Saturday, December 31, 2011

Holy moly, 2011 came and went like that! And what a tumultuous year it was; not so much for me (business as usual on nearly all fronts), though a shocker for many others - some close to home, some far away. If the 20th century was the period of great ascension amongst the human race, in terms of technology, medicine, communication, entertainment etc., then my general feeling about the 21st century is that we're on a downhill slide, but then again, there was probably someone saying the exact same thing about the previous century in 1912 (as well as others hailing the forthcoming conquests of the 20th century as they set sail on the Titanic). In other words: the more things change, the more things stay the same. The only big change I have coming up in the next month is that I'm about to enter my 40s. I'm looking for big changes in my life, but only I can make them. And all that Z-grade philosophising and therapy is a roundabout way of saying this: one thing which will never change is my ability to belatedly give mention to great releases from years past, and today is no exception.

I didn't mention reissues in my round-up of 2011 as there's simply too many to list. Off to the top of my head, I'll mention... the Opika Pende 4CD/book box set on Dust To Digital, documenting rare African 78s from many decades past; the Bobby Robinson 4CD box on JSP (Robinson was a producer/arranger/songwriter/label boss responsible for many killer sides, from Elmore James to Red Prysock, and this set is a non-stop good time); the Italo Funk Experience CD on Nascente (I reviewed their French Funk Experience set earlier in the year; this series of weird & wonderful territorial gems is the bomb); the Johnny Otis series on Ace, digging up more gems from the '40s/'50s vaults); the Shattered Dreams: Funk Blues 1967 - 1978 set on BGP/Ace (which details the transition of old blues players in the late '60s/'70s into a more contemporary, funkier style of playing. My exposure to this period of music previously had it pegged as one of great bogusness. This CD puts that theory to rest: lots of great tracks here, by Johnny Otis, Lowell Fulson, Icewater Slim, Little Sonny and more); the 2CD Mark McGuire retrospective on Mego (young folks/hipster tunes, for sure, but that doesn't necessarily make it bad. McGuire is a member of avant-synth/drone combo, Emeralds, and releases cassettes/CD-Rs of his tunes like you & I have hot dinners. This 2CD compiles his best material. He has one or possibly two tricks: run a guitar through a series of effects pedals, echoes and loops and repeat... but it's an effective trick), etc. etc. Above is one which requires special mention. It possesses the mouthful-and-a-half title of Psych Funk Sa-Re-Ga! Seminar: Aesthetic Expressions of Psychedelic Funk Music In India 1970 - 1983. Wow. It comes on either CD or 2LP and both sets are handsomely packaged c/o the folks at World Psychedelic Funk Classics. I've got a few Indian and/or Bollywood compilations in my collection, but for me this one's the best of 'em all. Many of the tracks are hideously obscure soundtrack "incidental" pieces of music, from what I can gather they're taken from Z-grade Indian psych cash-in films (they're the best kind!), and many contain "personnel unknown". Some aren't remotely "funky" in a musical sense (I'm thinking obvious bass licks and danceable rhythm sections), though let's not split hairs: the opener by the Black Beats, "The Mod Trade" from 1971, is a killer slice of barely-together surf-influenced garage rock which sounds like an early, instrumental VU number. There's also a mighty strange track featuring kraut saxophonist, Klaus Doldinger (from fusionoid numbnuts, Passport) called "Sitar Beat" which features no Indian musicians (just Germans, including a guy from Embryo) and wasn't even released in India, so its inclusion means that the theme for this comp' is, err, "loose". But a winner it be. There's a zillion of these far-out comps from faraway lands in the market at this point in time. I've heard a heap of them - Turkey, Japan, Nigeria, USSR, Indonesia, etc. - and this is one I spin often.

