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.