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.

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