The stars still shine, the museum's free.
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Monday, February 02, 2015
2014: Mopping Up.
I know it is obscenely late to still be harping on about the events of 2014 (I mean, all music that happened before 31st December DIES on January 5the each year, every music-blog reader/writer knows that), but January was such a slog I literally haven’t had a chance to finish the few meagre paragraphs that comprise this post, that I was meaning to post just after completing the ‘records of the year’ run-down last month.
Before getting my shit together to move on to some actual 2015 listening then (to be honest, I usually find myself just listening to compilations and old records for the first grim few months of each year these days), time to finally close the bloody curtain on ’14 with some quick round-ups of other music stuff that pleased me during the year.
Amid a pretty wide variety of truly great live music I witnessed last year, the couple that stand out most strongly in my mind (not including the gig I attended in Japan, various performances by friends’ bands, my band’s own little tour etc), were, perhaps significantly, those relating to the Southern US garage-punk scene – a keen remember that those guys, collectively speaking, can still be untouchable in terms of live rock n’ roll, even they’ve arguably been slacking off a little on the “making awesome records” front in recent years.
#1 gig of 2014 then, to my surprise as much as anyone’s, was Jack Oblivian playing backed up by Memphis band The Sheiks, in a spacious and sparsely-attended Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club on an inauspicious Sunday night. What can I tell you – the group were, as the phrase goes, ‘cooking’, all ragged and good-humoured after a grueling European tour, and when they finished their allotted set and no curfew was called, they continued cooking, eventually playing for something like two hours, as the remaining attendees, last train home long abandoned, danced on past midnight. And when I say ‘danced’, I don’t mean “moshed” or "threw themselves about like drunken monkeys", I mean the people were actually dancing, to live rock n’ roll played by a well-lubricated band with a bag full of half-remembered r’n’b covers and very little idea what they’re gonna do next. If only that could happen every weekend. A really special evening.
Nearly as good were Tennessee band Natural Child, playing at the functional but always slightly dispiriting Shacklewell Arms. To keep it brief, going to this gig wasn’t my call, and I found myself feeling rather suspicious of the crowd, suspicious of the support acts, suspicious of the general vibe, suspicious of what I knew of the headliners via some quick googling. Then Natural Child walked on-stage and within ten seconds I was comfortable as a baby with a fresh bottle. What a fucking great band. If you follow my path of googling, you may find yourself unconvinced by copious weed-championing, dirty joke lyrics, some of the worst record covers of all time and a new album that sounds a little bit too much like The Eagles for comfort, but believe me – see ’em live and it will all make sense. These guys play like they were born with rock n’ roll in their bones – zero pretense, a warm, welcoming groove and a wicked good sense of humour too. Heroes to a man. (Intermittent testament to this greatness can found on their ‘1971’ LP from a couple of years back.)
Third best night out of the year was Shonen Knife, playing a short notice end-of-tour set at Café Oto. I’ve seen Shonen Knife quite a few times over the years, but this was by far the best. With the small venue, party atmos and fans-only crowd, the band seemed really comfortable, and happy to play whatever songs they felt like playing, dragging out some deep cuts and album tracks rather than relying on the same old fan favourites. The current line-up play magnificently, belting it out with the kind of world-beating, hyper-efficient positivity that does the stereotypical view of their country proud, and being able to stand right in front of them as they did so was a joy. The unusually varied set-list made for a great showcase of the strength & breadth of Naoko’s song-writing over the years, and anyone who has (perhaps understandably) written them off as a novelty cakes n’ kittens twee band really needs to check their head and hope they one day catch a set as good as this one.
Fourth best gig of the year was finally seeing Bong, playing at… what’s the name of that goth/metal pub, on a side street by Camden station..? I’ve forgotten. Seemed like a thoroughly decent place to watch bands and drink beer, anyway. I had taken some out some money with the expectation of buying a pile of obscure merch from the band, but as said merch was not forthcoming, there was only one solution: a quadruple whisky to sip as I stood front of the stage watching the band set up, and things went just swimmingly. Having built these guys up to the level of galaxy-bestriding gods in my mind, it was quite humbling to just see some young-ish, soft-spoken blokes from Newcastle quietly setting up their not-quite-as-elaborate-as-you-might-expect gear, but when they finally began…. the even-more-colossally-world-destroying-than-you-might-imagine maelstrom did the business. (Said business being an out-of-body noise-worshipping nirvana that no mere blended whisky could account for.)
Fifth and sixth best gigs of the year were the Static Shock events I wrote about here, with particular reference to the mighty Rakta (sorry – channelling Mary Anne Hobbs a bit there), and coming in at seven is the Makoto Kawabata & J. Francois Pauvros set I wrote about here. Catching Pelt in St Pancras Old Church a few months back made for an oft-challenging but ultimately rewarding number eight, pushing perennial number # 1 live act Chain & The Gang into a shocking NINTH place, even in view of them playing on the same bill as Comet Gain. Tenth? I dunno, my memory is all out at this point, but I’ve probably forgotten at least a few great things, so if you went to something unspeakably awesome and saw me there standing watching it, maybe write it in this space: _________________.
2. Comps & Reissues.
Here is a list of my eleven favourite reissues and compilations of old music from 2014. Really top year for this kinda stuff, and sadly I didn’t have the times or funds to check out even a fraction of the releases I would have liked to. I wish I’d found the time to write about all of the records below, because they are awesome, but those I did manage to squeeze out some words on are duly linked.
1. Bruno Nicolai - All The Colours of the Dark OST (Finders Keepers)
2. The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits (Night School)
3. Wayfaring Stranger: Darkscorch Canticles (Numero Group)
4. Crime – Murder by Guitar (Superior Viaduct)
5. Phil Upchurch – The Big Hit Dances (Righteous)
6. Francois Tusques - Le Reine Des Vampires 1967 (Finders Keepers)
7. The Fates – Furia (Finders Keepers)
8. Who is William Onyeabor? (Luaka Bop )
9. Susan Justin - Forbidden World OST (Death Waltz)
10. Inner-City Beat: Detective Themes, Spy Music & Imaginary Thrillers (Soul Jazz)
11. Frantix – My Dad’s a Fuckin’ Alcoholic (Alternative Tentacles)
3. Old Records.
Here, for no particular reason - context maybe? - are some of the old records I’ve been diggin’ the mostest last year.
