Tuesday, September 25, 2012
I then sobered up, figuratively speaking, and decided that such an idea was a bunk. I have no qualms w/ selling off records or CDs I feel I don't need anymore - if such a move is regretted later on, it's relatively easy to purchase them back - but fanzines? Once they're gone, they're gone.... more or less. So, sticking w/ me they are. And that nonsense introduction brings me to the subject, the latest issue of Human Being Lawnmower drawn, wriiten and published by Brooklyn-based artist, Avi Spivak.
I'm lucky that my day job has me conversing and dealing w/ many good people from around the globe on a daily basis. Two such people I occasionally deal w/ are Miriam Linna and Billy Miller from Norton Records They don't require any introduction. In the latest shipment from Norton, which arrived in my place of work yesterday, they threw in a couple of free copies of the latest issue of Human Being Lawnmower (HBL), issue # 3, so I gave one to a workmate and took one for myself. Last night, I got all cozy, put on the horrendously cliched soundtrack of a few Back From The Grave comps (there ain't nothing horrendous about those comps besides...), and read the damn thing cover to cover. I'm convinced. I'm convinced that the fanzine isn't a dead medium, and I'm convinced, despite my admitted ignorance, that HBL is one of the best currently existing underground music publications out there.
It's slightly larger than A5 size, comes printed on quality, thick stock and is 70-odd pages long. Its focus is u/ground, punk-centric rock music from the last 50 years of recorded sound. That means you get some cool interviews w/ the likes of The Sidewinders (a previously unknown Boston power-pop band from the early '70s whose sole LP was produced by Lenny Kaye: he's interviewed, too); Cock Sparrer (interviewed is original member from the '70s line-up, Garrie Lammin, from when they were a punk/pub-rock-derived rock & roll band. They reunited in the early '80s to jump aboard the Oi! bandwagon); an article/interview w/ the New York Niggers, an obscure late '70s shock-rock punker outfit; an interview w/ Jay Mala, a NYC veteran from the '60s/'70s, who started out in the garage/psych band The Koala (whose Loise Cane went onto form to great Sir Lord Baltimore) in the '60s and went onto play w/ punk/rock/glam bands Revolver and the Magic Tramps in the Max's/CBGBs '70s; an article on the long-running Finnish rock band, The Hurriganes (again, previously unknown to me); a funny guide to some of Lou Reed's solo LPs; a Troggs comic (written by Billy Miller, drawn w/ Spivak's distinct style); an excerpt from a rare promotional Dr. Feelgood comic (!) from 1975; record reviews which cover everything from an Artificial Peace reissue to the Primitive Calculators; an interesting interview w/ a member of Index, another obscure one, this time from late '60s Detroit... and lots more besides. The writing is sharp and enthusiastic w/out ever devolving into sub-Meltzerisms or gushing fanzine-speak (two crimes I should've been locked up for many moons ago), and I found this the most educational music read I've had the pleasure of devouring in an eon. My enthusiasm for the music of MX-80, Von Lmo, Electric Eels and Simply Saucer remains unabated [you may think this is a dig at a certain person; au contraire, this man's publication introduced me to the greatness of some of these artists decades ago], although my desire to actually read anything more about them has shrivelled like old fruit. I've had my fix. New York Niggers? Try here. Early Cock Sparrer? I quite like this tune. The Hurriganes? Check out this killer. In some sense, HBL is somewhat like a cross between Black To Comm and Punk 'zines: it possesses the archeological/historical aspects of BTC w/out the rants, and has the snotty comics-&-humour style of Punk, except that the humour & comics within are actually "good" (nail me to the cross: I never liked Punk mag and its bozo/rockist/disco-sux angle). Last night I got myself an education, and what an enjoyable experience it was. Get it.
