The stars still shine, the museum's free.
- 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 in Exile ; 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.
Sunday, March 02, 2014
Susan Justin –
Forbidden World OST
(1982 / Death Waltz Records, 2014)
If I say to you, ‘Forbidden World’, 1982, one of the bargain basement ‘Alien’ rip-offs produced by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, what’s your first reaction liable to be?
If it's something along the lines of “Yeah, I remember that movie – it had GREAT music!”, then congratulations, you are part of what I imagine must be a very exclusive club. I’m a member too, and, for the purposes of this blog, the conversation would end right there, were it not for the fact that the bloke who runs the Death Waltz record label is also on the club membership roll.
Having hit the zeitgeist right between the eyes over the past few years with their slightly-more-expensive-than-I-can-really-afford deluxe vinyl reissues of classic horror movie soundtracks, Death Waltz presumably now have the capital to allow them to branch out into some more quixotic and interesting ventures within the realm of horrory synth business, and one of first items on their agenda has been to seek out the master tapes for Susan Justin’s unique score to Allan Holzman’s slightly-better-than-you’d-really-expect carnivorous alien quickie, and to slap ‘em onto wax for the very first time. Huzzah.
As members of the aforementioned club will recall, Justin’s music (together with Holzman's direction, but that's not really our concern here) adds a huge dose of class to an otherwise pretty daft venture, but without ever giving the impression that the composer felt herself ‘above’ the material at hand. Basically, this is music that sounds completely at home soundtracking a trashy sci-fi/horror flick, but that also manages to incorporate all sorts of fun elements that sit completely outside the sort of thing you would normally expect to find in such a context.
Justin, needless to say, was not exactly yr average low budget movie composer. Though she also provided music for the 1983 slasher ‘The Final Terror’ and subsequently worked on numerous TV documentaries, her self-description as a “Los Angeles-based New Wave composer/performer” perhaps more accurately reflects her interests at the time this soundtrack was created, working hard as the prime mover behind unknown-to-me synth-rock group Pink Plastic.
This certainly makes sense when cueing up the Main Theme for ‘Forbidden World’, which, taken out of context, could be more in keeping with a stroll through a high tech shopping mall or a utopian display of dazzling, Madonna-esque fashions than a leery, slime-drenched monster flick, with a fist-pounding electro-beat, breathy, wordless vocal echoes and a brash, major key melody all locking in that particular ‘dawn of a new era’ hyper-‘80s feel with just a little bit of homamde murk lurking beneath to keep it real.
After that, the ‘Opening Titles’ music pulls a bit of a bait & switch on us, sounding like a funeral march from a fascistic intergalactic empire, whilst subsequent tracks return to a more fitting world of lurking corridor tension and text-book suspense movie piano motifs, but always with a definite hint of otherness about them – rumbling surface noise drones, beautifully unexpected counter-point melodies and knob-twisting radiophonic oscillator blasts all demanding the attention of attuned ears.
Very much at one with their era, the more experimental outbursts in the middle of side one could easily have found a home on Slava Tsukerman & Brenda Hutchinson’s utterly demented "non-musicians go nuts on a community access synthesizer" soundtrack to ‘Liquid Sky’, a film whose aesthetic of extremist new wave / sci-fi proto-cyberpunk fashion terrorism perhaps more closely resembles Justin’s overall vision here than anything you’d normally associate with a Roger Corman monster movie.
At the end of the first side though, we’re back in business with ‘Mutation’, which proves a total banger - sorta like John Carpenter tooled up with a tricky, middle eastern melody and a squelching, on-the-one shuffle-beat – the perfect accompaniment to zapping stop-motion beasts in yr egg-box coated space station.
Shrieking noise, bubbling ooze, basic piano exercises and dialogue extracts from the movie dominate the first half of side two (ooh, the soundtrack purists won’t be happy about that), whilst the second half plungess us into an abyss of truly impolite mechanoid terror as the shit hits the fan for the movie’s doomed characters, culminating, brilliantly, in a blast of full spectrum noise that sounds like an active electric fan hitting bathwater, and an unearthly space-siren wail fading into oblivion. (The album’s instrument credits mention use of something called a ‘Blaster Waterphone’, which I’m guessing came in handy here.)
Then, a moment of silence brings us back to a triumphant, closing credits reprise of the main theme, crusing through the cosmos on a wave of chopped up, reverbed vocal samples and waving us off with a truly bitchin’ synth-flute solo. Superb.
I don’t know if even in our wildest dreams we could claim “radioactive corridor music” as a legitimate genre, but if you’ll allow me the leeway to do so, Susan Justin’s work here formed a key pillar around which such a style could be retrospectively inaugurated. Recommendations for other examples welcomed, because I’ve sure been jamming the hell out of this one since it appeared in the post last Saturday.
Hopefully a more affordable CD/digital release will be along at some point in the near future for those out there who don’t relish staring at Kimberley Holladay’s rather icky artwork in its full 12” x 12” glory (no disrespect or anything guys, but I think I’ll keep the enclosed giant poster out of sight this time around); so come on in, join the Forbidden World Soundtrack Club: the sauna's lovely and we’ve got plenty of room.
