Thursday, December 31, 2015

GLENN PHILLIPS - Lost At Sea 2LP


Somehow or other, this obscure gem, now reissued c/o Feeding Tube/Shagrat for the non-masses, has escaped my knowledge base until the last few weeks, and I feel like a putz for my ignorance. It's a beautiful thing.

Guitarist Glenn Phillips has an interesting history. For one, he played guitar on one of my fave obscuro discs of all time - Hampton Grease Band's gonzo 2LP epic, Music To Eat. Originally released in 1971, it completely tanked in the marketplace but found itself a cult audience later on, with even Steven Stapleton listing him in the infamous Nurse With Wound list. Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, US of A, they were loved by Frank Zappa and landed bills with the likes of the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead (all fairly good indications of their sound), but their freeform brand of psychedelic southern boogie rock never made a dent, and for many years it was Columbia's second-worst-selling album of all time. Columbia actually did reissue it as a nicely-packaged 2CD set in the mid '90s - the edition I have, soon deleted - and I believe the story behind that reissue is something along the lines of Pearl Jam's manager being such a huge fan of the album (and at this stage PJ had sold a zillion records and had a fair amount of pull at the label) that it was rereleased on his wishes by a thoroughly disinterested label. Anyway! The sound of HGB veered towards the orbit of Zappa/Beefheart with the jamming tendencies of the Grateful Dead and the southern roots twang of the Allmans or Little Feat (whom he played with). Since I LOVE all of the above, that recipe sounds mighty fine to me. You'll have to decide for yourself whether you give a shit or not.

Which brings us to Glenn Phillips' Lost At Sea 2LP from 1975. After the band dissolved in the early '70s, Phillips jammed around with buddies, working up a repertoire, before deciding to lay tracks to tape and simply release a set of recordings himself. He formed SnowStar Records and released Lost At Sea in a limited fashion mid decade and the ever-curious tastemaker John Peel got on board and began giving it a hiding on his radio show. Stranger things have happened, but this one is curious: Richard Branson became a big fan, flew Phillips over (staying at Mike Oldfield's place!) to the UK and released an edition of the set on Virgin and the rest is history. Lost At Sea was never a commercial big deal in Ol' Blighty, though it had the critics raving and was quite the 'head' disc for avant-rockers and perhaps many waiting around for punk to hit town. Phillips has since released quite a few solo efforts since (even one on SST in 1987, Elevation, when the label was spewing out discs by Henry Kaiser, Fred Frith et al in Ginn's belief that avant-guitar music was where it's at. People laughed, but I think he made some great A & R decisions) and is the guy who perennially winds up in Guitar Player mag as a dude of 'taste', but let's quickly discuss the sounds of Lost At Sea...

Featuring some of his pals from the 'Grease Band days, Lost At Sea has a loose backing group which, particularly when Phillips' guitar is screeching up a storm, is set back a bit in the mix but has a loose-as-a-goose jam-band vibe very much like Live/Dead-period 'Dead with a bit of early '70s Zappa thrown in (Waka/Jawaka/Zoot Allures period), but it really is Phillips' guitar which makes the record. The backing music is exactly that: they're there to showcase him. Such a description may have one thinking that this must be a Satriani-style listening punishment, a total showoff for the main star, but it's not the case. The music provides the dynamics for Phillips to get really outward bound, and there's a ton of that onboard. Parts of this have me thinking of Television or Robert Fripp, which, since I've always held the view that TV basically sound like King Crimson meets the 'Dead (not a bad place to be, so don't think I'm besmirching them), it all comes together perfectly. There are moments when Phillips really scorches, cutting loose in a Pete Cosey/Sonny Sharrock/Henry Kaiser mold, so outre it has me wondering what the hell Sir Branson was thinking, but hey, those were different times.

Lost At Sea, as of the 1st of January 2016, gets my vote as one of the great rediscoveries of the previous 12 months. Housed in a tip-on gatefold sleeve replicating the DIY aesthetics of the original (with a few extra liners on top), the package and the tunes within are hard to beat. Get up with it.


Friday, December 25, 2015

2015, please exit the building

What a year it's been. Not a good one, mind you, but it has been a whole year, mostly of utter pain and misery, but I don't care to dwell on the dark stuff. These past few months, things are definitely looking up, and in 2016, I have plans, I tells ya: PLANS.

In the meantime, there was the year in music. Unlike many years of yore, in 2016 I concentrated on music of the here and now. I wasn't so much interested in years gone by, as at this stage in history I would say that the music being created right NOW is as good, if not better, than that which came before it. And I mean that. In that spirit, here is a listing of my Top 20 Release Of 2016, in no particular order, with an ever-so-brief description of each. Read it. Weep...


BRIAN ELLIS GROUP - Escondido Sessions LP
 Covered here recently. Gonzoid psychedelic jazz fusion from this Californian and his band. In the realm of Sun Ra meets Soft Machine or thereabouts. That means it's good.

MY DISCO - Severe LP/CD
First album in 5 years from these local yokels. I saw them a number of times in their early days and dismissed them as Albini copyists. They were. But they've obviously found themselves in the interim period, as this is a beautifully stark, abstract 'rock' album, musically tipping the hat to the likes of Flowers Of Romance-era PiL and This Heat, but inhabiting its own world. Excellent.

THE HIEROPHANTS - Parallax Error LP
More local yokels. Geelong/Melbourne folk. Links to Ausmuteants and many others. Devo worship meets Aussie garage punk. That's what it is. It's great, and often a whole lot better.

POWER - Electric Glitter Boogie LP
Debut LP from this much-talked-about loved/loathed trio, and again, they're locals. I've tried to ignore the hype and simply enjoy the album for what it is, which is balls-out boogie-punk indebted to the Coloured Balls and early X. Great songs, nice package, and the angular, Ginn-like guitar workouts obviously win my approval.

JIM O'ROURKE - Simple Songs LP/CD
Again, covered here semi-recently. Egghead yacht-rock. This moved my heart and loins.

PRIMITIVE MOTION - Pulsating Time Fibre LP
Brisbane duo on the Bedroom Suck label. Somewhere twixt Cluster, Silver Apples and a no-fi version of Stereolab reside Primitive  Motion. Many short songs on the first side; few long songs on the flip. Both sides work.

FUZZ - II 2LP/CD
The second - duh - effort from this 'power trio' (I could hardly call them anything else) featuring the prolific (but rather good, I might add) Ty Segall on drums. Fuzz opt for a basic Blue Cheer/Black Sabbath realm of possibilities and add a little early Mudhoney-style grunge to the proceedings, which means they're not rewriting the songbook of rock as we know it, but it doesn't always require a redraft. This achieves what it aims for and everyone goes home happy.

TOTALLY MILD - Down Time LP/CD
Melbourne-based - my, so much hometown pride! - quartet, again on the Bedroom Suck label, who delve into a kind of featherweight, floating indie-rock with a Twin Peaks sheen. It's actually better than that.

THE NECKS - Vertigo LP/CD
Latest and not the greatest from Australia's finest, which by no means is meant to imply it's a weak release. For myself it's the best album they've done since Silverwater, which means something or other.

WAND - 1,000 Days LP/CD
The latest and the greatest from LA's Wand. They've got a few albums out on the In The Red and God? labels; this one is on Drag City and is most definitely one of my faves of the year. They have associations with Ty Segall (I think members of his band are in it, but I could be wrong. You Google it - I couldn't be bothered). What is important is that Wand crank out an ace brew of psychedelic/glam/acid-folk PUNK ROCK which has me thinking of Teen Babes-era Redd Kross through a cosmic Syd Barrett looking glass. Nothing to sneeze at, so don't. It's fucking magnificent.
 
WEATHER STATION - Loyalty LP/CD
Canadian folk-rock. Yes, Canadian folk-rock. I covered this recently. It just gets better and better.

JAMES ELKINGTON & NATHAN SALSBURG - Ambsace LP/CD
Another one on the Paradise Of Bachelors label, also responsible for the releases above and below, which I guess makes it Label Of The Year. Duel guitar picking. There's obviously a Fahey influence, but the sounds they create add up to a whole lot more than that. Sublime, beautiful, worthy of repeated spins. Even the Smiths cover doesn't churn my stomach.

PROMISED LAND SOUND - For Use And Delight LP/CD
Byrds/Dead worship. Special guest: Steve Gunn. 'Americana' which again doesn't make me want to vomit in my mouth. Uncut probably loves it. Doesn't mean you can't.

VHOL - Deeper Than Sky CD
 Demonic space-metal from San Francisco on the Profound Lore label. Discharge meets Voivod.

ROYAL HEADACHE - High LP/CD
Second album from Sydney's most likely - as for what they're most likely to do (possibly implode), you may have to ask them. Ultra-melodic soul-review garage punk with none of the 'Hey now, can I get a witness!' cliches. So, so good. The Kids are right.

JONAS MUNK - Absorb/Fabric/Cascade LP
Causa Sui's Jonas Munk - he and the label he co-runs, El Paraiso - was covered here recently. Electronic kraut dementia, repetitive grooves, cosmic soul.

DICK DIVER - Melbourne, Florida LP/CD
Third victorious release from 'Melbourne's own' Dick Diver. The Go-Betweens don't thrill me much, although many of their contemporary admirers do.