Unless you're prone to a little feet-scufflin' jig, you won't be dancing to anytime soon to any tracks from Whaur The Pig Gaed On The Spree: Scottish Recordings by Alan Lomax, 1951-'57 (2s & Fews/Drag City). It was compiled by Scottish indie-folk musician, Alasdair Roberts (who has a bunch of recordings available via Drag City), who's a great enthusiast and fan of folk music from his homeland. I'm descended from the Scots, too, so there's interest on my behalf which goes beyond the perfunctory. Alan Lomax - one of the great recorders of sound throughout the globe in the 20th century - was living in London in 1951, working as a radio producer and field recordist for the BBC, as well as being under contract to Columbia Records to curate a series of LPs entitled World Library Of Folk and Primitive Music (where the hell can I get a job like that?!). He was about to draw tracks from the BBC archives from the 1940s for the English edition when he happened to meet Scottish poet, collector and radical, Hamish Henderson. Their meeting changed Lomax's mind, and he spent that summer dragging his audio gear around Scotland, recording Gaelic work songs, pipe tunes, ballads, sea shanties and more. The music of the Scots, a proud people deeply knowledgable of their own musical heritage and whose sense of community ran in tendem w/ Lomax's definition of folk music as a people's music, had Lomax recording hours and hours of music over the subsequent years of the 1950s. And this collection - available only on LP, but one w/ exhaustive and detailed liner notes - puts together the best of them (or what Roberts deems the best). A fair bit of it is a capella, some is accompanied by guitar or fiddle, and there's even a bagpipe tune to round it out. I have a deep love for the traditional folk music of the British Isles, whether it's the real thing as presented here (or on this collection) or one reconfigured by musicians steeped in the rock idiom (from Fairport Convention to Trembling Bells). Whether you're partial to this will determine as to whether you care for this collection's existence. It's beautifully put together and annotated and documents the lives and songs of people most likely long dead. It won't be the feel-good hit of the summer, but it'll keep you warm on those cold, wintery nights.
This release was - and remains - very strangely enough, one of my favourite releases of 2011, and yet I forgot to mention it last week. It is, indeed, a very strange beast. The band is When Saints Go Machine; the album goes by the name of Konkylie. The band is on a major in their homeland where they're a top 10 pop act. Other countries will have to suffice w/ the album's licensing to the German indie, K7. I stumbled across this one whilst at work. After reading the bio, which namedropped Arthur Russell and Talk Talk and gave mention to its homeland success, I figured it was due for a spin. How could I possibly sell copies of this in Australia? Does a top 10 in Denmark count for anything down here? The answer to the first question is: with great difficulty; the answer to the latter is quite obviously "no". This record is a thousand miles removed from much of the music I've trumpeted here over the past 8(!) years: this would never have fitted in on SST, FMP or ESP-Disk'; you would never mistake it for a hidden krautrock gem and nor could it ever be mistaken for a classic slice of 1940s booze-soaked rhythm & blues. It is, for all intents and purposes, a synth-pop album, one w/ the kinds of tunes which top charts. It could well have been released in 1985, so strong is its '80s-retro aura, but it's too smart, too adventurous and way too good to be mistaken for some of the lesser lights of that decade. Perhaps the group's main appeal is the vocals of lead vocalist Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild: he has the sweet, high-pitched nuances similar to that of Arthur Russell, Talk Talk's Mark Hollis and Antony Hegarty (from Antony & The Johnsons). His voice sounds fractured and possesses great depth and emotion - it undoubtedly makes for a highlight - but all that would be for naught if the songs weren't actually good. They're better than that, they're great. For better or for worse, this is arty synth-pop: you could compare it to 2nd-LP Suicide, Arthur Russell, late-period Talk Talk, Byrne/Eno, Another Green World, etc., but you could also say that this possesses the outright mersh qualities of say, Pet Shop Boys(!), Depeche Mode or mid '80s Yello (think Ferris Bueller). In fact, a good deal of this wouldn't have sounded out of place in an '80s slice of teen drama c/o John Hughes, and the track "Kelly" really could've been a chart-topper throughout the whole Western hemisphere ca. 1986, but that was not to be. There's 10 slices of primo art-pop here - great songs, all - and WSGM's combination of electronics, percussion and pining vocals is something I can dig a whole lot. I probably say this roughly once a decade, so I'll clear my throat and utter it: When Saints Go Machine's Konkylie is simply great pop music.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Huh... Xmas has been and gone and I didn't even get to post anything about it. But hey, you don't need some blogger schlep wishing you well: that's for family & friends. Haven't been here for 2 weeks because the lead-up to Xmas - being in the wholesale business - is non-stop chaos, the last thing I care to do in the evening being contributing to this blog, but the year's nearly up, and so I must give some sort of a half-arsed appraisal to the year that it was.

