Friday, February 22, 2008

THE SCENE IS NOW

Dunno how, but this interview w/ one of my all-time fave bands, The Scene Is Now, appeared on the Perfect Sound Forever web site back in '01 and I missed it. I wrote about the band way back in the early days of this blog (actually, it was the second entry), so you can browse that for any details you may care to know. Their three albums from the 1980s - Burn All Your Records (1984), Total Jive (1986) and Tonight We Ride (1988) - rank high on my list as some of the best and most stupidly overlooked albums of that decade. Whilst their music slickened up considerably as they went along, by no means was it diminished in power (in fact, Tonight We Ride is my fave). I'll steal what others say about them and hail them as NYC's finest ever No Wave jug band, as, whilst their approach borrows heavily from that quick-as-a-flash movement which beheld hipsters by storm throughout the late '70s/early '80s, as well as strong elements of Eno, Beefheart, Minutemen, 'Ubu and The Feelies, there's a rootsy approach to their music, as well as a dash of Tin Pan Alley, which makes them utterly unique. Not often do you find a band which can bring to mind Dub Housing-era 'Ubu, Fugs, Bob Wills and Hoagy Carmichael in the space of a minute. The band has a Myspace site here and are still recording, releasing albums (which I must get my hands on) and playing around the traps on occasion, so if you happen to be in the NYC area...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

SCHLIPPENBACH TRIO

With a cover like that, at least you know you're dealing w/ a free-improv group w/ a sense of humour, one of the traits which sets the Schlippenbach Trio ahead of the pack. I had a major thing for this lot back at the dawn of the '00s when I considered myself Mr. Free Jazz, and one of the reasons I fell for these guys so hard was because of my seeming ignorance of their importance in the history of European free jazz and improvisation. It had to be corrected. Let me explain... It's the year 2000 and I'm working at Missing Link. I'm the guy in charge of the jazz section (yes, such responsibilities; my mother was so proud), and I feel it is my absolute right and responsibility to fob off any and every sundry piece of "fire music" we carry to every punk rock/hardcore/indie putz who walks in the door. "You buying a copy of Slip It In? Well, if you like Ginn's guitar work on that album, you'll love this expensive Japanese James "Blood" Ulmer reissue we have, not to mention these Ivo Perelman CDs on Leo, as well as the entire Ganelin Trio and David S. Ware catalogue we have sitting around...". God knows I tried, damnit, I tried. At one point a bespectacled fellow w/ a ponytail(!) came in - a gentleman I recognised as a regular customer prone to blowing wads of cash on all matters of avant platter - and he asked me if I had any discs by Alexander Von Schlippenbach and his infamous trio. "Alexander Von what?", I squinted back. He repeated the question. I searched through the bags and noticed, amongst all the FMP CDs we were getting in, there were actually a few discs by him, including this one, Swinging The Bim, an expensive double CD I didn't even know we stocked. I sold it, he left, and I felt slighted. I mean, I should know these things; after all, I'm a professional. I borrowed a couple of the Trio's CDs that night from work, Googled his name and did my studies. Hmmm...German fellow, family lineage involves possible European royalty, hardcore avant pianist since the '60s when he formed the Globy Unity Orchestra, been playing w/ famed UK jazz/improv dudes, reedsman Evan Parker and percussionist Paul Lytton since 1970 as the Trio, etc.
Most of all, the music hit home, and as one learns in retail: the customer was truly right in this instance. The Schlippenbach Trio were well worth searching out, and I soon learned that the man's discography, which was not only extensively documented on the FMP label, but was also starting to be unearthed and issued on the Atavistic imprint out of Chicago, was a can of worms I was likely to blow a pretty penny on. The exhaustive double live set from 2000, Swinging The Bim (FMP), remains my favourite. I've since become bored w/ what passes for most non-swinging Euro-derived avant-garde improvised music - much of which sounds like an intellectual experiment as opposed to music I'd really want to sit down and listen to - though the Schlippenbach Trio possess a telepathy between each player and sees three men perfectly playing off each other's musical capabilities. Their "songs" are usually of extreme length and build up in pace and intensity, not unlike our own Necks, and seemingly possess a sense of purpose most improvised music lacks. You can stick this long live set on, kick back and enjoy the ride. No piddling around here, kid-o, the Schlippenbach Trio always play it like they mean it, and some eight years later, I'm glad to say that that customer really set me on a course for knowledge and enightenment of which I was otherwise wholly ignorant of.