Isaac Hayes – ..To Be Continued
Richard & Linda Thompson – Pour Down Like Silver
Hound Dog Taylor – Natural Boogie
Dr Feelgood – Stupidity
Hawkwind – Space Ritual (finally got a nice copy on vinyl!)
James Brown – The Payback
Manfred Mann’s Chapter 3 – Chapter 3
Neil Young – Trans
Skullflower – Form Destroyer, IIIrd Gatekeeper & early singles
Suicide – Second Album
Junior Kimbrough – God Knows I Tried
Roky Erickson – All That May Do My Rhyme
Dillard & Clark – The Fantastic Expedition of…
Canned Heat – Boogie With…
Fushitsusha – Live / untitled
Johnny Kidd & The Pirates – collected singles
Bo Diddley - Have Guitar Will Travel
Miles Davis – On The Corner
Atomic Rooster – Death Walks Behind You
Acid Mothers Temple – Mantra of Love
Motorhead – Motorhead b/w City Kids 7”
The Bevis Frond – Miasma
So, that’s it – END. 2014 is ovah! Look out for more scintillating, red hot coverage of 2015’s verdant musical marshland here whenever I can be bothered.
Sunday, January 18, 2015
(1939 – 2015)
Whilst we here at Stereo Sanctity are of course inconsolable this weekend vis-à-vis the news that Kim Fowley, father of some of the most wonderful and demented pop music of the past fifty years, has passed away, we are also, in the back of our minds, somewhat relieved that this slightly alarming character is no longer stalking the earth causing trouble – a dichotomy that I suspect Mr. Fowley might have appreciated.
Whilst one shudders to think of the outrages Fowley may or may not have been party to in his glory days as the youth-stalking vampire of the Sunset Strip, now at least seems a good moment to draw a veil over the uglier results of his uncheckable egomania and celebrate him instead as a man who pretty much walked into a recording studio with nothing except the change in his pockets and walked out with a #1 hit creating his own world out of nothing but dust, glitter and goofery and living there ‘til the bitter end, never once breaking character, and dragging in whatever talent passed his way like some kind of irresistible vortex.
From ‘Alley Oop’ and ‘Pama-Oow-Mow-Mow’ onwards, the results of Fowley’s shameless, wild-eyed productivity run deep in the DNA of American pop culture. For his own work alone he is a trash-culture godhead on a par with Russ Meyer, Stan Lee or whoever else, and for dipping his pale fingers into the careers of artists as diverse as The Modern Lovers, Joan Jett, Soft Machine, Gene Vincent, Slade, Kiss, Warren Zevon, Blue Cheer, Cat Stevens and The Germs, well… you be the judge.
Separating fact from self-promotional ballyhoo and rumour can be a pretty tough gig when it comes to Kim Fowley, but readers who have no idea what I’m talking about are advised to go and give his Wikipedia page a read for a full info-dump. In particular, I draw your attention to the rather eyebrow-raising list of albums he recorded under his own name, which is a work of twisted poetry in and of itself.
The last time I checked in on Fowley’s tumblr account a couple of years back, he seemed to be ranting at length about his apparent estrangement from his fetish model girlfriend, and obsessively promoting some songs he’d already produced in response by some other presumably ill-starred Hollywood trash-starlet types – the result being a sad head-shake and a decision not to bother checking his tumblr account again. Behind the increasingly ragged Public Persona though, I guess there must have lurked an actual human being, and, above and beyond the snidey tone of this obit, death by cancer is never something to sneer about, and it’s hard not to be touched by the final sentence currently sitting on his wiki bio.
By way of tribute to the Animal God of the Streets then, here’s a quick run-down of some favourite Fowley moments that have brought me joy over the years, and will likely continue to do so until the day I meet a similar fate.
1. The Rangers – Justine (1964)
Anyone still cheerfully clinging to the notion that fully fledged punk rock didn’t exist until the 1970s needs to get a load of this 120 second masterpiece - one of the greatest, fastest and most stupidly exhilarating rock n’roll records ever made, and a readymade blueprint for ALL the garage/punk ramalama that’s followed over the next five(!) decades, whether it’s makers are aware of it or otherwise. [It was a cover of course - of Don & Dewey's only marginally more laidback '58 original. - Ed.] Strange but true: if I stop listening to all music for, say, a week, this and Link Wray’s ‘Comanche’ are the two songs that inevitably end up playing in my head on a continuous loop.
2. The Rivingtons – Papa-Oow-Mow-Mow (1962)
So I know The Trashmen’s subsequent ‘Surfin' Bird’ may be rawer and punker, with no need of the vaguely contemptible ‘understandable’ vocal dubbed over all the mrr-mrr-pow-powing on this one, for my money the Rivingtons cut has a marginally better dancing groove to it, and if nothing else, the whole incident stands as proof that some strokes of genius are so potent they can work again a second time with almost no development/alteration at all, and suffer no diminishing returns. Swings and roundabouts, collapsing under fifty years of rust, but if you’re a DJ in a sticky spot, one is still as good as the other for filling the floor.
3. The Runaways – Dead-End Justice (1976)
The Runaways may have grown into a better and stronger band once they ditched Fowley, but nonetheless, their first, Fowley-dominated LP remains the one to go for, and this extraordinary closing track remains one of the prime documents of his genius: a lunatic heavy metal epic in which girl gangers Joan and Cherie are busted by the fuzz and confined to juvie (“Where am I?”, “You’re in a cheap, run-down teenage jail, that’s where”, “Oh my god!”), from whence they subsequently bust out with all guitars blazing (“Joan, lets break out tonite”, “Ok Cherie, whats the plan?”). Full of semi-improvised idiot-genius couplets (“on the planet sorrow / there’s no tomorrow”?), stomping, arena-worthy bombast and an appropriately nihilistic crime movie ending, it’s like Jack Hill’s ‘70s filmography compressed into a seven minute rock song, and it’s just about the greatest fucking thing you ever heard. Makes me smile just thinking about it.
