- 7 Inches ; All Ages ; Another Nickel ; Anywhere Else ; Aphid Hair ; Arthur ; Asleep on the Compost Heap ; Bachelor ; BangtheBore ; Beard ; Beyond The Implode (R.I.P.?) ; Birds ; Blues ; Boogie ; Bull ; Dancing ; Darnielle ; DCB ; Destination:Out ; Did Not Chart ; Diskant ; Dreaming ; Dusted ; Egg City ; Fog ; Flux ; Freq ; Garagepunk ; Garage Hangover ; Get Bent ; Gramophone ; Grant ; Gunslinger ; Honey Is Funny ; Hopper ; Jonathan ; KBD ; K-Punk ; Kulkarni ; Last Days (R.I.P.) ; Lexicon Devil ; LPCoverLover ; Mutant Sounds ; Nick Thunk :( ; Norman ; Oddbox ; Peel (John) ; Peel (Richard) ; Plan B (R.I.P) ; PSF ; Quietus ; Raven Sings ; Science ; Still Single ; Teleport City ; Terminal Escape ; Those Geese ; Ubu ; Upset ; WFMU ; XRRF.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Because we all know that, according to the pre-existing rules of '70s Rock Utopia, if Spooky Tooth really are a top-flight rock band taking the world by storm on their big tour, surely they will be striding through hotels and concert venues in which their needs are already fully catered for..?
This assumption sits uncomfortably with an alternative image of the ‘boys’ lying depressed and exhausted in a cramped motel room as their over-bearing, Phil Silvers-esque manager cooks up endless pans of frozen vegetables on a portable hotplate. (“What’s the matter son? You don’t know free food when you see it? They gave us a whole trailer fulla this stuff! C’mon, dig in!”)
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
As far as content on this increasingly death-fixated blog goes, one obit I’ve had more time to think about than usual (not that it’s been called into service quite yet, thankfully) is that of Wilko Johnson, who, as you may have heard, was diagnosed with terminal cancer in December, and played what will most likely be his final live performances back in March.
Last weekend, Radio 6 broadcast a one hour interview with him, interspersed with some tunes, and I just thought I’d do a quick post to point readers in the direction of the programme’s seven day tenure on the BBC iPlayer.
Sounds potentially heavy-going, but trust me – it’s worth making time for. Partly because Wilko is, as ever, a funny, erudite and hugely likeable fellow, and partly because every song he chooses is fucking brilliant. But mostly it’s worth listening to for the final section, in which he discusses his illness. Let’s just say that if any of us can approach our own mortality with a spirit half as level-headed and positive as this guy, we’ll be doing bloody well, and that if you can get to the end of this programme without welling up for a good cry, you’ve got a harder heart than I.
Thursday, June 06, 2013
Hello, I hope things are good with you! Sorry for not writing earlier, but the weather here has got nice finally, and there have been so many things to do! Where to start.... well, what seems like a long, long time ago, we went to see Endless Boogie, and that was great, I had a lovely time, although I felt kinda bad for my friend who came with me, because two hours of Endless Boogie is probably quite a lot of endless boogie for those who are not necessarily that thrilled by the concept of endless boogie. Their lead guy is really something else though – he was funny, and made me laugh. He looks like a mountain troll that just ate Johnny Ramone and took on his characteristics. You’d have loved it. I liked the rhythm guy even better though. He sticks in the background, but he’s the one gunning the engine. I bet the other guys don’t fuck with him. Some folks who are at least partially in Bo Ningen supported that night, with a side project thing I don’t remember the name of, and that was really good too. They did it as improv, but I think they knew pretty well where they were heading– Can and Harmonia and Silver Apples and High Rise and everything, all thoroughly digested and making its way back into the food chain.
Sometime after that we saw a whole weekend of stuff that mainly sounded like the ‘90s, but sometimes the ‘80s, and many faces and guitars passed before my eyes. It was nice, but the one I liked the most was The Black Tambourines, perhaps because I was drunk when they played. They have a silly name that made me think they’d be a bad fake psych band and wear sunglasses, but actually they were ok. They sounded like late ‘90s British-wanting-to-be-American indie-rock that has been left to curdle for a long, long time and got all oily and surly and stopped washing its hair. Mm-mm.
Then we went to see King Tuff two times! What fun! The first time, he was headlining, but he played in a crappy place, where the sound was muddy and the atmosphere grim and it was hard to see. He played good, did lots of hits off “Was Dead” and a few new ones that sounded better than the bulk of the self-titled, but in stark contrast to the big fun show he did at the Shacklewell Arms last year, crowd was d-e-a-d. They finished up ready to do the whole encore routine, and everybody just stood there muttering for about five minutes before someone got the notion to clap and make sound. Bloody people, I dunno. Tell you what, tomorrow night, why don’t I charge you all £8 and herd you into a big dark hole where you can shuffle about in a confined space to yr heart’s content, without a rock band getting in the way.
Sorry! Went off the point a little there! Where were we…. oh yes – have you heard about The Dome in Tufnell Park? You should definitely pay it a visit if you’re ever over here, it’s really nice. We saw King Tuff there again the next night, and things were a lot more fun, even if it was only half past eight. Before him, these young men called Jacco Gardner or something played, and they were alright too, even if one of them did insist on wearing a really unfortunate hat (one of those “if you’re not Lee Van Cleef, don’t even think about it” jobs). They sounded a lot like the ‘60s, maybe lurking halfway between SF and LA, and made me feel like I was at a big old hippy ballroom concert. They didn’t have an electric guitar, which also strikes me as poor decision-making, but I think maybe that was just because the other groups on the bill stole all the guitars and wouldn’t give them back. Boy, there sure were a lot of guitars! For instance, this guy Mikal Cronin and his band were banging away on a total of 28 strings, making this sort of ok-ish afternoon festival rock. I couldn’t really find much in the way of tunes – I fear Mr. Cronin might be a bit of a mumblin’ Kurt Vile-esque time-waster, to be frank - but listening to all the guitars was nice, and they put some effort in, nudging the bar up to ‘good’ for their last few numbers. I gave them some big applause, which I think they earned. Hard work, boys & girls, that’s the key.
White Fence had a lot of guitars too, but oh my days, they were HATEFUL. What a bummer. I mean, maybe you heard some of their records and thought they sounded ok, but don’t be fooled! The man orchestrating this collective looks like a prune-faced, scowling ghost who escaped from Noel Gallagher’s sock drawer, and his dream of perfect music seems to consist of grinding, joyless sheets of ear-hurting guitar treble set to lolloping, sub-Brian Jonestown Massacre type ‘grooves’, playing out in indistinguishable five minute chunks for about fourteen hours. I hear they may be heading your way, so beware. Some beardy nerd guys in the crowd had an actual, nose-bloodying fight whilst they played, that’s how bad the vibes were getting. Come back Jocco Gardner or whatever, I’m sorry I laughed at your hat, please save us from this.