Saturday, September 22, 2012
SOME CAPSULE REVIEWS...Cool headline, huh? I sweated on it for hours. A few weeks ago, I wrote a couple of brief reviews for some rockabilly compilations on the Ace label. It actually sparked a modicum of interest from readers, and hence I will give airspace to one of my absolutely fave Ace collections - in fact just about the best comp' of '50s blues/R & B I've ever heard - one which documents the complete blues, R & B and gospel recordings of the Bihari brothers' Meteor label. The brothers Bihari - Lester, Jules, Saul and Joe -were the owner/operators of the Modern/RPM behemoth in the '40s/'50s/'60s, one of the most important independent labels of the post-war era (probably only pipped in regards to its importance by Sun and Atlantic, given that many on those rosters are much more well known today), and one which released a massive array of blues, R & B, hillbilly, jazz and rockabilly recordings in its day. The Modern/RPM story deserves its own book, so let's discuss Meteor instead, a label which only existed from 1952 - 1957 but whose consistent excellence is the stuff of legend. Meteor was managed by Lester Bihari. As the history books tell it, Lester was being such a pain in the ass in the offices of Modern/RPM in LA that his brothers felt it was best for him to be shuffled off elsewhere so they could go about their business. Also, at that critical juncture, something else important had happened: Sam Phillips had started up Sun Records in Memphis and was pinching all the talent which he, as a producer/talent scout, would usually record and then sell to the Biharis. They needed a man on the ground in Memphis, so off Lester was shipped w/ the instructions to set up a label which would grab the cream of the crop before Phillips could pinch them for Sun. Given all of this was based on pure commerce - the Biharis understood music, but they were businessmen first and foremost - the fact that Lester managed to pick such an incredible array of talent and get them to record some of their best material (if not moreso) is testamant to something or other. Blind luck? A & R genius? I'll have to delve further into the story before I can answer that question. Strangely, given how excellent much of what they released was, the label was a flop, and had to fold in 1957. By then, the kids wanted Elvis and Jerry Lee, and many of the great independents of the '40s/'50s had hit the skids, both financially and artistically. That's not to say that Meteor didn't have its successes - they released relatively popular discs by the likes of Charlie Feathers, Elmore James, Rufus Thomas and Little Milton in their time - but the difference in the marketplace between the years 1952 and 1957 (thank or blame Elvis for that) was a lifetime. So, what do you get here? Well, you do get a handful or two killer tracks from Elmore James, one of the wildest and greatest artists of his day (I will concur w/ James "The Hound" Marshall's opinion: Elmore didn't record a dud track in his lifetime), my fave being the instrumental cut, "Hawaiian Blues", a number he recorded several times for different labels, some cool R & B/blues from Little Milton and a stack of obscurities which really make the grade: Carl "Mr. Broadway" Green's tracks are highlights for me - jumpin'-yet-smooth R & B which reminds me of a more rough-house take on the great Charles Brown. And don't forget Smokey Hogg, another fave of mine, a Texan player from the era who also emitted a cool, lonesome take on the blues which was somewhere twixt the boogie of John Lee Hooker and LA club sound of (once again) Charles Brown. There's also some great, upbeat gospel here by The Angel Voices and others, and in all you get 54 tracks and two CDs of unbeatable tunes, a hefty, fact-filled booklet which gives you the track-by-track details and the kind of release which, as a package deal, is something very special indeed. I bought this straight after reading Nick Tosches' The Unsung Heroes Of Rock & Roll a few years back, given Tosches' frequent referencing to the label in his book, and, despite all the myriad compilations and artist releases I've purchased in the intervening years documenting the R & B/blues/rockabilly underbelly of the post-war years, I always come back to this 2CD set. Sun Records may get all the glory - and they deserve it - but for me and others in the know, Meteor's documentation of Southern roots music was equally as impressive, if not as financially viable, as Phillips' operation. There's another 2CD on Ace which gathers the complete hillbilly and rockabilly recordings of the Meteor label, and it's equally as essential.
here), often using a synthesiser rather than an acoustic piano. This 2CD set which I speak of, and haven't even properly introduced as yet, is entitled 1961 by the Jimmy Giuffre 3, and was (re)issued in 1992. It's made up of two seperate Verve LPs: Fusion and Thesis, and both are made up of Giuffre originals and even a couple of tracks apiece written by Bley's wife, Carla. The lack of a drummer may seem like an odd proposition at first, but as you find yourself engaging w/ the music, you actually begin to forget about the absence of this percussive propulsion, the clarinet/piano/bass instrumentation creating its own sense of space and momentum. It really is a remarkable set-up, creating a music which is both cerebral yet free. Giuffre would go on recording w/ other trios until the 1990s - some of them even featuring drummers - even recording w/ the great Joe McPhee in 1993, and there's much more there worth exploring. He finally left this mortal coil in 2008. For a white guy who often wore a suit and tie and looked like he should be filling out insurance forms for a living, his own brand of - let me say it one more time - quiet intensity still demonstrates a pioneering, one-of-a-kind approach to improvisation.
