Monday, March 25, 2013

Let's see what's worth of perusal of late. Up first on the rack is Durutti Column's debut LP from 1980, The Return Of The Durutti Column, originally released on the Factory label, although the reissue I spin is the 12" vinyl LP on the 4 Men With Beards label. T'was originally released in an edition of a few thousand with a stuck-on sandpaper sleeve (allegedly pasted on by members of Joy Division and A Certain Ratio). Since the outfit known as Durutti Column are a band whom some speak of yet few people have ever purchased their records (I'm hypothesising here, though I'm assuming my guess is somewhat accurate), I'm not sure of an original's dollar value, and frankly couldn't care anyway. Let's briefly talk of the music of Durutti Column (DC). DC is largely the work of one man, Vini Reilly, although drummer Bruce Mitchell has been by his side for many years. The very early incarnation of the band, when it was a band, featured various types who'd later go on to form the whitebread soul outfit, Simply Red. Yes, that is a fact. But bear with me here. I can't speak for DC's later work - Reilly still writes and records under the name - although the first two LPs (you can also throw in 1981's LC, also reissued on 4MWB) bear some scrutiny by all and sundry. Reilly had previously been in the Mancunian dumb-punk band, Ed Banger & the Nosebleeds, and was one who hung w/ all the right people in his home town. This debut was, according to Reilly, simply a collection of songs he'd played in the studio whilst legendary drunk Martin Hannett hit the record button and popped pills. The results don't bare resemblance to much else happening at the time in post-punk Ol' Blighty. The songs play like sketches, instrumental pieces w/ delicate guitar work, skeletal arrangments w/ slightly propulsive percussion which don't so much move the songs along to a beat as they do provide another layer to the songs. The guitar sound is brittle and jazzy, fluid lines sometimes erupting but mostly everything is controlled. It's a purely studio creation, and sounds like it was performed w/ a labcoat on. I'm guessing the folks from Pell Mell and Slovenly listened to some DC in their time, the lyricism of both bands' guitar work sounding indebted to Reilly, although to me the comparisons I'll use - and I'm hoping I'm not drawing too long a bow here - would be the chamber jazz of Bill Evans and especially Jimmy Giuffre. The music is so enclosed, trapped within its own bounds and beautifully flowing like the best '50s/'60s work of both artists than I can only use the laughable phrase, "chamber rock". I'm not saying you're going to be playing the first two Durutti Column platters in your next foray into the slam pit, but they're a worthy distraction and quite addictive in their subtlety. Listen to a track here.

I'm still on a '60s Blue Note kick, and Tony Williams' debut as leader from 1964, Life Time, recorded and released when he was a mere 18 years old in 1964, is one you should get ahold of. Williams played w/ many noteworthys in his day, hitting the skins for classic avant discs by the likes of Eric Dolphy, Jackie McLean, Andrew Hill and Grachan Moncur III (and every Blue Note LPs by those artists you should grab), and this one is along a similar path. Featuring Blue Note regulars like Sam Rivers on sax, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, Herbie Hancock, Richard Davis, Gary Peacock and Ron Carter, it sound isn't too dissimilar too many of said artists' best discs from the golden age of Blue Note's avant-hard-bop phase (I'm making that 1961-'65, if you care), which means it doesn't rewrite the history of jazz in the most explosive manner which Albert Ayler did during the same period, but its balancing between the worlds of post-Parker hard bop and the evolutionary necessity of free jazz means that it combines the best of spurts of fiery energy and listenability. Sam Rivers and his brass outbursts remain the highlights of the album; his playing on the first three tracks, "Two Pieces Of One: Red", "Two Pieces Of One: Green" and "Tomorrow Afternoon" set the music alight, creating a sense of momentum among the lengthy tracks' quiet, extended passages. Williams went onto famously play in Miles Davis' quintet recordings in the latter half of the '60s before forming Life Time as his own band. Life Time's first two LPs, Emergency! and Turn It Over (reviewed in this blog before) are two of the great "out" records of their era, although he pretty much hit the snooze button for the bulk of the 1970s as he rode the wave of the jazz-fusion bandwagon. Curiously, he played drums on some tracks on Public Image's album record in 1986. In the '90s he returned to his avant roots w/ the power trio, Arcana, featuring Bill Laswell and iconic UK string-picker, Derek Bailey, who recorded a few albums for the Japanese label DIW which are worth a spin. I recall reading that Suicide's Martin Rev used to jam w/ Williams in the local neighbourhood in their teens, jamming out free jazz in their garages. I can't claim that to be the gospel truth, but it makes for a nice bit of myth-making.