I'll leave political and world events to those who wish to comment on them (I usually do, but not here), so let's just cut to the chase and give a listing of some releases from 2011 which floated my boat. It was a bumper year for Australian music, and you'd better savour that remark, as I don't believe I've ever uttered it before (and may never again). There were the albums by Melbourne outfits, Dick Diver and Twerps. The former released New Start Again on the Chapter label and it developed into what one likes to call a sleeper, a grower and all things between. Featuring Al Montfort from The UV Race and Total Control (and others... and believe me, this is hard to write coz I work with the guy!), DD mine a relaxed, VU-damaged pop/rock sound which to me incorporates all the best elements of 3rd-LP VU, Marquee Moon (particularly the twin-guitar interplay), The Feelies, early Yo La Tengo and the 3 or 4 Go-Betweens songs I actually like. It's distinctly Australian in sound, though I doubt foreigners would have a hard time placing it in the scheme of things. It took a good half-dozen listens to take hold, but once it did, its sublime, subtle hooks and observational lyrics grabbed me and haven't let go yet. Twerps are DD's "brother/sister band" of sorts, being on the same label, playing shows together, etc., though their sound borrows heavily from the NZ/Flying Nun school of sound. In fact, if their self-titled debut had been released on Flying Nun ca. 1987, you wouldn't have batted an eyelid. Ace songwriting, too. One which came right out of left field and bowled me over is Lost Animal's Ex Tropical, released on the Sensory Projects label. This is probably my fave Australian release of '11. Lost Animal is basically one dude - Jarrod Quarrell - who was one of the prime movers in indie supergroup St. Helens a couple of years back. I never saw nor heard 'em (despite the presence of several friends in the line-up), but Lost Animal's approach to sound is a kind of sparse, dub-influenced and dramatic art-rock which to me brings to mind early '70s Eno, Berlin-period Bowie, primo Serge Gainsbourg and the kind of scattered, suit-wearing junkie-rock perfected by Nick Cave and Rowland S. Howard. Ex Tropical possesses a decadent sleaze which, if it wasn't done so damn well, I'd be prone to dismiss as one big pose, but the strength of the material is astonishing. "Lose The Baby": that's the track you need to hear. Total Control, featuring Mikey from Eddy Current (and more) and Dan Stewart from The UV Race, Straightjacket Nation, etc. also put out a fine, fine release. It took me a while to come around to this. I'd seen them live a few times and been kind of underwhelmed by the obviously late '70s post/electro-punk sound they were aiming for (heard it too many times), but on their Henge Beat album (Total Control/Iron Lung), it coalesced into something more than the sum of its parts. Again, I'll throw around names like Swell Maps, Cabaret Voltaire, Screamers, Suicide, et al, but TC are better than mere imitation. The songs, the riffs, they come together to form a whole - one which sways from the purely electronic to honest-to-Pete rock & roll - which makes sense. It sounds like 21st-century music I could actually give a damn about. Lastly, there was The Necks' latest, Mindset. There's not much more I could say about The Necks which I haven't said before (and I've said plenty about 'em before if you care to peruse this blog). Mindset has two 20-minute songs (and for the first time ever, in fitting w/ the song format, they've also released it on LP) - "Rum Jungle" and "Daylights" - the former being the noisy track, all hammering organs and beating drums, whilst the latter is the sound of sparse piano tinkles and light brushes. This band can do no wrong - they have done no wrong - so you need this one to complete the set.

