Monday, March 07, 2005

Bring me the head of a morally consistent human being and I’ll bring you the head of a unicorn. They don’t exist. That’s my rationalization for buying a small army of bootleg CDs and DVDs whilst in Vietnam. Yep, that’s right, despite my constant caterwauling on the evils of burning and file sharing, I joined the gang whilst overseas and wrote off whatever credibility I may have to the devil. So be it. When they’re staring you right in the face with an 80-cent price tag brandished on their cover, sometimes you just gotta throw your high ideals out the window and buy an armload of bootlegged pleasure. And that I surely did.

I’m going to give a briefer-than-brief rundown on the CDs I purchased, and you can take it from there. Remember: with a price tag that low, sometimes your standards are similarly lowered. In fact, you may just find your taste being stomped into the ground as you find yourself buying CDs you’d otherwise never give the time of day to. Some bum on the street recommends a disc? Well, I’ll give it a shot…

DINOSAUR JR. – You’re Living All Over Me
Used to own this on LP; for some reason I sold it. Now it’s back. If you buy but one Dino Jr. CD this lifetime… well, come to think of it, this is probably the only Dinosaur album you’ll ever need anyway.

THE BAND – s/t
Have this on LP as well, so why the CD? Couldn’t get that damn “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” song outta my head the whole time I was away. Blame it on The Last Waltz.

THE KINKS – The EP Collection
Again, I think I’ve got it all anyway, but it’s a nice thing to play in the car.

Crushing lo-fi doom from the Earache stable, ca. mid/late ‘90s. I was working for Shock at the time this came out and they licensed it locally. It sold absolutely nothing. My prediction: as the “doom” scene becomes more of a commercial entity, these guys will be seen as a great, “lost” cult band who coulda been champions but were doomed to failure, no pun intended. Great disc.

SONIC YOUTH – Experimental Jet Set, Thrash and No Star
I told a friend of mine when I got back of this purchase and he simply sighed deeply, paused, then proclaimed Sonic Youth’s post-Daydream Nation discography as the most pathetic collection of useless, go-nowhere nonsense in the history of rock music. He may have a point there. SY stopped pushing the buttons some time 15-odd years back, that is true. But there’s still some treasures there. Avant-garde this will never be. It wouldn’t challenge a monkey. BUT… it’s still pretty OK.

GRATEFUL DEAD – Dick’s Picks Volume 5 2CD
This is really a 3-CD set, and I got shortchanged! I want my 80 cents back! I have no idea what era this is from, but the ‘Dead are in great form and you’d probably hate it anyway.

METALLICA – Kill ‘Em All
Their first album, from ’83. Standard Motorhead-ish punk/metal thrash. This is OK, but if I’m going to listen to Metallica, I actually prefer the metal-muso wank and prog-ish theatrics of Ride The Lightning and Master of Puppets.

CHARLES MINGUS – Blues & Roots
Mingus and crew from ’59. Next!

LITTLE ROY & FRIENDS – Packin’ House
Archival dub from the Pressure Sounds crew. The CD’s a bad burn, and hence this is pretty unlistenable. It’s probably pretty ace, but who am I to make a call when this mostly sounds like a wall of static?

ISAAC HAYES – Hot Buttered Soul
His masterpiece, an epic soul opera. No, really

BRUTAL TRUTH – Extreme Conditions Demand An Extreme Response
Politico grind/death nonsense from a gang of pothead deadbeats who keep it short, sweet, ridiculously fast and pretty damn fun. Saw these guys in ’97 and didn’t know whether to laugh or dance. Gotta admit, I enjoy this a whole lot more than I probably should.

LEE PERRY – Scratch & Company/Blackboard Jungle Dub
Lee Perry does proto-grunge from the ‘70s. I jest. No, seriously, they’re dub-reggae albums, believe it or not. Two of his better discs, so the critics say, though I doubt I really need more Perry and co. in my collection.