4. Kim Fowley – Bubblegum (1968)
And speaking of exploitation, nobody squeezed a few bucks out of the psychedelic revolution quite as shamelessly or enjoyably as Kim Fowley (hell, he enjoyed it so much he was still doing it in 1998), and this immortal psyche-bubblegum mash-up is one of all-time best, perhaps marking the moment at which total cynicism finds itself consumed by genuine mind-blasting mysticism of some dazzling, peculiar kind.
5. Althea & The Memories – The Worst Record Ever Made (1967)
Oh my god, have you heard this thing? Straight up genius. (“Do you know how hard it is to yell in a microphone for two and a half minutes..? Pretty hard.”) I’m guessing that Althea & The Memories was neither the first nor the last time Fowley grabbed a gaggle of passing teenagers off the streets to serve as his ‘girl group’ for the day like some poverty row Phil Spector, but this “oh my god, we’ve got five minutes left to record a b-side and the tape’s due at the pressing plant first thing tomorrow” travesty remains a unique bit of presumably intoxicated self-indulgence that could only ever have mistakenly found its way onto vinyl via this particularly fruitful alignment of time, place and personnel – a combination probably never to be repeated, which is unfortunate for those as in love with the idea of rock n’ roll as a total shuck as I am.
6. Kim Fowley – The Trip (1965)
See notes on #4. Temporal overlap makes it difficult to judge whether this one is a an exaggerated piss-take of Sky Saxon and The Seeds or actually a key influence upon their style, but either way, most commentators will agree that it remains totally nuts. Pretty damn early on the psychsploitation drug jive front too in ’65, and is there anything more sinister in the annals of recorded music than Fowley drawling “you’re doin’ it right baby… just put your head back…” at the end, like a comic book amalgam of every abusive Laurel Canyon psycho who subsequently crawled out of the innards of the ‘60s..? BRR.
7. The Snowmen – Ski Storm (Pt. 1) (1963)
And speaking of a chill….. (see, I’m not just throwing this shit together at random you know)…. a classic demonstration of the Fowley thought process is the period when, after the craze for surf music hit in the early ‘60s, he single-handedly attempted to popularize the competing genre of SKI MUSIC, briefly flooding the market with cheap-jack instrumental singles by the likes of The Alpines (‘Shush Boomer’), The Rangers (‘Snow Skiing’, which preceded the aforementioned ‘Justine’ by a few months) and The Snowmen, whose ‘Ski Storm’ (apparently featuring Shaun & Danny Harris, later of The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, who by my calculations can't have been older than about fourteen at the time) is the only evidence I can currently find on Youtube of this short-lived but no doubt hilarious racket.
I don’t think any of these saw much chart action, BUT HEY, you’ve gotta laugh, and god knows, he probably ripped off the studio, paid the teenage musicians in smokes and broken promises, and even got a hit out of it in the end with the tangentially connected ‘Popsicles & Icicles’ by The Murmaids, which topped out at #3 in the US charts. Win-win!
8. The Runaways – Cherry Bomb (1976)
So I know you’ve banged yr head to it all too often at your local queer-punk/feminist disco, thrilled to it on the soundtrack of some movie or other, maybe even done it at karaoke, but were you truly raising your fist for the dream of an empowered teen-girl heavy rock band, or for the gutter-crawling psycho-hustler who probably scribbled the lyrics on the back of a porno mag or something? It’s a tricky tightrope, so let’s puul in the slack and embrace both sides. Brain disengaged, cake both had and eaten. It’s usually the best way forward.
9. The Hollywood Argyles – Alley Oop (1960)
The place where it all began! Ah for the days when a bunch of layabouts could convene in a back alley recording studio, lay down an ode to a cartoon caveman whilst, quoth vocalist Gary S. Paxton, “all participants were senselessly drunk on cider”…. and then turn it into a #1 hit, an oldies compilation staple, and presumably a lifetimes-worth of royalty cheques for some lucky sonofabitch. All that and it’s still a hoot to listen to too - like a record made by finger-clicking beatniks from a Hanna Barbara cartoon.
10. Kim Fowley – Animal Man (1968)
Like ‘Bubblegum’ above, this is one of many fruitful collaborations between Fowley and a guitarist who was perhaps his match on the eccentrictiy front, ‘Born To Be Wild’ composer Mars Bonfire, and also one of many Fowley solo endeavours that is likely to see your pets racing for the front door never to be seen again and your neighbours making anxious calls to social services, should you decide to rinse it too frequently or enthusiastically. Genuinely unhinged, I think it’s fair to say.
Tuesday, January 06, 2015
The Best Records of 2014:
1. Chain & The Gang –
Minimum Rock n’ Roll LP
(Radical Elite / Fortuna Pop!)
You could reasonably argue that Ian Svenonious has been making variations on the same record for at least the past two decades. But when the questions he is raising remain largely unaddressed, whether within pop music or in society at large, can we really say that his output has become any less relevant (or indeed enjoyable) in the intervening years?
NAY I say, and with Ian and his rotating cast of collaborators now comfortably settled into their Chain & The Gang identity, his core agenda (both aesthetic and political) felt more pointed than ever in 2014, and this, the group’s strongest LP to date, hit the sweet spot for me in a big way, needless to say.
I was actually quite pleased with the review I did of it back in June, so why not go and read that, if you missed it the first time around.
Listen and buy from Chain & The Gang on bandcamp, or get the vinyl from Fortuna Pop in the UK, Dischord in the US.
Sunday, January 04, 2015
The Best Records of 2014:
2. Bong – Stoner Rock
Well, you all knew it was coming, and the fact remains: if you’d told me five years ago that I’d spend much of 2014 engrossed in a record named ‘Stoner Rock’ by a band named ‘Bong’, I’d frankly have been a little concerned. The Newcastle group’s sly humour vis-à-vis their chosen nomenclature is easy to miss alongside the venerable seriousness with which they approach their music itself, so, before we move on, I will fall back on the words of bassist/intoner Dave Terry, as quoted in this album’s press release:
“It is a tongue-in-cheek dig at our usual classification as stoner rock and what the term has come to represent. The idea is to create our own definition of ‘stoner rock’ by creating an album so utterly stoned and repetitive to be a million miles away from the usual definition. Those who know Bong already will get both the humour and the philosophical redefinition… those who don’t know us will either get it when they listen or will never understand Bong at all.”
