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