Monday, August 29, 2011

God bless this interweb thingy. Seven years ago, I wrote about the '80s Dutch hardcore band known as BGK (right here, in fact). Things were primitive back then: hell, I couldn't even figure out how to upload a cover picture to my entries, and Youtube?? Never heard of it. It's now 2011 and apparently there's little reason to leave your house and interact w/ other humans, and in that spirit, I present the clip above. The visuals will not thrill you, but the music just might. I'm playing the LP, Nothing Can Go Wrogn!, just this minute. I have been flashbacked 24 years and once again realised why I dug this record so much at the time. Like the best HC, it's a pure adrenalin rush. The track known as "Jonestown Aloha" by BGK puts ants in my pants and makes me want to dance on a hippie's face. That's all I'm sayin'.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Here's some great early footage of Kraftwerk from 1971, back when they featured Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger, AKA Neu! - in their ranks. Florian Schneider blows a little boogaloo on his flute, though absent is longtime member, Ralf Hutter, who apparently split for a brief while to study architecture. I was a big fan of the band back in the '90s. Hell, I loved them when I was 12 and owned the Tour De France 12", though they were a very different band by then and I liked that particular record for a very different reason (I was, at that age, quite an enthusiast for what is known as "rap music", and that song was nominally seen as hovering in that universe). I still love the band now, though I'll admit I haven't listened to them for a real long time. In the mid '90s I managed to track down bootleg CD copies of the mythical first two albums on the Germanophon label, both of which set me back the unheard-of price of $40 a piece at the time. Those two albums, named Kraftwerk 1 and Kraftwerk 2 and originally released in 1971 and 1972, respectively, have still not been given any kind of official reissue on either LP or CD (or even digitally, if that floats your boat; sorry, that shit sinks mine), apparently because of some legal nonsense too boring to go into here. However, if you do stumble across them, and they won't set you back as much now as they did for me 15 or more years ago, then you should grab 'em, toot sweet. They were a remarkably different band to the computerised/dehumanised electronic outfit they morphed into, and indeed they were remarkable. All their '70s records are worth your time & trouble - in fact my favourite album of theirs remains 1975's Radio-Activity - though the first two are most noteworthy due to their rawness of sound.
The first has a cacophonous, vaguely psychedelic feel, purely instrumental and, at least as far as I hear it, heavily indebted to White Light/White Heat-period VU. Unlike a lot of rock & roll at the time, and mostly in line w/ what I guess you would call the "krautrock sound", Kraftwerk 1, like everything the band did, is completely bluesless and lilywhite in its approach. It contains four long-ish tracks which, whilst perhaps not as fleshed out as they should be, are still a pretty awesome thing to behold, especially considering the fact that they were recorded 40 years ago. The guitar work is particularly scuzzy, like first-LP Stooges: pure rhythm and little else. Kraftwerk 1 admittedly sounds more like a series of sketches than a fully developed album, but if these are just "jams", then I've heard much worse ones in this lifetime.
Kraftwerk 2 is often considered the better of the two. Gone is the acoustic drummer, to be replaced by a drum machine. The sound is more metronomic, though the primitive drum machine in use, a far cry from the slick beats the band would make later on, lend it a Suicide-ish feel. Once again it's instrumental, and the use of tape loops and distorted/treated violin and flute, along w/ more blips and whirls from their electronic gear, give this a rather awesome, claustrophobic early '70s...err, "vibe". I played this the other night for the first time in what must've been a decade, and it struck me just how ahead of the game the band were. Outside of the likes of the Silver Apples, few had applied an almost purely electronic approach to rock music (or at least done it this well). Other krauts like Cluster and Tangerine Dream were recording similarly great electronic-based sounds, though both were also a far cry from what I'd call rock music (and that remark most certainly doesn't mean I don't like them: far from it). Kraftwerk 2 has 6 tracks: four are of fairly normal rock-song length, "Wellenlenge" approaches the 10-minute mark and the albums highlight, "KlingKlang", the opener, veers in all manner of directions, including a few strange moments of seemingly random noises and heavy breathing (so strange it be I had to turn it off when it started freaking the kids out).
The band had originally morphed from an earlier outfit known as Organisation. They released a cool album in 1970 entitled Tone Float, one I haven't heard for years (and don't actually own), and you can check 'em out below. They're a bit more in a west coast acid-rock vibe, w/ Popol Vuh "exotic" flourishes, than what the band known as Kraftwerk were to transform into, though the first two LPs still carry traces of a loose, psychedelic feel. In a mid '70s interview w/ Lester Bangs, Kraftwerk listed the Beach Boys, VU, the Stooges and Blue Oyster Cult as their main influences, something which, over 35 years later, helps make the case of the band being one of the better and more clued-in acts of their day. They went on to sell a whole load of records, too, but that's no reason not to love 'em.

