Monday, April 17, 2017
Wow. This was one of my favourite recordings of 2015, and yet I only became aware of its existence as 2015 clocked into 2016. So here is a belated appraisal of one of that year's finest releases. Carter Tutti Void, as you may or may not know, is Chris & Cosey (AKA Cosey Fanni Tutti and Chris Carter, ex-Throbbing Gristle... I don't really need to spell this all out, do I?) and Nik Void from the UK post-punkish outfit, Factory Floor. FF were the talk of the town a few years back in Ol' Blighty, but despite this predicament, they're an outfit worth hearing a few times in your life, as they emanate quite a tasty brew of noisy electro-spuzz which sounds like equal parts Rough Trade post-punk, minimal wave and industrial spew like the last 35 years of life on earth never happened. You know what I mean.
Which I guess means he's a perfect collaborator for Chris & Cosey. Throbbing Gristle - let it be put on the national record - were one neat outfit. Conceptually, they were quite brilliant. Musically, I wouldn't accuse them of delivering quite so high as the concept itself (this concept, and I really can't and won't speak for the band, I guess revolves around being offensive and noisy in a non-rock yet constructive way, if I may dumb it down to a simple sentence), but I can listen to LPs such as DOA: Third And Fimal Report, Heathen Earth and 20 Jazz Funk Greats at just about any point in my life and receive great enjoyment from their contents.
For me, however, it's the post-TG projects which bore greater fruit: Chris & Cosey's Trance LP from 1982 is an effin' masterpiece; Psychic TV's career has been epic, prolific and uneven (life is like that when you release albums like most people have hot meals: often), but has created a number of real gems (Force The Hand Of Chance and Dreams Less Sweet are quite excellent, and I'm partial to Genesis's late '80s period when his Brian Jones obsession was coming to fruition; Allegory And Self from 1988 is awesome); and Coil had a number of discs I'll stake my life on (Musick To Play In The Dark, volumes 1 and 2, Ape Of Naples, Astral Disaster, etc.). That is quite the diaspora. TG were clearly onto something.
And then there's Carter Tutti Void's f(x) LP, which sees the three members engaging in a kind of minimal industrial techno, if you will. It's a perfect combination of deep, submersive rhythms with a dark industrial sheen. No song outstays its welcome, not a bum note is hit. It's perfect enough that I wish it was a double album. There are no vocals and the sound and style varies little throughout. I love this sound when it's done well, and I can't think of a better example of - dare I say: experimental electronic music - than f(x) done in recent years.
Thursday, April 13, 2017
God forbid I should be so damn predictable with this ROTD guff. It's time to throw you all for a curveball and come clean with an LP I have really loved for over a quarter of a century, and it happens to be from the highly unfashionable outfit known as SOUL ASYLUM. And that's OK, because this blog is not about fashion. Let me give you some background here...
In late 1990, my older brother travelled around the US for about two and a half months, seeing lots of bands and hanging out with them (from Bastro to Jack Brewer to Clawhammer to a very young Kyuss - known as Sons Of Kyuss then) and, ultimately, bringing back a shit-ton of records from his journey when he came back in February of 1991. At that ripe age, having a couple of crates worth of records to sift through was like you'd won the lottery, and in between records-of-the-day by the likes of The Derelicts, The Fluid, Poison Idea, GG Allin and a whole buncha also-rans on labels like Sympathy and AmRep, there was a copy of Soul Asylum's 1990 LP on the A & M label, And The Horse They Rode In On. To be honest, his purchases could be pretty impulsive at the time - neither of us had ever been a fan of the band, though we had been aware of them for a number of years - but I get a feeling he just threw it on the pile at the time and it found its way back to Australia.
It had received a scathingly negative review in Flipside by renowned dunderhead 'Krk', who derided the band as a bunch of boring flannel-clad sadsacks who'd all 'grown up' (as The Replacements had by then, too) and become a kind of good-time MOR alt-rock band for the masses, and while that assessment may bare some truth - it certainly did by the time they released their breakthrough LP, Grave Dancers Union - repeated spins of the record couldn't assuade me of its undeniable appeal. This is one fucking great rock & roll record, I had to admit, and believe me, I was one uptight motherfucker back then, dismissive of just about everything which didn't fit into my wilfully obtuse, undergroundist worldview of music. I am a more relaxed human being these days, and I still hold this album in very high esteem.
