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, April 13, 2014
Japanese Record of the Month:
The Tigers –
Promise For Future / Nothing But Departure
Probably the most successful band to emerge from Japan’s '60s ‘group sounds’ industry, The Tigers are a fairly central presence in the country’s rock/pop landscape, with members Kenji Sawada, Osami Kishibe and Shiro Kishibe all remaining in the public eye via solo records, tabloid gossip and film & TV appearances. In fact, lead vocalist Sawada (who often performed under the nickname “Julie”, a moniker he apparently earned through his admiration for Julie Andrews!) actually went on to totally eclipse the success of his previous band, becoming one of the most ubiquitous solo stars of the ‘70s, his handsome features still looming large over the racks of many of Tokyo’s record shops. Even as his record sales eventually began to wane, Sawada continued to make good as an actor, putting in an excellent against-type lead performance in the Leonard Schrader-scripted film ‘The Man Who Stole The Sun’ in 1979, amongst many other thespian achievements.
Returning to The Tigers though, it doesn’t exactly take long figure where the group’s main inspiration lay. Unsurprisingly, it’s Beatles, Beatles, Beatles all the way. And so, with their idols taking the decision to pack it in in 1970, it is perhaps less than a coincidence that The Tigers decided to follow suit. Insofar as I can tell from English language googling, the double A-side ‘Promise for Future’ / ‘Nothing But Departure’ was the band’s last single, appearing in November 1970, with both song titles and cover-art clearly signalling their intention to end their career in style. A month later, both cuts were included on their final studio LP, the pleasantly titled ‘Freedom, Hope and Friendship’, and after a posthumous live album (‘Finale’) in ‘71, that was all she wrote for The Tigers.
Moving beyond the Beatles influence, ‘Promise for Future’ is a lovely bit of energetic, up-with-people flower-pop, complete with flute, harp, horns, strings, ethereal vocal harmonies, bongos – everything but the kitchen sink really - but it never sounds over-busy, and is kept grounded throughout by a swinging, r’n’b backbeat and tough acoustic strumming. Sounding only marginally like the Beatles, it’s a lovely bit of breezy summer-time fun, a perfect accompaniment for smokin’ it up in the park, dancing barefoot round some beach bonfire as the sun sets - who knows, maybe even a ride in the ol’ dune buggy? – and is easily a match for the numerous American groups who were peddling this sorta chart-orientated hippy-dippy business a year or two earlier. I would definitely be liable to DJ this if I were ever, say, playing records between bands at an outdoor festival or something.
Over on the flip, ‘Nothing But Departure’ also presents a slightly more interesting take on things that the band’s earlier, more overtly imitative work. Sure, the swoonsome, piano chord bashing melody on the song’s verses may scream McCARTNEY in block capitals, perhaps marking this out as The Tigers’ answer to ‘Let It Be’, and the closing (and thankfully rather brief) ‘da da, da da da’ coda seems like a pretty cynical attempt to pull a ‘Hey Jude’, but somehow these rips are neither as obnoxious nor as obvious as they sound on paper and, coupled with a few interesting production decisions and distinctly Japanese additions to the formula, the tune eventually makes for a quite likeable slice of international Beatle-sploitation. For one thing, the song begins with a lengthy and dramatic spoken word recitation that I can only assume concerns the band’s decision to split up (my sub-rudimentary Japanese gives me a few words such as ‘why?’, ‘friends’, ‘alright’ etc.), whilst the chorus melody takes off in a distinctly non-Western, melancholic sort of direction, and, as with the a-side, the backing track’s emphasis on overlapping percussion and choppy strumming gives things a *slight* Hispanic / Tropicalia sort of feel that also muddies up the Beatles influence a bit. Whilst I’d be unlikely to ever DJ this side of the single anywhere, I don’t dislike it, and it’s nice to imagine the band’s legions of fans sticking this one on the turntable back in November 1970, weeping a quiet tear at this positively-minded farewell from their heroes.
(Apologies for the slightly rough quality of the ripped-from-vinyl tracks uploaded below by the way – this single isn’t exactly in A+ condition.)
Sunday, March 30, 2014
City Yelps in "Cheap Psych" tape
With legions of career-minded, pedal-board bothering prannys (or their publicists at least) busy abusing the ‘psych’ label everywhere you turn just at the moment, City Yelps’ triumphantly self-deprecating manifesto of PSYCH ON THE CHEAP hopefully speaks for itself. Not that their music is much more than marginally psych-y, to be honest, but I like the concept so much, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Like their most immediately recognisable ancestors (The Clean, Swell Maps, The Prats, The Index), our heroes aim to prove that you don’t need snazzy equipment and retreats in woodland cabins to blow minds – cramped urban spaces, determined awkwardness and the cheapest crap in the shop is what really gets the damage done (and appearing to be the kind of people who could reduce press & PR representatives to ash merely by breathing in their direction probably helps).
