Saturday, December 07, 2013

I've mostly steered clear of musical biographies the past decade. I'd rather listen to a band/artist/blowhard's music - assuming their music is actually worth listening to - than read about their life story. There are, of course, exceptions, but there are always exceptions. There are two things which have come to light the past four or so months of my life: A) I've been doing a lot of reading; and B) I have come to accept the fact that I am a rocker - always have been, always will be. Regarding the former: I don't watch TV, rarely watch movies these days (I have neither the time nor inclination at this point in time), and have had to take to a lot of public transport for work. That means a steady devouring of pages which encompass brows both high and low (from Iain Banks to trashy zombie-apocalypse thrillers), and in between I managed to make my way through this Mudhoney biography, given to me by a friend who works for the publishing company (which means he got it for free, the cheapskate).

I was about to take on the book at hand, but then I realised in my ramble that I hadn't even covered point (B) yet: I am a rocker. Oh yes, I am. That is, I have rediscovered and embraced my love for testicles-to-the-ceiling RAW ROCK & ROLL of a myriad stripes, and it has been my steady diet the past third of 2013. And that's meant Cheater Slicks, Hoss, AC/DC, Bored!, Hawkwind, Black Sabbath, Splatterheads, Motorhead, Replacements, King Crimson, Wipers, Discharge, etc. Sure, in between there's been bouts of ECM jazz, Steely Dan, Los Lobos, 10CC, Ry Cooder and Factory Records 12" comps - absolute nancy-boy maximum in extremis sonics - but that's coz I like to mix it up. And then there's Mudhoney. I've been spinning them an awful lot, too. Going to see them live next month, in fact: first time in 24 years. I gave the band a bit of an evaluation in the early days of this blog, mostly in relation to their rather excellent Since We Became Translucent 'comeback' disc of 2002 (they did come back, and they did it well: that's probably my fave full-lengther of theirs), and in my assessment I noted that the band were one whom I mostly ignored throughout the 1990s, or at least post-1991 or so. 'Grunge' had been and gone before it even hit the malls, and I just wasn't that interested. I didn't storm off in a huff - I just didn't pay any attention.

And in some sort of irrelevant, roundabout way, that brings me to Keith Cameron's Mudhoney: The Sound And The Fury From Seattle. Englishman Cameron is a rare breed indeed: an English music writer I don't wish to kill. No, really, he's good. I recall his words from old issues of MOJO magazine. In fact, I was in touch w/ him many moons ago and he used to give F/i great write-ups at the time. That aside, he knows his topic well, understands 'rock' and makes the story of Mudhoney an enjoyable and informative page-turner. The story of Mudhoney is, after all, an interesting one which brings together many threads of post-1980 American underground rock.

The roots of the band lie within the heart, soul and loins of a young Mark McLaughlin, AKA Mark Arm. Originally a hesher and FM-rock suburbanite digging the sounds of Rush, Aerosmith and the turgid muck of REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, et al, he had his head switched onto the New Wave and eventually punk rock then HC via a fairly typical Devo-cum-Stooges-cum-Black Flag series of epiphanies. He then went onto form the notorious Mr. Epp & The Calculations, a nyuk-nyuk HC-but-not-HC joke band in a vaguely Flipper/No Trend mold, before getting a little more serious in the pre-grunge 'supergroup' (only posthumously so) Green River, a band considered to be one of the great precursors to somethingorother, and also an outfit I always found to be remarkably unremarkable in every single way. I recall buying their Dry As A Bone 12" EP when I was but 16, and I traded it in a few months later. They were a strange beast, a meeting point twixt punk and '70s hard rock/metal, and not a particularly successful one at that - both aesthetically and commercially. I don't mean to rag on Green River - I've heard much worse excuses for rock bands in this life - and at the very least Cameron's book gives them a great deal of context and explains the band's sound and how it came about. It was that post-hey-day-of-HC period when punkers in a post-My War universe started digging the sounds of Master Of Reality and Toys In The Attic (the kinds of records they ditched after hearing Never Mind The Bollocks) all over again, and fused these sounds w/ the punk-noise they'd been digesting from the likes of the Meat Puppets, Black Flag, Buttholes, Void, Tales Of Terror, etc.

The story of Green River is an interesting one - and it's given considerable and worthy space in the book in question - because a failed band produced two highly successful but different outfits: Pearl Jam and Mudhoney. Oh, there's also Mother Love Bone in there, but they failed, too. Sure, Green River released discs on Sub Pop and Homestead at the time, but they couldn't draw much of a crowd outside of their home state and had they not spawned two big bands from their implosion, you'd probably rank 'em as a footnote in '80s u/ground rock on an equal footing with... oh, I don't know... Blood Circus or SWA? The music of Pearl Jam has always meant zip to me - there's way too much cheese in there for me to digest - but the book at least had me liking them as human beings. Sure, Stone Gossard comes across like an uptight putz, although Green River/Pearl Jam's Jeff Ament has a surprisingly solid background in HC and underground rock, and Cameron and Mudhoney themselves make an interesting point and distinction: they toured once with a successful Nirvana and were treated like a bunch of lepers, though every time they hit the road w/ Pearl Jam (and I was surprised to read that it's been a number of times), they get treated like kings by their more successful cousins and their roadcrew. Mark Arm also points out Kurt Cobain's bitching at Pearl Jam when both were competing for the grand slam title of being the Reigning King(s) Of Grunge: Cobain rightly derided PJ's mersh factor, although as Mark Arm points out, Jeff Ament had a much more solid grounding in undergound rock than the relative neophyte Cobain. Whatever! It's old news now, the Grunge Wars have been fought, people died and we've all moved on.

Mudhoney's rise was sudden and meteoric. They'd barely been together 6 months when the Limey press shat their collective pants and hailed them as the saviours of rock. The tail-end of the '80s was an interesting time to a young u/ground music enthusiast: something was in the air, something was going to break. The UK press flipped a collective wig over the likes of Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth and it seemed like they'd finally woken to the fact that there was more to life than Morrissey. Not that I gave a fuck (or even read) what the UK press said about anything, but their influence was wider and more immediate than a thousand issues of MRR/Flipside/Forced Exposure/Conflicts put together. Sad, but true. Mudhoney - that was Arm, w/ ex-Green River dude Steve Turner (he left GR early on, sensing a bogusness in the air), ex-Melvins party dude Matt Lukin and nice-guy skin-whacker Dan Peters - rode the wave like they didn't give a shit, and suddenly found themselves in the eye of the grunge storm, a cultural phenomenon which became the butt of hipsters' jokes (count me in there) as America (and the world)'s mall culture jumped on board. Candlebox, anyone? Thought not.

The '90s are a bit of a blur for me. I was young, drunk and stupid, and certain things just passed me by. Mudhoney's tenure on the Reprise/Warner label was one of them. By the time they started recording for the Warner Corporation, the thought of listening to a 'grunge' band like Mudhoney made me want to heave lunch, and I was off listening to other spheres of nonsense. Whatever! The facts are these: the band made three platters for Reprise, two of which are great (My Brother The Cow and Tomorrow Hit Today - the latter of which is totally out of print in all physical formats. I made perfunctory enquiries about a possible reissue and was told 'don't bother'), and one I've never heard - Piece Of Cake - which, according to fans and even the band itself, is a lazy, half-assed effort. Regardless, Cameron's book fills in the factual gaps and tells the story of the band's bumpy ride well, from Mark Arm's junk habit (call me naive, but I never knew!) to disputes between members (Steve Turner's desire to grab defeat from the jaws of victory certainly frustrated me, so I can only imagine what it must've been like to play in the band w/ the guy) to label hassles (Reprise A & R dude, David Katznelson, is the type of major-label A & R guy you will never see again) and the details in between.

The second phase of the band, starting w/ '02's Since We Became... is dealt w/ more briefly, but by then they'd almost hit the ranks of 'heritage acts' and the dramas of the band's life had become less frequent. Matt Lukin left and Australian emigre Guy Maddison took over on bass, members had families, Arm has kept himself a steady job at the Sub Pop warehouse for many years and Sub Pop's fortunes have gone up and up since the dawn of the 21st century, after a good half-decade or so in the doldrums-slash-near bankruptcy. Sub Pop's revival could largely be given credit to Andy Kotowicz, who worked at the label from the turn of the century as VP of sales and marketing until his tragic death in a car accident in 2011. The mention of his death in the book sent a shudder down my spine: I had no idea he had passed, and used to trade records/CDs w/ him over the years (the Sub Pop CDs I reviewed in the early days of this blog were all from him - he was also a big F/i enthusiast). I had wondered at intermittent moments over the past couple of years what had become of 'Andy K.', as I saw that he wasn't listed on the label's site as an employee anymore. That's the bad news, and I obviously wasn't the only one who thought he was a stand-up guy.

