Monday, December 28, 2009

This Heat-Deceit (1981)

" Judged by its cover alone, Deceit (1981) is the great prophetic record of the era – the front depicts a scream beneath a mask that is a collage of: Mushroom-Cloud between-the-eyes; JFK & Khruschev shaking hands; Stars & Stripes across the tongue; Ron & Nancy on the forehead. These are the images still familiar in 2008. The lyric-sheet is scattered with the same clippings, and some more helpful captions. Much of this is identical to the collage ingredients for OK Computer (1997) and its singles: what to do in the event of a bomb, or when the siren sounds; where tactical nukes are deployed, worldwide; those oddly dehumanizing line-drawings of how to prepare your fall-out shelter. Deceit came out in 1981, though – a couple of years before Star Wars (the Strategic Defense Initiative); before Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein; before the first massacre of the Kurds. Ten years later, GW1; ten years further on, 9/11; then the War for Oil, then the Credit Crunch; and only this week can we see real hope of a decline in Republican war-mongering and financial mismanagement (the legacy of Milton Friedman, via Reagan & Thatcher). You know most of this; the point is, to get a sense of history… but also a sense of "prophecy" as a meaningful term in the context of avant-garde music.

Back in 1979, punk in the sense of scuzzed-up glam or sped-up blues had already exhausted its capacity for subversion. Nonetheless, a door had clearly been opened for the experimentalism of post-punk (in a loose sense), and within that (or overlapping), a kind of proto-industrial music that has little to do with Ministry, NIN, or Front 242. Alongside Lydon's definitive nail-in-the-coffin of the Pistols – Metal Box (1979) – This Heat's debut was the sound of re-invention and refutation, both musical and ideological. Heavier than Throbbing Gristle or Cabaret Voltaire, the industrial analogies (at the time) require some contextualizing: industrial as a simile (metal on metal), industrial as a reflection of process (customized machines), industrial as an allusion to critiques of the "military industrial complex". The best (or worst) was yet to come, however…

Deceit (1981) is prophetic, for a start, in that it's glossolalic – it's gibberish, it's speaking in tongues, it's too many ideas at once, and if you throw them at the wall, some of them are bound to stick, and look like a warning three decades later, if not like Revelations. Thing is, prophecy often attracts the wrong people, and gets ignored by the rest, when they assume it must refer to some specific event in the future (i.e. Kabbalism), rather than referring to the horror here and now, but visibly imminent to those who can see the historic patterns (…which is one aspect of Gnosticism). Track 5, 'Cenotaph' spells this out: "his-tory / his-tory / repeats itself / repeats itself / Poppy Day – remember poppies are red / and the fields are full of poppies" – it's literally a song about decoding symbols, and not letting the signal become noise; it's not a Fuck You to the jingoism and self-righteousness of the generation who "served" (as Sid, Siouxsie, and others claimed their Nazi regalia was meant to suggest), nor does this song disrespect the dead, but it does demand that we re-consider our values. The most recognizably "punk" track on the album, 'SPQR' (Track 4), identifies another repetition, and how we're taught by rote to repeat the values, and sometimes the mistakes, of our parents – right back to the imperialism and centralized government of 2,000 years ago: "we're all Romans / we know all about straight roads / every road leads home / home to Rome / amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant."

The devastating industrial freak-out, 'Makeshift Swahili' (Track 8), condenses most of these ideas into one song, although you wouldn't know it at first from the Dalek-voice: "…makeshift she sings / in her native German / you try to understand / what she's trying to say / she says 'You're only as good / as the words you understand / and you, you don't understand / the words.' / CHORUS: Tower of Babel!!! / Swaaaaaaahili!!! / It's all Greek to me!" The middle-eight introduces a pretty guitar figure, and a second voice relates a fragment of history that might have been dropped in as a sample, years later: " 'we give you firewater / you give us your land' / 'white-man speak with forked tongues / but it's too late now / to start complaining…'" The sinister drones resume almost immediately, and then the song explodes with an intensity surpassing punk at its most violent – Charles Hayward shrieking "Rhubarb! Rhubarb! Rhubarb!" Granted, this track may not be the most obvious demonstration of the genius of This Heat – Yes, Babel remains the best-known parable of the dangers of imperialism (if not globalization) collapsing under the weight of its ambition; there are also hints that language is power, and literacy was an instrument of subjugation, in the case of the Native Americans, rather than being the gift of enlightenment (see also, Gang of Four's contemporaneous Entertainment!). These allusions operate according to the collage-principles of juxtaposition and partial-tearing to create new meanings – collage being the best known Dadaist strategy – but This Heat also employ sound-poetry and a kind of automatic-speaking akin to channelling and possession (these being associated with Dadaism's loopier, more magic(k)al experiments, pre-WWI). Art-history lesson almost done, it remains to point out that when inter-war Surrealism re-visited Dadaism, it used the slogan "Surrealism in the service of the revolution", and was firmly Marxist in its orientation. If 1970s English Progressive Rock was a debased surrealism in the service of trippiness, This Heat brought the revolutionary spirit back.

What of the rest of the album? It's a complex beast, whose intra-textualities are as numerous as the inter-textualities. The use of loops, drones, found-sounds, and unusual percussion (girders, dummy-heads) was so elaborate that you have to look to The Beatles' 'Tomorrow Never Knows' for a precursor, and as far ahead as Aphex Twin when describing the more danceable and abrasive tracks. A guitarist as evil – but subtle – as Charles Bullen wouldn't be found until Dave Pajo (of Slint), and if you want a comparison for the first album, only Liars have come close, with Drum's not Dead (2006). Personally, I can hear the ghost of Nico channelled into This Heat's weird mix of fucked-up lullabies (Track 1: 'Sleep'), and drone-based proto-industrial nightmares. The drawing of parallels between the End of Rome & the Cold War Era is also very Nico, and the phrase "the sound of explosions" on 'A New Kind of Water' (Track 10) feels like a reference to Eno's "bomb-noises" for Nico's The End. (Eno also recorded Manzanera's pre-Roxy band, Quiet Sun, who included one Charles Hayward, later of This Heat. Rhubarb Rhubarb.)

Opening track 'Sleep' tells us we're all unconscious, lulled by commercials (hence "softness is a thing called Comfort"), and these operate on us like Pavlov's dogs (CHORUS: "stimulus and response"). 'Triumph' might be suggesting a parallel between Neighbourhood Watch (imported from the US in 1982 – a landmark in the history of surveillance), and the early years of Nazism, when Riefenstahl assembled her filmic montage Triumph of the Will. 'SPQR' is sung in the first person plural and refers to the supposedly democratic electorate as "unconscious collective" – Cold War propaganda and sci-fi alike often fantasized the enemy as an insectile hive-mind, but this song isn't about an external enemy: the enemy is now internal. 'Independence' (Track 9) is, quite literally, the Declaration of Independence. Ask yourself, as a UK-citizen, have you ever read it? Do you know what it says? Could you imagine trying to implement its ideals now? Doesn't its endorsement of revolution sound – well, "un-American" (as the Patriot Act defines "American")? The climax is post-punk masterpiece and personal favourite, 'A New Kind of Water', which layers un-synchronized drums, bass, and a chiming guitar line – a distant siren that hasn't yet been recognized as a warning signal. As the parts cycle, and change in volume, the notes interact differently. The initial chorus vocals are those of impotent, infantilized consumers ("we were told to expect more / and now that we've got more / we want more"). After that, the vocal delivery is soulless and hollow – Winston Smith at the end of 1984 – we have hope, it says: 'a cure for cancer / we've got men on the job.' Urgency increases… the drums begin to pound… you realize the apocalypse is here and you wish you were in Neverland ("fly away Peter / hideaway Paul…"). The title of the final track is written in Japanese characters, transliterated into Romaji ('Hi Baku Shyo'), and then translated into English ('Suffer Bomb Disease'). There are no words in this murky, marshy soundscape – maybe this is the world in which only cockroaches have survived. Maybe English-speakers are only tolerated as slaves of the victorious "Yellow Peril" (hence the Romaji-script). Then again, maybe the bomb has already dropped, and we became insects without realizing it."

So this is what forward thinking music is all about. The very spirit you can hear flowing in and out of these songs is equaled by only the most groundbreaking and thoughtful bands. What a clusterfuck of noise, chaos, atonal melody, pulsating tribal rythym, chords that cut across your face like freshly sharpened blades, sounds whizzing in and out, abrupt changes, a message as dark as that ominous record cover...this band was in total control of what they were doing and what they wanted this mass of angst to sound like. So unbelievably essential in an industry (and blog) that probably uses that word to much. Though made in a different time, it sounds as fresh and urgent as any band still trying to push the proverbial envelope. You need this.

