Wednesday, February 25, 2009

X - X-Aspirations CD (Aztec)
It's early days yet, but I doubt you'll hear many reissues in 2009 which better this. You might not hear any. This long-time-coming reissue of X's debut platter from 1980 is an absolutely essential item for anyone reading this. I don't say that about too many records I discuss here - I'm all too aware of the fact that the bulk of what I review requires a, shall I say, "acquired taste" - but X-Aspirations is a rare record which crosses many boundaries in its fandom. Thank the lord the good people at Aztec have done such a fine job in its remastering and presentation, giving it the lush treatment it deserves (they've also done the same for a few other Australian classics by Died Pretty, Lobby Loyde/Coloured Balls, Buffalo, Tamam Shud, etc... so much so I'd have to rate it as one of the world's finest reissue imprints currently happening). But anyway!...
A little history... my older brother used to go see X a lot back in the mid '80s when he was about 15-16; he'd sneak into pubs w/ a fake ID and the band quite obviously made a huge impact on him. He knelt at the altar of this and their 1985 follow-up, At Home With You. I grew up w/ them in the house and dug 'em a whole lot, but I was into a slightly different thing. So, I guess you could say that X-Aspirations is sketched into my brain, whether I wanted it or not. I managed to grab secondhand vinyl copies of their first two LPs about 10 years back, pull 'em out for the yearly spin and nod my head in agreement: a-fucking-mazing records, no doubt about it. And now I'll appreciate their debut a whole lot more, since my old age has made me a lazy coot w/ vinyl-spinning (a two-year-old daughter trawling the house constantly looking for items to destroy doesn't help) and I can thrash this in the car and truly appreciate its wares on long road trips. I've done exactly that the last 2 weeks.
Back in the mid '80s, when I first heard this, it made perfect sense in the grand scheme of things. Nearly 25 years later, I'm finding it difficult to slot it into any convenient musical hole. It doesn't appear to fit. Back then, you could file X next to Feedtime or Grong Grong or King Snake Roost or Venom P. Stinger or Cosmic Psychos - all bands heavily indebted to X, mind you - or whoever was currently hot in the noise-ridden Aussie underground, and you could see where it was coming from and where it was leading. It wasn't quite punk, but nor was it hard rock or garage or noise or "post-punk". It was definitely distinctly Australian, but it was no run-of-the-mill yob-rock for the masses. The band known as X, throughout their nascent period as demonstrated here, had tapped into something quite unique. Maximum Rock 'n' Roll once compared 'em to Gang Of Four, and whilst I balked at such a remark when I read it 15 years back, I now see their point. From an outsider's perspective, this does, at least superficially, sound like angular post-punk, all funky bass and scratchy guitars w/ shouted, often simplistic lyrics. I'd even dumb it down to a two-line blurb and say they resemble Bon-era AC/DC playing GOF's Entertainment on a purely sonic level, but it doesn't capture the magic of the album. X were a strange combination of the young and old: bassist Ian Rilen had been playing regularly in bands since the early '70s (most notably in Rose Tattoo, of course; he wrote their first big hit, "Bad Boy For Love", a song whose royalty statements apparently helped keep a roof over his head until his death a few years back), drummer Steve Cafiero had been beating the skins playing in various garage/beat groups since the '60s, whilst the young Steve Lucas, who possessed an awesome, tortured wail back in the day, was the neophyte and strictly a newcomer on the guitar, his amateurism on the instrument lending it an almost free-jazz bent (whether he wanted it to or not!). Throw the three of them together and you have an amazingly jagged and propulsive trio, all punk energy, rock 'n' roll bravado and a minimalist attack which wouldn't've seemed too out of place in ol' blighty ca. 1979.
Every single song here nails it: "Suck Suck", "Present", "Police" (a great anti-cop anthem), "Good On Ya Baby", "Dipstick", "Revolution" (when you hear Lucas yelp out the line "Rock 'n' roll may be no solution, but that's what I wanna hear!" you'll just about lose yer shit, believe me), "I Don't Wanna Go Out", et al. For anyone who's been paying attention to the better music emanating from this land the last 30 years these rank as almost folk tunes - everyone knows 'em, right? - but for newcomers I can only envy the excitement of hearing this for the very first time. It's simply that good. It's one of the top 5 greatest Australian rock albums ever put to tape, and it all came together with the magnificent Lobby Loyde (can't recommend those Aztec reissues of his albums enough) at the controls on one afternoon in 1979 in a mere 3 1/2-hour recording session. Yep, it's "rock" but not like any other rock you've heard before. In this rare instance, simplistic labels won't do it any justice whatsoever. You'll just have to hear it for yourself.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