The music of Soul Asylum made prior to and after this sole LP from 1990 means nothing to me, but this one album really is something special, and oddly it's one of those recordings in their discography which few have ever heard of, as it doesn't fit into their earlier, punkier indie period nor their populist arena-rock era once they made it big. It was their last record for the A & M label before they were dropped, was considered a commercial (if not critical) failure and basically sunk without a trace. It's a wonder Columbia signed 'em up for their subsequent recordings. It's also been out of print for decades and for some reason isn't even available on streaming services, even though all their recordings surrounding it are. With all of this duly noted, I will now draw the longest bow you will read this week and hail it as a 'lost classic'.
Take away all your prejudices of Soul Asylum, whatever they may be - Winona Ryder, Bill Clinton, 'Runaway Train', Dave Pirner's pretty-boy looks, the gormless, benign dad-rock band they became for shirt-tuckers the world over - and listen to the songs within. That will be hard, since none of this is on Youtube, either, except for this lead single track, but you'll probably scoop up a cheap copy of this on CD within nary a penny spent. Hell, being clinically insane, I happen to own this on CD and LP, but that's really something to discuss with my therapist. The best song on the disc is actually this one, though this live version isn't really the best way to hear it. I can only assume that there's some weird legal issue with the release, as the only versions on YT are not the studio versions.
Every song on this LP is worthy of an ear. It remains a good-time rock & roll recording which always puts a smile on my face. Perhaps it reminds me of my younger self, when I was full of hopes and dreams, before the weight of the world crushed my spirit - or maybe it simply remains a great collection of songs. After all, I hate some of the shit I fawned over in 1990/'91. It's a record which clicked for me, even though Soul Asylum as a band never did. There are only two types of music: good and bad. Soul Asylum's And The Horse They Rode In On LP from 1990 is better than good. You heard it here first.
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
This is an unexpected one, and one born from a typically unpredictable musical tangent in which a middle-aged white guy suddenly discovers - 30 years after the fact - that of all countries on earth, Brazil actually had an amazing Black Metal scene in the mid '80s. In fact, let's not mince words here: a pioneering BM scene, one which prefigured the Norwegian scene by a year or two (perhaps... I mean, I don't want to start a war here), and one which saw teenage Brazilians, influenced by bands like Celtic Frost, Bathory, Venom, Discharge and European hardcore of various stripes to create something new and exciting.
Of course, it's not a secret that death/black/thrash metal (and grindcore and its permutations) found a big audience in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America early on, and indeed some made it big, the obvious contender being Sepultura, a band whose records up to and including Roots I happen to really like, and one whose roots lie more in a super-raw BM sound. Their 1986 debut, Morbid Visions, is a grim slice of lo-fi nastiness which is a thousand miles removed from the rather dire groove-metal band they became many years later, and definitely sounds Black Metal to these jaded earholes. As a sidenote, Sarcofago's singer, Wagner Lamounier(!), also happened to be Sepultura's first singer.
But back to Sarcofago, because they took it further in sound and approach than their contemporaries (and as another sidenote, contemporaries from their homeland, Holocausto, should also be heard). I guess there are a two main things which fascinate me with this band, and particularly this release. Firstly, it's because it happens to be musically excellent: totally 'punk' in its execution, its raw, chaotic approach, mixed with blastbeats and guttural vocals is the kind of thing I can crank at high volume when the urge takes me, and it ain't a thousand miles removed from the more nutsoid branch of early HC a la Void/Die Kreuzen. And I guess I'm just fascinated by the fact that it comes from, of all countries on the planet - Brazil. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, as Brazil has a long and rich history of lots of excellent and eclectic music (you could pinpoint Tropicalia as one of the high watermarks of global psychedelia, and I wouldn't flinch at such a remark), but ultra-grim and Satanic Black Metal from a land known for its beaches and, more importantly, its Catholicism - that's a different thing. But perhaps that also perfectly explains why Sarcofago existed and why they were the way they were. Still, with song titles like 'Satanic Lust', 'Desecration Of A Virgin', 'Ready To Fuck' and 'The Black Vomit', they're unlikely to win the national pride of an Os Mutantes or Gilberto Gil. That is, of course, no reason not to like 'em. I.N.R.I. was their debut from 1987. It must be heard.
