Saturday, August 28, 2010

TOUCH AND GO: THE COMPLETE HARDCORE PUNK 'ZINE '79-'83 (547 pages; Bazillion Points/2010)
This has been waaay too long in coming. Touch and Go - the fanzine - had already reached mythological status by the time the 1990s rolled into gear. By last year, I figured that the periodical once known as Touch and Go was a myth. In all my years of being a raging fanzine dork/hoarder/collector - 25 years and counting - I have never once come across a copy of a single issue. I don't even know anyone who's ever seen an original copy. Now that this compendium is out, I can see why (likely) next-to-no copies ever found their way Down Under: I was unaware that, despite its legendary and influential status as a publication, for most of the 22 issues published between 1979-1983, the print runs were never more than a few hundred. The first few were a mere one 100 copies each; the final issue finally reaching a print run of 1,000. It speaks volumes of the greatness of T & G that something of such miniscule distribution can have such a long-lasting legacy.
T & G was started in Lansing, Michigan, in 1979 by old high school buddies (actually, it's told that they weren't actually buddies at all in high school, but came to be many years later) Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson. Vee, I've read, was born in 1952, so that'd make him roughly 27 when the 'zine was started: a little older and wiser than many of his punker friends, Vee had already finished college and was working as a school teacher when punk rock hit, having spent the previous decade as a mad-keen collector of all manner of rock: garage, psychedelia, prog, krautrock, heavy metal, etc. His knowledge and slightly more wisened approach shows: T & G, whilst obnoxious to the nth degree and littered w/ tasteless dick/homo jokes, was never merely a fuck-you HC zine for the baldies. Throughout, both Vee and Stimson wax enthusiastically on all manner of music, from the good, the bad and the ugly.
Vee, for one, had a major boner for nth-rate UK punkers, 999, so much so that he produced a fanzine dedicated to the band prior to T & G (reprinted here; Vee makes note of its slightly embarrassing nature, stating "at least I've got the stones to reprint it!"); he was also big on the new "industrial" sounds coming out at the time from Throbbing Gristle (his nickname is a reference to the infamous TG photo of the band standing outside's Tesco's supermarket), Cabaret Voltaire and SPK, and T & G could also wax enthusiastically on everything from The Feelies to Saccharine Trust to CRASS. If you read this from start to finish - something I highly recommend, as you see the development of their tastes and the music scenes surrounding them as it continues throughout a fairly crucial (I'd say the crucial, but let's not argue) period in the development of underground rock - it makes for a pretty goddamn fascinating read. Both editors were right in the thick of the HC boom, as the dots were being joined between the two coasts, and small, seemingly isolated scenes were popping up throughout the US and coming into contact w/ each other. The story of Ian MacKaye sending a copy of Dischord's debut release to T & G, the Teen Idles 7" EP, only to have it broken in half c/o the postal service but still get a rave review from Tesco, so excited he obviously was to find kindred spirits hundreds of miles away, is the kinda folklore which needs to be passed onto The Kids.
Vee had idolised west coast wildmen such as Slash magazine's Claude Bessy and Chris D., and was enthralled with the sounds of the Avengers, Weirdos, Screamers, Flesh Eaters, Germs, Black Flag, etc. He also made contact w/ these people early on and one more crucial link in the chain was forged. By the time the Necros, Fix and Negative Approach were blazing up halls throughout the mid west, it was pretty obvious that this obsession of theirs was bigger than just two bumpkins from Michigan penning vitriol or praise for all those around them.
There is simply too much in here to write a succinct review which does it justice. There's over 500 pages (it'll take a long time to get through it all: I bought it a month back and still haven't tackled the whole thing), and it's an essential document for those w/ an interest not only in the early HC scene, but also the development of the smart-arsed fanzine aesthetic, as it filtered through to obvious fans such as Jimmy Johnson and Byron Coley, but also other mainstays Gerard Cosloy from his Conflict days and Mike McGonical of Chemical Imbalance (whether you love or loathe any/every one of those folks).