TEN EAST live at the Annandale in Sydney, December 2008. You can see the full show here. This is some pretty ass-kickin' stuff. Dig it!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bought this a few weeks back w/ a voucher I got for my birthday; it's one of John Zorn's latest, The Dreamers. Couldn't think of anything else to buy - I've already got two-dozen of the guy's albums, do I need another?! - so I picked it up, played it once at home and filed it away. One for the collection. I gave it another spin this Friday just passed, just to make sure I wasn't being too dismissive when I wrote it off previously as Zorn-on-autopilot, a perfectly predictable combination of sounds he'd run into the ground on other releases such as The Gift and Taboo and Exile (two albums I love, by the way): surf guitar, lounge jazz, improv-jazz screeching, Klezmer melodies and raging faux-hardcore/grind. Well, in fairness, there is a fair bit of exactly that here, and it really doesn't stray too far from a well-worn formula the guy's carved out the last 25 years, but subsequent listens have shown it to be one of his better forays in recent years, and that's coming from a guy who likes Zorn's schtick a lot. And get Mike Patton out of yer head. And Mr. Bungle. I hate 'em both. That half-assed clown-metal shit is a different species and not what Zorn does. The key track here is number 4, "Anulikwatsayl". I'm sure the title means something important. It's over nine minutes long and one of the best things I've heard Zorn do. With Marc Ribot on guitar, it's got that perfect Sonny Sharrock/Pete Cosy wail happening, with droning organs, stuttering drums and awesome atmospherics. Yep, for the record, it does remind me a whole lot of '73-period Miles, but since I'll state on record once more that Miles Davis' music between the years 1969 to 1975 remains the greatest singular output of any musician ever known to mankind - the most brilliant series of albums (and there's a lot of them) ever released in quick succession by an artist who played and put 'em out like he was on the run - I'll state that any Miles comparisons shouldn't be taken the wrong way. The rest of the album's pretty cool, too; it just doesn't happen to sound that different to half-a-dozen other albums I own by the guy. It won't change my world, but I'll take it out on occasion, play it once and file again for the next 12 months. But I'll enjoy it when it's played. That is the life The Dreamers will act out in my house. It's got a real swish package, too, as do most things Zorn-related: a neat fold-out cardboard sleeve adorned with art by the great Heung-Heung "Chippy" Chin. You even get a set of stickers of cute Japanese-style action figures which you'll never use. After all, you don't want to fuck w/ the packaging. If you're into the idea of cluttering your life up w/ a ridiculous amount of music you'll never get the time to truly appreciate in this lifetime, The Dreamers won't break yer back.
Part two of Lexicon Devil's THE SCENE IS NOW reissue series, 1986's Total Jive, will be out in March. More primo post-No Wave NYC avant-pop for the ages. Burn All Your Records, their debut from 1984, will be reissued in May.

Friday, February 06, 2009

What a week! Vale to two gents whose music moved my heart and hips: John Martyn and Lux Interior, both (allegedly) 60 years of age and both crazy-assed wild men who lived it hard. Musically they mighta been from different stratospheres, but both made a big impact on my psyche in their own ways. Lux did it to me as an alienated 13-year-old dork when my older brother brought home a cassette comprising of Off The Bone and Songs The Lord Taught Us, something which quickly made me realise there was a world of cool music beyond the Sex Pistols. I thought the likes of Lux, Ivy, Bryan Gregory and Nick Knox were the scariest, most awesome mofos who ever hit earth. I think I was right. Weird and somewhat disconcerting to see these '70s punk-rock heroes dropping like flies the last decade. John Martyn hit my world in my mid 20s. It was an older British workmate who'd worked for the likes of Rough Trade and Mute in his time who felt it was his duty to give me an education on certain artists who were sorely lacking on my musical radar. First on the list was Mr. Martyn. The likes of Bless The Weather, Solid Air, Sunday's Child and Inside Out - some of the best British albums of the 1970s - very quickly became firm favourites and I held my head up high as a Martyn cheerleader bar none. His music, which combined elements of British folk, American blues and even shades of spiritual avant-jazz, like the best of music, soothed my troubled psyche during stormy times. I owe the guy something, I'm sure.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

