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.

Friday, July 18, 2008

BAILTER SPACE - Tanker LP (Flying Nun/1988)
I like surprises. You know, I've never even mentioned these guys before in this blog, and yet I revisited this LP today and decided they were worth a paragraph or two. Most of you reading this have probably heard of them before. Originally featuring Hamish Kilgour from The Clean (he plays here), the band eventually mutated into a revived version of the uber-terrific Gordons - that is, the exact same line-up - though the approach was much different to that outfit. Whereas the Gordons, as represented on their single and sole LP, were stark 'n' dark and about as jagged and depressing as a post-punk outfit ca. 1980 could get (outside of The Fall: and all of these qualities are good things, by the way), Bailter Space contained a definite sense of expansive warmth in their sound. No more sharp edges, no more yelling and screaming; Bailter Space were about melodies and fuzz. I could compare 'em to My Bloody Valentine or Sonic Youth, as there is some sort of superficial resemblance there, but the similarities are precisely that: superficial. For one, it could be argued that the fellows from the Gordons basically helped invent the musical blueprint which Sonic Youth later developed on - that is, the Gordons predate Sonic Youth as a band - and Bailter Space are still heavily steeped in that classic En Zed sound, with thuck accents and that slightly anemic, Anglofied sound epitomised by approx. 99% of NZ's musicians. There's a lot of bands who make a noise somewhere hovering Bailter Space's universe (just think of the ten-million collegiate types copping moves from MBV and SY's discography as I write this!), though the Bailter lads certainly had the songs, at least on Tanker. There's a couple of Fall-ish tracks, such as "Your Invisible Life" and "One More Reason", though the studio warmth wins out on most of this, w/ swooshing tracks such as "Grader Spader" and the title song: all chiming guitars, studio trickery and phased vocals. If I was to explain it to a layman, I'd possibly say something along the lines of it being a less linear, slightly more cosmic and ambitious take on Sonic Youth's Goo... but this predates that disc by 2 years. Again, they were ahead of the game. Bailter Space released a whole stack of LPs throughout the '90s and I never bought any of 'em. I did manage to catch them live a couple of times when they swung through town throughout that decade, and each and every show was an event not be missed. This is probably the last time I'll ever mention Bailter Space in this blog, so I'll call them this: quiet achievers. I won't be raving about 'em too often, but since I bought this LP in '91 and still play it semi-regularly, I'd call that recommendation enough.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

This is one of those records you're simply destined to come across at some point in your life if you consider yourself to be somewhat of an enthusiast for left-field music. Much like, say, Skip Spence's Oar, Can's Tago Mago and the works of Fela Kuti and Serge Gainsbourg, it remains one of those de rigeur purchases at one point in your life. If you're on a Dr. John trip at the age of 15, then you're streets ahead of me; myself, I see the age of discovery for a Dr. John fan being somewhere in the twenties, most likely mid- to late-, though perhaps I'm just prejudging everyone else's experiences by my own. Not a day goes by when I don't pull out a record from the rack and wonder why on earth I didn't put it in that pesky Top 100 Albums Of All Time list I keep boring y'all with. This is the kinda shit a man can lose sleep over, fer chrissakes! For instance, consider these omissions:

Cabaret Voltaire - The Mix-Up
Saccharine Trust - We Became Snakes
Boredoms - Super Ae
The Ex and Tom Cora - Scrabbling At the Lock
Mulatu Astatke - Ethiopiques volume 4
Yo La Tengo - Painful
Serge Gainsbourg - Histoire de Melody Nelson
Feelies - The Good Earth
Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska
Neu! - s/t
Fairport Convention - Liege & Leaf
James "Blood" Ulmer - Tales Of Captain Black
X - X-Aspirations
Seeds - s/t
Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones
Dinosaur Jr. - You're Living All Over Me
Junior Kimbrough - Sad Days Lonely Nights
Universal Congress Of - s/t
Everly Brothers - Roots
Gun Club - Miami
Melvins - Ozma
Dogbowl - Tit! (an opera)
Soft Machine - 1st or 2nd album
Grifters - One Sock Missing
Pell Mell - Star City

