Friday, January 27, 2012

This 2CD set is an excellent example of the conceptual compilation. I mean, I'm all for regional, stylistic and genre-based compilations - and the number of the things I currently own is testimony to that - but the conceptual compilation is a different breed, putting together seemingly unrelated artists and songs under a vague umbrella designed and curated by the compiler him/herself. That makes it a tougher proposition, but when it's pulled off successfully, the rewards can be great. Jazz Noire, released on the UK label, Fantastic Voyage, is one such release. Most, if not all of the tracks featured, have been comped multiple times before: I know, because I already have a whole bunch of them on other releases. You've got some hot R & B from Wynonie Harris, Amos Milburn, Johnny Otis, T-Bone Walker, Louis Jordan, Jimmy Witherspoon, Jay McShann; cool jazz/blues from the Nat King Cole Trio (during his pre-MOR R & B period), Charles Brown and Billy Eckstine; cool vocal jazz from Billie Holiday, Julia Lee (the fantastic "Marijuana"), Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan; and some hot jazz from Charlie Parker, "Baron" Mingus (that's Charles to you, in an early incarnation), Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Thelonious Monk, Illinois Jacquet, Lester Young and more. The mood: downbeat and a little sleazy. Within a different configuration, the sum of the parts, put within a different context, would mean something entirely different. Jazz Noire, divided up other ways, would've made an ace west coast post-war R & b comp, or a snapshot of '40s/'50s jazz from across the US of A. Last time I checked, the likes of Parker, Monk & Dizzy were all New Yorkers. So where do their tracks fit in, given the discs' LA fixation? I guess you have to get in the moment. Both CDs in the set are bookended by the theme music from four bona fide film noir classics, The Killers, Double Indemnity, High Sierra and Cry Of The City, landing one firmly within the head space of where the compilers wish to place you. The packaging is first-rate, a six-panel full-colour digipak comprising images from old dimestore crime paperbacks, with the extensive liner notes by Dave Penny being a sub-Mickey Spillane-style trip through LA's clubs, noting the musicians within the narrative. The point of all this? The art of the mix tape is not lost, nor is the art of the conceptual CD. Jazz Noire is an awesome late-night listen, and if I knew how to play poker and if I had a group of friends who'd care to play the game throughout the evening w/ me, this'd be the soundtrack.


A bad time for deaths within the global music community these past few weeks. There's been Johnny Otis and Etta James, and just this week there was artist/musician Mike Kelley (from Destroy All Monsters), who tragically killed himself, and, closer to home, there was Brendon Annesley. Brendon was mostly known for his music writing and highly prolific fanzine production: he ripped out an astonishing 33 issues of Negative Guest List in the past four years, as well as producing the HC zine, Dirty Alleys, Dirty Minds, penning for other publications, running the NGL label and playing in various bands. He helped my brother out w/ a few gigs and interviewed him for an issue of NGL, too. He was, from all reports, the epicentre of any music worth hearing which eminated from the city of Brisbane. I only knew him via email and fanzine trading. Last year he sent me a pile of back issues of NGL and I was impressed that folks of his age - he died this week at the age of 22 - were still putting words to print and getting it out there. If anything, his efforts made me feel old, lazy and guilty. His 'zines covered many of the greats I'd written about in a prior life - Pere Ubu, Electric Eels, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Vertical Slit, SST cronies, '90s rock & roll from the Dog Meat stable, the giants of first-wave HC - as well as contemporary bands I'm too pathetic to listen to. His writing was smart, succinct and obnoxious, and had he stuck around, he could've given the world a whole lot more of his worthy bile. In other words, another one of the good guys has gone, and that's just a damn fucking shame. But you and I, thankfully, are still here. RIP, Mr. Annesley.

Get your unofficial SST shoulderbag here. No shit.