Buy from Death Waltz.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits
(Night School Records, 2013)
One of the most welcome surprises for me in 2013’s heavy calendar of comps and reissues was the emergence at the end of the year of ‘The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits’, which as far as I know marks the first time that more than a song or two from said lady have hit vinyl, or become generally available CD/mp3. Nice work, Night School Records, nice work!
Like most other interested parties I’d assume, I was first introduced to the music of The Space Lady via Irwin Chusid’s ‘Songs in the Key of Z’ compilation – not a collection I’d wholly commend to you either musically or ideologically, but The Space Lady’s unique readings of ‘I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night’ and Peter Schilling’s novelty hit ‘Major Tom’ were definitely the tracks on there that stuck with me the most; beautiful and foreboding, heavily psychedelic arrangements of the songs, imaginatively rendered via cheap Casiotone and a haze of effects, and intoned with a plain, hesitant, yet oddly intoxicating female monotone.
A quick scan of the sleevenotes before the comp went back to the library informed me that The Space Lady was a former San Francisco street musician, a sci-fi fixated escapee from the late ‘60s Haight Ashbury apocalypse, and well, say no more really. A perennial mix tape favourite was born.
Barring obvious geniuses such as Moondog and Captain Beefheart, I would be extremely unlikely to get excited over the prospect of owning an LP collecting the works of most of the other artists included on the ‘..Key of Z’ comp, but unlike many of the uncomfortably damaged savants therein, The Space Lady’s contributions made for genuinely delightful listening that stretched beyond mere novelty value. Calming and introspective as their New Age origin demanded, yet fully cogent of the transformative power of verse/chorus pop music, they evoke the fading ghost of San Francisco’s gentle psychedelic idealism, returning to haunt a new, impoverished world of dimestore electronics, frail 30-something uncertainty and rhinestoned glam-rock bombast.
Key to The Space Lady’s musical identity I think is her history as a busker. Where so many other post-hippie drop-outs retreated into New Age synth abstraction or cultish Christian mysticism as the ‘70s comedown hit home, Susan Schneider’s trip was focused firmly on playing to the people: doing big, easy tunes that would be recognised by passersby, magnetising a few dimes from the throng SF’s commuting populus. For music that is so obviously birthed from a life-style of spaced out flower-child journeying, there is a heroic lack of self-indulgence to Schneider’s performances, and her desire to entertain is very much reflected in her repertoire, which in addition to Schilling and The ‘Prunes also encompasses ‘Born To Be Wild’, ‘Radar Love’, ‘Ballroom Blitz’, Steve Miller’s ‘Fly Like An Eagle’ and (best of all) ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’, all beautifully rewired via the stuttering drum machine and eerie cadences of Schneider’s own unique MO.
Less ‘cover versions’ in the rock band sense, these songs are more melodic skeletons around which Schneider can build her own sonic universe – an shaky pencil line linking the lost & lonely cloud-folk of Linda Perhacs to the shredded DIY electro-punk of The Screamers, via an unlikely trek through the fuzzier corners of America’s early ‘80s MOR radio-waves, with material carefully selected to combine popular appeal with opportunities for The Space Lady to stretch her musical expression into stranger and dreamier waters than FM rock/pop would conventionally allow, tripping out into the furthest depths her pedals would allow, whilst all the time singing of flying through the clouds, blasting through the heavens, blinking through into dreamland, in a more solemn and direct fashion than the composers of these songs may have originally anticipated.
Another aspect of The Space Lady showcased on her Greatest Hits though is that of her ‘originals’, several of which sit alongside the covers. Well, sort of, anyway. A key figure in The Space Lady’s mythology is that of the perfectly named Joel L. Dunsany (any relation?), Schneider’s former partner, who is now sadly no longer with us. The sole composer of the remaining three songs on the LP version of ‘Greatest Hits’, it was Dunsany who inadvertently inspired the ‘Space Lady’ concept in the first place, as is outlined in Schneider’s highly entertaining sleevenotes:
“Since we had destroyed our IDs, were living under an assumed surname, and were generally terrified of Joel being caught for draft evasion, life became a hand-to-mouth scramble for existence. With the idea of making big money as a rock star, Joel put together a one-man-band act of experimental music, running his guitar through an Echo-Plex and wearing a silly looking winged helmet he bought in a San Francisco costume shop. The helmet wouldn’t have been so bad I thought, if not for the red ball on top; and worse yet, Joel had the audacity to wire it up to a blinking bulb. Crowned with that embarrassing spectacle of a topper, he dubbed himself ‘Mount Helium Pegasus,’ and began looking for places to play.”
