Sunday, October 30, 2005

I'm overwhelmed, truly overwhelmed. I'm drowning in a sea of CDs and LPs. I've acquired so much music lately - through silly buying binges, ebay, work freebies and stuff sent to me by kind readers - that I barely have the time to listen to them all, let alone write about them. I've amassed a smorgasboard of greats: Hasil Adkins; Ethiopiques (yeah, the whole damn series - all 20 of them - in one hit! I can get this stuff at the right price, don't ask for details. For starters, I'd recommend volume 14: Getatchew Mekurya, a veteran of the Ethiopian jazz scene who was apparently squawking his brass way back in the '50s. His recordings presented here are a godsend, a sublime mix of stumbling percussion, other-worldly organs and bleeting baritone, you could whack a Saturn sticker on this and people would swear it was the great Sonny Ra ca. Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy); Royal Trux; a massive Stax singles box which will take me a lifetime to digest; some killer Roky Erickson reissues on Rykodisc (Gremlins Have Pictures boasts the greatest version of "Heroin" ever, VU included); Woody Guthrie 4-CD box on Smithsonian Folkways; Meat Puppets reissues on (again) Rykodisc (I held off forever in purchasing these, since I've owned the LPs for 17-18 years, but finally bit the bullet with those bonus tracks dangling in front of me like a carrot on a stick); The Ex's singles collection on Touch & Go; Sun Ra's Space Is The Place DVD (one of the strangest damn films ever made; I don't know what is in fact weirder: the film itself or the fact that someone actually funded and made it); the Killer's Kiss CD (thanks for that, by the way; righteous r 'n' r caught somewhere between the Heartbreakers and Crime and the hooks to boot. I'm sure someone else has said this before, but In The Red really oughta sign these guys); Don Cherry; Cabaret Voltaire; Sunn O))) (maybe I'll write more on this at a later date. It deserves it. I think I said something like this w/ the last disc of theirs: it'd be so easy for them to simply put a guitar in front of an amp, record the feedback and leave the room for an hour to smoke a bowl, come back, press "stop" and release the recording to an adoring fanbase. That is not what they do. Black One is an immensely layered, textured and well-thought-out piece of work, and, in my opinion, the best thing they've ever done. When it comes to Top 10 time later in the year, it's sure to be there); David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name CD (yeah, that David Crosby, the butt of all your rock 'n' roll jokes, that pathetic, washed-up, has-been cokehead whose claim to fame resides somewhere between all the '60s starlets he laid and, well, that fact that he was there, man. Me, I don't mind the guy: he was in the Byrds, one of the great bands of the '60s (or any time) and was also responsible for writing (or co-writing) some of their finest tunes, and this solo album from 1971 is a scorcher, a perfect post-hippie downer disc for those lonely nights when you can't be bothered reaching for your John Martyn or Skip Spence platters. Anyone willing to pull their head out of their ass will enjoy If I Could Only Remember My Name for what it is)...

Phew... that above paragraph looks impenetrable... best break this up. Electric Wizard played here on the weekend. I saw them. They were pretty OK, though it's hard for me to judge them w/out putting them in the context of the night. I'll put it this way: when seeing a band from overseas, it truly is not necessary to make it a "night of nights" by having roughly 10 support bands on the bill, especially when a good 80% of those bands sound exactly alike or, more to the point, like bands who appear to be pulling a page out of the headliner's songbook. If the 'Wizard are going to "doom me out" like no other, then I don't need to sit through 3 other bands (I got there late, though 3 was enough) with the same Xeroxed 'Sabbath riffs deafening me for half the night before the headliner hits the stage. What about some variety? A jazz band, mime troupe, tortured singer-songwriter, a goddamn juggling act! By the time EW hit the stage, I was over it, and that's not their fault; it's the old saying: repetition breeds contempt.

I've just finished reading Simon Reynolds' new book, the monstrous 400+ page grand epic, Rip It Up and Start Again, which is a history of post-punk, mainly UK-based, ca. 1978-'84. The verdict? You are not likely to learn much of anything new here; if you know the topic like I do, then everything's already been covered elsewhere, and Reynolds makes the deadly mistake of trying to cover waaay too much ground, the end result being a shallow skimming over of too many bands and musicians, but - and that's a big BUT - I enjoyed the book immensely, flicking through it like a man possessed. It has its natural faults, like the ones mentioned, plus the woeful lack of coverage of the US scene (he does cover No Wave, Residents, Flipper and Mission of Burma and even has a chapter on SST [yes, I did skip straight to it upon purchase]), though it beggars belief as to why he never even mentions the likes of the Wipers or Half Japanese, two pretty crucial bands in the post-punk canon if ya ask me (which you didn't, so I'm telling you).