By the time all that was over with, a lot of people had gone off to catch their trains and stuff, which was sad, because Purling Hiss were headlining, and you’ll remember how much I like them! Cos let’s face it, White Fence could have a hundred of their stupid chimy little guitars and they wouldn’t have as much guitar as Mike Pollize is packing just in his own little hands. Everybody was tired, including him probably, but boy did they go for it! Played about the whole of the new record, and just about everything in his earlier discography that could pass for a ‘pop song’, and a wild rip through about six or seven minutes of ‘Almost Washed My Hair’ too, and gee whiz, you shoulda heard him go! The dude was wanking away so shamelessly, I almost felt embarrassed watching it with other people present – total slobbering, face-pulling guitar nonsense, hopping about on his pedals like fucking Riverdance, and I loved every minute of it.
And after all that throbbing masculinity, it was good to chill out by going to see Bleached, whom you might have read about in the free newspapers. They are actual girls, y’see, and two of them were in Mika Miko. They do a chimy, airhead summer guitar-pop thing, but with a big Wipers-y rhythmic undercurrent that knocks Best Coast on their ass, and, whilst I was worried I might find them a bit too cutesy and vacant for my liking, I gotta admit that, live at least, they were bloody great. Simple, fun, satisfying pop/rock music, and if they’re not exactly writing any sequels to ‘Double Nickels on the Dime’, well, so what. Neither are you. Thank god.
In between all that, somehow we found time to go and see Discharge, and The Melvins, which was a laugh. I think. It’s not been out-and-about time all the time though, and at home I’ve been having a nice time listening to Peaking Lights and Quiet Evenings and Black Devil Disco Club and James Brown and Otis Redding and Cheap Trick and Black Mamba Beat and The Undertones and Nancy & Lee. I bought a copy of Neil Young’s ‘Journey Through The Past’, which is a strange one, because side 4 is stuck on the back of side 1, and the second disc has sides 2 and 3, so when the second side I played opened with some hippie guy rambling, then went into a lengthy recording of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ followed by an instrumental Beach Boys song, I was even more confused than I would have been if I’d realised it was side 4. Oh Neil, will we ever fathom your mysteries. The other three sides are pretty good, if you’re keeping score.
I’ve also had a real nice time spinning The Young Fresh Fellows' 1985 album ‘Topsy Turvy’, which I wish I could find on CD or mp3, because some of the songs on it are real crackers, and I’d like to share them with you. ‘The New John Agar’ is a particular favourite of mine, and I’d love to do a cover, if only I was smart enough to transcribe piano songs by ear (as opposed to no songs by nothing).
And that’s about it I think, but oh! How could I forget! Last week we went to Brighton to see Jeffrey Lewis and Peter Stampfel, and it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to ever. I mean, it was at least as good as that one I went to a few months back where Brilliant Colors and LaLa Vasquez and Good Throb played on a boat, or – no, actually it was better. They are wonderful guys who play great and funny songs together with much gusto, and it really makes me happy. I think they’d already done a full and satisfying set of their own fine material by the time Jeff busted out ‘Don’t Be Upset’, which I still find really sweet, and then they played Daniel Johnston’s ‘True Love Will Find You In the End’, followed by Hawkwind’s ‘Orgone Accumulator’, and then segued ‘Surfin’ Bird’ into ‘Freebird’, and then Peter came back on and played fucking ‘Goldfinger’ on the banjo! Take note fucking White Fence and whoever, that’s the way to do business, if you want to convey some joy, express some spirit and generally show the folks a good time. Such a great show, I damn near cried.
And so that’s that. I’m sorry to write you such an obscenely long postcard, but there was so much to tell! (I hope you kept the magnifying glass and decoder ring I sent you last time.) I trust that everything’s going well in your music-brain – I know you’ve got that big suspension bridge job to finish, and your dog’s not well, and you’re scared of train stations and only listen to pre-war jazz, but if you ever feel like visiting, we’d all love to see you. Will write soon.
Love & hugs,
That guy who writes the Stereo Sanctity weblog.
Labels: Bleached, Bo Ningen, Endless Boogie, Jacco Gardner, Jeffrey Lewis, King Tuff, Mikal Cronin, Neil Young, Peter Stampfel, Purling Hiss, The Black Tambourines, The Young Fresh Fellows, White Fence
Thursday, May 09, 2013
Chances are, if you needed this blog to inform you of the bad news, or to encourage you to dial up ‘Angel of Death and ‘Raining Blood’ on Tubify, something has gone slightly wrong with your life, and you should probably reflect on that. As such, I’m unsure exactly what the purpose of a post like this really is (especially a week late), but let’s try another tack:
Imagine an average student dorm room about a decade ago, occupied by a feeble, nerdy indie kid. Imagine he just bought ‘Reign in Blood’ as part of some 3-LPs-for-£15 deal at a record fair in the local leisure centre, cos he thought all that metal stuff sounds like a bit of a laugh, and maybe he should check some out.
Imagine me five minutes later, prostrate before the turntable in the posture of a martyred saint, catatonic with utter disbelief, unable to properly comprehend the sheer off-the-scale power-hurricane I was hearing.
Ten years and innumerable thrash/death/black/doom purchases & random issues of ‘Terrorizer’ later, it still has the same effect. It’s difficult to speak, let alone stand, by the time ‘Necrophobic’ kicks in.
I’m extremely glad that I got to see Slayer’s classic line-up in full effect a few years back, but very sad that there will be no more Slayer, just when we need berserk teenage rebellion music more than ever.
Well, I mean, there undoubtedly will be tours and merchandise and recordings which carry the name of Slayer – that’s how the metal world works – but as far as I’m concerned, there is no more Slayer. Just as there is no more Stooges, and no more Sabbath, regardless of what the marketing men might like us to think. And what a colossal bummer that is. Makes me wanna…. drop the needle, assume head-banging posture, hope for the best. I’ll leave you guys to peel me off the floor when it’s time to turn over for side #2.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
Thursday, April 18, 2013
A theoretically fine and noble occasion - one that is closer to my heart than most self-imposed ‘Days’, but that has in recent years begun to attract more in the way of scorn and cynicism than enthusiasm from its presumed adherents. This has resulted mainly from the growing tendency for established record labels to flood the market with pointless Special Limitied Edition Record Store Day Items (generally of suspiciously slim cultural and aesthetic value), thus fuelling the widespread perception that this Saturday will see all remaining record emporiums flooded from dawn ‘til dusk with hordes of nefarious, tone deaf ebay speculators, blocking the doors and exuding the fetid stench of the grave as they clamber over each other in search of these much-vaunted ‘Special Items’, ruining the calm, rarefied atmosphere of near-bankruptcy that us TRVE music fans seek of an afternoon.