It was my 37th birthday a few weeks ago. A couple of family members bought me some good things. I expected nothing - too old for that shit now - but in hindsight I'm glad they made the effort. One such gift was this book, The Masque: Nightmare In Punk Alley, by ex-Masque owner, Brendan Mullen. Mullen has made a bit of a name for himself the last few years, being somewhat of a flag-waver for the early LA punk rock scene, and whilst the cynical part of me thinks he starting to sound like a punk-rock version of a hoary old hippie talking about Woodstock and how "we changed the world, man", the other half - the music fan and insane enthusiast for early west coast punk rock - thanks the heavens daily that such a man exists. There's been a glut of punk books the last coupla years, and frankly, a lot of them ain't that good. So much so that I don't even tend to browse them in book stores anymore... but this one's an exception. It's essentially a photo-based coffee-table tome detailing LA's legendary Masque club - mainly pictures, little text - but there are just so many damn photos here I've never seen before, all reproduced on lovely glossy paper, big 'n' bold for the eyeballs to see, that it stands head and shoulders above most of its competition of recent years. Darby, Alice Bag, Claude Bessey, Craig Lee, Trudie, KK Barrett, Geza X, Al Flipside (whatever happened to him?!)... all the usual suspects are here, but you also get some cool shots of some of the 3rd-string Masque bands from early in the day who didn't make it far (Mullen notes that in the beginning, there was a bit of a glut of nth-rate Tubes-like New Wave wannabes w/ flares and wrap-around sunglasses attempting to hitch a ride on the bandwagon; once the Weirdos and Screamers started making a dent, such acts were banished to history), and even some funny 'Flag-related photos I never knew existed: an early audience shot of a long-haired Greg Ginn in a leather jacket and Lou Reed t-shirt(!), and even a rather young and fresh-faced Dukowski wearing an utterly ridiculous handmade t-shirt featuring a Black Flag flyer. I find this shit endlessly fascinating - the late '70s punk explosion in LA was a quiet revolution in sound and style which most people never knew (or know!) existed - but for moi it was the ultimate in street cool, and I'll keep perusing and searching for this shit 'til I croak.
I was also given a gift voucher for a certain retail outlet down here (no names, please), and promptly blew the lot all in one go: Godfather 1 and 2 DVDs, Arthur Russell CD and a bunch of avant-bop discs from the '60s Blue Note roster, most notably Jackie McLean and Andrew Hill. McLean made a zillion records for the label. He remains my workmate's fave jazz dude of all time, and when I noted my shocking ignorance of the man's work to him a few weeks ago, he simply remarked that, given my more hard-assed free/avant background in such a music form, I probably thought that anything less than Peter Brotzmann shoving a tenor saxophone up his ass and blowing probably didn't rate in my book as "jazz". Not true, of course, though other than a few obvious choices - Ornette, Cecil Taylor, Eric Dolphy - I'll admit that my collection of classic Blue Note platters has been somewhat lacking. McLean's Old And New Gospel from 1967 is definitely worth a shot. It's the only discs ever to feature Ornette as a sideman, and sees McLean and co. (inc. Billy Higgins) hitting the heights in a pretty mean fashion. Soundwise, this isn't much of a stretch from Ornette's records from the period (Love Call and New York Is Now!, both also on Blue Note), and that's not something I care to sneeze at. Even better are pianist Andrew Hill's discs from 1964/'65: Point Of Departure and Compulsion!!!, respectively. The former features Eric Dolphy on alto sax, flute and bass clarinet, as well as a mighty young Tony Williams on sticks, and remains an inspiring stew of avant-bop reaching into the stratosphere w/ cluttering piano keys and Dolphy's awesome squawls throughout. My pick of the bunch, however, is Compulsion!!!, a disc I've been unable to take out of the player for a fortnight. It's got the ace line-up of Freddie Hubbard, the Arkestra's John Gilmore and Pharoah Sanders sideman Cecil McBee, as well as two percussionists and a wall of plink/plonk from Mr. Hill. Soundwise, it's like early '60s Sun Ra (think Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy) mixing it up w/ primo Cecil and even a touch of Art Ensemble in the faux-Pan African percussive clang. It's the real deal. Hill recorded a huge swag of albums for Blue Note back in the '60s and I get a feeling I need them all.
I'm beginning to think Arthur Russell may've been a genius. Sure, I think I'm also the last guy on earth to acknowledge that fact, but a genius nonetheless he was. I gave a brief rave a few years back regarding the man's World Of Echo CD - a solo cello/voice album which somehow captures the ghosts of both Nick Drake and John Martyn (RIP!!) in its sound w/ a NYC No Wave texture, but from what I can gather, he was good at everything he did: from booty-shaking '70s homo disco right on through to sensitive singer-songwriter balladry. A great new-ish comp' to hits the shelves is Love Is Overtaking Me (Audika/Rough Trade), which comprises recordings from the early '70s to the mid '80s. Listening to it from start to finish - there's solo guitar/vocal stuff through to New Wave-y drum-machine-abetted pop and full-band roots-rock - it's hard to believe it's the one guy in charge of it all. Sometimes he sounds like Ian Matthews then it's Jonathan Richman then it's Loaded-period VU then he comes across like a mid '70s "outlaw" vocalist a la Guy Clarke/Townes Van Zandt. Most of all, it's all good, and considering the guy's catalogue is expanding by the month - not too bad for a dead guy who received little kudos in his day - I'll probably be jumping on all of it as it gets released. You never know what you're in for w/ an Arthur Russell album, but so far it's all sounded pretty goddamn ace to me.