Saturday, December 25, 2004
Sunday, December 19, 2004
...first a sidebar. The word "psychedelic" comes with all the wrong connotations these days. You smell patchouli mixed with musty birkenstocks, right? Envision throngs of Phish Phreinds rushing one lone battered portapotty in a field of green and yellow. Fact is, true psychedelia, as a musical genre or a state of mind, reaches well beyond all the silly tie-dyed cliches. True psychedelia does not require that one go insane after ingesting obscene amounts of lsd, DMT or mescaline to experience it, but that's certainly one sad possibility. As any well surveyed course on world cultures can attest, a truly psychedelic experience can be achieved through any number of means, whether they be by meditation, ritual body modification, the religious word or good old music. I fancy the idea of "psychedelia" in music (and other arts) because it is such a truly broad and all encompassing idea. Any sensory experience involving the five senses, six including the soul, can exist in, or at least step through, the area where perception is distorted and altered states of awareness realized. Good psychedelic music is one of the least damaging and most direct routes to "that place." No blood-letting is required, no sweat chambers or hours of meditation. To some people, this all may very well be found at a gathering of the tribes, sleeping and shitting in the mud for 48 hrs while reeling in the throws of 5 hit blotter dose, but I ain't buyin', personally. The music doesn't really enthrall (aside from the bands who inspired the whole mess, Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers), and the "scene" is closer to a latter day yuppie approximation of the hippie ideal with all the clothes and chemicals but none of the vitality or insight.
The New England collective, The Tower Recordings, has been weaving eerie, broken musicbox folk spells for a decade now. In that time, various members have broken off to do their own gigs; some have toured in ensembles that I've mentioned elsewhere in this ongoing chronicle of excess. Early albums like "Furniture Music for Evening Shuttles" (Siltbreeze) and "The Fraternity of Moonwalkers" (Audible Hiss) are bound to confuse, and even occasionally amaze, on first listens with their mix of detuned clangy drones and warped folk and blues ghosts. Hold up a minute, that sounds like about half the music covered here! Yes, you're onto something, brother. The Tower Recordings are one of the first bands I ever heard that struck me as a post Throbbing Gristle answer to the Incredible String Band. And I mean that only as praise. Throbbing Gristle were one of the first "rock bands" to seriously debunk the notion of what rock music can be, or psychedelia for that matter. The Incredible String band did the same thing within the idiom of folk, and The Tower Recordings ask the same question in regards to folk, blues and traditional music with virtually all of their recorded output to date. Those early albums should be viewed like musical puzzles: each listen offers a new chance to slide something into place. What sounds like half-assed, amateurish balderdash are in fact carefully designed despondent folk lapses backed with primitive electro skronk and swill that actually make sense when heard in a larger context. The Tower Recordings are a broken folk band for a broken folk world, but they always play with their hearts and heads turned skyward.
At a time when the world seems mostly intent on self-destruction, the Tower Recordings have gone and almost healed themselves. "The Galaxies Incredibly Sensual Transmission Field of the Tower Recordings" (Communion) is among the most fluid, engrossing and accessible folk dreams to emanate from this remarkable group yet. It's relatively short (just over 30 mins), but every bit the transportational vessel from start to finish, opening slowly like an old carnival carousel slowly spinning faster with the cycling folk rhythms of acoustic guitars and back masked vocals of "Harvester" and finally regenerating as a blues folk resurrection on "Other Kinds Run." The four intervening tracks are classic examples of twilight zone Americana, strange acid folk, and heaven-sent crude electronic noise. The mix is amazing, the vocals, the stories and lyrics, and the cohesion of the piece as a whole is pretty much what I'd expect from the same people responsible for "The Well of Memory" and "Ragas and Blues." The journey may be short, but it's ripe with vivid scenery.
Blacker modes are explored on "Live 2" (Threshold House), the second in a series, third released, of 4 live Coil albums recorded in the early 2000's. This is my latest attempt at coming to terms with this tortured and unique band who died last month when it's founder Jhonn Balance was taken in a tragic fall at his home. Recorded 4 days after 9-11 in Moscow in 2001, the CD features six of Coil's distinctive electro/industrial sound exorcisms, my favorite possibly being opening "Something: Higher Beings Command," a spine-tingler with Balance's spoken word intoning, "I dedicate this performance to the moon...to madness, to madness, to madness..." before Sleazy literally engulfs the capacity club in lacerating windstorms of overdriven machine hums and electro-whooshes. This is what industrial music should sound like, and I can't even begin to attempt to capture in words the psychotropic values of such a performance. Though the trance-inducing synth/beat pulse of "Amethyst Deceivers" could do it in sound. Don't even get me started on the closing rendition of "Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil," 17 mins of sexually charged spoken word sacrilege and primal machine drone and innerspace laser beams that end up sounding sort of like the slow warning siren for an apocalypse as brought on by thee ultimate doomsday machine.
Now moving up further North along the globe to Sweden, home of guitar maestro Björn Olsson, integral to the artistic success of Union Carbide Productions in the 80s and the Soundtrack of Our Lives in the 90s. He left the Soundtrack right after completion of their second album though, and sadly took much of their originality with him. Since, he's kept busy making solo psychedelic soundtrack albums, including the stunning "Instrumentalmusik: Instrumental Music...to Submerge in...and Disappear Through" (Omplatten), and "UPA" (Gravitation), which just arrived in my box recently. His brand new self titled album should be here soon. Back to "UPA" though, it comes as two versions of nine tracks, seven of which are bookended by expansive numbers that flirt overtly with psychedelic textures. Opener "Schweinfest" is a festive number that brings Caribbean percussion into the progressive age with Olsson's meticululosuly placed fuzz bursts pushing an infectious dance melody. Repetitious and infectious like giddy Krautrock. A more caustic rawk response to this is found in "Tema 1," an extended bout of overdriven space/psych rock that clearly reveals Olsson's affinity for Krautrock, Zeppelin and more dance-floor designated material at the same time. No, he doesn't employ a rack of samples, just a bit of a house beat on live percussion and a barrage of lysergic feedback runs. In between we get a smorgusboard of stylistic detours (via instruments all played by the man himself), from Burt Bacharach infused light-psych to Spaghetti Western soundtracks and more. Whatever chosen path Olsson chooses to traverse, he does so with wit and originality...and mystery. There are no wasted moments in this man's hands. It's a shame he split from TSOOL, but given the depth of his instrumentation and his ideas, it's also understandable that someone so talented would shy away from the soul-sucking glare of the commercial eye.
Friday, December 17, 2004
Friday, December 10, 2004
Suspect in nightclub shooting liked talking music, listening to Pantera before playing football- ANITA CHANG, Associated Press WriterFriday, December 10, 2004(12-10) 09:13 PST COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) --The man who shot former Pantera guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott and three other men to death at a nightclub was obsessed with the popular heavy metal band and made bizarre accusations against it, a onetime friend said in reports published Friday.
Jeramie Brey said gunman Nathan Gale once showed up at a friend's house saying he wanted to share songs he had written. The pages of lyrics were copied from Pantera, but Gale claimed he had written them, Brey said."He was off his rocker," Brey told The Columbus Dispatch. "He said they were his songs, that Pantera stole them from him and that he was going to sue them."
He later told Brey that he planned to sue Pantera for stealing his identity. Brey and friend Dave Johnson said Gale's behavior frightened them and they distanced themselves from him several years ago. But other friends said they never considered Gale capable of violence.
On Wednesday night, the 25-year-old former Marine charged the stage at a show by Abbott's new band, Damageplan, and gunned down four people including Abbott before a policeman fatally shot him.Police said Friday they still didn't know Gale's motive, and they may never find out. Some witnesses said Gale yelled accusations that the revered guitarist broke up Pantera, but police had not verified those reports.
An imposing figure at 6-foot-3, Gale had made people uneasy even at the tattoo parlor, staring and locking them into conversations about heavy metal music. When he played offensive line for the semi-pro Lima Thunder football team, he psyched himself up before games by piping Pantera into his headphones, coach Mark Green said.
But Green had not pegged Gale as the type to go on a shooting rampage. "It wasn't like he was a loner," Green said.
Gale had had minor run-ins with police since 1997 but wasn't considered a troublemaker, according to police in his hometown of Marysville, 25 miles northwest of Columbus.