Unfortunately for us all, bookings for Mount Helium Pegasus were rarely forthcoming, and future classics like ‘Synthesize Me’ and ‘From The Womb To The Tomb’ were soon relegated to the box cupboard along with the winged helmet and the echoplex. The fugitive family still had to eat though, and after a further decade or so of scrapes, misadventures and Close Encounters, it was to that same cupboard that Susan Schneider returned, taking to the streets, humbly reinventing the remains of her husband’s rock star dreams armed with a Casio MT-40, a camera tripod and a brace of 9-V FX boxes that the hippies could only have dreamed of.
What resulted is a beautiful and engaging reinterpretation of popular music, consumer electronics and cosmic ideology, and a joyful listening experience that easily overcomes any patronising notion of ‘outsider art’. The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits is a self-evident classic of home-made psychedelic spirit that transcends any earth-bound genre conventions, flying free like a glowing beacon of maternal human warmth and gentle pop wonder through the dark of the cosmos. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION, to coin a phrase.
(I’m kinda on the fence as to whether or not it will be a good idea for Schneider to resurrect her Space Lady persona for a trip to the UK in support of this record in a few months, but it gains her some belated recognition for her music (and some dough), well, that’s all to the good, and if there’s a chance I can pass her a cheery word and get my LP signed, all the better. So see you there, I guess.)
Listen to The Space Lady doing ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’ here, and watch her perform ‘Major Tom’ here.
Read a recent interview with The Space Lady at The Quietus here.
Buy 'The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits' from Night School Records here.
Sunday, February 09, 2014
Japanese Record of the Month:
Chiyo Okumura –
Koi Dorobo b/w
Kitagunino Haruwa Mijikai
One of the best things about visiting Japan is the opportunity to experience (and bring back a chunk of) the country’s vast universe of indigenous pop culture. One of the strongest and most self-sustaining entertainment industries in the world, and one whose obvious linguistic and geographic distance from the Western hemisphere ensures that it remains largely untapped by the English-speaking world, this of course represents a kind of endless heaven of discovery for someone as unhealthily obsessed with such things as I am, and of course I chose to set about my investigations in the only way I know how – by spending an inordinate amount of time skulking about in second hand record shops, looking for cheap stuff with cool cover art.
And so, with the happy discovery that my spare turntable has a USB socket, now seems a good time to do this blog’s bit for the cause of cross-cultural understanding, as we present Japanese Record of the Month, wherein I will work through the small mountain of 7” singles I brought back with me, presenting them to you one by one along with whatever scraps of background information and fatuous, ill-informed opinions I can muster.
Within my stack of 45s, I’ve got ‘60s Group Sounds releases, heart-rending Enka ballads, a few examples of contemporary punk & hardcore that deserve a bit of wider attention, some film & TV tie-ins - but the overall emphasis is on miscellaneous solo artist pop, of a ‘60s/’70s vintage.
We’ll be entering into this endeavour in a spirit of total randomness, so hey, look what I pulled off the top of the pile today! To be honest, I know very little (read: nothing) about Chiyo Okumura, but gee whiz, what a cover! Thankfully, the music within turns out to be pretty good too… well, I mean, I like the A-side a lot, at least.
Opening with a slinky, conga-heavy rhythm and a genius little electric piano riff, adding chicken-scratch guitar on the verses, and keeping the strings n’ horns at a tasteful distance from the vocals and primary instruments, ‘Koi Dorobo’ (translation: ‘Love Thief’?) seems to hit that particular sweet spot where the drama of enka meets the upbeat, “struttin’ down the street” pulse of early ‘70s, post-Shaft/Superfly film scores. It is a very good place to be. Okumura’s vocal delivery isn’t particularly charismatic, but it’s nice and brassy and does just fine.
Whoever produced this record also clearly really, really liked that funny percussion thing that makes that particular sorta…. well I don’t know how to describe the sound really, but you’ll know it when you hear it. (What the hell is the thing that makes that noise called, anyway? As someone who routinely tries to describe music, it would be a useful thing to know. I kind of know the name, deep in the back of my mind somewhere, but, ah, it’s gone again…. you know, that 'sounds a bit like a wind-up wooden toy spinning around very quickly' thing. Please help me before senility sets in, readers.)
Anyway, ‘Koi Dorobo’ could so easily have played over the opening credits of some Toei Girl-Boss flick, and it’s certainly got more guts to it that some of the weaker numbers that began to occupy such moments as the budgets & production schedules of the movies plummeted through ‘70s. Definitely a keeper!
B-side ‘Kitagunino Haruwa Mijikai’ (meaning something like 'Spring in the North is Short’, perhaps?) is more of a ballad, or, I suppose, a kind of prototype power-ballad? It’s an ok enka-ish number, but Okumura’s vocal delivery goes a bit over the top in places I think and generally feels a bit blunt, whilst the melody seems a bit ‘standard’ and the production is a tad overripe too, meaning that the song never really connects on the kind of emotional level such material demands. Oh well - sometimes you play a B-side, you get a B-side, y’know. It’s ok. Highlight is the nice instrumental bit where a muted horn plays the main melody.
