Sunday, December 25, 2016

IT'S A ROUND-UP!!

Yes, it's a yearly round-up of the *cough* RELEASES OF THE YEAR. As always, this is predicated with the knowledge that it's essentially based on what I've heard throughout the year and is not definitive by any means. For instance, it was only after last year was finished that I became aware of Julia Holter's utterly magnificent Have You In My Wilderness LP, a release which absolutely should have been on top of my pile for '15, but alas, it came to my lazy ears far too late. I am also aware of the fact that I am in somewhat of a priviliged position, in that my job dictates that I should try to keep up with what interesting sounds are being released.

Whilst all and sundry are hailing 2016 as The Worst Year On Record, I won't lie and will confess that mine was certainly above average. Both work-wise and with the family, it was my first year in approximately half a decade which wasn't frought with huge dramas (bar one) and sleepless nights; I managed to make it to Japan twice (yes, just got back from another trip a few weeks back), after having not been overseas for over a decade. Still, I'm not gloating about this, as I have friends who suffered grevious losses (and we're not talking about celebrities they didn't actually know) and had a much less fun time than I did in 2016.

In regards to bad news and the election of Trump... I don't usually go near politics in this blog, but let me share one or two thoughts. Trump is a dangerous, ignorant, impulsive nimrod (and I hated the guy years before it was fashionable!) who will probably be impeached within his first term due to some scandal or other (he's simply too wreckless not to involve himself in such things), but the Democrats fucked up majorly by having the truly horrible Hillary Clinton as their candidate (no, I am not a fan), and if there's any silver lining to the result it's that hopefully the Democrats will cleanse out the Clinton factor from their party, go back to the drawing board and start formulating policies which will actually benefit ordinary working people and not just their wealthy donors. My candidate of choice was knocked out early on in the game, if that gives you a clue. In relationship to this topic, I recommend you read Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal, which was published earlier this year and is a remarkably prescient tome on where 'liberal' politics in America (and elsewhere, ultimately) have gone horribly wrong in the past 30 years. Frank used to publish/edit The Baffler, which I believe is still running in some form, a cultural periodical which I used to read back in the '90s and was one of the best publications of its day. Word yourself up on it.

OK, onto the musical frivolities....

DAVID BOWIE - Blackstar
I wrote about this previously below, so you can peruse there for the rundown. It remains my favourite release of 2016. It is very possibly the best thing the man ever did.



IGGY POP - Post-Pop Depression
Much like Bowie's effort, this is the best thing Iggy has done since the 1970s. Other than The Idiot and perhaps a few songs here and there, I have never been a fan of Iggy's solo work. It's been mostly de-fanged New Wave or clunky rock/metal since his Stooges days, and very little of it has been listenable. This album, which sees him backed up by lunkheads from such questionable outfits as the Arctic Monkeys and Eagles Of Death Metal, as with Bowie's Blackstar, completely knocked me sideways with just how good it is. The band is in perfect sync with the downbeat-sleaze vibe of the material, Iggy doesn't waste his time and yours simply being 'Iggy Pop' (he's been resting on those laurels for far too long), and the songs are simply excellent. I flogged the heck out of this disc throughout 2016, as you well should, too. It is shockingly good.



TERRY - HQ
Local band featuring the omnipresent (and seemingly omnipotent) Al Montfort and other notables on board. The name 'Terry' is ridiculous, but they aren't. I saw them a couple of years back when they were going for a more folky sound, but they've seemingly changed course and become a more fully-realised unit who attack in a kind of jagged (yet still folksy) post-punk vein. There's shades of Raincoats, The Fall and Swell Maps in here, though the approach to the material is strictly 'Strine, so such comparisons do no real justice. Regardless, their laconic brand of no-frills 'rock' is music to these ears.



BREMEN - Eclipsed
I wrote of this a couple of months ago. Swedish two-piece with Brainbombs connection. Cosmic space-rock drone w/ elements of F/i, Necks, Cluster and other good things. Terrific band, killer release.



TYRANNAMEN - s/t LP
Local quintet who've been around for a number of years and have connections/overlapping members with about half-a-dozen other bands moving and shaking in the scene. The release of this disc took me by surprise. For one, I saw them play about 5 years ago - or it seems that long ago - and a debut longplayer seemed like a seriously belated act of, err, activity. But the wait was worth it. I had to write a sales blurb on this recently, and I said something to the effect of it filling the hole twixt Eddy Current and Royal Headache. They possibly find that an insult of obviousness, or a sales pitch which does their individualistic approach to soulful garage-punk/urban blues no justice whatsoever, but it is no insult and, to these ears, remains an accurate musical description.



INVERLOCH - Distance Collapsed
Another release I wrote about in detail earlier this year. Organic, crunching and ever-shifting death metal/doom from this Melbourne band who very belatedly sprang from the cold ashes of '90s death/grind/doom 'legends (indeed, they are), dISEMBOWELMENT. Excellent.



ORB - Birth
Geelong three-piece with Frowning Clouds and other connections. I've seen this crew a number of times over the past few years and they never fail to impress. There's a few things I like about them. Here goes... Firstly, there is the music itself. Their level of Sabbath worship is boundless, sure. There are riffs here which sound wholesale lifted from early BS efforts, sure. But there is more than that to what they do. There's a cosmic, Syd-like angle to the material which most other stoner outfits completely miss, and their approach in a live setting is what really wins me over. They look like three skinny short-haired dweebs who should be playing Feelies covers. They don't swagger. They emit a sexless nothing and that works in perfect tandem to the heavy-duty sounds they blast, because there is no flash. The drummer never raises his arms above shoulder height. There is a sense of musical restraint and, dare I say, constipation, which saps their music of macho aggression but still lets it cut loose and 'rock'. Orb are something special. I hear they've recorded a new LP which is in a more Kinks vein - whatever that means. I eagerly await.



THE DOUBLE - Dawn Of The Double
The Double's Jim White is, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit of a legend in Australian and now international music circles. Venom P. Stinger and Dirty Three are where he made his name, but he hit the skins for a number of other, lesser-known Aussie post-punk outfits (Feral Dinosaurs, for one) and of course also travels the world banging drums for everyone from Will Oldham to Bill Callahan to Cat Power to PJ Harvey. And much more. When in town, he likes to drop into the shop from whence I operate my place of business, buy some discs (always a man of impeccable taste) and chew the fat. He came in earlier in the year and told me about this new LP he'd recorded with Emmett Kelly from Ty Segall's band. With a sly grin on his face, he told me he'd invented a new beat. Yes, a new drum pattern. And this album was recorded totally within this new time signature. In fact, it was a tribute to it. I was intrigued. 'It's called The Double, and is going to come out mid-year on In The Red'. I was, of course, even more intrigued. Much has been written about this record, and I will add little to the discussion. The standard line used - even by me! - is imagine the missing link twixt Glenn Branca and Bo Diddley. Or, perhaps, let's say it's like 'Sister Ray' w/ a shuffle beat. It's something special.



XYLOURIS WHITE - Black Peak
Speaking of... this is the latest/greatest from the Jim White/Georges Xylouris duo, which once again melds Jim's off-kilter jazz beats w/ Xylouris' lute riffing, creating a kind of Cretan intercontinental free-rock without precedent. And if there is a precedent to this, I would certainly like to hear it. The interplay between the two is magical, White's always-unpredictable beats somehow bringing the two together just when it sounds like it's coming apart. Even better than their Goat album from last year, I would like to see these recordings become an annual event for many years to come.



OREN AMBARCHI - Hubris
I've known Oren for over 20 years. He is a nice fellow with a wickedly self-deprecating sense of humour. Everyone down here knows Oren, although he is rarely in the country these days. His music career seems to have hit a vertical trajectory the past few years, his international jetsetting and recording going into hyperdrive, and Hubris is one of the results of this lifestyle. It's also, in this writer's non-humble opinion, possibly the best thing he's ever done. Of course such a statement is born from ignorance, since I have not heard all of the voluminous recordings he appears to release on a monthly basis. But I've heard enough to at least claim that this is near the top. It sees Oren and a few of his famous friends (there's Arto Lindsay and Jim O'Rourke in there) engaging in a kind of minimal techno on the opening cut (all called 'Hubris', by the way). It sounds like it could have been lifted from an old Kompakt disc or Basic Channel cut. That's good. Next track is a slightly briefer guitar interlude which evades the obvious trappings of sounding like a John Fahey tune. Then there's another long one, a lengthy track which melds percussive, rhythmic clutter with electronics and guitar noise. It is elongated Krauty goodness, crisp, danceable and highly listenable. Hubris, as a whole, is highly listenable. It should be a hit. Relatively speaking, I think it has been a hit.