Saturday, September 15, 2012
SOFT BOYS - Underwater Moonlight 2CD (Matador/2001)When this was reissued in 2001, I strangely didn't pay it much mind. My old friend Tony Dale (RIP) from Camera Obscura Records came into Missing Link, where I was plonked behind the counter at the time, and excitedly bought a copy of the 3LP set. It was quite an impressive beast, featuring more bonus tracks than you could digest in a month. I marvelled at the fancy packaging, commented that they were a band I would investigate one day, and then paid it no mind. I'd heard about the band for years, yet knew next to sweet FA about 'em, except for the obvious fact that Robyn Hitchcock, who has been a well-known psych-pop troubadour since the band split in 1980, fronted them. Thing is, in the pre-internet era, or at least before it started getting really "good" (a highly subjective judgment, I know) - which was around 2001, I guess - finding any information on the band was tough. Forced Exposure loved 'em back in the day, so did Mike Watt (I'm supposing, since he mentioned them in a couple of interviews), and you've probably heard about REM hailing the group as one of their definitive influences. Bucketful Of Brains, the UK mag which similarly championed the likes of Bevis Frond, were big supporters, too, though that "scene", if you want to call it that, or at least many of the outfits it championed, always struck me as a bit limp. Other than those snippets, I just figured you had to be there. This 2CD set was bought in 2004, and quickly set me off on a Soft Boys binge. There's not a lot to get: the debut, Can Of Bees, and a couple of out-of-print comps which compile out-takes, singles and live material, so it was over fairly quickly and cheaply. And all that waffle brings me to the band itself. The group were given the tag "acid punk" at the time, a term which, in one of my more unforgiving moods, may have me thinking such a term was likely coined by a genre-starved English journalist at the time, but since the term "psych-pop" doesn't really do them justice, I can deal w/ it. The Soft Boys, as demonstrated on Underwater Moonlight, their swan song and alleged masterpiece (I only say "alleged" because I think you could say the same for their debut), were way too "rock" for the pop tag, even if the songs had hooks you could hang a hat on. Unlike a lot of new wavers - the Soft Boys weren't "punk" by any stretch, despite the aggression of some of their material; and nor were they "new wave", so scratch that, too - the band never mixed their guitars down, a pop compromise made by many at the time. Am I making sense here? Nope, well carry on, regardless. In essence, the group were a music-fan's band: a band made by music fans, even possible record collectors (I think it was Carducci who said that record collectors don't make great music... or something to that effect) who, whilst in some ways were apeing the sounds of their heroes (the reference points here are a cinch, since there are so many moments throughout which bring to mind the bleeding obvious influences list: Beatles, Byrds, Syd, Fairports, Kinks, Beefheart), but through actual musical invention, added their own slant on it. The band was terribly middle-class and English, just like Syd himself, but had enough dirt under their nails to not come across like a bunch of fops.
