I wish the ape a lot of success.
Stereo Sisterhood / Blog Graveyard:
- After The Sabbath ; All Ages ; Another Nickel ; Bachelor ; BangtheBore ; Beard (R.I.P.) ; Beyond The Implode (R.I.P.) ; Black Editions ; Black Time ; Bull ; Cocaine & Rhinestones ; Dancing ; DCB ; Did Not Chart ; Diskant (R.I.P.) ; DIYSFL ; Dreaming (R.I.P.?) ; Dusted in Exile ; Echoes & Dust ; Every GBV LP ; Flux ; Free ; Freq ; F-in' Record Reviews ; Garage Hangover ; Gramophone ; Grant ; Head Heritage ; Heathen Disco/Doug Mosurock ; Jonathan ; KBD ; Kulkarni ; Landline/Jay Babcock ; Lexicon Devil ; Lost Prom (R.I.P.?) ; LPCoverLover ; Midnight Mines ; Musique Machine ; Mutant Sounds (R.I.P.?) ; Nick Thunk :( ; Norman ; Peel ; Perfect Sound Forever ; Quietus ; Science ; Teleport City ; Terminal Escape ; Terrascope ; Tome ; Transistors ; Ubu ; Upset ; Vibes ; WFMU (R.I.P.) ; XRRF (occasionally resurrected). [If you know of any good rock-write still online, pls let me know.]
Monday, February 17, 2020
First off, my apologies for chronic lack of blog action thus far in 2020. I have a hefty backlog of mixes and radio playlists which are basically ready to go, and which I’d been planning to post here early this year, but - technology hassles have done a number on my ability to prepare ‘em for public consumption, and I’ve lacked the time & inclination to undertake the wrestling with second-rate sound-editing applications and file converters which is now necessary to make this happen.
But, equally, this failure has resulted at least in part from the fact that what little computer-time I do have has instead been taken up with deep scoop bandcamp trawls and wallet-damaging scrambles for verge-of-selling-out vinyl - and let me tell ya folks, things have been frantic recently on that score.
I don’t know about you, but in recent years, I’ve fallen into a pattern wherein I’ve tended to find that the first few months of the year pretty slow-going in terms of new music. For blogging etc purposes, I keep a list of everything I buy/acquire/listen to, and after a few months of trudging back and forth through the cold listening to, I don’t know, The Faces or something equally moribund, I’ve often found myself scanning said list as the daffodils begin popping up and the birds start singing in early March-ish, thinking “hmm, the cupboard is bare – must make more of an effort!”
Not so this year however, as all-seeing 2020 vision has brought forth a veritable embarrassment of riches. Indeed, great stuff has been piling up so quickly since the new year, I can barely keep track of it. Aforementioned cupboard is full of cherry-glazed puddings and exotic pastries and fucking marzipan as far as the eye can see, and it’s only bloody mid-February! Anyone else out there feeling similar, or is it just me?
Admittedly, most of this exciting new listening seems to clustered around a few specific genre sweet spots – new school jazz, metal of various stripes and woodsy, neo-hippie U.S. psychedelia - and there are, inevitably, some latterly discovered 2019 leftovers still lurking in the woodpile, but, here at Stereo Sanctity, we SPIT upon such marginal distinctions of form/aesthetics and chronology, so it will be my pleasure to arbitrarily mix it all up for you in the weeks to come.
Initially, my plan was to cram all my recent discoveries together into a couple of “First Quarter Report” round-up posts, but I ended up writing quite a bit about some of them, so decided in the end it would be more appropriate to post them up here as individual album reviews. The first of these will be up TOMORROW, and all being well I’ll follow up with another post EVERY THREE-FOUR DAYS until I run out of steam, so, if you’re in need of some fab gear to help you get clocked in (or clocked out) for what promises, in its non-musical aspects, to be a singularly grim and vile annum, even by recent standards – look no further, friend. In terms of the humble turntable at least, New Decade is ON.
Labels: series intros
Saturday, January 04, 2020
Before we get going here, I should take some time to address the fact that a number of records on this list actually came out in 2018. I know - ancient, right? A couple of them I even picked up when they were repressed by the label after a period of unavailability, which I suppose technically makes them reissues, even. At the end of the day though, WHO F-ING CARES? When the gap between recording and release dates can stretch into years, does it really matter? This is a list of reasonably contemporary music that I discovered and played a lot in 2019, the existence of which made me happy and in some sense… reassured?
Reassured about what, I’m not really sure, but I’ll leave the the-end-is-nigh drum beating for another day (it’s getting pretty mainstream now anyway, so perhaps my work on that score is done). Suffice to say, if you and yours are lucky enough to inhabit lands not currently on fire, under water or under heavy bombardment – happy new year! In previous years, I’d have added something about not being under the yoke of some pea-brained tyrant, but we can’t expect miracles, I suppose.
And, finally, I’d like to close things off with a reminder that last year saw the death of a number a people whose work meant a great deal to me, both in the realm of music and beyond. Roky Erickson, David Berman, Dick Dale, Larry Cohen – gone but not forgotten. Please take a few minutes to click on those links and remember them at their best.
Now let’s get on with it.
1. Grey Hairs – Health & Social Care LP
Essential rock music for dark times. Back in October, I said:
“At the risk of repeating myself from past reviews, Grey Hairs make proper modern rock music, reclaiming that horribly loaded phrase from a place of the map which finds it bracketed between moustache-twiddling sub-genre re-enactment societies and shit that sounds like The Foo Fighters. In doing so, they stare down cold the expected bandwagon of influences, they address the world in which we live with honesty and insight, they conduct their band business with integrity, and, they rock, in a manner both profound and disconcertingly literal.
If you find yourself sick of a life full of dodgy cabling and dented speaker cabs, crowded dark rooms full of pints and germs, please listen to ‘Health & Social Care’, and remind yourself what the point is.”
2. Psychedelic Speed Freaks – s/t LP
Whisper it please, but you know what - on reflection, I think I might actually enjoy this even more than the old High Rise records, if you can believe that. Back in June, I ventured to characterise it as;
“..one of the most exhilaratingly extreme rock albums of the modern era, sitting comfortably next to the MC5-meets-AMT carnage of Feral Ohms debut from a couple of years back, even as tracks like ‘Night Seer’ – my personal favourite here - dial things back to a sleek, pulsing urban beauty that nigh on defies description, recalling the exquisitely nuanced blare of Martin Weaver’s work in Wicked Lady, whilst closing track ‘Immaterialized’ finds Narita grinding the gears of a shining, ectoplasmic hog for an eternal run down the post-earth highway, ol’ Jasso’s voice breaking into a Lemmy-like croak as space-rock oblivion beckons. It’s a monster.
Fuzz guitar fanatics who value raw sound, inventive playing and sonic extremity over expensive, brightly coloured boxes and multi-tracked compression - or indeed, unrehabilitated rock fans who just want an excuse to grind their drunken heads into the ground like some kind of human corkscrew - both need to get on this immediately.”
3. Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society – Mandatory Reality 2xLP
The very nicest sounds that the nicer half of our world has to offer. From November:
“Central to this music’s appeal is the fact that, rather than drifting off into abstraction, the tracks remain anchored around simple, almost child-like melodies – endlessly appealing harmonic phrases picked out on some string bass and glockenspiel-type things (practically none of the instruments my ears tell me are present on this record are actually listed on the credits), lending the music a feeling of warmth and accessibility that any open-eared, human listener should be able to appreciate.