Gale had served with the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina until November 2003, when he was discharged after less than half of the typical four-year stint, Marine spokeswoman Gunnery Sgt. Kristine Scarber said. She declined to explain the discharge, citing privacy rules.
A few hours before the shooting, Gale had showed up at Marysville's Bears Den Tattoo Studio, where often he stared at people and forced them into conversations, manager Lucas Bender said.
"He comes in here and likes to hang out when he's not wanted," Bender said. "The most pointless conversations."
On Wednesday he asked about having the studio order tattoo equipment for him, tattoo artist Bo Toler said. Toler told him no, and Gale got angry and started yelling, he said.
"Last night was actually the first time I noticed his temper," Toler said.
No one answered the door Thursday at the Marysville home of Gale's mother, Mary Clark. A message left on her cell phone was not returned.
The violence at the smoke-filled Alrosa Villa club came just after the opening notes by Damageplan, the band formed by Abbott and his brother, drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott, after they left Pantera. Gale dodged two band members, grabbed Darrell Abbott and shot him at least five times in the head, witnesses and police said.
In less than five minutes, Gale had also killed Erin Halk, 29, a club employee who loaded band equipment; fan Nathan Bray, 23, of nearby Grove City; and band bodyguard Jeff Thompson, 40.
Two other band employees, Chris Paluska and John Brooks, remained in a hospital Friday morning with undisclosed injuries. Paluska was listed in good condition and Brooks in serious condition.
On 911 tapes released by authorities, one caller said, "I heard quite a few gunshots and I think somebody in the band definitely has been shot."
A short time later a man called and said: "He's on stage right now. He's got a gun." A moment later, the man said, "He just shot again," and then, "He's got a gun to somebody's head."
Despite a drizzle and temperatures in the 40s, more than 200 people turned up for a vigil Thursday night in the club's parking lot.
Shawn Sweeney, 22, played "old-school Pantera" on an acoustic guitar as a half-dozen young men held a blue tarp over his head and sang along as a crowd gathered.
"This is beautiful, this is absolutely beautiful," Sweeney said.
Thursday, December 09, 2004
More goodies floating up from down below, some courtesy of the PseudoArcana imprint. I'm still playing catchup here, as there's already a slew of newer releases I ain't heard, but that's alright for now, because the "Crescent" CD-R by Claypipe, co-released with Root Don Lonie For Cash, will keep me busy many late nights with it's deep meandering drone swells, archaic hums and bowed strings, all giving way to tonal eruptions of the most brilliant, elusive colors. Fine stuff for anyone reared in the ways of early John Cale/Tony Conrad. Sunken is a new duo of Antony Milton and Stefan Neville of Pumice exploring similar improvised space, but this time via organs, loops and guitar. It's a testament to the players that they can conjure dense, living soundscapes from thin air with such resonating results. Checkout the cyclical builds of 25 min "Spa" to get the gist. The 3" CD-R "Springtime in Saturnalia" is Davenport's tribal entry for the label--opens with muffled noise, vinyl scratching, a jet flying overhead as birds and insects chirp and rustle right next to your ears. From the constant environmental hum rises serene raga-folk workouts and droning ethnic noise that slowly develop into a stately slow groove (Pelt and Jackie-O Motherfucker comes to mind) and totally smokes in a non threatening manner. The Wooden Cupboard apparently has some relation to the Skaters, a mysterious ensemble I keep hearing about but have yet to hear. 3" CD-R "Boiling the Animal in the Sky" is out there garage/free noise comprised of elephantine wails and farting strings, stuttering percussion, ominous sirens and more. Harder to get into than the Davenport. The shrill sound quality and warped cut-up production makes me think Angus Maclise a lot of the way, but I like the crude meditative slant the second track takes halfway through more than the ethnic incantations. And finally comes Keijo and Friends (again?! you say!) with the 2CD-R, "Unfolding Emptiness/Decomposing Dawn and Dew," one a solo slab of post industrial earth drones and broke-dick folk meanderings, the other trio free noise screechiness indebted to early AMM.
"Live at Club Donut" (Holy Mountain) is a fine solo vinyl only document from experimental psych guitar maestro Steven Wray Lobdell. Few today are willing to merge classic acid streaked solos with these kinds of earth-shaking industrial noise squalls. The results thrill across 45 mins of live solo improvs that alternate between searing electric ragas and dissonant looped breakdowns. Lobdell pulls it off in a way that brings to mind both Manuel Gottsching and Keji Haino, among others. Last Visible Dog have dropped a cpl more musical cherries on top of the creamy pop parfait with Peter Wright's "Distant Bombs" and Pumice's "Raft." The former sees kiwi loner Wright weaving cautious spells of layered guitar/drone interactions in an approach that brings to mind a more digital answer to the kind of endless dream-states that Fripp and Eno used to explore so brilliantly in the mid 70s. Best I've heard from him yet. Pumice, on the other hand, is the work of one Stefan Neville, employing guitar, effects, tape noise and voice, in ramshackle home-made pop and noise concoctions that have become far too rare in recent years. Alastair Galbraith and Chris Knox come to mind, which I suppose serves as high praise to some and might register indifference to others. Whoa be to those others. "Live Gyakuryu Kokuu" is a totally killer 2 track live album from dark psych trio Kousokuya, who've apparently been part of the scene longer than PSF Records has. First track is a stomping side long heavy blues thing, somewhere between High Rise and Fushitsusha; the second sees the trio climbing further into the free jazz void with utterly compelling results. In other words: raw garage jams played with the kind of paint-peeling intensity PSF has embodied for the last 20 years or so.
Sunday, December 05, 2004
"NIRVANA "With The Lights Out" (DGC) 3cd+dvd 57.00 Been trying to figure out what to write about this for a while now. Every time I sit down to write it, I feel like I'm trying to write a euology for an old friend. Which should speak volumes. We knew this was coming. And man, were we excited. And it is not a disappointment in any way. If anything, it's more than we could have hoped for. See, everyone loves Nirvana. Everyone. Those of you who say you don't are just trying to be c'ool'. Sort of like the people who talk about how the Beatles suck. The Beatles did not suck. They wrote more perfect pop songs than any band in the history of rock and roll. Nirvana also don't suck. And are also responsible for some of the best songs ever. It's not cool to pretend you don't like Nirvana. Not at all. In fact, it's unbelievably UNCOOL. Why deny yourself some of the most important, visceral music of the last 15 years? Because it gets played on MTV? Because jocks blast "Smells Like Teen Spirit" after the big game? Nope, sorry. Not good enough.
Nirvana were one of those bands we could all love. Heavy enough to appeal to headbangers, raucous enough to still be punk, but equipped with a pop sense unrivalled, and thus able to whip out the most beautiful pop song in the world without a second thought -- usually sandwiched between two swirling snarling blasts of stage destroying chaotic rrroooaaaar. But that's part of what was so charming about Nirvana. Even when they were huge, they acted like you or me. Stupid jokes, smashing guitars, unlikely covers, ripped jeans and t-shirts and greasy long hair. It was like your pal or your older brother was snatched out of your suburban hellhole of a life and made a rock star. And how could you not love that (once you got over wishing it was you)? Which also goes to why it was such a blow when Kurt Cobain died. I literally cried. At the time I remember thinking "Why the fuck am I crying." I mean, it's not like he was a friend of mine or something. But he was something special. To me. To everyone I know. And Nirvana was something special. Our generation's Beatles? Maybe. But definitely the most important band of the nineties. Responsible for reshaping popular music, killing off hair metal, and giving us music that would be the soundtrack to our lives: breakups, mixtapes, road trips, broken hearts, life and death, fucking and fighting. Sounds like hyperbole but it's really not. This band was and is really important to me, and millions of other folks. Which is pretty remarkable. After the death of Cobain, and after getting over the sheer sadness and loss, one could not help but think about all the amazing music and the songs that would now never be written. Callous maybe, but the music is what made us love him/them. Their recent greatest hits disc offered us the unreleased "You Know You're Right", which was at the time the greatest thing we could've heard, a song as good as any of their others, seemingly pulled from the ether. And now we have this. A collection of what is supposedly everything. or at least everything worth releasing. And it is absolutely fantastic. I literally got all teary listeing to this, and the DVD had me all choked up as well. Can't remember the last time a record did that to me.
