Sunday, May 27, 2012

Youtube has made everyone's attention spans so damn short that the likelihood of watching even a 12-minute clip all the way through, from the start to finsh, is getting rarer by the day. I weep for the future, truly. I just stumbled across this live BIG BOYS clip from 1980, and its 12-minute duration skipped by far quicker than I'd liked it to. For fans - and that means me and hopefully you - it's the bomb. It's the band in their original incarnation with Steve Collier on drums (prior to percussive hero Rey Washam joining in a year or so) semi-professionally filmed whilst playing the "New Wave Street Dance" on the 23rd of April of that year. It really is an ace snapshot of the embryonic days of hardcore. The band doesn't sound "hardcore", of course - they didn't really get musically "heavy" and/or "thrash" until their '83/'84 period, and even then they only dabbled in it - the Big Boys at this phase of their career sounded like a sloppy garage/power-pop outfit w/ scrappy punkoid influences and a low-end bass rumble anchoring their tunes. They certainly didn't sound much like anything else which was happening in the US of A at the time. It's a real sight and sound to behold, and if you take your fandom for this period of underground American rock & roll seriously, to the point of being almost scholarly about it, it's a treat. Along w/ Decline Of Western Civilisation and that footage of the Bad Brains playing at CBGBs in '79, you can see the start of something new a-brewing across the land. Chris Gates has a friggin' mullet, fer crissakes, and Randy "Biscuit" Turner, one of the Holy Trinity of '80s behemoth frontmen (the other two being Gary Floyd and D. Boon), is rockin' it hard in a crocheted pink singlet and hot cowboy boots. It also ably shows off their party-band roots, w/ them ripping through covers of "Do The Twist" and "Wild Thing", both of which were never properly recorded and released. And check out that crowd! It's a strange mix of punkers and new wavers, curious dorks, Texan party dudes, frat boys and what appears to be a few cast members from Ghost World. The Big Boys really were one of the best there ever was. Dig it.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

This is one of the best new-release releases I've heard of recent times. The band known as Portishead came and went without me really noticing. I was aware of their existence, friends of mine even liked them quite a bit, but it was never my "scene". That may be obvious to you. The project known as DROKK consists of Portishead's Geoff Barrow - someone who has etched out a semi-lucrative side career as label owner/operator for Invada (who released this) and man of various esoteric musical pursuits - and soundtrack composer, Ben Salisbury (his CV is long and impressive). So the story goes... they were originally commissioned to write a soundtrack together for a proposed movie, but when that fell apart, and when they discovered each other's mutual love of Judge Dredd comics, they kept the project going and recorded this imaginary soundtrack, Music Inspired By Mega-City One. I was actually a big-time devourer of Judge Dredd comics when I was 13/14, although any familiarity with or even knowledge of what Dredd and Mega-City One may be (take a wild guess: a dystopian future) is irrelevant to the enjoyment of this record. I raved about the American duo Zombi in this blog a couple of years back, a drums/bass/synth combo who shamelessly mine a faux-soundtrack bent along the lines of Goblin/John Carpenter/Vangelis, one albeit spruced up w/ various proggy maneuvres and odes to the classic Eurotrash sounds of Georgio Moroder et al, and Drokk is somewhere in the same ballpark... but in another sense, the music of Drokk is much more purely soundtrack-oriented. Since this is a soundtrack for a picture which doesn't even exist, that last statement doesn't actually make any sense at all, but the music of Drokk is so scenic and so visual and so perfectly executed as a piece of soundtrack music, that you may well understand what I'm getting at. Barrow & Salisbury used only ancient synths, beatboxes and keyboards to achieve this, as well as a few tracks which utilised "time-stretched" (go figure) performances of mandolin, piano, etc. There's no way you can listen to this without thinking of John Carpenter's early scores (particularly Halloween and Escape From New York), as well as Vangelis's music for Blade Runner (that film's sole redeeming feature, in my opinion. Yes, I did just say that), and I'm a sucker for this kind of electro tomfoolery. In the last third of the LP, things get slightly more rhythmic and glide into a Neu!