UNCLE ACID - Night Creeper 2LP/CD
Previously or otherwise known as Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats. English doom crew on the Rise Above label who emit a melodic brand of Sabbath-infused rock which possesses a certain Satanic aura but still enough upbeat tempos and catchy riffs to make me want to 'party'. Good-time rock 'n' roll.

SAMMAL - Myrskyvaroitus LP/CD
Contemporary psych/prog from Finland. They chew up a slew of their homeland's music from yesteryear - perhaps in the same manner as Sweden's Dungen - although both bands really don't sound too alike. Sammal don't have the hooks of Dungen, and the Finnish vocals can take a bit of getting used to (no offense to the good people of Finland, but your native tongue can be slightly abrasive on our English-speaking ears), but the music - THE MUSIC - is special. On the excellent Svart label - well worth investigating.

SUNN O))) - Kannon LP/CD
The latest from this doom crew, a band I thought had jumped the horse a number of years ago with that weak Boris collaboration and the underwhelming Monoloiths and Dimensions set which proceeeded it (I have since revisited the latter and found it's much more agreeable than I originally considered it to be). Kannon is an anomaly in Sunn O)))'s catalogue: short and sweet, a 35-minute single LP with three songs. It's the best thing they've done since Black One.

Over. Out.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

There's a towering pile of CDs next to my stereo - hell yeah, I still play 'em - and here's me grabbing half a dozen of them and making sense of them in as brief a manner as I can. Just for you.


1976 album from ex-Oregon and future Codona sitar player (sitarist?), Colin Walcott. He's a bald guy with frizzy hair on the side who kinda looked like a young Larry David - not a beatnik ethno-jazz world-beater in the looks dept. - but he was part and parcel of a few choice sides in his time. Oregon generally bore me - and I have actually given most of their allegedly 'good' early rekkids a spin - though as I have documented here before in heavy verbiage, the three records he recorded as part of the trio Codona on the ECM label ca. 1978 - '82 still stand as my fave recordings on the label. And if you know me, you'll possibly also be aware of the fact that I possess a tragically near-encyclopaedic knowledge of the label (I was actually its 'manager' down here for a number of years) and hold it in high esteem. So what's Cloud Dance? It's Walcott's first 'solo' album, originally released in 1976 - although of course it is merely him as leader playing in a quartet. A fine record it be, too, otherwise it wouldn't be sittin' pretty next to the player waiting for a semi-regular spin.
 As you can see from the cover, he has some ace players up his sleeve to help him out: Holland on bass, DeJohnette on percussion and Abercrombie on guitar. Were I to describe as it 'ethno-fusion', you may be tempted to vomit in your mouth, so let's just keep it tasteful, huh? It's loose, it's free-flowing, but I won't call it 'jazz', since it does not resemble it to these tin ears. It's a quartet of white westerners playing 'world music' very well. Even cosmically, you might say. '70s 'head music' from an unlikely source.


Should you require something stupidly heavily, or something simply heavily stupid, there's always Scorn's debut player from 1992, Vae Solis. At this juncture, Scorn was two ex-Napalm Death players: moustachio'd skinsman, Mick Harris and Nic Bullen, who had sung for Napalm Death in their early days and indeed yelled on the first side of their debut, Scum. Actually, this lineup is the same as the A side of Scum (it was apparently recorded as a duo), but Scorn and Vae Solis are a different beast. I never went nuts for the early Earache stable of noise back in the day - though I will admit to liking the first couple of Napalm and Carcass discs, Godflesh's Streetcleaner and this album in question - but as I creak into the depths of middle-aged patheticness, I will confess to an increasing fondness for what the label did back in its early days before it all turned to shit (and turned to shit it has - the label has been an utter embarrassment for nigh on two decades now). Lately it's been Cathedral's debut and Morbid Angel's first few Satan-fuelled stabs at recorded glory. In my weaker moments, I crank up a bit of Bolt Thrower. Next week it could be Nocturnus or Confessor: let's just see where the day takes us, huh? Back to Scorn... after a couple of discs, Bullen left the duo, making it a solo project for Harris. There's some great albums in this phase of the band, too (try Ellipsis and especially Gyral), though the sound is much more in a wordless, minimal ambient dub vein. For Vae Solis, it's all about HEAVY, which means this sounds like a more organic version of Godflesh, or perhaps a more 'rock' version of Cop-era Swans, and harks back to a time when you could name songs such as 'Suck And Eat You', 'Eat Forever Dog', 'Heavy Blood' and 'Scum After Death' and keep a straight face. Whatever. There's monumental riffage here, cranking rhythms and moments of PiL-like dub thrown in the mix. Don't call it 'industrial metal' coz I mostly hate that shit, and I don't hate this.


I bought this recently at a Salvo's for $2, as well as volume 2 for an extra $2. That's $4 in total for two double CDs which are out of print and actually kind of coveted amongst some electro-jerks, but regardless, I bought these on a cheapskate whim and a whiff of nostalgia for days gone by. I was working at Missing Link when the first Clicks + Cuts 2CD came out - it was all about CDs back then, ya know, so don't claim otherwise - and it was, relatively speaking, a hot item. Not sales-wise so much, but the Mille Plateaux label was a hot ticket in the '90s up until its dissolution in 2004, the kind of label gormless Wire-reading types would jerk off over, and while I never flipped a lid (or did other deeds) over its wares, I was well aware of its activities and liked some of what it did. And since it's 2015 and a mere $4 will buy me about 300 minutes of compiled music from the MP stable (and some of it not), I took a trip down memory lane. Vol. 1 has all those party-starter names you remember - snd, Pan Sonic, Pole, Vladislav Delay, Alva Noto et al - and some you probably don't. What it is is a top-notch comp' of experimental electronica of varied stripes: glitchtronica, minimal dub, avant-techtronica and other terms I really do promise to never utter again. When not 'rocking', Clicks + Cuts remains a great musical antidote. Should you come across any volume in a junk shop near you, do not hesitate.


One of my favourite releases of 2015, and yes, IT'S A CANADIAN FOLK-ROCK ALBUM! Pick yourself up off the ground and listen. Weather Station is essentially Canadian singer-songwriter, Tamara Linderman, and Loyalty is her/their third album and the first to be released on what is one of my fave currently operating imprints, Paradise Of Bachelors (they're also responsible for three other killers in '15: Nathan Salsburg and James Elkington's Ambsace [Faheyesque guitar duets]), Promised Land Sound's For Use And Delight [total 'Dead/Byrds worship] and the reissue of Kenny Knight's amazing Crossroads LP from 1980). POB deal in what is essentially 'Americana' (or Canadiana, if you will), but without the vom-inducing baggage I usually associate with the genre (ie. - it's not just dickheads in cowboy shirts trying to be Ryan Adams or Jeff Tweedy); the fact is - their hit rate is right up there, a small but feasible catalogue which is all good. Back to Weather Station... the closest reference one could bring up is Joni Mitchell. Everyone brings up Mitchell, and it's not just because she also happens to be a Canadian folky/singer/songwriter, but because Linderman sounds a whole lot like her (taking the key down a pitch or two, however) and indeed writes songs like her, a fingerpicking, free-flowing approach. Which to me is nothing to sneeze nor laugh at (I came around - heavily - to the JN stratosphere a number of years back. Suck on that one). Again, none of this babble amounts to a hill of shinola if Weather Station didn't have the songs, and that they do in abundance. All 11 songs presents move my heart and loins in a way few other releases this year have. The 1-2-3 bang of the first three cuts, 'Way It Is, Way It Could Be, 'Loyalty' and 'Floodplain' is a thing of great beauty. Linderman sings with great conviction, the proceedings never get corny or overcooked and the whole thing slaps together like a statement worth being partial to. My first few listens of Loyalty evoked a lukewarm response, but after a friend insisted that I proceed with further immersion, I persisted. And I'm glad I did - it is one of 2015's finest recordings, one which soothed my aching brain on many occasions this past year.



The Franco Battiato story has been told voluminous times before, and by people far more qualified to tell it than I. He remains a huge figure in Italian music and straightened his approach considerably in the 1980s to gain widespread fame and fortune in his homeland (which isn't to say that said music isn't without its considerable charm and interest, both musically and lyrically), though his 1970s output remains one of the most fascinating and flat-out brilliant catalogues of music of its (or any) era. Italy's contribution to the post-psychedelic universe is well known (well, perhaps to obsessive nutcases such as you and I), but Battiato's 1970s output is a one-of-a-kind obsessive, philosophical
journey which encompasses existentialism, radical politics, musique concret, experimental prog, ambient and singer-songwriter tales into a whole which beggars categorisation. His Fetus and Pollution LPs were reissued onto CD by the Water label a decade or more ago, and once a year I pay them a visit. Right now is that time. His other '70s LPs are up on Spotify, for those who care to stream (and Sulle corde di Aries and Clic must also be heard), though these two probably remain his finest combinations of the accessible and the inexplicable: psychedelic keyboards, sound collages, kosmiche grooves and honest-to-God songs - they are the mark of a genius, some of the most forward-thinking music ever laid to tape. It's 40+ years later and most are still left in their collective dust.


