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.


Mrow said...

I've only ever sampled this particular GRAPE LP - but I'll believe it's better than consensus reality tells us it is. Me, I really dig Peter Lewis' dark n weird cuts on 20 Granite Creek, but for whatever reason people usually wanna forget about that rec, too.

Mrow said...

Ok I've had time to explore - this MOBY G. disc is really HOT. Songs don't cut much deeper than "I Am Not Willing", and what of the near-modal boogie of "Hoochie"? That's some heavy focus that they got goin' on here.