Whether this be truth or fabrication (and it’s more the latter than the former I suspect), the larger independent record shops seem happy to play up to this idea, orchestrating unwarranted events and PR-sanctioned ‘appearances’ to further distract us from our shopping, and generally doing obscene things like hiring Paul Weller to balefully oversee the carnage in the racks, like the drummer on a particularly listless slave galley.
Well friends, I have a simple solution to this – one which I hope will allow us to quietly celebrate and support the fading idyll of the record shop universe without making a fuss about it or succumbing to any of this general palaver.
Firstly, completely ignore the existence of these Special Items. Even on the off chance there is one you simply must own (in which case god help you, but I’m in no position to judge), you’ll probably find it sitting like an unwanted step-child in the 7” bin in Music & Video Exchange within two months tops.
Secondly, do not go to Rough Trade or your local equivalent thereof. Instead, head to some part of town you don’t normally go to, and look for some real down at heel, staffed-by-a-single-creepy-guy second hand record shop - I mean, the kind of ass-backward place where they probably don't even know it's “Record Store Day” and wouldn’t care a hoot if they did. I realise such places are few and far between these days, but that’s precisely the reason we should go out of our way to support the ones that remain. If you live in an urban area there’s probably still one *somewhere* within easy travelling distance of you. Have a think.
So you go to this place, and you do your record-shopping thing. Anyone who began liking music at some point prior to about 2004 will not require any further instruction. And as you do your rounds, and encounter the inevitable ‘maybes’… well today is the day when you’re just going to get them all.
‘Oh, a mid-‘80s Hawkwind LP, but hmm, I dunno, £8…’ = GET IT.
‘I think somebody once told me I should listen to this forgotten early ‘90s band, but hmm, I dunno if it looks like my kinda thing to be honest..’ = GET IT.
‘Wow, I have no idea what this is, but that cover art is unbelievable..’ = GET IT.
And so on.
As a result of your weird, self-serving quasi-philanthropy, the creepy bloke behind the counter will have a good day, temporarily convinced that his struggling boutique still has a role in people’s lives. And you too will have a good day, going to a new(?) place, breaking your usual routine, and heading home to put the kettle on and explore the strange and damp-damaged new world of sound you’ve just bought yourself a slice of. Everyone’s a winner, and the happy tradition of crummy, old fashioned record shopping limps on a little longer. Halleluiah.
Monday, April 08, 2013
I was all set to take the more dignified “well what’s done is done, and it’s never good when people die” line, but then the thought of a bloody city-halting state funeral and nothing good on the radio for a week pushed me back over the edge into pettiness, hatred and childhood bad memories.
Sadly, the kind of morbid, celebratory glee envisaged by Darren Hayman & co doesn’t seem quite the ticket, as her dead-eyed minions continue to dismantle and obstruct everything that was once good & noble about post-war Britain etc etc… but let’s at least hope she doesn’t get retrospectively white-washed by the centre/left press the way Reagan did when he kicked the bucket.
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
Along the way, we’ve got welcome returns from such Msytery Ships/Planes regulars as Angus Maclise, Vibracathedral Orchestra, Delia Derbyshire and the mighty Rallizes, alongside debut appearances from Colosseum, Chuck Cowen, the mysterious Religious Girls, and a young lad called Neil, heard here bumming out a cheery East Coast bar crowd with some seriously heavy vibes. He could far with the right management.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Sunday, March 24, 2013
(Accidental - Temporary?)
I guess my relationship to music has altered somewhat in the past year or two as well, actually. Not too drastically - I mean, I still listen to as much music as ever, if not more, and with as much attention as ever. But as the focus has broadened, my enthusiasms have become more fleeting and subjective. As I’ve moved away from obsessing over song-writers and lyrical expression, the exploration of clearly delineated canonical ‘scenes’ and so forth, and more toward repeat listening to stuff just because, I dunno, I like the rhythm, or the organ sound, or the singer’s phrasing of one particular line, I feel like, well… what’s the point in wasting both our time just to tell you that, y’know? Such fleeting pleasures are largely incommunicable, and I suspect that most of us who’ve been in this ‘racket’ a few years realise that (when sober at least). We all follow our own strange path through this culture, forking out in a hundred thousand different directions (now more than ever, what with the emergence of the internet and the welcome disappearance of any press-led ‘grand narrative’), so why try to enforce commonality? Just listen to what you’re drawn to listen to, and I’ll do the same, and we’ll all have a good time. I mean most of it’s pretty good, this music stuff, once you get down to it.
At the same time though, I’m just making excuses. I’m always pissing away my days thinking of proper, insightful music crit type stuff I should sit down hold forth about. The essential paradox at the heart of The Rolling Stones; the spectre of repressed violence that characterises all of the best black music of the early ‘70s; the emergence of ‘70s heavy rock as the new ‘60s garage re: compilation culture and such; the unique greatness of Alternative TV, and their usefulness in smashing the depressing cyclical orthodoxy of British post-punk fixated future-thinkin’; and so on. Wouldn’t you just LOVE to read my Mojo cover stories on all of these notions? Yeah, so would I; but like I say, it’s a time issue really.
At the moment – bear with me on this one – I feel rather like an elderly saxophonist who has just been offered a regional pub gig. Excited, he packs up his dusty horn and hops on the train, only realising once he’s in motion that he’s not entirely sure where he’s going. Jumping off at a station he figures must be *pretty* close, he finds the map pinned up at the nearest bus stop unsatisfactory, sitting poorly with his thirty year distant memories of the lay of the land. So he figures, fuck it, I’ll get a taxi. It’ll probably cost more than he’s getting paid to play, but that’s never really what matters, is it? Whilst waiting on the corner though, he is unexpectedly accosted by the police, who have mistaken him for a local sex pest, breaking parole. Dragged back to the station, with much no-visible-marks rough-housing and generally hateful vibes along the way, the mistake is uncovered, and, once the appropriate paperwork is painstakingly filed, he is unceremoniously sent on his way. Shaken, he realises it is past 9pm, and, armed with a simplified OS map of the local area supplied by a helpful desk clerk, he fucking goes for it, racing flat out across wet and frosty fields in precisely the way his doctor warned him not to, lurching blindly into the darkness. Eventually, he sees the bright lights of the pub, where the barman is calling last orders to his clientele of about a dozen sauced up farmers and frustrated provincial misfit types. Hitting the stage to general bewilderment and disinterest, our man hefts his axe for a few disgusting, exhausted, slobber-filled notes, shedding an unobserved tear as he collapses into unconsciousness. Poor dear, the landlady says, propping him up at a table as the barman phones an ambulance.