If this can indeed be deemed a ‘drone’ record (and the proposition is questionable, though ‘In Memory’s Prism’ has tended to get played in the time and place I normally reserve for drone records), then it’s certainly not a “cold depths of interstellar space” type proposition – more of a “come on in, make yourself at home, would you like a cup of tea?” kind of deal, like walking into a stranger’s living room for the first time and immediately feeling so much at home that you feel you could spend your entire life there.”
4. Makaya McCraven – Universal Beings 2xLP
A good few dozen varieties of raw musical talent, thrown together by Mr McCraven like some mad cake mix, taking that ‘boom-bap’ nouveau-jazz sound to stereotype-defying heights of senseless beauty.
“Like many musicians within this milieu, McCraven plays as if he is as much influenced by hip-hop and electronica as ‘classic’ jazz, but his smoked-out, head-nodding 4/4 style, occasionally diverging into patterns of skittering, Ninja Tune-y rim-shots and weird double-time experiments, remains well-judged, never degenerating into cheese, and always serving to enhance, rather than detract from, the fine work of his collaborators. And make no mistake, accessibility should not be confused with any lack of depth or legitimacy in the performances showcased herein, which, I would contend, often hit a level that even the most hardline free improv/extended technique partisans would find difficult to dismiss. […] a compelling and – dare I say – inspiring listen; an album I can easily imagine be fetishised in years to come as the sound of a very particular, and I’d venture, very positive, set of cultural time & place circumstances crystalising – temporarily, at least - into something really special.”
5. The Bevis Frond – We’re Your Friends, Man 2xLP
You’ve gotta love someone who sticks to their story, and god knows, The Bevis Frond’s Nick Saloman has certainly done that – ‘We’re Your Friends Man’ could have come out immediately after fan favourites like 1990’s ‘Any Gas Faster’ or 1991’s ‘New River Head’ and no one would have batted an eyelid. The same mixture of elements that has sent me on a heavy duty trawl through the Frond back catalogue in recent years – disarmingly direct, pretention-free song-writing, sturdy DIY rock arrangements spiked with trace elements of folk and psychedelia and gargantuan quantities of unashamed, Hendrix-via-Mascis lead guitar heroism – can be found here in spades, the formula unchanged and undimmed by the passage of time.
Like most Frond releases, this is a pretty mammoth venture – twenty full length songs stretching over eighty plus minutes – and whilst there are, as always, some iffy moments here and there, it’s a tribute to the strength of Saloman’s writing that at least two thirds of these numbers demand repeat listens, his capacity for twisting his own experiences and insecurities into compelling new shapes lending the material a great deal more mileage than this kind of relentless introspection would normally achieve.
The playing from the currently full band line-up meanwhile is, needless to say, exceptional, keeping energy levels high throughout, and the fact that a group who’ve been doggedly plugging away across the decades can still hide Greatest Hits-worthy nuggets like Theft, And Relax… or the title track deep within the double digits of their umpteenth album’s track-list is nothing short of remarkable.
6. Aggressive Perfector – Havoc at the Midnight Hour LP
I’m not sure I if I can put this much more clearly than I did in my brief write-up at the start of December, but – HEAVY FUCKING METAL. If you like it, you’ll like this.
7. Kamaal Williams – The Return LP
From that same December post:
“Williams likewise seems to be daring us to start pulling comparisons to Herbie and Stevie out of the hat at some points here, but unlike the old masters, he seems deeply concerned with texture more-so than technique, seemingly ripping his organ and synth through a chain of effects that would make a guitar shop employee blush, building up deep, tidal washes of wah, tremolo and delay which keep the music sensuous, multi-layered and engrossing, bringing a disorientating psychedelic swirl to proceedings, whilst his tightly wound, hand-brake-turn interplay with Brown and McKenzie adds a sense of swaggering danger, undercutting any accusations of mere dinner-jazz noodling; you can almost feel the cold eyes of Miles overseeing this shit when things get way out there on the second half of stunning opening cut ‘Salaam’.”
8. Sarah Davachi - Let Night Come On Bells End The Day LP
And yet again, from December:
“The feel here is nuanced, timeless, eternally resonant – like mainlining the form and contents of a small yet beautiful Alpine chapel through your ears. Emotionally speaking, we run the gamut here from ‘Buhrstone’, which flirts with indulgent, melodic melancholia, to the twelve austere minutes of ‘Hours in the Evening’, as cold and affectless as the ancient, clammy stone wall of that aforementioned chapel.
At this point in my life, music like this performs an important function, keeping me calm and grounded, and creating an appropriate atmosphere in my quarters during that all-important lead up to bed time. It’s therapeutic in a sense, I suppose. As such, I’m always thrilled to discover a great new practitioner whose work I can keep close to the turntable, so thanks for this one Sarah – it’s out here in the world, doing great work.”
9. Comet Gain - Fireraisers Forever! LP
Old battlers, still out there battling, and I for one am happy for it. Remember those few months, earlier this year, when the fight against the hated B-word didn’t seem so futile? Maybe a band like Comet Gain sound best when their side (and mine) just lost the war.
“Comet Gain have made a few damn-near-perfect records in their time, and this certainly isn’t one of them – but again, do we really need it to be? Certainly no more so than we ever needed The Mekons or Swell Maps or Alex Chilton to release LPs which played front-to-back satisfactorily without getting lost or making a mess.
Now more than ever, it’s the continuation of the spirt which counts, more than watching the clock, monitoring the meters, gauging the melodicism or counting the verses, and in this sense, Comet Gain’s unexpected resurgence is scarcely half a shade less than a fucking grand achievement – both a painfully necessary reclamation of our current moment reflected through a sprawling, kaleidoscopic past, and a potent source of fuel for some way-fucking-worse moments yet to come.”
10. Oblivion Reptilian – Fried on Rock LP
This wouldn’t be a 2010s Stereo Sanctity best-of list without the great Mike Vest getting his oar in, and, following the less than amicable demise of Blown Out (about which we remain VERY SAD), Mike’s best shot at deep space nirvana in 2019 came via this postal collaboration with Australia-based drummer Andrew Panagopoulos.
Expanding on the template laid down by earlier releases under the Dodge Meteor name, this must stand as Vest’s most unashamedly Rockist project to date, as he brings chunky, full-on stoner-rock tone to the party, leaning heavily into the riffs as if waiting for some Dave Wyndorf type dude to step up to the mic – but, thankfully, that never happens, allowing Vest & Panagopoulos to instead stretch out and get gnarly.
The eight minute ‘Alien Shit’ in particular is a magnificent cut, a synapse-melting showcase of ultra-fried soloing that finds Vest embodying the album’s title about as completely as is humanly possible, revealing the influence of both Hendrix and Munehiro Narita upon his playing, in yet another absolutely flattening display of unashamed rock n’ roll extremity. In a happier world, they’d hand out sporting-style statuettes for this kind of achievement, and poor old Mike would need to invest in a sturdier set of shelves to keep them all on, in rare moments when he kills the volume and glides back to terra firma.
11. Venom Prison – Samsara LP
“Hold the presses folks! Here’s our new lead: Welsh metal band fronted by Russo-German antifa / feminist activist play unbelievably intense tech-grind / battle-ready death metal addressing frightening, taboo-skirting subjects of real life concern. As you might imagine, the results are impossible to fuck with, but more surprisingly, they are also super fun to listen to and don’t give me a headache! Whole world rejoices! Story at eleven.”