Thursday, January 30, 2014
Best Records of 2013:
1. Cheater Slicks – Reality is a Grape
Back in September, I said I didn’t expect to hear another record I liked better than this one during 2013, and I was right, I didn’t. Ok, so its actual release date was Halloween 2012, thus making it a lumbering work of the ancients by this stage, but screw that, it deserves a #1 slot on some bloody list, and it’s going to be this one:
“Long-time dons of low key / non-showy axe magic, these guys have a better understanding of what makes an electric guitar ring true and hit the right synapses than, well… you or I, for a start. […] Within this racket though, thought and tenderness is ever in evidence. What these guys are working with here is over two decades of musical interplay, twenty-something years of learning to express themselves through the means of heavily processed strings and wood, of learning to carry us with them rather than simply assaulting us, of channeling all excess back into the song.
It may seem odd to wax so lyrical about lumbering temper tantrums like ‘Love Ordeal’ and ‘Psychic Toll’, but just listen to those riffs hammer down and point me toward a new band who can bring guts like this to the party, who can wring the neck of good taste with quite so much impassioned discontent. And moving on from everyday frustrations, there is at points a nigh-on apocalyptic feel going on here too, with Hatch and Tom S. bellowing through ‘Jesus Christ’ and, uh, ‘Apocalypse’ like grizzled sergeants calling their men to safety under heavy fire, polluted rivers parting as the band attain a kind of urban white man’s gospel.
And standing dead centre toward the end of side one, ‘Hold On to Your Soul’, where all this comes together, the kind of track it’s difficult to even consider approaching with words. Let’s just say that when things are looking black in the near future, when I’m walking to some supermarket in the dark wondering if I can be bothered to put one foot in front of the other, I know what I’ll be reaching for on my mp3 player. If I hear any piece of music this year that better reminds me of the reasons why I became so fixated on the strange magic of men manipulating guitars and speaker cabinets in the first place, that better reaffirms for me of the reasons why I should still make the effort, I’ll be very surprised.”
Hear some extracts via Youtube, buy the vinyl (in the States) from Columbus Discount, check with your local dealer of such product elsewhere, or if that fails, head across to friendly ol’ Amazon for the mp3s.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Best Records of 2013:
2. Hey Hey It’s The Jeffrey Lewis &
Peter Stampfel Band
Stampfel in particular seems entirely reenergised by his experiences with Lewis & co, boldly stating in his introduction to this set’s voluminous song-by-song sleevenotes that his current goal in life is to have as much fun as Little Richard in 1956 - an ideal whose realisation the septuagenarian further explores on the self-explanatory opener here, ‘More Fun Than Anyone’.
Buoyed up by the demands of such fevered positivity, other highlights abound, serving to sketch out a rough mind-map of the varied cultural reference points currently shared by these irrepressible nerds; ‘Hey Hey’ somehow manages to reinvent Kyari Pamyu Pamyu’s surrealist J-pop smash ‘PonPonPon’ (the video for which Stampfel describes as being “..the artistic equivalent of three Mona Lisas”) as a kind of shuffling folk-punk hoe-down, lyrics and melody hopefully sufficiently altered to save the pair from a future spent languishing in a “..Japanese copyright-enforcement prison cell”, whilst ‘Do You Know Who I Am?! I’m %$&*?in’ Snooki!’ reinvents the outbursts of the titular reality TV star (I’ll have to take their word for it on that one) as something of a celebratory cacophony of unlikely self-importance. At the other end of the emotional spectrum meanwhile, ‘Moscow Nights’ pays spine-tingling tribute to the spirit of the late Tuli Kupferberg of The Fugs, and Stampfel’s personal anthem ‘Duke of the Beatniks’ provides my personal favourite track here, whilst ‘All The Time In The World’ (not the one you’re thinking of) waxes similarly self-reflective with a further spirited rejection of the rigours of age & hassle. ‘Crazy Creek (That’s Where We’re Sending You)’ rings out with all the alarming comic book insanity of ‘Have Moicy’-era Holy Modal Rounders, and several other cuts see Stampfel digging even deeper into his songbook of lost hillbilly wonders, shining a 21st century flashlight on the rather terrific ‘Money, Marbles and Chalk’, and, for the album’s conclusion, drawing out ‘Mule Train’ (a number # 1 hit for Frankie Lane in 1949!) into a full scale psychedelic wig-out.
If one thing is lacking from this album in fact, it’s probably Jeffrey Lewis – and Stampfel’s shtick is so persuasive, I’ve been listening to it for over six months before I really clocked the fact that examples of Jeff’s song-writing are few and far between here, with his efforts more focused on keeping his errant partner on the straight & narrow. (Which is perhaps just us well to be honest – in light of his last solo record, I can only hope he’s saving up a few hits for the next one). Lewis’s two main solo contributions to ‘Hey Hey..’ are a lovely little number called 'Another Inch of Rainfall' (no particular comment, but I like it plenty), and another entitled ‘Indie Bands On Tour’ – not, as I was hoping, a ribald, satirical swipe at Pitchfork-era excess, but instead an earnest tribute to those pale-skinned kings of the road. Initially, I was faintly disgusted, but as usual, Jeff brings an honesty and charm to proceedings that swiftly wins me over, even to such potentially unsavoury subject matter… and god knows, if anyone has the right to po-facedly hymn the rigours of the touring lifestyle, it’s this guy, who seems to have come to town about a million times since I first caught up with him in (oh-my-god-was-it-really) 2001.