Sorry, that didn’t really have much to do with anything, did it? It certainly lost its intended function as a metaphor pretty swiftly (I’m not quite THAT self-piteous), but I just got carried away telling the story. I enjoyed it too, dispiriting though the tale may have been. Maybe I should try this free-form writing lark more often. But I can’t, I don’t have the time, that’s what I’m trying to say.
Still, though no fault of my own, I’m entering a phase of life wherein I’ll be hanging around with a lot of enthusiastic music-minded people, attending (and perhaps partaking in) a lot of potentially absurd musical events, so perhaps some of this will help to overcome my ingrained cynicism. (And after all the years I’ve spent getting my cynicism just right too! Do you know the kind of craftsmanship that goes into that ingraining? All ruined because of a few good nights out. Bastards!) Likewise, I have a bunch of great new records piling up too, so if nothing else, my best records / best gigs lists for 2013 will be far from barren.
So in conclusion: I’ll continue posted here on an ‘as and when’ basis, but no promises. And in the meantime, if I can’t be arsed to write about music, I’m certainly good for sharing it out and letting the seeds fall where they will, and as such I’ve got a bunch of new downloadable mixes ready to go, which I will begin posting shortly. I enjoy putting these together a great deal, so if for some reason you’ve been missing the stuff I say here, take a chance and check ‘em out. Or don’t. As stated above, what do I care? Just listen to anything that’s not commercial radio or the grinding of your own teeth, and I’m sure we’ll all get along fine.
Wednesday, February 06, 2013
He always seemed like a nice fella, and aside from anything else you’ve gotta love the way he spent all the cash from that number-one-for-a-million-weeks ‘90s cover version investigating UFOs and lost cities and such.
Obviously The Troggs were one of the best and most over-looked psych-thunk, proto-punk, transcendent god-pop beat groups ever – everyone knows that, and if they don’t, they should. From the name on down, they really were the perfect idiot-savant garage band – so good that if they didn’t exist someone would have to invent them.
So do I really need any more excuse to post a bunch of Troggs videos to prove the point? No, not really.
And speaking of atavism, I never really got ‘round to checking out their weird ‘70s heavy metal reinvention. I hear it’s pretty salty.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how ‘70s heavy is the new ‘60s garage, so makes perfect sense they should make the switch really. So ahead of the curve, y’see! They foresaw all. But did they do it well? Well, uh, the internet exists, so let’s investigate…
In the meantime though – never forget THE TROGG TAPES! Thrice blessed are the creators of these tears running down my cheeks…
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Sorry for taking the best part of a month off. I didn't mean to really... it just sorta went that way. January, y'know.
I have finally, falteringly begun throwing together some new posts which should be ready shortly, but in the meantime;
Whilst ploughing through some other work this evening, I somehow found myself mooching over to 8-Tracks for the first time in years, there to create a sonic impression of how the winter's gone thus far.
Within, you'll find a handful of tracks that could well claim to be 'much loved classics' in this neck of the woods, a lot of heavy rock and very little subtlety... but it is, after all, the fucking winter, and this is the kinda stuff that gets me through the day.
EDIT: It has come to my attention that 8-Tracks were letting adverts run rampant over the simple embed code that was previously in this space, so fuck 'em. The link to my page there is on the list above if you're interested, and in future maybe I'll just share small quantities of unlicensed music the old fashioned way... anyone got some C60s going spare?
Tuesday, January 08, 2013
Essentially, Pelt’s methodology remains unchanged. Taking on the sonic ideal of LaMonte Young’s Eastern-derived minimalism and disconnecting it from the constraints of both an urban art world context and ‘official’/academic modernism, they instead drive us far, far out of town and, with the distracting background chatter of civilisation duly extinguished, direct our attention instead toward the grand expanse of the American landscape and its primeval history; that natural world which remains oddly under-hymned in contemporary US culture, even as the human aspects of rural life are flattened into direst cliché.
The central presence of stuff like Tibetan prayer bowls, Indian stringed instruments and so on in the band’s arsenal of course serves to draw a direct connection to the Eastern classical traditions that gave initially gave composers like Young a kick up the arse, but in the hands of these men their presence has never seemed gimmicky, or in any way incompatible with the notion of making music that is North American to its very core. Instead, the organic and uncontrived feel of the recordings that emerge seems to evoke a whole world of alternate possibilities, sometimes sounding like the music that might have resulted if explorers from the Indian sub-continent had somehow trekked their way across pre-colonial Georgia, tamburas in hand.
So that’s Pelt for Beginners dealt with, but returning specifically to ‘Effigy’, I won’t do these pieces a disservice by trying to describe them. Instead I’ll simply take the bait and outline the two thematic concerns that the band seem to be addressing herein. The first, as rendered on the rather beguiling cover art, is a contemplation of the mysterious animal-shaped burial mounds that dot the landscape of rural Wisconsin. The second is a requiem for their fallen comrade, as is clearly signalled by the screeching, knotty dissonance of ‘Of Jack’s Darbari’, which opens the record, and, more poignantly, by the brief, somnambulant mist of ‘The Doctor’s Nightcap’, which closes proceedings an hour or so later. The implicit connection between these two themes speaks for itself rather beautifully, and in between: mountains and stars, caverns and lake-beds, ancient dust and newly-birthed forests, and all the stuff you’d expect.
From February 2012:
"‘Grenzenlos’ is seven songs, all loosely themed around travel and places, and all extremely good. Building on an unapologetically rough bedrock of OD channel guitar, stand-up drumming and this-is-my-speaking-voice-what’s-the-problem-w/-that vocals, Humousexual could be said to kinda split the difference between classic pop-punk, Messthetics amateurism and C86 bounce, but really I think their chief characteristic is more that of making music entirely devoid of affectation. A rare occurrence in rock/pop music, not necessarily always a good thing, but in this case, both disarming and… what’s the word..? ‘Refreshing’, maybe? Ugh, no – makes them sound like mouthwash or something, but I can’t think of an alternative right now – you get what I mean.
There’s a Billy Bragg-esque ‘blokes singing songs about stuff that matters to them’ sorta feel to what Humousexual do, but with the earnestness and miscellaneous twattery that blights most such contemporary ‘folk songs for modern times’ singer-songwriter type ventures cannily avoided – partly through keeping the pace fast and the punk grit foregrounded, but mostly just by being funny and elegantly constructed and generous of spirit and righteous of intent and just, well, good, y’know.