Saturday, April 08, 2017
The Australian band known as Severed Heads - a musical unit which has, by and large since 1981, been mainstay Tom Ellard and whomever else he has on board with him - are a name which has slipped under the radar for many as a group seriously worth considering, and seriously worth liking. Well, perhaps I should really just speak for myself, as that scenario happens to fit moi, and perhaps few others. After all, it's only in the past 18 months that I've managed to familarise myself with their excellent output from their early days (1980 - '85 is where you really want to be), and the greatness of this material has truly blown me away.
My disinterest in the band possibly stems from seeing some of their later video clips on late-night TV shows in the late '80s such as Rock Arena, at which point they'd made quite a name for themselves in the US college circuit as a slightly slicker but still avant electronic dance-oriented outfit (or EBM - Electric Body Music - if we must); this schtick posed little interest for a rock-slob such as myself at the time, and doesn't register a great deal more interest 30 years later. But - there's always a but - the roots of the band, which saw them releasing all kinds of independent/self-released tapes and 7"s and were flying around the same circle as other hardy underground grunters such as SPK and the Slugfuckers, are of great interest.
1983's Since The Accident was actually released on a major label at the time, Virgin subsidiary Ink (and Nettwerk in some territories), with the single off the album, 'Dead Eyes Opened' being a kind of indie 'hit' here (and elsewhere) and, well, apparently when it was re-released in 1994 it went into the mainstream top 20(?!). Man, I was pretty drunk that year, so you'll have to forgive me if I don't remember that happening. But happen it did. All this is kinda strange because, well, I guess I just find it unusual that a challenging/interesting/good recording from the 1980s actually found any traction with a larger audience at the time, because this period of the band for me is their apex, when they were melding their early industrial/experimental roots with more songcraft, much in the same way as bands like Cabaret Voltaire (ca. 1979 - 1982) and Psychic TV did at the time.
The 'hit' single, 'Dead Eyes Opened', for one, is a brilliant slice of noisy Kraftwerkian electro-pop with occasional stabs of white noise throughout, and others, like 'God Song' and 'Exploring The Secrets Of Treating Deaf Mutes', are pure cold/dark wave gems, combining grim, urban noise and samples/loops with an underlying 'pop' (as in actual songs) sensibility which makes this highly listenable 30+ years later. Yes, I think I was the last guy to the party.
This album was originally released in 2009 on the Samadhi Sound label, David Sylvian's own boutique imprint, while I was working for the label's distributor. I had been aware of the fact that he had taken a detour into the 'musical avant-garde' in the prior decade or more, but you couldn't register my interest on a bar graph. Why on earth would I be interested in a New Romantic lightweight like Sylvian, no matter how off the musical deep-end he'd traversed? Well, I am one stubborn motherfucker, as you know, but given I was obligated to familiarise myself with the product we carried, I gave it a spin.
Have I told this story before? Probably. Upon first listen, I immediately concluded that it was likely the worst thing I'd hear all year and made the wild assumption that it probably wouldn't go double platinum with the consumers of Australia. It was, after all, an exceedingly 'difficult' listen. I was correct with the second bit (it truly did tank, though that's never been an indicator of quality), but something drew me back to it. About a week later, I gave it another spin. The first experience had elicited such a strong reaction in me, that I was a little bit intrigued. This immediate, strong repulsion, as you know, can sometimes be a sign that something good is lurking within a recording. Over the next few days, I played it several times and noted that there was something special about it - Sylvian was onto something good.
