Monday, July 23, 2012

It's been a hell of a time lately for deluxe box sets. Just the past few weeks I've splashed out some hard-earned moolah on these babies, and I'm happy to see money being pissed away on such fine items. Let's cut to the chase...
The German outfit Can - the avant-rock band of yore of whom if you claim ignorance thereof, you are likely perusing the wrong music blog - recently released a 3CD set by the name of The Lost Tapes on their own Spoon label (via Mute, of course). So many publications and online sites have reviewed this lovely beast that my review is deemed redundant before I put fingers to keyboard, but nevertheless, I feel that I must spew at least a few words on it. It's easy to be tempted by aesthetically attractive boxes from artists you happen to like. I am in possession of the 7CD Charley Patton set on Revenant - its packaging is a thing of such beauty that it belongs on your mantlepiece, not in your music collection - but when I feel like hearing some Patton, I simply grab a CD of his on the Yazoo label I happen to own. I also own that fandangled Jelly Roll Morton set which Rounder released back mid last decade or so, the Alan Lomax interviews and recordings: the fancy box looks like a piano, comes w/ about half-a-dozen CDs, the Lomax book and, frankly, is a fiddly fucking pain in the arse to get its CDs out in a hurry. When I want to hear some Jelly Roll, I grab my JSP 4CD set instead. It doesn't look as nice, but it's got the recordings I want to hear, and I don't have to wrestle w/ the packaging for 5 minutes to get the CDs out. Ditto reason in regards to the Patton set. Yes, I could just download all this shit and press "play" on a computer screen, but where the fuck is the fun in that? I'll try to refrain from further cussing. The point? I can deal w/ fancy packaging if the treats it hides are worth getting to (the 7 discs in the Patton box are great, but when the hell am I really, in this lifetime, going to sit down and listen to them seriously. My retirement age doesn't hit for another 25 years. The Jelly Roll set? Too much yakkin', not enough ivory-tinkling), and whilst the Can packaging is nice - 10" reel box w/ a comprehensive full-colour 10" booklet enclosed - I don't feel like I have to treat it w/ kid gloves every time I open it, and more to the fucking point (sorry!), the bounties it holds are ones I shall return to many times over. In other words, its musical contents are as impressive as its presentation. The Lost Tapes is, to use a grandiose statement, as good a package as any of Can's individuals albums from their peak period (for me that's Monster Movie/Ege Bamyasi/Tago Mago/Soundtracks/Future Days/Soon Over Babaluma and their Unlimited Edition comp'), and in places even better. As you may (or may not) know, the band recorded just about every note and fart which emmitted from their collective body and kept 'em on tape; their albums were essentially collections of jams they liked the most which they felt worked best as recorded moments to be placed onto LP. That left a whole lotta hot jams just sittin' around gathering dust for 35-40 years or more. This set covers the years 1968-1977, though most of it centres on the years 1969-'72, and even the material from 1975-'77, when the band had lost a lot of its mojo and were starting to hit a downhill slide, still has that indefinable Can feel, a totally organic blob of sound like several musical minds connecting at once and hitting "play" which renders even those selections totally worth an earshot. "Millionspiel", featured below, is from '69 and the first track on the set. That clip is but an excerpt: you really must hear the whole thing, and to do that, you must buy it. There's a couple of live versions of tracks from their LPs of the day - a radically reworked "Spoon" is a highlight, but mostly this is stuff which will be new to your ears. It's an amazing mix of punkoid avant-psychedelia and my hit pick for one of the reissues of the year. Sure, there is the occasional bong-hit jam which overstays its welcome by a few minutes (there is one motherfucking aggrovating pile of squealing noise on one of the CDs - I can't remember the name of the track - which always has me running for the FWD button), but then you've got a hot shinola such as "Waiting For The Streetcar" or "Your Friendly Neighbourhood Whore" which confirms in your mind that all right-thinking people of sound mind will be taking this set to the goddamn grave. In the meantime, enjoy it.

