Saturday, March 27, 2004

CASSETTE REVIEWS

Time to slay the SST beast and get these out of my system. Here's a couple of gems and a few dust-collectors on top...

PAPER BAG - Improvised My Ass
If ever there were an SST band to out-SWA SWA, it's Paper Bag (sheez, what a name!). I know next to zip about this band, and prefer to keep it that way, though I can give you these scant facts: they were a four-piece "improv" band from LA from the latter half of the '80s; they sucked in a manner that is almost too bad to describe; possibly no-one other than myself has ever paid good money for one of their recordings.

I bought this sometime in early 1990 at the Bourke St. Virgin Megastore, when I was at the tail-end of my SST obsession. I don't know who it was, but someone at Virgin had a major boner for SST at the time and ordered just about every single item in their catalogue, including cassettes (what the hell were they thinking - both SST and Virgin?? I mean, Paper Bag on LP, CD and cassette??!!). Whilst that's obviously bad news for Virgin, since about 95% of said stock hit the bargain bin in 12 months time, it was good news for a schlep like myself, only too willing to spoil oneself with the audio torture of an ensemble like Paper Bag. I paid approximately $2 for this killer and probably, until this week, hadn't given it a proper spin since the week I bought it.

I put this one in the car stereo the other day when I had to take a long, work-related trek and was taken back by the first number: "Mr Id". Hey, this is good! With a majorly Ginn-influenced guitar jam punched in with some "cosmic" keyboard workouts, it sounds like an unholy mix of Process of Weeding Out-era 'Flag meets early Soft Machine. Hmmm... maybe I'll be reappraising Paper Bag and start a revival! Then the second track came on... OK, this is where things start getting ugly. By track three, the truly excrable "I Live in LA", I'd been unsold. This is a stinker of biblical proportions. Sloppy, barely-together bong/fusion jams interspersed with - you guessed it - spoken-word poetry of the political variety. Ginn must've been smoking pipes by the truckload to convince himself to release this one. Ladies and gents, the second coming of October Faction has come and gone and no-one even noticed. Remember their full name: Paper Bag Improvisational Music Co. Anyone ever see these guys?

TREACHEROUS JAYWALKERS - Good Medicine
The Treacherous Jaywalkers, through singer Josh Haden's dad, the great jazz bass player Charlie Haden (best known perhaps for his ace work with Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry), sure must've had some cool connections in LA. Only that can possibly explain how they managed to scoop Mike Watt to produce their debut EP and none other than Phast Phreddie (LA writer/author; producer of the "seminal" Denim Delinquint fanzine in the mid '70s) and Trotsky Icepick's Vitus Matare to produce this atrocity. The 'Jaywalkers are the textbook definition of diminishing returns. Ingredients: take three entirely talentless putzes, spoonfeed them the classic recordings of the Minutemen, Black Flag, Saccharine Trust and Meat Puppets and ask them to replicate in their own manner. Then, of course, release to the general public said recordings on LP, cassette and CD. This is some seriously embarrassing, derivative material, with the grade-school level "political" lyrics being the worst factor. Then there's the (Meat Puppets) II-style cover art and the fIREHOSE rip-off song titles like "Jamespeil" one has to contend with. Did these guys have an original thought in their collective brain? I doubt it. Josh Haden is now in the equally useless outfit, Spain, if anyone is still interested. Bought, I think, the same day as Paper Bag - a great day for shopping!

UNIVERSAL CONGRESS OF - s/t; This Is Mecolodics
And now for some good news... If there is one outfit who should qualify as The Great Lost SST Band, it's Universal Congress Of. Lead by Saccharine Trust's axeman god, Joe Baiza, both of these cassettes stand testament to just what an amazing band they were. The first album, in particular, is an all-time favourite of mine, and one in which I have no doubt that if it was released today on a hipper-than-anyone label like, say, Load or Troubleman, would get all the hepcats tied up in a knot falling all over themselves in praise. Essentially consisting of one, long track, "A Certain Way", and a brief conclusion entitled "Chasing", its sonic mixture of Hendrix, Sonny Sharrock, '70s Miles and Krautrock is a very heady brew indeed. Baiza's scorching guitar freakouts are truly electric, and when I've played this to friends who are completely ignorant of who they're listening to the verdict has been universal and instantaneous: this album is fucking brilliant. So impressed was I - as I continue to be - I went and ordered the LP as well.

This Is Mecolodics is a follow-up EP, which, whilst not as good as the debut, still stews its own pot. The cover depicts a clever homage to Ornette's This Is Our Music, with all four members perfectly replicating the pose and outfits of Ornette and gang from that album, which is pretty fitting due to the heavy Ornette influence in their music and the cover of "Law Years" featured within. It's a different bag to the debut; here, the band stick to shorter tracks and a wider breadth of material and styles. There's an excellent Otis Rush cover, "All Your Love", some No Wave-ish "fake jazz" in the Lounge Lizards/James Chance mould and even a sublime cover of "Happy Birthday". Yes, the song you sing at a birthday party. I slagged this track rather severely in a review I wrote for this years ago, though a reappraisal is now in order: a free jazz take on "Happy Birthday"? In the year 2004, for a reason I can't fathom, it sounds good to these ears. Go figure. I mailordered both of these some time around 1989/90 and if anything, they sound better now than ever before.

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