So, what's on it? If you're like me, it hardly matters. Just knowing that it's stuffed to the gills with rare and unreleased Nirvana songs and I'm sold. If you need more than that, here goes. Don't sell back your greatest hits though, "You Know You're Right" only appears here as a solo acoustic recording from 1994. This version may not rock as hard, but it is a lot more intense and personal. The box is basically in chronological order, so disc one is definitely gonna hit the spot for those of us (like Allan) who loved Bleach the best. Demos and acoustic tracks and live on the radio, this is all Holy Grail sort of stuff. Live versions of Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker" and "Moby Dick" done in suitably ramshackle chaotic Nirvana style. Live versions and demos of tracks that would show up on Bleach. But by far the most exciting tracks are the unreleased songs. "White Lace And Strange", "Help Me I'm Hungry", "Mrs. Butterworth", "Grey Goose", "Token Eastern Song" and more. Disc two has less unreleased tracks but lots of alternate versions of tracks from future records, as well as loads of b-sides (their split with the Jesus Lizard, maybe one of the best Nirvana songs ever) and covers (Wipers!) and a big ol' chunk of solo acoustic versions of classic tracks that sound even more intense and harrowing performed sans band. Disc three brings us close to the end. A handful of demos and more solo acoustic versions of songs you already know and love. Highlights include the track "Sappy" which was a secret track on a benefit compliation and was originally titled "Verse Chorus Verse" and is another of their best curiously relegated to being hidden uncredited at the end of a random comp ("Train In Vain" anyone?). Also "Marigold", the only Nirvana song sung by Dave Grohl, an obscure b-side, that hints at Grohl's Foo Fighter future. A sweet and jangly Vaselines cover and more. The set ends with a solo acoustic version of "All Apologies" and if you hadn't gotten all emotional yet, this one will definitely do it to you.
The DVD is pretty amazing as well and adds to the whole feeling of Kurt being an old friend who passed away. Mostly home movies, the first chunk is a party / rehearsal in Krist's mom's house and features the band rocking out in a panelled, carpeted basement, while various rockers sit around drinking beer. Cute and sad, and funny and sort of remarkable how amazing they were as a band even so early on. The rest of the DVD is made up of various tracks filmed live in various locations, from small clubs to huge arenas. Lots of hilarious onstage banter, lots of drum kit destroying, and lots of powerfully off kilter versions of all of the best Nirvana songs. Beautifully packaged in an oversized hardcover book, on the front an embossed metal plate featuring the band in their Sunday best, as if they were at a funeral. Or a wake. Because as sad as this is, and as much as this makes us miss someone we felt we knew as well as our best friend, and a band who meant more to us than almost any in our memory, under the circumstances, we couldn't be happier."
Friday, December 03, 2004
"Wire on the Box: 1979" (Pink Flag) is a CD/DVD package that offers the rare priveledge of seeing Wire (probably the best "punk band" to come out of England) in their prime in a live show that was originally recorded for German television, making us the lucky ones when the setlist includes classics like "The 15th," "Practice Makes Perfect," "I Feel Mysterious Today," "French Film Blurred," "Map Ref," "A Touching Display," "A Question of Degree"...you get the idea. Incredible. Nice sound quality, effective proscenium style production on the video, and the songs are the songs--as good as minimal art punk and pop gets--yet more stripped down than the studio classics, revealing the explosive energy as well as the depth of Mike Thorne's production on those studio originals. There's even a 20 min sit down with the band. Seems like I've been waiting decades for this, and I've even seen Wire live, but not in '79. Mute has finally reissued the early albums by the most excellent Virgin Prunes, pick of the litter surely being the Colin Newman produced "If I Die, I Die," one of the most atmospheric, caustic and totally right on post punk albums ever. Joy Division and Wire appreciaters need it asap, but don't go expecting any copy-catting. The Prunes had a unique vibe that simply puts them in the same league. Another band the Prunes are worthy of comparison to is Australia's The Birthday Party, whose former lead singer, Nick Cave, has taken to writing gothic literatur and playing sad, beautiful ballads with his band The Bad Seeds in recent years, but not so much this year. 2CD set "Abattair Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus" (Mute) is a barn-burner, but not of the raw, art damaged variety that marked the B'day's, more of the classic steamrolling gospel tinged big band blues punk variety. On tracks like "Get Ready For Love" and the amaaaaazing "There She Goes, My Beautiful World," Cave and his band (short one Bargeld, whose own band released a monster earlier this year) pick up where they left off on last year's "Nocturama" (the awesome extended noise raveup, "I'm On Fire"), and throw in a gospel choir and plenty of hooks, awe-inspiring dynamics, and some of Cave's most, er...worldly lyrics to date. Heavy as shit and utterly essential (and I should mention there are some beautiful pop moments here and there, a few sad slow bits too; it's simply more varied than the last 4 Bad Seeds albums). It actually sounds like a punk rock Spiritualized in places, and I thought that long before reading it in Arthur. Makes me feel like you really can die and be reborn. A must-see live proposition.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Semi-recently received a package from Foxy Digitalis of newer items in their Foxglove CD-R series, chock full of many a goody, among them United Bible Studies, another assemblage of the Druids of Deserted Village. "The Lunar Observatory" is a mesmerizing slab of rustic, low-key improv and gorgeous drifting jazz balladry with piano lulls and sax daze. Loverly. Vapaa weaves low-moving organic machine hum, whoosh, scree, field recordings and more into oscillating dream worlds on "Tilat." Musti Laiton conjures his (their) own brand of hypnotic drone murk and more ambitious Krautrockery with stumbling reverb-drenched acid leads and even the occasional prog bombast, but "Survival Horror" is mostly a mellow groove with some effective production flourishes. A.M.'s "Tasman" is 4 tracks of amp buzz, violin, radio noise and reverb built up into shimmering pyramids of devotional awe (sans overdubs!). Absolutely perfect for noise bathing. Nice to see Hush Arbors and Mr. Foxgloves himself, The North Sea, teaming up for the "Singing Through Moss and Mist" split CD-R. Hush Arbor's First track is a long minimal piece with nature sounds and some slight acoustic plucks, while the second is a darker, more rumbling drone mass that sees our nature freak probing the darkest regions of (inner) space. The North Sea opens with effects drenched electric guitar that slowly builds in volume/density before delivering an amalgam of ambient tones, chirping cicadas, shakers, flutes, bowed strings and languid acoustic guitar. Oxygen for the soul. Included in the same package: free folksters Juniper Meadows ("Pistols for Madeline"), Kiwi sound sculptor Peter Wright ("Desolation, Beauty Violence") and Agitated Radio Pilot ("Like Flightless Birds"). FD has had a ridiculously prolific output this year, but the quality and depth of this stuff speaks for itself, and more importantly it offers people 'round my neck of the woods a chance to hear some things that we might not get to otherwise. Nothing wrong with spreadin' that love butta thick.
Saturday, November 27, 2004
For those who like their sadness sans irony, I give you…
10 More of the Saddest Songs in the World...I'm talkin' real sad here, like fold up your tent and go home sad. Any one of these would make a a fine suicide note.
1. Nick Drake “Which Will”
2. Big Star “Holocaust”
3. Steve Von Till “We All Fall”
4. Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris “Love Hurts”
5. Alexander “Skip” Spence “Diana”
6. Peter Jefferies “On an Unknown Beach”
7. John Prine “Sam Stone”
8. Jandek “First You Think Your Fortune’s Lovely”
9. Kan Mikami “Never Before”
10.The Carter Family “No Depression in Heaven”
Guy Maddin’s screwball melodrama, “The Saddest Music in the World,” raises an interesting question when probing the unfathomable depths of the broken heart: How sad is too sad? When does sadness stop being a real emotion and become a joke? And where does one draw the line between the truly sad and the patently ridiculous? Maddin’s Vaseline swabbed head-squeezer posits that question and answers with a succession of absurd oddballs vying for the top prize of saddest music-maker in the world, and even offers some resolution when all the despair is finally acknowledged, the sadness felt, the good guys redeemed and the evil burned alive. Can’t stand those ambiguous endings, ya know? “Saddest Music in the World” takes its exaggeration into the stratosphere, beyond it and finally back again, only to reveal that the most somber blows are always born in the family. ‘Course, many have taken their own introspective glances at the frail fabric of familiar relations, but no one’s done it as gleefully and with such lucid abandon as Maddin does in this film. See it all costs.