I set myself a goal this week to write about Michael Hurley, Chuck Higgins and this fantastic '70s spiritual jazz LP on Folkways I recently acquired, and then the pressures and woes of daily life got to me and it all came to nought. In the meantime, in a fit of pathetic nostalgia, I did manage to revisit my Minor Threat DVD and watch all three concerts on its wares. I had the VHS version back in the '80s/'90s, which only had the June 23 1983 show at the 9:30 Club (their final show, in fact), but in 2003 it was reissued in a DVD format by Dischord w/ two extra gigs and a 1983 interview w/ Ian MacKaye. The two other shows in question are the December 1980 show at DC Space, their performance at the Unheard Music Festival; and a November 1982 show at Buff Hall in New Jersey, a HC extraveganza also featuring the likes of SS Decontrol and Agnostic Front. If you're at all partial to enjoying and perhaps over-analysing the development of hardcore punk in the US, they're mandatory viewing. In fact, you will witness its evolution. In 1980, the members were fresh out of high school (actually, Brian Baker, a mere 15 years old at the time, was still there) and the machismo which took over HC wasn't so prevalent. Hell, there are even females dancing in the audience! Things weren't so codified, and the The Kids hadn't yet taken over the scene. Older rockers from the punk/new wave scene, in bands such as The Slickee Boys and The Nurses, were still hanging in there, though I'm sure they figured their days were numbered. By 1982, HC was a national phenomenon w/ key scenes scattered throughout the country, a magnet for angry suburban kids w/ shaved heads and a chip on their shoulder. If you had half a brain in your head, Minor Threat may well have been your soundtrack at the time. Gone are the females, and in comes the head-cracking. By 1983, HC had already peaked and many of the smarter (or better) bands were exploring other musical avenues. Many others ran out of steam. If Minor Threat had stuck around - and if the history books are to be believed, all members bar MacKaye wanted to make a bid for the big time in a distinctly U2-ish direction(!!) - they would've eaten shit in a major way pretty quick, so let's all be thankful that they called it quits. For myself and many others, they remain the quintessential first-wave American HC band. As white as snow and as middle-class suburbia as it comes, they defined it. Check out the collegiate duds on Lyle Preslar in the second clip: he looks like he came straight from rugby practice. I like his (lack of) style. Older observers of HC at the time were highly critical of the then-infant Maximum Rock 'n' Roll's attempt to whip HC into a national radical movement on a par w/ the Yippies, accusing them of being far more interested in it as a social movement than a musical one, in the meantime encouraging thousands of unimaginative dweebs to dull the waters within a few years. I get the point, but that probably would've happened anyway. Within the thousands of practitioners at the time, I'd estimate there were probably 10 outfits I'd rate as brilliant and maybe another 10 I'd rate as great. The rest were scenery, but I'm sure it was fun. I wasn't around to enjoy it, or at least I wasn't old enough to enjoy it when it was fresh and new, but these clips give you some visuals to what a blast it must've been. Like the best bands of the day, MT were totally committed to the music. After all, no one would listen to them anymore if their records weren't that good. "Inventing" straight edge will only get you so far. A friend of mine - the same vintage as myself - noted the other day that he still loved MT because they "rocked", something along the lines of a lightning-paced AC/DC. Check out the riff on "Small Man Big Mouth": it sounds like it's ripped straight out of Back In Black. There are many reasons to dig this, and I guess that's one of them.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Time to sing the praises of the early career of a man by the name of Frank Zappa, or, to be more specific, him and his band The Mothers Of Invention. The word "Zappa" obviously causes several - perhaps many - of you out there to wince at the mere mention of his name. Isn't he the egomaniac, toilet-humour smart-arse who spent the bulk of his public life acting like a pompous, above-it-all twit whilst simultaneously releasing disc upon disc of unlistenable yet "musicianly" nonsense no one in their right mind (which doesn't include suburbanite pot smokers prone to titty jokes and frequenting music-instrument stores) would go within spitting distance of? By all means, yes. But I have a great fondness for his early works, and I've said it many times before: had he croaked in the early '70s, as opposed to two decades later - at which point his musical crimes were well in abundance - his legacy would be unbeatable. But stick around he did...