Mudhoney have now orbited earth for a quarter of a century or more, and yet haven't managed to totally embarrass themselves in the process. That's no mean feat. Mark Arm doesn't sling the guitar so much anymore, the band's last few records being more basic, straight-to-tape vocals/guitar/bass/drums affairs. I miss the twin-guitar line-up and hope that if they continue on that they do in fact return to the dual-guitar sound of yore, but that's not for me to decide. In hindisght, Mudhoney are certainly one of the finer/finest musical options from the US of A ca. the past 25 years. Like the Melvins - another extremely fine long-running ensemble from the Pacific North West, albeit one who keeps the world musically guesing far more than Mudhoney do - it seems like they've always been there, even when I ignore 'em for a solid decade, and a revisit every couple of years is worth one's time. If you're a big fan, you'll need to read Keith Cameron's book; if you're not, it might just make you one.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Oh... why not? The full movie is up: 1977's Roller Coaster. Let me give you a little bit of background: my brother and I were quietly, and then loudly, obsessed with this movie in the late '80s. My brother even named his band after it. It had been on late-night TV a couple of times, we taped it on VHS and kept the copy for rainy days. There were many such days. We knew it wasn't really that good - an enjoyable '70s thriller B-movie, at best - but something about its feel captured our imagination. It boasts a great cast who don an outrageous collection of '70s gear throughout (I think the fact that it was made in 1977 - THE YEAR OF PUNK - and based partly on the west coast of the USA, somehow piqued our interest as a cultural artifact), and the plot, about a pleasant young psycho who blows up roller coasters and bribes authorities in the process, moves quickly and rather stupidly, with the always hamfisted George Segal holding the dramatic *cough* weight of the pic, as well as its lame attempts at humour. None other than Henry Fonda is in there for a minute or two, speaking his lines w/ his hand out, waiting for this cheque, and you also get the great noir character actor Richard Widmark (you might not know the name, but you'll know the face) and a walk-on appearance from, err, a pre-fame Steve Guttenberg. The other great element of the film to recommend is the 'special guest appearance' from none other than Sparks(!). I've been on a bit of a Sparks bender of late - a report will hopefully come soon - and their live performance is something to behold. Roller Coaster is ultimately a pretty square film probably aimed at the family multiplex/drive-in market, so how Sparks, of all bands, wound up in it remains a mystery. I read that the Mael brothers had moved back to the US after years of success in the UK and Europe, and wanted to finally crack their homeland, so I guess they figured a brief role in a piece of schlock like Roller Coaster might do the trick. Who knows? You could do worse than kill under two hours of your life with this film. Thank or blame me later.
It appears that the Black Flag review below went, for the lack of a better word, 'viral', and had over 10 times the usual hits for a LexDev post. Good-o. And now you've probably heard the news: Ron Reyes has just quit the band (read here and elsewhere)... or maybe he was fired. One of the two. Reading his resignation letter almost made me feel bad for having written what I did about the guy: he's probably a nice dude, certainly a nicer cat than Greg Ginn, but that wouldn't take much. The soiling of a legacy continues... I guess I did witness history last week.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Yes, it's been a while. Nearly four months, I believe. I needed a hiatus, a break, an extended one, and so I treated myself to one. I'm back, but I don't know how regularly I'll be posting here. We'll just let events unfold as they may. I witnessed the travelling circus known as 'Black Flag' just two nights ago, and I've had several people imploring me to write a review of the show, and so I will...

There are many ways to preface such a review, most of them likely redundant. If you've been reading this blog over the past decade, you'll know my opinions regarding the band as they stood as an operational unit ca. 1976 - 1986. From their beginnings as Panic to their days as punk rock heroes and social pariahs to their later 'difficult' period - I like it all. No, I love it all. My second-fave platter of theirs is, after all, their last: In My Head. Greg Ginn's immense vision of a rampaging rock band redefining the genre through sheer discipline, hard work and an almost Nietzchean will-to-power ranks them as one of the finest musical ensembles there ever was. Throughout all their ups and downs, changes in gear shifts and musical direction, line-up difficulties, intra-band rivalries and expulsions, legal and police hassles, fan backlashes and more, there remains that band which moved mountains. What the band brought to cultural life in the late 20th century, via its own music, its progedy and its label, SST, so indelibly linked to Black Flag and all its spawn, still ranks for me as one of the high watermarks of life on earth ca. the last 41 years as I and/or we know it. And despite the travesties committed the past 6 - 12 months, I still think there is something there to behold. Ginn's recent activities don't spoil their legacy, because quite frankly, I consider them the actions of a mad man.

What has happened the past 6 - 12 months is well known: FLAG Vs. Black Flag, etc. It's all been very undignified for everyone involved, but Greg Ginn is a guy who's been slowly but surely removing himself from all sense of dignity the past 20+ years. Firstly, there was the SST label's decline from being the Sun/Chess of the 1980s to degenerating into a third-rate vanity imprint for Ginn's many irrelevant musical projects; the endless repackaging and recompiling of old material; the lawsuits; the fallouts w/ old band members, friends and employees; the lack of care given to SST's still-existing catalogue (remastering, anyone? repackaging?); and on and on...

All of that brings me to two nights ago. The band - that's Ginn, Ron Reyes (BF vocalist ca. 1979-'80), bassist Dave Klein and drummer Gregory Moore - headlined the Hits & Pits festival at the Palace Theatre, an ornate 1000+ venue in the heart of the city (or near enough), finishing the day after a litany of also-ran emo/pop-punk bands had graced the building w/ their presence (the line-up read like a Missing Link Records best sellers list ca. 1999). I got there relatively late, having absolutely no interest in any of the other bands playing (other than Ginn's other project, Good For You, who played very early on. They are essentially BF 2013 with pro skater Mike V on vocals instead: friends who saw them said they were better than 'Flag themselves, but that wouldn't be a struggle), although I did slog my way through interminable sets by Sweden's No Fun At All (cookie-cutter '90s pop-punk) and Boysetsfire (indescribably punishing emo-rock which alternated twixt operatic yodelling and death-metal grunts... you really had to be there, but think yourself lucky you weren't). I deserve a medal for that effort alone.

The venue was roughly 2/3rds full and, at a guess, it was mostly people who couldn't give a shit about Black Flag circa any time whatsoever, and thus when Boysetsfire had finished torturing all and sundry, the place cleared out pretty heavily. Some headliners. Black Flag's bad rep - they'd been stinking up the east coast of Australia to no acclaim throughout the week - had preceeded them in a major way. For the life of me, I struggled really hard to convince anyone to come along, and I am friendly with more than a few people who consider themselves fans of the band in at least some guise. I went with my brother and Bits Of Shit drummer 'Pete', bumped into our mutual friend Adam and his brother and that made it the five of us hanging out for the night. It was a strange experience attending a Black Flag show in 2013 and not knowing just about anyone else in the entire venue.

The band hit the stage late - after 12, way past my bedtime these days - and we made up our way to the front and waited for the disaster to unfold. It took 3 or 4 songs for said disaster to take place, but when it did, it didn't cease until curtain time. There are many problems with what Ginn is doing w/ his own legacy at this point in history regarding dragging the BF name through the mud, and I'll illuminate just a couple: firstly, the band he's chosen to represent his most famous creation is made up of a bunch of worthless schlubs who can't hold a beat and have absolutely zero stage presence. Case in point: Ron Reyes. A man mostly forgotten to history except for his appearance in the original Decline... film, he was always my least-favourite 'Flag vocalist, but then again, he's the only ex-member of the band who'll even talk to Ginn these days, so I guess beggars can't be choosers, and given Reyes' lack of public profile the past 3 decades, I can only assume that there was some mutual begging going on. Reyes cut a cool figure as a lean, poor, smart-arsed Puerto Rican teen emigre who lived in a basement closet in his film days (that's Decline... from 1979), and he certainly gave a spirited performance 34 years ago on celluloid, but for me he lacked the gravitas needed for a BF vocalist. BF's music is heavy, and Reyes isn't. He's slightly portly now and cuts an even less impressive figure. He screamed, he yelled, but it was all for nought. It was a sub-Rollins phone-in performance not worthy of the lamest BF covers band. But he's not the worst of Black Flag's problems, because that remains their rhythm section.

It boggles the mind that Greg Ginn - the man who made dedication, craft, hard slog and the idea of musicianship in punk rock a good thing - could settle for these two beatless bumpkins. Gregory Moore - the cosmic shoeless one behind the skins - has a strange knack for fucking up just about every song he plays. If he's not behind the beat, he's screwing up a fill. BF songs are all about tension/release, and that's what made them so different to many of their HC contemporaries. Ginn has always said that he considered his music in 'Flag as a sort of modern blues (BB King's his hero!), and he is correct. Not only aesthetically were BF a form of urban, white-man blues, but the music was unusual for punk rock in that it had swing, it had form. Other than the Ramones-damaged Nervous Breakdown EP, which was mainly whiter-than-white 4/4 punk blitz, BF's music was about building up the tension then releasing, the moments in between, the fills, the rolls. Ginn's new band masters none of the above. Moore can barely even perform a basic drum roll or hit hard enough to create said tension (think of the way 'Depression' ebbs and flows: there was none of that, the song flatlined), leaving the songs totally neutered in their impact. As for bassist Dave Klein, he ballsed up the start of 'Six Pack', has a terrible bass sound which lacks the Dukowski/Kira-level grit the songs require, and has all the stage presence of a substitute high school teacher.

