Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Here's a brief clip of Lexicon Devil middle-aged all-stars BITS OF SHIT playing at Bar Open just last week. Note the presence of females dancing up the front. They were neither: A) paid by the band; B) drugged by the band; and C) coerced by the band to engage in this activity. Miracles still happen. The 7" EP is out now and already half sold out: only 150 left. It's not available via the usual distribution channels as it's limited and hardly available, so to speak. My brother is taking care of everything. If you want a copy, email him via here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ya know, I was going to tell y'all about this record pictured above, Hawkwind's 1971 sophomore effort, In Search Of Space. I was going to speak of its greatness, its sign of better things to come w/ the addition of Lemmy on Hawkwind's subsequent albums, Do Re Mi and Space Ritual, of its masterful straddling of the early '70s punk/metal divide, of the band's high status in my canon of rock 'n' roll greats, of its lo-fi, minimalist, punkish grit, aided and abetted by its cruddy production, and of the EMI/UK CD reissue which happens to add three rather killer bonus tracks. I was going to do all of this at great length. In fact I did all of the above last night, and then I lost the whole damn thing. A computer glitch - or more to the point, a glitch on Blogger's behalf - had the whole thing flushed down the cyber toilet, never to be retrieved. Pissed off? You bet. I felt like throwing this goddamn laptop across the room, but that wouldn't have solved a thing. The only avenue left is to forget about it, take some deep breaths and go onto another topic...
I haven't been doing much of any music reading since I blathered about the San Fran punk, Death Of Trad Rock and Black Flag books earlier in the year. In the meantime, my Richard Nixon/Watergate obsession took hold, culminating in the eager digesting of various large tomes on the topic - I've just finished Rick Perlstein's Nixonland and am about to get started on his Before The Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (I should state that my political sympathies lie w/ neither man, though when a good story is told - and an important story - such things are irrelevant). And between all this, I've just managed to finish English journalist Barney Hoskyns' Waiting For The Sun: A Rock & Roll History Of Los Angeles.
Hoskyns is a veteran journalist who's spent quite a few of his years in LA, writing for the English music weeklies, MOJO, Uncut et al, as well as several books on everyone from Prince to Crosby, Stills Nash & Young. Although not a writer whose very words I hang on and hail as gospel, I've always found him informative and readable.Waiting For The Sun was originally published in 1996, then again in 1997 w/ an added chapter on Beck(!), though has been popular enough to stay in print all these years. For approximately 300 of its 370 pages, it is immensely readable.
Hoskyns traces the roots of LA's pop/rock music scene to the rhythm & blues circuit it lay down in the 1930s/'40s, when the likes of Johnny Otis and Roy Milton were cutting wild swing/R & B tracks which helped jumpstart rock 'n' roll on a wider basis in the 1950s. He then traverses through the debaucherous "West Coast Jazz" scene, populated by degenerates such as Art Pepper and Chet Baker, before finally settling into some homegrown LA rock 'n' roll. Of course, the best Los Angeles could come up with for white rock was teen idol Ricky Nelson (I keep hearing that his country-rock albums are real good, so you'll have to excuse me if, 6 months down the track, I'm raving about the guy), although the early '60s provided a boom for surf music, whether it was the wild instrumental sounds of Dick Dale or the vocal harmonies of Jan & Dean and the Beach Boys. From then on, you probably know the score: the Sunset Strip ca. '66, Byrds, Love, Seeds, Doors, the Manson murders and their effect on the LA music community, the Zappa/Beefheart freak school of thought, and then onto the mutations of country-rock, 1970s soft-rock and the Laurel Canyon school and hand-wringing, navel-gazing singer-songwriters, right on through to Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco, Kim Fowley's leacherous personality, Masque punk, hardcore, post-hardcore, hair-metal and the horrific rise of "funk-metal" w/ Jane's Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, before finishing up w/ gangsta rap, Compton style.