Now here's some other shit flyin' high in this household...

1) DIRTY THREE - Whatever You Love, You Are CD (Anchor & Hope/2000)
A 21st-century D3 platter which previously escaped my glares, and having now managed to score every single one of their albums in just the last month - see entry below for the full details of the D3 revival happening in the Lang household - I will state that this one is their absolute best release, perfectly encapsulating all the tension/release, improvisation, soaring melodies, epic grandeur and all that other bulltwang music critics throw around when speaking of the band... (draws breath) in one single collection of songs. You need it.


2) ALI FARKA TOURE - Radio Mali CD (World Circuit/Nonesuch)
Been hooked on this guy's work of late, a trend perhaps brought on by a workmate's love of African music and my education of said music, a learning process which I've undertaken at a steady rate the last 12 months. This collection puts together Toure's best tracks from his early albums from the '70s/'80s, and his hypnotic bluesy ragas - certainly not unlike the best boogie chillin' tracks by John Lee Hooker and Junior Kimbrough - stir hearts and loins.


3) VARIOUS ARTISTS - Country & West Coast: The Birth Of Country Rock CD (Big Beat/Ace/2006)
Got this one off a friend who is the walking encyclopedia of early American country rock in the southern hemisphere. I mean, someone must wear such a crown, and he is that man. Recording times, sidemen, original catalogue numbers, subsequent drug problems: you wanna know it, you ask the man. This ace comp' puts together the absolute best pre-Eagles country-rock tracks you'll hear from the likes of the Byrds, Flying Burrito Bros. (and every other Byrds spin-off you can imagine), Everly Brothers, Michael Nesmith, etc., and wraps it up in an educational booklet which tells the story of country rock before it was corrupted in a sea of cocaine, waaay-too-successful careers and FM-radio fodder. Call me a fuggin' hippie, but I can dig this stuff but good.


4) VARIOUS ARTISTS - Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds and Nigerian Blues 1970-'76 2CD (Soundway/2008)
This one deserves its own entry, and probably will in subsequent weeks. A releases of such dedication in sounds, presentation and information, it staggers and boggles the mind. This one shoulda been on Revenant wrapped up in an embossed leather suitcase. You get Afro-funk, blues, Rhumba, jazz and everything in between. Early days yet, but I see as this as possibly being the best archival release of '08. Get it and tell me I'm wrong.


5) BOY DIRT CAR - Spoken Answer To A Silent Question CD (Aftermusic/2008)
The 'Car are back! Yep, Darren Brown, Die Kreuzen's Dan and Keith and all the gang. All that's missing is Eric Lunde. I've got a major soft spot for this midwestern aggro industrial-punker outfit who've been banging tins since '82 - you probably already guessed that - and this one's a real goodie! Damn, I should've released the dang thing myself. Four tracks, not so much industrial clang 'n' blang, but more on the drone side of things. Some of this sounds like beatnik jazz mutterings, some of it sounds like a Terry Riley piece from '65, and some of it hovers the orbit of 'Floyd ca. '69. You will be surprised. A fuggin' inspiration, truly. Nice package, too.