Internationally, the UK's Trembling Bells put out a killer I reviewed here earlier in the year. The band possess an obvious reverance for British folk-rock of yore ('60s Fairports, in particular), but mesh up ye olde stylings w/ Brit psychedelia of the Syd's 'Floyd/Soft Machine variety, as well as the occassional bombastic sense of harmonic expansion one would usually gild from a Dirty Three platter. A great combo, and they have the songs to prove it. I finally came around to San Fran psych-rock quartet, Wooden Shjips, in 2011, and you can probably thank my line of work for finally alerting me to their sounds. Their critics would dismiss them as a one-trick pony - take a hot riff semi-stolen from the Velvets or Roky or Neu! or whoever - and run it into the ground, mumble something over the top and repeat until finished. Perhaps that is an accurate description, and my only retort is that, judging by their West album (Thrill Jockey), released earlier this year, it's a formula which could still do w/ some more milking before I get bored with it. Both Trembling Bells and Wooden Shjips are unashamedly retro in approach - they make few concessions to the sounds of today as we know it, and it's for that reason I can stand, nay, enjoy, listening to them. Michigan-born brassman, Colin Stetson, put out a puzzling, difficult and rather amazing disc earlier in the year, New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges, on the Canadian Constellation label, one which I only bought recently but which must be mentioned. Stetson is mostly known for his voluminous session work, with everyone from Tom Waits to mega-selling indie-rock nudniks The Arcade Fire and Bon Iver, but his solo work is something else. He plays mostly baritone sax in a circular, atmospheric and repetitive fashion, one not too dissimilar to some of Evan Parker's solo works on the FMP label, the result being a kind of deep and dark industrialism far removed from the world of jazz. New History... also features the vocals of one Laurie Anderson on several tracks - a woman I loathe for reasons too detailed and petty (and possibly unjustified) to go into here - though even she can't spoil the good times to be had. This one's "difficult" but ultimately very rewarding. Speaking of Anderson, I must give special mention to her, ahem, "better" half, Lou Reed, and his collaborative effort w/ mega-selling manchildren, Metallica, Lulu. I procured a freebie of this 2CD set a month or more ago, and for me, regardless of what anyone on planet earth says, it stands as one of the most bizarre, awful, brilliant and utterly unique releases of the past 12 months, if not the past 10 years. The Wire magazine rated Lulu as # 9 in their Top 50 releases of the year, and David Keenan's review in their November issue stands as the only sober and well-reasoned summation of its contents I've read of it in print thus far. Metallica will likely never record another great album in their lifetime (I highly rate their first 3, which I only belatedly came around to about a decade ago), and Reed's chances aren't particularly great, either, but the meeting of these two seemingly incongruous forces of egos, bullshit and bravado has created an entirely different beast. Sure, it rambles, and yes, James Hetfield often comes across like an embarrassing kid trying too hard to impress his grouchy uncle (that's Lou), but anyone w/ an interest in left-field music needs to give this a listen w/out prejudiced ears. The fact that it seems to go on forever (two discs totalling near a 90-minute mark) - as if editing out 10 minutes to make it fit a single CD (something I'm sure the record company was praying for) would spoil its grandiose plans, only makes it even better. It's a startling and absurd mixture of barely-together grunt-metal, raging speed/thrash and extended drones (mostly on disc 2), all laced together w/ Reed's drunken, croaky "poetry". Lulu is a great Lou Reed fuck-you platter, and I'll also give Metallica credit for being just smart/dumb enough to go along w/ it all.

I only watch TV that comes in DVD box sets, and my vote goes to Breaking Bad, a series I've only been exposed to in the last few weeks, despite nagging from friends for the last couple of years. I have now witnessed the first 3 seasons, and for me it stands up there in the Great Television Of The 21st Century pantheon, that select group of shows inhabited by the likes of The Sopranos, The Shield, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Deadwood and Six Feet Under. Curb Your Enthusiasm is essentially just a smart and very funny sitcom, but like the others mentioned, Breaking Bad unfolds and reveals itself like a good novel, each episode playing like a chapter in a book as you slowly watch the show's main anti-hero (all these shows possess an anti-hero: it's the formula for good TV as we know it today) steps deeper and deeper into a world of shit. The main protagonist is the highly intelligent yet similarly under-achieving high-school science teacher, Walter White. He's just been diagnosed w/ terminal cancer and has a pregnant wife and disabled son to take care of. Seeing possible financial troubles for his family in the near future, he goes into the crystal meth trade w/ a deadbeat ex-student of his, his brilliant scinetific mind cooking up the best batch of the stuff the southwest has ever seen. He soon learns that once you dip your toe into the drug trade and make an impression, it's hard to get out. On paper, the storyline sounds potentially awful and unrealistic (or just plain awfully unrealistic), but the clever writing and ace performances, and the way the story slowly and convincingly unravels and begins to involve larger forces beyond White's control (or even knowledge) make it absolutely gripping. Folks, they're still very occasionally making TV for people w/ grey matter between their ears, and Breaking Bad is one of the best of them.

Movies? Books? I have no idea what happened this year. I'm the last person you should be asking. I'll be back before the year's out for more blather.