Bought this for ONE WHOLE DOLLAR at a primary school fete a couple of weeks ago. Throw in an Astor Piazzolla CD, too, and that's a whopping TWO DOLLARS extracted from my pocket. Such is the seeming worth of music in this day and age. Sweet Oblivion was originally released in 1992 and was the band's first major label effort, let loose upon the world just as 'grunge' was taking the western world by storm and soon embarrassing all and sundry. Soon it would all be about Candlebox and Bush, but Screaming Trees had deep roots in the undie-ground and, so far as I can see it, never managed to make fools of themselves in the process. I never flipped out over the band in any manner whatsoever. I liked their 'Nearly Lost You' single a lot (still do - a lot), but when grunge came to town, I was elsewhere and paid it no mind. But for 100 cents, I will take the plunge, and 23 years later, when the dust has settled and I've calmed down, settled into middle age and forgiven all and sundry for their musical crimes in the 1990s, Sweet Oblivion makes for an exceedingly pleasant listen and then some. I've never swallowed the legend of myth of Mark Lanegan as many have done (a decent number of my compadres swear by his solo output, though they leave my non-plussed), and nor was I even that hot on the band's SST recordings (minus their Other Worlds EP from 1985, which is fantastic), but Sweet Oblivion has that BIG GRUNGE-ROCK SOUND with BIG MELODIES, SOARING VOCALS and GIANT HOOKS which doesn't remind me of Pearl Jam or Smashing Pumpkins, and thus gets them off the hook. This is good car-driving music for Dave The Dad - songs such as the opener, 'Shadow Of The Season' and 'Butterfly', has one punching the air, whilst a ballad such as 'Dollar Bill' has one nearly weeping, wondering why the fuck one is driving around in a car listening to the Screaming Trees in 2015 - but it all sounds good and right when one isn't up for a musical challenge. Sweet Oblivion is fine rock & roll, and that's the end of the story. Over. Out.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

BUZZCOCKS/MAGAZINE

I fell over this YouTube clip yesterday, and it impressed me greatly. It's more than a mere clip, it's a two-part documentary on the Buzzcocks and Magazine totalling 40 minutes of your time, and worthy of your time it is. I posted a little while ago here a brief, and possibly lame, appraisal of the early works of Magazine, and my affection for the band - primarily their first three LPs: Real Life, Secondhand Daylight and The Correct Use Of Soap - increases as time goes by. They were a very peculiar beast of a band, but of course, Howard Devoto is a rather peculiar fellow. He sabotaged his own possible career as a 'punk icon' just as the Buzzcocks were taking off, claiming the 'movement' had become a cliche and he wished to move on (a truism, but still no reason to quit the band, so far as I can see it, especially since the Buzzcocks were most definitely one of the smarter/better/best practioners of the genre, but I digress...). There's a telling interview within the documentary, in which he notes that it's a basic part of his personality: sabotaging expectations.

 Regardless, this mini-feature was made/narrated by Tony Wilson for the Granada TV show, What Goes On (the first televisual show to give the Sex Pistols some air) in the UK, and he was certainly one of the smarter and more atuned television presenters of his or any time, but that's obvious. There's been a lot of mythologising regarding Tony Wilson and Factory Records the past two decades, but his accomplishments and what he brought to British life during the punk/post-punk era cannot be taken away from him. This documentary shows him as an informed and informative man, and it really does the chart the respective careers of the Buzzcocks and Magazine circa 1978 in an intelligent and interesting manner which never insults the intelligence of the viewer. The fact is this: you'd be hard pressed to find a documentary on two excellent bands as good as this on any television show ever.

It's interesting to note the difference between the two bands: the Buzzcocks stuck to a formula pretty tightly - admittedly it's a genre they pioneered - one of high-energy punk rock brandished with pop melodies, while Magazine went for texture, drama and more mixed tempos, mixing punk aggression with a heavy dose of '70s Eno and Berlin-period Bowie. The Buzzcocks kept it simple; Magzine didn't. In fact, the latter were downright musicianly, with dunderheads like journalist Gary Bushell writing them off as prog-rockers. That said, this clip of the band demonstrates their sense of musical grandeur quite perfectly, and if your idea of punk rock in 1978 was Sham 69 and their acolytes, then the sight of Magazine with their multi-keyboard set-up and mounted roto-toms on the drum kit may indeed been a thing of great horror.

The fact remains, however, that both bands excelled, and the Buzzcocks, similarly, made three LPs to stake your life on: Another Music In A Different Kitchen, Love Bites and A Different Kind Of Tension - the kind of consistent longplay action which left many of their contemporaries in the dust. Both Pete Shelley and Devoto are captivating figures in '70s avant-punk; Shelley, for instance, recorded an experimental electronic album way back in 1974 (released in 1980 on his Groovy Records label), and you can hear some of it here. Both men were pioneers, so pay some goddamn respect.
Anyway, sit back, grab a drink and enjoy. It's worth it...

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

SIMPLE SONGS


Jim O'Rourke's Simple Songs LP/CD on the Drag City label has somehow turned into one of my favourite recordings of 2015. I have never claimed fandom for the O'Rourke cause, but then again, nor have I dragged his name through the mud. I have admired his work from afar, yet never taken his music close to my heart. His series of solo albums he released on Drag City many moons ago floated within my orbit at the time, and yes, I heard them all a number of times. The memories are pleasant, but they remain memories. I procured myself a promotional copy of this LP mid-year when I was in a deep funk - as indeed I had been in a deep funk all year. And that's not the kind of funk you can dance to. The worst of it is over now, but as it can be on such occasions: music was a great friend and provided some solace. This album hit me hard at the right time. Recorded in Japan with local musicians - the land where O'Rourke resides - it has a beautiful sense of isolation and despair. It's a lonely middle-aged man's recording, by and for. I like to refer to it as egghead yacht-rock. Musically it's very much in a '70s singer-songwriter vein: some Randy Newman, a dab of Jackson Browne, some of his beloved Van Dyke Parks in the strings and orchestration, Spector-period Dion, the musicianly dynamics of primo Steely Dan, and you could possibly throw in a dozen or so obscure/underloved/failures from the period whom O'Rourke rates highly but just have me scratching my head (I read a recent O'Rourke piece where he was spruiking the works of Rupert Holmes...). Simple Songs only has 8 songs, but they flesh out to make a wondrous whole. For a 'musical journeyman' (sorry...) w/ many a notch in his belt, it strikes me as a statement. It won't set the world on fire nor get the kids dancing, but for me right now it feels right.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

EL PARAISO



 I do love a label with a strong sense of graphic design, one where the releases feel like chapters in a book, telling a story with the music and associated visuals. There are obvious examples - ECM and Blue Note certainly spring to mind - as well as Tzadik and the Rune Grammofon label from Norway, although I feel that their releases starting flying way off the mark musically roughly half a decade ago. One such label, which I've only very recently become aware of, is the El Paraiso imprint from Denmark.


Owned and operated by musicians Jakob Skott and Jonas Munk, both of whom have solo LPs on the label and who are both members of the band Causa Sui, it's got a small but estimable catalogue of artists (all seemingly friends or inter-related through bands) who cut a wide musical path - stoner rock, psychedelia, folk, jazz, electronica - but all seem to be headed in the same vague direction of, dare I say, transcendent sounds. Headline act, Causa Sui, a four-piece rock outfit, often get lumped within the 'stoner rock' scene, although the music they create is often more eclectic and engaging than most acts I associate w/ the genre. Sure, there are recycled/regenerated '70s 'Sabbath riffs a-plenty, but the music, which includes kosmiche keyboards and sometimes sax, also lends an air of Soft Machine before they went off the rails, or the dynamic complexities and riff-making of early Mahavishnu. Apparently mostly improvised, they can make long song engaging, and the shorter ones sharp and to the point. You might want to try their Pewt'r Sessions or Summer Sessions series: they make for epic, enjoyable slogs, and the guitar/keyboard textures - did I mention that they are purely instrumental? - put them in the vein of Ten East and Yawning Man (two bands I plundered money and time into many moons ago), and while I'm on a roll, I'll throw this in: had they hailed from the US of A in the late '80s, they woulda fitted like a goddamn glove in the SST regime of the day.


Jonas Munk's Pan LP from 2012 is one to investigate. Guitars are mostly forsaken for driving electronics. There are obvious precedents for the sounds within: Manuel Gottsching, maybe even some of Steve Hillage's recordings. The interplay between the mechanical electronics and the fluid, organic guitar playing is what makes it work. It doesn't rewrite the songbook of 21st century music as we know it, but one demanding as such is asking for too much. Jakob Skott's solo ventures are also something to investigate, and there's two of them: Amor Fati and Taurus Rising, both of which display a heavy kraut damage on their sound, although they aim for a percussive, rhythmic bent and eschew ambience, for the most part. We're talking morotik beats occassionally interrupted by outbreaks of bombast, and they are records I will put my name to.


The Brian Ellis Group's Escondido Sessions LP was released quite recently, and is my pick of the bunch. And again, it goes to show that El Paraiso doesn't necessarily follow a given musical formula. Ellis is a Californian whose musical CV involves various psych-jam outfits, although his quartet takes its influences from the music of '70s Miles Davis and the early (and crucial) Tony Williams Lifetime recordings, which means that this disc is white-hot and not merely a regurgitation of Ellis' record collection. There's four exploratory jams here which meld the sounds of Miles, Williams, pre-vom Zappa and Soft Machine w/ Wyatt in tow (before they also crawled up their own backsides), which may spell prog-fusion to you, but to moi spells fun times. And indeed it is. The cover perfectly apes the sounds you may expect: it looks like a Limey jazz-rock album from the early '70s, or some obscuro fusion disc from a time before the genre blew, and that's what it sounds like, too. One of my fave discs of '15. Ellis has also recently released a a duo guitar recording with Brian Grainger, a quieter affair which sees them delving into a Brit-folk realm (think of Jansch/Renbourn, of course) on the El Paraiso imprint - At Dusk be its name - and it's also worth the time and trouble.