Then there's Ginn himself. He seemed to be in a very jolly mood when he first hit the stage, goofing off, smiling, hamming it up w/ guitar poses and flipping the audience the bird w/ a big grin on his face, and his opening solo was a gas. When he wants to, he can still wrestle those six strings like a genius. In fact, the performances of roughly the first 3 or 4 songs had me thinking the show was going to be a whole lot better than originally expected. For a guy pushing 60, he looks good, too, almost like a retired basketball player who hasn't let himself go. The band nailed the Nervous Breakdown EP relatively well, Reyes emitting a decent bark and the rhythm section not flubbing it too badly. Ginn tore into a few ludicrous and badly-handled Theremin solos, but things were still kept together as a reasonably functioning unit. Theremin, I hear you say? Yes, you've probably heard the stories. I have no beef w/ Ginn playing the Theremin per se - I like the instrument itself and the fact that Ginn, as always, likes to fuck w/ given formulas by placing this instrument into the context of well-known songs - but let's get something straight: Greg, you don't even know how to play the damn thing. Simply waving your hand in front of the instrument to create a noise doesn't add musical value, it just makes a noise. This fact was made painfully clear when, later in the set, a guy on stage (Mike V.?) had a go mid-song and did create a sense of accompanying melody which complemented the song.

So where/when did it all go so wrong? Possibly when the band played some new material, although for myself that wasn't a big problem. Yes, I've heard the new album w/ the terrible cover and it's as non-eventful as we all expected it to be, but the new tracks didn't sound as rubbish in a live context: they were, at a generous stretch, almost on a par w/ In My Head's angular 'rock' material, and not painful, at least to these ears. And then things started to go horribly wrong. They started delving into some Damaged material, screwing up pretty much every single track along the way ('TV Party' and 'Six Pack' were atrocious; Reyes even 'modernised' the former's lyrics to include references to Twitter and Facebook: "No more Twitteeerrrr!!", he screamed. Yikes...), and Ginn appeared to lose his sense of joviality. In fact he seemed to lose interest altogether, messing up his playing or not playing at all, fiddling w/ his amps and generally doing everything but getting down to business. Whatever audience was left started to get cranky. Cans of booze and plastic bottles of water were thrown at the band from disgruntled fans, security was on the rounds and tensions rose. My compadres and I just stood there in befuddlement, watching the band embarrass themselves further w/ more appalling versions of back-catalogue classics ('Black Coffee' was almost beyond comprehension), scratching our heads and wondering why - OH WHY - was Ginn doing what he was doing...

Ginn clearly doesn't need the money. I hear he owns a nice pad in LA as well as the warehouse space in Texas, and has been asked several times by famous rock outfits to guest on their records for considerable amounts of money (people such as Korn, Tool, Nine Inch Nails, etc.), knocking them back because he simply isn't interested. He also employs (and I heard this from a reliable source) the legal aid of infamous entertainment-biz heavyweight Herb Cohen's son to look after his affairs, a litigious hard-arse who keeps him out of harm's way. So I don't view this travesty as a cash-in. Is it sheer bloody mindedness? Possibly. I could forgive such a motive if the results weren't so dire. The fact that Ginn seems content to humiliate himself nightly w/ a band which sounds like a bunch of amateurs messing about in a rehearsal studio, night after night w/ nothing nailed down tight, has me baffled. I was about to posit that such actions don't appear to be in his nature, but who am I to assume such things? The man is an absolute mystery. Did I mention that they finished off w/ a rendition of 'Louie Louie' which sounded like the 'Jazz Odyssey' scene from Spinal Tap? I guess I just did. There were probably under a hundred people left by that stage. The band had once again successfully scared everyone off, just as they had, state by state, throughout the land.

After tolerating the sets by No Fun At All and (particularly) Boysetsfire, Black Flag's first couple of cuts were like a massive breath of fresh air. The opening jam was a beautiful sludgefest w/ Ginn wrenching strings over the top - equal parts Sonny Sharrock and Flipper, if you will - and it brought a massive smile to my face: Now this is punk rock. Good old Ginn, always fucking w/ expectations, messing with any given formulas whilst all these factory-line bands just collect pay cheques and deliver the rote goods. I really thought I was in for a very good surprise indeed, but by show's end he proved himself to be a flake and a fraud. Do I feel cheated? Nope. It was worth every cent of the $84(!!) I spent to attend. It was a train wreck I will never forget. Some people were really pissed about the night's events, as if all notions of BF/Ginn's righteousness had been spat back in their face. Fortunately, perhaps, I'm not still that naive. You really should have been there: people will talk of this show, probably for all the wrong reasons, for years to come. After the last note was hit, Ginn once again hit jovial mode and went up the front of the stage, shaking hands, doing high-fives and autographing LP sleeves. I could only stand there watching this fallen hero of mine, thinking, What the hell are you so satisfied about? Did you hear that set you just played?

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Yeah, I know: I heard. Greg Ginn has once again proven himself to be one of the more assholic individuals on earth and has decided to sue his ex-bandmates playing under the name FLAG (you know, the Black Flag-related supergroup fans really want to see). For some reason, he's even roped Hank Rollins into the mix, and since this news is rather fresh, I'm still trying to get my head around whereabouts he fits into the scenario. So far as I know, he's got nothing to do with FLAG and has pretty much given up playing music at all the past couple of years. Whatever. You can read the proposed case here. All personal feelings aside - and I do feel that Ginn should simply stop embarrassing himself and drop the suit, pronto - he may well find himself winning the case. The courts aren't about personal feelings, and let me make the crazy assumption that the judge in question likely couldn't give a fuck about the music of Black Flag either way, and Ginn's case states some simple facts: like it or not, he does hold the rights to the Black Flag name, its music and logo, and thus from a cold, legal standpoint is within his right to protect it from others attempting to profit from its likeness. Those are simple facts. Take a look at what FLAG are doing: the songs, the logo. Got me? The worlds collide here in Melbourne town this coming November. My two long-running obsessions coalesce on one evening: November the 22nd marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK, and it also marks Black Flag's debut in this fair city, playing at the shitawful Hits And Pits festival with a bunch of emo/pop-punk oxygen thieves better left forgotten (or never known). No matter what a jerk Ginn may be, and no matter how uninspired this version of the band might be, I will be there. I really don't have a choice in the matter.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hello. I will resume normal transmission in a week or two. I'm on a break. Lots of other things going on. Resigned from my job of over 10 years last week, and start at my new place of employment tomorrow. Getting my shit together. Hope you are well.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

One couldn't possibly do justice to the long-running Finnish band, Circle, in a mere blog post. Their career, their discography, their stylistic changes are all too abundant and too manifold to be adequately summed up in anything less than a book. As for whether you'd care to read this hypothetical book is up to you, so for now - here's a fucking blog - and I'm going to briefly write about the band Circle...
Circle is, was and forever shall be one man - Jussi Lehtisalo - and any configuration of players around him. He also runs the Ektro label, which is where our 'friendship' began. Well, to be honest, I barely know the guy at all, but over the last few years we have traded product with each other - he gets Lexicon Devil, I get Ektro (did I have to explain that?); he sells my stuff via mailorder, I, err, sit on a bunch of cool Ektro stuff I can't seem to offload - and I have amassed quite a stockpile of Circle CDs. Most are on his Ektro label, some are titles licensed out to North American imprints such as No Quarter and Scratch. At this stage, the band has over 40 albums to their credit, stretching roughly 20 years. Their release schedule the past half-decade, both new and reissues, would send a diehard fan to the poorhouse. I first heard about 'em back in the early '90s when Ajax would list their early 7"s on the Bad Vugum label. BV doesn't exist anymore, though it was a pretty hot imprint for a few years back in the day, licensing out releases to Sympathy (a 7" comp'), Drag City (the Fall-ish Liimanarina) and Alternative Tentacles (Radiopuhelimet, who grinded out a thug-ish, Am Rep-style man-rock), and ganing a rep as thee label to watch out for in the Finnish hinterlands. To be honest, between the mid '90s and the mid '00s - when the band Circle released a slew of discs - they were completely off my radar. I think they were off many people's radar, although the band started gaining a rep once their discs started seeing domestic release in the US, as well as some heavy-handed spruiking from the likes of Andee from Aquarius Records in SF (when he talks, we listen).
Friends of mine started cottoning onto their wares, hailing them as the great metal/kraut band of its era - I guess someone has to be - and by coincidence, Jussi contacted me a few years ago about a trade. As it stands, I've got a stack of Circle CDs 15 titles thick, as well as other goodies on the label by Pharoah Overlord (doomy side project from the man), '80s NYC noiseniks, Rat At Rat R, old DC band, Mission For Christ (great '80s fuck-you anti-punk punk, not unlike No Trend, whom they were linked to), Faust and various unpronouncable experimental types from the Land of Fin. In short, it's a fascinating label well worth dipping your toes into.
That brings me to Circle. Any band with that many releases is bound to have some turkeys, and that they do. But that's OK, because any artist truly throwing their creative weight around is bound to dredge up some shit on occasion and present it to the public. Not that Jussi and Circle have anything to do w/ the likes of Neil Young or Bob Dylan aesthetically (or regarding cultural influence... but did I need to point that out?), but I've always said that the turkeys said artists have foistered onto the world in their long and productive careers are entirely forgivable, because in the context of their long, strange, brilliant and occasionally awful careers, it all makes sense. You might not listen to Saved or Are You Passionate?, like, more than once in this lifetime, but it shows they took a gamble and failed. And then you put on the good records. Circle are a little bit like that. Their straighter rock/metal records do zip for me, even when they churn it out w/ a Neu!/boogie beat, but besides such platters, there's a slew of recordings by Circle worth time & trouble.
Two of my faves also happen to be the most atypical, if there can be such a thing: first up is Forest from 2004, which was licensed the following year to No Quarter in the US. There's four tracks, they're long-ish (from 6 to 17 minutes), and they show the band at their most kraut-damaged. The term 'kraut-damage' doesn't hold the weight it once did, say, 20 years ago, because now everyone claims to be damaged by the krauts, but when such blatant ripping of the kraut heritage is pulled w/ such aplomb, it carries some weight to me. Got it? Think Can. Think Popol Vuh. Think Faust. Think the bongo fury of Amon Duul 1. In other words, think krauts. I've been playing it on repeat the past week - rediscovering the pile of Circle CDs sitting in the spare room - and it's got me hooked. It's pure homage, and it's done to a tee. It's perfection. For me, with almost half of their catalogue under the roof, I'd say that this is the place to start.