The more I think about it, the more remarkable it is that his visits are still unquestioned highlights of my musical calendar after all these years, especially when Stampfel’s in tow, and I can attest that the gang who recorded this record are capable of absolutely bringing the house down, in a fashion that most louder, younger performers can only dream of. God bless ‘em for it, and here’s hoping they’re over again sooner rather than later.
Listen and buy on Bandcamp.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Best Records of 2013:
3. 11 Paranoias – Super-Unnatural
That this first record what they have made is exactly as monolithic as their collective pedigrees might suggest, mixing up elements of the protagonists’ other bands in precisely the way I might have hoped it would, is good news indeed.
Nuff said really, but I suppose in the name of content creation, I should go on.
More of a long-ish EP than an album as such (four tracks / under thirty minutes on the vinyl, plus alternate ‘rehearsal versions’ and a brief riff on Loop’s ‘Black Sun’ on the CD & digital versions), ‘Super-Unnatural’ still represents the heaviest, beastliest, most indigestible thing that hit my ears in 2013, fusing the dense mysticism of latter-day Ramesses with a white noise static burn of guitar noise that takes the drone-wall of earlier Bong material and considerably ups the violence to Skullflower-like levels of nastiness, whilst Greening – oh joy of joys, thank you sir, and Satan bless you – locks straight back into exactly the kind of evil, slow-motion groove that once powered classic-era ‘Wizard as they laid waste to our cold earth back in the late ‘90s. And fucking hell, how I’ve missed it.
Picking formats on this one is a tough gig, as whilst the vinyl obviously roars with dust-choked ultra-bass of the infernal pits, the CD/DL instead gives you those aforementioned rehearsal cuts, which are perhaps even better, adding a totally evil, ‘90s-BM-demo-tape extreme-treble type blast to proceedings that practically has me stripping off to my grave-clothes and howling into the frozen void on a nightly basis. Well, ya pays ya money and ya takes ya choice I suppose. Personally, I like it so much I bought both. Yes, I PAID TWICE. Maybe that will go someway toward assuaging the debts I built up through those happy years of file-sharing. Either way, the spirit of the Dopethrone lives on in these recordings, and that is all you need to know.
Listen on Soundcloud, buy from Ritual Productions.
Friday, January 24, 2014
Best Records of 2013:
4. Frau – Demo Tape
Eight songs / ten minutes of muscular rhythm section battery, primitive total ODed buzzsaw guitar, shards of feedback and a bilious litany of problems, solutions, frustrations, declarations, all laid down documentary style with a one mic, rehearsal room energy that perfectly captures the essence of the frrkin’ brilliant live sets I was lucky enough to see these four women play during 2013.
For the lack of anything else to say, I could raise the issue of whether this can still really be called a ‘demo tape’ when it is released by a record label (albeit a very small one) and sold for money, but, I wouldn’t want such categorical confusion to distract attention from how great Frau are, and what a solid burst of everything I want punk to be this tape is, free from contrivance, free from record collector blarney. No pop, no style – they strictly roots. Fucking brilliant.
Listen and buy from Tuff Enuff.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Best Records of 2013:
5. Endless Boogie – Long Island
“Quite a name, isn’t it? A real line in the sand. ENDLESS BOOGIE. Are you in or are you out? Needless to say, those aware of my own music proclivities will find it all too easy to picture the sickening eagerness with which I rush to declare myself IN.”
…“LONG ISLAND by ENDLESS BOOGIE – an exquisite bit of band name / album title poetry right there, enough to send me off on a little rock n’ roll reverie just thinking about it. Add a big, mossy-browed, shining eyed cyclopean troll face on the cover (a 1906 painting by Norwegian illustrator Theodor Kittleson), and I am beginning to feel that this is an object I would like in my house.”
…“I wasn’t quite sure how to call it. Was this the sound of post-post-rock Chicago/NY Drag City type dudes reiterating classic rock gospel, and failing to get to the bottom of it? (Names such as ‘Stephen Malkmus’ and ‘Matt Sweeney’ hover heavy in their press biogs.) Or were they actually going for something more opaque… a sorta sideways approach to attaining The Real Deal, working hard to scratch a specialist rock-fan itch that lies beyond the ken of the casual, merriness-seeking listener..?”
…“Combined heft is somewhat less than the postman-killing package you might have anticipated, and, far from being suitable for chopping logs or crushing rodents as the modern retro hi-fi enthusiast demands, these discs are – dare I say it – almost *floppy*, whilst the card-stock used on the sleeve is of a timbre rather apt to do that thing where it starts to bend in the middle when you take the record out. But hey, I’m no audiophile..”