So there ya go. 2011’s incredible ‘Beyond Ancient Space’ and 2012’s sublime ‘Mana Yood Sushai’ may have been mammoth enough achievements for Bong, or so you’d think, but, fittingly given it’s emblematic title and scale (two tracks spread across over 70 minutes), ‘Stoner Rock’ sees the band striving for a whole new peak of sonic magnitude, seemingly setting out with a deliberate intent to make this one the ultimate, definitive Bong statement.
And do they succeed? Well… kind of. To bring in a totally out-of-leftfield comparison for no other reason than that I feel like it, you could say that if ‘..Ancient Space’ and ‘Mana Yood..’ collectively formed Bong’s ‘Electric Warrior’, then ‘Stoner Rock’ represents their equivalent of ‘The Slider’; pushing beyond their previous triumphs to create a record that is bigger, bolder and more ambitious in every sense, to the extent that it eventually finds itself staggering just over the edge into excess and exhaustion. Like ‘The Slider’, ‘Stoner Rock’ might not be the one that history will record as everyone’s favourite, but also like ‘The Slider’, that doesn’t stop it from being a bloody magnificent listen.
As far as uncompromising, glacially-paced drone-metal goes, I’ve always appreciated the way that Bong are a pretty listener-friendly proposition. By that, I mean that on most of their previous recordings, they like to get straight to the point and hit you with the good stuff (a result, one supposes, of their parallel antecedents in psychedelia and space-rock). The monumentally drawn out opening to ‘Polaris’ however signals a rather different ambition for this particular outing: ten solid minutes of distantly rumbling, Sunn 0)))-esque sub-bass drift, with percussion entirely absent and variation limited to near inaudible trickles of more crystalline overtones from Benjamin Freeth’s amplified Shahi Baaja. As the monolithic amp walls pulse and growl, Terry’s grandiose recitations from the Lovecraft story of same name almost dares you to either lose consciousness of the outside world entirely, to else call it out for the preposterous nonsense it is.
All this is mere build-up of course, atmos-building meditational stasis, bringing us gradually to the moment when the first, hesitant bits of hi-hat and kick drum filter in, falteringly gaining ground over the next ten minutes, as the guitars gain more mid/high-end and the drone twists into baleful, raga-like webs until finally, at about the 18 minute mark, the kick and snare start to coalesce, the beat gradually takes shape and, finally, we’re away! Think of a massive, vertical take-off Chris Foss spaceship; it’s already floating god knows how high up in the void, and now it is ready to MOVE FORWARD, commencing an epic, diesel-fuelled grind that spreads across a further 18 minutes of ‘Polaris’ and continues throughout the duration of disc 2,‘Out of the Aeons’, which forms perhaps the single greatest, most monumental stretch of slo-mo cosmic devotion that Bong have yet laid down (no small boast, that), the journey eventually taking us…. where?
Hopefully not to the Bong equivalents of ‘Tanx’ and ‘Bolan’s Zip Gun’, but hopefully you take my point. Wherever we end up, there’s no turning back at this stage. As a soundtrack to watching the solar system and milky way receding in the rear screens as your rusty craft sets forth towards glittering unknown vistas of Weird Tales pulp splendour, ‘Stoner Rock’ remains unequalled.
Listen and buy via Bandcamp, or get the vinyl from Ritual Productions.
(In other Bong news, it’s worth noting that 2014 also proved a great year for reissues of their work. New editions of early sets ‘Idle Days on the Yann’ (on Blackest Rainbow Records) and ‘Bethamoora’ (on Visual Volume) both provide a wonderful glimpse at the more overtly psychedelic side of the band, and the new vinyl edition of ‘Beyond Ancient Space’ on Ritual Productions is absolutely IMMENSE – all are recommended about as highly as it is possible to recommend anything. With the sheer amount of vinyl I end up buying off these guys each year, I’m probably putting their kids through college, but what can I say? The quality never slips an inch. One of the best bands on earth, no question.)
Thursday, January 01, 2015
The Best Records of 2014:
3. Leyland Kirby presents V/Vm –
The Death of Rave (A Partial Flashback) LP
(History Favours The Winners)
When I started putting this list together a few months back, I was unsure whether this album could really be counted as a 2014 new release. Appropriately enough given its creator’s methodology and general concerns, ‘The Death of Rave’ is a collection of sounds that, though first unveiled in their current form in 2014, nonetheless drag us back toward several previous temporal flashpoints, but hey, The Quietus had it on their new releases list, so if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.
So the story goes that, back in 2006, James Kirby (aka V/Vm, aka The Caretaker, aka… well, you know the rigmarole by now, I’m sure) produced and offered for download a total of 19 hours of raw audio, all of it generated from tapes & sundry recordings he had accumulated during his youthful immersion in England’s ‘90s rave culture. Reflecting on the sad demise of the naïve utopian spirit that fuelled that scene, Kirby had subjected these recordings to the same sinister processes he applied to 1930s ballroom music in his work as The Caretaker, with, it must be said, markedly similar results. Returning to this mammoth outpouring of undifferentiated sound eight years later, Kirby has, for reasons best known to himself, seen fit to issue a few selected highlights from the project as an LP, entitled ‘The Death of Rave (A Partial Flashback)’.
Whilst this aesthetic of mournful, depression-fogged middle-aged rave nostalgia has been a common trope for a good few years now (at least since all the palaver surrounding Burial and Tim Hecker’s similarly conceived ‘Ravedeath 1972’), you’ve surely got to give Kirby the nod for being slightly ahead of the game dropping this stuff in 2006, and, even if the whole concept arguably feels rather tired here on the first day of 2015, the beauty and resonance of the selections herein retains a more elemental power, untarnished by such fleeting trends.
Indeed, what we have here is some real Prime-era Kirby, reminiscent of the crushing, intangible poignancy of The Caretaker’s ‘A Stairway to the Stars’, but furnished with a set of personal/emotional ties that reject that project’s comforting sense of generational distance and historical enquiry, instead cutting straight to the quick in its examination of the way an era that lays safely within the lifetime of all of its listeners already seems as dead, dusty and far removed from the present as the ghostly manoeuvres of The Haunted Ballroom.