CAUSA SUI - Return To Sky
Return To Sky is by no means Danish psych/stoner trio Causa Sui's finest moment. In fact, it's possibly their weakest moment; but of course, it must be added that their weaker moments are still better than most people's worst, and it is by no means a bad album, which is why it is here on the list. A while ago, late last year, I believe, I gave a bit of a rundown on the goings-on at the El Paraiso label, the imprint owned and operated by Jonas Munk and Jakob Skott from Causa Sui. If you haven't periused this, then I encourage yo to do so, toot sweet. That will save me from having to wax lyrical here. Causa Sui play largely improvised psych-damaged 'stoner rock' which is free of the cliches and limitations which many practitioners in the genre operate. That is, their sonics add up to so much more than a lukewarm stirfry of recycled Black Sabbath riffs. Their high watermarks remain their Summer Sessions and Pewt'r Sessions series, and Return To Sky is a step down in quality, but for free-form boogie with an additional slice of Soft Machine/Mahavishnu fusion-boogie thrown on top, no one can top these gents.



LUKE HOWARD - Two Places
Latest/greatest from this Melbourne-based (yet globe-trotting) composer and pianist who, of course, is also a friend but also a hell of a talent. His discography has traversed the fields of trio chamber-jazz of the ECM variety to Eno/Budd ambience (his fantastic Sun, Cloud LP from a couple of years ago) to more avant offerings of a jazz stripe to this one, his magnus opus available as a handsomely-packaged CD or 2LP set. Luke is a big fan of the Erased Tapes label, as am I, and perhaps this set is him making his pitch for a signing, and I can't fault him for trying. Herein lies a blend of ambience, restrained chamber piano jazz, modern composition, even a pinch of post-rock, if you don't mind the language. Of course, it would fit the Constellation or Erased Tapes stables like a pink rubber glove, and that's certainly no reason to dislike it. Of all the releases listed here, I think this one is the most underrated and underheard in 2016.



JASON SHARP - A Boat Upon Its Blood
OFF WORLD - s/t
AUTOMATISMA - Momentform Accumulations
Speaking of Constellation... here are three titles on the label which were released just recently and have rarely left my music-player of choice since I first heard them. I was bemoaning to a friend just recently how hard it is to convince, let alone sell, anything on the Constellation label other than the obvious heavy hitters (Godspeed, Silver Mt. Zion, et al... or maybe that pretty much covers it), because everyone has it in their minds that the label is full of esoteric and/or unlistenable French-Canadian art-rock bullpiss. Which, of course, it is. But in amongst said bullpiss lies an occasional valley of gold. Let's make these ones brief. Jason Sharp is another player in the Montreal scene centred around the label, has guested on releases by the likes of A Silver Mt. Zion and Sam Shalabi, and oftens plays the saxophone in a drone-like manner (a bit like his label mate, Colin Stetson). A Boat Upon Its Blood sounds a little like all of the above, which means it's a darkly dramatic, semi-orchestral slice of all-encompassing sound-art. Off World is Constellation veteran Sandro Perri's latest ensemble who play an organic brand of electronica which alternately reminds me of the sonic experiments of Hassell and Eno in a Fourth World capacity and the other-worldly drones of Coil during their minimal phase when they perfected their craft (think Ape Of Naples/Musick To Play In The Dark), which means I'm heaping high praise upon it. Mostly, it reminds me of nothing else. Automatisma is the nom de plume of Quebec-based producer, William Joudain, and his offering for the label is an atypical one: mostly organic and acoustic in its origins, it plays out in a certain vein of minimal techno. With real-time percussion and electronics, they mesh together beautifully to create something which sounds like it came out of the Berlin scene of the mid '90s. Which of course is a half-arsed way of putting it, but its dub-heavy mix of beats and electro-acoustic experiments works a treat.



 

BITCHIN BAJAS AND BONNIE 'PRINCE' BILLY - Epic Jammers And Fortunate Little Ditties
The outfit known as Bitchin Bajas have themselves a rather flawless discography thus far. The 'band' is made up of Cooper and Rob from the awesome Chicago cosmic-rock outfit, Cave, and indulge in more outward-bound, synth-heavy (and often beatless) shenanigans, which means their pairing with bearded folkster slob, Will Oldham, makes for a mighty weird pairing, at least on paper. But Bill is just musically flexible enough as a performer that his aches and groans work perfectly within BB's free-form, minimal electronics, as they are soaked up beautifully in the atmosphere and bring out the melodies to a tee. Two bloody records of it. It sounds like overkill, but it surely isn't. I could do with a few more recordings just like this one.



ORANSSI PAZUZU - Varahtelija
I wrote of this a few months ago. Head there for the juice. Finnish space-rock/Black Metal hybrid of the Nordic gods.



KRAKATAU - Tharsis Montes/Apogean Tide
This is a recently-released 12"/mini LP from a Melbourne quartet whom I was utterly unaware of until a few months ago. They released an LP on the Trouble In Mind label in 2014, play shows around town - allegedly - and yet I never knew they existed until very recently. There you go. Upon hearing that there was a local jazz-fusion band known as Krakatau, my first thought was, Are you smarty-pants's aware of the Norwegian jazz-fusion band of the same name from the 1990s, featuring the celebrated guitarist, Raoul Bjorkenheim, at the helm? And then I heard the local band in question and concluded that surely it would be impossible for them NOT to have heard the Scandinavian outfit... So why the name? No idea. I saw the band play last month when they supported Severed Heads at the big festival gathering at the State Library. I was watching them with a friend who happens to play in about three-dozen bands himself, when he turned to me and said, 'Let's go to the bar; Krakatau are a band best heard and not seen'. I had to agree. I like this recording a lot, but in a live scenario the band emits a certain goose-necking smugness which can be mighty hard to tolerate. They have the aura of well-studied VCA graduates who are getting high off the smell of their own piss. Regardless, they are probably nice fellows, and I did also highly enjoy the '70s ECM vibe of what it was they were playing. This record in question is a slightly different beast. I would place it within the category of 'Record Collector Music', as it is most certainly the product of gentlemen who spend inordinate amounts of time thumbing their way through crates of records. If they have not heard the sounds of Marc Moulin's Placebo or Klaus Weiss' Sunbirds, then I will eat my hat with a suitable garnish. But again: THAT'S OK. I like records, too. And they've put their knowledge to good use, because this record, along with its beautifully garish cover, sounds like it came out of the European continent in 1974. It sounds alien to its origins, and it sounds perfect to me.



PS - I will undoubtedly recall about a dozen omissions from this list within 10 minutes of pressing 'publish', but there you go. OVER/OUT, for now.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

DANNY 'FUCKING' WORSNOP



Well, fuck... don't thank me for this. Don't thank anyone. This new release was brought to my attention by a friend who grew up on the early stable of Earache artists, notably NAPALM DEATH, CARCASS, BOLT THROWER, ENTOMBED, GODFLESH, MORBID ANGEL et al. For him, Earache was his SST, so to speak; and, like SST's demise, Earache's decline in quality is so fucking obvious you could chart it on a bar graph.

It's not like I've been following the label. Hell, outside of Digby Pearson and his accountants, I don't think anyone has been following the parade of embarrassments Earache has been dragging out the past 15 - 20 years. I was well aware of Earache's standing in the grand scheme of things back when it was at its peak as a label and tastemaker (that'd be approximately 1987 - 1993) - and I heard (and in some cases owned) and enjoyed those crucial early records by Napalm Death, Carcass, Godflesh, etc. - but it was a dabbling and diversion for moi, and not something I focussed on as a steady musical diet. In the mid '90s I found myself working for their Australian distributor, and in some cases licensor, and so was very privy to what was going on with the label. The woeful outfit known as Dub War, who sounded like a bogus heavy metal stew of The Police and I Against I-period Bad Brains, made quite a splash and toured here at the time (I saw them - then again, I had freebies and saw just about every international act I could get freebies for; PS - they sucked), and some of the more purist metalheads I worked with bemoaned the unmetallic nature of Earache's venturing.

I thought it was a good idea for the label to wander outside its musical comfort zone, but only if the results were what I considered 'good'. One such release was Scorn's Gyral from 1996. Featuring ex-Napalm Death skinsman Mick Harris at the helm, the band/project known as Scorn had drifted from being a Swans/Head Of David/Godflesh-style 'heavy' rock outfit to a minimalist, percussion-based electronic proposition whose sounds prefigured Burial and other progenitors of what is known as 'dubstep' (you may have heard of it) by a couple of decades. I have been informed that his minimal success with Scorn, who pioneered a sound which was hugely popular decades later, has embittered him to no end - that may or may not be true, however. Gyral was Scorn's last release on Earache; they continued on for several more excellent releases on other labels, and Mick also had the ultra-minimalist, 'isolationist' project, Lull, who also did some fascinating recordings. But I'm losing focus here: the point is: Scorn's Gyral was licensed for the Australian market - and sold zip. And there were the Industrial Fucking Strength compilations and the equally woeful forays into 'hardcore'/'gabba' XTRM dance music with Ultraviolence and Johnny Violent, none of which took off; and by the time they released the debut by the now utterly forgotten Janus Stark - a band who - get this - featured the guitarist from The Prodigy - it was all over. Well, I recall liking those Iron Monkey albums they did, but nothing else springs to mind. I saw Napalm Death play in, was it 1997? Another freebie. They were fucking terrible. I left before they finished. ND made a great 'grind' band, but as a 'death metal' band, they were an utter failure - musically, if not commercially. I do not consider the terms 'grindcore' and 'death metal' interchangeable. I also saw Cathedral during this period. By this stage (that's probably 1997 or '98), their recordings were horrible, but as a live band they could still cut it in a to-the-point 'heavy' Sabbathian manner, something their records could definitely no longer achieve.

