Sunday, July 28, 2013
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.