The opener, "I Wanna Destroy You", is a glorious slice of aggro pop menace (since covered by the Circle Jerks!), as are "Positive Vibrations", "Tonight" and the title track, all of which wouldn't have been out of place on an early Buzzcocks long-player. Then you get cuts like "Old Pervert" and "I've Got The Hots For You", total Beefheart rippage w/ spikey solos which are just as much Richard Thompson-inspired as they are Magic Band. It's a schizophrenic mix which is brought together by the flawless musicianship - the band were, at least moreso than many punkers, seasoned musos who'd practiced their craft for years beforehand -and a sense of whimsy which is never cloying. They were simply a band stuck in the wrong time and place. Brit post-punk was, at least ideologically, all about looking forward. Musically, the best acts of that era carried off that forward-thinking music, too. The Soft Boys were bordering on being nostalgic - bassist Kimberly Rew, who later made a penny in '80s popsters, Katrina & The Waves (he wrote their hits, and I hope he was paid handsomely), freely admitted at the time that he "gave up" on new music in 1972(!), which I guess puts him well out of range of the Rough Trade school of agit-pop. Underwater Moonlight was released on the Armageddon label, the same one-man-operation which put out Half Japanese's epochal 1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts 3LP set at the time. It stiffed commercially, won some praise from the critics and disappeared from view from a number of years. Why it flopped so hard remains a mystery to me; the Soft Boys aren't a thousand miles from a band like XTC: new wavers steeped in British psychedelia who achieved some fame (and even commercial success) a couple of times in their career. Whatever. The band played a couple of shows of the east coast of the US of A then called it quits. Such is the stuff of folklore. What really counts is the fact that the Soft Boys wrote and played some exceptional music. They sound largely untouched by the '70s and the '80s (although they did sneak in Lou Reed and Roxy Music covers in there, too), and almost untouched by punk rock itself. Maybe that's why they don't sound dated, or at least trapped within a certain place and time. For me the second CD here is a tad excessive - I don't need to hear more alternate versions - but the first disc and the bonus tracks therein, killers such as "He's A Reptile", "Vegetable Man" and "Where Are The Prawns?" make up an excellent full-length CD.
On another note, Jay over at Hedonist Jive has just set up a short, sharp Tumblr account, named Dynamite Hemorrhage (go here). I'm tossing up the idea of this kinda thing, too. One thing it alerted me to (belatedly) is the ace site, Waitakere Walks, an archival-style music page which appears to also have a bit of an SST fixation. I need to waste a few hours there right now...
Monday, September 03, 2012
Let's see if I can actually rip out a quick High Five, something I used to be able to pull off w/ ease in the early days of this blog, long before family responsibilities took over my life 24/7. I've simply taken 5 releases of varying kinds doing the rounds in my mind and body this past week.
First on the chopping block is the brand new Kraftwerk biography penned by Englishman, David Buckley, Kraftwerk Publikation. I received this today as a gift from a friend in Sydney who works in the publishing business. I send him promotional CDs for his jazz radio program, so he thought he'd return the favour. When I opened the satchel and saw this beautiful-looking item in my hands, I thought I'd hit paydirt. Firstly, it's a handsome beast - sharp and concise graphics not unlike the band's album covers - and secondly, Kraftwerk's '70s records have once again been spinning in my vicinity of late: this will be perfect reading fodder. I wrote briefly about 'em here a while back. Don't take what I am about to write as a "review": that would be unfair. I was excited to get home from work today, kick off the boots and give this a peruse. In between the usual domestic madness, I actually managed that for about 5 minutes. Later on tonight, I will kick back for real and begin reading this tome. For now, this is my first impression: this hardcover book looks fantastic; its text even comprises a nice-looking font. There are colour photos within. I checked the index for a quick run-through of a few artists I feel must be covered in at least a vague detail when discussing the career of Kraftwerk. Stooges? MC5? Not even mentioned. Kraftwerk loved 'em both, and said as such to Lester Bangs in his infamous Creem article on the band in '75. Again, this isn't even mentioned in passing. I figure it's important that a famous German electronic band, completely out of character for such an ensemble and for the musical landscape of the world as we knew it in 1975 - remember the Stooges/MC5 were considered bargain-bin disasters for all but the clued-in cognoscenti at the time - to like such groups and say so to the American media was unusual, to say the least. For us to know that gives us some context for the atypical musical approach Kraftwerk were forging at the time. But who is listed in the index? Moby, Kylie Minogue, Radiohead, Madonna, The Prodigy, Pop Will Eat Itself, et al. Madonna gets 5 times the page entries of Harmonia. Here is a quote from Kraftwerk Publikation: "The number of people who claim to have seen the Sex Pistols' Anarchy tour must now be in the millions, whilst the Stone Roses' Spike Island gig of 1990 seems to have attracted half the adult population of Northern England and a good proportion of their children too... Seen from the perspective of today, with rock and alternative music so marginalised and generally unloved, and with so few worthwhile rock bands on the touring circuit, one could make the claim that the most contemporaneous incendiary appearance of the Sex Pistols in 1976, or the much-later Madchester love-in of 1990, ultimately lead to a dead end." Ahem. Out of fairness to Mr. Buckley, I will read this book for real, and if my initial impression is wrong, a bad impression simply based upon my own musical prejudices, then I will retract this premature negativity. We'll just have to see where this leads...