Friday, December 09, 2011

In the past week, I have witnessed the American hardcore punk rock band Off! not once, but twice. They lit a fire under my ass and made me want to dance. Well, I would've danced, except the slam pit looked like a match to the death and I got all scared. My brother partook and has the bung knee and bruises to prove it. Fuck that, I'll just tap my feet. They've got an ace 16-track CD on the Vice label, of all people, which compiles their four 7" EPs (which is also available as a handsome 7" box complete w/ Pettibon art. They rip out a mean, lean, short, fast & loud punk rock which sounds like the last 30 years ceased to exist. It's part Germs, part Adolescents and part Nervous Breakdown sped up to breaking point. It ain't nothing new, that's a given, but does it give me a blast? You bet. A truly good sound never ages, and Off! are to be given credit for being a real band: a fearsome foursome who aren't just living off past glories, but emitting a sound which, dumb as this may sound, is also totally fresh. Would I care for them if not for their pedigree? Likely not, but I never said I was consistent. Ginn probably thinks Morris is a first-rate retrograde asshole for being in a band like Off!, but I'll ask you this: what would you rather listen to, Off! or the last 20+ years of Ginn recordings? I thought so.
Anyway, let's speak of one of the bands from whence they came, namely the Circle Jerks (I've written about Redd Kross before, but may do it again in the future). Off! are made up of Keith Morris, Steve McDonald, Dimitri Coats and Mario Rubalcaba. The latter two have done time in bands such as Rocket From The Crypt, Hot Snakes, Earthless and Burning Brides, bands who mean little to me and hence I won't be wasting your or my time tackling their respective output and where it fits within the musical universe. No disrespect to either - Mario is a mean and wild skin-hitter and Dimitri slashes out a cool Ginn/Ashton-style guitar - but I've never even heard the Burning Brides, Hot Snakes or Earthless (who toured here not too long ago and whom I heard good reports of), and haven't listened to RFTC since I lost a cassette a friend made for me of their early singles back in about 1993 (though I recall liking some of the tunes). So on w/ the show it is...
The Circle Jerks' '80s discography is a wildly uneven beast, though one I can claim great sentimental attachment to. Along w/ the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag, they were the first US HC band I claimed fandom for all those years ago (1986, to be exact. What, you missed the silver jubilee party?). High on the fumes of the Repo Man soundtrack, I went out and bought their debut, Group Sex (1980) and 1985's Wonderful in one hit. More on the latter soon. The debut is absolutely one of thee classics slabs of SoCal punk rock destruction. It's duration is a mere 15 minutes, but it packs more twists & turns, lyrical barbs and ge-u-ine musical invention within its quarter hour than most punkers packed into their complete discographies (actually, most of which didn't go beyond a mere 7", but the point has been made). Along w/ the likes of (GI), Damaged and Adolescents, it remains my fave piece of fast-paced LA mayhem from the period. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.... you know the CJ story, correct? Formed by Keith Morris once he was booted from the 'Flag in '79, along w/ Greg Hetson, fresh from Red Cross, bassist Roger Rogerson and sticksman, Lucky Lehrer. They hit the scene quick - supergroup that they were - and made a big splash in the suburban HC market within months of their debut. Sure, they ripped off some tunes from 'Flag and the 'Cross, but musical thievery is what makes the world spin on its axis. You can see footage of 'em here from Decline Of Western Civilisation: during their peak years they were a white-hot unit. Bozo punk-thrash w/ a beer-clutching singer at the helm, though they could pen some hot riffage (I'm thinking of tunes like "Beverly Hills", "Back Against The Wall", "World Up My Ass", "Red Tape" et al), though they never went down the life is pain/I want to be insane world of heaviness & gloom that the 'Flag fellows travelled down. I love that path, too, though the 'Jerks could be kinda dumb and almost, err, "funny" w/out merely being a precursor to Doggy Style. Got me? Group Sex was a huge indie hit for the Frontier label and helped keep a roof over their heads until Suicidal Tendencies hit paydirt a coupla years later.

The band switched labels for '82's Wild In The Streets. The edition I have - an old LP from the '80s - is on Step-Forward Records, some fly-by-night mob whom I know nothing about (the band had an old-school rock & roll manager, so who knows what production/label team he hooked 'em up with). Some subsequent reissues have been put out through Frontier (even via Epitaph at one stage), so who the fuck knows who owns the rights to this one. When I said the 'Jerks were uneven, I wasn't lying. WITS is still a great platter, but it sounds like it's under-rehearsed, sloppily produced and mixed out the ass. The title track is a mover (a Garland Jeffreys cover, in fact), and having just listened to it for the first time in a number of years, there's a bunch of tracks I'll equally vouch for ("Murder The Disturbed", "86'd", "Political Stu"), though there's something about it which doesn't quite make up the greatness of the debut. Subsequent reissues have been re-mixed and -mastered, so maybe they give it an edge the original version lacks. The material's there, but the production and execution doesn't always hit the mark. Still, for '82 punker action, this one's a keeper.