All their hits on one disc? What the fuck, add it to the pile…

TALK TALK – Spirit Of Eden
When I was 12, I’d watch Donnie Sutherland’s Sounds program on a Saturday morning. I recall that day in 1984 when I first saw Talk Talk’s “This Is My Life”. I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever heard. Now, here I am 20 years later singing the praises of their notoriously “difficult” later works. Truth be told, this is a really good album and if the sounds of MilesIn A Silent Way or Bob Wyatt’s Rock Bottom float yer boat, then you’d better get on the Talk Talk bandwagon, post haste!

AC/DC – Powerage; Back In Black
is primo no-brains-allowed shitrock from their peak period; Back In Black I’ve written about elsewhere, already have on vinyl, but since my LP copy plays like a piece of shit and jumps on the crucial opening riff to the title track, I thought I’d make the 80-cent investment on a CD version for those long & lonely work trips in the car.

Curtis’ 3rd solo studio album, and no slouch on the first two.

MILES DAVIS – Panthalassa
Cheesedick studio “whiz” Bill Laswell “reinterprets” the works of prime-era electric Miles. I used to listen to this a lot when it came out and I was working in a record store, but never dug it enough to bother with a purchase. For the Right Price, it’s worth a gamble, but I say stick w/ the originals.

Ethiopiques Volume 1; Ethiopiques Volume 3
My introduction to this highly-touted series. Uuuhhh… give me more time to digest these before I give the final verdict. At this early stage they’re sounding mighty good, like a North African/Arabic take on ‘70s funk and free jazz.

TOM WAITS – Real Gone
His studio effort from last year, featuring (gasp!) apparently no piano. Or something like that. With a fairly steady funk/trip-hop-ish backbeat, this is kinda uneventful but not without its charms. If you like Waits, that is.

Zappa’s last, great gasp before he crawled up his own backside for a lifetime. Psychedelic jazz-rock w/out the related fusionoid meandering which would destroy his music for two decades, this is a fine bong-hit platter I can listen to and not feel too embarrassed about. “Willie The Pimp”, with Beefheart on guest vocals, is the obvious standout, a rough ‘n’ ready rocker quite out of place w/ the rest of the album.

SERGE GAINSBOURG – Couleur Café; Histoire de Melody Nelson
Gainsbourg has quite a following in ‘Nam, which I guess is due to the French influence still felt throughout its streets, architecture, food and elsewhere, so naturally I had to indulge myself in his (apparently) strongest output. The former you can sink a latte to, though the latter is the clincher. Which means you should start there (or Comic Strip… I care).

MASSIVE ATTACK – Blue Lines; Mezzanine
Now let me explain… When these came out in the ‘90s, I could not have given one half of a fuck for them if my life had depended on it. I used to openly mock workmates who loved them, claiming the likes of Massive Attack to be a gang of artistically shallow, worthless idiots who made music precisely for a similarly-minded clientele who probably thought sipping lattes in streetside cafes should be deemed a national sport. Then, a couple of months ago, an old friend of mine who has always shared somewhat of a similar musical outlook as myself, said he’d “discovered” these very albums and, you know what, they ain’t so bad after all. After that glowing recommendation, I made the $1.60 investment. And now the verdict? They’re OK. I realize now I’ve actually heard both of these albums probably a dozen times before, swimming in the back of my mind in various workplaces, so they’re really not so foreign to me. I’ll admit there’s some nice tunes here which demand little from the listener (which can be a good thing, sometimes), though in all honesty I doubt I’ll be listening to these too often, if at all. I certainly don’t hate them, but they hold little of interest for me.

FELA KUTIV.I.P/Authority Stealing; Zombie; Yellow Fever/Na Poi; Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense; Coffin For Head Of State; Monkey Banana/Excuse O; J.J.D./Unnecessary Begging; He Miss Road
That’s a dozen Fela albums all in one hit. Come back to me in two years time and I’ll tell you all about them. Every single one of them.