Sonically, the tracks here are often more abstract but also more concrete than the Caretaker material, as the maximalist approach of house music finds itself boiled down into slabs of pure, undifferentiated sound whose weight is sometimes over-powering. The Caretaker’s music, I suppose, at least allowed for the *recollection* of friendship and community, long departed and fading into the oblivion beyond living memory perhaps, but somehow graspable all the same. The scenes and feelings lurking behind ‘Death of Rave’ on the other hand are far closer to home, but already feel as if they simply never were.
Whereas the original 2006 recordings went unnamed, Kirby has here gifted his chosen extracts with scene-setting titles of great and touching specificness, the simple act of naming increasing the power of these largely abstract chunks of sound enormously, cementing them forever in a time and place whose human inhabitants have moved on, leaving their memory to ferment and rot in isolation. As buildings are torn down or repurposed, fields tarmacked, tarmac cracked & replanted, ghosts of the life-changing youthful revelry that once took place on the same spots are chained, buried and forgotten.
In ‘Monroes, Stockport’, Kirby’s slow-drag treatment creates a sound akin to a giant, dematerialising tardis, beating like a bubble through the brain of some doomed raver, as the faint echo of some intractably vast, transcendent melody line warps into a melancholy that suggests his fate wasn’t pleasant. ‘Machetes at the Banshee’ meanwhile is a dense and terrifying few minutes, full of gate-clanging boneyard dread and creeping, Eraserhead-like squeaky skree.
‘Moggy & Wearden’ brings a feel of epic, inhuman vastness, like some big reveal of a Giger-esque alien cathedral, or an accompaniment to a stage-play of Lovecraft’s ‘At The Mountains of Madness’, drifting toward a more soothing, womb-like beauty in it’s final minute, whilst ‘Acid Allen, Haggis & Scott’ offers descending helicopters and the sound of an alien invasion blurring into the primeval hum of seaside video arcade.
The heart-rendingly titled ‘Big Eddie’s Van, Bowlers Carpark’ mixes busted speaker bass distortion with what sounds like the relentless churn of a giant subterranean waste disposal system, but ‘Marple Libradrome’ is perhaps the track that most clearly represents ‘The Death of Rave’s particular heart of darkness - a distant hum of crowd chatter just out of earshot beneath the threatening, subliminal buzz of electronic security fences and rotor-blade reversed percussion pulses, invoking the loneliness and lurking quietude of the empty, 4am carpark in which this entire LP seems to take place.
Do these feelings in any way reflect the experience of looking back on ones attendance of provincial early ‘90s rave events? Or one man’s foggy exploration of the emotionally-twisted emotions associated with such activity? Or simply nothing at all? As an outsider – young enough to have to rely on 2nd hand recollections of such events, if that - I have no idea. Maybe the conceptual aspect of this album may seem contrived or tedious or even offensive to some, but the depth and gut-level power of the resulting sonics is undeniable. An extraordinary record.
Listen and buy from Leyland Kirby via Bandcamp.
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
4. Comet Gain –
Paperback Ghosts LP
So, this one has grown on me quite a lot since I wrote that review back in July.
In the cold light of day, it might not exactly be the strongest Comet Gain ever waxed, its missteps and indulgences may stand out bulbous and unflattering, but since when has this particular band ever thrived on clear-headed, “just-the-facts-ma’am” type critical listening?
More than ever these days, when their appeal lies in a woolly mixture of sentiment, personal nostalgia and cultural comfort, CG are a group whose music you’ve got to live with, and whose records must be allowed to interact with (your) life as it is lived.
Maybe I’m a tad biased, as disliking a Comet Gain LP at this stage feels like disowning a family member, but try throwing ‘Paperback Ghosts’ on in the background when you’re packing a suitcase for a long holiday, or after a few drinks when everyone else has gone to bed but you’re left awake with a bit of surplus energy, and I believe the virtues of even its ostensibly least successful songs will shine through loud and clear - a background burner, like all those lackadaisical classic rock albums you got frustrated with as a teenager, sitting there waiting for something exciting to happen, but that you now love dearly through some strange process of drunken osmosis, adulthood grit and emotional dust collection.
The virtues of the best songs here meanwhile are plain for all to see, and, due to the particular place they fell in my life, seem likely to always stay with me.
Listen to ‘Long After Tonite’s Candles Are Blown’ on Soundcloud, after which you will undoubtedly want to buy the album from Fortuna Pop.
Sunday, December 28, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
5. Earthling Society –
England Have My Bones LP
Who the hell are these guys? I didn’t know when I bought this record, and I still don’t really know now. They’re based in Fleetwood in Lancashire, but that’s about as far as my knowledge extends. Under normal circumstances, I doubt that the album’s title or cover art would really have grabbed my attention. It sort of looks like a 2nd division metalcore album (that font), or else some angsty post-Isis kind of thing. Not my bag, man.
But, a few words in the Norman Records write-up piqued my interest, and a 30 second streaming clip later, the LP was on the way. Two days later I'm holding probably the best bit of proper psychedelia to have emerged from the UK in recent memory, wondering WHO? WHY? WHAT? WHERE?, the general feel of the music within laying a million miles away from the tableau of chilly industrial gloom implied by the cover. Sprawling, maximalist, potent and mysterious, Earthling Society quite unexpectedly veer closer to the webs of gold-leaf gossamer obscuring the entrance way to some subterranean opium den housing a breakaway sect of the Golden Dawn than they do to a bracing morning walk through England’s industrial heartlands. Needless to say, I ken dig it.
Opening with tamboura, tablas and a bit of gentle guitar meandering, opener ‘Aiwass’ gradually builds into venerable psyche-drone monster, multi-layered fuzz guitar skree, pounding toms and knob-twisting electronic distortion building into a rich fog of menacing black mass ambience to rival Belgium’s legendary Sylvester Anfang II, even as a distant, high-pitched vocal chant evokes a open-skied grandeur and sense of momentum rarely encountered in the work of those particular basement-dwellers.