Saturday, February 09, 2008


SHEER FUCKING GENIUS #1: UNIVERSAL CONGRESS OF - S/T LP (SST/1987)
Yep, you got me... down this road again. If you'd all just listened the first time around, I wouldn't be repeating myself here. I mean, has anyone heard this album? When Ginn hits these shores later in the year, you can guarangoddamntee one thing: I will pester the guy 'til I'm blue in the face for the rights to reissue this long-ignored masterpiece and get it back into public view in the form of a small, shiny metal disc. This is the album Baiza and co. recorded just after Saccharine Trust originally called it a day back in '86. Baiza was in his finest form yet, blazing out ear-defying solos caught somewhere in the realm of Hendrix, McLaughlin, Cosey, Sharrock and Ulmer (whom, along w/ Baiza, are the only jazz/rock guitarists you ever need to know), w/ a red-hot rhythm section keeping a steady, vaguely funkified groove in the stratosphere of Czukay/Liebezeit. The album has two songs: "Certain Way", an opus overstepping the 30-minute mark which drags itself over two sides; and the shorter, ending coda, "Chasing", a kinda "cosmic" piece which quietly fades out the disc. You might not've been the biggest fan of Saccharine Trust - they are, after all, an aquired taste - and maybe you didn't like those later UCO albums on SST and the Enemy label, as they ventured into a more mid-'70s Ornette/No Wave jazz/funk direction, though if you consider yourself a fan of Maggot Brain-period Funkadelic (esp. the title track), Miles' Dark Magus and Get Up With It, or Can ca. Tago Mago, then there is no reason on earth why this shouldn't be sitting on a shelf somewhere in your abode. It is first-rate cosmic slop just waiting for someone to care. Along w/ The Scene Is Now's Tonight We Ride, Slovenly's Riposte and Dawson's How To Follow So That Others Will Willingly Lead LP, I hereby nominate it as one of the greatest, yet most willfully ignored albums of the last 25 years. Dig it out and dig it.

Friday, February 08, 2008

RANDOM RAMBLINGS...