1983's Golden Shower Of Hits is a bit of a clunker. It was the last to feature Rogerson & Lehrer (he's apparently a successful attorney these days; down here we call 'em lawyers), and was released yet again on a different label: Allegiance. You know 'em? Me neither. That may explain why it's never been reissued. Or if it has, I've never seen it nor heard of it. Or maybe it remains out of print simply because it isn't that good. It's got some turkeys ("Junk Mail"... an anti-junk mail song? Sounds like they're reaching), and a good half of it simply sounds uninspired, but it's not a total write-off: "Rats Of Reality", "Product Of My Environment" and the tunes featured on Repo Man, "Coup D'Etat" and a reconfigured "When The Shit Hits The Fan" are hot, and the title track, a medley of schlock by the likes Karen Carpenter, The Association, Paul Anka and The Captain & Tenille is pretty, err, "funny" (tune's good, too). Some of GSOH is strictly punk-by-numbers autopilot material, though, and for me it's my least fave disc of theirs.

Another record, another label. 1985's Wonderful is where, pardon the pun, the shit hit the fan. Folks loved or loathed this. W/ a new rhythm section (featuring actor Zander Schloss on bass) in tow, the band made a direct stab at the hard rock/metal market... sort of. Released on Combat Core (the "punk" sub-label of metal empire, Combat), the production gives it that big, "rock" sound, Greg Hetson grew his hair out to Boltonesque proportions and there's no doubt this was the band trying to hit the big time. This rousing endorsement aside, I dig this a lot. Call me a sentimental old fool - that may just be the sole reason I do like it - but it's got some strong material, and despite the concessions made to the HM market with the production and slightly slower, more accessible material, there's righteousness buried within its grooves. I thought "heavy metal" (as it was known and recognised in the '80s) was a genre filled w/ total bogusness throughout my teens years (it still mostly is, but I'll tackle that non-issue at a later date), but Wonderful keeps things pretty simple and upbeat throughout. If anything, it's really a sell-out to "rock" - just plain, old simple "rock" - and that's not such a bad thing to dabble in, huh? It's got a lot of great tunes: the title track, "Making The Bombs", "Dude", "Karma Stew", "Rock House", "I & I", et al and nary a clunker in sight (even the party anthem, "Heavy Metal Weekend", has its charms). If you're hearing Wonderful for the first time in the year 2012, it may register a big, fat zero to yer ears; as a semi-mersh punk/rock album made in '85 and heard by these ears in '86, it still manages to weave a manner of half-arsed magic throughout my senses.

I bought 1987's VI upon the week of its release. Again, there's another label change, this time to megacorp indie, Relativity (a fake independent label/distro owned by Sony, whom I believe also owned Combat), and the back cover shot of the band had 'em looking like the years hadn't been kind to them: Morris looked like he'd crawled out of the sewer and Hetson was beginning to resemble an audition for the part of either Barry Manilow or Peter Frampton in a musical. I remember the review by Tim Yohannon at the time in Maximum Rock & Roll: he actually liked it. No more mersh HM flirtations, no tuneless thrash: just four-to-the-floor punk 'n' rock 'n' roll. Or something to that effect. A few folks thought this was a "return to form" after the disaster of Wonderful, something I disagree w/ for a couple of reasons, them namely being that Wonderful is a better record than this, and indeed it's a better record than its predecessor, but hey! VI is still a worthy addition to the CJ's canon of song, so to speak. It's got a rippin' cover of Creedence's "Fortunate Son" as well as blazing originals like "I'm Alive", "Living", "All Wound Up" and "I Don't", the production is still slick though contains enough rust to power the songs, and lyrically it's got a more personal angle, detailing Morris's degenerate lifestyle at the time (he cleaned up years ago). All in all, a worthy way to see out the band before they called it quits for many a year and Hetson made a comfortable living playing w/ the mega-successful yet shit-boring Bad Religion.
If you could divide up the 'Jerks' '80s discography, it's into two distinct camps: the classic early SoCal punk in Group Sex and Wild In The Streets and the big-league rock & roll of the latter two. Golden Shower Of Hits stands in no-man's land, being a record I would deem as being too full of mediocrity to rate much of a mention beyond the mandatory collection-filler. Like I said, it's a wildly uneven affair, but stacking 'em all up to each other and spinning in succession will have it make sense, and put the weaker material into a better light and perspective. And what the fuck, Keith Morris is a fuggin' icon in my book, one of the original smart-arsed suburban dweebs partly responsible for the creation of the glorious music form of the original hardcore punk seed, and for that we should all be eternally grateful. He talked his ass off between songs at the Off! shows, and I was happy to hear that slacker, Californian drawl all night. He's the real fuckin' deal, pal. Below is a great clip: the short-lived line-up featuring Chuck Biscuits on skins, whacking furiously as the band tore through a few songs from Golden Shower... (which sound much better in a live context) at what appears to be a pro telecast taking place in a medium-sized arena. Anyone know the story behind this?