‘On The Cheap’ these recordings may be, but by god, they sound magnificent – drums n gtr really ‘popping’ in bright analogue splendour. They may have joked about sounding like “the shitty Go-Betweens”, but for the first minute or so of ‘Psych on the Cheap’ they’re not so far from the real thing, guitars ringing out violin-like as the melody soars and dives.
In fact, dealing with the constituent components on this music, it’s difficult to put your finger on what makes City Yelps so pointedly removed from all the other nostalgia-nourishing jangly guitar types doing the rounds. From the 10th generation Byrds-y rattle to the strummy bass lines to the Hamish Kilgour type homemade-motorik drumming with that little ‘catch-up beat’ every four bars, it’s all here present and correct, all stuff you feel you’ll never, ever get sick of again when it’s banged out this splendidly. The playing is excellent & varied (the instrumental section of ‘Awful Prizes’ almost seems to be stumbling off into proggy realms for goodnesssake), the recording is bright and the songs are simple and appealing, leaving only Shaun A’s parent-proof slurred bark (“thass not singing, I’m telling ya”, quoth some who should know better) and a strange, indefinable blanket of smudged, smothered otherness to explain why City Yelps sound so inherently separate from the mainstream, so alien to the streets of large population centres, so utterly and gloriously removed from anyone who deals in ego or money or music, so much of a potential OUR BAND (NOT THEIRS) moment for any/all scruffy, over-smart kids lucky enough to hear them.
Why, why, why – I don't know, and I’m sure they don’t care (except that they so obviously do), which is perhaps the secret. You know sometimes when you're walking down the street, and you see a complete stranger and just think, 'hey, I like that guy, he's got style', even though he betrays no sign of concern about his appearance and is just taking the bins out or walking to catch a bus or something? Same thing. No reason. It’s just spirit I guess, or auras, or leylines or something. City Yelps must live on a big fucking leyline. I feel like they could walk on stage, do pretty much anything, and I'd enjoy it. No idea. Maybe it all just stems from how much I like their photocopied sleevenotes and 'newsletters' and stuff. I dunno. I'll just shut up now and enjoy the music they do do when they walk on stage, which conveniently is very good.
Listen and buy from City Yelps.
Saturday, March 22, 2014
New Stuff: First Quarter Report.
In fact there have been a spiriting number of NEW THINGS that have attracted my attention, and here to prove the point is a quick run-down of them, thus clearing the deck of all this stuff that deserves your attention / support, but that I haven’t quite had the time or impetus to write a full-length-blog post on.
Habibi – self-titled LP (Burger)
‘Detroit Baby’ is the best neo-girl group tune you’re liable to hear this year, and it’s not the best song here by any means. I really like it when they go all-out on the reverb and twang and throw in some longer instrumental passages (‘Persepolis’, ‘Sweetest Talk’). There’s a slower, indie-er number at one point that’s kind of a bummer, and a few songs towards the end that don’t appeal to me much, but you can’t have everything. I just did the maths and this is 80% gold. Check it out.
(Listen on Soundcloud & buy from Burger.)
Sapphire Slows – Allegoria LP (Not Not Fun)
a little while back, and now the first proper full length from this mysterious Tokyo dweller proves an absolute joy, fully delivering on the promise of those earlier tracks, as Ms Slows (if I may) barely puts a foot wrong from beginning to end, drawing heavily from the foundations laid by former label-mates Peaking Lights (nothing wrong with that!), but also often investing her ragged, homemade dub-pop with an absolutely luminous dose of hyper-melodic pop optimism, like the gigantic vocal chorus / breakdown bit of some cheesy, long-forgotten house anthem distantly reflected back to us in dreams, through veils of glass-fronted, urbanite dreamland.... just a lovely, lovely, undemanding little trip. A fucking HAPPY album, if you can believe such a thing legitimately existing in 2014, this one’s still making me contentedly smile n’ nod after a ton of repeat spins. Perfect comfort music.
(Listen on Soundcloud, buy via Boomkat.)
The Love Triangle – Clever Clever LP (Static Shock)
As the eye-rolling reference-points thrown out above might suggest, this resembles the compressed residue of all the good ’77 UK punk bands and none of the shit ones, whilst also somehow ducking the accompanying nostalgia bear-trap - and as such I like it a lot.
(Listen & buy from Static Shock.)