Watched the new EX DVD last night: Building A Broken Moustrap: Live in NYC 2004 (Touch & Go). Well, I say it's "new", which it is, but I'm also pretty sure it's their first foray into live DVD documents. Directed by Jem Cohen and Matt Boyd, who were also behind that Fugazi film, Instrument (which I still haven't seen), it's essentially a live concert film of the band playing at the Knitting Factory on September the 11th, 2004, with cutaway footage of NYC street scenes between songs. Which I guess makes it a "film". I wish it could've been much longer, with at least an interview or two from the band, though the live footage kept me transifixed for the 62-minute duration time, which is quite a feat, since live-footage DVDs even from bands I love tend to bore me after normally 15 minutes. The Ex have been around since 1979, which means: A) their musicianship is second-to-none and prone to stop-on-a-dime stops and starts which would make James Brown proud; and B) they look like a bunch of middle-aged Dutch social workers cutting loose for the night. I am now in total awe of the drumming prowess of Katherina Ex, as she barely breaks a sweat throughout, and if you're a keen observer, you'll see none other than Melbourne's two finest drummers - Evelyn (AKA Pikelet, Baseball, True Radical Miracle) and Max (Agents Of Abhorrence and a zillion other outfits) - in the audience ogling her multi-limbed antics. One for the fans and another goddamn music DVD to throw on the shelf. Catching this has once again had me digging through my CD rack to pull out a well-worn copy of The Ex and Tom Cora's Scrabbling At The Lock, a BIG fave of mine from '92-'95, and hail it as one of the finest albums of the '90s, and one I probably shoulda thrown into that Top 100 Albums Of All Time nonsense I published on this very screen about a year back.... There's a fellow on 3RRR, an elder statesman of Melbourne radio prone to waffling and rants about head-trips, peeling yourself off the ceiling, mind-fucks and all varieties of old-school hippie vernacular when describing some of the music he plays and loves. Sometimes he even gets it right. Lately, he's been playing tracks from STARS OF THE LID's newest effort, a double CD by the name of And Their Refinement Of The Decline on the Kranky label. He'd play a couple of long tracks in a row, and after I'd peeled myself from the celing and dusted myself off, I realised he may be onto a good thing. 's kinda funny I should be talking about this; SOTL and their hombres on the Kranky label have usually been the objects of my derision the last decade, and I can't for the life of me figure out why, since I bought the label's debut release, Labradford's Prazision CD, when it first came out and raved about it to anyone within earshot for a good few years. Then the gimmick wore off and I dismissed the label's entire roster as a bunch of indie-ambient dorks best left for the cardigan set, and dutifully ignored everything they did. In hindsight, that was probably pretty fucking stupid, and all too typical of my blanket dismissal of various schools of sound I've barely bothered to even lend an ear to (see, at least I admit it!). Much like that debut Labradford platter - which still sounds great, by the way - SOTL, a Texan electronic duo, take the basic template of Eno's barely-shifting sheets of sound from the '70s/'80s (both Discreet Music and Music For Airports will do) and drag it out over two discs. Actually, if you include their entire catalogue, it's a lot more than that. I've heard the SOTL name bandied about for years, but have only now taken the plunge. I'm glad I did. There's not a whole lot happening here; waves of sound drone in and out, but like Eno's finest works back in the heyday, there appears to be a purpose to each note, and none of it ever gets washed out into New Age sepiatone. Pretty OK stuff by me, that's for sure... Whenever there's a new issue of UGLY THINGS mag on the racks, it's time to celebrate. I was accused of damning Mike Stax and his beloved creation with faint praise some 6 months ago when I announced my great love of the mag, yet gave a faltering recommendation based on the belief that Stax's (over-)extended coverage of various acts was undermining an otherwise fine publication. Well, that may've been the case, but for me, the latest issue has amended that situation a bit and stands as possibly the best issue I've ever read (which is seriously only about half-a-dozen or so, and the one w/ the unbelievably foul and hilarious interview w/ Kim Fowley from the early '00s is still my fave). The balance is perfect: an excellent, and previously unpublished, interview w/ the MC5's Rob Tyner, in which he comes across as a whole lot more intelligent and likeable than that fuggin' egomaniac dimwit, Wayne Kramer; an article/interview w/ famed '60s/'70s Brit folk-rock outfit, Trees (whose albums you should own and enjoy... actually, I don't own them, but have always enjoyed them when they've been played to me); the complete story of Billy Childish's late '70s band, The Pop Rivets; '60s garage obscurities are taken care of w/ The Sons Of Adam, The Floggs and a look at the early Norwegian rock/beat scene (inc. cheezewiz ECM guitarist, Terje Rypdal, back in his psych days!), and a goddamn mountain of CD, DVD and book reviews. Hey, you even get an article from my pal Chris Stigliano on Jap psych-wonder, Les Ralliez Denudes, and he goes to prove he can certainly pen a very decent article on music when not cluttering up every second sentence on how gays/feminists/hippies/liberals/Family Ties/Nirvana/Ed Asner have ruined Western civilisation as we know it, and how we'd have a much better society if we all just recognised the genius humour of Gomer Pyle and Gilligan's Island. Damn! The centrepiece for moi was the article penned by everybody's favourite nerdbag record-hoarder/braggart, Johan Kugelberg, in which he nonsensically tries to explain the unsung precedents to the punk rock explosion of '76. It runs the gamut of everything from the Electric Eels to the Count Bishops to the Coloured Balls to Hawkwind, and certainly brought up a few pertinent points, such as: A) What's the beef he has w/ Sonic Youth?! He seems intent on running their names into the dirt at every given opportunity like a jilted lover. Wouldn't Thurston sell him his "Little Johnny Jewel" test pressing or something?; B) Johan's had a sudden hard-on for mid-'70s UK pub rock, so much so I was almost excited to hear all those Ducks Deluxe, Kilburn and the Highroads and Dr. Feelgood records he speaks of... then I remembered the "other" Dave Laing trying to sell me on that shit a few years back; I tried some of it out and very quickly realised that most of it blew like the wind. Maybe those live bootlegs have something the studio efforts are missing; C) Boasting that you'd gladly pay US$1,500.00 for a Japanese 7" in a magazine only makes you sound like you've got too much $ and not enough sense (but that's just me...); and D) How the fuck does seeing the Sex Pistols play in the year 2003 amount to a "proto-punk" experience??!! The article kinda sinks under the weight of its own BS by the time it concludes, though I kinda get the feeling that was the point. Whatever the case, for me it was the highlight of the issue, and for all Johan's obscene obnoxiousness, I always like to read what's on his mind and turntable. Ugly Things is now out bi-annually and it's nice to see that Stax can scrape a living out of his passion. It's 226 pages jampacked w/ info w/ nary a mean streak in sight. It's about drooling fandom, excitement and a love of music, and coming from a bunch of old geezers -and if you look at the line-up of contributors I think it's safe to say it is almost strictly the domain of old geezers - that's extremely impressive. In the age of fly-by-night blogging, a publication like Ugly Things makes me ashamed of being merely a member of the digitally-based "zine scene"...