Approximately six or seven years ago, I found myself reappraising and hugely enjoying some of the groundbreaking recordings from the earlier days of the label: the first two LPs by Napalm Death and Carcass (these four albums are totally essential for anyone with a taste for noise), Godflesh's Streetcleaner, Scorn's output, Bolt Thrower's first 3 or 4 discs (a band who were a human punchline back in the day, but those records are great), Cathedral's Forest Of Equilibrium and others. In the pantheon of rock music, these are important recordings. What will never be important is the entire recorded works of Danny Worsnop. I know nothing of him, except that he is also the vocalist in two bands with improbably awful names such as Asking Alexandria and We Are Harlot. The former is a 'metalcore' outfit (excuse the language), the latter is a 'hard rock supergroup' featuring some other dickheads. What in the fucking fuck Digby Pearson is doing releasing a record by Worsnop is possibly something which can only be discussed between himself and his therapist, because I can't locate a logical reason for it. Earache has released some utter tripe in recent years - hello Massive and Rival Sons - but this is a new low. I'm not sure why I care. I'm not sure I do. I just thought you should know that Earache, nearly 30 years after the release of Scum, is about to release a recording which sounds like the missing link between Sugar Ray, Uncle Kracker and Alan Jackson. Knock yourself out.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Some random nonsense...

I heard the song below, The Animals' 'Outcast', recently in a film I watched. For the life of me, I cannot recall what the film was. It was a couple of months ago, and obviously not memorable. But the song in question was. I found myself freeze-framing the credits at the end so I could find out who sang the track in question. Like many of the 'original' Animals' singles (before the band lost half its membership and split for California in '66), it's a cover of a soul/R & B tune, this one penned by Eddie and Ernie, a duo I must claim ignorance of. Anyway, the sheer psychedelic soul-power of Eric Burdon and co.'s rendition, with that wicked fuzzed guitar, is the sound that puts a skip in one's step. It's one of the best things I've heard this year.



And in regards to some belated SST worship - it's been a week or two - there's this footage of Saccharine Trust and Minutemen at the Anti-Club in '82. Oh yeah, there's Turds In Space thrown in the mix, too, which is some Spot avant project I kinda skipped through. But the 'Trust and the 'Men - oooooh, boy! - at this stage of the game they were writing a new rule book to tear up. It's interesting seeing just how low-key this whole mythical scene was back in its earlier days. Word is - according to someone, maybe Watt or Carducci - that the Minutemen never really got themselves an audience outside of their immediate peers, friends and gushing critics until Double Nickels was released and won them a wider audience. That may indeed be true. The 'Trust have never won themselves a wide audience, but you can't blame me for trying.



Lastly, there's Frank Zappa and his band of longhairs circa 1973. I noted a few posts ago that early '70s Zappa - which I had previously poo-poo'd - has been quite an obsession of mine the past 12 months, and it hasn't abated yet. This is a pretty excellent example of the freak show he and his band were at the time, and gathering by the number of Zappa-influenced bands who came out of Europe in the early '70s (I am fond of saying - oh, so fond of saying - that 70% of the Nurse With Wound list is merely made up of European art-rock gimps trying to copy Zappa and Soft Machine), I can only assume he made quite an impact. Enjoy. You've earned it.


Thursday, November 24, 2016

LATIN PLAYBOYS


The two albums released by the band known as LATIN PLAYBOYS in 1994 and 1999 - that's Latin Playboys and Dose, respectively - are worth considering and hearing. I recall them being played a lot here on community radio at the time, winning huge critical praise (Album Of The Years from various places), and yet I'm willing to bet that they didn't actually sell a whole lot and seem to be scarcely even remembered at this point in history. Latin Playboys were essentially a studio project for David Hidalgo and Louie Perez, both well know for their longtime work with Los Lobos, and their producer/muso friends, Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake. Los Lobos, as I hope you know, add up to a whole lot more than that band who did the La Bamba soundtrack (which was fucking ubiquitous back here in the day, and probably ruined the band for an eternity for many). Some interesting points to note: the band has been around since 1974, formed by a group of young Latino Americans with a fondness for traditional Mexican music, Ry Cooder and Richard Thompson (not the staple music diet of a typical teen at the time); they released an independent LP way back in 1978 (a record, I have just discovered, which fetches stupid money on Discogs); they made their first real splash on the LA punk scene, supporting Public Image's first show in LA in 1980; their longtime brass/wind man is Steve Berlin, he of the Flesh Eaters/Blasters; and their 1992 LP, Kiko, one often described as their 'experimental' album, is totally fucking magnificent, and a real fave of mine - it as a beautiful sparseness to it, with sweet harmonies and off-kilter percussion. And there are other albums in their vast discography to consider, too (their first 'proper' LP, 1984's How Will The Wolf Survive?, is also tops), but let's speak of Latin Playboys.


This band I speak of were put together by Hidalgo and Perez after their experience recording Kiko and a desire to get deeper with their musical experimentation. In essence, let's cut the horseshit and call 'em what they were: an experimental side project. The band took the Latin/roots approach of their more famous other group and melded it into an avant-garde take thereof, with scratchy guitars, feedback, noisy electronics, tinny percussion and songs which appear to be on the verge of falling apart. Roll it all together into a recording approach which basically sounds like a rough demo - which is how the band came to be in the first place - and that's Latin Playboys. If I was to compare it to anything - and of course I must - the closest approximation would be Tom Waits' more 'out' recordings, such as Bone Machine, Swordfishtrombones and the Black Rider score, although Latin Playboys' approach is more haphazard, bringing to mind the way someone like, oh dear god, Guided By Voices put albums together circa 1990 - 1993 (please note: Latin Playboys and GBV sound absolutely nothing like each other; I am merely pointing out the 'sketch'-like approach to song craft both bands had at one point). Here's a bunch of killer tracks which give you an overview of their oeuvre: 'Viva La Raza', 'New Zandu', 'Same Brown Earth', 'Crayon Sun', 'Fiesta Erotica', 'Locoman' and 'Paula Y Fred'. What's interesting, too, is that, despite being recorded and released 5 years apart, the albums sound like they could've sprung from the same recording session. There is little differentiating the two in regards to quality and style. Both were released on Slash at the time, who were probably riding high on the success of drek like Faith No More and L7 at the time (as well as the general boost the whole biz had in the '90s), and since that day will never likely come again, you can probably forget about a semi-major recording company indulging their talent to this extent once more. Whatever. Here's the good news: Latin Playboys, and the two terrific albums they released in the '90s, are largely forgotten these days, and you can probably pick up the CDs for a buck or two a piece from a charity store with ease, as I did. For totally deconstructed and reconstructed Latin rock & roll, they're hard to beat.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Random groovy tunes...

No rhyme, no reason, a sample of some cuts getting a spin...

The name RUN WESTY RUN will garner a variety of reactions from dear readers. I can only gather that the majority one will be a befuddled WHO? Others will wonder why on earth I'm scraping the bottom of the SST barrel by giving them any coverage whatsoever. And there will be a few true believers who will acknowledge that their self-titled debut LP from 1988 - whilst no classic in this or any alternate universe - can at least boast a couple of pretty bumper tunes in a kinda forgettable late-'80s college-rock vein. Yes, I'm damning it with some faint praise there, but praise it still is. There's this cut, 'Curled Ending', which for me is the highlight of the disc in question, always the track I go for when I pull the LP off the shelf for its annual spin, and since it's on YouTube, I probably don't even need to go to that much effort anymore. I read somewhere that Grant Hart recommended the band to Ginn/Dukowski and co., the band being Minneapolis natives who were mining a kind of late-period Replacements/Huskers vein (certainly not the most inspiring period for either band, but whatever), and of course it's easy to dismiss their two LPs on SST as an excercise in pure pointlessness when the label was throwing piles of shit against the wall, I bear them no grudge for their efforts. They released two full-lengthers on the label before switching to their hometown imprint, Twin/Tone, in 1990 for one more exercise in recorded nothingness and disappeared thereafter. For someone somewhere I'm sure they're a musical big deal, and I do not mean to shit on your parade. I think they had one or two bright, shining moments, and the rest of their oeuvre belongs in the bargain bin, where it likely resides today. Still, those few shining moments were pretty damn great. For the record, I bought my beat-up cut-out copy of this LP about two decades ago; the version I heard and played in my younger days was my brother's which he received in a 3PBS radio competition in early 1999, in which he won an "SST prize pack' containing RWR, SWA's Winter LP and something else I forget. Score!