"The whole speak, 'Little Boy', 'Big Boy' [sic], calling missiles cute little names. The whole period was mad! We had a firm belief that we were going to die and the record was made on those terms.… The whole thing was designed to express this sort of fear, angst, which the group was all about really."-Charles Hayward

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Pop Group-We Are All Prostitutes (1980s/1998)

"It could have something to do with the fact that this is a compilation, but I still don’t buy it: judging from the tracklist of the other Pop Group LPs and comps, there’s not much of a difference here in terms of creating false cohesion, of bridging the lapses in a band’s output through the usual selective-memory procedures (Swell Maps, I’m looking in your direction)—everything seems to come from the same year or so, there’s a B-side here, but not much in the way of alternate mixes or singles-only tracks. In other words, there’s nothing that says the band couldn’t have put out this exact collection sometime before they imploded in 1980 or 1981. Therefore I have to conclude that this band just got a lot better: judging, after all, from the sporadically incoherent yet consistently bewildering Y, I was not sure if another Pop Group release was what I needed, at least right now. But here’s the incredible thing: whether it was because they spent more time hanging out with the Slits, or less listening to Crass and more listening to King Tubby, listening to this record is like watching the stoner in the back of your high school physics class suddenly start throwing out incisive questions about grand unified field theory. In short, it’s a tighter, far more accessible album that has the effect of retaining the righteous-activist’s indignation of Y while fusing the band’s unstable compound of disparate elements together into a listenable whole, intelligent enough not to fixate on the mirage of radical implications that often surround making inaccessible noise for its own sake.

The record certainly starts out letting one think the band’s succumbed to the seductions of fucking around: the indecipherable spoken sample and clattering rhythm track that begins “We Are All Prostitutes” in an appropriately extreme and caustic fashion is just deranged and alienating enough to make all who probably couldn’t make it through this album bail out immediately. But a minute into the track, a straightforward and well-conceived lyrical assault (“Aggression / Competition / Consumer fascism! / Capitalism is the most barbaric of our religions!”) rides atop what becomes a gutted-out disco bounce, replete with touches of scraping violin.

“Blind Faith” features an acute, head-spinning bass-and-drums groove that finally seems to realize the band’s promise of hybridizing JB’s, Gang of Four, and murky Kraut-inspired avant-ism: as Spartan yet instantly propulsive as anything recorded by ESG, the sinisterly muttered lyrics and threnodic horns take things in a grisly direction, yet the gradual acceleration of the track allows the ever-tight musicianship to expand itself in several directions at once without degenerating; an unexpectedly lovely percussive guitar coda that recalls Steve Reich is a welcome addition. “Justice,” another funk-driven track that’s heavy on the hi-hats, wah-pedal, and mind-bending noise effects in equal measure, features Mark Stewart’s most effectively, specifically exasperated vocal yet, railing against kangaroo courts, military aggression, imperialistic measures taken against Zimbabwe and Ireland. His saddened, I’ve-been-teargassed-too-many-times cries of “Who polices the police?” even echo Fela Kuti.

“Amnesty Report” sets just that—a report from Amnesty International of atrocities inflicted by the British on IRA members taken prisoner—atop an endlessly mutating, twitchy funk-and-percussion track that, while a tad Zappaesque and heavy on the found-sound spew, is one of the band’s most creative. Stewart here sounds colder, more sure of his convictions, than ever; if there was a campy and Jello-Biafra-like bemusement to be found in his previous vocals, there is, understandably, not a touch of it here. After that track grinds to a sudden halt, “Feed the Hungry” kicks in with an effective mixture of dancefloor groove and Remain in Light keyboard-drone psychedelia; Stewart again namechecks geographical locations of atrocity, all of which has is tersely broken down for the listener as follows: “The rape of the third world / World Bankers decide / Who lives and who dies.” (Even though the Illuminati is invoked, we can overlook it in this case.)

Breakneck, coming-apart-at-the-seams punk and bridge-burning funk are approximated on “Forces of Oppression,” which sounds a bit like “Give It Up and Turn It Loose” played by Ornette Coleman’s band circa his funky-catastrophe landmark Body Meta. It’s tracks like this one that require a cooldown like the sinister dub number “No Spectators,” a possibly Situationist-inspired indictment of all whose silent passivity implicates in atrocity. Of course, this is a heady charge to level against one’s audience, and it’s thankfully tempered throughout the course of the album to avoid simple dogmatism. The rousing, unexpectedly upbeat singalong of “Where There’s A Will” may be the highlight among all the offerings here; I can think of no more convincing offering of the post-punk era’s ability to assimilate what would appear to be incongruous idioms. Some delirious, downright Ohio-Players-esque guitar-and-bass runs and oddball Latin percussion keeps things appropriately joyous in the midst of struggle. Even if it’s a bleak one, it’s a party to which everyone’s invited."

Psycho crazy funked up political PUNK? You bet your ass.

EDIT: link fixed. my bad.

Where there's a will

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Camberwell Now-All's Well (1992)

"All's Well is an excellent compilation which gathers together nearly everything officially released by The Camberwell Now during their existence from 1983 to 1987 - two 12" singles, an album and stand alone tracks which appeared on compilations - in chronological order. Their music was informed by a strong sense of place (Camberwell is a largely working class area of South London) and time; their lyrics, especially on the Ghost Trade, were highly critical of Mrs Thatcher's Britain.

The first four tracks come from the debut 12" single, Meridian. One track, a brief instrumental called Trade Winds, is not included here, presumably so that everything could fit onto a single CD. The first three songs sound more like Hayward solo than a group effort; he has the sole writing credit, and there is a minimal feel to the arrangements. The common theme is water, a recurring motif in Hayward's lyrics. Cutty Sark opens the proceedings, a song about the famous sailing vessel now moored on the river Thames near Camberwell. The arrangement is simple; a melodica refrain, cymbal and vocal by Hayward with bass and tambourine by ex This Heat colleague Charles Bullen, and the lyrics are about the ship's past as a vessel for trade with outposts of the British empire. Pearl Divers maintains the theme and mood, with keyboards and minimal percussion backing another mournful vocal. Dunkirk Spirit sees the entry of the full drum kit, played with a featherlight jazzman's touch, and an extended scat vocal introduction. Throughout these three tracks there is a feel very similar to Robert Wyatt circa Rock Bottom, and the lyrics reflect the band's left wing political views in an intelligent, understated manner. Resplash is a lengthy instrumental that reworks Splash, the closing track on the original 12" single and which gives the first full flavour of the band; Trefor Goronwy plays some nimble bass and also adds some ukulele, Hayward gets busy behind the kit and adds some simple keyboard motifs and Steven Rickard's loops and manipulations add the same kind of wild card to the mix that Gareth Williams' keyboards and tapes added to This Heat.

Next up is a stand alone track, originally issued only on an obscure and long deleted cassette compilation. Daddy Needs A Throne is effectively a curtain raiser for their album; the backing of the song is played on bass and drums with Trefor Goronwy using the full range of his instrument to play both low end rhythm and high end riffs and solos. Steven Rickard's tape work adds extra textures in the breaks, but it's basically a manic vocal/bass/drums performance with some extremely tight changes of tempo and metre. The Robert Wyatt influence is a lot less noticeable here - the sound is closer to Krautrock, with echoes of Can, Neu! and Faust discernible although the the lyrics and vocals are unmistakably English.

The band's solitary full length album, The Ghost Trade, was a remarkable achievement that demonstrated just how powerful a unit The Camberwell Now had become. Hayward and Goronwy had coalesced into an unbelievably tight, focussed rhyhtm section and the songwriting had found a distinctive, unique voice of its own. There are just 6 comparatively lengthy tracks on the album, and the musicians give themselves plenty of space and scope without degenerating into pointless noodling. The first two tracks, Night Shift and Sitcom, are in the same style as Daddy Needs A Throne - voice, bass and drums carry the bulk of the arrangement, with keyboards or tapes providing simple washes of sound or background drones. Abrupt shifts of rhyhtm and tempo occur throughout, while the lyrics take critical sideswipes at Mrs Thatcher's Britain. The pace slows down with Wheat Futures, which features no drumming for its first half, followed by a lengthy and discordant coda with ritual percussion and dark keyboard figures that recall Univers Zero's more sombre moments. 80s production values are in evidence on Speculative Fiction, which has what sounds like a sequencer generated bass line and a hypnotic bass/snare drum beat, which Hayward and Goronwy play over, around, under, across and through. Portions of the lyrics are spliced together from different voices (friends and neighbours, according to the credits) and the whole thing has bizarre echoes of 80s Pink Floyd. The Green Lantern is the shortest piece on the album, and features some heavy electronic distortion - it wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Can album circa Ege Bamyesi. The album closes with the title track, which clocks in at over eleven minutes. The lyrics hark back to This Heat's mighty SPQR, while the music builds up at its own pace. The instrumental section which closes the piece is carried by a simple motif that sometimes sounds like a glockenspiel, other times like a musical box. The bass and drums weave ever stranger patterns, while a simple electronic drone holds the whole thing together. All in all, The Ghost Trade is a masterful album which repays repeated and careful listening - an essential piece of 80s RIO.

A couple of significant changes had taken place by the time of Green Fingers, their final recording. The line up was augmented by Maria Lamburn on reeds and viola, and for the first time they were not recording in Cold Storage, the studio established by This Heat ten years previously. The result was something of a mixed success; the title track, apparently an old This Heat song, is a superb piece with extremely powerful bass and drums and some excellent jazzy interjections from Lamburn on soprano sax. The mood is maintained on The Mystery of The Fence, which moves into slightly more discordant territory and which has an extremely busy arrangement. Know How features Goronwy's only lyrical contribution to the Camberwell Now, and is a mournful, oddly inconclusive piece followed by a brief, sombre instrumental. For the first time since the songs which opened Meridian there is a note of uncertainty in evidence, and like the debut 12" single Greenfingers is good but rather patchy.