I bought his - no, their: The Mothers Of Invention's - debut album, 1966's Freak Out! - back in 1995. I purchased it at the right time of my life, and it hit me deep. Perhaps more strangely, I can thank this guy for getting me into the early recordings of Zappa. Stranger things have happened. Freak Out! was released as a double LP - one of the very first of its kind (possibly the first?) - and is a near-perfect blend of 1960s garage rock combined with greater ambitions. Zappa's R & B/rock & roll roots are demonstrated throughout the first half of its duration w/ a series of concise tunes which mock the stupidity and hypocrisies of the era w/out sounding like the smug, disdainful old bore he'd mutate into within a decade. Zappa cut his teeth as a youth on the LA R & B scene, worshipping the likes of Johnny Otis (his facial hair was a lifelong tribute to Otis's impeccible follicles), Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Don "Sugarcane" Harris, the great Chuck Higgins, etc., and the rock & roll portions of Freak Out! don't stray too far from this worship. The Mothers sounded like a psychedelic '60s Sunset Strip update of the classic Otis sound of 15 years prior - xylophone and all - but w/ a fuzzed-out Seedsy vibe that places it clearly outside of a straight homage. To state the bleeding obvious, Freak Out! isn't that far removed from its contemporaries, whom would be the likes of the Byrds, Seeds, Love and pretty much every white guy on the west coast at the time who wanted to be Mick Jagger. There's a bunch of really great, sarcastic short/sharp/sweet rockers here, such as "Hungry Freaks, Daddy", "Motherly Love" and "You Didn't Try To Call Me", as well as the scorching 6+ minute "Trouble Every Day", one of the few "political" songs Zappa wrote which didn't seem to be coated in smarm and sarcasm.
For the second disc (not that I've ever heard the thing on vinyl anyway: I've got the Rykodisc CD), things get weirder and the songs get longer. Along w/ the aforementioned, there's also "Help, I'm A Rock", "It Can't Happen Here" and "Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet", all of which lay the groundwork for Zappa's reputation as, err, "weird". But rock they do, and the use of electronics and aspirations (pretensions?) towards musique concret were ahead of their time and way ahead in the world of pop music. But they're also "good", and not merely excercises in sheer zaniness. That would happen later in his career. Zappa and the Mothers cut a few other killer discs such as the follow-up, Absolutely Free, We're Only In It For The Money, Cruising With Ruben & The Jets, Uncle Meat, the odds & sods comp', Weasels Ripped My Flesh, and a whole slew of semi-legit product you'll find floating around. I'll even vouch for Zappa's Hot Rats solo disc, which is a great combo of LA freak-rock aesthetics and boogie-blues, but once the original Mothers split, his replacements were seen as his backing band and little else. Sure, there was still personality within his backing groups which could be unique to the individual players (sometimes that wasn't a good thing: I don't need to hear Steve Vai in any context), but Zappa's monstrous ego took hold, and for me the concept of The Mothers Of Invention - a musical circus troupe of identifiable ugly, hairy old freaks who stood in great contrast to the image of record company-groomed pop stars (a template for great rock & roll, if ever there was) was lost. Ex-Mothers such as Jimmy Carl Black and Don Preston played around on and off over the years, but that's a different story.
Friends of mine are aghast of my fandom for Zappa, just as they can be w/ my rabid enthusiasm for the music and long and industrious career of John Zorn. For some, they're one and the same. The latter was, is and forever shall be greatly influenced by the former, and for music puritans, their dabblings, humour and perceived pomposity is an anathema to their musical thinking, an encapsulation of the suburban bong-smoking aesthetic which probably riled them back in high school and persists to this day. I understand, but we're talking music here. In essence, the critics are correct: the strangeness was a put-on; his music was joyless, sexless and perpetually adolescent, like a marathon show-off from the most annoying asshole in the classroom. I guess that all begs the question once more: how could I like this shit? Because there's fun to be had in his catalogue, if only for a few brief years of his recorded life, and since when the hell was being an annoying asshole such a bad thing? Anyone w/ a penchant for his musical offspring - whether it's Faust, Pere Ubu or Bongwater - should head straight for the original source at least once in their life.