Thursday, February 07, 2008

FATSO JETSON - Power Of Three CD (SST/1997)

Funny I should be reviewing this, since: A) I'm a Johnny-come-waaay-lately in recognising the genius of Fatso Jetson, and B) I have and am currently in the process of releasing more albums featuring a member or two of the band. Fact is, I never bothered checking FJ out 'til very early last year when I first came into contact w/ Gary Arce (Ten East, Yawning Man, etc., plus one-time FJ member), and he would call me at odd hours and rave on about the unrecognised greatness of the band. Hmmm... I considered his point and figured any greatness the band apparently possessed was also unrecognised by myself and that such a situation must be rectified, pronto. You may ask yourself how on earth I could be so ignorant of a band who had released two albums on the SST label, though in my defense I will simply state that said albums also happened to be released in the years 1995 and '97. My obsession w/ the label runs the years 1978-'89, and essentially switches off at the dawn of the '90s, when the musical direction of the label - at least for me - became hopelessly unfocused and Ginn and co. cut the release schedule down to a bare minimum. When I think of the years '95-'97 and what I was listening to, I can only think of chin-stroking/bong-smoking Germans from the '70s and angry black dudes from the '60s w/ brass instruments. My head wasn't in the FJ solar system, let alone planet.
That brings us to Fatso Jetson, the trio fronted by the two Lalli brothers: Frank & Mario. By this stage, their pedigree included stints in influential desert-rock outfits, Across The River and Yawning Man (who go way back to 1986), and were therefore hailed as gods by stoner-rock fans of all stripes, which strikes me as kinda weird, since FJ sound nothing like a "stoner-rock" band to me. The Power Of Three sees Lalli in full D. Boon mode: his voice, his guitar twang, his look. There's little to no 'Sabbath riffery in effect here; to me, this sounds like what the Minutemen coulda (and shoulda!)been up to in '86 if Boon hadn't been driving down that fateful highway in late '85: total post-Project Mersh/3-Way Tie righteosity with forays into faux-Spaghetti Western twang and rollicking boogie-rock. One may balk at the awesome power of FJ for two reasons: the neverending fawning of pimply, numbnut QOTSA fans, and the fact that SST released 'em at a time when most hipsters probably weren't paying that much attention to their roster. Never judge a book by its cover. Anyone with a penchant for first-wave SST a la 'Flag/'Puppets/Minutemen needs this one, and I'm just goddamn shocked it took me a full decade to cotton onto how great this band was, is and perhaps will be in the future.

Friday, February 01, 2008

My internet is on the fritz at home, thanks to the genius' at Virgin broadband, and will be until mid next week, so until then, perhaps you'll enjoy some rants 'n' raves from Jay over at the relaunched (Pffht! As if he was going to give it up!) Detailed Twang...