Up next is this one, possibly their most peculiar effort: 2006's 2CD set, Miljard. It shows a completely different side of the group: piano, bass, drums. Some of it sounds a lot like the Necks (not a bad thing, in this or any other, alternate reality), especially when there is a beat to speak of, and when there is no rhythm present, pure piano ambience barely stitched together as 'song', I'm thinking the music of Budd and Eno (esp. The Pearl), but none of this is news, because everyone who's ever laid claim to reviewing Miljard has said exactly the same thing. At nearly 2 hours long, it may seem a stretch, although I have, on quite a number of occasions, listened to both discs back to back. It is, regardless of context, a musical effort one can actually play, as opposed to filing away.
There are other Circle discs, off the top of my head, which float a boat in my respective neighbourhood: 2007's Panic, a mixture of electronic ambience and scuzzy punk which wavers between Drunk With Guns scum-noise and semi-crust; and 2005's Tulikoira, one which mixes metronomic beats w/ speed metal and riff-rock. It's a good 'un. And there are other good 'uns, too, though I'm merely giving the spiel on my fave two.
As luck would have it, the latest issue of The Wire mag (yes, as noted recently, I have, after a very long break, started perusing its pages on a regular basis) has an 'Invisible Jukebox' w/ Circle mastermind Jussi Lehtisalo, and in another ridiculous move in a thoroughly ridiculous non-career in music, he has 'leased' the name 'Circle' out to some metal musos, and will be taking the name back later in the year. In the meantime, his band - Circle, that is - will record under the name 'Falcon'. Or some shit. Circle have a taste for the absurd, but there's much more to them than merely laughs or a few yuks at their mixture of leatherclad HM riff-o-rama, kraut rhythms and wilfull experimentation. At the very least, they're one of the more interesting 'rock' combos existing today.

Monday, July 08, 2013

I don't understand why some fans of American punk rock/HC don't like the Dead Kennedys, and certainly not the band in their early years. They were an amazing psychedelic surf-punk freakshow with a beautifully sick sense of humour and a dynamite stage show. Jesus H. Christ on a popsicle stick, why the hell should anyone have to justify this kinda thing? You got shit in yer ears and eyeballs or somethin'? I just discovered these clips on Youtube - hell, I'm probably the last guy on earth to do so - and they're an excellent glimpse into the band during their formative years. These songs are taken from a show in Portland, Oregon - along w/ Black Flag, they were the first Californian band of the day to really take the show on the road - in November, 1979, and it's a great slice of Big City Punk bringing the medicine show to the boonies. Well, in fairness to the good people of Portland, they, too, had their own scene, and it was a good one, too. Still, on this particular night, they got a nice glimpse of San Fran freak culture at its best. Pretty sure Carducci was there, too.

There's a couple of interesting things to note here: the presence of "Dreadlocks In The Suburbs", a reggae-damaged mock-rocker which never made it to vinyl (so far as I know), as well as visual footage (that's usually the way it goes) of "Night Of The Living Rednecks", an improvised song/rant/story which made it onto the odds 'n' sods collection from 1987, Give Me Convenience, Or Give Me Death.

And there's something else to eyeball: Jello playing drums for opening band, The 4 Skins. When I first read that in the description, it struck me as a very odd factoid, myself thinking it was the UK Oi! band (and it would've been mighty odd for them to be playing in Portland in 1979), but was then politely informed by the Youtube uploader that the band in question was a local Portland punker outfit w/ links to the Wipers (and even San Fran's Condemned To Death!). The whole show is up, song by song, on the Youtubes: these are mere highlights.

What a mixed bag of goodies I have here today. Something old, something (gasp!) new. First up is Dr. Feelgood's full-length debut from 1975, Down By The Jetty (United Artists, though I have a [semi-legit??] mono CD on Grand Records). The band has been the beneficiaries of a bit of a renaissance the past couple of years, and they're one who certainly deserve it. The unfortunate illness of original guitarist 'Wilko' Johnson, and the outpouring of love & sympathy for the guy in the press (and hearts of fans) might have something to do w/ it, but my personal theory regarding their revival - one possibly based on total BS, or more likely one which is merely based on my own experience - is that many have come around to the band nearly 40 years later based on the fact that you can now see what an awesome band they were via Youtube clips. I mean, I've known about Dr. Feelgood for 28 years, and yet I bought my first disc of theirs 6 months ago when I treated myself to a purchase on my 41st birthday. So, between the ages of 13 and 41, they were simply a band existing somewhere in my musical peripheral vision. Reading about the pre-punk pub-rock scene in the UK as a young man, it sounded like a curious bridging gap between the decline of glam and the rise of punk, but for me it remained always that: a musical bridge which was crossed, one which played its perfunctory role well but one which was obviously eclipsed by its far more interesting point of destination (that's punk, in case my rambling metaphorical nonsense has lost you). None of what I just said means a hill of beans because the fact remains: their 1975 debut is an absolutely crucial document of '70s English music, and it's not just one for the chin-scratchers and academics, but which which musically holds a great deal of water nearly four decades down the line.

Vocalist/frontman Lee Brilleaux had the menacing presence of an East End villian from an episode of Minder (or The Sweeney or... take your pick) - he really was an excellent antidote to the musical pomposity of the era - and had a matching Edgar Broughton/Beefheartish snarl, and enough has been written about Wilko's choppy guitar chords and strutting stage persona before to make anything I say completely redundant. When I would read, many a year ago, of the band's presence on the mid '70s scene, writings which would often reference them as an update on the R & B/'Stones sound of the decade prior, in my head I had them pegged as a good-time boogie band, a passable soundtrack to a pint and a game of darts, but one whose sound and presence seemed quaintly outmoded and redundant in the post-punk universe. Now there's live clips ahoy and you can witness just what an striking unit the band was in its prime, and Down By The Jetty, recorded live in the studio, is about as good an album as you'd get in that dreadful year for rock music.

There's some covers in the mix, some obvious ('Bonie Maronie', 'Tequila', a version of John Lee Hooker's 'Boom Boom' which sounds a bit light), but you also get originals like 'She Does It Right', 'Keep It Out Of Sight' and 'Roxette' which still sound remarkably raw and... I might say 'contemporary', but they sound a whole lot better than most contemporary rock & roll I've heard the past few years. Dr. Feelgood were not the Great Leap Forward that the 'Pistols et al were, but having flogged Down By The Jetty the past 6 months, I have belatedly come to the distinct conclusion that they were certainly one of the best bands in England ca. 1975 and they deserve your attention. God knows it took 'em long enough to grab mine.

Well, this one has certainly taken me by surprise, and probably will for you, too. You may think I've lost my sense of balance, but then again, maybe you haven't heard the record in question. Young people love 'em, they get good reviews in all kinds of horrendous publications and they couldn't 'rock' if their lives depended on it (and I doubt they'd care to), but all of that counts for zip: Swedish duo The Knife have won me over with their latest recording, Shaking The Habitual, a 3LP [2 LPs and a bonus 12", I believe] set released on their own Rabid Records label. It's certainly one of the best contempo things to have graced my ears this year, so much so that I went out and bought a copy of the thing in the vinyl format (which also comes w/ two CDs of the same, some posters, a 6-panel foldout sleeve and possibly steak knives), so impressive it is as a physical as well as audio artifact.

Formed in 1999, this is their 4th full-length effort. They made a splash down here - at least enough so that people whom I wouldn't usually accept any kind of musical recommendations from were spruiking their wares to me - with 2006's The Silent Shout, and, being the total jerk that I am, I ignored them all. Whatever. I heard Shaking The Habitual at a friend's place - a friend whose musical headspace I actually don't blithely ignore - and my reaction was instant and atypical for a curmudgeon such as myself: this is The Knife and I like it. You can't argue with yourself when such an instantaneous reaction is reached. I had them pegged as a vacuous electro duo who were mining some vein of '80s synth-wave nonsense I didn't like the first time around, but there's a whole lot more going on.