-style beat - not a bad thing by any means - but one which, at least for me, slightly upsets the gloomy, downbeat feel of the rest of it. That's a small complaint, and probably the only one I could possibly bring up. There is nothing on this Drokk LP which will change your life nor revolutionise music as we know it, but if you buy records for those reasons then your expectations are ludicrously high and delusional and you are bound for a life of great disappointment. On a vaguely similar note, the Invada label will soon be releasing various deluxe vinyl editions of the soundtrack to the 2011 Nicolas Refn film, Drive, one of my favourite flicks of the past 12 months and one whose soundtrack was strikingly good. It was electro-splutter of a slightly different vibe from Drokk - more '80s chintz, less '70s gloom - but, along w/ contributing electronic-pop tracks from various contempo hepster outfits (as well as a few choice cuts from a top 10 desert-isle disc of moi, Eno's Apollo LP from '83), the score was composed by ex-Weirdo/Beefhearter, Cliff Martinez, and it was a remarkably effective accompinament to the visuals. It is indeed a very rare day when I happen to watch a current flick and feel the immediate need to hunt down its soundtrack upon viewing. And similarly, upon first hearing this Drokk LP, a soundtrack for a film which doesn't exist, I similarly knew I had to get my hands on it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What to make of this? I'm a great defender of all things Ginn - to a fault - but even I have to draw the line with this performance. The first Jambang disc from 4 or 5 years back - that's Ginn and a band of relative youngsters playing what I could only describe as instrumental acid-rock (it sounded a bit like a 'Dead/Velvets/Spacemen 3 mix) - was actually pretty damn good, and I said as such on this blog. But live, as a solo artist w/ backing tapes and electronics... I'm struggling, as is nearly everyone present during the filming of this long, long clip. I heard he cleared rooms all across the US at Coachella festivals w/ this kinda stuff. It's either the sound of a man with absolute purity of vision willing to see it through to the end and fuck everyone else, or simply a load of self-indulgent codswallop seriously in need of an edit button and a tap on the shoulder from a friend.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I forgot I even owned this record until recently. There's a lot of records in the "B" section of my collection - it's a popular letter - and this one got stuck down the back and forgotten about for a decade or more. Here it is again, rearing its ugly head and begging me to play it just once more. Some things I listened to back at the dawn of the '90s have not weathered the years well. I could play a platter by the Grifters, Cul de Sac or Dog Faced Hermans and still grin with extreme pleasure. Bongwater, Unrest, Yo La Tengo, those first few Sebadoh discs: all good. Frankly, you'd probably struggle to get me to spin a Didjits or Laughing Hyenas record at this point in history (or likely any other point in approx. the previous 18-19 years). Not that they're bad, per se, but I don't think I'd get much out of the experience. Tried listening to a God Bullies disc a little while back. Nearly killed me. The Dead C.? Not on your fucking life. I'm currently in the process of selling all the records of theirs I'm still in possession of. Recently a workmate was playing what I can only describe as being a "contemporary Dead C.-influenced band" on the stereo and I had to comment, What the fuck is this tuneless dole-bludging nonsense? It sounds like the Dead C. or the kind of can't-play-for-shit, deconstructionist, dynamic-free, tofu-eating, depressing horsepiss I used to love 20 years ago. He agreed that it was exactly that. A man of 40 years of age shouldn't still be playing that kind of music, surely. I don't mean to offend, though I possibly just have, but I find much of that no-fi drone-rock of of yore to possess zero appeal in this day and age.