Oh, there's also the Danish collective known as Shiggajon, whose Sela LP floats my boat in serious ways. They claim influence from the likes of Don Cherry and Alice Coltrane, and I'd say there's a heavy tip to the former there (esp. his early '70s Swedish gonzo period), and while they don't reach the spiritual plains of either (who possibly could?), possibly due to the whiteness of its sound (sorry, but it's true), there's an improv/hippie vibe here I dig a lot. I'd put 'em more in the bracket of The Necks or the communal-jam vibe of Amon Duul more than the spiritual jazz aura to which they aspire, but that's an OK place to be, too. Ya dig?

All of these albums can be sampled at the El Paraiso web site, and for the record: I am not on a retainer from the label. I simply share because I care. I have but scraped the top of the barrel here. There is more to investigate under the EP roof - these are simply the highlights. This is great music in the here and now. Over, out.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

THE STAINS

Sometimes even the greatest marketplace failures enjoy a second life. The sole LP from LA's Stains, released on the SST label, has never fully enjoyed the life of a full revival and reappraisal, but it should. Some label such as, say, Superior Viaduct or Southern Lord (who have done a good job w/ Bl'ast!'s catalogue) should get on the case, but then again, you'd have the iron will and ninja legal team of Greg Ginn to contend with, and one would probably get nowhere fast.

The band's roots go all the way back to 1976, though the one album they recorded - all 21 minutes of it - didn't see release until 1983, two years after it was recorded. Look up any old LA flyer ca. 1980 - '83 and you'll undoubtedly see their name pop up. They played w/ all the greats and not-so-greats, and from all reports were a scorching live act. Circa 1983, SST was getting all 'heavy', digging into the worlds of '70s hard rock and metal with the likes of Overkill (their debut 7" from '82 is actually pretty straight 'punk', though once Merrill Ward took over on vocals they became worshippers at the altar of Lemmy), Wurm (Dukowski's pre- and then post-Black Flag outfit, who released a great 7" and equally great LP which deserve reappraisal [and reissue]), Saint Vitus and Black Flag themselves. SST made kind of a deal of the Stains' 'proto-crossover' fury and the metal angle, though to my ears it does them a disservice, nor does it accurately describe their music. I guess, for one, when I think 'crossover' I think hardcore mixed with speed/thrash metal with flashy riffs and double-kick drums (and I hated that shit), and the Stains didn't partake in such shenanigans. One spin below and you'll hear and rough and ready LA PUNK w/ some hot leads straight out of the Ginn handbook. Actually, the influence between guitarists Robert Becerra and Ginn went both ways.

Whatever. The album didn't set the world afire, and I remember seeing a secondhand copy of it for a ha'penny back in the late '80s - when I was knee-deep in my teen SST fixation - and I didn't buy the fucking thing! I think I suspected that it would be second-rate clobber of the SWA/DC3 variety and passed it up for an Always August 12" or something. Now it'll set you back a hundreds bucks or two, its reputation grown beyond the obvious. Wrangling rights out of the House Of Ginn to reissue such a thing, I imagine, would be more trouble than it's worth. You may just have to enjoy the Youtube link below for now.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

NWW: THE LIST


The pointless minutae of life can be, uh, fascinating. That's what this blog exists for. You want the big issues?? Forget about it. Life's tedium is documented here. For instance, let's belatedly talk about the NURSE WITH WOUND LIST (lookee here). This was brought up in discussion on a certain well-used social media platform just the other day - brought up by myself, in fact - and took a couple of entries before it succumbed to the kind of fiery debate you could only expect from seasoned music dorks with an axe to grind and nothing better to do w/ their lives.

I hadn't even thought about 'The List' for many years, but it had come up in conversation with a couple of friends lately, and there was one thing I observed. THERE'S NO SUN RA! How did that ever happen? How does a teenager from London become aware of, say, the Debris' LP (proto-punk glam-damaged rock/limited private-press monster/Screamers associations) or Sonny Sharrock or the Reverend Dwight Frizzell (whose 1976 LP was in an edition of 200 copies) the dozens of ridiculously obscure European art-rock outfits which litter the list, and yet Sun Ra - the great American avant-garde innovator of the second half of the 20th century - not get a guernsey? There were three trains of thought here contesting my befuddlement, none of them satisfactory...

 1) Sun Ra was perhaps too obscure for Stapleton. I'll call a huge BS to this claim. Look at the esoteric nonsense on the list! Have I already mentioned Debris'? Yes. Lard Free? Check. Le Forte Four? Check. Supersister? Check. Sun Ra was on the cover of Rolling Stone in the early '70s. He and his Arkestra played throughout Europe and (I can only assume) the UK in the '70s. This argument doesn't hold any water. 2) Sun Ra was too obvious to list. A pox on this bogus line. Also in the NWW list is Frank Zappa, Kraftwerk and King Crimson. They all had Top 10 records. King Crimson were big news in the UK in the '70s. Kraftwerk charted high in the US with 'Autobahn'. Both the Velvet Underground and the Stooges also make the NWW grade. By 1979 they were already part of The Punk Canon, their stock raised to a new level. Their obviousness - or at least the obviousness of their greatness - was well known, even if that meant they still didn't have platinum LPs to line their walls. This argument is a crock. 3) Maybe Stapleton just didn't like Sun Ra. Maybe he didn't. In which case he had tin ears. Maybe he also didn't like Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Art Ensemble and Don Cherry either - all of whom made brilliant avant-garde records - in which case he had ears made of shit.

Anyway, perhaps one day this mystery will be solved. I have nothing against Mr. Stapleton. Au contraire: I am still in possession of about a dozen and a half NWW albums to prove my point. This discussion has spurred me on to take them off my shelf for the first time in a long time for a re-spin. The very early albums really aren't all that good. A Chance Meeting..., the debut from 1979, is an amateurish collage/kraut collage mess which sounds like it was strictly the work of young people who had little idea of what they were doing (it was), but it's not without its charm. For my two cents, the albums I always return to are Soliliquay For Lilith from 1988, an epic 3LP/3CD ambient set designed for getting his daughter to sleep (hence the title), which to me is a great update on something like Tangerine Dream's Zeit (again, little happens in there, too, but it's a pleasant place to be); 1986's Spiral Insana, a mixed cut-ups of ambience and audio clutter which is a perfect combo of the two and is probably overall my fave NWW album; and especially his 'sell-out' records from the late '90s and thereabouts - 1996's Who Can I Turn To Stereo, 1999's An Awkward Pause and 2001's Funeral Music For Perez Prado. The 1st and 3rd were strangely viewed by some as pandering to the 'dance' crowd, though all I can hear w/ my tin ears are two terrific avant discs with rhythm, and An Awkward Pause is mostly straight-out Kraut-rock in a twisted Amon Duul 2/Ash Ra Tempel sense of the word. All three are quite excellent.

I haven't followed what SS and co. have been up to for a decade or more. You can see a pretty cool doco on the man here, which is him giving the viewer a guided tour of his abode in Ireland, where he has lived w/ his partner and children since the late '80s (and it's worth a look), and the Nurse With Wound List, a list derided by a good buddy of mine as 'the ultimate wankers' list', is still an item of great beauty, and must be placed firmly within the context of its time: it was the ramblings of an uber-nerd attempting to spread the gospel in the pre-internet times. It helped give such artists as the Hampton Grease Band and Agitation Free a second shelf life in the post-punk universe. It sparked a genre unto itself. What the hell have you done with your life?

Monday, September 07, 2015

GODFLESH - Streetcleaner


What's old is new again. I originally bought the Streetcleaner CD in 1990, as many did around that time. It came out the year previous, but it was a bit of a creeper, a slow-burn release which appealed greatly to a certain breed of music fan who missed the old Swans of yore, was enjoying the Melvins of the Ozma/Bullhead days (ie. the records the Melvins were releasing right about then), the then-current school of UK heaviness a la Head Of David, Terminal Cheesecake and the first couple of longplayers from Napalm Death and Carcass (both of which are fucking essential, whether you know it or not).

Having been through the HC wringer for a half-decade, being out of high school and actually having a disposable income of sorts due to warehouse/office jobs throughout breaks in higher learning, I was going off in a thousand different directions: grindcore, noise, hip-hop, AmRep sludge, Shimmy Disc, the last dying gasps of the SST empire (both Pell Mell and Slovenly still had something up their sleeves), NZ sounds, Touch & Go's then still fine output (Didjits, Killdozer, Slint) and more. Some of this stuff has aged like last week's bread, and some of it still lights a fire under yer backside in a most amenable manner.