The following is a letter I received from a UK friend just today. It's his attempts to come to grips and try to understand what went on there the past week. I'm reprinting it - with his permission - for the simple fact that it's an interesting view on the riots from someone who was closer to the action than he wished to be. Read on, and please note that I'm not publishing any comments to this entry.


"Let it be clear there are some very obvious reasons behind what happened in London this week starting. The 'animal' behaviour only occurred after the window of opportunity had arisen, after an uncommon crack appeared in society, allowing such deplorable behaviour.

But how this come to be is very very complex and I think everyone here, after slowly recovering from the shock/trauma of the whole scenario are starting to ask this very question. I will make some simple points which I hope will put into perspective and the reality of what occurred in London this week.

* the economic crisis here is on an enormous level, the results have been not to punish those responsible (the bankers) but to make cuts across society, most to low income family's and the less economically viable communities. The most transparent results of this being the shutting down of libraries, community centre's and more importantly in this matter, youth centres.

* Another fatality of these economic cut backs has been education with state schooling being at a deplorable level. There is no concrete foundation in place to educate children on any significant level, it's a social factory, a token gesture with little substance.

* With regards to education we also had Parliament raise the fee's substantially for tertiary education late last year (from £10,000 to £50,000 in some cases) resulting in young people's prospects of a higher education being wiped out overnight. Resulting in little chance of many of the youth rising above the lower economic class in which they currently reside, ie: no future.

* The enemy this week was the not the 'state' per se, it was the police. There are many plausible reasons for this. After 9/11 they passed a 'stop and search' policy to allow police to stop and search anyone on the street who looked suspicious, of course for a number of years the police enacted this law to the muslim community but as this 'threat' (that has now come to light was completely exaggerated on every level) has started to fade away, the police started to use this law on black people, young black people in particular. Any black person in this country has no doubt been stopped by police and searched, when walking home, when walking in the park, anywhere, anytime of at least an average of 4 times. Very few white people have been.

* When the student fee's were raised there was mass demonstrations in oct/nov last year, I am sure you heard about these. What happened here when the people went out to express their concern for the drastic rise in fees? Up to 50,000 students (and teachers and general public) were 'kettled' (this is when the police corner the protesters in a single area and put up cages around the outside, effectively imprisoning the protesters) this was in winter and the result was that all these people were trapped up to 7-8 hours, they had to burn their school books to stay warm, they had no access to food and water, they had to urinate and defecate in amongst each other and if they attempted to leave they were beaten by police batons. Does this sound like a democratic society ?

* Recently, with the Murdoch scandal, the head of police here and the deputy head of police had to quit as the controversy heightened. Why? As it became apparent that the police had accepted bribes from journalists who were committing illegal activity (the hacking of phones of the general public including a missing teenager who it turned out had been murdered). So imagine being a young person - being hassled by the police on a regular basis and seeing this blatant corruption play out before you. It's ok for them to endorse illegal activity when it suits them (accepting bribes) and on the flip intimidate an entire community who are by and large innocent of any wrongdoing

* The 'stop and search' policy reached it's apex last Thursday when they pulled over a black man in Tottenham under this pretence, this time it resulted in him being shot in the chest by police, he was killed instantly. The police claimed he had pulled out a gun and fired at them. Indeed, 2 shots were fired. On Tuesday it came out that both bullets were from a single police gun.

The riots here rose out of a protest against this incident in Tottenham on Saturday night.

Having (understandably) complete distrust in politicians and policy, the police (zero role models, very few black people in any position of power in this country) and with little chance of an economically stable future what position does this put one in?

The result and actions as a consequence of all this was as misguided as it was frightening. I cannot express how out of control it was here.

On Sat I was out with friends and at midnight I got a text about a riot in Tottenham, about a mile from where I live. My response was, 'what is it now?' as London is a crazy city, but never like this. Another friend called me an hour later and told me to take care getting home. I was fine and assumed, like everyone it was an isolated incident rising out from the protest.