And that brings me to Beat Happening's Dreamy LP from 1991, a split release between K Records (their own label... duh) and Sub Pop. Sub Pop was hot as shit at this point in history, as was K. Nirvana were about to break through to the shopping-mall consciousness of America and the world - it seemed like the entire universe was on the cusp of something - and Beat Happeneing were there to ride the wave. Hell, it could be argued that the trio known as Beat Happening - that's Calvin Johnson, Heather Lewis & Bret Lunsford, from Olympia, Washington ("birthplace of grunge") - helped create the wave which Nirvana rode: if you made that case to me, I probably wouldn't argue too hard. Nor would Kurt and co. Other than the fact that I still really like this record on a musical level - it's the best thing the band ever did - I will admit to a certain misty-eyed nostalgia regarding the release. It really is one of those releases, at least for me, which captures that period in history to a tee. Fuggin' hell, I stenciled myself a K Records t-shirt after buying the thing: true story. Never got the tatt. The band's approach was always super-minimal, and an acquired taste, to say the least. Prior to Dreamy, I had purchased the Beat Happening's 1988 LP, Black Candy, in the year 1990. It took a while to sink in. My ears were not atuned to such musical debauchery. There was no bass, for starters; the drummer couldn't really play; the guitar work was sparse, moody but effective in an almost Crampsian manner, the highlight of their sound; and Calvin Johnson's vocals... sheez! The phrase "tone deaf" sprung to mind, but a few months of solid work - this is back in the days when each and every vinyl purchase was an event, and you weren't about to give up on a release so easily - and something had sunk in. By contrast, Dreamy was a cinch. The production was slightly clearer and bolder, but never too slick, Heather's drums had reached an ace Moe Tuckerish rocksteady rhythm and Lunsford's guitar mixed up Crampsy twang with lush washes of distortion, even comprising effective guitar solos. And Calvin? His vocals had moved from slightly atonal to a deep, deep croon, like a baritone Leonard Cohen. And the songwriting matched the performance: Calvin sings on the bulk of them, and he nails it right on tracks like "Hot Chocolate Boy", "Revolution Come And Gone", "I've Lost You" and my personal fave, "Cry For A Shadow". Being a 19-year-old spud at the time, that chorus hit me hard. And Heather sings lead on a bunch of notables, too: "Left Behind", "Collide" and "Fortune Cookie Prize". I'm now 40 years of age and can still relate to the moods and sentiments of this record. Quite a few u/ground vets made fools of themselves in the wake of the grunge boom. I don't believe that Beat Happening fall within that category. Calvin Johnson is still around. He toured here a few years back. I didn't see him. Some friends thought he was an arrogant asshole. He may well be, but 21 years after the fact, as I sit here w/ a roof over my head and two infant daughters asleep in the next room, acting all grown up like that gormless, clueless 19-year-old all those years back never even existed (he sure did, and likely still does) I can still get a kick out of some of the music he made. But you don't buy or listen to records for the sake of my pathetic reminiscing; the fact is, Beat Happening sound like a real rock band w/ a purpose on Dreamy, it's post-Velvets drone-rock you can gamble on.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hmph... not a whole lot happenin' around here. Let's see if I can come up w/ somethin' to say about somethin'... I've not once in all this blog's history written about the American jazz dude known by the name of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Born in 1935 and deceased in the year 1977, he was blind from an early age and left an eclectic and hard-to-peg catalogue of recorded works behind for the world to gaze upon after his death. His music combined elements of hard bop, free jazz, swing, trad, avant-classical, soul-jazz and even flirtations w/ pop and rock & roll. He covered tunes by the likes of Burt Bacharach and Stevie Wonder, jammed w/ jackasses like Eric Clapton, had a tune of his covered by hard/prog-rock bores, Jethro Tull, and yet on top of it all, there's a bunch great stuff in there well worth your time & trouble. Perhaps more than anything, he was known as a showman, his live shows a mixture of exotic instrument swapping (inc. the nose-flute), three-reeds-at-once brassman prowess (that is, he could play three brass instruments at once) and political rants. He was one of a fucking kind, all right. These clips are cool examples of his ouvre when he was whoopin' ass in all manner of ways. There's also this link right here. It's an hour-long TV special on the man from the show Soul!: a non-stupid interview conducted by a guy who knows his and gives a shit, and a wild performance by Kirk and his band. If you're not in the mood for the whole shebang, then skip to the approx. 32-minute mark and peep the following 15 minutes. It'll blow your mind out through yer ass. Kirk's discography is all over the shop, scattered throughout various labels and a mine worth digging for. I'd recommend We Free Kings (1961), Rip, Rig & Panic (yep, that's where they got their name) from 1965, which features Elvin Jones on skins and Mingus alumni Jaki Byard and Richard Davis in the mix, and The Inflated Tear from '67 for his hard-bop shit; for mellow, flute-driven loveliness, there's always '64's I Talk With The Spirits; for the strange, his Atlantic Records period from the last decade of his life is the place to be: '68/'69's Left & Right and Volunteer Slavery, Prepare Thyself To Deal With A Miracle and Bright Moments, both from 1973, and '75's "concept" album, the uneven yet fascinating The Case of the 3-Sided Dream in Audio Color - some of these latter albums feature tape loops, electronics, sound collages, etc. Rahsaan Roland Kirk - he added in the "Rahsaan" in 1970, not because he'd converted to Islam or anything like that, but because he heard the word in a dream and thought it sounded cool - was a guy willing to try anything. I'm glad he did. Some of his music can be corny, sometimes his live schtick could border on the kind of Zappaesque humour that'd make a grown man barf, but most of the time, he was on the money.