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.