Up until the book hit the Masque scene, I couldn't put it down. Love it or loathe it (I mostly loathe it, though 30-40 years after the fact, the rise of gentrified west coast soft-rock made by indulgent, spoilt ex-hippies can be seen more as a natural evolution of one strain of popular music and not the spawn of Satan as we know it: nothing to get upset about), those cocaine cowboys really knew how to fuck things up, and it makes for a fascinating read. More self-destructive than the average GG Allin tribute act, their appetite for destruction rivalled that of ancient Rome, and whilst schadenfreude may figure into my enjoyment of these chapters - the largest portion of the book - at least I now feel that I have a greater understanding of why the testicles dropped off the wheels of rock 'n' roll at the time. David Geffen comes off as the hyper-ambitious creep most people already figure him to be; The Eagles as a musical version thereof - a band who were huge for the simple reason that the band was born w/ that simple goal in mind, an almost Nietzchean will to power, if you like; and the likes of David Crosby, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne are portrayed in various means, from arrogant, coke-addled burnouts (Crosby) to hapless, well-meaning (but talented) schlebs whose careers started hitting the skids once the "scene" began to dry up at the dawn of the '80s, and idealists like Browne and Mitchell found themselves caught in the headlights of Reagan's America, where earth shoes and the rights of El Salvadorian workers meant zip to the bulk of the general public. I know none of these people personally, though the pictures painted seem quite authentic to me.
I can't say for sure whether the problem is me or Hoskyns, but I found the sections on the punk/hardcore scenes both unsubstantive and redundant. Perhaps the subjects have just been tackled better in books specialising in the topics the last 15 years (most notably in We Got The Neutron Bomb), though there wasn't a single word said or point brought up which I hadn't read elsewhere before, and Hoskyns still doesn't give enough context or insight to some important bands. You know I must bring this point up: Hoskyns was/is a big fan of Black Flag (he gave Damaged a rave review in a 1982 edition of UK's Sounds), though the group were much more than simply a leading light of LA rock music in the early '80s. They toured relentlessly (this isn't even mentioned) and at their peak (1981) could pack out a 3,500-seat venue. And SST was more than just a local label putting out records by Saccharine Trust and the Minutemen: by 1996, their wide-reaching legacy should've been obvious.
Hoskyns also throws various opinions around like they're gospel (something I'm totally guilty of, naturally): after finishing this book, if you'd never heard any of the music discussed, you'd think that the Byrds never released a half-decent album in their time, let alone six total masterpieces, and he finds absolutely nothing positive to say about Guns 'n' Roses, a band I'm unlikely to fly the flag for at any point in this lifetime, though I'll give them this much: unlike some of their contemporaries on "the Strip", G 'n' R at least had the cajones to be a real rock 'n' roll band (musically and aesthetically speaking), and frankly, I'd rather listen to Appetite For Destruction than anything ever recorded by the likes of Jane's Addiction or the Red Hot Chili Peppers (two bands he heaps praise upon), if ever the choice had to be made. I guess I should really hope that decision doesn't have to be made, but you get the point. The gangsta-rap chapter seems rather perfunctory, and the added-on chapter detailing the life and times of Beck (actually an article originally published in MOJO mag in 1997) is nothing short of embarrassing. I'll stand by his Seachange album of 2002, a total downer of an acoustic record, very much in the vein of Neil Young's On The Beach or Nick Drake's Pink Moon, one which I actually happen to think is quite brilliant but also a complete anomoly in Beck's otherwise turgid career in music, but that's strictly it, and Hoskyns' article, which seems to be hailing Beck as the Great White Hope of Angeleno music, hits a seriously wrong note.
That leaves you 300 pages of what I'd call "the goods". Los Angeles has given the world some of the greatest rock 'n' roll ever - I've raved enough about the SST stable of bands, Love, Byrds, Mothers Of Invention, Gun Club etc. in these pages to at least convince myself of that - and Hoskyns knows his city, its geography, its ethnic make-up, its strengths and weaknesses well enough to tie it all together into a comprehensible story, creating a flow of stories and characters which has it all coming together and making sense. A story mostly well told.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Out next month. No Wave/jazz-damaged power-trio rock 'n' roll from the UK, torn apart then put back together again, no vocals required. My brother heard this the other day and told me, Dave, sounds like an SST wet-dream band to me... or to you, at least. I'll throw in these names to the mix: DNA, Minutemen, Contortions, James Ulmer, Beefheart et al. You like?

Monday, July 12, 2010

R.I.P. to two of the greats: HARVEY PEKAR and TULI KUPFERBERG

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Let's see if I can knock out 5 quick reviews of platters that matter in the Lang household of late...