Let's quickly ponder LA's X, not the Australian one, who have pondered here before. They are or at least were an obvious entry point for many into the world of west coast punk back in the day, although for many I can only assume they were considered too much of a musical half-measure to be that inspiring, or maybe it was their descent into fairly mundane college-rock which has spoilt their musical legacy for many. They're not a band who ever got my blood running in a major way, although I always liked their interviews and live footage from the original Decline... film, and always had a soft spot for the John Doe/Exene musical partnership and their various musical endeavours (their roots band, The Knitters, who also featured Blasters folks, put out a great album in '85; and let's not forget John Doe's guest appearance on Tom Troccoli's sole LP on SST - I know you've been trying, but I thought I'd remind you). So, it comes to be that now, in my mid 40s, I have been greatly enjoying their first two LPs a whole lot. I bought 'em both about 20 years back for about a ha'penny a piece, and it's not like I've never not enjoyed them, but lately their rotation has been 'heavy', as opposed to an annual pity-spin. Although X were first-gen LA punker, they never really had the wild musical bent nor nihilism of many of their pears, whether they be other first-gen punkers (Weirdos/Screamers/Germs) or suburban HC slammers (Black Flag/Adolescents/Circle Jerks/Fear), but that doesn't mean their more polished and mature 'rock' sound is something to dismiss. It does, after all, 'rock'. For my money, their second effort, 1981's Wild Gift, is a better musical proposition than the debut, 1980's Los Angeles. Both were produced by Ray Manzarek (a man who staked his claim in life as 'an ex-member of The Doors'), though from all reports, Ray was a genuine fan of this crazy new music scene and wanted to do it justice in the studio. I think he succeeded moreso with his second effort. Song-wise, both LPs are stylistically similar - a Ramones-damaged mid-tempo punk rock approach with Billy Zoom's rockabilly inflections scattered throughout - but that claustrophobic, tight-assed sound Manzarek got on the debut is unleashed on Wild Gift, and it sounds like it's got some air to breathe. It sounds like a real punk rock recording, whereas the debut sounds like someone sucked the rock out of it. Got me? Good. Both albums have their fair share of boss cuts familiar to all and sundry, but Wild Gift has 'We're Desperate', 'I'm Coming Over' and 'In This House That I Call Home', and you need all of the above. I'd rate both as quite mandatory, should you be attempting to get your head around US punk rock of the past 40 years. The critics loved 'em, of coirse, but don't hate 'em because of it.



And onto something completely different. I've been heavily absorbing the, err, heavy sounds of Wales' BUDGIE the past 12 months. So much so, I have actually splurged on physical copies (their essential albums from the 1970s have been granted rather swish vinyl reissues) to show my fandom, or something or other. I was made aware of their catalogue at two previous places of work, one in the latter half of the '90s, and one this century. In both workplaces I was situated within spitting distance of a vocal fan, and I came to appreciate the crunching, boogified nature of their power-trio ways. For the record, Budgie's first four albums from 1971 - '75, at the very least, I would rate as essential stabs of pre-punk hard rock a smidgen under the A-level sludge of Black Sabbath: that's Budgie, Squawk, Never Turn Your Back On A Friend and In For The Kill. Yes, there's a picture of a fucking budgie on every single album cover, with said picture often used as a pun in connection with the album title. Why the name Budgie? No idea, though I'm sure there's a ripper of a story behind it. Led by bassist/voclaist, Burke Shelley (and guitarist Tony Bourge was there for their best years, too), and formed in 1967, the obvious comparisons for their sonics would be Black Sabbath, Led Zep and Rush, although one should probably clarify a few things: Budgie never contained the monumental bong-rattling heaviness of 'Sabbath, the musical eclecticsm of Zep nor the technical wizardry/tedium or Rush. They occupied their own space somewhere between all three, and a nice space it be. In the realms of pre-Ramonic hard rock - that certain brand of guitar-heavy boogified no-brains-necessary realm of guitar/bass/drums aktion where frankly rather unattractive men in horrible clothes made beautiful noise - I would give them a ticket to sainthood. Like many of their hard-rock brethren, things started going pear-shaped by the time punk hit. It's not that punk wiped the floor with them and the old guard just shut up shop: much of the old guard, or at least those who made great music between the years 1970 - 1975, were simply running on empty by 1976. Inspiration only lasts so long. For many of the first-wave punkers, they were lucky to make it past 1979 without humiliating themselves in the process, so let's not say I'm being unkind here. Hard to pick a fave between the four because they're all good and all follow a similar path: cowbell, rifferama both slow and fast, an occasional acoiustic track and Shelley's squeezed-testicles vocals telling a story of a devil woman or thereabouts. Great song titles, too: any band who can sing a song entitled 'Hot As A Docker's Armpit' deserves your undying love. Many bands you know and love, and some you probably don't, have a great fondness for Budgie, which, by the natural laws of physics, means you should give them a listen.


Friday, November 04, 2016

Theme From An Imaginary Western


I've written about the band DC3 a few times before on this blog. It's not like I really have a whole lot more to add to the story, and it's not like the band - that's Dez Cadena's post-Black Flag outfit who featured a coupla Stains and a Paul Roessler (Kira's bro, ex-Screamers/Twisted Roots bearer of dreadlocks) in the mix - were exactly a top-tier musical outfit worthy of pages of ink in their praise. After 3 or 4 years of punk rock shenanigans, DC3 were Dez's back-to-basics return to his pre-punk roots: Budgie, Deep Purple, Mountain, Hawkwind. Back in the mid '80s, all this kinda get-up was about as fashionable as last year's milk, and I'd bet a penny or two they never shifted too many units in their lifetime nor the afterlife, but that doesn't mean there's nothing to recommend in their catalogue. I have noted before that the debut, This Is The Dream, has a fairly cool Saint Vitus-style sludge to it, and their live LP from '88, Vida, is probably even better, but in between it's pretty slim pickings. You're Only As Blind As Your Mind Can Be from 1986, which I have owned since, what, 1989?, is a record I have tried so many times with, but I always come up empty. The record itself comes up empty. Dez was always one of my fave Flaggers, but it is simply a rather terrible rock album which offers the listener little, and I can't for the life of me figure out what it was they were trying to achieve with the recording. It doesn't sound 'heavy', nor '70s' nor 'psychedelic', and therein lies a recording we will discuss no more.

The absolute best thing they ever did, was in fact their cover of Jack Bruce's 'Theme From An Imaginary Western', a track made semi-famous by Mountain's version on their excellent debut LP from 1970, Climbing. DC3's version remains the best there ever was, a truly magical slice of baroque hard rock with incredible dexterity and musicianship which possesses a precision neither other semi-famous version possesses. In fact, it remains one of my all-time fave SST jams ever. Dez's version was only ever available on the second Blasting Concept album from '86, and some fine citizen has finally placed it on Youtube for all to enjoy. Let's line 'em up and see how they go...



Sunday, September 11, 2016

ORANSSI PAZUZU


This is one of my favourite albums of 2016, and it's by Finland's ORANZZI PAZUZU (which means 'Orange Demon', I am reliably informed). The name of the album: Varahtelija, released on the excellent SVART label out of Finland (certainly one of my fave imprints on planet earth, reissuing all kinds of stoner, Black Metal, Nordic hardcore, free jazz, weird prog/fusion, psych and all in between. I am not on a retainer for stating this: what they do is a very good thing). And then there is Oranssi Pazuzu (excuse me if I simply refer to them as 'OP' from now on). They're a Finnish quartet, and this is their fourth album. I've also been getting myself familiar with two previous efforts, 2013's Valonielu and 2011's Kosmonument, and to me they represent one fucking great band evolving, progressing and getting better with each release.

OP are nominally a 'Black Metal' band, but such a genre now carries such a broad umbrella of sound under its wing that it can be almost impossible to peg just exactly what a BM band is. I used to cover a fair bit of BM in this blog about a decade ago - and nothing too wildly outside of the big names (Darkthrone, Burzum, Immortal, Enslaved; as well as US BM such as Weakling and Leviathan), other than some detours to the likes of End from Greece, Idjarn and Striborg (the last two I haven't listened to since BC - Before Children) - but I must admit I've barely given the 'genre' a listen in the last 9 years. Fatherhood may've been a deciding factor in that (you can't play that shit in the house when you have infants - it just doesn't work), but it could also be just a part of my listening habits: I tend to go through phases of a certain genre/sound, beat it into the ground for a few years then move onto something else, only to revisit that sound again years down the track (the same thing has happened with my total obsession with post-war R & B/blues/rockabilly from a number of years back - that obsession will come back).