I really should note the method of operation here: Manafon is David Sylvian stripped to his bare bones. It borders on being an a cappella recording. There is musical accompaniment from a variety of hotshots from the avant scene - Otomo Yoshihide, Evan Parker, Keith Rowe, John Tilbury, Christian Fennesz and more - but the actual 'music' here is extremely minimal. Played in a cavernous warehouse, as I had been, it sounded like simply Sylvian mournfully moaning away in the corner with nobody else to keep him company. With quality headphones on, you will hear the full package, and I thoroughly recommend the experience.
Of course, many years later I can conclude that while the music of Japan still register nothing with me (not entirely true: they mostly register negative sentiments), David Sylvian is very much a Scott Walker-like figure: one who found pop fame early, left that world behind and has pursued his own highly idiosyncratic path since, one littered with great musical riches. Along this path you will find some excellent recordings such as 1987's Secrets Of The Beehive (I am extremely partial to this track), 1999's Dead Bees On A Cake and 2003's Blemish. And that's merely scratching the surface.
Friday, April 07, 2017
The German outfit known as Bohren & der Club Of Gore have been making music for nigh on 25 years now, and made a wider splash in the music world about 15 years back with this set from 2002, as well as their equally as fine epic from 2000, Sunset Mission. Until recently, I hadn't thought of them for many years. I used to sell quite a lot of their albums at Missing Link at the time, albums (it was CDs, of course) I usually recommended to fans of the Necks or John Zorn or the Residents or, let's fucking face it, Mike Patton and Mr. Bungle. It's not like they sound anything like Mike Patton or Mr. Bungle - and if they did, I sure as shit wouldn't be listening to them - though they did have some recordings licensed to Patton's Ipecac label at the time (an imprint which I will happily concede has done some fine things), and their non-categorisable eccentricity as a band did mean that the more adventurous Mike Patton fans would find something to enjoy in their music. And let's face it, most Mike Patton fans are such punishing worshippers of all things MP, that anything he spruiks will win them over. But that's OK, too. There are much bigger problems on this earth.
So, before I tied myself up with all this contextual nonsense, where was I? Oh yes, a few of the band's best recordings from this period - particularly the two mentioned - have recently been reissued on vinyl (and what handsome sets they be), and it has certainly renewed my interest in the group, so much so I recently purchased both Sunset Mission and Black Earth. Bohren still exist to this day and released a recording just last year (one of their earliest efforts is here, and it's well worth a listen), but these remain their peak efforts. Just what is it they do? Bohren feature members of various German death/black metal, goregrind and hardcore outfits, the story goes, and their music has been (self-) described as 'ambient jazz', 'death-jazz' and 'doom-jazz', all of which make perfect sense in their own ways. If you took the grim black metal imagery and sense of dark mystery away from the band, you may conclude that they're an extremely fine dark and moody velvety jazz outfit who sound like they should've been playing in a sleazy bar scene in an old David Lynch film (such a trite comment to make, I will acknowledge that, but one that also fits 'em like a glove), but with the added grimness on top, the level of theatre takes them to the next level.
There are many moments in the music of Bohren where everything sits still. Their music resonates like glacial drips of ice, and if everything wasn't just so damn gloomy, they probably could've found a home with various Scandinavian jazzers on the ECM label (or perhaps Rune Grammofon, I suppose), but I get a feeling that even the stern, guiding hands of Manfred Eicher would have difficulty taming this beast. Their music remains uncategoraisable, despite their best efforts, though if a melting pot containing the Necks, Angelo Badalamenti's film scores, the quiet, swingless shuffle of ECM's Nordic stable of stars and the ambience of folks like Coil and Lustmord sounds like a party you'd wish to attend, I would recommend Bohren & der Club Of Gore without hesitation. You can't dance to them, but their barely-there deathly rhythms never bore, and I've been knee-deep in their world once again for a few months now. A truly excellent band seriosuly worthy of reappraisal or newfound discovery.
Tuesday, April 04, 2017
When I was 15, and in the thick of my US hardcore obsessions, I was also, perhaps strangely (or perhaps not), really obsessed with this album. I mean, I loved it inside and out for a year or so. And I still love it now, but back then it was a record I would study nightly: the photos, liner notes, every riff, every obnoxious word out of Stiv Bators' mouth. Something about the Dead Boys, and particularly this record (as well as this reformation 12" from 1987, which I still rate equally as highly) made a big impact, because despite the puritan baldie aesthetics of much of the early hardcore bands, I'd never lost my love of good - nay, great - '77-style PUNK. And that's what the Dead Boys were.