In honor of this singular achievement, now available in the sensible DVD format, in no particular order, I give you...
Ten of the Saddest Songs in the World:
1. Coil “Tainted Love” (from “Scatology” Force and Form CD) – The Soft Cell classic reworked by everyone’s favorite ambitiously gay duo as a dire industrial dirge, complete with Marc Almond himself on uber-sad vocal. An uneasy collision of nightmarish ooze and primitive synth doom informs a track that pulses ever so slowly, and eventually implodes via surging electro swells, sampled choral noises and its own seething discontent. It feels almost like a parody of the original, or is it just a very real attempt at capturing the apocalyptic emotions that accompany any bitter breakup?
2. Roxy Music “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” (from “For Your Pleasure” Virgin CD) – This is the Roxy song that will convert you if you’ve never been converted. As fine an example of proto goth-EEK art rock as you will find, with Brian Ferry recounting an upscale, spiritually vapid existence with grim detail in vampyric croon. The end result is thought-provoking to the chilled bone, sort of like “Citizen Kane” gone glam in its depiction of dead souled mannequins consuming perfectly mixed martinis, rendered with the slow-burn of ominous foreboding which erupts as one of the most thrilling musical catharses in rock. Ferry describes his nightmare cum reality with the voice of a sardonic insider who can’t stop laughing as he spills his beans. “It’s only a song…it’s only a song…it’s only a song…” Or is it?
3. Velvet Underground “All Tomorrow’s Parties” (from “Velvet Underground and Nico” Verve CD) – An early classic buoyed on the minimal piano tinkering of John Cale and Nico’s stern delivery. It tells about a girl who today could be a supermodel or one of those Hilton hookers, consumed by her partying lifestyle, and perhaps losing her soul to the night in the process. It’s tragic for sure, not to mention light-years ahead of its time, but damned funny too and just as addictive as the lifestyle it depicts with its wailing wall of distortion and relentless piano strikes, but never does our narrator condemn the protagonist. She even sympathizes, but always with the junkie’s contempt.
4. Brian Eno “Some of Them are Old” (from “Here Come the Warm Jets” EG CD) – I question whether Mr. Eno himself even knows what this one’s about, but as does all of his material from this period, the song lands squarely in the realm where the surreal comes to shed its tears and the rest of us look on in giddy wonder. Eno charges the everyday with a kind of otherworldly communion where the long dead still converse, flatter and annoy the still living. How to describe this song, other than it opens on a near religious note, segues into a hillbilly wake and then explodes like the sun breaking through the clouds with its final chorale—a kind of sadness engulfed in aural epiphany.
5. Beach Boys “Surf’s Up” (from “Surf’s Up” Capital CD) – Another ambiguous moment of divine intervention, it works on a similar level as “Some of them are Old,” opening with a sad piano/vocal lament, Brian Wilson intoning cryptic word strings that border on Zen lunacy. Then all that’s left is our mighty hero, paddling in an oceanic expanse where he confronts his Maker and a million, billion stars. The multi-harmony outro is both purifying and sadly nostalgic—a memorial for something lost, but what? God only knows…
6. Flamin’ Groovies “Teenage Confidential” (from “Shake Some Action” Aim CD) – Later Groovies at their finest in a tear-streaked waltz of musical pathos. The protagonist begs and pleads with his lover not to fold to the lure of gossip and reject his devotion as a result. Yes, this may very well be the very first emo song, but more importantly it’s a mind-blowing rush of pure power pop that both reveals the dire reality of teenage love affairs and the absurd hyper-real drama of it all. Are the ‘Groovies really letting it all hang out in an ace slab of vintage pop heartbreak, or are they just a goofing on all those silly 60s breakup anthems…maybe both?
7. Nick Drake “Been Smokin’ Too Long” (from “Time of No Reply” Rykomusic CD) – This early gem from the prince of lonely hearts captures him in a rare moment of what could be considered self inflicted cheekiness. It’s a gorgeous down-tempo blues with Drake riffing on his sensitive stoned hipster persona so perfectly realized on “Five Leaves Left” less than a year later. The narrator blasts his love of smoke and substance and resultant bad karma, ultimately damning himself, “ain’t nothin’ gone right with me/ must be I been smokin’ too long.” Granted, it’s an obsession with this kind of self imposed existential doom that would dog Drake to his end, but here he's giving us a wink and saying, “It’s OK to grin and sing along.”
8. T. Rex “The Slider” (from “The Slider” Polygram CD) – Quintessential Bolan combines his vintage boogy-psych grooviness with obtuse lyrics that, actually, make sense, detailing the bummer life can be and the resultant “slides” that come with, ultimately confirming that nothing nips a bummer in the bud like some good old fashioned chemical rebalancing. Bolan and his band unleash a raw descending blues stomp beat, all manner of voodoo shakers and acid drenched soul harmonies before a beautiful fade of mind-enveloping strings bliss. Sad bliss, though.
9. Vashti Bunyan “17 Pink Sugar Elephants” (from Ptolemaic Terrascope compilation #? CD) – The golden corded chanteuse recounts the sad scene of the titular goodies, frozen in manufactured complacence--so pretty to see, so vacant to know--in a downcast blues gem that decimates the fragile senses in just under two minutes, and climaxes with the depressing realization that one of the little fellows is merely, “a factory made pink sugar elephant given to children for treats after tea.” Sounds trite, don’t it? It’s more than that though. Bunyan’s mastery of vocal inflection, rhythm and imagery here is about as poetically subversive as any folk poppy ditty from the last 50 years.
10. Daniel Johnston “Tuna Ketchup” (From “The Early Recordings Vol. 1” Dualtone 2CD) – A later track from DJ’s first self-release captures the sadness of unrequited love with first person recollections of seeing the object of his affections in a parking lot, at a park in the summer; he even goes so far as to “let her walk all over me and insult me too…because I like her.” Ahh, the trials and tribulations we suffer for love. Of course you can’t help but wonder if Daniel ever had the nerve to even talk to her in the first place, and just what does “Tuna Ketchup” have to do with anything?
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Also, just got this in my inbox...little over a month after Instal, check out the lineup at this year's Kill Your Timid Notion. AMM, Mirror and Thuja on the same stage on the same night? Fuckin' 'ell.
AMM+ Malcolm Le Grice
Mirror w/ a film by Bill Morrison
Thuja + Keith Evans
Perlonex + Ulrike Flaig
Text of Light [lee ranaldo, alan licht, uli krieger, tim barnes]
La Cellule d'Intervention Metamkine
Tabula Smaragdina: Jürgen Reble + Thomas Köner
Sachiko M + Anthony McCall
Monday, November 15, 2004
Just above Austin, there's a place called Sun City. I've never been there, but hope to get there one day, or at least get a picture of myself beaming cross-eyed and jovial like an American monument in front of that big green exit sign. Of course the Sun City Girls, the band, originated in Sun City, Arizona over 20 years ago, and currently reside in that gray mecca of coffee and tears, Seattle, WA. These Sun City Girls (who are actually three GUYS--two brothers named Bishop and an older one name of Charles Gocher, shares a birthday with, what's his name? Manson--Charles Manson, and that day just happens to coincide with the same day of a rock show in Austin, TX, November 12th. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried!). Lot had happened since the Girls' last Texas visit. A certain shrub had taken to flight. Two big towers were destroyed. A lot of people everywhere died. Some of it was broadcast. And the Girls had taken on such varied endeavors as clearing out their massive archives with the Carnival Folklore Resurrection series (now at something like 13 releases); the masters of noise and psych over at Eclipse Records had taken it upon themselves to reissue the first 20 (or so) Sun City Girls albums in thick black double vinyl editions. And then comes word of this mysterious Sublime Frequencies entity, a label devoted to compilations of world music that the Bishop brothers had obtained through field recordings and other questionable means over the last 20 years. A label that has already taken off im some circles with chronicles of street and radio music from Bali, Syria, Libya, India and much more delivered as alien radio transmissions and brain scrambled aural collages. I strongly suggest further investigation if ya wanna know the what-fer in terms of world dance parties and spiritual possessions. I guess this all suggests that the Girls' presence in the underground is vast and constantly evolving to the point that it's a self consuming ouroborus of aural enlightenment the likes of which the world has never really known before. Just how does one describe the full frontal assault that is the Sun City Girls, anyway? Carefully, and possibly while not in a cogent state of mind. The Sun City Girls are a trio that derives its sound from bombed out, stumbling garage rock; the free jazz rumble and clatter of Sun Ra; the twisted jazz punk of Captain Beefheart, along with tons of ethnic music embellishments from Europe, the Middle and Far East, but as with any great mysterious cult group (Residents, early Eno, Velvet Underground, Negativland and the Bonzo Dog Band among them), a healthy sense of irreverence dominates the proceedings. The Frogs, who SCG's shared a split single with, are another touchstone. It should also be noted the brothers Bishop were in a band that featured Mo Tucker in the early 80s called Paris 1942. In other words they're firmly ensconced in the American underground substrate, and have never really come up for air. No buzz bin videos in their past. No fluke hits. Respectable, but the resultant brain damage due to this continuous lack of oxygen has left its debilitating mark. Given the relative subversiveness of their live shows and album covers (such as a photo of the trio in full terror regalia holding instruments as their trusted weapons), that's probably a good thing. To fully appreciate what the Sun City Girls have to offer requires stepping back a bit from the lunacy of it all and viewing their procession of strange sounds (and images) through a panethnic filter where Monty Python's brand of sardonicism has the firmest grasp of our world understanding. In other words, don't take shit so seriously and you'll be fine.