…“Opener ‘The Savageist’ comes on more bar band groove than high-end boogie, but the guitars are definitely where they wanna be, filthy low-end wah quack and sweet lead lines interlocking like a wicker basket full of mean-smelling happiness.”
…“..the alarming stylings of vocalist Paul ‘Top Dollar’ Major still take some getting used to however, and I’d imagine his repeated evocation of “ONE BIG HOLE” – to give just one example - may prove an immediate dealbreaker for some listeners.”
…“Another storming tune for those with a yen to dig it, a one-stop litmus test for one’s overall suitability to Endless Boogie could probably be established by measuring your reaction to the thirty second stretch that separates Major’s cringe-inducing “HEY SISTER, I’M THE CLOWN OF THE CLASS” from his transcendent declaration that “we all got… TORCHED ON THE PORCH!” (cue solos). If you’re feeling it by the time the ‘high-five-dude’ interlocking lead lines hit shortly thereafter, you’re probably in for the ride.”
…“An atavistic monster of man, resembling a mountain troll who just ate Johnny Ramone for breakfast and assumed his physical characteristics, you’d be pretty disappointed if he *didn’t* holler away like David Lee Roth’s frontiersman granddad whilst unleashing an unbroken stream of the kind of beefy, show-boating guitar licks that younger listeners may well have assumed were banned under the Geneva convention – an ugly relic of mankind’s past sins.”
…“Worth mentioning that there seems to be some sort of NYC psychogeography angle going on here too…. etc. The singer’s mixture of odd autonomous conjuration with penchant for absurd rockist bleating certainly but for an odd combination, and , troublesome though his excesses may be for some listeners, you’ve gotta admit he’s got SOMETHING going on that’s a bit different – some kinda MES-via-Billy Gibbons ranting guru shtick that invites the brave listener to dig in and at least TRY to piece together what in the name of god he’s goin’ on about.”
…“‘General Admission’ on side D is where it all comes together for me, locking straight into what I want from Endless Boogie – greased up Status Quo chug cross-bred with Hawkwind-into-Motorhead muscle, sprawling ‘cross 7 minutes, Mr. Dollar growling incoherently like a guy about to get kicked out of a biker-bar at closing time, as Ecklow’s fuzz-wah belches up smoke and lead lines set out into the unknown like doomed Antarctic exploration parties. Yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about, and so forth.”
So hopefully that gives you a flavour. If you want a reason why ‘Long Island’ isn’t number # 1 on this list, I’m afraid it largely comes down to the fact that sections of it sound like the guy from Smog attempting improvised beat-poetry over some Slint outtakes. But for the rest of it, the good bits, the bits I’ve largely discussed above, make no mistake: I’M IN.
Listen to ‘General Admission’ on Youtube here, and buy from No Quarter (or Amazon or whatever, I suppose).
Sunday, December 29, 2013
Intermission # 3: FAILURE.
By the time you read this, I will be in an aeroplane, on my way to Tokyo. I was hoping to get the whole of this ‘best of 2013’ count-down in the can by the time I left, but I’m afraid things didn’t quite work out that way, and as such, we’re going to have to delay numbers #5 to #1 until I get back in late January.
We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause, but hey, I hope I at least made a pretty good effort for someone who can usually only get it together to post about once a month.
So just talk amongst yourselves until service is resumed, have some terrific new year celebrations, continue with your lives and so forth, and I’ll see you all soon. Sayonara for now!
Saturday, December 28, 2013
Best Records of 2013:
6. Bong –
Live at St Mary’s Old Church
& Burial Ground
One of those groups who succeed in perfecting their chosen musical idiom so completely, and do so in such gargantuan style, that just about everyone else treading similar ground starts to seem surplus to requirements, I remain incredibly happy to have discovered the music of Bong a couple of years ago.
In fact, I love Bong to such an extent that a twelve month stretch without a new LP from them currently seems like a trying prospect indeed. To fill the aching void until their next magnum opus then, 2013 instead brought forth this live disc, recorded in St Mary’s Old Church, Stoke Newington, in 2011.
As you might expect, the sound captured here bears little trace of the cleaner, more purely psychedelic direction the band were pulling in on last year’s ‘Mana Yood Sushai’, with the necessarily muffled roar of live recorded doom metal and the unmistakable reverb of a big church building combining to make for a rather muddy, undifferentiated roar of a record. If Bong’s recent studio albums have sought to take us to celestial dreamlands or the depth of space, this one drags us right back into the bowels of the earth – a sodden, mud-choked, grave soil rumble, built around a cacophonous sub-bass drone and wah-blasted amplifier skree that recalls Sunn 0))) at their prime.
The opium-den overtones of Benjamin Freeth’s Shahi Baaja (that’s the sitar kinda thing to the likes of us) hang heavy as ever in the air, with additional formless blare from Mike Vest (here abetted by second guitarist Pete Ryde) and introductory incantations from bassist/vocalist Dave Terry meaning that by the time Mike Smith’s drums crash in about a third of the way through each side-long movement, the atmosphere is already treacle-thick and pitch black, and by the time you’re shaking your gory locks to his ball & chain dragging pulse beat, there’s no way out - you’re in for the duration.