What is particularly interesting is the unexpected praise heaped upon some unlikely subjects: U2, The Cure, Sisters Of Mercy, Danse Society and all manner of goth fops. Hell, even Big Country get a rave from Stimson, something possibly brought on by his undying devotion to whatever BC front man and ex-Skids member Stuart Adamson did w/ his music career. I can only assume that just about any import record which didn't sound like Styx or Foreigner must've been sweet relief to two midwesterners who'd just survived the cultural vaccuum of pre-punk America. Funnily enough, none other than Venom also get a huge rave from Tesco, a fandom which caught on like the plague in the US HC scene, as Forced Exposure soon followed suit in their love for the moustachioed geordies and their Satanic din. "Rock 'n' Roll Bank Robber" Shane Williams does a number of guest columns - from the clink, of course - something which took me by surprise, and even Byron Coley contributes to the last couple of issues, including a particularly nasty attack on the ageing commies at the-then newly birthed Maximum Rock 'n' Roll zine. All was eventually forgiven, as Tesco would later go on to write for MRR, and even Coley once penned a friendly column for Jeff Bale's Hit List mag, explaining the reason for his original vitriol.
Stimson didn't contribute to the last 5 issues and Vee went it alone, before packing up everything and moving to DC. By then HC was a pretty big deal and his band The Meatmen were making vague inroads into gaining a slightly wider audience (don't ask me why... they were terrible!), so he called it quits w/ the mag and hit the road, meanwhile letting a young Corey Rusk of the Necros take control of the record label he started under the T & G name. Tesco has noted since that he probably should've asked for a cut on all future T & G profits, but has also said that he's glad that Corey made it a success, as he remains, from all accounts, one of the nicest, fairest and most honest guys in the biz for nearly 30 years. I'd be willing to bet that 99% of Coco Rosie's fans have zero idea of the label's beginnings, so hopefully the success of this anthology will give the clueless a little history lesson. When information was so scarce, something like T & G was a vital lifeline (something the kids of today just don't understand [he says waving a stick in the air grumpily]). Also featuring some illuminating introductory interviews w/ Byron Coley, Ian MacKaye, John Brannon, Henry Rollins and the editors themselves, my summation is obvious: essential for any punker. Music book of the year.
According to Blogger, this is my 500th post, so excuse me whilst I step back for a moment and pat myself on the shoulder for, well... a job well done or making the effort or being consistently consistent or all of the above. In this spirit of self-congratulations, allow me to point you towards several articles I wrote over the years for Perfect Sound Forever online music magazine. Helmed by the nicest guy in all of New York City (he tolerated my noxious presence in his shoebox apartment for a whole week when I was there in '99), Jason Gross, it was one of the very first web-based music mags worth a bean - one of the best - and continues to be so. I've been too ensconsed in flattering my own sense of self-worth w/ Lexicon Devil to make many contributions these past six years, but back in the day, I wrote a whole lotta nonsense for 'em on a variety of topics. Some of these pieces are horribly dated and downright embarrassing (the Stooges one falls under both those categories, whilst the SST piece is a mess), but since they remain in the interweb stratosphere and will continue to haunt me for time immemorial, why not just get it over with and draw some unwarranted attention to them here?