Building on this more fresh-air inclined sensibility, ‘Tortuga’ opens with heavily chorused electric finger-picking, mysterioso reverbed vocals and a rubbery, Floyd-ish groove, as intermittently decipherable lyrics speak of spectral piratical adventures on the Spanish Main. A whole other variety of beautiful, distinctly British psychedelia is in evidence here, taking us back to the glory days of Flying Saucer Attack, and to my mind pretty much surpassing anything they ever did; an astonishingly evocative track, suggesting aerial views of glassy, Ballardian landscapes fading into an ultra-verbed storm of amp howl as the rhythm section ebbs and flows like the tides and the studio’s much-abused Space Echo starts giving off clouds of black smoke.
Amazing as it is though, all this is merely a build-up though for the album’s real centrepiece: a bold cover of one of my all-time favourite pieces of music, Alice Coltrane’s ‘Journey in Satchidananda’. Instant sale for me right there, pretty much. Therein, Cecil McBee’s indelible bass line is dutifully recreated and Pharaoh Sanders’ initial soaring sax riff is picked out on shrieking, overdriven guitar, whilst an electric tamboura stands in for Alice and thick blankets of heavy fuzz and apocalyptic, dive-bombing feedback cover all else. Further florid written appraisal seems surplus to requirements really, so let's just say if you think an endeavour like that wasn’t going to crack my annual Top 5, you clearly don’t know my music tastes very well. Total bliss.
Not sure how to conclude really, except to cattily suggest that if Goat’s much-talked up communal jamming sensibilities were half of what they’re cracked up to be, they might be, perhaps, say, one third as certifiably awesome as these glorious and learned Northern gentlemen – current wielders of the finest fuzz & astral incense on these shores, or I’m a dutchman.
Listen and buy from Riot Season, or visit Earthling Society here.
Saturday, December 27, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
6. Haikai No Ku –
Ultra-High Dimensionality LP
Hey everybody – hope you had a nice Christmas! Ahem…
A darker and more driven descent into the abyss than Mike Vest’s Blown Out project, Haikai No Ku nonetheless stays true to the guitarist’s ideal of formless, eternal sprawl. Clearly very much informed by the pitch-black, ‘crushing nihilist white-out’ vibe of classic Japanese psych-noise, Haikai are wise enough to retain the ‘feel’ of Haino and Mitzutani’s work without directly imitating them.
Instead, ‘Dead in the Temple’ sets the tone here with an evilly plodding, lock-step groove, over which Vest drops a gargantuan pure doom riff that could have been lifted straight from his work with Bong, instigating a solid ten minutes of black-hearted head-nodding as multiple layers of echoing vibrato lead shred and carefully manicured feedback shriek-drones accumulate, occasionally pulling together into a deafening, primordial uber-riff of malevolent awesomeness.
Subsequent tracks march forth with little in the way of variation - dense curlicues of manicured feedback howling at the desert sun as thunderous clouds of bass-heavy mega-skree throb and bleed beneath, the rhythm section pounding away in the distance, regimented and swing-less as a military parade trudging from the centre of some chaotic, Elder God-infested black hole.
In spite of all this apocalyptic jollity though, the slightly ‘shiny’, reverb-heavy production here sat rather poorly with me during my first few listens to this one, sounding rather too distant and well-scrubbed to really do justice to this kind of sonic blitzkrieg. But, as Vest’s label name so clearly implies, volume provided the key. Rescued from laptop purgatory and whacked through a mono guitar amp on the upstairs turntable, this shit hit big-time – as devastating a dark-noise blissout as you could wish for. If it lacks the overblown, beyond-the-red clippage of ‘Heavier Than a Death in The Family’ or Fushitsusha’s ‘Live 2’, the sheer density of sound that is revealed here when pushed through some appropriate speakers is almost as mighty.
More than anything in fact, ‘Ultra-High Dimensionality’ reminds me of Birchville Cat Motel’s classic ‘Our Love Will Destroy The World’ set. The pace is slower maybe, the riffs gnarlier, the basis in power trio rock more tangible, but the same power is there; that same sense of being sucked through a giant, cosmic vacuum cleaner, that same exhilarating vision of every self-described ‘shoegaze’ band in the world cowering in abject terror as their matchstick sonic cathedrals crumble to dust amidst the hundred-stack hurricane of some proper fucking cosmic noise.
In summary then: 2014’s best headcleaner / ear-wrecker – no contest.
Listen and buy from Visual Volume.
Monday, December 22, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
7. Rakta – s/t 12”
Unexpectedly blundering into two live sets by these guys during the Static Shock weekend last month was a bit of eye-opener, I can tell you. Without wishing to front-load expectation too much, Rakta are definitely one of the most exciting new bands I’ve seen/heard this year.
Basics you need to know, as pasted over from this post to save me repeating myself too much:
“An all-female Brazillian band playing moody, ambitious sci-fi-inflected punk with loads of harsh noise and extreme use of effects, […] with a solid base of relentless pounding from the rhythm section and a relentlessly imaginative skree from the guitar, bits of unidentifiable echoing racket whiplashing around the place, and just a hellish energy and sense of weird, unholy evocation going on…”
Though a somewhat murky / naturalistic recording somewhat lessens the full spectrum blare I witnessed live, this 45rpm 12”, recorded in 2012 and pressed in ’13 (again, complaints to the usual address if you care) does a pretty sterling job of capturing Rakta’s particular ‘thing’ on tape, and quite a trip it is too – forward-driving, late night joyride distorto-punk interlaced with early Zola Jesus-ish neon goth power-angst, frequently tipping over into full on descent-into-the-maelstrom noise freakout, rescuing those Boss delay boxes from the hands of tossers who like to just set them to 33% and stare at them hoping somebody notices, and twisting those fucking knobs like the Tech-priests intended.
There are big ideas at play here, ripped through with paint-stripping ferocity and a getting-shit-done DIY aesthetic that keeps pomposity firmly at arm’s length. Future-punk? Digi-psych? An early ‘90s 2000AD bad trip sequence recreated in musical form? I don’t know. It’s fucking brilliant, whatever it is, and I can’t wait to hear more of it.
Listen and buy from Rakta on Bandcamp.
