Wednesday, January 31, 2007
CUL DE SAC - Ecim CD (Northeastern/Lunar Rotation/1993)
This was possibly my favourite album of the 1990s, or most certainly in a Top 5 somewhere for that decade. The good people at Strange Attractors Audio House have recently reissued it, which is partly news to me, since I wasn't aware that this had actually been out of print for some time. This album was such a big deal at the time of its release that, if memory serves, Forced Exposure magazine hailed it as the finest functioning CD currently available, or words to such effect. The grunts/grumps at FE weren't prone to gushing, so w/ such a review one can only assume that it knocked them off their feet. Well, it did for me at the time, too.
I interviewed Glenn Jones from the group in early '95 for Year Zero zine at the time, and I think his answers - humourous, lengthy and considered - rate as the possibly the best correspondence-based interview I've ever conducted (probably no thanks to me; he just happens to be a well spoken and erudite kinda guy). In between bullshitting about his teenage background in the music industry at the dawn of the '70s (he claimed to be a member of Zager and Evans, the one-hit-wonder duo responsible for "In The Year 2525"; I swallowed his BS hook, line and sinker), he waxed lyrically on CDS's musical influences and the sound they were trying to achieve. Remember: 1992-'95 was the height of "grunge" and Jones wouldn't have a bar of it. CDS were aiming for a blend of '60s surf music, "American Primitive" guitar a la John Fahey/Robbie Basho, '70s Krautrock and the soundtrack music of Morricone, Nino Rota et al. In fact, his list of influences was so diverse, it had me scouring the record bins for the next half decade trying to fill my shelves w/ everything he mentioned (some I already had - of course[!] - nya nya nya). For a (still) impressionable lad of 23 years, it struck a deep chord.
Here's a rundown..."Can, Faust, Neu!, Ash Ra Tempel, Guru Guru, Amon Duul... Pere Ubu... John Fahey... Indian ragas...electronic and musique concret, pre-war blues, Miles Davis' early '70s electric stuff, Hawaiian, Barrett-era 'Floyd, American, European and Japanese avant-garde... (Frank) Sinatra... Hendrix...the American Kaleidescope, the Velvets, surf stuff - Ventures and the like, Ennio Morricone, Stooges/MC5, Beefheart, the Godz, Hans Reichel, Robbie Basho, et al...".
And so off I went on a 3-year Miles-Sinatra-surf-blues-Partch-Stockhausen-Barrett-Morricone-Fahey-Reichel-Basho binge... and I have Mr. Jones to thank! I interviewed Jones again for Perfect Sound Forever a few years later and you can read it here, but let's talk about ECIM. It's stands as a perfect distillation of their stated influences. Most bands obviously up to their eyeballs w/ flagrant record collectors as CDS are/were - and you don't make such a list unless you are - flail about hopelessly burdened by the head-expanding factual minutae they carry around their heads whilst attempting to make listenable music. In other words, I'm usually in Joe Carducci's camp in believing that record collectors don't make good musicians (which is why he refused to allow Sonic Youth to be signed to SST whilst he was at the label). But, the fact is, Sonic Youth made some pretty good records in their day, and CDS, w/ their bulging shelves of records, managed the mighty achievement known as ECIM.
One of the great aspects of this disc - and there are many - is that the songs sound so fully realised and "composed". Most bands going for the space/psych/krautrock angle too often fall back on improvisation which, as much fun as that can be to play (like the last few bands I played in), it can be a real chore for everyone else (ask anyone who attended our shows). CDS never cluttered the songs up w/ too much distortion or farting about; the songs are mostly sparse and crystal clear, aided by original (and their best) drummer Chris Guttmacher's metronomic drum pulse and Jones' guitar twang, an awesome and truly unique take on the instrument which, as he (and I) stated before, lies somewhere in the stratospheres of Hendrix, Dick Dale, John Fahey and an old Spaghetti Western soundtrack.
There's two fantastic covers here, too: Fahey's "The Portland Cement Factory at Monolith, California" (from my fave Fahey platter, As Days Gone By, Vol. 6) and Tim Buckley's soaring, melodramatic masterpiece, "Song to the Siren", where old scene vet (and Forced Exposure pin-up boy) Dredd Foole hams it up like a man possessed. There have been so many bands since the mid '90s who've name-dropped the artists Jones threw about in the interview - 'Ubu, Beefheart, Can, Miles, yadayadayada - and none of them made a record as confident, listenable and brimming w/ ideas as ECIM.
Unfortunately, CDS never really followed it up w/ anything quite as good. The demos/outtakes follow-up on Flying Nun, I Don't Want To Go To Bed, and the next studio album, China Gate, definitely had their moments of glory, but for myself they never fully gelled the way they did on ECIM. They've released a couple of records on Strange Attractors the last few years which friends, colleagues and total strangers inform me are artifacts of great worth, and perhaps one day and I'll get around to them, but for now the verdict has been announced and the Jukebox Jury agrees: ECIM still stands as a mini-masterpiece of '90s undieground rock 'n' roll.
CORRECTION: A few entries back, in my Redd Kross rant, I stated that Teen Babes From Monsanto had never been released on CD. Wrong! How do I know? I just got the thing today for $12 at Dixon's Secondhand Emporium For Socially-Challenged Dorks. Thing is, it was only ever released in Australia(!), of all places, and not under its proper title. Insipid (fly-by-night '90s indie label linked w/ Waterfront, somehow) released it in its entirety on their Redd Kross 1992 Australian Trance Tour CD, a title I've seen clogging up bargain bins (and my brother's CD shelf) for years, but only realised now that it in fact features the Holy Grail of '80s trash rock: Teen Babes. If you see it around, grab it.
OTHER HOT DIGGITY NONSENSE FLYING AROUND:
1) THE FALL - Slates 10"
2) JOHN COLTRANE - The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions 2CD
3) LOU REED - Blue Mask LP
4) THE FIX - s/t LP (finally out on Touch and Go: GET IT!)
5) CHRIS BELL - I Am The Cosmos LP
6) DREAM SYNDICATE - The Days Of Wine And Roses LP
7) THE NECKS - Athenaeum, Homebush, Quay & Raab 4CD box
8) GLENN BRANCA - Symphony #1 (Tonal Plexus) CD
9) JOHN ZORN - Iao CD
10) fIREHOSE - Flyin' The Flannel CD