And then there were Godflesh, then a trio formed by mainstay Justin Broadrick. As a young gent, Justin spent some time in a nascent Napalm Death, was briefly in Head Of David and has since enjoyed an unlikely career as some kind of Godfather Of Heaviness dabbling in all manner of projects (the first Jesu album, self-titled as it is, I covered in this blog about a decade ago, and for me it remains the finest thing he ever did - or at least the finest I've heard). Godflesh were the first band to really make his name a name, if you get my drift, and Streetcleaner made a major splash at the time and is now herladed by all and sundry as a 'classic'. Indeed it is.

After Streetcleaner, Godflesh kind of changed tact and veered off into a number of musical directions, none of them particularly good, I must say. I heard some of the post-Streetcleaner material at the time - I think my brother made an error of judgment and purchased a CD of theirs - and it was some variety of shitawful 'techno-metal' which had, as you'd expect, metal riffs intertwined w/ techno beats, and whilst that's obviously some people's idea of a good time, it ain't mine. In the late '90s they 'went back to their roots' a bit and even recorded an album or two with an acoustic drummer (can I recall these album's names? No), and I recall them being kind of listenable. Perhaps. Anyway, I speak of the debut...

I sold my CD copy some time in the '90s, and, as can sometimes be the case, found myself repurchasing a special 2CD remastered edition a couple of years back, which contains a fancy foldout digipak sleeve with a ton of liner notes, and a bonus live/demos CD which I think I might have listened to once or twice. I find myself enjoying the album a lot more now than I did a quarter of a century ago. I recall that, as a young man, I would play the first two or three songs, get bored by the middle of the album and skip to the bonus EP at the end, their self-titled four-songer from 1988, which is slightly rawer than the album (still w/ a drum machine) and contains four impeccable tracks: 'Tiny Tears', 'Wound', 'Dead Head' and 'Suction' (Youtube and ye shall find). All of those songs are worth hearing. In fact, if you only hear four Godflesh songs in this lifetime, make them those. But what's also worth spinning, now as I stroke my paunch in middle age, is the rest of Streetcleaner. That middle section of the album - tracks like 'Dream Long Dead', 'Head Dirt'... whoah, dude! - sound much less meandering than they did in my impetuous youth - almost composed, and fitting to make Streetcleaner a goddamn album to be reckoned with.

Nearly everything which makes up the album - the dark lyrical matter focussed on decay and death, pounding drum-machine rhythms, downtuned guitars and barked vocals - became a bad cliche almost upon release; lord knows, Australia suffered a small outbreak of similar bands in the first half of the '90s, and they were tough times, but as an album, Streetcleaner works and delivers as promised. You could say it's strictly a perfunctory album of 'heaviness' - I play this loud in the car when I want a dose of badassness as I'm going to pick up the kids from school or whatever - but it's got more depth than that. Hell, I'm all grown up now, and Godflesh's Streetcleaner sounds A-OK to these ears.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

THE WHO - Total Rock Power



Lordy, I am getting old and pathetic as time goes on. I am literally getting older and patheticer. The past 12 months has seen me in the thick of a Who phase. That's not too surprising: along w/ the Kinks and the Beatles, I rate 'em possibly the best of the Brit Invasion bands of the 1960s. I'll be generous and even throw the Stones in there, too. The Move should be there, too, but they're more a second-gen Brit band who made their moves (fnar) in the early '70s, even though much of what they did was a '60s throwback. Plus, I've been a massive fan of the Who-produced Quadrophenia film since I was but a wee lad: I still view it annually, and it stands up as one of the greatest UK youth-cult pics of all time, a terrific movie about the pre-hippie '60s made with a real punk energy. And The Who - at least their main songwriter and brain's trust, Pete Townshend, did like punk a lot, even though he was initially jealous of it stealing his thunder (and his thunder was getting creaky by the mid '70s, anyway). He wanted John Lydon in the film's lead role, but Mr. Rotten reneged. A friend of mine saw Townshend play on a CND bill in a small venue in 1979 with the Undertones and The Pop Group supporting. Huh...
As with most of their contemporaries, The Who blew their artistic wad by the early '70s and it was all downhill after then. They still cut it as an ace live unit, but most of the recordings thereafter aren't items you should spend your free time listening to. I like the Quadrophenia LP set from 1973 a lot - another pompous thematic epic from Townshend telling a grand story - though my sentimental attachment for it may be born from my love of the movie. But play it I do. I've slogged through the entire Tommy set a handful of times, and it remains exactly that: a slog. It's one of those albums which clueless types hail as the band's best release, their meisterwerk, much like Sgt. Pepper's (the Beatles' worst album by far), Exile On Main Street (solid, but it's no Beggar's/Let It Bleed) and Pet Sounds (again, it's good, but Holland and Surf's Up are better). They figure they're supposed to make such a claim without even thinking about it. I'm not here to debate The Who's best album (The Who Sell Out probably gets my vote), but certainly the most untamed is their Live At Leeds recording from 1970. By then they'd let their hair grow out and adopted a 'heavier' musical approach which wasn't a thousand miles removed from the likes of Cream or Led Zep - both of whom they'd undoubtedly influenced - and whilst I used to be of the opinion that this era in the band sucked (epic blues clunkers, Roger Daltrey with that denim and that fucking hair), for a couple of years this incarnation of the band absolutely blew the roof off. There was no greater rhythm section than Entwhistle and Moon. No more smart mod suits and three-minute ditties about East End life: it was about Total Rock Power. Well, before they started to blow, the band was always about TRP, but the loose and expansive nature of the band ca. 1969 - 1971 was indeed something to behold, and beholding it is what I've been doing.
I even found myself reading Townshend's rather epic autobiography, Who I Am, from start to finish. By midway through I was starting to feel the conviction that the guy was an utter fucking creep and jerkoff, but by story's end - when he'd acknowledged what a creep and jerkoff he'd been - he had redeemed himself in my eyes. Well, above is a clip of the band covering Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues" from their Isle Of Wight concert. It's rippin', scorchin' and other good things. You can see why the likes of the MC5 and the Dictators - and myself - held/hold 'em up in such high esteem. The Who's candle of greatness blew out pretty quick, as did many of those making their mark in 1960s Britain, but people made a bunch of noise about them for good reason.

Monday, July 27, 2015

MUDHONEY - TOMORROW HIT TODAY




The year was 1998, and this album by the Seattle rock band known as Mudhoney was released on the Warner subsidiary imprint, Reprise. I was not aware of its existence at the time. I didn't even know Mudhoney were still releasing records at the time. Did you? A band like Mudhoney at that stage of the game seemed, well, tres boring to this 20-something windbag, a relic from another era, a band who'd recorded and released a slew of cool sides approx. a decade prior but one who weren't even on the map regarding the Here and Now. And just what was the Here and Now ca. 1998? I dunno, probably some post-rock or glitchtronica nonsense I wouldn't listen to in a blue fit circa now, but then again, going into my time machine to 1998, I recall my taste in music in 1998 being unashamedly retro (lots of jazz, Byrds, pre-war blues and Hawkwind, if you must know). But whatever! The fact is this: a rock band by the name of Mudhoney, one whom possibly many had given up for dead by the end of the century, made a fantastic album for a major recording company: Tomorrow Hit Today, produced by the great Jim Dickinson (he shouldn't need explaining), and right now it remains completely out of print in all physical formats. I believe I've covered Mudhoney several times in this blog over the years: certainly there's been verbiage concerning their 2002 'comeback' record for Sub Pop, Since We Became Translucent (and what an excellent comeback that was), as well as the biography on the band published a couple of years ago (another fine thing).
I actually saw the band play live here in January of last year - the first time I'd seen the band live since 1990. I found them to be rather underwhelming and really don't like the current single-guitar format (w/ Mark Arm on vocals only) the band works with, as also evidenced on their last couple of recordings, which I also think have been weak, but what the hey, they're a heritage act these days and they can do what they want. Tomorrow Hit Today possesses an exemplary use of twin-guitar action as well as a sympathetic and full sound which never veers towards the mersh, compromised or slick. It's raw and powerful but with a real sense of clarity, and it also has some of the band's best songs: lordy, how I love 'Try To Be Kind' and 'This Is The Life', and their rendition of the Cheater Slicks' 'Ghost' works on several levels (conceptually, musically). The band hadn't 'progressed' musically much at all in the 10 years they'd been around - maybe less Blue Cheer in the mix with a bit more garage and Dickinson-style southern rock (but not 'Southern Rock') thrown in, but essentially they remained a post-hardcore rock and roll band. Got me? Over the past dozen years I have been reevaluating the musical legacy of Mudhoney: so far as rock bands go, they're better than most, and seriously one of the best. Don't ever dismiss them because they appear to be too damn obvious.

Friday, July 24, 2015




Word up - punkers, new wavers, rockers and progsters - listen to this cut by Genesis from their 1974 2LP set, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway - and tell me why it isn't absolutely fantastic. Really. There's my challenge to you for the day. Thanking you in advance.