Sunday, December 21, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
8. City Yelps in ‘Cheap Psych’ tape
Like many records in my Top Ten this year, this tape’s title and approach raise an affirming two fingers to the flow of weak buzz-band fake-psych acts currently busy ruining the ‘P’ word for those of us who’ve been happily using it to describe actual, good music since time immemorial.
Unlike the other records in my Top Ten this year, this tape contains ten equally affirming songs by the most vital and self-determined bunch of chancers to hit the jangle/indie circuit in some time.
Back in March, I said:
“..dealing with the constituent components of this music, it’s difficult to put your finger on what makes City Yelps so pointedly removed from all the other nostalgia-nourishing jangly guitar types doing the rounds. From the 10th generation Byrds-y rattle to the strummy bass lines to the Hamish Kilgour type homemade-motorik drumming with that little ‘catch-up beat’ every four bars, it’s all here present and correct, all stuff you feel you’ll never, ever get sick of again when it’s banged out this splendidly. The playing is excellent & varied […] the recording is bright and the songs are simple and appealing, leaving only Shaun A’s parent-proof slurred bark (“thass not singing, I’m telling ya”, quoth some who should know better) and a strange, indefinable blanket of smudged, smothered otherness to explain why City Yelps sound so inherently separate from the mainstream, so alien to the streets of large population centres, so utterly and gloriously removed from anyone who deals in ego or money or music, so much of a potential OUR BAND (NOT THEIRS) moment for any/all scruffy, over-smart kids lucky enough to hear them.”
Nine months later, sufficiently calmed down, that questionable sense of identification with this music and its makers remains intact. My band, not theirs. Maybe yours?
Listen and buy from City Yelps.
Saturday, December 20, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
9. Habibi – s/t LP
A much under-appreciated album this year I think, Habibi have unfortunately had the poor grace to release a neo-girl group guitar-pop record at precisely the point when that particular idiom has entirely fallen from favour amongst the indie-cognoscenti, and I fear they may have suffered from this poor timing, irrespective of the fact that this is the best example of the form I’ve heard since the great 2010-11 goldrush.
So, even if you (mistakenly, IMHO) cringe at your prior enthusiasm for the Vivians and Dum Dums of yore, and now listen exclusively to mogadon death-rave, obscure hardcore and compilations of African keyboard funk, I would still defy you, or anyone with the slightest love of pop and strumming guitar business for that matter, to listen to cuts like ‘Detroit Baby’ and ‘Sweetest Talk’ and not be touched on some level by their sweet, measured, bad-ass perfection. The Velvet Underground quotation in the latter makes for a particularly killer moment, I feel.
Minus one or two songs in the middle that don’t quite do it for me, this is just a great LP – proof positive that reverby guitars, stand-up drumming, nebulous Flying Nun-type influences and marginally ‘sassy’ American accents can still hit the bullseye when executed with sufficient class & panache.
I was going to dig up the bit I wrote about Habibi in that ever-helpful March blog post, but frankly it was rubbish, so we’ll just leave it at that.
Listen to Habibi’s stuff on Soundcloud, and buy the record from Burger.
On an entirely different topic, I can’t help but note that this – somewhat inappropriately – is the 666th post on Stereo Sanctity. Not much of a score when you consider I’ve been going since May 2004 or something, but hey. Maybe I should have lined up an Electric Wizard album or something. Thanks for sticking around.
Friday, December 19, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
10. Blown Out –
Drifting Way Out Between Suns LP
If Stereo Sanctity were to award some spurious “musician of the year” award or somesuch, it’s safe to assume Mike Vest would be a shoe-in for 2014. One year ago, I knew Vest simply as the name credited with ‘guitar’ on the sleeves of Bong and 11 Paranoias records - which you’d think would be enough of a commitment to noise-making for most sane individuals, but Mr. Vest, operating primarily through his Visual Volume bandcamp page, seems to be on a quest to single-handedly colonise every conceivably corner of heavy guitar music.
As the prime mover in a frankly humbling array of currently active groups, Vest seems keen on maintaining a level of productivity that would be downright suspicious were the results not so consistently excellent, and the first of no less than three Vest-related records to feature in this year’s top ten comes courtesy of Blown Out - an open-ended psyche-rock jam band that sees the lad himself letting rip alongside a rhythm section apparently recruited from a band named Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs.
From the name on down, Blown Out’s sister band Haikai No Ku seem to be signposted as Vest’s most obviously Les Rallizes Denudes/Japanese noise-inspired project, but for my money Blown Out is the one that actually gets closest to the classic Rallizes sound, largely thanks to the valiant efforts of the bassist and drummer, who trudge manfully through these two 20+ minute extracts of endless, formless repeato-groove, swinging slow and loose like a particularly unthreatening rubber wrecking ball as Vest lets it all hang out on top, indulging all of his best/worst humbucker-mangling impulses in what appears to be an eternal rolling revue of wrecked, thug-psych fuzz-power.
In the hands of lesser players, this could easily have been a pointless mess, a “hey, let’s be Acid Mothers Temple this afternoon” piss-take, a complete waste of time. Thankfully though, these guys, in the parlance of our times, fucking rip, and four or five minutes of bandcamp head-nodding was all it took to get me on-board the star-freighter for good, and damn the consequences to my bank account if they keep sticking out every bedraggled live set as a limited edition release of some kind.
If space-rock can broadly be divided into music that aspires to take you somewhere, and music that defiantly DOESN’T, then Blown Out are definitely in the latter category, irrespective of their galaxy-travellin’ song titles. ‘Drifting Way Out Between Suns’ is nothing less than a sprawling, aimless journey to the bottom of the sofa, with guitar textures recalling nothing so much as early Bardo Pond, as sustained chords bend into raga-like dissonance as they decay and ghostly, sticky-fingered leads tumble across the top like sonic questions marks, banks of hissing, fuzzed out amp noise rising & falling in the background as Vest busts through every trick in his repertoire to keep things ticking over across a solid 45 minutes of formless drift.
Like all of Vest’s bands (with the possible exception of 11 Paranoias), Blown Out are breaking no new ground here, attempting no daring deconstructions of genre expectation, but no matter: for those of us who dig this shit, it’s pure bliss… one of the best blasts of utterly indulgent proper-psyche grue I’ve heard since Purling Hiss’s ‘Hissteria’.
