the drift (and if you don't, I'm sorry, but I just can't dumb it down any further). Still, the two or three vocal tracks here are pretty OK, and the instrumental stuff is fairly white-hot all across the board.

's funny that Ulmer's pioneering work (from Tales Of Captain Black [a disc which shoulda been listed in my Top 100 Albums hoo-ha from last year] right on through to Odyssey) doesn't get the kudos from the hipsters it surely should. Not that you don't still hear his name bandied about, coz just about anyone from James Chance through to the Minutemen right up to the latest hype-of-the-moment NYC punk-funksters who are way too young and beautiful for a crotchety old fogey like myself to care less about owe the man a debt. I can only lay blame to his continuing semi-obscurity on the fact that most of his best albums (in fact all of them, I think) from this period remain either out of print or only available as expensive Japanese imports.

The "funk" levels on the bass throughout Black Rock are pushed up pretty high, sometimes intruding on a good time, though mostly this is just the type of convoluted, harmelodic punk/funk/jazz I'll gladly lay a claim on, the bulk of it striking a mighty blow like a missing link twixt Get Up With It and Trout Mask Replica. I ain't going near the corporate legalities and paperwork that a reissue of these things would require w/ a 60-foot pole, though a wise, thoughtful and forward-thinking American should step on in and get Tales Of Captain Black, Are You Glad To Be In America?, Free Lancing, Odyssey and this back into the hearts, minds and malls of the land on shiny silver plastic 'n' metal. I can't imagine such a pursuit not being worthy.

Monday, March 03, 2008

THE 85TH GREATEST ALBUM OF ALL TIME: DAWSON - How To Follow So That Others Will Willingly Lead LP (1992/Gruff Wit)
Well, okay, I'm being a little facetious here; this isn't really the 85th greatest album of all time, even though I listed it as number 85 in the list I published a year or so ago. That Top 100 list wasn't really in any order, though I stand by the entry: this is, at the very least, in a top 100 somewhere as being one of my fave albums of all eternity and amen to that etc. I thought I'd discuss it since it's also one which very few people seem to've ever heard of. In fact, one Michael Row of Pig State Recon blog wrote to me after I published the list and noted to me that Dawson were the one band or artist I had mentioned whom he had never even heard of. So, lemme tell you something...
I first heard of the group in late '92 when I read a review for the album in Maximum Rock 'n' Roll which mentioned - in relation to the group's sound and approach - the Minutemen and Gang Of Four. My eyebrows raised. Browsing throughout the rest of the reviews, there were also entries for discs by Badgewearer and Whirling Pig Dervish, two more Scottish bands on Dawson's Gruff Wit imprint - a label actually run by Dawson's main man, Jer Reid - and once again the likes of The Fall and the Minutemen were mentioned in said reviews. Before you could say "music-obsessed dork with a socially-challenged personality disorder" (and I think I've overcome at least part of that description in the 15 years which have passed), I chucked a few pounds of legal tender in ol' blighty into an envelope, addressed it to Gruff Wit and told 'em I'll take whatever they've got. A few weeks later I got a bunch of LPs and 7"s in the mail and I thanked my obsessive personality for at least steering me in the right direction on this occasion .
But let's talk of this LP... My copy comes in a hand-spray-painted fold-out sleeve in a plastic slip and contains a plethora of pamphlets, posters, political rants, lyric sheets and all kinds of ephemera crammed within its walls. DIY, kiddo. I have never seen another single copy of this LP, so I can't vouch for how different other versions may be, but I'll presume that there are no two identical copies. I don't thrill at this hand-made/DIY nonsense as much as I used to - maybe I'm just too jaded - though when the music holds up on its own two feet as this good, the personal touch given in its presentation makes it all the more sweeter.
Dawson do sound, in parts, a whole lot like the Minutemen and Gang Of Four, but so do a lot of bands. Such scratchy-guitar/funky bass/political-slogan schtick is beyond cliche at this point in time, though Dawson add a whole lot more to the stew, so much so that, in general, I can't pinpoint them as sounding like anyone else in particular. This LP is split into two schizophrenic halves, if only to prove such a point. Side A is a collection of short, fast and fairly "heavy" hardcore-ish post-punk which combines truly ace musicianship, insane twists and turns and a white-hot rhythm section which borrows heavily from the Watt/Hurley stop-on-a-dime school of songwriting. If you do like, say, Minutemen, The Pop Group or even early Boredoms, you'll find something to chew on here.
Side B takes a radical detour: 5 long(er) tracks which jumps from style to style like a totally different group - dub, a kinda free-jazz guitar noise piece with spoken samples on top, and two ending numbers which feature no guitars or bass whatsoever: just rambling percussion, whistles, whoops and screams. If you think that possibly amounts to "filler", you'd be wrong. Upon first playing this very LP, I flipped. I figured I'd just discovered the World's Greatest Band Whom No-One On Earth Had Ever Heard Of. Outside of the likes of Badgewearer and Whirling Pig Dervish, and their hombres The Ex and Dog Faced Hermans, there was no context to place them in. The band - a Scottish three-piece - appeared to exist within their own universe. They booked their own tours, released their own astonishing records, and yet few people cared. That was amended some 9 months later when the good folks from NYC's God Is My Co-Pilot released this and Dawson's previous LP - Barf Market: You're Ontae Plums (must be a Scottish thing) - onto one CD entitled Cheeze Market. If you can locate a copy of this CD, or indeed any of the band's original vinyl, then you can count yourself lucky indeed. In the last three or four years in which I have been wasting my life and money on the likes of ebay, I have never seen a copy of any such item listed.
Which brings me to the grand finale: I actually own the master DAT of How To Follow... and every other Dawson record. That is, except for their final LP from 1993, Terminal Island. I have been in the possession of these DATs and master reels for over three years. Jer is still trying to track down the Terminal Island master, and I get a feeling I might have to just do the thing off vinyl, much as I don't want to. One day, before I drop dead, that pesky Complete Discography double CD will come to fruition. Until then, keep on searching, I say.