Thursday, May 12, 2016
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.
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
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.
Monday, May 02, 2016
It's been some time. There are several explanations, none of which are particularly interesting. It's guilt which brings me back to this blog. Not Catholic guilt... perhaps it's Protestant Work Ethic Guilt: the sense that I should be doing something creative, laying my thoughts onto screen for no other reason than pure selfishness (and audience adulation, let's face it). But here I am. I hope your 2016 has been kind to you thus far. It has been very gentle with me., and that is sweet relief.
I haven't really ever written about this on the blog before - frankly, because it's none of your damn business - but the story may be a reasonable segue way into music open for discussion. So, for the past 8 months I have been a partner in a record store in Melbourne: Round And Round Records in Brunswick. When I left my previous position at a record company last July - walked out that damn door - I was left with my dick in the breeze, so to speak, and no idea what to do. My two good friends who owned/operated the shop - my favourite musical retail outlet in Melbourne, I should add - offered me a stake in the business, and I took it. There are many other details to add, but this is not a confessional. I am happy, scraping a living from it and it would be nice if you'd drop on by. My head is in a very good place, and I'd like to use this opportunity to get more regularly, uh, 'creative'.
The shop is a mix of 50/50 new and secondhand vinyl; there was a time when it sold CDs (and even DVDs!), but since at some point many in the general public decided they didn't want such things, those formats were stripped from the shelves. The market did the talking, although we (or at least I!) remain unfazed regarding musical formats, as for myself, the music itself is really the only thing worth discussing.
So, approximately 6 weeks ago, an old friend of mine came in and sold off a box of old records. I've known this gent for roughly 15 years, used to play in bands with him and generally know his taste in music. It was a big pile of punk/goth/noise goodness, and right in the pile was, gulp, two LPs by God Bullies. I hadn't given them much thought since Bill Clinton was President, but I was happy to purchase them for the shop, figuring the Great Grunge Revival was/is right around the corner and that some 40-something putz with the weight of the world on his shoulders and a head full of worry would grab them, toot sweet. The Great Grunge Revival is yet to hit, of course, but in the meantime, I wound up purchasing the two LPs in question, and hopefully that's the strangest fucking thing I do all year.
I should clarify here: I rarely ever take home secondhand LPs from the store, for two simple reasons - 1) It makes sense that the good secondhand arrivals should hit the shelves for the customers and not for my own gratification at home; and 2) I need more records like I need a hole in the head. But in this case, something odd happened. I kind of laughed when the records first arrived: Dog Show?! Fuck! I bought that when I was 18 and sold it by the time I was 25! The late '80s/early '90s... they could be a cruel period. Yes, I do recall buying Dog Show when I was 18 and being distinctly under-impressed by it, although I desperately wanted to like it, given the good press it had received and its label Amphetamine Reptile's then-rep (this is 1990, folks) as one of the world's great taste-making recording imprints. Its mixture of sample-heavy clunk-rock with thin production and tastelessly metallic guitar sheen left me colder than a fuckin' iceberg and I dismissed it as a whole lotta hype about nothing much at all.
Despite this questionable history with its wares, I found myself, over the ensuing weeks, giving them some serious air time when I was in the shop. My workmate found its hilarious, if perhaps a bit disconcerting. He did, at the very least, promise me that if a totally boss collection of Surgery and Chokebore LPs came in, I could get first dibs. I felt a curious sense of nostalgia for a record I thought was a steaming pile of shit 25 years ago. And I haven't even mentioned my fondness for their debut full-length, also in the secondhand pile, Mamawombwomb, which I was giving similar airing on the stereo system. It came to be that no one bought them in the (mere) three weeks I gave them shelf space - and in fact no one paid any interest in them whatsoever - and I decided I would purchase them and give them a home myself. It was probably some point around here when I lost my mind.
God Bullies formed in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the mid '80s, and released four LPs before splitting in the mid '90s. The last, Kill The King, was released in 1994 on the Alternative Tentacles label, while War On Everybody from 1991 was similarly released on the AmRep label and for me ranks as their best (though I don't own the thing - I streamed it via a certain platform [take a wild fuckin' guess]). Their guitarist was David B. Livingstone, who also happened to be an editor/published of Your Flesh magazine (one of the better post-Forced Exposure rant mags of its day) and indie band booker in the midwest. Their singer was 'crazy man', Mike Hard. I don't know much about Mike except he was apparently 'craazee' in a rock-singer kinda way, but, you know, everyone was back in the day. There's this clip here you can see, which has the band in full flight, but I'd recommend you don't watch it, if you're at all partial and/or curious about the band. I know, it's so tempting, but honestly, it's a hamfisted, overcooked semi-embarrassment which looks like a band trying too hard. Correct me if I'm wrong, dear readers, but quarter of a century later, from the comfort of the other side of the world, it looks like a parody of a grunge-era noise-rock band. I'm sticking to the audio side of things.
Mamawombwomb goes lighter on the sampling and possesses much better production than Dog Show, and it's the stronger of the two. If I was to dumb it down to a catch-phrase, and you know I will, I'd say that they approximate some sort of meeting point twixt the Melvins, Buttholes and Killdozer. From the first, there's the rifferama; from the second, the psychedelic 'crazy' angle; and from the latter, a thick slice of midwestern sludge. I think the Melvins, Buttholes and Killdozer are all streets ahead of God Bullies in terms of musical, innovative and creative endeavours, of course, which might prompt the question - why fucking bother? - and I can't really answer that. Why bother getting out of bed every day? I don't know. Maybe there's more God Bullies records to buy. Overcome with a sense of nostalgia from when I was young, dumb and full of cu- hope for the world? That's a distinct possibility. No, it's a probability. But there remains those two LPs: Mamawombwomb and Dog Show. I like 'em. The clunkiness and thin production of Dog Show don't grate me like they used to. Instead, what I hear is a basement-level midwestern shit-rock which I'm giving a B+. Right now, that's good enough.