The Camberwell Now experienced little commercial success in their lifetime, which is odd given the extremely high standard of their output. Their bass/drum/vocal excursions may well ahve been a formative influence on Ruins - Yoshida Tatsuya is a big fan of Hayward's, and Cutty Sark was to remain in Hayward's solo live set. Comparisons with This Heat are inevitable, but they were emphatically not This Heat part 2; this was a band with its own sound and agenda and which developed into an entity as disticnct from its parent band as Art Bears was from Henry Cow or Matching Mole from Soft Machine. On the Ghost Trade they equalled This Heat's considerable achievements with their own, and on their other releases they explored other ideas and styles with varying degrees of success, some of which would inform Charles Hayward's solo career. All's Well is an excellent collection even though not quite complete, and is best listened to in segments corresponding to the original releases. Strongly recommeneded."

I'm a really huge This Heat fan so I can't get enough of them or anything remotely related. This is much more accessible than most of This Heat's work but Charles Hayward is a true musical master as evidenced here. Often straddling the fence between electronic, prog and the like, Camberwell Now is super hard to put your finger on, but that's the beauty of such releases anyway. Wonderful listen, especially "Wheat Futures." Gets me every time.

There's a force field on the front lawn

Monday, December 21, 2009

Pere Ubu-Dub Housing (1978)

"Ehteen years ago, the Minutemen posed a certain unforgettable question to their listeners. “Do you want New Wave or do you want the truth?” they asked us, and even if the first signifier is no longer as potent in inspiring disgust as it once was – given that today’s music, chart-pop and indie, proliferates with New Wave nostalgia – and even if its signpost has yellowed a bit with age, if our vinyl copies of Double Nickels on the Dime (remember, only the double LP has the “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” cover, before you jump down my throat on this one, and no, I don’t own it either) have since harvested their share of crackle and skip, I think this question is as relevant today as ever. Fans of adventurous music make a difficult choice, the same one the early punks made when choosing, in terms of appearance and action, to separate themselves from society and risk ridicule – well, far more than ridicule. I’m sure if you’re reading this, someone’s probably yelled something vague about being a fag at you for the way you dress or because you sucked at gym, but as books like Our Band Could Be Your Life and the typo-ridden, fanatical, weirdly compelling American Hardcore make clear, punks – the one thing street gangs, cops, and fratboys all could agree they hated – got handed beatdowns more often than not in ‘81.

So we can choose what we listen to and what we look like, it’s our decision whether to try to make ourselves acceptable to the people who most likely hate us, to watch bad TV so we have something to discuss over the water cooler, or to go elsewhere. Elsewhere is a lonely place. But I like to think this choice is a rewarding one; I’m not here to pontificate about how all mass cultural product equals grotesquely sexualized, rage-glamorizing offal, and that its purported alternative is often little more than a highbrow or subculture-cachet version of same, but let’s just say that Pere Ubu are the truth and forge ahead.

Of course, the truth – the genuine article, not the instrument of power that Foucault railed against – can be difficult to understand. No more cryptic, disjointed, and unpleasant an album could rightly be called a classic, unless we speak of the perverse fascination we reserve for outsider music. And this could be outsider music in a sense, only created by a band entirely aware of what they’re doing yet seemingly driven to do so. Listen to “Navvy” and you get a bright, almost cheery guitar figure that quickly finds itself in knots beneath squawks of blocky keyboard, and a rhythm that keeps falling to shreds, usually while another vocalist besides the inimitable Dave Thomas (who seems lost amidst the chaos in the childlike idyll of discovering that he’s “got these arms and legs that flip-flop, flip flip-flop”) informs us, “Boy, that sounds swell.” It’s a perverse mess, and a great lead-in to what follows. The surrealistic call-and-response game that propels “On The Surface” – which features the signature Ubu elements of a pulsing bassline, watery, happy-or-on-some-other-plane melody, and found-sound marginalia – presents us with what we’ve come to expect, but seems to end suddenly, giving way to the somewhat troubled title track. Thomas seems to be huddled in the corner of the darkened room he wrecked on the last album’s “Sentimental Journey,” lyrically concerned this time with the humanist Babel of frustrated tenants in a breathing building not without its own torments, its instrumental section, ushered in by an eloquent saxophone and featuring a similar restraint in its guitar-and-piano jumble, is a true highlight.

“Caligari’s Mirror” offers drama and grime in some of Thomas’ most out-there, intoxicated wailing, as well as a thrilling, motley, full-band chorus that seems intent on waking the very neighbors mentioned in the last track. Some unaccompanied, seasick bass-and-guitar figures, which offer a premonition of the obsessive-compulsive album-closer “Codex” (a quick recap: Thomas thinks about a girl all the time, he hangs around his public library copying obituaries from the local papers and articles from the Wall Street Journal, surrounded by bags both paper and plastic, and he thinks about her all the time, all the time, all the time) lend more than a hint of unease to this beery sojourn, however, a grimness that continues in the (overlong) next track, which offers more of the same, plus some off-tempo percussion, sonic horror-film ephemera, fantastic, cartoonish, Ravenstine-supplied monster-chomping sounds, and, well, lord knows what else. It’s called, appropriately enough, “Thriller!” This could’ve easily been an alternate title for an album filled with such an excess of psychic turmoil, but then what would Michael Jackson have done? Besides go crazy, I mean.

“I Will Wait” clocks in at under two minutes, a hopeful slice of hopelessness that nevertheless manages to come across as the rather more affirmative cousin to The Modern Dance’s “Life Stinks,” with its full-band drumrolls replaced by an intense, unwieldy series of synthesizer-led buildups that allow the usually reined-in guitars to reach an approximation of previous Ubu efforts’ maximum volume before teleporting out in a cloud of twisted metal and asbestos. Suddenly, “Drinking Wine Spodyody” and “Ubu Dance Party” arrive in its stead, offering some of the album’s most indescribable moments; the former’s off-kilter near-funk (circling, maddeningly off-time keyboard figures manage to shift things nicely out of focus, as does a brief foray into bass-driven stomp that sounds like the Fall cross-bred with Uncle Meat-era Mothers of Invention) and the latter’s logic-defying and apocalyptic, well, dance-rock (listen to the atonal chorus that provides its finale and try not to think of a 1961 vocal group, only with woefully drug-corroded brains) manage to startle and confuse more often than not. If all punk sounded as anarchic as these two songs, all the media outrage might’ve been warranted.

Another meandering instrumental, “Blow Daddy-O,” with its methodical synth ululation, drum-machine provided click-track and too-painterly-to-be-written-off-as-simply-messy instrumental squall, recalls early Kraftwerk being harassed in an adjoining studio by Faust. Then it’s “Codex,” my pick for the most powerful, unromantic portrayal of mental instability that the band ever committed (no pun intended! Ha!) to tape: booming, slave-ship percussion and mordant chants give way to a minimal yet incredibly effective guitar line, joined again by the absent-just-long-enough-to-make-an-impact Thomas. “I think about you all the time,” he repeats over a haunting soundclash. “The day fades away and the night passes over / And I think about you all the time / I think about you all the time / Here come my shoes / Here comes me.” Does he sound disgusted with himself? Does he sound numb? Is there an ending to this story? Well, no, or at least, there is not one that we don’t have to supply on our own as the guitar lingers, caressing us.

Listening to this song, and of course this whole album, I often feel deliciously imcomplete. I want to play it again. I get obsessive. Maybe this is what “Codex” is about – Thomas could not be thinking about someone all the time but rather about his preoccupations with that someone (thinking about thinking about someone all the time!), or some form of meaning in his life of the sort that someone could or couldn’t provide, or rather about a nonexistent version of himself that possesses the meaning he seeks – and maybe, well, it isn’t. Pere Ubu excelled at sketching out the chasms within, the moments some of us find troubling and others relish in the same way they do the idea that their emotional shipwrecks, the idea that they’re far gone from ever living normal lives. In other words, if you like to lose yourself in art and its complexities, if you like your albums to verge on presenting you with meaning just before they diffuse into some waiting dark, this is the album for you; if you want the abstruse, puzzling truth, this is the album for you. I think it resonates with what Jorge Luis Borges refers to in his famously inconclusive essay “The Wall and the Books.” “Music,” he writes, “states of happiness, mythology, faces belabored by time, certain twilights and certain places try to tell us something, or have said something we should not have missed, or are about to say something; this imminence of a revelation that does not occur is, perhaps, the aesthetic phenomenon.”