EMBRACE - LP (Dischord/1986)
I was shelving a few boxes of old fanzines just last week, trying to make some sort of order of the hundreds of publications cluttering up the spare room (I gave up after 20 minutes), when I stumbled across a November 1991 issue of none other than Option magazine w/ Fugazi on the cover. I was never a regular reader of the mag - it was way too steeped in some sort of deeply compromised sense of mid-level, semi-pro "musical journalism" and collegiate sensibilities for my tastes, and only own about three or four issues - but Fugazi being a big-deal band for me at the time, it wasn't something to pass up. Left on the top of a pile, I was browsing through it the other day, smirking at the endless pages of ads for various shades and stripes of major-label alt-rock failures who appear to've made zero dent in the collective conscience, and suddenly felt the urge to stick Embrace's sole LP on the turntable. To be honest, this is an album I've only owned for 6 months. Bought on a whim and in the thick of some sort of peculiar Fugazi revival happening in my whereabouts (my house), I was feeling nostalgic and took the plunge. The first listen all the way through, I was struck by two thoughts: 1) firstly, that I somehow knew every single song as it played through, which had me thinking I once owned this record in the past (I think the answer to that question is that I had a taped copy given to me by someone roughly 20-odd years back); and 2) that it remains one hell of an impressive rock 'n' roll album, regardless of whatever kind of context you wrap it in. By contextually, I mean that it's often considered a worthy stop-gap release by Ian McKaye whilst in between two much more successful and influential bands, yet a footnote band by the historians. And when I say "rock 'n' roll", I mean exactly that. Musically, this bears very little resemblance to any other band MacKaye played in. Featuring 3/5s of the "legendary" DC band Faith, who featured Ian's younger brother Alec on vocals and released half of what what many young hipster is convinced to be Dischord's best ever record, the Faith/Void split LP, Embrace is a pretty odd proposition for a line-up. The band dropped the more frenetic tendencies of Faith and laid down, at least 90% of the time, a mid-tempo rock sound which is kinda hard to pin down. I've read on several occasions that the big influence on the band was an English group I have never in my life heard of: Empire - a hard rock band who apparently comprised of ex members of Generation X(!!). If anyone can throw me a link to any of their sounds (I'm assuming anything they released is well out of print), it'd be appreciated. I can't vouch for Empire, but for me the music is caught in a strange netherworld between Angloid post-punk (Siouxsie & the Banshees, Magazine) and the no-frills hard-rock arrangements and "heaviness" of AC/DC. Which doesn't mean to imply that this sounds absolutely anything like AC/DC, but the basic nature of the music - no fancy fills, a rock-steady beat and few embellishments cluttering up the stark nature of the music - isn't too far from AC/DC's basic modus operandi (and failing that, I've just drawn my longest bow yet). The lyrical matter is so personal, confronting and accusing that you feel like you're getting a dressing down just listening to it; some of it goes so overboard, such as on the excellent "I Wish I", that it borders on sounding like an Ian MacKaye parody album. If a friend of mine played in a band like Embrace, I'd probably have a chuckle and tell him to tone his act down a touch, but w/ the painfully earnest MacKaye at the helm, it's pulled off to great effect. Snicker if you will - I know there are those who peruse this blog who figure MacKaye to be an A-grade jerk-off responsible for fronting one of the most boring, straight-laced attempts at rock music this side of U2 (they're wrong) - but I find Embrace pretty hard to fault. Every song delivers, the songs and the words. Guitarist Mike Hampton rips out some wildly inventive hooks, the rhythm section is rock solid, nothing flash yet perfectly complements the melodies, and MacKaye's wailings are incredibly effective. Fact is, this is a brilliantly consistent album, every song telling a story and musically nailing it track by track. If you need something a little less mannered in its approach, I'd say head straight for the similarly impressive Rites Of Spring LP (a really big-deal disc for me in high school) from the same period. Surely I don't have to state the connection, so I won't. A lot of folks still make a noise over ROS and I don't hear 'em singing similar praise for Embrace. They oughta. Goddamn essential.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Love this shot. Good to know that these old noise-punkers are still kicking around. Don't know about 'em? Maybe you should go here. A couple of Die Kreuzen folks and their miscreant pals. They've also got a new LP out, only 300 made. You can get it here.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

CRIPES!! I wasn't keen on posting yet another clip of anyone at any point soon (I see it as the lazy man's way of blogging), but this is just too good to resist: a totally unreleased instrumental track from a 5-piece Black Flag w/ Emil on drums, ca. 1982. Best of all, this track is a monster, a total Master of Reality-style 'Sabbath stoner/doom/boogie romp w/ a crushing last minute. This has to be seen.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Glen E. Friedman Interview at the opening of FUCK YOU ALL, with "" (Ireland, 2010) from Burning Flags Press on Vimeo.

...and here's an excellent little documentary on the life and works of ace photographer Glen E. Friedman...

Yowser! Here's two clips you might be interested in: "Jealous Again" and "Revenge" performed just last month by none other than Ron Reyes and Greg Ginn. Celebrating Ron's 50th birthday, Ginn made the trip all the way to Vancouver. To state the obvious, it's nice to know he's still on speaking terms w/ someone from the 'Flag days...

