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