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


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


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.