This record has been blowing my mind lately. From those glorious uplifiting moments to those moments of sheer terror, this album has it all tied it up in a wonderfully weird and enjoyable package. It's all over the place so if that's your bag, reach on inside. Very highly recommended

Have you heard about this house?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Brainticket-Cottonwoodhill (1971)

"Next time you feel like getting fried, listen to this! But never mind the first two songs on Cottonwoodhill; they are both a rather ho-hum affair. The real brillance on this disc is to be found throughout their 26 minute acid-fueled masterpiece, "Brainticket", the basis of which is a slightly varrying guitar/keyboard lock groove, kinda like Can at their most repetitive. Over this groove pulses all sorts of sound effects, such as machine guns, screams, gargeling, etc. Mostly, though, the overriding sound is their synthesizer, who, although not in the league of Klaus Sculze, nonetheless provides some very entertaining squawks, squeeks, beeps and drones, resulting is a very high-powered burst of aphetimene driven psychosis, dancable and meditative (but meditative in a disturbing, scary way)
But Brainticket the band doesn't stop there, and what really makes "brainticket" the song transcend ordinary greatness in pursuit of nutty brilliance is the voice of Dawn Muir. Sounding very Engish, she freaks out over the whole thing, recounting a very bad acid trip, doubting her exsistence, screaming her LSD-fueled insights, and just generally making a complete mess of herself.
...Suddenly you realize that the insanity is contageous, as the song stops, revealing a weird computer voice going "Brainticket Brainticket Brainticket" and you are left wondering just what the fuck is going on,just what is this I'm listening to? But then the song fades back in, and it's back to where we started...
Poor Dawn Muir, she sounds like a girl being dragged off towards a mental institution, and I wouldn't be surprised if she was still there. Because after this album, everyone in Brainticket freaked out, and only their keyboard player remained. While other Brainticket albums are interesting, none have the sheer grab you by the balls lunancy as witnessed all over Cottonwoodhill, the cover of which carries the helpful warning, "Don't listen to this record more than once a day or your brain will be destroyed!"

Here's a quickie before my computer dies and I'm stranded with no internet for another couple of days. If you like the mind-melting psych that is usually posted round these parts, there's no reason you won't enjoy this.

Pinky and the brain

Friday, December 11, 2009

Big Blood-Space Gallery 01/27/2007

"the phantom four piece of Asian Mae, Caleb Mulkerin, Rose Philistine and Colleen Kinsella perform only as a duo. An intimately willing team walking blind through each other's songs presenting one of a kind recordings tailor-made to the night's performance.

is Rose Philistine, Colleen Kinsella, Caleb Mulkerin, & Asian Mae"

Totally gorgeous psych folk, inexplicable in its beauty. One of my all time favorite bands for certain. Get it.

Glory daze

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Fall-Hex Enduction Hour (1982)

"or the uninitiated, entering the wonderful and frightening world of the Fall can be an overwhelming experience. Not only does the “band” (which has performed in various incarnations since the late 70’s, but always with the indestructible crux of the perennially trashed Mark E. Smith) have more albums than years of existence under their collective belt, but mucked-up distribution of their records has generated barrelfuls of compilations and odd re-re-re-releases. That said, if you are to delve into three records by the Fall in your mortal life, the recently reissued (cleaned up and expanded) Hex Enduction Hour ought to be one of them. To dispense with the formalities, it’s a good remaster for an album that deserved it, and while none of the second disc’s added goodies are particularly stellar, they nevertheless serve as a little gravy to an already superb record.

Originally released in 1982 as their fourth studio album, Hex demonstrates the culmination of “early” Fall: a monolithic beast of ragged grooves piloted through the embittering miasma of English society by the verbose acidity/Joycean all-inclusiveness of Mark E. Smith. By then, the band’s sound had expanded outwards, having graduated to two drummers and allowing the abrasive patchwork of Marc Riley and Craig Scanlon’s guitars to drift further into clattering abstraction, each player pulling their creativity taut from an invisible center. Along with Wire, the Fall serves as one of the earliest and most successful attempts to elevate punk formalism (i.e. the consciously simple, spirited, and non-virtuosic) to the level of more exploratory, experimental music, an approach that we now call “post-punk,” but whereas Wire turned to icy, synth-laden paranoia, the Fall (at this point in their career) folded in the Neanderthalic kitchen sinkism of early Faust and the lovingly crass fusion of Can, peppering them with some of the thudding, demeaned pop-redux that would come to mark their mid-80’s work.

Immediately, “The Classical” sets a tone that characterizes the entirety of the record: dreary, cluttered, and seemingly decaying, but lurching forward with an unflinching certainty—the only flickering torch song in a cavity of deadened automatons. “There is no culture is my brag, your taste for bullshit reveals a lust for a home of office.” Of course, it’s ultimately Smith that gives a name to the beauteous shitstorm, delivering his dense, volatile rants in a trademark nasal snarl with a sing-speak pace that truly lets them cook, unmasking their dissent and pure poetry, erratically crying out “THIS IS THE HOME OF THE VAIN!,” only to consent that “I’ve never felt better in my life” in a bleary deadpan, ad infinitum, a comment whose inscrutability verges on chilling.

What’s tremendous, singular, and affecting about Smith is that it’s hard to tell where he actually stands: the heartbreaking scope and sensitivity of his lyrics shows a mind not of suffocating nihilism, but keen detachment, cynicism, and understanding, setting him as much at odds with the spitting reactionaries of punk as with the tidy Thatcherite society that fueled their hatred. If “The Classical” partially mimicked the illusory freedom and faux-revolutionary discontent of youth, “Fortress/Deer Park” takes aim at it, exposing the squatter squalor of a Nazi fortress where, after talking in circles “with four left wing kids,” Smith tiptoes by the toilets to the sound of a urine-stained fanfare: “and Good King Harry was there fucking [BBC’s original ‘Top of the Pops’ DJ] Jimmy Saville.” It’s upon his exit that the sky begins to open up for the gloriously apocalyptic scene of the deer park: when Smith says “I took a walk down West 11, I had to wade through 500 European punks” his voice coursing through a droning organ, a single flame on the verge of being blown out, it exudes chaos on the brink of pure bliss, the sound of Smith entering hell itself. The band reaches its boiling point, a relentless Stooges-like stomp tied together by an endless ribbon of gnashing teeth, Smith drowning in the deluge of noise, twisting amidst the inescapable artists, kids, and subculture hawks swarming like locusts all around, cheating out “the young blackies… in the English system they implicitly trust, see the A&R civil servants, they get a sex thrill out of a sixteenth of Moroccan,” a suffocatingly pathetic tableau of disappointments masquerading as hedonistic idealism, an interminably mounting pile of human trash.

And is there a way out? “Just Step S’Ways” is the closest the Fall gets to a motivational moment, and it’s hardly anything to smile about, as Smith leads the Fall Soul-Wrangler Revue trumpeting the empty rah-rah sentiment to “just step outside this grubby place today,” employing the falsely empowering sentiment of advertisements, the illusion of a life-changing consumerism. We’re left with our fists flaccid in the goddamn air with absolutely nowhere to look, before being piled like waste into the subtle, lopsided discord of “Who Makes the Nazis?,” to which the answer is, basically, everyone, from intellectual half-wits to George Orwell to the BBC. If there’s any moral, it’s a difficult one to swallow: everything we see wrong with the world is a conspiracy of our hates and our loves, every antagonist has its circumstances, its foils, its antecedents—more than anything, it’s a plea for thorough consideration of one’s surroundings, a deep-seated skepticism that perpetually disrupts the spirit yet elevates understanding. Smith laments on the loping infinity of “And This Day” that there’s “just no fucking respite for us here… you even mistrust your own feelings.” Like the cover of the record itself, Hex is a concrete chunk of clanging urban graffiti, a haze of cryptically scrawled half-thoughts preached like glossolalia to form a cross section rife with painful contradictions and holes too deep to fill, a picture whose dizzying intersections of raw, loose ends only serve to elevate its bleak beauty."

An old favorite of mine for certain. It's hard for me to get over those jagged guitars, tight rhythm section and snarled, alienated vocals as the years go by. Many of you probably have this or have heard it but it is an absolute classic and is deserving of a listen at the very least. Highly recommended.

This is the home of the vain

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mountainhood-The River/The Road (2009)

Great little Psych Folk ditty that I have been listening to a ton. Really beautiful, fragile melodies. It makes me even happier having looked for these two exact tunes for months. Dig in.

Here I go into the world

Howlin' Wolf-The Genuine Article (1995)

"Howlin’ Wolf ranks among the most electrifying performers in blues history, as well as one of its greatest characters. He was a ferocious, full-bodied singer whose gruff, rasping vocals embodied the blues at its most unbridled. A large man who stood more than six feet tall and weighed nearly 300 pounds, Howlin’ Wolf cut an imposing figure, which he utilized to maximum effect when performing. In the words of blues historian Bob Santelli, “Wolf acted out his most potent blues, becoming the living embodiment of its most powerful forces.” Howlin’ Wolf cut his greatest work in the Fifties for the Chicago-based Chess Records. Many songs with which he is most closely identified - “Spoonful,” “Back Door Man,” “Little Red Rooster” and “I Ain’t Superstitious” - were written for him by bluesmen , a fixture at Chess Records who also funneled material to Wolf’s main rival, . Howlin’ Wolf himself was an estimable songwriter, responsible for such raw classics as “Killing Floor,” “Smokestack Lightning” and “Moanin’ at Midnight.”

In 1910, Howlin’ Wolf was born on a Mississippi plantation in the midst of a blues tradition so vital it remains the underpinning for much of today’s popular music. His birth name was Chester Arthur Burnett; “Howlin’ Wolf” was a nickname he picked up in his youth. He was exposed to the blues from an early age through such performers as Charley Patton and Willie Brown, who performed at plantation picnics and juke joints. Wolf derived his trademark howl from the “blue yodel” of country singer , whom he admired. Although he sang the blues locally, it wasn’t until he moved to West Memphis in 1948 that he put together a full-time band. Producer recorded Howlin’ Wolf at his Memphis Recording Service (later Sun Records) after hearing him perform on radio station KWEM. Some of the material was leased to Chess Records, and in the early Fifties Howlin’ Wolf signed with Chess and moved to Chicago. He remained there until his death.