So! To kick back and ensconce myself in some real-deal BM, even if it is of the 'arty' variety as slung by OP, almost feels like a breath of fresh air. OK, let's call OP a 'psychedelic BM band', for whilst grimness abounds, blast beats are had and growls can be heard, it's mixed up with a *gulp* almost post-rock sensibility, some of this sound like the orchestral sheets of sound you might get on a Godspeed disc, with Hawkwindish synth swirls, Flippery dirges and a hypnotic, cyclical churn not one thousand miles removed from the acid-fried goodness of a Miles ca. Agharta/Pangaea. Christ. Now that description probably just makes OP sound like a mish-mash of record collectors' wet dreams, but for the record: I am not and never have been a record collector; and 2) these comparisons are merely projections from my mind and very likely don't reflect the influences nor intent of the band. In other words, their ideas are their own. I still like noisy, anti-social shit when it's done well (and boy, it's the worst when it's done poorly), and OP appear to be serious in intent. They're not out there being 'extreme', 'radical' and trying to offend: it's simply about beautiful noise. They are one of the best things you will hear in 2016.

Below is an older dirge which you should sink your ears into...

Friday, September 09, 2016

DAVID BOWIE - Blackstar



'tis nearing mid September in the year 2016, and yet I still haven't heard a better album this year - or one released this year - which betters DAVID BOWIE's Blackstar LP. If you'd told me on January the 1st that I'd rate David Bowie's imminent and much-touted release as my favourite record of 2016, I'd have called you a smoking joker, and likely much worse. As with just about anyone and everyone I know with a modicum of discerning taste, I hadn't rated anything Bowie had done - bar maybe a single or two - since the late '70s. He went into mersh overload in the '80s (and, in my opinion, had a number of great pop singles in the first half of the decade), but slid considerably into nowheresville by the latter half of the decade, spent the '90s in some sort of faux industrial/drum & bass hellhole and then piffled around in the 21st century trying to play catchup with a handful of 'okay' musical endeavours (I 'liked' the The Next Day, but not enough to want to hear it more than twice).

Bowie is one of those characters who divides opinion amongst the rock cognoscenti, or at least the hardcore rockist elements of it. For some, the mere mention of him as a 'pioneer' or even a 'rocker' is something which brings out the guffaws. Wasn't he merely a musical thief, an opportunist and careerist who stole from other, far more worthy musical entities, and regurgitated it with a sheen for the masses? I give him more credit than that. I have never considered myself a hardcore Bowie fan, but his output circa 1969 - 1979 - just about any of it from that period - is something I can listen to and enjoy and appreciate, and surely that's enough. Bowie himself was at least self-deprecating enough to acknowledge that he totally sold out in the '80s, and for me one of his great mistakes in the '90s, when trying to get 'hip' again, was him hanging out and collaborating with a gormless Bowiephile nudnik like Trent Reznor - but this is all academic. Sometimes those with a great vision of what they want to do and who they are lose it and never get it back.

So, on the morning of the day he passed away, I was on the phone to a certain Warwick Brown, Greville Record proprietor and avid Bowiephile. He was raving to me about the new album, pleading for me to give it a ago, telling me about its avant-garde jazz leanings and its absolutely-no-doubt-in-the-world status as a RETURN TO FORM. I'd heard that before, as we all have, regarding various artists who once paved the way but have been coasting on a whole lot of nothing for decades (prime offender being the Stones, for which a 'return to form' amounts to an album which isn't totally fucking dreadful). I sat down on the toilet - true story - did my business, and streamed the first, self-titled 10-minute track in the meantime. I agreed that it was indeed quite good, but I had other things to do. I was not working that day, the sun was shining and the kids were on summer break, so I went to the beach for the day, vowing to listen to the rest of it when I got home. As I got in the door later in the afternoon, I received the text from a workmate that Bowie had died, social media went nuts and you either cared a lot, a little or not at all. I spent the evening quietly listening to Low, Aladdin Sane and Hunky Dory and, while not wanting to get caught up in some sort of mass mourning for a fellow I never even knew, had to acknowledge that life on earth would have been a whole lot more dull had 'David Bowie' - that character of creation from middle-class post-war Blighty - not been invented.

 A few days later I came back around to Blackstar. I streamed and I streamed. I found myself devouring every bit of information I could regarding this mysterious album. It was a cryptic parting gift, for sure, but it was also musically the most interesting thing he'd offered the world since I was in short shorts and he'd even roped in some genuine 'jazz musicians' as his backing band, not as a simple gimmick, but because their musical contributions counted. Interestingly - well, it's at least of interest to me - there's some musicians from the ECM fold present, notably guitarist Ben Monder, who released an album on the label earlier this year. Bowie had a knack for much of his career in hand-picking a good band, a talent which shouldn't be dismissed. The vinyl edition went out of print immediately, so I had to wait a good month before I could procure a copy. I'm not a big advocate for format snobbery, but in this case, the vinyl edition is the way to absorb oneself in the release. This is not only because of the ridiculously lavish nature of the packaging (gatefold die-cut sleeve, embossed ink, deluxe booklet with beautifully extravagant ink work), but because the album itself - a mere seven songs in 41 minutes - has a side A and a side B. It doesn't sound like a release of the CD or streaming era. Whether this is accidental or deliberate, or whether I'm just reading that observation into it is up for debate, so feel free to do that amongst yourselves. At the very least, barring a few displays of modern technology, it sounds like it could have been recorded 40 years ago. Would I have found this album quite so fascinating had the man himself not passed away a couple of days after its release? Probably not, but context is much of what we hear when we listen to music, and in the light of what took place, Blackstar is one fucking special record, one which has brought me great peace of mind in 2016. For those with an open mind and a pair of functioning earholes, there is simply no reason why you shouldn't give it a listen.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

JOHN SURMAN / BREMEN - just because...



Welcome back to me. In the time I've been away, I've been doing... stuff. Well, I took a brief sojourn to Tokyo - on a record-finding mission - but all of that really relates to 'work', so it likely won't be discussed here. I would, however, like to briefly discuss a couple of records which have lit a fire under my ass. The first is JOHN SURMAN's Morning Glory LP. This one has certainly taken me by surprise. Norway-via-England's Surman has been releasing records for almost 50 years, starting off in the big band's of Mike Westbrook in the late '60s, but is probably most well know for his many records on the ECM label. I am, of course, very familiar with them, and indeed there's a stack of them I'd recommend you check out: The Amazing Adventures Of Simon Simon from 1981, 1985's Withholding Pattern, Private City from 1988... Surman, on these discs would play a kind of pastoral, minimal form of 'jazz' using synthesisers and reeds (bass clarinet, saxophones of various stripes, even a recorder), creating a hypnotic, looping effect not a thousand miles removed from the likes of Terry Riley, but with an end result which is oh-so-English, and yes, oh-so-ECM. This may sound like I don't like these albums, but that is far, far from the case. Surman is an interesting character whose music has broached many forms: avant-jazz, jazz-rock, Minimalism, 'future jazz' and more, yet perhaps because he's never really stuck to one form - such as the 50+ years of art-brut from Brotzmann, Schlippenbach and co. - he doesn't enjoy the profile he should.

On that note, I bring you his Morning Glory LP from 1973. At this stage, he had released a string of albums with collaborators such as John McLaughlin, Jack Bruce, Michel Portal, Mike Westbrook, Karin Krog, et al. Enough of a discography for the Island label to bankroll this non-seller. As for whether the artist itself is 'Morning Glory' or whether it is 'John Surman and...' appearing on the LP entitled Morning Glory - I've seen it referred to as both. For convenience sake, I will simply refer to it as Surman's Morning Glory LP. It seems odd that Island would throw money at such a project, but those were different times, money was there for the taking, and Island's roster was about as good as it got for a semi-major at the time. You can see the lineup of players on the front cover: fellow ECMers John Taylor and particularly Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal are ones to note. Terje later made his name with a zillion albums on the ECM label - some are good, a number aren't - but was, at this juncture, still indulging in outward-bound sounds (his old trio, Min Bul, released an incredible avant-jazz screecher in 1970 which was briefly reissued last year. It's well worth searching out; an original copy will set you back stupid amounts of money).

When this album was first recommended to me a couple of months back, I was told it was a 'spiritual jazz gem from Surman'. I haven't noted too many others referring to it as such, but if it must be pigeonholed, that's as good as any other hole to pigeon it with. There are elements of melodic, modal jazz throughout, fiery excursions into freeform noise - Rypdal really shines here, ripping out spiky, abstract notes in a Ray Russell/Sonny Sharrock mode - and elements of the kosmiche w/ Surman's synth (otherwise it's bass clarinet and soprano sax for him), but ultimately it's the sound of searching, of yearning - and that's about as spiritual as I get. Four lengthy tracks, one full-length long player. Jesus... there is so much to learn, so many stones left unturned. Surman also released the terrific Westering Home LP on Island in 1972 (minimal, synth-accompanied reeds, much like his ECM albums), as well as following up Morning Glory with two excellent free-jazz trio albums and I need them all. Morning Glory is a fantastic British jazz LP from the 1970s released on a major label. You heard it here last.