Monday, July 20, 2015

PURLING HISS

Philly's Purling Hiss have been making records for half-a-dozen years, and they make very fine grunge recordings. The band is essentially guitarist/singer/songwriter Mark Polizze and whomever else he feels like dragging along for the ride. I have been particularly taken with the band's last two full-lengthers on the Drag City label, 2013's Water On Mars and last year's Weirdon. The group sound like an amalgamam/mash-up/tribute to 'the grunge years' on the former, with perhaps a slightly less 'heavy' approach taken on the latter, it bringing to mind a musical stew tipping the hat to the early '90s lo-fi scene (and what a scene it was, at least for a brief flash in time). I stand here under the impression that Polizze is a good decade younger than myself, which of course puts all this musical shenanigans into a slightly different context. After all, I was there, man... and do I need to revisit it?
During the Grunge Years - let's loosely frame them as 1988 - 1993 - I was underwhelmed by much of its musical output, feeling that a lot of the gunk the Sub Pop label, or even Amphetamine Reptile, spewed out sounded like B-grade post-HC heavy metal which had smoked too many bongs to various SST bands. Actually, that sounds quite appealing, and indeed, amongst the gunk there was still much to like, and excuse me while I get all nostalgic about a music scene which didn't thrill me a whole lot the first time around... OK, where was I? Nowhere, that's where.
Water On Mars is an excellent slab of grunge-rock - of that I have no doubt. Yes, grunge-rock. It sounds like Bleach-era Nirvana meets Mudhoney's first few 7"s with a bit of Taang!-era Lemonheads chucked on top. Throw in some U-Men 'tard-rock, even some Tad, fer chrissakes, a dollop of SST Dinosaur jamz and mix. Low-brow slob-rock with the tunes to match: loosen up your guard and soak it up, coz it really is a lot of fun. Upon hearing me blasting this one, my ever-judgmental brother screwed his face up and uttered, 'What the hell is this? Grunge rules, man'. Indeed it does.



Last year's Weirdon is equally as fine. It was in fact one of my favourite slabs of contemporary rock during that annus horribilis. Polizze and co. retained the wall of guitar fuzz, but without the grungoid heaviosity, meaning for me this one possesses a slightly En Zed flavour, with other portions bringing to mind the songsmithery and scattershot approach to composition favoured by primo Guided By Voices before they got boring (or awful), or maybe the Grifters' recordings for the Shangri-La label. Actually, just about everything Purling Hiss does sounds scattershot, like a beautiful accident. Their pre-Drag City career involves tapes and vinyl on an assortment of imprints, some of the output bordering on no-fi, but it's pulled together by the ability to throw in surprising hooks which worm their way to the surface at unexpected moments. Polizze hit strings with wunderkind/indie pin-up boy Kurt Vile back in the day or somesuch (there's a connection there which doesn't interest me enough to Google it), and it kinda baffles me that Purling Hiss don't enjoy a wider fan base, considering Vile's unit-shifting abilities in recent years (and I don't say this to besmirch Vile's good name: I think he makes fine records), but whatever. Whisper it to your buddies: Purling Hiss make great music.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

LOVE THE DEAD


Grateful Dead's American Beauty LP from 1970. You heard me right. I bought this album secondhand at Collector's Corner in 1988 (in its old split-level uber-retail outlet on Swanson Street, where it was a promised land of new and secondhand vinyl, CDs [then still a new-fangled gimmick - esepcially so for me, as I didn't even own a CD player until December 1989] and VHS rentals [one could borrow highly coveted Flipside and Target video cassettes there - now let me please escape this double-parentheses nightmare]) when I was but a 16-year-old spud hell-bent on ruining my brain with hardcore and SST-damaged noise. Along with Black Sabbath, Creedence, Hawkwind, Roky and Neil Young, Grateful Dead was an obvious pre-punk forebear to explore in the Solid State Transmitters universe, and these side routes into rock's back pages was a highly educational and rewarding thing indeed.


Of course, The Dead are a double-edged sword: there are pros and cons which one could debate forever - and people have been doing so for 50 years now - and while I acknowledge the negatives associated with the band, I would also contend that some such negative strikes against the band are either irrelevant or based on a misunderstanding of what the band is/was all about. Let's make a couple of things clear:

* The Dead were a live band. Most of their studio recordings are tepid-to-awful, and just about any studio endeavours they engaged in after the mid 1970s are not worth hearing. Their best studio album of the psychedelic ouvre is 1968's Anthem Of The Sun, but the other two fantastic studio albums definitely worth grabbing are about as psychedelic as a pair of dirty old socks: American Beauty and Workingman's Dead. These are unashamed country-rock albums, very much in the same vein as The Band's output from the same period, or the classic sounds of Sweetheart Of The Rodeo/Gilded Palace Of Sin, and you can either take that as a recommendation or a sign you should stop reading this blog entry right about... now.

* They are one of - if not the most - heavily documented live bands in the history of music, so you have a wealth of available live shows to listen to. Spotify - yes, the streaming service coming straight from Satan's anus - has a plethora of live shows available to listen to (more than you'd ever want to listen to, in fact) - and just about any of them from approx. 1969 - 1978 are worth the trouble. For me, this is the band at its best. There's a zillion different versions of their best tunes ('Dark Star', 'Playing In The Band', 'Turn On Your Lovelight', et al) where they really get to stretch out, as well as more outre feedback/percussive-oriented numbers which demonstrate where their rep as outward-bound musical 'heads' springs from. Use this as a guide: if their version of any song from this era is over 20 minutes long, it's probably worth hearing. If it's over 30 minutes in length, it's definitely worth hearing. The Dead are a band who were better the more they musically waffled. The shorter/tighter material is their weakest.

* The best widely available Dead album remains Live/Dead. Well, I should perhaps clarify that by saying that for me it's a dead heat between that and American Beauty, but the Dead album you'll probably want to listen to is the 2LP live epic from 1969 (released in 1970) known as Live/Dead, as it is indeed an excellent document of the band during their musically ambitious ballroom bong-hit phase when the lights were beginning to dim on psychedelia.

* Don't judge the band on their fans nor the occassionally annoying personalities which make up the Dead. And don't judge the band by its frequent fashion faux pas from the 1980s onwards. Look at any footage of the group playing live in the '80s: the music might've still been good, but the visuals made your retinas want to cease and desist: Bob Weir in a LaCoste shirt with a Sensible Haircut, complete with tennis shorts and gym sneakers looking like he just hightailed to the stage from a Republican Party BBQ/tennis match; Phil Lesh with tie-dyed t-shirt tucked in to cut-off denim shorts, librarian glasses and a headless bass FFS(!); and Jerry Garcia just being Jerry: opium-soaked noodling on the sidelines, complete with a Hawaiian shirt, on the verge of nodding off at any moment. And the fans?? Don't get me started. Don't think of even getting yourself started. Sure, the Meat Puppets, Henry Kaiser, Greg Ginn and Lee Renaldo smoked a bowl or ten to the band's extensive catalogue in their time, but other mouth-breathers laying claim to the musical legacy of the Dead include the likes of John Mayer, Dave Matthews, Phish and the band's nth wheel, AOR stalwart Bruce Hornsby. But always remember: plenty of great bands have and will continue to inspire a lot of muck. And I haven't even mentioned the zillion anonymous stoned yoyos who'd follow the band around the world to every damn show they played, but I figured I didn't have to. There's a part of me which unashamedly admires the dedication to the band and the 'alternative lifestyle' many of these fans partook in for decades, but the music fan side of me just has me thinking they should broaden their musical pallette and stop treating an alleged rock band as a cult. But hey: live the life you love, love the life you live.

These points don't sum up much of anything: just a series of vaguely-related rants and collected thoughts on the band. One thing I can say: the Dead weren't jerks. Watching a recent documentary on Bob Weir, he appears to be completely unaffected by his fame and obvious wealth, still living in the same hippie-ranch he bought in 1971. The band toured with Ornette Coleman in the late '80s, giving him wide exposure relatively late in his career, and even donated a chunk of change to Sun Ra and his Arkestra when he hit hard times. And American Beauty? It's the sweet, sweet sound of mellow country-rock, a point in time when the band's straight approach to studio recording totally worked. It even made an impact on my 16-year-old brain: I soon purchased a Grateful Dead t-shirt (the same one John Nolan would wear when playing live with Bored!, natch). That shirt fell apart 15 years ago, but that same copy of the LP remains. Playing it today on this crisp and sunny winter day, I can still testify that it's a recording well worth acquiring.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015



Glenn Danzig turned 60 this week. If you want to get some real perspective on ageing punkers, consider this: Alan Vega just turned 77 this week! I had no idea until fairly recently that he was that old. So when he saw his life-changing Stooges shows circa 1969/'70, the guy was already in his 30s. Doesn't make him any less awesome. However, what does make Danzig slightly less awesome is the ridiculous figure he has devolved into the past 25 years or more. Friends of mine really dug those early Danzig records. God knows I heard them enough at the dawn of the '90s at various parties where bongs were passed and vast amounts of alcohol was consumed, but they didn't mean much of anything to me. Fact is, the Misfits never meant much of anything to me either, even when I was Hardcore Joe Kokomo as a young gent. Sure, I heard the records and knew all about the band (no great stretch: they remain one of the obvious entry points for young rockers globally), but they came across like a bunch of artless lunkheads and not really my cup o' tea.

Naturally, I own all the obvious Misfits (ca. 1976 - '83: not the circus which has been parading as the Misfits in the post-Danzig universe) LPs now, but big deal - I own a lot of records, and not all of 'em good. Still, I can crank up some primo 'fits on occasion and dig the shit out of it in my paunched middle age, and that's not a bad thing. Their story is an interesting one - a band basically considered a joke in the NY punk rock circuit until various midwestern teens (Necros, Meatmen, etc.), DC baldies and west coast aggros (mainly the 'Flag guys) sung their praises and word began to spread. I could be wrong here, but the impression I get is that they couldn't get arrested in their hometown but obviously turned a lot of heads when The Kids took notice throughout the land.