Friday, August 13, 2010

ZOND - s/t CD (R.I.P. Society/2010)
This recording has been doing the rounds for a while, so much so that I was beginning to think it'd never see the light of day. Friends of mine would ask me whether I'd heard it, to which I could only respond that since it had never been made commercially available, no, I hadn't. Recorded and mastered last year throughout June-September, the band was inexplicably having trouble getting it out there. Word was that Zond had recorded a double LP's worth of material, but was finding it tough to locate anyone willing to put up the cash to fund the enormously expensive outlay needed to press up a 2LP set. Or at least that's what I'd heard.
I bumped into Justin Fuller from the band about 6 months back whilst doing the shopping in Brunswick (the Home Of Rock in Australia, or so it's said) one day and quizzed him as to what was happening to this "legendary" record. He said he wasn't sure, and if I wanted to release it in some sort of commercially-viable format - something I was interested in - he'd forward me a copy. That unfortunately never happened, though he at least displayed the gentlemanly grace in reaching into his army jacket to pull out a copy for me last week when I bumped into him at a pub. To be honest, I'm unsure of the commercial viability of keeping the Lexicon Devil label alive in releasing any new material by anyone at this stage, but I'm still kinda miffed I didn't get to release Zond.
A four-piece guitar-overload unit w/ occasional keyboards and ethereal, almost wordless vocals buried in the mix, I've only, if memory serves, seen 'em once, and that was a good three years back (or more). Word had gotten around that J.K. Fuller had a new unit he was playing in which went for an amped-up psychedelic destructo-rock angle, somewhat in the vein of Japan's High Rise, and when I stumbled upon them one night, I was happy to kick back to take it in. Maybe it was just early days, but I left pretty underwhelmed. They still sounded too embryonic, like a simple "jam" band who took a riff and dug it into the ground before finally catching eye contact w/ each other, doing the obligatory nod and all agreeing to finish the song in the next bar. I know the feeling. I've played in those kinds of bands before. It's a blast to hang out w/ friends, get toasted and proceed to knock a series of monstrous riffs into the dirt, but it should never be mistaken for something anyone else outside of the performers involved may ever care to witness.
And that long-winded intro brings us to this, the self-titled debut which has finally found a home as a CD - a 43-minute one - on Sydney's reputed R.I.P. Society label. An odd thing for them to release, as I figured them to be a Sydneycentric bunch, but I'm glad they took the plunge. Zond have obviously improved in leaps and bounds since their endless-riff jam-band days: there's 10 songs here, some as short as 2 1/2 minutes. They sound like songs, too: a beginning, something approaching a chorus and a verse, and an end. Recorded by Jack Farley and mastered by Casey Rice, the sound is still fairly lo-tech in the sense that the drums and bass are a little too low in the mix, though the guitars leap from the speaker to awesome effect. I could've done w/ a bit more low-end, but that's just me searching for a complaint. Fact is, this is a really great album, one of the best Australian releases I'll likely hear all year (I'd stick Fabulous Diamonds' latest in there, too), and it's pursuing a musical path which is little travelled locally, or at least rarely pursued with any great discipline and effect.
The High Rise comparisons don't make a whole lot of sense to me anymore - a good thing as I was never much of a fan anyway - though if I gotta do it - and I gotta! - I'd say that the sonics of Zond really bring to mind an amalgamation of Bad Moon Rising-period Sonic Youth and the brilliant, other-worldly plod and grind of Skullflower's best recordings of yore (that'd be their Ruins/Xaman/Last Shot At Heaven releases from 20-odd years back). The buried vocals are more in the Loveless-period My Bloody Valentine realm, meaning they're there for the effect rather than lyrical concerns, and for me that's just fine. Zond have cut out all the boring stuff this kind of music can sometimes entail and kept it tight and to the point. There's a real sense of tension/release with the songs, a manner of ebb and flow w/ each track arching back at key moments and delivering the needed punch w/ its small army of FX pedals at disposal. Occasionally the sound overload resembles a wind tunnel, but you can detect a tune underneath and nothing outstays its welcome. It's finally out, it's cheap and I'm convinced. That's all there is to it.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

I think I own what must be about 15 albums by The Fall, yet for whatever reason, I don't believe I've ever written about 'em here before. The recent flogging of various items in The Fall's back catalogue was brought on by my witnessing of a 2005 BBC documentary on the band last week, one which had me heading for "F" in my LP/CD collection and pulling a few choice tunes out. Hex Enduction Hour is the best, of course, though since I flogged that one into the ground over a decade ago, I steer clear of it these days and instead peruse other selections slightly less shopworn. This one, 1983's Perverted By Language (my CD version is from 1998 and on Castle Music, though it's probably, as has much of The Fall's catalogue throughout the years, since been licensed to about a dozen other record companies around the world for various pointless reissuing purposes), is definitely one of their best.