Sweden's BREMEN: where the hell have they been my whole life? Under m' damn nose, apparently. They've released three LPs since 2013, all three of 'em doubles: Bremen from 2013, Second Launch from 2014 and Eclipsed from this year. All black and white artwork, all instrumental. They also happen be a duo comprising of two gents from the 'legendary' noise-rock band of yore, Brainbombs. Hey, I used to like those guys! In fact, I even had their first three 7"s - purchased via Spiral Objective mail-order, in fact - but sold them a couple of years ago when I came to the conclusion that I would likely never play them again, anti-social racket that they be (actually, BB made a fine racket, in a kind of Stooges/Flipper/Whitehouse zone, but I was offered good money, so off they went). Bremen are something different: they are cosmic 'rock' of many different shades, encompassing ambient drones, Krautrock, space-rock, Necks-like piano minimalism and all in between.

Now, you may be shaking your head and saying SO WHAT? - as such things have been achieved, recycled and driven into the ground the past 40 years of recorded sound - and that is true. But Bremen do it better than most. In fact, in 2016, I can't think of anyone who does it better. This style of musical is prone to facelessness (I would accuse the Kranky label of being guilty in fostering a number of mediocre acts in this field upon an unsuspecting, and unwilling, public), but Bremen have identity, and most importantly, they know when the song is over. Over the space of three albums, they just keep on getting better and better, broadening their musical horizons yet still sticking to what it is that made them so good in the first place. Parts of what they do - quite a lot of what they do - reminds of me of F/i, and if that doesn't sound like a recommendation, then please remove the shit from your ears. No vocals required: it's just riffs, repeated motifs, delicate pianos, electrified feedback. Songs know when to cut, tracks develop and move over extended time zones. These two Swedes have done this to perfection. My highest recommendation regarding everything they've done.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

MASTER'S APPRENTICES


Better late than never, I guess. The Master's Apprentices have long been held in high esteem as one of this land's finest ever rock and roll combinations, and who am I to argue the point? They're right. Let me briefly discuss, in particular, their albums from 1971 and '72, Choice Cuts and A Toast To Panama Red, respectively, which they recorded in the UK as they tried to break it on the continent after dominating their homeland and producing two LPs of great beat/psych/pop. These last two LPs both currently remain out of print (except for possible 'grey area' issues c/o the Pig's Ear label from Germany), a ridiculous state of affairs, but a fairly typical one, too. They were reissued onto CD in the late '90s by the Sydney label, Ascension; hearing them for the first time, several friends of mine flipped their collective wig over their wares. I promised them I would get around to them one day, and I guess that day has finally arrived. I guess I've heard enough progressive/psychedelic hard rock albums in my life by now to state that these really are about as good as they get.




You can hear elements of various known entities in there - contemporaries they may or may not have even been aware of - such as Black Sabbath, Amon Duul 2, Groundhogs, Budgie and various Vertigo Records outfits - and I have just name dropped these outfits with a straight face and a serious intent: Australia's Master's Apprentices made albums on such a higher plane of consciousness. Choice Cuts boasts possibly the band's best-known song in 'Because I Love You' (used in an ad here for a number of years), but other than that, the two LPs consist of mainly deep cuts: prog-infused heavy guitar rock and roll. Jim Keays was an ace vocalist and a real presence in the band. He later contributed vocals to this cult underground Australian klassique from the mid '70s, and even produced two great albums of garage rock in his last few years (and I was privileged to be involved in the release of the last one), but for me what really catapults these discs into the stratosphere of greatness is the world-class ranking of the songs. It's all about the songs, man. And THE BAND. Master's Apprentices sound like a real band. What do I mean by that? I mean they gel, there's no hired hands here: the rhythm section works in total unity (that's Colin Burgess and Glenn Wheatley - the latter being a well-known 'industry' figure down here who actually served time on tax fraud charges a few years back) - and guitarist, Doug Ford, ebbs and flows between heavy powerchords of doom, spastic, Ginn-like solos and gentle, bucolic melancholy. Australia produced some hacks in the day - it's perfectly obvious that the Master's Apprentices were the real deal. So, so good.... and right under my damn nose the whole time.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

OSAMU KITAJIMA - BENZAITEN



Here is a rather fantastic LP from 1976 which I have only just become aware of. For collector-dorks of Japanese obscurities, it is a flamingly obvious classic. For dilettantes such as moi, it is a discovery one makes later in life. It is the debut LP by Osamu Kitajima, a Japanese musician, songwriter and producer who has spent the bulk of his life residing in Los Angeles and busied himself mostly with far less interesting fusionoid releases the past 40 years (although it is worth digging through for some moments of gold - I really am not familiar enough to make blanket judgments). However, this one from 1976, Benzaiten, is an experimental psychedelic gem, one strange enough to earn his name in the Weirdo Hall Of Fame List (AKA the Nurse With Wound List).

Firstly, there's this track directly below for your pleasure:



That was a track from Justin Heathcliff, off his self-titled debut LP on the Atlantic label in 1971. The connection? Justin Heathcliff is Osamu Kitajima. In '71, Kitajima lived in the UK for a year and, enamoured with the likes of Syd Barrett and the psychedelic works of pre-fame Marc Bolan, he took the nom de plume of Justin Heathcliff (a name which to me sounds more like a moors murderer than an acid-folkie) and somehow managed to score himself an album deal with the Japanese arm of Atlantic and recorded an album in a thoroughly British vein of psychedelic folk. You'll have to skip solid meals for a month to actually pay for a copy of this album, but you can hear the whole thing via Youtube, and it's well worth the effort. Certainly an unusual recording, given the circumstances.

But for me, Benzaiten, which has actually been reissued recently by the Victory label (as for whether this label has a royalties dept., that remains to be seen), is where the gold's at. It somehow scored itself both a Canadian and US release at the time (via Island/Antilles), and I'm guessing it didn't trouble the charts too much, because its exotic mix of traditional Japanese instrumentation and meditative Western psychedelia doesn't really render it 'the sound of '76'. In fact, given its proximity to the works of '80s/'90s PSF outfit, Ghost, I'd say it's more like the 'sounds of a Forced Exposure catalogue circa 1993'. I have spent a number of evenings staring at a wall playing this LP on repeat, and I can attest that it is a recording you should become familiar with.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

INVERLOCH


Here's an interesting album from 2016 which has taken my fancy, and the band known as Inverloch boast an interesting history. From 1989 - 1993, there was a renowned death/doom-metal band from Melbourne by the name of dISEMBOWELMENT. For followers of extreme underground metal, they require no introduction. They are legends in the field. But since this blog rarely covers underground extreme metal, and probably attracts few readers enthused greatly by it, some history must be given.

I first learnt of them in 1993 after the release of their sole album, Transcendence Into The Peripheral, which was put out on the fairly nascent Relapse label (now a big-deal metal powerhouse) at the time and which saw them garner massive amount of worldwide praise in the respective underground press. But they never played a single show, and then they split up. And, perhaps most strangest of all, some of the members hailed from fucking Ivanhoe. For those outside of the suburban confines of Melbourne that will mean next to nothing, but let's put it this way: Ivanhoe is a leafy upper-bourgeois epicentre where nothing much of any note happens, ever. Especially in the realms of interesting music.

So anyway, I heard about this mysterious band, heard the CD at a friend's place a couple of times, noted its interesting take on death/grind/doom, but didn't take it any further. There was other fish to fry. However, let's note this: dISEMBOWELMENT (yes, it's always spelt that way)'s take on the 'genre' was rather special. In fact, what they were really doing was forging a new genre. They can certainly be considered pioneers in the world of funeral (or funereal) doom music. dISEMBOWELMENT's music was richly organic, loose, downtuned to the point of limb-rattling, and rather abstract. Vocals were often mere grunts and groans - tuned down to a realm where they sound like they're emanating from Satan's anus), and the mixture of blast beats and truly slo-mo musical crawl, perfectly blended, was deft and artful. Songs sounded like they were collapsing and picking themselves up again. They were leaps and bounds beyond the thousands of cookie-cutter grind/death/doom bands popping their heads up throughout the universe at the time. There was a deeply gothic element to their music which makes them richly rewarding 20+ years later. Investigate.



In the mid '90s I found myself working with dISEMBOWELMENT guitarist/singer (that's Renata Gallina)'s brother, Fabrizio, in a music warehouse, and we became friends (though I haven't touched base with him for about a decade). At this stage, his brother was playing in the ethno-avant-ambient duo TRIAL OF THE BOW with ex-dISEMBOWELMENT member Matthew Skarajew. They released an EP and full-length CD on the Release label (Relapse's experimental sub-label) in the mid '90s, then called it a day. Heavily influenced by Dead Can Dance, Jon Hassell and the like, their output remains highly listenable. Coincidentally, they had a song called 'Inverloch'.