12. Taras Bulba – One LP
Though I was initially sad to hear that Fred Laird had disbanded his long-running outfit Earthling Society earlier this year, after sampling this initial collection of recordings from Laird’s new project with Earthling Society drummer Jon Blacow, the decision begins to make a lot of sense. To some extent I think, Taras Bulba follows on directly from the foundations laid by last year’s fairly astounding MO: The Demon album, vis-à-vis Laird’s apparent desire to move away from the more traditionally rooted British heavy psych/space rock of Earthling Soc’s prior releases, and to instead throw his stylistic net wide, embracing weird and exotic new sonic climes in a predominantly instrumental context.
And, sure enough, this ‘One’ goes all over the place, with otherly tuned and/or otherly constructed string tones predominating on the early tracks, alongside chimes, tabla-like percussion, eerie, looped samples and tape fragments whose mantra-like Middle Eastern atmos recalls Sun City Girls’ “ethno-forgery” approach, before paranoid, sawing strings, sinister/whimsical Czech movie soundtrack chimes and florid late night sax guide us through the spy-haunted neon midnight of, uh, ‘Neon Midnight’, ‘The YO-YO Man’ inaugurates a gleaming, chrome-bumpered ‘Ege Bamyasi’-ish nightmare funk jam, and ‘Rising Lazarus Blues’, the record’s sole vocal cut, returns us briefly to the more (relatively) familiar terrain of a particularly discombobulated under-the-apple-tree psych-folk phantasia, hitting a very particular sweet spot that I think was last tickled way back when by Dead Meadow’s ‘Feathers’ album, or the work of nutty Italian Barrett-devotees Jennifer Gentle.
For a fairly modest and low key initial release under a new band name, this LP covers one hell of a lot of ground, displaying a vivid and powerful sonic imagination and no small amount of skill and ingenuity, suggesting that the sky’s the limit for Laird and Blacow now that they’ve (for the most part) put aside the fuzzboxes and left the trad rock band format far behind.
13. Lower Slaughter – Some Things Take Work LP
I’ll confess, when I first picked up Lower Slaughter’s second LP upon its release early in 2019, it struck me as a pretty grizzly exemplar of Difficult Second Album Syndrome… not that there’s anything ‘wrong’ with it as such, you understand, but by nixing the easy Rock Pleasure Principle wins of their earlier work in order to undertake some brittle and punishing explorations of break-ups, bad relationships and self-esteem struggles, the band delivered a record which initially felt forbidding and unrewarding – the opening dirge of ‘Gas’ in particular is, appropriately enough, hard work - particularly for those of us who are (happily) unable to relate directly to its lyrical themes at this point in our lives.
Returning to it for a few weeks prolonged exposure later in the year however, expectations duly adjusted, it’s really grown on me. Aside from anything else, the band’s unique, rhythmically engaged riffage still whips, snaps and churns the way it should (the title track is very much what we in the biz are obliged to call a ‘total banger’), the recording/mixing (courtesy of Wayne Adams of Big Lad/Pet Brick/Melting Hand etc) is top notch, and Sinead Young’s voice remains an absolute force of nature.
During the album’s closing stretch on side # 2 meanwhile, the band hit a real purple patch, pushing their sound in some pretty powerful new directions. First, the agreeably energised ‘The Measure of a Man’ wrong-foots us with its startling talk of attacking airships and wolves in the forest (dunno what all that’s about, but it’s, uh, kind of awesome?), before ‘A Portrait of the Father’ hits hard – a pitch black outpouring a familial angst whose brooding, down tempo musical backing cuts straight to the bone, abetted by judicious use of some dubbed out vocal effects - and closer ‘The Body’ delivers a KO with one of the most stunning tracks the band have recorded to date, it’s colossal, neck-sliding riff and doom-heavy rhythmic heft combining with Young’s fearsome delivery for some real force-the-air-from-yr-lungs catharsis; exhilarating stuff.
Still not sure this one will ever get as much play from me as ‘What Big Eyes’ a few years back, but it’s a brave and strong step forward for the band – a convincing dead-eyed stare at an uncertain future, and those last few songs; man, that’s some good shit.
14. Headroom – New Heaven 12”
Wherein the rarefied spirit of 90s/’00s Proper Psyche settles over the town of New Haven, CT like a lime green cloud, and sleepy, patchouli-scented ectoplasm pulses through the myriad cables of Kryssi Battalene’s guitar set-up.
“For all the excess inherent in this kind of guitar-playing, there’s an admirable avoidance of bombast here, a sort of laidback, accidental feel, and a warm, analogue distance to the recordings, which feels very appealing to me, coming as it does at a point in time when all forms of heavy music seem to be constantly upping the ante in terms of volume, compression and general mind-buggering immensitude. As with the Mountain Movers albums, it feels a bit old fashioned in that regard. In a good way, I mean. It’s just a nice record to hang with, if you like psychedelic guitar music. No expectation, no pretence. Just enjoy the sounds, cos they’re pretty sweet.”
15. Pye Corner Audio – Hollow Earth LP
Also from February:
“In a sense, Pye Corner Audio strikes me as the hauntological electronica equivalent of, say, a mid-table thrash metal band, or a jazz group who play at local pubs on a Sunday afternoon, or something like that. By which I mean, this music doesn’t send me off on ecstatic reveries or leave me slack-jawed with instant revelation or anything, but it’s solid. It’s there when you need it, it ticks the boxes and does what it does. It’s reliable, like that super-strong wood glue from B&Q.
Listening to the woozy, out-of-sync synth line that opens this LP, you might be inclined to think, well, we already have one Boards of Canada, how badly do we need another? But, as things crack on and Jenkins gets stuck into his trademark MO – essentially stripping the BoC idiom back to its strongest core elements, replacing their somewhat dated breaks-based drum programming with some throbbing 4/4 mutant techno and adding a heavy dose of John Carpenter style dystopian sci-fi dread – I think you’ll be hard-pressed not to give him the nod.”
Labels: Aggressive Perfector, best of 2019, Grey Hairs, Headroom, Joshua Abrams, Kamaal Williams, Lower Slaughter, Makaya McCraven, Oblivion Reptilian, PSF, Sarah Davachi, Taras Bulba, The Bevis Frond, Venom Prison
Sunday, December 29, 2019
1. Gene Clark – No Other LP (4AD)
So I know it feels all kinds of wrong to accord the 1 spot on this list to a hoary old canonical classic which by my reckoning has been widely and affordably available for years, but – this is Gene Clark’s ‘No Other’, fergodsake. They could re-issue the damned thing every other week so far as I’m concerned, and if a few more sorry souls tune in each time around, none of the plastic n’ cardboard will have gone to waste.
Readers who remain unfamiliar with this one will just have to believe me when I try to reassure them that, in this instance, the Mojo writers got it right. If you’ve ever found yourself enticed by Gram Parsons’ promise of Cosmic American Music but disappointed by the fact that his stuff (good tho it is) basically sounds like straight up country… I believe this may have been the record you were actually looking for.
There has been an unedifying trend in the early 21st century for every solo artist or indie band who made a few quid to immediately hue toward The Epic, recording precious and bombastic personal song-cycles in readiness for the end-of-year lists and the invitation to recreate them at the Albert Hall with a twenty-piece band and so on. Naturally, these records have almost always been godawful, forgettable guff, but their sickly memory can be instantly eradicated by dropping the needle on ‘No Other’ and hearing Gene Clark, one day in the mid-70s, rousing himself from a sundazed stupor of substance abuse and chronic self-sabotage, making a few phonecalls, booking some studio time, and proceeding to swim fucking laps around the rim of the cloud-capped musical grail which has so consistently eluded the well-scrubbed contenders of our own era.