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Oh, the irony! It's not lost on me! After having just given a half-baked review of Simon Reynolds' Retromania, what do I decide to do? That's right: give a quick spiel on one of the most unashamedly retro contempo bands of them all, Sweden's Dungen. This quickie is inspired by my raving for the recorded works of Sweden's Turid just two posts below; after a dozen rotations of the lovely lass - musically speaking - I thought I'd skip four decades and stick to the same region by spinning the wares of that country's great white hope of the 21st century. Dungen were kind of a big deal roughly half a decade back - a "buzz band", you might say - though their unwillingness to play the game, to do anything but play by their own muse, has seen them slip back into the comfortable jacket of being a "cult band". You following me? They had a couple of albums - 2004's Ta Det Lugnt included - released on a subsidiary of the Virgin label in their homeland; their 2007 opus, Tio Bitar, was licensed on CD Down Under on the indie-via-a-major imprint, Ivy League and they toured here at the time with (gulp) Wolfmother! (surely one of the most shitawful excuses for a rock band this century) But don't judge 'em by the company they keep. They left Virgin coz it wasn't their scene (maaan), and all this background material is perhaps immaterial to the one very important fact: they make fucking great records. Really, really great records. Along w/ another contempo fave of mine, the UK's Trembling Bells - a quartet I raved about earlier in the year who shamelessly mine a Fairports/Incredible String Band/Syd's 'Floyd realm of sound - Dungen sound like a band caught in the wrong time frame, but their appropriation of this musical timewarp is handled w/ such care and attention to detail that even the hardest of heart would forgive them for their musical grave digging. Dungen really is just one guy: Gustav Ejstes. He is the one constant, the singer, songwriter and renaissance man, although he has kept a steady band under his wings in recent years, one which cuts it ably in a live setting, too. Whilst their two more recent albums - 2008's 4 and 2010's Skit I Allt - have seen the Dungen sound paired down to a slightly less ornate setting, lighter on the psychedelic overload and stronger in the baroque art-pop dept. (I compared 4 to Roxy Music, Amon Duul 2 and Scott Walker a coupla years back on this blog), there's zero drop in the quality dept.: it's just the sounds of a band moving on. The high point for myself, and many others, remains 2004's Ta Det Lugnt, a 2LP magnus opus which very well could've been released in 1971, and if it had, you'd possibly like it a whole lot more. It was released this century, and that's no reason to dismiss it. Available as a 2LP set on the Swedish Subliminal Sounds label, if you read this blog for the music recommendations and not the showbiz gossip, then you know what must be done: it involves the exchanging of hard-earned cash for goods. A 13-song meisterwerk featuring tracks both long & short - from 55 seconds long to 8 1/2 minutes - it runs the gamut from gentle, flute-laden acid-folks ballads to elongated psych-rock jams to jazzy, Soft Machine-style excursions to light, baroque sunshine-pop and even Zep-style riffin' hard rock. Amongst all this remains their constant worship of Swedish underground rock from the '60s/'70s - International Harvester, Trad Gras Och Stenar, Parson Sound, et al - and others from the "progg" scene (follow that link for a layman's explanation of what I speak of). All of this, of course, has been done before. You could even say it's been done better. Rock & roll isn't moving forward, it's feasting on its own corpse, etc., etc., etc. All true and I couldn't give a fuck. Dungen also have the songs to back it up. I just listen to those whose musical output, whether it's ahead of its time or way behind its time, floats my boat. Dungen do it. Every fucking time.