It’s hard to express the extent to which I’ve grown to love the songs on this CD over the past couple of months. Playing them all several times over during a long, cold walk down the Old Kent Road in December, I wanted to clutch them to my heart in some weird gesture of brotherhood, to do *something* to try to express my solidarity with these two voices in my headphones, who seem very much to be rising above the confusion and isolation and cultural disintegration of these dark days, cutting the crap and pressing forward (politically/aesthetically/morally/musically) in the RIGHT direction.”
From January 2012:
“I don’t want to become the kind of blog that falls back on overblown macho clichés when considering heavy music, but if you’ll allow me some leeway just this once, this really is the kind of racket that hands you your ass and asks you to sign for it. Terrifyingly viscous, technically accomplished, riot grrl-informed punk rock, recorded in simple ‘room sound’ style, but with the guitar amp cranked to the level of pure noise, the drummer hammering through like a rhinoceros stampede – bloody great serpentine riffs, big landslide rhythms, tons of feedbacking skree, like the ballsiest heavy rock bluster taken on some sort of unheimlich futurist joyride.
Somehow, both the write-ups of Shoppers I’ve encountered so far have concentrated on the lyrics. God knows how loud they’re listening to pick all that up, cos all I’m getting through my earphones is the occasional phrase or two – sounds like fragments of phone conversations overheard on buses, half-hearted fridge-door lovenotes and late night arguments, yelled back in the faces of their proponents with a bitterness that seems to lay bare their craven insincerity. Heavy feelings to accompany heavy music.
Weirdly, the general vibe and production reminds me of nothing so much as Napalm Death’s ‘From Enslavement to Obliteration’ – the sound of a band looking to make things as dense and unapproachable as possible for their listeners, shedding fair-weather fans in seconds. January, February, my listening always falls back on this kinda thing, and ‘Silver Year’ is hitting the spot hard.”
(Psst – you can still get a copy cheap from here.)
Such was the case when I first heard Bong’s extraordinary ‘Beyond Ancient Space’ in 2011. I wouldn’t have thought it possible that they could summon up a more fully realised expression of their chosen sound, and yet here we are a year later, and ‘Mana-Yood-Sushai’ (title taken from the writings of Lord Dunsany, incidentally) does the job nicely.
With a far cleaner, sharper recorded sound than they’ve gone for previously, the two pieces here reveal a more delicate and diffuse side to the band that seems to cut the umbilical cord connecting them to the world of metal almost entirely, setting the controls instead for a wholly self-defined journey in amplified, devotional psychedelia. If the album initially lacks the unified cosmic roar of ‘..Ancient Space’, the upshot is that the contributions of the individual band members, and the inspired heights of their slow motion improvisational interplay, stand out far clearer than before.
Were I writing a longer review here, I’m sure I could bore you with a poorly composed paragraph praising the contribution of each of the band’s four members, before attempting to describe the way they bring it all together… but thankfully for us all, this is just a quick end of year run-down type entry.
So essentially, let’s just say that what we’re dealing with here is four people surrendering themselves to a higher, mightier whole, lost in their own individual sounds, but circling each other all the same, working together at an almost telepathic level in the creation and nourishment of a vast, pulsing, living GROOVE, its contours etched in the listeners’ mind deeper than Saturn’s rings.
I’ve often thought there’s some sort of bullshit thesis waiting to be written on the use of heavy rock as a spiritual/meditational practice. No doubt the members of Bong are sufficiently down to earth to would laugh off such a concept, but in their heart of hearts they must know what they’re doing here, as the roar from the amps hits the air like a thousand trappists giving it their all, and whoever writes that thesis really needs to check this shit out.
“Aside from anything else, it’s great to hear a white, male vocalist who sounds like he’s really fucking committed to the idea of being the vocalist in a rock band, rather than just ‘the guy who happens to sing’, delivering these Motown and Big Star informed numbers the way they need to be delivered in punk scene context – big and bellowy, but without being a preening jerk about it or anything, like a detoxed Robert Pollard giving it his best Otis Redding moves.
And as to the band, well… given the style of music they’re aiming for, I could easily see Royal Headache turning into one of those groups who record a really disappointing, over-polished follow-up album with all their vital energy drained out into some gutter behind the studio, gathered up in plastic bags by some unscrupulous sound engineer, watered down and sold back piecemeal to lethargic teenage punk bands (because that’s the kind of thing they do in studios, kids). But for the moment, on this first record, Royal Headache are just fucking ON. Personally I might not have gone with that ultra-trebley Rickenbacker guitar sound, but that’s the dude’s choice and he does good work with it, high-end distortion spreading hither on yon across the to-my-ears-perfect 8-track tape level fidelity, all musicians audible even as everything bleeds everywhere for a big, warm, band-in-a-room sound, amp noise cleaving across into the cymbals on each chorus for authentically headache-y effect.
As I say, this kind of magic rarely lasts long these days, but to all intents and purposes this Royal Headache LP is some real ‘lightning in a bottle’ shit, capturing the rush of a great band just being a great band. And that’s something that’s hard to beat, regardless of where they head in future.”
Wednesday, January 02, 2013
“Though not quite a concept album (god forbid), there is definitely a strong, overarching theme connecting the songs on ‘Bubblegum Graveyard’, as the record sets out kind of a rough story arc, gleefully exploring a worst case scenario of the assorted perils that could befall unprepared youngsters immersed in the tumultuous world of mid-‘60s American pop culture (21st century retrospective fantasy edition). As the path of that mad decade lurches on blindly, our protagonists find themselves navigating dangerous and uncertain terrain, as the suburban enclave of Archie Comics, candy bars and bubblegum pop slides without warning into a Blue Cheer-soundtracked world of drug-induced revelations, vagrant living and armed robbery, leading inevitably towards the sinister orbit of “The Fried Stranger”, staying one step ahead of the law with his guitar and tape-deck.
The yin/yang of California ‘60s, and the hyper-accelerated learning curve of kids who wanted to make it through the perils of that decade in one piece, has of course been grist to the mill of imaginative songwriters ever since Arthur Lee gave us his view from the front-lines, and Apache Dropout are happy to play merry hell with the pulpier end of that aesthetic legacy, which has rarely sounded as comprehensively creepy as it does here, with “Quaaludes ‘68”s central chant of “this is my life / how do I work it?” sounding all the more plaintive amid the slurred tales of ghosts, blood and drugs that surround it.