Irkallian Oracle – Grave Ekstasis tape/LP (Nuclear War Now!)
blog that hipped me to this one (none more KVLT!), and of course he sings the praises of Irkallian Oracle a lot more eloquently than I could attempt to, so instead I’ll just give in to this record’s function as a hyperbole magnet and just say: holy fucking shit. This is the most purely devastating, world-swallowing thing I’ve heard from the realm of black metal in years. The sort of music that’s so overwhelming it just… make.. all… words.. stop, like the stuttering, ellipsis-filled end of a Lovecraft story, as ill-judged metaphors flail hopelessly, aware of their inability to ever really capture the totality of.. this.. goddamn… thing. The bone-shattering, practice room brutality of ‘80s Napalm Death, the gravesoil-caked pagan tape-hiss of the most funereal BM, the cosmic/hypnotic maximalist wipeout of The Boredoms or Oneida in their prime – all of these things are here, sublimated into something new and staggering.
For a long time now, many metal bands of a more forward-thinking variety seem to have been lost in bombast, endlessly trying to recreate that uncomfortable, tummy-churning Surround Sound OOF that comes from watching a giant monster lay waste to a city in some epic 3D folly. Irkallian Oracle are no exception, but where most contenders just end up creating the sonic equivalent of a Michael Bay Transformers headache, these guys actually walk the walk, conjuring the sound of the stars aligning as Cthulhu himself breaks the waves. And they do it themselves on fucking TAPES. None of this bloody drivel really does it justice, but… just… [speechless].
(Listen and buy from Nuclear War Now!)
Slum of Legs – demo tape (Tuff Enuff)
(As a ‘Big Sigh’ type aside, this is the problem after so many years of intensive music-listening: however hard a new white-ish, guitar-ish group might try to do something a bit different, it is now scientifically impossible for me to hear them without going “oh yeah, that’s pretty cool, but you know it basically sounds a bit like [insert obscure old bands A, B, C and D here], right?” It’s a dreadful affliction that makes me feel like one of those hand gesturing, arsehole celebrity wine-tasters whom we all used to laugh at before middle class consensus rendered them normal - please make it stop.)
Anyway, despite the fact that it has been distributed and sold for money by a third party label, it’s worth noting that the three tracks on this Slum of Legs 'demo tape' do function VERY MUCH as a demo (yes, it’s that same semantic query I had with previous Tuff Enuff releases). Giving only a fleeting, muffled impression of the kind of rampant creativity this unit is capable of, this is a real chunk of old fashioned “wow, I can’t wait to hear what they’ll come up with next” type demo tape excitement, exactly the kind of thing you could imagine John Peel tearing up his schedule for and jamming straight on the airwaves, back in ye olde halcyon pre-internet days. The best thing you will be able to buy for 50p (!) in the whole of the rest of your life, in other words.
(Listen and buy from Tuff Enuff.)
Monday, March 17, 2014
(1949 – 2014)
ROCK ACTION (no longer) ON DRUMS.
1. Iggy’s constant self-mythologising may provide quite a wall for beginners to cut through, but as anyone who’s spent sufficient time with the records will know, the Asheton Bros plus Dave Alexander WERE The Stooges. Now they’re all gone.
2. People writing about punk/rock/garage music often fall back on talking about ‘caveman drumming’, ‘primal thumping’ etc, and most of the time it’s all so much automated cliché, but if you want an example of some PUREST UG, check out Scott A. on the first Stooges album; sounds like they’ve just let him out of his cage in the zoo to lay down some thud! It's like he learned his chops watching the bigger apes beating their chests.
3. Well, that’s on the SURFACE at least…. dig further into the rhythm tracks on any of those songs (bar the long, shit one of course) and you’ll hear what a vicious, unconventional and totally single-minded approach this guy took to rock drumming – rarely equalled, not that many people dared try. Beneath the simplistic/untutored façade, he’s got the Charlie Watts pulse down, plus the crash & band of a big Motown influence, and it is flat-out amazing to hear things come into full-bloom on ‘Funhouse’. Of course, absolutely every element of ‘Funhouse’ is so amazing that it’s easy to overlook the drums, but they are HEAVY man, rolling and crashing and *right there* at the exact second the song needs a push. The sheer PLAYING from everyone on that album, jesus christ, the field of “rock”s not seem it’s like before or since, but… well, there are about a thousand ‘Henry Rollins picks his favourite albums’ interviews where you can read all this crap, so I’ll not go on about it too much.
4. From what I recall from my years studying ye olde history books, Scott was the younger brother, wild and dumb and impressionable, real ‘drug-hoover’ type, and he was very much Iggy’s drug-buddy as the band (or 50% of it at least) plunged heavily into smack. (Seems Alexander was more into the booze, and Ron was the straight man trying to pull them all together.) I believe Scott was also the one at the wheel when the band ploughed their van into a low-headroom bridge, putting a suitably destructive end to Stooges Mk. 1. (Correct me if I’m wrong in any of that.)