The big deal in this household the past 3-4 years, as I've documented before, has been post-war R & B and rockabilly music, roughly spanning the years 1946-1959. I haven't, however, spoke much about titles to recommend in these fields of interest for the simple reason that there are so many blogs out there, blogs so much more well qualified than my good self to write about these things. I'm talking about 50-year-old guys - always guys - who've been collecting and obsessing over this stuff since the 1970s. Some a whole lot longer. Do you really need a neophyte such as myself giving you the Amateur Hour rundown on such things when you can ask the real professionals? Well, I feel I know enough these days - I can bore the piss out of a man at 10 paces on the genius of post-war imprints such as Meteor, Aladdin, Combo, Excello, King/Federal, Modern/RPM, Ace/Vin, etc. - to at least mention a couple of primo releases from the UK's Ace label (the label for this kinda stuff) which document the rockabilly side of Eddie Shuler's Goldband label from Louisiana in the 1950s. Like most indies from the time, Goldband dabbled in any music which would make 'em a buck, and in the cross-pollinated musical world of Louisiana, that meant everything from blues to R & B to cajun to hillbilly to amped-up rockabilly. There's two killer comps on Ace which deal in the blues (Goin' Down To Louisiana) and R & B (Bayou Blues Blasters) side of the Goldband label, but both Boppin' Tonight and Bayou Rockabilly Cats are just about the two best label-based, regional rockabilly collections you're likely to find in the market today. Hell, I've bought enough of 'em now... I figure I can make such a claim without getting laughed at too hard from the bouffanted boffins of the scene.
Boppin' Tonight starts off w/ the infamous title track from cajun rockabilly hero, Al Ferrier, one of the wildest and rawest honky cuts of its day, and really doesn't let up over its 22 cuts. It deals in the wilder, more unhinged side of Goldband's cajun-influenced rocker stable (Jay Chevalier, Larry Hart, Little Billy Earl), whilst its companion album, Bayou Rockabilly Cats, seems to concentrate on the more hillbilly, Hank Williams-derived side of rock & roll as we know it. A track like Hopeless Homer's "A New Way Of Rockin'" really does sound like amped-up Hank, and it's no lesser for it. There's 26 tracks of warm 'n' woolly swamp-rockin' goodness, all sweaty & agitated, perfect listening for the upcoming summer (as they were last summer, and the summer before... it's taken me a long time to come out of the fold and give you the belated dirt on these gems). The hybridising of music forms at the time - cajuns and white trash listening to hillbilly and R & B and blending these sounds into their own regional stew - is the stuff of great musical and cultural beauty. These two collections are mastered, sequenced, annotated and presented to the point of goddamn aesthetic perfection. You, of course, need 'em.
Hard to believe this was released back in 2009: seems like just yesterday I was hearing a workmate play it day in/day out for months on end, to the point where I felt that I never wanted to hear the fuggin' thing for as long as I lived. I wrote about Rowland S. Howard here earlier this year. I'll admit that in some sense I'm late to the party. As I noted in my review of the excellent and highly recommended Howard documentary, Autoluminescent, I found myself in such a position w/ 2009's Pop Crimes: in a workplace w/ a diehard Rowland fan who played it into the ground, to the point where I felt that I'd had my life's fill of the music contained within. In the past month I have finally procured a copy of 1999's Teenage Snuff Film (again, I heard this whilst working at Missing Link upon its release roughly, say, 500 times) - for free, natch - and just last week I grabbed myself a copy of his 2009 release, as it is once again back in print locally. Does one need to review this disc at this stage? Well, I started it... and this is my fave of the two. The line-up and approach is an excellent excercise in musical minimalism used to maximum effect. It's simply guitar and vocals from Rowland - lots of guitar screeches anmd effective use of tremelo and echo, little in the way of power chords - and an anchored rhythm section which rarely gets fancy or, for that matter, beyond a basic yet utterly effective 4/4 beat. There's Mick Harvey on the skins and J.P. Shilo on bass, w/ occasional second guitar and violin, and Jonnine Standish on guest vocals on the opener, "(I Know) A Girl Called Jonny", a wonderful, Spectorish lament which possesses a certain Brill Building/girl-group ballad feel. There's only 8 tracks spread out over 38 minutes, and it makes for a fantastically concise set. The title track is an awesome, driving dirge, and the cover of Talk Talk's "Life's What You Make It" works much in the same way as his unusual take on Billy Idol's(!!) "White Wedding" did on Teenage Snuff Film: a total reinvention. Whilst Talk Talk's track doesn't possess the inherent cheese of the Idol number (I happen to like the TT original), lending it more weight as a song to cover, it obviously has the gravitas weighed on from Rowland's sad death soon after the album's release (or was it before?? My mind doesn't go back that far these days). Regardless, there isn't a track I don't really like on Pop Crimes. As I said earlier in the year: when Rowland S. Howard was around and playing the traps, I stupidly ignored his presence in my peripheral, and only in his death am I playing catch-up. Pop Crimes really is the classic everyone said it was and is. It's simplistic, sharp and yet works on so many layers. There's not a second wasted throughout its entire duration.