Great albums - all of 'em - but the line's been drawn, and maybe one day when I pen one of those ultra-tedious 10,000 Albums You Just Gotta Hear Before You Croak anthologies which every MOJO/Q/Uncut writer has on the shelves these days, you'll get the full story. Until then, every few months you'll hear this same conversation from me. Dr. John, AKA Mac Rebennack, had already been kicking around the scene in New Orleans for a decade as a session gun-for-hire before Gris-Gris. I guess the spirit of the times got the better of him, and thus he released this acid-damaged masterpiece on Atco in '68 to a generally befuddled and/or disinterested public. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there's been many a smoke-filled dorm room w/ the sounds of Gris-Gris pumping the air ever since (and back then a screwball FM artist such as Dr. John could still make a dent w/ his eccentricities), though I doubt it was a whopping commercial success. The good Doctor never saw the real hits happen 'til "Right Place Wrong Time" went Top 10 in '73 or so (a song I only really know of because of its inclusion on the Dazed and Confused soundtrack), but all of this probably isn't that relevant. What's relevant for now are Dr. John's first four albums: this, as well as Babylon ('69), Remedies ('70) and The Sun, Moon and Herbs ('71). Folks say the next few albums are pretty gosh-darn good, too, though I've never made that leap. Gris-Gris remains the perfect combo of swampified American deep roots music mixed up w/ mystic mumbo-jumbo and drug-damaged psychedelia. Jeffrey Lee Pierce used this schtick to great effect w/ the Gun Club, though his cocktail was like an LA punk/Dr. John combo, diluted a little further from the source (now sit down, kids, I still love the guy!). Ultimately, Dr. John was just a white session dude who struck paydirt w/ a concocted persona ripe for the times, much like Tom Waits, but it fit him like a pink frilly glove and we're all the better for it. His creepy-old-sage vocals combined w/ a blend of acoustic guitars, bongos, flute, sax and romping New Orleans rhythms is the shit for the ages. Like I said: de rigeur. You know you will check this out at some stage. If not already, best make it sooner rather than later.
Mother of all fuckers... I take the week off work to catch up on things and kick back and enjoy life a little, and what happens? I come down w/ a whopper of a chest infection, one which gives me the wheeze of a sixty-cigs-a-day 90-year-old, the sensation of a pair of lungs being filled up w/ infected, yellow phlegm (they were) and the feeling of a possible head explosion every time I cough. Well, that was yesterday. Thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, I've come relatively clean in just 24 hours, and when not watching crappy DVDs (I aimed as low as a man could get: the new Rambo pic and the remake of The Hitcher) or even crappier TV, I've been listening to a couple of 7"s I bought last weekend. In fact, I bought these at a "show" - gig, concert, et al - last Friday, one which was a bit of a showcase for the Aargt! label, a new-ish imprint set up by a few buddies of mine. Actually, such good friends am I w/ them, I shan't stroke their egos any further w/ guff directed their way.

First on the chopping block is a 7" EP by local lowlifes, The UV Race. I don't know the other members from a block of cheese, though the drummer is one Dan Stewart, he being the fellow behind the much-loved (at least by me!) fanzine, Distort, which I have prattled on about at great length in previous posts. An intense young fellow, he reminds me a little of myself before the weight of the world and demands of life crushed my spirit. Prone to forming spittle at the corners of his mouth when discussing Black Flag's touring prowess, mid '70s Cleveland rock, Roky's psych-warrior status or the drug-imbibing genius of Flipper, his heart is - quite obviously - in the right place. When Aarght! told me they were releasing a 7" by the band I took a step back and thought, Really? I'd only seen them once and, well, not to get all Musician magazine on you, but they didn't particularly strike me as a tight unit. Under-rehearsed to the point of possible retardation, the shit-rock schtick was A-OK by me, but would you buy it? Well, the answer to that question is yes. For one, I did. The UV Race sound like they crept from the same basement as the Modern Lovers ca. '73, Screamin' Mee Mees, The Godz, Mike Rep, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments (and other Datapanik/Anyway mobsters) and a zillion other bedroom-bound weirdos, and whilst every douchebag and their mother tries to carry off such a persona these days, few of them mean it. Or do it well. Or perform music one might actually wish to hear. For one, The UV Race are pretty odd fellows. For two, their songs are good, like, the kinda songs you'll play, flip the record over, play some more, then skip back to the side you just played 5 minutes before. There's songs about sniffing aerosol, Lego and The Kids gettin' into all kindsa trouble, man. Six songs, a trashbag sleeve and lots of hate: in ten years time I'll probably be diggin' this one up for one of those 7" bonanzas I'm always raving about. If I didn't genuinely like 'em, I simply wouldn't mention 'em. I'm writing about 'em coz I like 'em. Just because I haven't written about your band - yet - doesn't mean I don't like 'em, too. Did that sentence make any sense to you?