That's correct, it's the soundtrack to the TV series, Twin Peaks. Angelo Badalamanti's score remains one of my favourite LPs of that decade (that'd be the 1990s). Of course, it went on to sell a zillion copies and has remained in print ever since, it being one of the most successful TV soundtracks of all time, and whilst I could fault the series it scores, I can't fault the music. In 1990, and remember that this is back in the pre-internet days when one would and had to eagerly await the release of something like a movie, album or TV series which seemed way beyond one's reach before it was actually released, I rented the "movie" of Twin Peaks. The movie I speak of was actually the very first episode (the pilot, to use the parlance)of the TV series w/ the murder of Laura Palmer quickly and clumsily solved in the last 5 minutes, as if it was tacked on as an afterthought (this version is still available, and for me remains the only Twin Peaks you ever really need to see). It blew my socks off (and I'll admit that, as an 18-year-old, as such 18-year-olds are prone to be, I was obsessed with David Lynch and a committed devotee to his three best films, Eraserhead, Elephant Man and Blue Velvet: three films I'll stand by. This is all so very undergraduate...), and I scoured the record stores for the movie's striking, haunting soundtrack. By the time the series was to air here in January of 1991 (we were way behind the rest of the world), the hype surrounding the show had reached fever pitch and the results couldn't possibly equal the anticipation. Well, they didn't, and I remember not bothering w/ the series after the first half-dozen episodes, thinking that the storyline was dragging and the show was becoming way too cute for its own good. I revisited that series for the first time in over 20 years recently, and my opinion hasn't changed. It's not that Twin Peaks the series was bad - it was a bold attempt to do something different w/ the television medium caught in an '80s hangover/pre-Nevermind state of mind for mainstream Amerika - but I still struggle to maintain any interest in the lives of the characters beyond those first half-dozen episodes. But the soundtrack LP, which I purchased in late 1990, remains tucked away in the private collection and still gets a spin on a tri-annual basis. It may be seen as the soundtrack for clueless dunderheads to pad out a collection - filed right next to Pulp Fiction and Buena Vista Social Club (both made up of mostly fine music in their own right, no matter what bogus cultural attache may be associated w/ them) - but the syrupy, noirish tones and drones that Badalamenti creates, equal parts '40s/'50s B-movie score and Days Of Our Lives schmaltz, remain an effective listen when the lights are low. And Julee Cruise? She sang the vocals on the soundtrack's "hit", "Falling" and for better or worse disappeared into the aether. She toured here in the early '90s, riding high on the soundtrack's success and tanked, playing to half-empty venues around the country. Damn. I hope she's still getting those royalty cheques. You can enjoy the entire LP right here, and don't beat yourself up over it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Here's a link you may want to listen to: it's a radio show from earlier this week compared by myself and Dave "Dog Meat" Laing, broadcast on 3RRR. Dave and I were invited on possibly due to the gimmick of us sharing virtually the same name, but also because we'd previously been on the show, Primary Colours (usually hosted by local goodguy, Woody Mc Donald) on separate occasions last year: I did specials on both the SST label and post-war R & B/blues/rockabilly (linked here before: search if you care) and Dave Laing did a special on boogie/blues/hard-rock from Australia in the 1970s. There's also the strange coincidences in our respective lives: we both grew up in the dullsville suburb of North Balwyn and attended the same primay school (though Laing is 7 years my senior), both worked at Shock Records for a period in the 1990s (me for 4 years, he for 20[!]), shared a work space at Fuse Music a couple of years back and both used to run record labels (his being the far more famous/reputable Dog Meat). Isn't that fascinating? I used to listen to Dave on the radio back in the '80s when he had a show on RRR w/ Bruce Milne entitled Russian Roulette. The first time I heard Roky Erickson or Rocket From The Tombs was on that very show. Dave's tastes in music vary widely to mine - he hates jazz and has zero interest in hardcore - but, and I guess I'm making a wild assumption here, we have mutual respect for each others' musical worldview. I play some old faves by the likes of the Wipers, Big Boys, Eno and Die Kreuzen, and Laingers dives head-first into a Blue Oyster Cult/Flamin' Groovies world of sound before taking us into a journey through pub-rock purgatory. Anyway! Enough of my yappin', just enjoy the tunes and dulcet tones of two old men well past the peak of their game. Link is here.