This 2LP/CD set, released on the ever-great Eremite label (I've raved on about Eremite - one of the finest American labels of the last 20 years - before, mainly here), credited to Juma Sultan's Aboriginal Music Society and entitled Father Of Origin, also needs a special mention. It was released last year in an edition of 600 copies and I finally got my mitts on one. If you're at all partial to private-press free-jazz obscurities, the ESP-Disk catalogue as you and I know it or just the kind of strange and wonderful counter-cultural musical oddities which popped up in minute numbers throughout the '60s/'70s, then this is your bag. Thing is, NONE of these recordings have ever even been released before, and thus it's your first - and the way cultural documentation is going in this digital age - likely your only way you can really "experience" this unique period in time as an armchair observer. For rock & rollers, Juma Sultan may ring a bell as Jimi Hendrix's conga/hand-drum player during his Woodstock performance, although Sultan and Hendrix had "jammed" on a number of occasions and would until the latter's death (check out the clip below: it is HOT, showing Hendrix in a real Cosey/Ulmer vein whilst breaking a sweat w/ Sultan on percussion, but please note: Hendrix ain't on this box). Juma, along w/ percussionist Ali Abuwi, ran the Aboriginal Music Society as a kind of radical artist workshop in Woodstock from approx. 1968-'78, and there they recorded w/ friends, held shows, taught aspiring musicians and the kind of radical activity folks did in those days. Despite all this recording, nothing was ever officially released. This is where Michael Ehlers and his Eremite label come in. If there's one complaint I could make of this, it's that I would've liked to've heard MORE. So the AMS recorded for 10 years and all we could really get out of it are 2 LPs - the 2nd LP being pretty damn brief: one side is under 10 minutes - and one CD's worth of material? Was the rest of it just not that good? For one, the material here - ALL OF IT - isn't just good, it's great. LP # 1 has a more "big band" spiritual/ethno jazz vibe, w/ a ton of percussion lending it a bargain-bin Pharoah sound; and disc # 2 has one of my all-time fave sax players, the late, great Frank Lowe (his Black Beings LPs from 1973, released on ESP and featuring William Parker [his first released recording] and the Art Ensemble's Joseph Jarman, remains one of the most almighty blasts of house-levelling FREE JAZZ the world has ever known: I cannot recommend it enough), once again sounding like he's about to raise the roof. Put Lowe in a room w/ just Sultan and Abuwi on various skins and a tape recorder, and you have a ticket to a good time. The CD sees a slightly more expanded line-up present, and features names such as Julius Hemphill and Charles "Bobo" Shaw (well, they're names to me) and two long tracks of rad tribal avant-jazz w/ the right measure of percussive clutter. Musically, this all floats my boat. The fact that it happens to be housed in a handsome-as-fuck box w/ a meaty booklet to peruse, ogle, browse and read is icing on the cake. The world needs more cultural documents such as this. It's a goddamn treasure

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Stop-gap infotainment advertorial break: that picture above happens to be one taken of the debut LP of local deadbeats, Bits Of Shit. It needs to be plugged for several reasons: 1) A family member plays in the band; 2) Other good friends also play in the band; 3) I used to be in the band which "morphed" into BOS; 4) I co-wrote two of the goddamn songs on the LP (back in 1998, too!); and - and this is the most important bit - 5) All nepotism/egotism aside, it happens to be a really fantastic fucking record. Hell, if I bought it as a complete stranger to the band and spun its 13 tracks of musical abandon - a melting pot of sounds derived from Rose Tattoo, Wire, Black Flag and all points in between - I would know there was something good going on. Bits Of Shit's debut LP, Cut Sleeves, released on Richie Ramone's new imprint, Homeless Records, is out and about right about NOW and you will be hearing a lot more about it in the future (not from me, don't sweat it). The band is heading off to the US of A in September to play at Gonerfest, as well as a few shows on both coasts and even a couple more in between. If you happen to be in the area or within 500 miles of a show, make the effort. Go here for the band and here for Homeless. Thanking you in advance.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

For some reason, you remember the little things. When I was 12 years old during the Xmas of 1984, my brother and I had a bit of a collective boner for the Killing Joke track, "Eighties". It's not like I was a boffin for UK post-punk at the time: I was a fairly clueless new waver who had a few post-Levene/Wobble PiL 12"s and a bunch of new romantic twaddle I don't care to list in public. That Killing Joke track in question was a minor hit at the time, and to my ears it sounded "punk". I wanted to get into punk; I wanted to be punk. For me, "Eighties" was good enough. I asked my mum to buy me a Killing Joke t-shirt for Xmas, and that she did. My brother got a Dead Kennedys one. A few months later, my brother bought their Night Time LP, w/ the track in question. The rest of the album struck us as rather bogus and our brief flirtation w/ the band was exactly that: brief. I continued to wear the t-shirt, however, for a few years thereafter.
