Friday, March 05, 2010

It's not often I hear a contemporary rock album which actually gives me shudders of greatness, but such a feeling happened just this past week. By pure accident, too. I got a promo of the new album by American space/psych-rockers, WHITE HILLS, self-titled it be, and it's a pretty darn hot product. Released on Thrill Jockey, too, a label I had pegged as an odd choice for this certain brand of cosmic doom, since I've always viewed TJ as the nesting place for hoards of Chicago-based jazzified post-rockers, but what the hell do I know, huh? Obviously not a lot, coz White Hills are musical purveyors of the nicest slice of Hawkwind-derived pie to've hit me in a while. What the band does do is not something which hasn't been done a thousand or more times before: a mixture of out-and-out four-to-the-floor "rockers" which sound like they coulda been ripped from Space Ritual, slower, doomier numbers which a platter of echo-laden guitar effects for full effect, and a couple of atmospheric tracks which swoosh like it's take-off time. You've heard it, I've heard it: all before. But White Hills have got the songs, not mere jams. I was in a band like White Hills about 5-6 years back. We jammed. Boy oh boy, did we jam. But we never wrote any songs. It hit a point where I got bored w/ the whole thing and called it quits. I figured that if it was boring me - and I was playing in the band! - then I could only begin to imagine the tedium of being an audince member witnessing such indulgence. Of course, sometimes you hit that right stride, that moment where it gels, but the moments in between are what kills it. White Hills have, for the most part, just kept the good bits. I didn't expect to dig this a whole lot - the idea of this brand of music still existing in 2010 seems almost trite and over-played - but a dozen listens have proved its worth. What else do you need to know? A track-by-track rundown for this kinda sound is irrelevant. It's not so much song-based but about the overall feel. In the case of White Hills, the feeling is good. LP and CD editions, for those interested, feature different artwork and slightly different tracks, and both look mighty handsome, too.

JEMEEL MOONDOC - Muntu Recordings 3CD/book box set (No Business/2009)
Whoooaaah, Nelly! This one came right outta nowhere - or, to be more precise, Lithuania - but it's an excellent item to behold. I only learned of its existence by pure chance (reading a review in Dusted), and within two minutes I'd given in and ordered a copy straight from the labal via ebay (the cheapest way to get it). Its existence begs the question: a deluxe box set of an obscure New York-based avant-garde musician's out-of-print LPs from the 1970s released on a Lithuanian label? Now I've seen it all. And I'm glad I have. I've mentioned Moondoc a number of times in this blog over the years, possibly in those entries you skip whilst awaiting my verdict on a punk record. I saw him play at the Knitting Factory in NY back in '99, with no less than Sabir Mateen and William Parker, and he knocked my head clear off. Nice guy, too (I had to add that in). He's got a bunch of albums out on the Eremite label whom, along w/ the AUM Fidelity imprint, is the label of choice for NY jazz the last decade) and a smattering of releases on various smalltime outlets from the last 30 years, but for the most part has remained a minor figure in the overall scheme of things. Hopefully this box will amend such a situation. Back in the '70s, when the NY loft scene was all a-happenin' w/ shows hosted by the likes of Ornette Coleman at Artists House and Sam Rivers at Studio Rivbea, shows of which comprised of folks such as the awesome Frank Lowe, Anthony Braxton and Leroy Jenkins, as well as stalwarts like Don Cherry and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Moondoc was in the thick of it, releasing a couple of mythical and impossible-to-find LPs on his own Muntu label. I'd never even bothered searching for them, figuring I'd have to skip things like food and clothing to pay for them, and that's where this release comes in. Disc one, First Feeding, is a five-piece recording from 1977 featuring William Parker and Rashied Bakr; disc two, The Evening Of The Blue Men from 1979, is a quartet with Bakr and Parker again, as well as trumpeter Roy Campbell (still active, with an inspiring CD on AUM Fidelity a few years back); and disc three is a previously unreleased live trio recording from 1975. This is first-rate underground clutter, filled with an intensity which rivals Cecil Taylor's best recordings from the period. Considering the more jovial nature of his '90s output, there's a fire present here which is pretty astonishing, and a total revelation to anyone who knows the guy's work but has never been exposed to his earlier recordings (not to imply that Moondoc has gone "soft"; his material from the last decade possesses an excellent Ornette/Mingus vibe, a sound quite dissimilar to the raw blast present here).
All of this is housed in a DVD-sized slipcase w/ a 115-page book detailing the loft scene of the day, Moondoc's music throughout the years, a complete discography, rare photos and flyer reproductions of the time (many of which, w/ their handmade DIY look, mirror those of hardcore shows from a few years later) and essays by jazz scribe Ed Hazell. In short, it ranks amongst the holiest of Holy Grails for avant-jazz geeks. I'm ranking it as the finest reissue package - sounds, words, visuals - I've encountered in the last 12 months. There's only a thousand of these suckers made then they're all gone. If you don't skip through all this jazz nonsense I write about, but instead actively seek out some of it out - and like it - then The Muntu Recordings should be on your shopping list.

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My buddy Joe from Last Days Of Man On Earth alerted me to this excellent article on the history of Homestead Records. I owned (and still own) a whole bunch of records on the label, just like a lotta folks do, but the who's, why's, what's and where's always remained largely a mystery to me. This fills in the gaps, and it's a fine read for those interested. Their output was inconsistent, at best, and their legacy probably doesn't rank alongside the likes of SST, Dischord, Touch & Go et al for a number of reasons (possibly the most obvious being that it was never owner-operated, therefore lacking that single-minded vision which guided its competition), but I can't deny, after browsing their complete discography, that there's some gold in there. Now, someone oughta finally get some My Dad Is Dead reissues happenin'...

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Here's another blog I'm going to alert you to: my brother's! Fear not, there are not now two blogs extolling the virtues of the Alter-Natives, Paper Bag and Treacherous Jaywalkers to the world: this one's visual, documenting his recent artwork and his long-running portrait series. Support him: he's starving and tortured. In all seriousness, and despite any accusations of nepotism, it's excellent work and I'm a-mighty pleased to be linkin' it right here.

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