Next up is the much-hyped Deaf Wish. Friends of mine have raved - and I mean RAVED - about these guys to me the last few months. They're like Zen Arcade-period Huskers meets My War-'Flag. Or a heavier version of the Wipers. Or some other u/ground '80s shit from the US. ie - up my alley. Maybe I just suffer from a chronic case of assholeitis, or, perhaps, as a friend noted to me just the other day, I like to be seen as a taste-maker not follower, so when others - even really good friends - keep telling me how great a band is and how much I would love them, I turn off. I shut down. And then, ever so humbly, I give said band a listen. Deaf Wish, last Friday night, didn't live up to my expectations, but then again, my expectations were ludicrously high. They were, by any common standards, pretty fuggin' great, a completely shambolic, multi-vocalled machine w/ a powerhouse rhythm section (esp. the drummer), a ton of stage presence (oh what a lost art form that is!) and unexpected melodies sweeping to and fro throughout. I could throw a few names around - the aforementioned Husker Du, maybe a bit of mid-period 'Flag, and I'd even mention the anthemic quailities of At Home With You-period X (an album I've loved for, what, 22 years?) - though there's no sense of a band impoverished for a good idea simply ripping off riffs from an impressive record collection. Folks said it was a dud gig for them. I'll have to go see 'em again - and pronto - coz word on the street is that they're gonna call it quits any day now. For posterity's sake, there's a 3-track 7" on the Idget Child label, which documents their sound pretty well. "Take What You Want" does possess a kinda 'Flag/Huskers hybrid sound, w/ a beautifully twisted Mould/Ginn gtr screech and anguished, near-Rollins-esque vocals (hey, think Damaged and not anything the guy has recorded the last 15-18 years, got me?), and "Mum Gets Punched In The Face" sounds like you'd expect it to. Still, Deaf Wish's approach is surprisingly post-punk, a fact I came to realise from their live performance. I expected hardcore, and Deaf Wish ain't that. You heard Husker Du's "Statues" 7"? Sure. Keep that thought. The B-side track I can't really speak for. It's entitled "Freeze The Sound". Either the pressing or my needle are sub par, since my copy skips all over the place. Bummer. I'm hanging onto this 7" for good, and I promise I will see Deaf Wish if they ever play again. When friends recommend a band to me, they do it out of love, not spite, and I should appreciate that. I promise to become a better human being. Or at least give it a shot.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Uh... yeah... I'm speechless. I shouldn't judge a film I haven't even seen yet, but it could be time to change the name of this blog... and the record label.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

GURU GURU - UFO LP (Ohr/1970)
This is a really, really great album. Originally released in 1970, it remains one of the all-time great power-trio freakout rock 'n' roll albums, far superior to Blue Cheer's efforts, in this humble blogger's opinion (well, actually, I possess no humility whatsoever, and I say all of that as a massive fan of Blue Cheer's first two LPs, if that counts for anything). UFO features four tracks of massively plodding psychedelic doom-rock, stabbing in the dark like the ultimate Amon Duul/Black Sabbath/Stooges/Hawkwind combination, and whilst such rabid namedropping probably only leads one to expect grand disappointment, UFO lives up the hype. Two things come to mind when the words "Guru Guru" are uttered in my presence: the sheer greatness of their first three LPs (that'd be this, along w/ Hinten and Kanguru) and that one fateful evening back in... what was it, 2005 or '06? I can't remember. It was the night Neil Young played at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl down here and fried everyone's brains w/ his own 45-minute free-form freakout. A good buddy of mine whom I attended the show with was similarly freaked out, and not just on the music. There were a cocktail of other substances in the mix. So mind-frying were Young's guitar jams, my friend was seen running around the venue gasping, "What the fuck, man, what is this? What is this shit, man, it's like... it's like Guru Guru meets Fushitsusha". Aaah, maybe you had to be there.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Sometimes a picture tells a thousand words, and a title tells a thousand more: Psychedelic Afro-Rock and Fuzz Funk In 1970s Nigeria. This CD/2LP came out recently on the UK imprint, Soundway, a label whose track record in bringing the world the best in yesteryear grooves from Africa and Latin America remains unbeatable, and it will stand tall by December the 31st as one of the best archival releases of the last 12 months. Screeching P-Funk/JBs-damaged psych-funk from Nigeria, a fact which has me only thinking of how much good music there is to discover out there before I croak. Nigerian psychedelic funk from the 1970s. I'll file that right next to Ethiopian soul-jazz and Russian avant-improv from the same period as genres you just never woulda guessed... but if you've never heard any Mulatu Astatke, Getatchew Mekurya or the Ganelin Trio, then there's no time like now.
Huh... this blog has been trawling along for four and a half years now. I expect to receive a gold watch in six months time.