Inverloch, for those in the state of Victoria, is a slightly odd name for a band. While the name has Scottish heritage, it's also the name of a popular coastal town here where families spend their holidays. I have managed to procure myself an Inverloch - the band Inverloch - t-shirt from Relapse's distributor here, and when I wear it, I get peculiar looks. Is that an Inverloch t-shirt, the holiday town? No, it isn't, And that brings me to Inverloch the band. They are a newish outfit featuring one half of dISEMBOWELMENT: Skarajew, also one half of Trial Of The Bow, and Paul Mazziotta. They have yet to play a show locally, I believe, although this week they are performing at the renowned (and highly interesting and eclectic) arts/music festival in Hobart, Dark Mofo, and then they're off to Europe. They have their debut LP/CD out (after an EP from last year), yet again on the Relapse label, Distance Collapsed, and it is a perfect follow-up to the music of dISEMBOWELMENT which was cooked up in the northern suburbs of Melbourne some 25 years ago. It came out a couple of months ago, and I have flogged the proverbial out of it and then some. Like their former band, the sound is loose and organic, never getting too technical (way too much death metal relies far too heavily on the pitter-patter of double kick pedals), mixing up blast beats with funereal doom. You could argue that they've gone musically nowhere in quarter of a century, or you could argue that they've held true to the sound they pioneered. Or you could not argue at all and just enjoy the fucking record. There are 5 tracks in 40 minutes: short, sweet, mixing the epic with a slice of brevity. It's not a record for every occasion, but when this shit's done well, it moves my heart and loins. Inverloch do it mightily, and Distance Collapsed is a great thing.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

TEST RESULTS

Approximately two years ago, myself and my pal Warwick Brown - he's the man who owns/operates Greville Records - made a pact with each other to listen to a series of self-selected artists for an assessment. Essentially it was to be a reassessment of various singers/bands whom we had loathed and/or dismissed due to our various musical prejudices (i.e. snobbery), which meant that we would finally and belatedly give them a proper earful and not let bigotry rule our listening lives. Essentially, we came to the conclusion that we're both old and pathetic enough not to give a shit about being seen as cool anymore, and the rule book is to be thrown out the window! It was a revolutionary gesture.

OK, the following are a series of bands and/or releases which I have given an earload these past couple of years, and come out with a surprisingly positive reaction. Your reaction will likely be one of two: 1) Pfft! What the hell took you so long?; or 2) You have clearly lost your mind. I am unfollowing you now.

On with the show...

THE CURE
There are a number of 'New Wave' artists here whom I would never have given the time of day to in my prior listening habits because, well, they're just so fuckin' NEW WAVE, you know? Growing up on the hardcore, NU WAVE was for fuckin' POSEURS and HOMOS. Well, I didn't really take such a strident stance on those grounds, but for me such things were an artistic compromise, a cop-out on the artists' behalf, and thus didn't serve total allegiance and dedication to the underground. Or some such shit. Anyway, now that I'm older and patheticer, I have, through some serious badgering, come seriously around to The Cure's first four LPs, despite the goth-gimp persona of one Mr. Robert Smith and all associated something or others. Seriously, the first four - Three Imaginary Boys (1979), Seventeen Seconds (1980), Faith (1981) and Pornography (1982) - the band's alleged 'dark' period before morphing into the hit machine they became, together create a rather beautiful array of crystal-clear, delicate and downright fragile collection of greatness. Which isn't to put them all in the one basket: the debut is much rawer and 'amateur' than what came afterwards (Smith apparently doesn't like it, thinking it was too premature); the second and third capture that spidery, fragile sound I spoke of; and Pornography ups the angst and noise for a last gasp before things quietened down. All fine discs. Next!



NEW ORDER
Speaking of New Wavers... New Order were a band whom various nudniks in my high school raved about as if they were the epitome of 'alternative sounds', and thus I would pay them no mind. Dance music for dorks. Guitarless wonders. Hacks still riding the crest of the one talented member from their previous outfit who decided to take a long walk off a shot pier. Not that I was a big champion of the Joy Division cause, either, mind you. In fact, I'm still not that big a champion of all things Ian Curtis. A fine debut slightly wrecked by neutered production, although it still has its merits, though the follow-up, Closer, I still rate as a big bag of disappointment (thin, joyless nothing) and strangely enough I can now say that I think New Order's debut from 1981, Movement,  is better than anything JD did. It was greeted by a lukewarm reception at the time (I'm assuming people just missed good ol' IxCx and couldn't believe the band would just pick up and carry on like that), but its skeletal, minimal electro vibe is something which sounds tastier to these ears than any of JD's doom and gloom sludge. It is a surprisingly stark, avant-garde piece of percussive greatness.  The follow-up, 1983's Power, Corruption & Lies sees them sickening up their approach and adding more downtown NYC dance vibes, but it's still a very fine thing. Over time, I will move further down the line to investigate. For now, the first two will do.



TALKING HEADS
I came around to Byrne and co. about half a decade back. Badgering from friends, who couldn't believe that I could worship at the altar of Eno and yet not like the Eno-produced THs rekkids, wore me down. I succumbed to peer pressure and wrapped my eardrums around 1979's Fear Of Music and 1980's Remain In Light. Well, duh, they're as good as everyone says they are. 1978's More Songs About Building And Food is also right up there. The debut from '77 still leaves me cold: no Eno and little musical dynamics on display - but those three, they're keepers. Given the fact that I always have liked Eno's Before And After Science and King Crimson's Discipline LPs, both of which strongly relate to these 'Heads LPs, makes this conversion very belated. What a fuckin' New Waver.



10cc and GENESIS
You like '70s UK art-rock? You dig the sounds of Roxy Music, Van Der Graaf Generator, Sparks (limeys by default), Be Bop Deluxe? Sure you do! Then why wouldn't you dig the sounds of 10cc and Genesis? Here's why: because you're a goddamn bigot, a highfalutin' holier-than-thou music Klanner who thinks those two untouchables stink like a dead mule because you've been told they do. Well, that was my excuse. 20 years ago when I was working in the manufacturing dept. of a certain record company, I became friends (still am) with a certain gent who was nearly a decade older than myself, a transplant from Ol' Blighty who introduced me to John Martyn, amongst other things. His head was in the same musical space as mine at the time: Can, Suicide, Miles, Stooges, Boredoms, etc. But - BUT - he held an inexplicable love for Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Loved the absolute shit out of the classic early albums and would constantly try to get me to listen to them. I wouldn't go anywhere near them. My excuse was thus: I don't want to be a Genesis fan. I DON'T WANT TO BE THAT GUY! That'll mean I've crossed the line. What if I DO like them? What's next? Do I start getting into Dire Straits (see below)?! Well, it took until approximately 24 months ago when I finally took the plunge - out of pure curiosity - into the fiery pits of Genesis and acquired myself a copy of their 1974 meisterwerk, the legendarily 'challenging' Lamb Lies Down On Broadway 2LP set, the ambitious epic which saw Gabriel split from the band soon afterwards. It is an immensely rewarding set: experimental, flowing, dynamic, radical and all of the above. And so I went backwards to Foxtrot, Selling England By The Pound, Nursery Cryme and Trespass - all of them have something to recommend. Let's make this clear: had the band known as Genesis ceased to be in 1974 upon Gabriel's departure, you would hold them in the same regard as Roxy Music, etc. Those records are fucking weird and beautiful, and often weirdly beautiful, and very English and very early '70s. And The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is angry.

10cc? See all of the above and substitute 'Peter Gabriel' with 'Godley and Creme'. 10cc's first four discs: 10cc (1973), Sheet Music (1974), The Original Soundtrack (1975) and How Dare You (1976) are smart, funny, weird, disjointed slabs of bizarro limey art-rock, the rot only setting in after Godley and Creme split from the band, leaving it in the hands of Graham Goldman and Eric Stewart (their material thereafter simply irks me). Also worthy of investigation is Godley and Creme's Consequences 3LP set from 1977, but that's another story. Who hepped me to 10cc? Oren fucking Ambarchi. 'Hey Dave, you got How Dare You? Top-10 desert-island disc, man. TOP 10!'



FRANK ZAPPA
Well, I've always held a fondness for the works of the Mothers Of Invention, and have in fact written about them several times before here, but my standard line in the sand was Zappa's Hot Rats from 1969. Weasels Ripped My Flesh from 1970 got a pass, as it was a compilation of slightly earlier material. For shame! Those Mothers records still rule the planet and the universe, but Zappa's records from 1970 - 1975 contain a bounty of goods I had wilfully ignored for far too long. Sure, Frank's smug persona weighs heavier on these platters (it was that element which held me off for two decades), and there's some awfully dazzling displays of musicianship on show, but they never overshadow what is an amazing run of discs of gonzo rock & roll. Burnt Weeny Sandwich, Chunga's Revenge, Waka/Jawaka, The Grand Wazoo, Over Nite Sensation, Apostrophe ('), Roxy and Elsewhere (my fave) and One Size Fits All make for a dynamite slab of head-rock in the pre-punk era. Sure, Zappa fans are deeply annoying humans and he inspired a sea of shit in his wake, but the original source material is a different matter: smart-arsed greaser-rock with a taste for the absurd.