Live 1964 w/ Euro avant titan Misha Mengelberg on piano. You know what? I discovered when I arrived home that I actually already own this. That’s a sign that you’ve got either a really bad memory or just too much music cluttering up your life.

THE BYRDS – Ballad Of Easy Rider
The last great Byrds album. A little so-so in places, though there’s some killers here, including the title track (even though I do prefer the Fairport Convention version).

JOANNA NEWSOM – The Milk-Eyed Mender
You read that right: you can even get pirated Joanna Newsom CDs in South-East Asia. Where’s Dan Koretsky’s phone number?! Call the lawyers! Everyone else has reviewed this before me, so I feel little need to say much. “Sprout and the Bean” is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard in recent years, and there’s a few other top-shelf numbers on display here, though I find the minimalist arrangements a bit of a slog in the long haul. Still, I won’t piss on Joanna’s parade of admirers: this is a pretty excellent debut.

VAN MORRISONVeedon Fleece; Moondance; Saint Dominic’s Preview
No other CD left a greater impression on me in ‘Nam (there was a DVD/CD player in our hotel in Hanoi, by the way) than Morrison’s Veedon Fleece. It is truly one of the great unsung masterpieces, and in my mind beats his highly-touted Astral Weeks for dead. Maudlin ballads of the saddest nature litter its landscape, it’s depressing enough to bring a man to tears, though the level of songwriting is at a human pinnacle throughout. I say that with a straight face. Play it at your next fondu party and see the looks you get. The other two concentrate on Van’s more R & B ouvre and are no duds themselves. Van? He’s pretty OK. Ignore the last 30 years of coma-inducing tuneage and head straight for the crucial 1968-’74 output.

ROXY MUSIC – The Best Of Roxy Music
First night in Saigon we head straight for a French-style café/bar/nightclub and sit around sipping cheap cocktails. The place is completely dead (as, it seems, just about every place in the whole country is, 7 nights a week), with only the crooning vocals of Bryan Ferry on “More Than This” to keep us company. I have an instant flashback: Austin, Texas, 1999. My good buddy Dixon, whom I was staying with, played this song endlessly on his car stereo. I figure it’s an omen and swear to buy it the next day. Sure, it’s lightweight enough to sound like it could’ve been lifted off an old Spandeu Ballet LP, though there’s little denying its subtle charms and pseudo-sophistication. The rest? An 85% strike rate, a few points deducted for the meandering numbers culled from dull late-‘70s LPs.

JIMI HENDRIX – Band of Gypsys; BBC Sessions 2CD
Two Hendrix platters I’ve put off from buying for nigh on a decade, perhaps only due to laziness and monetary reasons. Band Of Gypsys is much better than expected; maybe my expectations were just too low, given I’d always heard this to be Hendrix’s “return to the blues” (Zzzzz…), though the seemingly aimless jamming holds up tight enough to hold interest throughout. A winner! BBC Sessions is exactly that. A hit-and-miss affair with some excellent, manic renditions of his hits and a few forgettable covers (Cream, Beatles, Elvis, etc.) he ripped out when I can only assume he was out of his mind on something.

MAYHEM – Grand Declaration Of War
By-the-numbers Black Metal from a band more renowned for the grisly deaths of its various members than its capability to create any kind of interesting music.

JOHN ZORN – Filmworks 1986-90
Well, you probably know what you’re in for, and you’re gonna love it or hate it…

The following is a list of the $2.50 bootlegs I bought. I was actually under the impression these were totally legit releases, since they look exactly like the real thing (the above, 80-cent versions come in plastic slips with high-quality [and occasionally very low-quality] colour photocopied covers and could never be mistaken for anything but pirated copies). These $2.50 items even have their own catalogue numbers! I figured they were Japanese or Malaysian or Thai or… Well, of course I’ve since learned, after discussing this with a friend who travels throughout Asia a few times a year, that these are in fact “top shelf” (his words) pirate copies from Malaysia. Geez, everything is so damn cheap in ‘Nam, how was I supposed to know? I figured people paid 80 cents for bootlegs and $2.50 for the “real thing”.