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Hi. I'm back. You may, or may not, want to read a brief piece I wrote on the "vinyl revival" here in The Music Network recently. TMN is an online (and physical, I'm told, though I've never seen a copy) periodical by and for music-biz twits, and hence they asked me to contribute something to the debate regarding the non-issue of the revival of the vinyls. I was given 200 words to state my case. I can barely even clear my throat in less than 300 words. I think I made some kind of point or other, or possibly not. They actually edited my original piece slightly for word-space, though the crux of it is intact. Here, in case anyone cares (and they don't, but I'm a grand fucking pain in the arse when it comes my printed words coming out exactly as I'd like it to), is the unedited version:

When someone of the youthful persuasion tells me they've been buying some "vinyls" of late, as if they just discovered the wheel, I have to laugh. For myself, coming from an independent music background, it never went away. The major labels tried to kill the format in the 1980s, desperately urging on the rise of the "superior" compact disc (it isn't), as they saw opportunities for more shelf space for their product (given the smaller format) in the megamarts and a public willing to buy the back catalogues of their artists yet again in a fancy new format alleging superior sound quality. That was nearly 30 years ago. Now we sit here in 2013, scratching our heads and wondering why CD sales are falling and record sales are skyrocketing. Whilst I would call myself a vinyl enthusiast as opposed to purist, the digital age has seen a sizeable portion of the younger generation rejecting the digitalism of the CD in favour of the LP. Older fans - the gullible who sold or even gave away their records in favour of CDs back in the '80s/'90s - are even coming back to the format. I would pinpoint the reasons as being 33% sound (never believe the hype: vinyl does sound better), 33% size (LPs just look better, feel better and look more impressive on a shelf) and the other 34% being fashion. The fashionable will be selling their LPs all over again within the next 15 years - maybe some time ‘round the Great CD Revival Of 2026 (nostalgia knows no bounds) - but for the faithful, and there's enough of them, vinyl is here to stay.

Anyway, speaking of the vinyls, a CD I've been listening to lately is Scratch Acid's The Greatest Gift, a "compile" (somehow that verb has converted itself into a noun in recent years) of all of their recorded works from 1982 - 1986, released on Touch & Go. The band, as you may know, called it quits in 1987 before singer David Yow and bassist David Sims formed the Jesus Lizard in 1989; from 1987 - '89, Sims and drummer Washam were in Steve Albini's largely forgotten outfit, Rapeman. Well, we all remember Rapeman, but when was the last time you listened to your Rapeman LP? Thought so. (Likely coming soon: Lexicon Devil blog reappraises the recorded career of Rapeman and realises they weren't so terrible after all). And whilst we're talking about family trees, I can't help but mention that Washam, who, along w/ George Hurley was one of the finest skin-hitters in the original hardcore era, also played w/ the mighty Big Boys (see below. No, really, see below) and later played sticks w/ everyone from the Didjits to Ministry(!). So! Where does that leave us? I play this CD for about 3 -5 days solid once every 18 months or so, and that hits the spot. Scratch Acid were one of the finer underground aggregates of the US of A in the '80s, and this CD is ample proof. Back in the day - actually that'd be the dawn of the '90s, so it's posthumous - I was a big sucker for their Berserker 12" EP on the Touch & Go label, their finest recorded work and the only piece of their discography which seemed to be widely available here at the time. My brother had a beat-up copy of their Just Keep Eating LP on Rabid Cat, and whilst we liked it and then some, it lacked the ferocious production of Berserker. Berserker really is one beast of a platter, a perfect meeting point of HC aggression, Texan acid-punk of the Buttholesian/Dicks/Big Boys variety and the expected Birthday Party damage everyone noted at the time ('s