Predictable maybe, but random taste tests from this one almost inevitably give me an image of skeletons, bones picked clean, rising from the grave; the earth throwing up its dead; Bruegel’s ‘The Triumph of Death’, and all that. And isn’t the spirit what metal, particularly doom, is all about really? Whoever that harried graphic design assistant was who struck that painting on the front of that old ‘Sabbath best-of, they were on to something. Arise! Arise! Wipe clean the surface, and return to the soil. Good times. When the rain is unceasing and even candle-light begins to seem too bright this winter, I know I’ve got just the record to reach for.
Listen and buy from MIE.
Friday, December 27, 2013
Best Records of 2013:
7. Bleached – Ride Your Heart
On the surface of things, there is much reason for fans of Jennifer & Jessica Clavin’s former band, Mika Miko, to feel rather surprised and disappointed the direction they’ve taken with Bleached.
Coming straight from the raw and acerbic, early ‘80s inclined sorta twitchy punk of their previous outfit, the sudden miraculous conversion to breezy, beach-inclined, hyper-melodic guitar pop seen here could easily seem a pretty cynical move – zeroing on the relative success achieved in that style by geographic peers like Best Coast and Dum Dum Girls, and riding it straight onto…. whatever phrase stands in for “the airwaves” these days as a signifier of quasi-mainstream public acceptance.
It would be a lot easier to write them off however were it not for the fact that ‘Ride Your Heart’ is actually really bloody good – a totally solid album that’s easily one of the best things this sorta ‘LA beach girl guitar-pop’ micro-genre has ever produced. The essence of the band’s punk background is nicely preserved, as drummer Dan Allaire helps lay down a solid, forward-moving backbeat reminiscent of The Wipers, whilst the Clavins’ guitars chop and strum and jangle and chime in extremely pleasing, multi-layered fashion. Melodies remain “aiming for the chart breakthrough” level sugar-coated throughout, but such an approach is handled in best possible fashion, retaining the kind of momentum and sense of purpose previously harnessed by bands like The Nerves and Shivvers back in the skinny-tie era.
And, whilst Bleached’s sing-song choruses and lovelorn, boy-focused lyrics may seem off-puttingly vapid on first approach, after a few listens I started to get a very genuine emotional hit from a lot of these tunes, ‘specially the Fleetwood Mac-ish gravity of songs like ‘Dreaming Without You’ and ‘Outta My Mind’. Basically, I think there’s a lot more depth here than detractors might assume, and certainly enough classic pop muscle to stop the band ever falling into dreary, Best Coast-style solipsism.
To be honest, I’ve really heard very little in the pop-punk kinda sphere that’s struck a chord with me in the past few years, but these guys are definitely hitting all the right bases, and, regardless of their intentions, they’ve taken on convincing ownership of their chosen style and made one hell of a good album.
Check out press blurb and previews via Dead Oceans, or pick up from yr usual places.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Best Records of 2013:
8. Boards of Canada –
The less said about interim flop ‘Campfire Headphase’ the better, but now we can now at least forget about that and sing an eerie, phase-shifted child voice halleluiah, for ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ is with us, and… more than anything else, it sounds like a bunch of tracks that fell off the back of the lorry when the master tapes for ‘Geogaddi’ were on their way to the pressing plant, to be honest.
Sure, there’s been some minor stylistic changes, some of them even seeming to reflect the whims of contemporary tastes – in particular, their use of rythym tracks has moved away from any semblance of stoner, break-beat head-nodding, and has assumed a more muted, industrial sort of character, whilst their synth work seems to be drawing more deeply from the currently ubiquitous well of Carpenter-ish ‘80s horror soundtrack chills (perhaps with particular reference to Ennio Morricone’s singularly icy Carpenter pastiche on his music for ‘The Thing’, if we’re gonna push the issue).
By and large though, the feeling here is wonderfully familiar, with those reassuring ‘‘70s airport public service announcement jingle’ vibes are never far away, always ready to warm us up again, like a winter-time dip in a volcanic lake. There is still no one else who can get that particular, faded-photo, decaying synth sound to work quite like this, however hard they try, and, whether re-treading old ground or otherwise, it is fantastic to hear that beautiful methodology applied to a whole new set of compositions here.
Highlights are many and varied, and I have neither the time now inclination to wax lyrical about them all here, but needless to say, if you retain any fondness for the old BoC albums and haven’t picked this one up yet, you should stop umming and ahhing and do so immediately. I know that sometimes saying a group’s new record is “just as good” as their previous ones doesn’t sound like much of a compliment, but in this particular case, I’m sure fans will appreciate how much weight such a statement carries.
Preview and buy via boardsofcanada.com.