On Sunday night the looting began and caused concern for all here who saw this as gang mentality meets wayward consumeristic tendencies. People were surprised and shocked that it had continued and started to spread to different boroughs and areas, but even after this no one expected what was to come.

On Monday I caught up with a friend around 4pm to go see an exhibition of science fiction literature at the State Library. I was telling my friend that I was concerned about the 'social unrest'. She was more calm than me and was optimistic everything would settle down. As time went on and the day shifted into the evening you could feel something big / terrible was going to happen, it was really strange - the air became thick and claustrophobic. Around 5:30 I got the bus home, I was meant to get my bike from my friends flat and ride home but I told her I was not comfortable doing that and I just wanted to get home. Around this time I heard of riots in Hackney which is the area where I live. I followed this on twitter (all one has in these moments despite it's incredible failings of anybody being able to say anything, there was a lot of hysteria, rumours, mis-truths on twitter all night, it was incredibly frustrating trying to sift for fact and I gave up on this at about 11pm despite it being the only way to get real-time information).

I made it home ok and stayed indoors. I was on 'chat' with all of my friends all night whilst watching the live broadcast, you simply did not know where it was going to hit next. None of my friends were physically effected, in fact, very few people were considering what happened but the fear, anxiety and paranoia was at a level I have never felt in my life. The images were shocking, the part of East London where it occurred, Hackney, is an area I visit once a week at least. This is the area I have lived in ever since moving to London. I could not believe what I was seeing. On Monday it was not an option to go outside, I heard that my neighbourhood was safe as the Turkish community on one side and the Hasidic Jewish community on the other had lined the streets armed with baseball bats, this turned out to be true. This is an essential point to illustrate the level of what this situation turned into. It occurred all over this enormous city, Few borough's were without incident and the omnipresent nature of it was one of the most disturbing aspects. The police were outnumbered and unprepared, not an easy task by any means but they were also a disgraceful at dealing with the the situation (not violent by any means, rather, by simply not doing anything at all) this is after the warning signs were made very clear on the Saturday night.

The leader here David Cameron and the Mayor Boris Johnson were both on summer holidays at the time. There were requests made for them to return after Saturdays incident, they both choose not to. Neither returned until Tuesday morning, after the 'climax' of the entire event. Can you believe this ? Also, as I mentioned the head of police and deputy had both resigned 3 weeks ago over the Murdoch scandal so you had a guy who was quickly put in charge of the police following the Murdoch resignations handling the entire situation that was fast spiralling out of control. So we had complete lawlessness. No Prime Minister, No Mayor and an amateur head of the Police for 3 whole days. The police were outnumbered and ineffective, their tactics were incomprehensible. How can they beat the shit of a number of the 50,000 student protesters (including killing an non-protesting newspaper vendor who had his back to them) but not do anything to stop 200 kids running riot in one particular street? (keep in mind there were gangs of this size all over london) It was an uprising no doubt but please do not slot this easily into the leftist agenda, the reality is that most ALL of the victims were completely innocent people, 95% being small business owners on the lower class of the economic scale, they attacked the very communities in which they lived and raided the shops in which they frequent (mostly sports stores, mobile phone shops, off-licenses etc) it was not a premeditated attack on the state or any such romantic revolutionary notion.

On the monday night there were 6000 police officers for all of london. The riots were all over this enormous city and they were far outnumbered. When Cameron FINALLY returned to office he put a further 10,000 officers on the beat. But this was Tuesday and it was way too late. Why was this not done after Sat, after Sun? No one knows.

As I said all of this allowed a crack to open in society, a window whereby any kind of behaviour was allowed to exist. The results, no matter their genesis were awful for everyone, there is not doubt about that.

For 3 days there was the constant sound of helicopters and police sirens, it started to drive me crazy. It made it hard to sleep and even now 3 days after it subsided, if I hear a siren I get edgy as the sound reminds me of 'that' period, 'that' atmosphere. This will go and of course London is a city with frequent sirens but I am trying to express how insanely oppressive the environment was here. I can't imagine what it was like where the actual events were going on. I ran into one friend who lived on a street where a bus was set on fire and he said it was really the worst thing imaginable, absolute horror. But I am sure you have had plenty of coverage of this perspective over there along with very little opinion from the black community. Of course the initial irrational response of the public was punish the perpetrators as harsh as possible, but of there has to be a reason this all happens. The answer is simply not as clean cut as the various articles I have read in the media this week or opinions I have seen expressed on Facebook et al.