You could even be unkind and deride them as somewhat bandwagon jumpers. I mean, Stiv was born in 1949, did the bars of Cleveland with Frankenstein for a number of years (belting out a pretty mean glam-damaged punkish hard rock, BTW) and didn't even cut his hair short with the Dead Boys until the band relocated to NYC and Mr. Rotten and crew had made their cultural dent circa late '76 or so. Which is perhaps why many critics thought their young, loud and snotty schtick (they really weren't the former) was a bit of a con, but then again, the critics had absolutely no idea what to make of punk rock, good or bad, at the time, so that's hardly a gauge anyone should measure a band by. So please don't.
The fact is, the band known as the Dead Boys were one of the best American punk rock bands of the original wave - east or west coast - and they made two studio albums you could stake your life on. Yes, even the second one, We Have Come For Your Children, which I wrote about here a number of years back and is, despite the neutered production c/o Mountain-man Felix Pappalardi, an album with, at least in my opinion, better songs than the lauded debut - that's Young, Loud and Snotty, if I need mention it. But for me, this is the album which beats them both. Originally released on the Bomp label in 1981, at which time Stiv was trying to make his name as a kind of power-pop dude (unsuccessfully, though those recordings are good fun), it was recorded live at CBGBs in 1979 with apparently Stiv's vocals re-recorded later on due to the fact that he missed the mic most of the night. It features the best versions of the best tracks from both of their studio albums, which basically means it's like a perfectly executed Best Of set with the band - Cheetah Chrome, Jeff Magnum, Johnny Blitz and Jimmy Zero - playing with a real energy and urgency which was never really caught in the studio, but it also shows their real songcraft as a group: Stoogoid punk, power-pop, proto-punk balladry mesh together and demonstrate their power as a rock and roll group without just sneers and poses.
The band was destined for total failure. There were the combustible personalities to consider, but also the fact that the US of A - the America which makes up all the cities between NYC and LA - were not in the mood for the bad news known as punk rock (as John Lydon noted in an unusually perceptive and conciliatory tone several years ago, they'd just been through the Vietnam War and Watergate: they were beaten down and wanted something nice for a change), and the Dead Boys were about as tabloid PUNK ROCK as it got. But they made amazing records, too. This is their best.
Sunday, April 02, 2017
I first purchased this album - The Replacements' 'breakout' disc from 1984, Let It Be - on the compact disk format in the year 1990. I was 18 years of age, and bought it from the Gaslight Music store which was situated on campus at Melbourne Uni at the time. That's probably not important to you, but for me it gives it context. When I was 15, a school friend - one of the only humans in the entire school who was also into punk rock - gave me a copy of the Replacements' Tim on cassette, and it became a real favourite, even though I was somewhat hesitant to hail the band as something truly great in the way I would, say, Flipper or Minor Threat. In my hardarsedness, I saw the band as too much of a musical half-measure to fully endorse, and relegated them to some sort of subdivision of 'a band who made some records I like, but whom I can't fully get behind'. Whatever the fuck that means.
Years later, I went backwards and discovered the genius of the band's earlier efforts, specifically the debut, Sorry Ma I Forgot To Take Out The Trash and the followup, Hootenanny, both of which rate as early '80s suburban trash-bag/drunk-punk classics and saw the band perfecting a midwestern take on the New York Dolls/Sex Pistols sound with a dollop of hardcore and a bit of whatever was in the water in Minneapolis at the time (ie. there's a bit of Huskers in early Replacements, and vice versa). Tim was the band's major label debut, released on Sire in 1985, and despite the slightly anemic production c/o Tommy 'Ramone' Erdelyi, for me it contains their best songs from start to finish. All of their first four full-lengthers are pretty close to perfection, and Let It Be is exactly that. Which means there's a couple of tracks here which are less than perfection: a clunky take on Kiss's 'Black Diamond' (the band rarely ever recorded covers, and why they'd pick a fairly terrible Kiss song remains a mystery to me), and 'Tommy Gets His Tonsils' and 'Gary's Got A Boner', whilst perfectly acceptable snotbag teen-punk affairs, don't fit in well with the more 'mature' new approach of the band or the record they're on.