With all this and more in mind, my friend and I hit Emos early that cold Friday night with high hopes, but the place was empty. A worried guitarist in the noise/psych unit Rubbles is fearful of a weak turnout. My friend and I decide to head over to a place called Lovejoys and drink coffee and baileys and other alcohollically tinged concoctions to keep our itchy throats warm. He notices the fluctuating timbers of the constant drone of the crowd noise, a kind of mass verbal improv that everyone's noticed at one point or another, and suggests I record it next time I'm in town. Smart guy. We then spend 15 mins discussing the best place to put the mic, settling on a high book shelf not too far from the front door. We hit Emos just in time to catch the beginning of Rubbles, sadly and surprisingly missed Weird Weeds. Rubbles are pretty incendiary though, with members of Tex psych punk luminaries the Butthole Surfers, Ash Castles and the proprietor of Emperor Jones Records among its ranks. They make a throbbing clamor that's a pure aural bombardment for a good 40 mins or so. Mid 80s Sonic Youth, Primordial Undermind, even the Swans come to mind. Painful to behold at extreme volumes, yet Rubbles are capable of instantly transforming the entire club into a canted framed, strobed out, acid zombie freakout. The disorienting light show compliments the messiness of it all. They play their set behind a white sheet as various images are projected onto it.
During the Rubbles set I say hola to Alan Bishop, who suggests we're in for a good show. And we are. The SCG's have covered an absurd amount of ground in their 23 years. Their albums range from trashed out cover records to extended acid streaked journeys through Dante's Inferno (centered around the the husky demonic croon of Gocher), Malaysian sound collages, art-farty punk, free jazz, ethnic surf rock and more. Things start with Rick Bishop molesting his guitar at obtuse angles, fingers climbing up and down the neck like a double jointed spider as various skewed notes trail from amps in spherical ribbons of fully malformed jazz. Then enter Alan and Charles on bass and drums, their timing down to the millisecond as the trio jumps, whoops and jerks with a cohesion reserved for single body masses. It's not really possible to list album titles, but a lot of stuff from the Carnival Folklore series (some of which was reworked/rereleased versions of older material) was in there. Throughout Alan Bishop would assume any number of characters and cast all sorts of demonic incantations in the form of "angry Arabic street vendor" or a "possessed Balinese witchdoctor" that proved feverish, spontaneous and perfectly choreographed. In between the more typical ethno punk clatter, the trio would fall back in on themselves in warped lounge jazz cuts, during which Gocher would come out from behind his kit and don his twisted lounge singer persona. Later on, during a particularly evil sounding collision of downtuned Sabbathian sludge and Arabic chanting, Bishop reveals that he's wearing a tee with everyone's favorite world terrorist threat on the cover, but my favorite part might just be later in the show, when all three began cursing and yelling, each in his own nonlinear babble-verse where at various points familiar SCG characters and demons would materialize, but I was mostly lost in the layered effect the three mad men held together... Hilarious and fucked up, they all may as well have been shouting "Yes, we are weird" in multiple languages, some of which were probably invented on the spot. If anything really surprised me it was the fierceness of their attack. There was pretty much no let up during their almost two hour set, but I was never less than enthralled at any time. My Sun City cherry hath officially been decimated. I do not mean to suggest that the SCG's lampoon other ethnic cultures, more that they have a deep fascination with and empathy for these so called primitive religions and use this in their performance as a kind of theater of the absurd and a serious spiritual comment on the world today, which they might liken to the Kali Yuga of Hindu lore in spiritual terms.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Monday, November 08, 2004
"Journey to the Center of the Eye"
This issue of “Journey to the Center of the Eye” is possibly a shameless attempt at squeezing a few more dollars out of the Krautrock revival circuit. It features a kooky SACD 5.2 Surround Remix layer, meaning that you can throw this on any SACD ready DVD player (probably not as hard as it sounds) and listen in surround sound. Of course I don’t have surround sound, but my square friend down the road sure does, and the price is more than fair. It’s comparable to when the Flaming Lips’ “Zaireeka” came out, and you always had to plan a big Zaireeka freakout hours in advance, complete with 4 different stereos to get the full quadraphonic effect going. Nektar isn’t even German in the first place, but it’s a common misconception. These English had been jamming about in the same scene that originally bore the Beatles, and after them the Monks and you know the rest. All the psychedelic cross cultural pollination (including meeting and playing with the one and only Vangelis) nourished the combo’s psych bombast in a complimentary way as their music became increasingly more demented.
There is a “Prelude” as their often is with any righteous prog classic. It segues into the fantastic “Astronaut’s Nightmare,” a barrage of archaic organ and building percussion that blasts off as feral psych jamming in the Amon Duul II/ early King Crimson vein. Taff Freeman’s organ throughout is phenomenal in battle with Roye Allbrighton’s metallic/acid guitar squalls. There’s even a “21 Century Schizoid Man” styled fuzz box on the vocal. This gives way to the ethereal melotron-laced instrumental “Countenance,” erupting with charging guitar trills at the finale. Next up are a couple more instrumentals which deftly combine familiar psych traits and pure head ringing in a production that’s about as lysergically charged as anything I’ve heard from 1971.
Throughout this album there is cohesion, from the loose theme of a larger concept to its classical suite-like structure. It all flows together to tell some larger cosmic adventure exploring the looming question of nuclear war and more—not such a far cry from what you Black Sabbath and Necronomicon’s were singing about ‘round then. But there is often a pop appeal too, summed up nicely in the bonus inclusion here of the first Nektar single, “1-2-3-4” b/w “Do You Believe in Magic?” (not the Lovin’ Spoonful song). The former is a funky slice of prog pop with “do-do-do” harmonies, and the latter easily achieves singalong, toe-tapper status, which they would explore more incessantly on later albums, such as the underrated “Down to Earth.” No real surprise then that this debut comes highly recommended to those who can’t get enough of first wave krautrock and acid tainted Brit invasion lunacy. It’s basically what one might expect from a British band formed in Germany in 1969, and that’s anything but predictability. I’ll have to get back re that whole Dolby Surround thing.
Friday, November 05, 2004
Homestead and Wolfe
"Our Times: The Gold Star Tapes 1973-75"
Mom once suggested I should try meeting a girl at church. Not surprisingly, I responded with something like, “No way, I’m cool! I need to meet girls at record stores or on college campuses.” But I also knew that she was onto something. There is a certain caliber of individual found among the hallowed halls of religion: gals with their heads on straight and their hearts in the right place. Yet choosing the right one can be so damn hard. It’s not as easy as picking a new world leader. You might pull the mother of God. You might snag a frigid schoolmarm with designs of bringing the final judgment down on your ass. Something like “Our Times” swings the pendulum back towards the sanctity of (good ol’) homespun American church values with its breath of warm air and soulful, cascading melodies.