Let me tell you something: I never really "got" The Fall, or got into them, until I was about 22 when I managed to score cheap, secondhand vinyl copies of Live At The Witchtrials and Totale's Turns (Live) at a record fair and the strangeness and grit the band was (in)famous for became all too present to me. Prior to that, let's talk about the late '80s. Musical heroes of mine at the time - Sonic Youth, Henry Rollins, Mike Watt (remember, this is the '80s, maaan) - were apeshit over the combo known as The Fall. The former even covered some of their songs. Firstly, I found it nigh impossible to believe that the UK actually had a contemporary band even worth listening to (call it prejudice, if you will), and secondly, my only exposure to the band was the oft-played "Victoria" video, then a reasonable indie "hit", which was played almost on loop on Rage at the time, as well as the "Hit The North" single which received frequent play on public radio. Their rendition of the Kinks classic is OK 'n' all, though it also represents the mersh peak of the band throughout their career, as does "Hit The North", a great pop song, in retrospect, but still one which, to these ears, displays major late-'80s-slump indie damage w/ even a hint of Madchester in its veins (that's not a good thing, by the way). To me, the band sounded like a slightly grittier Smiths and I slotted 'em away in the "Don't Bother" file.
And then 5 years later I finally struck gold, I scooped up pretty much all of their 1977-'83 output, and their rep as a demented, eccentric and thoroughly rocking garage band had been proven correct. To be honest, I can probably thanks (once again) Joe Carducci for my conversion (I took his word for gospel back in the day), or at least for my renewed enthusiasm to give the band a second chance; after all, he hailed the band (in Rock & The Pop Narcotic) as just about the only UK band of the '80s who fulfilled their "rock" promise consistently throughout their lifespan. What set them apart from the rest of the UK post-punk pack is that they were never "anti-rockist" (see Simon Reynolds for a full definition): they never went soft, as so many of their contemporaries have.
Even the worst Fall albums (and I'd rate 1988's The Frenz Experiment, which features their two hits just mentioned, as at least the worst Fall album I've heard) have as a minimum two or three really great songs. Perhaps not worthy of an album purchase per se, but it goes to show that even when Mark E. Smith is at his lowest, he's still better than most at their best. Despite the umpteen line-up changes the band has had in its 30+ years, there remains two constants to the band: Mark E. Smith, and his ability to always drag in a killer rhythm section into the group.
On Perverted By Language he's got the motor-driven two-drummer line-up of Paul Hanley and Karl Burns, also used to excellent effect on 1982's Hex Enduction Hour, and also it sees the introduction of his then-wife, Californian new waver, Brix Smith. Often branded as the Yoko Ono of the group, the one who saw them lose their edge, as is the case w/ Yoko, I disagree. That doesn't necessarily mean that, unlike in the case of Yoko, I want to check out any of Brix's solo records, but the band itself still rocked just as hard as before, it was simply the production which was getting cleaner, and some of the rougher, more rockabilly tendencies of the band were getting smoothed out. Not a thing to celebrate, but it definitely doesn't totally discount their post-'82 material.