Far more interesting than a mere retro invocation of period clichés, Apache Dropout’s central technique of crafting songs *about* their chosen era of obsession strikes me as an area of vast & vibrant possibility, allowing ‘Bubblegum Graveyard’ to emerge as a real keeper - a record that fascinates more and transports further with each repeated play. As the lyrical details and odd sonic detritus of these songs work their way into your mind, initial reservations about the quality of the recording & performances seem increasingly irrelevant, as the band’s particular headspace starts to feel like an entirely natural and rewarding place to be. Not just a fun, twisted rock record, ‘Bubblegum Graveyard’ is a whole widescreen innocence & experience tale, framed in imagery dredged from the darkest corners of 20th century American mythology… and how many 30 minute garage rock albums do you get the chance to write sentence like that about?”
Probably that’s down to the fact that their music is very difficult to describe in conventional terms, failing as it does to really cow-tow to the demands any name-able tradition. Usually I’ve noticed, writers tend to bite the bullet and put The Necks down as “ambient avant-jazz” or somesuch, even though their preferred methodology lies far, far away from the potential horrors conjured by such terminology. As a piano / bass / drums trio who perform extremely long pieces of spontaneous music, I fear they are always likely to be a pretty hard sell on paper. Actually listening to their music is a different matter entirely though, and if you’ve never spent time with their catalogue of sprawling, hypnotic, endlessly intriguing recordings, I’d venture to suggest that you might benefit from giving it a go.
I’m not sure if ‘Mindset’ is even a 2012 release to be honest, but it’s certainly one of their more recent ones, and I certainly picked it up his year. Featuring significantly shorter pieces than the older Necks releases I’ve been listening to (two twenty minute tracks rather than a single hour long wig-out), ‘Mindset’ seems to mark something of a seismic shift in tone for the group, as ‘Rum Jungle’ abandons the spacious, glacial elegance of their earlier work for a frantic, urban patchwork of crashing, traintrack-like reverbed percussion, relentless brushed cymbals and dissonant, high speed piano tingling, all coalescing into a dizzing, propulsive rush of sound, nullifying the combined anxieties of its component parts to form a heavenly, all-encompassing drone a rather reminiscent of Steve Reich’s early works, with the nervy bare wires of New York jazz tradition lurking somewhere beneath the rain-sodden sidewalk.
After that, ‘Daylights’ begins in more traditionally minimalist Necks territory, but gradually returns to a heavier, more paranoid mood as it goes along, perhaps attaining an even denser atmosphere than its predecessor in places, incorporating screes of feedback, oceanic sonar blips and what sounds like a rusty brass bedstead being given a good workout; imagine the protagonist in a ‘40s film noir being dosed with acid down at the docks and you might expect a cacophony like this to accompany the expressionist nightmare than would inevitably follow.
So in other words: more immensely rewarding listening, from a band who continue to make extraordinary, forward-thinking capital letters-worthy New Music entirely free from the pretension and obfuscation that denies so many of their peers a wider audience.
“Hailing from Perpignan in the South of France, The Liminanas (Les Liminanas, surely?) are nominally a garage band, recognisable as such not just through their choice of record labels, but also by their musical simplicity, stark instrumentation and adherence to a blueprint laid down in the 1960s.
In spite of this however, they succeed in sounding entirely unlike any garage band you’ve ever heard, for one simple reason; rejecting the ubiquitous influence of raucous, Anglo-American rock n’ roll, The Liminanas instead draw their inspiration primarily from the very different legacy of the rock/pop music made in their native land during the ‘60s - a process that has eventually resulted in ‘Crystal Anis’, one of the most charming and immediately enjoyable albums I’ve heard this year.
Those anticipating the frantic bluster of a trad garage-rock record may be in for a shock, as the more elegant, low-key vibes of classic Chanson and Yeh-Yeh recordings set the tone here, but open-eared listeners won’t take long to locate a real king-hell groove within each of these tracks.
Writing about these tunes, it’s hard to resist the urge to drift into gallic cliché, but something tells me that this is a brand of cliché that the band wouldn’t necessarily want to distance themselves from. ‘Longanisee’ and ‘Crystal Anis’ for instance are pure Gainsbourg tributes, spoken word languor over creeping Melodie Nelson bass lines (the former even throws in a “woo woo” hook that recalls that kinda monkey shriek in ‘Bonnie & Clyde’), whilst ‘Belmondo’ cranks out a tightly-wound crime movie instrumental that can’t help but raise visions of the song’s namesake pulling handbrake turns in his 2CV on cramped Parisian streets.
In contrast to the more arch English-speaking bands who’ve looked to this stuff for inspiration over the years, there’s no pretention going on, no dress up – The Liminanas own this sound just as instinctively as a bunch of kids from So Cal own The Standells and The Seeds, and hearing them rock it is just as much fun.”
Playing with a spirit that goes beyond a mere exercise in nostalgia, Mount Carmel forgo the reductive Sab/Zep worship of many of their peers, drawing deeper in the same well to take inspiration from such reassuringly mossy luminaries as Dust, Free, The Allman Brothers and latter-day Blue Cheer, standing up to their icons, and in most cases battering them into submission with an intimidating display of weather-beaten ballroom rock muscle.
Those raised on later generations of rock may recoil from the unreconstructed midtempo blues plod of ‘Oh Louisa’ and ‘Be Somebody’, but Mount Carmel play with an unflappable sense of momentum & concision, a skill and conviction that elevates this form to the level of purest majesty, flying far above the travesties that have blackened its rep, even as they gleefully wallow in the same excesses. For those who care about such things (are make no mistake, they are the ones who will dig this record), the interplay between the three band members here is truly exceptional. Drummer Kevin Skubak’s hi-hat work alone is deserving of a medal, and Matt Reed’s guitar tone is just great, whipping out a wall of valve-fed fudge on the riffs, then cutting through clear as a nightingale for the solos, which are, needless to say, where things really take flight. Foregoing the easy comforts of fuzz and wah, he takes things straight - just pure bad-ass, lyrical playing that reminds me of early Creedence, with a touch of Jerry Garcia in the mix too; the way his more elegant runs cut across the more wantonly thuggish heft of the rhythm section is a thing to behold.
For full appreciation of music like this, an ability to see the lighter side of the outdated attitudes that accompany it is essential, and many will undoubtedly feel that Mount Carmel to have taken their period re-enactment several stages too far on this album’s title cut, wherein Reed raises the controversial suggestion that “there ain’t no more real women any more”, further asserting that “either they talk too much or they act too proud, ain’t so much for me to say out loud”. Well you got that last bit right buddy. Unacceptable on every level, but then so is doing business in 2012 as if you’re opening for Grand Funk at Shea Stadium, and I could still listen to these guys do just that for a good 18 hours a day and even THANK them for providing the only authentic modern addition to my hypothetical ‘Greatest Hits of ‘70s Rock Misogyny’ mix tape. So in conclusion: I wouldn’t try to sell everyone on this kinda thing, but if you like it, it certainly doesn’t come much better.