Two thumbs up, raised v-e-e-e-e-ry slowly, and I hope you’ll all appreciate the fact that I got through this review without using the ‘S’ word, or throwing in any tired, haven’t-touched-a-joint-in-a-decade drugs references. Thirsty work, I tell you.
Listen and buy from Visual Volume, or get the vinyl from Riot Season.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
11. Slum of Legs –
demo tape & 7”
Lazy blog recycling goes meta here, as I quote from a September review of Slum of Legs’ single that in turn quotes from a bit I wrote about their demo tape back in March;
“I said of Slum of Legs’ demo tape earlier this year that; ‘..the three tracks [here] do function VERY MUCH as a demo […] giving only a fleeting, muffled impression of the kind of rampant creativity this unit is capable of’. This single then can be seen to represent the full realisation of this Brighton collective’s potential – a stew of wildly disparate (some might say contradictory) elements, successfully boiled down to a perfectly imperfect essence. A kind of fiendish, exploratory outsider pop music that recognises no limitations, imposes no boundaries upon its members’ divergent impulses, yet somehow works toward the same functional totality. It is a lovely thing to hear.”
“Weird, dissident, homemade, different from anything YOU’D make – these are some of the key notion that spring to mind where Slum of Legs is concerned I think. I may have bandied around an unpalatable number of dubious band-name comparisons in the preceding paragraphs, but perhaps SOL’s true spiritual predecessors are – naturally - outfits that sound more or less nothing like them. In particular, I’m thinking the sort of feeling that can be found lurking in the obscurest corners of unacknowledged female creativity in the murkiest years of post-punk era. Androids of Mu, The Fates, that sort of thing. Basically, both this single and the demo tape sound like what pop music might have become in 1982 if William S. Burroughs had been writing the script and a stern regiment of well-drilled Raincoats/Au Pairs partisans had been carrying it out.
Even in 2014 – perhaps especially in 2014 - it is exhilarating to hear a band making such imaginative, evocative and open-ended music whilst still remaining ostensibly within the realm of song-based ‘pop’, trawling for thrills in the shallows of the avant garde whilst happily avoiding its tendency toward alienating abstraction. This is Weird Music, no doubt - taking risks, posing questions, demanding attention. But it is also very giving music - a lot of fun for creators and listeners alike.”
Both releases are still listen- & buy-able from Tuff Enuff.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
12. Primetime – s/t EP
(La Vida Es Un Mus Discos Punk)
I’ve been meaning to do a post on this one for much of the year, but somehow it never happened. Just one of those things where it’s hard to find enough to say to hang a decent review on, so self-evident are the fact of the matter: Primetime are a great band, and this is a great sounding EP, whose four tracks have wormed their way into my brain through repeated exposure to the point where, on the rare occasions when I’ve actually sat down and tried to come up with a song recently, it’s usually an immediate rip-off of ‘Last Night’ or ‘Right Track’ that emerges.
Each cut here represents a perfected expression of rhythmic, riff-heavy mid-tempo punk, as built around exquisitely off-the-cuff gang chants that sound like probably began life pre-song as whatever the grown up, in-head equivalent of playground taunts might be. Instantly memorable – the kind of thing you can comfortably shout along with halfway through a first listen.
Largely rejecting the nervy, post-punk moves that dominate much current self-taught, quasi-riot grrl type punk, Primetime’s more straight-up, instinctive riff-rock approach hits my caveman brain just right (think maybe The Zeros' ‘Wimp’ or Eddie & The Subtitles ‘American Society’ for a good, back-in-the-day reference point, leavened out with a bit of Sham 69 call & response magic). At the risk of getting a bit gender essentialist about it (oops, too late), this the kind of thing that could so easily get all plodding and thuggish in the hands of men (how long before uptight practice room chats about pedals and Led Zep usurp any actual exploration of innate musical ability?), but, channelled and refurbished by women, this chasis of crunched up Marshall stack chords, floor tom pounding and fist-in-the-air vocals remains direct, fun, honest, open-ended, welcoming, slightly weird and… did I mention fun? Fucking hurrah!
Clearly I’m just drivelling on here filling space with barely thought-out notions that I’d prefer no one quote back at me at some point in the future, so let’s just back to the facts and conclude with: Primetime are a great band, and this is a great EP. I actually *dare* you not to like it. C’mon, it’s bloody brilliant. I’m telling ya.
Listen and buy from La Vida Es Un Mus Discos Punk.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
The Best Records of 2014:
13. D/i/s/c/o /s –
live D/i/s/c/o /s CD-R
Until they finally get some recordings out there, this passed-among-friends live bootleg remains the closest those of us in the Western hemisphere are going to get to one of Tokyo’s, and dare I say it (hey why not) the world’s, most exciting rock n’ roll bands, the incomparable D/i/s/c/o /s.
A totally wrecked, dictaphone-in-pocket document of an unspecified live set, cranked up and compressed to the nth degree, this CD-R presents a gloriously indecipherable racket. Nailing their colours to the mast via covers of The Oblivians ‘N*gger Rich’ and ‘The Gories ‘Thunderbird ESQ’, the D/i/s/c/o/s duo make the garage-punk gospel sound more vital and violent than it has for years (on record, at least), recalling the glory days of The Mummies, Coachwhips and Teengenerate, and making me pause to reflect on what’s gone wrong with the world to render such a racket the sound of some vaguely defined yesteryear, rather than the sound of NOW, then, and every other time in between. Full-spectrum distorted blare and snarled/shrieked amp vocals render songs largely irrelevant, but instead give us a motherlode of Kato-san’s exhilarating John Lee Hooker-via-Lightning Bolt guitar moves and Akatsuki-san’s thoroughly complimentary take on the traps, balancing swing and bombast with rare aplomb.
Basically, this is just a totally unhinged pile of good ol’ headache juice that’ll have the majority of today’s nervous citizens hitting the ‘off’ button in seconds, but will make the true believers light up like a pinball machine. ROCK A ROLL!!!!, as D/i/s/c/o /s’ esteemed countrymen taught us to say back in the day.
This music is not currently available anywhere. Sorry about that – proper recordings due out in some form next year, I'm told.
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