Samhain were a more peculiar proposition: Danzig's outfit from 1983 - 1987, one which slowed down the tempo and went for a more metallic, goth/death-rock angle. I don't own any of their records and never have. Right now they're out of print, even in the digital realm. I've heard 'em, though - there was a nice box set released in 1999 which I remember selling many copies of when I worked at Missing Link - and they certainly have their charm, even if they suffer from the most staggeringly fuckawful production just about ever heard on record (and if you think I'm out of line, listen to the studio version of 'Archangel'). Anyway, this live clip, at least for me, nails how good Danzig and co. could be when everything's nailed down tight. The live version of 'Archangel' above is it. Pure rock & roll weirdness delivered with a hostile snarl. It really is terrific. Watch. Learn.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

VALE ORNETTE!


I can't let such an occasion go unnoticed: Ornette Coleman was one of the most important and innovative musicians of the 20th, and he has passed. He reconfigured the music of jazz as we know it. He's as giant a figure in American music as BB King, yet I didn't hear a whole lot in the major press about his death, but never mind - the music of Ornette never was and never will be 'for everyone' (and I don't say any of this to begrudge BB's coverage or his place in the musical pantheon: his many cuts for the Modern/RPM label are some of the best post-war electric blues you'll ever hear). Discovering Ornette's music in my early 20s was a big deal. His music - so varied yet so of a single mind - remains important to me. I wrote this pile of rambling guff on the man three years ago. Read it. Listen to his music.

DAVID KAUFFMAN AND ERIC CABOOR - Songs From Suicide Bridge LP


Those folks at Light In The Attic - who have recently reissued this obscure gem from 1984 - sure know a thing or two about a thing or two. Sure, they've got all that Rodriguez cash flowing in and keeping things steady (I always say that every successful label needs a Koln Concert in their repertoire for steady cash flow: LITA have found their Koln Concert. That remark may mean absolutely nothing to you), but such a predicament allows them to indulge themselves with this rather deluxe 2LP edition (it was originally a longish - 50 minutes or thereabouts - single LP) of a long-lost self-released singer-songwriter platter. Which matters.

David Kauffman and Eric Caboor aren't exactly household names and never will be. Their collectives careers stalled (but didn't die) pretty much upon the release of this very album, and frankly I'm mystified by its failure. Well, not mystified, as many great albums sunk like a stone for eternity, but its complete and total marketplace failure was indeed a tragedy. Some background... Kauffman was originally from New Jersey and moved to California in the late '70s, hoping to make it as a singer-songwriter in the LA scene like his heroes Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Jackson Browne et al. Caboor was from Burbank. They met in 1982 and played regularly around the fLA olk/coffeehouse circuit at the time. No double bills with The Stains or Saccharine Trust have been confirmed (nor ever suggested).


'Kiss Another Day Goodbye': one of the most awesomely depressing songs ever penned

They amassed a collection of songs, made demos, shopped them around to big-time labels and were promptly rejected by all and sundry. Reagan-era America wasn't in the mood for their feel-bad vibes. Bummed out by their rejections and feeling shut out by The Biz, they decided to record a collection of their most downer tunes on 4-track and release it themselves, if only to say Fuck You, of sorts. Thus Songs From Suicide Bridge. They pressed up 500 copies, gave a stack of them to radio stations and watched it fail. It's a glorious failure. Kauffman and Caboor were no Jandeks: homepsun heroes keeping the DIY spirit alive. They wanted to be stars. They would have signed to Elektra or Geffen in a heartbeat - it just didn't happen. But somewhere it that bitter failure lies the beauty of this release.

Both Caboor and kaufman share songwriting duties, mainly alternating tracks and singing lead vocals on their respective numbers. Their songwriting styles perfectly complement each other; until I checked the liner notes I assumed there were co-writing credits on all tracks. Musically, it's sparse and downbeat, but with a smart, crisp and lyrical musicianship. It's raw, but never sloppy. These dudes could play - it's just that no one gave a shit. One of the obvious comparisons is Springsteen's Nebraska, and it's in that ballpark, for sure, although both members have never suggested having been influenced by it. It remains its own beast, and a very LA one at that, with a maudlin feel gleaned from late nights studying early Tom Waits and Randy Newman sides. Kauffman and Caboor continued to write and record throughout the rest of the '80s and beyond under the name The Drovers, and I can make no judgments on this era of their music. I do know that Songs From Suicide Bridge is the sound of beautiful losers.



Tuesday, April 21, 2015

THE ALLURE OF LEWIS



Oh dear god, it had to happen. I have finally been swayed by the madness of Lewis. Actually, the beauty of Lewis Baloue (AKA Randall A. Wulff) and his music hit me just pre-Xmas when an old friend who has a vaguely similar musical background to myself and has also been busy breeding and raising chill'uns the past near-decade recommended his music heavily to me on one of our regular playground/park dates (children are involved - don't even start). We had both come to the conclusion that we were looking for listening of the easy variety, that testing our sensibilities with the most outrageously challenging audio torture the past 20+ years had become a chore, and, to keep it brief, we both acknowledged our status as middle-aged white men who needed some smooth tunes to iron out the jagged edges in our lives. Music of a special banality which we could lose ourselves in.

I was aware of the 'Lewis discovery' which label Light In The Attic had taken on in semi-recent times, but I hadn't paid much attention. Sounded like a possibly interesting story, but it also sounded like a load of utter collector nonsense best left for people who don't really listen to the music, or, worse, a prank played on the gullible (something I could only assume LITA wouldn't partake in). Lewis is/was, of course, a Canadian of mysterious origin who released these albums at the time (using the photographic skills of Ed Colver with a bounced cheque!) and then disappeared back up to the Great White North. Regardless of all this, I only exposed myself to Lewis' music as music more recently than I should have been, and his music is worth your time and then some.


Indeed, his two self-released LPs, 1983's L'amour and 1985's Romantic Times, are albums of great beauty. The delivery of the material is so ethereal and lightweight it feels like they're about to float away. My friend who introduced me to these discs described them as sounding like Julio Iglesias produced by Angelo Badalamenti, and that's about as close as you're going to get to a perfectly accurate description. If I was going to throw in my own quarter-arsed description (and you know I must), I'd say the two albums - both of which are very similar, although Romantic Times sees the sound fleshed out ever-so-slightly with a touch of, err, romantic saxophone in the mix - approximate what might have happened if Alan Vega and Arthur Russell had collaborated at the dawn of the '80s. Or if Cluster and Eno recorded an album for lovers. That's two quarter-arsed descriptions, officially now making it a half-arsed effort. I'm available for freelance press-release work, by the way.

Lewis' breathy vocals bring to mind a man with such romantic visions of life that he's on the verge of collapse. The basic synth-string and electric piano backing augments this passion perfectly. He sounds like he looks: a man in a white suit playing in front of a plastic palm tree in a sleazy bar - but don't ever confuse it with kitsch, because I'm too old and pathetic to be enthralled with such a cheap gimmick. He was obviously a man of very real intentions with his music - romantic balladry for lonely lovers - but the unintentionally kosmiche nature of the music (check 'Love Showered Me') pushes it beyond the sublime and into its own stratosphere. It is something to behold. I am likely the last person on earth to put this in print, but the music of Lewis is awesomely strange and strangely awesome. L'amour and Romantic Times are worth all the hype bestowed upon them and then some. I liked 'em so much I pur-charsed them in the physical format, feeling that I needed to own a little piece of the man as a sign of my fandom. They're on their way to being out of print permanently - Randall doesn't want them around no more - so if you're even more behind the times than moi, you should get on it, toot sweet.

There are but many fantastic tracks on both albums, and you can find them all very easily on Youtube, but below remains my favourite, 'Like To See You Again'...

Friday, March 13, 2015

FUSION HECK: MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA




There's plenty of footage of Mahavishnu Orchestra in their prime on Youtube, but I thought I'd share this one because I dig the rawness of both the footage and the performance itself. Jazz-fusion, much like prog-rock, has become a four-letter word in the post-punk universe, and perhaps for very good reason, but one should also take into account that both terms denote a rather broad frame of sound, and both, at least in this writer's opinion, started off as great ideas (with some exciting original practitioners) which ran amok - and down the musical toilet - within a couple of years due to the self-indulgence of many involved. More or less, there are similar stories regarding '50s rock & roll, R & B, psychedelia, prog, glam, punk rock, hardcore, post-rock, etc.: the great works of the early pioneers, the decline of said pioneers, the imitators and the dross which followed. The point: there is gold to be had in the pioneering early days of jazz-fusion.

I have spoken of the electric works of Miles Davis in this blog many times (his albums from 1969 - 1975 remains possibly my favourite catalogue of music ever released), and, despite my descriptive terms for these recordings handily avoiding the 'F' word (psychedelic astro-funk, acid/voodoo-funk, et al), they remain a collision between the worlds of jazz and rock: FUSION. And there is also the great early works of Tony Williams' Lifetime to consider - and once you've finished considering, you should give them a listen: 1969's Emergency! and 1970's Turn It Over are brain-bending clumps of organic, free-form sound (augmented with handy work from Larry Young, John McLaughlin and Jack Bruce) which fit in perfectly w/ the better soundscapes of their era (think Ornette/Beefheart/Soft Machine). And of course there's John McLaughlin's first two ensemble recordings under his own name, also from 1969 and '70: Extrapolation and Devotion, both molten slabs of high-energy guitar-driven mania. Fusion.