true). I remember reading at the time - it might even be an old issue of Chemical Imbalance - that Yow & co. always considered their two biggest influences to be Led Zep and the Birthday Party. That nails it: bad-ass riffery and the lurching bass/crazyman persona of Yow meeting head-to-head w/ guitarist Brett Bradford's spiky outbreaks (heavy shades of Rowland S. Howard, as expected). I think it was in the same interview that one of the members said he dug on Flipper, Ry Cooder and jazz fusion(!). There ya go. Maybe that was Flipside. Maybe I shouldn't give a shit. Along w/ the likes of Sonic Youth, Big Black, Swans, Die Kreuzen, Killdozer et al, Scratch Acid fall fair & square in the neat little bracket of post-HC noisy rock & roll which was all the rage ca. 1986-'87, an alternative to the bong-hit jams at SST (although SY were stationed there) and, in some ways, a precursor, or at least influence (on), to the more lumpen sounds brewing in Seattle which would gain a major spotlight in the subsequent 5 or more years. You can't discuss Scratch Acid w/out at least giving a nod to their more famous cousin, Jesus Lizard. I liked their debut 7" a lot - still do - it's a medley of early Chrome tunes which is a total knockout (listen here), but their subsequent records never budged me much of an inch. I bought both Goat and Head in '91, upon the former's immediate release, and I tried, oh how I tried to like them both, but I found them to be insufferably boring and traded them in. Years later I heard snippets of '94's Down, and its ace riffery and dynamic energy (two things I thought Goat lacked) really took me by surprise. That was about 15 years ago. They may be revisited one day. For myself, Jesus Lizard lacked the freeform sense of space that Scratch Acid possessed; JL were "rock" to SA's "jazz" or something or other. Anyway! They earned themselves a considerable fanbase for their troubles, were hailed as one of the best live bands of their day and all that belongs for now in a different blog. For my two cents, Scratch Acid still sound hot, hot, hot 25 years after the fact. I'm a-keepin' this one.

Saw these guys a few weeks back play this album in full. Let me rephrase that: I saw David Thomas and some other people play it at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Altona 3 weeks ago on a stinking hot day surrounded by a crowd of similarly sweat-drenched types. Much like The Fall, Pere Ubu really is just one guy these days, and his surrounding band of musicians is largely irrelevant. During the concert experience, 'Ubu played all of their early Hearpen/Hearthen (I've heard it pronounced about 5 different ways over the years) and then slipped into The Modern Dance from start to finish, note for note. I was excited about seeing PU strut their stuff in a live setting - I saw them here and '99 at the Corner Hotel and they were really, really good, but I was left cold by this recent experience, even though friends of mine were impressed and figured I was just being a grumblebum. For moi, there were two problems which arose: firstly, I'd have to say that The Modern Dance isn't my fave PU platter - that'd be the follow-up, 1978's Dub Housing - and it's not exactly the kind of party disc which will get your hips shaking on a hot summer afternoon (that's no reason not to actually like it - I do - but it's a cerebral record which doesn't tend to make one do a modern dance); and secondly, the band played the album absolutely to the letter like they were lab scientists in white coats. It was completely bloodless with zero organic flow, like a highly competent, perhaps near-perfect PU cover band, but not the real thing. Sure, you had Dave Thomas up there doing his Crazy Old Man routine, but his studied curmudgeon persona (or maybe genuine insanity) didn't amuse me as much as it obviously did others. Regardless, I didn't dislike it; it just didn't move my loins a millimetre. The band known as Pere Ubu ca. 1975 - 1982 remain one of my all-time favourites music-making ensembles; I have stated before how much I love their sorely underrated LPs from 1980-'82 (I would personally state that Peter Laughner's positive influence on the band is overstated by many), although I caned their records into the ground so hard back in the '90s that I haven't spun them too often in the 21st century, and hence I haven't given the band much coverage in this blog. That will change in the future as I go full-circle back into their classic works w/ aplomb (that's guaranteed; it just hasn't happened at this moment), but for now, there you have your mediocre and slightly disappointed Pere Ubu live review. Next!

