Monday, May 29, 2017

WASTE YOUR LIFE ON NETFLIX: IT'S MUSIC DOCO TIME PT. 1



You are likely aware of the waste of time and money known as Netflix. I subscribe to it, too. Not so much for my own enjoyment, but for the sake of The Children (i.e. my girls watch a lot of tween twaddle on it). But since it's costing me $10 a month or whatever the figure may be, I am in the habit of scanning it semi-regularly to see if there's actually anything a sane person would want to watch in its crumby library of alleged entertainment. Given the fact that most of the films it presents are either Z-grade straight-to-streaming shockers and one-star delights, or five-star classics we've all seen a thousand times over (I'm looking at you, Taxi Driver, The Godfather, etc.), I've taken to watching music documentaries of bands I either openly loathe or have at least derided in years past without really being fully aware of what it is they do/did.

In the former basket lies The Eagles' documentary, one I greatly enjoyed in a schadenfreude frame of mind (watching such arseholes all hate each other is a beautiful thing), but one which also didn't change my mind that the band were one of the worst things to happen to anyone ever. And in the latter category lies the documentaries on Canadian sci-fi prog-metallers, Rush, and LA jazz-rock-turned-soft-rock platinum-sellers, Chicago. Y' see, as I have discussed with some friends just recently, I usually find it much more interesting watching a documentary on a musician or band whom I don't know a whole lot about but have a curiosity regarding their place in the whole musical pantheon than I do on an artist I happen to really like. The latter often only results in disappointment. Cases in point: the documentary features made on American Hardcore, Minutemen, Boston Hardcore, Bad Brains, DC Hardcore et al. All of these, while functional and by no means bad, left me frustrated and wanting more, feeling that crucial information was left out or the makers got the narrative wrong or, perhaps worst of all, the films themselves presented me with no new information I didn't already know. And this must be said: just because you might think a band or artist is terrible, it doesn't mean their story isn't interesting.

 

This is but one reason why I have put off watching the latest Stooges documentary (another reason being I'm really not a fan of Jimmy Jarmusch or his films). Still, the Ramones and MC5 features from the past decade or so were excellent, so there are always exceptions to the rule. But the great aspects about these two documentaries are that, firstly, I think both were excellently made and gave a real insight into both bands, and secondly - gulp - I must admit that both have converted me into a FAN of said outfits. Firstly, Chicago...



I used to work with one of this land's biggest Chicago fans. His name is Ash and he played bass in the '70s Australian light-funk/smooth-AOR outfit known as Stylus. They remain the only Australian outfit ever signed to Motown. We both used to work in the same store for a certain chain outfit many moons ago and quickly became friends. He saw me as a bit of a boffin, and immediately asked me about my favourite music; his were The Beatles and Chicago. His obsession with Chicago ran deep. He was smart enough to see that my general taste in music was a bit edgier than his, but had the smarts to say that I should at least give the first few Chicago LPs a listen, when they were a pioneering jazz-rock outfit with psychedelic and soul flourishes. I didn't. Another friend of mine (my, so many friends) whom I played in a band with in the late '90s was also a big fan of the earlier Chicago recordings and encouraged me countless times to investigate their wares. Well, OK, I JUST HAVE - and yes, the first three LPs, all doubles and named thusly: Chicago Transit Authority, II and III (their LPs were assigned numbers thereafter, as I'm sure you know) are pretty damn good. I mean, I'm not saying you should trade in your Stooges and Amon Duul records and hail them as the new musical gods of the 20th century - because they will never be that - but the pop/rock spectrum of sound, the good stuff, comes in many shapes and sizes, and I can vouch for the first three Chicago albums as being 'good' and then some.