DIRE STRAITS
Fuck. I mean, this one's embarrassing. I was bullied into giving this one a spin by various hep - yeah, HEP! - friends of mine who'd told me that, no matter what I had always thought of Dire Straits and their shithouse brand of tepid, banal, brown-flavoured Dad-rock, I should give their self-titled debut from 1978 a listen, as it was somewhat of an anomaly in their catalogue of musical mush. Yes, it is. I will paraphrase what I said about Genesis and 10cc: had the band known as Dire Straits called it a day immediately after the release of this album - or had they all died in a tragic car crash or some such - your opinion of the band, which would be based solely on this one LP, would probably be very different. The band were zeros at this stage: mere pub-rockers in a sea of punkers, a functional guitar/bass/drums/vocals band, a low-key, Dylan-damaged folky one at that. The recording is fairly raw and sparse, the songs are mostly hooky gems (there's 'Sultans Of Swing' in there, perhaps the only song you may recognise if you're not familiar) and fuck a duck! If this was the only thing they did - I'll say it again - it'd be a cult UK folk-rock one-off from a bunch of odd ducks stuck in the punk era. If it had been issued privately in 1973 AS IS, drooling collector dorks would probably skip a few meals to pay for an original pressing. All of this isn't to imply that it's amazing - it's simply a very solid limey folk-rock LP by a band who devolved into one of the fucking lamest musical propositions this planet has ever known. But don't hate on 'em for it.



Over and out.

SOFT OPTION

Over the month of May, myself and my pal Josh were given the honour of a late-night two-hour slot on Melbourne's 3RRR radio station (the land's most widely heard community radio station, don't ya know?). OK, so it was the midnight - 2 AM slot on a Friday evening/Saturday morning - waaaay past my usual bedtime, if you need to know, but it was not an opportunity to be knocked back. The show was entitled SOFT OPTION.

A little bit of background information may be required here. I've known Josh for approximately a decade; we worked together for just under a year or so, but he lived nearby and we kept in touch. We both had children around the same time and would have Dad play dates at the park, as you do (that's where parents stand around at a playground talking BS whilst their kids play). Josh's musical tastes veer strongly in the areas of classical (modernist and not) and electronic music (the danceable and non-danceable kind), while mine are whatever they may be. About a year ago we found that we were both listening to quite a lot of 'soft' music, and particularly it was Lewis (whom Josh got me into) who had become a musical obsession for the both of us. We took it upon ourselves, each time we caught up, to inform each other of a new, musically pissweak discovery: the softer, the better.

A show was pitched, the rest is history. There were four airings in total, and you can stream them all below, if you care. You will hear limp disco, bantam-weight singer-songwriters, ambient pioneers and hacks, ECM fuzak and the light banter of two pathetic middle-aged white man wondering what on earth they're doing. Take the Soft Option.

SHOW ONE: HERE
SHOW TWO: HERE
SHOW THREE: HERE
SHOW FOUR: HERE

Thursday, May 12, 2016

MARC MOULIN


This previously-unheard-of gem from 1975 has really taken my fancy the last 6 months. Its name is Sam' Suffy. Original copies will likely put you in the poor house, but relax, oh collector-dork, there is a very nice reissue on the Music On Vinyl label (do your Googling, I'm not here to promote their wares). Marc Moulin is an interesting cat whose discography I was woefully ignorant of just a year ago. He passed away in 2008, but was somewhat of an identity in his homeland of Belgium. Along with his sporadic solo career, he was a member of three crucial Belgian groups in the 1970s: Placebo, the jazz fusion outfit who released three excellent albums in the first half of that decade (and are obviously not to be confused with those Limey nudniks of the same name); Aksak Maboul, who were an interesting avant-rock band linked up with Henry Cow and the RIO crowd in the late '70s, and one whose name can be found in the infamous Nurse With Wound List; and Telex, the synth-pop band of the '70s/'80s who were, if need be, the Belgian equivalent of Kraftwerk and even had a few minor hits down here at the time. On top of that, he was a renowned journalist and broadcaster who also released several 'jazz' albums on the Blue Note label. This week's candidate for Renaissance Man? I'll vote for him.

Here's a Placebo cut.



And a Telex number.



Telex performing at the 1980 Eurovision contest.



Some choice Aksak Maboul.



A number of from his Sam' Suffy LP.



And another...



Where does Marc Moulin's Sam' Suffy fit within the musical universe? It is nominally a 'jazz-fusion' recording (I've learnt not to be afraid of throwing around such a term: there is good fusion and there is plenty of bad fusion). In fact you might even call it proto acid-jazz or proto trip-hop and all other manner of frightening names. To my ears it's quite a brain-bending mix of cosmic jazz-rock, ambient and lounge sounds, a more laid-back, concise take on the classic Bitches Brew sound, if you will. If you must. Listen to all of the above. It was a life well lived.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

SOULED AMERICAN



Another unexpected musical detour which has taken my fancy the past 6 months. I recall when Souled American were fairly active in the late '80s/early '90s, and their existence didn't register beyond a blip on the radar. There was enough hope from someone somewhere that they would amount to more than a hill o' beans, since a couple of their LPs were even licensed here in Australia (to Festival Records - though I'm assuming that was possibly due more to a deal between the US Rough Trade office and Festival: if you're going to distribute our label, then all priorities get a local release).

So anyway, Souled American existed from roughly the mid '80s until the mid '90s and are often considered pioneers in the alt-country genre. But you're allowed to like them regardless. My ears were originally piqued to the idea of there being something curious about the band when the Tumult label reissued their first four albums as a 4CD set back in 1999. Tumult was/is owned and operated by Andee Connors, who also happens to be a co-owner of Aquarius Records in San Francisco. Its roster usually hovers around the musical realms of black metal/stoner/doom/punk/noise and other ear-bleeding music forms. But Souled American, a largely forgotten countrified indie band from Chicago, were so highly regarded by Andee (one of his favourite bands of all time!) that he felt compelled to piss money into the wind and release a goddamn 4CD box set by a band few people gave a shit about in the first place. Well, that box set sold out years ago and actually goes for a bit of money now, so I guess some must have caught on. I was inspired to investigate their wares by that situation, and also because their 5th and 6th albums - which were released in 1994 and 1997, respectively, and only in Germany - happened to be included in this list of Jim O'Rourke's favourite music (it's an approximate list, one collated via some diligent research, and a fascinating buyers' guide, if you care).



I have managed to tumble across vinyl copies of their first two LPs: 1988's Fe and '89's Flubber, both in such mint condition at a suburban secondhand barn that I figure the original owners never even gave 'em a chance (fair enough - few did), and both of which are Australian editions. I don't recall the band ever getting airplay down here on community radio at the time; in fact, I don't recall a goddamn ripple, so I'll make the wild assumption that most copies were trashed upon marketplace failure. Certainly the US branch of Rough Trade wasn't a particularly exciting place to be, musically, during this era, and in fact it was a terrible place to be by 1992, when it went bust and burnt a number of its artists. It managed to released some fine recordings from Galaxie 500, but other than that, the only release which springs to mind is one of the Butthole Surfers' worst (1990's Pioughd). And in amongst this was the Great White Hope of college radio at the time. The obi strip on my copy has a quote from some such putz which compares 'em to the Violent Femmes, Meat Puppets and Camper Van Beethoven (whom they toured with). OK... But really, if you dig deeper, and if you give them time, Souled American had layers of sound beyond the obvious to offer.



Their music was loose, disjointed and only became more so over their career. Both Fe and Flubber  as do all their recordings - feature the bass playing of Joe Adduci, and it's this instrument and the way it's played which really adds to their sound. Their music is often sparse with drawled, stoned-sounding vocals, and amidst this is Adduci's clunking, almost funky six-string bass work (on a Fender VI). Now, I don't mean to say that his bass playing is 'funky' like the guy is slapping and popping to within an inch of your sanity, but there are big, abrupt and quite intrusive bass notes throughout which add a new and rather peculiar dimension to their music. Like two of my other favourite bands of the era - Slovenly and The Scene Is Now - repeated listens to Souled American show them to be a deceptive band at first listen, enveloping their material with all kinds of non-standard extras which add extra layers to their songs. There is a definite non genericus element to their music which has had me coming back for more.




Now, the other interesting aspect to Souled American is this: they released two more albums on Rough Trade - 1990's Around The Horn and 1992's Sonny (neither of which I've procured yet) - both of which sold less than the previous two (the band's history was one of declining sales), before regrouping mostly sans-drummer for 1994's Frozen and 1997's Notes Campfire. Of the latter two, I have the former and not the latter. Got me? These last two, as noted, were only released in Germany on the Moll Tontrager label, which I guess hints at their fortunes falling even further. But they are equally excellent, if not more so. By the time of Frozen, their music had become a gooey sprawl, almost formless. Drawled vocals, guitar notes flying slowly at whim, those meaty bass notes giving an anchor when there's little to no percussion to be heard. It is truly a beautiful thing to behold. A decade prior, the band was pipped and primed to be the latest College Rock Sensation, and somehow it came to this. And that's not a bad thing, because unlike most Great White Hopes of 1980s college radio, you'd actually still want to listen to Souled American, whereas most you'd never want to hear at all. I need to fill in the gaps, of course, but having now ensconced myself in various areas of their discography, I'm convinced they were a band well worth giving a shit about.