Shaking The Habitual is a sum of many parts, some borrowed, some new. It sounds utterly contemporary, a 21st-century album, though I'm hearing bits and pieces of 23 Skidoo, SPK, latter TG and the slightly more 'rhythmic' elements of the 'industrial' era, as well as the cold-wave gloom of early Current 93 and Coil when they extended themselves and get really grim. But this is no downer: there's even a smidgen of Remain In Light-period Talking Heads and Hounds Of Love-era Kate Bush (two discs I like a lot), and for all intents and purposes, you could dance to this, if such an urge took you. But it's not 'dance music', because to me 'dance music' is strictly perfunctory: you listen to it because you are dancing or wish to dance. There's too much, and sometimes too little, going on here to make that grade. There's nothing cute about The Knife: it's brittle and steely and sounds absolutely right-on to these ears. Their themes are 'political', for what that's worth, although I must admit that in my currently jaded state, a radical political agenda from a musical outfit doesn't press the same buttons it once did. Nevermind. It's 96 minutes of a very good thing, and I don't feel duped in saying that Shaking The Habitual is music to these ears. You can hear the whole thing here.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Let's punk it up, kids. I bought the reissue of the Dicks' classic debut, Kill From The Heart, on the Alternative Tentacles label, in the vinyl format earlier in the year, and yet for no particular reason, it's escaped a spiel on this blog until now. Originally released on SST in 1983, prior to its reissue it had been out of print for eons until last year. Fact is, this is the first time I've ever owned the thing in any format, since it's been an elusive record to grab hold of. Its early deletion from the SST catalogue remains inexplicable to me. Gary Floyd was obviously still on good enough terms w/ Ginn & co. in the late '80s to remain on the label w/ Sister Double Happiness. I interviewed Gary about 5 years ago for an article on another site which never eventuated, and I don't believe I even covered that topic as well as I should have (ie. - 'why [the fuck] was the Dicks' debut deleted so early on from the SST catalogue?'), so I guess I'm no Woodward & Bernstein (and I can't locate the interview in question, or I'd print it here). So!

When I was in the US in '99, I spotted bootlegged copies of KFTH in hep record outlets in every city I visited. Someone booted it w/ a paste-on sleeve at the time, and it was omnipresent. I kept on passing on it, figuring I'd locate a copy back home somehow, and also because I didn't want to be lugging a box of LPs around the country. Which brings me to to this edition. Remastered by Biafra, the LP edition also comprises a swish bonus 'Hate The Police' 7": a nice thing to have, since that infamous track isn't reprised on the LP itself. The original Dicks, featuring Floyd on vocals, Glen Taylor on guitar, mohican maniac Buxf Parrot on bass and Pat Deason on skins were a very different beast than the band evolved into a mere year or two later. After KFTH was recorded, the original band imploded, and Floyd headed for San Fran and reformed the group w/ a bunch of rad SF hippie punx. They then recorded and released These People on the AT imprint ca. 1985. That was the Dicks I grew up on.

 My old high school pal, Warwick, one of the very few people in my school tuned into the punker vibes, lent it to me when I was 15 and it scorched enough brain cells for me to tape the thing for a semi-regular perusal. The original Dicks were an unstoppable force of gross-out shock-rock, lewd lyricism and way-over-the-top radical politics. They were, especially given the lasting testament of their recordings (which also includes the ace Live At Raul's split LP w/ the Big Boys), one of the best bands of their day. Gary Floyd still has one of the finest set of pipes of anyone hailing from that era - he's got the soul of a bluesman trapped in those lungs - and the fact that he'd walk the streets of Texas (OK, it's Austin, but it's still Texas!) in 1980 w/ a large-size gay man donning a baby mohawke and hammer-&-sickle t-shirt goes to show he's tougher than you or me.

Here's a controversial opinion: I actually prefer the later Dicks to the original, far more chaotic version of the band. KFTH is a great record: mostly mid-tempo, rough and relatively lo-fi punk-blues (or blues-punk) just teeming in hate and loathing for everything in the Amerikan landscape, and it's got killer cuts like 'Rich Daddy', 'Little Boys' Feet' and the title track, but... I can't go past even stronger tracks on These People such as 'George Jackson', 'I Hope You Get Drafted', 'Dead In A Motel Room' and 'The Police Force'. The production on the second album, c/o Klaus Flouride, is much punchier and clearer than Spot's on the first, and, heretic as it may sound, but I much prefer of Tim Carroll to that of Glen Taylor. He's got the same, slightly psychedelic/surf sound as East Bay Ray, and Sebastian F's bass duties on the latter are also nothing to sneeze at: intricate and techically proficient melodies which work in perfect counterpart to Carroll's twang. Taking the comparisons one step further: the basswork brings to mind that of producer Flouride, and the album's post-'core rad vibe - more serious and lacking the caustic obscenities of the debut - reminds me a lot of the Dead Kennedys' Frankenchrist LP. That reference may frighten some, but I guess that's their problem, not mine.

The fact remains: the Dicks didn't release a dud disc. 'Hate The Police' was the perfect punk rock 7" for 1980; Kill From The Heart is classic '82 HC released a year too late; and These People, along w/ Rites Of Spring's debut from the same year, represent two of the best 'hardcore' releases of the mid '80s, at which point the entire 'movement', at least musically speaking, was past its peak. You, of course, need to acquire them all.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sheesh!.... What to make of this? I've tried getting through the whole 10 minutes about 3 times, and each attempt is exactly that: an attempt. At its top-flight best, this clip of 2013's Black Flag - the Greg Ginn/Ron Reyes vehicle for reputation destruction - would possibly pass for a D-grade BF covers band. At its worst - which is about 80% of the time - it's an effin' embarrassment for all involved. There's something so damn sluggish about this performance. Wait a sec... that'd be the drummer's fault, wouldn't it? Why, yes, it would. That's Gregory Moore, the shoeless 'n' clueless wonder who whacks the skins like a klutz on heat. Ginn has usually possessed a sound ear for hot musicians of many stripes. Even when he roped in a couple of zeroes like Anthony Martinez and C'el Rivuelta as the rhythm section for the final line-up of the band in the mid '80s, he eschewed sound fashion sense in the pure pursuit of the music (ie. - those guys could play). But the rhythm section in BF 2013 sounds like amateur night, and whilst Ginn is many things, that's one thing he's not... although I'd also say his chops sound a bit rusty in this clip, and Ron Reyes' Rollins impersonation should've been kept in the rehearsal room. The band has, from what I can gather, received a lot of flak for their less-than-inspiring shows, and sure, mocking Ginn and his pursuits at this point in history is like shooting a fish in a barrel... so take your best shot.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Vagtazo Halottkemek's 1988 album, Teaching Death A Lesson, has graced my stereo system of late for its annual brushing off. Huh? They also go by the name of the Galloping Coroners, and hail from Hungary, where they've been an on/off concern since the mid '70s. Teaching Death... I happen to own in the compact disc format, featured as the 'bonus' component to their 1990 live album, Jumping Out The World - Instinct, released on the Alternative Tentacles label in 1991. I bought it 22 years ago and am still in possession of the thing, which I guess counts for something or other. A lazy summation may have one describing them as a loose outfit which bridges the gap between the psychedelic and punk eras, and since I'm in a lazy mood, I'll stick w/ that. The fact that they did all this under the thumb of the Iron Curtain for many years, also makes 'em an interesting cultural proposition. Often seen as a punkified hybrid of Amon Duul and Hawkwind, there's some truth to that claim, although this studio effort is slightly more mannered and clean than their cacophonous live works. The live album it accompanies has its great moments - the epic "Spinning In The World - Instinct" is an awesome Amon Duul-ish jam - but the live recording, at least to me, doesn't necessarily do the songs justice. The energy is definitely there, and some of the shorter tracks possess a suitably fried Buttholesian take on things, but for moi, much like the MC5's debut, it lacks a certain, shall we say, definition. Anyway! The studio debut from '88 is the one I usually go for, even if it often sounds like a different group. Some folks have compared 'em here to the powerdrive psych overload reminiscent of the Fushitsusha/PSF school of damage, and I suppose their non-Angloid take on psychedelic rock has some similarities, especially on the opener, "Get It Out, For God's Sake!" (I'm using English translations here; it'd sound a whole lot more exotic in Hungarian). There's only five, long tracks here, and they're all worth a shot, building up slowly over extended tribal beats and flanged-out guitar stabs which, frankly, wouldn't sound out of place on an early Siouxsie disc, although the folkish, indigenous melodies wouldn't have you mistaking this as 'goth' in this lifetime or the next (they also have an obvious interest in Native American culture/music, and their blending of this into their ouvre is pulled off w/out a bogue move in sight). Galloping Coroners, at least on these two discs, are worth your trouble beyond the need to simply search out strange music from unexpected locations around the globe. There's a cool eastern European basement vibe to much of what they do, similar to the Plastic People Of The Universe back in the day, and now that the global village is about as big as an iphone in your shirt pocket, this sense of, err, 'foreign-ness' is being lost by the minute. The band is still around and does the occasional festival show in Europe and the US, counting the usual mouthpieces such as Iggy and Hank (and, obviously, Mr. Biafra) amongst their fanbase, and whilst this CD is deleted, it's not hard to track down and shows two sides to the band worth an earful.