The actions themselves for the most part were not directed at individuals, it was against property and the police (this point remains defunct as there simply were not many around) - it was a confusion of anger and opportunity. All the shiny capitalist goods these people can rarely afford had suddenly become available at no cost, a corrupt government who demands people consume but does not give them the opportunity to earn decent wages may result in this distorted view of commerce as seen by the rampant looting that took place here.

As I said, I was safe and was away from the areas the majority of the action occurred in - Besides the helicopters and sirens, I heard explosions from petrol tankers exploding nearby. On the Tuesday evening I went out around 7pm and came back around 12:30pm, I went to the Turkish district, Dalston, to get a perspective outside of media images which I found irresponsible. The atmosphere was very intense all night, especially when 100's of Turkish men suddenly ran into their shops and left carrying baseball bats and similar weapons. There was a large police presence on Tuesday night but they let the Turkish maintain this area as they were doing a better job than them at protecting the community. The only incident was a gang of 6 very young kids who naively entered this area and were immediately chased by the locals, they all ran passed me, the children were like frightened animals, the Turkish like vicious dogs. This is what became of my neighbourhood, my community. Things were tense all night until a procession of 30 riot vans went down the street just after midnight, symbolically declaring that it was all over. Like some heroes returning from war. The only difference being they had little to do with maintaining order. If violence is a sexual act then it reached it's climax on Monday night and had started to peter away naturally on the Tuesday and most certainly by the Wednesday evening. (sorry for the metaphor but it is one that works with the momentum that occurred here).

The other thing I found weird was how in the mornings (the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday mornings) it was always beautiful and sunny and everyone would resume normal routine, everyone was out doing their usual thing, working, shopping, walking dogs, or playing in the park with their children. But after lunch it changed, things got edgy again and as the day progressed we reverted back to this paranoid, anxious ridden society. Shops closed and put their shutters down around 3 / 4 o'clock, people were allowed to leave work at 4pm so they could make there way home before night started to fall and before' it' came back again, it was a very disturbing week.

Everyone here is scarred. Myself and all of my friends and other people I have spoken to have all gone through psychological shifts between shock, frustration, anger and depression. It was a traumatic experience but as the dust starts to settle I can honestly say I have never witnessed anything like what happened this week and I was not caught up in it in the slightest, for awhile their it was the total breakdown of a society and it happened very swiftly and to an extreme level.

What started out as a protest, turned into something else entirely. By Sunday, this was not a protest, it was not a revolution, it was misguided chaos and wanton destruction of the immediate environment, the years of oppression resulting in atavistic anarchy and consumeristic confusion.