MAYHEM – Chimera
Again, this doesn’t budge me an inch. Grunting, occasionally howling vocals, thousand-mile-an-hour drum beats, screeching guitars, songs of death and destruction and little else. I shouldn’t really expect any better from a genre as dumb as Black Metal, but I figured one of the “leading lights” of the scene would have more to offer than these guys.

EMPEROR – Equilibrium IX
It just gets worse… Oh man, late-period Emperor… this is awful. Clean-as-a-whistle production, thumping double-kick drums, operatic backing vocals, overbearing keyboards soaring throughout. This is not my idea of a good time, and definitely not my idea of what Black Metal should sound like. Gimme the inept, no-fi laugh-fest of Wrath Of The Tyrant any day of the week!

ENSLAVED – Beneath The Lights
This is much more like it. Enslaved belong to the little-known sub-genre of Black Metal known as “Viking Metal”. All one must do to belong to said genre is sing about Vikings, raping, pillaging, ancient Norse mythology and wear ridiculous outfits on stage (I can’t believe I passed on getting that Enslaved live DVD I saw). Once you’ve stopped laughing you can get around to listening to their music. Musically, at least, this is fantastic. Often referred to as “the Voivod of Black Metal” (by no less an authority than Aquarius records!), such a description fits them like a steel helmet with bull horns (ie. very well indeed). Mixing up the screaming and blast beats with a smorgasboard of smarty-pants riffs and tempo changes, spaced-out keyboards which sound pilfered from Space Ritual or Here Come The Warm Jets, and even a pinch of acoustic guitar and erm, flute (which I could’ve done without, though it works OK in the context of absurdity), Enslaved are like Darkthrone, October File-period Die Kreuzen, Tweez-era Slint and early Hawkwind all rolled into one. Ladies and gents, we have the ultimate Space-Rock/Post-Rock/Black Metal/Viking Metal genre-smashing release of the last 5 minutes!

BRUTAL TRUTH – Sounds Of The Animal Kingdom
More inane brutality from these smelly NYC men. Includes, believe it or not, a cover of Sun Ra’s “It’s After The End Of The World”. You ain’t experienced nothing ‘til you’ve heard those cookie-monster vocals grappling that chorus.

BATHORY – Jubileum Volume II
Don’t know why I bought this. It was just there, staring at me. Bathory are, along with the likes of Venom, considered by many to be a precursor to the whole Norwegian Black Metal scene of the ‘90s, and indeed share many musical similarities with their talentless British brethren (though Bathory is one guy – Quorthon – who hailed from Switzerland… or was that Sweden?). What I meant by that previous remark is that this, in the most part, is completely tuneless, lo-fi punk/rock/metal/noise with little to recommend outside of comedic/gimmick value. That’s not to say it’s worthless – it’s raw as hell and “rocks” at a very primitive level – though I hear little in the way of songs I can grab on to. A “Best Of”, by the way.

NEUROSIS – The Eye Of Every Storm
Their 2004 studio album, Neurosis seem to be dipping ever more into the quagmire of becoming a heavy metal post-rock band. I’m not sure it’s such a good place to be. This is not bad by any means, and I have actually listened to it a fair bit in recent days, though they’re quickly mutating into the most musically constipated band in show business. Like, fuck the 10-minute build-up, get to the point already! Anyway, if you’re looking for the missing link ‘twixt Master Of Reality and Spiderland, you might wanna start right here.

The 1989 Elektra/Nonesuch showcase, with guest Eye Yamatsuka on vocals. Not quite as manic or revelatory as the follow-up LP released a year later, but quite a bowel-clearer in its own right.

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