The UK's Trembling Bells remain one of my fave contempo 'rock' outfits, and this album, The Marble Downs (Honest Jons/2012), which they recorded w/ beard-groomer Bonnie 'Prince' Billy last year, is another excellent addition to their expanding discography (it's their 4th full-lengther, if you wanna know). I've written about the band before; for me, what makes them interesting are two things: the fact that the unofficial 'leader' of the band is their drummer, Alex Neilson (veteran avant skin-hitter who's bashed the drum for Jandek, Six Organs, Ashtray Navigations et al); and the rather bloody obvious fact that they are really, really good at what they do, namely updating a distinctly English take on folk-rock (insert band/artist from the '60s/'70s at will: Incredible String Band, Fairports, Pentangle, Comus are good for starters) into the 21st century which both pays homage to their obvious roots yet contemporises it perfectly for modern times. It's a balancing act which, in a sense, gives them a timeless sound. More than that, Neilson is an excellent songwriter; Trembling Bells aren't merely about creating an atmosphere of Merry Ol' England - they have terrific songs worthy of repeat spins. The getting-together of TB and Billy/Oldham is no great surprise: he's sung their praises since their inception, and Neilson has played in his touring band on and off for years. There's no culture clash here: Oldham may be viewed as a purveyor of Americana (he is, actually), though as anyone w/ a passing knowledge of American folk music could tell you (that's me), much of it can be traced directly back to its Anglophilic/Celtic origins, making Oldham's drawl, which could pass for Irish at times, a perfect accompinament to the band's psychedelic merriment. Michael Hastings' guitar work is mind-melting: it's drenched in feedback w/out never tres moderne overtones, and the rest of the band, bassist Simon Shaw and (the lovely) vocalist/keyboardist Lavinia Blackwell, all come together to create an organic, free-flowing, free-rock, free-folk, free-you-get-the-fucking-idea unit which provides an ace balancing act of musical exploration and precise songwriting. Like I said: Trembling Bells are one of the best operational units currently in existence, and The Marble Downs is close to being the best thing they've done.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Let's see what nonsense can be spilled at this moment in history... One blog which has taken my fancy of late is Waitakere Walks. Huh? Don't ask, I have no idea. In fact, I still have no idea who's even behind the blog, but it's a good 'un. It features archival articles/clippings of yore, Youtube clips and commentary which attempt to put the past 50-odd years of music - much of it punk/u-ground rock-focused, but it goes well beyond such constrictions and into the worlds of folk, hair-metal and elsewhere - into context of something or other. In other words, posts are almost of the train-of-thought variety, though somehow as a whole, the blog stitches together a story of the writer's musical journeys, the who's, what's, why's and the what-the-fucks. It's one of the finer blogs I've stumbled across in recent years.

Remember those The Scene Is Now reissues I put out on the Lexicon Devil label about 4-5 years back? I'm still living high on the hog from the proceeds. No, really, judging by the sales figures, you don't recall them, let alone felt an urge to purchase such discs - some of the finest recordings Underground Amerika produced during the Reagan years - but regardless, I'll point you in this direction: it's an article from the UK's Quietus web site [a site, I might add, which I feel has slowly but surely transformed into one of the finest general music onestops on the interwebz] detailing their greatness, particularly their finest platter, 1988's Tonight We Ride (a def' desert-isle disc for moi).

Slint's debut, Tweez (Jennifer Hartman/1989, and later reissued by Touch & Go), has been given its annual airing as of late. When I first heard Slint in 1991, it was a track from Spiderland being played on 3RRR on the week of its release. I didn't hear the introduction and figured it was some odd, new Fugazi track I hadn't yet heard (it was "Good Morning, Captain", a number I swear still sounds like early Fugazi). Crazy, huh? I bought the LP the next day, and soon learned the story of Slint. You need me to do that for you, too? No, you know that the band hailed from Louisville, Kentucky, and featured ex-Squirrel Bait members. So, now that that's out of the way, I'll also state that the first time I heard Tweez, which was probably not until 1998, I didn't know what I was listening to. A workmate had put it on the workplace stereo, and it sounded to me like some sort of weird art-metal band. The production was tinny, the ryhthms scattered and nominally 'arty', but the guitar work was a strange blend of smashing power chords and metallic, Ginn-like solos. It didn't sound like the Slint I had known up to that point. I've never been much of a fan of Steve Albini's production work (see below re: Butch Vig - must be my issue of the week) - I find he's all high- and bottom-end w/ not much in between - and the sound here isn't that different. Lots of booming drums and screeching, even irritating, guitar squeals, and whilst I'm probably not painting a pretty picture here, Tweez has elements to recommend. There are moments here which have a disjointed beauty a la The Process Of Weeding Out, and when they're hitting a tight groove it's like early '70s 'Crimson w/ chops ahoy, but for me, Tweez still sounds a bit half-finished (not half-baked), like it's a series of musical sketches not fully formed. Had they not gone onto write, record & release Spiderland a few years later (Tweez was actually recorded in '87), then maybe w/ a mere Tweez under their belt they might enjoy the reputation of, say, a Bitch Magnet (a fine band who had a record or two back in the day which I enjoyed) as opposed to being heralders of a new musical form aped by idiots worldwide. That's not meant to detract from what they were: line up the three Slint recordings available - Tweez, Spiderland and the posthumous s/t 10" (which is most certainly worth hearing), and the pieces of the puzzle make sense and can be enjoyed.

Not sure why I've felt an urge to spin some Killdozer of late. I have rarely spoken of them on this blog, perhaps in passing, though never in detail. I bring their name up because I've been spinning their Twelve Point Buck LP (Touch & Go/1987), possibly in a pathetic fit of nostalgia harking back to my listening habits in the early '90s (both this and their hilarious covers album, For Ladies Only, were spun quite a bit back in the day), but possibly also because I heard a 'special' - an hour-long special - on the band on 3PBS a little while ago, and it had me thinking that a 15-year drought in between spins was way too long. It may sound funny, and indeed it is, that a radio station in Melbourne, Australia in the year 2013 would dedicate an hour of airtime to a band as seemingly obscure as Killdozer, let alone one as seemingly one-dimensional as them, but hey, that is funny! I bumped into the radio host in question at a recent show and congratulated him on such a ridiculous feat. I think he took it as a compliment [it was]. The band, '80s/'90s relics from Madison, Wisconsin, who made a big splash in the day when the term 'pigfuck' was used to describe an actual genre of music, can be a blast in small-to-medium doses. I mean, you wouldn't want a two-hour special on 'em. They even toured here back in '94, though I missed 'em due to a broken leg. B-Side mag was the great trumpeter of their cause back in the day, and, along w/ the likes of Australian noise-makers Lubricated Goat and King Snake Roost, helped make up a particular school of audio obnoxiousness which was pretty fun for a couple of years. How do they shape up in the 2013? Not badly. Killdozer are a band who possibly would have worked better w/ a different vocalist, or maybe even no vocalist at times, although the smart-arsed lyrics from Michael Gerald, a beautiful pastiche of pop/idiot-culture references, would be missed. But man, that growl, it can be wearing. There are two things which shine here: guitarist Bill Hobson's guitar work and the ace production from Butch Vig, years before he tortured the universe with Garbage. I often complain about some of Butch's work - to me, the 2nd and 3rd Die Kreuzen LPs [their best] always sounded a tad thin - although he garners a wall of noise here w/ a simple three-piece. The guitars were possibly overdubbed to the craphouse, but the layers of sound give Twelve Point Buck some real density and movement. Listen to the opener, "New Pants and Shirt": it's monumental. Killdozer started off as more of a Birthday Party-ripping proposition, but here you've got the crushing weight of the likes of Swans and Melvins on board, and it sounds tasty. Killdozer were more one-dimensional than the Melvins, and perhaps not one-dimensional enough to pass for the purity and wretchedness of early Swans, but their own brand of midwestern grunt-rock is still pretty hot a quarter of a century down the track.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