Naturally I didn’t shell out the £100+ required for the big, box set version of this reissue with sleeve notes and documentaries and so forth (what do you think I am, someone’s dad or something?), so I remain ignorant of ‘No Other’s exact production circumstances, but basically it sounds as if Gene and credited producer Thomas Jefferson Kaye assembled a small army of the most gifted, consummate session players the world had to offer and drilled them until they were all playing exactly what they needed to play at any given moment across these eight colossally poignant, multi-faceted compositions.
Within these songs, gravelly nuggets of mordant, hard-won wisdom casually arise, delivered to us upon tendrils of tangled and baroque poetic sprawl, fragmentary images glimmering, withering and reviving once more upon each repeat play as the guitars and harpsichords fray and yearn, the backing singers swoon and the funk-savvy rhythm section kicks in like a double-shot of espresso. Gene’s voice itself meanwhile sounds like some distraught cowboy spirit guide, intercepted through those Webb/Campbell wires as he unfurls his scrolls of revelation and gives ol’ Percy Shelley a run for his money.
To my amateur ears, the new remaster of the album sounds a bit quieter than my old CD rip, with greater dynamic range seeming to give instrumental line more space once the volume is suitably adjusted, and dropping the compression which used to render the album’s relentless cosmic bombast rather tiring when played through in its entirety. A definite improvement, if I’m any judge.
Taken individually, each song on ‘No Other’ basically sounds like the kind of staggering masterpiece most artists could spend their entire career working up to. Together, they form like Voltron to make an uber-masterpiece of fearsome majesty, solid and palpable enough to eat up all this damn hyperbole and come back for more; one of those cultural artifacts which it is pretty much impossible to rate too highly.
2. David Behrman – On The Other Ocean LP
“Regardless of the processes that brought these recordings about, the results are serene, oceanic and absolutely delightful, veering away from academic, pure tone minimalism toward what I suppose may have been seen as the more cerebral end of the ‘new age’ spectrum. Drawing on my own listening experience, they certainly put me in mind of Emerald Web’s Silicon Valley laser show conjurations, Arthur Russell’s neo-classical ‘First Thought, Best Thought’ recordings, and some sort of perfect, shimmering dream of driving down through the hills to San Francisco harbour in a silent, pastel-coloured Cadillac powered by sunbeams. Rare and mirage-like 20th Century American Utopian vibes can be found here in abundance – an impossibly precious dream of compassionate, technologically-mediated progress, shining forever on black wax.”
(I’ve also subsequently been very much enjoying David Behrman’s Music With Memory album, recorded in collaboration with violinist Takehisa Kosugi and saxophonist Werner Durand, and reissued on the Alga Marghen label in 2017 – highly recommended.)
3. John Coltrane – Blue World LP
So, yeah, I know the recent trend in “new, unheard album from legendary, god-like artist” releases has the potential to become teeth-grindingly tedious pretty quickly now that the major labels seem to have cottoned on to it as a good earner, and I’d demurred on these ‘new’ Coltrane albums in particular, on the basis that there are still a fair few old Coltrane albums I need to catch up with, but…. I happened to hear the take on ‘Blue World’ that gives this collection it’s name on the radio one day, and that was that - Universal Music Group got my dough (filtered through a friendly, independant local record shop, of course).
The sole ‘new’ composition uncovered on this session of alternate takes recorded by the classic Tyner/Garrison/Jones quartet in 1964 for use on the soundtrack to an otherwise obscure French-Canadian film (Gilles Groulx’s ‘Le Chat dans le Sac’), ‘Blue World’ itself is, indisputably, a keeper – a proto-cosmic nugget of blissed out grace, with Garrison’s lolloping, head-noddin’ bass line – initially doubled by Tyner on piano, before he begins twisting the groove in some characteristically interesting directions - pre-empting not only the rhythmic backbone of ‘A Love Supreme’ (recorded a few months later), but even Cecil McBee’s work on Alice’s psychedelic masterpiece ‘Journey in Satchidinanda’.
Elsewhere, quartet remain in a mellow, reflective kinda mood (presumably in keeping with the feel requested by director Groulx). The exquisitely tender ‘Naima’ has always been one of my favourite Coltrane numbers, so it’s great to be able to take in two alternate versions of it here (the second one particularly superb, with Trane throwing a few scale-shifting question marks into the central melody), and three takes of ‘Village Blues’ – originally from the 1961 ‘Coltrane Jazz’ album – are not to be sniffed at either, with the final one briefly evolving into a slightly more aggressive, though still light touch, modal work-out, Jones’ strident crash cymbal leading the way. Beginning with lengthy solos spots from both Garrison and Tyner before the boss eventually steps in to breath fire, the take on ‘Traneing In’ on side two stays pretty trad, dad, but is still totally sweet too.
As you’ll no doubt be aware, hearing these four guys playing together is basically the musical equivalent of watching the sun and moon rise simultaneously, so getting a bit more of it in ANY context is to be welcomed, irrespective of major label vinyl revival machinations, and these recordings do have a unique vibe to them that makes this album an invaluable addition to the Trane catalogue – a kind of low key, beautific kick-about, setting the scene and sing-posting new directions, before the boys began striding forward in earnest, cracking the next few big eggs of their leader’s hallowed discography.
4. Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit – April is the Cruellest Month LP (Blank Forms)
I’d long been aware of this one’s status as a storied landmark of Japanese guitar extremity, but Blank Forms’ 2019 reissue has definitely helped me achieve a new appreciation for the album, having previously only experienced it through some extremely low-res mp3s downloaded from god-knows-where.
The two cuts on side A keep it low key, axe-wise, with Takayanagi’s growly wah-wah scrapes looming in the background like some nocturnal hunting beast as the rest of the group (flautist/woodwind guy Kengi Mori, bassist/cellist Nobuyoshi Ino and percussionist Hiroshi Yamazaki) instead come to the fore, building a mordant, rain-soaked sprawl of kaidan-ish avant gloom and “bad night in the saw mill” free improv. But, it’s for the side long ‘My Friend, Blood Shaking My Heart’ on the flip that this disc will really be remembered.
Therein, we hear one of the world’s most uncompromising guitarists going absolutely fucking postal across twenty plus minutes of howling, unrelenting chaos, pushing the physical limitations of flesh on strings on wood about as far as they’ll go before reaching a state of complete collapse.
It’s breath-taking, overwhelming stuff – Too Much on every level, as Takayanagi’s frothing, unhinged attack often makes it sound as he’s consumed the then non-existent rulebook for grind/death metal soloing and vomited that weak-ass shit back into the black heart of his own personal fury, whilst his equally hyped up collaborators follow suit, with Mori in particular going absolutely bat-shit on alto sax. (Even sounds as if someone’s twisting knobs on a analogue synth across the last five minutes or so – what gives?)
Somehow though, spread out across the track’s extended duration, this full bore, constantly climaxing sonic violence actually becomes a strangely meditative, cleansing experience – like sitting impassively at the calm centre of a city-totalling hurricane. It also, you’ll note, sounds almost exactly like Guttersnipe – no small boast for what is ostensibly a straight-to-tape 1975 jazz session, given the extended chains of magic, flashing LED covered boxes that band use to realise their sound.
5. Berto Pisano - Death Smiles on a Murderer OST 2xLP
‘Death Smiles on a Murderer’ is a quintessentially narcotic and incoherent Italian horror film from 1973 (I reviewed it here at my Other Place if anyone’s interested), but composer Berto Pisano arguably went above and beyond the call of duty when it came to composing the movie’s main theme – an epic, baroque fantasia which and which sounds like the accompaniment to a ballerina suffering from tuberculosis expiring during her final dance and witnessing the dust of her bones reforming itself into the shape of a gliding, celestial swan.