Howlin’ Wolf served to influence such blues-based rock musicians as and . In fact, he recorded a pair of albums - The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions and London Revisited - with his British disciples in the early Seventies. Howlin’ Wolf’s distinctive vocal style and rough-hewn approach to the blues can also be heard in the work of such diverse artists as Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band and . Slowed down for much of the Seventies due to serious internal injuries suffered in an automobile accident, Howlin’ Wolf gave his last performance in Chicago in November 1975 with fellow blues titan B.B. King. He died of kidney failure two months later.”

That voice is really all you need. I mean, it's THE voice. The Wolf also took very good care of his band (paying them well, giving them health care-no joke) so all of the musicianship is top notch. They have this hypnotic quality to their playing and it is utterly orgasmic. I can't say enough things about the Howlin' Wolf and the band. So influential, so essential, pretty much what you expect when you think of electric blues. Insanely recommended.

I asked for water

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band-It Comes To You In A Plain Brown Wrapper (1972/2008)

"The high-def vinyl, 2-LP set that is It Comes to You in a Plain Brown Wrapper was, in its original form, the blues-on-blues followup to Don Van Vliet and his mangy merrie men’s Safe as Milk debut. What it wound up as, in 1968, was the gutted-not-gutbucket Strictly Personal – a much despised item that got noodled and re-edited by Blue Thumb (Beef’s then label) to include cutesy psychedelic sound FX and other clichéd oddities.

Don’t get me wrong. As it stands, Strictly Personal is downright creepy. Not Trout Mask Replica odd/majestic; filled with mean gnarly blues and fragrant angled instrumentation (to say nothing of Beefheart’s Dada lyricism and crusty howl) it’s almost what the Captain ordered.

But what Beefheart really wanted as his second album was what fills the inside of this Sundazed package, featuring stunning cover art from Zappa/Straight Records house painter/collage maven Cal Schenkel. Here is the unadorned by echo-phase-outs and pop-psychedelic panning raw powered purity (if being swampy and skuzzy has that essence) of “Gimme Dat Harp Boy” and the menacing free “Beatle Bones ’n’ Smokin' Stones Pt. 1 & 2.” While the rangier of versions of “Safe as Milk” here outshine the Magic Band’s first crack at lyrics like “Yesterday’s paper headlines approach rain gutter teasing rusty cat sneezing/ Soppin wet hammer dusty and wheezing,” hearing Beefheart tear holes into the lustful “Big Black Baby Shoes” and a frightening “Trust Us” is worth the new price of admission."

If "Strictly Personal" sounds a little too tinny and flanged out to you, this is your calling. Fat and bluesy, it's everything I love about early Beefheart. And that harmonica playing! Goddamn. This serves as a pretty good introduction if you're uninitiated but it's not his best. But that doesn't really matter. I mean, it's Beefheart.Those of who who gobble this stuff up should know what to do.

Trust us

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

King Crimson-Lizard (1970)

When I first heard this album I really didn't know what to make of it. It's like nothing else in the Crimson body of work, and it's not much like anything else by anyone else either. Most immediately noticeable is the way Fripp hangs around in the background, picking on his acoustic guitar and adding some mellotron lines here and there; there are no screaming electric leads at all. The whole album is very warm and acoustic, and in fact the best performances (aside from some excellent acoustic guitar from Fripp in the opening track) come from sax-and-flute player Collins and pianist Tippett. Even Sinfield's lyrics are very different from other King Crimson words; the whole album reads like some kind of nightmarish fairy tale.

Of all the tracks here, only "Lady of the Dancing Water" has a clear comparison - it's another quietly pretty acoustic ballad in the style of, say, "Cadence and Cascade". The first three tracks are all short, psychotic freakouts that go in decreasing order of effectiveness. "Cirkus" is the coolest thanks to its weird juxtaposition of evil mellotron and clear acoustic guitar; "Happy Family" is the weakest thanks to Haskell's terribly distorted vocals (I don't have a problem with his singing in general, but that distortion is just too much for me). The title track is the only side-long epic King Crimson ever wrote, and it's a little rusty. The opening two sections are great - Jon Anderson's vocals in "Prince Rupert Awakes" are a fresh surprise and work very well within the framework of the music, and the improvisatory middle and beautiful closing part of "Bolero" are equally effective. However, the band seems to get a bit lost in indulgence in the ten-minute "Battle of Glass Tears" - this section has never gotten through to me. "Big Top", on the other hand, is a fittingly weird closing track to a uniquely insane album.

Lizard is perhaps the most underrated of King Crimson's albums, and contains some of the band's most unique, demented, and enjoyable work. While it'd be a poor place to begin exploring the world of KC, it's a strong effort overall, whatever Mr. Fripp thinks about it."

This album is love or hate as far as Crimson fans go but I think it's utterly fantastic. It's weird for sure but you probably knew that already. Some songs are lush and beautiful, others are just straight bizarre. It's true that this probably isn't the best Crimson album to start with unless you like way weirder music to begin with. Which may be the case. Either way, this is a great album. Dig it.

Playing indoor games

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Staff Carpenborg and the Electric Corona-Fantastic Party (1970)

All right, we'll admit that we were a bit doubtful about this at first, just from reading the hypesheet/liner notes, which claim, in part, that this is one of the "last great Kraut secrets" and because of its discovery, "the history of Krautrock has to be rewritten". And we're still not entirely sure if the person who wrote that was actually joking or not. But, while this is definitely not some undiscovered classic on the order of a Can, Faust or Neu! (or even the more obscure likes of Siloah, Kalacakra, Necronomicon, etc.) it IS pretty cool. And weird. Especially weird. Imagine Reynols or Yahowha 13 gone lounge, trying to entertain a bunch of jet-setters at some hip, swinging '60s party... It's called Fantastic Party after all and that's what it was meant as, a party record! Some cheesy German record label in 1970 put this together, presumably paying (with drugs?) a bunch of studio musicians to create a one-off psychedelic exploitation album by a nonexistent "band". A dime a dozen back then, maybe, but these guys really really went for it. It is pretty darn tripped out. Groovy but really off kilter and demented. Maybe we'd compare it to the children's songbook funk of Stark Reality, if you've heard the reissue of that. Or some totally dosed jazz combo doing porno music. Good times. Yup, it's got stinging fuzz guitar solos, flute warbling, hiccuping percussion, damaged "singing", bizarro titles... this has LSD written all over it. If you went to this "fantastic party" you'd know that Peter Fonda would be there for sure. And go-go dancers with dayglo body paint. And Timothy Leary, and midgets, and people who look like extras from a Terry Southern penned movie too.
A track from this appeared on the Kraut! Demons! Kraut compilation from a few years back, and if you have that, well rest assured, the entirety of this album is of the same high quality of fucked-upedness. So, true krautrock classic or not, we're glad it's been reissued, we're digging it! We only have to wonder, why did the reissuers hate the original cover so much that they felt the need to provide a new, totally ugly one?? Fortunately the LP's real (and actually quite rad, despite what they thought) cover is reproduced on the tray card, featuring a bevy of good-looking, polyester-clad partygoers truly having a FANTASTIC time."

Weirdo Kraut Lounge Jazz? Something like that. Initially found these guys on the ever popular Psych Funk 101 compilation that everyone here seems to be digging hard so I figured I'd post this gem. It's awkward and groovy, two of the best words ever. Enjoy that fantastic party, eh?

All men shall be brothers of Ludwig

Shellac-At Action Park (1994)

"Shellac's first three singles (especially Uranus) suggested that Steve Albini was moving into more subtle and dynamic territory after the musical and lyrical brutality of Big Black and Rapeman, but the group's first full-length album, At Action Park, proved that the misanthropic noisemaker responsible for Atomizer and Songs About Fucking was still very much present. "My Black Ass," "Dog and Pony Show," and "Il Porno Star" revealed Albini was still obsessed with sex, violence, and anti-social behavior, and the hard, metallic guitar figures of "Pull the Cup" and "Song of the Minerals" were as uncompromisingly abrasive as ever, with Albini's trademark engineering (dry, stark, and crystal clear) making the rough edges all the more punishing. But At Action Park does reveal a band more musically intelligent and imaginative than Big Black, and while it hits a good bit harder than the 7"ers that preceded it, Shellac is still significantly more concerned with the space between the notes than any of Albini's earlier projects. Just as importantly, in drummer Todd Trainer and bassist Bob Weston, Albini had found a human rhythm section that lived up to his exacting specifications, with Weston adding both melody and force with his thick, meaty tone and Trainer displaying both precision and an expressive abstraction behind the kit. And while Shellac's idea of a good time would still make most folks uncomfortable, there's a dark but genuine humor to a few of the cuts (especially "Il Porno Star"), and "Song of the Minerals" suggests Albini may actually feel compassion for one of his protagonists. At Action Park made it clear that Steve Albini was slowly but surely maturing, while stubbornly refusing to compromise in the process."

It's Albini. It's noisy. It's intense. It's mandatory.

Pull the cup

Monday, November 16, 2009

King Tubby-Declaration of Dub (1970s?)