I bought Motorhead's Ace Of Spades LP about 5 years ago. Other than a cheapie Best Of CD I've owned for about 15 years, it's the only Motorhead recording I've ever actually owned. You can only pursue the acquisition of so many recordings in this lifetime, and so far I have capped it at this, although I suspect that before I drop dead, I will have pursued the recorded glories of Motorhead further. That's because, much like their brother band, the Ramones, a similar unit who redefined rock music in the '70s, Motorhead were an unstoppable beast for a good 5 or 6 albums before changing line-up and settling into a more careerist unit who, good as they were (and are), don't quite match the absolute peak glories of the earlier albums. Similarly to the Ramones, my hesitancy in actually purchasing any of their LPs was possibly brought on by the fact that I'd felt like I had already heard any and all of their worthwhile songs in my life at friend's places, parties, etc., rendering a private purchase pointless. Got me? Many have tried, but Motorhead remain an impossible beast to pin down, and therein lies their beauty. Byron Coley once noted than in the late '70s he had them pegged as simply a long-haired punk rock band. Coming from the Hawkwind/Pink Fairies school of hippoid White Panther rock & roll, flirting w/ punk (touring w/ the Damned), possessing the heaviness of second-gen UK HC and crust (Discharge, Amebix, Rudimentary Peni) before it existed and the pace of US HC when it was still germinating (Motorhead had perfected this by their Bomber/Overkill discs from 1979) and speed metal when Lars and his hesher buddies were still trading Budgie bootlegs, Lemmy and co. were a crude, purist rock & roll unit who crossed all musical barriers and couldn't give much of a fuck for any regardless. They played w/ HC bands back in the '80s when they'd tour there (they wanted Black Flag to support them across the country at one point, though apparently their deal, which included BF "renting" Motorhead's backline and support, would've left the punkers out of pocket), although they were equally at home playing arenas w/ the metalheads. Back in high school, I thought metal was for sissies and posers. Pyrotechnics, supernatural lyrics, spandex pants, endless solos and a dunderhead sense of machsimo left me cold to much of it, although I've since learned that there was a lot more to '80s metal than I knew at the time (of course most of it still blows chunks, but so did most HC). Motorhead was the one glaring exception, a band who appealed to all because their schtick was a certain charmless yet utterly charmed assault on the senses, a barrage of reckless noise which compiles the best of '50s rock & roll, MC5, Hawkwind, Black Sabbath, Ramones, The Damned et al with a dose of those they inspired: Discharge, Black Flag, Slayer, Voi Vod, Die Kreuzen and just about any rock band worth a damn post-1976. Ace Of Spades is one fucking adrenalin rush of a disc, much more than a famous title track and a bunch of filler. Motorhead made great albums, knew the dynamics and tension/release aspects of what made a great song and the 12 songs here from 1980 are something I could prescribe to all and sundry.

Here's a quick one: Modern Classics Recordings, an imprint of Light In The Attic (who must be rolling in dough after the recent success of Rodriguez's catalogue), have done a good thing and reissued the Big Boys' classic debut from 1981, Where's My Towel?/Industry Standard. I've written about the Big Boys several times before in this blog, and even interviewed Tim Kerr about the band many moons ago, so I won't dwell too much on old turf. But I will say that it's a mighty fine thing that this has been done; there are but 3000 copies of this sucker, it's a particularly swish edition (as you can see from the picture above), and in keeping w/ the ridiculous nature of unpopular culture in the 21st century, it rears its head for the first time on cassette. Ugh. Anyway, Where's My Towel? sees the band still in a relatively early stage of their non-career: recorded in 1980, the band hadn't yet (musically) gone "hardcore", their sound caught somewhere twixt the world of raw power-pop, angular & funky post-punk (the Minutemen comparison is always on the money) and the Oi! Randy Turner and Chris Gates loved so much. The Big Boys were one of the finest musical units this universe has ever been given - they bring a smile to my dial each and every single time I hear their output within my aural vicinity - and this edition is a gift you should give yourself.