This remarkable melody – channelled in some instances through the inimitable vocal cords of Edda Dell’Orso - tunnels its way into the viewer’s brain across the course of the film like a flower-bearing, funereally-garbed earworm, and indeed, Arrow’s double LP soundtrack release features what feels like about a thousand variations on it, all equally wonderful.
Pisano continues to deliver elsewhere across these four sides of morbid delirium however, providing sinister stabs of exquisite fuzz guitar, abstract, percussion-led creep-outs, limpid orchestral atmospherics and even some ‘On The Corner’-style FX-filtered trumpet jams. Just about everything you could wish for in one of these things in other words – highly recommend for those who are in the mood (or wish to be).
Of course, there are inevitably also several clod-hopping, buzz-killing jaunty harpsichord waltz numbers provided to accompany the film’s ballroom scenes – very much the gothic horror equivalent of those god-awful ‘saloon piano’ tracks that tend to stink up Spaghetti Western soundtracks, guaranteed to send me leaping toward the turntable as if intercepting a thrown hand grenade… but that’s all part of the fun really, isn’t it?
Friday, December 13, 2019
On days like this, it might help us to stand together for the real national anthem (which got to number 15 in 1985).
Labels: Billy Bragg
Thursday, December 12, 2019
Wednesday, December 11, 2019
If you’re reading this and you’re a UK citizen, I’m sure you know what you have to do tomorrow, and I’m sure you’ve already been bombarded with this ‘advice’ from a hundred different sources, but what the hell, y’know?
Tactical voting is clearly the only way a decent and humane agenda is going to get anywhere near the finishing line on this one. So, if you’re registered in a seat where one of the main opposition parties is in a position to challenge the Tories, please vote for that party. If you’re unlucky enough to reside in a Tory stronghold, please vote for whoever’s coming second. And if you live in a safe Labour / SNP seat, please vote for them anyway, because some wise-ass will doubtless be on TV crunching the nationwide voting totals within 48 hours of this message, and the bigger that total is, the better. Clear? Good. Many thanks.
If you live in the UK but you’re not a UK citizen meanwhile, please be assured that I share your frustration – granting suffrage to the people who actually live in the place being governed would be top of my own personal agenda, but whatcha gonna do, eh?
And, if you don’t live in the UK, have never been to the UK and don’t give a hoot about the UK – I’m sorry to have wasted your time. Normal service will be resumed imminently.
Monday, December 02, 2019
Many months late and countless dollars short (trying to meet crazy, self-imposed horror movie reviewing deadlines will do that to you), here is a quick run-down of new-ish things (some drifting back a year or five, but as I say, my ears, like my posts here, are OFTEN LATE) which have won my attention and to some extent admiration during the latter half of 2019.
A discovery via the ever-reliable Terminal Escape blog, this Saskatoon-based instrumental heavy psych combo seem to have been toiling away in relative obscurity for quite a while now. I’m not entirely sure how best to frame the smeary, slo-mo space-rock grooves found on their ‘Street Rock’ tape (2014), but despite the apparent simplicity of the band’s approach (guitar, bass n’ drums banging it out, with occasional dubbed out echo noise and samples thrown in for the pure heck of it), their sound feels thoroughly hypnotic and entirely unique within its field – enveloping, like flying slowly into a big, dark cloud.
I’ve not yet had a chance to wade into the group’s wider oeuvre, but this murky ol’ tape rip alone seems liable to find me head-nodding my way toward a blissful coma for many months to come; the opening ‘Feelings (Dub)’ in particular is an absolute monster, blown-out bass gradually becoming pure mist as the sky caves in and vision narrows… keep it coming.
Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember.
And if all that seems a bit too weird for you meanwhile, say hello to this cumbersomely named Cardiff six-piece, whose recent double LP on the Cardinal Fuzz label delivers eighty minutes or so of comfortably ungrounded space-rock, doled out the way the blind idiot god at the centre of the cosmos intended, helmets respectfully doffed to Hawkwind and The Heads; which is not to say that they fail to to establish their own niche within this closely-guarded sub-genre, but I suspect they’re well aware that their chosen idiom comes with a certain set of expectations, and basically they aim to please.
To be honest, the reedy, reverbed vocals and hippy-drippy, ‘random gnarly phrase generator’ type lyrics here do sometimes get a bit too close to the Primal Scream Zone for my taste (it’s sort of the psyche-rock equivalent of the “dog piss zone” when you’re out picking blackberries), but such suspicions are quickly annulled by a sturdy, ‘Space Ritual’-worthy rhythm section and some superb, noise-spiralin’ grue from the guitarist, who’s got a wah-wah pedal and is heroically unafraid to use it (seriously, this guy must have the most muscular left ankle in South Wales on the basis of his foot work here).
As the album ploughs on and the track times get ever longer, Infinity Forms.. settle comfortably into their predominantly long-form business, with the full-on rock band sections buffered by long stretches of analogue electronic bliss-out, which are very enjoyable if yr in the mood. Closer ‘Sun God Grave Goods’ (cor blimey) is the best of the bunch I think, opening with a can’t fail combo of electric tamboura and harmonica, before momentarily recalling one of Bong’s more recent, distortion-free jams, as a massive, gong-like crash cymbal heralds the entrance of the rhythm section for a further expanse of delightful ‘Star Gate’ type ceremonial, head-nodding ambience. (Not sure that the extended acoustic outro and field recordings of soggy footsteps add a great deal, but hey, they’ve got four sides to fill and they’re stretching out – I can dig it.)
As mentioned, these guys aren’t exactly re-invented the afterburner here, but if you’re planning on firing up the ol’ interstellar freighter to an excursion to some distant moon-pyramids any time in the near future, you could do worse than jam this one in the eight-track, especially now that Blown Out are permanently on ice.
I tried listening to some stuff from young U.S.-based composer and PhD student Sarah Davachi a while back and couldn’t really get into it, but her recently repressed 2018 disc Let Night Come On Bells End The Day really hit the spot (and as a result, hit my wallet).
Regular readers will recall that I’m always in the market for a good drone or two, and this humble LP boasts five of the buggers – three reasonably lengthy, two short – which represents admirable value, I’m sure you’d agree.
The sounds herein seem to have been sourced entirely from keys of all varieties (organ, synths and piano), although the woozy, uncertainly pitched tones conjured during the opening minutes of the first side’s exuberantly blissful ‘Mordents’ sound uncannily like strings in places (that’ll be the Mellotron, I’m assuming).
Natural instrument tones seem to dominate here, insofar as they can with synths involved, and there are no obvious treatments or effects in evidence, yet the resonance and range Davachi wrings from her gear, aided by a few consummate overdubs adding over/undertones, is profoundly effective.
The feel here is nuanced, timeless, eternally resonant – like mainlining the form and contents of a small yet beautiful Alpine chapel through your ears. Emotionally speaking, we run the gamut here from ‘Buhrstone’, which flirts with indulgent, melodic melancholia, not a million miles away perhaps from one of The Dirty Three’s piano-led tracks, to the twelve austere minutes of ‘Hours in the Evening’, as cold and affectless as the ancient, clammy stone wall of that aforementioned chapel.
At this point in my life, music like this performs an important function, keeping me calm and grounded, and creating an appropriate atmosphere in my quarters during that all-important lead up to bed time. It’s therapeutic in a sense, I suppose. As such, I’m always thrilled to discover a great new practitioner whose work I can keep close to the turntable, so thanks for this one Sarah – it’s out here in the world, doing great work.