Of course, one could argue that there are better things to do with one's life than listen to 'good' music, but those Chicago platters are an eclectic brew, as you may be able to tell by listening to the tracks I've posted, and prior to turning to AOR mush by approx. 1973, their mixture of jazz-rock, psych and blue-eyed soul was not something to sneeze at. In fact, had they called it quits after those three albums, instead of torturing everyone with the big puddle of piss they became - especially after 'secret weapon' guitarist Terry Kath died in the late '70s (classic rock and roll lunkhead death: he accidentally shot himself whilst playing around with a gun) - the band known as Chicago would not be the complete embarrassment many people might figure them to be.

Even if you aren't converted, the documentary itself - Now More Than Ever: The History Of Chicago - is well worth watching if you happen to possess an interest in pop/rock and its cultural to's and fro's over the past 50 years. The band was (and is - yes, they're still fucking going in some sort of manner, I believe) admirably very much into the idea of 'the band' - a unit with no leaders - and the tensions which unfolded after prettyboy Ken doll cheesedick Peter Cetera took the reins of the band in the late '70s and made them a schlocky power-ballad hit-making powerhouse is something to behold. The rest of the band clearly hate him to this day, and Cetera refused to participate in the doco. Consider this: Chicago's last great album, so far as I can tell, was released around the same time as the Rolling Stones' last great album. Sometimes good bands simply go bad and stick around for an eternity.

Next: RUSH!!

Monday, May 15, 2017

RECORD OF THE DAY: 75 DOLLAR BILL - WOOD/METAL/PLASTIC PATTERN/RHYTHM/ROCK



This was originally released late last year, and had I known of its release, it surely would've made my year's-end Best Of list, but hey, I'm always late to the party. Originally released on the US label, Thin Wrist, it's just been reissued on the German imprint, Tak:til, and it getting wider notice, as it should.

Interestingly, and importantly, 75 Dollar Bill are a duo featuring the talents of Rick Brown on drums, and guitarist, Che Chen. Che Chen's background in music, other than his appearance on a number of avant-improv discs, is not one I know well, though I'm certainly familiar with the rather excellent and eclectic career of Rick Brown. He is one of the mainstays of the post-No Wave avant-rock scene which gave birth to such greats as The Scene Is Now (yes, of course I love 'em!) and Mofungo and several outfits who were centred around the Lost label in the 1980s. He was also in Information, the duo featuring Chris Nelson from TSIN, as well as Blinding Headache, a very early No Wave-ish band who also featured Willie Klein from Mofungo. And let's not forget Fish & Roses: their Dear John CD from 1990 on the Ajax label is a beautiful thing. Also featuring the voluminous talents of Sue Garner on board, F & R mined a similar musical vein to TSIN: atypical avant-pop w/ multi-layered songs that stuck in yer craw without you even noticing. And then there's other band's Mr. Brown led, such as Timber, V-Effect, Run On (with Alan Licht, a man who clearly knows way too much about LaMonte Young, a hindrance which has kept him unemployable his whole adult life).

In short, percussionist Rick Brown has a long and storied non-career in the history of underground NYC rock 'n' roll from the past 40 years. That is, in between holding a straight job, being a political radical and a nice guy. Now that the introductions are out of the way, let us briefly ponder and appreciate this rather excellent recording. There are four long tracks on Wood/Metal/etc., two well over the 10-minute mark, two briefer, and they flow into each other perfectly. Brown plays a variety of percussive instruments and handmade horns, rhythms shuffling ably; Chen plays a minimal brand of guitar noise which sounds part Reed/Cale (or Moore/Ranaldo) and equal parts Ali Farka Toure. In fact, Malian, or North African blues in general, clearly casts a large shadow over what they do, and more than anything else, 75 Dollar Bill sound like Ali Farka Toure jamming with The Double, the Jim White combo I wrote about here last year. That is, of course, a great thing, as is this LP. Best 'new' release I've heard in a while. Get it.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

HUMAN BEING OF THE DAY: WACLAW ZIMPEL

Today, you should just sit back, relax and listen to the following three albums featuring Polish multi-instrumentalist (essentially he's a 'jazz reedsman', though such a description barely covers anything adequately), WACLAW ZIMPEL. I came upon his music by sheer chance, or perhaps it was YouTube's smart algorithms which brought me there (they were 'recommended').