The band also discovered a certain flange pedal at this point - the same one often used by the likes of Killing Joke and Siouxsie & The Banshees - which probably deducted a few "rock" points from their overall sound, though the rhythm section was as good and pronounced as before. The opener, "Kicker Conspiracy", sets the pace w/ its cluttered, percussive sound, at times resembling an amphetamine-fueled marching band w/ a Mancunian drunk yelling atop. But I guess that description sums up most of the band's catalogue.
There's only eight songs, though it possesses a sprawling, Kraut-inspired array of songs, and this CD (and perhaps other versions) also features four As and B-sides from the period, most notably "The Man Whose Head Expanded", a great, organ-driven churn which is about as purely Velvets-damaged as UK rock ever got in the 1980s. So there ya go: the cut-off point for The Fall ain't 1982. I can also vouch for This Nation's Saving Grace, Bend Sinister, Middle Class Revolt, Levitate, The Marshall Suite, The Unutterable and The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country On The Click), and that's not including the dozen or so albums I still haven't heard. Folks even tell me their latest, Your Future, Our Clutter, is worth a shot.
The cut-off point still hasn't been reached, and if you're curious about the earlier (best) recordings by the band, now is probably the best time to make the purchases: through bizarre circumstances which can only be explained as a bi-product of the crumbling empire known as the music biz, they're now being reissued in deluxe 2CD sets w/ mountains of bone-arse material c/o Universal Music (Castle/Trojan was bought by Sanctuary, which has since been bought by Universal. I find this shit endlessly fascinating. You probably don't). The new-and-expanded edition of Hex Enduction Hour, in particular, is a treat.
This is an album everyone reading this blog who actually gives one half of a damn for the "jazz" shit I write about here should have. That possibly means that sales for this album might spike by about 5 copies worldwide, but it'll be worth it. Max Roach is a unique figure in jazz, not only because he was one of the few musicians from the '40s/'50s bop/hard-bop explosion who made it through to the 21st century w/ his brains and health intact, but also because he was a figure who made a number of far-out platters which gave more than just a passing nod to the avant-garde. In his lifetime (1924-2007), he played w/ everyone from Duke Ellington to Charlie Parker to Miles Davis to Charles Mingus to Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp and beyond. And he was a hell of a mean drummer. If you want some good bop stuff from the '50s w/ him as co-leader, you can't go past the albums he cut w/ Clifford Brown (a relationship which was tragically cut short by Brown's early death in a car accident), and similarly, Roach's Deeds, Not Words and +4 discs are also most definitely worth a shot. In 1961 he released probably his two best, and most infamous rekkids, We Insist!, and this one, Percussion Bittersweet (Impulse). The former has been written about too many times before for me to tackle it, so let's stick w/ the latter. It features an ace all-star line-up: trumpeter Booker Little, veteran side-dude, trombonist Julian Priester (a man who assisted on recordings from Sun Ra to Bo Diddley), pianist Mal Waldren, bass player Art Davis, Mingus alumni Clifford Jordan and best of all, Eric Dolphy on alto sax, bass clarinet and flute. I've never hit a keyboard in relation to Dolphy for this blog before, which makes it long overdue. For one, the man remains my introduction to the world of "jazz" and he was the first guy whose work hit me hard all those years ago (1993) when, on a whim (well, OK, a friend's recommendation), I scored cheap secondhand vinyl copies of his Out There and Out There A Minute LPs. No one will ever know the true story, but one can only wonder as to how much great music he might've made throughout the 1960s and '70s had he lived longer (his life was cut short in 1964). I like to imagine him going on an LSD binge a la John Coltrane and heading for the stratosphere then getting all Zen as the decade closed like Pharoah Sanders and co., but that's just a thought! Anyway, added to the mix is the addition of two percussion (conga and cowbell) players to three tracks, as well as the soaring, mostly wordless vocals of Roach's wife, Abbey Lincoln (who also released some cool albums back in the day w/ similar musicians) to two numbers. Cowbells and congas: there's not enough of 'em in the world of jazz: on the opener, "Garvey's Ghost", they create an immense clutter. Political in tone, much like We Insist! - Roach was one of the most outspoken campaigners for civil rights in the music