My brother is in New York right now; in fact, he spent last Friday in the city witnessing a free open-air concert celebrating the 4th of July. The line-up? Sonic Youth supported by The Feelies. Not bad... not bad at all. Last time I noticed, the free concert us 'Strines were offered to celebrate the day of our modern founding as a country, we got Russell Crowe and Thirsty Merc. Sometimes you Yanks do get it right.

That image above is from the Hawaii LP by the Last Of The Juanitas. Weird how things turn out sometimes. When Gary from Yawning Man/Ten East rang me about 6 months back, he was raving to me about this guy Bryan Giles who going to play guitar on the new Ten East record. He told me he'd always been a fan of his work in the band, Last Of The Juanitas, and that his current outfit, Red Fang, will kick yer backside into next week. LOTJ... it rang a bell, couldn't figure where. It wasn't until months later when I Googled an image search that I came up w/ the above picture. The bell was truly rung. I realised that LOTJ were actually a band I had flogged incessantly whilst working at Missing Link throughout 2000-2001, so much so that I had written my own sticker explaining its wares to The Kids, in the hope of selling more copies, and yet I'd never picked it up myself. Now I have. My ebay purchase of the LP version just hit the front doorstep this evening. Scored it for a Nice Price, and now I'm smiling... perhaps even gloating a little. LOTJ were a predominantly instrumental outfit who existed between the years 1996-2004, released a few LPs, EPs and 7"s, toured a bunch and called it a day. For the finer points, find 'em here. One listen to Hawaii and the memories flood back: hearing a record by a band you know absolutely nothing about, yet are immediately impressed by. The standard description for the band remains this: Melvins meets Black Flag. That'll do for me. You can call 'em math-metal, jazz-punk, doom-rock, whatever. The rampant six-string Ginnisms mixed up w/ Melvins-y sludge is my ticket to a good time. Glad I made the effort. Seek and ye shall enjoy.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

JAMBANG - Connecting CD (SST/2008)
If you're comfortable with the idea of Greg Ginn being a musician as opposed to punk rock icon, then this CD is something you should get yer ears around in the year 2008. Ginn - no introduction needed - has thrown a few musical curveballs the last 18 months. Just last year, he released two albums I really liked: one by The Taylor Texas Corrugators, who spewed out a kind of messed-up, Sharrock-esque take on Western swing; and one by his long-running trio/solo project, Gone, who released their best album in eons w/ The Epic Trilogy, a 2CD set which lived up to its "epic" title (and, realistically, could've been shaved down a tad) and featured none other than notorious/infamous/legendary/etc. Bad Brainer, HR, on vocals. If you're letting this stuff simply escape your radar because you felt like Ginn went off the musical map in the '90s, never to return, then you're doing yourself a grave disservice. His music is jumping in a thousand different directions, and there's lots of goods to be had. And that brings me to Jambang, his new project which navigates the "jamband" minefield with three young players by his side. I briefly wrote about 'em 6 months ago or so, though that was only judging by their MySpace page, but now I have their debut CD in my hands: Connecting. I've had it for a week, flogged it, given it the spin the car and have a reached a verdict: it's the best thing he's done for - geez, a long time - and again traverses a completely different pathway to just about anything w/ his name on it. JAM BAND... get Dave Matthews outta yer head, or Phish, or that dude w/ dreadlocks you see juggling fire down the market corner. This is, putting it ever-so-simply, a psych-tinged rock band who "jam", who find a groove, a momentum, and ride w/ it. They also don't sound like too many other records in my collection. Surprisingly, there's little 'Dead damage in their sound; I'm reminded more of the Manzurek/Kreiger aspects of The Doors as filtered through the minimalist drone of Spacemen 3. Ginn's guitar is uncharacteristically elegant and flowing, with none of the jagged spikes and outbreaks he's renowned for. It's also fairly melodic throughout, with basic riffs worked on and expanded, giving the almost verse/chorus structures of the songs a lyrical quality. Bass, mandolin, multiple keyboards (organs and synths) and guitars intertwine throughout, w/ portions of this bringing to mind Television's revolutionary take on an aggressive prog/psych-rock sound, though that's a red herring which'll probably bite me on the ass later on. What this is is very good indeed, an excellent, contemporary take on psychedelic instrumental rock, a beast flogged often, but rarely does it sound like this. You will be surprised...