Waclaw has these three albums released on the Polish label, Instant Classic, an imprint I need to become deeply familiar with, and pronto. I just spent every spare minute this past weekend playing these albums on repeat.

The first is his latest with a troupe of Indian musicians under the name SAAGARA, whose music has a kind of Don Cherry/Terry Riley appeal; the second is a solo album of his from last year - less jazz, more hypnotic, minimalist electronic rhythms (again, Terry Riley may be a reference point here, and indeed he has played with Terry Riley's son, Gyan Riley); and lastly is a trio recording under the name LAM, which is more along the vein of The Necks, if you must.

Dig in. Thank me later.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

RECORD OF THE DAY: YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA - TECHNODELIC



Yellow Magic Orchestra, the Japanese electronic outfit from the '70s/'80s, are one of those bands who seem to've always been around. I mean, I remember seeing their videos on early-morning/late-night music programs here when I was young. I remember Ryuichi Sakamoto as a music figure from as far back as when I was 11 when he did the Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence soundtrack with David Bowie. I remember seeing YMO LPs for a few bucks a piece when I was a teenager scouring bins for punk rock albums. But I never really listened to their music until fairly recently. I never bought any of their records until fairly recently. I never knew how eclectic and huge Sakamoto's vast back catalogue was until fairly recently. And likewise, I never even knew who YMO mainstay Haruomi Hosono was until, well, about a year ago. These are simply the things which had slipped me by.

Firstly, a couple of things. You should all hear Sakamoto's B-2 Unit and Esperanto LPs from 1980 and 1985, respectively, as well as Hosono LPs such as Hosono House from 1973, Tropical Dandy from 1975, Bon Voyage from 1976, Paraiso from 1978, Cochin Moon from 1978 and Pacific, also from 1978 (what a year!) - and this is merely scratching the surface. Both are still actively making music, and much of it is well worth hearing. Sakamoto has been firing out all manner of experimental/ambient recordings the past decade, mostly on small boutique labels which are often hard to find, but they are worth the time and trouble (and mostly uploaded to YouTube, anyway). The Hosono albums range from rootsy singer-songwriter gaff through to tropical disco, MOR, faux-surf, experimental electronics (Cochin Moon is a masterpiece with strong hints of Cluster/Harmonia and even Suicide-style drone throughout) and all in between. Tropical Dandy and Bon Voyage are in total Van Dyke Parks mode; I can only assume that Hosono was familar with VDP's Song Cycle/Discover America LPs when he made these recordings. If not, then I'm once again musically lost.

And that's not even beginning to describe the greatness of Sakamoto's early catalogue, and I've only chosen two (B-2 Unit is the place to begin) because time is short and YouTube only has so many uploads of these things. In short: you have some homework to do. Now, a lot of this music will be old news to many. Obnoxious DJ types in the west of many a stripe discovered all this hoo-hah decades ago, and I believe the Light In The Attic label is about to (belatedly) do a bit of a reissue campaign on such things. But right here, right now, much of this is still quite new to me - much of it probably spurred on from finally visiting Japan (twice!) last year - and I'm enjoying a new discovery, so just allow me to indulge myself, OK?

That longwinded introduction, which is brief as I could be when attempting to give an overview to a fascinating family-tree catalogue of music, brings us to YMO's fifth studio LP, 1981's Technodelic, which is probably my fave album of theirs. There's some great footage of YMO getting funky in the US of A right here (this footage is quite mind-blowing), but Technodelic tones down the dancing a tad and is much more in the Kraftwerk realm of sound: purely robotic electronics, a dose of austere, Berlin-period Bowie in the more song-oriented material, and straight up one of the most enjoyable non-core releases of 1981 you will hear.