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Time to discuss a couple of choice COIL sides, don't you think? Back in the dark ages, or approx. 20 years ago or so, I was a big spruiker for all things Current 93 and Nurse With Wound. I continue my fandom for both acts, although I will admit that neither "band" has graced my ears much the past 5 years or more. Still, their albums - and there's quite a few of them - continue to sit in my collection gathering dust, as I figure I will get back on the horse again in this lifetime and give them all a hardy spin. Coil, the duo of John/Jhonn Balance (sic) and ex-Gristler Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson, fit snugly within the same "scene" which C93 and NWW built around themselves, although I never went nuts for them the way I did their brethren back in the day. All three acts make music of a vastly different nature to each other, even if they have shared some manner of membership or gig bills or indeed sides to LPs in their time: Current 93 developed from being a dark, tribalistic and drone-laden "dark wave" electronic act to becoming the mouthpiece for David Tibet's eccentric, apocalyptic rants, their music being much more in the avant-folk realm of Comus, Jan Dukes de Grey and Incredible String Band than anything you'd label "industrial"; Stephen Stapleton's output with Nurse With Wound, whilst eclectic, has always hovered in the Kraut-oriented headspace for almost 35 years; and Coil? The duo does not exist anymore - Balance died whilst intoxicated in a domestic accident in 2004, Christopherson passed away in his sleep two years ago - but their music went through different stages, some which appeal, some which don't. Their output in their lifetime was fairly massive, from the soundtrack to Clive Barker's 1987 pic, Hellraiser (the music wasn't actually used on the soundtrack, but it was composed for it. The studio allegedley got cold feet at the last minute) to their "acid house" phase to their indie hit of 1991, Love's Secret Domain, to the dark drones of their later material, it's an inconsistent mix, but there's enough great stuff in there to be mighty curious. At this stage, so far as I can tell, pretty much none of it is currently in print. It's a small tragedy that no one has bothered to procure the rights to their catalogue after the deaths of both members, but I can only assume such a situation can't hold out forever. At this stage, there are few releases in their catalogue you won't find yourself bidding for on ebay, if you so please, although you can also find a swag of it to download on blogs (something I don't usually ever recommend to anyone reading this blog, being a strong believer in intellectual copyright, but then again, this material also happens to be out of print, and I'm also a strong believer that you shouldn't have to pay $100 for these things on auction sites).
Lately, as in the previous 6 months, my ears have been ensconsed in some of Coil's more drone-based works, and there's a few discs I could really recommend you hunt down in one form or another: Astral Disaster and Musick To Play In The Dark Vol. 1, both from 1999, Musick To Play In The Dark Vol. 2 from 2000, and both Live Three and Live Four from 2003. Their catalogue is a goddamn confusing maze, a mixture of proper studio albums, live albums, remixes, compilations, bootlegs and even those recorded under pseudonyms/aliases. If you can make sense of it, then you're doing better than me. I don't possess an extensive collection of Coil discs in physical form - 5 or 6 - and my copies of both Musick To Play... volumes are mere downloads which exist on my iphone (fer chrissake!!), but the albums just mentioned are ones which can be vouched for. You may wonder why the music of Coil has taken my fancy when most of the sounds I'm knee-deep in consists of old blues and jazz and '80s SST relics. It's because Coil's better works contain an awesome psychedelic aura which place them in the league of the best Kraut bands of yore; compositionally, both Balance and Sleazy knew the art of building up a piece of music from its basic elements into a fully defined whole which worked. This isn't rock & roll as we know it; it's more about electronic layers creating a musical narrative, and regardless of your interest in homosexual pagan rituals, Coil's best works are so much more than mere industrial music cliches, or music designed solely for depressing single males in trenchcoats. You can try spinning these tracks below for the verdict. The 22-minute "The Mothership & The Fatherland" is an excellent slab of electro-drone which could've been lifted from an early Cluster disc; and "Are You Shivering?", from both Music To Play... Vol. 1 and Live Four is as icy cold as its title and all the better for it. "Red Birds Will Fly Out East And Destroy Paris In A Night", also from Vol. 1, sees them dabbling into washes of cyclical synth notes like a late '70s Tangerine Dream score, the manner in which the song evolves an awesome thing to behold. My musical distraction with the duo known as Coil has been a very positive thing. If you haven't tried it yet, then there's no time like now.