I do not want to pass on 'my' opinion on any of this as there are enough morons on the BBC doing this every day, not to mention the tired leftist blogists who jump at the opportunity to say, 'See! this fits in exactly with what I have been saying for the last seven years'. Life and society is never so clean cut, but I hope I have outlined the background, some of the events themselves and the general mood and atmosphere of London and other parts of England this week. The nature of what happened here is deep and complex and will never fit tightly into any premeditated rationale, left or right."
Let's make it a quick one. The band known as Slapp Happy made one absolutely classic LP in the year 1973 which you should know about. It sounds like no other record made that year, or indeed like any other record made that decade. The band consisted of Englishman Anthony Moore on keyboards, American guitarist Peter Blegvad and German vocalist Dagmar Krause. Blegvad and Moore have released several fruity solo LPs over the years which people keep telling me I should listen to, and Krause later made a name for herself as the vocalist in the ace trio, Art Bears (among other things), alongside Fred Frith and Chris Cutler (I wrote about 'em here). However, unlike Krause's unholy, Germanic screech she bellowed in the Art Bears (something, I'll admit, is an acquired taste), her vocals in Slapp Happy appeared to be drained of all Aryan inflections, instead emitting a sweet, girlish quality not unlike Kate Bush. Along w/ the quality of the songs, it's her voice which makes Noom Acnalbasac such an incredible record. The story behind the record is worthy of noting, although perhaps only for trainspotters. It was originally recorded as Casablanca Moon for the Polydor label in 1973, but was rejected by the company upon completion. It was then re-recorded and released on Virgin in 1974 as Slapp Happy. The band later morphed into a hybrid band with the Limey avant-prog outfit, Henry Cow, and released two albums in the process. And then Henry Cow begat the Art Bears. You taking notes on all this? The two Slapp Happy/Henry Cow discs have their moments of greatness, and I even used to convince myself that Henry Cow were a great band nearly 20 years ago (I listened to them again recently, and they came across like a bunch of joyless, uni-student nonsense. Sorry), but if you want just one brilliantly unique LP by this band, this is the one. Noom Acnalbasac was released years later by Chris Cutler's ReR/Recommended imprint, and it's the original recording the band made for Polydor in 1973. I bought it for a ha'penny back in '94, and it's a purchase I'm mighty glad of. When I said that Noom Acnalbasac (let's call it NA, OK?) doesn't sound like any other record from 1973, I wasn't lying. It isn't noodling avant-prog, nor is it psychedelic cosmic prog a la Faust (despite the fact that two Faust members make up the rhythm section here, and it's produced by Faust svengali, Uwe Nettelbeck). It's mostly simplistic and shambolic slop-pop which sounds like it could easily have been released on the K label back in '91. Either that or the Barrett-damaged punk/pop of the Television Personalitites. I think that Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks would've given this one a spin back in their teen years, too. The arrangements are kept simple and Blegvad never embellishes the songs with needless guitar heroics. I don't know who they thought this album's audience would be, as it falls outside of the boundaries of what was big at the time: glam, heavy metal and prog. I'd be stretching the story too far if I was to imply that this was proto-punk, so you'll just have to take it for what it is: an excellent collection of atypical pop-rock w/ the kind of hooks and melodies which sit in your brain for days. Bongwater covered a track here, "The Drum", on their Too Much Sleep LP, but other than that, I haven't heard too many people sing their praises. I pulled this one out the past week, as I do on an annual basis, and it still hits home.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Love & praise for The Pop Group from Saint Nick himself. I've written about the band a number of times; if you care to read such waffle, you can likely Google it and shudder in a heartbeat. When I was 20 years old, they were probably my favourite band on earth. I'm now 39, and whilst I haven't listened to them much the past 10 years, I can still swear by their greatness w/ the kind of hyperbole that'll make your eyes roll. Strangely enough, they're back together again, as you can see from this recent interview w/ their main man, Mark Stewart. He's an odd fellow, to say the least, but it's the odd ones which make life interesting. And tying in to what was written below, he's also a big fan of grindcore and doom of the OM/Sleep school. Go figure. I'm not sure I'd want to spend a few hours in a room w/ him alone, but the interview in question is a great read.