"King Tubby is to this day synonymous with dub. He was a man who had a passion for fiddling with sound equipment, and turned that passion into a new musical genre and a veritable art form. He may have started his career as a repairman, but before he was done, his name was one of the most respected around the world. He worked with virtually every artist in Jamaica, and his name on a remix was like gold, a seal of quality that was never questioned."

Not a whole lot of good info on this one but my roommate popped it on last night and I was flying. In orbit. So I believe this is a session from the 70s remixing some Bunny Lee tunes (like much of his output) and it bumps like some good Dub should. So what else do you need, right?

Thanks Robert. Good find.

Dub nasty

Sunday, November 15, 2009

SunnO)))-White2 (2004)


There's a remark in the annals of music history that Igor Stravinsky once said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that Antonio Vivaldi didn't write 685 concertos, but he wrote one concerto 685 times. For outsiders, it's assumed the same can be said for the Cali/NY duo Sunn 0))); on the surface, the group has been recording the same method of attack for five albums now. Riffs drive straight to the spine, embedded in a sea of deafening volume and minimalist approach. But once beneath the murky sludge, cloaked guitarists Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson's wide terrain becomes more evident.

The group's appropriately titled White 2 serves as a bookend for last year's sprawling White 1. Heshers abound with jaws agape, the group took a subversive turn by focusing more on ambience (hence "white"), and abandoning the atonal riffs that crushed so many subwoofers on previous outings. An emphasis on vocals (thanks to weirdo mouthpiece Julian Cope and former Burning Witch eye candy/throat terror Runhild Gammelsaeter) and the occasional dusty drum-machine beat make for a new kind of doom, more open ended and nocturnal than anything a reshaped Sabbath riff could yield.

"Hell-0)))-Ween" revisits the ideas of yore, as a bed of turgid riffs lumber down your body like earthworms through dirt. This is the Sunn 0))) that brings to mind said Stravinsky quote; the kind of endurance test that was birthed by Tony Conrad, and revitalized for longhaired outcasts by The Melvins. Wise move on the duo's part to get it out of the way for more risky, but extraordinary delights. "bassAliens" has been the opening trademark of the last two Sunn 0))) tours, and in recorded form, it's reminiscent of the besetting paranoia while witnessing a stage – nay, a room – overflow with thick smoke and green light. With a repeated guitar phrase that wouldn't sound out of place on John Fahey's Womblife, the group experiments with a careful use of space, allowing touring member Rex Ritter's moog to carefully step in, out and around broken pickups, detuned E-strings, and completely fucked amps. This is the Sunn 0))) that spites said Stravinsky quote, as well as any idea of the exhausted phrase "stoner metal." Instead, it's the stuff that fevers are made of.

The duo aim for the bottom; they go beyond any sense of actual referenced music, and search for the base of sound itself, thus dodging comparisons to Metal, Psychedelia, Experimental, Minimalism, and Noise whilst gaining fans from all fields. In this, their artwork and legion of collaborators, they've created their own universe, one that allows them the pleasure of never saying "uncle" to anyone.

The group's artwork is full of reference to 16th century European gothic paintings, portraits of cheetahs devouring a four-legged prey, even a photo of Ozzy's epilepsy medication. Their choice of collaborators is unpredictable, from obvious contenders Merzbow and Joe "Thrones" Preston, to left-field picks like Petra Haden (daughter of jazz legend Charlie Haden) or Dawn Smithson (formerly of Rex Ritter's psychedelic groove robbers Jessamine). On "Decay 2 (Nihils Maw)," the duo brought in legendary black metal vocalist Attila Csihar (most notably of Mayhem) to – not tell a tale of brutal murder or dark worship – recite verses from the Sanskrit book, The Srimad Bhagavatam. Through Csihar's deep throat-singing and Sunn 0)))'s hellish drone-fuck monsoon, the group has built a bridge that starts with a book well over 5000 years old, meets La Monte Young in the middle, and then dissolves at the feet of black metal. The void beckons."

I'm sure all of you are familiar with SunnO))) but as I listen to this album as I write a paper, I'd much rather post it instead. Stone Age heaviness is the order of the day including that super paranoid doom freakout "bassAliens." I think this is great for studying but you be the judge. Hitherto!

Nihils' Maw

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Swans-Filth/Body to Body, Job to Job (1982-85/2000)

"Since Swans demise in 1997, Michael Gira has meticulously re-packaged exactly what he wants to preserve of Swans 15 year legacy via double cd re-issues, this being the fourth and final one. This set couples the long out print 1983 debut album Filth and the 1982-85 studio out takes and live recording collection Body to Body, Job to Job. In addition is a previously unreleased 25 minute live show in NYC from 1982/3 and a 9 minute live version of "Raping a Slave" from 1984. Noticeably missing are the four songs from the debut s/t EP from 1982.

"Swans always had the potential for brutal sonic assaults throughout their life span but this era in particular focused solely on an uncompromising and unapologetic, sledge hammer sound. Melody and harmony are essentially absent in favor of pounding percussion, raw slabs of guitar and bass sound and Gira's guttural vocals. Lyrically Gira reels against authority and control, money, sex, violence, etc. with simple, receptive slogan like chants. Altogether it's a big, ugly, intense, slowed down mutant strain of punk rock that was all their own, at least, up until everyone started copying them. The 25 minute live show (indexed as 1 track) on the Filth disc is bootleg quality but in this case it doesn't much matter as it's comparable to, and just as interesting as, the numerous rare live recordings on the Body to Body disc.

It's a bit of a challenge to listen to all of one disc at a time, much less the entire 2 hours and 15 minutes, but for those days when you get a traffic ticket, you're doing your taxes, you hate your job, your significant other leaves you or you just plain hate everything ... this is your soundtrack. Say what you will about Gira's track selection for these re-issues but he certainly did a great job of creating a great looking and sounding set of discs for old and new fans alike"

Some of the vilest, heaviest music ever put to tape. This two disc set documents their years as a snarling, fearsome beast of a band that pretty much laid the foundation for plodding, terrifying music. I couldn't possibly convey the ferocity of this band if you paid me. One of my all time favorite bands during my favorite period of theirs. Do yourself a favor. Be Hard. Two parts. Go.

Be strong (Filth) Be hard (Body to Body, Job to Job)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Xhol Caravan/Xhol-Motherfuckers GMBH & Co KG (1972)

"Between the album's title and the cover art, crudely handwritten song titles, and other information on a smudgy background, Xhol Caravan (or Xhol, since the Caravan is crossed off their name) were living up to their reputation as one of the most defiantly underground of the Krautrock bands. The music on Motherfuckers, Xhol's third record, recorded in 1970 but not released until two years later on the legendary Ohr label, is even more diverse and experimental than earlier efforts. The opening track, "Radio," sounds like the beginning of Faust's first album, radio static out of which bits of songs emerge, early Xhol tracks and even a couple excerpts from the band's earlier incarnation as a conventional R&B act, Soul Caravan. "Orgelsolo," on the other hand, is a nine-and-a-half minute ambient organ solo that starts off quite minimal before going into the cosmic realms of Klaus Schulz. The less interesting "Grille" begins with crickets chirping for several minutes before a flute and bongo improvisation gets added in. The other tracks are more similar to the jazzy rock improvisations of earlier Xhol. Of these, the last track is a real standout, a live version of "Love Potion Number 9" that is some of Xhol's freakiest acid-fried material as it flies out into orbit into a long 13-minute improvisational before the crazed vocalist returns toward the end. Spanning free jazz, psychedelic and progressive rock, Motherfuckers is an intense work of creative, mind-warped music."

What a weirdo band. What started as some grooving Soul/R&B gets morphed into an avantgarde Soul/R&B monster! Not the easiest album to get through but it's worth it for the "Love Potion 25" jam. Wow. This is some funked up strange music that you guys should check out at the very least.


Wooden Shjips-Vampire Blues/I Hear the Vibrations 7" (2008)

The sound of Wooden Shjips has changed very little from last year's full length, but then you know what they say, why fix what ain't broke, and there's nothing broke about WS's glorious druggy din. A washed out retro fuzz drenched blues jam, equal parts Doors and Spacemen 3, the bass a deep relentless pulse, the drums simple and motorik, the guitars unfurling thick clouds of blurred buzz and blissed out riffage, occasionally coalescing into psychedelic leads, but just as quickly dissipating back into the druggy murk, the vocals a lazy drawl, drifting through shimmering clouds of distortion and blurred effects, and of course, the organ, wheezing and whirring, adding a thick warm blanket of chordal buzz over everything. The sound on these two tracks is really much more Spacemen 3 or Loop than Doors, dark and deep and druggy, swirling and lo-fi and fuzz drenched and totally hypnotic. And just maybe enough to tide us over until the next full length..."

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Goddamn school and all. But anyways, Vampire Blues is a downright awesome Neil Young cover, probably to the point that it's better than the original. If you already know Wooden Shjips, this is standard fare so jump all up in it. For the uninitiated, this is some straight retro droney garage rock done right in a swirling cacophonous haze . And who could argue with a thing like that?

I'm a vampire baby

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Faust-71 Minutes (1973-75)

"71 Minutes Of...
compiles from two unreleased albums' worth of material from Faust. Unfortunately, this is a band that I've never really warmed up to all that much. I am able to muster up some amount of words of praise when writing about their music, but I really have to work to come up with them, like Spencer Tracy reeling in the fish in The Old Man and the Sea. When it comes down to it, there simply is little about the lo-fi aesthetic of this band that doesn't leave me cold.