July's sole self-titled album from 1968 has seen itself returning to my turntable (OK, CD player) quite a bit the past fortnight, and it really is an album worth your time and trouble. Originally released by the Major Minor label (now owned by the EMI corporation), the reissue I speak of was released on the fantastic Rev-Ola label about 5 years ago, and is possibly out of print, but I doubt you'll have too much trouble sniffing out a copy on the 'net. You will find that the effort was well worth it. The band was only active for two years - 1968/'9 - although the roots of the band go all the way back to the late '50s, in a quagmire of intermingling skiffle/pop/beat groups whose storyline would rival that of Spinal Tap in the annals of 1960s UK rock bands (although the pre-July outfit, Los Tomcats, sound interesting). Really, you're best off just reading the Allmusic entry on the band if the story grabs you that much. I'm more interested in the music for now. There is one band July were obviously heavily indebted to. In fact there is exactly one band whom this album will remind you of, the similarities being almost embarrassingly close, but the band in question isn't a bad template to start for British psych-pop ca. the late '60s. Oh, where was I? The band! That'd be Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd. July don't quite have the surf-guitar/Shadows twang thing happening as much as Syd - the songs veering between sweet and lush psychedelic pop and "heavy" guitar solos which employ use of the wah-wah pedal - but those two factors aside, this has Syd dementia all over it. If it wasn't done so well, it could almost be dismissed, or miscontrued, as psychsploitation fraud sign, sealed and delivered by a group of suit-and-tie studio opportunists, but July were the real thing. That first track, "My Clown", issued as a single at the time, sets the template for the rest of the record. I would say there's not a single clunker on the whole disc. July presents a beautifully haunting and eclectic brew of psych, occasionally drifting off into the aether (like good psychedelia should), but reining things back in w/ great hooks. There's 12 tracks to chew on, and this well-packaged edition has 4 bonus cuts (alternate versions) and a 7" also released at the time. The world of psych obscurities is a minefield of wrong directions and disappointments, but July and The Outsiders' CQ remain my two fave discoveries of the era in recent years. Regardless of reputation of rarity, these are records even non-collectors should get a kick out of. There's no real reason the band shouldn't have been huge, outside of bad luck and the band shuffling members and quickly calling it quits. I hear they've had tracks included on a zillion psych comps, both good and the type you'd find for sale at a supermarket in the 1970s, so I guess I'm the last to the party in heralding something of great worth in 'em. Go figure. Do it.

That's it for now. I've been too pooped lately to get wordy on the interwebz. I've been putting together a Powder Monkeys reissue which will be out next month, and I'll tell you more about in the near future (never miss an opportunity to spruik), and as an interesting, or possibly terrifying aside, depending on your opinion, I was busy last week driving Jello Biafra all over town for his recent spoken-word shows, being asked at the last minute to be his driver/assistant by the touring company who brought him out. Love him or hate him, I will say this: he was perfectly pleasant, funny and interesting the whole time (and barely brought up politics in conversation at all, contrary to what some may expect), and I'd still rate my youthful purchase of Plastic Surgery Disasters as one of those watershed moments in my musical development (if I may say such a thing), truly a before/after conversion point where all hopes of becoming a normal human being were dashed forever after being exposed to its wares. So if you wanna blame him for me, then go for it.

Below is a clip I only just discovered today. Speaking of frying minds, it's a brain-scorcher: a short French art film/extended music clip from 1973 featuring the ever-great Don Cherry. I know nothing about its history, but I shall dig deeper and find out...

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Bombino's second full-lengther, Nomad, recently released on the Nonesuch label, is one of the finer things I've heard this year. I procured a copy from a representative of the Time-Warner corporation just the other day (take a wild guess: rhymes w/ "David Lang"), and I've had it on repeat the past 24 hours, hitting pause during sleeping hours. Omara "Bombino" Moctar is a 30-something guitarist from Niger in West Africa who partly plays in the tradition of the likes of Ali Farka Toure - rhythmic and repetitive "desert blues" - but whose music also pays a nod to the Western sounds of Hendrix and Jimmy Page. Well, his influences are as such, although you're unlikely to mistake his music from Physical Graffiti anytime soon. It does, however, emit an intricate, semi-psychedelic tone which is more varied than his desert peers, bringing to mind everything from Moby Grape and Quicksilver to the 'Dead-like noodling of Television. Surely that can't be a bad thing, and to answer my own question, it's not.
Prior to Nomad, Bombino released an excellent CD on the Cumbancha label by the name of Agadez (where he hails from) in 2011. Have I written about it before? Possibly not, although it was one of my favourite releases of that year. It was also pretty raw, less textured than Nomad, though the lo-fi quality of the recording added to its mystique. Here was a guy who'd been hounded by militants from his place of birth (members of his band were apparently murdered), and his music reflected this relentless persistance: epic and evolving guitar/bass/drums jams which wouldn't quit. Regarding Nomad, here's the catch: it's produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, this year's Jack White/Mike Patton/etc., a middle-brow taste-maker who's sold a zillion records, plays in a fairly ordinary rock band and has the world's major music critics at his feet. Not that I have anything against Auerbach. I never thought anything of the Black Keys even in their early days, so it's not like I'm resenting their newfound popularity as a long-time, embittered fan who held them dear when no one gave a shit about them. The Black Keys are simply this year's White Stripes: the band your uncool cousin at the family BBQ asks you about once he hears you're into "alternative music". There are worse things in this life to worry about. At the very least, Auerbach (second cousin of the great Robert Quine, by the way) has put his fame & industry pull to good use, having produced Dr. John's return-to-form Locked Down from last year, and his own solo LP from 2009, Keep It Hid, from what I heard, was actually a pretty interesting mix of white-boy blues-rock, studio experimentation and some sort of moderne swamp-pop. I didn't hate it.
And of course there's Nomad by Bombino. Auerbach has slickened up the proceedings a tad, but not detrimentally so: there's simply more definition between instruments and Dan has roped in some honkies to broaden the musical pallette, including keyboards and lapsteel guitar. The results are certainly nothing to mourn, the overall ambience being note-perfect. I hope Bombino doesn't get progressively "Westernised" in his musical output as his fame rises, although the right balance is achieved this time around. There's 11 tracks in 40 minutes, songs tend to blend into one, although I can certainly say that the rockin' guitar twang on "Azamane Tiliade" stands out, and the drone and added lapsteel on the finisher, "Tamiditine", caught my ear.
 Simply discussing context, famous producers, etc. probably doesn't do Nomad any justice, although it's an interesting part of the story. It's a contemporary recording on a major label, produced by some famous guy, and it is what it is what it is: a great collection of psychedelic desert-rock. Dig it.

