Wednesday, June 16, 2004


Pull a few old LPs off the shelf, dust 'em off and rate 'em...

I was a Swans fanboy par excellence ca. '91-'93, but have only sporadically listened to their wares in the intervening years. Some would say their music has aged like a fine carton of milk, though I disagree. Yep, there's some turkeys in the pile, namely the much-maligned The Burning World and parts of the sadly dated Children of God epic (often hailed as their meisterwerk), though amongst it are some discs I'm still not ashamed to admit liking a real lot: the World Of Skin LPs, Greed, White Light from the Mouth of Infinity (spectacular return-to-form double set from 1991) and this, the mighty Cop LP from '84. Unleashing themselves from the more generic Birthday Party/No Wave-isms of their previous LP, Filth, Swans, perhaps by accident, managed to almost single-handedly create a whole new genre of music with Cop: errr, "monolithic sludge"? "Doom"? "Noise-rock"? Ahem, "grunge"? I won't put a label to it, though I will recommend it. Cop is one of the most well-produced albums I own. The thrust and grunt behind every move, every bass riff, every whack of the drum, is audible. With the given theme of the album being human misery, corruption and humiliation (a great party-starter), the Swans created the perfect musical accompaniment for their struggle. Lurching, seething noise, as misanthropic and painful as the subject matter. Once or twice a year, I pull this LP out for actual enjoyment.

PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED - Flowers of Romance LP
I've been meaning to write about this for a while, one of the greatest and most criminally neglected records on Earth (and people say I'm prone to hyperbole...). I say "neglected" because I must have passed over a thousand dusty, secondhand copies of this disc in my time, and I say greatest because it is exactly that. Whilst I'd probably rather spend an eternity on a desert isle with Metal Box by my side (as was listed in the Top 50), Flowers of Romance wouldn't come far behind. ...Romance was PiL's third studio album, released in 1981 after Jah Wobble was kicked out of the group. To make up for the absence of his throbbing bass lines, Lydon & co. decided, it appears, on a substitute: a wall of percussion. Similarly aided by cluttered, Beefheart-ish romps, Middle Eastern drones and completely abstract, minimalist jaunts featuring virtually nothing but Lydon and a drum kit, this is not only one of the wildest platters ever released by a major label, but one of the all-time great and listenable "outsider" albums. Yes, that's right: put it right next to Yoko's Fly, Amon Duul's Collapsing and Chrome's Alien Soundtracks. After 20 years of almost unbelievable badness, you'd never guess Mr. Lydon actually once made music this inventive and exciting. Strangely enough, I was killing time in a bookstore the other day, reading Kurt Cobain's journal, of all publications, when I noticed that he, as a teenager, listed this as one of his favourite records. Huh? Buzz from the Melvins has said likewise. Must've been something in that Seattle air.

TOTAL - Beyond the Rim LP
DADAMAH - This Is Not A Dream LP

Oh dear, here's a trip down memory lane. From approximately 1991-'95 I, along with many others I won't name, were caught up rather heavily in the whole underground/free-jazz/NZ-Jap-noise/ltd.-pressing/lo-fi/vinyl-only scene of the day. Those who were there (and I know who you are) will know exactly what I'm talking about. Here's the scenario: mailordering records (always records) from Ajax and Forced Exposure (maybe even Blackjack!); religiously reading every issue of Popwatch, Superdope, Wipeout!, Feminist Baseball, Forced Exposure; buying lots of discs on labels like Siltbreeze, Datapanik, PSF, Tulpa, Shrimper, Nuf Sed and, yes, Majora. That was life as you and I knew it. Just admit it.
Majora was/is(?) the hipper-than-hip Seattle label who released vinyl-only editions from any hepcat of the day you may care to mention: every NZ guitar-stroker, every no-fi bedroom loner, even the Sun City Girls and that guy from Skullflower. What happened? Beats me. I kinda dropped out of that "scene" in the mid '90s whilst my musical travels took me elsewhere. Still, it's nice to get teary-eyed over these things every once in a while, and in that manner I bring you these reviews...
DADAMAH were a New Zealand all-star troupe featuring ex-members of this, future members of that and shared members with them. You know the story. This went out of print pretty much upon release, though I think Kranky may have reissued it on CD. More to the point, does that make me one of the "lucky" ones? I guess so. This has some OK moments, kind of a Velvets-as-filtered-thru-a-1981-Rough-Trade vibe, though the pasty-faced whiter-than-white aura it emits doesn't gel too well for me right now. A good thing to have, but I'll stick with my Alastair Galbraith and This Kind of Punishment records for a real NZ fix.
TOTAL = Matthew Bower of UK power-drone outfit, Skullflower, who, surprisingly, are "back" with a new album on Tumult. If you ever lay your eyes upon copies of the band's Ruins, Xaman and Last Shot At Heaven CDs, then hold on tight, baby: them be the goods. I was fuggin' obsessed with Skullflower ca. '93, so this was a pretty predictable purchase on my behalf. I hadn't listened to this in years until the other night, though halfway through Side 1 and my mind was already made up: this is good, real good. Armed with a roomful of exotic instruments (gongs, bells, you name it), a piano, guitar and a distortion box, Bower has built a massive wall of sound, aided by his ability to stick an honest-to-God tune in amongst all the noise. A missing link between the caustic shriek of Masami Akita and late '70s Eno, this is a mixed bag that still sounds mighty good. Score it on the board for Majora!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What About The Clean? Do ya like them?