Friday, August 05, 2011

If you have approximately 90 minutes spare in your life at this moment in history, you could do a lot worse than watch the documentary above. I don't, and hence I've only watched the first hour or so, but it was an hour well spent, and when the gods smile on me and give me another half-hour, I will hopefully watch the rest. The film itself is Such Hawks Such Hounds and it was made a couple of years ago, documenting, as the blurb says, "the American hard rock underground ca. 1970 - 2007". In essence, it's the history of what the layman might term "stoner rock" in the US of A, from the likes of Sir Lord Baltimore and Pentagram through to Saint Vitus, Melvins, Kyuss, Fatso Jetson, Earthless, OM, Sleep and a myriad others. The film itself is surprisingly well made; I only say "surprisingly" because it's a special day indeed when a music documentary is competently handled, let alone interesting. This one is both.
Made by John Srebalus, he's gotten together the right collection of talking heads, stories and live footage and put them in place to present a reasonably comprehensible narrative. You can bitch and complain all you want about the lack of Black Sabbath in there, but A) they're British; and B) they obviously couldn't get the clearance or cooperation from the band. And the Melvins? Again, they're mentioned, but not actually featured in it at all. They wouldn't cooperate, curmudgeons that they are. But - and I'm making an assumption here not based on anything I've seen or heard - I think I get their point: a band such as the Melvins, one I would rate as perhaps the great American rock & roll unit of the last 20 years, probably don't want to be lumped into the "stoner rock" basket any more than I would. It became a tediously generic music form by the late '90s, if not sooner, when the likes of Man's Ruin were releasing every half-baked outfit w/ a Sabbath and/or Foghat riff up their sleeves. I was working for their distributor at the time, and I was shocked by the amount of crap coming out from the label, but I guess Frank Kozik thought he was on a winner at the time. He probably was (in fact I know he was, at least for a few years: we sold a shitload of those things), but muddied the waters w/ too much half-arsed material (much like SST did, I guess). Kyuss never meant anything to me, either, though I know for some they were the world and then some. My brother hung w/ them back in LA in 1990 when they were nobodies and came home w/ an autographed copy of their "demo LP" (when they were known as Sons Of Kyuss). We thought the record sucked, though he said they were nice guys. Nevertheless, I've heard much worse music in my life, and if someone played a Kyuss record at a party, I wouldn't leave the room in protest.
There's some fine music on display in Such Hawks...: Mario Lalli is one of rock's good guys, and the footage of Fatso Jetson only confirms in my mind that they are one of the most under-rated American bands of the last 15 years. And again, this is where the "stoner" tag should be used loosely. Lalli sums up their music as being a kind of Howlin' Wolf/Black Flag/Mahuvishnu/Devo hybrid - all quite true - but just as important is how much they don't sound like what people think stoner-rock is. I'd put them sonically much more in the Black Flag/Meat Puppets/Minutemen ca. '85 ballpark, but they've also got a heavy chunk of High Time-period MC5 running through them, as well as the psychedelic Brit blues-rock of the Groundhogs, as evidenced on their excellent live LP released on Cobraside a couple of years back (you can hear a killer track from that right here).
Which possibly takes me back to the point I was trying to make about the Melvins: there were those who blazed the trail - Pentagram, The Obsessed, Saint Vitus, Across The River and even the Melvins in their own way, as well as intersting stoner/doom-related outfits such as Sunn O))), OM and Sleep (all covered here, to varying degrees), and a whole bunch of boring crud not worth bothering with (some of those bands are covered here, too). One thing I noted: psych/stoner/doom bands made up of indie-rock hipsters tend to pale in comparison to the genuine article (bands made from rockers, heshers and metalheads); case in point: Comets On Fire. Their records always bored me, and the footage of them in this film didn't change my mind. The coverage of Sleep's recording of Dopesmoker (the legendary one-track/50-minute opus recorded for a major in the mid '90s but dumped and left unreleased for several years) not only borders on near-hysterical hyperbole - members, observers and critics appear to put this artistic achievement on a similar level to man's landing on the moon - it also had me wondering if anyone present had seen Spinal Tap for a reality check. But hey, this is entertaining and Scott "Wino" Weinrich is worth watching in just about any company, and he's predictably great here. High-quality transfer, too, so watch it before it gets taken down (or better yet, buy the DVD if you're really keen).

Here's a band I'll be keeping an eye out for: BLACK FACE. It's Eugene Robinson from Oxbow (and Whipping Boy, for all HC trainspotters) and Chuck Dukowski's new outfit. Actually, the "point" of the band can be explained in this article. I hate linking up to Vice magazine, as it stands as a template for everything I loathe about contemporary hipster culture, but sometimes their writers have a clue (or at least a deadline). The band was put together by Robinson and Dukowski originally as a possible attempt to get Black Flag together again w/ Robinson on vocals. Predictable legal hassles ensued and frankly, I'm glad that idea never got off the ground. What you have left is the band having recorded four songs that Dukowski wrote during his tenure in 'Flag but never recorded, and in a live setting they apparently run through a whole set of Dukowski-penned BF numbers. Pointless nostalgia? Perhaps... but the thought of Robinson - a formidable vocal and physical presence - and Dukowski jamming out and recording (and releasing: vinyl coming on Hydrahead soonish) such heretofore unknown songs has me as excited as all get-up.


And related once more, below is a previously unseen (by me, that is) mock interview Black Flag did, I assume, in 1982. I think it's 1982. You can usually pin it by the length of Henry and Dez's hair, so I'm assuming it's 1982. Enjoy.