Homestead & Wolfe is comprised of members of a church congregation, and their sole album, recorded from '73-75 and privately released in '75, is not your typical Holy Roller choral affair. It’s the music of a rock band, and, yes, a pop band. There are hints of folk and country in there too, as well as other influences. Formed by Ernie Bringas (onetime member of early '60s singing duo The Rip Chords, then youth minister of the Good Samaritan United Methodist Church in Cupertino, California, located at the intersection of Homestead and Wolfe), this ensemble is that rarest of blessings—a hobby band that’s also an exercise in melodic song craft of the highest order. The nine songs that comprise the original release of this hidden treasure are remarkably accomplished, literate slices of wry social observation and haunting musical eloquence cast as homespun folk pop.
The truth is this is not amateurish at all. This is not the Langley Church Project. Bringas had connections and realized that his “band” was more than just a weekend gig, so he took them to Gold Star Recording studios in Hollywood, the same place where the Beach Boys and tons of others, including a younger Bringas, had recorded many a sweet soulful melody. He took full advantage of the opportunity and used seasoned session players, though they were always performing songs that the band had written along with their own harmonies, based on the vivid arrangements of Joanne Avery. The mastery displayed here is largely thanks to the depth of Avery’s voice and vision, but this is also the work of a unified, capable musical ensemble, informed by experienced leadership and a sense of exploration that is practically dead in mainstream pop music today. I wasn’t so sure of all of the above till I listened to the first half of this album a good seven times all the way through without interruption.
“Slow Down” is a timeless bit of AM pop perfection where every instrument is given full room to breathe and interact. Janice Gundy’s resonant lead vocal is simply a joy to behold over a melody that’s familiar and neatly arranged, yet always maintains a warmth indicative of productions of the era. The guitar, bass, percussion, organ and harmonies of this track could not be more perfectly induced, while Jay Dee Maness’s constant, ethereal presence on pedal steel perfectly straddles the tightrope between maudlin excess and haunted tonal poetry. “Love Comes Through My Door” features another rush of heart-wrenching pedal steel and heaven sent harmonies to powerful effect. These songs are timeless, and the performances are pretty much flawless. Same goes for the bouncy “King of the Mountain,” a more obviously religiously themed piece, but never do these folks leave the realm of artistic expression behind to push forward some agenda. It seems the overriding themes of Homestead & Wolfe are love, tolerance, inclusion, devotion, and even a healthy sense of cynicism—the obvious result of trying to live the good life in America circa 1974. The gut-wrenching “If I Never Show” is a fine illustration. Over a bed of dripping pedal steel, finger picked acoustic guitars and no percussion, Avery sings, “the drums now are silent / the prophets are few / the streets all are empty / where marchers came through” as the opening to a painful letter to a lover lost to combat. Sandy Denny could not have done it any better. “See the Children Die” on the other hand is recounting of Wounded Knee told with tense emotion and unflinching honesty, performed with real eloquence. The piece builds with a lone tom and shaker, the pulse of Native tribalism. Over this, guitar and electric piano mimic a surreal cavalry call. Janice Gundy’s slightly deeper alto perfectly conveys the grim details with a depth that has me once more reaching for Sandy Denny and Karen Carpenter for comparisons.
Nestled alongside all these more obvious traits is a general datedness that could feed a tendency to mock or dismiss such a seemingly square ensemble. For reasons outlined above, that would be a detriment, but without question there are a few moments that could and maybe even should arouse a chuckle or two. Take the springy chorus harmonies on “Your Freedom’s in Question.” I know what you’re thinking, it’s a song about the ongoing struggle for the soul of man, and it is! But it’s also a fierce indictment against Nixon and the Watergate era wrapped up as equal parts roots country pop and flailing post Who psych pop. It’s an amazing piece of work by any stretch of the imagination. And “Beat of the Drum” is a blatant bit of mid/late 60s garage psych archeology that has to be heard to be believed. Closer “Mary Jane,” about the lure of pot and other illegal substances, rightly combines a sense of stoned bliss with cautionary lyrics about the grim junkie lifestyle.
All of this comes courtesy of Anopheles Records out of San Francisco, a label that till now was mainly known for fucked up garage psych and an excellent live album by Australian art punks, Venom P. Stinger. Homestead & Wolfe seem to stick out like a sore thumb in such a roster, but in truth they are a band who played for themselves, for the love of a good song, and they didn’t really care what anyone else thought but maybe their friends and family. So, if you like the names mentioned above, and Gram Parsons, or the Byrds, or Nagisa Ni Te, give “Our Times” a spin or three.--from a forthcoming update of Foxy Digitalis.
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
In the end the same production values that make something like MTV such a cultural force to be reckoned with came back to bite its favorite political party on the ass. This year, it was all about the Republicans. Their machine was bigger, their support broader, their drama more dramatic, their hearts apparently deeper(?). Since when is the party of your father and other oil tycoons the party of the heart? It's what the US media says, with images of Dubya standing strong, shoulders wide, nostrils flared like John Wayne in "Stagecoach" as he spurns on his bold warriors. And there's talk of "the glow" that apparently comes with meeting the man. I never did, so I can't confirm or deny. Thing I'm getting at is this: Apparently everyone's favorite dumbass (which is actually a carefully orchestrated persona that has made Dubya a highly accessible and electable man to yr typical bumfucked JimBobs of the world--ie those who elected the man) has a real knack for making people feel a kind of awed reverence when he meets them. He is literally John Wayne with a direct link to God. And people blindly trust it. They trust a man who continually invokes the name of God, missing the point that he's exploiting a deity to justify his own agenda, just as certain suicide bombers are doing halfway around the world. It's OK for him to do it though. He's invoking the name of our God. I'll never fully comprehend the duplicity of asking God to bless a people as you order one group to go slaughter another. Why bring His name into it at all? God bless those who live a life without ever having to take another. God help those who don't. Never more than now have I been so ashamed of my country's obsession with image, facade, violence and greed.
Yet, as any right leaning financial conservative will tell you, America--leader of the "free world"--must come first at a time of such peril. People must die, hopefully just not on our soil. I'm surrounded by republicans of every stripe where I live, and I actually welcome it. The bombardment of skewed opinion and good old fashioned hate keeps me on my toes. 'Course there are democrats like that too, fools bent so far to the left they come back spinning around on the right.
What became really important following March of 2003, and why something as obviously biased and quasi-fictional as "Fahrenheit 9/11" is an essential blip on the national consciousness, is we need to be critical of our leaders. We have to scrutinize their every action and denounce scumbags like Bill O'reilly and those of his ilk every chance we get. We need to realize that every piece of information received is contextual and biased, for obvious and human reasons. Al Jazeera does not support the violent overthrow of our society, but it does pray we leave their homeland, and it even goes so far as to air opinions by those who wish to see America destroyed. It's free press, the American constitution in action. Love it or hate it, deal with it. In the coming years these scattered, "radical" opinions will only multiply and converge as our military might in the region becomes stronger. "Wiping them all out" will not solve the problem. History has taught us the best way to overthrow a nation is not with force, but with the media and subtle mind control in the guise of the looming specter of FEAR on the horizon. It worked in America, I'm sure it could work in Iraq.
Sunday, October 31, 2004
Charlie Tweddle self-recorded (in ‘71) and privately released (in ’74) “Fantastic Greatest Hits” (Companion Records) in an edition of 500. It’s a stoned mix of ramshackle country psych pop and more dusted sound collage strangeness. Take the first track: a simple bit of plaintive folk-pop, like Dylan jamming with the Fugs. It’s a brilliant little number because on the surface it’s just a quaint relic of the 60s, but buried a bit deeper in the mix are gorgeous acid coaxed electric squiggles and trills, and rambling bass, that all morph into the sounds of animal farm life in the morning. Yes, I am suggesting that this sounds like something that might be found on the Jewelled Antler label today. Other tracks are closer to run-down mescaline-soaked versions of Folkways gems with just enough tape and studio trickery to make them quite absorbing. A loan howl mutates into a jarring blast of distortion. Warped fiddle or tape noise inform almost every song, which are mostly nothing more than acoustic and/or electric guitars and a foot stomp, clap or lone cymbal crash. The last half of the album is a collage of drones, insect and night sounds meshed together, all just in time for a hippie Halloween.
