Tuesday, February 24, 2015

MOUNTAIN


My introduction to the music of US '70s hard rock/heavy metal outfit, Mountain, came through a predictably roundabout route via a (fucking) SST record: The Blasting Concept II. On that very record from 1986 - and I believe I've repeated this story over the years to delighted rapture from no one - there was and is a cover of the Mountain arrangement of Jack Bruce's 'Theme From An Imaginary Western'. Here's a confession: up until Jack Bruce's passing late last year - and, boy, those first bunch of solo Bruce LPs are a gas - I didn't even know the damn song was penned by him. I always figured it was a Mountain original, and I was wrong. For that slight, I apologise. I would tell all and sundry of DC3's magnificent Mountain cover, sticking my foot in my mouth year after year, but really, no one noticed or cared, and Mountain's heavy-rock reimagining of Bruce's song is truly their own take on it, and obviously the better-known version. Onwards...


Much less known is DC3's. There's not even a Youtube link for the track, but for moi it remains the definitive version. DC3 - that's Dez Cadena's post-Black Flag outfit in the '80s, as if I need to say it - were pretty patchy, but on occassion delivered the goods. But back to Mountain: in their prime, which is from 1970 - '72, they were a monstrous musical proposition. Formed by bass player Felix Pappalardi and guitarist Leslie West in 1969, and joined by ace skin-hitter Corky Laing, they had 'form' and hit the heights in a heartbeat. West had been in the garage outfit the Vagrants and released a solo LP called Mountain; Pappalardi was classically trained and made his name as an arranger and particularly as a producer for Cream (hence the Jack Bruce connection). Throughout Mountain's on/off career in the '70s, Pappalardi continued to produce bands, notably the Dead Boys' flawed-but-still-great second effort, We Have Come For Your Children (and in this case, the flaws are all Pappalardi's: the band claimed he didn't get what the band was about and fudged it completely. I tend the agree, his gutless, guitar-lite production kills it), but had to cut back his musical duties by mid decade due to hearing problems caused by excessive volume (mostly c/o Mountain). He was later tragically shot by his own wife in 1983.


Much like Hawkwind and Black Sabbath, and the music of Mountain sits comfortably between the two, Mountain created a loose, fluid and organic blast, one based in 'the blues' but not bogged down in bogus white-boy appropriations thereof. The result is an absolutely crunching and particularly American-sounding brand of hard rock, despite the fact that their musical inspirations (outside of the blues itself) were obviously from Ol' Blighty (Cream, The Who, Hendrix - I'll include him and his Experience as Limeys by default). They sold a lot of records in the first half of the 1970s, when such a band could do such things, and such a predicament always gets me thinking: why did Mountain work in the record-buying market, at least for 3 or 4 years, while the likes of the MC5 and the Stooges tanked? Mountain's first two albums, the best ones, 1970's Climbing and '71's Nantucket Sleighride don't sound a whole lot different from the MC5's High Time LP from '71 (that band's finest hour, too) - high-energy rock & roll with some boogie, garage and primal metal in the mix - but Mountain made the FM waves and the MC5 sunk. Whatever. If you feel the urge to listen to a 'classic rock station' (I don't) playing the hits of yesteryear, you might, just might hear Mountain's 'Mississippi Queen', but ironically the likes of the Stooges and the MC5 now probably hold a higher public profile than Leslie West's band of yore. Ask anyone under the age of 30 about Mountain and wait for the response.


All this waffle brings me to an eventual point: Mountain were/are worth the time and trouble. Those first two LPs, and indeed 1974's live opus, Twin Peaks, are some of the great American hard rock/heavy metal albums of the pre-punk era. The band could rip out a 10-minute track simply called 'Guitar Solo', one which surfaces on several live albums of the time (there's a series of them worth a listen) and varies in form and substance from performance to performance, which actually doesn't make me want to skip the FFWD button. That's saying something.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

IN PRAISE OF HOSS



"Hoss doesn't do choruses". That's what Hoss head honcho, Joel Silbersher, said to me last year. Melbourne outfit Hoss have been around for quarter of a century now. Joel is the unofficial leader of the band, one which originally arose from the ashes of the recently-dissolved teen wunders, GOD. You can't possibly expect me to write about Hoss without mentioning them, can you? It irks Joel that he is largely remembered for penning a tune he dismisses as a dumb teenage lark built around an obviously ace riff, but I'd like to counter that by saying that the smart among us know a couple of things: A) He's written a lot of great music in the past 25+ years, a good deal of it better than that one song; B) 'My Pal' still sounds great and really was a watershed song in the history of Australian underground music in the 1980s (certainly meant a bunch to me, and still does); and C) Most people on earth will not be remembered for anything, so suck it up and be grateful you'll be remembered at all.

Anyway, I saw Hoss quite a bit back in the '90s - I saw just about everyone quite a bit back then - as the weight of the world's problems and fatherhood didn't keep me housebound much of the time  (actually, I exaggerate: the past 12 months has seen me hit the live circuit with a vigour not seen since the glory days of the Clinton era). Thing is, and this was remarked to me by Joel: I didn't really like them all that much back then. They simply played on a lot of bills in which I happened to be in the same room, perhaps seeing a band above or beneath them on the bill, but Hoss weren't a band I paid a lot of attention to even when they were right in front of me. They were just there. To say that I disliked would also be far from the truth.