The first half of the CD centers around two lengthy jams entitled "Munic." The first one, "Munic A," grooves along nicely with a solid metronomic beat and mumbled vocals, though I already get my fix with this sort of thing from Can, and for me they deal a purer product. "Don't Take Roots" is a strange type of psychedelic soul, not of the "Strawberry Letter 23" sort, but more like Malcolm Mooney sitting in with the Velvet Underground (the back-up vocals even have a vintage Cale-Morrisson quality to them). Unfortunately, the lead vocalist sounds like he's in mid-hernia, which essentially ruins the song for me. The chant of "Party 5" is also pretty abrasive and painful to listen to.

There are brief moments that I marginally enjoy, and I tend to stomach better here when they are playing acoustically, like the distant piano and deep rumbling drums of "Meer," or the gentle acoustic guitar and violin in "Psalter." As typified on other tracks, like "Baby" or "Party 8," much of the rest, frankly speaking, sounds unfocused at best and amateurish at worst. After a while, it grows tiresome, sounds simply like guys puttering around in their garage at some point during the early 70s, and just because it's a garage somewhere in Germany doesn't make the result all that more exciting to listen to. And, as I've already indicated, the vocals really suck; it's a big drawback for me.

I react to Faust in exactly the same way I do to the music of Henry Cow, despite the differences between the two bands. Of course, they're not exactly from different worlds, with both championing a sense of experimentation and improvisation, and Chris Cutler is obviously a fan, this being carried on his ReR label. But for me, Faust's music has a similar arid intellectualism to it: experimentalism that dances around the bases rather than makes a solid dive into home plate. Adventurous, sure, but I still get no lasting pleasure in listening to it. The good news if you are a Faust fan, of course, is that if you are into the other early albums, you should love this one just about as much."

This has been non-stop listening for me the past month or so. From that "Munic/Yesterday" trance to the fucked out off kilter groove of "Don't Take Roots," "J'ai Mal Aux Dents" funk into "Chromatic" drone, this is a bad ass collection of material. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious recommended.

Don't Take Roots

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cannibal Ox-The Cold Vein (2001)

"I’m young, and relatively new to the music-junkie scene, so I never had the opportunity to experience a revolutionary album until it had already been recognized, co-opted, and enshrined in the musical canon. This didn’t bother me in the least: I could still buy, listen to, and enjoy these albums at my leisure, and since they were new to me, I could still be surprised and excited. However, I was missing something as an eternal history student. I was missing the exhilaration that hits when you put on something brand new and know that it will change everything. You know the album will affect what you hear for years to come, and you can only guess at the ways its influence will be incorporated. It’s an emotional experience, one of the most exciting for any music listener. Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein hit me in this way.

The first thing every critic wants to do is compare The Cold Vein to the Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers. It’s easy to see why. Both groups hail from New York. Both blend revolutionary (the word ‘innovative’ doesn’t go far enough) lo-fi production with dark, pessimistic rhymes. Both bring their own lexicon to dense flows. And Cannibal Ox’s stunning debut must remind many of Wu-Tang’s similar strike from nowhere. But the most important similarity is each group’s uncompromising originality, a quality that ranges from refreshing to downright stunning.

Not to disparage Can Ox’s gifted MCs Vast Aire and Vordul Megilah, but the production is what really sets The Cold Vein apart from the pack. El-P (of the influential indie hip hop crew Company Flow) masterminds the entire project with gritty, evocative beats whose lo-fi crackle almost obscures the lush texture of the music. El-P keeps the instrument fragments – pieces of piano melodies and horn licks – of his Company Flow work, but constructs layers of analog synths and fuzzy atmospheric textures around the percussion. The entire album sounds like it was recorded in a basement on a four-track (even the vocals have a metallic echo) creating music that perfectly matches the theme and feeling of the rhymes. And the feelings wrapped up in The Cold Vein are complex – Vast and Vordul alternate between depression, aggression, and anger. These emotions stem from their surroundings in the bleak ghettos of the Big Apple. “New York is evil at its core” spits Vast on the opener, “Iron Galaxy,” amid burbling synth arpeggios, chiming background textures, and scratchy horn samples.

“Atom” delves further into El-P’s street-side psychedelia, using dirty analog buzzes and aggressive turntable scratching to obscure sonorous horns and guitars. The instruments never fully emerge from the cacophony, but nevertheless shine through hopefully, much like Can Ox’s tortured MCs.

“B-Boy Alpha” is a storming tour-de-force, hurling synth squelches and electric guitar solos against haunting piano twinkling (a nod to RZA perhaps). Vast and Vordul storm the mic, constructing elaborate rhymes around how they escaped the violence of the streets through their music. This contrasts sharply with the next track, the sparse, spacey “Raspberry Fields,” which features stuttering drum kicks and synths that whine like tiny dive-bombing planes.

Vast easily tackles the album’s centerpiece, “The F-Word.” It’s an unrequited love song, a definite rarity in street hip hop, but Vast pulls it off with deft wordplay. “She was in a love triangle / But it’s not like my feelings weren’t there / To make it a square,” he recalls. The ‘f’ in “f-word” stands for “friend”: Vast holds the much-maligned position of “just-friend” with the object of his affection. Later, he laments “I was supposed to be the friend / But I’m getting fried in the end.” This couplet sees Cannibal Ox’s poetry at its most complex – combining the words ‘fried’ and ‘end’ make the word ‘friend.’ Moments like these show not only the skill of Can Ox’s MCs, but the potential for hip hop lyrics to work on as many levels as the finest English poetry.

If The Cold Vein has one weakness, it is in its length: at 75 minutes, it can be exhausting. However, more often than not, it’s simply enthralling, and an epic like this calls for not one, but two album closers. First, “Pigeon,” an uncompromising piece of ghetto-verite, assisted by El-P’s epic production. The flows roll by effortlessly, detailing the ghetto almost cinematically. Vordul comes in with a particularly disturbing verse: “Cats who pop flows shot heavy through the nostril / Brain sizzle grab the pistol and get hostile / He caught you alone fuse blown / Unemployed screaming ‘That's why I robbed you!’” However, the album’s bonus track provides a needed epilogue to The Cold Vein’s intensity. Vordul and Vast construct another atypical lyrical stew, involving the metaphor of the pigeon as the disenchanted ghetto-dweller from the previous track. Against the refrain of “Scream phoenix,” they extort their fellow pigeons to elevate themselves through art. The goal never comes across as preachy – merely helpful advice from a couple of “street peasants” who managed not only to advance themselves, but advance music in the process."

One of the best Hip-Hop albums ever, bar none. Probably the finest Hip-Hop production job ever. It's really hard to talk about an album that pretty much redefines what "rap" is capable of doing. Those are some creepy fucking beats! Jesus. If you haven't had the pleasure/horror, than by all means. Grabs its.

Ox out the cage

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Brian Eno-Here Come the Warm Jets (1973)

One of popular music's most endearing oddballs, Brian Eno's divergent output can nevertheless be tied together by his fascination with creating and manipulating sound textures. A self-described "non-musician" and renowned producer for some of the biggest and most respected names in the business (Talking Heads, David Bowie, U2), Eno has had a massively influential career. His own work has perhaps become most identified with his minimalistic ambient experiments, but Eno did release four albums of quirky pop music in the middle of the 1970s. He rarely returned to the format after 1977's Before and After Science, but these four fascinating albums reveal a major talent for the style are quite a legacy in their own right. Over the years, I have gone back and forth with each of these albums in terms of which I think is the best. I've settled on Another Green World as the pick of the bunch, but I think that the other three aren't far behind and have few qualitative differences between them. Eno's songs are often incredibly simple, yet his talent for arrangment and great gift for melodic deployment ensures that they're never simplistic. His flair for the unorthodox keeps the songs from being predictable. These are albums that I have played over and over for many years and still enjoy hearing.

Fresh from his split with Roxy Music, Eno recorded Here Come The Warm Jets in the fall of 1973. It is the first of Eno's many solo albums and it is the only one of his records that has much in common with the music by his former band — due in no small part, I'm sure, to participation by Eno's former bandmates (minus Bryan Ferry) on several of the album's cuts. Among the other musicians are King Crimson's Robert Fripp and John Wetton, who appear on two of the album's weirder tracks. Eno isn't credited with playing much on this album; apparently, he functioned mostly as a writer, producer and singer. A word on Eno's voice — it's one of the most distinct in popular music and I think it is a shame that he didn't make more albums that featured his vocals. Flat and somewhat robotic, yet capable of projecting warmth; dry and distanced but nevertheless expressive, Eno's voice is the perfect complement to music that itself is a negotiation between the artificial and the organic. As for the actual songwriting, Eno's lyrics tend toward the bizarre and daft, although the straightforward, socially relevant "Cindy Tells Me" indicates that this is more of a creative decision than an artistic limitation.