community, an understandable stance which ruffled the feathers of musical squares in the US but earned him kudos from beret-wearing types in the continent - much of Percussion Bittersweet sounds like "fire music" before Archie Shepp coined the term. The cranking percussive beats, always up in the mix, guide the album, though the brasswork is also what nails it. Dolphy's bass clarinet squawls and screeches amongst the freer moments (it makes a fantastic entry halfway through track 3, "Tender Warriors"), though this still possesses much of the same composure (and composition) of Mingus' work from the era. Which means it doesn't contain the back-against-the-wall energy that Albert Ayler would indulge in just a couple of years later, but it still remains an essential - and awesome - bridge between the worlds of hard bop and the hard blowing the avant-garde would tremor w/ by the mid '60s. Six tracks in 40 minutes and it's over. Still readily available on LP and CD, it's most certainly worth the minimal effort it'll take you to locate a copy.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

(pictured: Carol & Tony Dale)
R.I.P. Tony Dale
Some sad news today: Tony Dale, properietor of Camera Obscura and a good friend, passed away today after a two-year battle w/ cancer. I first met him 10 years ago when, as a fan of his label, I was thinking of starting up my own and wanted to get his advice. His label appeared to be shrouded in mystery. It was releasing an eclectic brew of artists - mainly from overseas - all under the broad umbrella of "psychedelia"; it was one which was receiving glowing praise in overseas fanzines and radio shows, yet had zero profile locally. I was intrigued and impressed: it was an imprint which had its own agenda. His website even listed his home phone number and address, and seeing that he lived in the same suburb as I did at the time (Richmond), I gave him a call and asked if I could meet up for a chat. He willingly obliged, and we agreed to catch up that week one evening at the Great Britain Hotel for a chat and a drink. I was working shifts at Borders(!) at the time, so my hours were all over the place, but he was happy to meet me at about 9 o' clock on a week night and he dolled out all kinds of advice about pressing, promotion, distribution and the like. In hindsight, it was crucial advice which got me off my ass and kickstarted the decade-long money-losing operation now known as the Lexicon Devil label. We kept in touch, hung out and played records, drank beer and blew each other's minds w/ our musical discoveries and for a couple of years I even found myself responsible for distributing his label Down Under. The label never achieved much of a profile in Australia, maybe because Australia is a nation of philistines, or perhaps just because Tony never cared too much about the Australian market. But for the first half of the previous decade, he was there throughout a pretty defining era of my life: going to shows, having dinner parties w/ fellow music geeks and the kinds of things which make this life worthwhile. I'm cracking up at the memories of Tony bringing over an $800 psych rarity to a friend's dinner party, only to have my friend's cat pounce on his treasured album's sleeve as he lay it next to the stereo, or the memory of attending the unforgettable Love show seven years ago, when Tony stayed sober and upright to enjoy the evening's events whilst myself and my comrades almost made the show a complete write-off by being too inebriated to even comprehend what we were witnessing; Tony tutt-tutting our behaviour a few days later like a responsible, fatherly figure. He moved to the country about 5 years ago and continued the label, though I only saw him again a handful of times. When he became sick, his trips to the city were much less frequent, and my only regret is that we didn't keep the kind of constant contact throughout this period that we had earlier on. The music biz is littered w/ the kinds of jerk-offs you'd probably never really want to know on a personal level, and to state the obvious, Tony Dale was not one of them. He was a fan first and foremost, and ran his label to spread the gospel. He had far more business acumen than I do, and hence he ran a successful and influential one which managed to clock up over 80 releases. Most of all, he was one of the good guys and he'll be missed. I try to keep personal business out of this blog, but the world needs to know that they just lost one of the good guys. And that's all that needs to be said.
Here's two albums which have been getting a hiding c/o the home stereo of late, and barring any unforeseen circumstances - such as there being an absolute glut of killer releases over the next 5 months - they'll be sitting in my year-end Top 10 list come December 31st.