SHELLY MANNE AND HIS MEN - Complete Live At The Blackhawk 4CD (American Jazz Classics/2010)
The phenomenon known as "West Coast Jazz", or at least the allure thereof, had, until roughly 6 months ago, always escaped me. It struck me as too white, uptight and square. If there was one collection of tunes which I can lay to blame for converting me to its wares, it's this set. And as for being "square", let's not forget that half of these LA habituates (especially Chet Baker and Art Pepper) were raging drug fiends, hell raisers and skirt chasers in their personal lives, but also that certain key elements of said scene also provided a bridging gap between the trad jazz of yore and the avant/free jazz explosion of the mid-to-late 1950s. Certainly some of Jimmy Guiffre's output pointed in that direction, and drummer Shelly Manne dabbled in all manner of music, from the "out" jazz of Ornette Coleman to cheesy Hollywood soundtracks (done for the benefits of a regular paycheck) to session work w/ Tom Waits in the early '70s. This 4CD set combines all four volumes of live recordings from 1959 recorded at the Nighthawk which were originally issued as separate LPs. If your jazz diet requires that your head be blown through the roof which sheer energy with each and every listen, then this won't float your boat. But if proof be made that five white man can swing 'n' honk in a composed-yet-loose setting, and in such a manner which doesn't tear your head off nor send it to sleep, then the evidence is here. I'm now converted to the possibilities of white-man LA jazz from the '50s, and also managed to make it nearly to the end of this review w/out even mentioning Ossie Cadena's name!

KRYSZTOF PENDERECKI - Threnody For the Victims of Hiroshima CD (EMI/1994)
I was surprised to just learn that this CD remains in print. Given the easy-come-easy-go nature of Best Ofs in the classical world, I figured this would've been superceded by some newly-packaged cheapie covering pretty much the same ground. But I guess it stands as a testament to its greatness that it remains in print over 15 years later. In short, if you're going to buy only one Krysztof Penderecki CD in this lifetime, this one's a pretty good choice. Polish composer Penderecki made a big splash in 1961 w/ his piece, "Threnody For the Victims of Hiroshima", so much so that UNESCO officially selected it as one of the finest works of that year. The piece itself is a doom-laden, crushing piece of music, cacophonous and dense with sheets of percussion and screeching strings, yet utterly compelling and listenable. It comprises the centrepiece of this CD, though the rest is equally as strong. '60s "heads" such as Frank Zappa and Tim Buckley (and likely many more: they were simply the most vocal in their Penderecki fandom) were big admirers of the man's work, and certainly Buckley's decidedly avant-garde Starsailor LP from 1970 shows such an influence. Other pieces on the CD fill out what is essentially a "Best Of" compilation, w/ several tracks used by Stanley Kubrick (including "Threnody...") to excellent effect in The Shining: a suitable choice, given the frightening and cinematic nature of the music. I used to be a major sucker back in the mid- to late-'90s for all this "modern composer" scene - Gyorgi Ligeti, Morton Feldman, Charles Ives, Harry Partch, Karkleinz Stockhausen, etc. - though I've given it little notice in the 21st century. The first listen to this in a decade has demonstrated to me that it's a keeper.

MILES DAVIS - Big Fun 2CD (Sony Japan/1995)
Much like the recordings of the Stooges and the Minutemen, the music of Miles Davis is so permanently imbedded in my psych - a process which slowly but surely occured due to many repeat listenings throughout the late 20th century - that I would likely rate him as my favourite musician of all time, yet I just about never listen to his music these days, or indeed for the last decade. Since just about every note he played, particularly throughout the years 1969-'75, is scorched into my brain, there appears to be little need to actually listen to his music anymore. I'm sure you know the feeling. That said, it's not like I never listen to his music these days: the annual revisit of a few old faves still does the trick, and then it's filed away again. Big Fun was originally released in 1974, the same year as my fave Miles set, Get Up With It, and as w/ GUWI, it's a collection of studio outtakes culled over various years, cut and spliced by producer Teo Macero. The material is from 1969-'72, some of it featuring the line-up from Bitches Brew. The album itself is comprised of four side-long tracks, and it's the two which make up the first disc which kill it for me (I mean that in a good way). "Great Expectations" is a 28-minute shuffle with a ghostly horn over the top and electric sitar giving it a decidedly psychedelic touch. The closest approximation I could make would be Can ca. Future Days: a drifting, ethno-psych epic which never gets "heavy", but simply floats along for nearly half an hour. Perhaps even better is the second number, "Ife", which shares a similar instrumentation and approach, but is provided with a Jaki Leibeziet-style metronomic-funk drum rhythm to coax it along. Again, if anything it once again resembles Can more than anyone I can think, though it's more along the lines of Tago Mago's "Halleluhwah": a beat which sounds like it'll never quit. These same recording sessions also bore fruit with the Bitches Brew and On The Corner sets, so that'll give you a good idea of its breadth: a clash of the former's musical loosesness and the tight, claustrophobic funk of the latter. Essential (and my second-fave Miles album of them all), but you already knew that.