Reynolds knows his shit and possesses the good sense to be a longtime pal of Joe Carducci (he's not yer typical wet-blanket Limey music journo, in other words), though his writing tends to lack any kind of moral authority, the kind which makes the likes of Carducci and Bangs such a riveting read. Fact is, he doesn't appear to pass judgment on just about anyone in his book. The likes of Green Gartside from (the totally over-rated) Scritti Politti gets away with murder; the man is an absolute prat of the nth degree and should've been crucified for his wrongdoings and hypocrisy, but in the hands of Reynolds gets off scot free. I'm also not too sure that he should've delved into the worlds of ABC, Thompson Twins, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Duran Duran et al for the last few, gruelling chapters either. Cutting it off when "post-punk" was actually referring to something a little more, shall we say, "cutting edge" would've left a less sour taste in my mouth (and as a pre-punker 12-year-old bona fide New Romantic, I LOVED all that horseshit, but I don't need to be reminded of it). But anyway... it's out, it's about, you'll probably pick it up no matter what I say. And don't forget that priceless check-list of pre-punk faves from the Meat Puppets' Cris Kirkwood: "tasty fuckin' lick-meisters" such as Gong, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Al DiMeola, Gentle Giant and ECM guitarists John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner!

Thursday, October 06, 2005


1) V/A - No New York LP

I wrote a little while back - it mighta been on Tim Ellison's Music Chamber blog - that I thought No Wave, in general, to be a whole lotta hot air over nothing. A movement which was dead on arrival, with all the musical legacy of a fanzine flexi-disc. Of course, I could've been describing myself. This gem is finally back in the public eye and ear... via Russia. Yep, Russia. It's on the Lilith label (who apparently also do a Lynyrd Synyrd LP!), and as for how legit it truly is (despite the credits saying it's licensed from Universal Music/Russia), I guess that's open to debate. For the record, it's out on LP/CD, with the liner notes in... you guessed it: Russian... but it's nice to FINALLY OWN THE THING. My brother bought a copy of this about 11 or 12 years back a flea market down here for a mere $5 or so and has rubbed my face in that conquest ever since. Hey, if it had been readily available on CD, I wouldn't've given a fuck. But it wasn't. I had to make do w/ borrowing his LP every 6 months, flogging it to death, then handing it back, tail between legs. So, to make a short story short, how is it? Fucking pure aceness in a basket, if one must be so bold. The Teenage Jesus and the Jerks trax are probably the most disposable of the lot here, though the Sonic Youth-via-Roxy Music vibe of Mars is unbeatable, the art/jazz/punk/fuck/kill (sorry, went into Weasel Walter mode there for a sec) of DNA sounds a whole lot better than I remember it being (haven't heard this in 2 or 3 years) and, after flogging a lot of post-No New York James Chance in recent years, ít's amazing how flat-out noisy the guy was prior to his detour into a vaguely straighter jazz/funk/punk realm. A lot of hoo-ha has surrounded this disc for eons, and the hoo-ha holds up. I'm usually pretty allergic to downtown NYC douchebags who are quite obviously too fucking cool for the English language to even comprehend - and No New York is full of those types - but this is a great, timeless snapshot of a scene which was over in the blink of an eye, but probably a drug-filled blast whilst it lasted. Produced by Brian Eno, of course. He went from this to The Unforgettable Fire in 5 or 6 years. A frightening statistic.

LED ZEPPELIN - Physical Graffiti 2CD
No fuckin' shit. You can skip this part if it's going to offend you. I'm beating this sucker into the ground of late. If you're reading this - well, of course you are - you likely think I've lost my mind. Led Zep? Isn't that music for guitar-tech cheesedicks and MOJO readers? Probably, but they're none of my concern. Fact is, I never even heard a Led Zep song properly (like, all the way through) until I was 30. Prior to that, fuggedaboudit. Who the fuck could care about such dinosaurs when there's a world of classic punk rock, noise, space-psych, free jazz, garage, etc., etc., etc., to explore? Not me... and, of course, that's why I waited 'til I was 30. 's funny, Black Sabbath have a rep in "the underground" as a righteous combo of Satan and heavy rifferama, yet the average noise/garage clod still poo-poos 'Zep as a quartet of indulgent, A-level assholes who wrote the template for why punk was such a good idea. Wrong!

At the risk of turning into a self-parody (or worse, a parody of someone else), I'll make these points in defence of Led Zeppelin:

1) The first 6 albums - that's 1, 2, 3, 4, House Of The Holy and Physical Graffiti are exceptional and essential. Really, you need them.
2) Other than a few, token, and occasionally dodgy "blues" tracks, Led Zep were an uncharacteristically economic band who knew when to rein in the bullshit. Indulgent guitar-wank? No more than Hendrix, and less "wank" than the best Can discs (and I say that as a fan of all of the above).
3) Nothing wrong with heavy metal, of course (of the pre-punk variety, not the spandex/poodle/LA nonsense), though you'd be a fool for saying the 'Zep were simply a HM act. Me? I'd say they were a blues-influenced hard rock band with a heavy dose of British folk and World influences.
4) Robert Plant's vocals were never much chop (and his lyrics just about the worst in the history of rock), though he remains one of the few '60s/'70s survivors who isn't a completely embarrassing shadow of his former self. Plus, he remains a fanatical collector and has pretty fine taste in music, too: Skip Spence, Roky Erickson, Seeds, Tim Buckley, Fairports, Husker Du, Black Flag(!), etc. Steve Albini - you know him - was absolutely shocked to find, when producing a Page/Plant CD a few years back, that Plant had a deep and appreciative knowledge of '80s American underground rock. Huh... betcha couldn't say the same for Sir Mick Jagger.
5) Other than Plant's vocals, which can grate (and occasionally soothe), the band was a rare combination of the three elements in a band - the drums/bass/guitar - gelling into a perfect whole with almost scientific precision. You know, like Can or the Minutemen. I don't read music-instrument magazines, nor do I listen to jazz fusion. So now you know where I'm coming from. When the musicians are hot and work it to their advantage, who the fuck am I (or you!) to hate 'em for it? 'Zep nailed the art of The Hard Rock Riff, the perfect syncopation of thunderous drums, funkified bass and downstroke guitar, to almost comedic levels. The fact that they've subsequently influenced a few million clueless chowderheads to form bands and dilute this beauty to utter worthlessness is something I won't blame them for.

That brings me to Physical Graffiti, their mid-'70s stoner-rock meisterwerk, a double album which not only features some of their finest songs but, unlike their other discs, not a real dud in the pack. Skip to side 3 (that's disc 2 in CD-speak) and maybe even the greatest non-believer won't hate me. You'll hear "In The Light" (total mid '70s bong-hit headband-&-skateboard dude-rock), probably my fave LZ song of them all, 10 minutes of gloriously muddy and constipated riffing complemented by Plant's restrained and calming vocals. The band kinda blew their artistic wad w/ this effort (the album, not the song)and it was all downhill from here, but those first 6 'Zep platters, man... smokin'! You can stop laughing now. Led fuggin' Zep, man, they're pretty OK by me, and if you think not, then please, throw in your two cents and let's fight like men.

THE NECKS - Aether / Drive By CDs
I was a big fan of this much-lauded trio back in the '90s, though have kinda let them slip from my consciousness in recent years, and, having been given these recently by a friend and spinning the life out of them, more's the pity! Who'da thought: The Necks sound better than ever. The Necks are a fairly unique outing for all involved: a minimalist piano/keyboards, drums and bass unit who encompass all kinds of musical ideas and styles from the likes of Can, Eno, Terry Riley and '70s Miles Davis, yet not in the kind of trite manner you'd expect your average indie collective of cardigan enthusiasts to engage in. Fact is, The Necks don't really sound like anyone else. And what a weird pedigree... touring keyboardist for Midnight Oil back in the '90s, Chris Abrahams... one-time touring drummer for Wa Wa Nee, internationally renowned free jazz/noise percussionist extraordinaire, Tony Buck... That WWN bit is true, too. If you're from o/s, just picture an even more atrocious Blancmange/Duran Duran hybrid and you're getting close. They were big Down Under for approximately 2 minutes in the mid '8os and thankfully called it a day before public outcry.
Ugh... I'm getting tired... Drive By, from 2003, is the pick of the litter. One 60+ minute track of scuffling drums, bare-boned bass lines and swirling keyboards drifiting in and out. The Necks stick to a pretty steady beat; 10 minutes can go by and not much changes, but they're a rewarding band to really sit down to, not for quick soundbytes. Songs slowly but steadily evolve and take shape, and by the 40-minute mark, you know you're listening to something really special. Patience is expected, but even the journey there is pretty fun. Whack Drive By on after a heavy schedule of Tago Mago and it'll feel just right.

Aether, from 2001, remains their most minimalist recording in their whole catalogue. No real steady beat to speak of, just shimmering washes of cymbals, looming bass and Terry Rileyesque keyboards floating throughout. If you figure this is too lightweight for your muscle-bound musical aesthetics then I suggest you work it off at the local gym. Aether is a record of intense beauty and if it had been made by a bunch of Krauts in the early '70s with a Brain or Ohr label slapped on its sleeve, you'd probably be bidding for it on ebay at this very moment. Haven't seen these guys live since '98 or so, and I'm kicking myself for not having checked out their gigs here last month. There's always next time...

There's too much music swimming 'round my brain these days. I'm happy to report I've had to pay for very little of it. Some other great things: Washington Phillips' Key To The Kingdom CD on Yazoo ('20s/'30s gospel-blues from this unique, obscured singer who accompanied his Godboy rants with nothing but zither. Achingly beautiful stuff); the Scientists' Blood Red River CD on Sympathy (hadn't heard much of this in many, many years... got off to an exceedingly shakey start, but has grown on me immensely); V/A - Rolas de Aztlan: Songs of the Chicano Movement CD on Smithsonian Folkways (a-fucking-mazing comp of Chicano music from the '60s-'90s. Solo, bands, ballads, angry protests, school choirs and my fave of them all, "Vietnam Veterano" by Al Reyes, 8+ minutes of Buckleyesque scorn and groan w/ a hefty dose of musique concret a la helicopters and bombs. You must hear it).