5. After the ‘Raw Power’ years, Scott put in some fine (if slightly more conventional) work drumming for Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith’s Sonic Rendezvous Band, whose scattered recordings remain essential listening for anyone with a yen for rough, punk-spirited heavy rock, way-out ‘70s guitar noise and the like. Wikipedia tells me that in the ‘90s, he recorded four whole albums with The Testors’ Sonny Vincent, in a line-up that also featured Captain Sensible on bass. I did not know that.
6. So in summation: a brilliant drummer and key member of probably the greatest capital letters Rock Band of all time, he will be missed.
(Photo via If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger..)
Sunday, March 16, 2014
Mystery Ships # 10.
It’s been a little while since I’ve done one of these, so let’s sing loud and stand proud for a border-demolishing comp of world-spanning psych-rock delirium, featuring contributions from India, Turkey, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Brazil, Australia, Yugoslavia and Iran (with plenty of room left over for US / UK business too), all united by the international language of fuzz, smoke and the mysteries of the Fender bass. Beyond that, no real concept at work here really, so, in the words of the Captain: JUST DIG IT.
1. Rajesh Roshan – Sanata Theme
2. The Merry Pranksters, Grateful Dead & Friends – Take Two
3. Kourosh Yaghmaei – Hajme El Khali
4. Loyce E Os Gnomes – Era Uma Nota De
5. Bisera Velentanlic – Sunny
6. Leisure Birds – Guardians of Time
7. Writing on the Wall – Aries
8. Staff Carpenborg & The Electric Corona – All Men Shall Be Brothers of Ludwig
9. Art Ensemble of Chicago with Brigitte Fontaine – Le Noir c’est Mieux Choisi
10. ‘Let’s Scare Jessica To Death’, extract # 4
11. Cem Karaca-Kardaslar Apaslar – Tatli Dillim
12. Teardrops - まいた種
13. Pip Proud – Adrenaline & Richard
14. The Night Mist – Janie
15. Ennio Morricone – Giorno di Notte
16. Blues Control – Boiled Peanuts
17. Monster Magnet – Ozium
18. C.O.B. – Sweet Slavery
19. The Advisory Circle – We Cleanse This Space
Cover art by Jun Morita, adapted from a panel from ‘The Devil’s Harp’ (1969), which I scanned some bits from and wrote about here.
Sunday, March 09, 2014
Japanese Record of the Month:
Carmen Maki –
Faraway Country b/w Just Two, Alone
Whilst I’ve not attempted much research into her background & career of ‘60s/'70s singing sensation Carmen Maki, the general feeling I get from her music & it's presentation is that of her being seen as a slightly more ‘serious’, rock / folk-based artist than as a conventional pop star, and indeed the two songs on this excellent 1969 single very much reinforce that idea, rejecting the ubiquitous orchestration and studio polish of most vintage Japanese pop for a stark, acoustic approach that at times almost recalls the sterner end of the British folk revival.
Anyone who picked up Maki’s collaborative album with the band Blues Creation when it was reissued by a few years back will have heard her wrapping her tonsils around a heap of mechanised, Zepplin-esque heavy boogie, sounding a little like Japan’s cooler and less annoying answer to Janis Joplin in places, but here we find her at completely the other end of the late ‘60s musical spectrum, delivering gentle, understated folk that sits very well with the ‘gambolling with goats’ cover art (well, I guess she was that much of a pop star, at least).
Accompanied only by a soft acoustic guitar, a flute and a single, lonesome horn, ‘Faraway Country’ finds Maki perfectly capturing that very particular spirit of haunting, minor key melancholy that makes Japanese pop so unique, the sparse arrangement allowing her to tap into the rural, folk-based roots of the enka tradition without ever giving way to the melodramatic bombast that often drags such material down when it hits the city. A definite keeper, this one is all wind whistling through the snow-capped mountains of the North country, Meiko Kaji or Junko Fuji walking away sword in hand from some harrowing showdown as children play amid the scrubland…. and not one parping trumpet or cheesy orchestral flourish to get in the way. Really beautiful.
‘Just Two, Alone’ on the B is a slightly more laboured and ornate affair that perhaps doesn’t captivate me quite as much, though I still like it a lot, with Maki’s exquisite vocal delivery and the surprising presence of some Morricone-western-soundtrack style clip-clopping hooves both pleasing me greatly. There is an odd kind of ‘marching band and spoken word’ interlude in the middle of this one that leads me to believe it must be a narrative ‘story song’ of some kind, and presumably not a happy one. My sub-Kindergarten level Japanese allows me to inform you that the lyrics at least partially concern two children, possibly going to school…. but beyond that, you’re on your own. Just like they are, if the translated title is to be believed. Sad stuff, no doubt.
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!
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