"The Langs don't like Hoss". That's another quote from Joel. He said that a couple of years ago. I think he sensed that we - my brother and I - didn't like his band. Our lack of enthusiasm might have been palpable. I have caught them a number of times in the past decade, on the rare occassion that they play - like I said, I'm always just hangin' around - and I'd often remark to my friends that I just don't get Hoss. I would make these remarks to a couple of compadres who were absolutely dedicated fans of the band, people (smart people, like my friends tend to be) who were totally convinced of the band's greatness and were equally perpelexed by their lack of success in the marketplace and tastemaker world of underground rock & roll as we know it. I would shrug my shoulders and retort that the band's lack of success made perfect sense to me. I would also remark that I'd love to see Joel make a million bucks off his music and that he damn well deserved something for his efforts. In the 1990s, he released an excellent low-key folk/singer-songwriter duo album recorded with Charlie Owen (New Christs, etc.) under the name Tendrils, and I recall his fruity solo album on Mick Turner's King Crab label in the early noughties being a fine thing indeed. And then there was Hoss.

 
"We're a mongrel band, people don't get us". Another quote straight from the horse's mouth to me, uttered roughly a year ago. That was Joel explaining to me Hoss's musical bastardry, after I told him the band had finally hit a serious nerve in my mind and caused a great, visceral reaction of absolute pleasure within my synapses. 18 months back, when I was looking at reissuing some old Australian punk/rock classics on a label I was (and am) operating as part of my day job, I borrowed a bunch of '90s releases on the Dog Meat from its owner/operator, David Laing (just to confuse you further). Mr. Laing: I still have to give them back to you, hard as it will be to part with them. I owned said records back in the day: Powder Monkeys, Splatterheads and, yep, Hoss, but had parted with them in the intervening years, for whatever reason. The former two needed no reassessing, but I wanted to get my head around Hoss. Hell, I wanted to get my head into Hoss. The CDs in question were 1992's You Get Nothing, '93's Bring On The Juice, 1995's Everyday Lies (actually, I managed to locate this one secondhand) and the one post-Dog Meat release, the label having folded by then, 1998's Do You Leave Here Often? I then borrowed my brother's copy of their 1990 debut, Guzzle, released on the Au-go-go label when half of Hoss consisted of 2/5ths of the Seminal Rats: Mick Weber and Todd McNeair.

I drank deep. At first I considered it 'research': should I propose vinyl reissues to Joel? Would anyone care? The four key releases started making a serious impact on my psyche: You Get Nothing, Bring On The Juice, Everyday Lies, Do You Leave Here Often? The musical mongrel made perfect sense. Hoss don't write choruses, they are not a pop band. They are more than just Joel. A great deal of credit must be given to bassist Scott Bailey and particularly guitarist Jimmy Sfetsos, and drummers past (big-haired Michael Glenn, a flashy player of considerable chops) and present (Dean Muller, now also hitting skins for the Cosmic Psychos). Hoss are ostensibly a 'punk-influenced hard rock band'. They are not a 'punk' band, and no matter what guidebook description may pop up on the 'net, they're no rote 'hard rock band'. But there is nothing wrong with rocking hard and being a little punk about it, so all of these things should be considered a positive thing. Inside the mind of Hoss is the Blue Oyster Cult before they turned to AOR mush, ditto for Aerosmith, Jealous Again/Damaged-era Black Flag, Husker Du and Squirrel Bait (Joel will never avoid such comparisons), the hard boogie of High Time-era MC5 and Mountain, the downer-doom of early 'Sabbath, the Stonesy yawp of Chris D. and the Flesh Eaters, the deep songcraft of Richard Thompson and the deconstruction of the Dead C. I know for a fact that Joel likes all of the above and then some, but Hoss are a musical unit which writes its own score and doesn't merely regurgitate record collections.

Those four discs in question are, to my mind, the four crucial statements from one of the great, totally un(der)-heralded Australian bands of the past quarter century. They are not merely the same: You Get Nothing and Bring On The Juice sounding quite different to the subsequent full-lengthers. The former two are tight, well-produced, 'heavy' and metallic (which doesn't make them heavy metal, although perhaps in a '70s purist sense they are) - dynamic statements of power. Everyday Lies and particularly Do You Leave Here Often? are more eclectic, loose, often falling apart in glorious ways, lo-fi, song pieces being picked up then discarded, tracks dissolving into noise. There's no choruses, but there's hooks. You just have to give Hoss time. Hell, it took me my whole adult life to come to grips with them.

So, the year 2014 was, for me, the year of Hoss. It was the year of Ry Cooder's first 6 albums. The year of Van der Graaf Generator. The year of Sparks. The year of Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac. The year of The Who before they devolved into rock-opera pretensions. And among all that was the other musical nonsense which fills my head, new and old. That was the sound which kept the thunder out of my head. Nobody hates an arse-kisser more than Joel, and there's no butt-licking present here. Just the facts, ma'am. The music of Hoss has belatedly melted my mind, and I think you should take the time to let the strange music mongrelism, the unashamed 'rock' of a higher order performed and recorded by the Melbourne band Hoss, to weave something into your skull. They're still around, and I'm told there's more to come.