OK, let's discuss a moving picture, specifically James Watkins' 2008 British horror/thriller, Eden Lake. James Watkins also co-scripted the shit-awful sequel to Neil Marshall's excellent horror pic from 2005, The Descent (it's called The Descent Part 2 and is not worth your time and trouble) in 2009, but prior to that he wrote and directed this rather excellent and extremely effective chiller which is very much in the Deliverance realm of square-suburbanites-way-out-of-their-depths-in-the-hills school of storytelling. Sure, it's a basic plot outline which has been flogged into the ground ever since Ned Beatty got cornholed 40 years ago, but when it's done this well, you'll hear no complaints from me. I watched this last week, and it wasn't actually the first time I'd seen it. I rented the DVD about 2 years ago, it left a huge impression on me, and I cautiously went back for more. My caution wasn't brought on by a feeling that I might not like it the second time around; it was based more on the thought of putting myself through the trauma of watching the film all over again. Eden Lake is an intense ride. The film starts off w/ a middle-class London couple, Michael Fassbender and the extremely easy-on-the-eyes Kelly Reilly, driving from their jobs on a Friday afternoon to the remote Eden Lake, what I'm assuming is a fictional, remote area soon to be developed into a holiday resort for yuppies. The idea, of course, is to enjoy its untouched beauty before it's ruined. Both Reilly and Fassbender are blandoid yuppies, but we can identify w/ them because, at the very least, they understand the basic rules of civility and civilisation. When lazing around the lakeside, they encounter a group of local "chavs" (the British slang for white-trash, good-for-nothing layabouts; here in the land of Oz, we used to call such people "bogans", although that term has taken on a different meaning the past decade - now it denotes a certain breed of clueless, unsophisticated suburbanite), tough teenagers who don't appear to give a fuck about anyone or anything, and Fassbender, in an attempt to show his white-collar existence hasn't totally demasculated him, makes the foolish move of challenging their loutish behaviour. Things go pear-shaped thereafter. There's a couple of elements which make Eden Lake a really effective and frightening film. The first is the realistic portayal of the amoral youths, a sadistic crew who egg each other on to commit foul acts just as teenagers do; only these arent simple pranks (like most teenagers do). The leader of the gang, Brett, played by actor Jack O'Connell, is one of the most terrifying motherfuckers to have graced the screen. His penchant for grisly kicks - just because it gives him a thrill - is portrayed with no gloss or pretension: he seems real. And the second element which makes it work, at least for me, is the fear it instills in you as you wonder the potential fate of the main protagonist, played by Kelly Reilly. Without giving too much away, when you see what happens to Fassbender halfway through the film - a torture scene which is gruesomely effective yet not drawn out and exploited in the manner of the boring "torture porn" flicks which have been all the rage the past decade - your mind reels at what the gang of sadists may do to a female they capture. I will watch just about any horror film I consider halfway decent - it is simply a genre of moviemaking I greatly enjoy - but when one excels, I can recommend it to all and sundry. Eden Lake excels simply because it is exactly what so many horror films aren't: intense and scary.