First up is Bruises & Butterflies, the debut solo album by California-based musician, ELISA RANDAZZO, released on the Drag City label. Never heard of her before? Neither had I, and such ignorance made for a hell of a pleasant surprise when it received a virginal spin just last month. She comes from solid musical stock, too: her parents were both successful songwriters back in the 1960s and '70s - her father penning tunes for everyone from Frank Sinatra to the Zombies, her mother the author of The Third Bardo's "I'm Five Years Ahead Of My Time - as well as herself being the violinist in the '90s incarnation of the Red Krayola. OK, so the introduction's out of the way, and that probably gives one little idea of what this album actually sounds like. The music is lush and orchestral, though one ensconsed in the folk idiom. It sounds more like something which would've been released on the Topic, Asylum, Island or Elektra labels ca. 1972 than a typical indie release ca. 2010.
Although heavily indebted to the west coast school of songwriters of that period (as well as Brits who were obviously listening to some of that stuff), that doesn't make it an exercise in musical bedwetting. She has "legendary" (as they all must be) UK singer/songwriter, Bridget St. John, helping her out w/ co-songwriting and vocals on two tracks, which, assuming you've heard St. John before (I hadn't), will give you a closer musical ballpark to aim for. Most of all, she reminds me of Judee Sill and her two since-rediscovered-and-lauded albums from the early '70s, though the quality of songcraft strikes me as a whole lot stronger. The truth is: just about every song here reminds me of someone else - from Ian Matthews to John Martyn ("Can't Afford My Piece Of Mind"'s opening melody is an almost exact replica of Martyn's "Over The Hill") - though since all the (alleged) inspirations are people I'll personally vouch for, no complaints to be heard here.
Bruises & Butterflies has far more going for it than simply a recreation of a particular sound, or a sense of lush orchestration clouding a weakness of material: the songs here - just about every one of them - are first-rate. There's a beautiful sense of melody, sweeping choruses which never turn to cheese and hooks which have had me revisiting this album constantly the last four weeks. I'm convinced it's a very good thing, an album which isn't simply a case of revivalism or marching against the times, but one which sits perfectly as a record whose sole intent is the expression of the artist. You bet I'm impressed. I'm a sucker for this kinda shtick in the modern age when it's done to perfection - Frida Hyvonen's brilliant Silence Is Wild also springs to mind - and Elisa Randazzo's debut has floored me. Y' see, I can be a big softie.
The Afrobeat compilation has almost become the Back From The Grave/Nuggets/Pebbles/Boulders of the 21st century: a never-ending glut of releases spewing out year upon year, each one claiming to have unearthed yet more gems from the vaults. When this one fell into my hands - The World Ends: Afro Rock & Psychedelia in 1970s Nigeria, released on the excellent Soundway label - I believe I actually emitted an audible groan. Another one? Does the world really need another one of these things? Labels such as Soundway, Vampisoul, Analogue Africa, Strut et al have been churning these things out en masse the last five years (I know: I own a lot of them!), essentially to the point where surely the process of barrel-scraping must be taking place any moment now. Judging by the sheer awesomeness of this double-CD set, there's still gold in them thar hills. Soundway has released, what, five volumes already of rare Nigerian Afrobeat, funk, disco, psychedelia and hard rock? From memory, four of them are double LPs and one is a 2-CD/four-LP set. That makes for an exhaustive set of listening, yet no one has been dudded yet: it's all good. The World Ends..., housed in a snappy fold-out wallet w/ an insanely informative, well-presented and chunky accompanying booklet, once again collects together a wildly varying array of tracks - 33 of them - and slaps them together to tell the unique story of Nigerian rock music in the 1970s, when performers and bands with names such as The Hygrades, The Semi Colon, The Black Mirrors, The Actions, The Strangers and The Comrades were releasing records, both singles and LPs, on independent labels and putting their own slant on Western funk and psychedelic rock 'n' roll. The influence of James Brown looms large (obviously), though there's also a string of tracks which up the freak factor into a Parliament/Funkadelic groove, and many with the kind of fuzzed-out/4-track/basement vibe certainly lost in the West by the time much of this was recorded. I hope I'm not drawing too long a bow when I say that several tracks here, such as Reme Izabo's Music Research's(!!) "The Same Man" or The Action 13's "Active Action", possess the kind of hypnotic, percussive and trance-inducing qualities which Can achieved around the same era, and hey, even if I am... is it working?! You gonna take the plunge? Rich rewards await.