Of course, you could argue that the newer, more mature approach of the band saw them getting old(er) and boring, but I'd argue they didn't get that way until after 1987's Please To Meet Me (not a record which particularly thrills me, but it still has a spark). Anyway, the rest of the album - tracks like 'Androgynous', 'Seen Your Video', 'Sixteen Blue', 'Satisfied' et al - basically the rest of it - have stuck in my craw for a good 27 years now, never to be dislodged. 1984 was the breakout year for underground rock in Reagan's Amerika, according to some - please refer to Meat Puppets' II, Double Nickels On The Dime, Zen Arcade and the slew of Black Flag material from that same year - and Let It Be, whilst not the total epiphany of any of the previosuly mentioned, is a disc everyone should wrap their ears around at least a dozen or two times. I fully endorse it, and everything the Replacements did during the first half of the '80s.
Saturday, April 01, 2017
I remember the week this came out. It was 1996, I was 24 years old and working at Shock Records - a fantastic halfway house/sheltered workshop/place of employment for many a misfit during the era - which also happened to be the distributor of the Drag City label, and I bought the handsome gatefold 2LP the moment it hit the shelves. After all, it was the mid '90s, we were young, dumb and full of enthusiasm, we read The Wire magazine monthly (hell, we fucking subscribed to it!) and 'post-rock' had yet to become the '90s version of prog-rock. Huh? Prog-rock was a pretty good idea for a few years - expand the parameters of the basic 4/4 rock format into something a little more adventurous, and the genre itself did indeed produce many great albums - but it soon crawled up its backside, the pomposity and necessary skill-set became de rigeur and thus the back-to-basics approach of punk rock seemed like a good idea a few years later. That's simplifying things grossly, but not inaccurately, and isn't a thousand miles removed from the story of post-rock, something I regarded as quite a good idea circa approx. 1993 - 1997, but soon thereafter felt that it devolved into a big, tedious noodlefest featuring a hoard of tiresome indie rockers who were awfully well-schooled in their instruments and weren't afraid to show you how. I think practicing your craft and being dextrous on your instrument is a good thing, but not everyone uses it for good.
Now, where was I? Gastr del Sol were David Grubbs and Jim O'Rourke. I'd been following Grubbs since I bought my first Squirrel Bait LP in 1988 and my brother hung out with him for a day in Chicago in 1990 (a curious incident which happened because he happened to attend a Bastro show - Grubbs' band at the time), and O'Rourke had already made his name with various solo albums and his involvement with outfits like Illusion Of Safety and Brise-Glace. Anyway, GDS only existed between the years 1993 - 1998, but they were prolific, and lately I've found myself returning to their works for a 21st-century reappraisal, and, at least for me, their cerebral brand of constipated non-rock holds up pretty well. Their last LP, Camefleur, from 1998, is undoubtedly their most accessible effort, but Upgrade & Afterlife is the one I return to.
GDS were a real amalgamam of Grubbs' and O'Rourke's musical interests and proclivities. Some of their albums - not this one, but more so 1994's Crookt, Crackt, or Fly - had a slightly Albini-ish Chicago math-rock thing going on, but it was never the main focus of what they did. GDS were pure egghead material, more like a laboratory of sound for Grubbs and O'Rourke to indulge in. Songs often sound like sketches, not fully formed which never play out to a nattural conclusion but instead fall apart or simply abruptly stop when least expected. Ennio Morricone, Derek Bailey, John Fahey, Cecil Taylor, Scott Walker: they were all buzz words back in the '90s, and they figure heavily in the makeup of what GDS is. Which doesn't mean GDS are merely a collage of their influences, because they were unmistakably Grubbs and O'Rourke (and various helpers) in their execution. I loved this stuff back in the day, but jumped off the post-rock gravy train screaming for my life about a year later, burying my head in other pursuits. 20 years on, and I still don't hate it.