Warm Jets is eclectic and unlike much else that existed in popular music at the time, but you can hear its roots in some of the early Roxy Music songs. "Needles In The Camera's Eye" and "The Paw-Paw Negro Blowtorch" have a propulsive, glam-like veneer that I would surmise germinated in Roxy's "Remake/Remodel" and "Virginia Plain." More sinister and strange, "Baby's On Fire" (which features one of Robert Fripp's best guitar solos), "Driving Me Backwards" and "Blank Frank" contain elements that Eno first exhibited on his creepfest "The Bogus Man," from the 1972 Roxy album For Your Pleasure, though these are all much more visceral.

The other songs can be seen as genre experiments, but nothing is that simple when you're dealing with Eno. "Cindy Tells Me" is kind of a doo-wop pastiche but it's also an irreverant swipe at feminism and has what I think is the album's most memorable melody — which is saying something, because this record is full of them. "On Some Faraway Beach" starts with a simple piano melody and then gradually swells up to a glorious wall-of-sound climax — complete with amplified, echoey drums — worthy of the most dramatic Phil Spector productions. "Dead Finks Don't Talk" and "Some Of Them Are Old" come close to being too self-consciously arch for my tastes and they probably would be if they were by any other artist (though I honestly can't think of any other artist who would have written them) but "Finks" is redeemed by the crazy chorus and warped second verse, and "Some of Then Are Old" has a totally unexpected slide guitar solo inserted into the middle which almost sounds like a ukelele. It's impossible for me to dislike something so effectively audacious on the basis of principle.

I guess this album had a tough time finding an audience back in 1974. A flummoxed Rolling Stone reviewer declared Warm Jets to be "annoying, because it doesn't do anything," and hoped Eno would "attempt to structure his work rather than throw together the first ten things that come to mind" the next time he made an album. It must be that the many years of exposure to whimsy, irony and postmodernity in popular music have conditioned those of us who grew up in the '80s, because all I hear when I play Warm Jets is a creative batch of really good songs."

This is a pop record ( a weird one) and though it's before Eno got super weird, it's still hinting at what was to come. "Blank Frank" is fucking scary for a poppy song. Just insane. "Needle in the Camel's Eye" is straight fun. Try to not bop your head to it. I think his vocals are so out there and so damn good across the board. I love this record. Indulge.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Leviathan-Verrater (2002)

Those of you who live in San Francisco may have seen or even bought some of the many self released cassettes by the mysterious one man black metal band called Leviathan. Or some of you may have seen Andee or Allan sporting their Leviathan shirts, or you may have even seen Wrest, the man behind Leviathan lurking around AQ...regardless, Leviathan is the latest and certainly one of the greatest of the Bay Area black metal bands (Ludicra, Sangre Amado, Crebain, Draugar and the godlike Weakling [both also on tUMULt], etc...) who seem to exist in some sort of vacuum here while elsewhere, band after unoriginal band keep getting signed to huge labels and hyped to death even though most of them suck.
For this release Andee and Wrest went through the 13 full length Leviathan cassettes/cd-r's (as of the release of Verrater that number had leapt to 15!) Leviathan had recorded since 1998 to compile a good overview. But they couldn't whittle it down enough so one disc became two, with the first disc being the newer stuff, and disc two being the older, raw-er material.
Verrater is pure, primitive, cult, home recorded evil. Two discs, twenty two tracks, one hundred and forty three minutes of buzzing, howling, pummelling, black metal. Think Burzum, Darkthrone, Immortal, that sort of thing, but with all sorts of weird twists and sonic surprises. Yes, Leviathan is grimmer than grim metal that the frost & forest lords of Norway should bow down to, but it's also pure expression unfettered by genre restraints, although informed and inspired by them. Like Weakling, Mistigo Varggoth Darkestra, Caacrinolas, Ludicra, Potentiam, Enslaved, and some other AQ-championed black metal acts, this is not just one for fans of black metal only! It's dark, weird, noisy, disturbing art embodying one man's vision that should be heard by anyone into avantgarde, experimental, psychically and physically powerful rock music. From blasting howling fury to moody ambient blackness to off kilter weirdness to droning riffery to soul crushing heaviness. What's truly remarkable is that one man, playing all the instruments himself, and recording at home, can evoke such strong emotions and invoke such musical demons. Original, evil, hateful, misanthropic, bizarre and truly black metal. "

This man is utterly terrifying. I question his actual status as a man. Very rarely has music transported me to such dark landscapes and hellish conditions. It sounds like a bunch of horseshit but it's not. This is truly otherworldly music and not for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, I can't help but give it my highest recommendation possible because Wrest is undeniably a evil genius. Get schooled.

The whole of deceit

Monday, October 26, 2009

V/A-Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-Rock and Fuzz Funk (2008)

"To my, and certainly many others' delight, there are people out there compiling primers on genres that, to many in Western realms, have gone undiscovered for decades. Case in point, Sound Way Records' Nigeria Special series. Earlier this year, Sound Way released Nigeria Special Part 1 and 2, documenting highlife, Afrobeat and blues from Nigeria, while Nigeria Disco Funk Special followed, with, what else, Nigerian disco. The latest in the series is Nigeria Rock Special, a primer on rock `n' roll from Nigeria in the 1970s, a genre scene that was touched upon in Ginger Baker's Airforce touched upon this vibrant movement (and played some part in its expansion), though the depth of this incredible sound is much farther reaching.

Nigeria Rock Special features 15 tracks, hand picked from countless obscure gems released throughout the decade, which are collected in a stunning compilation. Ofege's "Adieu" starts off with an instrumental groove, oddly similar in tone to Stereolab, but distinctly Nigerian. The Action 13 follows, with blazing psychedelic organ, and group chants in the excellent "More Bread (To the People)". "In The Jungle," by The Hygrades, kicks up a hot and dirty funk; in fact, this must be what the `fuzz funk' refers to in the album's title. Ofo The Black Company's "Eniaro" mines an expansive territory, deep and fuzzy, psychedelic and vibrant. Apparently, this particular band became reasonably popular in Germany—who knew?

Mono Mono kicks out a solid funk-psych affair that's somewhere between James Brown and Tropicalia, which is a hell of a thing, really. Tabuka "X" offers the highlight "Finger Toe," which is a great title, whatever it means. Tabuka "X" actually was half-Nigerian, with the other half of the band being Ghanaian, and the band sang only in Engligh, though they released only one album. And might I add, it's extremely fun to discover little nuggets of info like this while letting the grooves wash over my eager ears. And The Funkees, who probably have the best name here, also offer a fantastic wah-wah laden trip out with "Acid Rock."

Considering this is the fourth volume of the Nigeria Special series, there's plenty of evidence to show just how fertile Nigeria's music scene was in the 1970s, spanning many genres, though much of it never made its way across the Atlantic in its day. Having a compilation such as this deliver these undiscovered gems to American and U.K. shores is an incredible gift. While there may be millions of songs out there that I'll never have the fortune of hearing, I feel just a little bit richer for having experienced the 15 highlights here."

You have to love compilations like this. An absolute joy to listen to no matter where or when, this is some soulful music that we should all feel lucky to have access to. Good times music for sure. Have at it.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Popol Vuh-In Den Gärten Pharaos (1971)

"Popol Vuh’s second release is notable for a number of reasons. Firstly, for its rather ingenious in its use of fledgling synthesizer technology. While following along the lines of other German pioneers like Tangerine Dream, Fricke essentially constructs a completely unique expressive vocabulary with the instruments. While Tangerine Dream albums like Zeit and Alpha Centauri were journeys to the furthest reaches of space, where human contact was not only impossible but unwanted, Fricke’s vision has to be considered far more "spiritual", for lack of a better word. The sounds of running water and consistently morphing bongo rhythms behind the title track create a three dimensional soundscape of serene bliss. Fricke’s Moog and synthesizer lines shimmer here, and while minimal and restrained in note selection, he manages to engage the listener in a direct dialogue that is simply tantalizing. Secondly, this is really the only place in the Popol Vuh catalog you’ll hear such an extraordinary work of this style. Sure, the later Popol Vuh albums are brilliant in their own right, but the lack of synthesizers and an intentional change of aesthetic leave Affenstunde and In den Garten Pharaos as the sole torchbearers for the kind of revolutionary stuff the group were doing early on. Incidentally, Pharaos is by far the better album of the two.

Divided into two rather distinctive side-long pieces, the album retains a consistent aesthetic that is powerful and effective throughout. While I’ve already sung the praises of the title track, the second piece "Vuh" might be even better. Here, Fricke employs what sounds like a church organ in the form of dramatic, sustained chords that make the piece far more intense and unrelenting. These lay the groundwork for the development of the piece. A percussive backdrop, accompanied by various other sound effects, builds around the organ theme, creating ebbs and flows in the intensity level. In all, it’s masterfully composed, and careful attention will result in the listener feeling those chord changes resonating throughout the depths of the soul.

In all, this has to be considered one of the Krautrock movement’s essential items. Fans of early Tangerine Dream will easily lap this one up, and others who may have found records like Alpha Centauri emotionally frigid may warm up to In den Garten Pharaos. An excellent album deserving of its legendary status."

Holy fuck. That's all I can say when I listen to this utter masterpiece. I feel pretty dumb putting one of the all-time best ambient albums by one of the all-time best ambient bands into words. All I can say is that you MUST experience this. MANDATORY. SPELLBINDING. INTENSE. EUPHORIC. INCREDIBLE. INSERT LOFTY ADJECTIVE. Go for the second track "Vuh" by the way.