Once again, I’m severely late to the party when it comes to digging into London / the globe’s rewarding new funk/electronica-informed jazz scene, and in this case in particular I have NO excuse, given that a friend dropped me a link to Kamaal Williams’ 2018 LP The Return in an email over a year ago - but hey, at least I picked up on the repress, so hopefully I’m getting at least a little bit closer to getting a handle on all this exciting shit which appears to have been going on literally just down the road from my f-ing house for a number of years now.
Formerly one half of duo Yussef Kamaal (with drummer Yussef Dayes), Williams fills all available space here on keys, and also produces under the auspices of his sharply-monikered alter-ego Henry Wu. Spare some applause too though for Pete Martin and Joshua McKenzie, who do flat out fantastic work on bass and drums, pulling back from the downtempo/hip-hop inspired grooves often favoured by this scene and instead laying down some sinuous, quick-silver playing which delivers all the muscle of yr ‘70s fusion favourites with none of the off-putting show-boating (well, ok, maybe just a little bit, here and there).
Williams likewise seems to be daring us to start pulling comparisons to Herbie and Stevie out of the hat at some points here, but unlike the old masters, he seems deeply concerned with texture more-so than technique, seemingly ripping his organ and synth through a chain of effects that would make a guitar shop employee blush, building up deep, tidal washes of wah, tremolo and delay which keep the music sensuous, multi-layered and engrossing, bringing a disorientating psychedelic swirl to proceedings, whilst his tightly wound, hand-brake-turn interplay with Brown and McKenzie adds a sense of swaggering danger, undercutting any accusations of mere dinner-jazz noodling; you can almost feel the cold eyes of Miles overseeing this shit when things get way out there on the second half of stunning opening cut ‘Salaam’.
This is, I’ll freely admit, probably the most totally-fucking-Gilles-Peterson thing currently lurking in my record collection, but the older I get and the wider I listen, the more I’d inclined to suspect that the old boy has actually been holding the keys to the castle all along, and to start regretting the rube-ish years I’ve spent projecting sneers and roll-eyes in his general direction.
And on completely the other end of the spectrum meanwhile… FUCK YEAH! Infernal Hails! It’s been a long wait since Manchester’s Aggressive Perfector unleashed (because music in this vein can never simply be ‘released’) their accurately named ‘Satan’s Heavy Metal’ EP in 2016, but they’re finally back this month with their debut LP, ‘Havoc at the Midnight Hour’, and the consciously grotesque, Lucio Fulci-inspired cover painting certainly bodes well.
Well, I mean, I say that, but in fact I’ve started to suspect that contemporary metal bands’ devotion to awesome, eye-catching album covers and OTT retro aesthetics can often be inversely proportional to the actual quality of their music. Aggressive Perfector however provide a glorious exception to this embryonic rule, continuing to attack their admirably non-denominational Awesome Old School Metal (does that merit an acronym..?) with punkoid energy and an infectious love of and dedication to their chosen craft which should get them over the spiked railings erected by even the most discerning of self-appointed NWOBHM gatekeepers.
Higher recording fidelity and more ambitious song structures have for-better-or-for-worse diluted the Venom/Motorhead booze n’ fags vibe which defined Perfector’s first EP, but guess what – the tighter studio playing and clearer, more compressed production showcased here actually suits them pretty well, with the band’s core essence retaining enough piss n’ vinegar to immediately give ‘em a sharp, serrated edge over the legions of festival-clogging, mid-table outfits whose broadly unexceptional work fills out the reviews pages of Metal Hammer each month.
Re-reading the paras above, they sound a bit dry, so I’ll give it to you straight – I *love* this shit, and it’s been on my earphones for the double-speed trudge to work every morning since the weather turned cold and the band put the record up for download (perfect timing guys). If the mid-tempo, chug-riffing churn of opener ‘Onwards to the Cemetery’ – complete with soaring, Mercyful Fate leads and flaming torch-waving chorus – doesn’t serve as an effective refresher course on the reasons why metal is awesome, you’re probably in the wrong classroom, you non-metal loser, and the full-on thrash of ‘Chains of Black Wrath’, ‘Devil’s Bastard’ and ‘Vengeful One’ repeatedly hammer home the same core message with a relentless singularity of purpose.
Beginning with one of vocalist/guitarist Dan Holocausto (I kid you not)’s several attempts to top Tom Araya’s legendary falsetto-to-growl scream from ‘Angel of Death’, the latter track in particular is an absolute banger, correcting a discrepancy which blights much 80s metal production, in that the mix allows us to hear the raw buzz of the bass strings as they’re subjected to what I take to be the thrashing of a lifetime.
To recap, then: METAL. If you like it, you’ll like this.
The Vacant Lots.
I realise I’m pretty behind the times on this one, but since when did Anton Newcombe cease to be a fucking maniac and become a reliable architect of top drawer retrogressive guitar music? He is not in this band, but he produced their ‘Exit’ EP, and, in stark contrast to much of the older material available on their bandcamp page, opening track ‘Bells’ verifiably rules.
The vocalist here is going for that Peter Perret / Nikki Sudden frail, drugged up insouciance kind of thing, but basically ends up sounding almost exactly like the bloke from The Psychedelic Furs instead, which seems in some ways like an even better result. The backing track meanwhile takes a boilerplate JAMC/Shop Assistants rhythm track, adds one of those lovely, permanently ascending chord progressions and lets it all pound along for five and a half minutes without variation, whilst the production layers guitars on top of guitars on top of guitars on top of guitars on top of guitars (and indeed, some bells, way off in the background somewhere). It’s not clever and it’s certainly not new – just more of that old ‘boys with haircuts lined up on stage like shooting gallery ducks, glumly strumming away’ type shit really – but it is BIG, and as such it does the business.
Disappointingly, the rest of the material on the EP is basically pretty unremarkable – second song is ok, but it’s really just more tenth gen Mary Chain cast-offs and, god help us all, some cod-Suicide electro poetry jamming towards the end; real try-hard, eternal support band shit. But that one song, man. I sure hope you’ve got a few more like that in you, boys. Make your mothers proud!
Astonishingly, Wikipedia informs me that this EP reached number 9 in the UK singles chart in June, and whilst I’m not sure exactly what that signifies these days (plus, do they let EPs in now - WTF?), it at least suggests I’m not alone in my strange infatuation with this number. Mainstream-a-go-go!
Feels like we definitely need a bit of a palette-cleanser after all that, and, though I’ve been feeling pretty disconnected from contemporary punk music recently, if it sounds like anything in 2019-20, I believe it should probably sound like this. Hyper-energised, unadorned practice room blasters from this all-female Mexican trio, who, weirdly but wonderfully, sound as if they could have leaped straight through a time-warp from the late ‘70s, when this stuff was still exciting and new and not buffered by four decades-worth of back patch scenester posery and contrived micro-genre suspicion.
Bass and drums are basic but righteous, but the guitarist by contrast has some real Robert Quine / East Bay Ray type shit going on. We’re talking SHREDDING here folks, with shrieking nah-nah-na-nah-nah type anti-melodies every which way, and it’s never been so welcome. Vocals meanwhile are strained, way in the red and don't give a fuck about your spit-guard, continuing to make me ponder why Spanish (or Portuguese) language punk sounds about a thousand times more crucial than the anglophone variety these days. Ten songs in marginally more minutes and all of them fucking brilliant, in short. (Well, personally I prefer the ones in ‘punk rock’ tempo to the flat-out hardcore efforts, but that’s just me.)