Friday, May 17, 2013

 When Numero Group recently announced that they were to be reissuing (kind of: the Sub Pop versions are, so far as I know, still in print on CD) the three records by New York's Codeine, I just about spat my lunch all over my computer (not really). It seemed like a mighty odd choice for a quality label which had released a ton of ace regional soul/funk comps and other curios, but hadn't really delved into the quagmire of "indie rock" reissues. But I'm glad they have, because Codeine's debut, Frigid Stars LP, originally issued by Germany's Glitterhouse label (there's a blast from the past) in 1990 and subsequently domestically reissued by Sub Pop in '91, is a real gem from the dawn of the '90s. Prior to my purchase of NG's deluxe 2LP edition this week, I hadn't played Frigid Stars LP for a long time, probably since Clinton was in power, and call me a hopelessly nostalgic old fuck if you please (you should), but it's a trip to the past well worth revisiting. I never owned it back in the day; the household copy back was owned by my brother, though I was prone to borrowing it for days on end to spin its wares on repeat. Alongside the noisier shit I was listening to back at the time (in '91 it was a lot of Die Kreuzen/Chrome/Swans), Codeine washed over me like, well, codeine. Many hold them responsible for developing the "slowcore" scene back in the day, and whilst that's interesting in some small way, I'd personally be more interested in who the fuck coined the term "slowcore" so I could wring their neck. Anyway! At this point in time, "slowcore" didn't really exist, and I suppose that if I was to define such a term, if I really, really had to, it'd be post-punk rock music of a slow, textured variety. Not quite shoegaze, and not quite doom, it is what it is and that's the end of the matter. Fact is, nobody cared less about it or its existence back in 1991: there was simply Codeine's debut to contend with.
The band had only existed for a year when Frigid Stars LP was recorded. Drummer Chris Brokaw was also playing in Come at the time (one day I will actually listen to Eleven: Eleven) and left the band to pursue Come fulltime (fnar fnar); other members would go onto play w/ the likes of June of 44 and Rex. Got it? Frigid Stars LP is made up of 10 songs, and there's not one I skip (caveat: the Glitterhouse version only had 8 songs; Sub Pop tacked on two extra for their edition). There is an awesome sense of melncholy throughout, though it never gets mawkish or hamfisted. The instrumentation keeps everything in check; washes of guitar noise mixed w/ subtlety and intricacy. What Codeine achieved in 1990 would subsequently be run into the ground throughout that decade, as every post-HC nudnik w/ a college degreee decided to 'slow it down' for whatever effect. Some good things were achieved, and some best left forgotten. Listening to Frigid Stars takes me back to being a confused, nervous and slightly stupid 19 year-old: the sadness of the opener, "D"; the heady guitar churn of "Pickup Song" (a track which sounds like it could've been lifted from the Grifters' debut, So Happy Together, from '92, or vice-versa); the anthemic "Cave-In"... I must've listened to this a lot back in the day, coz little of has been a surprise to me during my 2013 revisit, except for perhaps how good this still sounds. And let me say this, before you accuse me of being hopelessly nostalgic (you already have): listening to Frigid Stars LP doesn't get me wistful for the past. If anything, spinning it in the year 2013 only makes me thankful that it's not 1991 anymore and I made it through to approaching middle age w/ everything, most importantly my sanity, intact. Things are better now, in many regards.
Codeine were a band of their time and place: parts of their ouvre (and membership, in some instances) overlap w/ the likes of Slint, Bitch Magnet, Galaxie 500, Grifters, Supreme Dicks et al, but their worthiness makes them more than just an artifact of their era. Frigid Stars is a very fine recording of it or any era. Numero Group's edition, as w/ most things they do, is ridiculously deluxe: a heavy-duty gatefold sleeve w/ a bonus LP of demo recordings and very early tracks from the late '80s ("Skeletons" being the most atypical: an uptempo number which borders on hardcore) and a CD of everything therein (which I still can't manage to exit from its packaging w/out fearing that I'll tear the LP sleeve apart: how the fugg are you supposed to remove this thing?), as well as a large and detailed booklet detailing the history of the band w/ many previously unpublished photos. Interesting stuff - the roots of the group go all the way back to an early '80s HC unit, Pay The Man - but you're best reading it firsthand, not here. NG has also released similar editions of the band's Barely Real and The White Birch, and I might very well need 'em all.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Been an interesting last few weeks here in Melbourne regarding touring acts. Like I said in the previous post, we had Public Image Ltd. just last month, and before that we had Iggy and the Stooges (or what passes for the Stooges these days; there's none of the Asheton brothers in the band anymore, and that new album... peee-yoooo! I can't possiby express disppointment, since there isn't any), and in the past fortnight we've had Blue Oyster Cult, Flamin' Groovies and Black Sabbath all passing through town. Hell, whilst yer at it, throw Aerosmith in the mix there, too. 1975 is alive and well. I caught none of them, for various reasons. Actually, my main reason would be a lack of interest and desire to fork out big dough for the occasion, but there are other mitigating factors. Black Sabbath were the pick of the bunch, so far as I'm concerned (and reports from all and sundry have been universally very positive), but I've been to a handful of arena shows in my lifetime, and they've all been duds. If there's one thing them punkers got right it remains this: "arena-rock" shows are one hell of a lifeless, disengaging experience. I fell asleep watching Slayer in such a manner mid last decade! Sitting down w/ 10,000 other schlebs in a cavernous airport hangar watching your fave raves from a zillion miles away is a bore, and I don't care who's leaping about on stage. I'd rather watch the Youtube clip the next night and save my money. There was the one glaring exception of having witnessed a brain-frying show by Neil Young at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl about a decade back, when his blazing performance smoked minds left, right & centre, but that also mighta had something to do w/ what I smoked before the show.
Anyway... BOC played at the Prince Of Wales, as a sideshow to their Dig It Up! show (where the Flamin' Groovies also played; Google this event, if need be), and, being cautious about paying money for a band whose peak era was roughly the year I was born (that's 1972, folks), I steered clear. Some friends of mine attended and were vaguely positive about the performance, although griped about it being either a little too "guitar workshop" or even "too Pat Benatar" for their liking. Yikes! Having only two original members in the mix probably didn't help the cause. The 'Groovies? They're OK, though they've never worked me up into enough of a lather to care a great deal for their existence, despite what my namesake thinks of them. I've never even bothered to research the whole story behind the differing Roy Loney/Cyril Jordan lineups, since their music has never inspired me enough to care. Still, this "Slow Death" clip is one of the greatest things I've ever seen and there are other moments in their discography I like (and even own), but again: their highpoint was approximately the year I was born (or maybe even the year I attended kindergarten, if you're willing to vouch for Shake Some Action as the contender), so it wasn't on my radar. Some folks said they were sloppy, some folks said they were great. Some folks said they were sloppy and great.
Now, let me tell you a little (and perhaps pointless) story about Black Sabbath... last week I was invited to a private "listening party" by Universal Music for their forthcoming new album, 13, to be released worlwide next month. It's not because I'm an important guy or anything, it's just because myself and a workmate happen to be friendly w/ a sales rep from the company and were offered the passes. We eagerly accepted them. I'm not one prone to attending such events - in fact, I usually avoid them like a proverbial cliche - but I figured it would get me out of the office for the afternoon, give me a chance to mooch a few free drinks and possibly even grant me the honour of shaking the hand of either Ozzy, Geezer or Tony, the three of whom would be in attendance. What the fuck, I'm pretty shameless. I might even be able to get a snap of the four of us together and post it on Facebook for the envy of my nerdy friends.
 I hadn't been to a "listening party" for over 15 years. The last one I can remember attending, in all seriousness, was for Sepultura's Roots, which was held at the Public Bar in North Melbourne and comprised of a hundred or more freeloaders packed into a small bar for the free booze and pizzas, a chance to hear the record (which I'd already heard a thousand times by then, anyway, as I was working for their distributor at the time and was - quite literally - involved w/ the manufacturing of the album) and get drunk w/ friends. I remember having a blast, if I remember much at all. I expected this one, to be held at the ultra-posh Park Hyatt Hotel, to be a similar if perhaps larger affair: 200 junket-riders packed into a mini-ballroom, guzzling booze whilst the album was played overhead and the members of the band shuffled around under heavy security to meet and greet important people (mostly journalists). It was nothing like it.
Upon arrival we were directed to the downstairs bar where we were greeted by several security types who instructed us to hand over our mobile phones and then ran a metal detector over us. I guess it only takes one person to leak an album to the entire goddamn world these days. We were then directed to the next room, a very swish private area where billionaires probably hold hooker parties and snort coke off the balls of midgets. Or something like that. This was to be a far more intimate affair than I expected. There's a coffee machine and some backstage deli treats laid out for the guests and 20 chairs lined up in a semi-circle against the oval-shaped space to my right. I immediately spot a few people I know - radio and retail types - so I get myself a bottle of mineral water and grab a chair next to an old retail friend who's there. Proceedings are about to begin. We're given a program of the forthcoming album before it's to be played - track listings, a rundown on the history (sales and otherwise) of Black Sabbath - and a Park Hyatt notepad and pen to make notes. A marketing schleb from Universal - thee marketing schleb from Universal, apparently - then gives a speech about the album and 'Sabbath's standing in the greater scheme of things, the kind of award-winning speech which earns you six figures a year in major recording companies. OK, it wasn't that bad. Being an Englishman of the right age, he went on to talk about the English punk scene of the late '70s (don't ask me why, no one asked) and how it was a rebellion against the pretension of rock music in the '70s - yada yada yada... heard this before? - but remember this: Black Sabbath were never pretentious, they were the real deal. OK. I won't argue.
Cue Ozzy, Tony and Geezer for a quick hello, quite literally. Ozzy shuffled in - the others seemed more sprightly and compos mentis - and mumbled a polite greetings to everyone, saying thanks you for coming along and he hopes we enjoy the record. I don't care what they say about the guy, he was the perfect gentleman when I semi-met him. Exit band members and cue the madly-guarded new album for the select few people in the room. The speakers set up were tiny, about twice the size of my fist, but fuck me, they could pack a punch: they were LOUD. Too loud. Annoyingly loud. Nobody wanted to be known as the person who asked that the volume be turned down at a Black Sabbath listening party, but everyone was thinking it. Anyway, we sat through the eight tracks of the album, I scribbled out a Satanic star on my sketch pad and wrote "Hail Satan" and then we were once again politely escorted from the room to pick up our mobile phones and chat amongst ourselves. I joked to a friend that I had a plastic-based recording device sewn into my jean cuffs and was shot a suspicious look by a company rep. It was a joke; he soon realised that. Ozzy and co. were kicking back at the bar 10 metres away, waiting for the non-journo plebs to leave so they could answer some pre-approved questions from the Woodward & Bernsteins present. My workmate pointed him out to me and said, Maybe I'll potter over and say g'day to him. Two turtlenecked dudes were in proximity of Ozzy, and it was quite obvious that if you were to seriously entertain such an idea, they would sniff you out pronto and probably put you in a lung-squeezing Brazilian jujitsu hold before throwing you through a plate-glass window onto the street. Best not risk it. What the fuck do you say to Ozzy, anyway? "I really liked you music ca. 1968-1978"? No, to be fair, the new 'Sabbath album sounds pretty A-OK to me. It certainly sounds better than the new Stooges album, and even better than the first "new" "Black Flag" track leaked just this past week (sidenote: care to discuss this? Please do. Ginn's guitar sounds hot, as always, although Ron Reyes' - a man who's been residing mostly under the Where The Fuck Is He Now? file for the past 30+ years - Hank Rollins impersonation sounds constipated and the rhythm section is weak as piss and possibly playing an altogether different song underneath. I like jazz, too, especially SST-damaged jazz, but this sounds extremely unpromising to me): every riff off 13 is ripped off a track from one of their first six, classic LPs (there's about three moments throughout which had my workmate prodding me and shouting in my ear, "That's 'Children Of The Grave'"), Rick Rubin's production is crunching and mostly sympathetic to what 'Sabbath should sound like (he hasn't totally reproduced the beautifully organic fuzz of their early '70s works, the bass lacking the warmth of the days of yore), the lyrics are mostly atrocious drivel you might expect to see written on the schoolbag of a 13 year-old and out of the eight songs, there's probably four I'd rate as being really great, two as "good" and the remaining two being a bit weak but still acceptable in the grand scheme of things. W/ today's diminished expectations for listenable rock music, that's not a bad strike rate. I told you this story was pointless.