Monday, December 23, 2013
Best Records of 2013:
9. Astral Social Club – Electric Yep
So I confess I’m in a bit of quandary when it comes to reviewing this one, because, having already marked it up for that all important number # 9 spot, I realise that I only have it on vinyl, and, since I’m now back at my Mum’s place for Christmas, separated from my record player & records, that makes it difficult to follow what would be my usual course of action in a situation like this – that being to neck a few glasses of wine, throw it on and hammer out a pile of subjective, mystic blather, then subsequently seeing how it reads in the morning.
As it turns out, I’m ok for the wine and the blather, but the all-important ‘listening to the record’ bit is proving a challenge. So, for now, I’ll simply have to rely on my memory (never a good idea, especially when it comes to music like this), and just tell you that this is a new-ish LP by Neil Campbell (former main man of Vibracathedral Orchestra), and that it’s bloody brilliant.
I realise that Campbell has put out something like a million records already under the Astral Social Club name, but for some reason it’s been far too long since I checked in with what he was up to, so a chance purchase of this LP proved a suitably invigorating reintroduction, being as it is perhaps the best thing I’ve heard from him since the days of Vibracathedral. In general, I guess we find him hear operating in similar maximalist territory to Matthew Bower’s Sunroof project, or the brighter bits of the Campbell Kneale / Birchville Cat Motel catalogue, only somehow sounding a lot more joyous and approachable than either, laying out some background loops of mind-crushing primitive night club thump , then wrangling massed layers of out of control electronic noise and frippertronic kosmiche guitaring over the top, creating wonderful, dense, impossible tangles of sound to fascinate and delight the curious. Oh, and there’s a jew’s harp in there too somewhere, I seem to remember.
Basically listening to this, I get the image of a man in a small room, wrestling endlessly with massed tendrils of fizzing electrical cables, all animated by some strange, Akira-like intelligence. But y’know – in a nice way. The record label page for the release (linked below) contains a vast amount of praiseful blather of the kind that I can’t possibly try to compete with without the record at hand, so… I’ll direct you over there for further adventures in the reckless use of audio / verbal metaphor, but needless to say, I like this album a hell of a lot.
You can listen to a six minute ‘sampler’ and weep for the fact you didn’t buy this LP whilst it was available via Trensmat records.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Best Records of 2013:
10. Satelliti – Transister
Andrea Polato’s muscular, aggressively mixed kit drumming keeps things ostensibly anchored in a rock setting, but Marco Dalle Luche on electronics & keyboards ranges far and wide, from overdriven John Carpenter-via-Detroit Techno riff beatdowns to skittering loop pedal noise, Italio-prog bombast and fragrant psyche-jazz meandering, usually all within the same track. The band claim a strong jazz influence, and whilst this may not seem immediately obvious, it can soon be heard in both surface elements (‘Bitches Brew’ style electric piano tinkling features prominently) and at the roots of their essentially improvisatory technique.
Basically their mode of operation here recalls that of many of the bands we’re now legally obligated to call ‘krautrock’: seeding a stentorian rock groove with chaos, experimentation and unexpected left turns, building in a kind of energised ‘travelogue’ feel that seeks to take us from A to B, where ‘B’ exists only as an as-yet-invisible unknown.
Unlike many other groups employing such methodology though, Satelliti seem happy to relegate any high-falutin’ notions to the back seat, concentrating instead on basic rockin’ out. Most of ‘Transister’ sounds as if it could have been recorded live in front of an audience, with the group keen to kick that audience’s ass in classically macho fashion, as jazzist walkabouts never distract us for long from the central business of avalanching, Bonham/Liebezeit-indebted drum damage and vicious, distorted electro riffs.
At a push, categorisation obsessives could maybe put Satelliti in a box with more burly American experimental rock units such as Trans Am or mid-period Oneida, but I’ve certainly not heard their like for a while, and certainly not heard this kinda thing done in such invigorating, free-wheeling fashion. Expect to hear a lot more from these guys. TOP STUFF, in case they need a sticker for the front of the CD.
Listen and buy via bandcamp.
Friday, December 20, 2013
Interlude # 2:
Singles of the year
For reasons social, psychological, geographical, but mainly financial, I pretty much gave up buying new singles in 2013. The few I did pick up almost all came my way via gigs, merch stalls, local London labels and that sort of thing.
And happily, this more selective purchasing strategy resulted in the ones I did get almost all being pretty good.
So, the pretty good-est ones I find sitting at the front of my record box come this December, in no particular order except for the fact that City Yelps is unquestionably Number # 1, are:
City Yelps – Visionary Centre CD EP (Oddbox)
Zig-Zags – Scavenger 7” (Mexican Summer)
Ethical Debating Society / Skinny Girl Diet – split 7” (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)
Comet Gain – Avenue Girls / Envelopes 7” (Where It’s At Is Where You Are)
Darren Hayman & The Long Parliament – Old Man / Don’t Want To Get Used To It 7” (Where It’s At Is Where You Are)
Good Throb – Culture Vulture 7” (Muscle Horse)
All certified good listening.
Labels: best of 2013
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