Quite why the entire post-MRR community didn’t fall to their knees and hail Soga as the new queens of the waking universe when this demo first appeared on tape in 2018 I can’t possibly imagine, but…. maybe they did and I didn’t even notice? It’s so hard to keep track these days. Regardless - hitting my own knees right NOW, because to all intents and purposes, this is THE BEST.
Monday, November 18, 2019
With the departure of heart n’ soul members Jon Slade and Kay Ishikawa, the dissolution of long-time record label Fortuna Pop and a more general fading away / changing-of-the-guard within the London indie scene which had nurtured them for so long, 2014’s wistful and subdued ‘Paperback Ghosts’ felt like a natural farewell for the bedraggled old beast of a band that is Comet Gain; a dignified wave goodbye as they stride off into a golden, autumnal sunset.
But, it was never quite going to happen that way, was it? Like a long forgotten mate knocking on your door one rainy midnight with a six pack and something on his mind – like that teenage fave LP you gave away to charity, then re-bought years later for £20 because you’re an idiot – Comet Gain are back in action, sounding wilder and more impassioned than they have since, well… since kids now taking their GCSEs were busy being born, let’s put it that way.
The band’s members have, it is safe to assume, been significantly exercised by outrage arising from the circumstances surrounding the U.K.’s decision to withdraw from the European Union (I refuse to humour this kick to the head of civilisation with a six letter contraction that makes it sound like a fucking breakfast cereal) – and who in heaven’s name can blame them?
Being hearty, good-natured folk, Comet Gain are not exactly leaving us in any doubt as to where they stand on the current sorry state of affairs, as opening track ‘We’re All Fucking Morons’ makes abundantly clear. Herein, vocalist Rachel Evans pleads with her hypothetical opponents; “I just want to understand you / before I go to war with you”. The hectoring, enervated punk rock stomp which follows suggests that, like so many of us, she did not receive a satisfactory response to her entreaty.
Second track, ‘The Girl with the Melted Mind and the Fear of the Open Door’ is classic Comet Gain, a surging rush of knotty guitar n’ organ textures, breaking against the wall of Woodie Taylor’s ever-steady drumming, its flowery lyrical conjurations seemingly addressing mental illness, social anxiety, drug freakout or some combination thereof. It could fit in nicely next to career highlights like ‘Why I Try To Look So Bad’ or ‘The Ballad of Frankie Machine’. Man, this new burst of anger is really paying off.
Next up though is the real reason you need to listen to this record, and why the idea of a revised Comet Gain line-up fighting their way through the tail end of 2019 suddenly seems like a good idea. Over five and a half seething minutes, the unpromisingly titled ‘Bad Nite at the Mustache’ finds David Feck/Christian’s poetical alter-ego Charlie Damage unburdening his splenetic soul, and it’s a beautiful, terrible, horribly necessary thing to behold.
It takes some guts in the present historical moment for a middle-aged rock band to evoke “another burning tower block / filled with screaming ghosts” without sounding crass, but this track has the hackle-raising, desperate power to pull it off, a freezing rain-soaked dash across some poverty-blighted street almost visible as David/Charlie sneers that, “life is always cheap, always led by the creeps,” the rebel lifer heart beneath his suburban dad exterior rising to the surface as he curses “the tired, dumb fuckers”, a shriek of needle-peaking feedback rise behind him before that shaky, over-driven jangle of yore rises like a practice room phoenix for the chorus, calling upon the abused nation – or the whole abused world, perhaps? – to “cauterise the wounds / with something like fire”.
It’s stunning, frankly – not just a full force reminder of why bands with the kind of wounded, ineffable spirit that powers Comet Gain remain worth persisting with through years of botched gigs and patchy albums, just to catch that moment when the stars align, but also as one of the most devastatingly direct artistic responses to the sickening social malaise we are all guilty of contributing to I’ve heard in this blighted year.
(I realise this probably wasn’t the prescription he had in mind, but in view of the date I’m posting this, I’ll simply note that when you colour in a picture of some fire, you do so with red and yellow combined. JUST SAYIN’.)
Whilst Charlie Damage may insist that “the past wants to make a memory out of the future” though, Senor Feck is certainly not above submerging himself in that past for a bit of comforting wallow, once again reaching way beyond his own lived memories for ‘The Society of Inner Nothing’, a solid jangler which appears to salute the “lavender boys and fireworks girls”, “searching for Horus and Pan” under the auspices of the none-more-rose-tinted ‘60s counter-culture, as well as perpetuating his curious lyrical fixation with Rosicrusianism (perhaps a PKD reference in this instance? – not sure).
Slightly closer to home, ‘The Godfrey Brothers’ is another album highlight, a wonderful, expansive track, very much in the spirit of the ‘Paperback Ghosts’ material. The album’s press release straight-forwardly states that this number is “about the Godfrey brothers”, but this proves a sneaky bit of phrasing, given that the only thing which pops up when you plonk that into your nearest non-Google search engine is the blokes behind late ‘90s chill-out titans Morcheeba.
Even after two whole decades ploughing this particular furrow, it took me a good few minutes of brain-think to recognise that the song is actually a tribute to tragically short-lived siblings Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks, founders of Swell Maps, wgo are both given first person voice here, the latter finding succour in his West Hampstead flat with “500 Beach Boys bootlegs”, the former surrounding himself with “scented scarves and imaginary girls”. Key line: “they all thought we were strange / working upstairs at the Music and Tape Exchange”.
There is a real streak of pain running through this song however, undercutting the band’s usual nostalgic drift; the creeping realisation perhaps that the dark shadow of mortality has already started to fall, not only across the immortal scraggle-haired genii to whom the song is dedicated, but the whole warped generation who were making counter-cultural hay when David and co were young and dumb.
Initially, I wished the same verisimilitude could be located within side #2’s ‘Mid 8-Ts’, a pre-fab indie disco romp through the C-86 glory days of “jumper with holes / playing our roles”. Reminiscent of the ‘City Fallen Leaves’ era, it has the potential to feel like pretty weak tea for those of who don’t share these memories first hand, but the admission that “your heart plays tricks on you / forgets about the shit on your Beatle boots” puts a rather different spin on things, and, in view of this album’s angrier, more uncertain meditations on time, nationality and belonging, there’s a pretty ominous undertow to the chorus’s repeated declaration that “you belong here”, and that “you might as well go where you belong”. That, presumably, being the past, or some aging scenester simulacrum thereof, at the very least.
A word is necessary meanwhile about this album’s production, which, surprisingly, must be the messiest, most quote-unquote “lo-fi” set of recordings the band have released since the heady days of ‘Realistes’ and ‘Tigertown Pictures’, in spite of the presence of consummate pros Ben Phillipson (Eighteenth Day of May) and James Hornsey (The Clientele) in the current line-up.
Were I to take the role of a whinging contrarian, I could make the argument that the urgency of those earlier albums resulted from the fact they were recorded in a time and place - pre-pro-tools, pre-internet – in which the band simply lacked access to a proper studio and someone with the necessary brains to push the buttons in it, and that their hair-raising magic resulted to some extent from the group’s struggle to transcend their limited means, their inspired material and enervated performances punching through the murky mix as if it were a wet paper bag.
Such a ‘feel’ is difficult to recreate however, twenty years down the line, in a room where all the drum mics have clearly been set up properly and the clean-toned guitars are allowed to jangle just so when required to do so on the quieter songs. After all, when it comes to stuff like this, you can never go back, and, here in 2019, the decision to include bulbous, clipping bass frequencies on ‘Victor Jara Finally Found’ and muffed/submerged vocal takes elsewhere simply seems weird and lazy, rather than feeling like unavoidable collateral damage incurred in the midst of a wild, spur-of-the-moment taping session.