Saturday, October 30, 2004
…“These Villages” (Soft Abuse) is Steven R. Smith’s third album under the Hala Strana name. I’ve come to the conclusion that what Smith does here is comparable to what Alan Lomax used to do with home and field recording. It has a similar warped, out of time quality. Traditional and untraditional instruments coexist in a frail harmony with occasional ambient sounds. But instead of capturing traditionalists in their homes and on the street, Smith conjures all the strange musical spirits of old Eastern Europe himself, combining a wide array of plucked and bowed string instruments, percussion and more with digital and analog recording techniques into something unique, and quite beautiful. His production is the perfect sound-bed for these grinding scrapes, haunting drones and more to become entangled and occasionally flower into incandescent sound dreams ranging from the most minimal piano strike to damaged chamber folk swells. So much is covered in a record that suggests the world psych devotions of Popol Vuh, Tony Conrad, early Velvet Underground, Jewelled Antler Collective and more.
Friday, October 29, 2004
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
I swear this is my last Beach Boys remark for at least a day.
np: Maher Shalal Hash Baz "What's Your Business Here, Elijah?"
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
I've largely put away my psychedelic experiments for the sake of cognition these days, but this is pretty cool. Insanity seems quite appealing sometimes. Or at least retardation. Maybe because we eventually realize that so much of what we're taught in school is kind of a joke. Justice is criminal. Criminals are folk heroes. Your average fool actually has a direct link to God, and the King is quite simply a dick. It's not like I wanna live in some lax, hippie dippy dream. That'd just be another lie, but I don't want life to be a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, either. Who needs sanity in this world, today? NOT I! So many mentally ill dot our sidewalks and collect at our library steps, and they're so much more real than what's seen on TV and read about in textbooks: These people who slowly seep from public buildings and subway terminals, like the opening shot in "Spider" where the title character deliberates for a small eternity just to take one step off a train.
Brian Wilson has deliberated much longer when it comes to the myth of "Smile." The failed Beach Boys album was shelved near completion do to Wilson's mental collapse, or paranoid psych-out. Both theories have validity. Stress, drug complications, doubt among his closest supporters -- all convinced Bri that he was barking up the wrong tree with his wacky concept album about the splendor of America (now that's kind'a poetic). What should've been a worthy follow-up to one of the greatest albums in history became the greatest album never made, a self-imposed curse up there with Mike Love's promotion to head Beach Boy. Aside from myriad bootlegs of half finished instrumental "feels" and a few songs emerging on other albums over the next five years, most noticeably the title track to "Surf's Up" and of course "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes and Villains," Wilson deemed it all "inappropriate" and usually scowled when the subject was broached in interviews. Just what did he mean by "inappropriate" anyway? The Syd Barrett of today, who goes by a different name, has no interest in his past or the Pink Floyd legacy. He stopped shining long ago. The specter of hindsight looms large in these cases, and its shadow can reach for years. Wilson's had to deal with his own well publicized demons in the 37 years since "Smile" wasn't finished. The measure of his failure, like the myth of the record, ballooned up larger than it ever should have, but then let's admit it: If revolutions ever happened in pop music, they happened in 1967, and "Smiley Smile" was all too obviously a patchwork attempt as salvaging something greater. As a metaphor for the promise and failure of the so-called American Dream, you couldn't find a finer example.
So in the end, here we are in late 2004. Brian has premiered "Smile" live on stage in London and followed it up with a brand new, painstakingly assembled, version of his lost opus, drawn entirely from archival tapes of the original mixes. This was obviously the only way to go, because the arrangements and harmonies are intense, acid sent or heaven sent, and it shows that even back in 66, Brian was still going deeper than most ever will, and even rubbing elbows with his heroes in the process. It's a massive accomplishment by any stretch of the imagination, and even a bit of a crowd-pleaser. Wilson doesn't have the golden boy croon of a 24 year old any more, but he sounds more than up to this task, and his voice is strong. His emotions, palpable. His arrangements artful, and occasionally unique to this release, but always honoring the ambition and heart of the original.
In the end, "Smile" is all that. It's a reason to smile, even tear up a little. It's an inspired swirl of psychedelic symphonic bliss that works better than any other version that you will ever find. The "Surf's Up" here may not measure up to the original, but it honors it. And the production, mounted at the Beach Boys' old recording haunt, on the same kind of recording console they used in the 60s, screams for headphones and extreme volumes, and it is better than the original. It's quite simply a trip. If anyone can keep his composure during the opening choral arrangement of "Our Prayer/ Gee," he is a stronger man than I.
Monday, October 18, 2004
Sunday, October 17, 2004
This just in from the Deserted Village guru, reprinted without permission:
"I turned up early to catch Kan Mikami when Richard Youngs came on and played bass and the drummer from scatter played uh, drums. Then this thin guy dressed in black with a hat ambles onstage. He played a surprisingly expensive looking fender semi acoustic with no soundhole. once he started playing I thought "who is this prick ripping off Jandek?" There was no mistaking the vocals and guitar playing, but I couldn't take it in that it was really him. I was sitting beside some reviewer guy from the Wire who confirmed it. He also said that he only agreed to do it if it wasn't announced. The band really rocked, they had a loose groove going most of the time. Jandek sang "lets get wild" on one song and they crowd at the front were digging it. I'm quite sure 90% of people hadn't a clue. The Janster smiled after two songs so i cheered louder hoping he'd get a taste of adulation. Then i was afraid he'd freak out. I can honestly say he was enjoying himself and was totally at home on stage. He also sang about doing his washing in a deadpan way. And about a five year old girl who broke his heart. There was no in between song banter--surprise, surprise. It was simply a great gig even if it took a couple of songs to get into it. I'm sorry I can't describe it more, but I'm honestly still in shock and my brain is addled by beer and all the other amazing music I heard today. I know some of you won't beleive this until the Wire or something comes out, but i just had to tell people. Good night,
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Taking the Anthill...
TONIGHT on TCM, Stanley Kubrick's greatest film ("Paths of Glory" for the non filmically inclined) is being shown with none other than John McCain (Former war hero, Kerry chum, Bush supporter, etc) introducing. This movie is one of the most powerful, moving, sad and ultimately infuriating war flicks of all time. And it is timeless, people. 1958 my ass! It's happening right now. 10:00 Eastern.
Monday, October 11, 2004
Nick Castro's "A Spy in the House of God" creeps me out in the most strangely seductive way. It's probably the strongest debut of 04. Have you ever looked for the missing link between Nick Drake and Current 93? I think I've found it. Or it found me.
Monday, October 04, 2004
Six Organs of Admittance
Chie MukaiVajra [Keiji Hanio, Kan Mikami, Toshi Ishizuka]
Derek Bailey & Ingar Zach
Kan Mikami solo
More info, including thoughtful descriptions and sound samples, avaliable at the site.
Espers were incredibly haunting in Ft. Worth two nights ago, playing for an audience of three or so, and a handful of confused/fascinated "emo kids". It was sort of like a night off for the band, as they didn't have to concentrate so much on hitting marks or "blowing us away," plus a bit of a grand experiment. Always fun to watch people's reactions for the first time to this kind of music. Espers just relaxed and let the dark light shine through. ISB did not play--being a folk rock legend lends one some room to quibble. Espers are very nice, well behaved people for making such creepy/beautiful acid folk music. Get their album as soon as possible if you want to hear some of the most resonant dream folk released in '04. Over and out.
Saturday, October 02, 2004
--an older text message from a friend.
Woke up this morning to a cracked back and a mailbox spilling over with packages, including "A Spy in the House of God" by Nick Castro (very cool old timey acid folk and tripped out industrial noise stuff. You were right, B!), the new Ivytree CD (now this is a beautiful package--with a cover pic that looks like the movie Troy as envisioned on datura), and Wolf Eyes Sup-pop debut, "Burned Mind." Somebody up there loves my jank ass.
Incredible String Band and Espers tonight...
I want to see the movie, Dig, the story of how two mediocre bands come to hate one another and explore the value of myth-mongering in the process.
np: Nick Castro "Zoey"
Friday, October 01, 2004
What really makes an album, or any portable media for that matter, is a nice package. It's cool to occasionally be reminded that what we accidentally scratch up pressing into CD trays and sliding into album jackets is more than just a CD or record.