Roughly hewing toward the same Black Flag/Wipers/Nirvana lineage that brought us Milk Music in 2011, but with somewhat more variety/originality in their attack (for better or for worse), Vancouver trio Nu Sensae immediately join Shoppers and the aforementioned MM as part of a kinda holy triumvirate of heavy, punk-indebted North American bands currently worth paying attention to.
And you’ll have no choice but to pay attention once you’ve heard ‘em: this whole record has an alarming, ‘blaring alarm clock’ kinda quality to it, with bassist Andrea Lukic immediately making an impression as she bypasses decades of rock front-lady etiquette, instead choosing to unleash a truly terrifying howl, like some unholy Roky Erickson/King Diamond crossbreed. Guitarist Brody McKnight meanwhile favours a sorta monastic, vaguely-Cobainish croon, and if the interplay between these two very different co-vocalists initially sounds a little peculiar, it certainly lends the band a distinctive demeanour.
Musically, ‘Sundowning’s obligatory atmospheric intro opens up into a ramming speed hardcore tempo that barely lets up for a second over the next 35 minutes. Each song is an anguished roar of skeletal, distorted rock n’ roll, with wider ambition creeping in only gradually as layers of dissonance and ravaged artiness put meat on the bones, ala ‘80s Sonic Youth. Everything here is… angsty, for want of a better word. Crushing, cathartic, pitch black, but with the power to take you there, to take you back to a time before that stuff became such an obvious fucking joke of a tiresome, mainstreamed ploy. Spoken word proclamations interspersing blood-curdling shrieks over sinister, ascending bass-lines, martial drums and chaotic, unhinged feedback? Man, it’s been a long time. Who knew it could all still sound this good in the right hands?
Remember back when genuinely hair-raising teenage rebellion music was a viable commercial commodity? When Public Enemy and Slayer and Nirvana were allowed a free ride into the world’s middle class strongholds? Whatever happened to that shit? To me, Nu Sensae sounds like the music that should be blaring out of a hundred million discontented earphones, and that should be playing from tinny speakers wherever the young convene in the dark to get fucked up and plan no good acts. This is music that can hit those hearts like an arrow, that can propel adolescent misery into action. Thirty seconds of exposure to this could make the current crop of asinine, teen-aimed corporate emo-rock bands crumble to dust, could realign dreams and birth lifetimes of dedication to the ways of independent cultural righteousness.
Making that thirty seconds happen though, in a climate where what’s left of an ‘industry’ long ago put up the shutters and a band on this level can barely scrape together enough cash to press LPs; that is the problem that faces us. If there are teenagers anywhere in your life, you know what to do… and don’t forget to take a copy for yourself at the same time, cos this whole thing is just fucking brilliant.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
From a know-it-all music fan POV, the band possess a kind of wallflower otherness that very much aligns them with Dolly Mixture or The Marine Girls, with a persistent sense of melancholy that seems to come entirely from the latter. But there is nothing deliberately referential going on here. Absolutely none of the contrived scene boosterism or ill-advised C86 nostalgia that so often blights this sort of thing. The world of The Choo Choo Trains seems wholly self-created and self-sustaining. Not precious or arch or garish or ironic, just… simple, and modest, and different. And good, more to the point.
I don’t want to push the naivety angle over-much here, but, rather than carefully composed (ie, boring) album, this lengthy ‘complete recordings’ style tape release is a format that seems to suit this band very well. It has the feel of an unedited collection of things they came up with during a long, long, unhurried practice session, quietly discovering the joy of making music together. And if it could perhaps be argued that, conventionally speaking, we don’t really need to hear a repetitious five minute organ instrumental with snatches of foreign language spoken word (‘Rockabilly Blue’) or an awkwardly executed bit of high school prom night incidental music (‘Something About Dancing’), they all form part of the overall spell being cast, and I’m glad that they are here.
Though the atmosphere remains remarkably consistent across the tape, variety is plentiful. Ramshackle indie-pop bangers (‘Hilma’, ‘Dreaming’), subdued, carefully crafted twangy guitar instrumentals (‘Peppermint Gardener’), hesitant recreations of Buddy Holly-esque heartbroken ‘50s pop (‘Lonely’, ‘(all I Ever Think About is) Rabbits’), eccentric Jonathan Richman style hymns to the everyday (‘Rocket Bicycle’) – all are present and correct.
Touching & inspiring, this is music made with no audience in mind, no real purpose beyond its creators’ own satisfaction. The feeling it conveys reminds me very of such holy documents as Epic Soundtracks’ ‘Debris’ or The Clean’s early EPs – a reassuring flame, and a timely reminder of why I do all this stuff in the first place.
Last I heard, Mi Ami were some sort of conceptual art rock duo who released a record with Bob Marley’s face on the front. Now, apparently, they make straight up techno / deep house sorta stuff, and, utterly absurd though it may seem for me to fall back on a couple of ex-indie dingbats for my repetitive beats when there’s a whole churning, ever-changing universe of actual dance music out there, I can’t deny that the results please me greatly.
Opener ‘Horns’ contrasts the gleaming urban sprawl of its glacial synths and echoed hi-hat pulse with an utterly unhinged vocal line buried just below the surface, a somewhat terrifying sounding individual of unguessable gender trying to clamber aboard the hover-car of the music from below, chanting and screaming, “I feel so fucked up, get me out”. The overall effect is akin to pulling into a giant, utopian silver railway station in a hyper-modern bullet train, and looking out of the window to see a disfigured, acid-damaged hobo gesticulating wildly at you. Unnerving, but revealing. Human spirit crushed beneath the machinery and all that.
Second track ‘Time of Love’ lacks such jarring tactics, but I like it even better – a blissful eleven minutes of celestial disco perfection, glass towers of quivering bass rising from the metronomic pulse as dubbed out voices and echoes speed through the side streets in slowed down Doppler effect style.
Years ago I’d probably have despised this record, raging against shitty, inoffensive, backgroundy electronica designed to make graphic designers and fashion students feel better about themselves. These day, 20+ plays on itunes tells you all you need to know, I suppose. S’good, I like it. Look, it’s got a VHS-warped ‘90s straight-to-video sci-fi jacking video, so it must be good:
As is extensively chronicled in the sleeve-notes to this album, the initial meeting
between Mekuria and The Ex seemingly proved a life-changing turn of events for both parties, giving the “grand negus of Ethiopian sax” a new lease of life, allowing him to present his music to audiences around the world after years present playing standards to VIP guests in an Addis hotel lounge, and helping the Dutch punks to undertake perhaps the most rewarding tangent of their long career, reconfiguring the gigantic, cyclical melodies and gargantuan swing of Ethiopian big band jazz for electric rock and avant improv formats, with the earth-shaking results presented on 2006’s incredible ‘Moa Anbessa’ album.