DAVID SYLVIAN - Manafon CD (Samadhi Sound/2009)
This one's a surprise, perhaps most of all to me. Prior to my conversion via this very album, I had always pegged David Sylvian as being an artist who squarely and firmly fell under the banner I like to call Boring English Music: deathly-dull Limey musicians whom the critics love, but also ones whom I cannot for the life of me see what the fuss is all about. Those latter-day Talk Talk albums also fall under that banner. But then there is my day-to-day work to consider. Part of that involves me listening to lots of different new releases to assess what can be done to sell them (well, that's a dumbed-down explanation, though the real answer is way too boring to go into here). One such release, some six months ago, was David Sylvian's 2009 album, Manafon, released on his own Samadhi Sound imprint, a label also responsible for some pretty cool discs by Harold Budd and Derek Bailey. I'd heard of, and was well aware of, his career trajectory over the last 30 years: from misfit 'Dollsy glam-rocker in late '70s punk England w/ Japan, to Japan's eventual transformation into a mincing, art-damaged New Romantic approximation of early Roxy Music, right on through to his eclectic solo career, one which in recent years has seen him collaborating w/ some big-league avant heavyweights: Derek Bailey, AMM's Keith Rowe, Evan Parker, Japanese turntablist Otomo Yoshihide and Austrian electronic wunderkind, Christian Fennesz. It struck me as a vaguely interesting story - one which paralleled Scott Walker's in its deliberate retreat from the mainstream into a near-career-destroying journey into musical esoterica. But that didn't mean I wanted to hear his music; for me, my reaction was based on an open hostility and prejudice borne from the fact that 99% of UK music made after 1982 - be it "underground" or mainstream - is of zilch interest to me. My first listen to Manafon had me convinced it was perhaps the worst, most unlistenable album I had ever heard. It consisted of Sylvian moaning in a Bryan Ferryesque baritone over a minimal - and I mean minimal - backing consisting of Fennesz's electronic bips, Bailey and Rowe's abstract guitar plucks, Evan Parker's sax wails and whatever it is that Yoshihide does on this album. The accompanying music was so minimal, so light in its touch, that I announced it as at least the worst near-a capella album I'd ever heard. And like a masochist, I listened to it again the next day. Nope, it's still terrible. And yet I listened to it a few more times over the subsequent weeks, because something kept drawing me to it. I concluded it was at least "interesting" and left it at that. And then roughly two months ago I gave it another listen. It had surpassed the point of being merely "interesting" and had started to tip over into the "good" side of things. I'm now, at this stage, convinced it to be a unique mini-masterpiece of a record. For most people it'll be impossible to listen to - almost a form of audio torture - but like other truly "difficult" albums by renowned artists (I'm thinking Scott Walker's Tilt, Neil Young's Ark, Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music or even Bad Religion's Into The Unknown [that last one was a joke]), it presents the listener w/ something so personal, so stark, so unique and something which someone absolutely has to be in the right frame of mind to listen to, that I can not only admire it, but, unlike the other examples just mentioned, I can also listen to it for pure musical enjoyment. More and more, the presence of songs start to shine through what at first sounds like an impenetrable wall of silence. I can't speak for the rest of Sylvian's discography, but six months later, I can now attest that Manafon is quite brilliant in its own way.