Returning the mic to the part of me which is not a whinging contrarian however (hi, fans), I can’t help but observe that the rawer, looser, noisier performances captured on ‘Fireraisers Forever!’ – presumably laid down with a bare minimum of either rehearsal or over-dubs, prioritising ‘feel’ over tuning or fidelity - are a real breath of fresh air after the finicky professionalism and try-hard, garage-rock pastiche of recent years; an honest and raucous reflection of band’s essential essence which propels the anger and desperation of the album’s best material safely over the finish line.
Reverting to more tired Pitchfork-isms meanwhile, I’m also duty-bound to report that ‘Fireraisers Forever!’ is shamelessly front-loaded… but perhaps in the end that’s not such a bad thing? Whereas the album comes out swinging with the single best side of music the band have recorded since David’s return from exile in the late ‘00s, the material on the flip fails to maintain this intensity, soon veering off in some weird, meandering directions which are at best, uh, interesting..? (the organ-dominated rebel fashion exegesis of ‘Werewolf Jacket’), and at worst pretty hard work (the on-the-nose “true confessions of a fuck up” litany of ‘Life On Your Knees’).
Pointedly titled closer ‘I Can’t Live Here Anymore’ likewise doesn’t quite “come off” in terms of conventional song-writing, but you know what? It really doesn’t need to. Seemingly a far more personal take on the damage inflicted on our narrator’s family life by the world’s recent turn to shit, there is no way I could look this band in the eye as David sings “and if there’s no tomorrow / I’ll be right here, holding on to you”, and tell them that this song is anything other than exactly what it needs to be, especially once a small child – David’s kid, perhaps? – enters the mix, nervously singing along on the last few choruses. Not a dry eye in the house, I’m telling you, and no dry tinder either post-Dec 12th, more than likely.
Comet Gain have made a few damn-near-perfect records in their time, and this certainly isn’t one of them – but again, do we really need it to be? Certainly no more so than we ever needed The Mekons or Swell Maps or Alex Chilton to release LPs which played front-to-back satisfactorily without getting lost or making a mess.
Now more than ever, it’s the continuation of the spirt which counts, more than watching the clock, monitoring the meters, gauging the melodicism or counting the verses, and in this sense, Comet Gain’s unexpected resurgence is scarcely half a shade less than a fucking grand achievement – both a painfully necessary reclamation of our current moment reflected through a sprawling, kaleidoscopic past, and a potent source of fuel for some way-fucking-worse moments yet to come.
Buy a download via bandcamp, buy on vinyl direct from Tapete, or listen in full via youtube.
Wednesday, November 13, 2019
Obsessive Velvet Underground fans may recall ‘The Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes’ – an extraordinarily ragged live bootleg distinguished by the fact that the accidental genius responsible for taping a series of Boston concerts placed their recording device on top of the guitar amps, resulting in hours and hours of churning Sterl n’ Lou strummage, hanging disembodied in space, almost entirely disconnected from the soothing context usually provided by songs, vocals, drums, and Doug Yule’s smiling face.
The results proved a bit too much even for me to be perfectly honest, but the person or persons behind mysterious Parisian outfit Hôpital De La Conception apparently deemed these absurd recordings the ne plus ultra of rock n’ roll’s grand mission, subsequently recording and releasing ‘The Electric Rockin' Chair’, in which two lonely electric guitars hold down the musical equivalent of a dead-eyed stare for just over half an hour without blinking.
Evoking an enervated, teeth-grinding, urban-subway-sound, the clean-toned rhythm guitar clings maniacally to a single chord – pure white heat, with ABSOLUTELY NO syncopation, slack or string-bends allowed in the building (Hôpital De La Conception SPITS upon your stupid ‘blues’).
Lead line over the top meanwhile gets busy with some hideously malformed practice amp wah-wah pedal shit, later reining it in in favour of finger-slicing, overdriven high end explorations, hitting that same peak of ‘Run Run Run’-at-the-Gymnasium nirvana again and again and again, then circling back ‘round for more. Occasionally, a man mutters slurred, potentially saucy, off-mic exclamations in French. Sounds like he’s enjoying himself.
From whence did this music emerge? From the austere bedroom of some finely tailored, smack-smoking gallic super-snob who wears shades 24/7 and will insist to the point of death that this is THE ONLY TRUE, LEGITIMATE ROCK N’ ROLL MUSIC? From a couple of bored music students casually marking out an intriguing historical dead-end? From some former garage band dude gone wa-ay off-piste in pursuit of room-clearing devilry? Who knows. Beyond the clues provided by this tape’s intriguing, headless cover shot, perhaps we will never know.
For most of the human race, this music will prove about as appealing as dental torture, but for those of us who’ve already had our palettes thoroughly scoured by the merciless wire-wool of The V.U., Rallizes, Black Time and Jim Shepard, there’s a fine, evil draught to enjoy here, worth drinking to the dregs. I’m not really sure why, but then, I’m not sure why I stuck my finger in the socket of that light-fitting when I was eight years old either, and a few decades later here we all are.
Listen & download via Opaque Dynamo bandcamp.
2019 vinyl pressing on Cardinal Fuzz / Feeding Tube already LONG SOLD OUT by this point, but hey, it exists.
Friday, November 08, 2019
Though I was too slow on the draw to pick up a vinyl copy for an affordable price, I’ve been listening to my mp3 version of Joshua Abrams & The Natural Information Society’s ‘Mandatory Reality’ album nigh-on religiously in recent months - the 25 minute opening cut ‘In Memory’s Prism’ in particular. And yet… I’m pretty much at a loss when it comes to trying to find something to say about this wonderfully calm and organic hybrid of minimalist composin’ methodology and ethno / jazz instrumentation.
As others with more authority to write about such matters than I have pointed out, the most relevant point of comparison here may be the “fourth world” approach to music pioneered by Don Cherry during the ‘70s, as captured on equally brilliant and intangible records like ‘75’s ‘Brown Rice’ (also reissued this year and well worth the investment, incidentally). Potentially dozens of instruments and textures drift in and out of these tracks across their mammoth duration, strings and keys droning away as they are apt to do, whilst unnervingly dissonant washes of brass and bowed cymbals crashing through the mix like spectral, horn-blaring New York cabs, yet for the most part, proceedings here feel entirely relaxed, eminently measured - entirely under control.
Central to this music’s appeal is the fact that, rather than drifting off into abstraction, the tracks remain anchored around simple, almost child-like melodies – endlessly appealing harmonic phrases picked out on some string bass and glockenspiel-type things (practically none of the instruments my ears tell me are present on this record are actually listed on the credits), lending the music a feeling of warmth and accessibility that any open-eared, human listener should be able to appreciate.
If this can indeed be deemed a ‘drone’ record (and the proposition is questionable, though ‘In Memory’s Prism’ has tended to get played in the time and place I normally reserve for drone records), then it’s certainly not a “cold depths of interstellar space” type proposition – more of a “come on in, make yourself at home, would you like a cup of tea?” kind of deal, like walking into a stranger’s living room for the first time and immediately feeling so much at home that you feel you could spend your entire life there. There is a sense of no-strings-attached generosity and comfort within this music that temporarily makes one’s surroundings feel full of hope and new possibilities whilst it plays. And this, incidentally, is quite possibly the most hippie-ish paragraph I have ever written. You see what you’ve done to me, Mr Abrams?
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