Apparently it was Mekuria himself who expressed a wish to get together with them to make another album – one that the sleeve notes repeatedly refer to as being perhaps his last, the implication being that his health is no longer really up to the demands of performance, and that retirement beckons (proceeds from this album go straight toward his retirement fund). As such, ‘Y’anbessaw Tezeta’ is Mekuria’s record through and through, with his European collaborators often remaining distant in the mix, slightly hesitant to disrupt their leader’s flow, with only the steady, rolling pulse of Katherina Bornefeld’s drumming remaining a constant, as the horn section of regular Ex collaborators interject only for brief, carefully controlled bursts as a counter-point to the central voice of the sax.
Certainly, listeners anticipating something as pulverising as ‘Moa Anbessa’s ‘Ethiopia Hagere’ will be disappointed, as the mood here remains more restrained and contemplative, more in keeping with the original laidback sound of vintage Ethiopian jazz recordings, with the warlike roar of The Ex’s lurching punk rock only occasionally making its presence felt, as the guitarists often fall back on providing more gentle textures of scraping and feedback.
Just hearing Mekuria do his thing is more than enough to satisfy though. His playing here remains as powerful as ever, representing the legacy of a man who has given his whole life over to perfecting and existing within this sound. Stormy discontent brews through the seven slow-burning minutes ‘Ambassel’, a beautiful, expansive track full of mournful trumpet and double-picked guitars, that requires me to use all my self-control to avoid going on about desert winds and shadowy, masked armies. Traditional melody ‘Bati’ presents an even more restrained performance, with The Ex creeping on tip-toes through the undergrowth as Mekuria’s sax turns bewitching, arabesque shapes. ‘Yegna Mushera’ is another definite highlight, remaining similarly low key but somehow overpoweringly bright and reassuring, like the feeling of a joyous family reunion captured in sound.
As my fruity lingo perhaps indicates, this is supremely evocative music, in which the oft-intimidating technique of the players and the strict yet organic lines of the compositions swiftly give way to a heady, transportative effect. Far be it from me to try to define *where* it sends you, but it certainly does send you, and that is very much the point. If this does turn out to be Mekuria’s final recording, it’s a fittingly intense conclusion to an extraordinary career.
12. Motion Sickness of Time Travel – self titled
“Before digging into these LPs, it’s helpful to read up on the methodology Evans used in constructing them. Basically, sides A, B and D were assembled from the kind of shorter pieces that have featured on her previous records, threaded together into twenty minute ‘suites’ in time-honoured ‘70s fashion. Side C – ‘Summer of the Cat’s Eye’ – meanwhile is a one-take live improvisation, and maybe that goes some way toward explaining why it’s my favourite track here. Not that the other sides aren’t great too of course, but ‘..Cat’s Eye’ is really something, by-passing the kind of snidey “sounds like..” comparisons used earlier in this review for a really engrossing trip into the unknown, steady tremoloed signals crashing headfirst into waves of chattering chaos and unknowable space-voices, like original series Star Trek unexpectedly drifting into a Tarkovsky-esque realm of terrifying alien beauty. So that’s pretty good.
As to the other tracks, the whole ‘suite’ concept seems the like kind of thing tailor made to annoy the hell out of me, given my general distaste for stop/start dynamics and liking for distinct, self-contained pieces of music, but in actual fact it works pretty well, to the extent that you probably wouldn’t notice the methodology if not informed in advance. The run-off from each ‘bit’ is nicely calibrated with the rise of the next, further building the established mood rather than upsetting it.
There is a kind of hermetic purity to Evans work that I think really sets her apart from the potential tedium of the ‘mystic synth explorer’ aesthetic. I may have thrown around plenty o’ names in the paragraphs above, but the truth is that there is absolutely NO “he he, yeah, Tangerine Dream dude” type intent going on here. It sounds instead as if she’s simply sitting down in front of her gear, taking a deep breath and firing it up to make some wide-screen, expressive music, the way it naturally comes out, filtered through the technology, not defined by it – and the celestial depths scraped by the results speak for themselves.”
11. Six Organs of Admittance – Ascent
As you might expect, erstwhile Comets leader Ethan Miller – still mired in the aftermath of Howlin’ Rain’s disastrous mess of a Rick Rubin produced un-breakthrough album – is strictly on second guitar here, following Chasny’s lead as we get a hefty glimpse of what CoF might have sounded like with the positions of the two guitar-slingers reversed. And what it might have sounded like is, you’ll be glad to hear, bloody stunning, as ‘WasWasa’ kicks in with the headiest brew of unashamed heavy-psych fret-mangling I’ve heard this year, afterburners roaring through a text-book perfect emergency descent into a hostile alien world, nerve-shredding solos blearing out like torpedoes across a fearsome High Tide/Pink Fairies groove. Fucking awesome, in other words.
‘A Thousand Birds’, an extended electric reworking of an ancient Six Organs acoustic number, follows suit, with the rhythm section of Ben Flashman and Utrillo Kushner locking down a fine Rallizes style eterno-groove over which Chasny can sprawl and sway as he pleases, intoning verses between cascades of chiming, electrified string texture to fine psychedelic effect – full bore star-dazed rock awesomeness that continues across the hulking landscapes of ‘Close To The Sky’ and ‘Even If You Knew’. Unlike Comets, the sound here is sharp and clear, with more of a progressive edge rounding off the fuzz (kinda matches the outer space concept art), but the playing and the instrument tones are mighty enough so roll with such precision, and the chaos and noise of earlier outings is rarely missed. Quite what all-purpose electronics/effects guy Noel Harmonson adds to proceedings I’m uncertain, but I’m assured that he’s in there somewhere.
A blinding album then, for the most part, but the problem (for me at least), comes when Chasny switches back to his regular solo mode for ‘Solar Ascent’ and the rather anaemic closer ‘Visions (From IO)’. He’s a cool guy and a phenomenal player, and there’s little wrong with these tunes as such, but personally I’ve never been fully sold on this side of his work, and his folkier musings have a slippery, silvery quality to them that I can’t help but find slightly contrived - too overtly studied, veering more toward ‘candle shop mood music’ than the private press cosmic revelations he’s no doubt aiming for.
Still though – for a good 70% of the run time, ‘Ascent’ hits the spot like a battering ram. More please! Official Comets reunion..? C’mon! I’d certainly buy the ticket.
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