IVO PERELMAN - Brazilian Watercolour CD (Leo/1999)
The Brazilian saxophonist known by the name of Ivo Perelman probably doesn't register the same bells of recognition as the likes of William Parker or David S. Ware when it comes to contemporary avant-jazz, and more's the pity, as this 1999 effort shows him to be a player who, whilst perhaps not capable of the blasting, expressive tones of Ware, is at least up there w/ the better post-Coltrane tenor players still active today. In fact, Perelman has been very active since the tail-end of the 1980s. His discography is large, varied, released on about a dozen different labels and I remain unfortunately ignorant of it all except this blast of a CD. The line-up is the biz: Matthew Shipp on piano, the great Rashied Ali on drums, and John Zorn sideman Cyro Baptista and the unknown-to-me Guilherme Franco on wood flutes and assorted percussive instruments. What makes this work, obviously, is the slightly exotic nature of the instrumentation. Franco and Baptista don't play on every track, but the ones they do stand out strongly, filling out a basic free-jazz trio sound - mind you, that's a hell of a trio - w/ something outside of the ordinary. Not that this hits the heights of Don Cherry/Pharoah Sanders exotica ca. 40 years ago, though it remains a nice item to pull out for a spin when all other jazz options appear exhausted.
It's taken longer than I'd really care to admit to cotton on the genius of the man known as IKE TURNER. In fact, it's taken me until roughly 6 weeks ago, when I purchased an awesome 2CD set on the JSP label which documents his early '50s work, either under his own name (or his band, Kings Of Rhythm) or as producer, arranger, player and all-round svengali under someone else's name (a circumstance usually borne under the constraint known as "contractual reasons"). My fandom has now been fully confirmed after having just purchased the magnifico CD on the Ace label, Ike's Instrumentals. I'd show you the front cover, if I could, though the only ones available on the 'net are about the size of my thumbnail. You'll just have to make do w/ that handsome shot of the man above. His legacy as a not particularly wonderful human being has been well documented, and I needn't add anything in that department. Fact is, some of my favourite musicians of all time were also fairly lousy humans (Miles Davis, Charles Mingus), so I'm willing to ignore such facts. After all, my only involvement w/ the guy is in regards to his music. For many years, I'd heard Turner's name bandied about as an icon of early rock 'n' roll, perhaps as even the first rocker of them all (w/Ike/Jackie Brenston's "Rocket 88" track from 1951 often hailed as the first genuine rock 'n' roll song), and yet I remained unconvinced. I simply found it impossible to believe that a guy once married to Tina Turner - a woman whose turgid output in the '80s was omnipresent at the time (and still haunts folks at sports arenas worldwide... usually during sports events) and still sets a benchmark in my mind for some of the most torturous audio output ever laid to tape - could be any good. Of course, Ike and Tina did some good things together back in the '60s, but again, it took me a long time to come around to that, too. But let's talk about Ike's instrumental cuts w/ The Kings Of Rhythm ca. 1954-'65, as documented on the Ace CD. What you need to know is that there are 22 cuts featured, the last track being a near-9-minute "blues" medley, and there's not a turkey in the lot. It remains the best party-hard no-nonsense collection of raw, upbeat and truly wild (proto-) rock 'n' roll I've probably heard since... I dunno, maybe that Shim Sham Shimmy comp' of late '40s electric blues on Sub Rosa (reviewed a few entries below) from a few years back, or other musical epiphanes of that era which have rocked my boat over the last 15 years in such similar fashion: Louis Jordan, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley. Ike's instrument throughout is the guitar (though piano was his main instrument earlier on as a sideman), and his crazy whammy-bar twangs, divebombs and scorching leads - hell, every track's nothing but - all backed up by a rock-solid no-nonsense band dealing in shuffling R & B, rhumba/Latin rhythms, swamp-rock dirges and high-energy rock is the shit I've had on repeat for the last month solid. You need this in your life. A few-dozen listens had me convinced it to be some of the finest music of its era, so much so that it now has me scratching my head as to why Ike's name is not held in the same reverance as, say, Link Wray within the u/ground rock'n'roll community. Sure, Ike's a god to many overweight, house-bound record collector types the globe over, but that's not the same thing (though both communities overlap on occasion). For my money, from the evidence I've heard, Ike's output as documented on this collection outshines anything Wray did in regards to death-defying and outlandish guitar heroics. The constant roar he draws from his Fender is unstoppable. Fave cut? 1954's "Cubano Jump" (also featured on the JSP box), a 2-minute Latin-flavoured boogie romp w/ the kind of ghostly, other-worldly production/guitar lines which Joe Meek would sell a zillion copies with nearly a decade later. Ike's Instrumentals is a mandatory purchase: the case is closed... and if you want the real juice on the genius of Ike, I'd like to direct you to The HoundBlog, written by a guy who actually knows what he's talking about.