Herbie Hancock did a series of highly listenable hard-bop discs on Blue Note in the '60s before spending time in Miles' Quintet and then releasing a trio of terrific, abstract fusion discs in the early '70s: Mwandishi, Crossings and Sextant (that's '70 - '73). The last platter to matter there is particularly the one to get: Sextant is a mass of outer-space gonzo psych-tinged avant-funk on a par w/ Miles' On The Corner. After that Hancock made it big w/ Headhunters and a series of jazz-funk albums which went off the musical rails for me, but whatever musical pitfalls followed, those discs are worth the time. You could also throw in Weather Report's second LP, I Sing The Body Electric, from 1972, in there, too. Their self-titled debut from the year previous is a fairly limp snoozefest, although the follow-up is a suprisingly intense fare w/ some distinctly angular avant-jazz/rock moves which stands in distinct contrast to the dull, noodling chopsfest they would soon devolve into. There are, of course, many other examples to divulge, but I guess the point has been made. As with just about any codified genre (barring hard trance: I haven't found anything there I could yet tolerate in this lifetime), 'fusion' has its gold. It was a good idea which simply went sour quickly. Let's finally cut to the chase and discuss McLaughlin's post-Lifetime ensemble, Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Mahavishnu hit it big w/ the college/'head' scene in the early '70s, and w/ Columbia's backing became a mainstay on the more progressive FM stations across the globe (they even made a dent in hillbilly Australia at the time, influencing the likes of Melbourne's MacKenzie Theory, whose 1973 debut longplayer, Out Of The Blue, is an essential slab of antipodean jazz/prog weirdness) - but really, the first two albums, 1971's The Inner Mounting Flame and '73's Birds Of Fire, are the only two you need. After that, the group's ouvre became lighter and less interesting and, by mid-decade, as dull as many of their fusion contemporaries. However, those first two offerings present the listener with - as I'm prone to utter to disbelievers - some HVY FKN JMZ. Sure, the presence of the likes of Billy Cobham and Jan Hammer (both names which would soon be uttered in fusion purgatory) meant there was musical flash galore, but the energy and intensity of the music being made meant the result added up to more than a day out at a drum clinic. It was a genuine fusion of rock instrumentation combined w/ the looseness of jazz arrangements and the exploratory nature of psychedelic rock. And need I mention that these discs remain Ground Zero for any admirer of the estimable guitar talents of Greg Ginn and Joe Baiza? Of course not. Do it.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

RY COODER


Much to the horror of some of my contemporaries who witnessed The Great Ry Cooder Tangent of 2014, my love for his work remains undiminished. Of course, there is the theory that one starts 'getting into' the likes of Ry Cooder once a certain middle-aged banality takes hold and one starts wearing earth-coloured hiking outfits and/or yoga pants and attending 'roots' festivals. Au contraire, you young bucks: Ry Cooder's finest work - and it ebbs and flows over 4+ decades - is fine work indeed, and anyone interested in great music of many a stripe are missing out if your nose is turned up at his great body of work.

Cooder, of course, was a child prodigy who, as a 19-year-old, played on Captain Beefheart's debut longplayer, Safe As Milk, having already spent time w/ Taj Mahal in The Rising Sons. He then went onto a lifetime of session work w/ the good (lots of the good), the bad and the ugly (yes, a few of those, too), soundtracks (Southern Comfort being my fave: both as a soundtrack and film), million-selling production work on the likes of the Buena Vista Social Club, an excellent collaboration w/ Malian great, Ali Farka Toure and a lot more besides. But really, let's keep this brief...

The first Cooder LP which turned my head, surprisingly, was a more recent recording: 2012's Election Special, given to me by a friend from the label. Highly political and left of the dial, this was Cooder's ode to the US election of that year, and it's a terrific collection of mainly raw & short roots/blues songs and ballads, reconfigured a la Tom Waits but played simply and to the point (try here and here) which took me by surprise, turning into one of my fave discs of that year. In turn and in time, I went backwards and explored his best '70s recordings - discs I would see vinyl copies clogging up secondhand bins en masse in the 1990s for a ha'penny a shot, but ones which are now, thanks to the fucking 'vinyl revolution', often going for more than I can be arsed doling out for.

Anyway, I have them now, and in the unfashionable compact disc format, since such future landfill can be purchased at but a ha'penny a piece: Ry Cooder, Into The Purple Valley, Boomer's Story, Paradise & Lunch, Chicken Skin Music and Jazz. These are the goods. There are many reinterpretations of standard tunes - from Blind Willie Johnson to Woody Guthrie, Joseph Spence, Sleepy John Estes and Skip James - to covers of more recent songwriters (at the time), such as Randy Newman and Dan Penn's 'The Dark End Of The Street' (one of my favourites tunes ever); and 1978's Jazz is Cooder's tribute to/history of JAZZ as a music, covering the likes of Jelly Roll Morton and Bex Beiderbecke. And a white guy pulls this all off with aplomb. Cooder is a master slidesman - such an observations seems trite - but his approach to the material, particularly on this great run of discs, is inspired.

I have been delving into, for the lack of a better term, Great American Music, the past 12+ months - and that's encompassed the likes of The Band (covered here in this blog before), Little Feat (first 2 - 3 LPs make perfect sense now), and even Los Lobos (a belated appreciation; some of those SST gents liked 'em a lot, and the one to get is 1992 'experimental' album, Kiko), but Cooder's '70s output is at the top of the pile. The self-titled debut from 1970, 1972's Boomer's Story and the aformentioned Jazz get my Hit Picks. If you've ever flipped a wig over the Meat Puppets' II - and if you haven't, you're reading the wrong blog - then particularly the former two remain essential purchases. They are desert-fried meisterwerks which deserve a home on your shelf.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

MAGAZINE




I have never once bandied around the name MAGAZINE with any kind of enthusiasm in the decade-plus existence of this blog - a blog, fer chrissakes, how antiquated is that? - and there's no time like now. My brother has owned an LP edition of the band's 1978 debut, Real Life, since the early '90s. Back in the day - the early '90s, that is - I would occasionally borrow it to spin, mainly because I wanted to hear 'The Light Pours Out Of Me' (ably covered by Trotsky Icepick on their El Kabong LP, of course) and 'Shot By Both Sides' - both bona fide post-punque classiques. But the rest of the album never made much of an impact on me. Compared to the likes of The Pop Group or PiL's more righteous moments (or indeed the great works of the Buzzcocks), it all sounded a little tres boringue to my short/fast/loud ears. Now that I've entered middle age and am willing to give just about anything a shot, Real Life has become a fixture. This reignition of interest was borne from a mere Facebook sharing c/o a friend of the above track: a blindingly good slab of angular punkified rock, one which Mr. Howard Devoto would probably take great pains in explaining it not to be 'punk rock' (and not to split hairs, but it really isn't.



 Magazine are/were an odd entity: Howard Devoto left the Buzzcocks - one of the finest Brit '77 punker outfits, w/ or w/out Devoto at the helm - just when they were about to break big, claiming that 'punk' had become a bogus entity and wanted nothing to do w/ it. Given the tabloid nature of the yoof movement in Ol' Blighty by that point, he may have been right. A gutsy move which showed such integrity it bordered on career suicide. He held such sway as a burgeoning cult figure that Virgin Records pretty much signed his new outfit w/out having heard a note of their music (they were certainly signed prior to their first live show). Eschewing the visceral snarl of his contemporaries, Magazine were a very deliberate and even mannered take on 'art-rock', but one with enough rock energy under its individual players' belts to not wind up a snoozefest.

Firstly, there's guitarist John McGeogh (since deceased), who later spent time w/ Siouxsie & The Banshees (on their best discs) and PiL (on some of their worst, but don't blame him for that) - one of Limey post-punk's finest string-hitters; bass player, Barry Adamson, who later made a name for himself w/ the Bad Seeds and as a solo artist, whose nimble fingers really do add to the rhythms in Magazine's tuneage; and skinsman, Martin Jackson, a flashy player with more mounted toms than the average '77 punker (almost bordering on 'flash'), but one whose dexterity really added to their sound.



The 'sound' of '70s Magazine is one w/ obvious roots: early '70s Eno, specifically Here Come The Warm Jets/Taking Tiger Mountain (Devoto looked a whole lot like his hero, too) and the Berlin recordings of Mr. Bowie (primarily Low). In lesser hands, such allegiances to that kind of musical foppery (foppery I do indeed like a lot) might result in a decidely non-rocking affair not worth my time or yours, but 'rock' they did. Much like Wire's 2nd and 3rd LPs - which Magazine resemble in no small part - Real Life (and its follow-up, 1979's Secondhand Daylight: also well worth your time) show a sense of 'composition' and musicianship which appear above their station, but the musical sophistication never becomes a bore, the dynamic rhythms and textures of the songs, combined with the inherit energy of the material, making for a thrilling listen. Devoto is one odd duck, but he made some of the most exciting English music of the era. Solid.