After you've done that, you can kick back and watch The Tour, the audio/video document from 1985 recorded live at The Stone in San Fran and featuring footage from the Meat Puppets, Minutemen, Saccharine Trust, Husker Du and... err... SWA. For me this concert film remains one of the pinnacle moments in American unpopular culture from the past 50 years, so take advantage of it before Ginn sniffs around and takes it down.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Well a-heydy-ho. I'd better get active on this blog so it doesn't start withering like an unloved plant. First things first: you may want to read this article by Richard Beck at N +1 online magazine. It's a big piece - bordering on a thesis - but if you have any interest in the state of contemporary music (and despite my perennial complaints, I do), it's worth a read. It details the rise and rise of Pitchfork magazine, a favourite whipping boy of yours truly, but as I've stated to friends: love it or hate it, Pitchfork's success in the world of "music journalism", at a time when everyone else is failing, is a worthy topic of discussion. More than that, it has somehow - through the use of black magic or possibly even quality writing (just a thought) - risen above the herd to become the taste-maker for modern-day "indie-rock". Does anyone care what the likes of Rolling Stone or SPIN think of a given recording at all these days? Thought not. I never did, either, but for once I appear to be in the majority. I don't agree for one second w/ the writer's view on just about any of the bands mentioned within - the Pitchfork cabal of losers (Sufjan Stevens, Animal Collective, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver et al) can blow me and swallow - and being a hopeless old mofo pathetically caught in the past, I'd rate "indie-rock" (I prefer "independent rock")'s hey-day as Rough Trade ca. 1978-'81 and the US conglomerate of SST/Touch & Go/Subterranean/Homestead/etc. ca. 1979-'89, but really, would you expect me to say anything different? I'd say that Pitchfork's influence on music today is overwhelmingly negative, trumpeting mediocre drivel and hyping up Next Big Things in exactly the same manner as the corporate music world has been for the past 60 years: more of the same, except this time the intended audience is apparently one which is ripe with "intelligence" and "sophistication", as if those qualitities actually bear any relation to good music (I prefer mine made by bumpkins and primitives, personally). But still, the article in question will keep you off the streets for a good half-hour, and you'll find something to argue w/ your friends about.


Last night the ABC2 channel, the digital version of the national broadcaster, gave the people of Australia a special treat by airing two programs surprisingly worthy of viewing: Persecution Blues: The Battle for The Tote, and Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard. Both were made last year and played briefly at Australian film festivals. The former documents the infamous Melbourne pub's fight for survival in 2010, when liquor licensing laws, and their related expenses, made life for the music venue untenable. For anyone Down Under w/ an interest in u/ground rock, the story itself is well known. I never saw the film at any of the festivals, as I'd come to find the constant mythologising of the venue tiresome and had little desire to see the usual talking heads singing its praises (even if some of those talking heads are good friends of mine!). The Tote was my home away from home for a number of years - approx. 1996 - 2003 - and I blew more hard-earned cash there drinking my youth away than I'd care to recount. I even played about half-a-dozen shows there in various half-arsed outfits I've performed in over the years. It was also a hotbed of activity for me from 1989 - 1993, though from memory, it went through a few dark years mid-decade, as it changed management and ownership and turned itself into a low-life strip bar frequented by the kind of people you wouldn't want to associate with. For myself, moreso than the management of Bruce Milne and co. in the 21st century or its current ownership (Milne had to sell it; it has since been reopened under new management but essentially kept everything which made it what it was, even improving it by putting in some new carpet and taking out the obstructive support beam in the band room), the people you could credit for really putting the pub on the map would be the Soccio family - the owners of the venue prior to Milne taking over roughly 10 years ago - and my good buddy, Luke Roberts, who booked bands there from roughly 1996 - 2003 and can be held mostly responsible for resurrecting the venue from the dead and putting it back on the map as the independent music venue in the southern hemisphere. Luke gets a brief visual and a line in the film, though he gets no credit. That's OK. When I first heard that neither he nor the Soccios were even mentioned in the documentary, I disregarded the film as a travesty. In the context of what the film is about - the Tote's troubles in 2010, its closing and the controversy it caused, so much so that the state government had to backflip on liquor licensing policy - such ommissions are entirely forgivable. Persecution Blues is not a "history of the Tote", it's a documentary on its dying days and eventual resurrection. If you're at all interested in Australian music worth listening to, I'd rate it as quite essential viewing. That's not to say that it's flawless - far from it - and perhaps my expectations were so low in the first place that its watchability is simply a pleasant surprise. Whatever the case, you can watch it here for the next fortnight on ABC iview; after that, the link closes.