Between the years 1985 - 2012, I gave Killing Joke little to no attention whatsoever. For myself, they developed into a frighteningly dull goth-rock band, full of hamfisted demagoguery, cheesecloth lyricism and just the kind of thoroughly non-rock musical delivery the Brits excelled at during that woeful musical decade (woeful for limeys; pretty damn good for others). They were so off the map, they weren't swimming around my brain enough to even warrant my disgust. The band have been recording and releasing albums at a fairly regular frequency the past decade, even touring Down Under a couple of years ago (some friends saw them and swore by their manic, muscular and thoroughly metallic delivery of all their works), and I'm aware of the fact that their influence, regardless of what I think of them, is large and wide on 3 generations of punk, metal and "industrial" practitioners of music. So... where am I going with this?
That's right: I'm here to say how fuggin' marvelous their debut, self-titled LP from 1980 is. That's right. Earlier in the year, an American buddy of mine posted the live clip from 1981 shown below on Facebook and my curiosity got the better of me: the song, the clip, the performance: blew me the fuck away. I remarked to an older friend - one who'd been a big fan of the band since the release of their debut in 1980 and swore by, at the very least, their first two LPs - that I was impressed by the clip: it was the uber-aggressive punk/metal Killing Joke I'd heard about yet never really "heard". He implored for me to give them a chance. I stayed at his country pad for a night over the Easter break to recouperate and get out of the house, and he played me the records late in the evening over a cordial as we discussed the state of the universe and beyond. Oh yes, I would buy them...

 The racket Killing Joke were making early in their career was an odd beast indeed. Some have hailed them as the world's first "punk/metal" crossover act, and others have said kinder things. The music certainly was unique for its time, for it was steeped in two seemingly disparate forms of music: post-punk and heavy metal. The rhythm section of Martin "Youth" Glover on bass and Paul Ferguson on drums is knee-deep in PiL-damaged post-punk, yet much of the guitar work from Kevin "Geordie" Walker contains the intricate and unmistakable riffing of heavy metal, and as Byron Coley once said in regards to himself trying to get his head around the speed-metal shredding so prevalent on a vaguely similar record from the same period, MX-80 Sound's Out Of The Tunnel, there was nothing post-punk hipsters hated more in 1980 than heavy metal. But a record such as Killing Joke, just like Out Of The Tunnel or Chrome's 2nd and 3rd long-players (do I need to name 'em?), surely helps to redefine and/or expand the parameters of what one could identify as "heavy metal". Killing Joke were (and likely still are) a band totally influenced by the punk (Pistols, Damned) and post-punk (PiL, Joy Division), music scenes its members had experienced and heard, yet their blustery approach, Jaz Coleman's shouted, anthemic vocals and gloomy, 'Sabbath-gothic lyrical concerns, all death and darkness in a Paranoid/Master Of Reality state of mind, and few concessions to the puritan, anti-rock hipsterism so prevalent in the UK at the time, points to a different direction altogether. Regardless of genres, of name-calling, the question remains: does Killing Joke rock and should you waste minutes of your precious life giving it a listen?
The answers are yes and yes. Prior to de-rocking themselves as they eyeballed the pop charts on their latter platters, they made a rather awesome low-end rumble which sounds at times like it's a musical mash-up of artists such as the Birthday Party, Amebix, Voivod, King Snake Roost, Australia's X, MX-80, Can, Hawkwind, et al. Not a roll-call you'd sneeze at in this lifetime. Youth's bass work anchors the sound in a Tracey Pew-style grind; Paul Ferguson's drumming is all tribal snare/toms workouts with little in the way of standard rock & roll snare/kick/hi-hat aktion; and Walker's guitar alternates between PiL-like textures, such as on the opening "Requiem" to the metaloid riffery of tracks like "Wardance" and "The Wait" (the latter having been covered by those dunderheads, Metallica, back in the day). There's also the vaguely *cough* "funky" instrumental track, "Bloodsport", which combines a Moroder-ish synth line w/ a semi-tribal/disco beat, though it remains a number which is a whole lot more listenable than my miserable (and unappealing) description. And the closer, "Primitive", sounds a whole lot like 'Ubu's "Final Solution": metronomic mid-tempo bass/drum pulses delivering a knockout. There are only 8 tracks, and it never outstays its welcome.