One of the first instances in the rock world where the aesthetics of a package matched, arguably surpassed, the aural qualities inside came with Andy Warhol's cover for the first Velvet Underground album. Everyone's seen it by now, a bright yellow banana against all white, the title in block letter across the top. Peeling the yellow strip off of course reveals a brighter pink banana. And somehow the music reflects the image perfectly.
And now it seems packaging is cool again, from the homemade each-one-is-different editions of early self-released Charalambides tapes and CD's on to newer comers in the scene like the handmade releases of Free Porcupine Society, Christoph Heemann's Three Poplars label and Phonometrography's lavish editions of Hafler Trio related works. And there's the constant presence of limited CD-R and lathecut labels now, all dispersed via the net, some more hidden than others. Even the majors are getting in on the fun, issuing typically mundane jewel cases in purty cardboard sleeves, and pre-labeled band-specific CD-R's (for the paying downloader of course).
San Antonio's Idea Records is a small label that likes it dense. Key releases in their catalog, like Tetuzi Akiyama's Don't Forget to Boogie! and Oren Ambarchi's Triste, not only resonate as outwardly thinking avant sound sculpture, they honor a tradition of heavy vinyl, glossy sleeves and unique, eye-popping visual motifs. And don't even get me started on the sound quality of Idea releases. The Akiyami disk a pristine slab of electric blues riffing and experimental noise that sounds just as clean and crisp at 2 as it does at 9. Triste hums and bubbles with rippling guitar strokes, murmurs and gently shifting subharmonics via Ambarchi's hauntingly restrained guitar technique. There's also formidable releases by Mirror, Coh, Tom Recchion (and more), and just arriving on my doorstep, Matt Valentine and Erika Elder.
The duo has released some of the most haunted folk/blues cosmic concoctions of the last five years or so, and Idea recently took it upon themselves to issue a beautiful heavy LP version of Ragas & Blues, previously released on CD-R on Valentine's Children of Microtones label. It's the kind of record that's custom made for long play with nine pieces each serving as alternate windows to some ethnically rich, wholly submersive, alien sound world. Definitely one of MV And EE's finest, most meditative journeys, and now "it's heavy as shit" can refer to more than just the hypnotic power of their mystical string music. It should be noted the excellent Time-Lag Records released MV's Tonight, One Night Only, MV & EE In Heaven as an equally breathtaking package a couple years ago.
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
The young and pretty quartet Mono definitely went to the school of Mogwai, Godspeed You Black Emperor, etc, and graduated with honors. Their studied combination of delicate melodies and ear-splitting noise delivered with quiet/loud dynamics is as predictable as the sunrise, and as torrential as a hurricane. Live I was truly knocked out with the same sort of brute force. Almost every song builds from a lazy bit of minimal trance guitar to a dissonant rush of howling feedback and bottom end sludge-riffing, like a cross between shimmery Windy and Carl and earthshaking Black Sabbath. But the constant orchestration and overall predictability of their set can wear thin over time. Thankfully they called it quits before that point ever came. Fly Pan Am was set to be on the same bill, but cancelled. Curious if it has something to do with the last time GYBE came through this part of the country they were all detained for national security purposes in Oklahoma the day after their Ft. Worth show.
Friday, September 24, 2004
One of the more unheralded tunesmiths in the US psych underground is Matthew Smith. The multi-instrumentalist, audio engineer, Detroit OG and all around cool dude leads the bubble gum acid pop explosion, Outrageous Cherry; lends his talents to Cary Loren's (Destroy All Monsters) mystical acid folkies Monster Island; is a founding member of the sad and lonesome Volebeats; and plays extended improv jazz/acid psych workouts that sound like undiscovered Krautrock classics with the duo THTX.
The Volebeats never really hit it off with the indie rock crowd, let alone the general public. A few twang pop aficionados and Bloodshot obsessives may've stumbled across 'em, but mostly word of mouth is their strongest supporter since they hardly play any gigs outside of Detroit these days and have little in the way of public relations. Brian Crook (of the Renderers, Terminals and Flies Inside the Sun) turned me on to 'em, and he doesnt even live in the same hemisphere. It's all the more interesting given Detroit isn't really where ya go to make it as a country group in the first place. Seems these boys like doing things the hard way, though some might just call it the wrong way. Still, the truth is the Volebeats have actually done it the right way, from the first album, Ain't No Joke (Gadfly Records) originally issued 15 years ago and featuring two different lineups, on up to hidden classics like The Sky and the Ocean (Safehouse) and The Mosquito Spiral (Third Gear), featuring a more solidified group of graceful practitioners of what Gram Parsons liked to call Cosmic American Music.
With the Voles, cover selection and performance is an art form, too. Just like with all those great bands in the 60s--the Beatles, Byrds, the Band, Jefferson Airplane, Hendrix--a well chosen cover adds a bit of a twist to expectations and even points the listener somewhere new. The Voles relish musical revisionism more than most, often turning songs on their head and revealing new layers of meaning. That's what makes Country Favorites (Turquoise Mountain) such a goddamn bittersweet beauty. It's still understated and delivered at a mostly shuffling pace with warm vintage production. Things are roughly split down the middle between catchy downcast originals and covers by folks like Roky Erickson, Serge Gainsbourge, the York Brothers and Funkadelic. And yes, they recast Slayer's "Die By the Sword" as a smoky, psych folk/country anthem to the evil that men do. And I can't put into words the magic conjured on "Maggot Brain." Lovers of early 70s Pink Floyd will be dazed and seduced.
Another fella that's been kickin around just as long (hell, longer!) and enjoyed an equal position of ignored genius is Mr. Howe Gelb. The Arizonian and folk mystic has been one of the most consistently mesmorizing songwriters in the underground since the mid 80s as the leader of the evolving ensemble, Giant Sand, rolling out album after album of weird grungy roots rock, rockabilly punk, lounge jazz and more while continually defying expectation and classification. There's much to find under the 'Sand, from early 90s indie guitar romps like Ramp (Restless) to the mid 80s psychobilly workouts of the debut, Valley of Rain, a bit closer to the Gun Club's stuff from around then. My current favorite is still 2000's Chore of Enchantment (Thrill Jockey), an oblique slice of country blues, psych rock, weird noise, jazz, folk and good old fashioned Crazy Horse inspired metallic fury. Funny how Wilco gets pegged for reinventing the wheel with Foxtrot, when Giant Sand already did it better two years before.
Aside from the occasional solo album and odd appearance, Giant Sand remaines the one thing you can count on, evolving and getting older, but always with some valuable common threads: Howe's croaked voice, like a young Leonard Cohen crossed with a giddy Lou Reed; his immaculately sloppy guitar skills; the quality and depth of his material.
Is All Over the Map is Chore's followup, not including 2002's inspired covers collection, Cover Magazine. It's also Giant Sand's first album of all new songs since 911, which Gelb manages to elegize in the haunting scorched noise cum folk pop of "NyC of Time." It basically says what a lot of media pundits and talking heads have already, but with an economy of prose more reserved for Charles Bukowski (or Lou Reed). Simply one of the finest Giant Sand songs you'll hear. "Remote" comes damn close to as good with a kicked up rockabilly storm that again has me thinkin' prime Gun Club and features a guest vocal from one Scout Niblett. That's another great thing about Giant Sand. Ever the master of smooth underground hip charisma, Gelb has roped in some of the greatest female voices in folk and pop in harmony roles. The rest of Is All Over the Map is...like the title says, not necessarily as cohesive or instantly satisfying as Chore of Enchantment from start to finish, though things eventually cohere into more than just the latest (and greatest) Giant Sand album. It's more like a postcard sent from the Arizona desert with one of those cutesy little hearts affixed to one corner.
Steve Earle, the former junkie/current musical activist, says in the liner notes that the rush was on to get The Revolution Starts Now (Artemis Records) released before a certain election was rigged, er...decided. And the Twang Trust delivered. The Beatles love of opener "The Revolution Starts...", broken into two parts, is a real beaut, as are the honky tonkin "Home to Houston" and the protest ballad "Rich Man's War." The slow burning "Warrior" sounds halfway between his classic Train Comin' Round the Bend period and the Doors. Things get goofy on "Condi, Condi," before some Cheap Trick worthy power pop in "F the CC" shakes things up with an angry hoot and holler: "Fuck the FCC / Fuck the FBI / Fuck the CIA/ Livin' in the mother fuckin USA!" Damn, Steve! Yet the question remains; who the fuck's listening?