I'll admit it: the music of Rowland S. Howard, who passed away in December 2009, never meant a great deal to me. Not his contributions to Boys Next Door and the Birthday Party, which were manifold and appreciated greatly by myself, but his post-BP solo albums and material w/ Crime & The City Solution, These Immortal Souls, etc. His Teenage Snuff Film LP/CD from 1999, which was considered a major comeback after a number of years out of the limelight (mostly battling addiction problems), was one I heard too many times to mention. Not of my own will, mind you, but due to a colleague when I was working at Missing Link at the time, who played it 1,000 times or more in my presence. Regardless of whether I liked it or not (I did "like" it), I certainly figured I need never hear it again. Same goes for 2009's Pop Crimes: yet again I was stuck w/ a different work colleague who insisted on playing it day in/day out for months on end. It's easy to forget, given that Howard didn't enjoy the same high-profile status as his old musical sparring partner Nick Cave, just how much music he did release in a 30-year period. There were long bouts of inactivity, mainly from the late '90s onwards when ill-health struck him, but prior to that, both Crime & The City Solution and These Immortal Souls (who, strangely enough, were licensed to SST at the time, c/o the good word of Thurston Moore) were active touring/recording outfits, and that was when Rowland wasn't busy recording w/ the likes of Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Lydia Lunch, Nikki Sudden and others. As stated in the film, his contribution to the Boys Next Door were absolutely vital, his slashing/shrieking guitar histrionics shaking the band out of their Bowie affectations and putting some grit under their nails. Nick Cave is damn thankful that Rowland joined, and he should be. There's also attention given to Rowland's pre-BND band, the Young Charlatans, a supergroup of sorts which also featured Ollie Olsen and Jeffrey Wegener (later of the Laughing Clowns, and one of the finest skin-hitters Down Under has ever produced), as well as the usual talking heads (Rollins, Moore, Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie, etc.) singing his praises, but for me the film's best moments are the ones which document his relationship with a woman throughout the '90s, and the fatherly relationship Rowland had w/ her son (who's interviewed and looks like he could be groomed as a future member of the Bad Seeds), as well as the footage of his last few years. Rowland was no suicidal romantic - he quite obviously wanted to live, be around his family and friends and write and record more music - a fact which makes his death more tragic. There's nothing in this film which indicates to me that he was anything but a good human being who, by his own admission, wasted much of his potential through his own abuse. Autoluminescent is, to put it bluntly, one of the better music documentaries made in recent and not-so-recent years, a truly illuminating look at an artist whose influence is greater than his profile and whose work is probably better than I've given him credit for. At this stage, so far as I can tell, nothing Rowland released after the Birthday Party is actually in print, something which is to be rectified this year w/ a definitive box set. If you weren't a fan of his beforehand, you may just be after watching Autoluminescent.


For the next fortnight, you can watch the film here.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I was planning on contributing sweet FA to the blog this week, but then I was greeted with this news: the great Johnny Otis died in LA. This news will mean nothing to most people, and more's the pity for such a predicament. He did more for righteous music in the 20th century than just about anyone else who's walked this planet the past 100 years. And indeed, he nearly made the century: he was 90 years young. He lived a longer and richer life than most, so I see little need for mourning the guy's death as one taken from us too soon. You should just be glad he made the effort. I wrote about him in May last year right here, and you can read other details of his life right here in this LA Times obituary, so I'm not going to repeat his life story once more. What is sad is that his death, even to alleged fans of "rock music", will mean zip to most folks. When Elvis died, you really heard about it. I remember John Lennon songs being flogged ad nauseum for months on end after his death, and you can bet that the malarky to be made over Dylan's eventual passing will be the stuff of legend. And that's OK, because they deserve it. Just like Johnny Otis deserves it. But history is written by the victors, and Johnny's time in the public eye was starting to fade once rock & roll became big news in the mid '50s. He'd had his share of big hits, and would continue to have more in the next half-decade, even making a killer sleaze-soul classic w/ 1968's Snatch & the Poontangs LP. He was no mere 20-hit wonder.

From the '70s on, he hit the revival circuit and could still slay 'em. Meanwhile, he dabbled in cook books, radio, painting, the ministry, Democratic politics and writing. Dylan loved him. Zappa worshipped him. I'm but a neophyte to his genius, having only discovered him about 3 or 4 years ago, but his music, particularly his greasy R & B sides from the '40s & '50s - great slabs of upbeat party anthems and downbeat LA noire-blues - ranks amongst the best which have ever graced these ears. All his best material from the 1940s/'50s/'60s is ably documented by the Ace label from the UK. Sure, given much of its public-domain status, there are other continental types glutting the market w/ his wares, but nobody does it w/ such care, quality and precision as the Ace folks. Some old-time geezers say his music sounds best on 78/45 and scoff at such easily-begotten slabs of digital noise, and such a mentality speaks for itself. You wanna blow $500 for a few slabs of wax on ebay or just get the killers in a heartbeat in a handy, shiny selection? Good. Otis also owned and ran the Dig label in the '50s, and these collections rank among the best in his discography. Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Preston Love, Jimmy Nolen and Johnny himself: these comps are the bees' knees of downbeat/upbeat sleaze 'n' grease R & B. There's a new Otis CD out this very week, part 2 in Ace's Johnny Otis Story series (the first one, Midnight At The Barrelhouse, is the bomb), and I need it. Beat the herd and get on it. Johnny Otis was a man who needed no regrets. My only regret is that I didn't get onto him a whole lot earlier in life.