The band followed their debut w/ 1981's What's This For...!, a record which saw the guitar toned down a tad in the mix whilst the "tribalistic" elements of their sound were accented. "Tension", the track played at the '81 Philadelphia clip posted above, is actually from that album, although unfortunately the sheer meatiness of that live rendition was slightly neutered in the studio. What's... still has much to recommend it; however, that's another post which may or may not eventuate. For the record, for now, I will state this: 32 years after its release, Killing Joke's debut makes belated sense to me. There's a remastered CD reissue via Virgin, it's dirt-cheap, packed w/ bonus cuts and will cost you a pittance. You could do a whole lot worse.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Take this as an informercial or take this as a recommendation. One of the best box sets of recent months - in fact, one of the best of 2012 - is one by my friend Anthony Pateras. Melbourne-born and -bred, just recently he relocated to the, err, sunny climes of Belgium. The set in question is a 5-disc one - that's CDs, thanks - entitled Works 2002-2012, released on Pateras' own Immediata label (check his site out here). There are but 500 in existence. 2002-2012, huh? That puts things in perspective. What the hell happened to the last decade of my life, anyway? At least Anthony can chart his via this ace box. I first came into contact w/ Pateras' music via Mark Harwood @ Synaesthesia, the "experimental" music store/label which is now deceased; I was working at the shop at the time and made it my duty to try to get to know every item of esoterica which came within the four walls of the shop. One CD kept ticking over, and Mark shoved it in my face one day and insisted that I play it. I did. It was Pateras' Malfunction Studies CD, a self-released collection of recordings from 1999-2001 which was handsomely packaged in a deliberately water-damaged wallet casing (you might have to see it to get the idea...). I played it repeatedly, I spruiked it to all and sundry, and then it sold out. And then - now here's the really dumb bit - I actually lent my copy to a friend in Sydney (OK, my boss, if you must know), and I have never gotten it back. I just about never lend out anything to anyone, and that's a textbook example of why that is so. In the years past, Anthony himself has given me a burn of the release, but giving me a burn is a pointless gesture: I will, no matter what it may be, lose it within a week. And that I did. But anyway, Malfunction Studies hit me like a rock: a local performer/composer nominally working within the field of "avant-garde orchestral music" (though his music is most certainly not limited to such things: I released the duo "avant-grind" CD by Anthony's duo, PIVIXKI, on my own label a few years back) whose music sounded like it was actually made for an audience. It had a sense of momentum, of narrative, it sounded like it had a point. Malfunction Studies - and I'm working from memory here - sounded like its inspiration came from both the worlds of orchestral music (Ligeti, Penderecki, etc.) and "rock" (of the Faust/This Heat/Henry Cow school). Was I making a correct assumption? Does it matter? The combination worked for me.
In the meantime, Anthony has released a slew of recordings - even releasing two discs on John Zorn's Tzadik label - and I reviewed his Chasms CD here back in 2007. That, in some way or other, brings us to the box set in question. It's divided into 5 seperate "styles" or genres or what-have-you: Chamber & Orchestral; Prepared Piano (this disc is the now-deleted Chasms disc, plus a bonus track); Pipe Organs & Electronics; Piano; and lastly, Percussion. As if I need to spell it out, it runs a gamut of styles - the pipe organ, percussive and prepared piano pieces are my faves - and it's housed in a beautiful silver-embossed black box w/ a comprehensive booklet. In some minor ways, I helped Anthony out w/ the release of this set, but that's not why I speak of it. If you're smart enough to buy it, you have over 5 hours of beautiful sounds within your grasp. The disparate sounds of the 5 CDs, taken as a whole, paint the picture of 10 years well spent. As the weather has become grim down here the past few weeks, I've been popping on different discs from this each night - minimal pipe organ music, in the form of Pateras' 40-minute "Architexture", in particular, is great musical accompinament throughout the winter - and I hope you will do what you must (and don't lend your copy to anyone).